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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Jonathan Woodward's LiveJournal:

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    Tuesday, September 9th, 2014
    9:59 pm
    So, to my surprise, buxom_bey, taura_g, cathijosephine, and I seem to be buying this house. We were talking about buying a place together, and then this gorgeous Victorian went on the market, and we looked, and made an offer, and BAM.

    I'm a bit Muppet-arms.

    PS: If you are buying a house, and anyone suggests to you that you should write an introducing-yourself-and-your-family letter to accompany the offer, to make it more personal, DO IT.
    Saturday, August 30th, 2014
    9:52 pm
    Cyberpunk Nostalgia
    So, my office is having a charity book drive, and I always have a bajillion books to ex-cruft. This time, that included some RPG books, notably Iron Crown's Cyberspace, from 1989. It was part of the first wave of cyberpunk RPGs, alongside R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk and Fasa's Shadowrun.

    I flipped through it on the way to work, dropped it in the charity bin... and the next day, plucked it back out of the bin. (While putting six other books in, to preserve karma.) I never played it, and can't imagine using its stat-heavy, chart-heavy system, but it mashes down my nostalgia button like a frickin' Duran Duran song.

    (Okay, the critical failure charts are worth preserving, given that they develop a mean sense of humor every multiple of 10.)
    1:54 pm
    So, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edtion, Hmm...
    My policy is to skip the even-numbered editions of D&D, so I picked up the new Player's Handbook when it came out. It's similar at its core to 3rd. For those of you only familiar with 3rd, I thougt I'd lay out what I noticed. Corrections welcome. Anyone interested in this topic probably already knows this stuff, but I want to lay it for my own sake, too.
    • Everyone gets a proficiency bonus, which starts at +2 at level 1, and goes up to +6 by level 20, same for all classes.
    • This replaces base attack bonus, saving throw bonuses, and skill points.
    • You get the prof. bonus when using weapons you are proficient in, skills you are proficient in, or saves you are proficient in, which is determined mostly by class, and partly by things like race, feats, etc.
    • Feats are optional. If the DM is using feats, anytime you're eligible for an ability score increase, you can take a feat instead.
    • So, practically all rolls are d20+relevant ability bonus+prof. bonus.
    • Strength is the relevant ability for melee (usually), Dexterity is relevant for ranged attacks (usually).
    • Skills are tied to a particular ability, but the DM can change that up under certain circumstances.
    • All saving throws are now just described in terms of what ability you use to make the save, skipping the intermediate step of Fortitude/Reflex/Will. So, technically, you now have six different kinds of saves instead of three, but it's actually simpler.
    • Any type of resistance to damage means you take half damage against that type. This is the only way to be resistant to damage.
    • Any type of vulnerability to damage means you take double damage against that type.
    • In some situations, you will have advantage or disadvantage on some rolls. Advantage means you roll twice and take the best, disadvantage means you roll twice and take the worst. (Advantage does not stack, disadvantage does not stack, and if they both apply, they cancel out.)
    • As near as I can tell, for skills and saves you're not proficient in, you never improve without specifically applying a feat or something.
    • The basic movement rules are gridless, but work fine with a grid.
    • Everything not mentioned here is also simplified. The combat rules are only 10 pages.
    On the whole I think I like it. I'm not going to switch from Pathfinder (D&D 3.5ish), but it's a very nice simplification, and also very easy to make as much more complicated as you want. To me, a software engineer, it feels like the result of a really good refactoring of code, where you get halfway through the job and suddenly things just start falling away as no longer necessary, leaving an elegant core. It might be too simple, but that's a much better place to start.
    Friday, August 29th, 2014
    9:58 pm
    Books: Black Panthers, Air Pirates, Warlocks, Libriomancers, and First Novelizations

    Marvel Masterworks: The Black Panther v1 by McGregor, Buckler, & Graham

    In the early 1970s Marvel was trying very hard to get with the counterculture, and giving their African hero his own book was a noble attempt. In the foreword, the writer talks about how he was constantly getting pressure to add white people to a story entirely set in Africa, and entirely about politics (and war) in Wakanda. He pretty much managed to avoid it, bless him. This volume contains two stories, the much-lauded epic "Panther's Rage", which ran across 13 issues, and a story about the Panther vs. the Klan, sadly cut short when the title was canceled. "Rage" certainly has a lot to recommend it, what with court politics, subtly gay heroes and villains, creepy bad guys, and a lot of action (though the Panther's wounds are often described in detail a little too loving). It seemed a bit meandering to me, but it must be hard to hold a story together across 13 bimonthly issues, with constant editorial interference. The Klan story never really has a chance to get rolling, but, again, nice action, it doesn't shy away from the issues of race, and I like that the police chief isn't a bad guy. Still, I gotta wonder what the Panther thought would be accomplished by going to the supermarket in costume. Recommended, with the caveat that 1970s comics aren't for everyone.

    Lady Sabre & The Pirates Of The Ineffable Aether: Book I by Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett

    This Kickstart'd steampunk tale is about the same size and heft as the Panther volume above, though with about half the page count. It is also direly decompressed in comparison. The entire plot would have fit in one, maybe two issues of Panther. It's pretty, and I like it, but it's not even act 1 of a story, more like the first three scenes. I hate to say "not recommended", but don't pay what I did.

    Warlock by Jim Starlin

    This comics collection is marked "The Complete Collection", which is true only if you're talking about strictly Starlin's 1970s work on Warlock, since he returned to the character in force in the 1990s. This is a trippy, angsty tale of Warlock's attempts to find his place in the cosmos, which is hard when you discover that you're destined to turn evil and/or kill your future self whilst teamed up with Thanos and/or the Avengers. Plus, the first appearance of Gamora! Very talky, gorgeous art, cosmic comics like only the 1970s could do, recommended.

    Codex Born by Jim C. Hines

    Second in the Magic Ex Libris series, where our hero does magic by pulling artifacts out of books (such as lightsabers and healing potions). This volume is partly about a very bad, very petty man getting his hands on a little power, partly about who really invented movable type, and partly about how Gutenberg (head of our hero's order) is not a very nice guy. But, most of the important bits are about the leading lady, who is still dealing with the fact that she's based on a work of fiction (and not a very good one), and thus has serious doubts about her free will. If she was literally written to be a certain kind of person, being true to her nature means living up to someone else's dream... right? Fun, recommended.

    Wars and Treks

    I picked up the novelizations of the first Star Wars and Star Trek movies when Pandemonium (my friendly local SF store) got in a bunch of used paperbacks. They're interesting because they were written back when their respective universes were still largely unformed and amorphous. These books are at best rough fits to the Expanded Universes that followed.

    Star Trek: The Motion Picture by Gene Roddenberry (allegedly)

    In the original Star Trek show, we never really saw what Earth was like in the 23rd century. (We get a brief glimpse in "The Menagerie", but we learn practically nothing, and it's an illusion anyway.) This novel asserts that the bulk of humanity are "New Humans", some sort of ill-defined transhumanity, most of whom are far too peaceful and enlightened to serve in Starfleet. Kirk & Co. are "old humans", rough and tumble, and they often rub New Humans the wrong way. Kirk was tricked into retiring prior to this movie/book in part because his cowboy captaincy annoyed the heck out of the New Human civilian leadership.

    This whole New Human business was pretty much discarded after this novelization and never mentioned again.

    Speaking of things that should have been never mentioned, between Kirk getting a call from an old flame, and Lieutenant Ilia's pheromones, we get far too many updates on the status of the Captain's Log, if you know what I mean. I really don't need to know what's going on in his pants. On the other hand, the specific question of whether Kirk and Spock were lovers comes up, and there's a footnote, written in the first person by Kirk, in which he appears to deny it without ever actually denying it (and also tells us that Spock never outright denies it, either). Oh, what slashy days are these!

    And weird changes in tone, and a lot of talk about sex without anyone ever having any, and Kirk's old flame dies in front of him, horribly, in a transporter accident, and within half an hour he's telling jokes and never mentions it again. It's a weird ride, and I'm glad that everything that followed went a different way.

    Star Wars: From The Adventures Of Luke Skywalker by George Lucas (allegedly)

    This novelization adheres very closely to the movie, and the odd bits tend to be isolated. E.g., mention is made of both ducks and dogs, Jabba is a humanoid, not a slug, the whole story is from the Journal of the Whills (What's a Whill? Is it next to the Whays?), and, of course, it is very strongly suggested that the Clone Wars took place much more than 20 years ago. And Leia's sensuous lips and curving hips get a lot of words, many of them from Luke's point of view, yikes. Regardless, it fits into later canon much better than the Trek novelization.
    Thursday, August 28th, 2014
    11:55 am
    On A Different Note...

    Here's my beautiful daughter, who got entertainingly dirty at her 3rd birthday party...

    Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
    10:27 am
    Further Thoughts On Fandom & Reverse Racism
    I just added this lengthy comment in my previous post, as a reply to jordan179. I thought it was worth bringing out for its own post. (Slightly edited for the different context.)

    As a white person, I can understand the "it's bad if whites do it, therefore it's bad if blacks do it" position, since I've thought the same way from time to time. The reasons I have thought this way are:

    1) The power of analogy is tempting. "Such-n-such happened to a black person. If such-n-such happened to me, how would I feel?"
    2) My desire for justice believes that the same rules (of laws, of etiquette) should apply to everyone.
    3) I have spent my life learning stuff, in order to better understand stuff, and this is just one more thing to learn, right?

    The problem is that the lifetime experiences of a black person (or a woman, or a homosexual) are radically different from mine. There is pervasive discrimination that simply does not happen to me. They therefore bring an expertise to these topics that I do not share, and can't learn except by listening to them.

    This is intensely frustrating! I'm a smart guy, with a good education, so I'm used to being right about stuff. The epiphany came when I had to admit that it was literally impossible for me to understand what their experiences were like, and I would never be able to match or exceed their expertise in the issues.

    Therefore, in order for me to not say wrong things on the topic, it is absolutely required for me to listen to them, defer to their expertise, seek out their help, and acknowledge my own ignorance in the area.

    Now, we've agreed that racism is bad. The problem is that the definition of "a racist act" has very fuzzy boundaries. White people set them in one place, black people have a larger set, Jews have a different set, Southerners, Northerners, Republicans, Democrats, SF fans, etc.

    Given the above, when people disagree about whether a specific act is racist, the greatest expertise on the topic will generally not come from white people. When the white people are informed of this, they tend to get really cranky.

    This is a problem in any demographic, but it can be worse for SF fans. One of the strongest messages of Campbellian SF is that smart people can solve any problem (even if it involves laws of physics you just discovered this morning), and if you read SF, you're one of the smart people. A more subtle message of Campbellian SF is "Men of Northern European extraction are the best!", since (per Asimov), Campbell actually believed that.

    So, smart SF fans of Northern European extraction, when they are told that they are wrong about issues of race, and are incapable of gathering the experiences necessary to be experts, throw huge pissy fits.

    They need to learn to admit their ignorance and listen.
    Tuesday, August 26th, 2014
    7:47 am
    Fandom & Bigotry
    This article on the generation gap in fandom is an interesting read. Over on FB, there's a thread on this article which, among other topics, covers the question of whether a con (WorldCon in particular) focused exclusively on literary SF has merit, or is a dinosaur.

    I don't actually have a specific problem with a hyperfocused con like that, though it wouldn't be my choice. The problem is that the "classic literary SF tent", because it skews older, has a lot of bigots in it. (The eldest generation of SF writers includes the last generation mentored by John Campbell, who was an admitted sexist and racist.)

    I believe the bigots to be in a minority, but they are definitely, visibly there. And, anytime it's suggested that they should be kicked out of the tent, there's a huge fuss from most of the rest of the tent. "He wrote six Hugo-winners in the 1970s! We can't kick him out!" "She's been volunteering for this con since I was a baby! We can't kick her out!" "We mustn't let their personal views affect our appraisal of the quality of their work! We can't kick them out!"

    The tent stinks. Kick them out.

    EDIT: I spent the past hour worrying about my overly-strong "kick out" phrasing, which is more part of the "tent" metaphor than literal. When I say "kick them out", please read, "Make it clear to them that bigoted behavior is not acceptable, may lead to a literal and physical removal, and don't let the bigots be the public face of the tent."
    Sunday, August 3rd, 2014
    4:18 pm
    Books: Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, Gaiman, Warlock, Robo, Vertigo

    The Winds Of Change by Isaac Asimov

    An acceptable little anthology from around 1980, though with a few too many shaggy dog stories for my tastes. I'm starting to find Asimov a bit didactic (and he never got good at writing women), but I can still enjoy his work.

    Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue With His Century v1 by William H. Patterson, Jr.

    I suppose the words "authorized biography" on the cover should have tipped me off that this recounting of Heinlein's life would be a tad worshipful. All the facts are relentlessly backed up by reams of endnotes, but I find the interpretations a bit suspect. (E.g., one of Heinlein's dalliances is presented as nearly a religious epiphany, when there's no indication it was other than adultery, with the woman's husband entirely cuckolded.) Heinlein's endless reluctance to get a real job, even when he and Ginny were arguing over 30 cents, also grates. (I know, circumstances.) All that said, I came out the other end of this book thinking that I would have liked the man, and it improved my opinion of Ginny, too. I'm looking forward to volume 2 (this one ends with his wedding to Ginny).

    Ringworld, The Graphic Novel, Part One by Niven, Mandell, Lam

    This is an adaptation of Ringworld in a manga style, and suffers, like many adaptations to comics, from being too faithful. Mandell does not know what to cut, what to add, when to put in beat panels, or when to modify Niven's arch dialogue. And, inevitably, the art has trouble dealing with the scale of the Ringworld, as all depictions of Ringworld do. Still, Teela, Speaker, and Nessus are all cute, and the novel is a classic. I'll pick up v2.

    The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman

    A very dark illustrated novel of two men, Scotland, and revenge. As a father, this was hard to read, but good.

    Marvel Masterworks: Warlock v1 by Thomas, Kane, Freidrich, Brown, et al

    While DC did occasionally recognize that the 1970s were happening (Green Arrow, "I Am Curious - Black!"), they mostly kept publishing the same kind of formula they'd been doing. Marvel, by contrast, tried very hard to tap into the counter-culture, and while their successes were few, and their failures epic, even the failures are trippy and interesting forty years later. This volume collects Warlock's time on Counter-Earth, where "counter" in this case means both "the Earth on the opposite side of the Sun", and "counter-culture". He's a gold-skinned alien hippie savior who talks like Shakespeare, hangs out with radical youth, and dies like Jesus. Starlin took him further, but he started out here. Far out, man.

    Atomic Robo And The Fighting Scientists (v1) by Clevinger & Wegener

    Fun, but I kept expecting Robo to rip off his helmet and turn out to be Hellboy. (Though this is certainly more, as I said, fun than the last ten years of Hellboy.) But, yeah, the basic formula of "guy who wants to be human and spends his time punching Nazis and weird menaces in the face while making smart-alec remarks" is not new.

    Comic Book Babylon by Tim Pilcher

    The story of a man not much older than me, who got involved in the London comics scene at just the right moment to become an assistant at Vertigo Comics' London office, which largely ran on dubious expense reports, gay sex, and lots of ecstasy. Many great comics that I own passed through his hands, but it is now clear why so much of Vertigo's early output seemed disjointed and incomprehensible: Their only plan was to throw things at the wall and hope they stuck. If you've read any biographies in which drugs ruin everything, this is another one, but it's interesting to see how other comics fans live.
    Thursday, July 24th, 2014
    10:55 am
    Lego And Women Of Color
    I just took a few minutes to browse Brickset's database of Lego minifigure heads. I was looking for heads that:
    1. Are identifiably feminine. This means teritary characteristics like lipstick and eyelashes. (Many heads could be male or female, of course.)
    2. Are not bright yellow or "light nougat" (the default fleshtone for Caucasian people).
    3. Are some other color found in humanity (not green or red). I stretched this to include orange-brown (a fake-tan color) and brick yellow (a pale yellow-gray).
    The results?
    • Two Ahsoka Tano heads from Star Wars, both very orange.
    • Two Barriss Offee heads and one Luminara Unduli head, all from Star Wars, all brick yellow.
    • Two heads from the Friends line, used for at least six different characters. (The heads are different shapes from the normal minifig head.)
    • And, finally, one head each for Storm of the X-Men, and Stass Allie of the Jedi. These last are the only two brown female classic minifigure heads.
    Not all the responsibility for this can be laid at The Lego Group's feet. They mostly only use non-bright-yellow skin tones for licensed characters, like Star Wars (obviously) and Marvel Superheroes. So, all the women of color have to appear in someone else's universe before Lego can make minifigs of them. Still, we can hope for a minifig of Lupita Nyong’o in the next few years (or she might end up green, like Femi Taylor). And the superhero licenses could give us Vixen, Thunder, XS, Bumblebee, Question, Rocket, Photon, Silverclaw, Silhouette, Misty Knight, Moonstar, or Sasquatch*. One can hope.

    * The alternate Sasquatch of the Exiles, obviously. Though, since her Lego representation would probably be a huge white hairy beast, it might not count for our purposes.
    Thursday, July 17th, 2014
    9:45 pm
    Books: Sins, Rails, Alliances, Gundams, Batman, & More

    The Sinful Ones by Fritz Leiber

    An ontological fantasy, it which our hero discovers that most people are just automatons, then exerts his sexual privilege over the girl who revealed that to him, in vastly uncomfortable ways. Didn't finish, not recommended.

    Railsea by China Miéville

    This starts out as a pastiche of Moby-Dick, in which the sea is a vast railyard, and the whales are played by giant moles. Speaking as a former railroad brakeman, that premise is very silly, but Mr. M. made me not care. Along the way it stops being Moby-Dick and instead becomes a different quest, and a parable about capitalism run amuck, but you're mostly reading it because trains are cool. Recommended.

    Defending Middle-Earth by Patrick Curry

    I'm a big Tolkien fan, but this critical defense of The Lord Of The Rings is too shrill in both defense and its absurd attacks on "scientism". Didn't finish, not recommended.

    Batman: Murderer and Fugitive by Divers Hands

    An epic storyline from 2002, collected in two volumes. Bruce Wayne is found kneeling over the corpse of his girlfriend, and is arrested for her murder. He has what amounts to a psychotic break, and withdraws from his extended Bat-family, and from his identity as Bruce Wayne, until he re-learns that they are what make him whole. A pretty good storyline, with some fine chapters, especially "24/7", which is mostly about the good he does as Bruce, not as Bats. Recommended.

    Mining The Oort by Frederik Pohl

    I got partway into this Mars-terraforming book, and just lost interest, possibly because the teen protagonist was entirely uninteresting. Not recommended.

    Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

    The latest chapter in the Vorkosigan SF saga, this one focuses on Ivan, dilletante military officer who much prefers wine, women, and song over any sort of responsibility. Here, he suddenly gets saddled with women and responsibility, and has to protect them from forces both external and in-. While it has some dramatic moments, this one definitely tends toward the comical. Recommended.

    Gundam 00F by Kouichi Tokita

    This manga volume came free with a 00 DVD, so I glanced at it. The back cover dissuaded me from reading more than a few pages: It features Hayana, who, as near as I can tell, is a Bondage Catgirl Catholic Schoolgirl Bare-Your-Midriff Reich-Cosplaying Computer Girl Rei Ayanami Clone. Putting that many tropes on one girl is just unfair. Did not read.

    Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

    In a colonized Solar System, a dead woman's will sends our heroes on a cross-system scavenger hunt, which largely seems to be there to give us a travelogue, because it felt like it led in circles. Still, it was an entertaining travelogue, but the final MacGuffin was a bit dull. Here's hoping the sequel is more solid. Recommended, ish.
    Thursday, July 3rd, 2014
    12:46 pm
    Whither Green Arrow
    The origin story of the Golden Age Green Arrow appeared in More Fun Comics #89. (This was the origin that involved a mesa, not an island.) I know I've read it, and it obviously must have been in some reprint, but I have no idea precisely where. It doesn't seem to have been reprinted very often! (For whatever reason, no version of Green Arrow has ever received an Archive Edition.) I suspect it was in some big hardcover of origin stories printed in the 70s, but does anyone have a better guess?
    Friday, June 13th, 2014
    9:54 am
    Okay, So, How Do I Find Contractors?
    My last post looking for a web security contractor turned up no leads. Since I've never hired anyone before, I guess I need to step back and ask the meta-question:

    Where do you go to find a contractor to fit a specific need? Particular sites, forums, "I know a guy who knows a guy"? I'm sure some of my readers have been in managerial positions and know this stuff better than me.
    Monday, June 9th, 2014
    3:04 pm
    Web Security Contractor Needed
    I'm working on a web application at work. Since most of the web apps I've worked on in my career have been internal-facing, my understanding of web security is self-taught and a bit ad hoc. This one is external, and involves a lot of client data that needs some serious attention to security. I told my boss that this was enough outside my skillset that we should get a contractor who knows it better than me, and he agreed. So, here are the parameters:
    • The technology is Windows, IIS, ASP.NET, SQL Server, and related web technologies.
    • The site will require logging in. It will be available to multiple users for multiple clients. Users from different clients must not have access to each other's data.
    • We need advice on the best way to secure the site. (PhoneFactor, local accounts, domain accounts...?)
    • We need advice on the best way to set up the external-facing database. (E.g., copying the data from our internal databases into silos on the external machine?)
    • The third-party software we're using includes DeskSite document management, and a couple legal industry products, IPDAS and CPi. Familiarity with those would be nice, but is not vital.
    To be clear, between me and my boss, we have come up with solutions that we believe address all our concerns. We're simply worried that either we've missed obvious holes or, more likely, that we've reinvented the wheel, and needlessly complicated things. We need someone with knowledge of the best practices.

    My employer is Wolf Greenfield, a large and respected IP law firm based in Boston.
    Thursday, June 5th, 2014
    10:12 pm
    More Vacation & Netflix
    More movies I've watched on Netflix Instant during my vacation:
    • Alien Planet: Based on an art book by Barlowe, this is a fake documentary about exploring an alien ecosystem. It's dreadfully slow, and the things it changes from the book are not for the better.
    • Devil: Five people are trapped in an elevator, and one of them is the devil. Adequately creepy, kept me guessing, and did not display the usual excesses of M. Night Shyamalan.
    • Unknown: Five men wake up in a locked warehouse with amnesia, and soon determine that three of them are kidnappers, and two are kidnapees... but they don't know who's who. Lots of twists, pretty good.
    • Nine Dead: A madman kidnaps nine people, chains them up in a basement, and says he will kill one very ten minutes until they determine how they're all connected. Moderately entertaining, but kind of uncomfortable.
    • The Flat: A documentary about a man in Israel who starts going through his grandmother's papers after she dies, and finds some very uncomfortable truths. I was struck by Arnon Goldfinger's quiet intensity. He spends the movie being perfectly polite and cool, but you can tell that's covering up a lot of very angry confusion. He keeps leaning in, ever so slightly, to his interviewees, as if to push them into sharing his frustration.
    • Nazis At The Center Of The Earth: Entirely meh. If you want a mecha-Hitler movie, this is one of them, but it would have to be a lot better to even aspire to B-movie-dom.
    • Europa Report: A mission to Europa goes wrong, for all the right reasons. More engrossing than, say, 2010, but with less to say.
    • Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters: A lot of fun, but it's hard not to read it as a wee bit misogynistic and wicca-phobic.
    • Robot & Frank: Frank Langella is a retired cat burglar, with a robot caretaker... who is programmed to care for him, not obey laws. Heists ensue. A stellar cast, fun, and just a bit maudlin.
    Monday, June 2nd, 2014
    3:08 pm
    Legoland: Oh, And
    Oh, and: The Boston Miniland was spectacular, including Cheers, the Somerville Theater, and the Hancock Tower, among much else. (I'm still not sure how they achieved the look of the Hancock Tower. Lego doesn't have transparent-slash-reflective blue pieces. I think the windows are trans-blue in front of trans-smoky gray, with lights behind them.) And Roo went on the Merlin's Apprentice ride. Twice!
    3:02 pm
    Legoland & Movies
    Yesterday was our family's first trip to the new Legoland Boston. It was bit overwhelming, as the opening-week crowds are still in full force. I might suggest either going on a weekday, or waiting until the buzz dies down.

    Roo was reasonably well-behaved for the whole experience, but I'm particularly proud of her for two things. First, she really wanted to try the Play Zone, which is a huge playstructure, two stories, completely enclosed in foam and nets, with slides and climbing areas and no-one over 5' allowed. Since there were rambunctious big kids in there, we were a bit terrified, but we let her try, and she was daring, bold, and resolute, climbing to the top, going down the two-story slide, trying new things, and wending her way out when she was done. We observed from outside, and whenever she spotted us, she'd alternate between delight and telling us to go 'way (because she had everything under control).

    Second, she got her first movie theater experience, seeing a 5 minute Clutch Powers short at the 4D Cinema. (The fourth D is apparently wind, water, and frost effects.) She was momentarily frightened at the scary bits, but bounced right back with laughter, and after she learned she could "turn off" the 3D effect by looking over her glassses instead of through, managed her own level of scared-ness.

    I am so entirely proud, and look forward to taking her back in a few months...
    Friday, May 30th, 2014
    11:24 am
    As I'm on vacation, I've been catching up on my Netflix Instant queue. Microreviews ensue:
    • G.I. Joe: Retaliation: Not as awful as I feared, and with a couple good fight scenes, but not awesome.
    • Frankenstein's Army: Russian soldiers in 1945 stumble upon Frankenstein's Nazi-funded experiments; creepiness and gore ensue. Done in found-footage style, could have used slightly more creep and less gore.
    • Violet & Daisy: A pair of anomie-ridden teen girl assassins have trouble when empathy strikes mid-kill. Good but not great.
    • Young Justice: I'm finally getting a chance to watch this. Pretty darn awesome. Especially Aqualad. And Miss Martian. And the other characters.
    • The Muppets Take Manhattan: Possibly the only classic Muppet movie I hadn't seen. I got about half an hour into this cloy-fest of boring songs, and gave up.
    • The Last Days On Mars: A very by-the-numbers zombies-on-Mars movie, but I wasn't bored.
    • Piranha: A classic of 1970s Jaws-ripoffs. I watched about an hour of this, and decided that was sufficient. Nothing in the rest of the film was likely to surprise me.
    • The Wall: A woman is alone at a hunting cabin up in the woods, when she finds she is trapped by an invisible sphere a few miles across. Be warned: The movie is not about the wall. It's about isolation. Do not go into this with the expectations of an SF fan. Also, be prepared for a slow pace, and lots of gorgeous landscape shots
    Wednesday, May 28th, 2014
    10:58 pm
    Inverted Comma Confusion
    So, I was recently reading an old Sgt. Rock comic. In it, Rock is talking about a guy he used to serve with, who he calls Phil Something. Except, Rock has a bit of an accent, so he calls him Phil Somethin'. Except, except, he knows that's not Phil's real name, so he puts it in quotes, as "Phil Somethin'". I.e., it ends in apostrophe, double-quote.

    Then there comes a moment when Sgt. Rock tries to form a possessive out of that, and it's clear the letterer just gave up and threw a few inverted commas at the page, in the hopes some would stick. I think it was "Phil Somethin'"s, and it probably should have been "Phil Somethin'"'s or worse...
    Thursday, May 1st, 2014
    2:10 pm
    We're Offfff... To Outer Spaaace...
    They made a live-action movie of Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato a few years back, and it was recently released on blu-ray here in the States. As a huge fan of the original, I jumped on that as soon as possible.

    How is it? Pretty good, all things considered. It would have been better with a higher budget, and two hours is simply not long enough to tell the epic story of the original, but there's a lot of stuff they got right.
    • They kept the design of the Yamato the same. (I'm mostly going to use the Star Blazers names here, with this one exception.)
    • They even kept the Black Tiger fighters looking mostly like the original Black Tigers, except cooler.
    • Nova is no longer the radar operator/nurse/team mom, but rather a fighter pilot with attitude.
    • There are a lot of other women on the ship, including several in the bridge crew.
    • Dr. Sane is still a quirky alcoholic cat-lover, but now she's a woman with a Dr. Crusher vibe.
    • IQ-9 has a small role, mostly as Derek's iPhone... but there's one scene he utterly steals with his awesomeness.
    • The whole esthetic of the Gamilons is different, with living ships and weird organic weaponry.
    • The assorted secrets about Iskandar, the Gamilons, and the Cosmo DNA are very different in this movie, but are almost as cool.
    • There are numerous homages to specific bits from the first two seasons of Star Blazers. E.g., Sgt. Knox has a major role.
    • They kept the music.
    • The battle scenes are cool, but way too brief.

    I've been thinking about the importance of the original anime series to geeks of a certain age (i.e., born around 1970), and I think it lies in the fact that Star Blazers was our first epic. Most fiction I was exposed to was not intended to tell an ongoing story, stretching over months of time, with high stakes and genuine threats. (Robotech is similar in many ways, but Star Blazers debuted six years earlier, in 1979.) Star Blazers has some genuinely goofy premises, got mucked up a bit for American audiences, and the animation was sometimes pretty cheap, but it cannot be accused of aiming low. The new movie honors that, and I enjoyed it.
    Monday, April 28th, 2014
    7:48 pm
    Books: Girls, Women, Nobody, Shock, And Others

    Girls Will Be Girls by JoAnn Deak, PhD.

    This advice book is subtitled "Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters", and delivers nicely on that promise. My major concern is that she talks a lot about how the female brain is biologically different from the male brain, but doesn't quote any sources. It leaves me slightly dubious. Still, lots of good advice, recommended.

    Too Many Women by Rex Stout

    A Nero Wolfe novel, one that's been out of print for a long time, probably because the somewhat sexist title highlights the sexism within. It's not awful sexism, by 1947 standards, but it doesn't travel well. Not particularly recommended; I mostly bought it to complete my set.

    Women And Other Constructs by Carrie Cuinn

    Someone or other recommended this slim volume of SF &c. The stories and poems within are about women, robots, the dead, and children, treated as "other", and I enjoyed it. I'd buy more by her. Recommended.

    How To Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself by Robert Paul Smith

    A short collection of advice on how to be a kid, written in the 1950s. Paper airplanes, mumbly-peg, and spool-tanks feature. I remembered it fondly from my 1970s childhood, though it, also, has not traveled well. (The assumption that mom sews enough to have empty spools lying around, or that dad smokes, are a bit dated.) Still, fun.

    Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff

    A non-fiction text on how future shock has been replaced by present shock: the recognition that we can't keep up with what's going on now, let alone what's coming up. Reacting rather than thinking, winding too much time and space into here and now, and the fantasy of a zombie apocalypse (because then things would have an ending, finally) are all touched upon. I found the ideas within useful to apply to my superhero comic book habit, where there is never a proper ending, where everything takes place in a perpetual now, and where things careen from event to event without ever settling into a status quo. Recommended.

    Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

    This near-future novel of murder, aliens, and the super-rich is a page-turner. A member of the great North clone family turns up dead, but none of their clones are missing. The only clue is the murder weapon, which appears to belong to an impossible alien. A massive investigation ensues, leading to the most horrible road trip of all time. Gripping, recommended.

    The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

    Man, European SF is really concerned with the future of authentication, privacy, and money, isn't it? This very mannered, stylized novel is about a caper, wrapped around a revolution, adjacent to a Ren Faire, inside a space opera. The author explains little, so try to keep your head above water. Recommended.

    I also read parts of The Illegal Rebirth of Billy The Kid by Rebecca Ore (meh) and Transgalactic by Van Vogt (good, but of its time), but don't have time to say more.
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