Older blog entries for hypatia (starting at number 354)

2012: resume fodder

Because I had quite a difficult year in several respects, especially health-wise, some short notes on my 2012 accomplishments.

Total eclipse, partially obscured by cloud

Total eclipse in Port Douglas, by Flickr user 130GT

Ran AdaCamp. AdaCamp is really originally my baby and AdaCamp Melbourne was significantly my work (with Val, and Skud as local organiser). AdaCamp DC was significantly less so (because I was on study leave between March and May), but still, even on the day they’re a lot of work.

Delivered three talks at linux.conf.au. We gave an Ada Initiative update and an allies workshop at the Haecksen miniconf and our Women in open technology and culture worldwide talk at the conference proper.

Submitted PhD thesis. This was, of course, the end of a huge project. I enrolled in March 2006 and was full-time until December 2009. I was then enrolled part-time from July 2010 (after maternity leave) until May 2012 when I submitted the thesis. The submitted version is 201 pages long, word count is difficult with LaTeX.

Delivered the keynote address at Wikimania. This is to date my largest ever audience, I think.

Saw a total solar eclipse. Less of the work, just as much reward. The photograph of the eclipse shown here isn’t mine, and isn’t exactly like our view (we saw the top rather than the bottom through our bank of cloud) but it’s also from Port Douglas, and is very similar.

Syndicated 2012-12-31 21:27:52 from lecta

The Year of Octavia Butler and James Tiptree Jr.

Last year, Skud wrote about attitude adjustment resolutions:

I’ve had good luck in recent years with vague resolutions that attempt to adjust my attitude. I think it was 2007 or 2008 when I said “never turn down an adventure”, and 2011′s was “be an artist”… in that vein, this year’s resolution… is GO TO THE SHOW.”

That’s not what I’m aiming for this year — not a lot that was wrong with my 2012 would have been solved by attitude adjustment even of the most fun and aspirational kind — but I like the idea of a resolution that isn’t a chore. I’m also short an obvious, and perennial, resolution because I actually did submit my PhD thesis in 2012.

So at today’s New Years Day party I came up with a resolution, which is to read works by Octavia Butler and James Tiptree Jr. at long last. I’ve decided on one a month. Obviously I will be reading other stuff while I am at it.

Here’s my schedule through to end of April:

  • By January 31: Butler, Bloodchild and Other Stories
  • By February 28: Tiptree, Up the walls of the world
  • By March 31: Butler, Parable of the Sower
  • By April 30: Butler, Parable of the Talents

Just creating this list has shown that it’s going to be harder than I expected: the university library I live near, the largest in the country, will be close to exhausted by the end of April, except for rare books not available for loan.

Syndicated 2012-12-31 20:20:42 from lecta

Mourning the Squeezebox

Logitech has discontinued their Squeezebox line of wireless music players.

Background: the Squeezebox was a device originally by Slim Devices, later acquired by Logitech. The Squeezebox (SB) originally supported playing music which was streamed over your home over a custom protocol, it involved running a server process written in Perl on the machine which contained the music. For several years, there has also been a My Squeezebox service which streams music over the Internet. The server/My Squeezebox can in turn stream podcasts, radio stations and so on.

We bought our first Squeezebox in, I think, 2008, which drives some Yamaha reference monitors I’ve had since 2001 (and then spent 7 years searching for a half decent networked music playing solution in order to use them more than occasionally) and added a Squeezebox Boom, which is about the size of a classic micro hi-fi system and has built-in speakers, a year later. We’ve been using them ever since. Both were already discontinued models in favour of the SB Touch and SB Radio, but were receiving firmware updates and support. All support for the entire ecosystem is now being ended by Logitech, in favour of the Ultimate Ears (UE) brand, which so far contains one wireless music player, the UE Smart Radio.

Possible replacements:

The Logitech UE system. Pros: I believe it’s similar hardware, and the SBs have worked well for us. Cons: the UE line only contains one wireless player right now, the UE Smart Radio, and it does not support use of your own speakers. UE devices do not understand the SB protocol, so unless we junked our SB devices we’d need to run two server processes and would lose things like syncing all our players to play the same thing at the same time. Linux is no longer officially supported for running the server software. In addition, I haven’t got confirmation of this, but it seems it is impossible to use the UE Smart Radio without signing up for an online service, which raises the spectre of not being able to play my music when the ‘net is down, or possibly at some point in the future having the UE suddenly stop working forever, when that service is in turn discontinued.

The Sonos. Pros: I don’t follow the wireless music market closely, but I understand this is the brand that’s associated with quality music engineering. Technically, it can stream music from a SAMBA share as well as from the Internet. Cons: it too has made its deals with the we’re-watching-you devils: It will only play RadioTime’s approved podcasts, obviously there’s a workaround involving downloading to the SAMBA share we would use, but that’s still annoying. We again lose the house-wide syncing if we keep our (not cheap, and still functional) SB devices in the house. The podcast thing suggests that the Sonos may also be vulnerable to “do the players still work if Sonos goes away?” concern, but again, I don’t know.

The Roku Soundbridge. Pros: I believe it understands the SB protocol, which means it would be the best fit for our existing music network. Cons: there only seems to be one model in its lineup too, a speakerless one. I’m not intending to buy separate speakers for every room we want music in. Otherwise this is probably the most seamless replacement for an SB.

Bluetooth speakers. Or I guess a receiver, in the case of my reference monitor. Pros: a bigger market to buy from, way less vendor-dependent (even if documented) custom streaming protocols to deal with. Cons: Bluetooth support, or alleged support, in car stereos has not endeared this solution to me, to me Bluetooth means “does not work-tooth”. I have no idea how to achieve the multiple rooms with the same music effect either. And it then leaves the problem of queueing up the music on the headless server. I spent several years seeing how bad all MPD clients could be, I’m not keen to go back to that. In addition, we have enough trouble getting 802.11 signals to span our house, never mind Bluetooth.

I think at this stage, given that luckily the SBs are not going to stop working unless the hardware fails or the software stops running on later versions of Linux (both are possible, of course), that what we’ll probably do is try and snag a SB Radio or two before they get too hard to get hold of, stick with them and our existing devices until the bitter end, and then hope that Bluetooth or some later protocol and its Linux support are up to what we want to do. Since we aren’t likely to subscribe to streaming services in the very near future, this is viable.

If Logitech eventually puts out firmware support for the UE protocol onto older SB hardware, as Gadget Guy suggests they will (but there’s no sign of it on the Logitech forums), it will be more tempting to move to UE than otherwise, at least if the server is known to work on Linux. Otherwise, an additional strike against Logitech products is that they’ve substantially damaged my faith in their longevity. Quoth Matthew Moskovciak on CNET It may be wise to see how Logitech handles its Squeezebox customers before committing to the new UE ecosystem. There’s probably 12 to 24 months of endgame in that.

Syndicated 2012-12-10 06:55:56 from lecta

Now Wikivoyaging!

It’s amazing how many people I meet who got en-wikied by Wikitravel, the freely licenced worldwide travel guide founded by Evan Prodromou and Michele Ann Jenkins. I was always a bit sad that it wasn’t a Wikimedia project (once I knew there were Wikimedia projects aside from Wikipedia). I was a heavy editor in 2004 and 2005 and became an administrator in 2006, and still (well, as of yesterday) held that role on the website although I haven’t been very active since 2007.

For entirely separate reasons, I ended up keynoting Wikimania this year, which was great and terrible timing as far as wikis for travel went. Great, because it was at Wikimania that part of the discussion about founding a Wikimedia Foundation travel wiki was going on (Internet Brands owns the Wikitravel trademark and domain name), and I was told about it by one of the people active in it. Terrible, because I was so exhausted and overwhelmed after AdaCamp and my keynote that I didn’t do nearly enough at Wikimania. (The evening of the keynote, I went to my hotel at 4pm and ordered room service dinner. Thank you, room service crème brûlée, for getting me through that night.) I did meet someone who was among those spearheading the proposal to have a WMF travel wiki, but I didn’t attend the travel wiki meetups, nor log in anywhere to express an opinion among the various proposals.

It seems that what was eventually decided was to immediately import content originally written for Wikitravel into an English language version of Wikivoyage, which had already assembled a German and Italian community to create a non-commerical wiki travel guide some years back. The edit history of Wikitravel as of early August has been imported (since August, Internet Brands turned off the API access to Wikitravel changes), with further edits being made by Wikivoyagers including many former Wikitravel (and current, perhaps?) editors. Wikivoyage is in turn being imported into WMF technical infrastructure very very soon (possibly Monday US time), but I finally happened to want to do some editing last night, so I jumped the gun and joined the live version of English Wikivoyage! If you remember me from Wikitravel, say hi.

It’s already possible to use Wikimedia Commons images on Wikivoyage, for which I’m very grateful. I’ve put all the research I’ve done for my upcoming trip to SEE A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE into the Solar eclipses travel article, a perfect use-case for Commons images, which has hundreds of shots of eclipses. I’ll see if I can find a good replacement for the very mediocre image from my 2006 trip to Cairns still used on that article.

Syndicated 2012-11-05 06:26:56 from lecta

Support the Ada Initiative

That time of year (a tradition has not yet been established) has come around again: the Ada Initiative is fundraising!

The what? The Ada Initiative is the charity that Valerie Aurora and I started in early 2011, supporting women in open technology and culture. Val and I have been working independently and together on supporting women in open source since circa 1999 (starting, in my case, when someone said something derogatory about my computing skills, in a university context*) and we were both at a transition point in our careers last year and decided to try and go pro. Everyone in open source is growing up and getting paid, the activists too!

Since then we’ve done a bunch of things:

  1. run two AdaCamps: cross-project summits for and about women in open tech and culture (to give an idea, at AdaCamp DC we had women who do GNOME programming, women who help run fandom organisations, and women from Wikipedia among many others)
  2. continued to work with conferences and communities to develop and promote the conference anti-harassment policies we developed in late 2010. Most recently a version was adopted by Google and linked from the Google IO 2012 homepage.
  3. developed our allies training workshop: we’re planning to develop a curriculum to train other people to run it
  4. worked with several companies and conferences to respond to sexist incidents or patterns in their community

I also appeared at Wikimania this year, to give a keynote on diversity ideals and strategies.

As for reasons to donate: let me share with you the argument that got me involved. They still motivate my work for the Ada Initiative. (I’ve been paid a salary for over a year now, but I donated my time through to July 2011.)

The basic reason is this: open technology and culture is changing the world. But all world-changing movements have problems with replicating the same old problems inside their communities: that the more boxes you check of Western, white, educated, male etc, the more you will find the community suited to putting you in leadership positions and the more you will benefit from it and change it to benefit you. Some areas of open technology and culture — famously, open source software development, but also, for example, Wikipedia editing — are notorious for low participation by women. For me the argument amounted to “I want to play too” but there are knock-on effects too: see Valerie’s Why We Need More Women In Open Source: The Founder Gap when it comes to employment.

At present this is do or die time: we have project experience and fundraising experience now. Our donation drive has 7 more days to run: if there’s not enough support out there for us to keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll need to re-think the idea that this is activism that it is possible to pay for.

I’d very much appreciate it if people who have benefited from open source, open knowledge, Creative Commons work and so on, especially people who have built a career from it or from having access to the community consider donating: it’s not a level playing field and it damn well should be!

* I don’t think it was the time that my tutor announced “oh hey, here’s our token woman” on the first day of semester, actually, but for the record: don’t do that.

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Support the Ada Initiative‘s work for women in open technology and culture!

Syndicated 2012-10-24 22:30:54 from lecta

Ada Lovelace Day: Marita Cheng, Robogals founder

Today, October 16, is Ada Lovelace Day: write or record a story about a woman in science, technology, mathematics or engineering (STEM) whose achievements you admire.

This is a slightly updated version of a profile that has appeared on Geek Feminism and Hoyden About Town.

Marita Cheng was named as the Young Australian of the Year winner at the beginning of the year. She’s been involved in volunteering since she was a high school student, and in 2008, early in her undergraduate studies (mechatronic engineering and computer science at the University of Melbourne) she founded Robogals, which is an engineering and computing outreach group, in which women university students run robotics workshops for high school age girls.

Marita, while still in the final year of her undergraduate degree, is also an entrepreneur and has been previously awarded for her work as founder of Robogals, including winning the Anita Borg Change Agent award in 2011. In 2012 she travelled to several countries with the aid of the Nancy Fairfax Churchill Fellowship to study “strategies used to most effectively engage female schoolgirls in science, engineering and technology.”

While I have heard of Robogals, I hadn’t heard of Marita specifically before she became Young Australian of the Year. One of the fascinating things about starting the Ada Initiative is slowly discovering all the other amazing women who work in technology career outreach and related endeavours. But it’s a little embarrassing, judging from her bio, to have not heard Marita Cheng’s name before the beginning of the year!

Further reading:

Syndicated 2012-10-16 05:00:18 from lecta

Ada Lovelace Day: Else Shepherd, leading Australian electrical engineer

Today, October 16, is Ada Lovelace Day: write or record a story about a woman in science, technology, mathematics or engineering (STEM) whose achievements you admire.

Else Shepherd is an Australian electrical engineer specialising in communications equipment. She has co-founded multiple Australian engineering companies, including Mosaic Information Technology, a custom modems company, and Microwave & Materials Designs, developing microwave filters for mobile phones. She was appointed as the chairman of Powerlink, the state government-owned corporation maintaining Queensland’s high voltage electricity grid, in 1994, and has been a board member of the National Electricity Market Management Company (now known as the Australian Energy Market Operator).

Shepherd won Engineers Australia’s Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal in 2007, their most prestigious award, recognising an engineer with over 20 years of substantial contributions to professional engineering in Australia. As best I can tell, she is the only woman Peter Nicol Russell medallist. She is also a Member of the Order of Australia since 2003, and was the University of Queensland Alumnus of the Year in 2009. She is also a pianist and choral director.

Shepherd has talked about her experience as a woman in electrical engineering with University of Queensland publications. She and one other woman graduated in 1965, the university’s first women graduates in electrical engineering. She was unable to attend Institution of Engineers meetings in the 1960s, because they were held at the local Men’s Club. She continues to promote workplace flexibility, having used part-time work during parts of her career to care for her two children.

Further reading:

Syndicated 2012-10-16 03:38:03 from lecta

Sunday spam: porridge and honey

What is cultural appropriation?

The problem isn’t that cultures intermingle, it’s the terms on which they do so and the part that plays in the power relations between cultures. The problem isn’t “taking” or “borrowing”, the problem is racism, imperialism, white supremacy, and colonialism. The problem is how elements of culture get taken up in disempowering, unequal ways that deny oppressed people autonomy and dignity. Cultural appropriation only occurs in the context of the domination of one society over another, otherwise known as imperialism. Cultural appropriation is an act of domination, which is distinct from ‘borrowing’, syncretism, hybrid cultures, the cultures of assimilated/integrated populations, and the reappropriation of dominant cultures by oppressed peoples.

Aircraft Carriers in Space

An article about naval metaphors in fictional space warfare. Sometimes I suspect that I like science fiction meta way more than I like science fiction.

“I’m not like the other girls.”

A quote I saw making the Tumblr rounds, which said, “I’m not like other girls!” It went on to avow wearing Converse instead of heels, preferring computer games to shopping, so on and so forth. When I saw it, about 41,000 girls had said they weren’t like “the others.”

Is Australia in Danger of Becoming Greece? Austerity and Blackmail Down Under

It is not enough to respond to this ongoing rhetoric about Australia’s supposed calamitous future by pointing out, as Ms Gillard correctly did, that these comparisons are ridiculous given the state of European periphery countries. Yet the ideological blackmail is strangely telling, precisely because the financial sector in the form of the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank) has held Greece’s politicians hostage, forcing a slashing of the government in exchange for “bail-out” loans.

The Start-to-Hate Review System

The concept is simple: Rate media based on how long it takes to encounter something bigoted. The longer it takes, the better the media.

An Investigation Into Xinjiang’s Growing Swarm of Great Gerbils

I am subscribed to two “long form” websites: the picks of Long Reads, which focuses on newer pieces, and the editor’s picks of Longform, which tend to skew a little older. Hence, this, from McSweeny’s in January 2005. I always like a piece that clearly ended up not being about what the original pitch was about. In this case, the writer wanted (or supposedly wanted, I guess) to investigate a gerbil plague, and ended up writing an article about gerbil social structures, text messaging on Chinese phone networks, and, several times, the Black Death. Which is how I ended up reading Wikipedia articles about pandemics the same night I was getting sick with the first illness I’ve had since I got out of hospital.

Mariana Trench Explosion

I think of Randall Munroe as a science writer who happens to be funded by merchandise sales from a comic. I don’t regularly look at the comic any more but I follow his blag and his What If? Answering your hypothetical questions with physics, every Tuesday writing more closely. This What If? is one of my favourites to date, although it’s hard to beat the first one. However, this one features an excursion into unpublished work by Freeman Dyson. SO HARD TO CHOOSE.

Do bicycle helmets reduce head injuries?

It’s impossible to follow Liam Hogan on Twitter without becoming interested in urban transport issues. At the moment the big conversation is helmet laws in Australia, which are arguably interfering with take-up of bike share schemes (if you’re going to have to get hold of a helmet, you don’t just jump on the bike, hence, scheme falls apart), although see Why is Brisbane CityCycle an unmitigated flop? for several other reasons that scheme may be failing.

Anyway, this one: A new study reports the rate of hospitalisations for cycling-related head injuries in NSW has fallen markedly and consistently since 1990. The authors say it’s due to helmets and infrastructure.

The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal and Ben Goldacre: ‘It’s appalling … like phone hacking or MPs’ expenses’

Reboxetine is a drug I have prescribed. Other drugs had done nothing for my patient, so we wanted to try something new. I’d read the trial data before I wrote the prescription, and found only well-designed, fair tests, with overwhelmingly positive results. Reboxetine was better than a placebo, and as good as any other antidepressant in head-to-head comparisons… In October 2010, a group of researchers was finally able to bring together all the data that had ever been collected on reboxetine, both from trials that were published and from those that had never appeared in academic papers. When all this trial data was put together, it produced a shocking picture. Seven trials had been conducted comparing reboxetine against a placebo. Only one, conducted in 254 patients, had a neat, positive result, and that one was published in an academic journal, for doctors and researchers to read. But six more trials were conducted, in almost 10 times as many patients. All of them showed that reboxetine was no better than a dummy sugar pill. None of these trials was published. I had no idea they existed.

Given that I favourited two separate articles about this, I’m going to buy the book. Now you know.

Going blind? DRM will dim your world

[I]t turned out I needed Adobe Digital Editions to ‘manage my content’… It tried, of course, to force me to give Adobe my email and other details for the ‘Adobe ID’ that it assured me I needed to get full functionality. I demurred… and was confronted by a user interface that was tiny white text on a black background. Unreadable. Options to change this? If they exist, I couldn’t find them.

Getting this far had taken me half an hour fighting my way through a nest of misery and frustration with broken eyes and a sinking heart. Along the way, I’d been bombarded by marketing messages telling me to “enjoy the experience” and “enjoy your book”.

Reader, I wept. Marketing departments, here’s a top tip: if your customer is reduced to actual, hot, stinging tears, you may wish to fine-tune your messaging.

5 Plans to Head Off the Apophis Killer Asteroid

Friday the 13th of April 2029 could be a very unlucky day for planet Earth. At 4:36 am Greenwich Mean Time, a 25-million-ton, 820-ft.-wide asteroid called 99942 Apophis will slice across the orbit of the moon and barrel toward Earth at more than 28,000 mph. The huge pockmarked rock, two-thirds the size of Devils Tower in Wyoming, will pack the energy of 65,000 Hiroshima bombs–enough to wipe out a small country or kick up an 800-ft. tsunami.

On this day, however, Apophis is not expected to live up to its namesake, the ancient Egyptian god of darkness and destruction. Scientists are 99.7 percent certain it will pass at a distance of 18,800 to 20,800 miles… Scientists calculate that if Apophis passes at a distance of exactly 18,893 miles, it will go through a “gravitational keyhole.” This small region in space–only about a half mile wide, or twice the diameter of the asteroid itself–is where Earth’s gravity would perturb Apophis in just the wrong way, causing it to enter an orbit seven-sixths as long as Earth’s. In other words, the planet will be squarely in the crosshairs for a potentially catastrophic asteroid impact precisely seven years later, on April 13, 2036.

It turns out that with current technology we might be able to move the asteroid prior to the (potential) 2029 entry into the gravitational keyhole, but if it did so we would be unlikely to perturb the orbit sufficiently after that point to avoid a civilisation-ended impact. So it’s the question of how many resources to spend on a low-probability but enormously catastrophic event.

Syndicated 2012-10-13 21:59:07 from lecta

Sunday Spam: toast and vegemite

This week, I feel the need to emphasise that linking does not imply uncritical endorsement!

Philip Roth and Wikipedia

There’s only one problem with this: Roth’s open letter is at best the (justifiably) aggrieved and confused ramblings of a man ignorantly discussing what he does not understand or remember, and at worst a deliberately malicious act inspired by nothing more than a misguided desire to flip us the Vs and maybe get paid by the New Yorker on the way.

In Response to Amanda Palmer

Is it noble to volunteer for a cash-rich for-profit enterprise? And what about when taking the gig means that you’re taking food from the mouths of people whose day job it is to play these kinds of high-pressure, high-profile concerts and ensure that the audience won’t be let down?

Is it noble to devalue the role of musicians by suggesting that their years of training and their tens of thousands of hours of practice is worth little more than a beer and a high-five?

Headspace withdraws support for RU OK? Day

In a statement released this afternoon, the organisation said it was uncomfortable about the support RU OK? Day was receiving from Gloria Jean’s because of the coffee chain’s $30,000 donation to the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).

Girls gone Wilder

Rose Wilder Lane’s life story is arguably way more interesting than that of her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Owen Jones: William Hague is wrong… we must own up to our brutal colonial past

As India became increasingly crucial to British prosperity, millions of Indians died completely unnecessary deaths. Over a decade ago, Mike Davis wrote a seminal book entitled Late Victorian Holocausts: the title is far from hyperbole. As a result of laissez-faire economic policies ruthlessly enforced by Britain, between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation needlessly. Millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain even as famine raged. When relief camps were set up, the inhabitants were barely fed and nearly all died.

Philosophy gender war erupts after call for larger role for women

It began with a private email last month from one established male philosopher to four others: Proceed with a Berlin-based conference that features 14 male speakers and no women, the writer said, and I will essentially launch a campaign to take you down professionally.

How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything

Or as my friend and sci-fi novelist Robin Sloan put it to me, “I maintain that this is Google’s core asset. In 50 years, Google will be the self-driving car company (powered by this deep map of the world) and, oh, P.S. they still have a search engine somewhere.”

Legal myths about the Assange extradition

Whenever the Julian Assange extradition comes up in the news, many of his supporters make various confident assertions about legal aspects of the case.

Some Assange supporters will maintain these contentions regardless of the law and the evidence – they are like “zombie facts” which stagger on even when shot down; but for anyone genuinely interested in getting at the truth, this quick post sets out five common misconceptions and some links to the relevant commentary and material.

The Joke’s on You

[Jon] Stewart and [Stephen] Colbert, in particular, have assumed the role of secular saints whose nightly shtick restores sanity to a world gone mad.

But their sanctification is not evidence of a world gone mad so much as an audience gone to lard morally, ignorant of the comic impulse’s more radical virtues. Over the past decade, political humor has proliferated not as a daring form of social commentary, but a reliable profit source. Our high-tech jesters serve as smirking adjuncts to the dysfunctional institutions of modern media and politics, from which all their routines derive. Their net effect is almost entirely therapeutic: they congratulate viewers for their fine habits of thought and feeling while remaining careful never to question the corrupt precepts of the status quo too vigorously.

Pawns in the War on Drugs

Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s provide an inexpensive way to outsource the work of undercover officers. “The system makes it cheap and easy to use informants, as opposed to other, less risky but more cumbersome approaches,” says Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants. “There are fewer procedures in place and fewer institutional checks on their use.” Often, deploying informants involves no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny; their use is necessarily shrouded in secrecy.

Syndicated 2012-09-16 01:59:25 from lecta

Gyms and personal training

So I have a dilemma with exercise that I suspect a lot of people share: I’d ultimately like to have access to the facilities that many gyms offer, both the weights and the exercise classes, but the whole surrounding consumer setup is completely offputting to me.

First of course is the price structure, where they take money whether or not I use the gym. Smooth, gyms, smooth. (Yes, I am aware that they make more money — I assume far more, given how bad it is for customer perceptions of their industry — that way. But I am not interested in gyms’ profitability, in capitalism I highly value my right to be an utterly selfish consumer in that respect.) So, yeah. Is my (realistically) once-a-week-with-occasional-skips use of a gym worth $30 a week to me? No.

Assuming I got past that, here’s what needs to happen, for example, for me to join Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre’s gym, which is most likely because I’d like access to their pool rather than paying for a gym and a pool. First, I need to go there with my husband, because it would be a joint membership. OK, there go about ninety-five percent of my trips there. Secondly, my husband must either not be in a hurry to get back to work, or we must not have our bored toddler fussing at us. So, that’s the remaining five percent of trips. Then, once I did sign up, there’s compulsory personal training sessions focusing on my fitness goals. I can’t think of anything I find less inspiring, than to discuss my fitness goal “I enjoy moving my body sometimes” with people who are trained to equate fitness goals with either “I want to achieve top percentile cardiovascular or strength performance” or “I want to lose a fair chunk of weight”. I rather suspect this mismatch is deliberate too, because there’s no better customer than one who has been persuaded that they really need to keep this gym membership… for the far-away day that the sense of being too inferior a body to use the gym goes away.

Syndicated 2012-08-26 22:54:47 from lecta

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