Spacetrawler Reviews Chasm City

The crew of Christopher Baldwin’s webcomic Spacetrawler reviews one of my favoritest novels, Alastair Reynolds’ Chasm City:

Spacetrawler is a really fun webcomic, combining serious SF with humor and other silliness. If you’re intimidated by trying to catch up with this strip on-line, I recommend buying the handsome full-color paperback collection. The strip above is included as an extra at the end of the book.

(By the way, my own review of Chasm City is here. And Reynolds’ blog can be found here.)

The Nakalele Blowhole

Our hike to the Nakalele blowhole was one of the high points of our trip to Maui. We took the long route through an exotic rock formation to get the the blowhole.

A lot of people parked where we did, but most of them just walked down to the edge of the cliffs to take pictures of the ocean. Hardly anyone hiked to the blowhole from this spot. We did see one couple walking back from it, though, who said it was well worth the walk.

I think we took a wrong turn on the way there, as our guidebook said to turn right along a gully, and we were skeptical that it would go anywhere and wanted to stay near the coast. In hindsight I think the gully is just another bit of scenery and is where we wanted to go, whereas staying right by the coast takes you up past a weather station where the walk is steep and a bit treacherous. Still, we did get to see (from a distance) some neat-looking pools down at the ocean:

We made it past the weather station, but you still have to clamber down a rocky hill to get down to the blowhole. Once you get there, you’re in what our guidebook called the “acid war zone”, where the ocean has gradually worn away the rocks into neat-looking formations, as if it had been carved by two armies fighting a war with acid. This was well worth the trip, as the views were gorgeous:

From the war zone you can see a small blowhole, but the main attraction is farther along. It’s pretty explosive, seeing the ocean blast water through this (relatively) small hole in the bottom of the shoreline. We were standing right where the sea breeze blows the mist, so we moved to the side to get a better view. It’s cool:

The hike back was a little easier since we took the dirt trail back from the hill rather than going past the weather station, but it’s still a fairly tricky hike. However, it’s well worth it to see some of the more unusual sights on Maui.

Oh, and Debbi asked me to take this picture of a heart-shaped hole the ocean had carved into the rock:

Good Deed

I rode my bike to work this morning, probably the last ride of the year since daylight savings time ends this weekend, so it will be dark well before I head home if I were to bike in, and I don’t like riding home in the dark. Plus, the rains are coming. I made it to 22 rides this year, which isn’t so bad considering buying the new house, moving, and our trip to Hawaii took a big chunk out of my riding time.

On the way in, only a couple of blocks from Subrata and Susan’s house, I got flagged down by a couple of women with a baby carriage. One of the women – with the carriage – was lost (the other was just another person who was trying to help her). Moreover, her English was not strong. She used my phone to call someone (after several tries to remember the right number), and after talking to her in another language handed the phone to me. Between the two of us, I was able to direct her to where we were. I think we were only a couple of blocks away from a street she knew. I sat with the woman while we waited for the woman she called to come get her.

When the younger woman arrived, she said the older woman said that I reminded her of her son. (She wasn’t able to express this in English.)

I’m still not sure what the relationship among them was: Mother-daughter? Mother-in-law-daughter-in-law? Was the older woman a nanny who was just taking the baby out for a walk? I didn’t pry.

But at least I was able to help her get back to where she was supposed to be.

Selling My Townhouse

Back in May Debbi and I bought a house together. But since I already owned a townhouse (which I bought in 2001), that left the question of what to do with the townhouse. My agent suggested I consider renting it, given that the market for homes is still pretty soft, but after considering it I decided that I didn’t want to be a landlord: Even with a management company doing the work of managing the property, it wasn’t something I really wanted to be responsible for. Besides which, the complex is quite small, which means we all shared the load of doing work for the homeowners’ association, something I didn’t really want to continue with – maintaining our new house is plenty of work (even split between the two of us), and I didn’t want to keep having to chip in on the old place.

So, to jump to the end of the story, I sold my townhouse on Tuesday.

As for the middle of the story…

We spent the first two months after we moved unpacking, buying stuff, hosting an open house, and generally enjoying our new house. Then at the end of June my agent prodded me (gently) into moving on the townhouse, since it was just sitting there empty accumulating property tax obligations and HOA dues payments.

I guess I’d expected that preparing the place for sale would be a whirlwind of remodeling activity which would all be a blur but would be done fairly quickly. In fact there was less work to be done than I’d expected (mainly making sure the unit was fundamentally sound, and making it more presentable), but it took quite a bit longer than I’d expected. Here’s what we did:

  1. A chimney sweep came in and cleaned the chimney. This was pretty easy, and he even found a part which needed to be replaced. (I’m going to miss having a wood-burning fireplace, as our city prohibits newer homes from having them, as they’re big sources of pollution. The gas fireplace we have is nice, though.)
  2. The unit was painted. We got estimates from a couple of places, and then I had to choose the colors. Of course, my feeling was, “pick whatever makes the most sense for selling it”, since I certainly didn’t plan to put my own stamp on a unit that I soon wouldn’t own, but still, it was up to me. We had them come back to touch up a few things, too. So this took quite a bit longer than I’d expected. (The paint looked great once it was done, though!)
  3. The carpets also needed replacing, since they were 10 years old or more. We got a couple of estimates, picked a company, picked a grade and color of carpet – and then things got delayed due to a family matter at the company we’d chosen. Not really anyone’s fault, but it was a little more time added in. By this time we were deep into August.
  4. We had a landscaper come out to tidy up the back yard and lay down some wood chips, as well as stain the bench back there.
  5. A pest inspector examined the unit, and found some cracks in the flooring under the washer/dryer closet, and a crack in the pan of the master shower, which led to concerns about possible water damage underneath.
  6. We hired a contractor to fix the water damage, including replacing the master shower. The damage was minimal-to-nonexistent, happily, and the replaced shower stall looked great. However, this actually took us up to the beginning of our vacation in Hawaii in September.
  7. While we were in Hawaii, a home inspector checked out the unit. While it’s comforting how thorough home inspectors are (especially considering that there are many parts of homes that can’t be inspected), it’s also worrying in case they find something really serious. Fortunately,they didn’t find any such thing.
  8. Along the way I filled out disclosures about the unit, gather information from my records, and get the HOA to provide information about the association to my agent to add to the disclosures. This involved a lot of reading, looking things up, and signing.
  9. And finally, it went on the market smack in the middle of our Hawaii trip.

So it wasn’t that anything went wrong, just that all the work and a few delayed added up to more time to get it on the market than I’d expected. I’d originally figured it would be on the market in August, when in fact it went on in mid-September.

Surprisingly, an offer came in on the place the weekend before it hit the market – the day before we flew to Hawaii. We deferred the offer for a while because I just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to deal with thinking it through at the time. However, that did mean I spent bits of time during our trip communicating with my agent.

In the end, though, that unexpected offer was the one I accepted. The buyer was apparently very interested in a unit in that particular neighborhood (hard for me to argue with since I liked it quite a bit myself, especially the great freeway access), and kept in contact with my agent while the place was going on the market.

While the market in our city is pretty good – everything sells, and things which take longer to sell tend to be overpriced, and sell once the price drops – it’s still a pretty soft market; prices are nowhere near where they were in 2006. But then, they are a little above where they were when I bought the unit in 2001, so it did go for more than I paid for it. Even with the soft market I’d expected it would go for a little more, but it didn’t turn out that way. Still, I’m okay with the price it went for – I haven’t had any recriminations about it.

So the unit went into escrow in late September, and finally closed on Tuesday. (It is a lot less stressful to be on the selling end of escrow than the buying end, as most of your work has already been done just getting the unit listed.)

It is a little sad to no longer own the unit. Whenever I went back to the place it seemed a little more alien as all the decor changed. I kept thinking of my late cat Jefferson whenever I went there, since it had been his home longer than anywhere else, and it was of course his last home – I’m not going to have any memories of him in the new house.

I made multiple sweeps of the place during escrow to see if there was anything we’d forgotten. We made a trip to the county’s household hazardous waste drop-off to get rid of a bunch of old paint and similar items, almost all of which had been left there by the previous owner and which were now out-of-date, if they were even still any good at all. And I found a couple of piles of stuff in the garage which I hadn’t realized were there which I either threw out or brought over to the new place. I finally went through every closet, drawer and shelf in the house one day and didn’t find anything else, so I think I got it all.

Debbi suggested we leave a card saying “welcome to your new home” for the buyer, so I did that on Monday, and left the keys and the garage door opener as well. Then I let myself out one last time.

It was the perfect house for me for many years, and really it was mainly that Debbi and I had outgrown it that caused us to move. I hope the new owner enjoys living there as much as we did.

But we like our new house an awful lot, and really, I don’t have any regrets about making the move.

The Road to Hana

There were too many sights on the road to Hana on Maui to have any hope of covering them all here – we took a lot of photos.

The road is very twisty, with dozens of one-lane bridges slowing down traffic on this two-land highway. Debbi drove the way out, but we stopped a lot to see waterfalls, such as these:

But the views of the ocean and the coast were even more inspiring than the waterfalls and greenery, worth the detour down some of the side roads to get the better views. For instance:

O’heo Gulch is the E-ticket sight on the drive. It’s pretty impressive, although the drive to get there is long. It’s a series of waterfalls with pools you can swim in (though we didn’t bring our suits). Here’s what it looks like from the bottom:

And from the path along the cliffs above:

We didn’t stop to take any pictures on the route back, because it was bumpy and we were tired from the long day and wanted to clear the worst stretch of road before it got dark. If they ever pave it smooth, I could see stopping to view more sights along the way, as I like the wind-swept sides of the Hawaiian islands like there.

So I’ll leave you with a picture of the two of us that some other tourists were nice enough to take:

Dragon’s Teeth

The walk to Dragon’s Teeth at Makalua-Puna Point on Maui is one of the easier walks we did on our vacation. Once you figure out where to park and exactly where to walk, it’s just an amble down a hill at a golf course to the rocky point.

The pressures at this coastal site caused lava to push upwards, creating the “teeth”:

The water has eroded some of the rocks, creating some interesting patterns:

And the view is gorgeous:

There was also this odd circular maze on the ground nearby. Neat, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about it:

Well worth a visit if you’re on Maui and want an easy walk to see some cool stuff.

Views from the Westin Maui

First, a couple of photos from the balcony of our room at the Westin hotel on our recent vacation to Maui, Hawaii.

You can see three of the five swimming pools in this one. Gosh, I love palm trees:

And this one gives you an idea of how close the ocean is to the hotel. The path just in front of the beach runs for a couple of miles along Ka’anapali:

Here’s our hotel room itself. Pretty spacious, really:

Our first day on Maui we got drinks at the poolside restaurant and hung out for a while. Not a bad place to spend an hour or two before starting one’s vacation:

State of the Blackjack

So the Thursday before we went off to Hawaii Blackjack had his last chemo treatment for his cancer. So seven months of weekly or bi-weekly vet visits for treatment came to an end for him. The last treatment was one of the rough ones, and he got 4 days of strong anti-nausea meds, and then off we went on vacation. We had four friends lined up as cat-sitters to give him (and Newton) their pills, in addition to the usual cat-sitting events.

Wednesday he had a check-up with the vet, who said he looks great (including his blood work), and he’ll have another re-check in six weeks. We’re also winding down the cortical steroid pills he’s been taking, which makes us all happy.

That all sounds good, but not all is good with our black guy.

We noticed over the first two days that he’d stopped jumping up on things. Specifically on the kitchen counters, where he could often be found before we left. He still jumped up on couches, but he had trouble jumping up on our bed, which is higher than the couches. He learned that if he jumped up and couldn’t make it, then he could come around to my side of the bed and meow and I’d pick him up.

He’s also been sleeping a lot, and sleeping hard. Now, Debbi’s still home on her sabbatical, so she sees him sleeping most of the day, but then, she sees Newton and Roulette sleeping most of the day, too. So, is this normal?

He also seems a little wobbly on his feet, which might be related to him not jumping.

Debbi asked the vet about it at his check-up, and they said he might have hit his head, or missed making a jump and is a little gun-shy about jumping now, or maybe he has a cold which is throwing off his balance. We don’t know.

So we’ve been keeping an eye on him, and trying to make his life easier while we decide whether he needs further examination. For instance, I brought one of the ottomans up and put it at the foot of the bed, and he’s learned to use it to get up to sleep with us. (He’s also decided that when he does get in bed with us he needs to announce his presence with a couple of loud meows. Thanks, guy.)

We also noticed that not a lot of food is being eaten – by anyone. We wondered if the food in their container is stale, so I tossed out the stuff in the bowls, cleaned out the bowls, and opened a new bag of food for them. And they seem to be eating more today, so maybe that’s part of it. I also gave them all some wet cat food yesterday morning, and Blackjack chowed that down. So maybe he’s been hungry? (Then again, I think the cats always eat a little less as winter approaches.)

Last night we had a rain storm, with some pretty strong wind. It’s the first significant storm we’ve had in the new house, and all three cats were pretty wound up about it. Blackjack decided he would complain by sitting in the hallway and yowling. But I’m pretty sure it was the storm, since Newton and Roulette were also trotting around trying to figure out where they felt safe.

In other ways he’s been fairly normal. He’s played a few times, he pounced on his sister this morning because he wanted to lie where she was, he’s been eating bits of cheese that we give him after giving him his pill, and he still loves eating human food. Last night he was chowing down on bits of rice from stuffed peppers Debbi baked, and I had to keep him from pulling more off my plate with his paw.

But he’s not quite right. We’re hoping he’ll get better, and we’re making sure he doesn’t get worse. But if he keeps on like this, I’m not sure what we’ll do. Give it another week or two and then take him in for another exam, I guess.

We’ve always known there are no guarantees about Blackjack since he was diagnosed with lymphoma. My hope has been that we’d have another 2 or 3 good years with him. I’m hoping that this is just lingering reaction to six months of chemo, and that he’ll bounce back and be a little more energetic soon. But I worry that he won’t.

APE 2011

Saturday I went up to the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco for a few hours. I had fun there last year, and was looking forward to picking up some new stuff.

The con was largely the same this year as last, although it seemed like there were slightly fewer exhibitors (the central space around the stairs was empty). It also seemed that the exhibitors had been arranged differently than last year, with exhibitors selling books on one side of the long hall, and exhibitors mainly selling artwork and crafts on the other side. But that might have been been a coincidence.

I was disappointed that neither Spike of Templar, AZ nor Dylan Meconis of Family Man were there, as I’d regretted not buying their collections last year, and I haven’t been very successful at catching up on their webcomics since then, so I figured reading them in print would make it easier to catch up. (More on this later.) Guess I’ll have to pick them up through their stores.

However, I did have a great time chatting with Christopher Baldwin of the humorous space opera adventure strip Spacetrawler. Apparently he’s been doing webcomics since 1996 (!). I picked up the first collection of the strip (which looks like a really nice color package!), and also the first volume of his earlier strip, Little Dee. I asked if he read the webcomic Drive, which is the only other humorous space opera webcomic I can think of, which he does.

We also talked about getting into webcomics, and how a comic with a substantial history can be hard to get into because it takes a while to catch up. He said he’s been reading Questionable Content, but is only 300 strips in, which means he has over 1700 strips to go! Funny how this was never a concern for newspaper strips, but on the web, where the whole archive can be made available, one almost feels an obligation to read the older stuff. Well, I do, anyway. And for strips with an ongoing storyline, like Spacetrawler or other dramatic strips, it’s almost necessary.

He did some sketches for me, and I asked if he uses a Rapidograph pen to draw the strip, since he used it to ink one of the sketches. This led to a discussion of art tools, which I found interesting despite my own long-atrophied art skills, and given the development of computerized drawing tools. It was kind of heartening to learn that he gains some satisfaction from doing the art on a physical medium.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun chatting with him. It sounds like he’s been making the convention rounds this year, so if you see him at a con, check out his work.

I also visited Travis Hanson, whose strip The Bean I discovered at least year’s APE. He’s currently transitioning the strip over from a stapled pamphlet format (i.e., like other comic books) to (I think) a paperback format, so he didn’t have the 8th issue of The Bean available. However, I did pick up a copy of his recent print The Kiss, which we’ll frame and put up in our bedroom with the other two framed prints of his art we own.

And then I picked up the first volume of Carpe Chaos, another science fiction webcomic, although a more serious one than Spacetrawler. I’d come across it before but haven’t caught up on it (there’s that phrase again). It’s slightly more intimidating than other webcomics because it’s a series of short stories, apparently published simultaneously, and taking place at different times, so you can’t just follow the story linearly through the RSS feed. But I enjoyed the volume I bought and I’ll give it a try.

I sampled several other books while walking around, but didn’t come across any others I wanted to buy. Perhaps my standards are high: I prefer fairly polished artwork, so (for example) I’ve never been able to get into Kate Beaton‘s strip. I also much prefer color strips; if you’re doing a black-and-white strip, I almost want the art to be of higher quality than a color strip. (Some artists prefer black and white art, especially for line art, but I’ve always been the opposite.)

I also ran into a former cow-orker of mine and we chatted for about 20 minutes. Nice to catch up. He lives up there, so we don’t see each other much now that he’s left the company.

A good trip, all-in-all. I spent about 4 hours wandering the floor, taking CalTrain to and from the show. I’ll probably go back again next year.