Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Finds: #SciArt TweetStorm!

There is a rad blog over at SciAm: Symbiartic. All of this week they have been pushing and promoting for a "tweetstorm" for the #SciArt hashtag. This is basically a call to action/promotional/sharing space for scientific artists (and lesser beings like yours truly) to promote their stuff and to share others' work. I have been a little busy lately, which is why the Etsy shop has exactly 1 item in it, but I have found the time to RT a few cool things. For the Twitter-phobic, I'll share them here!

But there is sure to be a bunch of new, cool stuff if you dive into the #SciArt hashtag right now. It's running until March 7th (so, um, tomorrow) but of course the tweets and links will be up there for a while to come.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Lights of Zetar

#41: The Lights of Zetar

In case you forgot: The Enterprise is delivering Mira Romaine to her first station, Memory Alpha. On the way, the ship gets caught up in some kind crazy storm that incapacitates much of the crew and Mira most of all. Eventually we learn that the the storm is actually the collective will of a dead race looking for some bodies to inhabit. While all of the workers on Memory Alpha are lost, at least Scotty's new girlfriend Mira survives the ordeal.

I love that Shari Lewis wrote this, but man it's weird that a woman famous for puppets wrote a body snatchers episode of Star Trek. It's just so thematically appropriate but also makes you wonder about her attitude towards Lambchop. (Apparently she wrote another script, too, but nothing ever came of it. Would have been interesting to see.) I also love that Lewis intentionally wrote a love interest for Scott as a response to Kirk always getting the girl. He's a little overprotective and paternalistic, but on the whole it comes off more cute than creepy, so I'm counting it as a point for.

Nonetheless, another woman who exists basically to be a love interest is still kind of disappointing, even if she was written by Shari Lewis. Scott also plays down Romaine's visions to a point that's (somewhat) to the detriment of the crew. Does space sickness make you psychic, Scotty? I doubt it. The way the bodysnatchers are driven out of Romaine is a bit slapdash but that's how the show goes, sometimes.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What I'm Reading: The Mandarins

There's a game I play sometimes. I learned it from one of my friends in college, who learned it from some friends of his that I didn't hang out with. It's called "You'd Think That...""You'd Think That..." is a basically a confessional game and I guess it could work well as an ice-breaker (at least under the right circumstances).

I realize now that calling it a "game" is really an overstatement, but too late for that. Basically, the point is for everyone playing to confess gross oversights in their life or gaping holes in their knowledge and experience.

For example, as a movie enthusiast who wrote her philosophy thesis on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, you'd think that I'd have seen Bladerunner.

Here's my next round: as a feminist who studied writing and literature, you'd think that I'd have known about The Mandarins before I saw it on the library shelf.

All I had known about Simone de Beauvoir for ages was that she was Sartre's main squeeze and that she had written The Second Sex, a book I tried and failed to read from the library. (Some books you just need to own, you know?) I had always assumed her to be concerned primarily with essays and philosophy, so imagine my surprise when I realized that she write fiction, too!

The Mandarins is what I would call a "bagel book." This is a term I made up just now but I've had the experience in other books before this one.

In the town I grew up in, there was (and still remains to this day!) a popular indie coffee and bagel shop, a profitable franchise to run in a town with two private colleges and a local community college within a reasonable driving distance. It was right down the block from the country's oldest bookstore and so my best friend and I spent a lot of time in that part of town, eating bagels and looking at books.

One time, halfway through a particularly delicious bagel, I said, "This bagel is really good, and I want to finish it, but I also don't want to finish it, because there won't be any left."

My friend gave me A Look. "That's how depressed people think!"

Those are bagel books for me: books that I enjoy and want to read, but books that I also am afraid to read because I don't them to be over. The Madarins is a bagel book; after tearing through my last few library books at a lightning pace, I am slowing down with this one and I don't think it's due entirely to being busy.

The Mandarins looks at a social circle in newly-liberated France during the end of WWII. According to the back of my copy, it is largely autobiographical and based on de Beauvoir's group of friends at the time (though with the names changed). I refuse to look up any of the specific events or characters until after the book is done because somehow that will spoil things, but in the meantime it's fun to guess.

The perspective is mainly that of Henri, the owner and editor of the newspaper L'espoir, which has so far remained politically neutral and is therefore subjected to bribes and woos and interest from all sorts of outside parties in the chaos that is Liberated Paris: the Communists, Americans, the non-Communist left, et al. Henri juggles those along with a lackluster relationship, the attention of young Nadine, and his own ambitions as a writer.

Periodically we see things from the perspective of Anne, wife to one of Henri's friends and mother to Nadine. She's a Freudian psychotherapist troubled by the strained relationship between herself and her daughter and the memoirs her husband puts off writing. It's interesting to note that Henri's sections are written in close third person, while Anne's are in first person.

de Beauvoir's prose is light and straightforward, yet this is no mere melodrama. Nor are her characters flat stereotypes. Henri and Anne meditate on compelling and relatable problems: relationships with others, anxiety over the future (individually but also of France), the role of art and literature in society, one's moral responsibilities. Even the characters outside the perspectives of Henri and Anne are nuanced and distinct from each other, some far more likable than others. (I hope Henri's wife Paula isn't based on anyone who actually existed. She seems like an unbearable person, and one who is deeply sad to boot.)

I don't know how I made it through university without knowing about any of de Beauvoir's novels, let alone reading them. I am enjoying this a lot, and I'm also putting it on my altered TIME Top 100 list, because really, do I need to read Deliverance? No, no, I don't. And I suspect that if I hadn't heard about this novel, there are a lot of people out there like me who wouldn't come across it otherwise. Check out The Mandarins! You won't regret it.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: Characters (And People) I Would Name My Kids After

5 Fandom Friday is a weekly geek meme from The Nerdy Girlie and Super Space Chick. This week's topic is: names!

Even though I'm lukewarm on kids (happy to work with them, also happy to not actually be responsible for them), I am a fiend for names. There aren't enough inanimate objects in my life that I can name—I have my main computer (Regan, after the girl in The Exorcist, because trying to remove Windows was akin to an exorcism), my netbook (Samwise, because he is literally half the size of a regular laptop and will go with me wherever), and my smartphone (Mimir, as I use him access all of the wisdom and answers of the Internet while I'm out). Even the candle I burn on my windowsill as a mindhack to keep me focused has a name (Georgina, just because). My now-junked car was Yoda (he was green, and a Toyota) and my previous laptop to Regan was Priscilla (just because). 

I like naming things! So I don't need to have kids to have a top list of names I would give to babies or cats or plants or whatever.

5. Thena

Naming anything after a deity smacks of hubris, but a variation on the name seems fair game to me. Athena is the best at everything and has been my favorite member of any ancient pantheon since I was in elementary school.

4. Rehoboth

Okay, so this is totally just the name of the beach I vacationed at with my family as a kid, but I think it's a lovely name. I totally used it for the name of an RP character back in the day. (Did anyone else ever play on Alleria? Or, I'm sorry...Aelyria?)

3. Raskolnikov

This name was bestowed upon a cactus in college who ultimately didn't end up faring too well. But he is one of my favorite characters in literature so at some point I'm sure I'll name something after him again! Maybe a pet, so then I can call him "Rascal" for short.

2. Hypatia

Again, with the Greek. But Hypatia was an actual person, not a deity, and she was a supergenius badass.

1. Fontana

And what entry today would be complete without a shout-out to Star Trek? I let out an Annakin-style Big No when the first report of Nimoy's death hit my Facebook feed. A few of my friends already have a cat named Spock (a girl cat, weirdly enough), so I would like to pay tribute to one of the unsung women who made Trek great: D. C. Fontana.

LLAP, friends.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Trek Thursday: Plato's Stepchildren

#42: Plato's Stepchildren

In case you forgot: This is the episode where Kirk and Uhura kiss. They kiss because a race of beings with god-like telekinetic powers are bored and need something to play with.

Alexander is one of my favorite alien-of-the-week characters. He's the only person left on this planet with anything resembling a moral compass, which is impressive considering he's spent who knows how many years being the butt of everyone's jokes. That's usually the stuff school shootings are made of. It's Alexander that really helps this episode make the jump from "okay" to "good."

It's also a nice touch that the aliens' powers are hindrance to their development in other ways: their eugenic focus on mental prowess has been at the cost of the robustness of their physical bodies (hence why they want a skilled doctor like McCoy around).

Otherwise, the Greek theme comes off as a bit unnecessary. There is nothing about their lives that is inherent to Plato or his Republic; at least Apollo in "Who Mourns for Adonais?" was, literally, Apollo and thus had grown used to Greek trappings. So much of the episode is watching Kirk and Spock being tormented by Parmen, the ruler of the planet, that it makes for some filler that is a YMMV situation; for me, there wasn't much mileage to be had at all.

The crowning sin of this episode, though, is the end. Kirk and Spock manage to get some telekinetic powers of their own (it's in the food) so they can stand up to Parmen and give him a lecture about ethics and how Starfleet and the Federation will be back to check up on them, but...that's it. These people are probably some of the more vile alien races encountered and Kirk just lets them get away with it? That is the difference between a good episode and a great episode.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Etsy in Wired: "How Etsy Alienated Crafters and Lost Its Soul"

There is a piece in Wired making the rounds about Etsy's current condition and future outlook. Is Wired considered serious, responsible journalism these days? I just think of it as the lime-green attention-grabbing Futurist magazine that sure looked a lot crazier than the other typical airport reading fare. It really felt like they were trying to market to me, which is troubling considering that in February of 1996 I was just 9 years old. Maybe it just resembled the old KidSoft magazine/CD sampler too much?


There was one graphic designer in the 90s, and she was making a killing.

But I can wax nostalgic over the early days of Wired another time. This is a post about Etsy. 

I have expressed my displeasure with Etsy before, particularly with their decision to allow "collectives" and "small manufacturers." The outrage wasn't because I don't think collectives should be allowed on Etsy. It was because this was a sneaky way for Etsy to allow their big money-makers, the overseas resellers and camouflaged sweatshops, a loophole in. Etsy absolutely trades on the image of being quirky and handmade, but whether or not that image is true to reality anymore is up for debate. 

Let me be clear: I am not faulting Etsy for getting bigger. When you're fulfilling a particular niche and (in the beginning), fulfilling it well, success and growth is a logical consequence. But how Etsy handled that growth is an example of what not to do, and that's the larger point I think Dobush is trying to make.

I'm not bitter about there being a lot of stuff on Etsy out of principle. Success for Etsy means having a lot of stuff. I'm bitter about "tests" and "tweaks" that happen without warning; I'm bitter about reseller shops being coached into having acceptable profiles rather than kicked off the site; I'm bitter about the broken sorting algorithms that can't seem to control for the same three shops cluttering up the first pages of a search (unless you search for something very weird and specific); I'm bitter about not being allowed to publicly criticize or call out shops in the forums; I'm bitter about people being muted for doing so. If you dig a little into Etsy's reviews on GlassDoor, you'll see that there's some shady, or at least mismanaged, stuff going on in HQ. Totally unsurprising.

I'm also bitter about Etsy constantly pushing the "quit your day job!" narrative, insisting that everyone who used Etsy could turn their hobby into an independent business. It's not true and it's disingenuous to imply otherwise. The fact that this is a continuing part of Etsy's image (the featured sellers on the front page seem to be featured more to foster this illusion rather than because they make something truly unique or interesting) irks me because it is akin to lying. I guess that's how the marketing cookie crumbles.

I don't expect Etsy to sell my jewelry for me. And I'm lucky: many of these issues that I'm bitter about actually have zero effect on my sales. There's not a single item that's moved from my shop that's been sold on its jewelry merits; everyone who buys from me is either a nerd or is purchasing for a nerd, and there is no nerd jewelry like mine coming from AliBaba or anywhere else.

Even if Etsy's poor decisions don't necessarily affect my bottom line, I've still been looking for an alternative for a while now. At first I thought Zibbet might be worth it, but their slow boat of fail has been listing for quite a while—plus it doesn't help that their CEO is very active in a creepy fundamentalist Australian church. Reddit marketplace looks promising—my nerdy people!—but I don't know if my business (such as it is) will be accepted as a seller. I put some things on Storenvy but the interface is clunky, whether you're shopping or whether you're selling. The Kokoba display at The DaVinci Center has been a success so far (I think!); more wholesale inquiries at museum gift shops and tables at carefully-selected craft fairs and conventions might be the future of this little cottage craft. I don't want to be reliant on Etsy, and I don't want to give them money when I disagree so strongly with the direction they've taken the site, and the ripple effect it's had on their free advertising: the indie biz and crafters who prop up the Etsy image while drowning under the deluge of resellers and mass production. 

Let's hope the next Big Thing happens, and soon. The time is ripe. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Five Fandom Friday on Saturday: 1 Book and 4 Beads I Bought But Haven't Read/Used Yet

This week's 5 Fandom Friday is right up my alley. I'm late in posting it because yesterday was horrible, and busy, and horribly busy.

I am a compulsive shopper and collector. This is the worst when it comes to two things: books and beads. Books have always been my weakness, from a young age—it's better now that I've become a public library champion. Beads came later, but there is a scarcity involved with some of them that isn't inherent with books. I think a lot of us beaders go broke buying up way too much stock of beads we love "just in case." (I regret nothing, though.) So here is one book I have yet to read, and four strands of beads I have yet to use (either at all or in their entirety), listed in order from oldest to newest.

5. The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea

Out of all my books and beads, this is the one that has remained unread and unused the longest. I bought it because a boy I had a stupid crush on in high school liked it. (Though I wonder now if it was a crush or some weird nerd envy about wanting to be "that smart," who knows, everyone's a mess in high school.) I tried, I made a valiant effort, but I don't think 17-year-old me was really ready for this madness.

In fact, this is exactly the book I was thinking of tackling when I made my 101 in 1001 "read books I haven't read yet" goal but I was so intimidated by it that I went for other books instead. This is one of those books that has intimidated me by virtue of teenage me not being able to finish it. I was able to conquer my fear of A Clockwork Orange last year. Maybe that means I'm finally ready for The Illuminatus! Trilogy.

4. These glass flower beads

These are just something I found at JoAnn's when I first started getting into beading. I bought just one full strand (that is, 16" of them) and I haven't done much with them except a pair of non-mathematical earrings. They might be good as an XOR gate in a full adder bracelet or necklace. It would be a weird clash between a natural, slightly feminine flowery theme and a very artificial and "unnatural" concept, but maybe that would make it interesting. Hm.

4. These funky agate chunks

I bought these at the Silk Market in Beijing in 2010. I wish I had bought all the strands I saw there, because I haven't seen anything cut quite like this, but one strand is better than no strands! I wanted to make something funky and unique out of them, as a memento of my trip to China (I climbed The Great Wall! I ate scorpions at the night market! I crashed a Lunar New Year party at a restaurant and was treated to a veritable feast when nothing else was open!), but I haven't had ~the perfect idea~. I think I might use one of them as a focal point in a Viking knit bracelet, but that's a project that will have to wait until I can get these beads from my parents' house in the states.

3. These faceted agate beads

Yeah, these striped agate beads from the first geo-shopping post five years ago. I still haven't had ~the perfect idea~.

1. These faceted blue rondelles

The newest of my acquisitions, these were a one-off purchase that I split with a coworker at the bead store. I used some of them in a piece I didn't photograph. But I still have a whole bunch left, enough for a least one more project, and considering that I bought them sometime in 2010 or 2011, it's high time I finished up the measly half a strand.

What projects do you need to finish up? Any suggestions for my bead box scraps here?