Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Vox Day Hugo Drama

Science fiction nerd that I am, I am never one to pay attention to book awards, past or current. There's such a backlog of great works I have yet to finish and new ones coming out that I can't find the time in my life to to get caught up in awards ceremonies—not just of books, but of anything.

Yet it seems I can't escape the drama over this year's Hugo nominees (or rather, one Hugo nominee in particular). Vox Day's Opera Vitae Aeternita in the novelette category has outraged many in the SF community because it seems Day, née Theodore Beale, has some unpopular views. Like that homosexuality is a birth defect, or that it's ~scientific~ to oppress women.

Oh, did I say "unpopular"? I meant "bigoted."

The aforementioned John Scalzi has weighed in on it, and so has PZ Myers, to different ends. Should awards like the Hugo or the Nebula be "apolitical" and be awarded to works by authors who are, well, less than exemplary? After all, odious figures like Orson Scott Card and L Ron Hubbard have won past Hugos. There is some speculation that a voting bloc wanting to protest the supposed Leftist regime of the SFWA (or the WSFS? can't keep all those alphabet soup groups straight) by rallying around one of Day's works and stuffing the ballot box. Which isn't against the rules, but it does taint (hah, "taint") Day's nomination with the speculation that he was nominated not on the merit of his story, but just for his politics to ~make a statement~ or prove a point or whatever.

Scalzi's point is that the book was fairly nominated by the rules of the award, and that there's no rule that an asshole can't be nominated, so there's no point making a fuss. Moreover, there is (for those who vote in these things) a "No Award" option if you really feel a work's presence was unwarranted, for whatever personal reasons the voter may choose. Myers' point is that remaining apolitical is a political statement and by doing nothing, the Hugos and the SFWA/SFWS are condoning Day's absolutely bugfuck assertions, like that it's okay if some girls get acid thrown in their faces, the rest of the child brides in Pakistan have such happy marriages! Or that being gay is totally like being born without legs and thus should be cured!

Because I'm not entirely familiar with the nomination or voting process of the Hugos, or the history of the award, I'll refrain from commenting too much. I only want to observe that a liberal determination to be tolerant and hear everyone out no matter what seems to be borne out of a fear of a slippery slope; namely, that one day, the person being silenced by the powers-that-be may be on the right side of history and that absolutely no precedent must ever be set that would allow their voices to be successfully muted.

The question then is, which should you value more in a situation like this: hypothetical people in the future, or the people in the here and now having to deal with this odious bullshit? I don't know. It's hard to know. But I do know this: as life goes on, society inevitably (and to the despair of turds like Vox Day) moves towards equality, tolerance, and freedom. I think the slippery slope fears are unfounded for that very reason; I think that if organizations like SFWA and the SFWS are committed to being a progressive, welcoming atmosphere for EVERYONE (not just straight white males), they have an obligation to their members to revisit the rules for their awards to allow something like organizational veto power, or injunctions against being a public bigot, or something similar, to keep hateful turds off their radar. If this is a Leftist campaign to thought-police writers, then people who disagree can always leave the groups and form their own association with its own awards.

"We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

However, because of that moral arc of the universe, I don't think the brain droppings of assholes like Vox Day or Orson Scott Card really matter—history is not on their side. Justice is not on their side. Not that this means we should be complacent and sit on our laurels; rather, my point is that there are bigger fish to fry. The universe only bends towards justice because we temper it to do so.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Science Saturday: The Science of Shakespeare

Interview with Dan Falk, science writer and the author of "The Science of Shakespeare."

Appropriate, as this year is the 450th anniversary of the Bard's birth. (By the way, Shakespeare fans: the RSC is taking Hamlet on tour to every country in the world this year and next to celebrate, so check their website to see if they're coming to a theater near you.)

Literary giant that Shakespeare was, he left little behind in terms of personal correspondence. Much of what we assume to be true about his personality and beliefs and so on comes to us either from other people's accounts or from interpretations of his plays. Falk's book examines Shakespeare through the lens of science at the time in order to better illuminate the man from Stratford's own understanding of, and relationship with, science. What references to contemporary scientific ideas can we find in his works? Which characters are making those references? What about settings, names, or more oblique references?

The interview talks in particular about my favorite Shakespeare play, the aforementioned Hamlet. Falk and others knowledgeable on the subject find Hamlet to be absolutely rife with references to scientific personages and ideas of the time, perhaps more so than any of his other plays. Did you know that Elsinore was where Tycho Brahe had his observatory?
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Friday, April 25, 2014

Liebster Award!

The really interesting and needs to post more often Natalie Patalie just handed me a Liebster Award, so first of all: hooray! It's always nice to know that you're being read.

The Liebster Award isn't an official award, like The Bloggies (can I just say I hate that name?). It's more like a morale/signal booster; the idea behind a Liebster Award is to discover new blogs and to promote the lesser-known bloggers in your feed. This seems to be the first, or one of the first, instances of "Liebster Award" meme and its rules, which have changed slightly from 2010 to now. Today:

  • Nominee posts award on their blog.
  • Nominee links back to the nominator’s blog and of course thanks them.
  • Nominee answers 11 questions nominator ask of them.
  • Nominee then nominates 11 new bloggers they deem worthy with about 300 followers or less. Make sure to let them know.
  • Nominee poses 11 questions for their nominees to answer.

The first instance required only 3 to 5 blogs to be nominated, with fewer than 3000 followers, and didn't have any survey questions involved.

That's right, I'm such a goddamn pedant that I can't even blithely accept a tag in an Internet meme without wanting to know its origins.

Anyway, now that I've combed Natalie's list and added some new faces to my feed, it's time for me to pass it on!

1. First of all, my Liebster Award picks:
  • Rae (she of Project Rae) is the only quilting blogger I will ever read, not only because I know her "for real" but also because she quilts. I like blogs whose craft (if there is one) is totally different from my own. She is also probably the most interesting and vibrant quilt blogger around. Also: books.
  • Myst is a fellow American expat whose periodic photo entries remind me that I need to make a trip back to the UK soon. She is also the super-organized mastermind behind the Glossop Events Calendar and Newsletter, if any of you happen to NOT be Myst but are also reading this from Glossop!
  • Peter from Peter's Puppets is a fellow member of the Mom's Basement team on Etsy, and basically I'm tagging him because 1) another totally different craft and 2) he blew my mind with his M(aster of P)uppets post. Seriously, if you get nothing else from this post, read that link and then try it at home.
  • Enkiae at Figures of Korean History. I regret nothing (or well, almost nothing) about my life choices to date, but there is still a Korea-shaped hole in my heart and times where I wish I could go back. K-blogs help to fill that hole, plus Enkiae is a cool dude.
  • Ele at The Ongoing Saga of Minouette is a fellow member of The Mad Scientists of Etsy and produces incredibly clever and well-researched linocuts of famous scientists, animals, constellations, and more.
  • Ulixis is another Mad Scientist and when she is not super busy has gorgeous photo updates of her collage journals! This sounds boring but seriously—I always find myself lingering on her pictures in my feed, her art is a delight.
  • And finally, Jaclyn Paul blogs on writing, blogging, and the creative process in general. (And also: books.) Excellent reading for anyone who blogs or considers themselves a writer (or Writer).

2. Natalie's questions.

Because I like surveys!

1. How would you describe your blog in 3 words?

Arts and maths? Science, jewelry, books? Things I like? Crafts, maths, Sweden?

"I don't know."

2. What's the first thing you'd do if you won 1 million dollars?

 After dumping a chunk in savings, taking a round-the-world vacation.

3. What's the best advice someone gave you?

There are two, actually.

The first came from a dear friend when I lived in Korea, Gay Expat Bob (who has since moved back to Utica, whose presence in the NEST community in South Korea will be sorely missed). We were at a social event, I don't know what, and he told someone unhappy in their work: "There is always another job."

Not sound advice for every economy, but definitely very sound regarding the English-teaching market in South Korea. I remembered that advice later when I was working at a nightmare school, and without it I don't know if I would have quit and been able to spend a year at a wonderful, fun workplace in my Korean "hometown" and with the time and energy to go out with my friends.

The other piece I think is a good heuristic for life in general, and it comes by way of a member at a small forum I frequent (though I haven't heard word from him in years): "The key to having a happy life isn't to figure out what will make you happiest and pursue that; it's figuring out what makes you miserable and then making sure you avoid that at all costs."

4. Describe what would happen on a perfect day for you (being realistic here!)

I would have nothing to do but proofreading work. After blasting through 5 or 10 papers (and finding ALL OF THE ERRORS on the first go, of course!), I would spend the rest of my day at the crafting table I don't have yet, working on some new designs or maybe filling a custom order. Maybe take a break from that to write a novel that is perfectly easy and fun to write, all the time, no matter what. Then dinner and TV with JV, followed by some reading or video gaming.

I'm pretty easy to please, all told.

5. What's something you're really passionate about, other than blogging?

Being right! To phrase it less aggressively: the truth. (The whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.) I want to know the heart of the matter, whatever it is, instead of the hype and the FUD.

Not being a racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise hateful bigot is also pretty important to me.

6. If you had a theme song for your life, what would it be?

The person who can pick just one song to answer a question like this has no soul. Songs that I feel like apply to my life story at any given moment:

In a session they recorded in 1997. Dang.

"You've got more than money and sense, my friend. You've got heart, and you're going your own way."

Granted, most days I don't act as badass as Joan Jett. But it's how I feel on the inside that counts, right?

I don't actually know this song from Everything is Illuminated (I've read the book but have never seen the movie). I have a songbook at home, with hits performed by Harry Horlick and the A&P Gypsies, and "Bublitchki" is one of my favorites from it. This version by Gogol Bordello is basically the perfect song for when you feel ridiculous, and I feel ridiculous a lot. It is particularly good for mornings after drunken debauchery.

7. Who in your life has personally influenced you the most?

Influence is such a difficult thing to trace. It's impossible to isolate certain parts of my personality or beliefs and say, "This comes from so-and-so." I assume, like every human, the biggest influences in my life have been the people who raised me: Lawyer Mom and my dad and the babysitter who watched me and my brother as wee ones. I can't point directly to any influence, but that would be like trying to point out air.

The one person whose influence I can isolate and identify is JV. Many of my interests now (autism, Linux, and feminism, among others) spring directly from our conversations, even just from knowing him. Most importantly, though, he is also really passionate about being right the truth; any opinion he has is usually the result of hours of research and carefully-considered judgment; if it's ~just a feeling~ he's willing to admit it. As a result our conversations and debates are incredibly fruitful and thought-provoking.

8. Where would your super secret home base be located? (Top of a mountain? Bottom of the       ocean? Go Crazy!)

Part of me wants to have an underground caverns lair, in something stupendous like Carlsbad Caverns or Mammoth Caves, but then part of me remembers how delicate speleothems are and how so many endangered bats need those cave habitats, and I feel bad.

Where's question 9??

10. What stereotypically nasty food do you secretly (or not so secretly) love?

SPAM!! My love for it is definitely not-so-secret, hahaa.

I never had SPAM growing up; I didn't actually have any until I lived in Uijeongbu, South Korea, the home of budae jjigae, or "army base stew." Budae jjigae is your standard Korean jjigae with the weird not-so-meaty byproducts found in American military MREs: hot dogs, low-quality sausages, and SPAM. I love budae jjigae and especially I love SPAM.

11. What's your biggest talent?

It's hard to pick one that stands out. Not because I am awesome at everything, but because there's nothing I do so superlatively well that I can say, "This is my greatest strength."

I think, more than most other people (but not as much as, like, Gandhi), I'm capable of empathizing with others and walking a mile or two in their shoes.

I also think I was a damn good tour guide, back when it was my job.

3. My questions for the people tagged!

  1. What were/are your favorite books in (1) elementary school, (2) middle school, (3) high school, and (4) right now? (Yes, that's four questions in one. I AM A RULE-BREAKER IDGAF.)
  2. What is your favorite punctuation mark?
  3. What accomplishment are you most proud of? Why?
  4. What is (1) one criminally underrated movie and (2) one criminally overrated movie?
  5. Are there any "personality type" models you ascribe to? (Enneagrams, MBTI, etc.) If so, how does your "type" describe you—are you typical, atypical, split between two, etc.? If not, take an Internet quiz on the topic and discuss your results. Or you can abstain and explain why this isn't your thing.
  6. What "terrible" band or song do you totally and unabashedly love?
  7. You've won an all-expenses-paid month-long vacation to any single destination in the world. Where do you go? Who do you take with you? What will you do?
  8. What is one piece of pop culture (anything: TV, books, movie, band, video game, comic, board game, etc.) that everyone else you know loves but you can't stand?
  9. If you were asked to teach a class, what would it be on? What would be on the syllabus? What would the classes and assignments be like?
  10. What's your favorite comfort food/drink/snack?
  11. You have the power to resurrect one member of the 27 Club. Which one do you pick?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Trek Thursday: The Paradise Syndrome and Backassing

#70. The Paradise Syndrome

Star Trek TOS: The Paradise Syndrome. Fueled by backassery.

 In case you forgot: Kirk loses his memory and ends up, through hijinks, securing worship and a wife from a stereotypical American Indian tribe the Enterprise was tasked with saving from an asteroid. Kirk's luck runs out, his wife and unborn child die, but Spock saves the day by figuring out how to work alien technology.

The show's set outside, for once, which is a refreshing change of pace, but then it throws that all in the toilet with some Noble Savage fetishization and one of the most ridiculous plot contrivances of all time. It might be even worse than the one in The Omega Glory, in terms of random chance. Which is more unlikely: that somewhere out in the universe a parallel Earth would exist with an identical history right up until a Cold War won by the Communists, or that the phrase "Kirk to Enterprise" would correspond exactly to some alien language's "open sesame"? Think on that a while, statisticians. What's behind both of those, however, is a favorite tool of TOS writers: backassing.

A good Star Trek episode builds logically (or well, mostly logically) from scene to scene. It starts at point A (a beginning) and ends up, through situations 1, 2, and 3, at point B (an end). The worst Star Trek episodes, on the other hand, start out with the situations and then add points A and B around them willy-nilly. My own term for this is "backassing" (as the story is being written backasswards) but I'm sure there's a technical term for it. Anyway.

 We've seen this backassing already in The Omega Glory: "I want to write a Cold War allegory where the Communists win. How can I do that?" We see it in The Paradise Syndrome, too: "We want Kirk to get stranded on Planet Noble Savage for a while. How can we do that?" The answer: send the Enterprise on a time-critical mission but for some reason send the Power Trio planetside, give him convenient amnesia, and then bring the Enterprise back at the best possible time.

Even without the backassing, this episode would still be weak.  First of all, Kirk (or sorry, "Kirok") handles the whole "hailed as a god" situation like a tool—the people welcome him with open arms after he emerges from the obelisk but his godhood isn't cemented until he saves a kid from drowning by using some basic first aid (which somehow didn't get wiped in his amnesia). Rather than teach everyone else the technique so they can save themselves, Kirok is happy to sit on that information and be christened their White Savior instead. And this is supposed to be our hero? Never mind the cheesefest that is Shatner's take on some kind naive, newborn Kirk....in love.

Things aren't much better back on the Enterprise, either. Bones (my favorite, straight up) is often given the dumber lines out of the Power Trio—Kirk is our hero and Spock is, well, Spock, so the job of Joe Everyman often falls to the good doctor. This episode is not one of his stellar (hahaha "stellar" get it Star Trek stellar IT'S A STAR WORD) moments and he spends a lot of time being almost willfully stupid. Nimoy carries his scenes with his typical gravitas, and his concern for Jim's well-being is maybe the only good point in this episode, but that doesn't change the fact that the script's had him juggling with a few Idiot Balls.

For all its faults, though—at least it isn't The Omega Glory.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What I Read: Redshirts

Quite a neat coincidence, considering the inauguration of my Trek Thursday posts, that my most recent read is John Scalzi's Redshirts. It starts as an affectionate parody of everyone's favorite science fiction series, then quickly escalates into much more than that. It's a quick read—a member of my "One-Sit Reading" club, up there with The Crying of Lot 49 and The Painted Bird. I laughed out loud and read protracted excerpts to JV while I was reading because I simply could not wait for him to read it so he could enjoy them himself.

This is also the first book by John Scalzi that I've ever read, though I've heard of him before. Indeed, I've long appreciated his voice on the Internet when it comes to social issues I care about. I'm glad I finally had the chance to check out his fiction.

 I always have a hard time separating the artist from the work, truth be told—people like Orson Scott Card are so odious to me that it prevents me from enjoying their work. I realize such a separation is necessary for literary interpretation and valuing of works, but well, let's be honest: popular science fiction literature isn't about ~*~art~*~ and its interpretation, it's about storytelling and making a living. When the person is alive and well and influential and making a living off of their art, things are different. I am far more likely to give my money and attention to people who have demonstrated that they are thoughtful and empathetic individuals. I'm also more likely to "root" for them as writers, as it were, and to hope that their writing is good.

Was Redshirts perfect? No; there were some stylistic things I'd change (so many unnecessary dialog tags!) and I'm not sure how I feel about the epilogues. There are three epilogues, you see, all dealing with the ramifications of the plot's climax. I think the first epilogue is great conceptually, though its format as a series of blog posts isn't how I would have written it. The other two epilogues, for me, didn't add anything to the story, but I didn't mind reading them, either, so no net gain or loss. On the whole, Redshirts was a smart, hilarious book and deserving of all the critical claim it's garnered.  I'll be looking for more of Scalzi's books in future bookstore visits.

Speaking of redshirts:

Doomed Redshirt cross-stitch from aliciawatkins on Etsy

Monday, April 21, 2014

Birthstones: Emerald (May)

Who first beholds the light of day
In spring's sweet flowery month of May
And wears an emerald all her life
Shall be a loved and happy wife.
Emeralds should look somewhat familiar. Where have we seen this before?


A cookie for you if you knew right away that this is beryl, which has made an earlier appearance in this series as aquamarine.

Here is what the two look like if you compare them side by side.

March's birthstone, aquamarine, is a close relative of May's birthstone, emerald.
May's birthstone, emerald, is very similar to March's aquamarine.


The difference in color comes from a difference in the impurities in their crystal lattice. Aquamarine, as you may recall, owes its color to the play between different Fe ions (Fe2+ and Fe3+). Emerald, on the other hand, is green because of trace amounts of the metals chromium or vanadium (usually chromium).

The name "emerald" comes to English by way of Greek to Latin to French. The Greeks called it, simply, smaragdos, meaning "green" or "green gem," a name they may or may not have taken from the Sanskrit marakata. Over time, Latin added an excrescent "e" to form esmaraldus. That became esmeraude in French and, finally, emeraude  in English in the 14th century CE.

Emerald is another gemstone with a long and storied history. Records of it in Babylon go back as far as 4000 BCE. The earliest records of emerald mining in Egypt date to 2000 BCE, and possibly even earlier. Wherever they were initially discovered, trade carried emeralds all over the ancient world. Like many other gems, beliefs and powers ascribed to emeralds began to emerge:
  • In Vedic astrology, emerald was (and still is) associated with the planet Mercury; carrying an emerald on your person was believed to strengthen one's Mercury-related abilities: intelligence, speaking, writing, communicating, traveling, and so on.
  • For the Egyptians, emeralds were associated with fertility and rebirth and were highly prized by Cleopatra.
  • Pliny the Elder said "nothing greens greener" than an emerald and held that gazing upon it improved eyesight. Romans believed that the gem ripened like a fruit, and that a pale stone, if left alone, would grow darker with age; they also believed that in the presence of falsehood an emerald would lose its color entirely, or even fall out of a setting.
  • Aristotle recommended wearing emeralds for business transactions and court appearances, as it was thought to improve your presence and authority.
  • In the Middle Ages, holding the gem in your mouth (don't swallow!) was believed to allow the individual to see the future and to discern falsehoods. It was also thought to help keep women chaste.
Emeralds were also part of the plunder the Spanish brought back from the New World—what the indigenous Muzo people thought of them is hard to tell, but at the very least they were a traditional part of religious and ceremonial garb.

Today, the best and richest sources of emeralds are still in Brazil and Colombia. Zambia is also another major producer. The output of the Egyptian mines, once the largest source of emeralds for the ancient world, continues today, but the stones it produces are no longer of any dazzling quality.

The Gachala Emerald, the largest emerald in the world. Found in Gachalá, Colombia. Currently residing in the Smithsonian Institute's mineral collection. Weight: 171.6 g, or about a third of a pound.

The chromium that creates the green in emeralds also leads to inclusions, imperfections, and fragility. This means that emeralds, while registering relatively high on the Mohs scale, are still quite brittle and delicate. As a result, they have been traditionally cut in an octagonal shape (as in the first picture: squares with the corners sliced off) to keep sharp, squared corners from chipping.This style is so associated with the stone that the such a shape is often referred to as an "emerald cut" regardless of the stone. That said, today you can find emeralds in any size or cut you want.

Most commercially available emeralds are treated to improve their clarity and stability. This is usually done with oil, which fills in any cracks and also binds the stone together; it also enhances color. Naturally occurring emeralds with dark, flaw-free coloring do exist, but they are extraordinarily rare and command a high price. They can also be synthetically grown. The US FTC requires that all synthetic or treated stones be marked as such, but something like 99% of emeralds on the market today are enhanced to some degree, so regardless of disclosure or markings, it's safe to assume any natural emeralds in your jewelry or collection has been oiled to a certain degree. Especially if you didn't pay an arm and a leg for them.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

101 in 1001: Walking the Lord of the Rings

I don't know when or how I first stumbled upon it, but the Walk to Rivendell challenge has been something I've known about for years now. After attempting and failing C25K three different times, I decided that running a race (eugh—running) was never something that was going to appeal to me.

But taking the One Ring of Power to Mt. Dûm with Frodo and Sam? Right up my alley!

I just completed the first leg of the challenge: getting from Hobbiton to Rivendell (on our stationary exercise bike). I'll be posting my progress every time I make a significant milepost like this, with help of a handy-dandy graphic. My progress is the light blue dotted line, in case that wasn't obvious.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Find: HannaRivka

The other night I was possessed with the idea of finding an old book from my childhood. I guess it was triggered by the "Vinni-Pukh" cartoons JV had stumbled across.

In my library as a kid, I'd had a handful of vintage Soviet publications (in English) that I can only assume were gifts from my Baba and Dede—they were a bit too new to be among the hand-me-down books I had from my dad (a college student wouldn't have much need for children's books). Only one remains, now, and in excellent condition: The Little Clay Hut.

The Little Clay Hut: Russian Folk Tales About Animals. Illustrated by Evgeny Rachev.

I'm glad I still have this one, at least, because the illustrations by Evgeny Rachev are great:

Evgeny Rachev illustration from The Little Clay Hut.
This is the only HQ scan I could find, unfortunately.

I had at least two others. The one I remembered the most distinctly has now been lost to time and room-cleanings—it was a half-inch thick paperback, with a picture of a girl with a lamb on the green cover, titled something like Mary Had a Little Lamb. I've always wondered what happened to it since I think it was a bilingual book and would have been helpful while I studied Russian. Now I just want to find a copy of it for nostalgia reasons.

I didn't find that one last night, but I did find the other book I'd owned that I'd totally forgotten about: Teryosha.

Teryosha, retold by Alexei Tolstoy.
And I found it in a treasure trove of Russian and Soviet children's books: Finland-based HannaRivka, owned by Svetlana Skryabina. I scoured her entire selection of Russian children's books, but my mystery green book wasn't there. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised to find Teryosha! I ordered it straight away.

The others seem to be in Russian, so they're only of interest to book collectors or language enthusiasts. I studied Russian for three semesters in college but almost nothing remains; I hope to take a few courses at Komvux once I finish my Swedish classes. Maybe then I can order and enjoy some of these other gorgeous books at HannaRivka!

Nine Golden Sons vintage Russian children's book from HannaRivka on Etsy.
Nine Golden Sons vintage Russian book from HannaRivka  on Etsy

Selected Poems for Children vintage Russian book from HannaRivka on Etsy

Selected Poems for Children vintage Russian book from HannaRivka on Etsy
Selected Poems for Children vintage Russian book from HannaRivka on Etsy

Selected Poems for Children vintage Russian book from HannaRivka on Etsy

Selected Poems for Children vintage Russian book from HannaRivka on Etsy
The Frog Princess vintage Russian book from HannaRivka on Etsy

Are there any beloved items from your childhood you just can't find anymore? Or have you ever found a replacement for something you thought was irreplaceable? 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Trek Thursday: The Worst-Ever TOS Episode

For a few months, I wrote for a British pop culture site styled on the model of Cracked.com. The gig ended, but not before I wrote a massive, 20,000 word article ranking every Star Trek: TOS episode from worst to best. Unfortunately, the article sat in Internet development hell for two or three months before they closed my account ("We're focusing on moving forward with a smaller, dedicated staff of writers.") and so it will never see the light of day.

Until now.

Because I worked a lot on that article, dammit. My relationship may or may not have suffered for the month I spent hunched over the keyboard, finding something to say about even the most blasé and uninspired of episodes (in between the real, paid work I also had to do). I'd hate for it to all be for nothing.

I had the foresight to save the bulk of the writing on my own computer, so even though I may be locked out of my account, I still have access to my material. True, it's not going to be published in a monetized form (while the article was waiting in development hell, I signed up for a program on the site that would pay me a pittance per 1,000 page views), but that's better than not being published at all.

Plus, now I don't have to cram 78 episodes together into one post and I can take all the time and write all the commentary I damn well please.

Without further ado, let's begin Trek Thursday with the worst episode of them all.

#72. The Omega Glory

In case you forgot: The Enterprise finds a planet with "Yangs" and "Kohms," primitive people who are what's left after a planet-wide nuclear war. Surprise! It's a Cold War analogy!

TOS is infamous for plot contrivances. Most aliens are humanoid, everyone in the galaxy speaks English, etc. Ridiculous on the face of it, but coincidences I'm willing to overlook for the sake of a good story.

What makes "The Omega Glory" so awful, though, is that (1) it relies on what is maybe one of the worst plot contrivances of all time (2) as the third act twist. That image up there? That's basically a huge spoiler. It's one thing to beam down to the planet and ascertain within about five minutes or so that this is a parallel universe Cold War where America lost—okay, it's weak, but if you can make some lemonade out of that lemon I'll drink it. It's another to hold on to that and save it as some kind of genius reveal. It was a long, hard think to decide on the worst episode of TOS, but in the end it was the reliance on that reveal that put "The Omega Glory" on the bottom of the list.

People like to hate on Season 3 of TOS ("Spock's Brain" and "Way to Eden" are basically nothing more than punchlines in the fandom), but let's not kid ourselves into believing the first two seasons were anything less than consistent brilliance.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

2048 Accomplishment

I missed the 2048 bug until my friend Diana linked me to a Hangul version over the weekend. I was hooked, though I had to switch over to the Latin alphabet because I don't have my Korean alphabetical order quite sorted. I hate to admit it but I compulsively played every spare minute I had until this moment today:


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reading Styles Differ Between Digital and Traditional, Study Says

Is the digital world teaching us bad reading habits?

In a nutshell, when you read online, you do a lot of skimming for content, looking for keywords or core ideas, and passing over details (unless you're really interested). That's a style that doesn't work with some of the greats in literature: they often use complex syntax with all kinds of subclauses and periodically go on tangents.

I find it interesting that the woman interviewed for the article, Claire Handscombe, confessed to having such problems focusing on reading. (Also, trouble focusing on The Glass Bead Game? In my experience Herman Hesse is a lot more accessible than other literary giants. Girl, you may want to reconsider that MFA in creative writing if this is the case.) In my experience, it's been easy for me to shift from "Internet reading" to "book reading"; this may be due to the fact that I rarely skim, even online. Sure I skip over some articles in my RSS feed (who doesn't?), but I typically decide by the first paragraph if I'm going to skip the whole thing or not, then give everything else my full attention. Until I hit the next article I don't feel like reading, anyway.

It's no surprise to me, though, that comprehension is demonstrably better when you're reading a dead tree version than when you're reading an ebook version. I don't think that tactile sensation of holding a book, touching a page, or even the smell of the ink is just book fetishizing; I think it helps us immerse ourselves in the reading experience and therefore read better.

Do you think the Internet and social media has changed the way you read?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Autism Acceptance Month PSA

Autism is something near and dear to my heart. Not surprising, considering that JV is autistic himself. So when April rolls around I cringe inside because the conversation is inevitably coopted by anti-scientific, practically anti-autistic groups.

Autism $peaks is probably the biggest autism-related charity in the US, and is definitely the biggest force behind those puzzle-piece ~awareness ribbons~ you see on cars and websites as well as the "Light It Up Blue" campaign for Autism Awareness Day. If you feel moved to donate to them during this month of awareness, though, your money is better spent elsewhere.

1. They fund and encourage bad science instead of support and services for autistics and their families.

A$ is, among other things:
...dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism...
Except that the most likely cause of autism is genetic, so there isn't any possible prevention or cure for it. That 44% of the pie? It's money invested in science that will go nowhere. The only portion of their budget that even has the potential to perform any good is that 4% of "Family Services."

 Not to mention that people who drink the A$ Kool-Aid are more likely to buy into the "vaccines cause autism!!111!" anti-science as well, which is absolutely and totally false. A few of their board of directors even hold to this nonsense.

2. They have a limited understanding of what autism actually is.

Autism happens along a spectrum with varying levels of functionality across different abilities. It runs the gamut from people who can "pass" as neurotypical (NT) to Rain Man-style savants to, yes, the nonverbal cases that A$ loves to showcase in defense of their claims that "autism is stealing our children."

Except that is only a small, limited part of the spectrum. Implying otherwise is disingenuous. Scare tactics like the ones in their "I Am Autism" video don't help anyone; they only encourage negative stereotypes and baseless fears. Never mind that those low-functioning/nonverbal cases are people, too. Not monsters, not burdens....people.

By insisting that the only autism that counts is a narrow slice of that spectrum, and dismissing and ignoring anything else, A$ can target a parent's worst fears: that their child is incapable of communicating with them; that their child will never have a happy, fulfilling life; that something might "take away" their child.

Your child will know love, and happiness, and fulfillment, I promise. They will know all of these things from you. You just need to meet them where they are.

3. They are more interested in "helping" NT parents than actual autistics.

For a charity that purports to help autistics, they are markedly disinterested in input or suggestions from autistic people themselves. They don't have any autistic members of the board of directors. One of the few autistics they did consult with (John Elder Robison) resigned his role at A$ in November of last year because he'd had enough. As he put it in his resignation announcement:
Autism Speaks is the only major medical or mental health nonprofit whose legitimacy is constantly challenged by a large percentage of the people affected by the condition they target.

Of course, A$ isn't the only autism charity getting money this month. The National Autism Association, a strident anti-vaccination group, will be getting 10% of Chili's proceeds this month. Vaccinations do not cause autism. Any group working towards discouraging vaccinations, no matter what other good they might or might not be doing, is doing more net harm than good. Autism on its own has never killed a single person. Mumps, measles, smallpox, and whooping cough have.

What's a good alternative, then?

If the spirit has moved you to donate to an autism-related charity, I cannot recommend the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network highly enough. They are run for autistics, by autistics: "Nothing about us without us." Their current projects include investigating healthcare discrimination, promoting campus inclusion, assisting autistics in crafting resumes and searching for jobs, and more.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Just Listed: Full Adder Circuit Bracelet

I was cleaning out the bowels of my "jewelry pictures" directory when I realized: I had these gorgeous, touched-up photos of a bracelet done and I had never actually listed the damn thing. Oops!

Green Full Adder Circuit Computer Science Jewelry by Kokoba
Green Full Adder Circuit Bracelet

This is the bracelet based on Project Rae, which I finished up maybe two years ago? (My God, where does the time go?) As you may recall, Project Rae was the beaded representation of a full adder circuit, which in case you forgot, looks like this:

Here is a detailed breakdown of how the bracelet works. In the bracelet above, I opted to make all of the input values true—that is, equal to 1. This results in S and Cout being true as well. Like Project Rae and the original prototype, I opted to represent the output of each gate as well. The black plastic beads represent values of 1 and the faux pearls represent values of 0. As for the gates, the large green tubular bead is the OR gate, the larger (8mm) ocean jasper beads are the AND gates, and the smaller (6mm) fancy jasper beads are the XOR gates.

I like how the Full Adder Circuit Bracelet looks, with the draping chains and the multiple strands. It just takes a LOT of attention to detail to finish: the are the loops to wrap for each bead, then there's keeping track of which chain is attached to which bead and so on. All of that while making sure the design stays around the standard 7-inch length of a woman's bracelet. It goes without saying that the Full Adder Circuit Bracelet is one of the most difficult things I make on a semi-regular basis, so I price it accordingly.

Next up is a gold-toned necklace version, with aventurine and mookaite.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What I'm Reading: Women Philosophers From The Middle Ages To The Enlightenment

Or, rather, Kvinnliga filosofer från medeltid till upplysning, but for the sake of my English-speaking audience I thought I'd give the translated title.

I borrowed this paperback from JV's mother for Swedish practice and also because the subject interests me. Let me tell you how many women you learn about in a survey of Ancient or Modern thought: none. Even the Contemporary class I took—taught by a self-identified feminist professor—was heavy on the dudes. No Mary Midgley or Simone de Beauvoir for us, though we did read Catherine Elgin's Considered Judgment.

Anyway, there doesn't seem to be a translation of this book in English and my Swedish isn't advanced enough yet to comment on the style of Malmström-Ehrling's writing, so in lieu of a proper review, I'm leaving a list of all of the thinkers Malmström-Ehrling has collected into this survey of women's Modern philosophy:

  • Hildegard of Bingen
  • Christine de Pizan
  • Marie de Gournay
  • Anne Conway
  • Catharine Trotter Cockburn
  • Catharine Macaulay Graham
  • Mary Wollstonecraft
The book has a general introduction by Malmström-Ehrling, then gets to the meat of things. Each woman has her own chapter, with a short biography, a general overview of her philosophy, and then selections from her most important works. I'm embarrassed to say that, aside from Mary Wollstonecraft, I had never heard of any of these women. Hopefully I'll get a lot more out of this besides Swedish practice!