Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A right royal seat

One of my tapestry patterns of a Queen Elizabeth rose and an article are featuring in the January/February 2016 edition of the UK's Be Creative magazine. It was a great project to work on and the first craft article I have published. Merry Christmas everyone! Here's the link to the magazine if anyone wants to order a copy: http://www.creativewithworkbox.com/product/current-issue/.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Shoot for the Moon

The saying: "Shoot for Moon, even if you miss, you'll land among the stars" has always bothered me. Here's my take on sound advice. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Animals can sniff out cancer: dogs, cats, bears and bees possible candidates

Just imagining how cancer-sniffing bear trials would go down. Could be bad taste? Sometimes I worry I've lost track of what's acceptable in society - apparently gardening in my slippers is crossing a line.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle in practice

Even I'll admit this one's a bit naff - still, it's been a slow week. Have a good weekend all.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Boys and Girls

Just a warning – I’m writing about netball again. But that’s okay, I’m really writing about life when I do. In the past week I’ve disagreed with someone about something. Not to their face, I’m too non-confrontational for that. But it was a disagreement with something I read in the newspaper.

It was an article in the DomPost (a newspaper here in New Zealand), “Hutt Intermediate just beat netball rivals Maidstone”, by Nicholas Boyack (http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/sport/71718381/hutt-intermediate-calls-on-boy-to-beat-netball-rivals-maidstone). When I read it, I nearly spat my tea out.

If you have time, go read it so you know what I’m going on about. For those that don’t have time, the netball coach being interviewed was saying how marvellous it is to have boys on girls’ netball teams because they are big and intimidating.

I feel weird when I don’t agree about something. I think I’m a bit of a people pleaser, so when something bothers me enough to disagree, I can feel the internal conflict going on in my head. Am I the one with the wrong thinking? Do others think the same as this other person? Am I just looking for evidence to support my view point instead of being open minded? I also feel weird expressing an opinion sometimes, especially when it might provoke criticism or step on a few toes. But a wise friend once told me (I use “once” to give it gravitas – this really only happened last week) that if we never share ideas and opinions then we have to accept things the way they are. It’s only through sometimes expressing your opinions that you can start a conversation and affect change if it is needed.

So, back to the netball. I appreciate it is not uncommon for some school netball teams to field one or two boys, but perhaps there needs to be a wider informed debate in New Zealand about boys participating in girls’ sports. The right to include up to three boys (two in some centres) in a primary netball team probably started as a way for smaller schools and clubs to be able to field teams and that’s fine. However, as the coach said in the referenced article they are now used at intermediate school level (ages 11-13 years) to speed the game up and intimidate on court because of their height and speed.

This is not a criticism per se of the school in the article or their coach; they are working within the rules. Although I do question the “in it to win it” by any means within the rules by many schools who participate in national intermediate tournaments (AIMS Games) when so many sports studies show that youth athletes value participation and enjoyment more than winning, and it is the participation which contributes to improved self-esteem, confidence and athleticism among girls. It’s hardly rocket science that players who enjoy sport, participate more and over a longer period in life and develop overtime a passion and skill in a particular sport regardless of any game’s outcome.

I also question whether it is fair to expect girls to compete against boys by intermediate age, when the onset of puberty is giving some boys undeniable physiological advantages in speed and strength. There seems to be little in the way of studies into the impact of boys playing in girls’ teams, but there is much anecdotal evidence that the practice denies opportunity for girls, creates a competitive advantage and increases risk of injury.

At present, boys are not able to play in girls’ teams once they reach secondary school level, so all that happens is that some girls have been denied an opportunity to play at a higher level at intermediate and are therefore less developed than they might have been when moving on to high school.

The University of Canterbury currently has a study underway trying to understand New Zealand’s high drop out rate from sport of 13 to 16-year-old girls. I look forward to the findings, but perhaps I could predict that while there will be many causes, some of the issues might be around intermediate schools and some parents treating the children in their care as professional athletes and placing undue pressure on them around winning and losing. There is also some evidence to suggest that some girls may become more self-conscious and lose confidence playing against boys in early adolescence. This combined with having to compete physically against boys may put many off sport. I’ve witnessed first hand girls, normally good defenders, back off defending against a boy because they don’t want to defend him as closely as they would a female opponent. Also, when there is a loose ball, they tend to let the boy take it rather than scramble to compete.

I realise the “Politically Correct” approach is to treat everyone the same, regardless of gender, partly through fear of being labeled sexist. The problem is we are not all the same, and, as stated, there are often huge differences between the speed and strength of boys and girls, particularly among males who develop early. I would also point out that overseas studies into the onset on puberty aren’t entirely relevant in the New Zealand context, as Pacific and Māori children tend to undergo puberty earlier and are taller for their age than European children.

In the interests of developing netball in New Zealand, perhaps it’s time to call on our social and sports scientists to look into the issue of boys in girls teams, particularly at intermediate age, where there is the disturbing practice, of selecting, even recruiting, tall/bulky athletic boys into top teams. I know of several cases where boys have been recruited into teams, where they did not participate in the usual trial process all the girls were required to go through and they have come into a team with little or no knowledge of how to play netball – they were simply recruited because they are sporty and have the right build and aggressive attitude.

What message does this send those girls who have competed in trials over several days to earn a spot in the team they are in?

If the anecdotal evidence stands up, maybe Netball New Zealand needs to reduce the age range in which boys are allowed to compete in girls’ teams. Or, at the very least, call it what it is – a mixed team that should only compete against other mixed teams, not in girls’ competitions.

Not strictly relevant to the issue of boys playing in girls netball teams, but I might also point out that the sporting opportunities, funding and recognition in general available to boys and men by far and away exceeds the opportunities available to girls and women. Are we taking something else away from them now as well?

How’s that for an opinion?

#netball, #genderissuesinsport, #opinions

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Unpacking the Universe

It's been a busy week creating a new website for a new research association. I'll put the link up as soon as they go public, but it includes a great free online library of scientific papers for those interested in land rehabilitation. In the meantime, here's a new cartoon I made this evening - look who's figured out how to add colour using photoshop - thank you Youtube!

This Universe shipped by weight not volume. Caution: Some expansion may have occurred in shipping.

#science, #humour, #astronomy, #universe

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Pasta Annihilation

Something a bit different for a Monday - this is an 'avoiding-working-on-my-book' exercise. And yes, I know it’s 'antipasto', but that doesn’t work for a particle physics joke, does it?

#science, #humour, #physics

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Play to your strengths

By Louise Thomas

The first half of this year’s netball season my Year 7 team (11 to 12-year-olds) were struggling. We hadn’t won a single game. I had a Goal Defence and a Goal Keep who would lob the ball away down court straight to the opposition, and another Goal Keep whose body was just too big for her brain and she was constantly falling over – three or four times. Every game. With a contact penalty being called against her just about every time she fall over. I’ve gone through a whole box of sticking plasters.

I had a Wing Defence who could intercept the ball well, but then couldn’t get the next pass away as the down-court players were all leading away from her behind opposition and she just couldn’t throw that high or far. A Centre who wouldn’t let go of the ball at pass-off or around the circle edge. A Goal Attack, who was about a head shorter than everyone else on court and couldn’t shoot the ball past tall defenders. I was constantly on their case, pleading with the GK and GD to take safer passes, the other GK to try and stay upright, the WD to practice her lobs, the C to let go of the ball, etc. You get the picture.

My teenage daughter, a 15-year-old rep player who is my assistant coach, said to me at the start of Round 2, that we had to change the team up a little. We looked at and talked about every player. How could we do things differently? She said she used to lob the ball when she played at GD at the same age and use to get in trouble with the coach as well. She pointed out it was only an issue until the WD in her team got to know that that was what she was going to do and would drop right back down to the transverse line by the attack third to take the pass – suddenly they were eating up the court. Only two passes from the defence third to the top of the goal circle. Surely that’s an outcome that any team would want?

As coaches we’re suppose to teach these young players to come forward for the ball, take the safe passes, look after the ball. But maybe that’s wrong, or, at least, not always right. I was trying to get these players to improve their weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths.

Before Round 2 started we decided that we were going to offer the GD and the GK a close lead and two far away leads that they could lob to. We were going to encourage the GD and GK to use their strong throwing skills. My assistant coach came up with a game play where the Centre Pass-off went straight to the GD and then was lobbed right down to the GA under the hoop. This involved the WA blocking the GD at the pass-off (playing defensively instead of joining the attack) the GA dropping back under the hoop, and the GS running out to the transverse line to draw off the opposition GK. It worked brilliantly. It left the goal free with only our shooter anywhere in sight. Even if the lob fell short she was still the closest to pick it up. And no one, but no one, was expecting an 11-year-old to lob the ball from mid court straight to the shooter under the hoop. We got away with it five times in one game before an opposition coach screamed at her GK to stop following the GS out of the circle.

The other big change I made was moving the uncoordinated GK out to Goal Shoot. She is tall, a pretty good shot and has a good eye for the ball, but what really made this a brilliant move was turning the falling-over-frequently to our advantage. See, the thing is, in netball, if you’re on defence and you fall over your own or someone else’s feet, nine times out of ten you’ll get pinged by the umpire for contact. What we discovered was when you’re on attack the opposite is true. This second round, just about every time she’s fallen over, rightly or wrongly, the opposition has been called for contact. Meaning we get a clear shot at goal, usually under the hoop.

The problem with the WD I solved by telling the C and WA that if they want the ball from her that they had to drop back and then lead forward EVERYTIME, in opposite drives. Otherwise the WD was just going to pass it back to the GD for a down court lob to one of the shooters. They do now, or at least one of them remembers to, after all who wants to cut themselves out of the game with a bad lead. The WD has a great powerful chest pass that the attack can drive onto. Passing problem solved.

I’m still working on my C letting go of the ball, but this has been partially solved by moving my short GA into the midcourt (And my former GS to GA). Turns out she’s really good at being Centre.

The change in results has been amazing. With one game to go in the round we are currently leading the pool. We’ve comprehensively beaten teams that pummelled us in the first round.

There’s probably a metaphor for life in here. Something along the lines that we’re only a bit of left-field tweaking away from being brilliant. And definitely, most definitely, double down on your strengths and find away to mitigate any weaknesses without getting hung up on them.

Also, I suspect that next year maybe I should be assistant coach. I’ve got a sneaking feeling my daughter might be smarter than me.

#netball, #coaching, #strengths

Sunday, 9 August 2015

What is in a name?

It was a big call for me adding “artist” to the “writer and editor” job description. After all, artists are mostly consumptive impoverished types who were fooled into following their bliss, aren’t they? They usually do a good sideline in mail delivery, shelf stacking, and late-night shifts at the gas station, when not suffering from crippling depression or trying to self-mutilate. With that attitude, you could see my concern.

I’ve always called myself a “science writer”, now that’s a serious no-nonsense career, requiring exacting professionalism, a sound knowledge of science issues, and a proper leather briefcase.

To me this was what was true. But lately I’ve had a sneaking suspicion about certain things, they are:

1. As I sweep down the slope on the wrong side of middle-age it could just be that I’m mortal. My lifespan measured against any criteria (apart from a mayfly) will be regrettably short.

2. It is just possible that some of my attitudes and snobbishness, my beliefs about labels, are stopping me living a more fulfilling life.

There have been times, an increasing number truth be told, when I’ve been editing some particularly turgid document, and I’ve thought: “Is this it?” I’ve looked outside at the sunshine and wanted desperately to be in the garden, or looked at the rain, and wanted to be writing, painting or doing some tapestry.

Why was I doing what I was doing? Don’t get me wrong I love writing about science, I’ve been penning reports for over two decades and I still find stuff that interests me. But why just that? There are lots of other things that interest me as well.

I’ve had a few ups and downs in the past year, in what has been a remarkably steady 20plus-year career in New Zealand’s science industry. Some long-standing clients have left me. It was nothing personal, the Government stopped their funding – some of them are actually shutting their doors soon. Other divisions of institutions I’ve worked for have also been disbanded in the past few years or are seriously dwindling. Researchers are out on the street looking for jobs as fry cooks.

I’ve found myself unmotivated to chase the crumbs that are left. I’ve gotten out of the habit you see, as I’ve enjoyed a couple of decades of word-of-mouth referrals providing a steady income, and now, somehow, at this stage of my career, it seems a little degrading.

The uncertainty is making me re-evaluate lots of things, and I came to the somewhat discomforting conclusion that I cared about my perception of how other people saw me. You see, to be a “science writer” requires smarts. People know you’re brainy, and my perception of myself has been pretty tied up in people knowing I’m the one they need to call for quiz night. There’s a certain amount of ego gratification involved in being asked by several different groups to be on their team to answer the science questions (hint: there’s always a periodic table one).

If I was say, a “needlepoint designer”, or just an ordinary “writer”, people might think it wasn’t a serious career. Not only would those labels not tell people how “smart” I am, but they are for the most part pretend careers – frivolities that some people indulged in as a hobby or for pin money, while their rich husbands brought home the bacon. The quiz team requests might dry up.

But given the mortality suspicion it might be time I got over myself – checked my attitude – maybe I’ve been shutting down possibilities and limiting myself. Stagnating.

It’s time for a little reinvention. I started earlier this year when a science writing colleague/friend got me a writing gig that didn’t have anything to do with science. Okay, that’s alright, I’ve got to pay the bills. The magazine involved has asked me for some more stuff. Yeah, that’s good, I like their magazine and I like them. The same friend has also just finished writing and publishing a book after spending a year river boating around France, I confess to being slightly green with envy. He’s got his life together while I’ve been floundering – and I don’t mean fishing for flat fish.

I’m a needlepoint enthusiast. When I can get away with it, I’ll get out a basket of wool or graph paper and coloured pencils and muck around making patterns. I’ve never considered trying to make a quid out of it, but last month I decided to take the plunge and sent off one of my designs to five different craft magazines. Two never replied, one said “The editorial team reviewed submitted designs today and we unfortunately came to the conclusion that we cannot use your design at this time, though it is lovely. Thank you again for your submission. Hopefully our needs will line up better in the future.”, which is a kind of nice rejection, but then shockingly, two said yes, they like it. I went with the one that said: “We’re really excited about featuring your project in the magazine!” (exclamation mark their own – I usually avoid them on the basis that nobody wants me yelling or shrieking with excitement at them). What’s more in a subsequent E-mail the editor made reference to the “artists” who contribute to their magazine. Get that, I’m an “artist” contributing to their magazine – well, grab a feather duster and tickle me pink.

I’m still jealous about the book thing, so I’ve started writing my own novel – I’ll get back to you about that in about a year. I’m thinking I might turn a few of my designs into a book as well, but this is a long-term project. Anyone who has ever done any tapestry will tell you how long it takes to make a cushion. In the meantime, you can buy a tapestry pattern off me, presented as an easy-to-follow nine-page PDF booklet with an enlarged symbols chart, if you fancy getting crafty.

I’ll leave you with the wise words of Kurt Vonnegut – even though I think some of his books are pretty weird: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

#writing, #being an artist, #naming, #aging