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Honolulu Trip

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We recently went to Honolulu, specifically Waikiki, for a five day vacation.

Now, I’ve always wanted to go to Hawaii, but never once considered Waikiki. It’s too busy, right? But Chris had a few friends who liked going there, so we looked into it. And we’re always on the lookout for places that might be fun to move to, especially now that San Francisco rent is so crazy. (People kept saying, “But Hawaii is so expensive!” I wanted to laugh. Or cry.)

So, over the years I have refined our method of travel and visiting.

1) Use a good airline. Get decent seats, even if that means paying a bit more. (Avoid going crazy with this.) Not first class, unless for some reason it’s cheap. But a bit of an upgrade is a lot better for us than being uncomfortable for hours. I also get a lot of work done on planes.

2) Stay someplace with a nice view. Doesn’t have to be fancy, but looking outside while we talk about our plans and what we’ve seen is good.

3) Pick out a few neighborhoods to visit. Locate walkable sections using Walkscore.com or Yelp.com. Take local transportation there, walk around, visit cafes and shops and restaurants. Transit back.

This method has been foolproof in many cities. Even Los Angeles, where everyone told me the transit was terrible, and I was afraid it would be too hot and smoggy.

However, this method largely failed in Honolulu.

1) I booked through Hawaiian Airlines, which is a nice airline, and has nice planes. However, I booked a package deal, including the hotel, which meant that my seat requests didn’t show up on the airline’s site. I have no idea why. I panicked and requested some (further back) seats on the way there, but on the way back I decided to let the request go through… and instead of what I asked for, we got put way in the back, where the plane is curved and narrow. Not good for my 6”4’ husband. I called and requested a seat change, which they assured me would go through, just talk at the airport. Person at the airport saw the request but said we couldn’t have those seats. ARGH. So we upgraded to the “Premier seating” ($40 each) which is right behind First Class. And that turned out to be great! We will do that in the future.

2) After a lot of waffling about the tradeoffs between luxury, view, and cost, we settled on an oceantfront room the Waikiki Aston Circle.

The Aston Waikiki Circle. Isn’t it cute?

I’d seen pictures of the view, and it looked amazing. It was:

Waikiki Mosaic

Some of the views from our lanai.

However, I had not quite pieced together what it meant to have a window facing southwest, in the tropics.

For most of the afternoon we couldn’t have the curtains open at all.

Too much sun!

Well, no problem right? Who stays in their hotel room anyway?

3) There were a few problems with getting out to investigate neighborhoods. First, Waikiki is an isolated resort area. While a lot of busses come and go, and Honolulu has a great bus system, the traffic in Waikiki and nearby areas is horrendous, and the busses get very full. Though the locals were all extremely friendly, and the bus drivers unbelieveably cheerful, it still got time consuming and wearing to get around.

Ala Wai Canal, backside of Waikiki

Worse, though, was the sun. From 10 am to 6pm, we could not handle being out of the shade. Now, in the shade it was beautiful. Perfect temperature, constant breeze, great fresh air. Coming from San Francisco, neither of us was used to the heat and sun load. We did slather powerful sunscreen on, so managed to stay unburned, but it was still arduous. And Chris got sunburned ankles. ;)

Random Honolulu high-rise condos

The smart thing to do is just stay in the neighborhood (in the shade!), but we had plans, and we went out anyway. I did investigate a bunch of different neigborhoods, and met some Facebook friends. But every day we were exhausted by the end of it, and it took three days to recover when we got back.

Pearl Harbor

So, we definitely will go back, but with a different strategy. :)

Waikiki Sunset

Mirrored from Amberdine.

San Francisco Sky

sky

You know those time lapse videos with clouds blowing across the sky?  That’s a common event in San Francisco, and one my favorite things about the city.

I took a few videos and spliced them together. This is all taken with a mediocre cell phone camera, sorry, but it’s all played back in real time.

I get stuck at corners a lot, staring up at the sky.

Mirrored from Amberdine.

An Unexpected Benefit of Goal Setting

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I try not to go on about it too much, because I don’t want to be one of those people. But I really like goal setting, and I think everyone should try it. There are lots of books and resources on the subject — my favorite is Brian Tracy — but the basic premise is pretty much the same everywhere.

That’s not what I am going to talk about, though. Most people just think of goals as a way to get what you want, which — fair enough. That is the purpose. But there are other notable benefits too. I remembered my favorite benefit when reading Amy Sundburg’s recent post It Is Okay To Say No.

Let me tell you, I used to be the wimpiest, most people-pleasing, afraid-to-be-contrary person in the world. Seriously. I used to wake my mother up at night for permission to use the toilet. (She finally got fed up and told me that YES, I am allowed to use the bathroom ANY TIME I NEED.) I couldn’t say no to anyone for anything, though that wasn’t as much as a problem as you’d think, because my belief and subsequent crippling anxiety over how everyone surely hated me meant I rarely went outside or talked to anyone.

Yeah, pretty pathetic. Life got better and I got better but I still was nervous about what people thought and couldn’t be contrary… until I got into setting goals. Because once I had my goals, I had a clear idea of what I wanted and at least a clue how I’d go about getting there. And you know what? What random people think of me has no effect whatsoever on whether I will achieve my goals. And saying no, when appropriate, is easy. I have an exact concrete reason why I cannot do something: it does not contribute to my goals.

Now, this doesn’t mean I’m some kind of ruthless selfish freak (I hope). My particular goals often involve trying to be more generous and helpful, but when I choose to do something along those lines, it’s planned. Not just acting because I want to manipulate people’s reactions.

So, are any of you interested in goal setting? What resources do you use? I am always looking for new tips!

Mirrored from Amberdine.

Songs out of Context

peony

The other day I was riding back home from Costco in a cab (like you do, when you don’t have a car…) and the radio started playing OneRepublic’s Good Life. The DJ talked about what a happy song it was and I thought… well, sure sort of, if you take it out of context and don’t listen to it very closely. Because it’s from an album that tells a story, and this song, while not the lowest point, is not honestly happy either.

I mean, aren’t these lyrics at the beginning a little creepy?

Woke up in London yesterday.
Found myself in the city near Piccadilly.
Don’t really know how I got here.
I got some pictures on my phone.

I love albums that tell stories. This is the story in Waking Up, as far as I’m able to interpret it:

  1. Made For You - “Everybody wants you to make it; it’s all yours [...] Can you feel all the love? Like it was made for you.” An artist decides he’s destined for success and embarks on a career.
  2. All the Right Moves - “I know we got it good, but they got it made [...] They got all the right moves in all the right places, so yeah, we’re going down.” Reality sets in. There’s a lot of competition, and there are more talented, better connected artists out there.
  3. Secrets - “Thought you saw me wink? No, I’ve been on the brink so tell me what you want to hear. Something that will light those ears. [...] I’m going to give all my secrets away.” Time to get some publicity through scandalous confessions.
  4. Everybody Loves Me - “Flashes in my face now. All I know is everybody loves me.” Stardom achieved!
  5. Missing Persons 1 & 2 - “I wonder where you are?” Except that someone important has been forgotten in the climb to fame…
  6. Good Life - Now we get to this supposedly happy song. Artist has decided to not worry about this missing person and enjoy this new life of fame, even if it’s all kind of a blur, and all his “friends” are strangers.
  7. All This Time - “I don’t know what day it is, I had to check the paper. I don’t know the city, but it isn’t home. [...] Straight in a straight line, running back to you.” It’s New Years Eve, and the artist realizes it’s time to go home to the person he loves, and pay attention to what really matters.
  8. Fear - “No sleep today. Can’t even rest when the sun’s down.” Of course, the idea of going back and facing real life at this point is difficult.
  9. Waking Up - “We don’t lose. We might bruise.” Determination to change, but realizing that it’s going to hurt.
  10. Marching On - “There’s so many wars we fought. There’s so many things were not. But with what we have I promise you that we’re marching on.” The real happy song on this album. Back with the one he loves and determined to make a life together. Not the waking up drunk in strange cities song!
  11. Lullaby - “As the night comes in, dreams start their drifting and you hear a lullaby. You and I.” Happily Ever After. <3

What albums do you like that tell stories?

Mirrored from Amberdine.

Testing a cross poster…

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Because maybe if I get the cross poster actually working I will post more. (FWIW, I have no intention of abandoning LJ, I just want to give people who aren’t members an ad-free option for reading.)

 

Hi.

Mirrored from Amberdine.

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The Hipster on the Bus

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[Also posted to my new wordpress blog, but I haven't got around to setting up the cross poster thingy yet.]



The other day I was riding the Fillmore 22 bus, headed for the Mission district. It was a weekend, late afternoon, and a group of hipsters boarded, two tipsy girls, one outright drunk guy. The guy almost hit the floor when the bus took off, but one of the girls caught him. Not that you have to be drunk to have that problem — only not holding on. But all sober people know to hold on!

Eventually the bus cleared and they all found seats, and began to talk. It was both sad in the way that means pathetic, and sad in the way which is actually sorrowful. Because poor drunk hipster couldn’t figure out why his friends didn’t stick with him. Why did they talk about him behind his back? Couldn’t they see he was worthwhile? After all, he put a lot of work into his look. People shouldn’t be so superficial to judge him just because his sense of style didn’t exactly match up with theirs.

One of the girls assured him that no, those other so-called-friends were fools. They didn’t appreciate his sense of fashion. He really DID look cool. Anyone could see it.

It is possible I facepalmed at this moment, but I don’t think anyone noticed.

LASIK

sky
Six weeks ago, I had LASIK vision correction done.

Since fourth grade, or so, I've been badly nearsighted. I don't know what my actual vision ranked at, it was in the "worse than 20/400" category with significant astigmatism at the pre-op exam. I know several people who have had the procedure, but I never heard it described much, so I thought maybe it would be interesting to share.



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Result: right now, I have 20/20 or better vision, which continues to improve. Decreased tear production still interferes a little bit with making out very small text, but I've been assured that will clear up over time.  Overall, I'm very pleased!
angels

I've been reading the posts at We are the 99 Percent and watching the Occupy Wall Street protests in fascination. While a lot of this is probably going to sound pretty heartless, I do have sympathy for the protestors. Most of them are in terrible predicaments, which will be very hard if not impossible to get out of. But none of them seem to have any idea how they wound up that way, or whose fault it is.


And that's the thing -- it's not really anyone's fault. Not even the rich people. It's an entirely natural consequence of the kind of economy we have, and a bunch of these weak spots breaking at the same time.

Here's the general principle: any time the cost for a product is dissociated in time or direct payment from the consumer who chooses that product, the price will rise, unchecked by normal market forces.

Currently-relevant examples:

  • Housing, when paid by loans.
  • College education, when paid by loans.
  • Medical expenses, when paid by insurance.

I was working for a real estate attorney in an expensive suburb when the housing boom was going on. Every day we boggled over the loans people were getting. How can buyers believe they can pay this much? How can banks be stupid enough to give out these loans? What is going to happen when this all falls apart?


We all saw: near worldwide financial collapse. And while banks are greedy, heartless bastards as a rule, it wasn't like this was their intent. It was just that people, banks, and builders all found a way to optimize that system to leak the most money. 


The same thing has been happening with college loans. You need a degree to get a good job, right? So it's worth going into debt. And if every student can get a guaranteed loan to pay any sort of tuition… what's to stop those tuition rates from rising forever? Unlimited demand! Unlimited money! Private schools with clever marketing pop up, and state school see an easier way than taxes to make a few dollars. And now it seems like everyone goes to an expensive college, winds up with a ton of debt, and can't get a decent job.


And finally, the big one: medical insurance. This is a double whammy, because you do pay for it before you receive anything, so if anything, people are motivated to get something for their money. Often the more expensive something is, the more desirable it is to the consumer, because the hated insurance company has to pay for it. 


None of these were organized eville big money schemes to shaft the middle class, working class, or poor. They're just natural consequences of things that were a good idea at the time, but under-regulated and taken advantage of for so long, have spiraled out of control. Without financing/insuring big-expense items, only the rich could buy houses or go to college or get serious medical care. No one wants that. 


The problem is simple and unavoidable: people. Given the chance, almost everyone will take advantage of a situation. If they can pay less for something than it's worth, or get paid more for a job than the value they're contributing, or defer payment, or get something for free… well, who passes that up? And when enough people behave that way, the whole system falls apart.


The guys on Wall Street -- the "top 1%" -- had enough luck, starting capital, and savvy to situate themselves on the side of the equation where the money flows, and avoid the building-up-debts side. While increasing taxes on the wealthy is completely reasonable given the amount of government debt, it isn't going to fix the problems of those protesting. 


I don't know a viable governmental solution. I'm afraid life is going to suck for a lot of people for a very long time. 


Recent Reading

angels
I keep telling myself I'll post a thorough review of everything I read, but I seem to read a lot faster than I post. So instead I'll settle for some quick comments on the latest books.

The Fabric of the Cosmos, Brian Greene
I saw that Greene's latest had just come out, so I figured I should read this first. As always, Greene is excellent at using examples and metaphors to explain extremely complicated subjects. This time he takes on the nature of space and time, the origins of the universe, and the underlying reality of matter, now informed by recent discoveries in cosmology.

Unfortunately, I've done some real study since reading his first book, so this wound up feeling remedial and boring. And I'm still not sold on string theory, his favorite. But for someone who wants to get an understanding of what quantum mechanics and relativity mean, without doing all the heavy math lifting, no one explains it better than Greene. Now with Simpsons characters in all examples, for that extra serious touch!


A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge
Yay, for epic science fiction! I'd been saving this as a treat. :)

This is set in a universe where the speed of light is no longer a limit in certain regions of space. The farther away from a galactic core you get, the faster space ships and signals can travel. So civilizations in the outer regions become extremely advanced, right up until they point they reach singularity and become gods.

Out near the realm of the gods, some humans undertook some ill-advised archaeology, dug up and reactivated a malevolent godlike being. They fled, but only one ship escaped, carrying some children in suspended animation and a secret which may be the only thing which can stop the being which is quickly destroying every advanced civilization it contacts.

The story shifts between various sects of the pack-intelligence aliens on the world where the escaping ship landed, a few surviving humans (and allies) headed out to try to retrieve it, and usenet-type messages discussing, misinterpreting, and acting on events. It's a big, complicated book and I liked it a lot, though the ending wasn't quite as spectacular as A Deepness in the Sky.

One interesting detail -- the Kindle version includes hyperlinks to revision notes, both from the author, his editor, and some other people whose initials I couldn't identify.


Jesus of Nazareth, Parts One and Two, Pope Benedict XVI

A fascinating pair of books -- I've never read anything like them. Possibly why they already very busy Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict took the time to write.

The author takes gospel events, assumes them to be essentially factual, puts them in historical context and uses what we know of the era, cultures, and languages to tease out what actually happened, and what that means for Christians. Reading was sometimes tough going -- following the meaning of a specific word through several pages of analysis is not a skill I've kept up lately.

He insists that this is not a magisterial document. He's not teaching or declaring anything -- it's just a scholarly investigation, but it sure is amazing reading. Looking forward to the next volume.


The Immortality Virus, Christine Amsden

I know Christine from Codex, and this had just been released and was on sale when I was looking for my next book, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Good choice.

In a world where people mysteriously stopped aging a few hundred years ago, Grace has been hired to find the guy who may have caused it. But looking for him means that everyone wants to find her, now, either to stop her, or get whatever information she's collected. Fast paced, interesting, good characters, clean style. Very fun read.


From Words to Brain, Livia Blackburne

A short essay on what our brains are doing when we read. Interesting, though I'm not sure I can do much with the information. Was hoping for a little more in the way of tools than just info.


Starve Better, Nick Mamatas

Various collected essays from nihilistic_kid. Includes one of of his best LJ posts ever. Loved this, though I never write non-fiction and rarely write short stories. Still lots of fun with useful advice. Writing books are always better with professional wrestling metaphors.

Remood Playlist

sky
Like many people, under prolonged stress or adverse hormones I can slide into a depression, and it's hard to get back out. Even when I'm fully aware that I'm just experiencing a brain hiccup, the depression itself takes away all motivation to do anything substantive to feel better.

I've found a trick that works most of the time. Maybe it'll be useful to share.

I get very involved with music and I have an enormous library of songs. I've put together a playlist with a sequence of songs to gradually adjust my mood, and since I can shift slowly enough, as long as I'm enjoying what I'm listening to my emotions will generally go along with it. This doesn't always work, but probably 90% of the time.

So here's what the list looks like, with just a few sample songs (my actual playlists are usually much longer, even many hours long):

First set of songs feature pure misery and despair, so I have no trouble identifying.
["King of Pain" by The Police, "Bother" by Stone Sour]

Shift to angry songs. Not a big step in mood.
["Ugly" The Exies, "Thoughtless" by Korn]

Follow that with with defiant songs. Again, it's not a big change.
["Defy You" by The Offspring, "I Will Not Bow" by Breaking Benjamin, "Do you Call My Name" by Ra]

Once I've shifted entirely from angry to defiant (it's a spectrum) shift from defiant to aggressive/arrogant/confident songs.
["This is War" by 30 Seconds To Mars, "Noise" by Tokio Hotel, "Maybe" by Sick Puppies]

And clearly, once I'm all the way to arrogant and confident, it's not too hard to start slipping a little hope in there.
["Kill Your Heroes" by AWOLNATION, "Iridescent" by Linkin Park, "Long Forgotten Sons" by Rise Against]

Finally ease into some outright hopeful and happy songs.
["Hope" by Anything Box, "Unputdownable" by De/Vision, "Elevator" by House of Heroes]

I don't know if this concept is useful to anyone else, but I figured it couldn't hurt to share. If you're interested in a sequence like this and you don't know what songs to use, let me know what sort of music you prefer and I can probably come up with some examples.

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San Francisco Trip Report

sky
A trip report in small (if numerous) bites: [FOGcon report here if that's what you're looking for.]

My TSA "pat down" was more like being petted. Kind of relaxing, actually.

San Francisco is the happiest, friendliest city I have thus far encountered.

I believe the lack of grumpiness must be because of the hills, at least in part. I myself got grumpy for a while, but after two hills I couldn't manage to hold onto it.

The near universal wardrobe of SF is this: blue jeans, practical shoes (usually running shoes), layered tee-shirts, and over it all a hoodie and/or shell, plus casual, unsyled hair. I finally found someplace I fit in. :D

At one point (due to Lenten fasting) I almost asked the person picking our dinner restaurant to make sure it had vegetarian options. Then I remembered where I was.

The Exploratorium is way neat and full of cool things to play with. The exterior is gorgeous and utterly incongruous with the interior.

The interior of the Exploratorium:


The exterior of the Exploratorium, otherwise known as "The Palace of Fine Art":


Inside the Exploratorium is something called The Tactile Dome. This is a large geodesic dome with an obstacle course-like route through it, which, after paying a small fee and getting an appointment, you and a small group of friends can try to make your way through. Oh, and it's in complete darkness.

Inside the Tactile Dome, I was convinced several times that my weak noodley arms were not going to pull me up the steep, slippery tube, or up the wobbly net, and that my giant butt was not going to fit through several narrow openings and twisty passages, but I made it through. Twice. With a lot of giggling.

Inside the triple-masted cargo ship Balclutha it smells like tar and salt and wood, which is not unpleasant. All the rooms and passages are as small as they can possibly be, and the stairs really are incredibly narrow and steep. By contrast, the cargo holds were huge. All the doorways are raised, so you have to step up and over to get inside, which totally makes sense, but I never thought of it.



Every member of Chris's family called or texted him on Friday morning to warn him about the tsunami. Like the city wouldn't have any provisions for that kind of thing, and we need notification from Illinois.

Thanks to my requesting (and paying a small amount extra for) an upgraded hotel room, and that upgraded room turning out to be the place where a contractor needed access to do construction, we wound up in the hotel's penthouse suite.



San Fransciso is not that architecturally interesting, at a distance, compared to Chicago. Still, we were consistently delayed an hour every morning as we got stuck looking out the windows.



You wouldn't think that I'd have one of my frequent "where the heck am I again?" moments while walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, but you'd be wrong.

The Golden Gate Bridge is very pretty, really long, and full of deafening traffic noise. And there's nothing for pedestrians on the other side but a lookout point and some grubby bathrooms. Not even a vending machine. Like Gary Kloster (who walked with us) said, that's just un-American.



There was a huge concentration of hipsters going to and from the Golden Gate Bridge. Why? Posing for their indie band's album covers? I do not understand it.

If you're wearing frictionless pants, don't sit in the last sideways-facing seat on the bus. Between the jerky acceleration of the electric-powered motor, and the hills, it was a constant struggle not to hit the floor. Or that poor old lady's lap.

It is totally possible to write a complete story in an hour, and I have the notes on how to do it.

At FOGcon I got to play Ophelia in a Hamlet-themed LARP. And I won. :)

In San Francisco, things like "peace" and "love" were occasionally scratched in to sidewalks, but Oakland has the most impressive graffiti I've ever seen.

Made friends with a former fighting pit bull, currently in therapy. Was a mite nervewracking until she warmed up to me, but once she did, I felt really safe! *g*

Chris wound up on TV again, but at least this time he wasn't walking three four girls on leashes.

Chinatown was a fabulous juxtaposition of cheap tourist crap, utterly beautiful art and antiques, stores which look like they're selling herbs (but I'm pretty sure were actually pharmacies), dive-y little restaurants, and Chinese-esque architecture. I especially liked the Oriental-styled Wells Fargo.

One of the Chinese herb/pharmacies had a whole display which, well, I think those were probably roots of some kind, but… it sure looked like bushel after bushel of dried poop.

I was unable to find pandan ice cream, so New York's Chinatown still wins in that regard. :( I did find egg custard tarts, though, which makes up for a lot!

Was a fun trip. :)

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FOGcon 1, some thoughts

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FOGcon Report

(This is just about the convention, not the trip.)

It's hard to separate a convention from its location, its venue, and the people who attend it, because all those factors contribute. Especially since this was the first FOGcon, it's even harder to tease out which parts of my experience were the essentials of the convention. But I'll give it a try.

I liked the "Cities" theme a lot. I even attended a couple panels (one on cities, one on writing) which is more than my usual tally of no panels at all. I might even had hit three if I hadn't been out Sunday enjoying a visit with purdypiedad. Both the panels I saw were great, Pat Murphy's special presentation "write a story in an hour" especially so. Other people seemed positive about the panels they were on or attended, so I think the convention clearly was a win in the panel department. I also took part in the Hamlet-themed LARP that was offered, and that was great fun. :)

The "Honored Guests" (I never learned why they're not called "Guests of Honor") were a mix, for me. Pat Murphy is very friendly and completely awesome. The Vandermeers seemed standoffish, as I couldn't get either of them to even make eye contact so I could say hi, and they didn't seem to mingle outside of con staff and maybe a group of prior friends. (But that was only my very limited experience, and I've been wrong before!)

The convention was well run, well organized. Everything happened on time, clearly marked, and in the location specified. (You'd be surprised how often that's not the case…) The consuite was great. The dealers room looked like a normal, well-filled dealers room like you'd find at any convention that's been running for decades.

I thought the hotel was fine, but I was a guest there, and outside the convention itself, probably the guest who gave them the most money with a 7-night stay in an upgraded room, so they treated me well. Also, I don't care much about hotel wifi, as I'm used to having to bring my conectivity with me, and I use a vacation as an excuse to ignore it. :p The panel spaces and other convention rooms seemed perfect. The fact that the bar was hardly ever open was INSANE… and will lead to one of my bigger complaints, but I'm not sure where the fault is, there.

Just a few gripes...Collapse )
Specific good things:

Con suite with good food and drink, including the one thing I can live on indefinitely: Clif Bars. Also home made convention-themed beer, lots of both diet soda and fizzy water. Also a magical Rice Krispie bar fairy, who always kept the snack table stocked with exactly three bars. (I want that fairy.) And a big patio!

The location. I thought the location was perfect, both being in San Francisco, and being in that neighborhood of San Francisco. Great restaurants, great transit options, not too touristy. Whole Foods half a block away.

And, a notable feature of the location: the people! I loved talking with a whole bunch of people who are locals, including various of Shannon's co-workers and the charming nihilistic_kid. Also, the ordinary hotel guests seemed to think that the convention was really cool, not the usual reaction of strange-bordering-on-scary.

Overall, I think it was a good convention. I assume the best parts will continue, and the less than optimal aspects will improve.

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Spoiled.

angels
I spent the afternoon writing, seated in the comfy leather chair in the sunny window of a coffee shop. I ate lemon cake and sipped a ginormous matcha smoothie. At twilight a huge flock of crows came out and circled... well, the AT&T store across the street, then headed off to roost wherever it is they spend the night. It was gorgeous.

Soon I'm headed off to have incredibly good tapas.

I'm so spoiled. :-/

A Catholic Whine

angels
I think there might be as many as three people here who even understand what I'm complaining about, but anyway.

I have spent almost all of my Catholic life in the Diocese of Peoria, which is, I believe, one of the best in the country. I can't think of anything improper I've seen in any parish there in the nearly 20 years I've been around that area.

Now, though, I'm spending a lot more time in the Chicago area. The nearby church is... I don't know, a third of a mile away? Easily walkable, which I thought was going to be GREAT! But instead it's so lame it's driving me bananas. The tabernacle is off in some other wing where I can't even see it. There's no crucifix visible, just... houseplants... behind the altar.

I am mildly tempted to join whatever committee has determined the church decor and suggesting adding maybe, I don't know, a fish tank to liven things up. Or kittens. C'mon, nothing says the love of God like kittens, amiright?!

*sigh*

Equally frustrating, they have what is easily the best choir I have ever heard, anywhere. I've been to cathedrals on Easter which did not come close to an ordinary Sunday here, performance-wise. But of course they're singing the most inane hymns I've ever encountered. When I would normally be singing, I'm instead gawking at the lyrics wondering where they even find this quality of drivel. (And I am by no means picky. The usual sappy hymns heard all over the USA are fine with me.)

Not sure what to do. I probably have six more months here, at least. If the weather wasn't so abysmal it'd be a lot easier to go further afield, but for the duration of winter at least, I guess I have to cope. Bleh.

Some people have resolutions

sky
I have a scarf.



I finished knitting it last night, so I figure this is officially The Scarf of 2011.

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Why We Get Fat -- Review

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As mentioned on Twitter a while back, I recently got this book to review, and thought it might be of interest to some of my friends here.

Why We Get Fat, and What To do About It


I have been waiting for a book written from this angle for years. The "standard" theory of weight management is so simplistic it isn't of much help. Sure, people gain weight because they eat more than they burn, duh. Why does this imbalance exist? Why does it happen to some people and not others? Why is obesity on the rise? Why is it so hard to fix?

Saying that people are more slothful and gluttonous nowadays, while common, does not seem to be a reasonable answer, not when the weight gain is happening so fast, is so widespread, and occurring even to infants.

Gary Taubes has been pursuing the answers to these questions for a while. First, he presents evidence that the calories-in/calories-out model is fundamentally flawed. In animals, including humans, it appears that bodies set an internal standard for how much fat should be maintained and where it goes. Attempts to influence this value through changing caloric intake or activity might be temporarily successful, but they won't last. Gary presents ample evidence from history, scientific research, and population studies to prove his point.

So what's the cause of obesity, then? In some people it may just be genetic. Overall, though it looks like carbohydrates and sugar are the culprits. The author explains the effect that carbohydrate intake has on blood insulin levels, and the effect insulin has on fat stores. None of this biochemistry is debated at all, but there seems to be a glaring disconnect between the science of hormone signaling and theories of diet and weight loss.

To further prove his point, Gary next analyzes various diets and how successful they have been. In the end, it seems that a low carbohydrate diet is the best choice for weight loss, diabetes/insulin resistance, and overall health, *but* he warns, it hasn't been exhaustively tested long term yet. Initial tests are very promising though, showing improved blood lipids, and the most significant weight loss. A quick sample diet is provided in the appendix.

This is not a diet or weight loss book. This is an inquiry into why people get fat, starting without preconceived notions. As such, I think it's extremely valuable. This is a crucial subject, and the current set of theories and advice do not seem to be helping people much.

Which is not to say that I agreed 100% with the author. He has his theory and he pursues it fully, with the best evidence he can find. That's fine, but I noticed a few gaps. For one, just because the body has an idea how big its ideal fat stores should be, doesn't mean that people can't essentially force-feed themselves by eating beyond what hunger would dictate. Restaurant portions and addictive snacks are likely culprits in obesity too. See The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite for information on that.

Exercise, too, is dismissed as useless for weight loss. I agree that it's not effective for mere calorie burning. Appetite will counteract any deficit achieved. But exercise, especially long or high-intensity aerobic exercise uses up carbohydrates. And thus, by his theory regular aerobic exercise should have a similar effect to eating a low-carbohydrate diet. (I have read studies where this appears to be the case.)

Still, I think this is a fabulous book despite the occasional blind spot. If you are interested in the biology behind weight regulation, this is a must read.

[Originally posted to Amazon.com]

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World Fantasy 2010

peony
The good and the bad, with a minimum of name dropping.

Good:
All the people I get to talk to. The Codex presence was huge. And new people! New awesome people! General hanging out, silliness and parties. Occasional bits of insight into both the art and business of writing stories.

The Hyatt hotel was pretty nice. The quality was good and the service very friendly if notably overwhelmed by all of us. Which I found strange -- is this not the big hotel connected to a giant convention center? Do you never get a bunch of guests all at once? Dunno.

I didn't get out into Columbus at all, so I can't comment on it as a convention locale, except to say that I got to finally meet ccfinlay! He's too busy to travel to other conventions, but since this WFC was local, he could stop by. He's so fun and charming! raecarson is a lucky, lucky girl. I think all conventions should be held in Columbus from now on. ;)


view of the Big Bar on 2 from above

Bad:
This is the problem with WFC. It's you over there in a cluster of people. I know you, I like you, and we don't get to talk much in person. But… I also know you've got career considerations. Is that an important business discussion you're engaged in? Are you making a connection with someone new and important? I can't tell; I'm not going to interrupt. Maybe I'll say hi in the hall or the elevator or the dealer's room if I get a chance, but if you don't come over to me, it's not going to happen, not at WFC. (At WisCon you're fair game though, hah.)

I'm sad, because the weekend goes by and we never get a chance to talk. Maybe you're busy, or you didn't see me. Maybe you're thinking the same thing I am. It's not as if I don't have my own cluster of people around. Still, it would've been fun to catch up with you.

Also, I didn't drink enough water while preparing for the con, traveling, or on the first day, so by Friday night I developed a kidney stone. If I seemed cranky and obsessed with finding things to drink Friday night/Saturday morning, that's why.

Are you your own boss?

peony
Check out cathshaffer's list to see if maybe you're a bit too easy on yourself. It's amusing in its PAINFUL TRUTHINESS. Ow.

Like a real boss wouldn't totally understand that I stayed up too late last night and need a nap today. As if!

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Review: Mockingjay

sky
This is the first time anyone (hi, missy_chan!) has actually awaited a review of mine, and here I am being all slow. I'm having a hard time. It's tough to review the third book in a series, and it's hard to say anything useful and still avoid spoilers.

First off: if you've read the first two books, for goodness sake, YES, read Mockingjay. This isn't like Lost (which I never watched) where viewers eagerly awaited the ending only to be so disappointed they wish they never stated watching at all. While people might quibble about details, Mockingjay is definitely a worthwhile ending. And if you've been holding off on the series to see if the ending was any good, you may now safely commence reading.
Contains potential spoilers only for the first booksCollapse )
As for the series as a whole: I thought it was very well written and quite enjoyable. But if you want a realistic science fiction novel THIS IS NOT IT. This is a greek myth made into a young adult novel. The superficial trappings of SF are used to create the setting, but the setting's purpose is solely to amplify the peril and the moral questions of the plot, not to extrapolate anything. I happen to think that's a perfectly reasonable use for science fiction, but there are lots of passionate readers who will not agree. If you want your SF realistic, please do yourself a favor and skip it.

Finally… I keep wondering how they're ever going to make a movie which is true to the books and yet not so loaded with graphic violence that it's unwatchable.

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About that set of books everyone's reading

peony
I feel a (probably inappropriate) connection to the Hunger Games / Catching Fire / Mockingjay trilogy, because I really was the first one, at least of people I know, to read them.

When I got my invitation to the Vine program, this weird out-of-the-blue thing from Amazon, I had no idea what to expect. I accepted the invite and filled out my demographics and interests. A day or so later I got a link to a page with a long list of books to choose from. I could take two.

I didn't realize the whole mechanics of the program yet, I just knew there was this big list of FREE BOOKS. In retrospect, I should've expected that there wouldn't be anything familiar on the list. Vine books are always ARCs or prerelease copies of books publishers felt will benefit from promotion. Famous old bestsellers are not going to show up there.

Wasn't so much as a crumb of SF or F on the list. I was sad. Buuuuut. There was YA. And this one YA sounded awfully SFnal. Sure it sounded incredibly lame and stupid, too, but at least it was SF! That was The Hunger Games. I read it, loved it, posted my review, and recommended it whenever appropriate. So do publishing phenomenons begin.

(Got a review copy of Catching Fire, too. Nobody, of course, got an advance version of Mockingjay.)

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Emiquon

sky
Today we had to drive a ways to handle an errand, and decided to detour a little and see how Emiquon is coming along.

Emiquon is a gigantic new nature reserve occupying the floodplains along the Illinois river. It's still under heavy development, reclaiming the habitat. It used to be the biggest farm in the world, corn as far as you could see, surreal in how flat the land was, and how uniformly the stalks grew. I remember visiting the area as a child, and in the fall dozens of immense harvesters ran back and forth all day and all night.

I hadn't heard about Emiquon before I saw it. On another drive through the area, a few years ago, the huge farm was mysteriously unplanted. We asked what was going on at a nearby museum and heard about the nature reserve, but back then it was just tens of thousands of acres of... weeds. Not very impressive.

Today, though, the levees have been dismantled somewhat, and the land is being carefully reclaimed. It's mostly underwater so the only way to see it all is by boat. It's so big that several highways run right through it, so our views were from the car. There's a hiking trail, but we didn't have time enough to detour that far -- will try to visit again soon, and I'll take some pictures.

Already, though, the wildlife diversity was amazing. Several waterfowl I've never seen before, huge flocks of swifts and dragonflies (good mosquitos out there, I guess.) Favorite amusing moment was the "Rare fish breeding habitat -- no fishing" sign. Apparently the egrets can't read. ;)

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Today's "What the heck, Amazon?" moment

peony
As some of you may know, I review stuff for Amazon through their Vine program. This means twice a month they provide me a list of stuff to pick from, I select a few things, and they send them to me (free) on the condition I eventually write a review for most of what I get.

On Thursday I chose a Brother All-in-One color fax/printer doohickey as one of my items.

And today it just arrived, via FedEx priority overnight, Saturday delivery.

O.o

Usually I get things two weeks later, kinda beat up, through the post office. Guess I better get right on this...!

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!!!!!

sky
Iris, my most favoritiest band ever, is coming out with a new album September 1st. They just released a video for the single, "Closer to Real."

Is there a way to put YouTube on loop? :D :D :D


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With apologies to all you humans

peony
I must introduce my new BFF:



It's not that I don't love you, it's that you don't make me awesome coffee in 30 seconds. Sorry.

(It's a Keurig B60.)

The Story Experience

lightning
I have a few new books on hand to read. Normally this would be a cause for much rejoicing, but instead I find myself reluctant to commit to the next one in the queue. I've been disappointed in the last bunch of novels I read, so it feels likely that I'm going to waste a day and be disappointed again. Meh.

Note that this is VERY UNUSUAL FOR ME. I am an utter book addict. I normally pick up the next book within about a minute of finishing the last one. I have to limit my supply of novels on hand, or my cat and husband will both die of neglect. I am not terribly picky. Really, any sort of basic fiction will do.

Where am I finding these disappointing books, then? I'm getting them for free (through Amazon) because the publishers think they're sure-fire awesome, and worth spending big money to give lots of ARCs away.

This leads me to believe that (at least certain) publishers have a vastly different idea of what makes a novel awesome than I do... and considering the number of highly successful books I've adored over the years, I'm disturbed.

These novels I've been reading are all literary SF/F, often debuts. They all show great voice, great settings, and a lot of fine detail. No question the authors are very talented.

Unfortunately, these novels are also convoluted, disgusting, and/or depressing. THIS IS NOT WHY I READ. I want to be thrilled and entertained and swept away. I don't want vivid descriptions of bodily fluids, no matter how much artistry is employed. I really, really don't.

Without any evidence at all, I suspect that this kind of writing is what really wakes up a poor, jaded, slush-reading publishing-person. And I totally get that... but... it's making this reader not want to read any more.

It seems like all the fun stories with heart have moved to the YA shelves.

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Singular

peony
Last night I spent a while browsing around for new music to buy. There's still one long-lost song I haven't found, so I poked around for leads. It's tricky, since I only know the era, genre, and feel of listening to it... not the name of the group or song.

Still didn't find it, but I did buy a song I hadn't been looking for. Listening to it immediately recalled a series of heartbreaking, bizarre, beautiful incidents -- one of which happened at a concert where I'd heard the song. I thought about how I'd like to tell someone, and realized that no one would be able to relate. Sure, people might understand once I explained, but that wasn't what I wanted. I wanted to share a "You remember when...?" But I don't think anyone does.

Most of my life is like that, which makes this whole creation-of-art thing complicated, and why I have to write highly-speculative SF/F. I don't have any idea what it's like to grow up with a parent around. Or go to school past 6th grade. Or have a normal job. But neither do I have anything in common with the people who might superficially share those attributes. And I'm not even touching on bigger issues like health and religion.

Don't take this wrong; I don't think I'm a special snowflake, or unique in any positive way. And everyone is absolutely individual. But it's probably time for me to accept that the past cannot be rewritten. I'm not going to somehow hop onto the "kinda normalish" track anytime soon. If anything, I keep diverging farther.

I suspect this means that, to get where I want to go, and be what I need to be, I can't keep trying to use typical methods. The past ten years were a total wash. I don't (yet) know what to try, but brute force "just be normal already" isn't working.

Which is true of everyone, really. We always have to find our own way.

Doh

lightning
A quick survey (and I'm only through March!) of this past year indicates that I'M AN IDIOT. Unrelated to the being-sick-all-the-time part.

Will try to rectify this idiocy in 2010. The nice thing about writing everything down is that my mental editing of the past doesn't undo the ink.

(More detail: there isn't any actual evidence that all my writing is hopeless, and I shouldn't even bother to submit stories. In fact, there is some indication to the contrary. It will continue to be near impossible to sell anything if I NEVER SUBMIT ANY STORIES, though.)

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Review: Child of Fire

peony
Originally posted on Amazon, but I like to share reviews of books I especially enjoyed or think people will be interested in. Also, how can I pass up the opportunity to embarrass burger_eater with flattery!! :D



Ray is just the driver. His boss Annelise hates him -- with good reason, it turns out. Together they ride in a crummy van, chasing after a signal given off by an instance of unauthorized magic. What they find turns out to be more horrific than Ray ever imagined possible, and he's well acquainted with horrific. He just got out of prison.

The pair follows the trail further to Hammer Bay, a small city in the Pacific Northwest, known for its improbably successful toy manufacturing. The city is crawling with multi-generation old secrets, corruption, and lethal magic.

The story is fast-paced, full of violence, drama, and occasional dark humor. I found Ray Lilly to be complex and sympathetic. He does the hard things that need doing, even as he regrets them. Over the course of the story we learn that both Ray and Annelise have complicated histories -- so much so, I almost felt like I was reading book two in a series, rather than the first volume.

Hints about the Twenty Palaces Society were even more tantalizing. They stamp out -- with extreme prejudice, it seems -- unauthorized magic use. Their zeal is appropriate, though. They're the only thing protecting the world from the constant threat of annihilation. Annelise, vastly powerful and nearly indestructible, is merely a junior member.

Except what lurks in Hammer Bay is too strong even for Annelise. Saving the world is left to Ray, who has only a little magical protection, a scrap of a spell, and a whole lot of street smarts.

Normally I don't read a lot of Urban Fantasy, because common tropes of the field (snarky heroines and sex with undead/demons/monsters) are pet peeves of mine, but I enjoyed this very much. I've seen a few other readers say this is too dark, but I honestly didn't find it that way, and I consider myself pretty sensitive. There are numerous novels where I can't get past the first page because they're so gross and brutal, and I had no trouble with CHILD OF FIRE at all. If you're wondering, try the sample chapter at the author's website. [ http://www.harryjconnolly.com/blog/?p=731 ] It's a good example of the tone throughout.

Overall, highly recommended for readers who like fiction that is action-packed, witty, and sophisticated.

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The past month or so, in pictures

sky
It all starts with a view from terminal 5 at JFK:


More pictures behind the cutCollapse )
Proper reports coming soon. :)

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Clarify Your Values

peony
Reviewing a book on goal setting, and I came across these paragraphs, which I find interesting:

There are some insightful ways to help determine your true values. First of all, you can look at your past. How have you behaved under pressure in the past? What choices did you make with your time and money when you were forced to choose? Your answers will give you an indication of your predominant values at that time.

Dale Carnegie once wrote, "Tell me what gives a person his greatest feeling of importance, and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life." What makes you feel important? What raises your self-esteem? What increases your sense of self-respect and personal pride? What have you accomplished in your past life that has given you the greatest sense of pride and satisfaction? These answers will give you good indications of your true values.


I... find myself having to do a lot of thinking to figure this out. What about you guys? Easy answers or tough?

[Quote from Goals! by Brian Tracy, which, although I have a print copy, I just discovered is available for free as an ebook from here (Requires newsletter signup.)]

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Okay, then!

sky
Today, in summary: walked seven miles, had a mango slurpee, and embarrassed myself! Up next: a cold shower.

Details:

First the embarrassment. We're at my Mother-in-Law's house. She's an attorney, and often when I'm here she has clients come to sign papers, so I can be a witness. One such client came today, a charming, intelligent older Spanish man. Some corrections had to be made and reprinted, so I chatted with him while that was done. Later, after the papers were signed he mentioned something about upcoming travel, which he wasn't thrilled about because of the Swine Flu.

Mother-in-Law asked him some details, and we all discussed flu pandemics and in particular the relationship between the current flu and the 1918 strain which killed so many people. Like the dork I am (and anyone who knows me will attest) I blabbed opinionatedly about stuff. At one point the gentleman looked at me and asked how I knew these things. Hardly knew what to say. "I'm... a nerd?" I stammered.

Anyway, finished up that convo with the fun subject of how viruses mutate and how vaccines are created, etc, etc. I excused myself and went to my room. Came back a while later and my mother-in-law asked if I happened to have talked to the client about his work. I said no, and so she explained that not only was he an M.D., he was a retired professor from the medical school at Northwestern University.

*facepalm*

Fortunately, she said he thought I was brilliant. :P But geeze! I really ought to check who I'm talking to before I go spouting off. *shiver*

Then, walk time. Chris and I walked to Caribou Coffee (iced americano, yay!), but that wasn't far enough so we walked to a 7-11, where I heard a bunch of teenage boys out in the parking lot discussing something mango. Huh. Inside, sure enough, they had mango-passionfruit Slurpees! WOOHOO. Being Father's Day in a suburb, we were tormented by the scent of grilling meats for all seven miles.

And now, hot and sweaty... it will be time to take a cold shower, because a few days ago the basement flooded in the last batch of giant thunderstorms, knocking out the pilot light on the water heater. Plumber expected tomorrow. :-/

(Also cannot run the A/C, reach most of the household food or paper products, or do any laundry. For once it is a good thing I overpack.)

A meme and other small things

orbitals
As widely meme'd: the fifteen books which influenced me most, that I can quickly think of off the top of my head:

1. The Book of the Dun Cow, Walter Wangerin Jr. (not the ancient Irish manuscript)
2. The Towers of February, Tonke Dragt
3. The Book of the New Sun (series), Gene Wolfe
4. St. Teresa of Avila's autobiography
5. Ascent of Mt. Carmel, St. John of the Cross
6. The Lord of the Rings (series), J.R.R. Tokien
7. Dune, Frank Herbert
8. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline, L'Engle
9. Maximum Achievement, Brian Tracy
10. Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter
11. Larousse Gastronomique
12. The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
13. The Republic, Plato
14. The Illiad, Homer
15. Q is for Quantum, John Gribbin (for strange reasons)

Also today I outran a (very slow) thunderstorm, and am busy knitting my First Sock, as instructed by the fabulous jmeadows.

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Wiscon 33 (my first!)

sky

Wiscon notes, highlights, and silliness:



  • "Feminist SF convention" may evoke some strange ideas, at least it did for me. The differences between Wiscon and a "regular" convention were few. (Chris said he pretty much forgot that it was supposed to be a feminist con, while we were there.) Primarily, everyone was just really nice!

    First thing I noticed was the consideration for disabled people -- spaces kept open for wheelchairs and such. It was great to have the corridors kept clear, unlike the usual crush of bodies. (Which, yeah, must be impossible for people who can't just push their way through!) Also, there were two groups of people notably missing from Wiscon: the creepy guys of questionable intention, and the famous jerks.


  • At the end of the Gathering I found Mary and said hi, and met Ben Rosenbaum in person (who is still doodling on a book for me). I'm not sure how we got on the subject, but Mary started telling us about the thirteen Icelandic Santas, which include Door-Sniffer, Spoon-Licker, and Window-Peeper. [wikipedia link] Yeah...


  • What do pfriends do when they finally get together? Ignore each other and check email. :D



  • It is safe to trust in the awesomeness of Madison and just go wander around and look for food/drink/a place to hang out.






  • Quote heard while walking on State Street: "Oh look, it's the Hippie Shop!" (Wife said to husband. I laughed. Husband laughed and rolled his eyes, noticing my amusement. Don't know what the store was actually called, but it was a fair description -- all tie-dye and peace signs! They went in to shop.)


  • Malted milk ice cream. Mmmm.


  • I could track Ted Chiang's progress through the party floor on Twitter as various of my friends tweeted, "OMG, I just saw Ted Chiang!"


  • Speaking of Twitter, seeing someone engrossed in their iPhone/Blackberry/whatever no longer means that they must be bored. They may be having a great time and having to tweet about it!


  • At the Edgewater Hotel's pier on Lake Mendota, we enjoyed the view, and watched a duck drama unfold: one boy mallard tried to steal a girl away from her boyfriend, as his friend watched. Jodi narrated for the watching friend, "Don't do it, man, she's already broken your heart once. Stick with me." There was a lot of quacking.




  • The staff at the Concourse is fabulous. Friday around lunch (still stuffed from breakfast) Holly, Jodi, Chris, and I just wanted to sit somewhere quiet and have some tea. I asked if there would be a way for us to sit and have beverages in the rapidly-filling restaurant, without causing trouble. They opened up a sekrit private dining room in the back, just for us!





The Prototypical Wiscon Laurel-Day



Morning

Awaken a few minutes before the alarm. Too tired to manage to get ready in time for whatever the alarm was actually set for. Miss all the cool morning panels. Get ready, head to the con suite for snacks. Text pfriends to see what they are up to.

Mid-Morning

Having missed the start of all the cool panels, hang out with friends either somewhere in the hotel, or while walking outside.

Lunch

Have (previously arranged) awesome lunch with cool people somewhere on State Street.

Afternoon

Do one or two things: a panel, a get-together, a convention event, talk with people, visit the dealers room.

A panel on online critique groups, where Carol Emshwiller and I were amused:



Dinner time

Either skip dinner entirely in favor of socializing/scavenging at the con suite, or, sit in the lobby until we find some people who seem to have an interesting destination in mind, and go eat with them. (I avoided especially large groups.)

Pizza at Ian's:


From left to right: "Papa Bandit" (potato slices, bbq sauce, ranch, bacon, cheddar), chicken alfredo, mac and cheese. (All amazingly good!)

Evening

Hang out in the bar until the parties get going.



Then: party time! The sensible thing to do would be visit all the different parties, but usually I headed for/wandered into one and stayed there until there was some reason to go somewhere else. (Usually better air conditioning. Occasionally the quest for someone or something specific.) I knew enough people that I could just hang out while people came and went and chatted with me.

Bonus evening options: visit with people in the lobby (chance for free pizza!) Go to friends' room to taste fancy scotch. Attend a late-night panel. Go for a walk in the dark. Sit by a random stranger and talk. (Poor guy was probably looking for some peace and quiet -- sorry, dude.) Find someone who doesn't know too many people and introduce him to everyone.

IN CONCLUSION: Supah fun. Best con ever. Definitely going back!

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Back!

peony
Wiscon had the nicest, smartest, funniest, most beautiful (both inside and out) people. Madison is the cutest little city. The weather was perfect. The Concourse Hotel is lovely and comfortable and entertaining in ways that they never intended. *g* I never imagined a convention could be so full of win.

(Posting this primarily so people I friend will have some clue why this stranger is adding them. Proper report and pictures soon.)

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Wiscon Schedule

Branches
A while back michaeldthomas suggested people volunteer for the understaffed panels, so I did. And I was put on some. They're spiffy!

Roll to See If I Advance the Plot
Sat 4:00 - 5:15PM
From Philip K. Dick's rumored use of the I Ching in The Man in the High Castle to Italo Calvino's use of Tarot cards in The Castle of Crossed Destinies, authors have used a number of games of chance or other random mechanisms to come up with stories. More recently, sillier methods have come up on the Internet, like the iTunes Plot Generator or the Evil Overlord Devises A Plot. Panelists will speculate on some of the advantages and flaws of each method, and then create several stories using these techniques.
Panelists M: Margaret Ronald, F. J. Bergmann, Laurel Amberdine



Your Electric Critics
Sun 1:00 - 2:15PM
Writers groups and slush piles are two of the basics for new authors. Traditionally, writers met with a group of other local aspiring authors and critiqued each others work. Then they would send off their newly polished babies to a publisher, where they would be smothered in the slush pile. With the web, there are some interesting new wrinkles in this formula. Online critique groups like Critters make it easy to find other writers, and sites like Baen's Bar and Authonomy promise to make the slush pile a visible, living thing. How useful are they? Can you really get published using them? And what the best ways to make them work for you?
Panelists M: Jack McDevitt, Laurel Amberdine, Carol F. Emshwiller, Gary Kloster



Is Print Finally Dead?
Mon 10:00 - 11:15AM
Realms of Fantasy goes the way of the dinosaur the month before WisCon 33. Is the print medium dying? Has the internet’s move from a handful of people perusing crappy websites for crappy stories and reviews, to the majority of people perusing mediocre websites for mediocre stories and reviews, sunk the ship of short story genre publishing and potentially destroyed book publishing as well?
Panelists M: James Frenkel, Laurel Amberdine, Pan Morigan, Jef a. Smith

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Book Review -- The Rite

angels
The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist tells the story of Father Gary Thomas as he becomes the exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose, CA. The author (reporter Matt Baglio) tells Fr. Gary's story in simple, engaging, third-person with a matter-of-fact tone. The book was a quick, pleasant read.

The prologue relates the events of an actual exorcism -- we learn the details of that one later -- then the first chapter opens with Fr. Gary's arrival in Rome. Throughout the book we hear about Fr. Gary's past: his childhood, his vocation, the accident that nearly killed him, and how he wound up in Rome taking classes about exorcism.

The book includes a map of Rome in the vicinity of the Vatican, and interesting details about what life is like there. Historical facts about demons, possession, and exorcism are sprinkled throughout.

The first third or so of the book covers how exorcism has been handled in the Church, focusing on how belief in the person of Satan and demons almost got philosophized out of existence in the wake of modern medicine and Vatican II. Formal training in exorcism has only resumed within the last decade, as increasing numbers of people come to their parish priests, seeking help, and the priests have no idea what to do or who to turn to.

The most interesting part is when Fr. Gary starts to apprentice with an actual exorcist, who is practicing in Rome. What he witnesses ranges from mildly weird to downright horrifying, and it turns out that exorcism is much more complicated than movies have led us to believe.

Eventually Fr. Gary's training ends, and he's sent back home, as his diocese's official exorcist, nervous about having never performed the ritual himself. After a few cases of the mildly-strange variety, he comes up against a case of real, blatant possession. And the prayers work -- he can help.

The book is told from a Catholic perspective, naturally, since it follows a Catholic priest and his training at the Vatican. Other belief systems are incorporated too -- the belief in demonic possession and curses is nearly universal across all cultures -- and some effort is made to come up with non-supernatural explanations. But it is obvious that both Fr. Gary and the author cannot make themselves believe that there is any natural cause behind what they have seen.

Overall, a fascinating book. Highly recommended.

(review originally posted on Amazon)

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New Fauna

peony
There are a few new residents at the park this spring:

Mr. Swan:


That dark spot on the side is a foot stuck up under his wing. Apparently swans do that! I've seen up to six swans, at times, though there was only this one yesterday and none today.

And a bunch of these:


Took me some searching to figure out what they are. They're American Coots. This picture only shows a little, but they have GIANT FEET. Very cute. I hope they stick around and have babies, because they have the the world's ugliest chicks. *squee*

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Some advance praise, then

orbitals
I just finished reading and reviewing The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. [My full review at the Amazon page. Umm, "Laurel" if you couldn't figure it out. :D ]

I was going to put off mentioning the book, since it's not available yet, but when I tweeted something to that effect, jaylake mentioned the value of advance praise, so here we go.

It's fabulous, both informative and fun to read. Even if you don't have an eating problem, its just downright fascinating. Chris was interested in the parts which explain how food industry insiders make food irresistible... probably for cooking tips. :) (And we wonder why I have trouble losing weight...?)

I kept thinking cathshaffer would (ahem) eat this book up. If you're at all interested in how food is turned from simple nutrition to irresistible addiction, and what to do about it, take a look.

---

In other news, my song "The Orange" won Benjamin Rosenbaum's derivative works contest.

That was fun. I must find some other authors who will let me compose music based on their stories!
angels
I have been in Chattanooga all week for maryrobinette's birthday and writing retreat (plus an Iron Chef style cooking contest.)

There has been (among other things) writing, chatting, critiquing, walking in the woods, eating lots of good food, dog snuggling, pervasive silliness, fire building, and completely excessive use of online networking with people who are in the same dang room. Poor davidlevine finally joined Twitter so he could find out when lunch is ready.

This has been all over many LiveJournals (and Twitter, and Facebook, and I wouldn't be surprised if the news trucks showed up in a few hours) but just in case, Iron Chef PEAR BATTLE.

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