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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons



SFContario, Toronto new fan-run SF literary con, was on the weekend, and overall it went very well.

It was downtown at the Ramada Admiral, off of Carlton, which was an easy streetcar ride for me. I was helping out at registration, and got there early on Friday to do so. Friday was certainly the busiest time for reg, as most of the attendance had pre-regged and turned up then, so we were pretty busy handling out stuff, crossing names off of lists, and finding the pre-printed name badges (which always look good, but finding them is slow, slow, slow!)

The focus of the con was the written word, and it really shone in that. The panels I attended were not only on interesting topics, but they were also all well-staffed with people who knew what they were talking about. There were only two panel tracks, but it was rare when there wasn't something I couldn't sit down and listen to going on. The Dealer's Room was small, but had books and other decent stuff. The hotel layout was a bit tight, as it's two buildings connected by a bridge (with a few unfortunately steps) but worked pretty well once you got the room locations down. The koffeeklatches were interesting, if lacking in actual coffee (down the hall in the con suite).

Anime North did a suite all day Saturday, with tea-tastings during the day (which had a steady traffic in and out) and videos at night, but we couldn't really compete in the evening once parties with booze started.

The guests were author Michael Swanwick, and editors Teresa and Patrick Nelson-Hayden, who were always worth listening to at all their events I went to.

Total attendance was just over 300, which is pretty darned good for a first time con with no media tie-in. They've already announced same dates and location for next year, and it's good to have another fan-run event in the fall again.

And when I left on the Friday night (late), there was this well-dressed woman hanging around outside. And when I left (later) on Saturday night, she was there again, and wanted to know if I wanted some company. Well, it was on the outskirts of that part of town. But SF fans have no money after buying books.

However, there was a troubling event that no one had gotten a good answer to yet. A certain well-known member of the Toronto SF community (and friend of mind for years) showed up on the Friday, and was denied entrance to the con, to my consternation and that of a lot of other people. The reason for this is still forthcoming from the convention. This matter was bought up at the wrap-up meeting and AGM, and we were told that the board would not be taking this issue up now and would be issuing a statement later. I'm not using names here because I'm not sure how public the person in question wants this to be made, but my benefit of the doubt is 100% on his side, not the convention's, especially as they were not ready to explain it in a forum where they had to know it would come up. I will be waiting for an official statement from them on this matter.


If Ikea made Instructions for Everything...


Who voted for Ford?

From The Torontoist.

The megacity was a great idea, wasn't it.


A very ChiZine weekend

Started off on Friday by attending the fall launch of ChiZine Publications, the dark fantasy/horror press run by kelpqueen and jack_yoniga down at the Augusta House. They've got nineteen books out now, with another seven in the pipeline, which is just amazing. That evening they had new books out by Tony Burgress and Halli Villegas, among others, with readings, a free ChiZineTini from the bar, and a raffle for a Kindle with all their books on it (which I lost but Caroline Clink won, drat her).

Couldn't stick around for the whole evening as I had to duck over to the Underground Cinema at 9:30 PM, ad Colin Geddes was doing a Son of Kung Fu Friday with Ip Man 2, starring Donnie Yen! Ip Man was the guy who taught Bruce Lee how to fight, and the two Ip Man movies are (very) loosely based on the guy's life during the Japanese occupation of China in WWII and his life in Hong Kong in the early 1950s. The first one was pretty good, but this one has Sammo Hung in it, which made it 100% cooler. Quick plug, the screening was arranged with the Reel Asian Film Festival, which open here in Toronto in about two weeks.

Saturday started out nice and sunny, so I jumped on my bike for a quick ride. Then in the afternoon I went up to visit with Charlene and Hayden for dinner (with Paul and Susan dropping by as well). Charlene is currently five months pregnant, but prone to early contractions (which happened to her with her first kid), so she's on bed rest and little moving around right now. I bought along the series Ouran High School Host Club, which is very silly but quite funny to lend to her for the duration.

After dinner (thanks guys!) it was back to ChiZine again. They had been putting on the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium that day in Hart House, a one-day writing/author event with talks by all sorts of SF/Horror/Fantasy authors, such as handful_ofdust and Guy Kay. The evening program was readings by a whole batch of people like Peter Watts and Karl Schroeder among others, with a pile of food we all had to try and eat (catering in lieu of room rental). The whole thing was a big success so congrats again to Sandra and Helen and everyone else who organized it!

Sunday was quieter. Despite the dull weather I was out on my bike, as after four years of riding my odometer stood at 9985.5 km, and I wanted to roll it over. I headed down to the lakeshore, as I need to do this on quiet trails, as I had to have my eyes glued to the odometer at the critical moment. When it hit 9999.9 I took a quick glance ahead and slowed right down. But then the display started flashing 9999.9 over and over, instead of going to 0000.0! I don't know if it was a bug or what, but it still counts, and my new goal is to do the next 10,000 km in only three years. Celebrated by taking the evening off and watching Tsui Hark's Seven Swords (also with Donnie Yen). The film is disjointed and has too many characters, but it's great spectacle.


Bixi and the election

Was at the Bixi Toronto event at the Steam Whistle last night, where they announced that they had achieved the 1000 subscribers they need to get the City of Toronto funding to start the project next spring. Bixi is a commute bike service that places bike stations around the city, and subscribers can obtain bikes from one and drop them off at other, riding them for short time periods. It's been very successful in Montreal and in Europe.

I haven't signed up myself (likely would have if they needed a few more people to get the service going) because the initial zone of operation is between Spadina and Jarvis, Bloor and the lake, and that's just too far to the east of me to be much use, especially as you can only ride the bikes for 1/2 hour before you have to pay extra fees. If there was a station near my place, they would be great to just zip over the Merril or downtown, if I was planning on doing a bunch of errands and didn't want to take my bike, but for now I'll wait and see if they expand the service once they get it going.

Got to ride a Bixi bike, which is a good deal heavier than my own (understandable, as they want to make them as sturdy as possible) but not bad otherwise, think I'd get used to it about a ride or two.

I've decided to vote for Karen Sun for my Ward 19 councillor (impressed by her at the meeting I attended, first-rate background and experience), but for mayor I can't decide yet. I'd personally prefer Joey Pants over Smitherman, but Joey is running seriously behind right now and I would hate to see Ford get in. Eye Weekly last week said we should hold our noses and vote strategically to keep Ford out, but Now countered that you should vote your beliefs, not your fears. The victory of the progressive Muslim candidate for mayor in Calgary certainly echoes that sentiment. Why should good people bother to run if we're going to vote for the mediocre guy cause we figure he's going to be the winner? And there's the theory that Ford would be such a wake-up call we could get some one decent in office next time.

Got less than a week to make up my mind.


Busy weekend

Started off Friday by attending the Planet in Focus presentation of the doc Transcendent Man, about futurist and engineer Ray Kurzweil. He thinks we're likely only two decades away from cracking AI and making the sort of breakthrus that will make functional immortality possible, and he's had a pretty good track record at predicting the future (although the doc also presents plenty of other people who thing he's seriously underestimating the time frame here). Kurweil's been involved in quite a few tech company's, his biggest achievement likely being a scanner that turns ordinary printed pages into speech for the blind. From a large tabletop apparatus in the 1970s, he's now got it down to something that fits in a (largish) pocket. He also takes over 100 pills a day (vitamins and other supplements) to try and catch immortality when it happens.

After the doc there was a panel discussion on his ideas with Madeline Ashby and others, which was pretty good too. A bunch of guys in the audience were talking about the 3D printer they were working on. 3D printers can take plastic or metal powder as input and create individual parts and items from them. The current Grail is to build one that can make all the parts necessary to build another, so they are self-replicating, check out Thingiverse for details. These guys claimed they had figured out how to replicate the motors they needed, the big stumbling block, so we'll have to wait and see if they can do it. I think it's likely these things will be pretty common in another 10 years.

Saturday started off with the STC Book Club Meeting, Kethani by Eric Brown. Had a decent turnout and a good discussion. From there headed over to University College for their annual book sale. Bit disappointed to not find much, I think donations were down this year. After that over to Catherine's for the SFContario meeting. I'm going to be helping out at the reg desk, and Anime North will be running an anime suite all day. Planning is going well and I'm looking forward to it. Finally, met up with my brother at the Keg Mansion for our usual birthday steak.

Sunday was likely my last long bike ride of the year, was so glad the weather was so great. Did the Waterfront Trail out east out to Oshawa, taking the GO train back into the city. It was 72 km all told, and just a great ride (with the wind behind me the whole way out, which helped a lot).

At the start I come across the finish line to the Toronto Marathon in Queens' Park. People were coming in by then (I started a lot later than they did), and they were announcing everyone's name as they crossed the finish line, which I thought was a great touch.


Week of stuff

Last week went up to Muskoka with my brother to visit with Karen and Shirley, with me staying at Karen's and Dave at Shirley's, so they each got a full Simmons the whole weekend. All got together on the Saturday for NorthWords, a new literary festival in Huntsville that seemed to go off quite well, and for Thanksgiving dinner, courtesy of Shirley, on the Sunday. A lot of the leaves had already fallen from the trees, but it was still pretty spectacular up there.

Tuesday was at the Reference Library to see John Ralston Saul and Joseph Boyden. They have each written an entry in the Extraordinary Canadians series, Saul on Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin (both bigwigs in the Canadian government before Confederation), and Boyden on Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont, and they spent the time talk to us and each other about their books, the writing process, and Canadian history in general. Saul credits Baldwin for founding U of T and the whole public university tradition in Canada, and blames the Family Compact for making sure we don't know about that (and for the fact there's no statue of Baldwin at U of T). There was only one eye-rolling moment in the evening, a question from a guy who seemed insulted that only a few of the Extraordinary Canadian books were written by actual historians. Saul said that Canadian historians had gotten out of the habit of writing publicly accessible works for a while now, but he hoped that would change, which still left the guy in a huff. Great evening.

Wednesday was at the Mozart Society for a performance by the Cecilia String Quartet, their last Toronto appearance this year (also caught them at Nuit Blanche and at the Four Season Amphitheatre over the past few weeks). They're completely amazing, and earlier in the year won an international music award in Banff. Got a great seat, and heard some great music. The Mozart Society itself seems to be sadly nearly defunct due to lack of people willing to run it, hope they manage to find a few new people (and I'm way too busy before you suggest anything).

Thursday went down to the Lightbox to see Raging Bull, one of their Essential 100, which I had never seen. Mixed feelings about it, it's sometimes hard to get a clear sense of something you've been repeatedly told is a masterpiece. I have to admit I did not know Jake LaMotta was an real person till I overheard the guys sitting behind me talking about it. Film broke in the middle, which doesn't endear me to the place even though they fixed it in a few minutes. Tickets are also a lot more expensive than the old Cinematheque ($12 instead of $6 and change), and if your theatre has multiple screens you really have to print the number of the theatre on the ticket!


Friends of the Merril SF/Anime Flea Market - Saturday Sept. 11

The Friends of the Merril will be hosting the 5th annual SF/Anime Flea Market next Saturday, the 11th, at the Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St. Admission is free and it'll be help from 10 AM to 4 PM. Please pass this around to your friends and anywhere else that might be interested. Thanks.


Film Festival: 9 out of 10 ain't bad!

Got 9 out of 10 of my first choices for Film Festival tickets this year, which is pretty darned good. My ticket order went into box 28 (of 39), and they started processing from box 9, so I was just past half-way along (thanks to my brother for dropping off my ticket order for me). The film I didn't get was the new Werner Hertzog, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the cave paintings in Chauvet, France, some of the oldest known. The film is actually in 3D, not as a gimmick, but because the shape and flow of the cave walls is considered critical to understanding the images. Here's hoping some awful person puts the Q&A on YouTube (that's what I really want to see).

Otherwise, I've got crazy Russian films, crazy South Korean films, crazy Japanese films, and two documentaries. Looking forward to it as always!


Fan Expo

I was one of the judges at the Fan Expo Masquerade last weekend, first time I've ever done something like that, and it was a lot of fun.

kaijugal asked me about two months back if I was interested, and after I determined that she wasn't joking, I thought I'd give it a try. I've never paid to go to the Fan Expo (not an autograph hunter, which seems to be the primary reason to go) so I hadn't been there for several years.

Got there mid-Saturday afternoon, and fortunately, Dawn was able to come out and walk me into the building, as the Fire Marshall had closed the doors earlier due to overcrowding, and I might have had to wait in line to get in otherwise, as I only was given a standard weekend wristband. I did wander around for about an hour, but like I said, it's not really my kind of show. Hanging out in the Masquerade Green Room with everyone was a lot more fun. I never get to do this or watch the Masquerade at Anime North because I'm too keyed up and stressed to enjoy it. Although a few snacks back there (AN springs for sandwiches!) would not have gone amiss.

Anyway, the Masquerade started about 20 minutes late (pretty standard) and all us judges had to write up a short bio for the MC (Gord Rose) to read. The other judges were Chris Warrilow, Sabrina Vocaturo (who also helps out at AN) and a guy named Kent who I didn't know but who is a big costumer. When my introduction came around, the first mention of my name got some audience reaction (which was nice), but the mention that I was the founder of AN got quite the cheer (which was also nice). I was of course wearing my AN t-shirt.

Anyway, there were 67 entries, with 5 no-shows out of them. For once I got a really good look at everyone. There were a lot of good novices, but only a handful of Artisans and Journeymen for some reason. The really standout ones included this Bayonetta, which had Sabrina grinding her teeth as it's an outfit she wants to try, and is was pulled off so well by a guy, and this Guy Gardner, who's audio failed, but who then stepped right up and pulled it off (Part 1, and Part 2). There were a lot of audio problems right at the start of the masquerade, and apparently gurudata had to jump in with his MacBook to save the day.

Deliberations afterwards went on longer then I expected, as I couldn't contribute to the workmanship discussion, and there were a bunch of little issues I had never considered before, like if one person in a little troupe really does everything, should you give the whole group an award? But it all got finally settled and I was able to go and get something to eat.

So thanks Dawn for asking me, and keep me in mind for the future!

Oh yeah, there were a pair of Jesus trucks parked across the street from the Expo, wonder if they did much business.