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Shannon A.
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25th-Sep-2016 11:48 am - From Canada to Fremont
I've mostly been able to relax since I got back from Canada.

OK, that's not strictly true, as I worked four days last week and also have written six D&D histories since I've gotten back (3 on BART, 3 in Alvarado Park). But that's "relaxation" for me.

Wednesday was the first morning I didn't wake up itching as my antihistamines wore off. My rash is pretty much gone at this point (and I used up the last of my Canadian antihistamines this morning, so good timing.)

My dad and Mary are currently out from Hawaii. They actually came out the same day I returned from Canada, arriving in the Bay Area just a few hours after I did. We don't see a lot of them when they're visiting, because they stay with Melody and Jared, with my dad helping around the house and them both seeing friends. But we usually get together and visit at least once while they're out here, and that was on Wednesday.

It was my dad's birthday. After lunch at home, Kimberly and I took BART down to Fremont and met my dad, Mary, and Melody (Jared worked the day). The plan was to go out for a hike. Since K. still isn't up to hills, Melody and I figured out that the Quarry Lakes Regional Park would be a good choice.

This is a bunch of lakes just past the 'burb of Niles. I'm guessing they used to be quarries, but that's just speculation. (Actually, the web site confirms: "Gravel taken from the banks of Alameda Creek was used in the construction of the transcontinental railroad's western section.")

Anywho, it was a nice walk around a park that I hadn't visited before. I've actually biked a bit of Alameda Creek on the opposite side, but I'd never walked the northward side or around the quarry lakes beyond. It was pleasant, California terrain. Lots of brown brush, but quite pleasant lakes (though the path was always further than the lakes than I would have hoped). We walked around the majority of the lakes, which was a pretty big distance. My FitBit records 2 hours of walking and over 10,000 steps, which would have been nearly 5 miles. Looking at my records, I can tell that I was walking slower than normal because only 76/128 minutes were up in the fat burning zone.

There was a cross-country meet going on while we were there, with many girls running around us. One team (the red team) was clearly doing much better than the other.

We also saw a SNAKE on the trail. Just a small little thing. It wouldn't have bothered me if Kimberly hadn't shouted about it, then for a moment I couldn't figure out where it was, so I could only envision a huge rattler pouncing on us. I screamed like a little girl.

Jared joined us afterward and we had dinner at an Indian restaurant in Newark that was shockingly empty. It was good food, and surprisingly my second Indian food in a week (the previous being in Canada!).

Overall, a nice day, good seeing family and hanging out. It was also the exact antidote that I needed after my exhausting week in Canada, nicely breaking up my week back.
17th-Sep-2016 10:45 pm - Kelowna, Day Seven: Home at Last
Innovation comes from seeing two unacceptable choices, and finding the third way.

Many of us were leaving on the 10.40am flight from Kelowna to Vancouver. But everyone I talked to wanted to head to the airport around 9am. Though I suspected it would be plenty of time for the size of the airport, I was uncomfortable, in part because I knew nothing about Saturday morning traffic conditions in Kelowna or the length of lines for the carriers or for security at the airport.

Choice one was to wait around until 9am and stress about it the whole time.

Choice two was to take a cab of my own, wasting about $40C. Blockstream said to go ahead and do that, but then I would have waited around at the airport feeling bad about a totally unnecessary expense.

So, choice three: take the bus up to the college, which was a straight shot and pretty fast and then either catch a transfer bus or else walk the 2km to the airport.

It was easy to get out to the main bus transfer station in Kelowna, which I'd seen on one of my early morning walks. But from there, there were a few surprises.

  • It started to rain
  • I discovered my hiking shoes are no longer waterproof.
  • I was reminded how often there are no sidewalks in Kelowna.

In other words, it was a little more adventurous than planned, and my socks got a bit wet on the way, but I also managed to get some steps (2+ miles total by the time I sat down at my gate), and I managed to accomplish my goal of arriving early enough to feel comfortable without feeling bad about wasting money, because the bus ride was a big $2.50C.

It turned out that check-in and security at Kelowna International Airport were total non-issues … but how was I to know that, never having checked in there before?

Overall, Kelowna was a pleasant, modern airport. Not very large, but I compare it to Lihue. They both have 5-8 gates or so, but the Kelowna airport had a big holding room that all the gates ran off of and a bit of craziness where a high-tech system actually dynamically linked up check-in desks with gates. Not that it necessarily worked well. There were three different "Gates 6s" while we sat there waiting for our Gate 6 flight, and they couldn't get the the signs switched from the previous flight to ours; the desk clerk simply said that the signs at Kelowna sucked.

(In contrast, Lihue is quite rustic.)

In any case, g'bye Kelowna, I suspect I won't see you again.

Vancouver was the flipside of the Seattle airport coming in. It was much more pleasant. Its only downside was that it was a real maze, shunting us here and there, at least once up a narrow walkway on a mezzanine that looked out over the other maze paths.

Apparently the reason was pre-clearance. We actually went through customs in Vancouver, doing our declarations and being quizzed by a very surly customs agent.

There was actually a big delay at what was our SECOND security screening for the day, just before the surly customs agent. The woman just in front of us tested positive for bomb residue. And unlike SFO where they clearly have their machines set wrong, so they go off for everyone, in Vancouver they took the bomb-residue detection very seriously. And this messed up the whole line.

But we got through that, and then we talked to the surly customs agent, and then were out.

"In America", I said, though we were still in Canada.

And they still took Canadian funny money.

By the by: seven Blockstreamers on the flight from Kelowna to Vancouver, then six from Vancouver to SFO. As several of us pointed out: not smart. One crashed plane could seriously mess up the company.

(Apparently they've talked about this more than once, but that doesn't stop it from happening; my theorem was that they need a staff member to do the reservations if they want to avoid it, else everyone will just consider their own best interests. It's some sort of prisoner's dilemma-like problem.)

Like Hawaiian Airlines, Air Canada puts the scam cart out in advance of the drinks cart, trying to underhandedly trick you into buying food while they hold the free refreshments hostage.

(I heard someone behind me turn down one of those snacks when he saw how little he got for his $3. Scam!)

I had a final lunch with Blockstreamers in Vancouver, then when we got to SFO was encouraged to Lyft home with one of them because she's just 1.5 miles away from me. (Without her I would have just stubbornly taken BART, despite the fact that it's yet another bus-bridge day on the first world's most dysfunctional subway system.)

The last trek of the day was sadly trying. Traffic was horrible all the way into Oakland, on 101, 80, and the Bridge. And a massive truck tried to kill us on the San Franciscan streets by failing to make a right turn and then just sitting, blocking us.

It took just more than an hour to get home from SFO, which I could almost have matched on BART (though not today).

But, home at last. Whew.
16th-Sep-2016 10:40 pm - Kelowna, Day Six: So Long Farewell
I woke up this morning and the back is still twinging a little bit, but clearly better. Meanwhile, the rash really definitely probably hopefully has faded from red to pink.

So hopefully both those ailments are headed in the right direction. The back was definitely less distracting over the course of the day, though the rash was still maddeningly itchy.

My original plan was to take out a bike again today. I'd been considering either riding across the bridge and up the hill on the other side or else going back to the Mission Creek Greenway and continuing on from where I left off. But with the aching back there was no way that was happening.

So instead I walked the waterfront again, like I did yesterday, but a slightly longer route than yesterday because I didn't have to head back into downtown afterward for medical needs.

It's definitely the most pleasant walk that's right here. I quite enjoyed it.

Fitbit says I walked 59 minutes, which is almost exactly as intended.

So, impressions of Kelowna.

The landscape is utterly beautiful. The city is in a basin alongside a lake, with mountains rising up to every side. It can feel a little claustrophobic, looking to every side, and seeing those hills (really) fencing you in. But it's also pretty cool to think that you could walk in any direction and go straight up a hill.

The city is a bit more urban than you'd expect for its locale or for its size. It seems to have some real big-city problems, most notably the aforementioned homeless and the major, busy highway running right through the center of town.

Its main industry seems to be lumber. The highway constantly carries logs into town and planed wood out of town. Out in the harbor there are huge circles of wood. (Why they dump them out in the Lake, I dunno.)

People out on the street are less friendly than I'd expect for a town of this size. There's an active aversion to making eye contact, and I definitely see fewer smiles on the street and hear fewer greetings.

However, the people that I've actually talked to are all extremely friendly and personable. I think the clerk at Mosaic Books was really the epitome. This was a locale on our scavenger hunt, and she already knew about it by the time we got there, so she was doing her best to help us spend precisely the $10 we were given to spend. Then, she helped us out with a number of locations and clues. And she was super nice throughout.

And that's Kelowna, BC.

The day was once more full of meetings, but everyone was very low energy, so some things didn't actually occur.

I managed to talk to the last few people I needed to talk to, as prep for writing next week.

And then the offsite was over.

Reasons this was useful to me (and presumably to Blockstream):

  • Learning who everyone was, what they did, and getting to actually meet them. By the end of the week I had somewhere in the 60-75% range competency on names. Yay!
  • Letting everyone know who I am and what I do!
  • Getting to learn more about the technologies I'll be writing about.
  • Getting to learn more of the ethos of the company, which should also be reflected in the writing.
  • Gathering information that would be harder to gather from afar, for the next writing assignments.

Overall, I was quite pleased I came, even if five and a half days of socialization was tough. And it wasn't just the day-time meetings, but the fact that socialization often went on for hours more.

Speaking of which, the final dinner was at a nice Indian restaurant, though it was also the least-Indian-staffed Indian restaurant I've ever seen. But, good food, good company, and good night.

Tomorrow it'll be back on a plane, though that trip will have a little additional stress thanks to social-cab dynamics.

You see, Blockstream reasonably says, "Try and cab pool" (because it saves money). And a number of us are leaving on the same 10.40 flight. So, we should cab pool in a couple of cabs.

Except everyone else wants to leave at about 9am, which I find borderline insane for a 10.40am flight at an airport that's 20 minutes away without traffic. Sure, I'll agree that my desire to leave at 8am is crazy early, but 9am just doesn't leave any time for mishap.

So in the morning I need to decide to go my own way, or patiently but stressfully wait.

(There was the same dilemma at the faraway dinner on Wednesday. I waited though I was quite burned out by the end, but then leaped at the first cab.)

I'm sure it'll all go fine, and I'll be on a plane in exactly 12 hours.
15th-Sep-2016 08:42 pm - Kelowna, Day Five: Rash Decisions
So, here's the problem with a five-day offsite.

The colds that just one or two people had at the start of the offsite begin circulating. An increasing number of people were coughing and sneezing as of this morning.

Also, if the environment doesn't agree with you for some reason, it'll start catching up with you. So last night I increasingly realized that my allergies were killing me, a change since I got to Kelowna consisting of head aches, fuzzy heads, and sinus pressure.

Also, burnout, of course. The intent was clearly to offset that problem with the scavenger hunt yesterday, to bring some light enjoyment to the middle of the week, but I can still see the fatigue setting in.

Oh, and I seem to have come down with a rash over night. It's not a bad rash, but it's itchy and it's all over. Except on my arms and head (mostly). So, pretty much everywhere that my clothes touch.

And, it's a total mystery. It seems most likely that it's an allergy. For example, it could be an allergy to the water I'm showering in. Or to the stanky wet beavers that I was pelted with at the scavenger hunt But, it's more likely systemic, like an allergy to a weird pollen on the Mission Creek or even to what I ate last night, which would probably be the Rainbow Roll, with all its seafood and its sriracha sauce.

Anywho, it was a little freaky to wake up, to be itching and scratching, and to finally wander into the bathroom and to see a rash all over.

Also, my lower back was hurting horribly when I woke up.

Again, it's a mystery. It might have been the bike ride yesterday, I suppose, since I leaned way over to ride that bike. But that was in the morning, and I was fine all day and quite active during the scavenger hunt. Or, it could be sitting in the chairs at the offsite all day. Or it could be I slept funny in the bed. Or it could be my kidney stone starting to move; that would really be lovely.

In any case, it was pretty bad in the morning.

Despite that I did go out for a walk this morning, though I occasionally regretted it when my back twinged bad, as it did quite a few times over the course of the day.

The walk was alongside the lake, a walk that I did coming back from Knox Mountain on Sunday, and it was quite pretty and nice. Part of the purpose was hitting a drug store on the way back. I picked up an antihistamine (for the rash and the regular allergies) and an NSAID (for the back).

The clerk asked me if I had a whatever super-value card and I smiled at the silliness of that idea, but politely told her no.

Before I headed over to the meeting rooms, I saw the menus for our food for the first time today (as opposed to just seeing the food out). I'd known one of the choices was always vegan, but I hadn't realized that the other was always ketogenic.

As one of the Brockstreamers said, it's like vegan + anti-vegan, and when you put them together you get a balanced diet (minus dairy).

The day was very trying between worry about the rash, itching of the rash, and paining of the back. (At least the other allergy symptoms didn't recur!) I probably seemed a lot more burned out than I actually am because of all that.

But, I did my best to stay on point and act like I wasn't hurting.

I got some more good info on products, which will be good for future work, and really took command of the writing that's been handed to me. The plan is to interview and otherwise take notes for everything while I'm here, then do the actual writing next week, and I'm well on the way to that, with just one talk to monitor and one interview to do tomorrow.

For the first evening, I really just kept to myself tonight. I headed out for a quiet dinner at Carl's Jr, which was also more comfort food than all the rich and fancy food I've been eating lately. Then it was back to the room where I called K. (who I'd missed for the last few nights) and have just been reading and writing since.

Alas, this probably means all the games I brought were wasted, because I was sure I could bring them out tonight, before I awoke to all those physical ailments.

Speaking of them:

The back pain was still twinging a little bit while I walked back from Carl's Jr., but was much better, and has largely faded now.

I am hoping the rash is fading too, but it's still itching, and any changes are slow enough that it's hard to see. By morning I'll probably know better, but fingers crossed.

As I was talking to Kimberly tonight, a march went by outside, chanting how they were going to "Take Back the Night".

I noticed they did it before full dark, perhaps so it would be safer.
14th-Sep-2016 10:34 pm - Kelowna, Day Four: In Search Of ....
I woke up feeling a bit sick this morning. The food here has been quite good, but also rich, greasy, and spicy. The good(?) thing was that I woke up early due to not feeling that well, and by 7.10 or so I felt up to going out.

Food thus far: garden burger; breakfast burrito; peppered chicken breast; calamari po'boy; tofu scramble and something else; another garden burger, but I put this one together myself; fish tacos and truffle fries.

Pretty sure my getting out in the mornings isn't going to offset all that food (an extra meal a day!)

Anywho, this morning I planned a bike ride, because Hotel Zed will freely lend you bikes. So I got a 7-speed Cruiser and headed out.

The bike was in surprisingly good condition. Its gears and breaks were tuned better than my bike at home, and when I was on the streets if I went hard I just moved like a demon. (The fender banged along a bit, but that was a minor annoyance.)

My goal was to head south until I hit the Mission Creek Greenway. The roads down to the Greenway were great: some pathways along the side of the road, otherwise bike lanes. Occasionally I was running right alongside the lake and could see across beaches to the water. Otherwise, it was mostly pleasant houses, though occasionally the road got busy and less residential

And I kept on going right past the Greenway. I'd gotten confused by a map that showed a smaller Wilson Creek before the larger Mission Creek, and when I got to Mission Creek it was smaller than I expected, so …

At least 1 km on (look, I'm in Canada, and using the metric system!) I decided I'd missed the crick, so I turned back, and when I got onto the path that ran alongside the nameless creek, I soon found a sign verifying I was at the right place.

The path alongside the creek was dirt with gravel on top of it, except the gravel was all clear of a few ruts where tires had regularly travelled. The biking was slightly tiring because of the dirt and the need to watch out for the gravel.

The view was beautiful. The creek would have been a river in the Bay Area. It had rocks and trees running alongside its banks. If I had an image of an iconic Canadian river, this would pretty much be it. I biked for just over 6km, before emerging into a park, which was my sign to turn back.

It was back along a different road with another fine bike lane, then through the Civic Center park and back to Hotel Zed.

An 80 minute trip according to Fitbit. Without my 10-minute detour that's about what I'd planned for.

Onward to the Blockstream offsite for the day.

I am making a real effort to sit with different folks at different tables every day. It's a good way to get to know the folks at the company, which is definitely one of the purposes of being here. But oh it's hard not to just slink into my comfort space of people I know well.

But the people I know is increasing day by day.

(This morning I sat down with several of the engineers, and so I mostly saw laptop tops.)

There were meetings and presentations.

I got started putting together notes for some new writing. (Yay.)

The afternoon was the scavenger hunt. Except it was a "Quest" game. We were divided into teams of 5-6 and had 26 clues, which asked us to go to different parts of Kelowna (or rather, which hinted at different places in Kelowna, and we had to figure them out), collecting different information, and taking pictures.

At the start, I thought we were doing horribly, because we just went rushing off without knowing where any of the places were. I wanted to figure out where stuff was, then go in order to them. Nope, we rushed. (At least I was able to direct us to the war memorial in the park before we left it.)

And we ended up doing OK, and it was a lot of fun.

Personally, I kept seeing the connections to The Amazing Race.

  • There were a few spots where we had to do activities. At one of them half of the team pelted wet beavers at the other half, who had to catch them in their hats. They were heavy beavers too, and all dirty. We catchers (I was one) managed to catch a total of one beaver, but the ref give us pity points for the beavers that landed in hats and then bounced out. There were like half a dozen of those.
  • I kept insisting people reread clues when we got to the right places. (Thanks Amazing Race.) Often we had no idea what we were doing before that.
  • We had a number of envelopes telling us to do various things and pieces of paper where we were recording clues and a single pen. They all kept getting handed back and forth, and I was sure we were going to lose one. Never again will I mock an Amazing Race team for misplacing their clue while RACING. (I will.)

At the end we sang our team song, then got to hear our points. The top two teams (of six) were separated by just 5 points: 585 to 580 (I think!).

My team had the 580. Wagh!

But we'd already said the winning team were cheaters in our song. I dunno why.

Amusingly, my Fitbit didn't track most of that as exercise. Even though there was some running!

As I said, a lot of fun.

The evening was spent at a nice restaurant. Talked with people for many hours, and got in even later tonight, at 10.30.

I would have probably been home earlier but the restaurant chosen was accidentally 4 miles away, I think due to a misunderstanding about its address. So, it was cabs there and back.

The restaurant thought we were called Brockstream.

And that was hump day here in Kelowna.

I'd been thinking about bringing out some of my board games tomorrow night, but after two late evenings I think I'll just be heading home to a quiet room if possible.
Up at 7 this morning, which is more what I intended for my wake-up. I've been sleeping very restlessly since I got to Kelowna. I had thought the lack of two cats contending for my bed space (and somewhat less contentiousL one wife) would mean better sleep, but not so far. Apparently the different bed, the different acoustics, and who knows what else are disturbing me.

This morning I'd planned to walk Mill Creek, as much as I was able. Google Maps shows it as a long greenway from Okanagan Lake to the Parkinson Recreation Park, but the local maps show it not at all.

The truth was somewhere in between. The first four or so blocks up from the Lake indeed had dirt and/or brick trails, but then it started disappearing into backyards and occasionally even going underground. I had a fun time playing find-the-creek for a few blocks more, but then finally turned back, cutting through downtown to the lakeside on the opposite side of our hotel, then walking back. It was around 3 miles all said and done: a good start to the day.

Though the landscape — with the brown and green hills surrounding a basin — reminds me of California, the neighborhoods reminded me more of Missouri. Very quiet streets, often with no sidewalks on sidewalk only on one side. Quaint old houses, but in remarkably good repair. (Three of them even had historic signs out front, talking about their construction in the 1930s, between the wars, and at least two of them were typical examples of the imaginatively named "cottage" architecture.)

You got closer to the main drag, and there were big apartment buildings, one after another, and looking like the apartments were very small. These were less quaint.

And there's a remarkable amount of construction going on in Kelowna. I think I saw four major construction projects while I was out this morning.

I'd said that the homeless problem in Kelowna didn't compare to Berkeley, and I now take that back. It's endemic. I thought a socialist state was supposed to not have these problems, but I saw dozens of homeless people out this morning while hiking around — sleeping across some of the Mill Creek paths and a bit later congregating under trees in various parks.

Most of them didn't have the predatory look of the couple in the park yesterday. But some do also look like drug users. The "needle disposal" at the exit to a park where I had to step around a homeless sleeper seems to underline the problem.

The difference between Kelowna and Berkeley is that the homeless aren't active panhandlers. I wonder if there are some laws that cause that difference.

The day itself was very busy. Lots more serious talk today, including some work I can actually help with (yay!). Afterward, I hung out for a few hours at a restaurant chatting with some developers who I'll be writing for. All around good, because it felt like getting stuff done, or at least moving toward the same.

But I was around people from about 9.30 this morning to 9 this evening, which is quite a bit for me.

Tomorrow should be a bit of relaxation; I hear there's a scavenger hunt in the afternoon.
I was up this morning at about 6.30. Darned sunlight. But I collapsed at about 10.30 last night, so no biggie.

I'd decided that I wanted to get out and about before the day's festivities began, to walk across the bridge. That's the William R. Bennett Bridge, which goes across Okanagan Lake.

The road is very busy. No surprise, it's the only west-east route in 25 miles in either direction. Which gives a good indication of how big the lake is. It's about 50 miles from north tip to south tip.

But, it's not that wide. At least not here. A plaque on the far side says this is where native tribes crossed the lake, waiting for low tide, then swimming a few hundred feet. (The bridge is between one-third and one-half a mile long.)

Anywho, it was a nice walk. To the south, the lake stretches out long and wide. To the north, Kelowna itself stretches out, and I could see it in front of Knox Mountain, which we climbed yesterday.

And it was back to the room before 8am.

My plan is for continued morning explorations, to get some peace and quiet, to earn some steps, and to rejuvenate my introvertedness at the start of the day.

The heart of the day was taken up with the beginning of the Blockstream offsite. This was mainly icebreaker stuff. An introduction to the company, a "bus stop" business exercise to determine the attitudes of people toward specific questions, blockchain pictionary, and then some breakouts for work products for the week.

The blockchain pictionary was very humorous even though I feel horribly unable to draw that sort of thing. I guessed "51% attack", "Bob", and sort of "satoshi" and successfully drew "Circle" and "Freicoin", but failed to draw "Alice".

Alice was pretty funny. She's one of the standard names used for case studies. The other is Bob. So I drew a girl and then a guy. And after that I stumbled for a while. I thought about Alice in Wonderland, but couldn't imagine drawing a smoking centipede. Maybe I could have managed a Queen of Hearts and a rabbit in a suitcoat. Or it might have looked like squiggly lines. I finally decided to draw a briefcase ("case", someone got that) and I tried a magnifying glass for study ("magnifying glass" they got, finally), but it was just a lost cause.

The particularly funny bit was that another person got up later and drew a girl and I shouted "Bob". And it was right.

I would not have managed Freicoin, but someone had earlier drawn altcoin (a circle with a slash afterward), and I just used that same symbol and kept motioning when people guessed various altcoins. Freicoin was like #6 or so. If I'd known that it was pronounced fry-coin I could have drawn the magnifying glass that earlier people had kept guessing was a pan. As was, I couldn't figure out how to draw "free" without being able to use dollar signs.

(I'm really awful at drawing. Me use words.)

The bus-stop exercise was conducted out at the park that's right across from our hotels and that was nice. Fortunately I had sun screen in my backpack after yesterday's hike without.

I'd previously noted that there were a few homeless in the park. (Nothing like certain horrible parks in Berkeley.) But they were much more aggressive, especially when we were conducting our exercise. They kept circling around the group, like predators looking to snatch away the weak (or maybe just the backpacks that were piled up). One of the staff members kept keeping himself between us and them.

There also seems to be a group of aggressive homeless just down the street, entirely blocking one of the side street sidewalks. Not entirely pleasant.

To a certain extent I'm finding my place at this off-site, which probably makes it trickier for me than for most of the attendees. I'm a contractor for Blockstream, which means I'm more part-time than part-time. I've worked with them on some major tech writing, and the results have been well received. But I've worked with three different groups doing different things.

So, between the one and the other I don't necessarily have a natural place in the Blockstream ecosystem.

To a certain extent, it doesn't matter, because I (and Blockstream) can get a lot of benefit from my presence here just by my learning as much as I can about the company and its technology. Then when someone next reaches out to me for tech writing or editing I'll be that much better informed. So for example today I learned some great details about a project I'd only been vaguely familiar with, thanks to a 15 minute overview.

And getting to know all the people will be helpful too.

But as K. could tell you (as she watches me work on various projects every night, except for the days when I forcibly put it aside to go do something), I'm not one to sit on my hands. So I'd like to be useful while here too, and that seems quite possible as the object is to actually do some things.

So I've telling everyone I know here that my writing skills are available this week. And hopefully work will evolve naturally.

And, in fact, plans are to have a working dinner shortly, to talk about some work I can help with.
11th-Sep-2016 09:02 pm - Kelowna, Day One: The Retreat
The journey to Kelowna for the Blockstream retreat begins at 5.00am this morning, as my iPad wakes me up, after I slept through turning off my Fitbit alarm.

I've never ridden Uber before, and I was a little nervous having my first ride be at 5.30am in the morning on a Sunday. But BART, our pathetic second-world public transit system, doesn't get going until 8am on Sundays. (Lazy!)

Because why would anyone want to get to the Bay Area's airports before 8am on a Sunday?

Anywho, I put in a request to Uber at about 5.20 and after an interminable few minutes waiting for someone to pick up the request, I finally heard that a driver was 10 minutes away. He was at the house by about 5.35.

I was pretty surprised the app never buzzed me to go outside, which would just seem polite. But I was watching the little car on the little map and stepped outside just in time.

I felt bad for the driver. He says that he drives seven days a week. He doesn't even have time to go to church with his kids, because he's always driving (though he has brunch with them afterward). It reminds me of the cab driver in the 7 Up series.

I'm also somewhat unsurprised by the indentured servitude of an Uber driver, especially an Uber driver in San Francisco. But he also says he's been in the country for 12 years, and so I have to presume that he was doing something that didn't work out as well beforehand.

He wants to go back to the Philippines though, and is just waiting for his kids to get into college. (Not that he has any savings for that, he tells me, and I say that I don't understand why college isn't free in this country, like in the civilized world.)

At SFO's airport security, I "opt out" of their radiation machine. It's mostly not the fear of health effects. Though we don't know a damned thing about it, and I think we're going to end up with clusters of TSA cancer 20 years down the road. It's the security theatre of it. I'm vastly offended by costly security measures that exist only to give a false sense of security (and in the case of the scanning machines to give a lucrative government contract to Dick Cheney's friends).

So, I opt out.

If everyone opted out, the requirement for these unnecessary scans would totally fall apart, but most people are sadly willing to do exactly what they're told.

Anywho, something new today. After the patdown, they test the gloves for explosive residue, and this time the test comes up positive.

I'm totally non-plussed. I have plenty of time and I know that these tests are entirely susceptible to false positives. Then the explosive-detector goes off again for someone else as the TSA agent gathers my stuff, then again for yet another person before I'm done.

I guess you can feel safe about their sensitivity. Or if you prefer, it's security theatrer.

So the TSA agent goes through my backpack, running an explosive detecting strip against all the compartments, and picking out the electronics to look at. Later when I pull my wallet and keys back out of the easy-access wallets-and-keys pouch, I realize he hasn't looked there at all.

(Security Theater.)

Afterward I get taken off for a private screening, the most notable element of which is a second TSA agent, who is clearly ready to leap upon me if I should do anything untoward.

This time the agent uses a different machine to test his gloves and they unsurprisingly come back clean in what I assume must be a machine with a lower sensitivity.

There are no bagels in the whole international gate area at SFO, just sweet pastries, hot bacon and egg sandwiches, and refrigerated sandwiches that were probably prepared in Boise.

I decide the refrigerated sandwich is least likely to upset my digestion during the flight, though it was more food than I wanted at what's now 6.30.

I take it to the gate and sit down.

It's entirely mediocre. It mostly tastes of cold.

They keep calling "Dylan Thomas" as I sit at the gate, telling him to report to the security checkpoint.

And I keep thinking, "Dylan Thomas, whoever he is."

Seattle is the next stop on the airline gauntlet. I've been here before, in 2003, but I don't remember the airport being so crazy. Part of the problem is that there are just too many people, even compared to the decent sized airports that I'm familiar with like San Francisco, Oakland, and Honolulu. But they've also totally screwed up their seating.

They have a large holding area associated with every six gates or so, and then teeny little holding areas by each gate. The theory must be that planes won't be leaving at the same time, but it's horribly misguided. The teeny holding areas are jammed hours before the flights, not helped by the fact that about 20% of the seats are unused handicap seats. Then the big holding areas are filling up too.

I take a walk up and down a couple of the wings of the airport and it's clear that this is a general problem. The holding areas are all jammed and people are spilling out into the walkways, intermingling with the gross numbers of walkers already jamming the airport.

Go, Sea-Tac.

I had a number of stressors lined up for the day, starting out with getting to the airport without the benefit of BART and/or using Uber for the first time.

My next stressor is figuring out where to get my suitcase and getting it through customs at the Kelowna airport.

(Yeah, it's been a while since I've been out of the country — not since our honeymoon, in 2000.)

And this turns out to be such a non-issue that it's ridiculous. Because I cleverly changed my seat to get to the front of the plane, I'm practically the first in line at the customs desk.

I hand her my declaration form and my passport, she says, "You have food to declare?", I say, "Trail mix", and she marks it all with a green highlighter and I'm outta there.

Three minutes tops.

They don't even wait for us to pick up our luggage first.

Hotel Zed is our housing for the week, and it looks a little more like a motel than I expected, but the rooms are large, attractive, and well-maintained, and they have both a ping pong lounge and a mini-disco. The hotel, not the rooms, though that'd be really cool. (The actual company retreat occurs in rooms at the more upscale hotel next door.)

About six of us with Blockstream check in at the same time, so that's stress-free as well. I'm thrilled to discover that I have a quiet room to myself, and that it's directly adjoining to Chris' if we want to talk.

I'm deciding what to do with my evening, and one of the folks I know at Blockstream says he's planning a walk, and I jump right on that. About a dozen of us head out, but people start fading away as we continue on.

We finally get into Knox Mountain Park and there's just three of us left.

This was one of the places I'd identified as a possible nice walk, but it turns out to be about two miles away, which means that today was probably the only time to rationally go see that. So, yay that we did.

Two of us made it to the top (and me just barely), which was about 90 flights of stair up, and from there we got some beautiful views of Kelowna and Okanagah Lake. Which turns out to be huge.

We hike back afterward and get some very tasty dinner at the adjoining hotel.

And it turns out that our schedule for mornings is extremely reasonable. A 9.30 start every day will probably let me get some quiet solitary hiking in the morning.

So, stressors mostly gone, and now there's just an interesting week ahead.
5th-Sep-2016 07:01 pm - Laboring Weekend
Kimberly says that Labor Day is her least favorite day of the year. It's because of the block party, a loud, raucous affair with blasting music that takes over the next block around lunch time and continues through the day. I've long thought that the people putting it on are horribly abusing whatever permit they get from the city, because it's decidedly not a block party, it's a party to which they invite all their friends from the entire East Bay.

But there are some fights to be fought, and some not.

So today I suggested to K. that we should go out to Glen Park, and we did. We were out of the house before 10 and walking up into the park by 11 or so. We had a nice lunch from the overpriced but tasty Canyon Market that we ate in the park and then hiked along the canyon walls, a trek that was supported (literally) by the new walking poles that K. got recently.

We really had no desire to come home afterward, so after the hike, we hung out at a park/playground for a few hours, me writing and K. working on her iPad, then walked back the long way to 24th & Mission BART.

Ironically, the first time we went up to Glen Park was Labor Day, 2013. I didn't write about why we went that day, but obviously we were avoiding the obnoxious block party then too. Afterward, we did the same walk down through Diamond Heights to 24th and Mission, and I remember being really tired out by it. Not at all today — not by the climb up the canyon and not by the walk down to the Mission. So yay for improved physical fitness (particularly walking) over the last three years.

And by the time we got home the party had only an hour or so left to go.

The rest of the weekend I've been out and about too. On Saturday I walked from our house up to Lake Anza in Tilden via the fire trails above Clark Kerr and Strawberry Canyon. I used to think that Tilden was far away, so it's pretty great to to hike up there and to think nothing of it.

On Sunday, I mostly lazed around, but after dinner I did a quick (well, 100 minute or so) 5-mile hike from the south side of Clark Kerr to the UC Botanical Gardens and back.

It's really cool to have all those trails to accessible, so close, and offering so many different possibilities.

I've been doing plenty of writing, of course, working on three really tough histories this week for DMSGuild (and ultimately for my sequel to Designers & Dragons). I can't quite say they're about three major products for D&D, but they are about two major products, and one other that was deserving of a major history. They'll be up on DMSGuild over the next two weeks and total about 6,500 words between the three of them.

And I'm getting ready for a semi-surprise trip to British Columbia. Oh, and I'd known it was a possibility since late July, I think. C. idly mentioned it and I realized I needed to get out of the house the next day to get my passport renewed, since that was just 7 weeks out at the time.

Surprisingly, my passport arrived just two weeks after I requested it. That helped make things stress free, especially since I was a bit worried about my name change, which had never been reflected on a passport. But no problem. (Apparently.)

Then last Monday, C. confirmed to me that I was being invited on the British Columbia trip, if I thought I could deal with all the people for a full week.

The reason is a company retreat for the blockchain company that C. is now working at, and that I've been doing tech writing and editing for. I really have little idea what to expect, but I've liked working with them, and I'd liked to be included going forward, so it seemed like a good thing to do.

The venue looks beautiful, but as I told C., I hope I actually get to see some of it, and not just be stuck in a hotel the whole time. (He says there are breaks in the schedule, but we'll see how it all works out.)

Anywho, I've been trying to get books read and histories and reviews and APs written before I leave; starting tomorrow I also need to get more serious about getting a few Skotos things out of my hair.

And then it'll be off into the blue for a week away from home. Busiest year in maybe forever, since they'll be my third major trip, after Hawaii and New York.

Lucky we aren't ending up in Hawaii for Christmas too, like we'd originally considered.
31st-Aug-2016 11:51 pm - The Busy Gaming Weekend
The weekend began with insomnia. Friday night I was tossing and turning until 4am. Then I finally got up, read a mediocre comic, and when I went to bed at 4.30 I was able to drift off.

By 9.30 cats and/or the sun were waking me up, so five hours it was.

Which was a crying shame due to the busyness of the weekend.

Saturday was my regular roleplaying group. We played Microscope, which is a brilliant history creation game. This was our third session working on the same history, but whereas we'd spent the previous two sessions detailing the history of the whole world, this time around we focused on a city that we called Eligium, which is on the frontier.

(Also apparently the name of a failed MMORPG, but I can live with that.)

The idea is to ultimately have a great basis for a new campaign, and I'm indeed planning to start that campaign in October. But I'm also loving the history we've been designing enough that I'm thinking it might be great for fiction too. Well, maybe in a different decade; things are too busy right now.

Kimberly joined me for this gaming, which has just about never happened. But I knew it would be a really creative game that she might enjoy (though she surprised me by enjoying the roleplaying interludes as well) and I knew that it was likely to be just Donald and Mary, who are friends of hers. So that was nice. In fact, we made a whole day of it. We BARTed down to Oakland early, then we had a tasty lunch at the Endgame Cafe. Then, after the game, we walked over to Chinatown, grabbed some Dim Sum, and took it to Jack London Square to eat. All around a very nice day.

(And one of the reasons I'd invited her was that I knew I'd be busy on Sunday, which is the usual day I spend with her.)

Sunday was a birthday get-together for Christopher. Him, Mike B., me, and Chaz play tested a story game he's been working on, and that I've commented a few times. It was an enjoyable game about a future, ruined Rome and ambitious senators and indentured androids (Hello, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which K. and I are currently reading.)

I think we got some good use out of the playtest, and I offered up some feedback on developing the game that I was quite happy with. We'll see what Chris thinks when I see the rules again.

And we also had a mini-bbq.

I thought I'd be absolutely dead after two days of serious socializing ala roleplaying games. I thought I'd be dragging this week, praying for the next weekend.

Not so bad though. I got seriously behind on projects, in part because I didn't have a lot of time for my regular D&D history writing, and in part because I was finishing up a 10k word article on Pathfinder ACG strategy.

But other than that, the busyness of the weekend did not kill me.

And tomorrow is the second BBQ for Chris' birthday. It's my regular Thursday night board game, with backyard BBQ and some social/co-op games afterward.
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