Saturday, February 22, 2014

Writers, Know Thyself


I don't have any success as a writer yet. I do as an aspiring, sane writer, though. The last couple weeks or so has tested both my sanity and self-assigned status of writer. My seasonal allergies had crept up on me to alter the base of my being (again!!!).

On the surface, my seasonal allergies come off as a superficial challenge. That statement has an ounce of truth as long as I have the presence of mind to take my OTC meds. Nonetheless, my latest initiation to the allergy inconvenience has taught me, once again: Know thyself.

I didn't discover until my late twenties that I had seasonal allergies, let alone debilitating ones. Symptoms beforehand included: frequent bloody noses, stuffy nose and post-nasal drip. I can also now add oversleeping to the list. It took expelling colorless mucus and sleeping for days without improvement to reach my diagnosis and take loratadine (generic Claritin).

Learning to navigate the allergy meds has taken a little time. I took it so regularly at one point that I developed a tolerance. Same thing occurred when I moved onto other medicines.

I've also taken to honey and stinging nettles. I can't say how much effectiveness the last two have except I believe they help.

I end up going on and off the OTC meds. I even drink grapefruit juice to extend the life of the medicine in my body. I don't have any exact science or anything for it, but I have to go through the cycling to remain cognizant and capable.

Apparently the meds fend off the allergy depression. I get depressed and hopeless. Over the last couple weeks I've entertained the idea of giving up writing, say screw trying to save and invest for financial independence and just give up doing anything substantial. I could just continue working the day job, pay the bills and just accept that my lifestyle today will remain my lifestyle forever.

Rationally, like voters not going to the polls, I asked what has all this done for me in the past.

Luckily I have a stubborn disposition to remain positive. This recent experience has shown me. I can't provide any other explanation for how I mustered the motivation to continue researching and working on my writing despite the extreme funk.

My stubborness probably played a big part in realizing allergies make me depressed (at least indirectly, lack of breathing well while sleeping prevented me from getting enough oxygen). How could I want to try so hard to maintain my current course of accomplishing little while aiming so high? I could sell out to courses of action that would bring quicker material success.

I haven't known myself well enough when it comes to my allergies. My thoughts don't jump to allergies when I start descending into them. I tend to ask myself things like:

  • Have I been getting enough sleep (ideally, I'm not)?
  • Have I been getting enough exercise (ideally, I'm not)?
  • Have I been eating right (most likely am, but I always find new ways to tweek my diet for better health and efficiency)?
  • Have I gotten a cold and should I take the right meds to prevent it from getting worse (probably the trickiest one to figure out since cold meds could mask allergy symptoms, too)?

Going through this cycle of possibilities doesn't help. My productivity and enjoyment of life spirals down. Taking the allergy meds too regularly doesn't do the trick, either. It reduces their effectiveness.

I seem to know when to discontinue the allergy meds. It could easily have to do with them building up in my system enough to keep working for awhile.

I need to adopt the habit of using the meds at the first sign of feeling crappy, depressed and tired. Loratidine doesn't mask symptoms of a cold or of being unhealthy. Treating allergies as a first line of defense looks like the most logical thing to do. Allergies have the highest chance of causing me difficulty.

If the meds don't fix it in a day or two, I probably have another problem. Nothing much lost for the possibility of big gains.

The last couple weeks have taught me the above lessons. My seasonal allergies can debilitate, both physically and emotionally. They can prevent me from engaging in my writing and other things I do to try improving life. I have to take my allergies seriously.

Whenever I think about the phrase "Know thyself," I generally think about knowing your emotions, good and bad habits, motivations, disposition, beliefs, etc. etc. From a quick look at Wikipedia, one of the original meanings has to do with not becoming arrogant, not losing yourself in the multitudes giving you unrealistic phrase and not getting full of yourself.

Our physical well beings and the silly ways our bodies can affect our minds (and vice versa) can fool us into not knowing ourselves. Our bodies don't fit our intuitions all the time, much like many things in existence. Our bodies also change throughout our lives.

Not knowing our bodies or losing track of them are ways that we don't know ourselves, like me with my allergies. We lose touch with ourselves. We end up falling apart, going in directions that we don't want and working against ourselves.

With that in mind, writers and pretty much everyone else, too, know thyself and don't fight yourself. You will find yourself happier and working towards your goals and dreams. Who doesn't want that?

LINKS OF INTEREST:

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Person of Interest: Realistic Thriller Science Fiction TV


SPOILER LEVEL: LOW. Not too many specifics mentioned that don't arise within the first couple episodes of the show, but there are a few. For later things, specific names not used but relationships alluded to. If you're a Person of Interest virgin and don't want to be primed how to watch the show from any out-of-show sources, stay away until you've reached half way through the third season.

Chatter on the Internet has highlighted how Person of Interest uses realistic computer code. The Nerdist and others have point out the prescience of Person of Interest on how surveillance has become pervasive as it has. Interesting as these topics get, this entry doesn't touch on that topic. Just wanted to make that clear in case readers came here to read about it.

Instead, the narrative structure and character interactions lends a lot to the show's realism. The show still uses refrigerator logic and other believability-bending techniques to move narrative forward, but interactions between characters and organizations feels true. Much of this hypothesis comes from some marathon second viewing with Michi, catching things I hadn't seen the first time.


Not to say that I didn't have an inkling of this structure first time through. Person of Interest gets messy with its broadcast-TV level ultraviolence within the first couple minutes. John Reese beats the living crap out of a couple street hoods that underestimate his skills as a living weapon. Viscerality overwhelms senses, but the techniques and human factor break through, too.


Person of Interest extrapolates this messiness outward as Reese and Harold Finch's influence and footprint on New York City and world stage grows larger. The dynamic duo develop friends and foes that can change allegiances at the drop of a hat. Sometimes we wonder if Reese and Finch should become enemies themselves. Person of Interest has created a paranoid setting where everyone should look twice at who they count as innocent or guilty. This status changes more than a few times as Reese and Finch have tried to evaluate a 'number.'


The way narrative structure and human/organizational relations interweave strikes fascinating realism. Most television and movies follow a pretty conventional narrative structure that has become familiar and comfortable, almost right and correct on some level. Some genre shows, like LOST, have broken away from tradition. Even then, though, LOST doesn't maintain such a dynamic messiness. Every season had something of its own set of stories that reached conclusion by the end.

Person of Interest has its plot arcs. Some of them reach a climax or catharsis at midseason or end of season. First season ends on a cliffhanger in the middle of an arc. Second season resolved an arc, but the arc itself had only lasted a couple episodes. It added a lot to the show and characterization to a character. Watching it provided intensity. The show didn't change much because of the conclusion, though. For all intents and purposes, the season three opener returned to its tried-and-true procedural format with some titillation of a developing larger story.

These points often don't make solid conclusions. They act more as catharsis, characterization and raising further questions. Many conclusions, more often than not, come as surprise or low-key revelations. Many characters that have become apparent major antagonistics or valuable assets can end up dead with little notice, in the middle of a season, at the end of a season, anytime. In other shows, such built up characters either have wrought out or quick, cheap death. Person of Interest feels real. The death feels like real injustice and a bad break, not bad writing.

Just as fascinating, the show doesn't hesitate to mourn a death. Many other shows would have a death occur, shed a couple tears then move forward with the plot. Person of Interest knows to walk the line between mourning, getting back on track and the difficulty of doing so. Not everyone can do it so easy. Sometimes mourning gets depressing and messy, but that's real.

In two and a half seasons, Reese, Finch and their small group of friends have made enemies of two social institutions (New York police & Federal Intelligence Agencies), a governmental black ops organization, multiple organized crime families (including a criminal mastermind that would probably have taken over the city if it weren't for Reese and Finch), an ugly criminal organization of corrupt cops and NYC governmental officials, a vigilante group that feels the government and big data business has too much power in the form of surveillance and some shadow organization that we know practically nothing about but fear only after a couple episodes interspersed throughout.

The team converted a couple cops to their side. Short-term alliances have occurred with some enemies to take on a larger enemy. Protagonists have made us believe that a couple antagonists have faced defeat and death. . .sometimes at great cost. Such victories come few and far between, though, often with setbacks, losses and frustration before the win.

Unlike other shows, though, the war with major enemies doesn't remain constant, doesn't last for just one season and doesn't always remain a constant threat to always keep eye open to remain defensive. Probably good idea to do so, but easy enough to become a little complacent as they recede into the background.

I can't blame the characters for letting their guard down against particular antagonists every once in awhile. The most striking narrative tool: a lot of it happens at once. A collage of plot arcs and characters come to the fore or recede into the background. They do so depending on the agenda of characters/organizations or with supposed randomness. With multiple dangerous antagonists coming at the protagonists at varied levels of intensity and timing, how can they keep them all in mind all the time? Just look at the difficulty us regular, everyday people have with time management, remembering all the tasks we have to address and our everyday politicking following these types of patterns?

Antagonists coming in and out of play the way they do even becomes a compelling part of the show. How much do the varied interactions occur at random and how much as manipulative design? I point this question as an in-story question, not at the writers.

Still, with the level of execution at play, how much have have the writers and directors designed the plot and how much has occurred through spontaneous creation? I don't really read or listen to many commentaries out there. I may have to check out Person of Interest commentaries and interviews with writers/directors to get further insight.

Other shows oftimes use one-up episodes or enemies as distraction or filler. Person of Interest presented itself at first as procedural. The show can use the procedural and one-time enemies as filler and distraction, too. Even as a back from the heavy plot arcs.

As one of the most recent episodes makes clear, though, the common everyday person IS relevant. Forget the government-developed parameters that petty crimes, non-international-intelligence and non-terrorist threats are irrelevant.

The minor one-time enemy and everyday person remains the blood and guts of Person of Interest. Big enemies distract us and the team from the relevant everyday but all of it sucks the viewer in. The non-linear vacillation between short attention spans and hyper focus of plots and characters/organizations coming in and out of life at their own pace and sometimes all at once feels almost too real.

Few other shows have accomplished this level of realism and attraction when it comes to the human factor and experience. These factors have contributed a lot to Person of Interest becoming one of my favorite shows on television presently. I look forward to more of it, even as I fear for our protagonists that we've let into our living rooms. Hopefully Person of Interest can also become a good influence on other TV shows and TV writers.

LINKS OF INTEREST:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Wife's Panel at University of Chicago: Unmasking the Fake Geek Girl


Michi Trota, my wife and burgeoning local geek-justice celebrity, along with her nerd panelist associates bring "Unmasking the Fake Geek Girl: Confronting gate-keeping and sexism in geek culture" to the University of Chicago Hyde Park campus.

Information as follows via the Facebook Event page:

The "Exorcising the Spectre of the Fake Geek Girl" group is thrilled to announce that we've been invited to the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at the University of Chicago to continue our discussion!

Returning are Chicago Nerd Social Club panelists: Johnny Grey, Laura Koroski, Kate Lansky, Karlyn Meyer, Dawn Xiana Moon, and Michi Trota.

We have a revamped title and will be taking the topic forward with a more in-depth discussion of how the idea of the "fake geek girl" represents our perceptions of gender, social power dynamics and just who geeks are supposed to be.

This event is FREE TO THE PUBLIC.

Place: The Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, University of Chicago, Community Room (105), 5733 S. University Ave., Chicago, IL 60637

Date: Thursday, January 30, 2014

Time: 4:30pm-6:00pm

Description: As line between "geek" and "mainstream" culture becomes more blurred, the debate about what makes someone and "authentic" or "fake" geek has taken on an unmistakably gendered tone. Women are no strangers to having to prove they belong in perceived male-dominated spaces, and perception that women are "invading" geek spaces has invariably led to the label "fake geek" being appended overwhelmingly on women.

What exactly is a "fake geek girl" and why does she need to be barred from geek spaces? Who gets to define what makes one a “real geek,” and Do “fake geek girls” really exist? If so, does it even really matter? Is it really about keeping geek culture “authentic” or about keeping certain people out? Six women from the Chicago Nerd Social Club with a diverse range of experiences and expertise in geek culture look at how expecting women in geek spaces to be "fake" reflects our ideas of gender, power dynamics and cultural biases, and what happens when those ideas are challenged. This discussion will include time for Q&A with the audience.

Persons with disabilities who need an accommodation in order to participate in this event should contact CSGS:

Phone: 773.702.9936
Fax: 773.834.2000
Email: csgs@lists.uchicago.edu

All further information, please go to the CSGS's event listing: http://gendersexuality.uchicago.edu/events/calendar_detail.shtml?guid=CAL-ff808081-4358f2e4-0143-6e06f376-00001801eventscalendar%40uchicago.edu&calPath=%2Fpublic%2Fcals%2FMainCal

She makes me proud and has done some good with these panels. We're both real excited that the panel has advanced another level to a college hall or room. Seeing them getting a little more in depth into the topic should make for a good time.

So go to the Facebook event page for the panel, RSVP and come on down to Hyde Park for an interesting talk. See you there!

LINKS OF INTEREST:

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Time of the Doctor: See an Earlier Entry I've Written for My Thoughts


I have the compulsion to voice my disappointment in The Time of the Doctor.

Seeing Matt Smith go makes me sad. He has portrayed the Doctor in some of my favorite and most unliked ways. I feel that most of the affectations that have endeared me most to the Eleventh Doctor have come from the actor, not the writing.

At the same time, he has chosen to leave at a good time. He has brought the Doctor to a height never before seen. Who knows what the future will bring? Anything great that comes will very likely come from Smith popularizing the show more than ever. The height of his reign came at the end of Series 5 but slowly descended from there as the three-season arc grew convoluted and full of holes.

I gave these plot holes the benefit of the doubt. I called them dangling plot hooks. Either they would go nowhere as happens with a lot of postmodern literature and science I've read in the last few years. They could, even better, have explanations that the audience would glean someday with a sense of wonder. Unfortunately, last night let me down and loaded a weight of disappointment on me.

More time for Smith would not likely have helped the arc unravel in a more satisfying fashion. We would likely just see more and more plot hooks pop up without any intention to resolve them in a satisfying fashion. The show would have just provided more of last night. I don't know if Doctor Who will improve on this track record. With such improvement in doubt, though, I think Smith made the right decision.

Smith is a young man. He has a long future ahead of him with much opportunity available. Doctor Who makes for a great stepping, but I would hate to see him typecasted as the eccentric Mad Man in a Box. I see Smith with a bright future of entertaining the world in the many ways that he does. Good luck, Mr. Smith with your future!

As for the episode, itself, I feel like I've already written the criticism on it. I don't really have anything new to say. . .just check out my past entry, Doctor Who: More World Building & Strong Secondary Charcters Plz.

LINKS OF NOTE:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Freema Agyeman Q&A at Chicago TARDIS: An Interaction Highlighting a Peculiar Phenomenon of Fandom


A couple weeks ago I went to Chicago TARDIS, thanks to the generosity of a family friend. Freema Agyeman was probably the highest profile New Who actor there.


Agyeman's Q&A session highlighted an interesting phenomena I never spent much time thinking about. Fans had the show fresh in their minds. They could recall episodes, events and relationships between characters as if they just happened. Fans showed a sense of emotional immediacy about the show.

Bless her heart, Agyeman did not. Fans would ask her about her favorite episodes, how she felt working with a certain actor, how she felt that her character should feel in a situation, what it was like to do this and that. For Agyeman, though, playing the part of Martha Jones seemed like a distant memory.


I think the Doctor Who experience has become more a memory than anything. A good one and important one, but a memory, nonetheless. Honestly, at her age and point in her career, I'd feel a little pity if her time on Doctor Who remained so immediate to her.

Agyeman has come some ways since playing a companion to the Doctor. Just based on my own knowledge, she played a main character in Law & Order: UK. She now has an important role in The Carrie Diaries.


As the first, and presently only, black female companion to the Doctor, she has an important place in the history of Doctor Who. Her place as one of the most divisively loved and hated companions demonstrates a job well done connecting and alienating audiences.

Martha Jones voluntarily left the Doctor for her own emotional well being and without duress. Her exit portrays her as one of the strongest, smartest and most independent companions in New Who (great that Amy Pond chose her husband over the Doctor but it occurred under duress).

Many young women and girls told Agyeman that they consider her a strong role model for them and others out there. These proclamations show the resonance that Agyeman has had on Doctor Who fandom as Martha Jones. I haven't followed Agyeman much since Doctor Who. Nonetheless, from my perspective, I think she deserves all her praise.

Agyeman or some other Doctor Who actor had once said something about taking a role on Doctor Who is more than take a role, do it then consider it done. Doctor Who fandom has such passion that playing that role will stick to an actor.

It has some positive aspects. Looked at as an investment, an actor could look at it as something of a retirement plan. Many of the Classic Who actors make a run of the con circuit to help pay the bills.

I think many of the professionals who have worked on Doctor Who also see it as a family. Just take a look at Peter Davison's fun parody production, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot.

The production makes jokes about professionals in the game ignoring has beens trying to get onto the The Day of the Doctor. As parody, they want favors and such, but they won't help each other.

If you see these professional together or hear them talk about each other, they can't help but speak about each other on familiar terms. It also happens when they haven't worked together but have had their own isolated thing to do with the show.

The interaction with fans probably also gives these professionals some sense of belonging. Some familiar and strong relationships have probably also come about through these professional-fan interactions.

Whereas actors without connection to Doctor Who may remain a familiar name and face, how often can they bank on getting a nearly full room for a Q&A session at some kind of convention? Many other actors probably have a much higher chance of becoming a has-been. Spend one season on Doctor Who, however, and an actor can probably get plenty of attention decades later.

The disconnect between the fans' emotional immediacy and Agyeman's distance from playing Martha Jones illustrates how the professional-fan relationship can get peculiar. An instance in this type of relationship between computer game developers and a fan shined a negative light on the developers.

I doubt anyone at Agyeman's Q&A expected her to have the nuances of Doctor Who canon down pat. From the questions, though, fans did seem to expect her to have her experience on the show fresh and clear in mind.

Who can really blame her for not meeting this expectation? She last played Martha Jones semi regularly in 2008. She had cameos in Doctor Who and Torchwood.


That's nearly six years ago! I can hardly remember events from then except for a few random instances. I had the second year at my current job then, and I now feel like I've been there forever without beginning or end, it has all blended together too much.

I would have two reactions if Agyeman still felt the emotional immediacy of her time as Martha Jones, depending on how she kept it. I would feel awed if she could recall every event in her life with such intensity as part of her genetic code.

Otherwise I would have a general sense of worry that this young woman with a long bright future ahead of her put so much energy and free time rewatching and going over the product she contributed to six-seven years ago. Or worse, I would worry about the trauma required to keep experience that fresh.

Yes, playing a companion on Doctor Who has a lot to it and makes for a big, important line on the resume. The part of Martha Jones probably has a lot to do with who Freema Agyeman is now and where she is in her career. It likely made for a big stepping stone.

But the part lasted one season. It was only a secondary part. Even though Doctor Who can play with genre, it still falls within adventure and science fiction.

The world offers us more than one activity. The TV and movie industry offers more than one type of show or role. In fact, both offer a variety.

We, as humans, can't engage in a single activity or a limited series of roles and activities without getting bored. Even in less advanced animal behavior, animals will engage in repetitive, unhealthy behaviors when they find themselves in environments that don't stimulate them. Life needs variety or it grows unhappy, depressed and even self destructive.

I often hear of actors complain about getting typecasted and not able to find different roles to keep their interest. Freema Agyeman has done a great job showing range and finding a variety of roles. From the science fiction adventure of Doctor Who to the procedural fairly serious role in Law & Order: UK. Now she has what sounds like a fun and more lighthearted role in The Carrie Diaries.


I congratulate Agyeman for expanding her experience, showing a range in her acting ability and, in general, becoming successful. On top of being a good actor contributing to a bright future, her diversification of roles will play a large part in that future of hers, too. It probably provides her with satisfaction, too.

I would hate for fandom to discourage Agyeman from sharing her gifts with the wide world and also doing what's best for her professional career. Yes, she has chosen a very public career where she becomes exposed to this kind of scrutiny. She had to know that it could occur.

Yet she remains a human being with her own needs, desires and future independent of our own. She has every right to pursue all of those without the judgment from legions of fans.

To me, her emotional distance from Martha Jones shows her success as a human being that can act as an example for the rest of us. We, too, can transcend our present situations, whether we enjoy them or not, and grow into a more fluorishing human being with a range and bright future for ourselves.

Regarding the phenomena, itself, I noticed that most of the fans who showed emotional immediacy to Agyeman's tenure on Doctor Who tended toward the younger kid category. Their age has a lot to do with their experience of immediacy. Still, I think it also shows how much the technology of our modern contributes to the phenomena.

Until the revival of Doctor Who, exposure by most people in the US came as episodes on PBS. It would often come on as full stories during PBS pledge drives. Otherwise PBS would show 20-minute parts of stories as frequently as the network wanted to show them.

Up to this point, Doctor Who existed in a traditional TV paradigm. Fans would catch the show by chance in their free time or check TV listings then schedule time for Doctor Who. People couldn't re-watch the show unless they caught a re-run. Such infrequency contributes to emotional connection but not as much as we can get with technology today.

Now, though, we have

And on and on with a near infinite selection of purchasing, recording and watching TV shows and movies. We don't need to catch a show by chance or schedule our lives to watch a show we love anymore.

This ability to watch and re-watch entertainment whenever we want -- dependent on the studios making it available or getting illegal access, of course -- has changed our relationship to it. This change becomes especially apparent with children of means. They have more time than adults to spend with entertainment. They also have more capacity and desire to watch the same or similar thing over and over again. They like their consistency.

At some point, this kind of control for more exposure to Doctor Who came in the form of novelised versions of the stories. The industry at some point started releasing audio adventures. These became even more prevalent when the BBC put the show on hiatus during "the wilderness years" between 1989 to 2005. Both these forms of media allow for repeated interaction, but they require more energy to imagine details and everyone has their own interpretations.

Doctor Who is a good, fun show. It wouldn't have lasted fifty years if it wasn't. I can't blame anyone who watches repeatedly, especially if they have the time. Part of this quality comes from

  • Caring about sympathetic characters
  • The excitement of danger
  • Having something at stake
Along with the catharsis of going through all these emotional ups and downs.

We can now get our fix as much as we want, barring any other personalized limitations we face. All these ways for repeated exposure allow fans to refresh their memories and emotional connections to the episodes and characters. Fans can sustain the memories and emotional immediacy through these repeated viewings.

No wonder the fans and Freema Agyeman had different levels of emotional immediacy regarding her time on Doctor Who. Agyeman worked a job. No matter how much she enjoyed her time on Doctor Who, she has had to move on and probably have a very busy life.

I'm even willing to bet that watching TV doesn't always count as leisure time when you contribute to it a lot. Watching yourself on TV, even when seen a lot and professionally, probably remains strange and a little unpleasant.

Fans love the show. They have numerous opportunities to watch each episode numerous times as much as they like. The more they watch, the more it sticks with them and easier it becomes to recall the memories and emotions, the more it becomes immediate to them. As they immerse themselves deeper into it, the more it stays with them.

The experiences between the consumer and professional creators/contributors has always had their differences. Lately, though, the disparity of emotional immediacy between the two has grown more intense. The increased availibility of playback technology has contributed a lot to it.

Does it mean anything beyond an uncomfortable relationship between professionals and fans?

Will professionals feel more obligation to meet the expectations of their fans?

Will fans continue with this implicit demand for professionals to feel the same level of emotional immediacy?

Will technology advance to a whole different form of creativity that blurs the line between professional and fan? Just look at original fans of franchise creating their favorite properties:

And probably many many other examples.

Will things just continue as they are?

Who knows? We can only find out with time. It still makes for an interesting phenomena.

LINKS OF NOTE:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quest Kick has a Kickstarter Campaign


Hey DMs, GMs and Tabletop/RPG Game Supporters, the Quest Kick app has started a Kickstarter campaign.

Check out the campaign at www.questkick.com/ks-share. Click the first two options to share on Facebook and Twitter. Share and help promote the campaign even if you don't plan to pledge. It's free and easy to do just that much.

Then click on the third option. You'll have the option to pledge on the campaign homepage. They'll accept pledges as low as $1. Higher amounts will get you rewards, though.

Should you not be able to pledge anything, still watch the video and look over the campaign page. The app will have some great features. Down the road, you could also get yourself a copy for a game you're running. Maybe seeing it just this once will help you in the future, near or far.

Go. Learn. Support.

LINKS OF NOTE:

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Dumb Mistake Taught Me More About Baking Pie Crust


Something dumb I did revealed the importance of moisture in pie crust. It happened a couple weeks ago, before I used gluten in dough.

For lunch at work, I heated up some pie in a microwave. I had used either whole wheat flour or garbanzo bean flour with coconut oil for crust. Eating a whole piece at one sitting had gotten difficult. I had taken to keeping leftovers. If leftovers looked sparse, I would just add more pie for the next lunch.

My pie usually goes pop in the microwave. Many things go pop in the microwave. I thought nothing of it.

Ten minutes after lunch, co-workers closer to the lunch room commented about burnt popcorn and asked me if I had burnt anything. Other people in our building often makes microwave popcorn.

Nothing about the pie struck me as burnt. Maybe dry, but not burnt. I said my lunch didn't have anything to do with it. The other company probably just burnt the popcorn. It made more sense. I didn't remember anything about me burning the pie.

So. . .turns out I burnt my pie. Pungent burnt scent permeated the back half of the office. The strongest of it came from the microwave. It wouldn't go away for the rest of the day. I had no choice except conclude the pie got burnt.

Liquid bubbles and boils around the edges of my gluten pies in the oven. Seeing that, I saw an unanticipated way that gluten behaves. It retains moisture when cool. Definitely a useful characteristic to keep in mind. Good to know for using microwaves in the future. Dry stuff burns in the microwave.

Also useful to know of a desired characteristic for two uses:

  • To use for gluten-free cooking and baking
  • To adjust the recipe for texture

It will be interesting to see what I can do with this information and understanding.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Trying to Make the Perfect Pie Crust


I've been nerding out about pie crust these days. It comes from a place of nostalgia, amateur molecular gastronomy and desire to create a variety of perfect crusts. People who can't eat gluten have the right to enjoy pie, too!

It started a month or two ago. I roasted vegetables, tofu and wheat gluten meaty chunks in a loaf pan for lunch at work.

At some point I realized my lunches needed more starch and fiber. I wanted that postprandial feeling of full. Feeling sated had become a quest some time ago.

I don't binge eat. At least, I don't in any way that shows to the outside world. A fair amount of food still goes down my gullet, though. Yet I often remain hungry without appetite.

I read, I believe at NutritionData.com, that protein, fiber and water act as main factors influencing sense of fullness. Long story short, they activate nerves in the stomach, hormones and neutrotransmitters that affect the sense of hunger and satiety.

Also I have experienced that slow-burning starches (like tapioca noodles) cut down on hunger pangs. They probably contribute to the same processes I mentioned above. Either way, doesn't hurt. We need to get easy energy somewhere.

Nostalgia-wise, I started making pie crusts back when Michi and I got together eleven years ago. I made a dinner pie with a mushroom-based thick gravy and veggies inside for when she returned from an out-of-town trip. Tasted great, but it got old, I moved on from the pie. Still some great, warm memories, though.

My first run at pie crust this time used the following ingredients:

  • Whole wheat flour
  • Vegan margarine (mostly soy-based)
  • Salt
  • Coconut sugar (most sugar uses an animal product bleach)
  • Water
I found it too thick, dry and tough. Enjoyable the first couple times, but I predicted it getting old easy. I played with proportions of flour and margarine. That experimentation made it too crumbly.

I thought of the Indian dish, dosa. Yes, the dosa dough usually comes off as too tough for a pie. Getting a crust that thin would make a good target, though. I could work on the texture later.

Years ago I tried making dosa. It didn't work well. I used either pea flour or garbanzo bean flour, not sure which. The result doesn't stick in my mind. It didn't work, though, it just plain didn't work.

Nonetheless, I tried garbanzo flour for pie crust. The combination of starch and protein should make a thinner, tougher crust, right?

Wrong. The result: maybe thinner, but too crumbly and fragile. I even mixed it with whole wheat flour to try moderating characteristics. It fell apart too much. It felt like eating soft cereal with vegetables in it. Not satisfactory.

I went back to the Internet. "The Pizza Lab: On Flour Types, Foams, and Dough" makes for great, innovative reading. Crust is a foam!

The main point of preparation involves breaking down the protein walls then having them glom together with new bonds. The article suggests using a food processor. It will help cut and break down the bonds better than rolling and mushing with hands.

I tried using the Kitchen Aid. The bowl ended up too big. The attachment couldn't reach all the dough.

Michi suggested I try our pastry/dough cutter. It accomplished the job. It cut through the dough and mushed it better than anything else I used. The final result improved but not as much as I would have liked.

"The Pizza Lab" article almost took for granted that gluten-heavy flour needs to be used. Despite taking on the defense of wheat gluten against haters who don't have celiac disease or allergy, I wanted to not depend on it. I wanted to think that any protein can do the job.


I felt desperate, though. The results didn't satisfy me. Either nature was wrong or I didn't understand nature. Nature can't be wrong. It is what it is. When Nature and Humanity disagree, Nature will always win.

Back to the drawing board. I will embrace the recipe known to work then play with it. I know my original recipe stays together. It only had one problem: too thick.

I won't consider using butter. I don't want to use animal products. Besides, we've found that the right Earth Balance margarine product substitutes for butter just fine.

Trying vegetable oil didn't help any, either.

I nixed using white flour, too. I think it increases blood sugar faster than whole wheat flour and has nutrients stripped away from it. Whole wheat flour also has more, better taste than white flour. Bleached flour bores my taste buds.

Powdered wheat gluten came to mind as a good compromise. Since I don't want to use white flour, why not go straight to the culprit that breaks down then bonds things back together? Again, I want to go back to the basics: wheat gluten.

I used a ratio of 1/3 wheat gluten and 2/3 whole wheat flour. Final results improved leaps and bounds. The crust ended thinner and remained intact.

Even the dough before baking came out better. It glommed together, stayed moist and didn't stick to my hands. I normally have to wash my hands before doing anything else, but I didn't have that problem.

It still needs some work, though. I want it thinner. Going thinner will help me understand how dough works better. I already have a couple ideas that I want to execute some day: calzones and empanedas with poutine inside. Should be fun.

Next time, I'll try 1/2 wheat gluten and 1/2 whole wheat flour. I hope it comes out perfect. Then I can stop focusing so much on figuring out my base model. I can get creative with it by producing different variations and forms. That's what I really look forward to.

LINKS OF NOTE:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Geek Bar Chicago Kickstarter Campaign Victory Party


Michi and I went to the Geek Bar Chicago Victory Party at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. If you're familiar with Geek Bar Chicago, check out my previous write up here.


We arrived with enough time for a leisurely coffee and light socializing before heading over to the Museum auditorium (who knew they had one, and so nice?). The Geek Bar President and CEO, David Zoltan, and CMO (Chief Marketing Officer), Matt Wolff, put on something of a thank you and announcement event.

They have much to be proud of. Foremost, they raised $44,538 through their Kickstarter campaign (with only a goal of $9,750). In addition, hitting their original goal got them a $5,000 matching grant from MillerCoors as part of Seed Chicago. All this comes in addition from private investment they gathered before the Kickstarter campaign.

A couple announcements concerned a couple events they have conspired with other parties to run:

  • Tuesday, September 24, 2013 6 PM: Science and Nature trivia (and maybe a surprise or two) at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum's adult-only Nature on Tap. Come have some drinks, see nature exhibits and hang out with butterflies and the Geek Bar Chicago crew.


    I'll admit, I've got a soft place in my heart for the Nature Museum. I got married there.
  • Thursday, October 3, 2013 8 PM: The Crownless King at The House Theatre. Enjoy some great fantasy drama then afterward, watch the Geek Bar Chicago crew host a talk back with artists that make the show happen. Audience members will even have the opportunity to ask their own questions for the artists.


They introduced their Executive Director of Cuisine, Tom Kern. Per the Geek Bar Chicago Kickstarter page, "Chef Tom plans on bringing his unique spin on comfort food to Geek Bar, utilizing his love for modern, sui generis technique applied to gastropub-style food." They mentioned an appealing concept for their food: keep it holdable in one hand so patrons can play games and enjoy other hands on geek activities.

Unfortunately, we didn't get to meet head bartender, Laura Green. I haven't had a drink she has made yet, but she sounds like a multi-talented interesting person to have as part of the team. If anything, announcing her addition to the team shows Geek Bar Chicago coming closer to execution for the general public.

One of the hot questions on everyone's minds: Where will Geek Bar Chicago get established? Right now, the team wants to set up in the Lakeview neighborhood, probably more in the Western part. Depending on the exact location, it should work out well. It will have proximity to the 'L' and some major bus lines. Plus, not so bad parking. Then again. . .Geek Bar Chicago could cause some issues for parking if it gets as popular as everyone hopes.

During a question and answer session, an audience member asked if Geek Bar Chicago will have dedicated rooms or areas for different activities, like gaming, watching movies, trivia, whatever you can think of. Plans presently don't include separate areas.

Instead, Geek Bar Chicago wants to include mingling and coexistence of all these activities and interests. Geeks, nerds and other dedicated activities have had separate spaces as far back as we remember. Geek Bar Chicago wants people to share these spaces, interests and for them to exist side by side.

I can see their point. Chicago has plenty of dedicated spaces for these activities. Gaming stores have game tables. People who want to read can go to a book store or library. People can watch TV at home and movies at a movie theater.

Do geeks have anywhere where they can mingle between these activities, socialize during downtimes or even lure a new person into a new activity on a whim? Do they have anywhere it's not considered strange or weird to take part in such activities? Not anywhere that is also a public space. We will have Geek Bar Chicago to create that space sometime soon.

After all the announcements and all the Geek Bar Chicago-centered conversation and activity, the team invited up some personnel from the Museum. I wish I remembered their names and more about their presentations.


The first person up discussed the place the Museum had in society and how they get support to follow their mission. I never really thought too in depth into the research done at the Museum or how much energy they put into educating and exciting kids about science.

They've even brought in a teacher (or more than just one) from The Second City to teach Museum staff how to interact with kids to keep their interest. From what I've heard about how science gets viewed in certain areas of the world, this kind of activity proves a valuable resource. This part got me so excited I wanted to find out how to donate money!

Somewhat surprising, this person mentioned how Geek Bar Chicago made them excited. Geek Bar Chicago didn't rent the space or seek the Museum to help them put together this event. The Museum approached Geek Bar Chicago to donate the event and provide support.

The Museum saw their missions falling close together, not just as two groups with similar interests. I can see the point, too. Geek Bar Chicago and its popularity helps legitimize a subculture that focuses a lot on rationality, knowledge and science. I see the Museum trying to realize all these things by making them exciting and growing these things through all the research they do.

Speaking of research and science, we also had the treat to receive a presentation from someone at the Museum who had much interest in robotics and the promotion of it.

They started off the presentation by introducing us to Paro, the therapeutic seal robot and passed it around to the audience. Really neat and fun. It reacted to be held and from pressure put on it. I think it may have even reacted to human gaze. A baby in the row behind us was quite taken by Paro.


Apparently the Museum does a lot on teaching about robotics and research into it. We heard about all types of robots out there, from gentle Paro to factory arms that won't heed you, tearing your arm off if you stand in the wrong place.

They also stressed that robots don't destroy human jobs. A readjustment may have to occur, but plenty of new jobs get created because of robots. Requirements for these jobs, however, may require a higher level of scientific and engineering education that we may not see as so prevalent now.

Institutions like the Museum hope to make a difference by encouraging these directions in education and interests in people. Geek Bar Chicago can also play a part, like I said above through legitimization of geek and nerd interests.

We filed out to a huge main area near the entrance escalator. President and CEO, David Zoltan, helped in presentation on fire and explosions. We learned that different elements burn different colors. I unfortunately can only remember that lithium burns purple. They had another element that burned green.

Zoltan participated in the finale. He got to throw some jet fuel onto a well contained flame. It made a big flame and boomed loud enough that we had to cover our ears. They had made quite the astonishing display there. I wonder if anyone's eyebrows had singed off.

Michi and I wandered the Museum afterward and socialized a bit. We watched The Last Reef in the Omnimax Theater.


Very enjoyable movie, even though we found ourselves falling asleep here and there. All the walking around had exhausted us! The score especially stuck out for me. By the end, I found it so transcendent I felt ready to cry with joy and rapture by being in the Universe.

Not bad for my second trip to the Museum. It gave me a bittersweet feeling. I feel overjoyed and in awe at what humans can accomplish. At the same time, I'm sad that I haven't taken part so much in any great discoveries like these. Feels like the times have left behind in some kind of rut just to wallow.

Well. . .I guess that simply means I just have to try harder, eh?

LINKS OF NOTE::

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Follow the "live tweets" of my Dungeon World character's party on ‪‎Twitter‬ through the ‪#‎DungeonWorldBlackmoor‬ trend. It's long, I know. . ..

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