Save the Ferris

Wearing my 'Save Ferris' t-shirt

“Save the Ferris” he says, enunciating each word carefully, trying to sound less tipsy than he actually is. He belatedly ends his statement with a rising intonation, making it a question. He gestures helpfully at my t-shirt.

I'm tired and I like my happy-drunk people to have greater pop culture awareness. But we've only just crossed the eleventh floor and the lift isn't very fast (new hotel, old building) so I can’t pretend I haven’t heard him.

“It’s from a movie,” I say. “From the 80s. Called Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

He looks confused. “Oh really?”

“It was quite popular in the 80s,” I add.

“Yeah man,” his friend chimes in, “haven’t you seen Ferris Boomer’s Day Off?”

I smile helpfully in their general direction.

He thinks for a minute but, just as he says “No,” the doors open and two more people walk in. We descend in silence for a while, but the newcomers are getting off at the mezzanine, so soon it’s just the three of us again.

“Save the Ferris,” he repeats. Once again adding the “the” that isn't actually printed on my t-shirt. He says it more thoughtfully this time – his brain cells working hard but still drawing a blank.

“You should watch it I say,” as we the doors open at the lobby, “it’s a fun movie.”

That’s apparently an excellent suggestion because he beams at me and says “I’ll do that,” and since this is goodbye, “Have a great night!”

“You too!” I respond enthusiastically. Then I buy a fruit cup and head back up to my room to finish the presentation I'm working on.

Just another night at the Gold Coast.

My Mother, the Women’s Rights Activist

When I was six I remember spending a few bored hours swinging on our front gate at our house in Lahore. I was there because my father spent those hours pacing anxiously up and down the driveway with my eight month old sister in his arms. It was years later I realized that this was the day that my mother, along with a few hundred other women from the Women’s Action Forum, had been arrested for staging a rally against our then-dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia-ul-Haq was in the process of changing the country’s constitution by creating the Federal Shariat Court, a parallel court system that bypassed the Supreme Court. My mother, who had co-founded AGHS, the country’s first all-female law firm, had helped organize this rally. The police had tear gassed and baton-charged the protesters and had arrested dozens of them. That day, 12 February, is now celebrated as Pakistan Women’s Day. It also happens to be my mother’s birthday.

Shahla Zia at a protest rally in 2003

*start trigger warning about violence against women*

When I was thirteen my mother picked us up from school but, instead of taking us home, we drove for an hour and a half to the other side of Karachi where she had a meeting with some doctors and lawyers. We waited in the car outside the hospital for about an hour. On the way home she told us she’d gone there to see an eleven year old girl from a farming village who worked as a babysitter at her family’s land owner’s mansion. While there she has been raped, beaten, electrocuted, and held captive in a well. Aurat Foundation (AF), the non-profit my mother had co-founded a few years earlier in Lahore, was helping this girl and her family find shelter and legal representation.

My mother, by the way, was a constitutional lawyer and had previously been a criminal lawyer. When she was studying law in the 1970s she was one of six women in a law school of over two hundred men. She was the only woman in her graduating class.

Shahla Zia meeting with Nilofer Bakhtiar, President of the Women's Wing of the Pakistan Muslim League, in 2003.

When I was seventeen I dropped my mother off at her office for a meeting. She had established AF’s branch in Karachi and was now co-running its Islamabad branch. I was supposed to pick her up an hour later but, when I got there, there were a few police cars parked outside and an officer prevented me from going in but wouldn't tell me what was happening. I waited around anxiously for a bit but then went home and telephoned the office instead. My mother told me she’d call me once she was ready to head back, which turned out to be about four hours later.

They’d had a client at their office who had wanted to marry the wrong man; a man who was also of her own choosing. Her family had forbidden her from doing so but she and her now-husband had eloped. Her family had subsequently tracked her down and had made contact with her. She had sought help and had been referred to AF for legal advice. AF had negotiated with the family – who had said they wanted the client to come back home – so that afternoon they had organized a meeting between their client and two representatives from her family in order to discuss terms. However, before the two parties had met, one of the ‘representatives’ had slipped into the room down the hall where the client was waiting and had garrotted her. The murderer and associate had then then snuck out of the building without alerting anyone. From that day onwards there was always a security guard outside of my mother’s office.

*end trigger warning*

Shahla Zia at a panel in 2004

When I was nineteen my mother became a member of the National Commission on the Status of Women. The Commission was tasked with proposing amendments to the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance (1961). The committee held a two week long session in Islamabad when I was back home from college during the summer holidays and so, every day, I would drop and pick up my mother from the meeting venue. On the way home my mother would tell me about all the different ways in which the rights of women and minorities had been restricted by the law - and not just Pakistani law, but most of the legal systems around the world. It was quite an eye opener.

My mother, Shahla Zia, made a real, tangible difference to the lives of thousands, if not millions, of people in Pakistan – particularly women. Sadly, she died in March 2005 when she was only 58.

Mapping My Social Networks: Facebook, LinkedIn

Following on from my post on Immersion, the Gmail metadata mapping tool, I learnt of two other tools that map Facebook and LinkedIn metadata (i.e. your social graph). David Glance mentioned them in his article in the Conversation about the power of metadata ('Your social networks and the secret story of metadata').  

This is what my Facebook social graph looks like:  

What's cool about this network mapping is that, because people share a lot of information about themselves on Facebook and the tool knows who my friends-of-friends are, you can see one level deeper and find sub-networks within my broader social graph. Many of these are high school and university based sub-networks but some are also immediate-family groupings. 

The social graph that's probably cooler (and certainly prettier) is this one from LinkedIn Maps: 

This shows you that I'm connected to four major networks, one each for my two universities (LUMS and MBS) and one each for the two places I've worked at the longest here in Melbourne (Melbourne Water and Jetstar). 

And even though Jetstar and Melbourne Water are in completely different industries the kind of work I did (and am still doing) in both jobs is similar so the crossover space between their two clouds is where all my suppliers, vendors, and industry contacts are. 

One thing I've noted while doing all this mapping is the size of my network on each platform:  

  • Gmail contacts: 478 
  • LinkedIn connections: 505 
  • Facebook friends: 505 
  • Twitter followers: 776 

That's reasonably consistent and certainly above average for each of those social networks. I suppose that's a good thing. 


Immersion: Mapping My Email Networks

I've spent the last few days playing around with Immersion, a fabulous email network mapping project from MIT's Media Lab.  The project's creators describe this as "a people centric view of your email life" and what the tool basically does is create a network map of all your Gmail emails using the From, To, Cc, and Timestamp fields. 

Who Have I Been Emailing? 

You can can learn a lot from these maps. For example, here is what my email network looks like from April 2004 to July 2013. (I do actually have email from 1999 onwards in my Gmail account but, for whatever reason, Immersion only mapped my email from 2004 onwards. )


The person I emailed the most during this period was Nadia. After that, the network of people I emailed the most was my family. Obviously Nadia is also heavily connected via email to my family network. She is also connected with our Melbourne friends network and, to a smaller extent, my MBS (MBA) and LUMS (BSc) classmate networks.

The two other networks of people I emailed the most were my work colleagues at MBS and my other freelance jobs. 

Digging a Little Deeper

That's a high-level view but you can also divide this 2004 to 2013 date range into three distinct periods in my life.

The first is from 2004 to 2006, which is when I was living in Islamabad just before I came to Melbourne to do my MBA:  

Nadia and my family are obviously the largest nodes and network of nodes here, too. Aside from that, my LUMS classmates, my music projects (Corduroy and the F-10 1/2 project), and my other projects (earthquake relief) all have identifiable email networks of their own.

A couple on specific nodes are also interesting. Mosharraf, one of my seniors from LUMS and also a work colleague, is a connector of networks. And, on the upper right hand side, you can see my email correspondence with MBS starting to play a bigger role. 

The next period, from 2006 to 2008, is while I was doing my MBA at MBS: 

Here my MBS classmates network is a huge part of my emailing. That network also overlaps with the MBS staff network - from my emails to and from the Careers Centre team and my work colleagues from when I worked at MBS for a few months before graduating.  

Emails to my LUMS classmates have dropped of quite a bit, though I was still emailing Amanullah quite regularly. 

Finally, here is what my network looked like after I completed my MBA, that is from 2008 onwards:

Now a new network has popped up: my Melbourne friends outside of MBS. And, thanks to Facebook, I don't email my LUMS or MBS classmates as much as I used to.

That's really cool, isn't it? :) 

Summary Stats

Immersion also gives you a summary of your email stats, including who your top 'collaborators' are (and, if you want, you can also drill down further into your connections with each of these collaborators).

These are my overall stats and the stats for my two top collaborators: 

Yes, that's 20,879 emails with 194 collaborators over 9.3 years :)

My most active email sending years were 2007-2008, which was when I was doing my MBA. My most active email receiving years were 2010-2012 and I think those were because of Nadia, my family, my Melbourne friends, and various mailing lists. 

The group of people I email has stabilized over the last few years so the number of new collaborators I've been adding has dropped considerably. That's also because my Melbourne Water and Jetstar work emails aren't in Gmail so they're not counted here. 

Finally, the two people I collaborate most with are Nadia and my older sister Asha. I like that I've sent Nadia over a thousand emails, of which about two-thirds were sent just to her. Meanwhile I've sent Asha only 515 emails. Of those 137 were sent just to her, which makes sense because she's part of that big family network. 

So there you have it - my life in email.  

If you use Gmail you should check Immersion out yourself. It's fun to use and you can learn a lot about yourself and your email networks in the process. 

Explaining Introversion: Imagine You're Not Hungry

Much as I dislike the introversion-extraversion false dichotomy (which is the popular understanding of this ‘personality trait’) I do acknowledge that, given a set of circumstances, people tend to be either outgoing or reserved. [1]

Given this disclaimer, I would classify myself as being usually introverted.

Growing up with Extraverts

This was a bit of a challenge growing up because most of my family members are very extraverted and, at the time, I didn’t have the understanding or the language to express my discomfort with life in that outgoing and energetic household.

In fact I think the first time I read a good, easy-to-understand explanation of what it’s like to be an introvert was Jonathan Rauch’s famous ‘Caring for Your Introvert’ article in the Atlantic in 2003. (Sage Stossel’s 2006 interview with Rauch, ‘Introverts of the World, Unite!’, is a good, follow-up read, too.)

Since then the internet has been full of explanations from people about what their lives as introverts and extroverts is like. Most of these have been bad or, at best, misinformed and nauseatingly earnest (as people tend to be on Facebook).

Imagine You’re Not Hungry

So I was extremely pleased to read today on Reddit this excellent explanation about life as an introvert by bad_username (slightly copy-edited):

Imagine you're not hungry but every single person you meet during the day offers you a sandwich and it's rude to decline so you have to eat all of those sandwiches one by one. At the end of the day you are sick and tired of all the food. On the other hand you like good food and need it to survive. It's just you need less of it than most other people.

I really like that analogy and I think I’m going to use it from now on.

Crawl Under My Rock

My other go-to explanation for introversion comes from Gavin Lister, one of my MBA career coaches at Melbourne Business School back in 2006, who said something along the lines of:

While I am perfectly happy to attend a networking event or stand in front of you like this to deliver a lecture I will need to go home and crawl under my rock to recover from all this socializing.

That is a perfect description of what I’m like: I’m happy to go out to meet people and do things but, afterwards, I will need time to recharge and recover (usually in my cave). That, for those who are interested, is why I very much prefer doing almost little on the weekends.


Understanding Nerds

Fortunately life as an introvert isn’t too difficult for me now. Nadia who, as a huge extravert, gets recharged by meeting people (the horror!) really understands my need to be alone for extended periods of time (loosely correlated to how my day has been). More than that: she is happy to go out and meet her friends or even our friends on her own, leaving me at home to recharge. (Yes, she is awesome.)

I also have really good friends, many of whom are nerds like me and so understand very well the needs of other nerds.

So, overall, life right now is good. And today I have added another arrow to my introversion-explanation quiver.


[1] For the record my preferred personality classification tool is the Birkman Method.

My Bridge Authors

In the November 2012 episode of the ‘First Tuesday Book Club’ Jennifer Byrne and her guests discussed the ‘The Chrysalids’ by John Wyndham.

Author Monica McInerney had this to say about it:

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham was what I call my bridge book. It was my first book to read that wasn't Enid Blyton, Trixie Belden, you know, like children's books. And it was the book that introduced me to a whole world of adult fiction. So it was the one that I walked across into a big, wider world of books. [Read the full transcript on the ABC website]

To a certain extent ‘The Chrysalids’ was my bridge book, too.

However I took my first steps into the world of adult fiction with the help of a number of authors, including (in no particular order):

My proper love of adult fantasy fiction didn’t kick in till later. Not till I’d read things like the ‘Duncton Wood’ series by William Horwood and, of course, the J.R.R. Tolkien canon.

What These Authors Did For Me

Of all those books, I think the ones that really opened my mind were Wyndham’s ‘The Day of the Triffids’ and ‘The Chrysalids’. I suspect that’s because they were among the first adult-level first person narratives I’d read. And, as someone who has a younger sister, David and Petra’s relationship in ‘The Chrysalids’ was something I related very strongly to. 

The stories that inspired me the most were probably the Clarke and Asimov short stories. I both wanted to be and had a huge crush on Susan Calvin and was generally looking forward a world in which Multivac existed.

Finally, the books that got me thinking the most about people, society, and politics were the ones by McCaffrey, Christie, and MacLean. Also, I think the first few books I ever read in which people simply lived and worked in space – as opposed to went exploring in space – were McCaffrey’s.

Newer Bridges to Cross

In more recent years (the last fifteen or so) the latest literary “bridge” I’ve crossed has been into Young Adult (YA) fiction. And the authors that have led the charge in that crossing have (so far) been J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, and Philip Pullman.

What were your bridge books and who were your bridge authors?

I Buy Another Watch

Exciting news! I've bought myself another watch :)

This news is exciting because I love watches – not as pieces of jewellery, but as gadgets that tell the time. I always need/want to know what time it is and, as a result, have been wearing a wrist watch almost every day since the early 80s.

Why another watch?

Why buy a second watch when I already have a perfectly good watch that I love and wear all the time? 

Current vs New watch

Two reasons:

First, the watch I have right now is too thick to fit comfortably under the cuff of my work shirts. As you can see in the picture below, the watch on the left, which is my current watch, is much thicker (16mm) than the watch on the right (8.6mm), which is my new one.

Watch thickness comparison

Now, because my current watch is so thick, for the last year and a half, I have actually not been wearing it to work every day. I know! Crazy, right? Fortunately, I carry two smartphones with me all the time so, even though I’ve been without a watch at work, I have always been able to keep track of the time.

Second, well…let me put it this way: Where is the one place you can't use a smartphone to tell the time? In an airplane, of course – specifically during take-off and landing. And what company do I work for now? Oh, yes, an airline.

So what happened to me last month? I flew to Sydney for work and, for two extended periods of time (well, at least they felt like extended periods of time), I was chronologically disadvantaged because I'd had to turn my phones off and had forgotten to wear my bulky-but-still-functional watch to work that day.

What then?

Scarred by that experience, I decided to look for a nice, cheap, simple, and, importantly, thin watch that I could wear to work. Obviously, I was only going to look at Casio watches.

Unfortunately, there are no Casio outlets in Melbourne so I was stuck with the limited selection on display at Angus & Coote and Thomas Jewellers on Bourke Street in the CBD. Neither of them had what I wanted so I went to trusty old to see what I could find.

That was when I discovered that online retailers sell most Casio watches at about a third of the price that local brick-and-mortar retailers sell them at. Wow. I am never buying a watch from a local brick-and-mortar retailer again.

Anyway, here is my original short list from Amazon (my current watch is in the top left hand corner):

Watch choices

Yes, I get a little obsessive when it comes to buying gadgets. Especially those I’ll be using frequently for a number of years. Heck, I wouldn’t even be writing this blog post if I wasn’t that obsessed with this stuff!

Finally, after getting Nadia's preferences, I made my decision and placed my order. As it happens, Amazon ended up being just the front-end for this purchase because my actual order was placed with the appropriately named MrWatch.

A few days later, through the mysterious powers of FedEx, I had my new watch :) 

So, what did I get?


The watch I bought is a Casio MTP-1309L-8BV. (Yes, that’s quite a mouthful.)

It’s simple, good looking, and, fits very comfortably under the cuff of all my work shirts.

Of course, this is the first analogue watch I’ve had in years so using it to tell the time is taking a little getting used to. I can’t just take a quick peek at one part of it, for example. I have to look at the entire watch face before I can tell what time it is. Not that this difficult to do, of course. I’m just not used to doing it.

I am liking its leather strap, though. And I am enjoying the sight of the second hand as it spins around the clock face.

So, “yaay!” for my new watch and my ability to comfortably keep track of time while wearing a business shirt during take-off and landing. (Hmmm…my reason for getting this watch sounds a lot less impressive when you put it that way.)

More About Transport Maps: London & New York

Earlier this month, in a post about the upgrade of the Melbourne tram network map, I mentioned that I really loved the London Underground Tube map and the MTA New York Subway map.

Underground MTA logos

A lot has been written about these maps so I don’t have much to add but here some information are bunch of links about them that you might find interesting.

London Underground Tube Map

Let’s start with the Wikipedia entry for this map which summarises its origins:

The first diagrammatic map of the Underground was designed by Harry Beck in 1931. Beck was an Underground employee who realised that because the railway ran mostly underground, the physical locations of the stations were irrelevant to the traveller wanting to know how to get to one station from another - only the topology of the railway mattered.


To this end, he devised a simplified map, consisting of stations, straight line segments connecting them, and the River Thames; lines ran only vertically, horizontally, or on 45 degree diagonals. To make the map clearer and to emphasise connections, Beck differentiated between ordinary stations (marked with tick marks) and interchanges (marked with diamonds). The Underground was initially sceptical of his proposal - it was an uncommissioned spare-time project, and it was tentatively introduced to the public in a small pamphlet in 1933. It immediately became popular, and the Underground has used topological maps to illustrate the network ever since.

This is the map that started it all: It was a proper transport system infographic and not a route overlay (underlay?) drawn on top of a geographically accurate aboveground map.

Here’s what the map looks like today:

London tube map

You can read more about the Underground map on the BBC’s h2g2 website and can see images of it through its history on the Guardian’s website. There’s also more detail about it’s history (till 2002) here.

For something more awesome, check out:

Oh, and if you’re interested, you can get the actual, current map from here.

MTA New York Subway Map

Again, let’s start with the New York Subway’s Wikipedia entry which has this to say about its map:

The current official transit maps of the New York City Subway are based on a 1979 design by Michael Hertz Associates. The maps are not geographically accurate due to the complexity of the system (i.e. Manhattan being the smallest borough, but having the most lines), but are known to help tourists navigate the city, as major city streets are shown alongside the subway stations serving them. The newest edition of the subway map, which took effect on June 27, 2010, reflects the latest service changes and also makes Manhattan bigger and Staten Island smaller.

Part of the reason for the current incarnation is that earlier diagrams of the subway (the first being produced in 1958), while being more aesthetically pleasing, had the perception of being more geographically inaccurate than the diagrams today. The design of the subway map by Massimo Vignelli, published by the MTA between 1974 and 1979, has since become recognized in design circles as a modern classic; however, the MTA deemed the map was flawed due to its placement of geographical elements.

So New York is one of the few large cities whose subway map is more closely tied to its aboveground geography. In his 2006 New York Times article, ‘Win, Lose, Draw: The Great Subway Map Wars’, Alex Mindlin had this to say about why Vignelli’s simpler but geographically inaccurate map didn’t work:

Although designers love to discuss why Mr. Vignelli’s schematic map didn’t fly, no single theory has emerged. The graphic designer Michael Bierut, however, suggests that New York’s street grid was to blame.

“Londoners are actually unclear about how close one stop is to the next,” he said. “But a lot of Manhattanites could tell you authoritatively how long it would take to walk from Fifth and 28th to Seventh and 44th. So the geographic discrepancies in the Vignelli map, which are no more than those you find in lots of subway maps around the world — they’re just glaring.”

Bierut actually explained the problem with Vignelli’s map more thoroughly in his own article on this topic in 2004 (the 100th anniversary of the New York Subway system):

[Vignelli’s map] was a design solution of extraordinary beauty. Yet it quickly ran into problems. To make the map work graphically meant that a few geographic liberties had to be taken. What about, for instance, the fact that the Vignelli map represented Central Park as a square, when in fact it is three times as long as it is wide? If you're underground, of course, it doesn't matter: there simply aren't as many stops along Central Park as there are in midtown, so it requires less map space. But what if, for whatever reason, you wanted to get out at 59th Street and take a walk on a crisp fall evening? Imagine your surprise when you found yourself hiking for hours on a route that looked like it would take minutes on Vignelli's map.

Here’s what the map looks like today:


For more about the map’s history (as well as that of the the subway system itself), check these out:

Another good website on the New York City subway is, of course,

For something more awesome, though, check out:

Of course, if you’re interested in the actual, official, current subway map, you can get that from here.

Melbourne Maps

For more about Melbourne’s transport maps (both tram and train), check out these links:

Other Maps & Things

If you’ve reached the end are are still reading, here are some more good links to check out:

Photos from SlutWalk Melbourne

So today we took part in SlutWalk Melbourne (which I wrote about earlier).

The only half decent report on the Melbourne walk is here but I’m sure there will be others over the next few days. The really good accounts (i.e. the nuanced and non-snarky ones) will, inevitably, be published in blogs.

We started outside the State Library of Victoria on Swanston Street with a few speeches:

The one by Cody Smith was particularly inspirational though others made really good points as well, such as:

"It shouldn't be the responsibility of survivors to educate people about rape."

"It is not the responsibility of women to educate people on sexism"

"If you come from a position of privilege it should be your responsibility to educate yourself and your friends."

Lots of people were carrying awesome protest signs, like this one from James:

And this one from someone standing behind us:

After the speeches we walked down Swanston and Collins Streets to Parliament Gardens. Here are Scott, Nadia, James, and Andrew:

And here are me and Nadia once we got to the gardens:

If you’re curious about the “Hornet’s nest of revolutionary feminism” t-shirt I’m wearing, you can find out more about that on the Tiger Beatdown blog.

(Also, you can see a few more photos from this walk on my Flickr profile.)

Sadly, while the walk made an important statement, raised a lot of awareness, and was lots of fun to participate in, my cold didn’t react very well to two hour out in the cold so I got home a little worse for wear. I’ll definitely be sleeping in tomorrow!

A big thanks to the walk’s organizers and volunteers for making this happen; Samurai AV for the sound system; Victoria Police for coordinating our movement through the CBD; and everyone who turned up today (both in person and in spirit).

Here’s hoping this walk – and, indeed, this whole movement – has a genuine, long-term impact that reduces incidents of victim blaming and slut shaming. If nothing else, the walk has got us all talking about theses issues and that, in itself, is a good thing.

SlutWalk Melbourne is on 28 May 2010

In case you haven’t already heard, SlutWalk Melbourne is at 1:00 PM on 28 May 2010 in front of the State Library on Swanston Street in the CBD.

What’s it all About?

For a quick introduction, here’s what the Melbourne protest’s organizer, Clem Bastow, said about SlutWalk in The Age earlier this week:

The "SlutWalk" phenomenon began in January this year, when a group of Toronto women organised a protest following a local police officer's comments (to university students) that "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised".

The organisers' stance was simple: to call for an end to victim-blaming, the idea that victims of sexual assault or rape could somehow be blamed for their attackers' actions based upon what the victim was wearing or doing at the time. Was the victim dressed skimpily? Were they intoxicated? Did they have a large number of sexual partners? Yes? Oh well, that explains it then.

In addition, the walks protested against a culture of slut-shaming. As the founders put it, "Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault."

Why Attend?

Nadia wrote a really good blog post about the whole SlutWalk movement which mirrors my own feelings on this topic:

…If you get sexually assaulted, NOTHING you were wearing or were doing is going to be good enough. There will always be some moron going on about how you shouldn’t have gone there or done that or worn such-and-such or had a sexual or professional or intellectual history. The bottom line is that we live in a global society that believes femaleness is a fault and that if something happens to you, well then that’s just what you’re going to get if you insist on existing while female.

So yes, I’m going and I’d encourage anyone of any gender and any orientation who can attend to do so. Because this isn’t about one kind of woman or one kind of world view or even women as a group. Victim blaming and a culture that allows and even expects it are toxic for all of us, whoever we are and wherever we are. It is important then that, when handed the opportunity on a silver platter, we lend our voices to the protest against it.

I recommend you read the whole blog post and I, too, recommend that you attend at the protest walk.

Also, please don’t “slut up” or dress up for the walk. Women get abused, sexually assaulted, and, yes, called sluts regardless of what they do and what they wear. I think it’s important that people of all types, wearing all kinds of clothes attend the protest dressed as they normally would in order to highlight the diversity of people who are willing to stand up against victim blaming and slut shaming.

More Information

‘On Her Shoulders’ - International Women’s Day Documentary (UN Women Australia)

‘On Her Shoulders’ is a short documentary commissioned by UN Women Australia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

The message to young women is: You might think you're equal but, mate, you're not.

You earn less, you earn less per hour, you earn less over your lifetime. You do a heap of unpaid work because somebody's got to do it.

You don’t run things, you don’t decide things…so don’t have the illusion that you’ve got choice.

Eva Cox

UN Women Australia commissioned a short documentary to be made to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day. 'On Her Shoulders' follows the history of International Women's Day and the struggles women have faced. In addition, it looks at what still needs to be achieved to ensure that gender equality can be fully realised.

Economic Gender Imbalance Infographic Video

The Information Aesthetics blog recently alerted me to this excellent video created by the JESS3 and the Economist Intelligence Unit about the EIU’s new Women’s Economic Opportunity Index (which you can download as a PDF or Excel file):

JESS3 x Economist: Women's Economic Opportunity from JESS3 on Vimeo.

It’s a great video that presents a lot of complicated information really clearly. It’s not often, even in most women-in-development circles, that you get this much global data presented this clearly and powerfully.

Recipe: Dump Cake

One of my mother’s favourite cakes was called “dump cake”. I’m not sure where she originally got the recipe from but I know she started making it some time in the early 80s.

Since we still celebrate her birthday every year (she would’ve turned 63 if she’d been alive today) I made that for dessert that last night.

This is one of the easiest cakes to make (it’s half pie, half cake, really) and here’s its recipe adapted to easily available Australian ingredients:

  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Cooking time: 40 minutes
  • Ready in: 50 minutes


  • 1 x 600g can cherries or blueberries in syrup (I sometimes mix the two and use 400g cans of each)
  • 1 x 450g-600g can crushed pineapple
  • 1 x 500g package white cake mix (I like the Betty Crocker mix)
  • 200g chopped walnuts (optional)
  • ½ - ¾ cup butter (salt reduced tends to work better) or margarine


  • In a lightly greased 9x13 inch (23x33 cm) pan layer berries and pineapple (I usually drain most of the liquid from the can of berries).
  • Sprinkle dry cake mix over mixture. Optionally, stir powder with tinned fruit until just combined.
  • Sprinkle walnuts over top (optional).
  • Drizzle top with melted butter or place thin slices of butter evenly over the top (i.e. let the oven melt them).
  • Bake in a pre-heated 175 degree C oven for 35 or 40 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Serve warm, optionally with cream (though make sure you save some – it tastes awesome straight out of the fridge the next day)
  • Note: If using butter slices you may need to spread them evenly over the top once they've started to melt.

Note: Based partly on this Dump Cake recipe

Enjoy :)  And then thank me later!

Microaggressions Blog

Nadia recently told me about the Microaggressions blog that, as the name suggests, publishes microaggressions.

The cool thing about this blog is that it publishes user-submitted stories (microstories?) and doesn’t limit them to just racially motivated encounters (which is what the term was originally coined for).

The blog is a great place to vent so, if you have any episodes to share, please do so.

My Experience

The kind of microagression that I come across most has to do with my language abilities:

[Usually spoken in a surprised and attempted-complimentary but actually-patronizing tone of voice] “Your English is really good!”

English is my first language but there are always people who will assume that, because I’m from Pakistan or because I don’t look like the dominant Caucasian population, that couldn’t possibly be.

Though, since:

  • I am male, largish in size (fat, not muscle, unfortunately), and whiter than the average Pakistani (so I don’t look “typically” South Asian);
  • my English is really good; and
  • I look and dress like a geek (sneakers, comfortable jeans, geeky t-shirt, Casio watch, glasses, bald, goatie…again, not “typically” South Asian)

not too many people say that to me directly.

The second most common one is to do with the numerous stereotypes people have of South Asian women. I won’t go into that here because…well, that can be a long story.

What Happens Next

The Microaggressions blog is great because it gives you a place to vent. But what’s sometimes more interesting is what happens after the initial exchange.

If you recognize what just happened you then have a choice of what to do next. You can:

  • do nothing and move right along,
  • react aggressively in return, or
  • make this a “teaching moment”.

What you choose depends on:

  • which of those options are actually open to you at the time (e.g. if you’re in large auditorium and the person making the presentation makes such a statement so you can’t do much till question time at the end),
  • how charitable, ticked off, or angry you’re feeling (which, in turn, depends on who made the statement and how they said it),
  • how many times you’ve heard that statement before in the last few days,
  • how tired you are of reacting to similar statements,
  • how well you think you can make your point,
  • who made that statement and how you think they’ll react to what you say next,
  • what the social dynamic of the group is,
  • and so on.

For example, when someone makes a generalized statement about Pakistan that perpetuates a stereotype but, in my opinion, they’ve said that because they don’t know any better, I will almost always try to correct them right then and there. (Though sometimes what I really wish I could do is sit them down and show them Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk on ‘The Dangers of a Single Story.)

If I think they’ve made that statement because they genuinely believe it, then I think more carefully before saying something at that time. Sometimes it’s better to address more complex points later on and one-on-one. Sometimes it’s easier to send a link to an article or blog post that explains things better than you can. I do, however, try to make a quick point by saying something like “Well, that’s not quite right…but we can talk about that later.”

Of course, none of this takes away from the sting, irritation, hurt, or anger that you might feel at the statement this person has made. Which, of course, is what the Microaggressions blog is all about.

How I’ve Responded

When people have complimented me on how good they think my English is I’ve generally responded in a couple of different ways.

The first is a quick dismissal of their statement:

PERSON: “Your English is really good!”

ME: “Well it should be! It’s my first language, after all.”

I generally say that to people who genuinely don’t know better (yes, some people do live under a rock). This highlights their stereotyping without making it a very personal retort.

Most of time these people will accept what I’ve said (often with a sheepish smile) and move on. I can remember only once instance in the last few years in which someone replied to this with: “No, that’s not what I meant. I just mean that your English is better than most of the people working here.”

I responded to that with something like: “Oh, okay. It’s just that I hear statements like this most often from people who have stereotypes about the English speaking abilities of people from South Asia.” (Though I didn’t say it quite like that at the time!)

Fortunately, this person was very open to the highly productive discussion on stereotyping that followed.

My second response is reserved for the people who do know better:

PERSON: “Your English is really good!”

ME: “Thanks! Such are the joys of having taught English for years and having worked as an editor whose job it was to correct others’ English!”

The idea being that I react as if they’d said that to someone they perceive to be a “native English speaker” (i.e. another white person). And since my English is usually better than theirs I simply…highlight that fact.

The response I haven’t yet used is one that I’m saving for someone who really deserves it:

PERSON: “Your English is really good!”

ME: “Thanks! So is yours!”

Or the one that one of my classmates at MBS suggested:

PERSON: “Your speak English really well!”

ME: “Thanks! So do you…for a white guy/girl.”


Never Use Two Spaces Between Sentences

I never use two spaces between sentences.

Why? Because it’s wrong to do so.

Who says so? Well, typographers and professional publishers – the people whose job it is to print the written word.

Oh, and also look at any professional English writing style guide (e.g. the Chicago Manual of Style) because they’ll all say the same thing.

For more, read Farhad Manjoo’s recent article in Slate, ‘Space Invaders’.

Doyle on Gender & Science Fiction

Sady Doyle has written three awesome pieces of text (stories?) as part of the online artistic collaboration series called ‘The Smartest Thing She’s Ever Said’ (more about that here).

I highly recommend you read them; particularly the third one because Ellen Ripley is my favourite action hero.

The Fantasy of Girl World: Lady Nerds and Utopias

When we see the word “nerd,” we don't think of women. We almost can't. All of that geeky energy, that willingness to dive totally into your own anti-social obsessions, is diametrically opposed to our idea of what girls are for. There's science involved, for one thing. And for another, girls aren't sorted into cool or uncool; they're sorted into likable and unlikable.

Read the whole thing here: ‘The Fantasy of Girl World: Lady Nerds and Utopias

Lady Robots: The Shape of Things to Come On

She's perfect. She's perfect because we made her perfect; because everything about her is entirely within our control. She's your long-lost love, your new and improved wife; she's the girl you never got over, or the girl you could never have. And now, she loves you. She has no choice; loving you is what she's for. Until, one day, she gets too smart. She starts thinking in ways she's not allowed to think. She gets political. And that's the point at which she decides to kill you with her giant metal fists.

Read the whole thing here: ‘Lady Robots: The Shape of Things to Come On

Ellen Ripley Saved My Life

At a certain point, you have to ask yourself why certain stories are so important to you. Why they become, not just entertainment, but myth: Something you use to explain yourself to yourself, or to explain the world.

But for me, it's always been about the girls. Specifically, the Strong Woman Action Heroines: Scully and Buffy, Starbuck in the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot, Ripley and Vasquez and, hell, even Tasha Yar. I love this; I need this; I eat it up. And yet, my relationship with the Strong Woman Action Heroine is… complicated? Let's say complicated. And let me take a minute, or several, to explain how.

Read the whole thing here: ‘Ellen Ripley Saved My Life


Going off-topic for a minute: The awesome Doyle who, last year, wrote a great article in The Guardian called ‘Unforgivable Roman Polanski’ is currently calling out people who are happier to blindly support Julian Assange than the two women he is accused of raping.

Specifically, she is calling out filmmaker Michael Moore:

A man has been accused of rape by two separate women. He fled the country in which he was accused. He is fighting extradition, so that he won’t have to go back to that country and face charges — even though there are spectacularly low rates of conviction for accused rapists, he just doesn’t think that he should have to go through the system, for whatever reason. And you know who’s posting bail for him?

Fucking progressives. That’s who. Including one man who has, for some years now, served as one of the most prominent and recognizable faces of the American left, filmmaker/rabble-rouser/all-around champion of the Truth and the Little Guy, Michael Moore. He’s put $20,000 hard, cashy dollars on the line, so that Julian Assange, white male left-wing darling, will be able to get out on bail despite posing a substantial and acknowledged flight risk, and despite the fact that he evidently is working to avoid facing the charges of his accusers.

You can read more about this here: ‘#MooreandMe: On Progressives, Rape Apologism, and the Little Guy’; follow the rest on Tiger Beatdown; and lend your support on Twitter.

TAM Australia Day 1

I’m back in my hotel room after attending the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe (SGU) Dinner on Day 1 of the TAM Australia conference in Sydney. And what an awesome day it’s been.

For starters, the venue is very impressive. The conference is being held at the Sydney Masonic Centre which is the unusual looking in the middle of this photo:

Most of the talks are taking place in the largest auditorium there called, as you would expect, the Grand Lodge:

Today’s sessions (mostly panel discussions) were really a preamble to the official program of talks that kicks off tomorrow morning. Here’s what happened.

Paranormal in Australia

After a quick welcome, we launched straight into a panel discussion on the paranormal both in Australia and elsewhere. Here are James Randi and Barry Williams at that panel:

Some interesting points from the discussion:

  • Not all people who witness “paranormal” events want you to explain what it was that they saw; they almost prefer it to be a mystery that “has the experts baffled”
  • Some of them do this because they want to feel special or self important while others just like having mystery in their lives (e.g. they want to believe)

Skeptical Activism 101

I then attended a workshop on skeptical activism (instead of the one on science based medicine that was running in parallel). This was a fun and informative discussion despite the really irritating buzzing coming from the speakers for the first hour or so. (And by ‘speakers’ I mean the audio producing equipment and not the panelists!)

Some of the resources mentioned during the workshop included:

James Randi

After a quick break we reconvened in the Grand Lodge to hear James Randi talk about his life in skepticism. Very inspiring stuff. He even did a couple of magic tricks :)

Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki

Dr. Karl’s talk was (as expected) hectic, crazy, funny, random, and informative. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to take a photo of him while he was speaking.

George Hrab

We closed the day’s program with a brilliant performance by the multi-talented George Hrab.

I look forward to seeing him perform in Melbourne on 30 November :)

SGU Dinner

The after hours events for tonight were the SGU Dinner and the ‘Pieces of Mind’ performance by Simon Taylor. I would have loved to attend both but SGU is one of my favourite skeptical podcasts so it’s to their dinner that I went.

Here are all the podcasters in attendance at that dinner standing up on stage for a photo opportunity:

And here are the members of the SGU answering questions (left to right: Bob, Evan, Rebecca, Jay, and Steve):

It was really strange to hear such familiar voices coming from faces I hadn’t seen in-person before!

No one from the SGU actually made it to our table to talk to us (there were lots of tables there!) but some of them were wandering about the room so people went over and talked to them.

Overall, it was a fun event and I really enjoyed talking to the people at my table. Interesting stuff I learnt there:

  • Astronomy seems to has a higher proportion of women than do other fields of science. However, as you go up the career/experience hierarchy, the proportion shifts pretty drastically to mostly men.
  • The NeoCube is quite awesome.

The Fun Continues Tomorrow

So that’s it for day 1.

Tomorrow we kick off at 9am with Brian Dunning (from and end with a harbour cruise (called ‘Skeptics Afloat’) so I’d better rest up. There is much to do this weekend.