seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Balticon was pretty fun. The alumni guest of honor thing meant that I could pretty effectively ignore GRRM's presence and make my own con experience with alternate GoHs Connie Willis and Kim Stanley Robinson. With cameo appearances from Larry Niven and Joe Haldeman and Harry Turtledove... I mean, it is something else to spend a whole weekend listening to that many of your childhood heroes speaking.

KSR did a great panel looking retrospectively back on the Mars Trilogy from a perspective 25 years on, how he's changed his thinking about colonization and Mars and so on. A lot of those changes were evident from Aurora, which I just finished and will review soon, so it was interesting hear them reflected backward. He also did a great panel that was just him talking over a slideshow of photos from a mid '90s visit to Antarctica.

Willis and Niven were joined by Alexandra Duncan, Fran Wilde, and Charles Gannon on what was for me the most inspiring writing panel of the con, with all of them talking thoughtfully about how to balance science and story and how to fold research and ideas into characters. I left the panel full of ideas and wanting to write more, which is really good.

Socially a pretty good experience otherwise, getting to see and talk to a bunch of fans I've gotten to know at other cons, meeting some cool new people, including very unfortunately briefly, [personal profile] batyatoon. (We were at a panel on the intersection of Judaism and fantasy and the things she was saying about Tolkien's dwarves sounded very familiar... and then I realized we'd had this exact conversation before. Unfortunately it was the last panel of the con for me and I had to hit the road afterward, but we at least said hi.)

I was also the winner, with a randomly selected teammate, of the Balticon trivia contest. I've never come close to winning a con trivia contest before because usually the trivia skews too old for me, involving lots of '50s SF stories that the long-time con-goers are deeply familiar with. The questions skewed a little younger, and I think I also benefited from format, because I can say, with little modesty, that I dominated the competition.

The format was largely pyramidal toss-ups, which are designed to reward the player with the broadest knowledge base, but I think also reward players who are familiar with the format and know how to pull together assorted individually insufficient clues to build a mental image of the right answer. In any case, it's always fun to play trivia and it's even more fun when you win.


The actual... logistics of the con were less fun. Moving to downtown Baltimore was annoying in a bunch of ways over the suburban setting of recent past Balticons... Parking, food prices, lots of other things like that were just irritating. I did think the actual function space was generally better- more concentrated, easier to get from one event to the next in a different section, for one thing, but elevator access was a problem for people who couldn't use stairs, and the concentration sometimes meant congested hallways, particularly when GRRM had an event people were lining up for in the hallways. And there were rooms that locked when you closed them, a huge problem when people wanted to move in and out of them in the middle of a panel.

Even bigger logistical problems were present in the scheduling. The con acknowledged this with an apology in their final program update, which had more errata than I've ever seen at a con, and promised changes for future cons. Let's hope that's true. A few scheduling mixups are understandable, but there were dozens. I heard a story about two cancelled panels for the same function space where nobody'd been told that either was cancelled, so they convened a panel merging both cancelled panel concepts together.

But eh, all in all it was a really good weekend.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
I posted about creating a 3.5 ranger character about a year ago. Just completed my first dungeon crawl with him over a year's worth of quasi-bi-weekly sessions.

Some thoughts:

Its jack-of-all-tradesness is sometimes frustrating in a well-balanced party. I have stealth skills I rarely use because our rogue generally makes a better dungeon scout. I have healing skills I rarely use because our cleric is a better healer. On the other hand, as a jack of all trades fighter I do offer useful versatility. Though my character focus is on archery and ranged combat, though I am most deadly as a sniper, a role I performed in our boss fight, my character is also capable of wielding a longsword and being the party's frontline fighter in weeks when our actual frontline fighter is not there.

In terms of character, I'm stumbling a little more. The canonical ranger is early LotR Strider, right? Once he becomes Aragorn, though, his canonical ranger attributes fade into the background. Late LotR Aragorn is definitely multiclassed out of ranger, into some sort of warrior-king prestige class. I'm finding the same thing is happening to me as we dungeon crawl because the very act of being part of a party and adventuring together undermines the ranger's classic loner status. He has to work together, share the load, and he is gaining experience from doing that, even though trust is very hard for him. I'm not sure where he's heading, though.

My other current D&D character started as a base mercenary fighter and has evolved into a mercantilist prince whose most powerful weapons are his lawyers and accountants. I don't exactly plan for these things to happen, I just see where the adventure and my own curiosity and intellectual preoccupations take me and very often it ends up surprising me. A Level 3 Ranger is too early to see where the character is headed, but it is definitely not toward a Level 10 Ranger.



In life news, I am heading to Balticon this weekend and I am excited for that. As it is the 50th anniversary edition, they've invited back a whole bunch of past guests of honor, and that spectacle and the fact that GRRM is the 'official' guest of honor means it's going to be a much bigger event than usual, almost the size of a small Worldcon. I liked Balticon a lot last year, as there were lots of cool people and I felt that the extra day of convention gave me the breathing room to really enjoy myself. This year, where it's not on Shavuos and I'll only have Sabbath restrictions on one day, I should be able to take fuller advantage of the con's offerings. I'm also looking forward to seeing [personal profile] freeradical42- since he finished his PhD and moved to Westchester, it's been harder to schedule time to hang out... it's almost exclusively been at cons over the past six months.


And after I get back from Balticon I will continue my frantic packing, as I am moving into a new apartment a couple towns over June 1st! It should be a better situation- access to more young Jewish community, closer commute to work, closer access to trains into the City, a number of other benefits. But packing always brings tsouris, so hopefully that won't be too much crazy. I am trying not to panic.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
As I mentioned a while back, [personal profile] freeradical42 and I, with help from a few other friends, planned to run a science fiction and fantasy themed Tikkun Leil Shavuot at Balticon. The tradition is to stay up all night studying Torah on the first night of the holiday of Shavuot to commemorate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

I prepared a variety of textual sources to work with, but had no idea how to gauge what kind of turnout to expect. I printed ten copies of my source sheets, thinking that if we got ten people it would be amazing.

We got 20 people!

Not all of them stayed all night, but they stayed later than I expected, and people kept getting up to go to bed and then delaying because they wanted to keep participating in the conversation. It was not perfect, and there are things I wish I had done differently to make the conversation work better, but I am so thrilled with how it turned out. It was such a cool experience to be a part of.

I promised [livejournal.com profile] vvalkyri that I would post my source sheets, so here they are. Bear in mind that these are not source sheets for a carefully structured shiur, just texts we used to start what ended up being a wide ranging six hour long pluralistic conversation about Judaism and its relationship to the past and future. With cheesecake!

Source Sheet 1- Sources on the kosher status of fantasy animals

Source sheet 2- Sources on the future of Shabbat observance

Right clink and save link as.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
Tonight I'm going to Rossini's La Donna del Lago at the Metropolitan Opera, and I'm going to see Sleater-Kinney at Terminal 5 on Thursday. I'm hoping I'm capable of the emotional transition between bel canto and riot-grrl punk in one day. We'll see. :D :D :D

[personal profile] freeradical42 has been trying to persuade me to go to Balticon. It's Memorial Day Weekend, which is Shavuos, so I was not all that high on the idea. It's tough to go to a Con where you lose a day to Shabbos, so imagine three days of the Con being restricted to not doing melacha! Also, I like to actually celebrate Shavuos, so spending time doing Con-stuff might take me out of the spirit of the day. But they ARE scheduling services at the Con, and we were bandying the idea of doing a SF-themed Tikkun Leil Shavuos at the Con, and... [personal profile] freeradical42 emailed them and they were okay with giving us a room and listing it in the program, so it looks like that might actually happen.

Tikkun Leil Shavuos is the tradition of staying up all night on the first night of Shavuos studying Torah. I've only managed it three or four times, but it's amazing, and the prospect of doing it in the context of a SF con is really, really exciting to me. Our brainstorming googledoc has all sorts of cool ideas for shiurim, from the kashrut of fantasy animals to the optics of Rav Sheshet's eye lasers to the medieval Rabbinic contributions to astronomy.

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