Sunday, November 23, 2003

Xpu Ha

The last excursion we took from Cancun included a stop at the Xpu Ha Palace Resort. There's been a proliferation of "eco-parks" on the "Riviera Maya" south of Cancun. One of these, at Xpu Ha, failed and was bought out by the Palace Resorts corportation. They've turned it into an all-inclusive resort. Based on the few hours we spent there, I can recommend it with the following qualifications:

  • You have to enjoy the idea of an all-inclusive resort.
  • It's a relatively isolated location.
  • It's great if you're looking for nature, but not necessarily a natural environment.

The best part of the resort for us was the snorkeling, both in the freshwater area and in the coastal lagoon.

An example of how it's not necessarily natural is the coastal lagoon. There are amazing quantities of absolutely stunning fish there. There is, however, a supply of fish food which brings them there. You're encouraged to feed them -- some other guests were annoyed that the fish were biting their hands when they went in carrying fish food. Duh.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

The Eyre Affair

Christina read The Eyre Affair for her book club and recommended it to me when she finished it. This is a fun book with a very unusual premise. This takes place in an alternate universe where the Crimean War is still going on in 1985. Thursday Next's father is a special operative in the Chrono Guard, which may have something to do with the changing timeline. But this, as Douglas Adams might say, is not his story.

Instead, this is the story of Thursday Next, literary detective. She investigates things like literary forgery, but things get weirder when her uncle invents a device that allows people to step into books, and it is stolen by a master criminal. I won't give away more of the plot, as part of the fun of the book is learning the twists and turns of the author's universe. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I knew more about Jane Eyre, though.

Anyway, it is a neat universe, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Traveler's Century Club

I ran across a reference to the Traveler's Century Club on FlyerTalk. It's an organization for those who have visited 100 or more "countries". They have a fairly loose definition of the term country -- Hawaii counts, for example. I fancy myself a bit of a world traveler -- so, how'm I doing?

15. Or 16. I'm trying to decide whether airport stopovers count. I was thinking of my times through the Frankfurt airport before recalling -- oh, yeah, I was born in Germany. To be fair, I have no memory of that, so I'm just going by what it says on my birth certificate. Anyway, the one in question is the Netherlands, since I changed planes in Amsterdam once.

The rest are:

  1. Alaska
  2. Australia
  3. Austria
  4. Belgium
  5. Canada
  6. Cyprus, Republic
  7. England
  8. Finland
  9. Germany
  10. Korea, South
  11. Mexico
  12. Poland
  13. Scotland
  14. United States (continental)
  15. Wales

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


I took a number of pictures in Chicago, but all but one were of the Marriott, the skyline, or some combination of the two. The other one was of the Billy Goat Tavern, but for some reason Moto Photo failed to give me a print of that one. Weird.

Anyway, I had a nice time for two and a half days in Chicago. I went to the Art Institute of Chicago -- two hours was far too little time -- and the aforementioned Billy Goat Tavern (cheezeborger, cheezeborger, cheezeborger).

The Marriott (officially the "Chicago Marriott Downtown at Medical District/UIC") was fairly nice, although the high-speed Internet access never worked while I was there. I spent most of my time at the conference.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Ranch Store Center

After the Arts & Crafts Fair on Saturday, my parents took us to the nearby town of Oracle. We went to the Ranch Store Center, which had a bunch of funky artsy stuff for sale. Well, it wasn't for sale when we got there, since they had closed up shop early. We wandered around and looked at the stuff; the robot was a particular favorite.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Nonna Maria's Pizza.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Grantham Get-Together

Well, on the digital pictures -- note to self: the flash can wash out features if taken too close.

Friday and Saturday my parents had a booth at the Saddlebrooke Arts and Crafts Fair. Friday my Aunt Pam stopped by, and we got to visit with her. Saturday, my cousin Stephanie visited with her son Andrew and her nephew Brayden. It was my first opportunity to meet either of my first cousins once removed, and it was a lot of fun. Andrew is almost 4, and a very sweet, bright child. Brayden is six or so months old, and very cute. We are pictured below.

Hmm. Somehow he's the mature-looking one.

I was noticing recently that I have pictures of myself in that hat all over the world.

That picture in the background is the same one that's on my father's web page.

Saturday, November 15, 2003


It seems like I should have found more time to post lately, but I haven't. We got the actual pictures from Cancun developed, so I will probably scan some in. I spent a couple of days in Chicago; those pictures should be ready by now. Right now Christina and I are at the tail end of a trip to Arizona to see my parents. I took some digital pictures I'll download when we get back.

But for now, I thought I'd give an update on my Hugo-winning novel-reading project. When last mentioned, I had called American Gods the "most disappointing" such novel yet. I also said I was waiting for this year's winner to determine my next book in the series.

The two thoughts combine in my reading of Hominids, which won this year. That makes Hugo winner #22 for me. And 22nd out of 22 on my favorites, I might add.

I read this book on my first day of jury duty. The premise is fairly interesting -- a Neanderthal scientist from an alternate Earth creates a portal to our Earth. In their Earth, Neanderthals became the dominant species. The interactions between humans and our primate cousins (siblings?) provide a neat opportunity to examine our assumptions about "human nature" and how things "have to be". Unfortunately, this promise is wasted with somewhat preachy contrasts between the pacifist, environmentalist Neanderthals and big, bad humans. (Or would that be small, bad humans?) There's even a bad guy from a shadowy government agency. Other negatives include a bunch of forced Star Trek references (the novel might as well have been stamped, "for nerds, by a nerd") and wooden writing.)

Of course, all of this was sealed by the complete botching of the explanation of mathematics used in the book. Worse, number theory (my field). Since that was laughable (I mean, couldn't the author run it by somebody who knew something and say, "Please make sure I don't embarrass myself?"), I questioned the plausibility of the various other disciplines tapped for this ambitious book.

There are two sequels to Hominids -- Humans and Hybrids. I admit I ended up reading both of them. I guess I can identify three reasons -- one, I wanted to finish what I had started. Two, I wanted to get them out of the way in case one of them win's next year's Hugo. Three, and perhaps most importantly, my jury duty stretched out to four days and I desperately needed something to read -- quick.

Perhaps more later about the murder case for which I ended up serving on the jury. It was pretty interesting, but I have to be careful what I say. These are real people involved -- with real guns, who aren't afraid to shoot them. I don't want somebody learning how to use Google in a prison rehab program and finding his name on my web site.