[friends] A fine visit just concluding
The delightful and talented elisem has been visiting Nuevo Rancho Lake since Saturday. Sadly, she leaves today. It’s been a lot of fun to have her here.
She has gotten to spend time with the_child and with Lisa Costello. Elise also fit right in to our family fajita party on Sunday. We had hoped to go to the coast yesterday, but the remains of a Pacific typhoon have been setting rainfall records around here, so that seemed like a poor idea. The three of us adults did manage a light dinner at Veritable Quandry last night, which included three orders of duck cracklings with hoisin sauce — basically crack cocaine on a plate.
The most fun, though, has been watching Elise make shinies. She has been narrating her process, and she and I have been talking a lot about the creative process in general, via both art and writing, as well as some about death and dying. I’ve seen her make five or six pieces here, and each one has been an act of evolution and grace. An amazing privilege from a good friend.
Anyway, she is off today, as we are heading to the airport soon. It’s been great to see Elise here.
Posted: 7:10 am Tue October 01 2013 | Comments(9) |
[links] Link salad realizes that science requires our physical union
the_child makes art from my words — Media are: 1910 Remington typewriter, tissue paper, cooking oil, flame, and dirt. Wow.
11 nouns that only have a plural form — (Via the hilarious Slacktivist Fred Clark.)
Do women and men prefer different colors? — Taupe.
Water cribs in Chicago — Weird. (Via Daily Idioms, Annotated.)
Microfluidic Platform Gives Clear Look at a Crucial Step in Cancer Metastasis — (Thanks to Bruce Taylor.)
Phil and Penny Knight to OHSU: $500 million is yours for cancer research if you can match it — This is my treating hospital.
Forget premiums: A peer-to-peer network will cover you — Hmmm. (Via Ellen Eades.)
A Capella Science – Bohemian Gravity! — Oh, wow. This is both hilarious and very cool. On several levels.
The life and death of Buran, the USSR shuttle built on faulty assumptions — After concluding the US Shuttle was a weapons platform, the USSR wanted its own. This is a weird, almost melancholy article.
Seeking Vital Signs in a Lifetime Warranty — Huh.
Radical Self-Respect — Another one of those posts from Feminist Mormon Housewives that makes me sigh. Why should it have to be radical to recognize that you yourself are a human being with needs and desires? The cognitive dissonance that faith brings to some people would be intolerable to me.
The Evangelical Orphan Boom — Given the way American Evangelicals deliberately miseducate their children, and stunt their intellectual growth, I have trouble seeing any of this as a good thing, even before the Christianist abuses documented in this article are taken into account.
Creationism and Religious Freedom — An interesting essay, but I will continue to insist by way of response that religious freedom does not require willful ignorance. Rather, that is a social and political choice made by conservative American Christians, which causes lasting harm to their children, and to everyone else’s when one sect imposes its values on public education. (Via Slacktivist Fred Clark.)
Cantaloupe vs. al-Qaeda: What’s More Dangerous? — We have more to fear from contaminated cantaloupe than from al-Qaeda, yet the United States spends $75 billion per year spread across 15 intelligence agencies in a scattershot attempt to prevent terrorism, illegally spying on its own citizens in the process. By comparison, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is struggling to secure $1.1 billion in the 2014 federal budget for its food inspection program, while tougher food processing and inspection regulations passed in 2011 are held up by agribusiness lobbying in Congress. (Via David Goldman.)
Honoring Navy Yard Victims, Obama Asks: ‘Do We Care Enough’ to Change? — Clearly not. As a society, we have decided emphatically that the deaths of 30,000 other people every year is a small price to pay for the personal illusion of safety clung to by gun owners. Anyone who joins the NRA or votes Republican is stating this in no uncertain terms with their dollars and their support.
Bruce Schneier: NSA Spying Is Making Us Less Safe — The security researcher Bruce Schneier, who is now helping the Guardian newspaper review Snowden documents, suggests that more revelations are on the way.
?otD: Iron Sky much?
Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 6.25 hours (solid)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Number of FEMA troops on my block violating religious freedom by treating LGBTQ people like human beings: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)
Posted: 6:38 am Mon September 23 2013 | Comments(1) |
[travel] Why the flights to New Zealand were so messed up
We left our house about 4 pm on Tuesday, July 30th. Traffic was terrible getting to the airport, and I began to worry about timely check-in, except I discovered via FlightTrack that our flight was delayed. When we got to the airport in Portland, then line to reach the counter was incredibly slow. This was due to the previous San Francisco flight being cancelled, and thus everyone having a problem requiring special handling. In this day and age of low staffing levels and machine check-in, exception handling becomes a disaster for both the airlines and their passengers.
We were essentially the third party in the check-in line, and yet as people at the counter were being helped, the United Airlines agents kept disappearing. We had arrived around shift change, and they were going off one by one. When we finally did get helped, there were two agents left, and the line behind us had grown enormous.
It turned out that San Francisco’s airport was on a 120-180 minute air traffic delay due to runway slowdown caused by a combination of heavy fog and smoke from forest fires in southern Oregon. However, long haul and trans-Pacific flights were not on the same delay. This meant our delayed connection would arrive after the non-delayed flight to Auckland had left.
The United agent spent twenty or thirty minutes going through all this with me. The next day’s flight was full due to the number of people who’d missed connections that day. We would have to come back two days later. Even then, if the fog and fires were continuing, we might be right back in the same situation. We looked at routing through Los Angeles, Honolulu or Vancouver. Because of the recent Pacific typhoon, Honolulu was impossible, and seats through the other two cities were unavailable due to the overflow from the problems in San Francisco and Honolulu. They could get us to Sydney via a later flight out of San Francisco, but for some reason could not get us from Sydney to Christchurch, which was our original destination. They could get us to Sydney to Auckland.
It was either go to the wrong city 1,000 miles away that day, or come back in two days and take our chances with continuing flight delays. We took the Sydney-Auckland routing.
This is how we wound up going to Australia by accident.
This whole process took better than half an hour, and wound up tying up both available agents as the line behind us grew both enormous and irritated while no one new came back on duty at the United Airlines desk..
The change had some other implications as well. Going trans-Pacific on United instead of Air New Zealand resulted in us being seated in United Economy, which is a lower class of seat than we had on the original Air New Zealand flight. (If you’ve never flown United, they have an Economy Plus, which is reasonable economy seating with more leg room, and regular Economy, which is cattle car seating.) On arrival in San Francisco, after being wheelchair transported to our United international departure gate, I wound up buying us Economy Plus upgrades to restore the legroom we’d purchased with the original tickets. That set me back almost $600, but I figured 13 hours with our knees crammed up around our ears was going to make all three of us crazy.
Also while in San Francisco, I tried to book Air New Zealand domestic tickets from Auckland to Christchurch, to complete our routing. (Mind you, I’d already paid quite a bit of money for tickets to Christchurch with the original booking.) Unfortunately, by the time I was able to deal with this, I was on the aircraft, and could only use my iPhone. Air New Zealand’s Web site is not iPhone compatible, and kept freezing about halfway through the booking process. You might well imagine my irritation at this.
To further compound the issue, when danjite and khaybee tried to book us that same ticket from inside New Zealand after some frantic text messages from me, the pricing for an in-country booking on the exact same flight was more than double the pricing for me to book from San Francisco. I was looking ay $NZ215 per seat, they were seeing over $NZ500 per seat. Which would have been fine, except the Web site didn’t freaking work from the U.S. Air New Zealand was forcing us to buy at the higher price.
I held off.
The United Airlines flights from Portland to San Francisco and San Francisco to Sydney were fine in terms of the in-flight experience. Assuming you don’t mind spending 15+ combined hours seated in Economy class.
It got complicated in Sydney. We were transiting, so did not need to clear customs or immigration, but we did need to go to the transit desk for our Air New Zealand boarding passes. Air New Zealand does not seem to have any staff in Sydney, as everything is handled by a third party contractor. Our tickets were screwed up due to the re-route, and the counter person at the transit desk had a lot of trouble even getting us the Auckland boarding passes. When I tried to negotiate a re-route to Christchurch per my original ticket, I was told that only someone with access to the Air New Zealand booking system could help me. That included absolute no one in the Sydney airport due all the ground staff being third part contractors. There was literally no one present in the Sydney airport (at least in any way accessible to me or the counter agent) with either access to the Air New Zealand systems or authority to do anything to problem solve. Then they had trouble with our luggage routing. Then they couldn’t get my name into the system. My full legal name includes a “Jr” after the “Lake”, and this apparently causes fits to the Sydney airport computers.
Much as in San Francisco, this whole process took almost half an hour, tied up the only available Air New Zealand contract transit agent, and generated an enormous and irritated line behind us. And no matter what we tried, we couldn’t get to Christchurch. Which was the original destination we’d paid almost $6,000 to reach in the first place. I was told to call the airline’s customer service number to discuss my Christchurch routing. Except, not having an Australian capable phone (remember, we went there by accident, so I had not activated an Australian voice or data plan), I could not do so.
When we got to our gate, I used the airport Wifi to finally make my Auckland-Christchurch booking. I spent about $NZ650 to do this, but it at least got us to our destination, about eight hours later than intended, at the overseas price rather than the doubled domestic price.
Combined with the United seat upgrades, I was now out $1,200 in unplanned expenses.
Once again, the in flight experience was very nice. Much better than any U.S. airline I’ve flown, ever.
On arrival in Auckland, it got weird again. We came in at the international terminal. I’d requested a wheelchair assist which came in the form of a very pleasant young man named Chris. We got through immigration just fine, eventually collected our bags, but got hung up in biocontrol. Lisa Costello had a pair of hiking boots we hadn’t properly declared on the forms. This got us pulled aside by a polite and methodical Detective Inspector for an interview and the shoes being taken away for processing and decontamination. Lisa is now in the New Zealand biocontrol database as an offender and was sternly warned that a repeated offense would have substantial penalties. Apparently, the fact that we were let go without paying a large fine was an act of generosity on the part of the Detective Inspector.
All of this, however, soaked up an immense amount of time. I was pretty worried about making the connection. This is especially true in Auckland, where the international terminal is completely separate, and due to the nature of our bookings, we couldn’t just pass our bags through the transit area and continue on. Instead, we would have to exit the international terminal, proceed to the domestic terminal and check in from scratch.
No disabled access was available between the terminals, my wheelchair aide could not take me there, and the intraterminal shuttle had been discontinued. This is kind of a problem. Lisa Costello and the_child took the luggage on trolleys and walked the ten or fifteen minutes. I waited for the city bus, which eventually came, then dropped me at the other terminal.
Domestic check-in was a nightmare.
Air New Zealand operates on a very low-service model, even more stripped down than US airlines. This again means if exception handling is required, too bad for the passenger. We were nothing but one giant exception.
First of all, the check in machines would have nothing to do with us. I’m not sure if this was the recency of the booking or our US passports or what. There was only one person at the service counter, and a line of about twenty young women — a volleyball team, I think — was waiting there. At that point, we had less then an hour to make our flight. The women were very nice to let us cut in front of them.
Our local tickets were not much of a problem, though my “Jr” seemed to give them more issues, but our luggage was. When we’d originally booked and packed, we had an international ticket all the way through to Christchurch. The international weight limit is 23 kg per bag. That’s what we packed for. The New Zealand domestic weight limit is 20 kg per bag. Absolutely no exceptions. No option to pay overweight fees. Because this was a separate booking, due to the earlier in-flight issues, we were stuck with the 20 kg limit. This involved some significant and urgent repacking. The reasons we’d arrived with a 23 kg bag were happily irrelevant to the Air New Zealand counter rep.
Then either we were given the wrong instructions for delivering the baggage to the carousel, or we misunderstood them. We dragged our bags over to the bag checker, but were not in proper form with the tags. They were rather brisk with us, then ostentatiously began a long personal conversation with another employee while we were trying to ask for help in getting things right. Eventually we go sorted despite the passive-aggressive rudeness of the Air New Zealand baggage handler, and trundled off to our flight.
Again, the in-flight experience and cabin service were fine. Arrival at Christchurch was fine. But the whole trip experience…?
Most expensive tickets I’ve ever bought. $1,200 extra in costs along the way. Abominable customer service from Air New Zealand and poor customer service from United Airlines. Terrible airport systems designs that are profoundly punitive to anyone with an issue that doesn’t fall neatly inside the anticipated workflow. Eight hours late with an accidental trip to Australia.
All in all, the worst flight experience I’ve had in many, many years. Neither United Airlines nor Air New Zealand is responsible for the San Francisco flight delays, but all the issues and expense that flowed out of that problem could have been handled much, much more gracefully than they were.
I will never, ever fly Air New Zealand again, and strongly urge that anyone considering a trip on that airline reconsider any other possible option.
Posted: 7:29 am Thu September 19 2013 | Comments(11) |
[cancer] CT scan results (good as it gets these days)
Yesterday afternoon, I heard from my medical oncologist about that morning’s CT scan. Their comments were:
“Similar findings from the last CT, the liver and peritoneal lesion are improved or stable, the lungs are a bit larger. Nothing new that I can tell. We can continue on with therapy, and can discuss more in person.”
Some of the tumors in the lungs are actually a bit smaller, if I’m reading the CT report correctly. Everything else is stable or shrinking.
What I take away from this is overall continued mild improvement. This is significant because lately my tolerance for Regorafenib has also improved. We were concerned that might mean that drug effectiveness was reducing. Apparently not, at least at this time. We will be discussing with the oncologist today.
I am so profoundly relieved. Lisa Costello is profoundly relieved. the_child, her mother, my parents, my siblings, my friends, everyone is profoundly relieved.
Two more months of life. For all that they are life-giving, these increments are deadly to my morale.
Posted: 7:26 am Wed September 18 2013 | Comments(69) |
[personal] Home, laying low
A lot of driving and sunlight yesterday. Lezli Robyn got some fabulous photos, including the distressed elk that was looking to us for help. When she posts, I’ll link or repost. Today, she is off to Portland Saturday Market with the_child
I am home with Lisa Costello, laying low.
Posted: 9:39 am Sun September 15 2013 | Comments(4) |
[travel|photos] New Zealand travelog recap – our last day in Auckland
On August 14th, we packed up our hotel room in Auckland and fooled around town a little before heading for the airport. It was a glorious, difficult trip, organized and given to us as a gift by danjite and khaybee. We had peak experiences and dreadful moments, which I suppose is true of any trip.
In the next few days I’ll post some overall observations about traveling in New Zealand, plus a full accounting of the messy business that was our trip out there. For the moment, a few last photos:
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Posted: 9:29 am Fri September 13 2013 | Comments(7) |
[travel|photos] New Zealand travelog recap – Ruakuri Cave and Waitomo Glowworm Caves
On August 13th, we drove from Hamilton to Waitomo, then on to Auckland.
First we went to Ruakuri Cave. Underground tour took about two hours, and I did it in a wheelchair propelled by the indefatigable danjite. It was a peculiar thing, wonderful but also odd. Technically the cave was wheelchair accessible, but in practice that meant that the wheels were sometimes scraping limestone on both sides.
Then we visited the Glowworm Caves, which is a boat trip underground. Also cool and strange but difficult to photograph.
We did our best.
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Posted: 7:24 am Thu September 12 2013 | Comments(1) |
[travel|photos] New Zealand travelog recap – Hobbiton
On August 12th, we drove from Rotorua to Hamilton. Along the way we stopped at Matamata, NZ to visit Hobbiton.
On rebuilding the old Lord of the Rings sets for shooting The Hobbit, New Line Cinema had them created in durable materials, and they remain behind fully dressed for the tours. It was a fascinating walk through the movie.
So we got a tour…
First, the visitor’s center in Matamata.
Then the visitor’s center at the site. We drove there, and took a bus onward.
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Posted: 7:44 am Wed September 11 2013 | Comments(17) |
[personal] Visiting and tourism here at home
Yesterday, I picked up Lezli Robyn at the airport. She’s here to visit us in the scenic Pacific Northwest. Lisa Costello, the_child and I took her out for Aussie tucker last night at Pacific Pie Company. Today stuff and things around town, then tomorrow we are off to the Oregon coast. Yay visiting friends!
Posted: 7:42 am Wed September 11 2013 | Comments(9) |
[travel|photos] New Zealand travelog recap – Waiotapu geothermal park and Huka Falls
On August 11th, still in Rotorua, we went back out to Waiotapu to see the geothermal park. I mostly experienced this from a wheelchair, due to my mobility issues, in a notably wheelchair-unfriendly environment. danjite is a true hero for pushing, pulling, grunting and sweating to get me through. After the park, we headed over to Huka Falls for some shots, then home again to our hotel in Rotorua,
The geothermal park is very much like Yellowstone — a major hotspot over a very large volcanic formation, where the ground occasionally just opens up in fissures of boiling mud and steam. This lends a certain je ne sais quoi to wandering about the place.
First we visited the Lady Knox geyser. The story of how this was discovered is fairly hilarious, at least as the guide recounted it to us.
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Posted: 8:29 am Tue September 10 2013 | Comments(7) |
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