Monday, March 25, 2013

Signs That Spring Will (Hopefully) Be Here Soon

March is always depressing around here, even more so this year. Last year it was in the 70s and 80s around this time, and this year it seems amazing and miraculous when it gets above freezing for a few brief hours. We keep telling ourselves that it'll be nice and warm soon, but it's hard to believe it when it stays could and snowy. But the signs that winter may eventually pack up and leave are there, such as:

1. You get to practice your ice skating skillz (or lack there of). When we have a period of slightly above freezing temperatures, lots of puddles form and turn into mini ice rinks when the temperatures inevitably go below freezing again. This only happens in areas that have been plowed. A lot of snow is still here, and the piles of plowed snow are still pretty big.

 There's also a lot of snow in the pastures, almost knee deep everywhere. It'll take a while for all that to melt, that's for sure.

2. The sun is out! A lot. Since the pastures are too deep to ride in, Royal and I have been taking walks on the road and it is very, erm, bright out there, what with the sun reflecting off all the snow and ice.

I haz sunglasses?

Hopefully the snow will start acting like a vampire and retreat to its coffin soon. It was mostly gone from the road yesterday, but the sooner it's gone from everywhere, the better.

3. Your horse starts molting. I swear Royal has lost enough hair to build 1000 bird nests, although a fair amount ends up all over my clothes. Every piece of fabric I own will take on a slight red hue for the next month or so. Such is life.

4. The horses start laying down a lot. I'm not exactly sure why this is. But it seems like they lay down more in the months of March and April than they do the rest of the year. My sister snapped this cute pic of Royal and Gabby cuddling with Royal laying his head on Gabby's back. All together now: Aaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

I'm trying to alleviate my cabin fever by think of this year's shows. Complicating matters is the fact that the trailer still needs to have its lights fixed, and the truck may or may not need new brakes and/or tires. Spring Otter Creek is out: just won't be possible for me to get any meaningful preparation, especially with how long winter is hanging around. The Pipe Opener is also out. I really wish it were a possibility, but it's still just too early. So, right now I'm planning for our first outing to be Carriage House at the end of May. Hopefully I'll be able to get everything fixed and we'll actually have decent enough weather to practice. We'll make our plans from there depending on how everything goes.

First the snow has to go. Then we can have some fun.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gaming While Feminist, Part 1

This video needs to be watched by everyone who ever has or will play a video game, or anyone who knows someone who has or will play a video game, and everyone they know.

Full transcript here. It's long video, but well worth your time.

I'm a unabashed, unashamed, in-your-face feminist. It is a major part of my identity and something I feel extremely strongly about. I am also a gamer, albeit a fairly casual one, and have been playing video game for a long time. For a while, one of my favorite possessions was a red Gameboy Color, and I played the crap out of Pokemon and Super Mario Bros. I also used to play Legend of Zelda once a year at the hotel in Little Amana, Iowa and got very good at the first two hours (you had to pay by the hour). Now my games consist of Angry Bird, horse games, and Nancy Drew on my PC. I don't own any special consoles (although now that I found out that Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is available on the Wii, that may change), nor do I spend vast amounts of time gaming. But I do consider myself both a casual gamer and a feminist.

In my experience, there are two types of games: level-up and storytelling. Level-ups are fairly straightforward: you increase your skills and try to keep moving up the levels until you beat the game. They're not necessarily easy (Angry Birds tends to frustrate me frequently), but they tend to be fairly simple. Storytelling games still have the level-up component, but there's another layer of "why". You're not leveling up for it's own sake, you're leveling up in order to find out the rest of the story, and the gameplay tends to be a bit more complex. Angry Birds and about half of my horse games fall into the leveling-up category. The other horse games and Nancy Drew fall into the storytelling category. Personally, I tend to prefer the storytelling games. I like being given a "why" beyond simply beating the top level. And so those are the games I end up playing the most.

The leveling-up games tend to be gender neutral. The horse games allow you to choose the gender of your character at the beginning of the game and I don't think the Angry Birds or Pigs have been assigned genders. So, not a lot of feminist influence. But the storytelling games I play tend to be feminist friendly. The main character is always a young woman, either trying save the family farm/horses or lead her school to victory, along with increase her and her horses' skills. There's almost always a love interest (which turns out VERY badly in one of the games. Good lesson on being careful in relationships), and in the end, our heroine leads her team to victory and/or saves the ranch/horses. Very positive role models. And Nancy Drew? Nancy kicks ass. She goes on all sorts of adventures, from a ranch in Arizona to a manor in England to a haunted inn in Japan. She always finds the culprit and brings them to justice, mostly using her wits and skills. And the games are always well-researched (the game that heavily involved horses impressed me quite a bit. All the horse related information was extremely accurate. Colic and founder information? Always check your cinch/girth before mounting up? Horses aren't machines, so don't ride them too hard? Pinch me, I must be dreaming). Nancy is also a great role model.

And we need more female role models in video games. It's a multi-billion dollar industry, with lots of people playing many different games on many different consoles. It's a HUGE industry that can appeal to a wide demographic which includes women. But it's so hard to find positive and strong female characters in games, and they're more the exception than the rule. And it shouldn't be that way. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 47% of gamers are female and women over 18 is the one of the fastest growing group of gamers. But many games seems to developed for and marketed at guys under 30, with any other group of people who may also be playing these games a mere afterthought. And if you try to point out that many video games contain bad stereotypes of women, some people freak out. The woman in the video, Anita Sarkeesian, became the target of horrifically vicious harassment and abuse when she simply created a Kickstarter to fund the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games project. It was astounding how cruel these people were. But in the end, she raised nearly $160,000 for the project (she started with a goal of $6,000) with nearly 7,000 backers. Obviously people want to this issue is important and want to discuss it. And I'm one of them.

I'll be following the series and posting the videos and transcripts as soon as I can. So far, this is the only video that's been released, but I'm very excited to see the rest. I'm very happy this project is going forward.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

So You Want People To Wear Helmets

As a latent sociologist, I find the helmet "debate" fascinating. As I've pointed out before, there's really only one side: helmets are good things that save lives. Nobody's trying to ban helmets, either from competitions or retail stores. No one's arguing that competitors should be penalized for wearing helmets in shows. There aren't any multi-million dollar organizations smearing helmets as dangerous. The "debate" largely revolves around whether of not helmets should be mandatory or an option. That's it.

A fair amount of people would like riders to wear helmets every time, every ride. A lot of people don't. It seems to me, if you want to change that, the best way to start would be to figure out why people are not wearing helmets right now. Which is the approach public health researchers use when trying to find out why people don't use clean needles. (Relevant part at 3:20, but the whole video is awesome. Bonus: subtitles in 31 languages. Learn how to sound smart about public health is Czech!)

While drug use and HIV transmission are much more serious than helmet use (and not wearing a helmet is not in the league as HIV transmission), the methods they used have a broad application. For those who can't watch the video, the researchers went to various cities in Indonesia and went to popular hang-outs of heroin addicts (or smackheads, as she calls them) and asked them a bunch of questions.

Question 1: Do you know how you get HIV? Almost everyone said, yeah, by sharing needles.
Question 2: Do you know where to get clean needles? Again, the answers are almost universally yes.
Question 3: Are you carrying clean needles? 1 in 4 or less say yes, and less than 1 in 10 use clean needles every time they inject heroin.

At this point, the equivalent tactic of helmet fanatics would be to start yelling and screaming about health costs and don't you love your family and think of THE CHILDREN and you'll deserve it when you die, you junkie. Instead, the researchers did something radical and outrageous and unheard of and asked the people why they weren't using clean needles and listened to their answers. And it turns out they had a very good reason: carrying needles was against the law. If the police caught you with a needle, you'd go to jail and possibly get HIV or killed there. So, for these heroin users, sharing needles was actually the less risky choice.

So let's extrapolate this to helmets. I'm guessing if someone with a background in statistics were to stand around at a horse expo or fair anywhere in the country asked people 1) Do you know the function of helmets, 2) Do you know where to get a helmet, 3) Do you wear a helmet, we'd learn some interesting things. I'm sure pretty much everyone would know where to get a helmet (most feed stores and even Fleet Farm carry them) and what they're for, but maybe half or less would actually be wearing them. So, a good thing to know would be why.

There a common theme among helmet evangelists that nothing is less comfortable than a TBI, so nothing excuses not wearing a helmet. Which sounds like "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels," which I can tell you ain't true. Chipotle burritos, nuf said. And helmets can be EXTREMELY uncomfortable, especially if you're like me and have an oval shaped head, it's hard to find a helmet that fits and is comfortable. For years, I hated wearing helmets because they gave me headaches. It wasn't until the local tack store started carrying Charles Owens and GPAs that I figured out that helmets weren't the problem. The problem was I'd only worn Troxels and they are not very comfortable for me. Nothing wrong with them, they just don't fit me well. But most places around here only carry Troxels, so I was out of luck. When I actually got to try on multiple brands and styles, the two that fit be best were the Charles Owens GR8 and the GPA Speed Air. Both of which are expensive and not found at a lot of brick and mortar stores around here. Now imagine someone like me, but who doesn't live within driving distance of a store with many different brands of helmets. Either they order dozens of helmets from online retailers and hope they eventually find a comfortable one, or they might just forgo the helmet thing altogether.

And not wearing a helmet doesn't guarantee you'll die of a TBI, believe it or not. Anyone can point to tons of people who have ridden without a helmet - multiple times even! - and lived to tell the tale. There are people who have been riding a long time helmet-less and are still alive. So the implication that no helmet = YOU WILL DIE AND IT WILL BE YOUR FAULT is very very false. A helmet lowers your risk of a TBI, sure, and no one has ever said otherwise, but a lack of helmet does not increase your chance of an accident occurring.

And there could be plenty of reasons why people don't wear helmets. But berating them is not going to change anything. People will wear helmets when the advantages outweigh the drawbacks. How that happens is different for everyone. The USEF recently changed the dressage rules so that everyone has to wear a helmet in dressage, even in the FEI levels. But not if you're competing in an event under FEI jurisdiction, which only adds to the confusion. At Ye Olde Locale Showe, helmets for all. At Big Important International Event On US Soil, helmets for some, odd hats for others. It's just so weird.

But first, if you want people to wear helmets, ask them why they are not. And listen, instead of moralizing or berating. The answers may surprise you.