My, how the time has passed

Just thought I’d post a little something to say “I’m still here!” …I’m working on a post about the recent John Tierney column in the NYTimes on women in science, and I hope to have it up soon. In the meantime, I wanted to comment on the New Yorker cover with Barack and Michelle Obama – it seems to have upset many people. I’m not really sure what everyone is so bothered about – I thought it was funny.

So…time’s been passing – and I’ve been working. Playing with liquid nitrogen, teaching 10th graders about chemistry (with squishy and mushy materials like silly putty and home-made viscoelastic slime and personal care products like shampoo, hair gel, and lotion), occasionally analyzing nuggets of data, reading about things going on in the comics industry (T! relates to it), and talking and learning about business. I’ve found all of this to be on the whole enjoyable work, and that makes me happy. :-)

Meanwhile, it’s been unbelievably hot in NYC! So hot, in fact, that the living room is regularly 92 degrees after having left the AC off over night, and during the day while the AC is working at full capacity it maybe brings the room down to 85. Yummy. Sticky. Unfun.

But it’s not all work…on Friday night I had the extreme pleasure of watching one of my oldest and best friends play Musetta in the Brooklyn-Queens Conservatory of Music’s Summer Opera production of La Boheme. In the second act, the character Musetta gets to control the stage, and my did she! She was amazing, and I got chills. Especially notable since we were in an AC-free high school auditorium that must have been a sweltering 90 something degrees. We all felt for the characters in the winter scenes with coats, sweatshirts, and scarves on!

I’ve also been playing World of Warcraft with my husband. For hours. Giliane and Argore ready to bomb demons

Partially because it’s fun, and partially because it’s the only entertainment that fits in our budget right now (at the amount of hours we play, it’s less than $1/hour of entertainment). And taking walks with the hubby! To get outside! Where there’s air, and exercise to be had!

And finally, I’ve been thinking about babies. Cute, cuddly, babies. Can’t wait for the family I’ve been working for with the 4 month old to get back from Israel so I can go play with him again!

NY Comic Con

Well I spent a good part of Friday and Saturday at my first ever geek convention…the NY Comic Con!  I had such a great time, and learned a lot about comics and cartoon art and graphic novels and manga and women in comics and webcomics and games games games.  Husband and I went to lots of great panels, got lots of great free giveaways, and had a great time exploring the exhibit floor and seeing what’s coming out soon and what’s hot now in the world of comics, cartoon art, games, and cartoon merchandise!  It was so much fun especially just to be around all these people totally dressed up in costumes and having a great time and just being themselves and unashamed of it.  What fun!

More meh

Yawn. Husband is asleep – he’s been sleeping so poorly lately I’m just glad he’s asleep at all, even though he fell asleep at like 7 pm. I’m feeling stressed and down again. Things are a little better; there’s not so much going on, but I just feel meh. I have a cold – Husband and I got the same one but of course he’s all better and I’m still coughing so much it gives me a headache. I’m tired but I don’t feel like going to sleep – because I feel discontent and I wish to right that before bed. You know what I mean? I just feel so….eh.

I only have one more week of classes, so that’s great. And just one final. So I should be ok, really. But I’m nervous – I just want to take a break and play video games. I want the new game, Rockband, really strongly. I played it over Thanksgiving and then again last week at a friend’s house, and I really want our own copy, so that I can practice different things and spend time making my character look the way I want, and read the flavor text and just take my time with it and with trying to get better at the drums and vocals. I really like the drums, it’s very fun to play them, and that is one of the bigger additions over the already existing and quite popular Guitar Hero games. Husband wants Guitar Hero III as well. We don’t own any Guitar Hero games, and Rockband is expensive. But I think we will get it for Christmas – if not from someone else than we will buy it for ourselves as a treat. Husband is supposed to get two checks this week which will help us out a lot this month, and then he should be turning in another bill soon. So I think we can afford to treat ourselves to a new toy – we’ve just been so rundown and tired of the same food and things and no opportunities to go out, it will be really nice to be able to play Rockband together and have our own band go on a tour and try to gain new fans and make money. :-D

Childhood fun for a scientist

My dad forwarded me this post from a DIY tech blog called Hacked Gadgets.  It shows videos of “The Incredible Machine” creations, based on the computer games.  I found the video amusing, but mostly it reminded me of the game, which I used to play as a kid.  Now I miss the game and I want to play it again!  Maybe I’ll check out the most recent version, which is now 6 years old.  To me, this is proof that computer gaming isn’t all wasted time; I played this in my free time as a kid for fun, and when we have kids, I intend to encourage computer games as one resource for learning and practicing skills such as logic, management, and strategy.

Here is a blurb about the game from the wikipedia page:

The Incredible Machine (aka TIM) is a series of computer games that were originally designed and coded by Kevin Ryan and produced by Jeff Tunnell, the now-defunct Jeff Tunnell Productions, and published by Dynamix; the 1993 through 1995 versions had the same development team, but the later 2000–2001 titles had different designers. All versions were published by Sierra Entertainment.

The general objective of the games is to create a series of Rube Goldberg devices: arrange a given collection of objects in a needlessly complex fashion so as to perform some simple task (for example, “put the ball into a box” or “light a candle”). Available objects ranged from simple ropes and pulleys to electrical generators, bowling balls and even cats and mice. The levels usually have some fixed objects that cannot be moved by the player, and so the only way to solve the puzzle is carefully arrange the given objects around the fixed items. There is also a “freeform” option that allows the user to “play” with all the objects with no set goal or to also build their own puzzles with goals for other players to attempt to solve.

Small steps

Well, the semester is going, and I’m only in two classes, but still I’m having a bit of a hard time with it. Both classes are not in my own department but rather are in a related department; the material covered in one of the classes is a basis for a method I use in my research and thus is very important to me. The other class is a more general overview which will include the specific technique that I use, but much of the material isn’t too related to my work or what I plan to do.

I don’t regret being in these classes, but in both I am the only person from my department in them, and I feel as though I have a very different skillset to start than the rest of the class. Also I don’t know anybody in these classes either, which doesn’t help. They have regular problem sets due each week and I feel like I’m still stuck at the beginning of the learning curve.

It just feels pretty foreign to be in these classes, and I’ve got so many things going on in the other parts of my work and life, and I just feel tired and slow and I’m not always sure what I’m doing here. I’m feeling a bit depressed again, I think….dull, I believe, is a good way to say it. It’s like my feelings and emotions and excitements are all dulled – the only thing I feel sharply is sadness and sorrow, even though I can’t often articulate why. Part of me feels overwhelmed by the classes. Part of me is stressed over money. Part of me yearns stronger than ever to have a baby, so much so that combined with my other stresses, fantasies of quitting school and having a baby and staying home with the kid have returned. I barely have time to write stuff here, and I miss it, because I see my writing as me-time, self-reflection time. But when I’m home all I can bring myself to do mostly is play my new favorite game, MySims. ….well, such is the way I am.

I am proud about one thing though – I missed some classes this week becaus I just wanted to stay home in bed. But the good thing is, the sign of improvement, is that afterwards I e-mailed the professor, someone who I had introduced myself to but have never taken a class from before, to explain that I suffer from depression and that this week I was rather down and didn’t make it to class. I told him I just wanted him to know why I wasn’t there and that I had downloaded the lecture slides and was going to go through the sample problems done in class. I had been debating whether to send this e-mail or not, but I decided to, and afterwards I was glad I did because he wrote back a friendly response telling me not to worry about it and to stay well.

It’s hard to talk about my depression, especially with virtual strangers that I respect as I do professors, but it’s so much better to just do so, because then I can stop worrying that they think I’m just a major slacker. Still, the fear barrier of “How will they judge me? Is it better to speak, or not to speak?” has often kept me from talking in the past, so I’m really glad I got this out of the way so early in the semester. So, pat on the back for me!

Games I’m looking forward to

Well, it’s one of my favorite events of the year, even though I don’t attend it personally: the E3 convention, the annual gaming convention at which game developers share exciting bits of their upcoming games.  I just wanted to share some of the games I’m looking forward to:

  • SimCity SocietiesThe Sims and The Sims 2 have been some of my favorite games of all time, and I also love SimCity.  We have SimCity 4 with the Rush Hour expansion, and it’s quite fun.  Societies looks like it will be good, with the new ability to decide what to focus your town on – you don’t have to make the people like you.  You can be a green city, or totalitarian society, or a wealth-oriented city, and others in between.  Picking what to focus on and what kind of society to build reminds me of playing Civilization, one of my other favorites, but it will have similar city building and strategy/managing components to the other SimCity games.  Sounds good to me!
  • Wii Fit.  Husband and I have a Wii, and we love that it tires us out when we play Wii sports.  I think Wii Fit sounds pretty great – especially since I like balancing exercises and other toning and cardio work that it seems like it would be perfect for.
  • Starcraft II.  I didn’t ever play Starcraft, but I did play Warcraft III before I played World of Warcraft, and I’m definitely a Blizzard fan, in particular with strategy games.  This one looks like it’ll be good!
  • Spore. I may have mentioned this before, but I’ve been excited about Spore for a long time, and like so much of the rest of the gaming world, have been eagerly anticipating it even as it’s release date gets pushed further and further back.

Heck, I could write about more, but that’s enough for now, isn’t it?  I’m off to do some work and then to watch Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix tonight.  Yay Harry!

Voice Chat and Race in WoW

I find these articles on Wired by Clive Thompson to be really fascinating. First, I read the article on voice chat in online games. As I’ve mentioned previously, I play World of Warcraft. I have certainly been in groups and guilds where they requested that I download Ventrilo or Teamspeak and use that to communicate over voice chat instead of typing. I always, always resist this, and I found this article interesting, to see that I am not alone. Until a few months ago, I did not play as a serious role-playing character on a role-play server, but I always found immersion into the game world to be important, and I feel that voice chat really takes me out of that. Not only that, but I know that one of the reasons I resist is because I like the anonymity of text chat. Thompson writes:

I had just experienced the latest culture-shock in online worlds: The advent of voice. Games that were governed by text are now being governed by chat, and it is subtly changing the feel of our virtual universe.

There are good reasons why so many multiplayer online games are launching with voice-chat software. Partly it’s to welcome newbies, who often find that old-school text-chat is simply too complicated. Also, voice chat makes pell-mell action easier to handle: If you’re running a guild raid with 50 people, it’s much easier to bark orders than to type them out (which is why voice chat has long been popular on first-person shooters on Xbox Live).

But many players are now discovering that voice tweaks the social environment — and sometimes kills off part of what made their favorite world so much fun.

After all, one of the great things about virtual worlds was that they were, well, virtual. You could adopt a brand-new persona, and leave your dull, dreary existence behind. Outside are the suburbs and your shift at Chick-fil-A; online is a land of snowcapped mountains where you sit astride a cat-like mount, while stars rain around you.

This lovely shift in identity was true even if you weren’t a hard-core “role player.” When I log on to World of Warcraft, I don’t try to seriously pretend I’m a medieval person. I happily text-chat with fellow players about 21st century stuff like music, Lost, our jobs. But somehow this social activity never breaks the “magic circle” of the game, the sense that we’re in a different place with different rules. Maybe it’s because text-chat is inherently abstract; it’s something that happens in our heads, in a sort of ludological backchannel of our minds.

He really hits this on the head for me. For one, I am a 23 year old female, and I know that when I speak on voice chat it becomes clear. Even though I play female characters, since many males play females avatars as well, people don’t always assume I am really female. In addition I could be middle-aged, or a kid, or something else that’s not as sexy. Now I’m not saying I have a sexy voice, but I usually feel more comfortable in this online male dominated world without sharing the details of my person and personality that voice chat shares. Apparently I’m not alone in this feeling:

This is particularly a problem for women, because often women thrive in MMOs precisely by downplaying their sexual identity. When Krista-Lee Malone, a student at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, did a study of the impact of voice chat on online worlds, women all told her they were treated differently once other players — particularly younger men — could hear their voices. (“They got hit on a lot,” Malone says.)

Nowadays, I also seriously role-play, so to me voice chat is out of the question unless everyone wants to stay in character over chat. But another reason that I know I resist is because of my own biases. I am such an extreme liberal, and one of the problem with everyday chat instead of only RP (role-play) chat in the game is that discussion often turns to elements of pop culture or politics that I don’t want to discuss with these random people. It’s often challenging for me, and since World of Warcraft is supposed to be a leisure time activity, I don’t want that discussion in there. When we add voice chat, all of a sudden issues are added: I can tell if the person is from the south, or it turns out that it wasn’t just typos but poor English (which doesn’t bother me from foreigners but does somewhat, I admit, from American-born adults, since it implies lack of education). Now, I have family from the south, so I’m not particularly biased against people from that region of the country. As a complete leftist, as a person more liberal than most democrats, I worry that the likelihood that such a person will have politics and beliefs that I not only disagree with but am infuriated by (because I see them as causing unnecessary pain and difficulty for so many people), is a bit high. So I’d rather not know what part of the country you are from, wheter you are a college student, a well-educated career person, or a member of the military. In the article, Thompson mentions how so much identity is shared by the addition of voice:

But voice has much higher emotional bandwidth. It conveys a lot of identity: Your voice instantly transmits your age, your gender and often your nationality — even your regional location too. (I can tell a Texan accent from a Minnesotan, and you can probably tell I’m Canadian by my nasal “oots.”) With voice, the real world is honking in your ear.

I have more to write about the article on voice and race in fantasy games, but I need to run to go babysit this morning. Sorry about the lack of conclusion to my discussion!

Ok, I’m back. I posted this already this morning, but I’d like to add to it, and I changed a bit of my last paragraph to better clarify what I feel about this.

So I sometimes don’t like to admit that I have my own biases, particularly against conservatives in America, and religious believers. I do my best to temper them, because I know some conservatives and religious believers who are good people – in fact almost all of them are at least motivated by the desire to do good, but in my mind, they just get it so plain wrong that it’s hard not to fault them for not seeing the pain they are causing to people who are different from them.

The same author, Clive Thompson, also wrote an article on race in virtual worlds. It’s a pretty interesting article, and I have one comment on my own instinctive feeling about race in World of Warcraft, and pretty much all the other fantasy worlds. This thought sums it up: “Humans? Ugh.” I had always explained it as the idea that if I’m going to be in a fantasy world, why would I want to be a race I already am when I could pretend to be a cute little gnome or an ethnically interesting troll, a noble orc or an nature-loving night elf?

Thompson writes:

Except that races inside games often seem to reflect, in a creepy way, some of our most regrettable biases about race in real life. For example, when World of Warcraft first came out, players were amused, stunned or both to discover that the evil trolls spoke in … Jamaican accents. Aaron Delwiche, a game academic at Trinity University, asked his student Beth Cox to analyze all the “emotes” in World of Warcraft — the spoken greetings or hand gestures Blizzard pre-programmed into each race. She found that Trolls were “disproportionately more likely to make violent or sexual statements,” Delwiche notes. (Some of their sentences were even scripted in Ebonics: “You going to axe me out?” says the female Troll when you hit the “flirt” command.) In the same way, the “good” alliance characters tended to employ Western, Christian-like symbols, while the evil horde had totems and shamanistic magic. “Clearly, there’s something interesting happening there, and it’s not just coincidence,” Delwiche adds.

There’s evidence, too, that players bring their own racial biases into the game. When Nick Yee, a game academic at Stanford University, polled World of Warcraft players in 2005, he found that while there were nine possible races to choose from, a significant majority — more than half of women and almost half of men — chose to play as the two most “white-looking” and “pretty” races in the game: Humans and elves.

This is interesting to me for two reasons. One is that the trolls’Jamaican accents seemed fun and natural to me, because trolls (In Tolkien-esque worlds) are from tropical jungles, and I associate a Jamaican accent with being from a warm place. The bigger thing though is that it’s made me realize that perhaps my instinctual dislike of human characters in the fantasy world is related to my repugnance of many aspects of Western culture. I see humans more as greedy than noble, and I’d rather be a gnome. At least they are good at science.

My new elite mount!

My new elite mount!, originally uploaded by Flicka Mawa.

So yesterday I made some significant progress in the world of my alter ego, a gnome mage who tirelessly adventures across the lands of azeroth and outland to help all those in need and to fight against the onslaught of the burning legion.  She particularly likes to assist the scientific endeavors of the Cenarion Expedition.  She finally got an elite mount, which runs much faster than the standard style, but costs a whole crapload more.  It came with red detail painting, headlight and rear lights, and even a rear view mirror. Now she’s riding in style!

What I did for a while today

First, I babysat two adorable kids, the ones I mentioned before for a few hours. I’m getting much better at putting baby to sleep, and baby goes down without much crying now. I hold him and dance a little while singing, until he is sleepy enough to rest his head on my bosom. Then I put him in the crib, and he goes right to sleep without any tears. It’s so nice! But he still cries when he wakes up to find me instead of his momma – he’s right at the age where separation anxiety begins.

Then, I played World of Warcraft. Thought I’d share some pictures:

Giliane meets Shattrath City’s guards

Paris Hilton is made fun of in WoW