Kevin 1994

ConAdian Masquerade Online

Some time ago, Lisa unearthed the VHS videotape of the 1994 ConAdian Worldcon Masquerade that was among my files along with the 1994 Hugo Awards Ceremony and Highlights of ConAdian. Recently, she digitized the Masquerade, and I uploaded it to the Worldcon Events YouTube Channel.



With the permission of Conadian A (the parent non-profit corporation behind the 1994 Worldcon), and after having to mute the sound on at least one of the entries because of a copyright block, I was able to make this video public.

Note that the credits at the end were cut off in the original. Lisa thinks that the original was slightly longer than the 2 hour VHS tape onto which it was recorded.

Thanks also to Wizard's Tower Press for letting me use one of their Adobe Premiere licenses for WSFS purposes, including editing this video slightly and converting it from Panasonic P2 format (which is what is after Lisa digitized the original tape) into MP4 format so that I could upload it.

There was one comment posted to the video that implied that being in a Worldcon masquerade would have been a highly embarrassing experience and chastised us for uploading this video, but I think it was a troll and I deleted the comment.
Beware of Trains

Vacation Goals

Thanks to it being pointed out to us, we now know a place that we think we'd like to stay for a day or three as part of a train-travel vacation.

A caboose is nice, but how about a converted locomotive overlooking the railroad? This amazing converted locomotive is one of the lodging options at the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana, which is easily reached on what they say is the last remaining flag stop on the Amtrak system. As they say, "About a quarter of guests at the Izaak Walton Inn arrive via... the Empire Builder." We could stop over on our way back from Chicon 8, for example, stay a few days, then continue on to the Pacific Northwest (offhand, probably Portland) as part of a circular trip like the one we're doing this year.

Regrettably, there appear to be no stores in Essex, so one would need a car to go buy supplies to take advantage of the fully-equipped kitchen. Also, it would be the most expensive hotel room we've ever rented (>$300/night), even assuming we could get a reservation — it being singular means that getting a booking would be challenging. But it still looks like a lot of fun and a beautiful place to visit.

And no, we're not bidding the Inn as a site for a Westercon, or even a SMOFCon, even though it probably has better rail and air (nearest airport is Kalispell MT) access than Tonopah.
Field Rabbit

Follow the Bouncing Bunnies

A few days ago, before the smoke moved in, Lisa and I spotted behavior from the local rabbits that we've seen before, but have never managed to catch on camera.

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Not, it's not the rabbits taking their ease and seemingly ignoring us. It's something we've seen once before, but this time Lisa managed to catch it on video.



Lisa apologizes for the camera jitters. We were far enough away to not frighten them, and at that much magnification, any movement of the hand-held camera is also magnified. We have seen bunnies bounce before, and from what I've managed to locate online, it may simply be high spirits. OTOH, when a rabbit lays its ears back, as in the final segment, it seems to mean "Go Away," and the other one seemed to figure that out.

From some of the other antics we saw (but did not record), possibly there will be some baby bunnies coming along shortly as well.
House

Defensible Space

Yesterday stayed cloudy all day and (relatively) cool. I decided to tackle digging up the growth in the field next to the house, which, once it dries out, is a hazard.

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I was masked up while doing yard work, mostly against dust and pollen, but also from wildfire smoke that rolled back in. However, late in the evening, light winds cleared some of it out and cooled things off again. Lisa and I sat on the porch under the awning enjoying cooler air and being able to look at things more than a couple of meters away. A few drops of rain started to fall. As more rain fell, the air cleared some more and we mostly stayed dry, but even where we were getting rain falling on us, it seemed to dry quickly, which shows how dry the air is here.

Rain doesn't usually last very long around here, but this storm had some bite to it. There was also quite of bit of lightning in it, mostly cloud-to-cloud, and I hope that anything that hit the ground either didn't cause fires, or left ones that were extinguished by the rapidly increasing rain. After maybe 30 minutes, my phone blew up with a Flash Flood Warning from the National Weather Service. Water started to flow into the field where I had been cleaning brush earlier in the day. I couldn't get pictures, as it was too dark.

We pulled our chairs closer to the wall under the small awning, but after a while the wind also picked up and we had to head inside. Before we did so, we saw several trains passing through Fernley, all moving slowly. That was because Union Pacific had declared condition "FF" (Flash Flood) for the area, so all trains had to move at reduced speed, looking for washouts on the many small culverts along this stretch of track. We also heard a local maintainer in his hi-rail vehicle, when he pulled in behind the train stopped on the main in order to make room for a westbound train creeping from Hazen to Fernley to pass.

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Today, the clouds cleared (too bad; it was nice and cool), the smoke started leaking back into town, and the water had soaked into the thirsty lakebed on which Fernley sits.

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All in all, we're glad that we did not have to be out in that weather last night (although we would have liked having an enclosed porch from which we could have watched the rain) and that our property is not subject to flooding other than oversize puddles, thanks to the local lay of the land.
Pointless Arrow

Train Trip Houskeeping

While reviewing the Worldcon Train Trip reservations (six reservations, seven total one-way legs) and looking through my Amtrak account, I realized that I'd made two mistakes.

1. On two of the "revenue" trips, I had forgotten to enter Lisa's Rail Passengers Association (former National Association of Railroad Passengers) membership number, thus not getting the 10% discount off the rail fare. (The discount does not apply to the room cost.)

2. I had two "companion fare" coupons, good for a one-way free companion fare except on certain blackout dates. (And as it happens, we're traveling on one of those blackout dates.)

So I called Amtrak, waited through the queue, and asked the agent if she could retroactively apply these things. Somewhat to my surprise, she could, and did, applying the refund back to my Amtrak credit card. Net savings: $243.60.

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Ignoring the fact that the points aren't free, but were earned through a credit card program, I calculate that using Amtrak Guest Rewards points points and coupons that go with the related credit card program saved about 58% over purchasing all of the trip as revenue tickets. Of course now there's almost nothing in the AGR account and it's time to start accumulating points again for another trip someday. It will take some years before I accumulate enough points for a "big win" like this one.

Incidentally, although getting through to agents has been a massive wait, I must say that every Amtrak agent with whom I worked on this cross-country odyssey has been nice to work with and was able to accomplish most of what I wanted. There were a couple of times where what I wanted wasn't possible — AGR devalues their points during certain holiday periods, as I've discussed here ‐ but I don't blame the agents for having to tell me this. They were all polite and helpful. There just aren't enough of them, and they're massively backlogged as people are trying to book tickets, especially given that the Amtrak web site rarely seems to actually work for purchasing a ticket.
Sheriff Kevin

The Hat Pack

The wire through the brim of my Jacaru Australia hat (pictured in the user icon) broke a few days ago, and while it's not that noticeable (it's at that back of the brim), this was a sign that I should consider replacing it. It looks like the cost of shipping three hats is the same as one hat, so I bought three. Of course, shipping from Australia isn't fast, but I'm not complaining. The Pack o' Hats arrived yesterday, and so I should be set for some years to come as long as I don't get unlucky have have a hat fly off my head and underneath a car or something like that.

Of course, I could also just buy a broad-brimmed hat locally, but I don't like the styles I've seen in the stores here. I'm comfortable with that Australian hat. As it happens, when I'm just around the house this summer, I've been wearing the beach shoes I got during the last Australian trip, so I've been dressed Australian literally head-to-toe.
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Pointless Arrow

Circle Completed

This afternoon I decided to try to book the final leg of the Amtrak Circle Trip to Worldcon, that being the Los Angeles - San Jose run on New Year's Day 2022. As before, the Amtrak web site refused to sell me the trip, insisting that a portion of the trip was unavailable. I once again called Amtrak, and this time when they told me that the wait time was over an hour, signed up for their callback service. After that, I did some calculations and determined that what with the points rebate I got for being an Amtrak credit card holder on the legs of the trips I purchased with points, I had just barely enough points to buy that short trip on points. I therefore called Amtrak Guest Rewards (it's a different number run by different people, apparently), and decided that whichever one answered first, I would take. After a about 1 hour 15 minutes, main Amtrak answered and therefore I bought the tickets with money instead of points.

After I completed that call, I remembered that there was actually a "zeroth leg" of the trip: At the start of the trip, we'll drive to Emeryville, check in to our hotel, and I will drive to San Jose, go to Lisa Deutsch Harrigan's home in San Jose, then have her drop me at San Jose Diridon station, where I'll take a Capitol Corridor train back to Emeryville. That's an unreserved coach train, so I can catch the 3:05, 4:05, 5:05, or 6:05 trains on the same ticket, but it's still worth buying in advance in order to get the 10% Rail Passengers Association discount — assuming I didn't have to sit on the phone for an hour-plus. But this time, for that trip, the Amtrak web site let me actually buy the $17 ticket.

So now we have all of the tickets for the trip: SJC-EMY, EMY-CHI, CHI-WAS (Cardinal), WAS-CHI (Capitol Limited), CHI-NOL, NOL-LAX, and finally LAX-SJC.

All that's left now is making hotel reservations for the layover in Los Angeles and picking out a Holiday Inn Express in the San Jose area where we'll spend the night before driving home on Sunday, January 2.
Reno

Breathing Easier (For Now)

With a cooler day and less smoke in the air, Lisa and I ran into Reno to get groceries from WinCo Foods that we missed on our previous trip on account of us balking due to long lines and several things we wanted not being in stock. We, of course, wore our face masks as we've never stopped doing. There may have been a few more people masking up than there were a week ago, but I reckon a lot of people simply haven't heard the latest declaration from the governor's office, and probably a bunch who have are ignoring it because they are Freedumb Fighters.

While driving into town, we passed through a brief but intense downpour. It helped clear the air a little bit, but more would have been better.
Fernley House

Slightly Clearer

Today the high temperature was a mere 32°C, which is a full ten degrees cooler than it was a couple of weeks ago, and it a lot easier to live with. We had a little bit of rain last night when we went over to Lowe's to buy more air filters. After seeing how much dust the filters on the box fans in the house collected, Lisa decided to install filters over the inputs to the AC system in the trailer. Also, the trailer's AC has been laboring to keep up with the heat lately, so we reinstalled the swamp cooler out there as a backup.

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Lyon County, where we live, is one of those covered by the new order to start masking up indoors in public places. That's not a change for us; we never stopped masking indoors, and during this period of smoke, we've been wearing our N95 masks even more often even outdoors. Even so, I feel the smoke in my eyes, throat, and in the headache I've been getting from breathing it.
Pointless Arrow

TrainCon Scramble

The smoke conditions were mostly unchanged today.

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The "TrainCon" group ticket purchase fell through — too few people committed to the trip — so the organizer had to call it off. He refunded our money right away, and dropped the reservations earlier today, which put them back into the Amtrak general reservation pool. That meant that I had to rush to go ahead and book the bedroom on the Cardinal that I'd reserved as part of the original TrainCon. On the bright side, thanks to the way Amtrak's fare buckets work, it actually saved us $167 to book a bedroom on our own than as part of the group purchase. On the downside, I was unable to actually purchase the ticket on the Amtrak website, either on Firefox or Chrome. I would get as far as making the purchase and the site would respond that "a portion of your journey is no longer available." That's a message I kept getting while trying to book trips on points.

After several fruitless attempts to book online, I got in the queue for an Amtrak agent. If it had been earlier in the day, I might have tried driving to Reno to buy a ticket from the station agent. After only about a 30 minute wait (it can apparently be much longer), I reached a nice fellow who sorted everything else and booked that trip.

This means all of the legs of the trip are now booked except the last one: Los Angeles to San Jose, where Lisa Deutsch Harrigan will collect us. (She's agreed to let me leave my van with her while we're gone for the multi-week-long trip around the USA.) After discussing it with her and considering how poor Amtrak's on-time performance has been (we can't trust the five-hour connection time as Los Angeles), we'll lay over in LA for one day (New Year's Eve, as it happens), and take the Coast Starlight to San Jose the next morning, arriving (we hope) sometime around 8:30 PM that evening, spending the night at a hotel somewhere in the San Jose area, and driving home the next day.

Looking at the booking up the coast, we find that the cost of a roomette is only $150 more than the two coach seats. That seems like a bargain (especially because you don't have to mask up inside your room when the door is closed; this of course assumes that masks are still mandatory, which may well be the case), so I tried to book it this evening. Surprise! The website once again refused to let me actually book the trip. I didn't have the stomach for waiting for an agent again, so maybe I will try tomorrow and hope that the cheap compartment is still available tomorrow.

I understand that some of the other people who would be traveling by TrainCon will still take the train, just not as part of the group purchase, so, like our travel to Worldcon 75 via the Ferry from Germany, the convention will get an early start as we meet up with other fans, including, I think, at least one other member of the WSFS Business Meeting staff, assuming all goes as planned.