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September 2017

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I'm heading to the VMworld conference tomorrow evening, and the current list of electronic devices I'm contemplating taking consists of: 2 laptops, a digital camera, an iPad, an iPod, a phone, and a Kindle. Oh, and a Fitbit. That means I'm going to need to remember 6 distinct power/charging cables.

I probably ought to throw a power strip in there as well.

I think I can fit it all in the super-cool electronics bag my mother got me after I managed to mislay both a laptop power cord and a Kindle during a single 3 day trip. We'll see.
So, I've had an ambition for a while to attend a proper European music festival. My first attempt to make this ambition a reality started when I backed a Kickstarter for the ill-fated Alt-Fest. To recap a long story, the festival filed for bankruptcy a week and half before the event, and I had a swell trip to England and Wales that included a nice consolation prize show at Slimelight.

In an effort not to repeat the Alt-Fest experience, I've had my eye on a few smaller, better established festivals - ones that have been running for a few years, and whose organizers seem to have a solid grip on what the audience wants. One of these was Roadburn. It's been running for about a decade, it takes place in an indoor venue (better sound and no standing in line for porta-potties!), and it's focused on doom metal, which is is one of my favorite subgenres. And it takes place in April, which makes it unlikely to land on top of a critical work or FOGcon-related deadline.

What really clinched my decision to go this coming year, though, was when they announced that Paradise Lost would be playing their Gothic album in its entirety.

Also, they've booked so many bands from Finland that they are describing it as the "Finnish takeover" of Roadburn. You all have some idea how I feel about Finnish metal.

Tickets went on sale today. A couple of years ago, the tickets sold out in 7 minutes, so I preconfigured my account, set an alarm on my phone, and hit the website at noon sharp. And I got a ticket.

So, I'm going to the Netherlands in April.
So, this is what my experience of loading and unloading my luggage from airplane overhead bins was like on my most recent trip: "Excuse me, ma'am, do you need help with your -- oh, clearly you don't." All my shoulder rehab still hasn't quite given me back 100% normal range of motion, but on sheer strength, I have clearly surpassed where I was pre-injury.

But this got me thinking: back when my shoulder injury was at its worst, people were generally very good about offering to help me when they saw me struggling with my luggage. (Although I also checked my bag more often - sometimes you just don't want to to put yourself in a position to rely on the kindness of strangers, especially strangers on airplanes, which are not an environment that brings out the best of human nature.)

But when I think further back, back to the days when I had very little upper body strength, it was very rare that anyone offered to help me with my luggage, even when I was visibly struggling with it. I somehow doubt that we've all just gotten nicer. I do kind of feel that since the airlines started putting bigger fees on checked luggage and more restrictions on carry ons, passengers have taken a more cooperative attitude towards getting everyone's bags stowed on planes. Or maybe it's just that I'm older now, and more plausibly look like someone who might need help?
I'm back from a week of traveling. Spent a lovely few days up at Lake Tahoe with a large collection of Daniel's family. Did some hiking, caught up with what various cousins are doing. Younger Nephew had a bit of an unpleasant time culminating in an emergency appendectomy, but he's fine now.

Then Daniel and I flew to Minneapolis for the 4th Street Fantasy convention. 4th Street confirmed its place as my favorite small con that I'm not involved in running. And I got to spend time with some of my favorite people who I don't see very often. (And some of my favorite people who I actually do see fairly often, but, hey, flying halfway across the country and then having dinner with someone who lives an hour's drive away is just part of the SF Fandom experience. I've decided to stop feeling silly about it. Note that this is not the same thing as actually stopping feeling silly about it, but it's a necessary if not sufficient condition.)

I wore this T-shirt for the flight home, and so had the amusing experience of going through security and being approached by a TSA employee who said, "Okay, I have to stop you here: where can I get that T-shirt?" Heh. I swear, I get more compliments on that shirt than on any other t-shirts I own.
Well, my recounting of my U.K. trip was derailed a bit by traveling back to the States and then being a VMworld for most of the next week. Picking up our tale again on Aug. 17...

Sunday was a pretty low-key day, because I was still pretty tired and footsore from Saturday. We spent the morning in the British Museum, looking at some of the stuff we'd missed on our previous visit: primarily Asian and Mesoamerican works. And I remembered to take my camera along, so there will be pictures. By around lunctime, the crowds had gotten silly again, so we left.

After lunch, we took a stroll through Whitehall and visited Banqueting House, the last surviving fragment of Whitehall Palace, famous primarily for the fact that Charles I was executed just outside. Banqueting House is a really nice place to go in London if you want to just chill out or get out of the rain for a bit. The main attraction is the ceiling in the main hall, painted by Reubens. They have comfy benches and beanbag chairs, and you are very much encouraged to lounge there and contemplate the paintings for as long as you want.

On Monday, we went to Bath. We started with a visit to the Roman baths. They've put together a museum around the baths that has a lot of interesting stuff from the Roman settlement. I particularly liked a little display of written curses left by people at the temple - lots of "May something horrible happen to whoever stole my slave/lover/new bronze pot." They also had the only extant inscription in British Celtic. Pretty cool.

Afterwards, we visited Bath Abbey. The church has one of the coolest gothic exteriors I've seen - I really like the carvings of angels climbing Jacob's ladder on the front of the church.

The interior of the Abbey has some quite spectacular funerary monuments. Visiting it also gave me a lot of sympathy for the problems of trying to run an active community church and ministry in a place that is a) many hundreds of years old and b) a huge tourist attraction. There were lots of signs around explaining various parish projects, like that they are installing new flooring because the old flooring is collapsing due to all the burials under it. The new flooring is also allowing them to put in a new heating system that uses heat from the baths, which is pretty awesome.

The view from the Bath Abbey tower is supposed to be the best view in Bath, but you can only go up there with a guided tour, so we skipped it. Instead, we walked up to the hill to the Bath Fashion Museum. (You can get a combined ticket with the ticket to the Roman Baths that makes the Fashion Museum a good deal.) They had an exhibit of costumes from Downton Abbey, as well as an interesting selection of Regency court dress. I admit, we were getting a bit tired by that point, so we didn't linger as long as we might have in other circumstances.
On Friday, we caught a train back to London, and had to haul our luggage rather further than anticipated thanks to the fact that you can't currently get on the Bakerloo line at Paddington. You can get off the Bakerloo line at Paddington, but it's not a reversible operation.

We spent a couple of hours in the afternoon at the British Museum, looking at the Egyptian and Assyrian sculptures. It's amazing stuff - I've seen photos of almost all of it, but you can't appreciate the scale of it from a photo. After a while the crowds got to be bit too much for me, as did the tendency of said crowds to put their hands all over the exhibits. STOP TOUCHING THE 3000 YEAR-OLD SCULPTURES, PEOPLE! I really like the fact that so many of the sculptures are not roped off or walled up in glass, and keeping our hands off 'em is the best way to keep it that way.

On Saturday, we had a fancy birthday lunch at Marcus at the Berkeley Hotel. The food was delicious, but the people watching was almost as much fun. Everyone there seemed either to be regulars, or to be celebrating a birthday. There was a woman dining alone who delivered a scathing critique of the potato-fennel bread to the waiter, and was promised that when she came in next, she would absolutely not be served potato-fennel bread. (I thought it was perfectly nice potato-fennel bread.) The couple seated next to us were having an epic set of wine pairings arranged by the sommelier, and got happier and louder as the meal went on. A young man a few tables over was having a farewell meal before he went off to spend a year studying in Chicago. I wanted to go over and reassure him that you can get fancy French food in Chicago, too.

After lunch, I went back to the hotel and got gothed up for an evening at Electrowerkz, where "S.O.S. Fest" - a lineup of smaller bands salvaged from the line-up of the defunct Alt-Fest - was taking place. Electrowerkz is hidden in a side street behind the Angel tube station, and is apparently a metalworking shop part of the time, a goth club ("Slimelight") every Saturday night from 10pm to 7:30am, and an occasional pop-up restaurant and wedding venue at other times. I got there a bit before 5pm, and found the large open space downstairs occupied by folks selling band merchandise, a cocktail bar housed in a disused tube train (signed for "Upminster"), a kitchen cooking falafel and jerk chicken, and a crowd of black-clad figures swilling Strongbow cider and Red Stripe beer while the sound system wafted Fields of the Nephilim tunes over the scene.

I made my way upstairs through a maze of twisty staircases to one of the upstairs dancefloors where most of the bands were playing. I managed to catch most of The Beauty of Gemina's set. They play a very rollicking acoustic-guitar driven sort of goth, and the singer tells silly stories between songs, like about how their song "Mariannah" is allegedly about a woman who refused to marry each member of the band in turn. Even the drummer. "And he had the best chance, really, because girls like drummers, you know."

Next up were The Exploding Boy. I knew nothing about them before seeing them live at this event. They're Swedish, and they wear their Sisters of Mercy influences very much on their sleeve - to the extent that I sometimes thought I could identify which Sisters song they'd taken their drum loop from. But they played a really engaging set, enough so that I went downstairs afterwards and bought a CD from one of the guys in the band, and told him how much I enjoyed the set.

Whispers in the Shadow played a sadly short set due to technical difficulties, but were pretty fun to watch. The singer is of the dramatic hand-gestures and flinging oneself around the stage school of frontmanship, and when their sound was working properly, it was a very epic sounding mix of layered keyboards, guitars, and samples.

Turkish duo She Past Away were one of the bands I was most looking forward to. Judging by the crowd response, I wasn't alone. I'm not sure if the guys know any English other than "thank you," but they were clearly having a great time. Plus, I'd managed to wriggle my way up to the third row. Betcha I'd never have managed that at Alt-Fest.

At that point, I escaped downstairs to get some fresh air and food, and rest my feet a bit. I missed the beginning of Clan of Xymox's set, and had to watch the rest of it from the very back of a packed room. I couldn't see much, but the band sounded good, and there was lots of dancing in the crowd. My favorite moment came during the encore, when they played a cover of "Venus," and I was suddenly surrounded by a few hundred madly dancing goths shouting, "I'm your Venus, I'm your fire..." It was a blast.

There was about a 30 minute break before the last band, Pretentious, Moi?, were scheduled to play. I'd actually spotted Tim Chandler, the singer, several times over the course of the night, and kept meaning to go over and say hello, but he always seemed to be on his way somewhere or deep in conversation, and I didn't want to be THAT fan. So, he rather made my night when he bounced up to me with a huge grin, pointed at my Pretentious, Moi? t-shirt, and said, "I just keep wanting to point and squawk and shout, 'I drew that!'" Definitely one case where I'm glad I broke the "Don't wear the band's shirt to the gig" rule.

I actually missed the very beginning of Pretentious, Moi?'s set because it was in one of the downstairs dancefloors and I got lost trying to find my way there. (Seriously, I'm not sure the Electrowerkz interior obeys the ordinary rules of geometry.) But what I did catch was the highlight of the evening for me. They played two new songs - one called "Turn out the lights," and one whose title I didn't catch - which seem to bode well for the prospects for a new album.

I left at about 1am, and caught the night bus back to my hotel. Only to find the front door locked. I had to ring the doorbell and wait rather sheepishly for the night manager to let me in. I felt a bit like a teenager sneaking in after curfew, which I suppose is a fitting end to a night of clubbing.
Me dressed for an evening at Slimelight, the goth club night at the Electrowerkz club in London. I actually put on makeup for the first time in ages. I must have looked fairly convincing, because as I was walking through Islington, a total stranger came up and asked me if I knew the way to Slimelight.

And here's one of the better shots I got of the singer/guitarist of Turkish goth duo She Past Away, who performed at Electrowerkz that evening:
I don't really have proper photo editing/viewing software with me here, but I'm going to try to share a few that don't need much tinkering. This is a bit of ceiling decoration from Southwark cathedral - now removed from the ceiling and displayed at picture-taking height. I believe it is supposed to represent Satan swallowing Judas.

We started off today by walking down to Cardiff Bay, which is a lovely area to stroll around in and is chock full of locations that have appeared in Doctor Who. Some of them are looking a bit different right now - there's a carnival fun fair going on in Roald Dahl Plass, and the water tower sculpture that marks the entrance to the Torchwood hub is currently covered in giant stickers of strawberries. Still, I got some good photos of the tower and Millenium Center.

It was raining on and off through the morning, so we ducked into the Pierhead and later the Welsh National Assembly building to get out of the rain. The Pierhead has some cool Victorian terra cotta tile work, and few nifty odds and ends on display, like the binnacle from the ship that carried Scott on his ill-fated Antarctic voyage. It's not a place I'd recommend making a special visit to, but it's a nice spot to shelter from the rain. The Welsh Assembly building is actually pretty interesting, although it would have been still more interesting if the Assembly had actually been in session. There's a visitors' gallery above the assembly chamber that allows you to watch the proceedings, and a glass-walled corridor that you can walk along and look into the committee rooms from.

And then we were off to the Doctor Who Experience. Possibly more accurately described as the "Daniel patiently takes photos of Wendy standing next to Doctor Who props and grinning like a loon" Experience. When you walk in, the first thing you see is the 3rd Doctor's car, Bessie, and a Dalek made of Lego. If you can tear yourself away from those delights, and the temptations of the souvenir shop, then you can enter the Experience proper.

For the first half-hour, you're led as part of a group of thirty-odd people through an audio-visual experience that feels a bit like being dropped in the middle of a slightly silly webisode. The conceit is that the Doctor is trapped in the Pandorica Mark 2, and has been trying to get a signal to Amy and Rory, but instead he's reached you, a bunch of people out shopping. So, your job is to find the TARDIS and help the Doctor escape - which involves getting in the middle of a Dalek war, passing through a room full of Weeping Angels, and even getting to help fly the TARDIS. (Children get priority at the controls. There was one "child" who is two days short of her fortieth birthday working the navigation controls, but I promise you, I made sure that all the actual kids had a spot before I jumped in.)

The second part of the Experience is an exhibit of props and costumes from the series, old and new. They have costumes from each Doctor, sonic screwdrivers, Daleks, Cybermen, replicas of various TARDIS consoles. I took tons of pictures.

I had a blast, and even Daniel, whose interest in Doctor Who is much more casual, enjoyed it. I recommend it. (They'll be closing in September so that they can update it for the new Doctor. Which I guess means I have a perfect excuse to plan a return trip.)

We had a late lunch at the Bosphorus restaurant on Mermaid Quay, which in addition to serving tasty Turkish food, happens to have been the spot where the 9th Doctor, Rose, Mickey, and Jack Harkness had breakfast in the episode "Boom Town". Captain Jack, alas, was not in evidence today.

We spent the remainder of the day lazing around, drinking tea and reading and soaking up the Cardiff atmosphere. It's been a nice break from the hecticness of London. Tomorrow, we head back to the hecticness of London.
Well, we haven't to Bath yet. The weather forecast has been looking a bit chancy, so we decided to stay in London where we could do plenty of things indoors if the weather required it.

Monday morning, we took a stroll through Whitehall and Westminster, looked at the queues at the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, and decided to come back sometime when we'd booked advanced tickets. So, instead we went to the British Library. Which is awesome. They have all kinds of amazing stuff: Jane Austen's writing desk (and the manuscript of Persuasion)! The only surviving medieval manuscript copy of Beowulf (plus some draft pages of Seamus Heaney's translation, which give some sense of how hard he found it to get the opening right)! Handwritten sheets of Beatles' lyrics! Plus more gorgeously illuminated manuscripts than you can shake a stick at.

After lunch and a nap, I went to the National Gallery, to indulge my love of 16th and early 17th century painting. I particularly wanted to see the three Caravaggio paintings there. I particularly enjoyed seeing "Salome receives the head of John the Baptist" - I like the way Salome is looking away from the severed head with a slight expression of disgust, while her maidservant peers intently over her shoulder. I also got a kick out of Domenichino's "Saint John the Evangelist", in which two little cherubim struggle to hold up enormous books for John to write in, while the distracted saint stomps on an irate looking eagle which appears to be thinking about making lunch out of the cherub on the right. Plus, when you enter the room from the entrance opposite this painting, the first impression you get is of being mooned by pudgy cherub butt.

Yes, I love early 17th century Italian painting for all the wrong reasons, but I do love it.

Tuesday, we went to see the Tower of London (having booked tickets in advance). We spent a good portion of the day there. There's a pretty cool exhibit about coinage and the royal mint, plus a really nice collection of royal arms and armor. I hope some of my armor photos come out well. And we stood in line to see the crown jewels. Which are definitely impressive. If I had to pick only one exhibit, I'd choose the armor over the jewels, but the jewels are definitely a one-of-a-kind collection.

Later, we crossed the river and visited the Golden Hinde, a reconstructed Elizabethan sailing ship. We joined one of the guided tours, which was organized around the conceit that we were a batch of new recruits and our guide was an officer showing us the ropes. It was both fun and hugely entertaining. I don't usually go for guided tours, preferring to poke around at my own pace, but in this case I'm glad I made an exception.

Today we took a train to Cardiff. We visited Cardiff Castle, which is an interesting agglomeration of different time periods. Lining one wall of the gift shop/cafe is a remnant of Cardiff's old Roman wall. In the middle of the complex is a semi-ruined Norman keep, which you can climb to the top of for some pretty nice city views. And then you can tour the part of the castle that the Marquess of Bute used to live in. Which is basically an illustration of what happens when a Victorian coal baron with a taste for medieval gothic architecture gets to indulge himself. It's a bit ludicrous. Carved and painted ceilings, stained glass, more coats of arms than you can shake a stick at...I hope some of my photos come out. It's very impressive.

We had dinner at Mint and Mustard, a very good Indian restaurant. (We've been to a couple South Indian restaurants here in the U.K., and the food is like nothing I've ever had in the Bay Area.) Our waitress asked if we were on holiday, and then, in rather mystified tones, asked, "If I may ask, why did you come to Cardiff?" My answer was, "the castle and the Doctor Who Experience," which seemed to be a satisfactory answer.

So, tomorrow we'll see the Doctor Who Experience. And if it doesn't rain on us too hard, maybe do some more sightseeing.
Hello from London! We've been having a great time so far.

We arrived on Friday afternoon, but were pretty much too exhausted to do much except stroll around St. James Park a bit, have some dinner, and conk out.

We started Saturday by wandering around Covent Garden a bit, stopping to see St. Paul's church, which I wanted to see primarily because it features in the opening scene of Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London. It's a credit to Aaronovitch's powers of description that it looks pretty much as I pictured it, except that the actual distance between the church and Covent Garden market is smaller than I'd imagined. ("The distance is smaller than I imagined" is a pretty good description of Central London, generally.)

From there we walked to Sir John Soane's museum, which I think has to be seen to be believed. It's just crammed full of stuff - architectural models, sculpture (original and reproductions), drawings, bric-a-brac. It's too bad you can't take photos there, because I don't think mere words do justice to how packed the place is.

We made our way to the Museum of London, stopping at St. Bartholomew's church along the way. St. Bartholomew's is one of the few buildings in London that actually date back to the middle ages. Fortunately, the neighboring hospital looks like it's been renovated a fair few times since the 1100s.

The Museum of London is really cool. I particularly liked the exhibits on Roman London. We also had fun totally geeking out with a museum staff member about swords, prompted by his jumping in to correct me when I mis-identified a hand-and-a-half sword as a two-handed sword. (Silly me. I really ought to know better. On the other hand, being wrong prompted a conversation which was much more fun and informative than just reading the informational placards.)

For today's explorations, we'd intended a maritime theme, planning to visit the Docklands museum and then head on to Greenwich. But after we got out of the Docklands museum, it was raining pretty hard, so we made our soggy way back to central London, had lunch, and holed up in a Waterstone's bookstore for a while. When it cleared up a bit, we went to the National Portrait Gallery and explored the top floor, which has the medieval, Elizabethan, and Stuart-era portraits. Which prompted today's Stupid Question In History: Was the overall prestige of the Order of the Garter tied to the fashion for men wearing hosiery? (Do present day members of the Order of the Garter still wear the garter?)

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I think we'll take a day trip to Bath.
The organizers finally went ahead and officially admitted that they've cancelled Alt-Fest:

Considering that they waited to make this announcement until after 4 out of 6 headliners, countless other bands, a couple of vendors, and the bus company that was running transportation to the site had announced that it was off, it didn't exactly come as a surprise.

Basically, the organizers underestimated the cost and overestimated the ticket sales. The latter surprised me a bit, since I'd have thought that the quality of the lineup would have drawn more people. Perhaps many of those people decided to wait until the organizers demonstrated that they could pull this off. Wisely, as it turned out.

I am a bit peeved about the amount of b.s. the organizers put out about ticket sales during the lead up to the festival. While it's clearly not in their interests to publicize poor ticket sales, they did quite a bit to give the impression that sales were brisk, even claiming at one point within the past month that there were "fewer than 900 tickets left".

Ah, well. We live, we learn, we plan birthday hijinx in London, and we hope against hope that Fields of the Nephilim will tour the U.S. someday.
It's increasingly looking like Alt-Fest, the music festival I was planning on attending in England two weeks from now, has been cancelled. Rumors started flying around yesterday morning, and while there's still been no official statement from the organizers, a number of the artists who were supposed to perform have announced on social media that the event is cancelled.

When I initially backed the festival on Kickstarter a year and a half ago, I thought there was a fair risk that it wouldn't actually happen. New festivals are hard to get off the ground. I really didn't expect things to crash and burn this close to the event, though.

Hopefully, I'll be able to get some of what I paid refunded. (The Kickstarter pledge is probably a write-off, but the regular ticket I bought for Daniel ought to be refundable, and my hotel booking might be partially refundable.) And it means I'll have three extra days in England to do what I want with, and I should have no problem coming up with three days of awesome stuff to do in England.

Still, it does feel a bit like my birthday party has been cancelled. And I do wish that the organizers would make some kind of official statement and explain what's going on.

I suppose in the future I'd better stick to festivals with more of a track record. (Not that those don't get cancelled, but they seem to handle the communication better.)
Hi all! Welcome to 2013! I hope the year is getting off to a good start for you. I celebrated the turn of the year by going to an excellent party, coming home before midnight, and staying up until the wee hours reading a book. Which in a "start as you mean to go on" sense, was about right.

I was looking back, and 2012 was actually a heck of a year for me. That seemed worth commemorating somehow, so I made a list of the coolest things I did this year. In roughly chronological order:
ten things )
My grandfather's 90th birthday party was a success! I hope that if I reach 90, I'll have that many people so eager to come and celebrate with me.

One of the highlights of the party was a reading of choice extracts from my grandfather's high school year book. My grandfather, who was the assistant editor, had composed the introduction using the literary conceit of himself as a grandfather telling his grandkids about his high school days. Very strange and wonderful to be a grandkid, hearing how your grandfather imagined talking to you decades before you were born.

The funniest part of it is that neither I nor my cousins ever remember our grandfather telling us stories about high school -- or indeed about most of his past. My maternal grandfather wasn't, and isn't, much of a talker. I have lots of memories of us doing stuff together (hiking, boating, fishing, playing Scrabble), and of his boundless capacity to let us kids ramble on about our ideas and plans and exploits. But almost all the family stories about him were told by my grandmother or my mother, and I'm starting to realize that there's lots about his life that I never knew. I'm glad that this weekend provided some opportunities to fill in the gaps.
Friday morning I arrived in Florida for a whirlwind quick trip to celebrate my maternal grandfather's 90th birthday. Over the past few days, various members of our far-flung clan have been gathering, so I've been getting to catch up with relatives that I haven't seen in years. And meet a few new ones - I've got two first cousins once-removed, a 3 year-old and a 15 month-old, who I've never met before.

One of the nice things about being on Amelia Island, Florida the day before the time switch is that I got to get up and go running on the beach as the sun rose, without having to get up stupidly early. Apparently, it is a traditional Navajo practice to go running to greet the rising sun. I can see why - there is something really special about running as the sun comes up. Especially if you can arrange to do it somewhere where you've got a really unobstructed view of the Eastern horizon.

Today has had its share of minor drama: This morning my father ended up in the emergency room of the local hospital with what turned out to be a minor abrasion on his cornea. He has antibiotic eye drops and orders not to read or watch TV for a day or two - he will be fine. This afternoon, my 3 year-old cousin, while riding in a golf cart driven by my granfather, managed to put his foot down hard on the accelerator and crash the cart into my grandfather's garage door, putting a sizeable dent in it.

(I took on the task of distracting the 3 year-old while the other grown-ups hammered the garage door into good enough shape to get it to open. We played chase, wrestled on the floor, pretended to be airplanes, played hide-and-seek, pretended to be dinosaurs, played "let's not hide" (a game of his own invention, which involved me announcing, "Okay, I'm not hiding!" while he laughed), and he "helped me make a movie" (which meant that I chased him around the kitchen while filming him with my iPhone). In total, I think I succeeded in keeping him occupied for 10 minutes. Maybe 15. I absolutely do not endorse the over-medication of small children for ADHD, but I totally understand why it happens.)

Anyway, I've got to get changed and help go set up helium balloons for the party tonight. I shall dutifully report if the combination of my 3 year-old cousin and a room full of helium balloons results in mayhem.
I'm back from Worldcon. I had a great time - I think I did a better job of managing my social energy than I often do at Worldcons, which means I spent less time at parties but had more fun at the parties I attended. A good trade.

When people ask me, "How is your con going?", I tend to think they mean the one I'm helping to run, rather than the one I'm attending. I had a lot of accidental conversations about FOGcon that way.

As with last year's Worldcon in Reno, I really enjoyed the "Stroll with the Stars" morning walks. I don't often get to chat with the "stars" much, but it's a great low-pressure environment in which to chat to fellow fans, and to get familiar with the area surrounding the convention hotel. (Admittedly, in Reno, the area surrounding the convention hotel was one that I'd have been content to remain unacquainted with. Chicago had a lot more to offer.)

It was a fairly mediocre year for programming, I think. To briefly summarize the panels I attended...
The Good: The SF Squeecast recording was an absolute hoot - I recommend checking it out when it shows up on their podcast feed. I came away from the "F**k Your Knight and the Horse He Rode in On, Part Deux" panel with a long list of book recommendations.

The Bad: "Girl Power in YA SF and Fantasy" was marred by the sole male panelist spending the first half hour talking more than all the female panelists combined. It wasn't intentional, and parity was eventually restored when the women just started interrupting him. "Do We Need Print Books?" was frustrating because people kept bringing up supposed problems with e-books that have either already been technologically solved ("You can't lend an e-book to your friend!" Yes you can!) or will be easily technologically solved once someone brings the right product to market ("E-readers aren't durable enough for small children," or "You can't read an e-book in the bath.") I was annoyed. The three people sitting with me, who are much bigger e-book proponents than I am, were nearly incandescent.

The Meh: "Have Sonic Lipstick, Will Travel" proved to be an hour plus of a roomful of people going, "Yeah, Sarah Jane was awesome. Lis Sladen was awesome." While I can happily spend an hour singing Sarah Jane's praises, I'm not sure a Worldcon panel is the best format to do it in - we'd probably have done better to all go down to the bar and chat. There were brief moments of differing opinion on K-9 and Company and "School Reunion", but the panel didn't really catch fire. (Also, this is nitpicky, but I wish that fandom in general could praise Sarah Jane Smith without (probably unintentionally) belittling prior companions. Sarah Jane was not the "first feminist companion," the "first companion who was a career woman," or "the first companion who stood up to the Doctor," although she was arguably the most effectively-realized character matching those descriptions that the show had had in a while.)

Quibbles about programming aside, it was an excellent con overall.
So, here's the part that everyone really wants to know about: what did I eat while I was in Sofia?

Bulgarian cuisine has two major focal points: salads and dairy products, especially cheese and yogurt. This is possibly my idea of culinary heaven, but your mileage may vary.

Bulgarians really are crazy about salads. The archetypal Bulgarian salad is shopska salata, made with tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, and a white feta-like cheese called sireneh. You can also get more ordinary green salads, Caesar salads, and so on. I frequently had some kind of salad at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Shopska salata is even the traditional food to eat when you are drinking rakiya, Bulgarian brandy. (That struck me as a bit odd, considering that in most parts of the world, the traditional boozing-it-up food is usually salty and/or fatty. I suppose a shopska salata can be both if you load it up with enough cheese, but still...)

Besides the salads, some other traditional Bulgarian dishes that I sampled were:

  • Tarator, which is a cold cucumber and yogurt soup. Very refreshing on hot summer days. Many places will also serve it in a mug as a beverage.

  • Katok, which is a sort of dip or spread made with yogurt, sheep's milk cheese, walnuts, and roasted red peppers. You can eat it on its own or spread on bread or slices of raw tomato. I need to learn how to make this - I could happily eat it every day.

  • Moussaka, clearly related to the Greek dish, but in Bulgaria it is most commonly a dish of diced potato and ground pork with paprika and other spices, topped with cheese and baked. It's traditional to pair this with tarator.

  • Kyufteta, sauteed pork meatballs, which I had with a roasted red pepper sauce.

  • Mishmash, this is just scrambled eggs with peppers and onions. But seriously, how can you not love a dish called mishmash?

  • Bob, which is a bean and sausage stew.

For dinner, I frequently had a piece of grilled chicken or fish with some grilled vegetables on the side. Simple, but tasty.
More ramblings on foreign cuisine, sweets, and booze )
I thought I should take a moment to post a bit about my trip to Sofia, Bulgaria. I have to say, it's a very different experience travelling to a foreign country for business rather than being a tourist. I actually had very little time for doing anything other than working, eating, and sleeping. On the other hand, I spent most of my time working and eating with locals. So, I came back with fewer pretty pictures, but maybe a better understanding of local culture - or a very particular slice of local culture.

But let's start with a few pretty pictures:
The Alexander Nevsky Church )

Working in our Sofia office was interesting. The Technical Publications team there is very tight-knit. Almost all of the writers work in the same large room, at open desks without even so much as cubicle walls separating them. It's also a very homogeneous and rather young team - many of the writers went to the same high school and/or university, and the experienced old-timers are *maybe* my age, plus or minus a few years. Despite being so tight-knit, they adopted me as one of the group pretty effortlessly. It actually made me a little embarrassed - I'm not sure that we in Palo Alto are so thoroughly hospitable to team members from other sites who visit us.

I was really pleased that my efforts to learn a little bit of Bulgarian paid off in ways both expected and unexpected. The expected benefit was that it did help me communicate, and it was also very psychologically reassuring to me - I find the idea of being unable to communicate very scary.

The unexpected benefit was the amazed and delighted reaction I got from many Bulgarians when I spoke to them in their language. Even surly cab drivers would break into gleeful grins when I uttered a simple "good morning" or "thank you".

My primary resources for learning Bulgarian were the Teach Yourself Bulgarian Conversation CDs, which I played on my commute to and from work for a few weeks before going on my trip, and the free Bulgarian Survival Phrases podcasts. Neither will make you fluent, but since they do concentrate on vocabulary that is useful for the tourist or business traveller, you'll get a lot of bang for your buck. I recommend both.

Well, this is getting long, so I'll stop here. Look for a future post in which I'll talk about Bulgarian food, the Evolution of Technical Communications conference I presented at, and visiting Koprivshtitsa. With more pretty pictures!
Yay: My Bulgarian language skills are adequate to purchasing a metro ticket.

Not-so-yay: When I arrived at the metro stop near the VMware offices, I came out of the metro station by a different exit than I'd used previously, and got briefly lost. I was at the point of phoning a colleague to come rescue me when I found a street sign and was able to work out where I was.

Yay: A passer-by asked me in Bulgarian how to get to the metro stop, and I understood and answered. (Mind you, we were half a block away, so I was able to point up the street and say, "tuk" (here). More complex directions would have been beyond me.)

Yay: Successfully negotiated entry into the office building, despite getting a firm "ne" (no) from the receptionist to my hopeful, "Govorite li Angleeski?" (Do you speak English?) (Normally, VMware would have given me a keycard for the building, but they have a lot of visitors this week, and they ran out.)

Not-so-yay: My Bulgarian language skills are not quite up to the task of ordering lunch.

Yay: My Bulgarian colleagues have taken it upon themselves to ensure that I don't starve, and have escorted me to lunch and helped me order.

Weird random factoid: My colleagues inform me that it is customary in Bulgaria to put ketchup and mayonnaise on pizza. And yet they claim to find rootbeer disgusting.