Felix Felicis

“Have you ever taken it, sir?” asked Michael Corner with great interest.
“Twice in my life,” said Slughorn. “Once when I was twenty-four, once when I was fifty-seven. Two tablespoonfuls taken with breakfast. Two perfect days.”

We’re hiring a new summer camp director at work, and he was being introduced around, and asking what everyone does, and when it came to me, I said I teach app design in the studio, I work with our online students creating and curating game and tech news for our internal community, and I work with our parent community on social media, which means creating content, amplifying positive user-generated content and minimizing any negative feedback.

And when I finished saying that, I was thinking, YEAH, that is exactly what I should be doing! And I seriously haven’t felt like this since, I don’t know, maybe at Next Island before some of the complete craziness went down? I’m doing good things! interesting things! that have meaning! and things I am good at doing! and things that match who I really am on the inside!

I felt really happy and I want to remember this and what it feels like to be contented and happy, instead of realizing later, oh I really liked writing for that outlet or that team used to be really good. I tend to only really recognize a good situation in retrospect.

And then I left work early to work on editing essays for Checkpoint, and I’ve gotten such good pieces, and the ratio of mass-mailed form letters and mistargeted garbage to thoughtful essays is finally tipping the way I want. And some of these pieces are from friends that I’m just delighted to work with again, and some are from strangers so I didn’t even have to beg them for submissions. So, there’s that.

I was pretty tired (I’ve not been sleeping terribly well recently, and I am not great at life when I need rest), so I was considering just heading home to bed, but I didn’t want to miss the game theory after hours at the science museum in Durham. This is more like something I’d do in Brooklyn, and seriously going out is much harder here where everything involves driving and navigating and parking, and, oh, let’s be honest, once I figure out how to get to whatever event, it’s kind of a sad mini-version of what I miss in New York, which is terribly depressing and makes me wish I’d stayed in with a book.

Not this time! We went to the science museum after closing, and joined all the other adults drinking beers and playing with the science museum exhibits and game demos all around the exhibit halls. It reminded me of IndieCade East last year, and I mean the interactive museum space and playful spirit and the crowd in general, not the part where that blizzard kept half the attendees away.

Then Harold and I got PBRs and went to a science classroom for a lecture on game theory. The professor used really clear examples where it was all arithmetic you could do in your head to follow the principles, and there were a couple of demo games to illustrate points, including Two Card Poker (from a custom-made Women In STEM deck, naturally) and a game where you try to guess two-thirds of the average of everyone’s guess. I’m a level 2.5 reasoner, which is, a level 2 reasoning plus a little variance for the Fabrice Effect. I mean, it was a self-selecting group of people who wanted to go to a game theory lesson, so there probably wouldn’t be that one friend who doesn’t quite get it, but on the other hand, PBR was $2.

I looked down at my two cards, and the plastic denarii for betting, and my PBR, and I actually felt good. Oh, ok this was worth driving around Durham. This isn’t a sad little version of a Brooklyn evening, this is a pretty nice time anywhere.

Then I went home and slept a good sleep.

denarii

Two-Card Poker, Denarii, and PBR

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My Archnemesis

my archnemeisWe meet again, my old enemy.

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The Fiction Vendetta

Let’s get it out of the way at the beginning: Yeah, I read that Slate piece this summer, shaming the uncultured, lowbrow adult readers of YA fiction, and my response is the kind of intense eyeroll I haven’t given since my teens.

(Speaking of that essay: When the author makes the faux-concession statement that those high culture / low culture thinkpieces require, about how at least this plebby non-literature is getting the uncultured masses to open a book, the author name-drops a TV show. Slate thoughtfully links the Amazon page where readers can immediately purchase it. With an affiliate link. Hilarious.)

Labyrinth Society: The Versailles Vendetta by Angie Kelly is cheery, chatty, time-traveling tween fiction, and it doesn’t hurt that the protagonists are a trio of tween girls.

Female-authored fiction for a young, female audience is often disparaged by calling the characters all Mary Sues. (Among other ways, I mean, like calling them beach reads and airport novels, and other things that mean well, if you have the time to waste, I guess you can enjoy it. Oops, got sidetracked, this isn’t a post on all the ways that novels written by women for the enjoyment of primarily women get downplayed!) Mary Sues have something to do with wish fulfillment, they’re too awesome,  their dialogue is too snappy and their luck is too good, like we don’t all read books to see interesting characters doing exciting things.

This is a short novel about three adopted girls, who live in a mansion full of exotic, and usually enchanted, relics that their foster mother, a strangely ageless archaeologist, has collected. They travel through time rescuing historical artifacts, usually racing against unscrupulous antiquities dealers.  Also there is an handsome British groundskeeper, loads of secrets, magic time-travel jewelry, and also a pair of glitter Chucks. It it exactly the kind of story I would dream up when I was supposed to be paying attention in middle-school classes, and I mean that in the best way.

Sure, there’s a lot of time-traveling escapism, but at the same time, the novel’s about chosen family and female friendships, telling the story of a prickly third foster-daughter joining a home that’s both a great deal happier than her previous houses but also so full of secrets.  And instead of one female sidekick along on the typical adventure team, we have three girls with different personalities working together to save history.

Read it for yourself, if you’re intrigued by magical teenager historians, and a teen novels without the obligatory love triangle, or just to be the coolest Auntie or Uncle to the middle-school girl in your life.

I received a copy of Labyrinth Society: The Versailles Vendetta from the publisher to review.

 

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Waypoint

Starting to work on this collection has been constantly surprising me.

I want to post, with modest amazement, about all the talent I’ll get to work with, which is something I always jealously read editors posting, but mostly I’m angrily amazed at the weirdly mis-targeted resumes I’m getting. I mean, I’m not asking for resumes at all, but sure, send it along if you think it’s important.

I definitely wasn’t expecting all the generic form letters applying for writing gigs (First place to the guy who said he was inspired to apply for POSITION because of COMPANY’s outstanding reputation in the industry.), and I’m not entirely sure that everyone who applied had read the posting. There are a lot of Dear Sir letters, or promises of SEO-friendly articles on any keyword. I mean, it’s not like I’ve even offering a lot of money, where it would make sense to apply even

There are people who submit work, and email angrily a few hours later to ask why I’ve not responded yet, and some who seek out my personal email because their question is too important to go to the inbox I’ve set up for this project. The whole thing is terribly confusing for my impostor syndrome, dealing with entitlement as a potential editor, when I tend to approach all opportunities nervously. Is this for me? Am I any good at this? Am I wasting everyone’s time with my silly questions? So it’s definitely a learning experience for me.

Anyway, right now I have four pieces that are delightful and amazing and I can’t wait to share them with you, and a few more in the process of editing.  I also have about a hundred SEO-optimized pieces on generalized gaming, and a thousand spun articles with gaming-related keywords, so there’s that.

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Preparing To Film

about to record

Getting ready to film. (Not pictured: Coffee, my awesome coworkers, more coffee, and many, many rounds of script edits)

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Hello Kitty Amigurumi

Hello Kitty Crochet

My friend Jennette came over to help me try out this book of Hello Kitty crochet patterns, and I was pretty excited for crafting and wine night. I’ve crocheted simple things, mostly, like scarves or wristlets. (I’ve been meaning to try Bethany’s crocheted Hello Kitty hat, and now that I happen to have bunch of Hello Kitty-colored yarn left over from amigurumi…)

Anyway, my point is that I like to crochet, but I did not realize quite how much stitch-counting was involved in making my project look more like Hello Kitty and less like a misshapen blob. Fortunately for me, Jennette is not just a crochet hobbyist, but secretly also an amigurumi expert!

The patterns in Hello Kitty Crochet: Supercute Amigurumi Patterns for Sanrio Friends are clear, even for a casual crochet maker like me, and I also enjoyed just paging through and seeing the cute photos of Hello Kitty in yarn. I want to try a Dear Daniel (for the sweet Instagram camera accessory) or a My Melody next. Or possibly a lil’ baby chthulu like Jennette made!

jennette has cool toys

I mean, I have crochet hooks in multiple sizes, but it turns out Jennette is a complete amigurumi expert!

Hello Kitty required more attention that than straight rows of a blanket or scarf, because you have to keep track of stitches and rows to get her cute little head to be the right kind of adorably round, or to make her cute little kitten ears. But it wasn’t difficult to do, and it didn’t take very long.

I did have to resort to a YouTube tutorials for the magic circle. If you (me) just cast on for crocheting scarves and blankets and so forth, I’d recommend watching someone else start a magic circle before trying it yourself.  It’s really easy to copy someone doing it, and quite difficult to get it from a description.

My favorite Hello Kitty persona is when she is wearing a kimono. Something about the simple, bold cuteness of the Hello Kitty face with the delicate patterns and colors of a kimono is just so perfect. I looked at my Hello Kitty kimono minis for inspiration, and copied the dress for my doll. I was just going to make a coordinating stripe around the body for a obi, but then I got carried away making the obi knot in the back, and the kimono sleeves, too.

amigurumi hello kitty

My Hello Kitty!

I decided to finish Hello Kitty Kimono with black button eyes, which gives her more of a cuddly rag doll look, instead of sewing them on. I planned to get some yellow embroidery floss to finish her cute little nose, but I found a perfect little yellow button for her nose at The Scrap Exchange, so she has an adorable little button face now.

I received this copy of Hello Kitty Crochet from the publisher to review.

More Cute Hello Kitty Crochet:

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The Summer Queen

Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Summer Queen tells the story of young Alienor (who will be called Eleanor from now on, because my spellcheck prefers it), from her childhood with her sister Petronella in Aquitaine, through her marriage to Louis of France, the birth of their two daughters, and finally their divorce, and her remarriage. The novel retells historical events, adding personalities to historical characters. I’m not sure how much was embellished for the book — the actual events are pretty dramatic by themselves. (When I read, I’m really a history hobbyist, not a serious scholar, so as long as characters aren’t using technology that hasn’t been invented yet, or traveling across Europe at unreasonable speeds for horseback, I’m happy.)

The Summer Queen shines with complex version of historical characters. Louis was trained for the church before the untimely death of his older brother made him the heir, and it’s clear that he would have prefered to become a monk than be a husband. This puts a lot of strain on their marriage, what with Louis constantly on pilgrimage or doing penance or observing a saint’s day, or basically coming up with a thousand religious reasons to avoid Eleanor. He’s not painted as an evil villain, even though his goals are at odds with Eleanor throughout most of the book.

Our heroine Eleanor, is a loyal daughter of Aquitaine, an intelligent and educated ruler, but it’s her flaws, specifically her yearning for home and love for one her vassals, that make her most sympathetic to the reader. Even more minor characters, like Petronella, have personality and depth.

In the author’s note at the end, Elizabeth Chadwick explains why she found the possible Eleanor / Raymond romance unlikely. Mostly because an incestuous affair seems like a bizarre and destructive choice for a woman who was so intelligent, while cooking up rumors of an incestuous affair, seems like a logical choice by enemies in court, looking for ways to discredit the queen. The “affair” seems like a pearl-clutching mock-horror to show complete depravity, and a pretty unsurprising response from certain men in court who were terrified by a powerful woman, with enough scandal to have it repeated by bored courtiers and shocked commoners alike.

The novel is the first in a (planned) trilogy about Eleanor, so it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. I mean, it’s not clickbait, but this is the story of a woman who was queen of two countries, and the novel ends before she gets to England. I’m looking forward to reading the next part of her story.

I received this eARC from the publisher to review. (Thank you!) Opinions are my own and free books have never stopped me from snarking about a bad novel before.

Originally written July 2014, for a section of Yahoo! that’s since been canned. Freelancing is awesome. 

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Kind of A Hurricane

Really pleased to tell you that I have a new short story, coming out in Kind of A Hurricane’s next anthology, Switch (the Difference)! My recent fiction work has been influenced by mythology, and the themes in this one are inspired by Hera and Semele.

Slightly embarrassed to tell you it’s about an overlooked writer who has a chance to be horrible to her romantic rival. So there’s that.

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More Than Just A Princess

I’ve been supporting GoldieBlox since their first Kickstarter, so I got an email announcing their new video this morning.

Sure, this is a product launch announcement, but it’s also about creative play for girls, fashion, and pink packages. This is part of a larger conversation about how we shape girls’ lives with our expectations, and how we can all do better, and just, man, it was really good to see this video this morning. I really needed to see all the comments about “disrupting the pink aisle” too.

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Studio Selfie

studio selfieAt work, about to record a tech story for the kids.

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Just The Writer

The other day, some college students came to take a tour of the studio, and for once I didn’t mumble a little about how I’m just the writer and how I guess I worked a little bit on this game that you’ve probably never heard about, and anyway, don’t you want to go talk to someone more exciting?  This time, I actually described my work, and talked to the students about what goes into our gaming content for children and why it matters. It didn’t hurt that my coworker brought the students in and described our room as where all the creativity happens.

Next time I might actually ask the students about their majors or something. (Maybe.) It kind of confuses me to see young people trying to act mature and responsible because they’re around adults who matter to them, and then realizing that I am that adult.

 

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#BBlogger Review: Brow and Lash Kit

sponsored

Lean in, Internet, I’m going to tell you a little secret.

I started this beauty blogging thing as a lark, and also to encourage myself to actually style my hair and wear something besides jeans-and-flannel every single day. Mid-thirties is a great time to learn how to wing eyeliner, right?

Since then, I’m starting to discover all different types of beauty products, which I think most people learned about as teenagers. Mid thirties actually is a good time for that, because I like how I look a great deal more than I did when I was a teenager, and also my attitude is more about decorating my face than perfecting a naturally beautiful look.

Crave (The same people who sent me the Whiplash Eyelash Curler) sent me a lash and brow set to try out, so I got to play with those and learn how to use them. I have an old washed-clean mascara wand I use for this purpose, which is just fine, but does not give the full Disney princess effect. These worked great, and once you have sorted out your supermodel/Disney princess eyelashes, you can add turquoise or plum or glitter eyeliner for full effect. (And by you I mean me)

You can use coupon code QQMSRCOC on your order for 25% off the Eyebrow and Eyelash Brush Kit here. (And this time I actually mean you, ok.)

sponsored

 

I received this product for review from Crave Naturals. 

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Deep Sea at SXSW’s Screenburn

Deep Sea, Robin Arnott’s terrifying sound-based undersea adventure pushes boundaries between game and interactive experience. Sure, there’s combat, a battle between the player and some sort of killer leviathan, but the focus is much more on an experience than a high score.

Deep Sea caught my eye in a sea of stunning indie titles at SxSW’s indiePub pavilion because of all the apparatus. Players wear a modified gas mask, covering the entire head and blocking out all light, and a set of headphones, blocking all the noise from the show floor and playing Arnott’s creepy undersea audio.

Players use a joystick to move and to shoot at the undersea mobs, but enemies can only be tracked by listening intently to the ominous sounds of approaching monsters. Inside the dark sensory deprivation of their hood, a player hears only a crackling help request — which explains the basic commands without breaking the fourth wall — and the vibrations of encroaching but undefined enemies, and the playback of their own breathing.

The sound of shooting and even the player’s breathing will draw the monsters, a mechanic that reminded me of Taiyoung Ryu’s Maum, although I found it much easier to control my breath in Deep Sea than my brainwaves in Maum.

Unexplained horror is much more terrifying than blood and guts, and Deep Sea is no exception. Game players who’d shot their way gleefully though Left 4 Dead or Gears of War, talked about feeling shaken by Deep Sea. The narration offers gameplay hints, suggesting players aim one way or another to target, but never reveals what kind of horrific monsters are being targeted. The vagueness of the storyline, plus the sensory deprivation, really creates an experience.

Relying on equipment like this mask is a risky choice for a game developer, as anyone who’s played a clunky VR game or worn awkward 3d glasses can attest. But Deep Sea uses the logistics of the required equipment to set the tone. The use of the game system itself to establish the situation and setting couldn’t help but bring Brenda Brathewaite’s project, The Mechanic Is The Message to my mind.  After putting on the gasmask, which seems intentionally awkward but was made more challenging by my ponytail and earrings, I reached blindly for the joystick, missed, and needed my hand guided to it. The mechanics are used to amazing effect here; the game opens with the player disoriented and helpless.

I quickly forgot about the mask I was wearing, perhaps because it was meant to inhibit my senses rather than enhance them as other gaming headsets would. I found myself focusing so intensely on the sounds of enemy movement that I was even standing at the Deep Sea booth, leaning towards the source. There’s no replay value, no desire to kill a record number of leviathans or stay alive longer next time, but at the same time, it’s impossible to play it without being moved, or take off that hood without immediately telling friends they just have to try it, too.

I don’t expect Deep Sea to take off as a popular game, or to see mass-production of Arnott’s homemade gasmask hoods, but this is the type of wild, immersive experience that makes me love indie games.

Originally written for Indie Game Magazine, 2011

 

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Fairy Princess Programming Teacher

fairy princess programming teacher

With sparkle ballet flats and sparkle French manicure, today’s look is fairy princess programming teacher.

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Project Management

Imagine a vast prairie. Full of steers, and cows, and they’re all going different directions! Running crazy in all different directions. And they’re big. Also, there are buffalo. Buffaloes? Anyway, multiple buffalo.

And there is one lone cowboy, on this vast prairie, with a lasso, making all these animals go the same direction.

I am the herder of those animals.

– my coworker, explaining her job

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