Month: January 2010 Page 2 of 4

The Week in Pictures

I’ve been messing around with settings – here’s use of a higher ISO setting with no flash.  The graininess comes from the setting.

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Here’s messing around with the camera’s pitiful macro setting.

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A picture for Ray – Tiger LPS in conquest of lasagna.

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And Tiger LPS explores the world of Mouse Guard.

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Ray’s foot with the abominable snow monster.

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And, for the grand finale, may I present Miss Rachael?

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Book Review: Mouse Guard Volume 2, Winter 1152

by David Peterson.

Have I mentioned lately that I am in love with characters that show perseverance?  ‘Cos I am.

Mouseguard is about a group of mice working as guardsmen for the mouse town, Lockhaven.  The mice, while living lives the length of normal humans (I think) live in a world where everything is bigger than they are, there’s very little technology (about Dark Ages/the cusp of a maker-type renaissance), and they taste good.  Nevertheless, they survive.

The characters are more fully realized than most literary novels.  The drawing is fantastic, just fantastic, about a million miles away from the garish, brutal, oversexed stuff of superheroes.  And…cute?  Yes, I’d have to say that from time to time, I have to go, “Oooh, the little mousie is so cuuuuute.”    Not childlike, but realistic – and mice are cute.

Volume 1 was about introducing characters in their everyday world, then disrupting the world – a good tactic for a book named Fall.  Winter is about the aftermath of the plot twists from Fall. The characters are out of food, supplies, and medicine, and begging around the area to get more.  Mysteries abound – but don’t come to fruition.  Which is good for a book called Winter.  I get the sense that the next volume, Black Axe, is going to develop the mysteries further – but not quite move into Spring.


Book Review: The Tale of Murasaki

by Liza Dalby.

This is one of the finest books I’ve read in years.  My tastes don’t run toward the literary and fine, but this was worth stepping out of the genres to read.

It’s the “discovered” story of the author of The Tale of Genji, that is, the world’s first novel (debatable, but pretty close either way).  The woman, Murasaki Shikibu (a nickname; she ended up named after one of her own characters from Genji) left her diary to her daughter; the daughter published the diary years after her mother’s death.

The Tale of Murasaki is an episodic, literary exploration of living in 10-11th century Japan.  Hm…how do I explain it?  It rings true about what it feels like to be a writer, both as the unknown girl whose father is worried that she’ll embarrass him and as the writer of the Empress’s favorite stories.  Mood swings; isolation; falling in love with all the wrong people; figuring out the difference between what people want to read and what rings true.  And, most remarkably, putting poetry in such a context as to both make them make sense and be vital to the plot.

Quickly I peeled off the wet Chinese clothing and hit it. My skin was hot but my hair retained the cold from outside. At one point my cap had fallen off and Ming-gwok took my loose hair into his slender white fingers and buried his face in it. He said someday he would send me some of the Chinese perfumed oil his mother used. I lay down under my pile of padded robes, but left my cold hair outside the quilts, spread in tangled disarray. My dreams were tumbled in disarray as well.

A thousand strands of black hair, tangled hair – like them my thoughts, tangling and entangled.

Time and time again, I kept making comparison to sending someone elegant tweets on Twitter.  People would just dash off a quick poem, send it off by messenger, and receive a reply within (sometimes) minutes.  There are only so many new ideas, you know.

In the end, Murasaki is tired of writing Genji stories (a lifetime) and wants to leave the court and become an ascetic (although not a nun).  She manages to kill off Genji, but is then trapped into writing about his sons (just as she is cornered into staying at court).  Eventually, she finds a way out, a satisfyingly literary one.  The story of a woman who tastes success, gains respect, and finds the things she loves are the things she has lost or thrown away.  I liked it.  A good story for a season full of cold and depression.

Book Review: Iorich

by Stephen Brust.

Stuff is starting to fall into place.  If you’re a Stephen Brust fan, you should read this book.

And maybe that’s all I need to say.

For anybody who doesn’t know who Stephen Brust is or what he writes, he writes high fantasy that might be SF, if you look at it in a different light.  The main character in the Vlad books, Vlad Taltos, is a human assassin working for the “official” criminal organization on his planet, killing millenia-old Elves (Dragaerans) and runnning his own territory.  Vlad’s a smartass; he’s very clever.  Things proceed to get a lot deeper than criminal intrigue, though.

Why should you read Stephen Brust?  For the same reason you should treat yourself to a meal made my a master chef in disguise, working at a diner, making food that is almost, but not quite familiar.

A note – the books vary in tone and don’t follow a straightforward timeline; one book might be set years before or after another.

(There’s another series of high fantasy books based on Alexandre Dumas’s Three Musketeers books; they start about 1000 years before the main books, but follow a Dragaeran character who continues through to the main series.)

Anyway, I figured out my reading project for this year – I’m going to read the Vlad books in publication order and try to figure out where this is all going.

Book Review: How to Photograph Absolutely Everything

by Tom Ang.

I’m at the point with digital photography that I have two concerns:  how to make the camera do something even remotely resembling what I want, and what, exactly, am I looking for when it comes to good pictures.

I read one of the Dummies books on digital photography and learned a lot about the technical details of operating a camera.  (Except for f-stop.  Why can’t anybody explain f-stop worth a damn?) But I hated the pictures, and I hated the advice on how to take pictures.

The Tom Ang book doesn’t rate so high on the technical details aspect.  But I love the pictures.

Why would you want to be able to do X with your camera?

Here are some examples.

Why does the POV matter?  Because if you take the picture of the statue from below, it looks like the saint is looking up toward heaven.

Why do you want to be able to adjust for low light levels and mess with exposure levels?  To take pictures of stained-glass windows.

Why do you want to adjust your ISO setting?  So you can take sharp pictures of dancers in a dark hall.

Each example is accompanied by a sidebar with the camera settings.

Unlike the Dummies book, this one made me want to go out and take pictures.  I can’t think of higher praise.

Twelfth Night.

We went over to Dave and Margie’s for Twelfth Night on Saturday – not exactly the twelfth night after Christmas, but not March, either.

Mary, Jackie, Stan, Doyce, Kate, and Randy were all over, too.  Margie did something I’ve never heard of before – as each guest came through the door, they had to take a slip of paper with a number and an appetizer on it, which they then had to prepare.

I think the theory behind this was to make sure Margie stayed off her foot and ankle, which she broke in December.  It helped…some.  But it was interesting.  Why Randy got stuck making the dumplings, I’ll never know.

It was glog night.  I think I’m going to make the tentative observation that warm liquor is my Waterloo, or at least my tequila.  I don’t regret my inappropriate actions, but I won’t chortle over them here.

A foodie note – mixing kona coffee (with its smoky undertaste) and Scotch cancels out the smokiness of both.  Stick with whiskey.

I miss you all  already.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-01-17

  • Watch me bounce off the walls. "What do you think about Choose Your Own Adventure Books?" [Insert evil laugh here.] #
  • @elizawhat Your high school boy-on-boy plot sounds like MANGA! #
  • Semantic Saturation – a repeated word losing meaning. RT @BarelyKnit #
  • @bookoven Re: book soul mates. That's like having a library filled only with previously-read books. in reply to bookoven #
  • @bookoven Hm…which might be a good ending to that story, actually. Okay. #
  • @scalzi Me: A cat. Choose: FURBALL! in reply to scalzi #
  • Woke up thinking of bad puns. #
  • Ugh…need nap. #
  • @Daphneun Check out Woot – tripod flashlight on a keychain. Huh. I wonder if it's bright enough to be useful. #
  • @Daphneun Also, the blurb is a nice Twilight parody. #

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We’ll always have Facebook

I went to my good-bye party for my old group at work, a month and a half after I actually left.  I guess I was kind of lucky; if we’d had it any earlier, the people I’d been working with the most wouldn’t have been able to go, and I would have been too broken up about it to be much fun.

I had a good time, even though I kept thinking, “Is this the last time I’ll get to joke around with so-and-so or so-and-so?”

It was kind of like graduating from college.  New job learning new things for more money – and leaving behind the people who have gone though so much with you.

Oh well.  We’ll always have Facebook.

Book Review: Yotsuba&! 7

by Kiyohiko Azuma.

This is a graphic novel about a little girl named Yotsuba who has green hair ponytailed into a four-leaf clover style.

What can I say?  All of this series runs about the same, that is, brilliant.  This is the series that reminds me of Ray when she was younger.

In this volume, Yotsuba (who I estimate to be about four, although she claims to be six at one point) learns how to use string/cup telephones (and learns how to be an e-mail, complete with attachment and emoticon), calls her grandmother, gets sick, bakes a cake, goes shopping for her dad, and goes to a ranch.

Exciting, right?

I left this volume lying around, and Ray picked it up.  She squealed with laughter.

Just so.

Pikes Peak Writers Jan Write Brain

Welcome to the PPW January Write Brain, in which you will speed-date your most precious ideas to the audience!  You have 30 seconds to pitch your story!  And then an audience of thousands of jeering skeptics will mock your ideas by rating them on a scale of one to five, with one being absolute sucktitude and five being an unattainable goal!


Actually, it was pretty fun.  Trai Cartwright, a former Hollywood insider posing as a MFA candidate, did a great job on walking us through pitching our ideas, that is, she gave us a few base rules and let us have at it.

Here are the rules:

[Crickets chirping]

Right.  Get up there and tell us about your idea, your name, what it is (short story, screenplay, etc.), and the idea.

Some of the ideas were finished products; some of them were ideas brainstormed while staring vaguely at Ms. Cartwright and pretending to listen.  You know:  smile, nod, jot jot jot, smile, nod.

You know how hard it is to practice pitching to an agent?  (If you’ve ever gone to an April Write Brain before the PPW Conference, you know what I mean.)  Idea “speed dating” is the opposite of that.  You stand up, give a 30-second pitch, listen to what other people have to say, and then babble a bit about an answer.  Maybe it works so well because nobody expects a “I’ll be your rock-star agent” or “Get away from me, you freak” kind of decision.

After the first couple of pitches, I felt like I had the hang of it and started throwing in ideas and asking questions.  I don’t know – maybe some people were miserable getting their ideas tried out, but it didn’t look like it.  From what I saw, every person willing to stand up and get bugged by the audience came away with at least some kind of insight, whether from the comments or otherwise.  And every writer who stood up had an idea that I’d read (or watch).

I got up near the end and threw out my Chocolate Story idea.  Everybody got the wrong idea about it – no, the main characters don’t fall in love.  (It would totally spoil the twist at the end.)  But I realized that I was thinking of the story in the wrong way, because the story I was describing isn’t the story I’m writing.  Then I pitched the idea for a short horror story I’ve been kicking around for six months, and the audience listened, said, “You have great characters, now you just need a plot” and proceeded to supply one.  I kind of like the plot, kind of not, but it’s getting me started on how to approach the story.

This whole talking about my ideas to see how they go over thing…I think I like it.

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