Monday, October 20, 2014

Autographs - Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

(Click the image to enlarge it.)

I've been a big fan of Cory Doctorow and BoingBoing for a very long time. When I saw that he would be in L.A. at a convenient time and place, I put it on my calendar.

Although this book isn't one I would ordinarily purchase, especially since Doctorow puts all of his books online for free, I bought it to get the autographs.

And, despite thinking that I knew his work pretty well, I was still amazed at how quick-witted and wide-ranging he is as a speaker. Very entertaining.

(Index of autographs)

South Africa - Fall 2014

Africa, particularly South Africa, has been on my wish list forever. I thought we would go in 2013, but it got pushed into 2014.

We had a great time! Links to photos are below.

We were on a tour that included Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula, wine tasting, the Garden Route, and, of course, safari. The safari portion was at Kariega Game Reserve.

The weather was temperate. It rained one afternoon and one night, and not at all on our game drives. Our time on Table Mountain was almost completely socked in by clouds, but we still spent an hour or so walking some of the trails on the mountain.

We ate some new food: ostrich steak, springbok feuilleté, and eland. All were tasty. The springbok feuilleté was excellent.

A canal in central Amsterdam

We also had a day in Amsterdam. (Link to more photos is below.) When I started planning this trip, I thought we would fly from Mexico to South Africa via South America. But there were few such flights, and they were pretty expensive. It was cheaper to fly via Europe. In particular, given the historical ties between Holland and South Africa, KLM had reasonably-priced non-stop flights from Amsterdam to Cape Town. I used mainly frequent flyer miles to buy our tickets from Mexico to Europe.

To break up the trip, and to overcome jet lag (Victor's biggest time change ever), and because Victor had never been to Europe, I scheduled a full day in Amsterdam. We spent most of the time in the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum.

More photos:

(View the photos individually to see the captions, although not every photo in the first and last groups is captioned.)

Getting Victor a tourist visa for South Africa was much more trouble than expected. First, we intentionally applied very early, but because the visa would only be good for 90 days, we had to re-apply a bit later. Worse, they insisted on direct confirmation from each hotel of our reservations! I can't imagine that South Africa has many Mexican tourists over-staying visas, so I don't know why they gave us such a hard time! Grrrr!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Olympic Peninsula and Seattle - July 2014

At Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle.

Moss-covered trees in Olympic National Park.

More photos here.

This was another Road Scholar trip: "Naturally Magnificent: Washington State's Olympic Peninsula". I flew in a day early to spend some time in Seattle.

In Seattle, I started with a quick visit to the EMP Museum. I'm only a little into pop music, so I went through all that quickly. The fantasy and science fiction exhibits were mainly film and TV props, and I'm more into SF&F books.

Chihuly Garden and Glass was lots of fun. I was tempted to stay into the night to see things lit up, but that would have been quite late.

The next morning I went to the Seattle Central Library, which wasn't as striking as I expected. I finished my extra Seattle time in bookstores in Pioneer Square. In one that was going out of business, I asked about the price of a large Chihuly book I had seen at his museum the day before. The proprietor named a low price and threw in a Chihuly DVD and a box of Chihuly notecards. I took the deal, adding extra weight to my suitcase.

The Olympic Music Festival program was very good. After that, it was all Port Angeles and the Olympic Peninsula. The weather was great - hot and dry. Most didn't like the heat and accused me of bringing the weather from Los Angeles. I loved the scenery. And once again, I didn't do enough walking.

Just before the trip began, the first legal recreational marijuana stores opened in Washington state. But that didn't work out for me. The two in Port Angeles hadn't yet received their licenses, and the one in Seattle sold out of everything in the first three days, and was closed for another ten days. Sigh.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Appalachian Trail - June 2014

More photos here. View them individually to see the captions.

After last year's Road Scholar trip to Oregon where I exercised too little, ate too much and put on a bit of unwanted weight, I spotted "Hike the Appalachian Trail in Four States" in which we would be hiking 6 to 10 miles every day. In addition, we would see Harpers Ferry, WV and Antietam National Battlefield.

I was worried about the weather, since I never hike when it rains. I chose the month of lowest average rainfall in the area. It did rain one evening, but it never rained while we were hiking. (On the hike in the afternoon before it rained, I heard distant thunder three separate times, and I sped up each time. That day, I was the first one to finish the hike!) I carried a raincoat in my backpack every day, but I never used it.

It was fun. As the photos show, my old hiking boots fell apart, forcing me to use my sneakers. And, also seen in the photos, I got scraped up when I fell once. And the trail was frequently very rocky. And there were quite a few hills to climb. And there were more flying insects than at home. But that was all minor; I enjoyed all the walking. I may look at more of these.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mexico City (Dec. 1985)

Keiran and Rodney at the Anthropology Museum

On top of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihaucan

In December, 1985, I traveled with my friend Kieran Prather to Mexico City. Kieran had been there before, I had not. I stayed only a few days, Kieran stayed longer.

It was three months after a severe earthquake had hit the city. There were many collapsed buildings and much re-construction work going on.

Kieran and I spent most days apart. I had to do the first-time visitor things, of course. I spent one day at Teotihuacan, one in and around the Zocalo, and most of another at the National Museum of Anthropology. We went to Coyoacán (I think!) for a holiday celebration and fireworks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Autographs - Luis Zapata

Luis Zapata's best known work is El vampiro de la colonia Roma (1979). The English translation (1981) is Adonis Garcia, A Picaresque Novel. I enjoyed it a lot.

My friend Kieran knew Zapata, and in December 1985, I went to Mexico City with him, and we stayed at Zapata's apartment in the Zona Rosa, while Luis stayed with his family for a few days.

Years later, I had Kieran get Zapata to inscribe a Spanish language copy of the book for Victor. I gave the book to Victor. He read it, then quickly lent it to an acquaintance, and it never came back. I was unhappy about losing an autographed book.

(Index of autographs)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A trick of memory

Walking in Debs Park with Princeton (last summer)

Sue, a childhood friend of Bruce Lemerise's, found my note about him and wrote to me Saturday afternoon. I replied early that evening, and she wrote me again Sunday afternoon.

After Bruce died, a friend and neighbor of his gave me some additional illustrations he had drawn. Now, for the second time in twenty years or so, I looked around for them unsuccessfully. I also looked for that neighbor's name. I thought her first name was Susan, but I couldn't be sure that I wasn't just being misled because this new correspondent was named Sue. I did find Bruce's address and phone number in an old phone directory of mine, but no mention of Susan.

Monday morning, I was walking in Debs Park with the neighbors' Great Dane, Princeton, as usual. After about 45 minutes, as we were headed back to his house, I had just glanced at my watch and noted that we were doing well on time, when an unusual three-syllable word popped into my head. As I mentally repeated it, I slowly realized it was probably a last name, and after a few more moments, I realized it wanted to go with "Susan". It took yet another couple of moments and mental repetition of the name before my full consciousness kicked in and I thought, "Wait a minute! Could that really be her name?"

Thirty minutes later, I'm finally back online. I discover that it almost certainly was her name. One of the four people with that name in New York state (still!) lives in the same building that Bruce lived in! And I get a phone number, too.

When we finally talked last night, we were both amazed to have connected. Susan will contact Sue, too.

The more I thought about how Susan's last name suddenly came to me, and my slow mental processing after it did, the more mysterious it all seemed!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

PanAm's First Moon Flights Club

(Click the images to enlarge them.)

As you can see, I was a charter member of PanAm's First Moon Flights Club.

Even before this, when I was a kid, I hoped to spend New Year's Day 2000 on the moon.

Autographs - Don Knuth

(Click the image to enlarge it.)

Famed computer scientist Don Knuth offers a modest cash reward to the first person who reports any specific error in his books. Many never cash their checks, preferring to display them!

In 1988, I found not one, but two errors in his then new book, Concrete Mathematics. I'm a pretty good proofreader / copy editor. Alas, I was not the first to find either error. I missed by 13 days in the first case.

At the time, Knuth did not use email. I wrote a letter to him about each error, and he replied beneath each letter. So I have his hand-writing twice, but only once did he write his name. Knuth is an author, and the autograph is about his book, but it's one more time I have an author's autograph not in the book.

In the image, Knuth's notes to me are a bit difficult to make out. They read: "previously reported on Oct 5 — please keep trying" and "yup — this is now the second-most-often reported error. I'm glad people are reading it... but sorry for being so erroneous... don".

(Full disclosure: In 2001, I reported what I thought was a misspelled name in a later Knuth book, but he was right and I was wrong. And that time, the correspondence was by email. No autograph.)

(Index of autographs)

Autographs - Paul Hawken

(Click the images to enlarge them.)

I was an avid reader of the Whole Earth Catalog and its spin-offs. Paul Hawken wrote occasional pieces in one of them, CoEvolution Quarterly. It was there that I read his invitation to submit title suggestions for his upcoming book.

I made the winning suggestion, but I wasn't the only one, so he split the cash prize.

This is one more instance of an author autograph not in the book.

(Index of autographs)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Political ads (March 2013)

I sent this letter to the Los Angeles Times (not published):
As a resident of the City of Los Angeles, I've been inundated by campaign mailers for weeks now. I throw them all away without a glance, but I do pause to thank all the electioneers for helping ease the U.S. Postal Service's budget deficit.

Handling crimes on campus

Last week, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about college administrators becoming sexual misconduct detectives. I sent the following letter (not published):
It's clear to me that colleges shouldn't be doing criminal investigations.

Accusers should be given all necessary support and counseling, and they should be told to go to the police to file a criminal complaint.

Friday, May 16, 2014

On GMO foods

1. I don't have a fundamental issue with it.

2. I think GMO labeling will happen. Those who care are already using "No GMO" labels. Big Food is wasting lots of time and money fighting it, only to incite more opposition.

3. Given how pervasive the technology is, the GMO label will be so common that it will quickly become ignored.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On Internet privacy

February 11, 2014 was designated The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance. I wrote a short Facebook post as my contribution:
1. Assume that all data that can be collected will be collected.

2. "You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it." - Scott McNealy, 1999 (See wikiquote.)

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Keep your religion to yourself

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling on prayer before government meetings, I sent the following letter to the Los Angeles Times (not published):

Keep your religion to yourself.

Why is that so hard?
Let me elaborate here:

  • If you're not with co-religionists, keep your religion to yourself.
  • Pray anytime and anywhere you like, but silently.
  • If you shove your religion in my face, I may not react sweetly.
  • Don't expect me to respect your religion. I probably respect it less than I do the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
  • I don't want your imaginary god's blessing when I sneeze. Try “Good health to you” or, shorter, “Gesundheit” or “Salud”.
(I wrote much the same a couple of years ago.)
(See also Why I am an angry atheist.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


As I wrote back in 2001, I still respond to telemarketers with, "Please put me on your do-not-call list," and I hang up.

But I think I'm going to occasionally try something new. When they pause, I'll say:

I don't do business with lawbreakers.
You're breaking the law by calling me.
Please put me on your do-not-call list.

And then I'll hang up.

Perhaps they will try to say, as they sometimes do, "But we spoke last year, and you asked me to call you back later."

That will give me the perfect opportunity to say, "I also don't do business with liars," and I'll hang up.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Why Victor still isn't visiting the U.S.

It's past time for me to update "Why Victor can't visit the U.S."

Last June, the day after the Supreme Court overturned the "Defense of Marriage Act", I heard for the first time about K-1 fiancé visas. It was immediately clear to me that Victor would be able to use this to enter the U.S.

But I had questions. I wasn't sure how to show that Victor would not become a financial burden to U.S. taxpayers. If Victor once entered the U.S. illegally more than 20 years ago (hypothetically speaking!), would that be a problem? What would Victor's citizenship status be, in both Mexico and the U.S. after we married? If he returned to live in Mexico after we're married, could he then easily visit me repeatedly at length for years afterwards? Do I need a prenuptial agreement? And more along these lines.

I eventually did speak with a gay immigration attorney and get some answers. The biggest problem is that the U.S. State Department has a stunted idea of married living arrangements. They make no provision for a married couple who do not want to live permanently together in the U.S.

Victor is not quite ready to retire, and is not ready to move here permanently. We envision some years, maybe many years, of exchanging weeks- and months-long visits in one another's countries.

But if Victor used a K-1 visa to come to Los Angeles and we got married, in the eyes of the State Department, he is immediately an applicant for permanent residency, and could not leave the U.S. for more than six months at a time. We could probably work with that, but it's not ideal.

So we have decided not to pursue the K-1 visa at this time.

Instead, many years after we gave up on it in the past, we might try a simple tourist visa again. Maybe next year, or maybe when Victor retires. And, if that fails again, maybe then we will pursue the K-1 visa.

So there are more possibilities, but there's not yet a perfect solution.

[2015 update]

Fighting vandalism in the near future

When we have the "internet of things" and ubiquitous sensors, here's one small use that would warm my heart: anti-vandalism.

Consider graffiti:

First of all, spray paint cans won't operate on any surface if you don't have the owner's permission.

If some young punk somehow manages to start to tag some graffiti, his identity is captured, and he hears, by name, that he is being fined.

On second offense, not only is the fine multiplied, but a swarm of paint drones tag swatches of his hair, his body, his clothes, his bag, and his ride.