Thursday, March 25, 2010


Also known as, an update on what I have been reading.

The Mortal Instruments trilogy [beginning with Book I, City of Bones]- Cassandra Clare
These books are a bit ubiquitous, in that they are sitting in big stacks on an awful lot of bookstore tables, and you've probably walked by them yourself and maybe been put off by their shininess and/or the Stephenie Meyer endorsement on the cover. But I've been meaning to read them for awhile and the planets aligned for me, in the sense that I picked up a copy off one of those piles and took it home and started it even though it seemed intimidatingly long and, well, shiny. INTERNET! This book is astonishing! It has funny dialogue and demon-hunting and star-crossed love and fairies and protagonists with secret destinies. In other words, it is the best book ever. And then there are two more. And another one to be released next year. Altogether, the trilogy is already, like, Tolkien-length, and I finished it in about, uh, a week?

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York - Deborah Blum
I have only read the first 60 pages of this so far but I already feel confident in my assertion that it is excellent. [I think I heard about it from the BookSlut blog? Maybe?] Starting it last night, there were lots of passages that I felt compelled to read aloud to James strictly because I found them so interesting. Like all great non-fiction, this book makes you feel like you are not even learning anything because it's so compelling. (This is how it should be. Reality IS compelling!) In this case, the subject is two men-- a medical examiner, Charles Norris, and a chemist, Alexander Gettler-- who rose out of a corrupted and ridiculous system of investigating deaths in New York circa the 1910s and 1920s and basically invented forensic science. They are cool and committed and badass, like Grissom but real.

In March, 2006, I started keeping track of my reading. Since then I have read 243 books. Sometimes I review them on here, usually only if I really like them.

you know, because i'm a girl

oh, the tricky, delicate business that is modern life.
1. i am offended by the assumption that, as a woman, i will like any product if it is pink and sparkly, and that in order to make a product relevant and appealing to me, it should be manufactured in a pink and sparkly way.
2. i want these pink and sparkly data cables.

when, oh when, will they build fry's in Canada?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, when bloggers all around teh Interwebs commit to writing about the achievements of women in technology and science. Isn't that lovely? I found out about this months ago and wrote it in my calendar, with a warm feeling in my heart, thinking, oh, I'll do that, not that it will ever be March 24 2010, tralalalala! Well. You have beaten me again, world.

The female scientist I have chosen to write about is Mary Roberts, the 19th century amateur biologist and natural historian who wrote The Conchologist's Companion, among other books. I first encountered her when I was curating an exhibition of women's writing in a rare books library and one of the librarians reverently brought me the little blue volume and lovingly placed it on the table. It was a magnificent little book, bound in blue cloth with lovely, delicate colour illustrations (which seemingly haven't survived the Google books digitization process, so sad!). Because I was also writing the little blurbs that accompanied the books in the final exhibition, I ended up researching Roberts and annotating that tiny book, and in the process I discovered just how little has been written about her.

Mary Roberts was an amateur botanist and natural historian, as well as an author. She was also a very religious woman and her scientific writings were published alongside her religious ones, as was very typical of Victorian scientists. She was born in London in 1788, and her parents were Quakers. From 1790 the Roberts lived in Gloustershire, and her interest in the natural world developed as she spent her childhood there. After her father died, she and her mother moved back to London. Besides Conchologist's Companion (which is not her most famous book, just the one that introduced me to her), she is the author of 14 other books, including a number of other science-related books, some of them for children; The Annals of my Village, which is about the seasonal changes that occur in her hometown, with a chapter for each month of the year; Select Female Biography, Comprising Memoirs of Eminent British Ladies, which is exactly what the title says; The Wonders of the Vegetable Kingdom Displayed, published the year before Conchologist and with a similar bent; and A Popular History of the Mollusca (1855). She died in 1864, again in London, never having married or had any children. These biographical facts are relatively easy to find, and repeated everywhere-- but where are her papers, her correspondence, her manuscripts? I have no idea, and neither, it seems, does anyone else. For that matter, where's the squinty ink drawing of her that should inevitably accompany a post like this one? IT DOES NOT EXIST.

"Such, then, are a few of the localitie of the shell tribe; of those deposits of the ocean which make the heart beat with delight in discovering, and possessing them. How vividly that bright moment recurs to my remembrance, when the deep, proud sea, first rose upon my sight,--when I first heard the loud cry of the returning sea-gull; and saw the dancing breakers bound upwards, as if in proud defiance of the rocks that repelled them."

I think about Victorian female scientists often, which may seem like a strange statement, but they fascinate me-- not just because the idea of a petite woman in an enormous hat bent low over a bunsen burner has enormous romantic appeal (although it DOES, especially if she happens to be wearing elbow-length gloves, although that's beside the point) but because I can easily extrapolate myself into their position. I hope this metaphor doesn't seem obnoxious, but to me they're like plants growing up cautiously between the stones of a sidewalk. It's easy to devalue their achievements or see them as insignificant (and in the case of Roberts, the frequent religious exultations and flowery prose will certainly be a turn off to most modern readers), but you can't go that route. Instead: it's a miracle that they are there at all. It's easy to dismiss the work of Mary Roberts and others like her as derivative and conventional. But instead, I try to live in a parallel world where 19th century women like her were well-educated and encouraged, where their natural passion and inquisitiveness was fostered instead of ignored, where it was a boon instead of a liability to be a woman with a sense of curiosity and a desire to share knowledge. Women like her had the forcefulness, the self-possession, to see that life for themselves too, and they aimed for it even though it must have seemed, at times, desperately out of reach. I will freely admit that my perception of the situation has almost nothing to do with Mary Roberts herself, or with her work, but rather with the promise of a person like her.

In this regard maybe I share Roberts' sentiments, as she writes in the preface to Select Female Biography:

Happy shall I deem myself, if the bright examples of suffering virtue, of exalted piety, of active benevolence, and of talents chastened and improved by the noblest principles, should cherish in the bosom of the reader, any of those valuable qualities, which, even in the bleak and churlish atmosphere of this world, bring forth abundant fruits of refreshment and consolation.
There you go. Bleak and churlish atmosphere of the world, check. I would say that's something that hasn't changed as much as it could, actually. And refreshment and consolation, check. We cannot forget that women of her talents ("chastened and improved by the noblest principles," almost certainly!) existed, that they studied the natural world and shared their knowledge with us, by whatever means were available.


Stephen Jay Gould wrote an essay about Roberts, The Invisible Woman, which appears in his book Dinosaur in a Haystack, and I suggest you take a look at it if you are interested in Mary Roberts. Although I encountered Gould's essay after I finished my own research in 2007 (sadly, because it would have been a good source), he has an interesting and valuable perspective on her life and work. He also talks quite a bit about 19th-century botany in general and the reasons why it was an "acceptable" science for ladies to pursue. My favourite quotation from this article: "...[I was] acknowledging her utter submission to conventional expectations, but refusing to judge her too harshly--for the urge to create can be so overpowering, and the pain of self-imposed silence so overwhelming, that we sometimes kowtow to the most iniquitous of limitations." Well said!

She was also the subject of (part of?) an episode of Engines of Our Ingenuity.

Biography appears in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

G. Lindsay, ‘Mary Roberts: a neglected naturalist’, Antiquarian Book Monthly, 23 (1996). I haven't gotten my hands on this article yet, actually, but I mention it because it is on its way to me already, requested on my husband's university library card, and someday I am going to read it.

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron and worked with Charles Babbage on the Difference and Analytical Engines (very early computing machines). She was a computer programmer and mathematician. See the list of women who have been written about so far this year. Amazing and shaming, since I have only heard of a handful of them. What a wonderful idea!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

but you don't need to tell emma this. she already knows.

I loooooooove you, puppy! because you are soooooo cute!
- a little girl on the sidewalk, as emma and i walked by

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

in which in congratulate myself for being a responsibility champion, and admit my love of the internet

Did you know that I am obsessed with the idea of five bucks? It's true. Five dollars is the magic amount that determines whether something is cheap or expensive. I will buy almost anything if it costs less than $5. So I was delighted to discover Fiverr, where people post projects or tasks they are willing to undertake for $5. Getting any photo turned into ASCII art, for example, seems like a pretty awesome way to spend $5.

Earlier, on the subject of $5: Safety first, link to the five dollar comparison.

My sister sent me a link to the blog Hyperbole and a Half, with the correct prediction that I would enjoy it. It's very funny--I had to send the entry I Find. to James since it pretty much describes our very lives--but what really pushes it into the awesomeness stratosphere are the MS-Paint-esque illustrations (see RESPONSIBILITY CHAMPION, above). Almost any website can be made better by low-budget art. Like this:

My blog just got more awesome, right? like, how much more? 50%? Yep. I KNOW. And that only took me about 15 seconds to make.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

he acts like he doesn't care, but he does

on porn, and the uncanny valley:

Tracy: Tell it to me in Star Wars.
Frank: Alright. We like R2-D2. And C-3PO.
Tracy: They're nice.
Frank: And up here (points to pinnacle of graph), we have a real person, like Han Solo.
Tracy: He acts like he doesn't care, but he does.
Frank: But down here (points to base of graph) we have a CGI Storm Trooper... or Tom Hanks in The Polar Express.
Tracy: I'm scared! Get me outta there!
Frank: And that's the problem. You're in The Valley now and it's impossible to get out.
[note: Titan AE was like that for me. I didn't like their hair, or their feet.]

Monday, March 8, 2010

linky monday!

Types of Bitches. I know this has travelled all around the Internet by now and I can't imagine it's new to anyone. But it's just so amazing that I had to re-post it. I loved seeing how many of these categories I fit into (the answer: a lot, but especially "pajamas outside bitch". (And one day I aspire to be an "instigating bitch," although I can't really say I consider myself one now.) James and I have been adapting this to everyday use. For example, a WoW application: look out for that coming-up-behind-you bitch.

I know I've seen them before, but I kind of forgot about the Home Inspection Nightmares galleries on the This Old House website. Here is the handy MeFi link that led me back to them. Some of them are amazing. The MeFi thread is aptly named "Yes, that potato is being used as a cap for an active gas line." Every safety-oriented bone in my body quivers at these.

This has also been making the rounds: a trailer for every Academy Award winning movie []. So funny. Catchphrase! [I used to be really into the Oscars, but I got to the point where all they did was make me mad. Now I'm almost at the point where I can ignore them completely. I live in my own little world in many ways. It's great over here! We have brownies!]

Last: The Book Seer. This site just retrieves LibraryThing and Amazon recommendations for a title, as in, you just finished (and enjoyed) this, try that. It's handy. I like testing these things with my own wanton reading habits.

Plus it kind of looks like you're getting a book recommendation from Freud or Nietzsche or something, which is cool! The idea appeals to me-- possibly mostly because I think neither Freud nor Nietzsche had any interest whatsoever in women's reading, so it seems a bit revisionist. Revisionist IN MY FAVOUR.

Friday, March 5, 2010

oh, also

this made me un-grumpy. i was complaining to my dad on the phone about how irritated i get trying to explain to people about why my library doesn't have e-books (yet). he sent this infographic to help with this conversation.

In the word version, the red text was animated. awesome.

just a gratuitous picture of my dog basically

It's my day off, but I'm working, because I had one of those weeks when the week sort of ran out before the work did. Emma is helping me. Well, more napping than helping really.

I have been terrifically grumpy for the past week or so. So, I'm not going to update my blog because it'll probably just be a grumpy update. You know? What's the point of that?