Category: Random

Science Fiction These Days

So I’m procrastinating taking a break from studying, and I wanted to write something but I’m still not sure how I feel about posting things to facebook. These days I am sort of obligated to be more active on it, but I’m still not sure how far I want to take that. Anyway, so I think I’m going to open myself up to writing more random stuff here, though I do dislike being disorganized, but you can’t organize something that doesn’t exist yet, so.

I obviously don’t have time to do a full translation or any such thing at the moment, but a thought that occurred to me recently was that science fiction these days seems to end on more of a middle note than a good or bad note. Before college, I only managed to read one series (and it was a really long one) that ended on a middle note where “it’s not the end of the world” but it’s also not the best outcome or even an outcome we as readers were hoping for, for these characters we liked so much. As we neared the end all I could think was “no no no don’t let that happen” but then it did, but then the characters sort of figured out a way to cope with it so the bad effects were mostly neutralized.

Now, the “Hunger Games” trilogy (Suzanne Collins) ends on a middle note, with “they’re alive” but also “they’re not really anywhere around the vicinity of happily-ever-after.” The ending for the “Newsflesh” triology (Mira Grant) is on a more positive note than not (whereas “Hunger Games” is probably more negative than not), but also not really completely better because … oh, I don’t think I can avoid spoilers — or at least I don’t feel like putting in the effort to do so — she’s not the original so she doesn’t have retinal KA, which also means she doesn’t have the immunity that she ought to and he really can’t give it back to her the way he originally got immunity from her, and their relationship is kind of unsettling in our current cultural/societal expectations.

The “Infected” series (Scott Sigler) had a somewhat more straightforward ending, I think (it’s been a while since I read it), with a sort of middle ending because the main couple doesn’t get their happy ending, but we saw the deaths of some major characters coming a long way away (this is mostly what I mean by straightforward, as opposed to the previous two examples where the ending was only subtly hinted at but it seemed improbable that the author would actually take us to that conclusion but in the climax or resolution that conclusion was revealed), so I’m not sure if it entirely qualifies as being a middle ending… I suppose by definition it does because you don’t get the full resolution that you want, even though we do get resolution in the sense of plot points being wrapped up. (Sorry, got distracted and momentarily confused about what I was describing.)

Anyway, I guess I wonder why this is happening. Did we get enough black-and-white from the “Harry Potter” era and now we’re itching for more gray areas? Maybe writers are more interested in exploring nuances, which we should all really be doing more in our lives in the sense of staying away from prejudging as much as possible and looking for the little details that make us all unique instead of classifying people in one group or another (yes, I’m talking about racism, sexism, and the rest of that stuff). So maybe it’s a lesson we should be trying to apply? There’s pretty much always black in white and white in black, and good in the bad and bad in the good, and at least two sides to nearly everything. Remember that.

Buffy: “Earshot”

I re-watched the Buffy episode “Earshot” today, and made two interesting observations:

  • At one point, Buffy is worried about getting infected by a demon, since Giles said “infected” and provided detail that she’d be getting an aspect of the demon. Well, Buffy, sorry to say, but you already are “infected” with demon-ness, given that your power derives from them. (See: “Storyteller” in season 7)
  • During Jonathan’s interrogation, Willow grills him on whether he fantasizes that people would notice him more, that they’d think he was super-awesome and such. Well, apparently he really does, or maybe he just got the idea to fantasize and eventually do something about it from this interrogation. (See: “Superstar” in season 5)

This Week…

What with Strike yesterday, and my responsibilities during it having increased yet again (third show in a row, in fact), I have been too swamped to write anything, and am kind of thinking of dropping iron-blogger altogether (especially given my complete lack of enthusiasm for it over the last month), and just finishing the few incomplete post series at my own pace. What do you guys think? The only downside is that I’d be in danger of never finishing those series, I guess….

Blog Status Update

So I entirely forgot, last week, that another week had rolled to an end on Sunday because I was at Put-In for MITG&SP’s production of Patience. I spent pretty much all of it helping with light hang, specifically, and for the first time, which was really kind of awesome; I learned a lot of stuff on the fly, as I usually do, and it was like, “yay, informations!” I also finally learned how the skysheet goes up, so I understand more of what’s going on when I direct taking it down (which I have somehow managed to be in charge of — and done well, according to Rob when he unpacks it to put it up at the following shows — for the last two shows we’ve done).

Unfortunately, I bring this post to you mostly with one hand, and so it will be on the short side compared to my usual posts. My wrist decided to act up, possibly having to do with environmental factors, but not, as far as I can tell, directly with my efforts at Put-In, because it was a sudden onset near the beginning of focus the following night,  and it’s still recovering. Typing seems to twist my wrist out of place more and results in more cracking, so I’m letting it rest on the corner of my laptop. Maybe it’ll be recovered by the end of next week? Strike is on Saturday and I’d like not to be useless for it, so that would be great…. I experienced something similar during prodweek for Sweeney Todd, too, and was mostly okay by Strike, so I am hopeful.

Anyway, I will leave you with a plug for the show: I don’t have the stamina to type the synopsis for you, but wikipedia has an article on it, and you can reserve tickets on the MITGSP website. Our remaining shows are Thursday (11/7) at 8PM, Friday (11/8) at 8PM, and Saturday (11/9) at 2PM. Hope to see you there!

Book Reviews!

So I’ve actually managed to read two books recently, and am going to review them (gee, really? I’d never have guessed from the title of this post), especially because I feel, at least a little bit, as though I’d not have actually been able to finish the books if our gracious Skinner hadn’t allowed me to check them out from the library.

First off, Next by Michael Crichton:

If you’ve ever seen “Crash” or “Love Actually,” “Next” follows a similar structure of interleaving story lines every which way, although with slightly more focus on a convergence of a few of the stories, towards the end. The stories are fictional, but they are nonetheless grounded in varying levels of fact; each story centers around some issue of the current state of some aspect of biology research. One story draws attention to illicit organ-harvesting. Another brings chimerism to the reader’s attention. (Here, I would link to the wikipedia article about chimerism, but frankly, it sucks.) Multiple stories revolve around DNA testing and gene patenting, which was most recently in the news when the patent on BRCA1 and BRCA2 was overturned. Gerard, a talking African grey (parrot), raises the animal research issues, as does the story of a transgenic ape, and the idea of manufacturing transgenic animals for use in advertising or as pets, which was also recently in the news (check out the gallery). And perhaps one of the most frightening storylines tells of a mother and her son who are pursued by a bounty hunter intent on forcibly harvesting cells from their bodies because her father’s cells produce cytokines that seem to fight cancer; because his cells were bought (arguably illicitly) by a company, they then argue that they have a right to repossess those cells wherever they may occur, including in the source’s descendants.

Personally, I enjoyed the book, despite its abrupt jumps from one plotline to another, because it explores so many of the controversies that surround the field of biotechnology in this day and age. Some of the imagined possibilities seem quite ludicrous, but when you look at the news, it is disturbing to realize the extent to which some of the possible situations delineated in the novel are actually taking place around us. While is it true that the stories center around biology and people interested in such may be more interested in this book, I think that it has value both as a thriller and as a mechanism for bringing many current bioethics issues to the public’s attention.

And now, Feed, by Mira Grant — hmm, I just noticed that both of the books have monosyllabic titles…anyway! — the review:

This book was amazing. Totally full of awesome, is what I’d say. When I finished the book, I was in denial that the book was over, so I kept reading into the question-and-answer section, where Grant answers some questions about the novel and its sequel (to which my reaction was “OMG there’s a sequel squee!”) and the excerpt from the sequel. Arguably, this was a mistake, because it’s gotten me way too excited for the sequel because I thought this book was phenomenal. (Sadly, Deadline, the sequel, is currently slated for a May 2011 release date.)

Anyway, at this point you’re probably thinking to yourself, “okay, so you claim that it’s ‘totally full of awesome,’ but where’s the evidence? What’s this book actually about?” Well, it centers around three bloggers in the post-apocalyptic world, circa twenty-five years after the emergence of a virus that takes over dead or otherwise vulnerable bodies and causes them to mindlessly aid in its propagation. Bloggers have gained attention in this world because they were the first ones to report on the zombie outbreaks when everyone else was still in denial about the existence of the virus.

The relationships between the characters and the mystery in the story are only the topmost layer of what makes this book as great as it is. I found similarities to Joss Whedon, superficially, in the naming of one of the main characters after Buffy of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but more deeply, in the juxtapositions of heaping helpings of humor in the face of serious situations and the very serious and evocative descriptions of the stark reality of the world that make it all too easy to conjure up images of the destruction and death that have become familiar to our main characters. It is, in my opinion, an original idea well-executed.

Please let me know what you think of the reviews; I plan to submit them for posting on the MITSFS website in the near future.

SIPB

As a member of the SIPB community, and as a female member of the SIPB community, I’ve been asked, a number of times, what I think about the SIPB environment, how to encourage people to hang out in the office and thereby recruit new members, whether there is sexism in the office or any other deterrent that is more specific to one gender than the other, etc. I’ve thought about this from time to time, when it’s randomly popped back into my head, but not terribly thoroughly. Some of my preliminary thoughts, though, follow.

Is there some sort of sexism in the office, or else something in the environment that would perhaps make girls feel more uncomfortable than guys, or vice versa? I have heard talk about how, in the past, there were more PDA in the office, and this resulted in the perception, on the part of some non-SIPB-affiliates, that SIPB was a place where the female members were required to be in some sort of a non-platonic relationship with with the male members. I was not personally around during this period, however, and it seems that this is much less of an issue these days. The office does, on the other hand, often play host to sexual jokes that are probably not unexpected in a college environment. And this is, perhaps, where my opinion requires some qualification. I wouldn’t categorize myself as the type to be sensitive to these sorts of issues; if they were pointed out to me, I would certainly see them and understand them, but I might not notice them on my own. I’ve always just wanted to be treated like everyone else, and a lot of what that meant was that I didn’t want to be treated differently because I was a girl, that I didn’t want to be treated differently from the way the guys treated each other.

This is part of the problem with sexism, isn’t it? It’s the same problem you have with other kinds of discrimination, like racism. Some people consider affirmative action to be a form of racism, which, by strict definition, it is, because it involves treating people differently based on race; racism and racial discrimination are not synonymous, after all. Going back to sexism, then: are girls more likely to be offended if they’re not treated the same way everyone else is, meaning that they don’t want people treading more carefully around them because they’re girls, or are they more likely to be offended in an environment where people casually banter about sex, etc?

I can definitely see how girls of the latter type would be turned away by the office environment as it exists on a not-infrequent basis — sexual banter is not uncommon in the office, after all, even if people don’t mean anything by it in particular. What about the former type? I generally don’t have a problem with the office, at least. There have been instances, however, where I have felt that there were insinuations made about the technical ability of girls, which is not something the office should tolerate.

Moving on to the more general topic of how welcoming SIPB seems to newcomers, the main problem that people have noted is the feeling of not fitting in. Some people don’t feel technically competent enough to fit into a situation where they feel that everyone else has some high level of technical prowess (which not all of us do, by the way). Some people feel like they don’t fit in because they feel that the SIPB is already its own community, an established social group, and they’re intruding and don’t know anyone. These seem to be the two main issues that are getting in the way of people coming by and spending time in the office.

People tend to be engrossed in whatever their current project is while they’re in the office, which could be contributing to both of these potentially problematic perceptions. The only solution that I can think of at the moment is simply to encourage people in the office to be more expressive about what they’re doing, the way that mystery hunt teams that allow for hunters who drift in and out do. For example, the Simmons team, which tries to encourage resident participation by emphasizing that one doesn’t need to be a hardcore hunter to join in for a puzzle or two, tried to have someone operationally in charge of base so that people drifting in and out would be welcomed by having what was going on explained to them and they wouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the fact that there were many groups of people in the middle of  working intensely on puzzles.

Another solution that has been proposed in the past in response to the general problem of recruitment has been a mentor-type of program. Things to consider: Someone needs to be in charge of coordinating it. It has the failure mode of scaring away prospectives who are not so interested in such an arrangement because it is somewhat more formal and feels like more of an obligation than not. It should be optional, of course, but it could make prospectives who sign up for it feel like they “needed more help” integrating into SIPB than prospectives who don’t, etc. Would there be enough members interested to make this work? These questions/issues can be worked around, though, and it would be something worth implementing for the sake of the prospectives who are interested in it, I think.

Biology BS Filter and … Why It Sucks To Be A Girl?

From my personal class (-i bio):

Me: I should have something better than a generic BS filter.
Ian: bullshit?
Me: Yes.
Me: I often can tell when people are bullshitting about basic biology, but asking me to spew it and remember terminology off the top of my head is somewhat more difficult. Then again, I learned most of that stuff >9 years ago, and last ~reviewed it >6 years ago, so … can I be forgiven for being rusty?

This seems like a similar problem to how Real Mathematicians tend to lose practice with arithmetic and are slower at it than an elementary school student might expect a person “who does math all day” to be. Over my years in the laboratory, I’ve spent more time dealing with immunology- and cancer-related terminology than the basic terminology taught in general/introductory biology classes, so while I can mostly remember what various terms mean when they’re being used to explain things to me, and thus can detect BS reasonably well, I probably couldn’t actually explain some basic biology terms the way that I feel that I ought to be able to.

I feel guilty about this, but it really is a matter of practice and common usage, I think. Most of that basic biology is stored in my implicit memory, so recalling it from no particular starting point is difficult. So while I feel guilty for not knowing basic terms/principles as well as I could, the only real solution is to use them more often, or else spend time reviewing them (which, in my opinion, setting aside chunks of time for is silly, since the time could probably be more effectively used and/or the material could be more efficiently reviewed).

I vaguely wonder if this is related to language usage. There is this common phenomenon that one remembers a foreign language much more quickly than might be expected when immersed in the environment, and I feel that it is similar (for me, at least, and probably for many/most other people as well) both with languages and different kinds of jargon. For example, I’m reasonably confident that it would take me some time rambling/thinking about immunology before I could just spew about it and use the jargon as fluently as I did when I was actually doing immunology work, but it would come back to me faster if I were inserted into an environment where other people were throwing around jargon (although it would take considerably less time in both cases for cancer terminology, I imagine).

Of course, this is just a specific area of general knowledge recall, I suppose, although I am inclined to say that knowledge recall is slightly more explicit than implicit. Then again, the split between explicit and implicit memory is probably not that distinct for specific topics (e.g. some of my biology knowledge is probably explicit, and some of it is probably implicit), and implicit memory can be analyzed to make it explicit, which is what teachers who are “experts” in a field but relatively new to teaching (e.g. me) do in order to be able to convey it to their students; for that matter, it is how people communicate ideas in general, to some extent.

Speaking of which, I’ve been asked to enumerate/expound upon the reasons “Why It Sucks To Be A Girl.” (Feel free to contribute additional reasons/comments or ask for clarification in the comments.) Having at it, then (disclaimer: I do not guarantee the veracity of the statements below, nor even that they accurately represent my opinions; spending time trying to figure out how to address every edge case or wording ambiguity is not part of the exercise here, nor is it something I’m willing to spend time on right now, and besides, these are very much intended to be broad, sweeping generalizations that don’t hold water in the face of anecdata) ….

Girls are generally expected to dress “better” than guys, or have a better fashion sense, or something. For guys, it seems more acceptable to dress casually, because they have more of a need for functionality, while girls are here just to look pretty. For example, guys can claim to need to carry tools around on their belts, whereas if a girl wants to, she meets more resistance. Another observation that has been made time and time again is that while wallets made for girls/women are at least the same size, if not larger than, wallets that are made for guys, the pockets in girls’/womens’ clothing are considerably smaller than the pockets of guys’ clothing. What does this mean? Essentially, girls are forced to carry purses (or backpacks). I don’t know about the rest of you, but personally, I rather dislike purses. What else…oh yeah, what’s with this whole high heel thing? There’s so much suggestion in the media that this/that is more attractive/feminine, but how it is practical AT ALL? Moving on to makeup…it really just gets everywhere. Do I really want lipstick smeared everywhere after kissing, or foundation smeared everywhere if I want to rest my head on someone’s shoulder? And eye makeup? Gets into your eyes and dries them out. Very irritating, both physically and otherwise. And how does this all play out in a work environment? I’ve been told that more attractive women get paid more and promoted more. While this is probably true for both men and women, it feels more excusable for men to be slightly more unkempt/disorganized. And don’t even get me started on things that are actually biologically-related…(although here I go anyway:) when women moved into the workforce and we finally got to the point where men stopped freaking out about it, society basically seemed to say, “Fine, you want to work and all that? You still have to deal with all of this childbearing/child-rearing crap.” (Yes, “crap” is probably not the word I want, or maybe I am using it to refer to the negative aspects of pregnancy and “womanhood” and such.) So prime time for reproduction for women falls somewhere in the twenties, which is also the point at which careers are supposed to be worked on heavily and possibly take off. What happens if you wait on one or the other? Waiting to work on one’s career generally works less well than in theory, because going back to school/work is *very* hard after children. Waiting to have kids is also less-than-ideal because of the increased risk of things going wrong in the pregnancy. And doing both at the same time…I think the solution of most women in such a position is to hire a (live-in) nanny, which, some of those mothers say, gives them less contact with their children than they might like. The other solution, of course, is heavier involvement from the father, but that depends heavily on the relationship. Anyway, this basically segues to the whole double-standard in society that so many people have remarked upon between men and women. Sure, sexism is much less prominent these days as compared to some number of decades ago, but the double standard is still there, and it sucks.

“PostSecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God”

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I wanted to share some quotes from the latest PostSecret book, which I got for Christmas. Some of these are here because I appreciated them, some of them are because I thought some of you would appreciate them. Some of them are touching, some of them are heart-breaking, some of them are funny, some of them are sweet. Personally, I feel like they are best appreciated if you take a separate moment for each one to savor it, i.e. don’t just skim them if you’ve the time.
(All are formatted as closely to the actual as possible, except to correct for “shouting” where it looks like it’s intended to function as “small caps.”)

“I found this inside a magazine on an airplane.  As soon as I arrived home, I took the ring I’ve had in my pocket for two years out and proposed to my girlfriend in the middle of the airport. SHE SAID YES.”
Taped to the postcard is a corner of notebook paper that reads: “This is your moment. The right time is NOW!”

“Sometimes I am envious of women unburdened by the freedom to be anything they want to be when they grow up.”

“I’m scared I will be killed in the line of duty… And NO ONE will tell my son how much I loved him!!!”

“I feel bad for killing ants at the bakery I work at[;] sometimes I tear up when I spray them.”

“I lied. I don’t hate the dining room chair beacuse of the ants. It’s because when I was four mom + Dad tied me to it + beat me.”

“See happy families doesn’t make me sad anymore, now that I’ve joined yours.”

“I divorced you to be with someone else even though I said I didn’t but now I would give 10 years of my life to go back to being your wife

“I woke up this morning and all I wanted to do was call you and ask you to fly across the ocean and be my lover.
I didn’t.”

“Je t’ai quitté parce qu’elle habite 1km plus près que toi.” (”I left you because she lives a kilometer nearer than you.”)

“i resolve to be brave and strong and proud of my life”

“I laid in your bed when everyone was downstairs and I went to your room to get a hoodie. I just wanted to see what it might have been like if I had said ‘yes.’ Since May 30, I’ve been in love with you.”

“I interpret for the deaf and when I go into stores I pretend to be deaf to see if people talk s@#t!!”

“I make you believe that I am racist… so you wouldn’t suspect that I had sex with your best friend.”

“if i died today, would there be anything you wish you had said to me?”

“My Daughter HATES! Women who have had abortions! I HAD ONE”

“The only reason I didn’t kill myself in high-school, was because my art teacher cared!”

“I’m afraid there will be nothing outstanding or interesting to say about me in my obituary.”

“Sometimes when my dad tells me stories I’ve already heard, I can’t help but think about how much I’ll miss hearing them when he’s gone. I love you, Dad.”

(On a picture of worn-out children’s shoes:) “It’s not God who doesn’t care, it’s us.”

“I had my dream wedding with the wrong person”

“I hope when I die it’s with a machete in one hand, battle axe in the other, and taking down as many ~ZOMBIES~ as I can.”

“I use a bracelet of Jesus to hide my cutting scars.”

“I judge my co-workers on how they treat our disabled colleague.”

“I know you will see this. And I hope that you will get that feeling in the pit of your stomach knowing that this postcard is meant for you. I love you.

“I haven’t taken my medication and I know I should but it felt so AMAZING just to cry at a movie. The tears came and I feel like I can do anything.”

“My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. Today is her Birthday. I found two Birthday cards I wanted to give her but I couldn’t make up my mind, so I stuck them in a drawer until it got closer to her Birthday. I pulled them out today, and started sobbing because I couldn’t make up my mind which to give to her. I kept thinking, what if this is the last Birthday card I ever give to her? Which do I choose?
I finally made a decision.
If she makes it to her next Birthday, I don’t want to give her the other card I cried over, and if she doesn’t, I don’t want to come across it next year, so I’m sending it to Post Secret. Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.”

“My son laughs at boys who knot their ties improperly. He can’t imagine not having a father to learn from. that will always separate us.”

(on a memorial service program from Japan 1965) “I had the key to open the door and let them out from the fire, but I forgot. They died. When I found it, I threw the key in the rice paddy on the ride back to base.”

(On a Zoloft ad:) “With out it I am immobilized by anxiety… with it I am immobilized by apathy!”

“i make stupid faces on my photo IDs so that i’ll always have something in my pocket to make someone laugh
it almost always works”

“I’m not making friends in college because I spend Friday nights on Facebook remembering friends from home.”

“My great-aunt died three weeks ago.
She was the last person alive who had known my late mother as a girl.
I’m terrified I will think of something I want to know about my mother, and now there’s no one to ask.”

“I already knew your secret. Everything is going to be alright.”

“For 16 weeks I prayed and begged for my baby to live. God either didn’t hear, couldn’t be bothered, or doesn’t exist. I don’t care which anymore. January 4 – My baby, God, and my heart – all died.”

“You asked me to pray that God would bless your boyfriend
+ I do
even though I want to marry you”

“I hate how the things I miss most are the little things I never noticed before.”

“i only pray to god when im in extreme pain. sometimes im afraid he wont help me because im being selfish…but hes always there. thanks.”

“I’d rather this cancer kill him than face the overwhelming sadness that our 14 year marriage is failing.”

“Caring for cancer patients has stopped my suicidal ideations”

“I never feared death—until I became a mom.”

“Until about three years ago, I couldn’t understand what kind of a person my father had to be to cheat on my mom. I still don’t understand what kind of person it takes.
I just know I’m one of them.”

“I wanted him so badly that I slept with him, knowing he was going home to you. Now that I know he would cheat, I don’t want him anymore. I’m sorry.”

“The problem with my kind of loneliness is that other people don’t seem to cure it.”

(On a postcard with a razor taped to it, and arrows pointing at it:) “I don’t need this anymore”

“I didn’t report my rape. Because I knew it would hard to prosecute. (and if I tried and failed everyone would know, but would think I was a liar)”

“Today I realized I am allowed to be HAPPY.”

(The postcard is a picture of a guy holding a notepad with the following words written on it:) “Please Don’t Kill Yourself Tonight”

“Call me. dad died.”

“For the past two years I’ve liked the person I’m becoming less and less
…I’m changing that
today”

“Just because I don’t believe in religion doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in FAITH.”

(Written on a bag that has “For motion sickness and refuse” printed on it:) “I know why you always get up to go to the restroom when we go out to eat… I just don’t know how to help you.”

“Since life is so short, I feel like I need to be active all the time. I feel guilty for taking time to RELAX

“I was afraid if they found out I had cheated on their father they would never forgive me…
…turns out that the secrets they were keeping about him are a million times worse.”

“I don’t care if I see God in heaven. I only care if I see YOU

“I’m just waiting for someone I can tell all my secrets to. that way, I can stop spending all my money on STAMPS

And reprinted on the back cover (it also appears in the book): “I’m a Christian who is falling in LOVE with someone who doesn’t believe in god….
I think its a beautiful love story.”

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