Saturday, October 31, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: 5 Characters I Would Dress Up As For Halloween

So I love Halloween and putting together a costume. I'm not a brilliant seamstress or even particularly clever, but I do get immense satisfaction out of doing the best I can with what I've got. This list is a combination of characters I've already been and ones that I would like to be.

5. Link

Thank you, @House_Owner. Thank you.

This is one I did back in high school and was probably the most labor-intensive costume I've ever made: I sewed the tunic and the hat (rather poorly) and I made a master shield out of cardboard. I managed to scrounge up a boomerang and some weird red fruit punch flavored drink mix for a health potion from around the house, and a crappy toy sword from the Halloween shop. 

4. Silent Bob

Image courtesy GabboT on Flickr

All I had to do was paint on a fake beard, borrow Lawyer Mom's London Fog trench coat, and I was good to go.

3. Velma

Image courtesy Michael Mol on Flickr
I got to buy a cute skirt and sweater that stayed in my wardrobe for years afterwards. I should probably be Velma again at some point.

2. Amethyst

Steven Universe logo courtesy Cartoon Network Studios

I've finally started watching Steven Universe and I am so much in love. So much! Amethyst is my favorite of the gems, and I have enough on hand for an okay Amethyst costume. The only issue left is the hair: dye it? wig? So I'm saving Amethyst for a future costume, when I have a little more expendable cashflow to spend.

1. Athena

Do gods and goddesses count as characters? It's a tough question. I say yes, so that I can show you guys my rad Athena costume from 2010 and 2011.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trek Thursday (Parenthetical): Friday's Child

Friday's Child

Where it should have been on the list: #38, so a tolerable middle-of-the-road episode that sometimes approaches "good."

In case you forgot:  The Power Trio is tasked with negotiating an agreement with the aggressive, semi-barbarian residents of Capella IV over topaline. Unfortunately, the Klingons have gotten there first, poisoning the well and sending the Enterprise on a wild goose chase. The leader, Akaar, is sympathetic to the Federation but gets assassinated, leaving the Power Trio and Akaar's pregnant widow Eleen in a precarious spot. All four escape, McCoy delivers Eleen's baby, and the Enterprise returns just in time to help oust the Klingon scout and install Eleen (and baby Leonard James Akaar) as the new leader.

Clearly some thought went into creating the Capellans and their culture, more than in some other aliens of the week. I can appreciate that, even if their costume design is pretty silly. I also like that Eleen ends up in charge of the Capellans, though whether this will set a better precedent for Capellan women or whether it will just be an anomaly in their history is hard to tell. Overall, the story doesn't lack for action or intrigue: there isn't anything in the way of filler here (except maybe shots back on the Enterprise during its wild goose chase).

There's just a bunch of random little things keeping this episode from being better. The costume design is just so silly in this one. Everyone looks like Muppets! It kind of detracts from the seriousness of the story. Then there's the final confrontation; with people forfeiting their lives in exchange for others and crazy distractions and so on, it's a bit garbled, even in the re-watching. You also have to wonder if the Prime Directive applies here, since Kirk is totally cool with people waving their phasers about in front of a more or less primitive culture. And even though it's "culturally acceptable," it still feels damn weird to see Bones slap a woman.

Some trivia: this is the first appearance of McCoy's "Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a ____" catchphrase.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Science Tarot

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you know that I'm a sucker for a good sciart project. What you may not know is that I'm also a Tarot and all-around esoteric enthusiast.

This isn't something I discuss a whole lot, as people are usually ready to jump down my throat or ascribe certain beliefs/character faults to me that are, frankly, untrue. They assume I'm like William Shatner or that old guy in that Twilight Zone episode—no, not Terror at 28,000 Feet, I mean Nick of Time—which really could not be further from the truth.

I like the symbolism of the cards, I like how people interpret them in new and creative ways, I like using them for stories and writing, and once in a while they're even a useful tool for clarifying your own thinking on a topic. Personally, I think the art of reading meaning into a bunch of randomly-generated symbols is a useful life skill to have, whether it's Tarot or runes or I Ching or tea leaves or whatever. It can help you look at a problem or an issue from a completely wack-a-doo angle that nonetheless gives you the perspective you need.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered The Science Tarot. I think it may have originated on Etsy, but now you can purchase the deck via their standalone website. (Good for them!)

If you don't already know, a Tarot deck consists of 3 groups of cards: the Major Arcana, or Trumps, which are probably what you think of when you think of Tarot;

The Magician (Pamela Colman-Smith/Alfred Waite)

 the Minor Arcana, or pips, which have four different suits numbered from Ace to 10;

3 of Swords, ibid.

and the court cards, most of whom you probably would recognize in a contemporary playing card deck (same as the pips).

King of Wands, ibid.

(A big thanks to Wikipedia editor Fuzzypeg for dutifully scanning and uploading the images from the original, public domain 1909 Colman-Smith/Waite deck!)

Put together by a team of artists, scientists, and artists/scientists, The Science Tarot has reimagined each group of cards while attempting to retain their original meaning. The Major Arcana are now "science stories," such as Mendel and his peas or Schrödinger's Cat. The court cards are, intuitively, famous scientists. categorized based on Helen Fisher's work in personality and attraction. The Minor Arcana are illustrated scientific concepts, like chaos theory, cocoon, fusion, or catastrophe. For example, here is The Science Tarot's 2 of Swords:

2 of Swords from The Science Tarot, art by Shari Arai DeBoer.
Sitting under the apple tree, we contemplate a choice to be made. The tree branch lifts an apple high in the air, and gravity continuously pulls it toward the ground. These equal and opposite forces hold the apple in place. But soon the balance may shift and the apple may fall, releasing the branch from its burden and shaking the leaves as they swing upwards.

Isaac Newton observed that every action caused an equal and opposite reaction and so reasoned that every reaction could be predicted from the action that triggered it. Like a game of billiards, Newton's world is a predictable knocking around of objects: the force of the impact equals the mass of the moving object times its acceleration. To send an apple flying in a specific direction, we only need to know where to hit it and how hard. To move a gigantic apple, we'll need to hit it with a great deal of mass, or we will need a running start.

A decision is hanging over your head. You can choose to leave the apple suspended in the tree, or you can apply enough force to bring it down. Either decision may bring good results, but if you wait too long, the apple may fall on your head.

Hero's Journey, Step 2: Refusal of the call. The hero is reluctant to use this new power.
The suits of the Minor Arcana (swords, wands, pentacles, cups) are also given their own particular theme: Wands as creation, the nuclear fusion burning in each star; then Pentacles as exchange, elements forged in the star now coalescing into matter; Swords as scientific observation, the higher thinking of conscious life and the beginning of abstract, scientific fields like mathematics, chaos theory, and physics; and finally Cups as the integration of the scientific consciousness into a more holistic picture of life and the return of the scientific observer to a participant in the system. The deck creators also employed Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey to tell the "story" of the Minor Arcana suits, for that extra layer of meaning.

There is obviously just so much thought and attention to detail in this deck—but then, would you expect anything less from a science-themed Tarot deck?—and I am just in love.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Newly Listed: Tan and Green Pi Bracelet

Happy Monday! It's almost over in Stockholm, but my American readers haven't quite finished their workday yet.

This week's Kokoba #sciart is another pi bracelet. Another! I know! I have so many of these, but they're great little stash-busters and I guess in times of experimentation I stick with the familiar—in this case, the digits of pi.

Pi in tan glass and green impression jasper

Even though I've been relisting items over the last few weeks (Christmas!!), I haven't been too inspired when it comes to making new items. I have a couple necklaces that I've made, but that's been it.

Between studies and two jobs (and somehow not a lot of money), I'm just exhausted. Fatigued. I'm excited about upcoming NaNo, especially as I won't have any classes during November, but on the other hand I am running at least one (possibly two?) events.

This guy was another stash buster I did a while ago. I'm trying to work through all of the beads I have on hand so I can start replacing some old work horses and trying out some new hotness. But that will take some time and thinking, when what I need is fresh inspiration and a kick in the pants. Which is why I've been hanging out on the #sciart hashtag more than usual today. The highlight this wee: any real artists out there? (I am not a real artist.) There might be residency for you at CERN. Yeah, that CERN. I look forward to seeing the work of whomever they pick, and now I'm curious about the work of CERN's current artist-in-residence.

If you're having a bit of the Monday blahs, you can always treat yo' self to some STEM jewelry from the Kokoba Etsy store! Or let me make something just for you. ;) Otherwise, you can lose yourself in this week's beautiful collection of sciart.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: 5 Things I Love About Halloween

Somehow I missed not one but two weeks of 5 Fandom Friday?! I guess so. Today, though, I have time to sit down and blog a bit. Instead of this week's prompt, I'm looking back at last week's: 5 favorite things about Halloween. I'm trying very hard to avoid making this list nothing but candy, but the struggle is real.

1. Candy corn

I need to ask my friends/family back in the US to mail me some because THERE IS NO CANDY CORN IN SWEDEN. I don't count the fancy (and expensive!) "American candy" store. I want my cheap-ass Brach's, preferably on post-Halloween discount.

2. Apple things

Image courtesy Tony Hudson/Wikimedia Commons
Bobbing for apples, caramel apples, apple pie, apple cider...all of the apples. (FUCK YO' PSL!!!)

3. Vincent Price

Halloween is the season for horror movies, and Vincent Price is the undisputed king of them. All respect due to slashers and grindhouse and zombies, but my favorite kind of horror movies are the mid-century pieces (no colorization, please). Sure, the effects are hit and miss today, but that campy and/or gothic horror atmosphere never gets old.

4. Costumes

Image courtesy Geoffrey Landis/Wikimedia Commons

I'm not really a convention person. If I were, I'm sure I'd be seriously into cosplay. Instead I take Halloween costumes pretty seriously. I've been Link, Silent Bob, Athena, coked-out Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction, the Blue Screen of Death, and Athena (among others). I have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to be this year, but I'll sit on that reveal...for now.

5. NaNoWriMo

Sure, NaNoWriMo doesn't begin until November, but as Halloween butts right up against November, the two can certainly bleed into each other! Last year and this year I organized a late-night Halloween/NaNo kick-off event for the Stockholm area. It was a great way to celebrate Halloween and to get a head start on NaNo (by starting writing at the crack of midnight) at the same time!

What do you love about Halloween? Let me know!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Trek Thursday: Parentheticals and Elaan of Troyius

And as we close in on my favorite TOS episode of all time, I'm pulling back for a minute to address some mistakes.

Some mistakes?

Somehow, certain episodes got overlooked. This text file was written up in a browser, then hurriedly copypasta'd into a text file, then copypasta'd back here. So things got lost in the move, as it were. If I haven't gotten to your favorite (or least favorite) episode yet, that's why!

The first correction today is Elaan of Troyius.

Where it should have been on the list: #68, so a pretty rotten episode all around.

In case you forgot: The Enterprise's mission this week is to facilitate negotiations between two kind of backwoods-y planets. To broker peace, one planet (Troyius) has offered up Elaan, who is a princess or something, in marriage. She doesn't want to at first, but Kirk helps her see the error of her silly woman ways. Also Klingons are involved, somehow.

 France Nuyen portrays one of the tougher, cooler ladies of Trek,...until she goes doe-eyed over Kirk.

TOS was not kind to women, most of the time, and this episode is a stellar (hahahah "star" pun, I slay me) example of that. "Elaan" treats the titular character like a spoiled child and every other woman on Troyius with utter contempt—there's a throwaway line about how all women on the planet are basically too uppity for their own good and that it's only the power of their love potion tears that keeps the men of Troyious beholden to them. And what's a civilization advanced enough for interplanetary space travel doing treating women like chattel? We stopped using marriages to broker peace and seal treaties quite a long time ago, because as we got smarter we learned that (surprised!) women are people, too. I don't think a culture could get smart enough for spaceships but stay too dumb for feminism.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Sweden

Today was (or is, depending on your time zone) the most important Internet holiday this year: the day that Marty McFly arrives in the future! Alas, no flying cars or dehydrated pizzas, but then could anyone have predicted smartphones or the Internet*?

Today is extra special for me because October 21st is also the date I set foot in Stockholm for good. This year is my second Swedeversary. Hurrah!

JV and I celebrated by buying and putting up curtains (SUCH GROWN-UP, MUCH MATURE) and having a friend over to marathon all three Back to the Future movies.

It had been years since I'd seen any of the Back to the Future movies, so Marty's trip to the future came at a pretty good time (pun...intended?). I had forgotten how little of the second movie is actually in the future, so that part was a letdown—especially within the context of all the Internet hype about MARTY MCFLY DAY!!!11!.

But the great thing about watching movies with people is that fresh pairs of eyes catch things you might miss. We all had a great time pointing out the brick jokes and all of the attention to detail. And other things, like: did you ever notice how much product placement is in the first two? Especially the first one? Or how ditzy Marty's girlfriend is? (She sees their crummy life in the future and she's upset because they had a cheap wedding? Puke.) But good things, too. I never fully appreciated the scope of Christopher Lloyd's comedic timing and A+ facial expressions.

But hey, you've all seen Back to the Future so here, feast your eyes on our new curtains!

Forest from Indiska
If I were a really with-it and together person, I'd have organized a special sale in the Kokoba Etsy store to kickstart the Christmas shopping season, but I'm not, so I didn't. Hopefully next year I will have the time and energy for it. This year I was busy with Swedish classes (officially done with those!) and my day jobs (still have those) so Etsy just kind of hung out on the sidelines this year. Hopefully I'll have my life a little more together for my third Swedeversary.

Did you have a Back to the Future party? Or maybe move to a new country or buy new curtains? Let me know!

*I know there were dial-up BBSs by '85, hello WarGames, but that's hardly the amorphous, international cultural juggernaut that is THE INTERNET today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Newly Listed: Green Pi Bangle

Yesterday (and today!) I've been super busy, ugh. Was your Monday any better? I hope so!

That's why I'm not getting around to sharing a new item up in the Kokoba Etsy store until today. But you can forgive, because I've blogged about this guy before:

Green math STEM sciart jewelry pi bangle
Pi bracelet by Kokoba
The really GREEN! nature of the bracelet has grown on me over time. Maybe that's because we are deep into fall territory here in Stockholm (gray skies, rain, and an underwhelming performance by this year's foliage) and I'm craving some color. Who knows!

If you're also craving some green, this pi bangle is available in the Kokoba Etsy store. If you're thirsty for some sciart, there's lots of cool new stuff up on the Twitter #SciArt hashtag! There are some cool goings-on at the SciArt center in New York, it seems. Unfortunately I'm not able to check them out.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Changeling

#2: The Changeling

In case you forgot: The Enterprise has run across a deranged space probe that's intent on sterilizing the entire galaxy. Fortunately, it thinks Kirk is its creator, buying everyone some time until Kirk eventually out-logics it into self-destruct land.

The good: Hands-down the best "man versus machine" episode of them all. It doesn't matter that computers and artificial intelligence don't really work that way; the story is good enough otherwise that I'm more than willing to accept Nomad's accident as a necessary plot contrivance. The threat builds nicely over the episode, and when Kirk outbrains the probe, it's well-earned, not as deus ex machina-y as the Kirk versus the computer episodes can sometimes get.

The bad: Uhurua's "knowledge wipe" is freaky. Obviously TOS is episodic and so she's back to normal next week like nothing ever happened, but the implications of what a knowledge wipe would entail and what it would do to a person are pretty heavy. I think it would involve more than just teaching her to read again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

What I Read: The Beach

This week's post was a toss-up between The Beach and Never Alone. Even though I finished Never Alone first, The Beach is probably more complex and also I just have a lot more to say about it, so I figured it was better to touch on that first.

As I said on Monday, I read The Beach for my job. Kind of.

I moonlight as an English tutor and one of my teenage students had to read this for his English class. I decided to read it for myself for a couple of reasons. I wanted to see what level of work he gets assigned in class and also to see what kind of cultural touchstones there were in the book that he might not get (a lot, turns out). I also wanted to farm the book for extracts and sentences to use in our tutoring sessions, because examples of how to parse a sentence you don't quite understand go better when you can directly apply them to a task (like, say, the homework reading you have to do.) Finally, I have to admit I wanted to take the piss out of him (a bit). "What do you mean you're not done? I finished it in one day!"

Yeah, actually. I ended up reading The Beach in one day, in three sittings (subway ride home, before dinner, and after dinner).

Image courtesy Penguin

In the trek through my modified TIME Top 100 Novels list, I've found a recurring theme of "white Westerners in foreign countries": Under the Volcano (the British in Mexico), Beneath the Sheltering Sky (Brits and Americans in North Africa), Tropic of Cancer (Americans in France), and The Sun Also Rises (Americans in France/Spain). The Beach continues in this literary tradition of disaffected white people finding themselves in another country, but this time it's in Thailand. For anyone like me who's missed out on this book in the 20 (!!) years since its publication:

Backpacking English guy (Richard) is in Thailand, where a strung-out hostel guest shares a map with him that's supposed to be like the Platonic Ideal of backpacking destinations. Guest then kills himself. Rchard and a French couple (Etienne and Francoise) find the island and live for a while in a tropical utopia. Spoiler alert: things eventually go to shit and Richard, Etienne, Francoise, and a couple of Richard's new utopia friends flee for their lives.

If there is something to be argued about how problematic it is to frame a foreign country as nothing more than an exotic backdrop and "epiphany playground" for the protagonists, especially a foreign country that exists in an unequal power relationship with the author's/protagonist's nation of origin, then that argument is maybe more fairly leveled at The Beach than anything else I've read so far.

I guess all of those postcolonial lit discussions I have with people have permanently ruined some books for me! But that's okay, I don't know how much I would have liked The Beach  anyway.

"So, you guys, did you ever hear of this book, The Lord of the Flies? Amazing stuff."

That is what I imagine Garland's book conversations go. I should have lowered my expectations as soon as I read the blurb from Mail on Sundayon the back of the book:

Lord of the Flies and The Magus lurk at the roots of this novel...

I hate Lord of the Flies. I hate its obvious and moralizing little Aesop structure and clunky symbolism, but most of all I hate its fucking pessimism. I do not for a second believe that the chaotic Hobbesian "state of nature" is what lurks in most people's innermost hearts. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

It isn't just Garland's dim view of humanity that grates on me. The Internet says that Garland drew on his own backpacking experience and it seems, in places, like he's trying to rag on backpacker snobbery and hipsterism. People are always talking about how this place used to be great but now is full of tourists, it's really this other place that's the next big thing. I'm all for ragging on hipsters, but when it's coming from someone who sets a book in Thailand and then makes it exclusively about white (bar Keaty) Westerners it smacks a little of...cluelessness, I guess.

It feels weird to say this about something that's only 20 years old, but I wonder if there were some things in The Beach that were a product of its time. I don't mean the clunky references to Keaty's GameBoy as "the Nintendo," either. I mean that there are a couple scenes that don't really serve any narrative or character-developing purpose and today read as....let's say, "problematic" with respect to stereotypes about Thai sexuality and Thai masculinity. There only two, but they are crammed right in the beginning of the book (when Richard and his friends are still in Thailand proper). One gets the feeling that if the book took place exclusively in Thailand, there were would have been a lot more where these came from:

1. Right in the beginning, Richard and Etienne are walking down the big backpacker road together. Richard ends up being accosted by, well, a creepy local:

A brown hand flashed out and caught hold of me. A Thai trader sitting by his stall, a slim man with acne scars, was gripping my arm. I looked towards Etienne. He hadn't seen, was still walking down the road. I lost him behind bobbing heads and tanned necks. 
The man began stroking my forearm with his free hand, smoothly and swiftly, not loosening his grip. I frowned and he tried to pull away. He pulled me back, taking my hand towards his thigh. My fingers clenched to a fist and my knuckles pressed against his skin. People pushed past me on the pavement, knocking me with their shoulders. One caught my eye and smiled. The man stopped stroking my arm and started stroking my leg.  
I looked at him. His face was passive and unreadable and his gaze was levelled at my waist. He gave my leg a final caress, turning his wrist so his thumb slipped briefly under the material of my shorts. Then he released my arm, patted me on the behind, and turned back to his stall.

2. Only a few pages later we have this:
Thais, or South-East Asians in general, make eerily convincing transvestites. Their slight build and smooth faces are a recipe for success. 
I saw a particularly stunning transvestite as I waited under the palm tree. His silicone breasts were perfectly formed and he had hips to die for. The only thing to betray his gender was his gold lame dress—a bit too showy to be worn by a Thai girl on a stroll down Chaweng. 
He was carrying a backgammon set under his arm, and as he slunk past he asked if I wanted to play a game. 
"No thanks," I replied with neurotic haste. 
"Why?" he wanted to know. "I think maybe you afrai' I win." 
I nodded. 
"OK. Maybe you wan' play in bed?" He tugged at the long slit up the side of his dress, revealing fabulous legs. "Maybe in bed I le' you win..." 
"No thanks," I said again, blushing slightly. 
He shrugged and continued walking along the beach. A couple of beach huts down someone took him up on the backgammon offer. Curious, I tried to see who, but they were blocked by the trunk of a leaning coconut tree. A few minutes later I looked back and he was gone. I guessed he'd found his punter. 
Etienne appeared not long after, beaming. 
"Hey, Richard," he said. "Did you see the girl walking this way?" 
"With a lame dress?" 
"Yes! My God, she was so beautiful!"
Neither of these scenes are essential to the plot. My guess is that they're included as set pieces to make the setting seem really, really Thai. Which is kind of necessary, since for much of the book we just have a bunch of white people talking to each other in a lush tropical paradise that is technically Thailand but has nothing at all to do with Thailand. Maybe Garland is hoping if that he lays it on thick at the beginning, it'll be enough to tide you over for the rest of the book.

I won't dissect everything in these selections that bother me but I'll list them here: the "creepy homosexual" trope, the reduction of ladyboys/kathoey to pure camp (and then, later, punchline, as the bit where Etienne thinks the kathoey is a ciswoman is presumably supposed to be funny), the stereotype of Asian men as impotent and/or effeminate, and finally the way Garland writes out Thai accents.

How to write dialects and accents is an ongoing debate among writers from amateur to professional. I think the agreed-upon standard is: write the words that people say, not how they say them. Accents can be described outside of speech. One gets wiggle room according to one's own ethnic and cultural background, I think, but that is the standard for white people writing POC.

What's weird is, Garland actually does exactly this later on in the book (I think with Unhygeinix, the chef, but I could be wrong): he says right out front that the character has an accent but he can't be bothered to write it out, so he describes about how it sounds and then the character speaks "neutrally" for the rest of the book. But he can't do that with the Thai characters? Because they all speak in that same "Maybe you wan' play in bed?" voice: the gold lame ladyboy, the cop investigating the death at the hostel, the weed plantation owners at the end of the book. It's hard not to see the Thai dialogue and the way it's written as something of a choice.

Shit like that just bugs me. You could argue that Garland is trying to characterize Richard through this (since Richard breaks the fourth wall and states, directly, that he's writing down this story about a crazy beach he lived at for a while). I don't buy it, though, because there's nothing in the book that seems that subversive or ironic.

What else annoyed me? Hm:

The women characters in this book were essentially sexy lamps. Francoise was a sexy lamp that Richard obsessed over; Sal was another sexy lamp (the only description she gets is basically having large breasts) that Richard hates; and then there were maybe or two other women? Who barely had names?

Richard suffered from Inexplicable Speshul Snoflaek Syndrome. The psychotic, soon-to-be-dead "Daffy Duck" singles Richard out for no apparent reason and gives him the map to the beach, kickstarting the whole adventure. Up until the end, Sal likes Richard for no apparent reason ("because he reminds her of Daffy Duck," the book tells us, but we never get a clear picture of what exactly he was like). We see Richard sexually harassed and propositioned by Thai men, while the other white male characters we meet are completely ignored.

It's too bad because there were some interesting ideas, like Richard treating the beach and assorted tasks like a game, or like a war movie reenactment. If I'm allowed to reach for a moment, I would say it was a great metaphor for the way that a lot of backpackers see the countries they're in: as a game, as escapism, as something entirely divorced from reality, as something for their own entertainment where they're the hero. Given everything else in here, I would say that metaphor is entirely accidental.

What was also probably accidental was the way that everyone on the beach pretended as though they were separate from the World (as they call it), not reliant on the World, even as they were actually dependent on the World for a whole lot. Without the rice from Rice Runs they would starve; without batteries they would lose some of their favorite hobbies (Keaty's GameBoy and some unnamed people's Walkmans); without pilfering from the nearby marijuana plantation (grown and maintained by Thais) they'd have no entertainment. Everyone except Sal smokes a lot of ganja and that seems to be the only thing to do for fun, aside a weekly soccer match. If any one of these links to "the World" were to vanish, things would get pretty awful pretty quickly. But no one ever seems to acknowledge this. There seems also to be an extended metaphor that applies to the worst kind of insular foreign language instructor communities (the communities I know best are the NEST communities: Native English Speaker Teacher, but there are others): rely and even exploit the local economy/community for what you need, but do your best to pretend like it isn't there and spend your time and energy getting to know other foreigners. I saw it happen and, to an unfortunate extent, I was part of it as well. (That's a post for another day, though.)

The writing, too, was fluid and crisp, even if Garland's ideas were sometimes stupid. I wouldn't have been able to read it in one day if the writing were bad. It's good. But because the writing was good, I really wanted the ideas to be better. But as it stands, The Beach is a very White Dude book. I have zero interest in reading of Garland's other work.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Newly Listed: Black and Blue Wrap Pi Bracelet

Another Monday, another new listing in the Kokoba shop!

I had a relaxing day to myself, like most Mondays I had up until recently, and ended up going to the library for Alex Garland's The Beach. It's not a novel entirely suited to my tastes but one of my English tutees is reading it for school, so I thought I'd read it, too. I had a hard time believing him because I was under the impression that it was full of drugs and sex and gore, and my American expectations about what's appropriate for school assignments were ~~shocked. (I got over it, though!) Even though the book isn't to my taste (for reasons I'll go into later), I did blow a few hours reading it today and got over 200 pages in. Way more drugs than I was expecting, but not really as much sex or gore. I plan to finish it before I see this tutee again on Saturday, partially to anticipate any language/cultural questions and partially just to mess with him.

Needless to say I didn't get around to updating the blog or Etsy until much later than I normally do. I guess not having my usual Monday tutoring completely ruins my sense of time.

This is a piece I've had laying around for a while, but didn't list until recently. Not a color combination I usually go for in my wardrobe, but I think the look in this one is quite dramatic!

The latest jewelry from Kokoba: black and blue wrap bracelet in twine and agate, with pi.
Black and blue wrapped pi bracelet
The dyed blue agate looks very bright here, but in typical light (and against the skin) it's more navy-colored, or even black.

I really hit a wrap bracelet craze earlier this year. Even though it's died down a bit, wrap bracelets are still something I like on style level as well as a craft level.

The round, dark blue beads spell out the digits of pi, while the black rectangular beads act as spacers. The blue beads are dyed agate; the black beads are some kind of dyed/reconstituted something or other.

This is the only one I have left in my inventory. Every other one I've made has been sold, either as private gift purchases or as part of my latest order for The Da Vinci Science Center. It always breaks my heart a little to sell them, because they end up becoming part of my wardrobe. (Of course I test wear things! Besides, not wearing your own jewelry is a missed advertising opportunity.) But with the heartbreak comes a bit of satisfaction: at least I'm making something that people want to buy!

I've been too busy to sit down and make any recently (they do require a significant time and patience investment, both of which have been in short supply recently), but once NaNoWriMo season winds down I hope to crank out a few more. Maybe even one to keep for myself. ;)

If you want to break my heart a little bit, you can take this piece of math jewelry home yourself. Don't forget to nose around Twitter for some great #sciart finds. I RT'd my favorites but there are just so many!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Friday Five on Saturday: 5 Favorite (Fictional) Teachers

Image courtesy Katelyn Jade

As a teacher (of sorts) myself, I am basically morally obligated to answer this one. I'm also really, really, excited to answer it, because I think teachers are immensely underrated and undervalued in American culture. Sure, everyone loves Dead Poets Society but then we also joke about how teachers are glorified babysitters who only work 9 months out of the year. Um, excuse me?

My list includes real-life teachers alongside fictional ones, just because.

5. Senor Chang (Community) (season 1, mostly)

I mean, he's Chang. His character took some bizarre directions—I guess that's what happens when a bunch of people work together on a story—and sometimes it was okay and sometimes it wasn't. Season 1 despotic teacher Chang is where it's at, though I do like the storyline he gets in the Karate Kid theatrical adaptation episode.

I allowed myself one silly answer, because a little levity never hurt, but the rest of these answers really speak to what I admire in teachers (and hope to be myself, one day).

4. Ma Yeo-jin (Majin) (The Queen's Classroom)

Courtesy Wikimedia and iOK Media.

MAJIN IS THE BAMFEST TEACHER CHARACTER TO HAVE EVER BEEN WRITTEN. A lot of favorite teacher characters are theatrical, over-the-top ~*~performers~*~ and while that's great, you get the impression that maybe some of them should have been actors instead of teachers.


Majin devotes herself to the betterment of her students to an almost unprecedented level. Part of the appeal of teaching (for me, and apparently for a lot of the OTT teacher characters) is being able to forge a connection with students and be their friend and mentor and, once in a while, have fun with them.

MAJIN IS TOO GOOD FOR THAT. She started out as that teacher, apparently, but realized that what was the best for her students wasn't to be their friend, but to teach them to be friends for each other. This lesson, unfortunately for Majin, comes at the cost of her ever being able to be their friend. She fights for them and champions for them in exhausting, unimaginable ways outside of the classroom, but in the classroom she resists every urge or temptation to be funny, to be entertaining, to be likable. Instead she engages in a year-long Socratic dialogue with them, leading them to some heavy life truths by forcing them to question their environment, their values, and even her own authority.

I could never do that.

3. Mrs. B

I took piano lessons for about ten years, from 7 to 17, and Mrs. B was my teacher for 8 or 9 of them. I had a student of hers before I started with her, and supposedly I was the catalyst for some kind of feud or fallout between them?


(My first teacher was still in high school when she started giving lessons, and Mrs. B instructed her to refer any clear talents up the ladder to Mrs. B herself, as she was a professional with a proper music education background and years of experience and so on—if a sucky kid gets bad instruction, it's no loss, but she wanted any potential talent to have experienced training from the get-go. As it turned out, I was pretty good! I'll never know how good, for reasons I'll get into later, but good enough that Mrs. B could tell by my first recital and demanded to know what the hell, man? My then-teacher said something about Lawyer Mom being the church organist and helping me(???) or making me practice a whole lot or whatever, but my second recital rolled around 6 months later and Mrs. B had it all sussed and flipped her lid at my then-teacher and, if I'm recalling this story correctly, they fell apart permanently as a result.

I knew none of this until years later. I stopped lessons with my first teacher because she was leaving for college; my parents offered me the choice of another neighbor or my first neighbor's teacher (Mrs. B). I'm surprised they let an 8-year-old make that kind of decision? But I said that I thought it would at least be more consistent to have my teacher's teacher than a completely new track. In retrospect, that decision was a life-changer.)

Like my other favorite real-life teachers, Mrs. B had standards, and I'm ashamed to say that I was a lazy piece of crap who failed to meet almost all of them. I got by for years with the scantest amount of practice because I was a halfway decent sight-reader (meaning: I could play things up to a certain difficulty fairly well on the first try) and even though she tried to have quite a few Come to Jesus moments with me, the message never sank in. (If someone had told me that Malcolm Gladwell tidbit about 10,000 hours I might have been a less lazy piece of crap. Who knows.) We won't even discuss my disastrous senior recital. :(

To a small extent, I can also pinpoint some of the problems I had on my first teacher: she did not (that I recall) instruct or even recommend scales, which are a vital piece of learning to play an instrument well. I also had a tendency to keep my thumbs on middle C no matter what in early songs. I realize this is a popular way to introduce kids to the keyboard but it's not good pedagogy. Otherwise you end up like me, learning to contort your hand(s) to keep that thumb on C instead of fluid, natural fingering.

But that's passing the buck. I could have gotten over that small handicap if I had given more of a shit in middle and high school. I coulda been a contendah! But I didn't, and now I regret it.

Sorry, Mrs. B.

2. Ms. R-B

I have a lot of teachers from kindergarten up until senior year I could put on this list, but it would more or less be an exercise in injustice. My school district, which has its own set of problems (like the football coach/high school principal...imagine that combination if you will), was at least blessed with a lot of really fantastic and dedicated teachers while I was there (and that still seems to be the case today). I don't have enough room here to thank all of them, but if you were a teacher of mine at any point: thank you. At one point or another I was probably a sullen and defiant piece of shit to you, and I'm sorry for that. I was a kid/preteen/teenager, which isn't much of an excuse, but so it is.

However, there is one teacher I single out every time when it comes to teachers, and that is my 10th grade/AP Language and Composition/Creative Writing teacher, Ms. R-B. Out of a school full of amazing teachers, she was my favorite.

I think sometimes when you're a teacher, you get a little jaded and you lower your expectations out of students because it's easier than trying to keep pushing that rock uphill. But R-B, despite having been a teacher for many years before I had her, never gave up on that Sisyphean task, not until she retired. That meant that most everyone else groaned and thought of her as "the strict" teacher—she wouldn't have won any popularity contests among the student body—but it also meant that you learned a lot from her. At least, you did if you paid even the slightest bit of attention and gave the barest of shits.

I kick ass at writing essays. You know why? Because she taught AP Language and Composition and put us through essay bootcamp right from the first week. We churned out essays on a weekly/bi-weekly basis (my memory is a bit fuzzy). I wrote more in that class than I ever did in any other class I ever took; by the time I got to college, I was an essay-writing machine and could handle anything the 100- and 200-level courses threw at me; at the 300 level and above it became a challenge, but always a challenge I was confident I could meet. (I also got a 5 on the AP Language and Composition test and got to skip Freshman Composition. Natch.) None of that wouldn't have happened without essay boot camp.

Not only did you write a lot, but R-B expected everyone in her class to write well. If you phoned it in on a paper, she wouldn't be afraid to give you the grade you deserved. I think that's what soured most of the student body on her: you could definitely argue that grade inflation was something of a thing in my district, and I think it burned a lot of egos to get a C or worse.

I admire her ability to stick with her career for so long (she taught for well over the average 7-year career span of most teachers today, and at the same school to boot) in the face of apathetic and snotty students. I would not have the patience for that; in fact, my classes with her were the ones that dissuaded me from becoming an English Literature teacher—not because her classes were horrible (they were great), but because I realized they were exactly how I would teach a class, and if it led to the kind of withering apathy and disrespect I saw in my peers, then I wouldn't be able to hack it.

Incidentally, out of all of the people from high school I ever really connected with, and still talk to today, almost all of us took AP Language and Composition with R-B and loved the hell out of that class (and her). Even as shitty, self-absorbed teenagers, we could tell that she gave a shit.

I actually ran into her a week before I left the country forever and it was the most gratifying and wonderful thing that could have happened while I was out running errands. We even trade letters periodically, and Christmas cards.

1. Teacher Dad

I don't mention Teacher Dad as much as Lawyer Mom here, but he is of course my favorite teacher, ever, by virtue of being my dad.

I am who I am in large part because of the parents I had, of course. Both of them fostered my curiosity as a child and never patronized me or my brother in their explanations of things or answers to questions, and both of them worked hard and made sacrifices to give their children a comfortable life. Lawyer Mom is the one responsible for my love of reading and for whatever sense of compassion and empathy I can make claim to (some days it isn't much), while Teacher Dad is responsible for my persistence (some might say stubbornness), my sarcasm, and my...backbone? courage? cynicism?

We spent a lot of my teenage years being angry and dysfunctional and yelling at each other, but now we're grown-ups I'm a grown-up so it doesn't happen as often. As it turns out, fighting with your teenager, even a lot, actually teaches them to resist peer pressure. But I wouldn't be surprised if it also encourages just better critical thinking and a healthy skepticism regarding authority. Teacher Dad also always held me and my brother to high standards when it came to academic performance (white people do Tiger Parenting too, guys) and just whatever we did in general. It was okay to suck and fail sometimes, just as long as you did the best you could. (High standards also seems to be a theme throughout this Friday 5. Well then.)

Honorable mention:

Ueda Jiro (Trick)

He is technically a physics professor, although we never see him do any teaching in the show (which is why he gets an honorable mention instead of a place in the list proper). Even if he's often a jerk, you can tell that he really cares about Yamada. Hiroshi Abe is also just a lot of fun to watch. He has a great deadpan comic presence.

Who are some of your favorite teachers, real or otherwise?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Trouble With Tribbles

#3:  The Trouble With Tribbles 

In case you forgot: The Enterprise is tasked with guarding a store of grain on a space station from Klingon saboteurs, much to Kirk's frustration. The overly-theatrical but still charming trader Cyrano Jones brings the fuzzball Tribbles on board the station and they end up reproducing at an astronomical rate, but they serve their purpose in uncovering a Klingon mole and saving the nearby planet from poisoned grain.

It's goofy, but it's a classic. Spock gets to deadpan snark EVERYTHING, Scotty punches a Klingon for insulting the Enterprise, and Stanley Adams is loads of fun to watch as Cyrano Jones. It's too bad Jones never made another appearance in the series, as he's just as much goofy Summerstock community theater fun to watch as Mudd.

I may have permanently ruined this episode for myself by reading up on Stanley Adams and learning that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I may have now ruined the episode for you as well. I'm sorry.

Back to the episode itself, though. Kirk is kind of needlessly dickish to a Federation official just trying to do his job. Whatever's supposed to be funny about it just isn't, at least for me. But then, if he weren't being a dick, he wouldn't be Kirk.

The overall silliness, while refreshing and fun, doesn't really have any emotionally satisfying "right in the feels" moments or interesting philosophical quandaries, making it mostly fluff and filler. Well-done fluff and filler, to be sure, but fluff and filler nonetheless. Nonetheless, it's a good palette cleanser. Some days you have moods that only Tribbles can fix.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What I'm Playing: Hexcells

This one is just a mellow little puzzler. Sorry, hardcore gamers, but I guess I'm a ~filthy casual~ at heart.

There are three editions of Hexcells: Hexcells, Hexcells Plus, and Hexcelles Infinite. They're all developed by Matthew Brown, who has a couple of other games out now that also look cool.

He describes Hexcells as an "ambient puzzle game" and I'd say that's a pretty apt descriptor.

Hexcells screenshot courtesy Matthew Brown
Everything about the game is clean, simple, and calming, and that is the game's strength. Games can do a lot and be a lot these days; to be simple (truly simple, not scaled-down-for-mobile-app) is a bold move.

The game play of Hexcells is, unsurprisingly, like Minesweeper with hexagonal cells. There are some twists and turns thrown in (as you can see above, sometimes you get hints about how many "mines" in a specific column rather than in the surrounding tiles), but it's still very straightforward.

For extra stress-relief, zone-out experience, there is the soundtrack. On its own it's great chill-out music, but the creative little touch is the inclusion of the game play in the music. Every time you either find a "bomb" or clear out a cell, a subtle audio cue plays—in perfect synchronization with the soundtrack. There's something about uncovering the blue cells or destroying the yellow ones to play with the soundtrack that makes things even more satisfying. Headphones are a must.

As for the puzzles themselves, they're well designed. They might err on the side of too easy, but not that often. (Of course, I say this without having even cleared Hexcells yet.) I've had a couple where I had to sit and think for a while, and a few where I had to ask JV to come over to see if I had missed anything. Funnily enough, sometimes the act of looking away from the screen to talk to him was enough to refresh my brain: I'd look back and see the critical bit I had missed.

You can get the whole set for around $10 US on Steam. If you're not sure it'll be your thing, you can just get the first for $3 US.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Newly Listed: Maille DNA Bracelets

This week we're taking a break from mathematics and delving into biology with these chainmaille bracelets. This spiral weave, called This Is Not Food, resembles the double helix structure of a piece of DNA.

A science-themed piece of jewelry, like this DNA-inspired maille bracelet, would be a great gift for biologists and biology teachers.
DNA maille bracelets
I love beads, I really do, but I also recognize that diversification is important. Chainmaille has piqued my interest for some time now (probably because of my partners in craft is a seasoned maille expert), but I couldn't figure out a way to make it work for me until I saw a 4-in-1 spiral weave.

An example of a 4-in-1 spiral weave from Keitilen on DevArt
The only problem with this weave is that you need to "lock" it in place, otherwise it twists into Jens Pind Linkage, which is (IMO) kind of ugly. There are a couple ways to do it: loop the twist onto itself, add small reinforcing rings to lock the weave, and (possibly, I'm not a maille expert yet so jury is still out on this) work with rings that have a very specific aspect ratio (AR) (which is to say, rings that have a specific relationship between the thickness of the metal and the diameter of their shape).

I wanted to work with the jump rings I already had, and I didn't want to add the reinforcements I saw because that often ruined the double helix shape. Eventually I found a weave called This Is Not Food, which still had a clean double helix outline but also naturally kept to a spiral form. If anything, it's even more more appropriate for DNA jewelry because you can think of the pairs of jump rings that keep the shape as DNA base pairs.

I did manage to figure out a way to do a regular 4-in-1 spiral bracelet. It came out really well, and is now sitting in the gift shop at the Da Vinci Center in Allentown, PA!

I got to get a picture of it before I had to sell him. This reminds me: I need to order more jump rings!
Otherwise, you can visit my earlier DNA projects in the Kokoba Etsy shop, as always. And cheer yourself up this Monday by browsing some spectacular #SciArt on Twitter!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Trek Thursday: Balance of Terror

#4:  Balance of Terror 

In case you forgot: Federation colonies along OMG THE NEUTRAL ZONE have been attacked by Romulans. Kirk gives chase and ultimately destroys the ship. There's also some irrelevant nonsense about a wedding and some slightly less irrelevant nonsense about space racism.

It's the Romulans! And oh snap, they sure do look a lot like Vulcans. There must have been some level of shock and excitement at the reveal back when the episode first aired, because the mythos of TOS had yet to be established. As far as the audience knew, Spock really could be a Romulan spy. It's hard for viewers today to experience that same visceral shock—everyone knows Spock is a good guy—but the idea is cool enough that I'll still count it as a point in favor. We also have the first appearance of Mark Lenard, aka Sarek, as the Romulan commander. He is one of the highlights of the episode, and though he is totally a scumbag for destroying Federation colonies without provocation, you still feel bad when he opts to go down with his ship.

Again, like "The Corbomite Maneuver," this is an episode for Kirk to be an awesome captain of a starship, not a bull-headed Casanova who gets involved with planetary intrigue. Episodes that rely on the Enterprise being under the threat of death and destruction for the dramatic weight aren't as fun to watch, for me (of course they're going to survive!); episodes where you wonder how they're going to escape, rather than if they're going to escape, are where it's at. "Balance of Terror" is a great example of that.

Sometimes TOS forgets that it's in space, and that it can maneuver in all three dimensions. Surely the Enterprise could have switched to a course perpendicular to the trajectory of the Romulans' super plasma beam? An understandable mistake since the episode was inspired by submarine movies, I guess, but a little throwaway line about how the plasma beam is heat-seeking or locked on to the Enterprise or whatever would have been enough.

Why the wedding? Why? It's not like this episode needed any padding. At least the space racism with Stiles and Spock serves some sort of moralizing, Aesop-y purpose.