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A Little Staycation

I’m taking a week off, starting today, for my Mom to come visit. We set this visit up a couple of months ago, thereby ensuring that we’d find a house and be in the middle of the process of buying it when she got here. 🙂 On the other hand, it’s a better time than when we’re actually moving, or just moved and not yet unpacked. I’m looking forward to some down time with her.

The house thing is moving along. We’ve been providing a heckuva lot of documentation to our lender – I don’t remember it being this bad when I bought my townhome, but in the wake of the housing crisis I think the government has tightened up a lot of regulations. I think we’re just about done with this step of the process, and then we wait until we go in to wear our arms out signing the title documents. Well okay, we’re going to start packing after Mom leaves, too.

Blackjack is doing well. Monday’s chemo treatment I guess is the worst he’ll get, but so far he hasn’t been nauseous or anything. The vet said he’s been doing really well, and the technician said Monday was the first day she was able to get him to purr for her. His energy level is still lower than usual, but we’re hopeful that he’s going to get through all this without too much trouble, and that the lymphoma will be sufficiently in remission so that he’ll have a good life ahead of him.

Spring has been having trouble deciding whether to arrive, as the temperature has bounced around from highs in the 50s to highs in the 70s over the last few weeks. Makes it hard to decide whether to wear jeans or shorts! But the rain has just about ended (at least in the south bay, I guess it’s still raining up the peninsula fairly often), which means I’ve been cleaning up the porch and patio. I finally figured out the easiest and most effective way to clean the porch – just in time to move out of this place! Figures.

Over the weekend we went to see five children in four days: Thursday night we visited Subrata and Susan and their son for dinner, and then an evening of gaming. Saturday we visited Chad and Camille and their kids to keep the kids occupied for a few hours. And Sunday we visited Lisa and Michel, and their daughter and newborn son, whom we hadn’t seen since he was born a month or so ago. Young children seem to love me, which always strikes me as a little strange. I was definitely kidded out at the end of the weekend, though. But it’s nice to visit them.

Anyway, time to get some things done before going to pick up Mom this afternoon!

Matthew Hughes: Fools Errant, and Fool Me Twice

It took me a while, but I finally finished up Matthew Hughes’ novels with these, his first two, which tell the story of Filidor Vesh, nephew of the Archon of Old Earth, and his adventures in the far future. At the beginning of Fools Errant, Filidor is a playboy and ne’er-do-well in the capital city of Olkney, when he’s charged with a mission by his uncle. He’s directed and accompanied on this mission by a dwarf named Gaskarth, who leads him on a tour of some of the eccentric backwaters of Old Earth.

Fools Errant is told in an episodic fashion: In each section Filidor and Gaskarth arrive in a region, Gaskarth disappears to try to make contact with the Archon, whom they’re trying to catch up to, and while waiting for the dwarf to come back Filidor learns about the quirks of the region, gets into trouble, gets out of it, and learns something about himself and the world. Meanwhile there’s an ongoing story in which the two are being pursued by a sorcerer who wants something the pair is carrying with them. The story is somewhat repetitive, though Filidor’s gradual self-realization is deftly handled. The story takes a rather abrupt turn at the end as we learn exactly what the Archon has set the pair to do, and while it’s entertaining, it feels apart from the rest of the book. Moreover, as a whole Fools Errant feels more like a collection of loosely-linked stories rather than a cohesive novel. (Maybe it was published as a series of short stories originally?) It’s fun, and it displays Hughes’ skill with wit and dialogue well enough, but not his ability to weave a compelling story like his later novels do.

Fool Me Twice revisits Filidor a few years later, when he has become the Archon’s official heir, but has fallen back into his former ways. In the course of his normal duties – which not only bore him to tears, but which he finds nearly incomprehensible – Filidor meets a woman with whom he falls instantly in love, but also finds that he’s accidentally ruled against her cause due to his laziness. When they confront each other, she steals his symbol of office, and his uncle charges him to follow her to her remote home to retrieve them. But his quest is derailed when he is thrown overboard from a ship and ends up as a prisoner performing slave labor on an even-more-remote island. From here Filidor must escape, retrieve his belongings, expose the man who tried to kill him, and unravel a plot against the Archon.

I’ve been reading Hughes’ books more-or-less backwards from Majestrum, so I wonder what reading his books in the order published would have been like. These first two novels were published seven years apart, which perhaps explains why there a fair amount of repetition between them: They’re both structured as coming-of-age stories as well as travelogues of Old Earth, but Fool Me Twice shows considerable development in Hughes’ plotting and writing skills. Fools Errant gets rather repetitive before it takes a left turn into its climactic segment. Fool Me Twice is also episodic, but the segments are longer, the settings less contrived, and the pieces build on each other as Filidor gains friends, allies and resources during his travels. Perhaps most cleverly, Filidor recalls that the Archon played games with him in the first book, and wonders whether he’s doing so again here, which serves as part of the puzzle he has to deal with in the last third of Twice.

Hughes re-uses some elements of these books in his later novels (in particular, the scenario in the last third of Errant shows up in Majestrum), but again you can see him becoming a more capable writer along the way, which perhaps makes reading the books in the order written more rewarding than going backwards as I did. But there are plenty of new bits even if you’ve already read the later stories.

Although not his best, both books are still quite entertaining and showcase Hughes’ witticisms. The books are out of print, but worth seeking out in used bookstores.

The Big News

The big news from this past week is that we’re buying a new house! We found one not far from where we live now, and put in a successful bid. So now we’re in escrow. It’s a fairly new house, and both our agent and our house inspector (who did his inspection yesterday) were impressed with the quality of the construction.

I’m being a little coy about details because, well, partly because I don’t want to jinx it – even though I don’t really believe in jinxing things, and there’s not really much that could go wrong. But I think the stress involved in buying a house triggers my irrational paranoia. But we’re really pretty excited, and working in getting everything lined up to close next month, and then to move.

It’s gonna be a busy summer!

Meanwhile, I spent most of the last week somewhat ill. Wednesday (the day we made the offer on the house) I felt unwell enough that I stayed home from work. Mostly I just felt tired and had a scratchy throat and rough voice, but a few mornings I was parched enough that it was actually difficult to talk. I guess it was a cold of some sort, but it was a weird one. I’m feeling much better today.

It’s always something.

Fantasy Baseball 2011

I was able to make it up to Wondercon only for Saturday last weekend because my fantasy baseball league decided to hold our annual draft on Sunday. 5 of our local owners gathered in a conference room at Apple and spent close to 10 hours drafting our teams. I probably put less effort into this draft than any one I’d ever done before.

My strategy, such as it was, mainly involved drafting younger. Last year’s team was awful, though not so much due to age as due to a lot of marginal players with low upside. I think I did well drafting for youth and guys with upside (but I did draft a few old players; I think some old guys are worth picking in the right spots). Secondarily I wanted to avoid drafting hitters in pitchers’ parks and pitchers in hitters’ parks. I didn’t do a great job at that, although I think any choices were fairly defensible.

Here’s the team I ended up with:

Pos Player Team Round/
Pick
Age Comments
C Miguel Montero ARI 4/56 28 I’ve been a big fan of Montero for years now, and I’m happy to have him now that he’s got the starting job in Arizona.
1B Albert Pujols SLN Kept 31
2B Neil Walker PIT 5/65 25 I’m not so comfortable relying on a young second baseman for the second year in a row (last year’s guy, Scott Sizemore, was a bust). But many people seem to think he’ll be fine, and a few think he’ll be very good. He’s off to a hot start.
3B Ryan Zimmerman WAS Kept 26
SS Rafael Furcal LAN 7/112 33 Old hitter in a pitchers’ park. Not really what I wanted, but shortstops has really dried up by now.
OF Nick Swisher NYA 3/40 30
OF Carlos Quentin CHA 6/88 28 Pretty happy with this pick. He has breakout potential, but of course he also has bust potential.
OF Adam Jones BAL 7/104 25 This guy was a top prospect just a few years ago. And he’s only 25! He still has a chance to be a star, I think.
C Miguel Olivo SEA 12/184 32 The perfect backup catcher: Gets a lot of playing time and has impressive power. But, an old guy in a pitchers’ park.
C Ryan Lavarnway BOS 11/342 23 Top catching prospect in the Red Sox’ system – and they need a catcher.
1B Daric Barton OAK 10/152 25 Another “was a top prospect just a few years ago”, and maybe this year he’ll add some power. Another hitter in a pitchers’ park.
3B/SS Jhonny Peralta DET 8/120 29 The perfect infield backup: Qualifies at two positions, doesn’t kill you on average, and has power.
SS Zach Cozart CIN 23/368 25 Cozart has a weird performance history, alternating average with power. If either one shows up, he could make the Majors this year and be a quality shortstop.
OF Pat Burrell SFN 14/216 34 Old guy in a pitchers’ park. But also a guy guaranteed playing time and who has power. In the 14th round, this is the kind of guy you want.
OF Kosuke Fukudome CHN 18/280 34 Probably the first guy I’ll cut when someone better comes along. But he has some hitting skills which ain’t bad for a 5th outfielder.
OF Domonic Brown PHI Kept 25 Top hitting prospect starting the season on the DL due to a broken bone in his hand. I’m not sure I entirely believe in his ability, but certainly the potential for stardom is there; it seems like he has to put a lot of things together to achieve it, though.
OF Brett Jackson CHN 19/296 22
OF Eric Thames TOR 21/328 24
OF Matt Dominguez FLO 24/380 21 20-year-olds who hit well at AA are worth taking a flyer on. Unfortunately he got hurt before the season.
SP Cliff Lee PHI 1/8 32 I was surprised he fell to me with the 8th pick. Taking him was a no-brainer, as Halladay and Sabathia had already been picked.
SP James Shields TBA Kept 28 I agonized over keeping Shields or Zack Greinke. Shields has great peripherals but a serious problem with home runs. Greinke is a little more expensive, has moved to the NL, but is on a team (Milwaukee) with brutal defense, and will miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season with a broken rib. And who knows how long it will take him to be back to his normal self after that. Ultimately, Shields’ peripherals made me decide to go with him.
SP Chad Billingsley LAN 2/24 26
SP Jordan Zimmermann WAS Kept 25
SP Derek Lowe ATL 5/72 38 Probably an overdraft. And he’s the oldest guy on my team. But, he’s been reliable for a long time and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
SP Ricky Nolasco FLO 6/83 28 Nolasco is a lot like Shields, and plays for the other Florida team. Again, I was sold on his peripherals.
SP Jorge de la Rosa COL 11/168 30 Pitcher in a hitters’ park!
SP A.J. Burnett NYA 11/76 34 If he stays healthy and is anywhere near his usual numbers, then this could be a steal.
SP Homer Bailey CIN 17/264 25 Frustrating prospect who’s struggled for a few years and is starting the season on the DL. But he’s only 25! Seemed worth taking a flyer.
SP Julio Teheran ATL Kept 20 Best pitching prospect in baseball.
SP Jacob Turner DET Kept 20 Second-best pitching prospect in baseball? That may be overstating things, but the difference between him and whoever’s above him is not huge.
SP Kyle Gibson MIN 15/232 23
RP Luke Gregerson SDN 9/136 27
RP Mike Adams SDN 16/248 32
RP Huston Street COL 13/200 27

Overall I think I executed fairly well. I’d really like to have a better shortstop, and to have found someone less risky than Lowe and de la Rosa to rely on. The outfield has a lot of potential but might not realize it. Otherwise I don’t have many complaints.

Last year’s team was a disaster – I finished next-to-last in the league – and I think this is clearly a better team. But our league is intensely competitive, so finishing in the money (among the top 7 of 16 teams) is not guaranteed.

I’ve been getting burned out on fantasy baseball, so this might be my last season in the league. Then again, I’m more excited about this team than I have been for a couple of years, so maybe I’ll be back. Especially if my prospects start developing.

Teatro Zinzanni

Those of my readers who know I work on Apple’s developer tools may have heard that we recently shipped Xcode 4. But this entry isn’t about that (since, well, this isn’t a work or an Apple blog). Rather, it’s about our ship celebration, which was dinner at Teatro Zinzanni in San Francisco on Thursday night.

Debbi and I decided to take the bus up with most everyone else, mainly because driving into the city during rush hour wasn’t attractive, but also because driving home after dinner wasn’t real appealing either. It only took a little over an hour for the bus to get there, so it wasn’t much of a compromise.

Teatro Zinzanni is – literally – dinner-and-a-show, the show being similar in some respects to Cirque du Soleil, but with a dash of vaudeville and audience participation thrown in. The show alternates a comedy bit – usually plucking an audience member for their involvement and a little embarrassment – with a musical and/or acrobatic performance, and one of the five courses of the dinner. While the style of the comedy bits were not really my thing (although seeing my cow-orkers’ involvement was greatly humorous, which made up for it), the other performances were very impressive. I was particularly amazed at the feats of strength and acrobatics performed by “Les Petits Frères”, which were frequently amazing.

(I’m amused that Zinzanni’s slogan is “Love, chaos and dinner”, since in order to perform these stunts in a dinner setting what they’re doing is anything but chaos.)

Almost worth the visit all by themselves are the available mixed drinks (PDF), of which I think I had one more than I really ought to have had. (Another excellent reason to have taken the bus.) I think the “Bella Donna” was my favorite.

We had fun socializing before dinner. Debbi met many of my cow-orkers, whom she mostly hadn’t met since I moved to a different team last summer, and we caught up with a few people we don’t see very often.

It was around midnight by the time we made it home, but it was well worth it. We have some friends who are big fans of Teatro Zinzanni, and I can see going back sometime.

I’d just rather not be one of the people picked to participate in one of the comedy bits!

Wondercon 25

Last Saturday I took a day to go to Wondercon, the large regional comic book convention that’s been a Bay Area staple for 25 years, and which I’ve always meant to go to but never made it there. The big reason I’ve never made it is that I’m always insanely busy in late March/early April, and by the time I realize when it will be held I already have other plans. But I put it on my calendar this year, and even though I was still insanely busy, I made the time to spend the day up there.

Unfortunately, Saturday is Wondercon’s busiest day; apparently they sold out for the day, probably drawing over 40,000 people, and the convention floor was a zoo, just packed.

And I’m not really a crowd person.

I enjoying looking through the dealers’ booths. I picked up a few comic books from the 70s, and was happy to see that Travis Hanson was there with the latest issue of his comic The Bean. The big booths were impressive: DC is pushing the upcoming Green Lantern film heavily, and they were also promoting the GL animated films and the Young Justice TV series. The small press and artist booths were fun to stroll through, too. I think I’m about 15 years too late to really enjoy the floor, since I don’t really buy many back issues anymore. Most of the ones I want have been collected in paperbacks or hardcovers in that time, so there’s not much I’m looking for.

But ultimately it was all a bit too overwhelming for me. If I’d had more time then I probably would have gone to a few panels (assuming they weren’t packed, too), but I only had the one day. If I go next year Ill try to plan things out better.

I did manage to meet a couple of folks I’ve “known” for years but have never met in person. One was Johanna, whom I’ve followed on LiveJournal for some years, having connected through a mutual acquaintance. The other was Jason, who I’ve known for over 20 years since we were both part of an Amateur Press Alliance together, and who is now the editor-in-chief of the web site Comics Bulletin. I had a good long while chatting with Jason and a friend of his while we were all taking some downtime, but I only had a short while to talk to Johanna while she was on break from the booth she was helping at. But it was good to meet both of them.

I also enjoyed chatting with another congoer when we were eating lunch next to each other at Mel’s Drive-In, talking about the book I was reading, Doctor Who, GalaxyQuest and similar things. A nice semi-random encounter.

Overall it was an okay day. I think I enjoyed APE more when I went last fall, as I found more books I was interested in, and generally found the booths more interesting to peruse. On the other hand, I felt like I got all I could out of APE in one day, whereas if I went to some panels I could probably fill a couple of days of Wondercon. (I might not be social enough to enjoy going to dinner or parties after the con, though.)

Maybe not a ringing endorsement of the con, but I do feel conflicted about it. I wish I felt more comfortable around people I don’t know. But, I yam what I yam.

Health Update

Another big gap between updates. Things have been real busy around here lately, so let’s try to catch up over the next few days.

Last Monday I went to see my doctor about my recent health concerns, and also to get a physical exam. Since I’d gotten blood work done on my trip to urgent care a week earlier, that meant fewer tests to do. I’m in slightly better shape than I was at my last exam 2 years ago, and have lost a little bit of weight, too. I also seem to be about an inch shorter than I thought I was, which is bizarre: I’ve always been an even six feet tall, and now I’m a little over five-foot-eleven. I’m not sure if I’ve shrunk a little (aren’t I a little young for that?) or if their measuring stick is a little off.

I talked about my health concerns with him, and he said that stress could certainly be a contributing factor, but that it could also be a case of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). He said that reflux can result in a phenomenon which feels like chest pain, as well as stomach pain, and the phlegmy feeling I’d developed in my throat the weekend before the appointment. He suggested I buy a 14-day round of omeprazole (brand name: Prilotec OTC) and see if that helps.

And, I’m pleased to say, a week into the treatment I’m actually feeling much better, with all of my symptoms being just about gone. I’m trying to cut down on coffee and caffeine a bit, which should also help. But hopefully I’ll be all better at the end of the treatment.

So that’s all a big relief.

That same Monday was Blackjack’s first chemotherapy treatment for his cancer, and yesterday was his second treatment. The vet said both times that he’s doing very well (though I’m not entirely sure what this means; are they X-raying him to examine his tumor, or just seeing how he physically is reacting to the treatments?), and the staff at the vet all seem to like having him, too. I guess he’s pretty easy to deal with. He is still low on energy compared to how he was before starting radiation treatment, but he’s been pretty friendly, has been up and around (and very happy to have had the back door open during our recent warm weather), and has been playing some.

I do miss the overexuberant Blackjack running all over the house, though. I hope he bounces back to that once we’re done with all the therapy.

But he’s enjoying all the attention, canned food, and extra treats, that’s for sure.