Sign up for my newsletter to be among the first to learn of upcoming titles!

[links] Link salad bumbles into a faraway weekend

Jade — A middling review of the French edition of my novel Green.

The Jay Wake Book is Complete — Hooray for Sandra Tayler, hero of the revolution!

Classic TV show maps – in picturesAt first the arrangements seem random, but with Monty Python’s Flying Circus across the road from Fawlty Towers, and The Killing adjacent to The Bridge (and The Tunnel), this street map for TV addicts includes more than 700 television shows, linked by a multifarious set of connections. (Thanks to AH.)

What makes creativity tick?While some believe creativity is spontaneous, Michigan State University neuroscientist Jeremy Gray suspects there’s a lot of hard work going on in the brain even when the proverbial light bulb going off feels effortless. Like hell creativity is spontaneous. I mean, of course it can be, but any working creative professional can tell you that there’s a lot of discipline, structure and work involved. As a society, we have such odd notions about writers and artists. (Via David Goldman.)

100 Diagrams That Changed the WorldA visual history of human sensemaking, from cave paintings to the world wide web. (Via Lisa Costello.)

10 of the world’s most scenic cemeteries — A subject of some personal interest to me lately.

Sick mum ‘belittled’ by Air New Zealand — Wow, I thought Air New Zealand had treated me poorly, but this is just depraved. And an update here; apparently the airline has apologized, but the horribly discriminatory policy did and does exist, so it obviously seemed like a good idea to Air New Zealand right up until they were publicly embarrassed in the media. (Via [info]danjite.)

13 Horrifying Ways to Die (If You’re an Arthropod) — Fascinatingly weird images and story, but trigger warning if you’re icked out by insects, spiders, or nature red of tooth and claw. (Thanks, I think, to [info]willyumtx.)

A partial eclipse will bring a strange sunrise SundaySunday morning, everyone on or near the Eastern Seaboard has a rare chance to watch an eerie celestial spectacle at sunrise. The sun will come up over the east horizon while in a partial solar eclipse. Instead of a golden ball, the sun will be a weird, upside-down thick crescent with, as seen from New England, a big bite missing from its lower right. That is, it will if the weather permits. I saw the total eclipse in 1991 with a completely clear sky. It was amazing.

Les Johnson: Big Projects and Deep Time

Slow-moving zombie technologies that refuse to dieJust when you think they’re obsolete, they rise from your desk and bite.

Climate Change Seen Posing Risk to Food Supplies — Another day, another liberal lie. Thank God for Rush Limbaugh and the Republican party, or we might actually have to worry about this stuff.

What’s the greatest threat to economic growth? It’s climate change. — Amazing, the lengths liberals will go to for their hoax. Even to maybe crashing the world economy.

Another Obamacare horror story debunked — Huh. A conservative talking point that turns out not to be true. Who could possibly imagine a Republican bearing false witness about healthcare? (Via Davis Goldman.)

SecDef orders 9 rogue red-state National Guards to recognize spouses of gay US troops — Conservatives just can’t help themselves. They have to hurt somebody to feel good. I’m only amazed that there’s meaningful pushback on this particular bit of Republican bigotry.

Neo-Bircher apocalyptic politics harms the people who embrace itOur politics is hobbled by a determined, motivated, vindictive bloc of voters driven by fear, ignorance and resentment of the Other. That’s a problem for all of us and it’s a big reason why we can’t have nice things. It does real harm and causes real pain to those it demonizes and targets — usually vulnerable outsiders and poor people. Yes, this. They’re called conservatives.

?otD: Who are you helping today?

Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 6.25 hours (solid)
Body movement: n/a (traveling)
Weight: n/a (traveling)
Number of FEMA troops on my block forcing children to learn critical thinking skills: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[links] Link salad looks to the West

44 out of 72 of the world’s tallest buildings are cheating — Vanity height? Really? (Via Daily Idioms, Annotated.)

11 Terrific Online Video Sites That Aren’t Netflix, Hulu, or iTunes — (Thanks to [info]lillypond, a/k/a my sister.)

Motorized Bar Stool Was “Not Road-Legal,” Say Police

Earth Had Oxygen Much Earlier Than Thought

Fish with oldest known ‘face’ may reshuffle evolutionary family tree

Thousands of Dino Tracks Found in Alaska

Ant drinking from a raindrop — Wow. (Via David Goldman.)

The Twisted Trees of Slope Point — Wow. (Via Lisa Costello.)

Box — Some pretty astonishing art on video. (Via Ellen Eades.)

Why Today’s Inventors Need to Read More Science FictionMIT researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner argue that the mind-bending worlds of authors such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clarke can help us not just come up with ideas for new gadgets, but anticipate their consequences. Also, water is wet. I’m glad people in the real world are seeing this. (Via both AH and [info]threeoutside.)

First computer made of carbon nanotubes is unveiled

What Apple’s M7 Motion-Sensing Chip Could Do Apple’s always-on motion-sensing M7 chip points the way to an era of mobile gesture-recognition and “ambient intelligence.”

Somebody Stole 7 Milliseconds From the Federal Reserve — This is a big deal. And weird as heck. (Via [info]danjite.)

H.W. Bush witnesses same-sex marriage — Who knew Reagan’s vice president and the father of the sainted Dubya was also a Kenyan Muslim socialist out to destroy America? Too bad he didn’t show any of this compassionate and social awareness any time in the last thirty years, when it might have made a fucking difference.

Christian history, and other oxymoronsThe press’s acceptance of the dishonest self-label “Christian” for this bunch of loons has a bad impact on religion as well as on politics. Welcome to conservative America. Here’s your tinfoil hat and your Republican Jesus cross. Pay no attention to that New Testament pinko with all his talk of helping the poor and giving away your worldly possessions. (Via Slacktivist Fred Clark.)

My medical tourism days may be over, thanks to Obamacare — Another wretched Obamacare victim benefits from Kenyan Muslim socialism. Where are the patriotic Americans who can stop this national nightmare of widespread, affordable access to healthcare?

Why Ted Cruz Should sit down and Shut Up: Countries with Social Safety Net HappiestIn a performance that the rest of the world could not even comprehend, a wealthy, Ivy League-educated Texan talked until he was blue in the face to prevent poor children from seeing a doctor. Welcome to conservative America, where punishing the less fortunate is a patriotic, Christian value.

Subsidizing Farmers But Not the Poor Still EvilI will concede that there is a moral principle at work here in the right-wing position. The principle is that people who have lots of money work harder and are more deserving than people who have very little of it, and it’s wrong for the government to support the latter at the expense of the former.

Colorado Lawmaker: Democrats Using ‘Mind Control’ to Make People Accept ‘Homosexual Marriage’ — The conservative “mind” is a wonder to behold. This is mainstream Republican thought. There simply is no equivalent to this kind of toxic idiocy in what passes for the left in America, at least outside the odd fringes.

Top Nevada GOPer Brags 2014 Will Be ‘A Great Year For Republicans’ Because Minorities Won’t Vote — A bit of unusual honesty from a Republican. They can’t win on their own merits, so they have to pray for the electorate to stay home.

?otD: Is your spirit crying for leaving?

Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 7.5 hours (solid)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Weight: 242.4
Number of FEMA troops on my block violating religious freedom by treating LGBTQ people like human beings: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[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 [info]danjite and [info]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 [info]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.

[travel] New Zealand notes

New Zealand is a wonderful place. I highly recommend it as a travel destination to anyone who can scrape together the coin and bank the time for the trip. Oddly, it reminds me somewhat of Oregon, and vice versa.

But a few trip notes are in order.


Forget about it. You won’t find much, and what you will find is metered at very high prices with poor performance. Feel free to take out a second mortgage to pay for the international data roaming charges on your cell phone if you prefer. Or just go mostly-to-fully off the grid while you’re there.


The country is full of clean, well-kept bathrooms which are available at almost every stop you will ever make. They universally include a toilet brush, which is important when you live a toilet-based lifestyle like me, and wish to be a polite guest. However, every single bathroom in the country is unheated and apparently uninsulated. Most of them are cold enough to hang meat, or serve as an overflow morgue should a pandemic strike the country. I think there must be a law mandating that bathrooms be below a certain temperature, possibly to inhibit bacterial growth. This means that if you spend a lot of time in bathrooms, as I do, your odds of contracting a respiratory infection from lengthy sitting about in the frigid air are quite high, and your odds of fighting it off once the infection sets in are virtually nil.

Customer Service

New Zealanders are almost without exception pleasant, genial and quite happy to see you (and your tourist dollars, I suppose, but I was never once made to feel like a mark). They are however somewhat vague on the concept of customer service or operational efficiency. So while everything happens eventually, and usually with a fair amount of good will and bright demeanor, it doesn’t always happen when and how you might wish. This ranges from restaurant ordering to hotel check-ins to purchasing things in shops. Be patient, it will all happen.

Air New Zealand

Just don’t. Not if you can possibly avoid them. Air New Zealand is an utter disaster from the traveler’s perspective. Their in-flight equipment and service was good-to-excellent, but their on-the-ground customer service would shame a failing hamburger stand in Zimbabwe. Broken Web sites, inconsistent fare quotes, third party contract staffing at airport desks with no ability or authority to help a traveler with a problem, weirdly strict domestic travel rules with no exceptions or workarounds. Basically, they have no capacity to handle exception management. Air travel is made of exception management. But that’s not the Air New Zealand way. It’s that genially vague customer service ethic gone utterly toxic. (I’ll post details about these issues soon.)

Everything else about the country was excellent. The food, the people, the landscape, the cities, the attractions. It was like being assaulted by natural wonder at every turn.

Go, spend lots of time there. You’ll never have a bad meal, and never meet a grouchy Kiwi. Just take note of the above to avoid disappointment.

[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 [info]danjite and [info]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:


[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 [info]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.





[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.


[links] Link salad remembers

The Evolutionary Case for Great FictionMight reading literature help with species survival? (Via AH.)

Once-lost Star Wars-related short to screen for the first time in 33 yearsHow a college script debuted before Empire, went MIA, and revived as Jedi hits 30.

U.S. cancer-care delivery is ‘in crisis’: reportCancer treatment has grown so complex, many U.S. doctors can’t keep up with new information and are offering incorrect treatment, failing to explain options and leaving patients to coordinate their own care, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences.

Testicle size ‘link to father role’A link between the size of a father’s testicles and how active he is in bringing up his children has been suggested by scientists. Sounds kind of nuts to me.

Lab-Grown Model BrainsThree-dimensional tissues called “cerebral organoids” can model the earliest stages of brain development. Wow. (Via Daily Idioms, Annotated.)

What is it like living on Earth after living in space? — (Thanks to David Goldman.)

Distant ruinsScientists used to scan the skies for messages from alien civilisations. Now they go looking for their ruins.

Meteorite Brought Surprising Ingredient for Life to Earth In 2012

Life Found in Mud Beneath Ice-Covered Antarctic Lake

Ditto Boys — Wow. The very creepy end of Christianism. (Via Slacktivist Fred Clark.)

What have we learned? — Charlie Stross on 9/11.

Colorado Lawmakers Ousted in Recall Vote Over Gun Law — Because your guns are always more important than everyone else’s safety. Ask any conservative: 30,000 deaths of other people every year is a small price to pay for you to own hardware.

Drop in support for police carrying guns — Why, New Zealand must be a crime-riddled hell! How can they possibly exist in peace, freedom and safety without guns everywhere? (Via [info]danjite.)

Qotd?: Where were you that day?

Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo brain)
Hours slept: 6.25 hours (solid)
Body movement: 30 minutes (stationary bike)
Weight: 243.4
Number of FEMA troops on my block closing golf courses for Agenda 21: 0
Currently reading: n/a (chemo brain)

[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. [info]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.





[personal] Digging out from under Worldcon

Yesterday we laid low, mostly. A high school friend whom I have not seen since the late 1980s came to visit with her partner, so that was a nice lunch at Pacific Pie Company then an afternoon’s conversation. Otherwise it was peace and quiet around Nuevo Rancho Lake.

Today I have a medical appointment, lunch with Dad, and another visiting friend this afternoon. Over the next few days I’ll be digging out from under the accumulated paper and electronic correspondence, including another series of financial and legal issues connected to the ongoing estate planning efforts. Hopefully in the next day or two regular blogging will resume, and I can continue posting the New Zealand photo sets, plus the San Diego Comic Con photo sets.

Do good, be well.