Boskone 2018

posted in: cons | 0

Boskone is taking place this weekend, down on Boston’s waterfront.  I’ll be there all day Saturday, so if you’re attending, I hope you’ll stop by and say hello. Here’s what I’m doing:

  • 11:00 a.m. – Autograph session, with several other writers
  • 12:00 Noon – Kaffeeklatch, where I’ll just sit and jawbone with y’all who show up
  • 2:00 p.m. – Panel “About Airships”
  • 5:00 p.m. – Panel “Electronic Evolution: Is Skynet Here Yet?”

Aside from that, I’ll wandering the halls with everyone else, or perhaps engaging in secretive, high-level, possibly subversive, publishing talk. Come listen in! Oh wait—it’s secret. Or was, until I blew my cover.

Asus Comes Through!

Will she come back to life?

Previously on the Star Rigger Chronicles…

We left our hero shedding more than one tear over his beloved laptop (It’s dead, Jim), which abruptly died a year to the day after purchase—and muttering imprecations about the manufacturer whose tech support said, “Sorry! Out of warranty!” It was a dark day.

But today, the shrouds of darkness have scattered! After receiving two voicemails from Asus asking if my problem has been resolved (Duh! No!), I (the hero is me) call them back. At first, the answer is the same, only better: “For an estimated $700, we will diagnose your machine and call you with a new estimate, which may be more. If you wish, you may dispute the new estimate.”

“Huh? Dispute the estimate? What does that even mean?”

“You can try to get a discount.”

 Groan. “Look, it died one year to the day after I bought it. Can’t you help me?”

Repeat refrain. Eventually, though, she says, “Let me put you on hold.” I hold. She comes back and says, “We are going to escalate this to corporate. You will get a call within 48 business hours.”

“Forty-eight business—” calculating in head “—does that mean six days?” No, that was just customer-support talk. It means two days.

Two hours later I get a call from corporate. They need a copy of my purchase receipt so they can escalate it again. I find the receipt, and with some difficulty get it scanned to a pdf. (The dead laptop is where I usually handle scanning.)

That was yesterday. Today I get the reply: “Yes, we will fix it under the warranty.”

From somewhere in the clouds, we hear, faintly, the triumphal sounds of John Williams and the London Symphony, playing the Throne Room theme from Star Wars! Yay!

Never give up! Never surrender!

 

Tesla Roadster Asteroid Bound!

posted in: adventures, space | 0

The launch of the Space-X Falcon Heavy was spectacular, and I so wish I had been there to see it. After seeing the space shuttle Atlantis launch (in person), I know that a video can only hint at the experience. Still, what a video! Watch it all the way through to see the two boosters make their Hollywood-perfect landings, and Elon’s red Tesla and its mannequin starman float among the stars!

Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster Is Headed to the Asteroid Belt

WTF? Demons? Gremlins? Squirrels?

My trusty laptop Antares failed to power up today, precisely one day after the warranty expired. Nothing, nada, dark. That would have been bad enough, but it was my second machine to bite the dust between last night and this morning. My amazing Panasonic DVD recorder, Grabber, kacked in the middle of a DVD burn last night and now sits lifeless, with a hard drive full of movies and TV shows. And to top it all off, squirrels picked last night to bite through the light string on our outdoor tree, killing the pretty blue lights we had left on to brighten the winter nights.

For the laptop I hoped that Asus, the manufacturer, might cut me a little slack, especially since I believe that it shut itself off last night—which is probably when whatever happened, happened, on the last day of the warranty. No dice, though: “You called today, and your machine is out of warranty.” I declined to send it to them, did all the standard troubleshooting stuff, and then mournfully carted it off to the local computer repair place.

ASUS, YOU ARE NOT A GENEROUS COMPANY TO YOUR CUSTOMERS! ONE LOUSY DAY!

Edit: Asus has reversed its position! More to come at eleven.

And then there’s the Panasonic. I love this machine, a DMR-E85H, for those who care about such things. I got my first one close to fifteen years ago, and it continues to be a great way to collect movies and favorite shows from cable. (Yes, it’s legal.) Even recording a standard def analogue signal, it does an impressive job. It’s pretty much my only hobby right now—well, along with beating on the timpani in the basement.

This is my second Grabber. They work great for years, and then something goes—usually capacitors, at first. You can open the case and see visually when capacitors have failed, and they’re big enough that even I can solder in new ones. And then eventually something less obvious goes, and you’re done. I will open up Grabber 2 a little later to see if I can fix it. But meanwhile, there’s one just like it on ebay, and I’m, er, grabbing it. They stopped making these things years ago. I may just turn out to be their last devoted user!

And as for the squirrels? Electrocution’s too good for you!

 

The Shootists

Allysen and I went shootin’ yesterday. That is to say, we took a firearms safety class, which culminated in our firing a few rounds into paper targets in the adjoining shooting range, and coming away with safety certificates.

Let me explain. We’re not exactly gun people, we don’t aspire to gun ownership, and we’re both strong supporters of gun-control laws. But guns are part of our culture, and it seems to make sense to have some basic knowledge of how they work. Plus, the actual aiming and shooting at targets promised to be an enjoyable challenge. (My previous experience with firearms consisted of firing one bullet at a tree with my grandfather’s rifle, when I was a kid.)

This, however, actually started some years ago, when Allysen and Jayce went to a women’s-only, all-day training program, where they learned about and got to try out a variety of guns, ranging from muzzle-loaders to revolvers to modern pistols. Also, bows and arrows. They had a great time—they learned a lot, in an atmosphere that was friendly and supportive, and largely devoid of macho bullshit. Allysen wanted me have a chance at the same kind of thing, and so as a surprise present, she researched local ranges and found one that had good reviews, no NRA requirement (!), and basic classes.

As it turned out, this class was interesting, as much from a sociological as a firearms-learning perspective. But it sure wasn’t what she’d experienced before, or was hoping for. The instructor was affable and a decent teacher when he was on topic about basic gun knowledge, legal requirements, and safety. But when he wandered into the morass of anti-gun-control political opinion mongering, I just wanted to stuff a sock in his mouth. Except, you know, he totes a gun. Loaded. With a chambered round. (I already knew about some of this stuff; I learned it from Jack Reacher novels.)

I was particularly troubled that he was urging gun neophytes to carry loaded weapons, with a chambered round ready to fire. His analogy was this: If a bad guy comes at you, not having a round in your chamber ready to go is like saying you’ll fasten your seatbelt right before you crash your car. Wellll, that’s just a load of dingoes’ kidneys, in my opinion. Fastening your seatbelt ahead of time doesn’t threaten the safety of others around you; carrying a locked and loaded weapon just might. Sure, it’s possible there will be that rare situation when you’re attacked without warning and maybe being ready to stop the baddie at a moment’s notice will be good. But mostly, I think it’s a recipe for shooting the wrong people, either by accident or in the heat of an argument.

Another bit of codswallop was his assertion that banning bump stocks—devices to make your gun fire faster, definitely useful if your plans for the day include shooting up a crowd of people—was equivalent to banning the remote starters on car key fobs. Ahhh…. no, I don’t think so.

Debatable advice like that notwithstanding, we learned some interesting and occasionally surprising things, such as that having a license to carry a concealed weapon means you must conceal the weapon. I never knew that. I always assumed it meant you could conceal the weapon, not that you had to. But it turns out if you make your sidearm visible to others, that’s considered brandishing the gun, and that’s a felony. Oops. (We didn’t get into how this applies to carrying a rifle, which is sort of hard to conceal.)

Eventually we all got to go into the range, and we each popped off a few rounds from a 22 revolver and a 22 pistol. That part was definitely fun—but disappointing, because we thought we’d get to do a lot more hands-on learning than we did. I was hoping we’d have a chance to try a bigger variety of hardware, maybe including a rifle. But nope. Pop pop pop. Here’s your certificate. Go thou and apply for a firearms permit.

Will we? Well, if I look like I’m getting ready to carry a concealed weapon, please give me a sedative, confiscate my credit cards, and send me to bed. But target shooting? And maybe clay pigeon shooting? I think that could be fun. We’ll see. 

Ursula K. LeGuin Has Left Us

posted in: tributes | 3

Ursula LeGuin photo by Eileen Gunn

Author Ursula LeGuin has died, at the age of 88. She was a giant in the field—and by “the field,” I mean not just science fiction and fantasy, but the world of American letters. Winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, as well as the National Book Award, she more recently, in 2014, was awarded a lifetime achievement award, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In receiving the award, she accepted on behalf of all the science fiction and fantasy writers who had for decades been excluded from the ranks of literature.

She also, in accepting the award, spoke out against the tyranny of commercialism in writing and publishing. “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable,” she said. “So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art and very often in our art, the art of words.”

You can hear her remarks here, where she received the award from Neil Gaiman.

Neil Gaiman presents lifetime achievement award to Ursula K. Le Guin at 2014 National Book Awards from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

Her best known works include The Left Hand of Darkness, A Wizard of Earthsea, and The Tombs of Atuan. Her essays on the craft of writing are standard reading for all aspiring writers of the imagination. I’ve had a quote from her at the top of my writing advice page for approximately forever.

She was also a founding member of the writers’ cooperative, Book View Café, of which I am a more come-lately member. I only met her once, at a convention where I was unfortunately scheduled to give a reading opposite her autograph session. After reading a bit, I suggested to the one loyal fan who had come to see me, “Why don’t we go over and get in line with everyone else to meet Ms. LeGuin, okay?” I got no argument.

(Photo at top by Eileen Gunn, from Ms. LeGuin’s website.)

Home Again, Home Again

We returned home earlier this week, and our first major order of business (after getting some sleep) was to take our beloved 19-year-old cat Moonlight in for minor surgery (not that any surgery on a cat that old is minor). She had these weird, keratinous things on the back of her neck, one of which kept bleeding and weeping, and the only treatment was to get them off. She came through with flying colors, and is now resting comfortably with a sock-vest around her neck!

Where’s the food?

Wake me when winter’s over.

Ponce Chronicles: Down to the Wire

Our time here is nearly up–we’re down to hours now–and there is so much yet to do! I spent most of the last two days rebuilding some of the outdoor stairway railing that Hurricane Maria demolished. Finishing that job, and fixing the wobbly top step once and for all, were my priority items for our final two days. My work yesterday was interrupted three or four times by brief rain squalls—each lasting just long enough to force me to get all the power tools gathered up and carted inside, and then blowing over. I think that was the first day I did not go to Home Depot–yay!–which helps account for my actually getting a lot done. (Though I did have to ask Allysen to pick up some drill bits and screws at Sears.)
This may not look like much, but it involved a lot of drilling through the channel iron posts that are part of the original construction. More than one drill bit died in the replacing of these rails! And the belt sanding. I hate belt sanding! But it sure does the job. The water situation is still not resolved, despite our having influence in high places, via Frances next door. The city water has always been iffy, due to insufficient pressure to get a decent supply up to the top of the hill; but this year it’s worse than ever, and I don’t think it can be blamed solely on the hurricane. With the demise of the original, underground cistern for backup water, Allysen finally did what we’ve talked about for years: She went and bought a 1000 gallon plastic cistern and pump, which will be installed after we leave by Ricardo (who is not just an electrician). Here it is, presented for your edification by Jayce.


Next time we’re here, by Grabthaw’s Hammer, there will be enough water to run the washing machine! And the new toilets, yes, they will work! And the showers!

Today I rebuilt the first step, with multiple interruptions to help with transferring images and videos of the hurricane cleanup for submission with the insurance claim. Wouldn’t have been so hard except that the current internet service here is just a hair above nonexistent. Which is making posting this a challenge!

Never mind that. This here step’s goin’ nowhere.

Ponce Chronicles: Beauty Amid the Struggles

One of the striking things about Ponce, and I guess much of Latin America and the Caribbean, is that there’s so much beauty right alongside the poverty. I don’t always notice, because we’re so focused on working to fix things up. (This seems to involve a minimum of one to two trips a day to Home Depot, which I know much better by now than the Home Depot at home.) In my driving to and fro, I see a lot of the poverty and some of the demolished buildings, but I also drive past the lovely, modern Museo de Arte de Ponce (art museum, where Allysen’s mom used to work), and the old architecture of the Plaza.

A couple of nights ago, we went out to our favorite restaurant, Vistas, which has rooftop dining and a gorgeous view of the city. Here’s the skyline.

Up on the ridge, you see the giant cross, Cruceta del Vigía, which you can go up in to look out over the city. Just to the right of it is the Castillo Serrallés, which is a mansion originally owned by the Serrallés family, makers of Don Q rum. Those two structures are visitor highlights, and along with them is a Japanese garden (although I’m not sure it survived).

You can’t see our house, but it’s up there on the same road, a little above and to the right of the Cruceta. The “modern” building further to the right of La Cruceta is the last structure at the top of the hill—an abandoned hotel. In its heyday, Allysen’s family lived in that hotel prior to building the house. (Her dad worked for G.E.’s international division, which is what brought them to Ponce in the first place.)

Here’s what lay directly below us on the restaurant terrace: the old fire station and museum, and an old Spanish church, in the center of the Plaza.

A consolation of the loss of so many trees to Maria is that our view from the house is now less obstructed. I remember on my first visit here, back in the 1980s, watching a small plane come down over the hills, and following it all the way to its landing at the airport on the far side of Ponce. Then the trees grew higher, and we could no longer see the airport. Now we once again can watch the (limited) airplane traffic into town. There’s been a spate of military transport planes landing and sometimes circling, and I’ve been wondering if it’s been a bunch of planes bringing in supplies, or a single plane practicing landings.

Here’s the view in daytime. If you enlarge this image, you can just make out the array of windmills off in Coamo. I do not know how they fared in the hurricane.

Speak of the devil. As I typed that paragraph about the airport (at 1:30 a.m.), I saw bright lights coming down over the coast and touching down. Too early to be JetBlue. Who was it? I wonder. Aliens?* Coming to find the best tostones?**

*Nope, my bad. It wasn’t aliens; it was JetBlue from Orlando.

**In past years, the best tostones in town were to be found—I swear this is true—at Denny’s. Yes, that Denny’s. This year, the title might be up for grabs. The ones at Denny’s are still good, but no longer great. Sic transit gloria mundi.

 

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