Monday, September 5, 2016

DragonCon 2016 (Still Alive)

It's Monday afternoon, Labor Day, and I've been home from DragonCon 2016 long enough to do a huge load of laundry, eat a bowl of salad about the same size as the laundry load, and listen to Jonathan Coulton's "Still Alive" 605 times. Here's this year's DragonCon report! As always, it will be long but not, I hope, too boring. If it helps, imagine me typing this up while listening to "Still Alive" on repeat, because I am.

I wanted to drive to Atlanta on Thursday the way I did last year, but my work schedule prevented it. I decided to leave before dawn on Friday in an attempt to arrive in time to catch a 10am panel about Rifftrax hosted by Bill Corbett. I set my alarm for 5am and went to bed at 10pm on Thursday night. At about 1am I managed to get to sleep. Thank you, brain. Thanks very much.

So I staggered out of bed at 5am and managed to get out of the house by six. From my house to downtown Atlanta takes almost four hours if traffic isn't bad, so I knew I wouldn't be able to park, check in, and make it to the panel in time. I didn't stress about it, just sang along to the playlist I'd thrown together the night before. The farther south I drove, the cloudier and cooler it became as I drove into the remnants of Hurricane Hermone.

Traffic was light and I might have gone a tiny bit above the speed limit occasionally. I made it to Atlanta by nine-thirty, parked in the same parking garage I've been using for years, and hurried to the Sheraton to check in. I'd heard from people checking in on Thursday that the line moved fast, but was extremely long--the tail was outside for at least part of the afternoon. But it was still early enough when I arrived that there was almost no line. Within five minutes I had my badge and was galloping toward the Marriott to make the panel. It had already started when I arrived, but I only missed a few minutes.

It was hilarious and fun, a great start to DragonCon. After that I went downstairs to catch a panel about Star Wars ("Post-Force Awakens Scandals & Cliffhangers"), which was also fun although I see I am in the minority when it comes to Team Rey Kenobi. After that I had some time to kill before a panel at 2:30pm, so I headed for the Hyatt to watch the end of Galaxy Quest.

At this point I should mention that I'd been carrying around four bananas since I arrived. I'd brought them for snacks and imagined they'd last me the whole weekend, but I misjudged their ripeness and realized I couldn't leave them another day without them becoming inedible even by my standards. They were small bananas and not well-connected at the top (much like me) so I was carrying them on my hand like a waiter with a tray.

On my way to the Sheraton to check in, I'd heard someone yell, "Banana!" I turned around ready to offer him one, but he was waving a banana at me and grinning. We laughed and yelled banana at each other for a few minutes.

I was among my people.

I managed to give one banana away and a few hours later I ate another in desperation, but that left two and they were getting pretty black. They were fine inside but they sure didn't look very good.

I wanted to attend the goth music panel at 2:30, but I didn't want to attend while carrying two overripe bananas. It just felt weird, you know? But at the same time I couldn't make myself throw out two perfectly good bananas, and I also couldn't make myself eat them. So I texted my friend Kevin to let him know I'd arrived and asked if he wanted a banana.

He texted me back to say sure, he was a bit hungry and a banana would hit the spot.

He was in a puppetry panel, so after Galaxy Quest ended I headed over that way and caught him when the panel let out. He was with a friend I didn't know and we were all in a hurry to go to our next panels, but I was able to say hi to Kevin and give him and his friend the last two bananas.

From Twitter:
I saw Kevin very briefly and made him take the bananas, and he actually thanked me which just goes to show how nice he is.

Finally unencumbered, I hurried to the Westin for "The Goth Panel: Don't Bury Us--We're Not Dead!" This year the guests were Voltaire, Rogue from Cruxshadows, and two members of I:Scintilla. I didn't get a picture--for some reason I didn't get any pictures on Friday until late--and I have regrets. The panel is a bit freeform but basically the guests talk about what new projects they're working on and answer a lot of audience questions. This year the topics meandered from a discussion of Rogue's hair to what it means to be a goth and to the goth scene in general. It was interesting and fun, and I was lucky enough to snag one of the free CDs the moderator (DJ Ichabod--his Out ov the Coffin podcast is really good) puts together to showcase new goth music.

After that I had to leave the con long enough to check into my hotel. That meant getting my car out of the parking garage, of course, which was when I discovered the garage prices had gone up and the main exit was card-only. I'd made a special freaking trip to the ATM to make sure I had a lot of parking money, so now I get to make a trip to the bank this week to put the cash back.

It was four by the time I reached my hotel and checked in. I was starving and considered sitting down to eat somewhere near the hotel instead of getting into rush hour traffic. I decided finally to just head back to the convention since it was going to be hours before traffic thinned and it was only just building. Besides, there was a panel about cryptozoology I wanted to attend at 5:30. I didn't think I'd make it in time but it was worth trying.

Well, I made it despite the traffic. I have no idea how I kept lucking out this weekend, but I didn't have any trouble navigating my way through the traffic whether it was by car or on foot. I only missed one panel all weekend because it was full.

The best thing I can say about the cryptozoology panel is that it was nice and dark inside, which was restful for my eyes. They mostly talked about Bigfoot, with a fervor that people generally reserve for religion. After that I went in search of food and ended up in the Marriott--my favorite DragonCon hotel, and yes, I realize that sounds weird--with a piece of overpriced pizza (it's gone up to $6 per slice) and Coke. I found a relatively quiet corner and sat down against the wall to eat and decide what panel to attend next.

It was Friday evening by then and the convention was in full swing. Something good has changed with the internet coverage in downtown Atlanta, though, because for most of the weekend and in most places I actually had connection. The DragonCon app also worked really well this year. I grabbed a paper schedule just in case but never needed it once. I ate my pizza and watched people walk by in costume and thought I might just take the next hour off and do nothing in particular.

Then I realized I was right by the rooms used by the American Sci-Fi and Fantasy Media and related American Sci-Fi Classics tracks. Kevin is involved with both and I thought he might even be in the room to see the next panel, "Hero TV Crossovers: Fun? Fantastic? Forced?"

When I went in, there Kevin was on the panel! I hadn't seen any of the shows they discussed but as always in that track, the panelists are funny and knowledgeable, the moderator good, and I enjoyed listening to them. I got to talk to Kevin for a few minutes afterwards, then left for my next panel.

That's Kevin in the last chair on the right. Actually, this is a picture of a panel from Saturday.

From Twitter:
Made it to the next panel just in time. The room's now full.
It's a panel about Victorian spiritualism, part of the alt history track.
No seats so I'm standing in the back and having regrets about this situation.

After fifteen minutes I decided the panel wasn't engaging me, so I ducked out so someone else could come in (that's usually how it works when a room is full). I ended up in the Hyatt in time for the latter half of Escape the Clouds' concourse performance. I didn't know much about the band except that it was steampunk and I really liked the name. It turned out to be a guy singing songs that reminded me a little of sea shanties.

From my Twitter:
It's one guy with backing tracks and what sounds like a bass but so tiny.

(I found out the next day that he was playing a baritone ukulele.)

The last panel I wanted to attend that evening was about Creepypasta. It turned out to be really interesting and enjoyably creepy, appropriately. It ended at eleven, which gave me an hour before the Voltaire concert. Earlier that afternoon in the goth music panel, Voltaire had accidentally said "Matrium" instead of "Marriott Atrium," and not only did I find that funny, it actually made it easy for me to remember where he was playing (and I caught myself calling it the Matrium the rest of the weekend, so apparently this is a thing now. Take note).

Lines for all the big Marriott performances and panels started outside this year, not inside, which actually worked very well. It left more room for people to move around inside--always a problem, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings--and frankly I'd rather line up outside at night. There's always a lot going on outside.

From Twitter:
In line for Voltaire. I'm outside but it's a gorgeous night, breezy and cool.

Voltaire! Not a very good picture but the only one that wasn't hopelessly blurry

The Voltaire concert was awesome as always. I saw him in Knoxville a few months ago but he'd changed his set around for this performance. It was also fun listening to the people in line around me while we waited to get in--there were some hardcore Voltaire fans discussing his music. I really wanted to stay for The Cog Is Dead afterwards, but I just didn't have the energy. I drove back to my hotel and fell into bed for five hours.

Bright and early on Saturday morning, mostly so I'd avoid the parade traffic, I arrived for the 8:30am roll-a-panel about 1970s movies. Kevin was on that panel with about a dozen other people. It was hugely fun, and followed by the sequel to last year's Permissible Mullets panel, "Fantastic Mullets of Classic Sci-Fi." Kevin joined me in the audience for that one.

I ducked out about ten minutes early because my cousin Molly was on her way to pick me up for lunch and I didn't want to miss her. When I went upstairs in the Marriott to go out the side door, a full-sized brass band was playing inside the hotel (which gives you an idea of how huge these hotel lobbies are). People were dancing and I badly wanted to join them, but I also wanted to see Molly so I left the hotel and dodged through traffic to leap into her car while she waited at a red light. Seriously. (It was Molly's idea anyway--she called to let me know she didn't think she could get over into the right lane so I should just run into traffic and meet her. We are related.)

She whisked me away from the convention madness to the same restaurant we went to a couple of years ago. I still don't remember what it's called, but the food was amazing. Molly suggested I order something big so I'd have leftovers I could eat later, so I ordered half a chicken and then proceeded to eat the whole damn thing. I didn't have leftovers after all but I also wasn't hungry for a long long time.

It was great to catch up with Molly and decompress a little, although for whatever reason this year I didn't feel as frenetic as I usually do during DragonCon. Maybe I'm getting used to it. It definitely helps that I finally seem to have figured out how to find my way from one place to another without getting lost or turned around. I rarely had to consult my map this year. It only took six DragonCons to learn where everything is.

Molly dropped me back off at the convention in time for the swordfighting demonstration, but like last year the room filled up way too fast and I didn't get in. I went to the Doubleclicks concourse show instead. I like the Doubleclicks and have their most recent album, but when I listen to their music at home I can only take a few songs before I have to switch to something heavier for a while.

They put on a fun live show, though. About halfway through their set, they played their cover of Jimmy Eat World's "The Middle." I always liked the original and I like their cover, so I was happy they played it and sang along. Then suddenly I realized I was about to cry. It came out of nowhere. It's been a stressful year for me for various reasons and everything lately has seemed harder than it should be. A sweet little song reassuring me that everything would be okay just hit me hard. I had to leave.
The Doubleclicks made me cry

I walked around the convention for a while until I felt better, then headed to the Hyatt again for a panel about Hammer horror movies. I'm not a horror movie buff and couldn't tell you if I've ever actually seen a Hammer horror in my life, but the panel was interesting.

From Twitter:
At a panel about Hammer horror movies. The Saturday DragonCon crowds are building. Internet connection is increasingly shaky.

After that I didn't know what to do with myself so wandered over to the Hilton to the skeptic track for a panel on "Writing, Creativity, and Skepticism." It was a lot more interesting than I'd expected and I was glad I'd gone.

From Twitter:
I'm glad I wasn't driving this bus.

After that was the only panel I had to attend that day, an alt history panel called "The Musical Multiverse." I would have gone to see it anyway, but the singer for The Cog Is Dead was on it.

Boring explanation time: I'm taking drum lessons again (third semester) and part of the class is writing up concerts. I missed The Cog Is Dead's big show Saturday morning at 1:30am but knew I'd catch their concourse show on Sunday, but I thought it would be interesting to include some information about the band from the panel. (And I just realized I should be writing that paper instead of this blog post.)

Anyway, in addition to John Sprocket of The Cog Is Dead, Unwoman was on the panel, along with a guy from the Positronic Cats, two guys from Wasted Wine, and the moderator was the guy from Escape the Clouds. That's how I knew he plays the baritone ukulele--he mentioned it.

The panel was interesting. I did notice John Sprocket looked like he wasn't feeling too good, and next day he actually said during their show that he was coming down with con crud, but he was a lot more articulate than I'd have been in his position. I was impressed with all the speakers and immediately put Wasted Wine and Positronic Cats on my schedule to see, but I never did manage to make their shows. I'll have to look up their music online instead.

It was nearly seven by then and I was finally getting hungry again, so I got a piece of pizza and a Coke and settled down against a wall to eat and people-watch. Incidentally, there are very few places to sit during DragonCon unless you're at a panel. If you want to sit and eat, you find a free bit of wall and make sure to keep your feet tucked in so people coming by don't trip over you.

Kevin texted me while I was eating and asked if I was going to the Gonzaroo show at eight. I had other stuff on my schedule but I hadn't had much time to talk to Kevin so far and anyway it looked like Gonzaroo was going to be extra good this year, so I said sure. Kevin said he was in line and I could join him as long as I brought him a bottle of water. I did, because that was a good deal and anyway I already owed him for taking that banana off my hands on Friday.

The Gonzaroo special is a variety comedy show that lasts several hours. This year it was hosted by Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff in their MST3K personas! They're extremely funny comedians themselves, and the guest list was amazing. Kevin and I got fantastic seats too. While we were waiting for the show to start, we took selfies together, and a woman came up and asked if she could take our picture. I was a little surprised since we weren't dressed up or anything, but we said sure. She had a big camera and pressed the bar on the side several times. I wondered if she was an official photographer just grabbing pictures of random con-goers, but then a Polaroid photo spat out the front and she handed it to us. So that was utterly cool. Kevin has the picture and said he'd post it in the Flopcast show notes for his DragonCon wrap-up podcast in a week or two.

Me and Kevin, not a polaroid. The woman behind us is having way too much fun.

The show was excellent, of course. At times I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. In addition to comedians, there were a lot of musical guests: the Doubleclicks (they didn't make me cry this time), Molly Lewis, Paul and Storm, and Jonathan Coulton.

Molly Lewis accompanied by Paul and Storm and comedian Joseph Scrimshaw

Jonathan Coulton played "Still Alive," among other songs. I've never played Halo but I know all about it from friends who do. The song is seriously catchy.

After Gonzaroo Kevin and I met his wife Felicity and we went to the Here Come the Mummies concert! The Mummies played for a high-octane superfunky ninety minutes, including an encore--DragonCon doesn't do encores so they must have cleared it ahead of time. Their show started at midnight, and by the time I got back to the hotel at past two, my fitbit thingy said I had nine thousand steps for the day. Those were dance steps.

Here Come the Mummies!

I slept a little over four hours, then raced back to the con in time for the 8:30 am roll-a-panel (companion to Saturday's roll-a-panel), only to discover that the panel actually started at 10am. There wasn't much else going on so early and I hadn't had breakfast yet, so I walked a few blocks and found a Waffle House.

I had eggs, ham, grits, toast, and as much of a waffle drenched with syrup as I could stuff down, plus coffee and ice water. I think it may have been the first time I ever actually ate at Waffle House for breakfast.

From Twitter:
Got to DragonCon with an hour to kill before my first panel, so I found a Waffle House to start the day right with ten thousand calories.
The Mummies concert last night was amazing! I feel like someone beat me up.
Now I just want to go back to bed.
Checking out behind a Jawa.

The roll-a-panel was fun again--Saturday's covered the 70s, Sunday's was more about the 80s with some 90s shows and movies thrown in. The moderator has a big 20-sided die (like, a foot across made of cardboard) and audience members roll it. Whatever movie or TV show comes up, the panel talks about for a while. It's a lot of fun. Kevin was on that panel too.

Kevin's the guy in the middle between the lady in pink and the guy with his mouth open wide.

From Twitter:
The con's starting to wake up.

Next up I went to a workshop about recording your music on a budget. I'm not very interested in doing recording myself, but I'm writing a YA about a girl in a band and I thought I'd better get some grounding on how recording works because it's going to come up soon in the book. I learned a lot from the panel, and over the weekend I also quizzed Molly and Kevin about topics I needed to know for the book.

From Twitter:
Now I'm at a sound recording and mixing workshop, primarily as research for my WIP. IRS take note.
Next a panel about unsolved codes!

The unsolved codes panel was one I was particularly eager to see, since it was presented by Elonka Dunin. She gave a presentation last year on the Beale Ciphers and I really loved it. This one was just as good--so good, in fact, that I now have her name memorized when we all know how bad I am at names. Most of the names I've listed here I've had to look up, but not hers.

After that I finally got to see The Cog Is Dead play. I got a good seat on the floor up front too. They had someone filling in for their usual bass player and their singer, of course, was the one getting sick and losing his voice, but they still sounded great. They put on a fun show. Unwoman joined them on cello for a few songs too.

John Sprocket and Renate Goodwin of The Cog Is Dead. Sorry, substitute bass player, all the pictures I got of you were blurry.

I'd brought my copy of their latest CD, Carnival of Clockwork, and after their show I asked their drummer to sign it. I told her she'd inspired me to start drum lessons, which is absolutely true--there were a lot of reasons I finally took up drumming after wanting to learn since I was in my early 20s, but starting lessons was an important step and seeing a girl drummer at DragonCon two years ago was a real inspiration. She was gracious about the whole thing and I hope I didn't babble.

My last day at DragonCon was racing along. There was only one more panel I really wanted to attend, "Sounds from Beyond!" It was part of the Skeptic track and hosted by Brian Dunning, who runs the Skeptoid podcast, so I knew there'd be a lot of solid science behind it and not just some guy telling me that Bigfoot was real. I worried that the room would fill up and I wouldn't get a good seat, so I decided not to see Jig to a Milestone play and instead went to get in line. Well, I got pizza first.

While I was sitting there eating my pizza and admiring an amazing Totoro, someone's costume nearby started playing "Still Alive." I love costumes that have sound effects or play music. This one, though, combined with me hearing the same song the night before, burrowed into my brain and took over.

From Twitter:
Someone's Halo costume had that song playing and now it's stuck in my head FOREVER.
I don't know many of the words. Pretty much only, "just keep on trying till you run out of cake" but that may be wrong.
Anyway, that's what the inside of my head sounds like right now, that line over and over.

I stood in line for Sounds from Beyond! for an hour. Because of where I was standing, I had a really good view of people passing by in the Hilton. I think I enjoyed that hour as much as if I'd gone to a panel or something. I also got a lot of good pictures, so here are a few from then and earlier.


This Totoro was near me while I was eating my pizza. It was awesome to watch little kids run up to hug him. There's a guy in the costume and would make Totoro bounce up and down slightly. Also his ears wiggled.

THIS LOOKS JUST LIKE MY SKYRIM CHARACTER sorry it's blurry, I was overcome with emotion.

Saw this Batman on my way to the Hilton. He was awesome.

I smiled at a guy dressed as the Mad Hatter, in a brilliant costume, and he gave me a little bracelet with a teapot charm! Also while I was waiting, a Spiderman stopped to wait for some friends and took the opportunity to stretch his legs against a post that sort of stuck out from the wall. On the other side of the post, maybe twenty feet away, sat a little girl in a stroller with her parents sitting next to her. The Spiderman stuck his head around the post to look for his friends and the little girl squealed with excitement. He noticed and for the next five minutes played long-distance peekaboo with her. She was utterly delighted and I honestly think it was the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life.

From Twitter:

So just keep on trying till you run out of cake
So just keep on trying till you run out of cake 
Just keep on trying till you run out of

Since I was first in line, naturally I got a great seat for the panel. It was just as good as I'd hoped, covering everything from the bloop recording to backmasking. I got one of the free Skeptoid stickers afterwards, too.

I:Scintilla was playing at midnight, but while I like them, I didn't want to stay up that late when I was already drooping. I had a couple of hours before the last event I wanted to attend, a showing of MST3K shorts and bloopers, so I just wandered around for a while.

From my Twitter:
Walking around DragonCon now playing Pokemon, looking at costumes, and humming that Halo song. Bow down to Queen Geek.

Kevin texted to ask me if I wanted to join him and Felicity for supper, so I met up with them and we tried to find a place to eat that wasn't packed. We ran into some friends of Kevin's who were going to walk down to the Mellow Mushroom, so we joined them. It was a few blocks away and unfortunately when we got there the place was full with a half-hour wait time. Kevin and Felicity wanted to see Kirby Krackle play at 8:30 and I wanted to see the MST3K thing, so we decided just to walk back. It was a lovely evening and we didn't hurry, just meandered along through relatively quiet streets and talked. We said our goodbyes when we reached the Hyatt and went to our separate things.

I got in line for the MST3K presentation and actually got a seat pretty close to the front once they opened the doors. Unfortunately, the room had low ceilings so the movie screen couldn't be raised enough so that people in the rear of the (very large) room could see it. Even my good seat was marred by a guy's head exactly in the wrong place so he inadvertently blocked my entire view. I stayed until ten even so, because I knew so much of the material already that I didn't really need to see it, but when they stopped to do a costume contest, I decided to take off.

There were still plenty of things to do. I even had some of them on my schedule. But I was so tired I couldn't think straight. I decided to head back to the hotel despite it being so early.

I was in bed by eleven and slept until past seven. Then I packed up, checked out of the hotel, and hit the road home. When I got home, thankfully there were no mockingbirds in my house like last year. I downloaded "Still Alive" immediately.

Maybe next year things will be better for me financially and I can actually stay in a hotel downtown, because having to drive twenty minutes to get to my hotel makes it hard to stay up as late as I'd like--plus I spent $90 on parking this year and that's just ridiculous.

So that's it for DragonCon 2016. But don't worry, the year will fly by and it'll be DragonCon again before we know it, except we'll all be a year older!

Oh, and my Bag of Holding is EXCELLENT. 11/10 would buy again

"Still Alive" has restarted for the 900th time.
This was a triumph
I'm making a note here
Huge success

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The week before the week before DragonCon 2016!

This morning I opened the DragonCon app and discovered it had updated and the full schedule is available! Now I'm in excitement overdrive because as of this writing, we only have NINE days until DragonCon 2016!

Last year I posted some hopefully useful information about what to bring/do to make your DragonCon experience low-stress. One of the things I mentioned was that I had yet to find a con bag I really liked.

I also mentioned in my DragonCon 2015 wrap-up post that I had ordered a Bag of Holding from ThinkGeek for next year. I'd hoped to get to another convention or two this year but I've been busy and broke, a bad combination, so I haven't had a chance to try the bag out in a true convention setting. But I think it's going to work very well.

A few days ago I made a list of everything I needed to carry with me during DragonCon. To help you make your own decisions about what to bring, here's my list (and I'll probably end up adding some stuff):

phone and charger and cord
wallet/keys/hotel key card
toiletries bag (including aspirin for headaches and moleskin for blisters)
contact solution and eyedrops
handheld fan and handkerchief (to mop my sweaty face so I don't have to use my shirt)
snacks and wet wipes
paper schedule and hand-drawn map of convention area
hand lotion
notebook and pens

I put as much of the stuff as I could into my Bag of Holding--and not only did it all fit, I have tons of room left!
(Note the little pocket exactly the right size for my awesome phone charger! I love that thing. I wish I'd had one last year.) (Also note that that notebook is not full-sized, which makes the bag look bigger than it really is.)

Not shown: the velcro-backed badges I've ordered for the bag's front panel (intended for badges). I ordered three from etsy and haven't received them yet, but hopefully I'll get them before DragonCon and everyone will know I am Team Valor, have B+ blood type, and really like Totoro.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Drums and drums

Just over two years ago I posted about learning to play drums. I'd wanted to learn since I was in my early 20s but never knew how to start. I played French horn in the school band, not exactly the kind of background most drummers have.

So I put it off and put it off, and finally decided it was time. I bought a cheap drum kit online, managed to sort of put it together, and started teaching myself how to play. I had a couple of used "learn drums!" books and the internet.

So how's it going now that two years have passed?

At first it went great. I had fun making noise and learning how to play really simple grooves. I worked hard to coordinate both arms and both legs together. I felt like I was starting to get it.

Then that first rush of excitement cooled. I started to wonder if I was learning bad habits by teaching myself out of books. I didn't feel like I was progressing very fast after those first few weeks. I knew I needed to concentrate on the rudiments but I didn't really understand how to do a lot of them. Advice online was sometimes conflicting, often confusing.

After a couple of months my practice sessions tapered off. My shiny black drum kit (in the living room, so I couldn't use the couch) got dusty. When I did practice, I ran up against the same walls again and again. I thought about taking lessons, but those are expensive and I wasn't even sure where to find a teacher.

Then I remembered I work at a college. With a music department. And employees can take a free class every semester.

So last fall I started taking lessons, one half-hour lesson every week. My teacher started me on the very basics. He showed me how to hold the sticks properly (I was mostly right, although I had indeed developed some bad habits). He taught me the rudiments I needed to practice to develop stick control. By the end of that first semester I was back to playing simple grooves on the drum kit, only this time I was making progress every single week. That's not to say it's easy--I'm no born drummer; I have to work hard to improve--but I enjoy it.

I just finished my second semester of lessons. I'm getting better and better. A few friends, all of us terrible but enthusiastic musicians, have started a band called Rocket Pony and one day we might actually manage to get together to actually play. I don't have lessons over the summer, although hopefully I'll be able to continue in the fall, but I practice every single day. And I've traded my crappy cheap drum kit for a used Ludwig Accent kit with Sabian cymbals. I love it like crazy. It's purple.

Monday, March 28, 2016


I've been listening to a few podcasts regularly for a couple of years, but in the last few months I've suddenly really gotten into them. One podcast mentions another, that one leads me to a third, and so on until I have an awful lot of podcasts I like and can't keep them all straight.

So I'll make a list.

The Flopcast
This is a fun and funny weekly podcast with a focus on geek culture.

Welcome to Night Vale
The only fictional podcast I listen to. It's just as good as everyone claims. I recommend you start at episode one.

The Skeptics Guide to the Universe
A weekly podcast. The focus is mostly on science and skepticism, with some geek culture references.

Short, interesting episodes looking scientifically at pseudoscientific or folkloric beliefs.

A fun podcast about monsters--folkloric, historical, fictional, and so forth.

Astonishing Legends
This one ranges from ghost stories to historical mysteries--I especially recommend the Laughing Indian for the former, the two-part investigation of Amelia Earhart's disappearance for the latter.

(From Astonishing Legends I discovered Dark Myths, which is a collective of a bunch of great podcasts. I'm still sampling them, but some of my favorites are below.)

Wonderfully creepy, thoughtful episodes with a focus on historical legends.

Strange Matters
A podcast of wide-ranging interests, from monsters and ghosts to serial killers and mysterious deaths. An interesting mix.

Night Time podcast
Creepy and interesting episodes about strange events, from mysterious disappearances to Canadian folklore.

Singing Bones
About fairy tales and other folk stories, with a focus on real-world connections.

The Podcast of Doom
Most of these episodes I find too depressing to listen to, but I have a ghoulish love of accounts of fires and other similar disasters and these are good.

The Vanished
Accounts of people who went missing under suspicious circumstances in the modern era.

Casefile True Crime
Solved and unsolved crimes in the modern era, particularly those in Australia.

A look at both serious crimes and quirky ones, historical and modern, with a focus more on the after-effects than on the crimes themselves.

Generation Why
Another true crime podcast, largely unsolved murders but with a good variety of other topics and interviews too.

Thinking Sideways
Unsolved mysteries, primarily crimes like murder and disappearances but wide-ranging in content.

Our Fake History
Well-researched, in-depth episodes examining historical events. Often funny and I love the host's voice.

Archaeological Fantasies
Excellent episodes where professional archaeologists dig (ha) into pseudo-history claims to find their sources and discover why they continue to be believed.

Strange events, both historical and modern. Atmospheric and nicely different.

Expanded Perspectives
A long-running podcast covering unexplained things. Maybe a bit on the credulous side of skeptical but a lot of fun too.

Movie Sign with the Mads
Witty movie reviews with Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu from MST3K, plus someone named Carolina Hidalgo who I don't know but I like her.

Out ov the Coffin
A monthly podcast featuring dark music, from goth and postpunk to death metal and everything in between. I find a lot of great new music here.

Alchemist in the Evening
Another dark music podcast, this one leaning more toward metal. It's sadly defunct now (hasn't been updated since last summer) but I keep checking back just in case....

Behind the Kit
I almost forgot this one! These are interviews with various drummers.

(Expect this post to be updated frequently as I find new podcasts. I mostly just need a way to keep them all straight.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mini-interview with SF author Simon Rutter!

SIMON RUTTER is an Englishman who has largely wasted his life in a series of increasingly pointless middle management jobs in large corporations. This has, however, allowed him to see the world at someone else's expense and he has lived in the United States, the Middle East, Continental Europe and the Antipodes. He tweets and maintains a blog with the grim sense of duty and sclerotic rhythm of a rheumatic gravedigger because, apparently, one has to. He is a vegan, politically active on animal welfare issues and a competitive cyclist. He attacks literature and life with a savage joie de vivre. His strongest literary influences are Waugh, Orwell, Vidal, Lessing, LeGuin and Gibson.

WITHOUT A CITY WALL is his fourth novel but the first to be submitted for publication. You didn’t miss anything with the first three.

KNOTTED THICKET: What are some of your favorite books? Do you reread old favorites
or are you always working on your to-read pile?

SIMON RUTTER: I find the fiction that most resonates with me is strongly character driven and, usually, with some element of transformation or redemption for the protagonist. The novels I that regularly re-read tend to be those that had a huge impact on my when I was young. I regularly revisit books by Waugh, Greene and Orwell. In particular I greatly admire the Sword of Honour trilogy, Our Man in Havana and Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

One science fiction book that had a revelatory effect on me when I first read it was Neuromancer by William Gibson. I bought the first edition paperback in the winter of 1985 and read it while waiting for a train in King's Cross station. Today King's Cross is a pristine and glassy temple to consumerism with a Harry Potter gimmick but in 1984 it was a soot smeared, dimly lit cavern of junkies and prostitutes and therefore provided the perfect context in which to read Neuromancer. With the wisdom that inevitably accrues to the aged I now see that Gibson somewhat co-opted Neuromancer's heady blend of brand fetishism and nihilism from Ian Fleming but it is still a brilliant and genuinely groundbreaking book that I love.

KT: How much research do you do when writing science fiction?

SR: I do almost no active research. If I see or read something that will make a compelling theme or plot element I make a note of it for later use. One of the joys of being a science fiction author is that we get to strike the shackles of the mundane. I do take great pains to make sure that the science elements in the books are at least plausible and consistent within the bounds of my amateur knowledge.

A malcontent in my writing group, let's call him John, once challenged one of my stories for not correctly observing the effects of special relativity on near lightspeed travel. So I said to him, “OK, there's a device on the ship called The John Box which suppresses the effects of special relativity. Are you any happier now?”

KT: You've got a fun list on your blog of SF books you want to read but not write. How do you decide which ideas you want to develop into a book?

SR: For me it always starts with the characters. I usually blend characteristics from people I know and grotesquely exaggerate them for dramatic effect. Lucy in Without a City Wall is based on someone with whom I used to work. I thought she was an interesting individual and began to ponder the character's actions and reactions on a broader dramatic stage.

Also, if executed to a high standard, writing a novel is a vast amount of work; literally thousands of hours. Therefore I have to be rabidly enthusiastic about the themes and ideas in order to take it on. I usually have two or three book concepts in rough outline form and then select one as my next project. A quick glimpse at my notebook reveals that I currently have four ideas in outline form.

KT: What are some of your (non-writing-related) hobbies?

SR: I love linguistics and languages. In the past I've studied Russian and German but at the moment I am studying French and preparing for the Diplôme d'études en langue française B2 exam in November. I'm saving Arabic for my seventies.

I'm also a very keen cyclist and enjoy every aspect of it apart from the inevitable crashes.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book recommendation!

I haven't been blogging much lately but I want to change that. To kick things off, here's a book recommendation!

J.B. Rockwell is a member of my writing group and an all-around awesome person. Her science fiction book SERENGETI was just released a few weeks ago by Severed Press. I've read it and it's fantastic!

The main character is the AI of a warship, Serengeti. When she's damaged in a battle and left adrift in uncharted space, she has to figure out how to save her cryogenically frozen human crew with only the aid of a few small robots.

The plot is fantastic, the characters warm and real, and it's a very different kind of story. I would have loved it even if I didn't know the author. The book is available as a Kindle ebook and trade paperback, and will be released as an audiobook in late April.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sweet potatoes

I have this sweet potato recipe that I use all the time. It's so much better than the kind with marshmallows on top. A friend suggested I post it so here it is.

Sweet Potato Casserole

3 c cooked mashed sweet potatoes (about three 15 oz cans)
1 c sugar
1/4 c milk
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice

Mix and pour in well-buttered casserole dish. Mix topping in a small bowl and spread on top of sweet potato mixture (it's thick so I spoon it on).

1/2 c melted butter
1 c brown sugar
1/2 c flour
1 c chopped pecans

Bake at 350oF for about 30 minutes. EAT IT ALL YOURSELF WITH A GIANT SPOON.