Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Dr Who: Let's Kill Hitler... a late review

I wrote this a while back and meant to post it but didn't. Here's how I felt about Let's Kill Hitler in a rambly post:

I’m really and truly honestly mixed about how I feel. In one sense, it was good ol’ DW porn, it was witty, clever (loved the stuff with Rory and Hitler) and had good monsters and action scenes. In the other sense (and I don’t like saying this) I feel like Moffat has lost the plot a bit. I admired the 5th series for having a decent plot (Silence, cracks, etc) that wrapped up nicely and left us wanting more. Now I feel that this series is making things up as it goes along, and I feel that the whole River being Amy and Rory’s daughter was a bit of a cop-out, though it may make for a couple of interesting story-lines. She was cool enough from the Library episode by seeming to be the one person the Doctor trusted and loved the most. I would have respected the daughter thing more if Mel had been seen or existed even once in previous episodes.
I am also growing weary of this Kenny-esque attitude Moffat has taken. If you want to have dramatic, heart-wrenching moments, there are so many things you could do instead of just having a character be dying and then miraculously get saved. Watching Rory die has completely lost its drama now, and then having the Doctor come close to death (which was important for the River storyline), the whole dying-for-emotional-reaction is getting exhausting.
I guess I had built up the Eleven/River storyline too much. When she talked about the first time she met the Doctor and he knew everything about her, the way she told that story made me think it would be a much more tender, exposed and emotional moment. She tried, but it wasn’t really in the script, given this Melody Pond twist.

They also need to give Amy something substantial to do. I don’t feel like there’s really been any character development from her since episode one of season five, and there is so much potential.

I guess to sum it up, it’s starting to feel a bit like a fan-fiction, with Mary Sue tendencies, pregnant protagonists and constant dying and coming back. Feel free to disagree, and I know I’ll keep watching it, just how I keep reading long-running fan-fictions that lost their original story-line and continued to weave an unplanned plot.

I still love River (she was a bit annoying when she first regenerated; I would have liked to see her a bit stronger and less self-obsessed) and I admire Arthur Darville for really turning my opinion on Rory.

Also, (I’m almost done ranting, I promise) I’m really looking forward to next week. Moffat in the RTD era wrote just my acceptable level of creepiness and I loved his episodes. Now all that excitement and thrill is lost in a convoluted storyline (The Impossible Astronaut being an example… I loved the creepiness of the Silence, but their creepiness was not the focus of the episode, which saddened me. I know the plot focused on fighting them, but I wanted more scenes like the orphanage). Even Silence in the Library, though it had a pivotal Doctor plot, mostly focussed on the horror of the shadows, leaving you constantly on edge.

Right, we’ll see how it goes. Sorry for the rant; I did actually enjoy the episode, it’s just more the recycled story-lines and fan-fiction basics that Moffat keeps using that are getting to me.

A god-less union

Right, yes, I was gone again. I'd like to say I was wandering the halls of an enchanted castle, leaping from era to era and worlds to worlds, but no, I was working and dealing with other things, which are now going to get a rant here.

Well, since my last update which was about weddings in New York, something funny happened, I got engaged! No big declarations of undying love on top of a world monument with airplanes, helicopters or dinosaurs, but just a nice simple decision to get married.

However, that's when things got complicated. Apparently there are family members in ones life who have been planning your wedding since the day you were born. It's true. Thankfully, these people are not my parents, so I am a bit free there. What I am dealing with, however, is the slew of opinions, advice and expectations from others.

I am not much of a quiet person, but I am rather reserved about my relationship and romantic sensibilities. I prefer quiet, mostly unspoken declarations of love and commitment, so a big wedding is actually really uncomfortable to me. Don't get me wrong, I would put on a great show, but it would cease to be about the two of us and more about some fantasy I had at 16 when the man I was marrying was faceless and fictional. In other words, the two of us want to get married, not have a wedding. And this really makes people angry.

In addition to being crazy in love and opinionated, I got a little angry. Here is some back-story. I am an atheist, but I was not always one. My parents, though atheists as well, thought that they should at least take my brother and myself to church and Sunday school, both to appease family members, but mostly to prevent a rebellious "born-again" moment when we were frustrated with our later teenage lives (a common thing that happened to a lot of my friends in high school or college... churches know how to recruit!). Our parents said that once we went through confirmation at the age of 14, we would be free to make our own choice. Actually, it was a good age for that. I don't remember many years of resenting my parents for taking me to church, but I also remember having the time to think about it myself (a budding scientific mind and all that). So, I turn 14, leave the church (not a big deal, it was a small ELCA Lutheran Church) which promptly pisses off my cousin and her husband, some 30-ish born-again Christians. Since then, I never really saw, nor heard from them... until now.

With the (excited) announcement of my engagement, essentially going viral within the family circles, came lots of congratulations and wedding expectations (good and bad). The aforementioned god-fearing cousin emailed me with a link to their online(?) church and said that I should seriously consider it because faith has helped her through her marriage.

I have a few things to say on this:

1. I don't really mind people who believe in a deity, as long as they formed that belief themselves and it is a peaceful one (does there really need to be so much hate?). I do think organised religion is a pox on the world and will be our eventual doom, but that's for another day!

2. I appreciate the seemingly thoughtful message that she genuinely is giving me advice for this new step in my life... however....

3. This is how I reacted: "REALLY?!?!?! You DARE to stay out of my life, only to come in and tell me how to run it?! I think I developed into a damn awesome human being, without the influence of you or your god, so why would I need you now?!?" ... maybe a bit of an over-reaction, but part of me still thinks this is a valid reaction.

Here's my main point: 
How/Why/When did it become socially acceptable to do this? To recommend a Christian church and a completely unique and different lifestyle to essentially a stranger for the so-called improvement of her life? It would never ever occur to me to tell a friend, family member or stranger something like this (I cannot think of an analogy, that's how much the idea abhors me)

My future husband was there when I read that email and I had a massive freak-out. He handed me a beer, told me it wasn't that big of a deal and just write back "We don't need your stinkin god. We have sex, drugs and rock and roll to get through our hard times" ... I think he's good for me.

Also, and this is just a side-thought and I am not trying to generalise or anything (yes, I know, nothing good can follow that...), but out of all the advice, stories and tips I have been given in the last month, it is the super-religious people who have warned me that "love/marriage is the hardest thing you'll ever have to do" or something along those lines. Seriously? Jeebus Cracker, it's the effing easiest thing in the world! Yes, we have our ups and downs but so does life, and actually having someone there who is understanding and loyal makes life EASIER! If it's the hardest thing, then guess what, you're doing it wrong!

You can look forward to more anti-traditional wedding rants in the months to come! Aren't you lucky?

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Weddings! Drinks all around!

Here are some great pictures from last weekends weddings in New York, when gay marriage was finally legal: 60 Awesome Pictures

Here are some of my favourites:

I like the happy family surrounding this couple:

They have waited so long!




I browsed pictures and videos all Monday and Tuesday because I love happiness and I love seeing people in love. It's a beautiful, wonderful thing and how some people can look at these truly happy people with disgust and disdain is beyond my comprehension. Those must be very sad people indeed, whose "god" or whatever dictates their morals will leave them disappointed and abandoned, without true love. [End of politicky rant]

There was also a great story on the New York Times that a man shared of his wedding experience. I cannot find the article right now, but it was really enjoyable to read. He described how his parents went to a courthouse, then a bar and got so drunk they lost the marriage license and for 60+ years couldn't remember what day they got married. When he got married, him and his husband and his husbands family pissed about in San Francisco for a day, killing time between the certificate and the ceremony by arranging pillows in his husbands store.

My own opinions of weddings were shaped by my parents sharing their story with me. According to them, they got married on the day of their last final in graduate school. The professor invited everyone around for drinks afterwards to which my mother responded "Sorry, we can't. We're getting married this afternoon." Her and her sister went to Safeway to get some flowers and after a short ceremony with a few friends and family members, they went home and the parents cooked dinner for everyone. They stayed up late drinking, eating and chatting with the people that meant the most to them in life.

Fundamentally, that is how weddings should be. It should never be a show, conforming to expectations of a religion or a society or family and friends. You should do what you want, what both of you want, with people you love and have a great day. The man in the aforementioned story said he loved his wedding day because there was no stress, it was simply a fun day with his favourite people. If you both want a big ceremony with 500 of your closest friends, then by all means, go ahead! If you want to elope and simply share a day together, then have it be so! Just be happy.

The sight of the hundreds of couples who, for the most part, had already committed their lives to each other, confirmed that weddings are a wonderful addition to a marriage. It was genuinely about finally gaining the respect of the government and the ability to share a legal experience that so many others have done in so many different ways throughout the years.

I love weddings of all shapes and sizes. I love seeing people in love and sharing their day with others. The sight and stories of strangers cheering on newly married couples last weekend gave me chills. Love is something that can and should be shared by everyone for it is the easiest and most wonderful thing in the world. If it's not, you're doing it wrong. The sight of all those couples on Sunday showed that they understand true love, more than any of us as they have struggled through more adversity than any other couple getting married these days. They know how to love better than most and deserve the utmost respect.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Saying Goodbye - Part 2

See Part 1 here

It's all over. It was done with elegance and respect.

My single most powerful emotion is freedom. It may seem sad, but no longer will I feel tied down to the next Harry Potter release; no more will people from my past ask about Harry Potter and not how I am doing as a person. The people who will mock me for my love for Severus Snape will mostly be replaced by those curious about my real relationship.

I came home with mixed feelings, to a wonderful man who greeted me with a hug and a large glass of red wine. This is my life now, and it is good.

My life has moved on, just like those of Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Ron. I look forward to the day that I can send my children off on Platform 9 3/4 to a world of their own. It is no longer mine.

I feel free.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Saying Goodbye - Part 1


Tonight, a part of my life will be gone forever. [cue fainting dramatically on a settee] I am a lucky member of the "Harry Potter Generation". For those of you who are somehow unfamiliar with this concept, it's the people around you who "grew up with Harry", as we are now used to saying. So, for someone like me, how did this all begin? Well, sit back comrades, and let me tell you.

I, as an American, normally would not have read the books until I was eleven years old (1998). By a coincidence, my family was in the UK in 1997 and happened to pick up Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, out of a pile of maybe five copies, stashed in a corner in a shop. My mother picked out the books because my little brother, seven years old at the time, was refusing to read books. My brother's hair was always a mess, he was a bit awkward at his age and had big round glasses. In short, he looked just like that specky nerd on the cover of the book. My mom figured that a boy wizard, about my brothers age, would be interesting for him. Interesting it was.

My little brother, pretending to go into Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station in 1997 (We just guessed at the whole 9 3/4 thing)

[In a moment of regret that we will feel our whole lives, we gave that first (maybe second) edition of Harry Potter to his teacher so she could read it, not knowing what it would become]

That is the beginning of the tale; how did I become such a fanatic?

School is never easy for anyone, and it certainly was not easy for me. In elementary and junior high, I had few friends and was betrayed by many. I managed to connect with one character in particular, Severus Snape.

I originally became attached to Snape in the first book, when everyone has assumed he was the villain trying to get to the Philosopher's Stone by letting trolls into the castle and bribing Hagrid with a dragon. Then we found out that it was actually the stuttering, unassuming Professor Quirrel, and that Snape was all along trying to stop Quirrel. As a ten-year-old, this was an amazing twist, and Snape stood out as Bad-Ass Number One for me. He was also snarky and rude, with lines like, "I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death — if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach," [HP and the Philosopher's Stone] which appealed to my more sinister side.

My adoration for Snape turned to...well... an obsession when I was about 12 or 13 (the ages are all a bit murky here, but I am sure it was closer to 12). I was still in junior high and frankly having a miserable time. I was the know-it-all nerd whom teachers told to stop raising her hand (I also identified a lot with Hermione, along with many girls in my position). I was quite oblivious and desperately wanted friends. I thought I had some, then would find out that they made fun of me, yadda yadda yadda, the usual traumatic childhood stuff. Anyway, I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (number 3 in the series) and discovered that Snape was bullied as a child by Harry's father. Boom! That was it. He was my friend. He would understand.

At the age of 14 I was lucky enough to move across town for school, to the International Baccalaureate Programme. It was basically a haven for all of us know-it-alls around the city. Suddenly, I was in a classroom filled with people all raising their hand and doing their homework and asking intelligent questions, but more importantly, it was a room of Harry Potter fans. So not only did we have that in common, but we were all deeply analytical and loved intelligent discussion.

Our lunchtimes became a round-table Harry Potter discussion forum, where as books 4-6 were released we would debate heavily everything from what the title meant to what would happen at the very end. [On a side note, I was bang-on about Snape being the Half-Blood Prince, thank you very much] We went to every release for books and films, complete with our costumes and characters. One time, we even booked something like 24 tickets for the third Harry Potter film.

My 18th birthday party, complete with a blow-up doll of Severus Snape, thanks guys :)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released the summer we all graduated from this haven of nerd-dom. At our International Baccalaureate graduation, the head of our school gave a speech and compared our experience with the Harry Potter books. Then we said goodbye to our friends and all went our separate ways to university.

The closest ones kept in touch, continually discussing what was going to happen in the final book and writing our own analysis and stories about this happy world.

In case you have not read them (I warned you about spoilers!), Snape killing Dumbledore at the end of Half-Blood Prince divided the Harry Potter world like nothing ever could. Was he good? Was he evil? Him being my best friend during my childhood, I always stood by his side. He probably could have put babies on spikes and I would have stood by him. The thought that he could be evil, particularly coming from close friends of mine, infuriated me so much. I had to stand by him; I had to show my support. So what would a hormonal, obsessive 18-year-old do? She would get a tattoo, and get a tattoo I did. [You can read the MSNBC News Article with my tattoo here :) ]

Tattoo on lower back after the 6th Harry Potter book was released. The moon is for Remus Lupin, my other favourite character and the raven was for Snape.

Then it was it, the last book. The end. Summer of 2007 was an emotionally trying one for me. One of my best friends and I decided to culminate our obsessive fangirl childhood with a trip to Los Angeles while the fifth Harry Potter film was released. We went to the premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Surrounded by hormonal teenage girls, convinced they would marry Daniel Radcliffe, we realised that this was no longer our world. That said though, we were able to stand out from the thousands of teenagers by being the only people truly excited to see Imelda Staunton, enough so that she came over to us, so we felt vindicated
Imelda Staunton, laughing at Lauren listing off random 80s films she was in, if I remember correctly!

We got back to Colorado and the last book was coming out. The local Borders set it up so if you had reserved a book, you would go stand in line in the morning and get a ticket with a number on it in the order you would get it that night (preventing 24 hours of standing in a queue), which was great because they had a full party going on in the 2-story shop. Anyway, a couple of my friends went and stood in the queue at about 4:30 in the morning and we were not the first people there. We got our tickets, and went home to throw an epic party. At about 8pm a group of about 15-20 of us (all in our early 20s) went to Borders, all dressed in costumes to await the ending of the book. It came out, we went home and we read. I passed out at 4:30, woke up at 7ish and kept reading.

Naveen frantically finishing the 6th book before midnight
All of us in costume
Opening the last book for the first time at 5 minutes past midnight
He died. My beloved Severus died. Tragedy cannot begin to describe it. I had lost my best friend. I will not go into his story, but it is tragic. What does a 20-year-old obsessive and heartbroken woman do? She gets a tattoo.

I appreciate that few can understand what it is like to experience a loss, both of the story and of a fictional friend. Both stood by me in my darkest times (only a few examples given here) for the past 14 years. Those who "grew up with Harry" have a unique experience that none other will have. Friends my age who try to read it now struggle because the books are written for the age of Harry (namely children and pre-teens for the first couple). It is a truly once-in-a-generation experience that none will ever understand. 

Tonight I say goodbye; tonight it all ends. Though I knew this day would come, and I know what is going to happen, it just seems so final. The Harry Potter books were my friends, they gave me friends and they gave me a place to call my own. I will probably cry, but whether it is from feeling happiness, sadness, grief or an epic catharsis, I do not know. 

Last night, my partner (who is not a Harry Potter fan) asked, "Why are you even going? It sounds like it is going to be a horrible experience!" and it's a fair question from someone who can not understand. In a way, this could not have come at a more opportune time, when I am starting my life out with him. The one who held my hand and told me things would be okay, metaphorically of course, I will watch him die tonight. Now I will be free to start my life out properly with a man who can hold my hand and tell me things will be okay, and I guess that is what growing up is all about.

I'll update tomorrow with how I actually feel after watching it; if it even affected me at all.  [Update, see part 2 here]

I wrote another post about Alan Rickman and the conclusion of that relationship here

To all of you people who grew up with Harry, this moment is for us. The rest cannot understand, "What would come, would come... and he would have to meet it when it did." - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

All plot and characters mentioned are the property of JK Rowling, thank you Jo.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

When you least expect it...

I return!

I know it has been an absurdly long time since I have last updated, and for those of you still around, thanks for your patience.

This blog needs to take a life of its own, and has been floundering of late. Why shouldn't it reflect my own life, in all of its own weirdness?

So what has happened to me of late?

I am now in my last year of my PhD, aiming to finish by 1 June of next year. That leaves me with 324 days left, and I will be trying to update my progress as often as I can.

After years of trying to figure out the dating culture here, realising that was not going to happen and resigning to being single for the rest of my Ph.D, planning on trying to date when I lived back in America, a friend of friends asked me out, unexpectedly. It was very much that cliche "As soon as you stop looking..." and we are now living together. It seems soon for a lot of people, but the two of us are very similar and the perks outweigh the risks. Actually, when it feels right, it's the least scary thing in the world.

The last Harry Potter film comes out on Friday. You can bet there will be a long post similar to my post "Alan Rickman and Me". I do not think I'm ready for this to end and I have blocked out all weekend for scheduled epic blues.

The News of the World hacking scandal has taken my attention by storm. I cannot stop reading about it and wonder how far this will reach and how effective it will be as a cathartic moment for politicians and the media. I could write more, but I will save reflections for future incidents and not burden you with long, drawn out retrospective comments.

I want to go to Dragon*Con. The Comic-Con holiday was an epic failure, due to the incompetence of ticket sales and unfortunate coincidences. Leonard Nimoy, Carrie Fisher and Mary McDonnell, as well as seeing friends are currently battling money and time within my mind. It's not a pretty battle. Seriously, I suspect the headache I feel is the rational part of my brain gathering up all the fangirl, nerdy parts of my other brain and slamming the brain pulp against my skull in wicked punishment for their irrational thoughts.

My work is finally progressing nicely. After a year (a YEAR) of writing, debugging and rewriting the main code for my research, I have been able to start the runs. May I just say, the memory management in my code is nothing less than sexy.

Rachel Maddow's show last night gave me the heebies about some bat-shit preachers going to Gov Rick Perry's prayer event of madness in Texas. PZ Myers does a much better job describing it (and can provide a link to the actual episode) at Pharyngula.

In short, I am back. Tell your friends. Hear me roar.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Scientists in the Spotlight

There was an article in the New York Times a few days ago (around Oscar time) about actresses in scientific disciplines. It was written by Natalie Angier about Acting and Science. Overall it is a great article about how scientists sneak up where we least expect them, as is the case with Natalie Portman and other notable actors.

I will not summarise the article here as it's worth a read yourself, but I would like to quickly pull out the last line: "You can be a scientist, but if you want your name in lights, you’d better play one on TV."

Is not that just a little sad? Thanks to my days on the stage, I have a bit of a bug that would love to see my "name in lights", and now I am being told that my career will never lead to world-wide fame. Okay, I am probably taking this a bit seriously as it is not the point of the article, but it fills me with a bit of sadness because yes, it is probably true. Things should change. 

On a side note, I didn't know that Amy Farrah-Fowler from The Big Bang Theory is played by a woman who has a Ph.D. in neurobiology in real life. How great is that? I knew she was too good at her role! 

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Incredibly cool picture of the ISS and Shuttle!

Seriously, this picture is amazing. I usually do not like simply parroting what other and much more qualified science bloggers post, but I found this on Phil Plait's blog a few days back and it was mentioned again today on twitter:

This is AMAZING. This picture was taken by Rob Bullen on 26 February in the Forest of Dean (any story that relates to Harry Potter in the most obscure way already gets +10 Erin's Attention Points). He took this with a 8.5" telescope which is pretty attainable by amateur astronomer standards. The best part? He hand guided the telescope!! You can read the official entry by Mr Bullen here.

Phil Plait already scooped me on this, but this is also SO reminiscent of some bad-ass scene that you would find in Star Wars. Anyone who knows my love for Star Wars related objects in space (*ahem* Mimas) knows that I would get fangirly and giggly over this. I hope you felt a little twinge of excitement when you saw this amazing image, too!

Friday, 11 February 2011

Alan Rickman and Me

This past weekend I travelled to New York City to celebrate my birthday with some old friends. I was incredibly excited about this trip for many reasons. First, I had not been back to America in almost a year, and was actually starting to feel homesick for some unknown reason. Second, in the last year or so, most of my closest friends from high school and college all moved to the city so it was a great opportunity to see them. Finally, after (and I must emphasise this) my ticket was bought, I found out that Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw and Lindsay Duncan were performing John Gabriel Borkman by Henrik Ibsen at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

If you only met me at college or in Scotland (or from this website!), you may not understand the significance of this, other than the occasional off-hand (and usually off-colour) statement. As a teenager, I loved Alan Rickman. I loved him so much it hurt. There was no one else; there was never going to be anyone else. You could not see me without seeing him. I had pictures in my car, in my books, on my walls, in my locker. I just wanted to have him around me at all times.

I'm pretty sure I had this one in my car

Honestly, I could not tell you why he meant so much to me. I have always been an obsessive person. I do not just like something, I love things. It has been commented by friends (and relative strangers) that if you could bottle my emotions, they would make a very powerful and very, very illegal drug. As a kid, I would always turn to books, music and films to escape the world. I still can't tell you why I feel as strong emotions as I do, but it has just been something I've had to accept.

So where did it all start? I remember going to see Galaxy Quest when I was younger and loving the Spock-like character with his snotty attitude and bad-ass-ery, so he always stuck in my mind as an awesome actor. Of course, there was also Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves which, combined with my love for bad boys, cemented my adoration of him.
I will cut your heart out, with a spoon!

Then, there was Severus Snape. Oh, Severus. My connection to this character from Harry Potter runs too deeply and emotionally for me to even feel comfortable talking about it here. I have such a personal attachment, though he may be fictional, to him and all the hard times he got me through. Again, I can't (and if I could, won't) explain it, but Snape was my rock. No one will understand. I don't expect anyone to. The only outlet I have for such things is my tattoos. I have reached a point where if someone says "I saw a picture of your Snape tattoo", I respond "Which one?".

Alan Rickman and Severus Snape were always two disparate people in my mind. I have never pictured Alan Rickman when I read the books, but he captured him. Completely. That is where the obsession started. He understood Snape as much as I did. He conveyed every emotion and attitude exactly the same way I saw it. For once, I felt that someone understood me and it must have been powerful, to come through a cinema screen.

***Harry Potter Spoilers!***

So that, truly, is as close as I can come to even trying to explain the depths of my adoration. It was the way he hid pain behind his anger and snarkiness; the way he walked with a grace, but a grace that was hiding years of abuse and loss. I spent the majority of my teenage years wrapped in the world of Severus Snape, trying to understand who he was. There was a connection, and I wanted it to fulfil what I had always felt. I knew him and I knew his motivations, though the rest of the world did not just yet.

After the sixth book came out, and the world (well, the Harry Potter world) turned against him, my heart broke. I knew. I knew he was good. He would not betray me like that. There was not even a doubt in my mind, at least for the character I had grown to love, that he was truly evil. So what did I do? I got his name tattooed on my back. Think about that. The risk, significance and loyalty that required. I was not being hormonal and stupid, I was standing by a symbol of my life.

When the final book came out, I had a massively cathartic release. I was right. I had been right about everything (okay, there was one minor detail I got wrong, but the rest was spot on) and my life was validated. That may seem like a hyperbole, but you have to understand that this character had metaphorically held my hand through highs and lows, telling me that it was okay, that he understood me. I don't know; if you have never experienced that connection to a book, film or song, you may not understand, but it is powerful. It honestly does feel like someone is holding your hand. In fact, there was an exact quote about that from History Boys:
"The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - that you'd thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you've never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it's as if a hand has come out, and taken yours."
It is indeed a powerful thing, and that's what Severus Snape was to me. By the seventh book, I had mostly matured out of these, but it still validated my childhood which was something I was always looking for.

***end of (pretty tame) spoilers -- do people still get angry about these?***

So here I was, in New York as an adult, having made my own way in world, having fallen in love with "real" men by this point and been subsequently rejected; I had experienced real life and I was five feet away from the man himself. 

The man who had made me feel loved and understood. The man who conveyed masked heartbreak better than I ever could explain. The man who taught me that it was okay to feel the way I did and who did not make me feel lonely any more. I had never met him, and there he was. 
Alan Rickman as John Gabriel Borkman

When I was 14, I was out at lunch with classmates and asked if anyone would go see the Harry Potter film with me (I was, for the first time, starting to make real friends). One girl, who I barely knew, spoke up and said she would go, because she loved Alan Rickman. That was it. Best friends forever. It was next to this girl I sat to watch the play. She turned to me (as we realised we were only going to be five feet away from the action and two of the only six people the actors could see clearly, thanks to the stage lights) and said "Erin, our fourteen-year-old selves are giving each other MAJOR high-fives right now" and it was so true. 

The play commenced, along with two of my favourite actresses in the whole world, and I was there. When Lindsay Duncan confronted Alan Rickman about her heartbreak and what he had done to her, I was right with her, and it was a powerful experience, as going to the theatre should be. In truth, that is what it comes down to, right? Actors want to take you to a new world, to take you on an emotional ride, and that is always what he has done for me.

At the climax of the play, Alan Rickman stood on some "snow" mounds on my side of the stage and leaned against the wall, gazing out into the distance and it hit me. I did not want to jump his bones (as many people suspected I would actually do) but I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for everything he had done for my life; that he had been with me through the ups and downs. I wish I could thank him, I really do, but he is a symbol and no amount of storytelling could convey how much he did for my life. I did not need to meet him, as it would have detracted from the experience.

I walked away with a sense of completion. I had been near him, watched him perform with the utmost grace and sensitivity I always appreciated. The man has made me laugh, made me cry and made me love, and there will always be a special place in my heart for that.

Fiona Shaw, Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan
Also, he was fucking amazing and hot as ever. I would also still totally jump Fiona Shaw's bones and I basically want to be Lindsay Duncan. What a presence, man! Just had to throw that out there... hey-oh!

When Alan Rickman was named People's "Surprisingly Sexy" Man of the Year

Monday, 31 January 2011

"Women Science Bloggers": Divide and conquer is not the answer

Let me make this clear. I am a woman. I am a scientist. I have a blog. I would not call myself a "blogger", given the more-than-sad state of this thing. I wish I had the time to blog about science, I really do. However, my job is not a "blogger"; I am a PhD student with a lot of things on my plate. I read my usual blogs in the morning, comment when I deem it necessary (read: rarely) and get on with my own work.

Some of my usual blogs include Bora Z's A Blog Around the Clock and Ed Yong's Not Exactly Rocket Science as well as following them (and many others) on twitter. There was the recent Science Online 2011 event as well as some articles concerning "Women Science Bloggers" and the various people and issues surrounding that concept. I have read what I can, and given some thought to the issue, but I have found myself getting slightly irate the more I see the term "Women Science Bloggers" pop up (also as #wsb on Twitter).

Why? I guess I should not be surprised at my reaction. I have the same impulses every time I get invited to a "woman's lunch" at scientific conferences. Though I realise women face different difficulties, particularly in science, which has not been traditionally a female pursuit, I am incredibly put off by attending these events. What if a conference held a "men's lunch"? (I know that's a pretty cliché response to a much more complex issue, but stick with me) Well, I can tell you I'd probably be the first in there, waving my burning bra in their faces. I simply do not think that to answer these issues, we should be actively separating genders for the purpose of discussion.

This is a tricky topic. I want to address issues that women face, especially in science. I have experienced it myself, but think that the "divide and conquer" approach is counter-productive. It sets women aside as "others" and do not allow for productive discussion.

I believe that I have come this far in astrophysics by my own right. I do not want my success negated by affirmative action. When I was in my last year of undergraduate, I was the first to get accepted into a PhD program due to the fact that I wanted to move overseas and needed to apply earlier (and I wasn't a bad student). However, my happiness was brought down by my male friends who figured I had "just got in because I was a woman". Now, this may or may not have been said seriously, but it was said by a group of men who were incredibly stressed out about their future careers. Seeing phrases like "we encourage women and other minority groups to apply" on their applications were throwing my white, male friends off their game.

I am the postgraduate representative for my university's Project Juno Committee, which was started by the Institute of Physics in order to address the issues of women in physics departments. I was more-than-hesitant to join this group because I have seen many get-women-into-physics schemes turn into positive discrimination. However, I thought I would go along and see what it was (I am willing to give anything a chance, and yes, I have gone to a few "women's lunches" as well) and was pleasantly surprised.

I approached this committee not to "address the issues of women in science" but more to create a happier, healthier environment for everyone in the physics and astronomy department. I held a seminar for the other PhD students in our department to discuss our futures and why we wanted to stay or leave academia. It was a hard sell, initially, but we had a good showing of 50% men and women who were there to talk about the stress of moving, having a family and advancing careers. These topics were on the mind of both the men and the women of the group.

Family matters are no longer as women-oriented as they once were, so how come the scientific (my experience is in physics) community continues to isolate women for these discussions?

I feel that the "Science Community" and the "Science Blogger Community" is pretty similar. It has a wide range of interests, backgrounds and personalities. Like I said at the beginning, it is hard for me to comment on the struggles of being a "woman science blogger" but I do know what it is like to be a "woman scientist" and frankly, I would rather be addressed as a "scientist".

Yes, I am proud of being a woman. I do not hide behind my sex and sexuality, but that is one aspect to who I am. It should not put me into an "other" category when it comes to my career.

Demographics are, indeed, an issue. In astrophysics (combining the astronomy and physics and astrophysics community in my mind... as I dabble in all of them) I would say that you can pretty much estimate 15-20% female in collaborations, meetings and conferences (and yes, I do count... some talks can be quite dull). This obviously changes the game.

Here is what we do. We stop referring to "women science bloggers" or, ridiculously "men science bloggers" and instead we blog, we keep a presence. People will get used to seeing women around the blogosphere. The same holds for science (and is starting to take effect); instead of me getting up to give a talk and being introduced as a woman scientist to a bunch of kids excited about science, they simply see that I am a woman and therefore simply become used to the idea.

Blogs let you hide behind a persona, male or female, but that is not terribly different from science. We just need representatives. The more people standing up, saying who they are and speaking with the public will start to shift public opinion.

The process is slow. There are not that many female physicists, but the more that I take it upon myself to go to schools, go to planetariums and talk to the public, without making my gender an issue, people will just see that I exist. It is a matter of greying the issue, not making it more black-and-white.

This is why I refer to myself as a "Woman of Science" and not a "Woman Scientist"... the difference is subtle, yet elegant.

This is your life

Hello everyone. Lots has been going on, and will do a proper update soon, but here's some fun things going on!

First, there was a great paper published linking partition function to fractal behaviour. I would highly recommend reading (or glancing at) the paper(s) here at the American Institute for Math website. Even if you're not a math-geek like me, there is some interesting information. It is quite a big discovery. Fractals are sexy, and so is number theory if you manage to push through to that point!

Also, if you are following my Faces of Science project, never fear! It certainly has not gone away. However, profiles are dribbling in few and far between, so I am trying to stagger them as much as possible so I do not run out. I plan on posting a new profile this week, so keep an eye out!

I am heading off to New York this weekend to celebrate my ++age with some old friends. I have a few days off (while people are, you know, working) so if any science/tattooed geeks are around for a drink/coffee, let me know and we can talk nerd-ink-speak for a bit.

Speaking of tattoos, I found a great photographer, thanks to Matt Lodder, called Al Overdrive. I highly recommend going over to have a look at his work, particularly his portfolios. I think I may get some photos commissioned by him. He seems like he might be capable of capturing the Weird and Wacky World of Me.

2011 is now falling into a swing, so I will be posting more soon!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Science blogging as a discussion board for new ideas

Today, blogger Ed Yong posed the question, "Are science blogs stuck in an echo chamber?" It's an interesting article, and I will let you read it for yourself (to fend off the "chamber? chamber? chamber?" bit) but I wanted to add my own thoughts.

Personally, I believe that science (and the world) is heading in a new direction. I am not saying anything new. The internet has clearly broken down many barriers and has opened new doors and venues for discussion. The problem though is that the world is still stuck in a somewhat "corporate" atmosphere, where people in the back of their minds want to be famous and make money. The best scientist with a fantastic blog can have the greatest idea and there will be a little voice in the back of his or her mind that says "Don't you dare! Patents! Glory! Who knows who will steal your idea?!"

We are scientists; we make careers out of thinking and innovating. There is a lot of great stuff out there, but  I find that most science blogs are, quite rightly, discussing and presenting published and relatively concluded research. Do not get me wrong; this is a fantastic development (ArsenicGate anyone? As tired as we all got of it, it surely was fun!), but we need to start taking it to the next level.

Most scientists these days will probably agree that they are a bit disappointed with the so-called "future" of the 21st century. Where is the alternative energy? Where are the flying cars? Okay, flying cars may be pushing it, but I think we are stuck in a need for smaller, faster, me, me, me motivated by corporations, politicians and anyone else you want to blame.

Have you been lying in bed, about to fall asleep, thinking about life, the universe and everything when suddenly you think you have solved the energy crisis? That you have developed bionic technology? That you have a way to get us to Mars?

Science blogs seem to have strayed from true discussion and innovation to journal reviews, rants and observations of society (online or in person) when really, we should be exploiting the fact that there are some very intelligent people out there. I know, there are a lot of whack-a-doodles to filter out, but why is that stopping us?

Online forums. Telephone conferences. These conjure up horrors of trolls and poorly wired microphones. At scientific public talks and conferences, the existence of "trolls" is much less (though occasional, but those lead to good stories) and I believe that is due to the level of discourse taking place from the questions, the speaker and the attendees at the pre- or post-discussion food tables. Why can't we bring that level here? We can read each others ideas, spread them around to people in that field and encourage intelligent, thoughtful discussion? True, the best discussion may happen over email and not on comment boards, but at least it is happening and there is a chance it will happen on the people who can do something about it. 

This is also an exercise in humility. One has to be prepared to throw a wild idea out there and get a response of "This was done three years ago. The inventor lives in a castle and everyone, including my grandparents know about this, how can you be so foolish?" At least it is out there though, right? You never know what line you drew that has never been drawn before. Worth the risk for some innovative scientific advancement, right?

Massive innovation has (in my opinion) fallen by the wayside. The money is in improving what we have already got, not coming up with something new, crazy and risky. So why should we risk our jobs pursuing something like that? Well, this is what the internet is for, right? In this economy, you cannot expect the government to give you a job to simply think of the next great plan (though they have tried), but if we work together here on this wild and wacky world of the internet, you never know what can be accomplished!

So, who wants to go to Mars? Who wants a C3P0? Who wants an available, affordable zero-emission car? Who thinks they have an idea?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Look into the mirror, shed a tear and resolve to change.

I would like to take some time out of your busy day to sit down and have a little chat. There is something terribly wrong with this country. Less than 24 hours after the brutal shooting of a congresswoman and the horrific fatalities of a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl (among 6 killed), my social media reflects more opinions of the Seahawks game than of how we allow ourselves to live in this society.

Maybe people are so horrified by the events that they cannot face the brutality, so their focus turns to a sport event. Or, and is sadly more likely, we are not surprised that this happened.

Our we really so numb to the thought of violent shootings, that our focus quickly turns away with a shrug? Or have we seen so much violent rhetoric coming from the media and from politicians, that our focus turns away with a "it was bound to happen" nod? Is any of this really acceptable?

The truth is, if you want to understand what happened, you need only look into a mirror. There are some more guilty than others, but an overall acceptance of what happened lies in how our society has evolved. It has evolved into a cruel, violent beast. I am seeing an outcry from the media and prominent representatives, but almost none from my everyday peers and colleagues. Why is this? Why are we not incensed and horrified and instead of wishing condolences on the families of those lost, we feel the need to comment on how awesome the Seahawks are?

This is not a society to be proud of. It is not one to hold on a pedestal for the rest of the world. It is one that should hang its head and be ashamed that things such as this:
can have such direct and horrific consequences.

There was a brilliant analogy on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night likening this situation to an epidemic. It takes off the weak and the vulnerable first, slowly spreading through society and infecting all it touches. I cannot think of a more apt and chilling metaphor. It is those who are mentally vulnerable who fall first and this is not acceptable.

Some may turn around and say (with heated language) "Who are you to talk? You left this country, proudly and gleefully!" That is true, however, if there is one thing I have learned, I am the one you should be worried about pleasing. I am the one that has to explain every horrific occurrence in America to my friends, colleagues and strangers at the pub who hear my accent.

When you meet a stranger, I can probably bet that you are not being asked within 5 minutes about health care, or gun control, or voter reform, or immigration. Because of my accent, I stand out immediately as someone who represents the state of affairs and questions are immediately posed to me. For all that I am asked about American politics, it is necessary for me to be more informed on every topic. I am the one representing you to the everyman here in Scotland. I want to stand proudly, but instead I roll my eyes, shrug and say "Well, there's a reason I left." This is never more true today.

This is a time where Americans should take a few minutes and reflect on how much they accept current gun policies, or how much they agree with the rhetoric spit out by the types of Glenn Beck and the other swine on Fox News, and if there was anything they could do to prevent our society to turning into what it is now.

We are at a crossroads of sorts. This can be either the end or the beginning of a horrible chapter in American history. I want to be proud of my past, and today I am not. I am not proud of my fellow Americans for their passiveness regarding this horrific act. Look into the mirror, shed a tear and resolve to change.