Saturday, May 28, 2016

Busy day

I worked until the wee hours and so awoke at 9:30 after not much slumber, but today was not the day for sleeping late.

First on my agenda as Balticon 50's Toastmaster was introducing artist and friend John Picacio, who then did an hour-long presentation on his art.  I generally try to keep introductions short, because the real starts are the people doing the presentations, and I kept to that practice here.  John showed a lot of very cool art and offered some insights into his creative process.

After a half-hour break, I debuted a new spoken-word/comedy show:  Mr. Poor Choices III:  That Moment When.  A blend of old and new material, the show seemed to come off well, and everyone in the audience laughed every time they should.  I would have preferred a bigger crowd--under a hundred folks showed up--but I had a good time entertaining those in the house.  The two women who were signing the show deserve special mention, because I gave them a lot of challenging work, and I even dragged them into the act at times, yet they stayed cool.

After an interval of only twenty minutes, I conducted an interview with Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin.  (You can read about it and see a few clips from it in this Baltimore Sun online story.  Having to watch these clips over my fat gut is a sobering experience.)

I dashed straight from that event into the Baen Traveling Road Show, where editor Jim Minz gave me a chance to discuss my most recent works.

I grabbed a snack--a hot dog--and then it was time to introduce George R.R. Martin and John Picacio for their writer/artist chat.  We ultimately agreed the flow would work better if they just jumped into it, so I enjoyed this conversation from the audience.

My final event of the day was a publisher dinner with Jim Minz and many Baen writers.

Tomorrow looks positively slack by comparison, with only three more events.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Opening ceremonies, Balticon 50 style

I devoted most of today to work and prep for Balticon 50's opening ceremonies.  I grabbed a completely unhealthy but delicious lunch at a nearby Shake Shack and then returned to business.

Tonight's opening ceremonies required more than the usual amount of work because it was by far the biggest OC I've ever managed as toastmaster or master of ceremonies.  In addition to the traditional introductions of guests, we presented five different sets of awards and at the end brought on stage a total of 19 past and current Balticon author guests of honor.  Seeing all those notable writers on one stage was quite a treat, both for the audience and for me.  I'm honored they let me handle the event.

Dinner was a meal with friends at Dinosaur BBQ, whose meats were way better than I had expected and whose spiced mac-and-cheese was absolutely delicious.

I'd write more, but tomorrow I have to participate in five major events, two of which are my newest comedy show and an interview with Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin.  So, it's time to grab a little sleep!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Balticon kicks off with a feast

Specifically, the con tonight hosted a dinner, The Feast of Ice and Fire, in honor of its main guest, author George R.R. Martin.

Click an image to see a larger version.

I was lucky enough to attend, thanks to the con.

In addition to the five courses on the menu, the meal also came with its own souvenir:  a special Balticon 50 glass.

Martin ate each course at a different table and was a very genial and entertaining host.

Tomorrow, the con begins in earnest, and I fulfill my first duty as Toastmaster by hosting the opening ceremonies.  I'm quite looking forward to it!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A stopover on the way to Balticon

I usually visit here on the way back from the con, but this year, that's not possible, so I'm making my annual stop at The Inn At Little Washington a few days earlier.  I find this place restful and peaceful, a lovely location in the middle of nowhere.

I particularly like the small garden, complete with water features and carp, which sits off the dining room and is a great place for afternoon tea and contemplation.

Tomorrow, I hit the road, and then the con starts.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Sirius XM needs to accept the modern era

I recently needed to cancel Sirius XM accounts for my kids, who were no longer using the satellite radios in their cars.  I did what you'd expect:  logged into my online account, and looked for the cancellation option.

Sirius XM doesn't offer one.  You can buy services and radios online, and you can change the lengths of your subscriptions online, but to cancel, you have to call them.

I hate calling support lines, but I needed to cancel these radios, so I called.

After answering an automated question, I sat on hold for three minutes.  When an operator answered, she wanted to know why I was cancelling the account.  I told her.  She then tried to talk me out of it.  I said I just wanted to cancel the radio.  She then tried to sell me another radio for my house.

At this point, my frustration bubbled over, and I asked if she would prefer to let me cancel my service or have a supervisor take over.  She said she'd help--and then wasted more time with more questions.

Eventually, we cancelled the radio.

I wasted nine minutes on the phone doing a task I could have done online in a minute.

If you're going to offer online management of your services--as most companies do--then allow one of those management tasks to be cancellations.  I understand the Sirius XM folks want to minimize cancellations, but all they've managed to do to this buyer is leave me so annoyed with them that I will now actively avoid using their service if I possibly can.

Get with the times, Sirius XM.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Nice Guys

is that rare film that has an amazingly funny set of trailers and yet manages to be funnier when you watch the whole thing.  The movie has an engaging and complicated plot, wonderful performances, great dialogue, and so many laugh-out-loud moments you can't count them all.

Shane Black is at the top of both his writing and his directing games in The Nice Guys.  The shots love the sets and the 70's setting.  Yes, it's a violent film, but it manages to be both funny and at times touching in the violent moments.

All of the actors turn in strong performances.  Russell Crowe is funnier than I thought he could be, and Ryan Gosling delivers one wonderful moment after another.

I don't want to tell you any of the plot, because the trailers have already given away enough.  Wait until you need a fun-filled two hours, and get to the theater to see The Nice Guys.  You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Next Level Fight Club

Last night, Kyle led a small group of us to watch local mixed martial arts matches at the Raleigh Convention Center, courtesy of area promotion Next Level Fight Club.  I've been to multiple live MMA events before, but all of them were from the UFC, which is the leading promotion and easily the largest and richest and best of them all.  I wasn't sure what to expect from a local show.

I'm happy to report that all of us had a lot of fun.

The setup was bigger than I had feared, and though in this shot it's mostly empty,

Click the image to see a larger version.

by the time we'd finished the first three (of nine) fights, the place was about two-thirds full.

The fighters ranged from featherweights to heavyweights and from clearly talented to just learning.  We saw decisions, submissions, and one rather amazing 16-second knockout.

What struck me the most was that all of these people had to be doing this for love and for dreams, probably dreams of one day making it big.  No one was getting rich.  The fighters went into the cage, gave their all, and won or lost, but the money could not have been enough to justify the expense of training.  Like so many people, including most writers, they were following a passion despite the fact that they were unlikely to ever be successful at it.  I respected that a great deal.

By the standards of Vegas shows, the seats were cheap, though by comparison to movies, they were expensive:  some cost $30, while front-row seats, which we enjoyed, ran $80.

I would absolutely do it again, and I recommend it to anyone interested in live MMA events.


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