pedanther: (Default)
1. Our production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee opened this week. Everyone seems to be enjoying it so far. (Including us; not that we weren't enjoying it anyway, but it helps to be reminded how funny some of the bits are that had faded through over-familiarity.)


2. This weekend was the area final of the Toastmasters International Speech Contest and Evaluation Contest. I represented my club in the Evaluation Contest, and came second -- which came as a nice surprise, because I was pretty sure there were at least two other competitors who'd done better than me. My friend who represented the club in the International Speech Contest, with a speech about dealing with negative self-talk, was even more surprised to come first (but I wasn't, because it was clearly the best speech in the contest -- though I may be biased).


3. Now that rehearsals for Spelling Bee are over, I'll be able to start going to gaming group meetings again; I'm looking forward to it. Usually I just show up and see who's got a game that needs players, but this time I'm planning to suggest a few games of my own: Forbidden Island, which my brother gave me for Christmas, and Ingenious, which I gave myself for Christmas after getting hooked on the app version.


4. I've played a bit more Mass Effect since I last posted, and now know Garrus, Wrex, and Tali as more than just faces on Tumblr posts. I also, being me, managed to put my foot in my mouth with all three of them during their respective tell-me-about-your-backstory conversations. (No, that's not quite true; I did fumble things with Wrex and Garrus, but when I hacked off Tali I knew exactly what I was doing. Attempts to justify genocide make me prickly; who'd've guessed?)


5. Movie-wise, I have been to see Rogue One (I teared up at the end, in the good-heartwarming way not the bad-distressing way) and Moana (lots of fun).
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. This week I have five Christmas/end-of-year social events in six days; in no particular order: work, the Rep Club, the other theatre group that isn't the Rep Club, Toastmasters, and the brass band. Three of those have already happened, and all of them were on evenings when I would have had to give them a miss or leave early if I'd been in the Christmas Show, as I was saying last entry, which would have been regrettable.

Also on the list of things I'd have had to miss out on: going to see the WA Symphony Orchestra's annual public concert with the family. (Does that count as an end-of-year social event? I'm inclined to say not, because nobody fed me.)


2. The choral group I mentioned joining has finished up for the year. I've been enjoying it and will definitely be back next year.


3. I have been to two charity book sales recently. I donated a box of books to the first one, so I came out with a net decrease in the number of books taking up space in my house. Win!

A significant amount of the box I donated consisted of duplicate copies, many of them a result of seeing a book at a sale and going "I've always wanted a copy of that" and then finding when I got home that I already had one in the to-read pile. I managed to do it again at both of these sales, so I've already made a start on the next box...


4. So far since the new $5 note was released, I've only had one pass into my hands. It was weird and disconcerting and I spent it in the very next shop I went into so that I wouldn't have to keep looking at it.


5. At work, my computer finally got old and unreliable enough that the boss felt obliged to find room in the budget for a new one. This meant leapfrogging from Windows XP (yes, it was that old) to Windows 10, which despite my reservations has been relatively un-horrible. The worst of it were some initial issues with the wireless keyboard, which seem to have sorted themselves out, and a weird tendency to reboot itself without notice, which I think has been fixed now that I've tracked down the option switch that was set to "Reboot immediately after installing a system update" (the documentation says that that option will still wait until the computer is standing idle, but such was not my experience).

There's also the unanticipated side-effect that my computer at home, which had always felt speedy and powerful compared to the one at work, is now by comparison showing its age and small memory.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. The short play season has been and gone. This year there were two plays, with a set of song-and-dance numbers in between; I was in the song-and-dance section, and got to sing the lead part on "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" while the rest of the troupe did their best to upstage me. The other songs we did were "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "Friends", both ensemble numbers, and "Otto Titzling", in which I made a brief and mostly mimed appearance as the villainous Phillippe de Brassiere, wearing a villainous top hat and villainous false moustache over my insufficiently villainous real moustache.

Next up is The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


2. My facial hair has gone through some variations this year. I grew out a full beard for Fagin, pruned it back to a moustache for the short play season, and am now going clean-shaven for Jekyll & Hyde. As an intermediate stage between the full beard and the moustache, just for the fun of it, I spent a week going about with Edwardian-style friendly muttonchops. I got a notable number of complimentary remarks about the look suiting me, so I may have to revisit it in future.


3. A few weeks ago, I went to the city to catch the touring professional production of Little Shop of Horrors. I found it somewhat disappointing, although I'm saying this as someone with multiple other productions to compare it to. The set design was amazing, and the whole thing was very impressive on the technical side, but a lot of the time I wasn't really feeling it on the emotional level. I think the size of the theatre was working against it; every other time I've seen Little Shop live has been in the kind of little shoebox theatre where even the back row isn't all that far from the stage. I'm also inclined to think most of the actors were struggling under the weight of the accents, which tended toward being so far over the top several of the characters were basically accents with people attached. The actor playing Seymour somehow got away with a reasonably-sized accent, and his performance did a great deal toward salvaging the whole thing.


4. I apparently didn't mention that after catching up with Now You See Me on home video, I went to see Now You See Me 2 in the cinema. It's probably not an objectively good movie, but I found it entertaining enough, even if I didn't quite believe it when the plot forced the protagonists to create in a matter of days the kind of stunt it took them months to set up in the first movie. Interestingly, it at least made some attempt to address some of the things that didn't quite make sense in the first movie regarding character motivations and such, which I appreciated even if some of the answers were also among the parts of the movie I didn't quite believe. One of the comments I made about the first movie has become quite amusing in retrospect, for reasons I can't really describe without massive spoilers.


5. This week we had the drama section of the annual performing arts festival. As usual, it was mostly students, but this year there was an actual adult entrant. (From Toastmasters -- he did a poetry recital and a monologue -- not from either of the theatre groups. Although we did hear from an adult Rep Club member who hadn't seen any promotional material until after the entry deadline had already passed. We really need to work on our outreach to the theatre groups.) The student entries included a collection of short group pieces the students had created themselves as part of their coursework, which tended to be dealing with Issues like self-esteem and coping with loss and so on. One of the highlights of the evening was a transgender coming-of-age story where the protagonist was represented by two performers, one playing his image of himself and the other playing his parents' image of him. Which sounds a bit weird, but the execution was really impressive. One of the actors involved, who also did a stand-out monologue, took out the top prize at the end of the evening.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Theatre News (subclass Acting in the):

As you may have guessed from the fiction log, the Rep Club's next big production will be the musical Oliver!. I've been in a bunch of musicals for the same director over the last decade or so, so I had what turned out to be the shortest audition I've ever done - didn't need to monologue, didn't need to sing, didn't need to dance, just needed to answer one question. I was a bit disappointed about the singing, since I'd put quite a bit of effort into my audition piece, but in the circumstances I think I'll survive.

The one question was: "Do you feel up to taking on the role of Fagin?"


2. Toastmasters News:

I entered both the Evaluation contest and the International Speech contest this year. The International Speech contest is the feeder contest for the World Championship of Public Speaking, and I've never entered it before. I only entered it this year because I gave a project speech last year which several people spontaneously told me was good enough for the contest, and because being a contestant meant I was exempt from being made to help organise it.

I won both contests at the club level, but at the area level I was beaten by the respective entrants from the college students' club. In a way, that was a relief, because it means I don't have to worry about finding time out of Oliver! rehearsals to attend the division and district contests. Let alone how inconvenient it would have been to qualify for the World Championship - not that I think that would have happened; the speech wasn't that good.


4. Theatre News (subclass Going to the):

I went to Perth to see The Lion King with my sister before it closed, because I've heard so much about how it's staged and who knows if it'll ever come this way again. There were bits that didn't quite work, but it was an impressive experience and on the whole I'm glad I went. Some of the puppets were astonishing. (Also astonishing, in a different way: the antipodean actor playing Timon's attempt at a New Jersey accent, which drifted as far south as Texas at one point.)

One side-note on the trip: It was the first time I'd been on the train since my international jetsetting Christmas holiday. Until I spent all that time on aeroplanes, I'd never really appreciated how much legroom you get on the train.


4. TV News:

The third season of Sherlock has aired here - actually, it aired last year, but then it was on against Foyle's War; this time it wasn't, and I had to decide whether I actually wanted to watch it. After carefully considering everything I'd heard about the third season and the Christmas special, I decided I didn't.

Also, the third season of Agents of SHIELD has started airing here; I watched a few episodes, then realised I wasn't actually all that interested, and stopped.

In happier TV news, the revived Danger Mouse started airing here this week, and I'm enjoying it immensely.


5. Theatre News (subclass Movie):

When I went to see The Force Awakens for the second time, it was preceded by a long trailer for the upcoming Batman/Superman movie. It kind of left me feeling like I'd seen the whole movie, and pretty much confirmed that I have no interest in actually seeing the whole movie.

Which leads me to a second side-note about my recent train trip: At one point, when I wasn't feeling motivated to do anything more brain-intensive, I watched the in-flight (if that's the word) movie, which was The Man From UNCLE. I have no idea how well it serves as an adaptation of the TV series, which I've never seen (yes, it's a shocking lacuna), but at one point I found myself thinking that Henry Cavill would probably do pretty well if he were cast as Superman, before remembering that he had been.
pedanther: (cheerful)
Annual Toastmasters Humorous Speech and Table Topics Contest. Entered Table Topics. Didn't win. The usual.

(Started well - the topic question included a perfect set-up for a good joke to kick off with - but didn't develop my points well and sort of trailed off at the end. Started thinking of ways I could have done better as soon as I sat down, which is also usual.)

On one level, don't mind that I didn't win, since I already know I'm not going to be able to make it to the second round of the contest next week, so I'd have had to withdraw anyway.
pedanther: (cheerful)
I woke up this morning feeling cheerful and relaxed and generally as if a great weight of responsibility had been removed from my shoulders. This was because one had.

For each Toastmasters meeting, there's one person for running the meeting, and yesterday's meeting it was my turn. The actual meeting-running bit - introducing people, keeping the event flowing, that sort of thing - wasn't a problem, but the role also includes the preparation work - finding people to fill the meeting roles, finding out who's going to be there and who isn't, and so on - and although it turned out all right in the end this time, I always find that part painful and difficult.

Part of it is low-level stuff like the fact that involves a lot of telephoning people, which is something I always dread unless I'm phoning somebody I know really well. (One of the guys at Toastmasters says this is because I have a DISC C personality and C personalities always have trouble with phones because they depend on body language in conversations. He's a professional life coach, so he says stuff like that a lot.) In this case, that was exacerbated by the fact that this was a meeting of the new dinner-meeting club, so I really don't know most of the members yet.

But it's also because planning and arranging the meeting is the kind of large and complicated task that is best broken into bits and spread out over several weeks, and that's a skill set I've never really learned. When I was a kid, the world was divided into things I found easy to do and things I wasn't interested in doing, but I was a smart kid and the pool of things I found easy to do was large enough to get me most of the way through high school, in the advanced stream even, before I started running aground on things I didn't find easy but needed to do anyway. (Ugh, essays. In retrospect, I feel sorry for my English tutor; she was probably good at helping people learn English, but that wasn't actually the thing I needed help learning, and we never got on.)

I'm still getting a handle on the shape of the problem, never mind managing to figure out where I can learn to fix it, and in the mean time what I usually do is procrastinate wildly until the shadow of the deadline looms over me, and then panic and try to get the whole thing done in the last 24 or 48 hours. And, because I'm still quite smart, that often works. Or at least doesn't fall apart too badly. On anything that's really mattered. At least, anything that I wasn't able to convince myself afterward didn't really matter.

And it's probably best not to look too hard at what happens when there isn't a set deadline to give me that kickstart...
pedanther: (cheerful)
It's been a busy few weeks in Toastmasters.


At the beginning of the month was the District Convention, which was held here for the first time, and was consequently the first Toastmasters District Convention I've been to. (This district covers a large geographical area and the Convention is usually in a city a long way from here. This is not always the case, because a district's boundaries are set to enclose a given number of clubs, so if they're densely packed it might be quite small in geographical extent, with multiple districts within a single city or even, so somebody told me at breakfast on the first day, within a single building.)

The convention includes speeches and workshops, four competitions, and a business meeting where the key organising people of the district can get together and decide whatever needs deciding face to face (and which, like most convention business meetings, goes for hours and is avoided by most people if they don't actually have to attend). Three of the competitions - for Humorous Speech, Table Topics (impromptu speech), and Evaluation - conclude at the district level; the winner of the fourth, the International Speech contest, goes on to compete in the World Championship of Public Speaking at the Toastmasters International Convention.

The main guest speaker at our convention was Ryan Avery, who won the World Championship in 2012 with this speech. He's the youngest person ever to win the World Championship, and what's really impressive is that he did it on his first attempt, after he'd been in Toastmasters for less than a year. One of his sessions at the Convention was about having big goals and the kind of work and focus needed to achieve them. He also did one on what he'd learned about how to structure a powerful and effective speech, and a more general one on the value of good communication. I took a lot of notes.


Since then, and partly aided by encouragement and advice received from Ryan during the convention, I've finally achieved Competent Communicator, the first level of accomplishment above beginner. This involves completing ten speech projects, each with a different emphasis: one where the goal is to polish one's body language, one where the goal is to become comfortable with visual aids, and so on. The amount of time it takes to work through all ten speeches varies from person to person, of course (and can depend on how often their club meets and things like that), but generally it's assumed a person will get one done every couple of months if not more often... after the first few, I've averaged something like one a year, taking seven and a half years in total.

The problem for me isn't making the speeches; a lot of people come to Toastmasters to tackle nervousness about getting up in front of an audience, but after all the time I've spent on the stage that was never my trouble. And even writing the speeches isn't so much a problem, and usually goes pretty smoothly one I get started. It's finding the starting point that always holds me up: finding something to talk about. Of course, the world's full of things to talk about, but it always seems very short of things about which I can convince myself I have something to say that people will be interested in hearing.

The next level of accomplishment involves ten more speech projects, or rather two sets of five; with the basic groundwork done, at this level one chooses from more specialised projects, in areas like Storytelling or Technical Presentations or Giving Interviews, depending on what will be useful for the life one leads (or aspires to). I'm contemplating the Storytelling set, which starts easy with a project that's just "retell a folk tale you already know well" and then gets into projects that involve finding stories in one's own life; it seems like that might help me tackle the problem of coming up with things to say.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Our season of short plays has opened and closed, with positive responses from the people who came to see it. We got a good write-up in the local paper, both in the sense that the reviewer liked it and in the sense that everyone's names were spelled right and it didn't give away too many of the good surprises. (If I'd been directing one of the other plays, I'd have been annoyed about some of the moments chosen for the accompanying photo spread, but fortunately my own play was immune to being spoiled in that manner.) The reviewer said that of the three plays the one I directed was his favourite, which I'm inclined to attribute to the quality of the script, and showed the best acting, which I'm prepared to take some credit for.

After it was over, I spent about a week not stirring from home except to go to work and band practice, and I'm not letting myself get roped into any more theatrical productions until June.


2. We've had the second round of the Toastmasters speech evaluation contest, with winners from three club contests competing against each other. This year, for the first time, I was competing as a winner of a club contest. I didn't win the area contest, but I'm not too bothered; just getting there was an achievement, and anyway I wouldn't have been able to make it to the third round, the division contest, this weekend, so I wouldn't have advanced any further regardless. The winner of the division contest will go on to compete in the final round at the District Convention in early June. (Which I'm on the organising committee for, and that's another reason I'm not committing to any more theatre before then.)


3. The final season of Foyle's War aired here recently - at least, they say it's the final season, but they've said that before. More than once. The war that the title theoretically refers to ended two final seasons ago, not that I'm complaining. (At least it hasn't become one of those wartime series where the war drags on longer than it did in reality so they can fit more seasons in; that trick only works if the series is set vaguely "during the war", and Foyle's War has always been tied to specific historical events, which is one of the things I like about it.) I'm actually really glad we got this final season, because it leaves us in a much better place than the last final season did; not entirely happy, but considerably more hopeful.


4. One of the things I like about reading fanfic is that it can offer new ways of looking at things that one might not have thought of before.

For instance, I recently read a Doctor Who fic that starts with a fresh look at "The End of Time", Ten's regeneration reluctance, and the extended companion farewell tour, through the lens of "The Time of the Doctor":

He doesn't want to go.

Coward, the Master called him, and maybe it's true, because he's terrified. Imagine him, of all people, frightened of change. But it's different this time. Twelve regenerations to a Time Lord, and the last one may have been non-standard, but it counts, and so does the one he tries to tell himself wasn't really him. He can feel the evidence inside him, irrefutable: some vital part of him busy using itself up.

Twelve regenerations, and he's just shoved the only people capable of giving him more back into their time lock. So this is the last time he'll ever experience this, and he's not going to go gentle. No, this last time, Death is going to have a fight on its hands.


He knows what he wants to do with the time he has left, and he has to do it now, because there's no telling how much time he'll have left, after. And no telling what kind of man he'll become.

So he visits them, one by one: the people he's loved, the people he's failed to do right by.


The fic is And at the End, a Garden by AstroGirl, and the rest of it is good too.


5. Video link of the month: John Oliver presents: Infrastructure: The Movie

"You cannot tell me that you are not interested in this, because every summer people flock to see our infrastructure threatened by terrorists or aliens, but we should care just as much when it's under threat from the inevitable passage of time. The problem is, no one has made a blockbuster movie about the importance of routine maintenance and repair. Or they hadn't - until now..."

(If you want to skip straight to the hypothetical action movie, that begins at 17:10. The preamble is worth sitting through if you have the time, though.)
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. This weekend is the final weekend before the season of short plays opens. Today was the tech rehearsal, where we nailed down the lighting and sound effects. There's something about seeing the play properly lit for the first time that makes it seem real in a way it didn't before.

Or maybe it's just relief; there were times when I wasn't sure the lighting was going to come together. As it was, we ended up throwing out one of my ideas because it just plain wasn't going to work. (Fortunately, it was a bonus subtlety, not a key detail, and I wasn't all that attached to it.)

Actually, during the first run through the lighting cues, there was a second idea that wasn't going to work, so I threw it out too, and we moved on. Then, some time later, after we'd gone on to other things, the lighting guy wandered past and asked a question about it, and then a few minutes later he wandered past again and said, "How about if we...?" And we tried it, and it wasn't what I'd imagined, but it did the job even better than what I'd imagined would have done if it had worked. One of the things I love about working in theatre is the collaborative aspect, especially when it means somebody comes up with a better idea than I did.


2. This week, Mark Oshiro reached a new high-water-mark in unpreparedness at Mark Reads. One of the things that makes it so entertaining when Mark is working his way through a new novel is that not only does he not know what's coming in the sense that he's never read the novel before, but he also doesn't have the kind of mind that retains and assembles clues to predict future plot twists. The plot twists always take him by surprise.

But he's surpassed himself this time. He's currently reading Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards!, which has a plot revolving around a detective on the trail of a sinister conspiracy led by a shadowy anonymous figure. He didn't pick up on any of the hints that might lead a genre-savvy reader to guess the villain's identity in advance, but that's normal for Mark. He didn't put it together after reading the scene in which the detective figures it out, which is okay because it's not spelled out for the reader in that scene. But then he went on and read the scene in which the detective goes and confronts the villain and he still doesn't know who the villain is.


3. Last week was the local round of the annual Toastmasters speech evaluation contest, which I always enter, even though I never win, because it's valuable practice and a good way to sharpen a useful skill set.

This year I won.


4. Two weeks ago, I finished reading The Lost Prince, one of the lesser-known works by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. It was... kind of weird, for a number of reasons, and something of a disappointment after the two novels aforementioned. It hasn't aged well on things like classism and sexism, and I'm not inclined to give it a pass on anything like "of its time" grounds because it was written after The Secret Garden, so we know the author could pass the Bechdel test and write working-class characters as actual human beings if she wanted to. (It should perhaps be noted, to be complete, that some of the upper-class characters in The Lost Prince don't quite convince as real people, either; class essentialism cuts both ways. I was amused and not entirely surprised to subsequently discover that a significant proportion of the Lost Prince fic on AO3 is crackfic in which the Lost Prince's bloodline literally isn't entirely human.)


5. Three weeks ago, I signed up for HabitRPG, which aims to make getting stuff done more interesting by supplying a RPG-themed context: strengthen a good habit or tick off something on your to-do list, and your character gains XP and loot; strengthen a bad habit, and your character loses health points. It probably says something about my habits that most of my loot has been going toward armour and health potions to stave off the effects of my bad habits, but I have been seeing some improvement, and noticing moments when I've gained the necessary willpower get something done or avoid a bad habit by remembering what will happen to fictional-me if I don't. One area where I feel I've made definite improvement is in the area of getting to bed at a reasonable time; even when I fail to get to bed by the self-imposed deadline that would win me loot, it's usually not by much, and I don't do the noodling-around-on-the-internet-until-ridiculous-o'clock thing nearly as often. It's having a knock-on effect on how easily I get out of bed in the morning, too.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. We've entered the final week of rehearsals for The Duchess of Coolgardie. We still haven't had a full run-through without anything going wrong, or a full run-through with all of the sound and lighting cues in, but on the whole I think it's coming together quite well.


2. Once Duchess is over it will be time to start rehearsals for the annual Christmas show, which I've already been talked into signing on for. I will be playing a stuffy British colonel leading an expedition into Darkest Africa, which means the moustache is probably going to be sticking around a while longer. (Though I've been toying with the idea of shaving this moustache off and growing another one, as a symbolic point of distinction between the two characters.)


3. Another Toastmasters event I had to miss because of Duchess rehearsals was the area final of the Humorous Speech and Table Topics Contests. That was a milestone because the areas have recently been rearranged due to the new clubs starting here. It used to be that we were the only club within a 500km radius, and shared our "area" with three clubs in another city 600km away, which meant a long commute for the area final more years than not. Now we're in an area consisting of three local clubs and one distant club, and the situation is reversed.


4. Here's one reason I don't enjoy clothing shopping: last time I did it, I tried on a dozen items of clothing to find one pair of trousers that fit. (And a few more things that I bought anyway, even though they didn't quite fit, so that I could feel like I'd accomplished something, and now will have to suffer through wearing.) And I'm often unsure, when something doesn't quite fit, whether it's slightly too big, or slightly too small, or just plain the wrong shape for me. Maybe I'd be able to get the hang of it with practice. But it's difficult getting the practice when I don't enjoy clothing shopping.


5. Marvel Comics recently announced that it will soon be publishing an ongoing comic headlined by Squirrel Girl, one of their lesser-known characters who's most famous as the subject of a running joke about how she keeps running up against villains who theoretically outmatch her and emerging victorious. My favourite reaction to the news was from someone on Tumblr who pointed out that there's no reason to doubt the viability of an ongoing series about a character in a funny-looking rodent outfit who can defeat every opponent no matter how powerful... since it's worked pretty well for Batman so far.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Rehearsals for The Duchess of Coolgardie continue. We're at the point now where we've learned our parts enough to relax into them somewhat and explore the possibilities for enriching them, instead of getting stuck on worrying about whether we'll have our lines down in time for opening. Last weekend we had some workshops with a couple of professional theatre people our director knows, which inspired some of the cast to lift their game (including, let's be real, me). There will be another set of workshops this weekend, which will hopefully have a similarly improving effect.


2. The other local community theatre group's production of The Wizard of Oz opened today, and I went to the opening night. I enjoyed it a lot, and although it had some of the weak points one usually gets when community theatre attempts big-budget spectacle - particularly since they were basing it on the movie rather than a version designed for live theatre - there were some moments that were genuinely magical. (On which note, they got major points from me for the way they handled the bit where the ruby slippers disappear off the Wicked Witch's feet and appear on Dorothy's.)


3. The annual performing arts festival has been and gone. I was on the organising committee again this year, and acted as MC for most of it, although I had to skip out for part of one afternoon to go to a Duchess rehearsal. Annoyingly, the part I missed was the part with all the character vocal sections, which is always one of the highlights for me. There was plenty else to enjoy in the parts I was present for, though. It ended on a high, with the final session of the final day featuring various vocal ensembles doing impressive harmony work.

Weirdly, I had the old show-about-to-open nightmare a few days after the performing arts festival was over. Didn't bother me much, I know it too well by now, but the timing was odd.


4. Another thing that's been and gone is the annual Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest and Table Topics Contest. I usually take part in the Table Topics contest, but this year it was another victim of being scheduled against a Duchess rehearsal.


5. I did go to see Guardians of the Galaxy before the local run finished. I enjoyed it overall, but there was room for improvement in several areas: most blatantly, a number of skeevy jokes that I think it could have done perfectly well without.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. How is it only today that I learn that Groot, the large tree-like alien in the new Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, is played, or at least voiced, by the same actor who voiced the title character in The Iron Giant? This is important information!


2. I've finished playing through the storyline in Lego Marvel Super Heroes, which leaves the part of the game that involves wandering around Manhattan finding all the side quests: foiling bank robberies, helping citizens in distress, and so on. The "helping citizens in distress" bits range from appropriately superheroic to things like finding lost pets and helping little old ladies cross the road. (Also, for some reason, at least two people having trouble getting a taxi to stop for them, the correct solution to which is apparently to steal a taxi and drive them to their destination oneself. Super heroic.)

[edit: I belatedly realise that you're probably supposed to use one of the passenger vehicles you get as a reward for other side quests. But finding the nearest taxi and stealing it is usually easier than remembering where your own vehicles are parked, anyway.]

One amusing aspect is that, because the sidequests don't take into account which character one happens to be playing at the moment -- the free play portion of the game lets you switch at will between any of the available characters, including villains, and to an extent encourages spending a little time as each of them to learn their capabilities -- the juxtapositions can sometimes be rather incongruous. My two favourite examples from my own playing are the time a little old lady calmly requested assistance from Spider-Man's nightmarish evil counterpart Venom, and the time the X-Men casually asked Magneto to help them repel an attack by his own League of Evil Mutants.


3. It took me a while to get around to seeing the second How to Train Your Dragon movie; maybe I should have left it a bit longer, because a few days after I saw it I found myself rewatching the first movie on TV. Oh well. I don't think anything was badly harmed by doing it that way around.


4. Since I mentioned that I have been unable to attend Toastmasters recently due to having something else on the same day, I have been to two Toastmasters meetings, though neither on my home club's usual day. One was at the new Gourmet club, which meets monthly over dinner; I enjoyed that, and intend to go again next month. The second was this weekend; there were a couple of higher-level officials in town to do club officer training for the three local clubs, so we had a combined meeting and potluck dinner with people attending from all three clubs. I ran Table Topics for the meeting, or as I announced it, Iron Chef Table Topics, in which each speaker is given a mystery ingredient and immediately has to spend two minutes talking about what meal they're going to prepare with that ingredient.


5. I've mentioned before that I enjoy cryptic crossword puzzles because a good cryptic clue can be satisfying in the same way as a really bad pun, and that sometimes I'll be stuck on a clue for a long time and then one day pick it up again and immediately see the answer. This one is a case in point:

Resort city is half a mile, pal, from Paris (5)
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Let the record show that, even after ten years working with computers for a living, I am still capable of spending fifteen minutes trying increasingly arcane methods to get the computer to talk to the scanner before realising that the scanner isn't switched on.


2. The production of 'Allo 'Allo has closed after a successful run, both in terms of audience response and -- very important for an amateur production -- in that everybody in the cast and crew got along with each other and enjoyed themselves.

In theory, this means I can now throw myself into rehearsals for The Duchess of Coolgardie... so of course this week is the week when rehearsals have been called off because nearly everybody is out of town for school (or other) holidays. I'm additionally annoyed that it wasn't next week, because then I could have gone to a Toastmasters meeting (which I haven't been able to do lately because there's a Duchess rehearsal on the same weeknight).


3. Another consequence of 'Allo 'Allo ending is that I now have time to go to the gym again. I went this evening for the first time in a month, and got halfway through the routine before deciding I'd better go home and have a little lie-down until the spots in front of my eyes went away. I did feel much better afterwards, though.


4. In case there's anyone left I haven't already recommended it to, the latest addition to the webcomics I read regularly is Breaking Cat News, in which three intrepid feline reporters bring you the latest on such vital headlines as "Everything on the shelf fell down and broke; there are no suspects" and "It's 7.31am on Saturday morning and the food bowl is still empty".


5. Random fact of the week: The land area of the nation of Andorra is very nearly the same as that of the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Having got the brass band competition out of the way, I've got time for acting again. I'm in rehearsals for a production that opens at the end of June, and after that it'll be straight into rehearsals for another production opening in October.

The June production is the stage adaptation of 'Allo 'Allo, in which I will be playing an amusing Nazi. It's a bit of a departure for me, in that it's being put on by what I think of, and have occasionally referred to here, as "the other local theatre group". I've been to see some of their shows, and learned from their workshops, but this is the first time I've been in one of their productions.

The October production is a staging of a 115-year-old West End melodrama called The Duchess of Coolgardie, which was given a topical spin by taking as its setting the gold rush that was going on in Western Australia at the time. This will be the first time it's been put on in the part of the world where it's set. Being a melodrama, most of the characters are broad stereotypes, and the supporting cast are mainly distinguished by being The Irish One, The Yorkshire One, and so on. (Also, The Aboriginal One, who occasionally wanders into talking more like The Native American One when the authors have a lapse of concentration.) I've been cast as the villain; it's not clear yet whether moustache-twirling will be involved, but I've already found a stage direction calling for me to laugh sardonically at the heroes' misfortune.


2. The Rep Club's most recent production, the one which I didn't audition for because brass band competition, was The Importance of Being Earnest. I have a feeling that anybody who knew much about Victorian dress, behaviour, or interior decoration would have picked up a lot of lapses in those areas, but it was pleasantly entertaining, and it got major props from me for playing the butlers straight. (Every professional production I've seen in years has cast physical-comedy actors as the butlers and let them wander around upstaging Wilde's dialogue with slapstick sight gags. Drives me nuts, and I can't imagine why the directors thought that would be a good idea.)


3. Back at the brass band, there are deliberations afoot regarding shifting some of the players to new positions, to cover gaps left by players leaving and what have you over the past few years. (When we were at the competition, we had guests from friendly bands, including a few temporarily-returned ex-members, helping to bring us up to full strength.) I have been approached about possibly being shifted not only to a different position but to a different instrument.

There are two things to note here: The first is that every brass intrument except the trombone is built on the same basic system, so if you know how to play one it doesn't take long to learn a different one, if the one you know isn't the trombone. The second is that the only brass instrument I've ever learned to play is the trombone.

Actually, the conceptual leap was the difficult bit; now that I've actually started learning the new instrument it's going pretty smoothly, and I may actually be up to speed on it by the time they decide whether they want me to play it or not.

(I'm still not entirely convinced they're going to end up shifting me off trombone. It's not that there's a shortage of players: even without counting me, there are more players who identify trombone as their preferred instrument than there are trombone positions, which is one of the things that triggered the deliberations. It's just that when the trombone players were polled on which position they would prefer to play, given free choice, all of them except me wanted the same one.)


4. I have given another project speech at Toastmasters, this one on the subject of Nancy Pearl's Doorways into Reading, which I have written about here before.

I have one more project speech to do and then I will qualify as an official Competent Communicator. If I do it before the end of June, I'll boost the club's standing in the annual assessment of club performance. I don't think that's going to happen, though, partly because I'm not sure I'm going to be available for any of the June meetings, and partly because the requirement for the final project speech is to be inspiring, and I have no ideas for a topic I could be inspiring on.


5. Today's Google Doodle on the Australian Google homepage pays tribute to cartoonist and puppeteer Norman Hethrington, creator of one of Australia's most-loved children's television shows (also, with a suitable amount of hand-waving, arguably the long-running science fiction TV series in the world).
pedanther: (cheerful)
Did another project speech at today's Toastmasters meeting. Only a year after the last one, which counts as good going for me; I've been procrastinating wildly on these.

It got an entirely positive reaction, somewhat to my surprise, because my attention had been directed to its shortcomings - none of which were remarked on by anyone at the meeting. I still think it needed at least one more serious revision pass to really shine (and to meet the project objectives), but in retrospect, I'm willing to admit that it was a pretty good speech.

As a nice bonus, it was evaluated by one of the club's star evaluators, who won the club's Evaluation Contest late last year, went on to do well at the Area Contest, and will soon be representing our Area at the Division Contest. (The winner of our club's International Speech Contest, which is run in parallel with the Evaluation Contest, has also made it up to representing the Area at the Division Contest. He remarked this evening that he's kind of looking forward to putting his contest speech behind him and returning to the good old days of being able to talk about something different every meeting.)

Other Toastmasters news: Members of our club recently arranged and ran the first meetings for not one but two new local clubs. (One is based at the local institution of tertiary education, with a mainly student membership; the other is a Gourmet club, which meets monthly and includes a meal at each meeting.) If they both take off, we'll have enough local clubs to qualify for our own Area, instead of having to share an Area with a couple of clubs 600 kilometres away.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. I attended a concert headlined by John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew, whereof I have now seen Schumann's "I Was Only Nineteen" performed live by a line-up including the man himself and at least one of the people who backed him on the original single thirty years ago.


2. I had the opportunity to introduce a group of my brass band colleagues to the game Werewolf. Several professed themselves uncertain at first, but they enjoyed the game once they got the hang of it, and at least a couple have expressed an interest in playing again sometime if suitable circumstances present themselves.


3. The Rep Club's big musical for next year will be The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee; auditions were held this month so we can get a head start on learning the songs before rehearsals start in earnest after the Christmas/New Year break.


4. I took part in a quiz night with a group of friends, and upheld the proud family tradition of coming in second place at quiz nights. We like to think that we were the moral victors, because the team that beat us took advantage of a scheme by which large donations to the cause that the quiz night was raising funds for would be rewarded with extra points. (On the other hand, we were technically over the specified team size, though two of the team-members were only there to socialise and provide moral support, and proudly announced at the end that they hadn't answered a single question between them.)


5. Yesterday was the Toastmasters club's annual International Speech Contest and Evaluation Contest. I entered the evaluation contest, as usual, and this year came third, my best result to date; I even managed to present my evaluation in the proper structure, with a conclusion and everything. This year, I was also co-organizer and emcee of the International Speech Contest, which meant that for me the very best part of the whole event was waking up the next morning and realizing that for the first time in several days I didn't have any rushing-around-preparing to do.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Last night was the annual Toastmasters Halloween-themed public meeting. (We've done it two years in a row, that makes it annual. If we do it again next year, it will be "traditional".) As we did last year, there were creepy costumes, disturbing foodstuffs, atmospheric decorations, and a mix of members and guests doing speeches or presentations on related topics.

This year, I was one of two people who did a poetry recital. Coincidentally, we both took the approach of picking, rather than a poem that was about ghosts throughout, a ballad in which all the principal characters die and then the last couple of verses are about how their ghosts are said to still haunt the vicinity: I did Alfred Noyes's "The Highwayman", and Firstname B did Banjo Paterson's "The Geebung Polo Club".

(There's a running joke in our club about how many of the members have the same first name, in particular the two stalwarts whose surnames make them Firstname A and Firstname B. Which makes another unplanned coincidence about the two poetry recitals, because I'm Firstname A.)


2. [livejournal.com profile] lost_spook's Obscure & British Comment Fest is still occasionally producing new fruit. The most recent was, to my delight, inspired by one of my own comments, and I love it.

The great disadvantage with stepping into drawings, mused Mary Poppins, was that one could never be quite sure what lay around the corner. The initial impression might very well be one of pleasant pastoral elegance, with green meadows and gently rolling hills; but on the other side of those hills might be marshes, or brambles. Or, as in this particular instance, caves. In the normal course of events, Mary Poppins didn't mind caves. A large, roomy, picturesque cavern was a grand place to be, and filled with opportunities to improve young minds. This cave, however, was dark and gloomy, and dripped constantly. In the normal course of events she would never have dreamt of stepping inside; but then, in the normal course of events, she wouldn't have been chased into it by an army of slavering orcs, either.

"Orcs." She managed to keep the lion's share of her displeasure from her voice. It wouldn't do to appear too ruffled, after all. "Orcs, Ronald?"


3. Tiny Games is a project I backed on Kickstarter that recently came to fruition. It's a smartphone app for people at a loose end, but instead of being a game you play on your phone while ignoring your surroundings, it has you answer a few questions and then describes a game you can play where you are with who you're with and what you have at hand.

("Choose and rearrange words from the restaurant menu to describe new dishes. The creator of the most revolting dish wins." "Knife beats fork, fork beats spoon, spoon beats knife. Keep playing until the toast pops, and then tally your final scores.")

One nice consequence of the publicity surrounding the Kickstarter drive was that they were invited to collaborate on an official Sesame Street app, which ended up being called Sesame Street Family Play, which uses the same mechanism but is particularly aimed at families with small children.


4. In the lead-up to the Doctor Who anniversary, the ABC is making some classic episodes available on iView. Already available are "An Unearthly Child" and "The Daleks", "The Tomb of the Cybermen", "Spearhead from Space" and "The Sea Devils", "The Sontaran Experiment" and "City of Death", and "Earthshock", with a new Doctor being added each Saturday over the next few weeks.


5. Carli Davidson's photography series "Shake" documents weird and wonderful facial expressions captured on dogs shaking themselves dry (the jowly breeds are particularly impressive). Now, there's also a video. (via)
pedanther: (cheerful)
It's been a Toastmasters-heavy few weeks, actually.

The usual schedule is that we have two meetings a month, or one meeting every two weeks, which is not always the same thing; in some months the weekday in question occurs five times, and then we have to decide whether we're going to have a third meeting that month.

July was just such a month, and we decided to have the third meeting, with the result that the last meeting of July was followed only a week later by the first meeting of August. And then that was rapidly followed by one of the two annual contest days.

I was the rostered MC for the last meeting in July, which I wrote about last time.

I ended up being the MC for the first meeting in August as well, because the rostered person had to cancel at short notice and I was the most available person to fill in. Weirdly, it was much less stressful, despite having only an hour to prepare. Having all the procedures and things fresh from last week helped a great deal, of course. (And perhaps having only an hour to prepare was as much a help as a hindrance; there was no time to panic, and there was the thought that if the organisation hadn't been done properly before the thing came into my hands, it couldn't be my fault this time.)

The meeting itself went quite well, although it was a bit odd in its own way. I've mentioned before a meeting where a lot of people were away and the members were almost outnumbered by the guests; at this meeting, though I didn't count, I'm pretty sure the guests actually did outnumber the members present. (There have been some outreach efforts going on, so we had a bunch of people showing up to see what Toastmasters was like, and they happened to do it at what would otherwise have been a small, quiet meeting. I have hopes that some of them will come back in a few weeks to see what a fully-stocked meeting looks like.)

As you may recall, Toastmaster contests come in pairs, and yesterday it was the Humorous Speech (5-7 minutes, prepared in advance) and the Table Topics (1-2 minutes, ex tempore). As usual, I entered the Table Topics contest and failed to place, but did better than last year. This year my strengths were body language and use of stage space, as well as finding an idiosyncratic twist on the topic; my major weakness, as usual, was failure to develop the speech with supporting details and just sort of trailing off at the end instead of finding a solid conclusion. I feel I should acknowledge the contest organizer, who set a topic question that included two or three sentences of scene-setting; the time it took to announce (and, in accordance with the rules, it was announced twice through in its entirety) was extremely valuable thinking time.

The Humorous Speech contest was also memorable. There were two competitors, one of whom had stepped up less than 24 hours before the contest started. She's also one of our newer members, so what with one thing and the other she was feeling quite nervous before the contest. And then she won. (The other speech was more polished, but less laugh-out-loud funny.)

In the end, I think everybody had a good time, which is arguably the important thing.
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Last week, the Rep Club had a quiz night to raise funds for renovating the theatre. I went along with a couple of friends and some of their friends, and upheld the noble and long-standing family tradition of coming second at quiz nights.


2. The house I'm renting is at that age where things are gradually wearing out and needing to be replaced, which makes me glad I'm only renting and not on the hook for what all this must cost. In the time I've been living here, I've seen the replacement of the hot water system, the toilet cistern, and the shower outlet pipe (which proved, on excavation, to consist of several large holes held together by rust), and at some point, something is going to have to be done about the rain gutters (see also: large holes held together by rust). In the circumstances, the fact that the kitchen sink takes several minutes to drain is such a minor detail that I haven't even bothered to mention it.


3. I caught part of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides on TV recently, including the scene where Captain Jack Sparrow learns he has a doppelganger who has been going around recruiting people in his name. Now I'm trying to remember if there's anything like that in the original novel; it's very much the kind of situation that would occur in a Tim Powers novel, though it would be played for understated horror instead of laughs and the scene where hero and doppelganger face off definitely wouldn't end with the same revelation that the scene in the movie leads to.

(While I'm on the subject, my opinion in brief of Pirates of the Caribbean is that the first movie was a pretty good swashbuckling pirate movie that happened to have some dark fantasy in, and the sequels tend too much toward being dark fantasy movies that happen to have some swashbuckling pirates in. And my opinion in brief of Tim Powers is that his novels are awesome, and I hope he got paid well for letting Hollywood plunder one of them.)


4. I've mentioned before that I have procrastination issues, which sometimes manifest in avoiding a job for months that turns out to be fairly straightforward and over in half an hour. A related problem is the one where I'm about to start on a job I know I can do when I notice an unexpected complication and decide to put it off while I think about (read: avoid thinking about) how it's going to affect things.

I think I've identified one of the underlying motivators for this sort of thing; put into words, it's something like "If I never start, there's no risk of it ending in everybody finding out I can't do it".

Having the words is useful; it suggests coping strategies. Due consideration of the actual probability that I won't be able to do whatever-it-is can be illuminating. Also, in some cases the fear that starting will lead to being discovered as a failure can be vanquished by the fear that not starting will lead to being discovered as someone who promised to do something and then never even started.


5. At the Toastmasters meeting this week, I was the designated MC, which also carried with it the duty of checking that people would be available for their rostered roles and arranging for gaps to be covered. The actual MCing part was not a worry, but the aspect that involved Being Organized and Phoning People kicked off the whole "this is going to end in disaster, the schedule will be full of holes, and it will be All My Fault" train, and up until a few hours before the meeting I was seriously considering calling in sick and hiding.

I got through it partly by the aforementioned due consideration of the actual probability of failure, partly by reminding myself that Toastmasters people are friendly and don't mind imperfect success as an outcome of honest effort, and partly by acknowledging that I also like my fellow club-members and wouldn't feel right dumping a potential disaster on one of them with a few hours notice -- but the single thing that tipped the balance was that I thought of the perfect joke to use in my opening remarks, and after that I couldn't bear the thought of not getting to deliver it.

(After all the stressing, the actual meeting ran smoothly and I'm very glad I went.)
pedanther: (cheerful)
1. Toastmasters meeting. One of those meetings where a lot of people are away; the club members who attended came close to being outnumbered by the guests. (Looking on the bright side: Lots of guests, all pretty enthusiastic.) Project speech got a pretty good reception.


2. Chronicles of Clutter-Slaying: There used to be an enormous pile of Things That Might Be Useful One Day lurking along the far wall of my study. It was occupying enough floor space for at least three more bookshelves, and was as tall as me in places. Now there is clear floor space, two smaller and more specific piles of things that might be useful one day, several large and useful empty boxes that had been buried under the pile, and a full rubbish bin (which is awkwardly going to remain full for a while; one of the reasons I don't slay clutter more often is that it often results in a full bin and my most productive day for it is the day after the bins are emptied).


3. I have a car now. (If you're waiting for me to say that cars are cool, you're going to be disappointed.) I'm a bit worried it's going to turn out to be one of those gadgets where you don't really think you need one until you have one, and then you end up using it all the time. (I would have said I really didn't need it except for getting to band things -- some instruments you can carry on a bicycle, but the trombone isn't among them -- and I was getting by all right by getting lifts from other band members. But you don't say no to a car when somebody gives you one.)


4. The state election was on Saturday. The overall result is pointing unwaveringly toward a second term for a government I wasn't that keen on the first time around. Last I heard, there hadn't been a definite announcement yet about who my new local representative will be, with the result coming down to a close contest between the only two candidates I seriously expected to have any chance at all.


5. For some reason I've been eating an awful lot of apples lately.

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