Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Character Development, Part Three: Romantic Tension

Speaking of relationships, the romantic tension has to make sense. One of my pet peeves is female characters who keep putting themselves down, but yet somehow the male love interest is supposed to find her irresistable. Stephanie Plum, I'm looking at you.

Plum is a bounty hunter, which means she has to have some competence, right? And yet she puts herself down and does some stupid things (we all do that, I know, but come on. She's supposed to be the heroine. Be more like Zoe from Firefly!) doesn't know how to do her hair, (Zoe knows how to do her hair and still kick ass, shoot a gun and hit the target) and dresses in oversized clothes. She eats mostly junk food, yet when she puts on slinkly clothes to go undercover, she's slender and hot. That's just not believable.

Her love interests aren't believable either. One's a police officer and the other's a bounty hunter like her. Both are really good at their jobs and both are sex on legs. But if she's such a loser as she's written to be, why would they be interested in her? and why is she interested in them when they're not as fleshed out as she is, annoying as she is. Can you tell this really bothers me?

Another thing that annoys me is characters who contradict themselves and do stupid things, just so the plot moves forward. I just finished reading "Fool Moon" in the Harry Dresden series. Harry is a wizard for hire in contemporary Chicago. The books were made into the series the Dresden Files, which I haven't seen. I'll be looking it up on Hulu later.

Anyway, Harry gets hired in book one (which the library doesn't have, so I'm starting with the second book) by the Special Investigations unit of the Chicago PD, headed up by Karrin Murphy. Harry admits that he's kind of a chauvanist and thinks women should be protected. So he withheld information from her in an attempt to protect her and ignores the fact that she's a skilled and experience police officer!

They have an argument in her car in book 2 about this, he finally gets a clue about why she's mad at him, he apologizes for withholding information and says in won't happen again. All this happens as he's noticing that they're being followed. But he doesn't say anything! Murphy drops him off and drives off, and Harry gets in his car and follows the car that was following them. Hello! You just promised not to withhold info from her and then you withhold info. WTF???

I did finish reading the book, but not sure that I'm going to read any others. I am going to try watching the show. As with most adaptations, changes are made and maybe I'll like the show better. But not if he continues to be chauvanistic.

And to end this post on a happy note, I found out about the Dresden Files from the comments to a post from the Yarn Harlot asking for recommendations for geeky TV now that Battlestar Galactica is done. I, by the way, was the first to respond to her post, and suggested Torchwood and Firefly. She e-mailed me to let me know she's see both already. So the happy note is that Brother One and I had a happy conversation, when our last long conversation was the argument about nature vs nurture. And the Yarn Harlot e-mailed me!

Character Development, Part Two: Chuck

Another show that I'm getting into is Chuck. Which again has the strong female characters, the witty banter, and Adam Baldwin too. It also plays with the gender roles. Chuck's the main character, but everyone around him is "better" than him. His sister is a doctor; Chuck got expelled from Stanford. Sarah and Casey are better at fighting and spying than him -- often Chuck freaks out when there's fighting and shooting. But since he's the everyperson character, that makes sense. Most of us would react that way.

While the main characters are white, the show is set in LA so there are Asian American characters. For example, Anna Wu is Taiwanese American and an episode used that as a major plot point. That's one thing Chuck has over Firefly. The Firefly 'verse is supposed to be a blend of Chinese and American, but there are no Asian actors? Come on!

Also, all the characters are believable characters on their own, and their relationships with each other, separate from Chuck, are believable. One of my favorite websites is Television Without Pity (TWOP, see link on the right). On the Chuck forum, there's a thread called "Relationships: Romantic and Otherwise" where users post their thoughts about that topic.

Another one is called "HoYay: Rhymes with Chuck" that has lots of good, and sometimes extensive, posts about how the show plays with gender roles.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Character Development, Part One: Harry Potter and Joss Whedon universes

Saturday, Brother One and I had a really enjoyable conversation about character development.

He's writing a book, a trilogy actually, and asked me who my favorite fictional characters are and why. Immediately I mentioned Hermione, Luna, and Snape from Harry Potter and Wash from Firefly.

For me, the things I like about characters are that they contain shades of grey, are believable multi-dimensional people, and have meaning on their own and not exist just to be a foil or support for other characters.

For example, I really like Snape because he has so many layers. At the beginning of the series, you think he's the bad guy but as the series goes on, he turns out to be a good guy who used to be a bad guy. And even if he is a good guy, it doesn't mean he automatically likes Harry.

Another character I love is Luna. She's in Ravenclaw which values brains, so you'd think Hermione would be in Ravenclaw. But Luna's the kooky one, the one who looks at things from an unconventional perspective and so people harrass her for it. However, it's important to have people who bring a different perspective to help figure things out. She's like River that way from Firefly. They're the characters who most people think are crazy, but they're the wise fool who shouldn't be ignored.

Clearly these are all stock character types: the hero, the anti-hero, the goof, the smart one, the villian, the wise counsel, the wise fool, and so on. As we talked about the characters, we also talked about what type they are.

Speaking of villians, I thought the Malfoys were well developed. You understood where they were coming from, even if you didn't agree. They were the rich, powerful elite, born into those positions, and people don't give up power and position easily. So that makes sense and there were enough details given for them, and Voldemort, to make them multi-diensional, believable characters.

Others, however, like Crabbe and Goyle, existed only to be goons and didn't have any dimension or existance beyond that.

That brings me to Wash from Firefly. I love Wash. He brings the funny. And he brings the piloting skills. So there was a real reason for him to exist, not just to be the funny guy. He doesn't do much fighting and we don't see him working out like Jayne and Book and yet he's so buff underneath the baggy clothes. And the fact that he's married to serious, kick-ass (literally) Zoe who didn't like him when they first met, obviously hints at layers for them both that we never got to find out in the series because the show got cancelled after one season and then Wash got killed in Serenity the movie. Dammit.

The same thing with Book. He's a preacher now, but every episode, he'd say things that showed he had a military or fighting kind of background. The other characters would ask "how does a preacher know about blah, blah, blah weaponry?" But he'd refuse to answer every time. And now we won't know his story either because he got killed off in Serenity too. Dammit.

So back to the stock characters. The man of violence who then becomes a man of peace, like Book, is a stock character. He's like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who provides the wise counsel to the main character. And Boyd from Dollhouse who is the morally upstanding protective character who works in a morally corrupt place. Are they all variations on the same stock character?

And so on. Brother One and I stayed up until 1:30am talking about characters from the Harry Potter and Joss Whedon universes. I haven't seen Buffy, but Brother One's friend lent me season one. Now that I'm really getting into Whedon's work, I should probably watch Buffy, where it all began.

Actually that's not where it all began since he did write for Roseanne, but that's another reason to like Whedon. Not only are strong female characters one of his hallmarks, as well as the witty dialog, but I used to love Roseanne. Because she's a strong female character! And I love the smart funny. Especially if delivered by the shirtless hunk. I think I covered that in a previous post. Here's another link for pics, http://hotgeeks.blogspot.com/2008/10/alan-tudyk.html The naked picture from Death at a Funeral is the last one.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not really a whiney post though it starts out that way

Work has been stressful lately. Yes, quite the news flash. In a recession with money tight all over, of course work is stressful. Had myself a little cry about that last night on the balcony. A friend of mine who also runs a nonprofit organization said that she cries every day. I was taken aback by that, because we're socialized to not cry. I mean, we grow up and our parents are always telling us not to cry and then as adults we're supposed to control our emotions.

However, over the past few years, I've come to see crying as a good release valve to have. I don't mean that I have huge omg-my-heart-is-broken bawling fits, but just let the stress leak out a bit, have a little pity party, put it in perspective, and then get on with it.

Anyway, that's not where I was going with this post.

So this is what I have to do today: Go to work, deal with the budget and human resources about renegotiating pay and contracts (someone poke my eye out now), work on a grant proposal, and meet with an attorney about the organization's governance (exciting!). At least the day will end relatively early, about mid afternoon after meeting with the lawyer.

This is what I should do: Go home after the meeting with the lawyer and clean the house, especially do the windows, and put away my crocheting and knitting. A friend is coming over for lunch Saturday and then next weekend Husband's family is visiting. Chop up the vegetables and prepare for the Saturday lunch.

What I want to do: Watch DVDs (Chuck, The Last Airbender, Rome, 3:10 to Yuma -- still on the Alan Tudyk kick but will wait for Husband to watch that one) and crochet. Read ("Fool Moon" about Harry Dresden, wizard for hire in Chicago) and knit.

What I will probably do: Go to work etc. Go home and watch an episode of Chuck while finishing the current round on the crochet blanket and then while chopping up the vegetables. Be washing either the windows or the bathtub when Husband gets home.

Because as whiney as I was at the beginning of the post, I know the evening will end with Husband and I at the Braves baseball game so, really, I shouldn't complain.

But it's that what this blog is for? It's like my pensieve, the place I put thoughts and feelings for examination later. Thoughts and feelings I don't mind sharing, that is.

I feel so much better now getting this off my chest.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Crochet Kick

About a week ago, on June 13, I started this afghan. Today it's about half done.

The pattern is Chocolate Box from 200 Crochet Blocks by Jan Eaton. It's called Chocolate Box because of the colors she used in the book, browns and tans.

The yarn I'm using here was given to me by my friend Darija. It was from her late mother's stash, which really was huge. I only took a portion of it, about half, and it just about doubled my stash.

This yarn is very fine cotton, almost like crochet thread for doilies:
I had started making a hexagons afghan, with the yarn held double on a size G hook. It was taking forever. Each hexagon is about 3 inches across and takes me about half an hour to make. I was losing patience. So I decided to make the giant Chocolate Box square using the hot colors in the center and the cool colors on the outside, with a black border all around. Darija's mother had like 20 balls of black cotton yarn.

I used a size K hook, with 2 strands of 2 colors together, for a total of 4 strands. The variations in color are pretty interesting that way. It's going so much faster now. In the picture at top, I'm just about done with the purple. If you look closely, you'll see that I've run out of one color and had to substitute another, but with so many colors going on, I don't think it'll matter. For example, the purple on the outermost left is different from the purple on the right.

My plan is to do a diamond in a square. Once the hot colors are done, I'll use the cool colors to crochet on triangles. I don't have pattern or instructions on how to do it, but I think I've figured out a way.

The nice thing about crochet is, you can rip out stitches and redo pretty easily. And crochet is so fast and uses up so much yarn. It's entirely possible that I'll have this done by July 4 weekend to show to all of Husband's relatives who are coming to visit. Ultimately though, I plan to give it to Darija as an appreciation gift and a way to memorialize her mother.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Which Firefly Character Are You?

Your results:
You are Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)

Malcolm Reynolds (Captain)
Kaylee Frye (Ship Mechanic)
Zoe Washburne (Second-in-command)
Wash (Ship Pilot)
Dr. Simon Tam (Ship Medic)
River (Stowaway)
Inara Serra (Companion)
Derrial Book (Shepherd)
Jayne Cobb (Mercenary)
A Reaver (Cannibal)
Honest and a defender of the innocent.
You sometimes make mistakes in judgment
but you are generally good and
would protect your crew from harm.

Click here to take the "Which Serenity character are you?" quiz...

Pushing Daisies

I've heard of the show Pushing Daisies, but until last night, hadn't ever seen it. I knew it was about a pie maker who has the ability to bring people back from the dead and so has a PI job on the side solving murders. His partner in the PI business is a big black man who knits. And his childhood crush is dead but they can never be together, and so on.

Quirky shows I can do, esp if there's knitting, but I could never find it and frankly it wasn't a high priority for me to do so.

But last night, I was surfing channels on our new flat screen high def digital TV (Husband is loving it), I saw a bit of it for the first time. Turns out, it was the last episode. Figures.

I had no idea that the visuals were so up my alley. The colors! The costumes! The stylized look of it all. To quote from the wikipedia entry:

Visual design
Production Designer Michael Wylie told TV Guide that, "My goal was a storybook come to life. I wanted everything to look almost like an illustration." He achieved this by "concentrating on conflicting patterns in different colors, particularly reds and oranges, but per director Barry Sonnenfeld, virtually no blues."

Cinematographer Michael Weaver told Variety that he and the producers decided the visuals should "feel somewhere between Amélie and a Tim Burton film — something big, bright and bigger than life."

The distinctive storybook-esque style is continued within the overall design of the visual aspects. Regardless of the fact that the show focuses on murder investigations, the morgue is still painted in candy-cane stripes and many of the outfits worn by the characters are vibrantly colored, bright, and cheery (for example, Olive's work uniform is a lime-green pinstriped dress, and Emerson is frequently seen wearing shades of purple).

And of course, Pushing Daisies is cancelled. However it is in my Netflix queue.

Speaking of the new TV, I rewatched Death at a Funeral, on the new TV, with the commentary with Alan Tudyk, and fast forwarded to just his scenes. Did I mention he's naked in much of the movie?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gendered Activities

Today is World Wide Knit in Public Day. Or as I call it, everyday, and also known as Embarrass Your Husband In Public Day. Again, that would be everyday.

I am also reading "American Nerd: the Story of My People" by Benjamin Nugent. And this week's alternative weekly paper, Creative Loafing, did a cover article about home brewing beer where the reporter attended a meeting of home brewing enthusiasts.

These three -- knitting, nerdiness, beer brewing -- are very gendered topics. Knitting is done predominately by women and an activity that doesn't get much respect, partly because it is "women's work." Nugent talks about how nerd is a label put on men interested in computers and science fiction, in contrast to the term jock, in a continuum of masculinity.

And the article on the home brewing specifically points out that there are very few women who are brewing beer, as opposed to girlfriends and wives who help their men brew beer. Beer drinking is very much a masculine thing. I don't know why, since I drink beer, enjoy beer, and have many female friends who enjoy beer too.

Brewing is cooking and cooking is "women's work." Unless somehow brewing is like barbeque and then that's acceptable male cooking? I don't know. Maybe because there's science involved with talk about hydrometers and acidity and conversion of sugar and yeast to alcohol. And if it's scientific, then that's manly, like nerds and their computers?

I don't know where I'm going with this post, but knitting, science fiction, and beer are things I enjoy and are very gendered activities.

You know what? forget it. I'm going to go knit on a cardigan that will emphasize my curves and maybe watch the episode of "Dollhouse" where Alan Tudyk puts on the tight, tight t-shirt. Or rewatch "Death at a Funeral" where he wears nothing at all.

eta: I ended up reading "My Own Kind of Freedom" by Steve Brust. Talk about nerdiness. It's a novel-length fan fiction for the space western "Firefly".

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

An Important Women's Health Issue

I got this from a friend and it just cracked me up:

  • Do you have feelings of inadequacy?
  • Do you suffer from shyness?
  • Do you sometimes wish you were more assertive

If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist about Margaritas.

Margaritas are the safe, natural way to feel better and more confident about yourself and your actions. Margaritas can help ease you out of shyness and tell the world that you're ready and willing to do just about anything. You will notice the benefits of Margaritas almost immediately. With a regimen of regular doses you can overcome any obstacles that prevent you from living the life you want to live. Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past and you will discover many talents you never knew you had.

Stop hiding and start living -- with Margaritas!

Margaritas may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use Margaritas. However, women who wouldn't mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it.

Side effects may include:
  • Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration
  • Erotic lustfulness
  • Loss of motor control
  • Loss of clothing
  • Loss of money
    Loss of virginity
  • Table dancing and/or lamp shade wearing
  • Headache
  • Dehydration
  • Dry mouth
  • And a desire to sing Karaoke

****** WARNING ***************
The consumption of Margaritas may make you think you are whispering when you are not.

The consumption of Margaritas may cause you to tell your friends over and over again that you love them.

The consumption of Margaritas may cause you to think you can sing.

The consumption of Margaritas may make you think you can converse without spitting.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Role of Genetics Part 2

Today's NY Times featured an article called Rising Above I.Q. citing a study of Asians, Jews, and West Indians/Black Caribbeans that showed that it is cultural values that emphasize education, not genetics, that account for the success of these three groups.

Of course, I sent this to Brother One, the psychologist, who believes it's 50% nature, 50% nurture. While I, a sociologist, believe it's more like 25% nature, 75% nurture.

I admit that not only is there an element of academic rivalry between him and I, but also sibling rivalry. Who doesn't want to one-up their sibling?

And does it make it better if I acknowledge this?

Here is the entire article:

Op-Ed Columnist
Rising Above I.Q.

Published: June 6, 2009

In the mosaic of America, three groups that have been unusually successful are Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks — and in that there may be some lessons for the rest of us.

Asian-Americans are renowned — or notorious — for ruining grade curves in schools across the land, and as a result they constitute about 20 percent of students at Harvard College.

As for Jews, they have received about one-third of all Nobel Prizes in science received by Americans. One survey found that a quarter of Jewish adults in the United States have earned a graduate degree, compared with 6 percent of the population as a whole.

West Indian blacks, those like Colin Powell whose roots are in the Caribbean, are one-third more likely to graduate from college than African-Americans as a whole, and their median household income is almost one-third higher.

These three groups may help debunk the myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect, for they represent three different races and histories. In the debate over nature and nurture, they suggest the importance of improved nurture — which, from a public policy perspective, means a focus on education. Their success may also offer some lessons for you, me, our children — and for the broader effort to chip away at poverty in this country.

Richard Nisbett cites each of these groups in his superb recent book, “Intelligence and How to Get It.” Dr. Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that what we think of as intelligence is quite malleable and owes little or nothing to genetics.

“I think the evidence is very good that there is no genetic contribution to the black-white difference on I.Q.,” he said, adding that there also seems to be no genetic difference in intelligence between whites and Asians. As for Jews, some not-very-rigorous studies have found modestly above-average I.Q. for Ashkenazi Jews, though not for Sephardic Jews. Dr. Nisbett is somewhat skeptical, noting that these results emerge from samples that may not be representative.

In any case, he says, the evidence is overwhelming that what is distinctive about these three groups is not innate advantage but rather a tendency to get the most out of the firepower they have.

One large study followed a group of Chinese-Americans who initially did slightly worse on the verbal portion of I.Q. tests than other Americans and the same on math portions. But beginning in grade school, the Chinese outperformed their peers, apparently because they worked harder.
The Chinese-Americans were only half as likely as other children to repeat a grade in school, and by high school they were doing much better than European-Americans with the same I.Q.
As adults, 55 percent of the Chinese-American sample entered high-status occupations, compared with one-third of whites. To succeed in a profession or as managers, whites needed an average I.Q. of about 100, while Chinese-Americans needed an I.Q. of just 93. In short, Chinese-Americans managed to achieve more than whites who on paper had the same intellect.

A common thread among these three groups may be an emphasis on diligence or education, perhaps linked in part to an immigrant drive. Jews and Chinese have a particularly strong tradition of respect for scholarship, with Jews said to have achieved complete adult male literacy — the better to read the Talmud — some 1,700 years before any other group.

The parallel force in China was Confucianism and its reverence for education. You can still sometimes see in rural China the remains of a monument to a villager who triumphed in the imperial exams. In contrast, if an American town has someone who earns a Ph.D., the impulse is not to build a monument but to pass a hat.

Among West Indians, the crucial factors for success seem twofold: the classic diligence and hard work associated with immigrants, and intact families. The upshot is higher family incomes and fathers more involved in child-rearing.

What’s the policy lesson from these three success stories?

It’s that the most decisive weapons in the war on poverty aren’t transfer payments but education, education, education. For at-risk households, that starts with social workers making visits to encourage such basic practices as talking to children. One study found that a child of professionals (disproportionately white) has heard about 30 million words spoken by age 3; a black child raised on welfare has heard only 10 million words, leaving that child at a disadvantage in school.

The next step is intensive early childhood programs, followed by improved elementary and high schools, and programs to defray college costs.

Perhaps the larger lesson is a very empowering one: success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive. As Professor Nisbett puts it, “Intelligence and academic achievement are very much under people’s control.”

Monday, June 1, 2009

current crush

Like many people, I have irrational crushes on celebrities. The ones that you a bit embarrassed to admit.

However, this blog is relatively anonymous, I'm pretty sure I know who's reading this, Husband knows about this crush, and it's 1:30am, the time for deep confessions, so I'm just going to come out and say it.
I have a crush on Alan Tudyk.
I first met him as Wash on "Firefly". A Joss Whedon show cut down in its first season. A show I've been watching over and over, because it's good, and because I get very bad reception on my TV here at the new place and have been rewatching the series and movie, Serenity. Wash is married to Zoe, the kick ass warrior woman, and he's secure enough in himself to be okay with that. Gotta love a man like Wash, and an actor willing to take on that role.
He was Alpha on Dollhouse, Whedon's current show.
He's well built with the big broad shoulders I love. He's a comic actor. As a reviewer once wrote, he straddles the line between handsome and goofy. Sometimes he looks like Gromit, of Wallace and Gromit. He has those funny puppy dog eyes that often look worried or questioning.
As he himself put it in an interview on Entertainment Weekly, he has a Ned Flanders body. Looking rather shapeless in loose clothes, looking good in tight clothes, or none at all, as I will find out in "Death at a Funeral" when it gets sent to me eventually by Netflix.
What's not to like? Heck, he's going to be in the remake, excuse me, the reboot, of the 1980s show V, which I loved the first time around when I was a kid. I hope he gets to kick ass and crack wise. But mostly with the shirtless funny, please.
But I know this crush will not last. My last crush was Jason Bateman of Arrested Development. Although...Husband and I have been Netflixing Season Two of AD, so that crush may yet rise again. Maybe now that I've gotten this confession out into the open, it will fade away. And in the future, who knows what handsome thing will catch my eye?
However, as I told Husband today, Husband's my permanent crush.