Category Archives: General

Birds, Fighting

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Recently, I was reminded that birds are descended from dinosaurs. It’s easy to imagine pterosaurs mixing it up after watching birds attacking other birds…

CROW V. GULL

I’ve often watched crows harassing owls and hawks, using their maneuverability to stay out of reach. Usually the larger bird’s trying to get away while the crow chases it.

But the other day, I saw a crow harassing a gull. The gull was about as nimble as the crow, so instead of a pursuit,  it became an aerial dogfight, with the gull after the crow as often as the other way around.

It went on for quite a while before the gull dropped down to a rooftop.

OSPREY V. GREAT BLUE HERON

I was visiting friends in Minneapolis in their lovely lakeside home. We were sitting on the dock at sunset, when we heard series of loud harsh squawks. It was a great blue heron perched in a tree, being attacked by an osprey.

We watched the osprey diving at the heron, the heron trying to spear the osprey (with sound effects). At first we thought the osprey was after a nest, but no, when the squawking heron gave up defending itself and took off across the lake, the fighter plane osprey followed it. They landed in the trees across the lake, and we lost sight of them. (And I didn’t even think to take pictures…)

When I googled it, it turns out the ospreys do attack herons, though I’m not clear if as prey or as rivals.

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A Strange Moth in Seattle

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I was hanging out in someone’s backyard on a recent afternoon when I noticed some tiny moths flying around. One settled on a small tree, and I got a photograph.

And because the internet is wonderful, sitting right there I could search for a match on my phone. It’s Oecophora bractella, a European moth that seems to have established a population locally. It was first seen in the US in Seattle in 1998. It lives on decaying wood and fungus. That seems right; a tree was cut down in this yard a few years ago, and the logs are still there, gradually decaying.

The Mystery Nest Demystified

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The other day, in Seattle, I saw a woven nest hanging in a bare tree. It wasn’t very high off the ground, but probably when the tree was in leaf, the nest would be well hidden.

It was quite large, and I wondered what kind of bird made it. Had it been in India, I’d have suspected some kind of weaver bird. But in Seattle? My usually reliable Google-fu failed me. So I posted the picture on Facebook.

One of my FB friends came back with a prompt reply: Bushtit. (Thanks, Rebecca!)

That’s these cute little birds, about 3.5 inches long.

Bushtit in Glen Canyon, San Francisco. (c) Janet Kessler

Bushtit – Copyright Janet Kessler

(Click on the photo to go to more bushtit photos by urban wildlife photographer Janet Kessler – and the context for this photograph.)

Revived my Archived Blog

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Like many other writers, I killed my LiveJournal when it went into Russian hands and had terms and conditions in Russian. Unlike many other writers, I didn’t move my archive to Dreamwidth – and of course regretted it. Today, LiveJournal sent me a message allowing me to revive my acount. So I did, and set up an account on Dreamwidth, and brought my archive over. I had posts starting from 2007, including all my posts about Clarion.

So here’s the link for the Dreamwidth archive. I still need to fix the internal links, many of which link to LiveJournal. But at least all those entries still exist.

Giant House Spiders are Real

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A few days ago, I read about the Giant House Spider on Facebook. It sounded mythical,  like jackalopes and the Pacific Tree Octopus. Because Giant, Spider, and House in conjunction don’t work well for a lot of people.  But when I googled it, I found they actually do exist. (Sorry, arachnophobes: Giant House Spiders weren’t invented by RL Stine.)

Yesterday, I saw something black scuttling across the living room floor. My first thought was, cockroach. Because I’ve seen lots of cockroaches, but only in Asia. Closer inspection revealed a Giant House Spider. I was pleased to recognize it.

So I whipped out my trusty spider catcher – an 8-oz clear plastic cup and a piece of card – stalked the spider, captured it, and returned it to the wild. Here’s the pic. (The spider-catcher is labeled so it can sit on the desk and not get thrown out by mistake.)

Criminal Minds – Notes from Orycon 2016

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I found my bunch of Orycon 2016 notes the other day, and  thought some were worth writing up. This panel particularly impressed me, since the panelists (Matt Bellet, Bart Kemper, SD Perry) brought some very interesting experience and insights. Matt has worked in rehabilitating young offenders on parole; Bart Kemper, an officer in the Army Reserves who served in Iraq and Afghanistan (and is also an engineer with current Secret Security clearance with the DoD); and SD Perry, who writes horror and dark fiction and therefore researches this stuff constantly.

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Is there such a thing as a “Criminal Mind”?

  • SD Perry: Yes, there are brain differences. Psychopaths show reduced frontal lobe activity, no emotional reaction to danger words, and increased amygdala activity. However, ordinary people can also be criminals through anger and self-righteousness. There’s sociopathy.
  • Matt: Yes. Some people have brains that work differently. Others are “typical” but do things that are criminal because of their circumstances.
  • Bart: Not all criminals are psychopaths nor are all psychopaths criminal.
  • SD Perry: Yes – some psychopathic traits can help careers. They’re over-represented among surgeons, CEOs, media journalists for example. Our society values people without empathy. They avoid criminal acts through rational decisions.
  • Bart: Killing people is acceptable depending on the circumstances – if the people are on the other side. It’s the difference between being a soldier, who kills people vs a murderer who needlessly kills people. Killing can be justifiable, but other crimes like rape may not be. The death penalty for rape is rational because there’s no justification for rape.
  • Question: What about women killing their abusers?
  • Bart: Most murders are personal.
  • Matt: I told my guys that I will talk about what’s legal and illegal, but not about right and wrong. It’s not my job to look at the ethics of the situation.
  • SD Perry: Psychopaths don’t think of right and wrong. They consider everything only in relation to themselves. Rehab also has to be different. It’s also true with narcissism – everything is about them. Difficult to treat them. There’s the Dark Triad: Psychopathy, Narcissism, Machiavellianism. Together with Sadism. Goes into the “Criminal Personality,” causes Criminal thinking errors.
  • Someone said something about Death Squads and Torture. “You lose part of your soul.”

Question: What about naked craziness? (I think the reference was to people on the street who act really weird and dangerous, but not sure.)

  • Matt: Drug addiction, rule-breaking, mental illness, drawing attention – these account for some of those behaviors.
  • SD: There’s a thin line between sanity and not-sane.
  • Bart: Criminals aren’t stupid. Smart people can deceive themselves.
  • Matt: Criminals are not only the hero of their own story, they’re also the victim.
  • SD: Psychopaths will lie.
  • Matt: They know what you want to hear.

Question: Is the internet causing psychopaths?

Psychopaths are born, not made. But people can relate to them: for instance, John Wick (violent action movie hero) was a sympathetic person.

Question: There was some study in the 1920s which found there was no psychological difference between police and criminals?

Bart: A manipulative personality can be used to manipulate people in good ways. E.g. a coach, or a criminal rehabilitator.

SD: Any job that offers power will draw psychopaths. E.g. Police. Surgeons. CEOs. Don’t have moustache-twirling bad guys as your villains.

Matt cited the Milgram studies. He noted that people who hadn’t completed high school wouldn’t press the button (to apparently torture the “victim” of the experiment). High School is where you learn to obey authority.

Bart: Countering the stupid authority requires ethics training. “Question every order.” Military reward people who revealed the Abu Ghraib incident, and prosecuted the bad guys.

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That’s all I have in my notes. Really liked the session. I think I learned a lot. I was reminded of it recently when I read the Atlantic Monthly article, When Your Child is a Psychopath,   which notes that 80% of psychopaths are not criminal, and also this article: Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath.

 

Old Typewriters and a Ray Bradbury Tribute

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I was at San Francisco Airport yesterday, and came upon this tiny exhibit of old typewriters in Terminal 2. (Of course, I thought of Mary Robinette Kowal, who collects them.)

It was quite charming – a whole range of old typewriters. I’d liked to have spent more time there looking at them all, but with only a few minutes before I had to head for my Gate, I just took a few pictures.

But the most interesting thing to me was the display of typewriters belonging to well-known authors. Orson Wells. Tennessee Williams. Hemingway. [Edited to add: I got an email from Steve Soboroff, who said they came from his famous collection.]

And perhaps the best of all: Ray Bradbury.

Reminded me of the tribute video by Rachel Bloom as well as all the lovely stories of his I’ve read over the years.

 

Did He Mean It?

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November 15th. Pouring rain in Seattle. So soon after the Election Shock.

There was a Spec Fic reading at the Vermilion Bar in Seattle. I attended, mainly for a chance to meet some of the writers I knew, and see them in action.

I went up to get a hot drink and a snack. They had no coffee, only tea. While I waited at the bar, a man next to me asked me if I was a writer. His name, he said, was Don, and he didn’t give a surname. I asked him the same thing, and he said something about having a bookshop. Then he asked me to give him three words, and he’d write me a poem. Without thinking too much about it, I gave him Balloon, Phoenix, and Rocket. My food arrived, I excused myself, and took it back to the table with my writer friends.

poem-by-donA little later, he brought me the poem. The reading had started, and so I just glanced at it and thanked him. Later, I read it, and it seemed an extended metaphor for the political dream that became a nightmare.

The balloon drifted away
From the child
like a dream
Up and away
No rocket
Perhaps a phoenix sometime
but maybe not
I worship the ground
She walked on
and pull up the blanket under my chin.

“Do you like it at all?” he asked.

Yes. I did. I do.  I pulled up the blanket under my chin. What else was there to do at 3 a.m. when it had all gone wrong?

I still don’t know, as I look at the handwritten poem on a scrap of paper, whether that was what he meant. But that’s what it meant to me.

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How to Get Started as a Voice Actor – Panel Notes from Con-Volution 2015

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library bards poster smThis was the kind of panel I attend because it’s a subject about which I am Totally Clueless. It was totally worth it. Xander Jeanneret and Bonnie Gordon are voice actors who started in in theater, and now do voicing. As the Library Bards, they sing nerdy parodies of current hit songs.

Main points:

  • Major markets can be split into: Commercial, industrial, games, anime. Usually commercial and industrial pay the best – and may require Union membership.  They may also pay residuals i.e. like royalties every time the sound clip is used. (The relevant Union is SAG-AFTRA.) Anime, games, cartoons tend to pay a one-time fee and that’s it.
  • You need to be able to record and edit your own clips. They recommended Audacity and a good microphone that plugs into your laptop. They use a Snowball mic. (I’ve done Audacity once, and it wasn’t easy – but I could see how it could become so with practice.)
  • You don’t need a home studio, you can improvise. A closet makes a good studio, because the clothes damp the sound and improve the acoustics. In an emergency (like recording in a hotel room), you can throw a blanket or towel over your head, the mic and the laptop. Audacity has a noise reduction option; if you give it a few minutes of silence before you start recording, that defines a background “noise” to get rid of.
  • Sometimes, local studios are available for rental by the hour.
  • You can do a lot of voices by changing speed, level, pitch, or adding a speech impediment. T.C. Helicon  audio equipment can help change pitch.
  • You absolutely need a “reel” – a demonstration MP3. Some voice actors include actual work they’ve done. People who are just starting out can invent their own – read some stuff out loud and show the voices you can do. (Tip: Do not do existing commercials! But you can make up your own commercial for a fictitious product.) Xander recommends putting your reel on Youtube with a headshot so it’s easy to share.
  • You can get projects on the internet. The three sites they mentioned were Voices.com (free), Voices123 (which charges a fee), and ACX.com which is an Amazon audio-book site.
  • You can get voiceover agents, but Bonnie didn’t feel it was very valuable for her. This was in part because she took on a lot of very small projects, mostly from Voices.com
  • Bonnie recommended taking all the gigs you can get initially – even unpaid ones – to build your contacts. Sometimes, you can do voice work for someone as a favor, and they can give you some professional help.
  • Union membership is a double-edged sword. Union jobs pay better, but there aren’t that many of them – and especially people who are starting out need to do non-Union jobs to build their networks. If you’re Union, you can do a non-Union job, though it’s frowned on; but if you’re not in the Union you aren’t eligible for Union gigs.
  • Screen actors are beginning to do voice-acting work and are in demand because of the name recognition. Not all of them are good voice actors, though!
  • Voice acting usually requires exaggeration, not perfect realism. One of the best ways to learn is to listen. Watch the commercials, listen to how they do it.
  • They recommended Dee Bradley Baker’s blog, I want to be a Voice Actor as a good place for beginners.

I Haz a Poltergeist?

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I was sitting at the computer pulling an all-nighter, and it was past dawn. I was thinking of calling it a day (or night), when I heard a crash of glass from my bathroom. Damn. Expecting a picture off the hook or a shattered toothmug, I went to investigate.

The upper panel of the bathroom window had smashed. Pieces of glass lay all over the floor.

What happened? At first I thought something had broken it from outside – a confused bird, a thrown rock, a blown branch.  But:

  • There was nothing out there
  • The screen outside the window was untouched and
  • It’s a double-paned window, and the external pane was whole.

So the damage had occurred from inside. But:

  • I was the only one awake at the time, and wasn’t in the bathroom
  • Nothing in the bathroom can accidentally bang into the glass
  • The gap under the bathroom door is large enough to prevent a serious pressure differential in the bathroom

So – maybe I have a poltergeist? Or is it a  message from my long-neglected Muse, because the broken window? It looks like a phoenix on its nest.

phoenix 1

Then again, it could be thermal shock (though I didn’t notice any serious temperature change) and pareidolia.

I’d be interested in other explanations (preferably scientific, but open to anything).