Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Is What A Scientist Looks Like // Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is Internet-wide Ada Lovelace Day, a day of blogging about women in technology and in science. 

From the official website:
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was born on 10th December 1815, the only child of Lord Byron and his wife, Annabella. Born Augusta Ada Byron, but now known simply as Ada Lovelace, she wrote the world’s first computer programmes for the Analytical Engine, a general-purpose machine that Charles Babbage had invented.
I decided to pledge to participate after seeing a post on Google Buzz from one of my favorite scientists in the whole wide world.

On the title of this post: Since the first time I saw a "This Is What A Feminist Looks Like" shirt back in college (is it weird that I never saw one 'til college?), the idea of challenging stereotypes of what a _____ looks like has stuck with me. The idea that a ____ can look like anything/anyone-- I wish someone had told me that when sixteen-year-old-me was trying to "look like a lesbian" by wearing Dickies and A-shirts all the time (it didn't really work).

When I thought about who I'd write about for Ada Lovelace Day, it was my friend Diane Kim who immediately popped into my mind. 

There she is to the left. Pretty fly, don'tcha think? (Didn't you know that scientists are sexy? Someone started a blog just to document them!)

I'm excited about this profile of Diane for Ada Lovelace Day because she is yet another example of how scientists and academics are not, by default, cloistered in their ivory towers. Diane is engaged in organizing for marriage equality, has come out to Tuesday Night Cafe, and even found time to do a cameo on That's What She Said.

Diane's research has taken her to Guaymas, Mexico (she went by ship, unlike me), New Zealand, even Antarctica, but she remains firmly connected to her communities outside of science.

So, let's meet her!

Who are you and what do you do, Diane?

I’m a graduate student in the Marine Environmental Biology section at USC.  My research centers around characterizing plankton communities at and near the base of marine food webs.  I’m interested in understanding community dynamics under changing environmental conditions and what that means on a functional level in the ecosystem.  

How'd you decide on your field?

1)  I love being near, in, and on the ocean, so the field work involved drew me to marine biology immediately.  

2) I’m also really fascinated by the complexities of the natural world around us.  There is so much we don’t understand, and because of that, many processes or phenomena may seem random at times.  I just think it’s really awesome to be able to explain some of the seemingly randomness in the world.  

3) Microbes are cool.  When people think of marine biology, most immediately think of charismatic megafauna like dolphins, but I study marine microbial organisms, which constitute the majority of the biomass you find in the ocean.  Another fun tidbit:  ~50% of the oxygen you breathe comes from phytoplankton in the sea. Microbes are such important constituents in marine ecosystems, playing a variety of critical functional roles.  The diversity of these tiny critters of the sea is amazing too.  In fact, even with the current technology, we aren’t able to plumb the depths of diversity of microbial assemblages in many marine systems.  And have you ever looked at plankton under the scope?  They have such unique and beautiful morphological features that, I guarantee, will blow your mind.  

What are your top three concerns as a (queer) woman in your field? How does the number of women in your field compare with other sciences?

1.  I think that the ratio of male to female is very skewed toward male students for some fields like engineering, but it’s about 1:1 in my department, which is pretty typical in biology.  When you get higher up the academic tier though, the ratio becomes highly skewed toward male faculty members even in biology. 
So that is definitely one concern.  Where did all the female graduate students go??

What’s encouraging and really inspiring is that there are programs specifically designed to promote women in science and engineering like the WiSE program at USC.  Among other opportunities, the program provides roundtable discussions with distinguished female scientists in various fields of study to interact in roundtable discussions with female (and male) graduate students, so that we can hear and learn about the success stories of other female scientists.

2.  I love that there is so much encouragement and support for fostering more women in science, but with that I have this irrational fear that we’ll be given more ‘slack’ for things because of it.

3.  I’m trying to think of concerns I have as a queer woman in my field, and can’t really think of any.  Just about everyone I meet in academia is pretty liberal and very open-minded. 

What else occupies your daily grind, other than the science-y stuff?

I’m a steering committee member of KUE (Korean-Americans United for Equality), which is a grass-roots organization that is organizing efforts to 1) create a safe space for queer Koreans and 2) to educate the general Korean-American community regarding LGBTQI issues.  For more info, email 

I also love to work on and ride my bike, catch a little BSG, hike, swim at the beach and stay connected with friends and family.

Of course, I have to ask: What are your top 3 favorite things about Los Angeles? (Can be anything-- places, things, concepts, events, anything!)

1.  I love the diversity of ethnic restaurants in LA.  Can’t live without it.  Thai one day, Korean another, Ethiopian the next.  Does it get any better than that?

2.  Family and friends, definitely.

3.  I love LA’s potential.  The potential to become more queer friendly, the potential to become greener and cleaner, etc.  So much to get involved in.

4.  I love the fact that I can go boarding one day, head out to the beach the next day, and have perfect conditions for both.

5.  Summers are always great because of concert season.  Love love love live shows.

6.  You really can’t beat the weather here.

Oh, you said 3, didn’t you..oops.  love it here too much. 

Any other comments on being a woman in science?

Something a distinguished female scientist in my field said to a bunch of us recently: There is no one formula to have a successful career in science. You can do it the way men do it and be great, but you can also do it the way you want to do it and become just as successful if not more. Women have different things to deal with than men sometimes and vice versa, individuals all have unique circumstances and challenges. Just because you don’t fit the cookie-cutter, doesn’t mean you won’t make one delicious cookie.

[emphases and links added by me]

Diane is, indeed, "one delicious cookie." Isn't she dashing standing next to this rather large piece of equipment? I don't think I've ever seen her in a lab-coat. This is what a scientist looks like!

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone! To ever more delicious cookies in science!

(Thanks so much, Di, for letting me put you on blast on the internets! <3)

Pete's Cafe on A Hamburger Today

A Hamburger Today is one of my old favorites of websites to check. It's now a member of the Serious Eats family. When I first found them in 2007, I think I promptly decided to read nearly every single thing I in their archives. Three years later, and I still check in on the headlines. Yes, I have something of a burger fetish. I'm not ashamed. 

Whenever I see something about Los Angeles, I tend to click and check it out. Sadly, despite being often credited with contributing to the rise of drive-in and burger culture, LA doesn't seem to catch much burger lovin'. Maybe I've just overlooked the articles?

I've never been to Pete's Cafe (Pete's Burgers on Hoover & 23rd is more my budget), and AHT's review was lukewarm at best, but the photos (one of which is on the left here) make me want to give it a try... if I can resist going to Nickel Diner down the street.

When I worked desk jobs, I read a lot of blogs. A lot. It started with food blogs and then transitioned to Los Angeles blogs when I moved here in 2007. As a cubicle survivor, I don't spend nearly as much time checking them as I used to, but I'm trying to go to my Netvibes page a little more often so as to at least see the headlines. Looking at all my feeds now reminds me of just how hungry I was for distraction at the time. Now, it's more for pleasure and stimulus than a byproduct of that desperate must-consume-MORE-information-NOW feeling.

Bottom line: A good hamburger (with cheese) is a wonderful thing. Pleasure. And stimulus.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

"Life Line" by Bambu feat. The Fighting Cocks // Reform Healthcare!

Someone needs to play this song on the floor of the House today. 

"Life Line" - Bambu feat. The Fighting Cocks

This isn't some ploy to lobby for health care reform; this is a true story. The story was lived and the song was written long before Obama took office and long before the current debate.

The opening lyrics of "Life Line":

I been waitin' in this line
'scuse me sir
do you have the time?
'cause i been here for a long, long while
and I'm sure we'll never be seen soon

Rest in peace Arnold Moreno
your brothers in Echo remember your smile
And never forget the reason you gone
And you not standin' here with us now--

See the homie went down
The ambulance came
and handled that fool (?) like a rag
from one emergency room to another he went--
insurance, he did not have

He was hurt, but nurse 
could not do work
until she knew she was paid--
Is the nurse or the system 
the reason no breathin' is comin' from Arnold today?

Play songs for those
who know what it's like
to sign up for county aid
From LA to Bay to the A to the Chi to the boroughs of NYC

We all the same
bleed the same
treated the same
all in the name of a Jesus
who seems to like the people
with ch-change


People die because of our current healthcare policies. This bill isn't perfect, but we have to start doing something. People have died. People are dying. People will keep dying before they have to, because our government decides to do nothing. Those of us who can't afford healthcare-- our numbers are growing with every single month that passes in these harsh economic times-- will die. Something has to be done. Now.

In all honesty, I think a major shift in the way we think about health care needs to happen in this country, and working within the current system can only go so far, but we have to keep moving in a positive direction. Let not the perfect be enemy of the good.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Another Cort Guitar Workers Concert Tonight!

The last Night of Music with Cort Worker Action was a blast. Come to this next one in Historic Filipinotown tonight and stand with Korean workers trying to get their jobs back--and bob your head to some great music from Tuesday Night Project Resident Artists David Tran aka applesauce, Sue Jin, Shin Kawasaki, Andrew Figueroa Chiang, and Mistah Cookie Jar, with DJ ANT on the 1's & 2's and Johneric Concordia (the man behind LA's BBQ sensation The Park's Finest) as your host.

From the Cort Guitar Workers ACTION site:

BRING BACK THE MUSIC!  Cort Worker Solidarity Concert
- Musicians taking action with guitar workers for worker rights

Thursday March 18th , 7-10pm
@ SIPA, Search to Involve Pilipino-Americans
3200 West Temple Street, Historic Pilipinotown

$3 suggested donation
This is not just a regular show. This is where musicians and the workers who made their guitars are taking action together.

Meet a Cort/Cor-tek guitar worker from Korea who has been making Fender and Ibanez guitars for decades in Cort’s sweatshops. When these workers asked for fair conditions, they were all fired by Cort.

FENDER has agreed to investigate, but your support is needed. Come to the show, and remind these corporations what guitars are for- for MAKING MUSIC!

Contact (regarding concert) : 714- 553-5874
Press contact: Sukjong Hong 646-567-9607

Find out more at the blog:
Join the Facebook page:

Leave now-- beat traffic! Hang out at Tribal Cafe about a mile east on Temple. (And get an apple-celery-cucumber-parsley juice. It's like magic.)

Parking around SIPA can be tight, but it's a cute neighborhood, so don't be afraid to walk. ;n)

Friday, March 12, 2010

After The Faire: Thinking about history, intergenerational dialogue, & activism

Last weekend, I went to the Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California's Author/Artiste Faire at Katy Geissert Civic Center Library in Torrance. I went to support traci kato-kiriyama, Founder/Director of Tuesday Night Project, but I also went to get a glimpse of an Asian America that I have had little interaction with, despite my time as an organizer in Asian Pacific Student Association at UC Irvine: the community of Asian Americans who are older and who have been in the U.S. for generations.

Growing up as a 1st/2nd (depending on how you count) -generation Khmer American in Southern California, I had little interaction with Asian Americans who have been here for generations. Those few paragraphs in our elementary school history books on Chinese immigrant rail workers never gestated in my mind the understanding that Asians have been in this country for centuries. In Bellflower and Little Saigon, most of my Asian peers were also children of immigrants. I always felt new. Yes, the presence of Southeast Asians in the U.S. is very new, comparatively, but I wish I had gained an awareness of Asian American history much sooner.

When I first met older Asian folks who spoke perfect English late in high school, I was both impressed and bemused. An Asian person over thirty without an accent? Wha? It wasn't until college that I really began to fully grasp it-- the existence, presence, and contribution of Asian Americans in U.S. history. Regretfully, in my haste to graduate with my B.A. in English on time and my work organizing with APSA, Irvine Queers, and the Cross Cultural Center, I never took an Asian American studies class (except for Asian American Performance & Writing with Denise Uyehara, which was a wonderful exploration of interdisciplinary art).

Thus, my knowledge of Asian American history has come primarily through a few workshops at conferences, reading on my own, and, most of all, being around people who know much more about it than I do. I've been out of college for nearly three years now, but my education hasn't stopped. In fact, I feel like it has increased exponentially. A big part of that is due to my involvement in Tuesday Night Project and working with traci and other folks who were actually there in the 1990s working to get Asian American Studies in the university, people who were in the student movement then and took lessons from the activists who came before them in the anti-war movement and civil rights movement in the 1960s and 70s. (traci is, by the way, the first student ever to graduate with a minor in Asian American Studies from Cal State Fullerton.)

As valuable as any Asian American studies literature I might read about the movement is the chance to talk to people who were there, who have been through it, and who are still in the movement, often as teachers.

I was one of the youngest (if not the youngest) person at the JAHSSC Authors/Artists Faire in Torrance. When I looked around, I wondered Where are the young people? Where are the people my age? I looked around and saw books about Japanese American internment experiences, Buddhism in the camps, books about Los Angeles' diverse cultural history. And the people who wrote the books were there, within arms' length (often closer, as it was a packed event), incredibly accessible.

I have this urge to say "Well, it was an event at a public library, and not particularly close to any university, and I mean, the demographic of the attendees doesn't really reflect whether young people are interested and engaged with our predecessors." I want to say that as a sort of disclaimer, but in all honesty, the lack of young people at the event really shook me.

I suppose one of my primary anxieties is the under-valuing of speaking, really speaking, with elders. Not merely respecting them, but listening to them, coaxing out their stories, perspectives, opinions. This comes in part from often feeling disconnected from elders in my own family and from regret that I did not take the opportunity to learn from and talk to my grandmothers as much as I could have when I had the chance.

These personal forces notwithstanding, I still believe that inter-generational dialogue--and not only dialogue, but genuine connection--is utterly necessary to the Movement, whatever specific issue or portion of it we are engaged in (and when I say Movement, I also mean Life and living). Because there is something to learn from what those who came before us know and feel, and there is also something to learn from what they don't.


This is turning out to be a much longer thought than I expected. To be continued.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Got A Free 5-Day Metro Pass

I'm not sure why or how, but a form came in the mail with the offer and I filled it out and returned it. My pass came a few days ago. I wonder whether they'll be tracking users anonymously... or not. Hmm. I'm not paranoid, really. Not really.

Anyway, unlimited Metro use for five days! Free is good. Now to figure out when the best time to use it would be... If it's sunny this weekend, maybe I'll use it to go to Saturday's International Women's Day Mother's March, starting at 4th Street near Shatto Place at 11AM and ending at MacArthur Park. If not then, there's also One Imagination's Break The Silence Open Mic on March 25th in the opposite direction on the Blue Line.

Ah, the possibilities.

The last time I rode Metro was to go to Cort Guitar Workers Night of Guitars concert in Koreatown back in January. I'm about due to ride again.

Strange to think about how, at this time last year, I was still car-free and waiting in the rain for the Metro 128 somewhere between Bellflower and Compton, getting soaked to the skin because I'd forgotten my oh-so-sexy plastic poncho. Now I only ride on special occasions and when I happen to get a free pass in the mail. Privilege tastes funny.

I wonder how many folks who could really use a free pass actually got one.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Help South LA's imMEDIAte Justice win $25k!

Everyone, a wonderful South Los Angeles-based project called imMEDIAte Justice is competing in this month's Pepsi Refresh Everything contest and is trying to win $25,000 to fund their work teaching girls media literacy and sexual health through film-making. 

Here's a sample of what their work helps create:

ImMEDIAte Justice provides education and takes it a step further by providing a means for youth to engage with these issues that impact their lives, to share their stories with each other and with their communities.

Please take just a few seconds to vote for them every day. The top 10 receive funding!

Thank you!