29 November 2013

Raising funds for my education

I don't often post personal things here, because I have other online platforms for that, so people who only follow this blog (if that's anyone at all) don't get to read about the more mundane things going on in my life.

One thing I'm currently doing in addition to writing is studying to teach German as a foreign language. I'm taking a distance learning course through the Goethe Institute, at the end of which I'll get a certificate that says I am capable of teaching German as a foreign language. One of the requirements is either to get 120 hours of teaching experience (which, as you may know, is difficult to do without already having experience to get the job...) or to do a 50-hour practicum in an approved location. Because of various factors, like there not being any schools where I could get a 50-hour practicum anywhere within 200 miles of my house (yes, I emailed the local high schools that offer German, too, and asked about student teaching), I'm doing this practicum at the Goethe Institute Mannheim.

That means buying plane tickets, and paying for housing, public transit, food, and other incidentals. Which is expensive. I found a room in a shared flat for €90/week, which is much cheaper than a hotel (the cheapest of which I found was €32/night), and I procrastinated/was indecisive long enough on buying plane tickets that the price dropped $100+, so I got them for three digits instead of four.

Because I haven't been paid for working in a long time and I used my savings to pay for Viable Paradise, I've gone the route of many other people and started an online fundraising campaign at GoFundMe. I've offered a few reward levels for things like German lessons and translation assistance, because I feel weird just asking for money without anything in return. I may add a level of "digital photograph of something in Mannheim or Stuttgart" (I'm visiting a friend there after the practicum).

So if you have a few spare dollars that you want to toss in my basket because you like reading this blog, please do! Or if you liked reading my story U8: Alexanderplatz (1989), there's a PayPal button at the bottom of that page.

If you donate, I thank you. If you share this link with your friends, I'm grateful.

19 November 2013

This is a problem.

There's someone out there who thinks my email address is theirs. Normally it's just a nuisance, like the eye doctor in Wilmington who used it to apply for a job, or the law student in Chicago who put it down as the contact info for a reference for the bar, or the person who used it to sign up for a textbook rental site, or the person who put it for their Verizon contact info, or the guy who used it on his jobs.gov account and wondered why he wasn't getting any confirmation emails.

More annoying is the Charles Covington who is using it for athene live, which appears to be some sort of video sharing site. What makes this exciting is that I can actually log in to his billing information, because the billing company sends me a link directly to his billing that doesn't even require me to enter a password. (Note to web developers: THIS IS A REALLY FUCKING BAD IDEA.)

Most recently, however, it's gone a bit disturbing. Here are three screenshots from my mail recently.

I am quite sure I haven't signed up for porn cams or hookup sites. The IP address in the first one maps to a mobile device on T-Mobile in Kansas.

If any of you are brave enough to log in to that site, let me know what happens.

18 November 2013

In which I express my disdain for the idea of a Loki movie and enrage half the internet

I've seen calls across the web, like this one, for a standalone Loki movie. I am not on board with that at all.

Don't get me wrong: I think Tom Hiddleston is a great actor, and Loki is a very interesting, complicated villain. However, I'm going to argue that we don't need Yet Another Marvel Movie About A (White) Dude.

According to wikipedia, these are the solo Marvel movies made since 1998, including movies currently in production/planning.

1998 Blade
2002 Blade II
2003 Daredevil
2004 The Punisher
Spider-Man 2
Blade: Trinity
2005 Elektra
2007 Ghost Rider
Spider-Man 3
2008 Iron Man
The Incredible Hulk
Punisher: War Zone
2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine
2010 Iron Man 2
2011 Thor
Captain America: The First Avenger
2012 Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
The Amazing Spider-Man Columbia Pictures
2013 Iron Man 3
The Wolverine
Thor: The Dark World
2014 Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
2015 Ant-Man

That's 26 solo hero movies, only one of which stars a female hero (Elektra, 2005, which was reportedly a terrible movie). Twenty-five male-led superhero franchise movies. Twenty-five. If we just stick to the Avengers, there are nine. And is anyone seriously excited about an Ant-Man movie, starring serious asshole Hank Pym?

I get it. People love Loki because he's a giant woobie and Hiddles is cute and ridiculously talented. That doesn't earn him male-led movie number twenty-six.

The first page I linked to has links to petitions for a Loki movie and for a female-led superhero movie. The Loki petition currently (11:51 am 11/16) has 35,526 signatures. The female-led one? 275, and the hero on the cover is Sif.

Forty percent of the CIA's operatives are women. Black Widow is popular, though not as popular as Woobie-Destroyer-of-Worlds-Loki. A post which asks tumblr users to reblog if they think Black Widow should have a solo movie only has 3462 notes. This post, in which someone imagines a Black Widow trailer hijacking a "Loki" trailer has 29,500 notes, but humorous posts get a lot of notes on tumblr.

One popular reading of Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" was that it's Black Widow's movie, because she basically carries the story. If an ensemble movie starring a team of five (white) dudes and a lady (plus Coulson and Fury and Hill, but they're not The Avengers) is the best we can hope for a female hero movie, that is bullshit.

It's 2013. Movie studios no longer have the excuse that female-led action movies don't appeal to a broad audience (read: 18-25-year-old white males, who aren't even the biggest movie-going demographic, but that's another rant altogether). Strictly speaking, Sigourney Weaver (Alien) and Linda Hamilton (Terminator) proved them wrong back in the 80s, but this little movie about a girl named Katniss Everdeen, maybe you heard of it? The sequel's coming out this week? Yeah. And there are more. (Hanna. Oh god that movie.)

So why the fuck NOT have a Black Widow solo movie, where she's leaving the KGB and coming to work for SHIELD? Give me Natalia Romanova or Natasha Romanoff, spying, kicking ass, infiltrating, and being a goddamn HBIC. Or, if Hollywood requires a man in action movies because of bullshit reasons, I would settle for Clint and Natasha being snarky and competent, spying and kicking ass together. Or even a "when Natasha met Clint and they had to learn to trust each other and work together" movie. And they never sleep together, because god can't we just have a movie about a man and a woman who are friends but not lovers?

There has been a massive discussion about inclusivity in media (comics, movies, novels, games) and in fandom, and how fandom isn't welcoming to people who aren't (straight) white men. Supporting Yet Another Movie About A (white) Dude does not promote inclusivity, does not welcome women into fandom.

Yes, I certainly enjoy looking at Chris Hemsworth's biceps and Chris Evans' pecs, and I can't deny that attractive male actors are a draw. But I don't want to BE Thor or BE Steve Rogers. They aren't characters I can identify with.

When I see Scarlett Johansson on screen as Black Widow, I see a character I could fantasize about being. I've said that I want to be Black Widow when I grow up. I can identify with her. In Iron Man 2, she's patronized. (and this version has even better commentary.) She's probably had to put up with a lot of that shit in her life, as a relatively diminutive woman.

So, in conclusion, women also watch action movies for escapism, and you should support a female-led MCU film (especially if it's Black Widow) before a Loki movie.

11 November 2013

Armistice Day

"Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

08 November 2013

Friday things and a grammar rant

I currently have two short stories out on submission, and I'm working on revising a third, which I'd like to get out by Thanksgiving, possibly. This is highly unusual, because I don't generally write short fiction. Also, it's distracting me from finishing my current novel in progress, so I want to get it out of the way.

People who don't understand the difference between forms of to be as linking verbs, as past continuous, and as passive voice need to learn their grammar again. "was" does not mean "OMG PASSIVE VOICE! DELETE! DELETE!" I've run into people pontificating about the perils of the passive and how "was" is a terrible verb recently who clearly have no idea what they're talking about, so here's a little help.

For example, "The sky was a beautiful, brilliant blue the morning the world ended" does not contain passive voice, despite the presence of "was." It connects the sky (subject) to a predicate adjective (blue). Not passive! Yay!

"I was sitting at the table, drinking coffee and reading the paper, when the world ended" also does not contain passive voice. This is an example of the past continuous (aka past progressive), which indicates two things that happen simultaneously or one that is interrupted by the other. Not passive! Yay!

"When the world was invaded, billions of people were killed" is passive voice! Twice! Yay! If you can follow the verb with "by zombies" or "by aliens" or "by a swarm of killer bees" and have it make sense, then you have passive voice. Otherwise, you have either a linking verb or past progressive.

The world was invaded by aliens == makes sense == passive voice.

The sky was a beautiful blue by aliens == wtf? == not passive voice.

I was sitting at the table by aliens == wtf? == not passive voice.

This has been your grammar rant of the day.

06 November 2013

Current anime season roundup

I'm watching a lot of shows this season. Let's see if I can remember them all for this post.

Valvrave the Liberator: Picking up where it left off in summer, Valvrave continues the story of the space colonist high school students who think they can be a real government and outwit the other governments made up of real politicians. I'm finding that I hate it less than last season, because the increasing levels of WTFery seem to have plateaued. I mean, once you have space vampires and space nazis, an evil space illuminati isn't that much of a stretch. Also, there's more L-elf, who is actually competent and knows what he's doing, and he's in charge. They also appear to be pandering to fangirls with L-elf and Haruto. Watch it on Crunchyroll.

Gingitsune: Gintaro is a fox spirit in a shrine. Makoto is the priestess (in training) at the shrine. She can see Gin and other holy spirits. Her father invites the son of his teacher's fellow student to live with them, and when Satoru arrives, a young fox spirit is with him. I think this show is a lot of fun, mainly because I want a sarcastic fox spirit with a giant floofy tail of my very own. Makoto has traits that remind me of Tohru from Fruits Basket (relentlessly cheerful; helpful, if clumsy). Watch it on Crunchyroll.

Gundam Build Fighters: Bandai & Sunrise made a show about building plastic model kits (plamo or gunpla), because they knew fanboys would eat that shit up and also buy their plastic model kits. The trick is that they handwaved a magic game system where people put their models and fight other people's models, and the fighter's strength is based on how good the model work is. I'm not making this up, I swear. This show is targeted at avid Gundam fans, and it includes mecha from all the series. I'll be happy if I can buy a GP-02 model kit because of this show, though I'm reminded of the large stack of gunpla I need to build...

Kill La Kill: Ryuko Matoi arrives at Honnouji Academy to find out who killed her father and stole the other half of his magic scissors. Honnouji is under the control of Satsuki Kiryuin, who is working to take over all of Japan and turn it into a weird fascist system. School council members get special uniforms that grant them superhuman abilities. Ryuko finds a special uniform under the ruins of her family home. It is very strange, and every episode has homages to old anime. It treads a fine line between self-awareness of the trope of female armor that isn't really armor and fanservice pandering. (I think it falls slightly on the self-aware side.) Watch it on Crunchyroll.

Samurai Flamenco: Model and sentai-show fan Masayoshi Hazama decides to put on a costume and become a vigilante. He meets police officer Hidenori Goto, who tries to convince him to give it up and let the pros handle it. Hazama doesn't listen. He befriends an idol singer who is also a sentai-show fan, and she teams up with him. It's very silly. Watch it on Crunchyroll.

04 November 2013

Book review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards #1) by Scott Lynch

Locke Lamora, as you may guess from the title, is a liar. He's very good at it, as a matter of fact, and he uses his skill at lying to separate rich fools from their money.

His little band of thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards, steals for the funsies. They don't know what to do with all the money they've amassed. They can't spend it, because Capa Barsavi, the mafioso-like head of the thieves' underworld, thinks they're just a little outfit set up in a fake temple. And, aside from that, stealing from the nobility is against the thieves' code.

A man styling himself the Grey King comes into Camorr, and he starts killing thieves. Locke finds himself entangled in the Grey King's plotting, much to his dismay.

Locke gets in way over his head, thanks to his own hubris. Very Greek, really.

Lynch's skill here is making Locke, someone you really wouldn't want to meet in person, unless you're joining his merry band, a protagonist the reader can root for. Locke is clever and witty, and his oversized personality sucks the reader in.

Lynch also manages to make not-strictly-linear storytelling work. The background of Locke's childhood, and why the Thiefmaker sold him to Father Chains, what his big sin was, is revealed at a pace that works to further the main plot. One section of plot is told in almost reverse chronological order, something like M-W-L-X-K-Y-J-Z-H-I. It seems overly complicated when I type it out like that, but it isn't at all in the book. And it's absolutely the right decision for the story.

If you enjoyed Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books, you will probably enjoy this. I haven't yet read the next two installments (have you seen my to-read pile?), but I intend to.

01 November 2013

Photo Friday

My 15-year college reunion was fun. I got to see my friends and the new things on campus. The leaves were turning, so the mountains were really pretty.

I'd forgotten just how beautiful and how depressing central Pennsylvania is. Driving on the highway in the mountains and seeing clouds casting shadows on the ground below, or on the next ridge over. The comforting feeling of being in a valley. The isolation and loneliness of rural life.

I grew up in Frederick, MD, back when it was an army base, a college, and a bedroom community for Bethesda. It's grown a lot since then, and badly. There's only so far you can widen roads, especially when public transit isn't on the table. My route north took me through there, and I hadn't been back in a few years, since my mom moved away.

The Blue Ridge Mountains were always part of my life. They were always just off to the west a bit, on the horizon. Where I live now, I'm nowhere near close enough to see them. The Piedmont is an hour or two west, the Blue Ridge another hour beyond that. I miss that.

I was hit with a wave of unexpected nostalgia when I went to campus to pick up my registration materials, so I took a walk. I always loved wandering campus at night.
Ellis Hall
Ellis Hall, the student union and cafeteria
von Liebig Science Center
The Justus von Liebig Center for Science (this didn't exist when I was a student!)
von Liebig theater
The von Liebig theater, attached to the old theater (this is also new)
north campus
A look from central campus toward the northern residence halls
Founders Hall
Founders Hall, expanded and renovated since I graduated

I took a drive out to the expanded field station, on land leased from the Army Corps of Engineers at Raystown Lake (which the ACE built). I'd never gone as a student, so I took this opportunity. Biology students can live out here for a semester, take classes, and do research. The new lodges and the main building are LEED certified, and they have composting toilets. Very eco-friendly.