Sunday, May 17, 2015

For the love of nerds, part 2

In the past, I've argued that we feminists shouldn't focus on misogyny because most guys aren't like that, and because it's better to focus positive attention on the positive than negative attention on the negative (thus increasing its exposure). Sadly, I was smacked in the face with the negative bits wrecking stuff that would otherwise be cool, like atheism -- specifically some "thought leaders" who unfortunately demonstrated that the ability to criticize religion doesn't necessarily imply an ability to think critically about one's own prejudices.

Through that story (and related stuff like GamerGate), I somehow ended up subscribing to We Hunted the Mammoth -- a blog watching (and mocking) the "Men's Rights Activists." It has become the train wreck I can't look away from. This blog is a kind of smorgasbord of schadenfreude because the people being mocked are such incredible villains -- and yet their villainy is its own punishment:

You know how they say "Living well is the best revenge"...? Well, the MRAs are living proof of the converse.

To see what I mean, a new article came up on my reading list (see here) that makes some of the same points I made in "for the love of nerds, part 1":

Back when I couldn’t get laid, I wondered what I needed to do to get laid.

And so, I worked on me. I worked on my education, my personality, my skill set, my career and my body. And guess what happened? SEX! And love and marriage and family and success and all that awesome stuff.

An MRA is a loser who doesn’t look inward on how to improve, but looks outward on whom to blame for sucking, because self-improvement is hard. Also, not having women praise their genitalia the way it happens in porn makes them angry.

The saddest part -- perhaps even sadder than watching them ruin atheism, gaming, and other nerd pursuits -- is the sheer stupidity of this loser-fest. Consider one of the most sad/funny recent episodes of "We Hunted the Mammoth": the vagina bus. The guy is whining about how awful it is that he has to buy a woman dinner (perhaps multiple times) to get laid, and even then she's not required to sleep with him. And in the same post he bemoans how awful it is that women sleep with different partners.

How can someone fail to see the problem with this logic? Does he think that women are non-player-characters that are generated anew each time you fire up your game console?

The most ridiculous logic error comes from the men who interpret their own lack of success as evidence that women shun nice guys and only sleep with assholes. The thing is that if your first instinct is to blame the women for not giving you some rightfully-earned sex, then you're probably not nearly as wonderful to women as you think you are. There may exist women who seek out abusive partners, but if that's really why you struck out with someone, then you should be glad to have been rejected because you don't want to get involved with someone who has profound emotional/psychological problems. And if you think all attractive women pick abusers over good guys, then I can say with a fair degree of confidence that, in reality, you are the problem.

I blogged about one of these guys back in 2009, but the most astonishing example was Elliot Rodger, who decided to kill a bunch of people in order to punish women for wrongly choosing undeserving guys over him. Dude, you are not only a flaming misogynist, but a murderer. If anything, your failure to get a date shows that women aren't too shabby at picking decent guys over horrible guys. Again, this sort of delusion is fed by the evil-for-the-love-of-evil villain trope, that encourages people to see their own interests as obviously pure goodness and their rivals as simply evil.

So we have a bunch of guys whose problem is they can't attract women, and their solution is to gather with a bunch of fellow losers and work themselves into a lather about how horrible women are. Really, I would be hard pressed to come up with a more counter-productive solution if I tried. Well, maybe a murder spree...

Anyway, this interesting article about Arthur Chu hit on one of the reasons why I care so much:

If lonely nerds are to be wooed away from defeatism and rage, he believes, they must be reached with camaraderie as much as reason.

I care about this because the lonely nerd is my favorite type. I want to see him rise to the challenge and succeed. I don't want to see him get sucked into the vortex of his own futile rage and be destroyed by it. I don't want to see him throw his life away because he can't overcome his initial setbacks. 

I want him to succeed because my adorable husband was a super nerd, and now I have two beautiful, brilliant yet somewhat socially-challenged sons. And I want them all to be happy.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Plan!!

The other day a friend of mine posted this link to Facebook: Every Major Snape Scene in Chronological Order. It reminded me yet again how absurd the Snape subplot is, but... then it hit me that playing in the plot holes would make a hilarious YouTube video!!

This is my first attempt at making a stop-motion Lego video -- I hope you'll like it! :D

Saturday, January 17, 2015

My adventures with kale smoothies!!

I'm not always one to jump in on the latest trends, but I have to admit I'm always curious to try new food trends -- especially ones involving strange vegetables! Most of what I'd read about kale smoothies came from the New Yorker poking gentle fun at the kind of people who drink kale smoothies, yet... it just seemed so weird the whole idea of pureeing a dark green leafy vegetable and making a sweet drink out of it that I couldn't help but feel intrigued.

So, a few weeks ago, when I noticed that my local grocery store had some kale in the organic vegetables department, I just had to get some and try it out!!

After googling a bit for ideas, I decided to try steaming the kale, cutting off the most fibrous parts, and then blending it with a banana and some litchis. (I don't normally buy litchis, but they were on sale that week, so I figured I should try them.)

The verdict? It was surprisingly good. This is mostly because I was expecting it to be über-disgusting, and was surprised to discover that it was actually kind of good.

I also tried blending some of the steamed kale with some Ayran (Turkish salted yoghurt beverage), thinking that maybe kale would work better as a savory/salty beverage than a sweet beverage (see my earlier post about mixing Aryan with tomato juice -- which is quite good, and I still make regularly). Unfortunately, my savory kale beverage really was über-disgusting.

While it was fun to make kale smoothies once, they weren't quite good enough for me to bother making them regularly. But then, just the other day I started seeing this:

Note that -- while that is the actual advertising image -- this is not a paid advertisement post. I just figured, why bother taking the bottle out of my fridge to photograph it when it's so much easier to just google for an image of it? Normally I would never post someone else's photo without attribution, but somehow I don't think companies are too picky about people posting their promotional images.

Anyway, as you can see, one of the local organic bottled smoothie producers has just added kale smoothies to their selection! I had to try it to see if pros' version was any better than mine.

The verdict? It was surprisingly good, in basically the same way my version was surprisingly good. But I didn't have to bother to steam and puree the kale myself, so that gave this version a leg up.

But the thing that really made me laugh was the blurb on the bottle explaining (in German and French) why you would want to buy this smoothie. It didn't say kale is a super-food or make any extravagant claims about its health benefits. It didn't say anything about kale's health benefits at all -- the claim that got top billing was that kale is super-trendy! (das heisse Trendgemüse! le légume à la mode, que tout le monde s'arrache !)

I don't know, i just love the honesty of that promotional message. Awesome! ;)

Friday, January 02, 2015

For the love of nerds

One of my main themes is the nerd love story. (See, for example, my novel.) The shy, socially-awkward (yet adorable) kid suffers humiliating rejections, but ultimately wins out. For me, this is the most obvious type of underdog story to write. As my parents explicitly taught me, it doesn't matter whether you're popular in high school. If you are the smart kid, then you have the tools to be a success in life.

You may recall one of my many complaints about the Harry Potter series was that despite being unpopular/bullied as a teen, after a certain number of years of being a successful adult, someone like Snape would grow up a bit. Emotionally. Well, there's a short essay by a professor at MIT (making the rounds of the Internet) that suggests I may be wrong on this point.

Amanda Marcotte is right that Laurie Penny is way too nice to this guy (so Amanda compensated by perhaps going too far the other way -- though her piece is quite funny). A personal friend and colleague of my husband also wrote a response that is spot on. But there's one key point that I don't think any of these folks hit on, which I would like to address.

Life is not fair. If you are one of the brainiacs, then you have an unfair advantage over others. Because being one of the smarties endows you with a magical little thing called problem solving skills.

Suppose you look around and you see some guys who logically shouldn't be desirable to women ("Neanderthals" in the above professor's terms) having lots of success attracting women. You believe that what you have to offer to women is actually better, yet women somehow fail to grasp this. If your solution to this conundrum is that women are simply too stupid to act in their own self interest (all of them! Or at least all the ones you might potentially find attractive), so you decide to spend the next twenty years stewing in your own bile over the unfairness of it all, then you are an idiot.

That's the only reason people are responding to this guy's rant, by the way. Stupid, frustrated men who have concluded that the problem is the entire female half of the human race are a dime a dozen. There are whole subnetworks on the Internet devoted to their rantings. Here's a typical example. What makes the professor's essay noteworthy is that people are astonished that someone could be smart enough to be a professor at MIT and yet be dumb enough to make an ass of himself in such a public way.

The thing is that it's not that hard a problem to solve. People of all different desirability levels solve it every day. If your offer is desirable, there are plenty of ways to find the people who will want to take you up on it, and if it's not, there are ways to make your offer more desirable. If you're looking around and wondering "Why him and not me?" -- don't ask it as an angry rhetorical question, ask it as a serious question. And apply your analysis and problem-solving skills to come up with effective strategies to solve it.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

State of the Me 2014-2015

I've been writing these yearly posts for a while now, and I'd like to believe I'm getting closer to achieving my goals. Since this sort of assessment can help shape my reality as well as describe it, I'll keep the spin positive. ;)

This year's overview is that I've made decent progress, but I'm perhaps farther from my goals than ever -- due to moving the goal posts. So let's dive into the status on my usual long-term goals, and wrap up with my new ones!


This was my biggest goal category from last year, -- a very important part of life to focus on, and one where I feel like I've done well over the past year.

I am very lucky to have an apartment that is so perfectly suited to guests. We have a nice guest room, plus we have extremely convenient access to downtown Zürich as well as to beautiful forests for hiking. We've had some wonderful visits from family, and hope to welcome many more friends and family in 2015 and beyond. With those who haven't had the opportunity to visit, I've had some great skype visits. And I've had lots of awesome parties and outings with local friends!!

I've also made some great new friendships in addition to building up the old/gold ones. I even feel like my relationship with my husband has been warmer and more fun. (Not that it was ever bad, but when you see someone every single day it's easy to become apathetic.)


This has been the biggest, most stressful goal category of 2014. The kids are doing OK in school, but not nearly as well as they should be. We've made some progress getting them to do as much of their homework as possible on time, but they're nowhere near being self-motivating about it -- and they waste their energy on fighting us to get to do the bare minimum and call it "good enough." I really want them to learn that it is easier for everyone in the long run if they'd just expend that same effort getting it done.

The kids have done some programming and other tech projects (some great ones were thanks to my dad during his recent visit), plus we had a bit of Math/Science fun at Camp Quest, but I would like to have done more. I'm hoping to re-launch my Math Club at the beginning of the 2015 school year, but I'd like to feel like we've gotten them out of the woods with respect to grades before focusing on that.

The kids have come up with a few independent projects on their own (such as Nico's new YouTube channel), yet I somehow feel like they're not very ambitious. OTOH (spinning this positive), maybe it's just that they're not insecure. They enjoy playing together for hours on end, inventing elaborate stories and dramas together (which is part of why it's so annoying that getting them to write a 200-word essay for school is like pulling teeth, grr). My two kids get along great and hardly ever fight with each other.

Work + Languages

My German is increasingly fluent, and I've been speaking more German at work, even for technical discussions, instead of always pulling the discussion back to English. We got a new colleague from Germany, so now my two closest colleagues are German. This is cool because when they discuss our projects among themselves, there's no temptation for them to slip into the Swiss German dialect (which I wouldn't understand), and I can join in the discussion in German.

As far as the work itself is concerned, I've done lots of interesting projects this year, including some where I've taken the initiative to suggest a project that needed to get done and that I could do. My biggest problem is probably the fact that I have so many non-work-related projects that I'm excited about, so it's sometimes a challenge to stay enthusiastic and motivated. Perhaps I should put that on my goal list for 2015. ;)

Between friends and my husband's colleagues and trips (not to mention at home), I have had quite a lot of opportunity to keep up my French, despite how little French is spoken in Zürich. I'm happy that I've had the opportunity to take a French-language yoga course for the past four years and counting -- I think it had been great for my physical and mental health (in addition to multi-tasking as French conversation practice with the other students before and after class). My German class is almost like multi-tasking as well since I like my German teacher -- my weekly skype lesson with her doubles as chatting about my life with a friend.

New Stuff!

My biggest new goal that I came up with in 2014 is that I would like to produce a comic book / graphic novel. I've always wanted to do it -- comic books (especially ones that are (semi)autobiographical and/or take place in unfamiliar cultures) are my favorite genre of books to read for pleasure.

Over the Summer I came up with a story idea but despaired of being able to produce it (because I don't draw that well, as you can see from my online novel). But then I thought "you know, it's not rocket science." I have all of these ideas and pictures in my mind of imaginary people and places I would love to draw -- and the distance in technical skill between where I am/was at and where I need to be to draw what I want to draw isn't insurmountable.

So, I've been spending my tram commute copying photos from the free newspapers in order to improve my skills at drawing people in natural postures and positions. And I've improved a lot in just this short amount of time.

I got a (computer) drawing tablet for my birthday, and I've been drawing all of my characters' faces from various angles in svg (scalable vector graphics). I am almost done with my initial drafts of my characters faces, then I will move on to making a series of hands and feet, and then I will try my hand at a group portrait. Then comes the architecture (which I've also been practicing and coming up with ideas for).

Just yesterday we took a family trip to Neuchâtel (to see the new Asterix film in French), and of course we took time to visit the bookshop. I didn't find any comic books I really wanted this time, but... I found I was a little disconcerted by how good the artwork was in all of these random comics I've never heard of. I don't mean the photo-realism, but rather things like the techniques for making simple backgrounds interesting, and the use of stylized eyes on otherwise realistic people, etc.

But, now to spin this positive. I have been collecting and poring over comic books for years, of various styles, and I've always appreciated and analyzed the ideas for how the drawings are composed. And after making a real effort to try my hand at doing it, I'm noticing even more details and techniques than before -- which is a key part of improving my own hand. None of these other artists created their work utterly ex nihilo out of their own heads. Like me, they loved and appreciated the works of others, and felt inspired and came up with their own ideas as well.

My other new goal is more a fantasy than a goal, but I'll throw it out there since it's something I've fantasized about doing this past year. I'd like to incorporate my three websites as a non-profit organization, and (through ads or something) pay some people to work part time as editors and publicists to help authors of LDS-interest works -- plus pay people to write good articles for MSP (to keep good, regular content there, to increase readership, to help monetize the site to pay for the editor/publicists). Maybe even turn MAA Books into an indie publisher.

The reason this is a fantasy is because in order to make it work, I'd basically have to work full time on it, and I'd have to pour a bunch of my own cash into the project, which would require me to increase my hours at my day job to full-time. Perhaps you can see the problem with this. I figured I'd mention it, though, just in case a giant cache of money magically descends upon me -- or if someone else out there has a similar dream and wants to discuss joining forces.

So that's about it for this past year. Please wish me luck for 2015. Good luck on your own dreams and goals!! :D

Sunday, November 30, 2014

What I love (and don't love) about the Lego Movie!

If you've followed the Legos tag on my blog, you can probably guess that I approached this film biased towards wanting to like it. So you can take that as your grain of salt when I tell you that I found this film loads of fun -- and I felt that its clever and imaginative aspects were original enough outweigh the flaws.

The big item The Lego Movie got right was exactly the point the Lego Universe role-playing video game got wrong, as I explained a couple of years ago on one of my other blogs. "Lego Universe" (the game) was basically a generic adventure video game in which the characters and backgrounds happened to be made out of Legos -- but it totally ignored what makes Legos so addicting. You want to buy a given set because of the clever ideas they showcase in the instructions, and then when you get bored of that set, you can take it apart, put together the pieces (and ideas) in your own new ways.

The Lego Movie was built around the idea of how Legos really work. The tension between following the instructions and doing your own thing was the central conflict of the film (and neither was presented as the one right answer). I know that doesn't seem like much of a moral dilemma to base a film on, but it's a real question, and one that's unique to the world of Lego. So they took advantage of their assets to make something original.

Another original point I loved was the treatment of the prophecy trope. I just don't get what is supposed to be so compelling about the story of the young protagonist who is destined by prophecy to solve the universe's problems. I discussed this recently in Harry Potter and the three tropes, and then when my kids recently decided to re-watch the Star Wars films, I noticed they used the same damn three tropes. (Well, with one difference -- in Star Wars, but mom didn't sacrifice herself for her kids so much as randomly die when the plot required it.)

The Lego Movie gave us a far more interesting and entertaining look at how prophecies work. The film explored how belief a the prophecy affects people's behavior, and showed people continuing to hold their beliefs even in the face of contrary evidence (like the fact that Emmet was "the special" but wasn't a master builder).

One trope The Lego Movie unfortunately used in the traditional phoning-it-in way was to have the entire conflict center around the protagonists having to fight the villain who is evil just for the sake of being evil. As I've said before, I really hate this trope, and it drives me nuts that it is so ubiquitous. Can't we as a culture come up with anything more interesting than that to offer our kids? But I forgive The Lego Movie for this, and even for using the painfully unoriginal formula in which the villain ties the hero to a time bomb and leaves him there (to escape). I forgive The Lego Movie because Lord Business and Bad Cop were pretty entertaining as villains go -- and because insisting that films not use the "evil villain" trope would be to hold them up to a impossibly high standard, more challenging even than the Bechdel Test.

Speaking of the Bechdel Test, yes, The Lego Movie passes it. Not with flying colors, but, happily, one of the fun jokes of the piece (where Unikitty is listing off the things Cloud Cuckoo Land doesn't have) was an exchange between two named female characters. Overall, the treatment of gender wasn't too bad, but could have been a lot better. I essentially agree with this article by Tasha Robinson about how Wyldstyle's awesomeness served mostly just to demonstrate Emmett's awesomeness.

Although I think Robinson's analysis is right on the money, I want to temper it with a couple of remarks. First, it's not really true (as Robinson claimed) that "Her only post-introduction story purpose is to be rescued, repeatedly". Wyldstyle has action sequences throughout and saves the day multiple times. The climactic win in the end was due to Wyldstyle's broadcast encouraging the ordinary citizens to use their own creativity to build whatever they want. Of course her brilliant idea centered around her great epiphany that Emmet was actually awesome -- thus proving Robinson was right with the second half of her claim about Wyldstyle's purpose: "to eventually confer the cool-girl approval that seals Emmet’s transformation from loser to winner."

I mention my one technical quibble with Robinson above because I want to contrast it with what she said about How to Train Your Dragon II. I read her article before watching How to Train Your Dragon II, and thought about her claim about Hiccups mom, that "once the introductions are finally done, and the battle starts, she immediately becomes useless, both to the rest of the cast and to the rapidly moving narrative. She faces the villain (the villain she’s apparently been successfully resisting alone for years!) and she’s instantly, summarily defeated." And I went into the cinema thinking, "Oh, come on -- it can't be that bad." But it was!!

The mom's uselessness in the end of How to Train Your Dragon II struck me as really weird and incongruous because the action scene was just so damn long. Like a lot of films, the whole last section of the movie is a sequence of action segments as the heroes eventually defeat the villains. In all this time, they couldn't come up with one thing for this amazing mom character to do that is critical to saving the day? And it's the contrast with the Lego Movie in particular that makes the problem in How to Train Your Dragon II especially striking: in the action sequence at the end of the Lego Movie, every single one of the main hero characters (Emmet, Wyldstlye, Vitruvius, Unikitty, Metalbeard, Benny, Batman) gets an individual moment of doing something critical.

Of course, listing off the main characters like that gives another hint about the Lego Movie's gender problem: of these seven heroes, only two of them are female. OTOH, it could be worse -- it could be just one. Unikitty, by the way, is very cool and entertaining. She's not defined in relation to some male character. She's a princess, but her princessness is about running a fun fantasy land, not finding a prince. Plus, she has her own interesting personal conflict trying to remain cheerful at all times -- and learning how that doesn't exactly work (reminiscent of the "Turn it off" number from The Book of Mormon).

In The Lego Movie's favor, they cast a black character in a role that would stereotypically be played by a white character (instead of putting a black character in a stereotypical black role) -- and they played it up in a funny joke where Vitruvius confuses Gandalf with Dumbledore. I wish they could have done a little better at mixing it up for the ladies.

Personally, I'm the parent who is as interested as the kids in playing with our Lego collection. And I thought it was fun that the Lego Movie included such a parent character. The sad part is that if they'd cast that part as someone who looks like me -- i.e. a woman -- it would have been criticized as "tokenism" or as unrealistic or something. We're not at the point where I can simply watch an ordinary movie and expect to see a character I can relate to, in my own gender, and have it be perfectly ordinary and not even noteworthy. We've still got a long way to go, baby...

This point aside, the film has a lot of really clever, funny stuff in it. Looking at all of the amazing details of the Lego worlds in the movie makes me want to get to my Lego table see what I can build! (With the kids, of course.) We can make our own little world where everything is awesome!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

First, catch a wild mommy!

According to Leo, that's the first step in building a custom Lego set.

This is a rock-climbing cabin set I designed, based on the Creator "Mountain Hut" set.

On first glance, it might not be obvious how this is different from the three versions in the official instructions. Basically, I took some components straight from the set instructions, but I combined them in a new way and added a bunch of my own original elements and components.
It doesn't seem like much, but it's trickier to do that than you might think.

The kids also requested some custom play-sets for some of their favorite characters. Nico requested a zombie fortress that could be used for fighting the plants (as in plants-vs-zombies):

Complete with a tower and turret for the Yeti-Zombie and a winged flying-ship with a landing-pad in the fortress.

Leo wanted a fortress for his "Rabids" a.k.a. "Lapins Crétins" :

I actually made and photographed all of these sets in March, but I postponed posting the photos because I was planning to make an stop-motion animated YouTube short of my mountain cabin. But with the number of projects on my plate, it looks like that's never going to happen, so I figured I might as well post these photos.