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21 August 2019 @ 04:06 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Henri Belolo helped create the Village People. Katreese Barnes was the music director for Saturday Night Live and is best known for writing "Dick in a Box." Ann Nelson was a particle physicist. George Simmons wrote several mathematics textbooks. Danny Doyle was an Irish folk singer. Barbara Crane was a photographer. Paul Findley was an anti-Semitic Republican congresscritter. Jeffrey Epstein was a rich pedophile. J. Neil Schulman was a science fiction writer. Michael E. Krauss was a linguist, specializing in Alaska Native languages. Reuven Hammer was a Conservative rabbi, who wrote a column for the Jerusalem Post. Kip Addotta was a comedian, best known for songs like "Wet Dream," which got played a lot on Dr. Demento. Peter Fonda was an actor, best known for Easy Rider. Larry Taylor played bass guitar for Canned Heat. Al Jackson pitched for the New York Mets. Myra Katz Frommer compiled an oral history of the Catskills.

Toni Morrison was a Pulitzer Prize winning author and Nobel laureate. Her best known novels include Beloved and Song of Solomon. She also taught at Princeton and mentored numerous African-American artists.

Kathleen Blanco was the first woman to serve as governor of Louisiana. She earned me 20 ghoul pool points and I have backfilled with Roberta McCain.

Richard Booth was the bookseller who was largely responsible for turning Hay-on-Wye into the town of used books that it is now. It’s an amazing place and well worth visiting if you like books.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Mike Quandt was a former colleague. The most interesting thing about him was that he lived on a boat. He had worked at Boeing for a while and, when he moved to Los Angeles, he just sailed down the coast. Then he remarried and she wanted more space so they bought a condo.

Jim Murrell was one of my bosses for a while. He used a wheelchair, due to multiple sclerosis. I got his office when he moved to a different one, which had a huge plus. Namely, it was set up so that the lights stayed on without you having to get up and flail around periodically. When I moved to a different office a year or two later, I learned about what I referred to as the Building 115 exercise program. On a more personal note, Jim had a reputation at one time for having trouble working with women, but had overcome that by the time I worked for him and I found him pleasant, amiable, and (most importantly) fair.

Laurie Kramer (nee Schwimmer) was a high school friend. She and I were both part of a group who hung out at the library playing word games during our free periods.

New York – the Travel Stuff: I took the train up to New York on Friday evening. Things were relatively empty for that time of day, surprisingly, and I only had a seatmate for the stretch from Baltimore to Trenton. Except she was supposed to get off in Philadelphia and didn’t understand that the announcement that "the next station is…" refers to the one the train is about to stop at in five minutes, not the one a half hour away. I have no idea whether they made her pay for the ticket back to Philadelphia from Trenton. There was also some sort of kerfuffle between another passenger and the conductor, who got someone else on to confront her, because he said had cussed at him. It can’t have been too serious, since she didn’t get kicked off the train. (Note: there was no drama getting home.)

I stayed at the Algonquin, largely because I got a very good price. Or, I should say, a nominally amazing price of $174 a night, except that doesn’t count the taxes and the "destination fee" of $30 that Marriott adds. You get that back, sort of, by applying it to breakfast at the hotel, except that their breakfast is absurdly expensive and you really end up paying $10 or so on top of that for it. It’s still a good hotel price for New York. The location is excellent and, of course, there is all the history there. Also, they have particularly good toiletries (Beekman 1802). They don’t alas, have windows with great soundproofing.

Lolapuzzoola 12: The primary reason I was in New York was Lillapuzzoola 12. This crossword tournament was held at Riverside Church, which proved a bit more complicated than usual, due to subway track work. I took the M5 bus uptown. Which was also more complicated than it should have been, due to a closure of part of 6th Avenue and MTA’s apparent belief that everyone should psychically know how they have rerouted bus service instead of putting up actual useful signs. Still, I got there just fine.

There were three puzzles before the lunch break. Puzzle #1 was by C. C. Burnikel and was straightforward enough. Puzzle #2 was by Stella Zawistowski and was also straightforward, though it had some fill I thought was a bit obscure, making me need to rely on the crossings in a few cases. Puzzle #3 was by Paolo Pascoe and went smoothly, too. I should note that it was printed on larger paper, which was slightly awkward but more readable. At the end of those three, I had solved cleanly. In fact, I was briefly in tenth place, though that was only because not all of the scores for the third puzzle had been entered yet.

I didn’t go out for lunch, opting to eat a couple of granola bars instead. That was probably a mistake, but I guess I can blame lack of protein or lack of vitamin D or lack of something for what followed. (And, oh yeah, have I mentioned the chronic jet lag due to business trip during the week?) See, puzzle 4 is the tough one at Lollapuzzoola, the puzzle that tests one mettle. This one was by Maddie Gillespie and Doug Peterson. In one sense, it wasn’t all that hard. I actually knew exactly what to do. The trick related to something about how the answer was to be entered. And I just failed to execute it. That is, I pretty much saw what they wanted, but I didn’t see a way to actually enter it that way. A lot of people apparently had similar problems, but I was annoyed because, as I just said, I understood what they wanted. Now, to be fair, when the scores were posted, I apparently had some other error, too, so very well may not have solved cleanly. But I was frustrated. What was particularly irritating is that it was actually an excellent puzzle and the most interesting of the set. (Details are in a rot13 comment below.)

Puzzle 5 was constructed by Robyn Weintraub. This was back to straightforward and I solved it cleanly. Not that it mattered at that point.

In addition to the Puzzle 4 fiasco, I found the puzzles this year not to be very interesting, largely because the themes were too similar. (See comment below in rot13). Perhaps time travel was just too limiting a general theme for constructors to work with? What I normally love about Lollapuzzoola is the sheer craziness of the event and I felt that was missing. It was still worth doing and I will continue to come, schedule permitting, but it was disappointing.

I’ve done an annual recap of my placement over the years, so here it is, much as I hate it. I finished 146th out of 258 individual competitors, which comes to the 43.4th percentile. Sigh.

2012 – 42.6
2013 – 44.6
2014 – 57.6
2015 – 51.0
2016 – 59.1
2017 – 53.7
2018 – 55.7
2019 – 43.4

I think I will write about my evening separately.

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16 August 2019 @ 01:43 pm
Volta: I went to see Cirque du Soleil’s show Volta at Tyson’s Corner this past weekend. I generally enjoy their shows, but I thought the costumes and sets for this one were less interesting than usual. The story involves a young man who competes in a talent show but has a breakdown afterwards and is rescued by a roller-skating woman, who tries to teach him to find his true self by introducing him to various extreme sports artists. Those are the more typical Cirque performers – a fairly spectacular trampoline act, for example, and a bunch of daredevil BMX bikers. The most unusual was a "hair dangler," i.e. a woman who performed an aerial act while suspended by a hook attached to her hair bun. That was impressive, but also kind of scary.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I had two dreams that involved yetis trying to force me to read documents. One yeti looked fairly muppet-like, but the other was much creepier, with longer hair.

Business Trip: I flew to Los Angeles early Monday morning. Meeting there on Monday and Tuesday, then a trip up to the Bay Area on Wednesday. Because the Tuesday afternoon meeting was in Azusa, I stayed that night near the Ontario Airport and flew up from there to San Jose. I don’t think I’d ever been to ONT before. It was definitely the better route, but forced me to fly Southwest, which is the moral equivalent of a Greyhound bus. Actually, the last time I took a Greyhound bus, the passengers on it kept their shoes on.

Anyway, the meetings were productive but exhausting, going on until 7 every evening. I wish I had the stamina that the primary customer for this has. (Admittedly, he is probably close to 20 years younger than I am.) At some point, I speculated about what a lethal does of caffeine would be.

Oh, Brother: I leveraged off being in the area to have dinner with my brother, who lives in San Jose, and his girlfriend. We went to Aqui where, despite the place being nominally Mexican, I had a Thai peanut bowl, which was fairly tasty, although the broccoli in it was undercooked. Afterwards, he insisted on showing me his place, which really wasn’t necessary as far as I was concerned. And then I got sick in his car on the way back to my hotel. Yuk. Fortunately, I had a plastic bag to put my clothes in when I packed them for the trip home. I am assuming this was food poisoning, rather than his driving. I was fine in the morning, though in dire need of more sleep, some of which I did get on the flights home.

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09 August 2019 @ 03:32 pm
National Storytelling Summit: My previous catch-up entry finished with a business trip to Los Angeles. I flew from LAX to SFO the next day to go to the National Storytelling Summit. My superpower is understanding public transit, so I took BART from the airport to a relatively new station called Warm Springs in South Fremont, which was a fairly short Lyft ride from the Fremont Marriott where the conference was being held. This would be a great location for a business trip to the Tesla plant, but was, frankly, a miserable location for a conference as it is really surrounded by industrial wasteland with nothing of interest. (There are a handful of places to eat within walking distance, including a couple of Asian restaurants, a McDonald’s, and a Subway at a gas station.) I, for one, would rather pay more money and be somewhere more interesting. Other than that, the hotel was decent enough, but the break-out rooms tended to be too small and the restaurant was inefficient. I gathered that they had only opened fairly recently so maybe that will improve. Not that I expect to have any reason to be there ever again, but you never know.

But the point of the trip was the conference, not the hotel. And that posed a different sort of problem – namely, my desire (and inability) to be in multiple places at once. I long ago figured out that the best thing to do under those circumstances is to tell myself that I can’t make a bad decision.

Anyway, I was tired after the intensity of my business trip, so took a short walk, got a sandwich for a late lunch / early supper, and gave myself some introvert time in my room until the official opening of the event. That started with a bunch of announcements, followed by an Ohlone Welcome and Land Acknowledgement ceremony. The Friday night keynote was by George Dawes Green, the founder of The Moth. He emphasized decision and vulnerability as being the key elements of good personal stories. I am not convinced, because I think that you also need to have resolution to turn something from an anecdote to a story. He played a number of clips of one-minute stories and I felt that, while they were entertaining, the majority of them didn’t go anywhere. He went on to talk about some neurological studies of storytelling and I thought that was more satisfying.

The keynote was followed by a reception, i.e. chance to hug lots of people I don’t see often enough. It was also a chance to preview the silent auction and decide which items I wanted to bid on. Then there were several fringe shows and the first qualifying story slam. I volunteered to be a judge at that, which may not have been a great idea because it meant I had to stay alert. I also have a problem with how to compare very different types of stories, but I think there are some basic elements you can look for. In particular, I want to be shown what the story is about, not told what I should be thinking.

Friday started with a choice of workshops. I chose to go to Once Upon a Gallery: Using Storytelling to Bring Museums to Life by Liz Nichols and Jeff Byers. They were well-organized, with a good mix of lecture, stories, exercises, and discussion. This wasn’t directly relevant to anything I am doing right now, but there are things I am interested in pursuing when I retire, and I came away with some good ideas.

Next up was a keynote (The Middle of the Middle of Us) by Charlotte Blake Alston. She started out with a poem about the late great Brother Blue, before talking about reconnecting with traditional stories. In particular, she talked about three motifs – the trickster, the orphan’s journey and dilemma tales. She also mentioned untold stories of our nation’s history noting "I have an agenda. It isn’t hidden." Overall, it was an excellent talk. I am hoping it was recorded and will be available for people to hear later on.

Next up was the State Liaison lunch. That qualified as work for me, but was useful. Afterwards, I decided I needed to listen to some stories, so went to a showcase, which featured five tellers from the Pacific region. Nancy Donoval had a particularly well-crafted and amusing story about having her fortune told.

For the next session, I chose to go to Dixie De La Tour’s workshop on Bawdy Stories: The History and Practice of THAT Storytelling. This isn’t really a topic I expect to be relevant to my storytelling, for a number of reasons, starting with my being remarkably vanilla in this area of my life. But Dixie runs a very successful series in San Francisco and I figure there are always broader lessons about producing shows. She was entertaining, but it was mostly a lecture, with some Q&A, while I prefer more broadly interactive sessions.

I went out to dinner with a few people from Southern California, followed by the Oracle Awards, which are the way the National Storytelling Network honors both performers and people who promote storytelling. There was a reception afterwards. There were also fringe performances, but I was exhausted and decided that I would go to bed earlyish. There was a rumor about a Fairy Tale Lobby story swap, which I’d have liked to go to, but sometimes sleep is the best use of my time.

On Saturday morning, I chose to go to an Intensive (i.e. a 2-session workshop) with Joel ben Izzy on Stringing Stories Together. I was hoping this would be helpful for the fringe show I vaguely have in mind, but it was a but too freeform for that. He had some good examples of making some apparently unrelated stories work together, but, overall, it wasn’t really quite what I was looking for.

After lunch, came the NSN membership meeting. The meeting was recorded and I assume it is still available for anybody who is interested. The key things to know are: 1) NSN is struggling financially, 2) next year’s summit will be in Decatur, Georgia, and 3) yes, they know the website is screwed up. I did my part towards the first item by bidding on a couple of items in the silent auction.

The other thing I did in the afternoon was go to one more workshop, on From Print to Story bv Elaine Brewster. I expected this to focus on adapting literary stories, but it was more or less about historical material. There was some useful information, but, again, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I also wish it had been more interactive and not quite so much lecture.

The evening featured a concert, with stories from Charlie Chin, Vicki Juditz, Kirk Waller, Disie de la Tour, and Brenda Wong Aoki. It was particularly delightful to hear Vicki, who I’ve known since the very first story swap I ever went to.

That was followed by collecting a necklace I won in the silent auction. It’s made of ceramic figures from Fun With Dick and Jane and I thought that was cute, even though we used the Ginn Basic Readers with Susan, Tom, and Betty instead. I was, alas, outbid on a set of space-related posters, which would have done nicely for my office.

Then came the Slam finale, which Sarah Beth Nelson won deservedly with a very funny story about one of the dilemmas of modern motherhood. Afterwards, I went to the beginning of Mary Hamilton’s fringe show, but I was tired and it was absurdly crowded, so I left after her first story.

I flew home early on Sunday. BART doesn’t start running until 8 on Sundays, so I used Lyft and, fortunately, was able to share a ride with another conference attendee. All in all, the conference was worth attending. I’d say that Charlotte Blake Alston’s keynote was the definite highlight. Well, along with getting to hang out with several people I don't see often enough. One thing, though - there weren't any story swaps on the program and I found that very disappointing. People's stories are the best way to get to know them and swaps work well for that.

Better Said Than Done Show: This past Saturday night was a Better Said Than Done show. The theme was Other People’s Stories and I told this story, about some of my favorite bits of New York history:

If you have some time, you should go to the blog page for the show and follow the link to hear Jay Johnson’s story, which has an incredible ending.

Andy Offutt Irwin Workshop: Sunday involved more storytelling, in the form of a workshop with Andy Offutt Irwin, organized by Voices in the Glen. He talked about various things, mostly related to wit and humor, but touching also on story structure. The heart of the workshop involved what he referred to as "Pen the Tale on the Narrative," which involved a number of words on one side of a piece of paper and each participant listing roles they play on the other. Then we each dropped a pen three times on each side of the paper, resulting in three combinations of words to use as the basis of a story. The catch is that we each had a partner who chose which pair we used. I was given "Discovery" and "Storyteller," which I, frankly, was less than enthused by. I still came up with something, but I suspect it’s rather too meta to use. It was still a fun day and worth the time (and the drive to darkest Maryland). And I might use the random method for inspiration some time when I feel lacking in that.

And now to return to my quotidian existence, which means a business trip next week, followed by a puzzle event and theatre going.

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05 August 2019 @ 02:03 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Howard Engel wrote Canadian mysteries, featuring a detective named Benny Cooperman. Pumpsie Green was the first African-American player for the Boston Red Sox. Yao Lee was a Chinese singer. Patrick Winston directed MIT’s AI lab for about 25 years. Paul Krassner was the editor of The Realist. Art Neville sang and played keyboards with his brothers. Barney Smith founded a museum of toilet seat art. Russi Taylor was a voice actress, notable for playing Minnie Mouse. Hamza bin Laden was a terrorist, son of Osama bin Laden. Harley Race was a Hall of Fame wrestler. D. A Pennebaker was a documentarian. Ian Gibbons played keyboard for The Kinks.

Johnny Clegg was one of the greatest South African musicians, known as the "white Zulu. He performed both alone and with Juluka and Savuka. He was also an anthropologist and taught at the University of Witwatersrand. I was privileged to see him perform during his farewell tour. (And, yes, he was on the ghoul pool list.)

John Paul Stevens was a Supreme Court justice. I admired his opinions, which were generally liberal. My favorite Stevens story, however, involved somebody who questioned his wearing bow ties, accusing him of having clip-ons. Stevens just stood silently, untied his tie, and retied it. That’s class in my book. (Also, he was on my ghoul pool list.)

Vivian Paley was an educator, noted for promoting storytelling as essential for young children. She wrote a number of books, of which The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter is particularly well known.

Orania Papazaglou wrote mysteries both under her own name and, more famously, as Jane Haddam. I’ve enjoyed both the Patience McKenna series (under her own name) and the Gregor Demarkian series (as Haddam). Her death has not been widely reported, but someone I know forwarded a mention from a mystery writers’ blog I consider reliable.

Hal Prince was a theatre director and producer, responsible for many of the greatest Broadway musicals, starting with The Pajama Game and including Cabaret and many of Sondheim’s musicals. And he had the good sense to turn down Cats. Without Prince, there really would not be concept musicals. Almost nobody else had as great an influence on the American theatre.

Nuon Chea, known as Brother No. 2, has died. He was Pol Pot’s deputy and oversaw the massacre of thousands at Tuol Seng prison. Normally, I prefer not to speak ill of the dead, but he merits an exemption. Good riddance to an unrepentant evil man.

Genealogy 1: Being home the week between the NPL con and a business trip meant that I was able to meet my cousin, Amnon, and his wife, Rachel, for dinner one night. They stopped in D.C. on their way from Seattle back to Israel largely to donate some items to the Holocaust Museum. Anyway, we had a lovely dinner and conversation and it was great to get to know some Bruskin relatives.

Genealogy 2: I was contacted by somebody researching the surname Nadel / Nodel from Dusetos, Lithuania. It’s a small enough town that we are almost certainly connected. I just need to have time to look at her tree and see if I can figure it out. What is particularly interesting is that there appears to be an artist in this line, too, from what she said in her email.

Genealogy 3: I just learned that my great-great-great-grandfather, Wulf Schwartzbord, was a coffeehouse owner and coffee dealer in Poland in the 1840’s. This explains a lot.

The Band’s Visit: I went to see the touring production of The Band’s Visit at The Kennedy Center a couple of weekends ago. I’d seen and liked the movie it was based on and the musical is reasonably true to the film, though felt less political. The plot involves an Egyptian police band that takes a bus to the wrong town in Israel. There are no more buses that day, so the residents put them up overnight. People connect, partly through music and partly through basic humanity. It was sweet and believable, with warmth instead of spectacle. The score is a mix of Middle Eastern music and American jazz, with a small dash of klezmer. The most memorable song is "Omar Sharif," in which Dina (the Israeli café owner) and Tewfiq, the Egyptian band leader, bond over a mutual fondness for old Egyptian movies. All in all, it made for an enjoyable afternoon.

By the way, we stayed a bit longer at the Kennedy Center because the Millennium Stage production that day was a tribute to the moon landing. The Chromatics are an a capella group who specialize in songs about astronomy. Their show had less to do with the moon landing specifically than I’d have liked. And they didn’t have any new material, so I was a bit disappointed. But it was free, which is always a good thing.

Business Trip: I had a last-minute business trip to Los Angeles, which was complicated by pre-existing plans to go to the NSN Summit in the Bay Area. I ended up leaving my flight home from San Francisco intact so had an odd-looking itinerary. The trip went fine, though it was exhausting with 10 to 11 hour days every day. And I have a follow-up trip next week which we just found out about today. Oy.

Still to come – a bunch of storytelling stuff to write about.

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02 August 2019 @ 04:17 pm
I got home from French Polynesia on a Tuesday night. I did a little work on Wednesday (from home) while unpacking and doing laundry. On Thursday, I was off to Boulder, Colorado for the annual National Puzzlers’ League convention named RockOn! for its location. Con is always one of the highlights of my year and this year proved to be particularly enjoyable. One quick note for those who are unfamiliar with NPL: -people use noms, rather than their real names, so I will refer to them that way.

Things started with Thursday night dinner, for which I joined a group of people at Rincon Argentina. We ate empanadas, which were quite authentic and tasty. I particularly liked the hongos (mushrooms).

Puzzling officially began with The Puzzle Bank by Willz, in which the room was divided in half (River vs. Mountains) and competed at solving short word puzzles to get the opportunity to guess a letter, leading to a Wheel of Fortune type puzzle. That was followed by Two Out of Three by Qaqaq, a trivia game in which two of you had to have three answers that fit a trivia question, but only two of them had to conform to some other criterion. One I remember was along the line of men who had won the Best Actor Oscar, with the other criterion involving being named Sexiest Man Alive by People Magazine. This was tricky, but was a lot of fun. The final Thursday night event in the official program was The Silence of the Hams! By Hathor and Kryptogram. This was a sort of charades game, involving some of the members of a team acting out parts of a word or phrase and them being combined with some pictures for the rest of the team to guess the whole answers, along with what category they fit in. I thought I was going to hate this, but both acting and guessing turned out to be fun. I did, however, think it went on a bit longer than it should have.

But that was the official program. There’s always lots of unofficial program activities, which are an excellent opportunity to: a) admire the creativity of the puzzle community and b) feel dumb. I played three trivia games (Jeopardy games by Qaqaq and Noam and a quiz bowl style pop culture team trivia game by Ember in which the only answers I knew had to do with baseball parks). I blame my mediocre performance (including forgetting the author of a book I love and have read at least 30 times) on jet lag.

I know I spent part of the day Friday co-solving a couple of puzzles with other people. Somewhere in there I had lunch with a friend who was in town for other reasons. I am reasonably sure I did not spend any time napping. This may have been when I played an escape room by Sriracha, who is an excellent actor and good at keeping things moving, though that might have been some time on Saturday Anyway, the official program that evening started with Musical Clues by Music Man. I was recruited to one team on the grounds of age diversity, i.e. because I am old. It is harder to identify songs being played on a synthesizer and I am only any good at Beatles songs and Broadway show tunes to begin with, so I am not sure how useful I was. After that, I teamed with Capital R to play Wordplay Tactics by TMcAy, which involved filling in tic-tac-toe boards with words that met certain wordplay criteria. We did really well – up until the last clue, when we were stumped. The final game of the official program that night was Crisis in Publishing by Fraz and Joe the Loiterer. This had us all writing little books about a man named Oscar. Each page had some criterion to use and after you wrote a page, you passed the book to the person on your right. For example, the first page couldn’t use the letter "e." A later page required using at least three words in Spanish. The last page had to use a zeugma, i.e. a literary device which uses one word to refer to two different things, e.g. "She broke her nails and his heart." The last person added a title and read the book out loud to the whole table. It was all pretty silly and a lot of fun.

As for unofficial games, there were too many things I wanted to do happening at the same time. I started off playing a Murder game by Murdoch. This was really just a logic puzzle and some of it was fine, but it could have been done as a hand-out. And, frankly, the pay-off was disappointing.

After that, I played a Mini-extravaganza called Puzzle Your Way Across the USA by Whimsey. This had a puzzle for each state, which yielded a letter for that state, leading to a final answer. The puzzles were not very difficult for the most part. My knowledge of geography proved useful (why, yes, I do know where the geographic center of North America is and, in fact, have a picture of it). The funniest thing is that I got a puzzle which involved Carhenge. Not only do I have pictures of it, there are still some on my phone.

I spent part of Saturday morning co-solving Trick’s excellent cryptic with Bookwyrm. We finished just in time for the business meeting. The important thing from that is that the 2021 con site is going to be Washington, D.C. Yay! This may be a good excuse to finish my haiku guide to the metro for tourists.

Anyway, there were a couple of early afternoon games on the official program. Trigram Two-step by Bluff and Split Personalities by Manx were both pretty much wordplay games. I didn’t finish either one, but took them home to finish later. The flats competition followed that (flats are a particular type of cryptic puzzle, mostly in verse), but I skipped out for a few hours to get together with my Superior friends. That is, friends who live in Superior, just south of Boulder, who were having their big annual weekend party.

I got back in time for the extravaganza. My team was somewhat hampered by having one person who went to bed at about 930, leaving me and two first-time participants. (And, hence, no hope of finishing.) I must have mellowed out a lot when I was on vacation, because I didn’t get particularly annoyed at this. At some point, the puzzles are supposed to become available to download and I will magically have infinite time for them (ha ha) and all will be right with the world.

I did manage to play a couple of more after hours games, which was handy as I had an early flight on Sunday morning, meaning it wasn’t worth going to sleep. Both games I played were by Dart, who always has fun things to play. Overtime was a team game that involved, in part, guessing how long certain puzzles would take to solve. We thought we were terrible at it, but ended up with the best score to that point. (Others might have played and done better later on.) Then we played Secret Fortune, which had to do with ranking possible options, e.g. which country’s highest point has the lowest altitude. There was one big surprise in there, involving deadly animals, and no, I will not provide spoilers.

Bottom line is that all of con (or, I should say, all I was at) was fun. Oh, I should also mention that I wrote a little walk-around hunt to get people out to explore Pearl Street / downtown Boulder a bit. Given that I have spent more time in Boulder than anywhere else I have never actually lived (and probably more time than some places I have lived), it made sense to do.

And then I went home and collapsed. Next year in Toronto!

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01 August 2019 @ 01:59 pm
The whole point of my vacation was seeing the 2 July total solar eclipse. There were options in Chile and Argentina, but I decided on a cruise out of French Polynesia, as it is somewhere I hadn’t been and, frankly, would not normally go to since I am not a resort type of person. There were two companies running eclipse cruises and I went with Ring of Fire because I’ve done a couple of previous eclipse trips with them. Also, they were using a smaller ship and were cheaper.

I think the majority of people had their travel arranged by the agent who works with Ring of Fire, but arranging plane fares and hotels is simple for me to do. I prefer flying business class when crossing the Pacific and, by buying my Air Tahiti Nui ticket through Qantas, it was about 25% cheaper. (This is a common thing with code shares and you should always look at all of the airlines offering exactly the same flight.) I left myself a full day in Los Angeles to make the connection, since that is less stressful to do. Then came the part that could be expensive – I decided to spend couple of days on Bora Bora before the cruise. Fortunately, I am the queen of points and miles so moved some Chase Sapphire points to IHG and got two free nights at the Intercontinental La Moana. The best price I saw on-line there was over $600 a night, so I think I did well. And, in fact, I did even better than I expected as you’ll see.

Getting to Los Angeles was routine and drama free. I stayed at the Renaissance, which is convenient and nicer than most of the other airport hotels I’ve tried, making it worth the 10 bucks or so more that it costs. The next day, I took a bus (well, two) to Culver City to revisit an old favorite place – the Museum of Jurassic Technology. I was with a friend who had not been there before, by the way. I found it just as amusing as ever.

I got back to the hotel, retrieved my luggage, and headed to the airport. Air Tahiti Nui was a bit chaotic, with conflicting information about when the desks would open for check-in. The pre-security area of Tom Bradley International Terminal has inadequate seating, nowhere to charge electronics, and a few uninspiring choices of places to eat, so I was a bit grumpy by the time I checked my bag. They also lied to me about there being a special security lane for business class. There was somewhat less chaos post-security, but it may just be that I had lounge access so was appeased with drinks and sushi. I still got grumpy over a boarding delay accompanied by a complete lack of information.

Air Tahiti Nui’s business class is adequate, but nothing to write home about. I ignored the light meal they served shortly after take-off. I also ignored the entertainment system. Since the flight is under 8 hours, sleep was my priority. The seat was angled flat, which is annoying, though I did manage to find a position that worked for me. And I definitely liked the big, thick blanket. However, the United Polaris gel pillows have spoiled me for anything else. I did get up for breakfast (fruit, yogurt, omelet).

We arrived about a half hour late. They use a remote stand, but it’s a short walk to the terminal. Fortunately, it didn’t take long to retrieve my bag and walk over to the domestic part of the terminal to check in for my Air Tahiti flight to Bora Bora. This is all coach and has no assigned seating, but it hardly matters for the 40 minutes or so it takes.

The Bora Bora airport is on a motu (border island) so you take a boat to the main part of the island. Hotels run their own boats, but those are a lot more expensive than the free Air Tahiti shuttle combined with a taxi. It was early in the day so my room wasn’t ready on arrival at the La Moana, but I barely had time to settle into a lounge chair before they came to take me to my room. Actually, not a room – a bungalow. An overwater bungalow. Yes, I had gotten an upgrade! The overwater bungalow is a thing of wonder, with a glass coffee table allowing you to watch fish from within your living room. (It also slides open so you can feed fish.) There was a lovely patio, too, with a ladder down into the (surprisingly shallow) water, though I preferred the short walk to the beach.

As for what I actually did on Bora Bora, the main reason I stayed at La Moana is that it is on the mainland, not a motu, meaning I could rent a bike for a while and explore. The thing I hadn’t figured on there is the poor quality of the available bikes, the poorer quality of the road, and the volume of traffic, which limited me to a couple of hours. There were a couple of stores and restaurants within a short distance of the hotel, which meant I could save money by buying a baguette for breakfast (supplemented with a fruit platter that the hotel gave me). There were nearby restaurants which, while pricy, were not as outrageously pricy as the hotel. Beyond that, I swam, snorkeled a bit (but, frankly, saw as many fish from my bungalow), and napped.

That was fine for a couple of days and then it was time to fly back to Papeete. I stayed close to the center of town for the night before the cruise, which enabled me to explore quite a bit, seeing the Parliament Building, Notre Dame Cathedral, and some parks with trees, one of which is claimed to be Paul Gauguin’s banyan tree. There is also an infinite supply of shopping available, but I don’t wear pearls (which I consider unlucky) and the only thing at all tempting was some fabric, until I reminded myself that I don’t sew either. In short, one day was just about the right amount of time to spend in Papeete.

The cruise was on the Wind Spirit, part of the Windstar line. 140 passengers is a good size cruise for people like me, who have no interest in the fancy floating hotel style cruise ship. My cabin (shared with a cabin mate who the tour company matched me with) was decent-sized and had plenty of storage space. The main downside of this ship is its lack of an elevator, so it would not be suitable for people who could not deal with climbing stairs.

Aside from meals and lectures, there wasn’t a huge amount to do on the ship. We were heading to the path of totality and, due to weather and sea conditions, were not able to call in at Rapa Iti, which was the only real stop on the proposed itinerary. The food was, in general, quite good, albeit not particularly exotic. Some people complained about a lack of things to do, but I had a good supply of puzzles and books (and the ship had a large library of DVDs). Sometimes it is nice to have time for relaxation. And, of course, there is always the option of talking with people. (There was also trivia a couple of nights and Name That Tune a couple of nights. I was on winning times, but we kindly shared the champagne we won.

There was some doubt about whether we’d manage to see the eclipse and the captain did some heroics to get us clear sky. So, yes, we were successful and I am 5 for 5 on seeing total solar eclipses! There are details (including photos by people who are far better than I am) at a results web page. Remember the other ship that was doing an eclipse cruise? It turns out that the only corona they saw was on a beer can.

On the way back, we did have one port call, at Moorea. I took an island tour, which was enjoyable, including several scenic stops. A stop at Bali Hai infected me with an earworm, however. Overall, I think Moorea is the most interesting of the islands I visited and I would have liked another day or so there.

Back in Papeete, I spent two nights at the Intercontinental there, which was less impressive than Bora Bora had been. They do have a nice lagoon area with lots of fish to see, but the hotel was more crowded and a bit isolated. The Gauguin Museum would have been worth going to, but is closed.

There was no drama getting back. Overall, it was an enjoyable but low-key vacation.

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30 July 2019 @ 04:17 pm
I had a busy week at home, followed by an even busier week that included both work and play. So this is just a reminder to myself of things I intend to write about:

  1. Vacation

  2. NPL con

  3. Genealogy - meeting a cousin (and his wife) for dinner

  4. A little more genealogy

  5. The Band's Visit / The Chromatics

  6. The joys and oys of business travel

  7. NSN Summit

Celebrity death watch will probably go along with topics 3-6

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17 July 2019 @ 03:55 pm

  1. Jeremy N. Smith, Breaking and Entering . This tells the story of a woman, called Alien, who becomes an ethical hacker, helping companies find the vulnerabilities in their computer systems. It starts with her undergraduate career at MIT and continues through her efforts building a career and, eventually, her own business. It’s an interesting book, which might inspire some people to be more careful about their own computer use, but the technical detail is thin. I understand why the current day content used disguised names and changed places, but there isn’t really any reason for that in relation to much of the earlier incidents, e.g. the asphyxiation by laughing gas of a fellow student in the East Campus dorm. (I’ll save you the trouble of googling it – his actual name was Richard Guy. And if you google him, you will find out about the students arrested on drug charges during the investigation.)

  2. Christina Baker Kline, A Piece of the World. This is a fictionalized account of the story of Christina Olson, who inspired Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World. Christina’s life is constrained, both by her family and by her disability but Andy’s visits add a new dimension to it. This was a book club selection and I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. There were lots of interesting details, even as the characters often frustrated me by their resignation to their circumstances. Worth a read, even if you don’t care for Wyeth’s art.

  3. Michael Lewis, Moneyball. It is surprising that I had not actually read this before, as I am a fan of both Michael Lewis and of baseball. It finally filtered to the top of the unread stack. While the names have changed, the game really hasn’t and it was fun to read about players I remember and those I don’t. Still an essential read for everyone who loves the game.

  4. John Creasey, Leave It To the Toff. The Toff is the nickname of Richard Rollison, an upper-class sleuth. In this case, he is left an inheritance by a man he’d helped to put in jail. The other beneficiary is a beautiful American night club singer, whose life Is being threatened. There’s more action than deduction, with the assistance of several associates. Frankly, I didn’t find this particularly interesting as mysteries go. Mostly, the characters didn’t behave in realistic ways. I was left without any desire to read more of Creasey’s numerous books.

  5. Christopher Moore, You Suck. Moore is primarily a humor writer, with a flair for the fantastic. This is a sequel to his novel Bloodsucking Fiends and involves love among vampires in San Francisco. It’s pretty silly, but in an entertaining way. Recommended.

  6. Marion Keyes, The Brightest Star in the Sky. This novel involves the lives of several people living at 66 Star Street. The characters are pretty interesting. My favorite was Lydia, the cabbie whose lists of dislikes are especially entertaining. The elderly Jemima, who works as a phone psychic, is also wonderful. This isn’t all sweetness and light by any means, but there are satisfying resolutions to the traumas of life. Keyes is one of the better writers of chick lit out there and this is a fine example.

  7. Anna Solomon, Leaving Lucy Pear. This was another book club selection, involving a rich woman who has a child out of wedlock and leaves it in the pear orchard so it will be taken bye family who steal the pears. The mother in that family is having an affair with a man running for mayor, who arranges for her to work for the rich woman’s uncle. While there are episodes of domestic abuse and sexual violence, it doesn’t really feel like much happens and, frankly, I didn’t find this book very interesting.

  8. Maisie Mosco,, Between Two Worlds. This novel tells the story of Alison Plantaine, a young woman in a theatrical family who learns her father’s great secret and gets involved with his Jewish family. She’s eventually forced to choose between her career ambitions and a man she becomes involved in. There’s nothing particularly unusual or unpredictable here, but it’s still a decent escapist read. It’s the first book in a trilogy and, since it was from my mother’s library, I may also have the other two in my overflowing stash.

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16 July 2019 @ 03:24 pm
Why, yes, I do like documentaries.

  1. RBG: This documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsburg was both informative and entertaining. There are interviews with a wide range of friends, associates, and family members, as the film traces Ginsburg’s career, emphasizing her focus on eliminating gender-based discrimination. Her late husband comes across as a remarkable man, too, with his deep support for her career. Well worth watching.

  2. On the Basis of Sex: This is the other movie about RBG, but is a biopic (with Felicity Jones as Ginsburg) rather than a documentary. It is more focused on her early career than RBG is glossier, but those are intentional choices. Whether you should see just one of these movies or both depends on what your personal tastes are. Both are worth seeing and inspiring in their own ways. RBG paints a fuller picture, but this makes the stronger political statement.

  3. Game Changers: A documentary on the history of game shows, starring Alex Trebek. There are interviews with lots of hosts and producers. As a fan of the genre (I competed on two game shows) I had to watch this and I enjoyed it. I’d have liked something on game shows in other countries, since only Canada is mentioned and only briefly. And it felt a bit tacky not to even acknowledge Art Fleming. But it’s still a must see for all of us game show geeks – and probably of at least some interest to normal people.

  4. Mean Girls: While I’d seen the musical based on this, I hadn’t watched this movie until it turned up among United’s entertaining offerings on a flight. I knew the plot and many lines more than I thought I would. It’s a great reminder of the cruelty of teenage girls and the social landmines of high school. And the script Is genuinely funny. It may be from 2004, but is still a must-see.

  5. Chewdaism:This documentary is subtitled A Taste of Jewish Montreal and was made by Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman of Yidlife Crisis. Basically, they spent a day eating their way around Montreal. There re bagels, there’s smoked meat, there chocolate babka. But there is also a raucous Sephardic meal and modern fusion food. It all looks delicious. Beyond that, Eli and Jamie are genuinely funny. A feast of a film for those who love Jewish food.

  6. The Spy Behind Home Plate: I was lucky enough to see this documentary about Moe Berg with a talkback with director, Aviva Kempner. Given my obsession with Jewish baseball players, this was obligatory. Berg was an interesting character. The main thing I learned is that his father disapproved of his baseball career and refused to ever go to a game. Aviva also dismissed the theory that he was homosexual. During the talk-back, she mostly emphasized his OSS career and his achievements as a spy during World War II. Also, she got access to a lot of archival footage from Princeton, which was particularly interesting.

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16 July 2019 @ 12:15 pm
I have 9 goals for the year. I may be overambitious for someone who is home as little as I am.

  • I’ve made some progress on household paperwork but there is still a lot to go through.

  • I have three goals that have to do with organizing things (genealogy files, yarn, and photographs). And I have done next to nothing on any of those.

  • I read another 8 books this quarter so am at 22 for the year so far. Which means I am behind the pace, but not badly so.

  • I entered the Style Invitational one more time, so have just one more to go.

  • I’ve continued to eat fruit almost every day. I’ve fallen off somewhat on bringing my lunch twice a week. And I’ve still not managed real workouts, though I do walk a fair amount.

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