My First Anime: Attack On Titan

Aug. 19th, 2014 07:40 pm
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Posted by Jen

So I just finished binge-watching the first season of Attack On Titan last week, and I have thoughts.





Yes, it's shockingly gory for an animated show, and gut-wrenching, and the subtitles can be hard to keep up with during some of the action sequences, and everyone just. keeps. DYING!

...but you should totally watch it. 


 
The premise of the show is as compelling as it is crazy: all of humanity now resides inside a single enormous walled city, hoping to defend itself against the scores of human-eating giants outside called Titans. The soldiers who fight the Titans use a funky harness-and-cable system around their waists to zip around like Spider-Man, hacking at the giants with swords. This makes for some super fun fight sequences that almost feel like a virtual roller coaster.

Attack on Titan is one continuous narrative, so don't expect any resolution from episode to episode; you'll just get more cliff-hangers. The mystery of the Titans is addictive, though, and even now I cannot WAIT to see what happens in season 2. Plus, at only 22 minutes per episode, you could find yourself binging on 5 or 6 a night like I did. (There are 23 episodes in the season.)

The three main characters -  two boys and a girl - are childhood friends who enroll in the academy to become Titan-killing soldiers. They each have tragic pasts and buried secrets, but their loyalty to each other is what really ties the whole series together.

And I've gotta say, I especially appreciate the women in Attack On Titan. They fight alongside the men as equals, wear the same uniforms, have realistic anatomy (no comic book boobs here), and demonstrate equal amounts of eminent bad-assery. And while only one of the main characters is female, there are plenty more in the ensemble cast.


Mikasa here is also the best fighter in their class, and routinely kicks Titan butt.

Be prepared for a truckload of heart-wrenching awfulness in the first episode, but if you can make it through that, you can make it through the season. Also don't expect many light-hearted moments, though there are a few. It's mostly death and war and striving to survive. 

And yet, threaded through all that, there is friendship, and loyalty, and strength against impossible odds. You'll find yourself cheering for the team, and desperate to see what happens next.

You can watch season 1 of Attack On Titan on Netflix streaming, but be warned there's no English dub available there, so you're stuck with subtitles. (I know most anime purists say you should only watch with subtitles, but I find a lot of the original voice actors a little... over the top. Plus it's hard to appreciate some of the stunning fight sequences when there's so much text flying by.)

English dubs of the episodes just started airing in May on Cartoon Network, so if subtitles are a deal-breaker for you, check there or elsewhere online. Or just wait, since I'd guess (and hope!) the dubs will eventually be on Netflix, too.


So what do you think, guys? Anyone out there willing to give Attack on Titan a try? Anyone already watching it? If so, tell me what you think, and maybe how it compares to other popular animes, too,  since this is my first.

V invents games

Aug. 20th, 2014 08:25 am
[personal profile] puzzlement posting in [community profile] incrementum
Originally posted to incrementum.puzzling.org. Comments welcome in either place.

Card counting

A few months ago, V suddenly started talking about Uno. Andrew put it like this: “as if he knows what he’s talking about.”

Sure enough, a childcare teacher had taught him the rules. My parents, not having a Uno deck to hand, then taught him to play Snap. After a few hands, he got really excited by stacking the deck for snaps and took it away to sort all the cards into pre-snapped piles. (He didn’t understand that you’d need to divide all the snaps between the players’ hands, but you can’t have everything.) By the time a few weeks had past, he was inventing new snap games with whatever comes to hand, eg, his animal bingo game. (In normal play, you spin the spinner and then place an animal card on your bingo board. In V’s snap version, the spinner tells you the next card to place on the central pile.)

I’m pretty impressed; it’s one of the first examples of play from him that I have no parallel memories for. I don’t think I ever went through a stage of inventing variants of board and card games!

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Posted by Gail Carmichael

Gram's House is a research project I started several years ago with a prototype originally designed for Microsoft's Imagine Cup competition.  Since then, a core research team has formed around the project: me (Carleton University), Elisabeth Gee (Arizona State University), Carolee Stewart-Gardiner (Kean University), Gillian Smith (Northeastern University) and Casper Harteveld (Northeastern University).

We just got awarded two NSF Pathways grants for the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program!


The Role of Story in Games to Teach Computer Science Concepts to Middle School Girls

This project is being co-lead by Elisabeth Gee and Carolee Stewart-Gardiner.  Since I'm not a research faculty member, I am participating as a contractor.  We are going to dive deeper into determining the effect of story in educational games that teach computer science to middle school girls.  This will extend previous work I did with a study during my mini-course a couple of years back.
As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative resources for use in a variety of settings. Nationally, the US has a shortage of computer scientists; a big part of this problem is that girls are discouraged from learning computer science at a very young age. This project tries to address this problem by creating a videogame specifically oriented towards getting middle school girls interested in learning computer science concepts outside traditional programming classes. Based on evidence that stories provide a compelling way to present complicated technical subjects and that girls in particular respond to technology careers as a way to help others, the project is building a videogame called "Gram's House" in which social workers intend to move a fictional grandmother to a retirement home unless the player can outfit her home with sufficient technology for her to remain independent. Solving puzzles in the game requires learning core computer science concepts. Research studies will be conducted to determine whether the videogame is effective at getting girls interested in computer science, at teaching computer science concepts, and whether using stories makes videogames more effective for learning.
This project based on an earlier successful prototype uses an iterative research-based design process including paper prototyping, playtesting, and focus groups (N=20) to create age appropriate activities, based on the CS Unplugged series, that support learning concepts from the Data, Internet, Algorithms, and Abstraction sections of the high-school level CS Principles curriculum. A quantitative, quasi-experimental design will be used to determine the overall effectiveness of teaching CS concepts under three types of game conditions: (a) games alone, (b) games with fictional settings, and (c) games with stories. A novel assessment instrument will be developed to assess content learning and qualitative observation using a standard observation protocol will be used to gauge interest and engagement. 70-80 middle school girls will be recruited for afterschool participation in the study in two states. As part of the dissemination efforts, a facilitator's guide, rule book, and materials such as maps and storyboards will be created and shared with the game. In addition, a workshop for computer science and other teachers who are interested in using games to teach CS concepts will be conducted.
(Project link on NSF website.)

GrACE: A Procedurally Generated Puzzle Game to Stimulate Mindful and Collaborative Informal Learning to Transform Computer Science Education

The PCG project, as I like to call it (where PCG stands for procedurally generated content), is being lead by Gillian Smith and Casper Harteveld.  They want to learn more about how best to generate puzzles that teach high level computer science concepts, and whether players will learn more about the concepts when discussing how puzzles are generated in an attempt to help one another solve them.
Northeastern University will design, test, and study GrACE, a procedurally generated puzzle game for teaching computer science to middle school students, in partnership with the Northeastern Center for STEM Education and the South End Technology Center. The Principal Investigators will study the effect of computer generated games on students' development of algorithmic and computational thinking skills and their change of perception about computer science through the game's gender-inclusive, minds-on, and collaborative learning environment. The teaching method has potential to significantly advance the state of the art in both game-based learning design and yield insights for gender-inclusive teaching and learning that could have broad impact on advancing the field of computer science education.

Development and evaluation of GrACE will consist of two, year-long research phases, each with its own research question. The first, design and development, phase will focus on how to design a gender-inclusive, educational puzzle game that fosters algorithmic thinking and positive attitude change towards computer science. The content generator will be created using Answer Set Programming, a powerful approach that involves the declarative specification of the design space of the puzzles. The second phase will be an evaluation that studies, by means of a mixed-methods experimental design, the effectiveness of incorporating procedural content generation into an educational game, and specifically whether such a game strategy stimulates and improves minds-on, collaborative learning. Additionally, the project will explore two core issues in developing multiplayer, collaborative educational games targeted at middle school students: what typical face-to-face interactions foster collaborative learning, and what gender differences exist in how students play and learn from the game. The project will reach approximately 100 students in the Boston area, with long-term goals of reaching students worldwide, once the game has been tested with a local audience. Results of the project will yield a new educational puzzle game that can teach algorithmic thinking and effect attitude change regarding computer science. Through the process of creating a gender-inclusive game to teach computer science, it will provide guidelines for future educational game projects. Beyond these individual project deliverables, it will improve our understanding of the potential for procedural content generation to transform education, through its development of a new technique for generating game content based on supplying educational objectives.
(Project link on NSF website.)
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Posted by Jen

This is how you troll your geek friends, everybody.

THIS RIGHT HERE:

[standing up and applauding]

 

Thanks, Kendall J.! Live long, and may the Force be with you.

UPDATE!- This was made by Megan and Kendall of Short North Piece of Cake. And it was definitely intentional. Absolutely amazing work.

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

Food, glorious food

Aug. 19th, 2014 12:26 pm
[personal profile] puzzlement posting in [community profile] incrementum
Originally posted to incrementum.puzzling.org. Comments welcome in either place.

When V was very young, younger than A is now, I used to try and run things through what I called “the second child test”, that is, would I be worried about whatever I was worried about if I was also chasing an older sibling around? Usually not.

Obviously, there’s no second child test like having a second child, and here’s something I would have told you about a long long time ago if it had been baby V: A’s food refusal.

Feeding A went like this: she began daycare at three months old. They tried bottles for a few days and she refused them. After that, for a month or six weeks I would visit the daycare three or four times a day to nurse her, for two reasons. First, V was a hardcore bottle refuser in his day and so I didn’t really understand that it might be possible for A to learn to take a bottle after initially refusing. Second, my milk supply is not as generous with A as it was with V, and it was not easy (or really, possible) for me to pump milk on top of nursing her for every feed. Eventually they nagged me into eking out enough milk to try a bottle again, and on the second day she took it and so since then she’s been fed expressed milk by bottle at daycare. (I’ve actually never seen her take a bottle to this day! But each day they come home empty.)

Since the amount of milk I’ve been able to pump has always been dicey this time — if we were planning to have another baby I’d get a new pump, I think it is partly at fault — the daycare also started asking to feed her solid foods from about four and a half months old. I waited until six months with V, but decided that for A, I would wait until I was back from Portland (so as to not have to deal with food while I was in the USA). So they started feeding her at about five and a half months old. And it was a real struggle: she cried, she hit out at spoons, she spat food back out, and so on.

And again, my experience with V led me astray. He was basically reliant on breastmilk for calories until he was 8 or 9 months old, despite being really huge. I ended up having to push food at him fairly hard not because I couldn’t keep up with the milk supply but because I was incapable of eating enough food myself. So I figured A would have some time to mess around with food.

But no, yesterday morning the daycare pulled me aside and said they were distressed at how hungry she was getting there, and how firmly she was resisting food. Her mealtimes were taking 45 minutes for a few spoonfuls, and she was “pretending to sleep” (in whatever way a 7 month old can be said to pretend anything) during feeding times: closing her eyes and sticking her thumb in her mouth and turning her face away. And given that I am not showing signs of coming up with another 150mL or so of milk every day, one carer wondered if we’d considered formula to get her through the eating refusal, while another was concerned that that would just mean two battles: one to get her to drink formula and the other to get her to eat food. (In fairly quick succession too, formula is not a complete food for babies of her age either.)

Luckily for them though, on Sunday A had herself had some kind of eating revelation while I was feeding her purees (and later yoghurt, much to V’s horror, he is displeased to discover she will also be eating foods he likes) and suddenly started acting as though purees were the most exciting thing in the world. She leaned forward, she flapped her arms, she opened her mouth wide, wide, wide, and she smiled and smiled while raspberry puree escaped from her mouth. And at daycare yesterday she was finally thus like a whole new, well-fed, baby. She has slept much better the last two nights than any time in the previous four weeks or so, as well.

So all’s well that ends well, it seems. And you would have heard a lot more of this saga, had she been my first child.

Nightmare Rarity X Spike

Aug. 18th, 2014 06:29 pm
ponyville_trot: Six cartoon ponies in a huddle (Default)
[personal profile] frith posting in [community profile] ponyville_trot
nightmare_rarity_x_spike_by_eosphorite
Source: http://eosphorite.deviantart.com/art/Commission-Nightmare-Rarity-X-Spike-406128855

I keep waffling over this one. There is something wrong with the muscles in Rarity's hindquarters, her legs are too thin, there could be something wrong with her head... but there is so much going on, there is conflict and anguish. The giant blinding orb in the sky would be Equestria.
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Posted by Gail Carmichael

I recently wrote to the author of a book I love, Think Like a Programmer.  I had wanted to ask some questions related to using the book for one of our first year classes. But it turned out that V. Anton Spraul also happens to be interested in stories in games, the topic of my thesis.

Leave me alone, I'm reading.
Leave me alone, I'm reading. / Hey Christine 

We had some interesting discussion on the topic after he read our Foundations of Digital Games paper on coherent emergent stories. I thought that some of his suggestions of how this sort of system could work were so spot on, I wanted to share them here.  So, with Anton's permission, here is what he said:
So I'm intrigued by your idea, especially by how it could be employed without the player knowing -- using a "tension" value to control the type or volume of music in a scene, for example. What if a game gradually lowered tension over time outside of character interaction or combat, so that a scene would actually play differently just because the player took a long walk before a key confrontation? Cool stuff. Or a game with Bioware-style dialogue interaction where certain choices were not always present, and not because certain information had previously been discovered or not, but because of the emotional state of the player avatar at that moment, as influenced by prior events? Perhaps ultimately, a game could be made which always arrives at the same scene, but the outcome of the scene is largely controlled by prior actions in a way the player wouldn't predict--so maybe the player can only shoot the final boss if he or she is angry enough to do it. (I was let down by the endings of the otherwise brilliant Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Human Revolution because they didn't depend on anything that happened five minutes before the end of the game.)
I like the tension example especially.  We had pictured using different lighting, or camera angles, depending on the path the player took previously.  For example, maybe the ending of the game is the same either way, such as the princess returning to the kingdom after "taking care of" the threat of the nearby dragon.  Simply knowing that the player befriended the dragon and learned its behaviour was a result of it protecting its child would already cause a different interpretation of the culminating scene than if the player had slayed the dragon.  But adjustments in lighting, for example, might emphasize this.  The idea that additional small changes based on tension could reflect the urgency with which the player acted seems all the more interesting!

This kind of approach is meant to allow players to have an effect on a story's outcome without the need to create much (or anything) in the way of additional assets.  I think the potential is enormous.

Rhymin' Wreckers

Aug. 18th, 2014 01:01 pm
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Posted by Jen

What if cakes were the last lines in really bad poems?

Come, my friends. LET US DREAM TOGETHER.

 

Work anniversary
Head of the class
A lousy coffee cup??

 

You'll get no bars here
No cells in this park
So let's give a cheer:

 

Not sure how it works -
The questions are numerous
Still, hooray for you!

 

Like, this is totes "no"
ROTFL 4ever
ANYway, so,

 

Beard scruff and muscles
Scratchin' all day
Something that rhymes with muscles

 

With age comes wisdom
If I may be so bold
To the smartest friend I know:

 

I'm hip and I'm fly
All the bros know me
Ladies, I go by

 

Thanks to Anony M., Sarah S., Derek, Anony M., Melissa H., Karen T., & Hannah D. for helping us celebrate Bad Poetry Day without even knowing it.

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

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Posted by Cate Huston

Girl Book School Reading Learning Happy

Credit: Pixabay / OpenClips

I’ve been reading a lot of novels lately (oh hai, lurgy). And I enjoy the escapism but often find myself exclaiming WHAT WHY WHAT NO. Some of the things that cause that…

  1. Drippy protagonists who want nothing other than a relationship, or put up with a terrible relationship for a long time.
  2. First kiss to engagement in less than 2 pages.
  3. Woman gives up entire life to be with dude (you’re leaving your ailing grandmother who brought you up? really?!)
  4. Woman drops large amount of weight effortlessly (apparently after years of struggle, which of course is before the story starts).
  5. Woman has drifted along for years, suddenly an entrepreneur and is wildly successful.
  6. Complete life overhaul in less time than the shelf life of a pot of mayo.
  7. Everyone falls in love all at once, after years of dysfunctional relationships.
  8. Career woman is the villain.
  9. Techie (always a dude) is the villain.
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Posted by BrianKrebs

Imagine discovering a secret language spoken only online by a knowledgeable and learned few. Over a period of weeks, as you begin to tease out the meaning of this curious tongue and ponder its purpose, the language appears to shift in subtle but fantastic ways, remaking itself daily before your eyes. And just when you are poised to share your findings with the rest of the world, the entire thing vanishes.

loremipsumThis fairly describes my roller coaster experience of curiosity, wonder and disappointment over the past few weeks, as I’ve worked alongside security researchers in an effort to understand how “lorem ipsum” — common placeholder text on countless Web sites — could be transformed into so many apparently geopolitical and startlingly modern phrases when translated from Latin to English using Google Translate. (If you have no idea what “lorem ipsum” is, skip ahead to a brief primer here).

Admittedly, this blog post would make more sense if readers could fully replicate the results described below using Google Translate. However, as I’ll explain later, something important changed in Google’s translation system late last week that currently makes the examples I’ll describe impossible to reproduce.

CHINA, NATO, SEXY, SEXY

It all started a few months back when I received a note from Lance James, head of cyber intelligence at Deloitte. James pinged me to share something discovered by FireEye researcher Michael Shoukry and another researcher who wished to be identified only as “Kraeh3n.” They noticed a bizarre pattern in Google Translate: When one typed “lorem ipsum” into Google Translate, the default results (with the system auto-detecting Latin as the language) returned a single word: “China.”

Capitalizing the first letter of each word changed the output to “NATO” — the acronym for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Reversing the words in both lower- and uppercase produced “The Internet” and “The Company” (the “Company” with a capital “C” has long been a code word for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency). Repeating and rearranging the word pair with a mix of capitalization generated even stranger results. For example, “lorem ipsum ipsum ipsum Lorem” generated the phrase “China is very very sexy.”

Until very recently, the words on the left were transformed to the words on the right using Google Translate.

Until very recently, the words on the left were transformed to the words on the right using Google Translate.

Kraeh3n said she discovered the strange behavior while proofreading a document for a colleague, a document that had the standard lorem ipsum placeholder text. When she began typing “l-o-r..e..” and saw “China” as the result, she knew something was strange.

“I saw words like Internet, China, government, police, and freedom and was curious as to how this was happening,” Kraeh3n said. “I immediately contacted Michael Shoukry and we began looking into it further.”

And so the duo started testing the limits of these two words using a mix of capitalization and repetition. Below is just one of many pages of screenshots taken from their results:

ipsumlorem

The researchers wondered: What was going on here? Has someone outside of Google figured out how to map certain words to different meanings in Google Translate? Was it a secret or covert communications channel? Perhaps a form of communication meant to bypass the censorship erected by the Chinese government with the Great Firewall of China? Or was this all just some coincidental glitch in the Matrix?

For his part, Shoukry checked in with contacts in the U.S. intelligence industry, quietly inquiring if divulging his findings might in any way jeopardize important secrets. Weeks went by and his sources heard no objection. One thing was for sure, the results were subtly changing from day to day, and it wasn’t clear how long these two common but obscure words would continue to produce the same results.

“While Google translate may be incorrect in the translations of these words, it’s puzzling why these words would be translated to things such as ‘China,’ ‘NATO,’ and ‘The Free Internet,’” Shoukry said. “Could this be a glitch? Is this intentional? Is this a way for people to communicate? What is it?”

When I met Shoukry at the Black Hat security convention in Las Vegas earlier this month, he’d already alerted Google to his findings. Clearly, it was time for some intense testing, and the clock was already ticking: I was convinced (and unfortunately, correct) that much of it would disappear at any moment.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF LOREM IPSUM

Cicero.

Cicero.

Search the Internet for the phrase “lorem ipsum,” and the results reveal why this strange phrase has such a core connection to the lexicon of the Web. Its origins in modernity are murky, but according to multiple sites that have attempted to chronicle the history of this word pair, “lorem ipsum” was taken from a scrambled and altered section of “De finibus bonorum et malorum,” (translated: “Of Good and Evil,”) a 1st-Century B.C. Latin text by the great orator Cicero.

According to Cecil Adams, curator of the Internet trivia site The Straight Dope, the text from that Cicero work was available for many years on adhesive sheets in different sizes and typefaces from a company called Letraset.

“In pre-desktop-publishing days, a designer would cut the stuff out with an X-acto knife and stick it on the page,” Adams wrote. “When computers came along, Aldus included lorem ipsum in its PageMaker publishing software, and you now see it wherever designers are at work, including all over the Web.”

This pair of words is so common that many Web content management systems deploy it as default text. Case in point: Lorem Ipsum even shows up on healthcare.gov. According to a story published Aug. 15 in the Daily Mail, more than a dozen apparently dormant healthcare.gov pages carry the dummy text. (Click here if you skipped ahead to this section).

LOREMipsumhealthcare

FURTHER TESTING

Things began to get even more interesting when the researchers started adding other words from the Cicero text from which the “lorem ipsum” bit was taken, including: “Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit . . .”  (“There is no one who loves pain itself, who seeks after it and wants to have it, simply because it is pain …”).

Adding “dolor” and “sit” and “consectetur,” for example, produced even more bizarre results. Translating “consectetur Sit Sit Dolor” from Latin to English produces “Russia May Be Suffering.” “sit sit dolor dolor” translates to “He is a smart consumer.” An example of these sample translations is below:

ipsum

Latin is often dismissed as a “dead” language, and whether or not that is fair or true it seems pretty clear that there should not be Latin words for “cell phone,” “Internet” and other mainstays of modern life in the 21st Century. However, this incongruity helps to shed light on one possible explanation for such odd translations: Google Translate simply doesn’t have enough Latin texts available to have thoroughly learned the language.

In an introductory video titled Inside Google Translate, Google explains how the translation engine works, the sources of the engine’s intelligence, and its limitations. According to Google, its Translate service works “by analyzing millions and millions of documents that have already been translated by human translators.” The video continues:

“These translated texts come from books, organizations like the United Nations, and Web sites from all around the world. Our computers scan these texts looking for statistically significant patterns. That is to say, patterns between the translation and the original text that are unlikely to occur by chance. Once the computer finds a pattern, you can use this pattern to translate similar texts in the future. When you repeat this process billions of times, you end up with billions of patterns, and one very smart computer program.”

Here’s the rub:

“For some languages, however, we have fewer translated documents available, and therefore fewer patterns that our software has detected. This is why our translation quality will vary by language and language pair.”

Still, this doesn’t quite explain why Google Translate would include so many references specific to China, the Internet, telecommunications, companies, departments and other odd couplings in translating Latin to English.

In any case, we may never know the real explanation. Just before midnight, Aug. 16, Google Translate abruptly stopped translating the word “lorem” into anything but “lorem” from Latin to English. Google Translate still produces amusing and peculiar results when translating Latin to English in general.

A spokesman for Google said the change was made to fix a bug with the Translate algorithm (aligning ‘lorem ipsum’ Latin boilerplate with unrelated English text) rather than a security vulnerability.

Kraeh3n said she’s convinced that the lorem ipsum phenomenon is not an accident or chance occurrence.

“Translate [is] designed to be able to evolve and to learn from crowd-sourced input to reflect adaptations in language use over time,” Kraeh3n said. “Someone out there learned to game that ability and use an obscure piece of text no one in their right mind would ever type in to create totally random alternate meanings that could, potentially, be used to transmit messages covertly.”

Meanwhile, Shoukry says he plans to continue his testing for new language patterns that may be hidden in Google Translate.

“The cleverness of hiding something in plain sight has been around for many years,” he said. “However, this is exceptionally brilliant because these templates are so widely used that people are desensitized to them, and because this text is so widely distributed that no one bothers to question why, how and where it might have come from.”

Tampa Bay Comic-Con 2014, Pt 3

Aug. 17th, 2014 07:15 pm
[syndicated profile] epbot_feed

Posted by Jen

Here's part 1 and part 2, if you missed them!


I was chasing down Bane for a photo when I got to see this fun interaction:

Little Batman is explaining that he remembers Bane from last year, where apparently they took a photo together. (He was wringing his hands together and being just generally adorable.) 

When Bane asked if he wanted a new picture, Batman's parents started calling out encouragement, yelling, "Break his back!" which I thought sounded just a LITTLE excessive (heh), but then Bane picked up the madly giggling Batman and posed for us like this:


Love it.

(Also, Bane's wearing the best muscle shirt I've ever seen. Super cool.)


This little Finn was a natural; he looked right at the camera!


And I check out the little boy behind Galactus here:

It's so fun watching kids see their heroes at cons. And you've gotta appreciate all the cosplayers like Spawn up there who take the time to make their day extra special.


Doesn't show well here, but this March Hare's makeup was gorgeous:
She had a little gold on her lips and under the eyes, and soft peach on her cheeks. Plus, can we talk about that head piece?? FLUFFY AWESOME GOODNESS.

More cool kids, and more proof great cosplay doesn't need a lot of money:

K-9 and the Doctor!
High-fives, girls!


Glinda the good witch:


Gotta say, there was a great mix of families at Tampa Bay Comic-Con. A lot of conventions are so insanely crowded these days that parents don't dare bring the kids, so it was nice to see a greater age range in both the attendees and the cosplayers.


This guy has a toy mouse in a teacup on his hat:

That is all.

I can't quite place this character - anyone know?

Update: Looks like Asuna from Sword Art Online. (Thx, Alexandria!)

As we started to leave the the center that night John and I came across the line for one of the costume contests, and look! The new Batgirl!


If you missed it, DC unveiled this new costume for Batgirl just a few weeks ago, and everyone's been going nuts for it. It's the most practical-yet-still-butt-kicking superhero costume to come out in, well, maybe forever! Super happy to see it already being cosplayed.



Also spotted a fun Little Mermaid group with a faaaabulous Ursula:

That dress! LOOK AT THAT DRESS!

And finally, an excellent trio of X-Men: Magneto, a lady Beast, and Mystique:

Fantastic makeup on Beast & Mystique, right down to the colored contacts and sharpened canines on Beast.

K, that does it for Tampa Bay Comic-Con! Hope you guys liked all my photos, since with Dragon Con just two weeks away, I'll be hitting you with plenty more soon enough! o.0

Rarity's Tears

Aug. 17th, 2014 06:49 pm
ponyville_trot: Six cartoon ponies in a huddle (Default)
[personal profile] frith posting in [community profile] ponyville_trot
rarity_s_tears_by_laurenmagpie
Source: http://laurenmagpie.deviantart.com/art/Rarity-s-Tears-290538066

Blushing, crying and sleeping ponies are overused themes, but I like this one. It's not a posed picture. Great use of soft outlines that contrast with her crisp eyes.

The Hugo Awards!

Aug. 17th, 2014 10:14 pm
[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by Annalee

It was a good year for women in Science Fiction and Fantasy at this year’s Hugo Awards, which were presented this evening in London, at the 2014 WorldCon.

Here are this year’s winners:

I’m thrilled that the Hugo Award for Best Novel went to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Leckie has been sweeping the genre’s major awards this year for her compelling tale of vengeance and identity. Ancillary Justice does interesting things with gender, and deftly handles social issues from drug addiction to colonization–wrapping it all up in a richly-detailed galactic epic. I can’t recommend it enough.

She was nominated alongside Charles Stross for Neptune’s Brood, Mira Grant for ParasiteThe Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, and Larry Correia’s Warbound, listed in order of votes received.

The award for Best Novella went to Charles Stross’s “Equoid.” It was nominated alongside Catherynne M. Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White, “Wakulla Springs,” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages, Brad Torgersen’s “The Chaplain’s Legacy,” and Dan Wells’s The Butcher of Khardov.

Mary Robinette Kowal’s “The Lady Astronaut of Mars won the Hugo for Best Novelette. It’s available for free at Tor.com if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, and it’s another one that I can’t recommend highly enough (full disclosure: I’ve been a student in two of Kowal’s writing courses and I think she’s a delightful human being).

“The Lady Astronaut of Mars” was nominated alongside Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling,” Aliette de Bodard’s “The Waiting Stars,” and Brad Torgersen’s “The Exchange Officers.” The voters decided not to award a fifth-place in the category, voting ‘No Award’ ahead of Theodore Beale’s “Opera Vita Aeterna.”

The award for Best Short Story went to The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, by John Chu. Chu gave a touching acceptance speech, thanking the many people who have supported and encouraged him as he faced racism and heterosexism to pursue his writing career. His work was nominated alongside “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, by Sofia Samatar, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky, and “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.

We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative, by Kameron Hurley won the Hugo for Best Related Work. This is an excellent and well-deserving essay on the history of women in combat, challenging the common narrative that women can’t be heroes of genre fiction because it’s ahistorical. Definitely worth a read if you haven’t seen it yet.

It was nominated alongside Jeff VanderMeer and Jeremy Zerfoss’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative FictionWriting Excuses Season 8, by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson, Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, Edited by Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas, and Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, by Justin Landon and Jared Shurin.

In the Best Graphic Story category, Randall Munroe won for xkcd: Time, a four-month-long comic that was updated at the rate of one frame an hour. He couldn’t make it to London to accept the award, so Cory Doctorow accepted on his behalf–wearing the cape and goggles in which he’s depicted as a character in xkcd.

Also nominated in the category: Saga, Vol 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, by Phil and Kaja Foglio; and Cheyenne Wright, “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who,” by Paul Cornell and Jimmy Broxton, and The Meathouse Man, by George R. R. Martin and Raya Golden.

The award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form went to Gravity, written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón and directed by Alfonso Cuarón.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form went to Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and directed by David Nutter.

Ellen Datlow took home the Hugo for Best Editor, Short Form. She was nominated alongside John Joseph Adams, Neil Clarke, Jonathan Strahan, and Sheila Williams.

In the Best Editor, Long Form category, the award went to Ginjer Buchanan, nominated alongside Sheila Gilbert, Liz Gorinsky, Lee Jarris, and Toni Weisskopf.

Julie Dillon won this year’s award for Best Professional Artist, nominated alongside Daniel Dos Santos, John Picacio, John Harris, Fiona Staples, and Galen Dara.

Lightspeed Magazine was this year’s winner for Best Semiprozine, nominated alongside Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Interzone, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

In the Best Fanzine category, the winner was A Dribble of Ink, nominated alongside The Book Smugglers, PornokitschJourney Planet, and Elitist Book Reviews.

The award for Best Fancast went to SF Signal Podcast, nominated alongside The Coode Street PodcastGalactic Suburbia PodcastTea and Jeopardy, The Skiffy and Fanty Show, Verity!, and The Writer and the Critic.

This year’s award for Best Fan Writer went to Kameron Hurley, author of insightful and incisive feminist commentary on the history and future of SFF as a genre and a community. She was nominated alongside Abigail Nussbaum, Foz Meadows, Liz Bourke, and Mark Oshiro.

The Best Fan Artist award went to Sarah Webb. Also nominated in the category:  Brad W. Foster, Mandie Manzano, Spring Schoenhuth, and Steve Stiles.

Worldcon also presents the  John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which is not a Hugo, but is administered with the Hugos. This year’s winner was Sofia Samatar.

Samatar was nominated alongside Wesley Chu, Ramez Naam, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, and Max Gladstone. I’m thrilled to see Samatar go home with a Hugo, but I’m also pleased that fandom chose to recognize the talents of so many writers of color this year. If you haven’t checked out their work yet, it comes highly recommended. I’m personally really enjoying Samatar’s A Stranger In Olondria.

For more information on this year’s Hugo voting, check out the LonCon 3 site‘s detailed vote breakdown [PDF link].


I wrote previously about the attempt to stuff the ballot box for political reasons this year. I’m glad that fandom saw fit to reject this politicization of its biggest award, but since I’ve already seen folks trolling about ‘social justice warriors,’ this is your reminder that we have a strictly-enforced comment policy.

Book reviews

Aug. 17th, 2014 02:25 pm
miko: Photo of me by the river (Default)
[personal profile] miko
I continue to keep busy with work + costuming efforts at home, so here's the belated quick reviews of what I've read since last month.

Shaded Vision by Yasmine Galenorn

The series continues. This one was focussed on the were-sister and was generally pretty pleasant to read... it's fading rapidly, but I do remember thinking that the core of this one was a commentary on hate crimes. It wasn't subtle at all.

Defending Battered Women on Trial by Elizabeth A. Sheehy

I didn't read all of this one, just the one chapter about a local case. Beyond the details of the case, it also talked a fair bit about the very negative portrayal in media and the aggressive tone of the police and prosecution. An unsettling read.

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

This was a well written fantasy novel with the most god damned inconsistent and illogical magic system I've ever read. It was like the magic system was made up by an 8 year old and then the book was written by an adult. Perhaps that's really how it was. Anyway, it was a good enough read, but I found it really off-putting when near the end one of the characters started expounding on the magic system as if it was scientific and well-studied and made any damn sense.

Also, calling it "BioChroma" when nothing else is inner-capped like that made me think it was a brand name every time it came up.

Cinder by Melissa Meyer

So good!

Seriously, I know a lot of the time when I write about things I'm pretty down on the flaws, but I really liked this one. It's a young adult novel that's a sci-fi Cinderella story - the Cinderella character is a cyborg and mechanic, and she is clever and interesting, as are the other characters. I'm very much looking forward to picking up the next in the series... although it stands alone okay, it doesn't have a happily-ever-after ending and the sci-fi intrigue looks to be excellent.

Sunday Sweets Goes Back To School

Aug. 17th, 2014 01:00 pm
[syndicated profile] cakewrecks_feed

Posted by Sharyn

Hey, kids, guess what time it is!

(By Klara's Cakes)

That's right, it's Back-to-School Time!

(Well, except for Mrs. Griffin.)

 

Time to buy a bunch of those composition books,

(By pure cake)

 

...and maybe a graphing calculator that costs half as much as the Space Shuttle,

(By Charm City Cakes)

 

...and stuff them into a spiffy new backpack.

(By Birdie Girl Custom Cakes)

 

Time to start juggling school and extracurricular activities again, from sports...

(By Pink Cake Box)

 

...to Marching Band

(By Aunt Jaime's Cakes)

 

...to maybe Robotics Club?

(By Yuma Couture Cakes)

(Remember, kids: if it becomes self-aware and destroys the school, you don't get credit!)

 

Time to catch the bus,

(By AESTHETICAKES)

or carpool, or scooter, or bike, or start walking.

 

Don't forget your lunch on the way out!

(By Studio Cake)

*blink*

We're gonna need a bigger lunch box.

 

Oh, hey, maybe grab one of these, too:

(By Ciccio Cakes)

Because you're going to spend a lot of time with your teachers.

 

Although, from what I hear...

(By Sweet Art Sweets)

...sometimes teachers wouldn't mind a few Sweets along with all those apples. :)

 

Hope today's post made your Sunday a little sweeter, everyone! Happy weekend!

Be sure to check out our Sunday Sweets Directory if you want to see which bakers in your area have been featured here on Sweets!

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

This Week

Aug. 17th, 2014 12:00 pm
[syndicated profile] accidentallyincode_feed

Posted by Cate Huston

Click to view slideshow.

Life

Still feeling a bit under the weather but so much better, really. Still trying to rehydrate and relax a bit. Went to see some apartments, met up with a school friend (I must not have seen her in 10 years! Crazy) and worked on The Secret Project some more.

My parents came to London for the weekend and it was nice to spend some time with them. We went to the theatre and to see the poppies at the Tower of London.

Media

Saw Shakespeare in Love which was amazing. It’s been a while since I watched the movie, but from what I can remember it’s pretty  much the same. Really recommend.

More progress on Gravitas, I think I will finish it soon! It’s the kind of book that I always read slowly because I want to try things. I got to a really helpful bit this week though, which was great.

Novels: Exes and Ohs (okay), Fairytale of New York (quite sweet), One Hundred Proposals (I really liked this, much more than I expected to), and parts 2 and 3 of A Family Affair (I don’t know why I bought these considering I didn’t really like the first one, but once started I felt compelled to complete the trilogy).

All product links Amazon.

Places

Dinner at Addie’s Thai (OK, twice, I will miss this place when I move) and Harwundeki Cafe (super tasty Korean food and very cheap), Tayyabs (great Indian food), Santa Maria Pizzeria (delicious pizza, very reasonable), Dirty Burger (despite the name, good! But long wait and slow service, don’t bother with the milkshakes). Brunch at Kopapa (amazing), the Troubador and Bill’s (regular haunts).

Hung out at a couple of coffee shops: Munson’s and The Gallery Cafe, both of them had nice hot chocolate.

Published

On The Internet

A Linkspam in Time (17 August 2014)

Aug. 17th, 2014 10:16 am
[syndicated profile] geekfeminism_feed

Posted by spam-spam

We link to a variety of sources, some of which are personal blogs.  If you visit other sites linked herein, we ask that you respect the commenting policy and individual culture of those sites.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on Pinboard, Delicious or Diigo; or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Sourdough pancakes

Aug. 17th, 2014 09:40 am
skud: (Default)
[personal profile] skud
This is a crosspost from Chez Skud. You can comment here or there.

I make these pancakes whenever I have guests, and sometimes when I don’t. They’re made from the same starter/sponge as my sourdough bread, and I quite often make them the day before I bake my bread, while the starter is bubbling at room temperature.

pancakes served with banana and maple syrup

These are American style fluffy pancakes, based on various “Yukon gold rush” recipes I found online, where miners supposedly kept their sourdough starter inside their shirts to keep it alive and bubbling in the cold climate. I prefer this style to the thinner crepe-like pancakes that are common in Australia, and I think you will too. They’re easier to flip, for one thing.

The recipe is incredibly simple:

  • 1 cup bubbling sourdough starter or sponge (fed and raised at room temperature, not from the fridge)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tblsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt

Whisk everything together into a sloppy batter. Add a touch more milk if it’s not thin enough to pour from a ladle.

Feed your starter again with 1/2 cup strong baker’s flour and 1/2 cup
filtered water.

Lightly oil a frying pan and heat to medium-hot. You’ll get to know the right temperature on your own stove with a bit of practice.

Pour the batter into the about 1/2 cup at a time to make medium sized pancakes. For me, my soup ladle holds about 3/4 cup so I use that but don’t fill it.

Cook until bubbles rise to the top and form holes that don’t disappear, then flip with a spatula and cook a little longer on the other side.

As they are cooked, put them on a plate, and keep warm in a low oven with a sheet of foil over them. Or serve them as they come out of the pan, of course.

This makes enough to feed about three people normally, or for two to stuff themselves. Serve with whatever you like on top. I’ve got a banana and maple habit lately.

Leftover pancakes keep okay for a couple of days on the fridge, and can be reheated by warming quickly on each side in a hot pan. They’re not as good as fresh, but they’re not bad either, and make for a quick hot breakfast. One batch of pancakes serves me for three days this way, and makes it workable for just me living alone. (Please don’t ask about the time I tried to eat a whole batch in one morning. My stomach still aches at the memory.)

Schedules for making these pancakes

Some people told me they found the schedules in my original bread post useful, so here’s how my schedule looks for bread+pancakes, in winter (i.e. with a coolish house, around 10C most of the time). The trick is to just keep the sponge a little warmer and livelier, and to take out a cupful of sponge and refeed it in the middle of the sponge stage.

Evening, day 1: make sponge, feed starter and put it back in the fridge. Put the sponge somewhere relatively warm, like the living room, to get it bubbling more vigorously.

Morning, day 2: take out a cup of sponge and make pancakes. Top up the sponge with 1/2 cup strong baker’s flour and 1/2 cup water, and continue to keep it somewhere relatively warm.

Evening, day 2: make dough and form loaf. Rise overnight in a cold/unheated room.

Morning, day 3: bake bread.

Or of course there’s the alternate version, aka “I forgot I was meant to be making bread and now I’m almost ready for bed and can’t be bothered” on the evening of day 2. This happens to me more often than I’d like to admit.

Evening, day 1: as above.

Evening, day 2: instead of making the dough, just feed the starter again with 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water and go to bed.

Morning, day 3: make pancakes.

Evening, day 3: make dough and form loaf.

Morning, day 4: bake bread.

Double Rainboom

Aug. 16th, 2014 07:03 pm
ponyville_trot: Six cartoon ponies in a huddle (Default)
[personal profile] frith posting in [community profile] ponyville_trot
double_rainboom_by_underpable
Source: http://underpable.deviantart.com/art/Double-Rainboom-470376626

This is why this fandom lives and breathes. It's the lovingly executed 'what if?' works of art, painted in story, music, sculpture and pigment, building on the firmament of the Mane Six's Equestria.

July 2014

Aug. 16th, 2014 09:29 pm
[syndicated profile] lecta_feed

Posted by Mary

I took about a week to get over my jetlag from the USA, but it was really rather mild. I would just get on with my day, only as soon as the sun set, the day would be over. The unpleasantness was mostly that this meant that for about a week, I worked and slept and did nothing else.

I met my mother, aunt and sister in Hornsby — where Andrew and I lived for 5 years and where V was born — the Friday afternoon after I got back, which was odd. Of course, most things are exactly the same, but there was also no point to it. We didn’t have friends up there even at the time and there was nowhere to go where people would remember me unless the food sellers in the (very very busy) local shopping centre remember a very tall past customer.

The playground where V played the most was exactly the same, but he’d forgotten it, and it was also verging on being a little young for him. Hornsby Shire Council is not the City of Sydney in terms of devotion to adventure playgrounds. I drove past the hospital to show V where he was born, and realised I’m not sure I’d remember which birth suite it was (even if they were inclined to allow random people to traipse through the delivery ward, which of course they would not be). Hornsby Hospital, which was a state-wide scandal in terms of maintainence, has had some money spent on it in the last few years. The building which I believe contained the old maternity ward my mother was born in has been knocked down and replaced with something in blocky primary colours, looking much like the new Royal North Shore hospital. It shouldn’t surprise me there are trends in hospital design, but it does.

V, of course, was politely puzzled by the idea that he had ever lived in this place or been in that hospital and so on. He also didn’t recognise his old daycare centre.

The block of flats we lived in — we still own the flat — looks exactly the same as when I last saw it more than two years ago, but there’s a speed bump in the street, and a new Thai restaurant where the sad failed grocer was. (Sad both in that any failed small business is sad, and also that they appeared to have sunk a lot of thought and effort into the fitout, trying to set up a slightly fancy deli that was patronised mostly by me and Andrew. They left on what would have been about the first annual review of their lease.) I entirely forgot to check if the Blockbuster franchise was still there; I would assume not.

I had intended to spend most of a day up there remembering things, in the end I drove around and left after 45 minutes.

It was probably that trip that inspired me into a very brief foray into the Sydney property market the following weekend, to wit, inspecting two properties. One we arrived at only to be told by a bored agent it had been bought before its first public inspection. “Yeah, sorry. That’s how it goes!” The other involved real estate agents cornering us to let us know how very motivated (very, very motivated) the seller was, and wanting to have a big discussion about what we were looking for in the market and what we thought about the market and why we thought that and whether they’d be of any help re-aligning our thoughts for us and what kind of finance we might have access to or could be assisted with, and etc, and were not easily put off by “we live just up the street and are having a sticky-beak, and also, this apartment is down two internal flights of stairs and we have a baby in a stroller, so no.” I suppose it could be worse, we could have actually bought the place. But it was surprisingly difficult to get away from them even as entirely unmotivated buyers.

And that was Andrew’s cue to nick off to the USA himself. It was a long and lonely trip at my end, probably much the same as mine for him. As our work trips become increasingly totalising — he was expected to have all three meals a day with work colleagues he needs to know better, I took a baby with me — we’ve dropped off our communications. I spoke to him a couple of times while I was away (and mostly in order to speak to a very bored and slightly bewildered V, at that), I think while he was away we had a couple of abortive attempts at video chat and that was about it. Not much fun having a chat that consists mostly of “… no, I still can’t hear you, oh, I just saw you wave, nope, now you’ve frozen, can you hear me? CAN YOU HEAR ME?” It got even worse when he got to London and didn’t have a local SIM and was impossible to reach at all.

Andrew works in an office, but I don’t, so when he travels I can go for days without having face-to-face interactions with other adults that aren’t transactional. (“Have I paid for V’s dance class this week? No? Here’s the fee!”) So I took V and A to my parents for three nights in the middle of Andrew’s trip. Packing alone for a trip is always really annoying and boring, but the drive that I was dreading (about 4 hours each way) ended up being surprisingly painless. V remains a good and surprisingly non-whingy car traveller and A sleeps even better in cars than he used to. The first morning we were there they had their snowfall of the year; unfortunately we hadn’t brought gloves with us but had a bit of fun anyway, with my parents hauling V around on a tarpaulin “sled”.

Once I was back, I warned Val that I was feeling slightly ill and was having an inexplicably grumpy and sad day. (The amount of emotional work and intimacy required in a small business can be high, but I do like being able to rearrange my day around being grumpy every so often.) It got much more explicable when I realised I was having cellulitis symptoms in my left ankle (an infection of soft tissue under the skin).

I had cellulitis in September 2012 with a slightly unusual and very aggressive presentation: I got a high fever first, about 24 hours before there was any redness or swelling and so on. By the time the redness was even really properly visible, I had been running a 40°C fever for several days, could barely walk due to the painful swelling of lymph nodes, was dehydrated, and was admitted to hospital for 6 days of IV antibiotics (and three days of rehydration, because I refused to take anything by mouth). When I was in there, the infectious diseases registrar asked if she should draw the boundaries of the redness on my leg to check if it was spreading, and the specialist said mildly “I don’t think there’s much point to that.” He was quite right: within a couple more days, the redness had spread all over my left thigh, and I ended up losing two layers of skin from most of my inner thigh, very much (as the specialist pointed out) as if I’d badly burned it. The day before I was discharged, he stopped by my bed alone and remarked that it was cases like this that “remind us that even in the age of antibiotics, these things can be very aggressive, and sometimes even fatal.”

… Thanks.

So, naturally, I panicked that I was having cellulitis symptoms again, only this time with two children in my care and Andrew in London (so, timezone-flipped) and close to unreachable other than by email. It wasn’t, in the end, justified: this time I got the redness and swelling but no fever or systemic illness, and a couple of courses of antibiotics cleared it up without me losing any skin, although I did walk with a cane for a couple of days due to lymph node pain. It was no worse than having twisted an ankle a bit in the end. It was tough on the extended family, as I set up Illness Level Red in case of needing to be hospitalised, unnecessarily in the event. (Andrew and I agreed that he’d arrange to leave London early as soon as I started running a fever, so he ended up leaving as planned.)

As a concrete thing, Andrew and I are going to have to work a bit more about communicating, and being accessible, while each of us travels. I used to talk about emotionally putting our marriage on ice for the duration — which is already much easier for the person who is travelling than the person left behind — but it’s not possibly for parenting, especially if the at-home parent gets taken out of action.

Once Andrew was back, all was well with the world. For the week and a half it took him to incubate the influenza he presumably picked up while travelling, anyway… stay tuned.

July 2014

Aug. 17th, 2014 07:29 am
puzzlement: (geomag)
[personal profile] puzzlement
Originally posted at http://puzzling.org.

I took about a week to get over my jetlag from the USA, but it was really rather mild. I would just get on with my day, only as soon as the sun set, the day would be over. The unpleasantness was mostly that this meant that for about a week, I worked and slept and did nothing else.

I met my mother, aunt and sister in Hornsby — where Andrew and I lived for 5 years and where V was born — the Friday afternoon after I got back, which was odd. Of course, most things are exactly the same, but there was also no point to it. We didn’t have friends up there even at the time and there was nowhere to go where people would remember me unless the food sellers in the (very very busy) local shopping centre remember a very tall past customer.

The playground where V played the most was exactly the same, but he’d forgotten it, and it was also verging on being a little young for him. Hornsby Shire Council is not the City of Sydney in terms of devotion to adventure playgrounds. I drove past the hospital to show V where he was born, and realised I’m not sure I’d remember which birth suite it was (even if they were inclined to allow random people to traipse through the delivery ward, which of course they would not be). Hornsby Hospital, which was a state-wide scandal in terms of maintainence, has had some money spent on it in the last few years. The building which I believe contained the old maternity ward my mother was born in has been knocked down and replaced with something in blocky primary colours, looking much like the new Royal North Shore hospital. It shouldn’t surprise me there are trends in hospital design, but it does.

V, of course, was politely puzzled by the idea that he had ever lived in this place or been in that hospital and so on. He also didn’t recognise his old daycare centre.

The block of flats we lived in — we still own the flat — looks exactly the same as when I last saw it more than two years ago, but there’s a speed bump in the street, and a new Thai restaurant where the sad failed grocer was. (Sad both in that any failed small business is sad, and also that they appeared to have sunk a lot of thought and effort into the fitout, trying to set up a slightly fancy deli that was patronised mostly by me and Andrew. They left on what would have been about the first annual review of their lease.) I entirely forgot to check if the Blockbuster franchise was still there; I would assume not.

I had intended to spend most of a day up there remembering things, in the end I drove around and left after 45 minutes.

It was probably that trip that inspired me into a very brief foray into the Sydney property market the following weekend, to wit, inspecting two properties. One we arrived at only to be told by a bored agent it had been bought before its first public inspection. “Yeah, sorry. That’s how it goes!” The other involved real estate agents cornering us to let us know how very motivated (very, very motivated) the seller was, and wanting to have a big discussion about what we were looking for in the market and what we thought about the market and why we thought that and whether they’d be of any help re-aligning our thoughts for us and what kind of finance we might have access to or could be assisted with, and etc, and were not easily put off by “we live just up the street and are having a sticky-beak, and also, this apartment is down two internal flights of stairs and we have a baby in a stroller, so no.” I suppose it could be worse, we could have actually bought the place. But it was surprisingly difficult to get away from them even as entirely unmotivated buyers.

And that was Andrew’s cue to nick off to the USA himself. It was a long and lonely trip at my end, probably much the same as mine for him. As our work trips become increasingly totalising — he was expected to have all three meals a day with work colleagues he needs to know better, I took a baby with me — we’ve dropped off our communications. I spoke to him a couple of times while I was away (and mostly in order to speak to a very bored and slightly bewildered V, at that), I think while he was away we had a couple of abortive attempts at video chat and that was about it. Not much fun having a chat that consists mostly of “… no, I still can’t hear you, oh, I just saw you wave, nope, now you’ve frozen, can you hear me? CAN YOU HEAR ME?” It got even worse when he got to London and didn’t have a local SIM and was impossible to reach at all.

Andrew works in an office, but I don’t, so when he travels I can go for days without having face-to-face interactions with other adults that aren’t transactional. (“Have I paid for V’s dance class this week? No? Here’s the fee!”) So I took V and A to my parents for three nights in the middle of Andrew’s trip. Packing alone for a trip is always really annoying and boring, but the drive that I was dreading (about 4 hours each way) ended up being surprisingly painless. V remains a good and surprisingly non-whingy car traveller and A sleeps even better in cars than he used to. The first morning we were there they had their snowfall of the year; unfortunately we hadn’t brought gloves with us but had a bit of fun anyway, with my parents hauling V around on a tarpaulin “sled”.

Once I was back, I warned Val that I was feeling slightly ill and was having an inexplicably grumpy and sad day. (The amount of emotional work and intimacy required in a small business can be high, but I do like being able to rearrange my day around being grumpy every so often.) It got much more explicable when I realised I was having cellulitis symptoms in my left ankle (an infection of soft tissue under the skin).

I had cellulitis in September 2012 with a slightly unusual and very aggressive presentation: I got a high fever first, about 24 hours before there was any redness or swelling and so on. By the time the redness was even really properly visible, I had been running a 40°C fever for several days, could barely walk due to the painful swelling of lymph nodes, was dehydrated, and was admitted to hospital for 6 days of IV antibiotics (and three days of rehydration, because I refused to take anything by mouth). When I was in there, the infectious diseases registrar asked if she should draw the boundaries of the redness on my leg to check if it was spreading, and the specialist said mildly “I don’t think there’s much point to that.” He was quite right: within a couple more days, the redness had spread all over my left thigh, and I ended up losing two layers of skin from most of my inner thigh, very much (as the specialist pointed out) as if I’d badly burned it. The day before I was discharged, he stopped by my bed alone and remarked that it was cases like this that “remind us that even in the age of antibiotics, these things can be very aggressive, and sometimes even fatal.”

… Thanks.

So, naturally, I panicked that I was having cellulitis symptoms again, only this time with two children in my care and Andrew in London (so, timezone-flipped) and close to unreachable other than by email. It wasn’t, in the end, justified: this time I got the redness and swelling but no fever or systemic illness, and a couple of courses of antibiotics cleared it up without me losing any skin, although I did walk with a cane for a couple of days due to lymph node pain. It was no worse than having twisted an ankle a bit in the end. It was tough on the extended family, as I set up Illness Level Red in case of needing to be hospitalised, unnecessarily in the event. (Andrew and I agreed that he’d arrange to leave London early as soon as I started running a fever, so he ended up leaving as planned.)

As a concrete thing, Andrew and I are going to have to work a bit more about communicating, and being accessible, while each of us travels. I used to talk about emotionally putting our marriage on ice for the duration — which is already much easier for the person who is travelling than the person left behind — but it’s not possibly for parenting, especially if the at-home parent gets taken out of action.

Once Andrew was back, all was well with the world. For the week and a half it took him to incubate the influenza he presumably picked up while travelling, anyway… stay tuned.

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This is a crosspost from Infotropism. You can comment here or there.

Simplest sourdough bread instructions

Aug. 16th, 2014 07:34 pm
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[personal profile] skud
This is a crosspost from Chez Skud. You can comment here or there.

I wanted to post a short, simple version of my sourdough bread instructions — no fancy stuff or options, unlike the earlier rather confusing post that I made — so that I can point people at it when I give them some of my starter.

So here goes. How to make a standard sourdough loaf the way I do.

Basic sourdough starter feeding

  1. When you get the sourdough home, put it in a large jar with lid or covering that will let it breath. I like using one of those flip-top jars and removing the rubber ring so it’s not airtight.
  2. Feed it 1/2 cup of strong white bakers flour and 1/2 cup of filtered water. Give it a stir. It should have the approximate consistency of cake batter.
  3. You have two options now, depending on your schedule and how much bread you consume:
    • Leave it 12-24 hours at room temperature, or
    • Leave it for longer (up to a couple of weeks, easily) in the fridge

Making the sponge

  1. Start the following steps about 36 hours before you want your loaf of bread.
  2. Take the starter and pour most of it out of the jar into a large bowl. Don’t scrape the jar or make too much effort to pour everything out — you want some left to keep the starter going.
  3. Add 1/2 cup strong baker’s flour and 1/2 cup filtered water back to the jar, stir, and put it aside until you want to make another loaf (as above – it’s fine on the benchtop for a day, or in the fridge for a week or more).
  4. In the bowl, you should have about 1 cup of starter. It’s not exact, so don’t sweat the details.
  5. Add 1 cup strong baker’s flour and 1 cup filtered water and give it a good stir to incorporate. You’re looking for approximately cake batter consistency. This is the sponge.
  6. Leave the sponge at room temperature for 24 hours, covered with a cloth (I use a clean tea towel).
  7. At the end of this period, it should be bubbly and smell yeasty.

Making the dough and forming the loaf

  1. The next day, make the dough. First add about a teaspoon of salt. Then add strong baker’s flour, starting with about a cup and adding a bit more at a time, mixing with each addition, until you get to the “shaggy dough” stage, which is when it sort of breaks into stringy clumps.
  2. Put some flour on your counter or work surface. I use a generous handful.
  3. While you’re at it, grease and flour a loaf tin. I do this now so I can dump the excess flour out onto the counter with the rest.
  4. Turn the dough out of the bowl, scraping the sides, and make a heap on the counter. Sprinkle a little more flour on top.
  5. Fold and knead for just a few minutes. I usually start by folding and gently shaping it a few times until it forms a cohesive lump, and then gently pushing/kneading it until the dough is nice and smooth and stretchy. It doesn’t need long or energetic kneading like traditional yeast bread does.
  6. Add more flour if it’s sticking to the counter, but try not to let it get too dry.
  7. Form into a loaf shape. I do this by pulling the dough into a rectangle about the size of a sheet of A4 or letter paper, and then folding it in thirds, like how you’d fold a letter to put in an envelope.
  8. Turn this upside down so the join is underneath, and dump it into your loaf pan.
  9. Sprinkle flour on top to make a non-stick surface. I just use a small handful lightly dusted over it.
  10. Cover again with a cloth (I use the same tea towel) and leave for 6-12 hours, depending on room temperature. In warmer weather, you’ll want to leave it a shorter period. You want it to approximately double in size.

Baking

  1. Bake at 220C for 30 minutes.
  2. Turn out of the tin and tap the bottom. If it doesn’t sound hollow, stick it back in the oven for another 5
    minutes.
  3. Cool on a rack. Leave for at least 15 mins before slicing.
a plain loaf of sourdough cooling on a rack

My first sourdough loaf, made with this process just over a year ago.

The hardest thing, early on, is finding your rhythm or schedule. So here are a couple of schedules that work for me.

My winter schedule (~10 hour rise):

Evening, day 1: make sponge, feed starter and put it back in the fridge.

Evening, day 2: make dough and form loaf. Rise overnight in an unheated room, which in my climate means down around 10 degrees C or even lower.

Morning, day 3: bake, and appreciate how it warms up the kitchen and you get a nice hot breakfast.

My summer schedule (~6 hour rise, ):

Morning, day 1: make sponge, feed starter and put it back in the fridge.

Morning, day 2: make dough and form loaf. Rise during the day, keeping an eye on it after 4 hours or so as it can go quite quickly in warm weather.

Afternoon/evening, day 2: bake.

In my climate, I keep an eye on the weather forecast and aim to bake on cooler days (in the 20s celsius) when it’s not torture to run the oven. If it’s hotter than that, I’m more likely to make flatbread or just eat something else.

Some people suggest letting it rise in the fridge overnight if the weather is hot. I’ve tried it and don’t much like it, but you might find it works for you.

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