In the Conservatory on a gray day in January

I’d been feeling somewhat glum these past two days, so I decided to take steps. Specifically, I paid a visit to the Conservatory at the Plant Sciences Laboratory at the University of Illinois.

It’s a nice space to visit on a winter day. It’s warm. It’s humid. It’s full of plants.

I’d been meaning to go since before Christmas, but the University’s closure over the holidays made it seem simpler to just wait, and then my glumness made it seem suddenly rather urgent, so today I just dropped everything to go for a short visit.

Longer term, I want to return for a more deliberate visit. I want to return on a sunny day, and see what some bright sunshine does to the space. I want to bring art supplies and spend some time drawing, rather than merely taking a few quick snaps the way I did today.

But today, this is what I had time for, and I think it has been of some help.

I think the Conservatory, like an art museum, will reward repeated visits.

In the meantime, enjoy these pictures and imagine that you’re someplace warm and humid and filled with tropical plants.

NASA (space) travel posters!

I’m both a huge fan of poster art and a huge geek about travel to fantasy locations, so I’m doubly entertained by this batch of posters from the fun-loving artists at NASA advertising a bunch of possible travel locations in our solar system and beyond, available in resolutions high enough for printing at poster size:

Source: Visions of the Future

Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Making a note here: Huge Success

What a wonderful party! (“I’m making a note here: Huge success. It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.”)

elephants
That’s Wellington on the right and Alexander the Grape on the left.

Thanks to all the folks who braved the elephants to attend! (Here’s a picture of a couple of the elephants that people had to brave.)

Jackie and I had never thrown a party together (if you don’t count our wedding reception, which was really thrown by Jackie’s mom on our behalf). Our apartment at Country Fair was too small and too cluttered for us to want to show it off. I did have a similar sort of open house party at my house in Philo when I bought it, before I met Jackie, and it was a pretty good party, but not as good as this one (because I didn’t really know anyone to invite except coworkers).

We had a great turn out. There were a bunch of taiji folks, both from the class that I attend and the class I teach, and there were a bunch of former coworkers, and a bunch of Jackie’s spinning and weaving guild members, as well representatives of the local speculative fiction writing and Esperantist communities. We had a lot of spouses and kids as well, so it was a very interesting group.

Everybody commented on how open and light our new place is, and how well it suits us. (It seems that anybody who’s lived in Champaign-Urbana for more than a few years knows somebody who lived in Winfield Village. I was initially surprised by this, but it’s so universally true, I’ve almost come to expect it.)

There was a great deal of interest in Jackie’s loom (something that you don’t see in just every house) and her spinning wheel and the yarn and woven items displayed all over the house. We don’t have much of our art hung yet, but the few pieces we have up all drew favorable comments.

I didn’t get to talk to anybody as much as I’d have liked, and barely managed to talk at all with a few people. I think future parties will be a bit smaller, so there’s more time to spend with each guest. (Sorry if I neglected you! Send me some email! Let’s do lunch!)

Pre-party preparations were a big deal of course, involving as they did unpacking all our worldly possessions and finding places for everything. Happily, post-party cleanup was almost trivial. (Because we just served snacks and deserts and not a real meal, and because we didn’t invite any undergrads.) We were mostly done cleaning up before the first Superbowl ad.

Now we have way too many deserts left over. Too much wine as well, but the wine will keep until we’re ready.

Home stretch of the zeroth draft

Progress on the novel continues apace.

In particular, I’ve reached the point where the action in the novel lines up with action in the failed short story that the novel draws from.

The short story failed because I simply couldn’t cram in all the setup needed, a problem easily solved in novel form—the setup occurs naturally in the body of the novel. As I wrote, I kept in mind the various bits that I needed to set up, and have been making sure to cover them as I went along.

With that done, I’d imagined I’d just about be able to copy whole scenes from the short story into the novel manuscript. Except, that turns out not to work. I tried it this morning, growing my story by about 1600 words, only a couple hundred of which were newly written prose.

Part of what’s in these scenes are the failed attempts to provide the setup. Since that setup is now provided (in full scenes of their own, earlier in the manuscript), I need to remove those attempts from these later scenes.

That turns out to be harder than I’d expected. The text I’m working on is near-final draft stuff. I had previously polished every paragraph, every sentence. Everything is all hooked together as smoothly as I could mange. Some things can be removed by just deleting a paragraph, but other things require a complete re-writing. Plus, a lot of things shouldn’t be removed entirely. Rather, the failed attempts to set something up should be replaced with a little call-back to the setup—a little memory-jogger that reminds the reader of what happened many pages ago, so that when it becomes significant, they say, “Oh, yeah. I remember that.”

The upshot is that I have another six thousand words or so ready to go in—but I now see that adding those words will be as hard as writing them would have been. Maybe harder.

After adding three scenes by copying and editing, I’m now thinking that it might be better to just write fresh scenes. (In fact, thinking about the amount of editing that remains to be done on the scenes I added this morning, that’s really starting to seem like a good idea. I’ll try it that way tomorrow.)

As I’ve been writing, Jackie has been working in her media—spinning and weaving mostly. She wove two silk scarves in the past weeks, and spend much of the past couple of days winding a warp for her next weaving project.

Here’s Jackie with the warp, chained up for storage or transportation, but ready to be threaded onto the loom:

jackie wound a warp

Boring post: Fiddling around with my website

I started having odd troubles with the theme I’d been using for this website, so I thought I’d look into alternatives.

I tried quite a few, most of which had one problem or another. Among the things that made me reject themes today:

  1. Header image was completely integrated into the design, so it couldn’t be changed.
  2. There was no way to show the full text of each post on the front page.
  3. Post titles were forced to all-uppercase.
  4. A full third of the page was dedicated to showing a featured image for each post, except my posts often don’t have a featured image—in which case the theme showed a dumb icon instead.

This theme isn’t perfect either. In particular, when I use an image in a post and mark it as the featured image, it appears twice, which is usually not what I mean to have happen, but I’ll experiment for a bit and see how I like it.

Intended as a placeholder, the header image is a photo I took of plaster casts made of the Elgin Marbles. (The casts, on display at the Spurlock Museum, were made before the ill-fated cleaning attempt that so seriously damaged the originals. Scholars come from far and wide to study our plaster casts.) Now that it’s up there, I kinda like it. I may just leave it like that.

Playing Ingress (now in open beta!)

For about six weeks now, I’ve been playing Ingress.

It’s a game. You could almost call it a video game—you see what’s happening on a video screen—but to play you have to go outside: The action of the game happens at specific places in the real world.

The conceit of the game is that matter from another dimension is intruding into our world via portals. In our world, these portals appear as works of public art or unique architecture. Via the game (running on an Android phone or tablet), you can locate and manipulate these portals.

I’ve been having a great time. I’m working with a half-dozen or so local Resistance players, some new like me, others already at level 8 and mainly providing support (since they’re no longer working to level up themselves).

The structure of the game encourages team play—building a powerful portal requires multiple high-level players to work together. But the team play doesn’t need to be simultaneous, just somewhat coordinated. Lower-level players can make faster progress if they play with a higher-level player, but it’s not necessary.

Screenshot_2013-11-01-11-15-12Besides the pleasures of loosely integrated, minimal-pressure teamwork, the other great thing about the game is that, because it takes place in the real world, to play it you have to go out in the real world. The game reports on how far you’ve walked in the course of playing it—for me, 50 km in the past six weeks. (See “Distance walked” in screenshot.) I credit that walking with helping me maintain my weight even though I haven’t been able to run for the past month.

I’m also really into the public art aspect of the game. I was already a huge fan of public art, but the game has made me connect with individual works in a way that I hadn’t. I’m aware of individual pieces in a whole new way—how they relate in space with one another and with other aspects of the community. (Although it is a different experience now to go for a walk downtown. Even when I’m not playing, I’m aware that certain works that are portals in the game. I have to remember that most people are not.)

Anyway, Ingress is now in open beta. If you have an Android device, you can just download the game and go.

I recommend it.

If you’re local and play, get in touch. I’d be glad to help you level up.

Kal-Haven training walk #4

Continuing our series of long walks to prepare for a possible through hike of the Kal-Haven trail, Jackie and I walked 16.72 miles today.

We walked to the University of Illinois’s arboretum, and then on through south Urbana to Milo’s where we had lunch. Then we walked to Meadowbrook Park and along the trail that goes along the south and west edges of the park, then through married student housing to the old Motorola building (where OLLI is now) to refill our water bottles, and then on home.

Jackie has asked that I specifically mention that we got a very close look at three juvenile Stufflesbeam (the plural of Stufflebeam, which is what we call ground hogs), just on the west side of the railroad embankment where Stadium Drive crosses Neil. One in particular stood just a few feet away, eating grass with great enthusiasm, close enough to give us a great view of his little nose.

Here’s what my tablet captured via Endomondo:

Jackie and I took a couple of pictures of one another with one of our favorite sculptures. We like this sculpture for various reasons, but one is that the very first time we came upon it, suddenly and unexpectedly as we took a turn in the path, we both had the same thought—and we both knew that the other was having that thought: “Anya wouldn’t like that!”

The picture Jackie took of me is pretty good—that’s what I look like. It’s of some interest to me because we took pictures with this sculpture a few years ago, and I didn’t like the pictures of me because of my weight at the time, and there was no way to crop the picture to hide my stomach and yet keep the rabbit sculpture.

I like this one better.

phil-with-rabbit

And, although Jackie just got an ordinary good picture of me, I managed to get a great picture of Jackie.

jackie-with-rabbit

It’s a perfect picture of the Jackie I know—the Jackie I’ve been married to for 21 years.

The wonderful Spurlock Museum

Plaster copy of Venus de Milo.
Plaster copy of Venus de Milo.

A hundred-odd years ago, a lot of towns and cities had their own museum. In those days, international travel was beyond the reach of ordinary people, and museums saw it as part of their mission to bring the great artistic and cultural works of the world to a place where ordinary people could see them. To support that, a whole industry existed making molds of the great works of European sculpture, and then casting plaster replicas of those works to be displayed in museums.

After all, the Venus de Milo can only be in one museum, but should only people who can get to the Louvre be able to see it?

A few decades later, fashions changed. Air travel and other changes made it possible for ordinary people to get to Europe after all, so they could see the great works of European art and culture. Rather suddenly, it no longer seemed like a great service to show people copies of the greatest works of art and culture.  Museums decided that they should show people originals—even if they could only afford 3rd rate originals.

julius caeser
Plaster copy of bust of Julius Caeser

Thanks entirely to great good fortune, at the time that this shift was at its peak, a budget crunch at the University of Illinois had virtually shut down the museums that are now known as the Spurlock Museum. They had so little money, they were unable to hire a director, meaning that there was no one in authority to throw out the plaster copies of the great works and replace them with 3rd rate originals.

At museums all over the country, an incredible number of these excellent copies—quite literally museum quality—were simply thrown away. But not those belonging to the Spurlock Museum.

Among other things, we have a fairly complete set of replicas of the Elgin Marbles, made from molds taken before an ill-fated attempt at cleaning did serious damage to the originals. Scholars come from all over the world to study our copies.

elgin marbles
Plaster copy of frieze blocks from the Parthenon

I was going to the Spurlock Museum today, to attend a meditation class by Mary Wolters (an excellent workshop, by the way), and decided to catch an earlier bus so I’d have half an hour to look around the collection. I’d several times wished I had a picture of one or another items from their collection to use to illustrate a Wise Bread post, and I figured this would be a good chance to get a few photos.

Having taken a few, I thought I’d share some here.

spurlock scupture

If you’re local, don’t miss the wonderful Spurlock Museum.

Great retro posters by Timothy Anderson

As a huge fan of poster art, I’m delighted that Jay Lake linked to Timothy Anderson’s Art site, full of retro posters (and retro book covers) for sf and fantasy books and films.

Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

The Italian language text is a clever way to reference the spaghetti westerns. Of course, Esperanto text would have been a much better choice.