Where have I been?

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that my posts have been less frequent in the past year. In lieu of my usual holiday “snailmail” letter, here’s an update.

Late 2014 turned out to be difficult. Janice and I traveled to Pennsylvania and New York City to visit an ailing uncle of hers and our college friend Steve A.L., respectively. Both of them died, so we drove back down to their funerals.

Mike H., the manager of the Compleat Strategist in Boston, also died, joining Robert A.S. and other role-playing friends whom we lost in the past few years.

After the usual holiday travel to see our families in Upstate New York and Virginia, Janice and I got sick in early January 2015, followed by a very snowy winter in the U.S. Northeast.

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Waltham, Mass., February 2015

I then changed jobs in March 2015 (Janice had changed technical writer positions in September 2014). This has been the main thing keeping me from blogging.

After about six years as an editor managing a TT site about Windows enterprise desktops, I began working at EH/RBR as a writer covering robots. My former colleagues gave me a very nice going-away party, and a few have stayed in touch, joining former co-workers from BNA and IDG/CW.

Robotics has been an interesting beat, as I’ve learned a lot by trying to keep up with the business news around this rapidly developing technology. I’ve also had the good fortune to travel to events in Milan, Italy; San Jose, Calif., and soon, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

In the coming months, I may also get to travel to Canada, Denmark, and Lithuania for work. While I don’t particularly enjoy spending time in airports or cramped airplane seats, any chance to see the world, meet new people, and eat new food is a good one!

I got to tag along with Janice to Limerick, Ireland, and we really liked exploring the Cliffs of Moher, various castles, and the beautiful countryside. Janice and I have also returned to regular arts fairs such as the Lowell Folk Festival and the Christmas Revels.

In the meantime, Janice and I have kept busy, hosting college pal David I.S. & Sandra K. for last New Year’s and the wedding reception of mutual friends Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H.

We also hosted her family for Easter and her 50th birthday, grad school chum Erik B.L. and his family, and St. Louis-based gamer Byron V.O., who may be visiting again later this month.

In late August, we met my family in Ogunquit, Maine, to celebrate my mother’s 85th birthday, my father’s 80th birthday, and Janice’s and my 20th wedding anniversary. So many milestones!

I also attended genre entertainment conventions including Anime Boston, the Tampa Bay Area Renaissance Festival, the Watch City Steampunk Festival, the Boston Comic Con, and the Rhode Island Comic Con. All of them had the usual cosplayers, fun panels and autograph sessions with celebrities, and tempting artist and vendor booths.

We recently spent Christmas at my brother and his family’s new house in Northern Virginia, and we met some friends in Westchester, N.Y., on the way home. Some of us have started planning reunion gatherings to celebrate the 30 years since we graduated from high school and began college.

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The “Westchester crew,” December 2015

Three nights a week, I’ve continued my role-playing games and historical weapons classes. My D20/FATEVanished Landsfantasy campaign has given way to two adventuring parties using Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition (D&D5e).

Fellow Game Master Jason E.R.’s “Star Wars: Dark Times” scenario (using Savage Worlds) just ended its latest chapter, and we’re about to start Bruce K.’s D&D5e “Kings and Pawns” space opera miniseries. The latest “episodes” of my D20/FATEStar Trek: Restorationgame also went well.

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My latest Star Trek costume, Halloween 2015

Speaking of ongoing series, I’ve been enjoying the latest wave of fantasy, horror, superhero, and science fiction shows on television (more on that to come). I saw fewer movies in theaters in 2015 than in previous years, but I’ve gotten pickier, and time has been limited.

I’ve also been reading several SF magazines and Web sites, assorted pulp comic books, and various novels (mainly with the “Escapists” book club). So much to do, so little time!

I’ll try to post more specific reviews in the coming year, and I wish all of you a healthy, peaceful, and Happy New Year!

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Arizona vacation, or A Week Without Pants

On Saturday, 17 May 2014, Janice and I flew from Boston’s Logan Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor for a week in Arizona. She attended a Society for Technical Communication conference, and I tagged along for sightseeing.

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Downtown Phoenix

After checking into the Hyatt Regency, we had a very good Southwestern dinner at Canyon Café. We then took in the Cirque de la Symphonie, a performance of classical music by the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra accompanied by impressive acrobats.

On Sunday, May 18, Janice and I had breakfast at the Hyatt’s Terrace Café and then went to the Heard Museum, which had excellent exhibits of Native American art. We had lunch at the museum and dinner at Boka Pizza at Arizona Center.

From Monday through Wednesday, Janice attended convention sessions, and I logged into work from our hotel room. We’d typically start each day with a workout in the Hyatt’s exercise room, shower and dress, grab breakfast at Einstein Bros Bagels, and then meet again for lunch and dinner. The cost of real estate and meals was less than in comparable cities back east. Despite the ongoing drought, it was easy to see the appeal of living in the Southwest.

On Monday, we had decent pub grub at the Tilted Kilt, a theme eatery similar to Hooters, with scantily clad waitresses and at least one kilt-wearing busboy. That evening, we returned to the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix for a simple dinner at the Corner Bakery Café, which I’d compare to Panera.

With high temperatures in the low 100s Fahrenheit early that week — not that I minded the dry heat and hence the shorts — we didn’t want to walk too far. On Tuesday, I had a selection of cheeses at the Arrogant Butcher and had a more down-to-earth dinner at Steve’s Greenhouse Grill across the street from our hotel.

On Wednesday, Janice attended the STC’s closing session, so I went to Potbelly Sandwich Shop for lunch. We then joined some of her colleagues via the Metro light rail to the Phoenix Art Museum, which had exhibits of international art, Southwestern modern art, and Hollywood costumes.

As a pasta fan, I was pleased to have dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory near the museum. I hope that restaurant chain makes it into the Northeast. In my next blog post, I’ll cover more of our vacation in Arizona!

Muppets Most Wanted review

On Saturday, 29 March 2014, Janice and I screened Muppets Most Wanted at the AMC Burlington Cinema 10. We enjoyed the latest film from Disney/Henson a bit more than its 2011 predecessor.

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More Muppet mania

As you might expect, Muppets Most Wanted combines self-aware puppets, celebrity cameos, and musical hijinks to good effect. The plot is simple enough for most children to follow: Immediately after the events of The Muppets, Kermit the Frog is sent to a Russian gulag in a case of mistaken identity, while his lookalike criminal Constantine takes his place as master of ceremonies as part of a devious plan.

I didn’t miss Jason Segal or Amy Adams, thanks to strong casting. There were many fun appearances in Muppets Most Wanted‘s globe-hopping story, but the main supporting actors are worth singling out. Ricky Gervais, playing Constantine’s henchman Dominic Badguy as smarmily as Charles Grodin was in The Great Muppet Caper, to which this movie owes several stylistic debts.

Tina Fey joins the song and dance show as Nadya, guard captain at the Russian Gulag (and a ringer for Rocky & Bullwinkle‘s Natasha). Ty Burrell matches wits with Sam the Eagle as Interpol Inspector Jean Paul Napoleon, who apparently went to the same academy as Inspector Clouseau.

As you might guess from the above, the movie does lean heavily on national stereotypes, but the jokes are clever enough for adults and broad enough for children without resorting to potty humor. The puppeteers can’t quite match the frenetic energy and raw talent of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, but they get pretty close.

Unlike some critics, I liked that the overall tone of Muppets Most Wanted was a bit more upbeat than that of The Muppets, and I thought its script and soundtrack were better. As with Mr. Peabody & Sherman, it’s hard to balance nostalgia with the expectations of today’s audiences, not to mention keeping a beloved franchise going into the future.

Overall, I’d give Muppets Most Wanted, which is rated PG for slapsticky humor and mild innuendo, an 8 out of 10, four out of five stars, or a B+. The Lego Movie is still the best family movie I’ve seen so far this year, but not by much.

This coming weekend, I hope to see superhero sequel Captain America [2]: the Winter Soldier. In between game updates, I still hope to post thoughts on the current genre television season and more!

Summer’s end, 2013 edition

Scattered thundershowers may have put a damper on some Labor Day plans, but Janice and I enjoyed the last weekend of a busy summer. We’ve traveled out of state at least once per month all year, and we’ve had house guests during at least one weekend for each of the past few months.

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Looking out from Seattle

I’m of course glad to see friends and family, but it’s also nice to have a few relatively quiet weekends. The previous Friday, Janice and I went to the Fiddle Master’s Concert put on by the Suzuki School at Lassell College. We enjoyed the mix of Celtic, Scandinavian, bluegrass, and even some big band music.

On Saturday, 31 August 2013, we visited our usual bookshops in Harvard Square, Cambridge. We did have to contend with some traffic, since I had forgotten that students were moving into Boston’s many colleges.

In addition to grocery shopping this past weekend, we tried out Greek Corner, a nice family restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. I’ve had lunches with co-workers recently at Bison County, City Streets, and Elephant Walk in Waltham, Mass.

Although my gaming groups have had some difficulty getting quorum over the past few weeks, I did meet Beruk A. and Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. at Thomas’ place in Lexington, Mass., on Labor Day. We had Buffalo wings from Wings Express, as well as cheese fondue, homemade pea and fava bean soup, brisket, and fruit.

Thomas shared some recent anime series with us, and we talked about recent and upcoming genre TV shows and movies. I’ll try to blog more about these soon. In the meantime, enjoy autumn’s approach!

Sightseeing around the Emerald City

As I’ve already mentioned, Janice and I did what tourists are expected to do in Seattle — visit the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. We did get rained on, but less than expected. There was no shortage of things to see in the city, and we got glimpses through the mist of the green and mountainous Northwest beyond.

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Looking out from Seattle

On Sunday, June 23, Janice and I went to historic Pioneer Square. We had a real character as our guide during the Underground Tour, and we also enjoyed browsing at the Magic Mouse toy store and the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. We also checked out the impressive modernist Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, which was only a block from our hotel.

We walked up to Kobe Terrace Park, but we didn’t fully explore the International District, where many Asian-Americans live. After the harbor cruise the next day, we wandered among the tourist traps of various piers before heading to the Seattle Aquarium. It might be smaller than the New England Aquarium, but it was informative about how humans have both lived off the sea and (belatedly) tried to protect it.

We also saw some fun public sculpture and goats grazing beneath an underpass. As I noted in my blog post about Seattle food, Pike Place Market was great, while Pacific Place and other urban shopping malls cater to the locals and business people. I’ve been asked whether I was interested in visiting the headquarters of Microsoft (or Wizards of the Coast), but that would have been too much like work.

I’m glad that Janice and budgeted most of Tuesday, June 25, to see the Museum of Flight, which is next to Boeing’s sprawling campus. It featured lots of exhibits on the entire history of aircraft, from the Wright brothers through the World Wars and the International Space Station.

We’ve been to the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as well as the Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport, and this was as impressive as either of those. Among the aircraft we saw were the P-51 Mustang WWII fighter, the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, and one of the jets designated as Air Force One through several presidential administrations.

Wednesday, June 26, was the quietest day of our vacation, since we expected heavy rain (which never came). We went to the Seattle Art Museum, which had small but strong collections of ancient through modern art. I didn’t take many photos in the museums because most prohibited the use of a flash. Janice and I also visited some art galleries and shops of First Nations or Native American art such as Northwest Tribal Art.

The next day, Janice and I visited Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. We admired the architecture and meticulous gardens. The Royal B.C. Museum was one of the highlights of our trip, including a recreation of a Western town in which you could enter rooms in each building, ranging from a saloon to a train station to a fancy 19th century hotel.

We also checked out the spectacular dioramas at Miniature World, which is similar to Roadside America in Pennsylvania. I got a new sun hat at the Tilley store, and we viewed nature art at the Robert Bateman Centre before heading back to the clipper to Seattle.

On Friday, June 28, we walked to the Olympic Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park for a mostly clear view of the Olympic Mountains. We then walked to Seattle Center, spending our last afternoon in town in the same way we had spent our first one — near the iconic Space Needle.

The EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum focuses on popular culture. It was cool to see the artifacts from Jimi Hendrix, local band Nirvana, and the “Women Who Rock” exhibit. Of course, the exhibits on science-fiction icons, fantasy world-building, and classic horror movies were of particular interest.

On a related note, Golden Age Collectibles in Pike Place Market had a wide selection of comic books and games, and I’ve known Seattle for years as the setting for the Shadowrun cyberpunk/fantasy tabletop role-playing game.

At the Pacific Science Center, we saw the usual planetology and paleontology exhibits, as well as the Air Racers IMAX film, which was timely because of our visit to the Museum of Flight.

I did check e-mail periodically during the vacation, but it was nice to get away from the usual routine. I did follow the news, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on the Voting Rights Act, which I disagreed with, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which I’m glad was struck down, as were people who gathered at the courthouse near our hotel.

In future trips to the Pacific Northwest, Janice and I hope to see more of the great outdoors, First Nations and Asian culture, and maybe other cities, such as Portland and Vancouver. I’d be happy to return to Seattle anytime!

Since then, I’ve been busy catching with work (especially after the latest reorg), gaming, and genre TV. I look forward to seeing friends during the coming weekends.