Archive for August, 2011


not my usual disaster

August 26, 2011

It’s shaping up to be a fun week here on the east coast, between earthquakes and hurricanes and millions of people whining about earthquakes and hurricanes.  And mostly, the rest of the country (especially those used to dealing with one or the other natural disaster) just laughs.  I’m guilty myself of mocking New York for freaking the hell out about a hurricane.

But then I thought about it, and maybe New York has a point.  A storm that’s old hat here — ‘oh, a few days without power?  quit your whining, at least you don’t have an electric well pump going out’ — could be incredibly dangerous in a place where supplies are already shipped in from so far away, and nearly all roads in and out are low-lying.  I mean, mostly it looks like it won’t be as big a deal now that my state is taking some of the punch out of Hurricane Irene, but a real live hurricane in a densely populated coastal city is still a real reason to worry.

Hope it’s not so bad, New Yorkers — I may not have much sympathy, having involuntarily weathered a week plus without running water or electricity fifteen years ago trapped in by half the pines in the forest, and being slightly in the path of this one myself — but I do understand.

Incidentally, everyone laughing about the earthquake might ought to reconsider.  I had lunch today with a few folks from a community less than five miles from the earthquake’s epicenter (near Louisa and Mineral, Virginia).  They’re coping with tons of damage.  Most masonry-built structures are seriously damaged, and one building will probably have to be torn down entirely.  Several floors buckled, and lots of plumbing is damaged.  Everything that was on a shelf is now on the floor, and broken.  Insurance, of course, is useless, because it doesn’t cover earthquakes.

So maybe you should think about it before you laugh too hard at our little earthquake, west coast.  It may have just rattled the windows at my house, and shaken up a boring day in New York, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a real disaster for someone.

And I’d better get this posted before our power goes out.  It’s already flickered once.  Be safe, everyone.



pro-gaming and physics research: today’s feminist grumblings

August 17, 2011

Today the nerd blogosphere spewed up something many of my followers may find interesting: “All About Eve: the Story of StarCraft 2’s First Female Pro” on the Mary Sue.

(As an aside, can I say how much I adore the Mary Sue?  Because I really, really adore them.  They are like a less prolific, brazenly feminist io9, which makes them a) easier to keep up with, and b) more fun to read.  They also don’t require you to click through on Google Reader like io9 does, another bonus in my book.  Anyway.)

So the story I linked you is a typical tale of a woman doing something pioneering in a male-dominated field, getting slammed by the boys for it, and then having the internet explode.  Interesting if you want to learn more about the Korean pro-gaming scene (which I find endlessly fascinating, especially since I’m related to someone who was formerly a sponsored WoW player), but otherwise it is what it sounds like.  What I really enjoyed about this piece, though (other than when the author linked one of my favorite-ever xkcd comics), is when the post’s author got philosophical.

Excerpted for your reading pleasure (emphasis mine):

In reading about Eve, my immediate reaction was, “I hope she wins the whole thing.” I imagine many of you had the same thought. It was that thought that made me realize that the pressure of needing to be not just “good” but “the best”, while put there by others, is actually I enforce within myself. It comes out of fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of having my gender shoved in my face if I lose or screw up. Fear of proving the “girls aren’t as good at games” crowd right.

As of right now, I’m going to stop doing that. Because no, I’m not the best. But I am good. Not at all games, certainly. There are some I suck at (cough, StarCraft, cough). But every time someone says that a girl can’t play, every time that a guy griefs a girl who lost because her gender is the easiest thing to pick on, every time that a girl gets sucked into that angry us-versus-them mentality, we are losing sight of what is good about gaming. Gaming is about fair play and healthy competition and challenging ourselves. And fun, dammit. It’s supposed to be about having fun. There is nothing sportsmanlike or respectable about tearing down a player based on their gender, or their race, or anything else that sets them apart. There is nothing fair about feeling that because you are different, you must work twice as hard to be respected on the same level as everyone else. That is not why we play. That is not what we, as a community, are about.

Gaming?  God, she could have written this about physics.  I cannot begin to count the number of times I had conversations with other women about having to be twice as awesome as the guys to get taken seriously, or to be manlier than the boys to get respect.  All so you can get the cred for being “that awesome girl who does physics.”

Because it always was “the awesome girl who does physics,” not “the girl who does awesome physics,” or better yet, just “that awesome physicist.”  It was rare for me to feel like people had lost sight of my gender — even other women.

And no, this is not universally true.  I have great friends in the field who value and respect me and my work based on me and my work, not my gender.  And in the wide world (now that I’m out of the physics bubble), people are intimidated enough by my having physics degrees that they rarely mention my gender.

But overall, it was nasty in the bubble.  All of the successful female PIs I know work harder than their male counterparts, and a recent study even quantifies that (though the difference is slight).  I am glad to be out, for many reasons — this being one of them.