Wednesday, October 31, 2012

National Novel Writing Month

Have registered for NaNoWriMo again, though an dubious I will be able to manage much. I'm at a conference this weekend, out of town again next weekend, have a major report to deal with this month, etc. etc. But I've reread part-1 of my novel (NaNoWriMo 2007, plus another 70,000 words since) to where I've left off, and will try to start moving it forward again. Another 50,000 would definitely finish it off.

Living in an Art Gallery

As a speaker at the 2012 Toronto SpecFic Colloquium, held this year at the Gladstone Hotel, I elected to stay at the Gladstone for four nights. I knew it to be a boutique hotel, and that it was artsy, but I didn’t really appreciate how artsy a hotel could be until I got there.

I did know that every room is different, designed by a different interior designer. (See rooms) You don’t just book a room, you book a particular room. Each one has its own photos online, and a video interview with the designer(s) who did that room explaining why they made it the way it is. Mary booked me into 403 because it had a kitchen, so it is one of the more sedate rooms: lots of wood, utilitarian, not distracting--a good space for writing.

Getting to the room, however, is an entirely different experience. When you register, for example, you have to sign that you won’t take any of the artwork home with you. And just to let you know, everything in the room is artwork: No you can’t take that map of Toronto with you—it’s part of the decor of the 'map' room.

[You also have to sign that you won’t take the Samsung tablet computer that’s included in every room. You’re encouraged to take it with you everywhere you go while you’re staying in the hotel, but you have to leave it when you check out or--you initial--have the $500 extra added to your bill.]

Then there is the “cowboy” elevator, built in 1907, that seems to come with an operator. Its pretty cool, but I generally take the broad, creaky wooden stairs up the four flights rather than summon the operator, not sure whether it is permitted for me to operate the elevator myself. (And it was usually filled with chairs or artwork or catering on it's way to one or other floor anyway.) But I also preferred the stairs because the walls of the staircase are lined with art--some of which is owned by the hotel, but most of which is for sale. At least a couple of pieces were by residents of the hotel. Not cheap: the lowest price tag I saw was $800, but most was a good deal more.

Each floor has a large lounge area before you get to the guest room corridors, and these also double as art galleries. I don’t just mean that there are some paintings on the wall; I mean there are full-fledged installations, and that they change every three months. They were changing as I was there, which is inordinately strange, because while I have occasionally wandered into a gallery during set up, I’ve never before been living in a gallery during set up.

Here, Michelle Baily is installing her wax and yarn piece, “Growth”. (Part of the "Hard Twist" exhibit.)
“I’m sorry,” I apologize, “But it makes me think of Harry Potter.”
“That’s okay,” she sighs, “that’s what my Mom said.”
(if you look behind her shoulder, you can just make something vaguely like the 'sorting hat'. It's clearer on her website)

The second floor seems to have a permanent gallery-gallery, which also serves as function space. The second night they seemed to have an event hosted by Kobo, which I was severely tempted to crash, but there was something artsy or literary happening there every time I passed by. The auditorium on the first floor similarly had a succession of poetry readings, lectures, etc. And their lounge/pub had a band or poetry readings happening too.

The hotel bills itself as 'ground zero for the arts in Toronto", and I'd have to say that was indeed my impression. All of the guests and patrons just looked, well, artsy.

So, not a bad environment in which to write. I did some editing, and reworked a short story I had let sit for four years because it wasn't working – finally fixed the problem (I hope), and reread my novel to where I left off last year, in preparation for NaNoWriMo.

[I couldn't get the wifi to work in my room, but that’s maybe just as well to keep me focused on my editing and writing tasks, not distracted by facebook, twitter, email and so on. I checked email on my phone when necessary, up and downloaded files I needed in the lobby or at dinner in the café, where wifi was fine. Mine was the corner room on the top floor, so I believed them when they said the wifi worked everywhere else, no problem…and they spontaneously deducted $50 for my troubles, so I am well content.

The room was cold when I first arrived but warmed up by the second day; the thermostat claims it’s hotter than it feels, but maybe that’s just me.

I also notice the room seems to come with earplugs, presumably for the traffic noise, but the heating fan pretty much drowns out everything, and I left it on because I’m always cold and because with Hurricane Sandy on the way, they were telling me the power might go off, in which case, I wanted some heat built up in there first.]

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Of Cannibals and Mice

My 14 yr old daughter has a test tomorrow over which she is slightly freaking out. As I understand it, the issue is that there is a small risk she might only get, say, 95% on the test unless she stays up for the next two hours studying, as opposed to the 98% which is her stated goal for the average in this course. I give my usual "it's not about the marks" speech, and order her to bed so she will be well rested for the test, but she is still freaking out. Half-way through my second "work/life balance" speech (it's remotely possible that I have a tendency to address my children in professorial lecture mode), she confesses that the proximate cause of her attack of nerves is that a fellow student has shown her a viral YouTube cartoon featuring cannibalism and it is now freaking her out (though she had not thought anything of it at the time).

"You're not seriously telling me you're afraid that cannibals are going to break into your room and eat you, are you?"

She holds up her thumb and index finger separated by a hair. "Little bit."

She allows that the fear is irrational, but that there is nevertheless no chance of her getting to sleep tonight.

I recognize that the cannibalism motif is simply the lightening rod for a generalized existential panic brought on by ridiculous amounts of homework (she is in the pre-IB program) and too much extra curricular activity (three hours of rehearsals every evening, including weekends), and the social challenges of adolescence and high school. So I sit down on the edge of her bed and start to talk her down by taking her fears seriously, and pointing out that (a) we have a good alarm system that will alert security if any cannibals attempt unauthorized entry into our house; (b) we have a large black dog that would likely eat any such cannibals first, and that (c) I will be sleeping right upstairs.

She allows how this is all true and reassuring and starts to show signs of thinking about calming down and going to sleep.

At which point the aforementioned large black dog bursts into the room, smashes into the wall, and begins tearing the shelves apart. She puts her forepaws through a wicker basket, plunges her head inside, and generally goes psycho-killer on Tigana's doll collection.

This, I think, may not be entirely helpful in improving the tone of the evening.

A moment later, a tiny jet-black mouse makes a break for it and sprints across the floor and out the door, while the dog gives murderous chase. From behind me, standing on the bed, I hear my daughter shrieking, "I knew there was something alive in here!"

"Well, it's gone now," I begin, in what I know is likely to be ineffectual damage control, but before I have even finished the sentence, the dog is back, ripping open the wicker basket once again. I pick the basket up and make to move it outside, chiding the dog that the mouse has now gone and what she is smelling is just traces of the departed mou-- But of course, I only make it two feet before I see another (this time grey) mouse racing frantically round the basket as I inadvertently tip it, and I--hero protector that I am--shriek loudly and drop the basket. The dog plunges her head back in and proceeds to smash the remnants of the basket to kindling in an attempt to get the creature. She suddenly snaps her jaws shut, and as Tigana shouts from behind me, "Don't let her kill it! It did nothing wrong!", the dog trots out of the room with the deliberate gait of an executioner. As I mumble something about mouse trespass and the death penalty to Tigana, I follow the action outside the bedroom in time to watch a bullet-fast mouse (I am unclear if this is a third individual or one of the previous two somehow escaped from the jaws of death) scuttle under the sitting room piano -- and my 60lb dog kamikaze into same nanoseconds after. As I call the dog back from battering the piano pedals, I'm thinking my little night-time pep talk could definitely have gone better...

Normally, this is where I call in Mom to take charge of hysterical children, but she's away, so the best I could do as move the kids upstairs while the dog and I slept downstairs in their (apparently mouse-infested) bedrooms. It was restful for no one that the dog persisted in patrolling the floor against further incursions for most of the night, though I suppose it did manage to draw attention away from the cannibal threat.

This is not, I am sorry to confess, the first problematic encounter with mice in the house. About a month ago I had set a few traps to catch suspected intruders in the kitchen, with reassurances to the children that it was a 'catch and release' program. This worked relatively effectively, with my actually setting a few mice loose in the coulees, until I noticed that one trap had inexplicably disappeared. Assuming I had just misremembered where I had placed it, or that the dog had nosed it away somewhere, I forgot about it. A couple of days later I'm playing with my 9 year old in her room, when she reaches behind her into her stack of stuffies to pull out--you guessed it--a dead mouse. Why the mouse dragged itself and the trap all the way across the house to my daughter's bedroom and buried itself in her stuffy collection, I will never know, but Kasia's reaction was predictably 'upset'. It hadn't helped that we actually have three stuffed mice included in her collection and that we both sat there starring at the dead mouse for 10 seconds before realizing that this one was real. (Well the trap attached should have been a give away.) On that occasion I was able to hand my daughter off to spend the night with mom, but it took a couple of days to convince Kasia her room was now mouse free.

Still, could have been worse. Could have been cannibals.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Today's Spam

Okay, I mostly just delete spam without opening it, but this one from Mrs. Amal Nasri caught my eye:

Muslim Brotherhood Random Selection Approved

As-Salamu Alaykum

Muslim Brotherhood random selection approved your email along with 199 others to benefit from the revolution gift, this is organized in London Early this year, it's organized to encourage the Muslim world and appreciate their support, and to those who have lost their love ones in the revolution, your compensation amount is Two Million United States of American Dollars (USD $2,000,000.00),

Contact email: XXXX
Mrs.Amal Nasri.
Arab Revolution

It was recently explained to me that spammers are not stupid, and that the complete lack of credibility in this sort of email is not sloppiness or lack of research. Fooling you is a waste of their time if, after the initial email hooks one, the intended victims suddenly says, "Hey, wait a minute! That doesn't make any sense!" when asked for one's bank account password. No, they send out deliberately ridiculous emails hoping to hook that one in a million really stupid person who will fall for anything, and so can be relied on to follow through.

The other key to a good con, I learned from some movie or other decades ago: the victim must think s/he is doing something illegal/immoral themselves so that they are then disinclined to report their victimization, once they eventually realized they have been fleeced.

So this one comes close to perfect on both counts. You'd have to be both spectacularly stupid and a traitor to your right-wing prejudices to fall for this one. "They randomly selected my email to give me $2 million dollars? Yes, that makes sense! They randomly blow people up, so naturally, they must be equally random in everything they do! They are insane, so this makes total sense!" Someone questions why they would have 200 X 2 million dollars to handout -- no problem: "Those damn arabs have billions! That's just chump change to them!" And, you know, handing out billions to random emails is way more cost effective for the revolution than say, I don't know, buying armaments. And they probably do use US dollars, because that's what they would use in London, right? "And anyway, they think I've suffered a loss for the revolution. So all I have to do is pretend to be Muslim revolutionary and I can collect big time!"

What bothers me is that spammers can find enough takers to make it worth their while to clutter up my email stream. That there are more than four guys who could fall for this is a condemnation of Social Studies teachers everywhere. That the people who fall for this are eligible to vote for Mitt Romney is the flaw in the democratic system.