Monday, January 11, 2016

State of the me: 2015/2016!

2015 has been the year of the possible dream!

Here's a quick review:

Back in 2013/2014 I was feeling a little blue because I wanted to focus more on creative projects, but I despaired of ever having time. Or, more accurately, I didn't have an idea that inspired me enough to make time for it.

Then, in the Summer of 2014 -- a few days before setting off on vacation -- I had an idea for a story. I worked out a few scenes in my head, and as soon as I boarded the train, I started writing. Then, during our entire three-week visit to Paris (in between all of the shopping, sight-seeing, and friend-visiting), I wrote out the complete outline, and hammered out the script that I wanted to draw as a comic book.

That may not sound like a very fun vacation, but in fact it was pretty awesome. Whenever we go on vacation, all the kids want to do is go to toy stores anyway. This time, while wandering around visiting the parks and museums, I had my little notebook in hand, and was jotting down all of my various ideas. I remember one beautiful day in particular when my mother-in-law took my kids for the day, and I spent the day wandering around Paris -- just me and my little notebook -- ducking into cafés for coffee or beer when it drizzled, constructing the framework of ideas for my story.

(Note: the trip was actually for a Math conference, so most of my time was spent hanging out in Paris with the kids while my husband was doing Math with his colleagues.)

I wanted more than anything else for this story to become a comic book. But the problem is that I wasn't sure my artistic skill level was equal to the task. Just have a look at the illustrations to my novel. Each illustration was typically a full-day's work, and even then they weren't so great. But I sure had fun doing them! I decided to try anyway, as you can see from last year's "state of the me."

Well, another year has passed, and now it is starting to look like the possible dream! As you can see from some earlier posts, I've gotten to the point of being able to draw some fairly decent pages. So I set a goal to have 10 pages done by the end of Christmas break, and I succeeded in drawing 11! At the rate I'm going, I think it is realistic to expect that I will have all 45 pages of the first book done within two years -- at a level of quality that I will be proud of.

This makes me very happy. I love my story, and this is the sort of thing I've always dreamed of doing.

I haven't dropped all of my other life goals -- I have some upgrades planned for my websites, etc. and I'm still swimming on my usual goals -- but for the moment, I'm mostly basking in the pleasure of working on this project.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Summer of 1990!!! Here's what was showing at the Edina Puppet Theater!!

So, I dug that old videocassette out of the basement and took it to a digitizing service. Then a good friend of mine cleaned it up a bit more. There are still some bits that are lost to the ravages of time, but...

Here's the first installment of the series of puppet shows that I created with two of my best friends from High School as a summer job during our first summer back from from college!! Great fun, great memories!!

In this one, two kids climb a tree only to discover that the most amazing party is just out of reach! :D

Sunday, November 01, 2015

A taste of my new project...

OK, so I'm not going to post every page, but now I have three that go together:

The story is divided into nine parts. The above pages are the first three pages of part 2.

In part 1, Kitty and Jerome were deported from the only country they'd ever known -- and were sent to an academy/orphanage in their country of national origin. In part 2, they start to learn how strange their homeland is, and why their parents left...

Sunday, October 04, 2015

First page!!!

As you may or may not know, I've been working for about a year on producing a graphic novel. It's been taking a long time because, well, step 1 is learn to draw. Please have a look at my novel ExMormon if you'd like to see what level my art skills were at a few years ago.

Anyway, I finally reached the point of having enough preparatory work done to produce a page that will appear in the finished work. Even though it's my first page, it's actually page 25. Please have a look:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Autumn Pumpkin Quinoa Salad!

This is probably the best recipe I have invented so far!

If you love it when the Autumn foods (pumpkins, squashes, chestnuts, unusual mushrooms, etc.) start arriving in the supermarket -- and/or if you look forward to Autumn for the pumpkin-spice lattes -- this is going to be your new favorite Fall salad!

It would make a good side-dish if you're hosting a Thanksgiving dinner in which some guests are vegetarian or vegan. However, if you're planning to serve this for Thanksgiving, I must apologize in advance for giving all the measurements in metric -- that's just how we roll here in Europe.


3/4 Liter (750 mL) vegetable broth
300 grams dry quinoa
250 grams diced pumpkin or squash
1 apple (diced)
2 onions (diced)
100 grams mushrooms (chopped)
50 grams pumpkin seeds
4 teaspoons nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
salt to taste
chopped parsley
olive oil

First, prepare all the ingredients, since that's the part that takes the longest:

Put the quinoa in the broth and bring it to a boil. Then add the pumpkin/squash, apple, spices, and salt and cook on low heat, uncovered, until the liquid has been absorbed by the quinoa (about 15 minutes). While the broth is simmering, sauté the onions, mushrooms, and pumpkin seeds in olive oil. Once both parts are done, mix them together and add the parsley (and maybe add some more olive oil).

This can be served warm or chilled.

Here are a few notes about the recipe:

  • If they don't sell pumpkin seeds for cooking in your area, you can maybe substitute some type of nuts. But don't just use the seeds from the fresh pumpkin unless you know it's a type that has good seeds (and you know how to prepare them).
  • Pretty much any type of pumpkin or squash can potentially work in this recipe except spaghetti squash or those jack-o-lantern pumpkins (that aren't really for eating), so try something local and seasonal!
  • The pumpkin in the first ingredient picture above weighed more than a kilogram, so it's actually way more pumpkin than you need for this recipe. But you might as well skin and dice the whole thing at once, and set aside the leftover part to make pumpkin pie or soup later.
  • I like to use umami in place of salt in most recipes. I used both when I prepared this salad. 


Saturday, August 08, 2015

Steampunk Surprise: "The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage", by Sydney Padua

I am so happy that my husband bought me a copy of this book!

I had been seeing it around, but I was really hesitant to pick it up.


Well, as a woman in software engineering, I'm painfully aware of what a controversial figure Ada Lovelace is. She's been hailed as the inventor of computer programming -- which has led to some incredibly virulent backlash, accusing her of having been some sort of hack who merely copied down other people's ideas without even really understanding them herself.

Now, let's not kid ourselves. If a man had written the article Lovelace wrote, There's no way we'd see the same sorts of ferocious efforts to prove him incompetent. OTOH, if it had been a man, we hardly would have heard about him at all. He'd probably be accepted as the "father of computer programming" by some... in kind of a footnotey, nobody-cares kinda way. But in my line of work, it's dangerous to talk about sexism unless you want a ton of it to rain down on your head, so I wasn't terribly interested in miring myself in this controversy. Thus a book that looked like it was probably a sunny-and-dry retelling of team Lovelace's side of the story didn't jump out at me as something that would be appealing.

Boy was I wrong!!

Surprisingly, the author used the oldest trick in the book for dealing with an acrimonious controversy: present the evidence. The primary sources. And then even-handedly discuss the controversy in light of the evidence.

Now, if that sounds more boring to you than "a sunny-and-dry retelling of team Lovelace's side of the story," here's the genius of it -- it's not boring at all -- it's wildly fun and entertaining!! Quite sincerely, I think the author of this book has invented a new genre, and a brilliant one at that. Here's how it works:

Padua took various primary sources (contemporaneous writings by or about Babbage and/or Lovelace and/or other famous people they met) and wrote fictional scenes around them (including some set in the author's invented alternate universe for them). Then Padua wrote footnotes that interact with the story by giving the rest of the (real) story.

This is an absolutely brilliant way of synergising the best parts of history and historical fiction. Plain history has a difficult relationship with objectivity, and is at its driest when striving to be objective. Historical fiction is fun and can leave objectivity aside -- but constantly leaves me curious about which bits are historical and which bits are fiction. The author of this work found the magic formula to combine them!

This work is at once great and truly pioneering. If there's a canon of graphic novels, this one deserves a top slot.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Approaching racism realistically

In the aftermath of the horror in Charleston I've seen some productive discussion about race and racism. Some new insights include the following:

  • Pretending (or aspiring) to be "colorblind" is not helpful. It's easy for someone from a more privileged ethnicity to say, "I don't see or treat other races as inferior, and I don't see any racism, so the problem is essentially done." This negates the very real obstacles that others face due to systematic racism. We have to be able to see and hear about racism in order to address these obstacles effectively.
  • It's great that our culture has gotten to the point of essentially agreeing that racism is wrong. Yet this positive development has ironically spawned a new problem: the "black hat villain" problem. To wit, it's the reasoning that "Racists are evil villains; my friends and I are not evil villains; therefore we are not racists."

This "evil villain" reasoning is particularly counter-productive when addressing racism because it is very, very hard to root racism out of your outlook and attitudes entirely. I think that the whole idea that "either you're racist or you're not" is an inaccurate and unhelpful model. It's better to look at it in terms of how far you've progressed and how committed you are to looking honestly and unflinchingly into your own psyche to continue to seek out and address any residual racism lurking in the dark corners.

If you respond by getting angry, defensive, and insulted every time people point out some racism you have expressed, you are guaranteeing that you will never improve and never be a true ally.

I discussed this a bit in a post from 2010:

Every time you notice an unfounded prejudice that you hold, you should be glad that you noticed it -- because it is only by noticing it that you can root it out. Having empathy for all humanity is something you can work on for your whole life and never truly succeed. Yet, some things are worth doing even though they're very hard.

Another essay has been popping up in my reading list lately which nails the point even better. I would recommend to everyone to read The pernicious impact of "white fragility" by Dr. Robin Deangelo. The author lists 11 defensive ways white people may react to feedback on racism, which sound pretty accurate. The 11th one is particularly grotesque:

To suggest my behavior had a racist impact is to have misunderstood me. You will need to allow me to explain until you can acknowledge that it was your misunderstanding.

And the author offers some practical advice for a constructive alternative:

  1. How, where, and when you give me feedback is irrelevant – it is the feedback I want and need. Understanding that it is hard to give, I will take it any way I can get it. From my position of social, cultural, and institutional white power and privilege, I am perfectly safe and I can handle it. If I cannot handle it, it’s on me to build my racial stamina.
  2. Thank you.

Let's work on taking this advice.