June 2012

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Jun. 12th, 2012

Truck unloading!

Minneapolis/St. Paul people!

Aren't you glad we're coming back? Admit it, you've missed my way with cookies.

Our truck will arrive on Sunday July 1st, probably sometime between 2 and 4 PM (updates will be forthcoming). We could really use some help unloading it into our new place. The more the merrier, and even if you don't have a strong back, it would be good to have some help distracting the kids, admiring the back yard, and holding doors.

Contact me for the address.
Just so you can be prepared, it's a ranch house with a finished basement. There are about three steps up to the door, and a flight down to the basement. It's in New Hope. There is room for us to put the truck in the driveway. There is available street parking. I imagine we will round out the night with the traditional moving bribes of pizza and beer.

You can think of it as the pre-party for CONvergence, now with fewer costumes and more boxes.

Housecooling party

Ok, Northwest area people, we are having our last party for you, and we'd like to see you!

Saturday, June 23rd, between 6 PM and midnight.
Address available on request.
Some food provided, depending on how much of our kitchen we have packed.
Many free things that we don't want to move will be available for hauling off, including books, toys, and some outdoor gear.

We will miss you all, so please come by and say goodbye and let us take some pictures together.

Mar. 14th, 2012

Book Review: Hunger Games

Katniss is not the smartest character in this book. She is not the bravest, nor the kindest, the most cunning or the most talented. She is not the strongest. In the words of her inebriated mentor, Haymitch, what she has is spunk. She is smart enough, brave enough, kind enough to get through. Her better angel frequently gets the better of her rational thought, but not so much that she is made weak by it.

Her spunk is of a particularly enduring nature that could not be replicated by one of the Career kids, outright gladiators who have been training for this all their lives. Although they have skills and cruelty, they don't have the dogged determination to keep going because someone else is depending on you. Katniss almost can't recall a time that she was not the responsible adult in the family. She does not really think of her life as a set of choices, but as a set of obligations to support her choice to take care of her family. And I bet if you asked her, she never thought of taking care of her family as a choice, just What One Does.

I especially appreciated that Katniss had a mother, but that it was not an easy relationship.
And some small gnarled place inside me hated her for her weakness, for her neglect, for the months she had put us through. Prim forgave her, but I had taken a step back from my mother, put up a wall to protect myself from needing her, and nothing was ever the same between us again.


From drunken, desolate Haymitch to sweet, strong Peeta and smart, cynical Gale, the people around Katniss are extraordinary. Even her stylist, the brilliant Cinna, is a fully-fleshed character in his own right, with his use of beauty as a tool for Katniss's survival.

I never felt like Katniss was the only real person in the story. When she cared about people, we cared about them too.

I think her lack of exceptionality makes it easier to relate to her, to think about ourselves in that same position. Thematically, this book reminded me of Richard Bachman/Stephen King's The Long Walk. It is also about deadly contests for the amusement of the populace. I am a bit revolted by my own cheering for our hero to win, since it means so many others will lose. I think that internal revulsion is an important part of the emotional weight of the book, since we are complicit in hoping for those deaths. Unlike the long walk, the Hunger Games make a life-and-death difference to the people back home. The winner secures extra food, extra calories for a whole year. Children who sign up for extra chances to be sent to the games can buy enough starvation rations for their family. And anyone who survives will never be hungry again.

This is one of the hungriest books I've ever read. Some books have that deep atmosphere feeling. I can only read Ice Station Zebra in the dead of summer, and Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the cool damp winter, lest the books themselves make my atmosphere unlivable. This book made me hungry -- not for madelines or stew or home cooking, but just for food. In Cryptonomicon, Stephenson posists a "realistic" roleplaying game, where 90% of the game time is about acquiring, preserving, and eating food. This is the book of that game.

Katniss, herself named after a food item, recognizes that this is what drives her:
What would my life be like on a daily basis? Most of it has been consumed with the acquisition of food. Take that away and I’m not really sure who I am, what my identity is.


This is all contrasted with the decadence of the Capital, where their wealth is described in food, in banquets, much more than in the technology or power or weapons that they have. Katniss doesn't have the detachment from food to respect them for their political control, she is too hung up on their enormous caloric wealth. Similarly, she can't really fathom having romantic relationships, although she is that age, because to her, they are an addition to the number of mouths she would have to feed, and keeping her head above water is taking so much energy that she just has no time for romance.

I love reading books where I suspect the author might be smarter or better-educated than me. The more I think about the structure and references in this book, the more I feel like that. I sort of want to have a rolling wiki page or something for everything we think is a classical allusion or a hint about the future from the past.

For instance, I realized when I was explaining the story that the Hunger Games are based on the Greek story of the Minotaur:
Minos required that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens, drawn by lots, be sent every ninth year (some accounts say every year) to be devoured by the Minotaur.


The name of the country, Panem, makes one think of the bread and circuses presaging the fall of Rome. Even the foods described in the feasting are identifiable from the Satyricon, like the lamb stew with prunes and the tiny birds filled with orange sauce.

I really liked the structure of this book. On the surface, the plot seems straightforward. However, I think this will be one of the series that goes from the particulars of one person to the general of the whole world. This book is about Katniss doing her best in the face of changing circumstances. She has to adapt or die. And she has to accept that death may be the easy option, and perhaps she is going to have to do even harder things than learn to hope again. Peeta is the story's moral center, the standard against which Katniss ends up measuring herself. At the risk of crossing the streams, I feel about Peeta the way I ended up feeling about Neville in the Harry Potter books. He is greater than even he believes, and it is his solidity and grace that allows our heroes to get through what they need to do.

My critique is that I was left desperately wishing for more information about the world -- how big is District 12? How big are the other districts? Who maintains the rail tracks? That sort of thing. I think that curiosity is an excellent sign that the world is real and vibrant. I want to explore it in my mind, in a way I don't need to in a world that has less bearing on the story. I am sure subsequent books will also make things clearer.

The writing is not perfect, but I found it compelling, and given the speed I was reading at, I did not stop to complain. I will forgive quite a lot in someone who grabs me as thoroughly as Collins did, and doesn't let go until the very end of the story.

Read if: you love a good story about a hero who is not a superhero. You like books full of allusion and subtle foreshadowing. You understand that anyone can be a monster and a hero, depending on circumstances.

Skip if: you really cannot abide the death of children, even off-screen. You avoid dystopias. You can't love a hero who kills people. You have sworn off any book with a love triangle.
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Dec. 15th, 2011

On gender, presentation, and professionalism

So... I have this new job. At which I am changing my role from "like a developer, only with words" to "person creating a department, setting standards, enforcing process, and maybe eventually hiring subordinates".

I acknowledge that it is possible to do this while wearing (checks): Lands End jeans, and a men's cotton sweater from Penney's. (I really like this sweater, it's super versatile). However, I have noted that presentation, especially for women, correlates to how much time they spend having discussions about whether they are wrong from wrongtopia.

It's hard to tell yet, because my one in-person meeting involved the Dev director (polo shirt buttoned to the top, jeans), and two dev leads (long sleeve t-shirts, fleece vests, jeans), on a Friday. I was wearing a fitted dress and heels. Maybe this is not the company that demands that. They are too small to be truly corporate. But on the other hand, I want to seize control of a lot of external messaging, which means being ready to be customer-facing.

I think that for the next six months, while I am traveling part-time for business, and staying in niceish hotels, I am going to increase my formality level. Action items for this so far:
* No jeans
* Buy foundation and GOOD mascara, learn to wear every day
* Buy tights/legwarmers
* Fix or replace black dress boots
* Get wool coat cleaned, look into dress parka (in MSP, this is not a contradiction)
* Commit to hair and eyebrow care at least every two months. Reclassify hair color as a business expense?

Problems:
* Most dress slacks look terrible on me.
* I need to rework my morning routine to make time for this.
* I will need to form better habits about drycleaning.
* It all costs money
* What if it alienates my sources if I am too high-femme? Will it make me less believable as a technical person?

I would love observations on any or all of this. Here are some links I have sitting around being relevant.
Eyeliner and Competence, from Corporette (I may just mainline this site)
Mrissa I love the idea of one's outfits having names and themes. Yesterday I was German Airship Captain of the Future.

Dec. 8th, 2011

The big news post

I have a new job!
It is in downtown Minneapolis.
I start around the new year.
They make medical billing software. This is more exciting than you are thinking right now.
I am going to fly out once or twice a month until June.
After the kids finish school for the year, they'll move out to Minnesota with me.
Matt got offered a full-time teaching job this weekend, too.
Yeah, we are also confused by theistic whimsy, but what can you do?
It's going to be an interesting year, yes.

It's a big career jump.
They have no (none, zilch, nada) existing documentation.
But they have decided that I am the person smart and aggressive and experienced enough to make this happen.
I get to pick my own tools, bwahahaha.
I am explicitly encouraged to work on process problems.
I get to work with the UI consulting firm.
I get to meet customers!
I can make an actual difference at this company.

So.....questions?

Nov. 14th, 2011

Book Review: HMS Ulysses

HMS UlyssesHMS Ulysses by Alistair MacLean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


The thing I love about Powell's books is that you can ask the much-pierced 20-something at the desk about the location of bestsellers of the 60s and 70s, and they will answer you without so much as a pause for thought.

Anyway, Powell's: a great source for the pop-action-stories of bygone decades.

I picked up an omnibus of full-length novels. I already own /Where Eagles Dare/ and /When Eight Bells Toll/, but can you believe I did not actually own /Ice Station Zebra/ or /The Guns of Navarone/. But I have them all now, as well as HMS Ulysses, which I had never read before. I am going to tell you all sorts of plot points, on the theory that this book is 20 years older than I am.

We start with an abortive mutiny. The poor sods crewing this escort ship are officially about to have a very bad trip. They are slated to do yet another run of the convoy to Murmansk, which is pretty much Dead Men Sailing In Ships. They are pretty sure that they do not want to do this again. However, the ship is sent out again, under the auspices of the kindly, overworked doctor, the kindly, stoic captain, and the kindly admiral. The whole book could really be titled "HMS Ulysses and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Convoy". In only a rough semblance of order, here are SOME of the things that happened.

* U-boats
* More U-boats
* Henkels
* Being bombed
* Being torpedoed
* Catastrophic winter hurricane
* Rogue waves
* Stukkas
* People having to be trapped on the wrong side of a flood door to Save the Ship (x2)
* Tall taciturn strong man sacrifices self in misguided expiation of sins
* Captain dies of TB
* Betrayal by the command structure
* Poor bastard finds out his sisters and mother died in a bombing the day they ship. Then his brother is killed. Then he has to fire on his father's ship because it was endangering the convoy.
* Admiral goes crazy
* Admiral dies of frostbite/amputation
* Bad apple saves the engineer who gave him a chance

Really, it was like a microcosm of horsemen, what with the war, pestilence (TB), starvation, and death. By halfway through the book I was cackling madly and reading choice excerpts to my roommate. It was just the sort of adventure book I love, full of hard luck and people pulling through anyway.

Amazingly, some few battered survivors lived to tell the story.




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Oct. 21st, 2011

Dreams of knees

This morning (right before Baz woke me up with his habitual "I threw my covers off and stripped down to my skivvies 6:20 and now I'm cold" morning snuggle), I was dreaming about volleyball.

Specifically, I was dreaming about PRACTICING for volleyball. Now, you have to understand -- I was a mediocre player. I have always been a slow physical learner. It takes repetition on repetition to grind something into my muscle memory. Anyway, I was doing some painful knee strengthening exercise that involved jumping sideways across a line, back and forth. At a break, I showed the other players how to do some other knee exercises I know.

Then we were getting water, and talking about Sammi Schinell, and how her sheer physical giftedness was amazing, but not as amazing as her coachability (this is true). Last I heard of Sammi, a few years ago, she was working as a smoke jumper. This is a job for the brave, yes, but also for people who can follow directions.

I've been thinking about coachability a lot, lately. I watch Ice Road Truckers, and this season had a fascinating plotline where a rookie came up from Alabama, and assumed that his years of experience driving truck meant he didn't have to listen to his trainer or the other drivers. By objective measures, he was doing really well, leading the load count. But the objective measure was not all that mattered -- he didn't listen, he took risks, he was rude and disrespectful. He was not a team player. And he got fired for it. FIRED. For being uncoachable.

I think about this all the time, while I watch the kids try and struggle to accept criticism, to change the natural way they want to do things, to do things that are hard or scary. I don't think it matters very much what sport or activity we had them in -- it could be violin lessons or karate or chess. But it matters a lot that we have a coach who works well with them, who understands that they have needs both different from each other, and different on different days. For instance, on Saturday mornings, Baz is much better at focus and repetition. He isn't tired from a full day at school trying to pay attention and sit still. On Thursdays, he is much more distracted and it is harder for him to take criticism gracefully. Kay is not a morning person, so for her the Saturday morning practices are harder, but she does a better job if she gets teasing praise.

I think I will try to remember this when I think about my next job. Maybe I could find a coach, even if I may not want a writing teacher.

Here are a couple articles I fed my brain while thinking about coaching. First, from The New Yorker: Coaching a Surgeon

I was dubious. My serve had always been the best part of my game. But I listened. He had me pay attention to my feet as I served, and I gradually recognized that my legs weren’t really underneath me when I swung my racquet up into the air. My right leg dragged a few inches behind my body, reducing my power. With a few minutes of tinkering, he’d added at least ten miles an hour to my serve. I was serving harder than I ever had in my life.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/03/111003fa_fact_gawande#ixzz1bSeziwjq


Emotional Coaching

Oct. 5th, 2011

Book review: Front and Center

Front and Center (Dairy Queen, #3)Front and Center by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In Which D.J. Has to Make Big Decisions



I was so satisfied by the ending of this trilogy. In the space of a year, D.J. has grown up from a really reliable kid to a woman in change of her own destiny.



The story opens as she gets back to school after nursing her brother Wim. It's the start of basketball season, and basketball is her one true sport. She can go back to her normal life, she thinks.



But it turns out that she really needs to step up her "leadership" to be an attractive college prospect, and she hates doing leadershippy things because everyone stares at her. And even though she may be a good enough player to do play division-I basketball, she's not sure she can stand all that attention, the crowds, the noise. Maybe she would be happier at a smaller school.



And if that weren't enough, she isn't dating Brian, so her buddy Beaner asks her to date him, and she agrees, but it's weird, and he's an awesome boyfriend, but she can't stop thinking about what a good listener Brian is.



So, she's got issues right in her weak spot of being decisive, proactive, and getting what she wants. This book is about figuring those things out, and I wound up feeling really proud of her. As if she were somehow my kid or my friend or something. She makes decisions, and she learns from them.



One of my favorite character development moments was when she started doing 1-1 coaching for one of the girls in her class. D.J. thinks through how to make something make sense as a mathematical equation and it helps her friend figure out what everyone has been telling her all along. I think D.J. is going to make a great coach, that this is what she's going to be when she grows up -- someone who can analyze a player -- not just their play, but their personality, and find a way to speak to it. She kicks Brian's butt when he's lazy, but she's gently encouraging to her brother Curtis when he needs it. She gets angry and yells at Wim, but never at her classmate. D.J. herself doesn't understand how good she is with people, but it's going to be true all her life, her ability to imagine herself as someone else.



People might think helping is hard, but really that's the easy part; just look how good it makes people feel. Look how happy all those Red Bend ladies were about chipping in. It's the asking that's so painful. It takes real courage, real strength, to say you're not strong enough to do it alone. Mom must really be hurting for Dad to be so brave.




and



I swear, every person I know gets far more satisfaction from doing good deeds than receiving them. Maybe that's the whole point in the end, all of us putting up with good deeds, tolerating them as best we can, counting the minutes until we have the opportunity to reciprocate.




Murdock says that the letters she's gotten in response to this series have been amazingly raw and honest and sometimes overwhelming for her. I can believe it. D.J. is not an ordinary heroine, and she has a lot of resonance.



Read if: you have ever played team sports, you have ever warmed a bench, you have ever wished that you could be good at what you do without ending up in the spotlight. Read if you have ever wondered what jocks think about. Read it if you have ever kissed someone who ought to be right and isn't.



Skip if: well, I have almost nothing here, but you should read the first two books first.



(in my secret mashup universe, D.J. might turn into West Wing's C.J. Cregg, tall, blonde, and frustrated by bullies)



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Who has two thumbs and rode 10 miles solo?


Baz is very proud of the cider
Originally uploaded by wiredknitter

This kid!

This is not a picture of his bike. I failed to think of taking one. In fact, I was busy fretting.

I extended his "range" of places he could go to include the bike trail up to 180th. That's about 5 miles each way. it's smooth flat trail, the crossings are not busy but do have lights, it's all perfectly safe. He has good road safety, lights, a vest. He knows all our phone numbers by heart.

In fact, I was only a little bit worried about him biting it out there. I have biked with blood running down my leg. I was a lot more worried that some officious grownup would freak out and try to stop him.

But he was gone about 70 minutes, and came back in an excellent mood of accomplishment and exercise. Hurrah!

I bet he bikes faster when he is not asking me
* how sewers work
* what an easement is
* what causes homelessness
* how bees know which flowers to go to
* how rabbits run so fast
* why snot is considered gross but breastmilk isn't.

For the record, all those questions occurred in the same ride.

Anyway, I'm very proud of him, and his responsibility and steadiness and strength and sense of adventure.

Do me a favor? If you see a little kid out doing something "grown-up", and they don't look worried or scared, just let them be. Don't buy their candy bars or ask if they're lost. They're individuals, and probably they're fine.

Sep. 29th, 2011

The little chess player


The little chess player
Originally uploaded by wiredknitter

Baz and I played chess last night. He did pretty well. I love that he was wearing his D&D shirt that night.

Mostly I want to note that he looks so grown up in this picture. Between the braces and the long hair, he doesn't really look like a little kid.

We agreed that he can keep his hair however he wants it. He is genetically dooooomed on the hair front, so he might as well enjoy it while it's here.

BTW, don't take it too easy on him if you play him. You might be surprised!

Sep. 27th, 2011

Book Review: Soul Hunt

Soul Hunt (Evie Scelan, #3)Soul Hunt by Margaret Ronald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This third book in the series has Evie settling into a life that she thinks she can live, and then realizing that if she doesn't change things, she won't get to live it long. I had a horrible feeling it might be the urban fantasy version of 6 Months To Live, but it managed to veer away from that.

There is a plot involving The Wild Hunt, and what she owes them, and people resisting her, but I thought the metaplot, about what it is to be family, and what it is to make promises, was more interesting.

I thought it was a pretty solid continuation of the series, overall.

Read if: you've read the previous books, you enjoy urban fantasy.

Skip if: you are looking for an entry point to this series.



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Book Review: The Off Season

The Off Season (Dairy Queen, #2)The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


If the first book in this series is about learning to be bigger and braver than you feel, this book is about getting back up again after you get knocked down. At the beginning, everything is going well. DJ is doing well at football, she has an awesome boyfriend who listens to her, her dad is getting better and can do farmwork again, it seems like her year of being a "cow" is over. But we know that it can't be that easy, because it's a book, and because we read the back cover.

This is the story about DJ losing her boyfriend and her football career, and her brother losing his football career, and DJ sucking it up in some pretty amazing ways and being who she needs to be. If she were my daughter, I would be so proud of her.

This review makes it sound sort of sanctimonious and sappy, but it's really not. I think it is saved by DJ's strong, wry, narrative voice. She is sometimes scared, or angry, or confused, but she's always honest and observant.

The secondary characters from the first book are fleshed out in excellent ways. Her little brother, who doesn't talk much, confesses his deep career secret to her, and she is sure he is a mutant, but she does what she can to support him. Her best friends' girlfriend insists that everyone needs their high school education, and engineers a reconciliation with the mom who freaked out. And Brian, her boyfriends, is an interesting, flawed, spoiled character.

Also, I really admire any writer who can perform this sentence without getting tangled:
All those talks Mom had given, us kids dying of embarrassment, about Being Strong and Not Doing Anything Stupid--which I have to say she gave to Bill a lot more than she gave to the rest of us because Bill has always been an enormous fan of Doing Anything Stupid with girls, starting back in grade school when he dated a seventh-grader--well, even though I wasn't thinking this at the time, looking back I can see how easy it is to Do Anything Stupid, and how I'd have been willing to do pretty much whatever Brian recommended.

Isn't that just about the best description ever of making out? I thought so.

Read if: You liked the first book, you are willing to jump into the second book without knowing how DJ and Brian got together, you hate Pollyana stories of Noble Invalids.

Skip if: you have problems reading about spinal injuries, you want more Nobility in your Invalids, you believe that parents always know best.



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Sep. 20th, 2011

Book Review: Entwined

EntwinedEntwined by Heather Dixon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a child of my time, and if you present me with a darkly sinister dancing magician, a teenage girl in a ball dress, and fantastickal creepy ballroom scenes, all of the images in my head will look like Labyrinth. I consider this a plus.
Imagine the story of the twelve dancing princesses. Now imagine that you can actually tell the princesses apart, and they each have stories and personalities. Not just that there is a bookish one or a nice one, but Azalea is the oldest, and keeps everyone safe, and Bramble is tomboyish but also the one with the most puckish sense of humor, and so on, right down to Lily, the baby. I see that Dixon grew up in a big family, and I think informs a lot of the flavor of the book. The preschooler who is always hungry, the baby who likes to chew on things, the shy girl with an unexpected fierce streak, they all work together as a family to comb their hair, or mend the slippers. Older sisters help younger ones, not as "babysitting", but as an inescapable, loving way to live with each other. Not once do any of them wish to be free of each other. It might be unrealistic, certainly for modern girls, but it's very charming.
The dancing sections themselves were fascinating. You know that feeling you get when you read a book with horses, and it is just suffused with love and care and passion about horses, and their halters and stalls and withers and whatever all else? (<- not a horse person, obviously). This is like that, only with schottishes and waltzes and curtsies. I was just rapt in the dancing sections.
This is also a story about how members of a family can handle grief differently. Azalea tries to be as much like her mother as possible, while her father the king plunges into a more traditional, dire mourning, and behaves badly toward his family. I wondered if he was talking about extending the mourning period as a way to prevent himself from having to remarry. I thought the way their differences were highlighted and played off each other, and the eventual resolution, were very well executed.
As for the romances, they are all quite charming. I would say more, but I am trying not to be too spoilery. It is enough to know that as each of their personalities is different, they fall in love with different types of men. I was all awwww.
I could have lived without Azalea's fainting problem, but at least it's consistent with her losing her appetite and not eating anything.
Read if: you like romance, princess, fairy tales, or Jareth. You want a sweet, poignant story with good strong characterization. You are a fan of dance.
Skip if: you want sex in your romance, you don't care about dance, or you want a more adult heroine.


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Sep. 14th, 2011

Nature or Nurture

There were sil and Baz, their foreheads pressed together. Baz looked deep into his daddy's eyes, and then, without breaking eye contact, extended his anteater-like tongue and licked sil on his nose. Sil sprang break, making a noise between screaming and laughing. Then he collapsed in hysterical giggles on the bed.

Baz had won this round.

Sil applied to me for sympathy, but I have been the recipient of many of his nose-licking outbursts before, and I think he has been hoist on his own petard of wet-noseness.

I think the best part is how perfect Baz's comedic timing was. He absolutely learned that from his daddy. And he is putting the lessons to good use.
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Book Review: A Matter of Choice

A Matter of ChoiceA Matter of Choice by Laura Landon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Frequently I like forced-marriage stories because they are about two people learning to work together cooperatively as a couple. In this one, I felt that the inevitable conflict was too obvious.

She has been badly wounded by a man previously. Her fiance was shot dead in bed with another man's wife. Also, her sisters are all in non-faithful relationships, at least on the husbands' part. Allison is very sensitive to the thought of people laughing at her for being cheated on. I find this interesting, as it is presented as pretty normal, and most wives in the book were dealing with the same problem. So her anxiety about being laughed at or pitied seemed sort of overblown.

Allison, of course, meets poor-little-rich-boy Montfort, and instantly dismisses him, because he's a rake. In fact, it was pretty infelicitous, as he kissed her under the impression she was his chere amie.

Through circumstances, the two are constrained to wed each other, but Allison makes Monfort sign a pre-nup specifying that if he cheats, she gets all his money, including his beloved home. I find this historically implausible, but whatever.

Then, of course, there is conflict, and she has to learn to trust him and he has to learn to start communicating, and everything is better, yay!

Overall, the infidelity theme was very pervasive. I wonder if it's an author theme or a book theme.

Read if: you are in the mood for a forced-marriage romance where the woman retains some power and wit.

Skip if: themes of infidelity are going to bore you, you want a heroine who is not defined by her fears.



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Sep. 7th, 2011

World's most expensive pachinko ball

tok.... tak.... plack

That is the sound of an extremely expensive, very new, Nexus S 4G Android phone falling down between fair sized boulders at the side of a creek.

My phone is not eaten by eels at this time.

I had taken a picture of Baz, and I hadn't put the phone back in my pocket properly, and then we started to scramble down the rocks to reach what was left of the swimming hole of my youth. I was about a third of the way down when I heard the fateful sound.

I made Baz go play in the creek while I sat with my feelings of idiocy and grief. Then he came back up and suggested that he thought he would fit between the boulders laid down to prevent flood erosion. (I know these rocks as rip-rap, but I don't know why. My family was puzzled by my use of this term.)

By this time, I had gotten an eyeball on the phone, but couldn't reach it because I am an adult-sized person. Baz is a skinny kid. So first I shoved all the boulders around us to make sure they were not going to crush him, and then I held on to the waist of his pants while he eeled into the opening. He managed to get a finger on the phone, but sadly just knocked it further back into the crevice. When I pulled him out, he was hyperventilating. He said he was scared and I told him that the phone was just stuff, and he didn't have to go back in, but it turns out that he was just scared of losing the phone for me, or messing up. So at this point I decided it was unreasonable for me to put this on him.

I decreed that we were riding our bikes back to the house, having lunch, and then brainstorm how to solve this problem. So we went back, and had lunch, and talked the problem over with everyone in attendance -- my parents, husband, children, brother, and my brother's girlfriend. We decided to form an Expotition to Rescue The Phone. We gathered together toy lacrosse sticks, walking sticks, duct tape, and those extended reach grabber things that you probably associate with your grandparents. Then we adjourned to the creek, Baz and I on bike again.

In the end, it was anticlimactic -- my brother and spouse, using the tools, poked it out of the corner and grabbed it and returned it to me. My heroes! Amazingly, the gorilla glass survived all of this, although I think my GPS antenna did not.

The moral: Going to buy a new cliphanger and a case. My cliphanger is the only reason I haven't lost a dozen phones, I swear.

Also, my family is pretty resourceful.

Also, the swimming hole isn't there anymore, because of the floods.

We went and played in a different part of the creek and got all our clothes wet. It was fun.

Sep. 6th, 2011

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I thought the choice to make the narrative voice that of the dog was interesting. It limited perspective in some ways, but it made you think about things a little harder. Ultimately, though, I found it annoying that the dog was not really fish nor fowl. He was a dog who was aspiring to be a person, and to understand things, but either he didn't understand things that I wanted to know about (like how the main couple worked), or he read a lot of internal motivation into something that seemed like it should be opaque to dogs, like courtroom proceedings.
The arc of the book was very straightforward. Hero has everything going for him, hero encounters terrible times but refuses to give up, hero is rewarded in the end for his perseverance. Hopefully that is not too much of a spoiler. The plot is not the interesting part of this book to me, but the people are. I liked the description of a lawyer as being shaped like a B, and being full of B words, like brash and bold and blustery.
Perhaps I am spoiled by my other readings, but I found the emotional depth pretty flat. Although there are a lot of emotional events, they are filtered through a dog's perceptions.
Read if: You are looking for something short and accessible to impress the book club with. You are jonesing for books with unusual narrators. You like reading snippets of car racing without any actual depth.
Skip if: You have high expectations about emotional resonance. You don't want to read about custody cases or death. You are my sister. The zen of racecars will leave you unmoved.


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Aug. 31st, 2011

Book Review: The Tempering of Men

The Tempering of MenThe Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


My what a middle book this middle book is. There's nothing wrong with it, mind you. It's just, middly. We change focus from Isolfr, who was a pretty appealing character, to Vethur, who no one really liked in the first book, and Skajldwulf, who I kind of liked, and how they find comfort in each other. For a few pages at least, and then it's all roadtrip.

We see the problems of the third book building, how will they remake themselves, what are we going to do about the not!Romans, etc. I think the third book has the potential to be pretty spiffy.

I think my favorite part of the book was the sworn-son. The jarl lost his heir to the wolfheall, so he took the most promising of his daughters and raised her as a son. It is a super interesting extension of the Albanian sworn-man theory. She is awesome, not because she is a woman, or not entirely, but because of the way you can see all the dudes in this very dudely series parsing out what jarl/woman/man/peer means to them.

The plot, on the other hand, was sort of .... there was a road trip, and some bad guys, and a party at the end?

Read if: You read and loved the first and plan to read the third. You will forgive it for only have two, relatively short, wolfboy sex scenes.

Skip if: you are a patient person. Wait until the third book comes out and read all three at once.


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Book Review: Teeth

Teeth: Vampire TalesTeeth: Vampire Tales by Ellen Datlow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delightfully cracky little book, full of authors that I also read in other contexts. actually, it's not a little book at all, it's a big monster book, but somehow short story books feel like popcorn to me.
Early on, I had ambitions of saying something about each of these stories, then about just the ones that especially struck me, then I gave up and read for three hours straight.
The stories are haunting, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. Most of the characters are kids or teenagers, people of what I think of as "vampire age". I think the mythos of vampires speaks to the immortality feeling of teenagers, and the unknowable grave of growing up. Maybe we adults look like the living dead to them, doing the same things year after year, sustained on who-knows-what after a whirl of excitement.
The stories were varied, and interesting. I have always loved Datlow's anthologies. She has a good eye for both selection and assembly.
Read if: You are longing to cross a dark threshold. You have liked Datlow's other collections. You would like to look at vampire mythos from a number of viewpoints.
Skip if: You don't like vampires. You don't like the decision-making inherent in being a teenager.
My first book on Overdrive from my library! Yay!


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Aug. 29th, 2011

On broken trust (nymwars)

I have been in a relationship a long time. Today, I am pissed off at my spouse. But I know that it's a temporary pissed off, so whatever. The point is, being pissed off does not mean I am realistically planning on leaving him. I do not have plans for how I would kick him out of our current apartment, or tell the kids, or whatever. I have a plan for what to do if he is run over by a bus, but that's different. All of which is to say -- being angry does not equate to a broken relationship to me.

But last night, as I logged into Ravelry (wiredferret) and GoodReads (wiredferret@gmail.com) and LinkedIn ([legalname]@gmail.com), I thought about how I would go about getting a stable address that wasn't Gmail.

I haven't thought about it in years. I have had Gmail since, well, it seems like forever. Pretty soon after it came out. It was a killer app right when I needed it. But because of the stupid G+ shenanigans, and Skud's discovery that our theoretically separate gmail accounts are linked by the backup addresses, I am thinking about leaving. Or forwarding. Or not signing up to Amazon/monster/whatever with a Gmail account.

I am scared, and my trust is broken. I am doing the online life equivalent of looking at bank accounts to see if I can hire a divorce lawyer. I dunno. It's possible that Google and I will find some equivalent of awesome couples counseling, and patch things up, but I think it's time I had a secret bank account and an escape plan.

And I just got a shiny new Android phone, but perhaps that's a case of shared custody. I'm glad I downgraded off of G+ before I got suspended, given all the trouble Rainyday Superstar is having with her profile-free Android phone.

It's not going to be fast, or pretty, or elegant. It may end up not being necessary to do yet. But I have trouble imagining how Google will ever re-earn my trust. And really, it makes me sad. It's been a beautiful relationship.

Aug. 23rd, 2011

Parenting moments

I was cuddling with Baz before bed last night (which is to say, right before I fell asleep with him), and explaining that humans don't usually sleep well when it's light out. He said, "But nocturnal animals, like daddy, can sleep when it's light.

Touche, my child.

I had a good parenting weekend. Kay and I cut out all the pieces for her start-of-school outfit. I taught her how to find My Little Pony on demand. Baz and I went for a pretty awesome bike ride, and I bought him a bike, and then we had lunch together, and he's awfully funny.

I really treasure the times I feel like an on-top-of-it parent. It doesn't always happen, but it's nice when it does.
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Aug. 19th, 2011

Book Review: Lord of Scoundrels

Lord of Scoundrels (Scoundrels, #3)Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


In which the romantic lead is a poor little rich boy.

How I found it:

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books looooves this book. And then it went on sale, so I picked it up.

What it's about:

It's a don't-you-dare/I dare you romance. Dain, our hero, is unloved and miserable as a child, and fills the void in his life with cold hard cash and a devil-may-care attitude. Also, apparently, a lot of prostitutes. I would think he'd be better off with mistresses, but it doesn't seem to be his genre. He is in Paris because it's terribly convenient for being wicked.

Jessica is a spinster with a feckless younger brother who is hero-worshipping Dain. It is not going well for him because he is not nearly smart enough to keep up with Dain. Jessica also has an excellently salacious grandmother. Fully a third of my bookmarks are things like,

Her beatific expression told Jessica that her grandmother was not going to be of any assistance this night. The French aristocrat had made an impression. When Genevieve was impressed with a man, she could not concentrate on anything else.


Inevitably, they meet and sparks fly. One of the really charming aspects of this book is that even when Jessica is really pissed off at Dain, she is very attracted to him, and that's made clear. It makes the inevitable reconcilliation less surprising.

"You're not putting up much of a struggle," he said."

"As though it would do any good," she said, swallowing a sigh.

"Don't you even want to try?"

"No," she said. "And there's the hell of it."

...

"I see. You find me irresistible."

"I'll get over it," she said. "I'm going home tomorrow".


Even after they acknowledge that they are taking stupid dares to get a chance to see each other again, they are still forced to have a rational conversation about life-long choices before they fully commit to each other.

Plottiness:

There are actually several plots -- Dain's miserable childhood, the courtship in Paris, a country-house mystery, and an orphan child mystery. All of them could reasonably flow out of the characters presented to us, although by the end of the book one feels a bit breathless and hopeful that life is somewhat less exciting for them later on.

Characters:

Dain is tall, dark, and sulky. He had a hard childhood. Wah. His deep trauma sometimes feels overplayed to me, but I don't have a high bar for what I will tolerate in my Dudes of Romance.

Jessica is extremely practical and self away. I like how well she identifies her crushy lack of judgement without believing it means anything but that she wants into his Inexpressibles. I liked Jessica a lot. In the dynamic between them, I thought of Vidal and Mary Challoner from The Devil's Cub -- the wounded little boy and the woman who will manage him for his own good.

Genevieve is a charming and indomitable supporting character, and I loved her to flinders.

What I quibbled with:

It's possible there was a taaad too much plot. Or rather, too many plot elements. I thought Dain was not very emotionally resilient.

What I loved:

Novel little period details about the art. Scenes in the rain. Repeated thematic dares to and about each other. I thought Jessica was someone I would like to know in person.

What I did after:

Added Loretta Chase to my list of acceptable romance authors.

Read if: You are looking for romance with some snap and pop, in a period setting. You don't mind heroes with trust issues. You like getting a bit of married life in the book.

Skip if: You would rather your romance characters were kind to each other. You don't want to read sexy funtimes. You don't like intrigue mixed in with your romance.



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Aug. 17th, 2011

Poem: Better Angel

This morning I woke up
with the feathers of my battle-scarred better angel
stuck in the furrows of my teeth.

We must have been fighting again.

She has given up on temperance,
taken to drinking vodka and shoving her wing in my mouth
to block my foot, my wicked tongue.

She was probably right again.

My better angel has broken flight pinions,
she is stuck with me, jammed in my cleavage.
Falling asleep, we cuddle for comfort.
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Aug. 10th, 2011

Crossposted from G+

So this morning, I had a spontaneous psuedonymity conversation with +Baz [mykid]. He asked why I have this account and one under my legal name. Hello, teachable moment, why do you always arrive before breakfast? Although I have noticed that explaining things to him frequently forces me to clarify and simplify what I am trying to describe, so that's to the good.

I explained that

1) The internet is forever. You cannot know what people have saved about you, but you have to behave as if they are saving things about you.

2) People you want to impress in the future will look you up based on the name they know you by. I said, "Suppose you use your real name now, and you want to get a job with someone, only they hate legos, and they look up your name and they see how much you love legos. Do you think they'll be more or less likely to hire you?"

3) It is safer for people, especially kids, not to have their real names online. Our real names make it trivially easy to find out our addresses. Now, we are pretty porous, as a family. You can probably make a guess within a couple apartment buildings of where I live. But at least it's a little harder. This is why I am cranky that Google is enforcing two names on him -- I'd rather leave his last name off and have him just go by Baz.

4) Because people online know him as Baz (or Little, evidently), he is building a reputation with that name. He has social credibility on Roblox, and even here. We talked about what a pseudonym is, and how it is still him, albeit under a different name, and how it never entitles him to be a jerk.

5) I sometimes talk about things that I don't want everyone to know about, so I don't use my legal name to do it.

6) He is on G+ "illegally". There is no provision for users under 13, due to federal regulations. He is on other social networking sites, like Roblox and Lego Universe, but we pay for that and thereby confirm that a responsible adult is in the loop. Google doesn't have a way to do that, but I, as a parent, have decided that I am a responsible adult in the equation.

He allowed as how those seemed like reasonable reasons.

I have not been having the 'nym argument here on G+, because, as you've noticed, I am flauting the "real name" convention. I am willing to bet that those of you who are in my circles but not my real life know me much better as wiredferret than [legal name]. I certainly spend many head-scratching moments trying to figure out who YOU are when provided only with your wallet name.

I understand that this post greatly increases my chances of getting reported and losing access to my account. I resent that, but I think it's important to say this anyway.

My name is wiredferret. I am teaching my children to be pseudonymous. I think this matters.
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Aug. 9th, 2011

Book Review: The Emperor's Edge

The Emperor's EdgeThe Emperor's Edge by Lindsay Buroker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


She was a cop, and good at her job....

How I found it:

I found this book because Amazon told me I might like it, while I was buying some other cheap ebooks. And it was a dollar. And I am willing to take a flyer with a dollar (or even two) to support people writing magical steampunk heroine-led ensemble heist books with ambiguous romance plots and jogging.

Not because I like jogging, but because I appreciate that people do not automatically become awesome at running, jumping, or shooting crossbows. They have to practice. And stay in training, all the time.

What it's about:

It's fundamentally a wronged-good-cop story married to a redemption-heist story. Our heroine is an Enforcer who has the misfortune of catching the Emperor's attention with her general competence, humor, and quick-thinking. Palace intrigue ensues, and she winds up losing her place on the force.

However, just because she's an outlaw now doesn't mean she can stop doing her job. So she assembles a misfit ensemble consisting of a deadly but unemotive assassin, a pretty gigolo, a history professor, a street rat, and a former slave. She can't figure out quite why they listen to her ideas, because she knows that she is making it up as she goes along, but she does not let her imposter syndrome stop her from accomplishing what needs to be done.

She has uncovered a plot against the emperor, (and so, independently, has the emperor), and resorts to extralegal means to try to ensure his safety. Also she maybe has a crush.

Events are eventful, but in the end, well, that would be telling, but there is a sequel.

Plottiness:

The plot was complicated and satisfying. There are obstacles, and Aramanthe thinks around, or through them. Sometimes she makes mistakes, but she can usually recover them, with the help of her team. She is really good at personnel, much like another mercenary-devoted-to-his-emperor than we can mention. She believes that everyone has good motives for what they are doing, even if she doesn't understand them, and she tries to treat even villians with the benefit of the doubt. This frustrates those who are trying to keep her alive, but she's not about to give it up.

There is a really excellent scene where she uses everyone's skills and a freaking cement mixer to accomplish her goals. I cheered.

Characters:

Amaranthe is a pleasingly understandable character. She's a slightly compulsive tidier, and a worrier, but she uses these as strengths and not weaknesses. It means that she notices things out of place and has contingency plans running all the time. She is also neither cruel nor crippled by kindness. She feels guilty about bad things that happen, but she doesn't think it's her job to take care of everyone. I think that is especially important, because it could easily degenerate into her being the Wendy to a band of Wild Boys, and it really isn't like that at all.

Also, she has brown hair, and darkish skin, and she wears a bun, and that's almost all we know about how she looks. I liked that! I was not distracted by anyone's compulsive need to tell me about her delicate eyebrows. My spouse says this seems weird to him, but I suspect that it has to do with self-insertion.

Sicarius is the deadly assassin. I suspect him of having a deep nonverbal sense of humor, squashed by years of hardship training and a necessary ruthlessness. He's like a surly ninja, and not at all like James Bond. He doesn't care who's scared of him, he never tries to charm anyone, and he's pretty sure that someday, someone will be faster than he is.

What I quibbled with:

Sometimes the pacing seemed uneven. It's hard to put a finger on exactly, but I felt like things happened sooner or later than the beat of the book seemed to indicate.

Amaranthe seems like she would worry more about the long-term future than she is shown doing here.

What I loved:

Nobody likes Sicarius's cooking! I mean, that's not the only thing I loved, but it was the kind of team/character detail that made it seem very real that all these people were living together all the time.

I liked that each of the characters had a distinct voice and take on the world. Malydano's humor is much broader than Amaranthe's. Books is fond of sweets. Akstyr tries to do a tough swagger and no one believes him.

I loved the unresolved romance line, where Amaranthe has options, but doesn't really understand it, and anyway, no time for love, things to do!

What I did after:

Bought the next book!

Read if: You liked the Swords of Haven Hawk and Fisher books, but wished for more grrl power, you enjoy slightly unusual murder mysteries, you are not expecting a typical romance.

Skip if: It's going to bother you to have a singularly amoral character occupying a lot of the book's mental airspace, you don't like reading about throat-slitting.


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Jul. 20th, 2011

Convergence picture of Kay


DSC00093
Originally uploaded by Bollywood Follies

The Bollywood Follies party was awfully well done, and they had a photo booth. Kay is always up for goofy photos!

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Jul. 19th, 2011

Book Review: Tiger Eye

Tiger Eye (Dirk & Steele, #1)Tiger Eye by Marjorie M. Liu

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a totally cracky book. It is very much a paranormal romance of the classical vein: A superpowered woman meets and soulbonds with a magical male, danger, peril, backup by her posse, hot sex.
There are some things that set this book apart, though. For one, the heroine is not embittered, and I don't know how old she is, but I think not young. The posse was possibly the most charming set of characters I've met in such a grouping. I was especially taken with Artur, the former Russian gangster and ladies' man.
The romance bothered me because it seemed so ... involuntary. Hari, who had been a slave for a couple millenia, gets a little kindness and decides that this is the one woman of his life. Dela gets this magical hunk dropped on her and within a week of high-stress living, decides that he's the guy she wants to be with. Neither of them seems to be operating from a position of strength, or even sanity.
That said, I read it in a couple days and it was mesmerizingly dramatastic. If what you want is nonstop action, woo-woo, and heroes who might look like Fabio and have a very firm....moral code, this is the book for you.
Read if: You like cracky paranormal romance, you love strong squishy men, and assertive talented women.
Skip if: you mind being able to predict plot points, you are weirded out by shapeshifter sex, violence is not your bag.


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Jul. 13th, 2011

Baby's first program

Well, technically, it's his second, but the first one was boring.

import random

secret = random.randint(1, 99)
guess = 0
tries = 0

print "Ahoy! I'm the dread pirate Roberts and I have a secret!"
print "It is a number from 1 to 99. I'll give you 6 tries."

while guess != secret and tries < 6:
    guess = input("What's yer guess?")
    if guess < secret:
        print "Too low ye scurvy dog!"
    elif guess > secret:
        print "Too high landlubber!"
    tries = tries + 1
if guess == secret:
    print "Arrgh! ye got it here's my 5 million bucks"
else:
    print "Off the plank now! *Wilhem scream*"
    print "The secret number was", secret 


You might have a child in contention for Nerdiest Offspring when they not only
1) Choose to spend a month's allowance on a programming book
2) Write a program from said book
3) Modify the program to include the WILHELM SCREAM

(snfff) I'm so proud.

We did have some pretty epic arguments about the use of apostrophes, though. Still the mommy, in case you were wondering.
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Jul. 12th, 2011

Book Review: No Highway

No HighwayNo Highway by Nevil Shute

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Oh, Nevil Shute. I do so adore your unabashed authorial self-insertion. I haven't read all Nevil Shute, or even the majority, but the ones I have read, I have strong opinions about.

In this one, Shute is himself twice, both in the narrator (a young manager at an aeronautics company) and the main character, a weedy, pathetic, but brilliant "boffin".

The novel opens with the young manager, Scott, talking about his job managing a bunch of brilliant but mildly eccentric scientists at a safety facility, a job much like the one Shute had before the WWII. One of his scientists, Theodore Honey, is drawn as extremely eccentric. He is widowed, with a pre-teen daughter, and is essentially uncivilized in a way that is acceptable only in older novels. He doesn't know how to cook or clean or buy clothes. He is interested in many crackpot theories, including pyramidology, and the return of Jesus to England. He is also quite brilliant at what he does, aeronautics-wise.

Honey comes to Scott and tells him that the tail assembly of the brand new plane currently flying the Transatlantic flight is going to crystallize and shear off after a certain number of hours. He is running tests on a tail to be sure, but it will be months before they get confirmation. Scott is torn on whether to take this seriously on not. On the one hand, pyramidology. On the other hand, planes falling out of the sky for a reason that manifests quickly and without warning.

Scott orders Honey to step up the testing and goes to see his own boss to quietly freak out about planes falling out of the sky. He finds out that one of these planes HAS fallen out of the sky -- the prototype, which had almost the correct number of hours for Honey's theory, crashed in a stupid way. It had been ruled pilot error, but the coincidence made Scott edgy.


Scott and his boss decide that someone needs to go out to Newfoundland to investigate the wreckage. Scott would go, but he is going to present his big important professional paper, and so he decides to send Honey, who is not... personable, but is the expert on crystallized metal fatigue.


As you can imagine, the plot is more complicated from there. I shan't give it all away, except to note that I find it completely and hilariously charming that Shute, who was 49 when it was published, depicted the nerdy, asocial little engineer as charming both an aging movie star and a bright and beautiful flight stewardess.


Thematically, I can tell that this book was written in the era when Shute still had faith in the British system. It was not long after this that he emigrated to Australia because he found the country no longer to his taste.


This book is by no means as strong as A Town Like Alice or On The Beach, but it is not unworthy to be on the shelf with them. Shute's charming older men: the narrators in Alice and Pied Piper, the Trustee from the Toolroom, are all extremely homey and sympathetic. I always like to think of them as Shute himself, spinning stories. I haven't read much from his early works, but I may go seek them out. Evidently some of them are about daring young pilots, which Shute also was.


I enjoy reading period books that do not think of themselves as period books. It is not notable that Honey has trouble working his ration coupons and has three years of his jam sugar allotment saved. Of course air stewardesses are unmarried and of course young wives don't work. When I read stories that are ABOUT a period, these things always feel highlighted, but when I read books IN a period, they are just part of how life goes.

Read if: You want to read about failure and risk analysis. Stories about nerdy little men who have women contending for them are amusing to you. The installation of domestic hot water heaters is something you had never thought about. You can tolerate some strange woo-woo in your mostly-science.

Skip if: You want a lot of action, intrigue, or plausible romance. You have problems with outdated science. You are unwilling to read about the typical breakfasts served to transatlantic passengers of the era*.

* I did enjoy reading about the time in Gander. I mostly know it as the place a lot of transatlantic flights ended up at after 9/11, but of course, it's been an airport for a very long time.


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Jul. 11th, 2011

Book Review: Althea

by Madeleine Robins

AltheaAlthea by Madeleine E. Robins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A truly loving pastiche of Heyer books. Althea is of the heroine subtype "competent manager", and the male lead (um, I never remember their names) is of the subtype "corinthian asshole". There is also a charmingly frank-spoken older female relative. I always like to think of those characters as authorial self-insertion.



The romance arc is:

girl ditches convention

boy runs girl off road

girl takes town by storm

boy and girl fight

then get fake-engaged

misunderstandings!

then confess their feelings

happiness for everyone.



The unusual and charming part I would like to note is the subplot. Althea takes a slightly hapless female friend under her wing, and conspires with her to turn around the hapless females loser-fiance. This is especially notable because the cad had been hitting on Althea while his girl was out of commission.



This is not the most sparkling, precise, witty Regency I've ever read. That bar is pretty high. But for a first novel, it is perfectly workmanlike and made me laugh several times and click the last page fondly.



Read if: you enjoy a classical Regency romance (as opposed to a costume Regency romance. Those are also enjoyable, but not the same thing.) You like seeing where authors start out in their careers. You are biding your time until the next Sarah Tolerance book.



Skip if: you do not enjoy the genre or variations on the theme. You want sex in your romance. Stupid misunderstanding plots crawl right up your nose.



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Jun. 21st, 2011

Getting things done

Yesterday, I got the last part of my crown done. My dentist says that now I am done with big things until I finally get my dental implant.

Then I went home and had the post-dentist 2 hour nap. I am a bad dental patient.

In the evening, I ran and sorted 4 loads of laundry (2 or 3 left), and sewed.

Wow, did I sew.

See, on Sunday, Kay and I worked on a skirt for her -- one that I've had cut out for ages. For so long that I managed to lose a few of the pieces. I reverse-engineered them and cut them out of fabric left over from my polka-dot dress. As she and I got that 90% finished, and I need a zipper to be done. It is Kay-tastic.

Pirate skirt.

Then I looked at what else was piled on my sewing desk. There was another of the elastic-sundress lengths. I put that together. I also finally finished off the twin to her start-of-school dress. I cut out both dresses at the same time, in reversed fabrics, and this one had been sitting around waiting for me to attach the bodice and the skirt and some other finishing steps. That took me about 90 minutes.
Kay's end of school dress

And when I looked up, she had two new dresses, and there was a MOUNTAIN of clothing ready to be packed for their great adventure. Yay! The couch is unsittable, my sewing area is nothing but loose threads and pins, there are suitcases everywhere, but by god, there were dresses, and I feel accomplished.

Tonight, finishing up the rest of the laundry and making sure everything gets packed up. They catch the train tomorrow afternoon.

Then.... I clean house. Yarr.
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Jun. 13th, 2011

Wiscon panel report: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

This was my second year running this panel, and I was not any less hilariously, ironically convinced that I was going to fail as a moderator than I had been the previous year. I was convinced that the essay in Wiscon Chronicles 5 was going to be unacceptably, unpublishably rambling. I think this sort of thing all the time.

My fellow panelists were awesomesauce. Coincidentally, we were all mothers, and I had not though thought about or expected the ways we could talk about our imposter syndrome around being the right kind of mother. That was awesome.

I put together a little script of compliments and responses, and we talked some about how "being modest" is a problematic way to handle compliments, because it rejects both the compliment and the person talking to you, and gives no avenue for further discussion. I was really happy with how that worked out.

Overall, I thought the discussion was really positive and productive. The thing that I found most astonishing was HOW MANY people new to Wiscon came to this panel. Seriously, over half. That says to me that many newbies to the con are not sure they belong here. I wonder if a Welcome to Wiscon panel would be neat, or if it would seem too boring and elementary. In any case, that data was good to have, even if I'm not sure what to do with it yet.

In fact, in some ways I did fail as a moderator. I failed at a critical instruction/guidance for the last part of the panel, which meant that audience members got overspecific about their fears, and had fewer people in the same general position. I forgot. But I think I was not thinking about what it meant that so many of the people in the panel not only hadn't been to the previous panel, but were entirely new to Wiscon. I had been counting on institutional memory that did not exist. Still, I don't think the panel failed, just that it was not quite as suave as I wanted it to be. But are we ever as suave as we want to be?

I am pretty sure that I am not running or volunteering for this panel next year. I don't think the topic is entirely played out, although it might be. I just don't think that any one person should "own" this panel. Programming does a pretty good job at not letting people form dynastic panel incest, but I think it's something I want to be conscious of. I don't want this to be the panel that I do.

Jun. 10th, 2011

Accelerando

By Charles Strauss

AccelerandoAccelerando by Charles Stross

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Almost every book I read has a "working title" which describes how I feel about it. Gaslight Dogs for instance, is forever known to me as "That problematic colonialism book". Accelerando came free on my Kobo reader, and apparently it is filed in my head as "I like the lobsters best".

This is a series of linked short stories exploring more and more distant futures of the singularity, when it becomes possible to upload oneself into a computer. Well, there's some debate about what singularity means, but this is a prospect of our cybernetic future.

I really enjoyed the first third of the book, and my affection for it decreased with the technological sophistication the culture was dealing with. By the time the grandchild of our original protagonist is raising a clone of said protaganist as a child, I am a little detatched. In fact, I liked the uploaded Lobsters in Space a little better, probably because they are less prone to human frailty.

I am an unabashedly character-based reader, and this book was not so much character-driven as technology-driven. It was an extended musing on the extrapolation of our current cultural obsessions and abilities, and what those might look like decades down the line. I was amused by the idea of rogue AI lawyer-companies all suing humanity back to the stone age.

Read if: you like thinking about the future-that-may-be, you wonder what the nature of humanity is if we don't have bodies anymore.

Skip if: you are going to feel awkward liking unembodied crustaceans better than humankind's continual fucking up.



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Book Review: The Broken Kingdoms

by N.K. Jemison

This is not a sequel, although it is set in the same world as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Instead, I think it's a meditation on the destructive and constructive powers of love.

Our protaganist, Oree, is the strange child of a people in diaspora, scattered by the war of the gods. She is blind, but can see magic. The writing around this is really interesting, and I appreciated that she describes people in all sorts of ways, but never visually.

She is leading an ordinary life, when all of a sudden she discovers a dead godling. (This reminded me irressistably of a story arc in Bendis' Powers comics.) Of course, this kicks the story into whodunnit territory, but Oree doesn't really want to be investigating. She is just framed on the wrong side of the investigation by the actions of her housemate, who is, um, taciturn.

Kidnapping, intrigue, and conversations with deities ensue, and Oree is NOT (thank goodness) magically healed of her blindness. The story could end with her going into exile. In fact, the last section starts with her saying that the story could have ended there. Instead, there is a last prisoner's dilemma moment, which actually left me feeling stunned and satisfied.

Oree's love is frequently constructive and affirmative. Her humanity touches the godlings and mortals around her. The gods' love, on the other hand, is destructive. They are operating at a level that is essentially toxic to humanity. Even if they love her, they cannot show it in a way that is comfortable or sustainable.

Read if: you enjoyed The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, you like character-driven stories, you will enjoy sensory descriptions.

Skip if: you demand a novel or surprising plot, you are looking for extensive worldbuilding.
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Baz's new joke

Him: Knock, knock.
Me: Who's there?
Him: Doctor!
Me: Doctor Who?
Him: [tardis noises]
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Jun. 8th, 2011

Wiscon panel report: What's the Matter with Mary Sue?

I think my favorite part of this panel was an audience member pulling up the original Mary Sue story and the panel moderator reading it out loud (it's short).

We started out defining what a "mary sue" was to each of us. For the people coming out of fanfiction, the definition seemed to settle on "a (usually) female character with unjustifiable skills that she has no reason to have, now with overtones of misogyny." For the people coming out of publishing, they were using it as "any overpowered character, in a gender neutral sense". This difference in definition was certainly an interesting start to the panel.

We talked about overpowered male characters, and why there was less reaction against them. We talked about how Lara Croft is not a Mary Sue, because we see her working to acheive her strength and skill. This segued into a cool little side discussion on training montages.

We talked about authorial self-insertion (I forgot to say anything about Oh John Ringo No, and I should have, but oh well). I think there was an interesting comment on how female mary sue characters are more obvious because we are all used to male characters being the default identification character, even if they aren't the protagonist. We talked about the role of editors in curbing mary-sue like characters or traits. I mentioned in passing that mary sues in romance (coughOutlandercough)are much less frowned upon, since they are intended for a primarily female audience who is used to identifying with female viewpoint characters.

The part where I made no friends in the publishing industry was when I explained that I have higher standards for characterization and editing for fanfiction than I do for published fiction. I didn't exactly pre-meditate that, but I have been picking it apart, why I think that.

1) I can discard fanfiction much more easily. I already have pretty thorough filters in place, but if fanfic doesn't grab me, I have no sunk cost. I haven't paid 8 dollars for it, so I don't resent it for sucking, I just close the tab and move on. So I am not reading any of the bad stuff.

2) I really do believe that the peer review process for fanfiction is/can be more rigorous and faster. a) Because the reviewer is usually invested in the fandom, they serve for both writing and worldbuilding checks. b) Because the community of reviewers is large, stories, especially big ones, usually have more than one reviewer. c) Because there is an expectation of reciprocal reviews, the language of talking about the craft of writing is very very similar from writer and reviewer.

3) Because there is no monetary incentive for speed (although there is some deadline pressure for -athons), writing and editing can take as long as they can. Even very popular writers are not being rushed to press. Because there is no monetary incentive for market popularity, writers can write what it is they want to say, even if it is very niche.

4) Fanfiction is (usually) based on established characters. Because we already have the broad outlines of the characters, the fanfic author can spend a lot more time on details and nuances of character and interaction. Some of the heavy lifting is already done. We know what they look like, and a bit about who they are and what motivates them. Although I just read an "Inception" fic that, except for a couple names, could totally be original fic.

The panel was lively, and the audience was pretty alert for 10 AM! I don't think we came to any overarching conclusions, but we did have a great conversation.

Jun. 7th, 2011

Wiscon panel report: Romance and SFF

When I sit on panels, I am never entirely sure what happens when. I show up, I sit down, and I hope the magic happens. So I always feel a little weird doing panel reports, because I'm not good at reporting what actually happened, but on the other hand, there I was, on the panel.

This was my Friday panel, so I showed up in time to actually go to the Gathering and everything. I was a little worried about this panel because we had two panelists unable to attend, and the moderator was a parachute moderator, and the other panelist (Allison Moon) wrote in her email that she wrote romance but didn't read widely in the genre.*

We talked about urban fantasy, and romance, and where the two intersected. We talked about science fiction novels that felt like they had romance plots bolted on. We talked about the problems of sustaining romances, which have definite endings, across series, and how so much SFF seems to come in series format. We talked about how ebooks make reading romance novels less shame-based, because you don't get judged for reading them. Sigrid, in the audience, pointed out that she assumes people have desires like the ones represented in the books they read, which I thought was interesting. We talked a little bit about fashions and tropes in books, and I thought we could have said more, but there wasn't enough time.

But the interesting thing that I came out of the panel with was that we have SO MUCH internalized misogyny about romance novels. I am totally proposing a panel next year. We, the panelists and the audience, kept apologizing or excusing or minimizing or denigrating romance novels, as near as I could tell, for having girl germs. It was a room full of feminists explaining that they didn't want to be associated with something because it was too strongly coded as female. And lemme tell you, that's FASCINATING, because the statistics say that romance, as a genre, sells more books than SFF. Women, writing for women, buying books by women, holding big damn author and fan conventions almost entirely filled with other women, holding down dynasties on best seller lists....and yet, and yet, we all have this urge to disclaim it.

I sort of want the women of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books to come do a panel at Wiscon. And by "sort of" I mean "a lot", but you know, they go to bigger conventions with more free books.

*Which is always mysterious to me. Why wouldn't you want to know the unique idiom of the genre you are addressing and reacting to? But ok. I will still read the shit out of a lesbian werewolf romance.

May. 18th, 2011

Thank you, past me

Last night, I went to church to give the committee report from the personnel committee to the church council. I'm almost done with my job there. I had 6 presentation slides. I talked extemporaneously for about 20 minutes, answered questions, and then sat down.

As I was listening to the presentation on capital campaign (fundraising, a strange country), I realized that although I will freak out for weeks about dental work, or interviews, I am not particularly nervous about public speaking to groups under 50. Over 50 and we start getting a big wad of imposter syndrome in my public speaking confidence. Not that I can't speak, but I can't possibly be expert enough to be telling this many people anything, yadda yadda.

I went to high school in a teeny tiny town, in a backwards county known as the STD capital of the state. My mom was a California state speech champion. She's a teacher. She's a pastor. I have never known a time my mom was not a kick-ass public speaker. I wanted to be a kick-ass public speaker! (I also wanted to be a debater, sad for me) My school was far too teeny-tiny to have a speech department, or teacher, or club. Not for us "this one time at speech and debate camp". What we did have was Future Business Leaders of America. I think this branch was sponsored by the business/typing/jr. high boys basketball coach, but I never thought to ask why. It just was.

I joined up, and he did what he could for me, but he had no experience in speech, or debate. I signed up for impromptu speech. I signed up for other kinds of speech. I signed up for (my reasons escape me, even now) parliamentary procedure. We went to regionals, and we did pretty well. Much better than you'd expect. We went to state* (ZOMG, we drove into SEATTLE, and we ate at BENIHANA! THE HEIGHT OF CITY LIVING). I wore pleated black skirts and silk shirts and neckties. When I got into state, my mom bought me an actual factual suit to wear. (with a cream silk shirt and cream embroidered vest. Stylin'!) I wasn't great at impromptu speech, but I watched other people and eavesdropped on what their coaches said and checked out books from the library. One year, I even went to business camp, which was sobering. I think it killed any desire I had to found a business. Also I had to depress someone's amorous attempts by dragging him through a sprinkler.

Anyway, my point is, sometimes the things that I did on impulse when I was young are the things that I find most valuable now. Typing, for instance, was not mandatory, but I took it because I'd imprinted on Cheaper By The Dozen and because my mom types 80+ wpm. I have never been that fast because I have never been motivated to be that fast, but I cruise along at a perfectly respectable 60 wpm, and that is PLENTY to get buy in the technological age. Typing: the most useful class I took in high school. FBLA, possibly my most useful extracurricular. Volleyball was also useful, in that it taught me some humility. ;) I do some photography, but not like I expected to do in high school. I do some literary criticism, but I didn't become an English professor. I hated math and I use it all the time in crafting. Today I was trying to figure out "if the garment is 24 inches unwashed, and the swatch was 29 stitches to 4 inches unwashed, and washed it was 31 stitches to 4 inches, how long will the finished washed garment be?" (I have deep suspicions the answer may be that I did my original math wrong, but at least I tried, eh?)

High school: useful, but not in the ways I expected.

* The highest I placed in speech was 5th, but not bad considering my patchwork of coaching. The bizarre thing was that I placed 3rd in business law. I'm really good at basic multiple choice tests. The kids who had actually TAKEN business law class were just livid about this.

May. 16th, 2011

Culture and literacy! (and vanity)

I took the kids to another musical on Friday. We went to see the Kent-Meridian production of Little Shop of Horrors. Baz still holds that Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was superior, but he just really like pharoah Elvis, and LSoH has zero Elvis content. Kay spent the entire time waiting for the plant to eat someone, and was delighted when it did. They were both very well-behaved, only a little squirmy, and very engaged in the play. I thought K-M did a great job, and the production values were excellently high. The kid running Audrey II was amazing, and I am unclear on how he did it, but it involved a climbing harness and a lot of sweat. Anyway, that was a great time, and it makes me so happy that I have a life where I can tell the kids when they come home from school that we are going to go out and see a musical that night, and then we go, and they are excited about it. Big kids! They're so fun.

Kay got her library card on Sunday. She has met my arbitrary standard for being a competent kindergarten reader, so I took her to get her passport to books. We spent about 10 minutes waiting for our ride home, in which time she read 2 of the 9 books she'd read. I pointed out to her that if she passes her "safe road crossing" test and learns to ride her bike, she could go to the library by herself. I noted that the library strongly encourages parents to accompany children under 12. I think that's sad. I have very fond memories of going to the library alone when I was 9 and 10. Her current favorite books are Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books. We both think I Broke My Trunk is really hilarious.

Mom and dad came up Sunday afternoon. I tried the sweater sleeve on dad (20 inches is fine). Mom and I went to go find the perfect shirt to go with the outfit she got to wear to my brother's graduation. We finally did. Does it make me a bad daughter if I hope that means I will inherit the silver jacket she doesn't love as much? It looks great on me! On Sunday I also bought a new set of blinds for the kids room that claims to be room-darkening. Let's hope, because my darling eldest child wakes with the sun, and that means he doesn't get enough sleep. I hope to get that installed tonight.

I also got all the fixings to make myself a new Wiscon dress. I wasn't going to do any such thing, because it would have been better to spend that money on FOOD at the con, and because it's significantly less than 2 weeks away, and that is not a lot of time to make a dress, let alone a dress and (accessory). But, well... I am frail and fallible and Wiscon is, to me, one of the places it's really rewarding to wear clothes that you've made yourself. I would show you all the plan, but I am feeling excited about a big reveal at the con. I will say that the reason I did not hold to my admirable plan is that VOGUE had a pattern that will fit my ACTUAL MEASUREMENTS, an occurrence so rare and dazzling that I regarded it as a sign. If I am correct, I will not have to alter the pattern. At all. That alone saves me almost 5 hours of sewing time. So excite!

So my emergencies, in timeline order:
Church council meeting presentation, tomorrow night
Vid subtitling
Prep for Imposter Syndrome Panel
Church annual meeting presentation, Sunday
Wiscon packing, done Tuesday night

In the meantime, I have a biggish sewing project, a probably-unachievable knitting project, and my spouse is going to be out of town for 5 days. Tuesday I have a filling.

When I come back, I will need to present stuff at work. Work is less stressful, or at least stressful on a different axis. Also when I get back, I need to work on Baz's costumes for regionals, which are June 17, 18, 19. Father's Day. Sometime in that following week, probably, sil and the kids will take off for MN. Ideally, I would also finish sil's costume for Convergence while they're gone. Then I go to Convergence. Weirdly, I think there isn't anything planned (yet) for the weekend of July 9. The 16th is my cousin's wedding. The 23rd is the Mineral Old Timer's picnic, and I need to help dad sell books, and also my sister and her family should be out around then. July 30 is the start of Camp Gramp (I think). August 4 is sil's birthday. The week after that, my mom and dad take the Boston kids back home and start on their tour of the Maritimes (for their 40th anniversary). I need to have two lopi sweaters knit by then. Currently, I have 1.3 sleeves of one of them. That's all I know about right now.

You know, each of those things on its own doesn't seem like that big a deal....

May. 9th, 2011

Quick Mother's Day note

Kay made me paper flowers and cards with her own writing on them. So exciting!

Baz bought me a card that was a CSI joke, and made me a card IN PYTHON. He got a Python programming book with his allowance this month, and evidently, he is very happy about it.

And the kids made me dinner in bed, since I wasn't home for breakfast.

I feel very loved.
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