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Becca Stareyes
Inspired by a serious interviewer asking a Republican candidate if he would go back in time to kill baby Hitler. Let's set aside the morality of killing someone for something he hasn't technically done yet from everyone's perspective but yours, and whether or not he inevitably will lead to the death of millions. Let's also generalize to the general 'leader of horrible movement of history' case.

(I mean, I guess I can go for a fictional example, like stopping the assassination of Senator Kelly at the hands of Mystique, but the thing about fiction is that you can make a complex problem have a simple solution.)

Okay, so Hitler for whatever reason does not become involved with the Nazi Party, thus he can't take leadership of that, then of Germany, then lead the way to WWII and the Holocaust. But you still have a Germany that suffered an economic downturn after losing WWI, followed by the Great Depression. You still have fascism rising in Italy and fascist movements in Europe. You still have an imperialist Japan in the Pacific, which is an part of WWII that is loosely connected to the European theater via alliances.

The argument then becomes 'why bother acting on one man when we have social problems that are bigger than that?' Which is the normal pragmatic argument against messing with time travel. Someone in the discussion over on Slactivist mentioned that doing something is better than throwing up your hands and doing nothing and alluded to climate change...

... except with climate change, if we try something and it either doesn't do what we think it does or has side effects, we can stop and evaluate. Most time travel stories involve you doing one thing, then skipping merrily ahead to the future without having to live through the years. If you want to make the world a better place, you can't just do one grand gesture and expect things to sort itself out.

Which comes back to American politics. A quote from Obama today was "...we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution." I don't always think that Obama does the right thing, and heavens know that what Obama wants doesn't always happen thanks to the US political system. But it's a good motto to live by. Sometimes the things that work aren't the flashy, simple-sounding actions, but a lot of things that don't boil down to a soundbyte and require dealing with the fact that things are complicated.
Becca Stareyes
09 July 2015 @ 04:10 pm
I have a few news and reviews podcasts, and a friend's podcast ("Everyday Einstein", a weekly podcast by someone who went to grad school with me), but I'd thought I'd review two of the podcasts that are a bit quirkier.

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Becca Stareyes
04 July 2015 @ 07:18 am
I need some teachign icons.

It's really tough remembering to journal regularly. I'm currently on my summer vacation: I took a class in June, which I let eat up all my time because it was a class on teaching and I want to be a better teacher. I got some good lessons on teaching in general as well as on the method in particular.

The method is called 'the flipped classroom' and it's based around two ideas:

1. Lectures or reading might be good ways to introduce material, but lecture alone is terrible for retention, even when students think they got it. I've certainly had the 'this all made sense when Doctor Smith was explaining it in class, but doing it on my own is an exercise in frustration'. At best, that means students come to office hours or seek their peers or the help center for extra help. More likely, they flail about. (This is why we assign homework: so students can practice using the stuff we make them learn.)

2. 'Homework' and applications are the times students are most likely to need interaction with an instructor or peer. Lecture is traditionally not very interactive. So why not have the application as time in class when the professor is around, and the lecture at home before class when it doesn't matter if the instructor recorded it three years ago? Hence, 'flipped'.

The class I took had us making a flipped module, but also had us talking about various things about measuring if students are learning, setting reasonable expectations, lower and higher order thinking and how to make group work work when there's always at least one person who is The Load. The class was a mix of fields: we had two engineers, me, a computer scientist, an environmental planner, the business librarian (who guest lectures on 'how to research things'), a speech teacher, someone from the masters in education program, and someone from the social sciences that was looking at her field's research methods course. One of the guest lecturers reminded me about exactly how much stuff is out there for physics education (he was an engineer and had adapted things).

I also got my schedule for Fall. Good news: it's all classes I've taught before, which means that not only do I have 2.5 months to plan everything, I can adapt things. I also don't have to teach on Fridays, so that means I'll probably do an office hour Friday morning, then leave around lunchtime. Bad news: I got the evening classes, probably because I was 'meh' instead of 'hell no'* on the schedule. So the draft schedule has me teaching Physics at 4, Astronomy at 5, break for dinner at 6, then the same physics again at 7.

Now, I might just shift my schedule so I get up later in the morning, except it is impossible to get a good parking spot after 8 AM on campus and I can't wait until the day shift go home because I also need office hours (also, I think 4 is a bit too early for that). So I have to decide if it's better to show up to work right before lunch and have to walk across all of campus (and then either move my car during my dinner break or walk back in the dark), or schedule 'mid-day siesta/goof off break' in my office.

I still think I like this schedule better than 'first class starts at 8, last class ends at 6', which I've done two terms out of three. Because it's a lot easier when you have a long break to work on class prep and grading.

(The evening class has a mixed reputation: on the one hand, it's usually the class with empty seats because no one wants to be there. And small classes are awesome for learning things. On the other, the 'no one wants to be here' means low everything scores. If I can get good reviews here, I shall consider this a badge of pride.)

* One of the virtues of being childless and single: my time is a lot more flexible than most.
Becca Stareyes
04 May 2015 @ 09:12 am
I had a job interview, so I bust out the eReader. And being delayed by mechanical issues (that lead to half the passengers having to take the bus for three and a half hours because the only plane available was half the size of the original) meant I could read a lot.

Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
This is a re-read. Basically, the premise is that Maia, the half-goblin fourth son to the Emperor of the Elflands, raised in semi-exile thanks to his dad having Issues with him and his mother, is suddenly made Emperor as his dad and three older brothers die in an airship accident. And he knows nothing about being emperor or politics, or more than the basics of manners. So, he has to investigate what looks like sabotage, run the court, manage his family as the head in a patriarchal society, deal with conservative advisers in a civilization in the middle of an Industrial Revolution, plan the visit of his maternal grandfather (the head of state of a neighboring country), and ensure the royal succession (since the closest thing he has to an heir is his teenage nephew, who might have known this stuff, but would get eaten alive).

One thing I noticed on the re-read is exactly how unreliable a narrator Maia is. Since his mother's death, his guardian was a resentful distant relative (also in semi-exile thanks to a disagreement with Maia's father) who was emotionally abusive. Maia is convinced that everyone is out to get him and hates him, so much that he has to remind himself that sometimes people are nice for no reason. A lot of the story is him coming into his own, and using the fact that he was raised with much less relative privilege than most rulers to make changes.

The Three Body Problem, Liu Cixin
A SF novel, set in modern China and originally published in Chinese for a Chinese audience. It's a bit of a slow burn, since we're introduced to two characters as our primary POV and it takes a while for them to meet up. Ye Wenjie was a young astrophysicist during China's Cultural Revolution, who slowly became bitter and disillusioned by humanity. As it happened, she entered into a project by the Chinese government to look for and send transmissions to aliens (under the belief that aliens shouldn't only get the US and Soviet views of the world).

Wang Maio is also a physicist (it is the sort of book that isn't shy about using physics: the title is even an allusion to a problem in celestial mechanics), but he works with developing new materials. He's asked by a mix of police and military forces (that include US and European members) to help investigate a strange rash of suicides of prominent theoretical physicists, with the suggestion that they found that physics just doesn't make sense on some fundamental level. As Wang is a scientist, he's more likely to interact with the same people. Then Wang starts seeing these things himself. He also notices the presence of a strange Internet game (Three Body) played by one of the people who he's investigating that seems to have the same theme: a world where you don't even know if the Sun will rise.

It's interesting, because I have a strong knee-jerk to 'surprise, the universe doesn't make sense' because I am a scientist. There were enough puzzles to get me past that and carry me through, and the science seemed pretty solid*. I also wish I knew more about the Cultural Revolution, because it plays such a strong role in shaping Ye Wenjie.

Neptune's Brood, Charles Stross
Basically, it was a story set in the far future, where humans (well, artificial post-humans with brains patterned on ours) have colonized space and mostly travel by beaming their consciousnesses to new bodies around other stars (because FTL travel doesn't exist). Our Protagonist, Krina, a historian-slash-accoutant is chasing the bureaucratic equivalent of buried treasure, a transaction stalled due to the fact it takes years to exchange a handshake between star systems. Only people keep trying to kill her (it is a very large amount of money).

I don't know if I'm just dumb about money and investment, but I read Stross's musings on the economy of colonization and it all makes sense, but I can't explain why (as is a big plot point) faster-than-light travel would cause a major economic collapse afterward. But I appreciate a book that is both a classic space opera, a good adventure, and ultimately about economics and debt and chasing down con artists. And also mermaids and communist squid-people uranium miners.

* Spoilers: Fb, gur erirny vf gung Lr Jrawvr qvq pbagnpg nyvraf sebz Nycun Pragnhev (gur Gevfbavnaf). Gurve cynarg vf va n punbgvp beovg nebhaq nyy guerr fgnef, jurer gurer ner crevbqf bs frzv-crevbqvp zbgvba naq crevbqf bs 'jub xabjf'. Gurl qrpvqr vg'f bayl n znggre bs gvzr orsber gurve cynarg trgf gbffrq vagb n fgne, naq gurl arrq gb trg ng yrnfg fbzr crbcyr bss vg.

Fvapr V qb qlanzvpf sbe n yvivat (sbe n gval nzbhag), V guvax gurer'f n ovg zber fgnovyvgl va gur flfgrz, hayrff gur Gevfbavnaf erdhver zhpu pbbyre grzcrengherf guna Rnegu. (Va juvpu pnfr, jr pna yrnfr gurz Znef be Gvgna be fbzrguvat.) Va trareny, jura lbh ner pybfr rabhtu gb bar fgne, gur bgure fgne bayl npgf nf n zvabe punatr sebz gur abezny cynarg-nebhaq-fgne beovg, naq gur Nycun Pragnhev znva cnve vf jvqryl rabhtu frcnengrq gung Rneguyvxr cynargf fubhyq unir n fgnoyr beovg.

Gur fgbel jnf tbbq rabhtu gung V jnf jvyyvat gb cergraq gung gur flfgrz jnf fbzrguvat bgure guna vg jnf.
Becca Stareyes
28 April 2015 @ 04:58 pm
I need to blog more...

Anyway, book reviews!Collapse )
Becca Stareyes
07 December 2014 @ 02:40 pm
I actually read the comments on this article (a bit*). The article itself is about how being poor means you are one setback from disaster. The example in the article is of a car being towed. The author can't pay the several hundred dollars to get it back until she is paid in a few days. By that time, she owes more in storage fees, so she'll never be able to recover the car -- it's building up faster than her paychecks. So she loses the car. Walking/getting rides/public transport doesn't give her the mobility to get to work**, so she loses her job, which imperils her ability to pay rent on her apartment... and suddenly the inability to get a few hundred dollars at once to fix one screw-up means someone is unemployed and homeless.

Of course, the commenters were all 'wait, are you saying poor people should never be held responsible for their mistakes!?' Of course it isn't, merely that 'unemployed and homeless' is too steep a price for this screw-up, when a middle-class person would just owe an hour of time, a dip into the savings account, and the hassle of finding a ride for a few days.

So, I reflect on the recent publicity of police shootings of predominantly black men/boys (Jim Hines has an incomplete list). In many cases, the police reported some problem, or were called in. And, yet, what in some cases might have been a warning or a citation or even an arrest ends with the death of an unarmed man. I can think of some of my relatives and friends who were a bit wild and stupid as teenagers and young adults, and I note they are alive, despite encounters with the police. People shouldn't die based on police suspicion (or, let's be honest, anything less dangerous than an active gunfight). That is not a reasonable consequence and is not the same consequence as happens to white teens/young adults.

We're not asking for no consequences, we're asking for the same, reasonable consequences for everyone

* Yes, I know.
** Many places in America are set up under the assumption you own a car.
Becca Stareyes
28 October 2014 @ 03:02 pm
So, I got bored and downloaded 6 demo games for my Nintendo 2DS. My pocket reviews here.

Super Smash Bros I haven't played SSB since Melee, and I'm not particularly good at it. And given the modes in the game, I suspect there's not much appeal unless you want to play with other people. And, well, I play video games when I want to avoid other people. Or when I'm in the same room as them, but handhelds and social in-person gaming don't go together.

Pokemon Greek-Gem (OmegaRuby/AlphaSapphire) So the Pokemon game seems to be its own thing. You get given a Pokemon, walk around the city (where you can do nothing, except talk to a few NPCs), go fight Team Magma and Team Aqua, catch a wild Pokemon, play with Mega Evolution, and go home. It shows off the features, but... well, this is a Pokemon game and a remake, so you know what you get. And I didn't get through Heart Gold last time, though I did enjoy Pokemon X. So I suspect that I'm better off waiting on this.

Also I resent that the demo made me play as a boy named Orlando, instead of letting me pick whether I got to be male or female.

Cooking Mama 5/Gardening Mama 2
So I decided to give this a chance. The Cooking Mama demo makes it seem like Minigames: The Game. Which I don't mind except I didn't get a sense of an overarching goal. I'm noting the difference between that and Gardening Mama, which reminds me a lot of the Facebook resource-management games that I find so addictive. I play minigames to get plant seeds, which I grow and then sell to a rabbit, which lets me get money for more seeds and decorations. And there's spots for more stuff later. And no nagging messages to share this with friends or that you need X clicks to finish the quest. I mean, it's not something I'd pay much money for but it strikes me as something I'd waste time playing.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon
So, a cute RPG exploration game about Pokemon and something something shit is going down, but let's help our buddy build a home. I'd play more of this.

Etrian Odyssey
Okay, so the gimmick is that you have to draw your own maps of the dungeons, and there's a resource-management element in that you have both fetch-quests (bring back X to the town for exp) and you need to sell the shopkeeper certain items to unlock equipment, but I'm enjoying it*. The 3DS version is a remake of the DS version that adds fixed characters and a plot.
* I like being able to make my own maps, it turns out. And note things like 'where I can gather Hardwood' or 'weird purple door'.

I've also seen ads for Fantasy Life and I keep meaning on picking up Rune Factory. And this is what I think about when I'm trying to avoid grading.
Becca Stareyes
24 October 2014 @ 09:19 am
So, I signed up for a service called TheFresh20. Basically once a week, it posts five recipes that take 20 new ingredients (in total) and up to 20 'staples'*. I've been using it for a month or two and here's my thoughts.

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Becca Stareyes
14 October 2014 @ 04:54 pm
I think it's finally cooled off enough this week that I can wear fashion scarves with my work shirts and not feel like I'm going to pass out from heat exhaustion.