Tag Archive | personal

What to pick?

I had a different post that I thought I’d scheduled for today, but I saw that it was still in draft status and decided to reschedule for Monday because of another weird dream.

This is the second Sunday morning in a row where I have dreamed of the same friend who died two years ago. I figured it is worth sharing because I suspect other people’s subconsciouses are not that unlike mine.

Dream began with I and most of the friends I world normally expect to see at NorWesCon next weekend walking somewhere together. I think at first we were going to a grocery store, but then the trip morphed into a rendezvous with the friend who died for lunch.

We met her and wound up in a very long line to get to the order window of this odd little building that had big chalkboards outside with the menu on it. Being a dream, I couldn’t really read the menu. My other friends were all talking excitedly about the thing they were going to order, but I couldn’t quite understand what food each of them were talking about. And because the menu was unintelligible, I couldn’t figure out even what kind of food the place was offering.

So I asked her what she recommends.

“I can’t tell you what to pick.”

I repeated that I was asking for a recommendation.

“You have to pick what’s right for you.”

“But I can’t read the menu!”

“Life doesn’t come with a menu.”

And that’s when my alarm clock went out.

A little brain dead

(click to embiggen)

I started a blog post for today, but I’ve already clocked 53 hours this week, and couldn’t quite get things to gel in the idea I had. So I’m postponing it.

The company I work for counts as an essential business (I’ll just say that I’m in the telecommunications industry and one of the things we do is make sure that when you call 9-1-1 or whatever your country uses for summoning emergency services, we make sure your call gets to the correct emergency services center, and they know your current location. The fun part is I get to read scientific papers about satellite constellations for work sometimes.) so we’re still working and having to deliver products on time. And my department had two big product releases this week. But everyone is stressed and stretched thin even without the pandemic.

And I find it more than a little irritating that even with my changes in news viewing habits, I’m still seeing way more homophobic sh*t cross my timeline.

So this Friday Five is going to be… interesting…

I haven’t gotten much writing done since the beginning of Camp NaNoWriMo, but I have high hopes.

(Click to embiggen)

“You’re going that way”

Interior: Gene’s mind, wee small hours of Saturday morning.

I’m dreaming. I’m hanging out with a friend who died not quite two years ago.

We have a lovely talk about things I’m writing now, people we both care about, things I’m worrying about.

We went for a long walk in a lovely wooded area.

We stopped to sit somewhere and look at the view. One of my favorite pencils is sitting on a table. Along with a bunch of very small slips of paper.

I start writing. I write an entire… something. A scene? A story? I’m not sure.

I look up.

She smiles.

I tell her it’s all finished. Then I look down, and see that all of the slips of paper covered with my writing are in a small box, but all jumbled.

“You’ll have to put them back into order,” she says.

“I can do that now,” I say. I look back up.

She’s standing again. In different, but still comfy clothes. “Yes, but not here,” she says. She points into the woods. “I’m going this way.” She points behind me. “You’re going that way.”

I look, and there is an ordinary road. One I sort of recognize. It looks a bit like the winding road down a hill that I used to drive on a lot when I was a teen-ager. I had three different friends who lived on the hill above the town we all attended school in, back then.

There is a car. It has one of the Lyft light things in the front. There is a driver, but I can’t really see him.

“But I don’t want to go back,” I say.

“I’m going this way,” she repeats. “You’re going that way.”

And I can see down at the bottom of the road home: my home, now. Where Michael and all of our friends are waiting.

“Oh,” I say.

And I wake up.

(My subconscious is never subtle, you know?)

This post contains nothing momentous nor newsworthy

Many, many years ago, my late-husband, Ray, made some disparaging comments about our vacuum cleaner. When I suggested we could buy a new one, who immediately scoffed, saying that the one we had worked fine for our needs, since our place was so small and we didn’t need to spend the money. “Okay,” I said, and made a mental note to research vacuum cleaner so I could buy him one at the next gift-giving opportunity.

Which I did.

And when he first tore open the wrapping paper he gave me such a look… so I thought I had really screwed up. But when I tried to apologize for getting the wrong thing he brushed it off. Later, after we’d unboxed it together and I vacuumed our living room with it, he commented that at least it was a lot quieter than the old one. And later still, after we had been using it for a few months, he apologized to me for being less than enthusiastic about the present. He claimed that the lack of enthusiasm was because he assumed that I was expecting him to do all the housecleaning from then on. Which was a bit odd, given how long we’d lived together and that we’d both always tried to split the chores.

He seemed to become quite fond of that vacuum cleaner over the next few years.

After he passed away, and a few years after that after Michael and I had been living together for a while, Michael once commented on the vacuum cleaner. When I suggested we buy a new one, he countered that maybe we should look at getting a Roomba… which eventually we did. And it was upgraded a few times over the years. But we still used the stand-up vacuum occasionally, for the carpeted stairs and the upstairs hallway.

During the many months of our move from Ballard, we made a lot of decisions about things to keep and things to get rid of. The vacuum cleaner didn’t come up until after we had signed the lease at the new place. For the first three weeks after signing, we were transporting car loads of medium-sized boxes until we had enough of them out of the way that the professional movers could handle all the furniture and a bunch more of the boxes. At which point there was still odds and ends to move from the old place, but mostly a lot of cleaning to do.

At some point in that interval, Michael brought up the vacuum and the fact that he didn’t think we needed it. The new place not split level, as the old one had been, so the Roomba could, in theory, get everywhere without human intervention. And since the new place was larger, had a more open floor plan, and we had already decided to get rid of a few pieces of furniture, Michael’s reasoning was that the Roomba would probably be less prone to trapping itself.

For spot cleaning, he had a handheld Dyson which he felt was adequate to the job. And by that point, the stand-up vacuum cleaner was over 20 years old. So we left the stand-up at the old place, and it was used to vacuum up there while we were cleaning each of the rooms as we cleared out the final stuff and so forth.

At the end of the last day of cleaning, Michael removed the full bag, which I carried out to the dumpster. He put a new bag onto the cleaner, and then attached the pack that had a couple more unused bags and a replacement belt (they came in multi-packs, so when we had had to replace it, we had spares). And it was one of the things we dropped off at Value Village on our last drive between the old place and the new.

We’ve been here for almost three years, and mostly Michael has been right. The Roomba does a good job keeping the floors clean. We have replaced the Roomba once in that time (the old one had been due for replacement when we got the news of the old building selling, so we had put off buying a new one), and Michael has had to replace a few parts on the new one. It is a very busy little robot here.

But the Dyson hasn’t quite worked out for spot cleaning. The two main troubles are that 1) I forget where Michael has it stashed in the computer room, so if I decide I need it when he’s not home I wind up looking around for it for a while, and 2) half the time when I find it, the charging cable has come loose so the battery is dead, so it won’t run. And no, you can’t run it directly from the charger.

So recently, I happened upon a very cheap vacuum cleaner which is, design wise, a Dyson knock-off. It can be used as either a hand-held vacuum or with the longer attachment a traditional floor vacuum. But the big advantage is there is no battery. You just plug it in and it goes.

And when I say cheap, I mean, less than the cost of a replacement battery for the handheld Dyson.

It arrived in the middle of one of my work-from-home days (of course, right now, every one of my work days is a work-from-home day), and I assembled it, but hadn’t used it, yet when Michael got home from work. I had to run to the pharmacy, and he decided to try out the vacuum while I was gone. There were about three places in the house that the Roomba can almost never get to, and he vacuumed those up.

He says it works great, he understands why I bought it, and can’t argue with the price.

The Roomba still does most of the work. But now we can reliably clean all the weird corners. Which is a minor load off my mind. Sometimes it little things like that, you know?

Sunday Silliness: A couple of takes on the Quarantini

A friend shared this image last week, and then I shared it on twitter, and I have subsequently seen mention here and there in various streams of cocktails called the Quarantini. I understand the urge, because many of us are staying home and dealing with any anxiety about our own health or the health of our loved ones, so coming up with a pandemic- or quarantine-themed cocktail seems like a fairly harmless way to pass the time. Well, maybe not entirely harmless: The rise of the quarantini! People whip up coronavirus-themed cocktails at home during the pandemic, prompting Emergen-C to warn that its products should not be ‘taken with alcohol’.

But assuming you aren’t mixing things that oughtn’t to be consumed at the same time, this can be fun. My husband, who used to be a bartender, shared this post about one bartender’s version of a Quarantini: The Quarantini! which does look tasty (not surprising coming from a bartender) and at least has a nice story to go with it. I object to this one a bit because it hits two of my pet peeves regarding cocktails:

  • The first is that a good cocktail recipe should not be dependent on super-specific, branded ingredients. If you can’t make it without buying a specific brand of an uncommon alcohol, liqueur, or cordial, most people aren’t going to be able to make it.
  • A true martini is a three ingredient drink: gin, vermouth, and a garnish (olive or a twist of lemon, traditionally). It has been argued that a martini is actually a four ingredient drink, because they taste best if served very cold, so if you consider temperature an ingredient, that is that. Regardless, the above recipe has eight ingredients (and is also recommended to be served chilled, so nine counting temperature) and that just isn’t a martini!

An important caveat to my first point: while it is true that I have specific gins that I will recommend if one if making a martini, as well as a favorite dry vermouth, those are recommendations, but the actual recipe. I have a number of favorite bourbons and ryes for making Manhattans or Old Fashioneds with, as well, but the specific brand isn’t part of the recipe, right?

Anyway, I find this recipe much more fun: Margaret and Helen introduce the COVID19 Quarantini. It’s strong enough to make you think Obama is still President and will knock you on your ass from 6 feet away. #SocialDistancing. And half of that is that is it always fun to read a new Margaret and Helen blog post. If you aren’t already a fan, you should check it out.

One part vermouth and 19 parts gin sounds insane, until you remember that a lot of people make their martinis by putting a little vermouth in the glass, swirling it around, then dumping it out and pouring the chilled gin into the glass. My typical recipe is closer to a 1 part vermouth, 9 parts gin, for example.

I’ll allow the vitamin C table garnish on the assumption that you are swallowing the tablet before you begin sipping the drink. If you want to get vitamin C into the cocktail itself, maybe a twist of lemon will be fine.

Edited to Add: It’s been pointed out to me that because Margaret and Helen often write in a distinctive style that one should not always take literally, that not everyone understands that when Helen says to serve this with hand sanitizer, she means that if you’re making a drink for someone else, you should use hand sanitizer since both you and the person you are making the drink for will be touching the surface of the glass. Not that you should put hand sanitizer into the drink.

Confessions of a (supposedly) Veteran Remote Worker

Every time I’ve sat down this week to try to compose a blog post that isn’t somehow related to the pandemic, I’ve found myself digressing into the topic, anyway. A comment about it crept into the draft of my Star Trek: Picard review, even. I think I need to just admit it’s a part of my life right now and deal with it.

I’ve seen a lot of people sharing tips about staying productive while working from home. I’ve been working from home at least one day a week for many years, now, but I still have been reading those posts and twitter threads because 1) it’s always interesting to see how other people handle things, 2) they may have some ideas I’ve never tried, and 3) it never hurts to brush-up a skill set.

Now, just like writing advice, what works for some people doesn’t work for everyone. And pitfalls that trip up some people don’t interfere with others. For instance, a lot of folks are advising against working in your pajamas or such. To which I say, “pffft!” I wear sweats or shorts (depending on the ambient temperature) with no problem of thinking of it as a work day. OTOH, I always grab a clean t-shirt and do a runs a comb through what little hair I still have before I log in to work. But I admit mostly that’s because I’m paranoid that I’ll accidentally turn on video conference while I’m in an on-line meeting.

I realized while I was reading the various posts that I haven’t been doing a very good job of sticking to at least one of my own rules about working from home lately. And it started before the semi-quarantine.

That rule is that there is a point in the middle of the day when I close the work laptop, go make my lunch (or pull it from the fridge, whatever), and sit somewhere away from the workspace to eat lunch and scroll through some news sites OR do some writing.

Since we’ve moved to Shoreline, that also almost always meant that I take a fresh mug of coffee, my food, and my iPad out on the veranda, so I’m technically outside. Even in cold weather, a few minutes outside with hot coffee was a great break. But this year we had a small version of the snowpocalypse, again, and I wound up working from home for at least one week. It was a bit too cold to sit outside that week. I did go out every morning and make sure the hummingbird feeder wasn’t frozen, and that the other feeders all had food, but that was in the morning before logging in.

Then I had another two week period not long after that where I had the flu so I didn’t go into the office my usual days. And I didn’t do my lunch outside during that time, either.

Since the current work-from-home stretch started a bit more than two weeks ago, I have occasionally thought, after finishing lunch inside (usually wolfing it down quickly, often at my desk) that I ought to have gone outside to eat. It occurred to me that maybe the reason my work days aren’t feeling as productive and I’m being more cranky late in the day might not be merely ambient anxiety because of the pandemic or all the network lag I’ve been experiencing since everyone is working from home.

So today, Thursday, is the second day in a row that I have made myself stop, close the laptop, get a fresh mug of coffee, and take my lunch and iPad outside to sit at my silly IKEA outdoor table, watch the birds at the feeder, listen to the nearby traffic, and have a real lunch break.

And I’m really glad I have. I think Wednesday afternoon went much better because of it!

So: tricks and tips to put your mind in the work-day mood are good. Just as important, though, are to take regular breaks and a little self-care.

It’s another primary election day, or, confessions of a “perfect voter”

Many years ago I was walking from the bus to my place of work, when I saw a woman holding a microphone standing with a guy with a TV camera on his shoulder up ahead, talking to another pedestrian. My workplace at the time happened to be across the street from the headquarters of one of the three local network affiliate TV stations, and two others were within a three or four block radius, so it hadn’t been the first time I saw a pair like that interviewing passers-by. By the time I got close, the young woman asked, “Excuse me, sir, can we ask you a couple of questions?”

I said, “Sure.”

Camera guy points the camera at us, the woman smiles and asks, “Are you aware that today is a primary election, and did you vote?”

“Oh, yes!”

Her smile got even broader. “Why did you vote? Is there something special on the ballot this time that compelled you to turn out?”

I think I blinked stupidly for a second before I said. “It’s an election. I always vote. That’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re a responsible citizen.”

I hadn’t finished before her face fell, she turned to the cameraman and made a slashing motion with her hand. The cameraman stopped filming. Then the young woman said, “Thank you, sir,” and started scanning the sidewalk looking for someone else.

I was telling a co-worker about it later that day, and he asked, “How often do you think you forget to vote?” And I explained that I had only ever missed one election—the very first primary that happened the year I moved to Seattle to attend University—and only then because I didn’t get my registration updated in time for the primary, but I did vote in the general that year.

He explained that he did a lot of volunteer work for several election campaigns over the years, including the get-out-the-vote stage of such campaigns and he said, “They have this term, a ‘perfect voter’ by which they mean a person who voted in every general, primary, and special campaign in the last four-year period. That’s you!”

My state is one of the six states holding a Presidential primary or caucus today. We have been an all-mail-in voting state for some years now, so that usually means my husband and I sitting down at the kitchen table with voter pamphlets and the like on the weekend before election day to fill ours out (and make a lot of snarky comments about some of the candidate statements in the pamphlet). When we lived in Ballard we would usually walk together the 10-ish blocks from our place to the local library branch to drop the ballots in the big drop box. Now that we’re in Shoreline, I drive to the nearest library (it’s about two and a half miles away, so I don’t walk) to drop them off.

Which I have already done.

Since the only thing on the Presidential Primary ballot is President, we didn’t need to actually read the pamphlet. I have had the Democratic nominees ranked in my head for some time. The only reason I didn’t fill out my ballot as soon as it arrived was because I was pretty sure a bunch of candidates would drop out after Super Tuesday last week. Which they did. So I wound up voting for the candidate that had started out around fifth or sixth place on my list back during the early debates. And not because my opinion of him has changed, but because every other candidate I liked more has since left the race.

I love the graphic at the top of this post because it so brilliantly illustrates the difference between people’s perception of the political spectrum, and the reality. The media loves to paint Bernie Sanders as a far left liberal, and Elizabeth Warren as nearly as far left, while the truth is that Bernie and Liz would barely be considered left of center in any European country, and when you look at policies most Americans support on various polls, they are pretty much smack dab in the middle compared to the voters.

And if my face was on that graphic, I would be very far to the left of Bernie.

As much as I loved Barack Obama, he wasn’t a liberal. He was right of center, by a bit. Most of his foreign policy was very similar to that of the George W. Bush admin during its second term, for goodness sake! When Bill Clinton was in office, he was actually further to the right than Obama would be. And yeah, the entire Republican party isn’t merely rightwing, it is extremely far rightwing (and quite a lot of it alt-right).

Anyway, I’ve voted for the least conservative option still in the race. Let’s see what happens!

“The End is the Beginning” takes Star Trek: Picard into space at last

I had explicitly planned to write my review of the third episode of Star Trek: Picard before I read any reviews by other people. But the night after the new episode dropped, during a wind storm (after five weeks of record-breaking rain here north of Seattle), several large trees went down about a block from our house. And those enormous evergreen trees took out a bunch of power lines. The upshot was that literally while I was writing the first sentence of what was to be my not-influenced-by-others review, suddenly the lights (and most everything else electronic) went dead here. By the time I had shut down the devices plugged into Uninterruptable Power Supplies in our house, reviewing the latest episode was the last thing on my mind. Our power wasn’t restored for about 16 hours, by which time we were off at a social event with a bunch of friends… so I have once again read a couple of other people’s reviews of the episode before I completed mine.

First, the non-spoilery review: Another good episode. The story continues to grow more interesting. We get a lot of good character development. We see more ways that the intervening years have changed Jean-Luc. There was an exciting fight. We see a new starship. And at the very end of the episode, Jean-Luc and his new motley crew go to warp speed.

Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.

Read More…

That has always been here, part two: or politics aren’t a new thing in sf/f — including Star Trek

“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in the differences in ideas and differences in life forms. It we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kinds, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.” — Gene Roddenberry

“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in the differences in ideas and differences in life forms. It we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kinds, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.” — Gene Roddenberry

I get really tired of hearing certain fans yell about politics in science fiction. There are multiple reasons I find it annoying. The most important reason is that all of the sf/f that those people hold up as examples of politics-free sci fi is actually loaded with politics — usually white supremacist, misogynist, colonialist, homophobic politics — which they don’t notice because all that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and heterosexism reinforceses their own beliefs.

The next reason is that these same people inevitably hold up older sci fi works as examples of so-call non-political writing, which was sometimes even more loaded down with a lot of politics than the newer stuff they are decrying — but unlike the other example, the reason they don’t notice this time is not so much because the politics are favorable to them, but because they are ignorant of the social-economic-political landscape that was prevalent in the world at the time those things were created.

For instance, let’s look at Star Trek: the Original Series which broadcast from September 8, 1966 through June 3, 1969. That was a total of 79 episodes while the U.S. was in the midst of the Vietnam War (and protests against it), the Civil Rights movement (including a fight for racial equality, a separate fight for equal rights for women, a separate fight over any rights at all for gay people, and the fight for religious equality for such a distant dream it was laughable).

I mentioned last week that the original Star Trek series had episodes that commented (sometimes ham-fistedly, yes) on the civil rights issues playing out in the real world at the time. For example, the original draft of “The Enterprise Incident” (September 27, 1968) was such a scathing indictment of the real world Gulf of Tonkin events (America’s excuse for invading Vietnam), that the network censors pressed for rewrites that watered it down… but even watered down it was still recognizable as a commentary on the Cold War with the Soviets and China in general, and how that Cold War was playing out in Vietnam in particular.

For another example, the sixth episode of the series ever broadcast, “Mudd’s Women” (October 13, 1966) delved into many issues related to the social and economic disparities between men and women and related topics.

The “Balance of Terror” (December 15, 1966) was an extemely obvious commentary on the Cold War in which the U.S. and allies were deeply embroiled with against the Soviet Union and allies at the time. There were also more than a few bits of the story that commented on the racial aspects of World War II.

And then there was “Plato’s Stepchildren” (November 22, 1968) which involved a lot of arguments with the network censors because Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura kiss! Oh, em, gee! A white man kisses a black woman! How will civilization survive such a thing?

And let’s not forget “I, Mudd” (November 3, 1967) which includes the scene where Uhura appears to be acting out the expected sexist trope of elevating her own vanity above other issues, but instead it is a trick she and the captain worked out in advance, and more importantly, not of the stereotypical sexist tropes related to the notion of a woman doing the right thing instead of the expected thing played out, either. That couple of minutes in the middle of that episode was an incredibly radical political statement for the time, believe me!

I could keep going, but it just becomes a pile on at this point.

Politics isn’t just about squabbles between elected officials. Politics is about public policies the govern the way the ordinary people are allowed to live within the society. That does far more than cause an occasional inconvenience. Politics can and does have profound impacts on quality of life including our health. It quite often has life and death consequences for several groups within the population.

Science fiction has sometimes been described as the literature of change. And changes made in societal attitudes, policies, and laws are certainly a legitimate topic for sf/f stories. The very oldest tales we have the people classify as the roots of sf/f do precisely that. It’s part of the genre from the beginning. And there is nothing wrong with keeping that tradition going.

“Maps and Legends” takes Picard into the world of espionage, or, an original Trekkie is still loving the new series

Jean-Luc Picard discusses possible explanations for the death of the mysterious Dahj with his two Romulan employees.I don’t know if I really want to do an episode-by-episode review of Star Trek: Picard in part because more than one fan writer that I admire are already doing that, and I’m not sure I’m adding much to the conversation. On the other hand, I have been a Star Trek fan since at least 1966, when the original series was being broadcast for the very first time on NBC.

For a bit of context: my sixth birthday happened between the airing of the third episode of the original series (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and the fourth episode (“The Naked Time”). I don’t know how regularly we watched the first season. My very vague recollection is that Dad insisted that we watch “Daniel Boone” on Thursday nights, and if the promo for “Star Trek” came on before Mom realized the “Bewitched” was happening over on ABC, then she might feel conflicted about whether to switch over (because both she and I loved Bewitched, but also loved sci fi). I also know that between Star Trek and Bewitched in the 1966-67 TV season is the reason that I remember the first half of every Batman two-parter (which for two years aired on Wednesday, then the second half on Thursday), but often never caught the second half until years later in syndication.

The point is, I have been a Star Trek fan for more that 53 years (and I started reading only-available-through-obscure-snail-mail-subscriptions fanfic 47 years ago) and sometimes I feel as if I’m not holding up my end of the fandom elder bargain by not weighing in more often.

This is complicated by the current streaming environment. A lot of people who would love to sample the new Trek series are reluctant to sign up for yet another streaming service—and I really understand! It irritates me that all the people who love Trek can’t easily access this series.

Side Note: if you happen to be in a position to come visit my husband and I in the suburb where we live just north of Seattle, we are more than willing to host a viewing party. You can come over and watch episodes on our 4K TV and (older) surround-sound set up, because I love sharing this sort of thing… and as many of our friends will attest, we love cooking for large groups, so… I guess I should keep posting at least some sort of review.

Okay, so first, once again, I start with the non-spoilery review: I don’t just like this show, after seeing episode 2 I can safely say that I love it. This episode takes several interesting turns away from Standard Plot Points and continues to allow the actors a lot of room to flex their acting muscles. There is a particularly awesome use of an editing trick where we keep cutting back and forth between three characters discussing an issue, and another place where two of those characters are actually gathering evidence at a distant location that works really well.

This is a really good episode. The series continues to be extremely engaging. Before I more into spoiler territory I want to mention one more thing. While in the first episode it was unclear whether the main thrust of the series would be the mystery or action/adventure, if this episode is indicative, the series is diving deep into epsionage/intrigue. I have a really strong suspicion that the overall arc is going to be more heist/capter/espionage-flavored, aka Leverage/Ocean’s Eleven than space battles. But I might be wrong. Still, this episode is much more Alias/Leverage/Mission: Impossible than any variant of Battlestar Galactica.

And I think that’s a good thing.

Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on. Don’t read any reviews I link below, either, because they also have spoilers.

Read More…

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