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Showing posts from 2015

Why I love CoderDojo (and you should, too)

On Sunday I got up early to pack up laptops and LEGO onto trolleys, strike out into Greater Manchester, and hope for the best. I had to get up on a freezing morning, spend most of the day on my feet, and pack up after everyone. I loved it.

Why? Well, on that day something called CoderDojo happened.

Manchester CoderDojo takes place on the second Sunday of every month. Broadly speaking, a bunch of volunteers come together, take some computing bits and bobs with them, and teach kids about the joys of programming.

When I was a little girl, I used to be a member of something called NAGC (the National Association for Gifted Children), which you might know better as Potential Plus UK. Broadly speaking, it puts on events for gifted and talented children (in the top 5% of the population) where they can meet each other and learn about things beyond an often restrictive school curriculum. To children who are often isolated, bored and restless, this is a lifeline. I credit NAGC with helping me su…

The Shadow of the Other

I feel like I should clarify a few things.

I am Israeli. It's a part of me I can't get rid of. This doesn't make me special or exotic. I'm just me. All of this becomes relevant.

If you know anything about international politics, you'll know about Israel and Palestine. Some of you will say that Israel is illegitimate, others that Palestine was not and never will be a state. Some of you will argue for Israel, others for Palestine. Some of you will say that they're both awful. Either way, everyone expects you to choose a tribe.

It's a funny old thing, being a naturalised British citizen. Seen as a Briton it is natural and accepted that I have individual opinions. It is nothing remarkable that I should disagree with my government, and people are generally happy for me to speak about my experiences.

Seen as an Israeli, things are very different. Suddenly, I'm not Osnat who lives down the road; I'm Osnat the foreigner, Osnat who is the ambassador for a co…

You've got hate? Fuck you, I've got chicken soup.

Full disclosure: I'm Israeli. An Israeli of Jewish descent (though I don't believe). If you want to read those sentences and judge me based off that alone, that's your decision. It says more about you than it ever will about me.

Israel does a lot of blameworthy and utterly despicable things. On the balance of things, that seems very true and thus (in my eyes) not exceptionally controversial. We can clutch at our pearls and talk around our dinner table about how horrible all these things are, but fine talk doesn't stop bombs from falling.

Some people seem to believe that because we have evidence of Israel doing bad things, Israel must also be responsible for anything a non-Israeli thinks Israel did. To hell with the evidence, we have an agenda to push here! 9/11? Israel did it. Paris attacks? Israel did it. Your toast's a bit burnt? You guessed it, Israelis have a vested interest in...mildly inconveniencing you. Forget paying rent and making a living, our real conce…

5 things I want to do before I graduate

So I've kind of left this blog to gather dust over the summer. Between actual uni work, travelling all over Britain to sing in different choirs, and grieving over losing family, I've had bigger things to think about. Sorry to my mum and the 0.5 of a person who reads this website.

But now it's September. The leaves are turning red and gold and brown and the weather is very definitely confirming that yes, it's autumn now and you need to wrap up warm. The kids are back at school, as are the grumpy, angsty adolescents. And tomorrow the first proper week of lectures starts. The lecturers are drilling us with rhetoric about how hard second year is. It's not exactly subtle, but I've fucked up enough to learn that I need to work damn hard and damn efficiently. What's more, this year is really important; not only does it cover the deep core of practical skills and the foundations of my degree, but it also determines whether I get to stay on my MPhys course - and whe…

Taking up Space

I am feeling determined.

On tumblr I see posts every day about how girls want to starve their beautiful precious bodies to look better or wear that crop top or those thigh high socks and it hurts me inside and it makes me angry and sad that we have a society where people destroying their bodies is so common.

Once upon a time I was a small girl with a big belly who felt sad because no boys would go for her and craved male attention. I got male attention, I got it all over my thighs and my bum and they laughed at me and called me a slut but still I felt unloved and unworthy of love.

I stopped looking, but when I stopped looking I found someone I really love and even that did not fix me, because humans do not fix each other, they fix themselves.

I stopped eating and my belly shrank flat and my ribs protruded and my mind broke. I am still scared, so scared, of going back to that place.

I grew bigger, back to a healthy weight, back to stretch marks and daily exercise and going to the gym. …

I Disagree, But I Understand

I wasn't intending to publish anything until at least September, because I have actual work to actually do - both academic essays and my hustling paying off. But this wouldn't get out of my head.

Back in March an author called Tim Lott published a column on Comment is Free railing against left-wing purism. Certain sections of twitter promptly reacted with disgust that's actually still ongoing, questioning why Comment is Free would ever publish such trash (this is the same Comment is Free that's had notorious transphobe Julie Bindel writing for it, by the way, and that spawned an entire tumblr parodying its weirder articles, so I'm frankly not too surprised).

That is easily answered: hello, he's a reasonably notable writer who works for the Guardian. Also, assuming the Guardian has employees who actually know about the internet, they know an article like this will generate lots of discussion, debate and clicky clicky linky linky. Which means more ad revenue.

One…

Some ranting about positive psychology and the self-help industry

There is a very appealing concept sold by the positive living industry: the critical positivity ratio, or the Losada line. First published in 2005 by the psychologists Marcial Losada and Barbara Fredrickson, their paper uses nonlinear dynamical modelling to show that people need a ratio of just three positive interactions to one negative one to live happier, healthier lives.

It's a brilliant idea, combining mathematical legitimacy and common sense into one weird old tip for being happier.

What a shame, then, that it's also complete bollocks. The critical positivity ratio was debunked by Nick Brown, a graduate student in applied positive psychology, Alan Sokal, a physicist most famous for trolling the journal Social Text by writing complete shit and getting it published, and the psychologist Harris Friedman. There were severe flaws in the theory - for example, in several of Losada's analyses the data used did not meet the basic criteria for using differential equations (con…

Philae may have moved – and Rosetta will start to look south

Researchers Create A Computer That Works Using Water | IFLScience

Pseudoscience And Conspiracy Theory Are Not Victimless Crimes Against Science

Wave motion shows how bird flocks have to be just the right size

Scientists Want To Put A Blimp In Venus's Atmosphere

Scientists Want To Put A Blimp In Venus's Atmosphere | IFLScience

Well, not quite. Next year NASA will be hosting the New Frontiers competition to design the best unmanned mission to do with comet surface sample return, a Saturn probe, a sample return from Aitken Basin on the moon, a Venus lander (because they always work so well...), or a Trojan asteroid tour and rendezvous probe (think Rosetta).



Personally, I'm pretty sceptical of the Venusian blimp. I think corrosive gases might end up eating away at an awful lot of it. What do you think?

No S#!t Study: Scientists Find That Conspiracy Theorists Will Pretty Much Believe Anything You Tell Them | IFLScience

No S#!t Study: Scientists Find That Conspiracy Theorists Will Pretty Much Believe Anything You Tell Them | IFLScience

This should surprise pretty much nobody. I wonder if I now get to tell them "wake up, sheeple!"...

Sufjan Stevens - All the Trees of the Field will clap their Hands

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I love this song, okay? It always reminds me of chapel in school as the light streamed through the stained glass windows and I concentrated on that instead of the sermons. Most of all it reminds me of trundling along across the Pennines on a train.

The Great Anti-Anti-GMO Rant

Ah, GMOs, those things what sound scary and probably cause cancer. Also Monsanto. Down with Frankenfoods!

Okay, I'll just say this now: I'm sick and tired of unscientific - indeed antiscientific - scaremongering about genetically modified organisms. I am sick of people calling genetically modified foods "frankenfoods" and implying they cause cancer. I am sick of the idea that all non-GM food is "natural".

Why I'm actually sick of all these things goes beyond mere pedantry, as I'll explain later. But first, some lovely disparate sections...

Monsanto
I'll let you in on something not-so-secret here: I hate Monsanto and their business practices, particularly with respect to patents (trying to patent DNA is really, really scary and has serious ethical consequences). However, Monsanto and genetic modification are separate, just as medical science and Big Pharma are separate.

Oh, wait. There are actually people who don't separate medical science and…

An Enemy of the Britain!

So yesterday I did something political that didn't just involve shouting on the internet, for the first time in nearly two years, by going to the May Day festivities in Manchester. I've not been politically active due to a combination of (over)work, disillusionment and psychological difficulties, which makes me feel guilty. Plus I wanted to get out of the house and avoid revising myself to death.

(The title refers to someone on facebook spitting blood at the thought of Labourites for being too left-wing and labelling them "an enemy of the Britain [sic]". I like laughing at vitriol making native English speakers forget their own language and I like laughing at people who are so frightened of anyone having opinions that differ from their own that they have to label dissenters as traitors. Plus if even relatively inoffensive concepts like "xenophobia is bad" make me an enemy of Britain, well, I'd hate to be an ally...)

At first I was sceptical; TUSC on twi…

Lamenting Stupidity

It is fashionable, particularly in pseudointellectual circles, to lament the decline of society (perhaps the decline of your country's society, or the decline of society in general). This is usually tied up with much weeping and gnashing of teeth over how stupid people these days are.

I've got to say that this kind of lamentation doesn't exactly make you look smart. It mostly makes you look like an elitist asshole with a superiority complex, and while some intelligent people are like that a lot of them have better things to do than sit around complaining - I'll get onto this later. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't go through an elitist pseud phase, but I'd like to think that I grew out of it. I realised that I was an absolutely insufferable prick and that nobody really wanted to be around me except other insufferable pricks, which is not really a brilliant track record, but more to the point I realised that complaining doesn't actually get anything …

‘We don’t need science!’: Chemtrail truthers badger GOP congressman at rowdy public meeting

Reduction

People make me sad.

People make me really, really sad.

There are lots of reasons for this, but one thing making me sad right now (yes, just one, I'm not going to go into too many details right now) is reduction. And you might be wondering why that makes me sad. After all, this is coming from the same person who describes hairbrushes as wavefunctions and humans as balls of cells.

Yeah, guilty as charged. I'm a hypocrite.

For some reason, it leaves an awfully sick taste in my mouth that you can sum up a person's character in the following details:

which arbitrary set of borders they grew up withinwhich arbitrary set of borders they were born withintheir gender(s)their sexuality People are not inherently bland. They are not interesting solely by virtue of being born in a place you consider "exotic" or something like that. To treat someone as being interesting only because of their nationality or their race or their gender, to reduce them to just that in your eyes, is…

Useless

The universe is useless.

Half of the people reading this think I'm wrong, half of them think that this is trivial, and the other half don't have a clue what I'm on about.

I am fully aware that this makes three halves.

Anyway, the universe is pretty damn purposeless. It doesn't exist for any grand, high-flown moralistic reason that we can work out; it just is. Because of (as far as we can tell) a Big Bang. Everything in it is just about as purposeless and useless, from galaxies to stars all the way down to us. The universe couldn't give a shit about human concepts like morality and purpose and so far all this is brain-bleedingly trivial so you might be wondering where I'm going with this.

Anyway, we're purposeless, useless beings living in a purposeless, useless universe and somehow I feel like out of 7 billion useless primates I'm the most useless of all.

Why do you have a stupid banner at the bottom of your blog?

I'm honestly not a fan of putting pop-up banners and ads and things on sites. So I apologise to everyone seeing the banner about Congress censoring the internet. Especially since, well, I'm not American and since a lot of big businesses are very much in favour of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

I will now say that I haven't looked into it enough to have a proper opinion, so I've largely tried to stay out of it. However, I am concerned about the secrecy of the proceedings and the severity of the intellectual property restraints, amongst other things.

Of Ivory Towers and Physics Woo

One of the reasons I really, really like doing physics is because it gives you an amazing bullshit filter, if you let it. All of a sudden the world becomes clear and sharp and deep, described by the beautiful and powerful language that is mathematics. Hopefully you learn the tools to tell the plausible from the just plain nonsense and try to base things on evidence.

Because physics is shiny and wonderful and leaves people speechless, the awe of physics is popular and widely publicised. By and large, this is a good thing; I believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to learn not just for utility but for pleasure, and to learn whatever the hell they please. Unfortunately, because most people are averse to maths (this is an utter travesty; numbers aren't scary), most popular science books gloss over or ignore the mathematical foundation of physics, giving people misconceptions. Now add that to the wave of stupid people promoting things like quantum woo and what do you get? A bunc…

Ode to Tinfoil

Tinfoil is very important.

I don't mean literal tinfoil - I'm just being silly. But tinfoil sounds like foil and I happen to think that foils are very important - not just for wrapping up sandwiches and making good cat toys, but also in the literary sense.

That's all very well and good; foils are pretty important to literature.

This is the point at which I make a bit of a jump and claim that foils are important to real life - in particular, that they are important to friendship. This is also the point at which this post turns into a sappy ode to my friends.

I am blessed to have friends from all over life's weird ways. They're not exactly like me. I have friends my parents disapprove of.

This is a good thing.

The differences between me and my friends mean that we can bounce things off each other - ideas, perspectives, maths, soft toys, bouncy balls, buckets of ice cold water. We disagree. We argue. We get things wrong. But it is worth it to illuminate each other'…

Suicide is Funny

Obvious triggers for suicide and depression are obvious.

People get really, really angry when it comes to making jokes about depression, suicide and mental illness. You could make a case that they're right to do so; after all, mental illness is rarely presented honestly. It's usually romanticised or stigmatised. Why would trivialising it be any better?

My honest answer is that trivialising it doesn't help. But my honest answer has a second part to it: I'm fed up of well-meaning but annoying people yelling "you're trivialising mental illness!" every time I fail to get out my handkerchief and cry over the great tragedy.

Look, it's no big secret that I'm a suicidally depressed mental patient. I don't hide it online, because I have no reason to. If anything, I have several good reasons to talk about mental health openly and honestly. And it's no big secret that learning to manage your illness involves coping mechanisms. As a long-time fan of g…

How Not to be a Male Ally

This blog post will mention and tangentially discuss things like sexual harassment and assault, particularly towards the end. Some links may also be triggering.

I've been thinking.

This is by and large considered to be a bad thing. It's an even worse thing when I'm being frustrated with male allies, because I end up stuck somewhere at the intersection of frustration, confusion, and emotions that threaten to boil over at any minute. Don't worry, there's logic in there too. Somewhere. I hope.

I fully believe that there are good men out there, that there are men who really do want an end to sexism and misogyny. If I did not believe that there were good men out there I would not condemn the bad ones so harshly. I fully want the help of men to end sexism because struggles are easier when you struggle together. I'm very much in favour of building broad coalitions to get things done; while they sacrifice ideological purity, which as far as I can tell is like sacrifici…

How Depression and Suicide Gave Me a New Lease on Life

If discussions of depression and suicide trigger you, I suggest you don't read this post. If you find flippant quips about depression and suicide offensive, I also suggest you don't read this post.

Hey, internet people! Instead of looking at cute cat video #364736463 or addressing the gnawing insecurity about how you think you've fucked up your life and are stuck doing something you hate, why not read something inspirational about how a really, really bad thing actually turned out to be a secret gift?

Yeah, why not?

Well, for a start, you've come to the wrong place. I'm not very good at doing this inspirationalthing at the best of times.

This is just about the best of all possible times and I'm still being a grumpy little dipshit, which tells you something.

I'm not going to tell you the story of six years of depression and five attempts at killing myself (I should really stop, I'm rubbish at this suicide lark), or of being in and out of therapy and navi…

Things I learned in Paris

So, like any good Francophile (and one half of a couple - come on, we've been together for three years, it was bound to happen, and yes we did walk down the banks of the Seine) I've been to Paris. In fact I've just come back from a lovely jaunt there with my partner (thank you!). And like any good traveller, I've learned some things along the way - just they might not be the most conventional ones...

1. If in doubt, set herbs on fire. They give steak a lovely smokey flavour. Omnom.
2. Everything is better with sauces. The creamier the better.
3. If in any more doubt, grab some spirits, set those on fire and pour them over a dessert. Et voila, one boozy sweet treat with added depth, richness and possibility of intoxication if you're as much of a lightweight as I am!
4. Despite being of Eastern European descent (I can't really give you more specifics than that because I'm all mixed up) and having never lived in France in literally ever, people assume I know P…

The phantom of political correctness

I thought political correctness was a term that died out some time in the late 2000s. Apparently the right-wingers who co-opted the term stubbornly refuse to let go of it - or maybe it's just twitter being stupid again. Either way, we're halfway through the 2010s and people are still proudly labelling themselves as un-PC. I use this as a dickface litmus test - if you describe yourself as un-PC on the internet, where Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory already applies, I've already written you off as an asshole.

And no, this isn't because I'm a PC Nazi, a tumblrina or a social justice warriorwankerthing. It's to do with definitions, or rather how rigid those definitions are.

So I'm going to quote the first two definitions I found by googling "political correctness". Admire my scientific rigour!

First up, we have Merriam-Webster's definitions for "politically correct" (which seems to turn up more often than "political correctness"…