Monthly Archives: June 2014

Girl Genius – webcomics, comic books, and novels

As a follow-up to last week’s list of favorite webcomics, I checked out one of my brother’s recommendations, Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio.  I had seen their (Hugo-winning) books on display in the dealer’s room at various cons but had never gotten around to actually reading any – and I had no idea that they now have a free online webcomic to read in addition to the print books.

Today I checked out Girl Genius, and it’s awesome.  The storyline sucked me in right away.  The art is lovely, with diverse characters shaped mostly like real people, not creepy disproportionate stereotypical comic book people.  The storyline is fun, and chock full of mad genius-y goodness, terribly dastardly villains, and a bona fide Girl Genius.  The authors describe it as ‘gaslamp fantasy’ rather than Steampunk, which I think is a very fitting description.

I would definitely recommend this for the tween-and-up crowd, and perhaps even for kids as young as ten if your kid is already into reading comics or very precocious.   I’m looking forward to working my way through the archives and catching up on Agatha’s adventures.  It’s good reading for adults, and shows a solid strong female character for younger kids looking for good (and unusual) role models.

You can read it online as a webcomic, or purchase the comic books and novels.  There are also apps (I love the paper doll app) and other fun merchandise.  Check all of the goodness out here.

Are you a Girl Genius fan?  Do you have other recommendations for great comics with strong female characters or that show how cool science is?

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Filed under Book Reviews, Geek parenting resources

Historical Evidence of How People Didn’t Use to Freak Out About Breastfeeding in Public

In case you hadn’t noticed from all of my other posts about things like girl power, women in STEM, feminism, etc., I kinda have this thing about women’s rights.  One of the biggies is breastfeeding, and I could go on and on about the benefits, but I wont.  Mostly because that’s already been done a lot.  The short version: it’s really good for babies and moms alike.  It’s also not something that should be forced on anyone, and something that women should not be shamed for choosing – or not choosing – to do.

One of the best things about this newfangled and super-modern era we live in is that we are blessed with a lot of choices.  What really rankles, though, is how many people think it’s indecent or gross or inappropriate for public consumption and feel the need to loudly and obnoxiously force that uneducated and historically inaccurate opinion on mothers who really have enough going on.  They shouldn’t have to deal with rude, intrusive, ill-informed nasty busybodies on top of being new moms.

Uh… what do you think people did for thousands of years to feed babies, before the nice men and women in white coats came up with fancier and fancier versions of formula?  Oh, right.  They used their mammary glands for their actual function.  They do have a purpose, you know.  One that’s not recreational.  I can one hundred percent guarantee you that Jesus himself was breastfed.

So calm down about a nipple slip or a little side boob showing.  To back this argument up, I give you this awesome collection of historical images showing just how normal it was in lots of cultures – and still is, in many.  It was normal here until very recently.  It basically took only one generation to almost wipe out breastfeeding in the U.S.  Don’t be the generation that keeps it from coming back despite a whole bunch of scientific and historical evidence that shows it’s a good thing.

As further evidence of the normalcy and non-gross-ness of breastfeeding, there is also this breastfeeding segment from Mister Rogers.  Seriously, who can possibly argue that something featured on Mister Rogers is obscene?

Not a Mister Rogers fan?  Check out the Sesame Street versions, then.  They featured breastfeeding not once, but twice!

By the way, if you found yourself squirming uncomfortably every time you read the word ‘breastfeeding’ in this post or looked at one of the pictures or videos, please take some time to reconsider how you think about human female mammary glands.   You might just be one of the people who has forgotten their true purpose and bought the media’s portrayal of them as purely recreational and at the same time shameful.

Also, kudos to facebook for finally admitting this week that pictures of breastfeeding aren’t ‘obscene’ and changing their policy.  Took ya long enough.

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Stop Making “Like a Girl” an Insult

In the military, this one comes up all the time.  It’s embedded in our everyday culture.  Women and men both use it frequently.  They use the label ‘girl’ as an insult.

“Hurry up, ladies”  when guys are taking forever to change or catch up or complete a task.

“You hit like a girl” when someone is weak

“Suck it up, girlie” when someone is being a pansy

“You’re such a little girl” when someone complains

It’s insulting.  It’s degrading.  Find something else to use.  Girls and women are not weak and they do not have less worth than boys and men.  How can you possibly even think that of the half of the species that has to go through friggin’ childbirth, for crying out loud?

And on that note, I love this ad:

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Choose your words carefully. Act with awareness. Girls are listening and watching, and the message isn’t good.

Sexism can be very subtle.  I love this commercial because it shows just how that subtle sexism sinks into the subconscious of little girls.  For every generic and chipper, “You can do anything!” a little girl hears, she gets a thousand comments, social cues, and media images that tell her otherwise.  So watch your words and actions – we’re probably all guilty of at least a few of these:

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Would you live underground if the place was awesome enough?

I would absolutely love to live in an old missile silo or communications bunker.  There’s so much history there, and they are such very cool and unique old places.  Not to mention that they tend to sell for a fraction of what they took to build back in the Cold War heyday.  And you can do some very cool stuff with them.  Here’s a video of one that has been fixed up really nicely.

We have seriously been considering buying one and fixing it up one of these days – probably wouldn’t happen until we retire, but in the meantime it’s fun to look at them.  I just wish they weren’t mostly in places we don’t particularly want to live.  My two favorite websites to stalk future sites are:

20th Century Castles

and

Hardened Structures

Sometimes they have other fascinating properties that are also pretty mind-blowing, like this video of an old Army storage facility that was in a limestone mine.  It’s seriously huge.  Like multiple city blocks huge – it has streets with speed limits.  It’s over 125 acres.  Underground.   Totally reminds me of the rebel camp in Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100 (actually, I wonder if this facility may be what inspired it).

Here’s a history of the facility, if you’d like to know more.

Would you live in an old missile silo?

 

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Filed under Geeking out

My Favorite Webcomics

Playing off of yesterday’s post, there are a lot of very popular – and extremely geeky – webcomics out there.  Here are my favorites.  Please note for those with kids/youth that comics marked with an asterisk (*) sometimes have adult themes/content or profanity.

The Oatmeal*

Cyanide and Happiness*

XKCD

Questionable Content*

Girls With Slingshots*

Surviving the World

 

No longer coming out with new comics but worth reading from the beginning anyway:

Absurd Notions 

User Friendly (arguably the geekiest webcomic of all time)

 

What are your favorite webcomics?  Can you recommend any that are better geared towards kids?

Also, if you have never read the complete Calvin & Hobbes, do it.  Do it now.  With your kids, if applicable.

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Gateway drugs – er, I mean books and movies – to sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction of all kinds

One of the panel topics I’ve addressed at cons is how to get kids interested in sci-fi, fantasy, and all related things that make us geek out and that we find squee-worthy.  Well, other than the fact that all of us at those kinds of panels already think all those things are super cool, and that tech folks and engineers tend to make more money than the average bear, I usually try to point out the mainstream things that kids love that are already in their lives and actually fall into the broad ‘geek stuff’ categories of sci-fi, fantasy, alternate history, speculative fiction, etc.  These ‘gateway drugs’ are often the best way to bring kids into the fold.

What do I mean?  Well, some of the biggest blockbusters in kids, YA and adult fiction and movies are actually pretty darned geeky.  Check out this list, for example:

  • Harry Potter (fantasy/paranormal – full of magic and mythical creatures)
  • Golden Compass (more fantasy and a little steampunk/sci-fi)
  • Divergent (post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction)
  • Narnia books and movies (fantasy)
  • Hunger Games (decidedly post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction)
  • Twilight (fantasy/paranormal)
  • Ender’s Game (solidly sci-fi – and it’s the number one book I’ve ever recommended to get kids into sci-fi)
  • A Wrinkle in Time (definitely sci-fi with a little paranormal thrown in)
  • The Giver (post-apocalyptic/dystopian)
  • Percy Jackson series (fantasy)
  • Wild Wild West (steampunk – and I’m probably dating myself by putting it on here)
  • Heroes (fantasy/paranormal)
  • X-Men (paranormal/sci-fi)
  • All the superhero movies such as Spiderman, Avengers, etc. (comics, sci-fi, fantasy/paranormal)
  • Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (fantasy)
  • TMNT and pretty much any cartoon involving space, aliens, mutants, evil scientists, etc.
  • Star Wars (duh)
  • Despicable Me (sci-fi – no, really!)
  • Mary Poppins (paranormal)
  • How to Train Your Dragon (fantasy)
  • Godzilla (sci-fi/fantasy)
  • Transformers (sci-fi/alternate history)
  • Avatar (sci-fi)
  • I, Robot (sci-fi)
  • Aliens (sci-fi/horror)
  • Men in Black (sci-fi/comedy)
  • The Matrix (sci-fi/dystopian/post-apocalyptic)
  • World War Z (and pretty much all zombie moves – sci-fi/paranormal/dystopian)

This list is by no means exclusive – it’s just a quick list off the top of my head of the things that have been wildly successful in the mainstream that people don’t even realize fall solidly into the genres traditionally considered ‘geeky.’  And that’s without even looking at the world of gaming.  If you want to get a kid interested in geekdom, find out what he or she likes – and then gradually introduce similar things to expand his or her horizons.

For example, my daughter currently loves Invader Zim and Wall-E, which is branching out to a general love of robots thanks to GIR and Wall-E.  And she adores Our Neighbor Totoro, so I’m hoping she will also take a liking to Kiki’s Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle in the future.

Also, as a side note I just realized that Will Smith actually does an awful lot of sci-fi.

What’s missing from my list?  How do you get kids interested in geek stuff without driving them away with un-cool-ness?

 

 

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Filed under Geek parenting resources, Geeking out, STEM outreach

STEM Can Be For Everyone – Sometimes You Just Need a Different Approach

It’s been ten years since I graduated from college.  I am nowhere near where I thought I’d be – and for that I am eternally grateful.  Call it fate, or providence, or karma, or coincidence, whatever you want to believe in.  Whatever it is, I’m truly happy my path has turned out the way it has.  The biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s never too late and a lot more people are cut out for STEM fields than think they are.

Many young people turn away from possible futures because they think it’s too late for something to happen in their lives, or that they’re not smart enough or strong enough.  This is, sadly, especially true for people who might be interested in STEM fields.

Young people start out with pretty good parity in math and science.  But by junior high, something unfortunate has happened and many girls (and sometimes boys as well) have decided  – or, more often, been told – that they aren’t any good at math or science.  They focus on other things rather than try again at something they either once failed at or were told they couldn’t do.  They forget they wanted to be an astronaut or a programmer or a dentist.  More and more people are having second, even third careers now.  They don’t expect to stay in the same place or do the same thing.  So remember that it’s never too late to try out a STEM field.

You may feel hopelessly behind or lost in math or science, but they key is to try it from another angle.  I was always a math whiz as a kid, except in two cases.  First, geometry.  I just didn’t get it.  It made no sense to me.  I muddled through somehow with lots of extra work and frustration and managed a B-.  It was the worst grade I got in my entire life until college.

Then in college I almost failed Differential Equations.  It was another case of just not getting it.  I went to the professor for help.  I went to other students for help.  I went to the tutoring center for help.  I spent hours in my professor’s office and in the office of another math prof.

I wound up with a D in the course, and it was a mercy D.  It was a D for sheer effort.  As in they didn’t understand who put in so much time and effort could possibly fail every test.  So I passed… barely.  On academic probation.  ‘D is for done’ sure didn’t feel done.  I seriously considered changing majors.  Maybe I wasn’t cut out for aerospace engineering after all, if I couldn’t cut it in one of our sophomore core classes.

And then something funny happened.  The next year I took a control systems class, and the first few weeks of it was a review of differential equations.  It clicked.  It finally made sense.  I got it.  And I slowly regained my confidence and stuck with a major that both challenged and interested me.

In grad school, years later, I took Differential Equations again.  It was required as a refresher since it had been more than six years since I had finished my undergrad.  I was nervous about it, after my struggles the first time around and it being so long since I was in school.  I did fine.  It wasn’t a cake walk, doing diff eq’s with a newborn and after so long away from school, but compared to the other classes I was taking it was a breeze.

I have spent an awful lot of time in school now.   Since I was three and started preschool, I have taken at least one class every year except 2010 and 2013.  I have learned that, with the exception of a few extraordinary geniuses, everyone struggles with some subject.  And when you run into that subject, you can try, and try, and try again, or you can decide you’re no good at it and give up.

Trying again doesn’t mean just banging your head against the wall.  It could mean trying a different textbook.  It could mean asking someone to watch you do some problems to see where you might be going astray.  Sometimes you need a different prof, teacher, tutor, parent, or friend who comes at it from a different way.  Just don’t throw your hands up and say “it’s too hard, I’ll never get it.”  Because when it does click, it’s not only an amazing feeling, but it opens you up for new, exciting topics.

When I was struggling with the geometry course, my mom told me about how she took calculus three times in college.  The third time she got an A.   Even though she had passed before, she wanted to understand it.  She credits a good teacher whose approach worked for her, and it clicked.  I’m glad she taught me that the most important thing is to fully understand, not necessarily to get an easy A.

Don’t let someone in your life give up on a career, major, or even a single class because they are struggling.  In this age of the internet, it’s easy to look for another way – online notes, some Khan Academy videos, Schaum’s Outlines, online tutoring services, or even lectures from some of the great online courses free from MIT.

What have you struggled with academically? What resources helped you get through it?  Do you ever wish you had chosen a different path, career field, or major?  What would you say to a young person who is struggling?

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Filed under Geek parenting resources, Opinion pieces, STEM outreach

Happy Summer Solstice

Tomorrow, June 21st, is the summer solstice.  For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it means it’s the longest day of the year.  Yep, dark days are ahead, folks – the days will only get shorter from here until the winter solstice in December.

For thousands of years, people who live in parts of the world where it is noticeable (i.e. somewhere away from the equator) have celebrated the solstice and come up with innovative ways to measure and predict the exact day and time it will occur.  Many cultures still hold celebrations, both religious and secular, on this amazingly long day of sunlight.

If you are having some kind of summer solstice celebration, enjoy!  And if not, here are some videos to enjoy instead:

 

 

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Filed under Geek parenting resources, Geeking out

Not Sorry!

I’m still working on not being one of those women who apologizes all the time.  Being in the military has been very good for helping break the habit, but I still do it.  I am guilty of pretty much every scenario in this video.

I am also terrible at saying “no” and calling people out when I’m uncomfortable.  But I try.  And I will continue to try even harder because I don’t want my daughter picking up on my bad habits.  As she grows up, I want her to stay the strong, independent, opinionated, and feisty girl she already is.  I want her to learn that “sorry” is a powerful word to be used when you actually hurt someone or something, and not to be used as awkward filler material when you’re not truly sorry at all.  And it certainly shouldn’t be used in the self-deprecating way that women frequently use it.

What’s the big deal with saying “sorry?”  When we say it without having done anything wrong, it weakens us.  It takes away what little power we have.  When a guy bumps into me and I’m the one who says “sorry” it sends the message that he can irritate or possibly hurt me (or at the very least be rude) and not only get away with it, but I’ll even think it’s my own fault!  Or at least I’m trying so hard to keep the peace and be polite and submissive that I’ll apologize for just about anything.

One of the good examples I look at for how to break the habit is the Liaden culture in one of my favorite sci-fi series of books.  Written by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, the Liaden people detest and discourage apologizing – they will express regret, make amends, or take revenge as needed (achieving balance, as they call it), but they don’t say sorry.  It’s even considered rude to do so – it’s something that puts a burden on the person you are saying sorry to.  The Liaden universe is one of my favorites to escape to, in part because the people are polite and firm and the women are so very strong.

Are you a chronic apologizer?  How do you work to stand up for yourself and break the habit?

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Filed under Equality, Opinion pieces