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Samuel Delany's 1977 Star Wars review: why is the future so damned white and male?

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Samuel Delany (previously) is one of science fiction's titans, a pioneer who was the first openly gay writer in the field, as well as one of the first Black science fiction writers to attain prominence.

In 1977, Delany saw a press preview of Star Wars on assignment for Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy; Delany's assessment of what made the film so tremendous contains shrewd observations about the many ways in which Lucas stitched together different filmmaking techniques and homages to film classics to create a sense of unreal reality that was both gritty and grand -- "worlds that look big enough to be worlds."

Delany notes that not all of the pulp homage in Star Wars holds up: "turbo-blasters" and "Kessel run in under three parsecs" and so on. But he reserves his sharpest criticism for the movie's treatment of people of color and women: "In Lucas’s future, the black race and yellow race have apparently died out and a sort of mid-Western American (with a few South Westerners who seem to specialize in being war ship pilots) has taken over the universe. By and large, women have also been bred out of the human race, and, save for the odd gutsy princess or the isolated and cowed aunt, humanity seems to be breeding quite nicely without them."

Delany wants to know how Lucas finds it easier to imagine a future filled with cool alien muppets, but not people of color?

In a bit of foreshadowing for future Disney Star Wars installments, Delany muses: "wouldn't that future have been more interesting if, say, three-quarters of the rebel pilots just happened to be Oriental women -- rather than the guys who didn't make it onto the Minnesota Ag football team. It would even be more interesting to the guys at Minnesota Ag. This is science fiction, after all."

Star Wars: A Consideration of the Great New SF Film [Samuel Delany/Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy]

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luizirber
2 days ago
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Davis, CA
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The first book collecting the new Nancy comic is incredibly, fantastically, impossibly great

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Here's the thing: Bushmiller's successors were pretty good at creating strips that felt like Bushmiller might have created them, but Jaimes's Nancy makes me feel like Bushmiller made his readers feel during his 50 year run.

Jaimes's Nancy is obsessed with her phone and social media, she lives in our modern, contemporary world, she goes to after-school robotics club, all things that are a million miles from Bushmiller's strips -- but if Bushmiller was creating Nancy in 2018, this is the Nancy he would have created. This is the non-anachronistic, modern Nancy that is totally, utterly true to Bushmiller's sensibilities, and that blend of modernity and Bushmillerian faithfulness makes today's Nancy perfectly suited for being shared between kids and their grownups.

I've been reading the new book around the house for the past day or so, and everyone else who has transited the house in that time has repeatedly stopped me to say, "Why are you laughing so hard at that book?" Honestly, I just want to give everyone a copy of this.

The book's got some terrific forematter and appendices, too, including a revealing interview wiht Vulture, an illuminating and insightful essay on the structural problems that made the funnies so white and male by Hillary "Rhymes With Orange" Price, and some charming fan-art portraits of Nancy.

Jaimes herself is shrouded in mystery: she did a single notorious live appearance at Cartoon Crossroads Columbus where she wore a hilarious disguise and then ran into a closet (!). But her personality comes through very strongly in her strips. She is clearly a precious gift from the universe to an undeserving human race, and I am so glad she's doing what she's doing.

Nancy [Olivia Jaimes/Andrews McMeel]

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luizirber
6 days ago
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Davis, CA
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Prosopagnosia

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luizirber
8 days ago
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Davis, CA
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From Beneath You It Devours

jwz
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YseultCeirw:

Fairly certain that crude oil is a genuine eldritch horror.

  • lied in wait in the Earth's crust for literally millions of years
  • made from the dead bodies of creatures nobody in recorded history has ever seen alive
  • almost immediately granted us advanced technology
  • naturally occurring, yet has a scent incomparable to any other natural substance
  • pitch black liquid
  • kills anything it touches
  • using it to make anything kills everything it DOESN'T touch, but very slowly
  • inexplicably addictive to the money-poisoned
  • Is the cause of the mass extinction event we're currently experiencing, and that 95% of people are completely unaware of or outright deny.

ingdamnit:

we used to power things by whale souls then we found out there's a ton of souls trapped under the earth just waiting to be burnt

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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tingham
12 days ago
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Cary, NC
luizirber
13 days ago
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Davis, CA
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Computational survivalist

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Some programmers and systems engineers try to do everything they can with basic command line tools on the grounds that someday they may be in an environment where that’s all they have. I think of this as a sort of computational survivalism.

I’m not much of a computational survivalist, but I’ve come to appreciate such a perspective. It’s an efficiency/robustness trade-off, and in general I’ve come to appreciate the robustness side of such trade-offs more over time. It especially makes sense for consultants who find themselves working on someone else’s computer with no ability to install software. I’m rarely in that position, but that’s kinda where I am on one project.

Example

I’m working on a project where all my work has to be done on the client’s laptop, and the laptop is locked down for security. I can’t install anything. I can request to have software installed, but it takes a long time to get approval. It’s a Windows box, and I requested a set of ports of basic Unix utilities at the beginning of the project, not knowing what I might need them for. That has turned out to be a fortunate choice on several occasions.

For example, today I needed to count how many times certain characters appear in a large text file. My first instinct was to write a Python script, but I don’t have Python. My next idea was to use grep -c, but that would count the number of lines containing a given character, not the number of occurrences of the character per se.

I did a quick search and found a Stack Overflow question “How can I use the UNIX shell to count the number of times a letter appears in a text file?” On the nose! The top answer said to use grep -o and pipe it to wc -l.

The -o option tells grep to output the regex matches, one per line. So counting the number of lines with wc -l gives the number of matches.

Computational minimalism

Computational minimalism is a variation on computational survivalism. Computational minimalists limit themselves to a small set of tools, maybe the same set of tools as computational survivalist, but for different reasons.

I’m more sympathetic to minimalism than survivalism. You can be more productive by learning to use a small set of tools well than by hacking away with a large set of tools you hardly know how to use. I use a lot of different applications, but not as many as I once used.

Related posts

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luizirber
13 days ago
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Davis, CA
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How we integrate science and engineering

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Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation created the Childhood Cancer Data Lab (CCDL) to accelerate the discovery of treatments and cures for childhood cancers by empowering pediatric cancer experts poised for the next big discovery with the knowledge, data, and tools to reach it.

Team Composition and Roles

The CCDL team includes science, engineering, and design expertise. Combining these three disciplines in different ways across projects enables us to carry out our mission.

Our design-focused team members identify gaps that are hindering progress in childhood cancer research by engaging with the community. Our design team is currently the smallest team, consisting of a single user experience designer, who is responsible for foundational research, survey development, user experience testing, and strategic planning. Our user experience designer also attends many of our training workshops to discuss researchers’ needs and frustrations as well as to test our software products.

Our engineering team is focused on building robust software that addresses gaps in the field via well-understood workflows. The idea behind our engineering efforts is that when a technology becomes sufficiently mature that it can be reliably automated, it should be. The engineering team is behind the implementation of refine.bio, which aims to make public gene expression data widely available and reusable. The software also allows the science team to have a very large collection of public gene expression datasets at their fingertips via its API. The engineering team also brings expertise in best practices in software development to the data science and design teams.

Our data science team engages with the pediatric cancer community to address gaps in knowledge or capabilities. The data science team has developed training workshops to introduce folks in the field to reproducible computing practices and provide researchers with the knowledge to solve common challenges. The team nucleates a cancer data science Slack group that aims to provide frequent touchpoints to members of the field working on data analysis challenges. Together, the goal of these efforts is to enhance a community of practice around big data analytics in pediatric cancer. The data science team also develops new computational techniques to address gaps in capabilities. CCDL scientist Dr. Jaclyn Taroni led the development and characterization of an approach called MultiPLIER which used large compendia of public data (like those in refine.bio) to provide a more detailed understanding of rare diseases. A peer reviewed manuscript describing MultiPLIER was recently published in Cell Systems.

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Team Tactics

By Deepa Prasad

Infusing perspectives across teams

Infusing scientific, engineering, and design perspectives into each others’ work has been vital to our team. It helps ensure that design and engineering solutions are addressing scientific problems effectively.

Data Science 

The data science team uses software development practices, gleaned from the engineering team, to implement proof-of-concept workflows. For example, in the OpenPBTA project the data science team identified continuous integration as a technique that would support large-numbers of scientific contributors. Members of the data science team consulted with the engineering team to build a continuous integration solution for data science within the project. These types of efforts enable the data science team to incorporate best coding practices into their analyses making them technically more robust and easier to convert to production-ready code. 

The data science team is engaged early in the process of design. A discussion of gaps, initiated by the design team, leads to conversations around solutions with the data science team. These user-centric design principles allow the data science team to ensure that the workflows and analyses are easily accessible to a broad set of researchers. 

Engineering

We use Github to manage and maintain our code base. Whenever new code is added to the code base, the new code is reviewed by other members of the team. The reviewers look at the approach to solving the problem and also how the code was tested. To ensure scientific integrity is maintained when the engineering team implements scientific workflows, any new code which touches on scientific processes requires the engineering team member to write a methods section that describes what has been implemented and a member of the data science team is also requested to review it. This keeps the engineering team up-to-date with the most recent methods for the large-scale analysis of genomic data.

Design

The CCDL focuses its efforts on gaps identified through user research.Solutions are designed in collaboration with both the engineering and data science teams to ensure technical feasibility and that the solutions address scientific problems. The design team meets with at least one member of the data science and engineering teams for a whiteboarding session to design a feature to address the gap. The goal of this session is to generate a solution blueprint that is technically feasible and scientifically valid.Throughout the development process, feature workflows are reviewed at low and high levels of fidelity with the engineering and science teams before the mockups are handed to engineering for implementation.


Structured Meetings Avoid Within-team Silos

We adopt processes to help us prevent from working in silos within teams and increase the potential for collaboration and knowledge diffusion across teams. 

Sprint planning meetings

A sprint at the CCDL is 2 weeks long. We meet at the beginning of each sprint to create a shared understanding of goals for the sprint and discuss the issues which need to be addressed. 

Daily Stand-ups 

Each member of the team briefly mentions what they worked on the previous day, what they are planning to work on today, and mentions if their work is being blocked or they are being blocked by something. This adds transparency to each team's work and gives an opportunity to get input from other team members as needed.

Demo Day

At the end of sprints, the team gathers to demo what we have accomplished that sprint, such as a neat analysis notebook or implementation of a feature etc.

Demo Day at the CCDL

Demo Day at the CCDL

These open and responsive in-person channels of communication have been key to preventing us from working in silos. We also use Slack, GitHub, and other electronic methods of communication to provide more frequent contact.

Researcher-centric Decisions

Our primary goal is to address gaps in the pediatric cancer field. We start out by identifying gaps through user research which provides a starting point for discussions around new features or new tools. When prioritizing features or tools, major factors that influence our decisions are whether or not the solution would be of value to the researcher immediately and the extent to which it fits well into their current ecosystem. New features and tools are regularly tested with researchers to validate its utility and discover new gaps via usability evaluations

Concluding Thoughts

The CCDL’s team brings together the disciplines of design, data science, and engineering with the goal of producing robust solutions that address key gaps in the field. As we have grown we have refined our processes to maintain information flow across teams while trying to avoid meeting fatigue for team members. We aim to keep meetings small, focused, and to a defined duration, while also providing avenues for team-wide communication each sprint.

 
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luizirber
23 days ago
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Davis, CA
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