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September 2017

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Sep. 2nd, 2017 12:45 pm
wshaffer: (incapacitated)
Reader, I must confess - I made it to the age of 43 without ever having done karaoke. Primarily because the idea terrified me. I have genuine anxiety about singing in front of other people. Seriously, I've been at parties where we were playing Rock Band, and I've gotten shaky hands and sweaty palms at just the thought that someone might hand me the microphone. Also, given my music listening habits, my knowledge of contemporary pop music is best described as spotty. (I'm trying to work in a pun about how most of it comes from Spotify, but no dice.) I've always envisioned the experience as trying to croak awkwardly through a selection of barely familiar top-10 hits, which sounded about as much fun as poking oneself in the face with a spork.

But last night, a friend was celebrating her birthday, and had reserved a private karaoke room at a place up in San Francisco. Which meant, at least, that I would only have to croak awkwardly in the presence of half-a-dozen good friends. I figured that if I tried out karaoke in the most stress-free environment possible and it sucked, I could just write it off as a thing I don't do and carry on.

And, lo, it did not suck. I was, in fact, a sweaty-palmed, heart-racing anxiety bunny when I picked up the microphone to do my first song, but I played into it by choosing a song by the Smiths, the musical patron saints of the socially anxious everywhere. I think it's probably impossible to sing the chorus of There Is A Light That Never Goes Out without laughing. ("If a double-decker bus smashes into us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.") And it's very difficult to be anxious while laughing.

We sang a lot of the songs together. (The only songs I really had to sing solo were the ones that I picked that were obscure enough that no one else knew them well enough.) I was also pleasantly surprised by the range of music on offer - it was not just top 10 pop hits. And it turns out that Black Sabbath works pretty well for karaoke.

Not only did the experience not suck, I'm actually looking forward to doing it again. Once I get my voice back.

Vanity plates

Mar. 24th, 2017 08:58 am
wshaffer: (in a car)
While commuting last night and this morning, I've spotted a number of interesting vanity license plates.
CATS PT had me wondering if there was such a thing as physical therapy for cats, until I realized that it was on the back of the PT Cruiser.
1NAGA made me wonder if I'd spotted a fellow L5R player. Probably not.
DRNDRN4: I have no idea.
NVRNTME: Never Not Me? Never No Time? Never On Time? Nevada Registered Nurse Too Many Expectations?
I CSHARP: Therefore I not B-flat?
Coming out of the cafeteria at work with a sandwich and a cup of soup, I slipped on the wet wooden decking in the patio area. Both feet shot out from under me and I landed with my ass in an inch deep puddle. Thanks to a couple of years of judo training, I fell properly and am entirely unharmed. The cup of soup (which had a lid) survived the experience. The sandwich, alas, ended up scattered all over the deck. My pants were soaked, so I had to change into the gym shorts I brought today.

I am currently decked out in a white t-shirt with the words "Guerilla Optimist" (sic), knee length black mesh basketball shorts, and black canvas ankle boots. Peeking out above the tops of my boots, you can see my socks, which have the logo of the heavy metal band Paradise Lost on them. I am stylin'.

I secured a replacement sandwich and a cup of coffee and am grateful that I only have one low-key meeting scheduled this afternoon.
I was playing with a friend's 4 year old daughter today, and we made the discovery that if she rolled herself up in a blanket, I could pick her up by the head and foot ends of the blanket and swing her back and forth like she was in a hammock. Which delighted her no end.

Thing is, knit blankets are kind of slippery, especially when they have squirming, giggling children in them. So, at one point, I was picking her up and the blanket started to slip out of my grip. So I set the blanket down, saying something like, "My grip's slipping."

She looked up at me with wide eyes and whispered, "You can do it! I believe in you!"

I love little girls. They are the best.
I've been slowly working my way through an audiobook of The Kalevala as my accompaniment to chores and errands. This morning, I was thinking about the phrase, "the dismal Sariola," which occurs quite frequently. Honestly, it doesn't seem that dismal unless you go wooing there, which is, of course, what everyone does in The Kalevala. Anyway, while I was picking out produce, I found myself idly wondering if Sariola were an identifiable place, and if one could visit it while in Finland, and what it would look like these days. I pictured a run-down gas station staffed by a single surly attendant in a little shop that carries beer of dubious vintage, a much dog-eared guide to pike fishing in the river of Tuoni, and T-shirts that read, "I made the Sampo for Louhi and all I got was a lousy betrothal."

It was something of a relief to discover that Sariola has no identifiable location and so there is no reality to contradict that mental image.
The atmosphere around work today was positively funereal. Every meeting I attended began with uncharacteristically glum faces and awkward silences. Everywhere I went, there were little clusters of people standing in hallways discussing the election. People who didn't know me sometimes dropped their voices to hushed whispers as I passed.

I almost didn't go to the Toastmasters meeting today. Of the current batch of regular attendees in my club, I'm the only white person and the only native-born American. I wasn't sure if I could face doing our usual round of cheerful speeches about hobbies and self-improvement and things like that while we ignored the elephant in the room, the fact that a bunch of people who look like me had just voted for a man who campaigned on hatred of people who looked like them.

But I did go, and somewhat to my surprise, we tackled that elephant head-on. When it came time for our impromptu speeches, the table topics master invited people to either speak about "Who I voted for for president, and why," or "What I think of the American electoral system."

And it was an interesting dose of perspective. I'm sure there was a certain degree of self-editing going on, because we were all speaking to a room of people whose political opinions we really don't know. But my colleagues put a much braver face on things than I felt like doing. "We don't have elections like this in China," one of them said, "so watching this one was very interesting." Hey, at least we get to vote for our authoritarian warmongering leaders. A charismatic politician has risen to power by fomenting religious and ethnic tensions? My Indian colleagues have Narendra Modi back home.

I started my speech my saying, "I want to talk about something that isn't exactly the American electoral system, but is one of my least favorite things about American politics right now." And I talked about anti-immigrant sentiment. I talked about various members of my family and my husband's family who immigrated to the United States, how it was a country that offered each of them (admittedly sometimes grudgingly) a chance to make a new life. And I promised that I would work to keep this country a place that offers people that chance.

It was preaching to the choir, in a way, but it also felt important to say that.

Now I just have to figure out ways to keep that promise. Figure out how to walk the talk.
Here's a grab bag of stuff I've been finding interesting today:

Nicholas Whyte put together a very nice guide to election night:

Regarding "making presentations more visual", my sister-in-law tipped me off to this excellent resource of diagrams for presentations: Very useful for those moments when you need a blob with four other blobs radiating out from it, and you don't want it to look like it was created by a five-year-old.

Don't watch this if you are afraid of snakes, but this snippet from Planet Earth II is the most tense action-drama I've seen all year: That un-named little baby iguana is my hero.

Fascinating interview with the lawyer who handles U.S. visas for many heavy metal bands on tour: Hardly a month goes by without an overseas heavy metal band canceling or delaying a U.S. tour because a visa issues. After reading this interview, I'm more amazed that anyone ever manages to tour the U.S. at all.

Music that is scientifically proven to reduce stress:

Not dead

May. 18th, 2016 12:29 pm
wshaffer: (awkwardness)
...nor have I abandoned livejournal. Stuff happened in mid-March and April, and things got very hectic for a while, and I didn't really want to blog about it. Things are more or less back on track, and we will be restoring normality as soon as we are certain what is normal anyway.
I was already pretty darn impressed with TomboyX for a) having a nice diversity in both race and body size in the people modeling the clothing on their website, and for b) actually making clothing in a wide range of sizes. (I can't tell you how many clothing websites I've visited that essentially have the unspoken message, "You would like cute androgynous style and you are bigger than a size 10? Ha ha, go away, fatty!")

I was even more impressed when, after I'd placed an order with them, I got an email from their customer service department saying, "Hey, we noticed that your order has a mix of sizes in it. Before we pack it, we just wanted to check - did you really mean to order 2 XLs and an XS?"

No, I hadn't - I must have made an error in the online form. But it was really awesome that they noticed and checked. I am not used to that kind of attention to detail in my online shopping experiences.

I just kind of wish that more of their stuff didn't have the word "Tomboy" emblazoned in giant letters all over it. Because I kind of have issues with the word, though clearly not the aesthetic.
Daniel has been researching wool with a view to getting a new overcoat made.

Daniel: Angora is actually wool from the fur of the Angora rabbit. Angora goat wool is mohair.
Me: Because the goat has mo' hair than the rabbit?

I have a very tolerant spouse, y'all.
So, I was down at Jack London Square earlier. Bought a bottle of water, sat down on a park bench, and set my jacket beside me. Guy on the bench across the way asked me a question and I walked over to talk to him, leaving my jacket on the bench.

The conversation lasted a little longer than I'd anticipated (otherwise I'd have brought my jacket with me), and when we were finished, I turned around to see a (probably homeless, judging by his state of cleanliness) dude walking off with my jacket.

I ran after him and called out, "Hey! That's my stuff!"

He very apologetically handed it over, and I walked off while he went rummaging through the nearby trashcans.

He caught up with me a block later, on a bike with a little trailer on the back, and apologized again. He wanted me to know that he was not a thief. "I find stuff," he said, gesturing at the trailer. He thought the jacket had been left behind.

I shook hands with him and told him there were no hard feelings, which is not entirely true. I am in equal measure pissed off at myself for letting my stuff so casually out of my sight in an environment where I should know better, and pissed off at him for having such a low standard for what constitutes "found" property. But there seemed to be nowhere else to take the interaction unless I wanted to get the cops involved, which I did not.

(no subject)

Jul. 19th, 2015 03:08 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
So, I decided to entertain my Youngest Niece at a family get-together by letting her look at photos on my phone.

(Niece brings up a photo of me.)
Niece: That's you!
Me: Yup.
(brings up a photo of Younger Nephew)
Niece: That's my brother.
(brings up a photo of Ferrett Steinmetz reading his novel _Flux_ at Borderlands)
Niece: Who's that?
Me: That's my friend Ferrett reading his book.
(brings up a photo from FOGcon last year)
Niece: Who's that?
Me: That's my friend Liang.
(brings up a photo of Behemoth performing at the Fillmore)
Niece: Who's that?
Me: That's Nergal.
Niece (laughing uproariously): "Nurggle?!"
(brings up a photo of the band Triptykon)
Niece: Who's that?
Me: That's...Tom.
(swipes, brings up another photo of Triptykon)
Niece(triumphantly): It's Tom!

I'm kind of amused that as far as I could tell, she found the photos of heavy metal bands in stage gear no more or less remarkable or interesting than ordinary candid shots of me and my friends.
Tonight I came home from work with the full intention of having dinner and then playing The Witcher 3 until the wee hours. Instead, I had a lovely after-dinner conversation with Daniel, paid some bills, made an appointment I'd been putting off for weeks, worked on a writing project I'm doing with a friend, edited some video, and am now planning to go to bed at a semi-reasonable hour so I can get up at a decent hour tomorrow.

What is this adulting? I can't even.

Geralt of Rivia and I are definitely going to have some quality time sometime this weekend, though.
So, this is what my experience of loading and unloading my luggage from airplane overhead bins was like on my most recent trip: "Excuse me, ma'am, do you need help with your -- oh, clearly you don't." All my shoulder rehab still hasn't quite given me back 100% normal range of motion, but on sheer strength, I have clearly surpassed where I was pre-injury.

But this got me thinking: back when my shoulder injury was at its worst, people were generally very good about offering to help me when they saw me struggling with my luggage. (Although I also checked my bag more often - sometimes you just don't want to to put yourself in a position to rely on the kindness of strangers, especially strangers on airplanes, which are not an environment that brings out the best of human nature.)

But when I think further back, back to the days when I had very little upper body strength, it was very rare that anyone offered to help me with my luggage, even when I was visibly struggling with it. I somehow doubt that we've all just gotten nicer. I do kind of feel that since the airlines started putting bigger fees on checked luggage and more restrictions on carry ons, passengers have taken a more cooperative attitude towards getting everyone's bags stowed on planes. Or maybe it's just that I'm older now, and more plausibly look like someone who might need help?

Camera woes

Mar. 30th, 2015 12:53 pm
wshaffer: (doom)
A couple of San Francisco music venues have recently either changed their camera policy or changed how they enforce it. The rule is "If you want to bring in a professional-quality camera, you must have a press pass," but "professional-quality" is now being defined as "has a detachable lens." Which means that my Sony NEX camera, a compact camera with a detachable lens, is now falling foul of the policy.

When I went to a show at the Fillmore back in February, I left the camera at home because I called the venue and they told me they *probably* wouldn't let me take the camera into the show. More recently, I was at a show in a venue in the city where I've used the camera several times, and this time security sent me to talk to the venue manager, who initially told me I'd have to leave the camera at coat check, and then, when no one else could hear, told me I could keep it and take a few photos as long as I was "discreet". (I'm not naming the venue because I don't want him to get in trouble for being nice enough to bend the rules for me.)

The venues are insistent that they're only enforcing policies set by the artists, but the policies seem to be far more venue-dependent than artist-dependent.

If I were to hustle hard enough for it, I could probably wrangle the occasional press pass. Not to the most high-profile shows, but I've been to plenty of shows where the obscure local band that's first on the bill didn't have anyone doing photo coverage for them or clearly had "a friend of the band with a decent camera" doing photo coverage for them. However, if I were to start taking it that seriously, I'd probably feel obligated to get a properly professional DSLR camera and learn how to use it. So, that would be a big investment of time, energy, and money.

Or I could try to find a non-interchangeable-lens camera that can handle people moving around relatively fast in the dark. I'm not very hopeful on that, but if you know of a compact digital camera that can handle ISOs of 800 and up without the picture turning into a grainy mess, I'd love to hear about it.

Or I could just resign myself to the fact that I won't get decent photos of most shows. I *like* taking photos of musicians, but it's very much a secondary pleasure to the pleasure of experiencing live music itself.


Nov. 12th, 2014 08:34 am
wshaffer: (tiny_eight)
Sometime in the last 24 hours, someone put a nice 12-inch long scratch in the paint on my car. I would be philosophical about this, except that it really looks like it was deliberate. Or at best, if it was accidental, I have a hard time imagining that the perpetrator could have been oblivious to the fact that they'd done damage.
It's increasingly looking like Alt-Fest, the music festival I was planning on attending in England two weeks from now, has been cancelled. Rumors started flying around yesterday morning, and while there's still been no official statement from the organizers, a number of the artists who were supposed to perform have announced on social media that the event is cancelled.

When I initially backed the festival on Kickstarter a year and a half ago, I thought there was a fair risk that it wouldn't actually happen. New festivals are hard to get off the ground. I really didn't expect things to crash and burn this close to the event, though.

Hopefully, I'll be able to get some of what I paid refunded. (The Kickstarter pledge is probably a write-off, but the regular ticket I bought for Daniel ought to be refundable, and my hotel booking might be partially refundable.) And it means I'll have three extra days in England to do what I want with, and I should have no problem coming up with three days of awesome stuff to do in England.

Still, it does feel a bit like my birthday party has been cancelled. And I do wish that the organizers would make some kind of official statement and explain what's going on.

I suppose in the future I'd better stick to festivals with more of a track record. (Not that those don't get cancelled, but they seem to handle the communication better.)
So, I went to Safeway today with a coupon for a free half-gallon of Silk non-dairy beverage. (A few weeks ago I bought a couple containers of unsweetened soy milk that had apparently been treated unkindly in transit and had coagulated. I contacted the manufacturer and they sent me some coupons. So far, so good.)

The store was out of unsweetened soy milk, so I grabbed what I thought was a container of Silk unsweetened coconut milk. The cashier rang it up with the rest of my groceries, processed the coupon with some difficulty, and I went on my merry way.

Only to realize, as I was putting the groceries away at home, that I'd grabbed a container of So Delicious coconut milk, which is not at all the same brand as Silk coconut milk, and had probably caused an inconvenient bookkeeping error for somebody at the store.

So, I phoned the store's customer service, and they told me I could come in today or tomorrow and exchange the coconut milk for the correct item. Except that the customer service person seemed to be approaching the problem from the assumption that I was upset about getting the wrong item and *wanted* to exchange it. The truth is, I could not care less. The difference between one brand or another of non-dairy beverage is not worth the time and inconvenience to go back to the store and exchange it. I just don't want the cashier to get in trouble for an error that was at least partially my fault.

So, what do you think? Have I fulfilled my obligation by calling the store and trying to explain the situation, or do I need to go do coconut milk penance to ensure that the cashier doesn't suffer negative consequences?
I just got the results of the surveys that members of the audience filled out at my last conference presentation. 71.4% "strongly agreed" with the statement, "The speaker was effective," while 28.6% merely "agreed". In the written feedback, respondents described me as "a confident speaker," and praised the clarity and efficiency of my presentation.

I say this not just to brag, but because seeing the results brings back a rather vivid memory of the first debate tournament I participated in back in high school, and the evaluation forms the judges filled out. I was a terrible public speaker back then, and I knew it, and the fact that I knew it was obvious in my performance and made it more terrible. The scores on my evaluation forms were justly terrible, and one judge told me that I was so awful that I should quit. There may have been a "for God's sake!" in there. Looking back, I'm kind of surprised I didn't quit - at least not right away. I stuck it out for the better part of a school year before my mom persuaded me that I needed to cut an extracurricular activity from my schedule. I got good enough to win the odd debate, but never got particularly comfortable with it, nor did I rid myself of my conviction that I was a terrible public speaker.

I'm fairly sure I still was a terrible public speaker at that point. I was definitely still terrified of public speaking. Years later, when I started graduate school, they sent someone around to videotape us teaching a lab session, so that we could review the tape and improve our performance. I never watched my tape. I couldn't bring myself to do it, because I was convinced it would be utterly terrible.

Grad school at least rid me of the fear of public speaking. After teaching so many undergraduate lab sessions, exam reviews, doing literature reviews for lab meetings, and surviving my qualifying exams, the mere idea of speaking in front of a group lost its terror. Once an activity stops making you break out in a cold sweat, it's a lot easier to improve it. And a lot more pleasant. I'm not sure exactly when I got "good" at public speaking, but just in the past few years there's been a distinct uptick in how often I get asked to give presentations. That may be some kind of indicator. (I put "good" in quotation marks because there are lots of people who are still much better speakers than I am. I am good enough now that I can give a talk and people will learn something from it and not be bored in the process. I've seen speakers who can hold a room full of people spellbound for an hour. That ain't me. Not yet, and possibly not ever.)

For a lot of the time in my life when I was scared of public speaking, I thought that the people who were good at it had some kind of inborn talent. Or that they were just extroverted, or charismatic, or something that I wasn't. So, if you're also scared of public speaking, let me assure you that that's not true. Public speaking is a set of skills, and you can learn those skills with practice.

And in the unlikely event that anyone out there is a judge for Lincoln-Douglas debate tournaments: Don't ever tell a kid to quit.
I have a bad habit of checking Facebook on my phone when I get up, which is how I started off yesterday morning by learning that Jay Lake had died.

I'm pretty sure it was Diana Sherman who introduced me to Jay. (Diana Sherman has introduced me to many of my favorite people, so it's the way to bet, anyway.) Most of my memories of Jay don't make for great anecdotes, although I was present for the great Lake/Levine/Pratt Campbell Award Smackdown, where I learned that the pen is mightier than the foam noodle.

But most of my memories of Jay are of talking about writing. And what I mostly remember is his kindness and generosity towards other writers. Despite being one of the most prolific writers I've ever encountered, he was more than capable of lending a sympathetic ear and good advice to someone struggling with writers' block. He was a great guy to kick around story ideas with. I know countless writers, myself included, who benefited at one time or another from his advice and encouragement. I remember lots of little kindnesses from Jay, over the years.

He'll be missed.