Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A Bit of Everything

Posted by hyperpat on April 14, 2013

Well, it’s been a while (uh, make that a long while) since I posted anything here. Partly this was due to real-life demands of work and family, partly it was simple burnout, of not seeming to have anything to say that was new or needed saying. The same happened to my reviews of books on Amazon; it just didn’t seem worth the effort anymore. But things do change over time, and I’m feeling that urge to write (something, anything) again, as can be seen from the new reviews I’ve put up in the last couple of weeks.

So what has happened to me in this period? Perhaps the biggest change has been in my family situation, as both my children are now out of the house and on their own, one fairly successfully, the other not so much. This has left just my wife and I in the house, with a fairly stable routine from day to day. It has also meant a bettering of my financial condition (it’s amazing just how much money children eat up), to the point where our plans for retirement show a good chance of becoming reality. Also helping in this regard has the been the slow economic and housing recovery – my house is now almost worth what I paid for it in 2006. And of course, the engineering of this improvement has much to do with the changing political environment and the antics of the Fed, both of which have occasioned some rather irascible messages to the leaders of both parties about getting their act together from me.

Then there is the change in my bowling prowess. I’ve gone from about a 200 – 205 average to about 215-220 in the last three years. Along with this is I now have a much greater experience level with various playing conditions from bowling in a fairly large number of tournaments, from local, tiny events to PBA regional ones (still haven’t tried the PBA national ones – I’m still not in that league), with a fair amount of success, averaging out to winning enough to at least pay my entry fees. This has also meant a recognition by both me and my wife that this endeavor is an important part of my life, and our retirement plans need to keep this in mind. Related to that, we did some scouting for a retirement home recently, and had found what we thought was a good fit with what we wanted, to suddenly have the place get scratched off our list, as the only bowling alley in that town was abruptly closed, with no foreseeable time when it would re-open.

I do plan on doing some new posts here on my favorite subjects; the science fiction world has obviously added some new ideas, new works, new authors, all of which are deserving of some comment. So too the political world; the current divide and deadlock between the two major parties needs some observations. Changes in the US economic environment, Wall street vs Main Street, the world terrorist picture, the North Korean idiocy, cultural changes at home and abroad, new scientific discoveries, the state of space exploration, the social effects of the internet, movies and television — it would seem there will be enough things to talk about.

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Posted in Bowling, Daily Happenings, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Prop 8 Thoughts

Posted by hyperpat on May 27, 2009

The California Supreme Court issued its ruling on the validity of Proposition 8, which bans gay marriages, yesterday. While the court decision was very narrowly based, only stating that the proposition was truly an amendment to the state constitution, not a revision, which would require legislative action, and also held that those marriages performed in the period just prior to the passage of the proposition are still valid, it is still a very disappointing result.

The court also re-iterated that civil unions, or domestic partnerships, or whatever name is being used for those relationships that cannot have the ‘marriage’ label, must be afforded all rights and privileges that accrue to those that can have the ‘marriage’ label. Since that is not totally the case under current California law, the court has effectively tossed the ball back to the legislature to enact appropriate law that truly does make civil unions equal in all ways to a ‘marriage’, in so far as state law can make them (as the federal government does not recognize such unions as marriages, there will be an obvious disparity as far as federal tax treatment, but this is not something the state can do anything about). Given that I doubt the California legislature will enact anything along these lines in the near future, it at least provides a small crack in the armor of the this amendment, allowing it to be challenged again, though on different grounds than were brought forward for this ruling.

A far more likely event is a new proposition to be put on either the 2010 or 2012 ballot that would rescind this proposition. Hopefully, if such happens, it will pass this time around. To my way of thinking, it can’t happen soon enough. But at the same time, I thing the initiative process itself needs to be tweaked; it simply doesn’t make sense that Californians can effectively remove rights and make second-class citizens of any group of people merely by a majority vote of those that bother to go to the polls. Constitutional amendments should require a 2/3 majority plus a ratification by the same amount by the legislature (which is similar to how amendments to the Federal constitution can be enacted – Federal law is even more restrictive, requiring 3/4 of the states to ratify amendments); after all, these amendments are changing the basic rules of law for the state.

This ruling makes legal sense, given the current laws and constitution of this state, but it does not do anything to truly resolve the moral problem of a majority depriving a minority of basic rights. Separate-but-equal has been shown many times before to not work, but that’s the best this court can offer at the moment.

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Space, The Same Old Frontier

Posted by hyperpat on October 30, 2008

Over at SF Signal, there is an extended discussion about whether SF has at least partly caused the current general disinterest in space exploration, occasioned by a comment by Buzz Aldrin to that effect.

My answer to that is yes, it’s at least partly true that some of the presentations of SF, especially those by the visual media, have caused a fair number of people to dismiss space exploration as either silly childish dreams not worth spending money on, or have focused the attention on wildly unrealistic expectations of being able to merrily zip around universe in minutes, against which the real space program’s accomplishments look extremely drab and uninteresting.

But it’s far from wholly true. Again and again, when you talk to the people who are actually involved in doing the real work of space exploration, the scientists and engineers for whom this field is their daily bread and butter, you hear the statement that SF was one of the major things that inspired them to get into the field in the first place. What many forget, when they see the overall lack of interest in space exploration, is that those who actually work in this field of endeavor constitute a tiny fraction of the entire populace. For the great majority, all they see and care about is their shiny new tech toys, their ever more capable Dick Tracy phones, their awesome high-definition flat panel TVs, their amazingly capable video game machines, and these people have no idea how these devices came to be, have no idea of how much effort and money it took to create them, have no concept of the deep infrastructure needed to build them, do not understand the economics driving their development, have no clue about the scientific principles and discoveries that make them possible, nor do they care.

Space exploration is merely the most visible result of what science can accomplish. The real ‘final’ frontier is not space exploration itself, nor has it ever been. The frontier is human knowledge, and additions to that mass of facts has always been the prerogative of a small group of people who just have to know what is over the next hill, who have to understand how a bee flies, who are completely unhappy about things that they can’t explain, who continuously dream about doing something no one else has ever done before. It is exactly this type of person that has continuously driven civilization beyond existing boundaries, has made the average human existence much more than pure subsistence. Every once in a while, the dreams of such people have invaded the space of the average person, and for brief moments have ignited a collective drive to accomplish a particular goal. One such moment was the initial drive to reach the moon. But such moments never last for long, and the average person goes back to his everyday concerns, of putting bread on his family’s table, and money spent on ‘dream’ goals again is looked upon with deep suspicion as not doing anything for them.

Science fiction is all about what is possible. It’s roots are deeply grounded in the concept that there is always something new to discover, and as such it mainly appeals to exactly the type of person who is not satisfied with the status quo, who needs something beyond the everyday to satisfy their internal reason to exist. For this type of person, science fiction stories with imaginative ideas can inspire, and in some cases even lead directly to new discoveries and accomplishments, as the inspired person drives to make that idea a reality. But for the average person, SF is merely another form of entertainment, and when the real world doesn’t provide the same level of drama as what he sees on the movie screen, concludes that it is just fanciful fiction, and doesn’t deserve dollars out of his pocket.

It’s not that SF has killed interest in space exploration, it’s the everyday, humdrum demands of living that have killed it in the absence of any great drama or immediately visible economic benefit. Space exploration is merely one more thing that’s barely visible on the average person’s radar, as it apparently has no immediate, direct affect on his life. And this will probably always be true: the very few will drive what’s new, the great majority will merely stumble on.

Posted in Economics, Science & Engineering, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Some Last Words on Australia

Posted by hyperpat on October 19, 2008

As I indicated in the prior posts, I used to live in the Miranda area back in 1954-1955, and went to school over in Cronulla. You might wonder why I was there in first place.

The answer is both simple and somewhat important even to current residents of the area. My father used to work for a construction company that specialized in chemical plants. In late 1953, construction was just about done on the Isle of Grain oil refinery just outside of London, England, a very large plant that my father worked on from 1951 to 1953, and the family at that time lived in Maidstone. In 1952, the Sutherland Shire council removed its opposition to the construction of an oil refinery on the Kurnell peninsula and Caltex subcontracted with my father’s company to do some of the engineering work for the planned plant. I think we were originally scheduled to move to Australia about November of 1953, but just at that time there was a major North Sea storm that flooded the plant in England, and my father stayed there a few extra months to help fix up the mess. But in March 1954 we packed up and headed back for a short visit in the US, then continued on to Australia.

Site construction had just begun by then (it started in Dec 1953), and at that time there was only a single auto-navigable road to the area that had just been built (it’s now Captain Cook Drive). Cronulla and the surrounding area had a much smaller population at that time, which is why I remember it as a far more rural environment than it is today.

The plant came on-line in February 1956, but the engineering portion of it that my father worked on finished somewhat earlier, and we left Australia in November, 1955. The plant itself added a major industrial capability to the area, and some have called its construction the beginning of modern industrial Australia. Others have been very unhappy about the ecological impact this plant has made on the area.

The Kurnell Oil Refinery

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Australia, Day Eight

Posted by hyperpat on October 17, 2008

Another early morning to get back on the plane for yet another flight, returning to Sydney. At this point, we were beyond the tour package and on the part of the trip I’d planned myself. Getting to the hotel from the airport this time was actually a bit easier and faster than when we’d arrived, even though we were the last stop of the shuttle bus. We checked in to the hotel and once more headed for the train station to complete my planned look at my old homestead. This time the sun was shining and we had no pressing engagement, so we took it easy, noticing for the first time the statue just before the Town Hall train station:

Statue commerating Queen Elizabeth II visit

Statue commemorating Queen Elizabeth II visit

Going down to the station itself, we took the other entrance from George street, which actually leads down to all the shops underneath it. As we were really just looking for the station platform, we didn’t pay much attention to the shops, but merrily walked along, until we finally realized we were heading the wrong way, having made a left instead of a right when we reached the entrance point. We got straightened around and headed down to wait for the train:

Me at the Town Hall station

Me at the Town Hall station

This time we got off at the Miranda station. One oddity that we noticed about the train system here is that while the stations in Sydney have the typical turnstiles that won’t allow you in or out without a ticket, this is not true for the outlying train stops such as Miranda or Cronulla. It looked to me like it would be possible to just board the train at Miranda and get off at Cronulla without paying anything, and we never saw anyone coming around to check tickets either on the trains or at these stations.

Smart me, this time I’d actually looked up the way to go from the train station to my old house on the net earlier, so unlike our first trip to this area we didn’t get lost, heading immediately down Kiora Street till we reached President’s Ave:

Heading Down Presidents Avenue

Heading Down Presidents Avenue

Back when I was here in 1954-55, this street was just a small two lane affair. As you can see, they’ve made some upgrades since. Also note the steep dip here, as the road goes down to the Ewey Creek declivity (part of the Hacking River catchment complex). This is now is a poor cousin to what it was when I was last here, with barely any water flow at all:

Hacking River

Ewey Creek (Part of the Hacking River Catchment)

About halfway up the rise from Ewey Creek, we got to the Matson Crescent road and headed down it. Once again, changes are strongly evident, as the homes here are now definitely upper class as opposed to the simple affairs then, with most being of brick rather than wood construction, and there’s a lot more of them:

Upscale house on Matson Crescent

Upscale house on Matson Crescent

We finally reach 54 Matson Crescent, my old home address. What’s there now is a very pretty well kept home, and as we came up to the place, the owner came out, naturally curious as to what a couple of people were doing there madly snapping pictures:

54 Matson Crescent

54 Matson Crescent

I told him that I’d used to live there fifty years ago, and he graciously consented to let us go into his back yard for a look around. He told us that the house I’d lived in had been a little further down the slope to the bay and had been torn down about 1960 and replaced with the current structure. What’s there now is just a little boathouse:

The Little Boathouse

The Little Boathouse

The view from his backyard is still spectacular, looking directly across Yowie bay to the other peninsula. Back when I was here, the other side of the bay was just forest, no buildings, and can remember one enforced period of idleness due to an infected knee when I would look from the living room towards that side, with the occasional boat trundling up the bay.

View from backyard looking southeast

View from backyard looking southeast

At the extreme left of the above picture is the area where I used to go swimming, the Yowie Bay Baths. A little more on this later.

As you can see from the picture below (look at the area just behind the house), nowadays the bay pretty much turns into a mud flat just north of the house. This has been caused by a lot of silting and reduced water flow from things like the Hacking River over the last twenty years or so, and is a continuing problem. Some of houses further up Matson Crescent have their boat jetties sticking out into nothing but mud where there used to be four to five feet of water:

64 Matson Crescent towards Yowie Bay

64 Matson Crescent towards Yowie Bay

Leaving our very nice host, we continued on up Matson Crescent towards the Camellia Gardens and Kareena Park. The road here goes up a little bit from the house, and then downward towards where the Yowie Bay Baths used to be. I have a very vivid memory of being carried up this little rise by one of the teenage girls who had pushed me into the pool there and slicing my foot on the barnacles that covered the steps/pool side at point. I still have about a three inch scar on my foot from that incident, to go along with the scar my brother Mike picked up in that same pool by swimming underwater with his eyes closed till he ran into the enclosing fence:

The little rise from the baths to my old house

The little rise from the baths to my old house

We finally got to Camellia Gardens, which I don’t believe existed when I was there earlier. They’ve created a very nice park area, with a little dammed up pond that ducks and ibis birds seem to like:

Kareena Park Pond

Kareena Park Pond

Ibis birds

Ibis birds

I headed down to extreme edge of the park to reach the bay. Here the silting of bay is really obvious. I looked for some evidence of the old pool, but it’s just not there anymore (it would have been just beyond the little jetty in the photo below):

View from Kareena Park towards the Yowie Bay Bath Reserve

View from Kareena Park towards the Yowie Bay Bath Reserve

Yowie Bay from Kareena Park

Yowie Bay from Kareena Park

This is a google map of the area. Where the old pool was is just at the left edge of and at the very beginning of the mud plain near the center of the map. 54 Matson Crescent is the red-roofed house at the extreme left edge next to the mud/water. Kareena Park is on the right hand side, and where the above photo was taken from is at the southernmost treed point at the end of mud inlet. This former pool area is now referred to as the Yowie Bay Old Baths Reserve.

This is a street map of the area, as posted on a large billboard at the train station.

Miranda Map

Miranda Map

Here’s the type of barnacles that caused our family so much pain:

The Dreaded Barnacles

The Dreaded Barnacles

We left the park and headed up Kareena Street back to Presidents Avenue, completing the entire circuit. Heading back on Presidents, we deliberately took the little pedestrian path by the Ewey Creek to avoid having to go all the way down and back up that dip. On the map above it shows as leading into Kirkby Place. Once again, this area has had big changes. Back in 1955, this walkway was just a little dirt path worn through the underbrush mainly by kids heading up towards the train station. I can remember at least a couple of times when I and my two brothers walked along here on the edge of the steep drop towards the river. Now its nice asphalt with all the underbrush carefully cleared away from the sides.

On the path looking towards the Hacking river

On the path looking towards Ewey Creek

Completing our little hike, we headed back to Sydney, and spent the rest of the afternoon in one last souvenir and gift buying spree. Some of what we picked up:

Aborigine Hunter

Aborigine Hunter

Aborigine Art

Aborigine Art

"Crocodile Dundee" hat

"Crocodile Dundee" hat

Gecko done in wire

Gecko done in wire

For dinner that night we went out to Kingsley’s Australian Steak house on Market Street. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a menu with that many different kinds of steak listed – over 20 of them, and what I eventually ordered was extremely good. For a rarity, as we almost never do so, we also ordered wine with this dinner, an Australian Shiraz, which surprised me as a red wine without that tannin undertaste typical of red wines, and with an excellent bouquet reminiscent of blackberry with a strong fruity taste.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and that was now true for this trip. We had the luxury of sleeping in a bit the next morning, as our plane departure wasn’t till 2:45 PM, but eventually we sadly packed ourselves up and bid farewell.

Looking back over this trip, it now seems apparent that we tried to pack a little too much into it, that we were almost always on the go seeing this or that, with too little time to just sit back and enjoy what we were seeing. On top of this, we barely scratched the surface of all the places and things to see in Australia, not even touching Melbourne, Tasmania, the outback, Ayers Rock, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Darwin, the Gold Coast, any sheep or cattle stations, the intercontinental train ride, the list goes on and on. Of course the major reason for trying to pack so much into so few days is money, as every day there cost us about $300, but after this taste of the country and with so much left to see we have started planning for another, longer trip, hopefully not too far in the future.

I will say that just about every Australian we met there was polite, friendly, and helpful, and while I may have kvetched a bit about the food prices, I think we got great value for our money and time. It’s a beautiful country, one that recognizes the importance of preserving it great natural wonders and historical sites, and while certain places have certainly set themselves up to service the tourist trade, they don’t appear to be over-commercialized and chintzy, like too many attractions in the US.

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Australia, Days two to four

Posted by hyperpat on October 8, 2008

After our exhausting first day, we tried for a little quieter second one, going on just a morning bus tour of Sydney’s city sights. Of course the highlight of this was the view of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge:

Opera House and Bridge

Opera House and Bridge

But equally interesting was the trip under the bridge, the trip through the Rocks district, the famous Bondi beach (where we managed a morning snack – a single piece of bread that was definitely a full meal in itself), the viewpoints that took in the entire city skyline and promontory points, the Botanical Gardens, the cathedrals, Darling Harbor and the Maritime Museum, Hyde Park, Sydney’s Chinatown (though it’s not up to par versus San Francisco’s Chinatown, it still illuminates part of Australia’s history), the ‘rich’ district and the various styles of home architecture, and including a very distinctive glass house:

Glass House

Glass House

Still, this only occupied us till about 1PM. So now we could relax for the rest of the day, right? Wrong. We decided to do a bit of a walkabout just in the area of the hotel, and found things like the Town Hall:

Town Hall

Town Hall

We also found something rather unexpected in our little walk, the entryway to the State theater, which is spectacular:

Theater Entrance

Sydney State Theater Entrance

But underneath all of the buildings in the district is where we found all the shops, from very high-end fashion stores to pedestrian Subway eateries. Just walking through all of this managed to occupy us for another four hours (and gave us more sore feet to go along with the ones acquired during the prior day’s excursion), as practically every shop demanded at least a look and various items considered for their souvenir qualities. So once again we ended up back at the hotel totally tuckered out.

The next day found us taking a tour up to the Blue Mountains with a major stop at Featherdale Wildlife Sanctuary. This stop simply wasn’t long enough to really see everything there, as they have representatives of just about every unique form of Australian wildlife there (not counting marine life – that’s a later trip). Most charming here was all the various types of birds they had present, from cassowaries, peacocks, kookaburras (a bird whose raucous call used to wake me up almost every morning when I was living there), and cockatoos to Australia’s very own penguins, the smallest representative of this genus in the world. Of course they also had the obligatory koalas, wallabies, wombats, and kangaroos, and a very nice (read: quite large) crocodile:

Crocodile

Crocodile

Continuing up into the Blue Mountains, we were treated to some spectacular views of the area (including the blue haze over everything caused by the great quantity of eucalyptus resin in the air), along with being able to get a very nice lunch in a local small eatery with very personable staff, who, when asked if we could get another one of the glass Coke bottles they had (our sons collect Coke memorabilia, and glass bottles, especially when marked with their place of manufacture, are almost non-existent in the US today), went so far as to open and quickly down one, just to provide us with the bottle.

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

Once again, though, we found ourselves doing a fair amount of walking, both in the wildlife park and on a little mountain trail down to our lookout point where we took most of our pictures of the Blue Mountain area. After this little excursion we then took a little ride on the World’s Steepest Railway. This one my wife approached with quite a bit of trepidation, as she has problems both with heights and anything that even looks like a roller-coaster ride (and I’m not fond of those things either), but she did finally get on and take the ride down. It’s only a couple of minutes, and it’s actually pretty slow (about 7 mph), but boy, is it steep – while going down it seems like you’re facing straight down and falling down a cliff. It’s actually not quite that steep, it’s only about a 52 degree incline, but as people don’t normally descend at anywhere near angles like this, your inner ear screams that you’re falling.

On our way back to Sydney, we took a little excursion through the site of the 2000 Olympics venue, whose buildings are still spectacular, and managed to catch some views of Sydney as seen coming in from the west, a very different viewpoint from what we’d seen before, and our second trip over the Anzac bridge, which is just as unique as the Harbor bridge.

Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

Day four looked like we might get away from the walking business, as our selected tour of the day was the Sydney Aquarium, which was just across the street from our hotel. No such luck. The aquarium seems to have miles of walkways between an incredible number of various aquatic tanks which contain everything from various fresh-water fish, turtles, and lizards to sea-water corals, cuttlefish, and of course the walk underneath the shark tank, where there were representatives of that genus both large and small, along with rays and giant turtles. Having one of these great sharks swim right over your head is an experience. We ended up spending almost five hours in this little (?!) place. After a quick lunch we then headed up the street (and I do mean up – the road has a distinct upward inclination from Darling Harbor to George Street) to go to the Skytower, the tallest building in Sydney, with its own distinctive architecture that rivals Seattle’s Space Needle. The view from the top of this is spectacular, and provides probably as good an aerial view of the entire city as you get get from a helicopter. And as it’s a nice, stable platform (as opposed to said helicopter), it’s easy to take pictures from. Descending a little bit in the tower, we then took the OzTrek adventure, which includes a set of dioramas of what life is like in various parts of Australia and a movie trip with 180 degree screens coupled with one of hydraulic powered chairs that move appropriately to the scene on the screen. This was pretty close to a roller coaster ride in a couple of places (especially when the scene was one of white-water rafting), but nonetheless provided a very unique view of some of the other places in Australia that we wouldn’t otherwise get to see on this trip.

Skytower

We had planned on also seeing the Wildlife World (right next to the Aquarium) this day, but by the time we got back to the hotel after the Skytower and investigated the condition of our feet, we decided to skip this one at this time, figuring we’d have another day in Sydney later to catch this. Instead we packed up our suitcases in preparation for our early morning departure for Cairns, the next stage of our journey.

One other item that deserves mention here is the price of food. The hotel we were at was charging $60 AUD per person for their buffet-style dinner, $40 for breakfast. We found these prices to be outrageously steep. We did normally eat breakfast there, as it was included in the price for our rooms, and quality wise it was very good, but we definitely skipped on eating dinner there. Instead we did try some of the other restaurants there, which were still pretty expensive (we paid about $80 for the two of us in each one we tried), but still quite a bit cheaper than the hotel, and I think better quality. But a little more on eateries in my next installment.

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Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season

Posted by hyperpat on July 29, 2008

Anytime you want to be depressed, open up your T.S. Eliot. Very shortly the dark clouds will appear, the sun’s light bulb will dim with shadows, you will crouch on your couch , and his words will rasp across your flickering synapses.

Our dried voices, when

We whisper together

Are quiet and meaningless

As wind in dry grass

Or rat’s feet over broken glass

In our dry cellar

There are images in his work that are indelible. I can’t think of any other wordsmith, either in prose or poetry, who’s work is so immediate, concrete, and harrowing.

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

Loneliness, dying, alienation, old melancholy memories, futility, questions of purpose, unrequited love – they’re all here, and more besides.

April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

He’s far from easy to totally understand, but many times that’s not necessary, as his imagery alone will transport you to his world, leave you trapped inside his metaphors and similes, force upon you a dark, grimy, and bleak outlook.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

I was first introduced to Eliot in a high school English class with The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and for all the other great works of literature that class ruined for me with all the nit-picking and frequently missing-the-point analysis, this one captured me, made me see just what great poetry was capable of. I’ve read many other poets since, but I keep coming back to this man’s work as shining examples of what speaks to me. I just wish I was one one-hundredth of the poet he was.

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose-garden. My words echo

Thus, in your mind.

Posted in poetry, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

A Much Too Long Short Vacation

Posted by hyperpat on June 23, 2008

I just spent last week in sunny Taiwan. Unfortunately, this is not my vacation spot of choice (happily, this wasn’t a vacation, so I can blame it on my evil bosses!).

Let’s start with the weather. The word for this is hot. And sticky. And miserable. Everyday. Not counting the typhoon approaching rapidly from the south.

Next let’s tackle the streets. I’ll admit that the big tollroads between major cities are nice and wide, well maintained, and serve their purpose well. However, once you get on the city streets, problems appear. Like so narrow one car can barely squeeze by the sides, and it’s a two-way street. Or the lack of complete sidewalks for even one complete block – you’ll walk about three storefronts worth, then find the sidewalk peters out (or is totally filled up with motorized scooters), and you’re forced into the street. Where you don’t want to be. Street priority is 1. Trucks and buses. 2. Cars 3. Motorized scooters (lots of). 4. Bicycles. 5. Pedestrians – who should otherwise be labeled targets. Add some very pronounced odors issuing from sewer grates, along with the lovely sunshine burning your neck, and it makes your morning constitutional something of nightmare.

Next are the drivers. Never heard of what a lane marker is. Or a red light. For whom proper following distance is two inches. Who use their horn in place of brakes. Who actively try to make pedestrians into road kill.

Now we come to the store fronts. Windows? Who needs windows? Just roll up your rust-stained tin door and viola! you’re open for business. Displays? Who needs displays? Just stack your junk up everywhere – your customers will be sure to dig through every mountain of it to find what they want. Or, if your business so happens to serve something that’s supposed to be edible, don’t bother with anything like sanitation or fly screens -totally superfluous.

Tourist attractions. Well, there are some pretty mountains. And oh yes, over here we have a Science Park, where we put 200 high tech businesses into one acre, and put up a pretty entryway. And tourists must bring their own water. Tap water is officially undrinkable. You might want to beware the political climate, also – tension between the two China’s is never zero, and it just might up and bite you.

Now perhaps I’m being a little unfair. Taiwan is, after all, one of those Asian tigers that have grown from almost nothing to an economic powerhouse in a very short time, and we in the US have become very much dependent on what they make. Most of the world’s electronic fabrication plants are located in Asia, and without them much of our vaunted high-tech life style would disappear. Their engineers are just as smart and well-educated (many of them in our universities) as our’s are. And they manage to do it cheaper than we do (perhaps it has something to do with concentrating on only what is absolutely necessary for the job – just like their storefronts).

But still. Not my choice of vacation spot.

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My Final Impressions of the 2008 Hugo Nominees

Posted by hyperpat on June 9, 2008

I sent in my votes for the 2008 Hugos this last Friday, as I finally managed to read all the entries in the fiction categories. In my prior post about the nominees, I indicated that Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union had my vote, and after reading the other two entries in the novel category, I find it still held the #1 position in my mind, though Robert Sawyer’s Rollback came very close. Rollback is a very quiet book; there are no explosions or great ahas! – instead it is very much a character driven book, showing just how much our mind-set is influenced by the condition of our bodies and our expectations of what actions are appropriate for a person of n years of age. Very well done.

The other novel nominee that I hadn’t read before my last post was Brasyl, Ian McDonald’s entry. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed in this work, not so much because of the heavy use of Portuguese words and phrases throughout (though this didn’t help, even with the included appendix of definitions, as it constantly interrupted my reading flow to go look up the words), but because of the basic scientific idea behind it, dealing with an infinite set of quantum analogues of our world and how this should/could/does impact individual’s world view and actions, which I found to be all too fuzzy with too little rationale behind those trying to control the entire continuum. I found the best part of this his detailing of the historical period of the mid-1700’s exploration/exploitation of Brazil by the church and rapacious merchants, and his portrait of a Jesuit priest was quite engaging.

So my final list for novels looks like this:

1. Michael Chabon The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

2. Robert J. Sawyer Rollback

3. John Scalzi The Last Colony

4. Charles Stross Halting State

5. Ian McDonald Brasyl

In the short fiction categories, I found a few standouts: Connie Willis’ All Seated on the Ground, a novella with her patented brand of satire coupled with an interesting idea, in the Novelette category David Abrahm’s The Cambist and Lord Iron, another somewhat tongue-in-cheek story with a nice commentary on just what ‘value’ is, and in the Short Story category Elizabeth Bear’s Tideline, a very quiet, post-apocalyptic story about what is important to remember. The rest of the entries were usually average-to-good, but these three definitely met my expectations of works worthy of a Hugo.

Posted in Books, Hugo Awards, science fiction, Science fiction and fantasy, SF, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »