I walked into the con suite at my first science fiction convention, Potlatch 13 and, probably predictably, the second person I saw was Anita Rowland who very nicely welcomed me to the room and took good care of my newbie self.
The very first person I saw was Ursula K. Le Guin! Oh my. Unaccountably, she is not 8 feet tall. Oh my. It's a wonder I could speak when I saw Anita a few moments later.
The 21st century introvert's way of dealing with large social situations is to fire up the laptop with WiFi and start blogging while trying to melt into the background as much as possible, so that's what I did.
The evening's session was entitled "Terrascaping Jane's Head" I presume since the moderator's name was Jane. The idea was to share books that changed your head; books after reading which you were never the same or the world was never the same. I tried to catch them all, so since I've got this big list I may as well stick it in here. Just what I needed, more good books to read.
I actually went prepared with a thing, but I wasn't brave enough to speak up. It's a brief section from a Delany book, either Heavenly Breakfast or The Motion of Light in Water, I can't remember which. In it, young Chip is walking up a trail with a companion who points out a waterfall off the trail. Chip only sees the bushes that surround the trail until his companion shows him to focus past the bushes and assemble a picture from the bits making it through the interstitial spaces between the leaves. This idea of focusing past the confusion of nearby detail has resonated for me not only in similar visual situations, but also in dealing with information rich environments of other kinds. (I was actually even reminded of it tonight since the blinds were closed in the room we were in, but I could see the monorail go by through the little spaces that remain open with closed mini-blinds. I'm not sure what it says about this group that they were perfectly happy to sit talking about books in a room with the blinds drawn hiding an excellent view of the Space Needle and other portions of the Seattle skyline. I'm sure it was just too bright earlier in the day and no one thought to open the blinds once it got dark.)
Anyway, here's all the other cool stuff in the order people people mentioned it with a gloss on their comments when I was able to capture them. I'll hide it behind a cut tag here so this doesn't run on to pages for any of my readers who aren't interested (though I can't imagine who that might be ;-).
|For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence||Alice Miller|
|Adventures In Time and Space||Raymond J Healy and J Francis McComas|
|The Elements of Style||Strunk & White|
|Elements of Programming Style||P. J. Plaugher|
|Dhalgren||Samuel R. Delany||repeat readings over the course of years showed her "how many different ways the same words can be read" and changed her view of SF from being fiction about what can happen, to being about "how can people treat each other"|
|The Book of Marvels: The Occident and The Orient||Richard Halliburton|
|Art Worlds||Howard S. Becker||art is something created by all the people who contribute to the materials and creation, purchase, etc. (Sociology)|
|The File||Serge Lang|
|Rats, Lice, and History||Hans Zinsser|
|Gödel, Escher, Bach||Douglas R. Hofstadter|
|none||Not a book, but the act of learning to program in Lisp|
|What Is Calculus About?||W. W. Sawyer||brought in response to someone (I think it was Vonda McIntyre) talking about the act of learning calculus|
|none||the act of learning any new language (this was Ursula Le Guin, so I suspect she meant human, not computer languanges.)|
|Tigana||Guy Gavriel Kay|
|Never Done: a History of American housework||Susan Strasser|
|Bright Earth||Philip Ball||where color comes from and how it fits in sociologically|
|The Shockwave Rider||John Brunner||This is the book that Potlatch 13 is shaping all of its programming around...|
|Ubik||Phillip K. Dick|
|none||not a book, but a sign on a jar full of crucifixes reading "Souvenirs of the crucifiction of Jesus Christ"|
|none||another non-book, the statement "Money is a process, not a thing."|
|The Logic of Scientific Discovery||Karl Popper||how you test whether a discovery is science or not (if you can't find a way to disprove it it's not science)|
|The Open Society and Its Enemies||Karl Popper||how terrible Plato's ideas were|
|none||a child's question of "Who was the first bank robber?"|
|Fooled By Randomness: the hidden role of chance in the markets and in life||Nassim Taleb||are you good or are you lucky?|
|A Pattern Language||Christopher Alexander||Architecture is like a language with its finite number of words, but infinite number of sentences. Good and bad architecture isn't just a factor of aesthetics.|
|Some Calculus Text||Serge Lang||ruined her ability to do math|
|The Lord of the Rings||J. R. R. Tolkein||First time found fiction could completely dominate his life|
|The Crusades Through Arab Eyes||Amin Maalouf|
|none||the world map with South at the top|
|the Magic Eye books||stuff that looks like it might be stereo pairs sometimes will resolve if viewed that way|
|King Hereafter||Dorothy Dunnett||beautiful love story that wasn't cliche, felt real, with caring, political necessity "mature love story"|
|Wonderful Life||Stephen Jay Gould||don't completely understand what evolution means until read this (complete importance of contingency and chance)|
|Astronomy||Fred Hoyle||hoyle also writes SF so the combo of science and SF potential made him her hero|
|Death and Life of Great American Cities||Jane Jacobs|
|Fables for our Time||James Thurber|
|Anything Can Happen||George Papashvily||Georgian sword maker immigrant to America|
|Mimsy Were the Borogoves||Louis Padgett|
|25 Modern Short Stories||Phil Stong|
|Pilgrimage to Earth||Robert Sheckley|
|I, Governor of California...||Upton Sinclair||subtitled "And How I Ended Poverty, a true story of the future" suggester commented that Heinlein's "new" book put Sinclair's utopian socialism into context of modern America|
|The Voice of the Dolphins||Leo Szilard||getting stuff done with science instead of politics|
|The West Wing||long setup describing how it was about a president who could ask for several opinions on an issue and then make a decision based on them instead of doing whatever he damn pleases. The suggester didn't mention his title until someone asked. This seemed like a calculated gesture, but I could be wrong.|
|Joan of Arc||didn't catch, which doesn't help...||told through the words of Joan or people who knew her (made how she could be important real, how much her ideas were common sense/20th century thoughts, first peasant teenage girl we know about|
|The Dispossessed: an ambiguous utopia||Ursula K. Le Guin||specifically for the meaning behind the subtitle. Suggester was mad about the current reprint leaving off the subtitle. Ms. Le Guin just shrugged.|
|Big Business||a film of Laurel & Hardy||metaphor for what's wrong with our country|
|The Structure of Scientific Revolutions||Thomas S. Kuhn||before reading this, suggester thought science was totally objective|
|Annals of the Former World||John McPhee||omnibus of Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising From the Plains, and Assembling California|
Marion Zimmer Bradley's tome, The Mists of Avalon, is one of the original doorstop fantasy novels. It's a retelling of the Arthurian legends slanted towards the female characters. It's been a while since I read it (11/20/92 according to my list), but I recall that it was largely about the collision between Christian culture and the Pagan Earth-mother faiths that prevailed in Britain in the time period. Or maybe I'm confusing it with Jo Walton's The King's Peace and The King's Name which have a different take on the whole Arthur thing...
In any event, the movie, which was produced as a mini-series for TV on TNT, concentrates mostly on the human part of the story in order to fit it into only 3 hours of screen time. Leaving out most of the Christian vs. Pagan stuff also probably helped keep the volume of appalled phonecalls down at TNT headquarters.
The characters and relationships are plenty interesting to carry the film and the actors who play them do a fine job. Julianna Margulies is wonderful as Morgaine, Arthur's sister. She convincingly takes the character from girlish playfulness to righteous anger to consuming lust to steel-eyed competence. She makes the character one of the most rich female parts I've seen on the screen. Anjelica Huston is fine as the lady of the lake, Viviane, playing the part with loving ruthlessness. Samantha Mathis was sort of an odd choice for Gwenwyfar, but she had good chemistry with both her true love Lancelot (played by Michael Vartan) and husband Arthur (Edward Atterton) and did a fine job going off her rocker as she continued to fail to deliver her king an heir. Joan Allen is good as the scheming, power-hungry Morgause. The male casting was less distinctive (as is only fair for this particular story) with the exception of Hans Matheson as a slimily psychotic Mordred.
The film is harmed by our having spent entirely too much time watching Peter Jackson's meticulously produced Lord of the Rings movies. Mists' visual effects are strictly video-game quality and the sets and costumes are merely "good". It's really unfair to compare the two, but it was a factor in my enjoyment that I kept being pulled out of the story by production details. I bring it up more to point out how much Jackson has spoiled me than to cast any aspersions towards the Mists production team who did a fine job with the resources they were working with.
Evidently, I am Rerun.
Dreadful movie. We pretty much knew it would be because it looked dreadful in the preview, but we held out hopes that John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale could make it watchable. The premise is your basic meet-cute romantic comedy. Kate and John both grab the same pair of gloves in Bloomingdale's right before Christmas. They each are with other people but there's some attraction between them that they investigate over coffee and ice skating. Kate's character refuses to give her name to John's character because in her opinion, if they're destined to be together they will be. They play little games with fate that all point to their eventual connection (though some aren't obvious to them). Years pass. They're both engaged to other people. They can't forget their brief fling and each tries to hunt down the other. Surprise, surprise, after many trials they meet and kiss, the end.
Throughout the plot the hand of the writer is palpable in the movement of the characters. There is some chemistry between John and Kate, but their actions in the face of it feel false (mostly Kate's—her fate obsession is inconsistent and dippy). It was interesting watching the deleted scenes on the DVD (yes, we're insane) because they were all actually better than the ones that made it into the movie. This probably points to some of the blame for the mess belonging to the director.
What makes it possible to sit through the whole movie are the supporting characters and the cinematography. Jeremy Piven gets to stretch out a bit beyond his usual best-friend-to-John-Cusack's-character role. John Corbett is amusing as Kate's new-age musician fiance, Lars. And Eugene Levy goes goofball over-the-top as a strange but helpful Bloomingdale's clerk. The cinematography part is the series of stunning time-lapse passages of the New York skyline.
|Might be the same glove as #11 which might have been the mate of #6. If it is the same, it has moved halfway from the spot where I saw it first to the spot where I saw its possible mate first.
Or it could be that someone around here considers this flavor of glove disposable.
Well, yeah, but... that's not a very practical party affiliation in this country at this time. And actually what we really are is Utopians.
Here's my version of the Utopian party platform (there is no Utopian party, I'm making it up):
Everyone is guaranteed the following staples of life:
Those who are able should spend some portion of their time working directly to provide these necessities for themselves and their neighbors (not earning money to pay for them, but working directly to produce one or more of the staples).
The collective effort required to provide the staples should leave copious time for other pursuits on the part of the citizenry. Those other pursuits are unrestricted, with the exception that they cannot directly or indirectly cause harm to other citizens or their current or future health and well-being.
Yeah, it sounds like oversimplified lunacy, but think what we could do if we didn't all have to individually scratch and claw our way to having those necessities for ourselves.
Would war become impossible?
What would be a crime and who would be moved to commit it?
What sorts of activities could meet the "do no harm" requirement?
|A couple of weeks ago I was late for a meeting at work and took the shorter, but higher traffic way to work and as I rushed by I noticed what I thought was a glove. I went out for a purely recreational ride today and coincidentally ended up passing this corner with enough time to snap a shot.|
Don Knuth is one of the major stars of computer science scholarship. He's the author of the three-volume (soon to be four) The Art of Computer Programming, the inventor of the TeX computer typesetting system among many other claims to computer science fame.
Inspired by a bible study series he led in his church, Knuth wrote a book called 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated in which he did a semi-random sampling of the Bible by considering chapter 3 verse 16 of each book (at least the ones that had such a verse).
Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About is taken from a series of lectures he did at MIT in 1999 on topics related to spirituality and computer science.
Most of the lectures are about the discipline of computer science as seen through the lens of his experience as a Lutheran and his experience writing the 3:16 book. But there's also a fair amount of speculation about the nature of life, the universe, and everything. This is especially true in the question and answer sessions following each lecture which are also preserved in the book.
Interesting reading and Knuth has a wonderfully geeky sense of humor.
Today was the first time that Becky and I have participated in the caucus system in Washington state (or anywhere else, for that matter). This is a long rambling discussion of how it went. Won't be offended if you skip all this text ;-)
This year, turnout was expected to be much higher than usual. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that this year the caucuses are the only way that Washington voters are being allowed input to the Democratic nominations. As I understand it there's usually a split between primary and caucus here where some delegates are selected via a popular vote and some are by caucus. This year the election was cancelled. The reason I've heard for this is that it would cost the state too much money to run a general election. I wonder if there wasn't some worry on the part of the party that the Republican faction in the state would take advantage of the open primary to vote for a spoiler candidate. In any event, the caucus was the only game for any Democrats who wanted to have a voice in the nomination.
Oh, the other reason they expected big turnout for this year's caucus? Bush.
Normally, I guess the caucuses for each precinct happen in locations within the precinct, in someone's basement or living room. This year in response to the threat of major attendance, they instead combined a bunch of precincts in our area into the common room at Issaquah High School.
We got to the school at about 9:45 and got our first taste of how disorganized the event was going to be. We walked in the door and found a clump of people trying to figure out what to do. There were some Dean supporters handing out literature and stickers, and over to the right there was a table with the word "membership" on it (that turned out to be for joining the 5th District Democrats), then down a few steps on the main floor was a big crowd of people. Finally we figured out that we were supposed to sign in at some tables at the edge of the big milling crowd on sheets by precinct. When we signed in we had to specify our preference for nominee (with uncommitted a valid option). There were three people signed in for our precinct ahead of us, two Clarks and an uncommitted. Beck and I both signed in for Dean.
We walked around and talked to some of the people we know, then went to the table set aside for our precinct. Before the caucus I had tried to determine the bounds of our precinct. I had the number from my voter registration card (ISS 05-0546), but I couldn't find a map anywhere to show who's in with us. At the end of today's meeting I found a map on the wall that showed the precinct boundaries. It's south of I-90, north of Sunset Way, and east of 2nd Avenue (yes, it's basically triangular). We introduced ourselves to the folks at the table and found out that one of them lives in the condos right across the street from us! When everyone had arrived and the caucus got underway there were eleven (11) people from our precinct at the table.
Kathleen Drew, our former state senator called the assembly to order with a megaphone the full extent of the PA system. She read the rules for who could participate and what the order of business would be. I was glad that we read some things about how the caucus is supposed to operate before we came because it was hard to hear and there were no visual aids at all. No one at our table had been to the caucus before.
When we were set loose to tally our first vote at 10:30, it stood at 5 for dean, 3 for clark, and 3 uncommitted. We had three delegates to allocate from our precinct, so there was one vote up for grabs with the undecideds. We set in to discussing the merits of the candidates and the tactics we could follow. The Dean and Clark contingents were both committed to holding their position. The undecideds had the option of pushing either of those to two out of three delegates, or pooling their three votes for another candidate altogether. The most vocal Clark supporter was actually an employee of his state campaign organization and was pretty persuasive in pushing the viewpoint that keeping Clark in the race would make him a more viable option for the VP slot down the road when Kerry or Dean (or whoever) finally secures the nomination. I think just about everyone at the table voiced a soft spot for Dean as their early favorite, but the undecided and Clark supporters were worried about his viability as a nation-wide candidate against the Bush/Rove machine.
The undecideds finally put their heads together and decided to form a block pushing the final tally to Clark 6, Dean 5 so we ended up sending two Clark delegates and one Dean. I'm the Dean delegate and Becky is the alternate ;-) We had some trouble picking who would be the delegates because no one knew when the district caucus was to be held. Someone went and asked and found out it will be May 1st.
By this point, the organizers of the event (if you can call them that) had completely lost control. Kathleen Drew was still making announcements on the bullhorn, but we couldn't hear what she was saying. Each precinct was busy talking among themselves. Once the nominating votes were tallied, the next order of business was to be proposals for statements to be included in the Democratic party platform. At our table we didn't know how this was supposed to work so we considered it among ourselves. There were two proposals included in the packets at the tables, so we voted on those (actually only one of them because we didn't really comprehend the other), then we talked about other possibilities. I had printed off a page-long proposal that had been written up by a group of IRV (instant run-off voting) supporters. We talked about it a bit and all but a couple of people were in support of the concept (though we didn't look at the details of the language).
With the voting completed, people started to head for the door. When most of them had left, there was finally an intelligible announcement indicating that the platform portion of the meeting would take place as a joint session facilitated by Brian Derdowski (former King County Councilman (back when he was a Republican)).
At its peak, there were over 350 people in the room. There were less than 50 left when the platform resolution portion started. Here again, the only method of communication was the bullhorn. Not even an overhead projector. Brian did a reasonably good job of using Robert's Rules to keep things moving along and making sure that everyone was heard. The sheet of paper I brought with the pre-packaged resolution in support of IRV was turned in with our voting results so I wasn't able to present it to this group. And I probably wouldn't have even if I had still had it because a whole page of text doesn't play very well when the only way you can put it in front of the group is by reading it aloud. They would have run me out of the room on a rail and rightly so. At this level what I needed was a brief punchy statement of support for IRV coupled with a slightly longer list of talking points about the benefits to the Democratic party of adopting it (yes, there really are some!) Next time I'll have a better idea what's needed.
Overall, it was an interesting exercise. It was neat to be able to meet with our neighbors and talk about the neighborhood as it fits into the larger political picture (and to get lots of sympathy about the ugly duplex that sprouted up next door to us last year). It will be good to see what the next level is like at the beginning of May especially since by that point we'll have a good idea who the actual candidate will be... It'll be strange to be still deciding when the conclusion is mostly foregone.
Going into it I thought that we'd be better off with an open primary election where everyone can voice their opinion at the polls. After going through the caucus I'm a little more sympathetic to the concept for the value in neighbor to neighbor connections, and the potential for bringing more people actively into the political process. At our table we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses so that we can get in touch with each other in the future if need be (and to organize a carpool to the district caucus in May!)
Here's the overall delegate count from our caucus location:
I suspected while watching this that it was a lot more fun to make than it was to watch. The movie doesn't really have a plot as such. There are a bunch of loosely connected characters. There are several layers of films within the film (I think I counted four at one point). So as an entertainment, the casual viewer must content herself with appreciation of some interesting performances (especially David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener, Mary McCormack, Nicky Katt, and Julia Roberts), and some Steven Soderbergh in-jokes (e.g., Terence Stamp appears as his character from Soderbergh's The Limey).
But there are subtextual pleasures to be had as well. Soderbergh is using the coarse digital video style and semi-documentary appearance to draw attention to the Fiction of movie making. If you're like me, you might not pick up on all that with one watching of the movie, but this DVD release has some great extras that illuminate the background of the film without ever making you feel like a doofus for missing it all the first time.
One thing that explains a lot about the movie is the set of rules that Soderbergh gave his actors. You can read them here, but the gist is that the actors were expected to leave behind all trappings of Hollywood and come to the film as actors, not movie stars. Things like the actors having to do their own makeup and hair and wardrobe. These restrictions effectively remove a layer of glitz and insulation between the stars and the audience. The rest of the DVD extras further this process. The section where Soderbergh is interviewing the actors in character is especially fun. You get to see them improvising answers that fit with their characters' personalities. Julia Roberts's interview is delightful in this respect when one of Soderbergh's questions dips so far into the layers of her character that you can see her completely lose her grip on where reality is. The commentary track with director Soderbergh and writer Coleman Hough provides more insight into how the normal movie making conventions were subverted for Full Frontal. The commentary also provides more consolation to those confused by the nested storylines as writer Hough completely loses her place at one point too.
All told, it's a two-star movie with a three-star DVD.
Too bad we didn't go dip our toes in Rhode Island back in October.
They also have one for the countries you've visited, but that's kind of pointless in my case.
(via Seedlings & Sprouts)