That Burning Sensation

We woke up this morning and Debbi said, “I smell something burning.”

Fortunately it wasn’t something around our house; rather, it was smoke blowing in from a fire in the south bay hills over 40 miles away from us:

The Summit fire has consumed about 3,100 acres, but is not spreading as rapidly as feared yesterday. Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Fred Plageman this afternoon said that 20 homes have been destroyed.


Shifting winds this morning blew ash from the fire away from Santa Cruz County and toward the summit and into northwestern Santa Clara County, where residents reported smelling smoke.

Santa Clara County public health authorities advised people who can see or smell smoke to stay inside and keep windows and doors shut.

At work I had to walk to another building for a meeting, and the central courtyard was filled with a light haze, presumably the smoke blown in from the hills. By lunchtime it had cleared out, along with the smell.

Only Hundreds of Miles by Car

Wow, the rest of my Dad’s visit just flew by; I can’t believe I’m back at work already!

I put hundreds of miles on my car this past week, but that’s not really surprising; there’s a lot to do in the Bay Area – even on his third trip, there were still things he hadn’t seen before, and a few I hadn’t seen before – but most of it is widely spread out.

Following the trips to the coast and the Livermore wine country on Friday and Saturday respectively, Sunday we went to the A La Carte and Art festival downtown, which I think Dad enjoyed more than he’d expected. He picked up a few goodies, and reminisced with one of the vendors about making rubber band guns back in the 40s. After that we went to the Computer History Museum. I was sure I’d been there with Dad before, but he says not. But it’s always a terrific visit, and we got to see the Babbage Engine they have on display there (one of two in the world).

In the evening we drove up to San Francisco to have dinner with my cousin K, who coincidentally has the same name as Dad (well, okay, actually it was intentional). My other cousin, L, also lives up there, but was out of town. She recommended a restaurant for us to go to, though, so we went up with Debbi, picked up K, and had a fine dinner. I haven’t seen K in years – probably since I was in college; he’s quieter than I’d remembered. But the family resemblance among him, me and Dad is pretty clear. (Somehow we managed to completely forget to get any photos of the three of us.)

That was the first of three trips we made to the city (and that one was in Debbi’s car!). On Monday Dad and I drove up hoping to go to the Cable Car Museum, but there was absolutely no parking there. We thought about parking elsewhere and taking a (duh!) cable car there, but they were also doing some work on the tracks, so we decided to punt. Instead we drove over to Golden Gate Park.

So I have this amazing talent for forgetting that the museums in SF are closed on Mondays. Gah. Fortunately, there’s always something more to do. We went to the Japanese Tea Garden, and then walked through Strybing Arboretum. I see a little more of the Arboretum each time I go – it’s always fun to visit. This time around I learned that Monday seems to be watering day in the arboretum. Sheesh! After that we stopped at Ocean Beach to see the sea, and then I dragged Dad to Borderlands Books, which is fun to visit during the week since there’s plenty of on-street parking, for a change! I got some cuddle time with Ripley, their hairless cat, too.

Tuesday we went up again, this time to visit the Conservatory of Flowers in the park. I’d never been before, and I highly recommend it; it’s full of orchids and palm trees and other tropical plants, plus it has a room full of butterflies. Very cool. And it’s in a 19th century building, too! After that we went to the Musee Mechanique. Dad wasn’t so impressed with the Musee, and I’ll admit that I think their old location at the Cliff House was better; it presented its contents in a more historical order, whereas the current arrangement seems rather scattershot, even though it has more space for the exhibits. Ah well.

And as I said yesterday we ate plenty of food amidst all of this driving. We were usually pretty wiped out once we’d eaten dinner, so we had some quiet evenings at home, although we did watch the season finales of both Smallville (which I’m kind of glad I don’t watch anymore) and House (which I kind of wonder if I should watch more often).

Wednesday it was up early (well, early for me) to drop Dad off at the airport. On the way out of the airport, my car rolled over to 90,000 miles. I put another 60 or so miles on it in a failed attempt to spend the afternoon on the beach (it was far too windy, and the clincher was that the wind was blowing the sand into my face and hair). That was a bummer, and put me in a melancholy mood for the rest of the day. Or maybe it was the prospect of going back to work today.

Anyway, I had a great visit with Dad. I think I enjoyed our trip to the coast on Friday the most, although the Conservatory of Flowers was really neat, too. And of course it was just good to see him.

I’ll put up a few more pictures from his visit over the next few days, but for now I’ll end with this one:

Me and Dad

Restaurant Roundup

Apparently before he flew out, my Dad was told by my Mom that he’d gain ten pounds visiting me, since we always feed our guests extremely well. In that spirit, here’s where we chowed down over the past week:



  • Main Street Grill: One of my favorite breakfast places. Just about the best coffee I’ve had in the area, not to mention great food.
  • The Counter


  • The cafe at Garré Winery: A surprisingly good menu for a cafe attached to a winery.
  • Su Hong: My favorite Chinese restaurant.


  • A La Carte and Art festival
  • Universal Cafe: We went to dinner with one of my cousins, and this restaurant was recommended by another cousin. It’s a cut above the usual restaurants I eat at, and was excellent. Their frites (french fries) appretizer is huge!



  • The Original Pancake House (again): Dad liked it so much we went back and got different dishes.
  • Ice cream sundaes at Ghirardelli Square
  • Cascal: Our local tapas restaurant, which I’d recently visited for the first time.

Maybe not ten pounds’ worth, but that’s a lot of food!

Mostly-Full or Slightly-Empty

Last night we were driving back from San Francisco (details forthcoming) when we spotted the moon a few degrees above the horizon. This was around 7:30, so it was still before sunset, and the moon was rising. We noticed that the moon was not quite full, with a little bite taken out of it at the bottom.

We wondered whether the moon was nearly full, or just past full.

I said, “There has to be a way to figure this out logically.”

My Dad said that this is an empirical problem, so he was doubtful we could reason our way out of it.

I said, “Well, we know that on average there’s more than one full moon per month, and so we ought to be able to figure out from that whether the moon rises a little earlier each day, or a little later. And if we know that then we should be able to figure out whether it’s nearly full or just past full.” I decided that since there’s more than one full moon per month, that meant that the moon was rising a little earlier each day, and that meant that that moon was not quite full.

About 20 minutes later I said, “The moon looks a little more full to me now, so I think I’m right.” Much laughter ensued.

I think my reasoning was a little off, mainly because what I really need to know is whether the moon rises more than once per day, and using “full moons per month” as a proxy for that is not right, because they’re not the same thing. Indeed, since our months are somewhat based on the lunar cycle, “full moons per month” is a circular argument. Well, sort of.

But it turns out I was right anyway, since the full moon is tomorrow.

Which goes to show once again that it’s better to be lucky than good.

This Week’s Haul

  • Booster Gold #9, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Clandestine #4 of 5, by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer (Marvel)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #1, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • newuniversal: shockfront #1, by Warren Ellis, Steve Kurth & Andrew Hennessy (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #5 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1946 #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart & Paul Azaceta (Dark Horse)
  • Project Superpowers #3 of 6, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Carlos Paul (Dynamite)
  • Locke & Key #4 of 6, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
Guardians of the Galaxy #1 As much as I’ve enjoyed Abnett & Lanning’s work on the Annihilation and Nova books, I’m a little skeptical of Guardians of the Galaxy. Why? Well, the premise consists of throwing together a bunch of space-based heroes – who have almost nothing in common except that they’re space-based and came together during the recent crises – under a title which used to belong to a completely unrelated team. This screams “trademark protection” to me, and while I’m sure DnA are going to give it their best shot, I have a nagging cynicism that they were basically asked by Marvel to come up with a title which fit the bill.

With that bit of negativity out of the way, the first issue is pretty good. It features the usual trial-by-fire, also setting up what I presume will be a long-term foe for the group. There are some strong and volatile personalities in the group, which could be the fulcrum for making the book work: Peter Quill (Star Lord) is probably the most qualified to lead the team in a strategic sense, but his self-doubt and lack of powers might not make him the best candidate for keeping the people in line. Especially with members like Mantis who tend to quietly pursue their own agendas.

The book’s best hope, I think, is to either have a strong underlying plot, or to juggle the relationships among its characters in a delicate manner, the latter being the key to the success of Wolfman & Pérez’ New Teen Titans of years past. I think DnA could pull off either approach, but the book’s set-up will make it more of a challenge for them.

Fresh from his trial run on Nova, Paul Pelletier’s artwork is fine. Much better than the 3 issues from his brief run on Fantastic Four that I read, which looked like he was mailing it in (figuratively speaking). I’d appreciate a little more detail, but he’s certainly got the dynamic look down.

All-in-all, the first issue of Guardians is a little above average, but it will be the next 11 issues which really indicate whether it’s going to be a good one or not.

newuniversal: shockfront #1 I was surprised when newuniversal abruptly halted after 6 issues. Was it a mini-series, though it wasn’t marked as such? Did it not do well and was cancelled? Did Ellis just up and leave, since he recently said of work-for-hire projects, “It’s as simple as this — if I don’t own it, I’m not going to spend my life on it”?

Apparently none of the above, since Ellis is back with a new artist on a second series, which picks up only a little while after the first one left off. It continues his edgier riff on Marvel’s old New Universe characters, and this time he’s filling in some more of the backstory and adding some more structure to what the “white event” means, which I appreciate (I always appreciate structure).

Steve Kurth has a somewhat more traditional art style than did Salvador Larroca (the first series’ artist), but he’s still got the detail and semi-photorealistic layouts, so all in all I think he’s just as good as Larroca was. Of more interest will be to see where Ellis is going with this series. I’m still a little frustrated that the final issue of Planetary hasn’t come out, even though I know he can finish lengthy projects, as he did with Transmetropolitan. So I hope newuniversal doesn’t end prematurely in the middle of the story.

Visitor and Visitation

A busy few days. But when aren’t they?

Wednesday I went to gaming. Lots of people are going lately, since Susan is expecting her and Subrata‘s first child any day now. Maybe any minute now. And when that happens, I expect we don’t have regular gaming for months. Who knows how long? So I stuck around until after 10, and we played two games, both of which I finished second in. Which seemed perfect, since it seems like I usually finish second. 🙂

Wednesday night also marked the first night of my vacation, since Thursday afternoon my Dad flew into town for a week of mayhem. Well, really a week of driving around the area and seeing the sights and hanging out and talking.

Unfortunately (not that this is his fault) his arrival coincided with a heat wave which spent Thursday breaking heat records around the region. It broke 100 degrees in my city, and was uncomfortably warm until at least 8 pm. Ugh. We sat inside and tried to stay cool in my non-air-conditioned house, in which the temperature got up into the 80s even in the relatively cool downstairs. But eventually it did cool down. I was glad not to feel obligated to participate in Bike to Work Day – brutal!

Fortunately other things – like his flight – went smoothly. It’s been about 4 years since Dad last visited, so it’s good to have him out again.

Today was still very warm, although not as bad. We drove over the hills to Half Moon Bay and had brunch at the Main Street Grill, and walked around downtown. Then we bought some bottles of water and drove to a nearby beach where we walked along the lovely path atop the bluffs overlooking the beaches. There was a nice breeze, the waves were crashing loudly into the shore, and there were lots of people and wildflowers to watch as we went along.

Then we drove south along the coast, stopping at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, and then at the Año Nuevo State Natural Reserve, where we walked out a mile and a half to see the elephant seals who were nesting and lying in the sun along the beach. I’ve been there before, but not in nearly ten years. They’re pretty neat to see, but the hike out is moderately difficult, especially getting over the sand dunes at the far end of the trail. We made it, though, and learned a lot from the docents positioned by the lions. But we were beat when we got back to the car.

We drove back via Santa Cruz, where we stopped briefly at the lighthouse. It was a lot cooler in Santa Cruz than it had been farther north. We also watched surfers who seemed to be having an especially good batch of waves to ride – at least, compared to what I’ve seen other times I’ve been there.

We met up with Debbi and had dinne at The Counter, and came home to cooler weather, opening up the windows to get the house cooled down. As I write this, it’s down in the 70s outside, and it feels like the worst of the heat has passed.

Which is good, since it will be much easier to enjoy the weekend if we’re not trying to duck into air conditioning at every opportunity!

Michael Swanwick: The Iron Dragon’s Daughter

I’d owned this book for a while, but I’d rather burned out on Michael Swanwick by the time I bought it. Although he’s wonderful with imagery, I sometimes find his plots and characters to be lacking, and I couldn’t get into Stations of the Tide at all, even though it won the Nebula Award. However, I read a couple of excerpts of his new novel, The Dragons of Babel in Asimov’s and I enjoyed them a lot. Then I learned that it takes place in the same world as The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, and I had to go back and read that one before tackling the newer novel.

The central conceit of the world in the novel is it’s a fantasy world filled with all the traditional elves and dwarves and goblins and dragons, but that the fairy tale stories written about those creatures took place centuries ago, and in the present day this world has gone through its own industrial revolution, and today there are cities and weapons and schools and other trapping of our own modern culture, with magic and fantastic creatures integrated right into it.

The story’s heroine is Jane, a human girl among fantastic creatures, regarded as an oddity in a world that’s full of them. The novel opens with her working as a slave in a factory which builds iron dragons – sentient, flying tanks. Jane is on the edge of adolescence, and is starting to form thoughts of her own independence, although she’s somewhat behind her peers in this respect: Her friend Rooster is the nominal leader of the child workers at the factory, and has been trying to figure out how to escape or at least how to deal with some of their tormentors among the management for a long time. Other workers are happy merely to rise in the ranks among their own. Following one of Rooster’s plans, Jane gets singled out by the plant manager to do a favor for a high elf lady in the area, which leaves her ostracized by her peers. But she also is contacted by an old, forgotten dragon, number 7332, who has been imprisoned at the factory and also wishes to escape. Together they manage to achieve this goal.

The novel is told in several parts, although they’re not declared as such, but there are jumps between the major sections of story. Jane and the dragon settle near a town where Jane enrolls in high school, and the dragon goes quiescent. Jane isn’t a very good student, but aspires to become an alchemist. She also makes new friends of varying quality, and becomes involved in some local elvish customs. The last part of the novel sees Jane attending college and finding that pieces of her life seem to recreate themselves in her new environments with new players each time. She becomes more confident and gains more skills over time, and learns what 7332’s ultimate goals are for her, which are played out in the novel’s climax.

Swanwick’s novels always have a dreamlike quality to them, and Daughter certainly has that. There are even hints that it might all actually be a dream, but Swanwick is too crafty to come out and say that, and he leaves it up to the reader. This results in some allusions to the relationship between our world and Jane’s which I thought felt out-of-place in the novel. I’d have preferred that it have been played with the world it portrays being exactly what it appears, as I think the ambiguity adds nothing to the tale.

The story is of course a coming-of-age story, with Jane growing from an oppressed wallflower to a strong-willed and angry young woman, upset at how her being a human has left her in this second-class position (even though it confers a few advantages on her, too; for instance, some magical constructs work on magical creatures, but not on her). She’s a slightly pathetic character at the start, a little cowardly in her oppression, but with some inner strengths. These strengths come out over time as she stands up to increasingly more important and powerful people in pursuit of what she wants: A life of her own following her dreams. She has several romances with men who are all similar in some key ways, finds some friends and allies, as well as some adversaries. But she always seems to ultimately feel alone, and consequently she always has a certain kinship with 7332, despite the dragon’s frustrating and mercurial nature.

As much as I enjoyed Jane’s journey, I found its ending disappointing since it undercut a lot of her hard work in a relatively brief moment of emotion and show of force. For me the setting was the star of the book: While some commentary I’ve read about Daughter describes it as a melding of science fiction and fantasy, or an subversion of fantasy, I saw it more as applying some science fictional principles to a traditional fantasy setting: After all, there’s nothing that says that such a world couldn’t develop advanced science right alongside its impossible elements. Swanwick parcels out the interactions of these two slices of his world in small bits, and often subtly or obliquely; no wizards driving automobiles here, but characters considering the underlying principles of magic, or the haughty elves effectively forming the ruling caste of an economy driven by the creation of wealth. It’s a rich backdrop and there’s so much more that could be done with it – but Swanwick does quite a bit with it here in the service of the core story.

So yes, I was disappointed with the ending, and I wished Swanwick had chosen a course more in keeping with the tone of the rest of the novel. However, it was still a fun journey, and it’s whetted my appetite for reading The Dragons of Babel in its entirety.

Back to the Nerd Farm

Cow-orker K came back to work today from vacation. I ended up having lunch with her team since my usual lunch partners didn’t show up until after I’d already sat down.

At one point I said to her, “So you’re back at the nerd farm.”

“Yes I am,” she replied.

“Well,” I mused, “I guess technically we’re all fully grown-up nerds, so it’s not really a ‘farm’.”

Of course, we may be grown up, but that doesn’t mean we’re mature!

This Week’s Haul

  • Countdown to Mystery #7 of 8, by Matthew Sturges, Chad Hardin, Dan Green, Walden Wong & Wayne Faucher, and Steve Gerber, Adam Beechen & Justiniano (DC)
  • Metal Men #8 of 8, by Duncan Rouleau (DC)
  • Avengers/Invaders #1 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Steve Sadowski (Marvel)
  • Nova #13, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • The Boys #18, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Metal Men #8 I feel like I should have enjoyed Metal Men a lot more than I did.

For one thing, Duncan Rouleau’s art is dynamic and imaginative, with a style not quite like anyone else I’ve seen in comics these days. The story is one of loyalty and redemption, and has a heavy time travel element. What’s not to like?

Well, the story’s also told in 19 small chapters, taking place early in the Metal Men’s career, and at several different points later on. And it’s extremely hard to follow. In addition to the cast of seven Metal Men, plus their creator, Will Magnus, the Metal Men switch bodies at some points, and they have substantially different physical appearances in different time periods. I found it to be too much effort for too little reward to try to fit all the pieces together; I would have been happier with a more linear story with a few flashbacks.

Plus there are several other mad scientists running around, and a host of other unrelated robots, for a cast of characters too large to really work. The story tries to focus on our hero Will, but it keeps drifting around and never really finds its emotional center. The conclusion made very little sense to me, but honestly I’d given up trying to figure out what the heck was going on by then.

The story is credited to Rouleau “based on ideas by Grant Morrison”, and edited by Eddie Berganza. I don’t know whether Morrison provided a story outline that was simply too ambitious, or if Rouleau bit off more than he could chew, or if Berganza should have reined him in and just didn’t, but one or more of these guys ended up making a muddle of what should have been a straightforward and fun story. It’s too bad, because it started off with a lot of promise, but just never found its footing.

Avengers/Invaders #1 Hey look, it’s yet another Alex Ross project mining the bygone days of superheroes! Avengers/Invaders sees the Invaders – Marvel’s retconned team of World War II heroes – being shunted to the present day, post-Civil War, where they’ll encounter the Avengers, especially Iron Man, still haunted by Captain America’s death. Cap, of course, is one of the Invaders. And at least two others – Bucky and the Sub-Mariner – are also still alive in the present day. Which could make for an interesting time.

Unfortunately the Ross/Krueger-written books suffer the same problem that J. Michael Straczynski’s books do: Too much reflection and dialogue, and not enough actually going on. This issue is at least focused on two different fights, one in World War II and one in the present day, which is a promising start. I bet it ends up feeling like a story that could have been told in 4 issues rather than 12, though. But it already looks better than Project Superpowers (not exactly a ringing endorsement).

Steve Sadowski’s pencils are solid, as always, but the guy could really use an inker who can bring some subtlety to his linework. I’m not sure if he inked himself here, or if the art was reproduced from his pencils, but the lines are so heavy the art sometimes looks like it was etched in wood.

Nova #13 As usual, it’s Nova to the rescue this week. Nova arrives at a world being devoured by Galactus, too late to try to save it from its fate, but in time to try to help evacuate its population. Some psionic entity has also shown up to sow chaos in the middle of the larger panic for its own unknown reasons. And to top it off Nova has to face down Galactus anyway, since he’s interfering with the evacuation (possibly without his own knowledge), which means the Silver Surfer gets involved. Yaybo!

Abnett & Lanning are at the top of their game here, with some witty dialogue as well as a good feel for Nova’s position. Meanwhile Willington Alves returns on pencils. He’s not Sean Chen, but I like his layouts and his use of shadows. Overall I like his work better than Paul Pelletier’s (who I guess is moving to Guardians of the Galaxy in the wake of Annihilation Conquest).

Overall, yet another nifty issue of Marvel’s best title. I hope the second year of Nova sees him establish himself with his own storylines and personal odysseys separate from the “event” crossover series. The book’s got too much promise to be slaved to editorial dictate.