Reading List 2011 (13/214)

Have some of my favorites!

  • Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Clouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Unnatural Death, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Strong Poison, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Five Red Herrings, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Have His Carcase, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Busman’s Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Thrones, Dominations, Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
  • Lord Peter, Dorothy L. Sayers

tl;dr – Great mysteries in a variety of sub-genres, unified by a masterful handling of character and plot. Also, I wish my brain worked more like Peter Wimsey’s.

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Reading List 2011 (9/201)

More reading!

  • Robopocalypse, Daniel H. Wilson
  • Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
  • Lost in the Meritocracy, Walter Kirn
  • A Drink Before the War, Dennis Lehane
  • Darkness, Take My Hand, Dennis Lehane
  • Sacred, Dennis Lehane
  • Gone, Baby, Gone, Dennis Lehane
  • Prayers for Rain, Dennis Lehane
  • Moonlight Mile, Dennis Lehane

tl;dr – Read Kirn for scathing truth about education and class in America, skip the bad sci-fi, and try Lehane for well-crafted mysteries with a bit of action and romance.

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Writing About Writing About Games

People occasionally ask me why I don’t blog about games more often. After all, I do research on games; I consult on game-related projects; I teach game design classes; I play a lot of games. I certainly don’t hesitate to write about psychology, creativity, literature, feminism, technology, education, or any of the dozen other things I study.

The answer I usually give is that if I’m writing about games, it’s going to happen in an academic context. Why blog about it when I really ought to be writing for publication? The thing is, that answer doesn’t really hold up. They’re two different kinds of writing, and I certainly have no problem writing about other research-related topics on my blog. It’s just an easier thing to tell people than that I’m afraid.

That’s right. I’m afraid to write about games. I’m afraid to write about games because I am a woman. Because I know that if I get attention for what I write, it will inevitably turn poisonous eventually. Because I feel that I have to be twice as smart, twice as insightful, twice as right as a guy writing about games – and even if I manage it, I’ll probably still get called a cunt.

I think my resolution for 2012, thanks to the brilliant and courageous Margaret Robertson, is to blog about games. Specifically, I’m going to write about what I’m playing, in much the same way I log my reading, at least once a month.

We’ll see how it goes. Wish me luck.

Reading List 2011 (7/192)

More books! Everyone loves books!

  • Pfitz, Andrew Crumey
  • The Leftovers, Tom Perrotta
  • Headhunters, Jo Nesbo
  • UR / Mile 81, Stephen King
  • Full Dark, No Stars, Stephen King
  • Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  • The Keeper of Lost Causes, Jussi Adler-Olsen

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Second Thoughts on UP

As I type this, I’m wearing my UP bracelet – so if you don’t feel like reading this entire post, you can just consider the UP experiment to be an ongoing success.

I learned the most about my ongoing relationship with the UP when my band failed. In fact, that’s when I found out it was a relationship in the first place! I spent more time than I’d like to admit unplugging, replugging, resetting, and recharging. I even gave my band a helpful pep talk! Needless to say, nothing worked. I called customer service, got a printable shipping label, sent my band back and had a replacement en route the same day.

After more than a week with the band, going without it was strange. Here’s what I noticed.

Wrist freedom. I’ve had trouble with RSI in the past, so I’m hyper-aware of wrist stress. While the band didn’t give me any problems, I never quite got used to it enough to stop noticing it. This is actually partly good; noticing the band reminds me of my commitment to healthy behavior. Still, I enjoyed the extra freedom, particularly while typing and knitting.

Knowledge is power. It was sad not to know how much I was walking every day, especially because during the three days I was bandless I ran around quite a bit. I didn’t realize how excited I was to have that data until, suddenly, I didn’t.

Consistency rules. I’ve been kind of annoyed by the band’s built-in alarm and its tendency to ignore my sleep goals when waking me up. However, I didn’t realize the system’s biggest benefit: it was just hard enough to reset the alarm that I was leaving it set for the same time every day. While I was bandless, I kept on waking up at that time – sometimes even before my alarm!

Now that I’ve got my band back, I’m once again syncing my data three or four times a day to see how far I’ve walked. I’m not using the built-in alarm anymore, but I’ve set my phone alarm to wake me at the same time every day. And I’m reconciled to the slight adjustments I’ve got to make while wearing it. For the moment, it’s clearly worthwhile.

I’m still waiting for Jawbone to give me better access to my data, but I believe they’ll eventually get this right. For the moment I’m fairly happy collecting a baseline set of activity, sleep and food data, and finding patterns on my own.

Previously: First Thoughts on UP

Reading List 2011 (10/185)

Dear lord, the book backlog is getting dire and it’s nearly 2012. On the other hand, I’ve just written my very first grant application, so on the whole, I’m calling things a win.

In the meantime, have some books!

  • Among Others, Jo Walton
  • March, Geraldine Brooks
  • The Now Habit, Neil Fiore
  • Read This Before Our Next Meeting, Al Pittampalli
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
  • A Shadow in Summer, Daniel Abraham
  • A Betrayal in Winter, Daniel Abraham
  • An Autumn War, Daniel Abraham
  • The Price of Spring, Daniel Abraham

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First Thoughts on UP

Tuesday night, I came home to find a package waiting for me in the mailbox. It was a Jawbone UP! I breathlessly peeled it out of its case (notably well-designed, by the way) and stuck it on my wrist. I’m not only a game designer, I’ve also been trying to stay active while writing my dissertation, which is harder than you’d think – so I’m analyzing this thing both as a researcher and as a user.

For those following along at home, the UP is a system that tracks your activity, eating and sleep habits. The system includes a rubberized wristband, which has an accelerometer and a button that lets you give it some explicit instructions, like “I’m working out now” and “I’m sleeping now.” It connects to an app, which lets you see your results, and also lets you take pictures of your food for later analysis.

Some things about it are awesome …

Always available. I’ve owned a pedometer for years. Guess how often I remember to clip it on when I’m heading out? I can wear the wristband anywhere – even in the shower. If I never take it off, I never have to remember to put it back on. Similarly, my phone is the one thing I can count on always having nearby. I can check my data anytime, which is super motivating. For example, today I decided to do errands on my way home, instead of asking my husband to do them, because I checked my activity level on my way out of the office and realized it was low.

Sleep data. In addition to telling me how much I sleep, the band collects data on the quality and depth of my sleep. It can tell when I wake up in the middle of the night, when I’m sleeping deeply, and when I’m only lightly dozing. It gives me an overall sleep quality rating, and a picture of when I was in which mode of sleep during the night. Very cool.

Activity and food reminders. The band can be set to vibrate at various periods during the day, if you haven’t gotten any activity recently. (I’ve got mine set for once per hour.) The app pops up a notification asking you how you feel three hours after each meal. Together, these reminders mean that you never have to think about the app; it nudges you when it’s time for you to take action, and it doesn’t have to occupy mental space in between. As someone who has a lot going on, I really appreciate that feature.

On the other hand …

Alarm stupidity. The band’s got a built-in alarm system that wakes you up when it thinks, based on physiological signals, that your body is most ready to be awake. You give it a half-hour range and it does its best! The problem is that it keeps waking me up 12-15 minutes before I hit my sleep goals for the day. I’m walking around all day with a 99% full sleep meter, and wishing I could just tell the thing to be a little more chill when I’m about to get a full seven hours. But I can’t shift my alarm later because if it wakes me up too late, I won’t make it to the office on time. The app knows about my sleep goals; it should use that information to manage my alarm settings.

Requires connectivity. Instead of keeping my data on my phone, it logs it back to a central server every single time there’s an update. This might not be a problem for some people, but my office has neither wireless nor cell phone reception. It means I have to walk upstairs to check on my data – which, okay, okay, means I’m getting more activity, but it’s also kind of a pain.

Data analysis. Or rather, the extremely light-weight nature thereof. All you can really see is how you’ve done that day. No graphs, no charts, no trends – or if there are any, they’re so deeply buried I haven’t found them yet. I’m hoping they release better data analysis tools and more visualizations over time.

And here’s what I’ve learned about myself …

I sleep less than I think. I spent all of high-school and college perpetually sleep-deprived, so I like to boast about how getting eight hours of sleep a night is a priority. Turns out I sleep less than that – a lot less. My longest night of sleep so far was just over seven hours. If that’s a pattern, it needs to change.

I walk more than I think – a lot more. I like to walk, and for a while my husband and I were walking something like twenty miles a week, on top of our normal everyday activity. With my crazy deadlines, that’s fallen by the wayside a bit – but my “everyday” level of activity is still over 2 miles a day. That’s not awful, and I’m finding ways to increase it in one-minute increments. That way I can maintain a better baseline of activity even when I’m swamped, like I am now.

I rarely eat between meals. In fact, my biggest challenge is that I forget to eat, and then get hungry, cranky and headachy. I have to stop grabbing whatever’s handy at 3pm.

I’ll be reporting back in a couple of weeks, so I’ll let you know how much of this is first-blush excitement and how much is sustainable. I’m guessing the latter, especially if I can find some people I know who are also trying this thing. I wouldn’t want to share my data with strangers, but I’d love to collaborate with (and challenge!) my friends. So if you’re UP for it (oh, but you knew I was going there at some point) let me know and I’ll add you to my team!

Reading List 2011 (9/175)

I’m 60+ books behind with these, so expect more regular updates – I’d love to start 2012 without a backlog!

  • Heir to the Shadows, Anne Bishop
  • Daughter of the Blood, Anne Bishop
  • Queen of the Darkness, Anne Bishop
  • Stories, ed. Neil Gaiman & Al Sarrantonio
  • Fatherland, Robert Harris
  • The Cypress House, Michael Koryta
  • Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, Sam Gosling
  • Incarceron, Catherine Fisher
  • Sapphique, Catherine Fisher
  • Second Son, Lee Child (bonus!)

I’m not ordinarily embarrassed about anything I read. Sometimes I just want a nail-biting thriller, even if it’s terrible; sometimes I like going back to old favorites. I read strange stuff for projects, like the parenting memoirs I’ve been picking up periodically since reading Lareau. Plus, you find great work everywhere; I’ll defend Lee Child or Stephen King against all comers!

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Reading List 2011 (8/166)

Recent reading:

  • Reshaping the Work-Family Debate: Why Men and Class Matter, Joan C. Williams
  • Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life, Annette Lareau
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua
  • How to Tutor Your Own Child, Marina Koestler Ruben
  • Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  • Good Wives, Louisa May Alcott
  • Little Men, Louisa May Alcott
  • Jo’s Boys, Louisa May Alcott

Today, I am grateful for books that change the way I see the world. While I read Williams and Lareau quite a while ago, I still find myself referring to them at least a couple of times a week. In my own head, I probably refer to them a dozen or so times a day, because they both expose and name some pervasive elements of modern American life that otherwise appear perfectly normal. Between the two, they’ve given me a much better awareness of how pervasive class is in our so-called classless society.

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Install This Extension!

My brilliant friend Danielle made a thing! A really cool, mind-blowing, brain-breaking thing!

Jailbreak the Patriarchy is a Chrome extension that swaps the gender of the Internet. Man becomes woman, girl becomes guy, he becomes she and her becomes his.

Here’s why this matters: because most of the time, we can’t see just how strongly gender affects our day-to-day experience. We have expected narratives for women to fit into, and schemas for what male behavior looks like. When those are subverted, we feel a sense of strangeness – and noticing just how often things feel strange, when genders are swapped, is a pretty good start to noticing just how much your own life experience is shaped by some of the same things.

Conceptual change only happens when people are confronted with experiences their existing concept can’t explain away. I hope that for at  least a few people, Jailbreak the Patriarchy will provide experiences of that sort.