Feb. 5th, 2015 11:49 am
shermarama: (bright light)
In other news, I've got an email here from an enthusiastic recruiter wanting to know some more specifics about my experience, for a job at a company making lithography machines. It sounds like an interesting company and the sort of thing I can do but the email's been sitting around for days unanswered because, well, basically because winter. I was having a good day the day I went and met that agent in person, the sort of day where I reckon I can deal with it with proper use of the daylight lamp and lots of exercise and maybe taking all the year's holidays in December and January, but it's been getting worse since. (I don't know exactly why, but perhaps because Marseille was sunny but thoroughly cold, and also isolating, more so than here, when there on a temporary basis anyway.) So never mind what happens next winter, I don't have the energy / brain-power to tackle that job *now*. Or do anything about getting a job anywhere, which leaves me stuck here in the cold and dark, unable to get up before about 10am and finding it quite difficult to not cry about stupid stuff when I do. Still, hey, it snowed here overnight, and I need to get some food in, so I can go out and walk in it and that'll be a useful *and* effective way to spend another hour ignoring the bigger questions that have needed tackling for months.

(No, okay, somebody I know linked to this SMBC comic, which talks about having several lifetimes in one life, the transitions between phases where we're doing different things. Makes a lot of sense to me, and I could point to the technician years as one lifetime, and the studying / PhD years as another, but then I can't tell where I am right now, and neither can anyone else, it seems. I thought this was going to be the engineering phase, but I'm still getting job rejections that say things like "I'm looking for someone who is really into the business with a mechanical background in the machinery. In my opinion you have more research experience (maybe even over-educated) than the right working experience for this company" and I have no idea how to counter that; I already use terms like 'hands-on' and 'practical' in my CV, and it doesn't seem helpful to pretend I haven't got the qualifications I've got. And anyway, even apart from that, I'm also getting agents sounding sniffy at me for talking in terms of interesting projects and not super-stable jobs-for-life wow-much-settledness; maybe I'm just not Dutch enough. I have had a bit of a wonder about contracting but apparently I'd need to set up my own company for it, which seems a bit drastic, and a bit like it's not going to work if no-one thinks I'm actually an engineer. The obvious thing to do, the thing it's been obvious to do for months, is to see about getting this CEng certification, but hello winter and absence of brain to write the professional review report with (and also deal with Lely HR / my ex-boss about it) and aaargh what happens if I don't get it? What happens if even they don't think I'm an engineer? Because beyond that my options really start shrinking. So, hey, food shopping, right?)
shermarama: (bright light)
Honestly, it's almost embarrassing. Four nights on a roll mat under a skylight is not only better than a week in a proper bed in the dark end, it fixes its ill effects. Not having light in the morning shouldn't totally negate the effect of the several hours of sleep before it, should it? And yet there I was on Friday, doing the walk and everything - you know the zonked walk, when it's stupid o'clock and you really need to get home and sleep but there's no public transport running (and you consider taxis to be, in general, something that happens to other people, with more money than you) so you just shamble along, content that at least you'll get there eventually but desperate to dissociate your conscious self from the experience? Like that. That's how I walked to the station on Friday morning, because I knew I needed to get to the station even if I knew nothing else. It's ridiculous.

At the same time, it's nice to have a relatively clear experimental indicator of the problem. I can see dawn simulator lamps in my future. That or just moving to the regular dawns of the tropics, anyway.
shermarama: (bright light)
The 15th of October to the 26th of February. That's the period during which the angle of the noon-day sun in Rotterdam never reaches 29.7 degrees, which is the zenith angle of the sun on the shortest day of the year in Auckland. That whole four-plus-month period, in terms of solar efficacy, never exists in Auckland. This photo of long shadows at midday, the sun struggling to make 20 degrees in November, can't be taken there. Which makes me wonder if this photo, from the second-shortest day of the year and in which I look like I've been punched in the face, couldn't be taken there either. Just a thought.

(And, a quick go at the New Zealand immigration points checker suggests I get enough to be able to just move there, regardless of whether I've got a job lined up. Also a thought.)
shermarama: (bright light)
I was thinking of doing something about the changing skyline of Rotterdam today, but since the weather really wasn't suitable, I went shopping instead.

Bij de markt )
shermarama: (bright light)
Is there such a thing as a consulting feminist? Because I feel like I need to talk to one, on how I got to where I am, and where indeed I actually am, on gender issues. I don't spend a lot of time reading around the topic, and I'm not likely to either, but things come up where I find my experiences of being female, and of being a female that does science and engineering in particular, to be different to other people's experiences. I never felt I had to see a woman playing the drums before I thought I could, or had to re-imagine myself male in order to see myself doing it; the same with science. And I understand other people do, and I don't know why, and I'd like to. Although, I can get right behind a campaign to produce a fairer balance of female characters as role models in children's TV; I suspect I'd like to see a fairer balance of characters so that men are less surprised when women show up doing something. (I'm familiar with that surprise, and it can be a bit tedious at times, but that's about as bad as it's ever been, for me. Energy-consuming but not an actual impediment.)

A couple of times recently in conversations about this sort of thing, people have mentioned my size. It feels plausible to me that it's a factor; several women I know recently agreed that they recognised a description of lava-balling, men spreading their legs unnecessarily widely on public transport, while I didn't. Do men not do it to me because I'm large, or do I think about it differently due to my own experiences of trying to fit in the small amount of space you get allocated on public transport? But while size might have an influence, it can't cover everything. It can't cover whether or not I get an interview on the basis of having a woman's name on my CV which, I dunno, looking back maybe I did suffer from that in the Australia jobs I didn't get interviews for? I'd just assumed they had internal candidates they wanted to put in place, and I don't know how I'd ever know the difference. My name hasn't stopped me getting plenty of other science and engineering jobs, including pretty much every one I've ever had an interview for; have they all just been relieved to see my size when they meet me?

When I was eight, my Sindy doll had a sword and shield that I'd made for her because she was a warrior Sindy, but she still wore a ballerina dress at the same time because, well, that's what clothes she had. It didn't seem wrong to me then, but I can see now how it doesn't fit in the boxes we're told are right. When did I learn about the boxes? Did I know about them then and ignore them? Why have I continued to exempt myself from the pressures of those boxes relatively easily? Is it just because I don't fit in either men's or women's clothes easily, so have had to find a sort of third way? (Even I hadn't started having that problem when I was eight, though.) Why is it that I sometimes do feel those pressures, though? Several times I've taken some pains to find or make a dress or skirt to wear when attending a wedding, even though I literally never wear them for any other part of my life that isn't fancy dress.

And whenever I try to write down anything about this and I just keep coming up with rambling interconnected anecdata along the same uninformed lines. I had a trial singing lesson yesterday, and I got a lot of information very quickly from just talking to someone who had a sense of the shape of the field, of what the options were and how I might fit into them. I suspect the same sort of expert help might answer a lot of the questions I have about where I stand in the world of gender. But it just feels like far too large and complicated a field, full of conflicting theory and a whole lot of bullshit, for there ever really to be any experts, as opposed to people with particularly vocal opinions. And as for getting to grips with the field myself... Yeah. I suppose I just carry on making the trousers and try not to get involved in arguments, which just feels a bit useless. Ho-hum.


Jun. 25th, 2013 09:09 pm
shermarama: (bright light)
I'm trying to work out what to do about going to see Clutch. They've cancelled a chunk of their European tour, including both the gigs in the Netherlands. There's one in Bremen I was hoping to go to instead, but it's sold out. That leaves:

  • a festival in Münster, where they're on for an hour at 1am

  • four gigs in the UK, but all on weekdays therefore requiring 2 days off, plus, UK: sorry, but I've been there a lot

  • a Sunday night in Luxembourg, but I just went there a few weeks ago, so no fun going again right now

  • Saturday night in Thessaloniki, Sunday night in Athens. That means plane not train, but I'm sort of thinking, I've never been to Greece...

  • And yet, a Thursday night in Gothenburg, which means 2 days off and a plane too, and it's a festival, but it's a warm-up day so they're sort of headlining it, and on after Motorhead...

The rational thing to do is, well, not to bother going seeing them at all, but failing that, probably London. Or maybe Norwich because I've never been there. But.
shermarama: (bright light)
(Because of course having broken the oh-I-haven't-posted-anything-for-ages barrier I can now stick something short up without having to think about all the other things I was going to put up)

“I’m so glad to meet an engineer,” she enthused, “all the other women I talked to here were in marketing or law or something. I thought it was meant to be about IT.”

Which is the story of a woman who works in computing going to an event designed for school-age girls to meet women who work in IT, which covers one large reason I generally stayed away from all the Women In Science And Engineering events. They were mostly full of women who didn't really do science and engineering. (The other is that I really don't like being told I should socialise, network or otherwise bond with particular people just because we're the same gender, rather than because we've got something that's important to us in common. (Maybe lots of women have 'being a woman' as something important to them?))

I can't remember why I was looking at something involving QMUL's WISE group a few months ago, but I discovered that the main people running it were two sociologists and a sound artist, which, you know, I don't care what technology you use to make sounds, it's still being done for the purposes of art, not science or engineering. Generally in the past if I've wanted to talk to people who were actually enthusiastic about science and engineering, I've talked to other people who are studying it or working in it, not people who enjoy going to events which are based around the sociology of women in science. I don't have a problem with people who have an interest in the sociology of women in science, I'm just not very interested in it myself, or at least much, much less interested in it than I am in actual science. But, I'm really not keen on the people who do that being taken as, because they declare themselves to be, representative of women working in science and technology.

This article, though, makes me wonder if I should start going to events like this after all. If I think these sorts of events ought to go away because their unrepresentative cross-section makes them more of a barrier than an encouragement, perhaps I should make the effort to make them more representative? To break down the barrier and let some girl who's still at school know that it's not all sociologists and lawyers? Or maybe, you know, we should stop telling schoolgirls that women going into science and technology still need specialist support networks to do so?


Mar. 22nd, 2013 10:37 pm
shermarama: (bright light)
I'm back from a week in Tenerife.
- Tenerife is properly warm and sunny, even if it was a bit windy and cloudy at times this week
- Tourist resort Irish pubs are still an abomination, even on St.Patrick's day
- I walked up a shedload of hills, and down even more, and this was awesome
- Various interlocking patches of burn and tan-line mark a week of successful vitamin D generation
- However, the weather in Rotterdam is forecast to remain freezing and dull for another week. NOT ON, ROTTERDAM.
- There will be photos, but only once I'm more together
- Plane journeys with food poisoning. I can really strongly disrecommmend them.
shermarama: (bright light)
03-Jan: Move to Rotterdam
15-Jan or so: Remember that we're supposed to register with the gemeente (local authority) and look up how to do so. Discover we're meant to have done it within 5 days of moving.
16-Jan: Request an appointment at the appropriate office. First appointment available is the 5th of February.
05-Feb: Chris goes to the appointment (I don't because of an important meeting at work that's come up in the intervening period) and fills in all the forms and stuff. He also brings home a copy of the forms for me, which I'm not supposed to be able to fill in at home, but in this case it's allowed.
06-Feb: Forms filled in, Chris drops them in at the office on his way to work.
21-Feb: Get a council services bill in my name, for the old address, from the gemeente back in Amsterdam, passed on by post forwarding.
22-Feb: Chris gets a council services bill in his name, to the new address, from the gemeente in Rotterdam.
23-Feb: Try to find out about my registration status; discover I can do this online, but only if I've signed up for the DigID service. Discover I can't sign up for DigID because the system doesn't recognise my address.
24-Feb: Successfully register for DigID using my old address in Amsterdam. But I can't log in to anything yet because I need an activation code, which will be sent by post, to my old address, and then forwarded to this one.
25-Feb: Ring the gemeente telephone service to see if I can find out my registration status. They can't tell me, but say I can ring back during the office hours of the office that does the registration and they will tell me.
26-Feb: Ring the gemeente telephone service during office hours. Person answering the phone refuses to put me through because it can take up to four weeks to change my status on the register, so I can't ask whether they've done it until at least those four weeks have passed. I'm told to ring back after the 5th of March.
01-Mar: Receive a hand-delivered letter from a Rotterdam gemeente control team informing us that this address appears to be occupied, but that they have no record in their database of anyone living here. The second paragraph reminds us that it is required by law for everyone to notify the gemeente of moving in within 5 days, and then provides a handy list of how we can do this and what paperwork we'll need.
02-Mar: I receive my DidID activation code. I sign in to the Rotterdam gemeente website where I can look up my registration status. I am officially still 'in process'.

Five days my arse, in short.


Nov. 20th, 2012 11:38 pm
shermarama: (Default)
Oh, here we go with the Dutch estate agents again. I'm trying to keep some sort of balanced view of the process, but it's difficult.

- No viewings in the evening or at the weekends. Although you generally have to be earning four times the rental price before they'll let you hire a place, so pretty obviously you have to have a job; perhaps, you know, the sort of job where you're meant to be at work during the day, not viewing flats?
- NO OVENS. Seriously. Luxury penthouse 100+ m2 flats with granite this and high-finish that, with nothing more than a crappy flat electric hob and a microwave for cooking with. (I have actually seen more than one flat that only had a hob, but I suppose you can get free-standing microwaves.)
- One agency (the one with several new and interesting-looking blocks, of course) wants us to fill in a ten page form detailing our complete financial situation, including declarations from both our employers and a signed statement from the owner of our current flat (who lives in Vienna) before they will even arrange an appointment for a viewing at any of them. Not after we have looked at somewhere and would like to move forward, but before they'll even let us look at anything.
- Washing machines in bathrooms. Not everywhere, but it's a risk. Washing machines do not belong in bathrooms.
- Rental places that are 'kaal', that is, bald, that is, they don't even have floor or window coverings. Houses to buy, fine, but while I'm renting, do I really want to own my own laminate?

However, trying to keep an eye on the pluses:
- Balconies, big French windows, loggias; almost all flats have devices for getting substantial amounts of fresh air and sunlight (where available) into them
- Rotterdam likes towers, and I think I'd quite like to live on a double-digit floor number
- Roof terraces also popular, with both Rotterdammers and me
- A proper separate shower and bath-with-shower-head are to be found almost everywhere
- Individual basement storage sheds are common
- As are proper secure building-communal bike stores

Think about the daylight, Sherm, and not the ovens. (And not the fact that 'makelaar', which means 'agent', sounds conspicuously like 'makkelijk', which means 'easy', thereby making their sheer obstructiveness all the more irritating.)
shermarama: (Default)
Don't say it too loud, but I think I might be getting better. I've done two (short) days of work already this week, and while I've got today off, I'm planning, and weirdly looking forward to, two more days of work for the rest of the week. Blimey.

Now, something that may or may not be related to my recovery is the progress of my overcoat. This might sound ridiculous, but let's face it, if you've ever read this LJ, you're aware that I've got Clothes Issues. All the 'November is for posting about clothes' posts at the minute are great for seeing and appreciating other people's choices, but it's making me want to join in, and at the same time reminding me that I can't. (Unless someone out there is amazingly interested in the rotation of my grand total of two currently functional pairs of trousers? No, I thought not.) I wish this was something I could put down, live in a football shirt and jeans or something and be happy, but I would actually like to be able to wear interesting clothes. It's why I'm interested in other people's, but I'm just not very good at acquiring them for myself, for a list of reasons that possibly have as much to do with my stubbornness as anything else, but that I currently have the urge to explain all over again. So, and probably mainly for my own amusement I realise, here is how my clothing experience goes:

- I refuse to pay significant amounts of money for clothes that don't fit me. I'm not saying I never wear clothes that are sort-of-get-away-able-with but not really right; I do it all the time, but only when it's things like underlayery basics, or things from charity shops. Clothes that don't fit look cheap anyway, so why pay a lot of money to look like you didn't?
- I can sometimes find things in high street shops that fit acceptably, but it requires thinking the right way about what might work, a lot of trying things on, and a good dollop of luck.
- The only things that are in this category are by their nature loose or unstructured; if they weren't, they wouldn't fit me. Fortunately I'm not averse to a batwing sleeve.
- However, don't get me started on specialist tall departments. The clothes in them seem to somehow be even more likely to be the wrong shape for me, and as a special bonus, are usually also over-priced and poor quality. The speed with which it's possible to determine that the tiny selections are all rubbish is not actually a bonus.
- (Apart from Top Shop's jeans in the era 2005-2008; them was the good times, man. But all the pairs I had wore out.)
- Putting more time into shopping does not guarantee better results. The longer I spend looking, the less optimistic I become, and having gone deliberately shopping and coming home with nothing is just depressing. These days I pretty much only ever go shopping by accident.
- Things I have gradually (but still perhaps not completely) learnt that I should never go shopping for because I can never buy ones that fit anywhere ever: shirts, jackets, and dresses.

I sew, right? Sewing must help. Sewing goes like this:
- Putting time and effort into sewing patterns I know work results directly in me owning clothes that fit me. Hooray!
- The list of patterns I have that I know I can make work include: trousers, jeans, fleeces and other loose / jersey / studentlike tops.
- Putting time into patterns I'm not sure work, and then not having them work after all, is really depressing. See the rant about the Vogue sack a few weeks ago.
- Things I have tried and know I can't make: shirts and dresses. I have never even gathered the nerve to try a jacket.

Thus I remain, at the age of 36, mostly dressed like a student. The things I can't make are the same as the things I can't buy, and it's no co-incidence. These are things where accurate fitting and shaping are most essential, and where my shape deviates most from the standard. Sewing patterns don't fit me in the way that pre-made clothes don't, and while it's entirely possible to alter patterns to fit, it's a task I have not found easy. I've tried it with shirts in the past and have made something that's part of the way there, but still not right. My most recent plans to alter a man's shirt pattern have stalled because of a problem with the grain in the back; I suspect the single thing that would help me most is looking at something existing that fits me for comparison, but... there aren't any. Anywhere.

So. I bought the pattern for an overcoat in 2009, not long before leaving London, and have been working on it in gradual fits and starts ever since. The process of altering the pattern, or rather becoming confident that the alterations were at all correct, is what's taken most of the time. After being able to check it on the paper-tape dummy at the end of this summer, and make a few more modifications, I reached the point where it was worth making up a muslin. The muslin revealed some more issues to do with the arms and armscye, but it also enabled the fixing of them.

And now I'm sewing the real thing, and so far, it hasn't all gone disastrously wrong. I have made the fronts and the back, successfully added pockets, and I'm part-way through the collar. I'm having issues now to do with making the collar and lapels but that's a sewing problem, a problem everyone making a coat has, not something to do with fit. It might all be going to work. And if I can make an overcoat, if all the fit issues I've had to solve for that are solvable, it's possible I can make something else in the fitted-upper-body-garment category. That would be pretty awesome.

There is one more element, which is making this a bit of a race. The one other way of getting clothes that fit me would be to get them custom-made, but it's never been an affordable option before. I'm still not certain I'd want to spend that much on an item of clothing myself, but, Chris has offered to get me a jacket made for Christmas, by the same people that have made him a couple of things recently. So last Saturday I went and got measured up, chose fabric and styles and all that sort of stuff. I have never tried to make a jacket, I can't buy a pre-made jacket, but by Christmas I might have one anyway. (I'm looking forward, with perhaps just a small amount of skepticism, to the first fitting, in another three weeks or so.) By Christmas, I might have two correctly-fitting items of upper-body clothing. Their existence would generally signal a greatly increased possibility of making more of them. All in all, it's no wonder I'm feeling better.
shermarama: (Default)
"...you, too, will be able to amaze your family and friends with a bubbling airlock! (You laugh now...)"

This is from the first chapter of Palmer's How To Brew, an excellent book that manages to act both as a basic guide to brewing your first beer and a really useful reference when carrying on from there, and the thing is, it's true. I was in a fucking foul mood on the tram this evening, pardon my Dutch, but getting home and finding both my beers bubbling made me feel a lot better. It's a proper cockles-of-the-heart job, seeing and hearing the evidence of your little yeasty friends turning a bunch of mushed-up grain into beer.

The beer brewing itself sort of went a bit wrong. That was the first time we've tried to brew on a weekday evening and I didn't properly think through what things could have been done beforehand, so even if everything had finished on time it wouldn't have been done til midnight. But by the time I'd mashed and boiled and cooled, and topped up using the top-up water carefully prepared after realising last time that we were probably going to need some every time, the gravity of the wort, which should have been around 1.075 or so, was off the scale. (It's a strange sight, is a hydrometer bobbing so high there's no more measurements to read.) I needed More Water. So I had to boil, and cool, More Water. That takes time. 2am is a perfectly reasonable time to finish brewing, isn't it? And then there was no more room in the fermenter for the extra water because we're trying to do small brews, but I couldn't bring myself to throw any wort away, so one fermenter's got ten litres of about the right gravity in it and another's got two litres of the strong stuff, and, they're both bobbling, and this is ace. The yeast probably won't be able to cope with turning all that into alcohol, so the higher gravity one will probably end up very sweet, but hey, it's meant to be oatmeal cookie flavoured anyway, so we can just call it a dessert beer or something. And next time I'll boil more water.

I was in a foul mood on the tram, and indeed on the tram at all, because my folding bike's broken. I've been commuting on it daily, bar holidays, since I bought it last November in a second-hand but clearly little-used state, and today the seat tube has sheared clean through. I have no idea if it can be repaired but I suspect the answer is no. And I don't know what my other options are apart from shitty heavy Dutch folding bikes that don't even have gears or brakes (backpedal brakes do NOT count) or the Brompton I neither want nor want to try and afford. A knackered second-hand Brompton goes for around €700 round here, and new ones a bit more than twice that. Also, I went to the Dutch conversation group and got stuck in a conversation with the most boring geek ever, and seriously, given that this is a post about beer brewing and folding bikes, with upcoming Norwegian experimental jazz, also take into consideration everyone I've ever gone out with, when I say a boring geek you know I mean it. He had a plainly insupportable theory that he wouldn't let go of and I think he thought I was being amused rather than pained at his determination to get me to agree with it. I'm sure I've done this to someone else, somewhere else, so maybe it's karma, but. I didn't need that today.

Two other contributions to the cockle-warming were waiting in the post when I got home, one being a birthday present for Chris that's late but nicer than I'd hoped, and the other being the second Splashgirl album. This is a band I didn't see in Norway, if that makes sense; there was a jazz festival on while we were in Bergen, and we didn't go to any of it, but I had a flick through the programme and looked up some of the bands. On the basis of youtubing I bought Splashgirl's third album, Pressure, which is so full of the lingering illumination of a far northern summer night that I've been in danger of crying from listening to it, and then I bought the other two as well. The first, Doors, Keys, turns out to be all flashy music-school check-out-our-arhythmic-artifice bollocks, which is a shame, but the second one seems to have been where they realised that was all bollocks, went and listened to some drone metal, and set about trying to make a photographic negative of it built out of space and light instead. I don't think they do it as well as they've managed on Pressure, but at least it's another album by the band I like rather than the one I don't. In recognition of that, and also to lull me to rest because tomorrow I have to get up at half past blithering five to go to a small town in Friesland to talk to a man about a cow-milking machine, here is some Splashgirl. Yes, I know that's a link to a website called itsatrap, but it's all right. Yes, I know no-one will listen to it anyway. I'm giving you the chance, is all.
shermarama: (Default)
I am short of time and jeans. I'm not too short of money at the moment, so the obvious solution to this is to go to a shop and buy jeans, right? Except I have already spent too much time in the last two weeks trying to buy jeans and have established that a) finding any trousers with a 36 leg in Dutch shops is still hard, b) there are some available in the fashion chains but they're all of the skinny and distressed variety, c) skinny distressed jeans don't suit me, d) jeans made in any non-fashion-driven shapes are cut for what you might call the more traditionally feminine shape, that is, women with the sort of curvy thighs that I don't have and, therefore, e) all non-fashion jeans make me look like I've borrowed my mum's. Plus ça change.

My usual solution for this is to make them, but I'm short of time. Getting clothes made for me by anyone else is still a very long way outside my price range, but one thing I can afford is a better sewing machine. Mine was basic even when it was new, and having been to a sewing machine shop this morning and had the full sales pitch, I'm now aware of exactly how lacking my machine is, and how much easier many of the fiddly bits could be. One that does all the shiny things costs €500 - €600. There are cheaper ones that don't do some of the things I want, and there's a second-hand one I'm eyeing up for about €250, but all machines that do what I want are computerised. Buying something that is slightly elderly and second hand and also computerised, in fact from the early days of computerising these things, doesn't sound like a brilliant idea.

Five or six hundred Euro is a big investment, though. It would be a sort of declaration of independence of the clothes manufacturing system, but therefore also a declaration that I'm going to spend more time making my own. Then again, if money still doesn't buy me clothes, how else am I going to get them? And if a better machine saves me time, what other option do I have?
shermarama: (diving)
I'm not going to review exactly what I did in great textual detail. I'm just going to post a load of photos of excellent things we saw.

I went to Norway and I saw: See more )
shermarama: (Default)
Just a quick one while Chris is having a nap (I have a theory that there are special Nordic-Germanic germs that he's more susceptible to; I think he's had more coughs and colds in the last year than in the entire rest of his life) to say that Norway has been stunningly excellent. Since last Saturday morning when we set off on the boat, the weather has been calm and sunny and increasingly warm, culminating in today where downtown Bergen was hitting somewhere in the high twenties. The fjords and islands of Norway are ridiculously scenic; perhaps the most scenic way to see them is to go around them by boat; and the only thing more ridiculously scenic than going round them is diving on the wrecks contained therein. The trip was full of very experienced and amiable divers (slightly intimidating to find out that this is where professional dive guides, marine biologists and technical diving instructors go on holiday) and the whole thing was such a relief from the misery that is Dutch diving that I have made a firm resolution to never go in the peaty blackness of Vinkeveen ever again. Vinkeveen has conditioned me to be afraid of going below 20m, into a featureless darkness where silt never clears and free-flows are almost inevitable. Norwegian diving has reminded me that what ought to be below 20m is great visibility, impressive wrecks and fascinating marine life, and I'm determined never to forget that again. 

There will be some pictures from the wrecks but not many, because even with such good visibility, exposure times at forty metres are anything up to a second, and it's tricky to get anything underwater (including myself) to stay still for that long. There will be rather more from above water because everything kept being so damn scenic. I'm not much of a photographer but I'm very glad I had a camera on this trip. 

In the meantime, once Chris wakes up, it's down to a city bursting with enthusiasm for the summer, with daylight til midnight and two simultaneous arts festivals going on. Everything is expensive, especially the beer, but there are times when it's just not worth worrying about that sort of thing. 
shermarama: (Default)
So, [livejournal.com profile] feanelwa linked to this article, which reports a statement by Girlguiding UK that 'a lack of positive female role models is damaging the future prospects of girls and young women'.

The first thing I thought on reading it is that we could do with changing what's on telly, but that would be missing the point. Telly's meant to be entertainment, not preaching. It shows us celebrities and glamorous people because that's a diversion from our everyday lives. The caption under the first photo in the article says 'Reality TV shows like The Only Way is Essex have been blamed for shaping unrealistic views of what life is really like'. Well, yes, but an unrealistic view of life is what they're for, isn't it? We could turn television into an endless parade of gritty social dramas but that wouldn't help much. People would not want to become the people in the gritty dramas just because they see them on telly. That's not how aspiration works.

One thing that bothers me about this article is that it's cast as a problem that only girls are suffering from. I think it says more about how much effort kids can get their head round putting into anything than anything to do with gender. How many boys of the same age want to be pop stars, actors in films with all explosions in, video-game designers so they can get paid for playing video games all day, or footballers? Not the ones that play for Fleetwood Town, the ones who play a match and then take their private jet back to their mansion with the eighteen cars and the really fit girlfriend. Where are the campaigns suggesting that boys are being misled, saying it's a shame that so few boys of that age want to be sales managers, or product designers, or accountants? Even the ones that want to be doctors are probably thinking of childhood role-play, white coats and stethoscopes, not the years of study and the long hours and the stress. What sort of child would?

That happens later, when you realise you actually have to make a living doing something, and some of these more ordinary roles come to your attention. Chris's little brother has been obsessed with children's TV since he was small, and these days he's an assistant producer at the BBC doing things like writing scripts for Hacker the Dog, but when he was younger he was convinced was going to be a presenter himself. It wasn't til later that he worked out there were all these other jobs in children's TV you could do, and that actually most of them were more interesting. Even within the sphere of people who've decided they want to do engineering, everyone starts off with a more glamorous idea of what they're going to do than how their career actually ends up. Everyone starting an automotive design degree thinks they're going to build Formula 1 cars, not redesign the ignition system of a Nissan Micra. Aerospace engineering degrees get far more sign-ups than there are jobs in the industry, because who doesn't want to build rockets or fighter planes? Some of the engineers I work with now have aerospace engineering degrees. A cow is not a rocket, but the skills are transferable. (Maybe this is why the main robot arm that moves under the cow is made out of carbon fibre, has lasers in it and is called the mothership.)

Arguably the problem comes in that integration phase, in working out how you move on from childhood fantasies to something you can really do. I didn't do engineering the first time round at university because I hadn't really heard of it, didn't know anyone who was an engineer, but I mean I didn't know anyone who was an engineer, not that I didn't know women who were. How would I even know, anyway, if I'd met an engineer, either male or female, as a child? The only identifiable engineers you encounter as a child are in grubby boiler suits, same as the only identifiable science-related professionals you see are teachers, dentists, doctors. If your family contained a scientist or engineer, or you had a family friend that was one, yes, but apart from that you've got TV and books, and they're full of unrealistic portrayals of scientists of either gender. Great when you're a kid, not so good for when you're trying to work out something real to do next. If you've reached the stage where you no longer think you're going to be James Bond, you've probably also given up on becoming Q, although I hear forensic and crime science degrees are booming thanks to all the CSI type shows. Unlike Casualty, which I doubt made many people want to want to be a doctor, CSI and suchlike offer a sort of compromise, something that seems kind of real and achievable that also has the potential to be exciting. Whatever; we still need pathologists, metallurgists, analytical chemists, whether they work in anything crime-related or not. It's rockets and Formula 1 all over again. But I still don't see how this is gender-related. There are both male and female scientists on things like CSI, and they're all as well or badly characterised as each other. We're beyond the bit where the female assistant pulls the pins out of her bun and wins the male scientist's heart, these days, aren't we?

To divert for a moment, there's a thing about the insistence on female role models that really bugs me. Once, at a Punch Judy gig, someone suggested to our bassist that she must be really into Bad Brains, because she was black, and liked punk, and they were a punk band who were black, so she must really like them. Er, right. She was quite offended and gave the bloke an epic cold shoulder for the rest of the evening. Now, I am a woman, and I play the drums, and every so often people suggest that I might like or even be interested in a particular band because they've got a female drummer. I have to say that I can't see why this is any different. Just because their drummer's got tits too, that means I like their music? That's not really how it works, you know? And, I've never quite understood how this is so very different from the idea of female role models in science and engineering. Look, it's someone else with tits doing science! That means it's okay for you to like science too, right? Perhaps you can ask her for tips on how to maintain fabulous nails while at the lab bench, or on glamorous up-dos that are still compatible with bacteriological procedures! How do we combine our monthly attack of complete hormonal irrationality with the logical rigour of research, eh? (Seriously, if you can tell me how this is different, please do.)

But, okay, I can see the importance of the visible presence of women in science. Role models are as often as not about changing what's normal, for it not to be remarkable that the talking head telling us about their new breakthrough on cancer research on the news is female. But I think it's important that everyone thinks it's unremarkable, and particularly people who haven't had to think about their gender so much, and so role models have to be visible to society as a whole. Pointing them out specifically to women like that, all the Women In Science and Engineering meetings I've been invited to to hear all about how Girls Can Do It Too, just smacks of being patronised. In a lot of cases I've heard of, it's not women who need to be told they can do science, it's others around them who need to stop telling them they can't. And anyway, for what I'm trying to think about here, for girls who haven't made it through A levels yet, the reaction of other people in their fields is not really an issue. This report is about the decisions girls make when they're teenagers, and that's not yet affected by whether their post-graduate supervisor is going to be a creep.

I used to work at a couple of different sixth form colleges, and both of them had both male and female teachers for all the science subjects. There were plainly people around who could do science, and many of them were women. (I realise kids don't see teachers (or lab technicians) as real people a lot of the time, but still.) There were girls who avoided signing up for A level Physics even though it would be useful for their planned career, or did one year of AS and dropped it, or did a few weeks and asked to transfer, but in no case can it have been because they thought it was impossible for any woman to understand or work in the field of physics. Now, what I did see (sometimes, I'm not saying every time, sometimes someone genuinely did just find that drama was their true calling) was girls who said 'but I can't do physics, it's too hard.' Some boys said that too, but I think they were more likely to be dropping out entirely than just changing to an easier subject. Why would so many girls think that 'it's hard' is a reason to drop a subject? What's wrong with doing some work to get the career you want? I think part of it is the culture of celebrity everything, that if it's not easy then it mustn't be fabulous enough to be part of your lifestyle, but I think that's not all of it. I think this is the place where being a girl can come into it.

When you're a child, certainly a child in the sort of circumstances this article is talking about, you don't generally have to do the hard stuff yet. This is an exercise, it's not real, you're just learning, that's still above your level. Then there comes a time when you get tested more severely, when you realise the sort of questions you're struggling with are the sort of questions your parents can't answer, and then that maybe quite a lot of people can't answer, and that you've got to make your own way through something. The problem is, in the world where girls are princesses and some women get to carry on being princesses, I think they can get let off for a lot longer; if you're really struggling, Daddy will come and sort it out. While young men are pretty much all being expected to apply themselves to something or other, however realistic or not it might be, not all women are. There's the whole business of 'strong women', which irks me because the implication is that the default position of women is not to be, and that they're to be congratulated for even trying to be independent, and therefore not encouraged to carry on if they fail at it. There was a cruelly ironic Punch Judy gig where the band on before us was three girls singing all harmony vocals about how they were strong independent women doing it for themselves and all that, but with a four-piece male backing band playing the actual music. When we got on stage, an all-girl band who as I recall had not one lyric about how strong we were, it kind of made a mockery of their whole act.

You can say that through celebrity culture, there are a lot of people pinning their hopes on making a living just from existing; getting on a reality TV show, becoming a pop star, hoping they'll be spotted as a model. When you've got no idea what you're going to do, and until you learn better, it looks like there's all these easy options, so why shouldn't you try for one of them? If you're in that position, though, more evidence of people having achieved success through hard work isn't going to make any difference to your choices. The presence or absence of female scientists in society is going to make bugger-all difference if your life plan is to win the lottery.

So, in short: I don't think there's anything new or problematic about children's career aspirations being unrealistic, and I don't think it's something that only happens to girls. I don't think there's anything new about naive young people hoping they can do it the easy way, and I don't think having more visible female scientists will even touch those sorts of choices. The biggest problem I used to see with women getting into science was girls giving up because they found something hard, and that being somehow more okay because they were girls; the presence or absence of other female scientists also doesn't touch that. I think those who want to be scientists will find their path a little easier if other people stop getting in their way, and more visible female scientists is useful for that. But I also think that presenting female scientists directly to girls who already think they can do science just comes across as incredibly patronising. I think the report is right that people need to pick up their ideas of what people can do from the people around them. Promoting female role models in science as special cases is, however, exactly not that. Girlguiding, you're barking up the wrong tree.


Apr. 15th, 2012 08:22 pm
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I'm not much of a one for viral videos, which some googling suggests this is already becoming, but I saw this by means of it being in an actual advert break on my television. It's Charlie Sheen advertising an alcohol-free version of a popular Dutch lager. The novelty lies not even so much in that description as in the fact that I should warn you it contains (English) swearing. Because you can do that on daytime TV in the Netherlands. We rewound it to check and everything.

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I'm walking through the park, alone, at one in the morning. Is this safe, you may ask? Well, the constant stream of people on bicycles, many of them giggling young women, is one thing. I think the clinching factor is that I just got overtaken by a jogger.
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