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.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Canada By Rail: The Last Train To Halifax

This was a long vacation.  As I waited in the Montréal train station there was an underlying sense of dread.  I was tired of trains.  This vacation involved a lot of sitting - sitting on boats, sitting on buses, and sitting a lot on trains.  I was not looking forward to sitting another twenty-two hours on a train.

The trains to the east of Toronto were newer trains.  The older trains from Vancouver to Toronto have some cars dating to the 1950s (though they were updated, naturally).  Strangely enough, the older trains were more comfortable to me.  I had trouble sleeping on this train.

I knew I was tired of travelling.  I usually draft posts on the train but on this leg of the journey I just sat back and listened to podcasts.  I was feeling lazy.  I was ready for it to be over but Halifax beckoned.

We arrived in Halifax in early evening and walked the couple blocks to our cool inn.  It was located in an old building that felt like an old mansion ... which it was.  The Waverley Inn is in a Victorian house built in 1876.  I don't remember sleeping well this night but I got over it when we went out to explore the city of Halifax.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Canada By Rail: Montréal, QC

I ate too much crap the day before.  I do this too often and when I do I know I will feel like crap the next day.  I felt like crap when I woke up on our first full day in Montréal.  It also happened to be my fifty-fifth birthday.  I've never been very good on my birthdays.  So, on top of the crappy way my body was feeling, I was also in a matching crappy mood.  Memories of what was happening the last time I was in the city completed the trifecta of crappitude that was the morning of my fifty-fifth birthday.

The 17 Shades of Gay art project in the Village.
We didn't get out of bed until around 11:00 am.  We walked to Dorchester Square to get on the hop on/off bus.  We rode the bus around the city making notes of what we wanted to return to later.  Riding the bus was pretty much the limit of what I was up to this day.  After the two hour ride we walked back to our hotel.

The very cool sunset over Montréal from our tour bus.
We stopped at an Irish pub across the street from the hotel and ate lunch.  This was the first food I'd had since the day before and it was around 2:00 pm.  I had a near perfect French Dip sandwich.  We returned to our room and I fell asleep.

Leonard Cohen tribute.
A few hours later the food/sleep combination revived me and I started feeling alive again.  We went back out and took the evening hop on/off bus.  This evening bus takes a slightly different route that provides views of the sunset and early evening skyline.  I hadn't really been present during the afternoon bus ride but now I saw the city and I took more pictures.  The bus route ended with views of the city lights from Mount Royal.

The next day we got back on the bus and went to Old Montréal.  We went to the Notre Dame Basilica and took a tour.  We were there about an hour taking pictures and learning about the history of the beautiful basilica.

Inside the Notre Dame Basilica.
We walked around Old Montréal and stopped for lunch before getting back on the bus taking it to St. Joseph's Oratory.  It was a warm day and we were sweating as we toured the oratory.  We stopped and had a snack and cold drink in an attempt to revive ourselves.

St. Joseph's Oratory.
We took the bus back to Dorchester Square and walked back to the Irish Pub where we ate dinner before returning to our room for the night.

The view of the downtown city lights from our hotel room balcony. 
Our train was leaving early evening.  It was our first rainy day since Jasper.  We went to a nearby cathedral for Mass before heading into the underground city.  We heard about the underground city from one of our bus tour guides.  The underground city has over two thousand businesses connected by 20.5 miles (33 km) of tunnels.  There were stores, restaurants ... anything you would need.  It turned out to be a nice place to explore on a rainy day.

Palais de justice de Montréal lit up at night.
We took a taxi to the train station and waited to take the last leg of our train adventure.

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

Onward to our final destination: Halifax.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Canada By Rail: The Train To Montréal

The train segment from Toronto to Montréal was our shortest.  It was only five hours and on time. The scenery out the window was mostly agriculture.  Strangely enough it didn't seem as interesting as the wheat and canola fields of Saskatchewan.  Not sure if it was just late in the vacation and I was tired or what.

There was a lot of beautiful scenery during our train ride.  The mountains of the Rockies would have been the top for me if it hadn't been so cloudy and many of the mountains could not be seen.  Because of this the best part for me at this point was the section between Winnipeg and Toronto.  Most of this leg was dense forests broken up by swamps, ponds, lakes, and rivers.  We saw eagles and other birds along this section and the Wife and I both saw moose from the train.

We arrived in Montréal early evening.  We took a short taxi ride to our hotel.  Our hotel was on Crescent street which has a lot of restaurants and bars.  We walked to a corner bistro and had a late dinner.  We were ready for Montréal.