February 2012 | Inhuman Swill | William Shunn
Inhuman Swill : February 2012

"West Loop Cityscape"

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As owners ourselves of a couple of Kevin Swallow, we want to congratulate the owners of this beautiful new painting (which I've had the privilege of seeing up close):

And congratulations to Kevin for completing such an elaborate, detailed, and beautiful commission!

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Ella had a tough night, with thunder and lightning hunting for her in the early morning hours. I had a hard time getting her out the door at dawn for her walk. Then I had a hard time getting her out of the yard. Then I hard a hard time getting her down the block. It was no longer storming, but Ella well knows that the thunder is just lurking around the next corner, waiting to spring out of hiding and attack us. She can sense it.

Normally Laura or I will walk her for a full hour in the morning, but Ella and I had only been out for ten balky minutes this morning when I made a deal with her. (And she understood the deal. She did, at least the key words.) I told her that all she had to do was poop, and then we could turn around and go home. She trotted along after me after that, not happy but at least hopeful.

We reached a townhouse development where we frequently chase squirrels. She trotted along the short side of that block just fine, but then she balked when we reached the corner. She would not budge. She was done.

I try not to lie to our dog very often, but I was desperate to keep her moving and not compromise my authority (further) by turning us around. So I said, "Ella, there's a squirrel around the corner."

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RIP Mark Bourne (1961-2012)

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UPDATE: Mark's funeral service will be Thursday, March 1, in Seattle. (Details here.) A less formal celebration of his life will be held in a few weeks.
Growing older comes with a lot of unexpected benefits. One of those benefits, though, is most definitely not the way that more and more good friends seem to leave this life before their time.

I was stunned yesterday to learn that Mark Bourne passed away on Saturday. Given his history of serious heart problems, I probably shouldn't have been, but you're never really prepared to hear that someone as young as he was has gone.

Besides writing many very fine science fiction stories, Mark was a musical theater enthusiast, a film reviewer, and a writer of planetarium shows. If you ever went to planetarium star shows, you probably saw some of his productions without knowing it. (I did.)

It's funny. I considered Mark a good friend, even though we only met in person a few times. I think the first time I ran across his name must have been in 1994, when he and I turned out to have come in 9th and 10th place in the balloting for Campbell Award nominations. Our first actual interaction came during an unfortunate online flamewar a few years later. I sent him a note of apology some months later, which he very graciously accepted. This was entirely to my good fortune, as he had no good reason to do so. It didn't take long before we were fast friends.

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Toll House BACON cookie by @chavoen
This is not a cooking or baking blog, but I would be doing the carnivorous world a huge disservice if I did not share a recipe that my wife Laura Chavoen has been developing over the past few weeks—BACON COOKIES. (By the way, my style guide suggests that BACON COOKIES should always be rendered in all caps. Makes sense to me.)

The recipe is based on the Original NestlĂ©® Toll House® Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe you can find on every bag of NestlĂ©® Semi-Sweet Morsels, except that it uses chopped bacon instead of chocolate chips. That's the general description, anyway, but Laura found that using salty, fatty meat instead of semi-sweet chocolate in the recipe necessitated some other adjustments.

So here's the BACON COOKIES recipe she developed after much trial and error, and after much arduous testing on poor Human Subject #814 (a/k/a me).

Laura's Original BACON COOKIES

1 lb. thick cut bacon
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 sticks butter, softened (7/8 cup)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup real maple syrup
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The likelihood of unlikelihood

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Having seen the French caper flick Rififi last night, in which an alarm system is disabled with fire extinguisher foam, what are the odds that I would today read a Donald E. Westlake short story ("The Ultimate Caper: The Purloined Letter") in which an alarm system is disabled with Redi-Whip? Long odds, it seems to me. Long, long odds.

If I hadn't seen the movie last night, I doubt I would have caught that tiny joke in the Westlake story. Yet how many times have you caught a reference that you wouldn't have caught unless you'd seen, read or heard something else within a fairly short amount of time? I know it's happened to me quite often.

As uncanny as these coincidences seem, it seems to me that culture can only exist and be transmitted via a vast network of shared references. There must be a supply of these matching references that is limited only by number of nodes in our network of cultural references, a vast supply, which we only really notice when a pair of them smack us in the face, like foam defeating an alarm system. Rather than finding the coincidence usual, I tend to think that the strange thing is that we don't notice more of these coincidences. After all, they must be going on around us all the time.

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My Saturday at Capricon

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It's rare that I'm a) paying attention closely enough and b) on the ball enough to get myself out to one of the local science fiction conventions. Usually at the last minute people start asking me, "Hey, are you going to be at Whatevercon?" And I have to answer, "No, because I'm a dork," and kick myself for not having responded to the con's programming invitation months earlier.

That's why I have to boast about having actually made it out to Capricon 32 in Wheeling for half a day this past Saturday. Mind you, I still didn't get it together enough to get on any programming, but I did attend. I saw a couple of readings, I went to a couple of panels, and I saw Cory Doctorow's scary/hopeful/terrific keynote address "The Coming War on General Purpose Computation." Then, as these things tend to happen at cons, the rest of the items on my schedule went out the window as John Klima and Holly McDowell and I hung out in the bar with three proseccos and a plate of antipasti.

After a panel examining Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, I shanghai'd Cory and Klima and (welcome) surprise guest John Scalzi back to Chicago for a Mexican food outing with Laura, for whose sake everyone was (of course) willing to make the trek. We shared grilled calamari, and Scalzi ordered a mango shake that arrived in a goblet roughly the size of his head. Family and dog pictures were passed around. Much merriment was made.

Oh, I also ran into Steven Silver at Capricon, who extracted a promise from me that I wouldn't fail to sign up for Worldcon programming. So I'm going to go do that now. I swear.

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We had a wonderful, marvelous edition of Tuesday Funk last night. There were five strong readers who engaged and captivated the audience with their words, and there was the regular Poem by Bill feature. I read "Four Road Trips" to kick off the second half of the show, and it went over well enough that I was really excited to put the video online. Unfortunately, Houston, we had a problem.

The way I record these shows is pretty basic, and usually works really well. I mount my iPhone on a little tripod, set the tripod on top of the amp, and point the lens at the microphone. I let the phone record straight through each half of the show, only touching it to adjust for the height of each new reader. Later that night or the next morning, I take the two long video files and chop them up into individual readings.

Well, last night when I downloaded the video files from my phone and opened them up for editing. The first file was fine, but the second...

The second file starts with me stepping to the microphone to introduce the second half of the show and read my poem, all while speaking in a woman's voice. Wait, a woman's voice? Yes, to be specific, in the voice of Lauryn Allison Lewis, the reader who followed me at the mike. Somehow the video file became corrupted and shifted the soundtrack forward by nine minutes and forty-four seconds. The audio of my reading was completely lost. The final 9:44 of the video, during Margie Skelly's reading, is silent.

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Sizzling hot bacon, part two

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Less talking! More bacon!

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Posers in the "Parking Lot"

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Okay, sometimes it's fun to see yourself on TV. In 2004, the Trio network debuted a documentary series called "Parking Lot," which featured snippets of conversations with attendees at events like concerts or conventions. The show didn't last long, but it did last long enough for Scott Edelman and Bob Howe and I to end up in one episode.

Scott (who has written a longer post about our brief appearance) has just discovered that the producers of "Parking Lot" have been uploading segments of the show to YouTube. And voilà!, there we are outside of I-CON 22, a science convention at SUNY Stony Brook.

See if you can spot Scott and Bob and me, nine years younger, trying to sound all erudite and set ourselves apart from the rest of the madness. And, um, failing. Our bits are interspersed throughout the segment.

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