June 2017



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Jun. 12th, 2017

Thinking about themes of technology

So, one of the notes about SF as genre is it explores humans' relationship to technology. I saw a post recently about how Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series has the effects of reproductive technology (especially the uterine replicator, an artificial womb) woven through most of her Vorkosigan Saga. With the exception of the early Miles books (The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game), usually that plays some role, even if it is minor (like in Komarr, where Ekatarin notes that some of her family's current predicament may have been avoided if they had opted to use the modern uterine replicator with genetic screening for disease, rather than the old-fashioned way). Which actually works well in what amounts to a family drama that went from two nice 30-40-somethings from different cultures when their respective homeworlds both wanted to colonize the same planet, to their son having a family of his own and the eldest kids starting to figure out their own identities.

The other big example I keep thinking about is the webcomic Schlock Mercenary. The first few story arcs as the artist/writer, Howard Tayler, switches from just a gag-a-day webcomic to serious continuity, involve a change up in faster than light travel from a network of wormholes run by a single organization to a drive that can let a starship jump from anywhere to anywhere (and the resultant technological scramble to deal with the defensive implications). The more recent arcs have been about a technology that essentially uses nanites and biotech to allow for backups to be grown if you die, and what that means now that it is very, very hard to have anyone stay dead.

(Also now I want to dig out my Schlock Mercenary books and do a reread.)

May. 12th, 2017

Two Things I Like In Books

So, I've dome some reading. I finished the Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan, and got into The Alpennia series by Heather Rose Jones, and I'm rereading Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys. So, between them they pinpoint thing I like in fiction.

The first two series have a common theme of female scholarship in sexist societies. Lady Trent's books were all about how she became a famous dragon naturalist (she lives in a no-magic fantasy world where dragons evolved, and while analogs to many cultures and religions exist, Christianity doesn't (though religions like Judaism and Islam do)). After the first book, a big deal is made about how Isabella (our protagonist, she who becomes Lady Trent) does do a lot of interaction with other female scholars, even those in fields she doesn't care about or know much about, because of how many times her own career could have been stillborn due to what society expected of her as a married upper-class woman.

The Jones books are also historical fantasy (paired with lesbian romance), though set in a fictional country in Europe and with magic rooted in real-world beliefs (the first book involves 'miracles' that come through religious veneration of the saints, and the second book involves alchemy). The plot of the first book is propelled when Margerit, a young woman, gains a giant amount of money from the death of her godfather, and sits down with his financial planner and says 'I want to go to the university, how do I do that', and he spells out the only three ways women can audit lectures without dooming their reputation: be a rich widow who can pull off 'eccentric', be in the right social class that you can aim for a job as a clerk or tutor, or be an unmarried bored rich girl who isn't taking it seriously. By the third book, Margerit is sponsoring lectures specifically to advance female scholars' careers, and is opening a school for women. Even if one sets aside that to write lesbian romance is to require a cast of female characters, the books come off as profoundly homosocial. I'm reminded of a phrase from The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, when Vedero is talking to her brother, Maia, about the community of upper-class female scholars who couldn't get family permission to university because it might damage their hopes of a good marriage. Vedero talks about her friends' varied interests, then explains that when she means friends, she means 'members of the community of female scholars, regardless of whether I like them or know them all that well', because Vedero considers the community Important. (Maia then says that he would be happy to meet all her friends, both the ones she likes and the one she doesn't, with the implication since he is Emperor now, and one of Vedero's friends is engaged to him, that maybe the three of them can slowly break down the stigma of well-educated daughters of the nobility.)

Anyway, so communities of scholars is a thing I like, especially when in concert with beating down stupid sexism. The other book I read was Winter Tide, which a cover blurb describes as "Wicked for the Cthulhu Mythos": basically it assumes "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" had an unreliable narrator, and led to the US government rounding up the town and throwing them in an internment camp that would be later used for the Japanese during WWII. The protagonist, Aphra Marsh is one of the few survivors and is trying to rebuild her life with her found family, since all of her other family (besides a younger brother) are dead, or living in an underwater city off the Atlantic coast. The book keeps the sense of 'the universe is an uncaring place full of things that can swallow you up without even noticing' that influenced Lovecraft, but unlike a writer who seemed to be profoundly afraid of everything (partially manifesting as racism, sexism, anti-semetism, etc.), Winter Tide seems to be patterned after the Carl Sagan quote: "For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love."

(Come to think about it, you do get a bit of the first theme, as we meet Misatonic University's first female professor, and find out a lot about Hall, the university's sister school (as this is before all-male universities were disallowed in the US).)

So, basically taking the 'you are a tiny speck in terms of space and time, and your good fortune or bad fortune can come from things way beyond your control' part of Loftcraftian horror, but then focusing on how people cope with that. (And that even if you are likely to spend your middle age metamorphosing into an unaging amphibious fish-person, you still are human.)

May. 9th, 2017


I dreamt I was in this fantasy world with two groups of people. Mine were having a spat of poor luck, and we discovered our neighbors had this ritual thing performed on a certain date at an unknown place, and we thought maybe if we did it instead we'd get better or something. So first we were sneaking through a university, but misjudged when everyone would be asleep and got into a giant fight. things got disjointed for a bit (since I think we surrendered after realizing how many people we'd need to kill to escape), when me and another person were wandering through the wastes and happen upon a really high tech science station. The two scientists who run it are happy to help us get where we need to get going... only then we run into monsters that petrify people and it turns out my fantasy species can shrug that off and the other ones can't. So, my companion and I try to continue on, only she gets caught in collapsing woodwork and tells me to leave her. I do, and stumble upon the person who is doing the ritual who is surprisingly reasonable about letting it benefit both groups. I take home a lot of seeds for next year's harvest, and discover that my companion (who was family or something) did survive.

My brain is remarkably good at piecing together a narrative out of dreams. I never do much with them, but I like thinking that I could (with a lot more work to make this make sense in terms of motivations).

May. 6th, 2017

GM Thoughts

So, someone posted a meme that involved a D&D party crossing a mountain pass in a blizzard, and the dwarf critically failed his climb check. When the GM asked the player what he was doing, the player responded 'my character is going to flap his arms and pray', and two critical successes later the GM was all '... you see your dwarf somehow staying level by flapping his arms'. Which is a hilarious example of luck, but the first bit was probably in the examples of 'how NOT to handle failure'. (Well, to be fair, the GM was probably expecting the dwarf to try to catch himself or something.)

Basically, in gaming, you generally want character deaths to be proactive and cause some kind of emotion at the table (either feel meaningful or hilarious). Dying after one bad dice roll on a climb check isn't meaningful. Dying after you fall onto a narrow ledge, and the party's attempts to save you fails is slightly more because it means you chose it. Heck, dying because you found something important on that ledge and needed to make sure your friends got the thing, even at the cost of your own life is the sort of thing that makes the GM bust out the roleplaying rewards (transferred over to your next character).

I just think of the last game session I was in. My character, Rowan was bit by a were-spider and her dreams were turning from anxiety dreams to 'I suspect the next full moon is going to start with me growing extra legs'. Another character (Bri) was hit by mummy rot (a curse carried by mummies) on the way to getting my character (and various other victims) back to civilization. (The GM had to fudge the rules a bit for the mummy rot, as a D&D edition change made it a tad more lethal than he'd assumed.) This meant that not only did we have to race back to civilization before Bri died (Rowan had a slightly longer timetable), but we now owed the local cleric a favor for curing the party, and we had to make a trip for him. So, even if we had bad luck on saving throws, it was less about death and more about the risk of death and furthering the plot.

May. 5th, 2017

Being Social

So, yesterday we had both the award luncheon for students, and a faculty-only reception at the department chair's house. I actually attended both! (Well, for the former, my TA was getting an award that I nominated him for, and I was recognized as new faculty. Plus, lunch was delicious: enchiladas brought in from a Mexican restaurant in town.) The good thing was that for the latter, I stayed the whole time and only left because I was tired enough that I didn't want to drive home if I stayed later. I always feel awkward at large parties, but it helps that a lot of the senior faculty seemed to make it their job to help me meet people. And I actually spoke to some of the junior faculty (aka the people who didn't have me as a student).

I have this undercurrent of fear about my job because it requires renewal every few years, so I do feel obligated to go to events, and then I go and remember that most of the people here want me to succeed (mostly because they like me and understand that new professors are still learning to teach, partially because no one wants to go through the hiring process again*).

* No one likes faculty job searches. The existing faculty find that it disrupts their schedules for several weeks even if they aren't on the hiring committee (who has to go through hundreds of apps, a good percentage of whom would do just fine). Everyone applying is nervous as all hell, and then the lucky few selected for second-round interviews have to carve out days at a time for that. (Seriously, my interview was a day and a half long, and you maybe get snatches of five or ten minutes to collect yourself during the day.) And the business office and various admins aren't happy because they need to carve out funds to fly people in, and pay for meals and hotels. And someone has to deal with flight delays. (Over my interviewing career, I've had at least two. One was the interview for my current job, made worse as I was coming into the airport an hour away and renting a car.)

May. 1st, 2017

A Nice Bit of Writing

So, I kickstarted a tabletop RPG book based on the Schlock Mercenary webcomic, a comedy space-opera about a group of mercenaries that has been running since 2000 (and it turns out you can do a lot of worldbuilding in 17 years, even with a newspaper-strip format and a goal to be funny). The book is written under the conceit that is was released in-world by an arms dealer to help mercenary companies with training their infantry> That's cool, but the Dresden Files RPG also did that.

The neat thing is that the Game Chief (GM) section has a section on "Player Accessibility", and it does two things. The first is that out of game, it suggests tips both for accommodating visual, audio and mobility issues, as well as social anxiety/shyness, poor improvisation skills, inability to read social cues, and triggers. Like, acknowledging 'hey, if you have a deaf/hard of hearing player, make sure information is also conveyed visually' as well as 'triggers are no fun, so talk to a player experiencing discomfort and see if knowing the plot twist ahead of time helps'. Generally acknowledging that it is hard for everyone to have fun if they have to deal with difficulties in parsing what is going on or contributing to it.

The other thing is, since the book is an in-world document, is to convey the idea that the 31st century Milky Way Galaxy is a place where multi-species gathering places find accessibility concerns normal. While some of the aliens and various uplifted species in setting are bipedal, roughly 1.5-2 m tall and have all the same senses as humans, many are not. And some require accommodations to exist in human-dominated space (or just don't bother and telecommute from somewhere that is not a hostile alien environment). One can easily set a tone for how cosmopolitan some place is by noting what species have trouble (if any). (Individual setting descriptions do comment on places large species, or even larger species might have trouble.)

So it's writing that is both useful out of game and in-game. Which is another reason to celebrate it.

Apr. 8th, 2017

Melanchony in the Sunlight (Geno the Cat 1996-2107)

My mother's cat, Geno, died today. He was about 2 months out from turning 21, and arthritic and had kidney problems, and quite possibly mostly blind and losing his hearing. But we'd had him since I was a teenager. (We got him in summer of 1996, right before I entered high school. Mom called him her 'divorce cat', since Dad didn't want more than one cat in the house.)

This is the first time my mother hasn't had a cat since the early 1990s, when we first moved to Nebraska. She's said she wouldn't get another one, but that changed when my nephew came along and loves cats so much (but my brother-in-law isn't fond of cats).

Cut for cat pictures )

In less serious news, I am probably going to stop crossposting to LJ due to their recent decisions. One can find me on Dreamwidth and Insanejournal, under the same name.

Apr. 1st, 2017

Open House

Last Friday, we opened up the old observatory for an open house. Despite the clouds, we had a few busses of high school students to entertain. The physics undergrads did a large amount of entertaining. I gave one talk, then we went to see if anyone wanted a second round of it an hour later, and the physics students were showing some high schoolers momentum and energy transfer. With a hammer.

The downside was that I was back nearly at midnight. It's a good 45 minute drive to the old observatory, the last 2 miles on dirt roads across fields and pastures. At least I arrived at twilight, when you can see the signs. And the roads had dried out enough from the rain we've been getting.

Mar. 30th, 2017

(brushes away dust and cobwebs)

Suddenly today I felt like journaling. I don't know who all still reads the various journal sites, but what the hey.

I guess I should update where I am. So, Our Hero, Becca Stareyes, having spent two satisfactory years in the wilds of California academics, received an offer of employment from her alma mater, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln as an Assistant Professor of the Practice of Astronomy. Basically that means I don't get tenure, but it's intended to be a permanent position (as opposed to lectureships, which in theory are temporary as the demand waxes and wanes*). Basically, UNL wanted someone on hand to teach upperclassman astronomy classes and help students with research projects.

So, I started that last fall. This spring, I am on teaching release (which is another perk of being a professor: your first year, you are on a half load so you can set up courses and research and so on), which I am spending on improving what I hastily put together last fall for courses, trying to get my dissertation work published and so on. UNL has basically three astronomers: Mr. S, who is the lecturer who handles our general course, Dr. L who has been working for the National Science Foundation for the last few years and is mainly interested in education**, and me. (Dr. L has been around long enough that he taught me Intro Astronomy.) Plus the Lab Manager, who helps handle telescopes, and Dr. S-Emeritus who is retired and occasionally helped out.

Next week, Dr. L and I need to sit down with the Undergrad Adviser and finalize course plans for next year. The main problem right now, was that since everyone but Dr. L retired or left***, the department made a lot of the astronomy courses count as electives, which lowers enrollment, and now that they can teach them, they have to figure out how. (And presumably once we start teaching them, they can go back on the books.) Well, that and figuring out if Dr. L will be back next year. (He likes the NSF, but the federal government has a hiring freeze so who even knows if he can stay.)

As for family stuff, I continue on as I have been. I am the aunt to two nephews now, and I can see them more than once or twice a year. I am slowly regaining my ability to pursue hobbies, as full-time work really burned me out. I have also read a lot of books. Like, seriously, a lot.

* In practice, not so much. Lecturers are cheaper than professors.
** And has a sort of weird appointment with the university.
*** Basically, it is hard to get tenure-track posts at a university that doesn't want to take astronomers as grad students. Creating a Professor of Practice position that was explicitly undergrad focused was seen as a way to have astronomers who aren't going to get penalized for having few to no graduate students.

Dec. 4th, 2015

Who Doesn't Like Sorting Tests?

I'm always interested in classification schemes, and via Seanan McGuire's tumblr, I discovered this one as an expansion of Harry Potter's. I like it because:

1. It does a lot of work on defining all four houses as places where both heroes and villains can come from.
2. It uses a scheme that I was already using in my head for sorting: which is to look at what people value and how they approach problems.

So, if you don't want to click the link, here's the basics:

Your 'Primary' House is the House that related to why you do things: not quite morals but how you arrive at your morals. Your 'Secondary' House is the House that details your preferred methods of doing things. They also did a lot more fleshing out of Slytherin to make it a lot more viable as something other than 'Evil Jerk House': the Slytherin Primary trait is loyalty to select individuals; while the Secondary trait is adaptability and improvisation.

They also add some complexities ('a Burned Primary/Secondary House' basically means your motivations suffered a critical failure and don't trust your moral system or your methods; Modeling a Primary/Secondary House means you can understand/use that House, even if it's not the one you default to or value most; Performing a Primary/Secondary House means you appear to use that House, even if you don't understand it). It's fascinating and I'm totally nerding it up about this.

The way I'd put myself in this system:

Primary Hufflepuff. First off, Gryffindor and Hufflepuff are the 'felt' Primary Houses: they trust their gut (Slytherins do this to a small extent as well). I've watched how I reason right and wrong in my head, and I noticed that if my head gets different answers than my heart, I get unhappy until my head gets its act together. The big distinction between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff is that Lions attach themselves to ideals and Badgers to groups of people: a Gryffindor has far less problem striking off on their own if the group is wrong. (See: me and conflict avoidance. I might think you're wrong, but disagreeing with others is physically painful, as is any thing that threatens group cohesion, even if it's for a long-term good. A Hufflepuff Primary might join a revolution, but I suspect we are shitty at starting them.)

I expect I model Ravenclaw, though. When there's not an obvious 'be kind to others' or 'hey, why can't people all get along?', I'm pretty darn interested in truth and finding it and making a nice model of the universe that lives in my head and lets me predict people. Just, my gut feeling is comes back to avoiding people getting hurt.

Secondary: Ravenclaw. I make plans. I write lists. I hate doing ANYTHING on the fly, and the only time I can is if I have been secretly planning it. I read things and learn things and will google/wikipedia things because it randomly occurred to me that I didn't know something, and I should go check on that.

Also, see above comment about nerding it up whenever someone comes up with things like this. When I see things, I want to poke them, take them apart and put them back together so I understand how they work and can use them for my things.

This confirms with my typical ID on HP Sorting: someone who has Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw traits, but the Hufflepuff ones are the ones I value more.

And now I want to apply this to characters. Onward!

Nov. 28th, 2015

Digimon Tri

So, I saw it. Here are some thoughts.

1. It really is more like the pilot for a TV series than what I typically think of as a movie. Mostly because a 80-100 minute movie should have more closure than a 80-100 minute TV arc. We still don't know:

Spoilers )

I pick a lot of nits here, but that's mostly because I had fun. So I do a lot of thinking about 'what next' and speculate about the directions I'd take things.

Nov. 16th, 2015

Killing Baby Hitler, Climate Change and Wanting Simple Solutions to Complex Problems

Inspired by a serious interviewer asking a Republican candidate if he would go back in time to kill baby Hitler. Let's set aside the morality of killing someone for something he hasn't technically done yet from everyone's perspective but yours, and whether or not he inevitably will lead to the death of millions. Let's also generalize to the general 'leader of horrible movement of history' case.

(I mean, I guess I can go for a fictional example, like stopping the assassination of Senator Kelly at the hands of Mystique, but the thing about fiction is that you can make a complex problem have a simple solution.)

Okay, so Hitler for whatever reason does not become involved with the Nazi Party, thus he can't take leadership of that, then of Germany, then lead the way to WWII and the Holocaust. But you still have a Germany that suffered an economic downturn after losing WWI, followed by the Great Depression. You still have fascism rising in Italy and fascist movements in Europe. You still have an imperialist Japan in the Pacific, which is an part of WWII that is loosely connected to the European theater via alliances.

The argument then becomes 'why bother acting on one man when we have social problems that are bigger than that?' Which is the normal pragmatic argument against messing with time travel. Someone in the discussion over on Slactivist mentioned that doing something is better than throwing up your hands and doing nothing and alluded to climate change...

... except with climate change, if we try something and it either doesn't do what we think it does or has side effects, we can stop and evaluate. Most time travel stories involve you doing one thing, then skipping merrily ahead to the future without having to live through the years. If you want to make the world a better place, you can't just do one grand gesture and expect things to sort itself out.

Which comes back to American politics. A quote from Obama today was "...we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution." I don't always think that Obama does the right thing, and heavens know that what Obama wants doesn't always happen thanks to the US political system. But it's a good motto to live by. Sometimes the things that work aren't the flashy, simple-sounding actions, but a lot of things that don't boil down to a soundbyte and require dealing with the fact that things are complicated.

Jul. 9th, 2015

Podcast Reviews

I have a few news and reviews podcasts, and a friend's podcast ("Everyday Einstein", a weekly podcast by someone who went to grad school with me), but I'd thought I'd review two of the podcasts that are a bit quirkier.

Read more... )

Jul. 4th, 2015

I exist!

I need some teachign icons.

It's really tough remembering to journal regularly. I'm currently on my summer vacation: I took a class in June, which I let eat up all my time because it was a class on teaching and I want to be a better teacher. I got some good lessons on teaching in general as well as on the method in particular.

The method is called 'the flipped classroom' and it's based around two ideas:

1. Lectures or reading might be good ways to introduce material, but lecture alone is terrible for retention, even when students think they got it. I've certainly had the 'this all made sense when Doctor Smith was explaining it in class, but doing it on my own is an exercise in frustration'. At best, that means students come to office hours or seek their peers or the help center for extra help. More likely, they flail about. (This is why we assign homework: so students can practice using the stuff we make them learn.)

2. 'Homework' and applications are the times students are most likely to need interaction with an instructor or peer. Lecture is traditionally not very interactive. So why not have the application as time in class when the professor is around, and the lecture at home before class when it doesn't matter if the instructor recorded it three years ago? Hence, 'flipped'.

The class I took had us making a flipped module, but also had us talking about various things about measuring if students are learning, setting reasonable expectations, lower and higher order thinking and how to make group work work when there's always at least one person who is The Load. The class was a mix of fields: we had two engineers, me, a computer scientist, an environmental planner, the business librarian (who guest lectures on 'how to research things'), a speech teacher, someone from the masters in education program, and someone from the social sciences that was looking at her field's research methods course. One of the guest lecturers reminded me about exactly how much stuff is out there for physics education (he was an engineer and had adapted things).

I also got my schedule for Fall. Good news: it's all classes I've taught before, which means that not only do I have 2.5 months to plan everything, I can adapt things. I also don't have to teach on Fridays, so that means I'll probably do an office hour Friday morning, then leave around lunchtime. Bad news: I got the evening classes, probably because I was 'meh' instead of 'hell no'* on the schedule. So the draft schedule has me teaching Physics at 4, Astronomy at 5, break for dinner at 6, then the same physics again at 7.

Now, I might just shift my schedule so I get up later in the morning, except it is impossible to get a good parking spot after 8 AM on campus and I can't wait until the day shift go home because I also need office hours (also, I think 4 is a bit too early for that). So I have to decide if it's better to show up to work right before lunch and have to walk across all of campus (and then either move my car during my dinner break or walk back in the dark), or schedule 'mid-day siesta/goof off break' in my office.

I still think I like this schedule better than 'first class starts at 8, last class ends at 6', which I've done two terms out of three. Because it's a lot easier when you have a long break to work on class prep and grading.

(The evening class has a mixed reputation: on the one hand, it's usually the class with empty seats because no one wants to be there. And small classes are awesome for learning things. On the other, the 'no one wants to be here' means low everything scores. If I can get good reviews here, I shall consider this a badge of pride.)

* One of the virtues of being childless and single: my time is a lot more flexible than most.

May. 4th, 2015

Book Reviews

I had a job interview, so I bust out the eReader. And being delayed by mechanical issues (that lead to half the passengers having to take the bus for three and a half hours because the only plane available was half the size of the original) meant I could read a lot.

Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
This is a re-read. Basically, the premise is that Maia, the half-goblin fourth son to the Emperor of the Elflands, raised in semi-exile thanks to his dad having Issues with him and his mother, is suddenly made Emperor as his dad and three older brothers die in an airship accident. And he knows nothing about being emperor or politics, or more than the basics of manners. So, he has to investigate what looks like sabotage, run the court, manage his family as the head in a patriarchal society, deal with conservative advisers in a civilization in the middle of an Industrial Revolution, plan the visit of his maternal grandfather (the head of state of a neighboring country), and ensure the royal succession (since the closest thing he has to an heir is his teenage nephew, who might have known this stuff, but would get eaten alive).

One thing I noticed on the re-read is exactly how unreliable a narrator Maia is. Since his mother's death, his guardian was a resentful distant relative (also in semi-exile thanks to a disagreement with Maia's father) who was emotionally abusive. Maia is convinced that everyone is out to get him and hates him, so much that he has to remind himself that sometimes people are nice for no reason. A lot of the story is him coming into his own, and using the fact that he was raised with much less relative privilege than most rulers to make changes.

The Three Body Problem, Liu Cixin
A SF novel, set in modern China and originally published in Chinese for a Chinese audience. It's a bit of a slow burn, since we're introduced to two characters as our primary POV and it takes a while for them to meet up. Ye Wenjie was a young astrophysicist during China's Cultural Revolution, who slowly became bitter and disillusioned by humanity. As it happened, she entered into a project by the Chinese government to look for and send transmissions to aliens (under the belief that aliens shouldn't only get the US and Soviet views of the world).

Wang Maio is also a physicist (it is the sort of book that isn't shy about using physics: the title is even an allusion to a problem in celestial mechanics), but he works with developing new materials. He's asked by a mix of police and military forces (that include US and European members) to help investigate a strange rash of suicides of prominent theoretical physicists, with the suggestion that they found that physics just doesn't make sense on some fundamental level. As Wang is a scientist, he's more likely to interact with the same people. Then Wang starts seeing these things himself. He also notices the presence of a strange Internet game (Three Body) played by one of the people who he's investigating that seems to have the same theme: a world where you don't even know if the Sun will rise.

It's interesting, because I have a strong knee-jerk to 'surprise, the universe doesn't make sense' because I am a scientist. There were enough puzzles to get me past that and carry me through, and the science seemed pretty solid*. I also wish I knew more about the Cultural Revolution, because it plays such a strong role in shaping Ye Wenjie.

Neptune's Brood, Charles Stross
Basically, it was a story set in the far future, where humans (well, artificial post-humans with brains patterned on ours) have colonized space and mostly travel by beaming their consciousnesses to new bodies around other stars (because FTL travel doesn't exist). Our Protagonist, Krina, a historian-slash-accoutant is chasing the bureaucratic equivalent of buried treasure, a transaction stalled due to the fact it takes years to exchange a handshake between star systems. Only people keep trying to kill her (it is a very large amount of money).

I don't know if I'm just dumb about money and investment, but I read Stross's musings on the economy of colonization and it all makes sense, but I can't explain why (as is a big plot point) faster-than-light travel would cause a major economic collapse afterward. But I appreciate a book that is both a classic space opera, a good adventure, and ultimately about economics and debt and chasing down con artists. And also mermaids and communist squid-people uranium miners.

* Spoilers: Fb, gur erirny vf gung Lr Jrawvr qvq pbagnpg nyvraf sebz Nycun Pragnhev (gur Gevfbavnaf). Gurve cynarg vf va n punbgvp beovg nebhaq nyy guerr fgnef, jurer gurer ner crevbqf bs frzv-crevbqvp zbgvba naq crevbqf bs 'jub xabjf'. Gurl qrpvqr vg'f bayl n znggre bs gvzr orsber gurve cynarg trgf gbffrq vagb n fgne, naq gurl arrq gb trg ng yrnfg fbzr crbcyr bss vg.

Fvapr V qb qlanzvpf sbe n yvivat (sbe n gval nzbhag), V guvax gurer'f n ovg zber fgnovyvgl va gur flfgrz, hayrff gur Gevfbavnaf erdhver zhpu pbbyre grzcrengherf guna Rnegu. (Va juvpu pnfr, jr pna yrnfr gurz Znef be Gvgna be fbzrguvat.) Va trareny, jura lbh ner pybfr rabhtu gb bar fgne, gur bgure fgne bayl npgf nf n zvabe punatr sebz gur abezny cynarg-nebhaq-fgne beovg, naq gur Nycun Pragnhev znva cnve vf jvqryl rabhtu frcnengrq gung Rneguyvxr cynargf fubhyq unir n fgnoyr beovg.

Gur fgbel jnf tbbq rabhtu gung V jnf jvyyvat gb cergraq gung gur flfgrz jnf fbzrguvat bgure guna vg jnf.

Apr. 28th, 2015

I need to blog more...

Anyway, book reviews! )

Jan. 27th, 2015

Queer Characters in YA Fiction

(Also, not dead!)

Spoilers for Tamora Pierce's Emelan books, Legend of Korra, Young Wizards )

Dec. 7th, 2014


I actually read the comments on this article (a bit*). The article itself is about how being poor means you are one setback from disaster. The example in the article is of a car being towed. The author can't pay the several hundred dollars to get it back until she is paid in a few days. By that time, she owes more in storage fees, so she'll never be able to recover the car -- it's building up faster than her paychecks. So she loses the car. Walking/getting rides/public transport doesn't give her the mobility to get to work**, so she loses her job, which imperils her ability to pay rent on her apartment... and suddenly the inability to get a few hundred dollars at once to fix one screw-up means someone is unemployed and homeless.

Of course, the commenters were all 'wait, are you saying poor people should never be held responsible for their mistakes!?' Of course it isn't, merely that 'unemployed and homeless' is too steep a price for this screw-up, when a middle-class person would just owe an hour of time, a dip into the savings account, and the hassle of finding a ride for a few days.

So, I reflect on the recent publicity of police shootings of predominantly black men/boys (Jim Hines has an incomplete list). In many cases, the police reported some problem, or were called in. And, yet, what in some cases might have been a warning or a citation or even an arrest ends with the death of an unarmed man. I can think of some of my relatives and friends who were a bit wild and stupid as teenagers and young adults, and I note they are alive, despite encounters with the police. People shouldn't die based on police suspicion (or, let's be honest, anything less dangerous than an active gunfight). That is not a reasonable consequence and is not the same consequence as happens to white teens/young adults.

We're not asking for no consequences, we're asking for the same, reasonable consequences for everyone

* Yes, I know.
** Many places in America are set up under the assumption you own a car.

Oct. 28th, 2014

So, I got bored and downloaded 6 demo games for my Nintendo 2DS. My pocket reviews here.

Super Smash Bros I haven't played SSB since Melee, and I'm not particularly good at it. And given the modes in the game, I suspect there's not much appeal unless you want to play with other people. And, well, I play video games when I want to avoid other people. Or when I'm in the same room as them, but handhelds and social in-person gaming don't go together.

Pokemon Greek-Gem (OmegaRuby/AlphaSapphire) So the Pokemon game seems to be its own thing. You get given a Pokemon, walk around the city (where you can do nothing, except talk to a few NPCs), go fight Team Magma and Team Aqua, catch a wild Pokemon, play with Mega Evolution, and go home. It shows off the features, but... well, this is a Pokemon game and a remake, so you know what you get. And I didn't get through Heart Gold last time, though I did enjoy Pokemon X. So I suspect that I'm better off waiting on this.

Also I resent that the demo made me play as a boy named Orlando, instead of letting me pick whether I got to be male or female.

Cooking Mama 5/Gardening Mama 2
So I decided to give this a chance. The Cooking Mama demo makes it seem like Minigames: The Game. Which I don't mind except I didn't get a sense of an overarching goal. I'm noting the difference between that and Gardening Mama, which reminds me a lot of the Facebook resource-management games that I find so addictive. I play minigames to get plant seeds, which I grow and then sell to a rabbit, which lets me get money for more seeds and decorations. And there's spots for more stuff later. And no nagging messages to share this with friends or that you need X clicks to finish the quest. I mean, it's not something I'd pay much money for but it strikes me as something I'd waste time playing.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon
So, a cute RPG exploration game about Pokemon and something something shit is going down, but let's help our buddy build a home. I'd play more of this.

Etrian Odyssey
Okay, so the gimmick is that you have to draw your own maps of the dungeons, and there's a resource-management element in that you have both fetch-quests (bring back X to the town for exp) and you need to sell the shopkeeper certain items to unlock equipment, but I'm enjoying it*. The 3DS version is a remake of the DS version that adds fixed characters and a plot.
* I like being able to make my own maps, it turns out. And note things like 'where I can gather Hardwood' or 'weird purple door'.

I've also seen ads for Fantasy Life and I keep meaning on picking up Rune Factory. And this is what I think about when I'm trying to avoid grading.

Oct. 24th, 2014

Review: The Fresh 20.

So, I signed up for a service called TheFresh20. Basically once a week, it posts five recipes that take 20 new ingredients (in total) and up to 20 'staples'*. I've been using it for a month or two and here's my thoughts.

Read more... )

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