ArmadilloCon

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ArmadilloCon is one of those conventions that seeps into your blood. It’s not a wild “PartyCon”, nor is it known for outstanding costumes. This is not to say there aren’t any parties, or there are no costumes. On the contrary, there are usually two or three public parties and several private ones. Likewise people do show up in costume. This year, the notable costumes were a Victorian woman (spoiled only by a modern stroller), and a steampunk warrior whose armor seemed to be made from a spray painted set of lacrosse pads. ArmadilloCon definitely falls into the category of “Relax-i-Con”.

Few parties, fewer costumes, and a very relaxed atmosphere; yet I find myself coming back year after year. It is a science fiction/fantasy convention, but unlike most such, the emphasis is on writing rather than visual media. The panels are intimate, and the great majority of panelists are easy to approach. As might be expected at a literature-based convention, there are plenty of readings by authors and book signings. There are also many panels on various aspects on the craft of writing. Some of the panels I attended I would consider my favorites from this year’s lineup include: “The Still Changing Definition of Urban Fantasy”, “Story Ideas I Hope to Never See Again”, “Stump the Panel”, and “Writing Erotic Fiction”.

I find it amusing, though not terribly surprising, that the “Writing Erotic Fiction” panel is always among the funniest, most productive, and most helpful in improving the craft of writing–even in other genres. Maybe it has to do with the types of personality that write such things. Maybe it’s that the panel is held late at night when inhibitions have dropped. Whatever the reason, at every convention I’ve attended that had such a panel, the erotic writing panel has always been among the best. I recommend going, even if you’re not interested in erotic writing per se.

In additionn to the panels, the attendees at ArmadilloCon are friendly and willing to talk about nearly anything. Making new friends is easy, even for rampant introverts. Even shy people might find it easier to approach people here. Ironically, despite me living locally, most of the friends I’ve made this year live a fair distance away–like Oklahoma.

The most memorable thing that happened to me at this year’s con was talking with Elizabeth Moon for half an hour. (Yes, that Elizabeth Moon.) We started off with shooting candy from her miniature replica crossbow and talked about stuff ranging from how she chooses her reading selections to autism to getting to wield the actual Lord of the Rings swords used on the set (i.e. not the backups).

The only thing I regret is the tendency of this Con to sneak up on me. Why do I regret it? There is a writing workshop I would love to participate in. Unfortunately, by the time I’m aware of the approaching Con, it’s long past the deadline for submitting to the workshop. I’d love to get feedback from published authors, editors, and agents.

If you want to attend a convention with wild costumes and wilder parties, go to DragonCon. If you want a relaxed atmosphere, or an introduction to genre literature, or you want to examine and improve your own writing, ArmadilloCon is truly an excellent convention.

Top Search

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I just want to thank all of you who made “creepy stalker”, and variations thereof, register on my top search list. For some reason I find this extremely amusing. It’s good to know that some of my more bizarre and ironic posts (or at least the titles) are being enjoyed by so many. Though I halfway expected “cat wars” to be a little more popular.

Post Awesomeness Letdown

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Yesterday was awesome. Lots of activity, lots of fun, even met a few new people. In yesterday’s post, I’d worried I’d over-extended my capabilities. Today I was sore, but not too sore to move and lift and do errands. That tells me my activity level was about where it should be. Kind of scary, now that I think of how much energy I expended. Next test is…can I recover in time to do it all again next Monday? I hope so, cause it’s been a long time since I’ve had that kind of fun. I missed it.

So where’s the letdown? It’s in the fact that I have to wait until next week to do it again.

An Exhausting Day

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Yes. My first post back is rather mundane. Sorry. I won’t say nothing exciting happened…just nothing that translates well to blog. Went to an aerobics class (TurboKick, for those who know what that is) and it wiped me out. The drive back gave me enough of a rest for me to get through teaching a private lesson. Then around 5ish, I realized I was bored. I looked on Meetup and the only thing that seemed interesting to me at the time was sand volleyball. Met some fun new people, had a blast getting back into the rhythm of volleyball. Managed to get myself all dirty. In short, I wonder if I over-extended myself today. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow. And I wonder if I’ll have the energy to do it again next Monday, because today was a lot of fun!

The play’s the thing, wherein we’ll catch the…Queen?

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Today was the penultimate Readers’ Theater session before summer break. One more to go (in June). Tonights plays were all based on telephone conversations. The first one, which required all in attendance to participate and even double up in some instances, was the radio drama that got made into the movie “Sorry, Wrong Number”. Basically the plot boils down to [spoiler alert, if anyone cares]:

Old Lady: I just overheard someone planning a murder!
Telephone Operators 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and Police Sergeant: Yeah. Sure.
Old Lady: *strangled*

The others were all more modern, and short (less than 10 minutes each). They were also amusing. Even the “suspense” ones were funny most of the way through.

In addition to “Sorry, Wrong Number”, I ended up participating in two others, both two person skits. The first was a “discussion” between a guy wanting to buy tickets and another guy trying to sell the tickets. Turns out they knew each other. Honestly, nothing all that interesting. To me it was just another bizarre-place-to-run-across-someone-you-know story.

The second was one of those annoying-operator-in-a-time-of-crisis stories. At least that’s what it started out to be. I’d volunteered to read the part of the operator. We were getting into it, and things were flowing nicely. About two thirds of the way through, however, and I discover the operator was supposed to be played by a woman. Oops.

So I figured, “What the hell.” I changed a couple of things on the fly, added a little improv, dropped a line or two, and voila: My name was George the telephone operator, and I was talking about my cheating husband, who was cheating with That Bastard, Brian. And I was complaining to this poor guy who was trying to get the number of a psychiatrist because his wife is psychotic.

Many compliments were given for changing the script on the fly to match my character. Though I still think I should have given him a Boston accent. Oh well. The trials and tribulations of a cold reading.

Random Topic: The origins of knock-knock jokes

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*Warning: the facts in this post may or may not be true. Enjoy!*

What is humor? Depending on the era you’re talking about, it is: a liquid in the body that determines health and well-being, what you and/or others consider funny, or ice cream. The most common usage is, of course, the second: what is considered funny.

Literature recognizes three levels of humor: common, low, and refined. Common refers to potty humor, slapstick, and things everybody has experienced. Low humor includes things such as humorous stories, puns, and the absurd. In other words, humor that requires a certain minimal amount of thought. Refined humor requires more than minimal thought. “Jokes” in the refined humor category are not always obvious. In fact it is not unusual for humor at this level to be completely missed by those around you.

The key to the differences between the levels seems to be the amount of world knowledge and experience that is required to understand it. Common is called “common” because everyone understands the references, whether they actually find the joke or incident amusing. Low is called “low” because that is the level of education and experience necessary to “get it”. Refined is called “refined” because it refers to knowledge, experiences, and attitudes that have been distilled to such a degree that not everyone, or even most, would appreciate the humor.

Where, then, do knock-knock jokes fall on this continuum? Given that the majority of knock-knock jokes are based on puns and homonyms, I’d peg them at “low” humor. But why are they a part of our culture? Where did they come from?

The first recorded knock-knock joke was less of a formula joke, and more of an unfortunate incident involving the evolution of language. Privacy has value. This is a concept that even our cousins the neanderthals understood. The invention of a solid door revolutionized privacy. All the most up to date chiefs had one. The problem was that doors were so effective at creating privacy, they blocked or muffled sound. One chief fell victim to this muffling problem in a rather embarrassing way.

The chief’s consort at the time was a woman named Gunthag. (Don’t laugh. It translates into “Beautiful Woman”.) Unfortunately, she had a twin brother by the name of Gunthorn. (“Beautiful Man”) The chief waited one evening for a visit from Gunthag. Upon hearing a knock on his prized door, he asked “Who?” He thought he heard “Gunthag”, so he decided to surprise his consort by opening the door in the buff. What the person had actually said, though, was “Gunthorn”. That chief discovered in a rather “common” way that Gunthorn had the same taste in men that Gunthag did.

If I recall correctly, that was the same chief who invented the “peep hole”.

Random Topic: The effects of reality television upon lab mice

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*Warning: The facts in this post may or may not be true. Have fun!*

Reality television. The usual setup is a group of people in a limited area that has been flooded with camera angles. Supposedly this means that everything you see is unscripted. Yet it is not unusual for these “unscripted” voyeur’s paradises to actually be scripted. At least between small groups of two to three of the contestants. Oh yeah. Did I mention that these “reality” shows are often little more than elaborate contests? I guess in the producers’ realities, life is one big game show. Though in Hollywood, this may very well actually BE the case. I wouldn’t know.

So who watches these pseudo-reality shows? Lab mice. That’s right. And if any of those lab mice are reading this, your lab needs to be nominated for the Nobel Science Prize. Anyway. Why would we want to see the effect of these shows on lab mice? I’m not sure, myself. But scientists have grown extra ears and eyes on mice in order for the mice to be able to watch multiple shows at once. My only viable hypothesis is seeing how long it takes for the mice to begin confusing reality with fantasy.

This hypothesis seems to be on track, though. I’ve seen reports of mice gathering in groups. Shortly after one group broke up, they began digging in their cedar chips, aiming the flying debris at other groups. All except one. That one huddled in the corner and rocked back and forth while squeaking pathetically.

So how does this show confusion between reality and fantasy? By flinging cedar chips (one nasty little guy had chosen to fling his cedar chips from a communal “relief” area) the group shows: 1) a tendency to act in ways not usually acceptable in mouse society, 2) the desire to sabotage the other mice over some meaningless television, and 3) that those who fling chips first do so in order to spread their shit.

Longitudinal studies show that mouse society can change in only one generation. That’s right, it only takes one generation of watching reality television to change what is acceptable in mouse society. The control society has a mouse population that is, if not always polite, at least functional for the purposes of long term survival both of the individual and the culture.

Test group A (same season of Castle of Desire over and over) began identically to the control group. Halfway through their pre-mating life, test group A mice began showing signs of specialized cliques. By the time they were ready to mate, the mice in group A had learned the fine art of backbiting. In one recorded incident, one mouse had covered another, but then a third came up and sank its teeth in the ear growing out of the back of the mouse on top and pulled him off. This third one then covered the female while the first male shivered in a corner and moaned to the others. By the time the second generation of test group A grew up, they appeared to be sex obsessed. Even to the point of dysfunctionally ignoring basic needs such as food and water.

Test group B (as group A with the addition of Revivor) also began identically to the control group. The progression of change was initially slower than group A; however, the changes were more marked and more socially dysfunctional. Not only were the second generation mice sex obsessed, there were several deaths. Presumably, the mice assumed that, as in Revivor, those who were “killed” would stand up and leave the location permanently.

This study shows that reality television can turn a social group from functional, if occasionally brutal, to one where every individual is sex obsessed AND scores high on borderline personality tests. What would be interesting would be to see if this process could be reversed. Perhaps by exposing subsequent generations to PBS?

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