Friday, April 28, 2006

More Modern Comics
Just for my dad, who you may note from the previous post's comments I have also addicted to reading comics, I will now talk about the other two comic series my dear friend Erik has hooked us on, like some sort of intellectual crack dealer.

The first is The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius. Barry is sort of like Calvin, if Calvin had actually been a super genius outside of his own mind. He lives every 10-year-old boy's dream, inventing fabulous weapons and devices, battling aliens, traveling to other dimensions, turning people into gorillas and dinosaurs, helping sasquatch girls pass as human, seeing his crush all grown up into a woman wearing a fur bikini... You know, the usual. I was particularly amused by the forward to Vol. 4 (I think), in which a famous comic book person praises Judd Winick for having followed the old-school comic maxim that if you put a gorilla on the front of your comic book, people will buy it. I'm sure that was very intentional.

The other series is a bit less lighthearted, but shares some of the cynicism about human nature that Barry frequently displays: Transmetropolitan. Actually, the main character of Transmet, Spider Jerusalem, manages to blend extreme cynicism with a driving need change the world for the better. He uses his position as a well-known, popular journalist to basically browbeat the filthy masses of humanity in the City into opening their eyes and acting like they have brains for once, which is undoubtedly why so many of my friends like him so much. He's sort of the ultimate representative of the frustrated, politically, socially, economically aware intellectual liberal. Except he lives in a future society where people can turn themselves into aliens and he can actually get his hands on weapons like a bowel disruptor, which he then uses on the president. Not that any of us would ever be tempted to do a thing like that... Reading Transmet in the current political climate was a little bit eerie to me, but then, maybe it always has been. Kind of sad that its message can age so well. Recommended for all those who don't really think that all is right with the continuing conservative leanings of our country, not to mention the rest of the world.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Fairy Tales of a More Modern Sort
In my efforts to explore hobbies that had fallen by the wayside during the grad school years, several of my friends have undertaken to addict me to comic books/graphic novels. They've done an excellent job, darn them.

Before I went to Taiwan, Daniel sent me the completed all-in-one volume edition of Bone, which our friend Will had addicted everyone in our crew to in high school. It was one of the few things that kept me sane in Taiwan, so now I have even fonder feelings for Fone Bone, Thorn, and the rat creatures. Everyone needs to go laugh at the rat creatures. A very well-told (and complete!) story arc here, with excellent art, so I recommend it to everyone, though the tome size of the full version may intimidate some.

However, I already knew I liked Bone. My more recent voracious addiction is courtesy of Andrew, who was evil and introduced me to the Fables series. For anyone who loved fairy tales as a child, or who grew up watching Disney movies, this is a fantastic, often hilarious, sometimes dark, completely new take on all those old stories. The premise is that all the characters we know from fairy tales actually lived in other realms, and were driven by a great adversary into our world several hundred years ago. Now known as Fables, they're immortal and living in hiding in New York. Bill Willingham has a great, though sometimes unexpected, grasp of how all the characters from such diverse tales would interact with each other, and the society of the Fables is fascinating to explore. The portrayal of Prince Charming (and all his ex-wives) is delicious vindication for all the little feminist girls out there. So far, there are six collected volumes, and the war with the Adversary is beginning to heat up. Not to give any spoilers, but I'm also looking forward to continuing to follow the subplot between Snow White and Bigby (Big Bad) Wolf, who were mayor and sheriff of Fabletown, respectively. Unfortunately, I just recently finished Book 6, and now I'm very impatient for the next one!

The other interesting thing that this series provoked in me was a desire to look up many of the original stories and find out more about characters I didn't recognize. It's frequently been surprising to me just how sparse the original stories were, considering all the complexity their characters have developed over time, through various revisions and retellings. In any case, I keep all my Fables volumes on the shelf right next to my complete volume of Grimm Fairy Tales.

I still think there's a class to be done on comparing Disney versions of fairy tales to their originals. I've even got the original version of the Mulan story. Too bad I don't teach ESL anymore...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fast and Fun Autism Pop Science
Yesterday, I came across a reference in the book I was reading at work to an Autism Quotient quiz in Wired's online archive. I took it, and scored an 11. The instructions claim that 32 is supposed to be the marker after which autism spectrum disorder could be suspected. Interesting. So then I posted it in Grinnell's online community for other people to take. I started collecting my friends scores. Then other people started taking it. In the space of 24 hours, I got 119 responses. I also noted whether the respondents were male or female, so I could whip up a quick statistical comparison.

The results:
Males n = 33, score range 9-39, mean score = 22.45
Females n = 86, score range 4-46, mean score = 20.43
t=1.15, no statistical significance in differences between groups

I thought this was a little unusual, since the male to female ratio of incidence of autism is about 5:1. I definitely found it interesting that the two highest reported scores came from women, and the only person to respond saying they had actually been diagnosed with Asperger's was a woman as well. Maybe the mean male score would have gone up if more had taken the test. But then again, maybe it's just that Grinnell attracts a great many introverted, intellectual women.

My mom noted that she heard Gary Mesibov giving a talk a little while ago, talking about the difficulties of diagnosing high functioning people on the autistic spectrum. He says it's because you're talking about a combination of a developmental disability and a personality type, and it's only a disability if the person is disabled by it. Seems like Grinnellians rather prove the point, in general.

I should also note that I recently read a book on the similarities between the common traits of people identified as gifted and those with other disorders, including Asperger Syndrome. I found it very informative, so I will recommend it here: Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults

I'm also looking forward to reading another, similar book our bookstore carries: Shadow Syndromes: The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders that Sabotage Us

And if anyone out there in the great void takes the test and wants to know if they're really all that autistic-like or not, check here:

DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria for Asperger Syndrome
DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria for Autistic Disorder
And a bonus: DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD

Pseudoscience is fun!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Walking to Work
One of the main things I appreciate about my current job is that it is located close enough to my apartment that I can walk there. Walking to work is probably my favorite part of the day, given that I go to work at a low-traffic time of day. Right now, the sun is usually shining, the weather is warmed up to nearly its high for the day, and all the trees are blooming.

In general, being able to walk to work again has reminded me of living in Japan. I had no other option there. Several times this year I have chastised myself for wimping out and driving due to inclement weather, pointing out to myself that I walked in much worse in Japan. But last week, when it was thunderstorming on Monday morning before the monthly staff meeting, I realized that the situations are rather different. In Japan, if I walked to work in the rain and arrived with my pants soaked from the knees down, no one looked twice, because all the students and half the staff arrived in the same condition. Here, I'm a freak.

The other thing, which occurred to me yesterday, is that it really annoys me that I can't walk to my newly started yoga class. It is about a block closer to my house than my office is, within even easier walking distance, but since it ends after dark, I dare not try to walk home. The distance is about the same as it was from the main train station in Sendai to my apartment there, and there in urban Japan, I had no qualms about walking home after dark, or even after midnight. Here in mostly suburban North Carolina, that is risky behavior.

I think a lot of this has to do with attitudes toward transportation in the US vs. Japan, Chile, and many other parts of the world. Arriving at work by foot, with evidence of the weather on my clothes, and being able to consider walking home after dark, is normal in places where many people use pedestrian means and public transportation on a regular basis. Here, people consider it an eccentricity, a means assigned to the poor or overly green and liberal-minded. As always, I find this rather sad.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Who wants to live forever?
I will never die. At least, according to this article from the BBC, I won't. As the opening paragraphs state:
Scientists have found tangible signs that a low-calorie diet could reverse signs of ageing in the body.

A six-month study showed cutting calories lowered insulin levels and core body temperatures.
Given that I often have to count calories to ensure I've broken 1000 for the day, and that it is a well-attested fact that my extremities are pretty much always cold*, I'm practically this theory's poster child. Of course, I haven't lived to be 250 yet, so I suppose it still remains to be seen.

*As a travel note, cold hands can be a useful travel accessory. In China, where is was approximately 4 billion degrees every day (or at least hovering between 95-100F all the time), it was discovered that giving me a frozen water bottle to hold between my hands, and then getting said hands put on the back of one's neck, was a more effective cooling strategy than just putting the water bottle directly on the neck. Presumably, this is because my hand could mold to the curve of the neck better than the water bottle. I was all in favor because it meant people kept giving me the coldest water bottles.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Who Are You and What Do You Want?
I recently came to a realization. For 5 years or more, I lived with my brain in overdrive. Things were interesting, mind-expanding in so many directions at once, challenging. All through college, I took classes in multiple things that were interesting to me; when I got tired of one, I switched to another, and I could explore the connections I saw between disciplines. While living in Japan, I was surrounded by new and interesting things, and the most mundane of tasks was a challenging adventure.

Now it feels like what is being asked of me, in order to transition to the "real world", is that I turn down my brain. For so long, what I *did* with the majority of my time was engaging, and what I did in my free time was let my brain rest. Now I spend the majority of my time trying to keep my brain from realizing just how little is being asked of it, and my free time trying to figure out ways to fit in all the things I want to actually *do*.

I don't want to have to compromise, but I also don't feel like there's really a place for me out there. However, it is helpful to realize that such a place doesn't exist, because then I can stop feeling annoyed that I can't find it, and just see about trying to make it for myself, as best I can. Annoying, though. This will take much more effort.

To remind myself of my myriad goals, a list of things I actually want to *do*:

Now I just have to figure out how to manage my time better, so I can feel like I'm actually doing all this stuff, instead of wishing I had time to do it. Forever onward with reprioritizing life.

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