Dads & Lads (by )

popped up in my local news today: Lads and Dads Club to strengthen family unit.

"That sounds a bit... 'last century'", thought I. What activities might require male-only participation? Getting women pregnant probably isn't a task that fathers and sons would traditionally share, so it pretty much had to either be mustache/beard management or targetted urination, right?

But, no, it's a club for doing outdoorsy/adventurous activities. Exactly the kinds of things my wife and eldest daughter enjoy doing, as it happens (our youngest daughter, on the other hand, is scared of mud and trees). So, why the "father/son" branding?

Well, what I suspect they're trying to do is to give fathers motivation and opportunities to spend more time with their children. With the kinds of careers that make the money required to raise a family still much more accessible to men than women, a lot of kids are largely being raised by their mothers, which will indeed give kids a skewed view of the world. For a start, it'll tell them that parenting and domestic chores are for women while going afar and earning money is for men, which sucks. And it'll tell young boys that their destiny is to grow up to be a distant wage-earner, while girls are told that their destiny is to be a carer who's always hanging around the home and spending somebody else's money.

Yep... That sucks. Fathers spending more time with their kids is a good thing, and help in doing that - in telling them that they should, and that it's an OK thing for a man to do, and in giving them ready-made group activities to turn up so they don't need to organise stuff themselves, and to get them in with other similarly-minded people to exchange tips and make friends - sounds awesome to me.

However, I think it's been unfortunately tainted with gender stereotyping. That it's sons that need more time with their fathers, but daughters don't. There's an assumption that the boys need to learn MAN THINGS from their MAN DADS, while the girls are fine learning woman things from their woman mums.

But kids don't have these gender stereotypes as to what activities they should do, unless we force them onto them. And forcing gender roles onto people causes misery.

The Lads and Dads club have a rather defensive-sounding statement on their site saying that mothers and daughters are welcome too, but the rest of the site is full of statements like:

Lads and Dads Club is about creating fun and inspiring male environments. We’ve got great events for grown-up sons and their fathers, from hill walking to sky diving and weekends away. And because not all sons have a dad around, and not all dads have sons, mums and daughters are welcome too.

Boys need to be boys ... At the core of the Lads and Dads Club we are all about supporting fathers in their efforts help their children to grow and develop and have lots of fun along the way. This necessarily means that we are creating a very male oriented environment and we think that this is a good and necessary thing for Fathers, their Sons and often their Daughters too. (and, at least when I fetched it, the bottom of that page had a big ad for "ItsNotForGirls.com: Men's fashion at its finest")

So they've clearly given some thought to gender issues, but seem a bit confused, as no attempt is made to reconcile "Mums and daughters are welcome" with all the hyping of "male environments".

What's going on here? Did somebody complain about the sexism, maybe citing "discrimination", and they felt compelled to quickly wedge in the statements about accepting girls to avoid "trouble"?

You see, I think that organising outdoorsy/adventure activities for kids is great. And encouraging fathers to take a more active role in raising their children is great and particularly needed, because sexist stereotyping tells men they're supposed to be distant and leave the parenting to the mothers. But restricting this parenting to sons, and using it to reinforce the very gender role assumptions that are the root cause of the problem, isn't exactly the best way of dealing with it.

I'm worried that this thing will succeed, and in doing so reinforce the "men work all day, then go to the pub with their mates to avoid going home to their families, and then hide in their sheds all weekend" stereotypes.

And I'm worried that it'll become the target of feminist anger and be destroyed, leaving all the people behind it feeling angry that women came and destroyed their attempts to build a male-only space, leading them to become men's rights activists and try to fight the feminazi conspiracy, rather than trying to help fathers to do cool stuff with their kids (of all genders).

What would be AWESOME is if they realised that the problem they're seeing (fathers aren't getting to do much parenting, at the cost of both themselves and their kids) is a symptom of false traditional ideas of what gender means, and work to solve the problem in ways that break down those gender models, rather than reinforcing them. Now, to market it to fathers who, themselves, will have been brought up with those kinds of gender stereotypes, they'll need to be careful to make it look acceptably "manly" so that the fathers aren't turned away from it; there's a very fine line between "not offending gender stereotypes" and "promoting gender stereotypes", but it can be walked. The organisation's current description of themselves (starting with the unfortunate name...), however, is nowhere near that line. There's no reason to actually use the word "father", rather than "parent"; if the content is all written without touching on gender stereotypes of any kind, it can be "not unfatherly" without being "exclusively fatherly" (and, therefore, "not unmotherly" without being "exclusively motherly" either!).

The United Kingdom is full of "mother and toddler" groups. Even if they're called "parent and toddler" instead, they're invariably female-dominated, which reinforces itself as fathers are left feeling quite out of place at them. It would be great to fix that, and a logical place to start is by making "father and child" groups for various age groups of child, so fathers at least have a comfortable place to share fatherhood with each other. Given a chance to build their confidence in that role, we would be able to break down the barriers and migrate towards everything truly being "parent and toddler"; but as with whenever we apply "positive discrimination" to try and encourage people to do something society historically tells them they shouldn't, this needs to be handled with utmost care and sensitivity, lest it becoming divisive and discriminatory in its own right.

This can happen alongside "adventure activities for kids" groups that encourage mothers and fathers to go and do fun stuff with their sons and daughters - which would start off being dominated by fathers and sons, because of our social expectations; but there's no reason to give into that and assume it's the natural state of affairs.

We're all suffering because of gender stereotyping. There's no reason to force that onto another generation.

Recent Ugarit progress (by )

I had some time to work on Ugarit yesterday, which I made good use of.

I really should have worked on raw byte-stream-level performance issues - I did a large extract recently, and it took a whole week - but, having a restricted time window, I caved in and did something fun instead; I started work on archival mode. As a pre-requisite for this, I added the facility to give tags a "type" so we can distinguish archive tags from snapshot tags - thereby preventing embarrassing accidents that end up with a tag pointing to a mixture of snapshot and archive-import objects...

(Not that I didn't think about the performance issues. I have a plan in mind to rearrange the basic bulk-block-shovelling logic to avoid any allocation whatsoever by using a small number of reusable buffers, which should also avoid the copying required when talking to compression/encryption engines written in C.)

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A Possible Break Through (by )

So the diet... yeah that thing the Dr sent me to a special nurse for, well it has been a strange roller coaster.

Last Monday I was in tears, I didn't make it to Jean's Drama group, I got half way and felt for too woozy, I had stars and felt sick. I gave up for fear of passing out on Jeany who is still only 9 after all. We had tea in the Morrisons that was across the road and Al had to get her to rehersal. I was not so annoyed about being hungry or anything like that but more mega frustrated. It seemed that in trying to make things better I was crippling myself again and that was a huge huge step backwards.

I'm not sure if it was the food or the chronic fatigue or the fact I'd forgotten to take my headache / blood pressure tablet but it was the day I found hardest with the 1000 cal a day diet anyway. Week two was much harder than week one and this was week three - it didn't look good - how could I look after the girls?

But then Tuesday dawned and I lost the savageness of hunger, I was still hungry but it was ok and not like the fighting I must eat I've had around pregnancy and hormone stuff. And my energy was fine. I decided if I hadn't lost weight by Friday I would stop and try my friends full 100 hundred diet/exercise thing.

Then Wednesday happened, I got up and it was toddler climbing day, I wasn't hungry, actually not hungry, I had breakfast anyway because I would be walking a good 6 miles during the day min and had two hours of catching a three year old, although she actually does independent climbing now (she did sulk as she wasn't allowed on the big big wall this week). It is autumn and early morning has a bite to it so I grabbed my coat, the coat that has failed to do up around me since the last part of Moos pregnancy. Infact it has no buttons as I tried to do it up when we went to see the first hobbit film and the strain was too much and I did a Bilbo getting into our car much to Al's amusement as we had spent the whole film going "O my! I am Bilbo!".

The coat wrapped around me, if it had had buttons it would have done up with room to spare - I don't weigh myself as with the water retention etc it always seemed pointless and something you could get obsessive about ie to get an idea on my weight I would be looking at having to weigh myself multiple times a day etc... not healthy.

Basically my stomach had stopped sticking out and being hard at the top, people who hadn't seen me for a few weeks instantly noticed the difference. I also got through the entire session without pain, and then struggled to eat lunch and then walked home with min pain and then got stuff ready for Cubs and ran cubs as Mr Alaric has had to have ouchy tooth stuff done but more on that later. And we got home and I was still going!

I felt really good, my shoulder was on fire and the pelvis was a little creaky but everything else was gone.

Thursday was the same and included a trip to Bristol to see Science Show Off and stay with friends, they commented on how well I was looking and the energy levels and I felt good. I still had to use the stick but that that's not the same as the tiredness or the arthritic pains etc...

Friday I walked to the Watershed from my friends house after staying up half the night writing and ordered a gluten free lunch - just incase because you see the easiest way for me to get my calorie count down low was to cut out bread. We know I have some issues with wheat from when I was being tested for intollerances and stuff 10 yrs ago - the biospies were inconclusive but from the results of the exclusion diets they thought I should avoid white mono grain bread and eat multi-grain. But my aunt turns out to have Coeliacs and I kind of didn't want to break the spell I've found.

Wheat products are def. causing bloating - enough that Alaric notices, but that doesn't mean it's the gluten and of course it could be a mix of blood pressure tablets and controlling blood sugar better by not having bread products etc... What ever it is I just don't want to tip the balance again!

I managed to walk around Bristol with a giant wooden robot thingy on me! And though I had to then use the stick to the station it was amazing to get that far. I then got a very confused staff member trying to sell me a child/teen ticket for the train home and bumped into people who didn't recognise me due to "looking so well".

This happened again on Saturday as I ran my first workshops on my own with the girls in Cheltenham, it was tiring but would have been for most people, again issue with people taking double takes and almost walking past me.

I am hopeful, trying not to be too so as the fall back will then be worse but if it is just gluten or wheat or the yeast or some such then I could get rid of everything except the actual physical damage to my shoulder, back and pelvis! From what I've read everything from my can't eat milk to the collegen deficiency to the aneamia to my mouth ulcers maybe due to this.

I'm still currently on the 1000 cals a day but am now enjoying the increased energy, I am actually starting to think I can sort this out, I talk to the Dr again tomorrow. PLEASE WORLD.

Cuddly Science at The British Science Festival (by )

Cuddly Science Puppet show Photo thanks to Fiona Austen

The weekend saw me, Alaric and Jean at the British Science Festival in Birmingham. I was doing the most indepth version of Cuddly Science yet - everyone who knows me will no doubt now be sick of hearing about Cuddly Science but just incase here is the run down :)

I came up with an idea during my science communication course at UWE and have spent the last six months working on it, initially just as a piece of course work but I soon realised that this was the thing that would link together all my skill sets. It grew and adapted.

It is a set of puppets, larger than life versions of influential scientists, technologist, engineers, maths peeps and medical persons. Initially I focused on Ada - she was a natural choice as we have taken part in every single Ada Lovelace Day so far!

Ada went on a few trips out and about telling kids about programming computers and her own erratic childhood. But right from the beginning I knew this needed to be bigger, I have a list of puppets that need to be made.

I now have 5 puppets, I only actually had two proper shows prepared for the Science Festival as I'd planned to repeat one of them. But people decided that they were going to keep coming back to my next show so I improvised the last show which was more about the experiments and science games we'd sorted out.

As mostly Cuddly Science is just me, each puppet has their own show with an activity of some sort for the kids to take part in. So Darwin told of how he wasn't very good at school or sitting still and about his discoveries and this led onto DNA (which wasn't about in his day!). We then did a little DNA extraction experiment with the kids which they loved.

Alaric extracting DNA

Ada has a game that Alaric designed and I have done the graphics for, called Robo Bob's Jobs. We want to make a giant version of it as too our amazement there were way more than the 30 people we had designed our shows around and we need something seen from the back etc. The size of the crowed and the increase in business of the library during the day caused some issues with noise levels so I want to get a portable PA system as well. I need funding.

We also had some bits from Universe in a Box which the kids loved and was the stage for Brahmagupta, a 1500 yr old maths and astronomy dude. I generally entertained the kids between shows with the puppets and also during the activity sessions. We also had colouring sheets which I had drawn - manga scientists with room for the older kids to write down little factoids about the scientists etc...

I want to draw some more of these and maybe have a proper bundle for people to take away with them or down load from the web etc...

There were also science crayons for the colouring in - it was very popular and parents were desperate for their kids to have one of each of the pictures.

Science crayons

Those who could here the shows seemed to really enjoy them and I had so many people coming up to me to say how brilliant it was, how the children really responded to the puppets etc... I did get very nervous for the Ada show which was strange as I have done that one several times before. There were a lot of people there but not as many as for the last show which was improvised so should have been more nerve racking!

This is why I am off to do an improve comedy course at the end of the month - I am going to nail those nerves!

The appeal of the puppets was pretty universal and I got people who were just in the library and hoping for a story time - I equipped them with programmes for the rest of the festival and some of the kids would have played Al's game for hours and hours and had to be shoed away by Ada Puppet.

Ada was termed a princess by many and at least one parent turn round and said that they hadn't known girls could programme. I obviously thought about all of this when deciding what puppets to put in but was amazed to see impact straight away. Questions from adults and kids a like - mainly about Ada and Brahmagupta - it was the idea that people like "me" have done big science, tech, etc.... I really did not expect to see it so vividly.

I believe science is for everyone and this has been a big part of wanting to do science communication and the science art and it has made me more resolute and determined that Cuddly Science needs to get out there. It maybe one of my mad hat schemes, it may just be stupid puppets that me and my mum designed and games my husband made and a mish mash of my science education, experience running craft workshops, being in musical theatre, being an artist, poet and childrens instructor. It may have gotten it's inspirations from all over the place but Cuddly Science has the chance to make a difference, to help build a better world.

Cuddly Science awaiting at the Birmingham Library

The library and festival volunteers were amazing at looking after us and a chain of people I know from various things came to see me which was very encouraging :) Jeany loved it, especially when I let her set up the Story Steps at the library!

Jean setting up the story steps Jean too tired to continue with the setting up of the story steps

The library itself was pretty epic! And I loved the fact it was connected to the Theatre with poetry on the doors :)

The library Birmingham

I even bumped into a fellow poet just outside :)

And got to go to dinner with friends and meet their little one and stuff.

More photos of Birmingham:

Jean drinking milk in the Rep Gold dudes Gold Dudes planning topary train Giant flowers on the library buildings with giant crosses on them Reflective buildings Brum in sillohette first proper view of Brum

Jean and Alaric found where they had been doing the custard walking :)

Jean and Alaric find where the custard walking had been

And so yeah - Cuddly Science is GO!

Exercise and a Diet that’s Wise…. (by )

I'm just over two weeks into the 1000 calories a day diet the Drs put me on, there is a 200 calorie buffer which is just as well otherwise I would have been down to one meal whilst I was at the Science Festival. It isn't much different from my normal diet except I've basically cut out bread and goat / vegan cheese.

My friends have sent me lots of recipes and I am eating more fish.

The diet was annoying at first, then I got more energy which was amazing! Then I got a cold, I'm on number two now complete with mouth ulcers :( Normally I drink loads of fruit juice but erm... calories. So I have been measuring the fruit juice out and watering it down with hot water to make special teas which are included in my cal count.

My energy has kind of flopped again but I think this is due to the popranolol which I have started to prevent the headaches etc...

Right shin is aching slightly so I may need to look at the exercise regime again :( I'm currently aiming to complete the 10, 000 steps a day plus do 1 hr on the exercise bike. Dad fixed the peddles with blocks so I am no longer over reaching and hurting my knees on the thing. It still could do with being more recumbant. Due to a friends cat emergency I still do not have a treadmill but there is one waiting for me! It will be essential for the winter months when walking outside becomes painful.

Things I've found the hardest have been being out at events and meeting up with friends - I couldn't have the scampi and chips as it was more than my daily allowance though fortunately our friend works in the place and knows how to sort the calories so got it scampi with salad - I actually did not know you could do this in restaurants. I also couldn't have the pasty from the services which was over 800 cals :( This has made long car journeys a little hellish especially finding that even the M&S salads tend to be loaded with dressings etc.

Also the calorie information on packaging, if it is there at all, is really dam confusing! They will mention "portions" with out indication of how much of the pack you hold that is, or they will give you 100g and not always the weight of what's in the pack, even when they do give the pack weight or portion size you have to do maths. I worry that I'm getting it wrong.

I am starting to struggle, my body kept me awake last night with hunger, pains in my stomach and I am a whimp for mentioning them I know, also for some reason the ulcers in the bit between my stomach and gut have decided to flare up too as is the acid reflux I get - it maybe coincidence.

A strange side effect has been that Alaric has forgotten to eat a couple of times because I have no calories left and have skipped a meal, this then means he skips a meal and he can't afford to do that. I think I've worked out the calorie budget now so that I don't have to skip and avoid this problem.

From observations I think it is bread that causes alot of the bloating that comes and goes randomly. Which is interesting.

I am finding the thought of a low calorie diet for the rest of my life quiet depressing. I was already hacked off that everyone else seems to by chocolate bars and stuff all the time and not be fat, but I have what I have and I don't want it to get worse. Insuline intollerance and thyroid problems are feed back loops and have thresholds were you can deal with them with diet instead of drugs. I want to deal with them without drugs

Add in my frame ie bone density and structure and height and gender and age and hormones and no wonder I wasn't shifting any weight. I have issues with chronic pain and fatigue and a pelvis that likes to act up sometimes making any and all movement painful and/or impossible. These are not good combinations and the pelvis again is a feed back loop. The heavier I am the more likely the seperated pelvis stuff is, to act up and make walking hard.

turns out my 1600 cal a day was a no go, the 2000 cals a day for a woman is not for women like me, the cake is a lie! To maintain weight and not put it on I am looking at 1400 cals a day max and the 1000-1200 cals is to loose weight.

I am hoping against hope that loosing some weight will take the loading off of the pelvis and make exercise easier. I want to do climbing again - it perhapse isn't the most sensible choice but if the pelvis stabalises a bit it is doable and would be fab for over all fitness. The bleeding has settled so that I can now go swimming for two weeks out of every four so I should be doing that, not that I can currently think of how to fit that in :/

It's also a money thing - swimming and climbing and belly dancing and Krav Maga all cost money and clash for that matter and that is before you take Jeany and Mary into account. The money issue has been a big thing with the food to - to eat healthy costs a butt load more than eating stodge that fills you up. This sucks, fortunately we are in a much better place to deal with this now than we were but in general for society it is a HUGE issue.

Anyway I am basically hoping I can loose weight and then exercise more and in so doing maybe up the calories I am allowed... maybe.

Another thing is that I am not on my own with this, Alaric is helping though is concerned as he thought I wasn't eating enough to begin with. There is also the fact that I've watched two friends fight with similar issues and are starting to win!

One of them is taking up extreme sports in a life changing time which you can read about here and the other has taken up walking for charity and you can still donate here!

My friends Elizabeth, Becca and Buko have sent me wonderful recipes to help as well and I've made the staff at the climbing wall (where Jean and Mary go climbing and have have rehersals) promise not to serve me certain foods and so on.

Stats wise I am coming up to 200 Km on the recumbant exercise bike - I think that is over 100 miles. This is basically since the beginning of the summer when I got the thing - intially I was only doing 10-15 mins on there. I am trying to do an hour a day on there. I still keep failing and end up doing half an hour instead but I am now adding in sprinty bits and last night I actually got up to 30 km per hr :D

According to the pedometer I am doing over 10K steps each day and about twice a week get over 20K, once a week I get to 27-29K but this was over the summer with outings with the girls and activities to get them too - term time is slightly different although this week I have already had to walk into Gloucester twice and will be doing it again tomorrow.

I climb about 400 stairs a day on average - some days are up in the 700's and some are down below 300, stairs are something that really really hurt on bad days so this isn't that surprising. Minutes of activity range around the 130-280 range but I know for a fact it does not register any of the arm movements when I'm allotmenting etc...

5-10 kilometers a day apparently with calories burnt ranging from 600 to 1670 though there are spikes for the larger numbers.

The gamification is working well with pushing me to complete the goals on the pedometer and I am steadily populating myland (an app on my phone connected to the pedometer) with creatures - I can now generate gems in game and so on.

A big thing for me has been realising that I am allowed to moan about this stuff, one of the things I was finding depressing was the issue that I am complaining about dieting when I know there are people out there without enough food to live. That sucks big time but me not being able to express myself and my frustration is not going to help them at all.

Also realising that I am in a position to as it were "waste" food has been very helpful. I was bought up to finish everything on my plate but actually I can't afford to do that and we have chickens and cats and a wormery so nothing is actually being wasted as such. I can't get those left overs to people who need feeding - if I could I would. It is basically impossible to gage if the girls are actually going to eat or not and that's ok because the issue isn't that we are wasting the food but rather that there is no food at source or accessible to those who need it (the latter being a horrible horendous issue that is actually present in the UK as I speak).

I am finding it hard though, fatigue is up and the drive to eat is growing, I have another week before I go back, if I have not lost weight I will cry because you know I am weighing out my damn food and exercising into pain and not being able to sleep due to hunger. It had better work! Also I am aware that I have lost my sense of humour at the moment as my mum found out when she tried to joke with me over the fact I was measuring out my breakfast.

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