nanila: fulla starz (lolcat: science)
( Mar. 18th, 2014 09:59 pm)
I felt the urge to rewrite my introduction so I thought I’d use it as a starting point for a Subscription Meme, as I haven’t seen one going around for a while.

I’ve made a template, which I’ve filled out very wordily below. Please feel free to adapt it to your wishes, and please link this post wherever you like. (Please participate or share? I'm going to feel very sad if this entry sits here alone with 0 comments...)

Subscription Meme template:
<b>People in this journal</b>
<b>About my job</b>
<b>Some random facts</b>
<b>Things I like to do</b>
<b>Social media usage</b>
<b>>Subscriptions, access and commenting</b>
<b>What I’d like to get from my participation here</b>

My responses! )

Nephew being a lion atop the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe bench, the back of which is adorned with a magnificent painting of Aslan.

Yesterday, we took the train down to London for the day to meet the bloke's brother, his partner and our nephew. The bloke's brother has worked in Bloomsbury for over a decade and when he heard that I wanted to follow the book bench trail, he volunteered to take us on the best path. We gratefully accepted.

Lots of photos. )

This weekend was the last hurrah of the Books about Town, so sadly we had to leave the last trail (the City trail) unexplored. We also missed out on Around the World in 80 Days and The Day of the Triffids. But I'm pleased we tried.
To stop myself from singing the same woeful tune about single parenting (at least it's only three days this time), here are some photos from the weekend. We gardened, we ate pub lunch (twice!), we walked by the towpath and ate blackberries off the bushes, we played in the sunshine. It was good.

[Humuhumu blowing bubbles, harmonica-style.]

Cat and girl...and Dada )
There's something I practice in this journal. It's called "pseudonymity". It's the reason why I use nicknames for my partner and my kids, and why I refer to myself as [personal profile] nanila in posts and in comments. It's the reason why I don't [usually] make public posts linking to items containing my real name.

I know it's not difficult to make a few leaps from the information I provide here to my real identity, but if you are on my Access/Friends list on DW/LJ, it's because I hope there is a tacit understanding that you will respect this preference and not mention my real name, or my partner's real name, or my child(ren)'s real name(s), in publicly accessible entries. I can forgive the occasional slip-up, but if ever this starts to look malicious to me, I reserve the right to remove access.

I will always err on the side of caution with respect to others' pseudonymity as well.

[Comments are screened and will remain so.]
I forgot a milestone two days ago. Normally I remember it every year. September is full of significant dates. The fourth: Brother-out-law's birthday. The seventh: My maternal grandfather's death in 2001. The eleventh: Four days later, the twin towers came down. The twenty-second: My birthday. The twenty-ninth: My maternal grandfather's birthday.

Twelve years ago, on 3 September 2002, I handed in my (completed, revised) PhD dissertation, "Energetics and Dissociation Dynamics of Reactive Organic Intermediates" (a thrilling read, I assure you), marking the end of my doctoral studies. My journal helpfully reminds me that, as I walked out of the Office of Graduate Studies into the bright California sunshine clutching my certificate of completion, the water polo team ran past me.

Twelve years.

I've been Dr [personal profile] nanila for twelve years.




(And you know, there is still a tiny part of me that thinks someone will suddenly notice that I'm not studying chemical dynamics any more and will say, "Hey! You! You there, no longer in a lab coat and goggles! HDU trick us, you should still be doing THAT sort of research. Return that title to us immediately.")
nanila: me (Default)
( Sep. 1st, 2014 08:28 pm)

[Image of Humuhumu on the London Air Line running from Royal Victoria Docks to North Greenwich. Has nothing to do with the content of the post, just wanted to share.]

The bloke went to a meeting in Switzerland on Sunday and will return late on Friday evening. This leaves me single-parenting Humuhumu for six days.

Both of us have done longer stints than that solo since she was born, and although we now both know some tactics for coping with it, it's still very difficult. I don't think I truly appreciated how tough single parenting is until I had to do it myself, and I'm lucky enough to be able to afford help (e.g. having full-time nursery care, having a cleaner, taking a taxi when I'm too tired/pregnant to walk the mile and a half from the house to the train station).

In terms of tactics, I now know to make at least two large "dishes" (e.g. mac and cheese, chilli, fish pie) at the weekend that I can heat and serve when I get home exhausted during the week so I don't have to cook in the evening. I know to clear the laundry basket at the weekend. I know to fill my rucksack with snacks and water for the toddler and me on the train. I know to download shows onto the tablet on iPlayer, and I have a screen set up so she can choose these or her games. I know to pack my lunch every night, and to bathe before bed so that I don't have to attempt to shower with the toddler wreaking mayhem outside. I know to lay out my clothes so that I can leap into them if she wakes up before my alarm goes off. Each of these things helps save a tiny bit of energy that I can then expend on my day job. But if I had to do them on my own every week and every weekend, I would be so tired I wouldn't be able to see straight. I would have no energy to maintain a community of friends, in meatspace or online.

I find that the little kindnesses shown to me by the people I encounter in passing mean even more to me when I'm single-parenting. I was struggling to calm Humuhumu, who was squirming in her pushchair and crying, "Down! Down!" about 200 metres from the nursery's front door, and a woman passing by bent down and made a funny face at her, saying, "What sort of a face is that?" in a strong Brummy accent. Humuhumu stopped fussing and chuckled, and the woman said, "That's better." I smiled and thanked her and we went our separate ways. It was literally seconds of interaction, but it was so helpful. Then there are the people who offer to help me lift her into or out of the train, or just wiggle their fingers at her when she's looking at them - again, it's just a few seconds, but it lightens the weight of solitary responsibility considerably.

In conclusion, I'm about to make myself a dandelion-and-burdock vanilla ice cream float as a reward for getting through today.
nanila: little and wicked (mizuno: lil naughty)
( Aug. 27th, 2014 07:38 pm)
I've been jotting down various new quirks as they happen in a paper diary, but as Humuhumu seems to have undergone a big cognitive leap recently, it seems like a good time to make a longer update on her development.


She has lots of ways of referring to things that probably aren't obvious to anyone who isn't her parents. For instance:

  • "Door", accompanied by pointing to a specific kitchen cupboard. She knows that her special treat-foods are kept inside, such as "Pouch" (for an Ella's Kitchen fruit smoothie pouch) and "Cake" (can be either a rice cake or an Ella's Kitchen Nibbly Finger - a sort of chewy grain bar thing).

  • "Bey", which refers to the nursery rhyme "Wind the Bobbin Up". Usually she says this when she sees one of us holding our smartphones, and it means she wishes us to engage its most important function: playing YouTube videos. Today, however, she used it in a particularly devious fashion. I had just made a big bowl of popcorn, which we were sharing as a snack on the sofa. The bowl was sitting between us. She took a kernel, popped it in her mouth and then turned her big brown eyes on me. "Bey," she said. "Pull, pull, clap clap," she prompted, doing the arm motions.

    I started to sing. She smiled happily. Pulling the bowl onto her lap, she turned to face the arm of the sofa, giggling and stuffing popcorn into her mouth as fast as she could.

  • "Key", aka any cotton muslin square. Means "blanket", the corners of which get clutched tightly in her fist while she sucks her thumb. Probably explains why Iggle Piggle is her favourite In the Night Garden character, since he always has his "key" with him.

  • "CUGGLE!" Almost invariably shouted at the top of her voice as she hurls herself bodily at you. OK, this one probably is obvious even if you're not her parents, but she screams it so enthusiastically it's not always comprehensible.


These began fairly recently, and have been coming on in leaps and bounds. My favourites include:

  • "Bless you Mama (or Dada)", when we sneeze. She says it so promptly and clearly. My heart melts every time.
  • "I like/don't like [insert thing here]". Said things usually fall into one of four categories: foods, apps, YouTube videos or CBeebies shows. She uses "don't like" when she has grown tired of something temporarily.
  • "Night night Mama/Dada/Nani". Yes, she says good night to herself.


She loves her alphabet-based books, particularly A is for Aloha, which was one of mine when I was a child. It has a mixture of Hawai'ian and English words along with some beautiful black-and-white photographs of Hawai'i. She requests this one by saying, "'Loha". She also loves her Brian Wildsmith-illustrated ABCs (also ancient). Her identification of letters goes like this, depending on which book she's looking at. The ones with dashes are the ones where she can't say the word yet, e.g. canoe and elephant.

  • A is for: "'loha" or "Apple"
  • B is for: "Beebee" (baby) and "Boll" (ball) or "Fly" (butterfly)
  • C is for: --- (canoe) or "Meow" (cat)
  • D is for: "Dada" or "Fff fff" (dog - I think this is her attempt at "Woof woof")
  • E is for: "Nom nom nom" (eat) or --- (elephant)
  • F is for: "Suki" (friend) or *puffs out cheeks, makes popping noise* (fish)
  • G is for: --- (gecko) or "Goat"
  • H is for: "Hair" and "Flower" (hibiscus) or "Neigh" (horse)
  • I is for: "Ipu" or --- (iguana)
  • J is for: *jump* (jump) or --- (jaguar)
  • K is for: *kisses the page* (kiss) or *attempt at whistle* (kettle)
  • L is for: --- (lei) or "RAAAARRR" (lion)
  • M is for: "Mama" and "Muumuu" or "Eee ee ee" (mouse)
  • N is for: "Net" or "Nest"
  • O is for: --- (octopus) or "Twit TWOO" (owl)
  • P is for: --- (pineapple) or "Peacock"

After this it all goes a bit hazy, apart from "Turtle", "Unicorn" (!!!) and "Yucky".

She's also attempting to "read" more independently. I'll read her a story and then she'll take the book and flip through the pages, chattering to herself as if she's reading it, although I don't think she can yet.


This last week has been an exceptional one in the amount of television we've been watching, since we've both been ill and on our own some of the time too. Hence, we've discovered that we like some new CBeebies shows. We knew we liked In the Night Garden already, as we get an episode of that on the tablet most nights before bed. But now we've added Pingu (penguin and his baby brother), some funny little animated French thing about insects with good music called Miniscule, DipDap (slapstick adventures of a line-drawn character) and Timmy Time (claymation sheep, younger sibling of Shaun, I think?).

We're lukewarm toward Chuggington (animated show about train engines) and Sarah and Duck (narrated by Roger Allam, which softens me toward it but not Humuhumu).

She also likes two I can't stand: Kate and Mim-mim, about a little girl and her purple stuffed bunny toy that comes to life, and Waybuloo, which I'm at a loss to describe. The former is too saccharine even for me (and I have a pretty high tolerance for cutesy) and the latter is strange and pointless and the animated characters are very uncanny valley.


One again, this week has included an exceptional amount of tablet usage, and Toca Boca has managed to make me part with money for apps, something I'd resisted for years. Humuhumu's learning curve on the tablet is positively terrifying. She doesn't know how to unlock it yet ("Uh oh, locked," she says, holding it out to me), but she knows how to scroll to the screen containing her apps, to pick the ones she wants and to use 70-100% of their functionality.

She also has a technique for ensuring that she remembers how to do things within her apps. For instance, in "Pet Doctor", she will select an animal, hold out the tablet for me to show her how to cure its ailment if she can't immediately figure it out, watch me do it, and then keep going back to the same animal four or five times until she has its treatment down pat. She went from being able to "treat" one animal on her own on Tuesday to being able "treat" nine of them unassisted today. I find it fascinating, watching her absorb information and improve her fine motor control in such a methodical way.
If you have seen me and/or Humuhumu in the past three weeks, please read the rest of this entry.

This Saturday morning, 23rd August, Humuhumu woke with red spots on her back and legs. We thought it was heat rash, but the spots had spread and widened and developed little pimples in their middles this morning, so we made an appointment with the out-of-hours GP at the hospital.

He confirmed that it is chickenpox.

She will have been most contagious the day before (Friday 22nd) and for the next five or six days until the spots begin to heal. However, the incubation period for chickenpox can be anywhere from seven to 21 days, so it's possible she was contagious while we were in London and at LonCon 3.

Please be on alert if you or your children have not had chickenpox previously. Humuhumu was lethargic and grumpy with a mild fever for the three days before she developed the spots (we thought she was just tired from the intense stimulation of the London trip), so the symptoms may not be entirely obvious. People I know for certain we had contact with include [personal profile] rmc28, [personal profile] kaberett, [personal profile] qian, [personal profile] yoyoangel, [personal profile] djm4, [personal profile] purplecthulhu, [personal profile] hano, [personal profile] coughingbear, [personal profile] major_clanger, [personal profile] foxfinial and [personal profile] liv. I offer my apologies to those, and to anyone else we may have exposed. If you know of anyone else, particularly those with compromised immune systems, that we may have come into physical contact with or with whom I was on a panel, please pass this information on to them.

Separately, I have come down with an absolutely stinking cold. It's the worst I've had in years - I normally shake these things off quite quickly but this has had me almost flat for two and a half days. So I apologise for being a vector for Con-Crud as well. :(
I’m thinking about rearranging my monthly donation schedule.

At the moment, my regular giving looks like this:

My donations total ~£60/month. That means about £720/annum, plus the ~£200 I give over the winter holiday period. Other organisations that I give to on a one-off basis include:

I’m thinking of replacing BRC with MSF for my regular disaster-relief monthly donation, and adding Mind to the monthly donation roster. I might also replace Wood Green with a more local animal shelter, if someone can recommend a worthy one in the Midlands.

I’d like to support, if possible, UK-based and local (e.g. West Midlands) organisations. I’d also like to support creative people in my online network. I won’t be able to give more than about £100/month, so none of these are going to be huge individual contributions, but hopefully I can help.

Please can you share with me potential organisations or individuals that you find worthy of support? I’ve screened all comments by default. If you’re comfortable with me unscreening your advice, please let me know.
Poll #15822 Pseudonymity
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 47

I am comfortable with connecting my "in-person" physical identity and my online identities.

View Answers

Never or hardly ever. I prefer to keep them separate
5 (10.9%)

Conditionally by topic, e.g. only with respect to things I've posted about publicly on my journal
11 (23.9%)

Conditionally by sphere of interaction, e.g. only in person or only online
11 (23.9%)

Conditionally by individual, e.g. only with those I know well
24 (52.2%)

Conditionally by venue, e.g. only my Twitter identity but not my Tumblr
22 (47.8%)

4 (8.7%)

Here is another condition I apply to connecting my online and in-person presences:

(Inspired by a LonCon3 panel writeup from [personal profile] kaberett. I'm still thinking this topic through and the poll hasn't come out exactly as I wanted to phrase it but it's a start.)
My second day at Worldcon started with a panel titled “Scientists Without Borders”, with three other female scientists: Sharon Reamer, Katie Mack and Rachel Berkson, along with our friendly moderator, Brother Guy “I can hear your confession, but I can’t forgive you” Consolmagno. All of us have worked extensively and/or presently work in a country that was not the one we were born in, which is less uncommon for scientists than you might imagine.

This was such an enjoyable panel. Guy outlined a quick plan in the Green Room (already this was looking much better than my first panel). He asked us to use personal stories to illustrate points as much as possible, which is a strategy that worked beautifully. This was a panel in which many examples of cultural misunderstanding, miscommunication, sexism and racism were brought up, but all were handled with sensitivity and even with humour.

I didn’t have a chance to make notes. I really wish I had, as I’ve already forgotten a good deal and I would have dearly loved to remember everything about this panel. I enjoyed Sharon’s anecdotes about being an early-career geophysicist in Germany at a time when there were almost no women in the field, trying to give instructions to men who ranked beneath her. They unwillingly respected the hierarchy at first, but eventually she won them over, partly through competence, but also through putting in a massive effort in learning German. I enjoyed Rachel’s observations on adapting to different cultural attitudes toward the expression of respect and the sharing of ideas. I enjoyed Katie’s stories about working in Japan, and her perceived value as a young non-Japanese-speaking undergraduate researcher (hint: not even valuable enough for teleconferences to be conducted in a language she could understand).

Guy provided just enough guidance to keep the panel moving along a particular trajectory, ending with literary examples that we thought did a good job of portraying scientists. (Hint: not very many.) I do hope we influenced some aspiring writers in the audience to put scientist characters in their novels who are well traveled, not single-minded, not necessarily white, who have diverse relationship histories, and who may be parents too. I am reminded now in particular of Rachel’s anecdote about the Swedish professor who was spoken of by Swedes in reverent tones because they’d managed to achieve so much and had a large family. Said professor was male - parental (not maternal/paternal) leave in Sweden is two years (!!!).

I do hope someone, whether another panelist or an audience member, writes up the panel in more detail, as I’m seriously regretting not trotting off to a quiet corner afterward to make some notes. To be fair to myself, I didn’t have much time since I picked up Humuhumu from the bloke shortly afterward and had solo childcare for the rest of the day and evening.

We spent Saturday entirely away from the con. In the morning, Humuhumu and I went to hunt book benches (see previous post), and I discovered just how horribly inaccessible much of the south bank of the Thames is when you actually need to use lifts because you aren’t supposed to be carrying a pushchair up and down stairs. I ended up having to do it once, which exacerbated my existing injury and unfortunately flattened me for what I had hoped would be an evening out for me.

Sunday heralded my third panel, “Secrecy in Science”. There were quite a large number of people on this panel. Three of us were from astro/space including the moderator, one person was from pharma, one European patent lawyer (largely dealing with pharma, I suspect, from their contributions) and one English professor.

Despite the advance discussion in the Green Room, which gave us a good structure to work with, I never felt like this panel quite gelled completely. I’m not really sure why. There was a lot of interesting independent discussion about secrecy in the two realms of drug discovery and space exploration, but we never quite managed to make an unforced connection between them. I didn’t find much of it exceptionally memorable, I must admit, so I didn’t come away regretting the lack of opportunity to make notes as strongly as I had with the Friday panel.

One tense moment occurred during the open access discussion. An audience member asked what the panel members thought of Aaron Swartz (a researcher and activist who downloaded and shared a number of academic articles from JSTOR, a paywall-protected site). Swartz committed suicide last year after being prosecuted by MIT and JSTOR for his actions. Those panel members who were aware of the case (I wasn’t among them) and the audience seemed to agree that the outcome was disproportionate to the alleged crime. Swartz had legitimate access to JSTOR when he downloaded the articles, and a good many of the articles that he shared were apparently not paywalled by their originating journals. However, the discussion got heated when audience members pushed for further personal statements from the panel members, and one panel member took issue with the agreement over disproportionality between Swartz’s actions and the prosecution’s. The tension was diffused by means of a swift topic change.

My final LonCon3 event was my Rosetta talk, “Catching a Comet”.

I had an amusing encounter before I started. I was poking the projector when a person in the audience spoke to me. “Are you the person in charge of the lights and things?”

“No,” I replied, “I’m the speaker.”

The expression on this person’s face was priceless. (You get one guess re: age/race/gender.)

I had thought this talk through but had little time to work on it before the con, so putting it together was a concentrated last-minute effort. It seemed to go over well. At the very least, I didn’t hear any snoring, not very many people left during it and I got a few laughs. I tried to add in little anecdotes and tidbits from work, and I spent at least fifteen minutes answering questions at the end.

Afterward, I talked to a few audience members, and went for a quick coffee with [personal profile] foxfinial and briefly met some other lovely writers before heading out to meet the bloke and Humuhumu for our journey home. It was earlier than I’d hoped, since I had to be in hospital in Birmingham for my 20-week scan on Tuesday morning, so I missed the last two panels I was supposed to be on.

Note: Part 1 is access-locked due to racefail during my first panel. I may unlock it at some point in future, but given previous experience and observation wherein calling out racism often brings more wrath down upon the whistleblower than it does on the person being racist, it’s unlikely.