Monday, May 25, 2015

Bat Love

You may or may not remember that I have a long-time love of bats (it comes from working in a cave) and a concern with the killer White Nose Syndrome that's devastating bat populations across North America.

Researchers have finally successfully treated a bat with WNS! YASSSSSSSSS!

Image courtesy Ann Froschauer/USFWS
So cute! How could anyone be scared of these guys?

Just as importantly, Ireland legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote. While I'm of the school of thought that holds that rights are something that should be granted as a matter of course, never voted on, I'm glad that the voters in Ireland turned out in a celebration of love. If it takes a popular vote to make a moral right a legal reality, so be it.

Courtesy The Department for Culture, Media and Sport
It was a good week last week and hopefully this continues!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Five Fandom Friday on Sunday: 5 Nerdiest Things I've Ever Done

I am one of those pedantic assholes who imposes very clear boundaries around "nerd," "geek," and "dork," even if I value all three. Liz Green nails it. I've fallen in the "nerd" circle of that Venn diagram more often than anything else, so my life has basically been one big nerd alert after another. Picking only five moments, then, might be tough, but I'll try to restrain myself. In chronological order:

1. I taught myself to read.

Courtesy Alejandro Escamilla

Sorry for this humble brag, but it is kind of a major nerdy accomplishment. I couldn't have done it without Lawyer Mom, either, who read to me and my brother every night when we were young. She also (very patiently) read all  of the cards in the Uncle Wiggly game out loud to me every time we played, even though as an adult she admitted it was the most tedious thing ever. If that laser-like focus on words and letters isn't nerdy, I don't know what is.

That said, I wasn't a total super genius. I could read okay but I had problems with writing that persisted for a little while. I had a tough time spelling my own name until I was 5, mostly because I refused to go by "Kate" or "Katy" or any other nickname.

2. My 64-slide Power Point presentation about stars.

Courtesy Blair Fraser
I just feel bad for all of the other fifth-graders who had to sit through it.

3. My commitment to Reading Olympics.
Reading Olympics is very much a southeastern PA/Philly metro thing. It's too bad, because it's really fun and it's a great way to get students to read books they wouldn't normally read and to read outside of class.

Basically, at the beginning of the school year a list of 50 books comes out at the elementary, middle, and high school level. Teams are encouraged to read all of them and then, in the spring, attend a tournament and answer a bunch of trivia questions about said books. In other words, it was everything I loved, together at last: reading and trivia competitions.

Of course by high school, Reading Olympics was definitely not the cool, fun thing to do anymore; I was one of a handful of students that stuck with the game all the way through their school career.

4. The "power hour" bash script I wrote.

for ((i=0;i<=59;i+=1)); do
for ((x=1;x<=60;x+=1)); do
sleep 1
echo $x "seconds"
xmms --fwd
Specifically, it would automatically advance to the next song in an XMMS playlist every 60 seconds, so that we could all relax and just enjoy the beers. Better partying through Linux.

5. The entire Kokoba jewelry line.

Kokoba display at the Da Vinci Science Center

Biology genetics DNA double helix bracelet
DNA double helix maille bracelets

I don't think it gets much nerdier than STEM jewelry?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Trek Thursday: Whom the Gods Destroy

#23: Whom the Gods Destroy

In case you forgot: The Enterprise is delivering a medicine that will basically cure every mental illness ever to a penal colony, only to discover that the inmates are running the asylum. (So just one chemical, medical cure can be effective on a variety of alien races and undo all kinds of past traumas and crimes? I guess it was a more naive time.) The leader of the lunatics, Garth, can change form at will, but Spock outsmarts him and saves the day.

This episode never really drags or lulls, and Kirk and Spock do the best they can in a crazy situation. Both are clearly on their game in this one: Kirk has given the rare order for a "call sign" before beaming aboard (guess all those evil/possessed Kirks in the first two seasons finally convinced Kirk and the Enterprise to tighten their security) and Spock is able to rationally and logically deduce which of the Kirks is the real Jim.

Marta and Garth, leaders of the inmates, are also unhinged in a way that isn't cringe-inducing; it's actually pretty good entertainment. Garth, in particular, does a lot with a character that could just as easily be a cackling rip-off of the Joker. It's nice to see him played mostly straight, because that makes his madness that much more menacing. The banter between him and Marta is legitimately pretty funny; the two have decent rapport, if not chemistry.

Garth's shape-shifting power, though, is a little too much to swallow. The episode waves it away as "it's a technique he learned" but that seems pretty cheap. Would it be so much to give him a little hand-held remote or some other piece of alien technology?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What I Read: A Tale for the Time Being

I saw this book all over the book blogosphere. It piqued my interest because I'm working on a writing project about literary "found footage" and A Tale for the Time Being sounded like it was operating in a similar vein. (The hype it was getting was not the kind of hype I'm allergic to, i.e. Harry Potter hype or John Green hype.) But I'm a busy person, and kind of broke, so I just put it on a list to get "someday" and kept on keeping on. 

Lucky for me, my boss-friend picked this one up, and decided against keeping it in her permanent book collection. This one came in the same package as The Prophet Murders, but I put off reading it because 1) I had Swedish reading to focus on (including another novel in the Turkish Delight series) and 2) it is definitely a Bagel Book. I could tell that as soon as I started reading.

In a nutshell, A Tale for the Time Being is about a woman in Canada, Ruth, who finds and reads a diary that washed up along the coast. It turns out to be written by a Japanese schoolgirl, Nao, some years earlier.

Of course it's also about much more than that. There's prehistoric flora, quantum entanglement, philosophy, Zen monks, and insects (among others). But everything falls under that found diary and Ruth's relationship to it.

Ozeki displays an incredible technical range. She ends up writing from the perspective of five different people (not all of them are equally prominent; I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the book focuses primarily on two of them, so the book is much more focused than it sounds like it would be with 5 different protags) and gives them all incredibly distinct and personal voices. There are other metatextual indications when the writing shifts perspective, like a different font or a chapter title or so on, but Ozeki gives each of them a strong enough voice that you would be able to tell anyway.

A Tale for the Time Being is not only a technical achievement, though. Ozeki also creates a compelling story. By the end I put all thoughts of Bagel Books aside and plowed through because I wanted to find out what happened. I may have cried at a couple of points, even.

According to my GoodReads widget and some bonus calculations (some Swedish editions I read were unavailable on GoodReads?), I've read 18 books this year. A Tale for the Time Being is definitely my favorite so far and will more than likely remain my favorite for the entire year.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Five Fandom Friday (on Saturday): 5 Binge-Worthy TV Shows

Image courtesy Takkk
I have a love-hate relationship with television. As in: I hate 90% of it, but then there is a 10% that I am absolutely obsessed with.

The dawn of the web and cheap broadband connections and affordable video technology is going to do a lot to change the face of what we used to call "television." One day there is going to be an independent web series—not something still semi-corporate like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, but something that's just a bunch of artists without much money doing what they love—that absolutely blows. up. That will change entertainment forever, and (I think) for the better. I look forward to that day.

Still, that doesn't change the fact that there is that 10% of corporate/mainstream/whatever television that I not only like but feel compelled to watch in marathon sessions.

Confession: when I do these 5 Fandom Friday posts, I always feel conflicted about whether I should count "up" or "down" (that is, should I start with my top choice or leave it for last?). Usually I count "up" and start with my top choice, but I don't know, that seems like bad blog practice. So I'm switching it up a bit today.

#5. Other Space

So this one is cheating a bit, since it's new to Yahoo! Screen and has only one season so far, but whatever. I think it's great. I'm hoping it continues into season 2 and beyond, because I think the writers have a lot of potential to work with!

#4. Elementary

Once upon a time, I really liked Sherlock. Then the writing went down the toilet, Moffat showed his ass as an all-around douchecanoe with a heaping helping of misogyny to boot, and I said, "No." Fortunately Elementary was there to fill the void. It's impossible for me to watch anything less than like three episodes at a go. 

Of course, I say that as if Elementary is a knock-off of Sherlock and it isn't, it just had the bad luck to not be the first to air. 

Imagine the original ACD stories as your favorite band. If Sherlock is something like a really good/cross-genre cover band, then Elementary is like a brand new original band made up of musicians who have the same favorite that you do. If you want the exact same songs, maybe updated or fancied up somehow, then Sherlock is your bag. If you want new material, with maybe a riff or a cover thrown in once in a while, then Elementary is what you're after.

#3. The Queen's Classroom

Okay, so even though I am perpetually faux homesick (faumesick?) for South Korea and loved my time teaching there, I never got into the whole K-drama scene. Unless you're big into American soap operas, K-dramas are just way too melodramatic to take seriously. Either that, or they're marketing gimmicks to push some new idols the record labels are hoping will be The Next Big Thing.

The Queen's Classroom is a rare exception. It came out after I had left Korea so I had to wait for it to be uploaded on sites like Drama Addiction and so on, and it was torture. TORTURE. Such cliffhanger endings and plot twists and just ugh. So many gut punches. If you want to watch it (and you should), you really need to watch it in one huge binge otherwise you won't be able to deal. Trust me on this one.

I'm not sure if it was a side effect of having to read subtitles instead of just watching and listening, but the kid actors were actually good actors. It was also refreshing to see a show with characters who all looked human and different, instead of characters who have all undergone the same cosmetic surgery procedures to look more like an incredibly bland beauty ideal.

Of course, the Korean show is an adaptation of a Japanese show. The story is basically the same, so if you'd rather practice your Japanese, that version works just as well.

#2. Community

Image courtesy Keith McDuffee
Oh, the little Internet cult favorite that could! I disagree with most of the rest of fandom (and, I guess, the actors, too) who loathe season 4. I love just about every episode. I love the wide range of interesting characters. I like the show's dedication to reusing secondary/side characters as often as possible: Leonard, Garrett, (Fat) Neil, Vicky, Starburns, Annie Kim. I love (most of) the writing. The show is damn near perfect (and might be the Internet series that changes television? we'll see!). I don't think I've ever not laughed in an episode. Sometimes, when I'm feeling down, a marathon of my favorite Community episodes is the best thing to pick me up.

#1. Mystery Science Theater 3000

I didn't know this book existed until today, but now I need it more than anything.

I spent my childhood growing up on cartoons and PBS and other things that, while I liked them, weren't an obsession. This all changed when my brother told me about a show he had seen on the SciFi channel. I must have been 11  at the time, and my brother 8, so it's a credit to his brains that he 1) was interested in the show at all and 2) thought it was hilarious. I don't remember how I found it after that—my brother's description and explanation of the joke was not the funniest-sounding thing and I was skeptical—but I remember that my first episode was Prince of Space and that I thought it was amazing. From that moment on, I was hooked.

That summer Saturday morning basically changed the course of the rest of my life. That story is worth a post on its own, so I'll refrain from going into details here, but more than any other show on this list, MST3K is my show. That's why it's #1. And yes, even though each episode is 90 minutes long, I have been known to have marathon sessions.

What are your binge-worthy watches?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Dagger of the Mind

#24: The Dagger of the Mind

 In case you forgot: Kirk and a pretty lady doctor investigate a penal colony while Spock and McCoy try to get answers from an escaped assistant. Turns out the head doctor at the penal colony, Dr. Adams, has been using a brainwave altering device to manage and rehabilitate the inmates, though it's less a rehabilitation technique and more a method of torture.

Another episode with McCoy and Spock working together, all right! It's also interesting (and refreshing) to note that Spock doesn't immediately discount McCoy's intuition about Van Gelder's condition. Maybe Spock recognizes the value of a good hunch now and then, or maybe he realizes something is up as soon as the computer reveals that Van Gelder isn't an inmate but an assistant—that's Doctor Van Gelder to you. Speaking of Spock, this is the first episode we see with the Vulcan mind meld, so the episode would be noteworthy for that regardless of anything else.

Dr. Adams also manages to be a frightening menace. There's something about the antagonists who welcome Kirk in with smiles and open arms who are creepier and more threatening than the standard monster of the week/Klingon war ship/etc. The neural neutralizer is a fun little sci-fi plot device, and Adams dying at the hands of it is fitting comeuppance.

But a Trek episode wouldn't be a Trek episode with a poorly-written woman character! Dr. Helen Noel is, for the most part, bland and uninteresting. She has no personality aside from a schoolgirl crush on Kirk and a naive trust in Dr. Adams (does she not notice the prisoner's uniformly blank stares?). At least the episode gives her some smarts in the Enterprise versus Adams showdown; she's bright enough to feign unconsciousness (kicking a guy into live wires, gruesome!) and grab a weapon at the first available chance. But that's all she gets.

In general, the episode moves at an engaging clip until Kirk insists on trying what we know to be the neural neutralizer, at which point it starts to lag. That time could have been better spent on the rehabilitation of Dr. Van Gelder and Kirk. We don't really get to see how the work of the neural neutralizer is undone: is it the same machine, just in better hands? Is it a lot of therapy or hypnosis? Does it always work? Answers to those questions would have been more interesting than watching Kirk spaz out in a futuristic dentist's office.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Walking (Cycling) the Lord of the Rings

One of my ongoing 101 in 1001 challenges is cycling to Mordor, a fitness challenge originally called The Éowyn challenge or Walk to Rivendell.

I hate most fitness challenges because they are either about losing weight/getting smaller, or they quickly become impossible for someone who is not already pretty fit (yours truly). Never mind that they seem motivated by some kind of public humiliation and belief that health is some kind of moral responsibility. (It isn't, by the way. Neither is happiness.)

But walking (or running, or swimming, or cycling) the Lord of the Rings novels just takes mileage. It doesn't say anything about how long it has to take you, or how you have to do it. You just keep adding your numbers on. That's all there is to it. If you want, you can make yourself a map to keep track of your progress. I did, because it's really neat to "see" yourself travel through Middle Earth:

I began in around October of 2013, and so far I'm nearly to Rauros Falls. That's like 2127 kilometers. (My brain is used to miles but my stationary bike is in kilometers so...) Is that the snappiest pace? No, obviously the Fellowship did not take eighteen months just to get to the breaking point at the end of Fellowship/the beginning of The Two Towers. But 1) they had horses and 2) they're fictional. The point is, it makes hopping on the bike and sweating for a half hour just a little more rewarding, and I'll take all the reward I can get because I like moving about as much as a sloth.

If you have a hard time getting excited about movement, this might be just the thing to get you moving. (If you're a Tolkien fan, anyway.) Enjoy!