liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
So I posted a link to one of those silly internet quizzes, this one being run as a promotion by a fairly minor scientific journal. And wow, I had forgotten how good those daft "what colour is your aura" personality quizzes are for generating conversation! I posted the type of protein one mainly because I was amused by how ridiculously over-specialist it is, but in fact people with no interest at all in protein chemistry wanted to have a go and talk about what the results meant.

And since people are interested, I might have a go at explaining the background behind the quiz, and also why I think transcription factors are cool. Science! )

Clear? Confusing? Over-simplified? Anyway I hope this goes some way to help you interpret your silly quiz result, and also to tell you why transcription factors are cool!
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
I've had a generally wonderful weekend, a chance to relax at home properly for the first time in too long, and time with friends and some new potentials opening up. And I was just catching up with some social media during a quieter moment Sunday afternoon and learned that my teacher R' Sheila Shulman had died at the weekend. She'd been seriously ill, and she wasn't far off 80, and after I'd seen several posts I realized that when people were talking about "saying goodbye" to her, they meant literally, not just being sad at the news of her death, but actually present, she was surrounded by her students and friends and colleagues, a substantial fraction of the people whose lives she changed. So I can say, blessed is Judge of truth, and it tastes less bitter than some of the times I have to say it. But I can't wholeheartedly believe in a good death, because the person is gone no matter at what age and in what circumstances.

as much about me as about Sheila )

Because of Sheila I didn't have to leave Judaism when I came out, or even really come into conflict with it. Because of her, and the people she encouraged to be rabbis when they weren't the obvious type, I didn't give up on Judaism as being simplistically comforting superstition or a club for "people like us". Because of her and her influence, I'm able to be open to joy from an unexpected place, and to come to those potentials from a place of spiritual integrity. It's traditional to wish when reporting a death, may her soul be bound up in the bond of life It seems to me that R' Shulman's soul, the things she dedicated herself to so wholeheartedly against all opposition, really is bound up in the life of the community. My community, for all its flaws.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
So [personal profile] azurelunatic posted adorable Pacific Rim fan jewellery to Tumblr. And I appear to have thinky thoughts about a work of fanart.

drift compatible )

Nerdery

Oct. 22nd, 2014 11:04 am
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
Work is a bit politically frustrating at the moment, so have some silly links:

[tumblr.com profile] joannas found the personality quiz I've been waiting for all my life: What kind of protein are you? I am a transcription factor, which considering how much of my work has in fact been on TFs, is a particularly pleasing result. It means that I implement decisions by switching genes on and off, thereby delegating other proteins to go off and do useful things. Which sounds about right for someone who spends her non-research time teaching baby doctors and switching them on to go and cure people.

ETA 1: If you're getting a result like "analyst" or "nurturer" you need to scroll up to the top of the picture to see what kind protein you actually are. Yes, it's very bad UI design, I hadn't realized that it was making the descriptions more prominent than the actual result. Sorry about that!


There was an XKCD with biochemistry; there's no point linking to XKCD really cos just about everybody follows XKCD. And that strip isn't closely related to my work, but it's the chemistry a couple of levels under what I do, so it made me feel loved.

All the academics on my Twitter feed are linking to this silly Guardian article about why academics have a bad dress-sense: because we're not alienated from our labour, apparently. It's a charming thought, and there is a serious point buried in the article, which is that many female academics work just as hard on coming across exactly the right degree of nonchalant about appearance as they would on being impeccably presented if they worked in a sector that expected that. Me, I dress badly because I can't be bothered to spend time or money on clothes, and because I'm fat enough that there's no low-effort way to look good. But it's nice to pretend that it has something to do with Marx or feminism or something.

ETA 2: [personal profile] redbird absolutely nails the analysis that's missing from the article: "Even without choosing to dress that way for Marxist or feminist reasons, you can make those choices without a lot of stress in part because of your specific work and class situation." Yes, that. That's the conclusion the article should've come to, thank you [personal profile] redbird for fixing it so succinctly.
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
I know I had a big stash of topics I wanted to talk about once I got past the intense festival period, but I can't remember what they all were now. So have a meme about books, via [livejournal.com profile] ghoti:

26 questions )

Anyone else want to have a go?

Holy Days

Oct. 18th, 2014 08:49 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So yesterday was Simchat Torah, which is the last of the big season of festivals. And lo, I have survived and all the many many events I needed to run in the past three weeks have worked successfully. There's an Israeli LOLcat / reaction gif doing the rounds of my FB feeds, with the cat looking shocked and horrified and the text saying "when you realize that 'after the festivals' means now". And yeah, there are a lot of things I need to sort out that I've been putting off until 'after the festivals', but many of them are fun social things, and my life really does look a lot more manageable from here on.

festival and Sweden trip reports )

I couldn't be more glad I went, I had a wonderful time even if it was nerve-wracking. And I'm so nostalgic for Stockholm and my little community there, wow. I've started thinking again that I might investigate applying to rabbinical school, because doing all this has just been so satisfying. I mean, I realize that if I were an actual rabbi everybody would criticize me for not doing things the way they want, instead of being so grateful to me for filling in a gap by volunteering, but even so.
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Author: Joan Slonczewski

Details: (c) Joan Slonczewski 1986; Pub The Women's Press 1987; ISBN 0-7043-4069-0

Verdict: A door into ocean has some excellent world-building but I found it a little depressing.

Reasons for reading it: I've consistently heard this recommended, both as hard SF with plausible biology, and as feminist SF. I've been looking for a it for a while, and not finding it. I know these days you can pretty much get any book published in the 20th century for £3 from Amazon, but I am always reluctant to resort to giving money to the evil empire unless I get desperate.

How it came into my hands: Happily, [personal profile] forestofglory gave me a copy as a present, which was really exciting, it's so nice to get a book you've been meaning to read!

detailed review )
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
It seems a bit of a perennial thing with me that every so often I pontificate about the current state of social networking. This latest round was prompted partly by everybody suddenly getting excited about a new tech start-up, Ello. I'm pretty much convinced it's entirely pointless, and probably just vapourware. blather )

I was also going to talk about women using the internet professionally, and misogyny and crowdfunding, but I think that's probably a separate post in fact.

Archbishop

Oct. 7th, 2014 11:00 am
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So my university had a big flagship event where they invited former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to give a talk and meet some university people. It was connected in some way I don't entirely understand to the BBC docudrama Marvellous; the subject, Neil Baldwin, knows the former Archbishop somehow. (I haven't dared watch the film, because I am scared it's going to be horrible cringey inspiration porn, but perhaps I'm too cynical, lots of people have said good things about it.) Anyway, the university decided to issue me a personal invitation to the talk and the dinner afterwards. I think the reason is because they seem to have got it into their heads that I'm the only Jewish faculty member in the whole university, which is patently untrue but anyway, they wanted to showcase their interfaith diversity, so they rolled me out.

The talk was stunning and I'm really glad I went. Although it was flattering to be seen as worthy to meet VIPs, I kind of regret bothering with dinner (bad food and octogenarian retired vicar companions who come from the era when it was considered good manners to make lots of sexist jokes if you found yourself sat next to a woman less than half your age), but anyway. Williams is not the first Archbishop I've shaken hands with; I met the antepenultimate Archbishop of Canterbury briefly at an interfaith event at Lambeth Palace when I was a teenager. I'm sure there are people who would be more excited to hobnob with Archbishops than me. But Williams as a speaker is really worth listening to; he gave a very thought-provoking talk, flat out one of the best lectures I've heard in several decades of hanging around universities.

fangirling the fluffy Archbishop )
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
I've never really quite had time to get into the Marvel franchise, but I really like a lot of the fandom response I see drifting past me on Tumblr and to some extent my DW network. And I was over at [personal profile] jack's for the weekend and he happened to have Captain America: the Winter Soldier in his rental queue. He reckoned it was probably accessible to someone who hadn't watched the whole rest of the series, so I decided to give it a go.

And we watched about the first hour and a half and then paused the DVD to get up and pee. And at that point I realized that there were any number of things I'd rather be doing than watching the rest of that film, so we gave up and did other things instead. ([personal profile] jack was ok with watching the ending after I'd headed back to Stoke).

Basically, I just couldn't bring myself to care about anything. The characters seemed to have no depth or complexity. I didn't care enough about S.H.I.E.L.D to be invested in the fact that the agency had been infiltrated, and I pretty much guessed the identity of the "mysterious" Winter Soldier even though I have no real background in the mythos. I wasn't moved or shocked by Nick Fury's assassination, I was only mildly disappointed that having that character played by Samuel L Jackson didn't prevent the cliché of the African-American mentor figure getting fridged to give the blond hero some motivation. There were lots of explosions and shoot-outs and the obligatory car chase, but I found them so dull I was mainly noticing flaws in the CGI (the whole thing looks like being inside a fairly generic FPS computer game) rather than getting emotionally involved.

I don't think the problem was unfamiliarity with the franchise. All the characters kept explaining direct to camera what was going on and how they were feeling. If anything the film was almost too accessible; even as someone who isn't in superhero fandom at all, I felt talked down to. I tried to relax and enjoy it as just a big dumb action movie, but I was bored or irritated a lot more than I was excited or moved. So even the combination of sunk cost fallacy and narrative drive which usually means I always read or watch all the way to the end wasn't enough to keep me from wandering off half way through.

Basically, I like the version I'd glimpsed through fandom a lot better. The apparently entirely imaginary film that really explores what it would be like for a superhero veteran from WW2 to suddenly wake up in 2014. And where the Black Widow has a really interesting past as a former Russian spy and is genuinely morally ambivalent, rather than just looking sexy and pouty in very tight clothing. Where the friendship / bromance between Captain America and the extremely cute Anthony Mackie's Falcon takes centre stage rather than Mackie just being a minor comic relief character.

In general, feh.
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Oh. My. Life! It's the middle of the High Holy Days, right, I'm up to my eyes preparing half a dozen major events in 3 weeks. And term started yesterday and I have a new PhD student, so work is fairly overwhelming too. So the day before the New Year, I get an urgent message from an old friend in Sweden asking me to come and run the Progressive Jewish community's big annual showcase event, because the person who was supposed to be doing it has pulled out for overriding personal reasons. And obviously every Jewish professional is massively busy at this season, and apparently they remember me fondly from 5 years back...

I mean, I can do a full weekend of activities with a mix of social, liturgy and Jewish study. I can even do it at short notice, if I have to. I can liaise with a bunch of people in a different country who have strong views about how they want to run things and haven't necessarily come to a consensus before consulting me. But to do this when the two weeks between hearing about it and it actually happening contain Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur and the start of term, that's a big ask. To cap it off, I am walking into two politically fraught situations, both at the national politics level (Sweden has just had national elections with a massive swing to the far-right party), and at the community politics level (the broader community just sacked their rabbi because he was too successful at his brief of attracting young people to synagogue and making things more dynamic, and it turns out the old stalwarts don't like change.) And again, I can handle politically fraught, but only if I have really plenty of time to prepare, not just intellectually but talking to people and sounding out what the issues are and where I need to tread carefully.

Also, would you believe that the theme for the weekend is "how to deal with legitimate criticism of Israel in a climate of anti-semitism". Um. That is waaaaaay the hell outside my comfort zone, very hard to teach in a text-based way, and likely to provoke some really passionate and potentially conflicting responses.

anxieties )

Oh, and in other news the university has invited me as a special guest to attend a lecture by former Archbishop The Rt Rev & Rt Hon Lord Rowan Williams. I assume because they wanted to showcase interfaith diversity, but it's weird that I've ended up as someone the university trots out to meet VIPs. The lecture is public, but I get to attend a formal dinner as well. I'm kind of excited about this, but also I could do without it being 24 hours before the start of Yom Kippur.
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
A while back, I made a post about why epigenetics is important. And one of the reasons is because understanding epigenetics means that we can reprogram mature cells into stem cells. I ran out of time and space to write about this breakthrough and its implications in my last post, so I'm going to have a go at following up now.

so what does this mean? )

I was really charmed by the enthusiastic response to my previous post in this quasi-series. So please do ask more of those excellent questions that you were asking before. I can provide more broken-down explanations or links to peer-reviewed sources, depending what level you're at.

Tears

Sep. 23rd, 2014 08:56 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
Way back in January I promised [personal profile] lethargic_man that I'd talk about which bits of the High Holy Day liturgy make me cry, and I didn't get round to it at all. And now the festival season has come round again and my head is in the machzor, the special prayer book for this time of year. So I might as well finally answer that question from months back!

detailed liturgy discussion )

Also this year I'm going to preach on the Haftarah, the reading from the Prophets, Isaiah 57–58. Partly inspired by this really excellent sermon by a Christian friend of mine, in fact.

And now I should really go and finish learning the liturgy, instead of sitting here crying over the poetic bits.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[twitter.com 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!

Home

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 [livejournal.com profile] pplfichi and [personal profile] hairyears came all the way from London, and [livejournal.com profile] ghoti and [personal profile] cjwatson and [livejournal.com profile] alextfish and [livejournal.com profile] woodpijn brought their respective small children to run around in the garden. [livejournal.com profile] atreic and [livejournal.com profile] emperor showed up straight off the plane from America, which was extremely flattering! [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com profile] sonicdrift and [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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.
  • [livejournal.com 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.

Soundbite

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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