29 December 2008

Merry holidays!

It's been a eventful two weeks here in the Exaggeration Household.

We drove up to Maryland for various familial obligations on the 19th, and seem to have almost timed it well enough to miss the worst traffic on 495. (It would have been more perfect if we'd left at 9:30 like I wanted to, rather than closer to 10:30 before getting on the highway, and if lunch hadn't taken longer than expected.) We went to dinner with my sister, which was tasty.

Saturday morning, we met a friend at the Smithsonian, looked at dinosaurs and the new oceans exhibit at NMNH, and went to Teaism for lunch. I love that place, and I wish DC were a little closer. You can buy their tea online, but not the excellent food from the restaurant. Then we wandered around DC a bit before I had to go up to Frederick for dinner with my dad's side of the family. That was tasty, and I got to catch up with my cousins.

Sunday it was back up to Frederick to meet my mom for brunch before going to her brother's for that side of the family's gathering. It's less weird now, I think, that most of my cousins are also grown-ups, so the conversations are easier. Afterward, Ben & I went to Brewer's Alley and chatted with one of my cousins. She's graduating from college this year.

Monday, we had what was possibly the best drive south ever. We left from Shady Grove around 10:30, hit NO traffic on 495 or in Richmond, and made it home around 2:30. Pretty sweet.

I didn't work on Tuesday, because we were closed the 24th-26th, but I went to the dentist to get impressions made for my retainer and for the refinement on the bottom teeth. Yes, I'm mostly done with my Invisalign. Yay.

While I was not working at my regular job, I spent time with my novel. I rather enjoyed that, hacking through and typing up and the like. But I need a regular paycheck for my sanity, so quitting isn't in the cards right now.

For Christmas, I made Alton Brown's overnight oatmeal. Aside from a little burning due to a slightly over-enthusiastic crockpot, it was really good. Then we opened presents with Heino's Christmas CD in the background. (Heino is an old German Schlägersänger, and a friend of mine is a fan. For my part, I find Heino amusing, though I think the best thing is buying Heino CDs in Germany, and the cashier trying not to look at us like we're insane.)

Then we went out for Chinese food for dinner with some friends. Apparently, we missed half of the traditional Jewish Christmas thing by not seeing a movie as well. But it was fun.

I got about 8000 words transcribed/written, from the handwritten first draft. I edit as I transcribe, so it's not just transcription. I've only got about 10 handwritten pages left to turn into electrons, and I started with 40 left. So I got about 30 pages typed up. Shiny. Then I get to go back and add all the details, the flesh to the skeleton. With any luck, and perseverance, I'll have this monster ready to submit by this time next year.

I can hope.

17 December 2008

More Avatar: the Whitewashed Airbender links and things

Lemon Water

Some individual links you should read
Angry Asian Man: A break-up of Sorts What does this casting choice say to me, the angry Asian man? It says that every time somebody speaks more slowly and loudly to me because they assume that English isn't my first tongue, they're right to do so, because I'm not normal. [...] It says that even though Konietzko and DiMartino took pains to articulate themes of diversity and multiculturalism, all their work was for naught, because people don't really want to look at people who look like me. It says that every time somebody thinks of me as the other, they're right, because I am.

We'll let the show speak for itself - an extensive set of screencaps depicting the rich Asian feel of the show.

The Last Airbender Gets a Cast What’s irritating here is not that these kids are mostly unknowns or had bit parts in retarded movies, but that they’re all whiter than Mormon Jesus. “Avatar” self-consciously created a world and characters from non-Western cultures, they being the source of philosophy and metaphysics the show drew upon. Shyamalan and Co., in taking us to honky-town, have stripped one of the more original elements of the story.

Sad, Racist, or Firebendingly Hillarious? Okay, okay. So, the uproar isn't that they cast white people. We are upset because this is one of the few movies where they could have cast diverse actors--but didn't.

Who do I have to blow to get some representation around here? I'm not the irrationally Angry Asian (Wo)man, I really don't care about picky knee-jerk stuff like Kung Fu Panda characters being voiced by white people, or Zhang Ziyi (and Gong Li and Michelle Yeoh) playing Japanese women, because I know people were being super finicky about 'em. But this? Ah.. yeah, all this tells me is that Asian actors are too Asian for the most Asian show on TV, soon to be on the big screen. Fan-fucking-tastic.

what we talk about when we talk about During our early Christmas dinner this weekend, the oldest of the nephews, who is 13, brought up the subject of the incredibly white child actors that had been picked for the film version. The three of them were confused and disappointed but unable to articulate exactly why. Then the youngest, all of 7 years old, asked me whether this meant that he couldn't be Aang when he played Avatar with his friends from now on. [seriously, this last sentence makes me cry.]

White Cast of ATLA Besides, it's not like Asians are lacking opportunities in Hollywood. It's not like we want those leading roles, right? There will always be work playing Chinese delivery boys, liquor store clerks, nail salon workers and Asian gangster thugs number 1 through 6. Thanks again, Hollywood!

Racefail Bingo Dead Bro Walking is a community dedicated to exploring portrayals of race in the media.

11 December 2008

White Privilege: You're soaking in it!

There's a belief among the people who promulgate entertainment that people will only enjoy reading books/watching films/watching TV shows about people who look like them. Unfortunately, for these people, that means making the protagonists (straight) white men.

Women (half the population, after all!) and minorities are expected to sympathize with the white male protagonist and his (usually also white, male) buddies. Sometimes the buddies are women; sometimes they're minorities. But it's never their stories, only Mr Whiteguy's.

Imagine there's a popular kids' TV show about a group of (pre-)teens who come from a world which is based extensively in East Asian cultures, like China, Tibet, and Korea. Two of the main characters are siblings, who are drawn with a medium brown skin tone and whose culture is clearly Inuit-derived. Another main character is clearly based off of Buddhist monks. One of the nations in this world wears topknots to denote rank. There is extensive use of Chinese martial arts in their world.

Imagine a famous director, himself of Southeast Asian origin, wants to make a movie of this, and the creators give him the go-ahead. Imagine that this director casts every main character, including the 2 who are clearly depicted as darker skinned, with white teenagers.

You don't have to imagine too hard. This is the proposed cast for M. Night Shyamalan's Avatar: The Last Airbender movie.

Change the scenario slightly, and you get the SciFi channel's whitewashing of brilliant SF writer Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books. She purposefully wrote a fantasy where the main character was non-white and the villains are blond, blue-eyed white people. Then SciFi cast a white kid as the main character (and changed the entire story, but that's a rant for a different day.)

Ms. LeGuin:
I didn't see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn't see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had "violet eyes").

But when stories with people who aren't "honkies named Joe" are made into movies, the casting is full of honkies. Because it's OK to make people who aren't white males watch movies about people who aren't like them - we're supposed to identify with this character, who is the default and ideal in modern American society - but it's impossible for white males to identify with characters who aren't white males.

There seems to be some sort of cognitive dissonance at work here. Oh, wait. That's privilege.

Edited to add: A fan has made a convenient how-to post for letting Paramount know your displeasure here.

09 December 2008

Beer blogging: Duvel, Delirium Tremens, and 1554 Enlightened Black Ale

While on holiday in St Louis, I tried a variety of beer.

The first I tried was the 1554 Enlightened Black Ale, by the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, CO. This was in the fridge at Ben's parents' house, left over from a mixed pack, and the label described it as a dark malty ale with chocolate flavors. Sounded right up my alley!

I poured it into a glass and found it to be quite black, almost stout-like in appearance, except with more head. The taste was also stout-like, with a nice malty chocolate aftertaste. It's only 5.6% ABV, so it doesn't pack too big a punch.

It's a pretty tasty brew, and if you like stouts or would like them better if they weren't quite as heavy, give this a try.

Then when we went out for dinner the next night, I tried Duvel. It's from the Duvel brewery in Belgium. It's a Belgian strong pale ale, which means that it's hoppy, slightly fruity, and may contain spices. An SPA is pale in color, ranging from whitish-yellow to gold, and has a higher ABV (around 8%). Hence, strong.

The Duvel was a clear yellow-gold color, and because I don't know the trick of the perfect pour, it didn't get the big foamy head. But that's OK; it still tasted good. The flavor was nice, not too bitter, with hints of spices (coriander, maybe?)

It's a lot like Hoegaarden, if it were less yeasty and twice as alcoholic. Considering that I'd be content to drink Hoegaarden forever, that's saying a lot.

The next day, we went out to a famous restaurant/pub called Blueberry Hill, where I tried Delirium Tremens. It's another import, from Brouwerij Huyghe in Belgium. It's also a strong pale ale.

The lighting was too dim to get a good look at the color of the beer, but it was pale amber. The taste was nice; slightly hoppy but not horribly bitter. I'd drink it again if given the chance, though it's more of a summery brew than winter. I'm finding it difficult to recall precisely the flavor of this beer, but that doesn't mean it's an unassuming, bland beer. It's kind of like if a white beer didn't have the spices in it and had twice the ABV. It doesn't have the yeasty sweetness of a Hefeweizen, either.

03 December 2008

So much for more-regular updates.

I'll blame Thanksgiving travel for my laziness.

Speaking of Thanksgiving travel, getting home on Sunday was Exciting. Here's a short recap. Got to STL in plenty of time to catch our 1:40 flight. Then the departure board flipped to 2:20, then back to 2:00. Our plane arrived around 2:30, and we got on it, then were told -- on the tarmac -- that Chicago had a ground stop because of weather, so we'd be sitting on the tarmac for an hour until the 4 pm update. Then until the 5 pm update. We got to Chicago around 6:30, and Ben got us on standby for the next (and last) flight out, which was a 6:30 flight that was delayed until 8:45. We got seats, and the plane boarded around 9, and we got into RDU at 12:45 am, home at 1:30.

Never flying through Chicago between Nov 1 and May 1 again. Atlanta or Dallas only.

Haven't been up to much. I've been working on the final project for my epidemiology class, which has been eating a goodly chunk of my time. I didn't get to submit the story to that magazine, but they extended the deadline to this coming Sunday. Maybe I'll hack at the tale some more and make it work better, and see if I can get it ready by then. (It needs a lot of work.)

I have tai chi class again tonight. I think I'm about ready for an evaluation, though I should really read the parts of the book and learn the terms before I think too much about that. My goal was to be evaluated before the end of the (lunar) year, which gives me until late January, and I should be able to swing that, no problem. (As long as the evaluation doesn't happen outside. I think I'd freeze to death.)

I also sprung for internets on my cell phone. The crappy RAZR doesn't have enough java memory to run the gmail app, though I can access it through Opera mini. Depending on how much I use it, etc, I might see if I can find a refurbished iPhone or Crackberry or something.

26 November 2008

Thanksgiving, travel, and project updates

Today I'm at work. Both of my co-workers are on vacation today; my manager is on his way to Philly to visit his wife's family, and my tech is taking the day off. So we're not leaving for the in-laws' in St Louis until tomorrow afternoon. We'd gotten a flight out around 1 pm, but the airline canceled it and rebooked us on a 3 pm flight, so we're not getting there until dinner time. Ah well. But the travel will be less horrible tomorrow than today. Sunday's still gonna stink. That's OK; I'm taking Monday off work.

I'm working on this final paper for my field epidemiology class, and I don't really feel like it. I've got about a page written, toward the 8-page limit (plus 4 pages of figures and unlimited references.) Then I need to make a power point presentation. It's due 12/4. I'll get done what I can today, then spend Monday working on it at home, Tuesday and Wednesday on the power point and any other things I need to finish, and give everything a final once-over on Thursday before turning it in. And then I am Done. With. School. Quite likely forever. I'm too old for this shit.

(Though really what it is is that I'm too ADD for this shit.)

I crocheted one glove, ran out of yarn, and bought a second skein today. So I can make the other now. Yay. I found some fab pink cotton yarn to try making a Haro. If it works out, I'll put it in the art show at Animazement.

I've mostly finished a short story. It needs an ending and a lot of revision, so it's only mostly finished. I'm planning to send it off to a new magazine that unfortunately isn't a paying market at this time. Whatever. They take it, I can point to it and say "look, publication." They reject it, I revise and submit elsewhere.

Right. Back to writing my paper.

23 November 2008


My local anime club is having its periodic growing pains and drama.

I'm apparently not allowed to want to go to DC and do things there, potentially with friends, because I should prefer to sit around and do nothing all day at my mom's house. For 3 full days. Because my grandma said so. Or I should meet them for lunch in Silver Spring, because there's so much interesting stuff there, like the Smithsonian. *eyeroll*

I'm avoiding a huge homework project due 12/4. I've gotten some data and such together, but I haven't started working on it. I'd prefer not to have to drag the laptop through airport security on the way to St Louis for T-day, which means I need to be relatively done with it before we go, because I'll lose 4 working days, then have about 3 after I get back. So, I have to focus.

But a friend found an anthology that looks interesting, submissions due 11/30 -- which is cutting it close. And I want to write for a different (paying) anthology, too. But school. Blah.

I'm crocheting a pair of fingerless gloves so I can a) crochet or b) type without my fingers freezing off. That I'm doing this when it's already cold outside (and, by extension, inside) reflects not so much a lack of foresight on my part, but rather a lack of sufficient motivation.

12 November 2008

On writing

Elizabeth Bear posted this, and I can relate.

I don't like the idea of writing a quota of words a day, or saying I have to write X words before I can stop, or saying "no revising until the draft is finished!" I don't like the idea that you Must Focus At All Times while writing.

Several things I've pretty consistently known about myself are that I need to finish things in advance of deadlines and that I can only focus for a limited amount of time. In high school, when it was term paper time, I'd be reading and making notes and going to the library for lit crit references, and getting my outline together (and because it was school and they were graded, I had detailed outlines), then I'd spend all day Saturday 2 weeks before it was due writing it out BY HAND (because this was the early 90s and we didn't have a computer) and revising it until I was ready to type it up. Then I'd read it, and I'd spend the next Saturday making sure it was right.

I think I was better at extended focus in high school than I am now, but I don't remember exactly what I did to crank out my term papers. It was a long time ago. Sometimes I hit a block, where the words need time to grow in my head, so I'll do something else, like read LJ or my google reader feed, but I recognize the importance of not letting myself get sucked into surfing the web or playing Flash games or Wikipedia diving, so I limit myself. Sometimes that's a sign that I'm done with writing for now/this session/today, and I take it as such and go do something else for a while.

But there are people who perpetuate the idea that in order to be a successful writer, you have to crank out X words per day or per session, and do Y or Z, which often includes No Distractions and to follow Procedure M to build your story. That doesn't work for everyone. You have to do what works for you.

And since Bear posted her missive, maybe I'll start to believe it, because hearing something and knowing something are different from believing something.

11 November 2008

Current projects

So, this may not be common knowledge, or even obvious despite reading my posts, but I want to become a science fiction writer. I'm planning to make this my official site, for when I make a sale. (It's better to say "when" than "if.")

If you want to follow my blog, you can scroll down and click the "follow" button. Right now, it says 0, which is sad and lonely. Don't make my blog sad.

So, projects I'm working on.

- Nothing Beside Remains, a novel-length story that took me 6 years to draft, and will probably take another year to revise into something to send to beta readers. Status: 1 chapter revised, 20+ to go.

- Seeds of Rebellion, a short story. I intend to have this at a beta-read-able stage by Christmas and to send it out to magazines early next year.

- Unnamed short story, about the ghost stations in Berlin. Status: idea-gathering phase

- Unnamed massive project, involving WW1 and a future German space empire. Status: Research and world-building phase.

Non-writing projects I'm working on:

- Making a corset for a friend. Status: pattern drafted, need to make mock-up for fitting porpoises.

- Crocheting a TP roll cover to match our new bathroom. Status: 50%

- Practicing on my spinning wheel. Status: Don't make me laugh.

- Building my backlog of model kits. Status: 1 done. 5 remain, though I'm thinking of selling 2 of the kits.

- Sorting through the wreck of my scrap fabric. Status: Makes me want to cry. But I ordered a book with a pattern for crocheted rag rugs, and I can use the scrap for that.

- Gardening. Pruned herbs. Will prune gardenias after Thanksgiving. Am trying to grow baby rosemary plants from cuttings (to sell or plant as hedges on our lawn. That stuff GROWS.) Will need to re-prune lavender and rosemary in February. Status: ongoing.

Notes from the job front when I have something to report. Current primary consideration: more time for writing.

09 November 2008

Playing with design

So, I'm playing around with the header image and layout, playing around in photoshop with layers and filters and opacity, in an attempt to make this look a little more personal. One thing you may (or may not) notice is the giant wall of text missing. I hacked the quotation in half to make it less wall-of-text-ual.

I'm also going to try to remember to update here more often. 3-4 posts a month? That cannot be! I have many things in my head that I can put here more often, and I really ought to. I've got some interesting potential developments on the job front, but I don't want to go into those until I've got more solid data.

I'm working on a short story that I'm going to try to sell to a magazine. I hope, as all aspiring writers do, that it gets accepted at one of the first places I send it, rather than a huge stack of rejections. I've got another story percolating in my head, and the novel-length work I wrote over the course of 5 or 6 years which needs massive revision before I can even think about shopping it around. I've got a writing group now, which formed up after the workshop, so hopefully they can kick my ass into getting things finished.

And now, I'm going to work on that story.

05 November 2008

This is America.

A country where hope and change can join with our better nature on a national level, but where hate prevails regionally. A country where civil rights are still allowed to be determined by popular vote.

Hateful amendments have passed in 3 states, and the 4th is looking grim. People in 1 state have voted to end affirmative action, and the 2nd state is still pending.

California... just isn't the super awesome libral mecca folks paint it to be. It's got its high points, but like every other state in the country, it's got just as many super conservative areas.

North Carolina is still undecided. They've counted all the regular and absentee votes, and Obama's up by about 12,000 votes. They've still got to do the provisional ballots before they can call the race officially. But Useless Senator Liddy Dole's atheism-scare attack ad on Kay Hagan backfired spectacularly, and Kay won handily, with 53% to Dole's 44%. The fact that she's the 93rd most effective Senator in the nation and has spent a total of a month (if that) in the state since she was elected on Hater Helms' coattails in 2002 didn't help, either. Bev Perdue is going to be our first female governor. Larry Kissell beat Robin Hayes, because the DCCC gave him money this time after his squeaking loss (by 300 votes) 2 years ago.

Perennial hater Skip Stam won his state house district over nice guy Ed Ridpath 54-46. He's one of the consistent sponsors of a proposed marriage amendment and opposes hate crime legislation that includes sexual orientation. Here in NC, only the legislature may propose constitutional amendments, but they must be ratified by the voters. Because the state house is controlled by Dems, the proposal never makes it out of committee.

Someday, this center-right country (face it, y'all) will realize that putting civil rights up to a popular vote is a bad idea, especially with a simple majority rather than a 2/3 supermajority. Someday, this country will remember the ideals of personal freedom on which the Founders based their Constitution. I hope that someday comes within my lifetime.

Portly Dyke on the election

03 November 2008

Rosemary galore

So, I have this garden along the wall of my garage. It's about 24' in total length and 3' deep, in 2 tiers. It's got 2 sections, because there's an entry door to the garage about 3' back. The long section has lavender in the second row, and oregano and some thyme in the front, plus space for annual herbs or veggies. The square section has rosemary in the top corner with chives in front and a space for an annual.

My rosemary bush was getting ridiculously large and collapsing under its own weight, so it was time to prune it. For reference, it started out about 3.5' across and 2' high. I cut it between 25 and 50%. I have a ton of usable rosemary sprigs in the fridge, plus a bunch inedible (too yellow) drying for non-food purposes, like throwing in the fireplace to smell good. And I put a good amount in the compost. AND I have to prune it more in February, so it won't become the overgrown monster that it is.

So I looked around for recipes with rosemary in them. Sure, there's the classic potatoes roasted with rosemary, or adding it to bread dough, but I wanted something different. Here's what I found.

Chestnut-rosemary gelato

Dark chocolate rosemary ice cream

Rosemary olive oil ice cream

Lemon-rosemary sorbet

Pear, thyme, and rosemary sorbet

Orange-rosemary pound cake

I also discovered that you can freeze rosemary.

24 October 2008

Profit motive: leading cause of being uninsured.

From November 2007: One of the state's largest health insurers set goals and paid bonuses based in part on how many individual policyholders were dropped and how much money was saved.

Woodland Hills-based Health Net Inc. avoided paying $35.5 million in medical expenses by rescinding about 1,600 policies between 2000 and 2006. During that period, it paid its senior analyst in charge of cancellations more than $20,000 in bonuses based in part on her meeting or exceeding annual targets for revoking policies, documents disclosed Thursday showed.

This is the dream of free-market fundamentalists, y'all. Profit, profit, profit! Informed consumer choice! But in the reality-based community, informed consumers have no choice, when insurers won't cover them because the consumer will cost them money.

This all profit, all the time motivation has screwed up health care in this country so incredibly horribly. It's the reason state governments have had to mandate that insurers cover certain diagnoses, procedures, and medications. It's the reason the population of the uninsured is partly full of the uninsurable - people whose pre-existing conditions make premiums on the individual market impossibly expensive, if they can even find an insurer willing to give them a rate quote.

How many of you have time to read all the medical literature to be a fully-informed consumer of health care? How many of you can understand medical literature - the jargon, the stats, the pathophysiology? I work in health care, and I don't keep up with all the literature. It isn't possible.

Yet fans of consumer-driven health care (another product of the free market fantasy) believe that informed consumer choice is the ultimate in rational care. It's bullshit. It isn't. Patients rely on their physicians to be up to date on the best practices in their fields and to give them advice. It's not like buying a washing machine.

Is the insurance system in the US fundamentally fucked up? Hell yes. Would scrapping it and starting over be any better? Hell no. So we work with the shit we have to make it less shitty all around - for the patients. The consumers, if you will. I advocate single-payer plans like in France, Germany, and Taiwan. Getting there from the cobbled-together nonsense we have, let alone overcoming the modern American "fuck you, I got mine" ideal, is going to be really hard.

Some days I honestly think it would be easier to pack off to Berlin and be done with the heartless, selfish compatriots in this country.

08 October 2008

On storytelling: things that work in TV that are hard to make work in print

I've noticed that I've got a slightly more analytical eye when consuming entertainment since I took that workshop last month. But not so much that it keeps me from consuming mass quantities.

Macross Frontier is the newest entry in the Macross franchise. Some of you (who aren't anime nerds) may remember this show called Robotech. Macross is what Carl Macek hacked up and turned into the first part of Robotech - the show with the giants and the transforming fighter planes and the annoying girl who sang on TV and started an interspecies incident? Yeah, that one. (Don't forget Max Jenius and Roy Fokker!)

So, Frontier is the Macross that's the setting for the series. Like the Macross in 7, it's got a clamshell dome structure where the people (including Zentradi) live. They're chugging along through space, and these giant space bugs start attacking. So our hero, Alto Saotome, the wannabe pilot son of a kabuki actor, gets caught in the middle of the Vajra's attack and steals a Valkyrie and tries to kill the giant nasty bug. He winds up joining the semi-secret mercenary corps that actually does most of the fighting (because the army is run by incompetents, apparently.)

In the mix, there's Sheryl Nome, a pop star from Macross Galaxy who's on tour at Frontier. She seems to like Alto, and she encourages adorable teenager Ranka Lee to follow her dream of becoming a singer. (Does the word "deculture" mean anything to you?) Ranka also likes Alto, so you get the traditional Macross love polygon.

Other supporting/main cast is Mikhail, the Max character, who's a part-Zentran sniper; Luca, the genki kid who's also a mercenary pilot; Ranka's friend Nanase (whom Luca likes); a Meltran named Klan-klan, who turns moe when she's a miclone and likes Mikhail; Ozma Lee, the Roy Fokker character, who is Ranka's adoptive older brother; and a bunch of bridge crew and mercenaries. (Like Gundam series, Macross has a highly populated cast.)

With the background out of the way, let's get into the analysis.

In episode 6, the plot starts to pick up. Vajra have started a massive attack, and the president of the Macross declares a state of emergency. The mercenaries take their little SDF (Macross Quarter) and start their deployment. As this is happening, Sheryl is having her farewell concert, because she wants to give the citizens of Frontier something to enjoy in their fear. Before the show, and before the mercenaries deploy, Alto goes to Sheryl to return an earring she lost. She tells him to keep it, but return it after the battle.

This is where the storytelling trick comes in. The final 3-5 minutes of the episode juxtapose Sheryl's concert with the MQ's launch. The first song Sheryl sings is the one used as the ED, Diamond Crevasse. It's a song about farewells (It's long long goodbye, sayonara, sayonara).

As Sheryl sings, "If I couldn’t ever touch you again/ Then I’d want you to embrace me again for the last time at least," Alto is running into the hangar and jumping into his plane. We also get a cut to Ranka, who's running across town with her ticket to Sheryl's show.

On film, it's possible to have that juxtaposition: the song is playing in the background of the launch preparation, but it's not just incidental background music. It's designed to give the audience the reaction that it's awful, this separation, and there's a chance they'll not come back -- as Ozma is telling his squadron that he won't let anybody die. It's a powerful scene, and it works. Well.

You can't get that in print.

24 September 2008

Brief update

I had an interview about 2 weeks ago, for a job, and the recruiter told me they'd get back to me the next week. Well, that was last week, and I still haven't heard anything. So I'm trying to find a plan B, which looks mostly to be trying to find another job that sucks less. I'm halfway considering applying for a chemistry job, doing LC/MS and separation chemistry, though I was never very good at determining chemical structures from spectrographs, and I haven't even thought about that for 10 years, so I've forgotten most everything. But it never hurts to apply, and the worst they can do is not contact me for an interview. Though I have no idea where I'd come up with references at this point. It's been years since I worked in chemistry.

I'm going out to San Francisco for a small convention this weekend. I'm only going because one of my favorite writers is going to be there and signing books. So I'm gonna hang with friends and stuff.

My sister's coming to visit in a couple weeks. She's taking the train down, which is about as expensive as driving right now. Except that means she won't have to sit in DC traffic. Trade off, I'd say. Then we're heading out to Charlotte to go to the Renaissance Festival.

12 September 2008

Trying a new tool

I upgraded to Firefox 3 on the laptop, and a plug-in called "ScribeFire" was recommended. It's supposed to make blogging easy, so I thought I'd try it out. Let's see how it works, shall we?

04 September 2008

Dragon*Con 2008

I had loads of fun.

I met an online friend for the first time, and she's nifty.

I didn't win the costume contest, but that's OK. I had fun. And I made a pretty swank hat.

I participated in a writing workshop, where I learned a lot, and I've got an idea percolating in my head. I should probably do something like revise the huge story I have finished, but I've been bored with it lately, unfortunately. I didn't plan it out; I just started writing. Which means I'll have to go back and edit the shit out of it, which is pretty damn daunting, I have to say. It means I have to sit down and plot the stupid thing.

I went to see George Takei (Mr Sulu on original Star Trek) talk. He's really cool, and I got some good photos. Because his talk was so good, I decided I had to get his autograph -- and I've never got anyone's autograph before. (Well, except when I went to a reading by Neil Gaiman and I got him to sign his new book for Ben's birthday. He's also an exceptionally awesome person.)

Mostly I hung out with friends, perused the con, and drank some. Oh, I was on a panel about Lois McMaster Bujold's books. It was fun - we got to talk about our favorite characters in our favorite books :D Then I was talking with the track director afterwards, and I asked if they'd done a panel on CJ Cherryh, another of my favorite authors, and she said, "No, would you like to moderate one next year?" *sigh* I sure could, since I've got 2 full shelves of her books, and there are certainly themes worth exploring (feminism, aliens, human psychology.) I dropped the track director an email letting her know I'm still interested, but I understand if she doesn't get back to me for a while, since the con just ended and she doesn't want to think about next year yet.

So now I'm NOT SEWING for at least 6 months (except putting the finishing touches on my costume for the con in 3 weeks, which won't take long.) I plan to build my model kits, practice spinning, WRITE, and get some exercise in. Also crochet, since I have a partially-finished shrug. Not sewing is going to be great.

I've already picked out the next costume I'm going to make, though, so I can be researching and finding materials. It'll be a military uniform.

11 August 2008

Sunny beaches

Went to the beach with the anime club. I think I avoided about half the people who were there, simply because our paths never crossed. I only got a little sunburned, and that's probably because my darling Ben doesn't understand the concept of "use lots of sunscreen" and tries to spread a too-small amount too thinly. (I suspect this because every year, my back gets burned, and he's the one who does my back. I'll know where to place the blame when I get skin cancer, anyway.)

Still no word on the new job. Things suck marginally less here, but I still hate it.

I started Invisalign last week. I should be finished in 5 months, since my teeth are barely crooked (I have a bottom tooth that's behind its neighbor and a top tooth that's on its way to being perpendicular to its neighbor.) Eating is kind of a pain in the ass, because I have to take the trays out before I eat, and then go brush my teeth and put them back in afterward. I'm going to be avoiding snacking, too, because it's a pain. I don't like leaving them out for long, and for the first couple days on a new tray, it hurts a lot to put them back in, so I avoid taking them out when possible. It looks like Thanksgiving will be at the start of a new tray, so keep that in mind when planning dinners for then. (I start new trays on Tuesdays, so by Thursday things are settling down, but it's still sensitive as hell.)

01 August 2008

What do pharmacists do?

In case you were wondering what exactly pharmacists do, and why on earth it takes 4 additional years of school to "stand behind a counter and count out pills," the Angry Pharmacist has the answer for you. Hint: it's not just about counting out pills.

In other news, no news on the new job front. My friend who works there says she'll ask HR how things look, so I'm waiting to hear back from her.

I have, however, almost completely finished my first costume for Dragon*Con. I just need to sew a bunch of hooks and eyes and make a ribbon choker. And get the faux vest in the right place and attach it. Oh, and a hat and a wig. Bleh.

21 July 2008

Earth-shattering kaboom?

So, there's a whole lot of things at work that are pissing me off right now. There are rumours flying about the health department going to a 4-day work week, but none of the administration is giving us any indication of how -- or when -- this will be implemented. Typical. There's a metric ton of passive-aggressive garbage coming down from IT regarding a new system we've been trying to get since 2/07 - and the hardware is in IT, has been since May, but they just "can't find the time" to install it. There are serious communication issues between one of the clinics and the pharmacy that make it difficult to do our job properly.

But the straw that broke the camel's back was an adjustment on my paycheck that cut my pay without telling me. Yes, it's stupid, and, yes, they've corrected it on this paycheck, but it's a sign of how stupid county government is. And how they just fuck you over unless you fine-toothed-comb everything they send you.

So I searched around the web at some places in RTP for jobs that use my skillset, and I found one that I'd seen in a lackadaisical search a week earlier at a place a friend of mine works. So I spent last Friday working on my resume & a cover letter, then refined it over a week, and I submitted it on Saturday.

I haven't mentioned it to anyone here yet. I rather dread doing so, and I'm preferring to put it off until, say, they call me and want an interview. Because if they don't even want to talk to me for this position, I won't cause undue alarm in my current place of employ. Even as I feel guilty for leaving here, and leaving them short staffed without a backup plan [which is another thing about this place that pisses me off], in order to do something so self-centered as to put my own career ahead of my coworkers.

Also, I'm too young to be stuck in this shitty dead-end job. There's nowhere for me to go, except manager, and I don't want that. I've tried to come up with value-added services I can provide to the clinics, but nothing ever comes of it. I want a career, dammit, not a job. I don't want to be stuck in this rut until retirement. The whole environment of this place disallows excellence, quashes ambition, and fosters mediocrity at best.

If it sounds like I'm collecting a list of grievances, so be it. I'm going to have to give an exit interview with HR or someone, and I'm collecting my thoughts, so they can be in order when I have to give them.

08 July 2008

Sewing, organization, etc.

Apparently, the state of my sewing room was driving me crazy, because I went out and bought a couple shelves and some plastic bins. Then, midway into a project, I took everything apart and rearranged the room. I need to get some more underbed storage bins or something, and possibly to sell a bunch of scrap or extra fabric (like a yard or so of nice polar fleece) that I'll never use.

At any rate, I feel like the room is in decent enough order to continue my project, which is an 1895 bodice. Being surrounded by chaos and clutter makes it hard for me to think straight. The room is still a mess, but it's more of an in-progress mess than a leftover-from-previous-projects mess, so it's OK. I have a tendency to create a huge mess while I'm working, and I clean it up when I'm finished. Unfortunately, the last few projects didn't leave me much time for cleaning up afterwards. So now I'm stuck cleaning up after the last few messes. Bleh.

I've decided that after I finish these 2 costumes for Dragon*Con (and make the couple fixes to Edgeworth), I'm not doing any major costuming projects for at least 6 months. And this time, I mean it. I need to work on my spinning, and probably some crocheting (I had a thought that I could make little phone or camera cases), and I've just had sewing projects back to back for about a year now. I need a break to do something different.

So, after September, I can do something else. Yay.

29 June 2008

Japan, days 7-13

June 21
Traveled from Nara to Tokyo, where we trekked to our hotel over in Ikebukuro, then took the train out to Nakano, to go shopping at Nakano Broadway. Then back to the hotel and sleep.

June 22
More shopping, this time on the other side of Ikebukuro where a bunch of anime fan shops are concentrated.

June 23
This was the day we got our tickets to the Studio Ghibli museum for, so it was off to Mitaka to visit the Totoro and cat bus. Studio Ghibli has made a dozen or so animated films for all ages, including Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. We weren't the only foreigners there, but it was primarily Japanese people. There was a section on how animation is made, and another whole part with storyboards and concept sketches and watercolors. Really cool.

After that, we went down to Harajuku to look for fashion victims and also to poke around in a clothing store. I found clothes that fit me (shockingly, because my Western body is larger in several important dimensions compared to Japanese people.) and had to buy them. It was really expensive. Then finding awesome clothes for Ben made it even more expensive. :P

Then off to Shinjuku to see Kabukicho, which is the red-light district. Plenty of neon, ads for hostess clubs (and well-dressed, attractive men standing outside to get customers inside them, and ads for host clubs (and well-dressed, attractive men standing outside to get customers inside them.) Hostess clubs are generally targeted to straight men, while host clubs have 2 distinct target audiences: straight women and gay men. The 2 types of club are not in the same place. Japan is really weird: mixed-sex excursions into, uh, sexually-tinged clubs are unheard of. So it was hard to tell if no one approached us because we were foreigners or because we were a couple.

Then it started raining like mad, so we fled back to the hotel.

June 24
Off to Akihabara. Akihabara Electric Town is the mecca for people who want electronic devices - computers, phones, TVs, etc. It's also a mecca for anime nerds, though targeted mostly to boys. Wandered around, but didn't spend too much. Then we found the Zeon Bar, but it was closed, so we went to the Feddie Bar instead. (It's located at 8-5 Soto-Kanda 1-chome, Akihabara, for the curious. On the 4th or 5th floor.)

June 25
Being out of money, we went to Sensou-ji, a very large temple in northeastern Tokyo, and the Meiji Jingu shrine (yes, *that* Meiji. See days 1-6.) Then we went *back* to Harajuku to people watch, and buy more clothes. With the real credit card this time.

June 26
Back to east Ikebukuro to pick up a few things we'd missed earlier, then the plan was to go to the old Edo-era palace area and gardens, but it was about 65 degrees and raining, which made the idea of wandering around outside decidedly unattractive. Also, I was starting to feel a little sick, so we went back to the hotel and I took a nap. Then we went to find a karaoke parlor and sang for an hour, then tried to find dinner. Eventually we stumbled on a Y150/plate sushi bar. It was pretty good, for cheap sushi. Then we went *back* to Akihabara, to go to the Zeon Bar. I tried the Kyu Zaku, which was purple and sweet and had a green maraschino cherry (to represent the Mono-eye.) Ben got a Gokk of some sort that tasted like a fizzy Tootsie Roll. It is, in fact, located above a maid cafe, kind of near Asobit City and Super Potato. Cool bar.

June 27
Our flight left at 3:20 pm, so we caught an express to the airport at 10:30 to be there at noon. You can't be too early, I say. Then we got back to Atlanta at 2:45 pm 6/27, regaining the day we lost flying west. Long flights suck.

Japan, days 1-6

June 14-15
Starting with a 6 am EST flight to Atlanta, we went to Japan. Because of the time difference, we lost Saturday entire and arrived around 1:30 pm JST 6/15. After getting through immigration and the train station, we headed off to our hotel, where we showered and waited for Ben's folks to show up, since their flight was a couple hours after ours.

After they got to Tokyo, we found some dinner and got tickets to Kyoto for the next day.

June 16
Got the Shinkansen to Kyoto and got there around noon. Found our hotel, left our luggage, and walked around the Imperial Gardens, which were right across the street. Then we wandered to find lunch, then walked to Nijo Castle. Nijo was an old palace of the shogunate, and the floors were constructed to squeak melodically (nightingale floors) to warn of approaching people (or ninjas). Then back to the hotel to check in and get some food.

June 17
Nestled in the eastern mountains (東山; Higashiyama) are about a dozen temples and shrines. Kyoto was a capital once; the first character in 京都 means capital (and is part of Tokyo 東京; east capital), so it was a very important city, so many temples were built. There's a walking tour you can take to see half of them in half a day (or all of them, if you've got time). We started out at Kiyomizudera, walked up to Kodaiji, then Chion-in, skipped one, and walked up to Nanzenji, the center of Zen Buddhism in that region of Japan. From there, we took the bus over to Kinkakuji, which is covered in gold leaf.

June 18
Day trip time! Off to Inari for the Fushimi-Inari shrine, which has a plethora of torii gates in a row, and you walk through them to get up the hill. The effect is pretty cool, really. Then to Uji for another temple, Byodo-in, and another shrine. Lots of walking.

Japan is largely Buddhist and Shinto; there's a saying that Buddhism is for life, and Shinto is for death. That means Buddhism tells you how to live, but Shinto is for after you're dead. Temples are Buddhist; shrines are Shinto.

June 19
Another day trip, this time to Osaka, the second largest city in Japan (yet still considered the boonies by Tokyoites.) We went to Osaka Castle, which was destroyed in 1640 or so during the battle between shoguns Toyotomi and Tokugawa, partially rebuilt, then destroyed again in 1863 during the Meiji Restoration. For about 200 years, Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa family, who were a military clan. Then in 1860, the imperial family wanted to regain their power, so there was a civil war to restore the imperial dynasty. Anyway. Sometime after WW2, the castle was rebuilt, but it now houses a museum about the Toyotomi/Tokugawa war. It's kinda nifty.

Then we met a friend who's living between Kyoto and Osaka, teaching English to high school kids. We went to the neon-lit area, called the Dotombori, and had okonomiyaki, which is basically a pan-fried cake based on cabbage and egg, with mix-ins of your choice. It's really easy to make.

June 20
Moved off to Nara. Nara was the first capital of Japan, and it has the oldest, most important shrine in Japan. It's also home to the largest wooden building in the world (the Daibutsuen) which houses a very large wooden Buddha. Nara Park is home to a lot of deer, which are considered sacred, because it's believed that the imperial family's ancestor, revered in the Kasuga Taisha shrine, rode to town on a deer. The deer are tame, and you can even pet them. You can feed them, too, though the buggers know you've got food, and they'll mug you for it.

In Nara, we stayed in a traditional Japanese inn, a ryokan. The owner made a nice vegetarian dinner for me, which was awesome, since the traditional ryokan food is based on fish. Mine was based on tofu and mushrooms. I certainly approve. It was a ton of food, and I ate most of it. Then the next morning, we got breakfast, which was also huge.

After Nara, it was off to Tokyo for the remainder of the time.

11 June 2008

Countdown to Japan

Holy crap, we're leaving on Saturday. I feel woefully unprepared. We've got some friends who can come over and take care of the cats, another friend to take us to and from the airport (even paying for gas would be less than paying for 2 weeks airport parking), a travel book, an atlas of Tokyo, websites for where to go for nerd stuff (and notes on paper). I suppose it could be worse, though.

Depending on our net connectivity, I'll drop an update or two while over there.

26 May 2008

Animazement 08

I had fun, despite the seething mass of unwashed bodies and overenthusiastic teenagers.

I tried selling some rectangles of quilted fabric for folks to pin their nerd paraphernalia to, but they weren't moving. I sold enough to cover materials and make 15 bucks, though, so it's not a total loss.

I finished my costume in time, except for the cravat. So I borrowed Ben's, though it isn't exactly accurate. I'll have time to finish everything up later, as well as fix my wig. I need to move the top vest button as well as the eye and button on the pants. Won't take long.

Here are some photos I took. The first few are costumes I liked, and the rest are of me with other characters from the Phoenix Wright games.

I didn't buy much, since I'm going to Japan in a few weeks, though I did pick up a Gundam model kit, because those come in huuuuuuge boxes, which are inconvenient to stuff in your suitcase. I paid a bit more than $22 for it, however. Convenience fee, I suppose. And no shipping. I guess I'll add it to the stack of Gundam kits that I still need to paint and build. -__- Drat costuming. It takes time from my other hobbies!

Conventions - what & why

A convention, in fandom terms, is a gathering of fans. Why they gather is variable, but generally boils down to meeting new people, seeing old friends, and spending time with people who like what you like.

For non-fans, this may be hard to understand. Why travel 200, 500, 1000+ miles for that? Another wide variety of reasons. I'll use analogy.

Say, for example, you're an avid gardener. You watch HGTV, subscribe to BH&G, have a library of gardening books, and a pretty decent garden. You find out that there's this gardening club in your area, and they have meetings and presentations about, for example, how to build a better compost pile. You go, you meet some new folks, maybe make some friends, *and* you get some new tricks to try in your garden. Pretty cool. Then you find out there's a big regional gardening festival, where expert gardeners will be on hand to give workshops on how to turn clay into good soil, among other things. You think that would be great, so you decide to go.

That's not even close to a fandom con. Fans gather to meet people, as I said above, but also to see their favorite celebrities, from actors to authors to comic book artists and what have you. You can spend 3-4 days surrounded by People Like You -- which is something fans don't often get to do, because fandom is odd, and geeks are shunned.

Costuming is a huge part of fandom. There's something fun about walking around dressed as, say, Jack Sparrow or Gandalf or Harry Potter. It's a great conversation starter, too. There's a joke among costumers about the costumer's handshake: "Oh, hi, nice to meet you ... ooh, how did you *do* that?" I love the elaborate costumes, but I can't make them. Like these reference pictures and this costume. I'm not *that* good.

Cons are great fun for nerds. I love them so.

21 May 2008

Costuming and stuff. Mostly costuming.

I have a jacket and pants. I've mostly got the vest done. Sort of. I need to cut the lining out, but I've got the outside part together. I have to get rid of the chalk lines, though. The interfacing is impossible to mark on, so I had to mark the front. Bleh.

I only have about an hour tonight plus tomorrow evening to get this finished before the con. I should be able to at least get the lining cut out, and possibly get the darts stitched, tonight, then put the lining in and buttons on tomorrow. There's still a bit of handstitching I need to do (the sleeve buttons on the jacket, the bar and hook on the pants waistband, basting down the jacket collar), but it's fairly trivial, and I can finish it Friday morning if I have to. I'm glad I saw that I can machine stitch flat buttons. It's so much easier.

Stuff: OMG, we're going to Japan in 3.5 weeks! I'm not working on planning at the moment - too busy - but after this weekend, it's back to poring over travel books and finding vegetarian restaurants. My friend Phil told me how he got tickets for Takarazuka. I need to figure out how to go to Cafe Swallowtail. The Zeon Bar has an address in Akiba, but my Japanese is too crap to decipher the page and locate the characters that denote an address. There's reportedly a Feddies bar, and the pictures at the bottom look like they're in the same building on different floors. But screw the Feddies, anyway. Zeon has cooler uniforms.

I should print out the map of nerd things to do in Aki(ha)ba(ra). And get David to mark my guide book. 6 days to nerd around in Tokyo, with 1 spent going to the Ghibli Museum. We've already got our ticket vouchers - you have to buy 3 months in advance! - and we're going on our 8th anniversary.

I definitely want to see if Japanese McDonalds have melon-flavored milkshakes. Ben reports that they did when he was there 10 years ago. I must try one.

14 May 2008

Costume update

I spent the whole weekend, Friday - Sunday, working on the jacket of the 3-piece suit I'm making. I didn't get it finished. It's mostly done, but I still need to sew down the lining and do button holes. And buttons. Then tomorrow, Friday evening, and this weekend, I work on pants, then the vest. I like a challenge, really, and I seem to prefer working under pressure. I'm just more productive that way.

Note to future self, however: when deciding to do a last-minute sewing project, try to avoid buying the pattern marked "advanced."

So that's what I've been up to. Hard at work. Yay.

06 May 2008


Yesterday I went to the annual HIV care conference at UNC. I was reminded how bored I am in my current job, and that I miss science. But I don't know how to translate my skills and my interests into a job, without going back to school. Bleah.

My costume hasn't progressed any. This is not a very good thing. I have buttons, now, though, and a zipper.

Isis needs a dental cleaning. I need a nap.

01 May 2008

Another work rant

No, you standing there tapping, sighing, and grumbling about how you have to make it to the bus does NOT make me work any faster. I still need to enter the information on your prescription into the computer, print out labels, and put the pills into little bottles.

You're lucky we don't bill insurance like retail pharmacies.

30 April 2008

Do NOT lie to me.

Don't come up to my pharmacy with a prescription from the native Spanish-speaking provider and tell me she didn't explain to you how to use the cream. Don't tell me you can't speak English, and then argue with me fluently in English 10 minutes later when I confirmed with the provider that she told you how to use it.

Don't waste our interpreters' time. We only have 2 for all 4 clinics, pharmacy, patient accounts, and vital records.

Don't waste my time by lying to me.

Don't fucking lie to me.

27 April 2008

By request: LASIK

So, I get there, sign in, & get a name tag. We wait in the waiting room for about 20 minutes, I guess, before they call me back to sign all the consent forms and give them money. (I got a nice printout with "PAID IN FULL" across it...) Then I go back to the prep room, and Ben goes back to the waiting room.

I get a nice 0.5 mg Xanax, a round of medicated eyedrops, and a wiping of the eyes. Oh, and blue booties & a hair cap. Then I wait there, while the Xanax kicks in and the 2 guys who were there before me get their procedures. Ben tells me this was about an hour, but I wasn't paying much attention, being more focused on not flipping out. Then it was my turn.

I'm led into the laser suite, where I had to lie on a table with my head between these 2 huge-ass machines. They gave me a stuff bunny to hold, and good god I needed it.

Step 1 is to take a suction cup and put it on your cornea to hold it for the creation of the flap. The numbing drops made it not hurt, I suppose, but it was still uncomfortable, and I very nearly flipped my shit. The right eye was more traumatic than the left, because maybe the numb drops wore off faster? Dunno. Ben says they didn't show that part. The staff counted how many seconds remained, and I think these took about 30 seconds each.

Step 2, in comparison, was a breeze. The surgeon flips the flap up (eeew), and then a laser shines across your eye while you look at a blinking yellow light. Then when it's done, he puts the flap back down. The worst part of that is the slight smell of burning at the end. These took 40 seconds each. Then some more eye drops, and that was it. I didn't want to let go of the bunny.

The ride home, I had my eyes closed for. Light was really bright, even with the super-stylish shades they gave me. Ben drove through Taco Bell, I ate my bean burrito when we got home, and I went to lie down. They told me to take the Ambien they gave me, but I opted not to. The Xanax, Neurontin, and 3 ibuprofen I took after I got home let me sleep for about 5 hours.

Though I did take the Ambien before bed, because I doubted I'd be able to fall asleep on my own after sleeping half the afternoon.

Since then, my vision has been fine. I could almost read the 20/15 line at my last follow-up appointment. My eye doctor is supposed to call to schedule my 3-month follow up soon.

26 April 2008

Edgeworth, part 1

I found a decent suit pattern at Burda, so I went to Joann's to buy it. Of course they didn't have it, and the Vogue pattern number I'd written down a) didn't have a vest and b) only comes 3 sizes to an envelope. Poo.

So I perused the fabric a bit and happened upon this cotton bottomweight almost-twill that's in an appropriately garish shade of red (that won't look too horrible on me.) It was 6.99 a yard I think. 100% cotton! They had a 65/35 cotton/poly in an appropriate shade, but it had the nastiest texture. Then I got lining for the vest and coat, and a card of buttons for the vest.

I still need buttons for the coat and sleeves (though there are none in any of the art... I'm perplexed), and a wig (I saw one on the internet that might work). Possibly shoes, but I have a pair of women's black shoes that would do. I have a few yards of black cotton that I was going to use for the lining of my 1895 bodice, but I've decided only to to hem facings for that, except for the lapel part, so I should have sufficient extra. (Hm, I seem to have forgotten about the sleeves... well, I'll figure something out.) I also need a white button-down shirt and a jabot. I have fabric for a jabot, from when I never managed to finish my Balthier costume.

I've got the pattern on order, so I can start when it gets here.

22 April 2008

Works in progress

Costumes, costumes, costumes.

1. 1895 suit - finish for D*C (Labor Day weekend). reference
- Get documentation ready for contest; scan reference material.
- Find hat pattern
- Wig!
- 1895 corset? Laughing Moon?

2. can-can outfit - finish for D*C
- no to-do list, except making the whole thing.

3. Edgeworth suit? reference
- regular court suit vs White Day pic outfit?
- find patterns vs buy off rack?

20 April 2008

The Forbidden Kingdom

I went to see the new Jackie Chan & Jet Li movie with some friends last night. It was great fun! A quick summary:

+ The extended (5-minute? 10?) fight between Jackie Chan and Jet Li
+ Random white boy/kung-fu-movie nut not nearly as egregious as I'd feared
+ Jackie Chan using whiteboy as a weapon
+ Funny bits were REALLY funny (there was one scene I laughed really hard at, but now I can't remember it.)
+ Collin Chou's eye make-up. Also, his cloak.
- Only 1 Jackie vs Jet fight scene
- Plot still tenuous at best, but enjoyable nevertheless
- A bit of scenery chewing in the Jade Warlord's palace
- Frame plot set-up with nerdy whiteboy & gangsta thugs
+ I had to pee, so I missed the random white boy/Chinese girl romance scene

I'd watch it again, just for the Jackie & Jet fight scene. And Collin Chou's eye make-up.

17 April 2008

Women and Subversive Fiction

I wrote this as a post for BlueNC a while back. Now I'm sharing it here.

As long as I can remember, I've had books to read. Usually they'd be books my grandma had picked up on sale or at the used book shop, but I'd read just about anything I could get my hands on. This is how I discovered science fiction. In fifth grade, I was at a new school. I didn't know anybody, and I've always had a spot of trouble making new friends, so I got books from the school library. I'd just gotten through the Wizard of Earthsea and its sequels, so I went to the next book by Ursula LeGuin on the shelf. It was The Left Hand of Darkness. Why that was in an elementary school library eludes me, but I read it then. I can say that I didn't get it when I was ten, but when I read it again at 25, it was clearer. LHoD examines a world where the people are agendered, but go into "kemmer" and develop secondary sexual characteristics for having sex. It isn't fixed which characteristics any person develops each time. The story explores an earth-human's interactions with the people of Gethen and their decision to join the ekumen, a league of worlds. It contains the remarkable line "the King is pregnant." Aged ten, already ahead of my peers in science and math, and decidedly stubborn, it didn't mean too much.

I didn't think much about it again until after I'd graduated from college. I'd picked it up, remembering that I'd liked it and the other books by her I'd read, and added it to the stack of books waiting to be read. Then I read it again. And it was groundbreaking. At the time it was written, the suggestion that there were no strict psychological differences between the sexes was a radical statement. Eliminating rigid gender roles -- including that of pregnancy -- was beyond radical. In 1969 when it was originally published, no woman had won the Nebula for best novel. In 1968, a woman won best novella (Anne McCaffrey) and best short story (Kate Wilhelm), but Ursula LeGuin won best novel for 1969.

Men continued to dominate, winning 8/10 in the 1970s and 7/10 in the 1980s, until the 1990s, when men and women each won 5 awards. This decade so far, winners have alternated between men and women. The winners for 2006 haven't yet been announced. (Nebulas are awarded by vote of members of the Science Fiction Writers Association.) Are there more female SF writers now? Or are they just more visible? But it's so often the same women winning Nebulas or Hugos. Ursula LeGuin, C.J. Cherryh, Connie Willis, Anne McCaffrey, Lois McMaster Bujold, James Tiptree Jr. True, you often see the same men popping up year after year: David Brin, Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Kim Stanley Robinson. Is there an amount of favoritism? Certainly, because it's voted on by SF writers. All awards have that problem.

I took a peek at my bookshelf the other day. I have more books by CJ Cherryh than will fit onto one shelf, and it's still not her entire bibliography. I have every book Bujold has written. I have a lot of LeGuin. The only male author who has near the representation on my shelf is Terry Pratchett. I look at my husband's shelf, and (buried behind his action figures) are a lot of books by male authors: David Brin, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Card. He's got all the Neil Gaiman.

There is a trope that female readers prefer stories with good characterization, good plot, and good relationships, while male readers like a lot of sex and explosions and fancy sciency gadgets. I reject the notion of any inherent differences between male and female readers as to what their preferences are, but I can't resist exploring it. Science fiction has long been "a man's world." As noted above, the majority of award-winning authors were male until recently, and male perspective characters are still predominant, even in books written by women.

Take, for example, Bujold's Vorkosigan series. The main character, Miles Vorkosigan, is a man, as are a lot of leads: his father Aral, his cousin Ivan, his cousin Gregor, Gregor's security guy Simon. There are female leads, as well, and they're strong women: his mother Cordelia, her security woman Drou, the Koudelka clan (Drou's girls), Elli Quinn, who captains his mercenary fleet while he's home. But everything we see is from Miles' perspective. Or CJ Cherryh's Foreigner sequence (now up to 9 books, and going on 12). The main human is a man, and he has a male and female bodyguard (the latter of whom becomes his lover, naturally). The stories are told from Bren's perspective.

Conventional wisdom holds that people don't want to read stories about people who aren't like them. The main consumers of science fiction have traditionally been white males, so publishers go with books about white guys. Women are voracious consumers of science fiction now, and in participatory events (read: cons, fanzines, fanfiction), women participate with great enthusiasm. But it's still majority white, at least in the places I've been.

In stories written by female authors, you often have a focus on the characters, their development, and the plot, though some are marketed more to an action-oriented audience. Even then, you can follow character growth as the plot progresses and things blow up. Male authors, in my experience, focus on moving the story forward, in some cases to the detriment of character. It could be a function of good author vs bad, but I've found fewer bad female authors than male. This could be related to numbers, or to the idea that women have to be twice as good as the average man in order to be considered equal. (Or that women who have the spinal fortitude to break into science fiction are just damn good writers.) Then there's the difference between "hard" and "soft" SF, and fantasy (which has a lot of female writers, and more non-traditional characters), which I won't get into here.

Part of the appeal of speculative fiction, which includes both science fiction and fantasy, is the ability to speculate. SF answers the question "what if?" Many of my favorite writers skip right past "what if women were equal to men?" and use that as a base assumption. On CJ Cherryh's starships, women do everything men do, even if the POV character is a man. LeGuin credits the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s with helping her "learn to write as a woman, without putting men at the center of the story."

Subversive literature, indeed.

16 April 2008

General update

So. When we last left our intrepid heroine, she was unemployed in Greenland and lackadaisically looking for a job. Shortly thereafter, she got a lead on a job, then found a different one, working for a government entity that shall remain nameless. She's been working there nearly a year and a half.

I'm bored. I'm at work right now, and I'm mostly twiddling my thumbs, waiting for people to walk up for prescriptions. I shouldn't complain too loudly; real retail pharmacy jobs get 500 or more prescriptions a day. I like the slower pace - it lets me do other things.

Like take an online certificate program in field epidemiology. I'm mostly through the 3rd of 4 courses, and the last class is being offered this fall. I get summer off! Woo. Epidemiology looks at the patterns and spread of disease, and field epidemiology is basically outbreak investigation. It's kind of interesting, and I'd thought maybe I wanted to study epidemiology, but I don't. It's interesting, but not for me I think.

I've been studying tai chi for about a year with the same teacher. I'm learning a Chen style long form, and it's coming along fairly well, I think. I should be able to test on it by the end of this year. Then I need to figure out what to do next - two-person forms, a weapons form, another style (Yang)?

We're going to Japan for 2 weeks this summer, with Ben's folks for half of it. Should be exciting.

Our trip to Berlin - Christmas 07

20 Dez 07

Oy. Well, we're in Germany at least.

We were boarding our flight to JFK when the pilot kicked everyone off because the ATC in New York said they were too busy, so we had a 2-hour delay. So everyone from the flight (all 13 rows) stood en queue to get rebooked onto new flights. The amazing gate attendant, Joe, tried to get us routed through anywhere – Atlanta, Cincinnati, Chicago – to Berlin. He found us one flight that went from RDU to ATL then Manchester, UK, then Paris, then Berlin, and a different one through Gatwick. He was mostly trying to get us to Europe at all. Then he got us on a flight to Frankfurt via Cincinnati, from where we were responsible for our own transit. And, of course, because it was air traffic's fault, not weather or the airline, we got to foot the bill for the shiny ICE from Frankfurt to Leipzig to Berlin, to the tune of E186. Thanks, Ben's mom's Christmas money! It's more expensive, but it's 3 hours faster than the IC and a hell of a lot faster than IR would be, so wev.

I have unsuccessfully tried to connect to the ICE wireless net, probably because it isn't available on this line. Alas. No internet for me.

I really want to take a shower.

Got to the hotel around 5:30. We walked from Hauptbahnhof. It was cold & dark, and it was about a km. I'd napped a bit on the train, so I was ready to keep going, but Ben was knackered, so he took a nap while I showered, so we headed out to dinner & a Christmas market.

Dinner was at a placed called Mirchi that Ben found in the guide book. It's an Indonesian
fusion place, and I had a cheese dish that was a lot like paneer makhani, while Ben had shrimp (unsurprisingly.) After that, we took the U-bahn down to the Gendarmenmarkt to visit the Christmas market there. It cost a Euro to get in, but it was worth it. Lots of vendors, mostly selling roasted nuts, sausage, baked goods, and warm (alcoholic) beverages. I got a couple small stone elephants (lapis & 'speckstein'), and we bought Lebkuchen. Kein Weihnacht ohne Lebkuchen! And Glühwein, of course.

We were cold & tired, so we headed back around 9 to get some Zs.

21 Dez

Up bright & early (well, dark & foggy) to get a guided tour that met on the other side of town. Stopped at a coffee shop just across the street to get breakfast & caffeine before hopping on the train.

The guided tour was fascinating. Our guide was an expat Kiwi who married an East German woman after he moved to Berlin 5 years ago. He was as keen on Cold War-era Berlin history as I am, except that he actually majored in it at university. Learned quite a bit, really. Saw a lot of things I would have missed otherwise because they weren't on my radar. 90% of eastern Berlin was destroyed in the war, and 60% of western.

It ended at the Reichstag, which is now going by Bundestag to project a friendly image, and you can go up to the observation platform, so we queued up – Kontrolle and metal detector when you go in, and they only allow so many people to be going through at one time, so you get to wait outside. In summer, apparently, the line can be 3 hours long. (Ben notes that the government is having difficulty getting people to call it the Bundestag, as all the maps still label it Reichstag.) In, up a lift, and back outside to the roof. You have a great vantage point of the city, and the glass dome in the center looks down on the parliamentary chambers (not in session over the holidays.) There's also an overpriced upscale cafe on the roof (E14,50 salad.) Despite the fact that all I'd had to eat since 9 am was yogurt & granola and a muffin, it was 3:30, and I was half frozen, I had no desire to pay that much for food, so we walked more. The tour guide had said there was a cafe across the street, so we started over there. The menu posted in the window didn't look too veggie friendly, so we went back to the Brandenburger Tor area to poke our heads into the bank with the Frank Gehry sculpture of a whale. It was as weird as it sounds. We'd decided to see if we could get tickets to Figaro, so we were going to walk in the direction of the opera house anyway, and look for food along the way. We stopped at a cafe/konditorei that served drinking chocolate (yum.) I got one of those, and Ben got a Berliner Weisse mit Schuss (rot). Actually wasn't that bad. For food, Ben tried the Currywurst mit Pommes (he says he liked it, and the fries were top notch), and I got a gnocchi with spinach in gorgonzola sauce, also quite tasty. Then off to the Staatsoper (which was bombed twice in WW2, once in 1941, rebuilt, then bombed again), where we got tickets for Figaro then wandered around the Christmas market am Opernpalais until it was time to get seated for the show. Saw a bunch of cool things, including an oil lamp that looked like a tree and if it wouldn't become so many shards of glass in our luggage would be coming home with us, but only bought Glühwein (returned the cup, wasn't that interesting), roasted nuts, and some hard candies. I will buy roasted chestnuts at a market before we leave. (Europe was unaffected by the chestnut blight, so they are far more plentiful.)

We were vaguely underdressed for the opera, but we had the very back row in the top level, so it wasn't like we were front center parkett or anything. Friedrich der Grosse commissioned the Staatsoper to give everyone the chance to see the opera, not just the rich, so I didn't feel too badly, since surely peasants in 1815 were far less well-dressed than I. The building was really pretty and had some good acoustics. The opera was fun, too. They had supertitles in German. I followed them (mostly – they used a fair bit of archaic language), and Ben says he switched between trying to read and trying to follow the Italian. It was funny, and there was a happy ending. Alles Gute!

Then walking back to the U-bahn station, stopping to take pictures of a Bugatti in a Bentley/Bugatti dealer window, and a laser-eyed manekineko. Back to the hotel, download pictures, and wrote this. Now to sleep. Tomorrow, the zoo.

22 Dez

Another long day, but not as long as yesterday by far.

Up, dressed, off to the Zoo. Bought a combination ticket for the Zoo & Aquarium, and by the time we were done at the Zoo, going inside to the Aquarium was feeling like a great idea. Still cold & cloudy. A lot of the animals were hiding inside to keep warm, but Knut was outside enjoying the cold, swimming around in his little river thing and drawing a crowd. We got some good pictures of Cute Knut, who's about a year old now. There was also a baby pygmy chimp (the first ever at the Zoo, according to a man watching them), a baby oran or two, and a pair of lion cubs. Then we went to the Aquarium, which was blessedly inside, and contained several really creepy spiders.

Went over to the Christmas Market at the Gedächtniskirche. Got some Glühwein, roasted chestnuts (all for me, Ben didn't like them), and a couple trinkety things, then went down to the KaDeWe. I learned about it in German class in high school: it's the largest department store on the continent (not all of Europe; I think Harrod's is bigger), and the communist government upheld it as a symbol of capitalist decadence and whatnot, but when the wall came down, that's where the Ossis headed first.

KaDeWe is huge, and it was full of people doing holiday shopping, unsurprisingly. I looked at the women's fashion, saw a few cute things that I didn't want to pay ludicrous amounts of money for (like E400 for a sweater) and mostly laughed. But there were some cute German shoes for not-unreasonable prices, if I needed more shoes. Then we went to the Kultur floor, bought some CDs for us & friends, perused books, bought nice chocolate, and lost my hat. I also discovered my coat is ripping at the seam in the lining. So I was unhappy. Then we went back to the Christmas Market, where I bought a new hat & we had more Glühwein and some food, then went back to the hotel, where we died. I also discovered that the power converter and the MacBook charger are not friends. Unfortunately, indeed.

23 Dez

The MacBook and the power converter seem to have a tenuous relationship: the converter starts overheating after about half an hour of charge time. But it works, so...

Today we walked along part of the wall. The Wall Memorial was closed for the holiday, so we might go back on Wednesday when it'll be open again. We were able to see part of the death strip, however, because it's just an open space.

After that, we took the U down to Alexanderplatz (Alex to locals), and stood in line for about an hour to go up the Fernsehturm, which has a very fast lift – 6 m/s, so you go up about 250 m in less than a minute. Nice air pressure changes. The viewing platform offers a 360º view of the city, and on a clear day, I imagine you can see all the things depicted in the photographs stationed throughout. Today it was sunny but hazy, so we could see a few hundred meters away, but not much further.

Then back down, back to the train station for some lunch, and hiking over to the Marienkirche, which was not allowing entry despite there not being a sign. So we looked at the fountain of Neptune and walked over to the Berliner Dom. We stopped at the Ampelmännchen shop and picked up some Ampelmann kitsch. Ostalgie is the best. Then the Dom: 5E entry, but the daily operation fee for the church is 10,500E, so they need all the loot they can get. Inside is very lavish and not particularly in the non-ornate style of Lutherans. But it's very lovely, and they finished the parish church section in 1989. Then you can hike up a whole bunch of stairs and walk around the cupola on the roof. It also offers lovely views, but it had become nearly dark by the time we went up, and it was cloudy besides. So back down, then further down, into the crypt of the Hohenzollern dynasty. Some ornate sarcophagi, some fairly simple tin boxes. Then to get out, you have to go through the gift shop. Quelle surprise. Ben bought a build-your-own paper model of the Dom. It looks hard. I got a bookmark of the Brandenburg Gate with what looks like an 1800s painting on it.

Then we went to the Luciamarket at the Kulturbrauerei over in Prenzlauer Berg (the low-rent district.) Not a whole lot to buy, and the Glühwein mugs weren't terribly exciting, so I didn't come back with one. We did get some Fladenbrot with cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, & garlic sauce, then some potato pancakes with apple sauce, before heading back. It's the first night so far we've been back before 10 pm, and I'm looking forward to a whole lot of sleep tonight.

24 Dez

A lot of things were closed today. Museums are often closed on Mondays, and Christmas Eve is a public holiday. So we went down to see if the Stasi archive exhibit was open, or the Topography of Terror, an outdoor exhibit on the SS & Gestapo. Both were closed, but the Topography is scheduled to be open tomorrow & Wednesday, so we'll try to work it in then. The Stasi archive is closed on holidays, which the 25th and 26th usually are, but since we'll be in the area, we'll stop by again. Then we went down to the Checkpoint Charlie area, where things were bustling. If you take your passport, you can pay to get it stamped with original border crossing stamps. Communist kitsch is profitable; I presume capitalist swine are delighting in the irony. We opted not to go into the museum at Checkpoint Charlie, then wandered a bit and then over to Potsdamer Platz, which was rubble in 1945, a no-man's-land until 1990, and now is a mass of skyscrapers. There were 2 Christmas markets, both ghost towns. The one on Potsdamer Platz had a snow tube slide, which Ben went down. Then we went over to the Sony Center, and it was a lot smaller and almost entirely closed, but there was a Lego/Duplo Christmas tree & Santa. We wandered around a little more, making a detour back to the KaDeWe to see if they had found my hat. No luck; someone now has a nice hand-knitted ski hat. I hope they enjoy it, fucker.

Loitered a bit, got donuts at the Dunkin Donuts (I had a donut named after one of the Wise Guys, Caspar. It had nut-nougat filling and a chocolate tree on top. They should sell those in the States.), wandered around a bit more, got dinner at a restaurant that was actually open and serving real food (Josty im Sony Center), and decided to come back. There's an organ concert at the Gedächtniskirche, but I guess we're not going, because Ben's getting naked to take his shower, and I've left the decision up to him, since he's keen on organ stuff. So we're channel surfing on wacky German Christmas programming. We saw the Simpsons holiday special, but mostly since we've been surfing. Fun and excitement. Ben was entranced by Germany's funniest home videos for a while. I made him change it. Then there was a weird animal video show on the next channel. If we're home and bored tomorrow night, we can watch Harry Potter at 8:15 on ZDF. We'll see.

25 Dez

Frohes Fest! I was concerned we wouldn't find anything open today, it being a holiday, but the web said that the city museums were open, so we spent the day in the SMB, the Pergamon and the Bode. The Pergamon has a lot of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern art, including a collection of Islamic art and a temporary exhibit of the Prussian expedition to Egypt, sponsored by Kaiser Wilhelm and company. The Bode was formerly known as the König Friedrich Museum (after the Great Elector) then renamed. All the museums took a hit in the war, and presumably the small, portable things were moved to safe storage places.

So when the museums closed at 6, we sought some dinner. A variety of places were open on Oranienburger Str, including a couple Indian joints and a Jewish restaurant, but we ate at a place called Oranium, where they had some awesome sounding pasta.

Since it's cold and dark, and probably not a whole lot going on tonight, we came home and are watching Harry Potter. Whee.

26 Dez

Started the day at the Wall Memorial and archive, which is free, and you can overlook the site of the Wall and a preserved death strip (presumably without the land mines). Then we tried to go to the Stasi Archive again, and it was still closed for the holiday. Damn. So then a walk over to the Topography of Terror, an exhibit about the Gestapo and SS, and their prison which had been on that site. The building started life as a hotel, then became a school, then the Nazis took it over. Then the Soviets demolished it, and digging around there (to expand the wall?) uncovered the basement and its cells. Then it was turned into a memorial for the people who were tortured and murdered there or sent to KZ to die.

Freezing cold, we walked over to Potsdamer Platz to use the internet and eat lunch at Dunkin Donuts. Then we took the U2 out to Sophie Charlotte Platz and walked up to the castle. There's no photography allowed inside, so we bought a book. The new wing of the castle is a largely Baroque & Rococo design, with a hall modeled on the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Much of the furnishings in the castle are not the originals, and because of bomb damage, it had to be reconstructed from the ground up. They used some inventory records and the like to determine what had been in the house. Ostentatious, gaudy, and pretty. Those Hohenzollerns had tons of loot.

Then the Christmas Market at Charlottenburg, reputedly the first one there for a really long time. Got some food, hot drinks, and wandered around in the cold. Then because it was only 6 something, and too early to return to the hotel, we walked up the Ku'damm a bit and window-shopped to the U-bahn station. A sign with advertisements for real estate informed us that we could buy about 21,000 sq ft apartment house for 3 million Euro. It was in a good location, in a historic building, and presumably you could make your 3 million Euro back, but ...

So, tomorrow we have to go home again. Blah. Don't wanna.

Ben commented a few times that only crazy Germans would come up with the idea of standing around outside, drinking hot beverages and eating horribly unhealthy food in the middle of winter. But they've got it right, man. Christmas in Germany is about booze and lights and family, and buying stuff of course, and some Jesus whatnot, but none of that ridiculous “War on Christmas” nonsense the Ridiculous Right came up with. But mostly the booze and cakes. Yum.