Garden bench for sale

I went to see David Sedaris on stage last night. (Tonight he’s in Missoula, Montana.)

I laughed more than I expected to. I expected to laugh, but not as much (or as raucously) as I did.

There were a few minutes for questions at the end, and someone asked about his “Fitbit” – which now I understand because he wrote about it in the New Yorker last June. It’s like a pedometer but more so.

A few weeks later, I bought a Fitbit of my own, and discovered what she was talking about. Ten thousand steps, I learned, amounts to a little more than four miles for someone my size—five feet five inches. It sounds like a lot, but you can cover that distance in the course of an average day without even trying, especially if you have stairs in your house, and a steady flow of people who regularly knock, wanting you to accept a package or give them directions or just listen patiently as they talk about birds, which happens from time to time when I’m home, in West Sussex, the area of England that Hugh and I live in. [Read more…]

Canals on Mars

How about those canals on Mars?

I was just wondering how widespread the belief in their existence was. A 2011 article by Richard Milner in Astrobiology Magazine gives some background.

About 120 years ago, however, at least one prominent astronomer was convinced that Mars not only supported life, but was home to an advanced civilization. Martians, the theory went, had built an extensive network of canals to draw water down from supposed icecaps at the Red Planet’s poles to irrigate a world that was drying out.

[Read more…]

She’ll need Steven and Brian’s help

Oh good, a “girls can” book that actually says girls can’t. Helpful.

The latest affront to basic decency in gendered toy marketing comes from a Barbie book that tells girls they can’t be game developers or programmers.

The book is bafflingly called Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. It was written by Susan Marenco and published by Random House. Despite its encouraging title, Marenco’s book actually tells pre-teen girls that Barbie can only contribute to the design of the game she’s building. [Read more…]

A fish notices the water

At Slate: Phil Plait on The Shirt and the fallout after The Shirt and the apology and the moving on.

To be clear, I don’t think Taylor is a raging misogynist or anything like that; I think he was just clueless about how his words might sound and his shirt might be interpreted. We all live in an atmosphere steeped in sexism, and we hardly notice it; a fish doesn’t notice the water in which it swims. I’ve lived in that environment my whole life, and I was well into adulthood before I started becoming aware of it and figuring out how to counter it. I’m still learning.

*raises hand* I notice it! [Read more…]

Guest post: An observation from St Carl of Ithaca

Originally a comment by Blake Stacey on The most shameful ontological status.

I felt a little of that when the Mars Rover landed safely. I was disappointed there weren’t more women in the room. I hoped there would be more in the future. I was glad to see the few who were there.

This reminded me of something, so I went and looked it up. Everyone open your hymnals to St. Carl of Ithaca, Pale Blue Dot (1994), p. 243, describing the collision of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter:

The impact of the millennium was beginning to look very much like a fizzle. [Read more…]