Gadgets Galore

With the holiday shopping season firmly in swing (I know, I was out shopping tonight!) the internet has been eagerly trying to tell me about every cute and useful gadget that I should be buying/asking for for christmas. Most of them fall into one of three categories: WTF?, Eh…, or why? Some, however, are really cool either for cuteness or usefulness (or, in the best cases, both). So I thought I would collect some of my favorites here to tell you all about!

First on the list is a really cute Penguin Humidifier. It is adorable (there is a frog and panda as well) and it holds a gallon of water, so it should run for a while without needing to be refilled. How cool is that? Wouldn’t a little penguin in the corner be adorable? And it’s useful! And best of all, it’s only $30 or so from Target!

The second thing I liked is the most clever iPod holder I’ve seen. They look like Books and even open like books to reveal tiny library cards inside. I don’t have an iPod (I have a little Shuffle), and I wish they had some better titles (I’d love to see Nancy Drew or something), but I love the concept and must admit that these look great! They are a bit pricy though.

I loved the idea of these really cute Roomba Covers. They look like little deformed animals. My favorite is the zebra! I like my little red roomba, but it would be funny to see a little flat zebra puttering around on the floor! The site isn’t selling them right now (they say to try ebay), but they promise to open again after New Years and say they will have some new designs.

Probably the nicest looking laptop cases I’ve seen are from Red Maloo. They are inspired by kimono fabrics and folding. They are pretty, sleek and have built-in mouse pads and wrist rests! I think they are great, but my lack of a laptop and the fact that they are only avalible in Japan indicates that I’m not going to go buy one now.

Another item only avalible in Japan (I think) is this cute set of USB-Powered Heated Gloves for use when typing! My hands are always cold and it makes typing more uncomfortable and slower, so I love this concept. They can’t be terribly hot (given the limitations of USB ports), but it wouldn’t take much heat to make typing considerably more comfortable.

An item I liked that is only avalible in the UK is this cool Butter Wizard! It keeps your butter at the right temperature to keep it always perfectly spreadable! And it’s dishwasher-safe.

With my headaches and all this item is really appealing to me. It’s a Massaging Eye Mask. It gently massages your temples, eye area and the bridge of your nose to relax you, reduce headaches and promote restful sleep. I really want one!

I’m really not sure what to think about this one. It’s either really cool or really scary (or maybe both). It’s a Cellular Squirrel who answers your cell phone for you and lets you know if you want to talk to the person who called. And then you can conduct your conversation by talking to the squirrel itself. It’s very odd, but if it really works, it could be cool.

I almost never wear my watch (it’s really too big for me) but I always need to know what time it is, so I love this little gadget. It’s a Digital Clock that clips onto clothing like a little tag. It’s tiny and unobtrusive, but would be really useful. They are $20 for a set of two, but they are also sold out right now.

I really like these creative Umbrellas because the handle is offset so that you can stand in the middle of the umbrella. I like the design and think it would be great to not have to press the cold metal bar of the umbrella to my cheek to stay in the middle!

The last gadget I want to mention here is another Humidifier. This one is really sleek and unobtrusive (it kind of reminds me of a piece of art or something). I like that it doesn’t look like a humidifier so that you could have it in your family room without it looking like an appliance in the corner.

So those are the cool gadgets I have links for today. I hope they at least amused you!

Narnia Post

Lately there has been much discussion in the press and online about the Narnia books and their creator, C. S. Lewis. With the recent release of the movie “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” there has been a resurgence of interest in all things Narnia. I have been getting frustrated with some of the prevalent things being said and thought that I should discuss them here. I apologize that this post is so late coming (life has been conspiring to delay it).

The first issue I would like to discuss is the issue of gender issues within Lewis’s Narnia books. I have read quite a few articles lately that claimed that the books were sexist towards women. I beg to disagree (and I did write a senior honours thesis on the topic, so I have done a great deal of research on the gender issues and portrayals in the Narnia books as well as several other children’s books). The two biggest examples given to support the idea of sexism in Narnia are Susan being “kicked out” and the White Witch being both female and the primary symbol of evil.

First let’s deal with the issue of Susan. She was never kicked out of Narnia. She leaves Narnia when the other children do in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. After that, only the two younger children return to Narnia again until the final book, The Last Battle. Susan isn’t kicked out, she chooses not to return when the others do. The books tell us that Susan stopped believing in Narnia as she grew older and her focus shifted from childhood beliefs to the concerns of a teenager (namely, boys and makeup). This is normal, which is why it is included in the books. The vast majority of people go through a period of questioning their faith (and often abandoning it, at least temporarily) when they are adolescents. This is when people are working through the difficulties of transitioning from Mythic-Literal Faith (Fowler’s Stage Two) to Synthetic-Conventional Faith (Fowler’s Stage Three)*. That is a difficult transition for many people. Just because Susan stops believing in Narnia doesn’t mean she never will again. She does remember it, but she thinks they are like many childhood memories – embellished by imagination. It is likely that Lewis included this because it is common and an important part of faith (a big issue in the Narnia books) to touch on. Susan isn’t kicked out, Aslan specifically says that she will return to Narnia someday. In The Last Battle, she is the only one of the children who doesn’t die. They die in a train crash and go to the perfected Narnia for their afterlives. Aslan tells them, when questioned, that Susan will join them one day when she too dies. Thus, her faith has not been that lost (or Aslan wouldn’t know she would be back). This could have easily have been one of the boys, but Peter was the ring-leader and needed to remain so for the books to really work and Edmund was not only much younger and thus able to make multiple visits, but also the child most affected personally by their first visit. Edmund saw more facets of Narnia than anyone else and thus had the opportunity to cement his faith more than the others.

The second “sexist” issue is the White Witch. Generally in children’s books (as well as in many adult books) the biggest sexism issue is that the women are passive and possess little real power. This is clearly not true in Narnia and we first see that through the White Witch. She is a real source of power and certainly a very dangerous adversary. She isn’t particularly feminine, nor is she passive. She goes and gets what she wants, often with her own two hands (although she does have many subordinates working for her). It’s hard to say that a character as formidable as the White Witch is a symbol of sexism. Yes, she is evil, but the books clearly don’t think that women are evil or Lucy wouldn’t have been the Daughter of Eve with the power to find Narnia in the first place.

This brings up the other gender issues that I think people have missed when they read these books. Lucy is truly the least stereotyped little girl I have encountered in children’s classics. She breaks all the rules. Not only is she not passive, she fights back when she is told to be so. Santa Claus gives her a tiny dagger and a vial of healing potion as her gift. She is annoyed because he tells her to stay away from the battle. She says she is brave enough and wants to participate. And the thing is, she does. She doesn’t play a big offensive role in the battle in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe because she has to heal everyone else with her vial, but in The Horse and His Boy we see her as Queen Lucy the Valiant (not a typical feminine title, I would point out) going to war. She is armed and armoured and leads her own troops into war beside her brother. That is hardly something that would happen in a sexist book. Yes, Eowyn goes to war in The Return of the King, but she has to use deception to get there because no one will let a woman into battle. Lucy marches right in, long braids and all, and when the protagonist in The Horse and His Boy questions it, he is told that she does as she pleases regardless of what anyone else thinks. That’s a pretty strong woman. I’m not going to go heavily into her (because this is already incredibly long), but Aravis in The Horse and His Boy is pretty strong and self-reliant too. Not to mention that the Queens in Narnia are equal to the Kings.

I guess my point is, this series is incredibly complementary to women (they are powerful and determined and self-reliant) so I have trouble seeing the sexism argument. In my mind, feminists should embrace Lucy as what every little girl should be allowed to be!

The issue of racism also comes up a lot concerning the Narnia books. The biggest argument is that Lewis portrayed the Calormenes (a group clearly based on images of middle-eastern cultures) as being cruel. I admit, there is that feel to them. But that isn’t the whole story. Aravis is a Calormen, and she is far from the stereotype. So Lewis didn’t see the culture as all bad, or it couldn’t have produced Aravis. He does clearly have some odd ideas about middle-eastern cultures, but given that he was a relatively sheltered academic in the middle of the twentieth century in England, his ideas are not surprising. Tolkien, Lewis’s contemporary and peer, also had odd and not terribly complementary ideas of other cultures. His Asian/middle-eastern based peoples in The Lord of the Rings are pretty squarely on the evil side too. The fact is, in the wake of World War II Lewis wouldn’t have had a lot of unbiased information about the people of the middle east. Considering what he probably thought about the people in the region, I’m pleased that he created a culture that does have a very human side. And not all cultures are portrayed in complementary ways in books, but without the tension the books wouldn’t be as gripping to read. I guess I just feel like, in context, it’s not that big a deal. It’s not like “What Makes the Red Man Red?” from Disney’s “Peter Pan”!

The other big criticism I read about Narnia lately is that the books are “just kids’ books, so they couldn’t be very good”. This is not only naive, but it’s insulting to everyone under the age of 18. There are a huge number of children’s books that are fantastic stories, well written and wonderfully put together. Narnia has some inconsistencies, but nearly every book does somewhere. Yes, Tolkien spent years developing nearly every aspect of Middle Earth, but that doesn’t mean he was free from flaws. Narnia has some of those little things that don’t quite match too, but given that Narnia as a place is developing thorough the series, that isn’t surprising. Nor does it lower the quality of the books. Lewis managed to create a feeling and momentum throughout that few writers surpass, although many great writers match it. This alone is impressive. These books have been read and loved for over fifty years. You can’t have that kind of lasting power without quality. Why bother looking for little things to nitpick? You could be enjoying the books!

This is awfully long now, so I’m going to try and wrap it up.

Yes, there is Christian symbolism in the Narnia books. Lewis said so, it’s there, if you go looking you will find it. So what? Without it being pointed out, few people realize that! Most kids have no idea that it’s there, they just enjoy that fantasy story. So stop harping on it! It’s not brainwashing any more than anything else. Every story has an agenda (most have several). That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell them. Enjoy that fantasy and wonderful story if you don’t like the religion (enjoy it if you do too). There’s bigger things to worry about (just pick up a newspaper, it’s full of them).

So my point here, is look hard before you start griping. These are amazingly good books. I am not Christian, so I’m not pushing them for that reason. I really don’t care about the religious images in the books. They are amazing books and should be read! I haven’t seen the movie yet (tomorrow night, hopefully), but it looks like a good telling. From what I’ve read, it’s extremely well done. I’ll post movie-specific thoughts after I see it.

I know this was long, and I’m sorry. I just had a lot to say on the issue. Feel sorry for Michael since he has been hearing all of this extensively for weeks. Maybe I’ll sit down and write a proper paper about it. I’m thinking about it anyway.

*James Fowler. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development. Several Printings.


Ok, I totally can’t even explain how awesome Bitch Ph.D. is. She posted this wonderful dicussion of bras. How to size them (although the second part has a better sizing thing, in my opinion), how to fit them, where to buy them, everything. It’s great. Go read it!

Part One
Part Two

It’s so important to have a bra that fits. And no matter how many morons in stores tell you that your “alternate” size with a smaller cup and bigger band will be fine, don’t believe them (in fact, punch them in the face for telling you that). Victoria’s Secret is the worst for that lie. Spit at them.


I’m sick today. It really sucks. My throat is killing me (it hurts to swallow), so I suspect I may have strep. I’m not happy about that.

I’m planning to do a post soon about some issues people have been having with the Narnia books. It will be interesting. But I need to dig out my senior honors thesis first, so it might take a few more days. Sorry.

Funny Stuff

Two things that made me laugh:

- Acephalous’ unusual morning (and why one should lock one’s office door).

- Very funny cat video that made me laugh so hard Michael came to make sure I wasn’t dying or something. Found via Bitch Ph.D.


Bedside Manner

I just finished reading a very interesting article in the New York Times about doctors with poor “bedside manner”. It discussed the different kinds of communication and empathy problems that cause patients to go away feeling frustrated or angry as well as the various methods that are being experimented with to try and combat the problem (which is increasingly common). Some of the stories are dramatic. I’m not sure what to say about this whole thing, other than that I do see it as a problem. I’ve seen a very large number of different doctors in the past several years and while several of them have been excellent and made me feel pretty comfortable, it has been somewhat of a struggle to find them sometimes. I’ve had many doctors who I was frustrated with.

One of my two usual problems with the bedside manner of my doctors wasn’t discussed in the article, probably because one of them isn’t terribly common and the other is a byproduct of other issues (which were mentioned somewhat). The first is that I often feel, on meeting with a new doctor particularly, that I am an exciting freak to be poked at and studied rather than a person with feelings and a life. I’m a “facinomia” (as one doctor told me on hearing of this problem). My problem is something unexpected and not well understood, which makes it very interesting. I understand and appreciate this, but I am not a simulation to be played with on an unfeeling computer or something in a test tube to be stared at and poked. I have feelings and a strong desire not to be overly stared at and poked. Not to mention I actually want to be listened to and talked to when I go to see a doctor! The second problem I encounter is the doctors (or worse, nurses and assistants) who think that they could fix me if I just cooperated. Look, my very smart, very talented, very specialized neurologist can’t “fix” it, so you have no chance in hell. I’m not saying you can’t help, but maybe just listening to my problem (which is often not at all or in any way related to my facinating headache issue) and helping me with that will make a difference in my experience of the headache (which *is* the goal, right? I mean, if I didn’t mind the way it was, it wouldn’t be an issue).

I find it interesting that they are looking into this issue so closely and some of the things that are being tried to improve the situation are interesting. Now, a blog writer whose blog I read also points out that she has overheard some med students who think that the classes and evaluations on bedside manner are stupid, but I have to say that I agree with her in thinking that dismissing such things are rather indicative of doctors who won’t be good at interacting with their patients. Those classes and stuff aren’t a crock, believe me, I wish some of the doctors I’ve seen recently had paid more attention during those classes!

One thing I learned from the NYT article is that I should tell doctors when they aren’t being good at listening or talking to me. And I never have been afraid of changing doctors when I didn’t like one, but now I may consider sending the former doctor a letter explaining why I changed. But hopefully it will never come up again!

December 2005 Vogue: Oz, Narnia and Geisha

This month’s Vogue has a few interesting articles. There was a look at the upcoming movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”, an article about Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch in the upcoming movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”, and an photo shoot based on “The Wizard of Oz”.

Michael, skip this paragraph. You are going to say I’m nit-picking, but I’m no more nit-picking than you do with any media portrayal of someone playing a video game. Two years ago Vogue did a fantastic photo shoot based on Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” with a model playing Alice dressed in a different designer’s take on Alice in each photo. It was artistic and interesting and obviously really inspired by Alice and Carroll’s work. A year ago, they did the same thing with “Beauty and the Beast”, but this time with Drew Barrymore playing Beauty. It wasn’t quite as inspired as the Alice shoot, but it was beautiful and really did seem rather inspired by the story. This year’s offering in the same vein was a take on “The Wizard of Oz”. Now, previously it has been pretty clear that the designers were giving their own view of the book characters and not basing their designs on any movie versions. This year, they explicitly based the shoot on the 1939 MGM movie “The Wizard of Oz”. Now, I don’t for a minute intend to dispute that the movie has made a huge impact on our culture, but I do take some issue with the almost dismissal given to the book in this article. The photo spread is prefaced with a very short, only mostly accurate and very slanted piece about the history of the story. It basically dismisses any achievement the story had before the movie (including saying that “The Wiz” was a more successful musical than the 1902 musical version of the story, which is totally untrue). It handwaves L. Frank Baum’s importance with a mention of his post-Wizard tiff with W. W. Denslow (the original illustrator of the story) and says that the movie is a more important cultural achievement that “inhabits our dream life”. Thus, the entire shoot is inspired by the movie. And lack of the original story is evident in nearly every picture. Every shoe (except that in the first black and white photo) is bright red, Dorothy is waking up from her “dream”, it is Glinda who sends Dorothy off on her journey rather than the Witch of the North, and there isn’t even a hint of blue in any of Dorothy’s dresses. The outfits could be based on just about any girl in any classic children’s book. They are white little-girl inspired confections floating above towering high shiny leather or velvet pumps. In fact, they somewhat struck me as something an anime character who is supposed to be about 10 but is, for no very clear reason, incredibly oversexualized. My other main gripe is that Keira Knightley is the actress portraying Dorothy. Now, I like Miss Knightley just fine. She is a good actress and has made some wonderful movies and seems like a pretty nice person in real life too, but she isn’t Dorothy. First off, Dorothy is the quintissential American heroine from the quintissential American story. Miss Knightley is undeniably British in both appearance and character, not to mention voice. Of the millions of Americans to pick was not one really acceptable for this shoot? Secondly, Miss Knightley seems somewhat oblivious to what is happening to Dorothy in each picture. One of the best parts of the Alice and Beauty shoots were the actresses facial expressions – each seemed to really have thought about what the character was thinking. Alice looked curious and confused while Beauty looked a little sad, a little lonely and a little curious. Dorothy looks totally posed and scared. That isn’t Dorothy. The Kansas farm girl’s character is one of practicality and a very roll-with-the-punches demenor. Even Judy Garland (who played a pretty clueless Dorothy) got those two fundamental things. Miss Knightley (or more likely whoever was directing her) seems to have totally missed the point. So basically, I was pretty disappointed in this shoot. I was hoping for a strong Dorothy dressed in fabulous costumes of blue and white striding proudly down the Yellow Brick Road on her way home, and instead I got a british anime girl in limp white dresses creeping like a frightened puppy with no evident direction or goal. I was very disappointed.

A few days ago Viv had a post discussing her concerns about the portrayal of Asian women in the upcoming movie “Memoirs of a Geisha”. I was also hoping that this movie would have more realistic portrayals of Asian women characters (more depth than just “delicate lotus blossom” and “dragon-lady”), but after reading the Vogue article, I have more doubts than before. The article discusses the two main characters and the actresses who play them. It sounds very much like Zang is playing the typical delicate flower character while Gong plays the older dragon-lady character, with Yeoh as a motherly character thrown in for good measure. The director wanted to hearken back to old-fashioned “women’s epics” (because obviously epic stories about women are totally different from epic stories about men). The costumes are beautiful, but this whole thing makes me nervious. I also found it odd that the director had serious problems because most of his actresses spoke Chinese (being Chinese women), while the actors spoke Japanese (being Japanese men) and multiple translators were always necessary. I would have cast Japanese women as Japanese characters, but I’m old-fashioned that way.

The most interesting article of the bunch was the short, and somewhat glossed-over article about Tilda Swinton, who plays the White Witch in the upcoming “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. It barely discussed the new movie, focusing more on Swinton’s background, but what it did say was very interesting. It has been repeatedly pointed out by critics that the White Witch has always been portrayed in the past with midnight-dark flowing hair and this movie is showing her with peroxide-blonde, iceicled-stiff tresses. Swinton gives some very interesting reasons for that chioce that make a great deal of sense and show that she has not only read the book (brownie points for her), but also thought about it (extra sprinkles too). She states that she didn’t see the book as so much of a religious parable, but rather with more of a political slant. The book was written by C. S. Lewis in the early 1950s and was set during the London Blitz of World War II. In that light, Swinton wanted the White Witch “to be an Aryan” because she thinks that “she’s the ultimate white supremacist”. Thus, the blond hair. That is a very different take on the book and the character than we usually hear, but it is definately one that makes sense. I am very interested to see the new movie, more than ever after reading this article, and hope that some of those ideas were used as inspiration for the portrayal of the story (I also hope they aren’t explicit or even mentioned). I suppose we’ll see when it comes out later this month!

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