Monday, December 12, 2005

This Week in Go: A Series of Unfortunate Events

My prediction last week that my Go rating would drop to 25 kyu before it hit 23 kyu came to pass. (Well at least the part about 25 kyu.) After I typed that, I lost six games in a row, for a total losing streak of seven. (The graph above represents the month of December to date.)

I started out by losing an even game to an American 21 kyu player. Because of the difference in rating, that didn't hurt me too much. Then I lost a 5-handicap game to a Dutch 15-kyu player. The handicap was not enough to account for the difference in ratings, so again, I lost less than 20% of a kyu. I dropped a 13x13 game to Ben. The handicap I had given him (based on our ratings at the time the game started) was probably too high -- I'm not that much better than him. The smaller board kept the ratings bleeding to a minimum.

I had started a bunch of games when I headed to India -- I needed something to pass the time. The first of those that finished was an even game I lost to a Swedish 21-kyu player. Again, the rating difference kept the loss to 20% of a kyu. The next loss -- a 3-handicap game to Ben -- hurt the most. I was up by around 50 points near the end of the game. If I had just played r10 with move 202 (instead of passing), I would have won easily. Instead, I lost by 28. Sigh. I then lost again to the aforementioned American 21 kyu (now a 20 kyu). The widening gap led to a loss of only 7% of a kyu for this even game.

The second "Indian game" that concluded was a 3-handicap game against a Japanese 27 kyu. At this point, the ratings difference was less than 2 kyu -- yet I had given him 3 stones. Thanks to a late invasion, I won by only 2 points! My reward was a whopping 58% of a kyu -- that uptick you see at the end of the graph.

My experience represents a nice feature of the rating system. In some sense, it's self-correcting. A 20 kyu who loses 10 even games to 20 kyu won't find himself dropped by the same amount each time. After a while, he'll drop to 21 kyu, 22 kyu, and the rating system will see these as reasonable losses and punish him less.

I have a few upcoming games I know I will win, and a few I know I will I don't know what to expect, except more volatility!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

This week in Nebulas

Last week, I told you I had read 19 Nebula award-winning novels. It turns out that wasn't actually accurate, but I am now up to 22. Here are the additions to my list.

1974: The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed represents some of the best of what this Nebula project has given me -- the opportunity to read science fiction books that address deeper themes than run-of-the-mill airport fiction.

The novel's protagonist, a physicist, lives in an almost 200-year-old anarchist society that has been exiled to a planet's moon. The moon is a harsh society, but the anarchists have developed cooperative methods which allow them to survive, but not thrive. The physicist finds that even anarchistic societies find ways of wielding power, and he eventually finds himself unable to pursue his groundbreaking work on his home world. He becomes the first anarchist to leave for the main planet, where he is welcomed with open arms. But nothing is clear-cut in this novel, and he eventually becomes suspicious of his hosts' motives.

Le Guin, in fact, uses the different societies to examine the ambiguities and compromises inherent in any political system. The novel's subtitle is "An Ambiguous Utopia," and it's even ambiguous to which society this refers. Furthermore, I was pleased that none of it came across as thinly-veiled allegory for Earth societies, although the Cold War themes seemed stronger as the book progressed.

1980: Timescape

Sometimes, however, the Nebula project has led me to above-average, if ultimately forgettable fiction, like Timescape. How do I know that it is forgettable? I started reading this without remembering that I had read it before. Unfortunately, by that time, all of my other books were in my luggage, which I had left at my hotel after checking out (my flight home wasn't scheduled to leave until after 1 in the morning). So I re-read it. Until very late in the book, I didn't remember how it turned out. I blame that -- well, in addition to a poor long-term memory -- on a twist ending that doesn't really flow from the rest of the book.

1988: Falling Free

I enjoyed Falling Free more than Timescape, but it is probably closer to that in terms of weight than The Dispossessed. It's the story of some genetically-engineered humans with arms where their legs should be, and the corporation that treats them like disposable property. They, of course, have an inevitable fight for freedom, which is kind of fun, but fairly predictable.

So I've now read 22 Nebula novels. I have two more checked out from the library, although one is due tomorrow (despite Christina having checked it out on my behalf last week -- some sort of interlibrary loan issue). I should be able to renew it and push my total up by the end of the year.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

World Heritage: Year In Review

2005 is drawing to a close, so I decided to update my World Heritage page with the sites I visited this year.

I made it to five more sites, starting in February, when Christina and I went to Paris. Paris itself is a World Heritage site, for a number of reasons, including the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, both of which we toured. (Christina made it to Versailles, but I was stuck in conferences and unable to join her.)

The first three quarters of this year were busy, but not from a World Heritage perspective. In October, however, we took a vacation to San Juan, Puerto Rico, whose Spanish fortifications constitute a World Heritage site.
In November, we spent two weeks in England, which allowed us to visit two more sites -- Blenheim Palace and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Those are the ninth and tenth UK sites I've visited -- over one third of my total sites. You'd think the US would be top of the list, but I've made about twelve visits to the UK since '93 and really enjoyed touring it. The US is a little bit harder to tour around -- and we have six fewer sites.

My final World Heritage site of the year was Mahabalipuram, which I visited during my recent trip to India. (More pictures to follow.) These approximately 1300-year-old sculptures were some of the farthest away sites I've visited, but oddly reminded me of some Mayan ruins.

I've now seen 29 sites -- less than four percent of the total. They're adding sites faster than I can see them. So unlike my Nebula project, the end is not only not in sight, it is absolutely impossible. (Until I become fabulously rich and spend several years doing nothing but globetrotting to these sites, I suppose.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Movin' on Up

As previously mentioned, I am learning the game of Go. It's a very complex and intricate game, despite its simple rules.

One of the attractions of the game is having a clear ranking system. The top amateur players are dan (pronounced "dahn") ranks. These roughly correspond to "greater than black-belt" ranks in martial arts. They range from 1 dan all the way up to 6 dan. (Professional ranks are confusingly also dan, although a professional 1 dan is better than an amateur 6 dan -- most of the time.)

Below the dan ranks are the kyu ranks. 1 kyu is the top sub-dan rank, and the higher the number, the worse the player. Different on-line ranking systems have different upper limits -- I've seen 22 kyu to 35 kyu. My favorite go server puts the most novice players at 30 kyu.

One of the great things about Go is how easily it can be handicapped between players of different abilities. For every difference in rank, a player gives (or gets) roughly 1 handicap stone. So a 2-dan player would give a 4-kyu player 5 stones handicap, a 24-kyu player would get 3 stones from a 21-kyu player, etc. (Beyond 9 stones, the difference in rank is generally too great to handicap properly.)

I probably should have started out as a 30 kyu player, but based on my reading of the instructions, I set myself at 27 kyu. As you can see from the graph below, it took a couple of months of losing games for me to end up at 30 kyu. Fortunately, my stay there lasted less than half a day. Ever since then, I've been climbing, if unsteadily. Right now, I'm 24 kyu.

These ratings are based on the results of games versus other players on-line. They fluctuate as I win and lose. One of my biggest jumps came when as a 28 kyu, I beat a 26-kyu player. My biggest drop came when as a 27 kyu, I lost to a 29-kyu player. These ups and downs diminish as time goes on, and the server gets a more definite idea of my ranking. They also depend on the handicap in the game. If a 25 kyu beats a 20 kyu, but has gotten a 5 handicap -- that's expected, so the drop is not as great as if it were an even game.

As of today, I'm 24 kyu. On the one hand, I'm happy -- that's definitely much better than where I started. On the other hand, I've put a lot of effort into trying to get better, and still haven't moved beyond the "beginner" ranks. " usually thought of as 20k or weaker."

I just started up a bunch of games...almost 20 in the past week. So my rating will fluctuate even more in the coming weeks. Hopefully more up than down -- eventually. I can already see several games in which I am in clear jeopardy, so I fully expect to see 25 kyu again before I hit 23 kyu. So I'll play some more games, read some books, and try to get better.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Recommended for You: Lead Poisoning

So I'm going through my "Recommended for You" list ("New Releases" section), and I come across this gem. "Recalled Item: Old Century Dread Pirate" is its name, and call me crazy, but any product with "recalled item" in its name doesn't seem the most promising. Sure enough, "Consumers should stop using recalled products immediately unless otherwise instructed. " "Hazard: The surface coating and the metal in the ships contain lead and pose a risk of lead poisoning to young children."

Thanks, Amazon! For trying to poison me! (Or technically speaking, any young children who may visit my house.)

Although, you know, the game does look kind of cool... Maybe it's available on eBay.

(Bonus nerd content: one of the reviewers who recommends the game is Tracy Hickman, one of the original Dragonlance authors.)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Nebula update

About a year and a half ago, I announced my project of reading all of the Nebula-award winning novels.

At the time, I had read 11 out of 40 award-winning novels. There are now 41 novels. I read the 1973 award winner, Rendevous with Rama, in Spring 2004. I read the 1996 winner, Slow River, and the 1997 winner, The Moon and the Sun, earlier this year. (I guess I never blogged them.) Both of them required me to request the Anne Arundel Public Library's only's kind of sad that less than 10 years after winning one of science fiction's most prestigious awards, these books are fairly difficult to track down. I read the 1999 award winner, Parable of the Talents, during Fall 2004. I read the 2000 winner, Darwin's Radio, last summer. I read the 2001 winner, The Quantum Rose this past winter. I read the 2003 winner, The Speed of Dark, in Spring 2004. I read the 2004 winner, Paladin of Souls, this past October.

So where does this leave me?

  1. 1965: Dune, Frank Herbert
  2. 1970: Ringworld, Larry Niven
  3. 1973: Rendevous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke
  4. 1975: The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
  5. 1984: Neuromancer, William Gibson
  6. 1985: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  7. 1986: Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
  8. 1992: Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
  9. 1993: Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
  10. 1994: Moving Mars, Greg Bear
  11. 1996: Slow River, Nicola Griffith
  12. 1997: The Moon and the Sun, Vonda N. McIntyre
  13. 1998: Forever Peace, Joe Haldeman
  14. 1999: Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler
  15. 2000: Darwin's Radio, Greg Bear
  16. 2001: The Quantum Rose, Catherine Asaro
  17. 2002: American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  18. 2003: The Speed of Dark, Elizabeth Moon
  19. 2004: Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold
So that's 19 out of 41. The last six I've read have all been written by women. Hmm. And I now have read the last 9 winners. Part of what I've been doing is working my way backwards -- partly because those books are easier to find, and partly to see what's current in the SF world. I have the 1995 winner on hold at the library, and I have the 1974, 1980 and 1988 winners checked out right now.

One thing that holds me back from some of the other is my aforementioned need to read series in order. The 1983 winner, Startide Rising, is a sequel to a book called Sundiver, which I read yesterday. At the time, I couldn't remember which one won the Nebula, and which one was the first...Brin kept referring to past events, and I wondered if it was a gentle reminder of the events of a previous book. I guess not.

(It may amuse you to know that when I spell-checked this I had misspelled "library's" as "libary's". Blogger's spell checker suggested "Liberace.")

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Moores Creek National Battlefield

We went down to Wilmington, NC, for Thanksgiving to spend it with Christina's sister's family. On Friday, it was time to leave the house and get a little bit of culture and education. So we headed 20 minutes north to Moores Creek National Battlefield, scene of an important Revolutionary War victory in 1776.

The victory helped wipe out British influence in North Carolina. It was neat seeing some lesser known, but important, pieces of American history. They had a mile-long trail with some monuments on it that made for a nice autumn walk.

Monday, November 28, 2005 Pseudoephedrine PSA

Recently, many retailers have started "voluntarily" placing Sudafed and its generic equivalents (pseudoephedrine) behind pharmacy counters in response to a patchwork of state laws. Maryland (as far as I know) doesn't have any such laws, but national retailers who want a uniform policy have forced me to deal with this issue.

The reason for these laws is that pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in the production of "meth". Despite the fact that in Maryland "meth" is a lesser "problem" than "congestion", I resigned myself to dealing with this annoyance.

What I hadn't realized is that I would be dealing with a "bait and switch". When I was at Safeway today, I noticed something called "Sudafed PE" (and a generic "nasal decongestant PE"). I assumed it stood for PseudoEphedrine -- the people who make Sudafed might want to market different products, and so push pseudoephedrine down to a "type" of Sudafed.

Then I noticed some laminated cards that I could take to the register if I wanted real pseudoephedrine. I initially thought it was a dosage issue, but it turns out companies have been pushing phenylephrine as a pseudoephedrine replacement, although it "might not be as effective or long-lasting".

I've long been concerned that drug companies sell over-the-counter medication based on the symptoms that it treats ("cold medicine") rather than the ingredients. So people without a cough end up ingesting cough suppressant. Now the active ingredient in a common drug is being replaced, and I bet 90% of consumers don't know what's going on.

Boy, are there going to be some disappointed meth lab owners when they finally get around to reading the label.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Speed Museums

I've noticed some of the recent pictures from this weblog are missing. I can put them back, but some of that will require me to get home and grab stuff from my laptop.

In the mean time, enjoy these images from the Sunday before last. There are all sorts of sights in London that the guidebooks will tell you that you should take the whole day to see -- the National Gallery and British Museum are two of them.

In conclusion, yes, you would be better off taking a whole day at either of these places. But England is expensive these days -- doubly so since time is money. So if you find yourself with a few hours in London, don't be afraid to hit the highlights.
We set out to prove the guidebooks wrong. We had a few hours before we planned to leave London, and we decided to take in a few of the sights.

The National Gallery actually lent itself well to that sort of sightseeing. It gives out a map with the "highlights". Van Gogh's Sunflowers? Check. Cezanne's Bathers? Check. Seurat's Bathers? Check. Monet's Bathers? Check. (I think. All the bathers ran together after a while.)

Then it was off to the British Museum. Christina, in particular, wanted to see the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone. The Assyrian stuff was also pretty neat, though.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Testing E-mail Gateway

I noticed that the last few weblog posts aren't going out to the e-mail list, so I changed a few settings. If this goes out, consider it a reminder that you can check recent postings at


Happy Thanksgiving! I'm here at my sister-in-law's in Wilmington, NC. I've set up their wireless network and have finally found time to blog from their living room.

When we were in England a couple of weeks ago...well, I guess it was about a week and a half ago that we spent time in London. We stayed at the Hilton London Metropole, where we stayed last time, and went to the Kew Botanic Gardens, another World Heritage Site.

The gardens are the oldest and some of the largest botanical gardens in the world. We took a 40-minute tram tour to get an overview.

The Gardens are currently hosting an installation by Dale Chihuly of blown glass art. We liked the way they blended with the gardens.

They had a lot of interesting very old plants. The British, after all, went all over the world a couple hundred years ago and grabbed stuff that interested them. The gardens are an interesting imperial legacy -- though these days, much more devoted to conservation.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

By the Time We Got to Woodstock...

Greetings from the UK. We got here on Saturday night -- we took a day flight, a first for me. After a night at an airport hotel, we had Sunday for some sightseeing. We headed for Woodstock, specifically Blenheim Palace. It's another World Heritage Site. To quote UNESCO,
"Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, stands in a romantic park created by the famous landscape gardener 'Capability' Brown. It was presented by the English nation to John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, in recognition of his victory in 1704 over French and Bavarian troops. Built between 1705 and 1722 and characterized by an eclectic style and a return to national roots, it is a perfect example of an 18th-century princely dwelling."

That seems a little thin justification for a World Heritage Site. It's a very nice house. The most exciting thing that every happened there was Winston Churchill's birth. (His grandfather was the 7th Duke.) There was a nice exhibit on him.

You can tell I'm still a little zoned from the flight in that picture. I thought maybe the day flight would help with the jetlag, but now I'm not so sure.

Friday, October 21, 2005

El Yunque

On our next to last full day in Puerto Rico, we rented a car and drove to the Caribbean National Forest, better known as "El Yunque."
There were numerous scenic places to stop, such as this one at La Coca Falls. A woman who was visiting with her family was nice enough to take our picture. Unfortunately, we saw the same family a bunch of other places in the forest, and we weren't their biggest fans at day's end. (They couldn't find a free table at lunch, so they sat down at one where the owners had their water and papers, drank the water and scattered the papers.)
We climbed to the top of the Yokahu tower, which had views all the way out to the Puerto Rican coast, and beyond. The island in the distance is Culebra.
We also enjoyed a vigorous hike along La Mina Trail to La Mina falls. The hike was very much worth it, especially as we had the spectacular scenery to ourselves when we got there.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Piña Coladas and Getting Caught in the Rain

We've been back almost a week, and I'm finally getting around to posting more pictures of our trip to Puerto Rico. We stayed at the lovely Caribe Hilton

It rained on and off during our trip...more so later in the trip. I believe the system that was causing us rain eventually became Hurricane Wilma.

We did try to take advantage of the sun we did get, as well as the hotel amenities. The Caribe Hilton, through a quirk of geography, has the only private beach in San Juan. We were able to snorkel and see a few interesting fishes.

One morning after snorkeling, we contemplated heading to the hotel's "Health Bar" for lunch, but we're not into health food, and it's hard to turn down the opportunity to eat while sitting in the pool.

So we were off to the pool snack bar. Unfortunately, a torrential downpour started right after we ordered our food. First, that meant everybody had to get out of the pool. Second, we ended up spending at least as much time sheltering our burgers from the rain as we did eating. Eventually, though, I realized that it was "free piña colada" time at the pool bar, so we were able to enjoy some free samples.

The piña colada was allegedly invented at the Caribe Hilton (though we did see one sign in downtown San Juan claiming to be its home). At first they poured us alcohol-free piña coladas (this may be why this event was billed as kid-friendly), but after Christina inquired, the barkeep poured some dark rum in. I guess sopping wet customers get sympathy. I enjoyed it, but we didn't order any more during our visit.

Friday, October 07, 2005

El Morro

Greetings from the Ben & Jerry's in Old San Juan, where we're taking a few minutes out of our vacation to check some e-mail.

We spent the morning and early afternoon poolside (I love a vacation with a swim-up bar and grill). Then we switched rooms (the king bed room we reserved was unavailable, so we spent last night scrunched into a double) before taking the bus into Old San Juan.

The trolley no longer runs all the way around the city (they said heavy vehicles damage the walls), so we walked all the way to El Morro, a fort that kept San Juan in Spanish hands for over 350 years.

Well, our Internet access time is running out, so it's off to dinner.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I'm heading out on a flight early tomorrow morning. Hopefully, it will be less eventful than the last flight I was on. You know when you hear about a plane that has been diverted to another airport, and they park it off by itself and send out the fire trucks?

Well, that was us on Flight 925 from Heathrow to Boston, on September 2nd.

I like excitement in my travel, but not that kind of excitement. They said it was a frayed wire in the lavatory that caused some smoke. They fixed it, and we were on our way, three or four hours late.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina and the Waves

I had trouble getting to sleep last night (I've reached the point where I wonder whether I should keep trying to get on local time, or start moving back to home time), so I turned on the TV. Sky TV was showing the CBS Evening News, and the news was, of course, almost entirely about Hurricane Katrina. The scenes of devastation were just jaw-dropping.

The news reminded me of a scene from Kim Stanley Robinson's book Forty Signs of Rain, where large parts of the Washington, DC metro area are underwater after
hurricane. The book meandered through a bunch of global warming policy stuff that was mildly interesting, but not gripping, until it got to the last 50 or so pages, which was a really fascinating story of a disastrous flood hitting DC. far as I can tell, Katrina is worse. It's been a while since I've read the book, but I don't remember the death, the lack of clean water, and all the other horrors we're hearing about on the news. You know things are bad when a disaster outdoes science fiction.

On a literary note, if you're looking for weather-related science fiction, I definitely recommend Forty Signs of Rain over Mother of Storms, which to me was just ridiculous. It started out kinda interesting, but then blundered down a "nanotech is magic" path that (in my mind) ruins so many promising books. Forty Signs of Rain was much more realistic...I'm almost afraid to read the sequel, Fifty Degrees Below. It's coming out right before winter sets in.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Well, I'm in Edinburgh right now, waiting for the conference dinner to start. First of all, I've got an excellent view from my hotel room.
I really like the castle, and it's great to just glance out at it.

Yesterday was my "free" day, so I decided to head to a pair of modern art museums. I actually just enjoyed an excuse to wander through the streets of Edinburgh. First up was the Dean Gallery. Mostly the usual gang of surrealists.

The one "find" of the day was Yves Tanguy, whose work I enjoyed more than most of the surrealists. I can't find web versions the paintings I saw, but this one gives the general feeling.
Then it was across the street to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Here my favorite piece is actually visible in the picture. It's Jencks' Landform...a beautiful green spiral-ly landscape feature in front of the museum. I particularly liked how it evoked the green hills of the Scottish Highlands, while it rose to a perch from which you could view the museum, just like you can view Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Fitzpatrick's War

Tomorrow, I head into the actual city of Edinburgh, which I recall (it's been 10 years) as one of the cooler cities I've visited. For today, however, I'm safely ensconced in Hilton-land. I'm ordering room service, going to the hotel pool, surfing the Internet -- I could be practically anywhere (well, I did order fish and chips). Part of me feels like I should be off sight-seeing, but I really need a day to relax and get adjusted.

On the plane ride over, I finished Fitzpatrick's War. Lately I've been choosing my reading a bit more carefully than I used to -- there's only so much time for reading, after all. With this book, however, I picked it up because I became intrigued by the cover while we were waiting in line at Mysterious Galaxy last month for the Jasper Fforde book signing.

It turned out to be "future history" book about a 25th century where electricity was unusable due to the machinations of an elite technocratic secret society. In fact, the elite secret society schtick gets a bit tiring in SF novels, and it's probably the weakest point of this book. Fortunately, the society is not the primary focus of this book. Instead, it tells the story of one of Fitzpatrick's compatriots, Robert Bruce. Fitzpatrick is a latter-day Alexander the Great, conquering the world at a young age (and dying before he gets to enjoy his rule). Lest you think I am giving away too much, this is all revealed in the prologue, which is written by a 26th-century historian. The historian's frequent footnotes attempting to discredit Bruce's story add a bit of levity to the book.

The book takes place in a well-imagined future world -- probably the best part of the book. The plot is mildly interesting (maybe more so for Alexander devotees), and the characters are well-drawn enough. The ending doesn't really leave room for a sequel, which is probably just as well...the author could probably do a better job in his second SF novel setting things up.

Scottish Fire Drill

I know I'm not supposed to be napping right after I cross the pond. Not the way to adjust to jet lag, and all that. But did they have to set off the fire alarms in the middle of my nap? Just what I need, to be standing in front of the Hilton Edinburgh Airport in my pajamas and bare feet. (I did have time and the sense to put a shirt on.) You know, it may say summer on the calendar, but it's not that warm here in Scotland.

Oh, well. Besides this and the security breach at Dulles that caused them to evacuate the terminal (doesn't even make the news any more, does it?), it's been an uneventful trip. The last time I flew anywhere and connected through Heathrow was December 1993. This was much the same -- same airlines, same riding around in shuttle buses. My luggage made it this time, though.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Greetings from Albany

New York is the 9th state in which I've spent the night in the last two weeks. Tonight I'm in Albany, at the Hampton Inn, where I'm burning some hard-earned Hilton points. I had a nice time visiting Christina's writing conference. She goes to many conferences I attend -- I think both of us enjoyed turning the tables so she could share with me some of her professional life.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Matter with Kansas

After thinking about it, Ben and I definitely stayed in Kansas in '92. We drove through Kansas to get to Colorado. We ended up at Boulder in the afternoon. In the days of 55 miles/hour speed limits, there's no way we made it all the way across Kansas to Boulder before 4 in the afternoon.

Greetings from Vermont

It just doesn't feel like a normal day if I don't drive hundreds of miles in one direction or another, so yesterday I loaded up the car and headed up to Vermont to visit Christina at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. This time, however, I dropped Teddy off at the kennel.

I got in at 7:30 last night. I was delayed somewhat by a 9/11 motorcycle ride taking place from DC to New York the same day. I hope this isn't callous, but is disrupting the nation's transportation system really the right way to commemorate September 11th? Then again, I'm not sure the wet T-shirt contest is the right way, either -- though in a strange way, maybe it is.

Anyway, after checking in to the Blue Spruce Motel, we went to the staff reading, where members of this year's conference staff, including Christina, read 4-minute selections. Christina read a selection from her novel in progress and a poem. Both were well-received.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Well, after all that, I made it home. Now I just need to unload the car, convince the cat to come downstairs...maybe after a good night's sleep.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Images from the Road

Here are a couple more pictures I took.

Here is Teddy in Nebraska. In my list of states I've stayed overnight in, I get to add Nebraska. I'm not sure whether Kansas should be on the list...Ben and I can't remember if we stopped there going cross-country in '92. If you don't remember it, does it count?

My plan originally called for adding Wyoming and South Dakota. That would have been a reasonable way to get to Minnesota, except for one thing...Sturgis. Even 540 miles away in Albert Lea, the motorcycles were in evidence. I can only imagine how crowded it would have been close up. It might have been fine...but if it wasn't, it would have been a really stupid reason to be late for my grandmother's funeral.

Funeral Service

Greetings from Woodstock, Illinois -- possibly my last Super 8 on this trip. I left Albert Lea around 4 and got in around 11 (Central).

We had a very dignified, elegant service for Grandma today. (By the way, here is a corrected obituary.) It was held at the First Presbyterian Church, where my parents were married, and I was baptized. I won't attempt to do it justice by describing it right now, but my mother gave a very nice eulogy that she will perhaps give me permission to post here. Afterwards, we headed to the cemetery where she was interred next to Grandpa.

Then the family went to Cafe Don'l for a lunch and reminiscences of Grandma. It was nice getting to spend time with my cousins.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Greetings from Albert Lea

I'm using the Internet access in my mother's hotel room while she walks Teddy. (Albert Lea hotels make you choose -- Internet or pets.) I got in around 7, and we had dinner at Perkins. She showed me the church where services will be tomorrow. I have to get up early and drop Teddy off at the kennel first.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Images of Colorado

Greetings from the Super 8 in Ogallala, Nebraska. Part of Nebraska is in the Mountain Time Zone -- who knew? I don't have cell phone service out here, but I do have Internet.

95% of my driving today, however, was in Colorado. Colorado has many scenic vistas along I-80. More imposing than Utah; each has its own attractions.

I-76 through Colorado was where my journey veered off to a path I had not crossed in 1992. Not too exciting...the eastern part of Colorado definitely consists of "Great Plains" boredom.


Three Hours To Nebraska.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Images of Utah

Greetings from Fruita, Colorado! I have made it through the Beehive State, and I now have Internet access. Allow me to share with you some of what I've seen.

First up is the Cedar City, Utah Super 8 at around 2 AM.
We follow that with a scenic vista or two off I-70.

I last was in Utah in May 1993, visiting Martin, who was living out there then. I had forgotten how pretty -- I can't think of a better word -- the scenery is.


I Never Did Get The Laptop Connected. Oh Well. Maybe I
Will Have Better Luck In Colorado.

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In Motel. Trying To Connect Laptop.

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Thursday, August 11, 2005


At In N Out Burger. Traffic Was Awful. I Will Be Very
Late Getting To Utah Tonight.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Weenie Roast

As the summer draws to a close, I can think of many things we meant to do that we never did, but also many things we did. One of the things I meant to do was chronicle the things we did more closely. In that spirit, I want to share some pictures we took this summer of the various fun we had out here in Southern California. About four weeks ago, we went to a hot dog roast one evening with people from work. Despite the overcast day, we had a good time, cooked hot dogs, and then followed them up with marshmallows.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Grandma's Obituary

Here is Grandma's obituary from today's Albert Lea Tribune.

Ethel Cairns, 1910-2005

My grandmother passed away last Saturday at the age of 94. I last saw Grandma in May...she was the most amazing mix of clarity and confusion I have ever seen. At one minute she was speaking beautifully about her gratitude for the years of marriage with my grandfather, and another moment she was telling me a garbled story about myself, obviously unclear to whom she was speaking. I think the experience can be best summed up by her statement, "I'm not sure who these people are who are sending me cards and letters, but it is wonderful that they remember and care about me."

In her earlier days, Grandma was, of course, clearer. She did many things in her life...raised two successful daughters, learned to invest in the stock market, and was very generous with her family. When someone reaches 94, you almost expect them to be around forever, and it's hard to believe she's gone.

I'm leaving California Thursday afternoon. The funeral is Monday in Albert Lea, Minnesota, where she spent the last sixty-some years.