Sunday, October 27, 2013

In Which I Support the Arts, Such as They are

We went to the theatre at the college the other night, because the dance program was putting on a concert.  I wanted to enjoy it.  I like theatrical evenings.  I like dressing up in sparkly clothes to be as fabulous an audience as I can manage (which is quite fabulous indeed).  I like dance.  I really want to find something delightful in Wyoming.  So I really wanted to enjoy this concert.  But I didn't.  I made a list of good things about the production:

  • Dancers of all different body types were featured.
  • Some of the pieces had visually interesting choreography.  

That's all I can come up with.  The performance opened with a piece by an alumna choreographer.  An all-female ensemble with skintight black pants and tank tops in varying but mostly drab colors performed various moves better known as warmup moves, but performed half-heartedly and with angst.  Seeing women hunched over in pike stretch, or kneeling and tapping their hands boredly, or doing half planks or small jumps made me assume the choreographer was portraying how I warm up when I'm grumpy and tired.  This would have been entertaining if performed as a comedy.

At least one of the dancers started adjusting her costume while not far enough into the wings to be invisible to the audience.  Bad form.  While I'm on the topic, I'm willing to overlook most of the technique issues; these are beginning dancers, most first year students at the college.  I'm not so willing to overlook poor stage manners and presence.  At least none of them looked terrified, but when they were done with a move or headed off stage, the dancers had a tendency to slouch, if they weren't doing so already.  Overall, even for beginners, they seemed to lack a commitment to what they were doing on stage.

On to the next piece, which I really wanted to like because the choreographer worked with the Atlanta Ballet.  It was visually interesting.  The costumes were still drab (seriously, my nail polish was more sparkly than anything I saw on the stage, and that sparkly nail polish hadn't congealed after two years while I was in Tanzania, which makes me assume it contains something toxic and likely to shorten my lifespan considerably), tank tops and bike shorts, and the three dancers, two men, one women, did nothing to challenge the idea that the purpose of men in dance is to lift women.  Seriously, isn't modern dance supposed to break rules and expectations?

Whatever.  On to lots of female dancers in white dresses, high waisted, with sleeves improperly cut so that the entire dress had to move everytime they raised their arms, and at least the skirts wore short enough to reveal plain white bloomers.  Couldn't they even have pretty bloomers?  With lace?  The male dancer was wearing trousers of a dirty brown color, with a dirty looking white shirt, untucked and half unbuttoned.   The choreography was a wandering unfocused mess, but the dancers seemed to like it better than their previous material.  I think because it was country-ish music about love.  Some of them even smiled.

Continuing the momentum of engagement by the dancers, they engaged in the only good piece in the production, choreographed by Carol Mendes.  Performed only by women in shiny black and white dresses with cut outs in the back so they could move their arms freely.  Of course, this revealed bra straps (who told these women to wear bras with transparent plastic straps on stage?  The plastic catches the stage lights and glitters.  Underwear should match either skin or costume.), but it was an improvement.  The movements matched the music, it was happy, and the dancers smiled and engaged with their audience.  I call that a win, even though a major moment of the piece was the dancers pulling up their dresses and smiling as they revealed their bright pastel-colored bike shorts.

It was a short-lived win, since an artsy short film was up next.
As the dance world continues to evolve and incorporate digital media, I am happy to say that Western will be premiering a short dance film.                                                                                                  ~Note from the artistic director in the program.  

Digital: it does not mean what you seem to think it means.  A film is not necessarily digital, and the dance world has been incorporating digital media pretty much since the invention of the CD.  Technical language quibbles aside, the premiered short film was horrible.  Not only did it continue the choreographic pattern of modern dance without any particular point, it was actively annoying.  It opened with two mouths close together loudly pronouncing "oh" and "ah" in alternation.   It continued to show people arranged on the floor to spell "oh" and "ah" in case we weren't getting the point from the music.  The ohs and ahs continued loudly throughout not pretty shots of the campus (which is sad, the campus is quite pretty) with people either dancing not prettily through hallways, or body parts way too close too close to the cameras for anything but marveling about how ugly skin is in high enough resolution.

After the terrible film, all the dancers performed, following the narrated stage directions in the music (so cliche) while in skintight bodysuits without adequate lining.  I wanted to hulk into one of my dance teachers and smash things with my righteous fists of costuming fury.  Then the women of the ensemble began angstily grabbing their breasts.  Suddenly I stopped blaming the dancers for not seeming committed to the choreography and began sympathizing.

After a brief break for the dancers to get out of their ill-lined body suits and back into something slightly less horrid, which meant black bike shorts with skintight black tank tops (for the men) and poorly fitting corset-style shirts in a noticeably different shade of black from the shorts and held on with what looked like white elastic straps (for the women), the ensemble proceeded to perform a second visually interesting piece.  I still didn't understand what the dance was supposed to communicate, and it was still overly angsty, and it was still the same look and style of modern dance as the rest of the production, but at least it was moderately better than what came before, so ending with that will work.

Insofar as I understand modern dance, which is at least moreso than I understand modern visual art, it is supposed to be transgressive against rules and structures such that new forms of dance become possible.  When structure is banished only for the sake of banishing structure without bringing anything new, we are left with an incomprehensible message and bored.  Why does it have to be all modern dance anyway?  Adding basic pieces of other dance styles would give the students a better education in dance and lead to a more varied dance production.

I'm going to be teaching beginning belly dance at the college next semester.  Now I'm worried that I will be as bad an influence on dance here as what the college is already subject to.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Television for the Computer Scientist

The New York Times is proposing that the way to deal with an absence of women in computer science is to make good television about computer science.

First, this is a much better idea than trying to pinkify computer science, which is all too often the response to encourage participation of women in anything.  I don't know that it will actually help with enrollment, and I'd want more than anecdote, like actual numbers, to indicate that television actually does that.   The article asserts that an interest in forensic science is due to television, but they don't have much more than anecdata to support that.  It's an interesting question, and I do think there is probably a strong correlation, but I want more evidence than supplied.

Second, just making a tv show doesn't address the very important issue of how women get treated in overwhelmingly male fields.  On a related note, what about the men?  Do we do anything to encourage men to treat women in their fields like people and with according respect?   I suspect the answer is no.  As a woman in computer science, most if not all of my complaints are met with my being told I should be more assertive.  To my knowledge, no one ever tells men to be more polite.  Unpleasant environments because of gender imbalance and sexism are a real problem in computer science that is probably a more major barrier towards more women participating than lack of compelling television about the subject.

I also have a few caveats about television show as an entertainment medium.  I don't want to see tv about hackers because invariably you see the hacker using some elaborate graphical interface. Also, for some reason, Hollywood refuses to give up its belief that it is possible to infinitely zoom in on a digital image without losing resolution, and that is just irritating.

Blatant abuse of magical imaginary computers aside, the nerdy women of Hollywood tend to be painfully shy and probably ugly (which in Hollywood terms means glasses) but learn to abandon a lot of their nerdiness with their shyness and ugliness (which means taking off their glasses) when love enters their lives. Much as I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer,  I hate that that was exactly Willow's story arc (except for the glasses part).  I liked her better as a computer nerd than as a witch. The other really irritating trope Hollywood does is the Strong Token Woman, where the one woman in the film can't be a real person because she is the only woman and therefore must be a Strong Character because that's how equal representation works, right?

Assuming we can avoid all that, I actually support this proposal, because I want computer science themed television. It is past time that we had a show about the steampunk Ada Lovelace and her mathematical battles against the forces of evil and also her mad, bad, and dangerous to know daddy, Lord Byron.  I think the people behind the film Iron-Jawed Angels (about Alice Paul and the passage of the 19th amendment) could do a great job with the women of Bletchley Park.  Mad Men is incredibly popular (I think it's boring, but that's beside the point), why can't we have an office drama set in the 50s about IBM, which was mostly staffed by women at the time?  The show can feature a Frances Allen character as she develops Fortan!

Actual vintage IBM recruiting poster.

Or have a show, still about IBM people, on the people behind IBM's sexy supercomputers Deep Blue and Watson!  Hollywood is good at office dramas.  What computer scientists do may look really boring, but Hollywood has shown it can cut out all the boring bits of police and lawyer jobs and pad it with lots of interoffice sexual tension.  See Castle and The Good Wife.

The point is, we could have better television about nerds and geeks that is not horrible sexist things about terrible people we're supposed to mock like Big Bang Theory.  I doubt this will ever actually happen, and if it happened, it would probably be just as horrible as Big Bang Theory, but a woman can dream about steampunk Lovelace coming soon to a screen near her. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Happy Mole Day!

Happy 10^23rd day!  May you all have a mole of happiness in your lives.  But try to avoid actual moles, those things are nasty.  

Blind mole rats at Zoo Atlanta: 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In Which I have Suburban First World Problems!

My neighbors, they cannot park.  I think it is delightful that everyone has a car and spaces to not be able to park, but my sister thinks I should go all over Evil Hat Guy of XKCD on them.

She may be overestimating the number of power tools in my possession.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dinosaurs in Space and Dinosaur Porn

We ran out of pie, a greatly horrific event.  Fortunately, we are in possession of dinosaur cookie cutters.  The obvious thing to create is an apple pie adorned with space dinosaurs.  

This naturally turned into a mass extinction event, because there isn't any oxygen in space.  

The other pie turned into dinosaur porn.  These things happen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

In Which I Go Outside

This is becoming an ever more rare event, because outside is often nowhere one wants to be.  Particularly because in the Wild West (TM), the state will conveniently tell you how likely you are to die in a fire, which right now, not so much, because it's getting to be hypothermia weather.  Why do people live here? 

Nonetheless, we drove to Utah (because in America, you can just get in a car and drive places) to see the Flaming Gorge part of the Green River.  But first, and after many signs cautioning us to 'ware the falling rocks (what is this?  Legend of Zelda?) we arrived at Sheep Creek, a scenic place with very scenic scenery close to the gorge.

I like trees.

The scenic Sheep Creek, with red berries.  

My camera, disobligingly, declined to focus on the foreground. 

Sheep Bay!  Rather spectacular, really.  
Overlooking Sheep Bay, there were helpful boards explaining the view, adorned with a totally effective means of protest.  I am convinced that the proposed course of action is completely doable.  Except not. 

On to the Flaming Gorge to see the Green River!  Significantly less pixelated than my previous experience would suggest.

Maybe pixelation is a weather thing and this was a high resolution day.

Nonetheless, with preconceptions shattered, we forged on.  Past weird twisted and dead trees.

Past shrubs with bloody leaves!

Past ooky green gunk that dries onto rocks and invites carrion crawlers to attack.  My sister and her oh-so-swanky Longbow of Speed and +2 arrows scorns carrion crawlers.

The technical term for this is "ooky stuff"

Past more rocks, and rocks with lizards, and rocks with caves, and rocks with waterfalls, and rocks with orange lichen.  

That was when we decided we'd had about enough outdoor adventure for the day and returned to our climate controlled metal shell and drove back home to Wyoming through a spectacular sunset.

The sun turns the rocks red.  

Only there is shadow under this red rock. 

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock.)

I will accept snow if it is on high mountains

Today, I am back inside.  I intend to stay here for awhile.  

Friday, October 18, 2013

In Which I Brandish my Laurels

Resting on them will come later.  For now, Peace Corps totally reported on the work I did in Tanzania!  I spread the good gospel of Linux and free software, and they totally thought it was a great thing to do!

Press release here!  They quoted me saying responsible and teacherly adult sorts of things!  

I celebrated by buying some watermelons and a bucket and starting watermelon wine fermenting in my kitchen.  Peace Corps forever!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dada Eliza's Peace Corps Tips for First World Living

Emptied bottles make great bangle storage devices.  

Note: Dada [sister] Eliza is what the Tanzanians usually called me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Forgotten Women to Remember on Ada Lovelace Day

My darling friends on Facebook are responding to me with lists of important yet too often forgotten women of science from Computer World and Buzzfeed.  Though mentioned in the computer world list, I'd like to add that Frances Allen, first woman to win the Turing Award, is just great.  I went to one of her talks while I was at grad school, and she's absolutely amazing.

Frances E. Allen.
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0.

Ada Lovelace Day: The Power of an Education

Today is Ada Lovelace Day!  Celebrate the achievements of women in science!  Encourage a girl to get an education in science!  At the very least, read Sydney Padua's Lovelace-The Origin and smile.

The date of Ada Lovelace Day is rather arbitrary.  But I like that it is right after Columbus Day.   Columbus Day we should remember the sobering facts of where the U.S. came from by having a day for a racist genocidal rapist (as a friend of mine commented, "nothin' more American!" which is unfortunately true). Lovelace Day we remember that we do have wonderfully smart people and we can get to a point that is better than where we are now.

My grandmother told me once that when she was a girl, chemistry classes were only for women because supposedly it would help them cook better.  Let's never go back to that.  It is fashionable to relegate sexism to something that happens places not America, but there is an unfortunate movement in the U.S. for women to not go to college, and either live at home or work menial jobs until marriage.  That's not okay.  Education is power for people to think for ourselves and make our own choices.  Whether that choice is to stay at home and getting married or a career in super science or anything in between or any combination of things, it's a choice that is ours and no one else should have the power to make for us.

Like much of the rest of the internet, I have been fangirling over Malala Yousafzai.  She is just such a wonderful human being.  Her main goal is education for women, because, as she says, "education is power." Indeed.  Women who are educated, and not just in those things we are told are suitable for women, have the power to decide for ourselves our role, our dress, and our lives, in a world that prefers to dictate all of that to women.

So Happy Ada Lovelace Day!  Encourage a girl who is interested in a traditionally male-dominated field of study!  Encourage all girls in their education!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Many Happy Returns, Giuseppe. Viva Verdi!

200 Years ago today, Giuseppe Verdi was born to become one of the greatest opera composers of all time.  The first opera I ever saw live was actually his Aida, at the Verona Arena.  It was glorious.  Gigantic silk elephants floating overhead, a giant flame thrower behind the stage to punctuate dramatic moments with 50 ft gouts of flame, Hui Hei singing her heart out in "O Patria Mia," it was amazing.  Viva Verdi!

The Grand March, just because it's fabulous. 

Since then, I've cried at La Traviata in New Orleans and been deeply disturbed by Rigoletto in Houston. NPR calls Verdi operas a "vigorous soundtrack to human nature."  I'd agree with that.  Once again, viva Verdi!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Close Encounters of the Wyoming Kind

I talked to people today!  About things!  For work and community integration!  I was not impressed with the experience.

  • While putting gas in the car (See?  I can do first world things!  I drive a car and I pay for gas with a credit card and I turn off the engine before putting gas in it. Unlike Tanzanians.) I was engaged in casual small talk by a gentleman putting fuel in his overly large pickup.  This gentleman, it turns out, hates Wyoming and has to work all the time to support his four children (Is it culturally appropriate to talk with Americans about condom usage, importance of?).  It further developed that he wanted my phone number and a date.  Seriously, who makes passes at strange women in gas stations?  Is that a thing?  Can it be not a thing? 

  • While doing my actual sort of job and trying to sweet talk some people at a nice gym with a high ceiling into letting us nice dancers rig aerial silks in exchange for paying the gym money, I encountered a rec center supervisor who, instead of just saying no to me, started making up physics in order to explain to me that the ceiling was only for, and I quote, "up forces, not down forces."  I don't even know what to say to that.  Can we get some government organization to send in some volunteer physics teachers posthaste? 

On the plus side, the ladies at the DMV were nice and there are so few people in this state that there is no line-waiting to be done.  Also, there is a coffee house which is not part of an imperialistic franchise and at which the baristas will very nicely ask if I would like whipped cream and a chocolate covered espresso bean on top of my drinks.  Yes.  Yes I would.  Thank you for anticipating my shallow needs.

Monday, October 7, 2013

In Wyoming. With Snow.

It's October.  It's early October.  It's snowing.  A lot.  I am not impressed with Wyoming.

The cat is not amused.  

Neither am I . I have been whining all over Facebook, and people are responding with cheerful stories about frostbite.  I think I survived the bus rides and electrical fires of Tanzania only to die in the snow in Wyoming.