Archive | September 2013

While we’re on the subject of smart phones…

When the iPhone was first officially announced (in 2007), I grumbled a lot. Some of my friends took issue with my grumbling, and I had to explain that I wasn’t angry at Apple, nor was I saying the iPhone was a bad idea. I was irritated at a lot of the technical press who were elaborating (incorrectly) on some parts of the news. And I was angry at the executives and processes at the company that owned my employer at the time, and another company that we were working with on a joint project.

I was angry because if they hadn’t thrown so many obstacles in our way, a phone we had been working on for a few years would have been released before the iPhone. Don’t take me wrong, the iPhone would have still leapfrogged over us, but if we’d released it when originally planned, we would have been just a competitor at a slight disadvantage. Because of the delays, the soonest we could possibly release it would make our independently developed product look like a quick attempt to copy some of the iPhone’s features.

But the story begins more than a decade earlier than that… Read More…

Why is it always an “agenda”?

So, an incident happens in the workplace. One person is late. Another person who is irritated that the other person is late, and is griping about having to wait. A co-worker suggests they just chill out and wait. The grumbler gets a bit angrier and makes a comment to the effect that he is tired of always having to wait for “that faggot.” The co-worker takes offense at the comment, the grumbler gets even angrier and grabs the co-worker by the throat.

Other co-workers break up the scuffle, everyone separates to cool off. The late person arrives and eventually people are back to work.

Would anyone be surprised after such a thing happening in a workplace, that the person who grabbed a co-worker by the throat and referred to another co-worker (in front of witnesses) as a faggot received some kind of discipline?

No, we wouldn’t.

And if the person who had both physically assaulted one co-worker and verbally assaulted another, then goes public and insists it was just a joke, would we be surprised if other people in the industry begin to be a bit wary in the presence of the person?

Then nearly all the rest of the co-workers, including the guy who was assaulted and the guy who was called a faggot try to minimize the incident. “Sometimes tensions get high.” “People say things that they regret.” When that happens, you would expect the first guy to be grateful that people are trying to let him get past it. You wouldn’t expect him to, at a public event, in front of reporters and with TV cameras rolling, to suddenly say, “I’m just glad we’ve all stopped talking about me allegedly calling him a faggot!”

But this is exactly what actor Isaiah Washington did three years ago. It resulted in him losing that job. He dropped out of sight for a few years. And this week he resurfaced and gave an interview in which he says:

“After the incident at the Golden Globes everything just fell apart. It literally stopped. Whatever the agenda, whatever the plan was it worked. I lost everything. I couldn’t afford to have an agent. I couldn’t afford to have a publicist for the crisis management to continue. I couldn’t afford to continue. I went from 2 million dollars a year to residual checks. Zero. I couldn’t get another apartment after I turned in my lease for my $3 million home. I had to put it in my wife’s name. No one wanted to touch the name of Isaiah Washington for three years.”

And everyone is supposed to be sorry, because it was just some silly incident, right? I mean, the poor man lost a 2-million dollar a year job, and had to survive on just $200,000 a year in residuals. All because of one thing he said at the silly awards show. Then the whole thing becomes “an agenda.” Like there was some sort of conspiracy aimed just at him.

There are still people trying to portray this as some sort of “he said, he said” thing. One of the problems is that Mr. Washington’s story has changed several times. At first he said the scuffle on set didn’t happen. Then he tried to make jokes about the scuffle, but insisted the word “faggot” hadn’t been mentioned. Then he admitted he used “an unacceptable slur” when he was tired and angry, but insisted that he wasn’t really like that.

Then he used the slur again, with a big grin on his face, in front of the cameras. Yes, it was at an awards presentation where just about everyone had been drinking. And also he was denying that he had used the slur, but it was a comment completely out of context, and rolled so easily off his tongue that it gave a very different impression.

And here’s the thing about both anger and alcohol: they don’t force you to say things that you have never, ever thought before. They do lower inhibitions and make it more likely that you’ll say things you ordinarily wouldn’t say. But those things will be things that you think all the time.

So it isn’t an agenda. A lot of people would understandably be uncomfortable being around someone like that after a series of incidents like those. Particularly given how poorly he handled the apology, and even re-ignited the issue when it was beginning to look like it might blow over, it shouldn’t surprise him that other production companies are going to be reluctant to hire him. No one wants a similar incident, right?

Now, to be fair, I’ll admit that there used to be a conspiracy around these things. It used to be the case that a straight man could count on getting away with calling a co-worker a faggot without facing any consequences. Plenty of workplaces still overlook that sort of thing all the time.

For a long time there’s been an unspoken agreement that real men can literally push other people around and call them names like “faggot” with impunity. Because that’s the sort of thing “real men” do when they’re stressed and angry. Other “real men” are supposed to just laugh it off and move on as if nothing happened—because nothing out of the ordinary did.

That “real men” conspiracy is starting to break down. And I imagine that when Mr. Washington found himself in a place where everyone didn’t just laugh and move on it did feel as if people were out to get him.

Everyone is difficult to work with at least some of the time. Those of us who weren’t there don’t know what he’s like day-in and day-out. But the series of events which are not in dispute, including the series of unconvincing and changing apologies, indicates a pattern of behaviors. I suspect, therefore, that there are many, many other incidents over the years of his career that we never heard about. So, of course people are reluctant to hire him.

There’s no agenda. There are only consequences.

Why I hate hay fever reason #5852

I love the fall. First for all the cliché reasons: leaves changing colors, home grown veggies and fruit coming into season, et cetera. And also because I don’t like hot weather and I love fog, clouds, and rain. So fall is great.

Except that as it gets damp, while the pollen count may go down, the spore and mold count starts going up. My sinuses seem to react worst when something they haven’t encountered in a while shows up. So throughout the year as each species in its turn starts pollenating in earnest, I have an extra special surge in symptoms.

Waking me up in the middle of the night with throbbing sinuses, itchy eyes, and a headache that won’t let me sleep.

Though I blame myself. Just a few days ago I was explaining to someone why I never want to move back to the Rocky Mountain region. “If I never have to walk through snow before Halloween again, I’ll be just fine.”

I know that this is the price I pay for not having the live through harsh winters. But it’s hard to think about that when you’re just waiting for the tylenol to kick in so you can go back to sleep and maybe not be a zombie at work.

‘Fessing up, part 3

I attended a Methodist university that had rules calling for expulsion for, among other things, being an “unrepentant homosexual.” At the time I enrolled (back in the mid-1980s), I was still struggling with my sexual identity—I was trying to convince myself that I was bi, or if not, then maybe I could live my life as asexual.

Being in the closet was a survival necessity in my day-to-day life back then. Almost everyone that I knew, whether through school, church, or just in the community, thought that being gay was inherently wrong. The state-approved high school health class text had a whole chapter on abnormal sexuality, and it described kinky straight sex, homosexuality, pedophilia, and necrophilia as simply different stages of the same psychological disease, for goodness sake!

I’d seen high school classmates kicked out of school, then sent out of town by their shamed family after rumors circulated that they had been caught having gay sex, as well.

Whether one of the colleges I was applying to had harsher anti-gay rules than another didn’t seem like a significant issue.

So, yes, I have to confess that I applied to a university fully aware that not only were my religious beliefs not very closely aligned with theirs, but several things I believed were actually violations of their rules and code of conduct.

But that’s only the beginning of the story…

Read More…

Why would you even want…

Whenever a story is published about some horribly racist, or sexist, or homophobic law or outrageously bigoted action by a government official in certain parts of the country (usually, but not always, a southern state), some a**hole will ask, “Why would you even want to live in __________?”

Similarly, when a story is making the rounds about someone being fired or expelled because they are gay/lesbian/bi/et cetera, the same a**holes will ask, “Why would you want to work for someone who felt that way?”

But when a teacher at a conservative religious school gets fired for being gay, or a student at a conservative religious school is expelled for the same reason, it takes an uber-a**hole to ask, “Why should I feel sorry for them?”

I’d like to deal with each question:

Why would you want to live there? Despite how mobile our society has become, our geographic location is seldom a matter of pure, unadulterated choice. We don’t get to choose where we are born or grow up, to begin with. Not all young adults have the means to pull up stakes and move to wherever they want. There is a constellation of complex social and economic reasons for why we live where we do.

It is easier to land a job with a company where you know someone who is already employed there or has been employed there, for instance. And particularly when you’re just starting out, who you know is largely going to be determined by proximity. You know people because you have lived near them. It’s just easier to get jobs in the area where you already live.

People usually have relatives to whom they feel obligations, as well. Census data shows that the majority of adults in the U.S. live within 30 miles of one their parents, for example. (Interesting side note: if a person’s parents are divorced, 80 percent of the time the parent who is geographically closest is the mother.) Sometimes it isn’t just a feeling of an obligation. There is an extremely strong correlation between how anti-gay a state’s laws and social climate are, and the likelihood that a gay or lesbian person married someone of the opposite sex while relatively young, had children, then came out to themselves and their community and got divorced. In many cases, the only way to maintain custody or visitation rights is to remain in the state.

Not to mention that every place has beautiful places, and at least some wonderful people. So often the reasons a gay person lives in a state that doesn’t have gay-friendly laws are quite valid, if not optimal.

Why would you want to work for someone like that? No matter how good the economy is, we often end up in jobs that are less than our dream job. Sometimes you take the job that is offered, and hope things work out. Sometimes you start out with a very tolerant, professional boss, but because of promotions, re-orgs, transfers, and the like, you suddenly find yourself reporting to the jerk who keeps making fag jokes. And it isn’t always one’s boss that is the problem. A hostile co-worker can create situations that lead to you getting the blame, et cetera.

And most of these situations don’t come from those obvious situations. I’ve written before about a past co-worker who made a big stink because I had a single picture of my late husband tucked on a part of my desk where most people couldn’t even see it. None of my conversations or interactions with him ever gave me the slightest clue that he felt that way.

I suspect a lot of these people were in a similar situation.

And except when I was working in a very tiny office, I have never been the only non-heterosexual person working there. And I’ve seen plenty of examples of gay employees in one department being free to be open about the gender of their partners, et cetera, when people reporting to a different set of managers quickly learn that if they don’t keep “that stuff” to themselves, there will be problems.

Finding another job takes time and energy a person may not have, even when they know the employer is not accepting. And if you aren’t a well-connected person socially both within your industry and community, finding a new job is not a matter of simply picking somewhere to apply, sitting back, and waiting for the offer letter. Depending on how specialized your skill set is, finding a comparable job, that pays enough to meet your current financial obligations and provides the benefits you need, can be more difficult.

And no matter how much research you do in advance, there is no guarantee that the new employer won’t have a similar issue with your sexuality under some circumstances in the future.

Why should I feel sorry for them? They should have known what would happen! So a lesbian is a teacher at a conservative religious school. See everything I said about about jobs. Then add in the following factors: when she began her career, had she even come out to herself, yet? Are there as many jobs in her specific field of teaching at secular schools? Does her church have a fairly large population of congregants who are far more supportive of gay rights than the leadership? How did all of that contribute to her feeling about how safe it was to admit who she is?

The one that really ticks me off is blaming the student at a conservative Christian college for not knowing what would happen. First, they’re college age, and by definition not experienced enough to be sure how people might handle their coming out. It’s also even more likely that she hadn’t even admitted to herself at the time she first enrolled at the school that she wasn’t straight. Second, maybe a Christian school was the only option that her parents would support. There are so many reasons that we pick which college to apply to, and getting accepted is not under our control.

The process of coming out, more specifically, coming to terms with your identity when you aren’t heterosexual, and then reaching the point of sharing that understanding, isn’t a simple issue of weighing all the pros and cons, checking one’s calendar, and thinking about how this announcement will affect your other plans. There is usually an incredible amount of frustration, fear, and weariness boiling up inside the mind of the closeted person like steam in an overheated pressure cooker.

The need to stop lying about who you are overwhelms the fear, let alone any caution someone has about what effect the truth might have on one’s next performance review. And being raised in (and working in) a deeply religious community makes all that pressure even worse.

Maybe the question these critics ought to be answering is, “Why don’t you have enough empathy to realize your questions are backwards?”

Sometimes I want to kick fate in the…

I didn’t know Bobbie really well. I mean everyone knew Bobbie. If there was a sci fi/fantasy/nerdie convention in the region, Bobbie had been on staff at one time or other. If she wasn’t on staff at a particular convention, she was either volunteering, or helping someone presenting at the con, or helping run someone’s table in the dealer’s den, or helping run someone’s fan club table, or she was running a fan table that was raising support for a WorldCon bid.

We were never on staff at the same convention the same year, but we interacted frequently. Either she would be in charge of a department I was interacting with as an attendee or a guest, or I was working in a department of another con where she needed to work with me as an attending or panelist or guest. A few years ago she wound up running a table in a dealer’s den selling artwork by a mutual friend, and it was the table right next to mine. So we finally got to have conversations that lasted more then a few minutes, and most of them weren’t about a problem that needed solving or an event that one of us was rushing off to.

So while I think it would be wrong to say we were great friends, we were more than merely acquaintances.

Of course, Bobbie was a very friendly person, so it was difficult to come away from the most superficial interaction without feeling you’d just spent time with a friend.

I mentioned that she often seemed to be working on a WolrdCon bid. WorldCon is the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society, and is held in various cities around the world. Each con is run by a separate committee, and to get the right to host the con is a complicated process involving setting up a bid committee, drumming up support by selling advance memberships, and putting together a formal proposal which will be voted on at a WorldCon a couple of years before your proposed hosting date. It’s not a small undertaking, and you’re competing against other groups from literally all over the world (this year’s was in Texas, next year’s is in London, and recent cons have been in Japan, Australia, Canada…).

A few weeks ago the vote for 2015 WorldCon was held, and the Spokane committee was chosen. The co-chairs had subsequently been announced, and one of them was Bobbie.

It was a great triumph.

Then, this morning, my various social networks started sprouting mentions of Bobbie’s death. She hadn’t been sick, as far as any of us knew, so everyone was asking, “What happened?”

At the moment, all we know is that she died peacefully in her sleep, it was a complete surprise to her family. They aren’t going to know the cause for a while, and the family has asked that we all give them some space to deal with the shock on their own.

I was really looking forward to having a WorldCon practically in our backyard, and I was especially psyched because I knew several of the people who will be running it, so I was happy for all of them. Especially Bobbie.

Now, I just want to find Fate and give it a few swift kicks.

Update: File 770 has a nice article about Bobbie.

Friday links

Every now and then, I just want to share cool things found on the web.

Patrick Stewart recites a poem his aunt used recite, in his native Huddlesfield accent and dialect:
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John Barrowman responds to a question at this year’s Dragon Con about finally be able to get legally married:
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And once you mention John and Dragon Con, you have to go look at this clip from last year’s Dragon Con:
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This one is in two parts. First, a couple opens a business on Orcas Island, and on the flagpole in front of their business they flew a U.S. flag with a rainbow flag beneath… until someone objected:

Guest Opinion: Fear is Ignorance; Anonymity is Cowardly

As news spread, other businesses were displeased that one or two of their neighbors had anonymously made the new couple feel unwelcome…

…so dozens of businesses banded together to have rainbow flags flying on their buildings by Labor Day.

Then, this not-safe-for-work response to the strangely homophobic “Roast of James Franco” on Comedy Central:

REMINDER: When anti-gay Christianist hate groups call for nationwide boycotts of LGBT-friendly companies, that is a righteous use of the free market in order to preserve morality, marriage, family, and The American Way. But when GAY groups use or threaten the use of a boycott, THAT is homofascist intimidation, intolerance, bullying, and a “mafia-style” attempt to deny the freedom of speech. (Hello, Oregon!) Just so we’re clear.

Jon interviews the UN Refugee Agency representative in charge of the refugee camps in countries surrounding Syria. It’s not comedy, it’s a serious interview covering a story everyone else is ignoring.

Mr. Cow adjusts after being returned by the aliens.

And check out Deer Me!

And now, your moment of What???

Edit: I was trying to link to a Daily Show clip, but it doesn’t seem to work. Try this link to a Crooks and Liars story that contains the video instead.

Fact isn’t meaning

Some years ago, while working on a collaborative science fiction project, one of the other people mentioned that they had read that chimpanzee DNA is more than 98% identical to human DNA. “It only takes that little 1% to make a huge difference!”

I had seen articles quote this figure as well, but since the human genome project was still underway at the time, I was a little skeptical that it was accurate. However, one of my friends showed me a reference to a paper in a peer-reviewed journal where the statistic came from, and a little research seemed to indicate that it was true. So I accepted it, occasionally quoted it myself, and didn’t think about it.

Until I read a book about the human genome project, which talked about that old statistical claim in particular, and explained exactly how it came about.

If complicated science theories or statistics make your head spin, don’t panic! I’m going to explain it in a way that will not cause you any distress.

Imagine that you have printed out the text of a pair of books that are roughly the same length. You have printed it out single-sided, double-spaced, and in comfortably-sized font. Now, you take a pair of scissors to the first book, and you start cutting each page up—you don’t cut them up randomly, you cut them so that you have several thousand little pieces of papers, each one of which has one and only one word on it.

Now, you sort them. You make a pile of all of the slips of paper that have the word “the” on it. You make another pile of all the slips that have the word “blue” on it, and so on, until you have a bunch of piles of the little slips of paper, each pile containing however many instances of a single word.

Pick the ten biggest piles, only, and discard the rest. Now count the number of slips of paper in each of your ten piles, and write down the number of times each word occurs in the book you cut up.

Now, go repeat the whole process on a second book, and when you’re done, compare the two lists. Calculate by what percentage each varies on each word, and then average that variation out.

When you’re done, you find that there is a 98% match between a Harry Potter book and Fifty Shades of Grey. “Look!” you declare, “They’re practically the same book!”

But you haven’t compared the two books, you’ve only counted words and compared counts of the most common words between the two books. If you perform this treatment on any books written in the same language, you’re going to find a match.

And I think everyone realizes, when I explain it this way, that what you’ve done does not measure how similar the books are.

Of course this makes you wonder what the scientists were thinking when they did something very similar to the DNA of humans and chimpanzees.

To be fair, the scientists who authored the original paper never claimed that humans and chimpanzees only varied from each other by 1 or 2 percent. They said that they found a similarity in the number and distribution of certain combinations of base pairs of the portions of the chromosomes compared of about 98%. They knew that they weren’t comparing the entire genome, because no one had mapped the entire thing for either species.

At the time, the methods we had for analyzing DNA were crude. We could separate chromosomes, we could pull out certain sequences and count those, but there was a lot we couldn’t do.

We also assumed that the long, repetitive bits at the end of each chromosome were junk, or filler, but new research is beginning to cast doubt on that.

Make no mistake, the more we study both species’ chromosomes, we keep finding a very high amount of similarity between us. Chimps and Bonobos both are clearly very closely related to us. But we aren’t “practically the same species.”

My point is, that 98% was a fact. It was even a true fact, but it was a very specific fact: when comparing certain portions out of the whole DNA. of each species, and when counting building blocks, without much regard to how those building blocks relate to each other, the number of those building blocks is about 98% the same in each species.

Before we can know what that fact means, we need to know a whole lot more facts and a much better understanding of the context.

Getting it right

I sat down to gripe a bit about news coverage, beating dead horses, and about being annoyed at people worrying about the wrong thing. That last one deserves a more thoughtful post than I would write today, seeing as I’m a little cranky—having forgotten to stop at the store to pick up my allergy meds last night, which I ran out of the day before.

I was trying to find a particular old story to link to, and instead happened across another one that I hadn’t read in a while. An acquaintance in one of the fan communities I’m active in was working as a reporter years ago, and had been assigned to do a story about the anniversary of a news event that had happened before she was born. She thought it was going to be a simple assignment, until… well, you need to go read it.

No, really, you do: I Remember Townsend….

The only other thing I have worth saying today: two good friends of mine happen to have fathers whose birthday is today. Lots of people have a birthday or wedding anniversary today, of course. To all of them I just want to say, “I’m sorry that we as a society have stolen your special day, and spend so much energy re-processing and politicizing that one event. Happy birthday/anniversary.”

Fresh tomatoes

This year’s crop of tomatoes hasn’t been terribly spectacular.

I’ve only been trying to grow my own tomatoes for a few years. When I was a kid, we often tried to have a garden. The frequency with which we moved because of my dad’s work in the oil field (ten elementary schools, four states) often sabotaged such efforts. My grandparents and at least one great-grandmother always, always had a garden, so when I would visit in the summer and early fall we got to eat lots of fresh vegetables.

My first year I tried one cherry tomato plant in a planter. It allowed me to start it in the spring when the weather is liable to turn cold unexpectedly, so I could keep the planter next to one of the brick walls of the house for the early season (the bricks radiating heat throughout much of the night, you see).

It did reasonably well. There were a number of weeks where I could pick a handful or more of tomatoes every single night.

So last year I upped it to three plants, and since I quite enjoyed the bite-sized tomatoes, I got two different breeds of cherry tomato and one grape. That didn’t go so well. One cherry tomato produced fairly well, but the other two were quite disappointing.

So this year I got one cherry tomato, and two different small tomatoes. One is an heirloom yellow. Again, the cherry tomato plant hit a pattern where it has reliably had a handful or more of ripe tomatoes ready for me every night. The middle-sized tomato plant has given me about four (yes, total) tomatoes that made it to ripe (dozens of green ones that would fall off long before they got ripe, though).

And the heirloom? Well, just as each tomato starts to turn, a black fungus start growing on the tomato. I managed to pull three or four off of it before they got the fungus, and let them ripen for another bunch of days on my window sill inside.

The heirloom is clearly dying, now. Though we’re supposed to have a whole week of warmer than normal temps, I think it’s done.

Of course, the one faithful cherry has been quite good. And for the last couple of weeks, every morning on my way out to work, I’ve paused to pick one tomato and eat it. Fresh off the vine! Aaaaaaaah!

That’s pretty awesome.

So, I’ll almost certainly be buying some tomato plants again, next year. Nothing beats that taste of a fresh, really fresh, tomato right off the plant in the morning.

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