shannon_a: (Default)
We saw West Side Story at Berkeley Playhouse today. I'd never seen it before (aside from the brief but memorable parody in Scrubs), but I was impressed by the cleverness of the translation of Romeo & Juliet into the near-modern day and I was less impressed by the music — in part, because it's somewhat sparse for a musical, in part because there were few stand-out numbers, though "America" was great and "The Jet Song" and "I Feel Pretty" are well-known and pretty catchy. I also feel like the music hasn't caught up with the grittier urban setting of the play. Though "America" feels very modern with its argumentative intercuts, "I Feel Pretty" could have come straight out of The Sound of Music.

What really impressed me, though, was the messaging.

I mean, a play about racial animosities, where a somewhat down-trodden group hates the newest immigrants for no particular reason, that's ripped straight from the headlines. But the play goes a lot deeper than that, and is really a psychological tour de force.

To start with, I never understood how pathetic "The Jet Song" was. This was a song sung by a downtrodden underclass who is desperately trying to claim their importance. It's not about loyalty or brotherhood or the other things I assumed form the snippets I'd previously heard; it's hopeless people screaming into the void. This is confirmed by "Cool", which is all about the bubbling anxiety and fear experienced by these people; we may not understand why Trumpites are so desperately afraid of the immigrants coming into this country, but the fact is that the economic, personal, and existential anxiety is there. And then we have "Gee, Officer Krupke", about how these people suffer the tragedy of diminished expectations. Put it all together and you have a very powerful statement about the fears of those who aren't being protected as they should be by our society. That's a long way beyond Romeo & Juliet.

Oh, and I should mention the dancing. Great dancing. No surprise. And great staging. I loved the fact that the Jets were primarily dressed in blue (with some white) and the Sharks primarily in red (with some black). You couldn't get an American flag without both: more great messaging.

Edit: Ha! The kid who played gang-leader Riff in the West Side Story movie was Dr. Jacoby in Twin Peaks! And Tony was Ben Horne!
shannon_a: (Default)
After a great start in January, we weren't able to put as much effort into getting ready to move in February, in part because both Kimberly and I got sick, and in part because I went to Spain at the end of the month.

Our big plan for the month was to get all of our filing in order.

  • I got my file cabinet in order, getting rid of all unnecessary paperwork, but then I discovered a bonus drawer of filing, with a few things of note in it, but most of which just needed to be separated into recycling vs shredding. I did part of it, and was going to finish it the weekend before I left for Spain, but then I spent that weekend recuperating on the couch.
  • Kimberly and I didn't get to her filing, which also includes most of our household filing.
  • I didn't get to the Skotos filing, but there I just shrugged my shoulders, since it's something I need to do during work time, as work time allows. I just need to not save it to the last moment.

We were also continuing with our big stuff from January: we had our gardener out a few times and he's totally cleaned our front and side yards, put down plastic to mostly keep the weeds out, and planted us some new plants in the front, after consultation with his wife for what would work well. It looks good, and will hopefully look better in a year. We've had less luck with our handyman, who's been a flake. I queried for our quote early in the month, but as we got closer to my Spain trip, I decided it was going to wait until afterward. (Meanwhile, Kimberly got one of the things from our handyman list done! She ordered some handles for our pantry and installed them!)

And we continued to get some stuff out of the house, but not a lot. Kimberly got rid of a breadmaker that I don't even remember us buying. The recycler brought us brownies. I passed some books and cards on to a good home. I think I dropped off a few things at Goodwill early in the month, including some shirts that I decided I wasn't wearing any more. There were probably other small things.

I think our big thing in March is going to be finishing up the stuff we started in January and February, which means getting a handyman who's actually starting work and finishing all of our personal filing. And it'd be good to get more stuff out of the house.
shannon_a: (Default)
Heading out to Spain this year, I had my easiest time ever acclimatizing to a European timezone. I barely slept on the plane, and so when I got into my hotel, I was pretty ready to crash. I did go get mediocre dinner downstairs, but then I was asleep by 10pm, and slept through the night with just a single interruption.

After that I went and had a full day out and about on Thursday, and I never looked back: I was fully awake during the Europe day and fully asleep during the Spanish night. It was magic.

I do wonder if just coming off of a cold was what helped, because I'd been doing a lot of napping during the day in the weekend before my trip, and so was pretty full-up on sleep. I hope instead it was the full day out in Barcelona, from about 9am to 9pm. Because that's more replicable (and more pleasant). I got plenty of exercise and plenty of sun and stayed quite active that day.

Whatever it was, it was a great start to the trip.

Sadly, I had the opposite experience coming back. I've been tired every night. And most of the days. I've generally been tired. And hungry.

I've been slowly shifting back, and I hope this last weekend finally did it. But I'm shocked to have had no problems resetting my clock to Europe, but definite problems the other way.

I realized after the fact that I should really have dedicated the Wednesday after my return to being out in the sun and doing some exercise. Except we weren't getting any sun! So it wasn't even an option.

Ironically: daylight savings time to the rescue!

I love the start of DST because it means I suddenly get sunny evenings after work. But I also hate it, because I lose an hour of sleep and am groggy for a week. Yes, I voted for always-DST-in-California last November, even though it won't be very relevant to me. (Actually, it'd be nice not having the time differential between Hawaii and California flopping back and forth.)

But this year, DST was actually helpful, because it shifted me one of the hours back toward Pacific Time. A night that I was struggling to stay awake at 11pm was suddenly midnight.

And what's even nicer is that this should be the last time I have to make that shift, as next March we should be in Hawaii, where DST does not exist. (Yay!)

The other annoyance on my return has been the weather. It was nice in Barcelona. Mid-to-high '60s and lots of sun. Then I got to return to the surprisingly cold winter we've been having in the Bay Area. Our average was running about 10 degrees low (e.g., 55), with lots of rain before I left, then the same when I got back too. Sigh.

Fortunately, this is nearing the end of my last full winter before moving to the tropics.

And it looks like things are warming up, as today was finally nice. And this weekend is looking to be 70 degrees and warm. I'm looking forward to a nice hike up in the hills on Saturday.

Oh, hey, I've been back in California almost a week, so my allergies were back this morning.
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I took Spanish for three years with Ms. Garsh in High School. She was a great teacher: young (and so not beaten down by the educational system), lively, and very well-versed in Spanish. She was also a science-fiction fan. She told me how she'd once had C.J. Cherryh as a teacher, before Cherryh went full-time writing, and proudly showed me a paperback book with a woman in a spacesuit on a cover, and said the image was Cherryh herself. The Spanish, I got less out of. I took it solely as a requirement to be able to apply to all the good colleges. Though I know we went down to Mexico at least once while I was growing up, I never used my Spanish in a real-world setting — just to succeed at tests and be able to (kind of) watch La Bamba in Spanish.

Then at the end of this January, quite late on the RWOT calendar, we confirmed that the eighth Rebooting event would be occurring in Spain, and I flipped my Duolingo over from German (just as I finished a first-pass on the entire course) to Spanish.

I was shocked how easy it was to pick up the Spanish from Duolingo, and how immediately confident I felt with the language. I've been playing with French and then German for a few years now in Duolingo, and they've both been hard. That's in part the languages: French feels unpronounceable because you drop sounds at the end of words, while German has these big, complex words that all look the same to my eye. Spanish just has rolling "R"s and en-yays. But, it was more than that: I could tell that this skill learned in my youth was so much better embedded in my brain that these languages that I'd worked on in my middle age.

Mind you, I only had a month to revisit my Spanish, and by the time I was on a plane to Barcelona I didn't have anything like a conversational aptitude, but I could read a fair amount, something that I proved to myself at the Catalan Art Museum.

And it was fun unearthing this ancient skill, and even if my real-life ability to use it was quite limited by my late return, it was still more than I'd done with it in adolescent days.

It would have been good to have had several more months working on my Spanish, because as it turned out, there was a real language barrier in Barcelona. Out in Berlin the other year, almost everyone we interacted with spoke English, with the exception of some taxi drivers. But in Barcelona I often hit the language barrier. A decent number of people spoke no English at all, and I even had some communication problems with some people who spoke some English, like some of the staff at our hotel.

But what I really hadn't understood about Barcelona before visiting is that it's a bilingual city: Spanish and ... Catalan. And this really messed with me. The web resources all say that Catalan isn't a dialect of Spanish, and that it sounds quite different. But when written, they have a huge number of words in common. So when trying to read written text, sometimes I got really confused because it looked like Spanish, but wasn't ... but my recovering vocabulary was still poor enough that I couldn't always figure out if I couldn't read something because it was Spanish with words I didn't know or because it was Catalan instead.


There were only a few times in Barcelona when I despaired of making my desires known, but that's a few more than in Berlin. Meanwhile, my Spanish was improving over the several days as I learned critical phrases like empujar ("push") and para llevar ("to go").

I read about the Catalan independence movement in 2017, when the region had a referendum on independence. I remember being shocked by the Spanish government's entirely fascist response, saying it was illegal. Whether countries can and should be split up in the modern world is a difficult question, but saying that a region can't even vote on their opinions: that's some thought-controlling bullshit there.

And afterward the topic disappeared entirely from the big newspapers (even good ones like "The Guardian", which is my primary source of news), so it disappeared from my attention as well.

But when I arrived in Barcelona, I saw that it's still definitely an issue. The immoral, politically motivated trials of the politicians who supported the referendum are currently in process. There are yellow ribbons everywhere, as both actual ribbons and as graffiti, showing support for those politicians (and by extension, for independence). But the Catalan people seem less willing to actually talk about their desire for independence in person: the Spanish government has done a great job of quashing the speaking of dissent, as fascist governments do.

I had sympathy for Catalan independence when it briefly made the headlines in 2017. But now, after I've seen the feeling of the city, and after we were actually supported by the Catalan government itself, I do doubly so.

They're being oppressed, and you wouldn't even know it from across the world.

What else surprised me about Barcelona? Definitely the hours. The city gets a late start, with the streets not coming alive until after 9am. It has long lunches, and in turn long days. It has late evenings. The streets were still very crowded into the mid-evenings and definitely still populated as the clock approached midnight.

I found it more disconcerting than anything else on the trip, primarily because things ran so late, but it was also exciting seeing a city so alive so long after dark.

I expected the climate to be a lot like the Bay Area — or at least the Bay Area as it should be, without this unseasonably cold February and early March that we've had, which is running 10 degrees colder than normal. (Sick of it! But I keep reminding myself: it's my last full winter.)

And temperature-wise, that was what Barcelona was. But it was also surprisingly humid.

The end result: very, very nice weather, and I was even walking around in a t-shirt some of the time (though most people, more used to the humidity, had at least one extra layer of clothes).

Wow, the public transit of Barcelona was great. It went almost everywhere, there was almost always a train coming within a minute or two, and although it was crowded (e.g., usually standing-room-only) it wasn't NYC crowded or BART-rushhour crowded (e.g., pressed up against everyone like sardines).

And tickets were quite reasonable: a few euros to go anywhere in the city, and cheaper in bulk.

There were glitches here and there. There's a balkanization of commuter rails, and even of some of the major underground lines, which are run by a different agency. There's the usual price penalty for going to the airport, which is always a great way to discourage visitors from using the public-transit system from day one.

But overall, awesome system, comparable to greats like London and NYC.

Beyond that? It was a nice city. Full of people (who won't make eye contact with you on the street), but not jammed (though I suspect that changes in summer). The people were friendly. The city felt well-maintained and also felt safe (even in the wee hours). There were almost no beggars (in Spain) other than the the white-cloth illegal street vendors. And it was one of those cities where it felt like every few blocks there was something shocking and amazing.

I bet I could go there a week and still be seeing amazing new things.
shannon_a: (Default)
I wake up from a dream this morning with a deep sense of satisfaction and contentment that I'm home. Then I realize that I'm still in my hotel room in Barcelona and that there are still 20 hours or so of travel ahead of me, including a marathon 12-hour plane trip from Zurich to San Francisco.

Suddenly, I'm quite concerned over whether I've overslept. I hit my Fitbit, and discover it's 5.30am, an hour before I'd planned to get up. But, the damage is done: with the adrenaline surging through my body, I'm not going back to sleep.

So, I get up. This allows me to get an unplanned shower in the morning, always a pleasure. In fact, I can be entirely leisurely. And I'm still out at the train station at 6.30, a half-hour earlier than planned.

I find it a little weird that when I say goodbye to Kimberly before I head out, because she hasn't even gone to bed yet the previous evening. She's going to sleep, wake, and have a whole day while I'm in transit.

Time zones are weird.

The big question for me was: does the Barcelona airport suck? Because the Berlin airport really sucked last time I left Europe. There is about a thirty-minute wait at the checkin, where I need to get my printed boarding passes and to check my luggage, but that's the only real delay.

Security is very quick, and there's no passport control on this side of things.

Annoyingly, Barcelona doesn't schedule its gates until an hour out. So, I end up sitting in a Starbucks, and have the first of many bread products of the day. It gives me time to mostly finish up yesterday's journal entry.

With just a backpack, I'm feeling pretty casual about boarding in any case. Despite the constant rush-and-wait that seems baked into air travel nowadays, I'm determined to keep this a low-key day.

I actually sleep at least half of the flight from Barcelona to Zurich, thanks to the (literal) support of the neck pillow that Kimberly lent me (and which ironically, she has yet to use).

I know I was fully asleep because when I wake up, I find a small Swiss chocolate bar on the tray table in front of me.

There are surely better ways to wake up, but that's pretty high on the list.

We exit the plane on the Zurich side about twenty minutes late. It seems to be a cascading failure, as the plane we used was late getting into Barcelona too. And they seem to be scheduled as tightly as the interisland flights in Hawaii. That leaves me with just an hour fifteen for my layover, but I remain cool.

Meanwhile, the woman in front of me is flipping out. She's asked the flight attendants a couple of times about whether she's going to be able to get across Zurich airport in time. And where is she heading? The same flight to SFO that I'm taking. I think about telling her she's made of time, and offering to walk her there, but I really don't need the stress seeping over. She'll see soon enough that she gets there fine.

So, I casually walk to the underground tram, spending maybe five minutes in line at passport control on the way. Then I have to walk all the way down to the end of the other terminal. I think it's at the end because it's a flight to the US, and the US has gotten increasingly strident about keeping foreigners out. (This isn't new to Trump: it was going on when I flew in October 2016 too, a few weeks before Doomsday '16.) So, they require another passport control check, to make really extra super sure that someone can legally come into the US, before they get on a plane. To support it, Swiss has the last four gates or so blocked off by the bonus-border-agents.

These are also the most invasive passport control agents of the trip. They want to know exactly where I've been and for how long. Fortunately, I don't say anything like "Iran", so I'm not taken off to the room with the men with the rubber hoses.

And, yes, I get to the gate with plenty of time. I sit for about 20 minutes before they start boarding. My only regret is that I once again don't make it out to the Zurich observation deck. It's definitely open today, but by that point I'm on the other side of the passport control, and I'm certainly not going through the fascist-check again.

Later, when I'm waiting in line to board I hear some people with American accents complaining about how many times they had to show their passport at the airport. They're clearly entirely ignorant to the fact that it's their country that's most of the problem.

We board, and again we're late getting out. This time it's because two people never make it onto the airplane, and so their luggage has to be found and removed. Then, we're even later because Zurich airport always seems to be slow. I think it's 2 before we're in the air, when our departure time was scheduled as 1.15.

But we also discover there's a big bonus: the flight is only about two-thirds full. I think it's literally been decades since I've been on a long flight that wasn't entirely full or near-to. All my recent trips for crypto- and identity-work, all of my recent trips to Hawaii have been jammed.

So, most of the middle seats on the plane are empty. This is a huge luxury that makes the unbearably long flight bearable. I've also tossed my backpack in the overhead bin. So, I can stretch my legs under the seat in front of me and to the left. And I can lean into the seat to my left. And my window-neighbor and I can both pile crap like books and water bottles in our middle seat. As I said: bonus.

I mostly read and play Reiner Knizia games on my iPad, but I also watch Bohemian Rhapsody. I remember that there was huge hoopla when the first trailers came out from people claiming that it was erasing Freddie Mercury's homosexuality and the fact that he died from AIDS. And, I just shook my head, because they were evaluating the content of the movie from a trailer, and I was pretty sure they were wrong.

Sure enough, the movie was practically all about him being gay and dying from AIDS. The first shot in the movie is him coughing in a dressing room in 1985, and anyone who knows Mercury's story knows where that's going.

I quite enjoyed the movie. It was of course full of great music. I felt a lot of it got cut short early on, but then the movie makes up for it with the last 20 minutes or so being entirely music. And it was intriguing seeing the story of Mercury and Queen.

We fly the route I'm more used to: we pretty much head straight north from Zurich, go well east of the UK, east of Iceland, and then crossover Greenland and eventually swing back down the western coast of North America.

Oddly, this results it it being 4.15 or so by the time we get out over by England, which is also the time we're supposed to arrive. We stay at 4 o'clock for a few hours, then travel backwards in time as far as 1 o'clock before our timepieces start moving in the right direction again, as we start heading southward.

Time zones are weird.

We hit some very notable turbulence when we hit US airspace. Which seems appropriate somehow. May that turbulence now have less than two years left.

This flight does have one uncomfortable aspect: my father is having some major cardiac surgery done sometime when I'm up in the air.

It's an entirely awkward and uncomfortable feeling knowing that if anything happened, I wouldn't find out about it for hours and hours later, but everyone else would know.

I do my best to not worry about it, but every once in a while, I look at my watch at suss out what time it is in Honolulu. (I pretty quickly realize it's a pretty easy calculation: my watch is still set to Barcelona, which is 9 hours east of California, and this time of year, Hawaii is 3 hours west, so my watch actually shows Honolulu time is I mentally flip AM and PM.)

I've kept my phone plugged into the USB in my seat for the duration of the trip, lest its post-breakage fast-discharging run it out in a few hours. I know I'm going to be tense when I flip my phone back out of airplane-mode. I can't help but think of all those poor people flying the night Trump was elected, and how their worlds suddenly changed when they flipped their phones back on and saw the shocking results.

A slew of text messages spam my phone when I get in. My dad's in recovery, and the surgery went fine.

On my way out of the airport in San Francisco, I remember why I had this preconception that passport control sucked, and why I was initially worried about those short layovers in Zurich. It's because passport control sucks in the Fascist States of America. It takes almost 40 minutes to get back into the country, and the line is twice as long when I leave, meaning those folks are going to be waiting an hour and a half.

Hopefully they don't have connecting flights.

(And the other bad passport controls I've seen lately were official US passport controls in Canada ... but they weren't this bad.)

Outside it's cold and raining again. Apparently I'm back in sunny California.
shannon_a: (Default)
Yesterday was my last full day in Barcelona. With RWOT done, I could relax, and I'd scheduled one day of enjoying the city. Christopher was able to join me, since his RWOT obligations were over too, and I'd play the day as a Gaudi day, and in some of my very scant evening hours had even sketched out the train stations and connections needed to get among them.

Our first stop was Park Guell, my first (and only) trip to the hills that back the Barcelona basin. I'd wanted to get there good and early, before the crowds showed up. So we left the hotel slightly before 9, and after an emergency-breakfast stop near the Park managed to make it there a bit before 10.30.

And the next tickets available for the inside, Monumental zone were for 13.30. Whoops! (The moral of the story is to get tickets in advance, but this just hadn't been possible because I didn't know when we'd be able to leave the hotel, nor how long it would take to get to the Park in the real world.)

No crisis! I suggested we get our tickets, then go to see some of the other Gaudi buildings, because they were pretty nearby. This turned out to work perfectly, other than the need to trudge up the hill to the Park Guell twice. (Fortunately, there were escalators for part of it.)

So, back toward the city, our first stop was Casa Milla, called "The Stone Quarry" or something like that. It was a beautiful building, with weird, organic looking pseudo-stonework all on the outside. We considered taking the tour of the inside, but eventually opted not to, in part because there's only so much money you can dump on going into every building, in part because the main attraction seemed to be the roof, and as it turned out, we'd have plenty of great views of the city from up-high over the course of the day. Nonetheless, we got to see the big central well of the building from a window in the gift shop, and it was pretty beautiful.

Onward to Casa Batlo, which was just four blocks or so down the street ... and under construction! The entire facade was hidden by a cover! We couldn't see a damned thing!

Fortunately, there was a pretty building next store, which had all kinds of sculptures on it depicting things from myth and legend. There was St. George and the dragon, the Pied Piper and a Rat, and some female saint, strangling another dragons. Those dragons certainly get the short side of the stick! (And the sword!)

We still had an hour and a half, so we went out to the Familia Sagrada, Gaudi's cathedral. Whereas Casa Milla was kind of neat, unusual and attractive, the Sagrada was entirely amazing. An absolutely towering cathedral that we later would realize was discernible from the hills to either side of the city. But also oh, oh, oh so interesting. There were sculptures on the front of the building depicting saints and priests and heroes and they had a weird angular look to them that made them look like characters from Star Wars or something. There were spirals going up the towers, running in different directions. There were big bunches of colored grapes! When we went around to the back of the cathedral, it had a weird, flowy, organic feel to it, unlike the much sharper lines on the front. Wow, it was amazing!

After a stop for a light lunch it was back to ...

The Park Guell. We got there almost precisely at 1.30, though it took us a bit to find the entrance to the Monumental Zone, but it was perfect timing.

The Monumental Zone of the Park Guell is where the majority of Gaudi's work lies. There are a couple of small buildings up front, then a set of stairs with tilework all around the sides, then a huge colonnade, and above that an open patio and some porticos.

Gaudi's work continued to be amazing. His tile techniques and his weird organic shaping were all just beautiful architecturally. There were also weird nuances to find everywhere.

One bit of a disaster: Christopher asked for my phone to take a picture of me being menaced by Gaudi's dragon, recalling a similar menacing by a dinosaur in the science museum we went to in Boston. Unfortunately, he's not used to an iPhone that is light because it doesn't have a case. So he bobbled it, and it landed on Gaudi's hard stone steps right on the off button. The phone is pretty much a loss. The screen's a mess, it discharges quickly, it won't turn off with its button, and if you do manage to get it off, it won't turn back on without being plugged in. Whoops! We totally didn't let that spoil the day, though, and I've ordered a new iPhone8 to replace this older iPhone7; I should have it within a day or two of getting home. (In fact, it shipped while I was sitting in the airport, writing this, this morning.)

Part of the upper patio, above the colonnade, was under reconstruction, which seemed to be a constant theme for all of Gaudi's works. But we got to see our first beautiful view of the Barcelona basin looking out from the side of it.

Afterward, we left the Monumental Zone and continued climbing up into the free areas of the park. This would be an entirely awesome park to live near (aside, one presumes, from all the tourists, especially in summer). It's got greenery everywhere and lots of benches for sitting and beautiful views of Barcelona. We met a musician playing a handpan as we climbed, and Christopher talked to her, and even played for a bit. But the neatest things are the raised walkways which just climb further and further up, until you're really up at the top of the world (or at least the top of the hill). In some ways, I loved this walk up the hillside just as much as the views inside the more densely packed Monumental Zone.

The Gaudi tour was pretty much my plan for the day, and Christopher gamely went along with it. He meanwhile was interested in the funicular that went up Montjüic. We'd been seeing messages that the funicular was under reconstruction (apparently, not just a theme for Gaudi), but we decided to go down to the shoreline where it runs, and see what was up. (Ha!) There we discovered that there was a bus that went up the hill instead. We had an all-day, most-transport pass, so we decided to take it up.

And that was a good choice, because we got some beautiful views of the city and especially the waterfront as we went up. But then at our first stop ... we saw a funicular running. We were very confused, but we got out, went over to the funicular and were able to ride it up the rest of the hill. There were even greater views, and it was all around a terrific experience.

(So what was going on? It turns out that the Metro has a little underground line that goes from where we got off the L3 metro line to the bottom of the actual funicular. And they call that underground line the Montjüic Funicular. And then they call the actual funicular line the "cable car". Which is all very confusing when one of them is not working, but it explains what actually wasn't running and why we were still able to ride up Montjüic in the skies!)

The cable car ends at Castle Montjüic. I'd skirted the castle my first day, when I ultimately decided to just head straight to the art museum, which I knew wouldn't be open on Monday.

It's a huge 'ole 17th century castle that's been used, reused, and expanded over the centuries. I've rarely seen a castle that spoke so clearly to its historic purpose as a defensive fortification, but this one definitely did. We were able to walk the roof and see all of its murderous spaces for cannon emplacements (as well as actual batteries still mounted from the Spanish Civil War).

And there were once again beautiful views of the Barcelona basin, but this time from the opposite hills, just over the Sea, rather than back at the far side of the basin. Much as at the Guell Park, we could even pick out the Sagrada, which really impressively looms over its neighborhood.

We toured the whole castle, and learned lots of information about its history. It's apparently been a major focus of conflict for centuries, because of its ability to control both the city and the waterfront. It was even a source of oppression for quite some time against the Catalan people.

I enjoyed learning all of the history (which, as with most of the Catalan art museum, was bilingually available in Catalan, Spanish, English, and French ... quadlingually?). However, I think the best part was exploring the battlements and seeing all the views.

(The views of the water, by the by, were somewhat grotesque, because it's all been so transformed by man. It reminded me of the exhibit that Christopher and I saw in Toronto, which showed natural landscapes reshaped by mining, agriculture, and other human pursuits; this was much the same).

And that was pretty much the end of Gaudi day.

We got some sandwiches in the castle (how often do you eat sandwiches in a castle? not often if you're an American) and took the 150 bus back to the city center where we took L1 to L9 and walked the half-block home. By my count we took eight separate trips on public transit, plus the funicular, which was a separate fee. So we got the most out of our T-Dia passes!

And then it was an early evening (at last) to get a bit of rest and packing before the next marathon travel day, including for me another Race Through Zurich.
shannon_a: (Default)
I'm running a day behind on my journals now, and here's why:

Yesterday was the last day of our 8th RWOT. It was a very successful event.

I did my usual day-three cat-herding and got connected up with everyone so that we can push their papers toward completion following the event. Remarkably, I got everyone to even upload their in-process papers, which is usually a battle, but not this time. We had *23* papers uploaded in their partial or draft forms, and we have *25* expected to come out of this events. That's in comparison to 13 papers coming out of each of the previous two workshops, which seemed really big at the time, but now we doubled that (and with only about 50% increase in participants, suggesting that we did a great job of keeping group sizes smaller, which makes them more manageable and in our opinion more successful, but also has the side effect of increasing the number of papers).

Since I need to edit all of these, my work is really going to be cut off for me. I literally need to edit and publish an average of a paper a week for the next half-year!

My group didn't exactly finish our paper, but we did brainstorm the last and most forward-looking section, and we got everyone to commit to what they'd be doing post-event with deadlines for each of their contributions that will hopefully have the group handing the paper off to me as the editor on March 31st.

I'm still looking forward to how ours turns out.

After the workshop ended we had our final dinner scheduled for downtown Barcelona about two hours later. I've compromised that I go to the final dinner, but not the other two, as a balance between hanging out with folks and getting overly socialized.

I decided to walk out to the dinner, which give me a very nice hour and a half walk or so through a darkened Mountjüic. I got to see the spotlights up close and to see some nicely wooded sections of the mount on the other side of the art museum, and I eventually got to the restaurant just before dinner.

Dinner was fancy but a lot of it was richer than I like. I talked with some RWOT folks that I didn't know as well and some of them were *very* enthusiastic on their subjects of interest. Yep, I was overly socialized by the end.

I'd forgotten how long European dinners run. We arrived at 9.00, had our orders in by 9.30, but then only got a plate every twenty or thirty minutes. With appetizers, soup or salad, main course, and desert, it was 11.30 before we'd seen our full meals. (Which is weirdly long given the restaurant opened a 8.30 and closed at midnight.)

Anywho, I enjoyed getting to touch bases with everyone one last time on my way out, and thus RWOT8 ended.

The trains shut down at midnight on Sunday, and I didn't know exactly what that meant, but I got out to the cross-city line I was taking, and then transferred to the airport train that goes near where we are in Fira, and I exited down the street from my hotel a few minutes after midnight.

Damned late Barcelonan nights.

It was way too late to do anything but de-spaz so that I could sleep. I was able to lay down at 12.30 and only tossed and turned a bit before falling asleep.
shannon_a: (Default)
Rebooting the Web of Trust has come a long ways from its origins. At RWOT1, in late 2015, in San Francisco, California, the workshop was all about ideas. People pontificated about smart signatures, about DPKI, and about other topics, and they wrote foundational papers on the decentralized identity space.

We're now ending our fourth years of the Rebooted Web of Trust, and the world has changed. There are a lot of people writing actual code based on the ideas that we've germinated and nurtured over the years. So we've often had demos of these in recent years, with their number ever increasing. And today we had sixteen demos of decentralized identity technology of various sorts.

This is starting to create a tension. Our goal is to create new white papers at every workshop, but we of course want to celebrate what's being accomplished (and to share with out participants what's both possible and has been done in this space). So today our demos spread to two sessions during the day, which put a big roadblock in our ability to write, killing our momentum from the end of Day One. After that our schedule originally said we'd just have three hours of the day left to write, which would have been an all-time low for the second day of the workshop, which is usually our meat and potatoes day for advancing our white papers.

Rescheduling eventually eked out another 30 minutes or so, maybe 60, but it was a rocky start to the day.

Fortunately, we seemed to come out of the other side fine. Some groups just disappeared into side rooms during the demo (which is great for getting our papers done, but not quite what we want for the unity of the group). The rest of us, I think, got revved up to work by the waiting about, and so everyone seemed to make really good progress in the afternoon.

My group is working on laying out principles for creating protective digital communities. At the start of the day it didn't seem like there was a strong focus for the paper, but over the course of the day we managed to develop it, and then we got quite a bit of writing done. At the end of the day we've got some real-world use cases that have elements we think can be applied to online communities and we've got some principles drawn from those groups, most of that in very rough first-cut text.

Again, we're at a place where I'm not sure how we approach the next part, which is applying those lessons to decentralized online communities. But based on today's progress, I think we'll manage to push through that, and have a complete draft by the end of tomorrow, which is always the goal.

Almost everyone at the workshop was saying that they'd have complete drafts tomorrow: a much higher ratio than usual. But we'll see how it goes.

I had nothing planned for tonight (unlike my magic fountain visit yesterday or my dinner with the group tomorrow). So, as planned, I got home relatively early (by which I mean 9, because Barcelona nights are late), got to talk to Kimberly for a bit, and now have a few hours to relax before bed.
shannon_a: (Default)
Another decent night's sleep. This time I did wake up a few times during the night, feeling wide awake, but I fell back asleep pretty quickly each time.

Today began the 8th Rebooting the Web of Trust, and it was a long day. I got in there at 8.30 to help with the setup, and spent the next hour dragging chairs around. We then worked until 7.30. Apparently we're on Barcelona time, except without the extra-long lunch (though we did get fed an excessive amount of food at lunch time).

Day One of Rebooting the Web of Trust is either the most or least tiring, depending on how you measure it. It's almost entirely facilitator-led, as Chris and/or Joe take us through a process to arrive at teams working on papers. But, there's not a lot of work on the papers themselves.

Oh, and we had a real challenge this time. It's the biggest RWOT ever, with 90 preregs, with is about 50% more than our previous highpoint, which was somewhere around 60 in Boston. I think the day went well, and that Joe and Chris managed it well. But it's something we'll be pushing up against at all the plenaries throughout the weekend. And then, lucky me, I get 50% more papers to edit. (Sure, enough, we've been running 13 papers-in-progress at the last few RWOTs, resulting in 7-8 finals that pass through my hands, and today I counted 18, which means probably 11-12.)

This time around, I choose a group working on how the law integrates with digital identity. It turned out to be a very challenging group because we had 13 people. Chris clearly let it be known that the group needed to split up, because we've seen that's too many people to effectively create a paper: and so not only do you not get a paper, but you had a larger number of people not doing so. But, there was real-wrangling to figure out how to do so, and some folks didn't want to at all! (It's probably lucky I was in the group to help manage it; I know that Chris was similarly in another overly large group.)

We finally figured it out, with one group working kind of top down, from a very technical legal viewpoint, and one working kind of bottom up, from a personal incentive viewpoint. I picked the latter group, mainly on the basis that it had fewer group members, and so could use more support. I like the idea, but I have no idea what the actual paper will be.

I always skip the casual dinners the first two nights of RWOT, because I'm burned out on people. And today I had a definite goal: go see the Magic Fountain.

I took a quick, 40-minute walk there, which was pretty meh as I headed through the urban/conference-attendee area near us, but it got really nice when I started skirting Montjuïc and going through some quiet, old-European neighborhoods. A cat even flung himself at me, to say hi.

The Magic Fountain is a big fountain, down at the bottom of Mountjuïc, beneath the Catalan Nation Art Museum. I walked by it yesterday, but it (and the waterways above it) weren't moving. But they do run on Friday and Saturday night during the winter, so over there I headed.

But, "run" isn't really the right word. The Magic Fountain dances, spraying up and down and changing colors in rhythm with music. A Spanish song was playing when I got there, but afterward I heard Queen ("Who Wants to Live Forever"), Prince ("Purple Rain", but the fountain didn't turn purple), David Bowie ("Space Oddity", "Starman"), a few '80s pop songs that I couldn't name, and lots more.

It was a pretty amazing event. There were hundreds of people out, surrounding the fountain, on the pedestrian bridges nearby, and on the steps leading up to the museum. Kids were slinging glowing rockets up into the sky, vendors were wandering around with sodas. Couples were cuddling, many photos were being taken.

The wind shifted here and there, and occasionally spray would lightly settle on the crowd, but no one cared.

Well worth the rapid walk from RWOT to the Fountain, to get there in time. I watched for about 30 minutes before heading off to eat, then taking the train back home.
shannon_a: (Default)
I was pretty dead to the world by the time I got to my hotel last night. I had mediocre dinner at the little café in the hotel, and then was able to stay up until 10pm.

Remarkably, I slept for about 10 hours without any problems, waking up at 8pm. (I often have mid-night sleeplessness while in Europe, but that'll probably come tonight or tomorrow.)

And now I have a full day to explore Barcelona.

I'd decided that my first stop would be Montjuïc, which is just a mile or some from our hotel. It was suggested by some of the things-to-see-in-Barcelona web sites and I also saw that it was full of parks and contained the Catalan Art Museum, and that all looked like a great place to see.

The neighborhood leading there feels a bit Old Europe. Tall high-rises full of apartments with open public areas below them. I even see one area that's full of personal gardens, and I do a double-take when I see it's also got a whole herd of sheep!

Pretty quickly I'm going up a hill, because that's what Montjuïc is. I take the time to explore some paths here and there, and am astounded via the contrast of these high-rise apartments and some absolutely untouched areas of nature, with rough-hewn rock stone cliffs and even a sort of swamp at one point!

Eventually I get to the Catalan Art Museum, and it's almost exactly 10am, which is when it opens. I see huge mobs of tourists out front, and my heart drops realizing that there's going to be a long line to get in, my first sign of the serious tourist infiltration that I've heard that Barcelona (like San Francisco) complains about.

But as I get to the front of the MNAC (the National Art Museum of Catalan), which is in an absolutely gorgeous building called the Palau National, built for the 1929 International Exhibition, I discover that the tourists are all standing in front of the museum, taking pictures of the city, down below us. I walk straight in.

In fact, emptiness continues to be a theme of the museum. The actual Palau National is open to the public, so people hang out in the central areas, which are full of comfy chairs. But the actual art museum requires a ticket, so my first section of the museum is entirely empty, and the others are relatively uncrowded, other than an occasional docent-led group or class group.

I see four areas in the museum: two Medieval and two Modern. The medieval ones are attractive. There are a really impressive numbers of wood-panels on Christian themes that have been collected by the museum. But it's the modern art that really knocks me out. Mainly because it's not what a US museum would call modern art, but instead art that's actually attractive and means something, from the last two centuries.

I enjoy a lot of the earlier modern stuff, but I really perk up when I hit the first natural landscapes. That's followed by Spanish impressionists. Then that melds into Art Noveau. There are a few beautiful pieces of mosaic art, and some pieces done entirely in different colors of wood. There was also the sort of stuff I don't usually see in US art museums, like a bunch of carved wooden chairs. And, there were some pieces by Gaudi. And, I pretty much mean pieces: he's an architect, who's the most famous persona from Barcelona as far as I can tell, and they seem to collect all of his brik-a-brak. So there was a gate that he did, and some tiny bits of tiles and some pantry handles or something.

One of the last bits in the modern art area was a whole bunch of posters about the Spanish Civil War, created at the time as people fought to save their country. Very inspiring.

You also get to tour the roof if you want. They had a walkway around much of it. Well worth it: lots of great views.

I had lunch at the museum, and then headed out. By now the day had become absolutely beautiful. Well, low-to-mid 60s beautiful at least. I was often walking about in a t-shirt, though the humidity hovering in the 50-80% range also contributed to that.

Despite the beauty of the day, I'd already decided to take public transit as much as I could for the day, to try to preserve my post-cold strength. So I'd gotten myself a shockingly cheap T-Dia pass that allowed me to take public transit within Barcelona proper as much as I wanted over the course of the day. This also let me rack of some mileage. (And it would probably have been cheaper to get a ticket for 10 rides instead of for the day, but there was a psychological element at hand: by having an infinite number of rides, I was more encouraged to take the public transit even for a short distance.)

The rest of the day was a mosaic. I think I road the trains for four different legs, hopping on and off as I went.

I visited:

Barcelona University. A beautiful old building, with court yards surrounded by labyrinthine hallways and stairways leading to offices and classrooms.

The Gothic District. A gorgeous area of town with tiny alleyways going here and there and with cute shops and cafes all about.

La Rambla. A walkway in the middle of the street. Exciting, because ... ?

The Waterfront. An overly touristed and touristy area, quite possibly the equivalent of Fisherman's Wharf. It also all seemed to be sponsored by McDonalds. I walked out via the Rambla de Mar and back via a park. The park was somewhat austere, but pretty.

Citadel Park. A large park with beautiful green spaces. A huge, absolutely stunning waterfall cascades lies in one corner. Most mysterious were a number of modernism buildings that were once zoological and mineral museums and some gardens, and are now falling into disrepair. A lot of this was apparently built for another Exhibition, in 1888.

Arc de Triomf. Because every city should have an arc of triumph. A pretty neat gateway.

The Barcelona Cathedral. A pretty gorgeous looking building, but I certainly wasn't going to wait in the actual long line to go into that one. It did give me an excuse to wander the Gothic District one more time, though, and see a few other churchly buildings and some Roman walls.

One ubiquitous thing I didn't mention: people selling imported crap on little white sheets. It was the type of stuff you see at a bad flea market: cheaply made handbags, knickknacks, etc. They were all over the tourist areas, often blocking pathways.

And, they're apparently breaking the laws, in at least some of the places. While standing on the roof of the art museum, I saw a police car pull up in front, right next to all the vendors selling there. Suddenly all of the vendors were leaping up, gathering their sheets into bags with all their junk inside, and literally sprinting off.

Mind you, that didn't stop them from returning 5 minutes later.

After doing a circle through central Barcelona, I ended up at the place for a self-sovereign identity meetup tonight, where Christopher and other folks were giving presentations. It was great to see how self-sovereign identity and DIDs are being presented to the public. The event was sponsored, in part, by a beer company. So there was free beer. (We're definitely not in Kansas any more.)

Count for the day: 36,000 steps, or about 16 miles. Yes, I'm feeling better, though the dry airplane area wrecked my throat again a bit (and I'm still somewhat congested).

Metro Lines taken: L1 (art museum to university), L3 (to the waterfront), L4 (waterfront to citadel park), L1+L4 (arc back to the gothic quarter), L1+L8+L9 (meetup to hotel). And I have a much better sense of what's where in the city and how the metro and FGC connect it now).

And now I get to start work on actual work tomorrow, with the 8th RWOT workshop. Which is of course why I'm here.

But I've got one more free day scheduled afterward, as my reward for three days of hard work. That's when I'm planning to see a bunch of Gaudi architecture, which looks amazing (despite my mockery of his pantry handles.)
shannon_a: (Default)
So the trip gets off to a bad start. The Friday before I leave, I realize that I'm feeling like crap. Low energy, fuzzy head, and a tickle in my throat. I mark it off to allergies, because I often have these 1-2 days of feeling mediocre, and allergy meds made them go away.

But Saturday I'm worse. I let my gamer friends know we can't game at my house, a last-minute cancellation that I've only done a handful of times in the last thirty years. And then I spend the whole day exerting every bit of energy I have not to cough. Sunday I've moved on to being a full-fledged phlegm factory, and yep, it's obvious that I've caught a cold just before I'm leaving for Spain. In fact, I'm so sick that on Saturday and Sunday I wonder if I can even travel.

Fortunately I spend the entirety of those two days lying on the couch, sleeping, and occasionally reading. Then I Monday I do largely the same, interspersed with 30 minutes of work here or there: the things that really need to be done before I leave.

By Tuesday I'm not exactly well, but I can go an hour without coughing and I've moved back from fully congested to somewhat stuffy. If spending a whole day sitting at attention in airplanes and in airports doesn't set me back, I'll actually be OK by the time the workshop rolls around on Friday (and maybe even get to see some of the city on Thursday, as planned).

Tuesday is a weird day because my flight's at 7.50pm. So I'm mostly waiting. I do catch up on some of my email that got neglected in the lead-up to the trip (and the sickness). I finish my packing because I wasn't worried about doing everything on Monday night. I hang out with Kimberly a bit. And then I finally call a Lyft to the airport.

Yes, I generally hate Lyfting when I could have taken public transit, but the 20-minute walk to the BART station, dragging a suitcase, sounds a bit much for me when I've still got a cold, even if I'm recovering, and I really don't want to do that in the rain, as we've got yet another big rainstorm coming through the Bay Area.

I feel like a real pro when I get to the airport, because I just walk past all the ticket desks, straight to the security, wheeling my brand-new carry-on bag. I've resisted this for years, because I'm well aware of the perverse incentives that the airlines have created by charging for bags. But since Santa Barbara last year I've been traveling with smaller bags. I brought a gym bag with me to Toronto last fall, and that worked out, so when I got a new large suitcase for Kimberly and me (to replace the one that died as we went out the door to Hawaii last year), I also bought a matching carry-on.

I also give in to the man in one other way: I use the millimeter scanner machine rather than opting out. I've been fighting that battle for years, under the theory that if everyone opted out then the TSA couldn't conduct this useless Security Theatre but no one else does. Well, today I decided I'm not going to sit and stand around while I'm still tired from being sick, and though I'm probably about a day past the infectious stage, I'm also not going to ask a TSA agent to pat me down if I might still ne germy.

God, it's faster to just be a little sheep and walk through their unnecessary, invasive machine.

The joke's on the TSA: they pat me down anyway, because they couldn't see my back right on the scanner. I don't even really realize that they patted-down my potentially germy body until I'm writing this entry about six hours later.

Speaking of great TSA security: they don't catch my hand sanitizer that was jammed into my water bottle carrier, where it always is.

They also don't catch the quart bag in the middle of my carry-on, full of dangerous stuff like toothpaste, more hand sanitizer, shampoo, and body soap.

F***ing Security Theatre.

I'd been slightly concerned that our flight might be delayed because of the rain. SFO is literally an airport that can't service its normal number of planes if it's raining.

But, I'm aware that's mostly a morning problem, not a nighttime problem. Sure enough, I read about huge numbers of flights being cancelled in the morning, but at least in the International terminal everything's running on schedule at night.

Our flight is scheduled for 7.50. In the little corner of the International Terminal that we're in, there's also another flight leaving at 7.50. This leads to the usual chaos, as our announcer mentions the flight number about 10% of the time and the other announcer does about 70% of the time. So no one knows which flight is being announced.

When the agents are trying to get all the rich people aboard our flight, they're getting really exasperated that economy-class scum keep trying to break ranks. They sound snarky when they tell the scum to stay back. (But the problem is that the other flight has already started boarding economy.)

Eventually, our agents just throw up their hands and tell the entire plane to board at the same time. I'd say that turns out about as well as you'd expect, but it actually turns out a bit better: there are no fistfights that I see, and it probably only slows us down by 5-10 minutes.

By the time everyone's boarded and seated, the Captain is telling us that it'll be 20-30 minutes before SFO will let us take off (because: SFO), but that we should be getting into Zurich, my first stop, right about on time.

The flight to Europe is always a challenge. From SFO to Zurich is about 11 hours, and you flip 9 time zones in the process. So, as the hours pass twice as fast as usual, you lose almost a full day.

And I'm rarely able to sleep much on the trip.

The first half of the trip isn't that bad. I watch Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, and no one told me it was so darned funny. I watch about half of Mamma Mia!, just skipping to the songs. The seats aren't quite as uncomfortable as I remember when I rode Swiss Air back from Berlin a year and a half ago, but that might be because I'm on an aisle rather than jammed in a middle with nowhere for either arm to go.

But then night closes in, and the guy in front of me jams his seat back as far as he possibly can. That's the end of any possibility for work, not that I'd gotten much work done to that point.

I read from my iPad for a while before finally convincing myself that I'm going to try and sleep. I try. I maybe manage as much as two hours, but probably not quite that.

Not only is it always hard for me to sleep, but here's where my aisle seat betrays me: I'm constantly bumped by people as they go by, especially one of the flight attendants. I eventually shift to minimize that. But sometimes people walking by put their hands on my seat-screen as they pass, and it turns on, flaring up bright white. That wakes me up once, and I remember it doing so on previous trips too. (The solution is probably to just leave it on the flight stats, with the brightness down as far as possible.)

Our arrival time is first listed by the computer as 3.46, a minute after our flight was supposed to end.

We fly a somewhat surprising route, going over the Great Lakes and eventually emerge over Europe at Saxony. I'm more used to heading over Canada and from there to Greenland and Iceland before dropping into Europe via England.

Brexit? No, probably headwinds. I'd notice that yesterday's similar flight from SFO to Zurich left several minutes early and landed several minutes late. We seem headed for a similar destiny, minus the whole leaving-early bit. By the time we hit France, our arrival time has shifted to 3.57.

My next plane starts boarding at 5.00, which was tighter than I would have liked in the first place, but Swiss Air had very limited choices, and I eventually figured that since this was their hub, if they thought about an hour and a half, all said and done, was almost always enough to get from the San Francisco plane to the Barcelona plane, I mostly trusted them.

So, I'm not worried, but I'm keeping my eye on the clocks with interest. I'm hoping at this point to be out of the plane by 4.15, which gives me a full 45 minutes to navigate the airport and deal with any customs that I have to, for passing briefly through Switzerland.

(I wish I remembered the customs & airport situation better. I *think* this is where I had to take a tram from one wing to another; and I *think* this was where they did customs right at the gate, which all would mean that it might take a little time to get around the airport, but customs will be a non-issue.)

And I also remember feeling stressed when I got into LAX, back from Toronto last Fall, in part because there was a long wait to get a gate, and then because there was a long wait for the bus to get between terminals. And then I got to my gate and waited and waited and waited. So maybe I just need to learn to stop worrying and love the layover.

(What I really love are direct flights, and there is a direct Swiss Air flight from SFO to Barcelona, but it only runs certain days of the week. If I'd gone a day later, I could have done it, but then I would have hit the workshop severely jetlagged, as opposed to just badly jetlagged.)

Zurich! I'm off the plane at 4.06. It takes me 13 minutes to get to my next gate, including having my Visa stamped. It's sooo much easier to get into Europe than into the Fascist States of America.

It's weird seeing the Zurich airport again. It all looks very familiar from my brief visit a year and a half ago, except I'm going in the opposite direction, from the segregated gates (concourse E) to the Euro-friendly gates (concourses A+B). But I pass by the observation tower I couldn't get into last time (and I don't check this time because I'm more intent in getting to my gate) and then drop down to the Metro and then back up. Not somewhere I expected to see again.

And then as I board the Barcelona plane they take my carry-on. Sigh.

It should be the right size. And, most of the carry-on luggage is a tiny bit smaller, but I also see at least a few other luggage that's my size that they allow on board.

I blame the new luggage being bright red.

(But that means it'll be easy to spot when I claim it.)

Next stop, Barcelona.

And I think that's enough for this journal, because after something like 26 hours awake, with no more than a catnap here and there, and fighting off what's hopefully the end of a cold, my brain has turned to total mush.
shannon_a: (Default)
My stress level is running high right now.

I've been mainly attributing that to two work-related issues.

The first is the resurgence of discussion about Zak S. in the roleplaying scene, due to the revelations about his (horrific!) abusive relationships. It's all to the good, since Zak's supporters are finally giving him the boot. But for me at least it's caused introspection. It's been cathartic, working through it all, mostly in entries here, and also in reading lots of discussions. But exhausting too.

The second is one that I can't talk about at the moment, but has to do with a problematic Skotos player. More on that momentarily.

But these guys are really just the tip of the iceberg. The straw(s) that broke the camels back. Because things have been stressful for a while.

It's been a year and a half since Kimberly went non-weight-bearing because of her broken foot that we discovered in October of 2017, right around when I went to Berlin. And that has been increasing my home workload for that whole time, because she can't do many of our shared chores any more, and she also needs help with tasks like getting her lunch most days.

And, it's been a half-year since her surgery this last Halloween, after which we learned that the doctor had botched the procedure. He'd told her that the worst that could happen if she elected for the surgery is that he might nick a nerve, and that would slowdown the recovery. But we now know that he cut at least a couple of nerves and left them embedded in the scar tissue. And he was a cold, terse prick when Kimberly told him this. This fact of this botched surgery has exacted a heavy toll on our household. Kimberly is understandably very upset that this doctor may have both crippled her and left her with crippling pain. It's been messing with her ability to manage on a daily basis; and, not even just due to concern for the future, not just due to the anger with the doctor (though I have a *lot* more of that than her), but also from the fact that she has constant pain and it often impacts her ability to function and sleep. And, I've also been impacted by this all emotionally, both personally and supportively.

And finally there's been the stress of the early year at Skotos. We had a big SmartCustody workshop that we did for cryptocurrency at the end of January and now we're gearing up for our semi-annual Rebooting the Web of Trust workshop, about a month later, right at the start of March. Oh, and it's in Spain, which means that things are going to get really hectic in about a week when the long air travel begins.

So, though those two problematic users have been weighing on me, in many ways they're pretty minor in the scope of things: in their interactions with me, and in their likely long-term effect on ... anything. But when you have a plateful of stress already, a few final ingredients can add a lot.

So, Saturday. I definitely wanted to get out of the house to be active and try and burn some of my stress away, but it was cold and raining. I was just about to go for a walk to get lunch ... when the sky cleared up. I looked at the RADAR maps and saw the biggest bit of storm had moved past us. Yay!

So instead of walking to lunch, it was more extensive biking. I had a meandering day down by the Bay. I explored Fourth Street (The taco place I was considering for lunch was jammed due to some three-little pigs public show, so I moved on). I biked the Aquatic Park (Occasional huge puddles). I got lunch in Emeryville. I biked out the Emeryville Marina, then walked along the rustic boardwalk back (An overprivileged white lady yelled at me for biking on a multiuse trail that allows biking; I assume she was from one of the super-rich condo complexes out in that area, and used to getting what she wanted, which she did not). I biked back along the Bay Trail to Berkeley (WINDY!!). And then I biked home. Overall, a nice day.

Biking helps keep the cold mostly away, though I felt it some in that really nasty wind I got on the Bay Trail leg of my trip.

Unfortunately, my stresslessness was immediately lost because Kimberly was upset when I got home (over something small, but that's because the big things are always weighing at the moment) and then I got a certified letter from the problematic Skotos player delivered to my HOME address (which I refused for good reasons, and that's all a whole other story that I hope to be able to write about in several months time). So my stress came right back, though Kimberly helped a bit by buying us Taco Bell for dinner.

And we found a new light TV show to start watching, which I've heard great things about in its later years: Person of Interest. It's relatively shallow in its first season, but we liked it enough to watch the first five episodes over the course of the extended holiday weekend.

On Sunday I didn't exactly do any stress reduction, but I did just hang out at home all day without worrying about rushing out and getting exercise or getting sundries or anything. (And I also did some filing work, toward my goal for moving forward in the preparations for our move to Hawaii.)

And Monday. Today I went out to Lafayette, biked up Happy Valley Road, then hiked up Panorama Road to get into Briones Regional Park. This was I think my third trip into the huge park. I entered up at the northwest corner, and circled down to a creek and back. This directly connected to my second trip when I'd walked the Lafayette Ridge Trail; my entrance today was right by Russell Peak, which is I think where I turned around last time.

I'd been planning to go all the way to the entrance right near Briones Reservoir, which would have been another 2 miles or so there and back. But it was muddy, oh sooooo muddy. One of the paths I was taking was pretty much a stream. Thankfully, I had my hiking shoes, but I still had mud spatter up to my knees. And that was all exhausting, both the walking through the mud and the being careful not to slide and land in the mud. So I turned back that mile early.

In looking at the maps I also thought, wow, it would be great to walk through the corner of Briones Regional Park, down along the Reservoir, then around the corner of San Pablo Reservoir, then back to the Orinda BART. That would definitely be an all-day affair though, since among other things I couldn't take my bike with me since I'd be starting and ending at different BART stations, and that would add a few miles getting to the park (and a few miles getting back from the Reservoir).

Maybe some nice summer day, when I'm more willing to get started early (as opposed to today, when I was like: I'm not rushing out when it's in the mid-40s!) and able to go later.

And I got home today, and despite a quick trip to CVS for Kimberly, managed to stay chill.

And hopefully that'll last into this week before my Spain trip.
shannon_a: (Default)
I've been professionally overseeing the management of online communities for something over 15 years. In that time, there's one very important lesson that I learned:

The Thesis

One bad member in a community can drive out ten, or even a hundred, good members. By keeping those bad community members you're not only shrinking your community but worsening it too.

I still remember vividly our first bad community member at the Skotos online games site. He'd complain about how we were managing our games and how it wasn't matching his vision. In retrospect he was a narcissist who thought the game (nay, the world) revolved around him, and our community manager fell right into the trap. She literally spent days of work-time talking this player off the ledge time after time, practically begging him to stay. We eventually asked our community manager to stop, and sometime afterward we gave the problematic community member the boot. Almost immediately afterward, we had an inrush of other players telling us how they'd almost left due to the narcissist — and how some of their friends already had. Not only had we wasted our time trying to keep a bad player aboard, but we'd also harmed our community by doing so — and that's why I still remember the lesson so vividly two decades on.

So what do you do get rid of bad actors in your community?

Both community managers and community members can help a lot.

Solution One: Community Management

If you're a community manager, you need to ban the bad actors when it's obvious that they're acting to the deficit of the community. Part of this requires a rule like RPGnet's rule zero: "Keep the forums friendly and welcoming to as wide a range of gamers as possible."

If someone is being virulently argumentative, particularly if they're constantly arguing in bad faith; if they're constantly putting other people down and deriding their thoughts; if they're making the community unpleasant and its other members unhappy;; if they're fighting against the basic precepts of the community; or if it's obvious that they're making the forums about them, not the community, then they need to go.

That's a lot of "ifs", but there's a pretty easy litmus test that you can use: if someone is taking up a lot of your administration and moderation time, then you need to think more carefully about them. As a community manager, your time is a limited resource intended to better your community. If a single person uses as much of your resource as ten or a hundred or a thousand average community members, you have to ask what they're giving back.

A lot of bad actors in communities will walk the line, staying just one step back from personal attacks or whatever else you explicitly ban in your rules. That's not a sign that they should be kept (because they're obeying the rules), but instead that they should be ousted (because they're abusing them). It's why you need a rule zero.

You'll never have a perfect rule set but then your online community isn't a court of law. You certainly do need to be fair and just, or else you'll be corroding the community in a different way. But that's why you need to advertise a rule of conduct that puts the forums first. If you're transparent about why you're making disciplinary decisions, that'll help, because it allows you to explicitly say why you're removing someone from your community (and hopefully make the case that it's for the community's betterment).

My own rule zero might read something like this: "Our most important rule is that we're all working toward the creation of a better community. If you make the community worse instead of better, if you detract from the community instead of improving it, then we'll ask you to leave — whether there's a specific rule you've violated or not. In fact, the rest of these rules are largely intended to help codify our general goal of community betterment."

Solution Two: Community Belief

If you're a community member, the more important way you can improve your community is simply to support the community managers. More specifically, you can believe them. If they've banned or blocked someone, there's usually a good reason. Your default position should be that they did the right thing.

It's certainly fair to question, and it's certainly fair to point out when they made a mistake. They will; we do. But try not to assume motives other than the betterment of the community, because in any good community that will be the motive.
Community managers have to make horrible, stressful decisions about interactions between different people and the site. But if there's one thing that just frustrates me and makes me throw up my hands in despair, it's the conspiracy theories that arise about why we're doing things. They sometimes arise from poor transparency but sometimes, even when you're being totally transparent, people will come up with their own reasons for what you're doing, call you liars when you explain the real reasons, and convince other people of their fallacies. I remember well when we created the d20 forum on RPGnet: it was based on my personal disappointment in the quantity of D&D discussions at RPGnet over the years, and my hope that we could increase those discussions by giving them their own forum where D&D wouldn't have to fight with the White Wolf and indie games that were RPGnet's bread and butter. The results speak for themselves: D&D has gone from a little discussed to game to a major topic at our site. But we had to waste a lot of time and energy arguing against the totally unfounded conspiracy theory that we were creating a "D&D ghetto" to silence discussion of the game.
Not believing community managers not only makes their job harder, but it also gives cover to bad actors by allowing them to make bad-faith both-sidist arguments.

Solution Three: Community Support

If you're a community member who wants to be more active in protecting your community against bad actors, you can take explicit actions to help. You don't have to; just being a good community member is a great help to a site. But, there's ultimately no way that community managers are going to do it alone. They quite literally need the support of their community.

In increasing order of engagement:

1. You can block the bad actor. Any bad actor in a community ultimately thrives on attention. Deny it to them.

2. You can alert the community managers about the bad actor by their favored reporting mechanism. Don't expect a response: this isn't about you. Do expect any good community to put this info into their internal data files for how they think about the person.

3. You can speak out against the bad actor explicitly ... but you still don't necessarily want to interact with them, because that's what they want. But you can reshape the discussions around them, supporting the people they might otherwise drive out and rebuilding the conversation. There's nothing a bad actor hates more than being ignored by people talking right past their bad faith arguments.

Let's be honest: engaging with a bad actor can be scary. I think we can all improve our communities by challenging ourselves to go just one step past our natural tendency, but we should also be aware of our own limitations. Personally, I can be sent spinning if someone makes a nasty or threatening argument against me, so I'm definitely less likely to explicitly speak out against a bad actor. But, I do often push myself to take the time and effort to alert a community of a problem, and if I'm feeling good, I might speak about a bad actor, even if I don't explicitly speak to them.

Solution Four: Hobby Support

We're not just community members, but also hobby members, part of a community that's larger than just one site. A lot of bad actors take advantage of this balkanization. Because their bad actions are spread out among many people in many places, they can more easily deny them. It enables them to spin conspiracy theories, which all too often are believed.

The most obvious defense against this is to listen to what other sites within your larger hobby say. If they're also reputable, you need to believe them as well, even if they're not your online home.

You can also improve everyone within a hobby's understanding by using the weapon that any bad actor is most afraid of: knowledge. If you're willing to put yourself out there, then make your bad experiences with the bad actor public. Try to do so bloodlessly, without blame. Just describe what happened and how you felt. This will decrease the ability of the bad actor to present your description as a he-said-she-said experience and meanwhile will give everyone else one bit of knowledge that they can hopefully use to build a complete picture of what's really going on.

Anyone in the roleplaying community who reads this knows that it's largely in response to the revelations about Zak S. in the last week. There were certainly many people over the years who talked about him being a bad actor, but he did exactly what's described here: he used the balkanization of roleplaying communities on the internet to present it as just RPGnet (or story gamers or Evil Hat or whoever) picking on him, and suggested that there were two sides to the story. But what really made his schtick work was obsessively searching for discussions of him and attacking people who spoke out against him. This made people afraid to talk about him, and meant that the bad things he did to dozens or hundreds of different people often stayed private. Although I never had a good thing to say about Zak (once I learned who he was, about when he got kicked off RPGnet), I also didn't say very many bad things, such as being really clear about his bullying toward me. I hope the post I wrote last week meets my goal of being a fairly bloodless description, describing what happened and how I felt about it. 


The internet is a great medium that opens up the whole world in a way that a lot of us couldn't have even imagined in our youths. But it also gives bad actors the ability to carry out their selfish desires and to damage the communities we're trying to create. Though obviously community managers are on the frontline of that, and need to understand how to put their community first, every single one of our can support our community in ways that match of our own needs for safety.

Hat tip to Johnstone Metzger (@chthonstone) and GrzegorzWierzowiecki (@GWierzowiecki), whose posts and questions on Twitter led me to write the tweetstorm that became this article.
shannon_a: (Default)
About fifteen years ago now, I went on the frontlines for two online communities: RPGnet and Skotos Tech. Oh, perhaps "front lines" isn't quite the right phrase, because I'm not the one directly dealing with our users most of the time. Instead I'm the guy with the ultimate responsibility, backing up our staff, and making the decisions for the betterment of the site as a whole. But, front lines does give the proper sense of warfare, because maintaining a community online is an ongoing battle that never lets up.

Much of this is just the physical need to keep the machines that support the communities up. They could go down at any time, so I've long found myself quickly checking my emails when I get home from some outing, to make sure I don't have any reports of crashes while I was out. When I miss a call from a weird number elsewhere in the US, I worry that I missed a call from a moderator or administrator telling me something catastrophic has happened. And, these are based in real events, as I've gotten home and found that a machine had been down for a few hours, I've gotten calls from admins and mods saying that a site had come under attack. I've had to bring our machines back from the brink in the most annoying conditions, such as at my parents' dining room table this last Christmas Eve. (Thank goodness we no longer have physical machines; biking down to the machine room we used to maintain in Emeryville and sitting alone in the loud, cold room trying to resuscitate an agéd machine was really the height of no-fun.)

But my biggest stressors in my battles to maintain communities have been interpersonal ones.

Let me be clear: the vast, vast majority of people on the various sites that I support are great people. They're literally the reason that I've been willing to support these sites for so long, despite the (primarily emotional) cost. For every really crappy interaction I've had with someone as the result of one of our sites, I've literally had a hundred good interactions, usually from people who are very appreciative that we maintain them. I've worked with great creators at both RPGnet and SKotos, and I'm sad about the many that have moved on (as is natural, as the years pass) and grateful for those who remain.

But, oh, those really crappy interactions have been really crappy.

There are dozens of users who have sent me vile screeds because they got kicked off of a service. I've had people lie to me in any number of ways, usually pretending they didn't do something that they did. I've received two or three death threats. I've had to reach out to the FBI twice due to threats of violence against others. I've fielded semi-yearly legal threats, mostly from people upset by what other people were saying on forums, and wanting us to censor them.

And then there was Zak S.

I'd never heard of Zak S. before 2013, when he started getting serious flak from the RPGnet mods because he was increasingly a drag on the community. As some people do, he tried to go over the heads of the mods to get a different answer from me. It was a slimy letter. First, he tried to present himself as an authority by dazzling me with his credentials, then he acted like he was doing me a favor by being willing to tell me how the moderation on the forums was bad and could be improved. And, shit, that letter is manipulative when I reread it. He was all, hey I know this probably doesn't concern you, but if it does, please write me back and I'll tell you more. Anyone actually wanting to help, of course, would have just told me straight out, but he was trying to establish a power dynamic where I was the supplicant and he the wise master.

Fortunately, I'd already dealt with a hundred people trying to go over the heads of my mods and game hosts by that time, and so his slimy, manipulative letter made very little impression. I told him I disagreed with his assessment that there was a problem with the moderation, and I told him to talk to the mods, and then I told him it again several hours later because he was obviously bad at taking no for an answer.

Fast forward to August, by which time Zak was banned. That's when he began making posts to his blog about RPGnet, complaining about some ads we were running. The ads were frankly offensive: some of the misogynistic online-game ads that started turning up around that time. But his posts showed zero understanding of how internet advertising really worked, and as far as I could tell, he didn't care. (Nowadays, we even have a term for what he was doing: "bad faith arguments".) As far as I could tell, he was just trying to score points, to make us look like hypocrites because we'd banned him for his attitude for women, or something, I think, and here he could pretend that we were showing a shitty attitude toward women. (Here's the thing about how ads work: you sign up for networks, and you try and pick trustworthy networks, but sometimes they still send your horrible ads, and they just appear without your consent, and you have to block them; in our case we *have* been exceedingly picky about what ad networks we use, to do our best to make sure that RPGnet doesn't get any of the truly sucky ads you see elsewhere, and these ones actually came from Google, who usually does pretty good, but stuff sneaks in ...)

Just a complaint like that would have gone right by me. We actually had at least one Skotos-hate site go up after we'd been in business for a few years and had been forced to ban some people. There's at least one minor roleplaying forum that caters to RPGnet bannees and haters. When you run online communities, and when you actually moderate them, you get haters. And they publish screeds, create hate-sites, and otherwise make vocal their hatred.

But when Zak posted these "complaints", and I think there were three blog posts total, he purposefully used my whole name in the blog titles, and then he encouraged his followers to link to them, with the goal of poisoning my search results, so that this misleading and manipulative post that suggested that I was some sort of misogynist who loved misogynistic games was at the top. The object was either explicitly or implicitly (I forget which) to use that as leverage to ... I dunno, get us to stop running ads? Bring Zak back to RPGnet? I'm not sure. (We'd already blocked the bad ads, of course, as we're forced to do from time to time.)

Fortunately, Google at some point figured out that Zak was trying to artificially manipulate Google results. It didn't have anything to do with me, though Google is a rock's throw away, and though I have friends who work there. But at some point, they figured it out, and they tanked the search results for his whole site.

And that was how Zak tried to attack my reputation and my livelihood.

In the years after that, I did my best to forget about Zak, but he took the occasional shot at me. I just found a bizarre interview in 2015 where he claims I actively support bigotry and harassment. (Evidence? No, of course not.) I also discovered that the OSR community was somewhat poisoned against me around the same time. I found it somewhat baffling, as I'd had so little to do with him. It was like I was some big hatred in his life, and he was one of any number of people banned from RPGnet in 2013, and one of several who unsuccessfully tried to go over the heads of the mods to get me to let them back in.

I was never bullied growing up. But I eventually came to use that word for my interactions with Zak. And I definitely was being harassed as well, at a light level, mind you, compared to most of his victims. But it pissed me off all the more when certain professionals in the industry claimed that he'd never harassed anyone.

One of the ways I could tell that I was being bullied was that I was afraid to write about him in a public forum. Because I feared that he'd just increase the bullying and harassing, and maybe send his brigade after me.

I think the concerns mostly broke for me in early 2017, almost exactly two years ago. That's when I discovered that Zak S. had engaged in identity theft against me, creating a fake account on reddit, which he seemed to use mainly to talk himself up. And, it seems pretty obvious that he was the one who did it, because he got the accounts confused: he meant to post something under his account, accidentally posted it under the account using my stolen name, deleted it, and then reposted almost the exact same thing under his name. And there were screenshots! (Receipts!) When confronted, he claimed his roommate did it, but no one believed him.

For me, it was just unbelievably pathetic. I'd built him up as a boogie-man, but here he was rather pitifully trying to stroke his own ego by pretending to be me. I know a lot of people were pretty angry on my behalf; they were in fact much angrier than me. For me, it was more of a relief to see the manipulator laid bare.

But I also just let it go by, because I still didn't want to post and open myself to his attacks.

[Edit: This all followed an earlier identity theft on BoingBoing, something I'd entirely forgotten about until someone commented on this photo, where I discussed the two cases of fraud: It was also used to defend Zak S., but it was perpetrated by some mysterious figure. I was more annoyed by that one, I think because it felt like they were multiple people out to get me, as opposed to one pathetic guy sitting in his basement, giggling while he made up fake accounts and complimented himself.]

Today a very brave woman who used to be Zak's girlfriend wrote about her horrifying experiences with him. She's apparently been sexually and emotionally abused by him for a decade, so I can't even conceive how terrified she must have been to talk about him. I mean, he had me afraid to say his name from a few isolated instances of internet attacks (and some attempted career destruction, reputation sabotage, and identity theft), so she must have been a hundred, or a thousand times more afraid. But she spoke out.

And her courage makes me more able to say: Zak S? Fuck that guy.

Worst user I ever had to deal with.

Being who I am and doing what I do, there's of course another angle to this: how do I write about Zak S. when I get to the history of the '10s? Because he's definitely been an important figure in the OSR movement. There are now people on the 'net destroying all their reviews of his products and all their publicity for them. And I can understand that, but I also have different responsibility as a historian. If he's important enough to his subgenre of publishing (which he probably is), then I need to write about his successes and also his failures.

But perhaps I'm a hair more able to do that now too.
shannon_a: (Default)
So we're now 11 months out from our move to Hawaii.

At the start of the year, Kimberly and I decided that we were going to do our best to do one major thing every month, to move us toward moving, and also do some continuous work to reduce the clutter in the house.

Our major work in January was to get in contact with a gardener and a handyman. These folks are both going to help us by making the house more presentable and thus salable. They were both out last Friday.

The gardener stared actual work today, and cleared the front yard of weeds and covered it over with black plastic (and also hauled some old rotting wood away). Next up will be some mulch and then ... we start planting I guess.

I prepared a TODO list for the handyman, and he was supposed to give us a quote by today, but haven't. Well, we've got the process started anyway, and I'll bug him tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we've been quite successful this month getting rid of clutter. Kimberly said multiple bags of clothes to Goodwill and gave away a variety of unused kitchen stuff on Freecycle. I cleaned up my cache of American games that we used to play on RPG days, but haven't in over a decade (The Challenge, Riddle of the Ring, Source of the Nile, etc) and got rid of my last CCG, Mythos, or at least it's ready to go when someone picks it up in a week and a half. I've also been cleaning drawer clutter here and there. And I was happy to give Eric L. some of my old trade paperbacks that I'd flagged to get rid of.

For next month, Kimberly and I have both taken filing as our major task. She's got her office files. I have much less in the way of office filing (because I mostly give it to her), but I'll clean up the Skotos filing, because that certainly needs to be done too. And I will cut my personal files down to the bare minimum (which should be pretty bare).

So, one month gone, and we did a good job of preparing for the move so it doesn't all hit next fall.
shannon_a: (Default)
The last day and a half, I've been down in the Mountain View / Los Altos area, to support Chris (and our co-hosts and experts, Angus and Bryan) with a workshop on cryptocurrency custody. This is something that's actually been a long-time coming, as Christopher and I started writing the material a year and a half or more ago.

We went down there midday on Monday to get all of the equipment running and the space setup. And had a nice dinner afterward with Angus, one of our other experts.

Then, Chris was staying out a bit more, but I decided to walk back to our AirBnB. It was about an hour walk, about two and a half miles, but what I hilariously learned is that most of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills is pitch black at night. I first saw this as I walked back into neighborhoods, past El Camino Real, but then even moreso on the Los Altos Palo Alto Bike Path, a nice path running alongside park then cemetery, and just a little spooky in the dark at night. I actually liked it, but after two bikes swooshed past me (with lights on), I reluctantly lit up my iPhone for safety. (It was on most of the trip back and I ended up with a 34% battery by the end.) I walked some other dark walking path, just set back a bit from the road, and I now see it continued on into hiking trails. (Alas!) And from there I went into dark neighborhoods, often without sidewalks, and eventually found my AirBnB down a pitch-black street and a mostly dark driveway.

The AirBnB was quite nice. Super tall ceilings, nice rooms. It was a guest house in someone's super fancy Los Altos Hills house, but curiously did have a connecting door.

So today was the actual workshop. Chris and I drove through the actual Los Altos downtown to get there, and it was much nicer than the corner of Mountain View I walked through on my way to our BnB last night. Much more small-town feeling. We got bagels, muffins, scones, and coffee for our attendees.

We'd mapped out the workshop to discuss custody, adversaries, and risk-modeling as our three main sections, and successfully worked our way through it with help from Angus and Bryan. We were the most unsure about the risk modeling, because we knew it would be challenging to teach because it's a lot of work to do the procedure, but despite our shakiness it was the best-received part of the course. And now we know even better how to teach it next time. (I actually did some teaching throughout all of this, which isn't something I tend to do, but I did explain issues with using various metal devices to protect your cryptocurrency keys, and I taught increasing parts of the risk modeling with Chris as we went on, until he left me to finish it up.)

And hopefully people will get even more useful info when they get home, as we distributed a 135-page booklet that contains most of our writing on custody, adversaries, and risk modeling.

After the event was over, and our space cleaned up for our kind hosts, I would usually have zoomed out as soon as I could, but it would have taken 2+ hours to get home in bumper-to-bumper traffic. So I joined folks for dinner one more time, and caught a Lyft around 8pm, which got me home just before 9.

Totally exhausted now. Though it was just a day and a half, it feels like it was a major trip.
shannon_a: (Default)
With the constant rain of the last week, I decided to bike up the Lafayette-Moraga trail so that I could see the Moraga Falls about two-thirds of the way up that trail. They're very shy falls that only come out after extended and long rain. Otherwise, they tend to disappear almost as soon as the rain does.

And, the falls mission was successful. The falls were going as strongly as I've ever seen it. I'm not sure I'll see them again before we move, so that was terrific.

I had lunch at the picnic area just beyond. As I continued further, I was very disappointed to discover the last mile of the trail is STILL blocked due to a landslide at least two years ago. So I backtracked once again, as I have previously when I hit that non-marked, non-detoured trail. Then went out to the road. Well, it's not as bad as right afterward when the trail was blocked and also the bridge on the road just beneath it, which literally took you miles out of your way.

Circling around I did ride the last half-mile or so of the Trail, past the bridge, and that drops you right off at the Valle Vista Staging Area, the southernmost EBMUD hiking area. I've previously hiked a lot of the accessible EBMUD trails in that area, from St. Mary's College to the Laguna Rancho Park, and from the Laguna Rancho Park to the newly opened Carr Ranch. Since this is the next entrance to trails in that area, it felt like a nice complement, so I decided to brace the post-rain mud afterall.

After accidentally looping around the short Riche Loop trail, I decided to walk the King's Canyon Loop Trail, which is about six and a half miles. It was magnificent. Much of it runs along the San Leandro Reservoir. At the bottom it's kind of marshy swamp land, as a local river runs into the reservoir, which is pretty unlike other geography you find in the hills. There was also a near deafening chorus of frogs there. From there, you head up, and it's all very nicely wooded areas, but you regularly see the Reservoir off to the right.

I saw some people the first mile or two, but from there, the trail was all mine.

At the southernmost part of the trail, you get a beautiful view of Kings Canyon, which leads off to the Upper Reservoir. I enjoyed that for a while, before continuing on.

Out at the furthest edge of the loop, I came on one of the fire roads leading down to Laguna Rancho, which I could vaguely make out in the distance (or rather, I could make out some of the ostentatious houses near it, which I remembered from my last trip there). But from there I headed back. As usual, the EBMUD signage was horrible. I have no idea how I would have managed the loop without a hiking guide I found online, but with that I was able to pretty easily follow the paths as they went this way and that.

The hike back was the hardest because it went straight over a steep hill. There were some horses up near the top, though they looked sadly neglected. One came over and said "hi" to me for a while before he got bored and wandered off.

From there I dropped straight back down to the Valle Vista Staging Area. Which was good, because it was getting dark. There was one last car leaving the parking lot as I got there.

Great hike, overall. A very pretty area.

And my hiking shoes seem to be back in usable condition. I took them back to the shoe repair and they stretched the collars back a bit and softened them. Then because the shoes have always been a slight bit loose, I put some inserts in the back. And between those, I don't think I gave myself any new blisters from the walk (and certainly not the horrible abrasions from walking less than a mile that I'm still healing from after my first time out with the repaired shoes).

Mind you, I still had bandaids on the backs of my ankles, so that might have helped too, but that just means I need to drop some bandaids in my backpack.

(And I did have extra shoes that I carried the whole way around the loop, in case I had problems. But I think I'll be more trusting next time.)

Getting back from the Moraga area after dark is always a challenge. The last few times I did it, I took the Lafayette-Moraga Trail back, and that's always unpleasant because there are people walking in the pitch black that you have to avoid hitting.

This time, I took Moraga Way back to Orinda, and that's not pleasant either, because it's a fast, busy road with poor lighting. There is a bike lane the whole way, though at several places it gets uncomfortably narrow. I never exactly felt unsafe, but it was exhausting staying on high alert the whole time, so I don't think I'll do Moraga Way in the dark again.

Still, a good ride up and then down into Orinda.

One thing I'd still like to do in that area: the Rampage Peak hike which climbs all the way up to Antony Chabot Park from one of these EBMUD staging areas. (I'm not sure which; their maps are horrible.) The trick Is figuring out how to do that without ending up with a bike being the opposite side of the hill from where I end up. (Possibilities: a Lyft out to the trail head or a an early enough hike that I can round-trip, or maybe a Lyft down from Chabot back to the trail head.)
shannon_a: (rpg glorantha)
It was 25 years ago tonight that RuneQuest-Con began at the Columbia Inn Hotel, in Baltimore, Maryland.

It was a time of excitement and rejuvenation for RuneQuest and for the world of Glorantha. The line had fizzled out in the late '80s, but with the 1992 publication of _Sun County_ by Michael O'Brien, the RuneQuest Renaissance had begun. That same year, _King of Sartar_ had also appeared, suggesting a richer mythic background for the world than we ever could have imagined, but then at RuneQuest-Con, Greg Stafford doubled down with the 1994 publication of the "Vernacular Edition" of _The Glorious ReAscent of Yelm_, which revealed a whole layer of mythology beneath that which we knew.

But those professional publications were only half of the story of Glorantha in the early '90s, and perhaps less. Because the early '90s were the time when the Gloranthan fandom really exploded, starting with the Reaching Moon Megacorp crew in England. They'd been publishing _Tales of the Reaching Moon_ since 1989 and had kicked off the idea of Glorantha conventions in 1992, with Convulsions. The rich creativity of the authors for _Tales_ (and soon: many other fanzines) easily matched that of the professional publications ... and in fact soon those fanzine creators were writing for many of the professional books, starting with MOB's _Sun County_. Meanwhile, the yearly conventions gave this community the opportunity to really come together and for their ideas to multiply and cross-fertilize.

RuneQuest-Con was my first trip as an adult. I'm not sure I'd been out of California since my Washington DC trip in my senior year of high school. Now, five years later, I was making a recreational trip for something that I found enthralling (and with the support and encouragement of my friend Eric Rowe). When I went to RuneQuest-Con in Baltimore, I was a big fan of the system, because I'd played in weekly games throughout most of my college days. But I was less of a fan of Glorantha, because most of those games were set in my friend Eric's world, Erzo. But I did know Glorantha through its publications. I'd happily read through all the Avalon Hill boxes, through _Cults of Prax_ and _Cults of Terror__, through the amazing _King of Sartar_. But the convention was my first time for those abstract learnings to become concrete. And they did.

I happily played in _Home of the Bold_, where I watched over the last days of my doomed Orlanthi tribe while I hid away at Geo's. And I listened to seminars and I talked Glorantha fans, and I became entirely enamored by the setting.

It filled my creative output for a decade thereafter. I talked with Greg about the First Age, and wrote the history of that time for the LARP at RQ-Con 2. I talked about elves with Greg and would eventually write two books on the topic. I used these two expertises to fill the pages of _Tradetalk_ and _Hearts in Glorantha_ and offered other scattered bits for two local fanzines, _RQ Adventures_ and _The Book of Drastic Resolutions_.

The next year, I helped Eric put together RQ-Con 2 in San Francisco. (He did all the logistical work, including stuff I was supposed to do; I did the majority of the writing for the LARP, with support from him and Steven Martin and of course Greg.) And I got to make a trip to England the year after, to attend Convulsions 3D. After that, I faded away from the physical Gloranthan gatherings, in large part because I was now making no money, working for Chaosium (and afterward because working at Chaosium burned me out on roleplaying for a few years thereafter). Ironically, I still supported some of them, such as the day I worked up the original Hero Wars logo in an hour or two, so that Greg could have something to put on t-shirts for Glorantha-Con IV (I think). But even as I stepped back from the conventions, I still felt those connections as I wrote for the fanzines, until they faded away too. (Joyfully, Facebook has brought some of those connections back.)

(Tip of the hat to Rick Meints who wrote some memories about RQ-Con 1 over on his own page.)
shannon_a: (Default)
And so begins what should be our final year in the Bay Area.

We are diving straight in, doing our best to spend the whole year getting ready for our move to Hawaii. We're going to do our best to make sure we get something major done every month (this month: get our gardener and handyman who'll help prepare our house for sale going, which we still need to do) and we're going to do our best to empty the house of stuff that we don't need over the course of the year (this month: we've started with some games and clothes and oddments stuck in various drawers).

Good News: We were happy to lead the year off with some good news: the latest attempt by the insurance companies and/or hospitals to screw us out of money got dealt with when HealthNet agreed to pay for K's anesthesiologist from her surgery last year. I really don't exaggerate when I say that over the last two decades we've gotten tens of thousands of dollars of bills that the insurance company was supposed to pay and we had to fight about.

Secret Gaming: Gaming has begun at Secret, the Wednesday-night Endgame replacement. It's very close to Endgame, but about half-a-mile toward Jack London Square. The neighborhoods start to get a little seedier as you move further away from the Oakland Convention Center, and this place is almost directly under the Nimitz Freeway (which is LOUD), but it turns out to be a very nice venue. Just a quiet room in a converted Victorian that reminds me of a fraternal hall or something. It's got a stage for small shows and three tables across the other wall for our gaming. We had 10 people or so and two tables the first Wednesday, then 13 people or so and three tables this last Wednesday. It's been a good group of the nicer and/or more serious gamers from Endgame, and after the uptrend of people in the second week, I've got my fingers crossed that it'll manage to stick around.

Sunday Gaming: I got lots of games for Christmas, including Charterstone, a Legacy resource-management and village-building game. I'd been super-intrigued by it because of the idea of building up a village over 12 games, but all my local gaming friends had expressed a lack of interest, in part because of its relatively simple mechanics. Well, Kimberly to the rescue. She agreed to try it out with me, and we've now managed two games of the twelve (though they really have the second game set up as a continuation of the first, so the first, learning game was slow and the second was fast). I do agree the mechanics are simple, but I'm enjoying it, and am particularly intrigued by how our village will develop over the course of the next ten games, as we unlock new things and build them. As I was writing for this, I got lost for a moment in what I'd like to do next game ("get my gold up to four; unlock the constructed tile I held onto; and see what it allows me to build") and that's an example of why Legacy games work.

Bad Shoes: My biggest problem of the year so far: shoes. Yeah. For my great hiking shoes from two Christmases ago, I wore through the inside of the back of the heel, exposing the plastic stiffener there. Or as I call it: the plastic pain device, because it cut up my heel last time I tried to hike. But, because I largely used them for hiking on dirt paths, the soles were still good. So I took them to a shoe repair store and they said they could fix it by covering over the inside back with leather. Great, I thought: half the price of new shoes and more ecologically sound. Do it, I said. I got shoes back with an entirely stiff collar and when I took them out for a walk of less than a mile, they literally wore holes in my ankles. MUCH worse than they were before. So I took them back, and they've theoretically softened the collar, but I couldn't really measure if they wore right now because I still have painful holes in my ankles. Maybe in a few days. Meanwhile, I discovered that I'd worn most of the soles of my normal walking shoes smooth. They're just from September or so, but they were apparently a bad purchase without solid enough soles. They're probably still OK for a month or two, but not in the rain or in the hills. And it's been raining. So last week I was feeling like I had no good shoes to wear out of the house. Well, hopefully the hiking shoe problem is solved (if not, it's back to the shoe repair one more time for more softening), and today I made it out to Target and got some new walking shoes that will hopefully fix the other problem.

Writing: I have been lagging in my writing since the new year, alas. I've just been feeling lazy/needing more downtime. But maybe I finally turned it around last week by starting in on some Mechanics & Meeples articles. I first-drafted the first, and I'm now working on a second and have notes for a third, which all told will take me to the end of February. And then I'd really like to get back to Designers & Dragons so I at least have the majority of the new books in a very raw form by the time we move.

Working: And of course it's been back to work for two weeks now. It's been the usual work I've had for the last several years, which is trying to balance way too many priorities, but I'm acutely aware this should be the last year that's the case because I'll be cutting down on my work and simplifying after we've (hopefully) sold the house next year.

The Last Days: Generally, I'm aware that these are my last days in California. We could move as early as January 1st next year. That's when our house should be available, and it's entirely possible that it'll be a day when we can get cheap tickets. (Though there are two parts to our move date: when tickets are cheap after the holidays, and when the Kauai Humane Society is willing to meet us at the airport to inspect our cats' paperwork.) But if not January 1, then surely within the week thereafter. So this day next year, we should be living in an empty-ish house in Kauai, waiting for our books and games and extra clothes and looking to fill it with new furniture. So I now know that I've been to Secret two times, and there now only 50 more this year, and that's likely it for me. And that I won't be seeing the first two weeks of winter in California again, and that when I'm annoyed by the students returning from winter break in a week or so, it'll be the last time. Because it's the beginning of our California end.
shannon_a: (Default)
I have a long tradition of taking off the week from Christmas to New Year's. And, I try to keep myself busy.

Saturday (the 22nd). I headed out to Walnut Creek where I spent Christmas money on new jeans and a new flannel overshirt. (Exciting!) Then I biked the Iron Horse Trail from Walnut Creek to Pleasanton/Dublin. I always like getting out and about on my weekends, but it's a little harder in the winter when it's cold. So, bike rides are preferred then, and it's usually a little warmer that side of the hills because there's less overcast.

Sunday (the 23rd). We saw the Wizard of Oz.

Monday. Kimberly's foot is still recovering, so we weren't up for a BART ride down south, but Bob was kind enough to pick us up to attend this year's Wiedlin gatherings. Christmas Eve was as always a fun mix of family, games, and tasty food. The only downside was that the dogs have gone wild in the last year. For some reason, Joy got upset at us staying in the guest room at the end of the long west-east hall in the house, and so every time Kimberly or I stepped out its door, she started barking up a storm and got Hope involved too.

Tuesday. We began Christmas with a tasty breakfast, as usual. We waited longer than usual for Jason and Lisa, but that's because they have a new child. Kimberly and I met our first nephew, Julian. And he was mostly a lump, spending all his time nursing, sleeping, and having his nappies changed. But as Lisa said, he's in the potato stage. We had good Christmas presenting. I got great books, great games, a nice pull-over sweater, and other things. We played more games, had a good evening dinner, and then Rob was kind enough to drive us all the way back to Berkeley (at which point Kimberly and I had our own stockings and presents).

Wednesday. During the day I took my hiking shoes out to a shoe repair store, because I'd rubbed through the backs, unmasking the plastic pain devices under the fabric in the heel. But, the soles still have a lot of life, so repair was the answer. (Exciting!) Then, I went to the last night of Endgame board gaming.

Thursday. Definitely, my laziest day of the holiday. I lounged around the house reading and napping until dinner time, at which point I read a bit to Kimberly (we're still on Hawaii, but drawing near the end). Then, I had my friends over for a couple of games of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Mummy's Mask.

Friday. We always see a movie around Christmas, and this year we chose Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse. We decided to see it down at Bay Street, and that caused problems because they've made the rather ill-considered decision to go over to reserved seats in their theatres. So (1) we couldn't properly reserve seats that would have accounted for Kimberly's scooter; (2) we had to reserve in advance and thus pay their $3.50 "convenience charge" to guarantee ourselves anything like good seats; and (3) we got to watch people call in the management to evict people from the seats they'd stolen as we were trying to watch previews. Good times. (Well, the previews sucked anyway: they were all either very religious or very kid-focused.) But the movie rocked. One of the best super-hero films I've ever seen. Not only did it have great and funny writing, not only did it to a great job with a whole host of Spider-men, but it also made excellent use of the animated form.

Saturday. For my last Saturday of the holiday, I came up with a great adventure: taking BART out to Pittsburg Central to explore Black Diamond Mines. The BART ride went one stop beyond the old Pittsburg Station, on the new "DMU" trains that have totally squandered the potential of BART in Eastern CoCoCo. You have to change trains at a special platform east of Pittsburg, and you hop into a teeny, lightweight car that feels like it's held together with paper clips and tinfoil. Despite claims that there would be space for bikes in the DMUs, neither one I got into had anywhere for bikes, so I had to stand there awkwardly, holding my bike for five minutes each way. From Pittsburg Center it was a five-mile bike ride to Contra Loma Reservoir, and from there I walked up into the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, where I did a several-mile loop. It was mostly empty and there were some nice vistas, and I got to explore one of the "mines", a 400-foot tunnel that failed to find coal. I went about 100 feet in before I got too spooked by the possibility of rattlesnakes hanging out. Overall, it was a nice day, though I was home late.

Sunday. We completed our trilogy of media when we saw Arcadia.

Monday. And I ended my holiday with a gaming day out in Eastern CoCoCo with two Erics. In recent years, I've done more biking and hiking during the holidays, but gaming may be something I'm missing in Kauai. So, we played Near and Far, Thunderstone, and Ghost Stories to end out the year. Then I came home on BART, feverishly finished my year-end RPG review and Kimberly and I drank some Martinelli's to mark our penultimate year in the Bay Area.

March 2019

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