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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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May 30th, 2015

03:07 am - Deep Space Nine becomes awesome + TV Hugo voting thoughts
Lacking other TV worth watching [[1]], we've been continuing to watch Deep Space Nine - while season 3 was better than seasons 1 or 2, the range of episodes merely went from bad (some unwatchably so, others not), to watchable but often not very good. So, we skipped ahead even more, and the season 3 finale was somewhat better. Then we started season 4, and wow did the show improve.

The first two episodes were when Michael Dorn joined the cast, and something between his presence and generally better writing and plotting made those two episodes considerably better than anything previous. Tonight we watched S04Ep03 The Visitor. I vaguely remember watching the first two episodes of season 4, but I didn't remember anything about them and could easily be remembering later DS:9 episodes with lots of Klingons. However, I'm certain I never saw The Visitor before, and teaotter and I were both deeply impressed (amberite is out of town for a few days).

Yes, the abundant clichés about writers were clichéd in a very Hollywood fashion, and the old age makeup wasn't very good, but the actor playing the older Jake Sisko was impressively good and the episode was exceptionally well done. This ranks up there with the TNG episode Darmok and a handful of other Star Trek episodes as ones that I will happily watch multiple times.

I remember the last 2 or 3 seasons of DS 9 being quite good, but I also remember most of the best episodes being stories about war, which was also true of the two-part season 4 premier, but this episode wasn't, and so I'm thinking that perhaps the later seasons of Deep Space Nine were mostly quite good regardless of their content.

Thinking about TV also reminded me of my thoughts on voting for the Hugos for TV episodes. I list my votes below the cut. I watch the nominated episode of Grimm, which I expected to dislike, because I tried the show when it first came out and gave up after 5 episodes, in large part because the werewolf was the only breath of life in an otherwise lifeless and dull show. Instead, I liked "Once We Were Gods" - the addition of more characters helped and I very much liked the Grimm "scooby gang". We currently have lots of TV ranging from fairly to very good to watch, so I'm not certain I need another series to watch, but if that changes, I'll likely start. It wasn't as good as the season 2 finale for Orphan Black, but it was definitely better than any of the other (I'm not counting Game of Thrones, because I find it unwatchably violent and unpleasant).

Also, I decided not to give any vote for the Doctor Who episode "Listen" because I really don't want it to win. I thought back about when I watched it and remembered that it was the first episode of that season where (to me at least) the Doctor's truly hideous level of misogyny towards Clara became simply too glaring to ignore or dismiss. I'm fine with The Doctor being a jerk, both in general and to his companions, but when he starts acting like a particularly nasty and misogynist ex towards his companion (including spouting an abundance of vile pick-up-artist-style negging), I want nothing further to do with the show My Hugo votesCollapse )

[[1]] Thankfully, Hannibal & Defiance return soon, with luck Sense8 will be good, and Dark Matter might even prove good, despite there already being one show worth watching on Syfy (Defiance)

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02:08 am - Judith Butler discusses trans issues
I've never read more than quotes and excerpts by feminist theorist Judith Butler, but I have long known that she's one of the more influential feminist authors, especially among second wave feminists.

Given the often quite serious limitations of second wave feminism when dealing with transsexuals and genderqueer people, I was exceedingly pleased to see this short interview with Judith Butler on the topic of transsexuality and anti-trans feminists Two quotes in particular deeply impressed me.

quotes belowCollapse )

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May 22nd, 2015

12:34 pm - Three-Body Problem Review + Musings On Hugo Award Novel Voting
Yesterday, I finished reading Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, a well done and interesting SF novel written by one of China's premier SF novelists and translated in the English. I've looked at the covers of recent Chinese SF magazine (but not knowing Chinese, have only been able to read a handful of stories which have been translated). The covers remind me of tech focused US SF magazines from the 50s & 60s, but none of the stories have, until I read this book. There are a lot of ways that it's entirely unlike US SF from that era, but there are also distinct similarities – some of which were clearly deliberate.

james_nicoll recently reviews the Isaac Asimov anthology Nightfall and Other Stories, and based on that review, I reread some of the stories in my copy, most of which I had forgotten, having last read any of them more than 30 years ago, and so I had recently reread Breeds There a Man... - it's pretty clear to me that Cixin Liu read this short story and it formed part of the inspiration for Three-Body Problem, which isn't a bad thing, and Three-Body Problem is definitely the better of the two.

In any case, I'm fairly sure the author read that story, because of an offhand mention in the novel of a scene from Isaac Asimov's short story The Billiard Ball, so it's clear that the author not only has read Asimov's short stories, but also thinks they are a reasonable reference to put into a novel – I guess Chinese SF fans read lots of Asimov, which rather makes sense. Of course, the novel is far more than an extension of that story – it's also about the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the perils of cultural contact.

The book starts out very impressively – the sections set during the Cultural Revolution were very powerful and the present day sections presented a mystery that felt like something written by Daryl Gregory (who does that sort of thing awesomely well). However, we're told very early on that if something looks too mysterious, someone is behind it, and once we learn what's going on that book remains good and worth reading, but ceases to be anything I'd call great or wonderful. Also, the characterization of the protaginist during the sections set during the Cultural Revolution is fairly good, but the primary protagonist largely serves as a useful PoV and suffers from the same sort of minimal characterization as characters in similar US novels from the 50s & 60s.

It remains from beginning to end the sort of engineering & applied physics and chemistry focused SF that many US SF authors like Asimov made a living writing, and it's definitely a well done example of that, while also clearly being written in the modern day, by an author from a different culture.

Now we head into mild spoilers territory More about Three-Body Problem HereCollapse )

I'm very glad I read this novel, but what prompted me to was voting for the Hugo Awards. I now have a ranking for best novel and after much thought a strategy for voting. The strategy is simple, I'm willing to consider and vote for anything on that ballot that is by someone who hasn't made any statements in support of either the Sad or Rabid Puppies or slate voting in general. This means that I'm considering all of the books now nominated for best novel, but I only have to read one story in any of the short fiction categories, since I've found posts and comments in support of the voting slates by everyone else.

My votes for Hugo Award for Best Novel are as follows
  1. Ancillary Sword Ann Leckie: In addition to vastly better characterization than Three Body Problem, it didn't fall down ½ to 2/3s of the way through and I enjoyed it more. I don't think it's as strong a novel as Ancillary Justice, but I also think it's the best novel nominated
  2. Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu: Definitely a good novel and one I'm very glad I read, but not good enough to win.
  3. No Award: I don't think any of the other three novels are all that good, and so No Award comes next.
  4. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: As I mentioned before, I gave up in utter boredom a bit less than halfway through. I'm not a fan of passive and incompetent protagonists who remain that way and while I wanted to like this novel, it was impressively dull.
  5. Skin Game by Jim Butcher: I didn't read the first couple of chapters – I'd previously read 2.5 of Butcher's Harry Dresden novels, and that's pretty much my lifetime limit. Butcher isn't a terrible writer, but this series isn't for me (and I'm someone who quite liked the first 8 of Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter (they weren't good, but I enjoyed them)).
  6. The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson: The previous two were novels I didn't like, but wouldn't go so far as to say were bad – this is a bad novel.

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May 21st, 2015

11:31 pm - The Most Impressive Dessert I've Ever Made
I recently made a truly awesome dessert, a a Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise

Also, it's intrinsically gluten free. I also made it dairy free by replacing the milk with low fat coconut milk, the cream with normal coconut milk, and the butter with coconut oil (all of which were excellent substitutes). The one thing about this recipe is that it's moderately difficult and definitely time consuming. Given cooking and cooling time, and the time you need to spend once the whole thing has been assembled, so that moist buttercream and hard dry crunchy merengue can come to some sort of hydroscopic equilibrium and produce a tender cake-like merengue requires roughly 9 hours. However, this can easily become 6 hours and then let the cake rest in the fridge overnight.

It's also worth noting that what you get at the end can only vaguely be described as a cake. It's perhaps more accurate to say that you have made a truly gigantic and impressively awesome candy bar, if candy bars were made out of gourmet ingredients rather than junk. A typical slice that left anyone trying it very satisfied was roughly 3 inches on a side (the rough height and width of it, and less than half an inch thick. The next time I make this, I'll make half as much. Also, if you are looking for a low fat or low calorie dessert, look elsewhere. This is a delicious and amazing creation made out of a whole lot of fat, eggs, and sugar.

Here's a picture of mine:
Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise

Not quite as attractive as this picture from America's Test Kitchens , but dear gods it was delicious.

I'm also going to experiment with using the merengue as the basis for a gluten free trifle – by using jam, berries, and vanilla custard instead of buttercream and chocolate, and expect the results to be equally good.

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May 14th, 2015

02:42 pm - Musings on The Supergirl Trailer, Misogyny, Joss Whedon and Smallville
six minute trailer for the upcoming Supergirl show. The comparison with the film The Devil Wears Prada are spot on, and the first half of the trailer has some good bits and some genuinely funny bits, but they are amidst a fairly large amount of trite nonsense. The article also links to this SNL parody of a Black Widow movie done as a romantic comedy - and as the article points out, the similarities are not small.

My first reaction is while Joss Whedon clearly has his problems, they look quite small in comparison to the ones visible here. Whedon can write female heroes, not humorously awkward female characters with superpowers, and while that doesn't seem like a miraculous ability to me, the ability to do this and then get it on TV or in a movie is clearly non-trivial. Also, Buffy premiered 18 years ago, and I would have hoped that female characters on TV would have improved far more since then. Of course, on the CW, it largely has, and even outside of the CW, Agents of SHIELD does an excellent job of treating female characters as people rather than female stereotypes, as do quite a number of other shows, from Defiance, to Orphan Black, as well as many other shows made in the last 15 years. Basically, this trailer looks like a throwback to TV made 20 years ago.

Then the trailer got me thinking about a somewhat similar TV show – Smallville. I don't remember the pre-release trailers, but I clearly remember the first episode. Using that first episode, you could have easily made a trailer that looked very similar (adjusted for the protagonist being a male high school student rather than a working woman in her early 20s). The trailer could feature the same allegedly humorous awkwardness and embarrassment at work or school, supportive friends, the attractive but unattainable object of desire, and the old friend who is clearly in love with the clueless protagonist. Of course, they'd never in a million years have made a trailer like that for Smallville or any other supers show with a male protagonist. Also, to make it, the show runners would have needed to entirely leave out anything about Lex Luthor from the trailer. The reasons for this difference is of course misogyny on the part of the marketing department. Misogyny being found in marketing is unfortunately about as common as strong gravity fields being found near black holes.

The interesting thing about this, is that the first episode of Smallville was quite good, as were the first few years of the show, and so there is perhaps hope for the Supergirl show, but only if the trailer is more about ill-conceived marketing or the first episode is far worse than later ones. Trailers that look very different from the actual show are not all that uncommon, and first episodes of new shows that are mediocre (like the Burn Notice premier) or even terrible (like the premier of Arrow or The Vampire Diaries) are exceedingly common. Of course, so are terrible premiers to terrible TV shows – only time will tell.

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May 13th, 2015

03:59 am - Write-Up of Becca's Time Travel Campaign
The latest RPG campaign I've been playing in ended recently, and it occurred to me that long campaigns mostly just peter out or stop rather than having an a well planned and executed ending. Also, games involving time travel where the goal is to change the past are far rarer, so I've decided to write up an overview of the campaign. The campaign, run by my awesome partner teaotter started in mid 2012, and so ran for nearly 3 years (of weekly gaming, with a few breaks – at least 44 games a year, and somewhere in the rough vicinity of 120 session), making it one of the shortest campaigns I've been in, but a very good and very unusual one.

Like many of our games, much less time passed in the game world. In the course of the 3 years campaign, the game-world went from June 1, 2011 to October 7, 2011 – 4 months and 1 week. In addition to all of the time travel and the fact that the PCs utterly transformed the world, another unusual aspect of the campaign was that there were a total of three (fairly brief) scenes which could be remotely considered combat in the entire campaign, which is a remarkably small amount even for our group. It was also a hell of a lot of fun.

Here's an RPG.net post about the campaign I made almost 2 years ago and here is my 8,000 word campaign write-upCollapse )

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May 12th, 2015

10:35 pm - Pleasing Work Oddity
For quite a while, most of my work has come through a mixture of my writing to companies and developers and developers and companies who I know, have interacted with, or have worked with before writing to me. However, over the last decade I've had four developers write to me out of the blue to work on projects.

The first was a small American company, but the other three have all been British. Given that I do more than 80% of my writing for US RPG companies, I find this quite odd, but I also loved the two projects I was previously to do [[1]] and the second of these led to a continuing working relationship with Cubicle 7, and am enjoying the one I just started on, which I can't talk about yet, but is quite nifty.

In any case, I have no idea why UK publishers I have not worked with before are approaching me more than US ones, but given that I've never had payment problems with UK publishers, I'm quite happy about it. Also, being asked to write something solely due to my reputation as an RPG writer and designer is exceedingly flattering.

[[1]]: The first was the as yet unpublished Unhallowed Wizardry, a magic and psi sourcebook for Call of Cthulhu, by Sixtystone Press (which will hopefully be kickstarting later this year) & the magic rules for Cubicle 7's Laundry RPG - (I rather suspect I got the second because I wrote the first).
Current Music: Jordan Reyne - Green (Flying Over Ireland)

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May 5th, 2015

03:11 am - Musings On TV & Lone Individuals vs Complex Problems
amberite encountered this excellent article talking about problems with the TV show The Wire and looking at the recent troubles in Baltimore, and I highly recommend it.

I only watched half a season of The Wire before the violence and brutality were too much for me, but this article is worth reading even if you never saw the show. The part that struck me most though was this bit:
Everyone on The Wire seeks individual solutions for social problems: the lone cop, the lone criminal, the lone teacher, the lone newspaper reporter. Yes, it is certainly true that when entrenched bureaucracies battle individuals, individuals lose. But when bureaucracies battle social movements, the results can be quite different.
This is not a new or a unique viewpoint, but it is a terribly corrosive one, and one that I think has been deliberately foisted on the American public as the right-and-proper-truth-of-the-world ever since the mid 1970s, when people with money and political power saw what large organized groups could do about the Vietnam War, and segregation, and attempted to find a way to make certain that this never happened again.

I'm not saying that David Simon (who created The Wire) is one of these people or that he deliberately did this, he's clearly not and I doubt he did. Instead, US discourse was changed in the late 70s and throughout the 1980s, and I'm fairly certain it was changed on purpose. I talk about this issue more in this post about that particular topic.

amberite mentioned the article about The Wire after we watched the first part of the 2 part Deep Space Nine episode Past Tense, where Sisko, Dax, and Bashir travel back to 2024. None of us had ever seen this episode before, and I'd heard good things about it. I didn't mind the pontificating, but teaotter did, but she pointed out that what we saw was a complete lack of internal organizing in the Sanctuary Districts. People would be creating the various sorts of mutual aid groupings they always do, and the intake office we see Sisko & Bashir in would have polite protestors coming in to ask for medicines, schools, jobs and etc. Instead, this is a story about one lone courageous man (points to DS:9 making this man black) changing the nation for the better. It's not terrible, but it's also quite far from awesome.

In any case, once again we have lone individuals taking action against "the system", but in Star Trek (unlike The Wire) lone individuals can triumph, but once again collective action remains invisible. Dear gods we need more stories about collective action defeating entrenched corruption and greed.

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May 3rd, 2015

02:18 am - When Did Sexual Harassment Cease Being Used As Comedy? Further Musings on Deep Space Nine
We're continuing to watch Deep Space Nine, amidst also watching Arrow, Agents of SHIELD, Elementary, and Orphan Black.

At this point, we're still watching Season 3, and it's both highly variable in quality and also at an oddly transitional point in TV. The events like the first contact with the Dominion or Keiko O'Brien working on Bajor are a permanent changes, but the showrunners clearly either aren't interested in having a continuous rather than an episodic show or they aren't all that clear how to manage this. This is most obvious in terms of character arcs – Dax falls madly in love in Meridian (an astonishingly terrible episode, the A plot was a bad and utterly lifeless Brigadoon rip off, and the B plot was filled with humorous sexual harassment with a side-order of transmisogyny). Then, in the next episode, Dax is entirely mourning her lost in time love, and all of the characters are like this.

I never noticed this sort of thing at the time, because all TV was like that, but after close to 20 years of long-form storytelling TV, seeing this is jarring and feels cheap and ill done especially since there's some level of continuity going on. In any case, there are episodes like Defiant that are quite good, but as a whole it feels unconnected compared to modern TV (or at least modern TV that I'm willing to watch) largely because it is, and I find modern TV overall more interesting, complex, and worth watching.

Also, as with the title of the post – this season is doing better than Season 1 so far, but sexual harassment was clearly something regarded as considerably less serious and at least potentially funny in mass media back then, the lack of this sort of thing today is definitely a noticeable step forward.

On Sunday afternoon I'm going to see Age of Ultron, which I've heard is fun, but also considerably less good than Captain America 2, I guess I'll see.

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April 15th, 2015

01:31 am - Deep Space Nine - It got better
We kep with watching DS9, but jumping episodes when we found bad ones. The beginning of Season 2 was merely dull, so we skipped to the end of Season 2, to the first episode with the Jem'hadr, and it was much better. Quark quite justifiably called Sisko on how he was treating Quark. Also, that and the first two episodes of Season 3 were all closely connected, and the next one House of Quark was also clear part of the same story arc, so it looks like we've moved from old-style (and to me vastly inferior) episodic tv, so modern long-form storytelling tv. House of Quark was also a whole lot of fun in the sections with Quark, because he was a far more real and less buffonish/butt of joke character, while still definitely being the same character. Also, the plotline with Miles and Keiko was very well done, especially since the resolution was all about how Keiko's career was important and giving her a hobby was obvious insufficient.

No, it's clearly not as good as Leverage, seasons 2 or 3 of Fringe or various other examples of the best of modern geeky tv, but it's up there with current Agents of SHIELD - fun, moderately good, but also definitely not awesome, which is vastly better than I expected it to be after watching the first 8 episodes.

Also, I've been meaning to write about Jupiter Ascending, which I saw a couple of weeks ago. It was far more fun than good, but it was definitely fun. The protagonist ending with with a spoiler - highlight to read:
winged werewolf boyfriend, was both funny and fun, and I liked how she was flying on her own at the end. Having the villains be baroque space uber-capitalists was also quite enjoyable, I'm surprised that the far right hasn't objected.

However, I did see one somewhat interesting, if also unfortunate, problem. Both of the actual villains were white men, which given the overall small cast meant that there weren't all that many female character with significant roles, and there were almost no people of color. Among other things, it left Kalique as a bit of a non-entity in a film that otherwise did quite well with female characters, except for Jupiter being a bit too passive for my tastes.

I completely understand the use of rich white men and villains, and it's definitely a vast improvement over the wealth of ludicrously decadent and often twistedly villainous black and mixed race villains found in so many mid 90s action-y films, but it also leaves fewer spots for actors of color.

In any case, I quite enjoyed it.

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April 12th, 2015

03:05 am - America: Yet More Horrors
I read today that Walter Scott, the black man who was shot to death in South Carolina while running away from a white cop was buried today. Today I also learned that someone in a US city far away from me and who I have never met, but who is very close to friend of mine, was raped by a cop. Both abuses of power are horrific and both cops should be in prison, but beyond my anger at the two individual police officers, my feelings extends far beyond the police.

Instead, I thought of the fact that such events (perpetrated by both the police and ordinary citizens) have been occurring for much longer than there has been a US. We live in a society with deep seated racism and misogyny, and while both are slowly getting better in many ways, there remain far too many men and especially white men who are firmly convinced that they have the right to treat people of color and women however they wish &/or view them as objects or inhuman creatures rather than fellow people.

All of us have far more ability to learn about and react to such events than we had before, and that's clearly making a difference. I didn't see widespread national outrage and mass media articles about unarmed black men being shot by white police officers or about the vile way most women are treated in the US 20 years ago and there was much less widespread public and mass media discussion of racism and misogyny a decade ago, but we now also have louder and more organized backlash.

There's so very little I am able to about any of this – voting against stories written and selected by similarly vile people (and of course, voting for fictions I loved) seems a very small thing to do in the face of all this, but it's what I can do. So it goes…
Current Mood: sadsad

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