January Summary

Still alive. Just.

There is a large number of Capricorns in my circles at the moment – what we think of astrology is an entirely different matter – and I am currently quite grateful that their birthdays are here to brighten up an otherwise literally grey month. The rain and flooding of pre-Christmas seems to have subsided to be replaced by hail. (Except one only gets “real” hail during the summer.)

The research project is projecting.

My attempts to eat better are now aided by the having of a rice cooker.

An exercise class has been bought, so watch this space.

Double-booking myself is still an issue.

In what is certain to be a tumultuous year, how does one find peace of mind? After all, that seems to be the most common piece of advice given to you when you are stressed. Calm down.

I am not calm.

(But I do want to be.)

Happy New Year

We’ve just crossed into 2016 in my timezone, so HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!

May 2016 be for you a prosperous and joyful year, filled with everything you like, less academentia, and no leaf coriander (personal preferences pending).

Here’s a wish from me that 2016 will contain all good things, and – I try to practice reckless optimism but I was born to highly pragmatic parents – only the minimum number of bad things to provide a suitable balance to the good things, which in turn should make the good things really feel GOOD.

You look like

When you fill in a form for a formal procedure, the most recent one to come to mind was registering for the new academic year at university, there is usually an optional page for your ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.* That is, things are usually kept for statistics (probably for marketing purposes), but should not impact your user experience. (There is no telling of whether or not they will.) If there is an option to click on a question mark or asterisk next to a question to further explain what the form-provider wants you to reply, the resulting window will tell you that ethnicity is how you identify yourself according to beliefs, ancestry, culture, traditions, and so on and so forth. Dictionaries will add that ethnicity is a hereditary factor.

I have been called a banana – yellow on the outside, white on the inside – and the perhaps more politely twanged yang2 wa2 wa (literally a straw doll kind of toy; in this case a play on words: wa2 wa, 娃娃, means doll or child, and yang, 洋, as an adjective, means Western). I have naturally inherited my outward appearance, which remains unaltered and distinctly Chinese**, but like all third culture kids, I have also amassed a social inheritance that means I skype my parents in January/February each year*** to bow and give my New Year’s greetings; I will lament that pancakes, no matter how dressed up, will never overtake the semla as best Shrove Tuesday confection; I will also complain when my tea has gone cold, and be on the fence about drinking it at all.

While I will dutifully tick the box for “Chinese” (or sometimes, “other – Chinese”, which makes me feel roughly “wow… okay… thanks”), I would very much like to know what form-providers would like to achieve with this information, other than have a heads-up on what I might look like****. Especially when I also have to fill in my name, nationality, and language skills anyway, which should give some clues (all on top of being unsure whether this sharing of information will play to my favour or not).

With that, I wish you a happy beginning to December. It’s not the “end of the year” yet – you have a whole month in which a lot of things can be accomplished. So get going.

 

Potential cans of worms to open:

*New addition to the registration form this year was “gender identity”, and the form does not let you register with any blank answers. Is this moving towards a new openness and awareness towards lgbt+ or inviting more trouble?

**Except I do not look distinctly Chinese after all. It is a very large country with many strands of DNA. Being Han Chinese, I have been asked in recent years whether or not I am Korean. I do not really know what to make of this so I remain happily indifferent.

***I talk to my family more often than just the once a year. Sometimes I even buy a ticket to visit them. Imagine that.

****According to a football-goer on a train a Saturday morning earlier this term, I found out that I apparently also look like a mail-order bride. I did not know that they had a look. That said, I will treat this as a reason to delve further into the world of young(ish)-men-in-groups (especially when going to large sporting events), as opposed to anything relating to my appearance.

Happy Halloween!

This year we’ll be dressing as an evil Victorian woman: showing of ankles and declaring of vote.

(I had a rather serious post coming up, but somehow Halloween seemed like the wrong day to post that. Have a happy, safe time out in the rain, and we will speak later.)

Advice

  1. Why don’t you get your ears pierced and wear drop earrings? They will make your face look smaller and less round.
  2. Why don’t you settle in one place and start a family? It’s what everybody else is doing.
  3. You don’t like your nose? There are non-invasive procedures for that these days.
  4. You’re doing a PhD? I’m not sure if men will be all that pleased to marry somebody with a doctorate.
  5. Aren’t cartoons for children?
  6. Aren’t science museums for children?
  7. Just get a real job.
  8. Never show any weaknesses you might have, don’t let other people know.
  9. If only you would apply yourself to one thing.
  10. Love yourself for who you are.

Number ten always seems to be an afterthought following one or several of 1-9.

N.B. This is not genuine advice from me to you. These are things that have been said to me and other people in similar positions in life to myself over the recent years. If you’re after real advice ask a close friend. If I am to advise you on anything off this list, it would be not to jack with your face without having a really good think about it first. And then to consult with professionals. Go with your gut. The healthy gut bacteria should produce healthy gut feelings.

Here’s a picture of a puppy if you need calming down.

Better representation of science on television?

The following frame appears in an episode of Partners in Crime, a BBC adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel The Secret Adversary.

Partners in Crime, BBC One, 2015.

Despite being a programme that is very upper-middle-class on everything else (setting, plot, characters), I find this representation of a scientist (okay, wartime bomb expert turned “cool” science teacher*) far more accurate than the usual choice of:

  • “mad scientist” whose inventions are fantasmagorical but weirdly work, though with one crucial flaw that will be exploited by the protagonist(s) and prove the villain’s ultimate undoing; or
  • scientist in support of the protagonist(s), who is somehow an expert neuro-surgeon AND particle physicist and an all-around genius with a slight whiff of deus ex machina about them when the heroes are stuck in a crisis.

The line of dialogue on screen is true of ongoing scientific research, and the fact that *SPOILER* we never really find out whether or not this thing really worked in the end – Tommy and Tuppence get thwarted during the chase – is (a shame but) quite the more realistic than “happily ever after”.

That will do for now. I have to tend to other work that is driving me mildly insane.

*This is the official character bio on the programme website:

“He lost one of his hands during his work in WWII in the bomb disposal unit, but has since contrived his own mechanical replacement. It was during his recovery in hospital that he first befriended Tommy.

Friendly, quirky and an absolute nut for all things scientific, Albert becomes Tommy and Tuppence’s perfect ally whenever they encounter anything that requires more technical knowledge than they possess. Having found himself slightly side-lined by his disability, Albert finds excitement and redemption in becoming involved in Tommy and Tuppence’s adventures.”

The (relative) thanklessness of working on the internet

Warning: this is a stream-of-consciousness (more so than usual) sort of entry.

Not long ago I was on a conference panel called “meet the editors”. All of the other panellists were (are) in charge of a printed publication, peer-reviewed or not, and I was there in my capacity as a web editor. In advance of our editors’ roundtable, I had asked some colleagues and my closest contemporary on the panel whether or not there would be a point in my presence at the event, as I imagined any questions the audience would have are likely to be directed at the journal and magazine editors. You may call this a case of sour grapes, but I considered it merely a statement to be acknowledged. As a matter of fact, I was right. Of course, I did sit on the panel in order to discuss the newly revamped website of which I am in care, what content we are working on, and to make some bad jokes along the lines of “please don’t use the contact-us form to ask me if I can tell you more about a 16th century ship called [name]; I always aim to help, but in these cases, I unfortunately, really cannot.”

In academia, as much as we are assimilating into the digital world, and in some cases even questioning the usefulness of our paper journals when most of them are digitised anyway, the printed form of publication still feels like a validation to strive for. Online presence certainly counts in terms of outreach, but it is often seen as the less formal cousin; albeit the sort of cousin that gets away with being snarky and sarcastic about any given topic. (Nonetheless: Hurray for outreach!) Having a regular, paid spot at online outpost, writing about your field of interest is a step further up the ladder, but nothing will beat a hard-copy journal with your name on the contents page.

Does the reasoning for this lie in the fact that “anybody” – provided they have internet access – can self-publish on the internet, or because a lot of content can be obtained for “free” on the internet, and therefore must be of sub-par quality compared to paid-for material? The matter of fact is that a lot of people spend a lot of time producing content for the internet, whether it is their job, or whether they receive compensation for their efforts. I am a consumer of a healthy number of lifestyle blogs, fan-works (art, fiction, etc.), academic columns, and news-channels of the internet; some of these creators have grown from creating their content out of goodwill to turning their channels into one of their main occupations. You can be a blogger or a youtuber for a living, it’s no different from being a writer and a producer (except you might have to work MORE), yet some of these creators still get asked – especially by members of the older generation – “what kind of a job is that?”

And if you are a fandom member producing content for other fans, the comment above this picture is not an uncommon thing to hear.

If you think about it, asking your friends on facebook if their university has access to a particular journal paper you can’t get hold of on your own system is essentially crowdsourcing one job (fine – one task) for a librarian, yet the action of asking across the internet feels less formal than if you actually had needed to approach a librarian or records officer to do the same job. (It probably also works out much faster; I never said there weren’t any benefits.) So the internet makes things informal.

*cough*signing up to buy from online shops or even to comment on popular websites takes forEVER*cough*

The informality is a double-edged sword. For one, copyrights are often breached. Theft happens in the world of fandoms, but here there are vigilantes who report stolen work, and maintain the sense of community. Unfortunately, this sort of behaviour is not uncommonly also exhibited by large websites towards individual producers, who in turn are protected only be relatively weak creative commons licences and cannot take proper action against plagiarism.

On the other hand, the informality allows mass-engagement. The recent discussions surrounding Jeremy Hunt and the NHS have made the rounds online, and where social-media users are often referred to as a “mob”, the fact that healthcare professionals are able to express their thoughts on the matter and engage the public in this debate can mobilise greater action on the cause.

However, sometimes the informality is just that – informal. If it isn’t an official statement on paper with a proper letterhead and a billion signatures, people won’t take it seriously.

So where does that leave us?

  • If you make things for fun online, even though your creations are appreciated by the like-minded, you have “too much time on your hands”.
  • If you are paid to do things on the internet, it’s not as valid as doing things “IRL”. (In real life, to the Luddites.)
  • If you are a social activist on the internet, you are part of a mob that gets over-excited for very little, under the protection of your relative anonymity.

So far, so negative. With that being said, online is certainly fertile soil for people to practice their art and become even better at writing/painting/producing/editing/entertaining. And nothing is going to stop people from being creative, because frankly, “blogger” and “youtuber” have made it as legitimate jobs despite all the suspicion.

So I’m at this panel, nodding along to my seniors answering questions about getting published, scribbling notes for my own benefit, and gradually come around to a question rather than a conclusion: while web-editing is providing me a list of professional experiences, how can I use “my” platform, a website for a learned society and all its media channels, to lift my fellow academics’ non-academic skills?