Sunday, March 27, 2016

He is Risen

After a conversation in a cemetery yesterday, my daughter wanted to spend Easter morning looking through my All Flesh Be Eaten books.

Either I've done something terribly wrong as a parent, or something very right.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Roger Zelazny predicted the 2016 election 30 years ago

I will build a wall to keep Victor Melman out of America!


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

(Re)Generation Who II: Bride of the Daleks

This is the story of our trip to the second (Re)Generation Who, where my neighbor eloped with a Dalek and we learned of the terrible scourge that is Cyber-crotch.

When I attended last year, it was very much of a last minute thing. I pestered my friend Jen to attend with me, and I very possibly would have wimped out if she hadn’t been willing to come along. You can read the entire account at this link.

Like any good Hollywood sequel, the second go-round was bigger, better and had a larger cast.

We have:

Me: Josh. Whovian since way back.

Jen Classic: Mrs. Josh. Whovian through osmosis.

Friend Jen: The friend with whom I went last year. Whovian.

Dave: Friend Jen’s husband. He’s a fan of the new show, but not so much of the Classic series.

Actual exchange from when they arrived!
Friend Jen: When we were watching the show, Dave referred to the Doctor as ‘Doctor Who’.
Me: What, is he WOTAN?
Friend Jen: Ha ha ha!
Me: Ha ha ha!
Dave: (sigh)
Me: This is going to be a long trip for Dave.
Nicole and Jeremiah: Our awesome neighbors. They don’t know much about Classic Who, but fortunately I was able to educate them by showing them the proper ranking of the Doctors before Friend Jen could poison their minds with her frimble-framble.

We car-pooled down together and did Doctor Who Mad Libs in the car. On our arrival first thing we saw after entering the hotel was the Dalek in the lobby, and as Nicole would later say, that set the tone for the trip.

We were able to catch a few panels in the evening, the Fifth Doctor Panel and the Companions Panel. I’ve always found Davison’s portrayal of the Doctor a touch bland (although I was very impressed after listening to the Waters of Amsterdam), but he was very engaging. The Companions Panel was interesting. Apparently, Anneke Wills had not been scheduled to be a part of it, but she showed up anyway. They had to scramble to get her another mic and chair. She was drinking something bright blue out of a glass goblet. I have no idea what it was. If I had seen it in another context, I would have figured it was Windex.

Sophie Aldred was also on the panel, and I was really going to get her autograph this time. For reals. I mean it! After all, Ace had been my second big crush, right after Angela Cartwright, and I love the character. She mentioned that there were plans for Ace to appear on the Sarah Jane Smith Adventures, had Liz Sladen not passed on unexpectedly. I would have loved to have seen that.

When asked about amusing costuming mishaps, Sophie told the story of how the silver would come off of the Cybermen costumes during the filming of Silver Nemesis, and the costume designers would have to touch them up between takes. Since the wear was most noticeable up  high on the inside of the legs, they took to calling the condition “Cyber-crotch”. I felt bad for the ASL translator on this panel, who probably never dreamed she’d be signing that particular phrase in front of hundreds of people.

Wearing jeans would have prevented this problem, but Cybermen are only allowed to wear them on casual Fridays in the Death Zone.

We took a break for dinner and booze, and caught some of Hannah Harkness, who was great. Jen Classic and Nicole danced the night away. I’m told the event eventually degenerated into some kind of depraved Dalek prom.
"What about space-prom, Blane?"
I didn’t go to the Second Doctor Panel, but I assume they spent it talking about Tomb of the Cybermen.

The Five-ish Doctors Panel was very well attended, and I wasn’t surprised, as the people at this con are really the target audience, longtime fans who accept the ridiculousness of the program along with its ideals. I’m not sure how it’s possible to enjoy Classic Who without at least acknowledging its shortcomings, and by embracing them, you own them.

I didn’t think I’d have quite the reaction I did to hearing Nick Briggs that I did. He’s the voice of the Daleks, but more than anyone else, he’s the voice of Big Finish, and I listen to a lot of Big Finish. He was on the stage and he mentioned Big Finish and then added “We love stories”. Someone from the audience yelled out “Subscribers get more” and it was great!

He taunted Nicole’s boyfriend, and I felt kind of bad about that, because a lot of work went into that Dalek.

We didn't catch it on tape, but he ends it with a "ha ha" that's especially brutal.

Sophie Aldred’s panel was next, and the convention booklet said Hannah Harkness was supposed to moderate but we got a substitute instead. Sophie was wonderful. She’s the perfect ambassador for the show, and I’m inclined to believe her excitement is authentic. If she’s just pretending to be enthusiastic, well, then, she’s just about the best actor ever to come out of Doctor Who.

Her role on the show ended when the show ended in 1989, and while she’s continued playing Ace in other media, the majority of the questions are about Classic Who. She stopped accumulating material for her vignettes about it more than twenty-five years ago, and she must have told the stories she told us hundreds of times, but it never felt that way and she really seemed to enjoy the act of telling them.

She was just perfect. We were right in the front row. I would have gotten some great pics if the lady with the dragon on her shoulder hadn’t kept darting in front of me.

You know who you are, dragon lady.

I did get a chance to have my picture taken with Sophie. I had to drag the entire team (except for my wife, strangely). I almost missed it, and was the last one in. She was nice, friendly. She pretended not to hear me when I said “Marry me” under my breath. She asked how I was, and when I said “Very nervous”, she said “Oh, don’t be afraid of big, bad Sophie.” The session went well. Here’s our engagement picture.

Yes. I know you can see the top of my zipper. But my fly was up, damnit.


I liked the War Games event. I’m a painful introvert, like a lot of self-identified geeks, but the interaction sparked several conversations that would not have otherwise occurred.

The guys from Ars Paradoxica came across like a bunch of jerks. Pro-tip, don’t interrupt a private conversation to shill for your panel. If you do, don’t refuse a request to scan your War Games badge. I’m never going to listen to your dumb show now.

No one wanted to hear how much I hated Peri. Not the little kid dressed up as Peri, not Nev Fountain. (I never ran into Nicola Bryant, but I assume she would not be interested either.) I couldn’t find a receptive audience for my bitching. Maybe I can host a panel on it next year. "Hating Peri: The Catharsis of Spurious Morality"

(Obligatory disclaimer, all of this is directed at Peri and not Nicola Bryant, who is a lovely person)

I picked up Return to Telos from the vendor room so we’d have something to listen to. It was the most average Cyberman story I’ve ever heard! (It was certainly no Legend of the Cybermen). All the Non-Whovians laughed at the Cybermen’s singsong voices.  Bah! They’re not going to be laughing after cyber conversion, I tell you what.

Geek Boy Press always seems to be at every con I attend, so I’ll link to his excellent work here. Lily can’t wait until the entire wall is covered.

Overall, a wonderful experience I look forward to repeating for years to come.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Crossover Combat: Franklin versus Washington


I used to live outside of Philly, and like everyone there I was required to pay obeisance and worship Ben Franklin at his giant throne in the Franklin Institute. Despite that fact, when asked to resolve a dispute between two friends over who was the best Founding Father, I was able to do so ably and impartially by citing the following facts, much as I did with Jane Austen:

Washington vs Franklin

1.) Wartime Leadership

None of the troops under Franklin’s command during the Revolutionary War froze at Valley Forge.
Advantage: Franklin

2.) Peacetime Leadership

Washington’s third term went so poorly that many modern historians do not even acknowledge its existence.
Advantage: Franklin

3.) Patriotism

Washington failed to capture or kill Bin Laden when he was president. Ben Franklin invented a time machine and retroactively erased twenty-nine terrorists from existence.
Advantage: Franklin

4.) On hunting the Most Dangerous game

George Washington was renowned as one of the greatest horseman of his age, which assisted him in his favorite hobby, hunting. Many historians believe he would arrange meetups on Craiglist, abduct his victims when they arrived and fly them to his private island by helicopter, where he would hunt them for sport.

Ben Franklin was too fat to hunt people
Advantage: Franklin

5.) Slavery

It is well-known that George Washington released his slaves upon his death. He did not release his House Elves however, and hundreds of them still labor at Mount Vernon.
Advantage: Franklin


Franklin had eleventy billion inventions., including swim fins, the lightning rod, Daylight Savings Time, Snapple (each bottle contains a spark of the lightning from his kite), Jazzercise, bifocals, the Franklin stove, Philadelphia’s first fire brigade and Philadelphia’s first Fight Club.

George Washington didn’t invent anything, but tried to take credit late in life for some peanut related developments from a man with a similar name.
Advantage: Franklin

7.) Legacy

Stupid Washington launched his Christmas attack on Trenton and we’re still hearing about this “War on Christmas” from Bill O’Reilly two hundred years later.
Advantage: Franklin

8.) Diet

Franklin was a vegetarian for most of his life. George Washington was a cannibal.
Advantage: Franklin

9.) Monetary Value

One Franklin is worth 100 Washingtons.
Advantage: Franklin

10.) Appearances in advertising

The only work Washington can get is shilling mattresses on Presidents’ Day

This commercial where a giant Ben Franklin fights a kaiju cheesesteak is pretty much the best thing ever, as well as being an accurate depiction of life in Philadelphia.

Advantage: Franklin

I hope these little known facts have proved illuminating.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Josh's Doctor Who: Stories

 Third in a four part series of what I do if I ran Doctor Who.

Part One: Concept
Part Two: Stories

Since I’m the autocratic jerkass showrunner, I think I’ll continue the tradition of shitting all over everything that bothered me about my predecessor’s tenure.

The Lake Silencio workaround and Moffat’s claim that the mere act of writing something down will fix it in time are both so incredibly moronic that I feel that they need to be refuted as absolutely as possible. To steal something I like, I give you a hacker koan to illustrate the point.

In the days when Sussman was a novice, Minsky once came to him as he sat hacking at the PDP-6. 
 "What are you doing?", asked Minsky.  
"I am training a randomly wired neural net to play Tic-tac-toe", Sussman replied.  
"Why is the net wired randomly?", asked Minsky.  
"I do not want it to have any preconceptions of how to play", Sussman said. 
 Minsky then shut his eyes. 
 "Why do you close your eyes?" Sussman asked his teacher. "So that the room will be empty."  
At that moment, Sussman was enlightened.
Similar to traditional Zen koans, this koan has a possible concrete and correct answer: just as the room is not really empty when Minsky shuts his eyes, neither is the neural network really free of preconceptions when it is randomly wired. The network still has preconceptions, they are simply random now, and from a random rather than a human source. 
To put it another way, events happen for a reason, and the universe doesn't care if you know why things happen or not. The Doctor will quote Pascal to make his point. “The human being is only a reed, the most feeble in nature; but this is a thinking reed. It isn't necessary for the entire universe to arm itself in order to crush him; a whiff of vapor, a taste of water, suffices to kill him. But when the universe crushes him, the human being becomes still more noble than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying, and the advantage that the universe has over him. The universe, it does not have a clue."

"All our dignity consists, then, in thought. This is the basis on which we must raise ourselves, and not space and time, which we would not know how to fill. Let us make it our task, then, to think well: here is the principle of morality.”

The Doctor observes that  humans and even Gallifreyans observe a pitifully small portion of the universe, and it’s hubris of the highest order to imagine that seeing something at the wavelengths of 390 to 700 nm will lock into place for all eternity. Nothing is fixed. Some events are simply more difficult to unravel than others, and some fear the consequences. It’s just a lie. And not even a clever one.

We’ll delve into some of the ethical elements of what the Doctor has done, such as infinite torment for a finite crime, and he asks why a Rube Goldberg plan to get to Daleks to destroy themselves is morally any different than doing it directly.
Daisy: The had a choice.

Doctor: Not an informed one. Are you familiar with the magician’s choice?

Daisy: No.

Doctor: (Placing two cards face down) Pick a card. Any card.

Daisy: Why do you sound so needlessly sinister when employing the most mundane phrases? (Pointing to a card) That one.

Doctor: (Smiles) All right. I’ll take that card. You get the other one. (Pause) Do you know what I would have said if you had pointed to the second card?

Daisy: “You take that card. I’ll get the other one”?

Doctor: Yes.

Daisy: (Silence)

Doctor: Would you care for some lemonade? (Pours some lemonade from a glass decanter)

Daisy: (Quizzical expression) Sure. (Picks up glass, drinks it)

Doctor: That was poison. You’re dead.

Daisy: (Puts glass down)

Doctor: You made your choice, and you're dead, but that wasn’t suicide. It was murder.  Have I made my point? I’m thousands of years old. I am the most brilliant mortal mind you’ll ever meet. I move freely through time and space. A good barrister knows never to ask a question without knowing what the answer will be. I’ve allowed the kabuki because the illusion salved my conscience, but I don’t need that crutch any longer. I’m doing the same thing I have always done. I just don’t smile anymore.
Daisy: (Profoundly sad, reaching for his face, but stopping before she touches him) No, you don't, do you?
He and Daisy go back and forth, she protesting that he used to believe everyone deserves a chance, and just this once, the monsters might back away from their self-destruction, he assuring her that he never believed they would accept. “But you still gave them that chance!”

We’ll play a little with time travel with the Doctor coordinating teams across three different time periods. Dorothy needs a sonic screwdriver in 2015, so Hex drops it in a safety deposit box in 1963.

Over the course of the season, the Doctor becomes more manipulative, distant, and remote. Early on, he becomes reluctant to leave the TARDIS, and this eventually progresses to the point where he won’t let the others into the TARDIS in order to speak with him face to face.

The Doctor wants to prevent the mistakes of his past. No more enthusiastic would-be-companions jumping in front of him and taking the death ray meant for him. He’ll leave behind even long-time companions who fail to obey him.

In one episode, Hector steals the TARDIS and gets in mortal peril almost immediately. The Doctor gets on the com and says “You misjudged the type of story you’re in. I believe you thought it was ‘A young man has a jolly romp and returns the TARDIS before the Doctor knows it’s missing’. It’s actually ‘Young man dies to show his friends how dangerous the situation is.’”

The Doctor saves him anyway, but leaves him behind as soon as Hector steps outside the TARDIS, before Hector can get more than five lines into his thank you. Dorothy does not take this well. She leaves him the next time the doors open.

Throughout the season the Daleks are still forces to be feared. Several times, the Doctor has to abandon nearly completed operations because the Daleks have discovered his machinations. At one point, they arrive when he is moments away from victory, and just as Daisy is telling Lysandra to prepare for departure, the Doctor uses the power of the TARDIS to blast them with the Eye of Harmony obliterate them outright.

Afterward, he and Daisy speak.

“I can stop the Daleks by my strength alone. I have become the mightiest thing in Mutter’s Spiral.” 
"Yes. You have named yourself; you have become a thing." 
“Time was of the essence. I could not spare any to trick them into drinking the lemonade." 
"Goodbye, Doctor."
She leaves the TARDIS. She’s working out the best way to get back to Gallifrey, he hears the sound of materialization and turns to see the familiar blue police box fading into normal space. She’s prepared to tell the Doctor to take a flying leap when the doors open and Hector and Dorothy run out and hug her. They’re followed by a handsome young man that Daisy does not recognize. “It’s the Doctor!” Dorothy gushes “From the future! He’s better now!”

“And we’re going to stop my past self” Future Doctor says.

To be concluded!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

My Own Dream for the USA by Lily

A special guest post by my daughter, because she asked me what yesterday's post was about when she saw me writing it and I told her that it was about how girls still sometimes don't get treated fairly, even when they grow up. She then asked if I would share the essay she wrote when asked to describe her dreams for the future. I told her that I would be proud to share it.

  My Own Dream for the USA

I have a dream, too. I may be nine, but I know a big problem when I see it.Girls have been treated like lower beings for decades, maybe even centuries. But, what’s all the fuss about? Girls can do whatever they want to, just like boys. But for some reason, some people don’t see that. I’m taking my chance to fix something so terribly wrong.

Girls shouldn’t just sit there while boys push them around. Let’s stand up, and defend our well-earned pride! This is a big beautiful country, so let’s fix this flaw now!

There’s no such thing as “cooties.” All I hear when a boy says “ Eeew, you have cooties!!” is “ Hey look, I’m immature! Let’s make fun of her for some fake thing just to be annoying!” I don’t understand a lot of things yet, but I definitely understand that girls are perfectly capable and equal to boys.

Another thing boys unfairly hold against girls: dresses and skirts. We can wear jeans, sweat pants , shorts, capris, slacks, you name it. If boys can, we almost surely can too. Girl power is not just a “maybe.”We wear what we want. This is a country run by boys AND girls, so  let’s act like it!

So, I ask you now, why are we the damsels in distress? This essay is my way of saying, “ The ‘damsels in distress’ are wearing shining armor!” I hope this little essay I put together brought this problem to your attention. This is my dream.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Fake Geek Girls and Philosophical Zombies

I think sincerity is a wonderful trait. It’s what I love about being a member of various fandoms, being a part of the “I love this weird thing and I want to tell you why it’s great” enthusiasm fellow fans have for the things we love. Seeing my daughter’s joy and boundless sense of wonder in the world around her have been some of the most amazing moments I have ever experienced in my life.

But I don’t think sincerity is a trait that measures the worth of a a presidential candidate any more than the “Who would you rather have a beer with?” question does.

Whovian Feminism is a brilliant site, and they cut to the core of the Hillary Clinton’s sincerity issue.

Whovian Feminism: 
There are genuine criticisms that can be made of Hillary Clinton’s career and the policies that she has supported, but public suspicion about her “authenticity” and “relatability” sounds shockingly similar to the same sexist, gatekeeping bullshit that Geek Girls have been fighting against for years.

After gaining prominence and visibility in institutions where women have historically been excluded, ignored, and had their contributions rejected, Geek Girls and Progressive Girls have all faced the same backlash. We’ve had our passion judged, our motivations questioned, and our interests belittled and dismissed. We’ve been presented with impossible litmus tests designed to deny our our self-identification within these movements. And we’ve had our every behavior scrutinized, judged, and denigrated.

“Authenticity” is such a double-edged sword for women. Our excitement is seen as irritating, childish “squee.” Our passionate voices are “shrill.” Our anger is “hysterical” and “bitchy.” You mock us for our authenticity and when we modify our behavior to appease you, you have the gall to call us “inauthentic.”

Hillary can’t be like Bernie because we won’t let her. She can’t yell, she can’t scream, and she can’t show her passion and anger and frustration to the degree that he can. Hillary has been called shrill and hysterical and bitchy and so much worse. And when she adjusts her behavior, we call her “inauthentic.”
I saw this picture on Facebook the other day

Wil Wheaton is a giant piece of shit

My god, what a smug piece of shit. Bernie Bros, take a long look in the mirror, because this is what's looking back at you. I especially like how the picture isn’t even of the candidate, but rather an arty black and white pic of Wheaton himself suggesting that maybe the announcement isn’t about Sanders as much as it is about Wheaton.

I don't care if Hilary Clinton is sincere. Not one tiny bit. I don’t care if she had a Road-to-Damascus epiphany on marriage equality, if she pivoted based on political expediency or if she is in fact nothing more than a philosophical zombie whose mind is a notched plates of reflexes and instincts that always falls in exactly the same way whenever the proper combination is spun. I don't care what she believes in her heart of hearts. I care about how well she will advance the causes that I believe in and I support her because I believe she will do a better job at it than Bernie Sanders.