liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[ profile] kake linked to a cool post by [personal profile] doug about changing history with a time machine. It's the sort of post that makes me realize just how weak my history is. There's absolutely no way I could come up with any sensible argument for which people and events made a substantial difference to the course of history, or how history would have been different if those fulcrum events ran differently. Anyway I really like reading stuff by knowledgeable people playing around with ideas like this!

Also I accidentally rekindled the debate about whether Harriet Vane is a Mary-Sue at [personal profile] staranise's place. People are being careful about major spoilers but if you don't want to know anything the plots or characters of any Sayers books at all you might want to avoid the thread. [personal profile] legionseagle quite rightly points out that my initial premise was simplistic and probably sexist, and also has some really informative and insightful ideas about Sayers oeuvre, about Mary-Sues, and about the law. And lots of thinky stuff about class and how that's changed historically from various people, including [personal profile] naraht. And [personal profile] staranise herself brings the psychological insight regarding relationships between authors and characters.

One of the major topics I've been thinking about recently is how to maintain communication with people I care about a lot but who aren't regularly in my life. Partly sparked by this really chewy discussion chez [personal profile] kaberett, which started off responding to a Captain Awkward discussion about when you should just assume someone who isn't getting back to you doesn't actually want to be talking to you and it's time to stop pestering, and moves on to talking about different media and how they work or don't for communication. Also I've been talking to [personal profile] lethargic_man about related stuff; he used to joke that the reason he asked me out was that that was the only way to get me to answer emails, and it's somewhat true, I've been a direly terrible correspondent in the decade since we broke up. And now I am committing the terrible irony of failing to keep up with an email conversation about ways of keeping up with email conversations...

So, I'd like to hear from people, how do you manage this kind of thing? What sorts of communication media work for you or don't? noodling about this )

Anyway, how do you do this? How do you handle email guilt and deal with Facebook's horribleness? Are you comfortable flexibly moving between different media depending what suits your friends? Have you, like me, started to lose people now that lots are migrating away from DW? Thoughts very much welcome!


Sep. 15th, 2014 03:04 pm
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
I'm a bit nervous that everyone is sick of this topic by now, but we finally finally moved in to our house on Wednesday. details, mainly for my own records )

So Saturday afternoon our friends started arriving for the housewarming. We had about thirty people over the course of the day. P'tite Soeur made amaaaaaaaaazing snacks and a gluten-free orange and almond cake iced with "Woohoo New House". Parents and Granny dropped by briefly and mingled with our friends, and lent us some chairs and plates to help cope with the numbers. Thuggish Poet showed up in the early evening with his new partner. People like [personal profile] doseybat and [ profile] pplfichi and [personal profile] hairyears came all the way from London, and [ profile] ghoti and [personal profile] cjwatson and [ profile] alextfish and [ profile] woodpijn brought their respective small children to run around in the garden. [ profile] atreic and [ profile] emperor showed up straight off the plane from America, which was extremely flattering! [ profile] redaloud, a schoolfriend I've always been fond of but often only manage to see every few years, turned up and I took a break from hosting to hide in a corner and catch up with her properly. I was super-excited to see [personal profile] kaberett briefly between other social commitments; somehow hosting them was what really made me feel like the house was properly warmed. [personal profile] rmc28 and [ profile] fanf arrived later in the evening and kept the partly lively until midnight.

It was exactly a perfect party, really; lots and lots and lots of good conversation, and I feel really loved and appreciated because so many lovely friends were excited to help us warm the house. People have been really positive about my spending more time in Cambridge and it's really doing me a world of good to feel so much part of that social circle. It's pleasing to know that the house works so well for hosting that kind of event, though we'd worried it might be a bit cramped. And we're looking forward to hosting smaller events where we can actually chat to people properly, now that we're not spending all our spare time on moving house and now that we have a home to invite people into.

Film: Pride

Sep. 9th, 2014 12:20 pm
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Reasons for watching it: I saw a poster for it at the cinema and I was really interested in the concept of a gay rights group supporting the miners' strike. And then IJ was enthusiastic about the film at a party, so I had some hope that not only is it a cool premise, it's a cool premise done well.

Circumstances of watching it: [personal profile] jack and I got to the point where there's nothing else further we can do to get things ready for moving, other than tasks that need to be done at the last minute. So we went out to the cinema in the shopping complex behind the station; I'm still not used to the idea that there's actually stuff in that bit of town one might want to go to!

Verdict: Pride is a very strong film, both funny and emotionally affecting.

some review, mostly feels )

Life update

Sep. 8th, 2014 01:35 pm
liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)
We've been more or less occupied with househunting, both emotionally and practically, for most of 2014. It suddenly all ramped up mid-August and we ended up exchanging contracts at almost no notice and then completing 27th. We weren't able to arrange the move quite so precipitously, so [personal profile] jack has carried on living in his rented flat for a couple of weeks, with moving day scheduled for Wednesday.

holiday )

And then back to work for just a few days before the move, the second half of last week on campus and the first half of this week WFH at [personal profile] jack's place, giving us the weekend in between to sort everything out. I know moving is supposed to be stressful, but we've actually done really well this weekend, we got just about everything sorted and ready to go and even managed to find time to socialize at a BBQ chez [ profile] sonicdrift and [ profile] mobbsy. I've always felt like [personal profile] jack and I work well together as a team, and I think we're getting better at it with more experience.

I find it hard to believe we're actually moving in on Wednesday; getting a house together has been just over the horizon for so long. I am excited we will finally have our place to arrange as we feel like, but it's also quite daunting! Sorting out storage for all our stuff is going to be an ongoing challenge, I think. Anyway, once we're settled we will have both more free time (hopefully) and a better space for hosting, so I look forward to inviting lots of people round.

Oh, and lots of people are doing the meme of listing ten books that stay with you or that have influenced you or something. I thought I'd done this before and it turns out that yes I have, but nearly ten years ago! I think about three quarters of what I was going to list are still the same as the ones I put down back in 2005.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
It's always hard to come back to posting after a hiatus. I have too many and too few things to say that aren't about Worldcon or house buying, and I have all these new readers who subscribed post-Worldcon and I feel too self-conscious that my first past should be "good" to even get started. So I am taking my cue from [ profile] siderea and posting a links round-up and not worrying so much about being original that I fail to post at all.

Everybody's been linking to [ profile] shweta_narayan's really impressive piece about cognitive linguistics and social justice. It's brilliant, both in terms of how it explains an academic concept in an accessible way, and because of making a novel and cogent connection between different ideas, and it also feels pertinent to stuff I've been trying to think about recently about politically correct language.

more rambly than I originally intended )
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
[As we used to say back on LJ: Been Away, Not Kept Up with Reading, Please Tell Me if You Posted Anything I Need To See.] It's not actually as bad as it used to be now that we have smartphones, I think I'm actually more or less caught up with LJ and DW, but I've been skimming. And I have been feeling semi-withdrawn from my online life, I've not followed Twitter or FB where the more real-time updates tend to be these days, but equally there's no point reading back when you've been out of contact for a while. I've not been commenting on posts or even cogitating and sparking ideas off them as I usually do. So I would definitely appreciate it if you pointed me to anything significant, either thinky or in the big life news vein, from the last couple of weeks.

My August has looked like this:
  • New PhD student starting in my lab
  • Long weekend with [personal profile] jack's family in Shropshire, with good food and the proper hiking I've been missing and time for sitting reading.
  • Long weekend in west Wales with [personal profile] angelofthenorth and [ profile] gwyddno, with a different style of appreciating beautiful countryside and eating good food and all kinds of memorable experiences.
  • Exchanging contracts on the house I'm buying with [personal profile] jack
  • Worldcon, which is when I really started falling offline. I definitely do want to write up the con but the summary is I had a great time socially, including meeting some new people from DW *waves*, whereas the actual programming did not inspire me.
  • [ profile] rysmiel visiting for a few days, which was extremely wonderful and felt, as their visits do, like a holiday out of time.
  • Long weekend in Cambridge seeing [personal profile] jack and my parents, and a production of Much Ado about Nothing.
And there isn't much of the month left but I'm hoping in the next few days to actually buy a house (if all goes smoothly, which it should at this point, tomorrow), and to go away for a few days actual holiday with [personal profile] jack.

And it's Elul, how on earth did it get to be Elul? That means I have less than a month until the High Holy Days and the start of the new academic year both hit at the same time. So I'm not absolutely promising more content here in the coming weeks, but I would very much like to get back to participating properly in my online communities.
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
At the con: 3:15 pm Friday afternoon in the Fan Village. I will be there with a sign until around 5. All are welcome; if you've heard of Dreamwidth and you're coming to Worldcon, come and join us.

In the old-school tradition from back in LJ days, this is a meme. You are welcome to repost the above text on your own DW so that as many people as possible see the invitation.

Escaping from the con: 1 pm Saturday at Noodle Street. This is a modern pan-Asian (primarily Chinese) place with level access and the restaurant looks fairly spacious. They cater for veggies and can adapt dishes to other dietary requirements. They have both dim sum and main dishes, dim sum £3 - £5 per item, main dishes between £5 and £10.

Instructions for getting there: DLR from Prince Regent to Westferry, approx 15 minutes. Step free access to trains at both stations. The restaurant is close in distance to Westferry but somewhat awkward to get to across busy roads, and Prince Regent is the closest station to the ExCeL centre.

Everybody is welcome to join us for lunch, but I would like you to RSVP if possible so I can make a booking; we're going to be at least 7 and possibly twice that. I appreciate that you can't be absolutely sure if you're coming or not, and I'm not expecting a firm promise. If you happen to be in London but are not coming to Worldcon, you are still welcome.

So far the following people have said they are coming:
Me [personal profile] liv
[personal profile] jack
[personal profile] kaberett
[personal profile] green_knight plus one
[personal profile] cxcvi
[personal profile] hairyears
[personal profile] emperor
[personal profile] starlady
[personal profile] rmc28 plus partner and two kids

[personal profile] atreic
[personal profile] doseybat
[ profile] pplfichi
[personal profile] nanila plus kid
[personal profile] randomling
[personal profile] naath
[personal profile] legionseagle

If you have any thought at all you might want to join us for lunch, please can you comment by Friday 2pm UK time? Tell me how many people, if you need me to ask the restaurant to make any arrangements eg provide a highchair for a young child, and how certain you are about attending. It's fine if the answer is that you have no idea, it depends entirely on how you feel on Saturday. It's fine if the answer is almost certainly not but you'd like to keep the option open. It's also fine if you previously told me you were coming and now can't make it any more, just let me know.

ETA: Booking now made at Noodle Street for a party of 12 for 1 pm Saturday 16th, name of Liv
I'm sure it's fine if the numbers fluctuate a bit, but if you end up with a more definite yes or no between now and the con weekend, please let me know?
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Author: Max Gladstone

Details: (c) 2012 Max Gladstone; Pub 2012 Tor; ISBN 978-1-4668-0203-2

Verdict: Three parts dead is a great read, with some cool original concepts including magical lawyers.

Reasons for reading it: Gladstone is nominated for the Campbell, and several friends were enthusiastic about him. I somewhat regret being over-optimistic about how much time I'd have to read the Hugo nominees, and given that I wasn't actually going to get through everything, I should have started with the Campbell, as that's the most interesting category, instead of working my way up through the shorter works.

How it came into my hands: Tor, unlike Orbit, went out of their way to make sure their nominated authors actually got a decent shot in the Hugo voting, by including full works and even previous episodes in series, in the Hugo packet. So I read this as a professionally formatted, non-DRM ebook.

detailed review )
liv: Composite image of Han Solo and Princess Leia, labelled Hen Solo (gender)
This is liable to be controversial, and I should emphasise that I'm trying to work out what to think here, not proclaiming the right answers.

So it happens that the latest Captain Awkward discussion is about loneliness and how it can be a vicious cycle, if you don't have enough fulfilling social contact you can become miserable and self-hating and push people away or think everyone's out to get you.

The Awkward Army are being very good at firmly squashing the idea that all problems are just caused by bad attitudes, and pointing out that plenty of people have disabilities or external circumstances meaning they can't "just" make more friends. But still, loneliness is one of those types of suffering that people seem to treat as mostly the sufferer's own fault; the most comparable example I can think of is physical fitness. Like somehow, if you're likeable enough, whatever likeable means, in a fallaciously just world you should have as many friends and lovers as you wish. But that means it's very common to assume that anyone who complains about being lonely must in fact be an obnoxious person. And problems which are stigmatized like that are particularly hard to tackle!

The other thing is that "lonely" means two related, but to my mind different, things. Sometimes it means not having enough social contact, but sometimes it means not having a romantic partner. Or perhaps more precisely, the feelings of sadness and inadequacy that come from not having those connections. A really striking example is the guy in the Captain Awkward comments who says
The article is bull. I am horribly lonely. I shoot pool with friends once a week. I go to church every week. I go out to a party every month. I am active in two local communities. I have hundreds of friends [...]
I mean, sure, it's possible to be lonely in a crowd, but it's clear from the rest of the comment and subsequent thread that what's eating this guy is that he's middle-aged and doesn't have and never has had a romantic partner. And being stuck without a partner but wanting one means being perceived as a failure, to an extent that really worries me.

I think loneliness is a very serious problem, and from what I can understand a pretty widespread one. Some people are lonely because they're obnoxious, yes, but it's still a problem; you have to be a lot worse than just obnoxious to deserve how miserable it can be to be deprived of meaningful contact and emotional support. Anyway, lots of entirely lovely people are lonely because they have other stuff going on making it hard to make friends, or because they're just plain unlucky. That includes the not having a spouse-type partner side of being lonely. It's easy enough to say that marriage isn't everything, that people should be able to manage without that specific type of relationship set-up, but the fact is that lots of parts of society are set up so that it's really hard to function at all if you're not in a romantic dyad. Also, it's perfectly reasonable for an individual to want that in their life, even if it's not necessarily the only road to happiness for everybody.

This issue also intersects with gender stuff; people of all genders can be lonely, and people of all genders can be excluded because they don't have a spouse or aren't romantically "successful" as society measures it. But I'm getting the strong impression that there are aspects of this problem that affect men specifically, and that there are very few sensible conversations covering male experiences of loneliness. I doubt we can magically fix this, but I'd most certainly like to start some discussion if I can.

One thing that prompted me to think about related issues is Lis Coburn's essay Anatomy of a scar, which has an original and really insightful take on what's sometimes called the Nice Guy™ phenomenon. In some ways Coburn is much more sympathetic than a lot of the folk on the internet who use the term Nice Guy™, while she also buys into the idea that Nice Guys, men who are upset because they don't have a girlfriend even though they do their best to behave decently and treat women well, are potentially dangerous misogynists.

wild speculation about gender and relationships )
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
OK, I've left it really late to organize things. So, what I'm proposing is: I'm going to hang out in the Fan Village after my panel with some kind of DW sign. Anyone is welcome to stop by and chat; it will be noisy, because it's the middle of the con, but hopefully this will be inclusive to people who don't want to travel outside the convention centre.

Please feel free to spread the word:
Informal Dreamwidth meet at Worldcon

Friday 3:15 pm, Fan Village
I'll stay until 5 but it'll basically go on until people drift away
All welcome, if you've heard of Dreamwidth at all and you're going to be at Worldcon, you're invited. Bring friends.

Several people expressed interest in going out for a meal; I'm going to add a poll and do my best to organize something. Depending on numbers and requirements it might be somewhere fairly generic eg a Wagamammas or a big Weatherspoons. I'm going to suggest 1 pm Saturday unless there are strenuous objections, because finding a consensus time that suits everybody is never going to happen, so I'm just going to pick.

poll within ) If you have any suggestions for venues please do speak up! I will aim to book something by the end of this week, though I'm sure it's fine if a few extra people show up or some drop out. My plan is to simply publicize the venue and show up at the agreed time, rather than trying to organize to travel as a group.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
I found a netbook replacement. Thank you all for helping me figure out what's out there. I ended up poking about on eBay and found a last year's model mid-range 11½'' netbook going for £100, so I snapped it up. It's an Acer V5-121, not exactly the model that's listed at that link but something pretty close to it (the processor is AMD C72 not AMD C70, but I can't imagine I'll notice the difference!)

comments and further questions )


Jul. 23rd, 2014 02:40 pm
liv: cup of tea with text from HHGttG (teeeeea)
Some of my friends have been talking about how our 14-year-old selves would think about 2014, and that's interesting enough I thought I'd put it in its own post rather than in the comments on a locked journal article.

hello, 20-years-ago Liv )

So, what do you think, what would your 14-year-old self have made of 2014?
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
I think maybe starting from the shortest categories and working upwards was a mistake, but anyway. Thoughts:

brief reviews and voting intentions )
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
So I'm attending a careers course at the moment. it's prompted thinky thoughts )

So, people, what shall I do with my liiiiiife? Should I try to continue in academia even though it's not looking like I'm going to get very far? Should I do something academic related but with more focus on teaching and / or management? Should I consider a totally new career, and if so what?
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
One of the reasons Cambridge is such a desirable place to live is that there's always masses going on culturally, theatre, music, talks, random cool cultural and informative events. Lately nearly all our spare time has been taken up with attempting to move to Cambridge, so we haven't really been able to take advantage of most of it. Still, this week I was WFH Monday and Tuesday, so we had Monday evening free to take in a bit of Cambridge culture, and the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival is on at the moment.

We decided for no very strong reason to go for Richard II at Downing. So after I finished work I made a picnic and headed into town, and we sat on Parker's Piece in the sunshine and talked about cultural stuff and not about house-move logistics, and it was really nice. And drank bubble tea, Cambridge is getting way multicultural these days and has a proper bubble tea place.

play review )

Also, thank you to Kerry for some excellent commentary on the characters of Richard and Henry, that really helped me get more out of the play.
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
So I'm trying to move to Cambridge to live with [personal profile] jack, even though I still work in the Midlands. Today I finally managed to sell the house where I was living until February, so that's tangible progress towards the shape of life I want.

boring details )
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Reason for watching it: I was already kind of intrigued by the idea of a thriller set in more or less the real world space programme, and although I've seen some people nitpicking the science, I've also seen very positive reviews of it. Plus, it's Hugo-nominated and I am still hoping to vote in the long-form Dramatic Presentation category.

Circumstances of watching it: Was home with [personal profile] jack this weekend and we wanted to spend an evening watching a film.

Verdict: Gravity is an exciting and visually impressive blockbuster, without much depth beyond that.

detailed review )

As for the Hugos, I think I'm going to vote for Pacific Rim, which has any number flaws but is also definitely not run-of-the-mill. Gravity second and then Frozen, which are both good examples of what they are, and I rank Gravity slightly higher because what it is, a real world science based thriller with a female lead, is more interesting than what Frozen is, a Disney movie that plays to Disney's strengths and says something intelligent about love. Assuming I probably won't get round to watching Catching Fire before the end of this month, and I am not at the point where I'm going to get into the whole comic-book superheroes thing in order to appreciate Iron man.
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
Or, what an interested lay person should know about epigenetics.

I've been promising a post about epigenetics for ages, because it's one of the most exciting things that's happened in my field in the past decade or so, and it seems like most non-biologists aren't aware of it very much.

Why is it so exciting? Well, to start with there's the older insights which led to the modern field of epigenetics: in a multicellular organism, all cells have exactly the same genome, by definition, but the cells differentiate to take on specialist structures and functions. So there must be something going on beyond (ἐπί, the Greek prefix epi) the sequence of bases forming genes and chromosomes. It turns out that something is that the cell makes a series of chemical marks on the DNA and associated proteins, which turn genes on and off. Those marks are often surprisingly long-lasting, they're not just a short-term response to circumstances, something genes can also do. So you can't take a skin cell and transplant it to the liver, its epigenetic marks make it a permanent skin cell.

It's much more recently that we started to understand that patterns of epigenetic marks don't just follow a set developmental program – they can change in response to external circumstances. And the really mind-blowing thing is that some of these changes can be inherited. This means that a female parent's life circumstances can cause measurable alterations in the genes of offspring and more distant descendants, and there's starting to be evidence for male-line transmission as well, at least in animals and probably in humans too.

The other thing that's cool about epigenetics is that we're getting to the point where we understand it well enough that we can directly manipulate the epigenetic marks. If you change epigenetics, you change the nature of the cell itself, just as much as by directly editing the gene sequence (which can be done but is massively technically difficult, and ethically questionable in humans.) Which is a possible approach for treating cancer, and that's the reason why I got into the epigenetics world, but there's an even more exciting application: we can make stem cells. We can do the thing which was regarded as paradigmatically impossible throughout the twentieth century, we can effectively reverse the direction of development. So it's become possible to take an adult's cells and turn them into the rare kind which, like the cells of an early embryo, have the potential to become any type of tissue, manipulate them more or less at will in the lab, and return them to the same person's body to repair injuries and grow new tissue. In the very last couple of years, this is actually starting to be a treatment for real humans with real diseases.

want to know more? )

OK, this post is ridiculously long, I will post it and do one on stem cells another day. Please do ask any questions, whether it's because I've assumed knowledge and explained things with too much jargon and technicalities, or because I've simplified and glossed over something and you want more detail or want to challenge me.

Skills gap

Jul. 7th, 2014 01:44 pm
liv: Composite image of Han Solo and Princess Leia, labelled Hen Solo (gender)
I'm bad at really a lot of things that women are expected to be good at. Some of them don't matter very much: clothes, make-up, fashion, personal adornment in general, for example. This doesn't matter to me because I'm cis, so people rarely challenge whether I'm "really" female, and I have a weak sense of gender identity so I don't feel hurt, weird or dysphoric if people do in fact think I'm unfeminine. And it's easy to dismiss looking pretty as just superficial; certainly my professional life doesn't depend on succeeding at it.

Lots more stuff in this category consists of valuable skills, but ones that men get away with being mediocre at, so although I would like to improve I don't worry very much that I'm below average compared to women if I'm at a level that's fairly typical for men in my society. Things like cooking and baking, housekeeping, fabric arts, domestic sphere type stuff. Being able to cook, clean and sew are in fact important, and they're devalued precisely because they're seen as "feminine". But I'm pretty sure if I were male I would be praised for keeping my living space as clean and tidy as I do, for being able to cook a decent if not extensive range of nutritious and tasty meals, for being able to sew on buttons and carry out minor clothing repairs. To some extent you could say the same thing about appearance-related stuff; in our particular society, men aren't expected to know how to put on make-up or wear a range of different clothes carefully matched to the formality of various situations, so these things are considered unimportant, not because they actually are.

The third category is where I'm more concerned about my deficiencies. I guess you could broadly call it social or communication skills. Empathy, intuition, emotional communication. I want to be better at these things primarily because I'd do better in life and be less likely to inadvertently hurt people, not really because women are "supposed" to be good at them.

more noodling )


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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