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Jan. 4th, 2014 | 05:45 pm

Back when I was a full-time freelancer, I interviewed one of the founders of Netflix. It wasn't for a specific assignment; he was just passing through town and someone in press relations hooked us up. I got the spiel and was so convinced that I signed up for an account with my own money. It's possible that they comped me to begin with; I don't recall--but soon enough I was happily paying my own way, and have done so continuously for well over a decade now. But now the overall story, a cliche but a true one, is the Failed Promise of the Internet. Back when it was just DVDs in the mail, I could rent titles that would never end up in a local video rental place. I poured in a ton of ratings so that the mysterious Netflix engine would figure out my tastes, and would suggest movies I'd never heard of. So now, in a world where content streams in over the network, where the most obscure movies should be available instantly, what do I get? A dumber suggestion system, and a vastly reduced selection of movies. You can stream TWIN PEAKS, for example, but no movies directed by David Lynch are streamable from Netflix. Unless you've just got to have constant content coming down the network pipe, the overall technology of circa-2001 Netflix is superior to that of today. Which is a wordy preface to this opinion piece, worth reading, by Felix Salmon:

Netflix’s dumbed-down algorithms

And yeah, gas stations used to have smiling uniformed attendants, and jumbo jets used to have piano lounges. Progress.

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Five stars

Dec. 6th, 2012 | 03:55 pm

That social networking site, Ye Booke of Faces, is now asking me to rate things. Restaurants and bars, mostly. Ratings are completely public, it seems--unable to be made friends-only with FB's byzantine privacy controls. So I will not be doing any rating, thank you very much. "Liking" things is good enough for me; I don't need to assign some number of stars. Besides, "do you like Char-Grill?" is an easy question for me to answer. Yes, I like Char-Grill. Whereas dithering over star ratings on FB seems like a waste of my time.

Thinking about five-star ratings does something to the critical/skeptical/negative part of my brain--which most of you know is the Greater Part of my brain. Do even my most favorite spots rate a full five stars, without reservation? I can't say that they do. There's always room for improvement. If only they had half-stars. Man, I would handing out a bunch of 4.5 star ratings.

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Random pairing

Dec. 22nd, 2011 | 08:43 am

A couple things. First thing, a new story of mine is up on Electric Velocipede Issue 23: Through the Uprights. Read it or don't.

Second, completely unrelated thing. We were driving out for a Sunday hike recently and we passed a trailer that had two flagpoles in the front yard. On one flagpole, a rebel flag (aka Confederate flag). On the other flagpole, Old Glory. Now, I'm sure I've seen this pairing before. And I'm sure it makes perfect sense to the inhabitants of that trailer. But this was the first time it struck me: NO. You've got to pick one. You either get your CSA, Lost Cause, revisionist b.s. about "state's rights," and not-so-crypto-racism, or you get the USA. You know, the Union. The folks flying the Stars & Stripes, albeit with 33 to 35 stars at the time of the war. You can't claim both sets.

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19th century drinking, yikes

Nov. 27th, 2011 | 05:46 pm

Evander Berry Wall, "King of the Dudes," on the daily drinking schedule and the relative capacities of U.S. drinkers versus English drinkers, late nineteenth century:

Fourteen drinks, bottle of wine, plus beerCollapse )

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Conventional reporting

Jun. 1st, 2011 | 11:10 am

WisCon blew by even more quickly this year. One minute we were riding in from Truax Field in the hotel shuttle van, the next we were hopping in the Rowe-Bond's Honda Fit for a leisurely drive through Indiana. My con reports are pretty much cliché at this point: it was great to see friends, I did not get enough conversation time with any of them, some folks I missed entirely and that bums me out, I prefer readings to panels, beer is delicious.

The Delicious Beer track started early, during our layover at O'Hare, when I discovered Goose Island Matilda, a Belgian strong pale ale. Further delicious beers included Monk's Café Flemish Sour Red Ale, New Glarus Raspberry Tart, and Ommegang BPA. Many of these were consumed at Cooper's Tavern, a gastropub on the capitol square in Madison. Recommended, especially if you can get The Snug, the little table-sized room where the bartender waits on you via a little puppet-show door in the wall. We also got supper one night at Icon, the tapas place on State Street. Now that I think about it, this was a really top-notch year for food and bevs. We had humongous breakfast crepes at the farmers' market on Saturday morning. We had brownies and bourbon balls from the Tiptree Bake Sale. We had the local meat and cheese platter at a late lunch with Eileen Gunn and Carol Emshwiller in The Bar. I never got to try the Writer's Block, a raspberry margarita from the drink menu that bartender Brian makes every year for the convention, but it looked good on paper.

Items acquired in the dealers' room: The Collected Stories of Carol Emshwiller, Volume 1, as well as a bunch of stuff from PM Press. For a bunch of anarchists, PM Press sure does a great job with consistent and beautiful graphic design.

Readings attended: only three, but that still meant I heard Alan DeNiro, Karen Joy Fowler, Hiromi Goto, Mary Doria Russell, Gwenda Bond, Christopher Rowe, Genevieve Valentine, Amal El-Mohtar, Meghan McCarron, David Moles, Ben Rosenbaum, Geoff Ryman, and Jen Volant. That's a lot of talent, right there. I was particularly moved by the short-short that Hiromi Goto read about memory and social media. There were a lot of other people whose readings I missed, dangit.

I read a new proto-story and that was fun but even more fun was reading the beginning of Carol Emshwiller's "Draculalucard" for the panel where Karen Fowler and Eileen Gunn and Pat Murphy and I celebrated Carol's work. Pat read a relatively new story from Carol, "Uncle E," and that really got to me, hearing Pat read it aloud (I had read it in print just before the con). Speaking of Carol: The Emshwillerians.

Panels attended: The Trials, Joys and Tribulations of Tiptree Jury Duty. There were plenty of other panels that looked interesting, but none of them trumped fiction or sleep.

Parties attended: a bunch, but the three pillars were the Rabid Transit karaoke dance party, the Strange Horizons tea party, and the Genderfloomp dance party. One of these days I will stop being such a persnickety weirdo about the songs I will dance to.

And that's about it, I guess. I'm ready for WisCon 2012, yep.

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Fourth post in a year!

Mar. 21st, 2011 | 08:21 pm

Last weekend I attended the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) in sunny Orlando, Florida, aka The Happiest Place on Earth. Ten years ago, I met barbmg, bondgwendabond, and colonelrowe at ICFA. So it was a good anniversary and a great time. Academics, writers, critics, and fellow travelers from all over the world get together to read, talk, argue, drink, and relax. I ended up in a reading slot with Connie Willis (who was a guest of honor as was Terry Bisson) and Jeff Ford. Connie read the first chapter of a new novel, Jeff read a story about the doppelgangers of doppelgangers, and I read the beginning of "Holderhaven," my American country house story that's in the most recent issue of CRIMEWAVE. Doing that reading was great fun, as was attending a few other readings, especially ones by Paul Park and Terry Bisson and Kit Reed. I went to a couple panels too, including one mostly cool one about fantastic elements in Shakespeare--lots of discussion of witches, ghosts, fairies, and wizards, not so much of satyrs. Terry Bisson and Andy Duncan did a spot-on version of Terry's "They're Made Out Of Meat" one night. And Andy brought a raccoon that played "Yakety Sax" on the harmonica. And....

How does this make sense to anyone who wasn't there? What is the least bit academic about a raccoon playing "Yakety Sax"? Well, the theme of the conference was "The Fantastic Ridiculous," so there you go. Looks like I've got yet another event I really need to try and get to every year.
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I prefer the term enthusiast

Nov. 6th, 2010 | 01:29 pm

And, dang, am I enthusiastic about the deconstructo-folk of Alasdair Roberts and all his various running buddies. So, take a few minutes, good people, and give these videos a look and a listen.

The Bonnie Banks o' Airdrie
Home Lights Tour
Bonnie Susie Cleland

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Renaissance bartender

Apr. 19th, 2010 | 08:37 pm

Beertender, really. And meadtender, I guess. The past couple Saturdays I have poured fine fermented booze products for the patrons and performers of the NC Renaissance Faire. It was pretty fun, given that we were never in the weeds. Which means that attendance is probably not quite at its historic peak, if you catch my drift. The Captain is dearly missed as the informal emcee of the pub, but everyone soldiers on. Drinks are drunk, songs are sung, comedy is committed. Gossip flows a bit more freely before the gates open and after they close. But the really swell folks in this milieu are still quite swell indeed: Silent Lion continue to play some of the most interesting music I've ever heard. Emrys Fleet, aka Jim Greene, is a really funny and personable fellow. New acts come along, like the Sisters of Steel, with pretty decent ideas and execution. It is a strange little pocket universe, with plenty of upsides and downsides, but I sure hope it keeps on existing. I'll be back there next Saturday pouring more beer. I recommend the Belgian Stout or the Wee Heavy, but really, they're all good, y'know?

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Boy I sure did like that show

Mar. 25th, 2010 | 08:37 pm

And I still do. Robert Culp died yesterday. Tonight I mixed myself a martini and watched an episode of I SPY, the show that he and Bill Cosby starred in for three seasons in the 1960s. I watched "Home to Judgment," which Culp also wrote, probably the darkest and grittiest episode of the series. And that was how I said goodbye to this guy I never knew.

I'm not here to convince you that I SPY was the greatest TV show of all time. I'm here to tell you that it was wildly important to me, a kid growing up watching Bob Gordon Theater on WSJS/WXII, where you might see a syndicated episode of I SPY or STAR TREK or MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE or THE INVADERS or THE TWILIGHT ZONE or THE WILD WILD WEST on any given Sunday afternoon. There were Westerns, too, but I never much cared for them. In between the shows Bob Gordon would do really bad ventriloquism, and would teach you how to fold a dollar bill into a bowtie. Anyway, I SPY: TV's "swift and swinging spies," that was how it was hyped. Yeah, they were two stylish guys wisecracking their way through the Cold War, and how much weight do I, does anyone, want to put on that? Not too much. But then again, what came through in every episode, in every scene, was that Culp and Cosby really were friends. That they really cared about each other in real life and in fake life as a couple of globe-trotting spies. And yeah, it was groundbreaking for its time, that one of these guys happened to be white and one happened to be black, and how that was handled. Just now, watching "Home to Judgment," there's a scene at the top where Culp is lying up in a barn loft, gravely injured. The bad guys are closing in. But Cosby walks by, on the drive below the barn, and gestures to Culp that things are going to be OK. "Don't worry, I'm your friend, and we're going to get through this." That's what that gesture says to me.

"Don't worry, I'm your friend, and we're going to get through this," that's a pretty important statement.

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Virginia Line--Durham, 47 m.

Mar. 7th, 2010 | 08:20 pm

If I had more time, what I would do is, get a domain name, hook a blog up to it, and then extensively document every one of the motor tours from the 1939 WPA book NORTH CAROLINA: A Guide to the Old North State. There are 33 tours, ranging in length from 35 to 613 miles. But more time is something I perpetually lack, so I have not done those things.

What we did do, yesterday, is attempt to replicate Tour 8 from the guide. We drove up to Clarksville, Virginia, then came back down to Durham on US-15. Or rather, what would've been US-15 in 1939, which is close but not exactly the same. US-15 is the old Jefferson Davis Highway, and while it's still signed as such, the granite and bronze markers are mostly gone. There's one in Clarksville at the big intersection there. There's one over the state line in NC, but it's clearly new; at least the metal tablet is. The one marker that we found that looks realistically old was in Stovall, NC. Stovall is also where we attempted to find the family cemetery near the site of John Penn's house, but failed. Penn being one of the three Signers from NC. We were driving down a dirt road through land that was marked "No Trespassing" and also clearly a place where a lot of hunting happens, and the dirt road became a mud road so instead of getting stuck we turned around. This was the first site/sight mentioned in the guide that we failed to see.

Still, there is relatively current information on that cemetery (http://cemeterycensus.com/nc/), unlike many of the other places mentioned in the guide. House of Col. William T. Gregory, who ran a general store where he gave away rather than sold things? No dice. Hester Grange, the meeting hall of a farmers club in Hester, and Indian Grave Hill, where amateur archaeologists carted off Native American relics, ditto and ditto. We stopped in Oxford, where the courthouse dates from 1838, and discovered a museum there in the old jail, with lots of wonderful artifacts (including some Native American relics). Once we got to Durham, we switched over to Geer Street, which used to be US-15, and cruised into town on that stretch, passing the Hell's Angels clubhouse and the dearly departed Hartman's Steakhouse on the way.

The allure of this project is that you WILL find some peculiar old landmark that has traveled in time relatively unscathed. We didn't find anything like that this time. What we did find was the usual mix of beauty and ugliness, poverty and riches.

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