Dream of the Dolphin
a.k.a.
Confessions of a Post-Graduate Pity Whore

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Thursday, March 22, 2007
 

Ancient Peru Unearthed (Got Kids???)

The ROM's latest travelling exhibition is Ancient Peru Unearthed, and before I go any farther, if you have kids, care for kids, know anybody with kids, check this out.

My friend and sometime boss, Lindsay, nearly killed herself putting together a truly wicked activity guide for families visiting the exhibit, the centrepiece of which is the Become a Sican Lord contest, but due to snafus and miscommunication and no fault of hers, the activity guide has gone largely unnoticed. Meaning there are no entries thus far for the contest.

So, if you have kids who like crafts, go check out the instructions and enter them. Since there are no entries so far, you have a hell of a good chance to win that camera, but more importantly, we really want to get entries in there to show everyone that there is a place for families at the ROM.

So what about the exhibit itself? I really, really enjoyed it. Unlike the last exhibit, this one really tells a story, beginning with the history of the region and the Sican place within it, to a short film discussing the discovery of the lost civilization, to the discovery of the Lord's tomb and the treasures contained within. From there, the methods of production of the absolutely stunning gold pieces are discussed, as well as aspects of metallurgy, the social structure of the Sican society, and their religion and beliefs. The exhibit strikes the right balance of providing information without being overwhelming, but the information is actually provided.

Of course, my favourite part comes right at the midpoint of the exhibit -- the Ancient Peru dig. It had the potential to be fairly dull (five hours doing the same thing), but after putting some thought into it and changing my approach yesterday, I had a really great time. And so, I think, did the kids.

The exhibit places a very heavy emphasis on the importance of archaeology, as looting in the region is a huge problem. Thus, the emphasis on why context of peices is important, and why removing a piece from its resting place destroys the context, and with it, knowledge of how these people lived.

So when kids arrive at the Archaeology Dig, I welcome them to Batan Grande in Peru, and ask them if they'd like to join my archaeology team. As foreman of the dig, I'm in charge, and I give them a little bit on why archaeology is important. Then they have a choice of three sites to dig at -- each site contains different things, and all those things togeter will let us figure out what that place was.

One dig contains llama bones, dung, whole and split firepit rocks, reed mats, clothing, and pots. This is the family hearth.

Another contains shells, beads, ceramics, and a few awls. This is the bead and ceramics workshop.

The biggest (and my favourite) is a large stone dig containing burnt wood, broken crucible fragments coated with gold or silver slag, clay reed tips, gold nuggets (pretty much all of which were stolen during march Break), a copper and silver ornamental disk, a stone tool, and a gold tumi knife. This is the smelting pit, where metal was refined and shaped.

The best part about the dig is that when the kids actually listen to me, they figure all this out for themselves. I spent forty five minutes yesterday with a four year old girl who was amazing. She was able to tell her mom that what she was looking at was a bit of llama poo, which they used in the fire because it had lots of straw in it. She was FOUR.

But most of the kids I had yesterday were great, and I haven't heard kids calling my name so much since Summer Club, eager to share what they found with me.

Which just goes to show, when you go at it with the right attitude, even a repetitive task can be exciting and new each time.

( 10:33 AM ) Sarah Jane ~





Thursday, March 08, 2007
 

Ad Astra 2007

Here is my first attempt at a con report. As usual, I didn't take nearly as many photos as I wanted, even though my camera was with me pretty much all the time (except at the dance). Ah well.

Pre-Con

My con reports usually don't start here, but this one was worth mentioning. The months, weeks, and especially days spent leading up to the con were thoroughly entangled in The Architect's Dream. What is The Architect's Dream, you may ask? Good question. It was the original title of the Under Cover of Darkness launch game. The original plot was completely different, for the most part. There was still a conspiracy, in which Jana was thoroughly involved, but it had to do with the Idea Library (where writers get their ideas from), a cabal of Secret Librarians, and was discarded because a) it got too complicated, and b) it ended up turning into the Secret Librarian show and drifting away from the anthology. So we returned to our original original idea, which had previously been discarded as making too little sense.

Then came the real work -- preparing all the puzzles and evidence. We were working largely on our own here, communicating through e-mail and IM, with a few strategy sessions at Jana's house. I wrote many of the puzzles and clues furtively during breaks at work, and late at night after I'd gotten all the rest of my own work done.

There was one very memorable group IM chat on Wednesday night, which involved a lot of last-minute puzzle ideas, changes, frantic "no, no, seriously guys, a hole punch! It'll be great!". I also learned a lot about my image editing software -- all the handwriting on the puzzles, save half of the scrawls on the back of the Darwin evidence, were mine, and since I lack a scanner at home, getting a block of text onto a clue often meant writing it on the back of a draft of another clue, photographing it, editing out the blur and paper colour gradations, plonking it onto the clue, and e-mailing it back to Jana for printing.

Perhaps the biggest task was finishing off the Queen of Air and Darkness mask that would play an intergal part in the game. Eventually titled "The Answer Lies Beneath", it took about two and a half months to make. There will be better pictures when I get around to them, but this is what it looks like:



Yes, that's all wire and beads.

Still, I realized at about 2 in the morning on Tuesday or Wednesday, as I was frantically working on one of the pieces of evidence (I can't at this point remember whose it was -- maybe Amanda's), that as tired as I was, I was having so much fun. I totally understand now how the Pixar guys can work until 2 a.m. seven days a week and still love their jobs. I would love to be able to do this stuff for a living.

There was a final strategy/envelope stuffing session on Thursday night, during the blizzard (getting to Jana's was FUN!), during which several details were ironed out, including how to have Darwin present for the game, even though he was no longer able to attend the con. Then, it was home for packing and a quick rest before...

Friday

Alice and I waited at my house on Friday night for Karina, Jana, and Ruth to arrive, during which time I searched rather desperately for a) the case to Casualties of Retail, and b) the CD of Soapbox Heroes. I never did find either (Karina, could I get a copy of yours until mine turns up?), but I did manage to uncover my missing Loreena McKennitt CD, so there was at least some progress. Then the gang arrived, and we all shoehorned in for the short jog to the hotel-in-the-middle-of-nowhere.

We had another cool Myst room, with a wildlife warning on the window (Alice: "Are those lemurs?"), and there was hurried dumping off of stuff before heading out to the lobby. We observed that Leah had been busy -- there were Under Cover warning signs everywhere.

Registration, meeting with friends, sneaking the mask into the Art show (and the clue under the table), and a quick bite to eat in the Green Room later, and we were off to the Under Cover of Darkness info panel. Karina sat inside and delivered a nice friendly chat about the rules, to much friendly giggling and amusement, while Leah and I paced around outside, looking at a piece of paper and our watches and getting increasingly agitated. Jana sneaked by to peek inside, and then we were on. Leah and I burst in, proclaiming that our game had gone beyond what we planned -- our anonymous source failed to show, but we got an e-mail stating that someone was using the anthology to send some sort of message, and we needed to track them down and stop them. The players were given their info packages, and they were off!

15 minutes. Shortest panel ever.

We hooked up with friends to do the party circuit... oh hell, we went to the chocolate parties. Goat cheese and raspberry is my new favourite flavour ever. Chocolate consumed, we retired for bed. Saturday was going to be a long day.

Saturday

Saturday started very, very early, at 7:30 a.m., to replace the panel info posters with the "Stop investigating" warning posters. Throughout the con, Jana got a huge kick out of seeing people's faces as they realized the signs were changing. Then it was off to the green room for tea and breakfast (I was constantly amused by Rob Sawyer going "Look! It's Nebula Award Nominee Karina Sumner-Smith!" everytime Karina walked into a room -- I think Karina was somewhat less amused) before heading to Amanda's reading.



Then it was down to the Polaris launch. I think everyone can agree that the highlight of the launch (aside from the sno cones) was Sarah Niedoba, winner of the International Polar Year's International Student Writing Competition (and also Karina's Mum's student).



Also on the panel are Emily Mah, Anna Paradox (best name ever), and Jane Petrovich, my Fantastic Companions bookmate.

This was also the panel at which Peter Maloney made me laugh so hard I almost cried. Since Darwin was unable to attend the con, we needed a substitute. Fortunately, Darwin's story featured psychics with companion hamsters, so Peter was being mind controlled by an absent Darwin all weekend via the stuffed hamster in his pocket (along with a button labelled "pay to attention to the Nlyx upon my shoulder"). I'm very lucky to have friends who a) are really good sports, and b) are really good at improv. It was also fun to tell people all weekend "Yeah, Peter's acting really wierd... it's almost like he's two different people."

Then it was time for a quick lunch before Alice's first panel ever (this was also Alice's first con ever), "Ongoing Settings, Recurring Characters", moderated by my favourite surrogate con dad, Rick Wilber. Alice did really well, and talked a lot more than I did on my first ever panel. Though she did get the same "okay, now you say something" that I got. I think it's an initiation thing.

Next was the Urban Fantasy panel, and my first ever shot as moderator. I think it went pretty well -- we laughed a lot, got in a dig at the Dresden Files, and discussed exactly what the hell we mean by Urban Fantasy. Added bonus was that the panel was all my friends (Karina, Mark, and Amanda), and Stephanie, who I know and like perfectly well.

This is the point that, unfortunately, Karina got felled by Con Head (or possibly Tom's kickass Nebula brownies), and Alice and I spent the next little while running around and trying to find food for her. Then I took Alice for a proper dinner before retrieving Karina and dropping in on the newsgroup gathering, and then ducking out to sneakily snag the mask from Artist's Alley and get Alice ready for the Masquerade.



At 7, Karina and I headed to the gallery rooms for our panel on the Asimov Award (now Dell Magazine's award, and no, I'm not typing the whole thing out -- someone at some point commented that I had a LOT of panels, and I had to point out that the title of the Dell panel took up three lines on my badge schedule). Unfortunately, as it was an hour before the masquerade, the only people to show were Rick, his friends Matt and Nick (who is responsible for me being at Ad Astra in the first place, in a very roundabout way). So after learning a few Very Interesting Things about the innerworkings of the Award, we adjourned the panel to the bar.

Finally, it was time for the masquerade. There were some great costumes, some really painful moments, and Alice's moment of triumph as she burst out to deliver a warning and got dragged out by stage ninjas. The mask looked fabulous from the audience, and we all agreed that Alice delivered the best performance of the night. This also may have started something -- look for a joint Alice Cooley/Stellar Magpie costume at upcoming cons. We're also promised video and proper photos of the masquerade, so I'll post those as soon as we get them.

After the masquerade, we headed up for some socializing before putting Karina to bed and heading down to the dance. Julie and I were soon joined by Alice, Jihane, Ruth, Lara, Nicole, Rob, and several other familiar faces. I have to say, even if I didn't last until Doctorin' the Tardis, the Dance is still my favourite part of the con. Plus, Alice kicks ass at dancing to Bollywood songs. That is all.

Sunday

Sunday started waaaay too early. After about 5 hours of sleep, we got up to change the posters to the final warning: "You have been warned". Then Julie and Jana treated the Game Designers to breakfast for all our hard work, which was most welcome after a weekend of grazing. Alice got to sleep in, and Karina foiled a waffle poacher. Altogether a very productive breakfast.

I slipped the mask back in to Artist's Alley, and began fielding the first of the game-winning phone calls. Then it was off with Karina to do our joint reading, which seemed to go over well -- Amanda, what did you think of the first part of the story?

Back to the Artist's Alley to retrieve the mask one final time. Cue a moment of sheer and utter panic as the tendrils on the mask became firmly and inextricably tangled in the mesh on my con bag. Fortunately, the Bakka table came equipped with scissors.

Alas, poor con bag.

Finally, it was time for the Under Cover of Darkness book launch, which was everything we hoped it would be. It began with a congenial panel of happy authors and editors (and Jana had kickass hair, if I do say so myself, not to mention the coolest outfit ever). There was much laughter, and happy author dances, and Amanda even coerced Doug Smith into dancing. Which, oh look, I managed to capture on film. Sort of. That blur is Amanda.



Then came the fun part. Jana commented that she didn't understand what all these posters were about, because there was no conspiracy whatsoever. Cue Alice running out to deliver another fantastic performance about the lies, deceit, and ninjas behind the book. Karina and I leaped in to fling accusations, and finally got Amanda to admit to being a member of the Seelie court. Then Doug Smith confessed. Then Jihane, which led to the great battle between the British and the French (Roger Czerneda has a fantastic picture of it, as well as the rest of the con, here). Steve Kotowych protested that we didn't have time for all this, but got strangely silent when we demanded to know how he managed to be on three panels at the same time. Then we wondered how we got all this evidence pointing at Darwin when he wasn't even there, whereupon the Nlyx poked its head around the corner and cackled ominously.

Jana stood up and berated the authors for letting the secret out, and we revealed that she'd been planting all those warnings all over the convention. It was about at this point that we noticed Julie talking on a large black handset. "Ah yes, Marty," she said, "I know it was supposed to stay hidden, but it's out now."

"Julie," Jana cried. "You knew?"

"Of course I knew," said Julie. "I'm the senior editor, I know everything." She paused. "Okay, okay, Marty, you're senior editor."

Yes, it was Julie behind the evidence and Alice. So why did she let the stories into the anthology in the first place if she knew the authors were trying to send a message?

Because they were good stories.

End game, end launch (then signings), prizes to the game winners (Jane and Ben, Lorne and Heather, and the team that included fellow Toronto Undergrounder, -- go Tony!) and by the end of the weekend, Bakka only had four copies of the anthology left. I'd say it was a job well done. Next up: The Architect's Dream designers for Fan Achievement: Other, Prix Aurora Awards 2008. Oh yes, there will be lobbying. :o)

There was one final panel for me and Amanda at 2, on Building a Better Alien. Unfortunately, two panelists were missing (though we did manage to rope Lorne Kates and Anna Paradox into staying), and our audience was rather small, but we did manage to come up with a fantastic sentient slime alien.

I staggered back to the Bakka table to find my very tired compatriots giggling over The 300, which lead to many cries of "Let me show you our lovely killing well," "Nice going, Stumblios," and "SPARTAAAAAA!!!!" as we packed up the room. It's Spartastic!

And that was the con. Busier than most, but one of the most fun at the same time. I can wait for the next game.

( 10:41 AM ) Sarah Jane ~





Monday, March 05, 2007
 

Jane, Divided

My middle name isn't exactly a secret. In fact, if your acquaintance with me happened via the writing/fandom route, you may not even know that I don't use it.

My father always wanted me to be named Jane, but my mom refused. I was supposed to be Emma, until someone pointed out to her that Emmy Elliott sounded silly, and then I was going to be Jenna, until she decided that didn't sound right either (then they were going to give it to my sibling, until he was born). I'm not sure how they settled on Sarah, but as a compromise, my middle name became Jane.

It was never a hyphenate, and the only time I ever heard "Sarah Jane" was when somebody was mad at me (i.e. "Sarah Jane Elliott, get down here this minute!")

Then came grade three, and the cartoon show Bravestarr. Bravestarr was a space marshall. Bravestarr had some weird transforming anthropomorphic robot horse. The horse had a gun named Sarah Jane, whom he would introduce, loudly and with great vehemence, every time he needed to menace someone. There came a point at which I couldn't walk into a room without someone going "It's Saaaaaaaarah Jaaaaane!!!!" So at some point in the third grade, I decided I would never acknowledge my middle name again, and for a time actually looked into changing it to Katherine.

Then, in second year university, I started attempting to publish my fiction. The problem was, when I egosurfed the TPL catalogue, I discovered that there already is a "Sarah Elliott" who writes children's books on pollution. Also, I felt that "Sarah Elliott" doesn't flow very well, and you almost have to hiccup in the middle to pronounce it or slur it all together ("Sarahlliott"). So I put the Jane back in for publication purposes. And it kind of crept in elsewhere.

It's still one of my names, but it's my middle name, and not actually part of my first name. I don't think anyone calls Diana Wynne Jones "Diana Wynne". I know that nobody calls Jim Gardner "James Alan" or Bob Wilson "Robert Charles". I just happen to have a first and middle name that combine well into a hyphenate.

Which is why I don't exactly get offended when anyone calls me Sarah Jane. Especially if they don't know me very well. But it's distancing -- it's almost like Sarah Jane is the author-type person, but she's not actually me. And this tends to make me subconsciously standoffish with anyone calling me "Sarah Jane". This is also why I will tell you "no" if you ask if you can call me "SJ". You can, however, call me "Sarah".

I have a love/hate relationship with my middle name. I've grown more attached to her after our falling out in elementary school. I'm actually starting to like her again (I admit, Doctor Who helped out a lot in that department). But I still don't like letting her hang around with my friends.

( 2:27 PM ) Sarah Jane ~





Friday, March 02, 2007
 

Game On

Getting ready to head off to Ad Astra, where there will be lots of fun, geekery, and meeting up with friends.

Conspiracy? What conspiracy? I don't know anything about any conspiracy.

( 12:56 PM ) Sarah Jane ~





Sarah Jane Elliott
The often frustrating progress of my life and writing...

(Once known as "The Mystic's Dream", now known as "Dream of the Dolphin", but inclined to change title depending on what's stuck in my head)

Okay, I liked "Confessions of a Post Graduate Pity Whore" a lot more than I thought I would. That line is still hilarious. But I've started writing again, so it's time to go back to before. :o)





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