liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
Some months back I read and was very impressed by Brooke Magnanti's long, erudite and informative article: The drugs won't work. It's basically an explanation of why the pharmacological revolution we have been expecting for the past ~20 years is probably not happening, and it covers a lot of information about how the pharma industry works and doesn't, as well as scientific information.

burbling about cancer research )
So yeah, I feel positive about the idea that research is leading to better cancer treatments, even though I don't believe that The Cure is just round the corner.
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Recently read:
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
Work has been intense lately, mainly because I'm about to go to Amsterdam for a conference where I'm presenting the data that my senior PhD student only actually finished on Friday. So apologies for radio silence; more when I get back.

I'm also studiously ignoring Holocaust Memorial Day because I just can't deal with the pieties in conjunction with the actual treatment of refugees and disabled people. Being away is a good excuse not to have to attend this kind of event. And yes, I know some people are actually doing valuable educational work, both on the internet and in person, but those people are not the ones who keep inviting me to stuff.

So, anyway, Reading Wednesday, just quickly.

Recently acquired: I had a very successful charity shop raid with [personal profile] angelofthenorth when she visited a couple of weekends ago, even acquiring some clothes that fill gaps in my wardrobe. We drove out to Buxton mainly to enjoy the view of the Peak District in the snow, and Buxton is one of those down-at-heel towns that has really good charity shops and antique shops and not much actual economic activity.

So anyway, I snagged King's Dragon by Kate Elliott, an author I like in principle but I'm a bit scared of her tendency to write huge multi-doorstep fantasies. So since I found the first in a definitely finished three-part trilogy, I thought I'd give it a go. And The constant gardner by John le Carré, which I've been intrigued by for a while.

Recently read: No fiction. I have been thinking a lot about this longread on disability by Johanna Hedva: Sick woman theory. I am not often convinced by the kind of extreme social model view that what we experience as illness is mainly a problem with capitalist society, but Hedva is saying something a lot more nuanced than some of the examples I've come across, and certainly doesn't fail to note that chronic pain is in fact objectively unpleasant, regardless of how society is organized. She's also discussing a wide range of interconnected topics, including the concept of "public", and she brings in a lot of fairly serious references to contemporary feminist thought.

Currently reading: More or less nothing, which is less weird for me than it was a few years ago, but still weird.

Up next: I'm not sure if I'm going to have time for reading when I travel or not, there's quite a lot of time on trains and ferries involved. Perhaps some long fanfics will get me back into the reading mood; I have both Your Blue-Eyed Boys by [ profile] laleitha and and The World that You Need by [ profile] dsudis on my e-reader, so I'll see.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Reasons for watching it: I've seen lots of commentary about how Tangled does interesting things with the mother-daughter relationship, and anyway I was kind of interested in a novel take on the Rapunzel story.

Circumstances of watching it: [personal profile] angelofthenorth and I were trying to watch The perks of being a wallflower, but the file on her computer was messed up somehow. So we took a break and went to the supermarket to pick up some supplies, and I grabbed the DVD from the rack there.

Verdict: Tangled tells a great story with some really strong characterization.

detailed review )

It's also a very pretty film, I enjoyed the imagery throughout. The music is not amazing but Mother knows best is a pretty good number. So yes, on the whole I'm glad I bought the DVD on a whim because I wanted entertainment for the evening.


Jan. 19th, 2016 02:27 pm
liv: ribbon diagram of a p53 monomer (p53)
I ought to write a review of the year, I'll be glad to have done so when I look back at old journal entries in future. But I keep getting stuck because I have strange feelings about 2015. It feels like a year I will look back on and conclude that it marked the start of a change in my life direction, but that change hasn't happened quite yet.

2015 was the year of being in love, the year of establishing lots of new relationships. I mean, it was late in 2014 that I realized my friends were romantically interested in me and [personal profile] jack, and I think by Christmas 2014 I was unquestionably and intensely in love, but it was the months of 2015 when the new relationship energy coalesced into actually functioning as a quad. 2015 when all four of us told our parents and where applicable sibs about the relationship, when we started to have tentative discussions about some kind of future together, though we still don't know exactly what shape that will look like.

2015 was also my worst year at work. Not really horrible compared to a lot of what people experience in a bad workplace, but it's been difficult and at times I was really scared for the future. I had a 'not meeting expectations' appraisal in early summer, which is not a terrible disaster in the scheme of things, but it was the culmination of several months when I found myself really anxious and just somehow falling more and more behind and not keeping deadlines and that all spiralled a bit. Some of this was related to the fact that my senior PhD student has had a pretty troubled final year of her studies, and it's still not certain whether she'll come out of all this with a PhD. To recap, I have essentially two half-time jobs, one in the medical school and one in the research institute; the medical school have been very helpful and supportive and done all the right managerial things and given me lots of support to make sure that one bad quarter remains only a blip and chances to sort things out. The research institute not so much; they've switched unpredictably between ignoring me and leaving me to struggle, being actively hostile, and occasionally coming through with some random and not very systematic help.

I spent the summer clawing myself up out of the mess I'd got myself into. And of course starting from behind made that hard, and I was scared, and I suffered somewhat of a setback when my junior PhD student failed her "Progression", the process where the institute decides at the end of first year whether a student is suitable to go on and do a full PhD. She and I both worked really hard through the last few months of the year, and the medical school supported me by reducing my teaching and admin load so I could be there for my students. And this week she passed the resit panel, so as soon as that is formally ratified I can breathe much more easily again. So in many ways I can be proud of myself for extracting myself from a bad situation, but somewhere along the way I lost track of my love for research.

so what now? )

So anyway, yes, that's 2015. I really don't know where I'll be by the end of this year, but I expect to look back on 2015 as a kind of watershed. Any comments or advice very much welcome!
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Recently read: Between planets by Robert A Heinlein. (c) 1951 McCall Corporation and Robert A Heinlein, Pub 1968 Gollancz. [ profile] ghoti lent it to me as a book she liked when she was a kid, and indeed, it's just the sort of book to appeal to my inner 12-year-old: a fun adventure story that feels sciencey and doesn't benefit from too much thinking.

thoughts )

Currently reading: In theory, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, in reality I just haven't touched it in two months. I don't know why, I don't have anything negative to say about the book, it just somehow doesn't have momentum.

Up next: I'm somewhat tempted by Chocolat by Joanne Harris, another present from [ profile] ghoti.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Over the present-giving season we (that is me and my partners and my OSOs' kids) gave and acquired lots and lots of new games as presents, so I shall try to write not too extensive reviews of some of the ones we've played.

lots and lots of games )
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Over the Christmas break I watched two animated films, Ratatouille and The Lego Movie. I loved both of them, they're happy, compassionate, well-animated and fundamentally sweet films. And I'm not sure if they're actually thematically connected or if I'm just doing superfluous pattern spotting because I happened to see them near eachother, but indulge me here?

spoilers )
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
[personal profile] sunflowerinrain alerted me to the existence of a film, Draw on sweet night, that sounds really cool, a historical drama about the Hengrave Madrigals. Since I have a strong connection to Hengrave Hall, I've been trying to arrange for a showing in Cambridge, but couldn't get hold of anyone. But just when I'd given up on it, [ profile] bugshaw let me know that it's showing at the Arts Picturehouse after all. So that seemed like a birthday present from the universe in general, and I'm really really pleased I will get to see the film.

In fact, it turns out that Capriol films did answer my enquiry, sending me several emails about the Cambridge showing. But the mails got eaten by my spam filter and I only discovered them today. So now I feel even more inclined to give the filmmakers my money!

The film is showing this Sunday, 10th January, at 1 pm at the APH. I'm going with my partners, and my parents have been inviting old friends who used to go to retreats at Hengrave with us. You are extremely welcome to join us if it sounds like your sort of thing. I understand the music is very good, with serious period musicians involved, but I'm not sure about the historical accuracy otherwise. Also Kentwell Hall is playing the role of Hengrave; I know some of you have connections there.

I have dozens of things I want to post about, so of course I'm blocked on all of them. So let's start with this announcement, because it's time-critical even though not Wednesday Reading or a long thinky post or a review of 2015 or anything like that.


Dec. 28th, 2015 07:22 pm
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
I finished university work on 18th, and since then I've had the most perfectly wonderful break. Generally I've just been glorying in uninterrupted time with various of my people, in groups and one-on-one, and I'm really happy.

while I was offline )Basically I want this to be my life and not just a special couple of weeks at Christmastime; I mean, I want a job, holidays are only fun for so long, but I would really like to be in Cambridge full-time so I can be with my people and not be constantly pushed for time. I will see if I can make that happen in 2016.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
Not really reading fiction atm. And all the books I've bought recently are Christmas presents so I don't want to list them here. So have some links to other people's stuff.

  • [personal profile] hatam_soferet manages to make a drain disaster hilarious: A cautionary tale of leaves and drains

  • [personal profile] melannen is doing a really awesome December Days series, and I'm particularly enamoured with Notes on Birth Control and Childrearing for Fantasy Writers. It's very readable and a really great counter collapsing all of history before 1960 into a generic ye olden days when gender roles were exactly like the mid-twentieth century American middle-class ideal.

  • [personal profile] major_clanger explains the non-controversy over the first British astronaut.

  • A DW friend (who is welcome to identify themself if they like) PM'd me to point out a fascinating snippet of history: How to be Jewish – in 1846 London, by [ profile] dichroic. I'm actually distantly related to Judith Cohen Montefiore, or at least she appears in family trees with (much less wealthy!) ancestors of mine, I can't remember the exact details but my mother could probably tell you. So it's especially cool that Project Gutenberg has her Jewish version of Mrs Beeton's Book. Well, actually JCM got there first, it seems.

  • And I saw on Facebook a link to Goodbye Sotah by artist Jacqueline Nicholls. Sotah is the tractate of the Talmud which discusses the Torah laws about a wife accused of adultery; I've studied it some for the reason mentioned in the post, that it's one of the main origins for the laws about women's headcovering and modesty generally. I really like Nicholls' respectful yet willing to challenge take on what is one of the more nakedly misogynist bits of Jewish scripture, and I'm also fascinated by her take on the midrash that bringing a married couple together is like splitting the Red Sea. I've always simply read that as 'as miraculous as the splitting' but Nicholls points out that it's not just any miracle, it's a miracle of division: being together has separation and distance at the heart of relationship.
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
So [personal profile] ruthi asked me a very good question: How do you tell the Hanukka story? What do you tell?

what is chanukah? )
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
I've had such a lovely weekend! Though very little like I ever imagined a lovely weekend would look. contains religion )


Dec. 7th, 2015 04:42 pm
liv: cup of tea with text from HHGttG (teeeeea)
I bought a bike! I've been trying to for ages but not had time to get to bike shops when they were open. Today we went to John's Bikes in Arbury Court and explained what I wanted and John pointed me out a bike he reckoned would be suitable. It's not a classical Dutch bike but it has some similar characteristics, upright and sturdy. John only sells new bikes, and I sort of wanted to get second-hand but on the other hand, this bike fits my requirements, it's in my price range, and available now. I tried it by riding up and down the road and it felt pleasant, so I decided to go for it.

Talking to John, who is clearly a bike enthusiast, reminded me a bit of my Grandad who use to run a bike shop. But he died before I really got to the point of having adult conversations with him, so I mostly know about him from stories. I do feel sort of wistful that I can't tell him all about my new shiny bike and all the advances in technology of the past three decades, but I suspect that if my Grandad were actually still alive I wouldn't have gone 20 years without owning a bike of my own.

New bike is shiny and black and has Python written on it, so it needs a pythony name. Top candidates so far are Regulus and Apodora. But suggestions welcome, very much including programming jokes.

Getting the bike home was interesting; it's only a mile but it's along a lot of main roads. I ended up wheeling the bike halfway up Campkin Road, and then found one of those barely functional cycle paths by the school, one that has junction boxes in the middle of it and only goes for a few hundred metres before disappearing into road and pedestrian-only pavement. And then I turned off into the little backstreets where our house is and bravely cycled the rest of the way on the actual road. Going round parked cars is still scary but I think I will get used to it.

Definitely need practice at cycling on roads, but acquiring the bike gets me over the major hurdle.
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
So months ago [personal profile] lizcommotion wrote a really interesting post about bad childhood experiences of games. And it's a theme I've seen quite a lot, that the only reason adults would want to play competitive games with children is to bully them. Which is very different to my experience; adults played games with me mainly because they wanted to entertain me and spend time with me. And in fact I turned out to like gaming a lot better than most of my influential adults did, so I carried on playing games into adulthood. My parents play bridge and Scrabble voluntarily, for example, but generally otherwise see games as something they don't really have to do any more now their offspring are adults.

So when I play games with kids, particularly my partners' kids, I'm mainly trying to share an enthusiasm with them. I play games because I enjoy it and I hope they will too, but accounts like [personal profile] lizcommotion's make me worry that I'm creating experiences which will undermine their confidence and that they will grow up resenting me for making them play games and possibly with anxiety around competition. I mean, I don't think it's very likely that I'm inadvertently harming the children, because if I thought it was likely I wouldn't be doing it, but, well, I personally enjoy competition and I am aware there's a fine line between purely playful competition and actually overpowering people. Also my OSOs are pretty intensely a gaming family, and I generally trust the parents' judgement that their kids are actively enjoying the games we play and not being coerced into anything by domineering adults.

I wrote a long comment on [personal profile] lizcommotion's post, which I probably should have yoinked over here as a top level post because it's mostly about me. So I shall reproduce it here now, belatedly. gaming experiences, as a child playing with adults and as an adult playing with children )

Many of my friends are gamers too, which is not surprising since I hang out in geek circles mainly. And many of them are introducing their kids to their hobbies, and I really don't think they're being horrible in the ways portrayed in the linked post. I think part of not being awful is picking games carefully, ones that don't require unreasonable amounts of analysis or long-term strategy, and certainly not ones that depend on world knowledge. Trivial Pursuit is kind of a terrible game anyway but it's particularly terrible with mixed age players. And honestly there's such a wide range of games available these days, I feel there's a cornucopia of options of things that are simple enough for children and fun for habitual gamers. I don't really like the solution of pure chance games because although it means younger players win a proportionate amount of the time, they're just not fun.

Anyway, one thing that seems to be working quite well is playing games on smartphones or tablets. Not video games in the conventional sense, but traditional or Euro-style multiplayer games that happen to be instantiated on the phone. I'd really like some recommendations for more of those! One that we've been playing a lot is OLO (basically digital shove-ha'penny). What I want primarily is games that can be played on a single device, passed between players.

I'm also interested in asynchronous games, essentially play-by-mail but with the phone handling the tedious bit where you have to write your move down and put it in the post. The sort of model espoused by Draw Something, a very good implementation of digital Pictionary except that it got bought out by evil Zynga the day after I bought the app. And along the lines Yucata, but for phones rather than desktops. Yucata is a website, so it works approximately on modern smartphones, but it's fiddly on anything less than 10'' and all the development work is geared towards desktops. Those games are nice to play with adult friends because I can make one move a day or even slower than that, and it's a little bit of connection and a few minutes at worst of distraction. I can imagine in the not too distant future such games might be nice to play with the kids as well, just as a way of saying hi while I'm not around.

I'm specifically not looking for networked games, where you both have to be fully concentrating and reliably connected to the internet for the whole duration of the game. That's less interesting to me whether I'm in the same place as the people I'm playing with or whether it's a long-distance thing. There seem to be a lot more of those around, which is a bit surprising to me as I'd imagine it's more difficult to code a networked, synchronous game than a turn-based game. But for example, I really like the phone version of Ticket to Ride, except for the fact that if you want to play with humans you have to both be online at the same time and there's not even a way to save the game, you have to play through the whole game at once. If I have an hour free to spend time with a friend, I'd rather chat to them than play a phone game. Also, I want to be able to add friends by username much more than I want to play against strangers, but I really don't want to sign up to the horrible Google Play Games thing which will spam everybody I've ever contacted through Gmail every time I get a highscore in a silly casual game, and force me to join Google+ (I just can't wait until Google finally admit that horrible travesty is dead and stop trying to trick people into signing up).

I'm sure turn-based asynchronous games like this must be out there, but I'm having a hard time finding them as all my searches turn up everything that's vaguely in the genre of electronic versions of board games. So I'm hoping my human friends can do better than search engines. Even really traditional games like chess, go or backgammon would be lovely to have, as long as I can play with specific individuals not anybody who happens to be online, and I can make a move and have the phone transmit the changed state to my opponents, allowing them to respond in their own time. Any ideas?
liv: alternating calligraphed and modern letters (letters)
I've been in a funny mood these past couple of weeks. There have been lovely things, viz:

misc bitty things; mentions death )

Anyway, it's been the kind of time when I keep opening compose windows and not knowing what to say. And I haven't got anything new for Reading Wednesday as I have read basically no fiction in the past couple of weeks. So have some links to other people's writing:

  • I rather appreciated [ profile] evilrooster's fic Silence in the hill country. It's not at all the sort of thing I normally like, since it's NT fic for one thing, and for another the main topic is Mary's pregnancy. And I'm slightly hesitant to recommend Christian Bible fic, but as far as I can tell the story is framed in a reverent way; the writer is a practising Christian.

  • A rather sweet story about a so-called natural inseminator, a man who helps women to become pregnant by having sex with them rather than just donating sperm. Although there is a weird bit in the middle where the journalist expresses horror at the idea that people with genetic diseases or autistic people might donate sperm, so if you don't want to run into sudden unexpected eugenics you probably shouldn't follow the link.

  • [personal profile] rachelmanija started a wonderful discussion about how people find hope in a time of despair. I should note, I could hardly be further from despair, there are many many good things in my life and I have more to look forward to. And some of what people are writing about is dealing with absolutely horrible circumstances, pretty much everything horrible that could happen to anyone is in the comments somewhere. I'm finding something very moving about people's descriptions of just still being here after the worst possible things happened to them.
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
A locked discussion on my reading page reminded me that I've been meaning to talk about this: I basically hate the framing of "punching up versus punching down" as ways of analysing interactions. [ profile] lollardfish expressed my views rather well:
First of all - I don't like punching. Second, I think the simple verticality of power spectra is almost never clear [...] Instead, I recommend thinking about whether a given situation undermines hierarchies and stereotypes or replicates them.
In fact I think Perry's entire piece on public shaming is worth reading.

I don't like punching )
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
I don't often talk about news events; I don't particularly need to participate in the social media circus of uninformed opinions about headlines. I haven't suddenly become an expert on terrorism and international security, but I do have pretty strong opinions about blaming Muslims, or even worse, refugees, for terrorist attacks.

Anyway, several of my circle have said really wise things about terrorism and xenophobia and I wanted to draw attention to them. links and commentary )
liv: Table laid with teapot, scones and accoutrements (yum)
So one advantage of being out is that I can write diary posts about what I'm up to without being coy about spending time with my partners. Terminology wise, we've more or less settled on saying OSOs when we want to make a distinction between spouses and other partners, so I'll probably use that term a bit going forward.

In fact, [ profile] ghoti introduced herself on the coming out thread and offers: But friends-of-Liv who'd like to get to know me better perhaps may wish to know that I will be doing December Days and that might be a good place to ask questions? [ profile] ghoti is very much an LJ person and doesn't really do DW (indeed, DW-[personal profile] ghoti who is in my DW circles is an entirely different person whom I'm not dating, so I hope this does not result in any confusion.)

recent fun things )
liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
Recently acquired There were three books I positively wanted in the campus Blackwells' 3 for 2 offer, so my physical to-read pile has grown by:
  • How to be both, by Ali Smith. I like Ali Smith a lot, especially Girl meets boy, which has really stuck with me. And this one is getting a lot of buzz and seemed like something I'd be excited about
  • Being mortal by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a really amazing writer on medical topics, and death is an important one, and I feel reading his non-fiction will help me get better at training future doctors.
  • Fields of blood, by Karen Armstrong. I mean, I'm a huge huge fan of Armstrong and I'm basically interested in reading her shopping list, and the subject of religion and violence seems particularly acute right now.

Recently read
  • Not actually recent, but I was reminded that ages ago I meant to link to this article about historical changes in the nature of phone calls, by Ian Bogost. It's better on the history of the tech and hardware than on the social history, but it does include some of the second. And my Dad worked for a telecommunications company for many years so I was already a bit interested in technological solutions to maximizing sound quality for voice calls with really very limited bandwidth.
  • And this is more images than words, but it's a fascinating summary of How Richard Scarry updated his children’s book.

Currently reading Still The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. I don't have much new to say about it, it's one of those books that I enjoy a lot while I'm reading it but don't have much urge to pick up again when I'm not.

Up next Not sure. The next item on my Bringing up Burns challenge list is a book at the bottom of your "to be read" pile, and my TBR pile doesn't actually have a physical instantiation, it's scattered between my two households and some mental notes about what I have my eye one that I should probably write down.

Likely the draft of my junior student's first year report at some point in the next couple of weeks, plus an ongoing pile of undergrad coursework that I'm probably going to be marking through about January.


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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