Monthly Archives: April 2012

I Dreamed of Cupcakes

So this month is Ben’s birthday and I had a timely dream about cupcakes.

Seriously.

This is how the conversation went:

Ben: These cupcakes are amazing. Where’d you get the recipe?
Me: There’s no recipe. I dreamed them.
Ben: What?
Me: I had a dream that I made them.
Ben: Wait. You had a dream?
Me: Yep. So this morning I got up and went to the store, bought the ingredients, and then came home and made them.
Ben: Well, you should keep dreaming cupcakes.
Me: I’ll try.

So here’s how I made them:

First, I cheated. I bought a white cake box mix, and I mixed everything together following the mix instructions.

Here’s where it gets good: I then chopped up half a jar of maraschino cherries into little bites.  The cherries help to keep the cupcakes moist and add awesome flavor.

I folded the cherries in the mix along with about ½ a bag of mini dark chocolate chips.

I baked according to box instructions.

I let them cool.

I put the frosting, also store bought, in a freezer bag and snipped the corner off with scissors (that’s how the frosting is so pretty) and piped it on top.

Then I used one of those red gel tubes to make the spiral design for a little flare.

Easy and delicious. Hope you enjoy!

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Geek Revolution: Internet as Television, Part I

Or:  A Brief Recent History of the Internet and Television (As I Understand It)

Ok, so you may have noticed I’m on a geek/nerd kick. The reason for this is that I had initially planned to write one blog. I got about three paragraphs in and realized that in order to get to the “Internet as Television” topic, I would have to write a freaking dissertation first – ‘cause that’s just how I roll. Instead of inundating you with a ton of information; I decided to break it down into (hopefully) yummy little bites.

Here’s the thing. Technology is and has been rapidly changing. It wasn’t that long ago that most people would have scoffed at the idea of having a functional pocket-sized device that could easily make phone calls, manage your schedule, store data, hold your entire music collection, take pictures, and answer all your bar-debates. That’s Star Trek-futuristic people and it’s here!

But like with anything, we have this human need to consolidate and profit from any power that exists. And make no mistake, the internet is powerful. Just ask the music industry, which was left in a state of shock after the creation of data-share sites such as Napster. The internet started as a series of computers linked together to share scientific data and rapidly morphed into something much larger and mostly unregulated. Governments and corporations have been looking for a way to control and profit from its existence ever since. The more control one entity exerts over it, the more money they will be able to extract. This is all complicated by the fact that once freedom of use was made available, people quickly grew entitled. Try to take that freedom of use away and there will be a major public outcry. (Google “SOPA” if you have questions.)

The decline in compact discs sales should have been a powerful lesson to people in other areas of our entertainment industry. Although some have taken note, there has been a real lag in network television and film. They have placed themselves in opposition with technology, instead of using it as a tool to connect with consumers. And execs seem to continue to struggle with how to capitalize on it without alienating viewers. A shift from DVD sales to the iTunes store and partnerships with Netflix and Hulu have helped shift this dynamic, but there is still a huge divide between traditional media outlets and what’s available.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Youtube phenomenon. There are millions of people out there creating their own content. Some of it is awesome. Like this:

Most of what is out there is not.

 

The original industry conceit was that none of it was good enough to be a threat. But that too has begun to shift. This was never made more clear than by the release of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Created by the Whedon brothers (Joss, Jed, and Zack) and produced during the Writer’s Guild Strike of 2007-2008, it was one of the first available high-quality programs of note to come out completely outside the confines of the corporate entertainment industry. It was 100% controlled and owned by its creators and it received millions of views and dozens of accolades.

Indeed, one of the reasons the writers were striking was in regard to the use of scripted television on the network’s websites and how content creators were being compensated for the use of their work. Although the strike was considered largely unsuccessful, the ironic twist to the narrative is that it provided Joss Whedon with the time to start a revolution for media on the internet; thereby beginning a new phase of television history where the studios were left completely out of the equation.

 

Interestingly, Joss Whedon originally sought out the help of Felicia Day as a consultant on how to effectively put together and promote web content. Her web series, The Guild, was just finishing its first season and had already begun to gain traction. Felicia eventually was brought on to play the role of Penny in Dr. Horrible and has become one of the leading forces in content creation on the internet.

 

While all of this was going on, something else was happening in the land of television: more and more quality original programming was becoming available on cable. TNT released The Closer (with critically acclaimed actor Kyra Sedgewick). HBO created shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and Sex and the City. Showtime had Queer as Folk, Dexter, The Tudors, and Weeds.  AMC created Mad Men. Starz made Party Down. All of a sudden there were amazing programs on channels that were not network. Network had become a wasteland of reality television and scripted programming was no longer their domain. NBC lost its long-running, coveted number one spot. Change had come, whether they were ready or not.

Stayed tuned for: Geek Revolution: Internet as Television, Part II

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Chloe Rose’s Baby Blanket

Six years ago, my best friend Courtney told me she was going to have a baby. I could have handled the news better. I was worried about her, and I was pissed at my then-boyfriend, now-husband for not committing to me. My desire to start a family even back then was almost unbearable. Looking back I think I knew there was something physically wrong with me deep in the back part of my brain. I felt rushed to make things happen before it was too late.

Of course, I was almost immediately not proud of my reaction and knew that I needed to be a better friend. So I decided I was going to stop acting like a child, be a more supportive friend, and make something really special for the baby. I started making a quilt. I cross-stitched and patterned and embroidered and hand-quilted every inch of the thing. Cayden was born and I was still working on it. Cayden turned two years old and I was still working on it. Cayden went to kindergarten and I was still working it. It kind of became a bit of a family joke: the quilt that would never be finished. Finally, this past Christmas I sewed the last stitches. I wrote a little story about the history of the quilt and wrapped it up as Cayden’s present.

It’s a good thing that I finished it when I did because Courtney announced shortly before the holidays that she was pregnant with her second child. Maybe everything I’ve been through over the last five years has tempered me, because this time I was able to react the way I should have the first time. I was genuinely happy for her, and I think I was able to communicate that. But then I had a dilemma – because there was no way I was making another quilt. Still, I wanted to do something special for this baby too.

I had recently started knitting (never anything more complicated than a scarf), and my mother-in-law had gotten me a really great instruction book called 200 Knitting Tips, Techniques, & Trade Secrets. I flipped through the book and saw these cute little squares and thought, How hard can that be? It seems that I have a knack for over-complicating projects. Also, I tend not to worry about not being capable or having the skills to do the project. It’s just like, “That’s cool. I think I’ll do that now.” Hence, the five year quilt project.

I went to my local craft store and found this really great yarn. It’s called Simply Soft and it’s produced by Caron International Yarns. It’s washer and dryer friendly and lives up to its name. It’s perfect for a baby blanket. I decided to mirror the colors I had used for Cayden’s quilt. I bought two Off White, two Watermelon, and two Soft Pink colored balls. Then I went to my mother-in-law’s and spent an evening learning how to knit the squares.

The instructions read:
Cast on 8 sts and arrange 2 sts on each of 4 needles from a set of five.
Round 1: k through back loops
Round 2: on each needle: k1, m1, k1. 12 sts.
Round 3: k
Round 4: on each needle: k1, m1, k1, m1, k1. 20 sts.
Round 5: k
Round 6: on each needle: k1, m1, k to last st, m1, k1. 28 sts. Repeat rounds 5 and 6 to size required. 8 sts are increased on every alternate round.

This basically means that you’re using five open ended needles – four to hold the loops and one loose to knit onto. You knit in a circle. I used a little green plastic safety pin as a marker so I didn’t lose track of which side I started on, since once you get going it’s easy to lose track of where you are. Also, I found it easier to start on two needles. When I had added enough loops that it was clear which way the needles should be pointing, I transferred half the loops to two more needles, effectively making a square. When you’re just starting and there aren’t a lot of loops yet, it’s really easy to get your needles twisted around and pointed in the wrong direction. This leave the center looking not quite right.

Once I was done making thirty-five squares, alternating between Soft Pink and Off White, I had to figure out how to join them together. So back to my mother-in-law’s I went and she taught me how to crochet, which was something I had never done before either. We decided on a double-crochet around the edges (we went through both the front and the back edge loops for a smoother look). At each corner I added two single-crochets to make it look more square. I went around each knitted piece twice. They ended up looking like this:

Once all of the squares were crocheted around the edges I started piecing them together. I did a double-crochet along the vertical edges to piece five together. Crocheting them this way gave a nice textured ridge and structure to the piece.

I did that for all seven lines, and then did one single horizontal double-crochet the same way, piecing my seven lines of five together. This was a little challenging because even though they all should have been the same – they weren’t. I chalk this up to the fact that my tension changed as I got more experienced with the five needle knitting technique and also that I may have added the two single-crochets at the corners in slightly different places. Still I was able to make it work and got things to line up enough that I could fudge the rest.

Once it was all put together I went around the entire blanket with a double-crochet twice and then did a final round of scalloping. Scalloping was probably my favorite part of the entire project. All I did was double-crochet to the blanket, single-crochet a chain of five, and double-crochet back to the blanket – skipping two loops in between to provide spacing. The final edging looks like this:


Then came the onerous task of cleaning up the back. Each square had a beginning and ending thread for the knitted part, and a beginning and ending thread for the crocheting around the edges. That’s four threads for thirty-five squares. That’s a total of one hundred and forty strings. Then there were two threads for each of the five vertical pieces that were put together. That’s eight threads per vertical line. Then there were seven vertical lines so that’s a total of fifty-six loose threads. And then there were two loose threads for each horizontal double-crochet. That’s a total of twelve threads for the horizontal bits. Finally, there was a beginning and ending thread for the edging. That means I had to weave and hide a total of 210 loose threads. Here’s what the back looked like when I was a little more than halfway done:

Two days before Chloe’s birth I finished the blanket! I was very pleased with my timing. This may be the first project I have ever started and finished on time. I put it in the washer and the dryer just to make sure it would hold up. I’ve heard that washing and drying projects also helps the fibers stick together so nothing comes unraveled. So here’s the final product, which I took to the hospital with me for my first visit with the baby: 

Chloe is beautiful. She looks very much like Cayden did when she was first born. I’m so happy for Courtney, Bob, and Cayden. And to top it off, this project was a lot of fun and I learned several new techniques that I can apply to my next project.

Happy knitting and crocheting!

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Geek Revolution: Podcast Explosion!

As I discussed in my first Geek Revolution blog (Why I’m a Nerd/Geek), nerds and geeks tend toward the niche. We like things with an intensity that often turns into an identifying part of our persona. These interests can really be anything. You can be a garden geek, a math nerd, or in my case – a genre-book girl.

Technology is also often inextricably linked to our community. Maybe that’s because back in the day one had to really have an intense interest and focus to utilize the technology that was available. With the advent and popularization of portable and accessible technology, the old cliche of a lonely forty-year-old man in his basement with a room full of computer parts is a thing of the past

More and more, people are becoming technologically savvy and this has given our society both an audience and a market for all that is niche. This is what, I believe, creates the byproduct of “Geek Chic.” When anyone can access what they’re interested in (yes, even sports) at any given moment, and be connected with other enthusiasts in real-time, then the Star Trek forums that have been around since everyone used DOS don’t seem so weird.

What I want to talk about today is one of ways technology has helped to create communities of niche enthusiasts: Podcasts. Because believe me when I say, there is a podcast for everything. For some of you, you’ll already know what I’m talking about. You can skip down to the recommendations section to see what I’m currently listening to. But if you’re scratching your head and asking yourself, “What’s a podcast?” – then read on!

What is a podcast?

A podcast is like talk-radio, only available when and how you want it. You can stream them live off the web with your browser open or minimized, or you can download them as mp3s and listen to them on an mp3 player or off your smartphone.

Where can I find podcasts?

Podcasts generally have their own website where you can download or stream directly. iTunes also has a comprehensive selection, but you’ll have to download the iTunes player on your computer if you want to access podcasts this way (just click the install button and follow the prompts). There are also several apps. for smartphones that will help you keep track of your podcasts and episodes. If you have an iPhone, you can access the iTunes store easily from your device. I have an LG that runs the Android operating system. For my purposes, I’ve really enjoyed using the Beyond Podcast application. The standard version is free, but for a couple dollars you can upgrade it for more options.

What topics are covered on podcasts?

Virtually everything. There are crafting, gardening, sports (general and specific), comedy, reading, writing, political and news oriented podcasts. If you can think of something you would be interested in learning about, there’s probably a podcast out there about it. If there are two things that you are interested in, for example, nutrition and gardening – there’s a podcast for it! Those two things are pretty close in topic, but some mashups can get really interesting. The best part is, if your cross-section of interests doesn’t exist as a podcast, it’s easy to make your own! (more on that later…maybe)

How long are podcasts and how much time between episodes?

The ones I’ve listened to range anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours. There are no strict rules. Some shows post once a month, once a week, or several times a week. It’s all up to the show runner.

How much do podcasts cost?

Most podcasts are free! That’s right, zero dollars. There are a few shows that have figured out how to charge subscription fees, but all the ones that I listen to are 100% free. Podcasters usually make their money through advertisements, which are often placed at the begin or the end of the program. And a lot of shows are created and maintained, not as businesses, but out of the sheer love of the topic at hand.

Note: Not all podcasts are equal. Some have poor audio quality or the show-runner isn’t very talented. But don’t give up! There are a lot of really excellent shows out there. A quick Google search can help you find well reviewed, quality shows.

Here are some of the ones that I’m into right now:

 

Adventures SciFi Publishing: Run by Shaun Farrel, with contributors Moses Siregar, Brent Bowen, Matt Hughes and Miranda Suri. This podcast focuses on the publishing industry and features upcoming books and events in the SciFi and Fantasy community. They also interview all my favorite authors. They talk writing process and business. Podcast length varies episode to episode and production value is typically really good. I sometimes find the sponsor placement a little distracting, but who am I to complain? It’s free!

 

Making It, Riki Lindhome: Riki is one half of the comedy band Garfunkel and Oates. She’s quirky and fun and her podcast focuses on people in the entertainment business. She talks to people like Joss Weadon, Felicia Day, and Matt Walsh  “about how they started, how they’ve kept it going and what they’ve learned along the way.”

 

Sex Nerd Sandra: For all of your sex-positive inquiries and more. This show is funny and is endlessly fascinating to me. The descriptor for the show reads: “Listen in as the endlessly curious sex educator Sandra Daugherty and her comedian co-host, Dave Ross explore the fascinating world of human sexuality. With tell-all interviews, juicy topics, tips and more, Sandra and Dave keep it fun, keep it sex-positive and keep it real.” Good times, people, good times.

 

Sword and Laser: Run by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt, this podcast sprung from its original form as a fanforum/book club. Veronica and Tom are snarky and their personalities play well off one another. The structure of this podcast centers around their pick of the month. They keep their listeners up-to-date on the latest news and publications, review fun topics of discussions from their forum, interview industry notables, and talk about what they are currently reading.

 

The Nerdist: This is the podcast that got me into podcasts. Sure, I’d listened to one here or there from links placed on my favorite author’s blog, but this is the first one that I listened to consistently. I don’t even know where I found out about it, but Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray, and Matt Myra are a perfect mix of hilarious and interesting. They have great interviews with people who are both in the entertainment industry and participate in the nerdy pursuits. I particularly love the “hostful” episodes, where it’s just the three of them going over their week and shooting the shit. Also, I’ve learned about other podcasts through them. I highly recommend this podcast.

 

WTF, with Marc Maron: ”You know when you make popcorn there are always those fluffy white kernels that are fun and good to eat but there are also always those burnt, black kernels that don’t pop. You know why they don’t pop? Because they have integrity.” Marc Maron is a lot of fun to listen to. The first part of his show is just him talking about whatever he is thinking about that day or week. He goes on rants, gets personal, and generally just does his thing. He has an interesting perspective having raised himself out of the ashes of addiction. He also has spent the majority of his life as a standup comic, which means he really looks at everything through his own unique lense. I love his interviews because he doesn’t pull any punches. He asks personal questions, and most often his guests respond without the usual bullshit answers that they reserve for more traditional talk hosts.

 

Writing Excuses: “15 minutes long because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinette-Kowal give a writer’s tutorial every week. This is a great podcast for aspiring writers. They talk plot, character, world-building, pacing, outlining, the writer’s life, and many aspects of the publishing industry. They have been nominated for the Hugo two years running, the first podcast to make the shortlist. At the end of each episode they give a writing prompt, which just adds to the fun. Also, they are available on twitter and are very connected with their fans.

 

So, go on, find the podcast that fits you! Enjoy!

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Geek Revolution: Why I’m a Nerd/Geek


I recently read a blog entitled, “Dear Fake Geek Girls, Please Go Away.” The idea was that geek has become chic and that, just like with other trends, there’s a level of poser-ism that accompanies any new thing. The author, Tara Tiger Brown, states that,

Being really passionate or skillful at something is not something you can fake; it takes a lot of hard work to be a geek. Being a geek isn’t something you so much decide to do, but realize you are after the fact. People who are obsessed with something often don’t even know it until others point it out to them, they are just doing what they like without thinking about the how or why.

This really got me thinking. When did I start identifying as a “geek” or “nerd”? (FYI, I don’t really go in for the idea that there is a distinction. For me they pretty much mean the same thing. Nomenclaturists take your debate elsewhere.) I have certainly been called these names by friends and bullies growing up, but I don’t think it was until college that I really embraced my nerdiness as an identifying factor. And it was even much later until I started participating in the nerd/geek community outside my own circle of friends.

So what makes me a nerd/geek? Lots of things. My nerd dance-card is full of stereotypical likes, interests, and hobbies. But I think the single most thing is my love of science fiction and fantasy. I read at least fifty books a year. I have collected over two thousand books in my upstairs library alone. My dream, since I was about twelve years old was to have a library with sliding ladders and a balcony.

I go to author signings and conventions. I’ve met Brandon Sanderson twice. I have spent time in an elevator with George R.R. Martin and I got to ask him a ton of questions. This was before his success on HBO, naturally. And I’ve seen Patrick Rothfuss speak about censorship and pornography at the Library of Congress. I’m officially his Fanatical Minion #3!!! Suck it Fanatical Minions 4 – infinity!

I love podcasts about writing and reading. Some of the better one’s include: Sword and Laser with Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt, Writing Excuses with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Mary Robinette Kowel, and Adventures in SciFi Publishing. Also, I recently came across this gem, which may be my new most favorite thing ever:

 

One of my favorite pastimes is reading and following author blogs. I visit author’s sites such as: John Scalzi, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, George R.R. Martin, and Jim Butcher. I also check out Laurell K Hamilton and Charlaine Harris’ sites to see what’s new with Anita and Sookie. Not only do I get the latest news from these authors, but I get a sense of participation and I learn about new things. I turns out there is a large intersection of what interests me and what interests my favorite authors. Whether it’s gaming, art, music, history, the publication industry, politics, or some awesome randomness on the web; I am constantly exposed to new and interesting thoughts and ideas.

I remember reading somewhere that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were part of a writer’s group called the Inklings. I think that must have been an amazing thing to witness. Can you imagine sitting in a pub with them and their friends? Getting to hear all the incidentals of the things they were researching and creating? I feel the same way when I think about the artist community of expatriates congregating in Paris after World War I. I sometimes think, what an amazing time to be alive. (It’s that thing that Woody Allen was talking about in his movie Midnight In Paris. It’s a nostalgia for a time in which one did not exist.) But here’s the thing, we live in an amazing time too! For me, this means I can get online and witness the public interchange of ideas and awesomeness between authors from the comfort of my own home. I might not be able to afford to fly to Paris, but I can sit in a cafe in my own town and commune with the great authors of my time. I’m giddy just thinking about it!

This is what I think Tara Tiger Brown was alluding to. I’ve been excited about this for years, long before I ever called myself a nerd. Long before geek was chic. It’s something that defines me and it’s also something that often distinguishes me in a circle of friends who have their own unique and nerdy passions. I’m the book and author girl.  Where Tara and I differ is that I don’t feel territorial about my geekiness. At the end of the day, I’m just me and that is in no way impacted by whether it’s cool to be me or not. Other people’s interests or lack-thereof don’t matter in that way. If they did, I would never have developed my nerdy-self in the first place.

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