Thursday, December 31, 2009

Closing comments

This blog might be revived one day. Until then, I'm closing comments. It's taking some time to clean up all the comment spam, and it's not worth it while the blog is dormant.

Happy New Year 2010!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Some really small things

From The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel:

“What’s particle physics?” asked Bod.

Scarlett shrugged. “Well,” she said. “There’s atoms, which is things that is too small to see, that’s what we’re all made of. And there’s things that’s smaller than atoms, and that’s particle physics.”

Bod nodded and decided that Scarlett’s father was prob-
ably interested in imaginary things.

That reminded me about this old, but still good, post about the physics of imaginary things.

And in other news, I now have a baby boy. And I'm considering to revive this blog, maybe. I'll not make any promises, but just see if I find time and inspiration to write here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Yes, it is spring. Robins and grackles and starlings everywhere, and the geese going north above our heads. And the snow drops and crocus and even dandelions by the south facing walls. Now is the time you are supposed to come out of hibernation.

It's funny though, how it works. You grow a little heavier, a little clumsier day by day. The sprout is active during the night and keeps you awake. And the days pass faster and faster, leaving little time for everything you wanted to do except the daily grind and the necessary tasks. And then a new family member, and the life changes forever.

Less than two months to go now. The daughter will be a big sister, and we will be parents of two. I don't know how anything is going to be, but I realize that this blog is already a very low priority and it's better to officially pronounce it sleeping until... later. Maybe I'll be back in summer, after mid-June or so.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hear me talk about dark matter at a convention!

I'm going to Ad Astra, the Toronto science fiction convention, this year again. And this time I'm even giving a talk: a presentation about dark matter. I intend to keep it at a conversational tone and hopefully accessible for most, and I'm spicing it up with lots of science fiction references (I always wanted to use them for something) -- but it's going to be real science.

I'm also going to be on the panel of scientists answering questions from the audience. (I also offered to be on a couple of other panels, but at the moment it's not clear to me if they are included in the final programme.)

If you are in Toronto the weekend after next, maybe I'll meet you there.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What is a "real woman"?

I hate it when I'm expected to conform to a stereotype rather than treated as an individual. I really hate it when people say "women are like this" and then expect every single woman to be more or less like that.

Ge me right here: I know that we are all prejudiced -- that we all have a tendency to have expectations based on previous experience. I also know that when it comes to problems in inequality between groups, it makes sense to discuss those differences. The problem is when people are unaware of their assumptions and think that their experience of how things are on average is a prescription for how things should be. That's when they (mostly without knowing it) put pressure on others to conform, rather than to try and meet them as the individuals they are.

Oh yes, this is a pet peeve. And very personal.

Let me give some examples.

I (call me A) once talked to a female colleague (let me call her B) about a woman we both were acquainted with (C). I was a little bit pleased with myself for having deduced that C was practicing some martial art from her relaxed stance when we had to stand and wait for a long time. I know that in that way you can stand forever without getting tired, and you are balanced and prepared to go. To explain what I meant I imitated it (probably not very well) to B. Her reaction: "That's not a very feminine way to stand".

You might see this as a very innocent comment, but what it tells me is that B judges (including C) people from her stereotypes, and the most important thing about how a woman behaves is whether it's feminine. By repeating comments like this she tells me (and everyone around her) that even if she doesn't say it, she thinks I should also first and formost be feminine as much as I can help it, before I can have any other characteristics.

This makes me a bit angry, but I'm too polite to always thake a fight. I hate those little innocent comments, because they are ultimately opressive. They tell people: stay in your place, behave as you are expected.

I know that there are many differences between men-on-average and women-on-average, but I also know that those differences are smaller than the variations between individuals. I think it should be expected of everyone in a polite society to at least have the ideal to allow others to be different from the stereotypes. I think that it's difficult to get to know people as fascinating persons if you always see them through your normative ideas. And sometimes I think it's worse for men, because they often have even more pressure on them to be male.

When I hear the men in the coffee room talk about their wives as "the boss", and exchange cliche phrases of how women are of course incomprehensible to men, I almost feel sick. What does that mean for how they see me as a professional? I might be oversensitive, but on the other hand this actually might have consequences for how people treat each other. If they expect communication failure, I would not exactly be surprised if they will have communication failure. And they spread this expectation, giving it on to others.

By the way: I mentioned exactly this coffee lounge incident to some students over lunch one day. The reaction from the male student: "What, are you a feminist?"

"I'm a woman, isn't that enough?" was my answer.

I don't want to be a "real woman". I want to be me. And I don't want the first reaction when I speak about something I find interesting to be "isn't it very unusual for a woman to be interested in that?" (Maybe more about this another day.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Role models

When I think about role models, it takes a while before anything shows up in my head. What is a role model? Someone I have looked up to and wanted to be like, I guess.

The funny thing is that the first role models that show up in my head are all fictive people. It's Modesty Blaise (because she had such varied experience, first hand knowledge of extremely different environments and the wonderful skill to get along with people of all kinds -- presidents and kings as well as street kids and poor fishermen), it's Kip from Have Space Suit, Will Travel (because he got somewhere by being smart and knowing things), it's ... from A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else (because he was intellectual and did not really fit in with his peers, but found a way to be himself), and others. It was fictional characters I looked to when I shaped my ideas of who I wanted to be: smart, reasonable, open to new things, and so on. I might not live up to all of my ideals, but they are still there.

As for real people, I tend to admire everyone who is enthusiastic and really involved in things. People who make things happen.

There are also all of those people who have surprised me, and showed me new ways and attitudes. Like two of my fellow PhD students in Uppsala, who one day told me that it happens that they feel really tired and frustrated over their research -- that it sometimes seems hopeless -- and that they would then just lock the door to their office and cry for a while. Just the idea that there were others who sometimes felt like that was a revelation for me -- and the idea that you could actually talk about it was nothing short of revolutionary. I had always felt that if you could not be enthusiastic about your research all the time, you were somehow not worthy. Being frustrated and bored to the point of crying was to me a shameful secret. Maybe, just maybe, this was something that happened to others too? Even smart, successful students!

And then you go on, and another day you will be enthusiastic again, and make things happen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I say no more.