May 2, 2003

I try to avoid this getting to be a meta-webpage (that is, a web page about my web page), but last night I was thinking I’d take some pictures from my old old (in web years) pages and copy them over to here, but it turns out they’re so grainy I can’t even stand to look at them. So now I have to dig up the originals and scan them again. Plus they were gifs instead of jpgs and take up too much room anyway. When I first got on the web in ’95 or so I signed up with an ISP called Ultranet, which was based in Marlborough and has long since been snarfed up by RCN. They gave you some free web space, so I played around with a home page, tried to do a proto-weblog, even had the first online presence for the Chorale, but it got to be a big pain to update, and of course no one was looking at the web back then anyway. By the time I dumped them in favor of DSL a couple of years ago, the pages were already so dated that I didn’t bother to put them up on the new site, but I kept thinking I’d give them an overhaul. Well, two years go by and nothing. A few months back I’d seen a couple of mentions here and there about weblogs, but didn’t think much of it. Then surfing at work one day I came across Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s web log, which led me to a few others (Cory Doctorow, Warren Ellis, etc.), which led me to Moveable Type (which seemed too heavyweight for my Verizon account) and finally Blogger. And the rest is history. So here we are, almost three months later, finally getting a decent amount of content up there with big plans for the future. It helps that I’ve been doing some web development for the last two years so I kind of know how to do layout in HTML (although doing this kind of site vs. a transactional application does present some big differences), and have better tools to put it all together. Will it ever be ready for prime time? Let’s hope not.

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May 1, 2003

I feel so intellectual because I’ve been listening to the Goldberg Variations in the car the last few days. There was an article in last month’s BBC Music Magazine about them, picking the best recording (they preferred Andras Schiff over Glenn Gould), but the only one I have is a recent acquisition from the Great Pianists series with Maria Yudina, who I’d never heard of before. One of these Soviet-era artists who was never allowed to tour and barely allowed to perform or teach even within Russia as she ran afoul of the authorities over her religious views. These are originally Melodiya recordings, so the sound engineering isn’t the greatest, but it seems to be a pretty decent performance of a work that I don’t think I’ve ever heard before in its entirety. I remember seeing something on tv a long time ago with Andre Michel-Schub, who told the anecdote that one time at the end of a recital he went backstage while the applause was still continuing and asked the stage manager “what should I play for an encore?” and he said, “How about the Goldberg Variations?”, so he did. They’re actually in my Dover edition of Keyboard Music of JS Bach, but I don’t think I’ve ever tried to play through them. Bach isn’t that easy to sightread to begin with, and all the ornamentation makes it even more difficult, so I haven’t spent much time playing Bach since I’ve been back in piano mode. I wouldn’t mind getting the new release of both versions of Gould’s rendition, plus they’re also on one of the Rosalyn Tureck CD’s in the Great Pianists series, too, and that’s probably enough. I’m sure Schiff is good, too, I heard him do Book I of the WTC as a recital when I was in college (with two intermissions). They also had recommendations for harpsichord versions of the variations, but that I think I could live without.

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Apr 30, 2003

Been on a roll with comics the last few days, read 16 since Monday, including five consecutive issues of New X-Men and five of Peter Parker Spiderman. I only started reading New X-Men last year when I picked up an issue by mistake, thinking it was Uncanny X-Men, and it turned out it was pretty good, so I kept buying it. This recent storyline with the riot at the X-men school and Kid Omega going all mutant neo-nazi was actually very compelling. Pretty much all the Grant Morrison I’ve read up to this point was the second and third series of Invisibles, which I found to be almost completely incomprehensible. You kept buying it just hoping the next one would be the one that made it all make sense, but it never happened. Sometimes I think, maybe if I went back and got the first Invisibles series in trade and read it from the beginning, >then< it would all make sense, but so far I've always managed to come to my senses in time. So New X-Men is surprising for Morrison in that not only is it understandable, but you actually want to keep reading it, as the write-up on the most recent issue on said he's somehow writing for fans and doing his own thing and satisfying both camps, which has got to be something of an accomplishment in the wacky world of X-Men fans. Peter Parker’s most recent five issues were entertaining, but certainly more lightweight. They try to throw in some weighty issues about whether all these long-standing vendettas by two-bit supervillains are actually self-perpetuating the chaos that seems to follow Spiderman around. But for the most part they’re also kind of poking fun at some of the ’70’s Spidey bad guys like Shocker (or is it “The” Shocker?) and Rocket Racer (whom I sure would have few defenders amongst Spider-fans). The general tone then becomes that most of Spider-man’s lesser nemeses are really kind of a joke, and while they may put him in some difficulty for a minute or two, the outcome is never really in doubt, and they’re all portrayed as being rather pathetic. In twenty years they’ll be doing the same thing to the villains they’re coming up with in this decade, too, I’m sure, but Spider-Man will still be going strong. Personally I preferred Paul Jenkins recent run on the title, a little bit of this current self-parody goes a long way.

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Apr 29, 2003

Spent some time yesterday and today to transfer my reviews of Hugo nominees from past years onto the sf portion of this site. Doing the actual HTML and formatting and everything took part of the time, and then of course while you’re messing around with them you have to read them, so that took the rest of the time. It’s kind of fun, partly because of what I had to say and partly to track what I reviewed and what I didn’t. The first three years, 1995-97, went like clockwork, then in ’98, not only did I not review any of the nominees I didn’t read any of them, at least not the novels. That was the year Justin was born and the Worldcon was being held a month earlier than usual, in Baltimore, and I wanted to go but couldn’t because it was at almost exactly the same time as his due date. Also, until a few years ago the period between finding out what the nominees were and the voting deadline was much shorter, and the fact that the Worldcon was in early August probably made it shorter than normal. I was faithfully reading the classics group books through that time, and just didn’t have time for the Hugo nominees on top of that. In more recent years I’ve kind of backpedalled on the classics during this time of the year in favor of Hugo nominees. This year I’m caught reading Vanity Fair as the nominations are announced, and won’t be able to start reading any novel nominees until mid-May, so only 10 weeks to read all five, if I don’t read anything else, with a nine-day trip to Illinois in the middle, seems aggresive, as we say at work.

But back to the previous year’s reviews. In ’95 I read everything, and I had actually read the novel nominees even a year or two before that but ’95 was the first year I kept track. The short fiction reviews are kind of interesting because they were in some cases early stories of certain authors or in others my first exposure to certain authors. Because at that time I was reading Asimovs and F&SF faithfully every month, I could compare the stories that were nominated with those that weren’t, and there were always a couple that got short-changed. It makes the reviews sound more educated, anyway. In ’96, for my first Worldcon, there were also the first Retro-Hugo nominees ever, and some of them were impossible to find. Between Boskone and Readercon I scrounged a couple, and got a few through Pandora Books, which had a website even then with basically the same search engine they have now. Ebay wasn’t a factor then, or, although they probably both existed. In ’97 I read everything but Blue Mars. I saw Kim Stanley Robinson as Guest of Honor at Readercon that year, only a couple of weeks before the voting deadline, and told him in that I hadn’t read Blue Mars but intended to get it in. “Read it slowly” he advised. Weighted down with guilt, I ended up not reading it at all. Now it’s been so long since I read the first two I have to go back and re-read those before I dive into it. Hope to get to that before the end of the year.

’98 was, as I mentioned, a washout. In ’99 I read all the books except “Children of God” (although I’d read and liked “The Sparrow”), but I don’t think I read any of the short ficiton nominees. In 2000, same story, except the odd one out that year was the third Harry Potter book, mostly because I didn’t have time to read the first two ahead of it. I only just got around to it last year. Again, ignored the short fiction nominees. The next year was the toughest for novels as you had The Sky Road, which was the third (actually 4th in the UK) book in a loosely connected series. You had A Storm of Swords, the third book in a series of 800+ page books which were all one continuous story. You had the 4th Harry Potter book, and I hadn’t read any of them yet. And you had Retro-Hugos again, which at least are short but still that’ s five more books to read. So in a massive undertaking I was able to read all the retro’s, all three MacLeod books, all three George R.R. Martin books, plus the Sawyer and Hopkinson books before the deadline, thanks mostly to taking the Marlborough bus to work and having a nice long ride back and forth every day to do nothing else but. So the one I didn’t get to was “Goblet of Fire”, and guess what, it won. I still haven’t read it.

Last year I read everything, and did vote, but didn’t write any reviews down. So from ’98 to ’02 is a big lacuna, which would be nice to fill in but I’m not very optimistic, as it would probably entail re-reading some books I’ve read comparatively recently when I already have 400 books kicking around waiting to be read the first time. For right now I’m just going to try to keep up with this year’s batch, and see how it goes.

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Apr 28, 2003

I finally figured out how to set up subdomains and I created one called as a place to put all my sf-related stuff. So initially I’m htmlifying and transferring over Word documents that I put together for the Hugo nominees most years since 1995, that contain mini-reviews and also my ratings on what I voted for, which is usually way off from what actually won. In the last couple of years I still voted but never got going on writing up the reviews, so there’s definitely some gaps, but I’m hoping to keep current this year as I read through the nominees, starting with Ian MacLeod’s “Breathmoss”, which I read over the weekend. Since I’ll be there for the awards this year, its just like the Oscars – it’s only marginally interesting if you haven’t actually read the stories or seen the movies. Speaking of movies, I’ve already seen all five Hugo nominees for dramatic presentation (long form), so that’s all taken care of, although I’m not sure which one I’d pick as the best, since they were all good.

Other subdomains should be coming down the pike for pictures, comics, Grandma’s diaries, Northwestern, and whatever else I can think of. They’re unlimited and free, and it makes it easier to point people to a specific area of the site without having them wade through all the other stuff to get there. Gotta fill up that 500MB.

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Apr 27, 2003

I mentioned the other day that I got to see the Boston Marathon for the first time last week, in fact my first big road race ever of any size or stature. Up til now the only road races I’ve seen are the five I’ve participated in, and none of those were exactly large. The one in Chicago last year was in the several hundreds, and the ones here in town were between 100 and 250 or so. So to see 20,000 runners go by is quite a sight. In fact, it took so long I didn’t even probably see more than half of them go by. What was interesting was, at our outpost around mile 6, just east of downtown Framingham, the elite runners were already way ahead of the pack. After that initial group of 10 Kenyans plus one or two others went by, there were just ones and twoses until almost ten minutes later when you really started to see people running shoulder to shoulder, and then it just didn’t stop. By that point the family was bored silly and was headed back for the car, but I stayed a few extra minutes to see some more people go by. Next time the thing to do would be to find a grassy knoll somewhere in the shade (probably further down in Natick or Wellesley, and bring a couple of lawn chairs and settle down for a longer stretch. If I can get the day off again, I’ll be there.

I just saw on one of the Runners World e-mail newsletters somebody quoted as saying the best way to get motivated to do a marathon is to go see one, especially a big one. I still don’t think I’m that motivated, because the distance seems so formidable for someone at my advanced age (bearing in mind well over half the runners in the Boston Marathon are over 40). But I suppose you work up to it. After doing a few 5K’s, a 10K seems doable. And after you do one of those, chances are a half-marathon seems within the realm of possibility. And after that, well then the marathon is just doing a half-marathon twice in a row, so what’s the big deal? Boston is a tough one to strive for as a first marathon, too, because, even though it’s technically a downhill course, there are a lot of uphills along the way, especially in the second half. People tend to favor marathons like Disney or Chicago that don’t have any hills at all, although it seems like running through an unfamiliar area would make it harder to gauge your progress mentally (if you’ve lived around here and you’re running down 135 in Framingham, you can be thinking “only four more towns to go!”, instead of “still 20 more miles of this?”).

A few weeks ago I joined the Rails to Trails Conservancy because they’d sent something in the mail for an introductory offer that seemed too good to pass up. When we were in Springfield last year, Scott and I rode the “Lost Bridge” trail on the eastern edge of Springfield and I was really smitten with what a nice way that was to ride a bike, no serious hills, no traffic, just a couple of road crossings, and it was actually pretty scenic for central Illinois. Around here the most significant one is the Minuteman Trail that goes through Lexington, and I’d like to try that and some of the other local ones out this year, as a way to get out on the bike and not have to worry about the usual terrain in this area, plus the cars. As it turns out, right here in Marlborough they’ve started one called the Assabet River Rail Trail, and while it’s only three-quarters of a mile right now there are big plans to extend it all the way to Acton. I ran on it this morning, and for running or biking you can’t beat being on these tree-lined, undulating trails instead of the sidewalks or the regular streets. Chloe’s just about at the point where she could do that distance, so if we get a weekend where both days are nice, we may go out there and try it out.

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Apr 25, 2003

It’s a bit worrisome that the Toronto worldcon website has seen fit to issue a disclaimer to the recent WHO warnings rather than acknowledging that a threat exists. I’m no expert, but if the World Health Organization says a place is at risk, I’m inclined to believe them. If the Worldcon were being held tomorrow, and those running it were committed to seeing it through, and all the program participants were still expected to show, I’d still want to go, although I might be less inclined to bring the family. Worldcons, being held in hermetically-sealed, freezing-cold windowless conference rooms, are spectacular in their ability to transmit germs. The fact that you typically sit for hour-plus stretches elbow to elbow with your fellow sf brethren, most of whom would rather be reading than taking a shower or washing their hands, only makes it worse. So to just brush off the warnings and expect people to blissfully go to a city where a health threat exists and submit themselves to those conditions is, in my opinion, shortsighted. How can they declare that Toronto is not only safe now but will be safe in August? Sounds reminiscent of the Iraqi Information Minister’s assertions that there were no American tanks in Baghdad. The Worldcon is four months away, and these kind of infections supposedly spread exponentially, such that what may seem to be a handful of isolated cases today could be an epidemic by then. Science fiction fans are generally a paranoid, distrustful lot, so my prediction would be that unless this whole SARS thing blows over in the next couple of months or so it will significantly impact the attendance at the Worldcon. And if it’s still seen as a legitimate threat by the WHO come late August, the whole thing may be in the crapper. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I also hope the Worldcon committee is looking into Plan B, or at least acknowledging the fact that this could be the Worldcon that wasn’t.

I went back and found my predictions for the Hugo nominees and it turns out I did pick “The Scar” as a shoo-in along with Swanwick, and was less certain about “Years of Rice and Salt” (since its not really science fiction, although that’s my own prejudice and doesn’t seem to have much bearing on nominees in general). Trying to order the Di Filippo story from PS Publishing, see how long that takes to come in, assuming they still have it. I’m less motivated these last couple of years than I was previously to seek out these books in hardcover if there’s a strong possibility that I won’t be able to read them before the voting deadline (I still haven’t read “Blue Mars”, for instance). “Years of Rice and Salt” doesn’t come out in paperback for a while, and “The Scar” will only be in trade, but the others are all already in paperback, which is unusual. First I have to get through “Vanity Fair”, which may take the rest of my life.

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Apr 24, 2003

So the Hugo nominees are out, and there are a couple of surprises, I suppose. In the novel category, Robert Sawyer’s “Hominids” gets a nomination, although it wasn’t on the Locus recommended list. Sawyer’s books are always readable, and I discovered him by way of his first Hugo nomination for “The Terminal Experiment” several years ago and was pleasantly surprised at his page-turning style, which is all too rare in sf these days. Although he’s dabbled in space opera like “Starplex”, which I also liked, he seems to be more at home in molecular biology and anthropology. I actually read three-quarters of “Hominids” while it was serialized in Analog, but never got around to reading the fourth part. It’s a testament to Sawyer that I still remember a fair amount of the story and plot now, over a year later, since usually I forget the whole thing as soon as I put the finished book on the shelf. Don’t know why Locus didn’t recommend it (they didn’t recommend the last one either, if memory serves), but it seems a reasonable choice.

The books I thought of as most likely nominees are otherwise all there, and I’ve got the previous posts here to prove it. I don’t think I mentioned “The Scar”, but given the showing of “Perdido Street Station” I’m not surprised this would get on the list, and I would like to read that more than the latest 700-page slog through Brin or Robinson. I’ve never read a Swanwick novel, but it would have to be better than his short stories, since at that length there would need to be some semblance of plot presumably.

The novella category includes a couple of surprises, not because they’re inferior stories but because of where they were published. Paul di Filippo is long overdue to get a Hugo nomination, but this small press story is going to be hard to find unless somebody posts it online. I’m probably more surprised than I should be that Neil Gaiman gets one for “Coraline”, which is really a YA story, but it seems Gaiman has arrived in the sf world after years being known mostly to comics readers, and anyone that get accollades within sf, fantasy and horror circles for the same book is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Publishers will be tripping over each other to get him. I would have thought that Kessel’s “Stories For Men” would have gotten a nomination based on its notoriety, and its interesting that a couple of the other nominees are relative unknowns. “Breathmoss” is supposed to be the most fabulous thing Ian MacLeod has ever done, so I’m particularly psyched for that one. This category is always my favorite, and this time I get to look forward to reading those stories which I otherwise wouldn’t have time for.

Of the combined 10 novelette and short story nominations, three go to Swanwick, and I suppose he could win both categories plus best novel the way people gush over him, but I haven’t read any of them yet so I shouldn’t leap to judgment. I would most like to read the Charles Stross and Molly Gloss entries, plus Geoff Landis who is always entertaining and thought-provoking in a variety of settings (this story is the only short fiction nominee that didn’t make the Locus list, but two other stories of his did), and Maureen McHugh should be worth a read too, although she hasn’t written much short fiction recently on a par with her early stuff. A Le Guin story is always an enigma, you never know if it’s going to amount to anything or not, sometimes not even after you read it, but last year’s was a real snoozer so let’s hope for more this time. Don’t know anything about Gregory Frost or Jeffrey Ford.

All in all, seems like a good sampling. Don’t know if I’ll make it through the novel nominees, but I should be able to do the short stuff. And I’ve already seen all five movie nominees, so that’s one category I can vote for no matter what.

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Apr 23, 2003

Oops, missed a week. A week? Well, I took a few days off while Mom came to visit, and with her around I can’t very well spend my free time staring at the computer screen, even if I don’t have to use the one in the guest room to update this any more. Had a good visit though, didn’t do too much since it was Easter weekend and we were hosting the event, so it took a couple of days to prepare everything. Then Monday afternoon Lee & Nancy Kevin and their kids came by at the end of their swing through the Boston area and spent the night at our house, so that meant more entertaining and more cooking. The weather was cooperative, so the kids could play outside both on Easter and on Monday, which made it easier on the adults to get some visiting in. Hadn’t seen the Kevins in almost two years, an unusually long stretch of time for them, but they still looked the same and the kids did well together, although of course it took a while for Justin to warm up to sharing anything.

Also got to see the Boston Marathon for the first time in my near-18 year residency in the Boston area. Seems like, working for banks and all, I’ve always had to work on that day, and even when I was downtown never got over to Copley to see the finish, which of course is mobbed anyway. So we drove over to downtown Framingham, watched maybe a third of the runners go by, then left, which was all I really needed to do. If I can do it again next year I might be a bit more organized about it, but its one of those things that it seems like you should witness if you live around here, and my own interest in running makes it more significant. I still have no illusions about ever running a marathon myself (although the majority of participants are over 40), and I’m not sure Boston would be my first pick anyway, but I can see what drives so many other people to do it. I keep telling Scott he should do it, but the qualifying times are so low he’d need to join a team and raise money and get in that way instead.

Otherwise just did some shopping and eating out and the aforementioned Easter dinner cooking, plus grilling up a mess of food for the Kevins, since Lee always assembles some feast from whatever he finds in the fridge every time we’re at their house (usually for lunch). They offered to reciprocate and have us sleep on their floors some time, but I’m not sure if we’ll make it down there this year or not.

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Apr 16, 2003

Plans are underway for the various comings and goings this summer and into September, and the landscape is starting to finally take shape after a lot of dawdling over the winter around Scott and Shelley’s wedding. Finally they hit upon a date (Sept 6) and a place (Maui), so I’m off to Hawaii for a week! That should be fun, as a) Beth and the kids aren’t coming, b) Jill & Bob will be there, as of course will Mom and the aforementioned bride and groom. The Lemke’s are bringing their kids, which will make them less fun, but it should still be ok. In fact, we’re there two days longer than the newlyweds, since they’re off to Kauai the day after the wedding, and our frequent flyer miles limited our choices on when to come back. Should be a blast, but I can’t talk about it in front of Beth!

Just prior to that the family and I are driving to Toronto for the Worldcon on Labor Day weekend. Hope to take in Niagara Falls on the way there and be able to do most of Toronto. The Philadelphia Worldcon two years ago turned out to be a fun vacation for everyone, so we’re hoping that going north of the border will yield similar results this year, since next year it’s in Boston and that’s not quite the same thing.

Backing up a couple more months, I’ve just this minute made reservations for the annual pilgrimage to Chicago, which will be around the fourth of July week. Didn’t have any specific weeks to center the trip around this year, so the 4th is kind of the default, what with the fireworks and Taste of Chicago and all. Hope to get down to South Bend to see the Stonehills, too. And dare I hope for a glimpse of the elusive Rebstocks?

So late June is still a ways off, don’t have anything lined up prior to that for a weekend or anything, although there’s no shortage of contenders, including the Housatonic bike race in mid-May and Wizard World East the weekend after Memorial Day. Don’t know if we’ll do either, but it would be nice to get away for a couple of days and try out the new minivan on the hard-road. Beth is going to take the kids to Storyland in mid-June, just after school is out, so there’s a vacation there for everybody. Hope the weather cooperates!

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