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March 2nd, 2015


02:34 am - Awesome Almond Flour Pancakes + Wacky Fannish Musings
As I've mentioned before, since amberite discovered they had celiac, I've found that there are several issues with most gluten-free baked goods. First off, most have a texture that's horrid (rubbery cookies are deeply scary), most modern GF recipes are very bad, but there are also traditional baked goods that don't use any gluten containing ingredients, also almond flour is vastly tastier than ordinary SF flours, and almond flour only works in baking if combined with beaten egg white.

So, I found a recipe for pancakes made with almond flour, and since it didn't have any beaten egg whites, I beat one of the four egg whites. The result was not merely delicious, but had a texture far more like actual wheat pancakes than I expected - considerably more than cornmeal pancakes. These are actually tastier than ordinary pancakes.

Ingredients
4 eggs
1 cup almond flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
1 TBS maple syrup

Instructions
  • In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, salt, and baking powder.
  • Separate 1 egg, beat the egg white until firm but not dry.
  • In a separate bowl, mix 3 eggs, 1 yolk, vanilla, and maple syrup.
  • Pour egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix until there are no clumps.
  • Stir in beaten egg white.
  • Heat oil over medium heat cast iron skillet.
  • Pour 1/4 cup batter into the skillet and cook for 1-2 minutes on the first side, then flip.

Now for some truly wacky fannish speculation Don't bother reading this if you aren't familiar with P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencryrath novels and have at least some interest in fanficCollapse )

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February 15th, 2015


11:56 pm - Awesome Tacos recreated
I enjoy watching America's Test Kitchens on PBS and they often have excellent recipes. However, at times they are at least as interested in familiarity as awesomeness. Several weeks ago, they did a show where they made beef tacos. As the lead in, one of their people interviewed an innovative New York chef who made beef tacos which contained chorizo, green olives, golden raisins, and looked and sounded delicious. Then, the show gave clear instructions for how to make what looked to be a very good version of bog standard shredded beef tacos. I wanted the other tacos with chorizo and other yumminess. I looked at Cuban recipes for Picadillo. Also, I changed the meat to chicken, since amberite eats chicken and not beef, and I've found the difference between homemade chorizo made with pork or chicken is essentially identical. So, here's what I came up with. I made it last week and am making it again tomorrow, I found it to be most delicious.

Chorizo, Raisin, Olive Taco & Shredded Chicken Tacos
Brown minced onion & bell pepper (one each) in olive oil or lard
Add Mexican chorizo (made using 6 oz ground chicken or pork) and cook. Then add chopped green olives, golden raisins, capers (1-2 TBS each to taste), petit diced tomatoes (1/4 cup), shredded braised beef or chicken breast, 1 TBS tomato paste, deglaze with ¼ cup white wine

Braised chicken
Pound 6 oz of chicken breast (beef or pork would also work) and boil (low) for 45 minutes with 2 cups broth, 1/3 cup white wine, 1 TBS salt, garlic, pepper, 1-2 TBS brown sugar. When chicken is cool, shred it by hand. It should basically fall apart into shreds.

Awesome Homemade Chorizo
• 0.8 oz mixture of dried Ancho & New Mexico chilis (seed removed)
• 2 TBS diluted unseasoned rice vinegar, or more if needed
• 6 oz ground dark meat chicken
• 1 tsp garlic
• 1 tsp dried oregano, preferably Mexican
• 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
• 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/16 teaspoon ground cloves

Tear up peppers, grind to powder in spice grinder (with cloves & allspice), soak in vinegar and combine. Let sit of 30+ minutes before cooking.

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February 13th, 2015


02:13 am - DC Comics TV Musing & Noticing
From my PoV, the Marvel Comics Universe films have ranged from excellent to OK, which is doing exceptionally well for supers films. Sadly, the DC comics films of the last 15 years have ranged from pretty bad with one really impressive part to eye-bleedingly terrible. Also, while the Marvel films have ranged from bad to barely OK wrt to gender, the DC films have pretty much ranged from really really bad to really, really bad.

However, the situation is far different from TV. In addition to the obvious and easily understandable fact that mainstream TV can afford to take more chances and be more progressive than mainstream film, simply because the money at stake is so much lower, Marvel is (finally) doing fairly good TV with Agents of SHIELD, but DC has both one OK show (The Flash), and one quite good show Arrow, which has managed to be surprisingly good wrt race and gender.

It's also adding new heroes at a fairly rapid clip. We have (in order of appearance) Green Arrow, Huntress, Black Canary, a version of Oracle (Felicity Smoak), The Flash, Firestorm, and quite soon, The Atom. At various times, all of these characters have been members of the Justice League, which makes me wonder if they might be considering a JLA spin-off show (which would pretty much need to be a replacement for Arrow). However, it's equally clear that DC TV (unlike the movies or for that matter the comics) is actually interested in having female heroes, and if you want to do a JLA show, you need more than 2 (perhaps 3 if Felicity had a major role) female heroes given you have 4 male heroes, and I'm guessing they'll add one or two more.

So, then I got to wondering who they might add. I'm hoping that they learn a lesson from Smallville that adding in super powers, aliens, supertech, and magic all in one show or even just all in one TV continuity results in an utter mess. So far, all we've seen is highly trained hyper-normals, supertech, and superpowered metahumans. If they have sense and keep to that, then Hawkgirl, the Martian Manhunter, Zatanna, and a number of the other JLA members who aren't white men are out. Obviously, so is Wonder Woman, since it looks like they're using that character in what I presume will be yet another terrible DC comics film.

So, I considered who might work, and one obvious choice was Vixen. I then looked on Wikipedia to see if she'd ever had her own comic (just a limited series) and saw the following (at the bottom or the article:
In January 2015, The CW announced that an animated web-series origin story centered on Vixen would be debuting on CW Seed in autumn 2015. It will be set in the same universe of sibling CW series Arrow and The Flash. The character is expected to make live-action appearance on The Flash and/or Arrow as well. The 6-part series will be set in Detroit, Michigan; and if successful could lead to a live-action adaptation.

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February 7th, 2015


12:43 am - She struggled, squirming in their nonmaterial, non-profit world
Tonight, my partner amberite remarked that they had noticed similarities in language between John Norman's Gor novels and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I immediately thought of Charles Stross' wonderful Markov chain generator mashup of Lovecraft and the bible. Having already been looking into Markov chain generators, amberite soon set up a twitter account to generate these mashups.

The title of this post is one of the better ones, another of my favorites is: The collar was on her left wrist of the world: "I swear-by my life and the concept of superior intelligence"

I'm also quite fond of graphic (which is a mashup of book covers) they designed for this.

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January 27th, 2015


02:39 pm - A Wonderful New Novel and an Interesting Old Series
Sadly, humane is not the most common adjective that one would use to describe most space opera novels, and charming is pretty much never on that list. I have however found one exception The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (as a DRM-free ebook), which is also available on Amazon. It's basically what you'd get if you took Firefly (minus the unfortunate Civil War metaphors) or an average campaign of the Traveller RPG and focused more on interpersonal dynamics and character's emotional lives, while substantially reducing the level of violence.

Don't go looking for anything remotely resembling hard SF here – the setting is less unbelievable and physically impossible than Star Wars or Star Trek, but not by vast amounts. However, if you are willing to fully engage your suspension of disbelief when you open the book, you're in for quite a treat. Not all of the major characters were likeable (although most were), but they were all understandable, and the way the novel switched points of view worked quite well.

This is the author's first novel and I'm definitely looking forward to more. It also makes me long to play an RPG like Traveller in the same style of low-action, major focus on interpersonal dynamics that we use for the other RPGs we play.

One reason I enjoyed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet so much was that just before I read it, I finished rereading E.E. Smith's Lensman series, which was interesting, if utterly devoid of charming and sketchy on the humane.

The first and only time I read it was when I was a pre-teen, quite a number of decades ago. I remember thinking at the time that Boskone (the antagonists) were clearly stand-ins for Nazis. When I was that the books were published in the early 50s, that idea made perfect sense, and I thought no more about it, until a while back I reread Smith's Skylark series (the first book of which was published in 1928), I noticed that most of the Lensman series was first published before World War II, and the first two books (Triplanetary & Galactic Patrol) were published in the 1930s.

Galactic Patrol was first published (serialized in magazines) starting in late 1937 and completed in early 1938. The last part of this novel was published shortly before Nazi Germany invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia, meaning that very few people in the US considered the Nazis to be a military threat. However, upon rereading it, it's pretty clear that Boskone are Nazis. Instead of what seems to be gangs of pirates, you have an organized military force under the control of a tyrant who has complete contempt for freedom and liberty, and this tyrant's name is Helmuth. So, yes, definitely space Nazis.

What's fascinating is that they don't look at all like our conceptions of Nazis, since none of the modern stereotypes about them existed yet. What we have is a brutal tyranny where the will to power is their driving force, where failure is severely (and often fatally) punished, and compassion seen as weakness. However, the leaders are also just as intelligent as the heroes and their technology is just as high and sometimes higher. One big difference is the complete lack of racial (or even species) superiority. They are tyrants, but not racists. It's worth noting that in 1937, while anti-Semitism was thriving in Germany, no one was being rounded up and thrown into concentration camps.

These are also very different novels from his earlier Skylark series, where the answer to any serious problem seemed to be genocide – in the first novel it was on a continental scale, and by the last, it had expanded up to a galactic scale. The Lensman series involved throwing planets at other planets, but with the exception of the ultimate villains and some creatures that psychically fed on suffering and death, the goal was never to exterminate a species (although in practice, this presumably occasionally happened with all the throwing planets at each other) and the protagonists both worked to understand and befriend extremely alien creatures and showed compassion for others (yes, this all ultimately boils down to me saying that the Lensman series only has a limited amount of genocide).

In any case, I was surprised, because I honestly expected Smith to be pro-fascist, at least until the Nazi started attempting to conquer Europe, and he clearly wasn't.

Also, looking at the novels in the order that they were written turned up something else – his use of female characters changed quite a bit, from essentially none before WWII, to, in First Lensman (1950) actually come up with a reason why a woman who all of the other characters agrees should be a lensman can't be, and still having her be impressive, to Masters Of The Vortex (Here's a hilarious and also exceedingly accurate review of Masters of the Vortex). No, Smith never wins prizes for feminist writing, but compared to other SF from 1960 and before, Masters of the Vortex comes across as noticeably above average in that regard (although to be honest, in that era the bar is set pretty darn low).

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January 13th, 2015


01:56 am - Musing on High School & Male Geek Misogyny
I've seen a number of references to this impressively entitled, clueless, and exceedingly dodgy statement by blogger Scott Aaronson about his geeky youth, where he talks about the difficulty of growing up as a geeky nerd and identifies his two biggest problems as social exclusion by others and a serious lack of social skills on his part. So far so good, but he then goes on to say that in those same days he longed for the era of arranged marriages where women were treated as property. Then, he gave the perpetual "nice guy" cry of dismay about allegedly seeing the bullies who treated both him and the women they were around badly being popular with women while he wasn't.

In reading commentary about this piece, I encountered this excellent statement by a female geek, where she talks about how she experienced all of these issues growing up and had sexism to deal with too, which was far more interesting then Aaronson's piece and a useful antidote to it.

Reading these two pieces also got me thinking about my own experiences in high school, and to a lesser extent in college. In high school, I was a geek with essentially no social skills. I was regularly bullied (mostly via mockery and people stealing my stuff, physical attacks were thankfully rare, but not unknown). However, my experiences and reactions were quite different, and I'm both pleased at these differences and also puzzled as to their possible causes.

The biggest difference I can see is that I've never had self-esteem problems – I always knew that I was brilliant and I liked myself. Unfortunately, my eagerness to share my brilliance with others did very little to help my social status in high school one bit. Also, and perhaps just as importantly, it never occurred to me to blame girls for any of my problems. I knew precisely who to blame – other boys – specifically the ones who bullied me. In general, girls my own age were either mildly nice to me or ignored me. My tormentors were all male, and I loathed them and considered them to be stupid and at best semi-human.

A bit later on, I was also certain why I was an utter failure asking people out – there were two problems. The first part was that I lacked the social skills to interact with other people my own age in anything like a comfortable fashion – not knowing how to ask someone out was merely part of a much larger problem that included almost all aspects of social interaction with people my own age – one that I eventually confronted by a mixture of practice, observation, and most of all modelling behavior from the novels I loved. The second problem was related to the first - I knew no one who had anything like the same passion for or knowledge of science fiction & fantasy I had. Even more importantly, from reading a multitude of novels written by Andre Norton and various similar authors, I had keenly developed expectations of what I wanted and expected closeness, friendship, and love to be like, and I didn't see anyone remotely suitable around me.

When my attempts as closeness with others failed, I assumed that the problem was both a need for more practice on my part and a lack of suitable people. It never occurred to me to model or even notice the behavior of those who bullied me, since to me they were lesser beings whose actions were inherently worthless. Also, given how much I lived in my head and how little I tended to observe the world around me I simply didn't notice others' social interactions unless I made a special effort to do so. As a result, I had no idea how the boys who bullied me treated women or whether they were successful at finding someone to go out with – even asking that question would have made no sense to me at the time.

Learning basic social skills improved my interactions, but what helped most was finding people who had sufficient amounts in common with me that I was both interested in becoming close to them and likely to be successful at doing so. In writing this and looking over older posts on similar topics, I was amused to notice that my strategies and assumptions about getting to know people mirrored those found in the novels I mentioned.

In any case, I find many of the attitudes I held in High School to be quite dubious (specifically the bits where I regarded most people and especially the boys who bullied me as lesser beings unworthy of my attention other than as subjects of various revenge fantasies). As a result, my avoidance of the sort of misogyny that seems all too common among young geeky males is clearly not due to any moral or ethical superiority on my part. Instead, I'm puzzled as to the reasons some young male geeks end up regarding women with a mixture of hatred and loathing and others end up with less vile and problematic views.

I suspect that having positive self-esteem helped me avoid the sort of misogyny that seems to be at least as common among young male geeks as among other young males. My conviction that I would only be happy in a romantic relationship with someone with similar interests and attitudes and my determination to seek out such people likely also helped. Best of all (from my PoV at least) the later assumption proved to be entirely correct once I had the means to meet people with similar interests via letters, email, and similar means. However, I'm still uncertain about what factors caused some young male geeks to embrace misogyny and other to reject it.

On a somewhat related note to the above, I'm constantly puzzled to see various gamergate-related idiocy where what I assume to be young het men are filled with rage at the prospect of women being interested in, playing and writing about the same sorts of games that they are into. I'm aware that my preference for knowing and becoming close to people like myself is clearly not universal, but I have always been overjoyed to encounter potential friends and romantic partners who share my interests. There seems a level of self-destructiveness inherent in the male geek rage that lies at the heart of the gamergate phenomena, in that these men clearly wish to drive women out of gaming and related hobbies and careers, thus reducing the number of women that they have major portions of their life in common with. Even leaving aside its inherent vileness, the entire gamergate morass makes absolutely no sense to me.

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January 10th, 2015


11:18 pm - TV: female characters, ensemble casts, & why I'm unimpressed with Agent Carter + some stories
I love TV shows with good ensemble casts, especially since shows with a single protagonist tend to have serious problems if this protagonist is female. This post is primarily about the Disney films Brave, Frozen, and Tangled, but expands the argument to geeky film in general – films with a single female protagonist tend to have few or no other female characters.

Of course, it's also true that geeky action films simply have very few female characters. However, that's not true for TV. There are now a number of good to excellent shows with large ensemble casts where there are almost as many female characters as male ones, and on a few occasions more female than male characters. Current shows like this include Orphan Black, Arrow, Defiance, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and The Librarians.

However, what brought this problem to mind was watching the 2 hour premier of Agent Carter. It has two problems – the first is simply that's it’s a bit dull – like most of the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I simply don't find it all that good. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. got better, and while I still don't care about or invest in any of the characters, it's fun and well done, although, in my opinion the least well done of the five ensemble shows I mention above. However, Agent Carter has a second problem – Peggy Carter is pretty much the only woman you see on screen.

Early on in the first episode they introduced two minor female characters, and my first thought was that if the show was any good, both of them would survive to the end of the episode – one of them died pointlessly during the first half hour.

amberite suggested that the lack of other female characters is part of the point of the show – this is an era with a level of gender segregation and gender expectations that were from a modern PoV simply hideous, and while true, that fact that this show is one of a number of other TV shows and movies with a single female protagonist and almost no other women doesn't excuse it.

Meanwhile, as I mention above the new show The Librarians is now quite good – exceptionally light, but also good. The first 3 episodes (the 2 hour premier and the next episode) were not that good, but the episode where Bruce Campbell played Santa Claus was exceedingly good, in large part due to Bruce Campbell both doing a great job and acting very well opposite Rebecca Romijn. Romijn & Chrisian Kane have both been very good from the start and the other actors are now almost as good and getting better. This is also a show with a main case of 7 characters (including the two primary villains), with 3 women. The show is total fluff, but it's well done fluff, and while Agent Carter is somewhat more serious, it's also considerably less good.

On an entirely unrelated note – fan fiction for Ann Leckie's deeply excellent Imperial Radch series (currently consisting of Ancillary Justice, & Ancillary Sword) seems to now be a thing. AO3 now has 33 stories. I haven't read them all, but most of those that I have read range from good to excellent. Soft Offering & It All Goes Around are both quite good, and A stillness full of lights is absolutely wonderful.

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December 30th, 2014


12:48 am - A Year & A Bit in Music
My year in music started with going to an absolutely first rate Vienna Teng concert for her latest album Aims. Shortly after that I learned from teaotter that someone on Dreamwidth was organizing people to create a vid for each song on Aims - this project stalled for quite a while, with no vids for several of my favorite songs, but I recently saw that it had been completed. The Hunger Games vid for In the 99 is especially good, but honestly all of them are worth watching.

At the very end of 2013, I was looking at RPG Kickstarters and part of my search for interesting RPGs included looking at Kickstarters various people in the RPG industry had backed. When I looked at the Kickstarters Rich Thomas (owner of Onyx Path publishing) had backed, I found that he'd backed on for a new album by 1970s prog-rock band Renaissance, who I really like. I lost track of them after loathing their 1981 album Camera Camera, and they broke up after another album that sounds to me equally uninteresting. However, I found out that they had done a 2012 Kickstarter for a new album Grandine il Vento (now called Symphony of Light), and I also discovered through the wonders of Wikipedia and Amazon that they released another album in 2001, Tuscany. Both albums are a return to their older sound – I like Symphony of Light, and Tuscany is excellent.

Sometime midway through 2014, I learned that Suzanne Vega had released a new album Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles, which I quite like. So far, no new discoveries, and that was true for most of the rest of 2014, until I saw a post by Warren Ellis at the beginning of October, when he mentioned a fascinating web page (scroll both down and sideways to see it) by drone-folk musician EMA, where she talks about her encounter with fame in a raw and powerful way. After reading that, I was naturally curious about her music, especially her 2014 album The Future's Void, which had the same inspiration and a close kindship with the webpage. Here's my post about my reaction to her work, the short version is I loved it, and liked her previous album Past Lives Martyred Saints almost as much. More recently, I got a free $10 iTunes gift card from some promo with my ebay credit card and picked up the album Red State by The Gowns, the industrial-folk band EMA was with before she went solo, which I also love. Enjoying her music is odd, because while I am inclined to like anything within the wide and increasingly strange category called folk, I'm uninclined to like industrial music, and especially any such music with strongly dissonant bits, which some of her work has, and I love it.

Naturally, having discovered an entire sub-genre of music previously unknown to me, I looked for more. I tried a Pandora station based on her songs, and found absolutely nothing like EMA's work, but after a bit of liking and unliking, songs from the Album Fantasies by Canadian indie-pop band Metric kept coming up, so I acquired it, and love it, and also really like their most recent (2014) album Synthetica.

Further looking in a variety of other places turned up little else like EMA's work, but I did also discover British dream-pop band Fear of Men (don't blame me for the names, Wikipedia has lots of odd music sub-genres :) Their album Loom is also quite good. So, in the first half of the year+, I was mostly listening to new work by familiar artists, and now I'm diving off into a wonderful period of musical exploration where I'm delving out into unknown (to me) territory, which is fascinating and awesome. Also, oddly, I have gone from at the beginning of the year not being interested in Amanda Palmer's work to quite liking it – some of her songs kept showing up on the genius mixes I regularly have iTunes create for me, and I now really like her work.

Finally, in a recent episode of Welcome To Night Vale, the weather featured an artist and song that I absolutely loved (as opposed to most, which I am at best, indifferent to), Upside Down World by Paisley Rae, she is supposed to have an album out eventually, and I'd love to buy it, but sadly, this song is all I can get for now.

On a somewhat related note, after diving into realms of indie music unknown to me, I'm very much inclined to agree with this excellent article about how the internet and the decline of the control exerted by the major labels is very much helping both musicians and fans.
Current Music: Satellite Mind by Metric

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December 26th, 2014


12:56 am - Holiday Visit + Excellent Presents, a Fairly Bad Musical, and a good film
teaotter & I are visiting my parents, who for most of their lives were fairly noxious people, but are now elderly and pathetic. They have literally no friends in the entire DC area, my dad has memory problems and severe depression, and my mom has always been depressed and is I think someone as social as I am, who spent much of her life having far too little social contact and now has even less. As I have said many times before, they remind me of the sort of ill-tempered & aggressive cat that most people avoid, but who becomes sufficiently pathetic in its old age to provoke sympathy and compassion. So, no fights or other problems, but there's an overwhelming sadness here that it difficult, added to the fact that I loathe the DC area and long to get back to the culture of the Pacific Northwest. Also, I miss my other partner, amberite, who is visiting their family in the Bay Area - one of the disadvantages of not being out about being poly with my parents, but I can't imagine coming out would go remotely well.

One bright spot was having rialian visiting. It was odd, because he came over and visited with us here, which meant socializing with my parents and wearing uncomfortable masks, but he manages to play mainstream remarkably well for an otherkin elf who lives out in the wilds of West Virginia on his organic sustainable farm.

Presents were nice, I had two big ones - the Nivida Shield Tablet, which is marketed for gaming, but which I wanted because it's a fast 8 inch tablet with all the features I wanted (excellent high res display, micro-sd slot, and mini-hdmi port). Also, Android Lollipop looks nice, if not particularly different from Jellybean. I also got a pair of black Primal 2 shoes from Lems shoes. teaotter got a pair six months ago and loved them and I put them on today and find them to be by far the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn.

The only other even of note was seeing a performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Kennedy Center. I mostly enjoy Andrew Lloyd Weber's work, and while the acting and staging were quite good, the work itself (which I had never seen before and knew of only vaguely) was dreadful – now that the sort of adding modern touches to stories set in other times is exceedingly common, there really weren't any other features of interest, as well as no women, and to a large extent, no characters at all, as well as a dearth of catchy music. Also, we watched The Hundred Foot Journey, which was quite a good film, with the typically excellent Helen Mirren being excellent.
Current Mood: tiredtired

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December 15th, 2014


01:08 am - Musings on Planned Economies
So, one of the truisms we all heard is that "Planned Economies" are horrid and don't work. We are basically presented with two archetypal visions – kleptocrats designing and economy to make themselves wealthy (which to be honest, reminds me uncomfortably of the US economy) and fanatical ideologues designing an economy to fit their own narrow vision, regardless of any limits imposed by practicality or even physical laws – in short we all think of the infamous Soviet 5-year plans or the Chinese Great Leap forward.

A while back I read about how Salvador Allende attempted to use computers to help plan Chile's economy. The article goes on to describe an attempt to actually plan an economy which involved making plans based on collecting data & using statistical modeling (and of course ideology) rather than solely on blind ideology.

Project Cybersyn (as it was known) was never fully deployed, but according to the article seemed like it might have worked, except for the fact that before it was finished, Chili was conquered by Augusto Pinochet, a brutal kleptocrat who took power via US assistance.

In any case, I was reminded of Project Cybersyn when I read this NYT article Click here for the basics of the articleCollapse ) We've got "Big Data" now, rather than telex's delivering data (all of which had to be entered by hand) from every factory, or citizens registering their happiness by turning a dial, it's now possible to track production and consumption minute by minute, monitor the location of every individual item in factories, warehouses, or stores and even to to deduce the average local and national mood using tweets. The fact that we have computers that are more than one million times faster and better than people had in the early 1970s would also obviously be a major help.

Thousands of businesses are now making and using decisions using applicable subsets of this stupendous mass of data, and it seems to me quite possible that this data could be put in the service of an ideology other than the current neoliberal economic goal one of maximize shareholder profits ((or perhaps more accurately, at least since the late 1980s, CEO pay)), and don't worry about anything else except the most direct & short-term consequences.

Now, add in the fact that there's no evidence that privatization increases efficiency, and it looks to me that a centrally planned economy could work at least as well as the current US economy if it was managed using the exact same data that is currently being used. An obvious planning goal (assuming any sort of reasonable socialism) would be to first guarantee every citizen has all of their necessities taken care of and that production beyond that be determined by some mixture of what people actually want and what can be sustainably provided, with an emphasis on providing a variety of options that are all considered desirable by the citizens. Diversity in preferences could be addressed via a wealth of small projects, run much like Kickstarters, using whatever sort of money analog was being used (which would presumably be some mixture of a fixed citizen's allowance + additional earned units.

I have no idea if this sort of arrangement would work better than the current system in the developed world + the addition of a basic income or perhaps minimum income, but it's certainly unclear to me that it would be worse.

In any case, I'm interested in the thoughts of anyone reading this on these ideas – if nothing else, much of the RPG material I'm working on of late are for SF settings, and that's an excellent place to play with such ideas.
Current Music: Seer - Fear of Men

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December 2nd, 2014


10:51 pm - Uplift version 0.5 - Wow!!!
I just read an article with the rather goofy title: The smart mouse with the half-human brain. This is the beginnings of uplifting the intelligence of animals. The meat of the article is: Here are the key points of the articleCollapse )
Update: Here's an NPR article that goes into more depth - the big quote from that one is:
It might take a normal mouse four or five attempts to learn the correct route, for example. But a mouse with human brain cells could get it on the second try.
Given the greater similarities between monkeys and humans, I'm guessing that the human cells would produce a considerably less dramatic effect on them, but I also think it would have been well worth doing to try these cells in a non-endangered species of monkey. More practically, I suspect that the human brain cells would do quite a bit for a dog, and with luck someone will try that soon. Human level intelligence in a dog is drastically unlikely, but a dog as smart as one of the smarter monkeys would be very cool indeed - as long as it retained the same tameness and affinity for humans that other dogs posses. I love cats, but cats as intelligent as monkeys sounds like a rather less good idea, certainly interesting, but I'd be less eager to own one. Also, I'd definitely be wary about trying this on rats, since I'd not want significantly more intelligent rats to escape into the wild. In any case, one more SF idea has started to become real, and as long as annoying people who worry about people "playing god" don't put a stop to such experiments, interesting times are definitely ahead.
Current Mood: impressedimpressed
Current Music: Metric - Collect Call

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November 24th, 2014


03:19 am - A Very Good But Somewhat Flawed Film & A Truly Excellent Story
teaotter & I saw Interstellar today. It was very well done & definitely worth seeing, but also not without problems, including a few serious ones. The good bits are easy to list – the special effects are gorgeous, and it's especially nice to see high end special effects not in the service of war or other forms of murder. Also, unlike far too many films, in addition to excellent special effects, it also features first rate acting. In addition, it's especially worth seeing for anyone who knows even a modicum about SF films of the past 50 years. It was swiftly obvious that Nolan, and likely everyone else involved had seen 2001: A Space Odyssey, many times. While the kinship between these two films was most clear in the scenes inside the black hole, they were present throughout, from the spaceships, the general look and feel (although all of it was updated, so the film thankfully didn't feel retro). There were also a multitude of other homages, from the robot TARS' dialog to the scene near the end where Cooper & TARS climb into the spacecraft on the space-station, the scene vividly reminded me of Luke and R2D2 climbing into Luke's X-wing fighter, and I'm certain that's not a coincidence, especially given the way TARS's central section leaned up right before the cockpit closed. So, beautiful, well-acted, and full of homages to other well done films, all of which definitely make it definitely worth seeing.

The problems were unfortunately also in some cases all too obvious. I'd really like the whole women as the bringers/guardians of emotions to go away, but given that much of the film was driven by the love of a man for his daughter, the female = emotion parts were annoying, but perhaps less bad than many similar treatments of mainstream culture, but I'm rather intolerant of that aspect of mainstream culture. The lack of women needing rescuing was nice.

However, the film did less well on race. From here on we hit spoilers territory, including some significant onesCollapse )

OTOH, last night I encountered a truly awesome novella (or whatever you call stories between 10 & 20,000 words) - The Litany of Earth by Ruthanna Emrys . It was breathtakingly good – it's a piece of modern Cthulhu mythos fiction that handles the inherent racism in most mythos stories exceptionally well, and is compelling and powerful, with excellent characters, and it's also not horror (which is almost always a plus for me, especially for modern mythos fiction).

This story has some of the same aspects of reworking the meanings of various events of the Cthulhu Mythos while keeping the facts basically the same and then integrating them into the world that I used in my RPG Eldritch Skies, but this story has writing that is exceptional, and an exceedingly different feel - it's social science fiction that is full of compassion for all of the characters.

After you read the story, here's a truly impressive discussion of it - oddly on a blog which I've frequented in the past for excellent essays on Renaissance history. Better yet, clicking on the author's name on the Tor.com site (where the story can be found) reveals both another truly excellent (non-mythos) story that it filled with magic, kindness, and wonder. This link also contains a series of excellent discussion/reviews of many of Lovecraft's stories. Best of all, I found that the author has an lj, and on it, she mentioned that she was writing a novel about the protagonist in The Litany of Earth, and while the novel is clearly still being written, I'm greatly looking forward to it.

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November 9th, 2014


11:00 pm - An Excellent Novel, An Equally Good Work Realization, + Dubious TV
I recently finished The Peripheral by William Gibson. It's a stand-alone novel that was excellent, and is the first of his novels that I've thoroughly enjoyed since Count Zero. It takes place in both the rural US something like between 20 and 30 years from now in a US that is poorer and more corrupt, but with considerably better tech, and 70 years later, in an era with seriously advanced post-scarcity tech, but a fairly grim plutocracy. It contained a number of well done female characters and characters of color, and was interesting and good. I'm now looking forward to what Gibson writes next.

Also, while the basic rules are not yet done, I'm getting the setting squared away on Trinity Universe: Æon. Several chapters are now complete, and most of the rest of the setting chapters will soon be done. The one worry I've had for a while was that several months ago I found out that as the rules stood then, I'd need to include something like 10,000 words of additional rules, and there wasn't really anything that I could obviously cut to make room for them. However, several sections look like they will be something shorter that I planned, and not in need of lengthening.

I just added up the total wordcount and came to 10,500 words under the total wordcount that I have available to me. So, those extra 10,000 words won't be a problem at all. I may need an additional 3,000 words, but I'm betting adding that to the total won't be a problem, especially since the wordcount will be in flux since this game is (AFAIK at least) getting a Kickstarter (once the manuscript is complete), and additional text being added on to the book are inevitable Stretch Goals, as is more art and (hopefully) full-color art. With luck, the new book will look at least as nice as the first edition, and from what I've seen the setting material will be less white-people-centric and also an awesome modern SF game (with psi powers).

TV is rather less awesome. We've stopped watching Gotham, because it's basically the story of a corrupt city greatly in need of Batman, where much of the story is about young Bruce Wayne being shaped into the person who becomes Batman, except that he's now 8, and so won't ever be Batman on screen, and I don't care at all. The 2nd & 3rd episodes of Constantine were better than the first, but it still sucks, just not as much.

Meanwhile, the 2nd season of Sleepy Hollow is almost as bad. I quite liked the first season, but it really should have been a single season show. I seriously wasn't fond of the demonic pregnancy plot last episode, and basically, like in Gotham (and less obviously in Constantine), the show is now all about the protagonists continually losing, with only the occasional minor victory to prevent the apocalypse at the end of a particular episode. Also, I don't buy and could care less about a redemption arc for Jeremy/Henry Parrish (played by John Noble, and who Becca and I refer to as "evil war Walter", after Noble's far more interesting character in Fringe.

OTOH, the 2nd season of Defiance was (unexpectely) brilliant, Agents of Shield is now moderately good, and I'm enjoying both Arrow and The Flash. One thing that especially pleases me with Arrow is that while it's a show with a single male protagonist, it now has a number of excellent female characters who are all give a fair amount of screen time. The show is at long last finding something interesting to do with Laurel and both Felicity and Thea are being handled very well. In some ways, I think it's at least as much a mark of progress that you can get that in a show with a male protagonist as the fact that geeky adventure shows with female protagonists now also exist.
Current Mood: pleasedpleased

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October 22nd, 2014


02:17 pm - Awesome Food & Interesting Media
My latest sojourn into molecular gastronomy was lamb tagine (in retrospect, any beef suitable for stewing would have worked just as well). First I made beef broth in a pressure cooker, cooking a 1 lb. beef bone, half a pound of hamburger (browned in the pressure cooker first), 4 cups of water, ½ cup red wine, and a bit of leek, carrot, onion, bay leaf, and thyme. That all went in the pressure cooker for two and a half hours. The result was beef broth that was as solid a Jello when it was refrigerated. Also, I got 3 cups and only needed 1.5, so I can easily do this again. The next step was pressure cooking 12 oz lamb (cut in 1-inch chunks) and 1.5 cuts of the broth in the pressure cooker for 30 minutes. Once again, it's clear that using the pressure cooker on the absolute lowest possible heat setting is always best. In any case, the result was utterly delicious – I drained off the broth, reduced it, cooked up some diced onion, dried apricot, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, tomato paste, and honey, and then added the reduced broth to this, added the lamb and served over rice (Arborio rice, where I cooked onion in the pot, then added the rice to brown it very slightly, and cooked it with almonds and currants).

Tonight, I'm making Thai chicken coconut soup, and I'll be sous vide cooking the chicken, since that worked out so well before. I definitely need to rig up a better sous vide cooker, but a large pot, baggies, and a thermometer worked well enough last time.

In other news, Ancillary Sword was different than Ancillary Justice - it was smaller scale, but also a bit deeper, and excellent. I'm also guessing that Ann Leckie has as least two more novels in the series, since I don't see it ending with the next book.

The other book I've read recently was the latest Vlad Taltos/Drageran Empire novel by Steven Brust – Hawk. This was the first of these novels that I've actually loved since Issola, it had considerably more life that the recent ones and was a whole lot of fun – in large part because it's about Vlad being proactive for the first time in quite a while. It also has a truly lovely bit at the beginning that will be familiar to anyone who shares my taste in TV cut for paragraph-long quoteCollapse ) It's not an awesome novel, but it's a heck of a lot of fun.

I was also pleased and fascinated to learn that there will definitely be a Supergirl show, presumably next Fall. It's done by the same people that did Arrow and The Flash, which means it should be moderately good, and given the way licensing works, it will be set in a universe with Supergirl, but w/o Superman, which should be very interesting.

I'm sad that it will be on CBS, both because larger networks typically equal lower quality, but also because if it was on the CW, there could be cross-overs with Arrow and The Flash. In any case, I saw this bit of news on a link from this site about upcoming supers films. There are no Marvel films and only one DC film with a female protagonist, which is a shame, but there are quite a number of "Unknown Movie" for Marvel, and I'm hoping we get to see at least a Black Widow film, and hopefully at least one or two others. However, what I really want is more TV with female supers, in part because I like long-form storytelling better, and more importantly because it's clear (at least to me) that a well done modern TV series is better than almost any movie, and well better than any modern action film, since there is so much more opportunity for character depth and growth. I'm still holding out hope for someday seeing a Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers tv series.
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October 8th, 2014


01:46 pm - Awesome Soup, Awesome Novel + Unexpected Eclipse & D20 character class
My adventures in molecular gastronomy continue. I tried chicken soup. Given the basic philosophy, the recipe involved cooking all ingredients separately and assembling them at the end. Step 1 was making the chicken stock, which requires 90 minutes in a pressure cooker. The recipe claimed to make 5 cups of stock and called for 1.5 lb of chicken wings and 1.5 lb of ground chicken (both of which you throw away at the end), which struck me as too wasteful. So I used

1 lb chicken wings (blanch them in boiling water for a minute first and throw out the water)
0.75 lb of ground chicken
100 g sliced onion
50 g sliced carrot
50 g sliced leek
1.5 TBS sliced garlic
½ tsp whole black pepper
1 liter water

Cook in a pressure cooker for 90 minutes. Presumably because I have a $40 pressure cooker and not a fancy $120 one, more steam escaped, so I ended up with 3 cups of stock, but it was 3 cups of seriously awesome stock. I'm used to good chicken stock thickening in the fridge, but this stuff became the consistency of almost set jello – it glopped rather than poured, which at one point almost ending up with half of it glopping on the floor.
So, I supplemented it with 2 cups of good store bought broth, and the next day cooked all that with herbs (adding the herbs at the end preserves more of their smell).

Then, I cooked whole carrots and whole leeks (white parts only) in a pressure cooker (the recipe said 5 minutes, I didn't trust it, so I went with 6 minutes and mildly overcooked them. Also, next time I'll only use carrots that are uniformly thick, the thin parts overcooked even more. If you want a way to cook veggies fast this is it – put a little water in the bottom, place the veggies on a raised platform above (not in) the water, and pressure cook.

At the same time, I tried home sous vide cooking the chicken. Place each boneless chicken breast in a baggie (immerse the baggie in water before closing to get the air out), and cook on the stove at 146-150 F for 50 minutes. I used a dutch oven mostly filled with water, because of the large surface area and large thermal mass. After getting it up to temperature, lowering the stove to the lowest simmer setting, and moving the pot 1/3 of the way off the burner, I got a constant temperature, and put in the chicken. The result was delicious & perfectly cooked. Then, instead of homemade noodle, I asked teaotter to make her delicious dumplings in 2/3 of the 5 cups of broth, and in the other third I cooked rice noodles for amberite. The result was very impressive indeed. Not cheap by any means, but a wonderful treat or dish to show off to guests.

The equally wonderful novel is Ancillary Sword by Anne Leckie, sequel to her Hugo, Nebula, & British SF Award winning awesome first novel, Ancillary Justice. I'm 1/3 of the way through and loving this novel as much as the first one. If you like SF at all, buy and read these novels.

Also, as I was getting ready for bed at 2:50 amberite mentioned a friend of hers in LA said that there was a total lunar eclipse going on. By chance, the sky was actually clear here, and so we both stood out in the yard for half an hour watching a total lunar eclipse, which is the only total lunar eclipse I've ever seen.

Also, as a final and entirely unrelated to any of the above note, after seeing a thread about playing shapeshifters in fantasy games on rpg.net, I wrote up (and added to) a shapeshifter character class that I helped create and extensively played in the early 80s. Because it seems to be the best and most popular extant D&D version, I wrote it up for Pathfinder (ie mildly improved D&D 3.5)

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October 7th, 2014


02:04 am - Kickstarter for translating Chinese SF
I haven't heard about it previously, and it will be over in less than two days, but Clarkesworld magazine has a kickstarter for translating some Chinese SF. There's a whole lot of Chinese SF, but very little has been translated into English, and I'd love to see the Kickstarter reach $15,000 and an ebook of the stories.

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October 2nd, 2014


09:23 pm - New Music and Experimental Dinner
A few days ago, I read a post by Warren Ellis where he gave a link to a multimedia web-page narrative by the musician EMA, which was in his words "It's as good an illustration of the effect of "fame" on work as I've seen, and of how much stranger and more corrosive it too often is for women.", in it EMA says
"Overall, I think becoming a personal brand was uncomfortable for me. I found it on some level dehumanizing and disassociating. To put it in the most rudimentary Marxist terms: I had become alienated from the product, and the product was me."

Here's her narrative, it's raw and fascinating, and requires scrolling down and then right to see it all.

In any case, I'd never heard of EMA before, but after reading that and discovering via wikipedia that she write music that is described alternately as drone-folk or noise-folk - both of these somewhat dubious-sounding terms were new to me, but I largely enjoy music on the borderlands of folk, so through the wonders of modern music purchasing, I downloaded her most recent album, The Future's Void. I've now listened to it three times and I enjoy it a great deal & highly recommend it. Then I got her previous album Past Life Martyred Saints, which I liked, but not quite as much.

In any case, discovering another musician who I like (and hope to see in concert sometime) got me thinking about how I discover new music and especially new artists. Recommendations from friends or comments like the one from Warren Ellis is one method, another is music on TV shows, primary shows on the CW - I learned of both James Vincent McMorrow and Agnes Obel from watching The Vampire Diaries. Perhaps the biggest source was fan vids - I discovered The Mountain Goats, Flobots, and Maggie Rogers that way. I used to learn about new music from the radio and music videos, but music videos effectively no longer exist as a large-scale creative endeavor, and while I occasionally still listen to the radio, I don't do so to find new music. Such is the changing nature of music and of information in general.

As for food - another experiment from Modernist Cuisine At Home - pressure cooker carmalized carrot soup sounded good, but it called for both carrots and carrot juice (the later being quite expensive if you don't want adulterated nastiness) and I was feeling more like squash, so I went with a version for butternut squash+lemongrass and coconutmilk. I kept the heat on the pressure cooker down, slightly more than doubled the 2 TBS of water they suggested, replaced the butter with coconut oil, and added 3 kaffir lime leaves, as well as some grated kaffir lime peel, and some lime juice at the end. The result was good, but still a bit flat, but a bit of habanero hot sauce (not enough to make it hot, but to give it a bit more freshness and life) did the trick and it was delicious. It didn't make much soup (3 cups for 1 can of coconut milk and 1 lb of squash), but it was exceedingly filling.

Place in a pressure cooker: 1 lb cubed (small) fresh butternut squash, 1 stalk sliced lemongrass, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 coconut oil (or perhaps butter), and cook for 20 minutes (once the pressure cooker has come to pressure), keep the heat low and you'll brown the squash, don't keep the heat low, and I'm certain it would burn badly, mine browned a lot.

After that, take out the lime leaves, at the rest to a blender along with 1 can full fat coconut milk, 2 TBS lime juice (3 might be better), black pepper to taste, and a bit of hot sauce (not too much), and blend till liquid. Reheat and serve. It went well with a grilled chicken breast I marinated for 90 minutes in fish sauce (1/4 cup), lime juice (1/4 cup), 4 tsp sugar, some powdered kaffir lime leaf, and pepper.
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02:04 am - Really good book, mixed TV + life, & cooking
I just finished an interesting, if somewhat unusually written book that was enjoyable and well worth reading The March North by Graydon Saunders. It's military fantasy, a genre I mostly strenuously avoid, but it is unusually in both the excellent worldbuilding and in being deeply humane - it's set in what is mostly a crapsack world where most kingdoms and occasionally entire continents are ruled by sorcerous darklords who rule by virtue of their vast power - magical talent is common, but extreme magical talent is both very rare and gets nation-shatteringly extreme - there's even a good explanation for why so many sorcerer-kings are deeply unpleasant. However, rather than wallowing in grimdark, as is all too common (and from my PoV, vastly too popular), the novel is set in a genuinely humane and just republic, which was made possible by the development 5 centuries before of a method of harnessing low level and latent magical talent and combining it to great effect, which is used for everything from the military to all manner of public works. Essentially, this is the story of a crapsack world that seems to be getting better (at least locally). The fact that characters are only given gender markers (including pronouns) infrequently, makes for interesting, and entirely non-awkward reading. The only downside of the book is that its only available via Google books (drm-free, but downloading Google books takes non-obvious knowledge of how to do so - hover over the title in your Google Play library, and click on the entirely enigmatic vertical stack of three small squares in the upper right corner of the title that reveals itself to be called "options" and select "Download Epub"). It's also available from Kobo books, but is even less easy to download. That said, it's well worth reading. Here's an example of both the writing and the humane feelCollapse )

New TV is a far more mixed bag - Scorpion is entirely dire - the first episode is somewhat fun, if also really shallow and full of truly vast plot holes, the second episode reveals that my guess that its failure condition would be All-about-the genius-man-child-protagonist's-manpain" was proven exceedingly correct - avoid this show.

My verdict is still out on Gotham, the Batman namechecks are fun for comics fans, and it's edging towards moderately good. My initial fear was it would be just another cop-show with occasional Batman backstory references seems unfounded, but it may become too grimdark to watch - I'm somewhat expecting an on-screen hand or finger amputation scene in episode 3 and if I see it, I'm gone for good.

teaotter likes the first episode we've seen of How To Get Away With Murder. I find legal/law school dramas to be inherently dull and uninteresting, but this one is well acted (so far), so it's a maybe. Having seem downloads of the pilots for both The Flash & Constantine, I'm looking forward to The Flash, but unless the premier of Constantine is better than the download (which sometimes happens), I may try episode 2, but expect to turn it off partway through - if the premier is by some means worse than the downloaded version, then I won't even get that far - the download featured some of the most sterotypical, dull, and entirely unsurprising writing and acting I've seen for quite a while.

In any case, life has been busy and fun. The three of got back from 6 days in Oakland visiting our friends lyssabard, Sean, and Bryce, who all recently moved there from the DC area and are finding the West Coast as preferable to the East as I did. Lyssa and I also geeked a great deal about an awesome cookbook I recently acquired, which is basically how to commit acts of molecular gastronomy at home. Tonight, I tried the pressure cooker marinara sauce (done as the bolognese sauce version (ie with ground meat and (in my case cashew) cream. Good, but not awesome, in park because the sauce needed a bit more brightness, I may combine the pineapple maraina variation with the bolognese sauce next time. Also, and more seriously, it has an undesired smoky undertone, because the bottom burned a bit. This was my first attempt at using a pressure cooker for something other than soup, and the previously unnecessary and disregarded by me recommendations to keep the heat as low as possible will definitely be used next time. There are some recipes like making the "perfect" over easy egg by cooking the yolk and white separately that Lyssa and I agreed was far too much trouble for any possible benefit, but pressure cooker chicken broth (cooked for an intimidating 90 minutes in a pressure cooker) look very interesting, so experiments will definitely continue.

If it looks like using a digital temperature controller to turn rice cookers into a sous vide cooker seems to be both affordable ((which at first glance looks likely) and possible for someone with limited electrical skills (at first glance, a far more dubious proposition), I'll also likely also begin experimenting with that.

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July 4th, 2014


01:13 am - A Puzzling Decline in Print Periodicals
It's a widely accepted truism that the internet has been killing off newspapers, but I recently encountered an article stating (among other points) that the decline started earlier.
Gentzkow also points out that the popularity of newspapers had already significantly diminished between 1980 and 1995, well before the Internet age, and has dropped at roughly the same rate ever since.
This reminded me of another decline that began around the same time, the decline in sales of science fiction magazines. It's clear that all of the major SF magazines began a major and continual decline no later than 1992, which is well before reading SF online became a major thing (see graph here).

So, it seems that somewhere in the 1980s and the very beginning of the 90s, something, happened to both newspapers and SF magazines. Some of it is likely due to a gradual decline in reading for pleasure, but this decline is a lot less significant than the decline in newspaper or SF magazine sales. I can’t find 20+ year data for magazines, but what I could find doesn't look as significant. I don't have any answers, merely a question.

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June 24th, 2014


11:18 pm - Thoughts About Characters & Representation On TV
I had an interesting experience recently when watching click here for the name of the showCollapse ) (which is an excellent and impressive show), it introduced a character who was a female to male transsexual. That made me realize that despite the fact that I know quite a number of transmen, I've actually never seen one appear on a TV show. I'm now wondering if this was a first or if anyone knows of any other episodes of TV shows which have included FtM characters.

Even better, in the episode I watched, the character was introduced alive and remained so throughout the episode and was treated as a person. I mention this because while I have seen a few male-to-female transsexuals on various TV shows, a fair portion of the time they were either introduced as murder victims or become murder victims during the episode. That again made me think about how limited the selection of TV characters is – a problem that is considerably worse in the US, because standards of attractiveness for TV are far more strict and limited than in Canada or the UK.

In any case, it's definitely wonderful to see things continuing to open up a bit. Currently, I can now think of several shows that I watch which not only have gay &/or lesbian characters and Arrow (which has become vastly better than it initially appeared) had a major character who was clearly bisexual last season. Of course, once homophobia has died down a bit more in the US, I'm expecting bisexuality to become exceedingly popular in geeky action/soap operas like those shown on the CW, simply because bisexuality opens up far more opportunities for romance, jealousy, and all of the other interpersonal complexities which such shows thrive on.

I'm half-betting that in 15-20 years, people will be complaining about the number of bisexual characters in such shows, not because of homophobia, but because they are being introduced as a gimmick to allow attractive characters of either gender to hook up – I'd likely eventually get tired of that, but it would probably take a while :)

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