Friday, September 21, 2018

Book: John Scalzi's "The Human Division"

After finishing "ZoĆ«'s Tale" last March I re-entered the world of the Scalzi's Old Man's War.  My latest read was the next in the series: "The Human Division."

The book is a fitting continuation of the saga.  Earth and the Colonial Union are divided.  Rivals to the humans, and especially the Colonial Union, are vying for an alliance with the Earth thus depriving the Colonial Union from its life blood.  In the background a mysterious third party with unknown motives is sabotaging the negotiations.

The book is a good romp in the Space Opera genre with interesting characters.  The one thing I wasn't keen on is how the book was put together.  The book was published by the chapter.  This means each chapter almost has to be an independent short story that, when combined with the other stories, make one coherent novel.  This made the book feel a bit disjointed at times and transitions from one venue to another were sometimes a bit jarring.

I still liked it and gave it four stars out of five on Goodreads.  The book ended with many loose ends that will be tied up in the next book of the series already available for purchase.

Friday, September 14, 2018

To Brighten Things Up A Bit

One of the Wife's Sunflowers.
To help balance out the ugly politics and the ugly hurricane news, I give you two pictures of the Wife's sunflowers.  She's tried to grow them for awhile now and pests had conspired against her by eating most of her attempts.  This year she was successful.  They were not large but they were pretty ... before the bugs ate them.

A small - 1 inch across more or less - sunflower.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Seventeen Years Ago Today ...

Seventeen years ago today the towers began to fall.

They continue to fall today.

When, if ever, will the falling end?

Friday, September 07, 2018

Canada: Magnet Edition

People who follow Homer's Travels knows that the Wife and I collect travel magnets from our world travels.  Our Canada By Rail trip was no different but I think we went a little overboard.

One of my favorites - a multicolored polar bear from Churchill, MB.
We bought magnets at every stop along our train trip across Canada from west to east.  We bought a magnet for each city, each province, and each attraction we visited.  In Jasper we also bought magnets for attractions we did on our honeymoon which we took before our magnet habit started.

An Inukshuk from Vancouver, BC.
In the end, after seven provinces, seven cities, and a large number of attractions, we ended up with fifty-four new magnets (bringing our total to four-hundred-fifty-seven).

An inclusive version of the Canadian flag acquired I Jasper, AB.
I have photographed all the magnets and added them to the Travel Magnets tab (at the top of the web page under the title).

A Sailing Ship from Halifax, NS.
Awhile back the travel magnets moved from the refrigerator to a sheet of plywood clad in metal.  Later I added an additional half sheet of metal clad plywood.  Both display boards are now full and there is not enough room for most of the Canadian magnets.  I will have to look for a way to expand our magnet displays.

A Halifax Lobster with springy legs.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Eaten Alive

I went to Hitchcock Nature Center yesterday to do a short hike.  The short hike turned into an even shorter hike.  Apparently all the rain, heat, and humidity is the ideal environment to breed mosquitoes.

I've been going to Hitchcock a lot lately since it's the only place in the area to add elevation to my hiking.  I am also going back each week in the hope to catch the Monarch butterfly migration that comes through here in August and September.  Last weekend I didn't see nary a mosquito but yesterday - Yowza!

I started my hike and was immediately swarmed.  I would wipe my hand along my arm and kill four to six mosquitoes at once.  All I could see as I walked the trail were mosquitoes swarming around my head.  I don't remember anytime the mosquitos were this bad.  Not even in Churchill or Alaska.  After maybe fifteen minutes of swatting, smacking, and swearing I gave up and headed back to the car.

Today I have too many bites to count on my arms and a few more around my neck.  My elbows, apparently, are a mosquito delicacy.  I got welts everywhere and they are starting to itch.

Next week when I go it will be a long shirt and lots of bug spray before I head out again.

Now I'm wondering how long does it take for West Nile to start showing symptoms?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Book: C. Robert Cargill's "Sea Of Rust"

C. Robert Cargill's "Sea of Rust" is an interesting take of the robots-take-over genre.  The book is set fifteen years after the death of the last human.  Fifteen years before that robots and Artificial Intelligences (AIs) gain sentience and, after getting rights from the humans, begin to kill to keep those rights.

The post-human world of robots and AI is bleak.  Warring AIs compete for dominance by absorbing the experiences of the independent robots.

The book becomes a typical quest story popular in fantasy novels.  While the robot angle is interesting it isn't enough to make the book better than adequate.

I gave this book four stars out of five stars on Goodreads because, while it is a mediocre work, it at least has an interesting take on an old theme.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book: Steve Toutonghi's "Side Life"

I'm falling a little behind in my Goodreads reading challenge.  I didn't read during our Canadian rail travels.  I started back up when I got home.

Steve Toutonghi's "Side Life" is a cross between Quantum Leap and Sliders.  The main character discovers a device that sends his consciousness into another person in a different time and place.  When his conscience returns to his own body, it turns out to be his body from an alternate time line.

The book follows the main character as he moves from body to alternate time lines trying to figure out what the machine does and how to find a 'good' alternate time line to live in.

The book starts out interesting with many thought-provoking ideas but it ends running off the rails and completely comes apart in the last few chapters.  If you asked me what happened in the last chapter, I would be hard pressed to give an adequate explanation.

I gave this book three out of five stars on Goodreads because of the disappointing end.

Friday, August 24, 2018

What The Hail?!?

I went for a bike ride this morning and experienced something new (for me).  I knew there was a chance for rain so I wasn't surprised when, on the way back to the car, it started to sprinkle.

What I wasn't expecting was the sprinkles becoming a downpour.  I wasn't too bothered by this since I won't melt when I get wet.  I'd ridden in hard rain during my RAGBRAI ride in 2015.  I did get a bit concerned when I saw some of the rain bounce.

In the middle of the downpour it started to hail.  Most of it was pea-sized or smaller but they sure felt, and sounded, big when they hit my bike helmet.  Riding in hail - a first for me.  I clicked up a gear and booked it to the next underpass in search of shelter.  By the time I got to the underpass the hail had stopped and the rain was back to a drizzle.  A half mile later the concrete was dry.

I was soaked when I got back to the car but I felt pretty good.  This is good considering I did 28 miles (45 km) today.  I often like firsts but I hope this is the last time I bike in hail.

Monday, August 20, 2018

So ... What Comes After Canada?

Those who know us know that we like to have several vacations in the pipeline.  Before we returned from our Canada by rail trip we already had plans to go to Patagonia between Christmas and New Years.  We even had a random stranger we talked to tell us how she loved Patagonia while we waited for the bus.

After we got home we contacted our travel person and asked about Patagonia.  A few days later we discovered that Patagonia is very popular between Christmas and New Years.  Most places in Torres del Paine National Park were booked solid.  The only place available was $11,000 per person (not including airfare and two nights in Santiago).  Time to go to plan B.

Plan B is Iceland.  Actually, Iceland was sort of our plan A and Patagonia was Plan B.  We rejected Iceland early on because it seemed more expensive than Patagonia.  After Patagonia priced itself out of the market we revisited Iceland.  Our travel person did a great job putting together a package that was, by our usual standards, dirt cheap.  Instead of booking an umbrella tour she booked a hotel, flights, and then filled the time with individual daily tours.  In the end we saved thousands of dollars.

So this December, between Christmas and the New Years Day, we will be exploring Iceland and, weather willing, basking under the Aurora Borealis.  What better New Years Eve fireworks than the Aurora?

We haven't forgotten about Patagonia.  We're looking at going there after Christmas 2019.  Hopefully this far ahead will get us a more reasonable price.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Canada By Rail: Halifax, NS

We began our city planning like we started all our other city planning by checking out the hop on/off bus and found out that the bus only ran when the demand was high (i.e. if a cruise ship was in town). The demand was not high. We decided to walk down to the waterfront to check out our options.

A colorful street on the way to the Halifax waterfront.
We confirmed that the bus was not running but the Harbour Hopper was. The Harbour Hopper is an amphibious bus-like vehicle that tours Halifax for about thirty minutes then enters the water and tours the waterfront for another thirty minutes. Yes, this was similar to the Duck boat that sank in Missouri. Before we left the captain of the hopper noted the difference. The hopper was an ex-military vessel used to ferry cargo to ships. It was first a seagoing vessel. The ducks were land vehicles that were modified to ride in the water. I’m not sure about the difference but the weather was great today and I wasn’t too worried.  The tour was interesting and marked our first amphibious vehicle ride.

The Waterfront from our Harbour Hopper.
After our tour around the city and waterfront we continued to walk the boardwalk along the water stopping in a few places to buy magnets and water. It was pretty warm here and the humidity made things a bit uncomfortable. We were thinking about what to do when a small “train” pulled up. It was a donation run tram that took you around a loop of the waterfront and downtown. We got on and rode it around picking out a few places we would return to. We ended up getting off at the City Hall.

Something not seen in American government buildings: A Thrown Room.
The City Hall offered free tours which we jumped at. We learned about the history of one of the oldest buildings in Halifax. It was an interesting tour.

We walked towards the hotel passing the Catholic cathedral, a very old cemetery, and a cigar shop where the Wife bought some Cuban cigars for her brother.  I like Halifax.  There is a lot of new construction and a lot of history.  Quaint homes and modern restaurants.  A nice mix of old and new.

A sail boat off Georges Island.
Later in the afternoon we went out for food and visited the Maritime museum that was free on Tuesday evenings. The museum was ... underwhelming. We walked through it like our butts were on fire. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we are not museum people.

Entering the Citadel.
The next day we walked to the Citadel where we heard them shoot off the noon cannon. We had a light lunch here, listen to some bag pipes (naturally), and toured the World War I trench exhibit. It was quite interesting though it felt out of place in the much older Citadel.

We left the citadel. At this point we split up. The Wife went back to the hotel while I went to the Halifax Public Gardens. I strolled through the gardens looking at the scale model of the Titanic (It was listing, of course) and other photographic opportunities before walking back to the hotel.

In the late afternoon we returned to the waterfront and boarded the tall ship Silva for a cruise around Georges Island and along the waterfront.

This was our last full day in Canada and we were ready to go home.  The next day we took a taxi to the airport and flew home via Toronto.

It was nice to be home.

Photographs can be found in my 2018-06 Canada By Rail Google Photos album.