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RonO's Ramblings

Aug. 22nd, 2015 10:30 pm Brief 2015 Hugo Award Finalist Reviews [sticky post]

Note: This post was drafted back when I was actually reading through the various Hugo Award Finalists (and then voting on a category by category basis). It was hidden until after the awards were announced (or should have been announced - I'm counting on the ceremony to start on time and run less than two-and-a-half hours) as I'm part of the 2015 Hugo Awards subcommittee, and I don't want anyone to accuse me of stacking the deck. Because of being delay posted on my blog (www.ron-oakes.us), it didn't automatically cross-post to LiveJournal

I'll present the categories in the order I read (or otherwise finish consuming) them; and the works in the order I voted for them.

Best Short Story

"Totaled"

At first, I was having a hard time liking this story. But, as it went on there was a good balance between ideas and action which makes it stand out in this category.

"Turncoat"

Again, at first I wasn't liking this story. It does drag the action out a bit - and it is almost entirely action, with just a few bits of history and a not quite out of context Bible quote. Having a short story drag its action is a bit of an accomplishment, but not a good one.

No Award

"A Single Samurai"

This story was all action and background. Now, that isn't necessary a bad thing, but in this case it resulted in a pretty boring story. Even if I didn't read a lot of short stories in 2014, if I'm this bored, it isn't a Hugo worthy work.

Asside: when I was regularly playing paper and pencil RPGs, I'd often find long, drawn out, combat boring, so I think that my standards aren't the same as others as to what makes a story boring.

"On a Spiritual Plain"

This story is short, and has one pretty good idea. But, the execution still results in a story that is almost all idea and little action. And the action that is there is pretty mundane.

"The Parliament of Beasts and Birds"

The part of me that likes when Christian ideas cross with science fiction really wanted to like this one - even if Wright's screeds about a TV Show predisposed me to dislike his stories. But it was just talking, and more talking, and even more talking. And the dialog, or I probably should say "Parliament," was all philosophy and at the end theology. Its last sin (a pretty ironic term in this case) was that from the beginning I pretty much knew where it was going to end.

Best Novelette

"The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale"

At first this story was kind of slow, but it was short enough that the initial slow action wasn't a big drawback. However, I did, mostly, solve the mystery well before the narrator. The fact that it is ranking first, tells me that this is a pretty weak field.

"The Day the World Turned Upside Down"

An interesting idea, and well executed. I think my main issue was dealing with the suspension of disbelief over the interesting idea. The juxtaposition of the narrator having his world both figuratively turned upside down by the loss of a long-time girlfriend, and then literally being turned upside down is its biggest strength.

I'll note that this story was translated from, I believe, Dutch. Yet the setting didn't feel either particularly European nor particularly American. I don't know how much of that is from the original, and how much is how the translator dealt with some of the descriptions.

No Award

"Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust, Earth to Alluvium"

Not a bad story, but I don't think it is Hugo worthy. The idea is interesting, but the execution ends up kind of dull.

"Championship B'tok"

This isn't a Novelette, this is an outline of the first part of a large series. After spending much of its time skimming over world building and character development, it just ends. It leaves character threads hanging, the main action hanging, and just about everything else hanging.

This one also gets special mention for being yet another case of abusing apostrophes to make a language alien.

"The Journeyman: In the Stone House"

This has a similar problem to the last one. Except being the beginning of an incomplete story, it is the middle of an incomplete story. Now, the prior story exists, which might help explaining some of what is going on.

But as a stand alone piece, all of the aspects of the story are left lacking. The worldbuilding is rushed through or implied (I'm guessing that this is a case of a world that has fallen back to being psuedo-medevil), and the main characters are more caricatures - broad outlines. The secondary characters are even less developed.

My Nominations

For reference, I nominated the following for Best Novelette:

  • The Ghosts of Bourbon Street Seanan McGuire

  • Stingers and Strangers Seanan McGuire

  • Bury Me In Satin Seanan McGuire

  • Snakes and Ladders Seanan McGuire

(Yes, they are all InCrypid stories by Seanan McGuire - but I nominated almost everything I read from last year, at least if it was good. And I really like these stories)

I'd probably still rank these above just about everything in the above category.

Best Novella

"Flow"

I enjoyed "Flow" a fair amount. It is a pretty straightforward explorer's story, with the protagonist learning about parts of his world beyond his original ken, and nearly getting into serious trouble

No Award

Yes, only one novella seemed Hugo Worthy to me.

One Bright Star to Guide Them By

This wasn't all that bad of a story. But, as I was reading it, I couldn't help by see Narnia shining through. This left me feeling off until a friend summed up what it was quite succinctly: "Bad Narnia Fan Fiction."

"The Plural of Helen of Troy"

This story was hard to follow - coming from a collection of shared-world stories (I gather based on the title of the collection it comes from). It is a mish-mash of alternate history, time travel, and paradoxes. But, instead of being intriguing as this could/should be, it was just confusing. The stories not-quite back-to-front ordering added to the problems, even if it was necessary to hide the outcome.

"Pale Realms of Shade"

I didn't finish this story, which means I probably should have left it off my ballot (but it is there at the time of writing). After reading a not insignificant part of the story, my feeling was that I needed to re-read (re-listen to) Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road (one of my Novel nominees) to wash the taste of it out of my brain.

Like the Rose Marshal ghost stories in Sparrow Hill Road, "Pale Realms of Shade" is a ghost story told, in first person, from the perspective of the ghost. In this case, it was combined with an attempt at a Noir feel and Celtic urban fantasy. Again, this resulted in a bit of a mish-mash that became unreadable.

Big Boys Don't Cry

I didn't finish this story either. But, it did do something very important for me: it convinced me that I don't like the type of military SF that is mostly combat.

Best Novel

Note, I didn't read the excerpt from Skin Game. Being part of a long-running series that (from what I understand) has a lot of continuity, I didn't feel that I could enjoy or judge the story. Also, at the time of this review, I was still reading The Goblin Emperor, but had read enough to make my judgements and cast my ballot. Plus, I was getting to where I was going to start seeing preliminary results in testing and wanted to minimize my influence.

The Goblin Emperor

I'm enjoying this story a lot. It is a coming of age story, with a lot of unique elements. On top of that, the author is doing a good job of revealing a world that is both unlike ours, and unlike your typical fantasy world - even if characters are referred to as "elves" and "goblins."

If I have any complaint, it is her odd use of older speech forms in the dialog, but not in the text nor the internal monologue.

The Three Body Problem

Again, a very enjoyable story. There is what I have to conclude is a definite flavor coming from the setting in modern China, but it also resonates with the parts of the world I'm more familiar with. If anything bothered me significantly, it was some possibly out-of-date information regarding nearby star systems.

The Dark Between the Stars

At first, I was liking this a fair amount. But, I quickly grew tired and quit listening for two reasons. First, the information carried over from the author's previous 7 book series in the same universe seemed to becoming something that was really needed to understand and follow the story. But, more importantly, the story quickly found itself in a "many lines, all waiting" situation. Having read (OK, listened to) about 1/3 of the story - around 18-20 chapters, I'd only seen 3 characters having more than one chapter as the PoV character. On top of that, most of the story lines appeared to be independent, with no indication of how or why they might be interconnected.

Ancillary Sword

I know Ancillary Justice was last year's Hugo Award winner. But, I couldn't get through the first chapter of the excerpt. Not only did there seem to be a lot of information from the first book that was needed to understand what was going on, it was sounding or feeling like the setup for yet another military SF drudge story.

 

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Aug. 7th, 2015 12:49 pm Possible WSFS Proposals

First, a proposal I’m very tempted to tack onto B.1.4:

I move to amend B.1.4 by adding {somewhere} “provided that the Hugo Award Subcommittee of a Worldcon can elect to continue the previous process of counting nominations until one of the following conditions is met:
– A prior Worldcon has used the revised method.
– They have received and accepted (1) pusedo code, programming code, or mathematically rigorous formal specifications for the program to count the nominations, and (2) a set of sample data that contains sample nominations from at least 2/3 of the number of people to cast nominating ballots in the largest category over the last three years.

Second, some year in the future, I’m tempted to make the following motion:

I move to amend the WSFS constitution by making the following changes:

Add:

1.5.x: Members of the immediately preceding Worldcon, or the immediately following Worldcon shall be allowed to purchase a Hugo Award Nominating Membership for no more than a regular supporting membership, and for no more than $20.00 USD or the equivalent in local currency, adjusted upward by inflation as reported by the United States Department of Commerce.  These memberships shall only grant the right to participate in Hugo Award Nominations, and shall grant no other rights.

3.7.1 The Worldcon Committee shall conduct a poll to select the nominees for the final Award voting. Each member of the administering Worldcon granted full voting rights, the immediately preceding Worldcon, or the immediately following Worldcon as of January 31 of the current calendar year and persons with Hugo nominating memberships shall be allowed to make…

 



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Jan. 9th, 2015 03:54 pm My Radical Agenda

For a moment, let’s pretend that I’m somehow made, simultaneously, into both the President and the entirety of congress, here are some of the radical ideas I’d have – which probably go to show how far reality has pushed me from my former libertarian-ish views.

  1. Progressive tax reform – reinstate the higher tax brackets starting at either $1,000,000.00 or $10,000,000.00 of income.  Also adjust the corporate tax and capital gains taxes so that corporations are encouraged to invest long term and pay dividends rather than raise their stock prices.
  2. A “basics” package for all U.S. Citizens, including
    • Basic education: PreK – College (4 years)
    • Basic income, paid to all citizens over 16 who are not full time students
    • Basic health insurance: no deductible, pays 80%-100% depending on purpose of visit, choice of appropriate provider (urgent care over ER), etc.
    • Basic access to housing with water and heat.
  3. Massive investment in infrastructure – repair first then maybe a new WPA
  4. Plans to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.  This should include fuels from what would otherwise be waste products, and fuels produced in non-agricultural areas.
  5. Reduction of military involvement in training and direct action in foreign countries.  Retrain them to be ready to perform humanitarian missions, including rescues of persecuted groups.
  6. Ensure that the military has the equipment it needs – but only what it needs, not what congress decides it needs.
  7. A more open immigration system, and an expedited asylum system.  Immigrant parents of US citizens should also get the basics package until their child is independant; by which time they should have had enough time to become naturalized citizens in their own right.


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Dec. 30th, 2014 03:24 pm Albuquerque’s Nob Hill Business District

Albuquerque’s Nob Hill neighborhood’s major business district is along Central Avenue – which carried Route 66 from 1937 until it was decommissioned – stretching from Washington Boulevard on the east to Girard on the west.

Ernst Haas Photo looking east on Central at Carlisle, Circa 1969

Ernst Haas Photo looking east on Central at Carlisle, Circa 1969

When I was in college at the University of New Mexico, which is located just west of Nob Hill, running from Girard to University mostly north of Central, I would head into Nob Hill with some frequency, mostly to do shopping at War Games West.  While I did walk up Central on at least a few occasions, and biked up Silver, one block south of Central, at least once, I’ll confess I mostly drove up Silver to the parking lot at Silver and Amherst that served War Games West and the rest of that block of buildings.

But, my recollection was that most of the other businesses in the area weren’t that interesting.

Over the last few years, Tara and I have discovered that at least the section from Richmond on the west to Carlisle has a number of interesting and eclectic shops, and is always worth a visit when we are in Albuquerque.

Much of the development along Central was started after 1937.  But a major development was done in 1946 and 1947 when Robert Waggoman built the Nob Hill Business Center, the first modern (i.e. car oriented) shopping center in New Mexico (according to Wikipedia), and possibly west of the Mississippi (according to a reference I’ve misplaced).

Nob Hill Business Center is a Streamline Moderne style building with hints of the New Mexico Territorial style.  The structure is U shaped around a small, but probably sufficient in 1947, parking lot.  The parking lot faces Central, and the building runs along the other three sides of the block bounded by Central on the north, Carlisle on the east, Silver on the south, and Amherst on the west.  There are store fronts available that both face the parking lot, and the three outside streets.  Since Silver is up Nob Hill (the geographic feature) from Central in that area, most of the Silver frontage is made up of the upstairs sections and backs of the stores.

In the two interior corners are two larger store spaces.  My understanding is that, originally, these were occupied by a grocery store and a drug store.  The remaining store fronts are available for smaller shops.

Now, the two corner shops are occupied by the La Montanita Co-op grocery store, and a salon and day spa.  But there are two stores in between that we like visiting.  One is a gallery (whose name I’ve forgotten) and the other is Beeps, which I can only describe as an eclectic store as it carries toys, jewelry, novelty kitchen accessories, and other interesting things.  We used to also enjoy browsing at the design shop that used to face Carlisle at the northern end.

Continuing west from Nob Hill, we pass an Asian “street food” restaurant in the building that was occupied by the late lamented War Games West when I was in college, and later Bow Wow Records.

A bit further down the block is The Flying Star Cafe‘s original location.  When I was in college, their easternmost storefront (one storefront west of the former location of War Games West) housed a Double Rainbow ice cream parlor (possibly only until 1987).  As I understand it, the franchise owners wanted to go a different way, and converted the shop into the first Flying Star.  Since then, they’ve taken over every storefront west until a small alley.  The rest of that block has two free-standing buildings, one a fairly mundane building containing a pizza parlor, and another housing a Starbucks.

The building containing the Starbucks was a KFC when I was in college.  But I think it was built for something else – but more recently than when much of the rest of the area was built up.  It is a fairly long and narrow building with a rectangular footprint. But its roofline is mostly a half-cylinder, except at the front it is cut in a circle.

Continuing into the next block west is an Arby’s and one of several sushi restaurants along this stretch as well as business well off of Central.  I’d guess that, like the Starbucks, this is a newer development with even more parking.

The block after that has Kelly’s Bar and Grill, located in what was a Ford dealership, and later (or at the same time) may have been a Texaco station.  I’ve never been to Kelly’s – too many other favorites to go to a place that could be found elsewhere – but it has a good reputation.

Kelly’s apparently leases part of the building to a Cold Stone, and to a flower shop.  The rest of that block is occupied by the Hiway House motel, and a Korean barbeque located in what I think was once the motel’s lobby and check-in area.

The next block is where the eclectic nature of the area is most apparent.  In that block, in addition to a restaurant or two and a store selling smoking supplies, is a vintage clothing store, Masks y Mas – which specializes in mostly Mexican arts and crafts largely focused on Dias de Los Muertos – and Astro-Zombies – a comic book store with a good selection of comics and graphic novels, and a whole lot of other geeky toys and games.

The north side of Central through that area has some more mundane stores, including a dry cleaner, Kurt’s Camera Corral, a Redwing Shoe store, and Disco Display House, a party supply place.  These were all there when I was in college, as was The Guild arthouse movie theater.

There is also a block where there is a complex with shops on the lower floor and condos on the upper levels.  This is less than two years old, since it was strikingly out of place to me; more so than it would have been if it had been built in the prior 23 years.  But it also has been there long enough for one business to go out of business.  Most of the business there are pretty mundane.

On the north side is also where we find a Satellite Coffee, owned by the same people as The Flying Star – which yesterday was full of hipsters and nerds in the mid afternoon.  There are also a couple of clothing boutiques catering largely to the hipster demographic.

As I said at the top, Tara and I always find it worth a trip.  On the other hand, I still will miss War Games West and we’ll miss the design shop.



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Oct. 26th, 2014 09:28 pm Musical Ambitions

I'm reposting here two posts that went initially to Facebook and Google+, one from October 25, and the other from October 26:

October 25:
(Tara will probably complain, but) I picked up a Jamstik as a late birthday present/right hand exercise. It arrived the other night and I've been working through the tutorial.

I've already figured a few things out, however:
- I'll probably want to still get a real guitar and take lessons from a live person. I don't know whether to go through the Poway Adult School, Palomar College, or go the private lesson route.
- I need to build up the calluses on my left hand.
- my (literal) fat fingers make it hard for both of the chords the tutor has tried to teach me: E and A.
- the tutor program has an "arcade mode," based on Guitar Hero and the like. I find this much harder to do since I have some eye-hand coordination issues that still require me to do too much thinking before fretting the correct string(s). Even in the other mode, I pick the wrong string a high percentage of the time.
- I find it easier to use headphones - otherwise the actual sound of the strings kind of distracts me.
- I need to stick with this in order to get myself up to the level I'd like to be at: enough to at least accompany myself in filk type settings (which, sort-of includes the monthly worship sessions at our church)

October 26:
I did a bit of noodling tonight. Mostly working on E and A chords. I still have to look at reference and think to get my left hand correct.

I'm also having a problem with the E chord that tends to make the Jamstik sense the third string (C?) as being fretted on the second fret, not the first. I don't think it is because I'm swapping my first two fingers. I also think I'm going to need to trim my nails.

I located a place for lessons. I decided to give their voice lessons a try first - since I already own the instrument.

(I also need to decide if I should get an electric guitar so I can practice without disturbing Tara. On the other hand, that is what the Jamstik is for.)

{If this shows up twice - it is due to a glitch in how the Wordpress plugin that is supposed to post all of my Wordpress blog posts over to LiveJournal works when I post from my iPad)

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Oct. 6th, 2014 10:10 am Writing Again

For the last week or so, I’ve been dabbling with writing.  I’m not resuming As of Yet Unnamed Fantasy Story.  Instead, I’m working on something that I doubt I’ll be sharing (or at least sharing broadly and publically) for personal reasons.

However, doing this has brought a couple general things up that I’m going to share:

I’ve been using Scrivener (http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php) for this.  I’m finding I really like how it works.  It lets me organize things, draft scenes and sections, store notes, etc.  It also takes care of formatting the story – it will even generate .epub and .mobi formatted e-books directly (albeit without the ability to embed fonts).

What I’m writing is alternate history.  Especially for real-world and alternate history, I’m finding that the Internet now has tons of good (and not so good) places to get information to ensure at least some accuracy.  My story touches the legal system, and I’ve been able to track down both a general overview of the legal process, and the actual laws of the state where my story takes place.  This has let me make surgical changes in history but make sure that they (I think) fit somewhat seamlessly into an otherwise recognizable world.

Google Maps and Google Street View are also quite useful in visualizing settings that I’ve not actually been to – or haven’t been to recently.

If my next project is more shareable, I’ll let you know how my dabbling comes out.



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Aug. 26th, 2014 02:15 pm London Trip Report

Tara and I were in London from August 9, through August 23 in part to attend Loncon 3, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon).

We actually left on August 8th.  Having found that the least expensive option when we booked our flights was the British Airways flight non-stop from San Diego to Heathrow, we had an evening red-eye departure.

Since I needed to work on Friday, the day started with me getting up to finish packing, and then with Tara dropping me off at the bus to work.  After a regular day at work – including an aborted attempt to buy a compromise camera at Staples during lunch, aborted because they didn’t have it in stock – I was picked up by an airport shuttle directly from work while Tara was picked up from home with both of our suitcases plus her carry-on.

Since she was picked up nearly half an hour before I was, she ended up waiting at the airport outside of security for me.  Once I got there, we got checked in and through security with only minor issues relating to the backscatter x-ray.  We had a couple of hours before the flight.  Normally, I would have eaten then, but I was wasn’t feeling well and was mostly very thirsty.  So after drinking a large bottle of water, and letting it help, I grabbed something for Tara and I near the gate.

The flight to London was fairly uneventful.  I’d managed to get us seats in one of the only two places where there were only two seats together in regular coach – at the very back of the cabin – so we didn’t have to contend with anyone else if we needed to get out.  However, that led to one of the only two things that were very eventful about the flight: my breaking off the plug on the cable for my noise-canceling headphones.  (Fortunately, these headphones are designed to support multiple cables, but this is the only one that they come with and I’ve not been able to get Sony to show me a replacement).  This kept me from being able to listen to much music (of my own) or watch any TV or movies after that.  Fortunately, I’d watched the entire Lego Movie before that.

The other event of memory was that Tara took the Indian chicken option for dinner (I had the veg lasagna option since I’d had chicken tikka masala for lunch), and found it had too many spices.

Once we got to London, we were able to bypass the long queue for immigration since Tara cannot stand for long times these days.  So we got our bags (which I put on a trolley, even though both bags had good wheels at that point), and we made our way out to the arrivals level where we found the Costa coffee for needed drinks and a rest.  After noting that our phones connected first to Vodophone and seeing a place selling prepaid SIMs, I picked up a pre-paid SIMs for both of our phones – confirming that our Verizon iPhones are indeed unlocked.

After that, we found our way down to the Tube station.  Before leaving, I’d discovered that on the day we were flying out both Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect would not be running due to “Crossrail Improvements” – only later discovering that Crossrail is a new service being constructed, not a maintenance term I was unfamiliar with.  I had figured out our best route to our hotel – or more correctly the Lambeth North Tube station across the street from our hotel.

However, I hadn’t looked for (or found) a step-free route, so our route was simply to take the Piccadilly line from Heathrow Terminal 5 to Piccadilly Circus and then take the Bakerloo line to Lambeth North.  Not only was this route not step free, it required us – read “me” – to carry both of our suitcases (which had in at just under the 20 Kg limit) up two flights of stairs at Piccadilly Circus, and one at Lambeth North.  The later continues to baffle me considering that once we got up the stairs, we encountered two very large lifts (which were, apparently part of the original 1906 design – see the Wikipedia entry  - but are clearly more modern).

After leaving Lambeth North, we found our hotel just across the street, Bayliss, to the north.  We got checked into our hotel, The Tune Hotel Westminster.  We knew that our room would be small and windowless (the later illegal in the US), but I think I was startled at just how small.  While we could get in OK, there was no way to arrange our suitcases so that Tara’s didn’t slightly get in the way of the door.  I got stuck with the side of the bed that was about 8 inches from the wall, and had to plug my CPAP in on the other side of the bed (I always travel with an extension cord for this purpose, and it is sufficiently heavy-duty I don’t worry too much about using it on a 240v circuit, which all of my electronics – CPAP, and the chargers for the iPhone and iPad – can deal with without issue).  Given our red-eye flight, and the trip from the airport, we were pretty much wiped, so we sat in the hotel room recovering.  Looking for something to watch while we got up the energy to go grab dinner, I found that BBC3 was rerunning “The Day of the Doctor” (the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special), and we ended up watching almost all of it.  We ended up eating at The Chicken and Pizza Palace across the street where we were both overwhelmed by the Chicken Mountain Sandwich – which has a fried chicken breast and a hash brown patty on it.  The other two times we ate there, we got the regular chicken sandwich without the hash brown patty.

Sunday, we were both still tired from the flight, so didn’t get out at all until about 10:30 – and only then for brunch at the Costa’s Coffee that occupies most of the ground floor of the building containing our hotel.  I then suggested (foolishly, considering that it was a rainy Sunday) that we could do some shopping since we were too late to want to spend time at any of the Museums or attractions.  However, after taking the Tube (Bakerloo line) to Oxford Circus and a couple of miscues, we found our way to Hamley’s.  The problem was that Hamley’s was crowded and hot – probably due to the crowds.  This made it less fun that it might have been to work our way through.

After we left, we found a nearby Pret A Manger for some drinks and snacks, then returned to our hotel.

I went out and took a walk exploring the local area – first to the south (which I was thinking was north due to being turned around) where I located the Imperial War Museum and found my way back to the station and then went in search of a Boots to see if they had a replacement for the broken headphone cable.  When looking for Boots, I discovered that Waterloo station was in the direction I thought of as “south” – and when I got back I noticed something that should have made me realize the mistake: I could see the top of the London Eye above some of the elevated tracks coming out of Waterloo station.  After I got back, we grabbed dinner at an Asian restaurant across different streets from the Lambeth North station.

On Monday, we decided to go to the exhibition at the British Library on comics and politics (I don’t recall the exact name).  I determined that the British Library was closer to Kings Cross/St. Pancras than it was to Euston.  So after breakfast at Costa (assume this for the rest of our trip except during Loncon), we headed to the Kings Cross/St. Pancras station.  However, I had misread the map and thought that the library was on the Kings Cross side, so we popped up into Kings Cross station, and ended up grabbing a snack at the Pret there before deciding that the lines to get anywhere near the Platform 9 3/4 photo op were too long.  We then headed out to find the library.

After a misdirect due to there being TWO libraries (one belonging to the local borough), we finally found the British Library, got our tickets and toured the exhibition.  The exhibition was pretty good, and we both enjoyed it – although we both spent some time sitting, as I was starting to discover that I’d hurt my back and partially re-triggered my sciatica.

When we were done, Tara determined that she needed to go back to the hotel and rest.  I wasn’t interested in this, so I took her suggestion (and hoped for plan) and headed out to the Westfield mall at Stratford – adjacent as I found out to my enjoyment Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park.  After checking out the fairly crowded mall – briefly looking at cameras as well as looking for a replacement cable – I headed over to the park.  I spent some time in the aquatic center and then headed over for the Orbit, only to find it closed (and it starting to rain).  So, I headed back, taking a swing by The ExCeL (without getting officially off the DLR, or even leaving the station) and then over to Canary Wharf where I discovered that the DLR and the Underground do not actually share a station, thus requiring an extra set of tapping in and out, as well as some walking and crossing one street.  From there, I took the Jubilee line back to Waterloo and walked back to our hotel.  We got dinner that night back over at The Chicken and Pizza Palace.

On Tuesday, we went to the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Our trip there suffered from the length of the walk from the Tube station – long enough that Tara had to rest part way.  We did enjoy the museum, but ended up skipping many of the galleries that we were less interested in.  When it got to time to head back to our hotel, I realized that we could probably catch a bus closer to the museum that would take us to some station.  After consulting with a couple of people there specifically to help tourists with public transportation, we ended up on a bus that took us all the way to the Elephant & Castle stop – the last stop on the Bakerloo line, and one stop south of Lambeth North.

(I’m sure we, or at least I, did something else, but I don’t recall what).

On Wednesday, we started out by taking our clothes to a laundry for a service wash.  This was accomplished on the bus, since there was a bus that runs from near our hotel to very near the laundry.  After that, we took the bus to the Victoria station and caught a combination of underground and the DLR to Greenwich.  After a lunch of fish and chips at a pub we walked to the observatory. We enjoyed the tour – even if Tara had to skip much of the “Longitude Punked” exhibit.  She was bothered even more by the walk down the hill and was quite sore when we got back to the DLR station.  However, I had noticed that there was a parking lot by the observatory.  So, if we’d known we probably could have caught a Taxi from our pub to the observatory, and back.

After Greenwich, we headed over to the ExCeL to get our badges.  However, by the time we got there, we discovered that we’d be too late to pick up our cleaned laundry, making Thursday morning a bit more interesting.

On Thursday, I ran out as early as I could to pick up our laundry, while Tara did most of the packing.  Once packed and checked out, we caught a minicab to the Southwark station (since I was unsure at that point how close the taxi drop off was to the Jubilee line lifts) and took the Jubilee line and the DLR over to the ExCeL.  Once there, we learned quickly that it was a good thing that we had picked up our badges on Wednesday.  Before doing anything with the con, we got checked into the Aloft hotel, where our room was probably 3 or 4 times the size of the room at the Tune.

The con was a good con.  I managed to get to The Retro Hugo Awards, the concert from The Worldcon Philharmonic, and The Hugo Awards – as was as Seanan McGuire’s concert.  I also got to a couple of panels, the business meeting and at least one other concert.

I also picked up a second job at Sasquan.  I’m now on the hook to do the web interface and database for the Hugo Award voting.  I guess instead of having a whole year to clean it up a bit and make it easier to set up, I just have a few months.

Tara had a scooter for the con, which helped her get around during the con, but didn’t do as much to help with her legs recovering as she’d have liked.

On the Monday of the con, we checked out early and left our bags with the hotel before the last day of the con.  After closing, and the “Sasquan Listens” panel, we headed back to the Tune.  This time we got a room on lower ground floor (a.k.a. basement) that was even smaller.  The bed was against the wall, and the bathroom was a tiny raised-floor cubicle.

Tuesday, I found out quickly that there was a real problem with our bathroom – the shower drain couldn’t keep up with the shower itself.

Since we’d slept in to recover from the con, we decided Tuesday wasn’t the day to get tickets on a “Hop-on/Hop-off” tour bus.  After some debating and research, we decided to go to the Old Spitalfields Market.  We made our way to the Liverpool Street station, and then caught a cab to the market.  After a light snack (we split a sandwich), some browsing, we grabbed a mid-afternoon meal at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the service at the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, since they messed up our order, and things came out somewhat randomly.  But since this was between normal meal times, they may not have really been ready for service.  On the other hand, the food was good.

Tuesday evening, I managed to poke correctly at the Golden Tours website and got it to cough up a package that included 48 hours of hop-on hop-off bus tour, a bonus 24 hours of bus tour, and entry to both the London Eye and the Tower of London.

On Wednesday, we headed up to the Waterloo station and then walked over to the London Eye.  We enjoyed the trip and the view – even if Tara took most of the pictures due to the lack of a working camera other than my phone (which I don’t think I take good pictures with my phone.  I’d originally planned on bringing my film camera – but I got the wrong format of 400 speed film, and then grabbed our ten-year-old digital only to discover on the London Eye that the batteries were dead.  (Tara claims I don’t take pictures much – I claim it is because of the lack of a camera I can use comfortable, but the fact that it took a week and a half to discover the dead camera batteries and I never replaced them does give some credence to her argument).

After riding the Eye, we found the Golden Tours stop.  The representative there recommended that we catch the next bus – on their Blue Route – and change near Buckingham Palace to get to the Tower of London the quickest.  But we ended up staying on the Blue Route due to the crowds at Buckingham Palace and the need to cross a street.  As a result we spent nearly 3 hours on the bus (traffic) it was after 2:30 when we got to the Tower, and we were both hungry.  We ended up eating at the KFC and spent some time glancing at the shops before we headed to the Tower entry.  There we learned our ticket was good for 7 days, and that they were closing soon enough that it wasn’t worth going.  So, we took the next bus back to our hotel.

On Thursday, we headed out in time to catch the first busses at the nearest stop – which turned out to be the same stop for the London Eye.  The representative suggested that we take the boat, and again we ignored her advice.  We caught the bus and ended up taking 2 hours to get to the Tower.  We had an enjoyable tour, taking in mostly the White Tower.  By the time we were done with that, the lines for the Jewel Tower were too long for us to want to stand in them, and the steps in the Bloody Tower were beyond Tara after the White Tower (and may have been beyond me).  So, we returned to the hotel.

I decided to set out on my own that evening for some shopping.  First, I hit up Harrods, skipping most of the floors of clothing – finding most of what I’d want to look at located on a single floor: furniture (browsing only), electronics, and toys (or big boy toys and little boy toys).  I then found the food halls on the ground floor, not the lower ground floor as I had thought.  After some browsing, I ended up on the candy area.  I started out debating about a boxed collection of dark chocolates, but then spotted hand-made dark chocolate dipped candied oranges and lemons – and chocolate dipped candied oranges are one of Tara’s favorites.  I purchased 100 grams of each.

After leaving Harrods, I worked my way on the tube over to Oxford Circus to locate Marks and Spencers and/or Selfridges with a goal of looking for socks.  I managed to end up at M&S, but only after having a dinner at McDonald’s due to not finding any of the places on Argyle street worth eating at.  After acquiring socks, I returned to the hotel and gave Tara my purchases from Harrods, which she appreciated – and promptly offered me one of the lemons.

On Friday, Tara woke to a sore throat and earache – the result of too much cigarette smoke on the streets and the position of the air conditioner in our hotel room; it ended up blowing on her head most of the night in an attempt to keep us from combusting, especially given the nice, heavy duvet we had.  After some discussion and a carry-out order from Costa’s, I headed out on my own.

At some point on Thursday, I scouted out my planned route for Friday – albeit in reverse.  My plan had been to have us take the Bakerloo line to Waterloo station, then change for the Waterloo and City line.  At its far end (one stop and about 2.5 Km away), we’d then change for the Central line to the St. Paul’s stop and visit St. Paul’s cathedral.  Much of this was to see if the walking distances from The Central Line to the Waterloo and City, and from The Waterloo and City to the Bakerloo were fairly short so that Tara would be able to do them easily.

However, on Friday industrial action (a.k.a. a strike) had shut down both The Waterloo and City line, and The Central Line through central London.  So, I instead took the combination of the Bakerloo and the Jubilee line (requiring a change that I still wonder if it isn’t about as long as just walking from our hotel to the Jubilee line at Waterloo station) to Westminster and toured Westminster Abbey first.  As I was leaving Westminster Abbey to head back to the Westminster station, I noticed a police box prop had been set up on Parliament Square.  So I worked my way over (accidently crossing one street just as the light changed) and discovered that not only was the prop there providing publicity for Saturday’s season premier, but so were stars: Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in costume.  After taking a few pictures – some a bit grainy due to having to use the digital zoom to get close enough due to the crowds, aggravated by overcast skies and fake fog.

After my close encounter with The Doctor, I headed back to the station.  At the station, I asked a ticket and assistance agent for her recommendation on how best to get to St. Paul’s given the industrial action.  Her recommendation was to take either the District or Circle lines – interchangeable along the Thames through most of Westminster and The City of London – to Mansion House.  She also told me that would be her normal directions since Mansion House is nearly as close to St. Paul’s Cathedral as the St. Paul’s station.

I followed her directions, and then followed the signs in the station towards St. Pauls, emerging on the surface on Bow Lane near St. Mary Aldermary church.  I consulted Google Maps, and soon found my way down Watling towards St. Paul’s.

At St. Paul’s, I got some lunch from their café, and then headed upstairs.  I paid for my tour, but before it started, I took a seat under the dome for the 12:30 Eucharist service.  The service was both novel and comfortably familiar – novel in that it was much more liturgical than I’m used to having grown up in The Presbyterian Church, and spent the last 15 years in either non-denominational Evangelical churches or Evangelical Free churches, and comfortably familiar since they used bible verses to institute the communion (something my current church doesn’t do).  I am glad that I saw others dipping the wafer into the wine, since even doing that I found the (oddly white) wine a bit too dry and strong for my taste.

I really enjoyed both churches.  The architecture is somewhat familiar since the church I grew up in is built along similar lines – shaped like a cross with an inverted boat-shaped nave.  However the altar and quire at Westminster Abbey are below the cross – which isn’t fully balanced – and at St. Paul’s, there is a second altar beyond the quire.  Most intriguing to me is the presence of chapels at the top of each cross, the one at St. Paul’s was rebuilt after World War II and now honors those Americans who gave their lives defending the UK.

Also, when I was touring St. Paul’s, I was struck with the thought that had my brother-in-law led a youth/boy choir group on a trip to London (or if he leads a youth/boy choir trip to London in the future) I could see him organize the choir at either Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral into giving a short, impromptu, acapella concert from a more-or-less appropriate place.

After St. Paul’s, I thought through my options, and decided to take the river cruise that was included with our bus tour.  The ticket was good from either Embankment or the London Eye down to North Greenwich, or visa versa.  Since Embankment was closer, this was where I headed.  However, due – probably – to the platform work that is keeping the deep lines (Bakerloo and Northern, IIRC) from stopping there this summer, I couldn’t take the exit that leads to the dock.  Instead, I ended up going the wrong way around and had to walk a fair ways through a public garden (a.k.a park) before I found my way out to the street.

My thoughts were to take the boat all the way to North Greenwich and then use the Emirates Air Line cable car over to the Royal Victoria DLR station and then head back in time to go to Evensong at Westminster Abbey.  What I hadn’t counted on was how long the Thames is or how far down river North Greenwich is.  It took an hour (rather than the half-hour I’d been led to understand), and it was clearly too late to go to Evensong when I started heading back.  Oh well – I’m hoping for a next time.

After I got back to the hotel, Tara wanted to go out for dinner and shopping.  So, we headed out to Oxford Circus.  We found an Italian place on Argyle street at Little Argyle street for dinner.  After that, we worked our way to Hamley’s - which was a bit less crowded on the Friday of a holiday weekend than it had been the first time we were there nearly two weeks earlier.  We picked up a couple of things that we’d looked on our first visit.

I then suggested that we see if we can catch a bus that would take us through Piccadilly Circus, which we were fairly successful at – except it ended up a bit crowded so we didn’t have ideal seats for enjoying the lights (which are ads, I knew, but still fun).  The chosen bus dropped us off quite close to our hotel.  We turned in for the night.

Saturday, after breakfast, was spent finishing our packing and checking out of the hotel.  Alas, in the process of packing, there was a communication glitch between Tara and I and we each thought that the other had a bag that had two Coke Zeros and a bottle of ginger ale Tara had about half-consumed.  We only noticed this much later on the Tube between Waterloo and Green Park.

We caught a cab from our hotel to Waterloo – having to convince the cab driver that we really wanted him to take us there given that it was just a fairly short walk.  From there we used the Jubilee line and the Piccadilly line to get us to Heathrow.  The change at Green Park still had a bit of a walk in the underground interchange level.  Near the end of this, I took a peak up into the ticketing level to see if there was a news agent I could get to without touching out and back in – not that I was so short of Oyster pay-as-you-go money that it would have been a problem.  Alas, there wasn’t a news agent at all.

We got to Heathrow about half-an-hour before we could drop off our bags.  So I grabbed some Coke Zero at the Boots there, and then we waited.  At 12:30 we were able to drop off our bags.  I had us walk to one of the further drop points since overhead signs were showing South Security wasn’t as busy.  Both the bag drop and security were easy – even if a bit disconcerting due to the different policies.

One thing I noticed and like about Heathrow Terminal 5, the bag drop locations (they assume that you’ll either check in at home, or at one of the many self-service kiosks) have the agent seated, which seems like a better way to do it.

Our flight home was similarly uneventful.  I had to use an odd combination of cheap (and clearly much higher impedance than most) earbuds that I’d gotten on the tour bus under my cableless noise canceling headphones.  But this let me listen to music and later watch some of the entertainment.  For some reason, instead of the on-demand system we’d had on the outbound flight, we just had a selection of channels.  I think all I really ended up watching was part of an episode of Top Gear, most of an episode of Horrible Histories, one part of A Very British Airline about BA itself, and perhaps most oddly, Postman Pat: The Movie.  The last featured the voices of David Tennant and Rupert Grint (who actually sang, and pretty well).  I’m somewhat suspecting that one or both were fans of one or more of the earlier incarnations of Postman Pat and thought it would be fun to be in the movie.  I also caught quite a few jokes clearly aimed at the parents, including one at the fact that the movie was CGI where the original show had been stop-motion animation.

The worst part of the trip was once we got to San Diego.  Clearly, the customs station at the San Diego airport was designed with the expectation of small flights from Mexico (like on 737s or DC-9/MD-80/717s) rather than overseas widebodies.  By the time we got off the plane, the line for immigration was quite long.  Finally, I flagged down a skycap with a wheelchair for Tara.  Once she was in the chair, we were able to get the attention of officials who got us to the handicap priority line.

I also have to question the main delay getting past there.  Once we had our bags, we had to have them all – including our carry-on bags – x-rayed.  I don’t totally understand that, and can confirm that this is a new practice: I didn’t have to do it in 2006 or 2007 when I’d flown back from Delhi, but I think I did when crossing the land border from Canada at Buffalo last December.

One last part of the trip – and perhaps the most distressing – wasn’t discovered until Sunday.  Somehow I apparently left my bag of cables, which had my iPod in it, on the plane.  In addition to the iPod, it had both of our UK to US power adaptors, my phone and iPad chargers, two back-up power supplies, other assorted cables, and a device I had help fund through KickStarter that allows one to plug into a USB port without risking data being transferred.

Overall, I enjoyed the trip – enough that I was partially hoping that the volcano in Iceland would trap us in England for a few more days.  But, I am glad to be home – even if the cats decided to snub us for a few hours, and Appa is now convinced that I’m trying to hurt him when I offer the cats canned food.

Depending on both our budget and the outcome of the site selection vote next year, our next overseas trip will probably be either to Dublin or to New Zealand – hopefully both if we can put enough aside.  On the other hand, London is quickly becoming another favorite city to visit (along with Seattle and my hometown of Albuquerque), even after only two visits – one for only a few days.



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Jul. 8th, 2014 10:01 pm Trip Report – Westercon 67

Last Tuesday, July 1, 2014, I left for Salt Lake City and Westercon 67 after an after-work doctor’s appointment.  This got me on the road from Del Mar (Carmel Valley Road at I-5).  My plan was to go as far as Las Vegas that night.


Traffic through San Diego county, by way of CA-56 and I-15 was fairly light for a rush hour, as was the traffic in the southern part of the Inland Empire.  I’m suspecting that this was a combination of people who took the whole week off, and not many people leaving for vacation.


I had a bit of a delay in Rancho Cucamonga.  I remembered that there was a Sonic close to I-15 near where it crosses I-10.  However, I remembered that it was off of the 2nd exit north – Foothill Blvd.  But that was wrong, it was off of  4th, the first exit.  By the time I discovered my mistake, programmed my GPS to send me there the quickest way (back down the freeway one exit) and ate, I’d wasted about an hour.


I got back on the road, planning on getting gas at Barstow – the estimated miles to empty didn’t get me to my destination hotel in Las Vegas.  However, I missed that most of Barstow seems to lie along I-40 (or is a lot smaller than it appeared when we went through in 2008).  But I got gas a couple stops further up I-15, and continued into Nevada.


It was real obvious when I hit Nevada.  Primm isn’t much – but after dark it is bright!  But, once past Primm, the rest of the trip was a fairly quick ride through unseen desert.  I got into Las Vegas, discovered my hotel wasn’t just south of The Strip like I thought, but a fair ways north of The Strip, practically downtown.  I was at a Super 8 – the lowest cost hotel that night according to Booking.com that didn’t charge an undisclosed resort fee.  The room was fairly nice – except the curtains extended over the, very necessary, air conditioner.


Before turning in, I did some poking on the Internet to figure out breakfast.  Eventually, I decided that most of the buffetts would cost too much for the amount of food I’d likely eat.  So, I got breakfast at IHOP and headed off for Salt Lake City.


The drive to Salt Lake City was pretty good.  At least once I got into the Virgin River Gorge, the country was pretty – but not really mountainous.  The only trouble with the drive was that I hit Provo in rush hour.  The traffic was bad enough that I’d concluded – falsely as Sunday would prove – that it was fairly continuous city the whole way.


Once I got into Salt Lake City, and found the hotel (only goofing because I thought that the entrance was on a different street.  I checked in, got everything in my room, and went looking for dinner.  I ended up noting the restaurants at the City Creek mall – the hotel is part of one of the blocks, but doesn’t connect (although, it apparently did before two malls were combined and redeveloped a few years ago).  After some poking around, I decided to go to The Cheesecake Factory.  I found something on their light menu (Ahi Tartare) that left plenty of room for cheesecake.  I then went back into the room and settled in for the night.


Thursday, after getting up and grabbing breakfast at McDonald’s, I headed back to the hotel and set up the Westercon 67 table.  I ended up getting kind of stuck there until mid-afternoon since the Ontell’s were later than I’d anticipated (or I would have held off on setting the table up so I could get the party supplies).


Once I could break away from the table, I headed over to Staples for some copies and then to Costco for the food.  Once the food was secure (it had to stay in my room until the party Friday night), I helped shut the table down and went out for dinner.  This time I ended up back at the mall, but at Johnny Rockets.


Friday was mostly spent at the table.  I got over to the mall for lunch.  But after shutting the table at 6, the mall was closed for the holiday.  (Salt Lake City even shut down public transportation – which was odd given that they had a large event at the Salt Palace (Fantasy Con – which had a reciprocity agreement with Westercon) that should have drawn mostly locals).  I finally found something to eat at Harmon’s, a high-end grocery store on the far end of the two-block mall.


After eating, I headed up to the con suite to set up for the party.  Due to some miscommunications I ended up having to set up by myself for a while – which caused me to be unable to figure out what task to do next, resulting in me flitting from task to task until I got some help.  But, the party got set up and opened only a bit late.


The party was a success – other than having a bit too much food, most of which was turned over to the con suite and used through the rest of the weekend.


Saturday, I finally was able to break away from the table for a bit – mostly spent updating our pre-supporting memberships to the various conventions represented.  I did, later, get some time to poke into the dealer’s room at art show. At dinner I was heading over to Johnny Rockets, expecting to dine alone.  Instead, three east-coast fans and con runners (i.e. friends) invited me to join them.


Sunday, I managed to get away from the table a bit more, including for lunch.  I was able to spend some money in the dealers room – I picked up the Firefly game that has been continually out of stock at Think Geek.  We shut down the table to give plenty of time before closing.  After closing I was able to pick up my artwork, and some artwork for friends who had to leave early (which I still need to get shipped), before the feedback session started.  Much of the feedback was site or committee specific, but there were plenty of things that we can work on.


I’d agreed to take the bid kit for the Helsinki in 2017 bid back to San Diego – transporting their supplies is not an endorsement of their bid, I’m trying to stay neutral on the subject of the 2017 Worldcon.  However, this led to some delay as it was in luggage storage, but the first person at the desk wouldn’t give it to me without a claim ticket, which hadn’t gotten to me.  Fortunately, after I called the person with it, the other person at the desk (who may well be the person who spent the last day or two helping her due to a seriously delayed flight and lost luggage) let me take it.


So, I didn’t get on the road towards St. George until about 5:00.  I ended up grabbing dinner at a Village Inn in Orem.  I got into St. George about 10:30 local time.  I’d ended up at an extended stay, so I had a suite with a kitchen/living room and a bedroom.  But the bedroom had no window, so I left the door open all night.  (We’re staying in windowless rooms before and after Worldcon, so I guess I’ll have to get used to it there).  It also didn’t have a working deadbolt (it hit the strike plate), or a working chain (hasp) – the part on the door was missing.  I decided I was too tired to ask for a different room.


On Monday, I got a fairly early start.  I didn’t eat much since all that the hotel’s breakfast had was waffles and cereal.  It was about 11:00 when I was getting close to Las Vegas.  So, I decided to stop there for lunch.  Based on some research I’d done on the way up, and the night before, I formulated an initial plan.  I parked in the garage for New York New York – intending on riding the roller coaster later – and then headed over to the MGM Grand where they have the buffet.  Before heading out, I checked the estimated time to home – with Google Maps telling me it was about 4.5 hours – so I decided I could stay until 4 or 5 safely, and to six if I wanted to push how late I got home.


So, while I was walking around the MGM Grand, thinking about what I should do during my somewhat extended stay, I was reminded of the song “One Short Day” from Wicked.  While the song didn’t start running through my head there – there was too much other noise and music in the air – I did realize it was somewhat appropriate, since the MGM Grand is green in deliberate reference to The Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.


I ended up joining the MGM resorts players club, and set about killing some time on the penny slots.  At the MGM Grand, I went through my initial $5.00 before and after lunch.  I then wandered down their mall (The District) and found the monorail station {I’m sorry, enough potential earworm}.


I took the monorail a couple of stops to the stop for Harrah’s and The Quad and then walked over to The Venetian where I wandered through the canal shops, returning to Las Vegas Blvd. where the shops end at The  Palazzo.  I then crossed over Las Vegas Blvd to the Treasure Island, and walked on the sidewalk (since I didn’t know or had forgotten about the tram) to The Mirage.


I went in to cool off, which I did at an Iron Man themed slot machine.  This rest wasn’t as long as I’d have liked, since the second play (a $0.50 bet – 50 lines, $0.01 per line) was a big winner.  This is one of my “move on” conditions (the other being I’m out of money) so I cashed out and headed in what I thought was the direction of Caesars Palace – or more specifically the Forum Shops.


Once I figured out that I needed to go Up to get to the main level.  This involved a ride up a circular escalator (which I’ve not quite figured out how the steps are returned since the curve is the wrong way for the steps taper.  After I reached the end of the Forum Shops I passed fairly quickly through, and over the bridge to The Bellagio, which I used mostly as an indoor way to get to the tram to the Monte Carlo.  I also passed through the Monte Carlo to The New York New York and – after a quick tour of the new Hershey World store and then to the roller coaster.  Even though I’d planned on riding, I now could think of it as being free – using my winnings from before.


The roller coaster was fun.  But my memory of seeing it, but not riding it, in 2000 was a bit off – it was a mostly outside ride.  But fun – even if being thrown from a loop into a corkscrew and then back into a loop was a bit jarring, and the track isn’t as smooth as it could be (I’m spoiled, my primary coaster parks these days are the parks at Disneyland which are probably some of the best maintained).


After that, I was hot and still had some time I felt I could kill – in fact at that point I suspected if I left I’d hit the Inland Empire during rush hour.  So, I bought a bottle of water and looked for a place to sit down and drink it.  And, where does one sit down at a casino?  In front of a slot machine.  So, I found a penny machine called something like “Invaders from the Planet Moola,” which featured cow-aliens (not quite the space cows from the Planet Larson on the Far Side of the Galaxy).  This time, I played about 4 times – including getting a bonus that gave me 7 free spins – before I got another 7 spin bonus that turned into a 20+ spin bonus and another cash-out at around $24.00.


With this new cash, and the time, I figured I could go back over to the MGM Grand and visit the CSI Experience.  While this attraction is clearly themed for the show (and dated in show terms), it was an interesting exercise.


I then returned to the New York New York, picked up some chocolate (telling the cashier at the Hershey’s World that the kisses with Mona Loa macadamia nuts would be better with dark chocolate not milk) and some more water.  I tried to find the Planet Moola machine, but couldn’t (not that it would be as profitable the second time around), so I blew another $5.00 on a couple of other machines, and then went to leave.


My departure was slightly delayed due to a brain-fart that made me forget riding the elevator down one level in the parking garage, until I remembered thinking “I should have turned onto this level,” when I hit the 3rd parking level, the first for self-parking, driving in.


There was a bit of traffic getting onto I-15 south at Tropicana – or more correctly, there was a bit of traffic on the long ramp from Tropicana to I-15, I-215 and County-215.


Heading home, I stopped for gas in Primm (lower gas taxes in Nevada) a snack (shake) at Sonic in Rancho Cucamonga – again getting delayed by leaving the drive-through line to try a broken car-hop station.  I got home later than I’d planned, between the Sonic stop and the fact that 2 out of 4 lanes were closed on I-15 over Cajon Summit.


Even though I mostly worked at Westercon – which makes me feel OK with writing off the trip expenses and mileage on this year’s taxes – I enjoyed myself.  I also enjoyed Las Vegas, but would have had more fun – at least on the roller coaster and at The CSI Experience with Tara.


I realized that Las Vegas, Disneyland, etc. can be great places for people like me.  For the most part you don’t actually have to interact with people without defined roles unless you know them.  I did initiate dialog with the person I shared the roller coaster row with – but I was being polite since they hadn’t actually assigned me to his row.  The only other people where I wasn’t a customer were two young ladies who complimented me on my Doctor Who-ville shirt – they were both less than half my age, and walking the other direction, for what it is worth.


I’m thinking that given its closeness (about 4.5 hours depending on traffic – maybe less if we fly), Tara and I should spend a weekend there.  My poking around today leads me to a Motel 6 that has decore similar to the one we use in Anaheim.  Alas, and not surprisingly, the rates are a bit more on weekends and during the cooler parts of the year.




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May. 1st, 2014 02:19 pm Thoughts and Observations on the Dragonlance Stories

Back when I was in college, starting in 1984 or 1985, my regular gaming group started working our way through the Dragonlance modules for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.


In conjunction, I read the original three Dragonlance Chronicles novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and enjoyed them enough to read the followup trilogy Dragonlance Legends, and some of the other stories that TSR released.  I also read their first non-Dragonlance trilogy and enjoyed it well enough.  I also felt positively enough to have no objections to inviting Margaret Weis and her husband at the time Don Perrin to be the author guests of honor at Duckon X.


However, I’ve more recently started listening to audio books which make books that I’d find daunting to read in text – between my dyslexia and other issues, I’m a slow reader and find it easy to get bogged down in books and abandon them, although I’ve gotten somewhat better over the years.  This allowed me to finally actually read (or at least consume) The Lord of the Rings, and is also have I’ve consumed the first five parts of The Song of Ice and Fire.


A couple of years ago, Audible.com had unabridged audio book versions of a new(er) trilogy called The Lost Chronicles.


I think at that time I’d recalled that after the first two modules (playable adventures), the Dragonlance team had taken to having Weis and Hickman write about half of the story, and have the other half told in the novels.  Clearly if you read the second and third novels, Dragons of Winter Night and Dragons of Spring Dawning, you’d find that the second book begins with a brief recap of stuff that happened after the last book, and then shortly splits the party.  From that point on, the stories more-or-less alternate between the two groups, and each group has some adventures skipped only to be, again, replaced by a vague description of what happened.


So, I made the, mostly correct, guess that The Lost Chronicles would finally tell those parts of the story, and purchased the three books.


But, it had been a long time (more than 20 years) since I’d ready anything related to Dragonlance.  So, I located an alternate source of audio versions of the original Chronicles – apparently recorded for the blind.  {I have plans to remedy this and purchase legitimate audio book versions of these three at some point before too long}.  I alternated between the books – which I found out didn’t work perfectly.  But this also confirmed that, even being RPG based fiction, these stories still stand up reasonably well against the giants of fantasy (Tolkien and Martin, et. al.)


Then, a year or so, Audible Frontiers – Audible.com’s in-house audio book studio – started releasing unabridged audio book versions of the myriad of novels and collections published by TSR and WoTC have put out over the decades.  Since then, I’ve picked up a few – the Legends trilogy, Dragons of Summer Flame which gets listed as part of the Chronicles, but takes place after the Legends trilogy and a number of stories involving the children of the heros of the original books.


Not that long back, I discovered another trilogy by Weis and Hickman called The War of Souls which takes place another generation later.  I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy that one as much, and I think part of it is the tinkering that TSR and WoTC forced into the stories to keep them in sync with the current versions of the games – including an ill fated stand along Saga System Dragonlance game – requiring changes in the basic structure of the world to introduce new elements and remove others.


Most recently, I purchased the audio book version of the two book Raistlin Chronicles: The Soulforge and Brothers in Arms, both coauthored by Weiss and Perrin.  The first book covers the growing up of two of the most important characters in the early Dragonlance works, twins Caramon and Raistlin Majere.


These have been good, clearly better than the newer trilogy.  But they’ve had a few surprises in them, most noticeably they are more adult, that is a bit closer to Martin than Tolkien.


In The Soulforge there is a key scene where the teenage Raistlin is struggling with the fact that a young woman, about his age, whose moved into their village recently is attractive to him, and distracting him from his study of magic, only to find her and his brother in a delicate position in a shed.


Now, in the Chronicles, there were a few times that Caramon went off with his future wife and spent time off page, with a strong implication as to why.  But this was the first time such a scene was on page – at least in the books I’ve read.


Then, near the end of The Soulforge, the character of Caramon utters an expletive.  I’d call it A Precision F-Strike, except it was more of an “S-Strike” if you catch my drift.  This was the first time a modern expletive was used.


Now, I’m about half-way through Brothers in Arms, much of which (so far) has involved the brothers training in a mercenary squad – one as a fighter and the other as a war wizard.  This book has had more use of the synonym for feces.


The other thing I’m finding interesting is to compare its training scenes with the similar scenes from Starship Troopers, and Old Man’s War.  I’m finding a lot of similarities – which both of those stories share with nearly every modern military story that involves basic training.  I cannot say if that is realistic or not; since I have no way of knowing if a medieval European mercenary army would have ever been trained anywhere close to this way (I suspect not, and know that most armies were largely untrained peasants).  I also have to point out that I suspect any realistic army of this sort would be trained first in using spears, and only the elite in swords for economic reasons if nothing else.  I’ll make the observation that the legions described in Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera did just that – most of the legionaries were armed with spears and only the officers had swords (Roman broadswords in that case).


Now, I could write (and have thought about writing) a whole other article about reconciling my Christian worldview with this decidedly not-Christian worldview.  The only things I’ll observe there are:



  1. Neutral is the ultimate good in that world

  2. So-called good characters can be as or more evil than many of the so-called evil characters when looked at through a Christian lens.


As Tracy Hickman is Mormon, I suspect that his own beliefs may have partially influenced the way the world was portrayed, but the idea of good and evil needing to be balanced clearly comes from a more eastern worldview.




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Apr. 3rd, 2014 03:48 pm San Diego’s Olympic Bid Website and Con Bid Websites

San Diego has now launched a bid for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics.  (Read that again – Olympics and Paralympics, not Worldcon.  Got that!)


They have their website up at http://www.sd2024ec.org/.


There are a few comments I’ll make about this site at the time of bid announcement.  Many of these are at least partially applicable to Wordcon and Westercon bid sites as well.


1: They have a section for “venues,” but nothing is listed.  Yet elsewhere (in the video) they talk broadly about many of the venues already being built.  Since what venues they were talking about was something I really wanted to know, this was doubly a problem for me.


2: The “About the Committee” link doesn’t lead to a page that lists who the committee is.  It jumps to a general page describing the bid.  As I’m not all that familiar with inside Olympic politics, I don’t know how much the actual people on the bid impacts the bids prospects.  But I suspect that it does help with some people.


3: Having the volunteer form up early is good.


4: Having the request for donation page up before other key details are listed, isn’t so good.


—-

I can make an educated guess of some of the venues likely to be used, but not all:

- Petco Park (Unless Baseball and Softball are re added, it will be used in a non-standard configuration.  But it has been used for Rugby and Tennis that I know of)

- Qualcomm Stadium or whatever The Chargers manage to get built before then (Athletics/Track and Ceremonies)

- San Diego Bay (Sailing)

- The Olympic Training Center (BMX)

- The San Diego Convention Center – which better be expanded by then (Fencing, Weightlifting, Wrestling, …, possibly broadcast center)

- Valley View Casino Center, f.k.a. The Sports Arena (??)

- Vejas Arena (??)




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