liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
...To [personal profile] nou on turning 40! [personal profile] nou organized a most excellent celebration, including walking under the Thames through Woolwich foot tunnel. I did not know there was a tunnel under the Thames, but [personal profile] nou is really good at paying attention to things like that.

And then we spent the afternoon in the Greyhound pub, a proper trad drinking hole sort of pub, not ye olde, not hipster, just a place where you can sit and talk and drink lager. It was basically too hot to move, though a few people did manage some walks and visits to the local artillery museum. Me, I just had fun talking to [personal profile] nou's excellent crowd of friends. Walking people, geeks, local history people, and a bunch of people from Oxford who all have second-degree connections to me. I was in extrovert heaven, in spite of the heat.

We moved on to a Chinese restaurant in Surrey Quays, Noodle Family. It wasn't in fact the restaurant that [personal profile] nou was expecting in that location, though they confirmed it was the same place when she made the booking. But it served very very tasty food, including things like thousand year eggs and sea-spiced aubergines and Chinese style potato salad made out of raw lightly cooked grated potato in vinaigrette.

I headed to [personal profile] nanaya and [personal profile] alextiefling's after the meal. And in that part of south London it's often easier to get around by bus rather than train or Tube, so I ended up with a change that involved walking past the restored Cutty Sark at sunset. So I got an evening and morning of chatting and catching up with good friends I don't see often enough, as well as being enchanted by their two young kids, the older of whom is just about learning to talk.

...And to [personal profile] adam_in_rabbinical_school whose username is no longer accurate, as he is now Rabbi Adam. The ordination service at Southgate Progressive was amazingly moving; the focus was on the wonderful friendship between our two newest rabbis. And R' Mark Solomon was leading the singing, which is always a treat.

I met up with [personal profile] jack before the service for lunch at a very good Lebanese place, Warda, and for a chance to chat as we haven't seen eachother in three weeks, for various reasons. And the service was, as these things are, full of old friends, including [personal profile] pseudomonas's parents. We stayed on for a reception and dinner, and by about 7 pm I'd just got to the point where I couldn't deal with being out and about for one moment longer. So [personal profile] jack drove us home, and being in my husband's car on the way home is enough like being in my own space that I started to unwind. And we had a couple of hours before bedtime to sit on our new sofa and drink tea and chat (mostly ranting about Princess Celestia and about Git). It is so, so good to be home.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
I often worry about the filter bubble thing, that I surround myself with people who have similar opinions to mine. Equally I take pride in being open to changing my mind, but I'm not sure how much that's really true and how much I just like to tell myself that's who I am. And, well, I don't want to spend my time and energy re-examining everything that ever gets challenged by a crackpot or someone with an agenda other than establishing the truth about the world.

noodling )
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
In an astonishing feat of logistics, we've managed to organize things so that I got to spend two consecutive weekends with [ profile] ghoti and [personal profile] cjwatson and their family. And it was awesome.

diary stuff )

So two really lovely weekends, which have done a lot to make me feel relaxed and connected and good. I think I never really imagined my life as containing entire weekends planned around "family" activities, in the sense of family that means adults with children. So I'm doing quite a lot of assimilating of new experiences and building new skills, and it hasn't all quite melded together in my mind into something I can articulate usefully.


Jun. 25th, 2015 10:12 am
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Narnia-related conversations in several places have sparked my curiosity: where were you when you understood that the Narnia books are about Christianity? Or did you always know?

my experience )
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Recently read Some very good stuff on my DW reading page:
  • [personal profile] lizcommotion is hilarious on the subject of cats and internet security

  • [personal profile] seekingferret challenges the popular simplification that Einstein overthrew Newton

  • [personal profile] jack wrote some interesting meta on Magic in Jo Walton's Among Others. Personally I found that one of the most satisfying depictions of magic I've encountered in fantasy, precisely because it falls into neither of the traps of being completely random and depending on the needs of the plot, nor completely systematic so that it's just like a parallel type of physics or a dice-based role-playing system. The linked posts are somewhat spoilery, mine more than [personal profile] jack's, but don't completely reveal the main plot; anyway they probably won't make much sense if you haven't read the book.

    And one Tumblr post, which is just quintessentially Tumblr, a conversation between people geeking out about the ridiculousness of folk song tropes. I particularly liked [ profile] elodieunderglass' contributions, including a playlist of I guess my corpse is a swan now: a weird folk education. Well worth following that link for [ profile] elodieunderglass' annotations and the discussion, even if you don't want to listen to the songs themselves.

    Currently reading Most of the way through my friend's long unpublished novel, so hopefully there will be interesting reading Wednesday posts again soon.

    Up next Possibly Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie, as I'd like to read that before Worldcon.

    I'm also pondering what leads to interesting online conversations. I had my first actual interesting discussion on FB in the decade or so I've been (mostly reluctantly) using the site, because I Tweeted that I'd found myself trying to explain to a Christian child the difference between magic and miracles. Turns out lots of people have opinions about that topic. And FB have sort of half-heartedly introduced threading, which maybe helps a bit. Whereas over here, people had absolutely masses to say about the topic of modest dress, which I had expected would be one of those obscure things that only one or two religion geeks would care about. I'm really enjoying the discussion, anyway.

    My post about the broken system that is PhD training still reliably accounts for nearly a fifth of all the traffic to my DW, even two and a half years after I wrote it. Again, I didn't expect it to be of more than specialist interest, but it's turned out to be the thing that made me internet-famous. And I'm reminded of it right now because both my PhD students are having struggles and I'm trying to be more supportive than a typical bad supervisor, but we'll see.

    Also today I initiated my newer student into mammalian cell culture, and I'm reminded of when I got sent to a collaborator to improve my technique and she informed me that her culture hood was 'The Holy of Holies'. I'd been missing the mental focus of trying to work 'in total purity', and I even almost miss my hands smelling of disposable gloves. And now my student knows I talk to my cancer cells; I reckon she still respects me.
  • liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
    I confess, I'm feeling a little depressed about the whole Tim Hunt thing. Partly because Hunt's work is foundational to mine, so he's someone I looked up to, and it's always a blow when you learn that your heroes have feet of clay.

    sexism and free speech )

    Which is all by way of telling you, I'm finding it hard to find room for a lot of sympathy for Tim Hunt, who frankly should have known better.


    Jun. 11th, 2015 10:25 pm
    liv: oil painting of seated nude with her back to the viewer (body)
    Modesty is something that's valued in my religious tradition, and also something that's difficult for me personally as well as being politically fraught. Recently a friend was kind of vehement about modesty, specifically women's modest dress, and as it happens we didn't have time to have a proper conversation. So I've been turning the question over in my mind in anticipation of having the conversation, and I think it's enough thinky stuff for a blog post, so:

    swirly thoughts about modesty )
    liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
    Currently reading: Still my friend's unpublished novel (which is awesome and also long, so apologies for the rather samey and uninformative Reading Wednesday posts).

    Up next: My plans for this weekend include a charity fête which usually has a very good second-hand bookstall, so I shall see if I can pick something solely for the cover.

    This being the case, my recently read is just a handful of links I think deserve more attention, so:

    linkies )

    I have spent a very long and tiring day running practical exams, so I'm kind of exhausted. If anyone's around and would like to chat in a not too energetic way, I'd enjoy some company.
    liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
    This weekend was one of my Saturday morning services, so it wasn't entirely sensible to go home for a truncated weekend of barely 24 hours. I'm glad I made the decision to do so anyway, cos I had an excellent time. I was able to join [personal profile] hilarita briefly for birthday drinks, and to help [personal profile] jack acquire and assemble a proper barbecue grill, and [personal profile] cjwatson came over for supper and Agricola. And on Sunday [personal profile] jack and I actually hosted a barbecue party, which is something we'd been talking about doing since we first started househunting. The excuse was to celebrate [ profile] ghoti and Judith's karate grading, and amazingly, for a long-planned summer Sunday event, the weather was perfect.

    So there was sunshine and Pimms and grilled halloumi and [ profile] ghoti's homemade icecream. And [ profile] alextfish and [ profile] woodpijn brought bubble mix, and [personal profile] ptc24 brought his camera which prints out instant photos like the old Polaroids used to. And relaxing in the sunshine with lots of people I really like. I really really didn't want to leave to catch my train, especially as [personal profile] pseudomonas and [personal profile] hairyears arrived just as I was leaving.

    Anyway, I am quite proud of my sermon on last week's Torah portion, Behaalotecha. It's Numbers 8-12, and as you can see from the link it has a lot of different stuff in it, including some very obvious sermon fodder, and I was quite pleased to find a moderately original angle on it. I decided to use the parshe as a spring-board to talk about gender and sexuality. Partly because certain people in my community have developed an annoying habit of interrupting at any random moment to rant about same sex marriage, and I wanted to address that. In fact the worst offender was not present, which is good in that I wouldn't have wanted her to feel passively-aggressively attacked, but less good in that, you know, she did kind of need to hear my points.

    Now, I appreciate that a great many people have real trauma around the way that religious communities deal with gender and sexuality, so I want to offer the opportunity to decide not to read further. But some people have encouraged me to post my sermons, so I think at least a few of you might be interested. I've annotated this a bit because it might not make total sense out of context; my comments to you here on DW are in square brackets, some vague approximation of what I actually said to the community is under the cut.

    reading Moses as genderqueer )
    liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
    Recently read I've been travelling and had more time than usual for reading, so there's a few reviews to catch up with. read more )

    Also, I'm having lots of fun with [personal profile] jadelennox's Dreamwidth Friending meme. Welcome, new people, and current readers, if you are looking for more people for your DW circle, the meme is well worth checking out.
    liv: oil painting of seated nude with her back to the viewer (body)
    ( You're about to view content which the poster has advised should be viewed with discretion. )
    liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
    Reasons for watching it: Mad Max really couldn't be less my kind of thing, but the internet got excited about it and I thought it might be worth trying something outside my comfort zone.

    Circumstances of watching it: Actually had a free evening for a date with my husband, and we planned it a bit at the last minute and there wasn't anything obvious on so we defaulted to the classic dinner-and-movie. We had dinner at the new (ish, I haven't been paying very close attention to changes in Regent Street shops) Turkish restaurant, Çinar. Good food, a bit more distinctive than the somewhat generic Mediterranean served at many mid-range Turkish places. It felt a bit over-priced for what was on offer; I'll probably continue preferring the vegetarian platter at Efes. And then we had a bit of time and wanted something sweet, so we got bubble tea from Chatime. I liked their offerings a lot better than Ooshi just up the road: drinks actually based on tea and fruit rather than just combinations of sweet syrups.

    And then we wandered up the road to the Arts Picture House. The small cinema was pretty much packed, so we had to sit right at the front, but on the positive side it looked like a rather more mixed audience than might be expected at action films like that.

    Verdict: Mad Max : Fury Road is a successful Big Dumb Action Movie, but not much more than that.

    detailed review )

    The return

    May. 29th, 2015 12:09 pm
    liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
    After 6 years of using LJ just to keep up with my friends who are still there, I'm somewhat favourably disposed to the site again. I mean, I'm still annoyed that they silently took the Open Source code private; I'm fine with them making a profit from 15 years of work, much of it by volunteers, but I am less happy with them ceasing to give back to the community that made the site what it is. And they still have adverts, but they seem to have moved away from a business model based on forcing ever-more intrusive adverts on users, and towards a model of paying for premium services.

    Regarding Dreamwidth itself, well. I think after 6 years we can agree that it's stable and functional and not just some passing fad. I perceive it as way more active than LJ, and better for meeting interesting strangers. There are many respects in which it's just technically better, better UI and better accessibility and search that actually works. And I basically hate the current look-and-feel of LJ, both the desktop and mobile versions look awful to me. Also I still love DW's business model of a sustainable site completely independent of advertising or venture capital or payment processors who want to censor legal content, and I love its commitment not just to Open Source principles but to welcoming and training newbies and providing a non-awful environment for contributors. But DW is very clearly being maintained rather than developed (and yes, [staff profile] denise keeps promising that we're just paying down technical debt and there will be features released any day now, but I've been hearing that for too many years to really believe it any more), so it's getting to the point where LJ is ahead on features and just generally feels more modern.

    So I sounded out how my LJ readers feel about my starting up cross-posting again, and that was enough to sway me towards returning. Not so much the numbers who voted in my poll, but the fact that several people I thought had drifted away from LJ years ago turned out to be still there, silently reading. And unlike in 2009 nobody seems to be worried about the security implications of DW knowing my LJ password (sensible ways of doing distributed authentication being yet another feature that DW has been promising for years and is probably never going to actually deliver). I do think the thing of split discussions is annoying, but it's also annoying for people who wouldn't otherwise use DW to have to follow me over here, so I hope it balances out.

    Since I'm actively posting again, I've been trying to tidy up my filters. I had forgotten just how bad the interface was for friends list management; DW's isn't great but it doesn't do things like divide the list into pages and lose changes when you move further down the alphabet without saving, yet jump you back to the beginning of the list rather than where you were up to when you do press Save, ugh ugh ugh. Anyway, I hope I haven't accidentally unfriended and refriended people several times because of the interface horribleness. I'm not quite sure how I'm going to make cross-posting locked entries work, in fact; I think maybe I have to create two filters with the same names on both sites or something. And boy do I miss DW's WTF innovation of splitting subscribing off from giving access to private stuff! I'll figure it out somehow; I rarely make locked posts anyway, so it's not a big roadblock.

    I feel like... coming back to a house that had been shut up for 6 years. It's infuriating because nothing is quite where I expect it to be, and I've got used to living somewhere far more modern and convenient, and the neighbourhood has changed and not entirely for the better. But it's also incredibly nostalgic, this place was home and deeply important to me from 2003 to 2009. So, hi. It's a bit dusty and disorganized round here, but please do make yourselves at home. In spite of my ambivalence it's good to be back.
    liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
    Back in England, back to work – exams season starts in earnest today. Also back to an official presence on LJ, after a six year gap. So, hi, LJ folks! There will probably be more noodling about this shift later, but for now:

    what I did on my holidays )

    Basically I really want to go back in time twenty years and tell my teenage self that she'll grow up to be the sort of person whose friends invite her to goth festivals, as a brief break from a grown-up life with a proper job. That she'll be able to wear the goth clothes she's just starting to pine after, and that people will think she looks good rather than ridiculous. And she'll come home to loved ones. I find it quite hard to believe that the past two decades have been so good to me, really.
    liv: Stylised sheep with blue, purple, pink horizontal stripes, and teacup brand, dreams of Dreamwidth (sheeeep)
    My plan for [community profile] three_weeks_for_dw had been that between 25th April and 15th May I'd post three diary entries, surveys or queries, one substantial thinky post, and ten pointers. In fact I did manage 13 posts, which was about right, but they don't quite fit [ profile] siderea's classification scheme.

    I didn't really make a substantial post at all, but then again I did put lots of thinky thoughts in my five link posts. So instead of 10 quick "here's some content" things and one essay, I made five posts that fall somewhere in between those two stools. In terms of posts mainly about me, I did in fact make two diary posts and one post asking for advice and opinions, plus bits of diary and survey style things in the other posts. So that's about right.

    The rest of my activity was two reading Wednesday posts, one meta thing about DW and the fest itself, and two posts about the UK general election, which happened to fall within the fest but was important enough that I wanted to talk about it. I think that constitutes a reasonable contribution to keeping up activity on DW, even if it doesn't quite match what I set out to do.

    I'm about to go away for an exciting trip with [personal profile] ceb and some other awesome people, so I expect to be quiet for the next week and a half. I'm just coming to the end of my busiest time at work, and I've been as usual cramming a bit too much into the weekends in between. Highlights were [personal profile] kaberett's party at the weekend, and dinner with [ profile] ghoti at the Plough last week, and with [personal profile] cjwatson at Mestizo on the way to [personal profile] kaberett's party.
    liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
    I posted yesterday about hosting a friend with two very young children, and the ensuing discussion reminded me about the broader issue of how adults can keep children safe without over-protecting them. noodling, I promise the actual links are coming up eventually )
    liv: cup of tea with text from HHGttG (teeeeea)
    So a good friend of mine is taking a very short (sorry, USians) maternity leave and we were talking about her bringing her family to visit from the other side of the country during the three months before she goes back to work. Her older kid is a bit under two, and then there's this newborn (well, maybe a young infant by the time we actually sort this visit).

    Having no experience of hosting young children for an overnight stay, I appeal to the internet for advice! In particular, both the children still sleep in cots; what do you do if you have visitors who need cots to sleep in? Is there some kind of service where childfree people can hire cots for a short amount of time? Or do most people just have cots in the loft from their own childhood or now older offspring or something?

    I will of course ask my friend as well, but is there anything else that it would be good for me to set up to make the visit go smoothly? Given that I have no equipment or toys or anything in my house relevant to under-twos, and I don't want my friends to have to carry masses of stuff across the country. (I appreciate that they'll probably have to carry a certain amount, it goes with the territory of travelling with two babies.)

    (More substantial post to follow, I hope.)
    liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
    Recently read Balancing act by Joanna Trollope. (c) Joanna Trollope 2014, pub 2014 Doubleday Black Swan, ISBN 978-0-552-77855-8. read more (includes spoilers) )
    liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
    My brother the poet has been involved in activism for and outreach work visiting the occupied territory of Western Sahara for some years now. His latest big project was bringing poems from the Saharawi bardic tradition to an English audience; he worked with interpreters who provided him with literal translations, which he then interpreted as poetry. And he's made them into a book alongside expert commentary and beautiful Arabic calligraphy illustrations by the senior translator and some original poetry.

    I'm an academic, so I find it a bit strange that the first ever Saharawi poetry in English is coming out from a tiny little indie publisher and funded by a Kickstarter campaign, rather than being a scholarly work. But also admirable in the sense of trying to bypass the master's tools approach, it's somewhat less than it might be another incident of privileged people from former colonial powers continuing to profit from studying colonized peoples.

    Anyway, it's a bit late to tell you about this, but in case anyone is free in London tonight, Sam is launching the book at a music and slam night this evening.
    liv: Composite image of Han Solo and Princess Leia, labelled Hen Solo (gender)
    Via [personal profile] marina on Twitter, [personal profile] rivkat's absolutely fascinating summary of a book titled Not gay: sex between straight white men. Really amazing stuff about the amount of homosexual contact involved in heterosexuality! It relates to some ideas I've come across before, heterosexuality as a constructed identity; contexts in which straight masculinity may include seeking sexual contact with other men; challenging the idea of sexual orientation.

    It's also making me revisit the concept that at least some of homophobia isn't really about who one is attracted to or about what sex acts one enjoys; it's primarily about gender policing. This sense that men may want to take part in sexual acts with other men, but as long as they don't form loving relationships or have mutually consensual, respectful sex, then they're not gay. Which has the terrifying corollary that this construction of straight masculinity implies that men who behave lovingly and respectfully towards female partners are also targets for gay-bashing. Example: the Sad Puppies accusing Scalzi, who is well known to be a man married to a woman, of being gay, because he's also well known to care about not being a sexist jerk. Example: pre-adolescent and young teen boys somewhat illogically calling it "gay" when a boy expresses romantic interest a girl instead of talking trash about her.

    [personal profile] rivkat's piece almost flips the common wisdom about orientation. It almost seems like straightness is an identity, nearly independent of attraction and sexual behaviour, whereas gayness / queerness is mostly something that emerges from choices about sex and gender expression or performance, or even a political stance. Anyway, read [personal profile] rivkat's post, she's saying all this stuff much more articulately than I can.


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