My LonCon, Part Deux

imageI shared my immediate emotional reaction to LonCon3 a few weeks ago. I think the moment has now passed for blogs about LonCon, but since I seem to shed neurons like other people shed skin cells, if I don't write down some specifics I know it'll get lost forever. For my own reference, then, if no-one else's, here's My LonCon, Part Deux.

We couldn't get a cheap hotel near the venue so stayed in Travelodge London Bank in the middle of London. We originally wanted to stay in a Japanese Coffin Hotel but fancied a smaller room. BOOM. It was bijou, is all I'm saying. Also about as hot as midday on Mercury.

Me and TardisLonCon was about 20 minutes on the Docklands Light Railway, with a change of trains halfway, so that was fine. When we got there the registration queue of which we had heard Terrible Things had vanished. That's the nice thing about arriving after lunch. Pausing only for vital business like chatting to Alison, Nic, Abigail and Emma and standing in front of a Tardis, we jumped straight into our first panel.

imageOver the next three days we didn't get into everything we wanted, but we did pretty well, and a good half of the panels I saw were very stimulating. The other half ranged from pleasant-but-unsurprising to frustratingly stalled discussions. Fortunately the panel I participated in was one of the enjoyable ones. (At least from our perspective. Who knows what the audience made of it.)

Friday 15th August

My LonCon

TardisSitting here a few days later, LonCon feels so far outside my day to day existence it’s almost like it didn’t happen to me, but was just part of a particularly immersive novel I read at the weekend (with some surprising plot twists and a setting surreally poised between the utopian and the dystopian. I kept expecting Blake’s 7 to come and rescue me.)

Fortunately I also met and chatted to lots of lovely people, at least some of whom definitely exist. By this marker I’m going to provisionally declare the Con to have been an empirically real event. Or events. Many, many events, coincidentally sharing the same space and jostling for primacy in exactly the same way that parallel universes probably don’t.

As my first major Con (barring a Who convention circa 19841 and a Trek one in 19922) it was an enfolding but kinetic experience, a conveyer belt of ideas and conversation that rarely lasted as long as I wanted before some new sensory input demanded my attention. At times it felt like I was developing mental whiplash, at others it was like the fuzziest, longest-lasting party in the Universe. I was conscious even as we entered Sunday morning of a certain post-Con emptiness lurking in the middle distance. That sense of regret that it would have to come to an end.

From start to finish it was a welcoming, well-organised event with a noticeably diverse range of attendees – all ages, various nationalities and ethnicities, disabled, abled, male, female, cis and trans. Not to mention human and alien costumed individuals (though nowhere near as many as the news would have you believe). You’ll rarely see such a vibrant range of people at most ‘mainstream’ events, or find them so actively catered for. It felt liberal and liberating and very inclusive, but take my views with a pinch of salt here since if there’s a privilege to be had, I’ve pretty much lucked into it.

The range of things to see and do was frankly astonishing — often simultaneously, meaning that tough choices had to be made. Janet and I were reflecting that no two attendees will have experienced the same convention. We sat down with the stunningly useful web app several days before and narrowed our choices from the completely overwhelming to the slightly overwhelming. Enough so that we got to see what we wanted but also did some of the same things together. Call me soppy but there’s some merit in having attended the same event and not two different but geographically similar events. In the end we made some wise decisions to ditch programme events in favour of downtime and chatting, and I think I had a much better and richer time for it. It was so great to catch up with those I’d met briefly (like Tim, Dan, Aileen, Liz and Aisha) and meet people I’d only encountered online (like Alison, Abigail Nussbaum, Alex, Lal, Graeme, Andrew, Chance, and my fellow panellists Ashley, Saxon, Jacey and Abigail.) And all the other lovely people I’m currently in the process of offending by forgetting to mention.

Since I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast, a little note about the panels I attended wouldn’t go amiss. But that can wait. I’m off to wander a shopping mall in search of someone discussing artificial intelligence.


1 The Leisure Hive in Swindon. In 1984. 1984! Jesus I’m old. I mean, okay, I was only 15 at the time, but still. I’ve got the poorly photocopied con guide somewhere. I’ll have to scan it.

2 Contagion in Glasgow

Theft

I chased a thief out of our kitchen tonight.

I was sitting in the front room typing on our shiny new laptop just after 10 pm when I heard a funny noise from the kitchen. At first I assumed it was a cat (ours or someone else’s) – this would hardly be unusual! But it sounded odd so I went to look and found a stranger in the kitchen. Young, white, wearing a white tracksuit top1. I yelled at him and he legged it out of the back door, around onto the drive and out onto the street. I saw him disappear around the corner but it was dark, wet, I was wearing socks and I’d tripped over something on the drive. Common sense reasserted itself and I gave up!

Turns out the thing I stubbed my toe on in the drive was his push-bike, which I (perhaps stupidly) carted back into the kitchen and locked the door. Janet and Anna had been upstairs but Janet was pretty shocked when I told her and immediately rang the police. An officer came around within 10 minutes, during which time we tried to work out what if anything was missing. Finally Janet spotted that my work briefcase was gone – and I’d seen him holding some sort of bag as he exited our drive. As far as we can tell that’s all he got. In the grand scheme of things it could have been a lot worse – we’re often both upstairs, and all sorts of kit including the laptop would have been lying around.

All told it was over in about 15 seconds but it’s still really annoying and fairly shocking. The police took my statement, took the bike to fingerprint and tomorrow they come to do more forensics and take my prints for reference. I did get a look at the thief and said I’m prepared to ID him, but whether I could actually pick his picture out in practice is another matter. The police officer was incredibly professional and supportive and I can’t speak highly enough of the initial support we’ve had.

Needless to say we’ll be making sure to lock the back door in the future, even if we’re in and up and about. It’s more the principle of the thing – to have an intruder in your home, to think what might have happened, and worry he might come back. Fortunately he can’t have seen much so won’t know what’s in the house to steal and hopefully there’s no incentive for him to come back. Thieves are complete bastards, really.

1Shops at Chavs R Us, basically.

Injury to felines

We had a bit of an adventure yesterday when we found an injured cat in our garage.

After I got home last night I looked out of the kitchen window and spotted a grey and white cat with its collar hooked under its armpit, something that happens to our cats occasionally and severely hampers their movement. I dashed outside and saw its tail disappear into our garage through a hole in the door (must get that fixed!) Janet and I found the cat cowering at the back of the garage behind the lawnmower, and it quickly became clear that it was in a bad way. The collar was a nasty red plastic one and it had rubbed the skin raw under the leg, removing all the fur in a large area which was red and evil-looking. The poor thing must have been in agony.

Intrepidly donning a pair of chunky gardening gloves I managed to grab the hissing beast and desperately tried to remove the collar while it struggled and bit me frantically through the gloves (which proved fairly useless at resisting cat fangs). Finally Janet cut the collar off with scissors, at which point the cat settled down a bit and we managed to get it into one of our cat boxes.

Then we rang around every local vet we could find, all of which were shut. One answerphone directed me to a 24 hours vet helpline, which in turn sent me to the RSPCA, who gave me a log number and told me to, er, find a local vet. Finally we got one that was open til 7 pm and kindly agreed to stay open long enough for me to get there with the injured cat. The RSPCA log number means the vet can claim £60 + VAT, and ring if they need to ask for more money. According to the RSPCA this makes for much more cooperative vets!

Then I came home, slathered my bloodied finger in germolene, and Janet did some “Injured Cat Found” posters which we taped-up in nearby streets, pub and shop. I was still a bit worried to be honest. The wound looked like it was many hours or days old, and although the Vets took the cat in last night they couldn’t treat it properly til this morning. Also the cat could have been miles from home and the owner might never be found.

Thankfully Janet took a call today from someone who saw our poster and recognised the description, and we’ve just had a call from the vets. The owner has collected the cat, Megan, and it should make a slow but full recovery. Apparently it’s been missing since July, when it was being looked after by a friend of the owners during a holiday, and went missing. (Oh the guilt that friend must have felt!) They haven’t seen it since.

All told that put paid to most of last night and I have a sore finger for my troubles. Cats mouths aren’t the most hygienic things so I’m keeping an eye on the finger but so far it doesn’t seem infected.

Phew. I’m very relieved, and the owner has passed on their thanks. As Janet says, we’d want someone to do that for our cats, so it’s only fair we do it too.

Springwatch

No inhabitants in our bird box yet. Tantalisingly we actually saw a blue tit leaving the box a couple of weeks ago, but we weren’t recording from the camera at the time. (Naturally.) Since then a couple of suspicious-looking feathers have appeared, but no actual sign of nesting. They’re probably having trouble getting a mortgage.

On the plus side, last month we were pleased to realise that we have not one but two Great Spotted Woodpeckers visiting our bird feeders on a daily basis (they particularly like a hanging length of birch log plugged with bits of fat feeder). We’ve only seen them both together once — if it weren’t for that we’d have no clue it wasn’t the same bird. The only difference between males and females is that males have a red flash on the back of the head, but we’ve only seen clearly enough to know that one of the two is female. If it turns out we have a pair nesting nearby that would be fantastic. Very pretty birds.

We also have several Dunnocks (aka Hedge Sparrows) hopping around our garden for the first time this year. They look a bit like a cross between a sparrow and a wren. The bird book reckons these are wee timorous birdies who are supposed to dart nervously from the undergrowth, but ours are bold as brass – all over the bird table and the garden. They’ve been fluttering around recently doing what we think is either Mortal Kombat or courtship displays; either that or they enjoy driving cats to distraction.

My wife still goes out for her nightly Newt Census. We’re regularly seeing seven palmate newts lurking in or around the pond just after dark which is more than we could ever have hoped when we built the pond. Very gratifying. They don’t actually do much, but it’s the next best thing to having lizards in the garden.

Or maybe this is the next best thing to having lizards in the garden…

Londinium

This weekend we went on a flying visit to London, mainly to see the Babylon exhibit at the British Museum before it closed, but also to cram in a few other things along the way.

We had a chilly but beautiful night time walk around the embankment via the London Eye and Big Ben, a pleasant meal and a glass of Hoegaarden in the White Hart, and Janet got to buy half the stock of Falkiners a lovely little shop selling hand-made paper and bookbinding supplies.

The Babylon exhibit itself was an unusual blend of fact and mythology, including the many artistic interpretations of the Tower of Babel and the Hanging Gardens, but despite a couple of beautiful items it didn’t inspire me in the same way that last year’s Terracotta Army exhibition did.

If anything we enjoyed the new Egyptian room at the Museum more. The room contains items from the Tomb of Nebamun, including some fantastic and lively wall paintings. This image of a cat is excellent and surprisingly naturalistic.

And of course Janet got to commune with the Rosetta Stone again.

We also booked to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum (the Darwin exhibition was sadly sold out) which showcased some stunning photography that was only enhanced by being displayed on vivid high definition screens rather than prints. Despite allowing people into the exhibition in booked slots it got rather crowded, particularly in the corners, but it was well worth it. Then I queued for 30 minutes to get a cup of coffee while my legs begged for mercy.

The Natural History Museum is one of those places that’s always fantastic to visit. The building itelf is so lovely, like a secular cathedral, and is stuffed full of wondrous things. I’d have loved to have stayed longer but the urgent need to fall over won out.

I’m absolutely knackered, but it was a good trip. Photos can be found on my Facebook here.

Shiny, stompy

Janet is now the proud owner of a black 16GB iPod nano 4G. It’s shiny. It’s curvy. It’s tiny. It even has a motion sensor so you can play little marble-rolling games — for some reason. Considering that this is an upgrade from an old mp3 player that only had space for three albums, she’s very pleased.

We saw the Watchmen trailer at the cinema for the first time today, and it looks great. I also [via percyprune] really like this viral marketing for Watchmen in the form of a faux-historical news article on Dr Manhattan. Really nicely done.

And finally for snowking on the occasion of Hoggmas, hot on the heels of the Steampunk Cyberman comes a competition to design a Steampunk Cylon. STOMPY.

Now All Christmas To The End

We’re done, that’s it, the fat lady has sung, the stapler has stapled its last. No more work in 2008.

We visited my family in Yorkshire at the weekend and spent a very good time surrounded by lots of people, many of whom are unlucky enough to be related to me. We had a nice meal in Beverley, the place of my birth (not that this was relevant to the meal) and came home laden down with presents.

All presents are now bought, the meal is planned, and the house is in a state vaguely resembling neatness. We did the big food run to the supermarket yesterday and survived unscathed1. Although my brother’s poncy southern palate2 is now so refined he only has a chicken in case of “emergency” (i.e. failure to buy a goose) we’ve settled on a nice fresh free range chicken (or “happy chicken” as Janet calls chickens that have been allowed to gambol with the lambs and roam in vast herds across the serengeti.)

We’re doing the quiet thing again this year, so just my brother-in-law over for the big day. With Janet’s diabetes we have to be a bit careful about Christmas snacking, but the meal itself should be fine with judicious application of wholemeal bread and a bit of common sense3. I did sit and watch both Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver cooking Christmas things the other day, and aside from an overwhelming desire to slap both of them hard around the face I was amazed at how unhealthy their Christmas dishes were. Apparently Nigella believes that you have to coat all vegetables so liberally with maple syrup that they must emerge from the oven tasting like toffee apples4. I’m currently researching recipes for roast potatoes with rosemary and garlic as the amount of sugar in the supermarket toppings you can buy is ridiculous. Janet is currently making her surprisingly tasty sugar-free chocolate cake (using Splenda).

Then it’s Chr2stmas on Boxing Day when my parents-in-law are doing us a meal.

To get you in the mood — for what is unclear — you can hear Tom McRae doing a version of White Christmas over at his myspace page. Nowhere near as depressing as the suicidal version of Wonderful Christmastime I posted last year, but acceptably mopey Christmas fare.


1 Barring a large hole where my wallet used to be.
2 😛
3 Sadly our common sense is stored at the back of the cupboard and went out of date in 2006.
4 Also she was flirting with me quite embarrassingly. I think she has a crush on me, poor thing.

Engage

Today we pressed the big red button marked Engage Christmas! Infernal Christmas Engines thrummed into life. Somewhere, deep within the bowels of the earth, Elves stirred from their slumbers.

Our Christmas Tree looks very pretty. We vary from year to year on whether to put the tree up this early, but we do enjoy the build-up to Christmas far more than the wind-down so we want our hit of Christmas reasonably early — particularly since we don’t have any time off work before the main event this year. An impromptu drive down our street showed that a reasonable proportion of houses already had a tree up in their front room or porch. The research is in: it’s Christmas.

Most but not all of our pressies are bought and wrapped, and we’re slowly accumulating festive foodstuffs to tide us over the long hard winter a day or two of intensive snacking. As always given my wife’s diet-controlled diabetes this involves much research into low-sugar alternatives to things like mulled wine, Christmas pud and other desserts. We have a reasonable selection of these, including a spicy sugar-free cake made with Splenda that Janet really likes. She’s researching custard tarts at the moment.

Mmm… Christmas…

Politicking

Interesting juxtaposition in the US Presidential Election of Sarah Palin’s derogatory statements about science vs. Obama getting the endorsement of high profile scientists.

Palin, in that ‘loveable’ folksy way of hers (see also: George W Bush), decided to ridicule ‘wasteful’ scientific research on things like fruit flies: “You’ve heard about some of these pet projects – they really don’t make a whole lot of sense – and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit-fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.” Since my own wife’s degree project focused on drosophila melanogaster, I’m well-versed in how incredibly useful these little insects are to science, but here’s a fairly scathing rebuttal to Palin.

Meanwhile 76 Nobel prize winners have written a letter endorsing Obama as “a visionary leader” and condemning Bush’s policies.

Also, as if Obama could become any more like Jed Bartlet, here’s a really fascinating speech of his about the role of religion in modern America. I hadn’t previously been aware of this speech but it looks like it was made back in 2006. I can’t help but be reminded of President Bartlet’s rant from The West Wing episode The Midterms (itself gacked from the interwebs) about selective adherence to the Bible to support bigotry. Obama’s speech (in selectively edited form) been seized on to argue that Obama ‘hates’ God, but it’s actually a very even-handed and astonishingly brave thing for a US politician to do. Brave even though he’s not claiming to be an atheist, merely arguing very cogently for separation of Church and State; a fairy uncontroversial view, you’d think1.

Speaking of YouTube, this video of Palin set to piano improv is deeply unfair, but very funny.

1 Bartlet is of course portrayed as a devout Catholic and his rant is not seen as coming into conflict with his beliefs, and there’s no reason Obama could not be a Christian and still make this speech.

Season of the Witch

It’s that time of year again. Honestly, we have so much fun on Halloween we should be burned as witches1.

Janet’s not feeling too grand today and can’t leap up and down from the sofa very easily, so I’m taking the lion’s share of the callers. The ratio of cute-kids-who-are-really-into-it to sullen-teenagers-in-scream-masks is so far not ideal, but we’ll see how things go. The freezing drizzle we’ve had on and off all day has at least let up, which increases the chances of getting a good range of trick or treaters.

We’ve nothing to rival Janet’s 133t carving skills on last year’s pumpkin but the porch is still decked out in an array of pumpkins and scary Halloween tat. This year we’ve put one of our strange glowy rock things inside the pumpkin, giving it an exciting range of both red *and* green glows. For added scariness. And not having to replace the candle.

There’s just about nothing on TV tonight that qualifies as Halloween fare until after midnight, at least not on any channel I could find without an understanding of astronomically large numbers, or a willingness to watch Most Haunted. The mainstream TV channels just don’t seem to have caught on to the blatant commercialisation of this festival in recent years. Which is strangely unlike them. I’ve therefore downloaded obtained via ouija board from the spirit world Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape, a TV play I’ve always had a hankering to see and which is out of print so costs slightly more to buy than a large high street bank.


1 Except, not really.2
2 I’d be a Warlock for a start.3
3 Yes, just like Julian Sands. Seriously, you remember that movie?4
4 Okay, I kinda liked it too but that’s not the point. What was the point?5
5 Oh yes, in summary, not to burn us as witches and/or warlocks.

Fangs and Shiny Thangs

Disturbingly, LiveJournal has apparently morphed into UndeadJournal. My Halloween-loving wife approves of this “tremendously”. She’s already bought some sweets in preparation for the trick-or-treaters this Friday. She’s also bought a Witch’s hat because the team on her enquiries desk at work are dressing up for the occasion. And, yes, she’s now pretending to be a zombie and saying “Grr, Argh”, which segue-ways me nicely into…

Joss Whedon has posted about Dollhouse in his inimitable (i.e. insane and free-associative) way. He talks about the show and its behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations. It seems like a fairly honest post given how much detail he goes into about the difficulties with the network, but he also sounds enthused. Right now I really have no idea what to expect from this show or its premise, or if I’ll even like it, but I’m definitely intrigued to find out.

Today I succeeded in viewing the BBC iPlayer on our Wii, using the internet channel (for which I had to pay a trivial but somehow annoying £3.50). The Wii is an incredibly clunky way to browse the internet, with all sorts of zooming in, zooming out, scrolling around pages and trying to hit tiny buttons with the blunt instrument that is the Wii remote. It’s a bit like doing watch repair while wearing oven gloves. However I did succeed in streaming part of Simon Schama’s series about the U.S. using this method. Of all the ways to get TV on demand this is probably not going to win anyone over, but it does actually work. After a fashion.

I also now have a new mobile phone. I went with the Samsung G600 in the end, because although I don’t think it’s the best phone out there, it’s the best one whose shininess I fell in love with. My verdict: shiny! Seems good so far. Okay, I had to do a stupid menu hack to get it to synch with the PC, and if I want mp3 text-message tones I have to upgrade the firmware with a special cable I don’t own, but these niggles aside it’s a nice phone to use. I now have the Firefly End Theme as my ringtone. Did I mention the shiny?