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November 19th, 2015

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

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

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

Blue cover

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November 18th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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November 9th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 23rd, 2015

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

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

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September 6th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

I also noticed a number of significant differences –

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

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

Problems With Aging Parentsclick here if interestedCollapse )

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August 30th, 2015

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

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

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

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August 25th, 2015

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

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

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August 9th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 29th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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July 26th, 2015

04:58 pm - An awesome and delicious gluten-free pie crust
With amberite having Celiac, if I want to make deserts for all three of us, I've needed to learn a great deal about gluten-free baking. For cakes, nut tortes and other recipes which are inherently gluten-free and traditional are vastly better than any recipes which convert a normal cake into a gluten-free one (which are almost universally terrible).

Pies are a somewhat different matter. Making a gluten free crumb crust is not merely trivially easy, it's better than a conventional one, the answer is almond flour, here's an excellent and delicious recipe - for desserts, I add a bit of vanilla, or spices like cinnamon or allspice to the crust, as well as 2 TBS sugar, and you have a crumb crust that's considerably better than any conventional one I've ever had.

However, pies with top crusts have eluded me. Oat flour is ghastly stuff, GF flour mixes produce gluey and unappetizing crusts that work but have a terrible texture and aren't worth eating.

Last night, I picked blueberries from the blueberries bushes outside (yet another joy of living in Oregon), and made this delicious blueberry-vanilla pie, and I decided to experiment with pie crust. The result was a resounding success. Alice said the unbaked crust tasted like good cookie dough, which is not something they've had since not being able to eat gluten. I took a basic (and terrible) GF pie crust recipe, replaced half the flour with almond flour, and added an egg (the biggest problem with almond flour is that it's very fragile and crumbly, and the egg combats that nicely).

I used:
  • 1 cup gluten free flour mix (I use Pamela's baking mix, use ones with lots of rice flour)
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 3-4 TBS sugar
  • ½ tsp xanthum gum
  • 1 egg
  • 4-5 TBS butter, coconut oil, or dairy-free margarine
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2-4 TBS water
  • ½ vanilla bean (scrapped into the dough)
  • ½ tsp vanilla
After mixing it in a food processor, I put it in a bowl and let it rest 20 minutes (a useful step for all forms of pie crust, but gluten-free & not), and then rolled it out between sheets of plastic wrap (this part is essential, since it's quite sticky. The variability in the recipe wrt water and fat are texture based – start low on both and add more if it is too crumbly and not sticky enough.
I then treated it just like pie crust (although I baked the pie at 350 rather than 325), and the result was delicious. As with all pie crust that I like, it tastes like a thin crisp cookie, and tasted better than conventional pie crust, while forming a good bottom and top crust.

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July 25th, 2015

12:40 am - Let The Computer Discern Your Innermost Nature
There's a new application for Watson the Jeopardy-winning computer –. discerning personality traits from text . Input anything over 100 words in the box, click analyze and get results.

Needless to say, I tried this, and to see how it worked I tried it a number of times with different livejournal posts. I did not get identical results, but I did get a host of similar ones.

Here are some comments
  • You are inner-directed, skeptical and can be perceived as critical.
  • You are shrewd and skeptical.
  • You are shrewd, skeptical and can be perceived as indirect.
  • Your choices are driven by a desire for well-being. (this result was very common).
  • You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done (this result was very common).
  • You consider independence to guide a large part of what you do: you like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them.
  • You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them (this result was very common).
  • You are calm-seeking: you prefer activities that are quiet, calm, and safe. And you are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself.
  • You consider both independence and taking pleasure in life to guide a large part of what you do. You like to set your own goals to decide how to best achieve them. And you are highly motivated to enjoy life to its fullest.
Of course, there were also some amusing contradictions, such as one post giving me:

You consider achieving success to guide a large part of what you do: you seek out opportunities to improve yourself and demonstrate that you are a capable person.

And the very next one giving me:

You are relatively unconcerned with achieving success: you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

So, skeptical, empathetic, and unconcerned with tradition – not the deepest analysis, but generally fairly accurate. I'm now very interested at what this will look like after a couple of more iterations of Moore's Law and more data – in 3-4 years this could be quite impressive.

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July 23rd, 2015

11:31 pm - Anniversary 21
Today is my and teaotter's 21st anniversary of our handfasting. We didn't do much, because she is exceedingly busy with the last (short and very intensive) semester of classes for getting her CPA – she is unsurprisingly continuing to get straight A's, but is very busy, so we'll go out to dinner another night. I remain exceptionally in love and astoundingly pleased I am with her. A few weeks ago andrewducker posted a link where someone described what was wonderful about being in a long term romantic remationship and said that he felt exactly the same way – I do too.

Also, this September, teaotter, amberite, and I will have the 10th anniversary of our handfasting, which I find even more surprising, since it certainly doesn't feel like 10 years. Life remains good and I'm happy. Blessing to all of you reading this.

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11:18 pm - Mr. Robot an Excellent Show & an Indication of the Changing Media Landscape
Mr. Robot continues to be the most impressive show I've seen in quite a long time. After this week's episode, teaotter pointed out that one of the key things it shows us is that all of the characters are vulnerable in some way, and that for most of them this vulnerability is financial – they are regularly on the edge of financial ruin. The show also continues to use Elliot's exceedingly close first person PoV very well, while also stepping outside of this for scenes where Elliot isn't present.

I was also struck by something that I realized was new. In one episode, one male character seems like he might possibly be coming on to another male character in a somewhat intimidating fashion. This is far from uncommon in TV, and similar moments form the basis for a great deal of fan fiction. However, in another episode, we see the same character having obviously quite vigorous sex with another man in order to obtain information. This character has a female partner, but also has sex with men, and that's not something I've seen before. So, that previous scene may well have been an actual come on that will be made more obvious in later episodes. That fact that this is now possible in TV is surprising and fascinating.

In any case, the show does modern media-savvy TV better than I've ever seen before. It has references to all manner of previous media – with special emphasis on The Matrix & Fight Club, and an interesting nod to Bladerunner with someone who seems to be the chief antagonist (and who is the wealthiest and most powerful character we regularly see) being named Tyrell.

It also doesn't flinch from showing both a somewhat uncomfortable, but brilliant portrayal of someone who is exceedingly social awkward or from the disturbing facts of how most people fare in the modern US economy. In addition, at least from what I know, it does hacking in a remarkably realistic fashion that avoids all of the nonsense that we usually see in shows where computer hacking plays an important role. It was also renewed for a second season on the basis of the pilot, so there's no fear of it suddenly vanishing.

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June 28th, 2015

12:15 am - An epic journey for ice-cream
It's been way too hot for the last few days (first upper 80s and now low 90s, which is thankfully unusual for Portland even in the Summer). So, teaotter, amberite, and I decided to venture out at 9:30 for ice cream to a nearby ice cream shop that is open until 11:00 most nights. The shop is roughly 6 blocks away, and we were a bit surprised at the noise and lights we encountered when coming up to S.E. Division (the only large street between up and the ice cream shop) - then we saw that police directing traffic for the annual naked bike ride. We had no idea how long it had been going on, but there were easily 50-100+ people per minute, so we decided to wait, and wait some more. Eventually, after close to half an hour we darted across the street in a break between the bikes.

Then, we went and got ice cream, hung out for a while, and then we wished to go home, but the naked bike ride was still going on, almost an hour later. So, we prepared to dart back across the street and when another group of people did the same right before us, several people sitting at the outdoor tables at a small local bar on Division who said "It's like Frogger, you have to pick your spot and go for it!".

Using very rough estimates and the fact that we could still hear it going on as we neared home, I'm guessing there were more than 10,000 people there, meaning more than 1% of Portland's population was naked and riding bikes tonight. Admittedly, it's a far better night for it than other June nights (which I personally enjoy vastly more and are considerably more common) when it's in the 50s and might well be drizzling. The ice cream (or in my own dairy-free case, coconut-lemon-saffron ice cream and grapefruit-rose sorbet) was excellent, if unexpectedly difficult to access.

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June 24th, 2015

02:56 am - Musings on Nihilistic Atheism & on Reading More Terry Pratchett
I have an odd relation to atheism, as I discuss here, I'm very far from being a materialist , but I also have no interest in obeying any gods, except perhaps my own personal godhood. Also, I very much see each person's purpose in life as whatever they choose it to be and have no use for destiny, karma, or similar (usually seriously creepy when closely examined) ideas.

As a result, a number of atheist ideas appeal to me, but there is one particular subset of atheism that I've both encountered on-line and have seen repeatedly in mass media that both holds no interest for me and baffles the heck out of me – what I'm calling here nihilistic atheism. The best example I know of is Russel T. Davies' work on Dr. Who and (especially) Torchwood - in addition with RTD's clear fascination with The Doctor as time-traveling atheist Jesus, these shows are set in a world which is inherently bleak, victories are not merely temporary, but exceedingly so, and the world is inherently pretty darn crapsack.

However, what got me thinking about this was another atheist author of a very different sort, Terry Pratchett. I typically avoid humorous literature with the same dedication that I avoid comedy movies or TV series and so I've read very little Pratchett. However, I quite enjoy the Long Earth series that he co-wrote with Stephen Baxter, and am currently reading and liking the 4th book, The Long Utopia. Interestingly, I also avoid fiction by Baxter. He writes SF that is filled with fascinating ideas and with nifty premises, but which far is too brutally grim and relentlessly unpleasant for me to read. The only exception is his Long Earth collaboration with Terry Pratchett. Pratchett brings a level of humanity and compassion to the Long Earth series that is entirely absent from all of Baxter's solo work, but which I've also seen in the very little other work by Pratchett that I've read, and it tempts me to investigate more of Pratchett's work.

In any case, I simply don't understand Davies' brand of atheism. Sure, in a billion years the Earth will be uninhabitable and it's exceptionally likely that the human species will be extinct in 10 million years, but neither of these is a short time scale, and very little else is remotely certain. It feels to me liked Russell T. Davies' work focuses on the same bleak despair at the lack of a caring god that was a hallmark of early to mid 20th century Existentialism. Perhaps it’s the fact that I've never believed in a deity who controls my destiny or the destiny of the human species and is looking out for us, but I've never for an instant felt that lack, which is perhaps also why Existentialism is a philosophy that I find simultaneously baffling and uninteresting. In vivid contrast, Pratchett's compassionate humanism is definitely something I understand and quite like.

On a related note, I'd definitely appreciate it if someone who knows Pratchett's work could recommend books that are in no way works of humor but that they enjoyed (for reference, I bounced off of Good Omens and several of the early Discworld books because they were way to much humor for my taste).

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June 23rd, 2015

10:37 pm - Musings on A Symbol of Oppression
If you ever hear anyone defend the Confederate flag or claim that the 1861 Slavers' Rebellion (aka the "Civil War") was about "state's rights" or in fact about anything other than the bold-faced defense of slavery, tell them to read this excellent article by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

I remember growing up with the widely repeated statement that this war was only partly about slavery or in some cases denying it was about slavery altogether. Also, in the mid 1970s, I remember reading an article about how Virginia (the state I grew up in for all of my years in public school) had Elementary School textbooks in many schools in the late 60s (thankfully, not my moderately liberal Northern VA schools) which talked about how masters set out holiday feasts for their slaves and other bits of vileness.

The one bit of data I lack is how any of this was handled in college classes, since with my taste for far away places and long ago times, I found American history largely devoid of interest, so avoided all such classes.

In any case, in a very real since, while the US won that war, it largely failed at the peace that followed and the would-be slavers basically wrote the official narrative about that war. It's only been within the past 15 years or so that I've seen a majority of articles, books, and mentions of textbooks and history classes which unequivocally state that Southern Secession and the Slavers' Rebellion were entirely motivated by a desire to defend slavery.

Confederate Flags are at long last headed for the closet of uncomfortable relics, I hope the the attitudes that were responsible for their popularity die out soon after. I would very much like to see the day when the Confederacy ceased to be a source of pride and where Southern pride or nostalgia means something other than white bigots wishing they owned a plantation worked by slaves.

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June 16th, 2015

05:27 pm - Awesome Book + A TV Series I Won't Be Watching Anymore
Last year, I read and wrote about Graydon Saunder's excellent novel The March North (which was also and also excellently reviewed by James Nicoll). A few days ago, I was very pleased to recently discover that Graydon Saunders had written a second novel in the same setting, A Succession of Bad Days (available DRM free from Google Play Books).

It's in the same setting, and features some of the same characters, but can definitely be read independently. Also, it's difficult for me to say, since I read The March North first, but A Succession of Bad Days might be a somewhat better introduction to the setting. I also think the writing was slightly more polished (although The March North was quite well written).

The biggest difference for me, and why I enjoyed it more was simply that The Marsh North was one of a very few fantasy novels that was primarily (although far from exclusively about a military campaign) that I've enjoyed, and A Succession of Bad Days was about a group of people training to become powerful magicians. I love such books when they are well done, and this one was exceedingly well done. It also included fascinating and well-considered details about how to handle powerful magic in a civilized setting that is specifically designed to prevent magicians from controlling ordinary people. I'm fairly certain I've never read a scene where magicians had to discuss their plans with an ethics committee until this novel. The characters were interesting, the setting was both fascinating and very well done and I highly recommend it, especially if you prefer fiction that isn't all about gloom and brutality.

Speaking of gloom and brutality, with great anticipation teaotter, amberite, and I started watching the 2 hour premier of the 3rd season of Defiance (on SyFy). Season 1 took a while to get good, but it did and Season 2 was excellent from beginning to end. Becca stopped watching after 10 minutes saying that it was a little too grim for her, Alice and I watched the entire first hour and then we stopped. By the end of the first hour, one of the best major characters from last season was off-screen and might well not return, two other major characters had been brutally killed, and the show had introduced three new major characters: a new villain for the season, who is a murderous psychopath that drives around in a car decorated with the severed heads of his enemies, and a pair of what can best be described as vampiric drow. Also, the show killed off the last remaining non-white human characters.

I get that a fair number of people really enjoy shows like Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones, but I very much do not, and I an exceedingly unpleased to see a who that was an excellent noir story become a cheezy mad-max rip off. Perhaps it will get better, but we've decided to read summaries of the episodes and if this tone doesn't drastically change, we're all done with the show. I'm really looking forward to when shows which are not all about grim brutality become more popular.

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June 14th, 2015

03:12 am - Musings on new TV series and a new variable for TV classification- Involvement
teaotter & I have been watching several new TV shows, and all three of us have been watching Sense8 (which is excellently done and made more wonderful by having such a diverse cast).

Becca talks about the premiers of Mr. Robot and Stitchers here. Mr. Robot can currently only be seen on the USA website ( go here to stream the entire first episode). Mr. Robot is excellent, and not at all what I was expecting. When I heard it was about a socially awkward young male hacker genius, what I expected was a deeply horrible show like the recent series Scorpion, where socially awkward = a smug and loathsomely self-aggrandizing jerk who enjoys talking down to people, and where the protagonist is always right.

Mr. Robot is entirely unlike that, in addition to using a level of close first-person perspective that I've never seen on TV, the protagonist is genuinely socially awkward in uncomfortably realistic ways, and at least in social interactions, he's sometimes shown to make serious mistakes, include one he is justifiably called on. Combine that with a plot about taking on to finance industry, and I'm loving it, but I fear that it will be too different for most viewers.

In vivid contrast, Stitchers is deeply terrible, there are flashes of good acting, but the plots have more holes than plot and it's dull, formulaic, and entirely not worth watching. It's also very clearly what I'm calling low-involvement TV – you can easily follow what's going on even if you are multitasking online or at home and only need to spend at most half you attention on the show to follow all of it. The second episode was so much so that when it was nearly over, Becca and I both felt like we'd watched maybe 15 minutes of TV.

One of hallmarks of low-involvement TV is a heavy reliance on beat storytelling, so that structure and expectation is used as a shortcut to get around plot holes, often to the extent that there's more hole than plot, but the show is exceedingly easy to follow because it fits expectations well.

What I'll call high involvement TV is very different indeed. In such shows, you need to pay close attention to detail, and these details build upon one another, both with an episode and between episodes. The plots might not be much better in high-involvement TV, but the depth of characterization definitely is and I find the experience to be much richer and more intense. A good judge of high involvement TV is when you've watched what felt like most of an episode of an hour TV show and look and see that you've actually only watched the first 20 minutes, because so much happened in that short time.

The most extreme example of high-involvement TV that I've ever seen in Sense8, in large part because viewers are juggling 8 different settings, if you stop paying attention for 10 seconds you've likely missed something important and perhaps several important things. We watch Sense8 with the captions on to further help us catch every detail. Of course, this show about as extreme as I think TV can possible get in that direction. Far more typical examples of a high-involvement show is Fringe (particularly Seasons 2-4), Mr. Robot or much of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

I find this variable useful, because I have absolutely no use for low-involvement shows – I almost never use TV as background noise or something to watch when doing other things and vastly prefer show which reward close observation.

Today, we also watch the premier of Dark Matter on SyFy, it was somewhat promising, medium involvement, and may turn out to be worth watching, but also very possibly (especially since most new shows on SyFy are terrible) something we won't be watching in 3 episodes.

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