Positron Report!

Coming up for air (oh hey Ben) after a couple weeks where almost all my computer-time was going towards the project I mentioned last time—putting together a big report on reading patterns from science fiction book clubs in Chicago. Pretty excited to have this out there:

The Positron 2020 Report

For context: I’ve been running a website, Positron Chicago, since late 2014, whose main purpose is to keep track of speculative fiction book discussions in the greater Chicagoland area. The Report takes all the calendar data about those meetings, and then sifts them for info about most-discussed books, gender & race balance, how recently the discussed books were published, and more.

Well, I say “sift”; “laboriously wrestled into graphable tables” is more accurate. I’m finding it weirdly difficult to remember exactly what was going through my head when I started this project. Quaran-times are strange times. I definitely did not anticipate it growing into the size and complexity it did.


Overall my favorite chart, I think

Initially, I was mostly interested in just seeing what the most-discussed titles were. Once I had that, though, I started seeing ways to look at how much the groups overlapped. Publication date, genre, and author gender & race were all things I had to look up and add—the calendar only records things as, for example, “‘Ancillary Justice’ by Ann Leckie @ Chicago Nerd Social Club”; I had to add everything else. I kept being like “it’d be way too hard to add/analyze this thing” and then “ah, but it would be awful interesting to see”. Continue reading

Data, photos, listen to Saint Cloud already

Today I wrestled with a bunch of spreadsheets and freaked out about accidentally brewing a potato coffee, so, you know: an unexpected burst of pre-covid normality.


Working on a project I’ve been vaguely mulling over for a while. I’ve got a hefty amount of data from updating the Positron calendar (Chicagoland SFF book clubs) for years now, and have been wanting to take an objective look at that for a while. It’s a strange subset of information, and at the mercy of my own calendrical skills, but I’ve been wondering for a while what the megatext for Chicago-area reading SF fandom is like.

Also, it’s been an excuse to polish some Excel skills and get into a weird data/coding flowstate for a couple days. Tons to clean up format-wise before I can extract information usefully, additional info to look up and add. Will probably have something together to share before long. Continue reading

A Partial Long List (fiction)

img_20200421_110538200_hdrWhen I posted my personal short list of books—top-shelf, re-read frequently—Tim requested a follow-up: books that were on that list at some point, but kind of shuffled off it for whatever reason. A much longer list, once I thought about it—I’m a fairly voracious re-reader, and I’ve always tended to have a couple works that I hit up a lot for some period, trying to extract (or perhaps inject) more meaning. Some of these I still re-read a bit, some I’ve outgrown. These are just of the novel variety; I’ll have to put together a non-fic list sometime. Continue reading

Miscellaneous Updates

Time has come unmoored, and it feels like we’re all in a bottle episode. On the other hand, spring is finally feeling like it’s here for real. I’m finding myself pretty lacking in a linear narrative for the last week or so,  but there’s been some developments, I suppose.

My sister and brother-in-law made the move to Chicago. It’s a strange time to be starting in a new city, but I’m glad they got out of Florida.

I went for a long-ish bike ride yesterday. Lakefront trail is closed, but thus far most of the other long trails up north still seem to be open. There were a lot of folks out, but people seemed to be following good distancing practices. I’m also seeing a lot of masks, not sure where people are finding them—not that I’ve been out to stores to look, I guess. Continue reading

86 the bar


I apparently don’t have a single shot of me behind the bar. Anyway, here’s a Calder.

Yesterday, Intelli made the call to keep the coffeebars closed until some unknown time in the future.

Feeling a lot of things.

I was totally unsurprised by the decision, and honestly in the face of this pandemic I think it’s the smartest thing for a bit. But it still hits. Glad they were able to cover folks’ pay and insurance for a while.

Feeling…I don’t even know what. A lot of my identity’s in the coffee industry, and I don’t know when I’ll be back in it, or what it will look like. Worried about baristas and other service-industry working folks. I’m having some pretty bleak panic-visions of retail generally, to be honest—real worried that a lot of businesses aren’t going to make it through this next little bit.

Also feeling weirdly relieved to be out of the limbo of the last couple weeks. Of course, now I’m just in a bigger limbo for who knows how long.

Going to try to take some this time and energy to get some more writing and other projects done.

Feeling real weird about not making drinks for people.


Continue reading

Disaster Bread: Redemption Round!

Tweaked some things and gave this another whirl, and it came out awesome.


Wheaty Polenta Sourdough

Flour: 600g total

  • 300g whole wheat (.5)
  • 150 bread flour (.25)
  • 150 einkorn (.25)
  • 420ml water (.7)
  • 90g levain (.15)
  • 18g salt (.03)
  • porridge: 90g polenta + 270ml water

I started this one with a lower hydration (70%), knowing I’d be adding a lot more water with the porridge. I also used starchy water that I saved from making some pasta—not sure I noticed any huge effects from that, but the dough was a little easier to work with, and the final bread had a slightly sweeter taste. Continue reading

Literary Element Relevance Relative to Length (with extended coffee metaphors)

Length_Element idea

I’ve been noodling around with variations of this chart for a while, mostly prompted by book club discussions, and frustrations thereof. This is a simplified version; in earlier sketches I tried to think about the changing importance of things like worldbuilding, ideas/invention, and thematic richness.

My idea (it’s too rough to call a theory) in brief is that the importance of various literary elements varies with length of the work. Lest I be mistaken for claiming something overly scientific or formal: by importance I mean something very loosey-goosey—how important it is, subjectively, for a reader’s enjoyment. Also a “high importance” could mean either “that this element is well done” or merely that “this element is strongly present”.

Given those subjective elements, I should make clear that this chart should be considered as descriptive of a particular reader or type of reader, not prescriptive for writing or judging works. And indeed, the above chart is not descriptive of my tastes; rather, I sketched it trying to get to something like the stance of an “ideal reasonable reader”. Continue reading

Disaster Bread! (and other reports from inside the house)

Stayed up too late last night working with some dough (that I started too late), fridged one and room-temp proofed the other, got up early to bake it…and it was utterly ruined, straight to the garbage.

Fridge one did not turn out much better, but was salvagable—really sticking to the proofing basket, got pretty messed up getting it out of there. It actually came out reasonably okay, taste/crumb were fine.

Not entirely sure what went wrong there, was using only a slight variation on a recipe that’d worked well for me before. Think it was a a mix of hydration being a little too high, and not having the time/ability to stay awake long enough to do more sets of folds. Continue reading

Mugs, Panic, Bike, Tolkien


Bringing my tamp home for now, which feels weird.

Went downtown today for what might be the last physical bit of work at my shop, doing inventory. Real strange to see downtown so quiet of a weekday morning.

Took me longer than it should have, because for some reason I decided it was a good time for panic attacks. I’m feeling this combination of fear and anger that doesn’t have much of an outlet. Fear, because even though I subconsciously have the usual “can’t happen here” attitude, intellectually—I look at the numbers of infections, of deaths, in other countries, even when they’re doing so much better than the U.S. in trying to curb it. And I start thinking about the population here, thinking what 1% or 2% mortality would look like. And those are low numbers given how crappily we’re handling this. Start wondering how many people that I know will get killed by this thing.

And then anger. I try not to let it get the better of me. But the negligence, the criminal incompetence, the greed and malevolence all bundled together in the GOP right now, it just makes me feel like I’m going to explode. And then gets compounded by the established Democratic power blocs just failing utterly at confronting it. A few voices notwithstanding.

So yeah, rough day, should have been a pretty brainless one of countin’ mugs and so forth. Continue reading

The Short List

img_20200323_222233162While talking my friend Tim recently, I had to explain my concept of “the short list” for books. This idea grew partially out of a “desert island discs” mentality that pervaded my social circles in the early aughts—High Fidelity was both an inspiration and a crystallization of that mindset. “The Canon” and its absence, or explosion, were also things I thought about a lot in undergrad, and I think one thing I took out of that was an abiding interest in how works talk to each other, shape people.

But really, the core of this, for me, was when I studied abroad for a semester. I’m a big reader, and re-reader, and this was before e-books—so all my talk about “top fives” and “top tens” had to firm up. Only so many I could take with.

Since then, I’ve found the concept of the short list handy. Less prescriptive than descriptive: these are the books I’m likely to read at least once or twice a year. If going on a trip of any significant duration, I usually try to have at least one or two of these to hand. These are comfort-reads, to an extent; they’re books I know I’ll enjoy reading, pretty much no matter what. And they’re polysemous, rich, murky: I get something a little different every time I read them, and I find they get more complex as I get older, not less so.

Books come and go off this list, but slowly. If I had to pick ten right this minute, it would probably look a bit like the following list. After the list, I’ll try to say a bit—very briefly—about them.

  1. Wave Without a Shore, C.J. Cherryh
  2. Stations of the Tide, Michael Swanwick
  3. Too Loud a Solitude, Bohumil Hrabal
  4. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
  6. The Olondrian Novels, Sofia Samatar
  7. The Scar, China Miéville
  8. Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson
  9. This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
  10. The Breath of the Sun, Isaac Fellman

Continue reading