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 was going to make a personal post this morning, but I'm so irritated by this that I'm not.

The Guardian apparently decided that one way to honour International Women's Day this weekend would be to publish a headline erasing a woman from history. I'm not going to do the article any favours by linking it here, but the headline was "First Brit in space Tim Peake: 'We phone people because it's just so cool'".

Helen Sharman became the first British person in space in 1991, when she was 27. Yes, she flew as a private individual on a commercial flight rather than as a UK government representative of a space agency. That doesn't make her not British. So I'm afraid that however much certain people seem to want Timothy Peake to be the first British person in space, he isn't. END OF.

The first British person in space was a woman. Her name is Helen Sharman. (I make a point of working this fact into every outreach talk I ever give.) Remember that. Tell everyone. Because this kind of bullshit needs stamping on by many, many feet.

ETA: I note with interest that this morning, the headline has been changed to "First British man in space". I believe this is also wrong. The first British man who went into space was naturalised as an American beforehand. However, I do not think that anyone would enjoy quibbling with me about whether or not dual nationals still count as citizens of their birth countries. >:E
nanila: (old-skool: science!)
( Dec. 23rd, 2013 09:20 pm)
[livejournal.com profile] jixel asked: How about commenting on the challenges of being a (pretty) woman scientist?

I wouldn’t say it’s actually a challenge to be a pretty woman scientist. It seems to be more of a challenge for other people to get their heads round.

Facetiousness aside, being considered pretty (by a certain set of people applying a certain set of standards, ymmv) has had complicated consequences with regard to my self-esteem and my behaviour. This is relevant because of the significant component of social interaction that comprises the practice of science - a thing that a lot of scientists won’t admit to, because they are far too logical and rational and therefore superior to apply the culturally reinforced biases that permeate society to their professional lives. [insert eyeroll here]

In many circumstances, I have found it as helpful to be pretty as it probably is for any attractive person in any line of work. A lot of people treat you in a particular way when you fit certain standard definitions of beauty. I’m relatively slim (less so than before I had the baby), wear my hair long, wear makeup, spend a certain amount of money on my attire, dress with care, have symmetrical features and smile a good deal (even when I don’t feel like it - hi, social conditioning!). This, I believe, tends to lead others to place me squarely in the “comfortably non-threatening feminine person” zone...

unless I start talking about science, or photography, or any technical subject about which I have a certain amount of knowledge. I’ve noticed that my tone of voice changes, as well as my demeanour. I’m more assertive, more likely to argue a point and I’ve honed a style of retort that does not come at all naturally to me in other circumstances. I’m a lot more thick-skinned in professional life than I am in my personal one. I’ve found it necessary not only to project an “I don’t care what you think” attitude, but to actually believe it. That’s has been hard graft. It is one of the reasons I opted out of tenure-track academic work. I can’t distance myself emotionally from my work. I would find it crushing if my evaluation were strongly dependent on the reviews of my peers and not just my ability to deliver good documents and data to strict deadlines. So I’ve chosen/fallen into a line of work in which other people’s opinions of my output (other than my immediate bosses) have little to no impact on its worth. It lets me get away with staying in the “comfortably non-threatening feminine person” zone as well as minimising the angst of agonising over dismissive put-downs.

Perhaps, then, my initial statement wasn’t correct. It is challenging to be a (pretty) woman scientist. If you’re going to excel, it requires the acquisition and development of the ability to project complete confidence in your aptitude, as well as actually possessing said aptitude in spades (see: my female boss). It requires the ability to overcome the perceived weakness attached to “comfortably non-threatening feminine person”. It requires the investment of time and energy attached to maintaining one’s “prettiness”, including healthy eating, exercise and a socially acceptable appearance. And, of course, it requires the depth of study and breadth of technical knowledge required to maintain one's status as a research scientist.
nanila: me (Default)
( Dec. 6th, 2013 01:18 pm)
[personal profile] major_clanger requested: Moving to the West Midlands. What's it like becoming a (near) Brummie? How do you find Birmingham/Worcestershire?

We’ve been here (rural Worcestershire) for slightly over a year. Since I don’t commute to London every day like I did when we were living in Cambridge, I’ve actually had a chance to get to know the area and our neighbours. In fact, this is an especially timely post because we had supper at a neighbour’s last night.

We live in a hamlet. Our postcode encompasses half a dozen houses and a pub. Nothing else. Our nearest village is about a mile away and the nearest town about two miles away. The University of Birmingham, where the bloke works, is over ten miles away. London is a hundred miles away. It is the most rural place I’ve ever lived. If I didn’t go to London for two days a week, I think I’d feel a lot more lost and isolated than I do.

The area we live in is stunning for its natural beauty and bedded-in cultivated areas, which feel like they’ve been the same for centuries. We’re in a cottage next to the Worcester to Birmingham canal. Pastoral and picturesque are the words that spring to mind when I look out over the fields surrounding us - in fact, it can sometimes seem slightly unreal, as if someone had painted the scenery on the windows.

There’s a split between our neighbours, as far as I can tell. I don’t believe it’s a deliberate schism, but the three sets of people we’ve gotten to know are not originally from here. Even the couple that could be called the king and queen of the village (in whose house we ate a roast dinner last night) moved to the area forty years ago and don’t have Brummie accents. Our immediate neighbours are a fabulous elderly woman whom I adore, a Londoner by birth and by choice until she retired and came to settle in her husband’s cottage, and one of her sons. The young couple over the road are from southern England and Iran. They have two sweet children and we don’t see them often enough. Though all of us have good intentions, they too work full time.

We have met the neighbours who were born and bred here, but we don’t know them very well. They have their own community, in which the older non-locals participate to a certain extent because they’ve been here for decades. I don’t think we’d be unwelcome in it, although I’m sure we’d have to try hard to be accepted and neither of us can put the necessary effort into it since we both work full-time (and not locally).

Because the neighbours we know and the friends we made through NCT (National Childbirth Trust) class are not originally Brummies, I don’t feel like I’ve got a deep understanding of the local culture. I know it seems quite different from London. It’s friendlier, but also flashier. When we go to the pub, I don’t think I can get away with jeans/boots/jumper like I do in London, or at least if I am going to be dressed relatively casually, I need to fix my hair and put on make-up. They make a real effort to look their best when they’re out, even just to put out the bins or post a letter. The decor of public spaces and house interiors also tends to be loud and/or blingy. The bloke’s taste is even more conservative than mine, so both of us found this a bit of a shock. I like it though - because they’re so good-humoured in general, it feels welcoming rather than off-putting.

Request a topic here
nanila: little and wicked (mizuno: lil naughty)
( Dec. 5th, 2013 02:30 pm)
[personal profile] liseuse requested: Being an only child. Is there a different rhetoric about being an only child in Hawai'i/the States to the one you've noticed in the UK? Do you like being an only child? (I ask this as an only child, I like gathering anecdata about other only children!)

Uh yeah, so it turns out I may have some unresolved bitterness around talking about being an only child.

I’m unsure whether or not this is related to age, but I have rarely experienced being told, “You probably exhibit X behaviour because you’re an only child”, in the UK. Whereas I remember being told that all the damn time in the States, usually in a negative context. That, plus the, “Oh you poor thing”, attitude from people who seem to think that your parents have deprived you from the opportunity to learn essential life lessons by not providing you with siblings contrives to make talking about being an only child a fairly tedious experience.

I like being an only child. I had the undivided attention of my parents and was surrounded by adults as a child. There was one older cousin with whom I was (and still am) very close. He’s 4.5 years older than I am, and we spent a good deal of time together as children. I suppose these factors have led me to spend most of my life seeking the company of persons either in or older than my peer group and less those who are significantly younger. I never felt as if there were person-shaped gaps in my life because I didn’t have siblings. If anything, I felt like I missed out on more conflict, because that was what I tended to notice at school or at my friends’ houses between siblings. Maybe that conflict would have built my character differently. There’s no way to tell whether that would have been to my improvement or my detriment. At this point in my life, I feel it would make little difference.

The only reason I regret not having a sibling or two now is that my peripatetic youth has landed me quite far away from my aging parents. Of course, there’s no guarantee that [a] sibling[s] would not have had the same wanderlust I did and ended up in, say, Argentina rather than sticking close by home to provide them with care and companionship. But it would have increased the chances.

Request a topic here
nanila: me (Default)
( Dec. 4th, 2013 09:31 am)
[personal profile] redsixwing requested: feeling "other," handling the isolation of otherness?

I’ll tackle the issue of why I felt/feel “other” in a different post, as this was a popular topic. The biggest influence on my ability to handle that feeling was discovering the internet.

It started out with rec.music.industrial (which was closely linked to the beginning of attending weekly club nights in LA and getting really into industrial music - a community of self-identified "others"). I discovered talk on the Unix machines in the USC library and learned the wonders of instant messaging. I joined various mailing lists. Suddenly I had swathes of people with similar interests that I could chat to, not just the ones I occasionally happened to be lucky enough to share a classroom with. It expanded my world enormously.

But the most significant discovery was LiveJournal. I started my journal in 2001 and apart from a few weeks’ holiday here and there, I’ve kept it up continuously ever since. (The transition to Dreamwidth has kept my ever-shrinking non-fandom LJ community from collapsing entirely.) The DW/LJ community is the one I rely on not only to squee with me over cat pictures and SPACE and films, but to listen and advise when, say, I have a problem I can’t seem to resolve or am experiencing the white-hot rage induced by microaggressions. I’m not as keen on Twitter or Facebook as they don’t provide the same sense of continuity as the others. Because their format is so much briefer, I find it difficult to keep up the level of attention that would be necessary never to miss anything there. With my journal community, even if I go away for a week, I can still come back and catch up with everyone and not feel like a topic has “gone stale” the way it does on Twitter or FB (within 24 hours). I know that it's here, and that while the identities of some of the participants have morphed over the years, it’s something I rely on to keep the loneliness of otherness at bay.

Request a topic here
Most of the time when confronted with casual sexism or racism, I find myself responding in a manner that leaves me dissatisfied. I'm left instead to contemplate the host of scathing, incisive replies that come to me in the middle of the night, long after they could possibly be useful. L'esprit de l'escalier and that. So I feel the need to record yesterday's cab journey, it being a rare occasion when exactly the right retort leapt to mind and flew off my tongue unchecked by the desire to placate or smooth over.

I hailed the cab from the corner of Prince Consort Road. The driver assumed I was a student from Royal College of Music. I corrected him, being neither a student nor a musician. He spent some time exclaiming over how I must be very intelligent and looked so young to be a member of staff at a university. Suddenly, a woman driving an SUV cut him up. He launched into a tirade about how women are very poor drivers who never pay attention because they're always talking to their passengers or are on the phone.

An awkward pause ensued.

"Do you drive?" he asked me.
"No," I sighed mournfully and untruthfully, "my husband won't let me."


[Image: My feet in some very silly cat booties.]

This photo and the donation I made to the charity Mind today are linked, I promise you.

I bought these slippers a few weeks ago on a Wednesday. I was traveling down to London from Birmingham by train as I do every week for work. I'd walked to the station along my usual path next to the rail tracks. My sartorial choices on this day turned out to be misguided. I'd glanced out the window at 5:30 AM, observed sunshine and put on a dress and trainers. I'd failed to notice that it had rained during the night and that the ground and long grasses were drenched.

I arrived at the station with feet so wet that I had to remove my shoes and walk around in the spare socks I'd brought for the following day. As it was 7:30 AM, there were no shops in the vicinity of New Street or Moor Street stations selling shoes. Even the fashion magazines that come with freebies attached had opted for sunglasses instead of cheap plastic flip-flops. It seemed I was destined to make my journey shoeless until I got to London, so I bought a coffee and went to sit on the train.

On this particular Wednesday, I sat alone at a four-person table in the third carriage from the front with my legs stretched out, sipping my coffee and indulging in some Twitter chatter about my shoeless condition. I'd just managed to convince myself that I would be able to purchase shoes in Marylebone station when the train braked sharply.

And then I felt the bumps.

I squeezed my eyes shut and hoped that they were branches from a fallen tree. We sat motionless on the tracks. A minute passed. I exchanged glances with the woman on the opposite side of the aisle. "I really hope that wasn't what I thought it was," I said. She looked puzzled. "Didn't you feel the bumps?" I asked. "Oh," she said, "Yes."

We waited. The driver came on the tannoy. "I apologise for the delay. There's been a - technical fault."

"What, have the wheels fallen off?" quipped a man behind me. There were a few nervous giggles, but mostly people looked a little sick.

Several minutes passed. The driver returned to the tannoy. "I'm sorry to say that we may be here for some time. A person has fallen under the train and we can't move until the transport police and the ambulance crew have done their jobs. As soon as I know when we can move to the next station, I'll let you know. My apologies for the delay."

The next hour and a half passed mercifully quickly. We watched the stony-faced crews march back and forth past the windows with eyes that had seen too much of this sort of thing. We went to the buffet carriage to stand in a long queue and talk in subdued voices whilst waiting for complimentary cups of tea. We listened to a man who walked up and down the carriages to give us comforting updates, hoping it wasn't the driver. (It was.) Eventually, the train was permitted to continue to the next station, Princes Risborough, where we disembarked to await the arrival of another train to take us to Marylebone. All had been handled in as dignified a fashion as possible - right up until they pulled the train off the platform in reverse. (It hadn't been cleaned yet.)

I participated in a meeting that I was missing by telephone and pretended to be relatively unperturbed by anything other than the inconvenience.

When I arrived in Marylebone station, I discovered that what I'd thought was an Accessorize was, in fact, a card shop. The only shoes they sold were novelty slippers. I had a choice between frogs, monkeys holding bananas and kitties. I chose the kitties, put them on my feet and walked casually down the Tube escalator. No one batted an eyelash until I boarded a train, where a woman across from me with an amused light in her eyes raised an eyebrow as if to say, "Did you forget something before you left the house today?" I felt a lightness inside me, amusement that my biggest personal problem today would be explaining why I was turning up at the office in a pair of fluffy kitten booties. It pushed gently but firmly at the darkness of the day's events.

I don't know why that person jumped in front of that train. I wish that, for her, there had been someone or something who could have made facing that day a prospect that wasn't a step too far. For her sake and for the train driver's, I wore those stupid kitten booties all that day and the next. For her sake and her family's, I made that donation to Mind today. For her sake and for all of us who presently suffer or have suffered from depression, I make this journal entry.
I have a lot of feelings about the killing that took place in Woolwich this week, and most of them are bad.

I have seen friends supporting calls for the killers' deportation, and it makes me intensely sad. Because the killers are British. You can't 'send them home'. They ARE home. It is a grave mistake to let sociopathic murderers dictate the way we view them or determine the way the justice system treats them. This is their country. If they have committed premeditated murder here, then this is where they must be tried and lose their freedom - but not their lives, as our laws are more humane than they have been and would be themselves.

The killers have been convinced - through a grooming process not dissimilar to that employed to pressure young girls into prostitution - that they are not British. To encourage them in this misconception through deportation would be the worst possible outcome. It would reinforce and perpetuate the idea that British people can relieve themselves of the responsibility of respecting British law if they become sufficiently radicalised. To extend the analogy with the aforementioned young girls, it would be like telling them that the damage done to them was irreversible and placing them in permanent service to a brothel. There is nothing to be gained from turning the words and deeds of extremists into a course of action. Neither the atrocities they commit nor the falsehoods they speak should be allowed to dictate our laws or shape our society. That goes for the killers as well as the racist xenophobes presently demanding vigilante justice.
You rise before your partner when you hear the baby begin stirring and begin the first morning's feed. When you're halfway through this process, you change her nappy. During the nappy change, you notice that her fingernails need to be cut and make a mental note of this. You return to the bed, where partner is stirring. Partner sleepily heads for the shower. As Partner prepares for work, you carry on feeding until baby is satisfied. Then you head downstairs to have breakfast with Partner and baby.

Once Partner has left for work, you spend another hour going through the feeding, winding and changing cycle until she falls asleep for her mid-morning nap. She has been too active all morning for you to dare trying to trim her fingernails, and she falls asleep so quickly that you don't risk waking her again. You make the bed, have a shower, dress yourself, put on a clothes wash, fold and put away yesterday's laundry, do the dishes, feed the cat, feed the birds, put out the rubbish, hoover the front room, read your e-mail and have just enough time to make a cup of tea that you won't be able to drink when the baby wakes up again.

Another hour and a half is spent feeding, changing and entertaining the baby. The last is the most challenging. You watch baby intently. What does she want? Does she want to be held? To be shown a picture book? To have a toy dangled in front of her? To be on her tummy? None of these seem to be working so you pop her in her carrier and go for a walk, which settles her temporarily. She makes happy "Mmm" noises as the cool air wafts past her face.

When you return from your walk, it's lunchtime, or possibly quite a bit past that. If baby is happy on her own that day, you get to make your sandwich, eat some soup and drink a fresh cup of tea. If baby is being clingy, you eat the components of your sandwich directly from their packets and forgo the rest, holding baby in your other arm. As you swallow the last mouthful, you contemplate trimming baby's fingernails when she suddenly falls asleep again.

Once again, you spring into action. You hang up the laundry and put another wash on, hoover a room or two, pay some bills, phone your GP and make an appointment, assemble the components of supper, make a grocery list and reply to the most critical e-mails. Baby awakens, hungry again.

This time you get half a feed into her and while she's having a break, she is content to lie back and gaze at you without moving much. You see your opportunity and pick up the nail clippers. Gently, delicately, you trim one tiny fingernail at a time, pausing between each for reassurance and cuddles so that baby stays relaxed enough for you to do the next one. You look at the clock and find that it's taken you half an hour to complete this task without tears or inadvertent bloodshed. Rejoicing, you finish the feed and carry baby downstairs so she can watch you prepare supper.

Your partner returns home as you're wiping your hands on a towel.

"Hello, darling," says Partner. "What did you do today?"

You briefly consider proudly recounting the successful fingernail trimming episode, but saying the words suddenly makes them seem ridiculously trivial. Instead, you smile and reply, "Oh, the usual," the accompanying sweep of your arm encompassing tidy house, drying laundry, washed dishes, simmering supper, purring cat and clean, contented, short-fingernailed baby. "How was your day?"

Partner launches into an account of the day's achievements and grievances while picking up a knife to assist with supper preparation. You reflect enviously that it was nice when you had a full-time job as your only benchmark for accomplishment.

And that, my friends, is how it takes all day to trim a baby's fingernails.
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