Inhuman Swill : Page 32
Why is my blog called Inhuman Swill? Because you can unscramble the pieces to make William Shunn.

'Bye, "Boys"

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It was Laura who discovered the show in late 2006 and convinced me to start watching it with her. A sitcom about a female sportswriter in Chicago and her circle of male poker buddies. We were both hooked, not just because the group of friends were so damn nice and charming and funny, but because the lead character, P.J., seemed so much more like a real woman than most women on television. I guess the show reminded us of our circle of friends.

The second season of "My Boys" (later canonically folded into season one) started the same month we moved to Chicago from New York City. It was like a group of old friends welcoming us to the city, right down to the shot of Wrigley Field in the opening credits (which is where we saw The Police in concert the very week we moved here). If it wasn't already our favorite show, it took that slot then.

That summer season of "My Boys" ran a scant nine episodes, as has every season since. Like a butterfly migration, it arrives unexpectedly in the spring or summer and is gone again too soon. The gang's hangout, Crowley's Tavern, became for us the adult analog of Sesame Street—the mythical happy place we wanted to find and inhabit.

No more. It turns out that the season just ended is the "My Boys" swan song. TBS has canceled the series. We watched the two final episodes back-to-back last night, eating ice cream, happy for the characters' happy endings but mourning their exit from our lives.

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Sentence sparring

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I knew when I wrote an entry for my formatting blog about sentence spacing that I would probably make some people upset. I just didn't expect to hear about it so soon.

Three or four hours after posting it, I was at Hopleaf to see an excellent reading series called This Much Is True. (This is part of my campaign to visit all the reading series I can, so I can meet new writers, promote Tuesday Funk, and get ideas for promoting it.) In the line at the bar I ran into one of the producers of yet another local reading series, a fine one that will remain nameless, who said to me right off the bat, "I saw your post about two spaces at the end of a sentence today. I HATE TWO SPACES AT THE END OF A SENTENCE. I edit lawyers all day and they all do it, and I have to fix it, and it drives me crazy."

Which only underscores my contention that sentence spacing is the most contentious aspect of the bizarrely contentious issue of manuscript formatting. Or should that be italicizes?

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The view from Buddha
I never enjoy writing a blog post for September 11th, but also don't like letting the day pass with saying anything. Happily, our social calendar last night handed me the perfect topic to share today.

Last night Laura and I attended one of the Art Institute of Chicago's occasional "After Dark" nights. This one turned the Modern Wing into an Indian-themed night club of sorts. We arrived early and slipped away from the festivities just in time to catch a preview of a new art installation, Jitish Kallat's "Public Notice 3," about which we knew nothing. We were fortunate enough to be part, I believe, of the first public group to see it, and had unobstructed access that not many viewers will get when it opens today.

"Public Notice 3" is the first work to be installed directly on the Art Institute's Grand Staircase. You get there from the Modern Wing, as we did, by passing through the Alsdorf Galleries. This space used to be crowded with armor and armaments but is now devoted to religious art from India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas. Buddhas from different ends of those regions welcome visitors at each end of the gallery. It's hard not to dawdle with all the gods and demiurges on display. But there, through a portal at the opposite end, you can already see the field of varicolored lights framing one last Buddha.

Past that sculpture, you begin to take in "Public Notice 3." Kallat has gained a reputation for recontextualizing historical texts. In this case, the text is the remarks delivered on September 11, 1893, by Swami Vivekananda to open the first World's Parliament of Religions, which took place in this very building in association with the Columbian Expo. Vivekananda offered a stirring plea for tolerance, which Kallat has set flowing up the staircase in 15,000 tiny electric bulbs reminiscent of a Lite-Brite set. The words are rendered in the five colors of the Homeland Security Threat Advisory System.

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Moonflowers, fact and fiction

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Moonflower with human hand for scale
Our downstairs neighbor is an extraordinary gardener, and we never know what plants or flowers are going to show up in the back yard next. Yesterday morning as we were heading to the garage, Laura said, "Hey, look! Moonflowers!"

The moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a pretty cool plant. It grows fairly tall and the blossoms are huge, at least by back yard garden standards. It blooms at night, but only in late summer and autumn this far north because the days are otherwise too long. Instead of folding outward when it opens, like a lot of blossoms, the flower untwists, which is really something to see. If the morning is cool and overcast, the flower will stay open into the day, which is why a couple of the ones in the garden yesterday were out on full display.

   

After I dropped Laura off at the train and returned home, I spent a lot of time studying the plants, and also blowing the ants off the petals so I could get some decent pictures of them. I'd never spent any time looking at an actual moonflower before—the petals are surprisingly delicate, and feel almost like satin—which is perhaps strange because moonflowers figure prominently in my story "Observations from the City of Angels." (It was published in Salon under the title "Love in the Age of Spyware," and is still available there. It can also be heard in podcast form as episode 63 of Escape Pod.)

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My funky Tuesdays

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One of the most exciting and unpredictable reading series in Chicago is Tuesday Funk, which takes place the first Tuesday of every month upstairs at Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville. Tuesday Funk has hosted wild-eyed poets, doe-eyed troubadours, and more excellent fiction, verse, and essays read live than you could shake a blue pencil at. I've been fortunate enough to have been asked to read there four times in the past couple of years myself, and I'm proud to have been considered an adjunct member of the Tuesday Funk family.

Reinhardt Suarez and Hallie Palladino of the Gothic Funk Nation have run the eclectic series with scary efficiency for nearly three years, but they're both moving on to greener pastures. I'm very pleased and more than a little humbled to announce that I will now be co-producing Tuesday Funk together with Sara Ross. We hope to keep the same great mix of genres and disciplines that has made the series so much fun in the past, while throwing in some curve balls to keep things fresh and interesting. We have some big shoes to fill.

While I never want the series to get away from its roots as a showcase for Chicago writers, I'd love to bring more out-of-towners into the mix too. So if you're a writer (or something similar) and plan to be in Chicago the first week of any given month, please drop me a line and I'll see if we have room for you. We'd love to have you.

Oh, another thing. Chicagoans, please mark your calendars for our next reading on Tuesday, October 5, 7:30 pm, at Hopleaf. I'll be reading again that night, together with a full slate of compadres, but most importantly we need to keep our attendance high so we can continue using Hopleaf's upstairs bar month after month. More reminders will follow, but I hope to see you there.

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Hacking reality

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Wine Loft Panel Discussion, June 24, 2010
Back in June, during the week I attended the Starry Heaven workshop in Flagstaff, organizer extraordinaire Sarah K. Castle put together a little panel discussion on the interactions between science fiction and actual science. Titled "Science + Fantasy = Science Fiction," the panel brought seven scientists and writers together to talk about how science inspires science fiction and vice versa.

Besides Sarah, who is both geologist and SF writer, the participants included writer Bradley P. Beaulieu ([info]brad_beaulieu), writer and futurist Brenda Cooper ([info]bjcooper), biologist and computer scientist Dan Greenspan (blog), biologist and physiologist Stan "Bud" Lindstedt, and science historian David S.F. Portree ("Beyond Apollo").

Everyone's five- to seven-minute presentations were fascinating, and I wish I had time and memory sufficient to recap them all. Instead, though, I've been meaning for a couple of months now to post the loose notes I wrote up for my little presentation. Here they are:



My view of science is pretty well summed up in a conversation between two characters in the novel I'm working on now, Endgame. This is the story of two teenage friends named Hasta and Ivan who develop seemingly magical powers—except that they don't automatically accept magic as the explanation for what has happened to them. Instead they set about using the scientific methods of theorizing and repeated testing to get to the bottom of things.

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Hold onto your head scarves. There are 103 full episodes of "21 Jump Street" available on Hulu. Johnny Depp must be so pleased. You needed to know.

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"Those are HUGE!"

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So, on the way home from the art fair yesterday, Laura and I stopped at our local Trader Joe's to pick up a few necessities. The store has recently been remodeled, and everything's been moved around. We couldn't find the bread aisle, so when we rounded a corner and saw a couple of young men in Trader Joe's vests chatting, we stopped and asked them for directions.

Laura's arms were folded. Suddenly one of the guys pointed toward her chest and exclaimed, "Those are huge!"

All of stared at him in confusion, including the guy's buddy. I couldn't for the life of me imagine what he was talking about.

"Your bracelets?" the guy said. "You know."

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The bad art drinking game

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Yesterday Laura and I met her parents in Lake Forest to wander around the Deer Path Art League's 56th Annual Art Fair on the Square. This is one of those affairs where artists and artisans from all over set up booths in the town square to hawk their wares. To make it more fun for ourselves, Laura and I decided in advance to turn the afternoon into a drinking game.

Here's how it worked. We didn't bring any alcohol to the fair itself, but we agreed on four categories of subject matter. If we found art depicting any of these subjects, we'd have one drink for each category once we got back home. The categories were:

  1. Clowns
  2. Flamenco dancers or bullfighters
  3. Dogs in unnatural situations
  4. Naked boobs
As it turned out, Lake Forest was a lovely little town with a lovely little town square. The art was of a generally higher caliber than we had anticipated, and we had a good time with Laura's parents at the fair. We only managed to score in two of our categories: #3 and #4. Several times Laura asked if we could add new categories, but I'm afraid as judge I had to disallow anything we hadn't agreed upon from the start.

So, two drinks apiece that evening at home. But next year, I foresee new categories including celebrities, abstract metal wall hangings, and still lifes with wineglasses.

Happy Labor Day! Bottoms up.

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Dogwalker's algorithm

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if
      poop
then
      scoop

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