Monday, November 16, 2009

Consuming Cory Doctorow Audio at Lunch

In addition to finishing listening to Cory Doctorow's new short story, Epoch, on my lunch run today, I also listened to his first public reading from his latest novel, Makers. Epoch is about a sentient Artificial Intelligence and the issues surrounding shutting it down. It's a good story, better told. I say a good story only because it's plot line is almost a genre in itself, from Colossus (D.F. Jones) to 2001: A Space Odyssey (Arthur C. Clarke), etc. and this is a short story. But it has novel aspects and great details of the life of modern day Sysadmins -- Systems Administrators. The lingo is perfect and very much fun.

I've only read the first dozen or so parts of Makers (out of eighty-some), about economic turmoil and the reuse of technological detritus. The part he read overlapped the part I twittered in when he asked for suggestions prior to his reading appearance -- my first verified participation in a crowd sourced event! Makers is fast-paced and fun so far.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Noticeable Serendipity: Roseanne Cash Two Times

Now I realize that authors and artists sometimes have a product to pimp, or even two, so things that at first seem highly coincidental are really not so spectacular. But Roseanne Cash isn't exactly a "celeb ubiquite" (that's faux french), so when she popped up on my not-so-mainstream mass media twice last night in the space of an hour and a quarter, I noticed. First she was on public radio's World Cafe on my drive home about 9:20 with a song ("Sea of Heartbreak" from her new record. I found it curious that Bruce Springsteen was singing the harmony (I previously liked the harmony she did with her dad on "September When it Comes", but she won't be doing that anymore as The Man In Black is no longer among the living; at least until technology can repro his voice, say, 2021?).

Then I flipped to Steve Colbert at 10:30 and he was soon disparaging Bruce Springsteen's "The River" ( ) as a good candidate for use as a torture song at our Guantanamo Bay prison (wow, that makes me cringe, calling it "our" prison, but that's what it is and I feel the shame). Bruce is a pretty big name, so two mentions didn't raise my eyebrows. I flipped to soccer, Houston and Seattle still tied at zero after 70-some minutes of hard play; that's soccer.

Hey, Colbert, whatever your view of The Boss (I've never been a huge fan), he's still got some grit and some great lines: from "The River": "Is a dream a lie if it doesn't come true?"

I flipped back to The Colbert Report, and he's introducing Roseanne Cash, in person at his desk. Now I've noticed the serendipity (editorial aside: and we have our blog post title) and get engaged in their banter -- and its good, partly because Colbert is trying hard to maintain his right wing persona but his distaste for the goings-on at Guantanamo is seeping through. He signs her petition asking that our government (there's that "our" again) release the list of songs used to torture the detainees there. He signs, he says, "because it'll make it hard on Obama" (since he hasn't made good on his promise to close that facility). You can see the whole Colbert bit video at

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Capitol Steps, Falling Down

Caught a bit of the Capitol Steps latest production on NPR at noon today. It was less than stellar. They riffed on Sarah Palin to the tune of "A Holly Jolly Christmas", but it had no insight, stale jokes about Russia being nearby and such. Then they think they need to find faults with Barack Obama's performance. I think, I hope, there are other ways to find humor than just finding fault. They dissed his handling of the Boston arrest of a black Harvard professor breaking in to his own house. Sure, he gave the loonies an opening by using a slightly offensive word - "stupidly" I think it was (yep, pretty inflammatory, huh?). But the transgression was by the police, using too much suspicion and not enough parsimony. The Capitol Steps also picked up on Obama's win of the Nobel Prize for Peace. Simply removing the old regime of Bush W, Cheney, Rice, Rove and Rumsfield was enough. It's like a weeklong cloud cover of gloom and storms has been rolled back and the sun is shining on the happy valley again. That's no small feat; to turn a scorched earth atmosphere into one where hope prospers. Sure, hope is more promise than reality; but hope is more peace than oppression, exploitation, lies and torture. If that transition isn't enough for the Nobel Peace Prize, then it is indeed a noble prize; I expect he will rise to it in any case. I plan to support him as I can and push him as he needs it. Shouldn't we all?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good Guys at Delta Air Lines

As annoying as air lines can be, with their prices that go up and down depending on day of week and time of day, their silly costs to take an earlier flight, bundling and unbundling of fees like per-checked-bag and in-flight-meals, boarding inanity and on and on; Delta has, on a couple of occasions, done extra little good things that they really didn't have to, such as: I flew back from Philadelphia to Atlanta on October 5 (DL1077), and it was delayed, at least in part due to weather in Atlanta. My connection ended up a bit tight, but I made it. Based on the connection times that other passengers mentioned to me while we were still on board DL1077, I assume some of us were not so lucky. But I just received a letter of apology from Delta informing me that 2500 bonus miles have been placed in my SkyMiles account. I use my SkyMiles -- this past summer I had a free trip to Montreal, Canada on them. It won't be long before I've got enough for another adventure. Thanks for the token, Delta.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Finished Reading Ariel

And posted a quick review, here's an excerpt: "a novel of every boy's fantasy land, to meet and befriend or conquer mythical beasts; to be both a loner and to make meaningful friends and do important deeds with them ...."

In which I am Schmap'ped

The folks at Schmap are "delighted" to let me know that
my "submitted photo
has been selected for inclusion in the newly released ninth
edition of our Schmap Montreal Guide: Chinatown".

They spotted my photo on flickr and asked if they could include it in their guide. Sure, I said.

If you could look closely enough, you would see a group of WorldCon attendees walking up the sidewalk on the left side of the photo, including authors Cory Doctorow and Larry Hodges.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

PodRunner: A Beat for Feet that Run

From the "How Cool is That?!" department on the internet: I downloaded a couple one hour long music mixes targeted for running from PodRunner. Tried it out on the treadmill this morning (it's a rainy Saturday). Pretty nifty stuff. Steven Boyett, DJ and author, posts these techno-music compilations with targeted BPM to pace your run or workout. There's a bunch of them and they keep coming, technically free, though there is a tip jar or merchandise to help support your habit. An easy way to keep yourself in fresh music; put your energy into the burn.

Fig Tree With Green Lynx Spider

Spotted this critter in my back yard a couple days ago. I left her guarding her egg sac and my as-yet-unripened figs. Hopefully we'll get some cold weather after this rain and the fruit will go ripe. Mmmm.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ariel Update

I’m currently reading Steven R. Boyett’s book Ariel and enjoying it immensely.

I did just realize that even though it was published 26 years ago, that still means that it was published after I read some similar post-apocalyptic and epic journey books like Hiero’s Journey (Sterling E Lanier) and Shardik (Richard Adams). I’m liking Ariel in part because it is chock-a-block full of literary and pop-culture allusions that are from my coming-of-age era; and because I can see Boyett’s musical avocation seeping through – not just because it’s about mythical beasts and anachronistic combat.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

We've Got To Relieve... Health Care Burdens

I was thinking about the health care morass on an airplane the other day; thinkin hard enough to jot down some notes. My thoughts aren’t all good, but this is important stuff and needs to be fixed. I heard back from my Congressman, Parker Griffith, who is a retired medical doctor. He used a Hippocratic Oath analogy: “first we need to do no harm to our current system.” I didn't swallow that cod liver oil. His is a misguided anthropomorphism – our health care system is not a human being. If you break it completely it may actually help you to rebuild it better than it was. Besides, there’s no reason to think that doctors and hospitals will stop treating sick people during a transition from one payment system to another. What else they gonna do?

We need meaningful reform. We need it on moral grounds, to help people who don’t get care for routine and treatable ailments. We need it on financial grounds, to make our businesses stronger and independent of the yoke of health insurance. We need it on equitable grounds, to stop the arbitrary nature of who has coverage and who doesn’t, just depending on which way the labor market winds are blowing. We need individual coverage that can negotiate the same rates that groups can. No more small group "death spirals".

We need to align the monetary goals of providers with healthy consumers. We need to flip the pay-per-treatment or “fee for service” system on its head. A pay-per-patient system is possible and being tried in certain places. I worry that that method incentivizes not performing needed treatments, at least in the short run. Maybe there could be monetary penalties if a treatment was skimped – this is basically the old HMO model and didn’t work out well in the US(although similar models work in other countries). The salient differences should be explored and overcome.

Or pay doctors via a salary, with bonuses for healthy patients. This seems pretty reasonable, but has a couple of pitfalls to guard against. For one, “the talent” will no longer be automatically getting paid for their high skills. Management will be seeing the cash flow (both on the insurance company side and on the hospital administration side), and they’ll rake off as big a share as they are allowed to. So it needs regulating, which is unsavory, but sane. Absolute control of the monetary pipeline leads to money-drunk plumbers -- I may have mixed my metaphors there, but unfortunately we need watchers when money is involved. And people to watch the watchers.

Health itself is not and healt care also is not and will not be, egalitarian. Maybe there is some solace for the less-well-heeled in that. That is, that everyone can fall ill or get injured, and all of us get old. Waiting for routine and typical care as a method of cost control is unacceptable. That is, back door rationing of health care through curtailed availability cannot be a solution. Apparently that is a diminishing state of affairs in Canada and the United Kingdom at this point. Their waits are often no more than ours for the same specialists. Have you tried to get an appointment with a dermatologist? Your best hope is for a cancellation to open something up -- or to look up a good poultice on the Interweb.

Extraordinary care remains another matter. Extremely expensive and experimental treatments have to be uncovered (except as part of research studies, but that's a special case). But the bar needs to be high and the decisions open and transparent. I'm sorry, it's not worth 2 million dollars to extend anyone individual's life by 6 months -- not to society (i.e. the rest of us). If there is a rich benefactor, okay, it's their money. But when it's our money, we can extend a lot of other people's lives a lot more than 6 months with $2MM.

Risk takers are a tough area for me. I haven't got that figured out. In some cases of course their health care is cheap -- if they fall while rock climbing and die, well, it's their funeral. If they only break their back, though, then it's everyone's bank account. I think in those cases they need to cough up some personal funds to help with coverage -- but which things are risky? Smoking? Of course (if you weren't already addicted in 1965). Failing to exercise? Eh. Over-exercising? Hmmm. Maybe we better hope this one comes out in the wash, that it evens out over the pool of citizenry.

Penultimately, I want to address what the correlation between health insurance and business should be: none. There's no rational connection. Health insurance should be more like the fire department; businesses can pay their share through taxes. Different businesses shouldn't pay different amounts per employee depending on the type of business they are, how big they are, etc. In the U.S., employer paid health insurance started as a differentiating fringe benefit. It's no longer effective in that role, except to stifle small businesses, consultants and entrepreneurs. And it allows large business management (and their customers) to squeeze the employees through passing on ever higher health insurance costs to the employees through higher co-pays and decreased coverages.

And finally, I find myself agreeing with some European voices that I respect, that treating the health misfortunes of others should not be a ticket to riches for anyone. It's just plain wrong.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Migraine Sufferer's Wife

We just saw The Time Traveler's Wife at the movie theater. I thought the movie was much better than the mediocre reviews that I've seen. The dialog is crisp. Rachel McAdams has a great smile. The treatment of time travel is as good as in any recent main stream movie; it's a fairly novel conceit: spontaneous, uncontrolled time travel triggered by some correlation to stress, just for one individual, just for Henry; it reminds me of my migraines -- they're pretty rare but take me completely out of the present -- I lose time to them (not so much now as before, but still sometimes). And they have something to do with stress and/or drugs like caffeine.
Also, I enjoyed the use of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" as a couple's wedding song -- sounds like a terrific cover by Broken Social Scene.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Stay Free Little Brother

I finally finished Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. Brief review here.

WorldCon Part Ten - Montreal Bagels

My flight out of Montreal was in the late afternoon, so I had
Sunday morning to do something else. Nothing was calling me back to the Con, nothing to top what I'd done already, so I made sure I had correct change for two bus rides and caught the #55 bus from the Palais north up Boulevard Saint Laurent to Avenue Fairmount Ouest. I walked west on Fairmount a couple blocks to la maison de l'original fairmount bagel where I learned that Montreal bagels are in fact wood fired, and even more delicious fresh than what I'd had at the party a couple nights earlier. It was a beautiful summer morning in the city and only a couple miles back to my hotel so I decided to save my second bus fare and walk and eat a couple bagels for breakfast. I strolled back along Avenue du Parc, between Parc du Mont Royal and Parc Jeanne-Mance. Lots of people out biking, walking or jogging in the pleasant sunshine.

I was back at the Hyatt Regency in plenty of time to check out of my room and wait for the shuttle to the bus terminal to catch L'Aerobus back to the airport. And enough time at the airport to jot down some notes (like these) and pick up a bottle of Sheridans layered liqueur before the flights home. They were, gratefully, un-interesting. Fin.

Monday, August 31, 2009

WorldCon Part IX - Gaiman Reads Doctorow

20:00 Saturday

I ditched the Masquerade after about 40 minutes. It was very well attended, more people than the other big room events: a thousand, maybe twice that many. The costumes were from good to excellent – like professional / movie quality. But I find the dual language deal tedious, though they prattled it well enough again. Mostly I left because I wanted to go to the “Gaiman Reads Doctorow” event.

Neil read one of Cory’s short stories, “The Right Book”. It was recorded live as part of a collection of short stories from Doctorow being read by various author / voice talents. This one’s about books into the future. The collection will be reprints except for one new story. The room was packed with a couple hundred people, probably more refugees from the Masquerade. Just after the recording started a baby started crying on the floor just to Neil’s right. The mother quickly exited with the child. Cory chuckled and said they’d fix it in the edits (which you can see they did, at about 21 seconds into the video). Neil rolled on and at the end the woman came back in and apologized and Mr. Gaiman was very gracious, saying that, since it was right at the beginning, that he really didn’t have any rhythm yet or anything anyway. Beforehand I saw Cory lingering in the hall, still wearing the NATTC pin from our walk that morning and he mentioned it when he saw me walking up. I told him he was welcome to take it off whenever it suited him – he said one day was what he wore things like that, so he had it on for the next session, too – not sure if it shows in the video at all.

They followed the reading with a Q&A; after that I hung in the room, listening to Neil and Cory chat with fans. Neil did a few autographs (although elsewhere he says he prefers not to after panels). I snapped a photo of his back as he said good-bye to Cory . Like a kid on a camping trip doesn’t want to go to bed, I didn’t want to leave. WorldCon is essentially over for me, tomorrow being a travel day, and a day to see a little more of Montreal as I quest for bagels. I got some bus directions from the Info Booth lady at the Palais on my way out.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

WorldCon Part 8: 1848 Chocolate !


I've tried a couple chocolate bars while here: fancy ones and big, 100 grams (so over 3 ounces for those of you not on the metric system). The first was by Dove, called "Dusk" or "Mi-Foncé", subtitled "Milk Chocolate with a hint of dark". Well, it's very good as milk chocolate, but I don't taste much darkness. The next one I tried is called "1848". The intrinsic packaging is all in French. "Noir Subtil" is prominent, but this dark isn't subtle, it's at least what we'd call semi-sweet. It's excellent. A close look gives a Cadbury France address in the fine print on the back. Also stamped on the front, post packaging, in English, is: "Fine Dark Chocolate". Indeed it is.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

WorldCon Part 6.5 -- Delta Con Parties and Montreal Rocks Out

Flashing back to Friday Night for a minute.

Sometime after 10:00 PM I stopped by the Delta hotel, walked there with a couple people unsure of the way -- I'd been there the night before for cake, so. There was elevator confusion when we got there, it crossed my mind that the Delta folks might not have realized what they were in for when they signed on as WorldCon's party hotel. After two false starts we arrived on the 28th floor. I stopped at the Japanese Party and ate a Montreal-style bagel with cream cheese and half a beer. Dinner. The bagel, as I'd heard, was definitely different from a NY-style bagel. Maybe they aren't boiled? Couldn't quite place the flavor: wood-fired oven? I will try to get some to take home on Sunday morning. Chatted a bit and then moved on to the UK party. Good cheese and crackers, odd cookies. The food hostess recommended the Victorian chutney -- tasted like my mom's homemade chili sauce; ok, but not on ham as they were having here.

Out in the hall rumors started that the hotel was throwing some people out, or closing down parties, or something. They were definitely curtailing elevator service to the 5th and 28th floors, the party floors. I "lifted" down to the lobby, time to wander back to my own neighborhood. As I exited the elevator around 11:45 PM it definitely looked like the Delta management had gotten more than they'd bargained for. A bunch of hotel employees in suits were monitoring elevator access, trying to look authoritative and a little bit tough, but mostly looking awkward and uncomfortable. Later we heard about fire code concerns and a possible few non-Con people crashing the parties; or maybe they just weren't wearing their badges?

I walked out of the Delta and up past my hotel toward the outdoor rock festival behind it, below my hotel room window. A young woman with a security badge stopped me and I listened to several sentences in French before I interjected that I didn't understand her. She switched to accented but quite adequate English. She needed to check my "bag" (my backpack), and she told me "not that", pointing at the diet coke can still in my hand from the Delta. I guess there was no outside food or drink in the festival area. I found myself regretting that she was no longer speaking French to me as I dropped my can in a recycling receptical; these are plentiful in Montreal.

I walked into the music. The first stage was hard punk, a wall of fast guitars, angry drums and shouted lyrics. In French. The crowd was into it; one twenty-something girl with a bare midriff was horizontal above the packed crowd, body surfing 6 feet above the asphalt. Made me nervous. I walked on. The other stage still playing was hosting French reggae with a female singer: light black skin, purple sequins and 10 inch afro. Don't know what she was saying, but it was much more pleasant to my ears -- still edgy but melodic and swayable. I hung with them for a while. By 1:00 AM, back in my room, the street was quiet. (It was Les Franco Folies De Montreal)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

WorldCon Part 7 -- Creatures from El and Other Stories

Saturday, 13:30
Bought a snail with flowers on its back at Creatures from El. Lovely, weird stuff. It's made using a wire form underneath with an air dry resin/clay sculpted over it and then glazed. Definitely art.

14:00 Neil Gaiman Reading
Heard Neil read a story about a dying sun and time travel and a flea market in Florida (that's all one story, though I see how you might think it's more a'ready). Then he read a love letter. From a statue. A stalking statue (sorry, that's a bit of a spoiler).

15:30 How to Pitch Your Novel
Quite a few people turned up to hear some rather predictable advice. Still there were some useful tidbits:
- If a publisher asks to see the best parts of your novel, they really want chapters 1, 2 and 3, not 1, 17 and 42.
- Money, generally, flows to the writers, i.e. to the "talent", e.g. at a restaurant (per Mike Resnick, who is an author and publisher; the editors on the panel didn't feel quite so strongly about this).
- Ace/roc is a good imprint for urban fantasy -- they do want electronic copy. Seems to be trending toward electronic submission from paper.
- Who you know certainly helps and can be used a couple of connections away, i.e. friend of a friend
- Longer workshops are worthwhile: Odyssey, Clarion East/West, Lincoln City
- Write (duh.)
- "Writers Market" contains a lot of dead markets and obsolete leads (along with some live ones)
- Writer Beware at
- Novel minimum word counts these days are 75-85K words
- Interzone is a UK short story magazine
- Don't necessarily need to have published short stories to get a novel published; the editors felt the forms were different enough.
- Need to sell 20,000 copies of a hard copy novel to make it profitable
The rest, including most of the Q&A, was just too "Duh."

I also "volunteered" a little for this panel, just helped move the tables and route the microphone wires so that all 4 panelist could sit together -- just wasn't going to work with them all at one 6 foot table and most people were just kind of staring at the awkward situation.

17:00 "Analog"
This was a panel to talk about what makes an Analog magazine story an Analog story. I don't read it much. Apparently Analog stories solve problems. They have a reputation as more "hard" science fiction than Asimov's magazine stories, which are more emotional. Analog tends to link the cosmic and man.
Maybe it's in light of the inevitably depressing previous panel (on first novel publication), but this panel, 10 minutes in, seems not quite pompous, but maybe a bit capricius. Two things about Analog and Asimov's: They love to print new stories from prior authors and short stories from established novelists. The Analog editor did say he's looking for stories about social paradigm shifts (I have an idea in that area). Along these lines the panel discussed that maybe "everybody doesn't need a job anymore"; certainly we can feed and clothe everyone without all of us working 40+ hour weeks. Another tact: Every story has an original speculative idea. "Pursue the next idea in this story." (I've forgotten what they meant by that.). "Don't need a single tone in a story, especially in a longer story." "Don't always need a happy ending." "Show a link between the very large and the very intimate." "Gratuitous sex (or anything) is bad for Analog." Apparently "Emergence" was a very popular story, by David Palmer; also "The Coming Convergence" by Stanley Schmidt.
By this point I'd had enough writerly advice, and was glad the session was over. I don't plan to go to any more of those this time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

WorldCon Part 6 -- Coraline to Cory

8/7/09 21:00
Friday (yes, it was a long day)

Melissa Auf der Maur joked, during her “Out of Our Minds” multimedia/rock show about being an opening act for Neil Gaiman’s presentation of Coraline, the movie. It was scheduled in the same room as OOOM, in the follow-on time slot. She was joking, but it was also clear that she, a genuine rock star, was being deferential to the literary genre rock star. Made her real.

Neil gave an informative and entertaining introduction to Coraline. He answered a handful of questions, with much more information than was queried for. Good stuff, although he did manage to, toward the end of a very long answer to a short question from a cute young girl, oh, probably 8 years old and I’m guessing she stopped paying attention to the answer by then, drop an F-bomb. Oh, yes, I do – couldn’t at first – remember the question: “Where’d you get the idea for Coraline?” And he told about Holly, his daughter, making up stories and him looking at the shops for Gothic horror for 5 year olds and having to write it himself. But he can’t remember about the buttons for eyes and would need a time/space machine for that and, long story not so long, spilled the beans to his earlier self to jot a note about the buttons idea, but “F----“, now it’s tainted.
They had technical difficulties with the blue-ray player and since I’d seen what I came for (Neil live), I exited.


9:00 AM “Stroll with the Stars” or “Promenade avec les étoiles”
A group met outside the convention center each morning to take a walk around part of Montreal , I only went to this on Saturday, in large part because Cory Doctorow was scheduled to walk. We met at the fountain at Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle on the west end of the center. A star of the table tennis world also happened to be at the walk, Larry Hodges. Larry is also a science fiction author; he’s had several short stories published and is nearing completion on his first novel. I mostly chatted with him on the walk. The weather was very pleasant and we mostly strolled through Montreal ’s Chinatown district. At the end I talked a bit with Cory and took his picture with Larry, and Larry took a picture of me and Cory and I took a picture of someone else and Cory and Larry did one of his party tricks with a ping pong ball, levitating the ball in a stream of his breath, although it was difficult in the outdoor breeze. I gave Cory and Larry each an NATTC club pin. Cory ended up wearing his all day. Cory gave Larry his “Strolling with the Stars” pin. I may send a photo in to the national table tennis magazine (for which Larry used to be the editor). I then walked with Cory to his next session: autograph signing.

10:00 AM Cory Doctorow Signing

(Alright Mr. Ben McT., Cory told me he’s not much into playing sports, but he might like to try his hands at house fly catching, so perhaps if there is such a league, and it seems like a sci-fi kind of thing, then he may have been signing with the premier fly catching league’s Jupiter United squad, I don’t know. Actually, it was autographing again). I walked into the signing area with him and got on the back of the short line that had already formed there, awaiting his appearance. He wore the NATTC pin while signing (he had a moderate line the whole hour, I checked back, and snapped a picture). I think he appreciated being asked to sign a printout of the first pages of Makers, his new novel currently being serialized pre-publication on He also signed Little Brother for me.

Aside: “In what world is that considered dry?” I asked myself after washing my hands and being obliged to use the air dryer – no paper towels available. Even the “Blast” dryer with its high velocity air force (and 80 dB sound) after 20 seconds was still visibly, tactilely, if-not-quite-drippingly, wet. The “what world” part struck me as apropos, here at a sci-fi convention. Perhaps I’m easily amused at the moment.

Friday, August 14, 2009

WorldCon Part 5 -- Out of Our Minds

8/7/2009 Cont’d
Went along to the “Out of Our Minds” multimedia presentation by Melissa Auf der Maur. Turned out to be an incredibly personable experience. She’s a first time WorldCon-ner (any ‘Con, I’d guess) and still a bit uncomfortable with sci-fi ultra geeks but she marched through technical difficulties and played electric bass solo, clearly missing her drummer. She also showed the film and the music video (unfinished at this point) and played 3 songs while a video montage of the black & white (and red!) comic interspersed with her live on the big screens. She told us some behind the scenes details, like that the Ford Taurus was demolished but the old truck was barely scratched, and that she had never played solo w/just her voice and bass for a live audience and that she was nervous – had been practicing in her living room. She was rewarded with a warm ovation and plenty of fans, now and future. She stayed on stage, chatting afterwards with a bunch of folks that came up; and she handed out buttons and stopped for photos. Of course her being an attractive woman wasn’t lost on this crowd, but she signed autographs and was very cordial. She gave a lot of her self, and the people left wanting more.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

WorldCon, Part IV -- The Neil Gaiman Signing

Friday, still. Started to listen to Connie Willis, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow reading but it turned into SRO (Standing Room Only) so I gave up my seat between Connie's introducing herself and setting up the formant and her starting to read. Just as well, the 4:00 PM signing line for Neil Gaiman had started, even with pre-allocated tickets. (I picked one up about 9:40 am, thankfully no line for that and earlier than the warned 10:00 am which conflicted with my first panel today), so I was early, about 3:45 but already 140 people back in the line (the guy collecting tickets mentioned the count a couple people before me -- there were still 6 dozen people behind me). And it took an hour and a half to get to Mssr. Gaiman, I had boned up on my signing etiquette and already had my limit 2 items tagged with the dedication name and had eaten, etc. and had something to read with me and met the people near me on line, so it wasn't too dreadfully boring. Neil was astoundingly patient and listened to my prattle about Caralyn's name often being gotten wrong, just like Coraline and I ended up very pleased with the mouse doodle on Coraline and the headstone doodle on The Graveyard Book. Hey, I just realized (okay, I'm a little slow), that he put "CHIP" on the headstone, like I'm R.I.P. -- Not quite yet, Buddy!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

WorldCon Diaries, Part 3

Sitting outside a lecture room for the 10:00 am panel, reading Little Brother, when Cory Doctorow walks by – not a big coincidence, he’s on the 10 am panel, still he nods and says “hi” and it’s a little surreal.

The panel is “Intellectual Property and Creative Commons ”, not a whole lot here that I’m not already aware of, but it’s fresh to hear it straight from people who are pioneering it. Doctorow suggests googling “model creative commons license” for a sample, but I didn’t find anything better than just going to

New Media Panel
Cory Doctorow mentioned mixing Skype (internet based telephone calling) with digital music such that while skyping with his wife, he can hear the music, but she can’t – and he can work and listen and chat, and she can work and chat – without the music, something they can do while he’s traveling but not while he’s home.

Cory Doctorow at both these first two panels, after 30 or 45 minutes, adjusted from a normal seated posture to a cross-legged, “Indian-style” (is that “Native American-style now, or just politically incorrect to attribute to any cultural designation?), still in a regular chair. Nice to have young joints.

Steven R. Boyett was also on the panel, he has a new book, I guess and one (Ariel) coming back into print; he’s also a podcast DJ for exercise music, etc. He’s kind of a “modern man”, as opposed to Neil’s more “renaissance man”, who was also on the panel, but seemed a little cranky – or maybe he was just being obstinately retro; he was still entertaining and the largest presence on the panel, the Con’s “rock star”. He looked dead tired even though this is only the second day of the convention. All the panelists held their own, though, even Melissa Auf der Maur, who apparently is a legitimate rock star. I’m not sure from what group(s), but one of the songs is in Rock Band (the videogame). Tobias Buckell, another panelist, is a NY Times best selling author and Ellen Kushner, from NPR and more, moderated. Melissa was clearly a bit out of her element, not knowing much about sci-fi literature, comics or the internet – but she knew music and film and was very open about it. She’s also a native of Montreal, and went to high school with one of the audience members, so provided some local “color” (including her long red hair).

14:30 (let’s see, that’s 2:30 PM)
Lebanese for lunch at the food court in the mall adjoining my hotel and between it and the Palais. Lebanese seemed like very unusual ethnic fare for a food court until I realized that it has a French heritage so is likely right at home in Montreal. I had falafel on pita bread, it was probably good but I don’t think chipsters like falafel. Had ham & egg croissant from another food court stand earlier for breakfast – it seemed French, too, rather than getting the English muffin version.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Canadian Astronauts, Nobel Economists

Continuing my WorldCon diaries, there were some pretty prestigious performers:

20:00 (That’s 8:00 pm)

Canadian Astronaut and Member of Parliament, Mark Garneau, gave the keynote for the opening ceremonies. He mentioned Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, a book I read once upon a time after another ebullient recommendation. I don’t remember it much at all, other than that it wasn’t my favorite.

The entertainer was Sabrina Argonier, a contortionist in a hula hoop, a very strong hula hoop, she was all over inside and out of that thing, on the ground and suspended in the air. The “Guests of Honor” were introduced, including Élisabeth Vonarburg who’s birthday apparently is today and Neil Gaiman, who gave a three minute impromptu prepared speech.

Paul Krugman and Charles Stross in Conversation.

This started out with the “where’s my flying car?” discussion, but included some other interesting points, like that the “Military Industrial Complex” has been supplanted, or joined, by the “Communications Complex”: telcos and intelligence agencies and what not. Another was that somewhere in the past 30 – 50 years people getting rich switched methodology from “Wealth Creation” (Carnegie, Rockefeller, etc.) to “Wealth Concentration” (Warren Buffet, Bernie Madoff, etc.)

Walked on the street from the Palais des Congres to the Delta Centreville Hotel and a party for Vonarburg (let there be cake). “What’s this knot of 20 or so people out front of the Intercontinental Hotel?” I asked myself enroute. “Oh, there’s Neil Gaiman (so it’s his crowd); and he’s doing introductions! ‘This is Karen Somebody, Karen, this is So-and-so.’ Poor lucky bastard (meaning Neil).”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Winging to WorldCon

I plan to run a series of my notes from my trip to WorldCon / Anticipation – the big Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention winding up today in Montreal (yes, in Canada ). I had very limited access to the Internet while there, so I jotted notes in a Moleskine pad, so they are from a few days ago, maybe next time I’ll be set up to live blog it.

Flying to the 67th WorldCon, Anticipation, in Montreal . Hopefully building some good karma – but did feel a bit like I was in a David Sedaris skit – was asked to switch my 6B aisle seat for a bulkhead seat up front, 1C, so that a couple could sit together. No problem for me, just want to arrive safe & close to on schedule (unlike these folks) -- lots to do and see this weekend. 15 minutes late boarding….

Finished the first “Part” of Cory Doctorow’s Makers novel serialization. Only printed 2 parts – already wish I’d printed more. Not so unsettling as Little Brother, more energizing/provoking like Dan Pink’s Free Agent Nation or Dave Winer’s ventures. Still on the plane. Need to pee.

First panel: John M. Ford (Apparently known as “Mike” in everyday life). A few folks lingered before the prior panel finished, but it really started filling about now. I guess it was to be expected; Neil Gaiman sheduled (I missed the “c” on purpose there, as one of the, I guess, locals, was saying it that way just now). Novels of interest: Final Reflection, a Star Trek book, from the Klingon POV; How Much for Just the Planet, another Star Trek story. Web of Angels, arguably the first cyberpunk book. The Final Tax wreckless Eric (My notes fail me here – get used to it). From the End of the Twentieth Century short stories; Heat of Fusion.

Pastiche: Green Eggs and Ham in Casa Blanca, apparently written in a comment on Patrick Neilsen Hayden’s Making Light blog.

They ended a bit early, some thought only an hour was scheduled but ‘twas 90 minutes so the after 60 part was Q&A and ad hoc, until an audience member stepped to the mic and told Ford’s bar joke: “Werner Heisenberg, Kurt Godel and Noam Chomsky walk into a bar…” The end of the joke was declared the final word.

Afterthought: the room was full, 200+ people and all the seats, okay 90%, were bad – because it was a flat room with crowded, orthogonal rows of connected chairs. More than one row back and there were heads in your way. The panel was in the same chairs as the audience. Either a dais or bar height chairs and tables would have cured it – or 180 fewer people.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Moon is Free

NPR’s Morning Edition news program this morning (well, yesterday, now, since my blog post was delayed) stated, as a prelude to stories about the Chinese and Indian space programs, that we (the United States) had “conquered” the moon 40 years ago, by landing on it. My thought was that we hadn’t so much conquered it as merely “touched” it. And we’ve done little more to tame it since then. I’m not sure that’s a problem, I don’t think there’s a big reason to establish a regular presence on the moon, or to establish an ability to exploit it’s natural resources, although in one of the follow on stories they mentioned that 100 tons of Helium-3 per year, which apparently is plentiful on the moon, would be enough to meet our current terrestrial energy needs. Maybe it is worth going back to the moon.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Remembering My Dinner With Andre

Perhaps it is just because it's evocative of my halcyon days at university, you know "those butt planted, heel slamming mornings" (sorry I've drifted off into someone else's poem). Rather: when my intellect was precipating from the academic solution that I was immersed in. Or maybe it was a novel film for 1981, but I've just watched the freshly-released-on-DVD-and-now-available-at-Netflix "My Dinner With Andre". It is surely a remarkable, simple film. You remember, the film that suggests that once in a while you go through a day using only you're left hand (if you are right-handed), just to be sure that you shake your life up a little, often enough. And that maybe flags sewn for a purpose, to fly over your endeavors and your friends and capture their essence for you to hoard, that well, maybe such things can be evil incarnated inanimately -- and the solution is to burn them and bury them, ritualistically. And that maybe we live our lives in a trance and maybe we need an occasional trance to make us live our lives alive. And where you can see Wallace Shawn say "Inconceivable!" six years before he does it again in "The Princess Bride". Ahhh.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Experimental Theatre: Contemporaneous Shakespeare

My daughter (12) told me about an idea, while setting the table for dinner the other day, that she thinks would be cool. She thinks someone should put on simultaneous stage plays, like split the stage in half, one traditional Shakespeare, with the "thees" and "thous," and one "translated" into modern English. I liked it too. Archaic language vs. modern idioms. They could have mirror images of the sets and action with the spot lighting bouncing back and forth.

Shakespearean: “Harken! Doth mine ears deceive me?”
Modern: “Say what!?”

Easy to play it for laughs, with some talent it could be commentary on modernity.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Kennedy Family Puts a Dog in the Whitehouse

After failing for decades to put another (human) family member in the Whitehouse, including the tragic deaths of Bobby and John Jr, the unsuccessful candidacy of Teddy and Caroline eschewing even a Senate seat, the Kennedy family has finally managed a different feat -- putting a dog in the Whitehouse.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Young Natalie Merchant and the Poor at Easter

I dug a 25 year old cassette tape out of the center console of my 13 year old truck today while driving to drop a check off at my dentist. (Not quite as painful as a procedure, but a little bit cringe creating even so.) The music was fresh once more, 10,000 Maniacs "In My Tribe". My gawd, Natalie Merchant, you sound young! Through the magic of recorded media it is a young you; I guess I've lately listened only to recent renditions of your older lyricism. Of course you were young then, about twenty years old twenty five years ago. You're younger than I am so let's not reverse the math to see where we are now, but you are singing idealized lyrics, the promise of youth. Did we change the world, bend it to our better vision? Are you (are we) doing it now, with the election of Barack Obama, the popularizing of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert and, possibly, the election of Al Franken? Along with the rise of the third world from poverty and preventable diseases? Will there be poor always, pathetically struggling? It's a good Easter question, and I'm not the only one who is asking. (See also Matthew 26:11, Deuteronomy 15:11, Mark 14:7, etc.) For now I'll listen to my youth, and to Natalie Merchant's, and to the other 10,000-plus maniacs I have known.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

American Democracy vs. Richard John Neuhaus's Kind

I heard this story on NPR on my way home from work last night; it's about recently deceased theologian and author Richard John Neuhaus. Somewhere in the middle author George Weigel lauds Neuhaus as "a genuine democrat with a small 'd'" -- apparently Neuhaus was a proponent of Christianity driving public policy in the U.S. I don't know if he plainly argued against our separation of church and state (or Christianity and State, the way these things tend to be; no one gets much of a hearing who is against the separation of non-Christian religions and U.S. government), but these people continue to miss the most basic point of this tenet of our democracy: codifying separation of religion and government was explicitly done (and continues) to protect the most faithful.

Yes, almost exclusively Christians at first. The founding fathers were not particularly concerned with protecting Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists in the late 1700's. For one thing there just weren't very many around in post-colonial America.

When Weigel said Neuhaus was a "democrat", I thought "No way;" but had to correct myself. Yes, technically a democracy is ruled by the will of the majority. So he can be genuinely democratic -- but that doesn't make him a tremendous supporter of American democracy. True little 'd' democracies, though, are characterized by the tyranny of the majority against the minority. American democracy has a great pillar in our "Bill of Rights", a set of tenets that protect individuals and minorities and that can't be overturned by a simple majority -- they require a strong super-majority to change them, being, as they are, a part of our Constitution.

Protection of the minority (and individual) is in all of our best interest -- sooner or later we all find ourselves as a minority of one kind or another, or standing alone in some predicament either on principle or through unfortunate happenstance.

So unless, Father Neuhaus, you plan to always be in the majority, you and those you would have in your flock, please help us to preserve our protections; to solidify our rights and embrace our separations where they are emplaced to deny tyranny and injustice. If you are comfortably ensconced in your majority, here's just one example of how majority can be fleeting, if you are a U.S. citizen and caucasian you are currently in the majority. Reuters tells us that you likely will not be by the year 2050 -- you'll be a plurality, i.e. less than 50% of the population, not enough to vote your will onto society even in a little 'd' democracy. So if you are under the age of 35, there's a good chance you'll live to be in a racial non-majority. Let's keep the Golden Rule in mind. Let's bring morality into our government as often and deeply as possible, but we can do that without the accoutrements of organized religions.

Rest in peace.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Obama Bandwagon

I'd swear I'm seeing more Obama bumper stickers now than ever before. Right up until the election you really had to keep your eyeballs peeled in order to spot the handfull of cars with Obama propaganda on them. Ever since then it seems the percentage of cars on the road here in Northern Alabama with "Obama '08" or "Yes We Can" (still not many "Alobama" slogans around) has been, it seems to me, steadily increasing. Now even a short ride to the store often contains a sighting.

Not that it's a problem for me. I'm as enthusiastic as ever about our choice for "next President", even if the timing, what with the economy wretching, is a bit of a downer. And I'm psyched to see more and more people jumping on the Obama Bandwagon -- I hope we really do all rally around him and our new Congress and make this a greater country and a great time to be in it. Only a dozen more days until the swearing in!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Losing My Motherboard

A friend sent me a reference to Google Linux.

Yeah, I said, hard to know where to focus forward. Currently I’m resisting modernizing my home computers – the newer one, that my son and I built back in ’02, is losing its motherboard. Leaky capacitors – it’ll still boot if you try several times in succession; I guess the capacitors build up a charge and then acquiesce. I’m going to try replacing the old motherboard with one that came out in ’04 (couldn’t find my exact model) – still using IDE drives and DDR (184 pin) memory. Meanwhile my son is now a sophomore in college and on his second laptop in 3 years….

SILive Island Girl Hat Tip

I got a(nother) mention in Island Girl’s blog.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Not So Bad Christmas Movies and Non-Times-Square Ball Dropping

So we saw the movie Four Christmases this afternoon. Probably wouldn't have except we had some free tickets from a newspaper contest. The reviews I'd read were pretty negative; one critic complained about too much profanity and a disrespectful Nativity play; and that it's not a family film. Okay there's a bit of profanity but the Nativity scene seemed no more or less respectful than many modern farces -- certainly as much so as most local productions of the play "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever". I do have to agree that this is mostly a vehicle for Vince Vaughn, and I'm not a big fan of his -- an anti-fan, really. But there are some legitimate chuckles here and not much that is offensive beyond some swearing and the usual farce ridiculousnesses.

I don't expect Four Christmases to land on many people's annual "must re-watch every year" holiday movie lists; and it's not as clever or endearing as, say, Love, Actually. But as much as I like Love, Actually, it's not a family film eithre, nor is it without ridiculousnesses. Anyway, Four Christmases is about Christmas in California, which is a bit different than in the heartland (or the Bible Belt). They used a Tom Petty Christmas song and everything ("Christmas All Over Again").

And we get the satisfying ending, with a little cherry on top. Family harmony, after a fashion, after all. Since it's actually New Year's Day today, with resolutions and promises to live better, truer, longer lives, I also wanted to point to some family-first wisdom from Dave Winer's site, and just say "Right On" (click through for the full quote):

"A rubber ball will bounce and someone else can pick it up. That's your work life. The glass ball is family, friends, your health. Drop it, and if you're lucky it'll just crack. If you're not so lucky, it'll break into a million pieces. "

Finally, maybe I was put in a better mood for the film by seeing a "First Look" at the upcoming Watchmen film during the previews. I recently read this graphic novel that is on Time magazine's All Time 100 Novels list. I also just loaned my copy to my parents, not only for them to read, but for my Reverend Uncle, too; I think he'll get a lift out of it.

Books for Christmas

I received a few books for Christmas, and I'm looking forward to all of them.
My wife and kids got me:
1) War of Honor (audio book) by David Weber, a science fiction author that I'm unfamiliar with but was recommended by a coworker.
2) Best of Gothic Horror: Edgar Allan Poe Collection, Frankenstein (Mary Shelly) and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Rober Louis Stevenson) (audio book). I'm sure I've read the Poe previously but it's always inspiring. I read chunks of Frankenstein in a college class called Frankenstein to Bioengineering in about 1983, when bioengineering was as much science fiction as science, I think I've only read the Classic Comics version of Dr. Jekyll it should be a fun listen.
3) The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited and published posthumously by his son, Christopher Tolkien). Of course I loved the LotR, dog-earing my copies until I had to replace a couple of them, and enjoyed the Silmarillion. The cover illustration on this one is fantastic.

And from my parents:
A history of the American People by Paul Johnson; this is a tome and I expect to wade through it slowly, but with great interest, especially as the Obama administration gets rolling.

Feline Pharaohed

We put together one of the toughest and least fun yet satisfying jigsaw puzzles I've ever done over the holidays. It's a thousand-piecer, but one of those "mystery story" ones so you don't have a picture to go by -- and it was a lot of brown and tan. It's called "Curse of the Feline Pharaoh" by Bepuzzled. Fortunately I found a picture of the completed puzzle on the internet, although only at a low resolution, at least it showed the layout of the basic components. I really like being able to pick up a random piece, go to the picture on the box, and say "Ah, yes, that is exactly where this piece will go." No way to do that with this baby -- even with a high resolution picture that wouldn't have worked for a lot of pieces -- the colors are too non-distinct.

Also fortunately, my parents came by for a couple days and pitched in, especially my mom who likes working jigsaws on occasion, and she pulled in my daughter, who doesn't like hard puzzles but likes working with Grandma. Here's a picture of some of us near to completing the puzzle; but I'm selling mine on Amazon.