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I read Orange is the New Black yesterday. It was entirely chance, as every so often I download all the books off the New York Times Bestsellers List, and this happened to be on it.

The book is the memoir of one Piper Kerman, a well-educated white woman who got sent to jail for 15 months. Rightly so, one might think, given she was involved in a drug trafficking ring years earlier. Throughout the book, she paints a grim picture of prison and how useless the institutional system is, at one stage highlighting out how much better restorative justice would be. But mostly this is just a story of the people she met there, and how she survived. It was pretty interesting read overall.

Now now I find that the book is being turned into a TV series. And the best thing about it? It stars Kate Mulgrew as Red, a vindictive prison cook. The interview below cracks me up - all I can hear is Captain Janeway. I can't wait to see it.

I came across this video yesterday while procrastinating. It's interesting, showing Hannah Fry using maths to talk about the 2011 London Riots. A lot of her conclusions seem pretty basic from a sociological point of view, although I like that she clearly emphasizes the link between deprivation/ government cuts and rioting.

Her comments about proactive policing are a bit ominous though. Spying and police states, oh joy.

A friend posted this list 25 Things to Do Before You Turn 25 up on Facebook today. It's full of fairly good advice, although the title makes me feel old. But mostly I liked the last thing in the list...

25. Quit that job that’s making you miserable, end the relationship that makes you act like a lunatic, lose the friend whose sole purpose in life is making you feel like you’re perpetually on the verge of vomiting. You’re young, you’re resilient, there are other jobs and relationships and friends if you’re patient and open.

Done, done, and not applicable. Life is so good at the moment!
Been trying out some more mapping in GIMP. This time I made a classic dungeon, following this tutorial. This one was pretty easy, much less fiddly than the last one I tried. I'm actually pretty happy with it, although I couldn't work out how to rotate the curtain image I downloaded, and the colouring isn't perfect. Guessing it's going to take a while for me to suss out this program properly.

Result is under the cut for anyone curious in my mapping adventures. Right here, in fact.Collapse )
Life is good at the moment. New house with a not so new girlfriend, old job done, new job a couple of weeks off, free time... Starting tomorrow, I have a week's holiday in Shanghai and Suzhou. Today, however, I decided I would finally start learning how to use GIMP and craft fantasy maps.

After several hours fiddling, mostly following this tutorial from the Cartographer's Guild, I came up with the map under the cut. Some of the shading threw me a bit, and there's definitely imperfections. I made the brushes for the mountains but I'd like to put more care into them, give them better shading and the like. I'm not sure if I like the faded colour of the trees either - I followed the tutorial's advice on that, but I think a darker colour would be more striking. If you look closely, you can see the fading is uneven too: the tutorial cautioned against that, but I couldn't seem to help it. The map is unlabeled since I disliked every method I tried and then ran out of time, so I clearly need more practice.

Map is under here...Collapse )

Still, it was a lot of fun, and there are a ton of other tutorials on the site. Hopefully it won't be too long until I get better!
I have found myself a new fandom! And surprisingly, it's not science fiction. It's a quirky lesbian drama, set in Glasgow and called Lip Service. If you've never watched it before I highly suggest you go stream it now. (Use this link. Go on. It's deliciously addictive...) I even feel the urge to write fic, which hasn't happened in years - will post it when/if I finish!

My favourite character by far is Sam. I have a total crush. Heather Pierce is really quite sexy, ha.

I was searching for a book my brother would like when I stumbled across Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. It was described as a British Harry Dresden novel - and yes, I suppose there are vague similarities, in that both of thle main characters are wizards - but honestly, having read both, I think Aaronovitch's book is far, far, better. For one, the British version has an amazing cover (right). It's also well-written and nicely grounded in London's history once you open the flaps. And aside from from having a very cool plot, it fails a hell of a lot less than Harry Dresden in terms of race and gender.

First: the cover, because I really like it. The colours look great. The font is quirky and reminiscent of water. And showing London inked in black words manages to put the focus on the setting and look really cool.

Second: race and gender. The main character, Peter Grant, is mixed-race. This shouldn't even be worth commenting on aside from the fact that I haven't read that many books with protagonists of colour recently. I can think of Hunter from Neverwhere, plus maybe the Japanese-designed sex robot Emiko, the titular character from The Windup Girl (would she count?). I suppose Game of Thrones and other fantasy novels have different cultures and races in them too. But it's rare in speculative fiction, and that's disappointing. Peter's African heritage doesn't over-define him, but it isn't ignored either. Gender-wise, the book doesn't do badly: there are lots of female characters, and they tend to do their own thing. Most are competent, while a few aren't - no complaints there. The only thing that had my eyes rolling a little bit was when Peter's love interest/fellow copper Leslie (of course. Who else?!) needed to be rescued, but I'll have to wait until Book 2 to see if that's a trend. The fact that I can't wait to read Moon Over Soho is promising though!

As for the plot, there are summaries all over the net (for example, at SF Reviews). I'm not going to rehash them here.

What I will say, however, is that Del Ray, Aaronovitch's American publisher, failed where the book didn't. First by changing the name of Book 1 to Midnight Riot, which is a dreadful title that doesn't make any sense. And secondly, and most importantly, by fullly silhouetting the protagonist on the cover of the published book, thereby erasing his race. Maybe they thought white readers would be scared off? Or maybe there were on crack. Either way, it's disgraceful. They've done it for the second book too - you can see the original covers and the darkened out versions below.

Can't wait for April 1st!

I tried Vinegar Peanuts (醋花生米/ Lǎo Cù Huāshēng Mĭ) for the first time yesterday. A group of friends and I met up at a local Chinese restaurant, and this is one of the appetizers we ordered... so delicious. Apparently it's easy to make. After scouring the interwebs, I found several recipes: the most basic one is below. I'm going to try it out tomorrow. Hopefully it will taste just as amazing coming out of my kitchen!

Raw, unsalted peanuts
Vinegar (any type)

1. Fry the peanuts in oil at a high heat for about 5 minutes, and then set then aside to cool.
2. Put the cooled peanuts in a bowl.
3. Add vinegar (so the peanuts are about half covered), a few dessert spoons of sugar, and chopped coriander.
4. Stir and eat.
I'm currently working seven days a week (only 23 teaching hours in total, but I have to plan 19 different lessons) which is kinda killing me. The upside to this is the money; with the downside, of course, being that I have absolutely no time to spend it. At least my classes on the weekend - 6 hours in total - will end in a month.

So I have been dreaming of how I will spend those weekends once I get them back. And I've decided that the first thing I'll do is go to Tianjin, the birthplace of jian bing, a delicious crepe you can buy from street food vendors across Beijing and parts of Northern China. I'm addicted to it, as it the girlfriend.... hence our planned pilgrimage. It shouldn't be too arduous, however: apparently there are 76 trains that go run between Beijing and Tianjin daily, and even the slowest of them only take 90 minutes.

Tianjin also has great markets, and a lot of colonial architecture. (Although, like Beijing, most traditional Chinese buildings have been demolished and replaced by skyscrapers.) It sounds interesting.