Recently, I came across an article on Wired entitled: “This Beautiful Textbook is Designed to Make You Feel Dyslexic.” I promptly choked on my couscous, and wondered why on earth someone would want to experience something I struggle with everyday. I would first like to point out that this is not an article about dyslexia, just an illustrative art/media project, and it only addresses one of the many final forms this – whatever – can take.

This is not intended to be a ‘woe is me’ piece, it is more about how I feel both vindicated, ashamed, and ridiculous. As a humanities PhD candidate, reading and writing are the foundations of your, well, everything. I had had some warnings that I had issues, but it was not till about a year ago, when I was sitting in my supervisors foreboding office feeling incredibly small and slightly sweaty, that she asked if I was dyslexic. I am pretty sure I did a spot-on impression of a carp fish. She recommended I get tested, then end of meeting. I picked up my belongings, quietly shut the door, and stood at the top of the stairs for a while. I was mortified. The capillaries in my face were fully dilated, and my skin was so flushed it probably looked bruised. Naturally, I rushed to the washroom, locked the door and began to pace and hyperventilate again. If you are currently reading this, and thinking I need to get a grip, I am right there with you. Present me looks at that version of myself having a metaphysical crisis, and tells her to pull herself together. As the saying goes, “Hindsight is twenty-twenty.”

Then I started to think critically about it, what if she was right? Everyone mixes up the order of numbers, or is terrible at telling left from right, or spells a word fifteen different ways in which every incarnation that appears on the paper looks simultaneously correct and nonsensical. Right? I would hide my spelling or reading blunders by laughing it off, but the truth is difficult to escape. I was being childish and I knew it, but I was scared. Scared that I would never be good enough to be a PhD student and have the bright academic career I dreamed of, and this just added more fuel to the self-loathing fire. I lost confidence in my own work, I found myself unable to write without second guessing myself on the spelling of every single word. I will not spell words when asked, and I am paranoid about writing before groups. However, hiding is foolish, and I am doing myself a serious disservice by trying to maintain this status quo.

The signs of my dyslexia have always been there, but there was no real infrastructure to deal with kids like me when I was growing up. The children who were dyslexic were made fun of and had to stay late for extra help. For me, that was weakness. I always feared being seen as stupid or a failure, so when I had problems, I just tried to work it out myself. If I had asked for assistance, or if we had known the signs, maybe I would have learned useful tools to read faster and write clearer. Instead I have a hodgepodge of semi-realised and nonsensical coping mechanisms, and I worry that I am too set in my ways to change them.

Like Stella, I am trying to get my groove back! (Ugh, yes, I am the worst.) I am restarting here to keep my brain and typing fingers in shape. Written communication is an important part of what I do, and acting like an ostrich will not improve my situation. The shame that I feel about being dyslexic is twisted and does, in some part, stem from my early schooling and academia; though I hope to vanquish it someday. In the end, I am the one who needs to find a better approach, one that suits me and maintains my voice (no stuffy academic writing for me!). Luckily, I am the sum of my parts, and this is just one piece. I vow try to keep awkward structure, obvious typos, and any other crimes against grammar to a minimum (I should note that this post has undergone over twenty-five revisions…). Now there is a start.

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Life gets grim sometimes, especially in these icy winter months. Here is some amazing wisdom nuggets from a very sagacious child. I also respect his love of Space Jam and his vehement disagreement with Robert Frost regarding which road to take.

As he says, “Create something that will make the world awesome.”


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Looking for articles that you really need does often feel like storming Helm’s Deep.

One of the beautiful benefits of belonging to a university, it access to its network. Why? The veritable feast of articles and books that await. However, and far more frequently than I would like, I window will open that reminds me that I do not have access to this content. I know that having a university-wide license for sites such as Cambridge Publishing, or JSTOR, or Science Direct is very expensive, but we live in an age where there is high demand for knowledge and still a great many hurdles to overcome in order to get at it. When my supervisor asks me why I have not read or seen an article, responding that it is behind a paywall is not kosher.

Now I crowd source many of my article need. Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement, but a large number of my friends are still in school or have access to university network with larger journal pools. And trust me, I have milked these connections within an inch of their lives. Granted I can do it the old fashion way, and I often do, and find the hard copy; however, even then, I frequently write emails that begin with, “Please please don’t hate me, but I really need you to see if you have X. I’ll owe you big.” Sometimes I can return the favor, but not often enough to balance out my growing deficit.

This is hardly a new complaint or issue, but it came to the forefront today after reading an article in the defense of Aaron Swartz. I honestly did not now about this case until today (yes, shame on me), but after reading the through provoking piece by one of Aaron’s expert witnesses Alex Stamos. A very basic summary: Aaron was a student at Harvard, and used MIT’s network to access their subscription to JSTOR, downloading thousands of articles. JSTOR was alerted to his activity, and blocked his IP address. Basically  this went back and forth for a while, Aaron using different IPs and JSTOR blocking them. Finally, Aaron used a closet at MIT to continue accessing the repository. Aaron was not trying to be malicious, but intended to create an opportunity for open access to this content. Considering MIT’s guest policy, which allows non-registered persons to access their network, he was not violating MIT. I was unaware that JSTOR had download limits, but then again I have never tried to amass that many articles in one sitting. Aaron settled with JSTOR and MIT, paying a nominal fee. The case, US v. Swartz, came about because the state of Massachusetts’ Attorney General filed against Aaron, even after he had settled. Now it’s a criminal proceeding. Sadly, Aaron died unexpectedly last week. After reading the defense by Stamos, I don’t see Aaron as this crazed hacker attempting to ruin JSTOR. It may be overly romantic to say he was like an academic Robin Hood, but I think he did it with the right motivations just in the wrong way. I understand this idea of open access for articles, and published materials is fraught with issues. Cost being one of the major ones. It’s a little utopian to ask for open access for all, but a smaller wall would be an acceptable start. Embragled in the cost issue is also the legal ones regarding copyright. Since there is no global copywriting system, this can lead to loopholes and difficulties  I recently downloaded a copy of The Great Gadsby, which is out of copyright in Australia (which is where the file originated) but not in the US. Considering how information is being disseminated and consumed, there seems to be a need for new laws.

Interestingly, over the past ten months JSTOR initiated a trial period for individual access, and has officially announced that registered individuals will be able to access their database. Though there are restrictions, naturally  regarding how many you can download, etc, it is an important first step towards open access. I may be using the term ‘open access’ a bit frivolously  but this is in the hopes that this is the beginning of a brighter researching future.

For me, the essence of this case is the right to knowledge. Libraries were founded so that the general (literate, so this has connotations in itself, but let’s keep the rose colored glasses for a moment) public would have a place to and read. Libraries have always been a sacred place for me, and my heart breaks every time I read about them being shut down or destroyed  I have this irrevocable hope that one day time travel will be invented so that I can visit the Library of Alexandria. Aaron’s story is tragic, but does make wonder about the future of internet research which is becoming a cornerstone of any research project today.


There has been a lot of grumbling about the title of the second installment of J.J. Abram’s reboot of the beloved universe created by Gene Rodenberry. I thoroughly enjoyed the first film (though I may have yelled out “Not Vulcan! Think of the pointed-eared babies.”), the title of the new one is worrying. Well like mold on that satsuma that rolled under your bed, it’s growing on me. However, this movie has been quite hush-hush about, well, everything. There is so much speculation concerning the plot (Wrath of Khan remake?) and who Cumberbatch is, that I’ve given up reading about the film altogether. Actually, it has slowly begun to restore that child-like wonder I used to feel when watching TNG.

Anywho, today we got a poster! And a release date of May 17, 2013 (pray it doesn’t come out later in the UK)!

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Yay? All I could think of is it looks remarkably similar to the Dark Knight Rises poster.

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It’s a bit distracting really. Also, the buildings are a conglomeration of landmark skyscrapers from major cities. I spy the easter egg thingy from London. Also, it tells us very little. Lot’s of things go boom in Star Trek films, and there tends to be questionable fashion choices. Though this looks like the back of Cumberbatch’s unnamed villain. He has a lot of snaps on his boots, maybe that’s why he’s so angry? Considering how awesome the teaser was for the first one, I have high expectations for the second teaser trailer. It’s only a matter of time before one surfaces. Let’s pray that they haven’t upped the wattage on the lens flare.

 

UPDATE: Here is the teaser trailer. Yes, this is the Japanese one, because it has extra scenes in the end.

Thoughts:

1. San Francisco, oh yeah!

2. Cumberbatch who are you??  Oh wait, you are clearly intense, because you smacked that Klingon in the face with a huge gun. Cumberbatch is no p’tahk.

3. Ok, not the Enterprise, because the nacelles are weird. So Cumberbatch’s ship? Later you see him wearing the black captain’s uniform/shirt that Kirk wore in the 2009 Star Trek.

4. No, don’t hurt the Enterprise! I think it’s crashing into the Bay.

5. So excited! I mean, I watched it 9 times.

6. The beauty of JJ’s take is that I don’t consider it part of the Star Trek canon, this is like the episode where Spock’s evil counterpart has a goatee, it may look similar, but it’s just another timeline.


Last week I re-watched Apollo 13 with my friend who had never seen it. When Apollo 13 came out in 1995, my parents were happy to take their daughter to see it in the theater. I mean when I was still writing letters to Santa Claus, one of the things I wanted more than anything* was to go to space camp in Florida. That was the epitome of coolness. I mean, what could be more awesome than being near Cape Canaveral rubbing elbows with astronauts (especially the female ones, so I could gush about how they were an inspiration. Though more likely I would have squeaked and hid behind the nearest potted plant)? Answer: Nothing. However, space camp was very expensive, and I don’t begrudge my parents not sending me, though I never lost my love of space exploration.

It’s funny, because as a historian, I frequently get asked if I would travel back in time to the 13th century. The answer, unless the scenario has a 115% chance of return, is a resounding no. I would travel back to July 20, 1969, so that I could watch the world witness Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon for the first time. We’ve grown up knowing Armstrong’s famous first words as he hopped awkwardly down Eagle’s ladder, but I wonder how people felt when they heard the first sentence to be uttered from 384,400 km (238,900 miles) away.

Science fiction often dominates our understanding the universe beyond out own planet; however, what about science fact? There are three films that I believe are both labors of love by people who still have a child-like wonder about space exploration. Namely, and in order of how they should be watched: The Right Stuff, From the Earth to the Moon, and Apollo 13.

The Right Stuff covers the early days of the Space program and the Mercury Seven.

It begins with the lives of test pilots and the breaking of the sound barrier. The movie does have inaccuracies  such as the ‘blowing the hatch too early’ kerfuffle, but I don’t think that it lessens the importance of it as an introduction to NASA’s early days of manned missions. This film contrasts the lives of the individuals with a burgeoning and dangerous missions they were being asked to partake in. There are some excellent moments, like when one of the rockets collapses and blows up on the launch pad, that truly articulates how unknown space exploration was to us.

From the Earth to the Moon was shown by HBO in 1998 and covers the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.

Tom Hanks was the driving force behind From the Earth to the Moon, but can anyone think of a better person to head such a project? His love for the space program ensured that he strove to produce two works (I’m including Apollo 13) that were not only as true to the events portrayed as possible, but also brilliant pieces of cinema. I remember watching the second episode “Apollo One,” and being devastated by the tragic death of the Apollo One astronauts, which makes the scene when James Lovell’s son asks about the Apollo One disaster that much more poignant.

All three of these films, when taken together, bring to life the complex reality of the space program, its history, and in the wake of the end of the shuttle program, what we have learned from it. People always joke about how much money NASA spent on space pens when they could have used pencils or the scientific irrelevance of going to the Moon, but what these men and women did has left an indelible mark on how we understand ourselves and our place in this vast, expanding universe.

As a follow up to these films, if you’re suddenly craving some sci-fi Moon-related drama, check out Moon.

I would advise against watching them in quick succession, because it is stressful and emotional. It also (sadly) made me realize I probably could not handle being in space. Unless I was on the Enterprise, there is way more leg room.

*well aside from meeting the entire cast of Star Trek: TNG, in uniform (naturally I’d be in that odd mustard shade, because while Picard was awesome, I always liked Geordi LaForge). My mother reminds me of this every year at Christmas, then brings out the crayon and construction paper letter. I used to be embarrassed by it, but it is the earliest tangible evidence of my nerdiness, and like a star report card this too deserves a place of honor.
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Al Jazeera English has begun airing a series called the Frost Interviews, with the interview power house himself, Sir David Frost. There are only a few at the moment, but they caught my eye when I saw Frost had spoken with now-retired Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu.

Desmond Tutu is one of my heroes, and more than most deserves such a title. His commitment and vision has inspired generations, but also helped his own people slowly shed the bonds of hatred and heal as a nation. What is fantastic about Tutu, is that he is unafraid to provide his support and guidance, even on controversial or unpopular topics.

He has a great faith, not only in God, but also in the goodness and love of people. He has worked tirelessly to help those who suffer, such as the LGTB community, those with AIDs, the impoverished, and disenfranchised people all over the world. Despite saying he has retired in order to spend less time in airports and more time with his family, he continues to work as the chair of the international NGO The Elders.

The interview with Frost is quiet moving, and he discusses the apartheid, but also both Mandela’s and Tutu’s approach to reconciliation. Additionally, and rather timely, they both speak about the conflict in Gaza. Tutu has recently been called an anti-semite for his comments linking zionist isolationism as a form of racism, because it is exclusionary. He reflects, along with former US President Jimmy Carter, on the harm Israel has done to itself, how the US still feels an enduring need to be ‘penitent’ for what happened in World War II, and the parallels between the current (physical) division between the Israelis and Palestinians and the apartheid in South Africa.

Desmond Tutu is an inspiring man with the most adorable laugh.

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Nikola Tesla, was arguably the most prolific inventor of the past two hundred years. However, he is also one of the least appreciated. People always wax philosophical about Newton, Bohr, or Einstein; however, Tesla was more like the prolific artist whose works were kept squirreled away in a disused barn.

He had the brains and the looks to conquer the world, but he was defeated by the ultimate enemy: consumerism. More specifically, Thomas Edison. Edison, who is erroneously credited with inventing the lightbulb (to be fair he added tungsten), was very adept at marketing his ‘discoveries,’ and by extension, discrediting Tesla’s ideas. Specifically, and famously, Edison publicly electrocuted animals to prove that his direct current (DC) was safer than Tesla’s alternating current (AC). Ironically, Tesla, when he was employed by Edison, had been the one who solved Edison’s design flaws for the DC generator. Tesla found himself one of the casualties of the War of Currents between Edison (DC) and George Westinghouse (AC). Edison may have won short term, but today the US is powered using the AC current, because it can carry high voltages longer distances. Whereas, DC required more power plants, and cannot travel nearly as far. AC current is stepped down from the time it is created until it is consumed at someones home or office. DC won out initially because it was not economically feasible to use AC and convert the two back and forth.

Tesla, it can be argued, invented the radio, a project for which Guglielmo Marconi won the Nobel Prize for in 1911. Tesla was issued a patent for the radio in 1900 (three years after he submitted the application), after realizing that his Tesla coil was able to pick up and send strong radio signals. Marconi’s patent, which he submitted to in 1900, was rejected multiple times, and Tesla even noted that Marconi was using seventeen of his patents. However, much to Tesla’s chagrin, Marconi’s company was well connected and finically successful, and the US Patent Office overturned Tesla’s patent in 1904. After Marconi’s Nobel, Tesla sued him for infringement in 1915  a case which the US Supreme Court ruled on in Tesla’s favor in 1943 (side note to that, the Supreme Court wasn’t being altruistic, Marconi had been suing the US government for the patent, so they were basically able to dodge Marconi by giving Tesla’s original patent supremacy).

These are only some of the amazing advances that came about because of Tesla’s brilliance, perseverance  and imagination. There is no happy ending for him. He never married, was never awarded a Nobel Prize, and died penniless in 1943 (in the company of a pigeon who had glowing eyes, which he confessed to love).

His is hardly the first, nor will it likely be the last, tale of a great mind who is shuffled off into obscurity, never knowing their true worth. Our world would be a very different place, especially in reference to electrification and technological advances, without Tesla.

The Oatmeal has made this impassioned and handy poster “Why Nikola Tesla was the greatest geek who ever lived.” He is getting a very hearty ‘hear, hear’ from my corner.

 

So raise your glasses to Nikola Tesla, and remember that you wouldn’t be reading this with out his pioneering work and vision.