Archive for the ‘Cool Stuff’ Category

HELL NO: The Sensible Horror Film

Friday, November 1st, 2013

This is awesome. Why aren’t all horror movies like this? I mean, okay, there’d have to be some more actual danger to make a good movie, but that just means the writers have to work harder to put characters with functional brains into dangerous and scary situations. Is it really that hard? I do think this is a writing issue, although I get that in Hollywood, the writer is generally the omega dog in the pack and isn’t allowed to do a good job even if he/she wants to and is capable. I wish Hollywood would let its writers create characters who don’t have great, gaping chasms between their ears. I might watch more horror movies if they did.

Until that happens, check this one out. :)

Thanks to Pam Singer for sending me the link to this!

Angie

NaNo?

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

Is anyone else around here doing NaNoWriMo this year? I’m all signed up — if you want to be NaNo buddies, I’m here on the NaNo site.

I’ve done NaNo a few times, only won once so far. The years I didn’t participate, I was already working on a novel when November rolled around, and I was pretty sure I didn’t have 50K words left. I didn’t want to stop to start a new one for fear I’d lose my momentum on the old one. If I’m basically free, though, I’ll jump into the NaNo pool, mainly because it’s fun, but also because I’ve found that even in the years I don’t win — and I’ve had some pretty spectacular crash-and-burn experiences — I learn something about myself and my writing. That’s always valuable.

Anyone else in?

Angie

Ten Things I’ve Done That You (Probably) Haven’t

Monday, October 28th, 2013

John Scalzi’s been posting these lists on his blog and suggested other people post their own with a link, so here we go. John has obviously done a lot of things most people haven’t, since this is his fourth iteration of the list, but I’ll try to come up with ten.

1. Chaired an SF convention, twice. The second time from a wheelchair after tumbling down some concrete steps at speed and mangling myself.

2. Spent fourteen years getting an AA degree. (I finished that sucker, too! Never give up, never surrender!)

3. Brought a layer cake made of two failed chocolate cakes (neither rose, for completely different reasons) frosted together into one, for an office birthday party, and BSed everyone into believing that 1) I’d meant it to be like that, and 2) that it was really good.

4. Got stitches in my head twice before starting kindergarten — once when our dog bit me for taking its bone away (I wanted to throw it so he could fetch it, hey, I was three), and another time when I was lying up on the shelf by the back window of the car when my mom had to stop suddenly, back when seatbelts were completely optional and kids routinely played all over the back seat area.

5. Spent two hours physically holding up a pair of panels forming one of the stage wings at a convention masquerade, because the tech guy had forgotten the wire needed to fasten them together. They drafted a bunch of gofers to hold them up for the whole show. I was smart enough to grab a chair. :)

6. Wrote a personal check for a whole long-weekend convention’s worth of soft drinks, because we didn’t know the guy wouldn’t leave the tanks with us unless we paid in advance. O_O Then got the con chairman to run me to the nearest branch of my bank ASAP so I could deposit the check he wrote me from the convention account so the check I gave the nice soda man wouldn’t bounce. [laugh/flail]

[Yeah, most of my weird-and-unique experiences came from working conventions, what can I say?]

7. As basically a senior gofer at a tech conference, authorized a rather large expenditure I totally didn’t have the authority to okay, because a vital piece of equipment failed during set-up of our premiere evening event, and all the Committee people were up in their rooms putting on their tuxes and evening gowns, and nobody (including the guy nominally in charge of the event) thought it was important to bring a radio up with them. The other senior gofer who was de facto in charge of the tech set-up was about to melt down right there, and wasn’t dumb enough to get the new equipment on her own authority, so I did it. And I was ready to chew a new asshole into any committee member who dared even glance at me about it, ’cause folks, this is YOUR show and it was YOUR responsibility to have someone with signing authority available at all times, and I don’t even want to hear it.

8. Went walking through the woods gathering firewood while wearing three layers of ankle-length skirts, while camping, several times. Whether anyone else has ever done this probably depends whether anyone reading this is or was a woman in the SCA at any point. :)

9. Kept a pet spider in a home-made cage (cardboard box with a piece of screening over the top, with a little hinged door cut into the screening and secured with a twist-tie) in my backyard one spring. I caught mosquito hawks in a butter tub to feed the spider. I’m actually rather arachnophobic, and I did this when I was twelve while trying to fight the phobia. It didn’t really work, but I was proud of myself for doing it anyway.

10. As part of my job from back when, got to go climbing around under a large piece of equipment of National Importance, something I could tell you about, but then I’d have to track you all down and kill you, and that’d be a lot of work, so, anyway. Funny thing — Workplace Health and Safety requirements required me to purchase a pair of steel-toed shoes for working out on the floor. I got steel-toed sneakers, which I didn’t even know existed until my boss took me to the store that sold them, just because the idea of steel-toed sneakers is kind of funny-cool. The thing is, I was on my back underneath a ridiculously heavy unit, checking off serial numbers on the underside while it dangled over my entire body on a winch. If said winch had failed, the steel-toed sneakers wouldn’t have really done much to prevent damage to my person. But by gosh, the rules said I had to wear them, so I wore them. Luckily, the winch held. :P

If anyone else wants to do this, feel free to either comment here, or post to your own blog, with a link back to Scalzi’s post. Or at least, go read his list, which is a lot more interesting than mine.

Angie

Fun Halloween Stuff

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

Half the fun of late October is buzzing around the net, checking out what people are doing for Halloween.

Josh Sundquist is a paralympic ski champ who only has one leg. He’s pretty awesome, and has done some amazing Halloween costumes — a gingerbread man with one leg bitten off, a leg lamp (remember A Christmas Story?), and this year he’s going as a flamingo. O_O Seriously, check out the flamingo. No matter how many limbs Josh has, he’s an incredible athlete.

Rob Cockerham’s done some great Halloween costumes in the past, and I think I’ve linked to them once or twice before. This year he’s going as Disneyland. This isn’t my favorite costume of his, as a costume, but watching the work that he put into it, constructing each ride and building, figuring out how to do water and jungle, how to make the roller coasters actually roller coast — that was pretty cool.

My favorites from his previous years: Dr. Octopus, holding Spiderman’s body over his head, a Fandango paper bag puppet, a vampire of course, and a crowd of paparazzi — all the cameras actually flash.

And here, Tom Mabe turned a radio controlled quad copter into a flying Grim Reaper, then flew it around a park (some parks? can’t tell) scaring people. I don’t know how many people were running from the flying, black-robed skeleton and how many were running from the huge flying thing coming at them, but either way it was pretty cool. :) Although as someone in comments said, if he’d done that at an SF con or some other geeky gathering, the thing would’ve been surrounded by folks who’d run toward it to check it out and see how it was built. [grin]

Hope you’re all gearing up for a great Halloween. Have fun!

Angie

Culinary Adventures

Monday, October 21st, 2013

So last night I made Scotch eggs. For anyone who hasn’t been lucky enough to have one, it’s a boiled egg (hard or soft yolk is debated, and up to the cook) encased in a layer of sausage, then a layer of crumb-breading, then deep fried. (There are oven variants, which are hellspawn. Okay, not really, but if you’re going to eat Scotch eggs, you might as well go for it, right?)

I had a Scotch egg on our last cruise, where one of the lounges had a British Lunch sort of thing going once a week. They were wonderous — eggy and crunchy and sausagey, like the perfect breakfast in one bite — and I’ve wanted to try making them ever since. “Ever since” finally came yesterday, but unfortunately the process wasn’t without its bumps and diversions.

I’m more of a technique cook than a recipe cook; I’d rather learn a technique, then apply it to different foods, than have to memorize a bunch of recipes. When I’m baking I’ll usually have a recipe on the counter, because baking is fussy like that, but most savory dishes are freestyle-friendly, once you’ve accumulated a certain amount of experience. So I typed “scotch egg” into Google and browsed through a few recipes to get the basic idea, then closed the browser and went off on my own.

You need a lot of oil for deep frying, which I’ve never done before. Seriously, if I got into the habit of deep frying, I’d be significantly fatter than I am now, so it’s just as well it’s a major pain. (No, we’re not buying a countertop deep-fryer gadget, no-no-no.) So the husband brought home a couple of bottles of extra oil (just basic canola), and a pound of bulk breakfast type sausage, and a carton of fresh eggs. I had AP flour and panko breadcrumbs (which I used because, crunchy), plus seasonings and such, all on hand.

First, boil the eggs. My favorite way to boil eggs is in the electric kettle. You fill it about halfway with cold water, put your eggs in carefully (up to about four, depending on the size of the kettle) then flip the switch. The kettle goes on, and when the water boils, it turns itself off. If I’m just making hardboiled eggs for egg salad or something, I leave them in until the water’s cooled enough that I can get the eggs out without scalding myself, since I like my hardboiled eggs hardboiled. For Scotch eggs, though, I was going to be cooking the eggs again, so I fished them out with a spoon about five minutes after the kettle shut off, then put them into a bowl of cold water to chill down.

When they were cool enough to handle, I filled a dutch oven (ours is enameled, but I don’t think it matters) to within about 3″ of the top with the oil, clipped a fry thermometer onto the side, and got it heating. I peeled the eggs and set them aside, got everything else out and set up, then checked the thermometer. It wasn’t even registering yet and it’d been about ten minutes, so I left everything and went back to my computer for a bit, figuring I’d check it in another twenty minutes.

Twenty minutes later, the oil was “steaming” and the thermometer still wasn’t registering anything. :/ Okay, most likely a broken thermometer. We have one of those cool, gun-shaped infrared thermometers, and it said the surface of the oil was some ridiculous temperature, like seven hundred degrees. O_O Oops. Okay, turn the heat off, and carefully shift the kettle off the hot burner.

The oil’s clearly past its smoke point, which means it’s technically ruined. In reality, I didn’t have any more oil, so I figured I’d try it anyway. First times are for experimenting, right? Mental note, buy another fry thermometer before I do this again.

While waiting for the oil to cool, I broke the sausage slab into four approximately equal chunks, for about a quarter pound of sausage per egg, and flattened each chunk out. The recipes generally say to roll the sausage out between two pieces of clingfilm (which is British for plastic wrap) but I hate that stuff, so I just put it down on a piece of parchment paper and flattened each one out with my palm. I rolled each egg in AP flour in a little bowl, shaking off excess, then wrapped it in sausage. (Flour before sausage is supposed to help the sausage cling.) Shaping the sausage around the egg, once you’ve got it basically wrapped, is a lot like making meatballs; the actual shaping motion is a lot like that, if you’ve made meatballs.

I broke two more eggs into another little bowl and beat them, then filled a third little bowl with the panko breadcrumbs. I added some salt and white pepper and garlic powder to the panko, and stirred it up. When the oil was back down around 365 (the recipes said you want it around 350 for the frying, but putting stuff into the oil lowers the temp a bit) I took the first sausaged egg, dipped it in flour, then beaten egg, then rolled it in panko, dipped it in egg again, then rolled it in panko again. The double layer of crumbs is supposed to make the coating extra crunchy. Then I slipped it into the oil with a spider, since dropping it in didn’t seem like a good idea. On to eggs two, three and four.

They fried up nicely, and I started taking them out when the panko crust hit a sort of medium-dark brown. Jim and I let them cool off, then ate them like finger food while watching TV.

I couldn’t taste the smoked oil in the fried crust, which is good. But the sausage layer was a bit underdone (we ate them anyway and they were tasty and we didn’t get sick) and I suspect that the smoked oil made the crust brown faster than it would’ve with unsmoked oil. Also, if the surface of the oil was 365 when I put the eggs in, the interior was probably a lot hotter, something I didn’t think about at the time. So I probably fried them at too high a temperature, which would also darken the outside before the inner sausage cooked all the way. I’ll do better in both areas next time.

And there’ll definitely be a next time. Despite the glitches, these things are incredibly yummy. Two was very filling, and makes a good meal, if you’re not fussy about your produce; most people would probably be good with one Scotch egg and a big salad or something. I imagine Travis would be good with just two eggs and call it a meal, which is what Jim and I did.

Good stuff, definitely worth keeping in the repertoire.

Angie

Cake Drones!

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Okay, this is awesome. :) Shanghai’s Incake bakery bought three mini-drones and was using them to deliver cakes to customers. How cool is that? Click through — there’s video. :D

The drones have cameras on them so the remote operator can identify customers. That’s good — you wouldn’t want someone stealing your cake, after all.

Unfortunately, their drones were grounded after the civil aviation authority expressed some concerns. Unmanned aircraft require approval to fly, and Incake didn’t ask anyone’s permission. They plan to jump through the bureaucratic hoops and get their awesome cake drones back in the air, though, with all the proper permits, which is great news. I’d totally pay extra to get a cake delivered by unmanned drone, but I wouldn’t bet anything on drone-delivery of baked goods ever being allowed in the US. Bummer.

Thanks to CakeWrecks for the link.

Angie

Reading on 25 July in Seattle

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

On Thursday, 25 July, I’m going to be reading at a Gay Romance Northwest special SF/Fantasy event, at the University Bookstore in Seattle, along with Astrid Amara, Ginn Hale and Laylah Hunter. The U Bookstore is at 4326 University Way NE Seattle, WA 98105, and the event starts at 7pm. It’s free, so I hope everyone in the area who likes SF, Fantasy and/or gay romance will come down to hang out with us.

This event is a lead-in to the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up on 14 September, at the Seattle Central Library, in the Microsoft Auditorium. The library’s at 1000 4th Ave Seattle, WA 98104, right downtown. This is a one day event, with registration starting at noon, the event itself from 1pm to 5pm, and Happy Hour from 5pm to 7pm for folks who can’t stand to leave and want to stay and chat a while longer. (I’ll be there the whole time, and hopefully we’ll get a group to go to dinner after. [crossed fingers])

Early registration for the Meet-Up is $15; it goes up to $25 on 1 August. This is a great price; I’ve been to a lot of conventions and conferences, and I haven’t seen one-day prices this low for a couple of decades. Pre-register here.

Writers attending the Meet-Up in September:

Astrid Amara
Talya Andor
Eric Andrews-Katz
Cate Ashwood
Heidi Belleau
Angela Benedetti
Sarah Black
Kade Boehme
L.C. Chase
Megan Derr
Stormy Glenn
Amelia Gormley
Ginn Hale
Lou Harper
Daisy Harris
Laylah Hunter
Amber Kell
Nicole Kimberling
Morticia Knight
Pender Mackie
Finn Marlowe
Sasha L. Miller
M.J. O’Shea
Rick R. Reed
Devon Rhodes
P.D. Singer
Tara Spears
Andrea Speed
Ethan Stone
Lou Sylvre
Anne Tenino
Piper Vaughn

This event is being hosted by Old Growth Northwest, a non-profit organization working to support a complex ecosystem of writers and readers in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to them for helping put on these events!

DOMA and Prop 8 Unconstitutional

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

When you wake up in the morning (hey, it was still morning) and your in-box is full of joyful announcements that the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 [both PDF links] have both been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, that’s a damn fine way to start a day.

My usual demeanor is pretty cynical, I’ll be the first to admit — the things people do to one another, around the world and particularly here in the US, have contributed to that throughout my life. One of the most ridiculous, hateful, fearmongering trends in recent years has been the insistence by so many social conservatives that same-sex marriage is bad, wrong, evil, unnatural, and a threat to “traditional” marriage. The people who support this vile drivel have been masking their hate and fear and general negativity about the issue by insisting that they’re trying to “defend” marriage. Even with many thousands of gay and lesbian people getting married in the US in states where it’s been legal, even with the hundreds of thousands (maybe millions?) of gay and lesbian people getting married in countries around the world where it’s legal — including Canada, right next door — fearful, scowling folks keep insisting that gay marriage is somehow dangerous, that it threatens traditional man-woman marriage.

You know what? My traditional marriage doesn’t need defending, certainly not by people like them. When Jim and I were living in California, about 40,000 gay couples got married during the five months that it was legal, if I remember the numbers correctly, and hey, we’re still married! Imagine that! All those people, men marrying men and women marrying women, and there was never a morning when either Jim or I woke up and said, “Hey, damn, I feel this overwhelming need to divorce you and marry someone of my own sex!” We have a great marriage, it’s as strong as ever, and all those gay people joyfully marrying each other did nothing whatsoever to damage our marriage. Heck, we got a double dose of this dangerous threat to our union when our new home state of Washington legalized gay marriage last year — you’ll be happy to know I’ve still felt no impulse to divorce my husband.

One of my favorite sayings to come out of this situation is, “The only threat to traditional marriage is traditional divorce.” Halle-freaking-luiah.

If you want to defend the institution of marriage, how about taking all the money and energy and other resources that’ve been poured into trying to prevent gays and lesbians from marrying and instead use it to, I don’t know, offer free counseling to couples whose marriages are actually in trouble? That’d be a constructive focus for the beliefs of the social conservatives, one that’d help a lot of people while hurting nobody, unlike DOMA and Prop 8 and related efforts, which are purely destructive and have caused a lot of hardship and misery.

Just a suggestion for any defenders of marriage who are trying to figure out what their next move should be.

So, the Feds now recognize any legal marriage, no matter what the plumbing of the married people looks like. And gay people are free to marry once more in California, which is awesome.

This news actually chips away a tiny bit at my natural cynicism. If the other 37 states ever get with the 21st century and let gay couples marry, I might actually turn into a complete optimist! Let’s work toward that, shall we?

Angie

Make Your Own Keyboard

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Okay, this is seriously cool. :) A guy named Jay Silver invented a computer interface called MaKey MaKey that you can hook up to just about anything with alligator clamps, and the thing(s) will act like a mouse or a keyboard. Bananas, playdoh, buckets of water — it’s wild. :) Some people are just fooling around with it for fun, but others are using it to create custom interfaces to work for someone with a disability. Check it out:

MaKey MaKey Video

Angie

Chuck Wendig on Being a Happy Writer

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Thanks to Tobias Buckell for linking to Chuck Wendig’s post, 25 Ways to Be a Happy Writer, or at Least Happier. One of my favorite bits:

20. See Failure as an Instruction Manual

Failure is illuminating. It reveals every broken board beneath our feet, every crack in the wall, every pothole in the road. Do not shun failure. High-five it. Hug it. Engage in lusty pawing with it. Failure means you’re doing. Everybody fails before they succeed. Failure is how we learn. Failure is part of the grand tradition of figuring out how to be awesome.

Totally correct. About anything, really, but in particular anything having to do with the creative arts. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of experimentation, a lot of try-fail-try-fail-try-fail, and did I mention a lot of practice? to make it up the Creative Arts Mountain. If you can’t learn from your mistakes, you’ll never make it to the top of that mountain, and if you’re afraid of making mistakes, you’ll be so paralyzed you’ll never make it past the foothills.

Read them all, noting that most of them are delightfully profane. :)

Angie