Friday, December 31, 2010

Worth Doing Badly

"If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."
--G.K. Chesterton

Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale

   This is a hard back graphic novel which gives the back story of Derrial Book, one of the characters in Firefly and Serenity. The production values are good and the story does, as promised, reveal Book's history. The art is not inspired; I've seen better, but I've also seen worse.
   That's the good part. Now on to the bad parts.
   It's thin. It feels to me as if Joss Whedon handed over some sketchy notes and refused to do anything further, and Zack Whedon didn't dare to add anything beyond those notes. It's not the sort of thing where you'd go back and savor the story and find new aspects to it that you like.
   It was written backwards. You start with the last few minutes of Book's life and then have successive flashbacks, going further and further back in time, with the last sequence being when he is about ten years old. It's a confusing format, and of course you can't properly interpret the later part of his life when you don't know about the earlier part. I wonder whether it was written that way because it would be even more thin if it were straightforward; at least this way you can stay bewildered for a bit and think about it for forty seconds after you finish reading it.
   And the conversion scene is unconvincing. Whedon is an atheist and Ron Glass, the actor who played Book, is a Buddhist. In watching the series, I never got the feeling that either of them understood Christianity at all, and the "how Book found God in a bowl of soup" part of this tale does nothing to remedy that. I might go along with "Book realized there are things bigger than himself" but there was no reason given for why he would have become a Christian layman, much less a pastor.
   I'd like to support the Firefly franchise but I can't recommend spending money on this. If you really need to know Book's back story, borrow a copy. Or just ask for the five-sentence summary instead of reading the whole thing--you won't be missing much.

Blog Stats

It's end of year, so time to look back at how I did for the year.
If you're someone I don't know and decided to be a follower (Sky, zara, No More) or commenter (Blair), I'm be curious to know how you got here and what you like about it.

I had 238 posts (plus 17 at Ficton) last year, and 246+20 this year, so I'm averaging 3 posts per 4 days.

All stats are as provided by Blogger and are for "All Time"--they give stats for Week and Month but not Year.

Top posts by pageview:
  • Absurd beliefs (126)
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  • Hidden Meanings (32)
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Search Keywords:
  • Chris DeBoe (417) (what a suprise, eh?)
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Total 4369 Pageviews, with Pageviews by Country:
  • United States (3440)
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Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Driving back from work this evening, I saw a red fox dart across the road.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Braving the snow

We'd intended to come home Sunday, but six inches of snow on Saturday night put an end to that plan. Today we borrowed Mom's four wheel drive car to come home. Had a bit of sliding between the farm and the main road, but once on Rte 221, no major problems--the highways were completely clear in all the rural areas. However, in Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, the interstate isn't entirely clear and even on Virginia Beach Boulevard (an eight lane highway, one of the two main east-west artery) there's still ice an inch thick or more, plus snow on top of that. That should be really fun to drive on tomorrow morning.

But someone shoveled our sidewalk, and there's a guy with a mini-bulldozer clearing our complex's parking lots. The house is intact, and the Christmas tree didn't fall over while we were gone. All is good.. Merry Christmas to all.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

White Christmas

Arrived at Mom & Dad's place on Christmas Eve, had an early supper and went to Christmas Eve service at Elizabeth's church. That was followed by some last minute present wrapping, cheese and crackers (which included ham sandwiches for some of us) and talking till nearly midnight.

Somewhere between midnight and six am, we got about an inch of snow.

Breakfast was pancakes and eggs and country sausage, followed by opening presents. Josh got me Monster Hunter: Vendetta (with a label that said "Not A Book") and Broadsides ("Definitely Not Another Book"). Diana got me In Search of the Old Ones, about the Anasazi, plus a couple of tour itineraries for my upcoming trip to Arizona. There were also sweaters and socks and such.

Josh got, from various relatives, a batch of tools ("which will be useful when you move out") and several cookbooks and cooking utensils ("which will be useful when you're in your own place"). He's wondering if that's a hint.

Elizabeth and David and their kids came over and we had Present Opening Round II, followed by Christmas dinner. Turkey and stuffing, rice and gravy, spinach salad with mandarins and dried cranberries. Several kinds of pies for dessert, and almond pound cake. I did refrain, virtuously, from sampling all the carbs there.

More snow started falling around 11am and is still falling now, now perhaps three inches total. Took a walk with the mutt bounding through the snow, the tiny dry patter of snowflakes on my shoulders, and a woodpecker going tock tock tock high on a tree behind the house. Otherwise it was silent. When you walk through it, you don't just make footprints; the snow crust fractures like a dinner plate around every footprint.
In the evening light, the snow looks blue.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas prep

I'm off from work, my presents are wrapped (yes, all three of them), the car has been emptied of the usual stuff preparatory to being packed for the expedition up the mountains. The current weather prediction for my parents' place this weekend is "snow showers", which will no doubt be pretty...right up until Sunday when I have to start the drive back. Josh has got my car and is off doing last minute shopping.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cryoburn and Monster Hunter

Cryoburn by Lois Bujold. The focus on this is on cryogenic suspension, plus death and what people will go through to avoid it. It didn't seem as complex and compelling as the earlier Vorkosigan books; I got the feeling that the author didn't really think everything through. Part of the reason for that may be because Miles is no longer a hyperactive underdog; when you can phone Imperial Security and have them solve your problem by brute force, you are not forced to be brilliant. Part of it may be that the viewpoint was distributed among several characters; we weren't as focussed on Miles as we have previously been.  Without giving anything away, I'll say that the ending felt disjointed, disrupted, unfinished; however, looking back at it, I think that was intentional and I think it works artistically.

Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. The hero throws his boss out a fourteenth story window, with good reason; Monster Hunters recruits him and things go from bad to much, much worse. However, in the story, almost all problems can be solved with the proper application of firepower; and the Monster Hunters have lots and lots of firepower. It's not all firepower, though, there's some introspection and character growth. This book is not going to make it into my Top Ten list, but it's a good first effort, and I understand the sequel is better.

Lunar Eclipse

Total lunar eclipse, right now.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

WoW Achievements

While Diana was gone getting Josh, and in the evening after they got back, I played a bit of Warcraft and got a few Achievements:
  • Level 85
  • (Completed dungeon) Throne of the Tides
  • (Completed dungeon) Vortex Pinnacle
  • 20 Dungeon Quests Completed
  • (Top level riding skill) Breaking the Sound Barrier
  • (Quests) Unearthing Uldum
  • (Quests) In a Thousand Years, Even You Might Be Worth Something
  • (Quests) Help the Bombardier! I'm the Bombardier!
  • (Maxed out a profession skill) Professional Illustrious Grand Master
  • (Seasonal event) Tis The Season
  • (Seasonal event) A Frosty Shake
  • (Seasonal event) Let It Snow
  • (Seasonal event) With A Little Helper From My Friends
  • (Seasonal events combination) Merrymaker
  • (All Seasonal events for the year) What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been
Yes, I'm a geek.

Josh's 22nd Birthday

For the actual day, Josh had exams; but given that his birthday is so close to Christmas, we've always been flexible about when we celebrate it. When he got home from college and slightly before he crashed and started catching up on sleep, we had the cake and candles. The presents: a gift certificate for a training class at the local firing range; his own copy of Mark Campbell's Close Action; and Lobel's Meat Bible.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yet more snow

Today is Josh's birthday, and he was praying for snow so he could get out of his biology exam at 7:30am--what a way to start your birthday, eh? His prayers were effective but not well targeted, in that the snow arrived here, not at George Mason. Our third snow this month, and more coming Sunday.

Today's snow was enough for the kids to stay home from school, and plenty of accidents--at least seventy in the area. Rain first, then freeze, then about two inches of snow, then more rain. I went to lunch at 1pm and the car slid around the turns, even going quite slowly--it was interesting.

Lunch was with Diana and our friend Barbra, who gave me an amaryllis for Christmas. She was anxious to reassure me that she'd done the hard part of getting it planted and started; all I have to do is make sure it gets water. And sunlight. And a warm temperature. something else. We'll see how long it survives.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Beau Monde Bread

We occasionally make this for parties and people always ask for more.

1 loaf french bread--the wide loaf you'd use for garlic bread, not skinny baguettes
1/2 lb margarine
2 Tblsp dry mustard
2 Tblsp lemon juice
1/2 Tblsp beau monde
1 Tblsp poppy seeds
1 Tblsp grated onion
8-12 oz sliced Swiss cheese

Mix all the ingredients except the bread and cheese.

Cut the top crust off the bread. Make a series of slices about 3/4 of the way through the loaf, in an X pattern--if you were to slice all the way through the loaf, you'd end up with large bread cubes.

Place the loaf on foil, and bring the foil up so it covers at least half the side of the loaf.

Spread the margarine mixture over the bread, into the slices and down the sides.

Stuff the X's with cheese.

Bake 30 minutes at 350°.

Monday, December 13, 2010

December Snow, round 2

It appears the initial December 4 visitation of snow demons was merely a scouting party; today we got a reconnaissance in force. It snowed all day and there was some accumulation on the ground--not much, but some. Given that we average 0.2 snow days in December, this bodes not well...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rainy weekend

The Mutt gets temperamental when Diana is away, and one of the ways she expresses it is by chewing on the blinds; I presume she wants to be able to see Diana coming home. (When I'm gone, sometimes she deigns to come check to be sure I'm not a burglar before she goes back to sleep). There are more blind slats than we needed to cover the window, and a little examination showed that it's possible to take the blinds apart, remove the damaged pieces and replace them with the formerly-unneeded undamaged pieces. It was quicker and easier than taking out the whole blind and installing a new one would have been, and about $75 cheaper. However, it  took a willingness to examine the thing and figure out how to take it apart; I sometimes wonder what percentage of people actually do that, instead of just buying a new one.

Also got the Christmas tree up and the first round of lights strung. Next year we're getting a new tree stand, preferably with an intimidating steel spike suitable for keeping the tree in place. Of course, once you've got the tree sawed to length and the branched trimmed and the whole thing set in place, you have to go and scrape the sap and goo off your gloves or, in my case, hands.

The NaNoWriMo "Thank God It's Over" was last night. About twenty people there when I left. High scorer for our region was over 110K words; low scorer was 2 words, "Chapter One", but she was eight months pregnant and ended up having a C section on December 2nd. There wasn't really a lot of talk about what people had written, though.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fantasy Novels

I had a request for Ten Favorite Fantasy Novels. Not the ten most important, or most famous, just the ten that come to mind when someone asks me "What books do you really love?". In no particular order, they are:

  • Three Hearts and Three Lions
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Well of the Unicorn
  • The Spirit Ring
  • The Ladies of Mandrigyn
  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Harp and the Blade
  • One for the Morning Glory
  • The Princess Bride
  • The Color of Magic
I've left out Conan, Amber, Camber of Culdi, Harry Potter, and a host of others. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I came into work and joined a conversation already in progress:
Georgette: "When I grow up, I want to be a paramecium!"
Me: "A paramecium? Really?"
Georgette: "It's fun to say. And they look like paisley, and you know I love paisley."

John Ringo interview

Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds interviews John Ringo

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Snow in December

It snowed tonight. That happens in December about once every five years. Granted, "snow" in the Virginia Beach context includes "you can see snowflakes in the air and the cars are white but it's not sticking on the ground", which is what we have right now.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Boldness has Genius, Power and Magic in it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo update

50,003 words. The novel isn't finished, but the NaNoWriMo challenge is. Woot!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Open Office spellcheck fail

I'm using Open Office for my word processor and spreadsheet, and it it mysteriously decided to give up spellchecking. It turns out you can't just specify "I want to use US English" as a default when you load the program; and when you discover that it's not working, you can't get anything useful from what they laughingly refer to as a "Help" file. What you have to do is search the web for "Open Office spellcheck problem", go down the list until you find the [Troubleshooting] Spell check thread, and carry out the eight steps listed.

Why the developers thought you ought to go through this search and manual fix, instead of dealing with it during set up, I couldn't guess.

But I have successfully extracted the arcane knowledge, and now my spell check works (at least until I close this document). Except  some of what is marked as misspelled, isn't, and I'm having to add words to the dictionary. I understand them not having "Lynnhaven" and "werepiranha" in their default standard dictionary, but how could they have left out "shoggoth"?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                  Praise him.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Josh arrived home safe last night after spending about seven hours on what is ordinarily a three hour drive home.

It's perfect autumn day, 52°, sunny, leaves still brightly covered, the turkey about to go into the oven.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Did you know that marshmallows are a type of plant? The confection was originally made with the root of the plant.

Schlock Mercenary

From today's Schlock Mercenary:
Petey: "I know I've hit a rough patch when a violent, amorphous sociopath is my best character reference."
Tagon: "He's the only reference I'll trust. What's that say about me?"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NaNoWriMo update

Woot ! I wrote 5033 words today, and I'm ahead of my goal for month-to-date! (A tiny tiny bit ahead, but ahead nonetheless).
Of course, I have no idea what the climax of this story is going to be or how my protagonist is going to avoid becoming human sushi in the process, but shall we let that deter us? NEVAH ! We press forward blindly boldly !

Edit: In response to a comment by another NaNo-er "a fresh plot point really carried you through, huh?", I replied:  "Plot? Nah. I just had a minor character try to cross a bridge guarded by attack sheep. She sang a song, one unhyphenated syllable at a time. That was 3762 words. Another 1300 words for throwing said character to the guard sheep, and the hemoglobin-diffusing unpleasantries associated therewith. The song was of course Ninety Nine Baa Tolls Of Beer On The Wall."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sales goal

The people in my department at work have goals for revenue and for profit. What we get commission on is profit, so I don't worry too much about the revenue side of things; in fact, I've been known to say, "If they really wanted revenue, they'd pay us for it." However, all things been equal, more revenue is good. So I hit my annual goal for profit some time back in late August or early September; and today I hit my goal for revenue.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Saw a bald eagle while I was at Laskin Road a little east of Birdneck, near the Cavalier Yacht Club. He was drifting north, heading towards Broad Bay.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

25K words

Okay, I'm over 25K words. That's one day behind schedule, but still, I'm more than halfway there. And I'll be adding to the word count tonight.

Salvatore Giunta

Staff Sergeant Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor today. He is the first living person to receive it since the Vietnam War, although there have been nine posthumous awards. The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, on October 25, 2007. While conducting a patrol as team leader with Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, Specialist Giunta and his team were navigating through harsh terrain when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Specialist Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Specialist Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover, and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Specialist Giunta’s body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Specialist Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Specialist Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Specialist Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Specialist Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security. Specialist Giunta’s unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire were integral to his platoon’s ability to defeat an enemy ambush and recover a fellow American soldier from the enemy. Specialist Salvatore A. Giunta’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company B, 2d Battalion (Airborne), 503d Infantry Regiment, and the United States Army.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

NaNoWriMo update

My total for the month just hit 22,000. That's a little behind schedule, but I should ketchup tonight. With french fries and grilled hamburger. I put a little dry mustard and honey in the hamburger, along with chopped onion, black and red pepper, and salt. Yum.

The leaves are turning here. Some years they go from green straight to brown, but this year there's some red and  yellow. In the afternoon sunlight, the marsh grass looks gold.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Government is too big

"If the government is big enough to give you everything you want, it is big enough to take away everything you have."
--Gerald Ford

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
--Aldous Huxley

NaNoWriMo update

One third of the way done, at 16,686 words in ten days.

I'm using Write or Die, which is a huge help. You can set a goal of how much you want to write in what time period, and it gives you a timer countdown and a word count. And if you stop typing for a few seconds, the screen starts turning red. No time for woolgathering, just write! This is incredibly useful, as when I'm just hammering out words instead of stopping to polish every one, I can get over 500 words in less than 20 minutes. Do that three or four times a day, and you're on pace.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NaNoWriMo update

The goal is 50,000 words in thirty days, which works out to 5000 words every three days. Today's the sixth and I'm on schedule at 10,033 words. At 250 words per page, that's 40 pages.

Incidentally, at the Write In group, the lowest total I heard was 1700, the highest was 36,000.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Post # 500

I started this blog on November 1, 2008. This is post #500. Not as high a count as I'd originally had in mind--I'd intended to post every day--but a lot higher than it would have been if I'd done nothing.

The Crimson Permanent Assurance

Arrrgh--a movie by Terry Gilliam!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Night

Good election results. Now it's time for good government results.

Diana went to the victory party for Scott Rigell, who's a member of our church and is now slated to be a Congressman. 

I stayed home and wrote fiction, over 1100 words, at a rate of around 500 words an hour.

Friday, October 29, 2010

NaNoWriMo Pre-Kick-Off Party

The party was held tonight at Kelly's Tavern, Pembroke Mall. A bit more than thirty people total, possibly more since people kept drifting in.. I met Sam 1.0 (later revised to Sam Beta, which I further revised to Sam With Undocumented Features), Sam 2 and her husband Steven (martial arts instructors), Taylor the chimney sweep, Selena, Beth, Jessica the clown, Robert, Nathaniel, Robin and Alix (the Metro Liaisons), Ellen, Kara, Betsy with a great smile, and several others. Some were shy, some wired, most friendly, a couple flaky.  A few people, including me, attended in costume--we had a jedi, a couple of steampunks, one sort-of-medieval, a gypsy dancer, a Harry Potter student, and a tempest in a corset. And all of them -- us! -- vowing to write 50,000 words in a month.

The photo is from my office party rather than the NaNo party, but the same outfit.  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The latest Miles Vorkosigan book, Cryoburn, is out. I have it on order from Amazon, but it hasn't arrived yet, so I read the first hundred pages at Borders.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


My grandmother had congestive heart failure. Went to the hospital, where they drained 2 liters of fluid and sent her home. She said she's "perfect", but Mom and Dad are cutting their stay in Africa short--Dad is a physician at a mission hospital in Zambia, and they were supposed to be there until early December.

Jury duty

I've been selected for jury duty every Tuesday in November. I was selected once before, years ago, and had to show up a couple of times, but never had to hear a trial. Hopefully it'll be much the same this time.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Santa Catarina

Played a Close Action game, hosted by Tracy Johnson in Newport News. The scenario was #3 "Santa Catarina Island" from the Monsoon Seas book. In 1777 the Spanish and Portuguese were at war, and the Spanish occupied Santa Catarina, off the southern coast of Brazil. The Portuguese sent as squadron to challenge the Spanish, but historically, the Spanish squadron declined to come out and fight; they just sat there, protected by shore batteries, until the Portuguese sailed away. Today's game presumes that the Spanish took action. I was selected to be the Portuguese commodore.

One of the key factors in this game is that none of my subordinates were experienced players. Aside from my lead ship, nobody did anything drastically wrong; however, there were times when I had to maneuver in ways that weren't ideal, simply because that was the only way I could be sure my teammates wouldn't accidentally run into me. It was a subtle effect, but it had a major influence. I also have to say that I was dismayed when I realized exactly what I had to work with. At one point I sent out the signal "Portugal expects every man will do his duty"--an obvious play on the most famous naval message in history, Nelson's signal at Trafalgar. Not one of my teammates knew what I was talking about.

The Portuguese had five ships, a little smaller than the Spanish but with better crews and better maneuverability. The Spanish had six ships. Both sides started close hauled, with the Spanish downwind of us. My plan was to send our first two ships around the head of their line and attack from both sides; their plan, as I later heard it, was to avoid that by having their lead ships curl around and head back in the direction they came from. As it happens, both plans worked. We kept formation better at first, but both sides broke up when first contacting the enemy. After some confusion, we reformed line and the enemy had two parallel lines. Since you can't fire through friendly ships, normally this would mean that their downwind line wouldn't have anyone to shoot at; however, our lead ship bravely (foolishly, suicidally) sailed into the midst of them. He got pretty thoroughly shot up and set afire, which he entirely deserved. Fortunately the Spanish admiral collided with one of my ships and that distracted the enemy enough that my errant captain could put out his fire and limp off. A few rakes, combined with low Spanish morale, forced their flagship to surrender. Time was called at that point, after 18 turns. It would still have been a pretty even fight if we'd continued, but as it was, we'd captured an enemy ship and that gave us an edge in victory points, 65 to 44.

 Starting position, with five Portuguese under full sail near us, and six Spanish with battle sail in the distance.My ship is the Santo Antonio, in the center of the Portuguese line. Note the wind direction marker at the head of the Portuguese line.

 Halfway through the game. All five Portuguese (white labels) and the leading three Spanish ships (yellow labels) mill around in disorder, trading shots. A fourth Spaniard, lowering sail as he finally gets into gunnery range, comes in from the right. In this picture and the next, the wind is blowing the same direction as we're looking.
We've reformed a line, although I've had to sail farther than I wanted so as to be sure Belem didn't run into me. Ajuda, left of the turn card, was pursuing the Spaniard in the far left but guessed wrong as to when he'd turn. The Portuguese ship on the far side of the Spanish line is about to take fire from three ships; however, the Spanish flagship Poderoso has just collided with Belem.

The situation at the end. In this picture, the wind is from the left. Poderoso has struck; the Spaniard at the upper right has turned into the wind and is in irons; just below him, the Spanish America has been stern-raked and is leaving the battle. However, two of the Spanish ships, upper left and center right, are just getting into action and are essentially unscathed. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, but my office is observing it next Friday. I'm thinking of a steampunk outfit this year. Why be a mere ordinary pirates, when you can be an airship pirate?
Fire up the boilers, there's a good chap! Arm the Galvanic Discharge Cannon Mark III's, old boy, and strap your Professor Gould's Patent Photonic Death Ray at your side! Board that aether flyer and take all their gin!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I have been volunteered to provide chili, enough for 15 people, at the church Harvest-Festival-in-lieu-of-Halloween. I'm not sure if there is a contest involved or not, but I do want to make it better than just beef and beans and canned Generic Sauce. So, what's your best chili recipe? My ideal is hot, sweet, and Texan; but submit whatever you like. The only rule is that it must not be "vegetarian chili", which is an abomination and a sin against God and man.

Photos from the Deck

A woodpecker on the pine tree behind out house, and sunset as seen from our deck--the pine is on the left in that photo.

Building Believable Characters

The Writer's Digest Sourcebook for Building Believable Characters isn't about building believable characters. Instead, it's a hodgepodge of elements of character description. 

It has one chapter on dialog, written in a Question & Answer format with six authors providing the answers. The second chapter is a questionnaire about your character, his appearance, his likes and dislikes. There's a chapter with some words in various languages in case you want to throw in a "Oui" or "Bitte", but not enough to let you use a complete phrase; another chapter lists given names and surnames by nationality, in case you didn't know that Aleksandr Popov sounds Russian and Wu Ya-chun does not. Most of the rest is a set of descriptors for character traits and appearances--for instance, under "eye color" you get a list of synonyms for "green" and "blue", for "hair style" you get things like "ducktail" and "French braid."

If you want that sort of thing and can't check this out from the library, I suppose it'd be worth the Used $2.73 price. If you want insight into creating a character's psychology and internal conflict, look elsewhere.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Repairing a Door

  Our Delicate Flower selected an inch-thick rug for the bathroom floor, to insulate her tootsies from the stone cold tiles (that she also selected). However, the bathroom door had been cut for a low clearance. Opening it forced the bottom of said door into the same physical space as the top of the rug, violating the Pauli exclusion principle and causing shockwaves in the fabric of spacetime. Something Had To Be Done.

Wielding a twenty pound maul, I struck out the hinge pins with three rapid, precise blows that would make an eighth dan kendo master weep in envy. I tossed the hardwood slab across the room, over the balcony and twenty feet above the deck, where a well-timed gust of wind dropped it perfectly in place on the sawhorses. Pausing only long enough for an anticipatory (not "evil") chuckle, I backflipped off the balcony onto the deck, and stuck the landing right by the Infrastructure of Whirling Death. With a quick pull, I fired up the 675 horsepower V12 circular saw, which is capable of slicing a medium-sized locomotive cleanly in half in less time than it would take you to correctly spell "locomotive". The saw blade was forged of a titanium-awesomium alloy, and its cutting edge moves at a significant fraction of the speed of light. A lesser man could barely have picked up this engine of destruction, but in my hands it effortlessly shaved an exact 0.50000" slice off the bottom of the door. After that, it was merely a matter of doing a little touch up work, setting the door back in place, and slapping the pins in so fast that their steel surfaces glazed and their coefficient of friction dropped to an infinitesimal degree above zero. The door now opens at a thought and there is no longer a concerns of rifts in the continuum. There are a few National Guardsmen poking around, hoping to requisition my saw and integrate it into the East Coast defense network, but those are the risks that must be shouldered by the truly awesome.


"On 12/13 May 1945 at Taungdaw, Burma, Rifleman Lachhiman Gurung [age 27, serving with the 8th Gurkha Rifles] was manning the most forward post of his platoon which bore the brunt of an attack by at least 200 of the Japanese enemy. Twice he hurled back grenades which had fallen on his trench, but the third exploded in his right hand, blowing off his fingers, shattering his arm and severely wounding him in the face, body and right leg. His two comrades were also badly wounded but the rifleman, now alone and disregarding his wounds, loaded and fired his [bolt action] rifle with his left hand for four hours, calmly waiting for each attack which he met with fire at point blank range. Afterwards, when the casualties were counted, it is reported that there were 31 dead Japanese around his position which he had killed, with only one arm.

Lachhiman Gurung received his Victoria Cross from the Viceroy of India, Field Marshal Lord Wavell on 19 December 1945."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Appreciating writing

Over the past few days, Diana spent eight hours to write an 800 word story for class. She said that in the past, she hadn't understood how I could "be writing" and not have much to show for it; now she's a lot more sympathetic.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Economic Misconceptions

What percentage of people would you expect are getting paid the minimum wage (of those who have jobs, that is)? How much has income, adjusted for inflation, gone up in the past sixty years? What's the average net profit as a percentage of sales? See Marginal Revolution

Sunday, October 10, 2010


This morning it was 10/10/10 10:10:10

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Ryan and I played Avalon Hill's Alexander the Great, which is intended to depict the Battle of Gaugamela., with Alexander's high quality Greeks on one side, outnumbered by Darius' hordes of trash on the other. In this case, it turned out that the trash wasn't all that trashy, and quantity has a quality all its own.

In the first battle, I took the Greeks. Ryan's Persians squashed my left, as happened historically; my right pushed back the Persian left but got chewed up in the process. I led my elite phalaxes in a go-for-broke attack to eliminate the King of Kings, and it worked; however, the victory conditions specified that in order to win, you have to kill the enemy king and capture both of his camps. My few remaining forces were surrounded by a sea of Persians; I might conceivably have hacked my way through to one camp, but there was no way I'd get to both. Score a win for the Persians.

For the second battle, we switched sides. Ryan did an excellent job of refusing his left flank; on his right, I managed to break his line and get a few units into the rear. His phalanxes charged, but heavy Persian archery forced two of them to withdraw. Once again, Alexander and Darius went mano-a-mano, but this time Alexander was unsupported and both kings fell. The Greek right and center were surrounded and cut up, and the Persians scored another win.

The Basic Game is obviously unbalanced in favor of the Persians. The designers are aware of that; they mention Persian morale should be lower, and there are also a number of special rules to give the Companions, Hypaspists, etc, extra abilities. 

The game design focuses on morale; you lose a little morale for each of your units destroyed, and you gain a little for each enemy destroyed. It's an interesting idea, although I'm not convinced that it's entirely realistic. Units have one combat factor for the front three hexes, half that for the two flanks, and a quarter if they're attacked from the rear. There are no "zones of control", so if you can find an opening in the enemy line, nothing will stop you from running a cavalry unit through, getting the benefit of a rear attack, and rolling up the enemy line. You're likely to lose that cavalry unit next turn, but if you're the Persians, you have plenty more where that came from.  I can't say that it felt historical, but we both had a good time.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Went down to the beach for a little bit at lunch, and saw five surfers. At least seven dolphins, swimming south parallel to shore, about fifty yards out. And what looked like a frigate, out on the horizon.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Supposedly overheard by  pilot flying from Europe to Dubai:
Iranian Air Defense Site: "Unknown Aircraft, you are in Iranian airspace. Identify yourself."
Aircraft: "This is a United States aircraft. I am in Iraqi airspace."
Air Defense Site: "You are in Iranian airspace. If you do not depart our airspace, we will launch
interceptor aircraft."
Aircraft: "This is a United States Marine Corps FA-18 fighter. Send them up. I'll wait."

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Art, Music and Literature

The local events calendar listed a  Great Neck Art and Jazz event ("Great Neck" being the neighborhood, and that's "neck" as in isthmus, not giraffe). We took our neighbor Flo and spent an hour browsing. There were three or four photographers, half a dozen painters, several people with homemade earrings and necklaces, and glassware decorated with silver wire, plus live saxophone from Sam "the Sax Man" Howard.

On the way home, Diana and Flo got groceries while I visited Baxter Books and picked up:

So those plus the sax CD made a good haul.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Diana was out walking the mutt this evening just before I got home from work, and came across yellowjackets, with about forty stings. So we took a quick trip to the hospital ER. No allergic reactions, just painful stings; an IV with antihistamine and steroids seems to have taken care of most of it, at least for now.

Peruvian alfajores

My company's International Business rep put on a Peruvian lunch caterd by Don Gallo. I didn't actually make it to the lunch but I did snag an alfajor, which in this case was a sandwich of two almond cookies with something like dulche de leche in the middle, covered by powdered sugar.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Habitable planet

Gliese 581g, a planet around a red dwarf star about 20 light years away, appears to be in the habitable zone around its star. The planet itself isn't necessarily habitable--it's probably tidally locked, which means that one side is always facing its sun (and thus hotter) and the other facing away (and may be frozen). There may be an area between the Hot side and the Cold side which is actually habitable; there may not. But right now we live in places as diverse as the Arctic, the Amazon, the Gobi Desert and Polynesia. Maybe we could live on Gliese 581g as well. And if there's one more habitable planet, maybe there's more than one!


September 29th is the Feast of St Michael

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Mom to Zambia

Mom has left to join Dad in Zambia for a couple of months. It's a two day trip, with a layover in London.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Stephen Colbert was called to Congress to testify, in character, about immigration policy. It somehow seems appropriate that this Administration would choose to get Congressional testimony from a fictional character.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sound check

I was helping set up the sound equipment at church, and we needed a sound check on one of the mikes. So I picked it up and said "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe. All mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe." 
And Charlie Pittman said "I see now why Josh got that way."

AAR: Last Survivor of the Nile

Josh and I will each be participating in Close Action games near the Trafalgar anniversary, so we decided to put some ships on a map and have at it--what better way to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day? ("Rum and a buxom wench, yarrrr!")(Hush!) Two French ships escaped the Battle of the Nile (a.k.a. Aboukir Bay); one, Guillaume Tell, 80, made it to Malta, and then tried to break out past a British blockade. The scenario starts with the French ship of the line closely tailed by the British frigate Penelope; off in the distance, but gaining, are Lion, 64, and Foudroyant, 80. The frigate has to play picador to the French bull, slowing it without getting hit too hard. We played twice, with me as the French both times.
In the first playing, the frigate wasn't cautious enough and I caught it with a couple of good broadsides at close range; she lost a mast and couldn't keep up with me, and I had enough of a lead that the two British heavies couldn't catch up. Guillaume Tell sailed off to the open sea and a successful escape.
In the second, the frigate first beat upwind, opening the range; then it swept in behind me, getting  two stern rakes which did major damage to my rigging and cut my speed in half. The Guillaume Tell was still sound, just slow, but I couldn't get enough broadsides on the frigate to cripple it before the reinforcements swept up. I bowed to the inevitable and struck my colors.

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Two unidentified pirates, arrrrrrrh!
Avast, ye scurvy dog! Why do so many pirates have earrings?
Shiver me timbers, they're cheap--a buck an ear!

"Me mast! Ye bilge rats, where's me mast?"
"What happened to your mast?"
"It's mizzen!"

"Avast, ye scallywag! Out with yer cutlass! Have at ye!"
"But I'm not a fighter, I'm a lubber!"

"What makes a pirate?"
"Ye just aarrrrrrh!"


Where there's an airshow at Oceana Naval Air Station, you can't sleep too late. The Blue Angels roaring by overhead make sure of that--and it feels like they're right overhead, like "I can stand on the balcony and hand them a cup of coffee as they go by". It doesn't just drown out conversation, it shakes the house. The coolest thing I saw today, though, was an F22 which went vertical and then just hung there in midair until the pilot got good and ready to let the nose back down.

Put together a new bookcase that Diana got from Ikea for the living room. I actively dislike adding more stuff to the house, but it's hard to say "no" to a bookcase which will, at a minimum, be a place to put excess stuff which would otherwise be on the coffee table.

We've had a plague of pantry moths, so this morning's tedious-but-necessary project was cleaning out the pantry, throwing away the oatmeal, flour, pasta, cereal, and other carbs, then wiping down all surfaces with bleach. I also applied peppermint oil, just to discourage any survivors.

Went to the Norfolk Book Fair. Think of a very small local-interest bookstore with limited stock, set up under tents in Waterside Park, with about twenty authors available for signings. Think of it as being in downtown Norfolk, with no parking except in the city garages (that's $5, please), and next to Waterside, which should be filled with retail shops and bustling with activity, but instead looked deserted. If you have a special interest in local authors, I suppose it might have made sense to go there; otherwise not. It was a pleasant day to be in the park, though, and watch the fountains, get a little sun, and see a schooner heading out to the Bay.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Went to Azar's for Greek food. The lamb pizza was pretty heavily spiced, and tasted more of cinnamon than lamb; I don't think it needed the tzatziki sauce. I don't recall having stuffed grape leaves before; the main taste there is a bit of vinegar. The hummus and pita bread is good, and the sesame honey brittle candy is very good.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Funeral rights

When I die, cremate the body and put the ashes in a vase. I think I've urned it.

Battle of Gibraltar

At the Battle of Gibraltar, on April 25, 1697--a century before Aboukir Bay--a Dutch fleet surprised a Spanish fleet at anchor, doubled their line, and destroyed it. The Spanish didn't save a single ship. Nelson is famous for capturing or destroying 11 of 13 French ships at Aboukir Bay; nobody has heard van Heemskirk.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Crossing the Bay

The wind this morning was more East than North, which wasn't helpful; there were a few minutes when it was in the right direction, but the sail I made needed more sail area to be effective.However, the current was in the right direction and I made the trip in about 1 hour 20 minutes, including a lot of time spent drifting.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sailing prep

Tomorrow is supposed to be clear, winds from the north, and high tide around 1pm. Accordingly, I'm planning to launch the kayak from the Lesner Bridge, south across Lynnhaven Bay and up the Lynnhaven River towards home, roughly five miles. I've made a sail and the wind should be at my back; we'll see how well that works.

Next week we'll celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day, but that has nothing to do with this expedition. Really. Aaaaarh.

Monday, September 6, 2010


Twenty-two years ago, we were discussing what to name this baby who was due. I suggested good, strong, historical names, like Anaxagoras or Subotai. Diana pointed out that these were not following my family's tradition of Bible names, so I suggested the name of one of the prophet Isaiah's sons, Mahershalalhashbaz. She turned that down too. However, I recently discovered that one of the actors in Benjamin Buttons is Mahershalalhasbaz Ali; I'm pleased that someone appreciated a great name.

Labor Day weekend activities

  • Move all the stuff back onto the deck after the "hurricane"
  • Transplant crepe myrtle tree out of the power company right-of-way. Transplant azalea from the spot where Diana wanted the myrtle to a new spot.
  • Uninstall and reinstall Open Office, and verify that spellcheck works now. Set up templates for Character, Scene, and Chapter Log
  • Kayak. I saw a heron, a batch of snails, and a swimming snake. The snake had a diamond pattern and might have been a moccasin, although I suspect it was just a water snake. The snails climb grass stalks to get a few inches above the water. Herons are very timid and it's hard to get a good shot of them unless you have a zoom lens.
  • Set up new landline telephones. 
  • Set up and tear down sound gear for church. Our church is starting a third Sunday morning service in a hotel ballroom, more centrally located than our church building. I volunteered to help, which means getting up early and hauling speakers, stands, and cables, and watching the actual sound crew plug them in. 
  • Read You Can Write a Novel by James V Smith Jr. Despite the cheesy title, this is an excellent guide--particularly the chapter on editing your first draft.
  • Walk on the beach
  • Chinese food at Forbidden City.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hurricane Earl

The storm track looks about the same; we'll probably have winds of 40mph, maybe 60mph, but 75mph is unlikely. The only real thing to worry about is a tree falling on the house, but there are only two trees to worry about and they've both been through hurricanes before. Our house is several feet higher than the highest recorded storm surge (which is around nine feet). As long as Earl doesn't jog left, I think we're fine.

Edit Thursday 11pm: Earl has been downgraded to Category 2 and looks like it's farther offshore than previously predicted. The forecast still calls for 40-50mph winds but no more than an inch of rain and a storm surge of 1-3 feet. Nothing to worry about.

Edit Friday afternoon: A branch fell from one of the trees near our house, and I had to turn my windshield wipers to "medium" for part of the drive in to work.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Hidden Meanings

But like one English professor used to yell at us, "It doesn't matter if anyone meant it, it matters if it's there, and if you can see it, it must be there!"
--John Barnes, Gaudeamus

Hurricane Earl

Yes, it's headed kinda sorta more or less this way. At the moment, odds are that we'll get rain and 40mph wind and that's about it. However, just to be safe, we have stocked up on this and that, and we're watching the forecasts.
If you see news reports that parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach have flooded, well, parts of Laskin Road can flood due to heavy fog. We're used to it.  


Took that Samsung Intensity back to the shop today. It had poor sound quality and tended to lose signal and drop calls; also, I don't like the way it handled text messages and I'm not thrilled with having to unlock the keypad every time I want to do something. So, back to the drawing board.


I made it to the Barony of Marinus fighter practice, and got the meet some of the people and to try a couple of rapiers, 37 and 43 inch lengths. They didn't have full fencing armor this time--most of the guys there were medieval fighters, with broadsword and shield--but we did a little half-speed sparring. It was tiring--those rapiers only weigh a pound or so more than a modern fencing saber, but that extra weight makes a huge difference after a while. It was also a lot of fun. Thrust, parry, riposte, diengage, remise, beat, lunge!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


On this day in 1071, the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert, largely due to the treachery of the Byzantine second in command. The battle led directly to the decline and eventual downfall of of the Byzantine Empire, and indirectly to the Crusades; consequently, I consider it one of the most important battles in history.

This is also the date of the Battle of Crécy.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Inception has an interesting concept and is well done. The ending is ambiguous, which frustrates me--I think a story should give a sense of closure, which this didn't--but it certainly made me think about the film; we've come up with half a dozen ideas of "what really happened". I also like how the relationship with Ariadne developed, and the effects for the fight in the hotel hallway were very well done.

The Expendables was an action packed, star studded movie which accomplished nothing in particular. If you want to watch hand to hand fights, shooting, and explosions, this is the place. If you want anything else, move along. It felt like the pilot episode for a TV show.

Passage at Arms, by Glen Cook. I have never seen Das Boot, but even so, this book was transparently "Das Boot in Space". See the movie instead.

Family Trade, by Charlie Stross.  I like some of the other things Stross has done, but this was bland. If you've read Roger Zelazny's Amber books, you have the general idea, but the Amber books were more imaginative and had more vivid characters.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Writing course

Diana has signed up for a college writing course; this implies that she'll be doing writing exercises, which implies that I'll be doing writing exercises. I'm already posting some on Ficton.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Got a new cellphone, a Samsung Intensity II, with a qwerty keyboard and calendar and lots of nifty features that my previous phone didn't have. I don't know what those features are, because they don't include a manual, just a "tips and tricks" booklet. Okay, I'm comfortable pushing buttons and exploring menus until I find what I want, but I suspect a lot of options are not just unused, but unknown to most people.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


We see people, ranging from small children to national governments, called to apologize for some wrong they've committed. The expectation is that if a penitent says he's sorry, the offended party has to forgive him (or else sue him and use  the confession as evidence, but we're not going to cover that here). We hear the insincere apology, which usually starts with "If I've offended anyone". Of course you've offended someone, else you wouldn't be called to apologize; that formula is just a way to say "I am required to do this, but I don't actually care about whether you were offended or not." I've certainly said "I'm sorry" about things for which I wasn't sorry at all, and which I meant to do again at the first opportunity. Should I be forgiven just on the strength of an insincere apology? 

So what is necessary to see if an apology is sincere, and deserves absolution? As I see it, you need the following:
  • Confession: admitting that you did it
  • Contrition: being sorry for it
  • Restitution: repairing the damage as best you can
  • Repentance: not doing it again

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Coworker: "There's a reason I surround myself with intelligent people!"
Me: "Contrast?"

Bumper Sticker

I need a bumper sticker or two. Something which reflects my personality, or at least that part which won't get me arrested. I'm not looking for "Here's a site which lists 375 of them", I want specifics. Suggestions?

Sunday, August 8, 2010


"Allies are the ones I'll conquer last."

Josh in the Club

Josh, speaking of his experiences when he and his friends in Australia went clubbing:
"Usually when someone was creeping on one of our girls, Michelle would come and get me and push me into him. I guess I was sort of a Porta-Bouncer."


On 7 October 1571, Don John of Austria led the naval contingents of the Holy League, totaling 208 ships, against the Ottoman fleet of 251 ships. The result was the most decisive naval victory since Actium, over 1500 year before. It was celebrated by Gilbert Keith Chesterton in his poem Lepanto.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


We picked up a Coleman two-burner propane grill on Thursday, and I assembled it and tried it out today. Barbecue hamburgers, mesquite chicken, and corn. I shucked the corn, drizzled a little honey on it, wrapped in a damp paper towel and aluminum foil. Grill for half an hour, turning every five minutes or so. We'll be doing that again.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Kayak to the Bay

We're on the Lynnhaven River, which leads to Lynnhaven Bay and thence to the Chesapeake Bay, a distance of 4.5 miles. Josh made the trip today in a little under 2 hours.

How to become a Millionaire

"The man who invents a way to punch people over the internet will make millions."

Monday, August 2, 2010


We had a hummingbird buzz around the flowers on our back deck, briefly--she was gone by the time I got the camera. That's the first time I've seen one here.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Free zombie ecards

Just in case you need a zombie-related electronic greeting card, has what you need.

Boneheaded Voters

Bryan Caplan at on unjustified biases that voters have.

Temper Edge

Wolf Trial 4 from the Mech Warrior 2 soundtrack.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Crisis Economics

From National Affairs, a discussion of the effects of government spending vs tax cuts

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bumper Sticker

I saw this one: "God Bless The Whole World--No Exceptions".
Really? Bless the ones who are lazy and willfully ignorant? The ones who see any position of power as an opportunity for graft? The ones who enslave their women? The ones who feel that killing off the next tribe over is a fine sport? Bless them just as much?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Adelaide zoo

Wombat and a rare non-stealth kangaroo, in Adelaide zoo.

The Ghan Train

Pictures from the Painted desert, showing the notorious Invisible Kangaroos.

Ayers Rock

Walpa Gorge in the Olgas, near Ayers Rock

The Olgas at sunset

Ayers Rock at sunset

Great Barrier Reef

Looking across the top of Briggs Reef 

A giant clam--the blue-green zigzag is the edge of his shell. This is a small one, about 18" long; I later saw one about four feet long.


The coast north of Cairns, and the Milla Milla waterfalls. As I mentioned previously, we didn't see any poisonous snakes, spiders, or other interesting wildlife around Cairns; however, near the waterfalls there's a park with a sign which warns of stinging trees. The leaves of these trees are covered in tiny silicon (glass) hairs, which are coated with a neurotoxin that causes intense pain. Fortunately we didn't see any of those around the waterfall.


Here's the Brisbane Ferris wheel and a harbor ferry catamaran.
The second shot is from the Maritime Museum. The plaque on the boat says:
Some years ago a young Canadian adventurer set out from the east coast of Canada in his 2.7 metre aluminum boat named HAPPY. He sailed down to the Panama Canal, through it and into the Pacific Ocean. He crossed the Pacific to New Caledonia, where his boat was driven ashore. He rebuilt it as exhibited here and renamed it HAPPY II. He eventually reached the coast of Australia, and subsequently HAPPY II was handed over to the Queensland Maritime Museum. 

Photos of Sydney

We have about 700 photos of the Australia trip; I'll post a couple of each place we visited, starting with Sydney. Here's the Opera House at night, and the view of the Circular Quay as seen from the Opera House, with downtown in the background.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Coming back from Toronto Sunday night, we made it to Philly but our flight from Philly to Norfolk was cancelled. There was still one more flight, but it was full. Monday morning's flight was delayed also but eventually arrived around noon. We discovered the microwave had died, which was no surprise; we also found the water heater was leaking. I suspect one of our house sitters moved the dryer and hit the drain pipe, breaking the seal; in any event, we got to buy a new heater on Tuesday. Fortunately the leak was from high up on the heater, so we had a 2-3 gallon flood instead of 50 gallons.
Also on Tuesday, Josh took my car to Fairfax so he could see his new apartment (we signed the lease while he was in Australia this spring) and go to the Iron Maiden concert.
Oh, and I still need to go in to work and make a month's worth of sales in two weeks, and deal with accumulated angst from various friends, neighbors, caretakers, and so forth. If you're wondering why I'm just getting around now to posting what happened last weekend, that's why.

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 15 -18, Toronto

We were in Toronto for a niece's family wedding. In addition to the joys of jet lag, large social gatherings with people I mostly don't know, and staying in a place without internet access, there was also the particular joy of dealing with Toronto traffic. Once you're on the main highways, it's okay, but downtown is a painful experience. A lot of the streets are allegedly four lane, but that's a lie. A lot of intersections don't have left turn lanes, so the left lane stacks up behind that poor guy who's trying to turn left in the face of oncoming traffic. The right lane is often taken up by vehicles which are parked or just stopped for a delivery, or by construction. Consequently, you don't even have a two lane road, because you can't just stay in one lane; you have to bob and weave back and forth, while the cabbies and other psychos behind you try to cut past.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

July 14

We get up, get packed, drop our key in the box--the front desk is not open at 7am--and start hauling our stuff outside. Josh takes one of the bags that was holding the door open and, voila, the door closes. And locks. With most of our stuff still inside. Bang on the door, nothing. There are two room windows we can get at and I bang on them, no response. We accost someone in the street and get him to use his mobile phone to call the hotel's emergency number; he gets a voicemail (and leaves a message "Your building is on fire!"--he was sympathetic). Bang on the windows again, nothing. Our cab is arriving in five minutes. I am looking around for what Josh describes as a Camel Negotiation Interface, i.e. a rock or similar device, for purposes of Breaking and Entering, when someone finally comes down the hallway and open the door. It's a hungover Russian rather than one of the staff, so my window-thumping must have had an effect after all. We get our stuff outside just as the cab arrives, and off we go.
We leave Sydney at 10:30am and fly and fly and fly and fly. This time we're surrounded by high schoolers and the one behind Josh is a girl with a high, whiny voice that would surely be grounds for acquittal. I watch Clash of the Titans and some other movie which is even less memorable, but at least I don't quite sink to watching Book of Eli. We arrive at LA at 6:30am--yes, we get there four hours before we left. Unfortunately we then get off the plane, go through Customs, go through Security, get on another plane and go to JFK. And get on another plane and go to Toronto, although fortunately the Customs hall in Toronto is almost empty and we speed through. Take a cab and get to the house at 11pm, roughly 31 sleepless hours after getting up.

July 13

Adelaide. Our hotel is downtown and near two universities; there's a wide mix of businesses in the storefronts, from old books to souvenir tee shirts, sex toys, Macca's (McDonald's), jewelry, pub, travel agent. Adelaide is relatively far from the equator and it's winter, but still warm enough not to need a sweater (we did see one girl at the pedestrian mall wearing black briefs, a silver bikini top and a suit jacket, but it wasn't that warm). The pedestrian mall is busy, a great place for people watching.
In the morning we go to the zoo and finally see a kangaroo, wallabies, a tasmanian devil, crocodile, bilby, and so forth. The wombats are not in their area; one of the keepers hears us mention our disappointment, so she takes us back to where the wombats are being fed and we get to pet one. The fur is silky, but the body underneath is hard as teak--it doesn't feel like an animal, it feels like a heavy piece of furniture that just happens to have fur.
Then we catch a flight to Sydney.

Monday, July 12, 2010

July 11 and 12

Fly from Ayers Rock to Alice Springs, where we spend a couple of hours before catching the Ghan Train. Alice Springs is supposed to have some fun events--there's a dry river regatta, where people paddle with shovels or use boats with the bottoms out, Flintstones style--but there's nothing particularly interesting while we're there. I spend an hour at an Internet kiosk, of which approximately 42 minutes are spend muttering rude things under my breath; that keyboard was obsolete in 1985 and the browser...grrr.

I was expecting the train to have an open lounge where we could socialize, but in fact you spend most of your time in your 2-person compartment. We roll for hour after hour past hills, grassland and scrubland, without a building or light to be seen. Also without a kangaroo, dingo, or other wildlife to be seen; Josh and I conclude that we will have sharp words with the Australia Tourism Board about misrepresentating the existence of these mythical kangaroos. We pass over the Finke River, said to be the oldest in the world; the Painted Desert, which we didn't really see much of since it was night; Port Augusta, "where the Outback meets the sea". Still no kangaroos, but we do see sheep. I've heard from several people that the Ghan Train is a great experience, but I frankly would rather have flown to Adelaide (or Sydney or whereever). There are only so many hours of looking at barren landscape (particularly at night!) that one can appreciate.
We're about to arrive in Adelaide.

July 10

Took nearly $60 for 3/4 of a gas tank to fill the rental car. Dropped it off, navigated through the Cairns airport--which isn't finished yet but is small enough that that's not a problem--and caught the flight from Cairns to Ayers Rock. The land there really is red, with ridges like narrow sand dunes, dotted with green. There are several different hotels on a loop of road, near the airport, but they're all owner by the same company. We're told they've had record cold (I needed a sweater at night) and record rain. There's a notice that people are not allowed to climb the rock because there's more than a 5% chance of rain. We sign up, $282 for the two of us, for a bus tour around the Olgas, a walk through the gorge, and a sunset view of Uluru, total about 4 hours. There are a mix of people on the bus: a Spanish couple, a couple of French families, a Portuguese lade who reminded me of Barbra except shorter, and a 6ft tall German girl with thistledown hair and a permanent smile. Her name, we found, was Kirsten, pronounced "Care steen"; she was working at a private school in Melbourne teaching German and art. I realized the Australians tell what city they're from; other people only tell what country they're from, "Germany" or "Indonesia" but not anyhing more specific; Josh and I say that "we're from Virginia, in the US."

We all de-bus at the Gorge and walk up the trail between the two mountains on either side; there are vertical cliff faces about 500 meters high. These mountains are conglomerate, basically natural concrete with a mix of stones from egg to melon size. There are lumps of it, ranging in size from a car to a small house, which have popped out of the cliff walls and are now lying on the gorge floor. Best not to stand too near the cliff. We board the bus again and go to a spot west of Uluru. There are about 20 buses parked here, and each has a table with wine and some sort of snack; we have trail mix and peanuts, but the next table over has a potful of curry. We take pictures of Uluru every few minutes, as the sun sets and the Rock changes colors from red-brown to red to shadowed purple. Meanwhile we feed the pigeons and magpies.

Back to the hotel for a shower and dinner. There's a camp-like covered area with picnic tables; if you want to spend $30 or so you can pick out your steaks and grill them yourself, but Josh and I decide on Kangaroo wraps with barbecue sauce. I find the kangaroo meat to be tough so I offer other half of mine to Josh, who wolfs it down. Kirsten and her Portuguese friend arrive and we invite them to share our table. Josh crashes around 8pm; I stay and we talk about Portugal, and the world cup, and listen to the guitarist. Eventually we join the students on the dance floor, and dance with them for an hour or so. A couple of Australian girls join us; each of them separately advises me to loosen up. This seems to be a recurring theme.

The two ladies with ne are taking a dawn tour which leaves at 6:15am, so when the guitarist finishes at 11pm they say goodnight; the Portuguese lady does the kiss-on-each-cheek thing, which takes me completely by surprise; Kirsten gives me a handshake; they both dart off, presumably to bed. I head back towards our room but stop for a while to look at the stars, the Southern Cross and the Milky Way.

July 9

Friday morning is sleep and laundry. Friday afternoon we drive to south, then up into the fog-laden tablelands to Milla Milla. On the way there is an overlook down into the river gorge; a scenic drive which turns out to be a one lane road through the rain forest; and three waterfalls. The pool of the first is fairly shallow, and the second you can't get at, but the third is deep and there are abougt twenty people swimming. Continuing the drive, we pass signs that warn of tree kangaroo crossings, then wind down a long twisty road down the mountain.

That evening, Josh's scuba group was supposed to be meeting for pizza at the Wool Shed, a bar in downtown Cairns that caters to students and backpackers. Four of Josh's group are there--Gwen, Chris, Dougall, James--and we join them, talking and watching an Australian Rules football game.

A girl and five guys come in and take up the other half of our table. It's happy hour, and the girl (I'll find out later that her name is Heather) asks why I'm not drinking; I mime driving, and she says"Very responsible. But you should have some drinks and get a cab." It's too noisy to explain that we're leaving at 5:30am; I sit back and watch the game and the people around us, hearing snatches of conversation. After a while, Josh and friends go to get ice cream; I offer to hold the table, except the ice cream expedition turns out to be an hour and a half. Heather is trying to talk to me, so I sit next to her; with the music this loud, the only way to have a conversation is to lean in, almost cheek to cheek. She confides that she's had more to drink than usual; she's from a little town north of Toronto; she had a strict Catholic upbringing and her family would be appalled if they saw her now; and that I should loosen up. She's tipsy enough that I don't bother discussing it with her. Shortly her friends finish their drinks, gather her up and depart. The DJ is holding a dance contest; I abandon the table and move to where I can see the dance floor, or more accurately the crowd around the dance floor.
At the booth in front of me are two couples. The two guys sit atop the seat backs, and put their feet at the edge of the table to brace it and one of the girls, a lovely Japanese girl--radiantly happy, and therefore beautiful--in a blue and white striped party dress and white heels, gets up on the table and starts dancing. This is a good deal for the guys, as they get to appreciate her dancing without being obligated to dance themselves. I move on, around the bar, downstairs, outside, eventually concluding that Josh has indeed wandered off and is nowhere to be found. I decide to wait till midnight; Josh shows up at 11:40. He'd gone with the scuba group to their hotel and had to look around a while to locate the bar. We headed back to the hotel, packed, and got a few hours of sleep.

July 8

Thursday. Drove to Kuranda, up on the Atherton Tablelands. The road goes up the side of a mountain, about the same as going up Bent Mountain in the Blue Ridge, except that the the signs warn of emus and kangaroos rather than deer crossings. Kuranda itself seems to be mostly a marketplace with leather, hats, fabrics, clothes, digeridoos, jewelry from semiprecious stones, wooden bowls and plates, and so on. I saw one Indigenous man at work there, painting landscapes. They also had an aviary and a zoo of venomous creatures, but I didn't go in. I did get a "thick" milkshake, but it wasn't nearly as thick as an American milkshake would be.

Came back to Cairns and picked up Josh as he returned from the dive trip. Walked around a while, got excellent lamb gyros at Greek Taverna, headed back to the hotel so Josh could wash off three days accumulation of salt and then sleep.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 7

Josh is still out on the Reef doing scuba, so today was a slow day. Did some shopping, mailed a couple of postcards, visited a grocery. Food in Australia is expensive, 50% more than it would be in the US, sometimes more. Yogurt cups, for instance, might be US$0.80 at home, whereas the cheapest ones here were Aus$1.69. You're rarely going to see a restaurant meal for less than $15.
In the afternoon, I drove up the coast road toward Port Douglas. Saw a couple of college kids with huge backpacks hitchhiking, so I picked them up. Becky and Lucien, from Germany. Went past Port Douglas to Mossman, dropped them off there and turned back to Cairns. Becky has been here for a while. We drove past sugar cane fields and she said that the burn the fields during harvest, and the air smells like caramel.
The coaast is gorgeous. Tropical forest right down to the seaside. In a lot of places the coast is rocky, but there are stretches of sandy beach. The forest is overwhelmingly green, but every now and again there are flashes of flowers, pink or orange or yellow.

July 6, Cairns and Great Barrier Reef

July 6

Today was my snorkel trip day. They picked up Josh and I from the hotel and took us down to the boat. Sign in, take off your shoes, get a pair of fins, get a mask and snorkel, get a wet suit, get a seat.

Boat briefing: here's the head, here's the upper deck. Motion will be worse in the head and on the upper deck. if you're fealing queasy, go to the stern, look at the horizon, grab a bag. If you have a regurgitation event, aim in the bag, then hand the bag to your favorite crewman, who will dispose of it for you. Winds are at 15kt which means we'll have some seas. If you're standing, keep a hand on one of the grab rails, else you will fall and we all take pictures and laugh at you. If someone goes overboard, keep your eyes on them and yell "Man overboard! Man overboard" until a crewmember tells you to do otherwise. Then you can get your camera, take pictures and laugh at them, but do the yelling part first.

About a two hour ride to the reef. I'd taken scopolamine, which is supposed to prevent motion sickness, or in my case, tone it down to bearable levels. I got queasy, clammy skin, sweats, and had to stay determinedly focussed on the horizon and the thought "I Will Not Get Sick. I Can Make It. Not Sick At All"; but I've been a lot sicker on a lot shorter and smoother ride, so all told, I'd count that as a success. Not a success I want to repeat, but a success. Some of the others actually used their bags; one poor girl just lay there on the stern deck, obviously miserable. Josh, of course, has a cast iron stomach. Despite being queasy, I am coherent enough to chat with a Finnish couple in the next seats. He did his military service in the Hakkapaalita corps, which I think is exceedingly cool. There are also people there from tthe US, Switzerland, and Germany, possibly other countries as well.

We make it out to the MV Kangaroo Explorer, which is stationed at the reef, and the scuba trip people (including Josh) transfer over. This leaves us with about twelve snorkellers.

Safety briefing: Don't touch the coral. The coral will cut your suit and you, and most of it is related to jellyfish so it will sting you. Don't touch the coral. Your guide will go with you and he has a life ring if you need it.

Don your wet suit. This version goes down to the wrists, down to the knees, leaves the head, hands, and lower legs bare. (Not coincidentally, I now have sunburned calves). The wet suit keeps you tolerably warm, as long as you don't get influxes of water down your wrists (so swim with your arms down at your sides) or down your neck. Spit in the mask and rub the glass to keep it from fogging; get your fins on, mask down, and "you, get off the boat!" Jump in. The first thing you notice is gosh that water is cold! It had rained as we were going out and that top layer sure was....brisk. Refreshing. Second thing you notice, when you put your face in the water, is that you can't see the bottom. However, it's shallow enough that you're staring into green depths rather than inky black. Third thing is, the waves are sloshing back and forth, continually, and you are sloshing with them. No matter what you do, you're moving; you may not be moving much but it's very difficult to stay in exactly one place.

The guide points us over to a reef, and it's obvious where he wants us to go; the water is sandy brown rather than green. We swim over, and then we can see the bottom, maybe five meters deep, and then suddenly there's a wall of coral ahead. The top of the reef is covered by about a meter of water so we swim over it, careful not to touch anything. The colors are mostly tans and browns, in a profusion of shapes. Some lpaces there are just a few fish, some places there are clouds of them, yellow, green rainbow, black, striped, electric blue. Go back to the boat, lunch, second swim. This time I'm taking pictures and don't notice the cold as much. None of the fish seem to be chasing each other; the only ones who are eating seem to be scraping at rocks and coral. There was a clam over a meter long, its shell edged in green and bright blue; something bright purple, which might have been an eel. I saw a distinctive shape--"Cool! There's a shark!"--a white tip shark, about 1.5 meters long, lazing on the bottom maybe 10m away.

Going back to the boat, I noticed one of the girls had kicked off her fins and was having a problem. I got her under my arm and swam her to the lifesaver ring, massaged her feet for a minute--foot cramps hurt a lot--then went back and retrieved her fins and made sure she got back to the boat safely.

Strip off the gear and rinse it. One more visit to the Kangaroo Explorer to take on people who were coming back after finishing their scuba trip. Then it was time to settle in for the trip back; the wind had died down so it was much smoother cruising. Turn in the underwater camera for processing, and then back to the hotel.