Tag Archives: travel

Two great authors and a lecture

Since get­ting the Kindle a few years ago, the amount of time I devote to read­ing has sky­rock­eted. In that time, I have read a lot of great stuff, a few hor­ri­ble things, and reac­quainted myself, through reread­ing, to famil­iar yet for­got­ten works. In that time, a cou­ple of new (at least, new to me) authors and texts rose to the top of my favorites list.

I first heard a Ted Chiang story two years ago, not on the Kindle, but via pod­cast. Due to time con­straints, I do not lis­ten to Escape Pod any­more, but I highly rec­om­mend the pod­cast as a source of free scifi short sto­ries in audio­book form. I was churn­ing through sev­eral episodes of Escape Pod while doing yard work. I vividly remem­ber that when Ted’s story “Exhalation” started up, it was so amaz­ing and engross­ing that, with­out real­iz­ing it, I put my yard work on hold. I sim­ply stood there, lis­ten­ing, until I became self-conscious of just stand­ing there and wan­dered over to the shade to sit down and lis­ten prop­erly. It was just that good.  At the time, it was nom­i­nated for a Hugo award, which it later won.  I do not want to say too much about the story itself, but I will say that I found it highly rem­i­nis­cent of H.G. Wells, Marie Shelley, and E.A. Poe in the way it com­bines sci­ence, dis­cov­ery, and human nature in a con­vinc­ing world set­ting. I highly urge you to lis­ten to “Exhalation” at Escape Pod, read it online, or buy the short story col­lec­tion it first appeared in. It’s a quick listen/read and I promise that you’ll at least get some­thing from it.  He has a few other Nebula and Hugo award sto­ries that I plan on read­ing shortly.

I am not sure where I first heard of Connie Willis. I believe her novel “To Say Nothing of the Dog” was tan­gen­tially men­tioned by some steampunk-related arti­cle. The set­ting is Victorian England with a very light­weight, yet com­pelling, time-travel back­drop to the story. It has a good amount of dry com­edy, both sit­u­a­tional and with word­play, rem­i­nis­cent of a Jeeves and Wooster story, yet I can­not cat­e­go­rize it as com­edy. Overall, it is about his­to­ri­ans in the future trav­el­ing to the past, cre­at­ing an acci­den­tal para­dox and try­ing to reverse it, but I can­not cat­e­go­rize it as scifi. There is the mys­tery of the Bishop’s bird-stump, yet it is not a mys­tery novel.  It defies cat­e­go­riza­tion, yet brings together so many cat­e­gories I enjoy.  This book also won a Hugo award, and I can­not wait to read her recent Hugo win­ning novel pair “Blackout/All Clear”.

It now turns out that these two authors are com­bin­ing forces to give an online lec­ture (or, if you are into mar­ket­ing tech­nol­ogy, you might know this style of infor­ma­tion dis­per­sal by the hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble name “webi­nar”).  The Time Travel Lecture is later this month and can be watched live online or down­loaded after­ward.  There is a cost involved (£15) so I am still waf­fling on whether it is worth the price.

While the lec­ture itself is some­thing to take under con­sid­er­a­tion, if you have not yet read any­thing from these authors, you should check them out post-haste.

Posted in: Books

Photo Ketchup

It has been a while since I emp­tied my cam­era, so I fig­ured it was time for a photo catch-up post. First, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone. I wanted to pho­to­graph­i­cally con­vey how treach­er­ous the stairs in the new house are. They’re really shal­low and really tall. I also wanted a photo to show off my new Red Robot socks from Diesel Sweeties. I am not sure if the pic­ture shows off the stairs very well, but it does show off the socks.

The for­mer occu­pants of the house left us a lit­tle present in the kitchen: a drawer full of ancient bak­ing sup­plies and uten­sils!

Next up, we have a cou­ple of pho­tos from the office party at Players, includ­ing a video game with a Windows error and Bob on a motor­cy­cle sim­u­la­tor. You sort of have to know Bob for this to be at all inter­est­ing.

Next up, we have a bunch of pho­tos from the recent trip to 42 Entertainment.

An inter­est­ing photo from this set is my col­lec­tion of “reagents.” All of my liq­uids on the flight were in plain bot­tles marked with Reagent A, Reagent B, and Reagent C in sharpie marker. Both direc­tions, the liq­uids were pulled from my bag and exam­ined, then placed back in with­out com­ment. The fourth bot­tle used to be Dove hair­spray, which I threw out to put in my spray-in con­di­tioner. Of course, I scrib­bled over the text in solid blocks. With the dove sym­bol, I just put a big X over. You know, like an X over the peace sign. Also in the bag was a copy of the Bill of Rights printed on a sharp rec­tan­gle of metal.

Posted in: Dear Diary Pictures

PXC_SF_Connection

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/08/

“How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

Where to start? Yes, it was a great week­end! I got to (finally!) meet a lot of peo­ple that I had not pre­vi­ously seen before.

Backstory

For any friends who have not yet had their ear talked off about Perplex City, here is the back­story and drama lead­ing up to the event: there is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions link between Earth and Perplex City (PXC) and it exists in London. Saturday was sup­posed to be a day of celebration–a sec­ond link was sched­uled to be estab­lished, giv­ing a lit­tle bit of redun­dancy. The link was set up to kick off after a cer­tain num­ber of puz­zles were solved both online and offline–all very for­mal and purely cer­e­mo­nial, as the peo­ple in PXC who designed the puz­zles were still sup­posed to be reach­able via the London link to pro­vide help. A few days before the event, ter­ror­ists ::GASP:: named The Third Power (a.k.a. 3P–we’ve seen them before in the story) orches­trated an attack to bring down the London link, sev­er­ing all con­nec­tion to PXC. The San Francisco link had to be estab­lished by a given time or the car­rier wave would col­lapse for­ever. The mood of the event went from what was effec­tively cer­e­mo­nial torch-lighting to “save the world.” Okay. Got it?

Introduction

After some tasty chicken and waf­fles with AlienDial, Crovax, Ouroboros, and his friend Steve (I had the chicken liver omelet with a waf­fle), we met up out­side the Palace of Fine Arts. The pic­ture shows a hand­ful, but they wrapped around the build­ing. There were about 350 in total.

After enter­ing, check­ing in at reg­is­tra­tion (and say­ing hi to lhall), every­one got to min­gle around some video games and a “puz­zle bar.” This was in the big lobby room, under The Big Board that would show our progress through­out the day. (No, I didn’t get a photo of The Big Board.) At the appointed time, we were brought into the the­ater where Adrian recapped the sit­u­a­tion and explained how the day would work.

Puzzles (skip on to the con­clu­sion if you don’t want the gory details of all of the puz­zles)

Everyone would break into teams (Cassandra, Nora, and I were a puzzle-solving machine!), then pick up a packet con­tain­ing clues/questions/whatever. Your team would open the packet, answer the ques­tions (which may or may not involve run­ning across town), then return to pro­vide answers and get another packet. Because it was a coop­er­a­tive event and not com­pet­i­tive, every­one got to col­lab­o­rate on the dif­fi­cult puz­zles. If you came back with an unan­swered ques­tion, not only would nobody make fun of you, but every­one would team up to help defeat the unsolved puz­zle. For instance, that hap­pened with GuiN’s team. Their series of puz­zles led to a book at the library with a note in it that led to another book, with a Rubik’s cube hid­den behind it. They got the cube mostly solved, but could not quite get the last face. When bring­ing it back, some sort of Rubik’s Cube mas­ter solved it in 30 sec­onds with­out hardly look­ing at it:

A whole gang of us then puz­zled over the num­bers writ­ten on the faces for about an hour. After many false answers, the pow­ers that be peeked in and dis­cov­ered that one of the stick­ers was rotated (what we thought was a “1” was really a “-”). From that point, every­thing was obvi­ous (well, mostly.) The num­bers trans­lated to a phone num­ber. The mes­sage at the num­ber said “what is the sum of the num­bers blah­blah­blah.” After repeated lis­ten­ings, it was “what is the sum of the num­bers on the yel­low face.” 88. Problem solved. Collaboration at it’s best.

So any­way, back to our team. We started with a sheet themed with Ghirardelli Square.

Because Nora lives in the city and rented a car, we got there pretty fast. Cassandra and I hopped out and pro­ceeded to the foun­tain as Nora parked and met up with us. The first cou­ple of ques­tions were answered fairly quickly. The last, involv­ing sig­nal flags, took a bit longer. Between the shapes and CMYK color let­ters, we knew they were nau­ti­cal flags, just not what they decoded to. Some guess­work and some Googling (GSM cell­phone + Bluetooth + Laptop + Google == yeay!) got it decoded into another ques­tion, then Nora’s knowl­edge of the city knocked it down pretty quickly.

Upon return­ing for another packet, it turned out that all of the other travel pack­ets had been handed out. The one remain­ing packet was a maze. Maze. Simple, right? This one was 5 sheets of paper by 5 sheets of paper. 25 in total. The task was to assem­ble the maze, then com­plete a path through it, tak­ing let­ters from the path. It felt over­whelm­ing at first, but turned out to be eas­ier than it looked. Because all of the let­ters were ori­ented the same direc­tion, we knew each piece’s ori­en­ta­tion. This put the cor­ners and edges in the right place and the rest was match­ing up maze edges. Cassandra totally rocked out on the maze assem­bly. I uhhh... super­vised and made motions like I was help­ing.

The mes­sage itself was more dif­fi­cult. Bystanders thought it would be easy because it had to spell out English text, right? Well, the first few let­ters were CLAESOLDENBURGANDCOOSJEVANBRUGGEN. Yeah, good luck on that English lan­guage thing. Nora saves the day, rec­og­niz­ing them as sculp­tors. The rest fell together pretty well.

Cassandra and Nora were great teammates–smart, fun, and seri­ous, but not crazy-serious. I would totally love to have them on any team in the future.

Conclusion

When everyone’s puz­zles were com­pleted, we all gath­ered back in the the­ater. Adrian’s team got the link re-established and Sente (the head of the Academy in PXC–the main dude we deal with over there.) As the fuzzy con­nec­tion got more clear, Sente started to explain the sit­u­a­tion. The 3P simul­ta­ne­ously sab­o­taged the con­nec­tion to Earth and opened some sort of worm­hole, trans­port­ing some­thing from PXC to Earth, caus­ing a mas­sive power out­age over there.

At about this point, one of the coolest things I have seen in a very, very long time hap­pened. Everyone in the audi­ence had their cell­phone ring simul­ta­ne­ously. It was a cacoph­ony of ring­tones. It turned out to be a threat from the 3P. Following the mes­sage, every­one jumped out of their seats and headed for the exits.

We were greeted by two heli­copters per­form­ing mul­ti­ple very low alti­tude fly­bys, then raced around the build­ing (par­don the unsteady-cam) to see them fly over a few more times.

Finally, every­one was given one final phone call, threat­en­ing us to keep away from The Cube, before the heli­copters departed and left us stand­ing there speech­less.

It turns out that now we are not only search­ing for The Cube (a price­less arti­fact of great power that fell here from Perplex City), but the 3P are now rac­ing us to find it.

Party

The evening was to be con­cluded by a gath­er­ing at a local bar. We thought we had plenty of time (because of a slight mis­un­der­stand­ing with the meetup time), so we got some food at a won­der­ful lit­tle tea house and did a lit­tle tourism. This included watch­ing a fox taunt a bison. I’m includ­ing it here for gen­eral cool­ness value and not because it had any real bear­ing on events of the day.

Conclusion

I think the week­end was a great suc­cess. There are a few qual­i­fi­ca­tions to that, though. Admittedly, for Mind Candy, this was the first event that they put together from 5,000 miles and 8 time­zones away, so a few minor flaws were to be expected. In my hum­ble opin­ion, a few things could have been improved upon:

  • There could have been bet­ter con­trol over who took ques­tion pack­ets. We only got one packet with ques­tions that involved going around the city. I am under the impres­sion that this was because some team took a large stack of pack­ets, ran off, then returned close to the end­ing time with most of them unan­swered.
  • While the event ended with every­thing fixed, it felt like there should have been some kind of “prize” for us all. Some pre­vi­ous events were com­pe­ti­tions with the win­ners get­ting points on the score­board. Other pre­vi­ous events had spe­cial lim­ited edi­tion cards or leit­marks asso­ci­ated with them. It would have been nice to have some kind of token prize for each of the par­tic­i­pat­ing players–be that a leit­mark, t-shirt, card, or some other tchotchke. Points would be hard to do–either every­one would get the same points, or per­haps each team would get an allot­ment of points (based on num­ber of team mem­bers) to debate and vote on–maybe they divide them evenly among every­one or weight them based on who came up with the coolest/fastest/whatever solves?
  • The RFID stuff seemed either untested or oth­er­wise not quite ready for prime­time. Hinging part of the event on rel­a­tively unproven tech­nol­ogy was a risk, and one that did not seem to pay off in this instance.
  • As I recall, the London live event had a cen­tral phone num­ber for HQ. People out in the field could call it for help or advise. The team I was on did not need such a num­ber, but it would have still been a good safety net.

More Media

My pho­tos and videos, as always, are at Flickr and a whole slew of pho­tos can be found under the Flickr tag of pxcs­f­con­nec­tion.

In my next post, I hope to talk a bit more about the pre-game and post-game hap­pen­ings at Endgame.

Posted in: Pictures

Ebenezer_Chasing_My_Feet

Photoblogination

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/08/

I finally emp­tied my cam­era and uploaded the con­tents. This includes:

Ebenezer chas­ing my feet

Portland’s 2006 Highland Games (includ­ing peo­ple throw­ing 96 pound stones dredged up from the Columbia and flip­ping tele­phone poles end-over-end.)

The Perplex City event in San Francisco (see pre­vi­ous post).

I’ll prob­a­bly write more text about the event later tonight, after I have had a bit more time to relax.

Posted in: Dear Diary Pictures

catcher-v1

Yeay Marriott!

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/08/

Marriott: it kicks ass.

Although I smug­gled my deodor­ant in my bag­gage and the TSA did noth­ing, even though they stared directly at the bright orange cap, I didn’t attempt to bring any­thing else. I explained my sit­u­a­tion as I was check­ing in to the hotel. The front desk sent up a care pack­age includ­ing a dis­pos­able razor, shav­ing cream, a tooth­brush, tooth­paste (oh gawd, had I for­got­ten how sug­ary “nor­mal” tooth­paste is), sham­poo, con­di­tioner, body lotion, mouth­wash, soap, facial soap, a show­er­cap, Q-tips, cot­ton balls, and a sewing kit. I also got a funny lit­tle thick and fuzzy cloth bag/mitton thing that almost looks like it’s for shin­ing shoes.

Tonight was pretty darn fun. I ended up meet­ing a bunch of ARG peo­ple includ­ing Ariock and Aliendial (as well as folks from Texas, Tennessee, another Brian, a few SF locals, and a group from Seattle.) I traded my (now, appar­ently, rare and out of print) extra Relativity card to Crovax for a big stack of sil­ver and black cards. I ended up sign­ing a bunch of people’s cards, too... which felt a lit­tle weird. The funny thing is that I got to see a few of the cards I authored for the first time in print, as opposed to A6-sized Illustrator files on the screen.

Also, I fig­ured with all the good feed­back (both online and in-person) about Catcher, now would be a good time to post the orig­i­nal pro­to­type, which is sim­i­lar in con­cept, but arrives to a dif­fer­ent answer:

P.S. Also, the bed in this room comes with seven pil­lows: three fancy ones, three nor­mal ones, and one of those tubu­lar neck pil­lows.

I am protected from BO and halitosis!

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2006/08/

They said to get to the air­port 2 hours early because of secu­rity. I think I passed through secu­rity in record time. I've been sit­ting for about 2 hours. Blah.

I man­aged to get deodor­ant through the secu­rity check­point, even though it is a banned item. I feel so secure! I still have to buy tooth­paste when I land. The TSA had to pull out and inspect my Perplex City cards. I guess they're a bit unusual and looked funny in the X-ray.

I hope they have plenty of water on the plane, as I'm going to be really thirsty.

It's funny... I'm finally on the plane now and I find that my brain is try­ing to match pas­sen­gers to LOST char­ac­ters.

[Posted with hblog­ger 2.0 http://www.normsoft.com/hblogger/]

Seattle!

Please note that all blog posts before 8 April 2007 were auto­mat­i­cally imported from LiveJournal.  To see the com­ments and any LiveJournal-specific extras such as polls and user icons, please find the source post­ing at http://brianenigma.livejournal.com/2005/12/

This week­end was very full and very crazy. It was a whirl­wind of adven­ture and entirely too short. We went to a wed­ding up in Seattle. It was in a big Catholic church. I think the last time I have been in a church was for Brian C’s wed­ding, and before that was prob­a­bly sum­mer bible school (back when my age was in the single-digits.) Fortunately, there was not a lot of pomp and cir­cum­stance. It was a sim­ple affair and short enough. Admittedly, there was some off-key, out-of-step, painful to hear singing, but I guess that is expected in church. The real fun was through a door, down a hall­way, and into a large-ish bas­ket­ball gym­na­sium in the base­ment (the church is also a school.) The recep­tion was very Southern, as were the fam­i­lies. Instead of cham­pagne, there were shots of whiskey. The major­ity of the food was bar­be­cued ani­mals (pigs, cows, and chick­ens) and the stuff that was not directly meat was fla­vored with that spe­cial south­ern ingre­di­ent: bacon fat. All the folks had that gen­uine south­ern hos­pi­tal­ity.

Also on the trip, we got to see Kim’s great aunt. She is very likely in her late 80’s, but has all the vim, vigor, and spunk of a 30 year old. It seems she is quite well off–having been mar­ried to a famous Seattle restau­rant owner, liv­ing in a house that has over the past 40 years grown to be mul­ti­ple mil­lions of dol­lars, with the com­pany of a house­keeper and jet set­ting son. I can only wish that I will be that healthy and well off in another 50 years.

Sunday was a great lunch at an Ethiopian restau­rant for just the mar­ried cou­ple and friends. Unfortunately, we met up at their house and waited for fam­ily to wind down and depart. The kids were cute. For 10 min­utes. Then, giant piles of dishes in another room became fun and Kim and I got to rein­force our thoughts on kids. But even­tu­ally, we did have lunch and it was quite the tasty treat. The food was arguably bet­ter than the place locally up on Broadway. It was fam­ily owned and run and the lit­tle girl after which the place was named was there and obvi­ously lov­ing the atten­tion.

The drive home was just as long as the drive up, but didn’t feel as long. Much like a tired horse will get a sec­ond wind when you turn him around and point him toward the sta­ble, the drive home just felt much more short, know­ing that my own bed–not a stiff Travelodge mattress–was wait­ing.

All sorts of fun stuff hap­pened upon arriv­ing home, but I am going to do the rule 6 thing and leave it at cryp­tic hints to an unstated event.

Posted in: Dear Diary