Leslie's Latest News

Monday, September 30, 2002

New TV shows seen recently: I have to admit I fell for American Dreams. At first I thought it was going to be a pleasant nostalgia trip with lots of good music, but there are some interesting underlying themes that I hope will be developed. The part that appealed to me the most was the mother's discontent with her life, which is clearly going to blossom into some sort of women's lib activity. When one of the other women at her Reader's Digest Book Club discussion group starts to suggest an alternative book to read, I guessed that it would be The Group, and I was right! (She got shot down, though, and they decided to read the "approved" book, Shoes of the Fisherman.) And of course I related to the JFK shooting, which was depicted very much as I remembered it. (Hearing about it while sitting in a classroom my first year at Harvard, and standing shell-shocked to watch the coverage in the television department of the Harvard Coop.)

All the critics said good things about Boomtown and I also thought the opening episode was great. It was one of the few tv shows that I actually wanted to watch over again from the beginning. (That opening monolog about the Los Angeles River sure had a deeper meaning the second time around.) I don't know if they'll be able to keep it up, but I'll definitely be watching that one. If you haven't read about it, they use an innovative technique of telling a story from multiple viewpoints and not necessarily in chronological order. Sort of like a Picasso painting, where he shows the same figure from the front and the side at the same time.
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About a week ago, I developed a poison ivy rash on the inside of my right wrist and the knuckles of my left hand. I have no idea where this came from, as I hadn't been anywhere near the woods during the appropriate timeframe. One theory I had was that I picked it up from one of the cats (probably Machinka, who wanders farther afield than Katisha), but now I'm not so sure. The rash on my wrist is so intense that it doesn't seem likely to have been caused by secondary contact. But that still leaves the mystery of where it came from. In any case, poison ivy is the pits. It's intensely itchy and lasts for quite a long time. It's definitely on my short list of genomes I'd like to see eradicated from the biosphere.
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Sunday, September 29, 2002

I slept late this morning, but made it back to the Magic tournament in time for the Women's Tournament. As I expected, the turnout was light, with only 4 people signed up. But the sponsors went ahead and agreed to award the prize, which was "a mox or a box" (value around $100) in spite of the low turnout. We played round-robin and I finished second at 2-1. The woman who won was playing essentially the same deck that I was playing with a few subtle differences that may have given her the advantage in the mirror match. In that match, she won the first game, I won the second game, but she won the third. So I was really close to winning, which was frustrating. (I got a few packs as a consolation second prize.) I did get acquainted with one of the women in the tournament who had come up from New Jersey, which was nice.

After that, I played in one more pre-release "flight" and got beaten by more pro tour players from Italy and Japan. I didn't let it bother me, though. After all, it's not every weekend you get to play Magic with people from 4 different continents. I got each of them to sign a card for me to keep as a souvenir, and the Italian guy checked out my deck and told me that he thought I'd dont the best I could from the cards available to me.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see much of the actual Pro Tour. On the final day, they show the semifinal and final matches on closed-circuit TV, and they give out headsets so you can listen to expert commentary about the games. When I did this in New York last year, it was a lot of fun to watch, but this time I was in the middle of the women's tournament during the finals. I'll have to read about it on the web. I did see the awards ceremony, so I know that the winner was the German Team Phoenix, headed by Kai Budde. Kai Budde may be the best Magic player ever - he's won 6 Pro Tours, last year's Magic Invitational, and was also named Player of the Year this year. And he also appears to be a nice guy - everybody seems to like him.

One funny note. At one point I was sitting at a table eating a sandwich and studying my deck while waiting for the next round. A young guy walked up to me and said, "Finally - a cool older person!" He was totally entranced by the idea that I actually played Magic. I told him that when I was his age I had vowed to never grow up.

I then came home and watched the Patriots get beat by San Diego in a close game. After a weekend of close Magic games, many of which I lost, I was in the right frame of mind to deal with adversity.
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The trouble with holding a Magic pre-release tournament concurrently with a Pro Tour is that the pro tour players who didn't make it to day 2 can go ahead and play in the pre-release. So instead of the usual bunch of scrub players that are fairly easy to beat, you can run into some really stiff competition. I played in 3 "flights" today, where each flight is a small 5-round, 32-player tournament. I dropped out of the first two flights after doing badly, but went 4-1 in the last flight and won a few packs. In the process I played against pro tour players from Holland, Brazil, and Switzerland, and actually managed to beat one of them! They were all very nice to talk to and the last one gave me some advice on my deck as we waited for the prize distribution. The whole thing started early and ran very late, though, so I am totally wiped out.
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Thursday, September 26, 2002

It's been a hectic week, with events nearly every evening, and the Boston Pro Tour Magic tournament coming up this weekend. I'm planning to take tomorrow off work to get in a full 3 days of Magic playing. Saturday will be the pre-release tournament for the new fall set, and on Sunday there's a female-only tournament that I'm trying to get prepared for. (It's in a format that I don't play very much, so I need to do some practicing.)

Work has been totally frustrating so I don't want to talk about that. Suffice it to say, a long weekend away will definitely do me good.

I've also been trying to play ClanLord (an online role-playing game), which has been amusing. ClanLord runs only on the Mac and emphasizes cooperation and sharing. You do get to fight with various creatures, but the players don't fight against each other. And usually you need to travel in groups to survive anywhere much outside the main village. So you need to build up a network on friends online that you can do things with. I'm a total beginner, so there's all sorts of stuff going on that I don't understand yet. I don't think I'm going to get sucked into it, but we'll see. I have two other friends who are playing and they are about a month or so ahead of me, so they are helping me out with tips and advice.
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Mystery of renowned zen garden revealed
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Saturday, September 21, 2002

I'm way behind in blogging. Sorry guys, it's been a busy week. I just got back from the grocery store with a carfull of good healthy food, so I hope to get back into eating right over the next few weeks. I still have to go out and mow the lawn, but it's so hot today! Not like late September at all. (Knowing New England weather, we'll probably have a frost next week.)

I've started watching some of the new season of TV shows, but haven't seen anything really outstanding yet. I sort of like Firefly. It's a good old-fashioned space western, but it has some interesting characters and has been setting up an interesting backstory. Seems like it will be a lot of fun. John Doe was intriguing and showed promise, but it's not clear if it can maintain that level of interest through a whole season. Everwood had a few good moments, but I think it's a bit too sappy. The Twilight Zone was pretty much a rehash of the old Twilight Zone.

Alex and I are continuing our practice of watching Survivor together, which will be fun. This time they had the two oldest competitors select the people on their teams. One side went for all the young ones, which might be smart for the competitions, but there seem to be an awful lot of big egos clashing on that tribe. The other side picked people a bit older and wiser, on the average. Surprisingly, the older team almost won the first competition (they actually won the physical part and just lost out because one person had trouble solving a puzzle). And they voted out the person who was causing the most dissention, so they will probably form a pretty close-knit team. Well, it will be interesting, as always. The setting this time is a beautiful island off Thailand (in monsoon season). One team has some caves to shelter in, but the other has been getting soaked by rains as they are working on building a shelter.

My DVD rental company sent me Shadowlands. I'd seen this before, but was in the mood to see it again because of my recent trip to England. It's a beautiful adult love story, based on an actual relationship between Oxford professor and author C.S.Lewis and American writer Joy Gresham, played by Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger. Joy is spirited and outgoing, while Lewis is inhibited and reserved, so the progress of their relationship, which starts with letters and a brief formal visit and then grows more serious over a long period of time, is fascinating to watch. I love the scene the first time they go to bed together. Lewis is feeling unsure of himself, and Joy asks him how he normally gets ready for bed. He describes the steps, and she says, "Well, now you do exactly the same things you normally do, but when you get to the last bit, I'll be there." (Be warned, though, it's a bit of a tear-jerker.)

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Sunday, September 15, 2002

Last week I attended the kickoff meeting for the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study (DPPOS), which will be a 5- to 10-year followup study of the same people who were in the original DPP. The new program continues to call for semi-yearly blood tests, with the annual visit being a full-scale glucose tolerance test. Other than that, there will be some optional group weight-loss coaching sessions, but nothing else required. My starting weight in the new program is 147.5, which is nearly 10 pounds up from my low of 138 a few years ago, but still nearly 50 pounds down from my original starting weight of 196. I'd like to try to get back under 140, but it's been hard to do the right things while I've been working full time.
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Thursday will be the 20th anniversary of the Smiley. What's really amazing is that some people actually managed to retrieve the first message that suggested the smiley off of 20-year-old 9-track backup tapes! Wish I could do as well with my backups! :-)
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Alex came over today and we spent pretty much the whole afternoon replacing my G4's hard drive and restoring from backups. (Well, there was a break for a very nice lunch at the local Greek restaurant.) I seem to be in pretty good shape right now, although there was one ominous Transport Monitor bus error a few minutes ago. When Alex set up the disk, he partitioned it so that I can install Mac OS 10.2 in the larger disk partition. I just want to try to make sure that I'm operational on System 9 before I try to upgrade. Computers can be such a pain sometimes.
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Wednesday, September 11, 2002

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Tuesday, September 10, 2002

USA Today ran an interesting series last week about the various ways people survived the WTC disaster. Some people were just lucky - finding the only open stairway, or being in the only stairwell that survived the collapse. Another interesting point was that the people in the south tower who were in a position to see people jumping from the north tower were much more likely to have evacuated the building in time than people on the other side of the building who didn't get such gut-wrenching evidence of the seriousness of the disaster.

But one overriding point that I came away with was that elevators are not good places to be in a major building disaster. There are the obvious problems, like the fact that the plane actually severed some of the elevator cables, causing the elevators to drop, and the fact that burning jet fuel went pouring down the elevator shafts. But there were other problems, as well. For one thing, the elevators in the WTC were in the process of being fitted with a locking mechanism that would prevent the doors from opening when they weren't exactly lined up with a floor. About half of the elevators had that mechanism installed, and no one who was in one of those elevators survived. Where the mechanism hadn't been installed, many people were able to pry open the doors and get out, sometimes cutting through layers of wallboard that lined the elevator shafts with makeshift tools. A second point was that none of rescuers seemed to make much of an effort to actually get people out of elevators. The civilian elevator repair people just evacuated, and the fire and police may not have had the right expertise to do much and didn't seem to try. In any case, nearly everyone who got out of an elevator managed it on their own.
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The Patriot's football season got off to a great start last night, as they romped over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their opening game at the new Gillette Stadium. Starting the game as 3-point underdogs (in spite of their SuperBowl win last year), they totally dominated the Steelers and showed that last year wasn't just a fluke.
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Monday, September 09, 2002

I watched the US Open Tennis men's finals last night, and wow, was it an exciting match! Sampras just edged out Agassi in the first two sets - he was playing very strongly and Agassi seemed a bit flat (after a very tough semifinal match). Then in the third set, Sampras started to tire and Agassi came back for a win. It looked like the same thing was going to happen in the fourth set, but Sampras hung in there and pulled it out, in spite of an erroneous call that went against him and a crowd that was cheering for Agassi as the apparent underdog. What a great comeback for a great player who has been having a lot of trouble lately and came into the tournament as 17th seed!

The tennis match started late to allow the finish of a Buffalo/Jets game that was almost as exciting. I watched it because I was curious to see how Drew Bledsoe was doing now that he's playing for another team. He did great - he threw a last minute touchdown pass to tie the game, after a roughing the kicker penalty gave him the ball back when it appeared to be lost. But then in overtime, the Jets staged a 95-yard kickoff return to win the game.
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Sunday, September 08, 2002

The latest movie I got from my subscription service is Waking Life, and this one is quite an original in both its subject matter and its visual style. (You can see some sample clips on the web page referenced above.) Be sure to watch it when you're in a thoughtful mood, ready to listen to discussions of life, death, dreams, communication, free will, and all sorts of other philosophical subjects. As listed on its web page, the source matter for this film ranges from Plato to Sartre to Yeats to Philip K. Dick. Many of the speakers in the film are real people, university professors, actors, directors, and others, who are speaking in their own words.

The visual style is beautiful. It's a form of rotoscoping, where animators draw over film shot of real actors. And it's quite stunning. It looks like a series of watercolor paintings, and it has an uncanny ability of capturing real-life motion and expressions. But they also introduce animation in interesting little ways, like when a speaker is talking about sound conveying meaning from one person to another, you see a subtle little animation of the sound traveling and transforming. On the DVD, you can actually watch some excerpts from the raw footage they shot, and also get a tutorial of how the animation software works. This process results in a beautiful dreamlike quality that fits the theme of this movie quite well.
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Yup, it appears my hard drive is hosed. I could use my computer a little bit yesterday, but today it wouldn't even boot up. (I'm writing this from my office at work.) What a drag. I went through this with my last computer when it was about two years old; this time I was hoping to buy a new machine before my old one failed. But I didn't make it in time.

The current plan, as Alex has been advising me, is to buy a second internal disk drive. Alex says he will help me install and configure it. Then I can hopefully restore to that drive from backups. My latest full backup is about a month old, but yesterday, the machine stayed up long enough for me to dump some of my active folders onto CDRW disks. So I think I can recover everything I need. I just really don't have time for this right now.
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Saturday, September 07, 2002

Today was my first "free" day since getting back from vacation late Tuesday night. It was also the first day I didn't feel totally jet-lagged. But I have so much to catch up on! Today I mowed the back lawn and finished unpacking and did my laundry and paid my bills. I also had to deal with some mysterious computer problems that may indicate that my disk drive is dying (sigh). In the middle of all this activity, my neighborhood had a power failure, so I took that as an opportunity to go out for a walk along the Charles River (I've been trying to get back into exercising regularly). And this evening I'm working on putting together a Magic deck for a tournament coming up in a few weeks. (The fall Magic Pro Tour has moved from New York to Boston, so there will be a whole weekend of Magic activities near the end of September. On Sunday there will be a women-only tournament, so I want to try to take advantage of that.)

Tomorrow I want to try to watch the US Open finals. It's Sampras vs Agassi - just like old times. And then if my computer holds up, maybe Alex will show me how to survive in ClanLord (an online game he's been addicted to lately). And finish mowing the front lawn. And go for a walk. And finish going through the 1-foot pile of newspapers, magazines, and catalogs that came while I was away. I know when Monday comes, I will not be ready to go back to work...
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Friday, September 06, 2002

I mentioned that I learned about Wiki Wiki's this past weekend at ConJose. Much to my surprise, when I got back to work, I found that our development group at work had just started using one to keep track of integration testing procedures. The new version of our product has changed a lot and is very complicated, so we are all slowly learning how to install and configure it. A Wiki Wiki is a good way to share the tribal lore. I've gone through the short tutorial, but haven't yet actually tried to add material. It seems pretty easy to use, for technical types. I'm not sure it would be easy enough for a general group (such as the Noreascon 4 committee) to effectively make use of. Something to look into though.
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Thursday, September 05, 2002

An article about ConJosé.
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Slate magazine is running a series by Robert Wright called A Real War on Terrorism. I picked up on it with installment 3, titled "Why the World's Opinion of Us Matters". Here's an excerpt:

We have to understand that terrorism is fundamentally a "meme"—a kind of "virus of the mind," a set of beliefs and attitudes that spreads from person to person. One way to squelch terrorism is to kill or arrest the people whose brains are infected with the meme, and the Bush administration has done some of that effectively. But some forms of killing and arresting—especially the kinds that get us bad publicity—do so much to spread the meme that our enterprise suffers a net loss.

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Wednesday, September 04, 2002

I flew into Boston late last night, and am now back at work (sigh). It's hard to get back into the frustrations of work, so I won't talk about that now. Here's a quick recap of some of the other things I did at the Worldcon, along with a few pictures.

If you follow these things, surely you've heard the Hugo Award results. It was no surprise that The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring won the Best Dramatic Presentation hugo. The Best Novel hugo went to Neil Gaiman for American Gods.

Monday was a quiet day with the con winding down. After putting in a shift in Treasury, Alex went off to ride the light rail to the northern edge of Silicon Valley, and I hung around the con, actually attending some of the program. Leona gave me a call on my cell phone - she had been at the con and had been surprised that we hadn't run into each other before that. Actually, we were both in the registration lobby, but it was so big and filled with people that we needed the phone to make contact. We got a nice person trying to eat his lunch to take a picture of us:

I wandered over to the gaming area to see if anyone was playing Magic, and hooked up with an interesting guy named John Abbe. We walked over to the Fairmont Lobby and played one game of Magic there, but then we ended up talking for a couple of hours. John founded the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Society about 10 years ago, and is now a non-violence advocate from Berkeley who is about to go to Sri Lanka to do good works. We talked about pretty much everything; on the technical side, he told me about Wiki Wiki's, which are a type of shared interactive easily updated web pages.

And then it was time to head up to the "Old Pharts" party, which was nice but a little crowded. Bruce Pelz's absence had been sorely felt throughout the convention, but it of course was most deeply felt here. We had a toast and moment of silence to remember Bruce and the other's we had lost during the past year. Then we had the traditional photo session of past Worldcon chairs. (That's me wearing an Melbourne in '10 t-shirt, which is another story...

Apparently, shortly after I left the Noreascon 4 party on Saturday night, a bunch of Smofs cornered Steven Boucher, a very nice guy from Australia, and convinced him that Australia should bid for the 2010 Worldcon. Since Steven is very nice, he didn't say no fast enough, so people started throwing money at him for presupporting memberships. By the next day, there was a flyer with 30-odd presupporters listed, and by the end of Sunday, there was a full-color t-shirt produced. I bought mine on Monday when it was already into the 4th printing and they had raised some $3000 for the bid. It's still too soon to say whether it's a hoax bid or will turn into something real.
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Sunday, September 01, 2002

Here I am reporting once again from the World Science Fiction Convention in San Jose California. The weather continues to be amazing - sunny and warm and dry. I guess it's like that here most of the year. The convention has been fun, although the days are starting to blur together. Yesterday there was a panel with Steve Wozniak and a bunch of the guys from the Homebrew Computer Club that pretty much invented the personal computer. They were talking about how science fiction influenced them and how science fiction missed predicting the development of the PC. I just found it exciting to see these guys in person. And last night Patrick Stewart stopped by for a brief appearance. He was mostly showing trailers and clips from his two current movie projects (Star Trek:Nemesis and X-Men 2), but he was an engaging speaker and it was nice to see him in person. He mentioned that next year he will be producing (and starring in) a remake of The Lion in Winter.

We also saw a number of previous of upcoming films and TV shows. There are an awful lot of comic book characters, violence, and explosions coming up next fall, which did not appeal to me much. The only exceptions were a remake of Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven which will be appearing on A&E next week, and, of course, The Lord of the Rings Part II: The Two Towers, which will be coming out in December. We got to see a short featurette on the making of The Two Towers which was quite interesting. I'm looking forward to the the Rohan - they seem to have gotten the look of both the settings and the characters quite right. They showed some of Golum, but still haven't leaked a hint of what the ents will look like, except to say that they are CGI. Golum is CGI based on the motions of an actual actor, which was captured via an elaborate body suit covered with sensors.

I got to the Masquerade, but I thought there were only a couple of really good costumes out of 40-plus entries. Also made a quick tour of the Art Show and the Dealer's Room, but managed not to buy anything. My Slovak artist friend, Martina Pilcerova, won an art show award for one of her works. She had some nice little pieces based on George R.R. Martin's Clash of Kings.

I spent most mornings at the World SF Society business meetings. It was decided to split the best dramatic work Hugo into two categories - Short Form and Long Form (basically to divide movies and TV episodes). This was pretty controversial, as some people believe that we should only be giving literary awards and there shouldn't be a dramatic Hugo category at all. But the split passed pretty decisively.

Glasgow won the site selection for the 2005 Worldcon unopposed, so the next three coming up are Toronto in 2003, Boston in 2004, and then Glasgow. 2006 is a competition between Los Angeles and Kansas City, and 2007 is between Japan and perhaps Columbus. The Japanese bid is for a lovely site in Yokohama, and I'm thinking that I might like to try to go. I've always wanted to see Japan, and it looks like they will be able to negotiate reasonable hotel rates.

In a few hours, I'll be going to the Hugo ceremony, and tomorrow night there will be a party for previous Worldcon chairs (familiarly known as the Old Phart's party). In between, I'll see how much socializing and convention-going I can fit in. I'm pretty tired by now, though, so I may just spend some time sleeping. We'll be heading home on Tuesday afternoon.
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