Wizard World Philly 2015 Recap (with more over at AgentCarter.net)

Yesterday I mentioned that I’d try and post a recap of the convention, and only minutes later arranged to do a write-up for AgentCarter.net. That piece can be found here.

Other than gaining a whole new level of respect for Hayley Atwell (who plays Peggy Carter), I also got to attend the David Tennant/Billie Piper panel, get a photo taken with them both, then get autographs. High points of the con included:

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  • Finding out Billie Piper stole bits of the TARDIS and Margaret the Slytheen’s ring from the set!
  • Screenshot_2015-02-20-05-40-26David Tennant complimenting my red fedora as I walked into the photo booth (“Nice hat!”).
  • Getting an incredible deal on a pair of custom-painted knee-high sneakers – I’ll try to post photos once I receive them, which should be at some point in June. They’re going to have the Exploding Tardis pattern on them and I’m pretty damn excited about that.
  • Eating at Reading Terminal Market, which I’d never been to but which was delicious.
  • wpid-0509151749.jpg“That’s an obscure one!” from Mr. Tennant when I handed him the play I’d brought for him to sign, which I saw him in way back in 2002 – before I even knew who he was. Just coincidence that I happened to buy the script; it wasn’t till I saw and reviewed Look Back in Anger several years later that I realized I’d seen him performing before. (The rest, as they say, is history…)

 

  • wpid-img_20150510_170943.jpgBuying a little ID badge for my Peggy Carter cosplay (which I’m hoping my mom will help me start cutting fabric for this weekend)…
  • Going to a FANTASTIC Greek restaurant with my friend and her daughter after Friday at the con – it was out of Philly a ways, I think the town was called Yardley? I can’t remember the name but holy crap best tzatziki ever.
  • The entire weekend going more or less flawlessly, after a somewhat rocky trip down there (took five hours instead of ten, but I’ll trade a long drive at the start for smooth sailing at the actual con!).
  • Being able to stop at a Trader Joe’s on the way home and doing my grocery shopping for the week, which was way better than having to shop at WalMart this week.

I’m exhausted, I’m happy, I’m not thrilled to be back at work after such a fun weekend, but what can you do. Except bask in the memory and write a blog entry about it.

Two links to check out…

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Volcanic, 16×20″, acrylic on canvas panel. By me.

Hey! So I’m just home from a weekend at Philly’s Wizard World Comic Con, which I fully intend to do an entry on later, but for now here are two pieces I’ve written recently which you may enjoy reading.

The first is a piece that I wrote last Tuesday about John Krakauer’s latest book, Missoula: Rape and Injustice in a College Town. A friend of mine (from Missoula) brought the book to my attention, and when Krakauer came to Missoula to answer to critics offended by the book, she organized a group to support both his book (which unmasks the failures of a legal system that finds it easier to believe rapists than the survivors of their crimes) and survivors themselves. Go check it out to find out more about the hashtag #MissoulaBlue, and why you might want to support it. (And a shout-out to my friend Madelyn for pointing me in the direction of SkirtCollective.com – what a fab site!)

The second is actually a blog by a friend of a friend, Jason Mical, where he quotes some of my thoughts on Black Widow, Age of Ulton, and the feminism of Joss Whedon. It’s over on his blog, so click here.

And finally, I’ve been doing a lot of painting lately, and the featured image for this blog is a close-up of one of them. It and others are for sale on Etsy, if you’re interested in checking that out.

Update: OMG IT’S (sort of but not really) DONE!/The Peggy Carter Project

It’s been a while since I updated you on what’s going on with #thepeggycarterproject. So here goes:

I just finished sewing the test skirt in muslin!!!!!!!

Okay, so maybe I didn’t *exactly* finish – I did something funny along the way and the waistband extension didn’t come out long enough – but I’ve now gone through the process and can put the skirt together. I’ll have to be a little more careful with the zipper, and the button hole will likely be a challenge, but at this point I’m pretty confident that I can make a skirt, and that it will fit.

It was harder than I’d anticipated, mostly because sewing takes a lot of patience and as each step advanced I got a little more nervous about moving on to the next one. (The next step now is actually cutting up my beautiful fabric, so hopefully I’ll be able to screw up the nerve soon.)

wpid-wp-1430574952317.jpegAt last update, I was in the process of cutting the fabric out. Now, it was time to stitch things together. With the exception of one seam, which I sewed the wrong way round (didn’t bother to go back and take it out because this isn’t the actual skirt, the sewing went pretty well – aside from a major tension issue that popped up midway through. (And no, I don’t mean the part where I cried.)

0420152125 0420152125aWhen I took my sewing machine home to show my mom, we decided that the best thing was really to buy a new sewing machine (because why wouldn’t that be the best thing, right?). It was more than I wanted to spend (this project is fast becoming a money pit in its own right) but it made a huge difference in sewing the last few seams. When it arrived, I sewed a few lines and sent her a photo; she approved. The old machine, she said, wasn’t punching the thread through the fabric on both the top and bottom, and given the price and time involved in getting the machine a professional tune-up, the newer machine just made more sense. Here are the photos I sent her; they’re much tighter and more uniformed than what I was getting from the older machine. The new machine also controls the speed of the needle more precisely, which was nice because sometimes you don’t want to go super fast or super slow but somewhere nice and comfortable, in the middle.

I won’t post close-ups of the zipper because the zipper is a travesty and something I will be practicing a few more times before I do it on the actual skirt, but here’s what it started to look like:

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You may notice – or you may not – that while this looks skirt-sized, it is also a bit smaller than you might expect, given the size of my waist. Well, kids, this is where I learned something important about sewing: read the directions. Like, always. Like, four times. Then read everything actually written on the pattern. Like, always. Like, four times. Because sometimes it turns out that just because you only cut two of one pattern piece, it doesn’t mean you don’t cut four of another pattern piece. Who’d’ve thought, right? You need two side panels on EACH side of the skirt, not just two side panels in all.

wpid-0419151229.jpgThat realization came to me, unfortunately, AFTER I had bought a roll of permanent pattern paper because I thought that I was going to have to size the entire pattern up significantly. It was while doing the math required to figure that out that I went back and looked at the pattern again. And realized my mistake. The things writers will do to avoid doing math, you know? But it worked, in the end:

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Next, it was time for the fusible interfacing. After doing a lot of math (this math was unavoidable), I had figured out that it made more sense just to buy a bolt of the stuff (about eight bucks from Joanne Fabrics, though the prices I saw varied WILDLY depending on where I was sourcing from). Interfacing is used to make sure parts of the suit keep their form – so it gets used on bits like the waistband and eventually the suit lapels (eep!). You don’t need loads of it for the project, but if I keep this hobby up it’ll be nice to have on hand.

0420152149For the skirt, the interfacing is fused to the waist band, then the waist band is folded over onto itself and then sewn to the bottom panels of the skirt. The process was a little tricky. The first step was cutting and fusing the interfacing. By this point in the project I had moved on to a “let’s just get it done” mentality, so I wasn’t super careful about cutting it out to match – all that caution is going towards the final product. I placed the fabric on a towel (I don’t have an ironing board, judge not) then laid the interfacing down on top of it. Then you put another towel on top so you don’t get the interfacing glue stuck on your iron, and gently press the interfacing down with the hot iron. Eventually, you pick the iron up and put it down on the next bit of fabric.

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0420152157aNext, you have to press up the seam of the waist band so that you can eventually sew that to the skirt band. This was kind of annoying because you have to make sure the seam is going to be even, and it was sort of confusing to read the directions and figure out what was supposed to be getting pinned facing what. But I soldiered through it and got it done!

Finally, the nightmare of sewing the waist band to the skirt. I didn’t even take pictures of that process, it was so miserable, but once I did that and ran it through the sewing machine, look what happened!
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It might be a little bit messy, but it’s served its purpose, and you know what that means…the next time you hear from me on this project, it will involve real fabric, having to work methodically and carefully, and maybe even a finished skirt!

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Gotta stay inspired, you know?

For more on this project:

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The Unfinishable To-Do List

dT8Rd9ATeOne of the best lessons I learned about time and workload management without going crazy was at one of my first jobs in New York City. I was working for a boutique architecture firm at the time, and suffice to say, there were days when my “task list” in Outlook stretched over pages and pages.

At first, I would go nuts trying to get everything done each day, so I could start the next day with a clean slate. Eventually, my manager and I started having regular meetings – sometimes daily – where we’d review my task list and she’d help me prioritize what had to get done. When we started, we’d mark a few things, but I’d still try to rush through them and get to the other items on my list.

Then, one day, I watched as she managed her own to-do list and realized I was making a very basic (and very mistaken) assumption: that all – or even a majority – of tasks on my list were going to get done at all. The next time we sat down and she told me what I needed to prioritize that day, I realized that she truly did not expect that I would finish other things on my list that day.

The realization was liberating.

It’s been several jobs and several years, but nowadays, I keep a running task list – I use a Google app called “Manage It,” though their task canvas also works. Part of having the running task list is knowing that it is unlikely to ever be empty. The other part is not beating myself up when I don’t get as much struck off the list as I’d like.

For someone like me, who was used to stressing about finishing things quickly (and well) and moving on to the next item, always reaching for that blank slate, this was a major change in philosophy. It’s left me calmer, happier and provides a fantastic tool for one-on-one meetings with my current manager: she can see what I’m working on, see what my priorities are, and give me direction on when my workload might enable me to help others on my team. Since I’ve detached from needing to finish every task every day, I stress less and recognize that my workload, while immense, is also manageable.

What techniques do you use for managing your workload? Simple to-do lists? Automated apps? Do you try to finish everything every day, or are there things you keep on your list just to make sure you don’t forget them?

Pro Tips: When Your Android Phone Dies

I should really make sure to put this in a protective case before I go travelling tomorrow, I thought, juggling two bags, my phone and a coffee cup while trying to open my car door. I had a busted-up Otterbox at home, but had never gotten around to replacing it, and was planning a trip the next day.

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Irony-hungry trickster god, you say?

Almost before I finished thinking it my phone leaped from my hands, bounced off the ground three times, and lay there. Face down. Like some irony-hungry trickster god had expressly decided to fuck with me. My phone (an LG G2, highly recommended) had taken some spills in the past, but a sinking feeling in my gut told me this time was different. That sinking feeling was right.

You know the rest of the story: shattered screens, insurance claims, phone replacement hassles, data backups, two-hour drives with only the radio to keep me company… But here are two tips that made the process WAY less painful and stress-inducing that it would have otherwise been, and some things I’m doing to make sure I’m covered in the future.

For the now:

  • Did you know Google lets you make voice calls for free in the US and Canada, straight from your gmail account? I didn’t. But holy cow. Without this function I’d have had to drive into work to make my insurance report. You’ll need to allow pop-ups on your gmail page, which you can do by clicking the little puzzle-piece looking icon that will appear in your URL bar. Not only was I able to call my insurance company, but by sorting through my google contacts via my Chromebook, I was able to reschedule a phone meeting from Skype to Google Hangouts, when I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to let the other party know what was going on.
  • Have phone insurance. Whether it’s the pain-in-the-neck version from Best Buy or insurance via a private provider (mine came as an option on my renter’s insurance), have phone insurance. With my renter’s insurance, the total cost was under $20, with a $50 deductible. At Best Buy, it costs something like $10/month, and they tend to take a few days to replace your critical external brain (well, I find it critical, maybe you’re not as tech-dependent as I am). Whichever way you do the math, it’s a better option than being hundred of dollars out of pocket for the replacement.

For the future:

  • Have a USB OTG (on-the-go) cable to hand. Without having pre-installed software onto my phone, this is the best option for unlocking and accessing my files. It allows you to connect a mouse to your phone via mini USB, and I’ve spent the last half hour looking to see whether I can get ahold of one at any local store. Not even the local Walmart (or any of the five Walmarts within driving distance) keep them in stock. Major fail, major annoyzballs. If you’re very clever and very handy, there are instructions on making your own with a soldering iron – or a lighter, or matches – but ten minutes futzing with teeny weeny copper wires made it clear that metalwork of any sort is really not my calling. Wound up ordering one from Amazon; even if I replace my phone before it arrives, at least this way I’ll be able to get back precious photos of the nieceling. Which brings me to:
  • For gods’ sake, BACK THAT SHIT UP. I used to have a direct upload from my camera to one of my cloud drives; when I moved to my new cell phone provider last year, I didn’t take the time to set up phone photo backups anywhere. DUMB. Just dumb.
  • Install a remote-access option on your phone. I’m hoping to get AirDroid set up once I get my hands that USB OTG cable; it lets you access your phone from a PC or Mac (and now has a web interface).
  • Consider rooting your phone. Apparently there are apps out there that now root your phone quickly and easily, as opposed to a few years ago when you had to have technical know-how to do it. Rooting your phone gives you more access and control over its software and accessing your data. Easier to do before the fact than after.
  • Buy a goddamn phone case that fits and works well and will protect the screen of my replacement phone in the future. Because, well, duh.

Hopefully, you’re less of a klutz than I am, and hopefully that means you’ll never ever ever have to go through this process. But if you do, hopefully the above will help you navigate the loss of your external brain more easily.

Malawi Update: Overwhelming Response!

Earlier today a friend pointed me to an article that’s gone up on the Malawi Project website:

Empty Medicine Bottle Response Brings Unimaginable Response

If you haven’t read it already, here’s my piece on taking part in this project. I now keep a box of empty bottles in my kitchen so I can save up and get ready to send another box full of bottles.

If you take medication (regularly or just once in a while) consider saving up your medicine bottles to pass on to this fantastic project! If not, they also take monetary donations – each shipment of bottles costs quite a bit to send, so every little bit helps.

GUEST POST: Slaughtering The Sacred Cow // (The Hugo Awards Fiasco)

If you’ve been here for a while, you’ll remember contributing writer Matthew Lyons from his yearly film analysis, “That Said…”. Today, he’s delivering his take on the current fiasco surrounding this year’s Hugo Awards and the legitimacy of industry accolades.

Slaughtering The Sacred Cow:
The Hugo Awards, Sad Puppies, and Our Current SFF Atmosphere of Total Shitbirdery

By Matthew Lyons

In 1996, Nick Cave wrote a letter to MTV, thanking them for their support and politely asking them to withdraw his name from competition for “Best Male Artist” in their annual Video Awards, citing the fickle nature of his muse and his own desire to avoid visiting “the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring” upon his art.

“I am in competition with no-one,” he said.  His art was his own, independent of some tawdry award that lacked prestige and debased his artistic vision.  It was a brave thing, and the right thing to do, given the situation.

Remember this.  We’ll come back to it.

The current, drama-filled saga of how the Sad Puppies so successfully gamed the Hugo Awards has been well-documented by men and women who are far better writers  and reporters than I, so I’ll spare you yet another three or four pages telling you what you already know. Still, some context is woefully necessary; so let’s do a quick sum up:

  • Socially and politically conservative voting blocs operating under the collective groupname Sad Puppies successfully gamed the Hugo Awards this year, securing three of the five Best Novel nominations, all five Best Novella nominations.
  • This isn’t exactly a stop-inclusivity-in-its-tracks thing, but it’s not exactly not: two of the SP’s most loudly championed authors have gone on record as supporting a certain non-inclusive online hate group, and as this whole fervor seems to be centered around resistance to inclusiveness, no matter what certain people may say to the contrary.
  • They’ve been trying to game the system for three years, and only now have they really succeeded in making a real, visible impact.
  • Everyone’s shitting their pants about it.

The question I want to ask is, why?  Why do we go out of our way to act surprised and outraged when people do this shit?  They’ve been trying to get this over on the Hugos for three fucking years.  So they finally succeeded.  Big shock.

Look at it critically, friends: you’ve had these people banging at the walls of your so-called sacred institution for three years and you act all aghast and shocked when they finally break through?

Please.

You do realize that all we’re doing by acting this way is legitimizing it, right?

Honestly, I’m really asking – do you understand that?

Why put up just a big stupid stink about it?  Is it because the Hugos are an institution?

They’re only an institution because we treat them like they are.  Fifty years of tradition is one thing, but those fifty years only carry the weight we assign them.  The voting only happens at Worldcon because we all sort of, kind of agree that it should.  Prestige is a concept of perception, and if you don’t like people bloc voting, fine.  Fuck them.  You don’t have to sit there and take it.  Have another ceremony and give out another award.  Have the nominations at DragonCon or something, develop special categories for whatever art form you like.  Get weird with it, fuck, make it a party.  No one says the Hugos are the only game in town.  Stop treating them like they are.

But still we’re outraged.  A noted, publicly avowed homophobe got three nominations in the Best Novella category? So what?  No one says that nomination has to mean a fucking thing.  It only means as much as we all think it should mean.  Everybody just needs to fuck off the end of everybody else’s dick.

The stupid, ugly truth is that they’re well within their rights to vote bloc.  That needs to be said.  They can do that.  The system as it exists in its current form is perfectly accommodating of that sort of thing.  It’s not wrong, it’s just kind of a dick move.  Nobody’s disputing that, not even the folks behind Sad Puppies.

And yeah, it’s an easy thing to say If you don’t like it, don’t pay attention.  Don’t let it affect you.  You know what, though? The people that these Sad Puppy assholes are rallying against get that shit time and time again.  “Ignore the haters?” Fuck you.  These assholes have made themselves impossible to ignore.  Pay attention to what they do and how they do it.  Beat them at their own game or go play your own.  They’re going to keep making the same moves over and over and over, expecting shit to change.  Last time I checked, that’s the definition of something.

Don’t ignore them, but maybe be reasonable with your expectations of people.  Because motherfuckers are always going to do dumb motherfucker shit.  The poorly behaved kid in class is pretty much always going to shout “LOOK AT ME!!” before pulling his pants down so everyone looks at his dick.  The best thing you can do in that situation is not fall for that fucking trick.  Stop coddling needy people who insist on throwing public tantrums.  Stop legitimizing them by acting like they’re a bigger deal than they are.  We all know you have a dick, Trevor.  Nobody’s impressed.  Just sit down and listen to Miss Wallace talk about long division, the rest of us are trying to learn here.

You might not be able to ignore them, but you sure as hell can delegitimize the thing they keep trying to stick in your face.

That brings me back to Mr. Cave’s refusal:

Perhaps, if this were a better world, the authors who aren’t part of the Sad Puppies’ slate would politely but firmly withdraw their names and works from consideration in protest.  Wouldn’t that be a fucking revelation?  If this is how they’re going to run the Hugos, maybe you don’t want that sort of recognition.

I mean, it’s nice to be honored for your art, but do you really want to be honored by an award system run by these people?  Again: seriously, I’m asking.

If the answer’s Yes, great, carry on, have fun.  Seriously.  I don’t begrudge anybody the pursuit of recognition for their art.  Really, I don’t.  People are allowed to art and live and believe however the fuck they want.  I just reserve the right to not pay attention if your methods make you a shitbird.

But if the answer’s No, then just why in the fuck do you insist on playing by their rules?  As far as I can tell, the Sad Puppies have been nothing but clear and vocal about what their aims were, and they kept their promises.  You think they won’t do it again next year?  Or the year after that?  It finally worked, after all. Why would we count out a repeat performance?

All I’m driving at here is maybe we all need to take a step back and consider what’s important.  Is it the recognition of your peers, and the public?  Or is it that fancy laurel seal your publisher gets to stamp on your reprints, that cute little tag you get to stick in your Twitter bio: Hugo Award Winning Author/Novel/Tweeter/Whatever.  Consider why this matters to you, because you need to know that the Sad Puppies sure as fuck have.

And if you decide you don’t want to compete with their behavior and tactics?  Then maybe consider taking your name out of the running.  Consider taking some of the widespread prestige away from the awards.  Delegitimize them. Just like engaging with these sorts of dicks on any other platform, the only way to win is not to play.  We can all agree that the Hugos got hijacked, and we as a community would rather our awards be about recognition and community than tradition and prestige.  The Bill Schuckley’s Backyard Barbecue Awards would carry just as much weight as the Hugos if we all decided they did.  Probably even more, because there would be barbecue involved.

Let ‘em have the Hugos if they want them so bad.  But if the ship’s been taken by mutiny, nobody’s making you sail with them.  There’s enough ocean for everyone here, and plenty of able and like-minded sailors to help you build yourself a new ship.  An awesome one.  With flames painted on the side and a bejeweled Santa Muerte for the figurehead.  And a sweet sound system playing nothing but The Clash.  Everybody loves The Clash.

Abandon ship.  Let the barbarians have the temple.  Take the sacred cow out back and put a fuckin’ bolt through its holy fuckin’ head for steak dinner.  If it’s not working, nobody says you have to keep it.

These awards only ever meant what we wanted them to mean, after all.

Matthew Lyons can be found listening to Tool records and old Bill Hicks routines while scorning basically everything and everyone on Twitter at @goddamnlyons. He occasionally writes fiction that is somewhat less pissed off than this guest post.

Other guest blogs by Matthew: