Apr. 17th, 2014 12:22 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Term has ended, and I was able to wrangle things so I could take my marking to Cambridge and live at home for a week, leading up to the beginning of Passover this Monday.

diary stuff )

Thank you to everybody who was friendly and comforting this week, it really does mean a lot, and I'm feeling extremely blessed to know you all. I still have a lot of things I need to deal with, both workwise and in terms of selling my house here and hopefully buying another one in Cambridge. But basically I'll be ok, and at least I don't have all that on my to-do list plus Passover prep.
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Some months ago, [personal profile] rachelmanija posted a request for escapist genre novels with major Jewish characters. And I babbled about it to people I talk about books with, notably [personal profile] jack, but I've been meaning to make my thoughts into a top level post.

Jewish representation )


Apr. 8th, 2014 11:20 am
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
So April is sometimes National Poetry Month in the Nation of Internet. And there's an uptick in poetry on my d-roll and in my internet life generally, and this is pleasing. One that caught my eye recently was from [personal profile] zarhooie: The sciences sing a lullabye. Really made me smile, especially
Of course
You're tired. Every atom in you
has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes
nonstop from mitosis to now.

I also learned from Facebook that someone I knew slightly at school was a poet, and also that she died a couple of years ago. I had, honestly, almost forgotten who Megan was until I saw FB posts about an event being held in her memory. We were sometimes friends, in some way; she was part of the train crowd who commuted quite long distances to school by train. She was somewhat prickly and drama-prone, and I was impatient and unsympathetic, so the bond-between-social-outcasts interactions we had never quite blossomed into ongoing friendship. I'm glad to know she did well for herself in the few decades she had, and sorry that it was so few.

And my brother-the-poet managed to get a very short slot on Radio 4 talking about poetry and masculinity. If you're in the right time and place to have access to iPlayer, it's from about 1hr 54 minutes in Saturday's Today. commentary ) So I commend anyone who's interested in poetry and gender to his erudite yet accessible piece: Poems that make men cry.


Apr. 7th, 2014 12:26 pm
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
Things are somewhat stressful at work, not crisis, but there are a lot of things I need to be doing / have done and I'm not quite on top of all them. So I've come to huddle at [personal profile] jack's, partly because some of what I need to do is a massive pile of marking and that'll go a lot better uninterrupted. We managed a weekend that was both relaxing and sociable, a couple of mornings of just spending time together, and afternoons with lovely people at fairly low-key events.

diary notes )

And now I'm going to bury myself in marking for the rest of the day. I haven't forgotten the discussion about visibility, may try to get to it piecemeal.


Apr. 3rd, 2014 12:37 pm
liv: Composite image of Han Solo and Princess Leia, labelled Hen Solo (gender)
This is a theme I keep coming back to, I think, and it's not unrelated to the ongoing discussion about representation. I don't really have a conclusion or anything, so this is mostly a buncha links.

mostly other people being brilliant, with commentary from me )

OK, that ended up longer than I intended. Anyway, thoughts welcome, as usual! Especially if someone can find me the rant about appropriative claiming of genderqueer identities.
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Author: Mary Renault

Details: (c) Mary Renault 1953; Pub Virago Press 2013; ISBN 978-1-84408-950-5

Verdict: The Charioteer is an amazing historical artefact, though as a story has a bit too much angst for my taste.

Reasons for reading it: I've been searching for this for ages; I've read and appreciated most of Renault's classical setting novels and was really intrigued to read her contemporary stuff where she actually writes directly about people who would be considered gay in the modern sense.

How it came into my hands: I turned up at the library 5 minutes before closing time on the day my books were due back, and this caught my eye on the promotions table, so I grabbed it and stamped it out in the last few minutes before they threw me out.

detailed review )
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
So it's fairly topical in social justice circles that media representation of "non-default" people is important. I absolutely agree that it's important and I am totally on the side of the people who want more and better representation, and have no truck with the curmudgeons who think that political correctness is ruining good stories. The thing is, though, that what the SJ blogosphere says about representation doesn't really match with my personal experience. This might be because I'm weird, because I'm not American, because my identity isn't just one thing? It might also be because the clamour for more representation is focusing on one aspect of the issue and not on the aspect that's important to me.

thinky thoughts )

I most certainly think that greater diversity of representation is highly, highly desirable. I suppose I just want more diverse stories, not just a greater range of minority identities? I suppose they go together in some way, because if you're only ever represented on the rare occasion when someone wants to tick the minority representation ticky-box, you're a lot more likely to appear in cliched and annoying storylines that are all about stereotypes of your identity. Whereas if stories were more like reality, people with various sorts of identities would have a much better choice of non-awful role models.

RSC Shrew

Mar. 25th, 2014 08:29 pm
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
So [personal profile] jack came up this weekend, partly to help me get the flat sorted out and partly because the RSC were visiting to put on a child-friendly performance of The Taming of the Shrew.

review-ish )

So anyway, that was fun. We also managed to finish most of the last bit of sorting out the flat, including acquiring and building a proper wardrobe after my temporary clothes rail collapsed at what was either a really fortunate or really unfortunate moment. My friend GS from shul had come by on Saturday and helped me to put in curtain rails, which was another major step towards making the place liveable. And today I provisionally accepted an offer on my old house. Obviously there's a whole lot that could go wrong between now and actually exchanging, but I am feeling somewhat hopeful that I'm going to be able to move on to the next stage of the plan, the scary stage that involves trying to buy a home in Cambridge...
liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
Several people have linked to [personal profile] nanila's Subscription meme. It looks like a good thing, partly cos it's full of people I know at second degree, and partly because it seems to be strongly slanted towards people who post about a range of topics including their lives, which is exactly the sort of people I want more of in my DW circle. Also I think her questions would be a good intro to who I am anyway.

all about Liv )
liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)
So my brother is trying to set up his own mail server as an act of resistance against the NSA. I have some doubts as to whether this is actually a worthwhile trade-off of political effect compared to effort, but anyway. He says:
I don't think I need massive expertise. I have a plan to set up a server and host email for myself and a few others and store stuff. I figured if I could teach my computer to send and receive email through mutt or sendmail, I'd have the skill. but before I start destroying people's lives by fucking up their emails, I thought I ought to learn how to do it.

Does anyone have any advice or can point Screwy to some relevant resources? I believe his computer dual-boots in Debian and Windows, but I wouldn't swear to that.

This is only related in the sense that I'm asking for advice from people with a particular area of expertise, on behalf of someone else. I have a really awesome new neighbour, who invited me in for a cup of tea and we ended up chatting for hours. Turns out her previous post was in Sweden so we had plenty to talk about comparing experiences. (Living here is a bit like being on a college staircase, in that all the other residents are also members of staff at the same university, so there's a strong assumption we will have a lot in common. I never really got to know my neighbours in my old place.)

Anyway, this neighbour is a bit disillusioned with academia, and is thinking of moving to the Civil Service. I know a few of you have made that leap, [ profile] shreena and [personal profile] lavendersparkle come to mind, and there's probably a couple more I've forgotten. Can you offer any advice for my neighbour? Please email or PM me if you don't want to comment on a public post. She's particularly interested in whether the Fast Stream route makes sense or even applies if you're 30 rather than straight out of uni. She's a geologist and would be interested in energy policy related stuff, and also wants the chance to travel to or even work in Europe.
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
I went to Prof Chew-Graham's inaugural lecture this week, and it was really interesting so I want to write it up. Prof Chew-Graham is a professor of what's called "Primary Care Sciences", which basically means studying how GPs work. Inaugural lectures can be a bit odd, because they're public events and are meant to be pitched to a general audience, but they're a celebration of someone being made a professor so the subject matter usually has something to do with highly specialized and technical research. Anyway I found Prof Chew-Graham's talk really fascinating; just the list of stuff she's researched in her illustrious academic career brought up some really thinky issues.

I'm not going to transcribe the whole talk; a lot of it was biographical. But I do want to talk about some of the themes that Prof Chew-Graham brought out, because they're really interesting and I think relevant to several of you. Basically she had some really interesting observations about the relationship between medical professionals, particularly GPs and practice nurses, and patients who have long-term medical problems that can't be explained or treated adequately, notably mood disorders and chronic pain conditions.

doctoring )

I hope I've been respectful in bouncing ideas around sparked off by Prof Chew-Graham's lecture. I don't myself have any chronic illness, mental illness or disability, so this is speculation coming from a place of ignorance. I am very much open to be told that I'm talking offensive nonsense here.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
Last week the Islamic society on campus tried to run an Islamic Awareness Week. I say tried to, in that they had some very good events, but they didn't really manage to put any publicity for them in any visible place, so the "awareness" part was rather lacking. Anyway, the keystone of the week was an interfaith panel debate on Should modern law be guided by religious principles?. Some of the regulars from the women's three faiths group I run on campus asked me to speak as the Jewish panellist. I felt somewhat dubious about the event, but I knew that the students who invited me at least were coming from a place of good faith, so I agreed to do it. I made it very clear that I wasn't going to treat it as an adversarial or competitive debate, I wasn't going to try to prove that Judaism is better than Christianity, Islam or humanism, I was only willing to participate on the basis of giving some Jewish perspectives on the topic.

that was an experience )
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
Last week I moved house, and it was a bit stressful, as these things are, but honestly a lot less stressful than I expected, because I'm rich in both money and friends. And I'd saved up a treat for the weekend, which was to have a ridiculous mini-break in London with [personal profile] jack, celebrating the fact that we've been married for two years. And just this evening I was the Jewish speaker for an inter-faith panel discussion run by the Islamic society about religion and law. And now I'm at home in my new tiny flat with tea, so I shall talk about what a week I've had since I last posted.

memorable in several ways )

OK, I'm up ridiculously past my bedtime, I will post about the panel discussion another day.

D -1.5

Feb. 24th, 2014 11:41 pm
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
You probably don't want to read this; the tl;dr is that I am moving from my house to the tiny flat on Wednesday, and I'm in the throes of sorting through everything I own and it's temporarily miserable.

gruesome details )
liv: oil painting of seated nude with her back to the viewer (body)
I've just completed season 1 of the Zombies, run! mobile game. On the whole, I'm pretty impressed.

detailed review )
liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)
I have a diverse and wise circle here, so let's see if you can help me fix small things in my life:

miscellaneous requests )

And finally, Tube-themed music for my sister's thirtieth. Details over at [community profile] mix_tape. This seems like a really good one to crowd source, especially clever puns on Tube station names.
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
I'm disproportionately annoyed by this rather tawdry attempt by the Guardian to be Buzzfeed. I mean, yes, it's lazy, crappy journalism (and not even funny; check out #AcademicValentines for some much better examples of this sort of humour), but it's also perpetuating really annoying stereotypes of scientists.

Seriously, knowing that the heart is about blood and muscle and how its rhythm is affected by hormones doesn't stop you from experiencing skooshy feelings about people. And knowledge isn't less romantic than ignorance; understanding the complex, beautiful machine that is the human heart and its integration with the rest of the body can inspire strong emotions just as much as treating the heart as a love-generating magic item. Scientists aren't cynical, uncaring people just because we study the physical reality of how the world works.

This is a real Valentine for scientists! And this is a real love letter from a scientist who gets it:
I am not a poet.
I am a scientist,
and there is nothing a scientist loves more
than the the pursuit
of discovery.

This here scientist is very fond of all my readers. And I wish you all lots of love, whatever form that takes, traditionally romantic or not.


Feb. 12th, 2014 09:17 am
liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)
I was totally going to post about something entirely different, and then I saw an essay linked from Making Light which blew my mind, so I'm talking about that instead.

When asked for advice a while back, [ profile] siderea came up with:
Never identify with your virtue or lack thereof. That way lies compulsive rigidity and painful blindspots that lead one to walk off cliffs. Should you think of yourself as a "bad person", the problem is not in failing to think of yourself as a "good person", its in trying to categorize people as good or bad.
Which I thought was pretty sound and elegantly phrased.

This oldish LJ post by [ profile] celandine13 points out a similar fallacy in thinking about competence, as well as virtue. Delightfully titled: Errors vs. Bugs and the End of Stupidity, I do recommend it. I definitely like the idea of a debugging metaphor for learning a skill, because it gets away from the talent vs practice frame. I mean, people can argue endlessly about whether something is a matter of innate talent or whether it's a craft that you have to work at, but both of those risk invisibly assuming that "good at" a skill or not is something that you are, part of your identity.

I like that [ profile] celandine13 provides concrete examples from music practice, because part of the problem is that simply determining to work at something isn't very useful unless you have a concrete idea of what work consists of. And yes, a debugging mindset may well be more productive than just doing the same wrong thing repeatedly. For me personally, learning to play the piano moderately badly was one of the most useful parts of my education, because it taught me how to learn, how to build a skill that didn't at all come naturally to me. Which was extremely valuable when I started trying to do science at a level where it's actually hard, even when I'm generally successful at absorbing and retaining complex information in an academic setting.

I also find her thoughts specifically about education and training highly relevant, and likely to be very useful to me as a teacher. It ties into the stuff about praise I learned when I was trying to take that pedagogy course: praising learners for being good at something doesn't help them improve and can even make them worse in the long term, because their sense of self is challenged every time they find something difficult or perform less than perfectly. Educationalists such as Dweck argue that you should praise learners for the effort they put into succeeding at something, so that their achievement becomes the thing they did rather than who they are.

But then the second half of the post, bam, it broadens out into talking pretty much about life. It's not a matter of being less stupid or less lazy, it's a matter of debugging the process that is causing you to make errors and not grasp a subject or excel at a skill. Circling back to [ profile] siderea's good advice, I am very seduced by the idea that virtue is also a skill or a practice. (I got a very positive response when I mentioned casting happiness as work, too.) And as such, it makes sense to debug the underlying issues that cause you to sometimes act against your moral code, rather than just working very hard at being a better person.
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Author: James SA Corey

Details: (c) 2010 Daniel Abraham & Ty Franck; Pub Orbit 2013; ISBN 978-1-84149-991-8

Verdict: Caliban's war is an exciting sequel which really improves on the first volume of the trilogy.

Reasons for reading it: I enjoyed the first in this series, Leviathan Wakes a great deal. And [ profile] rysmiel assured me that the sequel benefits from more female characters, fewer vomit zombies which made me all the more inclined to read it.

How it came into my hands: I attempted to buy it from Barnes and Noble for my new shiny Nook. But something went wrong with the DRM somehow and I couldn't read the file. Which did not exactly give me great faith in using my Nook as intended, a terminal for B&N's online shop. So I kept meaning to break the DRM or download a pirate version or even argue with B&N about taking my money and selling me a file I couldn't use, but in the end I happened on a copy in the library sooner than I got round to doing any of those things.

detailed review )
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] jae found a most excellent wild specimen of the kind of headlines that always get trotted out as examples in popular books about language: Rob Ford beating claims merit police probe, lawyer says [link, just to demonstrate it's real and not made up, not because the article is particularly worth reading.] Apart from "says" at the end, every single word in that sentence is both a noun and a verb.

I've tried the Babelfish game on it and very quickly got nonsense, but not really funny nonsense. Still, even as good a machine translator as modern Google translate struggled to identify who did what to whom. It's a perfect Necker cube of a sentence, though; I only wish that sub-editor had phrased it as: Lawyers: Rob Ford beating claims merit police probe for ultimate garden path perfection.

And one of the links that floated to my attention recently was a rather good piece by Zeynep Tufekci about Orality and Twitter. A very nice counter, both scholarly and accessible, to the complaint that the internet is destroying literacy! I like the argument very much, that what the internet is actually doing is preserving and giving visiblity to genuine oral language rather than written language and language that's trying to imitate prestige dialects.


Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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