Smart Girls, Good Friends, and Pretty Dresses

Given my interest in girls in STEM, it made sense that I took notice the first time I saw an ad for the Project MC2 fashion dolls. The way the ads were structured, they appeared to be girls with interests across science, technology, and the arts, and I loved that. Then, I learned there was a series, and binge watched that while I was sick last month. As expected, the girls work together, each coming from her own STEM interests, to solve problems. And each girl is absolutely crazy about her own interests, and in exploring where her own interests intersect with the other girls’ interests. And this is all from girls wearing cute clothes and learning how to navigate the interpersonal skills appropriate to girls of their age. The series has a lot to offer.

I’ve since learned the dolls each come with experiments appropriate to the girl represented by the doll, along with tips for how to continue those experiments at home.

While I was sick, I also gave Liv and Maddie a shot. I’d heard an explanation of how the show was filmed (that involved splitting scenes oddly) that seemed so backwards for current technology. Having now watched the entire series (because I couldn’t stop myself), the show does not support that explanation. (It turns out they actually opted to use a technique from an older show with a single actress playing two roles.) But that’s not why I stuck it out. I watched the entire series because I was fascinated by Liv, the twin I assumed I wouldn’t like at first because she initially came across as stereotypical and flaky.

Except that seems to have been the point. Liv is an actress who has spent more time away from school than in it (beyond what would be required on set). She is into fashion and helping her friends get the boy. But she tends to make personal choices that support her friends and family. And no matter what she may think of someone, she tries to always have a kind word and not assume the worst of someone unless she has a reason.

She’s also been working on a science-heavy show, and has a great skill for recognizing where something she’s learned from the show can be applied to a situation she’s currently in. She helps out her nerdy brother by building the winning Rube Goldberg device in a competition. Taking construction skills she’s learned from her inventor best friend, she leads the other girls in her cast to build their own woodblock car and win a derby against the boys in the cast, changing the storyline in her show in the process. When she needs to quickly learn basketball for an audition, her athletic twin realizes she can use Liv’s ability to see connections and apply skills to use shopping to turn Liv into a passable player for the audition.

Both shows are great examples of interesting girls who are smart, while being good friends and people, while being totally girly. And girls need more opportunities to see that.

A Lifelong Geek Girl Tries to Process Today

Even though I think we all sort of knew it was coming (certainly, a number of news outlets and geek blogs were expecting it, for how quickly they got their articles published), Carrie Fisher’s passing earlier today has left all of us stunned, sad, and trying to decide how we each want to process it. Many are reflecting on her body of work both as an actress and as a writer. Many are reflecting on the way she moved through the world, warts and all. Many women are reflecting on how much Fisher’s iconic role Princess Leia has impacted their lives.

That’s pretty much where I’m sitting. I wasn’t quite two when Star Wars was released, so I really never knew a world where there wasn’t this sassy princess helping to smuggle information, unafraid to take up whatever was necessary (be it words, arms, or chains) to protect herself and those dear to her, and walking that line between being assertive and compassionate at the same time. And then The Force Awakens happened, and those of us who met Leia as children were suddenly gifted with this beautiful example of how to age gracefully (and thank Fisher for fighting for that).

No matter how you look at it, Leia was a badass. So was Fisher.

Because this is the last week of a year that hasn’t played nice with anyone on any level, a lot of us are looking at this afternoon’s grim announcement through a lens of, “How can I be that level of badass in my own life? My own communities? My own work?”

And it’s not like we were all asleep and are just waking up. It’s that so many of us were already starting to think about these questions when, one last time, Leia inspired us with her own journey. When Carrie Fisher inspired us, one last time, with her journey. The question now is how do we honor that in our own lives, to show our gratitude for her facing and fighting demons of all shapes and sizes?

This is going to take some time…

Someone on Twitter reminded everyone that Kenny Baker also passed away this year. He passed away in August. Erik Bauersfeld, who played Admiral Ackbar, passed away in April. This hasn’t been a good year for Star Wars people.

Coding and the Evolution of Math Education

Every time someone posts one of those visual algebra problems on Facebook, my mother and I get into a discussion about order of operations. When she was in school, PEMDAS wasn’t a thing they taught. You just solved problems moving left to right. By the time I got to elementary school, teachers were drilling us about our dear Aunt Sally. I’d been teaching algebra for a few years when it finally occurred to me why the order of operations was even a thing (and why it was more likely to produce a correct answer than simply working left to right regardless of the operators).

Similarly, I learned in high school to describe translations through words or some really bizarre shorthand that never seemed to carry over to other math classes. But when I finally had to teach translations to middle schoolers, they were learning a uniform notation that actually made sense to me. They learned to craft a statement that would tell every single point in whatever they were moving where to go to keep the shape. In short, they were learning to write algorithms. (I was so jealous of them. *grin*) Thankfully, I had some computer science classes and random attempts at coding under my belt at that point, so I was able to help them understand what they were doing and why. (Seriously, A’ = (x+3, y-2) would have been a million times easier than all the garbage we had to write.)

At the time, it struck me as pretty cool, because taking a logical opportunity in math class to introduce students to thinking algorithmically has some benefits. First off, it gives them exposure to algorithmic thinking. (Exposure is always a good thing.) It shows them a situation where algorithmic thinking can be useful. And for those students who might move on to code in school or on their own, it gives them an opportunity to start thinking about how to craft efficient code.

All of this was rolling around in my head this morning while I was messing around with Santa’s Village, Google’s interactive Christmas countdown calendar. A couple of days have had coding games using the visual coding tools that are starting to show up more and more in children’s toys and apps. (Seriously…how cute is this coding caterpillar?) I’ve never played with visual coding tools before, so it took a moment to see how what I know about coding translated into these brightly colored blocks. But I caught on quickly and beat the coding games.

What struck me most (once I moved on from how cool it would have been to have things like this to play with in between learning to write lines of BASIC and lines of Turbo Pascal when I was a kid (I’m a little old. Heh.) was how it presents the idea of programming. Each action is a bit of code displayed as a puzzle piece. How you put the puzzle pieces together dictates how your little elf moves. If there is a more efficient way to move your elf, the game lets you know and then gives you an opportunity to find it. (For those curious, it will display the javascript you created for that level, creating the mental connection between the puzzle piece and the actual code for those ready to explore that.)

It was certainly far less stressful than searching through a hundred lines of code looking for that one forgotten semicolon when you’re still learning how to read code. *wink*

But that’s how it works. I learned a long convoluted way to present translations, only to teach a much more efficient, meaningful method years later. I learned to just sit down and write lines of code. Children younger than I was when I wrote my first BASIC program (and I was in elementary school) are learning,”This tile does this. When I connect it with this tile, they do this and that.” And they’ll continue to grow and learn this way of thinking until they’re presented with an opportunity to actually write the lines of code, or read the lines of code, or find other ways to apply that algorithmic thinking they learned through play and visual means.

As a funny side note, I’ve talked a little here about kids learning algorithmic thinking and then finding non-coding ways to apply that to the world around them. The last computer class I took focused on object-oriented programming in C++. A few years later, I took that mindset to develop some interchangeable educational programs for a museum. You really never know where or how you’re going to end up using what you’ve learned. That’s why exposure and general practice are so very useful when learning a skill.

Considering Portal Science Fiction

Earlier this month, Writing Excuses set a prompt to take one big idea from two favorite books, and mash them up into something new. What quickly came to mind was the locative art in Pattern Recognition and tessering in A Wrinkle in Time. And then the question became: How does anyone do anything with those?

As I sat there thinking about this over breakfast, I realized that in a way they’re kind of the same thing. Sort of. We have locative art today. Artists and performers are doing some pretty impressive things with it. We just call it augmented reality. Have the appropriate app on your phone or tablet. Go to the designated place (at the designated time, if necessary). Look around through the app to see the art or performance that’s been installed there to experience it. It’s not really there, and is only visible through the tool…like looking into another world through some sort of portal (if you’re into science fiction and fantasy…).

Tessering is a child’s primer to quantum mechanics. I’d been obsessed with the ant in A Wrinkle in Time for eight years before I read the Shiva paradox. And the moment I read that, I knew I was looking at a variation of the ant crossing the skirt hem. (Not bad for a fifteen year old drama queen. *wink*) In the books, tessering is moving across space and time by folding both as necessary to allow you to take the fewest steps. You’re moving across planets and planes as simply as one would cross a room (barring two-dimensional and frozen planets. Always take along Aunt Beast!)

Stepping away from tessering into the greater realm of quantum mechanics, you eventually get to the mathematical theories that are enabling physicists to seriously consider the nature and reality of shifted planes in the same space (which is murder on the whole “two separate instances of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time” thing). So, while you may not be tessering when you engage in augmented reality because you aren’t literally going somewhere, you are experiencing a shifted plane of sorts, an alternate reality.

It’s not a mashup. It’s a weak rationalization at best.

What’s really funny is that I’m now thinking about the fact The Chronicles of Amber is on my list of favorite books. Tessering. Walking to/from Amber into the Shadows. Really not different. Seriously, how long have I been obsessed with portal stories?

What’s even funnier? Portal stories are typically a fantasy thing. But so many of my favorite portal stories are science fiction, and don’t necessarily directly involve a portal, just the idea of long-distance travel in short time.

Something to keep in mind…

The “Fake” Fan and the Enduring Fandom 

A couple of weeks ago, an Instagrammer I follow in part because of her charming Harry Potter shots was the victim of a troll bashing her for having a large collection of Harry Potter memorabilia despite having only discovered the books a couple of years ago, claiming she was a fake fan. (We won’t get into how not Potter that behavior is.) The Instagrammer in question is a college student (and I’m fairly confident the troll is younger than at least the very first book), most likely born within a year or so of the first book being published.

It got me thinking, because I was just barely born into a world without Star Wars in it, and then had to work with people who had no idea Episode 1 was released many years after Episode 6. And then I taught kids whose idea of  Star Wars consisted of Clone Wars. And now there’s the new movies. As I wasn’t quite two when Star Wars itself was released, I can’t make any claims to remember the world before it, but it was an integral part of my entire childhood. It was the same for others who grew up around that time.

Those discovering the Star Wars movies today are experiencing a different fandom than the one I grew up with, mainly because they’re growing up in a time that’s nothing like the time I grew up in and fandom cannot escape the effect of the society around it. Does that make them fake fans for coming to the series later on? No. Of course not. I look at the little girl who’s fallen head first into a fandom that existed before her parents were born, and think it’s super cool that she can run around pretending to be Rey the way I ran around pretending to be Leia when I was her age.

Harry Potter is the same way. The first book is just over twenty years old. So many children have been born in those twenty years, and are coming to Hogwarts for the first time. And they’re falling in love with it, and the fandom, and the general culture. As long as those books are in print, they will gain new fans who didn’t even exist when the series began. Does that make them fake fans? No, of course it doesn’t, no more than the girl cosplaying Rey is. With a long-running, long-lasting fandom like that, the newcomer is just as valid a fan as the one who’s been there for years.

That’s both the blessing and the curse of the fandom that spans generations (and there are so many out there) – There will be the elders who have been around since the early days; there will be the newcomers who just stumble in one day and never succeed in stumbling back out. And they’re all there because they love the fandom, and they all celebrate the fandom in their own way. In a way that’s often culturally appropriate to when they discovered the fandom. There’s plenty of room for everyone. Trolling newcomers is just ridiculous and against the spirit of fandom.

Writing Fan Fiction When You’re New to the Fandom

So, I’ve spent a lot of my free time this month marathoning Critical Role from the beginning, finding all sorts of little gems I’d either missed or forgotten about, and reading the fan fiction. And right around the time I got to Episode 45, I came across a fanfic written in response to all the fanfic that have Vax mercilessly punching Percy to a literal bloody pulp. The writer, admittedly a relatively new fan, had written their kinder, gentler version because the trope bothered them, and they just couldn’t see Vax going after Percy at all.

As I type this, there are sixty-seven episodes of Critical Role. It takes roughly 260 hours (Thanks, critrolestats!) to marathon them. So, a new Critter (a Critical Role fan) is forgiven for not necessarily wanting to go back and catch up. On the other hand, a new Critter wanting to write what they believe to be canon fan fiction without doing a little research (even if that research is just turning to another Critter and asking, “Why are people so obsessed with Vax punching Percy?”) should probably stop themselves and just go ahead and put in the time.

Maybe it’s the fact I came across this fic while watching Episode 44 that made me scrunch up my nose at the author’s complete unawareness of the punch or the events that led up to it, but that single punch is canon (and an amazing show of restraint on Vax’s part).

I used to have this problem when reading Yu-Gi-Oh fan fiction where it became obvious rather quickly that someone had written a fanfic, not of the original story, but of someone else’s fanfic. Yu-Gi-Oh had been around for a few years before I started reading the fan fiction, and so there were cases where the fanfic of a fanfic ran layers deep, and had problems not unlike what happens when you run a copy through an old mimeograph machine, and then run that new copy through the mimeograph machine, repeating the process several times. The copies eventually contain some of the same elements, but are faded so far as to be unrecognizable next to the original.

Being a newer fandom, Critical Role doesn’t have that deep of a problem yet, but moments like these are a sign of things to come. It’s odd to be in a position to watch it begin. But to the new fan wanting to jump in, I still say connect with the original first so you won’t find your “original” story has unnecessarily reinvented a wheel.

Working Against My Own Sensibilities

I’m not a fan of horror. Really, I’m not a fan of gore. It’s amazing how many things I’ve walked out on because the gore level got to be too much for me.

There’s a funny story from my college days about the great debate over whether or not I could handle Independence Day. My friends (who were pretty good at sorting out what I could and couldn’t handle) literally debated for days over whether or not I should be warned away from it before they finally decided I could handle it. It was over a year before I finally saw it, and could’t for the life of me figure out what the problem was until I got to the alien dissection. If you’re familiar with the movie, you know that’s not a terribly gory scene, and yet I walk out on it every single time I watch the movie because I can’t handle it.

Even stranger, two of my favorite manga/anime are Descendants of Darkness and  Death Note. There’s absolutely no question both are gruesome, and yet I sit and listen to them with some regularity. I’d love to say that’s probably how I survive the gore in both stories, but I made it all the way through both manga (such as Descendants of Darkness is). So… Yeah… I can’t explain it.

I point this out because I’m in the process of announcing my newest audio drama project and trying to find the right wording to warn people about what they’re walking into. Despite having done other audio dramas with similar concerns regarding gore, this is the first time I’ve felt compelled to warn people. And I’m having to think about it in terms of, “How would I want to be warned that I might not be able to sit all the way through this?”

A project I willingly auditioned for and worked on…and I’m trying to write my own trigger warning.

Because it’s compelling audio fare, horror is a popular genre for audio dramas. It makes sense from a purely academic standpoint. The tension. The ability to cheese it up or dial it back as necessary for the show. There’s just so much you can do to really create the right mood and pacing. But it also means that if I want to continue working in audio dramas (which I enjoy), I have to suck up a bit of my inherent unwillingness to set foot near horror and gore and just try to not involve my very vivid imagination in what I’m doing. (I fail at that regularly…)

It’s an interesting push-and-pull. One that I have the hang of on the voice acting side, even as I fight to not run out of the room. And when it’s clear from the audition notes that the show is probably going to be way too much for me, I usually avoid the audition altogether, just to make my life easier.

But it’s funny to think about in the grand scheme of things.

BBC Sherlock: An Intersection of Adaptation and Fan Fiction

To get ready for the Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things (SherlockIoT) MOOC that’s just started, I’ve been re-reading all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s something I’d been meaning to do since I read Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World, because Sherlock Holmes is considered the original fandom. That is, it’s the first property that historians and anthropologists agree exhibited a lot of the activities we associate with fandom today.

Re-reading the stories has been interesting because between the last time I read them and this time, BBC has released a rather fun adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes world, bringing the famous detective’s world into our own times. So as I’ve read, I’ve marked up places where showrunners/writers Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss directly lifted material, and where they wove in something that caught their attention or that they felt was important for whatever reason. (I’ve also rewatched the last season, because it’s amazing how much I don’t remember those episodes. Heh.)

As I’m fascinated by the practices of adaptation and fan fiction, working through the stories with this eye towards analyzing how someone else adapted the material while thinking about how I was going to adapt an object for the class has been educational. Being able to see what Moffat and Gatiss chose to call out and how those elements were used in BBC’s Sherlock provides a bit of insight into what the two self-proclaimed fan boys felt was noteworthy from the stories. But then they layered in original elements, like the OC (original character) Molly, who was a wonderful addition to the modernization of the tale. Sherlock is a great example of what you can do while adapting material and how fan-created elements can co-exist peacefully within an adaptation.

I’ll be spending the next couple of months hanging out with the Sherlock Holmes stories, so there may be more meditations as I really think about what I see in the series against what we’re creating in the MOOC. It’s amazing how much you can see working with material and seeing how the people around you are interacting with that same material. (I think that’s part of why I enjoy reading fan fiction when I can.)

Friday Five – Roleplaying Edition

I wish I could say that a lot of thought goes into creating these Friday Fives. That’s why I’m so consistent about it, and encourage y’all to suggest themes in the comments (or on social media, if that’s your thing). Because very often (99% of the time, actually), the Friday Five is a thorn in my side until some time on Thursday when I run into yet another reference to something, scream, throw up my hands, and pull the post together in under an hour. (This one took longer because it took fewer than five references to set me off.)

This week, it was the collision of memories of being involved with roleplaying games. I wasn’t allowed to play roleplaying games growing up. It was just as well, as I had very few friends who gamed. In college, I fell in with a group who did game, and I played a couple of times with them. I’ve experienced a handful of different tabletop RPGs and a couple of LARPs since then, but more often than not I end up in short-lived campaigns because the GM loses interest or I sit on the sidelines listening and contributing snark.

Anyway, you’d probably rather just read the Friday Five than listen to my bad luck with roleplaying games. 😉

1. LARPs: The Series – This one is a bit unfair, as I’ve been watching it since right after it started running on Geek & Sundry’s YouTube channel. But it’s a fun little poke at LARPers, both in game and out of game, and if you’ve ever LARPed you’re probably going to relate to it. (I’ve also said this about The Guild.) My own LARP history consists of being an NPC in a V-LARP (which I enjoyed) and being everything from a wizard to a scout to a reeve (referee) and game maker (Somewhere, I may still have my game book, complete with scenarios, mini encounters, monsters, and relics.) at a fantasy boffer LARP.

2. Critical Role (This is the first episode, but the series runs here.) – I find Twitch a bit difficult to navigate, so I apologize in advance if you encounter problems, too. I didn’t pay close attention when I finally heard a description of this show. Actually, that’s not true. I somehow got a bad description, which suggested this would be an animated D&D game, and I thought, Oh, hey. Cool. Like the old cartoon. It turns out the source was misinformed, and this is actually a lot cooler than that. It’s a group of animation/anime/video game voice actors playing D&D. And it’s pretty much like listening to any laid-back D&D game I’ve ever sat next to. (And I’ve sat next to a fair few in my time.)

3. PBS Idea Channel recently thought about how writing comic books could resemble tabletop roleplaying. It’s an interesting idea. Given how long many comic books have been running, there’s a situation now where those who are writing stories around these characters aren’t the ones who created them. (There’s a parallel for fan fiction here, as well, although it’s sanctioned because of the licensing…sorry. Off topic.) Current writers don’t know what the original intents for a character were, but they can create situations and then have the characters react in ways historically appropriate for them. While someone running an roleplaying game cannot realistically control how the player characters react, they can create situations that should provide some sort of stimulus that will allow the characters to react and respond in ways true to them. Of course…I then start remembering sessions with missing players, and… ;D

4. “Real Magick” in RPGs: Spellbooks – As I’ve mentioned, I’ve played a wizard class a time or two in my roleplaying career. Yelling poorly written poetry at the top of my lungs and pretending something actually happened as a result was sometimes far easier than taking foam-padded shots to any part of my body from guys two to three times my size. While I don’t remember much about the memorization component (beyond the fact there was one) in D&D, I do remember the equivalent (if it could be called that) at the boffer LARP was your spell list, because you had to spend time going through all of the spells available to you to craft a decent list with the points you had available. Most people built a regularly used list, plus ones for special events. I tended to just build my list every week. It wasn’t entirely practical, but it allowed me to do lame things like bring an entire field to a halt when I, as a max-level wizard, pulled out a first-level spell ball and cast it. (I didn’t have the points to carry the higher level of the same spell ball. I knew I’d never get off the verbal side of the higher level of the same spell ball. So I went for cheap and easy…and got away with it.)

5. I don’t have a fifth thing to share, so I’ll just remind those who like a little background noise with their roleplaying that Tabletop Audio is a lot of fun. It’s also not bad for just getting some writing done.

For the record, I do have the very first d20 I ever stole off someone. It’s somewhere around here. (read: It got misplaced when I moved a year and a half ago. Oops.) And my dice bag, filled mostly with marbled dice sets, sits on a shelf of my desk for easy access…although it really doesn’t get used for gaming these days. Transparency!

Friday Five: Game-Based Movies and Television Edition

It’s been a busy week, so it was last night before I realized I hadn’t started working on this week’s Friday Five. I hadn’t even thought about it, actually. But I went to make myself some chai to keep me company while I was writing tomorrow’s Saturday Scene (Yes, it’s been that full a week.), and Mom was watching Clue. We got to talking about the movie and how well it represented its game. And it got me thinking. I enjoy watching movies and cartoons based on games, so I thought this week I’d share some of the ones I’ve seen, and my thoughts on them.

1. Clue – Might as well start with the one that inspired the post. Clue is kind of a brilliant live-action representation of the boardgame. The story takes place in a house with all of the appropriate rooms and secret passages (although the layout doesn’t match the board). The key characters are Mr. Boddy and the six playable characters from the game (plus an easily startled butler). And after Mr. Boddy is killed early in the movie, the characters then set about trying to solve the murder. The movie even has three endings, a nod to the process of players guessing the contents of the Confidential folder in the board game. It’s hilarious. It’s self-referential in all the right ways. And it’s so worth watching way too many times.

2. Tomb Raider – There were two: a good one and an attempt to mash up Tomb Raider and all of the action flicks obsessed with ebola at the time. Let’s focus on the good one. *grin* The first Tomb Raider movie was a clever blending of elements from Tomb Raider 2 and  Tomb Raider 3. Complete with a Shiva that Lara takes down too quickly (I have been proven wrong about this.) and by utilizing her environment. It felt like Tomb Raider, but left me and other fans complaining that she got to do the two things we couldn’t in the game: grapple and pick up anything to use as a weapon. I guess it was a good thing, because we can now make Lara grapple!

3. Mortal Kombat – Again, there are a lot of directions to potentially go here, but I love the first movie. I have never played Mortal Kombat, but I used to watch friends play it. Often enough that I was able to recognize that the movie aligned with Mortal Kombat 3. Like Tomb Raider, it felt like I was watching a Mortal Kombat game, only with an actual story component. So much attention to detail! *swoon* (Plus, I really, really like the soundtrack.)

4. Magi Nation – I played Magi Nation when it first came out, and then I moved to a larger city where the game shops had never heard of it. I was sad. My Arderial/Naroom deck is in a box somewhere around here. When I heard there was a cartoon based on the video game that was based on the card game. I was excited. Given how other TCGs had transferred to cartoons, I was curious to see how Magi Nation was going to work out. The show had the e/i stamp on it, and that kind of colored a lot of things. But what broke my heart more than a technicolor Furok (one of my go-to Naroomi creatures), was the way the Arderial magi were misrepresented in the cartoon. I stopped watching shortly after the characters left Arderial City.

5. Saturday Supercade – Can’t leave this one out! I was obsessed with Saturday Supercade so much as a kid that I actually was one of the characters from it for Halloween. I have to say it that way because I never got to play the game that cartoon segment was based on. (I think it was Space Ace.) Our next-door neighbor repaired game cabinets for local arcades and pizza parlors, so I got to play on them after he was done fixing them. (He actually invited us to come play with when he was done to make sure they worked.)

There are so many more. I could keep going. But that’s it for this week. I’ll try to be better about this next week