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Gadzooks, I really need to update my icons here. I think the one attached to this post is fifteen years old...

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We are back from the cruise, and boy are our arms tired... Oh, wait, that joke doesn't work as well for cruise vacations...

On the one hand, it was certainly the worst cruise vacation we've ever had. On the other, it was still a cruise vacation, so it was far from all bad.

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LiveJournal Servers moved to Russia?

According to some user on DreamWidth (I don't have a personal connection with this user), the servers hosting LiveJournal are now showing IPs that originate in Russia, and speculation is that the physical servers have moved.


I'm beginning to think that moving to my own domain on US-based server site might be in my near future.

Edited to add: More information here http://www.metafilter.com/164293/LiveJournal-represents-social-media-without-borders

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In the Heights, and a dizzy spell...

 I had a very enjoyable evening with my guy and a close friend at West Valley Light Opera's production of "In the Heights". It was well cast, well acted, and all around a high quality production. My only complaint was that the volume of the music drowned out the singing from time to time. Judging from overheard comments from patrons around us, I wasn't the only one with that complaint. Still, the production was first rate, and now we are very much looking forward to the rest of the season.
The enjoyment of the evening was marred somewhat by the recurrence of a "dizzy" spell that I've had a couple times in the past year, where the whole world tilts a good deal, and I find I can't walk a straight line. It hit me as the three of us were chatting in the parking lot after the show. As in the previous occurrences, I felt better after five or so minutes of sitting (this time in the car with the window down so cool air washed over my face). It's a scary feeling when it happens, like I'm not fully in control of my limbs. Michael smartly ran through the checklist of stroke symptoms, that's how badly I was affected (and no, going by that checklist, it was not a stroke). Once or twice I might shrug and not worry. Three times makes me a bit concerned. I should mention it to my doctor next time I see her.
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 I have friends, people I care deeply about, who have so-called pre-existing medical conditions who also cannot get health insurance through their employers because either they're self-employed or work for businesses small enough not to be able to offer healthcare as a benefit. Candidate Trump promised to replace the Affordable Care Act with individual health savings accounts and allowing insurance to be purchased across state lines. Senate Majority Leader McConnell has already pledged that repeal of the Affordable Care Act to be among his highest priorities. These changes will lead to direct harm to my friends who likely will have to decide between life-saving medicines or food on their tables. And you want me to put differences aside and come together?
Trump has pledged to appoint Supreme Court Justices from the same mold as Antonin Scalia, the one man who has ever earned my hatred. Trump has pledged to do what he can to overturn Obergefell, which did away with anti-gay marriage bans nationwide. Trump has also pledged to do away with the Obama directives around trans* students in public schools. A "successful" Trump administration would result in the utter destruction of hard-won victories to recognize the safety of trans* people and my right to marry the man I love (and enjoy the governmentally recognized duties and responsibilities that come with that status). And you want me to wish him a successful presidency?
Violence against minorities in on a sharp upswing since Tuesday night. Assaults on Muslim women wearing hijabs, threats against African-Americans, Nazi-inspired vandalism, and assertions that it's now permissible to sexually assault women. These reports are increasing in number and starting to be reported in mainstream media, and Trump has yet to take the Oath of Office. His campaign encouraged such behaviors and given his track record I very much doubt that he will do anything to discourage it. Look no further than the people on Trump's published "short list" of Cabinet Appointees and you'll find Sheriff Clarke calling the peaceful protests following Trump's election illegitimate. And you want me to sing "Kumbaya" as the very principles our nation was founded on are threatened?
I recognize that Donald Trump was legitimately elected as President of the United States, and that makes him my president. I will not throw a temper tantrum like so many on the right did after Obama's election and claim Trump is not my president. The office will get all of the respect it is due.
But I also expect the President to work for *all* the people of the United States, to minimize harm to its people, and balance their rights and needs regardless of race, creed, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social and economic status. I will hold him and his administration responsible for any harm he allows happen to people I care about.
I will not, can not, overlook the harm he has pledged to do to my friends and myself. I will not, can not, heed calls for unity. I will not, can not, pledge to hope for a successful presidency when I know his success will mean suffering for people I care about.
In fact I solemnly pledge to work as hard as I can to prevent that harm. I hope that if you count myself or my partner as a friend that you will stand with me.
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There is a great amount of hostility in the air on my social networks today. It's been building for the last week or so. Some of it is earned, some of it seems inappropriate, some of it is indirectly (and hopefully unintentionally) aimed at me. I don't have the will to deal with any of it. So, I'm taking a social network vacation. See you when I've managed to generate sufficient cope.

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Ugh. Birthday Rant.

It's that dreaded time of year again. Birthday season. Yes, at some point in the next seven days I turn the big Five-Oh. And I'm already feeling very "bah humbug!"-y about it.

No, it's not the number. Anyone who knows me well knows I prefer to be older than to be younger. It's the fact that other people want to celebrate my birthday that really gets under my skin.

Y'all know by now how I feel about Christmas (and if not, look here). Well, just about everything about Christmas is doubly true about birthdays. The unfulfilled promises, the sharp and jagged disappointment, the feeling that birthdays are about anyone else but the person being celebrated.

On top of all of the disappointment about gifts, stress, and shouting, my birthday also represents to me feelings of being forgotten. For nearly all of my childhood birthdays I can remember, my dad was out of town at some conference or another. I always rated lower on his scale of importance than his profession. If my father ever wondered why I never felt close to him, he only had to look at how he valued me. (Of course, my father never would wonder why we were not close.)

My twenty-first birthday was the first one I spent living in a different city than my family. I had stayed in the Bay Area to work at NASA/Ames Research Center (who could pass up that opportunity?!?) while they relocated to Orange County for my dad to pursue a new job opportunity. I waited by the phone for a call from them wishing me a happy birthday. No such call came.

A friend offered to take me up to the City for a concert. But when we got to the venue we discovered the friend had not gotten tickets yet and the line for the box office went around the block. So we went to a bar instead where he and the people he invited along all got happily drunk and danced for hours (while I sat in the corner nursing my watered-down soft drink). And when they were done dancing, we piled in the car and ran around the City shining a powerful spotlight at random people as we drove past them. Wild times, such a personalized celebration of my birthday.

I may have had birthday parties as a child, but I don't remember them. I honestly can only recall one time when people put any effort into celebrating my birthday. It was my 17th ( may be off by a year) and my high school friends and I were planning on going to see "Return of the Jedi" which had recently been released. One of them picked me up at my home and instead of going to the theater we went to someone else's house where they had put together a surprise birthday party. I really quite enjoyed that and was touched by their caring.

One actual celebration (not self-initiated) in fifty years. Not a great track record.

So, please don't get offended when I tell you I don't have any desire to celebrate my birthday. If you want to celebrate my birthday, please feel free to do so. Just don't include me in the festivities. Tell me about the fun you had at some date in the future. That would suit me just fine.

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I'm re-reading an old Heinlein novel, Double Star, originally published in 1956. Of course, much of the technology and many of the attitudes are seriously out of date by modern standards, but some of them really stand out. This one for example:

“My father had taught me that a woman will forgive any action, up to and including assault with violence, but is easily insulted by language; the lovelier half of our race is symbol-oriented—very strange, in view of their extreme practicality. In any case, I have never let a taboo word pass my lips when it might offend the ears of a lady since the time I last received the back of my father’s hard hand full on my mouth....”

Excerpt From: Robert A. Heinlein. “Double Star.” iBooks. https://itun.es/us/shjN-.l

When we judge it by the standards of the time, well, this attitude was not uncommon. I have no idea if this is entirely the character speaking, or if we are seeing a glimpse of the author in the mid 1950's here. By today's standards, of course, this is egregiously sexist. It makes for interesting reading, and watching my own reactions to things like this.

(By comparison, James White, writing during the same time, was similarly sexist by today's standards, especially in his portrayal of the character Murchison. But like Heinlein, his views towards women changed over the decades, and his portrayals became much less troublesome.)

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Yoga Question

So one thing I've always been puzzled about regarding Yoga: How often should one go to yoga "class"? At an old gym, it was offered I think twice a week at very different times. It seemed that they expected people to go to "class" once a week. However, it seems to me that once a week is not going to be much of a benefit. It's probably naiveté on my part, but don't people generally have to work out three to four times a week to get much benefit? Is one supposed to memorize the routine so they can repeat it at home the other three times? Yeah, color me clueless...

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Rent: Where Are They Now?

After taking in a performance of Rent from a local theater company (which was a stellar production), I got to thinking about the characters in the show, and what might have happened to them in the time since. It wasn't exactly a fun thought experiment.

Mimi: Mimi survived her brush with death but it left deep scars, both physical and mental. She continued the on-again-off-again relationship with Roger, feeling a tug-of-war between her complete love for him and her deep-set feelings that she did not deserve anyone's love. Despite being very careful about taking her AZT, her health continued to falter, often taking perilous dips as she succumbed to her additions. Roger found her in a homeless shelter, took her to his home, and gave one last attempt to get her cleaned up. Though she realized that Roger really did love her despite her flaws, it was too late. She died in his arms, victim to the virus and the drugs that had ravaged her system for years.

Roger: After recording a demo of his "one song" and shopping it around to agents and producers, he was asked if he would license the song to an upcoming teen idol. Feeling defeated, and a bit of a sell-out, he agreed. The song was a hit, rising to the top of the pop charts. As the royalty checks started coming in, Roger rented a small apartment for Mimi and himself, hoping that an environment that provided steady heat and electricity would help her heal. He went on to write a few dozen more songs with Mimi as his muse. Several of them sold, which increased his revenue. He could now afford better medical care and got onto new anti-viral treatments that held his HIV at bay. But by this time he had lost Mimi again. He moved from writing music to producing it, and continues to make a good living doing so. He does not feel he has sold out since he is still able to be creative. He has bought one of Benny's condos, but having been scarred badly by the death of two people he loved, he lives alone.

Mark: Footage of the riot continued to give Mark notoriety. Quitting his job at BuzzLine allowed him to consider other opportunities. When he was approached by a noted documentarian who liked his work at the riots, he accepted the job of director of photography for an upcoming project. This launched a new career, and after several projects, he set out on his own to document the lives of the street people of New York City, and how HIV/AIDS was ravaging that population. His film made the rounds at many of the most noted film festivals, and earned him a number of awards. He continues making films, and has found a certain amount of financial success. He too bought a condo from Benny and lives across the hall from Roger. They continue to spend a lot of time with each other. But true to Roger's predictions, Mark continues to hold himself apart from the people in his life and has never found someone to call his own.

Tom Collins: After joining the faculty at New York City College, Tom taught lower level computer science classes and developed a curriculum around the politics of oppression. When he was allowed to offer classes in this curriculum, they were very well attended. He and his students explored non-violent protest, "Robin Hooding", anarchic power structures, and how the financial and political systems of the country promote inequality. However, despite the improved medical help available to him thanks to the college's medical plan, his HIV infection developed into "full blown" AIDS. Choosing to face his mortality, in memory of his beloved Angel, he arranged to die on his own terms before the virus robbed him of his dignity. He was surrounded by his friends, his surrogate family, as he ended his own life with a deliberate sedative overdose. Years later, a number of his students at City College were instrumental in the Occupy movement and stated Tom's classes as essential in the development of their tactics.

Benny: The construction of the CyberArts Virtual Studios were delayed and delayed until Benny couldn't tolerate it. He took over the project, cleared the hurdles, and then managed to complete the project on time and only slightly over budget. His investors were impressed, and he had other offers to manage development projects. Finding his niche, he made a successful career out of it. CyberArts flopped, but other businesses moved into the space, including a restaurant that he helped finance and develop, which is called "Tom's Place" in honor of his friend's frequently stated wish to open a restaurant. His marriage to Alison changed as he gained financially, and as she found out about his affairs. They separated, then eventually amicably (for the most part) divorced. He continues to do business with her father, and has remarried. He lives in one of the condos above his restaurant, with Roger and Mark has his neighbors.

Joanne: Juggling her career as a lawyer and her life with a diva was endlessly challenging for Joanne. She continued loving Maureen despite being unable to trust her. In one last-ditch effort, they moved out of New York up to Vermont, set up a household, adopted a child, and when Civil Unions became the law of the state, they got hitched. It didn't last. Joanne discovered Maureen doing coke and cheating on her again, and tossed her out. They divorced bitterly, and Joanne was awarded custody of their child. Joanne moved to Washington D.C., where she now successfully balances a rewarding career as a civil rights attorney with the challenges of single motherhood.

Maureen: Having finally jettisoned the endlessly frustrating and restrictive "marriage" with Joanne, and the child that convinced her she was completely unsuited to parenthood, Maureen returned to New York where she continued to pursue acting opportunities. She landed a number of spots on television ads, and eventually became a recurring character on a somewhat popular sitcom. Feeling like she completely sold out, and generally unhappy about having such a structured life, she took to drinking to numb the anxiety. This led to a career-ending moment when, in the middle of filming a scene in the sitcom, she spontaneously (and drunkenly) recreated her "Leap of Faith" performance and had the studio audience mooing as she was taken away by security. She has since gone through rehab in the public eye and has returned to performing, this time on stage, working her way through off-Broadway productions. She continues to take lovers, both male and female, but has come to realize that Joanne was actually a good influence in her life, and regrets blowing the many opportunities she had been given.

Did I miss anyone? Anything seem out of character with any of these folk?

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I was reminded the other day about this video, a parody of Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" all about a humble typeface. It's a good, geeky parody, and the eye candy isn't bad either. Enjoy!

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Cruise Report

We just got back from another cruise, again with Arno's Bear Cruises. This one was the Eastern Caribbean, with stops in the Bahamas, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten, sailing out of Fort Lauderdale. Here is my very long writeup of the trip...

First, the host hotel in Fort Lauderdale was sub-par. They did have a nice pool area with live music and a good bar (from all reports), but our small stuffy room smelled of rug shampoo, and the ceiling above the tub dripped water into the tub and along the doorjamb. I'm going to have to make sure that Arno knows we think he should avoid that hotel in the future.

Getting to the port was a breeze thanks to the buses that Arno arranged. The terminal was spacious, and we got there early enough that we had to wait to board. Thankfully they provided an acre of chairs to cool our heels (airport-style seating). When it was our turn, we boarded the ship and headed up to the sky bar to wait for our rooms to be ready, as expected. We started meeting some of our fellow travelers, including several we've sailed with before. Lunch at the overly-crowded buffet (WindJammer Marketplace), then to our rooms to drop of our carry-ons and use the facilities. Our luggage arrived earlier than anticipated (yay!) so we unpacked and then wandered around the ship.

The ship was the Oasis of the Seas, one of a the largest cruise ships on the seas. We sailed on her sister ship, the Allure of the Seas, in September, so we were pretty familiar with the layout. This ship is indeed huge. Fifteen passenger-accessible decks, 5400 passengers, 10 dining facilities, innumerable bars/nightclubs, ice rink, mini-golf course, zip-line, flow-riders, a bar that moves from deck to deck, etc., etc. It really is a floating resort. It's kind of fun in an over-indulgent way.

The first night featured a "Welcome Aboard Meet & Greet" party in the ship's disco lounge. It was good seeing familiar faces and reconnecting with friends we've made on previous cruises. I don't personally enjoy being surrounded by so many people in such a small space, but I made do. There were some schedule changes announced, but nothing big. Unlike the last cruise, we had no memorials for cruise mates who had died since the previous time we'd all gotten together. After drinks, it was time for all of us to head to the Silk, one of the three floors of the main dining room, for dinner. Dinner offerings were pretty much what we've come to expect from Royal Caribbean's main dining room (decent quality, but not outstanding, smaller portion sizes, a mix of daily specials and daily standards), and we got to know the people assigned to our table. As per usual with Arno's cruises, we are asked to sit at our assigned tables the first night, but are free to choose a table from our section of the dining room on subsequent nights.

Nothing else planned for that evening, as I recall, so we wound up in the hot tubs in the Solarium, hanging out with the cute men. The upper area of the Solarium started hosting a VERY LOUD party, so when our hot tub was inevitably closed for cleaning, we headed back to the cabin and went to bed.

When we woke up we were docked at Nassau, Bahamas. We grabbed a quick breakfast at our favorite breakfast place on that class of ship, the Park Cafe. It's generally much less crowded than other breakfast eateries, and has good breakfast fare (bagels with toppings, breakfast sandwiches, fruit, oatmeal, etc.).

Then we got off the ship and headed into town. The weather wasn't great; it was cool (lower 60s), windy, and on the verge of raining. The walk from the ship to town went along a couple pedestrian causeways. The wind was whipping the water of the bay up and occasionally spraying the walkway. We got sprayed a couple of times on our way into town. We did not have any set destination in mind, though we were hoping to find some local art (we try to pick up a couple pieces of locally-produced art from wherever we travel), so we walked along the main streets of the tourist area poking our noses into the various shops. We did take the tour of the "Pirates of Nassau" museum (recommended!), hiked up to Government House (pretty but not really tourist friendly), and bought some lovely ceramic art made by craftspeople in the Bahamas. Then back to the ship.

That afternoon we gathered for the group photo at the Aqua Theater (with the obligatory shirt-less pictures), treated ourselves to cupcakes and ice cream at "Cups and Scoops" on the BoardWalk, had dinner at Silk, and then attended the Bear Pool Party up in the Solarium. Some interesting drama with one of the ship's contracted dancers occurred (which resulted in the dancer in question being left behind at our next port of call). I spent far too long in the hot tub there.

Our first "at sea" day, I was feeling burnt out on socializing so I spent a majority of my time that day alone, with my books and my computer. (Yes, I got chided about it later, oh well.) We did have tickets to their Aqua Theater spectacular, "Oasis of Dreams", which was enjoyable if too much a Cirque du Soleil clone. It was "Formal Night" in the main dining room, so I believe we just went to the buffet (I don't enjoy dressing up as much as some of the other bears, and don't enjoy feeling like the ugly duck next to the peacocks).

After dinner, Arno had suggested we all attend the "Love & Marriage" game in the main theater, but that wasn't particularly appealing to me. I think we just went back up to the hot tubs for a soak and then back to the cabin to sleep.

Our next destination was the island of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Unlike Nassau, the sky was sunny and the temps were warm. One notable thing that would cause confusion for much of the rest of the trip is that Royal Caribbean does not change their ship's clocks as we cross time zones. They maintain "ship's time" which, when we hit St. Thomas, was an hour later than local time. Of course, our smart phones (and associated watches) all automatically changed time appropriately. Since I always have a bit of trouble with things like that, I often was working off bad time assumptions. Whee. Also, I had forgotten good headwear, so we did a quick shopping trip to the touristy "shopping village" at the port.

This was the stop where Arno had arranged an excursion for us. One hundred twenty eight bears and friends climbed aboard a catamaran (with a capacity for one hundred and thirty passengers), and headed out to a place where there were coral reefs and sea turtles. I had forgotten to acquire a prescription-lensed snorkeling mask, so since I knew I wouldn't be able to see anything, I refrained from snorkeling with the group, though Michael went and took the underwater camera. I watched from onboard the catamaran and took pictures of the frolicking bears. After that, the catamaran crew started serving boozy drinks and we headed to a beach where we were served a nice lunch (chicken, ribs, salad, rolls, drinks) and swam in the ocean. Well, mainly floated and socialized. At one point, Arno gathered us all for a group photo which turned into a (pre-arranged) marriage proposal. It was very sweet.

When it was time to go, we all climbed back onto the catamaran to head back to the ship. That's when the crew discovered that they had gotten fouled in the line that separated the anchorage area from the swimming area. Oops. They had a bunch of us get off the boat while they worked to free it. Ah, well, the water was nice and warm, so I didn't mind much. It was somewhat amusing to see all of the bears trying to push the ship to safety even after being warned that they were too close to the propeller blades. After a little while we were on our way back to the ship.

That evening Arno had planned a private disco party, and since it was Fat Tuesday, it had a Mardi Gras theme. That's not my scene so I spent time in my cabin reading while Michael went out to party. He apparently had a good time based on the pictures I've seen since.

Next up was Philipsburg, on the island of Sint Maarten. We took a water taxi to the town from the cruise dock. What a LOVELY looking city. It really is a pretty place. It didn't hurt that it was sunny and warm there as well. We had nothing planned so decided to walk around the main touristy areas to see what we could. (Many of the others in the group went off to various beaches, including one right under the main approach to the island's airport, and of course the local nude beach. Having never been to St. Maarten, we opted to visit the city.)

We found a lovely walking plaza called "Old Street" with shops from local merchants. We purchased some lovely pieces of dichromatic glass jewelry, some gifts for family members, some tasty locally-made jams, and a few art prints from a lovely Dutch woman, Tessel Verheij, who lived on the island. Find her work at Art Craft Cafe. After that we wandered some more, and found a gelateria (Gelateria Milano) and had some tasty ice cream. Then, we ran into some friends (and fellow cruisers) at Blanc du Nil, and having heard of the place from our friend, decided to check it out. Dangerous place! Well, dangerous to our bank account, at least.

After that, we wandered some more, but were losing steam and getting hungry, so we headed back to the ship and had lunch at Park Cafe where they were serving these little roast beef sandwiches called "kummelweck" that had amazing flavor. Seriously tasty!

That evening, Arno had suggested two shows (one on either side of dinner). The first was "Come Fly with Me," a high-tech dance and acrobatics show centered around the theme of vintage air travel. There was no real story, but the music was good, the acrobatics were at times astounding, and the theatercraft was mostly enjoyable.

After dinner, we headed down to the ice rink (no, I was not kidding) for a show called "Frozen in Time" which turned out to be vignettes representing various stories from Hans Christian Andersen. It was cute, but nothing really spectacular. However, at one point, they brought out this odd table, and a gentleman in a tuxedo stood behind it. They then projected a top-down view of the table onto the screen behind the ice. The table was a light table with sand on it. Then man then proceeded to draw in the sand and otherwise manipulate it to tell the story of the "Tin Woodsman". It was honestly spellbinding, and the man had enormous talent at making simple gestures that would create amazing effects with the sand. I'm not doing it justice here. It was beautiful. (A poorly made video is available on YouTube.)

Thursday and Friday
After that we had two "at sea" days. Honestly they mostly blurred together for me. I recall waking up late, spending time reading at various locations around the ship, avoiding the second "formal night" on Thursday, and so on.

Thursday evening there were two planned events. The first was something called "Quest" in the ice rink area. I skipped it, but Michael went, and reported it was an adult in-place scavenger hunt. The audience was broken up into teams by where they were seated, and each team had to appoint a male and female "captain". Then the emcee would state a challenge. The first team to complete the challenge got the most points, the second team get less points, and so on. Challenges included the female "captain" standing up wearing six belts from the men in the team, the male captain showing several bras no-longer being worn, showing a picture of the White House (it's on the twenty dollar bill), and stuff like that. The final challenge was for the male lead to dress up in various parts of women's clothing (bra, skirt, shoes, purse, etc.) and strut along the stage like they were on a fashion runway. I've seen video, it's absolutely terrifying. I've heard that Arno's team has won the game each time they've played, and he's gotten a reputation on Royal Caribbean for being a cutthroat player.

The second was the "White Party" at the another of the ship's discos. I skipped it, but Michael went (and stayed out till 3AM!)

Friday there was a Farewell party at one of the ship's bars, and Michael and I had reservations at one of the upscale (additional cost) dining facilities, "Chops Grill". We've eaten at Chops on the Allure and very much enjoyed it, and were looking forward to dining there on the Oasis.

Unfortunately, as we were packing (it was the last night of the cruise, and you have to have your bags out in the hallway by 11PM), Michael started experiencing a sharp pain in his side. It got bad enough that he was pretty immobilized. We eventually decided at about 7:30 (after the Farewell party had started) to head to the ship's infirmary. They had closed at 7, but were willing to see people on an emergency basis (for an extra fee, of course). After several tests, they had pretty much ruled everything scary out. They filled him up with pain killers and sent him back to the cabin with instructions to return if it didn't get better. (It did get better after the shot, thankfully.) We got our luggage out on time then turned in.

By the time our alarm went off at 6AM, we were docked at Fort Lauderdale, the hallways had been emptied of luggage (actually that seemed to happen by 1AM according to Michael who got up and wandered for a bit not being able to sleep), and there were already people getting ready to disembark. We showered and dressed, packed up our carry-ons, and went over the cabin several times to make sure we got everything. Then breakfast at Park Cafe again. And then we went through the lengthy disembarkation process. With a ship that big, long lines are inevitable, and these were some long-ass lines. We had taken advantage of Royal Caribbean's "Luggage Valet" service to send our bags on to the airport, so we didn't have to pick our bags up at the terminal, but we did have to wait in line to get through Customs. That was tedious.

After that, we had a huge block of free time since it was only 9:30AM and our flight didn't board until 6:30PM. Thankfully Michael had been in contact with a friend of his he's known since they were both college-aged, who agreed to pick us up at the port, lend us his car while he put a couple of hours in at the office, and then take us to lunch. We wound up finding a local comics and games store (surprise!) and then spent time at a nearby Barnes & Noble, before heading back to his office. We had lunch at a colorful "Key West" themed casual eatery where he and Michael caught up on their lives. Then back to the airport (listening to surreal "songs" that they and their friends made in someone's basement) where we got through security with a minimal amount of fuss and then found seats to wait for our flight. Friends from the cruise found us waiting, and joined us, helping the time fly by as we chatted. Eventually it was time to board the airplane (which we almost missed because our boarding passes had the wrong gate listed) and fly back home. We got back to the house at around 3AM (Florida time, midnight local time) and promptly fell into bed.

It was a good vacation for the most part. There were some bumpy bits, and the medical scare Friday wasn't fun, but as we were parting from our friends, we all agreed we were looking forward to next February when we'd all get together again. I'm already counting the days...

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So, this is Christmas.

I don't celebrate Christmas. When asked why, I usually say it's because I'm not Christian and don't want to appropriate their tradition when I don't share their beliefs. That's only partly true.

I don't celebrate it because of what it came to mean to me.

Christmas means a lot of anticipation and disappointment.

It means my brothers getting what I asked "Santa" to bring me, and me getting very little that I wanted.

It means no-one liking the gifts I got them (and to a large extent, this has not changed).

It means all of us kids getting totally hopped up on sugar, and the expectation that it would not change how we behave.

It means my dad getting upset at everyone over some arbitrary infraction of unstated rules.

It means shouting, and punishment.

Sometimes, when my dad was especially peeved at us kids during the holiday season it meant that he would be doing the shopping, and that meant nothing fun, just a bunch of Scouting and camping stuff.

It means gathering the extended family together, forcing us all to interact over a large meal, a meal that caused my mom a huge amount of stress to make, and more stress to get the house ready for the oncoming crowd. Mom's stress caused dad to yell more.

It means more shouting and more punishment after dinner when my brothers and I were assigned the task of cleaning up after the cooking, and a particular brother quietly antagonizing the rest of us so that he could score brownie points with our parents.

It means being sent to our rooms without dessert and sometimes without the gifts that had been given us to teach us a lesson about how to get along with our brothers (how this would teach us that lesson, I never could tell).

I remember being a young child and excited by the promise of Christmas. Year after year that promise was unfulfilled, broken, or worse. By mid-teenage years, I was done with Christmas. I'd go through the motions, but if asked, I would have stated I'd be happy to do without.

These days it's very rare for me to get into the "holiday spirit." I certainly don't feel it this year.

I wish you all a very happy whatever holiday you celebrate. This year, as with most years, I'm happy just to ignore them all and quietly enjoy the days away from the office.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/889637.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
For those who didn't see this on other social media, a very interesting read:

George Lucas nearly wrote a perfect prequel trilogy. He just didn't notice:
All of the plot points required to make the prequels tell a sensible, meaningful, satisfying and affecting story are actually already in there, either explicitly on-screen or strongly alluded to. But for some reason, George Lucas doesn’t seem to notice that he’s written them, and ignores the lot.

Stick with me on this one. I haven’t gone mad, I promise. It all starts with the fundamentals of Star Wars lore....

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/889363.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
My library software (Delicious Library for Mac) has this cool feature that draws "word clouds" based on your chosen criteria. Here is the word cloud for the authors of the books in my collection, where bigger font size corresponds to the number of books I have by that author. Keen!

(Put behind a cut because the image is HYUUUUGE!) See more...Collapse )

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Back to Writing

I've been managing to sit down at my writing desk for several days over the last couple of weeks. The first couple of days, I merely reviewed what I had done so far on my current WiP (Work in Progress). The next few days were spent brainstorming scenes in the novel. I'm targeting 40 scenes, half of which should deal with the main plot, the rest on supporting plots. (I'm very much a Story Engineer.) Unfortunately, I'm stalling out on details of the main plot, so I decided to take the plunge and start simply writing in one of the scenes I know has to be there. I haven't written much in a while so my 523 words took me a while longer than usual, but boy did it feel good.

(And yes, I did get some lightbox therapy in at the same time.)

Now if only I could figure out the events of my primary plot, I'll be a happy guy. Well, "happy" in terms of where my writing is going; no promises in any other aspect of my life. Since the genre I'm writing in requires a well-laid out and integrated plot, I don't want to try and write by the "seat of my pants". Besides, I like to have a rough map of where I'm going before I commit words on paper, even if half-way through the journey I stop and draw an entirely new map.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/883506.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

The Katering Show

I ran across this web series thanks to former LJer "Low Fat Muffin", and I had to share it with you all.

The Katering Show, produced out of Australia with two hosts who might, or might not, have any cooking skills whatsoever. But it doesn't matter because each of the episodes is full of snark, sight gags, craziness, and really dark humor. Only six episodes so far, but I want to see these ladies get enough attention so that they are compelled to do more episodes. Therefore, I'm pimping them to you all!

Go. Watch. Laugh. Scare your pets. I know I did!

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/883216.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Weird Dream Theater

My job was to be a negotiator. The pilot of a spacecraft was endangering Earth, and I had to convince him to take another course. He kept speaking of "the White Lady" or "the Lady in White", and not responding to calls from Mission Control. They were convinced he was mentally ill. It was my mission to save the day.

I boarded the runaway spacecraft, and it was surprisingly homey. I mean, homey in that it looked like the inside of a modest home. Looking around, I spotted an untidy stack of books on a coffee table. I stopped to peruse them, recognizing some of them as books I have read over the years. Several of them were "bookmarked" with rectangles of clear plastic that had been "painted" on with white-out. The figures all were of alien beings, with several of them looking like an enrobed woman. These bookmarks were for pages where various authors spoke of white, glowing aliens. The descriptions were remarkably similar from author to author, and as I thumbed through the books, I found the apparent coincidence to be suspicious. I know Mission Control was under the impression that the pilot was having a mental breakdown, but I found myself wondering if he had stumbled upon some bizarre truth.

My co-worker (who I didn't realize was there until she spoke) reminded me of our mission. We needed to get the spacecraft under control. I went to a control console, which looked like something that Nikola Tesla would have built, flicked the switches to the intercom position, and tried to raise the pilot. At first, he was unresponsive, but eventually agreed to meet with us. He was in the control room, which was upstairs.

Entering the control room, I found the pilot sitting on the floor against a wall, no-where near the pilot's chair. He had a worried look to his face, but was staring at some point far, far away. My co-workers (now plural) were demanding answers from the man, backed up by repeated radio calls from Mission Control. The man was oblivious to their demands, and frankly, they were startring to get on my nerve. I tried talking to the pilot, but it was hard to make myself heard over the din of the crowd. I wanted to ask him about the Lady in White, had he contacted her, what had she told him, but I could not make myself understood. I felt that time was quickly running out, but was having trouble remembering what kind of a threat this ship was posing. I had assumed it was going to crash into the planet, but that didn't seem right now. Perhaps they were afraid we were going to fly into deep space?

I woke up as the din of the crowd grew and grew, only to find the rain pouring down outside my bedroom window. I woke up with the feeling that the world was in danger, that I had yet to complete my mission, and that we were on the cusp of discovering something new and wondrous. What a letdown to realize it was just an ordinary Wednesday and I needed to get to the office to work on testing software.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/882596.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Dream Channel

I can't help but think there's some odd symbology at work in my dreams lately. Last night's has me scratching my head.

Michael and I arrive home at our swank, modern, downtown apartment. We shake the rain off our jackets and hats in the front tiled entryway. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows around the door show off the damp and grungy carpet in the hallway outside. The hallway carpet's in the kind of state where you'd fear catching something fatal simply from walking barefoot on it.

Nessee is happy to see us, and lets me know she wants out as soon as possible. So we go to the back door of the apartment, and I open the door to let her out. The yard here is good-sized, triangular, and wraps around one side of the building. It's still raining slightly, so Nessee does her usual thing: stand on the porch looking hangdog at the falling dampness then darting off the porch to the side of the house.

Then I see a large bird alight on the ground in the middle of the yard. This bird is huge. Standing upright, it can look me right in the eye and it does. It spreads it's wings a couple of times. Even in the overcast gloom, it's beautiful, all gold and white and tan, with large luminous golden eyes that show utter disdain for me. It peers eagerly, hungrily towards the side of the building where I know my dog is looking for a place to do her business, and I know that if I don't act soon, I may lose my dog.

I shout at the bird, wave my hands, and try to scare it away. It looks at me, dismisses me. If it could speak, it would have sardonically said, "Really?"

I take a few steps towards it. It drops to all fours (holy flack, it's a Griffin!) and charges me. I have enough time to be terrified before I wake from the dream.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/882084.html. Please comment there using OpenID.


Voter ID

I've thought a lot about the "Voter ID" laws that are popping up around our country. I do not like most of the current batch of laws. They all seem enacted coincidentally at just the right time to disenfranchise a lot of folks of their voting rights. And that seems wrong and politically motivated. It smells of voter suppression. And the "reasons" given about voter fraud are supported much more by speculation than by actual data.

However, on the whole, I don't object to the concept of a Voter ID or laws that require some kind of verification of identity before voting. I don't think there's a great need for them, since the there are very few cases of voter fraud that such a law would prevent, but if the legislations of the states in our union want to fritter away the money needed for such programs, who am I to stand in their way? (Well, I would probably be annoyed at what would appear to be to be a waste of money, but that's a different rant.)

The problem is, there are some hurdles that a state would need to meet before I think a "Voter ID" law is morally and ethically supportable.

Let's take a moment and recognize that despite a lack of understanding from the privileged classes, a sizable minority in most states can live their lives just fine without a driver's license or other form of ID. Every study done to determine the size of a population who lack appropriate identification shows there are plenty of citizens who would lose their right to vote due to lack of documentation. Regardless of lack of understanding about how these people can get through their daily lives without an ID (lots of indignant cries and lists of things that are impossible without an ID notwithstanding), these citizens do exist, and must be accommodated in any "Voter ID" law.

The laws must have a lengthy period of time between passage and enactment. It will take time to get community organizations put together, and funds raised by appropriate non-profits to help every voter in the state to get their mandated identification. Bureaucracy is slow, and if there is a need to secure certified copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other governmental documents, people will need an appropriate amount of time to interact with those governmental agencies, and sufficient time for several backs-and-forths with said agencies (how often do governmental agencies get something wrong and you have to go back?). If some of these documents require in-person visits, even more time needs to be allowed for those who have to travel long distances, especially if they have no means of transporting themselves. Enacting legislation without this allowance is unjustifiable under the mantle of ensuring every citizen has their voting rights respected.

Accommodations must also be made for people who need to get to these offices on days that the agencies are not normally open. Not everyone works a 9 to 5 job where they can get time off without penalty to run errands to some state office a few miles away. Some people work several back-to-back jobs from early in the morning to late in the evening, and would be harshly penalized (or fired) if they need to take some time off to get paperwork done for the ID. Some people who have 9 to 5 jobs who could take some time off live far enough away from appropriate state agencies that driving there and back would take more time than their employer will allow. Ideally, state agencies would open "pop-up" satellite offices in areas that are not close to their regular offices, but that would require special funding requests, something not found in these "Voter ID" laws enacted lately.

Speaking of funding, since the governmental agencies will be flooded with requests for said documentation, money needs to be allocated to bring on additional staffing to handle the requests. You can't expect an agency to be able to fulfill a huge up-tick in documentation requests in a timely manner on the same budget as before the legislation. Without giving appropriate funding, you just create a huge bottleneck. This only compounds the problems created by a lack of allowance of time in the legislation. In all of the reporting of the recently enacted "Voter ID" laws, I've never seen any mention of increased funding for governmental agencies, so again, I suspect the recent laws have not been enacted with respect to people's voting rights.

Finally there needs to be respect for the fact that not everyone in a state can afford the costs associated with getting appropriate ID. Sure, it may seem like the $30 (or so, depending on the state) fee for a driving license is negligible, but that's only one facet. Some people have such poor cash flow that $30 represents several days of food for them and their families. And you need to also factor in the costs of securing any additional paperwork required to get the license (or other ID). Certified copies of birth certificates, wedding licenses, and other required documents are not cheap (I speak from experience). If you need to drive or take transportation to secure these documents, that's an additional cost. And for some people, there is the loss of income from taking several hours off to apply in person for these documents. When you add it all up, it can be quite an expensive proposition for someone making minimum wage. If these laws were being enacted to ensure that all citizens had the right to vote, instead of merely a political strategy to disenfranchise selected minorities, there would be funding available to help offset some of these costs for the poorest of our citizenry. (Unless you feel that the right to vote is contingent on one's income.)

So, as I say, I don't philosophically object to a "Vote ID" law. However, I would require that the laws that get pass do not impose undue hurdles on any segment of the electorate to secure these IDs. If you want to ensure that only citizens vote, you need to ensure that all eligible citizens can easily and affordably meet the requirements of the legislation by providing additional services and funding.

I honestly do not see any state enacting legislation with these understandings included. As I said, most of the legislation that has been passed recently reeks of voter suppression tactics. And, because of the funding question, I don't see any state enacting said appropriate legislation in the future. The costs are simply not justified by the amount of fraud actually being committed, at least the fraud that this kind of legislation would (in theory) prevent.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/881501.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

-isms in early Sci-Fi

It's an interesting time in Fandom these days, with each week brining new "outrages" regarding writings of revered sci-fi luminaries from the early and middle parts of last century. Sometimes it seems that writers of yesteryear are being held to modern standards and judged wanting if they fail to live up. I'm not looking to excuse the worst offenders of this, but I do feel we need to take a step back and actually look at the attitudes of the time and see if the author was reflecting those attitudes or was a bona-fide proponent of unreasoning bias.

Take, for example, James White, author of the Sector General novels and stories. His first Sector General stories were published in 1957. Reading them today will smack you in the face with rampant sexism, worse than anything you'd see in even Mad Men. He also throws in an occasional dash of racism. (Oddly, his novels are anything but xenophobic.)

Should we condemn White, then, for perpetuating the scourge of sexism? I'd like to think not. While there were certainly egalitarian-minded individuals who were considerably less sexist than what was depicted in White's stories, one cannot deny that Western culture was terribly sexist by modern standards in the 50's, 60's, and even into the 70's. In the early stories, women are terribly two-dimensional, described only in terms of their curvaceousness and beauty, and can only aspire to be nurses, nothing better.

Perhaps White's redeeming quality is that as times changed, so did his characters. In fact, the nurse featured highly in the first few stories, Murchison, does become a full Doctor, and eventually a department head, and is depicted as a fully dimensional complex character of a nature similar to the males iin the stories.

Another example would be Heinlein. I've read and re-read a majority of Heinlein's oeuvre, and he always came across as sexist to me. In fact, it wasn't until "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" did I stop feeling his female characters were anything but caricatures. Even my all-time Heinlein novel, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" treats women as delicate flowers that need to be protected.

So, how soon will it be before the authors who wrote in the mid-20th century are all pilloried and hung out to dry (and maybe even have their awards posthumously revoked) because of attitudes in their works that are offensive to modern sensibilities? It's a trend I'm finding worrisome, and one I hope dies out soon.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/881192.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Foot Stuff Update Update

I saw the podiatrist again today. It was a better visit, but I think that's partly because I pushed him to provide details this time, and indicated I was doing my own research. He was willing to spend more time talking and offering possible treatments. I still don't like him much, but I think we have a better relationship now.

He could not give me a cause of the neuroma. It's just something that develops over time, not because of a specific trauma. So, there's nothing I can to to prevent it from happening to other nerves in that foot or my other foot. Yay.

As for treatments, there are three possibilities he offered.

1. Cortisone injections. These relieve the pain without actually addressing the cause of the pain, but a high percentage of patients report that the pain goes away for a year or more. The doctor said that the cortisone does not affect the joints since it's not being injected into a joint or the circulatory system. I'm concerned that it's only a temporary reprieve (getting a set of painful injections every year for the rest of my life? Hrm.) and as always I'm concerned about the long-term effect of cortisone in my body. I've had enough of that stuff over the years.

2. Alcohol Sclerosing injections. This is an injection of ethanol and other agents into the area of the nerve. I would need 4 to 7 shots administered 7 to 10 days apart. According to my doctor, it would degrade the "shell" that the nerve has built up around itself. According to my Internet research, it degrades the nerve so it doesn't transmit pain signals as well. I'm not sure which to believe more. There also seems to be quite a bit of controversy on the 'Net regarding how effective this treatment can be, with some measuring success in the teens or twenties percentiles and others claiming better than eighty percent effectiveness.

3. Surgery to remove the nerve. I'd suffer some degradation of sensation in the toes served by the nerve, but also definitive release of the pain in my foot. This is my choice of last resort, even though it does pretty much guarantee success. I just don't like the idea of surgery, and want to avoid it at all costs.

We talked about orthotics, but they only provide relief of symptoms and it can be an expensive proposition without a strong prognosis for success. My doctor seems to think this would not be a solution that would work for me.

The doctor wants me to do my own research, and think about it for a while. I can't say I'm happy about any of my choices. Two treatments that might or might not work, but I won't know until after going through a series of injections, or a treatment that requires cutting my foot open (which I don't think I could handle without serious happy drugs or general anesthesia, both of which I'm adverse to).

Of course, trying to do research on this is being seriously hampered by my body's reaction to medical detail. I have to pause frequently to stop feeling faint. It wouldn't be good to pass out at my desk at work.

I hate dealing with biological systems that degrade over time with no good reason, especially when that system is my own.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/881075.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Foot Stuff Update

The pain has steadily been getting worse. The pads helped for about a week, and eventually shifted the pain closer to the front of the foot. It's also sharper now, rather than being an ache. And it's also starting to hurt even when I don't have pressure on the foot. About the only way to get certain relief is to elevate the foot, which currently isn't practical for most of my day.

I note that the podiatrist I saw, the one who just seemed interested in getting me out of the office as quickly as possible (maybe he needed to get back to his crossword puzzle), didn't bother updating my medical records with any information from our visit other than "extremity pain". If I did go to see another doctor, he or she would be starting from scratch. This does not help improve my feelings about this doctor.

Regardless, the pain has won. I've requested a follow-up appointment. I'll probably be getting a cortisone shot in my foot (yay), a treatment that I see from my own research only works for some patients. If it doesn't work for me, it means at least one more injection before they'd consider other options.

I'm tired of not being able to walk like I used to. I'm not fond of being babied by Michael. But either he drops me off close to where we're going and then he parks the car, or he has to walk slowly with me as I hobble along. And yes, I realize just how whiny that sounds.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/880710.html. Please comment there using OpenID.


I have a problem with people who make shit up so that they can feel that America is somehow an exceptional nation. People like Colorado's state Board of Education member Pam Mazanec who is under the impression that America voluntarily gave up slavery, albeit at a great sacrifice.

No, it was not done voluntarily. We fought a long, bloody, and brutal war over slavery. Sure, some revisionist historians will go around these days claiming that the war was simply a matter of states' rights, as if we simply had a disagreement over what to serve with tea. That's bullshit. The right that was being "debated" was the right to OWN another person, i.e., slavery.

But now there are many who want to whitewash our own history in order to preserve the myth of "American Exceptionalism," that quaint belief that simply because 'Murica, we're better than everyone else. It's a false pride, and Americans are not singularly susceptible to it. But we mock it when other countries dare to hint that they feel they are likewise exceptional.

There was a time when America did great things. There were a few shining decades where America could not be beat economically or industrially. Mind you, most of the rest of the world was picking through the bombed-out ruins of their cities to really compete with us, but at least we were the best. We had great education, amazing innovation, mind-blowing construction projects, and an economy that was the envy of the rest of the world.

But even during those decades, our moral compass was questionable. Getting involved in land wars in Korea and Vietnam, witch hunts for communists, widespread spying on American citizens, and political assassinations all were dark spots in the shining city on the hill. By the time Watergate happened, and people lost all trust in the integrity of the Presidency, any vestige of that great America was gone.

According to our own CIA fact book, we're not in the top ten in literacy, we're 34th in overall life expectancy, 34th in infant mortality, 63rd in per-capita spending in education, 3rd in spending on health care but with some of the worst outcomes, the highest per-capita GDP yet among the sharpest levels of inequity in the world. About the only thing we're really good at is spending on the military, where we spend more than the next twenty or more countries combined.

I do think America has potential to be great. It won't be possible unless we can get beyond all of the fear-mongering, all of the division-making, all of the finger-pointing, and all of the reality-denying. The zero-sum political games we have been playing for the last several decades are holding us back. Pandering to the fundamentalist wing of the Religious Right has us stuck in the mud. We have to start investing again in education and infrastructure, we need to teach our children how to think, not simply regurgitate rote facts onto standardized tests, we need to come together in public and private partnerships to reach for lofty goals.

I honestly don't know if we can turn the ship around and head once again for that great America, I don't know if we have it in us to even try. I look at what's going on in the Colorado Board of Education today, and what's happened in other states in recent times (I'm looking at you, Texas and Pennsylvania), and I think that maybe we don't deserve greatness any more. If we have to make shit up to make us feel good about being American, perhaps we've lost any claims to exceptionalism.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/880524.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Happy Re-Birthday to Me!

Happy Re-Birthday to Me,
Happy Re-Birthday to Me!
Happy Re-Birthday dear Joooo-ooohn,
Happy Re-Birthday to Me!

Today I celebrate the anniversary of my "coming out." It was twenty-three years ago today that I:

1) Sent a letter to my parents letting them know that their eldest child was a homo. (That didn't go so well at first, but all is good now.)
2) Attended my first gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans social event (a beach party organized by the local GLBT resource center).
3) Posted a message on the "underground" BBS that was run by some students at my university, coming out to 40+ of my friends all at once.

Over twenty years of being honest and open about me and my life. Over twenty years of (mostly) winning the fight against the shame I grew up with. And over twenty years of trying to be the most authentic me I can be. I may not always succeed at my authenticity, especially when it can be hard to differentiate the authentic me from the mountain of social programming we all have to deal with, but the intention is always there.

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/879849.html. Please comment there using OpenID.


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John Kusters

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