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“Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science.” - Girl Genius, by Kaja & Phil Foglio

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

Perspective, it's all about perspective ...

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Itsy-bitsy Screws

I wear glasses.  There have been times when one of the itsy-bitsy screws holding the frames together fell out.  This hasn't happened to me recently, but I certainly remember the frustration.  If you wear (or have worn) glasses you may have had this happen, too.

Read this post by Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess) for the Best Ever portrayal of this experience.  And how it relates to a really bad, awful week.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Lots of Water

It rained this morning.  Lots of thunder, much rain.  There's a retention pond by my building.  This is what it looked like about fifteen minutes ago.

I don't seem to have any pictures of it when it's empty.  It's probably ten feet deep or more.  The grassy "island" is the edge.  It stopped raining maybe an hour ago.

This is the view to the left, where the pond overflows into the street.  I'm cool with that because it means the water doesn't come up on my patio and into my condo.  However, it flows down that street toward the main street, and the sewers there can't handle the volume.

The lighter green tree in the center is in a vacant lot across the street.  One SUV went through about an hour ago.  The water was just at the bottom of the car.

It's raining again. 

Update from daughter who wandered out to check the situation:  a school bus went by and the water was nearly to the floorboards. 

Guess it's time to call work.  Thought I was going to be there early today.  I know better than to plan stuff like that!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Critter Day!

In an unusual turn of events, I left home before 7 AM this morning.  (On workdays I'm rarely out of bed before 8!)  The flowers at the botanic gardens were blooming in profusion and perhaps I'll share those pictures another time.  Critters became my focus today, starting with the first picture I took.

Guess the swans like to sleep in, too!  I roamed toward the English walled garden, then along the shore in the direction of the Japanese garden.

Sorry that one's a bit blurry.  Completely my fault.  The toad wasn't moving fast!  Just around the bend from the toad, a chipmunk scooted across the path, far too quickly for me to get a picture.  These little guys are everywhere; I see some every time I'm at the gardens.  Not far ahead was a bench.  I sat and watched.  My reward was a chipmunk approaching along a low stone wall.

Extra bonus was a second one (on the right) that I didn't know was there until I saw the photo.

Near where you enter and leave the gardens is a fountain.  The angle of sunlight was just right for a rainbow.  I took several pix from a distance.  When I moved closer I realized the cluster of photographers at the water's edge were not there solely for the rainbow.

The shore visible to the right is the western side of an island.  The swans were sleeping on the eastern side of that island when I arrived.

The swans continued on their way.

I headed off for iced coffee.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Moar Flowers

I posted a picture of prairie smoke HERE when it was blooming and said I'd try for a picture after it had set seed = "smoking."

I took this a couple weeks ago.  It's not the same patch as before - that one was finished seeding - but hopefully there are enough tufts remaining to give you the idea.

Here's another of my favorites that was in my garden:  wild columbine.  I couldn't locate the tag for the white flowers, so have no idea what they are.

Unlike most of the cultivars, wild columbine seeds freely and will show up in random places throughout the garden and yard.  It's fun - for the first few years.  After that, I made sure to deadhead the plants before the seeds ripened. 

A great plant for semi-shade is spiderwort.

The flowers bloom in the morning and usually close up by early afternoon.  

I'm sure you can tell I'm partial to native wildflowers, even when maundering through botanic gardens.  They were always my favorites in the garden.  Once established, they need minimal care and come back every year in larger clumps than before.

But I can also appreciate non-natives.  Here's a beautiful cluster of calla lilies.

Never tried to grow them - they wouldn't have fit with the other plants I had - but these are some awesome blooms.

The Summer Solstice is Friday.  Longest day of the year.  Don't forget to celebrate!

Friday, June 14, 2013

WisCon Summary

I had a great time!  I learned the Dealer's Room is probably the most dangerous place at a con.

Especially when you drive there and have your car conveniently located in the hotel parking garage.

These are my book acquisitions.  Authors and publishers donate ARCs (Advanced Reviewer Copies) that are sold as part of the first day's fundraiser for the Tiptree Award.  The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White is an ARC; it won't be published until September.  And I am reading it now ... bwahaha.  There is also an ARC of Sold For Endless Rue by Madeleine Robins.  By day three of the con I'd forgotten I scored that particular ARC, remembered I wanted her book and roamed over to the dealer's room and bought it.

One of the last events of the con is Sign Out, where authors sit at tables in a large room and fans approach with books to sign.  Ms Robins kindly signed both the book and ARC for me.  I bought three books by Mary Robinette Kowal, but had her sign only her latest one, Without a Summer.  Jo Walton was a guest of honor at the con, so my copy of Among Others is signed.  And all four books by Amy Thomson are signed. 

The book on the bottom of the pile was given to me by a lady who had more books than her luggage would hold.  I hadn't heard of the author so she insisted I take it. 

My To Be Read pile is now ginormous. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

WisCon 37 Panels, Part Four

I stopped for coffee at La Brioche, a small French restaurant between the con and the hotel where I was staying.
Loved the cream pitcher!  Oh, yeah, the coffee was good, too.

Final post of panel summaries.  As before, no attribution means I didn't record who said it.

Is Cultural Appropriation a Useful Concept?
Mod Amy Thomson; Nisi Shawl, Jackie Gross, Meg Turville-Heitz, Catherine Crowe
Description:  What does it mean?  Why is it bad?  All humans borrow and imitate.  One of the purposes of art is to expand sympathy, and one of the battle cries of artists is "I'll do it if I damn well want to."  When - and how - is it okay to use material from a culture that is not one's own?  Or maybe that should be rephrased.  When is it wrong, and why?  Let's discuss.

NS:  Question title of panel.  Useful to whom?
Don't take something sacred to a culture and use it, manipulate it to be something it wasn't.
Different cultures have different definitions of property.
CC:  In Ireland and Celtic culture, songs and stories are considered property.  You can't sing a song unless you come from that place because the song belongs to that space.
Appropriation can block growth in the original culture.
Context is very important.
Someone mentioned "loosed the weasels of enlightenment."  Might have been NS.  Or maybe JG.
NS:  Culture is like a suitcase.  Keep unpacking.  It's a big suitcase with lots of little bags.
Important to deal with the anger of the culture that's been ripped off.
Audience member said she sees cultural appropriation as a violent act - the oppressor taking from the oppressed and marginalizing them.
AT:  Mongolian goat slaughtering is very formalized.  A Mongol author said everyone who writes about them seems to include goat slaughtering; if you're going to do that, at least get it right!
NS:  Acknowledge, be accurate, and give something back.  Don't be arrogant.
JG:  Has issues with "getting it right."  Right for whom?  Would replace this phrase with Being Honest as possible and doing it respectfully.
MTH:  Do lots of research and seek out native sources where possible, not interpretive sources.
NS:  has term Hard History = what actually happened, not the interpretation written by the winners.
Is it okay to fail if you're willing to listen?  Consensus was yes.
JG:  We are constantly working toward being whole.  We will fail, but still move forward.
Important to be honest about the process and what you feel like you're doing.
Audience member addressed why folks get angry:  the anger comes from being an invaded people.  Native American population has gone from 100% of this country to 1/17 of 1%.  There were about 1000 tribal entities; some were wiped out completely.  We lost everything, then you're taking our religions, cultures, languages.  Why wouldn't we be angry?
JG:  brought up cultural etiquette
MTH:  Use of stereotypes, grabbing bits and pieces and melding them unnaturally not good.  Kids learning to write use stock characters in this way; need to be corrected.
Melting pot now taught as Salad Bowl - different ways of teaching multiculturalism.
Works mentioned:
Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl
"Appropriate Culture Appropriation" essay by Nis Shawl

Fight Scenes for Women in Spec Fic
Mod S N Arly; Gary Kloster, Mary Robinette Kowal, Marguerite Reed, Madeleine E Robins
Description:  Fight scenes are an almost essential element in SF/F (both in film and print media); they have the potential to bring a lot to a story.  Both adult and YA spec fic include strong female characters who fight, some as a means of survival and some as a way of life.  Do/can women fight the same as men?  Given the biological differences in size and strength, how can we be true to the real experience; what excuses can we use to negate these (and which excuses have we seen too often)?  How do we avoid making these heroes unrealistic (and essentially men dressed as women)?  Who does this well?

SNA:  Real vs fictional combat?
MER:  In real, you have no idea who will win.
MRK:  Fights cleaner and have a function in fiction.  Real is messy.
GK:  In real, adrenaline takes over and folks forget how to fight and fall over.
Audience member:  In movies and plays, the fight scenes are at 1/2 to 1/4 speed so you can see what's happening.
MER:  You get tired, sweaty, and all that's left is wily.  Fight scenes good for character revelations.  In fiction, special powers can negate physical differences, eg Buffy as the chosen one.
Seeing the training better than having a magical ability.  Justifies the skill set.  Lots of drills.
MR:  But as a feminist, why do we need to justify her skills where we wouldn't for a man?
MRK:  The time frame is important, along with the cultural setting.
GK:  Remember there are slight men and big, strong women.
MRK:  There are mechanical differences in how men and women do things.
Concussions last for weeks!  Berserker state is real; called rhino hide while fighting.  A few days later there's a map on your body of the fight and muscles are majorly protesting.
Sometimes blocking becomes the focus and you forget to hit back, especially novices.
Overcoming "but I'm a girl; I don't hit people" can be part of the journey for some characters.
Mental is a big part of fighting.
Men often fight for revenge; women to protect and defend.
Studies in America have shown that a man picks up a gun to intimidate, a woman picks up a gun to kill you.
MR:  Woman fighting woman is confrontation, both thinking of options.  Woman fighting man is beat down with rape a possibility.
Male violence has a lot of posturing involved and this can even settle things.  Women are more likely to come to blows because we don't have that posturing language.
How does what you're wearing affect your fighting?  Corsets?  Does your shirt rip when you raise your arms?  1800's had wide doorways so hoop skirts would fit through them.  Effects of age and childbirth.  What training is available in that time / world?
MRK:  You can put an ungodly amount of stuff in a nun's habit.
Use the location: things to throw, the mud, the ice, the chicken!
World building:  are there taboos?  fighting as mom for example.
FBI statistics:  In a shoot out, 30 to 40 shots fired with no one hit is the norm.  But those bullets all have to go somewhere ...
Block out fight scene and make sure it's physically possible.  Establish geography before the fight happens.
Old Jackie Chan movies are good; Hollywood Jackie Chan sucks.

The Rules of Magic
Mod Mary Robinette Kowal; David Emerson, Beth Friedman, Alex Gurevich, Jo Walton (WisCon Guest of Honor)
Description:  We all know that science has rules; in fact, much of the work that scientists do involves figuring out what the rules are.  But how about magic?  Is it just a complete free-for-all, where anything goes, where anything you can possibly imagine is doable in your fictional world?  Or is there something to be gained by having magic follow its own logic, where there are limits, boundaries, certain things that just can't be done no matter how hard you wish?  And, if that's the case, how does magic differ at all from science?  Does it even matter if it doesn't?  What's the proper role for tools and prosthetics in magical technology?

JW:  likes magic to be numinous.  Historically, magical belief was a fumbling toward science.
DE:  If magic conforms to physics, it is physics.
AG:  Is it replicable?  Reliable?  Possibly an alternate science rather than magic.
DE:  Potterverse:  teachable; say this, wave like that.  Variation in response due to practice?  Like how everyone learns math at a different speed.
MRK:  N K Jemisin has said on her blog there should be no rules for magic.  (link to Jemisin's post)
JW:  I always know how the magic works in my worlds although I never explicitly explain; characters understand how to make things happen but not how it works.
Levels:  rules characters know / readers know / writer knows.  In Tolkien, we're never told how the ring works.
In Like Water for Chocolate, there's emotional logic.
DE:  Manners vs etiquette.  Similar to classical music vs rock and jazz.
How does magic effect society?  This is where rules are important.  Is everyone magical or just a few?  How do individual people react to the magic?  Class structure - lots of works have wizards as master craftsmen.
DE:  Harry Potter failing in world building - why would wizards not know about the muggle world?
JW:  Lots of fantasy hidden in the modern world seems stupid.
Question:  How would magic affect how people think?  What kind of person is attracted to magic (way of thinking, like kind of people attracted to engineering or writing)?
JW:  Would love to read a book where people are researching magic and pushing its boundaries.
BF:  With a Journal of Emerging Thaumaturgy.
Works mentioned:
The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The Dubious Hills by Pamela Dean
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Melissa Scott's work
C S Friedman's work
Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson

And that was it.  Next was the Sign Out, where I got books signed by Jo Walton, Mary Robinette Kowal, Madeleine Robins and Amy Thomson.

It will take a long time to incorporate all the great advice and good ideas I heard at these panels.  Hopefully the process will be completed before next year's WisCon.  ;-)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

WisCon 37 Panels, Part Two

As before, if I don't attribute a statement to a specific person, either I didn't record who said it or it's a summary / consensus type statement.

Strong Female Characters vs Kickass Babes
Mod Rebecca Holden; Alex Bledsoe, Julia Dvorin, Holly McDowell, Caroline Pruett
Description:  Can the two ever be the same thing?  Are they always the same thing?  What characteristics make for a strong female character other than sheer physical strength?  Does she have to be a genius or show her vulnerabilities in order to be fully fleshed out, or is it okay for a female character to merely be tough, witty, and attractive?  When we say "strong female character" do we mean the writing of the character is strong, or the character herself is strong - and what do we say if the answer is "both?"

Is it a dichotomy?  Kickass babe implies physical strength but might be emotionally weak
JD:  strong vs broken
AB:  Gender ID minimizes it.  Motivations for actions important.  Can't stand "little sprites with gun."
Babe is a term of endearment; can be demeaning and patronizing.  It's worthy of reclaiming but we're not there yet.
Examples of strong female characters:  Molly in Gibson's Neuromancer, Octavia Butler's women characters, Lucy Lui in "Elementary," Fawn in Bujold's Sharing Knife series (intelligent, observant, brave, and has no special powers)
More on motivations being important for a strong character.  Male motivations to save society from something vs female motivations to save her boyfriend.  Difference in scale and possibly reader views of importance.
AB:  Attractiveness based on what she does can lead to "babe"
Does kickassery mature into strong character?  (Some said yes, some maybe)
Heroes:  not necessary to save the world to be a hero; can relate to small things, too.
JD:  Often female heroes are in small scale stories and males in large scale stories.  Is this chicken / egg, conditioning?  Reversing this is intriguing.
Women "clever" their way through everything vs men using strength
Discussion of how people read the text vs the intentions of the author.
Emotional maturity of the female characters important; how can we do this better?  Also need more male characters with emotional maturity.  Some writers shy away from the emotional impact of the events in their stories.
JD:  No one mentions the PTSD almost all fantasy characters must have.
Need more relationships between women characters working together.
Works mentioned:
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Octavia Butler's work
The Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold
"Elementary" television show

Class in Science Fiction and Fantasy
Mod Ian K Hagemann; Alisa Alering, Eileen Gunn, Madeleine E Robins
Description:  In speculative fiction, we create entire worlds and societies.  How does SF handle social and economic class?  Is there room for improvement?  If so, what?

SF initially dealt with working class issues and now is more middle and upper middle class.  SF mostly ignores 95% of the population = the ones making the widgets that make the rocket ships go.  Room for improvement!
EG:  Mostly ignores class in her own work, but is more aware now and putting it in.  Trying to note the way people mark their class from one another
AA:  Money and status aspects of class; also entertainment choices relate to class.  Harder to get these things across in a made up world
MER:  Need to know history as well.  Most fantasy ignores anyone between royalty and peasants.  Medieval Italian med schools not only had women students but women instructors!
EG:  Interesting how SF set in the future still has class markers from now or our past.
A class distinction:  do you store your garbage under the sink or open in the kitchen?
Character attitudes toward other characters can define the markers.  Discussion of intellectual snobbery/ classism/ education.  Nascar vs ballet.  Why not both?  Assumptions you have to like this thing, pretend to like and/or look down on to be part of the group.
Use of language as a class marker:  street language vs PhD.  Also restricted linguistic codes, designed for members only; common in small communities where folks don't travel much.  Example:  asked where to buy an item, answers could range from "at the grocery store" (city), "at the National" (town), "from Tony" (neighborhood).
MER:  Accent is also a marker.  Have to sound like "one of them" to be taken seriously.
Writers told not to use dialect, accents because can be hard to read / hard to sell.  How to use?  The Color Purple an example of successful book in the vernacular.
EG:  Have them talk differently; spell words correctly most of the time
MER:  Small amount to imply dialect; light brush; word choice.  Don't make it so reader has to slow down.
Discussion of My Space vs Facebook.  Initially Facebook was a closed system; had to be affiliated with a college to register.  In the military, soldiers were on My Space, officers on Facebook
EG:  Work place class - if you want authority you dress like the boss
Question:  is reading itself a marker of class?
AA:  Has changed with time.  Books have gone from very expensive to cheap and easily available.
Moving up in class can create isolation from roots.
Works mentioned:
AA:  Highest Frontier by Joan Slonszewski.  Students vs colonists on space station
MER:  Foundation books by Isaac Asimov.  Scientists were the master class and took care of everybody else.  Also Space Relations by Donald Barr.
EG:  Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy (YA).  He had class stuff in his YA work but not so much in his adult work
Among Others by Jo Walton

Realistic and Unrealistic Sex in Fiction
Mod Margaret McBride; Katie Clapham, Deanna Lepsch, Ashlynn Monroe, Kate Nepveu
Description:  What makes sex in fiction realistic or head-twistingly not?  Do we want realistic sex?  Is fanfic better at it? 

Started with definitions
KC:  realistic includes physically capable, emotionally consistent for characters,  appropriate for situation
KN:  realistic and good overlap
DL:  realistic okay if you're reading for the story and not to get off.  Unrealistic is okay, too.
AM:  must be real for the story
Language:  avoid overuse of any word.  Stock phrases completely overused; some sound like disease is involved; some choreographic moves overused.
AM:  lip biting is a cliche
KC:  Watch your wording, eg thrust into and out of:  how to thrust out of???
Word choices go from flowery through clinical into crass.  Choice depends on story, characters.  Tone of piece and purpose should determine the language you use.
Lack of specificity can be good; focus more on what's going on in the characters' heads
Problems:  depiction of virginity and first time; authors with lack of anatomy knowledge; lazy writing.  Tropes include woman coming like 18 times, regardless of partner's skill.  Emotional awkwardness important, especially first time (losing virginity or even first time for these partners).
Avoid too much sex; reader may ask, "wouldn't they be sore by now?" and be thrown out of story
KN:  Desire is sexy, along with what's happening inside their heads
KC:  Start with the characters, what's their connection; the attraction is the most erotic thing.  Nothing sexier than desire.
DL:  If you're not in their heads why do you want to be in their bodies?
AM:  develop characters and relationship first
Having more awkward moments helps bring more reality; needs to fit characters, though.
All want to see more enthusiastic consent.  Also, more sex between couples who've been together for a long time.
Works mentioned:
"Mountain Ways" by Ursula K LeGuin
Alien Sex edited by Ellen Datlow
Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson
Dreamsnake by Vonda N McIntyre
Freedom and Necessity by Emma Bull and Stephen Brust

Monday, June 3, 2013

WisCon 37 Panels, Part Three

Argghh!  This posted with the date I created the first draft, NOT today, June 10!  What's up with that??

The day I arrived in Madison, I took a wrong turn on the way to my hotel.  It was serendipity.

Old tractors are not abandoned in Wisconsin - they become lawn ornaments!  This one was in front of a garden center surrounded by color coordinated tulips. 

More panel summaries.  As before, no attribution means I either didn't write down who said it or it's a summary type statement.

Intimate vs Remote Gods
Mod: Heidi Waterhouse; Rose Hayes, Janice Mynchenberg, Judy Peterson, LaShawn M Wanak
Description:  Is it faith if you run into the god in question while doing your grocery shopping?  What is the nature of a god whose existence you don't have to take on faith?  What does believing in an unseen god signify?  Panelists will discuss examples from recent and older literature, including N.K. Jemisin, Mary Doria Russell, Phillip Pullman, and Lois McMaster Bujold. 

HW:  Examples of intimate gods include those in Jemisin's Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Thor and Loki in the Avengers canon.
RH:  In Sand Kings, the human protag focuses on practice rather than faith; what does it mean if the god changes his mind?  Also, Seanan McGuire's Aislin mice; everything protag does is immediately passed into ceremonies.
LSW:  Leah Bobet "Parable of the Shower" story where angel tells woman she's going to have the child of god and the woman says, "Hell, no!"
JM:  Even a god you can't see can feel intimate.  Her definition is if the religion is close and important for the story it's intimate; if it's part of the background it's remote.
Discussion of faith vs religion
RH:  Religion can be emphasis on practice that is life enhancing and sometimes larger than self with no obligation for divine worship
LSW:  With intimate, can be questionable as to whether the communication is truly from god.
Even when the god's in front of you, there's a decision about is this my god and choice about faith.
In Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon, two main characters have different ways of following their religion, strong vs lax.  Magic comes from invoking the god's name but it's unclear if magic is from god or from the faith the characters hold.
Ambiguous is good.
In Martin's Game of Thrones, the gods are more window dressing; not much detail of what they want, etc.  No theology.  RH said sense the gods are currently remote but in the past they may have been closer.
HW:  What about dead gods?
Digger, the online comic by Ursula Vernon has a dead god.  Also Sheri Tepper's Raising the Stone.
HW:  Theodocy:  if god is good why do bad things happen?
RH:  The Sparrow - horrible things happen to the faithful; a study in many ways faith is tested and how faith can close your eyes to the set of facts you're seeing
LSW:  King's The Stand - suffering for a just and noble purpose
Does having some kind of faith help flesh out characters?  Does it make a piece stronger?
Lacking faith doesn't equal flat character, but having faith helps.
Someone mentioned that in the Bujold series, Cordelia is the only believer.
JM:  Faith can tell you who the character ultimately trusts
RH:  So far talked of books where religion is explicit.  Others deal with concepts, eg Coldfire trilogy
Would be good to see gods that aren't Christian.
JP:  We're more comfortable with gods that are familiar to us; couldn't remember name of story where Set was coming back.
RH:  More non-western depictions.  Pantheons are western taxonomic approach.  More intimate gods without theology layered on top.  A single god that's not in line with Christian views.
HW:  "What if god is one of us, on the bus?" - line from a song.  God of the internet?  What does the Cyber God look like?
Someone mentioned there is one in American Gods.
Early SF rarely mentions religion.  If you put too much religion in a story do you risk alienating some readers or being pigeonholed as a Christian writer?
Works mentioned:
Wheel of the Intimate by Martha Wells
Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht
Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N K Jemisin
Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
"Parable of the Shower" by Leah Bobet
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
The Stand by Steven King
books by Tamara Pierce
Dark Faith, Jerry Gordon and Maurice Broaddus, eds
Dark Faith: Invocations, Jerry Gordon and Maurice Broaddus, eds
Digger online comic by Ursula Vernon [First Digger episode]

Gendered Communication Styles in the Workplace
Mod: Liz Argall; Naomi Mercer, Andrea L Staum, Talks-with-wind
Description:  Interpersonal communication styles are influenced by the cultural experience of gender, but add in office power dynamics and things get ... interesting.  Men finding themselves in a woman-dominated workplace may find how things work to be alien.  Women entering a workplace that values a robust debate of ideas may find it intimidating.  Unlike your social life, you have to work with these people, and that means finding out how to talk to them constructively.

[NM is Lt Col in the army; AS is a motorcycle technician; TWW is in IT]
LA had first job at a feminist non-profit, then moved to a government job (England?) for a big official.  There was "revolution in the butler's pantry."
Communicating effectively is important.
AS:  Spoke of not being "life ready" for the male dominated motorcycle world with its inherent misogyny when she first arrived.
NM:  Joined ROTC for the scholarship money, expected 4 years and out.  "They kept giving me things I wanted."  Looking feminine and acting masculine got a lot of push back from older men.
Female drama manifests in different ways than male drama.  Everyone agreed male drama exists.
NM had to have "remedial conversations" with some male officers.
Audience person who's a lawyer:  Get the reputation of someone willing to make noise; learn how to use the privileges for good.
TWW:  first job all women in office; he had to learn not to be the young, gung-ho guy.  Next job was all men and he floundered for a while learning the communication style.
Discussion of specific issues raised by audience members.

Discworld and Gender Issues
Mod Kate Nepveu; Bronwyn Bjorkman, Rhea Ewing, E Cabell Hankinson Gathman, Jenny Nilsson
Description:  In 39 books to date, Terry Pratchett's Discworld series does a lot of good things with gender themes and some less than good things.  Let's talk about the wide range of female characters in Discworld, their different kinds of agency, the number of stories that center on female relationships, and the problematic of strains of gender essentialism and heteronormativity, especially in Discworld;s non-human species.

[Moderator had negative views and kept pushing them.  Only panel I attended where moderator was so intrusive in the conversations.  Didn't allow time for audience input.  Also, if you haven't read most of the Discworld books much of this won't make sense.]
Everyone on the panel loves the Witches.
KN:  Lack of any queer discourse is a big hole.  Monstrous Regiment has characters that might be interpreted that way, but hard to tell if they would claim that identity.
Lots of discussion of the characters in Monstrous Regiment.
Some felt species used as a metaphor for race.  Not all agreed. [I see it more as nationalities/ cultures.]
Sam / Sybil relationship with hen-pecked husband theme and women as civilizers (Sybil as "angel of the house") presented negatively by moderator.  [No one called her on this; Sam isn't hen-pecked, he's cared for.  When he's called out at night, Sybil sends him off with bundle up well and kick arse, dear.]
Discussion of embodiment and what it does to you, eg putting apron on non-gendered golum has effect of feminization and "she" becomes Gladys.  Idea that belief defines reality.
Auditors have no natural gender.
Witches power not dependent on celibacy (Nanny!); more individuality for witches in how they use their power than for wizards.  Witches get to choose their role in the community.
Moderator felt there's an uneasy relationship with fat people.  Pointed out that Agnes, in Maskerade, is only character that loses so much.  Someone mentioned Nanny briefly here, but no mention of the wizards in the context of fat folks.
Angua stronger on her own than with Carrot; some said she seems like a real person who wandered into the Discworld.  [Angua's a werewolf!]
Discworld has no women in political power who present as female.  The dwarf king in Uberwald is female, but isn't "out."  Susan being a duchess isn't discussed much in the books, and she certainly isn't working in that role, but as a nanny or school teacher.  Some said it feels like TP is trying to pair Susan off but she's resisting him.
[There was little time for comments from the audience.  No mention at all that Mr Pratchett's daughter will be taking over writing the Discworld series and what changes that could mean for all these issues.]

Sunday, June 2, 2013

WisCon 37 Panels, Part One

I plan to post summaries of the panel discussions I attended at WisCon.  Each will start with a list of panel members and the description from the program, followed by a summary of my notes.

If I don't attribute a statement to a specific person it means either I failed to write down who said it or it's more of a general consensus.

(Yes, I am aware of the irony of the first panel of my first writing conference being scientific. Ya' know, the second panel was, too!)
Mod Gayle; Ada Milenkovic Brown, Jacqueline Houtman, Carl F Marrs, Greg Press, Joan Slonczewski (WisCon Guest of Honor)
Description:  Microbes play crucial ecological roles.  Many are directly or indirectly required for human health.  They form a large part of the earth's biomass.  They can perform some amazing metabolic tricks, yet all too often science fiction has ignored microbes, or has focused on their role as human pathogens.  But not this panel!  We have plentiful fare for discussion:  microbial ecology, biofilms and microbial mats, microbiomes, microbial genomics, microbial diversity, antibiotic resistance, horizontal gene transfer, microbial evolution, microbial exobiology and the role of microbes in human health.
For this panel, microbes were defined as bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites
JS:  from recent ASM (American Society for Microbiogy) meeting - each individual has a unique microbial print; breath in a room for some time (missed how long) and later air samples can tell who was there.  [presumes knowing each person's microbial print]
G:  heard on Science Friday [on NPR] that dogs share their microbes with their humans, cats don't.
Dogs equilibrate the family microbiota.
CM:  tech drives new opportunities.  Cost of DNA sequencing has dropped dramatically, so human microbe genome project feasible.  Majority of microbes on humans can't be cultured; sequencing ID'd who's there.  Certain families of microbes common, but the species differ with individual humans.
Discussion of using antimicrobial soaps and how general public often considers all microbes bad.
GP: it's about location - right place vs wrong place in your body
The white blood cells involved with allergies are the same ones that respond to parasites.  There is ongoing research using pig parasites as a way to trigger human response without causing disease.  Research is related to MS.  Could be relevant to other autoimmune diseases.
Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria.  Theory that the water of the Ganges River is less infectious to people than it could be because of a large bacteriophage population that preys on the bacteria in the water.
Gut bacteria can stimulate the vagus nerve and affect mood.
In Japan, people who regularly eat raw seaweed have gut bacteria that digest polysaccharides in the seaweed. The bacteria got the enzymes through horizontal transfer from marine bacteria growing on the seaweed.
Horizontal transfer is also how bacteria exchange antibiotic resistance.
Discussion of a theory that viruses are protective.  A population carries virus with no problem; when they are invaded or eaten, the attackers get sick.
Protein from a bacteria found in high salt environments moves ions across membranes in response to light.  Ion transport is essentially how nerves work.  Possibilities of introducing this protein to damaged nerves to obtain responses.
Microbes are transmitted by "the four F's - food, fingers, feces and fucks"
For fiction:  what areas of the world environment are controlled by microbes?  How might microbes be involved in colonizing other planets?  Send them first to "soften up" the environment?  All kinds of ethics issues involved with that because of effects on native biota.
Books mentioned:
Fiction:  The Patron Saint of Plagues by Barth Anderson
Non-fiction: Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer; A Planet of Viruses by Carl Zimmer; Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

Science Writing, Redux
Mod Janet M Lafler; Lisa C Freitag, Jacquelyn Gill, Jacqueline Houtman, Meg Turville-Heitz
Description: Let's reprise a science writing panel from the past that was a lot of fun.  Science writing and science reporting can be excellent resources for non-scientists and people who are not specialists in a particular scientific field.  They can help us learn the basics of a field, keep up with cutting edge research, or understand the history of science.  Where should the educated layperson turn for information on science?  How do you evaluate the reliability of a writer who is describing a field you know little about?  What are the elements of good science writing?  Of science journalism?  Who are your favorite science writers and why?
(I arrived late to this one)
General public thinks "science" says this, "science" says that contradictory thing, and therefore don't trust "science."  Problem at the education level, with a fundamental underlying presentation of "science facts" rather than the reality of the fluidity of science [concepts change as new facts emerge]
Learning critical analysis tools is important.
Good science writing includes engagement, enthusiasm, making the process understandable, presenting scientists as real people, and not talking down to audience.
JG (I think):  Beware scientists approaching retirement moving into the humanities
Discussion of Ted Talks, how they are very stylized and can give a false assumption of expertise in some cases.
Original scientific journal articles are often behind a pay wall.  Some scientists post PDFs of their articles on their own websites.  Recently, the US government said any work funded by federal money must be publicly available within 2 years of publication.
Panel suggestions for good science writers:
At Scientific American blogs:  Kate Clancy, Danielle Lee, Matthew Francis
At National Geographic blogs:  Eddie Yong
Carl Zimmer
At Boing Boing: Maggie Koerth-Baker
Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy
PHD comic (Piled Higher and Deeper)

To give you a sense of the variety available at this conference and how hard it can be to chose:

Some panels at the same time as Microbes (Friday, 4 PM):
Little House on the Manifest Destiny
British Women SF Writers
Intergenerational GLBT Dialog
How to Create When Life Isn't Slowing Down for You
Stop Killing All the Minority Characters!

Panels at the same time as Science Writing (Saturday, 8:30 AM):
Digital Death
Social Justice Themes in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Whose Dystopia?  Freedom-to Versus Freedom-from

Saturday at 10 AM there were SIX panels I wanted to go to (out of 15)!  I picked Strong Female Characters vs Kickass Babes.  That summary will be in my next post.