Thursday, May 21, 2009

I've been watching My Otome, which is a fun example of what's known by the TV Tropes people as a Pink Bishoujo Ghetto, of the superhero subspecies. It's a SF fantasy set on a world where nations' militaries are supplemented or replaced by nanotechnologically overpowered female knight-servants known as "Otome". Think OMAC: One Maiden Army Corps.

I'm also watching Flag, which is a Real Robot super-realistic Twenty-Minutes-Into-The-Future show about a combat photographer embedded with an elite UN strike force involved in a central Asian civil war. It's stylistically exciting, done in a hard-edged "found footage" documentary style, with absolutely no compromises with narrative - every second of story is pieced together from video by the narrator character, and the protagonist is mostly heard, not seen.

It's a strange juxtaposition, My Otome and Flag, because it's so much easier to accept My Otome on its own terms. Suspension of disbelief is far, far easier when you're presented with magical nanotechnological works of wonder - it makes every other conceit of unreality and whimsy go down that much more easier, like a mouthful of milk prior to gobbling a plate full of dry cookies. Flag on the other hand, with its hypocritical officers prating on about roadmaps for peace and its M1 tanks getting ambushed in tight urban kill-zones and its photo-realism, doesn't get an ounce of consideration from yours truly. When the elite UN strike force (btw - bwa hahaha!) feels the need to perform aerial reconnaissance by piling into a Little Bird with a side-mounted "Predator drone" & *flying* into a canyon, all I could do was scream in horror and disbelief. A) Predators are much, much bigger than that silly little contraption B) the whole point of using UAVs is to *not* put your scouts in physical proximity to danger C) why were they flying *in* the canyon?

I think I'm going to call it the "Military Realism Uncanny Valley". The closer your fiction gets to actual contemporary realism, the more sensitive the viewer/reader gets to inaccuracies. Putting giant robots or magical girls into "realistic" war fiction is the narrative equivalent of robots with expressive skin-like surfaces & facial mimicry - it ceases to be "cute" and instead sets off all of our ingrained BS detectors. We cease to be amused by the rough similarities and instead are repelled by the subtle failures. The difference between watching a charming performance and feeling like you're being deceived?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

OK, crap like this is why I told somebody during the campaign that Joe Biden was "smart by Senate standards". Which is to say, slow on his best day, and a complete and utter moron the rest of the time.

That being said, underneath the Naval Observatory doesn't seem particularly secure if you're afraid of a suitcase nuke going off in the District, I don't care how hardened the bunker is. Shouldn't it be somewhere more distant, like Cheyenne Mountain or that place they built in the Catoctins for Congress back during the cold war?

No Sale

So, there wasn't a pony after all.

I just bought a somewhat expensive education in things that can go wrong with buying an old house, and what to look for in 'bargain' houses.

1) It may seem like it'll be easier to deal with an owner directly, rather than going through a real estate agent. You'd be wrong. The agents bring with them a certain structure and discipline to the process which protects both sides of the transaction, even if they're mostly acting in the interests of the seller. In 'for sale by owner' transactions, you're playing without a net. I was lucky enough to have a co-worker who used to work in real estate law, who helped me along the way, and whose aid in preparation and drafting got me out of my trouble with most of my skin intact. Others might not be so lucky.

2) Houses are fiendishly complicated machines, and you really can't look them over in a single viewing. Every time I set foot in my aborted would-be purchase, I saw different things. Most of the time what I saw was unwelcome, which is why I waved off in the end.

3) Older houses are archaeological sites. They change with every new project their various owners performed, and few contractors have a proper respect for their predecessors' necessary structural elements. The house in question was build in the early fifties partially on an older house's fieldstone foundation; this was the start of the problem, most likely. Later contractors put a set of stairs into the basement, without proper support. Closets were built into rooms. The second floor bathroom's bathtub was moved back four-five feet from its original location, taking space from what used to be a walk-in closet. The house was expanded to the rear, twice. A roofed front porch was put in, without fully sealing the holes knocked in the brickwork.

4) The foundation is the spinal column of a house. If there's something wrong with that, the house is crippled. The house in question had at least four attempts to shore up the original failed foundation design over the course of fifty-some years. My sin in this transaction was in not noticing this initially. It was a complicated basement, and I should have thought through why it was that complicated.

5) Drainage is important. Even if you aren't in a flood area, if your gutters are ill-placed and you have bad slopes around your foundation, you've bought yourself a long-term heartache.

6) If it seems cheap for the square footage, there's probably a reason. If you can't see it, look harder.

7) A thorough housing inspection is the buyer's best insurance. Don't ask them to cut corners. Mine saved me years of misery.

8) Dryers need to be vented *outdoors*. Venting into your basement is a bad idea - it just introduces moisture directly into the foundation.

9) Closing costs are always more expensive than you think when you start house-shopping. Keep that money in reserve.

10) A draconian mortgage officer is also your friend. If they're tight with their money, they'll force you to be careful about your purchase. Also, they make for a dandy enforcer on your transaction. "They won't give me a mortgage because of this that and the other thing" is a great conversation-ender, or negotiation tool, if you've still got the sand for the purchase.

11) If you're not happy with the house as the closing starts to approach - get out. You're going to be living there, don't walk in the door hating it.

12) Be careful about tripping yourself up with the terms of your contract & deadlines. Give yourself enough time between the inspections & your mortgage application commitment date.

13) If you're not handy, why the hell would you buy yourself a fixer-upper? Old houses are almost always project houses; don't get yourself into more than you can handle.

So, I've got my deposit back, and I'm feeling free as a bird. I wish the owner the best of luck in dealing with his foundation fixes. He was very good about giving me my deposit back & terminating the contract. He's got a heck of a job on his hands, and I'm just glad it isn't in mine any more.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

So, another history day judging in the can. I don't know why, but this year's left me a lot more tired than usual. The best senior paper in my section was thrown out because the author failed to make his interview - really disappointing, really. Got into a number of arguments about Noam Chomsky.

That kid who interviewed me at the Palin rally last October turned out to be one of Bruce Teeple's daughters. Apparently I made it into some sort of documentary she was working on, and he recognized me.

Oh, and my Otakon messenger bag died. I need a new man-purse!