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October 11th, 2016

03:15 am - Thoughts on New & Returning Geek TV
So, new TV has arrived and most of the existing shows we watch are back. Since I'm most interested in them, I'll concentrate on the SF&F & supers shows.

New Shows

Timeless: It's fun fluff, it's clear it won't ever be more than that, but I like the fact that time is changing in small to moderate ways. I hate "time patrol" type media where changing the past possible but the protagonists prevent all such changes. It's about the same level of quality as Dark Matter, but more light hearted.

Falling Water: This very much looks like the network rip-off of Sense8. The acting is excellent, but that's about it. It has the dual problems of looking very much like the sort of show where the creators are making up what's going on as they go along and facilitate this by throwing up lots of oddities and then only coming back to some of them (a technique that I'm told Lost used a lot). The result is sloppy, slapdash storytelling. Also, the ultra-rich white guy (Bill Boerg) who looks to be completely creepy and vile initially seems to be set up like he might be helpful and a source of correct information rather than being the villain he so clearly should be. The acting is good enough that if both problems turn out to be untrue, I'll watch it, but I expect both will be true.

Frequency: It's based on an OK 2000 film of the same name, but with the protagonist changed from female to male and more characters of color. It's also pretty good. I expected it to suck and it really didn't. I'm shocked that roughly 1/5 as many people watched it as watched Timeless (both shows are on the CW). I hope it isn't cancelled and very much look forward to watching more of it. Like the film, it's a show where the past changes and thus the present does to, which I'm definitely a sucker for, but it's also (so far) well done.

Returning Shows

Lucifer: It remains much fun and surprisingly well done.

The Flash: I watched the first new episode of The Flash, and am done with that show unless I hear remarkably different information about the rest of the season. I thought most of the 2nd season was good, with the exception of the dull and stereotypical crazed serial killer villain (Zoom). However, doing Flashpoint for season 3, (where Barry Allen goes and changes the timeline to save his mother from being murdered) sounded interesting, and I was only concerned that they might make the timeline changes too grim. Then, in the course of the first episode of the season, for reasons that made little sense, Barry does not merely decide to go back in time again to reverse the changes, but has to beg a villain to kill his mother (in the past). Then, the (mostly) restored timeline turns out to be notably crappier than his original one. This was a show I was watching because it was fun and lighter than Arrow. When a show simultaneously chickens out of an interesting premise, reverses the changes for nonsensical reasons, and also goes for being as absolutely grim as possible, I'm done.

Arrow also looks to be getting grimmer, but I'm used to that with Arrow, and while it's less good than before, it's not (yet) vastly so. I'm not hopeful, but will keep watching (for now).

Supergirl: I stopped watching halfway through the first season because it was both not very well done, and completely unimaginative and unwilling to make interesting choices. I'll likely watch the start of this season, but I'm very far from hopeful.

Legends of Tomorrow: It isn't back yet, but it was dreadful enough that if it's not either more fun or better, I'm not watching more. OTOH, unlike Supergirl, I quite like some of the characters, and it was less unimaginative than Supergirl, so maybe

The best show I'm not watching

Luke Cage. I watched the first episode and that's it. I thought Jessica Jones was brilliant, but difficult to watch. However, there's a bit more distance to watching a struggle against a single super-powered abuser than there is in a struggle against entrenched crime and injustice committed by ordinary, utterly vile, human beings. I didn't watch The Wire, because while clearly excellent (I watched one episode), it was too brutally violent for me. I was up for all of the first episode of Luke Cage, except for seeing someone beaten to death. I thought about this episode for a while, and decided both that if the first episode is a bit too violent for me, this guarantees the rest of the show will on average be worse, and also that I really don't have any interest in watching a show quite that violent and grim.

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September 24th, 2016

02:12 am - Masa Ball Soup
While there are many puns about food, few are delicious. I love matzah ball soup, I even remember mildly liking the memorable version that my college made which a friend referred to as "baseball soup", due to the approximate consistency of the matzah balls. However, since [personal profile] amberite can't eat gluten, I haven't made this for a long time, and truth be told, I almost never made it, since my version was never as good as what I could get at even a moderately good deli.

Then I encountered this recipe for what the recipe calls Masa Ball Soup (Mexican Corn Dumplings in Chicken Soup). I made it tonight and it was delicious. I changed the recipe a bit, I made a 3/4 version (since there are 3 of us), only used 6 cups of chicken broth (since I greatly prefer soups with lots of solids and little broth), including 3 cups of homemade, exceedingly thick and rich chicken broth. To make it a complete meal, I added 12 oz of chicken breast that I pounded, marinated in equal parts chicken broth, white wine, and lime juice (3 TBS each) with the addition of 2 tsp of salt, 1 TBS of sugar, and 1/2 tsp of dried thyme. I used my sous vide stick to sous vide the chicken at 63 C for 1 hour, and after it had cooled a bit, I cut it into small pieces. I also cooked the veggies with 2 bay leaves, 1/8 tsp of ground celery seed and a small bunch of fresh thyme and used frozen prechopped butternut squash because cutting up a squash is a lot of work, and by adding it near the end, it was perfectly cooked and not mushy. I also omitted the serrano pepper, since [personal profile] amberite isn't all that into spicy food and I wasn't sure it was needed, and I also entirely forgot to add the cilantro. The result was exceedingly delicious. The soup was flavorful and excellent, and the dumplings were tender and utterly delicious.

As a side note, I only let the dumpling batter set for 20 minutes, since I was impatient, and I also only cooked them for 25 minutes, since they were clearly done by that point.

Here's a photo:

masa ball soup

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September 20th, 2016

12:17 am - GF Pizzelles
This time, my experimental baking was rather more successful, in part because I know what a good pizzelle should taste like, and these were somewhat better than that. The following is a recipe I pretty much created on the fly by looking at several classic pizzelle recipes (especially Mario Batali's recipe), and looking at a few fairly dodgy GF pizzelle recipes, none of which contained almond flour.

6 TBS GF flour +
2 TBS Almond flour
4 tsp coconut oil (melted) (or butter)
½ tsp baking powder
3 TBS sugar
1 large egg
1 TBS egg white
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract (cloves or ground fennel seed are more traditional)

Beat coconut oil, sugar, egg, and egg white, and extracts or spices until foamy and well mixed. Mix flours and baking powder until well mixed, then add to the wet ingredients and mix well.

Heat pizzelle maker, and place 1 TBS of batter on each pizzelle mold (mine makes 2 pizzelles at once). Cook until done (use directions for your machine, or cook at least a minute, check, and remove when golden brown.

Makes 8 pizzelles, I made this to try it out, double the recipe for lots of pizzelles.

As is typical for using almond flour, while I (unlike [personal profile] amberite) have no problem eating gluten, these were somewhat better than normal pizzelles. If you aren't cooking for someone who need to avoid gluten, use replace the GF flour with all purpose flour, but keep the almond flour for flavor.

Next time, I'll try 1/3 almond flour rather than 1/4, since these held together perfectly well and should taste even better.

+ GF Flour Recommendations
King Arthur's GF multi-purpose flour works well, but the recipe in the America's Test Kitchen book The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook works even better, a full batch is:

• 24 ounces (4 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup) white rice flour
• 7 1/2 ounces (1 2/3 cups) brown rice flour
• 7 ounces (1 1/3 cups) potato starch (not potato flour)
• 3 ounces (3/4 cup) tapioca starch
• 3/4 ounce (3 tablespoons) nonfat milk powder (or soymilk powder)

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Current Music: Between Here and Gone by Mary Chapin Carpenter

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September 14th, 2016

12:44 am - Culinary Experiment & Questions – Attempting a Pavlova
I've previously seen in several works of fiction by New Zealand authors mention of that nation's national dessert, the pavlova. Being curious, and also having found a brand of dairy-free (coconut-based) whipped topping that's actually pretty good, I made the attempt. I used this recipe, originally from America's Test Kitchen's so far excellent gluten free cookbook. For fruit, I used delicious local raspberries.

I was tempted by this recipe by Alton Brown. If/when I try this again, I'll likely attempt that one (but again with local berries, rather than the far less interesting to me passionfruit).

After the allotted time, I took the meringues out of the over, but they were gooey in the center, so I baked them 30 minutes more, and the result was crisp throughout and no longer gooey in any fashion. What I'm entirely uncertain about is whether or not this is desirable. Recipe descriptions use words like tender, which to me does not equal crisp and mildly crunchy, but they weren't over-baked or tough, so I'm rather uncertain.

Beyond that, they were delicious, but the experience was much like eating a cake with fruit, where someone removed all the flour and some of the fat, meaning that the ratio of sugar to everything that wasn't sugar was pretty darn intense. In part, this is clearly because the whipped topping I used was roughly twice as sweet as any whipped cream I'd make if I wasn't allergic to dairy, but it also seemed somewhat intrinsic to the dessert. Am I correct in this assumption? Attempting food I've never actually tried is always odd, since I lack anything to model my results on.

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September 9th, 2016

02:46 am - Musings On Emic & Etic Stories & SF&F Novels Dealing With Race
First off, to anyone unfamiliar, here's info about the words emic & etic. In any case, I've been reading a surprising amount of fantasy recently, a bit of urban fantasy, but mostly fantasy set in more magical versions of the 19th century or in fantasy worlds with technologies and societies ranging from the late Renaissance to the mid Victorian era – fantasy set in eras with somewhat higher technology and more and larger cities than before has become more common, in part I think because the rural entirely pre-industrial past is moving even further out of living memory that readers are looking for something a bit more familiar, a change I highly support.

There's another equally obvious change, a growing number of minor characters and also protagonists who are of a racial minority and who must deal with issues of prejudice and discrimination, often in late pre-modern setting where these sorts of problems were considerably worse than they are now. I'm seeing such novels written both by authors of color and also by white authors, and while generalizations are difficult, I have noticed one that I think may be true – white authors writing about non-white protagonists facing racial prejudice more often seem to have that character relatively isolated from any community of such people, either because they left voluntarily to go and seek their fortune, because they were raised outside that community, or because they were kicked out.

In contrast, most authors of color I've read who write similar novels (and my sample here is sadly smaller, because I mostly read novels written by white authors) have protagonists who move between a community mostly composed of members of their race or ethnicity and the outside world, where they face significant prejudice, and such character are (unsurprisingly) more likely to have close friends or family members within their community. Also, from what I've seen at least, authors of color are more likely to write novels featuring non-white protagonist in settings where the protagonist is a member of the dominant (or only major) racial or ethnic group.

I don't see either of these sorts of stories as being inherently better than the other (beyond the obvious fact that having more authors of color writing SF&F is clearly a good thing, because there aren't enough and they face considerably more problems getting published than white authors, but I do find the differences to be interesting.

This current shift also reminds me of a similar change I saw starting almost 45 years ago – an increase in the number of both female SF&F authors and a far greater rise in both female and male authors writing about both female protagonists and important female minor characters. Once again, I saw differences in how female and male authors wrote these characters. The most notable being that male authors seemed more likely to have the sexism the protagonists face be somewhat over the top or at least exceptionally overt and brutal, while female authors seemed (at least to me) more likely to depict characters facing constant low level disapproval and censure, but I also don't think the differences was quite as pronounced as between non-white and white authors writing about non-white characters facing prejudice. I also noticed a few authors (the most obvious Gordon R. Dickson in his 1977 novel Timestorm attempt to write several important female characters, and fail utterly (in that he instead wrote a series of rather over-the-top stereotypes). Thankfully, I've not run into anything quite that dire among the white authors I've read who have written about non-white protagonists.

In any case, if you are looking for some exceedingly well done works with non-white protagonists that were written by non-white authors, I recommend:

Sunbolt and Memories of Ash both by Intisar Khanani (a third novel will be out next year), Serpentine, by Cindy Pon (sequel coming out in less than two weeks), and Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed (which I hope someday has a sequel, but is complete as is).

Short fiction (read online):
Hunting Monsters and Fighting Demons, both by S.L. Huang, who also writes the the awesome Russell's Attic series (modern day SF set in LA).

Also, for a good fantasy novel dealing with race by a white author, I recommend Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

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September 7th, 2016

07:42 pm - Awesome dinner
Several months ago, [personal profile] amberite visited LA and when they returned, talked about a restaurant serving poke, but where you can choose your protein (tuna, salmon or tofu being most common), one of several sauces, and several other toppings, over rice. In short, rather like deconstructed suhi. When [personal profile] amberite arrived back, we looked and there were no such restaurants in Portland, but now there is, it's 7 blocks from us, and it's name is a pun - it's also absolutely delicious.

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August 27th, 2016

12:40 am - Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Recipe
It was ludicrously hot today (thankfully, this was the last day of 3 days of heat), and cool food was definitely called for. Becca wanted lemongrass chicken with cold noodles like we get in various Vietnamese restaurants, and I managed to kitbash several recipes together and got something both delicious and also very much like what we get in restaurants. The following recipe serves 3, and all three of us loved it.

1 lb boneless chicken thighs
Trim fat, pound thin, and then cut into thin slices

11/2 to 2 tablespoons granulated, light brown sugar, or honey
1 tablespoon minced or crushed garlic
4-5 lime leaves (chopped) or zested peel of one lime (ideally a markut lime)
2 tablespoon chopped shallot or yellow onion
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped (4-6 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon dark (black) soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon oil

Place marinade in food processor and process until smooth, pre-grinding the lemongrass and lime leaves (if used) in a spice grinder also helps. Then, mix chicken with marinade and marinate for at least 2 hours (longer is better)

Finely grate 1-2 peeled carrots (the fine grater on a box grater works wonderfully)
Thinly slice 6 oz of cabbage or nappa cabbage (you can instead use bean sprouts, but I fine them to be vile, so I don't). Then, Thinly slice 3-4 green onions

Stir fry (or grill) chicken over high heat with 2 TBS of oil until done. Then, briefly cook cabbage or nappa cabbage and green onions in the same pan

Boil sufficient thin rice noodles for 3 (6 oz dried thin rice stick or 12 oz fresh rice noodles). Then drain, run under cold water until cool, and drain again

Make Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup water
¼-1 tsp chili garlic sauce (depending on how hot you want your food)
2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce

Serve noodles, top with carrot & cabbage + green onion mixture, top that with the chicken, and pour sauce over to taste.

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August 25th, 2016

02:21 pm - 55 (Birthday)
So, yet another birthday, and with luck many more to come. In a couple of hours, I'll go out to an excellent vegan coffeehouse with my two wonderful partners and I'll have cake, then it's off to the best (and oddly one of the least expensive) sushi restaurants in Portland (because, why not have desert first), followed by coming home and watching the latest episode of Steven Universe. Then, sometime today or tomorrow, I'll get my assignment for the new licensed SF RPG that I'm going to be helping to write. Life is quite, but good (if for the moment, also far too hot outside). Blessings to all.

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August 23rd, 2016

02:55 am - Changing Socioeconomic Class
[personal profile] teaotter's preparations for taking over her boss's business in January continue, and it's sometimes a bit odd to consider. I, and then [personal profile] teaotter, and I, and for the last 12 years, [personal profile] amberite too, have all been living at the barest bottom edges of the middle class, but with substantial benefits (such as our lovely house and a new car 2 years ago) from my parents, which allows us to live moderately well and without the fears of sudden disastrous expenses that many people I know have. However, we also have little room for additional expenditures beyond our normal, fairly frugal lifestyle. Our housing expenses are close to trivial, and so our single biggest expense is food, since I do the vast majority of the cooking and am quite picky about what I'll cook and eat and both [personal profile] amberite have (different) food allergies, which drives up food costs further.

However, while our situation will likely change only mildly next year, if (what will soon be) [personal profile] teaotter's business does well, in a year and a half or more likely two and a half, we may be doing not merely better economically, but much better, to the extent that occasional overseas travel and similar luxuries may be possible on our own, which is both wonderful and quite surprising.

Much of my self-definition has been as the mildly impoverished, somewhat dilettantish offspring of wealthy parents, and the practicalities of that are almost certain to change. One of the mot puzzling aspects of this is considering what all we might possibly spend considerably more money on, since there's only so much money one can spend on ebooks, and while I enjoy having excellent personal electronics, buying replacements for any of them more often than every 2 years seems to me wasteful to the extreme, and replacing larger items like cars remotely often seems to me deeply excessive.

Crossposted from dreamwidth, comment on either, since I'm trying to use DW more.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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August 22nd, 2016

04:14 am - Musings on a the otherkin community,a memorial, & children
Last week, [personal profile] teaotter, [personal profile] amberite, and I went out to West Virginia to a memorial for [personal profile] helen99, someone I knew and very much liked in the otherkin community. I didn't know her well, but she was a kind, thoughtful, and generally awesome individual and I'm sad she's gone, but the memorial was very affecting and I was glad to have been there. As it true at all such occasions, this visit was also a time to reconnect with quite a number of wonderful people in that community who I haven't seen for 5 or so years and reminded me of how much I enjoy interacting with these people.

I also experienced another rarely indulged pleasure –observing truly excellent parenting. One of the unusual (and from my PoV quite comfortable) features of the otherkin community, or at least the sections I'm familiar with is that being childfree is exceedingly common, which is hardly surprising in a group of geeky, deeply eccentric, and often fairly gender non-conforming people. However, several of the people at the memorial (some of whom were part of the otherkin community, others not, but all quite geeky) had children. Most were excellent parents of the sort that I've seen before a number of times (but more rarely than I'd like).

Then there was Summer and Ashran, who were the sorts of amazing parents one might expect to read about in the rare YA novel where the protagonist has ludicrously wonderful parents (excellent examples being any of the YA novels by Madeleine L'Engle) – yes, they both (and especially Summer) seemed that good – kind, loving, endlessly patient, joyful, and deeply humane, and with 4 children, ranging in age from 5 months to 12 years. In addition to sometimes enjoying spending time around other people's children, I also very much enjoy (and am mildly in awe of) anyone who is a truly excellent parent. I react to it much as I would to seeing someone demonstrate any other impressive skill that I have neither the talent for nor any inclination to pursue. Watching Summer and Ashran with their children was especially impressive and wonderful.

On a related note, at one point, Summer mentioned that since most of the people she knew in the otherkin community didn't seem interested in having children, she was going to have to make up for that lack :) That comment got me thinking about the nature of the otherkin community. Like SF fandom and a number of other subcultures, the otherkin community is very much a subculture that people join as teens or adults rather than being born into. This is increasingly distinguishing it from the neopagan community, which as I have mentioned in the past, has, as a whole grown more mainstream as its expanded, and part of this process has involved making a place for individuals and families who are far more mainstream than most neopagans were 40 years ago.

By their nature, communities that survive far more recruiting people than by people being born into it have greater freedom to avoid mainstream norms, in part simply because (for both better and worse) raising children in a community automatically exposes the community to far more public scrutiny that it might otherwise attract. This suggests to me that while the otherkin community will definitely change over time, just as all subcultures do, the direction of that change need not be towards becoming more mainstream.

As a side-note, I and many other people I've known (including many like myself with parents who were not horrific, merely somewhat cold and brittle) have had to learn about love and trust in college and young adulthood, and it's sort of amazing to think of being 17 or 20 and already knowing these lessons.

Crossposted from dreamwidth, please comment on lj, I rarely check dreamwidth.
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August 8th, 2016

09:52 pm - GenCon Quotes
My favorite was when Neall Price referred to someone (who I don't know) as "an older poly man – like John Snead, but a wolf." In addition to being funny, it's always wonderful to be recognized for being what I am.

My favorite quote that *I* made at GenCon also involved Neall, when I was referring to two different sessions of the Scion demo he ran (which sounded awesome). When talking about how they ended – "There was the gang war, and the gang bang", which seemed to quite accurately sum up his report of how those 2 games ended.

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01:01 am - Last Week - Parental Visit, GenCon, and Partner becomes CPA
It's been an interesting week. On Monday, I traveled to the DC area to visit my parents. That same day, the Oregon Board of Accountancy met, and approved my partner teaotter as a CPA (which has been a long and complex process, in large part because she's worked as a forensic accountant, and is the first person in Oregon to have used experience at a consulting firm to fulfill the accountancy experience requirement. The big next step happens in January, when she takes over the business she works for, since the owner will be retiring soon.

That was all awesome, but my visit to my parents was less so – my mom remains a combination of mean & controlling (which has always been true) and increasingly pathetic (which is far more recent), while my dad has early-middle stage Alzheimer's. He had very mild memory problems for almost a decade, following being struck by a car and hitting his head, but in the past years, he's gone from mild short-term memory loss to very frequent forgetting. The fact that their only local friends moved to Florida a couple of years ago only serves to make them more pathetic.

Following that, I went to GenCon for Friday and Saturday, which turned out to be quite productive. One company owner I wanted to talk to wasn't there, and two others I never managed to catch up with, but I did talk to one company I hadn’t worked for before, but whose work I love (and who pay moderately well), and should get some work, and have more work coming from another company that I recently started working for. Also, it looks like Trinity Continuum Aeon is moving forward again, which as the developer makes me very happy indeed, and what I saw of Scion impressed the heck out of me.

I didn't manage to social very well on Friday evening, both because of lingering stress from dealing with my parents and needing to prep more for the Mindjammer: Traveller scenario I ran Saturday, but Saturday was awesome. The scenario went exceedingly well, which always pleases me since I almost never run games. I both managed to do a good job running it, and prove that the rules I wrote and adapted worked really well. Also, in addition to several useful conversations, I got to hang out in the evening with a whole host of awesome people, mostly but not exclusively associated with Onyx Path Publishing, and had wonderful conversations on topics ranging from Star Trek to polyamory (which is surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly common among people in the gaming industry. That interaction definitely made the week a whole lot better. Now I'm home, and while very tired, also quite pleased.

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July 29th, 2016

03:23 am - Why I'm Pleased Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Nominee
I've seen many posts, including some by people I like and respect, talking about how much they'll miss Obama as president. I absolutely will if (by some ill-fated chance) Trump becomes president, but I really won't if Clinton does.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are essentially identical in their policies & in the Senate, Clinton's voting record was very slightly more liberal than Obama's, so there's no difference there. Sure, Clinton isn't as progressive as I want, but neither was Obama, and I don't believe that someone much more progressive could get elected.

It's clear that Obama is more charismatic and he clearly has a very loving family, and that's all wonderful, but it doesn't make me more impressed with him as a president. Charisma isn't one of the features I value all that much in a politician – it's nice, but far from essential from my PoV. I'd vastly prefer with boring, drab bureaucrats whose policies I agreed with to impressively charismatic individuals whose policies I don't. Also, when confronted with two similar candidates (like Clinton & Obama), the one who is more charismatic is not necessarily the one I prefer.

Also, I think Clinton will handle Congress somewhat better than Obama. One of president Obama's main failings was how much he underestimated the degree to which congregational Republicans were willing to deadlock Congress or even actively weaken and harm the US as long as they could deprive him of any sort of victory. Mitch McConnell actually said this before Obama was even sworn in, and the GOP stuck to this. Obama clearly didn't expect this and it took him most of his first term to understand just how hostile the GOP could be.

Clinton vividly knows this fact, and I believe that she'll be better at delivering ultimatums and learning to work around congressional Republicans. It's tragic that US politics is in that sort of terrible shape, but it's also true, and short of some sort of major transformation of the Republican Party, it's going to continue being true, and I'm convinced that Clinton will be better than Obama at dealing with this sort of hostile obstructionism.

I also think she has an excellent grasp of foreign policy and can be counted on to work to support the rights and lives of women and people of color – she's been doing both most of her adult life. In short, I don't think she'll inspire the same sort of affection as president Obama does among people who don't believe he's a Kenyan Muslim, but I do think she'll be both as progressive and also at least as good, and perhaps a bit better, at crafting policy and handling Congress.

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July 4th, 2016

02:13 am - My Hugo Award Votes
I'm voting for the Hugo awards for SF&F again, and once again right wing creeps ran several slates, which got lots of things on the ballot. Of course, this time because everything they voted for got no award, racist misogynist Vox Day decided to put works that people possessing taste and humanity might like on his slate just to mess things up even more and encourage people voting No Award over works that were actually good. So, once again my policy was to ignore any work by anyone who supported either slate (and to assume that anyone who published in Vox Day's small and dismal press of evil supported him) and to otherwise vote for the best works. Here's what I decided:

Best Novel
The choices were:

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson
Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I voted for Uprooted, followed by Ancillary Mercy, in part by process of elimination. I consider Neal Stephenson to be a talentless hack, and Seveneves is even worse than most of his works that I've attempted to read, The Cinder Spires is sort of fun but really mediocre, and the Fifth Season was clearly well done, but was also sufficiently grim as to be unreadable my me. Also, I refuse to vote for any work that is that horrifically grim.

The remaining two novels are both good and I enjoyed them quite a bit, but I don't think either one is a great novel. I thought Uprooted was (very) slightly better. I also thought there were a number of novels that were far better that came out in 2015, with Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory and Graydon Saunders' A Succession of Bad Days being the most obvious (to me at least) candidates, and I'd also have liked to see Robert Charles Wilson's The Affinities and Andrea K. Host's The Pyramids of London on this list.

Best Novella
This was a very different category from the first. Everything here is good, with one exception which was amazing

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
The Builders by Daniel Polansky
Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold
Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson
Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds

Binti was by far the best work of a selection of quite good works, and was notably better than any of the others, which in this case was pretty impressive. I put Slow Bullets next, followed by Penric's Demon, but both were about equally good. Perfect State and The Builders were both well worth reading, but not quite as good.

Best Novelette
A relatively easy category, because 2 of the entries were from Vox Day's press-of-evil, leaving:

“And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead” by Brooke Bolander
“Folding Beijing” by Hao Jingfang, trans. Ken Liu
“Obits” by Stephen King

Obits was the sort of horror King mostly writes well, but which I also quite dislike, and I wasn't impressed by it at all. The other two were good, but neither was great. I liked Folding Beijing slightly more, but both are worth reading.

Best Short Story
A very easy category, two more works associated with Vox Day, that I didn't read.

“Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon
“Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer
Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle

I assume Asymmetrical Warfare was by someone that Vox Day really likes, because it was an impressively dreadful bit of very short fiction that reminded me of something I hack writer in the 1960s might have written as a failed attempt to duplicate one of Arthur Clarke's weaker short shorts. Despite being a page long, it's entirely not worth reading.

Cat Picture's Please was fun and pretty good, if not great, and Space Raptor Butt Invasion was somewhat surreal SF porn, just like it says on the tin, and was also worth reading. I voted for Cat Picture's Please, but rather hope Space Raptor Butt Invasion wins, both because of the utter surreality of that story winning and also the fact that Zoe Quinn would be picking up the award, since Chuck Tingle wishes to remain anonymous and selected her to pick it up for him.

Best Related Work
All puppies all the time, so No Award wins here.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Age of Ultron was terrible, and got no sort of vote from me. The rest were all well worth watching. Ex Machina was by far the best film of the bunch, followed not too distantly by The Martian (which greatly benefited from Ridley Scott being the director)

The Mad Max & Star Wars films were both fun and greatly improved on the films that came before them, but also more fun than good. From my PoV, choosing one over the other was a coin flip.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Doctor Who: “Heaven Sent”
Grimm: “Headache”
Jessica Jones: “AKA Smile”
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: “The Cutie Map” Parts 1 and 2
Supernatural: “Just My Imagination”

First off, the only thing that was more than mediocre of these five was Jessica Jones, which was utterly and amazingly brilliant. There's nothing remotely as good among the rest of this list.

I actually managed to watch all of this season of Doctor Who (unlike last season, where the massive sexism simply got too much for me), and while as a whole I didn't think the season was all that good, it was fun, but Heaven Sent was both a good choice for an award because it was an entirely stand-alone episode and a terrible choice, because the only character was the Doctor, and it was a typically self-indulgent Doctor focused episode that had a few points of interest, but was mostly forgettable where it wasn't annoying. I used to like Doctor Who, but it's clear to me that both Moffat and Capaldi need to be replaced.

Amazingly, the list manages to go a bit downhill from here. Supernatural was watchable, but no better than the few other episodes I've watched. I actually liked the episode of Grimm that was up for a Hugo last year, but not this time. It both made no sense w/o presumably watching other episodes or reading lots of wiki entries that I had no interest in and it was an ultra-hackneyed Jack the Ripper episode. I'm sure that puppies loved that aspect of it. Also, despite loving Steven Universe (which definitely should have been on this list) My Little Pony isn't for me.

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June 24th, 2016

01:20 am - Recent Events & Violence Excused
The most obvious news of the day is that the racists, neo-nazis, and ultra-wealthy tax dodgers won a major victory in winning the vote to cause the UK to leave the EU. With luck, Scotland will be able to escape the racist sinking ship a majority of British people seem to want. I also hope that the US public demonstrates somewhat more sense and self-preservation instinct in November, when we vote to elect either a skilled mildly progressive politician or a racist egomaniac con man running as a fascist.

However, that not what really struck me today. I like math, it was one of my majors as an undergraduate, and as a result I occasionally watch nifty math videos by Vi Hart, and a while back, I also encountered an interesting mathematical look at segregation she helped create. However, I never thought about what being a woman doing math on youtube must be like. Then, I ran into this video she put up a couple days ago, in response to the shootings last weekend, titled Feeling sad about tragedy. I ran into this impressively powerful video (which is largely about women, violence, and fame) due to reading this transcript and interesting discussion of it.

This video also reminded me of this recent Australian anti-domestic violence commercial that I also recently encountered. While most boys don't seem to have done this, every woman I've talked with this mentioned that as a girl they experienced at least one boy being aggressive towards them as a means of trying to get attention, and almost all of them also had at least one adult say that the boy was doing this "because he liked her".

I'd be willing to bet that almost all of the 4-6% of men who are serial rapists, and the far smaller percentage who go on to kill women started out performing these sorts of behavior as children. If as a society we came down strongly against such behaviors all levels of violence against women, from street harassment to murder might decrease. Of course, gun control would also help, since killing with knives and blunt objects works, but is far less easy, and you don't end up with dozens of dead people from a single killer.

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June 17th, 2016

03:08 am - Very Good TV (and brief bad)
With amberite in CA for most of June, and new TV we are interested in not yet out (We're now looking forward to 3 shows in July) teaotter and I tried to figure out what to watch. She'd heard that Killjoys on Syfy was good. We'd passed on it last summer, when we were watching Dark Matter, both because we didn't expect Syfy to be able to create 2 watchable shows at once, and more importantly because the ads on Syfy made Killjoys look like a sex farce with extra violence.

However, lacking anything else to watch, we tried one episode last week, it was pretty good, by episode 3 we'd decided it was actually better than Dark Matter. We just watched the last 2 episodes tonight and are very glad that there's a second season and that it's arriving in 2 weeks. It has a level of humanity that's rare in modern geeky TV, and while it's actiony fun and not all that deep, it's well done, and also surprising in a variety of ways.

The most notable being wrt female characters. The main cast is 2 white men and a woman of color, which is pretty much a dead minimum of something I'm willing to watch, but in at least 3 of the 10 episodes, every important other character was female, and there are three other recurring female characters, and the overall level of sexism was notable lower than even most of the shows I'm currently willing to watch - the addition of a recurring gay male character was also unexpected but good.

Also, not unexpectedly, it's pretty tropy, being the sort of show where I expect to eventually see a "fight club" episode and maybe even a body switch episode, but what I didn't expect was a trope I hadn't seen before - an episode clearly inspired by "Fury Road", and a fairly well done one too. I'm sure I'll eventually get tired of that being added to the standard trope-list, but for now it was a pretty welcome addition. It also has other unexpected little touches, like the local religion of the "scarback monks" being both interesting and complex, and treated seriously. Also, unlike too many modern shows, it mostly knows how to balance action, humor, grimness, and touches of genuine kindness in a manner that makes the show richer and not the one-note dullness (or often unpleasantness) that seems to common these days.

When we were getting near the end of Killjoys, we decided to try another show we'd passed up, another Syfy show, Wynonna Earp - I generally loath westerns, but Becca had heard it had multiple good female characters. We never bothered seeing if this was true. In the first scene, we were introduced to both our heroine and another young woman who was clearly rapidly going to end up either attacked by monsters and rescued by our heroine or dead, and her body found by our heroine - I bet myself that if the show was any good they'd go with option 1. They didn't, and it wasn't. After 15 minutes of mediocre dialog, where at most one male character wasn't either utterly vile or useless, and we got to watch someone's tongue ripped out of their mouth, we were more than done.

So, I recommend avoiding this and watching season 1 of Killjoys before season 2 starts.

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May 26th, 2016

03:35 am - Fascinating Reading and a Kickstarter well worth backing – Neoreaction A Basilisk
amberite recently suggested that I take a look at a kickstarter for a book by Phil Sandifer – Neoreaction A Basilisk. Note: The Kickstarter currently has 5 days left, act soon.

I backed it after looking it over and then discovered that backing it entitled me to a pre-release PDF, and despite having a fair amount of work to get done, I sent the next several hours immersed in reading a whole lot of delightfully wonderful geeky prose about some deeply odd and disturbing individuals and ideas.

The book is essentially about the alt-right, and more specifically about three internet figures associated with it libertarian transhumanist Eliezer Yudkowsky, right-libertarian turned fascist-racist Curtis Guy Yarvin (who writes as Mencius Moldbug), and radical leftist/nihilist philosopher turned horrifiying neocreationary Nick Land. In some ways, Yudkowsky is an odd choice to include, except that Moldbug got his start on Yudkowsky's websites and perhaps more importantly, Yudkowsky's efforts are largely funded by Peter Thiel, a horrifyingly libertarian fascist who is became a billionaire as a result of helping to found Paypal.

The book is primarily about a gloriously and often hilariously detailed analysis of these individuals' ideas from the perspective of someone who thinks all of their ideas are seriously off. In addition to discussing all this by way of digressions relating to Paradise Lost, China Miéville's writing, Bryan Fuller's Hannibal and a host of subjects far more palatable than the basic ideas being discussed, Sandifer also delivers some truly delicious and hilarious prose, like the following two examples discussing arch crank Mencius Moldbug:

Here are relatively short quotesCollapse )If this looks like it's as much your sort of thing as it is mine (despite or perhaps because of my being an ardent transhumanist of a very different sort), back it, at this point you'll also get essays on Trump, Gamergate, and as Sandifer so awesomely puts it "TERFs: A look at Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, the adamant leftists who are strangely indistinguishable from Gamergate."

One a somewhat related note, in addition to the often-mentioned idea that Yudkowsky's deeply idiosyncratic brand of transhumanist thought has managed to perfectly reconstruct Christian eschatology & millennialism from a transhumanist/atheist (sort of) PoV, my good friend Ben Lehman pointed out that this same strand of transhumanist thought also manages to recreate a version of young-earth creationism via belief in the simulation hypothesis - chalk up another point for the hegemony of Christian thought in most of Euro-american culture and thought.

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May 15th, 2016

01:27 am - Democratic Primary Musings – Voting for Clinton
Oregon's primary elections are coming up Tuesday, but since we're a sensible state, where vote-by-mail is standard (and should be from my PoV the way all voting is handled for all US elections), I'm voting this weekend. I'm voting for Hillary Clinton, which seems a surprisingly contentious choice.

In addition to being the person who is going to win the nomination (barring events that would verge on being miraculous), I also very much see her as the better choice. I agree with Sanders' politics far more, but I simply don't see him as nearly as electable [[1]]. Given that Trump's entire campaign is built on lies, it's exceedingly clear he's going to try to pivot to looking like a moderate in the general election, and I fear that he could far too easily paint Sanders as an out of touch lefty crackpot (which given the impracticality of some of Sanders' suggestions isn't as far off the mark as I'd like it to be). Here's a humorously accurate look at Sander's problem with practicality.

I'm pleased that Sander's ran for president, since he's pushed Clinton to embrace more progressive policies, and given that compromise with the GOP is currently impossible (a fact Clinton thankfully knows far better than Obama did in his first years in office), the only people Clinton will both need to and be able to keep happy are Democrats, so I'm expecting that those policies to stick.

Also, I care vastly less about any differences between Clinton and Sanders than I do with the fact that both of them would make an incredibly better president than Donald Trump, and more importantly, both of them would nominate liberals to the Supreme Court – there's a very real chance that the Senate won't let Obama choose Scalia's replacement, and Ginsburg is sufficiently old that she won't be on the court all that much longer. If we get liberal replacements for them both, then we get a good number of years of a court that will be pro-choice, pro-civil rights, pro-sustainable energy, pro-voting rights, and for reducing the impact of the ultra-wealthy on politics. Too me, that's far more important than which Democrat gets elected president

On a related note, one of the most troubling claims I've heard from Sanders supporters is that Clinton is essentially a centrist Republican. In addition to reminding me all too much of similar claims about Democratic candidates made by the GOP-funded sham that was Ralph Nader's two presidential bids (the first of which helped insure Shrub's victory) it's also provably utter nonsense.

At least for politicians who have served in Congress, we can look at their DW-Nominate Scores and determine approximately how liberal or conservative they are. Here's the data for Sander's, Clinton, as well as Rubio and Cruz. It's grimly amusing to look at Cruz's score, very close to a +1, which is the most conservative possible score (no Democrat listed goes past around -0.7), means that claims that the two parties have both gotten considerably more extreme are also utterly worthless.

It's also worth noting that using these scores also shows that the two parties are further apart in ideology now (at least in Congress) than anytime within the last century (that and other data can be found here), which clearly shows a very slight leftward shift for the Democrats over the past 30 years, and an impressively extreme rightward shift for the Republicans during this same timeframe.

In any case, if your primary is still to come, from my PoV, the choice is very clear.

[[1]] I'm ignoring current polls that show Sander's doing better than Clinton against Trump (albeit with both winning) because the GOP has spent the last 20+ years relentlessly attacking Hilary Clinton anytime she ends up in the news, so they've damaged her popularity about as much as they can. So far, they've largely been ignoring Sanders. If by some miracle he wins, then they'd attack him just as relentlessly, and his poll numbers would fall – perhaps too far.

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May 2nd, 2016

02:04 am - Thoughts On Recent Books That I've Loved
Three of the favorite books I've read in the last year have been A Red Heart of Memories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (and its sequel Past the Size of Dreaming), A Succession of Bad Days by Graydon Saunders (and its recent sequel Safely You Deliver, and Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. These are exceptionally different books in many ways, something that could be called urban fantasy, if that genre was better and richer than it typically is, fantasy, and space operaish SF, and with writing styles that are at least as different. However, thinking about these books and talking about them with teaotter, and realized that these books also have several important commonalities.

The first is that they all feature world-building that is excellent and dense, and given that in many ways I'm a professional world-builder, this makes sense, but they also all have characterization that is equally good. However, there's also another important point of similarity – all of these books are about found families, and non-traditional relationships (both sexual and not). Also, all of these books have settings which are not actively dystopian, since I'm unlikely to enjoy novels with settings which are significantly dystopian.

I suspect that if a novel has these elements I'm likely to at least enjoy it and likely love it. I also enjoy Martha Wells' Three Worlds/Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads) for similar reasons, and the excellent worldbuilding and characterization are a big part of why I love P. C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath.

In any case, I am curious if there are novels which have both excellent and imaginative worldbuilding, solid characters, found families, with non-dystopian settings which I haven't read. If you know of any, let me know.

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May 1st, 2016

05:13 pm - Partisanship in the Democratic Party - comparing polls then & now
I've heard a fair amount recently about how between 25% & 33% of people who have or will vote for Bernie Sanders in primaries won't vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election when she becomes the candidate (it's not really a question of if at this point). So, I decided to look back at 2008, to see how opnions were going in the Spring when it looked likely that Obama would be the candidate, but it wasn't yet certain. I found to articles on Fivethirtyeight.com

The Clinton voters who won’t vote for Obama

The Clinton Voters who won’t vote for Obama, Part II

As stated in one of the articles:
56% of Clinton voters report they are not likely to vote for Barack Obama in the general election. As Rasmussen reports, “A month ago, 45% of Clinton voters said they were not likely to vote for Obama against McCain.”
IOW, I'm now not remotely worried that Clinton will have a serious problem with this, anymore than Obama had a problem with this in 2008.

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