Saturday, November 30, 2013

101 in 1001

I hope all of my American readers had a good Thanksgiving. Despite increasing CONSUME!CONSUME! creep, Thanksgiving remains one of my favorite holidays. Being with your family (blood-related or otherwise) and eating a whole lot of food? What's not to like about that?

This year marks four (four!) different countries, and three different continents, in which I've celebrated Thanksgiving.


Just in time for Shout!Factory's MST3K Turkey Day Marathon, I finished my latest WhatCulture article about MST3K. That brings the total up to five. (10 - 15)

I finished another nonfiction book, How to Read a Book, which also completes my old, unread books goal. (2 - 10) (9 - 2)

In Progress

I added a couple more goals:  Finish 7 books I've owned for over a year but haven't read yet (2 - 12). and Complete the 30 day plank challenge (6 - 15). (1 - 1)

During the Turkey Day Marathon, I got to watch an episode I hadn't finished before: Cave Dwellers. (5 - 6)

And, of course, another update and comment. (1 - 3) (7 - 4)


None this week!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why I'm Not Excited About GoldieBlox

GoldieBlox made a huge splash on the Internet recently, with their commercial featuring a Rube Goldberg machine made out of fluffy princess-y toys and a parody of Beastie Boys' "Girls." For many people, this was their first introduction to the toy designed to making engineering more appealing to young girls. If you haven't seen the ad already, here it is:

This wasn't the first time I had heard of GoldieBlox, though. The GoldieBlox Kickstarter had been brought to my attention when it first came out, both by science blogs and feminist ones. Bloggers in both fields had positive things to say about the project. I liked the concept—wedding hands-on construction with a narrative is probably a great way to teach kids to use different information processing techniques in conjunction with each other, and a way to get kids who struggle with reading into books as much as it is a way to get girls into "engineering"—but the pink and purple frippery, as well as the heavy marketing towards girls, also made me uncomfortable in a way I couldn't quite articulate. After some thought and discussion with others, I managed to pare down my discomfort to some essential points.

  1. Gender Absolutism

This idea that "girls like reading, boys like building" that GoldieBlox is based on doesn't sit well with me. As a rule, I dislike gender absolutism, especially absolutism taken at such face value: is this true for all girls and all  boys, or only WEIRD ones? How much of parents' preconceived notions about what toys to buy their children comes into play (no pun intended)? How much of girls' disinterest in the science of building things is because many of the toys that develop the kind of spatial intelligence necessary are often marketed heavily, if not exclusively, towards boys?

  2. Male Normativity

 Moreover, why is girls' lack of interest in science (or at least, apparent lack of interest) considered a grave problem to be solved (with crap to buy), while boys' lack of interest in reading (or at least, apparent lack of interest) is nothing worthy of its own special toy? I'm not trying to play the "what about the men" card here, or Patriarchy Hurts Men Too; more to the point that any behavior in boys (and subsequently, men) is considered the norm, the default. We don't wonder why more men aren't nurses, secretaries, or stay-at-home parents. We don't worry that our sons don't play with baby dolls. Thinking of women as a problem to be fixed (and by fixed I mean made to be more like men) is not a good implementation of feminism.

  3. "Princess Creep"

So far, GoldieBlox consists of two stories. One is "The Spinning Machine," which is about how Goldie builds a machine to help her dog chase its tail. Fair enough. The second story, for whatever reason, is back to pretty princesses, all revolving around a beauty pageant: "The Parade Float." From the website:
In this much-anticipated sequel, Goldie's friends Ruby and Katinka compete in a princess pageant with the hopes of riding in the town parade. When Katinka loses the crown, Ruby and Goldie build something great together, teaching their friends that creativity and friendship are more important than any pageant.
"But the moral of the story is that creativity and friendship are more important than any pageant!" Yes, maybe so. And maybe the story will do a really great job deconstructing the role of beauty and youth for young women and how brains are more important—I would certainly hope so. But the book and toy set is still only available for pre-order, so I'll have to reserve judgment on the story until the new set is released.

  4. Drop in the Bucket

 To be fair, this isn't a problem with GoldieBlox as a product. However, GoldieBlox is a toy, and so this point is fairly pertinent: you can't fix broken gender stereotypes just by buying new (or different) toys. You don't get to give yourself a pat on the back for buying Goldieblox for your daughter if you do nothing else to challenge her developing brain and personality, or to take a critical look at gender disparities in the media and the narratives she receives now (and she will receive later) about what it means to be a woman.

  5. Fair Use?

And, for the bonus points, the fact that GoldieBlox didn't do their due diligence with spoofing The Beastie Boys in the above ad, only to turn around and sue Mike D and Ad-Rock after they expressed concern about their material being used without permission (to sell something, no less) is just the WTF cherry on this meh sundae. Hat tip to my friend Melissa for heads up on that.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Music Monday: Lord of the Rings

Image courtesy Jonathan Rieder Lundkvist.
This past weekend was the Stockholm NaNoWriMo group's overnight write-in at a scout cabin in Upplands Väsby. It was great fun and also incredibly productive (for me, at least).  Our ML, Alba, is incredibly organized and clearly went to a lot of work to make it fun for everyone: there was chocolate, a warm and hearty dinner, screenprinting, and music. We didn't keep the music on the whole time, but for a couple hours it provided a nice ambiance. Cheesy television theme songs, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2, and The Hobbit kept us going.

In consideration of that last selection, and also in consideration of the fact that JV has gotten me hooked on War in the North, today's Music Monday is the soundtrack for the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy:

There you have it: nearly four hours of symphonic, cinematic mood music.

Monday, November 18, 2013

NaNoWriMo Kickoff in Stockholm and 101 in 1001

One of the WriMos in Stockholm is a photographer. (I might or might not be Facebook-stalking people as a way to procrastinate.) He took a few pictures at the kickoff (kick-off?) party at the Tolkien Society's building in Rådhuset, which you can see in this Facebook album.

Stockholm NaNoWriMo Kick Off Jonathan Rieder Lundkvist
Look at all those writers! (Image courtesy Jonathan Rieder Lundkvist)

In all my years of doing NaNo, I had never seen so many people turn out for an event! How cool to know there are so many creative, writer-ly types in my new home city. Of course there haven't been quite so many at the write-ins so far, but the showing there has still been strong and consistent.

I also realize that I am a day late in posting my 101 in 1001 progress. At least I have some scant progress to report!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Suzanne Wright's Internet Autism Shitstorm

For most autistics in North America, one of the biggest thorns in their side is Autism Speaks. They are scumbags, through and through, as evidenced by this alarmist windbagging from Suzanne Wright, founder of Autism Speaks and world's biggest self-pitying soccer mom.

It's a tragedy, because they are probably the biggest autism-related charity in the US (if not the world), and as a result they have access to immense volumes of finances, "mindshare"/name recognition, etc. They could have been a tool used for incredible good: to provide support staff in schools, therapy centers, even just professional paper-pushers to help parents and autistic adults navigate a large and confusing bureaucracy.

But as Queen Whingey Soccer Mom made clear, that's not what she's about. Since in the middle of an Internet shitstorm is as good a time to post as anything, I will let those links (which are worth reading) speak for themselves, and provide the link-phobic with an alternative charity: the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Finnish Schools and Economics

I've seen a number of links to articles waxing poetic about Finland's amazing educational system all across my social media outlets recently. As a former teacher (and daughter of another), it's all pretty interesting and relevant to me.

It's also ignoring the really uncomfortable fact that America is doing a crappy job in providing, financially, for its children.

First, a backtrack. I won't argue with Finland's decision to make teaching a high-paying and competitive position. Altruism and sense of duty doesn't pay student loan debts, after all. But when you start talking about differences that are more about pure pedagogical and educational theory, you tend to forget that education happens in the real world.

Diane Ravitch, in her interview on The Daily Show, declared that the United States leads the OECD (or world?) in child poverty. That may have been an overstatement, but not by much. Check out all these graphs.

Granted, the link between poverty and poor academic performance might be more pronounced in the United States than in other countries, due to how American public schools receive their funding. Nonetheless, to tease out the effects of Finland's chosen system (and not any happy side effects of greater income parity, lower levels of child poverty, or differences in school funding), a comparison that controls for economic differences is necessary. Of course, Finland does pretty well on the world stage, but so does Japan, and their systems are very different.

The world is complicated, and solving a problem often requires multiple fixes.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Abandoned Particle Physics Lab

I should be working on my NaNo project, but instead I'm updating. Oops.

It's funny, really, how productive I become in the face of NaNoWriMo. Suddenly doing the dishes, catching up on emails, or hanging up the laundry are really important and interesting tasks that I have to do right now, you see. I'm actually typing this entry with hands still wrinkled from the dishes. I don't even really have much to share—I am practically superstitious about talking about my ~creative~ ideas—but I wanted to share this story I saw over on Physics Buzz:

Pittsburgh's Abandoned Particle Smasher

I guess my excuse is that it could be a good setting for a story?

I read, years ago, The World Without Us, which made me realize just how precarious human civilization's grip is on this planet. Not only because we are still vulnerable to natural disasters despite our best preparations, or because we're destroying our atmosphere and using up all of our natural resources, but because almost everything we've built in recent history contains so much upkeep. If we were all to disappear (for whatever reason) the remnants left behind would not be long for this world.

Pittsburgh abandoned atom smasher

Pittsburgh abandoned particle accelerator

Unfortunately I didn't learn about this abandoned particle accelerator until after I moved away, so I didn't have a chance to visit it in its neglected, dilapidated glory. How cool to know that it exists, though!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

30 Days of Madness

With the arrival of November comes National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo. I've attempted (though not always succeeded) every year since 2008. At this point, it's basically the only fiction writing I do anymore.

If you're also doing NaNo, you can find me at the website (handle: Kokoba) to keep track of my word count, read more about my novel, and maybe even read some excerpts (if I put any up). If you haven't done it before, give it a shot! It's fun and you can meet some fantastic people. It's especially useful for anyone who dreams of being a writer, because no matter how sensitive and gifted you are (or think you are), what writing really comes down to is sitting down to do it every day, no matter what. Doing it for a month is a good practice.

Participating in NaNo is one of my 101 in 1001 events; there's one more over the course of my list and that will be another item I've accomplished. For more updates on that list, click past the jump.