Inhuman Swill : May 2003

North and south

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Laura and I are planning a cycling trip in Ireland late this summer. From an email from an Irish friend of a friend, filled with delightful advice, comes this gem:

avoid the (political) north unless you're doing it by car.... belfast city is a great place if you like grey skies, religious oppression and wee shits throwing bottles at your bike. catholics are more fun and they have better music, so stay in the (political) south.
I think I'm going to enjoy this trip.

More Plan-related news. I just now received the EP The Ice of Boston that I ordered online from a used CD store in Ohio a couple of weeks ago. It contains two songs I haven't heard before, "The First Anniversary of Your Last Phone Call" and "Just Like You," and a demo version of "Spider in the Snow." I slipped it into the CD-ROM drive moments ago. The only problem is, I can't get up onstage right now to dance.

Plan B

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The Dismemberment Plan will swing through New York again on their farewell tour. Bowery Ballroom, July 24 and 25. Yeah!

Son of Balticon

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Left out one bit from my Saturday report. While Laura and Scott and I were walking back from the American Dime Museum, we stopped at the Washington Monument on Charles Street. This is a cylindrical tower of white stone which was designed by the same architect who would later design the more famous Washington Monument in D.C. In fact, it was the first large-scale civic monument in America, if the plaques are to be trusted. It's hollow inside, and the young stewards sitting inside the entrance watching sports on TV were more than happy to take our dollar apiece donation for admission. (On the way out we saw the donation box in the lobby and began to suspect that our dollars had ended up in the stewards' pockets.)

The interior of the tower was a steep and narrow spiral staircase with 228 steps. Though it was a bit claustrophobic, we all managed to get to the top, look out the barred windows at the city on every side, and descend again without mishap or hyperventilation. I started to get mild cramps in my thighs as we continued down the street, though, so when Laura wanted to stop at a shoe store I took advantage of the opportunity to rest on the couch for a minute. When we told the shoe store clerk that we'd just been to the top of the monument, she said, "Oh, that's not so high."

If it weren't for this callous dismissal of our effort, I would never point out that the clerk's hindquarters were rather too wide for her to have made it up that staircase herself without suffering serious abrasions.


My 6:00 pm panel on Sunday ("Identity Theft: A Crime in SF and Reality") went surpassingly well, I thought, despite the fact that Don Sakers and I were the only participants who showed up. The audience was well-informed and offered good questions and comments, and the hour was fairly lively. After the panel, one of the audience members, who had offered several helpful comments, introduced himself to me as Eric Sorenson—the very fellow who had followed my web site from way back and who, under the name Stephen Sondheim Smith, had contributed brilliant parody lyrics of Mormon hymns and other songs to my feature "The Nauvoo Cabaret." In fact, I had built the Cabaret specifically to showcase his lyrics, I liked them so well. It was a great pleasure to finally meet him in person.

At 7:00 pm, Laura and I retired with Scott to the hotel's cigar bar to smoke a Cohiba he had brought back legally from Cuba and look at a laptop slideshow of splendid photos from his Cuban adventure. Then we tried to get some quick food before my 10:00 pm panel ("Alien Theology: Religions Practiced by Non-Human Sentients"). However, the food came late, so I, er, opted for food over panel. Hey, there were six panelists listed in the program, which sounded like a hell of a lot anyway.

After dinner, we met up with Toby Buckell, Dave Kirtley, and Paul and Stacey Melko in the cigar bar and yukked it up for an hour or so. Then Laura and I retired, and we caught a 10:00 am train for home the next morning.

And that, my friends, was our Balticon.

Balticon so far

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It's 5:40 pm on Sunday at Balticon, and I'm coming to you through the miracle of wi-fi in the hotel common areas. Laura and I have been having a fine time so far, despite not having seen much of the con programming.

We took Amtrak down from New York late Friday morning, checked in, and immediately set out to find lunch. Our first choice, the Womens Industrial Exchange Restaurant (where Laura joked I intended to exchange her for an industrial model), was closed for renovation, so we ended up at a deli called David & Dad's. Good burgers, and fries with brown gravy. Yeah! When Laura added our two Stewart's sodas to the bill herself, I predicted she had probably messed up the deli's billing system. The joke was on me—the fellow at the counter told us the only system they used at David & Dad's was the honor system.

Programming started at 4:00, and also started a four-hour-straight block of programming for me. I hosted a kaffeklatch from 4 to 6 on the topic of writing your memoirs (fortunately not on selling your memoirs). Only one person showed up—the programming person who had scheduled me for it! Laura and I had a fine time listening to her life story, and I think we may have managed to get a few pointers across too.

At 6 was a panel on what happened to the future we were promised in our youth. Where are our rocket packs and flying cars??? Dave Kirtley and I were the obligatory silent voices next to Michael Swanwick and Kathryn Cramer, though actually we both managed to get a few good comments in. I made the point early that the generation growing up today have different myths of the future of the sort that include jacking in and virtual reality, and that they will no doubt be disappointed when they're aging and the world again surprises us with a whole different set of miracles. I also shared our experiences with our Roomba, the robot vacuum cleaner, and got a big laugh when I pointed out that the manufacturer is called iRobot.

Seven o'clock I "moderated" a panel on using technobabble as a tool for writing plausible hard SF. It was a traumatic experience, with all sorts of crosstalk and irelevance and appreciative discussion of Enterprise. I don't wish to relive it.

Laura and I then attended a panel on small-press publishing which Scott Edelman and Steve Miller were on. Then we hijacked an unsuspecting Dave Kirtley and took him to dinner at an Afghani restaurant called The Helmand that we had discovered through Vindigo. The food was excellent, excellent, excellent, even if I can't really describe any of it. We got back to the hotel around midnight, then bopped up to the Tor suite where an early bacchanal was in its final stages. Toby Buckell showed up there, and Laura ended up in a spirited discussion with Darrell Schweitzer. We crashed at one.

Saturday morning, Laura and I wandered down to the Inner Harbor to scare up some breakfast. We ended up coming back hotelwards and eating at Burke's Restaurant, est. 1934. We attended a Scott Edelman panel on literary scams at one, then grabbed a cab with Scott to visit the American Dime Museum, a museum devoted to the remembrance and celebration of carnival dimeshows and their contents. Some of my favorite displays there were the fish covered with feathers and the turd which was supposedly deposited by a person hoping to pass it off as the last turd Lincoln passed before his assassination. I'll post some pictures after we get home.

After the museum, Laura and Scott and I grabbed some salad in the hotel restaurant. We caught Toby Buckell's reading at 7:30, then met up with a huge group of people Toby had accreted for a dinner expedition. We totaled 17, including George Scithers, Bud Sparhawk, Paul Melko, Dave Kirtley, and a cast of thousands. After hiking down to the Inner Harbor and discovering that every chain restaurant had a wait of approximately three millennia to get a table, the group splintered into at least three separate gangs, which enable Laura and Scott and I to sneak onto a water taxi for a splendid 45-minute ride across the harbor (including one transfer at Fells Point) to check off one point of Laura's Baltimore agenda—eating crabs at Bo Brooks Crabhouse.

None of the three of us had ever eaten whole crabs before, and were startled when the waitress covered our table with butcher paper and dumped a dozen steaming red spice-crusted crabs onto our table. She demonstrated to us how to disassemble them properly, and Laura let out a howl when the waitress pointed out the lungs and told us to pull them out and set them aside. The crabs were delicious—especially with cold beer—perhaps more so because we had to work for every morsel. And hardly five minutes went by without a crack about crab lungs.

I have to say, God bless the animal that comes with a pull-tab.

We finished up around 11:05 and ordered desserts to go so we could make the last water taxi connection back to the Inner Harbor at 11:30. After a fast walk to the dock, we caught the taxi barely in time and ate our desserts on the water.

Sunday morning, this morning, Laura and I had a late breakfast at the hotel. She went off to donate blood while I sat in the lobby checking email and beginning this post. When she returned, we went to the art show to check on the bidding for a painting that Laura was bidding on. We placed the fifth bid, which means the painting went to voice auction this afternoon. We don't know yet what happened, but we hope no one had the stones to bid past us.

Then, having checked the con schedule and finding nothing of interest for the next several hours, Laura and I walked to the Inner Harbor again to try to visit the Aquarium. They were already selling tickets for 5:00 pm entry, so we decided to skip that. Instead we walked to the gorgeous Barnes & Noble in the old power plant, where I bought John Clute's Appleseed and two copies of Nebula Showcase 2003, edited by Nancy Kress. I had to, because I discovered that she had used my name in her introduction. (!!!)

Then we walked to Fells Point and visited the world's greatest used music store, Sound Garden. We never get out of there without doing serious damage to our bank accounts, but today was the worst session ever. We spent nearly a hundred bucks apiece. I walked away with two Fatboy Slims, one Pink Floyd, one Fugees, one King Crimson, and DVD copies of the unrated Y Tu Mama Tambien and the Wilco documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.

Then we walked around the corner and up the street to check off another point on the Laura Baltimore agenda—crab cakes. We had them at Crabby Dicks, plus crab balls, crab legs, hush puppies, and beer, while at the same time playing a video trivia game via remote keyboards at our tables versus everyone else in the bar. I won two of the three rounds, and Laura came in second.

Then we hustled back to the hotel, spurred by the voice-mail promise of a genuine Cuban cigar that Scott Edelman brought back with him on his recent legal jaunt to Cuba. I have a panel at 6:00 pm on identity theft, and then we'll be finding a quiet corner to stink up with the cigar, plus photos of Cuba on Scott's laptop. Then I'm on a panel on alien theology at ten freaking o'clock, and we return home on a 10:00 train tomorrow morning.

And that's the news so far from Baltimore.

The other night, while all the contractor shit was going down, our downstairs neighbor called us on the phone. This would have been after midnight. "Hi, I'm locked out," he said. "Can you let me in?"

This happens occasionally, though this time it wasn't his own forgetfulness but the fact that the contractors had been replacing doors. (Why he doesn't use his back door is beyond me.)

So, annoyed but trying not to show it, I went downstairs to let him in. Then I trudged back upstairs.

I was nearly back in bed when all the electricity in the apartment went out. It came back on a few seconds later, only to die and return again.

Laura figured it out. "He's down there flipping fuses," she said sleepily. "Go stop him."

So I trudged back downstairs. And our neighbor admitted that, finding the electricity off in part of his apartment, he had been flicking switches in the fusebox on and off at random.

"I started with that one," he said proudly, pointing to the switch marked MAIN POWER.

I didn't have words to express my opinion of this tactic. I think my glare did, though. I trudged back up the stairs, checked on the two computers that had forcibly rebooted and then reset the alarm clocks.

I stomped all the way to the bed.

Do you get squicked out when you're in a public restroom and a cell phone rings in the next stall? And the person answers it?

If you care...

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The countdown clock is a really nifty, get-involved type marketing idea, and if you want it you can get your HTML snippet here.

Jesus, and I thought hearing Elmo telling me to buckle up in New York City cabs was bad enough....

Sesame Street breaks Iraqi POWs Uncooperative prisoners are being exposed for prolonged periods to tracks by rock group Metallica and music from children's TV programmes Sesame Street and Barney in the hope of making them talk.

The US's Psychological Operations Company (Psy Ops) said the aim was to break a prisoner's resistance through sleep deprivation and playing music that was culturally offensive to them.

However, human rights organisation, Amnesty International, said such tactics may constitute torture—and coalition forces could be in breach of the Geneva Convention. [read all]

I would suggest the POWs also be forced to watch the first 23 episodes of 24, but not the season finale.

Quote unquote

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Don't fucking say "Quote unquote" to me. I might quote unquote rip your head off.

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