GO train riders have always had their rituals.  For some it’s parking in the same spot every morning, for some, riding in the same car every morning, for some, it’s the same seat every morning.  For me, it’s the deer.  Every morning and every evening my train passes a large field planted with a verdant green, low-growing crop – soy, I think, but I’m not sure.  And every morning and every evening, if it’s not too dark, I look for the cabal of deer that hang out in that field, snacking on the tender leaves. There are usually five or six of them but, one lucky night, I caught a glimpse of at least a dozen if not more.

I’m sure the farmer who planted the field isn’t happy with his or her uninvited guests. Deer are the scourge of many a farmer and most spend a good amount of time and money keeping them away from their crops.  For me, though, they’re like a talisman, especially in the evening. When we reach the station before the field – which is also the last one before my stop – I stop reading, or napping, or whatever I’m doing that ride, and stare out the window.  The scenery rushes by, a blur of green as the train hurtles towards its destination. There is a moment of almost breathless anticipation as the trees give way to the lush, green field, and there they are, my deer.  Sometimes some of them even look up as the train passes them by and, fancifully, I imagine they’re saying, “it’s all right, you’re almost there, you’re almost home”.  It’s irrationally comforting.  It only lasts a fraction of a minute and then we’re past the field and within a stone’s throw of my destination but, in that fraction of a minute, something within me loosens and settles, and for just a moment all is right in my world.

A Life Well Lived

When I was a young child, there were two television shows I was allowed to stay up late and watch with my parents.  One was Monty Python, the other was Star Trek. That may explain a few things about me and my sense of humour, come to think of it.  As I grew older I became aware of boys and started having crushes on tv characters, like many teenage girls did.  But while most of my female acquaintances – at least the ones who admitted to watching Star Trek – fell madly in love with the dashing captain of the USS Enterprise, it was the cool, enigmatic First Officer that captured both my attention and my heart.  I, in my girlish daydreams, fantasized that I would be the one to melt that icy exterior.  Yeah, I know, get in line.  As the years went on, and my teenage crush faded, it was comforting to know that when there was nothing else on I could usually find a Star Trek episode somewhere.  I got so I could practically recite the lines with the actors.  I got into fandom, and into conventions because of Star Trek; my father took me to my first convention when I was eleven years old (held at the Royal York Hotel in 1976) and after that I never looked back.

Today we lost Leonard Nimoy.  He was so much more than just Mr. Spock but, of course, that’s the way he will be forever remembered by many people who may never have known that he did other things.  I remember, many, many years ago, my dad showing me a newspaper clipping (which I may still have) describing Mr. Nimoy playing Sherlock Holmes in a stage play in the US – how I would have liked to see that.  I remember seeing him on Mission Impossible, after Star Trek was cancelled, playing the ex-magician Paris.  I remember watching Zombies of the Stratosphere late at night – or perhaps it was in the wee hours of the morning – in black and white on a flickering television screen.  I remember watching a pre-Star Trek Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner acting together in an episode of Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mr. Shatner playing the part of the wide-eyed ingenue to  – spoiler alert – Mr. Nimoy’s nasty bad guy.  Recently I’ve been watching Fringe on Netflix, having missed it the first time around, and I’ve been enjoying him immensely as the morally ambiguous William Bell.  As someone who loves music, I remember his music – from the silly fun of The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins to his serious version of Johnny Cash’s I Walk The Line.

The thing that I think a lot of people will remember about Leonard Nimoy, aside from Star Trek of course, is how much he loved people and loved his fans.  It was evident at cons, and evident in his Twitter conversations.  In January of last year he tweeted “Any here want to make me their honorary grandfather consider it done. ”  I was one of the thousands upon thousands of fans who rushed to tweeted him back and formalise what we already knew – he was like a part of our family. And, while we knew he was mortal and – more recently – struggling with health issues, he was still so much a presence and so larger than life that we thought he’d always be there. Unfortunately it was not to be.

Goodnight, Grandpa Leonard.  Be at rest, be at peace.  My world is a slightly dimmer place tonight without you in it.

Did They Really Just Sing That?

Music is a touchstone for me. At work or when I’m at home surfing the web or reading, writing or crafting I always have something streaming in the background, from classic rock to jazz to movie scores depending on my mood (at the moment it’s the “Mad Men: Don Stares Into His Drink” playlist on Songza) and the CD player and the Aux jack in the car tend to get a good workout on my way to and from work.

I was recently listening to “The River Driver”, a classic Newfoundland ballad made popular by Great Big Sea and I noticed something strange.  For the most part, it’s a beautiful song and I love listening to it, but one stanza struck me as rather creepy.  The stanza in question talked about the singer building a “lonesome castle” somewhere where his lady-love could just sit and watch him as he went off to the river to drive logs.

That got me to thinking about lyrics, and I realised that some of the songs I like, or liked when I was younger, are downright creepy depending on how you look at them. I’m not going to quote lyrics in this post, as I cannot for the life of me figure out how the rules of fair use apply to song lyrics (and apparently no one else can either) but if you want to find them, you can use good ol’ Mr. Google to help you out.

Case in point for creepiness – Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”.  At the heart of it, the Boss is asking his lover, whom he addresses as “little girl”, if her daddy’s left her alone, and if he can please her like the singer can.  Given that these lyrics are about half the song, it ranks pretty high on the squick-scale.

The Boss doesn’t have the corner on the daddy-squick market, though.  George Michael’s “Father Figure” is pretty innocuous until you get to the chorus.  Up until then, it’s a pretty nice love ballad.  The chorus, however, has the singer wanting to be his love’s father-figure as well as his or her “preacher teacher”.

Then, of course, there’s everyone’s favourite stalker song – “Every Breath You Take”, by The Police.  I mean, seriously, take a look at the lyrics.  The whole song is about how no matter what the subject does, the singer will be watching them.  And at one point the singer even states that the subject “belongs” to them.

Speaking of stalker songs, what about “One Way or Another” by Blondie?  The singer goes on (and on and on) about how she’s going to “get” the subject, whom she hasn’t even met yet.  She’s going to follow the subject, find out where he or she lives, who they call, and who they hang out with.  No, that’s not creepy at all.  In fact, Deborah Harry has actually said that the song was inspired by her ex-boyfriend stalking her!

Of course, the reverse can be true too – look at the lyrics for “YMCA” by The Village People.  A song that many consider to either be a gay anthem or a piece of fluff to dance to at weddings, it’s actually a very uplifting song if you listen to the lyrics.  The singer sings about staying at the YMCA as a way to his life back on track, and offers advice to another young man going through the same thing.

And on that note, no pun intended, I think it’s time for me to go listen to something that will ease me into sleep – no creepy songs this time!



I Am Numb

On Friday evening, I found out through Facebook that the wife of a friend had gone missing.  I didn’t know “M” well – I’d only met her a few times – but I knew her husband first through mutual friends and, later, through conversations and shared posts on Facebook. (I am choosing not to identfy her or her husband here as I wish to protect their privacy.)

A group was set up on Facebook to share information, get the word out about “M”‘s disappearance and to coordinate postering and searching.  Within a few hours it had grown to over 1,000 people.  Some were close friends and family of “M” and her husband, some were complete strangers.  When I was on the computer over the weekend, and even yesterday at work, I found myself checking Facebook almost obsessively, hoping to see those three words – “she’s home safe”.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out that way.  On Sunday a body was found, but we kept hoping that against all odds it wouldn’t be “M”.  After more than 24 hours on tenterhooks, though, we got the news we had been dreading Monday evening.

I am numb.

I am still trying to wrap my head around this, around the senseless of it all.  Around the media coverage – as soon as the body was found, it seemed like the media had already decided it was “M” even though nothing had been released and, in fact, the police had gone out of their way to state that they weren’t linking it to “M”s disappearance.  And the details that were released by the media about the state the body was found in – that is a visual that will stay with me for much too long.  I can’t imagine what “M”s husband and family felt like after reading them.  I have always been a proponent of freedom of speech and a free press.  Being on this side of it though, even on the periphery, has made me take a hard look at some of what was drilled into me in university.  “The public has a right to know” suddenly seems to be less important than “her husband shouldn’t have to read about this before he even knows if it’s her”.

I am numb.

I’m trying to wrap my head around some of the comments that were made on Facebook and elsewhere about “M” and her disappearance because of the hobbies she was involved in – the SCA and role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.  Comments made by people who assumed they knew her because of the hobbies she enjoyed, what her license plate said, the fact that she had a couple of tattoos.  Comments posted on discussions that I know her husband saw.  Speculations over every little tidbit released by the media or police or just someone who had an opinion on “M”, her actions or her lifestyle.  When did tact and commonsense take a back seat to “hey, look at what I’ve got to say and I don’t care who it affects”?

I am numb.

There are other things that will stay with me as well, bright spots in an otherwise dark and dismal time.  The love, support and hope shown by the members of the Facebook group.  The way they came together and supported each other.  The way they tried so hard to get that happy ending for “M” and her family by searching for her, supporting those who searched, posting and reposting flyers online and in the area she disappeared in and thinking good thoughts or offering prayers to whomever and whatever they believed in.  One person in particular, the creator of the Facebook group, was our rock.  “S” kept us informed, kept organised, lifted us up when we needed a good word, and reminded us not to speculate when there were no facts.  And she did this all with a grace and dignity that I am envious of, especially given the emotional burden that must have been (and still be) on her shoulders, as she was a mother-figure to “M”.

Another thing that will stay with me is the support I have received from my friends in trying to come to terms with this.  Friends who didn’t even know “M” or her husband, but who reposted the flyers about her disappearance with the simple comment “Friend of a friend – please help bring her home”.  Friends who sent me hugs, good thoughts and condolences when it was revealed that there would be no happy ending.  Friends who let me cry, both figuratively and literally, on their shoulders.

And finally, it heartens me to see that the Facebook group is still active with people posting condolences and messages of support, not only to “M”s husband and family, but to those who were brought together because of “M”, in life and in death.  Hopefully this will continue in the coming days and we can support each other as we try to make sense of the senseless.

I am numb – but I will heal.

What I’m Thankful For…

Just a very quick post as tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day here in Canada, and I’ve realised that I have a lot to be thankful for this year.

I’m thankful for a wonderful husband who loves me for who I am and not what I look like or act like.

I’m thankful for my family – my amazing father, my two brothers, my sisters-in-law and my nieces and nephew.

I’m thankful for the friends I have – some that I’ve known for 30 years or longer, some that I’ve only just met in the last few years.

I’m thankful for my two cats, who seem to know when I’ve had a bad day and come and snuggle in my lap or against my chest.

I’m thankful for a job I enjoy with people I really like.

I’m thankful for a roof over my head,  food on the table and the health to enjoy both those things and more.

I’m thankful I live in a country where, although it’s not 100 per cent perfect, I’m free to think and say what I want and get as much education as I want.

And finally, I’m thankful that there are people out there who actually want to read ramblings like this.  Love you all.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!





Cutting the Cable TV Cord

It’s official – hubby and I have cut ourselves off from the cable world.  We decided that, between the massive amount of DVDs we still haven’t watched, Netflix Canada costing $8 a month, and cable costing around $80 a month, that maybe we could do without it.  One of the things we talked about before making the decision – and we did talk about it a fair bit, as well as running what is known in the system testing world as a “parallel test”, where we had cable and Netflix Canada and our DVDs – was that we weren’t watching TV so much for specific shows but just doing a lot of channel flipping.  It was like “ooh, there’s Pawn Stars”.  It wasn’t that we were actually watching Pawn Stars because we liked Pawn Stars – although we do – it was that we were flipping channels and there’s Pawn Stars and that’s cool/well there’s nothing else on so let’s watch it.   As well, for myself at least, I felt I was spending way too much time flipping channels and seeing what was on instead of doing other things, like writing and crafting and stuff like that.

In any case last Tuesday was our first non-cable day and, to be honest, it was no biggie.  We came home and instead of turning on the TV and flipping channels trying to find something to watch, we put on Netflix and watched an episode of Top Gear UK with supper and, when that was over, watched another episode just because we could.  And after that was over we turned the TV off and went and did other things.  BNC (Before No Cable) I would probably have sat flipping channels for another forty-five minutes watching bits and pieces of programs.

And that brings me to the next part of this post, which is some of the stuff I’m watching now that we’ve cut the cable cord.  Yeah, I know Netflix Canada doesn’t have as good a selection as Netflix US (or so I have been told) but having said that it’s got a pretty darned good selection of stuff.  It’s got a lot of stuff that I either said “hey, this great, the whole TV series is there so now I can watch it from start to end” or “hey, I really used to enjoy that, I wouldn’t mind watching it again”.  Case in point with that latter one is Charlie’s Angels – I loved the old Charlie’s Angels television show!  Netflix Canada has all five seasons of it, so I actually sat and watched the pilot episode the other night.  And, much to my surprise, it was quite good; it held up really well.  Quite frankly, you could take the plot of the pilot episode and with very few changes you could drop it into a TV show today, and it’s a perfectly valid plot. A big surprise, too, was a very young Tommy Lee Jones as a good ol’ country boy that helps the Angels out.  One of the things I love about watching old television shows is seeing actors I recognise before the became big stars.

So that’s one example, and it’s something that I’ll probably keep watching on and off, at least up until Kate Jackson leaves (because, I’m sorry, Kate Jackson was always my favourite Angel; I always identified, for some reason, with the brainy ones).  The other surprise I got was that Charlie’s Angels wasn’t as “sexy” as I remembered.  I had it in my mind that Charlie’s Angels was the three beautiful women who always ran around in bathing suits and bikinis and that sort of thing.  And, yes, in the very first episode where Charlie calls the Angels to come into work, Kate Jackson is off riding a horse in full riding gear, and Farrah Fawcett is off playing tennis in her short shorts and a nice little striped  shirt, and Jaclyn Smith is in her nice little white bikini getting out of the pool. And that was the last time you saw them for entire episode in that sort of thing. The rest of the episode they were fully clothed, there was very little sexism in it, there was none of the “aw, such a pretty girl” type of thing.  Granted, it was the pilot episode so I’ll have to see, as the series goes on, whether it lives up (or down) to my expectations.

Another show I’ve started watching is The Unit, starring Dennis Haysbert, Regina Taylor and Robert Patrick.  This was a series I’d heard about after the fact but never watched and I’d often thought “hey, you know I wouldn’t mind checking that out some day” but not to the point that I was going to spend $20 on DVDs, or even $10 on DVDs for it.  So whe I saw that Netflix Canada has all the seasons of it I thought “well, there you go”.  I’m up to the end of first season and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  It’s nice, I think, to be able to watch a series like that where you know you’ve got the entire series, or even one entire season, and you’re not having to wait for another episode to come out each week.  And you can watch it in order. Of course with The Unit it’s not as big a thing because there’s not (at least so far) a huge over-reaching story arc, but it does make a difference with something like 24, for example, where if you miss one episode you’re screwed because there’s a continuing arc story.

One thing I really like about Netflix Canada is the amount of British programming available, both with TV series and movies.  For example,  there are sixteen seasons (!!!) of Top Gear UK.  And that’s not even including the last few years’ seasons – I think Netflix Canada has up to 2009.  This is something that hubby and I have been watching – we’ll throw on an episode with dinner.  Now, neither of us are huge car people but that’s not why you watch Top Gear (at least that’s not why we watch it) – you watch Top Gear because of the interplay between the three hosts, because they’re absolutely insane and hilarious, and, of course, to see some of the stuff they get up too. When they get into how the Jaguar XJ92.5B has a 3.8 litre turbo engine and 500 brake horspower and this, that, and the other thing, I will admit I tend to space out.  But when they talk about some of the features of the cars or some of the protoypes, like the GM hydrogen-fueled car, that’s cool. And when they get The Stig testing the cars on the track, well, that’s fun too.

They also have the Kitchen Nightmares UK version. I’m not a Gordon Ramsay fan, so that doesn’t turn my crank as much, although I understand that the UK version is much better than the US version – apparently he’s a kindler, gentler Gordon Ramsay.  But they’ve also got stuff like a limited-run series hubby and I discovered called Jekyll.  Jekyll was created by Steven Moffatt, the same guy who does the absolutely brilliant Sherlock modern series.  It’s the story of a modern-day descendent of Jekyll & Hyde who, of course, turns into the monster.  It’s very interestingly done, because they use much makeup when he’s in Hyde form. There are some physical changes, obviously, so you can tell when he’s Jekyll and when he’s Hyde, but it’s not like he turns into this ugly, horrendous monster.  It’s more the way the actor, James Nesbitt, shows an entirely different personality when he’s Hyde as opposed to when he’s Jekyll.  We’ve just seen the first episode and it is one that we are going to catch the entire six-episode run of.  Having said that, it’s very heavy and very dark, and that’s just in the first episode, so it’s one of those shows that we have to be in the right mood to catch.

So that’s what I’m watching at the moment.  And, of course, that’s just the TV series that have caught my interest.  We’ve also seen a number of excellent films as well – just the other night we watched Hugo and next up, at some point, is Tintin.

A Tale of Two Cons

So, last weekend I attended what is arguably Toronto’s largest SF/Comic/etc. convention – FanExpo. And I couldn’t help contrasting my experience there with the one I had at a much smaller, fan-run con in July. That con would be Polaris, which has been around for 26 years, starting its life at the Roehampton Hotel as Toronto Trek and which said its final farewell to the Toronto con scene this year – I suspect that will be the subject of a whole other post.

One can’t deny that FanExpo had great guests: John Barrowman, Alan Tudyk, James Marsters, Stan Lee and Matthew Gray Gubler to mention just a very, very few. And it would have been wonderful, if I could have actually seen any of them. Unfortunately in order to get into any of their speeches I would have had to line up at least an hour before the panel, which still wouldn’t have guaranteed me a seat.  Not to mention the additional lineup and extra cost (between $30 and $50 per guest) if I wanted an autograph, which I didn’t.  I did get some pretty good pictures of some of the guests but that was only thanks to the great 70-300mm lens I bought earlier this year, as I don’t think I got within spitting distance of any of them.  (You know, I’ve always hated that expression.  Even if I had gotten within “spitting distance” it’s not like I would actually spit. Drool, maybe, but that’s a whole different matter…)

FanExpo Guests

The benefits of having a big…uhm…lens.

Polaris, on the other hand, had a much smaller guest list.  This year, as it was the last year for the con and the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the guest list was rather pared down – Wil Wheaton was the headline guest, along with Tony Amendola of Stargate SG1 and Continuum, Neil Grayston of Eureka and Warehouse 13, and award-winning author Norman Spinrad.  Last year’s guests included Adam Baldwin, Ben Browder, Melinda Clarke and Armin Shimmerman.  With an attendance of around 4,000 versus FanExpo’s 80,000, it was a lot easier to get into the guest speeches at Polaris.  And by that I mean I walked in five minutes before the panel started and there were still empty seats.  Heck, one of the highlights of my 2011 Polaris visit was being called a troublemaker by Adam Baldwin after asking a purely innocent question at his panel! (L’il old me?  Never!)

Another thing Polaris had that FanExpo didn’t was great panels.  Panels that had nothing to do with the guests but were run by, and for, the fans.  Panels like Slobbering Fangirls Unite where we talked about what it’s like to be a female in fandom and how well or poorly female geeks are portrayed in the movies and TV, or A Rough Guide to Time Travel where we talked about what we would do and where we would go if we could actually travel in time.  The panels at FanExpo seemed to be mostly either Q and A sessions with the guests or marketing opportunities for publishers, producers and such to tell you about what they had coming down the pipe.  There were a few neat panels – Steampunk 101 and the Life After Twilight and True Blood stand out in my mind.  Funnily enough, the panel I enjoyed the most at FanExpo was the one on the War of 1812 with Scott Finlay of Fort George portraying General Sir Isaac Brock and talking about the graphic novel and six-part TV series commssioned by Parks Canada that is coming out later this year.

One thing FanExpo does have in spades over Polaris is vendors.  Lots and lots and lots of vendors.  Vendors selling everything under the sun – or moon, if you’re looking for vampire stuff, I guess.  To me, at least, it seems like this is the core of FanExpo in a lot of ways – get people in the door so they can buy stuff.  Books, graphic novels, tee-shirts, stuffed things (I won’t say animals, ’cause most of them don’t even remotely resemble animals), dolls action figures, more graphic novels, swords, artwork – you name it, you can probably find it in the vendors’ area.

They also have a great artists’ alley – there must have been over 100 artists selling their work.  (Full disclosure: a friend of mine, Gerry Vail, who draws the wickedly funny webcomic Remotes N Dice was one of the artists, and a big reason I decided to attend this year.  Check out his site – after you finish reading this post, though!) The quality of the artwork from these artists amazed me, as did some of the spontaneity. I picked up a fantastic sketch that one of the artists had been working on there simply because I admired it and he offered to sell it to me. There were five or six other pieces from various artists I would have loved to have bought as well, but couldn’t due to lack of funds and wall space to display them.

Another thing FanExpo has is crowds.  80,000 fans, remember?  Trying to get into most of the panels involved lining up for varying amounts of time, and trying to move around the floor of the vendors’ and artists’ area was well-nigh on impossible for a good part of the weekend.  And if you left the con on Saturday apparently there was about a 45-minute wait to get back in because they’d oversold the tickets.  Compare that to Polaris, where the worst crush seemed to be in the ConSuite at last call – which is another thing you don’t get at FanExpo, but which would be really hard to do there.

All in all, it was interesting to attend FanExpo for the full weekend once, just to cross it off my bucket list, but I doubt I’ll go back.  If I do, it will probably be for only one day, and definitely not Saturday.  And, since Polaris is no more, I guess I’ll have to find another fan-run con to satisfy my small-con desires.  Any suggestions, loyal readers?

Rediscovering a Lost Love

A Geek in High School

Me in high school…dig those glasses!

Way back in the stone ages when I was in high school, I took computer science in grade 11 and 12 because I loved computers and thought that it would be really neat and fun. In grade 11 I was one of five girls in a class of 30; in grade 12 I was the only girl in a class of five.  Unfortunately my teacher that year (who shall remain nameless) told me flat-out that he didn’t believe women should be in computer science, but vowed that he wouldn’t let that affect my mark in his class. And, to be fair, he didn’t.  I got a B+ in the class, and I think I deserved a B+ for the wonderful inventory system I created in Basic for my mom’s Mary Kay business (yeah, that project didn’t really endear me to the teacher).  I often wonder, though, had he’d been a bit more encouraging would I have looked at programming as a career?  Ah well, “shoulda woulda coulda” is never a good thing…

Anyway, I loved my computer science classes in high school, especially the grade 12 class – we were mostly left on our own to work on our programs and I used to spend hours at lunch and before and after school tweaking mine.  Once I got out of high school and into university I still did a little bit of programming on my Commodore 64 but since I wasn’t in computer science I didn’t really do anything serious.  Mostly I copied programs out of various computer magazines that had those “type this in your computer to ‘create’ your own program” columns and then tore my hair out when the program didn’t work and I had to go through umpteen lines of code to figure out where I made the typo.  I did recently find the notes for one of my own home-brewed programs – an NPC generator for a D&D campaign I was creating.  Told you I was a geek…

Once I graduated and got my first job, I didn’t really do much programming anymore.  My computer geekiness shifted to learning various software applications and, eventually, to the hardware and networking side of things.  Oh, I’d do some scripting and stuff with Lotus Notes, and I learned HTML and CSS so I could play around with websites but that was the extent of it. Until last Saturday…

Allow me to digress for a moment.  Last month I was channel-surfing and came across Inner Space on the Space channel.  I’m not a huge fan of the show – in fact, I rarely watch it – but in this case the fates must have been watching out for me.  I managed to hit it just as they were doing a promo for a segment on this not-for-profit group called Ladies Learning Code. What I saw from the promo was a room full of women (and a few men – despite the name, anyone who wants to learn is welcome) learning how to code in HTML and CSS in what looked to be a fun and interactive environment.

Needless to say I had to check it out.  I watched the segment, liked what I saw and proceeded to the website, only to find that I’d just missed the very interesting looking ‘Creating a Personalized Twitter or Website Background’ workshop. (Note to the LLC people – pleasepleaseplease offer this again!)  I decided to sign up for their newsletter and a few weeks later I got notification of a new workshop – ‘Intro to Python for Beginners’.

For those of you who don’t know, and I didn’t until I did some research, Python (http://python.org) is a open-source (free) programming language.  According to the Ladies Learning Code people “…Python is a great language for beginners. Its beautiful and clean-looking syntax means you’ll spend less time being confused (it looks sort of like English!), and more time understanding and applying the fundamentals of programming…”  Based on that, I thought “gee, this sounds like fun!” and promptly signed up.  I then spent the next few weeks eagerly looking forward to my day of geekdom.

Which brings me to last Saturday.  I’ve got to say, the workshop certainly exceeded my expectations.  I haven’t had that much fun in ages!  We were at the Centre for Social Innovation, which was a great place to hold this (lack of air conditioning aside).  Essentially it’s a nice big basement with beautiful brick walls and lots of open space.  Great atmosphere for a day spent meeting new people and learning code, and easy to get to via public transit.

One of the really nice things about the Ladies Learning Code workshops is the volunteer mentors they manage to line up, which helps when you have about forty or fifty attendees. These are people who, in this case, work with Python on a day-to-day basis and who graciously volunteered their time to make sure our experience was both useful and fun. In this case, it worked out that there were two mentors per six-person table, which was a big help when I couldn’t figure out why my program wasn’t working!.  Chris and Al, our two mentors, were very knowledgeable as well as being very tactful – there’s nothing more embarrassing than finding out you’ve spelled a command using British/Canadian spelling instead of American (capitalise vs. capitalize) and that’s why your program is crashing in a blaze of not-so-awesom glory.

Bythe end of the day, I’d made some new friends, had a couple of small programs under my belt, and I had a new challenge to go home with – get my Hangman program up and running without cheating and looking at the answers.  No, I still don’t have it working, but I will.  I’ve found an interesting tutorial on Python that will hopefully build on what I’ve learned already, and I’m looking forward to playing and seeing what I can do on my own. I have another skill that I can put on my resume and, given that a lot of the jobs I’m looking at want a ‘techie type’, that could be very helpful.  More importantly, I rediscovered my love of something geeky – programming.  And spending a day rediscovering something you love is never a bad thing.

Today We Are At War

Two hundred years ago today the United States of America declared war on Upper Canada in what would become the conflict that defined Canada.  Technically neither side “won” the war; at the end of it the borders remained exactly the same as before the war started. What we got out of it, though, was a new sense of identity.  The Americans got a new national anthem to replace the original one, “Chester”, which I think was a much nicer one. All in all, I think we came out ahead.

I’m ashamed to admit that my knowledge of the War of 1812 is not what it should be, something I’m hoping to rectify through a lot of reading and attending 1812 events over the next few years.  As a historical re-enactor, I should know more about this war than I do, and the excuse of “well, it’s not my time period” – I re-enact the American Revolutionary War period – just doesn’t cut it.

What I do know is this.  Before the War of 1812, people who lived in Upper Canada didn’t refer to themselves as Canadians.  In fact, a lot of them called themselves Americans.  Others called them “Late Loyalists” as they were Americans who came to Upper Canada in the years following the Revolutionary War (or War of Independence, as the U.S. calls it) tempted by the promise of free land.  All they had to do was swear allegiance to the Crown.  When the War of 1812 started, a lot of them were on the fence about which side to support.  The U.S. was counting on this – they figured that they would be welcomed as liberators, and that the “Late Loyalists” would switch their allegiance back to the American side.

It might have worked, too, if it hadn’t been for the Battle of York.  In 1813, the Americans attacked York, now known as Toronto, with ships and men. They came off Lake Ontario and landed west of the town.  The Americans were successful in driving the British forces out of Fort York, but before they retreated the British blew up the powder magazine.  The resulting debris and shockwave killed 38 American soldiers including their leader, Brigadier General Zebulon Pike.  The Americans considered this to be a treacherous act, and retaliated by pillaging, looting and burning York without any care as to whose houses they were attacking.  This, more than anything else, turned the “Late Loyalists” against their former countrymen.  And, of course, we got some measure of revenge ourselves when we returned the favour and burned down the White House in 1814!

After the War of 1812 ended, Canadians had a new sense of pride in themselves.  It was after this war that they started calling themselves Canadians, and started looking at themselves as separate from the U.S.

A lot of the above comes from watching History Channel’s excellent show, Explosion 1812. I’m looking forward to being able to expand that knowledge as I read more.  If you’re interested in learning more, stick around for the ride – as I learn, so shall you!  In the meantime, though, if you’re interested in learning more about Canada’s history, check out my friend Michael’s blog, History’s Lessons. Michael’s been a re-enactor for 30+ years and knows more about history than possibly anyone I know. I’ve learned a lot about Canadian history just sitting around the campfire at re-enactments listening to him talk, which is also a wonderful way to learn.

I Am Geek, Hear Me Roar!

I recently discovered a cool site called The Mary Sue, which bills itself as “A Guide to Girl Geek Culture”. There’s a lot of neat stuff on there, and I end up checking it out almost every day. One of today’s articles, however, really hit home for me and I felt I had to share. The post, by Becky Chambers, is called What It Means To Be A Geek, and Ms. Chambers wrote it after her girlfriend’s sister pointedly denied being a geek, even though she obviously is.  Apparently there’s a certain stigma to being a geek…

I’ve always been proud of being a geek and that’s what I call myself both on the ‘net and in real life.  I have been known to wear my geek badge with a certain amount of militancy on occasion.  I got my first computer when I was 15 years old – a brand-new VIC-20, the two shows I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch were Star Trek and Monty Python (which probably explains a lot…), I still have my Grim Jack and Battlestar Galactica comic collection, and I know there are at least a couple of pictures out there of me in costume at various science fiction conventions and other events – no, I’m not going to provide links.  But I have friends who, like Ms. Chambers’ girlfriend’s sister, don’t want be labeled as ‘geeks’.  I have friends who won’t admit, outside of a very small circle of people, to any interests that might even be considered ‘geeky’.

I blame, in part, the media for this.  By that I mean the way television, movies, and the news media portray what they call ‘geeks’ – usually guys who are fixated on computers and Star Trek and have absolutely no social skills. The Big Bang Theory is a great example of this (yes, I know that two of the characters have had “meaningful relationships with the opposite sex”, but even then their complete dorkiness is played for laughs). Most non-fiction shows about science fiction or fantasy fans are limited to the ones who take their interests to the extreme – can we say Trekkies and Trekkies 2 by Denise Crosby, anyone?  If anyone out there can name a series or documentary that portrays geeks in a good light, please leave me a comment – I’d love know if my perception on this is skewed.

Even TV shows that are not about geeks fall prey to this – look at NCIS and Criminal Minds for example.  On both, the ‘girl geeks’ (Abby on NCIS and Penelope on CM) are caricatures of real people – fun, quirky, and strong, but caricatures nevertheless.  The ‘guy geeks’ (McGee on NCIS and Reid on CM) have fared a little better; they started out as stereotypes but have managed to grow a bit beyond their geeky boundaries, although the dork factor is still trotted out when they need a joke.

Back to the The Mary Sue article… The whole article is really worth taking the time to read, but what that resonated with me was this:

“The thing that all geeks have in common (other than carbon) is not what we are interested in, but how we go about consuming our interests. “Consuming” is the perfect word for it, because geeks are rarely a passive audience. We devour our interests. We are driven to know how things work. It isn’t enough for us just to enjoy something. When something piques our interest or elicits an emotional response from us, we have to know why.”

I love this description and, more importantly, I identify with it.  I recently spent hours (when I probably should have been job hunting…) going from website to website to website reading about Theodore Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa because it played a crucial part in a mystery story I had read and I wanted to know more about the painting and the story behind it.  Along those lines, another part of the article that really drew a visceral reaction from me was this:

“If you like something so much that a casual mention of it makes your whole being light up like a halogen lamp, if hearing a stranger fondly mention your favorite book or game is instant grounds for friendship, if you have ever found yourself bouncing out of your chair because something you learned blew your mind so hard that you physically could not contain yourself — you are a geek.”

Yup, that’s me.  I am a geek, hear me roar.

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