Wednesday, October 21, 2009

insufficiently diverted

In an attempt to catch up with my tbr and tbv piles, I pushed Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow into the dvd player last week. I didn't finish watching it, and this is why:
Miss Perkins, that camera has a bloody neck strap. Put it around your bloody neck! I couldn't believe her as a photographer, and the omg i dropped my camera and must rush back into deadly peril to retrieve it thing stopped being suspenseful and became evidence of mental impairment at the second instance.
She dropped her camera howevermany times, she forgot her film! and the filmmakers expect me to believe that she got the maguffins all the way to Nepal in her flappy coat-pocket? No.
The running gag about saving her last shot was poorly paced, and the weight of the looming, inescapable payoff--she's going to waste the last shot & probably ruin the roll--was hanging over my head like the rubber prop sword of Damocles.
Usually the point of the 'accidental destruction of evidence' trope is to prevent the unbelievable truth (Loch Ness Monster, aliens, sasquatch, ghosts) from being revealed and to leave the protagonists and audience united in being the only ones who know the unbelievable truth. But I couldn't see such a point working in the established World of Tomorrow, where giant robots swoop down onto cities and zeppelins moor on skyscrapers.

The other running gag, about whether she'd sabotaged Joe's plane, lost its humour for me early on, when he said that as a result he'd been imprisoned in a slave labour camp where they threatened to cut off his fingers. The film skimmed over that with a sort of yeah, yeah, you big baby air, but surely I'm not the only viewer for whom physical mutilation or threats thereof is one great big unholy squick?
It's a quandary. If I'm meant to take that mutilation as a serious possibility in the film, then Polly loses all my sympathy. If I'm not meant to take it so, then this is a film where nothing permanent can happen to any of the main characters, and the events lose all suspense.

Probably I would have been better off watching on the big screen, where the set design would have overwhelmed the characters and just squashed me back in my seat aesthetically. The opening, by the way, I did love, with the Expressionist light and shadows, the zeppelin, the first robot attack with the massive robots crunching through the streets. Maybe the whole show should have been about the robots, and maybe Frankie, a match for them in implacable self-possession.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

PIPA passes

Right, the rest of the conference. So, this was the 4th time it's been held, alternating between Alberta and BC, the two provinces with the Personal Information and Privacy Act (pronounced like Pippa, for all you Robert Browning fans). A piece of luck that it was in Vancouver so soon after I offered to be Privacy Officer.

Three academic speakers:
Ian Kerr on 'Robot Law is Taking Over: privacy in the age of automation';
Jesse Hirsh on 'Finding the Missing Pieces: why solving the privacy puzzle is a lot more difficult than we think';
Hal Niedzviecki on 'Privacy in the Age of Peep: why we don't care about our privacy--and need it more than ever.'
All three were lively and engaging speakers on the intersection of privacy and technology, from fairly different viewpoints.
Last was a talk by a law firm on legal decisions and cases in the past year. This was more interesting than I expected, but difficult to make notes on because of the assumption that the audience already knew most of the cases. (It could also be that I'm a lot more used to making notes from academic lectures than from legal cases and don't know what to listen for.)

Five breakout sessions: I went for option A in each case, because that seemed to be the employee / employer stream.
Balancing an employer's right to medical information with an employee's right to privacy. This is a pretty hot topic presently, so I took extensive notes. The particularly fraught issue seemed to be that the employer was not entitled to know the actual diagnosis--but was entitled to know enough about the diagnosis to themselves evaluate return-to-work conditions, and that got very grey. I could see that slipping into the employer disregarding what the doctor said because of a perception that doctors were just parroting employees, or else demanding so many specifics that they might as well be gven the diagnosis. The speaker came very close to paternalism at times, but didn't quite slip over.
Everything you wanted to know about employment privacy but were afraid to ask. As you can maybe guess from the rather coy (and dated) title, this presentation spent a bit too much time on its cute scenarios and not enough time exploring the issues involved in those scenarios. The attempt to engage the audience with a little storytelling was well-intentioned, though. The takeaway was that tech geeks will want to use tech, and privacy geeks will interpret all possible situations as privacy-related, so everyone needs to step back.
Privacy and working offsite. This was after lunch, and not as hot a topic for me, so not so many notes. But a quite good presentation, with lots of anecdotes--the biggest risk seems to be to physical records being left in cars or on porches (printouts tucked into a car bra is a favourite) with the groceries, and electronic transmission being much safer.
Emerging technologies and employee surveillance. Some of this tied back to the employment privacy talk, and the issues of what employees will accept as reasonable (reasonable is the Word in PIPA, being in pretty well every clause, sometimes twice) and what will raise resentment.
Building a culture of privacy. This was very specific, tied right in to what a particular lab did to make security of personal information a routine, built in to even the office and exam rooms layout--whether computer screens were visible to passers-by, whether the photocopier could be monitored, what went in the shredder automatically and what was safe to go into the recycle unshredded. Pretty interesting, and they looked to have done a good job of making the employees feel part of the process, rather than being suspected as weak links.

The slant generally was from the employer's side, but one becomes used to adjusting for that. In one session the speaker asked how many present were a)employers, b)legislators, c)union. Only two union members in the room. I was one, and I'm pretty sure the other was the same union person I'd talked to the first morning.
A fellow from Translink that I was chatting with at the reception said it was about time the unions started to consider privacy issues (have to admit, I don't see myself as representative of The Unions as a whole), and when I was talking to the Verney Conference guys on the second day about the employer-slant, they seemed interested in expanding the union side and introducing union-specific topics.

Continental breakfast was, yes, included, and a lunch. The lunch was good both days, being somewhat-fancy pizza (3 kinds) on Sunday, and they set up three serving stands so the lineups were manageable. Desserts, too--I only got the carrot cake (not my fave) on Saturday, but Sunday was tiramisu and rice krispie rectangles. Also many different party snacks the first evening, during the reception.
I ended up way too caffeinated from all the tea and coffee. Chatting with the Verney guys I found out how much some of those refreshments cost, which caused me some palpitations (I already have strong constraints about wasting food.), hearing that a can of pop costs $5, and one of those juice pitchers $35. I shudder to think what my two slices of melon and croissant cost.
Bearing in mind that it wasn't just a pitcher of juice, it was a pitcher of juice poured and served by several people in black & red vests, and removed and washed afterwards. (Query to self: is the Hyatt Regency a union workplace?) And on the 3d floor of a downtown building that has to be heated and lit and cleaned and maintained and taxed.
The first go-round of coffee and tea was poured for you by the vest-clad staff, perhaps to reduce the risk of attendees scalding themselves, but after the first rush presumably the thermoses had cooled and the risk was reduced enough that one could wander out and get one's own drinks.

Oh yes, and loot, were you wondering about loot?
The conference bag was a black wine-bag (the kind with four pockets in the corners to hold bottles upright. A notebook with the conference info on the cover. A schedule booklet of course. 3 pens, one for the conference, one for Verney Conference Management, one for the sponsoring law firm of Borden Ladner Gervais. A notepad titled 'Managing My Information'.
Sunday we were encouraged to take the extras home with us, so I have 4 wine bags, 4 notebooks (my weakness) and 8-10 of each kind of pen.

Info tables--the best was the federal Privacy Commissioner, which had calendars and postcards with cartoons, as well as a bunch of infosheets and booklets. Would you have associated the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada / Commissariat a la protection de la vie privee du Canada with rather cheeky cartoons? Because I wouldn't have, previously.
Oh, I also got a spiffy black bag with the slogan 'If you can't protect it, don't collect it', unfortunately not as snappy in French as 'Si vous ne pouvez pas les proteger, ne les recueillez pas'.

About 200 attendees, down about 20 from last year (I heard). Black was definitely the colour for the event, with the dais table and backdrop draped in black, black gimme bags, and black the predominant clothing colour. I think I saw one pair of grey trousers, with everyone else in black slacks or skirts, and black jackets or blazers, some black sweaters, some dark burgundy-to-cherry sweaters, white or other solid-colour shirts.

I was wearing red trousers, because I don't own any black (the cat hair shows up too easily), and because I am a union agitator mwahaha. Also was the only person wearing runners. I do have black shoes! Okay, runners that look just like black shoes, but I have to get laces for them before WFC.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This privacy thing, it's complicated.

It's also an industry, which I hadn't really considered, previously. I've been making lots of notes and collecting handouts, so that I can make a proper report when I get back. But I won't go into detail here, because this is a (mostly) writing blog, and my work-life is peripheral to it.
One point of intersection--the keynote address was by Dr. Ian Kerr, who referred extensively to both Isaac Asimov and Cory Doctorow. He had a slide for Asimov, but I don't recall one for Cory. He did have a pic of 'robots and doughnuts', which his wife claims are all he thinks about. His talk was on Robot Law, and the system of permissions created by our use of electronic IDs and key-cards, etc.
Anyway, I had my little six-degrees moment, thinking 'Cory Doctorow critiqued my manuscript!'
Yesterday there was a reception on the 34th floor, for the creator of PrivacyScan, a journal for privacy professionals (see, I had no idea) who was semi-retiring (ie will still be writing articles & advising, but no longer editing). I spent part of the time 'networking' or at least chatting, and part staring out over the city views.
Another day of talks to come, as I write, but by the time I post it will be over.
At the end of the short passageway to the elevators, there's a wall-size mirror, with the words Sunny, Cloudy, Rain, on one edge. Today the word Rain is lit white. This makes me feel as if I'm in a 1960s European sf film, like Alphaville or The Tenth Victim.

October is turning into a hotelling month. First was VCon, staying at the Marriott because Mark was selling in the Dealers' Room. Then the PIPA conference at the Hyatt (but staying at the Sheraton). Next I'll be at Tir Righ A&S (note to self: email and offer to judge, right quick), hotelling again because it's past camping season. Finishing off with World Fantasy in San Jose.
That's like 2 year's worth of hotel-time for me, in a month (and yes, I should get over my thing about hotels & taxis, I am not a starving student anymore). And a spread of themes from fan to pro, from modern to past to future, from mundane to fantastic. It may be more striking to me because I'm still blinking my way out from under the rock of revision.

I didn't foresee how much revision would eat my brain. Even when I wasn't actively revising, or even (as far as I could tell) thinking about revision, I had difficulty remembering things like appointments, lists, order in which to accomplish tasks. I could do whatever was in front of me, but in a very focussed way, not noticing the time it took. When I was done, or hungry or thirsty enough to break concentration, I'd feel a bit lost.

One hopes the next go-round will be less intense. I'd like to do Nanowrimo this year, and make a better showing than last year, which was abysmal for me. Possibly because I had an extensive outline, so this year I'm going to wing it with just a concept. I love my concept, so I will be all weepy if I don't get to play with it--it's been kicking around for a couple of years, but I've started my background reading, so maybe....
See, several years ago I got interested in the Gothic Revival, which features in Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, where the young heroine is a great reader of 'horrid novels' and imagines herself and her acquaintances to be entangled in a Gothick plot rather than a novel of manners. My interest was more likely sparked by Varney the Vampire and 'Monk' Lewis, but I can't remember for certain. So I set out to read as many (reprints mostly) of the Gothic classics and 'Northanger Novels' as UVic's library held, which turned out to be rather a lot. I'll stick the list in if I have time.
Fortunately, at the time I had a high tolerance for florid prose and stories-within-stories, since a proper Gothic heroine never meets another character without having to learn that character's tragic and plot-development-related life story. She rarely ventures into a haunted chamber or dank underground cell without finding a tattered scroll or sheaf of papers stained with tears or blood and relating someone else's T&PDRLS, which she must read by the light of a single flickering taper in her own haunted chamber. The layering doesn't quite reach Thousand and One Nights level, but it can be difficult to keep track of how far one is from the main storyline. In my 20s I had patience with this sort of structure. I'm grumpier now, so it will be interesting to see if things have changed.
I haven't read nearly a many equivalent novels of manners (if that's the right term) so I should try to even it out. Most of Jane Austen, one Fanny Burney, a Charlotte Smith that teetered between Gothic & manners (can't remember the name - her first novel though), oh and a little Richardson--Pamela of course and an excerpted Sir Charles Grandison (the original Gary Stu).
Anyway, I plan to indulge myself soundly in epistolary unlikeliness. But until then, I'm sorting out The Cost of Silver into Scrivener, and figuring out what keywords & notes are appropriate for each scene. It was awfully hard to leave the Mac at home, but I wouldn't have had the time and concentration to get any further with it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

composed this morning

Posted this evening, from Waves coffee.

I'm on the 25th floor of the Sheraton Wall Centre, a cliff-face dwelling with all the amenities, including a bathrobe that I could buy for $105. There were two chocolates on the pillow--actually on the bedspread on a card, because the pillows (all 5, one embossed with the hotel logo) were vertically arranged for more comfortable viewing of the bureau-wide flatscreen tv.

Not sure how many floors there are, (FutureBarb says: 35) being rather tired when I arrived, but the 25th allows for a considerable view over the city, and not much in the way of obstruction short of the mountains. The windows (a wall of them) are floor-to-ceiling, but in consideration of humans being ape-related rather than eagle-related, gauze curtains hang before the whole expanse. There's a balcony, but while I'm willing to lean against the glass, I'm not so sure about going outside. Sometimes my natural caution about heights deserts me.

The view by night is amazing, but the webcam didn't want to capture it. I did get a pic of me wearing a $105 bathrobe, though. (It's the simple pleasures.)

The Sheraton is much nicer than the Marriott Pinnacle for room design, though both have comfy beds with two degrees of pillow and cosy duvets. This room is a narrow right-angle triangle (cliff-face) with the bathroom as the base and the little glass table where I sit typing at the point. Beside the bureau & tv is a vinyl comfy-chair in a colour I can't name at the moment, like a bright terra-cotta.

I read the earthquake instructions. They tell you to shelter under a wooden table or desk. The table is glass, and there is no desk. I don't fancy my chances of pulling all the drawers out of the bureau and squishing myself in between the supports.

It will be some time before I post this, because an internet connection costs $11 for the low-end, so I'll wait until I'm at a coffee shop with free internet. But I have a $5 voucher for food here because of skipping housekeeping for today, so I'll have coffee here at least.

How do I come to be here, you ask? Aha, I am on union business, attending a conference on privacy and information. Because not only am I on the union executive (as a trustee) but I'm the new privacy officer, and need to know what in heck I should be doing.

In about 10 minutes I'll be walking the 10 blocks to the conference hotel and seeing if the free continental breakfast is for all delegates or just those staying at the (pricier) hotel. I'm bracing myself to take full and informative notes about the conference sessions so that I can report when I get back.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Onion sauce! Onion sauce!

Writery stuff:
I've been wandering about dazedly the last few days, feeling rather like Mole in the opening of Wind in the Willows, squinting in the spring daylight after a winter underground. I came very near shouting 'Onion sauce! Onion sauce!' at the campus rabbits on Friday.
Because! Willow Knot, revised up to 120k from its hacked-down 105k, has gone off to my agent in both electronic and paper forms. This makes me feel much more like An Agented Author, because I've filled in my side of the agreement, for the first go-round anyways. I fully expect to have more to hack out and fill in and smooth over.
This weekend, though--Happy Thanksgiving!--I'll be reading other people's published books, baking an apple pie for the boy, and maybe watching dvds. And updating my blog. I've already slept in to 8 am, like a slothful sloth (except not upside down).

You may recall that I figured to have the revision done and dusted by the 14th. Well yeah. There was what one might call the Fortunate Fall of my desktop computer having kicked over in mid-August, leaving me with no large screen monitor. I love my eee (on which I am writing now) but its screen can be covered by one hand. And I seriously needed a big screen to read over the revision for flow. Half a page at a time was not enough.
Paul gave me his old Mac laptop, which has a screen at least as big as my dead desktop's. And he loaded it with the free trial of Scrivener, which he and Mark have been pimping to me for a while. So I shoved WK into Scrivener, a fairly easy task since I'd broken it into scenes and given the scenes descriptive titles already, and took a good hard look at the story flow.
That was when I fell in love.

Yes, I love Scrivener madly. I would bake it cookies and run hot baths for it, and haunt used bookshops looking for missing volumes in its uniform editions of Mark Twain. Like that.
And Scrivener revealed to me that I could knock one more winter off the forest section. And it showed me that the palace section desperately needed a 12th Night masque with a dancing bear.* It let me look at two scenes at once so I could meld them into one scene without losing the important bits. It let me look at a floorplan of the palace while I walked characters through. And it compiled the whole shebang together in order at the end.
Okay, there were some Adventures in Formatting for me then, because Open Office decided to indent all first lines, most of which were already indented (because I do that), and the font changed in one chapter for no apparent reason, and so on. But most of that was my not realising just how much Scrivener does, plus the usual sort of wackiness found in moving files through different systems and different word processing programs.
So I've bunged Cost of Silver into Scrivener, and I'm going to muddle about with the status and label settings now that I have an idea how they work. And yes, I've registered Scrivener, I did that about 20 days into the free trial.
Note: I am not a convert to Mac. But I'm willing to use one for the sake of Scrivener.

The Outside World well sort of:
Had a fine time at V-Con last weekend. I was invited to be on a panel(!) by the kind offices of Susan Walsh. The topic was Vampires We Have Known and Loved, with Tanya Huff, Rhea Rose, etc. Tanya was lovely and gracious, answered a number of questions about the tv series and about sequels to her past series, and did her best not to dominate the panel despite the audience attention. Two of the panelists were on because they'd just contributed to a vamp anthology calle Evolve, and another was a voice actor who'd done a vampirish villain or two. And me.
So I took the folklore tack and commented on how the vamp concept has changed over the years, a little bit on the challenge of portraying vampires in a historical setting (Stuart England) where there was no concept of blood-drinking walking undead (oh look, I'm plugging the book I haven't finished yet!). I did plug Paul Barber's indispensable Vampires, Burial and Death, and read a few paragraphs from Varney the Vampire, or, The Feast of Blood!
Several people took down both titles, as well they should.

VCon's art show was terrific this year, far better than the show at Worldcon. It was disappointing how few bids there were. So I bought art.
I bought a Melissa Duncan print (okay technically I have this on credit, but she knows where I live). Terri, you should check out this lady's art! (I thought I'd seen a more extensive website of her work, but can't find it now)
And two small pieces by Valeria de Rege, lovely quirky little paintings on wood blocks, some with text taken from sf novels.
I restricted myself to only one of Danielle Stephens's brilliant little papercraft shadowboxes. She does not have a website, so I'll have to take a photo and post it to show you what they're like.
Pauline Walsh doesn't have a website either, so I'll have to do the same to show you the charming little femo Hermit Thing that I got.

The VCon hotel (Marriott Pinnacle) had a whole set of Stupid Policies that made it a questionable choice for a con. Food had to be consumed in the room where it was purchased (so the Dealers Room theoretically had no food for those manning tables). No costumes in the lobby, the pool, or the (overpriced) restaurant--'costume' being undefined. No weapons, again undefined, anywhere. No groups of four or more people in the lobby--think about that one.
The staff I dealt with were all pleasant and professional, but they were stuck with enforcing nebulous and discriminatory policies. The elevators from one public level to another stopped running at midnight, forcing one lady (filksinger?) with mobility problems to use the shiny slippery stairs. Another woman, who had changed out of her costume into street clothes, was asked to leave the restaurant because she didn't match the (unposted?) dress code, although her companion was diabetic and needed to eat. They walked to a McDonalds.
Like most high-end hotels, they overcharged for internet, $16 day and I'm not sure they had wireless. The bottle of water in the room cost $4.50. No fridge, only a cooler with a broken door.
Beds were comfy though, and it was possible to turn the a/c and heat off and not be woken in the night by roaring.
Actually it was just as well that we couldn't get internet at the hotel. It meant I finished revisions, instead of browsing the web.
What else? I did a couple of shifts on the SF-Canada table, and hand-sold at least one more copy of Eileen Kernaghan's The Snow Queen, which is a terrific treatment of the fairy tale. And bought a couple more books for myself.

*I did go and check whether the perceived need for dancing bears was one of the varieties of insanity known to affect authors. Fortunately it isn't.