Conference Wrap-Up

Sue and I had the opportunity last week to attend the conference for the “International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts.” It is a small academic conference for students of the arts related to SF/Fantasy and other speculative fiction. This isn’t a convention geared towards fans. There are no costumes or bands. The conference mostly consists of academic papers presented by the attendees as well as readings by some of the authors in attendance.

One of the draws for us was the conference itself, as it attracts a lot of SF/Fantasy writers. The other was the fact that Neil Gaiman was one of the Guests of Honor this year. He is definitely one of my all-time favorite writers.

We had a fantastic time. Neil Gaiman was probably run ragged with his duties as a popular Guest of Honor, but he was very gracious throughout the week and any room he entered became more funny and interesting by his presence. We heard him give a few speeches, watched him act in a short play, and watched him read the first few chapters from his upcoming book “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” We managed to get him to sign copies of Coraline for us, and discovered that he not only signs his name in his books, but he also draws a small illustration for you related to the story.

Aside from the probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Neil Gaiman, the rest of the conference was very enjoyable. Sue and I quickly discovered that we generally preferred author readings to most of the academic works. There were many published authors that we were able to hear. The real treat was the ability to hear readings from a few authors we had not yet heard of.

That brings me to the true reason for this post. If you like Sf/Fantasy writing at all then you owe it to yourself to check out some of these writers. I’m late to the party on some of them, and others are just getting started. Based on the readings that we heard, you may want to look into the works of these authors:
Lara Donnelly
Andy Duncan
Theodora Goss
Kij Johnson
Keffy R. M. Kehrli
Robert J. Sawyer
E. Lily Yu

Much of what they have is short fiction that may be difficult to find. Most of what we heard has not even been published yet, but I will be keeping my eye on these names.

Now if I could just find the time to read them all!

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Apparently even quarterly updates are too much for me to keep up with on this site. Hopefully that is a passing phase as my workload drops back to sane levels.

It’s been a year of change in many ways. I lost one of my oldest and closest friends this year, I lost my uncle, and I lost my Father. I am now essentially the family elder on my Dad’s side. That’s an odd concept I am still trying to wrap my head around. Rough spots aside, as the year draws to a close I feel very grateful for all of the people that are close to me, and especially for the one who has stood with me through all of it.

2012 held the hope of a great deal of travel. None of that happened as planned, but we did manage some small trips throughout the year.

Sue and I spent almost a week in Sandestin FL before spending a weekend in Charleston SC with Chad and Leigh Ann eating great food (bacon butter on fried chicken skins!) and seeing a part of the city where the houses from the 1830’s were the “new” houses on the block. Wall of Texture

I drove to Atlanta on two consecutive weekends. Once for Chad’s Birthday to go whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River in Tennessee:
Ocoee River

The next weekend was to attend the DragonCon in Atlanta, and spend some time hanging with Chad and Leigh Ann again. They are not in this picture:
DragonCon 2012

Finally we spent Thanksgiving weekend camping out on Cayo Costa, which is an island off the west coast of Florida. 3 days of no electricity, cool temperatures, and camping with the sound of the waves.
Black Friday 2012

Finite Infinity

Giving Thanks for Quiet

As for events, we got to see the US Mens Soccer team beat Scotland 5-1 in Jacksonville, followed by a 3-1 win over Antigua/Barbuda in Tampa. We also got to see the Tampa Bay Rowdies win their league championship in one of the best sporting events I have ever attended.

Musically we had a few great shows, including Snow Patrol, VNV Nation, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor, Johnathan Coulton, and the best Ani Difranco show I have ever seen.

Other highlights include getting some of my pictures published in the Tampa Bay Times, and getting drafted into a dragonboat team at the last minute. I’m still mad that we lost our last race by 2 tenths of a second :-)

Now that 2012 comes to an end, I look forward to 2013. There are few solid plans yet, but Sue and I have a talent for keeping our schedules filled with interesting things. Looking forward, I will try to keep this thought in mind for 2013:

“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.”
– Lao Tzu

With that, here are a few songs that I got to see live this year (not necessarily from these recorded shows):

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Computer Ads

Computer advertisements are running hot & heavy through the holiday season. I’ve noticed a theme, and the more I think about it seems like it’s been the same theme running through every computer ad ever made:

“Buying our computer will unleash a flood of creativity that you just KNOW you have inside you somewhere. Forget that our computer is just a slightly newer version of the one you already have, your current computer is keeping you down. If you buy ours you will suddenly know how to do all of the things you wish you had the talent for, or don’t have time to learn since you are too busy watching cat videos on YouTube.”

p.s. – I find that 1984 video amusing since Apple has become the totalitarian regime that it made IBM out to be in that ad.

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Forever Starts Now

I used to think I was a decent guy. I didn’t know the truth of it until I found myself in a situation where I had every reason to be rotten to a person who mistreated me, I knew I wouldn’t get caught, and still chose to be a decent guy.

I used to believe that when I told someone I loved them, it was forever. Sure the relationship might not last, and we would suffer all of the heartache that goes with a breakup, but I’m still friends with practically every woman I’ve ever loved. Some of those friendships have been more solid than the relationships ever were. Still, I never really understood how deep that went until I found myself holding the hand of the first girl I ever kissed as she died.

Somewhere out there is a girl who just lost her mother, and a husband who just lost his wife. Think about that tonight. The day will come when you are separated from those that you love. Would you like to have one more day with them? Start now.

Don’t waste today.

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A Question of Security

By now we’re all familiar with the concept of the security question. It’s commonly used in conjunction with a username and password to verify that you are who you say you are. It is one of the most frequently used mechanisms for recovering a lost password.

I have a small issue with the security question. Most of them do not apply to my life. When I need to select a question to provide an answer for, I’m often stuck with a set of questions that I have no definitive answer for.

What is your maternal grandmother’s maiden name?
In what city does your nearest sibling live?

I didn’t have a close-knit family. What if I have no siblings and nobody in my family talked to my grandmother?

What was your high school mascot?

Which one? I moved around a bunch. There are 6 different high schools I could choose from here.

What is the name of the first school you attended?
What was the name of your elementary/primary school?

See the previous question. I haven’t even counted the number of elementary schools I went to. My first school must have been about 20 schools ago.

What was your childhood phone number including area code?
What is the street number of the house you grew up in?

Do people even get to have one address or phone number anymore?

What was the color of your first car?

The first one I bought, the first one I registered, or the first one that I was the primary driver of? 3 different cars here.

How many bones have you broken?

Too many to count.

What is the title and artist of your favorite song?
What is the title and author of your favorite book?
What is the name, breed, and color of your favorite pet?
What is your favorite animal?
What was the last name of your favorite teacher?

I don’t have a very binary outlook on life. Except for my girlfriend, my “favorite” anything is subject to change from day-to-day. It’s almost guaranteed that any answer to one of these questions will change between the time I enter it on a form and when I need to remember it.

Where did you vacation last year?

To answer this I’d need to remember what year I joined your website.

What is the first name of the boy or girl that you first kissed?

I don’t kiss and tell. Not to your website anyway.

What time of the day were you born?

I didn’t have my watch on.

I think I’m just going to start answering all security questions with “Fred.” Well, maybe not the one about the first kiss…

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2011 in the Rear View Mirror

Time flies. I was joking a few weeks ago how most of the news media takes off the week between Christmas and New Years. They publish endless “Top 10 x of year y” articles that were probably written months ago. My dirty little secret (ok, one of them) is that I keep reading these lists, no matter how predictable they are.

This is of course just a build up to my own list, right? Well, sort of. I didn’t take enough notes during the year and I’m too lazy to go back through my receipts and ticket stubs. Besides, a memory that has to be shaken loose by a ticket stub isn’t much of a memory is it?

So here it is. Not a top 10, and not in any particular order, but a few of my favorite memories of 2011:

Seeing my sister Peggy get married, and seeing the Muirhead family again.

Getting to see the St. Pete Grand Prix on a gorgeous day in March.
No Cutting The Corners

Going to an Iron Maiden in concert for the first time in (cough) years and seeing that they are still one of the best shows going.
Iron Maiden

Seeing two top-notch photographers do an all-day discussion, and getting to see my friends Chad and Leigh Ann in the process.
Joe McNally & Crew

Paying off my bills.

Going on a fantastic trip to Colorado with Sue, spending days hiking in the mountains, and seeing all sorts of wildlife including elk, moose, marmot, pika, coyotes, and a bear.
Elk Crossing

Watching Curiosity, the latest Mars lander, leave for the Red Planet.
Curiosity Lifts Off

Let’s see what 2012 has to bring us!

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Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s not focused on buying tons of useless crap like Christmas is, and there isn’t too much ritual drunkenness like other holidays have. Just a good meal with people you love, or are at least related to.

It’s kind of crazy to think that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner in a Chinese restaurant. I’ve had a Thanksgiving dinner of White Castle hamburgers eaten in a hospital. Once I made a full turkey dinner just for myself and four cats.

Not all of them have been that crazy, but I really have grown to be thankful for the things that I do have. Yes, I have been able to get nice things and go to cool places, but the true thankfulness comes with the realization of just how quickly something can be lost.

Forget the things that aren’t going well at the moment, even if only for a day. What are you most thankful for?

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Wells Fargone

I ended a relationship today.

Not the one with my girlfriend. No, this was a relationship with my bank.

When I came to Florida 20 years ago I had nothing but a guitar, a suitcase, and a few hundred bucks. Once I had a job, I opened a checking account at Southtrust Bank in Clearwater. I saw a lot of crazy stuff that NCNB/Nations Bank/Bank of America did to people, but I never had those issues with Southtrust. The tellers recognized me and I never had a problem with the bank. It’s the only bank I’d ever had in Florida, of a sort.

Southtrust became Wachovia. No real change, my bank just quietly did what I needed it to do, with never a problem.

At the end of June, Wachovia changed to Wells Fargo in this area. 2½ months later my 20 year old bank accounts are closed for good.

Long story short, I pay a lot of bills online. Since the switch was made to Wells Fargo, I have been unable to pay one of my creditors. This payment has been made every month for the last 11 years without issue until Wells Fargo took over. 2 months and several attempts later and Wells Fargo is still unable to deliver a payment for me. I’d be willing to cut them some slack if they would admit the problem and work to help me fix it, but their customer service basically tells me “the check is in the mail” and claims they cannot do anything. For each failed payment attempt, Wells Fargo got to sit on my money for a week since their minimum time for an online payment is 5 business days. The best part is that after each failed attempt, when I called customer service, they could not tell me where my money was. They could not even tell me if the payment cleared. This is especially galling since the payment never cleared, which means they had my money all along.

It occurs to me that banking with Wells Fargo is functionally equivalent to being bankrupt. So what if I have money in the bank if I’m unable to pay anyone?

I went to my local branch today and closed my accounts. The lady asked me why I was closing them and I said that the online bill payments simply didn’t work.

The smile left her face. “That’s pretty much what everybody is saying who closes an account now” she says. A little chit-chat and I get the impression that a lot of accounts are being closed for this reason. I mention that it’s got to be frustrating to be losing business over something she has no control over. She gives me a look that says I don’t know the half of it. I have not seen someone look so dejected in a professional capacity in a long time.

You’d think someone would wonder how a 20-year professional relationship could fall apart in 2½ months. This lady did. She obviously cared too. Nobody will ask her though. Wells Fargo customer service? I’m just one less person in their phone queue waiting for a scripted response designed to hide the fact that they have an issue. Wells Fargo management? Who knows if they care about anything other than today’s share price.

I’m still cleaning up the mess this has caused with one of my creditors. I’ve had enough of “too big to function.” It’s credit union time. Oh, and my rinky-dink credit union got a payment to this creditor in 2 days. Wells Fargo would have taken 5 business days at best, but even with 2 months they were unable to do it.


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The Tree of Life

This is a tough one. Look at a site like Rotten Tomatoes and you will see very high ratings from critics coupled with very low ratings by the general public. This definitely falls into the “love it or hate it” category.

We see a scene of a family in the 1950’s. The film then goes back to the beginning to show how we arrived at this point. I’m not talking “beginning” in the sense of boy-meets-girl when the husband and wife first meet. I mean “beginning” as in watching dust clouds form into planets.

I am not kidding.

It takes a while to get back to the family. We watch planets collide, volcanoes erupt, and water in various settings as life grows from self-replicating cells all the way through dinosaurs and mammals.

From there the film alternates between showing various scenes from the history of the family and scenes from the history of the universe. This film isn’t driven by a plot or story so much as an attempt to show us how the smallest of things and the biggest of things are all related.

The pacing is very slow and deliberate. Everything is given time to sink in. This is good when a scene resonates with the viewer, but very tedious otherwise. The film has many beautiful moments. Many scenes of the family life are very touching. Scenes of the natural world are visually stunning. The problem is that they keep interrupting one another. As pretty as some of the natural scenes were, they resulted in long stretches of the film passing by without me having anything to care about. Despite the many beautiful moments contained in the film, I found myself thinking at several points “this is pretty, but I am not enjoying myself.”

This film tried to do a lot. There are gems contained within and some of them will stick with me for a while. It is a beautiful film in many ways, but not necessarily an entertaining one. It would have been a fantastic 20-minute short, but as a 2-1/2 hour film I can’t recommend it.

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Eureka (Springs)

So we wanted to go out and have a picnic on the 4th of July weekend, but we didn’t want to fight the crowds at Fort Desoto or Aldermans Ford Park. That’s when we came across Eureka Springs Park in Tampa. I’d never heard of it before, and it’s not far from my house, so we decided to head there with our pic-a-nic basket and check it out.

What a hidden gem. We would have never found it without the internet. Apparently not many other people have heard of it either. We were there for probably a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon and we were the only people in the park the entire time.

It’s a small park. You can’t walk far, but there is a wetlands boardwalk, a small greenhouse with some orchids, a garden area, and a picnic area. Traffic from I-4 and I-75 was on the edge of hearing, but other than that it was a very quiet place to spend an afternoon.

Spread the word. As much as I’d like to keep it a secret I don’t want the county to decide that it’s not worth the effort because it can’t support a concession stand.

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