Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Marmota Watch, Con Edition

In keeping with my convention tradition of having the most outlandish conversations with famous and important people, on Sunday I spent several minutes talking marmota with Chuck Rozanski, owner of the country's largest comic retail operation, Mile High Comics. The Mile High mascot is Captain Woodchuck, defender of marmots and pikas throughout the world (although he is technically a yellow bellied marmot, not a woodchuck), so it was only natural that we would start talking rodents. OK, perhaps other people would have taken that time to discuss the comics industry and how he manages to keep a successful comics retailer going when so many comic shops are going under. Me, I decide to go with woodchuck-human relations.

Dreaming of Con Freebies

I've just about finished unpacking. We ended up with 19 books, 15 of which we got free. Total cover price for the free books is $5.01 more than we paid to get into the convention.

One of the not-so-freebie books we acquired over the weekend is The Android's Dream by John Scalzi. This is the first time I have ever plunked down money for the hardcover edition of a novel, based solely on the dust jacket. Until I saw the dust jacket laying on a table 8 months ago, sans book, I had never even heard of John Scalzi. I read the inside flap copy and decided then and there I had to read this. The blurb is that good. The first three chapters--as far as I got before I had to put it aside momentarily for some semi-professional reading--are even better. Really. Go buy it.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Back From Con

The trip back was largely uneventful, except for an hour spent on the tarmac in Charlotte while the crew tried to figure out why, in spite of all indications to the contrary in their system, we did not in fact have a co-pilot present.

We're still unpacking, but an incomplete list of the freebies acquired includes 14 books (we paid for 4 others), 6 t-shirts, 1 baseball cap, two squishy balls, and an undetermined number of temporary tattoos, buttons, posters, and tote bags. Oh, and Cliff Simon's autograph on my program book. We had an interesting, if brief chat. He has the same t-shirt I was wearing, and we both have difficulties finding appropriate venues to wear it. Lots of folks don't see the humor in a t-shirt reading "Bow before me, I am your god.--The Goa'uld" even after one explains that it is from a TV show, and they're the bad guys. Cliff Simon plays one of the deities in question, which, one imagines, makes it that much more interesting for him to explain.

Look here in the near future for a review of the state of penguins in pop culture.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Real Comic Con

Yesterday, I discussed what a comic con is not. Today, allow me to give you a taste of what a comic con is.

9 a.m.--find a perch in the panel before the panel we really wanted to see, so we could camp out and get a good seat for the panel afterward. The panel we camped at turned out to be a preview of the pilot to an ABC comedy slated to air this fall. Pushing Daisies is scheduled for Wednesdays at 8/7c. I can't vouch for how well the rest of the series will work out, but the pilot is funny as heck. The preview is followed by a Q&A session with producers and cast, including Barry Sonnenfeld and Kristen Chenowith.

10:15 a.m.--Move up a few rows to the front and say hi to some email buddies who are saving seats for some others.

10:30 a.m.--Quickdraw. This is an hour and a half divided between art improv and a variant of Pictionary played with professional cartoonists. One of the sheets, filled (and I mean filled) with sketches by Sergio Aragones, was auctioned off on site for charity. It finally went for $325.00

11:00 a.m. -- Emp. Peng. ducks out for a few minutes and returns with two free paperback books.

12:00 p.m. -- We have a break, so I take a quick run around the exhibit hall. In the space of half an hour, I got the Peanuts Free Button of the Day, went fangirl on not one but two actresses from my favorite TV show, and grabbed a free tote bag and poster.

1:00 p.m. -- A panel discussion with Greg Bear, Vernor Vinge, and five other sci-fi authors about the role of technology and science in their writing.

4:00 p.m. -- Sitting in on a discussion with Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen.

5:00 p.m. -- Another cruise through the exhibit hall, this time netting a pair of free t-shirts, a free CD and free book, and a purchased emperor penguin chick plushie toy. The same booth with the penguin also had figurines of Thoth, the ancient Egyptian ibis-headed writing deity.

You don't hear about anything like this in the news coverage, but it is by far the more typical con experience.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Friday Con Moment

Coming back from dinner tonight, we had a nice, normal two-block walk (incredibly normal if you believe the news coverage of the convention). We crossed the trolley tracks while chatting up another fan who had just recently seen the movie referenced on my t-shirt, and I turned to the right to see four people standing on the corner with ads for a gaming convention playing on LCD monitors in their shirts. I turned away from that to see the movie Blade Runner playing on giant TV screens fitted into the sides of a van rolling down the street. I had to check my watch to make sure I hadn't teleported into the future in the last block and a half. Now, of course, it occurs to me that the time/space continuum might not reset my watch if I had, in fact, teleported. The things one thinks of after the fact.

A word about the media coverage of Comic Con

The New York Times has a writeup of a comic convention in San Diego this weekend. I thought I was at the only one here in San Diego this weekend, but apparently not, since the NYT piece clearly depicts a different convention than the one I'm at. Take, for example, their depiction of the scene at the entrance:
On the promenade outside, sweaty waves of nerds, kimono girls and Obi-Wan Kenobis walked alongside thousands of Kevin Smith look-alikes.
First off, we're not nerds. We're geeks, and it's San Diego in July--everyone is sweaty. Secondly, the kimono girls are up on the third floor in the anime pavilion. Third, and perhaps most important, there were maybe a dozen Kevin Smith look-alikes among 100,000+ con-goers. Most of the Stormtroopers are part of the Fighting 501st, a group that makes a hobby of going not just to cons, but to children's hospitals and other places where folks could use a smile. The costumed folks who dominate the news coverage of Comic Con, and any comic and sci-fi convention for that matter, make up maybe 10% of the attendees, 15% tops. Most of us are dressed in shorts, t-shirts and comfy shoes. Add in the backpack to hold necessities like program books, breath spray, bottled water and snacks, and we look more like a mass of tall 5th graders than the Halloween party shown on TV. I was borderline weird in my attire today when I started attaching freebie pins into my braid when my badge lanyard got full.

The New York Times piece makes it sound like Comic Con is a giant movie preview. The movie studios and TV channels have a chunk of the middle of the exhibit hall, amounting to less than half the floor space. That chunk is an absolute circus, but it is a small part of the overall convention. Most of the panels aren't about the movies. Most of the floor space is small booths with artists, writers, illustrators, small press, large book publishers, fan groups, comic retailers, toy vendors...there was even an insurance agent. If media covered sports events like they cover comic cons, you'd think everyone with a favorite sports team showed up to a game with messages painted on their bellies.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thursday Late Afternoon Con Blogging

Today's episode: what would you do for a tote bag. I bought a $25 hardcover book, just so I could get the tote bag. The book was autographed, although at the moment I couldn't tell you by whom, and the tote bag is from Penguin Classic. Elie nearly got crushed in the quest for a tote bag. WB is handing out some nice, huge canvas totes advertising Smallville. When I say "huge," I mean you could easily fit three or four toddlers in this bag. They (the bags, not the toddlers) are among the more popular swag here, and the rush to get them is a barely-contained riot. That was as close to being crushed to death against the stage as I ever care to come.

Preview Night Con Blogging

We're at Comic Con International in San Diego this weekend. Picture cramming the entire population of three good-sized towns into one convention center, and you're getting close. At least three quarters of the 123,000 con attendees have as their sole convention-going purpose to obtain as many freebies as possible. Me, I'm a little more varied in my con interest. Preview night is a three hour rush to see as much of the exhibit hall as possible (by way of comparison, we waited in line for three hours, spanning two buildings, to get into this three hour spree). Some of the highlights:

  1. Procuring a free Stargate SG-1 t-shirt within the first two minutes of entering the hall
  2. Buying a USB hub cleverly disguised as a TARDIS. It has sound effects.
  3. Getting strapped into a corset over my Groo t-shirt
  4. Meeting Q (John De Lancie). I almost didn't recognize him. He has great hair people on set. They apparently did not come with him.
  5. Asking the science officer of the Starship Voyager if he would like some tape to hold together the booth where he and the aforementioned omnipotent Q were signing autographs.
Yes, I will be posting a photo of item 3 as soon as we get home.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Better Late...

Don't get me wrong. I really appreciate UPS calling me in advance to tell me that there would be a package delivery from Amazon.com requiring a signature the next day. However, it is not overly helpful to say that the delivery will occur sometime between 8 a.m. and Tuesday. Not to mention that, although I do a substantial amount of shopping on Amazon.com, I do not currently have any outstanding orders. Rather boggled the mind what they might be sending me.

Given that I had some pressing errands to get done in two hours of the nine hour delivery window, it was inevitable that I would miss the truck. Fortunately, according to the friendly automated computer lady at UPS, I had called to make delivery arrangements early enough that I could pick up the box at the UPS center between 7:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. The friendly automated computer lady is blissfully unaware that the customer service office of our UPS center closed at 6:30 p.m. A small sign directs customers like me, led astray by friendly automated computer ladies, to poke our heads into the employee entrance and pick up our boxes.

The package from Amazon turned out to be the home theater system I had won. Apparently, Panasonic was OK with a three week response time, and must have had my package all but waiting to be shipped out--from Amazon.

I was, of course, far too excited about the new toy to wait until Emp. Peng. to come home and apply his generous knowledge of what the heck some of those components might be and how they fit together. Two hours of RTFM-ing, and I managed to get the new system together and more or less set up, with no parts left over. That is also, incidentally, almost as long as it took to figure out how to get the 5-disc changer to spit out the test DVD. The system came in 29 pieces, none of which has an "eject" button.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I May Already Be A Winner

I was definitely a winner three weeks ago. Now, I'm not quite so sure. Last month, G4TV held a sweepstakes rather uncreatively named "Free Stuff." Basic premise was they would show off new gizmos on a half-hour TV show, viewers would enter online to win the gizmos in a random drawing. The catch, of course, was that you had to watch the program live--no TiVo--and the passcodes to enter were shown during the commercial breaks, so you had to watch live and watch the ads. At the end of each half hour, the winners would be listed onscreen.

I spent 20 hours or so in June shuffling between the TV and the laptop to enter passcodes, and never saw my name come up, so I thought nothing more of it until a couple of days ago when I checked a seldom-used email address that I had given on the sweepstakes entry form. Apparently, I had missed something on the list of winners on June 22, when, it turns out, won a rather sweet sound system and DVD player. Sure enough, if you go to this page listing the winners and scroll down to 6/22/07 6:30 p.m., and look next to the Panasonic SCPT 950 Home Theater System you'll see "Janet H., OH." That would be me.

That's the good news. The slightly less good news comes about halfway through the small print of section 5 of the contest rules:
Failure by the Selected Entrant to respond to such notification within a reasonable time frame, as determined by Sponsor in its absolute and sole discretion, may result in disqualification of the Selected Entrant,
I responded within 5 minutes of receiving the notification, which was, rather unfortunately, about 3 weeks after it was sent. Now, I am waiting on the edge of my seat to find out if 3 weeks is "reasonable" according to Panasonic's absolute and sole discretion.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Emp. Peng. and I headed down to the Apple Store to ogle the new iPhone. To sum up: niiiiiiiiice. If Apple hadn't made it exclusive to the cell phone company with some of the suckier reception in our area, and if we were insane enough to spend $600 on a phone, we would have bought one right then and there.

The interface really is as intuitive as they say it is. I picked one up off the cradle and had it down pat in 20 seconds flat. The tipping to switch from portrait to landscape is nifty. Web browsing is, as reported elsewhere, a bit pokey but still faster than dialup. The keypad was much more accurate than I thought it would be with my fat-fingered keying.

The thing that amazed me the most about the phone: it worked. Apple made the display models (or at least the second one from the left on the island to the right of the Genius Bar in Columbus, Ohio) fully functional, and I mean fully functional. When was the last time you went to a cell phone retailer that actually let you check out how the phone worked as a phone? Apple did. One of the phones had been left on the phone keypad screen, so, on a lark, I turned my cell on and dialed. Yes, I called my own pocket. I'm still a bit stunned that it rang, from an unlisted number in San Jose. The test might have been biased, considering I was calling three feet, but the call quality was excellent. If nothing else from the iPhone bleeds into the rest of the cell phone industry, I hope the practice of letting customers actually try out the product catches on.

Penguin News

Fish and Wildlife Service Considers Penguin Protection

The Fish and Wildlife Service is planning full reviews on the status of 10 penguin species, to see if they warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. This would have more of a benefit to the penguins if any of them lived wild under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it is something.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Eco-modding the Rookery

I tried out my new solar-powered, carbon-neutral clothes dryer today. My foremothers may know it as a clothesline. The house came with the steel T-posts, but I'd only recently gotten around to stringing up lines on them. Except for a brief episode of chasing my shorts across the grass, I think the solar powered dryer worked out remarkably well. I'm hoping that, with experience, I'll get faster at it. The first few t-shirts were dry by the time I got the socks up. If my foremothers took as long to hang their washing out as I did today, it's a wonder I have any more recent generations of foremothers.

As a side note, I think I figured out where my laundromat got the idea of combining laundry and tanning facilities.

Monday, July 09, 2007

After a brief hiatus worrying that the squirrels were the next biggest wildlife menace, we're back to the lobsters. Maine hatcheries are putting more of them out there into the wild. Mark my words: no good comes of this, particularly not for Wisconsin (honestly, if you were a rampaging lobster, wouldn't your first target be sources of drawn butter?).

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Ninth Doctor Is In

For your amusement, here is a nicely edited video mixing Doctor Who clips--with my favorite , the Ninth Doctor--over a song from the Series 2-3 Christmas special. Warning: the song is particularly catchy.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Driveway Blogging, Tape-Delayed Blooper Reel

I almost forgot to mention the most amusing part of the whole driveway paving experience. The entire process required one front end loader, one asphalt spreader, two dump trucks (one for debris and one for bringing the crushed limestone and asphalt to the site), and two asphalt rollers. The dump trucks were parked in the westbound lane of the road I live on, since shoulders are about nonexistent on the road, leaving a gap between them that created a protected work area for maneuvering the smaller pieces of equipment. This gap was where they left the smaller roller, safely parked, while they found ways to use up the last front-end-loader-scoopful of asphalt.

After they had deposited most of that last scoop in front of my and my across-the-street-neighbors' mailboxes so that my mail carrier doesn't have to drive into the ditch anymore, the crew found the road littered with tiny specks of asphalt. The easiest way to clean that up was to scrape it with the front end loader, so the guy driving the loader backed it up to get a good shot at the scraps. Like all construction equipment, it has that loud, obnoxious beep alarm when the loader is in reverse. The flaw in those alarms is that the only work if the thing you are backing up into has ears. Small asphalt rollers that were parked in a protected spot away from traffic do not, as far as I can tell, have ears. The very same asphalt roller that was having such difficulty earlier got a front end loader full force to its own front end. It almost didn't start when they went to put it back on the flatbed.



Live Driveway Blogging, Finale

We have Pavement!

Live Driveway Blogging V

OK, now here comes the asphalt.

Live Driveway Blogging IV

My mistake there. They have just left to get the asphalt.

Live Driveway Blogging III

Here comes the asphalt!

Live Driveway Blogging II

The gravel is compacted. I think their roller may have imploded. They are looking intently at the engine, which (and I am no expert here) looks like it is smoking more than normal.

LiveBlogging the driveway

The pavers arrived at 7:30 this morning. By 7:45, they were tearing out old driveway and re-grading parts. Now, they are spreading 14 tons of crushed limestone base.