heron61: (Default)
It was ludicrously hot today (thankfully, this was the last day of 3 days of heat), and cool food was definitely called for. Becca wanted lemongrass chicken with cold noodles like we get in various Vietnamese restaurants, and I managed to kitbash several recipes together and got something both delicious and also very much like what we get in restaurants. The following recipe serves 3, and all three of us loved it.

Meat
1 lb boneless chicken thighs
Trim fat, pound thin, and then cut into thin slices

Marinade
11/2 to 2 tablespoons granulated, light brown sugar, or honey
1 tablespoon minced or crushed garlic
4-5 lime leaves (chopped) or zested peel of one lime (ideally a markut lime)
2 tablespoon chopped shallot or yellow onion
2 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped (4-6 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon dark (black) soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon oil

Place marinade in food processor and process until smooth, pre-grinding the lemongrass and lime leaves (if used) in a spice grinder also helps. Then, mix chicken with marinade and marinate for at least 2 hours (longer is better)

Veggies
Finely grate 1-2 peeled carrots (the fine grater on a box grater works wonderfully)
Thinly slice 6 oz of cabbage or nappa cabbage (you can instead use bean sprouts, but I fine them to be vile, so I don't). Then, Thinly slice 3-4 green onions

Stir fry (or grill) chicken over high heat with 2 TBS of oil until done. Then, briefly cook cabbage or nappa cabbage and green onions in the same pan

Boil sufficient thin rice noodles for 3 (6 oz dried thin rice stick or 12 oz fresh rice noodles). Then drain, run under cold water until cool, and drain again

Make Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce

Mix
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup water
¼-1 tsp chili garlic sauce (depending on how hot you want your food)
2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce

Serve noodles, top with carrot & cabbage + green onion mixture, top that with the chicken, and pour sauce over to taste.
heron61: (About Me)
So, yet another birthday, and with luck many more to come. In a couple of hours, I'll go out to an excellent vegan coffeehouse with my two wonderful partners and I'll have cake, then it's off to the best (and oddly one of the least expensive) sushi restaurants in Portland (because, why not have desert first), followed by coming home and watching the latest episode of Steven Universe. Then, sometime today or tomorrow, I'll get my assignment for the new licensed SF RPG that I'm going to be helping to write. Life is quite, but good (if for the moment, also far too hot outside). Blessings to all.
heron61: (Emphasis and strong feeling)
[personal profile] teaotter's preparations for taking over her boss's business in January continue, and it's sometimes a bit odd to consider. I, and then [personal profile] teaotter, and I, and for the last 12 years, [personal profile] amberite too, have all been living at the barest bottom edges of the middle class, but with substantial benefits (such as our lovely house and a new car 2 years ago) from my parents, which allows us to live moderately well and without the fears of sudden disastrous expenses that many people I know have. However, we also have little room for additional expenditures beyond our normal, fairly frugal lifestyle. Our housing expenses are close to trivial, and so our single biggest expense is food, since I do the vast majority of the cooking and am quite picky about what I'll cook and eat and both [personal profile] amberite have (different) food allergies, which drives up food costs further.

However, while our situation will likely change only mildly next year, if (what will soon be) [personal profile] teaotter's business does well, in a year and a half or more likely two and a half, we may be doing not merely better economically, but much better, to the extent that occasional overseas travel and similar luxuries may be possible on our own, which is both wonderful and quite surprising.

Much of my self-definition has been as the mildly impoverished, somewhat dilettantish offspring of wealthy parents, and the practicalities of that are almost certain to change. One of the mot puzzling aspects of this is considering what all we might possibly spend considerably more money on, since there's only so much money one can spend on ebooks, and while I enjoy having excellent personal electronics, buying replacements for any of them more often than every 2 years seems to me wasteful to the extreme, and replacing larger items like cars remotely often seems to me deeply excessive.
heron61: (Dragons & Magic)
Last week, [personal profile] teaotter, [personal profile] amberite, and I went out to West Virginia to a memorial for [personal profile] helen99, someone I knew and very much liked in the otherkin community. I didn't know her well, but she was a kind, thoughtful, and generally awesome individual and I'm sad she's gone, but the memorial was very affecting and I was glad to have been there. As it true at all such occasions, this visit was also a time to reconnect with quite a number of wonderful people in that community who I haven't seen for 5 or so years and reminded me of how much I enjoy interacting with these people.

I also experienced another rarely indulged pleasure –observing truly excellent parenting. One of the unusual (and from my PoV quite comfortable) features of the otherkin community, or at least the sections I'm familiar with is that being childfree is exceedingly common, which is hardly surprising in a group of geeky, deeply eccentric, and often fairly gender non-conforming people. However, several of the people at the memorial (some of whom were part of the otherkin community, others not, but all quite geeky) had children. Most were excellent parents of the sort that I've seen before a number of times (but more rarely than I'd like).

Then there was Summer and Ashran, who were the sorts of amazing parents one might expect to read about in the rare YA novel where the protagonist has ludicrously wonderful parents (excellent examples being any of the YA novels by Madeleine L'Engle) – yes, they both (and especially Summer) seemed that good – kind, loving, endlessly patient, joyful, and deeply humane, and with 4 children, ranging in age from 5 months to 12 years. In addition to sometimes enjoying spending time around other people's children, I also very much enjoy (and am mildly in awe of) anyone who is a truly excellent parent. I react to it much as I would to seeing someone demonstrate any other impressive skill that I have neither the talent for nor any inclination to pursue. Watching Summer and Ashran with their children was especially impressive and wonderful.

On a related note, at one point, Summer mentioned that since most of the people she knew in the otherkin community didn't seem interested in having children, she was going to have to make up for that lack :) That comment got me thinking about the nature of the otherkin community. Like SF fandom and a number of other subcultures, the otherkin community is very much a subculture that people join as teens or adults rather than being born into. This is increasingly distinguishing it from the neopagan community, which as I have mentioned in the past, has, as a whole grown more mainstream as its expanded, and part of this process has involved making a place for individuals and families who are far more mainstream than most neopagans were 40 years ago.

By their nature, communities that survive far more recruiting people than by people being born into it have greater freedom to avoid mainstream norms, in part simply because (for both better and worse) raising children in a community automatically exposes the community to far more public scrutiny that it might otherwise attract. This suggests to me that while the otherkin community will definitely change over time, just as all subcultures do, the direction of that change need not be towards becoming more mainstream.

As a side-note, I and many other people I've known (including many like myself with parents who were not horrific, merely somewhat cold and brittle) have had to learn about love and trust in college and young adulthood, and it's sort of amazing to think of being 17 or 20 and already knowing these lessons.
heron61: (Heron - about me)
Saturday was wonderful, my wonderful friend [livejournal.com profile] pazi_ashfeather is visiting Portland, and called up to see if she and [livejournal.com profile] silverback2001 could come and visit. [livejournal.com profile] amberite was out of town, but [livejournal.com profile] teaotter were not busy, and we spend a wonderful afternoon and evening together. Our attempt at going to the best sushi place in Portland failed due to a 2 hour wait at 6:00 PM, but we found a lovely pan-Asian place literally around the corner, and then we came back to our place for more socializing. Eventually Pazi needed to leave, but Silver stayed and we talked occultism, our particular interests and knowledge base are very similar indeed, and Silver is someone I had not spent much time with before, something I definitely wish to remedy, especially now since I'm working slowly back into getting into more serious occult practice. We're also having Pazi & Silver over for dinner sometime in the next week or so, so I will also again have the chance to show off my cooking.

In any case, Saturday was one of those whirlwind, intensely social days that I have always loved, but one odd thing I noticed, and have noticed before is that I'm often emotionally somewhat tired afterwards. This never used to happen to me, until I got into a poly triad. Prior to that time, there was largely no such thing as too much socializing for me, to some degree I was always in need of at least a bit more social contact – a fairly inevitable fact of being an ENFP who typically becomes closest to introverts. However, now that I live with both [livejournal.com profile] teaotter & [livejournal.com profile] amberite, the need for external socialization is significantly less and I can sometimes find it somewhat tiring. What I also need to remember is that while intense socializing can now be tiring, it remains as joyful as ever, just tiring afterwards and somewhat less necessary, if no less fun.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
A few weeks ago, I read The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi, it was brilliant, but also exceedingly complex, and so I waited to write about it until I had the chance to think about it and then reread it. I finished rereading it a few days ago and found it even better on second read as first. It's an impressively high-context book, both in the sense that it assumes familiarity with the sub-genre of modern transhumanist-influenced SF, and more importantly because the author throw you into a complex and strange world filled with wonderfully arcane terminology. There's even an extensive Glossary on Wikipedia (which contains spoilers, but it useful after or during reading the book, to learn the etymology of terms like Sobornost (a Russian word meaning a spiritual community or collective), Gevulot (a Hebrew word for borders), or Tzadikkim ("a title given to personalities in Jewish tradition considered righteous, such as Biblical figures and later spiritual masters"). It's also well worth looking these terms up, since the meaning of these words is in all cases important to why they are used. The author is quite simply a genius with language.

It's also clearly the first book of a series, and while it is in no way unsatisfying, you also don't learn all of the answers by the end of the book, and right at the end, you get a few more questions to go along with them. The plot of this book is all about identity and memory and in a setting where both can be edited and duplicated, is exactly as complex as you'd expect. This is half the reason for wanting to reread the book, the other half is being able to appreciate it in considerably more depth once I understood the basic structure of the world and what it meant and implied.

The book was also made more personally interesting because I discussed it extensively with [livejournal.com profile] teaotter who read it shortly after I finished it for the first time. Given that she mostly reads fantasy and older-style SF of the sort written by authors like Jack McDevitt, I was impressed (once again) at Becca's ability to gain quite a lot of meaning out of a book, despite never having read any SF of this sort before. This is really not a book for people entirely unfamiliar with transhumanist space opera to get their start – Alastair Reynolds, Greg Egan, or Linda Nagata are all far better choices for that purpose. However, it's also the best book I've read in well more than a year, both because of the plots and ideas and also because of the sheer excellence of the prose.

It also brought home to me one of the reasons I prefer to read this sort of SF when it's written by Europeans. In addition to having many other levels, one of the major thematic levels of the book is about freedom and responsibility. The most powerful political entity in the solar system is based on enslaving uploaded minds – the many serve the few, and any who's not in charge has their mind, body, and free will entirely in the hands of beings who feel no compunction about using all these as they see fit. A variety of non-villainous societies also appear in the book, and while very different from one another, all share two common features, a lack of slavery, and the fact that instead what you have is a society where people effectively pay their taxes and work for the common good (in various exotic posthuman ways), while also clearly benefiting from these labors. Far too much US SF has the sort of libertarian bias that would result in a very different, and from my PoV, rather hideous book. It is also not a novel, where you have the protagonist spewing nonsense about how being a natural, unaugmented human is in some way morally superior (something that would have had me throwing Sean Williams' recent novel Saturn Returns across the room if it hadn't been a library book).

I also have a few observations that are perhaps best read by people who have already read the book minor spoilers follow )
heron61: (Dragons & Magic)
For the past several months, I've been doing nightly meditations, part of which involved inviting more magic and more joy into my life (after I do the Middle Pillar Ritual and Circulating the Body of Light), and in addition to my life generally going a bit better, things seem to be getting a bit more interesting. One of the most interesting recent events happened last night.

I had an odd and exceptionally vivid dream – it started with meeting a wizard, specifically someone who reminded me of Harry Dresden of the Dresden Files, except that he also had some odd physical characteristics – piebald skin and almost fur-like body hair that seemed remarkably dog-like and which he dismissed by saying that many wizards are (or perhaps become, I wasn't clear) physically a bit odd. He was only the first of three wizards that I met in the dream, I ended up in a car with him driving at night, until we came to a street corner where he met the other two wizards.

The next to arrive described herself as a wizard who mentioned that she had also inherited various powerful supernatural talismans and devices from her parents and now choose to be a superhero. She looked and seemed a great deal like the DC comics version of Isis. The third seemed far more like a fairly standard Wiccan woman who was clearly deeply into magic and as powerful as the other two. I don't remember seeing her do any magic, but I think she did, and I know the other two performed various actions that were clearly magical, including "Isis'" magical talismans flying through the air from a table to her hands.

In the course of talking to "Harry Dresden", I asked to learn magic – the first time I asked, he looked at me in a somewhat indulgent and dismissive fashion, until it was clear that I was going to repeat my request three times. By the end of the second time, he told me I didn't want to do that, and after the third, he looked somewhat resigned.

The three of them then parted ways, and I ended up walking with the Wiccan wizard to her house or apartment, or whatever, where there was a party, where most people were in masks and costumes of the feather mask and raggedy brightly colored cloth sort of thing people sometimes wear as costumes at places like Faerieworlds. In the dream, I knew several of people there, one being someone I knew as a child, another was an actual friend of mine from college ([livejournal.com profile] bard_bloom), and the third, a dream character that in the dream I had known briefly in college. Meeting her revealed part of the back-story of the dream, where back in college< and several other people had gone to a very strange Halloween party in a house that was put on by the same Wiccan wizard. I had never been able to find that house again, but the woman at the party had become her student. Part of this was explained to me as the fact (which in all honestly is quite true) that at the time my morality and overall level of carelessness in life was such that my learning actual magic would have been far from a good idea.

The dream was made more interesting by two other facts. The first is that I woke up briefly and was able to go back into it at a slightly later point – the people from the house were mostly still in costume, and we were all going out someplace in the daytime, at this point in the dream we were all in a large parking lot. Also, this dream was considerably more vivid and memorable that my usual crop of adventure fluff-dreams that I barely (if at all) remember, and which hang together far less well. I periodically have dreams this vivid, usually every couple of year, and they often turn out to have some meaning (often a fairly obvious one, my subconscious is far from subtle). In any case, it was both a nifty and a thought-provoking dream.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
I just finished the new Bordertown book Welcome to Bordertown . I really enjoyed it, and I also found it to be a fascinating microscosm of how much of SF&F fandom and SF&F writing has changed since the previous Bordertown books, which were all written from the late 80s to the late 90s.

The basic idea of all of the stories, poems, and the comic in the book was that Bordertown was cut off from the mortal world for the last 13 years, but that this only seemed like 13 days to the residents, who are suddenly faced with the arrival of modern day people with their new ideas, fashion, music, blogs, and suchlike. This worked well and also served to highlight the differences in feel between modern SF&F and work from 10 or 20 years ago. This is a Bordertown book with stories about people of color, people who were homeless or living very modern sorts of crappy dead-end lives before they left the mortal world, militant civil rights activists, computer geeks as well as an abundance of queer people. I talked about this book with [livejournal.com profile] teaotter, and her comment that in some ways this was a book by and about many of the sorts of people who enjoyed these books before, but who were not present in them.

While there's still no shortage of bigotry and privileged ignorance of various sorts in SF&F fandom, it's also clear that progress has been made among some subcultures within it, and this is very much where most of the book comes from. I also found the book to be a whole lot of fun, and previously I had largely lost interest in the Bordertown books by the early 90s. The story by Cory Doctorow was exactly what you would expect it to be, a story about the person who brought the internet to Bordertown, and was quite good, and the stories by Nalo Hopkinson and Catherynne Valente were both exceptionally good, as was the comic, which turns out to have been written and drawn by two Portland locals that I have met at various parties, and the stories by Tim Pratt and Christopher Barzak, two authors I had not previously encountered. Here's the Table of Contents. This is definitely a book that makes me feel hopeful about SF&F fandom, as well as being quite a lot of fun to read, as well as a source for new ideas who I'll look up more by.

Yum!

Jun. 29th, 2011 12:33 am
heron61: (Default)
The brief season of local strawberries started around 2 weeks ago and is in full swing. Today, I went to the local Whole Foods clone, and they had local strawberries for $2.50/pint (which was also true last week) and $10 for a half-flat (6 pints). So, lots of strawberry smoothies (2 bananas, 1.25 pints of strawberries, 2/3 cup of light coconut milk, and some ice (+ maybe ½ tsp vanilla) = smoothies for three (and I put 1 TBS of sugar in mine). Definitely awesome. I may make strawberry pie if we don't have most of them eaten by tomorrow night. For people who have never tasted local strawberries, in addition to being fully ripe, they are also vastly more delicate and full of flavor than other strawberries that I've had, and to me largely make the California strawberries that are available for far longer not worth the trouble to eat, much less buy.
heron61: (Default)
I just read this excellent essay about compassion and judgment in the neopagan community by my good friend Lupa. The truths in it go well beyond the pagan community and have to do both with the fact that compassion has been significant suspect and out of favor in the US since the early 1980s, and the sorts of moralistic judgments found in both fringe and mainstream communities, and which seems to be particularly poisonous in the US.

Reading this also indirectly reminded me of a post my beloved [livejournal.com profile] teaotter made a few days ago, where she linked to a truly excellent essay about the use of manpain in TV & movies, and how it is used to reinforce the idea that only a man's feelings are important, powerful and real (and in most cases, by man, in media this means a white man).

This essay came out of the author's creation of an equally excellent short (5 min) video illustrating these ideas.

I see the two essays and the video as all being related, because the US is even more than the rest of the first world, a place where men are supposed to be powerful and judgmental, and where compassion by a man is inherently suspect to much of the population.

I grew up in the 1970s, when there was a strong but brief movement (almost exclusively on the coasts) to both honor compassion, to attempt to foster it in men and boys, and to show it more in mass media, which I have previously discussed here. As I've mentioned before the US changed in drastic ways in the 1980s, making much that came from the previous 15-20 years almost unrecognizable, and while there has been much progress on many social issues, we live in a nation where media images of men are that they cannot show grief or any similar emotion without something truly horrible, which typically means the death of a child or a woman they love.
heron61: (Look to the future)
This NYT article is the most impressive thing I've read in several years. The meat of the discovery is this:
The rats were implanted with a tiny array of electrodes, which threaded from the top of the head down into two neighboring pieces of the hippocampus, a structure that is crucial for forming these new memories, in rats as in humans. The two slivers of tissue, called CA1 and CA3, communicate with each other as the brain learns and stores new information. The device transmits these exchanges to a computer.

To test the effect of the implant, the researchers used a drug to shut down the activity of CA1. Without CA1 online, the rats could not remember which lever to push to get water. They remembered the rule — push the opposite lever of the one that first appeared — but not which they had seen first.

The researchers, having recorded the appropriate signal from CA1, simply replayed it, like a melody on a player piano — and the animals remembered. The implant acted as if it were CA1, at least for this one task.

“Turn the switch on, the animal has the memory; turn it off and they don’t: that’s exactly how it worked,” said Theodore W. Berger, a professor of engineering at U.S.C. and the lead author of the study, being published in The Journal of Neuroengineering and Rehabilitation.
This looks a whole lot like memory recording. Until this is tried on a human, we won't know what was actually recorded, but this could be huge. Being able to record and replay memories would be amazing, and that's not even considering that it might be possible to replay one person's memory in another's brain. The actuality of what was discovered may prove far more limited, but it's still remarkably impressive, and I expect that in 5 years we'll see a lot more about this. Wow, we are living in an amazing age, and once again, I have only a limited idea what 2020 will look like, and 2030 will be utterly amazing.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
Here's an interesting article about an athlete who has used experimental stem cell therapy to make a full and rapid recovery from an injury. So far, such medicine is only available in at least mildly shady clinics in the third world (this athlete had the procedure done in the Dominican Republic), but it looks like stem cell therapy is finally starting to pay off, and I'm expecting to see a lot more of it in the next decade. Definitely nifty and wonderful stuff.

Of course, this has set off a bit of a controversy about this athlete, and that got me reading about so-called "gene doping" (using gene therapy to enhance athletes). I saw quite a number of articles about how wrong, unfair, "unnatural" and generally bad it is. I vividly disagree. I think that drugs and treatments (and for that matter training methods) that harm athletes health should obviously be illegal, and while I think the answer is non-obvious, I can also see only permitting athletic performance that is not enhanced by temporary measures like various performance enhancing drugs. However, gene therapy of this sort makes permanent changes in people, and so I think it should definitely be allowed, although not just yet, since it's very far from clear that it's currently remotely safe. However, it's clear from reading about it that most objections have nothing to do with whether it's safe or not.

For me, the issue is both that modern training methods already shape, hone, and improve "natural" performance in way impossible 50 years ago, and also that if I want to see athletic performance (which admittedly, most of the time I don't), I want to see the best of what we can do, and if that means gene therapy, cyberlimbs, or other enhancements, such as this one. I want to see what humans can do or become, not what is "natural" (a word that I consider to be both meaningless and vastly overused), which also isn't what we see in any remotely competitive sport anymore anyway.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
I saw X-Men: First Class over the weekend with[livejournal.com profile] teaotter, [livejournal.com profile] hereville, and [livejournal.com profile] xtricks, and it was both wonderful and frustrating. It by far was one of the superhero films that I've seen, at least equal to Spiderman II (my top favorite), and possible better. It had excellent acting by the two leads (playing Charles and Erik), a very tight and well done script, and the entire feel of the X-Men felt better and more real taken back to the early 1960s (which is when the comic first came out). While The Hellfire Club was originally introduced to the X-Men in 1980, their look and feel fit the 60s perfectly – Emma Frost's costume was always very 60s, and fit perfectly here. I also liked the degree to which the film was a (barely) unspoken love story between Charles and Erik.

However, it had a number of problems, the most obvious being that a film that was essentially about civil rights and the struggle between assimilationism and open rebellion for the mutants, and yet there was no mention of the real world events of the day, involving the efforts of Dr. King or Malcolm X along these exact same lines. This was also only one of the films racial problems. As my good friend [livejournal.com profile] hereville mentioned, it was so much better than other supers films, but that also made clear how much further it had to go to be a really good film. A few changes and it could have been. However, while decidedly imperfect, it was both fun and good, and is worth seeing.

Nevertheless, seeing it also brought to mind my problems with the entire superhero genre, especially with regards to the X-Men. I'm more than happy to see spandex battles with characters like The Avengers, Batman, Superman, or the Justice League, that's what they exist for. However, I dearly wish that supers comics could be about more than fighting muggers, terrorists, or megalomaniacs. I'd love to see a version of the Fantastic Four which looked like an updated and more gonzo version of E.E. Smith's Skylark novels (with the addition of some of the feel of original series Star) where the characters explore the multiverse and have various pulp SF adventure plots. Give the characters the background and feel of the Warren Ellis' Ultimate Fantastic Four, and I'd be very happy indeed.

Similarly, I'd love to see stories about X-Men and the mutants that were not about fighting Magneto, or Satan, or whatever, and were instead about a world where an increasing (but still small) percentage of the population were born different and with unique and sometimes (and sometimes not) very powerful abilities. Grant Morrison did much of this during his run of New X-Men, which dealt with both low powered and ugly mutants, and also with growing mutant ghettos and neighborhoods (as did the generally good District X comic). You could have plots with mutants with useful powers who were enslaved by criminal gangs ( or perhaps just their abusive family) being freed, soap opera & more serious drama interactions at Professor X's academy, slice of (mutant) life and cop stories in District X, and many similar issues. Grant Morrison and many others have done this with the X-Men, but even Morrison's version of the X-Men eventually returned to over-the-top supervillians, alien menaces, and suchlike.

Personally, I'd also prefer to see the entire X-Men universe cut off from the rest of the Marvel Universe (thus removing the gods, invading aliens, and suchlike), but still leaving a whole lot of awesomeness, including a world that by the modern day has tens of millions of mutants and everything that would imply about the world. In all of these non-traditional comics, I would want good world-building, especially including dealing with the impact of mutants (or in the case of the Fantastic Four powered people and wondrous inventions) on the society. In any case, I'd love to see comics, movies, and most of all novels like this, but at most we see bits of this in between spandex battles. Perhaps in a decade or two someone will reinvent supers comics to be something more than it is today.
heron61: (Gryphon - emphasis and strong feelings)
I'm deeply amused at [livejournal.com profile] andrewducker's find of this 1995 usenet fan post about Doctor Who by Steven Moffat. 16 years later, he was able to make his fan idea canon. I'm equally amused by the first response on the usenet thread - "Good stuff.. I really like it... If only the Doctor Who writers could be so imaginative..."

I'm also reminded of my previous post on collaborate writing in RPGs, Comics, TV, and other media that has many creators, and why I love RPG writing. There is both the fun of building on other's work, and the fun (and power) of transforming one's fan theory into canon. Of course, I equally enjoy seeing what people do with my creations. My favorite of is still the Lintha Pirates from Exalted – I wrote them as mutated, gilled pirates, another author transformed them into the twisted hybrid remnant of an ancient and terrible pre-human species, and then I got a change to write about the last survivors of the original pure-bred Lintha.
heron61: (Gadgets)
I sold my iPod Touch yesterday. I loved it when I got it, and it's still (by a bit) the best music player I've ever had, but it also meant carrying two devices in my pocket and (more importantly) having read more than a dozen ebooks on a 3.5" screen. Web-browsing was a breeze on it, but as with ebook reading, my phrase for it increasingly became "squintware". So, after giving my parents a lot of help with their computer in January, they said they'd buy me some sort of tablet. I decided on a small one, a Dell Streak. I heard it was initially fairly dodgy, but they upgraded it to Android 2.2 in December, and so that's what I bought. The camera is noticeably less good than that one on my previous 2 Nokia Phones, and the music player isn't quite as pretty, but other than that, it's a dream (and the music player is just as easy to use as the one on my iPod Touch). Also, the 5" 480 x 800 screen is wonderful, both for reading books and for web browsing. Texting on the keyboard is a dream, and while it's not something that I remotely enjoy, the screen is even large enough for me to be able to read RPG PDFs, which is useful for reference, but not for extended reading. OTOH, reading RPG PDFs on my iPod Touch was essentially impossible.

I also really like Android, in most ways it's functionally identical to iOS on my iPod Touch, but with some very nice features. Voice search honestly makes me feel like I'm living in the future (and is surprisingly accurate), and while ultimately a very silly idea, texting by voice (I speak, and the phone creates a text) is exceptionally fast and convenient. It's also shockingly accurate, the first time I tried to text Alice about "Eldritch Skies", I got "Elder Skis", but it actually got it right on the second try. It also works perfectly well as a phone (which is admittedly the function I use it for the least).

Also, while I don't have a data plan and can't use it for high speed data on T-Mobile, when my prepaid minutes run out in August, I'll switch to AT&T, which is less good, but offers the same prepaid phone & text rate, as well as monthly prepaid data -10 MB for $5/month and 500 MB for $25, since data rolls over as long as you have a data plan, I'll spend $25 one month, and then $5/month until I start running low. With useful features like voice searches, significant improvements in Google Maps (including recently introduced real-time bus location in cities that include Portland and barcode reading to get reviews of products seems too useful to miss. So, what should amount to a $10/month (on average) data plan sounds too good to pass up.

Also, I wanted to watch some video, and with my iPod Touch, I always had to convert it to the appropriate format. The formats the Dell Streak will play are also limited, but I looked and found a very nice free app (from China) that plays .avi files perfectly – there are definite advantages to an open OS.

In any case, I'm also getting a larger tablet for my birthday, since it's clearly the thing to have for reading both comics which is clearly the new big thing, as well as being an ideal medium for reading RPG PDFs. My question then is what to get. I want something with a large enough screen, but not too heavy. One obvious answer is an wifi only Ipad 2, but I like the look and weight of the wifi only Samsung 8.9" tablet , which is smaller and lighter, but with a screen that is definitely large enough for comics and RPG PDFs, and what I've heard about Android 3.1 sounds really good. However, I'd be interested in hearing other opinions.
heron61: (Cats)
My cat Josie is one of those cats who is very loving, but also has the habit of lying on her back, with her belly exposed - she looks for all the world like she wishes someone to pet or rub her belly, and she actually does, but this is a trap, a belly trap. She grabs the wrist of anyone foolish enough to do this with her front paws and rabbit kicks and bites your hand - not too hard if one is another cat and protected by fur, but being a pathetically hairless human, I avoid doing this. So, when she did this, I instead took a picture of her. Here she is in all her doom belly glory ) I took two pics, and by chance, I also got her washing, and thus you can also see her rather impressive pink cat tongue. Here she is looking most foolish )
heron61: (Default)
So, I recently saw both The Adjustment Bureau, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and both (in very different ways) made me think of the old White Wolf RPG Mage: The Ascension . However, before I go into that connection, I think it's worth mentioning that The Adjustment Bureau is moderately well acted, beautifully filmed, and vacuously empty. The clichéd man barging in to see the woman he loves minutes before her wedding, to convince her not to marry the man she is about to marry was old and tired 30 years ago, and now is laughably dull and more than a bit offensive. It has some interesting points, but is mostly dismal and more than a bit offensive in a variety of ways (not least of which being the fact that literally the only woman in the film is the protagonist's love interest).

In thankfully vivid contrast, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is quite a good film. It's also a very odd film, in addition to being the only Disney film I know of where the protagonist a syphilis lesion on his face (or at least that's what Johnny Depp claims the sore is), it's also significantly more brutal than the previous films. Back in the 80s, I read and loved Tim Powers' novel On Stranger Tides and it's my second favorite of his novels (after Last Call). I can also definitely say that with the exception to two brief, but lovely visuals, this film has absolutely nothing to do with that novel. Yes, both are about a journey to the fountain of youth, but the fountain, and everything else are all very, very different. If you see a nifty concept in the film, it came from the people working on the film, not the novel, they are impressively unrelated. It was also a good, if somewhat odd film. Captain Jack Sparrow's motivation was pretty darn murky, but everything else worked fairly well. No, where were not enough women or people of color in the film, but it was fun fluff and avoided being stupid. On to Mage: The Ascension musings: )
heron61: (Dragons & Magic)
It's been difficult to be certain, but my money and my luck definitely seem to have turned around. It looks like I have definitely payments coming in that will take care of my finances until November, which is vastly better than the month-to-month living I've been doing of late. I don't have savings of any sort, but I'm also (very thankfully) not worrying about making rent anymore. That combined with a generally high level of household harmony and love has made life much easier and better magical musings follow )
heron61: (Default)
Someone who used to live here (they could have lived here no later than the spring of 2008) ran up some fairly impressive bills and we occasionally get notices in the mail asking her to pay (as well as an even smaller amount of personal mail), and periodically we get automated calls. The call starts "This is a call for X, if you are not X, hang up now…" Becca was growing tired of them and suggested one of us actually hang on until we got a live person to tell them that this person hasn't lived here for at least 3 years. So, I tried this yesterday, and the recording went on to say that I'd be connected to a live person soon, and then I went on hold for around 10 minutes (with periodic reminders that a live person would pick up very soon) – at which point I hung up. As far as I can tell, no humans are involved in this endeavor, it's simply completely automated robocalling.
heron61: (Default)
I'm allergic to milk protein, which is no big deal for cooking most of the entrees that I like, but seriously sucks for many desserts. As a result, I am always interested in new recipes for good or at least acceptable substitutions. After seeing a wonderful-looking recipe for a triple chocolate mousse cake , which is ideal because it is also flourless and thus also perfectly fine for Alice.

The problem is that the top two layers require whipped cream, which is one of various ingredients I've not found a substitute for. There are near perfect substitutes butter, milk, and ice cream, and an excellent yogurt substitute (the milk, ice cream, and yogurt all being made from coconut milk), but nothing that I know of for whipped cream. Looking up recipes for "vegan whipped cream" and "vegan chocolate mousse" turned up some truly horrifying ideas, including one alleged whip-cream-thing made with soy milk and avocado, and a deeply horrifying sounding chocolate mousse made with avocado, soy sauce, and balsamic vinegar (as well as chocolate). Naturally, almost none of these desserts contained actual sugar either.

I found some interesting suggestions for using full-fat coconut milk with a dob of cornstarch added to help stabilize it, which sounds interesting, and then I found a mention of a non-dairy cream variant made from unroasted cashews, which sounds quite intriguing. I saw that this was from a cookbook called The Conscious Cook, by Tal Ronnen, that sounded interesting and actually like cuisine rather than dietary penance.

I'm getting a copy from the library to see exactly how useful it will be, but I almost bought one after looking at the Amazon reviews. What interested me wasn't that almost everyone said it was excellent, but exactly what the negative comments said – they ranged from a few about the recipes being too hard & time consuming, to a majority about how it wasn't "healthy". That sold me then and there. As someone who has cooking as a major hobby and who has made my own puff pastry, hollandaise sauce, and red wine reduction sauces, a cookbook that at least some people don't describe as too hard and time-consuming is simply going to be too simplistic to be useful or interesting for me.

The second comment was even more hopeful sounding – for too many people, being vegetarian or vegan seems to be all about the sort of allegedly virtuous self-denial that I prefer to leave to 18th century Puritans and 19th century health cultists, combined with an absolute horror of food that contains any fat or salt that I have absolutely no patience with – fat makes food taste good. A few people need to avoid one or the other for health reasons, but very few indeed. One of the Amazon comments even compared the cookbook negatively to the reviewer's favorite macrobiotic (shudder) cookbook.

I'm an avid carnivore, but more than that, I like food, and I also firmly believe that there are ways to make excellent food within the limitations of any dietary restrictions. IME, the most important aspect of healthy eating is simply (as Michael Pollan, who has some good ideas, as well as many terrible ones) said – "eat food" and not nastiness like high fructose corn syrup or toxins like partially hydrogenated oils. In any case, it sounds like this book contains recipes for high quality vegan cuisine, which should at minimum have many interesting and useful dairy-free ideas for me. If nothing else, in a week or two, I'll work out some of the substitutions for whipped cream and then try that cake.
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