May 31, 2008

Really, Mr. Davies?

Who in their right minds invites the writer of "Daleks in Manhattan" back to write another two-part episode of Doctor Who? Who films a cliffhanger that involves The Doctor suddenly being too dense to break glass? Who brings back a favorite action heroine character only to have her spend most of two episodes in a coma? And who doesn't recognize when an ending is so constrained by the law of conservation of characters as to be completely predictable?

Just askin'.

May 29, 2008

WisCon Day Three and Home Again

Of course, after having a late night the day before, I woke up bright and early on Sunday--just not early enough to attend the 8:30 panel on cliche that my friend Sean was moderating. Coffee was once again necessary, and after having breakfast, a few of us grabbed caffeine and wandered down State Street. Apparently I wasn't in a pretty, shiny, shopping mood, because we made it all the way to the campus. I've never noticed how short a street it is before.

Coming back, more hat shopping ensued. Waiting outside, we ran into one of the Glitter Glam Rainbow Bunny Death Pixies . She was looking for chicken broth on the street of "ethnic" food. It was the first news of the plague. When we got back to the hotel, signs were everywhere, "Stomach flu at WisCon. Wash your hands." Wheee. The cool part is that someone had already organized an epidemiological survey to find the source(s). I love hanging out with other geeks.

Then it was off to the coffee shop again for a reading in their upper level--Haunted Hearths and Sapphic Shades, ghost stories from lesbian erotica writers, edited by my friend Catherine. Most of it wasn't anything that couldn't be read anywhere, until we got to the last story. After reading for a couple of minutes, the author looked up and told us, "I've never read anything erotic out loud before. But I wrote it, so I should be fine, right?"

We nodded encouragingly. She composed herself and opened her mouth. Then the door opened and in walked a mom trailing her four-year-old. There was a little laughter, but I think most of us were trying not to startle the newcomers. Once they'd headed down the stairs, the author tried again. This time, she got a few words out before the other authors facing the door cracked up. Outside was a parade of altar boys in full regalia: robes, frilly collars, gold implements. At least they didn't come in. After we all wiped the tears from our eyes and settled back down, the author was finally able to read. It may be the influence of all the laughter, but I didn't find the euphemisms any less silly than those in straight erotica.

We were in the con suite long enough to see all the food prep surfaces wiped down with bleach, then Sara and I headed off to a chat with Ellen Kushner, author of my favorite book. It was fun. Ellen is always enthusiastic and funny, her partner, Delia Sherman, was there to answer questions about how they've worked together, and the setting was intimate. It may have been too intimate for Sara. She'd been suppressing fangirl squee all weekend as I pointed out authors and editors whose work she loved. Being that close to Ellen nearly did her in. She was vibrating as we walked out of the room and twitched for the rest of the evening whenever I mentioned it.

Then it was off to dinner at the Great Dane Pub, the Governor's Club, and parties. I'd meant to hit more than one but never made it past the book launch party for Catherine's book and another anthology from the same press. There were more readings, one of which would definitely have been out of place in the coffee shop, altar boys or no. It felt a little off-balance to find lesbian erotica pretty hot while not remotely desiring sex with a woman.

I had a nice chat with Rebecca, whom I've been meaning to get to know for a while now. Should be easier these days, as she's renting from a high school friend of mine and working two blocks from me. My world just keeps getting smaller. At some point, I realized I was blinking owlishly and not saying much, so I went to bed.

Mondays at WisCon are quiet, mostly packing, registering for next year, and saying goodbyes. There were a bunch of people who would have gotten hugs if we hadn't all just been talking about the stomach bug. We waved and got in the car.

The ride home was uneventful. Sara and James were terribly cute, holding hands while napping in the back seat. We started looking for signs of the storm once we crossed back into Minnesota, but there was nothing. So we were completely unprepared to come home to a broken fence and banged up elm in our yard. Single car accident according to the accident report we picked up at city hall. Ah, back to real life.

Guest Blogging

I have a guest post up over at Greg Laden's Blog. Go read it. The subject, at least tangentially, is how much of a geek I am. I'm closing the comments on this post because I'd prefer they all be in one place.

May 28, 2008

WisCon Abuse

While WisCon is generally an accepting place, it always raises some anger. Not surprising. We're talking about contentious issues tied closely to our identities. It's hard to get through a con without realizing that we've taken something for granted that's hurt someone else. We get defensive because we've put a lot of effort into being decent, thoughtful people and we really want to rest on that sometimes.

Then there's Rachel Moss, whose motivations for coming to the con (twice) are, well, opaque despite her explanation. Angry Black Woman has a good summary of the debacle that started when Rachel Moss decided to post pictures of WisCon on Something Awful with something masquerading as commentary. Liz Henry starts an interesting conversation on balancing awareness of our enemies as human beings with holding them 100% responsible for their behavior. Lesley at Fatshionista simply and beautifully tells everyone creeping out of the woodwork to get at it already--do their worst.

After them, and the commenters at their blogs, all I've got to say is that I'm proud WisCon is my con and that these are my people. And no one making nasty comments is having as much fun as my people are in those pictures.

May 27, 2008

WisCon Day Two

Saturday morning at WisCon means the farmer's market on the capitol square and squeaky cheese. By the time we were up for breakfast, Laura and Kelly had already hit the market, so I had fresh cheese curds with my fruit and pastry.

Once we'd endured the line at Michaelangelo's and I had my monkey mocha, it was time for the market. I've never seen it so crowded. Somehow, everyone had collectively decided to proceed clockwise. We opted for widdershins. People would have been less surprised had we colored our hair green. Being without refrigeration for the weekend, we didn't buy much, but it's always good to get some exercise at a con.

We hit more programming in the afternoon. I've been to other panels on what one can/can't get away with in YA before, so some information was repeated, but there was an interesting discussion of why YA books aren't labeled for content or for "appropriate" age ranges. Namely, YA publishers do take care to educate booksellers and librarians what's in books, and resources are available to parents who want to know what their kids might be reading. Labeling for content tends to invite censorship, and labeling for age discourages kids at or above the lower age limit from reading. That is, it may actually push the book exclusively into the hands of kids younger than its intended audience. Tamora Pierce also had lots of neat stuff to say about why things were included or excluded from her books that I haven't properly processed yet.

The next panel was "Captain Jack's Big Gay Torchwood." There were many funny moments from the panel, including the woman who kept having to fan herself when the discussion got too, uh, heated. I was less impressed with some of the analytical discussions. Someone raised the question of why slash, yaoi and Torchwood--venues largely for exciting women with gay sexuality--were okay when men viewing lesbians the same way isn't. Someone suggested that the "current thinking" on this was that male fantasies of lesbians involve changing the relationship to center around the men while women are just making up love stories about the gay men involved. I was not the only highly skeptical (or pissed off) member of the audience. At least we could all agree that the show was poorly written.

The true highlight of the panel was the question from the young man (maybe all of 13, probably 11) in the back. He mentioned that James Marsters had caught his eye on a magazine cover at a store. Then he saw the headline, "Spike's Gay Kiss," and decided on the spot that he needed to see Torchwood. His question? Since the kiss didn't happen until the first episode of the second season, and since he was finding the first season pretty slow going, which episodes could he skip to get to the part he really wanted to see?

Done with sitting still for a bit, we made our annual pilgrimage to the hat shop on State Street. Ben found one that works with bowling shirts. Our dinner luck held out, and we ended up in Peppino's. Everything was excellent, although a wine sauce with artichoke hearts and olives was not the best choice while dealing with a massive canker sore. Great taste. Pain. Great taste. Pain. At least I got to be distracted by James chatting up our waitress without having a clue that's what he was doing.

The Tor party was Saturday evening. I headed down about 10, expecting to talk to lots of people briefly and leave. Tracy showed up a few minutes later. I asked her what she'd been up to for the last year, and we stopped talking about quarter to two, when it really looked like the interns were ready to clean up and go to sleep. I stumbled off to bed, ready to really sleep in the next morning. I should know better by now.

May 23, 2008

WisCon Day One

I understand that live blogging when one can't reliably type "Google" into one's browser may not be the best idea, but hey, what's three Sambucas between friends?

Day one of WisCon was lovely, as expected. I had a nice, if brief, chat with Liz Henry at the Gathering. I complimented her on her post on the profile of the Google VP and thanked her for posting frankly about living with a disability. She's working for BlogHer these days, and we compared notes on discovering our unexpectedly butch (read results-oriented) sides when dealing with groups composed exclusively of women.

It was nearly dinner time when we reached Madison. We ate at the Brocach, on the opposite side of the capitol from our hotel. Wow. All the food, from the steak with blue cheese butter to the fish and chips, was stunning. And our waiter was cute enough that even Ben noticed. Top-shelf drinks were half off for happy hour, so Ben ordered the 18-year Caol Ila. Yum. Even James tipped back a few drops of Jameson--literally a few drops.

The bar was open in the hotel club by then, so we headed back. Programming is light Friday nights, with opening ceremonies taking up much of the evening, so the bar becomes the main attraction for anyone with an aversion to ceremony. For once in my life, I started a trend. First round of drinks, I was the only one with a Sambuca. Second round of drinks, there were five of us. We were all from the Twin Cities, even though we rarely see each other in town. Somewhere along the way, the flaming Sambuca story had to be told. Then the story of the folded-pinky hand gesture that always accompanies Rick's name. Then Sean showed up with the flask of absinthe, and we all had to try it. I suspect it loses a little of the bitter when you don't put the wormwood in it, but what was left was tasty, even without sugar and water.

Rachel and Dave stopped by and added the story of how their middle child ended up with his genitalia glued back together. I laughed until I cried over the line, "It's a crib injury, although it wasn't my crib." Okay, I said it, but it was still funny.

Then it was off to the panel on grammar and punctuation. Really. You have to be the right kind of person to appreciate it, but it was pretty good. Of course, being WisCon, there was discussion of whether focusing on grammar priviledges the communications of particular groups, and of course, being grammar geeks, we said, well, yes and no. Grammar is important, you know.

We haven't made it to the hot tub yet, but it's been a long day, so bed is calling. There's always tomorrow, at least when the pool isn't reserved for the kids. More later...probably.

Aliens in Drag

It's very hard to tell someone you're going to a science fiction convention without being asked about Star Trek. The implication, when it's not stated outright, is that there will be a bunch of weirdos there dressed up as Klingons.

That doesn't happen at WisCon. There are people who love Star Trek, sure, but no Klingons. No slave girls, no furries, no anime characters in three straps, a cropped tee and thigh-high boots. There's essentially no cosplay, except at the fancy dress party. And it isn't because anyone says not to. It isn't because someone would be mocked for being strange. Costumes at WisCon are viewed more like a cocktail dress at a picnic. There's nothing wrong with it, exactly, but it's trying awfully hard--harder than the occasion calls for.

WisCon is all about being the alien living among other aliens. Nobody needs prosthetics to be set apart. We're all weirdos, whatever we're wearing. We might as well be comfortable.

And that's just one of the reasons I love WisCon.

May 18, 2008

I, Uh, Wow

For the three of you who don't read Penny Arcade and the two of you who do but didn't follow the link Tycho so incoherently put up (because otherwise I'd have already heard of this), go. Watch.


Perfect Margaritas

How to Shop for Limes

When shopping for limes, you don't want the big ones or the dark green ones. You want the shiny ones. Skip the limes with deeply dimpled peels. Instead, grab the smoothest-skinned limes you can find. Make sure they feel heavy in your hand. Take about 12, 14 if they're really small.

No, they're not cheap. But you can get cheap margaritas in any Tex-Mex place.

Other Ingredients

Make sure you have plenty of ice on hand. Find a tequila that's smooth but just a little too strongly flavored for you to want to drink it on its own. We use Sauza Conmemorativo, a 750 ml bottle. Get some Grand Marnier; you'll need 500 ml. You can swap orange liqueurs later if you don't like the results, but Grand Marnier really has the right blend of sweet and bitter for this application. Have a little plain white sugar and margarita salt on hand.

That's it. Those are all the ingredients. No sour or mix to be seen.


Roll 8 limes around on the counter to bruise them. Don't be gentle. Then figure out how to get the fruit wax off your hands and counter. If you find any good methods, please share.

Get out a tightly sealing pitcher (2 liters/quarts), a 2-cup liquid measure, a citrus juicer, and either a small sifter or a funnel lined with cheesecloth. The sifter goes in the liquid measure. The funnel and cheesecloth go in the mouth of the pitcher.

Slice and squeeze the limes, discovering all the tiny cuts on your hands in the process. Be thorough, but don't introduce pith to the juice. After four limes, check the level of juice. You're aiming for 500 ml. If you'll need more than 8 limes, which you probably will, bruise them now.

Once you hit 500 ml, add it to the pitcher with the tequila and Grand Marnier. Shake. Pour a tiny sample and taste. Add a small amount of sugar if the limes weren't ripe. Seal up the pitcher and store in the fridge.

Drinking the Perfect Margarita

You now have a deceptively tasty, roughly 60-proof pitcher in the refrigerator. Care is called for.

Serve the perfect margarita over lots of ice, or blend it with ice if you like margarita slushies. Shake the pitcher before pouring. There will be sediment from the limes. If it's hot and you're thirsty, or if you have difficulty forgetting about your drink for a while between sips, add some orange juice to make it safer to quaff. It's a different flavor, but still yummy.

Don't worry too much about how long you store the margaritas. Did I mention that they're 30 percent alcohol? That, and they're perfect, so they won't last long. Enjoy.

May 17, 2008

Facebook Is Weird

So there's this guy I know. Sweet guy, fun to chat with, really funny. He does, however, tend to blush whenever we talk. He also has some difficulty maintaining eye contact, talking to my chest often enough that I feel a little embarrassed for him.

Earlier this week, I happen to run across him on Facebook. His profile is wide open--and completely out. Looking for dating; interested in men. Not men and women, just men. Uh, okay, sure. Whatever you say, but would you care to explain the total crush behavior? I'm not the only one who spotted it, and none of my other gay friends act like that (well, not the guys).

Then, while I'm still trying to wrap my brain around that one, Facebook goes and recommends that I send one of my junior high boyfriends a friend request. Um, maybe...later. It's been 25 years since we've spoken. I think I'll give my brain time to settle back down first.

All right, Facebook, what's next?

May 15, 2008

Paying Attention

When I'm interested in something, I focus--like miss obvious things going on around me kind of focus. This led me (in college, I think) to discover a nifty little trick.

The next time your in a mid-sized audience, say 15 to 100 people, for a speaker, try something. Pay attention. I mean close attention. Ignore your friends, watch the speaker, and try to anticipate what they'll say next.

Assuming your friends aren't trying the same thing, you'll notice something after about 10 minutes. The speaker, unless blinded by stage lights or very, very professional, will be talking to you. They'll spend 40-60% of their time looking directly at you. They'll wait for you to nod slightly at important points or smile at jokes. They'll drift slightly toward you if you're off to one side. They won't lose their topics, but they may lose the rest of their audience.

Works for almost anyone but professional storytellers, whose audience contact is part of how they tell the story. Works for professors, for introverts, for high corporate mucky mucks. I've even moderated a panel discussion at a convention from the audience this way. Their moderator wasn't doing much, I asked a couple of questions and listened to the answers, et voila. Pretty soon everyone on the panel was waiting for me to look at them before they spoke. Very strange, but kind of cool.

One word of caution: listening this way in a one-on-one situation can have a very different outcome. You may end up with a new best friend who has to tell you all their troubles (because you're so understanding), or someone may feel the need to tell you, nervously, that they're just not interested. So be careful where you practice.

May 09, 2008


Grand Theft Auto 4 has some problems, and I'm not talking about the ones that get lots of press. I mean it hangs consistently on some game systems. We have one. After trying five copies from a local big-box retailer and finally persuading them to find a way to work around their no-return policy on games, we decided to try a specialty game store to see whether we might have better luck with a different pressing of the disk.

We walked in, and it was just us and the young woman (yay!) behind the counter. Ben asked, "So, have people been returning GTA4?"

She said yes, and we sighed. He explained our situation and that we were hoping they'd be able to fix it. "Oh," she said. "I hadn't heard about that. They returned it because it was too violent."


Blink, blink.


"Right. We'll take a copy then. Thanks." We managed not to laugh until we got out of the store.

What planet do you have to live on not to know what to expect from a GTA game? How do you maintain that level of ignorance and still be in a position to buy and play it?

That copy didn't work either, by the way. So now we're screaming for the patch.

May 08, 2008

What We Take for Granted

Working in the yard is a great way to meet the neighbors. People stop to find out what you're planting or weeding or just to say how happy they are that you've done something prettier than grass everywhere. Usually it's a quick "Hi. How's it going? The yard looks great. How about this weather. Have a nice day." conversation. But every once in a while, about one time in five, I get a reminder that I'm not living in the same world I grew up in.

The most memorable conversation last summer was with the four kids from a few doors down who were riding their bikes up and down the sidewalk on our block. The violets were in bloom, and they had never seen anything like them--this common weed that I encourage to grow wherever it wants. They wanted to pick some and to chase the butterflies. I explained what would happen to the flowers if they walked through them. I did pick them some violets, and I invited them to watch the butterflies from the walkway.

While they were hanging out, I took the opportunity to point out that if they stopped turning their bikes in the middle of the boulevard, the daylillies planted there would bloom later and attract more butterflies. For their part, the kids wanted to know whether I owned (in hushed tones) "a car?" They were very excited when I said I did. They wanted to see it, but that was when the youngest showed up again. At some point, probably when the conversation turned from butterflies to cars, he realized they were all talking to a stranger. He'd run home to get Mom's authority to tell them they were doing something wrong, which ended the conversation. The kids went back to riding their bikes, but they did stay out of the daylillies. I think they'd moved by the time the boulevard bloomed.

This Saturday, I was picking up the trash that accumulates on a corner lot when I had a pretty typical yard/weather conversation. Only this time I could tell that the fellow had something else on his mind. Once all the pleasantries were out of the way, he said, "Excuse me, but what are the initials for?" I had no idea what he was talking about. He pointed behind me, and I looked. "Oh. That's the company that made the windows. They're new. Those come off." Then he went happily on his way.

I picked up more trash and reminded myself that not everyone grows up somewhere where good windows are important and more people could really use them but are never going to get them. I felt particularly lucky, not to be able to afford the windows, but to live in a place where I can't take them for granted.

May 03, 2008

Want to See a Migraine?

Warning: these visual illusions won't be comfortable. They may, in fact, have the potential to cause seizures if you're so prone.

The page says simply, "This page may feel you sick." (It's Japanese.) It didn't. In several places, I didn't even register the anomalous motion that was supposed to occur. Then it hit me. I could see it, but I was discounting it. The scintillating effect the author talks about is what I see when I have a migraine, only I'm looking at a normal computer screen (or the sidewalk, or the wall, or the inside of my eyelids). I'd just forgotten that most people don't see that at least once a week.

Welcome to my world.

Via Greg Laden, only at his old site.

May 02, 2008

Breaking Rules, Part II

I'm bad with rules. Really bad. I get too close to a rule and I itch to reach out and break it. If something can't be said, I can barely think of anything else to say. If it mustn't be done, I have to sit on my hands to keep from doing it. The only way to cope is to give myself permission to smash the rule to bits. Once the rule is no longer "in force," I can look at it rationally and decide whether I want to accept the consequences of breaking it.

Since everyone and their sister seems full of "rules" about writing, and since these are frequently presented in such concrete language as to invoke the worst of my contrarian nature, I've spent some time looking at the consequences of breaking the rules about writing.

My conclusion? Break any rule you want. Break two, or six. If.

Now, it's one hell of an if, having mostly to do with what a writer is doing in the bits where they're not breaking rules. There are, of course, also consequences.

Writing rules, at least the less arbitrary, more agreed-upon ones, are a codification of the contract between writer and reader as it has evolved through the ages. They're a way of making sure the reader gets enough reward for the work they put into reading. So most of the rules are about not making your reader do too much work to reach the reward. Cut the flab, use simpler words wherever they'll do, don't switch POVs, watch your verb tenses, vary sentence length, keep characters sympathetic and their names distinctive, don't lose sight of your conflict, don't radically change tone--all designed to make the read easier.

There's just one problem. If you read in any significant quantity, chances are that you've found a book that follows all the rules. It may well have bored you to tears. Why? Because it didn't surprise you in any way.

On the other hand, that book with the antihero, the one with the delightful off-topic rambles or the intricate descriptions that put you fully in the scene, the one with the odd sentence structure that made you pay attention to every word, even that one that really had no plot--those were magic. Why?

Because the writer had enough control to know which rules they were breaking and how to follow the rules they were observing. That contract is all about work and rewards. Breaking a rule makes more work for the reader. The more rules a writer breaks, the more they must nail everything else. They must provide more reward. Apt language can sustain a book through a number of diversions, and great insight can pull readers through nearly any number of POV changes.

As I mentioned before, there are consequences, even beyond having to be better at everything else. For every rule, there is some percentage of a writer's potential audience who cannot abide seeing the rule broken. Sometimes it's the happy ending; sometimes the sympathetic character. No matter how good the rest of the book, a writer will lose these people by breaking their pet rule. It's just going to happen.

But knowing that and knowing the extra work or skill it requires, if you want to break a cardinal rule of writing, go right ahead. I'm certainly not in any position to complain.

May 01, 2008

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

So I'm on this client team at work, one of several. I have my own tiny little fiefdom, a project I run pretty much independently. I took it over because someone had to, and it turned out my experience was a good fit. Everything runs smoothly. The client, who wasn't happy with how the project was going before I took over, is happy with me. So far, so good.

Then we hit a few weeks ago. That was when I discovered that the client is not as thrilled with other parts of their experience with us. Suddenly, "They're always so happy with you and your work," which I've heard before and didn't think much of, has context. It has weight. Suddenly too many people know who I am. All the tiny little decisions I make every day have echoes I wasn't hearing before.

Now people want to meet me. Tomorrow, in fact. I'll walk into the room with a real smile on my face and be very happy to see everyone, but that will be surface. Underneath will be the constant little whisper of "I didn't sign up for this. I agreed that a bunch of stuff needed to get done and I could do it, but I don't remember promising anything like this."

And I haven't a clue what I'll wear. Yeesh.