Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Life Imitating Art About Art and Life

There is a lovely, and I believe underappreciated, movie called "Fanboys" about a group of friends who take a van out to California to try to break into George Lucas's ranch to see the first episode of the "Star Wars" movies.  Their reason, other than road trip!, is that one of them is terminally ill and likely won't make it to the premiere.  Now, I have managed to make this sound like a terribly sad, somber movie instead of the funny ode to fandom that it is.  (Go see it, folks.)
But, I thought of "Fanboys" when I saw this story on Twitter, about a fan of Harry Turtledove's series. Now, I am a series junkie and there are different kinds of series.  Some are more like TV procedurals, such that each book progresses things, but essentially the main story is resolved each time.  These kind can go on forever.  (They also can often be read out of order super easily, a fact I appreciated greatly in my used book hunting days.) 
Some kinds, particularly in romance focus on different people each time, so while others might make an appearance, or even play a pivotal role, that couple's story gets resolved there.  (This is related to the above, although you might be dying (not literally) to know what happens when it's that character's turn.)
But other kinds have a more specific progression that may take anywhere from three to twenty books to resolve.  Usually some piece gets taken care of each book, but there's stuff left out there that you are waiting to see to conclusion. Well, this one fan loves Turtledove's series and well, he may not make it to July when the next book comes out.  So his friend reached out to the internet and got an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) for his friend.  (The link above has the video of him receiving it which I recommend you watch because he is so clearly happy to receive it and immediately starts looking at the first few pages, clearly torn between loving his friends for doing this and wanting to kick them out so he can read it right then.)
But wait, there's more!  (I feel like a gameshow host.)  The internet also helped said friend get in touch with Turtledove, who agreed to give the guy a call and talk about his plans for the rest of the series. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Bus Song

Oh, probably not the one you are thinking of.  The 42 is not just any bus.  It goes to Chinatown, downtown, Dupont, Adams Morgan, and ends where one might expect of the line referred to as the Mount Pleasant line, in Mount Pleasant.  It has a blog. (Okay, technically the blog is not by the bus, but the blog is named after it.) And now it has a song.  No, not that song.  (Although still love.)  But this one, that DCist has helpfully embedded for you over here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

My Grandmother Is Pleased

Update: Not long after posting this I realized I had remembered this wrong, so now it has been corrected.

There is a story my mother likes to tell about going to see "The Sound of Music" in the theater. My grandparents lived part of their life in Vermont where the Von Trapps lived after moving to the US, so there was a particular interest in this story.  My grandparents where also huge fans on musicals, so that didn't hurt either.  My mother was a teenager at this point, so while she attended the movie with my grandmother and my grandmother's friend, my mother and her friend sat a few rows away.  But they were close enough to hear the sighs that erupted when Christopher Plummer first appeared on screen, in the role of Baron Von Trapp.  And they were close enough to hear my grandmother's friend whisper, "He's looking at me." To which my grandmother whispered back, "Oh no, he's looking at me."
My grandmother will celebrate her own centennial this year, and she is experiencing some challenges these days.  But she is certainly quite pleased that the Academy has finally seen fit to recognize the lovely Mr. Plummer. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Do Not Do This at Home

The other day I was cleaning. (Trust me, I'm just as shocked as you are.) More specifically, I was shifting things around and discovering the little bits of stuff that somehow manage to collect under them.  (Seems entirely unfair. If stuff is going to collect on top of stuff, and along the sides of stuff, shouldn't there be some part that takes a break from collecting dirt? Yes, I think many things are unfair.) I was working in an area near a little wine rack cubby that I have.  It fits about four bottles in it, so there are times, like now, where the other bottles are displayed atop it.  In shifting to gather up the floor crud, I apparently backed into one such bottle and knocked it clean off onto the floor.  So, I lost what smelled like a lovely bottle to the floor and ended up having to clean a much wider expanse of the floor what with the wine and glass all over.  I wish I could tell you that the kitchen floor sparkles now, but I suspect it needs another go.  But the lesson I have learned from this, is that clearly cleaning is bad and I should have just decided to lounge about instead.
But this story gives me an excuse to send you to the Pioneer Woman's tale of wishing for a doughnut.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Teen Tara is Retroactively Annoyed

The story of my desire (or depending on who you talk to lack thereof) to drive has many versions in our family.  But I finally took the test when I was eighteen, which by the way was the year after my younger sister took her test.  My sister passed with flying colors.  At the time parking counted for up to ten points (failure to park was ten points off, parking too close or too far away was three).  Given you needed at least eighty points to pass and that parking occurred at the end of the test, it was often a make or break moment for testees.  My sister was actually told by her tester that she was already doing so well, the parking didn't really matter, she was passing either way before she did the parking section.
I was not given such a positive message from my tester.  I was a tiny bit nervous given I had been told a number of horror stories about the very first stop sign, how not getting your bumper behind the white line was an automatic fail. (I actually had someone tell me that happened to them, given what I know about the scoring system it seems unlikely and yet not something to test too hard).  Lending credence to this rumor was the fact that as I approached this first stop sign, there was a car stopped there.  I had noticed the car when we first arrived at the site, had seen it pull up to the stop sign, so knew it had been there a few minutes.  My tester advised me to pull around them. 
I did, but was secretly convinced the entire time that this was a trick, that as I crossed over that white line she would tell me to stop, that I had failed to stop correctly and had automatically failed and could never drive again.  So, I probably did the whole thing at a snail's pace.  The DC test was (and is) on actual roads.  There were turns, and lane changes and I had been warned that the return to the test site took you downhill and to watch my speed.  Then, back at the site, we came to parallel parking.  (Oh, and I hear it may have changed, but my driving instructor told me that Virginia didn't test parallel parking.)  I was doing this test in the family's Volvo station wagon which had an excellent turning ratio and yet left me not a lot of space between the car and the poles acting as other cars.  I erred on the side of caution slowly angling myself in, figuring I'd rather shift in and out a bunch of times than hit one of those poles.  (I don't recall anyone telling me that was automatic failure, but I remember treating them as if they were.)
After what seemed to me not that very long, but probably seemed longer to the tester, she declared me done and marked me as having failed and told me that I was not allowed to remove the car from it's space, only a licensed driver could do that.  My mother had failed her first test, and has said she thinks people who fail once are better drivers.  I'm not really sure that's true (and given that I'm the only one of her kids who failed the first time, she doesn't repeat that so much anymore).  I did pass fairly easily when I was back home from college the next year.  (And I did fine on the parking.  I think the fact that we arrived super early, leading to the tester taking me early before I had worked myself into any sort of state helped a lot.)
So, all of this happened when the testing center was in what is now a Home Depot.  The testing center moved across the street into a small shopping center, and when I drove my brother over there for a dry run, that was the part I told them I didn't know what they would do about.
Apparently they need a new solution

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

TBR Challenge 2012: Recommended Read

I confess I had to think about this challenge for a bit.  Someone recently asked me how I figure out what to read and I totally understood that it was a serious question as book stores dwindle and so far, no online service I've run into has really replicated that process to the same degree.  There are, of course, librarians.  So, looking through my TBR pile I had to figure out where the hell I had heard about some of these things.  I have two books lingering that were actually lent to me by friends and someday I will get to those (and they would have been perfect if I had, you know, read them, I will get to that any day now.)  But in the end I kind of retrofitted this, read some stuff and then remembered that hey someone told me to read this. In one case, even before I got around to buying it.  So, I am going to talk about two.  (Because I am an overachiever.  And because I'm so impressed that I have already exceeded last year's February reading total, although now I remember why it was so dire.)
First is Courtney Milan's Unraveled. This is the third about the Turner brothers, I still need to get to the first so I feel entirely safe saying that they do not need to be read in order.  Smite Turner is a magistrate who takes justice so seriously, even his colleagues call him Lord Justice. Miranda Darling was raised in her family's acting troupe, and has now ended up with a small (but now twelve) boy in her care.  She has agreed to appear in court on behalf of another child who was accused of stealing.  Smite recognizes her from a similar appearance made on behalf of someone else, and warns her that she should be careful. 
(Sidenote: There is some amusing back and forth about Miranda's surname which I found even funnier having known a lovely neighbor with the same surname.)
Well, sparks fly and I want to both tell you everything and nothing.  I will say that I think this story encapsulates that excellent blend of romance where there are two people who understand each other and also make each other better people for their relationship.  Also, and I will be terribly vague here, there's a moment where it seems clear that one character will go do this thing and while you understand why, you just want to reach in and say stop, and well, they didn't.  And it was cool, not just because it was unexpected, but because the second choice actually made even more sense to me once I realized that's what they would do. 
As I had read the previous book in the series, it was on my radar.  But my friend tweeted that she had scarfed it up on a sleepless night, reminding me to pick it up.  Once again, this was a 2011 release, so not very far back in my TBR pile. 
The second book is Lauren Oliver's Delirium which takes place in a dystopian version of Portland, Maine where love has been declared a disease, responsible for all sorts of deaths from things like heart attacks and other madness.  But now they have a cure, it just has a teeny problem, it's a little unsafe when used on people under 18 (can lead to death) so people get scheduled for their cure at 18 and then get matched up to folks they are compatible with and everything is better.  This is one of those books I bought when it came out and then kept putting off until a friend told me to just go read it already. (Of course, she said that in September, so sometimes I am a slow responder.)  I enjoyed it but wasn't really attached to it until all of a sudden it took an intriguing turn and next thing I knew I was racing through until the end.  So, now I need the next.  (It's a trilogy, like so many YA's these days. And it stops at a clear stopping point, but, if this was a TV show, this would totally have "to be continued" flashing up at the end.) 
I do feel like this is the kind of book that would be fun to talk about with others.  Actually both of these are, it's interesting to me how things can be placed in this other place, where past or future (or fantasy, even those neither of these are strictly fantasy) and provide opportunities to really look at things. That makes both of these books sound terribly dry, like fiber or something, which was not my intention.  Both would have good food for discussion. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

7 Things: Lei Edition

I had a mini-rant on Twitter the other day, looking at Grammy coverage and noticing that someone had commented on Daniel Ho's planty-ness. As one of my friends tries to remind me, sometimes people just don't know stuff, so here is my seven things about leis.
1. A lot of people know about leis, but they are familiar generally with the most generic kind - the plumeria flower leis that are often handed out at the Honolulu airport and such.  There is nothing wrong with this kind, but it it by no means the only kind.  And while I'm going to make a lot of general statements here, obviously different families will have their own variations.
2. Leis can be made of just about anything - leaves, flowers, nuts, yarn, and shells are more common but I'm pretty sure you could do it with soda can tabs if you wanted.  (You might look like you were auditioning for "Joe vs. the Volcano" however.)
3. Leis are traditionally worn for special occasions, this includes birthdays, weddings, graduations, and pretty much any occasion where one might take effort with one's appearance, so if my life included awards shows, that would qualify also.
4.  They are also given out anytime one might want to say thanks, or you're awesome, or so glad you're here - which is why you see them at airports.
5. Leis can be open or closed.  Open meaning that the ends are not connected, so that the lei is worn more like a stole.  Generally it's a style choice, although typically pregnant women only wear open leis.
6. Maile lei's are ubiquitous.  The maile is, well, it has a distinctive smell, so you notice it's presence.  Sometimes the maile leaves are twisted with a strand of flowers, and sometimes the leaves are on their own. 
7. Leis are also commonly made of ti leaves (not to be confused with tea leaves, although people may do that too) since ti is believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits.

Now certainly, you may still feel that all black with the green lei still looks planty, but at least, hopefully now it will be less surprising.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Let's All Eat Cake

Back in the day, I did one of those buy a bunch of albums for a tiny amount in exchange for buying a few at regular price later that were so prevalent. One of the albums I bought was a Bill Cosby one.  I listened to it many times.  It included the piece on giving his kids chocolate cake for breakfast, where he points out that he knew they were trying to take advantage but he also thought about the ingredients of cake - eggs, milk, wheat, and well, these things sounded like what people eat for breakfast.  He later gets busted by his wife and the kids all deny that it was their idea. (Link to a video of this here.)
But it turns out that studies have shown that Mr. Cosby was right.  Having cake for breakfast, or even with your breakfast, is a great idea. Several things interest me about this.  First, this study was between breakfast eaters, so it isn't comparing not eating breakfast to eating any breakfast. Second, the total daily calories were the same in both groups, so it truly was looking at having dessertness in the morning, rather than anything else.  (So, it does make me wonder if at some point the breakfast dessert eaters reach a point where the joy of cake for breakfast loses it's shiny and you stop thinking, no I'm good, I had cake for breakfast and start thinking that cake for breakfast was hours ago, gimme more!)  Also, these folks were otherwise on a low-carb diet, so it kind of - to me at least - proves once again that moderation is better.  It's not terrible to attempt low carb if you get to have a piece of chocolate cake every day.
But in the end, I hope someone has told Mr. Cosby (and his wife) that he was right.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

New Bar Set

I believe I've mentioned before that I enjoy seeking out examples of extremes.  It's fun to see how much more of this or that that someone else has so that you can say, well, I don't have 400 unread books like that one person.  (For example.  Not that there's anything wrong with 400 books in the TBR pile, as I often say, if you're still able to pay your rent/mortgage and buy food, then I think you're good.) 
But sometimes you hear about something and instead think, I can do better than that.  And I confess, when a fellow raveler passed this link on, that might have been what I said. 

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Apples and Oranges

So, I was a wee bit behind on the internet and missed the dust up about the RWI contests.  But I'm not going to let that stop me from offering my opinions.  (And I may find a way to work in a bit about Planned Parenthood here too.  That's right. I swear I came up with that comparison on my own, but apparently, the folks at the New York Daily News have similar brains - are you scared yet? Smart bitches mentioned it too, although a little less directly.)
So, as mentioned here, RWI is an RWA chapter.  Most chapters hold contests where you enter part of your book (usually unpubbed is part, pubbed is, all, but it varies).  In addition to my local chapter, I belong myself to the Young Adult chapter and have been one of the folks hoping we would get a contest together (if you understand that by hoping I mean suggesting someone should totally do that, nod, nod). I enter contests and here's the thing, it's a crapshoot.  I volunteer as a judge too, and have talked to others that enter and sometimes you get great, awesome, really helpful feedback, and sometimes you get stuff that's not.  (And, in the case of one fellow writer I talked to, sometimes you spend a lot of time waiting for that feedback you were promised. 
YA, in particular, given that it's sort of a newer* sub-category, there are contests that don't allow for it, or contests where the word count requirement is out of step with typical YA guidelines or, in the case of one buddy of mine, contests where the judge you get thinks it's kinds weird your YA is in first person.  It's a process.  I've only been a RWA member a handful of years, but I'm seeing more and better stuff out there for YA, so it's good.  I also volunteer as a judge in one contest that I intentionally don't enter so that I can do my small part to make sure at least one person judging is familiar with the genre.
I've also been a member of RWA just long enough to remember the Rainbow chapter's first RWA (it was my first too!). So, I know that they've been working hard on getting better recognition for their category. So, it's kind of interesting to me that RWI - were you wondering when I'd get back to that? - who in the past had judged same-sex romances, and even had some place, decided to eliminate them this year. 
When folks mobilized and emailed them about this, even offering in some cases to judge them, if that was the issue, they said, nope, they were working on behalf of the chapter's decision that they were uncomfortable about having a contest that included same-sex romance. 
By the way, the contest has now been cancelled, but they did equate their decision not to judge same-sex romance with their decision not to judge YA. Here's why it's not the same.  They weren't removing a category - saying, you know what, our team of volunteers is small, or we couldn't find good final judges, so we'll do four categories instead of five this year - because they didn't actually have a same-sex romance category.  These same-sex romances were romances that fell into their other categories - erotic, sensual, paranormal, etc.  So, it is a bit more like - as some commenters have pointed out on some of the blog posts - saying that you could enter your romance as long as it didn't involve interracial couples or, to choose a possibly less charged example, couples that were being unfaithful or some other qualification.  And, as was pointed out, there was no apparent rule about threesomes or aliens with barbed bits or anything else, so it is hard to avoid the assumption that people were bringing their politics into their romance contest. 
Not that long ago the RITA's (RWA's awards for published books) didn't get enough entries for their YA category.  You know what they did - they contacted the entrants and said feel free to pick another category.  So, in that sense, we can call these things similar, because sure there are YA's that are paranormal or contemporary (I have not seen any YA erotica however). 
It has been cancelled, so they'll have some time to ponder what to do for next year.  It is one of those sticky wicket things where of course each chapter has to decide to design their contest the way they want, but when your contest is open to the public people are going to talk about it.  (In fact, generally, that's a good thing.)  But it is sad, given the chronology that it seems like some people were unhappy about previous winners and so tried to make it so books they were uncomfortable with couldn't participate. And I'm sorry, volunteering to judge is a crapshoot too, sometimes you get great entries where you wonder would it be weird to stalk that person and demand they send you the rest (probably) and some you think, oh man, this needed a few more passes before it went out.  So, not to beat a poor dead horse, but judging a competition like this, it's work, it's not about the four things you would have paid your own money for.
So, the Komen/Planned Parenthood connection.  Well, in case you missed it, the Komen foundation (who's Walk for the Cure I've been doing, well, longer than I've been in RWA actually) had hired someone who was pretty outspokenly pro-life.  This is all fine and good (I don't agree, but I accept that not everyone agrees with me).  Then the Komen foundation decided not to give grants to organizations under investigation.  Seems sensible.  Except the grantee this hit was Planned Parenthood.  Planned Parenthood tends to be a target of a lot of folks investigations and you don't have to love them, but they provide a lot of needed health care to folks, including "170,000 clinical breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals".  I think we are all in agreement that breast cancer screening is good. So, given that the investigation that Planned Parenthood was under was congressional, and not due to any clear wrongdoing, it seemed there was an issue.  Now, the Komen foundation has backtracked, saying that they will amend the policy to indicate that it should only affect criminal investigations and that they will restore the grant funds they had cut off.  The Komen foundation swears that this had nothing to do with any new hires or attempts to target Planned Parenthood, but given that Planned Parenthood was the only grantee that they cut off, it's hard to say for sure.  I guess, we shall have to wait and see.

*I know, I keep saying that YA isn't new.  I stand by that.  But as a recognized subcategory in RWA, still kinda new.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Pronunciation Evolves, People

I had a linguistics professor who talked about how English is littered with all these silent letters that early documenters stuck in as sort of a hat tip to the derivation of a word, and that with the advance of the printing press, English had sort of frozen itself.  Now obviously words have changed and evolved since the invention of the printing press, but the overall point, that words naturally evolve and sometimes we get stuck on the original, remains.
Now, don't get me wrong, it is my intention to rescue the word literally (as a word that means something that happened) from the fate of really (which I do love for its multi-purposeness but there needs to be one word left that means it did in fact occur.) But, I accept that there are places all over this country where the pronunciation has shifted.  There is a Thames River in Connecticut that rhymes with James.  There is an Edinburg (actually, I just checked there's quite a few) in Virginia, where sure, the spelling more correctly reflects the pronunciation. I had read once that Cabin John was originally John's Cabin (although their website indicates another story for the name, so grain of salt.)
So, then I read this story in DCist that there was actually some discussion of whether McPherson, as in square, should be pronounced mcfearson (spoiler - Yes!) or mcfurson, I immediately went of course it's mcfearson. 
So, here's the thing.  (By the way, I have had that debate about Bowie, Maryland. Hee.) I appreciate and respect WAMU's intention to pronounce the word the way it was intended.  (Apparently the dude on the statue called himself mcFURson.)  But, while the place was named for him, it still gets to evolve and change (and, really, the dude himself is not here to disagree.) And saying mcfurson in reference to the square, well, it's like calling it Warshington. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Farewell to "Chuck"

"Chuck" aired it's final episodes last week.  There are a ton of roundups since it was a critically acclaimed show.  But, as you might suspect, I have some thoughts of my own.
1. The show was fun.  It was clear, to reference an article about other shows, that it was loved. It showed in the plot lines (and, um, sometimes the plot holes), the music, the guest stars, all of it.
2. Jeffster!
3. "Chuck" was not afraid to let the characters evolve.  Not only did Chuck himself change and grow, but so did everyone around him.  I remember thinking Morgan was kind of an annoying dude at first, and maybe the show would be better with less of him, but they completely subverted my expectations on that.  (And this is not a knock on either the writing or the acting, just my response to an interesting character arc.)
4. They got fans.  They understood the kinds of things that make fans happy.  Now, certainly one could argue that given the ratings numbers that simply wasn't true, and okay, maybe they just made me feel like they got me.  And this isn't to say that I think they did things just to please us, but this is to say they understood some things were going to be polarizing and some things were going to make people squee and, sure, week to week, there were moments where I thought, oh man that one was a dud, but overall, it usually worked out in some way that when they did something weird (again) I sat back and said, well, I trust them to get me somewhere interesting.
5. I will use this to point you to stuff about their fans, and their thanks, and all of that. (In other words, linkage ahoy!)
6. They understood stakes.  Each year, each potential season end for that matter there was a clear big picture, a big bad or a thing that needed to be taken care of.  They didn't shy away from upping the stakes either, the stakes grew and changed with the characters. But they also paid as much attention to emotional closure, whether it was little stuff like grandma apologizing to baby Clara for brandishing a firearm in her presence, or Chuck and Sarah on the beach together.
7. The initial premise was that Chuck was a regular guy who got caught up in this thing because his friend sent him an email that put a computer in his head.  But over the seasons they proved that Chuck wasn't just any guy, that he was special with or without the computer, and that you can't just go sticking computers in people's heads all the time.  In some ways that seems very simple, but Stephen Tobolowsky talked at one point about how in a show when you get to the next season you kind of have two choices, you can basically try to recreate the previous season, just insert new antagonist, or you can say who are these people now on their journey and how would that change the things they  face.  It's harder to do the second.  And while some of the longer running shows work very well using the first, I tend to find this much more satisfying to me as a viewer. So thanks.