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January 4th, 2016

10:14 pm - Novel Thoughts – 2015 Edition
Last year was my first time voting for the Hugo Awards, but I’ll likely keep doing so, and that means I also have a chance to nominate stories. I mostly read novels, and so that’s what I’ve been thinking about.

The first two are obvious, since they are also the two of the best novels I’ve read this year – Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, and A Succession of Bad Days by Graydon Saunders (both links are to DRM-free versions).

In addition to being perhaps Bear’s best written novel to date, Karen Memory is interesting because it’s set in a steampunk world, but unlike my experience with almost all other steampunk fiction, it doesn’t suck. I like the idea of steampunk novels, but almost all of them are dreadful, often because, like steampunk of other sorts, they are far more about style than substance. In contrast, Karen Memory is a well told story with a host of excellent characters, which is set in a steampunk world.

A Succession of Bad Days is the sort of novel I more typically enjoy, the story of someone with substantial magical power learning to use it, but it’s well more than that. Saunder’s Commonweal setting is fantasy that has the same level of careful world-building as the best SF, as well as a basic humanity that it impressively refreshing in modern SF&F.

Other options are less clear – I really enjoyed Robert Charles Wilson’s The Affinities, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, and Andrea K Höst’s The Pyramids of London , but I’m not certain that any of them should be considered the best SF&F novel of the year. I also really enjoyed J. Kathleen Cheney’s The Shores of Spain, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, & Judith Tarr’s Forgotten Suns, but did not think they were quite good enough for a Hugo nomination.

If it had not been written back in 1999, I’d definitely nominate Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s A Red Heart of Memories, one of the flaws I found in other work by her that I read was the protagonist or protagonists were far too passive. This novel is exceedingly unlike that, and it’s also beautiful and brilliant in the ways that make me love Hoffman’s writing style – it’s a gorgeous book and available for very little used (sadly, there’s no ebook version).

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January 3rd, 2016

12:22 am - Thomas Kuhn and Debate Over The Settlement of the Americas
One of the many related fields I studied at length in my 13 year undergraduate and graduate career was the history of science. During the 1980s, one of the cornerstones of that entire discipline was Thomas Kuhn’s work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The basic idea is that scientists are not inclined to change their minds about basic aspects of their discipline, and that it often takes the death of the scientists holding the old beliefs for new radical ideas to take hold, even if they seem to be true.

While still read, Kuhn's book is no longer regarded quite so highly, in part because there are a whole lot of scientific advances to which it doesn’t apply – modern day science still doesn’t undergo radical changes rapidly and easily, but it does so far faster and easier than Kuhn predicts, but I recently found a rather impressive exception.

I recently read and very much enjoyed 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, a fascinating and well-done book on the Americas before European contact, and shortly after that watched a recent PBS special about the geology of North America, and was struck at the differences between their discussions of the settlement of the Americas.

As anyone with even the most rudimentary exposure to the topic knows, of the theory that the Clovis culture were the first native Americas and arrived in North America from Eurasia between roughly 12 & 14 thousand years ago. This “Clovis first” theory held sway in archeology pretty much from WWII until the early 21st century. Also, even now the PBS special I watched admitted that the Clovis people were not the first humans in North America, but claimed that humans settled this continent between 15 & 16 thousand years ago.

However, as the author of 1491 points out, there has been evidence of pre-Clovis settlement of the Americas for quite a while, and much of it is considerably older than 15 or 16 thousand years ago.

I remember discussions of the Monte Verde site in Chile in archeology classes I took in the early 1980s, it’s almost 15,000 years old, and if humans reached almost the southern tip of South America back then, they were presumably in North America well before that. I also remember a bit of discussion of the Pedra_Furada_sites , dated at more than 30,000 years ago.
Then there’s the Topper South Carolina site, with dates between 16 and 20 thousand years ago, and the Meadowcroft Rockshelter site, with its dates of 16-19 thousand years ago. Also, some of the various pre-Clovis sites also have older and less accepted dates, ranging as far back as 60,000 years ago.

I have no idea how long humans have been in the Americas (although at least 20,000 years seems pretty likely), but what I do know is that I see something that looks exactly like Kuhn’s ideas about scientists who hold the old paradigm rejecting “anomalies”, and continuing to do so in the face of mounting evidence.

It then occurred to me why this process didn’t seem to be present in fields of modern sicence as diverse as astronomy and biology, but is present in archeology, and particularly archeology dealing with particularly old sites. Unlike the Copernican revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries and the other “revolutions” Kuhn discussed, most modern science not only has a wealth of data at its disposal, but can acquire new data with relative ease. If questions ranging from dark energy to neurogenesis arise, the matter can be settled relatively swiftly by a combination of re-examining older data and collecting new data.

For the past few decades, opposition to new ideas seems to usually collapse under the weight of this data. However, this isn’t true with archeology, especially in the case of the first sites of human habitation in the Americas – the only way to find new sites is effectively random chance, many of them are likely under the Pacific Ocean, because if (as current theory suggests) some of the people settling the Americas took boats down the Pacific coast, that coastline was covered with several dozen meters of water when the last ice age ended. So, in the absence of either side being able to bury the other under masses of data, you have a process that looks much like pre-modern sciences, where (like in many sub-fields of archeology) discoveries were rare and data hard to come by.

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January 2nd, 2016

12:19 am - Musings in the alleged risks of intelligent AIs
Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence have begun making the news, and while anything close to human intelligence, or for that matter the intelligence of any vertebrate is a ways in the future, the recent advances are fairly impressive, in ways they haven’t previously been.

It therefore unsurprising that concern about the dangers of AI is in the news for the first time. I share a few of these concerns – autonomous weapons (which the US Air Force is considering ) are from my PoV an astoundingly stupid and terrible idea, not because intelligent machines would use them to kill us all, but because a single software glitch can result in lots of dead humans.

However, I’ve always been deeply suspicious of the sort of fear and occasionally even panic about human and superhuman level AI found on sites like Less Wrong or described somewhat more sensibly here, and in greater detail, here.

I’ve read counterarguments against the risk of AI by Charles Stross and in this interesting and excellent piece. However, none of them felt like they fully addressed the feeling I had that the entire debate was silly and pointless. Then, when reading the “Should AI be Open” article linked to above I had an epiphany – for any of the “AI Risk” arguments about the inherent dangers of superhumanly intelligent AI to make sense, you need to posit a hard-takeoff singularity.

Without that, then absolutely none of the arguments make sense, because instead of run-away superintelligence swiftly becoming unknowable and unstoppable, you have a slow and difficult process of teams of humans and one or more human-intelligence AI slowly working to find ways to increase AI intelligence, and then many months or more likely, at least several years after creating an AI as intelligent as an average human, you have one as intelligent as one of the smartest humans, and then at least a few years after that (if not significantly longer) someone finally learns how to make an AI more intelligent than any human who has ever lived. Given that every other recent technological advance required considerable effort and time, it seems impressively unlikely that AI will prove any different, especially since it’s already proven to be exceedingly difficult. It’s not like a human-level AI is going to have all that much better idea about how to make a more intelligent AI than the people who created it. Also, many of the “AI Risk” scenarios require even more than a hard takeoff singularity, they also require self-replicating nanotechnology of the sort that can swarm over the planet, and which breaks a few physical laws and would likely end up being eaten by far older and more determined nanotechnology (ie existing microscopic lifeforms). It seems to me that the basis of the fear of AI by intelligent well-educated IT professionals comes down to seeing a sort of AI that is more at home in a grim version of Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, rather than anything that anyone has any actual evidence will or even could exist.

In any case, I suspect that in less than five years we’ll have software will not be in any way conscious or intelligent, but which can fool most people into thinking it is, since humans are easy to fool, and eventually – perhaps in 20-50 years, something like true human-level artificial intelligence will exist, but creating it will be a slow and difficult process, as well creating something smarter than it.

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December 16th, 2015

01:43 am - Trinity Continuum: Æon Quote Acquired
Thanks muchly for the help, the chapter quote for the Trinity Continuum: Æon organizations chapter will be:

By union the smallest thrive, by discord the greatest are destroyed
- Gaius Sallustius Crispus, Roman historian and statesman

Also, I mentioned that if I got a quote I could use from the previous post, I'd post up another of the quotes I'm using. My quote for the Introduction will be:

We are on a journey to keep an appointment with whatever we are.
— Gene Roddenberry

Which sums up a lot of what I loved about the Trinity Continuum and TC: Æon in particular. Also, thanks muchly for the help, and especially to tcpip who provided the quote for the organizations chapter.

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01:32 am - Not Just Trump
Mocking Donald Trump is admittedly fun, but it also worries me, because it’s at least as much of a popular sport for establishment Republicans as for progressives. Sure, he’s an open bigot who says hideous things and had mind-bogglingly terrible ideas, but I think it’s also very important to keep in mind that with the exception of being more open about his bigotry, he’s not particularly different from the other Republican candidates.
Barring some near-miracle, the Republican nominee for president is going to be Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio. Cruz has essentially the same ideas as Trump, with a side-order of dominionist fundamentalism, and the only real difference between Trump and Cruz is that Cruz sticks with the standard Republican tactic of using racist dog-whistles rather than going for Trump’s open racism. I not only wouldn’t expect Cruz to be any less hideous a president than Trump, I’d expect Cruz to be pretty much the same sort of hideous.

Marco Rubio has some different ideas than Trump and Cruz. For one thing, he’s not fanatically anti-immigrant like those two. However, that hardly makes him a better choice. In addition to his anti-healthcare, anti-feminist, anti-poor, and anti-environment ideas (some of which are worse than Trump’s suggestions), Rubio is the most openly militaristic of the three and embraces Shrub’s doctrine of military interventionism. If you want the US to be involved in another large, pointless, and horrific war, Rubio is your candidate. Also, Rubio actually isn’t hated by the Republican establishment, like Trump, and to a lesser extent Cruz is, which means he’d be far more effective at working with other Republican leaders than those two, and thus would be more effective at his agenda, which makes him my least favorite choice out of this impressively ghastly trio.

Ultimately, I don’t see any of these three, or in fact any of the top-tier Republican candidates as anything other than hideous in more or less the same degree, and so when I hear a wealth of anti-Trump statements, I fear that if (as is definitely possible, but also far from certain) he doesn’t get the nomination, too many people will decide that since we don’t have an open bigot running for president, the actual Republican candidate can’t be utterly hideous.

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December 12th, 2015

12:16 am - Request for a quote about organizations
Trinity Continuum: Æon is going to have quotes at the beginning of each chapter that are appropriate to the chapter's content. I have most of these, but I'm at a loss for one. I have a chapter about various organizations that the PCs can join that are generally fairly heroic. Also, one of the themes of the game is unity. I'd love to have a good quote from some (preferably geeky, but definitely known) source about the positive aspects of belonging to or joining organizations - for example a quote from some Star Trek about how or why Star Fleet is a good thing would be ideal. My only criteria is that the quote needs to be less than 100 words.

Does anyone know of a good quote for this chapter? If someone provides me with a quote that I can use, I'll post up another of the chapter quotes I' using here.

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12:09 am - Media Musings - Jessica Jones & Arrow
Like much of the rest of geeks anywhere Netflix is available, I've been watching Jessica Jones, which is excellent. I've been watching between 2 & 3 episodes per day unless I'm otherwise far too busy, and recently I have been doing less work than I should because of that. Today, rather than avoiding work to watch Jessica Jones, I'm working to avoid the temptation of watching more Jessica Jones - I just finished episode 10, and dear gods I need a break before I watch more. It's excellent, but really harsh.

I'm also simultaneously intrigued and annoyed at the mid-season finale of Arrow. One of the things the show is excellent at is not fridging female characters, to the point that Sarah Lance was seemingly fridged twice and one time didn't die and the second time was brought back to life. The finale features what looked like an absolutely classic DC-Comics-at-its-worst fridging, complete with multiple tender scenes before (reminding me far to much of how clumsily Tara being killed was handled on Buffy), and Christmas music being played when the character was killed - except, what we actually saw was an instant before the episode ended, the character merely looked dead, and the beginning of the episode, "previously on Arrow" brief scene of Oliver Queen at a grave (where the audience can't see the headstone), which had been shone previously as a months later flash-forward.

I trust the show runners sufficiently that I'm pretty sure that the female character won't actually be dead, and instead another character will be killed in the next episode or two spoiler - highlight to read: I'm expecting Detective Lance to be killed for betraying Damien Darhk. That would be an effective fake-out trick, but also an annoying one. I'd appreciate such tricks a lot more if I wasn't still being female characters being fridged on other shows I watch (the most recently and most obvious being on last week's Agents of Shield, but is normally better than that, but sure wasn't last week).

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December 8th, 2015

11:07 pm - Becca's Victory!
My partner Becca has been taking the 4-part CPA exam over the last 2 months. She was certain that she passed sections 1, 2, & 4 (and had previously found out that she had indeed passed sections 1 & 2 quite handily), but thought she had done much less well on test 3 (on taxes), and believed she failed. A few minutes ago she found out her scores for tests 3 & 4, and got a 90 on the taxes test (75+ is passing), and passed the other one with an 88. A process that takes most people many months (& where only 10% of people pass all 4 tests on the first try) Becca passed them all on the first try, and in 2 months. I have an impressively brilliant partner! I'm also exceedingly pleased that despite her work being quite busy, she'll be far less busy in the future, since she'll have no more taking classes or studying for tests.

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08:19 pm - Seeking A Mindjammer-Related Favor
The ongoing Mindjammer RPG Kickstarter has 11 days left and while it's doing well and has funded a dozen Stretch Goals, but it could be doing better. If you are interested in Mindjammer (for either FATE or Traveller, since the Traveller conversions has already been achieved as a Stretch Goal, and I'll be writing a fair portion of that), take a look at the kickstarter, and more importantly, publicize it. I'd love to see more discussion about it on everything from RPG.net to IO9. Thanks!

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November 19th, 2015

03:30 am - Saddened By Hate and The Love of War
While the attacks on Paris were horrible, I see much of the reaction as equally so - plans to turn back refugees from the horrors going on in Syria (including support for this vile idea by more than a few centrist Democrats). Even more so, the automatic answer to such events being more bombing and attacks, as if killing even more people, most of whom are just as innocent as the original victims somehow "evens the score" rather than being just as horrible as the recent terrible event. I'm especially troubled that the Russian recommendation to eliminate Daesh is to treat it like they dealt with Chechen rebels (massive attacks on civilians and killing the families of suspected rebels) is now being at least considered.

When the Iraq War was going on, I listened to Tori Amos' album Scarlet's Walk incessantly, now I'm listening to Jordan Reyne's excellent album Passenger, especially this song, which is particularly appropriate (the spoken word bit in the middle is quotes from a journalist who helped liberate the concentration camps after WWII).

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02:03 am - Mindjammer Kickstarter Info
The ongoing Mindjammer RPG Kickstarter is doing well, as I write, it's closing in on it's 2nd Stretch Goal. The 5th Stretch Goal is the Traveller Conversion I mentioned in my previous post (and which I will be helping with) and the 8th is a star system that I wrote for Mindjammer a few months ago and think is really good. What's equally nifty is the (preliminary and unfinalized) cover for that system:

Blue cover

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November 18th, 2015

03:18 am - Crimson Peak, and Gaming News
teaotter & I saw Crimson Peak this weekend (amberite was at AmberCon Northwest playing in some truly nifty sounding games), and it was very pretty and well made, but ultimately fairly devoid of substance, to the extent that Becca and my reaction to it was rather similar to our reaction to The Last Witch Hunter, it was more fun that good. To be fairly, Crimson Peak had considerably more visual interest, but that’s about all it had. So, if you want to watch pretty people and a truly amazing set and don’t mind that it doesn’t hold together or have all that much emotional impact, Crimson Peak is a good choice.

In more exciting news, the Mindjammer RPG Kickstarter started yesterday evening, and it funded within the first day. If it does moderately, but not exceptionally well, a Traveller Conversion should be included, one I’m hoping to be part of. Also, while I’m not a fan of the FATE system, I love seeing new Mindjammer setting material.

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03:07 am - Political Musings - Donald Trump
After looking at several recent polls--- it looked like Donald Trump was regaining his firm lead among the Republican voters, and recent events have only served to further inflame the racist right. I was also amused to see him floating suggestions about having Ted Cruz as his running mate. It interested me at exactly how pleased I am about all this. My own preference is very much for the least electable Republican to get the nomination, and since it’s pretty clear to me that Ben Carson doesn’t have a hope of actually becoming the Republican presidential candidate, that’s Trump. My one worry was about Marco Rubio, because he’s genuinely charismatic and while he has the same anti-choice, pro-climate change, pro income inequality ideas as all the rest, he isn’t ravingly bizarre like Cruz or Carson and isn’t loathed by most Americans like Trump, so he might actually have a chance. Trump won’t.

I find it sad that my view of one of our two political parties has sunk so low that I look forward to them nominating the most bizarre and least competent candidates because they are less likely to win, but that's also a pretty clear reflection of what the Republican Party has become, especially given that fact that Republican politicians must now listen to both hideous billionaires like the Koch Brothers and nativist hate groups like the “Tea Party”.

I’m also quite pleased about the prospect of Trump getting the nomination, since he would very clearly cement the idea that the Republican Party is the party of angry white bigots in people’s minds, a fact that more than a few of the less hate-filled Republican commentators are also very clearly aware of. With luck, this will either cause the Republican party to at very long last kick the racist out, or (sadly) more likely become a purely regional party like they were during the 1930s and 40s.

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November 9th, 2015

02:54 am - Media Musings + General Update
First off, I'm excited to see the upcoming World of Warcraft movie Warcraft: The Beginning – you might ask why – I don't play WoW, and most such films are sub-dreadful. However, this one is directed by Duncan Jones , the director of both Moon and Source Code, and now the trailer's out. teaotter said it looked good, so I started watching it – there was a specific point when it went from dull and predictable to interesting and unexpected – 40 seconds in and I was interested, especially with Duncan Jones in charge. See for yourself what you think.

Today, teaotter and I also watched The Last Witchunter, with Vin Diesel (amberite has far less interest in more fun than good action films and didn't go with us). An online friend and colleague described this as Vin Diesel's D&D campaign on film, which given that Diesel actually plays D&D seemed far from impossible. I went into it expecting a typical Vin Diesel film – fun, inoffensive 9which is all too rare in action films), and non-terrible, but not better than that. I got was I wished for, with one exception. It was fine in terms of gender, but for a film mostly set in NYC, there were far too few people of color in the background, and it had a single character of color, who got killed. Not OK, and unexpected for film with Vin Diesel, but the absence of overt racism and sexism was nice and not nearly common enough in US action films.

Afterwards, teaotter and I talked about it – it will almost certainly have a sequel, but we both agreed that it would make a better TV series (which is admittedly my reaction to most films, since I find long-term storytelling more interesting), and that a better ending and good set-up for a longer story would be having spoiler - highlight to read:
Chloe eat the Witch Queen's heart, gaining her power, and some of her memories (or rather the memories of all of the previous Witch Queens) rather than Kaulder simply locking it up. Also, attempting to rid the world of humanity in 1200 CE seems far too late, and this makes much more sense if there had been a dozen or more long-lived Witch Queens through history, and this one was relatively new and bat-shit crazy in 1200.

This also got us talking about the use of magic in the universe of the CW's Arrow (quite a good show) and the Flash (a far less good, but mildly fun show). All comics face the problem of overload – aliens + supertech + magic + super powers tends to end up with a setting that makes little sense and hangs together very poorly, which is one of the reasons I liked reboots like the Marvel Ultimate-verse – they simply this (at least for a while). The CW's "Arrowverse" has supertech, metahumans with powers, and magic. Thankfully, they have avoided aliens, and seem likely to continue to do so. However, given that they've already mentioned the "Speed Force" (although without any of the associations) on The Flash - personify it a bit as something like Hermes, and you've got magic. More to the point, it we both agreed that the "Arrowverse" would work better if metahuman powers were basically innate magic unlocked by exposure to weird energies. Then, you add in the bit about superscience tapping into the same forces as magic (albeit in a very different fashion) and you've got a nicely unified cosmology. Of course, this is hardly original, I thought of this as a nifty way to adapt the Conspiracy X RPG into a supers setting, and more recently Charles Stross used similar, if darker logic to add superpowers , to his mythos-inspired Laundry Files series.

In other news, while the purchase of White Wolf (and thus of the old World of Darkness RPGs, the new World of Darkness RPGs, and Exalted) by Paradox Interactive has caused concern about the future of Onyx Path's licenses for producing these RPGs (and thus a fair amount of my work), I'm very pleased to note that the game I'm developing (Trinity Continuum: Æon), and in fact the entire Trinity Continuum & Scion game lines are all owned by Onyx Path and so entirely independent of any such concerns.

In addition, I've written two pieces (one inhabited star system and a bunch of gadgets and vehicles) for the Mindjammer RPG - transhuman space opera is one of my loves, and while I'm entirely uninterested in the FATE rules, it's easy to write setting material for, and I'll also be helping with the conversion to the Traveller RPG rules, which I'm really looking forward to, since that's a rule system I like and which makes sense to me. The Traveller conversion is going to be part of an upcoming Mindjammer Kickstarter, I'll provide more info when I know it.

In other news, after taking prerequisite classes in early 2014, accounting classes in 2015, teaotter has now taken 2 of the 4 tests necessary to get her license to become a CPA (and eventually manage her boss's very lucrative business once he retires) – each test must be passed with a 75 and less than 50% of people pass each test on the first try (and only about 10% pass all 4 tests on the first try). Becca got a 90 on the first test, and while she thinks she might have done a bit less well on the 2nd, that still pretty much guarantees a 75 – her 3rd test is Sunday, and her 4th is on the 29th (3 days after Thanksgiving). With luck (but rather less luck than with most people, since teaotter is exceptionally brilliant), she'll pass them all this time and from December onwards will time to relax, socialize, and next year, start running a new RPG campaign of some sort or other (perhaps even with magically-powered supers).

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September 23rd, 2015

01:58 pm - New Black Panther comic written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
These days, I pretty much only read comics by Marvel and occasional indie comics, mostly written by Warren Ellis, I haven't seen anything I really liked by DC for more than a year. When I go to my local comic store today, I'm going to add another Marvel title to my box - a new run of the Black Panther comic, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I had no idea Coates was into comics (or as the article mentions D&D), but I do know he's written painfully honest and deeply excellent articles about race in the US. Here are two of his best: The Case For Reparations, and his more recent piece Between the World and Me.

A decade ago, I read Reginald Hudlin's run of Black Panther a decade ago and liked it, especially the issues which involved Black Panther spending time with pretty much every other black super, but I'm expecting this new series to be even better, and perhaps at times a bit painful to read - we have a very long way to go wrt race in the US.

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September 6th, 2015

04:38 pm - Thoughts on London + Problems With Aging Parents
We're now halfway through our visit to the UK, tomorrow teaotter
and I take the train to Salisbury, both the see the Cathedral and take a trip to Stonehenge. So far we've been in London – I visited it several times as a child in the 1970s, and once in the mid 80s, but it's been almost 30 years since I've been anywhere in the UK. There have been some changes.

My mom and I went to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum on Friday – the Science Museum is a bit too glitzy and less full of interested exhibits than when I was last there, but was still fairly good. In vividly sad contrast, the Natural History Museum was largely no longer worth visiting. On part was close for renovation, but the rest was far emptier of exhibits and the exhibits had been changed to remove information and increase glitz. In the section on birds, they had a single (absolutely lovely) case from 1881, which basically formed an truly excellent introduction to avian skeletons and feathers, it was beautiful, elegantly done, and exceptionally informative. I remember visiting the Natural History Museum in the 1970s, and much of it was like that. It has since been expanded, but also now had long empty hallways, vastly less informative exhibits and looked like a pathetic shell of its former glory. Whenever I return to London again, I won't waste my time there.

Saturday, at the recommendation of my parents, teaotter and I took a tour of Buckingham palace, which was mildly interesting, and then walked around London a lot, including over the nifty Millennium Bridge. I had thought to ride on the Eye or visit the London Aquarium, but the impressively vast Saturday late afternoon crowds swiftly persuaded me to avoid both.

Today, teaotter and I spent many hours in the British Museum, which remains just as much of an amazing wonder as it was when I was a child. The museum has not been revamped in any of the various hideous ways that so many museums have, and while it also remains a rather disturbing testament to colonial era artifact looting, it also contains a collection of wonders even grander than the Metropolitan Museum or the American Museum of Natural History (both in NYC). We may return to see more on Wednesday or we may go to the Museum of London or the Victoria & Albert Museum.

It's also interesting what I remember from my earliest visit, when I was 10. The London Underground was the first subway I ever saw, and it remains my vision of an ideal public transform system, fast, not particularly uncomfortable, with trains running ridiculously frequently, and stations within moderate walking distance of each other. The addition of electronic oyster cards make it even easier to use.

I also noticed a number of significant differences –

Two of the most notable were that ads and music are now far more identical to their US counterparts than in my youth and a large percentage of young service workers were Eastern European, while I remember seeing very few Eastern Europeans in the UK on my previous visits (which were all before the fall of the USSR). Also, I don't remember noticing before, but teaotter and I both noticed the almost complete lack of homeless people – I couldn't tell if this was a result of social services that remain vastly better than those in the US, impressively draconian anti-homeless laws and enforcement, or some combination of both – this was true in all parts of London we've been to, where we have seen a grand total of one homeless person. I'd be fascinated to know what the explanation for this lack is.

Also, having a local sim card for my phone has given me internet access anywhere I am, which has made navigating London vastly easier, especially in places with twisting streets that change names at random and sometimes entirely lack any form of signage identifying the street. Google Maps remains invaluable, as is the ability to look up information about various destinations on the fly.

Problems With Aging Parentsclick here if interestedCollapse )

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August 30th, 2015

01:04 am - Interesting Possibility - The SFWA & Me
I’ve long considered myself a SF author who writes RPG setting material rather than fiction. After making contact with my college roommate Charles, who is an IP lawyer who does a lot of work with SF authors, who encouraged me to try to join the SFWA, since he thought I’d be eligible. It turns out he was half-right – because of one book I wrote for the Trinity RPG which consisted solely of in-character narrative and contained no rules makes me eligible for Associate Membership, which means I could nominate works for Nebula Awards, but can’t vote for anything. Of course, given that I may be writing at least a few fiction pieces for Aeon and other projects, including possibly for fiction anthologies, which are published separately from the game and would also count for membership. Two more sales of any length that are paid at least 6 cents/words make me eligible for a full Active Membership (ie full voting rights).

Of course, now I need to decide if I wish to join as an Associate Member and if/when I become eligible, I join as an Active Member. On the positive side, the prestige would be nice and definitely pretty darn validating, but is it $80-$90/year worth of prestige, since really my market is entirely separate from the SF&F fiction market, and so joining a professional organization focused on that does seem not all that productive. Voting for the Nebulas would be nifty, and I do have a significant knowledge of both new and old SF, but I’m not certain I belong in the SFWA. I’d love for the SFWA to be more inclusive of RPG authors, because that might be one way to help improve contracts and pay for competent RPG professionals, so that alone might be worth it, except that I’m far from certain that there’s much incentive for most RPG companies to change how they work in even small ways that benefit authors more [[1]]. I’m undecided, and wouldn’t mind some input.

[[1]] As a side note, if you are interested in how and why RPG freelancing is problematic, here are three excellent posts, by long-time RPG freelancer digitalraven on the topic: essay one, and here’s essay two, and lastly, essay three.

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August 25th, 2015

03:03 am - Birthday + Excellent Cookie Recipe
So, I'm now 54. I have 2 wonderful partners, with moderate luck, Trinity Continuum: Aeon will be out before I'm 55, I have other enjoyable work to keep me busy, excellent books to read, and I'm going out to dinner to a delicious restaurant serving Latin American street food, which is within walking distance of where I live. Life is generally good, and I hope everyone reading this is happy.

I also made delicious cookies today. I have no problem eating gluten, but since amberite has celiac, I've been experimenting with GF baking. After the resounding success of this almond flour pie crust, I decided to try the same mixture of almond and mixed GF flour (mostly rice flour) in sugar cookies. I love sugar cookies, they are my favorite cookies. I modified Alton Brown's sugar cookie recipe to make them with half almond flour, half GF baking mix, used some of the other changes I've found work well in baking with almond flour, added vanilla, and the result was absolutely delicious. These are not the absolute best sugar cookies I've ever had, but they are at least as good and interestingly different from sugar cookies I've made at home. Here"s my recipeCollapse )

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August 9th, 2015

11:20 pm - A very good book and a fun movie
I recently finished The Pyramids of London by Andrea K. Höst, who is a fairly good self-published author and her books are available (in addition to Amazon & B&N) also published DRM-free on Smashwords. I read her Touchstone YA trilogy a while back, which was much fun and fairly good, and this novel (the first of a series, presumably another trilogy) was even better. It's not YA – there are 2 protagonists, one in her late 30s, another in her teens, who are both quite well done. The world can be considered steampunk if you apply the term broadly, but it's unique and interesting, with what can best be described as a distinct overabundance of active deities, vampires that are not merely publicly known, but also fully integrated into society, as well as airships and automata.

The author's post about gender got me to buy this book, especially this bit:
When drafting The Pyramids of London, I decided to try something different. I would skew the background character numbers female to see how a book would read with 33 percent men 'in the room'.
When I read the novel, it seems far more equal than that, at first I thought that this was just my perception being altered a bit by playing in several very long-running RPGs GM'd by my partner teaotter, who works to get close to 50/50 gender split in her NPCs, because if she didn't the vast majority of them would be female. Amusingly, I didn't read to the end of the post until just now - the author mentions:
in this book where I'd set out to achieve a 70/30 skew in favour of women, I created 82 female-presenting characters and 83 male-presenting characters.

I don't think I'll do this exercise with the books that I thought were 50/50. That may bring embarrassment.

I suspect that one of the reasons that Pyramids feels so full of female characters (beyond our apparently ingrained perceptions) is that the skew of powerful women to powerful men is much more distinct. Prytennia's Trifold is always made up of women. And when making clear that both men and women could hold important office, I did so by mentioning men formerly holding the roles, but naming current women. With the exception of Lord Msrah and Lord Fennington (and the foreign Gustav) all the people shown to be in charge of groups and organisations in Prytennia 'just happen' to be women.
I was also pleased in that within the first few pages we get the protagonist bonded to a brooding and irreverent vampire, and after the second encounter with the vampire, I was strongly betting on this novel having yet another paranormal vampire romance, and it didn't, which I found far more interesting than the alternative. In any case, it's quite fun and good.

In other news, teaotter and I went to see the latest Mission Impossible film – we've seen all but the first one (which I've heard is dreadful) and enjoyed it – it's far more fun than good, but it's fun – although the plot only vaguely hangs together and there's a single named female character in the entire film. We were planning to see the Fantastic Four film instead, but having found a complete absence of positive reviews and it running an truly impressive 8% on rotten tomatoes, I may see it, but I'm definitely waiting to see it on a cheap theater.

With trailers for both In the Heart of the Sea and The Revenant, one theme for films coming later this year seems to white guys dying in the wilderness in the 1820s – I think I'll definitely pass.

I remain puzzled at why it's so difficult to make a good video treatment of the Fantastic Four - from seeing the first of the two previous film efforts (which was also deeply terrible), the answer is obviously that starting with the origin story is a less than ideal choice for the Fantastic Four, and so making it into a super blockbuster – this very much seems like an excellent choice for a TV series (which is admittedly my reaction to most stories I'm interested in seeing in video).

With luck, this film will do sufficiently poorly that Sony will let the rights lapse and Marvel/Disney will both revive the comic (I've read that part of the reason they've stopped having a Fantastic Four comic is disliking the fact that Sony has the movie license) and instead of trying another movie, will go for a TV series. I don't expect this to happen, but I can hope.

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July 29th, 2015

12:28 am - Question for UK Residents Reading This + UK Tech Advice Sought
So, my parents are taking teaotter and I to the UK in early September to celebrate Becca finishing the classes necessary to get her CPA. We'll be in London from (not counting days partially or mostly on airplanes) from Sept 4-Sept 9, and are staying in downtown London, near the Science Museum. If you are in the UK and are on my friends-list, then you're someone I'd be interested in meeting, so let me know if you'd be available and interested in getting together.

Also, I'd like to have phone (and more specifically mobile internet) access while there. I have a T-Mobile brand Samsung Galaxy Note 3, with (if you know anything about this):

3G: Band I (UMTS 2100), Band II (1900), Band IV (1700/2100/AWS), Band V (850)
LTE: Band 4, Band 17, Band 1(2100), Band 2(1900), 5(850), 7(2600)

My phone uses a micro-SIM card and what I'm looking for is a non-contract SIM card usable for 1 week (or no more than 1 month), which has at least 1GB (2GB would be better) of 3G or faster data and some ability to call and text. I don't need to import my phone number, I just need something that can get online and make a modest number of calls and texts.

Do any of you know what would work for me and how to get it? I've looked online and have not seen any consistent advice, and have seen nothing about ordering UK SIM cards in the US. I can't use any sort of roaming with my phone, because I have a (otherwise truly awesome – at least for the US) prepaid plan, which provides for absolutely no of out-of-US use.
Any advice would be exceedingly welcome.

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