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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.

Flatland Theology

I’m about to describe how an understanding of some of the ideas expressed in Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland has helped me understand a couple of difficult theological topics.  I’m 95% sure that I’m following the common (little-o) orthodox Christian theology.

1: On the nature of God

Christian theology describes God as a trinity – one God, but made up of three distinct parts: The Father, The Son (Jesus), and The Holy Spirit.  Many have problems with how can one entity also be three distinct entities.  But if one thinks back upon the 2-dimensional world described in Flatland, and how a three-dimensional object passing through it would appear, at times, to be a different shape.  Now God is clearly an extra-dimensional entity (beyond however many dimensions various theories in physics postulate).  So he can appear to us differently depending on what side or part interacts.

Now, as with any model that attempts to explain God, this isn’t perfect.  One of the oddities is that The Son, while fully God, still prays – or at least in his time on Earth being equally fully Man prayed – to The Father.  I’m not sure how to explain this beyond an idea that it might have had to do with the Son being fully man at that time.

2: On Predestination and Free Will

The teachings of The Bible, as well as the fulfilled and unfulfilled prophecy, show that God has a knowledge of what is to come.  This is further played out in Ephesians where Paul talks about predestination.  However, we also have free will.  Yet, if God knows who will follow him and who won’t ahead of time, how do we have the will to choose freely to love and follow, or not to love and follow, him?

Take an extension of Flatland where their temporal dimension (time) maps into our third spatial dimension.  Now, we see not just one point in Flatland’s history – but all of its history spread out along that third dimension.  The 3-dimensional observer is now able to travel back and forth through Flatland’s history, and may be able to make changes by altering something in “the past” which is connected to “the future.”

Now, I don’t believe that these simple models (and my simple explanation) fully covers the much more complicated reality – but I also don’t think we are (yet) equipped to fully understand God.  On the other hand, these do help me deal with these sometimes seemingly self-contradicting points of (again, little-0) orthodox theology.

 

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.

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.

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 (??)

On the current Worldcon Bids

I just got back from SMOFCon – the annual gathering of SF Convention runners, which has a bit of a Worldcon bias, for better and for worse.

One of the highlight events is the “Fannish Inquisition” (as in “No one expects the Fannish Inquisition” – but more on that later).  This goes through the bids for two traveling conventions: SMOFCon itself, and Worldcon.  At this year’s Inquisition, the following Worldcon bids presented themselves:

  • 2016 Worldcon: KC remains the only bidder
  • 2017: Japan (city TBD) vs. Montreal vs. Helsinki vs. DC
  • 2018: New Orleans vs. San Jose, both still officially exploratory
  • 2019: Dublin; nothing about the rumored Paris bid
  • 2020: New Zealand (city TBD)
  • 2021: Fort Worth
  • 2022: Chicago

First, this doesn’t change what I said before.

Second, here are my thoughts on these, in order of the year announced:

2016: KC.  I became quite well acquainted with two-thirds of the “LOL” chair triumvirate (Jeff Orth and Diane Lacey) working for and with them during the Chicon 7 Hugo Award process.  I think that they have a strong bid, which is pretty good given that at this point they are all but officially unopposed.  Both Tara and I are now (late – we only got around to it at Loscon) pre-supporters, and I think that they will put on a good con.

2017: Japan.  I listened to A³ as he explained that the debt from 2007 has been paid off, and that they have structures and plans to avoid the same kind of issues.  Having Andrew as one of the bid chairs and as a prospective con chair does help.  But I still feel that my trust was sufficiently violated that I’ll be hesitant to support, or vote in a high position, a Japanese bid anytime soon.

2017: Montreal.  We had a pretty good time in Montreal in 2009, and I think I wouldn’t mind going back.  Further, Diane is involved in the bid – but nobody can really work at  a high level (like co-chair) on multiple successive Worldcons or even bids.  so I think that her involvement will be limited.  However, there has been a lot of churn in the rest of the committee, and some key members don’t have a lot of trust in the fannish community.  They are still in the running for my vote – maybe not in the top slot – but I’m not ready to do much more without some sign (either that they are likely to win and supporting them would be a good move financially, or that that the internal and perception issues are resolved).

2017: Helsinki.  When they announced, they immediately jumped into my first slot.  Except, I’m not sure that the budget would stretch into to two European Worldcons in three years (and 3 in 5 years).  However, a number of their more experienced Worldcon people from the 2015 bid are working on DC.  This puts a lot more pressure on the less experienced people on the bid.  Now Eemeli Aro has more than enough energy and enthusiasm to carry a bid, and I’m sure that we’ll see a Finnish Worldcon under Eemeli (unless he burns himself out) sooner rather than later.  (The only other person I’ve seen with this much energy and enthusiasm in this kind of role is Dave McCarty, so I respect it a lot).

2017: DC.  With their announcement, they jumped to first place.  After reading their committee list – which has just about everyone I know in fandom who lives in the Eastern time zone of the United States, and I’m not exaggerating – that placement was solidified.  I pre-supported them ($10.00) and would have forced Tara to pre-support them, but I was running low on US funds, they didn’t want Canadian funds, and I forgot my checkbook which I would have brought for just this kind of thing.

2017 in general: for various reasons, I’ll probably eschew any further involvement in any of the bids.  If nothing else, I think chairing the 2015 Westercon will eat much of my fannish time and energy.

2018: New Orleans is a fully running bid, albeit without finalized facilities (they have time).  However, for some reason the reported charms of New Orleans itself fail to work on me – and in fact does the opposite.  In order for New Orleans to get my top vote, they’ll have to convince me that it will be worth coming to New Orleans for a good con, not that it will be worth coming to Worldcon because it is in New Orleans.  (And having heard plenty of Nolacon II tales since joining fandom, they do have something to overcome).

2018: San José.  Some have expressed concern over the San Jose bid because of issues in 2002.  Now, I’d be hypocritical to say that issues in 2002 don’t matter to me for 2018 just after bringing up an event in 1988 in regards to 2018.  But, I was at 2002, and while it was just my 4th Worldcon, I didn’t see any real issues.  I saw many more issues with Torcon 3 in 2003 than I did in 2002.  On top of that, I know, like and respect way to many of the Bay Area fans (fen) to not have a positive reception to a bid from there.

At least one person expressed disappointment in who presented for the bid (which is still exploratory, but I expect that to change soon).  I have little sympathy for that simply because someone presented instead of someone else who WASN’T IN TORONTO, that it looks bad.  Specifically, the person didn’t like the presenter due to issues with a prior SMOFCon that I was also at, and as near as I could see only had one real – albeit significant – issue, and that was in part due to the way some people reacted to a new idea, coupled with the fact that this new idea didn’t work in this venue.  And the presenter is someone I’d, in general, consider a friend, so their objection rankled me further.

2019: Dublin.  The bid chair for Dublin wasn’t there.  But I know and respect his proxy and am sufficiently acquainted with him to believe that it will be a solid bid and should be a good con.  My only personal concern is going to be financial and logistical: it is likely that we’ll have two oversees Worldcons in a row and I’ll have to make sure that we can get to both.  (I’m tired of missing Worldcon – and I could see being into the situation by 2019 that I cannot afford to miss one).

2020: New Zealand: What can I say: After missing out on Aussicon 4, I really want to go to New Zealand!

2021: DFW: I like the bid chair (Tim Miller), and think that he has more than enough energy and enthusiasm to carry this off.  My only worry is that if they couldn’t find a useful facility in Texas outside of San Antonio (early on the bid was looking at the whole state), are the Dallas and Fort Worth facilities workable?

On the other hand, as Tim pointed out both in his Fort Worth SMOFCon presentation and in his DFW Worldcon presentation: if the con is in Dallas or Fort Worth, you cannot be made to change planes at DFW – and DFW is the right airport for the wrong purpose.  It was clearly designed to be a destination airport, but became a hub airport – a role for which it is wholly unsuited due to its architecture.

2022: Chicago.  I was part of the Chicago in 2008 and Chicago in 2012 bids and this is largely the same team, but a different facility.  I’ll probably be involved (and may be an official member of the bid committee again – even if I’m mostly back in my role of trying to evangelize for Worldcon in San Diego where too many people don’t seem to care).

I’ll admit a bit of a concern about McCormick Place due to its sprawling size (about twice the size of Anaheim), and the tales of Union shenanigans.  But after two Hyatt Worldcons and having to hear the horror stories twice now (and they are horror stories, even if we laugh at them), I’ll be yet another voice in the “Not the Hyatt, oh and did I say ‘Not the Hyatt'” crowd.

(I’m not saying anything about 2023.  I’m not saying anything about 2023.  I’ve never said anything about 2023 outside of my own head.  So stop hearing things that I’m not saying, OK?)

Bad TV Technology: NCIS: LA and Trains

The main action sequence of the episode of NCIS: Los Angles that first aired on November 5, 2013 featured a train – one engine and two cars each containing two tanks of chlorine gas.  As a moderate rail-fan with an incomplete knowledge of rail details, I think I spotted at least three major flaws – two of which might have (ahem.) derailed the plot if I’d let them.

First: The train had been hijacked by a recently fired brakeman, who was otherwise about to be promoted to engineer.  He was taking action because the railroad owners were covering up that they were routing dangerous cargo through residential areas.  His protest was to take the train and drive it to LA Union Station.

But, I’m pretty sure that the central control of the switches has as much, or more, to do with where a train ends up.  So, his plans to get this train to Union Station were pretty much shot from the moment it became known that the train wasn’t properly manned.

Second: It turned out that the hijacker had been duped by a couple of others who instead planned on setting off explosives under the tracks, derailing the train and causing the chlorine gas tanks to break open, injuring and killing a lot of people in or near a major metropolitan area.

When the hijacker learned this, he attempted to stop the train.  However, the brake line between the engine and the first car failed catastrophically, leaving him without breaks.  As I understand it, modern train brakes are still based on the old Westinghouse Brake – namely that they are held disengaged by the air pressure in the system.  A break in the brake line that caused the air to pour out (as shown in the episode) should have caused the brakes on the two cars to engage.  As long as the brakes on all of the trucks engaged at about the same time, or the brakes engaged back to front, the cars would have simply decoupled from the engine and stopped.  If the front car’s brakes engaged first, the rear car could have derailed.

Third: Once the hijacker learned that the brakes weren’t working and that he couldn’t decouple the train while moving, he “reversed the polarity” of the engine to slow the train that way.  Now, as I understand it, the primary  brake on a diesel-electric engine is to drop a big resistor across the wheel motors (and use the fans on the top of the engine to dump the resulting heat).  So this wasn’t that far off what he would have already been doing.

But, this somehow locked the wheels not only on the engine, but also both cars, resulting in them throwing sparks from the friction between the wheels and the rails (done, no doubt, by the visual effects crew).  Now, I think a dead-short on the wheel motors would cause them to lock (or come pretty darn close), which would cause sparks there.  But the wheels on the cars should have been still free (after all, their brakes didn’t work).

Finally, I suspect that locking the wheels on the engine without brakes on the cars would have just about assured that one or both of the rear cars would derail – the exact thing that they didn’t want to happen.

Now, they were right with the amount of distance a train at speed – even a fairly light train like they showed – would take to stop.  But I think this was as much to create tension when one of the main characters was trying to defuse the bomb with seconds before the train tripped it.

Thoughts on Future Conventions in San Diego

As of 2013/2014, San Diego has:

In addition, we have Westercon 68 in 2015, and people planning on bidding for both Costume Con and SMOFCon in 2017.

Needless to say, San Diego has its fannish convention plate fairly full over the next few years.  However, there is at least one person who keeps threatening to shanghai me into running a Worldcon bid (I keep telling him that if he throws money for me anything other than a planned event, he is either buying me dinner or paying Tara’s bail after she murders me).

So, below are some of my thoughts about a potential bid to put San Diego further onto the fannish map – specifically within Worldcon fandom (i.e. the people who go to Worldcon, or at least do when it is close enough to them).

Continue reading

Vicarious Worldcon Report – So Far

Earlier this summer, Tara and I made plans to not go to LoneStarCon 3 so that we could save our money and my vacation for Loncon 3 next year.  Admittedly over the last month or so, I’ve regretted that decision, even though the financial and vacation issue is still valid.  So, with bouts of boredom, and feeling sorry for myself, I’ve been attending LoneStarCon 3 vicariously through friends and others posting on various social networks (primarily Twitter, Facebook and Live Journal).

Thursday was fairly quiet.  I was moderately busy at work, and there wasn’t that much going on at LoneStarCon yet to be reported on.

Friday, however, was the day I most missed being there.  I followed the Twitter stream (using #WSFS) for the preliminary business meeting.   I was fairly happy with the results.  The item I was most worried about – the amendment to remove all of the “fan” categories from The Hugo Awards, except the new Fancast category, went down quickly to an overwhelming objection to consider.  The most recent proposal for a YA Hugo Award also went down to an objection to consider, but the people originally moving the motion had asked that it be withdrawn earlier, so I cannot wholly complain.  The Best Dramatic Presentation Extra-short (<15 minutes) also went down to an objection to consider.  The other amendments made it to the main business meeting.

Friday was a quiet day at work, but somewhat short since I had to get home to help Tara take The Girls to the vet.  Afterwards, we did some running around to get stuff for The Kid’s birthday on Tuesday – and pay too much to have it shipped up to where he is via FedEx due to the lateness of our shipping.

I did start Saturday morning following the business meeting twitter stream again.  Pretty good results as far as I’m concerned.  The two items that both seemed to be at least partially designed to keep supporting and voting membership prices high (and they are high enough to make a lot of people feel excluded from Worldcon, and excluded in a way that lessens the value of The Hugo Awards) were referred to committee, as was the YA proposal.

The amendment to just strike the requirement that electronic publications be opt-in, without providing anything to ensure that paper publications would be available to those who don’t want electronic publication, was accepted.

The amendment that would have expanded Best Fan Artist to include performing arts was basically gutted before being passed.  If I understand the final text, it basically does nothing at this point.  I’d have supported that one in its original state at least a bit.  I do see a possible problem there that graphic/visual artists could see this as taking their Hugo Award away and giving it to Filkers – not too far of a stretch from the admitted idea of making sure that Filk could be awarded under that category.

Aside, Filk is a bit of a hard fit for The Hugo Awards.  As far as I know, only one musical album has ever made the final ballot for The Hugo Awards, last year’s nomination of Seanan McGuier’s Wicked Girls, which was nominated for Best Related Work.  Many argued that they belong in Dramatic Presentation, but I don’t agree.  I’d like to see something that would allow The Hugo Awards to recognize Filk, and possibly other fannish performances, but I’m not sure how to do it.  And, I’m likely to not be in the position to do anything related to The Hugo Awards for at least the next Worldcon, possibly more.

Saturday was when I noticed not being at LoneStarCon 3 the most – Tara has gotten a bad cold, and there wasn’t much to do at the house.  I only got out long enough to run over to Costco, and in part because of how I was feeling, in part because it was Saturday afternoon at Costco, and in part because Costco’s air conditioners weren’t keeping up with San Diego having a dew point in the high 60’s; I didn’t enjoy that trip as much as I do sometimes.  Finally, by sitting down with Tara and watching more of The Legend of Kora off of DVD, I felt a bit better.

The evening ended for me with the mixed news: unofficially, the 2015 Worldcon was awarded to Spokane – the bid I’d been marginally part of since near the beginning – but the 2014 NASFiC went to Detroit – I’d been part of the competing bid for Phoenix, again marginally, for most of its existence as well.  In at least one way, I’m actually glad Detroit won.  If next year’s NASFiC had been in Phoenix, I probably would have needed to go to promote Westercon 68, and possibly help out.  This way, I can concentrate on going to London without that distraction.

This morning, before church, I got caught up on the official info for the 2014 NASFiC and 2015 Worldcon, and am hoping that the rest of the weekend I’ll be able to keep busy enough to not start feeling bored, depressed and missing being with friends at LoneStarCon.

 

Another trip to Reno

This weekend, Tara and I headed up to visit The Kid, who is still up in Reno – and may be for an indefinite time.  We spent a lot of time on the road for what amounted to a visit of less than an hour – but it was a pretty good visit.

Since we needed to visit during the day on Saturday, our plan was to drive as far as Bishop on Friday night.  Both Tara and I had to work full days, so we couldn’t get off too early.  However, I was able to sneak out of work about 3:00, and even with having to do all of my packing (and Tara doing all of her packing) we left the house about 4:00.  We made two quick stops to top off the gas in my car, and our cash supplies and headed out.

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