Tuesday, October 8, 2013

My Fourth SFWA Reception

I made my annual pilgrimage to the SFWA reception in New York City yesterday.  It feels strange to be turning into an old pro at these sorts of things, but when guys like Bud Sparhawk and Trevor Quachri come up to me and say, "Hey, good to see you again," I guess that means I'm not a noob anymore.  I had joked on the Codex forum that I'd be the socially awkward guy standing in a corner, but I never even got a chance to pick out a good corner.  Jason Chapman found me immediately and pointed out that where I was standing was not technically a corner.  Anyone who starts a conversation like that is my kind of guy, and we spent the rest of the night talking with each other and anyone else who drifted into our circle.

So who drifted in?  Well, the first was Bud, who was charming and personable as usual.  While we were talking, Rajnar Vajra stopped long enough to say a quick hello.  He looked dashing with his invisible carnation.  Later in the evening I led Jason on a quest to re-discover Rajnar so I could introduce him, but came up empty.  Sorry we didn't get to talk more, Raj!  While Jason, Bud, and I talked, Bud noticed Emily Hockaday, editorial assistant for Analog and Asimov's, and asked if I'd like to meet her.  She recognized my name immediately, which was really flattering.  I also got to meet her assistant and an intern who works with them; both were very interesting young people.  It wasn't long before Trevor found us all huddled together and joined the circle.  People drifted in and out of our little circle as the night progressed.  Bud wandered off and came back a couple of times.  Trevor went out to mingle a bit.  Sheila Williams stopped by to chat for a while.

Eventually, the circle broke up.  Jason and I wandered around the place and found the food table.  We each grabbed a plate and spent the last hour of the night talking to each other.  It's nice to get to know other people who are relative newcomers like me.  He's had success at markets where I haven't and vice versa, so I'm sure we can learn a few things from each other.  And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to convince him to go to a con next summer.

Meanwhile...back to writing fiction!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

LoneStarCon--My Second Worldcon

I need to write this blog post before the entire con blurs together in my memory.  Just like last year, Worldcon was exciting, wonderful, a bit intimidating, and it flew by way too fast.  I had met quite a few people last year, and it was nice to see how many of them actually remembered me.  Having the likes of Bud Sparhawk and David Brin casually say, "Oh, hi Jay.  How have you been?" is still a bit of a thrill!

I flew out of Philly this year because it was around $100 less expensive than Newark.  I ended up flying into Houston and picking up a connecting flight to San Antonio.  Fortunately, my friend Lisa Montoya had also flown into Houston and was on the same flight to San Antonio, so we sat together and talked the whole way there.  San Antonio is a gorgeous city, by the way, and I would love to go there again some time.

We arrived at the hotel around 6 pm on Thursday and, after check in, went in search of some quick food.  The mall adjacent to the hotel had a food court, so we just grabbed something there.  I had a gyro platter, if it matters!  From there we went exploring, trying to get our bearings.  The con was spread out over two hotels and a convention center, and we knew the Riverwalk was going to be our primary source of food.  It was a bit confusing and it took a while for us to get it all sorted out.  Luckily, Lisa has a better internal GPS than I do.  After a bit of exploring, we went up to the party floors and searched for the SFWA suite.  We hit a couple of parties along the way.  One of the first people I bumped into in the SFWA suite was Arlen Andrews, who gave me my Analog Mafia pin.  (For those unfamiliar with the Mafia, the idea started as a joke with some of the Analog writers, and Arlen came up with the idea that it stood for "makes appearances frequently in Analog," created pins, and started distributing them.)  We later bumped into Fred Lerner and spent quite a while talking with him over a beer or two.

Friday started with two rapid fire meals.  First was breakfast with the Codex writers group.  Upwards of 40 Codex members attended, way too many to meet everyone personally.  I very much enjoyed talking to as many members as I could get to.  It was nice to see Alastair Mayer, a fellow member who I had met last year at Chicon.  I also met Michelle Muenzler, who later became a source of delicious cookies and a recipe I need to try very soon.  After breakfast, I bumped into Jamie Todd Rubin.  Before the con we had planned to have lunch together on Friday, but we decided to attend the SIGMA panel first.  While we were there, we added Trevor Quachri to our lunch plans.  The three of us wandered the Riverwalk for a bit before settling in for lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  Lunch with the editor of Analog is never dull, of course, and we decided to make our three-man lunch a yearly tradition.  After lunch, Jamie and I sat down over a couple of beers and chatted.  Jamie is a rather outgoing and friendly guy, with all the social skills that I lack, so he acted as a magnet for people who came and went, allowing me the opportunity to meet and talk with a lot of interesting people.  Lisa joined us at some point and the three of us decided to go out and seek a good Texas steak dinner.  We found a place called The Saltgrass Steakhouse and enjoyed an amazingly delicious meal.  Afterwards, we headed up to the SFWA suite to join the Analog/Asimov's party.  I bumped into Stan Schmidt there and invited him to lunch on Sunday.  I talked to several very interesting people while there and also set up a Saturday dinner with Bryan Thomas Schmidt.  Later in the evening I bumped into Arlen again and spent a good two hours talking with him.  He's a fascinating man who has been involved with a number of government and private space enterprises, not least of which was the DCX.  He had a lot to say about SIGMA and government's role in space exploration.  I think I could have spent the entire weekend talking to him and still have a lot more to learn from him.

Saturday was a bit slower paced.  Lisa and I grabbed some pizza at the food court and went to explore the vendor's area.  I got to sit in THE captain's chair from the Star Trek set and bumped into a real live Dalek.  I'm drawing a blank on the rest of the afternoon; perhaps we just spent the whole time drooling over books and geeky t-shirts, or maybe did more exploring of the convention center and Riverwalk.  Maybe we had a few drinks.  Around 6 pm or so, Lisa and I met up with Bryan Thomas Schmidt and headed off to an Italian restaurant on the Riverwalk.  Bryan is always a lot of fun to hang around with.  We spent the evening discussing the SF industry and joking around.  After dinner, we explored a few of the party suites.  We found out that Japan is making a bid for the 2017 Worldcon, so we spent a while in their party enjoying plum wine, sake, rice crackers, and pocky.  I am SO voting for Japan when the time comes!  From there we hit the Kansas City 2016 party, where we enjoyed a very strong drink called devil's cream soda.  We also bumped into a very interesting Norwegian man who has been attending Worldcons since 1985 and claims that, if he attends the next three, he will have attended exactly half of all the Worldcons that have ever happened.

Sunday morning started with a walk to the Alamo, which was only a couple of blocks from the hotel.  I would have been embarrassed going to San Antonio and not stopping by to see it!  Afterwards, I went down to the Riverwalk with Stan Schmidt and enjoyed a quiet lunch discussing science fiction and writing with one of the giants of the field.  After lunch I met up with Lisa and we walked over to the vendors area to make our purchases.  I picked up a geeky t-shirt that requires you to know integral calculus and science fiction fandom in order to get the joke.  Around that time I started feeling overly chilly.  Not sure whether it was excessive air conditioning, tiredness, or the start of a cold (con crud, as we call it), I took it easy for the afternoon, warming up in the heat of the late Texas summer.  Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant near the hotel with Jamie and Lisa, and we decided that this year we would skip the Hugo ceremony and instead follow the action from the bar.  We met up with Alvaro Zinos-Amaro and a few others and had an interesting discussion that started with Asimov's famous thiotimoline piece.  Bud Sparhawk joined us for a while and shared all sorts of interesting stories.  The highlight of the night was hearing that Stan had won the Hugo for best editor (short form) and had also received a special achievement award.  Our table jumped up, shouted, and exchanged high fives.  We probably scared the rest of the bar patrons!  By the end of the Hugos, we were all dragging.  Sleep is not high on the priority list at cons, and it showed.  I was still feeling a little off my game, still wondering if I was getting sick, so we skipped the parties for the night and went to bed.

Monday started early; Lisa and I both had to catch a flight to Houston in the morning.  We checked out and took a cab to the airport.  The flight home was uneventful, unlike last year when I ended up sitting right next to Trevor by random good luck.  I managed to grab a REAL cheesesteak in Philly before catching a bus up to Allentown, where my parents picked me up and brought me home around midnight.  That gave me just enough time to shower, get to bed, and get ready for the first day of school.  The beginning of the school year kept me busy the rest of the week, which is why I'm only now getting around to posting this blog entry!

Next year's Worldcon is in London.  I'd love to go, but it falls in mid-late August and, with Gabby preparing to leave for college around that time, I don't want to risk missing some important event with her.  I might end up going to NASFiC in Detroit, though, since it's earlier in the summer.  And who knows; Gabby and I have been dying to hit a DragonCon one of these years.  Next year may be the year.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cutting the Cable

I dropped cable TV this week.  I'll be saving just under $100/month.  My cable provider, RCN, loves to bundle services like every other cable/satellite/DSL provider.  They start you off with a reasonable $99/month with all kinds of bells and whistles, then gradually jack the price up.  It became a routine; every summer my cable bill would go up, I would call and complain, and they would magically find some sort of "promotional offer" for me.  The net result was an uneasy status quo of price and service, provided I was willing to burn a day of summer break debating with their customer service reps.  I imagine a lot of people just gritted their teeth and lived with the price hike.  Not everyone has a summer break to work with.

But lately, RCN's strategy shifted away from giving me promotional pricing to gradually stripping away services.  "You can save $10/month by dropping xxx channel package."  Well, that was fine for a while, because there were plenty of channels I never watched and didn't even miss.  But ultimately I was paying the same amount (or slightly more) for less and less service each year.  It reached a point where I was cutting packages containing channels (like the Science Channel) that would have been nice to have for one or two particular shows, but were not essential.  As of last year, I was down to basic cable plus one small channel package which included most of the channels I actually watch--BBC America, AMC, TBS, TNT, SyFy.

With this year's inevitable price increase, RCN's recommendation was that I drop that package to counteract the $10/month hike.  They refused to budge one penny on their price, even though I know my ex-wife, who lives only a few blocks away from me, is getting identical service for $50/month less as a promotional package for new customers.  I started looking into their competitors' prices, but I also began evaluating my viewing habits.  I really only watch a handful of shows--Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Doctor Who, Falling Skies, Orphan Black, and Continuum.  Other than that, I mainly use the TV as background noise while I'm writing.  That's hardly worth an extra $100/month, especially since there is now so much video content available online.  My web searches shifted to devices that could stream video from my laptop to the TV wirelessly.

After some compromise between features, price, and availability, I settled on Western Digital's WD TV Live.  It cost $100, equal to my first month's savings on cable bills.  It's a tiny box that sits below my TV that can stream wirelessly from anything on my home network or from my 3 TB external hard disk that I now keep plugged into it.  There was a bit of a learning curve getting it set up, but it's summer so I had the time to burn.  So far, the only difficulty I had was with a few freeze ups when streaming a 1080p episode of Falling Skies (the season finale that RCN's DVR failed to record, by the way) from my laptop.  A Continuum episode streamed without a hitch from my laptop at 1080p, so we'll see if that was just a one time thing.  But video from the USB-connected HD runs very smoothly, even at 1080p.  The best cable used to get me was 1080i, and more often down at 720i.

My biggest worry was whether Gabby would be okay with the switch.  She seemed hesitant at first, even though she is much like me and mainly uses TV as background noise while doing other things on her laptop.  But once I showed her the features and the amount of content we had available, she seems to really like it.  Much of what she watches is anime, which is also available online with subtitles rather that the crappy English dubs they show on TV.  Seems like she'll be happy with the new setup.

The only things I'll lose are cable news, which I can read online, and sports.  The only sport I watch is football, the Philadelphia Eagles specifically.  I can pick up an antenna at Walmart for under $50.  The vast majority of Eagles games are on local stations, so I will likely only miss two or three games, and if I really want to, I'm sure I could go watch the game with my dad.  I doubt he'd mind the company.  If a couple of football games are the only thing I need cable for, well, I'd have to say that watching Michael Vick limp through another season isn't worth an extra $1000 a year.

So for now, I'm happy with my new setup...and my savings.  If I eventually discover that I miss cable TV, I can always grab onto one of those new customer promotional deals.  I just wish more people had the time and technical resources to dump cable TV, because a mass exodus away from their overpriced service is what it's going to take to get the cable companies to stop gouging their customers.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Losing a Pet

Tomorrow morning I'm taking my dog Rocky to be put down.  I made the appointment today.  The decision has been overdue for a while now, but I couldn't bring myself to do it.  Thing is, he's actually relatively healthy for his age--heart, lungs, everything works fine.  But his hips and hind legs are failing him, and he just can't get around.  He lays around all day, obviously miserable and unhappy.  It's heartbreaking to watch him struggle to stand up, only to fall back to the floor.  The back porch has a handful of steps, and he's been struggling with them for quite a while.  Yesterday he fell down the stairs just trying to go out to do his business, and I had to halfway carry him back up the stairs the last few times he went out.  He's a big dog, 80-90 pounds, and it's not easy to lift him up stairs.

He's always been a good dog, gentle and obedient.  Gabby grew up with him.  He has been a loyal companion for 12 years, but it is time to let him go.  I'm not doing him any favors by forcing him to cling to a life that lacks quality, that is devoid of even the simplest of dog pleasures.  He deserves to go with dignity.

Still, tomorrow won't be a good day.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Half a World Away

Okay, so I've really neglected this blog.  During the school year writing time is precious, and I try to devote the little I get to fiction.  I did manage to write a few stories over the winter, and sold Conscientious Objectors to Analog, so I managed some decent production.

The big news for me this summer is my daughter Gabby.  Early in the school year, an opportunity arose for her to sign up for a trip to Japan.  She's a huge fan of anime and Japanese culture in general, so I saved my pennies and signed her up.  That was all fine and dandy when the trip was months away, but now the summer has arrived and my little girl is half a world away.  Cue the parental angst.

She will no doubt have a wonderful time and see sights and do things that she will remember for the rest of her life.  She has been keeping in touch using her smartphone and any wifi connection she can find.  Usually that boils down to a handful of chat messages before the inevitable "gotta go, we're off to xxx."  Yesterday it was a tour of an anime studio, where they got to actually do some drawing and animate their work.  It's good that she doesn't have much time to talk to her dad.

It's hard to get past the fact that my little girl is so far away.  She's growing up, and letting her slip free is a part of that.  But it's not easy!  The rest of the summer will include looking at colleges, perhaps setting up a few visits to see the campuses.  One more year of high school, and then she'll be off to one of those campuses for the next phase of her life.  It won't be as far away as Japan, but it will be a lot longer than two weeks.  It will be the transition to the rest of her life, from dependent child to grown woman.

There will be time to stress over all that later.  For now, my little girl is taking her first steps toward independence.  I am both proud and terrified.