My thoughts, I confess, verge on dirty.

May 18th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Sorry about the delay in posting. Yours truly finished up her work placement a while back, then promptly settled into dissertation work (should reeeeeally make a webpage to centre all that information, come to think of it) and didn’t get around to much blogging. Tweeting, yes. If you actually want to know what’s going on in my life, Twitter is vital.

And here I am in mid-May, about to ship myself back to the US, provided that Eyjafjallajokull doesn’t change its mind and blow a bunch more ash this way over the next 24 hours. While I’ll miss my loved one and friends, I eagerly await a three month period of (amidst wedding and dissertation chaos) decent Tex-Mex, warm weather, brewed coffee at low prices, World Cup news only when I feel like it, and substantially lower levels of jeggings.

Which reminds me of a little tidbit that I’d meant to share. Britain does a lot of things well, some things better than America (coughhealthcareandpublictransitcough). But a few things, they just Don’t Get. I read Nigel Slater’s Eating for England recently, and in one of the vignettes, he indicated that Americans were as hooked on instant coffee as Britons. This, quite frankly, is BS, mostly because I don’t know anyone in the US who drinks or has drank instant since probably 1988. Admittedly, that’s anecdotal evidence, but considering the reaction to Starbucks’ VIA last year, I wouldn’t say it’s too far off the mark. Whereas, in the UK, if you go to someone’s house or to an office or a university function, and they offer coffee, it will almost definitely be instant. Seeing as for tea, all you need is hot water and a bag, I suppose instant has a reason for being de rigeur.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck.

So I started thinking about coffee out there in the world, and decided that you could really just relate the taste of an average cup of coffee in a country to songs from said nation. Perhaps the metaphor’s a little stretched, but I think it’s still valid.

In Italy, it’s short and deep, like an aria. France, well-brewed and nuanced, like an Edith Piaf track. America…well, either you have the enamel-melting Starbucks sweetness of a pop song, or the strong grittiness of a Springsteen song; not to everyone’s taste, but vibrant. Your average cup of coffee in Britain, to my experience, is made from freeze-dried instant. In terms of taste, it’s about on the level of a drunk careening down the street at 3am bawling out ‘Come On Eileen’.

Now, it’s not that that doesn’t have its appeal, or that that can’t be borne. It’s just…I swear that daily I thank god my fiancĂ© was raised in a family that brews and drinks coffee, or we would have some serious problems. And no, sadly, for those of us raised on coffee, tea–even builders’–simply, simply can’t cut it in the mornings. Nor can a can of Coke. I need black coffee, and I will even settle for instant, Nigel.

Then again, there’s a whole blog post in the works…well, okay, in my head…about how I’m a food philistine in some cases (I dislike Brie rinds, for example). We’ll see if it gets written.

By the way, you can follow my culture shock, and possibly reverse culture shock in the coming months, on Twitter. I’ve been using #rhiisforeign to particularly highlight certain issues, including the latest general election, but since you can’t search back too far, it may be a moot point. Oh well. Follow me anyhow, if you like.

Ada Lovelace Day

March 24th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

If, for some reason, you are completely oblivious to the tech world, then you may have missed the fact that today is Ada Lovelace Day (findingada.com, #ald10). It’s the day to recognise and honour women in technology, like Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, who was essentially the first computer programmer–not just the first woman, the first ever, period. You can pledge, as I did, to post about inspirational women in tech, and yesterday I made a whole list of people I could post about. In fact, I urge you to look up all of those women, because they each are brilliant and important.

But in the end I got sort of self-centred.

See, I’m a woman in technology, but only sort of, where it intersects with media. On the technical end, I’m pretty rubbish; I tire of coding and I have no engineering skills whatsoever. While I admire the crap out of women with those skills, it’s not my cuppa. I’m interested in the product end of software–non-linear editing, Photoshop, web editors–and in community construction online. (They call the latter ‘social media’ now, which is a term I dislike, because it implies the wankers who randomly follow you on Twitter claiming to be experts. I don’t claim to be an expert, just a very long-time user.)

Personally, I believe women and ‘minority’ groups are the future of internet community, because we’ve been doing this for ages, waiting for the technology to catch up. The strongest, most forward-thinking networks that I’ve seen have been run or dominated by women. I’d like to highlight two who have successfully navigated the inanity of the ‘social media’ buzz into actual meaningful community…and I’d speculate that’s because they didn’t get in it to ‘be successful’, but to fill a need.

The leadership and employees (I know one, they work hard) of BlogHer are amazing. They have built a company, a community and a highly influential blog network from nothing in a matter of five years. If I want to read good blogging by women, I know exactly where to start–everything on BlogHer is quality, and a substantial number of topics and viewpoints are covered. And on top of that, they have an ad network that’s remarkably unproblematic in comparison to about every other one ever.

The people at the Archive of Our Own project are quieter, for various reasons. They took a look at internet fandom (dominated by women) and saw that there was no reliable searchable archive of fanfiction that wouldn’t reject various forms of fan works…this is for various reasons I won’t go into here. Fundraising, programming, time and effort, and now they own the servers and the backend, free to set their own TOS and provide a fan-run alternative that is intuitive and responsive.

So kudos to both of these groups of women. I only wish I could be as utterly badass and innovative as you. Perhaps someday I will do…but thank you for being here.

Also, a quiet shoutout to the tech women I know–from theatre engineers to comp sci majors to new media producers to designers to fangirls. Don’t ever let anyone get you down. You do important things.

A moment about films…

March 7th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Every year I make it my business not to comment about the Oscars, for the most part (partially because I might get ranty and I do still vaguely hold the hope of someday being nominated…yes, laugh it up as a pipe dream). If you want to read some good commentary and predictions quite similar to my ideals, go check out my friend Anita’s thoughts.
But this year I will say a few brief things, because I feel the need to clarify a few positions and unpopular opinions:

- I thought the acting performances in Precious were fantastic. It’s not a Best Picture film, but the acting was phenomenal. I didn’t find it unbelievable…probably because I read the book nearly a decade ago.

- Michael Giacchino deserves an Oscar for Up, but in my mind he’d get it as well for Star Trek, which was utterly amazing in its fit to the film and its play off the original Trek themes and film sound. You get big and you risk going John Williams/Jerry Goldsmith, which is fine but not astounding. Giacchino managed to take a cliche and turn it into something that still inspired wonder and emotion. Between that and Up, he’s the one to watch. Someone give this man more work.

- Team Bigelow. Not just because Hurt Locker is by all accounts lovely and my distaste for Avatar (on about ten different levels) is well-documented, not just because it is high friggin time a woman had a chance and pwned, but because I’ve been a Kathryn Bigelow fan since I watched Near Dark on VHS in 2002. Even when her films aren’t great (…K-19), they are always well-constructed and gorgeous.

- Contrary to popular belief, I don’t hate James Cameron’s work as a whole. Terminator 2 is one of my top 20, I liked Aliens and I enjoy True Lies. I just firmly believe something snapped in the man’s head when Titanic worked for him; I have a big problem with the auteur theory of cinema, I don’t believe it has a place in the current film industry. Avatar is classically, ridiculously OTT auteurism, and the fact that it cost more than a small nation’s yearly GDP to make is seriously worrisome for its implications about future Hollywood product. Of course, part of my distaste for Cameron could come from the fact that I was first taught film studies by the foremost academic critic of his work…

To sum up: I’d rather not have my heart ripped out. Best Picture is more than OOH THE PRETTY, it does have to have content. Kathryn Bigelow deserves all the acclaim she’s been getting and more. I’m going to go listen to the End Credits from Star Trek about five more times in a row. Good night.

(By the way, I did manage to get a haircut. It took one day notice. I am Paige’s melodramatic firstworldproblem sigh.)

Very much a post of bits and pieces.

January 29th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Much as it pains me, Mom was right.

That is, I should really have got a haircut before I left Tosa for the spring, because getting one here in Selly Oak is proving to be a massive undertaking. Namely, there are no bleeding walk-in places that’ll take a woman anywhere nearby. Putting out a call on Twitter, I heard from editorialgirl that she didn’t think there were really any besides the city centre Supercuts in the whole of Birmingham. She signal-boosted, but an hour later, still nothing.

So unless there’s somewhere local who can get me an appointment later today or tomorrow, I’m SOL and using even more hair product until next week, when I will spend my lunchtime frantically ringing round to try and get a Friday or Saturday appointment (unless I don’t have Friday off, it’s not set in stone).

I’m not sure if this is a UK thing or a Brum thing, but it is frustrating. I mean, seriously, what happens to people who have fluctuating work schedules? It’s not like you see part of the city looking like they’re gonna open for Twisted Sister.

Anyway. Besides whinging, things are actually going all right. I think I may make some cookies today or tomorrow, and I’m out tonight to meet up with the HFTV course people, so that’s good as well. Now if the weather would only make up its mind about what it’s doing, we’d be in business.

At least the snow and slush and crap got off the streets, cutting a good five minutes off my commute and meaning I’m not scared to go down the hill on the Selfridges side of the Bullring. Well, that is, if it’s not raining.

Cultural Disconnect (the first in a series)

January 13th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Firstly, before I get self-indulgent, it really looks like things in Haiti are getting worse by the hour. If you can, please donate (I’m currently assessing whether dollars or pounds would be more effective) to one of the relief efforts, or, if you can’t afford to give money, pass on the information.
UNICEF (USA)
Oxfam (UK)
The Humanitarian Coalition (Cda)
MSF/Doctors Without Borders (int’l)

Amongst the other, considerably more worrisome news of the world lately, you may have spotted that the weather here in Britain has been massive, massive suck.

That is, more like rather nice winter weather for any US person north of the Mason-Dixon, and early spring for Canadians. Personally, I cope rather well with it. It’s nice not having to worry about wind chill, frostbite and whether or not your engine will turn over, leaving you stranded somewhere in arctic temperatures with no heater and a scratchy army blanket.

I digress. Honestly, I would be fine with the whinging and complaining that is done here in Birmingham with an extended period of temperatures hovering around 0 degrees C (32 deg F) and snow every other day. I could maybe even handle that the entire country shuts down when there’s more than an inch of the white stuff. Flights are cancelled, trains are delayed, people drive stupid, which is a problem in the US too, sometimes…

But no one in this entire nation seems to own a bleeding shovel. Or a sidewalk ice scraper. Some businesses may potentially have sand (kudos to the Selly Oak Aldi), but other than that, nothing. Also, there is a good deal more walking going on than driving. So let’s take a look at this equation:
(temps right above/below freezing + [heavy sidewalk foot traffic - adequate snow removal]) ^ damp weather

What does that equal? If you said MASSIVE DEATH TRAPS OF DEATH, you would be correct.

A good portion of anything that is not a main road here in Brum turns to a big sheet of slushy half-ice, and it has been this way for a good week, off and on. Some days are better, others are worse. And it is supposed to get up to 6.5 or so degrees C (44 degrees F) on Saturday, so that might clear things a bit, perhaps. Or the rain supposedly coming tomorrow. But I’ll believe that when I see it. My Swiss flatmate D and I are thinking of a shovel import business, as winters like this in the UK are becoming a bit of a trend thanks to climate change, but no one here really wants one, as my classmate Aaron put it today. My theory, which he agreed with, is that people here believe that ignoring it will make it go away. All I can say is that I plan on living here and I would rather not fall on my arse, thanks, as I’m thinking I may end up commuting like Hans Brinker on the canals in Broek.

There are many things I love about the UK. This, sadly, is not one of them. Though the walking penguin style is probably doing some good for my thighs.