Tag Archives: STEM

#DetCon1 Highlights so far

I really, really appreciate how supportive of the military Baen books is.  I know they have a program for sending boxes of books to deployed troops, but was very surprised when they kicked off their roadshow by asking anyone active duty to come up and grab a free book.  Then they invited reservists, veterans, schoolteachers, first responders, and librarians.  It gave me a warm fuzzy.  And of course I enjoyed getting to see all their new books, new covers, etc.  I wish Tor was here doing the same!

The “Designing Military Spacecraft” panel yesterday was simply awesome.  We had a highly capable moderator, a very interesting mix of panelist backgrounds, and an enthusiastic audience that gave us some great questions to work with.  Best panel I have been on, and I hope I can do as well with my two panels today: “Women in STEM” at 2:00 and “Military SF” at 7:00, just before the awards ceremony and masquerade, followed by ’80s dance with John Scalzi as DJ.  I can already tell this  evening will be epic.

The best panel I have been an audience member so far was yesterday’s “Gender Roles in Genre Fiction.”  The panel discussed the past and current limitations on gender roles, and ripped apart some of the most damaging tropes out there (rape as a plot device or character-defining feature, the one strong woman who stands out among a society of weak and suppressed women).  Jim Hines made me want to hug him for his righteous indignation and rage over how often and how horribly these tropes are used.

They also talked about who isn’t well-represented in the currently conservative mainstream market (strong men who don’t have to show that strength with violence, minorities and people of color, and LGBT characters, to name a few).   Overall a great panel and I walked away with some new book recommendations to check out and hopefully find something new and different.

Due to our kid-free status at this con, this is the first time I’ve been able to check out the late-night con party scene.  About what I expected, except I actually had fun.  Normally I’m way too antisocial and awkward for that and end up bored and/or terrified in a corner, but I am among my people here.  Meaning it doesn’t matter if I can’t dance and don’t fit the mainstream media’s definition of pretty.  Rather, I found people who appreciated my Uhura impression, walked around showing off their lovingly and carefully made costumes. and didn’t care what anyone thought of their dancing.

At the Helsinki in 2017 bid party I enjoyed their spread of Finnish food and beverages, spent a few minutes mesmerized by the club lights at the Barfleet party, and observed the fireworks after the Tigers came from the 69th floor Con Suite while pigging out on cheese and crackers.  Fireworks viewed from above are awfully cool.

Ok, enough writing, I am off to hunt down breakfast and more panels to attend.

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Geekness Day with #SingleHopGeeks

Apparently I’m kind of a failure as a geek because I didn’t even know there was such thing as Embrace Your Geekness Day, which is July 13th (not to be confused with Geek Pride day on May 25th, by the way).  But since a very nice lady from SingleHop was cool enough to ask me to do some interview questions to celebrate Geekness Day, well, now I know.  And the more you know

I do think we’re probably starting to take this new multitude of made-up holidays a little far.  Like is there a “Cats on the Internet” day yet?  There seems to be one for just about everything now.  But in the spirit of fun, here we go with the questions.

1.    What makes you a geek?

I’ve been in love with space and SF&F (books, TV, and movies) since I was a kid.  My dad pretty much raised us on SF&F – to the level of bringing us along to Star Trek conventions from the tender age of seven or so.   We were always encouraged to help ourselves to anything on the many bookshelves around the house, and my mom took us to the library at least once a week to restock.  Let’s just say my love of books is very well rooted.

I’ve always been huge space enthusiast, other than a brief stint around age five when I, for some strange reason I can no longer remember, wanted to be a dentist.  Now I have masters in both Aerospace Engineering and Space Studies.  I may never get to be an astronaut, but maybe if I’m a successful enough engineer I can afford that ticket on Virgin Galactic someday!

I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to marry a fellow geek, and now we are those people who decorated our daughter’s nursery with a space theme. I will probably embarrass her horribly when she’s a teenager by wearing a Kaylee costume in public or showing people the pictures of her dressed as GIR for Halloween (her request!).

2.    What is your proudest geek moment?

Every time I am able to participate in STEM outreach events of any kind.  Whether it’s being part of a SeaPerch competition or sitting on a “Women in STEM” panel at a con, I love getting to be an advocate for STEM education and let kids – girls especially – know that STEM fields are not only really cool, but well within their reach if they work hard and ignore the haters.

Also, memorizing the Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

3.    What is your geek motto/favorite geek quote?

Laugh it up, fuzzball.

4.    Who is your geek role model?

Anyone who likes what they geek out about enough to be vocal/visual about it in public.  It takes a special, brave kind of person to dress up in costume or tell the whole world that they love something geeky and why.

5.    Which SingleHopper geek do you most relate to? Why?

Is it bad if I admit I had never heard of SingleHop before?  I am apparently failing at all kinds of geek stuff today!

6.    How familiar are you with SingleHop’s product offerings (dedicated servers, private cloud hosting, managed hosting, etc.)?

See above.

7.    Anything else you think we should know?

These questions made me think of the days of those email surveys we young people all sent around to each other in the heydey of AOL.  Oops, did I just date myself?

Share your answers to these questions in the comments if you like!

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Review of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

Ok, finally managed to get through the episode – it was worth waiting until I could get through it all with my daughter, as she sat totally transfixed in my lap to watch it.

Overall, I enjoyed it.  They have updated the show from the Sagan years with modern CG, and the graphics and music are lovely.   It’s more basic than most adults with any kind of STEM enthusiasm or background need, but far more advanced than some really, really bad STEM-related shows in recent years (I’m looking at you and your oversimplification, The Planets).  It’s not overly simplistic, but presented in a way that’s accessible to everyone, which is exactly the point of a mainstream science show.  I think they found a nice balance – at least in the first episode.

Also, I’m not going to complain at all that a science show is on Fox.  I appreciate how great that is!  It doesn’t begin to make up for canceling Firefly or any of their other terrible decisions, but it shows that maybe, just maybe, they’re taking a step in the right direction.  So, on to the review, of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I liked the ‘cosmic address’ analogy that Neil deGrasse Tyson used to describe how to locate Earth in the Universe.  It works for those who are used to mailing addresses, but also for the younger crowd who speak in IP addresses.

DidI mention the graphics and music?  Boy, we’ve come a long way in computer graphics and animation in the last few decades.  Love it.  They also did a great mix of what is clearly real satellite imagery (I recognized a few famous Hubble shots in there) and computer-generated.  This is a very visually-appealing show.

It can keep the interest of both an adult aerospace engineer and a 3-year-old.  That’s a tough thing to pull off.  My daughter’s main concerns where whether Neil de Grasse Tyson was harmed in the filming of the Big Bang scene, and what exactly happened to the dinosaurs.  Luckily, she didn’t really understand the scene with The Inquisition.

The ‘Cosmic Calendar’ they used to show the scale of the age of the universe was very well done.  It really helped break something that enormous into chunks small enough to wrap the human brain around.

The personal story of Neil deGrasse Tyson meeting and being inspired by Carl Sagan was also a very nice touch.  Adding the current human interest element to stories that can sometimes feel impersonal – like the forming of galaxies and a long-ago story of an early astronomer – helps attract and keep a modern audience.

All that said, what was up with the weird little spaceship thing that flew around in a lot of the space scenes?  It looks a lot like the a bottle opener I have.  I also took issue with the ‘blowing clouds of cosmic dust’ or whatever that was supposed to be that Voyager seemed to be flying through – which is the kind of thing would have demolished the poor satellite decades ago.

The caption is “The Ship of the Imagination, free from the shackles of space and time, can go anywhere.” But the ship is seriously weird-looking. From: http://www.cosmosontv.com/photos/album/standing-up-in-the-milky-way

My OXO bottle opener looks suspiciously like the "spaceship of the imagination"

My OXO bottle opener looks suspiciously like the “ship of the imagination”

The weird cartoon of Bruno’s story with cheesy accents and creepy arrow-shooting cherubs.  And then flying through space scenes with cape and hair waving in the wind.  Just plain bizarre.  Also, the whole thing was a little too drawn out and dramatized with the name-calling and book-throwing and flashes to shots of torture instruments.

The good in this show far outweighed the bad.  I like the new Cosmos, and I really, really hope it doesn’t become another reason I have to buy one of those “I’d rather be watching shows canceled by Fox” t-shirts.  Fingers crossed.

What did you think of it?  How does it compare with your memories of the original?  Will you continue to watch?

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I Love it When STEM Outreach Makes the News

My best friend from college was recently part of a STEM workshop for middle school girls, and it made the Washington Post.  I’m excited for all the events they did at the workshop, the enthusiastic response of the girls who participated, and that a major newspaper took notice.  Also, I’m jealous of the really cool projects they did, which included building artificial hearts from rubber tubing, launching straw rockets, and a workshop on combating bioterrorism.  Definitely time for me to go work another STEM outreach event – I want to play, too!

The full article is here.

Have you ever been to a STEM workshop or outreach event?  What did you think of it?

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STEM Female Role Model Spotlight: Valentina Tereshkova, First Woman in Space

Valentina Tereshkova, First Woman in Space. Photo from http://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/Images/StarChild/scientists/tereshkova_l2.jpg

A pet peeve of mine is when someone calls Alan Shepard the first man in space, or Sally Ride the first woman in space.  While they were the first American man and woman in space, respectively, and we are very, very proud of them, those are firsts we didn’t actually have the distinction of winning in the space race.  We had many amazing firsts, but not those two.  And when it came to putting a woman in space, we weren’t first by a long shot.  While Yuri Gagarin’s historic first flight was only a little bit ahead of Alan Shepard’s, Sally Ride didn’t fly in space until a full 20 years after the first Soviet woman did.  So much for our superior equality and women’s rights here, right?

Last summer was the 50th anniversary of Valentina Tereshkova’s spaceflight.  She became the first woman in space on June 13, 1963.  Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983.  Thats two entire decades plus a few days apart.  We like to think we are the most equal and progressive country in the world, but a lot of times we fall short of that distinction – women in space, women in the top government position, paid maternity leave… these are all areas where we are nowhere near being the world leaders, but with just a little concerted effort we definitely could be.

The Soviets (now Russians) have been far from perfect in the track record of cosmonaut equality, though.  After Valentina Tereshkova’s flight, they didn’t launch another female cosmonaut until Svetslana Savitskaya in 1982.  And they have had only a total of three women in space to our forty-odd.  But at least they gave one woman a chance early on, unlike in the U.S. space program (the women who very nearly made it to space in the U.S. in the early days, the Mercury 13, will be another post).

To date, just slightly over 10% of all astronauts and cosmonauts in the world have been women, but the numbers are creeping up.  The U.S. is doing particularly well in this arena lately – we went from having zero women in the first astronaut candidate class, to 50% of the most recent astronaut candidate class (4 of 8 selected).

But back to today’s role model.  The daughter of a textile worker mother and tractor driver father, Valentina Tereshkova had limited formal education, attending school only from the age of eight until leaving school to join the work force and take correspondence courses at age seventeen.  Her father went missing in the Sino-Russian war, so she and her two siblings were raised by a single mother.  Valentina was working at a textile mill when she was picked up for the cosmonaut program – not for her prowess in academics or her field, but because of her hobby as an amateur parachutist.  She learned to parachute with a local aviation club that was an auxiliary of the Soviet Air Force.

One of four women selected for Nikita Khrushchev’s “Women in Space” program, she was the only one chosen to actually launch.  Unfortunately, the program mainly existed for the purpose of putting a woman in space before the Americans – little did they know that, sadly, the Americans weren’t even trying to put a woman in space at that point, as the early women’s astronaut program in the U.S. was  actually quietly being canceled.

Since the Vostok’s systems were largely automated and it was chiefly a political stunt, the key criteria for female cosmonauts were parachute experience, ‘likeability’, and having nothing embarrassing or offensive in their records.  Since Valentina was already a leader in her communist youth organization and free of any scandals, she beat out candidates with more education and broader, more applicable experience, such as engineering or test pilot backgrounds.

Valentina Tereshkova’s flight on Voshtok 6 was just shy of 71 hours in duration, long enough to orbit the Earth 48 times.  Accounts of what happened on the flight vary – the public, propaganda version is that the flight was a resounding success and Valentina Tereshkova was a true Soviet hero.  Several prominent party officials later wrote in various memoirs and accounts that she had an emotional breakdown or otherwise failed to complete her mission.  Valentina did not get to give her own side of the story until 2007.  Her account said that the automatic systems were set up incorrectly and she had to override them, the orientation system being 90 degrees off.  That would have sent her off into death in space rather than inserting into the proper re-entry orbit.  Instead, she managed to bring herself and her spacecraft safely back with nothing more than a bruised nose from a hard landing.

Whatever actually happened – and I’m much more inclined to go with her own account than those of propagandists and Soviet-era party leaders – she was able to successfully launch, spend three days in space, and return to Earth in one piece, so I call that a tremendous success.

After her return, there were several party members who tried to start rumors and discredit her.  There were grumblings that any woman who flew was taking a place away from a man.  The female cosmonaut program quietly went away.  Valentina married a fellow cosmonaut – was pressured to marry the one bachelor cosmonaut, in fact – and they had a daughter.  The three were frequently paraded around as the “space family” but it fell apart after a few years and she eventually married Yuliy Shaposhnikov, her partner until his death in 1999.

She went on to complete a graduate degree in engineering and became a pilot and instructor, but never flew in space again, despite her best efforts.  She tried to get back into space when the female cosmonaut program was revived to once again rival the Americans, when word got out that women were beginning training as NASA astronauts in the late 1970s.

Valentina’s career after her flight was spent mainly as a prominent communist party politician and as an activist, making public appearances and working for various organizations to support women’s rights, science, spaceflight, and orphanages, and she even served on the World Peace Council.  She is still active in the Russian government, and has expressed an interest in joining the Mars One program and returning to space as a one-way Mars colonist.  Most recently, she was a flag-bearer in the Sochi Olympics.  Her awards are too many to list here.  Please see the sources below for more information.

Today’s STEM female role model is unique in that she didn’t start out as someone in a STEM field at all.  The fact that a young textile worker with little schooling and a passion for parachuting could become the first woman in space, a pilot, a prominent global politician, activist for women’s rights, pilot, wife, mother, grandmother, and engineer is inspiring.  But the most impressive thing, in my mind, is that even at age 76 she is still dreaming of going to space, and still busy following her many passions.










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