Monday, April 30, 2012

Day 30: Roger Zelazny haiku

Hey, I wrote thirty
haiku about Zelazny.
Only took a month!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Day 29: Roger Zelazny haiku

Hey, my copy of
Wilderness finally came.
Now to review it!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Day 24: Roger Zelazny haiku

Merlin, stop boinking
your aunt, unless you want some
kids with eighteen toes.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Day 21: Roger Zelazny haiku

I thought I was smart
to read just one chapter of
October per day.

(But I really wasn't. Turns out that's the way everybody reads it.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Geek Heresy

I self identify as a geek.

Obviously. People who don't think of themselves as geeks don't maintain a blog about a bunch of cartoons and the writings of a particular science fiction writer.

We're generally a pretty ecumenical lot, we geeks, being a loose assembly of fans of media outside the mainstream. We understand what it's like to be scorned and everyone is welcome under our big tent, role-players, cosplayers, furries; whatever weird thing you're into, your fellow geeks might not understand it, but we are, by and large cool with it. Credit (or blame) the geek social fallacies if you like, but there are few cardinal sins in geek culture.

But I'm going to commit one today.

What can I say that will get me excommunicated from the Church of Geek?

To digress for a moment, you may or may not like Aaron Sorkin, but he's generally considered a very good writer, even by people who don't share his opinions. He wrote A Few Good Men and won about a zillion Emmy awards for The West Wing, so by any objective measure, he really is a good writer.

Many genre fans feel the same about Joss Whedon, 

but Joss Whedon is not a good writer.

Oh, he can be, mind you. I still think Buffy Seasons 2 and 3 are some of the best genre TV ever produced. But he doesn't write like that any more. And sometimes I think, in light of absolutely everything that came after that, that those seasons were a fluke, an aberration, not representative of what we could expect from him.

I don't think that's true, though. I think there are two explanations.

Either, he's just pandering to the lowest common denominator or he's just fucking lazy.


Take a look at Avengers trailer. It's awesome...and it's everything that's wrong with geek culture.

 Oh, hey, Tony, you get to make a clever remark AND defy an authority figure? If there were a girl there you could touch, it would be the geek trifecta! 

The whole thing is just a series of softballs pitched at Stark.

Stark: And you, big fella, have managed to piss off [all of The Avengers]
Loki: That was the plan-
Stark: (faster and louder) Not a great plan.


Loki: I have an army-
Stark: (faster and louder) We have a Hulk.

It's like watching Mark McGwire hit home runs off a pitching machine. Did you see that?!  He knocked it out of the park! And he did it again!! Oh, and...again. This machine...isn't really much of a challenge, is it?

Years ago, I was watching some daytime TV with my friend Dave. It was some trashy Jerry Springer show, and the woman on stage yelled something and the audience started clapping and then Dave started clapping too, and said "Oh yeah! You raised your voice! All right!"

And that's all that I think of when I see this bullshit.

To return to Aaron Sorkin, he's probably even more liberal than I am (and that's pretty liberal), but at least he eschewed the use of straw men. His viewpoint certainly informed his work on the West Wing, but when writing lines for people who held opinions with he did not agree, he didn't make them stupid. Sure, he gave the better lines to his viewpoint characters, but it came across as a conflict between a smart person and a smarter one.

I don't have a problem with smart and smarter. I have a problem with "stupid"  and "average" pretending to be smart and smarter.

But, it's sure easier to write. Most writers are not, in fact, super intelligent.  So, like Thorton Melon told us in Back to School, "If you want to look thin, you hang out with fat people."

But, look at Loki in that clip. I don't think he could be a shift manager at a McDonald's. He's rasping his barely coherent threats and Stark is batting them back, as anyone over twelve could. And I think that's the core of Whedon's appeal. The people in the audience are saying, "Fuck, yeah! That's what I'd tell 'im!"

And that's fine. Everybody loves a popcorn movie.  I could let it go without bitching about it, if not for Downey's smirk. I guess we're supposed to believe that his lines are clever.

People are, generally,  good at their job or they don't keep it for long.

Bad guys are good at their job too. I mean, Jesus, which is more frightening, a villain who is smarter than you are, or one who's a buffoon you handily best in an exchange of quips taken from back cover of The Beginner's Dictionary of Clich├ęd banter, First Printing?

This is what ruined everything about Whedon's work after 1999. The idiotic smugness that seems to suggest that minimal competence is actually transcendent brilliance because every else around you is even dumber.

Oh, hello. I didn't see you there.
I want to watch people I like overcoming obstacles. I don't want to watch people I dislike overcoming mildly strenuous situations, while smirking like backwards-cap-wearing douchebags from a Mountin Dew commercial.  

Day 19: Roger Zelazny haiku

Note to Hugh Glass: Aim
more carefully. Also, you
should pick better friends.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day 18: Roger Zelazny haiku

Oddball immortals
and green-eyed gods. No one else
could write them better.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Monday, April 16, 2012

Science is Real

The highlight of our weekend was a trip to a local science expo. It had a bunch of local exhibitors, including Lafayette College, which had a sign that was not printed out, but rather lettered with black magic marker, which didn't exactly scream "prestigious engineering school" to me.

Lily posed in front of a dinosaur made out of balloons  and someone dropped a balloon-cage model of graphene from the ceiling around kids.

"We are the tiny dinosaurs!"

There were even some non-balloon-related activities. One was at a booth from the Da Vinci center. Kids could put a cube of dry ice into a genie lamp and deliver some water via a pipet, and the vapor would come out of the nozzle. I thought that was pretty neat, but the woman talking to her called it an "experiment".

That kind of bothered me, because I do try to speak with precision and part of the problem with the debate over global warming is that the general public uses "Theory" to mean something very different than the scientific community and the differences in understanding between the two uses has allowed Creationism a lot more traction than it deserves.

I think They Might Be Giants said it best:

"A scientific theory isn't just a hunch or guess--it's more like a question that's been put through a lot of tests."

I can't find the book right now (which is the story of my life), but I think it was Carl Sagan in his excellent book, "The Demon-Haunted World"  (Though it could also have been Richard Feynman's biography "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!") that an exhibitor with thousands of dollars of scientific equipment who does a gee-whiz presentation isn't really performing an experiment, but somebody who flicks a light switch on to see if it works is.

And let's back up a bit. The books I mentioned aren't scientific works. They're for popular consumption. But they do make some of the most eloquent and compelling arguments I've ever read for the use of critical thinking in everyday life. Back when I first started dating Jen, I looked through one of her textbooks. Now Jen comes from more of an educational background and I come from more of a scientific one. I criticized the book because I thought the concepts were oversimplified, and she rebutted that it was for kids, and the purpose wasn't to provide an exhaustive education on the subject, but to expose them to it, give them a grounding and cultivate that sense of wonder. And as is so often the case in our relationship, Jen was right.

So that's the purpose of the Expo, and I'm not going to criticize DaVinci too hard for that flub. It was a little bit sloppy, but talking to a five-year-old isn't writing for a peer-reviewed journal.

And I'm pleased with Lily's sense of wonder. She really tries to figure things out. Her grandmother bought her a little dolphin-headed grabber from a local store the other week. And Lily was looking at it one evening and suddenly exclaimed that she had figured out how it worked, and proceeded to explain it in breathless detail. "There's a wire attached to the handle inside and it pulls on the rubber band, and that's hooked on the other end on the inside of the mouth..."

In Chapter 2 of  his excellent book  "Why People Believe Weird Things" Michael Shermer recounts the story of a dig with Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana:

The initial stage was "getting the fossils out of the ground; the second was to look at the fossils, study them, make hypotheses based on what we saw and try to prove or disprove them"..."Paleontology is not an experimental science; it's an historical science," Horner explained. "This means that paleontologists are seldom able to test their hypotheses by laboratory experiments, but they can still test them"  How?

In 1981 Horner discovered a site in Montana that contained approximately thirty million fossil fragments of Maiasaur bones, from which he concluded "at a conservative estimate, we had discovered the tomb of ten thousand dinosaurs"... The hypothesizing began with a question: "What could such a deposit represent?" There was no evidence that predators had chewed the bones, yet many were broken in half, lengthwise. Further, the bones were all arranged from east to west—the long dimension of the bone deposit. Small bones had been separated from bigger bones, and there were no bones of baby Maiasaurs, just those of Maiasaurs between nine and twenty three feet long. The find revealed more questions than answers. What would cause the bones to splinter lengthwise? Why would the small bones be separated from the big bones? Was this one giant herd, all killed at the same time, or was it a dying ground over many years?

An early hypothesis that a mudflow buried the herd alive was rejected as "it didn't make sense that even the most powerful flow of mud could break bones lengthwise ... nor did it make sense that a herd of living animals buried in mud would end up with all their skeletons disarticulated." Applying the hypothetico-deductive method, Horner formulated a second hypothesis: "It seemed that there had to be a twofold event, the dinosaurs dying in one incident and the bones being swept away in another." Since there was a layer of volcanic ash a foot and a half above the bone bed, volcanic activity was implicated in the death of the herd. Deduction: because the fossil bones split only lengthwise, the damage to the bones came long after the event that caused death, which might have been a volcanic eruption, especially since volcanoes "were a dime a dozen in the Rockies back in the late Cretaceous." Conclusion: "A herd of Maiasaura were killed by the gases, smoke and ash of a volcanic eruption. And if a huge eruption killed them all at once, then it might have also killed everything else around," including scavengers or predators. Then perhaps there was a flood, maybe from a breached lake, that carried the rotting bodies downstream, separated the big bones from the small bones (which are lighter), and gave them a uniform orientation. "Finally the ash, being light, would have risen to the top in this slurry, as it settled, just as the bones sank to the bottom." What about the baby Maiasaurs? "Perhaps the babies of that year were still in the egg or in nests when the volcano erupted, or perhaps nesting had not even begun." But what about babies from the previous season who would now be juveniles? Horner admits "that nobody knows for sure that these dinosaurs would have produced young each year"

Even in the first stage of a dig while fossils are being released from their rocky shroud, the hypothetico-deductive method is constantly applied. When I arrived at Horner's camp, I expected to find the busy director of a fully sponsored dig barking out orders to his staff. I was surprised to come upon a patient historical scientist sitting cross-legged before a cervical vertebra from a 140-million-year-old Apatosaurus and wondering just what to make of it. Soon a reporter from a local paper arrived (apparently a common occurrence as no one took notice) and inquired of Horner what this discovery meant for the history of dinosaurs. Did it change any of his theories? Where was the head? Was there more than one body at this site? And so on. Horner's answers were consistent with those of the cautious scientist: "I don't know yet." Beats me." "We need more evidence." "We'll have to wait and see."

That's what each of us in our own way, Jen, me, the people from Da Vinci, are trying to teach Lily. If something doesn't make sense to you, don't give up! Keep poking at it until it does.

And on Saturday, right after the show, when Jen was taking care of something and Lily and I were taking a walk, Lily was examining her Pez dispenser and she started telling me about how that worked. I'm happy that she really wants to understand the world around her, and when faced with something she doesn't immediately understand, she doesn't throw up her hands and say "Tide goes in, tide goes out, you can't explain that!" but instead  starts working on an explanation that matches what she sees. 

I think Lily's been doing this just because she has a kid's natural curiosity about the world. Jen thinks she's been doing it because I've been encouraging it and she likes the attention it brings. Which one of us is right? I don't know yet.

We need more evidence.

We'll have to wait and see...

Day 16: Roger Zelazny haiku

Creatures of Light and
Darkness. Fathers who are sons.
(Set's his own grandpa)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Day 14: Roger Zelazny haiku

No love for "To Die
in Italbar"? I like it
more than "Eye of Cat."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Day 13: Roger Zelazny haiku

The world databank
in Legion would need a
zillion punch cards.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Day 11: Roger Zelazny haiku

The Amber novels:
Sometimes sibling rivalry
just goes way too far.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter Day

Easter was pretty decent. In the days leading up to it, Lily had a friend over for an egg hunt. When they finished, the kids took the eggs and hid them for the grownups to find.

On the big day itself, Lily woke us up at 4 AM, as children are wont to do, and peered out our window, which overlooks the back yard, to see if the Bunny had hidden any eggs yet. He hadn't, so Jen convinced her to go back to bed and when she fell back asleep, went outside to hide the eggs. The neighbor's motion sensor light helpfully shined in her eyes whenever she moved, but she finally got them hidden.

We got another hour or so of fitful slumber before Lily was up for good for the day. She was so eager to find the eggs that she just looked for them in her jammies and didn't change into her nice Easter dress.

Lily with Mrs. Fuzzy at Easter brunch.

This might be our last good year for Easter. She's really ramping up with the questions and I don't think she's going to believe in the Bunny by this time next year. It was a good year. I took a little video of the unveiling of the basket and it's wonderful to see her utterly sincere joy.

One of the things the Bunny got her this year was a collection of Franklin Richards stories. We had visited the comic book store where I used to work and picked up a copy of the first issue and she fell in love with it in the adorably obsessive way only a five-year-old can. (She was quoting the thing verbatim after two readings)

It's really a cute little collection. It recounts the misadventures of Franklin Richards, the son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, done up in the style of Calvin & Hobbes. Each story is about four or five pages long. Lily's reading has improved prodigiously over the past few weeks. When she was a baby, I was constantly amazed by how as soon as she learned a new skill, she immediately incorporated it into her repertoire. I think that's a pretty universal baby thing and not something specific to her, but she's showing that same facility with reading too. Sometimes, I'll ask her to read something, and she'll look at it intently, and then read it out loud perfectly, having performed the sounding out of the words in her head. She's got a great poker face. I'll watch her while she's doing this and I can't tell how far along she is with it until she actually speaks. (I've got to do this with new material, because she knows the stuff she already has by heart and I can't tell if she's really reading or just reciting.)

It's gotten to the point where Jen and I can't spell things out in front of her any more. And unfortunately, I think she's going to be very bored in kindergarten.

It makes me a little sad and a little proud, all at once, because it seems like reading is the last entirely new skill a person learns. Everything else is an expansion or new application of existing skills.  A Lily who can read is a different person from a Lily who couldn't. But she's going to grow up whether I like it or not, so I'm just going to do my best to help her along the way.

Day 10: Roger Zelazny haiku

Eight One. Roger commits world's
first mechanicide.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Day 9: Roger Zelazny haiku

Was Benedict as
good as they say?  Corwin still
has all of his arms.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Day 7: Roger Zelazny haiku

Typical Josh post:
"Merlin sucks. Blah blah blah blah."
Pretty much just that.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Day 6: Roger Zelazny haiku

A brotherhood of
gods. The Lokapalas are
never defeated.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Day 5: Roger Zelazny haiku

Post-modern fable
of Kit, Mari, Fuji and

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Watching cartoons with Lily: The Super Hero Squad Show

Superhero Squad is a throwback to cartoons of my childhood, but it's more atavism than homage.

My parents complained that the cartoons I watched in the 80s were 30 minute long commercials and it's hard to dispute that about, say, the Transformers, but there were shows that were genuinely really good. I think Robotech still holds up, for instance.

It just looked like a lot of fun. I've been playing the free online game with Lily. I like the super-deformed look of the characters. The theme song was composed by Parry Gripp!

Cool people may know him as the lead singer and guitarist, for Nerf Herder, the band that performed the opening theme for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Even cooler people may know him as the man behind Itchy Tummy Piglet.


"Itchy Tummy Piglet, wee wee wee!"

Anyway, Parry Gripp, super-heroes, super-deformed super-heroes, how could it not be great?

And yet, it fails to come together.

There are two main problems. The first is that it's a boy's club. Though it does eventually get somewhat better, here's the lineup for the first season.

Sausage fest!

We do have one woman in the form of Ms. Marvel, who serves as a mom and humorless scold to the boys. While it's not a huge deal and I don't want to be all "Won't Someone Think of the Children?!" here, but when the only female presence is such a negative one, I have to wonder what they were thinking. Now it doesn't bother Lily (she'll watch any crap you put in front of her), but it bothers me.

The other thing I don't like is the tone. Too often it's silly without being absurd and tries too hard to be funny. If I had to sum up the problems with the show in a single sentence, it's that there's no joy to it.

I'm not saying that it's the worst thing I've ever seen or anything, but it's less than what it could be.

However, I do dig the online game a lot. It has a Magic the Gathering style collectable card game as part of it and that is astoundingly fun. Check out my Spider-man deck thrashing Wolverine.

Regenerate this!
Lily's favorite new superhero from the game is Emma Frost. This is how she looks in the game

This is how she's usually represented outside of the game.

I'm going to have a lot of explaining to do if Lily starts telling people she wants to dress up like Emma Frost for Halloween.

Day 4: Roger Zelazny haiku

To deliver him,
Dara was Oberon's tool.
Merlin's just a tool.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Problem with Comments

Chris DeVito informed me that there's a problem posting comments and I'm working on fixing it. It looks like this might be a blogger-wide problem, based on the number of blogs that have suddenly had the same issue crop up all of a sudden.

If you're unable to comment, please just post a comment here to let me know.

Day 3: Roger Zelazny haiku

Green-eyed ubermench
sought for literate sci-fi.
Smokers only please.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Day 2: Roger Zelazny haiku

Lord of Light haiku?
Just say Mahasamatman.
You're already done!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Where Do Babies Come From?

Most only children like their setup, but Lily lives in mortal terror of ever having another sibling. And while we don't have any plan to have another kid (and I hope I didn't jinx our birth control into failing by making this statement), we're aware of her concerns, so this sometimes leads us* to making odd threats like "Clean your room or mommy's having another baby right now."

Anyway, a few days ago, I was just sitting and hanging out with Lily when she asked, "Where do babies come from?"

Now, this isn't the first time she's asked such a question.

Shortly before she turned three, she asked "How do we make new people?" We knew that we'd be getting something like this eventually, eventually, but we thought it would come in a more traditional fashion.

Then we had this conversation when she was still four.

Lily: I was worried that I might fall through the toilet and get stuck in the pipes.
Me: No, you're too big. The worst that might happen is that you'd get a little wet.
Lily: What if I was a baby? Would I be small enough to get stuck in the pipes then?
Me: No, even babies are too big to get stuck by the time they are born.
Lily: What about little babies before the daddy puts them in the mommy? Are they small enough to get stuck then?
Me: *blink* ...I am not ready to have this conversation now.

Up until now, we've always been able to answer these questions to her satisfaction by saying, "From their mommy's tummy," and then answering the follow up "How do they get there?" with "Their daddy puts them there."

But this time she pressed further, and I'm pleased that she has the acumen to see a deflection for what it is, and the intellectual wherewithal to push back against it.  I think that kind of persistence will serve her well in later life. Now, however, it puts us in an awkward situation.

I want to be able to answer all of her questions, and I think she's capable of understanding an abridged version of the reproductive process. She's a good kid, she's a smart kid, but unfortunately, she's also a social kid and I'm sure that the information won't stop with her and we're not sure we want to be the parents of a Pre-K Doctor Spock who shows and tells the most instructive things during show and tell.

So, I'm opening the floor to suggestions. Does anyone have any recommendations?

*And by "us", I of course mean, "me".

Day 1: Roger Zelazny haiku

In April, I will
post one Roger Zelazny
 haiku every day. 

That's the announcement. Here's the first haiku: 

Roadmarks was fun to
read. Want to know why? Timyin
Tin was fucking great!

(Also, he and Archie exchange haiku during their fight.)


"It looks as if white
flowers fall upon my shroud. 
Your hands are so pale."

Timyin Tin: 

 "To leave the world in spring,
with flower guards to honor:
it must be peace."

(I personally pronounce "pale" as a two-syllable word, which would bring Archie's up 18 syllables, but that may be an artifact of my dialect. I've checked with a number of online syllable counting sites and they count it as one syllable.)

Also, when talking casually about haiku, we usually say they have 17 syllables, but traditional haiku consist of 17 on which don't always map directly to English language syllables. I believe it was Zelazny's intent that the exchange be a pair of haiku and I'm inclined to defer to his expertise in matters of poetry.