Thursday, November 3, 2016

The fulfillment of a dream

"It happened in my lifetime."  --My dad
Last night (actually, very early this morning) the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Yep, that's what this is about.

Chris and I aren't big sports fans. We don't really follow teams, keep stats, even know who the players are.

But I will always root for the Cubs. Even though it's just a passing 'hey, they won yesterday'. Because being a Cubs fan runs in the family. It's in my blood.

My great-grandfather was at the famous World Series game in 1932 when Babe Ruth called his shot.

My grandpa was a die-hard Cubs fan his entire life. He was born 2 years after the Cubs won their previous World Series in 1908. He died having never seen them win a World Series.

My dad was born after the Cubs made their last World Series appearance in 1945.

There was a time back in the 90s when we spent a weekend every January at the Cubs convention. We got to meet some of the new players (Kerry Wood and Pat Cline before their major league debuts). We listened to panels with favorite players past and present (1984 Cubs were always our favorites). We walked down the hall next to Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks.

Photo of my dad holding my then one year old son who is wearing Grandpa's Cubs hat
Passing the tradition to the next generation
A few weeks ago my dad wore his Cubs gear and flew his W flag to celebrate the Cubs winning the National League title. He hasn't worn his Cubs shirt or hat, or watched a game, all season.

Sports fans, especially Cubs fans, will recognize his superstition, since the Cubs have played great all season... when he hasn't watched the games. He would have loved to watch his beloved Cubs play, especially this season. But it was more important for him that they win.

Today I talked to my dad on the phone. He turned on the game last night just for a few minutes in the 9th inning.... and things went badly. So he turned the tv off again, grateful for the text updates from my niece and nephew, who stayed up to watch the game and kept their grandpa informed. (They're good kids.)

He didn't get to see the Cubs win. He gets to find highlights of the game online today (yay for living in the future where he can see the final out, even though he didn't watch the game!) and fly his W flag with pride. And pick up a world championship t-shirt.

And next year, well, next year he says he might watch a game or two since they've won a World Series once in his lifetime. They've broken the curse and if his watching means they lose an occasional game, well, there's always next year.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A dysfunctional relationship

This post, Fandom is Broken, on Birth. Movies. Death., has been making the rounds today.

Just as in life, sometimes the things we love end, or change, or turn out not to be what we thought. And just like in life, we need to adjust and deal with that. The current state where fans try to change the thing they love, molding it into exactly the image they want it to be rather than accept it the way the creator made it is kind of a metaphor for relationships, in a way. Broken, controlling, dysfunctional relationship.

Fandom or Dysfunctional Relationship?

  • 'Loving' someone or something so much that you try to change them/it into some perfect ideal rather than accepting them/it as is, flaws and imperfections and all
  • Feeling possessive, a sense of ownership
  • A feeling of rage (not just sadness) when it's over
  • Feeling betrayed when the someone or something changes or turns out to be different than expected
Many shows I have loved have been cancelled, and I've been sad. Sometimes I've wished they could have more time. But the older I get, the more I realize that maybe, sometimes, its good for a show to end 'too soon', when it's still at the top. I have memories of perfection, before the writers struggled for ideas and the show got stale*. 

Sometimes a show, or book series, or whatever, takes a turn I didn't expect and maybe don't particularly like. Sometimes I trust that the creator knows what's best and I see where the new direction will lead. Sometimes I decide it just isn't for me anymore. 

It's great that people are devoted fans of whatever they are fans of. I have my fandoms too. But smothering something you love doesn't allow it to grow, and flourish, and continue. Smothering it kills it. 

If you love it, let it be.

* The more time that passes, the more I realize that, for example, Firefly will always be that one perfect season. There will always be the what could have been. But the show never 'jumped the shark'. It never got stale. It's forever a wonderful memory I can revisit.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stress, exhaustion, and limits

The past two weeks have been very busy and stressful for me. I've been taking two programming courses--an intensive, 2-week Python course and a 6-week PHP course. Programming does not come naturally to me.

I've actually kind of enjoyed the Python course. The syntax is simple enough that I felt like I could concentrate on the logic. Some concepts just made sense while others are still sinking in.

Some of the homework assignments were quick to complete and others took several hours. There was a homework assignment each day plus the lab tasks if I didn't finish them during class. Class met Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday last week and this week.

Simultaneously, I have been taking the PHP course, which meets Monday and Wednesday until mid-June. Once again, there is a homework assignment after each class.

So Wednesdays, when I spent 3 hours in the morning learning Python, grabbed a quick lunch, then spent another 1.5 hours learning PHP, have been crazy, exhausting, and stressful. Also, confusing, as I try to keep the different syntaxes straight.

So as not to fall behind and to keep the concepts as fresh as possible when doing homework, I have pretty much spent each afternoon and evening after class working on the homework assignment from that day (although the Wednesday PHP assignment has been falling to Friday because I just didn't have the brainpower to do both assignments on one day). But, my Python course is now over, which means the next four weeks should be a little easier.

I know I've been stressed trying to keep everything juggled. I was so exhausted last night after the a day of both classes, coming home and doing the Python homework, that I went to bed just after 9. I only made it that late because I had to finish the assignment.

Each semester is its own bit of stress, balancing classes, homework, reading for class, kids, and everything else. I'm only a part-time student. I only take one or two classes each semester rather than a full-time load of three. I know three would break me.

And I'm old enough and wise enough to know that I shouldn't do that. My mental health is worth something to me, and graduate school is not designed with mental health in mind. Each semester there are 'relaxation nights' and 'destress workshops' and whatnot. But really, those are pretty much a joke. Because balancing a full load of courses with the amount of reading and coursework, plus the part- or full-time jobs many students have, plus families..... I have the luxury of taking my time to get my degree, which not everyone can do.

I'm getting better at saying no. Recently I was asked about taking a position on the PTO at the boys' school next year. I told them I just couldn't take anything else on. Despite the assurances that it doesn't involve much work, I just can't commit to it. I can't add another obligation that I'll have to juggle, constantly feeling like I'm not doing any of it well.

It seems to be a female thing, thinking we have to take everything on. I'm not a superwoman. I have my limits. Someone else may be able to juggle more than I am, but I can't. And that's okay.

I'm happier when I'm not exhausted, cranky, stressed. I've had a job that drove me to tears from stress. I occasionally have weeks where I am stressed with school work. But I don't need to add to it. I know my limits. And I don't have anything to prove.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On coeds, sexism, and rape

While doing the NEA crossword puzzle in our local newspaper yesterday, I was struck by one of the clues.

40 Down: Women on campus

Answer: Coeds

Now, this isn't an unusual crossword clue (or answer). I've run across it before. It isn't even unusual to run across the word "coeds" in the news.

But the words we use matter. They have meaning.

I don't know the etymology of coed, but I can use Google. And found this interesting discussion on just that topic at English Language & Usage on Stack Exchange. The logic seems reasonable: when male-only institutions became co-educational, starting in the 1870s, the new female students were called coeds.

Thinking of the implications of this, male students were the default, were educated. Female students were out of the ordinary, the special case. They weren't called students; they weren't just educated, they were "co-educated".

And we still use this term. Or, some people, including the media, still use this term.

So why does it bother me? Why did it suddenly jump out yesterday, while doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper?

Because the big headlines yesterday were about the rapes of some women in conjunction with Little 500, the so-called "Greatest College Weekend".

Only it wasn't so great for some students. Because some of those students are female. And some men see women as playthings, objects here for their enjoyment.

Some students are female, but they are students. Calling them coeds implies that college campuses aren't really their place. That they aren't really students. That college is for men, and women are allowed to attend classes but aren't really there to be educated.

Language matters. Words matter. Words have meaning.

Women on campus: students. Unless they are faculty, or staff, or administrators....

Monday, April 11, 2016

Pocketses: style and function

Women's clothing rarely comes with functional pockets these days. Most women I know have complained (probably at least weekly) about this frustrating truth. It's like designers hate women.

Actually, it's probably more that they don't think pockets (function) can co-exist with fashion (style). Because pockets would ruin the lines of the garment. Apparently.

Of course, my not-hanger-shaped body probably ruins the lines of the garment since clothes never look the same on than off.

But then there's the jacket. The gorgeous leather jacket found at Vintage Vogue (an upscale Goodwill). The jacket that is way cooler than I've ever been.

Photo of me in an Etienne Aigner leather jacket
The jacket
The jacket is an Etienne Aigner, apparently a well-known designer/design house.

It has pockets. Lots and lots of pockets.

photo of the hidden second outer pocket on the Etienne Aigner leather jacket
The "secret" pocket
photo of the visible outer pocket on the Etienne Aigner leather jacket
The marked pocket
I owned the jacket for months before I realized that each side had 2 pockets. 

I probably used them all, but didn't realize that, along with the "marked" pocket (image on the left), there is another "hidden" pocket closer to the front (image on the right). And they are both deep, fully functional pockets

That's 2 functional pockets on each side. Four pockets! That actually fit hands, phones, and wallets. Because I've put all those things in the pockets, sometimes at the same time because I can. Because there are 4 outer pockets!

And then there's the inside pocket. Men may not realize, since this is a common feature of men's jackets, but I rarely find a women's jacket with an inside pocket. It's just the right size for a smart phone.

photo of the inside breast pocket on the Etienne Aigner leather jacket
The inside pocket

All in all, there are 5, yes 5, pockets on this jacket. And not just 5 pockets, but 5 functional, useful pockets. And the jacket is still beautiful. Even better, I feel awesome when I wear this jacket.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Off to see the Wizard World

Last weekend, my friend Amanda and I left husbands and kids at home while we drove to St. Louis for Wizard World.

It was announced back in October that David Tennant and Billie Piper were going to appear at Wizard World St. Louis. Chris, knowing how much we love the 10th Doctor and Rose, suggested we have a ladies weekend and go. Plans were made.

We planned our cosplay, Amanda as the 10th Doctor, me as Donna Noble. Donna was an easy pick for a companion. She is one of my favorites, plus I felt I could pull her off. (I'm most definitely not a Rose Tyler, plus I look terrible as a blond.)

Many of our costume pieces were found at Goodwill. My fabulous leather jacket was found at Vintage Vogue by Goodwill. I dyed my hair.
Finger nails decorated to look like a TARDIS, dalek, 10th and 11th Doctors.
Doctor Who nail wraps from Espionage Cosmetics
We both did our nails in Doctor Who style. Fittingly, since it was announced a month or so before the convention that Matt Smith would also appear, the nail wraps included a TARDIS (duh), a Dalek (of course), and the 10th and 11th Doctors.

We knew our chances of seeing David Tennant, Billie Piper, or Matt Smith were slim, since we didn't pay the exorbitant price for their VIP experiences.

A photo of the Arch, taken as we arrived in St. Louis at sunset.
The St. Louis Arch, from the Martin Luther King Bridge, as we arrived
We arrived in St. Louis around sunset. We had taken I70 across Illinois, and our directions pointed us either to the I70 or I55 bridges across the Mississippi River, but we chose instead the smaller Martin Luther King Bridge, which afforded us a lovely view of the Arch as the sun set.

This being our first Wizard World, and our main convention experience being Gen Con, we weren't sure what the lines for wrist bands would be like in the morning, so we woke up early (well, we woke up before our alarm anyway), dressed for the day, had breakfast, and walked across the street from our hotel to the convention center around 8 a.m. The line for a wrist band was very quick, then we were shuffled into the line to wait the opening.

Amanda in her 10th Doctor cosplay, me in my Donna Noble cosplay, waiting to enter the convention hall.
The 10th Doctor and Donna, ready for the day!
During the hour and a half wait, we met some lovely people in line. The group in front of us, a mom and 4 of her teen/twenty-something kids, were also huge Whovians and Harry Potter fans. Sharing our fandom was a big part of why we went to the con.

Once on the con floor, we wandered our way toward the autograph and photo op area to pick up the tickets for our autographs and photograph with Elizabeth Henstridge (and check the schedule). When we discovered she would be at the convention, we decided to get autographs and a photograph with her since we both love that show and her character in particular.

Wandering the floor, we ran into the 4th Doctor and K-9. His K-9, while not as functional as the original, dispensed stickers to kids. The 4th Doctor is Chris's favorite, the Doctor he grew up watching.

Photo of me standing with a cosplayer dressed as the 4th Doctor, plus the K-9 he crafted.
Posing with a 4th Doctor cosplayer and K-9
We also saw this group of cosplayer representing the 4 modern Doctors, the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th. There were very few 9th Doctor cosplayers, which is sad, because I really like Christopher Eccleston's Doctor. (For the record, there were a lot of 10 and 11, which makes sense since they are the most popular and because those actors were at the con. We did see a handful of twelves.)

Photo of cosplayers dressed as the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th Doctors.
Four Doctors
There was a booth with a home-built DeLorean raising money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Amanda took a picture with the DeLorean. We also stopped by the Nerditure booth and took photos with their TARDIS. They had some really cool furniture, including a TARDIS laundry hamper and and toy box shaped like a Lego brick.

Photo of me in Donna Noble cosplay in front of a TARDIS.
Just stepping out of my ride.
Elizabeth Henstridge, who plays Dr. Gemma Simmons on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., had her first autograph session early, so we got in that line about half an hour before. She was absolutely delightful. She took a moment to talk to each person in line. When it was our turn, she noticed our nails and asked questions about the nail wraps. All in all, she just seemed so genuine and, yes, delightful.

After the autograph, we rushed upstairs, across the entire convention center to the ballroom for the David Tennant/Billie Piper panel, hoping we might get a seat, only to discover the panel was rescheduled for later since David Tennant's flight was late arriving. This worked in our favor.

So, on to lunch, then a panel discussing Doctor Who with the local Whovian group, St. Louis Celestial Intervention Agency. At the panel, I won an 11th Doctor comic for knowing what show Matt Smith and Billie Piper were in together (an episode of Secret Diary of a Call Girl). 

After that panel, it was time to head back to the convention floor for our photo op with Elizabeth Henstridge. Once again, we joined the line about half an hour before the photo op. Once the session started, the line moved quickly through, with each photo taking about 30 seconds. She recognized us from the autograph session earlier as we went in.

Photo of me, Elizabeth Henstridge, and Amanda, from the Wizard World St. Louis photo op
Our photo with Elizabeth Henstridge, (c) Celeb Photo Ops
As we left the photo op, we stopped to get a picture with a Dalek, because it's a Dalek and we were cosplaying the Doctor and Donna.

Photo of me cosplaying Donna Noble next to a model Dalek.
Oh no! It's a Dalek!
Knowing the David Tennant/Billie Piper panel was going to be one of the most popular events at the convention and that many people camped out in the ballroom to get seats, and the Matt Smith panel immediately before would be well-attended, we headed back upstairs, to the opposite end of the convention center to join the line outside the ballroom to wait about an hour, hoping to get in.

Once again, we were able to chat with the folks near us in line, so it was a nice opportunity to meet some people. We also admired the costumes as cosplayers wandered past. The line grew, snaking around and down the hall. A second line for David Tennant VIPs formed.

As the Matt Smith panel ended, some people actually left the packed ballroom. The David Tennant VIP badge holders were allowed in to the special VIP seating. And we waited, hoping. Luckily there were only about a dozen people ahead of us in line, so we were able to get in to the panel. A few people behind us did as well. I'm sure many people in that long line were turned away.

Photo past heads of a giant screen showing David Tennant and Billie Piper on stage.
Our view of David Tennant and Billie Piper on the giant screens
Although we found seats about halfway back, we couldn't really see the stage. But the giant screens on either side allowed us to see David Tennant and Billie Piper as they answered fan questions. The questions were quite good, mostly not stuff that could be found with a simple online search or look at IMDb.

David Tennant and Billie Piper had a great rapport. He was quite funny. They were both lovely to listen to. Best moment of the con. 

By the time the panel ended at 6:30, we were both hungry but looking for something quick so we could watch the costume contest at 7. We hurried back to the show floor, which closed at 7. Most of the food vendors had closed, but one still had hot dogs, pretzels and nachos left, so pretzels for dinner it was.

By the time we made it back upstairs, all the way across the convention center, back to the ballroom, it was about 7:15, but the costume contest was actually just getting started. They were just introducing the judges. There were some really clever costumes. Plenty of creativity: Han frozen in carbonite, Rainbow Dash Dalek, Sailor Deadpool. Fantastic Batman v Superman Wonder Woman, Jack Nicholson Joker (amazing makeup!), anime characters, female Loki, Jack Skellington with moving mouth (awesome makeup!).

Photo of the winning and honorable mention cosplayers on stage after the costume contest.
Costume contest winners and honorable mentions
And after the costume contest, we were exhausted and headed back to the hotel, our day at Wizard World St. Louis over.

The next morning, we decided to visit the Arch while we were in St. Louis, before heading home. Unfortunately, there is a lot of construction going on at the Arch, so only those with "Journey to the Top" tickets can go in, but we were able to wander the grounds and walk right up to the Arch. (We didn't pre-order online because the tickets are timed and we weren't sure of our schedule; they were sold out so we couldn't purchase onsite.)

Photo the the St. Louis Arch framed by the buildings on either side, taken from the Old Courthouse.
The Arch
The view of the Arch from the Old Courthouse across the street is perfect. The Old Courthouse serves as a museum of St. Louis history and is where you can purchase tickets for tours of the Arch or the river cruise. There's an exhibit on Dred Scott, and one about the early history of the city as a French town in an area governed by the Spanish. 

Photo of the Old Courthouse with St. Louis behind.
The Old Courthouse
While we couldn't go in the Arch, we could walk around it, and right up to the base on the other side. 

A view from near the St. Louis Arch, looking up toward the top.
The Arch up close
Walking from the Arch back to the car, we came upon this bit of public art. 

Photo of a sculpture of a band, 3 recycled metal characters with fish heads, playing saxophone, guitar, and accordion.
Sculpture band
And then it was time to drive home. 

All in all, it was a fun weekend. Would I go to another Wizard World? Maybe. I would consider going to one in a smaller city nearby if a celeb I really wanted to see was going to appear. But I'm not looking for the next Wizard World to attend.

Wizard World is all about bringing in the celebrities and then charging a lot of money for people to see them. Which is fine. 

I would have liked to see more panels, but we spent a lot of time in lines waiting. We didn't know the schedule until very soon before the convention, and some schedules, like autographs, were't available until we were on site, so it was hard to plan. 

The user experience of the website and the convention left some to be desired. Too often on the website, I would click on a section and be taken out of the St. Louis convention information back to the main Wizard World site, have to reselect my convention, and start over. There were too many times when we had to find someone to ask something that we should have been able to discover online on our own--the information provided online was not clear or missing. 

There were too many times when we had to approach a line and ask the people in it if it was the correct one, only to hear that they thought it was because that was the line they were supposed to be in. Maybe it's because we've been spoiled by well-run conventions that have volunteers at the end of long lines, especially when it is unclear where the start is, to help people get into the correct line. I notice these things now. I can't help it. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Is coding the only path?

I just got back from watching Code: Debugging the Gender Gap, a documentary about the abysmal numbers of women in computer science. It's good. Thought-provoking. As the director said (because, yes, the director was there to talk about the film afterward; this is one reason we love the IU Cinema), a lot of people, especially men, say the film is eye-opening.

If you have a chance to see it....

The film tells a story. It tells a story about women in computer science. About the way women originally dominated the field but no longer do. And how that history is being.... maybe not erased but glossed over. How women comprised about 40% of computer science majors in 1985 and the numbers have plummeted since. And the numbers in industry are no better.

In the film there's lots of talk about 'the pipeline', trying to get more girls and POC interested in and confident in computer programming at a young age, to improve the numbers of computer science majors, to increase the numbers in jobs. Which is certainly one way to look at the problem. (As one audience member pointed out after the film, the pipeline still excludes anyone who doesn't have opportunities to get into it early on; looking past the pipeline is also necessary.)

There's talk about the culture at many tech firms being unwelcoming (or sometimes outright hostile) to women, and really anybody who doesn't fit a certain stereotype.

And this is all great stuff to talk about because increasing the number of girls who stick with coding and programming and major in computer science is one way to increase the number who might work in computer science. And stopping the attrition, retaining the women who are already in the industry is a huge piece of the puzzle.

Really, just go see the film.

But I walked out of the film with something nagging at me. It's something that also came up during the Q&A after the film. It's a little thing, and maybe part of a different conversation, but...

What about all the ways computer science doesn't have to fit into the neat little box of what already exists?

As one of the women from WESiT pointed out, they have done research which shows taking the same hardware and software that is used in robotics and putting it into wearable tech has increased women and girls being interested in that technology.

Are we trying to force coding to stay in a rigid box? Having a more diverse team has been proved over and over to improve results (here's a quick search if you don't believe me). Would more diverse teams not just improve results but change the way technology and computer science looks?

Are there more paths than just coding and programming? I know that was the focus of the film, but some of us just plain don't want to code. Can there be talk of what else computer scientists can do that isn't just staring at a screen and writing code? Because maybe that would interest more women.

Anyway, the lack of women and POC in tech needs to be more than just a conversation. But a conversation is a place to start. And this documentary is part of that conversation.