• Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary

    Since many people are discussing their early memories of “Star Trek” on the 50th anniversary of its premiere, here are some of mine:

    I was twelve. The old saying “The Golden Age of science fiction is twelve” does have some truth to it. My parents both loved SF, so we were all gathered in front of the TV to see this new show. I had loved “Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits,” but this was different — it wasn’t an anthology, but an ongoing series.

    I remember thinking the design of the Enterprise was weird and didn’t make sense. But other than that, I loved the show. The costumes were not the usual “futuristic” stuff I’d seen elsewhere, but did look futuristic in their own way. Spock was seriously cool, even though I thought humanoid aliens were ridiculously unlikely. (His half-human parentage wasn’t mentioned in the premiere episode, so far as I remember; I would have balked even more at that.) The transporter was nifty. Phasers were beyond nifty. Kirk was charming and smart and generally a solid hero.

    I knew that a lot of the science and technology was nonsense, but I didn’t care — the show’s creators had at least tried, rather than going for pure fantasy like so much alleged SF. I was old enough to understand that they were limited in what they could do. And we had heroes, and action, and monsters, and pretty women in short skirts (I had already hit puberty), and most importantly, it wasn’t condescending. It didn’t go in with the presumption that science fiction adventure was all junk aimed at kids, or that the audience didn’t know any science whatsoever.

    I knew it wasn’t up to the standards of the best written SF, but it was still better than anything else I’d seen on TV or in the movies. (I hadn’t seen “Forbidden Planet” or a few other classics yet.)

    I loved it. My mother did, too, and most of my siblings. Dad appreciated the effort, but thought it fell short in too many ways.

    As the series continued, there were good episodes and bad — I found “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” horrendously preachy, and “The Way to Eden” patronizing and stupid, and the less said about “Spock’s Brain” the better — but watching it was still usually a highlight of my week. I was disappointed when it was cancelled; I had hoped that it might recover from the weak third season and get better. I wasn’t heartbroken, though, because the novelty had worn off and the average quality really had slumped in the third season.

    The real disappointment was the long wait before we got any more SF on TV that was even remotely as good.

  • Productivity

    I feel odd right now. I’ve been very, very productive lately, more so than pretty much any time in the last twenty years.

    So far in 2016 I’ve written 565 pages, on five different novels and a short story. (I may have written other short stuff as well, but I don’t have records of anything else.) That’s good for me, and happened despite a trip to China and many other distractions. The last few weeks have been particularly good — something like half that total got written in the last sixty days. And I think that’s partly because of where I am on all my most current projects.

    I’ve always sped up after a certain point in whatever novel I’m working on — exactly what point, and sped up how much, will vary, but it always happens. I get to a stage where everything important is worked out in my head and it’s mostly just typing it out. I wrote the final third of Nightside City in five days, which was my previous record.

    (This only refers to first drafts. Rewriting is a whole different thing.)

    Sometimes there would be enough momentum in that rush to finish a novel that I would then surge rapidly through the opening chapters of a new novel.

    Well, what happened this time is that after doing little writing for months because I was too damn busy with other stuff, when I got back to it I had three novels near their respective tipping points at the same time. I hit my stride on Tom Derringer in the Tunnels of Terror and rolled directly into Tom Derringer and the Steam-Powered Saurians, and when that started to slow I hit the tipping point in Stone Unturned, and I think I’m about at the tipping point for Bravo Foxtrot, as well. (Have I ever made it explicit that Bravo Foxtrot is the protagonist’s name but not necessarily the title? Because that’s the case.)

    Three novels at once hit the “hurry through” stage. That’s never happened before, and it feels strange.

    Anyway, I’ve been in “finish the novel” mode for the last month and a half, but I still have around three or four hundred pages to go on two different novels, so I don’t know whether I can sustain it for the entire run.

    And there’s also the “start a new project” aspect. That’s a real thing for me. Now that the part of my brain that builds the underlying story is finished with Stone Unturned and Bravo Foxtrot, it’s looking for something new to do, and it’s hopping from one idea to the next, sometimes developing unfinished old projects, sometimes coming up with new ones, and it’s distracting. Right now it really, really wants me to start work on an untitled novel about two sisters where one has a magical talent but it’s the other one who has a magical destiny, but I know if I do that I’ll lose my momentum on Stone and Bravo.

    (At least I pried it off Tom Derringer and the Steam-Powered Saurians and Tom Derringer and the Electric Empire for now. Yes, I want to write those, but I want to get other stuff done first, and I know those aren’t really ready for serious focus yet. And that two-sisters story is going to be so cool when I have time to work on it. And I’ve also been involuntarily working out more of The Dragon’s Price and The Siege of Vair. I was even thinking about One Hundred Suns the other day, and that’s been largely abandoned since the 1980s.)

    What I’m worried about is burning out, or getting distracted. I don’t think I can keep this up forever. There was a stretch of really high productivity in the early 1990s (half of which wasn’t obvious because it was by Nathan Archer), but it didn’t last. This one probably won’t, either.

  • My Son’s Five-Part Wedding: Part Five: The American Finale

    Julian and Cathy got married in China in October 2015 and April 2016, but Julian wanted Cathy to have a chance to meet all her new American family and Julian’s American friends, and obviously not all of them were going to China for the ceremonies. (In the end, two of Julie’s siblings and a few of Julian’s friends made it.) Obviously, there would have to be an American reception as well as all the stuff in China.

    As it happens, the McKenna side of the family holds reunions sometimes. They talk about it a lot more than they do it, but reunions do happen occasionally. Usually Julie winds up doing most of the organizing.

    In 2015 there had been discussion going on in e-mail for months about when and where the next reunion would be, with various ideas tossed out, none of them generating all that much enthusiasm. Finally, when it looked as if it would drag on forever without a reunion actually happening, Julie just announced that unless someone came up with a better plan right now, she was going to charter a sailboat on Chesapeake Bay in late June, 2016. That seemed like a good time — school would be out, and there were some birthdays in the family around then, and, you know, reasons.

    No one came up with a better plan.

    Julian knew about this, so he suggested having the wedding dinner the night before — everyone on his mother’s side would already be gathering for the family reunion, so they wouldn’t need to make a second trip.

    That sounded good, so we agreed, and planning began.

    I probably should have been more involved in the planning than I was, but I mostly left it to Julie, since the reunion was her idea and her family. It didn’t occur to me immediately that we would also be inviting my family, though of course we did.

    It seemed like a good idea to find a Chinese restaurant for the event, for various reasons, so we settled on New Fortune, in Gaithersburg, MD, a large restaurant that does lots of weddings and that we knew made good food.

    Unfortunately, they had already booked a huge Chinese wedding in the main hall for that night, but they could fit us in their secondary hall, which seats fifty at five tables of ten. In an emergency they could squeeze in a sixth table, for a total of sixty.

    That meant we needed to settle on a guest list of fifty or sixty, so we set to work on that. Julian’s sixteen aunts and uncles gave us a starting point, and there were his twelve cousins, two of whom are married…

    Not all of those wanted to attend. A couple of uncles by marriage declined immediately, as did about half the cousins, leaving more room for Julian’s friends, and family friends, and a couple of Cathy’s friends who were in America.

    We wound up with a list of fifty-eight names, but some people begged off, and a couple were added. One of Julie’s brothers decided to skip the whole thing rather than find someone to tend his dogs — or at least that was his excuse, which ignored the fact that his wife and daughters could look after the dogs. A couple of siblings tried unsuccessfully to talk him around.

    And then there was the Chinese side of the family. We had not initially thought anyone would be coming from China except Cathy, but then we learned that her parents and at least one uncle and maybe an aunt or two were interested. In the event, they waited too long to apply for visas — there’s a backlog at the U.S. consulates. Cathy’s parents managed to jump the queue, but the other relatives were left out.

    The final (or so we thought) list came out to exactly fifty people. That lasted about a day and a half; then one of Julie’s sisters who had said she would come, and who had arranged to share a hotel room, got cold feet about traveling and backed out, leaving her would-be roommate in the lurch — especially since that sister had supposedly been going to make the travel arrangements, but hadn’t, so that her roommate had to book a flight at the last minute.

    Julie invited a friend from work to fill that now-empty fiftieth seat, and she agreed, but then she had to back out the day before the event, so the final total was forty-nine.

    I should also mention that one of Julie’s other sisters (she has three) arranged a room block at a local hotel, which sounds simple enough, but proved to be amazingly difficult. You’d think a hotel would have this down, but one stupid little thing after another went wrong — lost paperwork, buggy website, poor communications. It did eventually happen, and I don’t think Eileen got stuck with any extra charges, but it was far more trouble than we expected.

    Anyway, the arrangements were made, and people started arriving a week or so before the event and trickled in right up to the last minute. We put Julian, Cathy, and her parents, and our daughter Kiri, up at our house, while everyone else coming any distance wound up at hotels — not all at the hotel we’d booked the block at, thanks to some of those hassles I mentioned, but mostly there.

    I rented a van to make it easier to haul people around, and used it to pick up Julian, Cathy, and her parents from the airport. They arrived on time on Wednesday; their luggage (with their wedding clothes in it) showed up at 3:00 a.m. Friday morning.

    Some old friends came all the way from Tennessee, which surprised the heck out of us.

    All four of my surviving siblings came; I think this may have been the first time this century than all five of us were together. And where the original idea had been a McKenna family reunion, only five out of the seven siblings attended.

    The night before the main dinner we had a small informal buffet dinner at the house, which my siblings all attended; I think that came to about a dozen people in all, noshing on sandwiches from a supermarket deli.

    And finally, the day came. Julie went up to the restaurant early to make sure everything was ready, and several carloads of us arrived at the appointed time. A couple of people made a wrong turn going into the restaurant and wound up at the other wedding briefly, but figured it out.

    I am very glad we didn’t need the sixth table; the room was pretty crowded with five. Julie had arranged things intelligently; everyone who spoke Chinese, plus Julian, sat at the central table. One corner table was Evanses, one was McKennas, and two were friends, roughly sorted by who knew whom.

    Once everyone was there they started serving — ten courses. Most of it was absolutely delicious. There was a chicken course I didn’t care for, but hey, tastes vary.The head table

    One hitch was that it turns out two of my siblings don’t much care for seafood; if I’d ever known that I had completely forgotten, though thinking about it we never ate much seafood growing up, despite living in New England. Since this was in Maryland and the cook was from coastal China, there was a lot of seafood involved, which left their choices a bit limited. I regret that. But hey, I liked the crab soup and the crab-filled shrimp balls and the whole boiled fish, and so did most of the other guests.

    Julian and Cathy circulated among the guests, a few very brief speeches and toasts were made, and in general it was a pretty typical wedding dinner.

    Eventually the food stopped coming, and people stopped eating and began drifting away. We thanked everyone for coming, settled the bill, and went home.

    That still left the family reunion; the following day several carloads drove out to Annapolis. Some of us toured the Naval Academy; others just poked around the shops; and in time we all wound up at the docks and boarded the Windward II for an hour-long sail on Chesapeake Bay. I think we’d booked space for twenty-four, but only twenty-two actually made it onto the boat — almost all family, but a couple of Cathy’s friends, and a couple of ours.

    Various guests were invited to take the wheel for awhile. Cathy’s mother was one of them, despite not being able to understand any of the English instructions; gestures proved sufficient. Cathy told us later that that was her mother’s favorite part of the trip.Julian at the tiller

    And after the sailing we headed across town to Mike’s Crab House, where we had an hour-long wait to be seated but eventually wound up fitting all of us at two adjoining tables.

    And that was the end of the official event. It took a couple of days before everyone was gone; Cathy, Julian, and her parents did some touristy stuff in Washington and Harper’s Ferry before moving on to New York. (Hey, you don’t fly all the way from China and then head right back; they were in the U.S. for two weeks in all.)

    At last, though, it was all over except eating the leftovers. Julian and Cathy were quite thoroughly married, and on their way back to Hangzhou.

  • My Son’s Five-Part Wedding: Part Four: Cathy’s Home Town Wedding

    This is when things got elaborate.

    Cathy’s real name is Li Qing. The Li family is from a town called Jiande, a couple of hours from Hangzhou.

    The Li family is, in fact, one of the nine families that founded and still dominate Jiande. I’m not clear on the history, but apparently at some point the nine families fled from somewhere else and settled in what’s now Jiande, founding the town. They allowed others to settle there later, but maintained certain exclusive rights to the river. Only members of the nine families can do their laundry in the river, for example — and some of them still do, as we observed when we were there.The hotel lobby sign

    And only members of the nine families can be married on the river. And when they do get married, it’s a big deal.

    We hadn’t known any of this until we got there. We knew that Cathy’s family was planning a hometown ceremony so that her three surviving grandparents and various other family members who couldn’t get to Hangzhou could see it, but we hadn’t realized how significant this was. All we knew was that we were taking a bus to Jiande, where there would be a ceremony involving boats on the river.

    The hotel and bannerBut when the bus delivered us to the hotel, we began to realize. The hotel had a big banner across the front announcing the wedding of Li Qing and Julian Evans; the wedding guests occupied pretty much the entire hotel. In the lobby, while we were getting checked in, I noticed there was a video playing on a loop showing a hugely elaborate ceremony with dancers and drummers and so on, including people holding huge shrimp puppets over their heads. “At least we won’t be doing anything like that,” I thought.

    I was wrong. Cathy’s family had gone and booked the whole package.

    The Evans boat
    There were these nine ceremonial boats moored beside the hotel, and Julian said yes, those would be used for the wedding — two of them, anyway. He pointed out that each boat had a banner bearing the character representing one of the nine families — except one, where the ordinary banner had been replaced with one reading “EVANS.”

    Anyway, we settled in on Sunday night, and spent Monday morning exploring the town, which is unremarkable as modern middle-class Chinese towns (or small cities by American standards) go. There’s a town square with decorative pillars, a coffee shop, a New Balance store, and so on. There’s the riverfront.

    The drummers
    And then around mid-afternoon we were gathered out on the river beside the hotel, and the wedding began. Drums were set out on a red carpet; recorded music began playing, and several women in bright red robes began a vigorous drum accompaniment.
    The names of the nine families

    When that was done the drums were whisked away and nine young women in these peculiar tabards marched out and moved around in various patterns, displaying nine characters. Only well after the fact did someone explain to me what should have been obvious — the nine characters were the names of the nine families. This was a demonstration that this was all done by the consent of the masters of Jiande, I guess.
    The master of ceremonies
    Then the master of ceremonies appeared, a man in a white suit and red sash, who lip-synched a song that I’m guessing was a song of welcome, but since it was entirely in Chinese I’m not really sure.
    Some of the dancers
    Next was a troupe of six young pretty women in white gowns, carrying (and sometimes wearing) red gauzy veils as they danced. Very traditional Chinese dancing, and quite lovely.

    They were followed by a middle-aged woman in purple, and someone was kind enough to tell us that this was the town matchmaker. After an introductory dance and speech she brought a few young women out onto the red carpet, and at the other end the master of ceremonies (remember him?) brought out Julian, in his red wedding shirt with a big red bow on it, and Schuyler, Julian’s best friend and groomsman, as his attendant.The matchmaker

    The matchmaker presented her young women to Julian, but he turned them all down with a “no, no, they won’t do” gesture. (That didn’t need any translation.)

    The matchmaker looked thoughtful as Julian started to turn away in disappointment, and then called him back. She pointed out on the river, clearly indicating, “I have one more!”

    And out on the river was the boat flying the Li family banner.
    Summoning the Li Family boat
    The matchmaker, the MC, Julian, Schuyler, and the rejected maidens all stepped to the edge of the river and began beckoning, and the Li family boat came in to dock. Cathy emerged from the interior wearing a red veil and stood in the prow, and Julian nodded his approval of this final choice.
    The bride is delivered
    The boat crew then transferred a chest and a pile of folded silk, representing Cathy’s worldly goods (or dowry, I got conflicting explanations) from the Li boat to the Evans boat. Cathy herself was then brought ashore in a big red tub carried on the shoulders of four men, paraded around, and then set down in front of Julian. The matchmaker presented her, Julian accepted, the MC made a brief speech; the veil was lifted, and the happy couple kissed.

    And then the dancers and the rest of the wedding troupe brought out these giant prawns from somewhere — I never did figure out where they had been stashed — and distributed them to the families of the bride and groom, and we all danced around like lunatics holding these giant shrimp over our heads, which was actually a lot of fun, and that concluded the ceremony.The dancing prawns arrive

    After about an hour, giving us time to freshen up, change clothes, or whatever, we were then gathered in the hotel’s dining hall for the wedding feast. I think this time we got the full thirty courses. We also passed around a bottle of baijiu, China’s most popular liquor — what wine is to France or vodka is to Russia, baijiu is to China. I’d heard that it ranged from cheap rotgut that workmen drank after a hard day’s labors to outrageously expensive fancy stuff that was only used as gifts to impress people; what we got was in the middle of that range, and I was surprised to discover that I liked it quite a bit, and it went down easier for me than, say, whiskey.

    There were toasts and jokes and small gifts exchanged, and everyone ate too much but eventually wandered off, sated; I think to some extent wedding feasts are pretty similar everywhere.

    A quick note or two: Why are there nine boats when we only needed two, and one of those never left the dock? Since they shuffle the family banners around as needed, do they really need all nine?

    Well, yes. Because there are different levels of wedding. If you thought the one I’ve described was elaborate (which it was), there are others that are more so, and for the top tier the transfer of goods and bride is done in the middle of the river rather than at the dock, and the guests are on the other seven boats in a circle around the two directly involved.

    The dancers, drummers, MC, matchmaker, and so on are all hired as a package deal. I don’t know how many different options they offer, or where on the scale this one fell; it was all handled by Cathy’s parents.

    Anyway, Tuesday morning we were loaded on a bus back to Hangzhou, and the Chinese portion of the wedding was over. Part Five was up to the American side, i.e., us.

  • My Son’s Five-Part Wedding: Part Three: The More or Less Western-style Ceremony

    After the Chinese ceremony on Saturday morning we went out for lunch, then had a little quiet time, and then got loaded into various vehicles and driven to Cathy’s favorite restaurant — a nice place sort of out in the country. We’d eaten there the year before. Right now I forget the name; if I remember it later I’ll edit it in.
    The notice board
    The chef there is a friend of Cathy’s. They don’t ordinarily do weddings, but for Cathy they made an exception.

    When we got there the weather was pretty nice, but the skies got steadily more threatening as the afternoon progressed.

    There were chairs, tables, and tents set up outside, and the guests and wedding party gradually accumulated there and did the usual sort of shmoozing one does at weddings, until at last the appointed hour arrived. The happy couple stood up at the front of the crowd, where one of the bridesmaids acted as MC and introduced the officiant, who wasn’t any sort of clergy, but Cathy’s first boss from her days at Dell. Cathy considered her a mentor, and had recruited her.

    (I believe they originally had asked someone else, who at almost the last minute was unable to make it, so this woman stepped in.)The vows

    Vows were exchanged (in English, since Julian doesn’t speak Chinese), the couple kissed, maid of honor and best man gave brief speeches, the fathers were then asked to say a few words — I’d been warned, and had composed a very brief piece I hoped would be suitable.

    Half the speeches were in English, half in Mandarin; a couple were delivered in both languages. We sat smiling and uncomprehending through the Chinese ones, and I’m sure several guests did the same thing through the English ones. That was one reason I’d kept mine short.

    These substituted for the traditional reception toasts, which weren’t practical because of the restaurant’s layout.

    Why the fathers were asked to speak but not the mothers… well. It’s China.

    Anyway, when the ceremony was complete everyone headed indoors for the wedding feast — and in a masterpiece of timing, just as the last guest stepped through the door it started pouring rain.The wedding feast

    The wedding was spread over three or four rooms; the restaurant did not have a main hall as such. We were at the head table, of course, which was large and round and on one side of the central room. Food and drink began appearing promptly; I didn’t count, but was informed that there were twenty-four courses, cut down from the traditional thirty.

    Julian and Cathy made the rounds of the place, talking to all the guests, so I don’t know how much they actually got to eat, but the rest of us stuffed ourselves, to the point I don’t think anyone touched the twenty-fourth course; we were too full by then. (It didn’t go to waste, we were assured; the restaurant staff got the leftovers to take home.)

    Some of the guests were from Julian and Cathy’s running club (that’s where they’d met), and they had a reputation for rowdiness to live up to, so things got rather loud at times, and a great deal of liquor (mostly wine and baijiu) was consumed. A good time was had, until at last we wandered back out to the parking lot and got driven back to the villa.

    That was Saturday. Sunday morning we did a little hiking, and Sunday afternoon we boarded a large bus that took us all to Cathy’s hometown of Jiande, where we were delivered to the local wedding hotel.

    But more of that in Part Four.

  • My Son’s Five-Part Wedding: Part Two: The Traditional Chinese Wedding

    We arrived in Hangzhou in April, along with several other friends and relatives, and the wedding party was gathered at a villa — more a bed & breakfast by American standards, I’d say — in the hills in the western part of Hangzhou. It’s a lovely place, and they’d booked the entire thing for the wedding. We got to meet Cathy’s parents, her swarm of bridesmaids, and assorted other friends, while “double happiness” stickers were plastered everywhere.Double Happiness

    (There is a character — the character for happiness doubled — that is traditionally used at every wedding, and only at weddings. It’s all over Chinese weddings.)

    And on Saturday morning, April 16th, the games began.

    I mean that literally. Chinese wedding customs vary a lot with social class, location, and other factors, but for Hangzhou’s professional class they apparently traditionally start with games. The bride, her parents, and her women (bridesmaids, friends, servants, whoever) hole up in the family compound — or in this case, since the Li family doesn’t have a family compound in Hangzhou, in the villa — while the groom and his people are thrown out. The groom must then win his way to the bride’s side by a mixture of bribery, wit, skill, and persistence.The games at the gate

    This starts by tossing small gifts over the gate to get the attention and general good will of those inside. These gifts are traditionally candy and money; the money is token amounts in little red envelopes, called “hongbao.” Julian used this as a way to get rid of odd bits of currency he had accumulated in his travels — mostly South Korean won, but also Singapore dollars, Slovakian koruna (which haven’t been legal tender since 2009), Ukrainian hryvnia, and so on. The bridesmaids collected this and then started posing challenges, such as asking what Cathy’s favorite color is (it took him three guesses and a hint), or what her mother’s name is (Cathy had always just called her “Mama,” so he didn’t know).

    At one point a local woman came by carrying a baby; Julian borrowed the kid and lifted him up above the gate to coax the bridesmaids into opening the gate. They were highly amused, but didn’t open up.

    The second doorEventually, though, he won his way into the courtyard and faced the second door, into the residence. I don’t remember most of the challenges at this level, but they demanded he demonstrate his physical fitness by doing push-ups. He didn’t want to mess up his nice wedding shirt, so it took a moment to find a suitable spot for that. He used up his remaining supply of hongbao and candy, but eventually was allowed into the villa.

    The third and final door was the door to Cathy’s bedchamber. The first big challenge here was that a napkin was slid out to him, under the door; it had been folded in quarters, and each quadrant held a lipstick print. He was told to identify which one came from his bride, rather than one of the bridesmaids.

    His mother and I, and a couple of groomsmen, were there to help, and we eliminated three possibilities, so he guessed the fourth — but it turned out to be a trick question; none of them were Cathy’s. To make up for this failure, the last big challenge was that he and the two groomsmen there were to put on lipstick, take selfies, and send them to Cathy’s phone. (Or maybe a bridesmaid’s phone, I’m not sure.)

    This was tricky because almost all the women were in Cathy’s room, but someone (I think Julie, but I don’t remember for certain) eventually found a lipstick a bright enough shade of red to show up in photos. It took one of the groomsmen a couple of tries to apply enough to satisfy the women, but at last it was done, and after a few promises to always do what Cathy wanted, Julian was admitted to the chamber.

    Putting on Cathy's slipperThere Cathy was waiting, in her bridal attire, on the bed, which was strewn with peanuts, dates, lotus seeds, and walnuts; the names of those four items are a Chinese pun, meaning “Have a baby soon.” Julian was not quite done with his tasks, though; the last one was to find a hidden slipper and put it on Cathy’s foot.

    When that was finally done the games were over, and matters proceeded to the formal ritual, wherein the parents sit side by side, and the bride and groom bow to them and offer them cups of tea. The parents indicate their approval of the match, and the friendship of the two families, by presenting the newlyweds with red envelopes of cash (and not a mere token sum like the ones Julian was tossing over the gate), and then exchanging gifts representing the families’ heritage. We gave Cathy’s parents a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon, representing Julian’s birth in Kentucky, and a box of fancy Maryland-made candies; they gave us an antique marriage bowl (now displayed on our wall) and a bag imprinted with a famous Chinese painting.

    And that was that, and after regrouping a little, most of us went out to a fancy lunch Cathy had arranged at a nearby restaurant.

  • My Son’s Five-Part Wedding: Part One: Legalities

    Once Julian and Cathy were engaged, they set the wedding for April 2016 — far enough off for all the necessary planning and preparation, but not much more than that.Wedding photo

    The first step, though, was to get a marriage license. Where Julian’s a foreigner, that was slightly more complicated than it might otherwise have been, so they didn’t put it off for long. On October 25, 2015, they went to the appropriate office in Shanghai (why Shanghai and not Hangzhou? I’m not sure) and filled out the necessary paperwork.

    Which meant that under Chinese law, they were now married. The Chinese government doesn’t care about ceremonies. From then until April it was sort of vague as to whether we should consider them engaged or married, but officially, they were married. An official photo was taken, as seen here, but that was about it for any sort of celebration.

    That was Part 1 of the wedding. And that was it until April.

  • My Son’s Five-Part Wedding: Part Zero: Engagement

    A couple of years ago our son Julian completed his doctorate in physics and went looking for employment. As is fairly normal for academic scientists these days there weren’t many immediate tenure-track openings available, so he looked for a post-doc position.

    The one he wound up with was doing research in metamaterials at Zhejiang University in China. (ZJU is considered roughly the third-best college in China, so this wasn’t a bad opportunity.) They had him in Guangzhou briefly, then moved him to the main campus in Hangzhou.

    We made an arrangement with him to Skype about once a week, to stay in touch. We also planned to visit Hangzhou — we had visited China back in 2006, when Kiri was working in Shijiazhuang, but we hadn’t gotten to Hangzhou or anything else south of Shanghai. We settled on April 2015 for our visit, with stops in Hong Kong and Guilin before winding up in Hangzhou.

    Julian seemed to be doing fine, going by the weekly Skype sessions. And then near the end of 2014 he casually mentioned that he had a new girlfriend.Julian & Cathy, April 2015

    That may not seem like a big deal, but this was the first time he had ever mentioned any of his girlfriends to us unprompted, so his mother and I figured this one must be fairly serious.

    As April neared it sounded more and more serious. By the time we actually headed for China, the trip’s purpose had changed from tourism and seeing how Julian was doing to meeting Cathy, tourism, and seeing where Julian was living.

    We met Cathy — her real name was Li Qing, but like most Chinese who learn English she had chosen a western name to use with foreigners — and liked her immediately. And Julian was already talking (when Cathy wasn’t around) about the possibility of marriage.

    So it wasn’t a big surprise a few months later when a regular Skype conversation informed us they were engaged.

  • How and Why I Actually Used 3.5″ Floppy Disks This Week

    I needed some documents I’d created in Publisher 2.0. After much googling, I concluded that the only way to get at them was to reinstall Publisher (which I had last used two computers back). After messing around with downloads and a burned CD, I concluded that the only computer I had (out of five) that would run Publisher properly was Sid, an old Acer notebook that’s still running Windows 7 instead of 10 because it can’t run 10 — every attempt to upgrade has ended in an error message telling me that 10 can’t install because it isn’t compatible with Sid’s display drivers, which Acer won’t update for this model because it’s too obsolete.

    (It really is obsolete, by the way; I got it out of mothballs a couple of months ago to run some other ancient software. Windows 10 is only about ten years backward-compatible, and I still use software dating back to, no shit, 1986. Mind you, Windows 10 is still better at that than whatever it is my iMac is running now.)

    Thing is, Sid doesn’t have an optical drive. But I have a cheap external floppy drive I’d picked up a year or so back with the idea I would someday go through my stacks of old floppies to see if there was anything I wanted to save.

    So I hooked the floppy drive up to Sid, dug the original Microsoft diskettes out of deep storage, and installed Publisher.

    Three of the five floppies had problems, so I’m missing some fonts and graphics. One of them, #4 (of five), had a crucial file that was unreadable, so I downloaded a disk image of that one from an abandonware site and copied it to a blank diskette — finding the blank took awhile, as I’d thrown out all the ones I knew were blank years ago, but one turned up in a pile I hadn’t sorted yet.

    So — it worked, and I can provide my daughter-in-law with some family history she wanted.

  • Independence Day: The Weekend

    I survived the holiday weekend. Usually that’s not much of an accomplishment, but this year it took some doing.

    Kiri came to visit, arriving Friday and leaving this morning. While she was here we attended two picnics, a party, two fireworks shows, a movie…


    Friday we didn’t really do anything special beyond hanging out with Kiri. Julie did some food prep for the holiday. Kiri and I watched “Battlebots” off the DVR while I did my nightly workout on the elliptical. (I’d saved “Battlebots” for several days because I thought she’d be interested.)

    Saturday we all slept late and decided to skip the Takoma Park Independence Day parade — the route ends three blocks from our house, so usually Julie and I walk over to watch it, but this year the weather was damp and ugly and we weren’t feeling energetic, so we didn’t.

    But we did all pile in the car and drive to Arlington VA for a friend’s annual holiday bash. Grilled burgers and hot dogs and BBQ, liquid-nitrogen ice cream, many friends.

    After that, we drove back for a party up the street, where a family recently built a house that’s… architecturally distinctive, shall we say? We got the full tour. We’d been inside when it wasn’t finished yet, or even closed in (which is how we got in), and the floor plan turns out to be different from what I’d expected. The playroom is where I thought the kitchen would go, and the kitchen is where I thought the dining room would be, and the floor plan is more open than I expected.

    Our hosts are nice people, but we already knew that, having met them at other neighborhood events.

    After that — Julie works at the Bureau of Engraving & Printing in downtown DC, a couple of blocks from where the big annual fireworks show (the one that’s shown on TV as the end of “A Capital Fourth”) launches. (“A Capital Fourth” is mostly the concert on the Capitol lawn; we’ve been to that in the past, didn’t go this year.) The Bureau decided that this year they would allow a limited number of employees and their families to watch the fireworks from the Bureau’s roof. (There’s a rooftop cafe.) Who got to go was decided by lottery. Julie entered the lottery and didn’t win — but it turned out she was the first name on the waiting list, so when someone else cancelled a few days ago, she got a last-minute notice that she and up to three guests were in. So Julie, Kiri, Julie’s sister Eileen, and I packed a picnic dinner and took the Metro downtown. Finding the entrance they were using took a few minutes, but well before the show we were on the Bureau roof, eating roast chicken we’d brought with us.

    For the actual fireworks they recommended moving to another part of the roof, one that’s not normally open to anyone, so we did. Lots of people stayed in the cafe, which turned out to be a minor mistake — we all thought the fireworks were launching from over by the Washington Monument, but they actually launch from the Tidal Basin, and the cafe’s view in that direction is partially blocked.

    But we were on the good roof, and even climbed up on the brick wall around the edge for a better view. (There’s an iron railing on top of the wall as well, so there was no danger of falling off the roof.)

    It was quite a show, though not all that long. There were low-hanging clouds, so low that a few of the highest bursts were partially inside the clouds, which looked neat and is something I’d never seen before.

    There was one series of fireworks that were supposed to spell out “USA,” in red, white, and blue, but the U was sideways and so distorted it looked more like a question mark — it wasn’t until it was followed by the S and A that we realized what it was supposed to be.

    After the show it was back to the Metro, and we were astonishingly lucky — we were using the L’Enfant Plaza station, where most of the crowds were jamming into Smithsonian, and we got to the platform before hardly ANY crowd arrived, and just as Metro rolled out a special post-fireworks train. We got seats easily, and the car never got as crowded as a typical rush hour.

    We’d expected to get back to our car at Fort Totten around 11:00; instead it was only about 10:15. Amazing.

    We drove home and crashed.

    Then Sunday we discovered that Takoma Park had postponed their show because of the damp weather. An opportunity!

    Around mid-afternoon, on a whim, we went to see “Inside Out.” Came home, ate dinner, watched the U.S. win the World Cup, then walked over to Takoma Park Middle School, where the city holds its show, and saw another round of fireworks. TP goes for low-altitude stuff with a very different style from the big traditional show DC does, so it wasn’t just a replay.

    Came home, watched the end of the Giants/Nationals game; the Nats won. Watched another round of “Battlebots,” then called it a night.

    A good full weekend.

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