Tuesday, February 13, 2018

RadCon 7b Schedule

Heading to RadCon this weekend. Looking forward to geeking out about all my favorite topics with fellow nerds in front of rooms full of people.

I hope to see you there!

Radcon Feb 16-18, 2018

Understanding the Fairies of Mythology
Using folklore and mythology, this panel will help you understand the most interesting characters in fairy tales, and the fairies themselves.
Fri 3:15-4:15p – Rm 2209
With: Kaye Thornbrugh, Tammy Tripp, Ty Hulse

Self-care for the HSP
What is a highly sensitive person (HSP), and what are the gifts and challenges of being HSP? How can one design a life that works with the gifts while staying balanced and healthy?
Fri 5:45-6:45p – Rm 2203
With: Jeanette Bennett, Judy Johnson, Tamra Excell

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Complete Skr1pt Kiddie Guide to Elite Hacker Games

The learning curve for information security (aka hacking) can be pretty steep. In addition to understanding tools, exploits, coding, and attack vectors, there's also absorbing the subversive thinking it takes to be a hacker. Nature vs. Nurture: Perhaps people are born with these traits, or perhaps they can be taught. I'd argue that if you're curious enough to try to learn, you've got the proper nature. Now it's time to nurture.

Example of old school hacking,
From the true-to-life 1983 documentary, Hackerman.
Back in the day, we had to learn these concepts by word of mouth, by finding a mentor or have hacker friends, or by brute-force figuring it all out our own damned selves. Moreover, computer equipment was expensive, so experimentation was prohibitive for most of us. To learn, we had to crack live systems which were someone else's property, which was both unethical and illegal.

Today, in this magical virtual world built by us old school hackers, we have the luxury not only of wikis, videos, training programs (some at actual colleges!), cheap hardware, and virtual machines to learn on, but we also have a fine collection of hacker games.

There are three categories of hacker games:
  1. Technical games involve the practice of actual coding or cryptanalysis.
  2. Hacker logic games which teach hacker thinking processes, but the interface and skill bears little resemblance to real-life hacking. 
  3. Hacker-motif games full of green-on-black facades, but with little relation to real hacking.
This list includes games in the first two categories, that is, games of substance that teach something about real hacking.

Click to embiggen.
(Remember to say "Enhance!")
And a quick note about what I mean by "hacking". I define hacking as "any attempt to subvert the designed purpose for a technology, to use it in a way that was not originally intended." This stereotypically include infosec, that is, breaking and entering computers and networks (and defending against said breaking and entering), but it also includes all manner of opening things up, figuring out how they work, and changing them. If you've ever soldered tiny cargo bays to your quadcopter so you can glitterbomb tourists in downtown Seattle*, you're a hacker.

* No confirmed sightings have been reported, however, if someone were to happen to create such a thing, I am completely not responsible.

I've not played all of these, so my description and categorization of them might be off. A listing with a checkmark means I've played it for at least 5 hours.

And listing of the game does not mean I vouch for it.

One last point: If you want to get the full value from these games, don't resort to walkthroughs! Googling how to do something is useful, because you're learning a skill and applying it to a new problem. But looking up the answer in the back of the book teaches you nothing. If you're "stuck", you should spend at least a few days pondering it  then and only then should you go looking for a hint. And I said *hint*, not walkthrough. Looking up the answer should be a last resort.

Lower Tech, Hacking Themed Games:

Look like a hacker, without all the mess!
(Seriously, he's wearing a TIE?!)
Most of these require download and install, for various platforms, including Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS. Some are web-based.
  • ✔ Digital: A Love Story 
    Story-based adventure game that simulates a 1988 computer environment. Solved through email and dialing into BBSes. Loved this game.
  • ✔ Uplink 
     Simulated hacking environment, which simplifies hacking tools but retains the logic. Awesome game.
  • ✔ The Secret World 
    An MMORPG that requires a hacker brain. Set in a dark version of the modern world of conspiracies, werewolves, and Lovecraftian bliss, it's a regular MMO in many ways: You have a character, get gear, and level up. But to get through the story, you have to solve actual puzzles, including cracking passwords on real (staged) websites. There's Morse Code in the early game that you have to transcribe in order to progress. (Which is harder than it seems if you don't know Morse Code.) As with Telehack, if you want to really learn the hacker mentality, you should solve all puzzles yourself (even if you're stumped) rather than fall back to the wikis and walkthroughs.
  • ✔ Hacker Evolution 
    A story-based game which, like Digital: A Love Story, immerses you by placing you at a simulated computer console. The story unfolds as you receive emails and take on hacking tasks. Again, the tech is simplified, but you still have to explore and think like a hacker.

Monday, March 7, 2016

2015 Accomplishments, 2016 Goals

It's a little late for the traditional writer's New Year post, listing my prior accomplishments and this year's goals, but I figure this way I'm at an advantage. Because I've already accomplished some things this year!

In truth, these posts are more for my own sake than yours. They help me look back and see that I'm actually getting things done, even when in the moment I feel like a miserable failure.

What did I do in 2015? I survived. And for me, for this year, that is quite an accomplishment. 2015 goes on record as being one of the worst years of my life. I left my two life-partners under extremely painful conditions, put myself in the hospital to prevent my suicide, lost my means of support, moved twice in two months, considered my limited career options, and began my recovery from the brand new case of Complex-PTSD that I developed over 7 years in a trauma-inducing environment.

This has left me with an unimaginable level of anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairments which make work extra difficult and discouraging. But I'm recovering, even if slower than I'd like.

So I survived. A great big check off the list!

That said, I didn’t let myself off the hook too much. Even though I didn't accomplish as much as I wanted to (see last year's post), in some ways I accomplished more. And I crossed some significant goals off my list.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Radcon 7 and Norwescon 39 Panel Schedule

It's con season again! I'm so excited to announce my panel schedule for Radcon 7 (Pasco, WA) and Norwescon 39 (Sea-Tac, WA March 24-27). These are some really awesome topics at two of my most favorite cons. I hope to see you there!

Radcon Feb 12-14, 2016

The Science of Believing
Lots of people believe in things that are, or aren't, real. Not everyone can be right, but everyone thinks they are. As humans, we cling to our convictions as if they were life preservers. Why do we believe things, even when those things are strange or unpopular? And why is it so hard to face being wrong? Science has studied these questions and come up with interesting answers. Come learn about cognitive dissonance theory, cognitive biases, the levers of influence, and mental shortcuts that leave all of us ready to defend our beliefs, sometimes even to the death.
Fri 1:45-2:45p – Rm 2205 
With: Peter Jones, Rory Miller

Empaths, Synesthetes, & Other Super Powers
What does science tell us about empathic abilities, synesthesia, and other multi-sensory ways of perceiving - and interacting with - the world? Explore the benefits and challenges experienced by people with these "super powers". Be ready to share. Excellent opportunity for writers crafting a character with one or more of these traits.
Fri 5:30-6:30p – Rm 2201
With: Alma Alexander, John Alexander, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Tamra Excell

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

DEFCON 23: Putting the Confidence in "Con"

I left DEFCON last year wondering how I could give back. This year, I realized that I've always been giving back.

I almost skipped DEFCON 23. I lost my means of support in May and my savings is running out. The wise thing would have been to stay home. But I justified how I should throw caution to the wind and find the means to go, and I'm so glad I did. DEFCON never disappoints.

Highlights of my DC23 experience: 
  • Brought my own phonograph so I could listen to the badge
  • Helped run the first-year Biohacking Village
  • Socialized and made new friends and contacts
  • Networked and pursued job opportunities (this is how I justified the expense)
  • Enjoyed Queercon 12 events and Queercon's sweet badge
  • Attended the Telephreak party

But the real highlight wasn't any single event; it was something I carried within me through the series of mind-blowing events that made up DEFCON. It really is all about "what you bring to the party." This is such a huge ridiculous lifecoachy cliché… but you don't really grok these tidbits of wisdom until you've experienced certain angles of life and succeeded at taking the right kinds of risks.

For the last few years, I've been developing social confidence. These are skills I've been trying to learn my whole life, but confidence cannot be taught. It can only be learned. There is no secret recipe, and describing my path to this point would fill it's own blog post. But I can distill the core of what I've learned into simple phrase:

You have something to give.

Once you grok this concept, not just on the surface, but on a deep level, it becomes easily to have faith in your strengths and talents. Then the social confidence just follows. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Norwescon 38 Schedule

I'm so excited to be on panels at Norwescon for the first time this year. This is something I've dreamed of since attending Norwescon in the 90s – being an author and sitting on panels talking about smart things. And what a great year to start, with George R.R. Martin as the guest of honor!

Here's my schedule of the smart things I'm going to talk about, along with my reading.

If you're at the con Thursday night, there's actually not much going on, so please come see me read! I need two people in the audience, and one of those people could be you! I will most likely read Touch of Tides, hard science fiction about a woman who uses her synesthesia to make an exciting discovery about life under the ice on Europa. This story is particularly themed towards many of the panels I'll be speaking on. It's a good example of alien communication, women in SF, expanding the sciences in SF, writing about lifeforms outside of our experience, and even, yes, even invisible disabilities to some extent.

Official schedule, April 2-5, 2015:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Benny, Joon, & Me: An Autism Movie Takes On Ableism & Soundly Defeats It

In 1993, my 19 year old brain latched on to a movie character and wouldn't let go. Now in 2015, I rewatched to find out why. 

In 1993 autism was considered a rare condition that was little understood. Few English-speaking mental health professionals had even heard of its higher-functioning form, Asperger Syndrome, because it wouldn't be in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistics Manual) for another year.

Nevertheless, writers and actors excel at capturing the human spirit. That year, a movie came out that accurately depicted high-functioning autism and directly combated ableism (harmful beliefs about disabled people) in unambiguous terms.

Benny & Joon is unique. How often are two disabled people allowed to fall in love with each other on the big screen? This may be the only autistic romance movie in existence.

If you are autistic, Benny & Joon offers validation, empowerment, and positive self-image. If you know an autistic adult or child, this movie should add depth to your understanding of them. And if you never expect to meet an autist, well, statistics are against you, but at least watch it to have your heart warmed and your awareness expanded.

It saddens me, however, that certain critics somehow found Benny & Joon problematic. Throughout this post, I will directly answer the points made by one of these reviews. 
Spoiler warning: This review reveals plot points and thematic arcs, but don't worry. The formulaic storyline is already somewhat predictable; the joy is in seeing it played out on screen by interesting characters. You might even enjoy it more by having this autistic lens to view it through.

Why My Brain Latched On and Wouldn't Let Go

When I first saw this movie, I didn't know that 18 years later I would be diagnosed with Aspergers. But my subconscious knew that Joon was like me. I loved Joon. I admired her. I related to her. 

I identified with her odd little mannerisms, and knew that, deep down, I wanted to hold the same flat affect on my face and make those jerky, birdlike motions. Her descriptions of the world mirrored my own strange ways of thinking. Her outbursts and unusual speech patterns reflected an inner persona I was holding at bay, like I had this little bit of crazy locked up inside that escaped sometimes when no one was looking. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Meaning of Dreams

Stories are metaphors. From the moment they arise from the author's deepest dreams, to the second they enter the reader's mind, a story is a form of telepathic communication that conveys images, ideas, and philosophy in a way that no other medium can.

The message may become garbled. The reader may experience something other than what the author intended. And that's okay. Because the reader can only take in what she is ready to take. She can only comprehend what she is prepared for, and for what every unique moment in her individualized life experience has set her up for. She may feel completely different feelings than I've sent to her, but if she feels something that is personally meaningful to her, then the cycle of communication is complete.

Fantasy, science fiction, and horror, otherwise known as "speculative fiction", is the most ripe for conveying messages on this wavelength of metaphor. Because anything can happen, because fantastic worlds are built with rules that differ from our own, those rules can better represent the wispy, intangible form of language our subconscious minds speak: the language of symbols.

The Legends and Dreams story bundle contains eight such stories. What will pop into your subconscious when you experience a world in which entertainment conveys not only light and sound, but also touch and sensation, as it does in Tonya Macalina's Faces in the Water?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Career Crossroads

Instead of working on Emerald City Iron like I was supposed to, I've spent the last month soul-searching. That's a rose-colored way to say "being existentially depressed wondering about the purpose of life and being totally unable to get any work done." I'm sure either sounds glamorous, but I assure you, it's pretty much not. Though now that I'm putting it this way, and looking back, it does seem a bit more dramatic and interesting than it really was. But maybe that's how lived stories are. They aren't really all that fun until you reach the end and know that everything is going to work out. 

For now anyway.

I suppose I imagined I'd coming out the other side all psyched up to finally finish Emerald City Iron a couple of months late. Instead, I've learned that perhaps I will never finish ECI.

TL;DR: I'm taking an extended hiatus from writing novels so I can focus on nonfiction books, short fiction, and nonfiction blog posts.

I'm going to steer my ship away from writing novels for awhile. And in writer-time, awhile means years. 

Instead, I'd like to write another nonfiction book, more nonfiction blog posts (particularly about autism and social justice), and continue to write and publish short stories.

There are lots of pros and cons to this choice. The most painful part has to do with all the novels I had planned. And worse, those poor novels I've already written that are impatiently waiting for edits. And worse, worse, worse, the five or six people who have let me know very plainly that they are sick and tired of waiting for the sequel to Emerald City Dreamer, and if I don't finish it, they're threatening to never read it. Which is fine, because I won't let them. Bwaha. Or something. At any rate, it ensaddens me to let down my loyal readers.

It's also sad that I've got these great moments in ECI and Emerald City Hunter that no one will get to see. (A cow-car chase... How fun is THAT??) This is a major drawback to the decision, but also one of the drawbacks to novelling overall – incredibly delayed gratification – that I'll get to more in a bit. 

Those are the cons. The pros far outweigh them. (Protip: That's how you know it's a good decision.)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2014 Accomplishments – 2015 Goals

Wow, what a year.

I struggle to live in the moment, because in most moments, I fail to recognize what I'm accomplishing and what I have accomplished. My wishlist is always much longer than my completed list. So it's important to sit back and take stock, lest my self collapse under the weight of might-have-beens and ought-to-dos.

  • Of course my biggest accomplishment was publishing Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control. This has been on my bucket list for nearly ten years, and "write a nonfiction book" has been on the bucket list forever. It was the culmination of 15 months of concentrated effort, in addition to the years of research I'd done prior. It's sold over 650 copies, and sales are still steady. Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, with eighteen 5-star reviews on Amazon, and a glowing review by Richard Packham, who is a prominent voice in the exmormon community. It's helped hundreds of people. I've been personally told by dozens of people about how it's helped their struggle after leaving Mormonism.

    So for all my doubts about interrupting my fiction career to veer off in a completely different direction, this is one of those things that I was meant to do. And so I did it.
  • In the midst of promoting Recovering Agency, I had a few accomplishments that would be worthy of note all on their own:

2014 Awards Eligible Stories

This year, I have two stories eligible for the Campbell Award:

Meltdown in Freezer Three came out in the November issue of The Journal of Unlikely Entomology. It's about an autistic woman who runs an ice cream truck business, with the help of her beloved insect service animal, Macy.

This story is also eligible for the Hugo and Nebula awards.

Touch of Tides came out in Crossed Genres in the August 2013 issue. It's about a scientist studying life under the ice of Jupiter's moon, Europa, and using her inborn synesthesia to make a historic breakthrough discovery.

This is my last year of Campbell eligibility. So please read, and thank you for voting!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What's at Stake: A Letter to My Family

Last night, I sent an email to my white, predominantly conservative family. My partner, Jocelyn, forwarded it to her white, predominantly conservative family. One of her family members was touched and asked me to post it publicly.

I realized that it was hypocritical to protest to strangers both online and on the streets of Seattle, while ignoring just a single appeal to my family. I can be just one more sign-holding body in a crowd, but I am more likely to influence those who know me. That thought stuck in my brain until I wrote and sent the email.

After I wrote this letter, I heard an additional, chilling statistic. Death by police is the second leading cause of homicide in the state of Utah, where I was born. In the state where Darrien Hunt was killed for wearing a samurai costume. More citizens are killed by police, than by gang members, drug dealers, and child abusers. What could scream police state more than that?

SUBJECT: What's at Stake...

I wouldn't normally send a political email to family. But this is personal. I don't need you to agree with me, I don't want you to argue with me. I don't need you to do anything except consider these deeply felt concerns from a member of your family. 

Sending this is is a little scary. I'm writing this with shaky hands. But I feel impelled, because this is perhaps the most important cause going on in my lifetime.

I was raised in a certain political environment, one in which I learned Martin Luther King, Jr. was a communist, an instigator, an anti-American. I was taught that the protests of the Civil Rights Movement were drummed up by communist thugs trying to overthrow our American way of life. I learned all the reasons why the marches and riots of the 60s were unneeded and unjustified.

But I also learned that I had the right to protect my life and property, with force, if needed. That if the state began to infringe on my rights, I should be willing to fight to the death to protect my liberty. I learned about the power of the Bill of Rights, especially the First and Second Amendments. 

At home, I learned that freedom wasn't free. That sometimes, it had to be fought for.

So on Monday, I protested the fact that Darren Wilson will not stand trial for killing a black teenager, Mike Brown, in Ferguson, Mo. I held up traffic. I stood before a line of impatient drivers, held up my hands, and chanted, "Hands up! Don't shoot!" 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Moment of Silence

I was not planning to make a Thanksgiving gratitude post. My thoughts of thankfulness this year are summed up here. And I am thankful that my children are alive.

Now, a moment of silence.

Donate to the Ferguson Public Library.

Donate to the Ferguson Defense Fund.

Donate to Saint Stephen’s Food Bank.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Double-Standards: The Irony of Empathy and Autism

From I, Robopsychologist in Discover Magazine
I sat on the bed across from my partner, tears in my eyes as I prepared to share with him an insight I'd had at therapy that day. I felt incredibly vulnerable, ready to open up this secret part of me I'd kept defensively hidden, even from myself, for many years.

That afternoon, I had become aware that my aloof exterior obfuscated a deep well of emotion and caring. I had blocked myself off from what would otherwise consume me. I'd learned as a child that if I thought about anyone's pain, I'd fall into the vortex. I'd lose myself in a trippy, altered state of consciousness, and not in a good way. 

For example, I once accidentally saw a short video about the maltreatment of animals in the Chinese fur trade, and I couldn't get the horrible feeling or the images out of my head for months. The experience came unbidden, and I couldn't stop imagining what it was like to be those animals. When this inadvertent exposure happens, my only defense is to keep trying to forget, to try to switch off all feeling, to stop caring about anyone. Even as I write these words, I'm fighting off the flood. The result is a hardened exterior, an unfeeling facade, a sort of clinical detachment that I apply to any expression of pain. 

So when I had this insight, I was eager to share it with my partner, who always thought I'd been too distant, too cold. Who had encouraged me to try to open up more, to feel more empathy for others. 

I opened my mouth to speak…

Thursday, August 14, 2014

DEFCON 22: The Con That Keeps on Giving

Load up this soundtrack while reading this blog post: http://somafm.com/defcon/ I'll wait.

Alice in Hackerland by Tess Schrodiner
Winning artwork for DEFCON 22

Redefining The Experience

I began my seventh DEFCON looking for a way to give back.

There's only one other con I hold in as high esteem, and that's my hometown science fiction convention, RadCon (this year was my 18th RadCon). Over the years, I've been to dozens of other cons, some regularly (like PAX Prime and Norwescon), but if I miss them, no big deal. DEFCON is a pillar of my year, drilled 100ft into the earth and rising up to the clouds, and it would take one hell of a real-life tragedy to keep me from it.

And like RadCon, I can no longer just attend. I've been a panelist at RadCon for the last two years, and I'm driven to figure out how to participate in DEFCON. Not only because of how much I've gotten from it, and how much I continue to get from it, but for the selfish fact that there are diminishing returns in terms of what I can learn as a non-participant audience.

The few talks I attended were unremarkable. Since I no longer work in IT, I avoid highly technical talks, which are no longer useful to my career. I know enough security theory to write fiction; readers don't want to hear the tech details anyway. If a story is set in a far-future, 2014 tech won't matter, and if I need something current, like safe-cracking for Through a Shattered Tumbler, I can look it up online. 

As a curious person, I often enjoy hearing about new exploits, but even those have started to blend together. The message is always the same: All things are pwned or pwnable. This is a very worthy message, but for me, it's ancient news. It's not as likely to give me a dopamine "ah-ha!" or "holy shit!" feeling anymore. After "holy shit did you know you can stop someone's pacemaker?" and "holy shit all of Boston's transit is owned!" and "holy shit the Russian cybermob, the nets are all gonna DIE!" ... You can only get excited about the sky falling for so long before even that becomes normal. The sky is falling, and it's already fallen, and Situation Normal All Fucked Up (SNAFU).

This screenshot circulated on Twitter
of a hacking tool itself being the vector for mass pwnage.
Amusing, but totally unsurprising.
I don't mean to make DEFCON sound unexciting. I had an amazing time this year, as always. But as a neophile, I crave new experiences. Moreover, I'm writing for neophiles who also crave new experiences, and you don't want to read a recap that's a recap of last year's recap. So this isn't a regular post describing the talks or hallway shenanigans.

Mostly, this year was about seeking my place, teaching others, and enjoying the synthesis that comes from mingling knowledge. i.e. making friends and having conversations. This is the true value of any con, because we can learn the rest online. We can watch all the talks on YouTube. What we can't do is talk and wave our hands about and toast to a point that everyone agrees on.

This year, mingling came easy thanks to my autism diagnosis and anxiety medication. This was my second DEFCON since my DX. Last year, my SSRI prescription was brand new and I was still adjusting. I noticed the improvement then, and all the more this year. The power of technology has made social anxiety a distant memory, and I have better coping mechanisms and a higher sense self-acceptance since I know that there is a medical basis for my quirks.

However, the meds don't fix everything. The distracting and painful sensation of anxiety is quelled, but it doesn't fix my awkwardness, the times I'm not sure what to do or what is appropriate. I'm still combatting 38 years of overcompensating, learned behaviors I used to avoid anxiety. The extra serotonin doesn't cure my autism or sensory processing disorders. Sometimes the background noise is too loud and I can't tell what people are saying. Sometimes I'm not sure how to engage in conversation with people I want to talk to, or leave conversations with people I'm no longer interested in.

Sometimes I lock up and don't know what to say, so I stay silent when I should be talking. Or the opposite, a more recent coping mechanism where open my mouth anyway, and let words pour out without any filters. Which works until it doesn't, and I say the wrong thing.

The meds really help in all these cases, because when I do make mistakes or face uncertainty, I'm not assaulted with waves of anxiety that pull me under onto the hamster wheel of self-assault. I'm much more resilient and can keep rolling.

Why Spot the Fed
when you can bring the Feds to you?
This has all improved my experience at DEFCON a hundredfold. It's a much more social event than it has been in years past.

I'm-Poser Syndrome*

* - Attempted pun

When I arrived at the Rio on Wednesday, I felt pretty wobbly and low, and I wondered what right I had to be at DEFCON at all. I'd submitted a talk to CFP, which summarized my several years of research on unethical persuasion and group mind control (which all culminated in my book Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control). The talk got rejected, partly because it was non-computery and partly because the religious criticism it contained was potentially too controversial. I would be attending as a non-participant once again. And in absence of a tech career, with less hands-on computing in my hobby life, with my interests shifting more to psychology, neuroscience, and writing, I really wondered why I belonged at DEFCON at all. Impostor Syndrome had set in pretty hard.