February 27, 2006

Inside Job by Connie Willis

various occult paraphernalia with faces looking out of their facetsShort novella (90 pages) in a pricey hardcover package ($35)(hooray for the library!). Rob is a professional skeptic, debunking psychics and other charlatans who con the faithful out of their money. His partner in debunkery is Kildy, a beautiful movie starlet who quit the business to follow Rob's calling. Kildy wants Rob to investigate a channeler whose act has recently gotten intriguingly more authentic. When they go to the "seminar" they see the usual channeler mumbo jumbo until half-way through when the channeler abruptly changes personality and starts berating the audience as fools and rubes.

The story plays out with a lovely sense of cognitive dissonance as the debunkers try to determine where the truth lies with a channeler who seems to be trying to debunk herself. The confusion is echoed in Rob and Kildy's relationship where skepticism is standing in the way of truth. It's a fun little story.

Posted by jeffy at 01:29 AM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

February 26, 2006

Lost Glove #74

blue ski glove on a plastic bus-stop bench

This glove missed its bus.

Posted by jeffy at 08:31 PM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)

February 25, 2006

Lost Glove #73

glove in the middle of the road at night

It's been a pretty sparse glove winter so far.

Posted by jeffy at 01:18 AM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)

Lost Glove #72

bluegreen rubber glove on pebbly sidewalk
This one kind of creeps me out. Even apart from the rubber glove ick factor, the way it seems to be stretched out of shape is just too organic.
A UPS delivery guy saw me taking this one and thought I'd be interested in the guy he saw elsewhere in the parking lot sitting in his car with the engine running, tossing his McDonalds wrappers on the ground outside his window. The UPS guy was pretty appalled, but I couldn't help thinking of Edward Abbey's comments to the effect that roads are so ugly and wasteful that a little litter doesn't really make much difference.

Posted by jeffy at 01:13 AM in Lost Gloves , Photo Log | Comments (0)

February 24, 2006

Comfy cardboard

cat resting head on cardboard
Becky and Rachel absconded with the iBook where all the backlog of cat pictures lives, so unlike usually you get a freshly shot picture today. I took a couple dozen shots in the crappy dim light in here to get one I could massage into acceptability. It didn't help that Theo kept twitching every time the timer went off to click the shot (even without the fake shutter sounds enabled, the optio makes a tiny tick when it shoots) resulting in blur and startled expressions. I finally settled for this one's mild annoyance.

Posted by jeffy at 11:38 PM in Cat Blogging | Comments (0)

February 18, 2006

Bike Expo

Becky's off at our church's annual women's retreat so I took the opportunity to go to Cascade Bicycle Club's Bike Expo. It's held at Seattle's Warren G. Magnuson Park in a big old hangar (Magnuson is a converted Air Force Base).

Predictably, almost all of the emphasis is on recreational riding. There were lots of bikes that look like they'd implode into a small pile of wire and soot if I were to rest my copious girth atop them. And lots of what I call "novelty bikes" (no offense intended mine qualifies ;-) like tandems and the various and sundry flavors of recumbent (and recumbent tandems!). The other major portion of the exhibitors were groups promoting their rides (like the Chilly Hilly on Bainbridge that I've decided not to do this year). Then there's a smattering of other things like places providing various bits of gear, and insurance agencies and health service providers and food vendors (both to eat at the expo and to eat while riding your spindly contraption up chilly hills and such). Lots of high-tech-fibre clothing.

In short, not a whole lot to interest me except academically. I did buy a spiffy new rain jacket that I think I'm going to be happy with.

I had a moment of inner conflict when the only Xtracycle on the exhibit floor was being used as bait in the Sprint booth. Bastards. The only other xtracycle I saw was in the bike parking corral and was a clearly well-loved example tricked out with a front basket, an air horn, and various other customizations.

There's a photo contest that was fun to look at. Also a small exhibit of classic bikes with some interesting details.

Also lots of fit and friendly people.

It's kind of a trek to get there from Issaquah without a car (about two and a half hours of bus and wait), but it was a beautiful day and I got a nice jacket out of the deal and had time on my return trip for a stop in to Twice Sold Tales for some kitty petting and a book and a leisurely dinner at Flowers (the review that links to is currently a historical oddity since it concentrates on the smoky ambiance and Seattle's restaurants have been smoke-free for a few months now. Nice.)

Posted by jeffy at 11:43 PM in Transportation | Comments (0)

Sprint = annoying

Three times since the beginning of the year, our preferred long distance company (Working Assets) has called us to ask us why we left and what they could do to lure us back. The first time our response was "huh?", the second time it was "not again!" and the third time isn't appropriate to a semi-family-friendly blog.

Each time Sprint had slammed us (changed our long distance service without our knowledge). The second time I talked to our phone company and they said they had locked our selection so they couldn't do it again. The third time I hadn't gotten around to calling them back when we got a bill from Sprint. A bill for over $100. For service that would have cost us about $30 with Working Assets.

I was almost more angry when I discovered that there was a smoothly streamlined process for cancelling the charges when I called Sprint. They're slamming people intentionally, then they're making it easy for the people who notice to get out of it in the hopes they won't file complaints. Guess who just filed a complaint? Guess who's never ever buying any Sprint product?

Posted by jeffy at 10:16 PM in Soapbox | Comments (0)

February 17, 2006

Where's Alice?

cat wrapped in a blanket with just her silly head showing
We ask this question frequently around here (much to Rachel's annoyance). The other morning the answer turned out to be: completely wrapped in the bath robe I'd tossed on the floor. Not much of a picture opportunity there so this one from the archives will have to do.

Posted by jeffy at 11:51 PM in Cat Blogging | Comments (0)

February 12, 2006

End In Fire by Syne Mitchell

space-suited figure looking a bit alarmedIt's 2022. Claire Logan is an astronaut about to return home to her husband and their four-year-old son when China sets off a high-altitude nuclear blast in its war with India over one of Earth's last oil fields. That's just the first in a cascading series of Really Bad Things that happen to Earth and/or Claire in the course of the novel.

Mitchell does a really great job of balancing the need for lots of exposition and detail with that for a page-turning peril-filled plot. I'm not one of those SF readers who pulls out his slide rule and double-checks the orbital mechanics of a story, but short of that level of verisimiltude, I felt transported into the microgravity environment of low Earth orbit. I was impressed by how she even used the fundamental gravity contrast as a way to distinguish the planet-side scenes. It's cool how just having a character set down a cup of coffee can seem so alien when you just came out of a scene where great pains had to be taken to keep discarded items from wreaking havoc in microgravity. One of the short films from last week's film festival pointed out just how hard it is to get this kind of stuff right. It was called Microgravity and was set in a similar space station locale to this book. For a low-budget short film it did an amazing job, but there are too many details that remind you that it was filmed in a gravity well. Little things like a seat back flexing every time the actress settled back from reaching for a control just took me out of the movie. Granted, Mitchell is working in a different medium, but she got this stuff right.

I had a little bit of a problem with suspending my disbelief through the series of unfortunate events. I think there were just too many things that went just wrong enough to be scary and force the characters to move on to the next thing, but not wrong enough to be total disasters (for the main characters. Plenty of the events were total disasters for minor characters and for large swaths of mankind). So, yes, I'm simultaneously complaining that there were too many successive awful things, and that the awful things weren't awful enough.

Whining aside, I plowed through the book in short order and, despite the depressing subject matter, enjoyed it.

Posted by jeffy at 06:09 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

February 10, 2006

Clement weather

two cats sitting on opposite ends of a carpeted tunnel so as to see out a screen door to a sunny day
We're having our annual February sun break. This morning it was just warm enough (50+ F) to open up all the doors and windows to exchange a houseful of musty air for a fresh batch. The kitties approved of this measure.

Posted by jeffy at 11:46 PM in Cat Blogging | Comments (2)

February 07, 2006

The Murdering of My Years by Mickey Z.

$15 check made out to Mickey Z.Subtitled "Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet", the author sent out questionnaires to 22 people whose life work is in activism or art, and asked them how they keep it together financially. The people range from 64 to 22 years old at time of publication and are all over the map in almost every other measurable demographic. The book is structured with a section of bios of the various respondents followed by sections for each question with attributed excerpts from responses to that question. The questions are about current financial situation, jobs held, work experiences, selling out, ideal work situation, impact of decision to be artist/activist on various aspects of life, inspirations, resources, and advice.

I don't think I'd say that I learned anything from the book, but it was interesting to read through all the answers. There aren't a lot of commonalities with this diverse crowd of people. I was struck by how mundane their work experiences are for the most part. Temps, McJobs, and other typical "unskilled" labor was the most common work background. The other things that seemed to be common were debt, parental support, and just plain getting by on not much money.

When they were talking about their chosen life goals, however, the tone was completely different. Passionate expressions of determination, excitement, and pleasure abounded.

I think I would have enjoyed reading the book a lot more if it hadn't been chopped up by question. I'd like to have been able to get more of a sense of the individuals, and it was almost impossible for me to do that when I was getting only a paragraph or two of any one person at a time.

I'd strongly recommend this book to anyone (especially anyone still in college) who's considering an idealistic life path. It probably won't dissuade you (not that it should), but it gives a starkly honest picture of what that choice can mean as it relates to work and money.

Almost forgot, the title is from Charles Bukowski who said, "I always resented all the years, the hours, the minutes I gave them as a working stiff. It actually hurt my head, my insides, it made me dizzy and a bit crazy. I couldn't understand the murdering of my years."

Posted by jeffy at 11:39 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

February 06, 2006

SF short film festival

Caught the first annual Science Fiction Short Film Festival at the Cinerama on Saturday. There were twenty films shown in two two-hour sessions of ten films each.

I've never seen short films in the theatre before (except for a couple of the ones Pixar slapped in front of its features). It's kind of overwhelming to see ten films in under two hours with only a few seconds of black between the credits of one and the opening of the next. Plus I have a terrible memory and didn't take any notes in the first session so it's a good thing Rachel was there and can remember things or I wouldn't have been able to put together the titles on the Audience Award ballot with the films they stood for. In the second session I was on my own and took hurried notes in the brief dark gaps between the films. (The web site for the festival (link above) includes one-liner descriptions of all the films, but the festival program unaccountably does not, offering only bios of the film makers!)

There was something to enjoy in every one of the films. Enough so that I'd have a hard time picking a top three. I stayed for the awards (based on scoring by a panel of judges), and was a little surprised by the results. Circus of Infinity and Heartbeat tied in 5th, Cost of Living in 4th, Microgravity in 3rd, Red Planet Blues in 2nd, and They're Made Out of Meat the winner. The audience award went to Cost of Living.

My favorites were (in the order they were screened) (links to the film's website for those I could find):

La Vie d'un Chien (The Life of a Dog) about a scientist who discovers a drug which will transform a person into a dog, which made wonderfully effective use of the sneaky trick (apparently pioneered by another film maker (credited in the film)) of composing a film completely of still photographs with a wonderful deadpan French voiceover and subtitles.

Heyday was a fairly straightforward time travel romance (think Somewhere In Time) distinguished by wonderful performances by its actors.

The Grandfather Paradox about a physics professor who is forced to act out the grandfather paradox (and finally create a twist on it) when he is attacked by his time travelling grandson in the middle of his lecture. Very funny.

Perfect Heat had a nearly incomprehensible story, but made up for that with gorgeous visuals integrating live action, filmed drawings, and animation in a wonderfully surreal way.

Red Planet Blues was one of only two fully animated films, and the only one using clay models. It depicted a whimsical interaction between a Martian and one of the Mars rovers.

Super-Anon was a mockumentary about a support group for family members of super heroes. Very funny.

They're Made Out of Meat is from a short-short story by Terry Bisson (who emcee'd the festival) which consists completely of a conversation between two aliens. The film sets the conversation in a diner and intersperses it with the antics of the human customers.

Cost of Living is another conversation format, this one between an aging man and a new body salesman. Excellent performances and a well written story.

Welcome to Eden was the only fully computer animated film. About the first flight of the first light-speed drive ship. I liked the (too loud in the screening) surf music and snappy dialogue paired with goofy retro modern animation.

Wireless is a well-executed film noir treatment of what might as well be John Varley's classic novella Press Enter (but isn't).

I'd love love love to have a DVD of the full festival's movies. I'll definitely plan to attend again next year.

Posted by jeffy at 07:13 PM in Personal Interest | Comments (1)

February 03, 2006

Feline human departure avoidance tactics

cat lying on a backpack
As soon as I'd unpacked my backpack from our recent trip to CA, Theo parked himself on it presumably to prevent its being used again.

Posted by jeffy at 11:39 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (0)