Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What I Read: The Last Word by Hanif Kureishi

Courtesy Goodreads
I blazed through The Last Word in almost no time at all. Maybe like three proper sit-down reading sessions? Honestly, if I had the time, it could have been a member of the one-sit read club, but given my current schedule it was just not to be.

Hanif Kureishi is not on the TIME Top 100 Novels of the 20th century list; he is an addition that I made because I wanted more diversity in the list. Someone in a 101 in 1001 group I'm in suggested The Buddha of Suburbia and I added that, then realized the only copy in the entire Stockholm library system was out, and then overdue, and then LONG overdue. But browsing the world literature section at Kulturhuset, I saw that they had plenty of other Kureishi books. The Last Word seemed the most interesting, and so far as I'm concerned it counts towards my list.

The Last Word was easy to read, and surface-level interesting. It focuses on an up-and-coming writer who is working a biography of an elderly British Indian author (Mamoon) but having a difficult time doing so—his publisher wants lurid sexy details, Mamoon's wife wants him painted in the best possible light, etc. The surface-level interest is: will Harry (up-and-coming writer) finish the biography or not? How will it turn out?

The language is light and easy; even though the dialogue is comically overwrought, it flows, and it does well exactly what John Green does poorly (HEY-OH): managing to be pretentious and heavy-handed without being annoying. Maybe that worked because there was an overall comic, even farcical tone about the whole thing, whereas The Fault in Our Stars was trying so hard to be serious and gut-wrenching.

Speaking of farce, the style of humor makes The Last Word feel anachronistic, or like a throwback. There are a handful of contemporary references to things like cell phones and video games, but you could take them all out and, with only a very minor rewrite for one scene (Harry gets his girlfriend to record Mamoon admitting to some scandalous things), the story would remain unchanged. The Last Word shares more in common with Lucky Jim than, say, White Teeth, and that felt weird for a book that was published only last year.

Because the story is largely farcical, the characters are all stock, trope, and stereotype instead of detailed or well-developed. We have: a writer in the decline of his greatness who also happens to be a grumpy old man (Mamoon); a hysterical wife hungry for her youth and "the good life"; the vapid girlfriend who can't stop buying new clothes; the drug- and pill-addled manic editor/boss who is successful despite (or because of?) a serious substance abuse problem to whose whims Harry must always cater, and Harry the ladykiller.

As the book continued I thought, "Is this about V. S. Naipaul? Is it? I really want it to be." Because everyone being awful includes, of course, Mamoon. As things pieced together (overbearing dad, violence and grossness towards women, rightwing douchery), I thought, "This has to be Naipaul!" I'm one of many who have noticed the connection, and this pleases me, because Naipaul is a shit writer and an even shittier person. The more people taking the piss out of him, the better.

It is also an extremely British book. Unsurprising, since Kureishi is British, born and raised, but there's nothing about the whole British Indian experience. Of course, Kureishi is allowed to write about whatever he likes, instead of what I expect/want out of writers of color; moreover, he seems to have done the standard "minority experience" novel with The Buddha of Suburbia, anyway, so it's still staying on my list.

Otherwise, The Last Word is not an amazing or life-shattering read. I guess it's impressive that despite not liking any of the characters I still wanted to know how things turned out for them, but maybe that's a result of the headspace I'm in at the moment: thirsty to read anything in English. This is my first English read since July. The rest have been Swedish literature, but once in a while you need something in your own native language to take the edge off. (At least until your Swedish gets better.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Newly Listed: Tan Pi Copper Earrings

Remember how I said Mondays were like my weekends, because after Saturdays and Sundays full of tutoring I had some time to myself? Just kidding! I've picked up another tutoring appointment on Mondays, potentially. I am really bad at setting boundaries for myself.

But I still have time to do a bit of blogging and Etsying, so here's another newly-listed item:

Copper and tan pi earrings
My earrings are always more understated than just about everything else I do (kind of out of necessity; most people don't want drop earrings more than an inch long). It's so understated that you could really argue this isn't properly math jewelry, since it's just 3.1, and I mean I wouldn't really have a good argument to the contrary.

But hey! I love the colors, and I love/hate an excuse to use my mookaite briolettes (the faceted teardrops at the bottom). I bought them ages ago at a market in South Korea and I still haven't used them all up yet. I've talked before about bagel books—these are bagel beads. I only use them sparingly because I love them so much. I will probably cry if/when they eventually run out, because I can't find a good replacement for them, either. I should have bought more strands...!!  To the point: I save these for projects where they will be perfect.

The other beads are, to the best of my knowledge, colored opaque glass. I also bought them in South Korea, without a label, and I didn't have the language to have a meaningful discussion with the merchant about their origin. But if you want to treat yourself this Monday, these STEM earrings can grace your earlobes.

There's some other great #SciArt out there this week, including this nifty watercolor about the recent super blood moon eclipse stuff in the sky:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: 5 Favorite Things About Fall

I'm a week late on this week's 5 Fandom Friday, but I am the only person on Earth who is just not here for pumpkin-flavored everything and I ended up being busy last week (JV had a doctor appointment), so I figured I would skip this week's pumpkin for something I like much better: fall! Incidentally, my favorite place to be in the fall is Korea. I can't explain it, but there is something magical about Korea in the fall (though upstate New York does run a very close second). I've been on a Koreastalgia kick lately so here are some old photos.

(Soswaemun gardens, Gwangju, November 2012)

(Gyeongbukgung Palace, Seoul, October 2011)

I have always lived in a place that has a proper fall (except when I spent most of November of 2010 in Costa Rica) and I've always loved it. Of course, I'm generally an upbeat person so I love most seasons, but fall and summer are probably my favorite because they never fail to disappoint. Spring is, well, spring is actually the worst and I could do without it (guess I'm not that upbeat). Winter is awful if there's no snow. But summer is always warm and sunny and green, and fall is always cozy and the leaves always turn.

1. Tea season

Okay, I mean, it's basically always tea season, but there is something much nicer about a cup of tea when it's chilly out than when it's the middle of summer. I'm just not big into iced tea.

2. Scarves

I have a billion different scarves, all of which have wonderful memories: some I bought in Korea (my other adopted home country) and some are ones from Lawyer Mom. I have a brown/black/orange on she made for me before I left for college, which is easily six feet long because I asked her to make it EXTRA long, and it's my favorite thing ever. My other favorite scarf is one I bought in Insadong. It's not OTT long like the one Lawyer Mom made, but it's extra wide. It often doubled as a wrap when I was teaching in hagwons without any central climate control.

3. Foliage

I wish fall lasted longer and also kind of never ended? That ugly period between when leaves are all gone and the first snow of winter happens is the worst, and thanks to climate change it's getting longer and longer. But before then, I like to enjoy the show.

4. Halloween!

Candy! Costumes!

5. National Novel-Writing Month

I cannot sing the praises of NaNoWriMo enough. It's always fun, but the last few years it's been more than just fun for me.

When you're an introvert in a new country, meeting people can be really difficult. Before I moved to Sweden, I was really worried about how I would do when it came to meeting people and making friends. I didn't want to move into a situation where all of my friends were JV's friends. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important that couples have friends, but I think it's also important that each member of a couple maintains their own set of friends. That way when your partner is out of town, or busy, or being kind of a sourpuss, you have other people you can talk to (and if you need to have a moment to piss and moan about your partner, you can be sure it won't get back to them).

Bearing that in mind, even before I stepped on the plane I deliberately focused on finding groups to join and people to meet (thank you, Internet). Luckily for me, I came to Sweden in October, right when NaNoWriMo things were starting to gear up! Two years later (WHAT TWO YEARS?!) and I have plenty (plenty for an introvert) of friends and I'm even organizing events and write-ins myself. Because even though I'm an introvert, I love to organize events and throw parties and get people together. Weird, I know.

And, of course, I get some writing done, too. These days, November is about the only time I really do a lot of creative writing work anymore. Oop.

What do you look forward to in the autumn? Share and/or link in the comments!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Corbomite Maneuver

#5: The Corbomite Maneuver

In case you forgot: The Enterprise is charting new space territory and encounters a rainbow cube they (correctly) presume to be a buoy. When it starts emitting deadly radiation they have no choice but to destroy it, only to incur the wrath of Barok, representative of a group called the First Federation. After some tensions and bluffing, Kirk, McCoy, and This Episode's Navigator Bailey (who reminds Kirk of himself) beam aboard to find out Barok looks like a child and is perfectly kind and well-intentioned. Bailey stays behind to keep the lonely Balok company.

TOS makes a big deal out of how Kirk is an exceptional starship captain, or at least that you have to be an exceptional person to be a starship captain, but a lot of episodes Kirk ends up being a brave guy with a strong moral center, which while good is hardly unique. (Never mind the episodes where he ends up just plain being an idiot.) Sure, much is made about how his true love is the Enterprise, but Scotty is just as enamored of the ship, if not more. Inappropriate transferred feelings do not a starship captain make. "The Corbomite Maneuver" is great because it's one of the times where we see Kirk actually being the captain of a starship. Not only that, but he does a bang-up job of it. After he bluffs and maneuvers the Enterprise out of danger, he has both the giant brass balls and the compassion to beam aboard to what appears to be a ship in distress to meet Balok and see if everything is okay. (Though why couldn't they have just beamed Balok aboard if they were concerned? Anyway...)

I'll admit the reveal at the end (surprise! Barok is Ron Howard's baby brother!) is a "your mileage may vary" situation, but I like it. The dubbing is pretty well done and, well, considering all the other silliness out there in the Star Trek galaxy, I'm willing to buy a race of super-intelligent child-looking beings. It also wraps up the incessant character development we have for what would normally be an unimportant no-name navigator. On a more personal note, I watched the series in its production order, not its air date, the first time I saw it. This means that "The Corbomite Maneuver" was the first proper episode I saw after the pilots. In retrospect, it may have given me unrealistically high expectations for what was to follow.

Why the gratuitous medical exam at the beginning? Were they hoping to tap Shatner's sex appeal by having him spend the first few minutes of the episode without a shirt on? Did he insist on that himself?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Newly Relisted: Faux Pearl and Hemp Pi Bracelet

It's another Monday, y'all! September is just flying by, isn't it? Anyway: another Monday means another new item in the Etsy shop!

We're back to math in this week's feature, a pi bracelet with hemp and faux pearls.

Math jewelry: multistrand pi bracelet in hemp and faux pearls with a button toggle closure.
Pi in hemp and faux pearls with a button toggle closure.

I shamelessly nabbed this idea from Pinterest: all hail the original how-to here at Sadie's Season Goods. In this one, I opted against using jewelry wire for structure and instead used knots (and discrete applications of textile glue).

I spelled out the digits of pi in the clumps of faux pearls, though because it's a multistrand bracelet things get a little mixed up. I promise that they're all there! (I've counted like a billion times to reassure myself, haha.)

While I like the ~naturalist~ look of hemp twine with pearls, the jewelry-making reality is that this is dang near impossible with most beads and especially with real pearls. Hemp is a lot thicker than beading wire—I wanted to try this with some mother-of-pearl I had around but it was not happening. Actual pearls (whether cultured or saltwater) normally have extra tiny bead holes. The only thing wide enough for most hemp are wooden beads (which would have a totally different but still funky look) or really low-budget plastic pearls (cringe). Unless you want to spend half your life with a bead reamer in your hands...

So that is why the pearls in this one are plastic. Sigh. Still, it looks fine, I think! I have been trying to figure out if I can find different weights of hemp or glass beads with larger holes. I've also been thinking about doing this with wooden beads, too, but the only wooden beads I have at the moment are completely and totally wrong for this sort of thing.

As always, you can have a closer look at this bracelet in my Etsy shop, and then maybe take the edge off your Monday by browsing the #SciArt hashtag on Twitter.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Science Saturday: Bombs and Choosing to Believe

The story about Ahmed Mohamed and his not-a-bomb clock that's blowing up right now touches just about every sensitive nerve ending I can still bear to leave out in the cruel unforgiving world: science, kids, education, race, etc.

I could either say a lot or a little, but I'm going to try to keep it to a little. To do that, I'm going to talk about beliefs.

Beliefs are a really interesting concept, philosophically, and there's been a lot of ink spilled on the nature of them. Among other things: how much are they related to volition? Can you choose to believe? Can you want, but be unable, to believe something? If you stop believing in something, did you ever really believe in the first place?

Forgive me, I couldn't resist.

How do beliefs tie into this? In a couple of ways. From the inside out: did the principal or any of the teachers believe that the not-a-bomb clock was a real bomb? That it was a hoax? How much were their beliefs shaped by the fact that it was a project by a brown kid named Ahmed Mouhammed?

The more interesting layer to this, however, is the trilemma (it's a dilemma, but with three!) left to me. There are three interpretations—three beliefs—about this story I can choose from:

1. The faculty at this school mistakenly thought this was a bomb, and they were doing what they thought best to protect the students.

Makezine broke this down for you to explain why this pencil case is not a bomb. Y'all know there'd have to be some explosives in there, right? Right.
2. The faculty at this school thought this was a hoax bomb, and they were doing what they thought best to protect the students and enforce whatever kind of zero-tolerance policy they have on "terrorist threats" or whatever.

3. The faculty at this school thought this was a hoax bomb and they decided to use this opportunity to pick on a kid named Ahmed who attends a school in Texas and looks like this:

Image courtesy Snopes

So, which one do I choose to believe? The first one is tempting and gives people the benefit of the doubt—"never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity" is a bit of a life motto—but the way they handled the situation made it clear that they knew it wasn't a bomb. I want to believe the first one, but there's just too much evidence stacked against it.

That leaves 2 and 3. Neither of those are good choices. Neither are things I want to believe about the world: that the people running it, from school principals to cops to mayors to future Presidents (knock on wood), are either ignorant enough to think that something that looks almost like a movie bomb could be a real bomb, or ignorant enough to think that Bill Maher's defense is at all rational or cogent

I don't want to believe.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Enterprise Incident

#6: The Enterprise Incident

In case you forgot: Kirk sends the Enterprise into THE NEUTRAL ZONE!!! despite it being, well, the Neutral Zone. Next thing you know he's aboard a Romulan vessel, but it's okay! That was the plan all along! With Spock's help Kirk steals the Romulan cloaking device, as per the Federation's orders.

There is all kinds of intrigue going on in this episode, and it keeps you in suspense for a good long while. Could our favorite starship captain have finally lost it? Of course not, no, but when it aired there was no telling it might be an attempt at an out for Shatner. The plan is a relatively complex one, all things considered: Kirk has to feign illness long enough to convince his crew there's something really wrong, then he has to hope to get captured by the Romulans instead of just blown out of space, then he has to find and steal a piece of alien technology (preferably without getting caught). I guess the idea that the Federation would risk what may be Starfleet's best Constiution-class ship on such a dangerous stealth mission is a bit hard to swallow, but maybe they figured that out of all Starfleet, Kirk would be the best man for the job. He's certainly Starfleet's biggest ham.

The bad: Spock's little tête-à-tête with the Romulan commander is a bit much; I was hoping she would remain a stoic, ambitious, smart starship commander but no. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Read Play Blog: Surprised by a Game

Read Play Blog is a meme about video games and books, posted every 16th of the month. Bloggers are encouraged to answer a discussion question, and recommend a video game that is similar to a book they liked. Hosted by Happy Indulgence & Read Me Away.

Is there a video game that surprised you when you played it, whether in a good or bad way?

This one is going to take some thought. I'm selective, and the most patient of patient gamers, so I usually hear a lot about this or that game before I try it. Not even huge awful spoiler-y things, but just the general stuff: gameplay, annoying bugs, favorite characters, etc. I'm not usually surprised by much.

I think the last time a game surprised me was the first time I tried Katamari Damacy. I had heard people talking about the game for a couple of years before I actually played, so all I knew about it was that you roll things into a ball to make stars.

Image courtesy Wikimedia and Namco

"That doesn't make any sense," I complained to someone. "That's just so...bizarre. What is that?"

And then I finally gave it a shot on my friend's PS2 at some point during sophomore year of college and I had a lot of fun!

What I'm playing/recommending: Fallout 3 – Operation: Anchorage

Gray winter skies, gray army industrial architecture, gray mountains: welcome to the dull, gray world of Operation: Anchorage.

Okay, so this month I'm going to use this space to rant a little! Remember when I said that I'm a selective, patient gamer? (You should, I just said it like three paragraphs ago.) That is why I haven't played Fallout 3 until last year. And this is why I'm still "not done" with the game (by my own arbitrary definition; I've finished the entire story). But yesterday I fucking finally finished the Operation: Anchorage DLC so I can finally jump on board the Internet hate train. There will be spoilers but hey if you care about Fallout 3 spoilers at this point, congratulations on being pickier and more patient than me, I guess! So I guess this month's recommendation is: "skip Operation Anchorage unless you're a 'chieve whore," hahaha.

It's not even like Operation: Anchorage is that bad. It's just not that good. I haven't played all of the DLCs yet, but I'm almost there. (The Pitt is maybe the only one I haven't played yet, but it already wins for best name because "pitt" is Swedish for penis and I'm 12 years old at heart.)

The "simulation inside the game" idea is rarely a fun one, unless it's that cracked out part of the story where you murder a bunch of people trapped in the subtle hell of a simulated 1950s American neighborhood just to save them from their misery (and then find your Liam Neeson dad). Operation: Anchorage doesn't do anything that interesting or bleak, though. It's just more of what you've already been doing, but with weapons and armor that aren't as good as what you (probably) have by now.

Okay, so maybe the environment is something interesting and different? You get stripped of your weapons in Mothership Zeta, too, but then you at least get to play in an off-the-wall new environment, so then the whole "lose all your stuff" bit becomes forgivable. (For me.) But no, Operation: Anchorage is either a snowy repetitive mess of mountain chains (with loads of invisible walls to boot) or dull industrial interiors.

Coupled to the dull environment is a dull story, if  it can even be called a story: you're in a simulation of the war that made America the radioactive wasteland it is today. Everyone you interact with is an just AI (okay, so is every video game character by definition, but you know what I mean), which immediately sucks the interest out of everything. There's no incentive to get to know them or to protect them; even if they weren't AIs, they're still bland and forgettable.

And yes, the story: you just go and complete a few random missions and then America takes back Alaska from the Chinese. The missions don't really flow into each other: you're basically given a bunch of miniquests that don't really build off of each other, and the larger missions have that same non-relationship with each other. You're not getting from point A to point B as much as you're doing a bunch of random crap in an arbitrary order.

 There's not really a cool payoff anywhere, either. In the storyline DLC, you get a giant mech (at least for a while); in Mothership Zeta you get to hang out in space and fight alongside random historical figures and get to keep awesome alien tech; there's literally no payoff within the confines of Operation Anchorage itself. (You get some awesome power armor as a reward, but not until you're already out of the simulation.)

(Also, there was something about fighting the Chinese that made me seriously uncomfortable and it creeps a little too close to Yellow Peril weirdness for my liking, especially when the rest of the game is a little more....color blind, I guess? But that's a box to unpack for another day.)

Finally, in terms of gameplay: so much slowdown. I mean that's the nature of the Bethesda open-world beast, but I had the worst slowdown during Operation: Anchorage. Worse than anywhere else in the game. It never froze (that I remember) or became unplayable, but it definitely took me out of the game.

All of this culminated in me not playing Fallout 3 for months. Again, it's not like Operation: Anchorage was downright bad, or terrible, or unplayable. But it didn't have any interest or sense of urgency, and so it was easy to let it fall by the wayside when there were other games to play and other things I had to do in my life.

So there's my stale, 6-years-too-late opinion on the Operation: Anchorage DLC for Fallout 3!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Newly Relisted: Planck Constant Amethyst Bangle

Happy Monday! For most people, Monday means a return to the work or study grind, but for me Monday is the beginning of my weekend. I have classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays, then tutoring over the weekend. Friday usually gets sucked up into tutoring prep, so I try to leave Mondays as low-key days.

All of this is to say: Monday's a good day to do blog and Etsy stuff. Here's my next just-relisted piece of SciArt:

SciArt STEM science physics jewelry planck constant amethyst fluorite bracelet
Planck Constant bracelet in amethyst and fluorite.
SciArt STEM science physics jewelry planck constant amethyst fluorite bracelet
Physics jewelry in action! Also: I have teeny-tiny nail beds. 

I love love love making things out of memory wire, which makes me the beading equivalent of a filthy casual I suppose, but sometimes you just want to put some beads together and not fuss with clasps and crimps. I also love wearing memory wire because it's easy to get off and on but surprisingly secure. I've never had a memory wire bracelet just suddenly come undone and fall off out of the blue. 

The number in this piece is the Planck constant, a proportionality constant that describes the relationship between the energy of a particle and the frequency of its associated electromagnetic wave. 

More specifically, it's a physical constant that can be measured in a number of different ways; the value I used here is given in Joule-seconds. This is mostly because I'm more familiar with Joules than electronvolts. Physical constants are also notoriously tricky to measure, so every once in a while their values are recalculated and recalibrated. The value I used in this bracelet is from the 2010 CODATA value, but CODATA values were recalculated in 2014, which makes this little piece of wearable nerdery a bit out of date.

The round beads are both amethyst; the large rectangular beads are fluorite. Those are all mostly purple but you can see flecks of green in them here and there.

You can peep over in my STEM-my Etsy for more details on this guy. Don't forget to check out the #SciArt hashtag on Twitter for some other science-inspired art!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: 5 Broadway Shows I'd Love to Be In

Image courtesy Katelyn Jade
This week's 5 Fandom Friday was originally "5 Broadway Roles I'd Love to Play," but when it comes to theater I am much more qualified for and much more interested in the pit orchestra than actually being on stage. I mean, I'm definitely not Broadway good, but still.

1. Fiddler on the Roof

So I actually played violin in pit for this one (in high school) and it was probably my favorite show that we ever did. My left hand still remembers the opening bars of "Tradition" and probably always will.

My Korean BFF was also in this show (though he played flute, not violin) and sometimes when we got particularly stinking drunk together we'd start singing "To Life." Much to the dismay of other bar patrons, I'm sure.

2. The Producers

I didn't exactly grow up on show tunes and standards, but I'm way more familiar with them than most contemporary theater. What can I say? I like my 32-bar form and I-IV-V chord changes. The Producers soundtrack is definitely a callback to the Tinpan Alley era of musicals (probably because those are the ones that Mel Brooks grew up with himself) so it's no surprise that I love literally every single song in the show.

Fun fact: the original movie's Swedish title was (somewhat appropriately) Springtime for Hitler (Det våras för Hitler) and for years after that, every Mel Brooks movie title was localized in a Springtime For _____ pattern. This continued up until Robin Hood: Men in Tights, though the DVD release of Dracula: Dead and Loving It was titled Det våras för Dracula.

3. Girl Crazy/Crazy For You

Image courtesy Wikimedia and Ed Schipul
Speaking of Tinpan Alley, no Broadway list of mine would be complete without the Gershwins. There's any number of shows to choose from and I would be happy in just about any of them, but "Crazy For You" holds a special place in my heart (even if it is a sort of weirdo compilation/remix) as a memorable elementary school field trip performance.

4. Porgy and Bess

Image courtesy Ealmagro, Wikimedia

It might be cheating to choose another Gershwin show (opera in this case) but whatever, it's my list and I do what I want! I know that Porgy and Bess is not a choice without controversy, but I admire George and Ira's stipulation that the show only ever be produced with a black cast. While their intentions may have been more rooted in their idea of musical integrity (and thus perhaps based a bit in racial stereotypes as well), it did have the unintended consequence of giving numerous black singers and performers a chance at the spotlight, especially during an era when blackface was more common than not. So, I don't know. I do like the music, though.

5. Avenue Q

I think I know almost all of the songs from this show, even if I haven't seen it. This is actually one of my few exceptions of the "I don't follow contemporary" theater rule (though again, does it still count as contemporary by now?). Avenue Q seems like a really fun show and like it would be a really fun show to be a part of.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Trek Thursday: Journey to Babel

#7: Journey to Babel

In case you forgot: The Enterprise is on a diplomatic mission, shuttling a bunch of interstellar delegates to a Federation meeting, including Sarek and Mrs. Sarek (Spock's parents). Almost immediately the mission is beset by space intrigue: one of the delegates is murdered, someone's attempted to murder Kirk, and the Enterprise is being followed by an alien vessel. On top of that, Sarek's in the middle of a parade of heart attacks and the only thing that can save him is open heart surgery and a blood transfusion from his son.

We've got a juicy mystery going on with all these space delegates, and we get some nice drama and character development for everyone's favorite half-Vulcan. The background conflict---the delegates on their way to an important vote---is a neat look into what must be the everyday functions of Starfleet and the Federation. What complicated world exists out there, beyond the Enterprise?

There are some inconsistencies, though, with how our favorite Chief Science Officer conducts himself. First Spock offers himself up as a Vulcan blood bank, then when the chips are down says he can't because of his duty? He is so adamant about staying at his post that it makes you wonder what kind of doubts he harbors about Scotty's ability (or lack thereof) to command the Enterprise.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Etsy Shop Up and Running: Fibonacci Necklace in Kambaba Jasper, Hematite, and Mother-of-Pearl

The Kokoba Etsy shop is back on its feet! First my life was crazy, then I put together a huuuge (for me) wholesale order and put the shop on hold for a week, then life was crazy again, and now finally I have the time to list and promote some new STEM jewelry and #SciArt creations. Hopefully I'll also have some time to get back to making stuff, too. That's the fun part after all!

I'll also be sharing what I already have done and up for sale in the shop over here on the blog. For starters, here is one of my favorite new pieces:

Math Jewelry: Green and Black #SciArt Fibonacci Necklace by Kokoba
Fibonacci numbers in hematite and black mother-of-pearl with dark green Kamaba jasper spacers

I had been sitting on the large Kambaba jasper ovals for a year years. I loved them, but I wasn't sure what to do with them and I never seemed to have anything that matched. After I finished a necklace for myself for a friend's wedding, I realized the design would be perfect for these large, eye-catching ovals. A little digging and I found some hematite and dyed mother-of-pearl to complement them (yeah, hematite—the necklace has a bit of weight to it!).

Math Jewelry: Green and Black  #SciArt Fibonacci Necklace by Kokoba

You can read more about my decision to use Fibonacci numbers and mirror symmetry instead of digits of irrationals in this post on the original project.

This particular piece features Fibonacci numbers in mirror symmetry around one central piece of Kambaba jasper (the one I thought was prettiest). I omitted the repetition of "1" because things just became too long and heavy, but working outwards from that central oval you have: 1 hematite bead, then 2 dyed mother-of-pearl beads, then 3 of the hematite/mother-of-pearl mix, then 5, then 8.

Personally, I adore this pattern and I want to sit down and make a few more necklaces in this style. It's a great way to use up this or that ONE really cool funky bead you have left but don't know what to do with. And I end up with a lot of those, since I'm not (yet) much of a bulk buyer.

If you like this necklace as much as I do, you can bop on over to my Etsy shop and make it a part of your wardrobe. If you're hungry for more intersections of STEM and art, check out the #SciArt hashtag on Twitter.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Five Fandom Friday: The One Fandom Death I Never Got Over

Generally, when it comes to melodrama and death and such in stories, I have a heart of stone. Or, really, I don't, but 90% of the time deaths are written so poorly, especially in YA and typical fannish stuff, that any emotional impact is lost and I'm left more annoyed at this crap, overrated writing than crying into my beer.

There are deaths that make me angry, though. Really, really, really angry.

The One True Bullshit Death for me—the one that will never fail to make me rage—is Susan Pevensie.

"But wait!" you're saying. "Susan Pevensie survives. Her siblings are the ones that die in that subway Underground accident!"

No, you're right. Susan Pevensie doesn't die. Instead, she suffers a fate worse than death: complete and utter character assassination. Also, getting shut out of Narnia is basically like dying—the rest of her siblings get to chill with Aslan and Reepicheep and Caspian forever, now that they're dead, but when Susan finally dies she will....not go to Narnia? Which I guess in C. S. Lewis's kiddie theology means she's...stuck in hell?

It's bullshit for so many reasons.

1. Susan's fall from grace is a hot, problematic mess. I won't call it "misogynistic" because I'm in a forgiving mood today, but it definitely has some shady attitudes towards "lady" things. Susan gets sniped at for being interested in nylons and make-up and meeting boys, what? As if there aren't "manly" interests someone can develop that are sneer-worthy? Her budding interest in lady things is directly connected to her disinterest in Narnia, which is certainly implying some things, Mr. Lewis.

2. It makes no fucking sense. While her siblings sometimes reminisce with each other about Narnia, Susan laughs it off as just some imaginary stuff they did as kids. How could anyone retcon their own experience like that? Maybe with something traumatic or terrible (it's a coping tactic that a lot of people use), but Narnia was baller. She was a queen! She went on adventures! She has absolutely no reason at all for wanting to forget that, or for wanting it not to be real. Beyond that, she was old enough that Narnia wasn't something that could be lost in that hazy unreal morass that is childhood memories. There is no way she could just be confused.

I can totally understand her not wanting people to think she and her family are loons and wanting them to keep the whole Narnia thing a secret except in trusted company, but the whole family already does that. They're already keeping their Narnia secret on the DL really well—there's no reason for her to need to laugh it off as a silly childhood game. Instead, it's her sister and brothers that she's talking to when she says, "Oh, yes, that silly imaginary game we played..."

So, C. S. Lewis decided to 1) make Susan an idiot, 2) shit on "womanly" interests just because, and 3) tear her away from her family.....why? For no good reason at all that I can see. Her falling away from Narnia and not returning for The Last Battle serves no particular plot purpose. There's no moment when someone goes, "OH MAN IF ONLY SUSAN AND HER HORN AND HER ARCHERY SKILLS WERE HERE." It just seems like a terrible little morality tale. Okay, yes, Narnia is all about morality tales, but they're usually more subtle than that.

Beyond that, pride and appearances and concern "fitting in" were never even core parts of Susan's temperament to begin with. Holding the Idiot Ball on Narnia's ontological status would be one thing if she had always been a bit vain, or a bit shallow, or a bit proud—but she never was.

Of course, it took me a long time to realize how and why this death was bullshit. When I first read The Last Battle, I was more disappointed that nearly all of the Pevensies were dead! That's also some bullshit writing—can't think of a better way to get them back to Narnia except to kill them? what???—but I mean, whatever. I could have bought that. I was a sensitive child who was gutted at the thought of characters I liked dying, I guess (I hadn't yet developed my heart of stone) even if from the book perspective they're not actually killed off at all. I didn't like it, but I pushed through.

There's something about the rest of the book that I just found to be uninspiring as well. The rest of the Narnia books were and are beloved childhood favorites and I would read them over and over. I read The Last Battle once, just so I could get the 100% completion rate, and then never again. The imagination, the world-building, the wonder just wasn't there.

It was only talking with other book nerds as an adult that I realized exactly what had happened and to what extent Lewis had assassinated her character. This has bothered other people, too—I know that Neil Gaiman wrote a short story about it, but I don't think I'll get around to reading it anytime soon. Instead, the Narnia books end after The Silver Chair in my headcanon. Too bad Lewis never wrote a seventh one, but six great books is still a pretty good run!


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Trek Thursday: The Devil in the Dark

#8:  The Devil in the Dark 

 In case you forgot: Kirk and Spock team up against a silicon-based life form called a horta that's wreaking havoc on Janus VI, a mining colony. Turns out the horta holds no animosity towards the miners per se, but rather is just doing the best it can to protect its eggs, a huge number of which the miners accidentally destroyed.

 "The Devil in the Dark" has a solid science fiction premise, an intriguing mystery going on for the first half of the episode or so, and a graceful, optimistic ending. Personally, what I like the best about it isn't that the threat isn't an obvious an easy analogue to FOREIGN POWERS or what have you; instead of Klingons or Romulans or some new alien race that inexplicably speaks English, it is a being that humans are incapable of communicating with or relating to. (Sound familiar?) Fortunately Spock's around to work a little mind-melding magic and we get the full picture.

It's a nice little fantasy to think that every bad guy you've read about in the papers or seen on the news is an objectively bad person who truly delights in evil, and sometimes it may even be true. But more often than not, it's a group of people who are just doing what they feel is the right thing, or at least the thing that has to be done to protect themselves. Accommodating them may tax our abilities to the utmost degree, but it's taking that noble path that represents the best parts of humanity.

(Shatner lists this as one of his favorite episodes, incidentally.)

You have to wonder just how willing the miners would be to peacefully coexist with the horta if they weren't getting very convenient, pre-dug tunnels out of the deal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

What I Watched: Trick

A couple weeks ago, JV and I finally wrapped up our journey through the Japanese comedy/mystery drama Trick. It spans three regular television seasons, plus three TV movies and four full-length theatrical releases.

Image courtesy TV Asahi/Wikimedia

The premise is a simple one: struggling but knowledgeable stage magician Yamada Naoko assists nationally renown physicist Ueda Jiro in exposing spiritualist frauds. If you've watched The Mentalist, it's much the same—just more lighthearted.

I don't usually like TV, especially when it's not American. Not that I'm lazy about reading subtitles or uninterested in other cultures. I just kind of hate TV as a medium; besides, J- and K-dramas haven't really had the same production values as their American counterparts until recently, so the shows have almost always looked a little cheap and low budget to me.

JV, on the other hand, is a bit of a J-drama fiend and once in a while he picks out one that he thinks I'll like. That's how we got to watching Trick.

He wasn't wrong, either. After the first episode, I was hooked. There are great characters overall, well-written and well-acted, but each episode usually achieves gender parity, which is nice. Many of the story arcs are also framed in the context of historical stage magic tricks or Japanese folklore, so you can feel like you're getting a little bit smarter each episode.

The series overall is a fun little ode to skepticism and rationalism—magic is almost always a trick, don't let yourself be fooled by someone who wants your money—but it retains elements of the supernatural here and there as a little spice. It's such a little thing (once in a while Yamada's mother just knows that Yamada will need help, or Yamada will have a premonition about something) but it's just nice to see that the show allows itself a little room for imagination and fantasy. And while many of the antagonists unveiled by Yamada and Ueda are money-grubbing charlatans, others are more sympathetic victims of circumstance. I appreciate a show where the bad guys aren't always mustache-twirling villains. The depth of character writing isn't limited to just the main roles; it extends to every single guest star and antagonist who shows up.

The biggest draw of the show, though, is probably the chemistry between Yamada and Ueda. Most of the time, Will They Or Won't They tension doesn't work and it makes me flip tables in rage, but it's played very, very subtly in Trick. Most of the chemistry is based on their banter and trying to get themselves out of scrapes—there's not really a lot of time for romance the way there would be in a more typical sitcom.

The humor translates well across cultures, too. Sometimes there are puns, and then you have to rely on the quality of the subtitles (or your Japanese) to get the joke, but there are plenty of subtle and surreal sight gags throughout the series. The show has an overall quiet tone to it—not the manic energy of the stereotypical wacky Japanese game show or frantic, fit-inducing anime.

A+ would recommend!