zeborah: On the shoulders of giants: zebra on a giraffe (science)
This was broken in half and abandoned on the footpath, keys scattered, and I was curious. So I took it home and finished pulling (/unscrewing) it apart.

Keyboard deconstructed

The keys clip in so are easy to pull out. Behind each one is a plastic doodacky that compresses for smooth typing, but presses down on the circuit sheets. There are three of these: the outer two have lines and junctions, the middle one keeps them apart but has holes in so when the key comes down, it presses the junction on top against the junction below. A circuit is thereby completed with the circuit board in the top-right corner. This consists of four capacitors, three LEDs (for num lock, shift lock, and scroll lock), and on the other side lots of etched circuitry, an area where the USB cord connection's been ripped away, and a black splodge which covers the microchip which makes it work.
zeborah: On the shoulders of giants: zebra on a giraffe (science)
I detoured on my long commute home to the doctor's to pick up a script, except I forgot they close at 6pm instead of 7pm on a Friday. So to lift my spirits in preparation to resume the arduous journey, I stopped at a cafe, and while I was paying for my cheese scroll my old church minister came in (and it's just a couple of days before she's heading overseas for three months at that) and we had a quick catch up. And I know, Christchurch is a small world, and I know, statistics, but there's still something about these incidents: that today was the day I went to the doctor's, that I happened to work late, that I just missed a connection, that I decided on food, and decided on that cafe in particular, and meanwhile she had her own series of incidents leading her there. It's just kind of amazing that our life is made up of a series of incidents, even if that's kind of the definition of life.

Also, nearly home now, the bus shelter had a box full of books (and photo frames and crockery and VHS tapes) someone was sharing with the world. I grabbed a couple of Nancy Drews because I never read them when I was a girl and I feel like I should have instead of or at least as well as all the boy-protag equivalents. And then I was thinking how no-one used to do this - leave boxes of books at the bus shelter - until I did it with a box of BookCrossing books a while after the quakes. And if this is the legacy I leave to the world, it's not a terrible one.

And also, for anyone not on Twitter or who missed it there, I'm crowdsourcing some data collection for a research project into open access and conference papers. (It basically involves googling for 2000 conferences. A couple is somewhat fun, twenty is doable, 200 is a nightmare, 2000 is a half-year's RSI-inducing work. So ideally I'd get a thousand people to do a couple each.) A bunch of people retweeted and a couple did a couple, but then tonight I noticed a good colleague-friend had done a whole pile. So I'm still going to have to be obnoxious in prodding all my acquaintance (prod, prod) but I think it will validate my decision to go this way instead of to give up and work with a less ambitious dataset. And it is going to be an awesome dataset.

(Oh by the way apropos of nothing, does anyone want to spend 10 minutes googling to Do Great Science?)
zeborah: On the shoulders of giants: zebra on a giraffe (science)
Forget your goddamn hoverboard — where's my utopia?

Every now and then someone writes some screed that seems to presuppose that science-fiction began with Star Trek or Campbell and that the movement to include social themes is destroying the genre. This is a patent nonsense: firstly because the genre is flourishing; secondly because social themes were always part of those stories; and thirdly because Campbell and Star Trek were mere johnny-come-latelies to a centuries' long list of illustrious foremothers.

But the fake geek guys don't actually care about the history of the genre. All they care about is what they read and saw when they were growing up. That's why the catch cry among the current generation is "Where's my hoverboard?" They saw Back to the Future Part II, they imprinted on the hoverboard like a newborn chick on its mother and, ever since, that piece of cheap technology is all they want of the future.

What this doesn't take into account is that hoverboards don't come from nowhere. Someone, or more likely some team of people, has to create them. Back to the Future Part II has no interest in exploring this. It's not the kind of story that delves into social themes; it's the kind of story that knocks a woman unconscious and leaves her in the alley to keep her from interfering in the men's adventure. So it simply has our white male hero steal the hoverboard from a native of the time period and proceed to trash it.

Star Trek, though it was (self-)consciously interested in social themes and depicted the future as a utopia, wasn't much more forthcoming on how its technology or that utopia developed. Which came first, the replicator or the society with no need for money? Zefram's warp drive seems necessary to meet the Vulcans and enable humanity's next step of societal 'evolution'. It's never spelled out and there are a few counterpoints — the Prime Directive at least seems to recognise that technology isn't a panacea — but by and large the general impression, imbibed by the generation raised on the show(s), is that if we get the technology right, society will fall into place.

This isn't entirely unfounded: technology can greatly improve quality of life. Birth control, immunisations, water filtration, solar power and cellphones have, together and severally, incredible transformative power. But it's not the whole story. We still need to figure out how to get our hoverboard.

And this is something that the ovular works of science-fiction took an intense interest in. Whether their utopias were reached by the imagination, a polar vortex, a dream, or time travel, they didn't want to just revel in cool technology (although they did that) or the fantastic adventures it enabled (though they did that too). They wanted to know How do we in the present get some of this? And the answers were based in social justice.

Suffrage, says The Blazing World. Education, an end to early marriage, and keeping men secluded in mardana, says Sultana's Dream. Physical and mental training for women, suffrage, prostitution reform, and farming, says Men's Rights. Free and universal education, class equality, parthenogenesis, and eugenics, says Mizora: a Prophecy.

Yes, eugenics; no, these authors were not perfect. (None of us are: we can but keep striving for it.) But they were right about extending education. The more people we educate, the more people can contribute to advancement of society, knowledge, and technology. Like science-fiction, computing was literally founded by women, and we wouldn't be anywhere near where we are today without the integral contributions of LGBT people, of people of colour, of people with disabilities.

But our society doesn't make it easy for any of these people. In the news recently have been the stories of women who left astrophysics because a prominent lecturer at their university harassed them and countless others for years with impunity. The same happens in science-fiction fandom. It happens in computing. And it happens in engineering. People who don't meet the cis-het white male standard get chased, sidelined, and ignored out of the field.

So where's our hoverboard? Let me tell you: it was supposed to be created by a team of engineers who met at a conference and discovered a shared passion and a mutually complementary set of skills. But in our timeline, none of these people are in the field any more. Maybe they got shot at the École Polytechnique. Maybe they got arrested for building a clock. Long story short, if we want a hoverboard we're going to have to take our DeLorean 30 years back in time and fix whatever went wrong.

No DeLorean time machine? Well, in that case maybe we'll just have to settle for fixing the things that are still going wrong in the present.

So first we need to build our social justice utopia and then we'll get our hoverboard. And a lot more besides.
zeborah: On the shoulders of giants: zebra on a giraffe (science)
So a week or so ago I caught this bug off my mother. (My mother, who's had it for three weeks or so, in turn blames the dust from roadworks repairing sewerage pipes.) For the first week it was rather genteel, involving only a persistent productive cough and no other symptoms. At all. It was actually quite weird, but nice, because I didn't *feel* sick.

On Friday the coughs got too much for me to stay at work; and yesterday I went to the doctor who diagnosed laryngitis by a) the time-honoured method of translating symptoms into Greek and calling it a diagnosis, combined with b) what everyone else has. She wrote me a prescription for antibiotics-if-I-get-desperate, on the grounds that although it's probably not a bacteria I seem like a sensible white middle-class person who didn't walk in demanding antibiotics so can be trusted not to abuse the privilege. Also while it's airborne, as public health menaces go that ship's already sailed so I can go to work as long as I feel well enough and work doesn't mind.

This sounded good to me because while my work sensibly provides infinite sick leave and I'm a fan of sitting on my couch with my cat, there's a meeting I *really really* want to go to this morning.

So of course I spent large proportions of last night:
a) attempting in vain to suppress a persistent, nonproductive, side-splitting, lung-hacking cough;
b) attempting to figure out how to stop this cough in order to sleep and/or survive the night;
c) attempting to find a practical implementation of my solution;

and a regretfully small proportion of the night:
d) sleeping.

Also I eventually woke up this morning with the more classic symptom of laryngitis, to wit, not exactly being able to talk, per se.

Anyway, here are the results of my medical engineering experiments, because while my research was not strictly publicly funded, I'm a firm believer in open access.

Hypothesis A: The cough is induced by irritation in the bronchi, and if I can soothe the irritation with ice water then the cough will be suppressed and I can go to sleep.

Methodology: Subject sucked on and occasionally chewed ice cubes.

Results: Even more coughing, omg, seriously, if you have strong religious beliefs about how the proper place of lungs and stomach contents is inside the body then don't do this. I did actually manage to keep everything in its proper place but it was a near call and I painfully strained a rib muscle of some sort before I managed to stumble hacking out of bed and to the location of my second experiment.

Hypothesis B: Cold bad ergo warmth good.

Methodology: Subject took a hot shower with the fan turned off so that the bathroom steamed up.

Results: Inhaling steam good. The cough mostly went away. The hot water also felt nice on my strained rib muscle. Unfortunately once I came out of the bathroom again the cough resumed.

Hypothesis C: Lungs are clearly super-sensitive so need a constant stream of warm, moist air.

Methodology: Having discarded, for practical reasons, the idea of trying to sleep in the shower, bath, or a hypothetical Linwood all-night sauna, subject boiled the jug and nuked a wheatpack for her ribs. Subject then spent the next six hours working out the best way to sleep safely with a bowl of boiling water in one's bed and periodically waking up (the water having cooled enough to retrigger the hacking cough) and going back to the kitchen to reboil the jug.

Results: I think I got almost four hours of sleep in three batches? Not bad, all considered. Anyway my eventual method was to lie on my side on pillows, with next to the pillows a large plastic bowl containing a smaller metal bowl of boiling water, and my head and the bowl covered with my polar fleece poncho, aka 'blankie'.

At one point I added some eucalyptus oil; I don't think this either helped or hurted.

A damp towel nuked for a minute provided near-instant relief while waiting for water to boil. But it cooled quicker than a bowl of water so wasn't by itself a good solution.

Conclusion: If you see or hear someone coughing, run as fast as you can in the other direction. Apparently this thing is going around.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)
So I'm trying to poison a character with something left inside his cup which, when mixed with the wine that fills said cup, will kill him. I need something that might, after the wine has settled a while, leave a bit of an oily film, and my subconscious said, for no reason I'm aware of, "Alkaloids!" Then I spent some time ruling out various New World alkaloid poisons because this is early 16th century Denmark, and various alkaloid poisons that smell like mouse-droppings.

I don't quite get the point of a poison that smells like mouse-droppings. If it smelt like rabbit droppings it might work, but only if you were trying to kill a rabbit. Anyone else is going to say "This shit smells like crap" and refuse to drink it.

So I ended up with belladonna, and then I was discussing with Irina whether it'd leave the requisite oily film. One of us remembered that nutmeg was an alkaloid and, as I have a lot more nutmeg in the pantry than belladonna, I decided I'd run an experiment with that. Then I forgot because I was actually getting writing done. (Yeah! I know!) But tonight I remembered.

One wine glass was filled with pure (albeit extremely cheap) red wine as a control in case I hadn't washed the glasses properly.

Into a second glass 1/8 tsp nutmeg was placed. Next red wine was added.

At this point it was realised that 1/8 tsp nutmeg was in excess of the amount that would give best results. Therefore a third glass was dusted with minute amounts of nutmeg and red wine was added.

Nothing unexpected was observed on the surface of the contents in the control glass, thus vindicating my housekeeping skills.

However on the surface of the second and third glasses, a thin layer of nutmeg powder was immediately observed.

It was recalled that, whereas nutmeg comes in powder form, belladonna comes in an oleous solution. It is likely that these two substances have different properties as a result. Recalling this before beginning the experiment would have saved on red wine and, more importantly considering how cheap said wine is, on time spent doing dishes.

[My sisters will recall that I have a history of designing scientific experiments that turn out to be, at best, tangential to my auctorial needs. There was the time I burnt a match in order to taste the burnt wood only to realise that a) burnt wood tastes like burnt anything and b) what my story actually wanted was a description of what burnt wood smelled like.]

Further research is required with olive oil.


zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)

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