Friday, October 29, 2010

RED: a spoiler-free review

This is not a deep film. It is silly every chance it gets. But the entire cast is eminently watchable while being silly.

Although, if you think John Malkovich has gone overboard with wackiness lately, then you might object. And conversely, there are not quite enough opportunities for Rebecca Pidgeon to be silly.

Though having Rebecca Pidgeon at all is very good for the film; verily, any film would be improved by the presence of Rebecca Pidgeon. I think, for example, that she would be a top candidate for that little cameo in The Hangover 2 that is garnering so much controversy.

Could that be the next Tumblr meme, like Selleck Waterfall Sandwich? Rebecca Pidgeon Replaces Mel Gibson?

Why haven't you mentioned Helen Mirren yet, you say? Because I hardly need to. Helen Mirren as a CIA assassin is so good as an idea that it almost doesn't need to be realized; and you might think, watching it, "gosh, wouldn't it be great if there was another Prime Suspect series?" But she is great; and so is Brian Cox.

The plot barely makes sense, when it unravels, though I suppose all it needed to do was give Our Venerable Heroes something to do. I expect a little better of Warren Ellis.

On reflection, though, I think that the only plot I would really have been satisfied with would have allowed for a romance between John Malkovich and Rebecca Pidgeon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Further adventures in gluten-free baking

I didn't really have much interest in gluten-free baking when I first got my celiac diagnosis. Too fiddly, too expensive; and just the thought of bread made me feel a little ill.

Fast-forward 7 months: I went to London, found lots of GF products, came home disgruntled that the US had so few in comparison. And then the new Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef cookbook came out.

So far, I've made the baked eggs, the waffles, and the chocolate peanut-butter brownies. The waffles didn't turn out well; but I think that has more to do with my unfamiliarity with waffles than anything else. Tonight, I made the pizza crust, which is in the book as a cracker recipe.

I wonder if the scale I got recently* is a little off, because the book shows both grams and cups, and the volume of my measurements looked like it was more than it ought to be. But hey, all in proportion, right? And the upshot was that I had enough for this and for this.

The pizza is topped with a caramelized onion and shallot, a sliced Arkansas Black apple, an Apple-Chardonnay sausage from Trader Joe's, and some grated Gouda. Turned out deliciously, though next time, I want to find a more traditionally savory sausage (my choices were sweet apple, apple-chardonnay, and jalapeno.

I was really pleased with the crackers, maybe because I was able to roll them thin enough that they really do feel like crackers, not just thin bread. Mind you, I kept them in the oven for about 18 minutes -- first 10, then 5, then 1, 1, 1. That's a little longer than the recipe suggests, but it's fine if you keep a close eye on them.

A lot of the rosemary that I'd pressed in fell off when I broke the crackers, so I need to press harder next time (I was a bit nervous, never having made crackers before.) Next time, though, I'm going to make tomato-basil-garlic.

* I can hardly believe I've waited this long to get a scale. It's not that it's more precise for recipes, though it is - it's that it's so much easier than fiddling around with measuring cups. Do you know how many powdered, dry ingredients I've spilled while trying to level them out with a knife? Too many. Now I put a plastic container on the scale, zero it out, and dump things in gently until I get to the right amount. So. Much. Faster.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Note to self, re: teaching

1. When you see that the professor teaching the primary lecture course with which your writing course is linked has assigned hefty chunks of Marx and Rousseau with one day of lecture for each, be afraid. Be very afraid. And be prepared to do triage.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

THATCampPNW 2010 post-mortem

Last year, when I was swamped, and overwhelmed, and exhausted (and right about to get really ill with what I now know is celiac disease), I went to an unconference in Pullman, called THATCamp.

Or, actually, THATCampPNW. It was amazing. I met great people, got new ideas, and felt more energized than I often do at traditional conferences. This year, my colleague Jentery Sayers and I coordinated a second THATCampPNW, and as chaotic as it felt at times, it seems to have been a success. Here's what I learned. Or at least, part of it. I think it would take more than one blogpost to cover it all.

1. Don't miss the opening session: "The opening session is the most interesting one," said Jentery, a few minutes before ours started; and whether or not he was right, what I found is that it's the most important one, in terms of learning about other people's interests. I felt as though the session titles were vague and abstract; if they'd appeared as paper titles, I'd have called them bland. That's part of the point of an unconference, I suppose -- no energy needlessly expended on cute wit -- but I never did feel like I entirely caught up on the conversation.

2. Hire someone to hold down the fort (if you're the coordinator). We didn't think about this in advance, which is a little dim of us, considering that our base was in the Simpson Center for the Humanities; a really nice space -- but one that can't be left unattended. The two sessions I did make it to on the first day were dictated by their location, i.e., where I could be and still be easily accessible/keep an eye on things. And they were good, but it's not really the THATCamp experience I had imagined I'd have.

3. Don't assume that everyone coming is tech- and THATCamp-savvy. Sure, many, perhaps most of them may be using smartphones with map capabilities, and may know how the THATCamp format works. In our case, though, we had a mix; and while I'd thought of the map issue, what we hadn't provided was a half-page "Welcome to THATCamp! This is how things work" sheet. It was telling, then, that at our wrap-up session, one of the comments was "I didn't really realize that if I proposed a session topic, I should be ready to serve as facilitator, and ready to start the conversation." Not that facilitating is always necessary; in fact, being willing to get out of the way and avoid authoritative pontificating is vital. But being aware of both possibilities is the main point.

4. Assume that things will go wrong. In our case, it was a catering snafu, and probably pretty mild, though certainly a pain. But it didn't interfere with THATCampPNW's success in itself, so, on the whole? Win. Refreshments were good, and there were plenty of them.

5. Colleagues are awesome. This would never have happened without Jentery Sayers, who is far more advanced at networking and being social than I am.

There are a few things I'm still thinking about. We had several adds and drops in the final week. (Luckily, we had a waitlist, so there was no danger of attendance being noticeably sparse.) Even so, I'd say that about 20% of our attendees didn't show. Since we'd planned on having 90 people, this wasn't a big deal -- having 70 was plenty; and in fact, I think it was better than having 90.
But I'm struck by the fact that probably half of the people who were determining Sunday's sessions didn't actually attend them. Is there a better way of setting them up? I'd like to think so.

Finally, and I'll end with this for now, having a wrap-up session (as we did) is good, but I wonder whether we could do more for continuing conversations later on. Does the main THATCampPNW site need a Missed Connections post for people to comment on? Maybe, because one of the things I kept hearing was that people wanted to have conversations that were shortened or simply didn't happen due to time constraints. I know that the document created during the wrap-up session will be posted, and I know at least one BootCamp instructor planning to post an online version of her session. We ended this year with an offer to host THATCampPNW 2011 at WSU Vancouver, and I think that's a positive achievement -- a level of certainty that we didn't have last autumn at Pullman. It's good to know that even if conversations were cut off, we have a place where they can be restarted.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Catfish (a meandering review)

After I saw Catfish today, I wondered why I'd been so intrigued, and after a moment, I remembered that I had heard a short NPR story on it, teasing the "riveting" final 40 minutes, the amazing twist ending. Darn you, NPR, for making me believe you when you say something is riveting. Often, you're right -- but not every time.

This morning, videochatting with my partner, I mentioned that I might see Catfish, and I think I said something like "it's a documentary about a relationship on Facebook, it has some sort of twist, and I'm curious about the storytelling." He passed me this article in response. From his perspective, I'm experienced at Facebook -- I have 269 virtual friends, and I'm on it most every day. I thought, later that morning, of trying to explain that I don't feel like I'm part of the classic FB crowd; I had to be told what it meant to "poke" someone, and never used any of the numerous actions with anyone without great irony. From poking came SuperPoke, which, if I recall, had a write-your-own custom poke option; and so in my peak superpoking period, I threw Helen Vendler at several friends. (Much better than throwing sheep, and I promise you, I would never throw Helen Vendler at anyone who wouldn't appreciate her.) Later, the same friends and I discovered that the "teabag your friend" option corresponded to the teabagging entry in the Urban Dictionary, and we were equal parts titillated and horrified.

"Look at me," I wanted to say to my partner; "even I exhibit fogeyesque horror at the things kids do these days."

But I didn't have time to write him, because after getting back from the farmer's market, I had to rush downtown to play a sexy secret agent for a company that does corporate teambuilding games.

I got to my assigned spot, planted myself at the bar, and explained to the bartender what I would be doing for the next couple of hours. He was amused. So was the couple who were sitting a couple of places away, who were equally intrigued by my English accent. I didn't really want to break character, or explain why I have the accent, or anything, so when they asked where I was from, I just shrugged, and said "Oh, I'm from London -- but I've lived here most of my life. Where are you from?"

And they said they were from Montana, which, of course, they said, I wouldn't know. (Why would a Londoner know about Montana?)

But I did. And I told them how I had been close friends with a girl who lived in Great Falls, and her family. They were incredulous. "But we were from Great Falls before we moved out here! What did you say her name was?"

I hadn't said. And Great Falls is a swarming metropolis compared to many cities in Montana. Wait, what am I saying? There aren't even that many cities IN Montana. But of course, this nice couple who I'd just casually sat next to at a bar knew my friend's family; were still close to her aunt and uncle.

They thought it was amazing and hilarious. (So did I.) But if they call up C's family, and try to tell her that they met C's childhood friend from England, I imagine they'll get some strange reactions.

I put three teams through their paces. They had to use their best pick-up lines to get my phone number. When they were pitiful, I mocked them; when they stepped it up and started pretending with energy, I rewarded them with higher points. Along the way, they bought me a couple of glasses of wine. A nice afternoon. And I got done just in time to scurry up the street to catch the 15:00 showing of Catfish.

So, Catfish. Spoilers here, at Wikipedia; and more obliquely here, at an article critiquing the film. Spoilers here, too, I suppose, but I'll give you a few carriage returns in case you want to look away.
Still here?

Catfish is about a woman who lied on the internet. To an extreme extent, I suppose, because creating 15 Facebook profiles is ambitiously imaginative.

People have been lying on the internet since long before Facebook. I had a brush with an elaborate internet liar in my first couple years of college, through an early shipper fandom group for Picard and Crusher on ST:TNG. I've read stories about others. Uncovering one is as strange as the first time you reached into a pond and scooped up a cluster of frog eggs; felt slime where there ought to be water, and perhaps saw the small black tadpole bodies beginning to wriggle their way out.

But frog eggs are everywhere, and so are internet liars. The Schulmans and Joost act as though Facebook have suddenly made these deceptions possible, as though it's some sort of grand advance allowing so much more intimacy than before, and the chance to be intimate with strangers. Clearly, they're too young to have ever been active in Usenet groups.

As the film ended, people were murmuring about how sad Angela was, and how bizarre, and how nice Nev Schulman was, and all I could think of was "Jeebus, folks, haven't you ever desperately wanted to be someone else? Or imagined what it would be like to be someone different?" I couldn't help thinking about how easy it is to slip in and out of different facets of my personality in Seattle. If I want to be a sexy Brit for an afternoon, and get paid to sit in a bar and heckle teams, I can. And there are much easier ways of indulging in feeling like a different sort of person: usually, it's as simple as going to a different neighborhood. It's much easier to do than in small rural towns like Ishpeming, MI. For three upwardly mobile guys in NYC to not get that? I guess it's not surprising, but I still found them sad; the filmmakers as much as the family.

At the end of the day, then, I guess I am old in internet years, if old means that I know that people will go to a lot of trouble to find ways to love and be loved.