Play-doh circuitry

These kids look so thrilled every time they make something that lights up. This is definitely something I need to do, given that I’m just a big kid myself. I’ve got lots of little tweeters, LEDs, motors, battery packs, et cetera. And homemade play-doh is easy enough to make, and I suspect I could even make it with different resistances. Oh, ideas are germinating already!

Squishy Circuits from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

Hat tip to Mary MacTavish on Google+.

How to tell people they sound racist (or privileged?)

By Jay Smooth. Very nice.

Interestingly, this has some implications in a totally different conversation — how to tell people their actions or words support misogyny or rape apologetics. It’s exactly the same as what happened during Elevatorgate with Rebecca Watson pointing to Stef McGraw’s words and saying they are unacceptable in that they’re wrong and they promote misogynistic views about gender relations. Rebecca was having conversation one, and everyone turned it into conversation two.

See also the comments on this post over at Greg Laden’s.

Greenpeace Australia ensures more land will be used for crops

Greenpeace Australia recently took action against a genetically modified wheat trial in Australia by scaling a fence, donning showpiece costumes that look like hazmat suits, and using a gas-powered weed-eater to destroy the entire crop. They also put up a Flickr slideshow showing their handiwork. The hazardous materials tape is a really nice touch for what amounts to vandalism, especially since their involvement was due to “concerns over health, cross-contamination and the secrecy surrounding the experiments.”

What’s REALLY interesting about this incident is the actual intended purpose of the crops. And no, these trials have nothing to do with Roundup, and they have little if nothing to do with Monsanto’s less savory practices except tangentially.

The trials in question appeared to be of the simple kind – the wheat has been altered in a way that should affect its glycemic index, how rapidly the sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream, and that CSIRO is interested in seeing if it has the desired effect when eaten by human beings. These kinds of studies have been done before, such as on calcium-biofortified carrots as described in this post.

In support of their action, Greenpeace copy/pasted their Golden Rice letter and had eight scientists sign it, then delivered this letter to the top Australian scientific body CSIRO. They did so a scant few days before three “concerned mothers” took action against these genetically modified crops. The crops had actually already at that point undergone a three-month trial being fed to animals, and in six months (presumably after this crop had grown), the scientists were planning on having a short 28-day human trial to determine whether or not the sugars were more bioattainable by humans. As the blockquote states, these are simple trials. The whole point of this genetically modified wheat is to provide more nutrition for humans, which one would think is a noble goal especially from an environmental standpoint — less crops feeding more people means more food for less damage to the planet in the form of pesticides.

Greenpeace is in the habit of using reductio ad absurdum and touting “common sense” over actual understanding of the science behind whatever they’re demonizing. Let’s see what happens when we use the same tactic against them, shall we? Presumably, Greenpeace’s actual problem with genetically modified crops of this nature has precious little to do with Monsanto’s disturbing and predatory practices, and more to do with keeping people underfed, since genetically modified crops could very well save infinity billion humans. Fewer humans means less damage to the environment, you see. Therefore, Greenpeace is about doing damage to the human race. In that they’ve declared themselves above the law in this and other recent and violent crimes, they’re now a terrorist organization, of the old school comic book variety.

Greenpeace == Cobra Command, ladies and gentlemen. Only they’ve got a better PR department.

The Problem with Privilege (or: after this, can we get back to the actual issues?)

I’ve been arguing recently with one of my Twitter followers about the specifics behind the Elevatorgate incident and the fallout that ensued. It seems that she’s seen fit to make private the extraordinarily long blog post that she put up about the subject. Completely coincidentally, I assume, after I showed her that the guy that approached Rebecca Watson in an elevator was present and within earshot when she said she was going to bed.

I had intended to address a few more of her concerns so that we can get back to the actual topic of privilege, but many of those points were only on her blog post. She did, however, reiterate many of the high points in comments, so I’m not completely without blog fodder at the moment. And hopefully this will help us get back on track really quickly.

One of Mechelle’s points was that a number of bloggers have been making use of a number of phrases that she considers hyperbolic — for instance, claiming that Rebecca had been “cornered” in the elevator.

[T]his is about a guy who was, off the bat, not only judged to be displaying inappropriate behavior by telling her he thought her interesting, but also extended an invitation to his room for coffee. Furthermore, it was done so in quite dishonest ways. Words were used to exaggerate the situation, like “cornered” “trapped” “followed” and it was even said that “he found her sexually attractive”, which he said nothing of the sort, all to plant the seed that the situation was more sinister than it really was.

[Read more...]

Helping someone realize a mistake: twenty minutes. Recriminations: priceless.

Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to inform someone that they are accidentally bleeding personal information all over the internet.

For the past several months, I’ve been receiving e-mails from sporting goods stores, schools, random people, and most recently a junior hockey website, all aimed at Jason Thibeault, but all of them from a geographical area I’ve never been anywhere near. Despite unsubscribing from all these lists and e-mailing their owners to inform them that they had not reached their intended recipient, this personal information bleed continued.

Rather than assuming that I was being intentionally spammed, I figured maybe I should find this person and inform them that they did not, in fact, own the e-mail address they thought they owned. So every time I got a new one, the thought recurred, but I didn’t expend any actual effort into finding the person to fix the issue.

The most recent event, the e-mail from a hockey website, actually included a profile that I could use to very quickly track down the person and let them know their mistake. After a short exchange with a woman named Denise who was looking to sign her son up with the house hockey league, I realized the website in fact included another “email me” link for Jessica Thibeault. I sent her the following message:

Hi,

My name is Jason Thibeault, and I’m from Nova Scotia, Canada. Your co-captain Jason Thibeault (whom I’m assuming to be related to you by blood or by marriage) believes he owns jthibeault@gmail.com and has evidently been registering me for a number of things including scholastic events and this (REDACTED hockey league name) website. Could you kindly inform him that he does not, in fact, own jthibeault@gmail.com?

Thanks very much!

A few hours later, I received this response. And oh it’s a doozy.

[Read more...]

The Problem with Privilege (or: missing the point, sometimes spectacularly)

Part three of a series.

I disagree with a lot of people, a lot of the time. I even disagree with people who are being very reasonable and forthright with their thought processes in how they came to the conclusions they did. In fact, often, it’s those thought processes that give me insight into exactly how they missed the point of whatever it was they were disagreeing with in the first place. It’s at times like this that you have to step back and objectively analyze exactly how and where they went wrong so as to make them an object lesson for others that will almost certainly make the same mistakes.

@Mechelle_68, a twitter follower of mine, disagreed with most of my analysis of the ongoing Rebecca Watson “Elevatorgate” nonsense. She offered a number of arguments against what I had said in my first two posts, many of the points relating directly to the concept of privilege.

The main way she got things, in my view, completely wrong about Elevatorgate:

The issue that was pointed out here is that the man disrespected Rebecca by extending an invitation to her after she expressed, in the bar, that she was tired and wanted to go to bed. Also, that she had stated during the Con that she’d prefer to be treated as a “thinking human being, first”. Enter fire and brimstone.

Firstly, it’s possible this man may have not heard Rebecca make this statement. Bars are noisy. And if you’ve ever been to a post-con bar-meet, you know they’re even noisier. Loads of different conversations taking place and alcohol being consumed. You do good to hear someone talking to you without them shouting in your face. Now if Rebecca had jumped up on the bar and said “Excuse me, can I have your attention? Quiet, please, I have something to say. I’m tired and I’m going to bed. That’s all. Thank you.” then yeah, it’s possible to assume the man deliberately ignored her wishes. But I doubt very seriously that it played out like that. Chances are this guy didn’t hear her.

This was a hotel bar, filled mostly with the con goers, at 4 AM. Even at fairly large conventions, like TAM, I understand the bar scene is relatively close quarters so everyone can discuss. Sure, it’s a bar, and there’s likely to be some noise, but I strongly doubt it’s anything like a pub at happy hour. There’s absolutely no reason not to take her at her word that it happened exactly as Rebecca said — she announced to the remaining people at the bar that she was going to bed, then she left the bar, and one of the people in that crowd followed her out. Sure, I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. Neither were you, so who are you to cast aspersions on Rebecca’s credibility?

Say, for the sake of argument, that this person was not at the convention to hear her say explicitly that she would not like to be sexualized at every con (and remember, she was speaking not just for herself, but on behalf of all women, to actually encourage more participation by women in such cons — because that’s a big problem our community has in terms of inclusion at the moment, since women don’t particularly like being included in a movement just to be leered at). Let’s say also, for the sake of argument, that he had not heard her say that she was going to bed; rather, that he had seen her get up and start to leave the bar. Let’s even say for the sake of argument that he only coincidentally left at the same time.

Even with all these hypotheticals, the salient points are still that she was alone, slightly tipsy, in a foreign country, at 4 in the morning, in a hotel during which time most of the activity was winding down for the night, and a stranger got on the elevator with her and the first contact she’d ever had with this guy was for him to offer her coffee in his room so they could “talk”. Because he found her “interesting”. Rebecca still has every right to be creeped out. She has every right to say “don’t do this”, partly because it won’t work, but mostly because it will set off triggers like crazy in any society in which women are trained to be rape-avoidant. And that’s even ignoring the fact that he was supposedly paying enough attention to her to know who she was and to think that she was interesting, and yet wasn’t paying enough attention to know she’d talked that day about being sexualized, nor about being tired and wanting to go to bed. You know, because that fact would just make the whole situation all the creepier.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that Rebecca had taken this man at his word, and joined him for further conversation and coffee. Now, hopefully, that’s all this hypothetical elevator-guy had on his mind. But since we’re doing hypotheticals, let’s also assume that Rebecca had been sexually assaulted.

Yes, I’m suggesting the unthinkable, and I’m painting Elevator Guy as Schrodinger’s Rapist and therefore apparently disqualify myself from the conversation akin to Godwin’ing a thread. But still, play along, because I have a point to make.

What judge in Ireland, or England, or the USA, or in any other country in this world, would accept Rebecca’s word against the Elevator Guy’s and convict him of rape after she willingly joined him in his hotel room at 4 AM for “coffee”? In fact, would YOU accept her word in those circumstances?

Privilege works that way too, you see. Rape is disturbingly common and underreported in Western society, very likely because of how unlikely it is for the rapist to actually get convicted of his crimes. Men have the privilege of being given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to he-said/she-said situations where what she-said might give you five-to-twenty. If Rebecca had for some reason gone to his room, she would therefore have been insufficiently self-protective, and therefore would have been assumed to be a slut trying to screw over her last one-night-stand.

Don’t think it could happen in your country? Hell, it even happens in the liberal socialist paradise that is Canada.

I have more to say about Mechelle’s post, but that’s enough vitriol for one night. Tomorrow, I hope.

Peripheral vision turns normal girls horrific

Fullscreen this video and follow the directions.

Our brains are full of such bugs, being the product of evolution rather than design. Is it that your brain is layering their faces due to them flashing by so quickly? Or is there something haywire with our facial pattern recognition in our peripheral vision? I saw lots of cyclopses, goblins, and at least one pointy-toothed underbite. Scrolling through the video again, I saw nothing but normal girls, mostly without makeup.

Hat tip to @richardwiseman.

The Problem with Privilege (or: no, you’re not a racist misogynist ass, calm down)

Part two of a series, evidently. Told you I had more to say.

From blacklava.net. Buy one today! (If you're privileged.)

So you’re white. So you’re a man. So you’re well-to-do. That surely doesn’t make you evil! … OR DOES IT!?!?

People honestly don’t seem to understand what it means to say that there’s a privilege problem in the skeptical community, it seems. Nor what it means if they’re one of the lucky few majority who have this privilege. Nor what to do when someone calls you out on it. Nor pretty well any aspect of actually understanding the situation and its implications that might allow for normal social interaction on a daily basis without blowing up half the damn blogosphere every time someone points out a behaviour that’s damaging the way Rebecca Watson just did. I’m assuming inadvertently, since she’s pretty damn good at building networks, and she’s well-respected in skeptical and atheist communities enough for this to matter.

I mean, hell, all it took to touch off this particular firestorm was Rebecca complaining that a guy ignored one, if not two direct statements of intent in order to flirt with her — in one of the most socially awkward ways imaginable, indicating he was wholly oblivious of the implications of his environment — to provide the powderkeg. It took someone like Stef McGraw, a public figure as a member of a leadership organization at her school, completely missing the point of Rebecca’s complaint and doing so in public on her organization’s blog, to provide the fuse. Rebecca daring to rebut in public at a conference in which Stef was attending lit the match. Everything that’s happened since has been people of all stripes sticking their noses into the conversation as though it merited more than the back-and-forth that Rebecca could have damn well handled on her own. The explosion happened through three incidents, and everything else has been people picking through the rubble either trying to score rhetorical points or trying to triage the injured parties. (I said parties. I don’t mean Rebecca specifically.)

People including me, a white male taking advantage of his privilege to be heard on this one.

You see, privilege is when you are a member of a non-marginalized group in a region — like, say, being white and male and Christian in North America. Not only do the marginalized people get explicitly marginalized, there are some creeping and insidious ways that the privileged group gets advantages that they themselves might not be aware of. For instance, a man might get the benefit of the doubt when he approaches someone somewhere at some time and invites them for coffee. When that someone is a woman, and that somewhere and somewhen is an elevator at 4 AM, and that invitation for coffee is a thinly veiled invitation for sexual congress, the woman might get a little freaked out. People everywhere and of both sexes scramble to excuse the man, especially since he did nothing wrong, and therefore the woman is freaked out for nothing.

Except one of the ways privilege works is that the people with the privilege often try to solve the problems inherent in the power dynamic by suggesting that the underprivileged protect themselves. You know, because the onus of responsibility is on them to keep from being abused. How many times have you, as a man, been told to avoid dark alleys or elevators or going out in the middle of the night because you might be raped? How much rape avoidance do you have to practice? Sure, you have some small amount of necessity to avoid these areas because you might be mugged, but not statistically more than a woman might, even though women are on average physically less capable or less willing or more acculturated to simply not fight back. Males don’t have to practice avoidance the way a woman does. And a woman does because we excuse behaviour that indicates predatory isolation techniques in men, whether they cause any actual offense or not afterward.

I’ve already written a post for a secret project in which I discuss how I (only slightly, she’ll say) hurt my dear friend inadvertently by using too many of my own words, rather than simply pushing traffic to her words instead. I’ll happily include the post in this series when said secret project is fully operational, but until then, suffice it to say that as a guy, I have the ability to post more inflammatory things with less flack from the audience, and I automatically get more hits whether my words merit them or not. I recognize and acknowledge this privilege, and I accept it, and I’m even willing to apply this privilege to noble ends, especially if it means eroding at the privilege in general to provide the less-privileged with an equal shot in this world.

I have privilege, in being white and in being male. This does not make me a racist, nor a sexist, especially where I recognize that my position does actually give me societal advantages that I don’t necessarily deserve. It doesn’t make you a racist or a sexist either. But lashing out at someone who simply wants to point out where someone is taking advantage of a privilege — in this case, the privilege to flirt despite clear signs of pre-rejection — that’s just wrong.

It’s wrong because you, as the forum troll that makes comments like these or these, sense that some “right” is being taken away from you, but you don’t even know what it is. You assume that Rebecca advocated that the man in the elevator was a rapist — never mind all the rape avoidance techniques these women have been taught to employ as members of the unprivileged that include this exact scenario, and that she never took it beyond a complaint of the behaviour being generally creepy. You assume that people who support Rebecca are man-haters who want men to never flirt again, but you ignore the fact that they simply want you to pay more attention to them before diving into the sexual come-ons, especially right after you got done talking about how uncool those cold-opens are. You assume that anyone who disagrees with you on any minor picayune point is from “another tribe”, a different in-group, and therefore worth derision and total lack of respect. And once you’ve made up your mind on anything, come hell or high water you’re sticking to your guns.

Those of us who appreciate a little bit of reality in our discourse might simply recognize that when a woman says “don’t do this specific thing”, you probably shouldn’t do that specific thing. If not simply with her, then at least let it give you pause and search for indicators that the behaviour is acceptable with your next target. Flirting with women in elevators is fine. If you’ve known them for longer than thirty seconds, and respect if they tell you to back off, anyway.

Like all things, interpersonal relations are nuanced. Stop trying to make this a binary issue, because it’s not.

By the way, Jen at Blag Hag says much the same thing specifically about Dawkins. Yeah, he’s not a misogynist either. He’s just misusing his privilege to tell someone that their complaint is useless, just because it’s a “first world problem” so to speak. This is, of course, misguided. But don’t dare tell him so while including the word “fuck”.