Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Tree Surprise

I put our living room tree up a few days ago (still working on our top-secret* steampunk tree!), and last night I noticed the tree skirt was all rumpled.

I decided to investigate:

I guess I should be glad that's the extent of her "destruction." ;)

* Ok, so "top-secret" just got downgraded a little...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Audio Book Review: Ready Player One

For the book tour I packed a whopping fourteen audio books, and the one I was most excited about was Ready Player One, which I mentioned here on Epbot a few months ago.

Now, I should point out that I always prefer reading a book to listening to it - the exception being when I've already read the book and/or it's being performed by several readers as opposed to a single narrator. So bear that in mind.

I won't keep you in suspense: I liked it.

Just not nearly as much as I expected to.

Here's the thing: Every review I've read, and almost everyone who recommended the book to me, made this book sound like the Ultimate 80's Geek-Fest. Like every other line would be a Ghostbusters quote, or a Star Wars homage, or something to do with Princess Bride and Michael Jackson and Rubik's cubes and every other bit of 80's nostalgia I could think of.

It's not.

In fact, this is a story grounded just as much in the 1970's, and much of it extremely obscure - like 1970's-era Japanese Manga shows, and text-based computer RPGs, and the first generation of arcade games, like Joust. I think if I'd been born about ten years earlier, I might have gotten a lot more of it. As it was? The vast majority sailed cleanly over my head, and I felt less and less like a real geek with every passing paragraph. It got to where I felt a pathetic pang of victory every time I did recognize something. ("Oh! Pac-Man! I know that! And Monty Python! Yes!")

To be fair, there *are* some casual mentions of X-wings and Deloreans and even a Serenity-class ship, but for the most part, and for most of the important plot-points, Cline could have been making up a lot of random dates, factoids, names, and song lyrics, and I'd never have known the difference. (Although now I feel the need to see War Games.)

This isn't Cline's fault, of course. It just means the target audience is older and harder-core geeks than I am. (I'm 33, btw.)

Ok, so with all that said, let's talk about the actual story.

It's good.

It starts out slow - painfully slow, in fact, if you're listening to it. After two hours John and I gave up, half-asleep and shaking our heads in bewilderment. It was like having someone read the encyclopedia to you for two solid hours: only it's an encyclopedia written in the future about the past which is still in your future. (Got all that?)

When we ran out of other books to listen to, though, we decided to dive back in and give it another try. This time, after another 30 minutes or so, the story picked up, and from there on it was a good ride.

Again, I should point out that I'm sure I would have liked Ready Player One much more if I'd been reading the book instead of listening to it. Don't get me wrong: Wil Wheaton does a fine job narrating - it's just too slow for me that way. Fact is, I've often listened to books I've read before and loved only to find I don't like them nearly as much anymore, all because they progress so slowly in audio.

If you haven't heard anything about the actual story, Ready Player One is a little like the Matrix, minus most of the action and with a scavenger hunt thrown in. Cline spends a lot of time telling us how much the future sucks (about two hours, in fact) and how everyone spends every waking moment plugged in to a virtual reality called the Oasis, which is basically an MMO ala World of Warcraft on steroids. You can get a more detailed synopsis on any book site, but that's the general gist.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments - the best being an all-too-brief stint in the technical support department - but it's not a screwball comedy. This is a respectable adventure story with real life-and-death consequences, nasty bad guys, a healthy dash of suspense, and even a love interest.

So...should you read it?

Yes, if you're a WoW fan, have ever played Adventure, and remember owning a TRS-80.

Also yes if you don't care about getting all the references and just want a good story - but realizing you'll be missing the nostalgia kick the story is built around if you're under 38.

No, if you're expecting lots of "It's a trap!" and "As you wish!" and Jem and the Holograms concerts. (Which, for the record, would have been AWESOME. [wistful sigh])

I hope this review helps those of you who've been on the fence about reading Ready Player One - and please, feel free to share your thoughts/disagreements/polite accusations in the comments!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving Table

We don't cook or entertain much, so when I set the table, I consider it a photo-worthy event:

I don't use special dishes or glasses; I just add a gold plastic charger underneath our everyday stuff and swap out our all-metal silverware for this fake wood set I found on Ebay. (It looks warmer, I think.)

I also don't decorate for any holiday other than Christmas, so this is essentially my Christmas spread with a few glittery pumpkins thrown in.

Fortunately soft greens and orangey-reds work great for both holidays. :)

Now, you can't tell from that photo, but I happen to have a napkin-folding fetish. It started on a Caribbean cruise, where they offer - no lie - napkin folding classes in order to drive the few remaining sober people on board to drink.

So, I got out my napkin folding book (which sounds awesome but is filled with ancient photocopied monstrosities so ugly you'll wonder why the author hated square bits of cloth with such a terrible, terrible passion) and tried a few patterns.

One thing led to another, I realized my napkins were way too small, I kept going anyway, then made some stuff up, and finally I ended up with this:

Kinda cute, right? Like a giant cabbage head. Which, no, I wouldn't normally describe as cute...

Anyway, I didn't use it because it covered the entire salad plate, but it might be nice on a single plate setting sometime.

Now, this is my usual set-up using a napkin ring:

But my lovely daisies clash with my new(ish) holiday centerpiece. Boo.

So, simple it is:

Oh, and John would like me to inform you that my silverware placement here is, as he calls it, "wrong." Which is why the final table shots have them rearranged. Hmph. The guy takes ONE "etiquette" course in college and thinks he's Emily Post. HMPH, I say.

Pretty view with our old radio cabinet in the background:

The cabinet is now wired for sound again - AND has bonus fun colored lights inside - but it's still not completely finished. (Yes, STILL.) I'm looking for a vintage double-sided brass cigarette holder to fashion into an iPod holder and mount to the side of the cabinet. Trouble is, those things are pricey! So, until my Ebay quest is complete, the cabinet remains unfinished.

Speaking of which, check out this fun addition on top of the cabinet:

Isn't that a perfect frame for John's steampunk pic? Gotta love Ross; it was only $6! The vintage gun came from my grandfather who recently passed. It's a reproduction, but still quite old.

Thanks for letting me share my Thanksgiving pics with you, everyone! I hope you each had a fabulous Turkey Day, made lists of everything you're grateful for, and did something extra geeky besides. (I watched Blues Brothers on Netflix. Did you know Pee Wee Herman played the waiter in it? Crazy!)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Quick Pin Update

At long last, most of you who requested Epbot pins should have them by now, or will have them soon since they went out this week. (Whew!)

Stephanie K. shared this pic of her little SQUEEwok wearing his new pin. Double squee!

Now, you might have noticed that I added a scrap of bubble wrap to each envelope to protect the pin, which irritatingly enough bumped the postage up to a whopping *four* stamps instead of two. [grumblegrumblegrumble]

Since all the envelopes were already sealed and the postal clerk was looking impatient, we went ahead and purchased the extra postage to mail them, which amounted to an extra dollar per envelope.

This was all my fault, of course, because I was a dumb-dumb head in telling you guys only two stamps would cover it, and it was my brilliant idea to include bubble wrap. (Sorry.) However, if you got a pin and felt like Paypal-ing me a dollar to help make up for my idiocy, I wouldn't turn it down. Especially since I convinced John back on the tour that this was "no big deal" and a "super easy no-stress" project that's now set us back nearly a hundred dollars *before* the cost of making all the pins. (Oopsie.)

And for the rest of you: if you'd still like a free Epbot pin, please include *FOUR* first-class postage stamps on your SASE from now on. :D

Now, I'll just leave this here....

[Paypal link removed]

And wish y'all a happy weekend!

Happy weekend, everyone!

EDIT: Thanks to a few amazingly generous individuals, all of the additional postage fees have now been covered! Thank you all so, so much, and if you didn't get the chance to send me that dollar, please just pay it forward the next chance you get.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pouncy Pouncy Pouncy

Judging by the view count the entire world as already seen this, but I'm behind on e-mail and just now got to Michele H.'s e-mail with the link, and now my world has literally exploded with cuteness:

I like how the music goes with the owls' different expressions.



I like to imagine my cat Tonks snuggling with him.

[That was me imagining it.]

Oh, was that not enough mind-melting cute-a-tude for you?

Then perhaps you haven't seen Oskar, the blind kitten, playing with his new toys?

found via @urlesque

Seriously. I was bawling by the first frame. By the end, though, you'll have a hard time believing this little trooper can't see! He's just as happy and playful and pouncy as any other kitten!

(I'm not sure "pouncy" is a word. If it's not, though, it totally should be. In fact, let's all try to work "pouncy" into our Thanksgiving dinner conversations tomorrow! You know, like, "My, this aperitif has made me quite pouncy!" - which will get you bonus points, because nobody knows what an aperitif is, either, so your family will be too intimidated by your dizzying intellect to ask you what either word means, and then you can chortle heartily into your cranberry sauce until you realize you're not wearing pants.)

(Ok, maybe I just flashed back there for a moment to something I'd rather not talk about.)


(Never mind.)

(Oh! And there should be a cat named Pouncy, too.)

Anyhoo, this was me coming up for air after answering 57 e-mails. I have about 53 more to go, so allow me to apologize now to 53 of you for using the word "pouncy" excessively. Or at all.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


You know those times when you get so SO FAR BEHIND on your blog and you think you'll never catch up but you know you have to catch up because it'd be weird to just pick up mid-stream and not include a complete synopsis of everything that happened while you weren't posting?

I'm kind of there right now.

Lemme e'splain.

No, no. There is too much.

Lemme sum up.

And since I can barely remember my own name right now, I'll sum up by going through the pictures I took with my phone during our book tour over the past month. Which should prove...interesting.

Ok. So. The morning we left I decided I needed a picture of my cats to keep me company. I made sure to catch them at their snuggliest, too...


...aaaand then I turned the flash off:

Much better.

Driving north was beautiful - lots of trees were still changing color:

The antenna on the dash was my mobile internet booster antenna. Surfing the 'net in the car? It's like living in the future! Although the more we drove, the less I wanted to be online. Instead we listened to audio books (reviews coming) and I worked on my Portal cross stitch patterns.

There was a time when I thought being on the road for a book tour was all glamorous and stuff. That idea was dispelled pretty quickly on our previous tours, but just to make sure it never sneaks back up on me I'll always have this reminder:

This is a swaddled up A/C unit in one of our hotels - I don't remember which. It made a loud clicking/thumping noise. All. Night. Long. Trying to muffle the sound with bedsheets seemed like a good idea at the time. (That time being around 3:30 AM.)

Speaking of hotel trouble, our very first hotel of the tour shared a wall with the kitchen, and at 4AM they started dumping buckets of silverware into the metal sinks. Since we were *just* going to bed at 4AM, this was Not Good. Our *second* hotel room that night (yep, we packed up & changed rooms) had an overpowering stench of mildew, but it was the last room left, so by morning we were both hacking up a lung and I was begging John to drive me home.

"It's a bad omen!" I yelled blearily into my pillow. "God doesn't want us out of Florida! If we turn back now we can be home by tonight!!"

Somehow we persevered, though, and things got much better after that. The shows actually rejuvenated me; meeting so many awesome people made all the hassle and sleep-deprivation worthwhile.

This is one of the cake toppers I tried to save, but his legs fell off. Then, a few seconds after I took this photo, his head fell off. Again. Followed by his torso. Finally I gave up and just left a grisly tableau for the maid to find.

More driving:

Mountains *and* snow? We are sooo not in Florida anymore...

I wasn't all that nervous for any of our shows, but seeing this outside the mall in Richmond made my palms a bit sweaty:

It's just so...official looking, you know?

(I'm not including any show photos here, btw, but if you're interested you can see them all on the Cake Wrecks Facebook page.)

More driving:

It looks like the world is on fire, but that's actually a sunset. Wild, right?

In Boston we saw our first snowfall, and it was SOOO COLD. And then we went farther north. Because we're crazy.

Speaking of crazy, Ottawa was crazy beautiful, and we instantly fell in love. All the buildings were dripping with ornate stonework and scrolled gateways and a clock tower straight out of Peter Pan:


We were staying in a hotel which I just kept calling "The Castle," because it looks like one - and everyone always knew exactly which one I meant:

(Picture found here - because I forgot to take one!)

Because neither of us had ever been to Canada, John arranged for us to have our one-and-only day off in Ottawa. Most of the day was spent working in the hotel room, unfortunately, but we did get out in the evening to walk around and gawk and eat:

Did I mention the eating? The eating of the beaver tails and the poutine?

MMMMMM yeah. That was the stuff.

We also had an Obama cookie:

So called because he apparently stopped in this bakery once. (The cookie itself is just a maple leaf shape.)

And then there was this situation:


No lie: we stocked up a huge take-out box of pastries - AFTER having our third poutine in three days - and THEN stopped to get two more beaver tails on the way back to the hotel.


[wistful sigh]

Moving on, I was thrilled that our schedule had us arriving in Toronto on Halloween night, because they were showing Ghostbusters in one of the theaters there. A really COOL theater:

Why yes, that IS a Klingon Bird of Prey & Starship Enterprise hanging from the lobby ceiling.

I took that photo while traveling down this escalator:

It makes me dizzy just looking at this thing. I had to hang on for dear life and look straight ahead to keep from over-balancing and pinwheeling my arms around like an old Goofy instructional video. ("Here the professional business-goer gracefully assumes the traveling position." "WWWAAA-HOO-OOOEEE!!)

Another thing Canada does better? McDonalds:

Seriously. This is a McDonalds, guys. It had TWO FIREPLACES. With armchairs. And everything was orange, which might have a teensy-tiny bit to do with why I loved it so much. Maybe.

Speaking of all that fast food:

Yeah. That happened.

(Hey, it's a warrior's drink, ok?)

In Chicago we had this sweet surprise:

It's Katie!! (With a bonus tuxedo-kid-photo-bomb!)

Both she and her mom Carrie were there, and introduced themselves after the show. For some reason I was ridiculously delighted to learn that Carrie is a fellow shortie, and we all shared lots of hugs and squeals and not nearly enough time together. I got to sign Katie's book of all your comments, which you can see has lots of page-holders where they've marked out their favorites. I think some of them will be included in the anti-bullying book Carrie is writing!

Again, I'm leaving out most of the actual show details, but I also have to mention this:

This card represents the first - and so far, the only - signing encounter I've had that made me cry. I think I might have embarrassed Laura - and I do hope she doesn't mind my sharing her note here.

I just don't deserve readers this awesome.

Ok, before I start bawling again...look! St. Louis!

Our hotel was right next to the famous arch, although I thought the view on the other side was even prettier:

When we weren't sitting in the car, we were sitting in restaurants. Where John would play with his new wedding ring:

(Yes, it's really rainbow colored, just like our other pair.)

He'd take the ring off and spin it on the table top, and then we'd both take pictures & video with our phones:

We looked like complete dorks, yelling, "Ooh, good one!" and "spin it this way so I can get a better shot!" We're, um, easily amused. Obviously.

Everyone keeps asking about the driving vs flying thing, but I have to say - even after 6,000 miles and over 150 hours in the car - I'll take it over flying any day. It's less stress, more control, PLUS when you're driving through Oklahoma and see something like this...

You can stop for an impromptu museum visit!

More pics of that coming soon, too.

Oh, and I should mention that John actually did all the driving; I was just the passenger. Which probably had something to do with why I liked it so much. ;)

For our final stop in Austin we went to the famous Toy Joy before even checking in to the hotel. It's a quirky local toy store packed with lots of vintage kitsch and just plain odd paraphernalia.

There I bought what might possibly be the most disturbing keychain of all time:

The belly pops out, too, in case you want to play catch with a floating embryo ball.

Like I said: disturbing.

In a kind of awesome way.

I bought it because it reminded me of this clear gelatin belly cake we use in our slideshow:

...but now it's just sitting here on my desk with the baby face all magnified from the liquid and it's just staring at me all 2001-like and frankly I'm started to get the willies. [shiver]

And now, my friends, you are all caught up. Mostly. Tonight John and I do our very last "Winter Underlined" show here in Orlando, and then it's back to "normal!" Since I've already started about half a dozen new projects in the past two days, you can bet I'll be posting more soon.

Thanks again for bearing with me!

Oh, and we found a nice big bundle of Epbot pin requests at the post office - too many for our poor little box to hold. The postal workers were pretty confused, too.

"So, are you Epbot, Cake Wrecks, Jen Yates, or 'Her Supreme Snarky Geekiness?'"

"All of the above, ma'am. All of the above."

Anyway, those should start going out this week, so if you sent an envelope in you can expect your pin soon. (Or don't expect it, and just be pleasantly surprised!)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Steam 11/13/11

Mo Rocca did a nice segment on the Steampunk World's Fair recently for CBS news. You can read the article here, or just watch this:

(Thanks to Jennifer F. for the link!)

I also highly recommend checking out Professor Elemental, the steampunk rapper Mo interviewed. I think his most popular song is Splendid, but since I couldn't find a video for it here's Cup of Brown Joy instead, which is equally hilarious:

This is why I love the Internet.

Meanwhile, the fabulous steampunk outfits keep showing up here on the CW tour:

This is Liam, my new favorite 13-year-old. He put together this outfit just for our show, made his goggles using our tutorial, and plans to make a raygun next. He was also extremely well-spoken, intelligent, polite, and ridiculously delighted to receive an Epbot pin. Mark my words: this gentleman is going places!

Oh, and remember my friend Christie - the one with the amazing Soulfire costume? Well, she made me the most amazing hand-painted ACEO before we left on the tour:

A steampunk seahorse! AAIEEEE!!!

Even better? I just *happened* to have this sweet frame waiting around for the right steampunk-ish art card:

A perfect fit!

The frame cost a whopping $7 at Big Lots, and has a cheesy flower painting in it right now. I'll replace it with Christie's seahorse, which is only sitting on top of the frame in the photo.

(ACEOs are miniature art cards that measure 2.5 X 3.5 inches, btw. They're a great way to break into collecting original art, because they're usually so affordable.)

If you like Christie's art style as much as I do, you might be interested to know that her ACEO prints are only $3, and her originals are $10, if you're fast enough to snap them up. She's just starting out, so take a look at her facebook page here or go see all her work on DeviantArt here.

And finally, a few steamy sparklies I've been drooling over here in the hotel room:

$52 from the always-amazing Bionic Unicorn

$37 from Bella Lili

(Hey, it doesn't need gears to be steampunk; Victorian sparklies work, too!)

Only three more shows to go, and then we're home again and I can start catching up on all the posting and crafts I've been planning. Thanks for your continued patience, everyone!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I'm Stiiiilll Heeeerrree

And now I have that song stuck in my head.

Ok, so, I've always hated it when bloggers update just to say they're sorry for not updating, but after a few prods on FB and via e-mail I've decided to do a quick check-in check list. Here we go:

1. Yes, John and I are still alive.

2. Astoundingly, we're also still healthy. Our ER-free streak is going strong! Woot!

3. I'm writing this in...uh.. [John, where are we?] ...Chicago. Tomorrow we do show 11 of 17, so we're technically on the home stretch. Fist bumps all 'round!

Vaguely Related Aside: We asked the publisher to book us in Hyatt Places whenever possible, because we like the layouts of the rooms & they're usually nice places to stay. (We've had 2 exceptions so far, which I would describe as "olfactory assaults," but only because that sounds nicer than "bogs of eternal stench drowned in Febreeze.")

We also like the continuity, because every Hyatt Place is pretty much exactly the same, right down to the decorative throw pillow on the couch. However, when you get out of bed, stagger to the car, drive eight hours, and then trudge through an identical hallway to take an identical elevator to get to yet another identical room, it can really start messing with your head. The only thing worse is when it's the same room in a mirror-image layout on the opposite side of the hall. (Btw, sudden-onset facial tics aren't permanent, are they?)

Where was I?

Oh, right. Chicago.

4. CW & Epbot fans are the coolest people on Earth.

5. But you already knew that.

6. Saying that you're addicted to Beaver Tails and Poutine while in the U.S. sounds really dirty.

7. So I highly recommend it.

8. I also highly recommend Beaver Tails and Poutine. (Thanks, Canada.)

9. I currently have no posts written for CW, which is why I haven't had time to write more here.

10. See how I slipped that excuse in after something funny? So you wouldn't even notice?

11. Brae in Canada brought us Kinder Eggs, a kind of candy that's banned in the U.S. because it's a chocolate egg with a little toy inside. Thereby convincing me that Canada gets ALL the nice things. (We ate ours on the way to the border, so no, we're not felons.)

12. I've had a few people come to the shows in steampunk costumes:


13. The ladies are SO crushing on John, and John is SO oblivious. It's adorable, but you can bet I'm not letting him out of my sight any time soon. (One woman's mother let slip something like, "She doesn't want cake, she wants JOHN!" while they were at the signing table, and then both the lady AND John blushed and stared at the floor and laughed awkwardly. Like I said: adorable.)

14. Oh! Oh! We saw Ghostbusters on the big screen in Toronto for Halloween night! And it was AWESOME.

Some of you might remember that I've had to avoid movie theaters for some time due to anxiety problems, but I was determined to risk it for my love of the 'busters. The last movie I saw in a theater was the re-release of Back to the Future last year, and I barely made it through even with meds that made me all dopey. This time, however, I made it med-free and with only minimal discomfort. That is HUGE for me, and I credit true love. And earplugs. But mostly true love.

15. Speaking of love, I miss my cat Lily. John's cat Tonks, not so much. [wicked grin]

Another Vaguely Related Aside: There was a friendly stray outside the restaurant in Ohio where we had dinner, so John and I stood for ten minutes in the freezing night air making fools of ourselves baby-talking to it. People walking by gave us really wide berths. Like it's weird for two grown adults to be all "who's a boopsy widdle wover?!" ing to a stray cat outside at night in front of a nice Italian restaurant. Sheesh.

16. I really should be writing a post for Cake Wrecks.

17. I've been brain-storming ideas for steampunk Christmas ornaments instead.

18. I miss my Dremel.

19. I collected a few more smashed pennies!

20. It's 11:30PM, and John just brought me donuts.

21. I can't type and eat donuts at the same times, so....

BYE! See some of you soon!