Departing Detroit and #DetCon1

DetCon1 is over and the Con Crud has caught up with me at last. The recap of the last couple days of the con is unfortunately going to have to wait a bit.

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#DetCon1 Highlights so far

I really, really appreciate how supportive of the military Baen books is.  I know they have a program for sending boxes of books to deployed troops, but was very surprised when they kicked off their roadshow by asking anyone active duty to come up and grab a free book.  Then they invited reservists, veterans, schoolteachers, first responders, and librarians.  It gave me a warm fuzzy.  And of course I enjoyed getting to see all their new books, new covers, etc.  I wish Tor was here doing the same!

The “Designing Military Spacecraft” panel yesterday was simply awesome.  We had a highly capable moderator, a very interesting mix of panelist backgrounds, and an enthusiastic audience that gave us some great questions to work with.  Best panel I have been on, and I hope I can do as well with my two panels today: “Women in STEM” at 2:00 and “Military SF” at 7:00, just before the awards ceremony and masquerade, followed by ’80s dance with John Scalzi as DJ.  I can already tell this  evening will be epic.

The best panel I have been an audience member so far was yesterday’s “Gender Roles in Genre Fiction.”  The panel discussed the past and current limitations on gender roles, and ripped apart some of the most damaging tropes out there (rape as a plot device or character-defining feature, the one strong woman who stands out among a society of weak and suppressed women).  Jim Hines made me want to hug him for his righteous indignation and rage over how often and how horribly these tropes are used.

They also talked about who isn’t well-represented in the currently conservative mainstream market (strong men who don’t have to show that strength with violence, minorities and people of color, and LGBT characters, to name a few).   Overall a great panel and I walked away with some new book recommendations to check out and hopefully find something new and different.

Due to our kid-free status at this con, this is the first time I’ve been able to check out the late-night con party scene.  About what I expected, except I actually had fun.  Normally I’m way too antisocial and awkward for that and end up bored and/or terrified in a corner, but I am among my people here.  Meaning it doesn’t matter if I can’t dance and don’t fit the mainstream media’s definition of pretty.  Rather, I found people who appreciated my Uhura impression, walked around showing off their lovingly and carefully made costumes. and didn’t care what anyone thought of their dancing.

At the Helsinki in 2017 bid party I enjoyed their spread of Finnish food and beverages, spent a few minutes mesmerized by the club lights at the Barfleet party, and observed the fireworks after the Tigers came from the 69th floor Con Suite while pigging out on cheese and crackers.  Fireworks viewed from above are awfully cool.

Ok, enough writing, I am off to hunt down breakfast and more panels to attend.

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DetCon1 is in full swing

So far I’ve scored some free books (thank you freebie table and Baen), chatted with the usual mix of highly interesting people, drove down Michigan Avenue with a local pointing out the highlights, and sat on a “Teens talk to scientists” panel where the audience was extremely small but very precocious.  Without a designated moderator (oops) or list of questions, we wandered across topics ranging from how to become a zoologist to whether or not time travel is possible.

The hotel layout is great for getting around once you get the hang of it, and so far there has been no massive elevator congestion – that may change on Saturday and Sunday, but fingers crossed the sailing stays smooth.  The dealer’s room is better than most, and I’m tempted by at least six of the t-shirts in there, but will probably limit myself to two.  Probably.

The view from the con suite (69th floor) is amazing, so even if you don’t want to partake of the company and free food, you can see all of Detroit from there.  I also recommend the view from the fitness center, which is on the 40th floor and looks out over the water.  The tail end of the sunrise this morning was absolutely gorgeous from up there, albeit a little blinding.

Overall it feels like a really well-run con and is off to a good start.  Now I’m heading down to my “Designing Fictional Spacecraft” panel.


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What’s So Great About Princesses Anyway?

I’ve always wondered how princesses got to be such a hot thing.  Obviously it’s been a brilliant marketing strategy for Disney for decades, but what is really the appeal?  A princess isn’t in any real kind of position of power – at best she is second in line for the throne, at worst she is never considered eligible for the throne.  And this is, of course, assuming the throne is even something worth having.

The princesses in the stories never have a particularly nice life, and the ‘happily ever after’ part is assumed but never actually seen/heard.  Princesses in stories don’t seem to have much fun, and often deal with curses, evil relatives, being prisoners, being forced into manual labor and slavery, cases of mistaken identities, and plain bizarre stuff like living with a bunch of mining dwarves.

The princes who do the rescuing of these princesses are bland, overconfident, and not usually terribly bright.  So much so that many princess movies poke fun at those brawny men while still following the same basic princess story formula (I’m looking at you, Shrek and Beauty and the Beast).  Most of the heroes make me genuinely fearful for the futures of the countries these idiots might someday lead – like the idiot who couldn’t recognize Cinderella after the ball.  You really want him as your sovereign?  Is he really going to be a big step up from the evil stepfamily for Cinderella?

Being a princess in real life seems pretty boring, too.  You’re basically a glorified spokesperson for your family/country, and the most anyone expects of you is to produce heirs, smile a lot, support a few charities, and show up to ribbon cutting ceremonies.  You may be rich, but you’re stuck with a job you can’t quit, ever-present security, and constant media scrutiny.

So what is the appeal?  Does anyone know the history behind this particular selection as the supposed ideal of what a girl can be, and why so many people go crazy obsessive over it?



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Rocks rock

Long day on the road, so I’ll just say this: road trips that go through Utah and Wyoming on I-80 are great for pointing out different types of rocks, talking about how mountains form, etc.  Some beautiful scenery plus a curious kid equals some good road trip conversations about geology.  

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Geekness Day with #SingleHopGeeks

Apparently I’m kind of a failure as a geek because I didn’t even know there was such thing as Embrace Your Geekness Day, which is July 13th (not to be confused with Geek Pride day on May 25th, by the way).  But since a very nice lady from SingleHop was cool enough to ask me to do some interview questions to celebrate Geekness Day, well, now I know.  And the more you know

I do think we’re probably starting to take this new multitude of made-up holidays a little far.  Like is there a “Cats on the Internet” day yet?  There seems to be one for just about everything now.  But in the spirit of fun, here we go with the questions.

1.    What makes you a geek?

I’ve been in love with space and SF&F (books, TV, and movies) since I was a kid.  My dad pretty much raised us on SF&F – to the level of bringing us along to Star Trek conventions from the tender age of seven or so.   We were always encouraged to help ourselves to anything on the many bookshelves around the house, and my mom took us to the library at least once a week to restock.  Let’s just say my love of books is very well rooted.

I’ve always been huge space enthusiast, other than a brief stint around age five when I, for some strange reason I can no longer remember, wanted to be a dentist.  Now I have masters in both Aerospace Engineering and Space Studies.  I may never get to be an astronaut, but maybe if I’m a successful enough engineer I can afford that ticket on Virgin Galactic someday!

I’ve also been incredibly fortunate to marry a fellow geek, and now we are those people who decorated our daughter’s nursery with a space theme. I will probably embarrass her horribly when she’s a teenager by wearing a Kaylee costume in public or showing people the pictures of her dressed as GIR for Halloween (her request!).

2.    What is your proudest geek moment?

Every time I am able to participate in STEM outreach events of any kind.  Whether it’s being part of a SeaPerch competition or sitting on a “Women in STEM” panel at a con, I love getting to be an advocate for STEM education and let kids – girls especially – know that STEM fields are not only really cool, but well within their reach if they work hard and ignore the haters.

Also, memorizing the Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

3.    What is your geek motto/favorite geek quote?

Laugh it up, fuzzball.

4.    Who is your geek role model?

Anyone who likes what they geek out about enough to be vocal/visual about it in public.  It takes a special, brave kind of person to dress up in costume or tell the whole world that they love something geeky and why.

5.    Which SingleHopper geek do you most relate to? Why?

Is it bad if I admit I had never heard of SingleHop before?  I am apparently failing at all kinds of geek stuff today!

6.    How familiar are you with SingleHop’s product offerings (dedicated servers, private cloud hosting, managed hosting, etc.)?

See above.

7.    Anything else you think we should know?

These questions made me think of the days of those email surveys we young people all sent around to each other in the heydey of AOL.  Oops, did I just date myself?

Share your answers to these questions in the comments if you like!

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My Little Aspiring Astronaut

Tonight my daughter asked me one of the inevitable questions of childhood: how do you go to the bathroom in space?  To answer, I naturally turned to… ok, this is embarrassing for someone with three space-related  technical degrees to admit – I turned to YouTube.  I thought about getting out some books, making explanations, drawing pictures.  But I figured the internet would not fail to provide a video, which would do a much better job of explaining than I possibly could.

The internet did not fail me.  The first thing to come up in the search was a marvelous video of astronaut Sunita Williams giving a tour of the International Space Station.  The video had not only a tour of the bathroom facilities, but also all the rest of the living facilities.

This was a double win, as my daughter and I got to see the kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping areas on the ISS and we also reinforced the whole “if she can see it, she can be it” concept by watching an excellent female STEM role model in action.

Here’s where the story gets really great.  After watching the whole video with wide-eyed enthrallment, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, will you buckle me in and take me to the space station now?”  Oh, kiddo.  Would I ever love to do just that.

So it turns out explaining how astronauts go to the bathroom in space is pretty easy.  Explaining to a four-year-old that we can’t just head off to visit space right now is hard.  I think I lost her somewhere in between “do well in school” and “work hard” but the spark is there, at least.  I have definitely passed the ‘space fever’ on to my kid!

Oh, and here’s the video:

Tomorrow I think we’ll look for some good Chris Hadfield videos as well.

Guess it’s time to start saving up for that first trip to Space Camp?

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Satellites That are Old Enough to Drink = Engineering Win

A couple years ago in grad school I did a small project involving a still-working satellite that was about 25 years old. The tech told me that a few years before he had been able to joke that the satellite was old enough to drink, but now he was even starting to see grad students who were younger than the satellite.

The satellite was still usable and perfectly functional – if one was able to use the punch-cards and their old corresponding IBM machine to communicate. At the time, it completely amazed me that engineers in the late 1970s had designed something so robust that it had made it so very far past its 10-year design life. Pardon me for the cheesy phrase, but we just don’t make ‘em like we used to.

Today, though, something happened that blows that story out of the water. If you hadn’t heard, there’s an old NASA spacecraft called the International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3) that’s been reactivated. It’s a 36-year-old probe that was retired back in 1997. It’s so old that NASA no longer has the infrastructure (the right deep space antenna network transmitters) to communicate with it.

Photo (artist’s rendering) from NASA science website:

A private group called the ISEE-3 Reboot Project recently crowdfunded about $150,000 and got NASA’s permission to reactivate it. They came up with an inexpensive way to resume communications. Today they successfully commanded it to maneuver, and it fired engines for the first time since 1987.

One of the team members that reactivated this spacecraft wasn’t even born yet last time the satellite maneuvered, let alone when it was designed and launched.  And at least one of the instruments onboard is still working.  That’s some seriously good engineering and craftsmanship, people.

You can read more about today’s success in the Scientific American article here, or you can follow the ISEE-3 Project Reboot team at their website, on Twitter, or on Facebook.

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Resources for Road Trippin’

Soon we will be embarking on a summer road trip, complete with our first completely kid-free con (kiddo will be camping with the grandparents while we go to NASFiC). So lots of new experiences coming up for all of us.

Since we have approximately 80 hours of driving spread out over a couple weeks, I am doing a lot of prep work for entertaining a small child in the car. I don’t consider these efforts ‘spoiling,’ but rather ‘preservation of the sanity of the drivers.’

First step was to raid the dollar rack at Target and hit up the local Dollar Tree store. This, combined with one of those $5 cleaning gear totes, combined to make a well-stocked kit for ‘analog’ entertainment. Coloring books, stickers, small toys, and crayons joined some educational items and thinner books to make a nice tub of things to do that can sit next to her on the seat.

I also broke down and will buy her Frozen, which she will watch only with headphones on.  So I don’t go berserk by day two of the trip.

Today we finally spent all our stacked-up Audible credits on six new audiobooks to entertain the grownups. Our favorites to listen to in the car are usually Malcolm Gladwell’s books and Maisie Dobbs mysteries from author Jacqueline Winspear – these are narrated by the most pleasant-voiced British woman imaginable.  We also like to throw in some good, solid sci-fi.

This trip we will be listening to the two newest from Gladwell (What the Dog Saw and David & Goliath), the newest from Winspear (Leaving Everything Most Loved), and Redshirts by John Scalzi.

If we run out after listening to all of that, we also have some promising non-fiction downloaded: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon.

If you like audiobooks, the Audible monthly membership is a great deal. For $15 a month you get a credit a month for a single audiobook. If you’ve seen what audiobooks usually cost, this is a very good deal. And you can get some good discounts/special offers on the memberships if you sign up through an existing Amazon account.

You can also often add on the Kindle print version of the book (or if you have the Kindle version already, add on the audiobook), for just a few dollars more.  Audible has other special promotions and discounts pretty frequently as well.

Next, I need to shop for some new kid apps for the iPad, preferably of the educational and free variety. Anyone have recommendations?  I’ll share what we come up with for that in another post, so appreciate your inputs.

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Cross Stitching for Geeks

I love being crafty, but I’ll admit it’s not my forte. I can hem pants and cross-stitch and make basic sewn items from a pattern. I bake, but don’t even think about asking me to decorate a cake beyond writing “Happy Birthday” crookedly.

Fortunately for me, there are a lot of easy crafts out there – easy to learn, easy to do, or at least with good instructions. That’s one of the reasons I like to cross-stitch. Learning the basics of cross-stitch is easy, and from there you can make things as simple or complicated as you like. It’s also a craft I find soothing, something to do with my hands that requires some, but not all, of my focus.

There are some amazing folks out there who have come up with supremely awesome geeky cross stitch patterns. This is good, since making patterns is beyond my skill but following them is well within my reach.

Spend a few minutes searching Pinterest, Etsy, and Buzzfeed and you will find an amazing variety of patterns and completed cross-stitches ranging from the very basic to amazingly detailed works of art that must have taken someone months, possibly years.  Below are some of my favorites that have been added to the “someday when I have time to catch up on stuff like this” list.

If you have time to dig around on google, there are a lot of free patterns out there.  The ones that aren’t free tend to be in the $3-6 range.  If a pattern is more than $10 it better be something really, really amazing.  Here are a few of the better free ones I’ve seen.

Except it should say it in larger, friendlier letters

Just try to read that without hearing it in Vader’s voice.

In the paid range for patterns, the best ones I’ve found are all on Etsy. Weelittlestitches has these great patterns for the characters of many beloved movies, comics, shows, and games.  The ones that currently have my eye are the Fellowship of the Ring and Star Wars casts.  She also has Sherlock, Big Bang Theory, Princess Bride, Dr. Who, Buffy, Labyrinth, and… yeah, I could spend a lifetime trying to make all these adorable cross stitches.

Someday, I will get to stitch wee hobbitses and dwarves and men!

Another Etsy seller, Bombastitch, has Benedict Cumberbatch (who wouldn’t want that face on their wall?) and this beautiful throwback to  my childhood:

In my head I read this in Sean Connery’s voice.

Etsy seller CraftyCompanion has a great assortment of Dr. Who, My Little Pony, and other assorted geekiness.

Books and TARDISes. Two of my favorite things…

And probably the first one I of these I will actually make, from Etsy seller Dorkstitch, because my kid is kinda obsessed with Darth Vader:

It even has a little Death Star!

This one from Nerdylittlestitcher would be awesome as an end-of-school-year gift for a math teacher:

Apple Pi. Yum.

From Capesandcrafts comes this awesome Captain Mal quote (with lovely decorative border!):

And one of the best Star Wars lines of all time, also with ridiculously great border:

I saved the best for last – this beauty from robinsdesign, which is both decorative and functional.  I’m determined to make one before my kid takes high school chemistry.  So I have less than a decade left… sounds about right.

Which ones are your favorites?


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