Visited States map update

Cybercat2
It's been over four years since I updated my states visited map, but the recent trip to Michigan after Anthrocon added a couple, and that officially takes me past the halfway mark.


visited 26 states (52%)
Create your own visited map of The United States

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It's all mine!

Cybercat2
After five years, I have made the final payment on my Holden Commodore, and the car is all mine at last! Hallelujah!

Of course that also meant that the car registration and CTP (compulsory third party insurance) was up for renewal too. Another $661 in the red. And that doesn't even include the comprehensive insurance on top of that. *sigh* Oh well, at least I can start using the car payment money to pay the credit cards now.

bearAnthrocon 2013 trip journal

Cybercat2
Here's my 2013 Anthrocon journal to the best of my poor memory...

Friday 28 June:
For the first time, I would be flying into the United States directly into DFW airport instead of LAX. This represents a saving in time and cost for me not having to take a flight from California to Texas. However, it did mean having to fly up to Sydney to make a connection rather than flying direct from Melbourne. Checking in and flying to Sydney was accomplished with no problems, but a huge downpour at Sydney caused water coming off the jetway to spill into our plane, so the flight was delayed about 50 minutes while they got a wet vac to dry out the plane. Other than that, the flight was totally normal, and the delay was not significant anyway because I still had to wait until Matt McCullar finished work to come and pick me up. I was more frustrated by the poor speed made through Immigration. The DFW facility has 60 desks, but of these, less than a third were manned, and the hall was 2/3 full of passengers from a couple of planes. The number of desks open to US citizens was 7 or 8, whereas the non-US only had 5, plus a couple more for flight crew and wheelchair people, and there were roughly twice as many non-US passengers going through the dreadfully slow process. I have nothing against prioritising one’s citizens, but this seemed grossly unbalanced to me. At least they could have put on more staff. Anyway, after I was picked up and a stop for lunch, we went to Matt’s home where we saw Lyn Thomson sitting next to the garage waiting for us. He was surprised by the automatic garage door opening, and it turned out that he had literally just sat arrived and down. Perfect timing! We learned that Gary Akins would not be joining us that day due to being slammed with some work that needed to be completed before the weekend, but Cindy and Dirk Martine joined us later that evening.

Saturday 29 June:
Gary joined us in the morning, along with Allen “Redbear” Fesler. Several other guests arrived during the day for a party. Much socialising and enjoyment was had. Lyn at last remembered to bring the laptop speakers that he had been promising me for a couple of years, and they sound great! I also got a gift of a little travel kettle from Gary, so at last I could properly boil water for tea on my travels. I love it! I’d had a few of my books shipped to Matt’s place for various people who wanted them also.

Sunday 30 June:
Matt, Gary, Lyn, Dirk, Redbear and myself went to visit the Fort Worth Science Museum. We saw the movie “Space Junk” at the Imax theatre, and took in a show at the planetarium. Because Matt knew the person running the planetarium, we got to get a look backstage at how everything was set up, including some of the old obsolete equipment that had been replaced by the modern equipment, especially the lasers. We were invited to stay for the laser show that followed. Due to the shorter Sunday hours though, we missed out on throwing our money away in the museum’s gift shop.

Monday 1 July:
Two people who could not make it to Matt’s place this year were Gregg and Melissa Anderson. Melissa’s friend was getting married that weekend, and that took precedence over a visiting Aussie. However, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t visit them instead. Gary, Matt, and myself drove up to Lawton, Oklahoma. That took about 3.5 hours to get there. We all went to a local Comanche museum, and then paid a visit to Fort Sill and saw a display of military hardware, as well as the stockade where Geronimo was imprisoned. Later we visited his gravesite to pay our respects. Back at the house, a great feast was laid on, with guests Ebony Tigress and her boyfriend joining us.

Tuesday 2 July:
We took off for a day trip that included a wildlife reserve that had buffalo, Texas longhorn cattle, and a prairie dog town. Then it was off on a tour that included a stop at Mt Scott, Oklahoma’s tallest mountain, which afforded great 360° views. I found the geodetic marker that was at the highest point, so for a short time, nobody in Oklahoma was higher than me! Regretfully, we had to make our way back to Texas that evening, but Gregg and Melissa were great hosts for the short time that we could be there.

Wednesday 3 July:
Matt drove me to the airport early in the morning, going past his new workplace. I now know why it didn’t take him long to pick me up after finishing work. For the first time in years, the flight to Pittsburgh was uneventful, and I turned up at the Westin on schedule. However, I was checked into a room that had not been serviced as yet, and despite seeing the housekeeping cart in the corridor, no one came to correct that before Seth Triggs arrived, or even later when Earl McClaw turned up. We pointed this out to the employee who brought up McClaw’s luggage who said he would bring it to Houskeeping’s attention. We went out for a meal, and when we returned, the room had been cleaned.

Thursday 4 July:
Not much happened until I could go through registration for my dealer table. Turned out that this opened hours after everything else. Eventually I did get registered and then I brought my stock from the hotel. I’d had my main shipment of books sent to McClaw’s place, and he brought them with him when he drove down from Michigan, saving me a huge amount in shipping costs. I got a nasty surprise when I opened them up though. They were packed beautifully, but it did mean that there was a lot of empty space in each of the two cartons which were otherwise big enough to hold my entire order. What I discovered was that half my books were missing. Three out of the eight titles that I had ordered simply were not shipped, including my newest book, “Flight of the Star Phoenix” which I had ordered the most quantity. After checking the UPS shipping details, I determined that they weren’t at fault, and I emailed Createspace regarding this. I eventually got a reply apologising for the short-shipment and promising UPS Priority shipment of the missing books… due July 9 or 10… two or three days after the convention. Of course that was useless to me, so I made other arrangements for delivering them. (I still have not heard about that happening at the time of writing this up.) So my table was rather low on stock even after putting out all the remaining books. I suppose I just had to have some sort of disaster on this trip. At least I got to see a great fireworks display that evening.


Friday 5 July:
As usual, I got to the dealer room early so that I could meet old friends and do a little business before the room opened to the public. Then it was down to trying to sell books. I had exactly six copies of the Phoenix book that were left over from the order that I’d had sent to Matt’s place, and those sold within 70 minutes of opening. I mourn the loss of sales of the main order stock. I also froze while sitting there. The air conditioning was not only set too low, but it seems I was located right in one of the draughtiest spots. I was forced to go outside a couple of times to stand in the sun to warm up again! Despite the lack of some titles, I did decent business that day. I closed up half an hour early though due to having to attend the Ursa Major Award presentations that were being held at 6:00pm. There I was proud to win the Best Anthroporphic Novel for 2012 for “Flight of the Star Phoenix”. However, it just made it a bit more frustrating that I had none to sell any more! There was the Art Show Reception later, and I found a few pieces of interest to me. Even later that evening, Boyce Kline at last turned up after 1:00am, having gone directly from his work to the airport to fly to Pittsburgh. It was still better than missing out completely.


Saturday 6 July:
Mostly just dealers den today. Wore my sweat shirt today, so I didn’t get so cold. Farmed out my sketch books and did a bit of shopping for myself. After that closed, I went to Uncle Kage’s Story Hour. There was an obscenely long queue stretching the entire length of the convention centre, and with just minutes to go, the doors had yet to be opened to the hall. By the time I got into it, Kage was already on stage. I’m not a particularly critical person, but I consider this to be a gross failure of organisation that a performance can start basically on time, but the audience can’t all be seated before it starts. Straight after that was the Chakat Nom & Yap. A few more people turned up than had been expected, and the venue couldn’t accommodate us all despite assurances that it could, so a few had to be turned away. I personally found this frustrating and annoying, and I am so sorry that it happened. The dinner went quite well though despite the slightly overwhelmed staff.

Sunday 7 July:
Sales were very slow, but by the close of the dealer den, I only had nine books left. Defended my bids at the art show – won one, was uncontested for another, and lost a third. Oh well. Boyce had to leave for the airport almost immediately after the dealer den closed, but not before enjoying the complimentary pizza and soda that the head of Housekeeping supplied in compensation for moving us into a dirty room. Two days was not enough with my great mate, but better than nothing. Went to the closing ceremony straight after saying goodbye and again encountered the dreadful queue. Again the event started before the last of the queue had entered. Once was bad enough, but twice (and heaven knows how many other times when I was not there)? I consider that to be incompetence of the highest degree. Someone’s butt needs to be kicked over that.

Monday 8 July:
Farewells were said to Seth, while McClaw and I were able to leisurely pack and load up his car for our drive to Grand Rapids, Michigan. We had a smooth trip and ended up at his apartment late afternoon. First thing that I realised was that as a collector of stuff, he leaves me for dead! That evening was basically just for relaxing after the hectic convention.

Tuesday 9 July:
We went on a day trip over to Lake Michigan and then north to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Some beautiful and impressive scenery, although I was balked from taking photographs at one stage by low cloud/fog coming off the lake. The big dune was incredible, and some people had actually gone down to the bottom. I saw several struggling to get back up again, and it probably took them at least a half hour to do so. I didn’t stick around long enough to time them. All during the trip, McClaw pointed out features that were either inland dunes or glacier-created. We stopped at an A&W food place and enjoyed a meal there, which I enjoyed with a mug of root beer straight from the tap. Delicious!


Wednesday 10 July:
I had to get up at 4:30am to go to the airport. I had arranged a much better flight, but American Airlines saw fit to change it to one hours earlier. Ended up on a very small turbo prop plane which barely accommodated my carry-on luggage. Transferred at DFW for the flight to Ontario Airport, California where I was met by Jim and Carole Alves. After a stop to pick up some ginger beer and other items, we went directly to the nearby Rancho Cucamonga baseball stadium where our High Desert Mavericks were playing the Quakes. If it hadn’t been for the unplanned change of flight, I would have totally missed out on the game, so sometimes things do work out for the better. Dinner that evening was at our regular haunt – Ala Al Deen’s – a Turkish style restaurant. Today was also Carole’s birthday, and I had brought her several Billy Connolly “World Tour” DVDs that she really wanted.

Thursday 11 July
Not much of interest to mention except when I went to Best Buy to try to find a good quality 64GB USB stick at a decent price. At first I was daunted by the $90 price tag, but I found another type of the same brand which was only $40. After enquiring, I found out that the cheaper one was from an old sale and the price sticker had not been changed. The sales person gave it to me for less than $38 including tax. Score!! We packed up early and headed for LAX that afternoon, stopping for dinner at a Mongolian barbeque place not far from the airport. I did an early check-in, and we socialised for a long while until it came time to go through security to the gate. Too short a visit again, and not enough time to do much, but it was good to see my friends again. The gate was in a newly opened section of the international terminal, and it isn’t quite finished as yet, but it is looking very nice so far. Boarding the plane was delayed due to them having to cool it down some more, but once we did board, I noticed something was different. It was an A380! I had not been expecting anything but a normal jumbo jet. It turns out that the auxiliary generator on board had failed. It is responsible for running the air conditioning while parked, hence the heat problem, but it also is used to start the engines. Because they had to use the ground crew’s equipment to start the engines, we experienced more delay. In all, we were about an hour and a half late taking off from LAX. My brother was kept waiting for an hour due to that, but otherwise things went smoothly once again. Having crossed the international date line, it was now Saturday, and I looked forward to at least one good night’s sleep before having to go back to work on Monday.

Arrgh! Jetlag!!
Once again, my sincerest thanks to all the people who made my trip possible, and as enjoyable and successful as it was. I hope that we can do it all again next year. But maybe not so rushed, okay?

New e-book available

Cybercat2
If you have been waiting for the e-book version of "Tales From the Chakat Universe", wait no more! It is now available from Smashwords for US$12.99

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/328734

Buy now! Buy often! I need to pay the bills! =^_^=

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Story review - a crushing disappointment

Cybercat2
I have never written a story review before. I certainly didn't ever expect to do so for a fan-fiction of a cartoon show. Oh, by the way, this is about My Little Pony - Friendship is Magic, so if it's not your thing, you probably won't want to bother reading this. I've always been a fan of good animation though, and I enjoy the series, but don't generally get into fanfics. A comic adaptation of the first chapter of this fanfic did manage to grab my attention though. I am talking about "Background Pony" by Shortskirtsandexplosions. No, I'm not making up that pen name.

http://www.fimfiction.net/story/19198/background-pony

The story takes a background pony - Lyra Heartstrings in this case - and expands upon her history and creates an enormous problem for her, namely: she's forgotten. Here is the author's blurb for the character:
"My name is Lyra Heartstrings, and you will not remember me. You won't even remember this conversation. Just like with everypony else I've ever met, everything I do or say will be forgotten. Every letter I've written will appear blank; every piece of evidence I've left behind will end up missing. I'm stuck here in Ponyville because of the same curse that has made me so forgettable. Still, that doesn't stop me from doing the one thing that I love: making music. If my melodies find their way into your heart, then there is still hope for me. If I can't prove that I exist, I can at least prove that my love for each and every one of you exists. Please, listen to my story, my symphony, for it is me."

Lyra has gotten this way as a result of a curse put upon her by Nightmare Moon, and the story relates how she deals with this, how she struggles to make a living, to interact with people, to deal with the fact that neither her best friends nor even her own parents remember her. It travels the emotional rollercoaster from suicidal lows to triumphant highs, with crushing failures to incredible accomplishments, all the while trying to find a way to alleviate the curse, and the key to it all is her musical ability. The author skilfully weaves a complex background where song is the very essence of creation, and Lyra's talent gradually unravels the complexities of it all, even as the events interweave seamlessly with those of the cartoon show. (The story ended before the third season which had events that ended up contradicting a couple of things in the story, but that is not the author's fault.) Eventually she succeeds in her quest to find the solution to her problem, only to discover that the price is terrible.

It's at this point that things go sour for me. Up until chapter 19 (of 20), I had nothing but praise for the story. I had even hypothesized how it would end, with Lyra's curse lifted, but her past still forgotten even to herself, so she starts off as a blank slate, only to rediscover her own nature and talent, and re-making her friendships. In short, she would receive her reward for all her struggles and sacrifices. I could not have been more wrong. If you don't want to read any spoilers, I suggest you don't read what comes next. She is basically given two choices. The first is to have her curse lifted, but that would mean that everything that she achieved while under the curse would be undone also, and one of those achievements was saving the entire world. The other choice would be to completely embrace her fate and become one of the "unsung", joining the hordes of the forgotten in a kind of purgatory. Instead she chooses a third option. She asks that her love of music be taken from her, forgotten just like herself, so that she can go back to her life in Ponyville, but still a forgotten person. WTF??? She would trade the very thing that makes her special, the thing that enabled her to succeed where all others failed, the thing that earned her cutie mark and defined who and what she is, all in exchange for a mere continued existence, and a miserable one at that? This jarred me badly. I could not believe that of the character, and it pissed me off badly. Yes, the ending was poetic, but that does not make it good. It ruined my day, and had me upset for several days afterwards. You could say that the story was intended to be a tragedy, but I don't think it needed to be. Besides, I don't read or watch stories with unhappy endings. Real life is too full of hardships, failures, and real tragedies to have to deal with an artificial one. You need the highs to balance out the lows to make life worth living, or in the end you become like Lyra - merely existing. I certainly don't need an ending like this contributing to the depression that I deal with daily.

So read the story at your own risk. It's skilfully written even if I disagree vehemently with its conclusion. I'm just wondering if I am game enough to try one of the author's other stories after this however.

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Let me see that smile!

Mood happy
After several weeks of going to the dentist and getting extractions, fillings, a crown, and fittings, I finally got a new denture on Friday, and I can bite and chew again at last. I celebrated by eating the chewiest and crunchiest things that I could find. It was wonderful. I am still getting used to the dang thing, and I'll be paying off the dentist bills for quite a while, but in the end it will be worth it. Gone is a persistent ache in the jaw, and tooth sensitivity, and I have at last an intact smile. Just in time for Anthrocon too. See my smiling face there!

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A little self-promotion

pride
I'm usually pretty bad at promoting myself, but I reckon that I have a decent chance of winning the 2012 Ursa Major Award in the Best Novel category for "Flight of the Star Phoenix". So with the voting due to close in a bit over two weeks, I'm asking that if anyone has read the story, liked it, and has not voted as yet, please consider it for your choice on the ballot. Every vote helps!

To log in and view the nominees, go to http://www.ursamajorawards.org/Voting.htm
Of course I hope that you take the time to vote in the other categories as well!

Travel plans finalized

Cybercat2
My travel plans have been finalized for this year's trip to America, and all the flights have been booked. Of course last year almost all my flights got changed either a little or a lot by the airlines, but barring that, here is my itinerary:

Friday 28 June
Depart Melbourne 9:30am flight QF420 - arrive Sydney 10:55am.
Depart Sydney 1:25pm flight QF7 - arrive Dallas/Fort Worth Friday 28 June 1:45pm.

Wednesday 3 July
Depart DFW 11:30am flight AA2426 - arrive Pittsburgh 3:15pm.

Monday 8 July
Drive from Pittsburgh to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Wednesday 10 July
Depart Grand Rapids, MI 8:35am flight AA2741 - arrive DFW 10:15am.
Depart DFW 1:10pm flight AA1649 - arrive Ontario, CA 2:15pm.

Thursday 11 July
Depart LAX 11:30pm flight QF94 - arrive Melbourne Saturday 13 July 8:20am.

Thank you to those people who have helped me do this again for another year. I'd literally be stuck here without you!
pride
The 2012 Ursa Major Awards have started the voting period, and my novel - The Flight of the Star Phoenix - has qualified for the Best Novel category. Also, Kacey's cover art qualified for Best Published Illustration. If you want to vote for these or other candidates, go to http://www.ursamajorawards.org/voting2012/ to log in.

Phoenix-BookCover

I ought to be committed

Cybercat2
So I did. I committed myself to some travel dates for Anthrocon. I know I already missed out on the very cheapest tickets, and I had to make a decision before I missed out on others. Even so, I had to put my departure from Australia one day earlier from Saturday to Friday in order to save $662. I will probably lose a day's pay because of that, but I more than make up for it in the price difference. It's going to be a tad awkward arriving on Friday instead of the weekend, but I'll get around that.

In the meantime, I now have to pay off the cost of the flights. I have already received some financial assistance, for which I am deeply grateful, but I still have quite a bit to go, and I haven't even touched the interstate flights yet. Fortunately I can put those off for a while yet. For now, I am committed to arrive in the States on Friday June 28 and leaving again on Thursday July 11.

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