rock shadow

bee harvest

So, as some of you know, I keep bees. Why I would interact, willingly and on a regular basis, with thousands of venomous insects may baffle you - it baffled my poor sweetie, who forewent his usual permissiveness when it came to what I did with the yard and forbade me to keep them at our house - but today was the big payoff: a honey harvest. Well, sort of.

I keep two kinds of bees: one hive of Italian bees, and one hive of Carniolan bees. The Italians are supposed to be the golden retrievers of bees: the gentlest around, if a bit dumb (and often more susceptible to various bee diseases). Carniolans aren't so different, but they can be a bit more aloof on one hand and active on the other - the greyhound of bees, perhaps.

After I arrive and suit up, I examine both hives through their nifty plexiglass windows. The Carnis have done a bit of work since I last checked on them a couple of weeks ago, but holy cow, the Italians have completely filled all of the space available to them! I figured I'd get a good harvest there, for sure. I decide to approach the Carnis first, though - the quicker, easier job - and take maybe one drawn comb and some comb scraps that they keep trying to build across multiple bars (dang them).

Imaginary conversation with the Carnis:

Me: Oh hey bees, nice-looking comb you've got here - op, this bit is a bit crooked, don't mind me, I'll just take that off your hands ... that's some mighty fine drawn comb you have here - you don't mind if I just have this one?

Bees: Hey, man, you're, like, spilling our honey, man ... let me lick that up ... you're taking that? Can I keep licking it? No? Oh, uh, okay ... bye ...

Given that Italians are supposed to be the gentler of the two, I hoped I could do the same there - repeated maybe six or seven times. Here's what happened.

Me: Oh he--

Bees: DIE MUTHAFUCKAAAAAAA! *sting* *sting* *sting*

Me: AIEEE! *runs away, pursued by several bees*

I had only just *opened* the hive and they spazzed out. I'm going to have to come back with my (still unused) smoker instead of my usual spray bottle of water to get a harvest from them ... but another day.

So I ended up with just over one comb, and several stings on my right middle finger. And the notion that I might have to re-queen those Italian bees next season. Though really, who can blame the little buggers? Maybe that's why their hive is so successful.

(I know this is a rather anticlimactic post after such a long period of radio silence, especially given all that has happened in my life, but hey, better this than nothing. ;))
rock shadow

blinded with (solar panel) science!

Our solar panel system has been running for about a year and a quarter now. One awesome thing about using Enphase microinverters (other than the fact that they can activate each panel independently and generate power with even very low amounts of light) is that Enphase keeps track of your production and gives you access to it through their website and via an API (which I haven't taken advantage of, what with my nonexistent copious free time and all). For example, here's our daily production to date. If you integrate under the messy sine wave, you'd get 6.32MWh total.

The messiness of the graph is mainly due to cloudy days. For a closer look at just how big this effect can be, here's the last week's production with weather annotations. March 27 was a pretty sucky production day because the clouds remained thick all day long. March 31 started out similarly -- it was raining heavily all morning -- but then the sun came out in the afternoon. And it was sunny on April 1 pretty much all day.

But even if we smoothed the cloudiness away, there's a huge difference between peak production days near the summer solstice and peak production days near the winter solstice: there's more than a factor of four difference between our best day on June 10 and the local maximum in December.

What accounts for this big difference? We could think of a bunch of possibilities. There's the solar angle (the sun's maximum height in the sky) and the amount of atmosphere that sunbeams have to travel through both vary with the season, both governed by the Earth's tilted axis relative to its plane of orbit. There are also potential nonlinearities introduced by the angle of the solar panels and by tree shadows: ten of our 18 panels are on an eastward-tilted part of our roof, the other eight are on a southward-tilted part, and all get a bit of shade from nearby trees at certain times of the day and certain times of year. (We optimized for the best angles and as little shade as possible, of course.) And then there's varying atmospheric absorption the solar radiation, the abilities of our solar panels to absorb the radiation that reaches them (which varies by the part of the spectrum and declines over time), and even variation in solar radiation levels (we just *think* the sun is a constant source of energy up there, but it totally isn't!).

One of the easiest effects to account for is the effect of seasonal solar angle, which Wikipedia tells me is summed up by the awesome-sounding word "insolation." Based on this graph from the aforementioned Wikipedia page that I annotated, the solar angle alone (without accounting for atmospheric thickness -- basically, if our house were in space) accounts for a factor of 2.6 change between summer and winter, more or less:

So the solar angle alone accounts for amost two-thirds of the seasonal variation.

Though we played around with them for a while, the other factors proved harder to approximate. Do you have any thoughts on how to do it?
rock shadow

WikiSym panel next Tuesday, 1:30pm

Hi everyone! I've been very busy of late, and using all of my writing energy elsewhere. But I wanted to let you know that I'll be speaking about open collaboration, learning, and One Laptop Per Child next Tuesday at 1:30pm at the WikiSym conference in Mountain View. I'll be joined by the inimitable Mike Ananny, Heather Ford, and Andrea Forte. It's going to be a thought-provoking discussion with a rockstar group. Come if you can! See the bottom of this page for more information:
rock shadow

follow-up: female characters and Miyazaki's films

As a follow-up to my post earlier today about Pixar's not-so-great record of female character numbers (only 22% of voiced characters are female, and only one is *possibly* a main character), I wanted to highlight that making popular animated movies with good female lead characters can be, and in fact has been, done right. Hayao Miyazaki, of Studio Ghibli in Japan, has produced a number of blockbuster animated films rivaling Pixar and the heydey of Disney - and eight of the nine have female lead characters, with the ninth having a strong female supporting character. (There are two others that are borderline - Princess Mononoke and Ponyo - but the female character in question is pretty central to both, and in fact the namesake of the movie, so I've called those leads in this analysis even if the story generally isn't told from their perspective). In fact, Kiki's Delivery Service apparently fails the reverse Bechdel Test (there are not two male characters to talk to one another about something other than women in the film). Studio Ghibli has been around about as long as Pixar has, and has made a comparable number of movies.

How does Miyazaki fare with minor characters? Does he fall into the same trap that both Disney and Pixar do of defaulting to male characters? There numbers aren't as definite because while I've seen all of these, it's been a while for most of them, and I don't recognize the gender of Japanese names as well as American names. (For some minor characters I just had to go off of the gender of the voice actor's name for Disney's dub and hope it wasn't someone like Nancy Cartwright.) It's also hard to define minor vs. supporting in some cases, and my count of supporting characters is likely low. But here goes:
  1. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind: 5 of 14 voiced characters are female (1 main: Nausicaä, at least 1 supporting: Lady Kushana)
  2. Laputa, Castle in the Sky: 4 of 13 voiced characters are female (1 main: Princess Sheeta, 1 supporting: Captain Dola)
  3. My Neighbor Totoro: 4 of 8 voiced characters are female (2 main: sisters Satsuki and Mei)
  4. Kiki's Delivery Service: 7 of 11 voiced characters are female (1 main: Kiki, 2[?] supporting: Kiki's mother[?], Ursula)
  5. Porco Rosso: 2 of 6 voiced characters are female (2[?] supporting: Gina and Fio[?])
  6. Princess Mononoke: 8 of 12 voiced characters are female (1 main[?]: San/Princess Mononoke, 2 supporting: Lady Eboshi and Moro; the story is largely told from Ashitaka's point of view, though)
  7. Spirited Away: 5 of 12 voiced characters are female (1 main: Chihiro, 1 supporting: Yubaba)
  8. Howl's Moving Castle: 6 of 14 voiced characters are female (1 main: Sophie, 2 supporting: Witch of the Waste and Madame Suliman)
  9. Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea: 10 of 14 voiced characters are female (1 main[?]: Ponyo, 2 supporting: Ponyo's and Sosuke's mothers; but like Princess Mononoke, this is largely told from Sosuke's point of view)

I added a "Main male" column to this table to better compare numbers of leading females vs. males:

Movie Voiced characters Voiced female Minor female Supporting female Main female Main male
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind 14 5 3 1 1 0
Laputa, Castle in the Sky 13 4 2 1 1 1 (Pazu)
My Neighbor Totoro 8 4 2 0 2 1 (Totoro)
Kiki's Delivery Service 11 7 4 2 1 0
Porco Rosso 6 2 0 2 0 1 (Porco Rosso)
Princess Mononoke 12 8 5 2 1 1 (Ashitaka)
Spirited Away 12 5 3 1 1 0
Howl's Moving Castle 14 6 3 2 1 1 (Howl)
Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea 14 10 7 2 1 1 (Sosuke)
TOTALS 104 51 29 13 9 6

This is 49% female characters, and 67% female leads. Quite a departure from Disney and Pixar!

There are other differences. Most notable to me, the stories may be defined by conflict, but generally not by inherent good vs. inherent evil. The "bad guys," when they exist, are often portrayed fairly sympathetically -- you can see how they came to their position, even if you disagree with it -- and they often side with the main character in the end. All of the movies feature coming-of-age stories, but this process is focused on cleverness, daring, and hard work for all characters. The movies also often focus on themes of environmentalism and pacifism. Sometimes there are love interests, but most of the stories don't revolve around them, nor do they generally end with the love interest getting together with the main character.

Studio Ghibli's other work (the stuff not directed by Miyazaki) follows a similar trend. Anime generally does not, though, so this is specific to Miyazaki and Ghibli.
rock shadow

Pixar and the Smurfette Principle (and other tropes of women in media)

It's been a long time since I've written about this, but a couple of links showed up on my RSS feed today that made me curious about the actual number female characters in Pixar films. I adore Pixar's films, but I've long felt irked by the lack of women in them, particularly in major roles. But just what are the numbers? Are they bad enough to fulfill the Smurfette principle (where there is only one token female)?

So I spent one of my work breaks today looking over the Wikipedia pages for these movies, which include a list of the voiced characters, and catalogued instances of women in one of these three categories:
  • minor roles (in just a few scenes, not really part of the story)
  • supporting roles (important to the story and appearing in more than just a few scenes, but not the main character)
  • main roles (plot focused on their perspectives)
It wasn't quite as bad as expected, but it's still nowhere near 50%. Here's the list:
  1. Toy Story: 3 of 17 voiced characters female (all minor)
  2. A Bug's Life: 6 of 18 voiced characters female (EDIT: 2 supporting: Dot and Atta)
  3. Toy Story 2: 5 of 19 voiced characters female (1 supporting: Jessie)
  4. Monsters, Inc.: 3 of 12 voiced characters female (EDIT: 1 supporting: Boo)
  5. Finding Nemo: 5 of 25 voiced characters female (1 supporting -- Dory -- but she fills the manic pixie dream girl trope)
  6. The Incredibles: 4 of 14 voiced characters female (EDIT: 1 supporting - Violet - and 1 pretty major - Mrs. Incredible - though the lead character is still Mr. Incredible because it's mostly from his perspective)
  7. Cars: 3 of 16 voiced characters female (1 supporting: Sally)
  8. Ratatouille: 1 of 18 voiced characters female (supporting: female chef Colette)
  9. WALL-E: 2 of 8 voiced characters female (1 supporting: EVE)
  10. Up: 2 of 15 voiced characters female (both pretty minor: Ellie and Kevin the bird)
  11. Toy Story 3: 11 of 39 voiced characters female (1 supporting: Barbie)

MovieTotal charactersTotal femaleMinor femaleSupporting femaleMain female
Toy Story173300
Bug's Life186420
Toy Story 2195410
Monsters Inc123210
Finding Nemo255410
The Incredibles144211
Toy Story 339111010

So overall, only 22% of characters are female and 75% of *those* are minor, only appearing in a few scenes. So they're pretty darn close to the Smurfette Principle.

It's not just about count, of course. For example, Disney, while guilty of often populating supporting roles with male characters, have more leading female characters -- but most of them are princesses and often reinforce victimization and a focus on beauty. Pixar's female characters, as sparse as they are, are at least better role models than *that.* But do any of Pixar's movies pass the Bechdel Test? Alas, I have procrastinated too much already, so I won't be able to verify this now. But in scanning the list, I suspect not for all but The Incredibles. Anyone else want to check?

Another rather disturbing link I came across today was the "Women in Refrigerators" principle (a.k.a. normalizing violence against women in comics). It's one of the main reasons comics have never appealed to me, even when I was part of subcultures that celebrated them, and I'm annoyed that so often freedom of speech arguments (especially about comics, but also in general) are at least in part about the freedom to depict violent degradation of women. While I'm an avid supporter of free speech, that's not what free speech is or should be exclusively about, and I'm disappointed that I don't hear as much about other causes such as censorship of political speech that I consider much more important.

Okay, back to work. I passed my dissertation proposal defense yesterday (yay!), on the condition that I give a better description of the findings from my fieldwork in Paraguay that could be chapter themes. So lots to do!
rock shadow

SXSW slides, CSCW paper, and more

Last month I gave a 12-minute talk at SXSW about One Laptop Per Child as part of a Future 15 panel. The crib of that talk (with picture-heavy slides) is now available on my website at I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. It's a pretty short read, and for those of you who have been following my dissertation work, it will sound familiar.

Immediately following SXSW I flew to CSCW in Hangzhou, China to present the work I did with Janet Go at Nokia Research -- how family technology choices are influenced by socioeconomic status. The full paper is available for download at

I'll be defending my dissertation *proposal* this May (not the whole dissertation, though! that comes next year), and in early June I will be attending the CSST (Consortium for the Science of Socio-Technical systems) 2011 Summer Institute in Florida. More updates soon!
rock shadow

article on OLPC published and available!

The article on One Laptop Per Child that I co-wrote with Mark Warschauer has been publicly released! You can download it at

Can One Laptop Per Child Save the World's Poor?
by Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program is one of the most ambitious educational reform initiatives the world has ever seen. The program has developed a radically new lowcost laptop computer and aggressively promoted its plans to put the computer in the hands of hundreds of millions of children around the world, including in the most impoverished nations. Though fewer than 2 million of OLPC’s XO computers have been distributed as of this writing, the initiative has caught the attention of world leaders, influenced developments in the global computer industry and sparked controversy and debate about the best way to improve the lot of the world’s poor. With six years having passed since Nicholas Negroponte first unveiled the idea, this paper appraises the program’s progress and impact and, in so doing, takes a fresh look at OLPC’s assumptions. The paper reviews the theoretical underpinnings of OLPC, analyzes the program’s development and summarizes the current state of OLPC deployments around the world. The analysis reveals that provision of individual laptops is a utopian vision for the children in the poorest countries, whose educational and social futures could be more effectively improved if the same investments were instead made on more sustainable and proven interventions. Middle- and high-income countries may have a stronger rationale for providing individual laptops to children, but will still want to eschew OLPC’s technocentric vision. In summary, OLPC represents the latest in a long line of technologically utopian development schemes that have unsuccessfully attempted to solve complex social problems with overly simplistic solutions.
rock shadow

reply to Negroponte

I couldn't help but submit a comment disagreeing with parts of a recent post by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte on Boston Review. The original post to which he is responding, though, is excellent, and I really recommend reading it for a critical take on "ICT4D" (Information and Communication Tech. for Development). I'm reposting here to help me keep track of it (and for your potential horror/amusement/edification).
"Laptops arrive, and generators-for-hire appear, or suddenly, as in Rwanda, the school is electrified." -- I don't know about Rwanda, but I have spent time in Perú, and laptops in schools without power don't magically get charged by libertarian fairy godparents with portable generators; they just *don't get used.* The Peruvian government had to step up by buying solar panels, though last I heard, these were still not actually distributed.

"In Peru and Paraguay, local, independent software developers and repair shops start popping up." -- Huh? Where in Paraguay are these? I've spent five months there studying their OLPC deployment, and the only repair shop I know of is run by Paraguay Educa, which also deployed the laptops. And the software has been developed by them or through their outreach, as well. Don't ignore the hard work that deployments are putting in to create this capacity. It doesn't just spring fully-formed from the forehead of a community.

"Imagine I take a five-year-old from the most rural part of India and drop her in Paris for a year. She will speak French by the end of that year. Did Paris magnify her knowledge of French? No. It created it from her potential to learn language." -- No. It WOULD be created from the concerted kindness of French people in teaching her, as WELL as her ability to learn (definitely helped by her age). But if nobody talked to her for a year, or if she stayed in a community that spoke only her language within Paris, there is NO guarantee that she would learn French.

"... all of us who can afford a laptop buy one for our kids." -- My research on middle-class parents in Silicon Valley, including many who themselves work in the tech industry, indicates otherwise (forthcoming in CSCW 2011; advance copy available at Many middle-class parents have been massively restricting their children's access to technology -- including computers -- to the very ages that OLPC is targeting. (It's working-class parents who give their children more freedom with technology.)

On the topic of independent evaluations, there are a number out there and many more in progress. Plan Ceibal in Uruguay has been publishing eyes-open (though mostly descriptive) evaluations of their countrywide project. BID will be publishing a (not that favorable) evaluation of the project in Perú soon. I will be writing up my dissertation and publishing it in the next year or so. I recently co-wrote an article with Mark Warschauer that has been published in the current issue of Journal of International Affairs. And there are many evaluations of pilot projects. We're working on it ...