A Geek by Any Other Name

I am a huge geek. I’m working on becoming a large and then a medium geek, but that is a post for another time.  See, ‘cuz I’m overweight, but I’m getting in shape so I’m getting small…er…let me start again.
I am a huge geek.  I have been all my life.  Even before I found D&D at age 10, I was the nerd in the corner reading tales of King Arthur, Ivanhoe and Scheherazade.  I loved math.  I did multiplication tables to 20×20 in my head, because I thought that was cool! (I still do; can any of you figure a bar tab with tip in your head? Didn’t think so…) I’m probably one of a handful of guys that considers the lyrics to “Modern Major General” a shopping list of knowledge (hard acrostics, check! Pretty taste for paradox, check!)  Dungeons & Dragons didn’t turn me into a geek, it simply gave my geekdom a focus and a place from which to grow.
And grow it did. As the title of my page indicates, I was in to it all; movies, literature, music, gaming…there was nothing geeky I wouldn’t try out, nothing that didn’t excite me about our nerdy little subculture.  To put it in medical terms I was a General Practitioner of dorkiness, and I was happy to hang my geek shingle anywhere.  But then I noticed something.  More and more I was running into the Specialists; people whose geekdom ran deep instead of wide.
I also noticed that, while I had no problem with them (I like talking to experts any chance I get), the Specialists certainly had a problem with me.  More and more I ran up against dorks who felt I didn’t measure up to their estimation of geekitude.  Since I could easily be outclassed when discussing their specific area of expertise, obviously my geekiness was just a pose, a clever ruse designed to let me fit in.
I was not a true geek.
Complete horseshit, of course, I know that now.  I don’t want to brag, but I have enough geek cred to get two degrees and rock the Master’s thesis.  But back then it stung.  I was somehow not geeky enough to belong to the culture that had first taken me in and given me my first taste of inclusion.  I don’t want to pull out the psych terminology, but it sucked hard! And to make it worse I was getting this exclusionary crap from people that really had no excuse;they knew, as I did, what it felt like to be bullied because of our hobby.
That is why, when I heard about all the geek rage over Miss USA claiming to be a geek, I felt that familiar anger and sadness.  Is this seriously the point we are still at?  Yes, what was once marginal and secret is now being thrust into the mainstream, and that will be scary for many of us.  For a long time it was never really that “safe” for us geeks to be out there in the spotlight. Hell, I was playing D&D right smack in the time where folks wanted to burn my hobby to the ground (not hyperbole).  I know that it can be frightening to let something you have felt a need to protect for so long, out into the public’s scrutiny.
But, guys and dolls, it has been happening for a while.  Like it or not, geek is popular and it looks like it will stay that way to one degree or another.  There are no longer “ugly” people and “beautiful” people on opposite sides of our hobby.  There are just people, trying to enjoy something that I believe is worth enjoying.  We have to release that fear that may have once kept us safe, and embrace the opportunity to revel freely in our geekdom.
My dorkiness in general, and my gaming in particular, has afforded me the chance to spend varying amounts of time being brave, noble, stalwart…a hero, if only for as long as the dice were rolling.  And I would be lying if I said that didn’t affect me outside of the game, even if all it did was make me aware of how far I have yet to go in living those virtues.  How could I not want others to have that same experience?  Why would I want to exclude anyone?  I mean, sheer pragmatism here: there are billions of people on this planet.  Would it not be in every geek’s interest to have more of the population sharing in the ideals our hobby generally embodies?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take our subculture of heroism, and turn it into a culture instead?  I think that would be frakking awesome.
Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough.  All of the preceding is meant to say this: if you are a geek, a dork, a nerd…then you are my brother or sister or hermaphroditic sibling. Period.  You are welcome on my blog, at my gaming table or in my secret screening of “Smurfs 2: Gargamel Boogaloo” anytime.  Just call first so I know how much Coke Zero to stock…
There a few other people that have written about this topic in the past while, and I would like to point you towards them:
First up is @GeekyJessica, with a post that is much more succinct than mine would ever try to be.  And if you haven’t seen her work on “Awkward Embraces”, treat yourself to some rom-com shorts aimed directly at the heart of nerds everywhere.
Next is Nerdy Bird over at “Has Boobs, Reads Comics”.  Her post has a bit more of the background on the whole Miss USA BS, as well as packing quite a punch for the exclusionarily inclined.  If her words make you cry, well, they were probably supposed to.
Lastly, for a somewhat dissenting/apologist opinion, head over to Josh Benton’s blog.  I like how he says what he says, while agreeing with almost none of it.
So what do you figure about all this, my geeklings?  Open your thoughts to me…

Link-tastic!

Welcome to a link-filled post on this rainy, rainy Monday in #yeg.  I am buying time until I finish writing more serious posts, so let’s get on to the distraction!

– For those with a bit of a dinosaur fetish (that’s all of us, right?), Japan has you covered.  Nothing says romance like a Jurassic-themed love hotel.

– If you love your sci-fi web-comic with a wonderful blend of action, humour and pathos, then Spacetrawler is the web-comic you need to be reading.

– Courtesy of Kynn’s LJ here is the scoop on Uri Kurlianchik, a “special” person with a “unique” perspective about inclusion in gaming.  Finding a guy like this is like finding a brand new Betamax; I get puzzled that they are still around.

– If you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, then head over here to download his complete works.  It was lovingly compiled by Cthulhu Chick and is absolutely free.  And you should also head to Amazon and up-vote the negative reviews for the guy that stole it and is trying to profit from her work. **Update: Looks like he was pulled down, since the link to his page seems to be broken.

– Live in #YEG and want to know more about podcasting? Then pick-up your ticket for the #YEG Social Media Breakfast this Friday, and let Adam Rozenhart tell you all about it.

– On the ever-growing list of cool things I want to own someday, is this gem of a globe.  Maybe I’ll wait for the price to come down…

– So Bioware got hacked by a special brand of idiot.  This is the equivalent of breaking in to someone’s house and stealing their letters from high-school.

I’m really hoping that this is a sign that the 3D movie fad is on its way out again.  Hey, why don’t we take the money wasted on formatting for 3D, and spend it on good writers?  Just a thought.

– From the “Are You Effing Kidding!?” file, I present Deep Fried Kool-Aid.

– Only a matter of time; Weird Al’s Lady Gaga parody, “Perform This Way”.

– If you have despaired that you would never be able to combine your love of Chinese history and web-comics, despair no more!

– This will be part of a longer post soon, but I am so excited I couldn’t wait: plans for the Gary Gygax Memorial move ahead!

All for now!

Convention Time is Here!

Convention season is upon us, gentle geeklings! Actually that statement is false, but false in a good way. Time was, the bulk of gaming, sci-fi and anime cons fell into the spring/summer range, with a few straggling into fall. Such is no longer the case; any weekend can see the opening of another geeky con somewhere. In fact, if you were to find a weekend that was entirely geek-con free, I would eat my hat (Disclaimer: Hat may or may not have been made out of tasty bacon minutes prior.) Despite this, June always feels like the start of the season for me and as arbitrary beginnings go (and for the purposes of having a blog post today) it will do fine.
It is no secret I love conventions. You can do all the gaming, all the sci-fi movie/Doctor Who watching, all the “running starkers through the wood armed only with blue woad and a foam sword” you want. But until you have attended a convention in the company of the (sadly) unwashed masses of your fellow geeks, you have not truly embraced all that is dorkly in your nature. Your hometown dorks are comfortable by dint of long association; even the ones you can’t stand are less annoying because of prolonged exposure (much like taking small amounts of a poison to develop immunity). A true geek needs to get out among the unfamiliar, expand his/her boundaries. That means gaming with new people, watching screenings you might not pick for yourself, and yes, forcing yourself not to turn away from the 300lb hirsute man dressed as Sailor Moon (he sounded like he was wearing snow pants…*shudder*).
If you have never been, conventions can be a fun and crowded, noisy, tiring place. But there are some things you can do to make con-going easier and more awesome. So take a seat, rook; it’s Training Day.
Book Your Room – The vast majority of cons are held in or near hotels. If the con is in a hotel I can not stress enough how important it is to get a room in that hotel. There is nothing better at the end of a long con day than knowing you are an elevator ride away from your room, instead of a bus or cab ride away. If cost is an issue, or if the con is held in a non-hotel setting, then get as close as you can. You will rue the day you decided to save $10-a-night on the hotel room that is a 30 minute drive from the event, especially if you forget your dice or autograph book in your room. And if possible, get a hotel room with a kitchenette. Being able to cook a few meals over the weekend or even just make sandwiches, will save you some time and money which you can then put to better use at the con.
Pack your bag – Hikers don’t go out without the proper gear, and con-goers shouldn’t either. Specific equipment, like dice or Spock ears, will depend largely on what type of con you are at. But I’ve compiled a list of general-purpose gear that all geeks should carry, just to make their con experience a little better. To save space I’ve posted the list on a separate page, entitled Con-Goer’s Survival Kit. Feel free to adjust the list based on your individual needs, but don’t go too crazy in packing for every contingency.  Remember two things: you will be carrying this bag everywhere, all day; and you will want room to stash various purchases throughout the day.  Pack accordingly.
Eat – It is tempting, when caught up in the rush of a convention, to want to avoid the things that take away from your con-time. And meals are usually the first casualty of this time-stretching attempt. I won’t tell you that you have to peal yourself away for three squares every day, because I know you won’t listen. So what I will suggest is, make sure to have a good breakfast and a good evening meal. A good breakfast packed with proteins and fibers will get you most of the way through those long morning sessions; the snacks you have packed in your bag (you have read the list, right?) will get you through the rest. And most cons slow down around dinner time anyway, so why not take that time to have a sit-down meal with some of your fellow geeks? Good dinner with fellow dorks can lead to new friendships and great con stories, two of the best reasons to go to cons in the first place.
As for the middle of the day, keep that flexible. That may be the time to grab a quick something from the vendors, or chow down on the protein bar and fruit in your bag (you really should read that list). But lunch is probably the one meal you can afford to skimp on if necessary, as long as you packed those healthy snacks to offset the unhealthy ones we both know you are going to buy.
Drink – You are likely in some sort of convention-hall set-up. Air-conditioning is running, air is being circulated and re-circulated, and as a result you are in a fairly dry environment. You need to hydrate. And nope, sorry, downing a dozen energy drinks is not hydration (plus, yikes!). You need water, rook. Luckily you have a water bottle, right? So fill it before you leave your room, fill it again at breakfast, and remember to fill it throughout the day. All this filling of course implies that you are drinking from it as well. While it may result in a few more trips to the washroom, you will feel much better at days end and will likely not feel as hungry throughout the day; turns out that a lot of the times we “feel hungry” we are actually just dehydrated.
Wheaton’s Law – Well known among geekdom by now, “Wheaton’s Law” was coined by the majestically-bearded Wil Wheaton as a simple codification of behaviors designed to ease relations between people. Or in his words, “Don’t Be a Dick!” Pretty simple, right? Look, rook, you are going to live amongst hundreds, maybe thousands of fellow geek-kind for an entire weekend. And a convention is not the internet; you are responsible for your words and actions. So why not be responsible for good words and actions? Just think how much more awesome the weekend would be if everyone followed Wheaton’s Law, and kept it wholly. Or life for that matter.
Try New Things – You are likely attending the con in the first place because it has a bunch of stuff you like. But look past that stuff for a second, and plan to try some things you would normally avoid. Why fill your weekend with the things you can already do at home? So go to that anime panel, play a game you would never have tried, LARP like a wild man! After all, what happens at the con stays at the con (internet excepted, and remember Wheaton’s Law) so get out there and get Geek Silly, my friend!
Talk it Up! – I have never heard a convention say, “No, please, we don’t want any more attendees, stop telling people about us!” So if you had or are having a good time at a con, talk about it. Blog it, post it in your FB feed, Tweet the hell out of it. Cons take a lot of hard work by a huge number of people, and good cons should get all the support and encouragement you can give them. And in between tweets, take time to thank the volunteers and organizers. Your notice of their hard work will be appreciated.
Okay, rook, that’s all for now. Get on out to that convention. And hey, hey! Let’s be geeky out there.
Do you have any con-going tips or tricks? Don’t be shy, share them in comments below!

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

Dear Facebook,
This is a hard letter to write.  We’ve been together for years now, and we’ve had some pretty good times.  But I have to be honest with you, because you deserve that much.
I think I need to break up with you.
I realize that must be tough to hear.  Believe me, it is even harder for me to say.  And I know people will think I’m crazy for even considering this.  You are so popular, after all, and all those people couldn’t possibly be wrong, could they?  What makes me better than them?
I’m just not feeling it anymore.  When we first met, I loved scrolling and clicking through your pages; updating my profile, uploading and looking at pictures, making pithy comments on the pages of my friends, joining group after group…  God, those days were the best!  I still smile when I think about those times, logging in every day (then 2, 3, 10 times a day) to see if I had new Friend requests or Pokes.  Oh, the Poking we used to do.
But you’ve changed, Facebook, and I don’t know if we can ever get back to those good times again.
I wish I could point to just one thing, but it isn’t that simple.  Maybe it was your growing obsession with your looks, the constant Facebook-lifts, the little nips and tucks that made no sense.  Maybe it was the lack of communication.  I mean, sure, when we first got together I liked that you had secrets; it made learning about each other that much more exciting.  But it quickly became obvious that, while you wanted to know everything about me, you weren’t being entirely honest about yourself.  And, okay, I get it, everyone has things they’d rather not talk about.  But when you won’t talk to me about the things that affect our relationship, or when I have to learn about those things from friends… That just isn’t fair, Facebook.
And if it was just that, we might be able to work through it.  But it’s the Friends you keep suggesting I like, the groups you want me to join.  My Profile changes!  I had some really good stuff on there, things that were unique to me.  You went and changed it all, and now I look just like everyone else you hang out with.   Is that what you really wanted, Facebook?  I thought you liked me the way I am!
But the most hurtful thing?  You broke your promise.  When we met you promised that I’d still keep in touch with my friends; in fact, being with you would help me stay closer to them.  I think we both know that isn’t the case.  Sure, you helped me get in touch with some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while.  But you know what?  Maybe there was a good reason we weren’t in touch anymore.  Maybe it is natural for some friendships and acquaintances to run their course and end.  Did you ever think of that?  Of course not!  You just kept throwing people I hadn’t spoken to in decades at me, never thinking that in most cases I considered that lapse to be a good thing.
Look, I don’t want this to turn into an angry rant.  I’d rather we part on good terms.  If it makes you feel any better, I really think that it’s me, not you.  I’ve been spending more time on the internet since we’ve met, and it’s opened my eyes a bit to what is possible.  I’ve met other sites, helpful sites like Flickr, Blogspot, and Twitter.  And I know you are going to say that you can do all the things they can do.  But sometimes a generalist isn’t going to cut it, Facebook; I need a site that really understands me and what I need.
And yes, I won’t lie, I have been spending a lot of time with Twitter.  But don’t start thinking this is her idea.  We’re just friends, and she isn’t telling me anything I haven’t been thinking for myself for a while now.  So don’t start blaming her.  Maybe you should take this as a chance to look at yourself instead.  Ask yourself, do you like what you’ve become?
I don’t really have anything else to say.  I don’t think there is anything else to say.  Look, I’m not rushing you.  I’m going to take some time, download my photos, read over old Notes to see if anything is worth keeping.  I’ll do a proper goodbye when I have everything in order.
We’ve had a good run, Facebook.  I want you to know I have no regrets, and I’m moving forward thankful for having the chance to know you.  But I have to move on, and I can’t take you with me.  I hope that someday you can forgive me.
Dammit, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry…
Sincerely, Renaissance Dork

Dice! Ah-aaaah! They’ll Save Every One of Us!

If there is anything that identifies someone as a gamer, it is dice. Without them, you could just be a bunch of guys and gals sitting around a table, reading big colourful hardcover books or staring at laptops/datapads. But as soon as the dice come out, everyone knows your secret; you are gamers, your imaginations inextricably conjoined and sometimes ruled by polyhedral fate.
It may come as a great shock to my young gamist brethren and sistren, but it was not always so. When I began playing Dungeons & Dragons (dinosaur-skin edition) there were no dice companies selling buckets of shiny, sparkly polyhedral gems to waiting gamers. And TSR was not yet packaging the game with a set of extruded plastic dice. No, my friends, the box set I started with contained sheets of chits, numbered 1 through whatever, depending on what range of results you wanted to generate. We cut them out and sorted them into film canisters (what do you mean, what’s a film-!? Never mind, Google it.). When we did something in-game like attack a monster, we gave the canister a shake, reached in and the number we pulled out was our “Roll”. Woe betide the person that accidentally dropped the canister, spilling chits all over the place, especially if we lost any. Game stoppages while we, ahem “got our chits together”, were not uncommon.
In fact, the first time someone brought a set of dice to the table, we were a little leery. There was a brief period of monkey/monolith squabbling before we figured out that this would (barring imperfections in the die casting) be as random as picking out chits. And, as I’m sure every gamer out there can attest, there was something ultimately more satisfying about rolling a die, as opposed to drawing a chit. I’d pulled the “20” chit during combat before, and was excited. But the first time I rolled a “nat20” on the die, I felt a little physical thrill run up my spine.
Or should I say, “nat10Blue”. Another bit of dice trivia, the earliest twenty-sided dice (or icosahedrons, if you want to get all mathy) were not numbered 1-20, but 1-10 twice. Why? Because that allowed the twenty-sider to double as percentage dice, generating a number between 1 and 100. You simply took the die and coloured one set of numbers, usually by rubbing coloured crayon into the number stamp. If you needed to roll a “d20” you announced which was your “tens” colour (11-20) and rolled. In my case, if I rolled a green 2 it was a 2, but if I rolled a blue 2 it was a 12. And if I needed a percentage number I simply rolled the die twice, the first number was my “tens” and the second was my “ones” ( a roll of 2 and 7, for instance, became 27). Simple, right? Eventually the ten-sided die came along, and the d20 was numbered as we see it today.
If you wonder why the d10 was late to the party, you can get more info here and here. It has to do with mathtastic things like platonic solids and such.
Despite being small lumps of plastic formed along precise mathematical and engineering principles to generate random numbers, there is a great deal of mythology and superstition associated with gaming dice. Every gamer out there has his or her own version of “dice etiquette”, and the heavens shall rain fire upon you if you violate it! Some are simple and even reasonable, like “don’t touch my dice without asking” or “don’t get your dice mixed up with mine”. More extreme rules I’ve encountered? Things like, “if a d20 fails me (usually by rolling a 1) three times in a session I destroy it”. Yikes! That guy is the dice industry’s favoured son. I’ve encountered people who will not buy their own dice, because it is unlucky; instead, they give the money to someone else to buy the dice for them.
And it doesn’t stop there. “My d20 is all out of twenties” is a common lament heard at gaming tables. It is considered normal to beg, plead, demand and cajole dice to generate the desired number, despite a lack of any apparent aural apparatus on the die’s part. It is not uncommon for players to name sets of dice, and even individual die themselves, in a totemic gamble to make the die look upon its wielder more favourably.
Understand, I say none of this mockingly. I am a gamer, sunk just as far in dice-related rattle-shaking as all the rest. I have sets of dice for each game I play. I will not lend out these sets, though I keep spare dice around for others to use as needed. My dice are not named, but I know from long experience which die will do the job when I need it. And I will retire dice for the evening if they are not performing well, like subbing out the pitcher after some bad innings.
And I admit, I may have a dice problem. I can’t go to a con or game store without picking up “just one more set”. I buy them in all shapes and sizes. I buy them for games I may never play, and I buy dice for games I will likely never play again. And I don’t stop at dice, oh no. Dice accessories are just as bad; I have more rolling cups, dice trays and dice bags than I know what to do with and I keep looking for more. Admittedly, I have more or less successfully hidden the worst of my addiction from my fellow gamers.  But when I die and historians explore my room…
Do I regret it? Not a little. As addictions go it is pretty tame and harmless (unless I lose a d4 in the carpet, then its caltrop city). Really, who am I hurting with these polyhedral jewels? No one but the monsters, baby, no one but the monsters.
So tell me, what is your dicing etiquette? How superstitious are you?

Hey, Listen!

I find myself oddly busy today, so today’s post is full of links (now the title makes sense, right?).  Don’t fret, I have something more substantial in the works for tomorrow.
On to the internets:
– my pal @britl has posted a 99% spoiler-free review of X-men: First Class that is definitely worth the read.  Pay special attention to her suggestions for the X:FC sequels. There is wisdom there…
– presented without comment: How to Play Settlers of Catan, set to music.
– if you are a gamer like me, without the power of art, you look for every conceivable way to improve the look of your gaming maps.  Here is a great tutorial to help with that.
– Thanks to my Coffee Brother @Doctor_Teeth, I am now reading Pants are Overrated, all because of this comic.
– I love Doctor Who, and I swear if this ever happens I will burn Disney to the ground!
Tales from the Table is a fun little series in the same vein as The Gamers, but with Aussie accents.

That is all, folks!  Stay tuned tomorrow…

Deserter from the Edition Wars

If you’ve ever talked to me about Dungeons & Dragons, you know I’m not a huge fan of 4th Edition (if you have never talked to me about D&D, the following may or may not upset you). I have mellowed my stance over time and I no longer seethe with a barely contained rage at the desecration of My Game. Because really, nothing was desecrated (I still have all my 3.5 books after all, they didn’t disappear with the new edition) and it wasn’t My Game, it was everyone’s game. The undeniable fact is, many people like playing 4E and at the end of the day that is what matters: people playing a game they like.
The flip-side, of course, is that people are welcome to not play a game they don’t like. And 80% of the time I fall into that camp with regards to 4E. Most of the time it just doesn’t do it for me; I need a broader palette of choice and complexity to run and play the game I want to play. That other twenty percent? Sometimes I do want to just stroll through a dungeon and lay an unholy amount of smack-down on some monsters. For those times, 4E is the perfect platform to enjoy my monster apocalypse.
That said, there is something about the game-play direction of 4E that I have never liked. I won’t bore anyone (including myself) with details, because if you really want that you can find it online. In general, though, I did not like the way the game was simplified. It is possible to simplify something in such a way as to stimulate choice and creativity; I felt (and still feel) that 4E went in the opposite direction from that. The limited choice of character builds (unless/until you get the next book(s)), the focus on combat over role-playing…never been a fan.
All of that is to explain why, when I followed this link about D&D Fifth Edition, it honestly took me about two minutes of re-seething rage to clue in that this was a joke. While I am now calmed down, I have to admit there is a little part of me scared that this “joke” is the start of a viral marketing campaign for an actual D&D product. OR, that WotC looks at this and goes, “Hmmmm…”. Either way, this “evolution” was probable enough for me to have several moments of spine-chilling dread.  And if you think that WotC can’t turn an RPG into a card game, you obviously haven’t looked at Gamma World too closely.
As my final shot in the Edition Wars, I have this comment to make: when I heard that WotC was going to release “Basic D&D” my first thought was, “So, isn’t that just the D&D Miniatures game?”
And now I am officially deserting from the D&D Edition Wars. I just don’t have the energy to waste on it anymore. I’m a gamer because I play games. If you are a gamer you also play games. To generate an artificial ghetto-ization of certain gamers because they play a game I don’t like is pointless, because it misses the point of the hobby. The gaming hobby has always been inclusive, welcoming anyone that wanted to play. Tacking on the addendum, “…except for you [insert game name here] players, because [insert game name here] suxxors!” is a bit like crouching in a leaky life-raft and refusing to let certain people bail because they use a boot instead of a bucket.
Didn’t like that comparison? Hmm, okay. Let’s put it in religious terms (because that won’t piss anybody off): sectarian squabbling can kill a religion. Introducing exclusion to gaming because you want to argue your interpretation of dogma is pointless and harmful.
I am a gamer. And I welcome all my gaming brethren and sistren to my table. I may decline to play a game I don’t like, but out of courtesy I extend the same right to all of you. And while I welcome spirited discussions on gaming and game design, I will enter into these discussions without judgment or partisanship.
And now, linkage:
– If you live here in Edmonton and have ever had questions/concerns/total WTF moments about our urban planning, The Charrette is the site for you.
– If you are a fan of Monte Cook, Malhavoc Press and/or Ptolus (and if you aren’t why are you on my site?), this is the sale for you!  Happy 10th Anniversary, Malhavoc Press!
– For those of you saddened by the lack of an Apocalypse this past weekend, fear not!  Apparently that was a test…
– Do you live in Edmonton and suffer from a disturbing lack of balloon animals for your next celebratory function?  You need a visit from The Balloon Fairies!
Game on!

A Line in the Sand

As I write this, I have eaten my last bite of take-out food; my last crunchy nacho, my last corn chip, my last store-bought chocolatey confection. As Picard said: “The Line must be drawn here! This far, no further!” So today begins a shift in my eating and exercise habits.
Those of you that have read my blogs over the years are aware that I have had an on-again/off-again relationship with fitness. That’s fine. But going forward it is time to turn that relationship back on, and then break the switch. Letting my health slide is no longer acceptable; too many things I want to do, too many people that I plan to keep gaming with, and one in particular I wish to grow old with.  So enough talk of past failures in will…
…and on to the future. So what can a geek do to recede that advancing waistline? Here are a few things I’m trying:
  1. Tracking my food and exercise. The best way I’ve found to make sure I stay on track is to keep track of what I am eating, and how often I exercise. The key is to track both honestly. If you miss a workout or eat that Snickers bar you thought no one knew about (I saw what you did!), log that. That gap in your log or the extra calories at your end-of-day tally may be just what you need to push you. Plus, sometimes we have bad eating habits we don’t even think about, and they only become obvious when we see the pattern on the page. Currently I am using the website myfitnesspal.com (thanks to my friend Devin, @Doctor_Teeth on Twitter) to track both my meals and my workouts. After some initial questions it is a very easy site to use, doing all the math for you; all you have to do is enter the info. I highly recommend.
  2. A combination of Weight and Interval Training. I have used weight training to great effect before, so I am planning to stay with it. Since I have a set of free weights here at home, it is sort of a no-brainer. Not only do I remove the excuse “I don’t have time to go to the gym” because my gym is right here, weight training also gives me a tangible way to increase my workout progress. After all, it doesn’t get much simpler than, “Last week I lifted x. This week I am lifting x+5lbs”. Interval training is essentially compressed cardio: after a warm-up period you do your cardio as hard as you can for a set but short period of time, usually 1-2 minutes. Then you drop to about half-effort for another period, or interval (get it, interval training? Eh? Eh?) equal to or shorter than the full effort interval. Repeat for about 15-20 minutes, then warm down. It is perfect for me, because if I’m not playing a game or sport of some kind, I can not stand extended cardio work. So it allows me to focus on maximum effort in a short period of time.
  3. Dropping the junk food. As a gamer this is probably the hardest step. After all, what is a game table without delicious, crunchy nachos, Hawkin’s Cheezies, or those delicious two-bite brownies that you can scarf down in one bite…sorry, had to wipe some drool off the keyboard. But it is probably the most necessary step; junk food, and the processed food industry in general, are bad on many levels (and I’ll have a blog post just about junk food at a later date). So to keep the crunch I like when I game, I am switching over to snap peas and carrots. For the sweet, a handful or two of raisins or an piece of fruit. I have been switched over to diet sodas for a while, so no calories there. But there are good reasons to get off even the diet stuff, so I’ll work on that as well. Story short, it is all about exchanging the bad habits for good ones. If it were done when ’tis done, ’twere best it were done quickly. (Thanks, Shakespeare!)
There you are, three general strategies for my fitness future. Future blog posts will talk about the tactics inside the strategies, and I’ll let you know how I am progressing. In the meantime, maybe this is the time to give your own geek health an overhaul. Why not come on the journey with me?  If you sign-up on myfitnesspal.com, go ahead and friend me.
Here are some low-calorie and fat-free links that taste delicious:
–  Want a quick, ten-minute primer to show people on D&D and role-playing?  Show them Enter the Dragon, and let the learning begin!
– If you are a huge fan of Wendy and Richard Pini’s ElfQuest, here is the archive of everything.  Enjoy, and remember to walk away from your computer once in a while.
-Gamers have dice, often many dice.  Why not store those dice in an awesome dice bag?  Dragon Chow has you covered.  And they are Canadian, so there’s that. 🙂
– If you love anime/manga and you plan to be in Calgary this weekend, you need to spend some time at Otafest.  Strap on that tentacle and go find yourself a school girl!
– I recently discovered another wonderfully geeky blog, Hyde and Geek. Geek blogs, unite!

Until next time my geeklings!

Aurora Awards: Why Canadian SF&F Matters

Welcome back after my unplanned hiatus! I won’t bore with the details; instead I’ll sum it up with, “Funny old thing, life. Eh?” and then get on with the writing. Suffice to say I will be posting more regularly, at least until The Next Thing.
I received word a few weeks ago that I am on the ballot for the Aurora Awards, for my work starting and chairing The Pure Spec Festival (specifically the 2010 event). I couldn’t talk about it then because the official announcement wasn’t made until yesterday, and until then I was bound by the Geek Code of Conduct to keep it to myself. But the word was given yesterday, and so I am no longer bound in silence.
You may ask yourself, “What are the Aurora Awards?” For the long form answer, just follow the link above and it will take you to their page. Short answer, for those that can’t be bothered with all that linking, is that the Auroras are meant to honour the best in Canadian sci-fi and fantasy literature, media and fandom. You may wonder if Canada has enough going on in that regard that we actually need an award just for us. To partially answer that you can follow this link to the list of works eligible for nomination this year. To answer it further, Google (or Bing or whatever) “Canadian Sci-fi Convention” and you will get a sense of just how active the sci-fi and fantasy communities are in our Home and Native Land.
There is something equal parts special and hard to define regarding Canadian sci-fi. The component that I have most often noticed is a through-thread of hope. Canadian sci-fi and fantasy is hopeful. Hope for the future, hope in people, for the individual to do the right thing, to be their best. All Canadian sf&f has hope as an integral part of its structure. And while that isn’t necessarily lacking in sci-fi from other lands, it is sometimes in short supply.
That isn’t to say Canadian works can’t be dark, morbid, horrifying or bleak. Charles de Lint has written some wonderful books that are very dark in tone; yes, I’m looking at you Angel of Darkness. Guy Gavriel Kay’s work has had moments that made me weep with frustration and sadness; there is a point in the third Fionavar Tapestry book that I know will make me cry. But how could you have and appreciate hope if you didn’t have to fight through despair and darkness first?
So for me, what the Aurora Awards celebrate is hope. That Canadian sci-fi and fandom can make a mark, be seen/heard and make a difference. Personally, I think that is something worth celebrating and supporting. I hope you do, too. If so, please take a moment on the Aurora Awards site to vote before the October 15 deadline this year. And thank-you in advance, from all the nominees.
Usually I’d have a bunch of links for you, but today I’ll just include the list of 2011 Aurora Award Nominees. Do yourself a favour and check out their work; you won’t be sorry.
Professional Awards
Best English Novel
Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell, Great Plains Publications
Destiny’s Blood by Marie Bilodeau, Dragon Moon Press
Stealing Home by Hayden Trenholm, Bundoran Press
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada
Watch, by Robert J. Sawyer, Penguin Canada
Best English Short Story
The Burden of Fire by Hayden Trenholm, Neo-Opsis #19
Destiny Lives in the Tattoo’s Needle by Suzanne Church, Tesseracts Fourteen, EDGE
The Envoy by Al Onia, Warrior Wisewoman 3, Norilana Books
Touch the Sky, They Say by Matt Moore, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, November
Your Beating Heart by M. G. Gillett, Rigor Amortis, Absolute Xpress
Best English Poem / Song
The ABCs of the End of the World by Carolyn Clink, A Verdant Green, The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box
Let the Night In by Sandra Kasturi, Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, EDGE
Of the Corn: Kore’s Innocence by Colleen Anderson, Witches & Pagans #21
The Transformed Man by Robert J. Sawyer, Tesseracts Fourteen, EDGE
Waiting for the Harrowing by Helen Marshall, ChiZine 45
Best English Graphic Novel
Goblins, Tarol Hunt, goblinscomic.com
Looking For Group, Vol. 3 by Ryan Sohmer and Lar DeSouza
Stargazer, Volume 1 by Von Allan, Von Allan Studio
Tomboy Tara, Emily Ragozzino, tomboytara.com
Best English Related Work
Chimerascope, Douglas Smith (collection), ChiZine Publications
The Dragon and the Stars, edited by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi, DAW
Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, edited by Nancy Kilpatrick, EDGE
On Spec, edited by Diane Walton, Copper Pig Writers Society
Tesseracts Fourteen, edited by John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory, EDGE
Best Artist (Professional and Amateur)
(An example of each artist’s work is listed below but they are to be judged on the body of work they have produced in the award year)
Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, “Brekky” cover art, On Spec Fall
Erik Mohr, cover art for ChiZine Publications
Christina Molendyk, Girls of Geekdom Calendar for Argent Dawn Photography
Dan O’Driscoll, cover art for Stealing Home
Aaron Paquette, “A New Season” cover art, On Spec Spring
Fan/ Amateur Awards
Best Fan Publications
No award will be given out in this category due insufficient eligible nominees
Best Fan Filk
Dave Clement and Tom Jeffers of Dandelion Wine for “Face on Mars” CD
Karen Linsley; concert as SFContario Guest of Honour
Phil Mills, for “Time Traveller” (song writing)
Best Fan Organizational
Andrew Gurudata, organizing the Constellation Awards
Brent M. Jans, chair of Pure Speculation (Edmonton)
Liana Kerzner, chair of Futurecon (Toronto)
Helen Marshall and Sandra Kasturi, chairs of Toronto SpecFic Colloquium (Toronto)
Alex Von Thorn, chair of SFContario (Toronto)
Best Fan Other
Tom Jeffers, Fundraising, FilKONtario
John and Linda Ross Mansfield, Conception of the Aurora Nominee pins
Lloyd Penney, Articles, columns and letters of comment – fanzines

Goodbye, Sarah Jane…

With the recent passing of Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith to you Whovians reading this), I’ve had Doctor Who on my mind.
Growing up, my first exposure to Doctor Who was late Saturday nights on PBS. Even on Saturday nights I had a bed-time, but unlike weeknights and Sundays which were regulated by the clock (in bed by 9pm), Saturday’s bed-time was based on when my parents went to bed. This could be as early as 10pm, (which was still a whole hour saved from the wasting disease of sleep) or as late as (glory-be to hallelujah) midnight.
It was during one of these late-night Saturdays that I stumbled upon a very odd show on PBS. Up to that point in my young life I tended to avoid PBS, because I strongly suspected they were trying to make me learn something. And I didn’t know much, but I knew that learning things was by-god not what television was for! Bad enough I had to go to a building five times a week and have knowledge crammed into me. But to have it thrust on me in my home? And by the same wonderful device that brought me Airwolf and Super Gran? No sir, this would not stand!
But flipping past it this particular night something caught my eye, so I flipped back. Yep, that looked like a blankety-blank alien. And wow, that guy has a long scarf. But this was definitely science fiction, and on PBS of all places. Man, were they going to be pissed when someone found out about this… And thus began my on-again/off-again love of Doctor Who. Any Saturday night I wasn’t playing D&D (and some when I was) would find me watching the adventures of the Doctor and his companions, as he, they and that magnificent scarf traveled through time and space. When the Tom Baker episodes went away and the next Doctor appeared, I started to lose interest. I would still watch, but it wasn’t as fun anymore, and slowly I slipped away from the good Doctor.
Over the years I still kept Doctor Who in my life. I read the sporadically good books written about his exploits, I tried the various attempts at Doctor Who RPGs. And whenever I found an episode on PBS I would settle in to watch it for a while.
When it was announced that Doctor Who was coming back, I admit to being interested but not particularly excited. At that point, too many things I loved from my childhood had been brutalized by “re-imagining”, and so my response was tepid…until I saw the first episode. Yes, things were different, how could they not be? But everything I loved from the original episodes seemed to have carried through to the new series. While still an entirely new Doctor, Christopher Eccleston reminded me very strongly of the Tom Baker Doctor I first fell in love with. Couple that with Billie Piper (and in fanfic I’m sure that happened) and there was no way I wasn’t watching this show! When Eccleston gave way to Tennant, I didn’t suffer the same ennui I had during my first Doctor switch; Tennant was different, and didn’t bring the same pathos as Eccleston, but was still entertaining to watch. And it prepped my quite well for the Tennant to Smith change-over.
I loved and love Doctor Who for many reasons. It is an amazingly positive and optimistic show, without being saccharine. Every week, for 45 minutes, it encourages us to be our best, sometimes by showing us at our worst. It is the show I point to when I want an example of good story trumping special effects. It is at least partially responsible for my love of history and mythology (and space, astronomy, zoology…)  And while it may not be a bastion of scientific accuracy, it has never promised it would be, and so I have no problem with the rather flexible nature of science and engineering in the Whoniverse (sonic screwdriver + microwave= deep space radar? Allons-y!) Yes, I could delve into a critical analysis of the show, based on its place in history, the writing, the acting, a Fruedian interpretation of that scarf…but why should I?
Simply put, I love Doctor Who because when I watch it my heart races a little and my default expression is a smile. You can’t ask for much more than that from any show you like.
(And if I ever find a blue police box in my backyard, I am gone-baby-gone!)
That someone who was a part of that is gone makes me a little sad. Farewell Elisabeth Sladen, and farewell Sarah Jane Smith. I wish you well on your next great adventure.