Older blog entries for hypatia (starting at number 317)

Speaking of being tall

Of course, if you blog about it it will happen again: “I thought they only made them that tall in Texas!” said the woman in the elevator with us this afternoon.

At least she gets points for originality. Texas? Why Texas?

Syndicated 2011-11-28 07:14:17 from lecta

Your friendly guide to talking to me about being tall

Scene setting: I’m 193cm/6’4″ tall. The average height of an Australian woman is about 163cm, so conveniently you can think of me as being a whole ruler taller, or that the average Australian woman’s head is about my shoulder height. This is a weird enough height that I’ve had all kinds of

Rule 1: consider not talking to a tall person about their height. It’s hard to do well. Think of it like this:
Person 1: “your body has a very very unusual feature! very unusual! very unusual!”
Person 2: “whereas your body does not! very normal! very normal!”

It’s a pretty one way conversation, basically. It’s unlikely (statistically) that they can reciprocate in kind by asking you/informing you about your visible weirdnesses, and if they can, it’s likely you don’t want to hear about your weirdnesses. The conversation in reality goes something like this:

Person 1: you are very very tall!
Person 2: um, indeed.
Person 1: [waits patiently for tall person to work harder to pull their turn out of the magical conversation hat]

Or alternatively, the general rule is start conversations where the person you are talking to has some chance of reciprocation.

Rule 2: especially consider not talking to a tall child or teenager about their height! This is because people generally make free with subjecting children and teenagers to every thought that crosses their mind, usually prescriptively at that. I am probably down to a conversation every few months about my height now. When I was a teenager, I had a conversation with a stranger about my height about once a week. That person who by virtue of youth (*cough* and gender) is extra socially obliged to stand there and look polite while they hear your every thought about human height variations? You’re not the only person taking advantage.

Rule 3: I’ve heard the jokes. Useful rule in general for anyone who has what you consider an unusual body, name, accent, hair colour, job, dress, religious belief, ethnic identity, mobility aid, manner of speaking, hobby, and.or other thing.

I have to say, I’m yet to hear what I’d call a good tall joke, but then, I would be biased, wouldn’t I?

Rule 4: I don’t need to know about how unattractive you find it. I won’t belabour this: if you’re the kind of person who tells tall people they are ugly or freaky (in my case, this was almost exclusively done by men to my teenage self, men in late middle age still occasionally do it now), you’re the kind of person who isn’t reading.

Incidentally, the favoured insult for a tall slender woman you’ve just seen on the street and instantly been repelled by is “lanky bitch” or “fucking lanky bitch“. In case it ever comes up in a trivia quiz or something. Who the hell uses the word ‘lanky’?

Rule 5: I don’t want to hear about how jealous you are. This is more complicated and interesting. When I was in my late teens, most of those people stopping me to talk to me about it were middle-aged women* wanting to tell me I was beautiful and special and should stand up straight and be proud and they wished they were me.

It took me ages to work out what was going on, which is that each of these women thought she was the only one and was lighting a torch in the misery of my teen years. Since it happened several times a month, I had no notion that they thought that, and they must have been rather unsettled by my awkward and slightly hostile reaction to their attempt to reach through the fog of human cruelty with a kind thought. Sorry, kind women.

* Um, possibly adult women? I wasn’t good at picking adult’s ages at the time.

Rule 6: unless you are my doctor, I don’t want to discuss my genetic history with you. I’m not sure why everyone wants to know whether my parents are tall (oh what the hell: yes, they are, and if the human race consisted entirely of my father’s relatives, I would be at the tall end of normal, rather than at the “having conversations with strangers and writing blog entries” level). It seems kind of weird to be led through a laundry list of my relatives and asked if they are tall. Are people trying to find out if their own children will/won’t/might be tall?

A special note to doctors on this one: you don’t get out of gaol free! It might help to explain why you’re asking. “There are some diseases and syndromes which have extreme height as a symptom, but if your whole family is tall that’s less likely” is an example of a helpful thing to say. (At my height-for-sex, I suspect you can just about get away with saying “so, Marfan syndrome**, you either have it or have been investigated for it, yeah?”) But since quite a few doctors have done this out of either a desire for chitchat equivalent to the general public or a desire to satisfy some medical curiosity irrelevant to their treatment of me, I don’t like it much from doctors without explanation either. I am all good with doctor chitchat, but not about something where I can’t tell if you think I have a disease or you have a few minutes to shoot the breeze with me.

** Not the only medically interesting cause of tallness, I know.

Rule 7: I will be the judge of whether I can wear heels, thank you. I don’t wear high ones because OUCH and also because there’s absolutely no social advantage to me from being taller, quite the reverse. But I sometimes wear low ones because I like the shoes they are attached to, and every so often a sales assistant refuses to sell them to me. What the hell?

Rule 8: It’s not good news for me that there’s someone taller than you. Actual remark addressed to me on several occasions: “wow, oh my god, you’re taller than me! I feel so good knowing that there’s a woman taller than me out there!” Only about half the time do they go on to realise what that implies from my point of view.

I do see the temptation to start conversations with other tall people about how they are taller than me, but when I do I remember this.

Rule 9: You don’t need to worry about what your kids say. Well, unless it’s “fucking lanky bitch” I guess. But kids specialise in drive-bys: “that lady is very tall!” I don’t mind stating-the-obvious drive-bys, it’s cute.

The champion kid remark to date was while I was pregnant: “Mummy, that lady is very tall and she has a baby in her tummy!” Indeed!

Rule 10: I am all good with reaching stuff on high shelves for you. Maybe this bugs some tall people, certainly people apologise a lot for asking me to do this, but it seems fair enough, really. Why do shelves intended for the general public go so high anyway?

Rule 11: I like to show off. I can touch the ceiling (on tiptoes) in normal height modern rooms. (I use this to change lightbulbs.) I can stand flat-feet on the bottom of a 1.8m depth pool (the usual depth of recreational pools) and it comes up to about my mouth. I almost never get the chance to mention these things to people! Humour me. (OK, you don’t have to, now that you’ve read this.)

Rule 12: If you’ve known me for ages and have secretly always wanted to talk to me about being tall, I usually don’t mind much of this from people I know. I guess the ugly thing would be an exception, but really, it’s strangers bowling up to me and asking about the height of my great-great-grandfather’s sister that comprises 99% of the problem.

Syndicated 2011-11-28 04:36:17 from lecta

Parenting economics

From Matt Yglesias:

Family life is subject to a vicious economic conundrum known as Baumol’s cost disease. Economy-wide wages are linked to economy-wide productivity. That means that over time sectors of the economy that don’t feature productivity gains will see rapidly rising costs…

Child-rearing is basically stick stuck in a kind of dark ages of artisanal production, but as market wages have risen the opportunity cost of this extremely labor intensive line of work has steadily increased. The implication is that societies that want to continue existing in the future are increasingly going to have to find ways to subsidize parental investment in the next generation.

Syndicated 2011-11-24 00:07:37 from lecta

Computational linguists

xkcd suddenly exploded in my circles in 2006, thanks to the comic Randall Munroe calls Computational Linguists and most people refer to as “Fuck Computational Linguistics” getting around at the annual conference of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

There’s been requests for the xkcd store to sell it before, but it’s never been done.

I just ordered a batch through Sticker Mule, both of the full comic and of a smaller badge version I did. (They will do proofs of them, I’ll be interested to see if the “Fuck” bugs them.) In order to do so I did a vector version of the comic (via Inkscape’s “trace bitmap”), and because the original comic, and these variants, are under Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial, I can share them with you here. If you want them, order copies from the sticker vendor of your choice!

Full comic:
Indicative PNG | Compressed Inkscape SVG | PDF (fonts as paths)

Smaller badge-like variant:

Fuck Computational Linguistics
Compressed Inkscape SVG | PDF (fonts as paths)

The vector version aren’t very clean, but neither is the original comic, so I’m hoping these look like the spirit of the original, rather than a nasty hack.

Reminder: these are licensed for free noncommercial use (the precise condition is noncommercial use with attribution to the original author, modifications OK). So don’t sell them!

Syndicated 2011-11-21 09:33:32 from lecta

linux.conf.au: program choices

I’m all but all booked in for linux.conf.au in Ballarat! (Need some accommodation in Melbourne for AdaCamp and to book the train to Ballarat.) So, time to share my early picks of the program:

Saturday (in Melbourne):

Monday:

Tuesday:

Wednesday:

Thursday:

Friday:

It’s skewed a little by my interests for the Ada Initiative now, that’s where all the mentoring stuff comes from. And I doubt I will get to all of this although presumably Valerie and I won’t be whisking people off to private meetings about the Ada Initiative as much. (At LCA 2011, when we were yet to launch it, we did almost nothing else.) It looks like Tuesday is a day to catch my breath before Wednesday. My family have decided to travel home Friday, so sadly Friday won’t be.

Syndicated 2011-11-11 02:57:14 from lecta

freelish.us: mental outage

It’s not absolutely clear to me that anyone at Geek Feminism has missed the linkspams, of which there hasn’t been one since 18th September. No one’s said anything, anyway.

What happened? freelish.us happened. Or it didn’t.

freelish.us, a bookmarking site using the open source status.net code, launched in April (April 1 actually, was that a good idea?) By that stage I was looking for an alternative to Delicious for bookmarking due to the new terms of service. I’ve been using flagship status.net site Identi.ca for microblogging for a long time (it cross-posts to Twitter) and while I’m inconsistent, I do like contributing to the commons to some degree, so a Creative Commons attribution bookmarking stream also appealed to me.

But the entire experience produced what I’d call “micro-burnout”. As in, I didn’t stop feeling pleasure or joy in stuff in general as would happen with burnout, but sharing links became a giant pain in the neck. Micro-burnout. Sharing links sucked.

First, there was the month or more on freelish.us where I just couldn’t seem to add bookmarks or import my Delicious backup file for love or money. I’d click “OK” and nothing would appear in my stream. It turned out that that was because I’d never validated my email address, but there was no error message to that effect, in fact no error message at all. I happened to see an understated warning elsewhere on the site that it was unvalidated, validated it, and suddenly the site actually worked.

Then there was the bookmarklet. The theory is visit a site, go to the bookmarklet, it’s bookmarked! On freelish.us it worked like this:

  1. go to the bookmarklet. This is pretty annoying in the first place, because I have a small laptop screen and bookmarklets require me to leave the bookmark toolbar visible. (I much prefer the Instaright approach, which places a small button in the URL bar, which is otherwise dead space anyway.)
  2. almost inevitably, find that I had been logged out of freelish.us, which must have had the most aggressively timed out cookies since linux.conf.au’s Zookeepr software (memo to Zookeepr: keep me logged in please)
  3. log in on the bookmarklet’s pop up
  4. be greeted with a small page saying I’ve logged in successful, but no sign of the entry form to bookmark what I needed reappearing
  5. back back back reload back back retry bookmarklet finally bookmark thing

And then, finally, on September 16, it and other status.net sites were taken down for upgrade. And now, nearly two months later, freelish.us home page still reads: “StatusNet cloud sites, including Identi.ca, are under maintenance. See status blog post for details and updates.”

Some facts about that:

  1. it’s not actually true any more: Identi.ca came back up after 24 hours or so
  2. it appears from comments there that any number of status.net sites are still down, and there’s been very little public comment on any of them that I can find. Several people asked specifically about freelish.us.

Also, freelish.us missed a probably once-off opportunity to captialise on the flight of horrified users of the new Delicious. But that’s not my concern.

All up, for two months the thought of bookmarking sites at all has made me distinctly “meh”, so, no linkspam for GF. This is what the software meh takes from the world.

I eventually decided that it was important to talk about what an annoying experience freelish.us has been, important enough to actually ask them for comment (via their press email contact). Here’s the information that as far as I can tell status.net has not communicated otherwise:

Q. What is the status of freelish.us? Is it going to return at some point or is it gone?

Evan Prodromou of status.net replied on the 30th October:

Freelish.us didn’t upgrade very well during the 1.0 process.

We’re moving to a new data centre this week, and I’m going to try to revive it then.

I fully intend to see it operational in early November.

There was a second question to which he didn’t directly reply, which was Q. In either event, is it possible for users of freelish.us to recover their bookmarks either for their own use or for import into another site? I take it from the lack of separate response that the re-appearance of the site will be the way in which users can recover their bookmarks and there is not an earlier alternative.

For the sake of the linkspams, I’m giving Pinboard a go. I’ll let you know how I do.

Syndicated 2011-11-08 08:10:32 from lecta

Tiger Beatdown vs Australia

Tiger Beatdown is perhaps not enormously well known among the Australian poliblogs, mostly because it isn’t one, although one Australian writes for it.

But they’ve had a couple of pieces of local interest lately.

First in early October Flavia Dzodan looked into the multinational security firms that are behind a lot of immigration detention facilities and other jails:

Evidently, G4S track record of detainee safety in Australia was so poor that the government was forced to cancel the contracts. Instead, new ones were awarded to Serco, whose care of immigrants seems to follow the same sickening pattern:

At the detention center Serco runs in Villawood, immigrants spoke of long, open-ended detentions making them crazy. Alwy Fadhel, 33, an Indonesian Christian who said he needed asylum from Islamic persecution, had long black hair coming out in clumps after being held for more than three years, in and out of solitary confinement.

“We talk to ourselves,” Mr. Fadhel said. “We talk to the mirror; we talk to the wall.”

Naomi Leong, a shy 9-year-old, was born in the detention camp. For more than three years, at a cost of about $380,000, she and her mother were held behind its barbed wire. Psychiatrists said Naomi was growing up mute, banging her head against the walls while her mother, Virginia Leong, a Malaysian citizen accused of trying to use a false passport, sank into depression.

The key point for me is the question about to what extent these firms are lobbying, and successfully influencing, refugee policy. To what extent is it market maintainence?

Why ostensibly disparate nations like the US, The Netherlands, France or Australia (just to name a few), all seemed to have gotten on board with the anti immigrant sentiment at once. Why, within a short period of time, media seemed inundated with these stories of threats, fear and unrestrained menace. However, the same media that quickly exposes the threats of lawless, uncontrolled immigration rarely addresses the profiteers behind these trends. Every detainee is a point in the profit margins of these corporations. Every battered immigrant body forced to live in these conditions represents an extra income for these multi-national businesses. Nothing is gratuitous, as Mr. Buckles so poignantly said, There’s nothing like a political crisis to stimulate a bit of change. Especially if said crisis can create monstrous profits off the backs of undocumented migrants who sometimes lose their lives under the care of these corporations.

And now Emily Manuel is making the case for Occupy Australia:

I’ve lived in Australia and the U.S and I know from personal experience that the substantially lower standard of living in the U.S is something few Australians can truly understand. Things are not perfect in Australia economically – not with the astronomical housing prices – but we can’t say that the middle class has collapsed in the same way as in the U.S.

We do ourselves no favours when we uncritically mimic American models without changing them to suit local conditions. The cultural cringe is no more useful in activism than it is in other areas. The 99/1% slogan is powerful stuff indeed but doesn’t adequately address the income distribution of Australia as accurately in the United States. Activism must respond to local needs to be successful…

While we don’t have lobbyists in the same way, this is still a problem in Australia. If things have been getting so much better over the last decade, why have student fees been ballooning while full-time lecturers are replaced by casual tutors? Why is there no Medicare bulk billing? Why is the Medicare gap ever-increasing? How can the poor and working classes afford housing, in some of the most expensive markets in the world? For that matter, why do we pay student fees at all? If things have been so good, why do we deserve less as citizens than we did in the 70s and 80s? Why do we accept less?

We are blowing up the very same bubbles that have burst so dramatically in the U.S, and it is the same process of destroying the social fabric that the welfare state held together – it’s just we started off from a much better place, from a more cohesive social whole (G_d bless you, Gough Whitlam). With privatisation and economic rationalism, we have treated Australians with the same cannibalistic attitude that created the US 99%. Not citizens with rights and responsibilities any longer but consumers, markets to be exploited…

That is how well our democracy is functioning – when the top 0.02% of businesses and 10% of households won’t pay a tax for the benefit of the rest of us…

So yes: Australian apathy and irony have frequently served to protect us from U.S-style extremism, but what happens when enough people step forward to say something our political classes and media classes don’t want to hear? And what happens when we need serious changes to survive as a country and our politicians are unwilling to do anything about it? This is a problem that concerns all of us, in Australia and indeed worldwide, as we face climate change.

It is for this reason that we must have an Occupy movement in Australia that addresses the dictatorship of capital in our lives, that produces a democracy that truly centres the needs of the people. We need to protest. We need the right to protest. We need to be out in the streets to put the lie to the false consensus of the neoliberal press that there is no alternative to the status quo. And yes, we need to make sure that our needs are taken care of by our political system, even – especially – when they conflict with the needs of business. It is time that we made clear that running a “democracy” primarily for the rich is no longer a possibility in Australia.

Tiger Beatdown tends to long-form posts, so I suggest reading the originals. (And I suggest commenting there if you want to substantively engage with the arguments.)

Syndicated 2011-10-25 09:29:29 from lecta

GNOME Shell versus Unity

I upgraded my laptop to Ubuntu 11.10 today. I used Metacity+GNOME Panel through the previous version of Ubuntu as Unity crashed annoyingly on my laptop (tending to leave me looking at my background image, which is a cute picture of my son but even so) so this is my first Ubuntu version with the new shiny.

What’s annoying me right now is that they both have features I really like. I’ve only played around for a few hours so possibly one can be configured to have the good features of the other; these are from the default functionality on 11.10.

Unity: my laptop doesn’t have a lot of screen real estate, so I love the integration of the menu bar of windows into the top panel (called global menu). I like having those 20 pixels or so back!

GNOME Shell: I love the Activities mode in general! The presence of workspace previews that don’t require me to keep holding down the Alt part of the Alt-Tab combo is lovely, and the favourites menu on the left seems easier to edit than Unity’s. On the balance, I’d say I prefer GNOME Shell, but damn, global menu is a killer feature on my smaller screen. I’ll watch the global menu patch closely.

(Meanwhile, while writing this entry I discovered that Firefox’s right-click menu is broken in Unity—it disappears as soon as I move my mouse—which is a rather compelling reason to use GNOME Shell.)

Syndicated 2011-10-24 08:18:50 from lecta

Childcare

I just got a call from a childcare centre who has had my son’s name down for nineteen months. I’m not even sure if they were offering him a place, most likely they are just culling their waiting list in preparation for the 2012 enrolment season. Nineteen months long waiting lists, on the very edge of the metropolis.

I’m sure there’s plenty of info out there already about the economic inefficiencies generated by private childcare in countries like Australia and the US where supply doesn’t meet demand and there’s little government intervention in the market. One of the most noticeable for us is geographic lock-in. If it takes a year or more to get our son care at a new location, we can’t move, until, oddly enough, all of our children are school age and thus likely to be badly disrupted academically and socially by a move. The next most obvious is all the mother-work in this. Applying to 20 centres (… many of which ask for a $20 waiting list fee). Ringing them all once a month or more just to keep a tick next to our name as “really wants a place”. (It likely doesn’t advance you up the list, what with all the other mothers ringing monthly too, and they certainly don’t give us any actual news until a place actually appears.)

I should put in a little bit of background for people from countries with at least some government provided childcare. Childcare in Australia for children 8 weeks to 5 years is provided by for-profit and non-profit suppliers in a private market. Waiting lists for first born children in Sydney (younger siblings of an enrolled child often receive some preferential treatment) who aren’t in certain disadvantaged and at-risk groups are somewhere in the realm of nine to twenty four months. (Employers are supposed to keep permanent jobs open to a returning mother for a year.) Costs are in the realm of $70 to $110 dollars per day for infants (median maybe $90?) and $60 to $100 per day for children over age two. There are government subsidies on a sliding scale that for some families might halve this cost.

The alternatives are local government certified “family carers” caring in their own homes, who have similar waiting lists, nannies at around $200 per day, or family. I don’t see a lot of solutions aside from nationalisation: the private market obviously sees no need even for centralised waiting lists and for whatever reason it certainly doesn’t see the need to create enough places to meet demand. All I have is a couple of lessons:

#1 you do not put your child’s name down at birth you put it down when you are pregnant, if they let you, and if they don’t, take the forms to the hospital with you and post them from there within hours of your child’s birth. (Sydney hasn’t quite reached the stage that I am told New York City is at, of ringing them all to give them notice that you have stopped using contraception, and might therefore require their services at some point in the next two years.)

#2 most childcare places open up in January and February, with enrolments in October. It’s obvious why when you think about it: (southern) January is when the five year olds leave to start kindergarten, so it’s the time when by far the most vacancies are created. That doesn’t mean put the kid’s name down in October for a place the following January, it means putting them down as early as possible and then concentrating your phone calls in October.

This can be frustrating depending on your child’s month of birth. Born January or February? You may well have to keep them out for a full year. Born November or December? You may have to enrol them much younger than you would have been comfortable with if you are lucky enough to be offered a place (although only for a day a week, already enrolled children almost always get the pick of newly opened spots on other days).

For the record, my January-born first son got a place that July, in a centre that had recently re-opened after bankruptcy and was taking immediate enrolments. That same centre, whose youngest enrolment at the time was a child 9 weeks old, is a year later asking us to re-confirm 2012 enrolments four months ahead because of their enormous waiting list. They currently have no children born in 2011 enrolled, implying a waiting list of 9 months at the very least We’re ourselves presently awaiting results of the 2012 enrolments closer to the city, to see if we get to move closer to my husband’s work in the next 12 months, or if we’re staying out here for the foreseeable future.

Syndicated 2011-10-10 03:35:46 from lecta

Ada Lovelace Day: Mahananda Dasgupta, nuclear fusion researcher

7th October is Ada Lovelace Day, a day to blog about your heroines in science, technology, engineering and math.

Mahananda Dasgupta is a professor in the Department of Nuclear Physics at the Australian National University. Dasgupta’s research takes place at the heavy-ion accelerator facility and investigates quantum tunnelling when heavy nuclei collide. Her Pawsey Medal award in 2006 cites cutting-edge contributions includ[ing] precision measurements of unprecedented accuracy.

Dasgupta moved to Australia from India for a postdoctoral position in the 1990s, and eventually was appointed to a tenured position in 2003. She became the first woman to hold a tenured position in the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering at the ANU in its entire 50+ years of existence! (I was very surprised to find this, the School must be enormous in terms of academic staff, it comprises nine research departments.)

How do we retain that female workforce [in science]?

By strong and meaningful mentoring, which doesn’t just mean a quick meeting once a month or web-based mentoring, but real mentors who encourage women or younger people to devise strategies about how best to use their time, and what roles to apply for to advance their career.

Every person at that early stage needs support. We need to champion women scientifically – not “she’s a good person”, but “she’s an excellent physicist who’s done this great work”… Equally, the employers’ responsibility to provide childcare is very important… If we are expanding and building infrastructure – why are we not building childcare facilities?

I was educated in India where, if a student is sharp, they’re encouraged to show it through participating in discussions or taking on extra-educational activities… It does strike me that in Australia we give a lot of kudos to those who excel in sports, but if you excel in studies you are a dork, particularly among other students… Sometimes, following talks I give in schools, students come to the carpark to ask me science questions, rather than asking them in front of the class… How do we get away from that? I believe that to make real long-term progress we must respect and encourage intellectual achievements.

Mahananda Dasgupta, The Conversation: So seriously, why aren’t there more women in science?

Dasgupta is active both in advocating careers in science in general, volunteering herself as a science careers lecturer at schools, and in speaking on behalf of women in science. In 2004 she was the Woman in Physics Lecturer for the year, and in 2011 she represented the Group of Eight universities (the eight universities that consider themselves Australia’s best research universities) at a Women in Science and Engineering summit at Parliament House. Her 2011 Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council calls upon her to increase the profile of Women in Science through outreach activities, and work towards advancing early career researchers as well as facilitate leadership pathways for senior women researchers.

Recognition Dasgupta has received for her work includes:

  • the Australian Academy of Sciences’ Pawsey Medal in 2006, for outstanding work in physics by a scientist under 40
  • her election as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2011
  • an Australian Laureate Fellowship in 2011

References

Syndicated 2011-10-07 04:00:45 from lecta

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