Body Map – Nomawethu Ngalimani (1978 – 2007)

22 04 2017

Today I got to spend an hour at Vancouver’s amazing Museum of Anthropology. An hour is nowhere near enough time to see everything – 90%+ is hidden in the hundreds of drawers that nobody ever seems to think to open. An hour is plenty though – you’re already suffering from sensory overload by that time. It’s been a while since I last visited and this time I was struck by a few life-size art pieces titled “body map”. Next to each was a brief piece by the artist. This one almost made me cry. So full of hope and life, but the footnote reported the brutal killing of the artist at the hands of someone she should have been able to depend upon.

I found the following on the MOA website regarding the South African Nomawethu Ngalimani:

One of the women artists from the Bambanani Women’s Group, who went on to work on the Longlife Project, which raised awareness and campaigned for antiretroviral treatment to be made available in the South African public healthcare sector. The Longlife Project recorded the life stories of the women who were participating in a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) pilot antiretroviral programme. Life sized body maps were created and published in the book Longlife: Positive HIV Stories together with interviews of people working on the project. Limited edition fine art prints of the original body maps have been exhibited locally and internationally at conferences, fundraising events and in art galleries. The Longlife Project marked a shift from ‘preparing for death’ with the creation of memory boxes to ‘fighting for life’ as antiretroviral therapy was made available in public clinics and hospitals in late 2003. After the Longlife Project the Bambanani Women’s group went on to be trained as field researchers and worked on surveys conducted by the Centre for Social Science Research at University of Cape Town. Some members of the group have continued to do Memory Book and Body Map workshops and presentations for organisations such as VSO, Tateni Home Based Care, Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières and medical students at the University of Cape Town.

A photo of Nomawethu’s words is here.

Nomawethu Ngalimani’s words

The text reads as follows:

I’m standing with my hands up and my feet on the snake. In my opinion, the virus looks like a snake. You can’t see it and it’s moving in the secret ways and dark ways. Inkanyamba, a big snake that lives in the water, a destroyer like a hurricane that destroys everything on the earth and makes houses and trees fall down and kills people. But you see I am standing on the snake. With ARVs I destroy this virus too.

Others did not give me a lot of support when I found out I’m HIV positive. I live with my father, a drunk person. I won’t disclose to him and I haven’t told my boyfriend either. Maybe he will leave me even though he gave me the virus.

In January 2007, Nomawethu was murdered by her boyfriend.

You can read a little more about this remarkable woman and her murder on 50.50 by Kylie Thomas.

(Almost) finally, here’s an image of the body map she created for the project.

Nomawethu Ngalimani – Body Map

(Really) finally – consider looking out a copy of the book – LongLife: Positive HIV Stories (Cape Town: DoubleStorey Press, 2003). Nomawethu’s image is on the cover.





For the love of Ada! 12 TV show pitches with a female engineering hero

25 07 2015

I always struggle with projects like this. I totally accept that women, “people of colour”, folks who self-identify their sexuality as something other than society might assume etc. are all under-represented in the mainstream, and are often still denied opportunities due to discrimination. Day-to-day ignorance can at best be annoying, and at worst down-right discriminatory.

This I do not dispute. Believe me – after a lifetime of using scissors designed for “normal” right-handers, I totally understand silent institutionalised discrimination, and the very real pain it can cause. Not to be flippant (being a left-hander is hardly causing me the same level of lost opportunities that being born female, even now in the 21st Century might), but there are many many forms of discrimination in this world, and not all are so obvious or acknowledged as is sexism. The power of these discriminations is that they are often unpremeditated. They are endemic in the way society behaves and defines “normal”. In the same way as having only right-handed scissors makes life awkward for me, expecting a nursing mother to use a smelly public toilet to feed the next generation, or only having steps to the entrance of a city building is not an active demonstration of cruelty. It is merely the result of catering for “the norm” and almost accidentally causing discrimination. The deliberate cruelty comes when such situations are recognised, acknowledged and still left unresolved.

On that level then, I applaud attempts to try and rectify the imbalance. The problem though is that it tends to do little to rectify the underlying issue. It simply addresses the results of the discrimination in one or two small, personal ways. This “positive discrimination” helps the beneficiary overcome the prejudice in one small situation – say a job opportunity – but does little if anything to address the underlying problem. This needs a much more slow and steady approach. And education. And consideration.

In the specific case of sexism for example, I firmly contend that to say “women are equal to men” is false. Indeed, in many ways and in many situations, women are far superior.

The real issue isn’t equality of the gender, but equality of opportunities available. There is no reason to exclude women from applying for even physically demanding jobs based on their gender. Based on some objective test of strength, capability, skill, sure, but not explicitly their gender. Many men would fail such tests too. The equality should be in the access to opportunity and the objective meeting of some requirement, not in being of a specific gender.

Particularly in intelligence or creative spheres, women are easily as capable as men, and there is no reason on Earth that women should not be better represented in the fields of say management, software development and car design. Here, the challenge is as much one of perception and the need is at least partially to encourage women themselves to not buy in to the mantra that “that’s a man’s job”. This project – to launch a TV show that has a central female character in an engineering-based role – is an attempt to address the latter. To have a role model for today’s young women that they can indeed excel in what may otherwise be still perceived as a male domain. The recent women’s FIFA World Cup tried for all its worth to portray strong female role models, and I wait eagerly to see if it has had any positive impact.

It was with some shaking of my head then that I read the pitches for the show. They can be found here: 12 TV show pitches centered around a female engineering hero.  Fashion designer Tilly Tailor? Really?! @Gnosis: Veronica Mars meets Gossip Girl meets Hackers? Oh dear Lord… These pitches say as much about the current low expectations of TV as they do about the continued stereotyping of women, but given the project’s goal, I expected more.

The clear leading contender for me was one based at least partially on a real female engineer… though she would never have been called that in her day. Only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron, Ada Lovelace (after whom the programming language Ada was named) was real. As was Charles Babbage. He is much more well known in computing circles as the inventor of “The Differencing Machine” – the first attempt to have a programmable computing device. The technology of the time didn’t allow it to be completed but a working version is now on display in the UK’s Science Museum. Ada though… she developed the first algorithm, intended to run on the machine. Arguably she’s the mother of programming.

Mashable: Ada Lovelace

It’s not clear from the piece in Mashable whether the pitch is based on the recent graphic novel “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer”. I already have this on my goodreads “To Read” list. I’m waiting for the paperback version. It was only published in April. I hope so – the book looks like a rollicking good yarn by British graphic artist Sydney Padua.

It would behove new students studying computing to not just focus on the likes of Babbage, Von Neumann, Holerith, Turing etc., but also give Ms. Lovelace her due. Credit to my own teachers back in the late ’70s… she did indeed get a mention.





A Library That Plummets into an Abyss by Susanna Hesselberg for Sculpture by the Sea

30 06 2015

I’m always a sucker for books, and home libraries in particular. I think I was hooked when I first saw “My Fair Lady” as a kid. (I also remember being amazed when I bought it on DVD that – just like the cinema rendition – it had a 20 minute intermission!). Professor Higgins had an amazing home library complete with one of those wheeled ladders. Now one of my life goals. That and the fishing lodge…

Anyway, this art piece is titled “When My Father Died It Was Like a Whole Library Had Burned Down.” Only true bibliophiles can relate to the feeling of devastation that alludes to.

Check out the link to Colossal to learn more: A Library That Plummets into an Abyss by Susanna Hesselberg for Sculpture by the Sea | Colossal.





Happy Towel Day!

25 05 2015

Remember to take your towel to work today… just in case.

Happy Towel Day: 9 Zaphod Beeblebrox Quotes for Any Occasion | Anglophenia | BBC America.





Spare Ribs and Fish Guts

29 04 2015

I’m reading a book at the moment that I bought in last year’s local Rotary Club book fair. It’s an anthology of some of Philip K Dick’s short stories. No less than 10 films have been spun from his stories, including Minority Report, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Adjustment Bureau and others. These stories obviously had merit enough to be spun up into full length films even though the original story might have only been a few pages long. Most of the stories in the anthology are a lot less spectacular. In fairness, most were written in the 50s and 60s and though tame (or lame) by modern standards, would still have been inspired and original back then.

One story is built around the concept that we all have our own world/reality. In it, everything goes just as it needs to, for our own benefit. Everything that happens – even the bad things – are ultimately for our benefit. Everyone else we encounter is basically there just for our amusement and aren’t really fully realised. They each have their own world where they are the focus and we are the bit players.

So I read this story today, and it got me thinking – as any worthy read should. I realised that the only reason I hadn’t written a more substantial “linking a few disparate ideas together” blog posting of late was basically because I hadn’t tried! I hadn’t looked for the links that are there for we pattern-seekers to find in any day we consciously experience. As humans we actually have to be careful to not find patterns and links where none actually exist. There’s a well documented phenomenon called pareidolia – one aspect of which is seeing human faces in inanimate objects or clouds, shadows, etc. I guess we’re so good at suppressing it that we forget to allow it to happen when we’re wanting a bit of creativity.

So today, we’re going to discuss spare ribs and fish guts. Hey – I never said the link couldn’t be tenuous!

I share an office and my colleague and I have known each other for many years. Since before I moved to Canada in fact. We know each other’s families well and rarely feel the need to be particularly discreet or guarded when speaking on the phone with our kith or kin. So today my colleague was speaking with his father about a recurring issue he has with a dislocated rib. Sounds painful, but apparently a bit of prodding and poking from a chiropractor (which I discovered is a North American witch doctor, but quite legal and covered by insurance despite being previously unknown to me in the Old Country) can rectify things. After the call, I was updated with the details and I jokingly suggested his father might have the troublesome rib removed. Indeed he could perhaps have it fashioned into a second wife. I think this quip surprised my devout friend because I am not known as being even slightly religious. This superficially seemed to confirm how deeply ingrained the judeo-christian traditions were within European society and how well known the biblical story of Adam’s rib was.

I then had to confess that the entire story was unknown to me until I was in college. I went to what then was an all-male college in Durham University – Grey College. It’s named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey of “The Duchess” fame. Tea too. Yes, that Earl Grey. Anyway, some time before I attended, there had been a motion passed that in addition to the usual dailies and several stoic publications like The Economist, the Junior Common Room would also subscribe to a publication called Spare Rib. If you’re not aware, this is a now-defunct UK feminist magazine. Pretty forward thinking for an all-male college really. Anyway, not being afraid to learn (I was after all purportedly at university for just that reason!) I had to ask what the name was all about, and someone or other set me straight about the biblical story regarding a rib, clay and whatnot.

Of course, I had to explain all this to my colleague and we quickly came across an early cover from 1972.

Wikipedia: Spare Rib 1972

Yes, that is John Cleese on the cover as “sleazy boss”. The headline reads “On the boss’s lap for Christmas – back under his thumb next year”. If you’d like to read the article on page 13 of this, the sixth edition, you can buy your very own copy for a mere £60 from Amazon.co.uk. Somewhat dearer than the original 17½p… even with inflation! I feel I must apologise that I could not ascertain the name of the young lady posed on Mr Cleese’s undeserving knee. If anyone can tell me, I’ll gladly add it to this piece. When I was a kid we actually had a mustard yellow rotary phone just like that on the table.

Today my day was pretty busy, trying to organise travel to Chicago, Connecticut and various European destinations. Also the UK, which is even now reluctant to admit it’s part of Europe. That 22 mile stretch of water has served the islands well over the millennia! Anyway, I found myself on LinkedIn trying to locate contact details of one of the clients I was to meet. Whilst trolling around various possible formats of his name and that of his company in vain, I noticed that I had received an invitation to link with someone and curiosity dragged me onwards.

The person desirous of my connection was a very northern European looking lady , but with a very Japanese name. Oh come on… you’d be curious too! I read on…

She was genuine as far as I could tell, and did indeed claim to speak Japanese, despite being a professor in a northern Icelandic university. The best bit though was her area of study. It was to do with the unexploited resources that are the byproducts of food processing. As well as vegetable trimmings (which just sounded a bit rude), my favourite was fish guts. It seems that there are useful antioxidants (and presumably other things) being discarded as part of our industrialised food creation.

Which brought me back to my lunchtime reading of “vintage” science fiction. My colleague had noticed the book and mentioned he had enjoyed reading the similarly vintage “Stainless Steel Rat” series when he was younger. I’ve not read them myself, but was aware of them, and surprised him that I knew they were penned by Harry Harrison. I knew this because Harrison also wrote a book called Make Room! Make Room! I haven’t read this either, but would very much like to. It is the novel from which the 1973 classic Soylent Green was derived. And there we have it. Spare rib, fish guts and a side of Soylent Green.

Now if I could only parley that into a trip to Iceland, we’d be golden…





An Embuggerance

12 03 2015

An Embuggerance indeed.

BBC News – Obituary: Sir Terry Pratchett.

Rest in Peace, you wonderful, creative man.

As quoted by Aunty Beeb:

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2009 he was sanguine about his prospects.

“I intend, before the endgame looms, to die sitting in a chair in my own garden with a glass of brandy in my hand and Thomas Tallis on the iPod, the latter because Thomas’s music could lift even an atheist a little bit closer to Heaven.

Oh, and since this is England, I had better add, ‘If wet, in the library.’ “

Witticisms from his books would keep us here all night, so let’s just end with:

“Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you”; Terry Pratchett – Small Gods





The smart mouse with the half-human brain – New Scientist

3 12 2014

I’ve written this before, I’ll write it again now:

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!

So now they’ve managed to successfully inject human brain bits into mice. Guess what? Just like whole humans, human brain bits generally took over their environment and displaced the existing mouse brain bits. Result? “Smarter” mice. (All things are relative). These humanised mice have memories that are improved by four times.

Yegods… have these scientists never read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake? She makes a big deal of the stance that her books are not science fiction, but rather speculative fiction. She says everything in the trilogy could very easily happen because all the underlying mechanisms are already in place. One storyline involves implanting human brain tissue into pigs. Result? Pigs that can outsmart humans to deadly effect. Now imagine that in an animal that can breed as prodigiously as a mouse. They’ve got a lot of mouse traps to get revenge for! And just think how smart Jerry already was, when pitted against Tom!

I’m terrified…

The smart mouse with the half-human brain – health – 01 December 2014 – New Scientist.