Saturday, December 14, 2013

ICON 38 Photos

Finally getting around to putting some photos up from last month, starting with ICON 38.

We threw a room party on Friday night, and a lot of fans came by to say hello.  This is Jeanette on the left and Ange on the right, both all dressed up and looking very chic.

From our room party again, on the left is Lauren, who came down with us from New Richmond to attend her very first SF convention!  Dean is standing behind to the right and I don't remember the name of the gentleman with the bowler and goggles, but we were all having a good time.

Some more party guests dressed up in fine steampunk style.

This is Adele, who was the Spider Lady.  Love the hat!

One of the most fascinating panels was a showing of some of the very first motion pictures ever shown in Iowa, starting back in 1896!  They were discovered by the gentleman standing next to the film projector in a basement of a house in a small Iowa town almost thirty years ago and he's been working to catalog and restore them ever since.  He had a wonderful show that he narrated vividly, including all kinds of facts he'd discovered about the films, including the fact that the highest paid actor in film back in 1901 was... a dog.  It wasn't all glitz and glamor back then.

He'd also found much other material, including records of where movies were shown and when, and how much money they made selling tickets.  Needless to say, this is really priceless information.  He'd also brought along a precursor to motion pictures called a Magic Lantern, and you can see one of the wooden slides in the photo.  They had multiply moving parts that would be turned to show a "moving" picture, and they dated back from the late 1860s.

Here's a shot of the Magic Lantern itself on the table at the left.  Initially they used a kerosene flame to light it, but this one had a light bulb that was cooled by the circa 1910 Sterling Electric Fan (made in Chicago) on the right.  Note the handy guard that allowed for spontaneous fingernail trimming on the fan...
One of the things Erin and a couple of the other artists in attendance did was to take some of their acrylic paints and use Lauren as a canvas for a work of art that she wore around the convention on Saturday.
Mike Miller laughing out loud while Dave Ingraham smiles on the right.  Good times.
Some of the floundering father and mother ships of Iowa science fiction fandom.  They still know who they are, even if they're getting grayer these days...
 Ange in another spiffy costume on Saturday night.
And this costume was good enough to eat, being on a chocolate cake.
On Sunday morning there was a panel on the process of creating steampunk objects, which was well attended and enlightening.  Erin was there too and got some ideas I'm sure.
Finally on Sunday afternoon, there was the panel on ICONs past, starting on the left with Mark Moore, Greg Frost, Bill Johnson (aka Billjon), Mike Miller, Steve Tait and Denny Lynch.  Thanks for helping to start it all!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


For the first time in three years both Erin and I were able to go to a convention together thanks to a neighbor who was willing to mind our menagerie (as he put it) of canines and felines.  They all survived the ordeal just fine, I'm happy to say.  We also took a newcomer, Lauren, to SF/F conventions with us, who happened to be a roomer living in said neighbor's place, as she was really curious about what a science fiction convention was.  We were happy to give her the opportunity to find out.

So after the usual delay in our departure, thanks to the usual putting off of things until The Last Minute, we were on the road by 11am and heading for Cedar Rapids.  The drive down was uneventful and Erin and Lauren spent most of it talking with me getting a word in edgewise on occasion, if I was lucky.  I did try a shortcut south of Rochester on a county road that ended up not being much of a shortcut thanks to lots of tight corners, but it was a pretty route at least.  We made it to the hotel by 4pm, and while Erin checked her art into the art show, Lauren and I hauled up our stuff to the room.

We had quite a bit of stuff because I decided that we'd throw a party this year, so I had a case of wine and some food too, as well as my guitar, but we managed it all in two trips thanks to snagging a hotel baggage cart.  After we'd finished with that, we headed down to registration where we both found we didn't have badges waiting for us, but after a bit of checking we found we were indeed in the database as being pre-registered, so no problem.

Then as I was wondering what to do next, I ran into Mike Miller (aka "Spacey") who was heading to a panel demonstrating something called a "Raspberry Pi" at 5pm and said it would be fun.  So I went and heard about a $35 computer called a Raspberry Pi that was cheap, open source, and fun.  It's basically a board with a CPU that uses a SIM card for memory, runs on a version of Linux, has a couple of USB ports, an ethernet connection and a couple of video outs, one of them a venerable RCA plug.  One of the aspirations the R-Pi's makers have is for it to be used in teaching about computers in places where budget's a very low, as in third world low.  But it's sophisticated enough to be useful anywhere.  I likened it to using a ukulele to teach music, as a uke is also simple, cheap and fairly easy for young'uns to grasp.  One of the audience members brought his own R-Pi with him and showed us how he connected it to a cast-off Motorola cellular phone accessory that had a display and a keyboard.  Neat.  It was a nice way to start the convention.

Then after connecting back with Erin when she was finished in the art show, Lauren and I joined her at the opening ceremonies to hear about the fabulous guests, who were pretty fabulous, including pros like Ellen Datlow, Nancy Kress, and Joe Haldeman, who was the "artist guest of honor" because ICON has run out of other things to honor him as after 38 years and besides, he does some nice watercolors, one of which was the art for this year's con T-shirt, which I naturally got to wear myself.  I would have stayed for the Trans-Iowa Canal Company skit but had to go back to the room to do party prep, but I heard it was pretty funny, if you got most of the in-jokes.

It turned out to be a good thing I did head back to the room, because as soon as I started getting stuff out I realized I'd left the cheese, ALL of it, at home.  So I had to make a dash to a nearby Target where I picked up $30 worth of dairy products and was able, with help from Erin and Lauren, to get the spread out by 9pm when I'd said the party would be open.  Well, I was up against a band, Wylde Nept, that's very popular at ICON, so it took a little time for my first guests to show, but there were good ones, Mark Moore and his spouse Mickey Zucker Reichert.  So we had fun talking about the good old days - the theme of the party was S.F.L.I.S., aka the Science Fiction League of Iowa Students, which started ICON and there were a lot of us old-timers attending this year.  Gradually more folks came by and a convivial time was had by all until 1pm, when Erin and Lauren said they could use some sleep.

The next morning I headed for a panel called "1013: The Year Nothing Happened", which was the theme of the con this year, but it was actually a panel about research, which I guess relates to coming up empty looking for the events of 1013.  The panelists were Glen Cook, Bill Johnson (aka Billjon) and Mickey Zucker Reichert, who discussed how they did research when writing fiction, and it turned out to be enlightening as they all had their own way of digging things up.  Glen for example doesn't do actual research, but he reads all the time and has a pretty good store of knowledge to draw on.

Then it was time for the panel on the Rusty Hevelin Collection at the University of Iowa, featuring not just one, or two, but *three* research librarians presenting the progress on the collection so far.  One of the highlights was learning that since the condition of most of Rusty's pulp collection was so good, there was an opportunity to treat it in bulk to a process that would buffer the paper and prevent the acid from damaging the paper any further.  The fact that the pages are still flexible is an indication that it could be worth it, to better preserve and make the original pulps available to the public.  Some of the detective pulps have already been used in a class on hard-boiled detective fiction at the U. of Iowa, as part of learning about the roots of the genre.  I'm sure Rusty would be very pleased.

After that, I'd heard about an unusual panel featuring some old, really old, silent films that had been discovered in the basement of a home in Iowa.  I was not prepared to find out that they were the very first movies ever shown in Iowa, and practically anywhere.  There was also a precursor of film, a Magic Lantern, that was set up to show slides that had moving parts which would display a "moving" picture on the wall, that were shown starting in the late 1860s in the U.S.  The original lantern was powered by kerosene, but we settled for a safer electrical one that had a circa 1910 electric fan to cool it off.  Very nifty.  The films were all shorts, except for an "epic" several minute film of a bank robbery, featuring the antics of the last guy running the robbers down who kept falling over things for comic relief.  Oh, and there was footage of the highest paid actor in film back in 1901, who was a terrier that had the trick of grabbing onto the belt above the hind end of other actors.  It was still funny too!  The person who collected the films and was restoring them was there of course and kept up a nice running dialog, which given the films were silent was no problem.  He'd even brought some of the old programs, and financial books of the fellow who went around showing the films, which is great from a historical perspective.  A great, great show.

After all that, I took a break and then Erin and I went out for an early dinner with two friends, Dave and Marne, at a nearby Japanese restaurant that had wonderful and unique sushi.  I did a bento box myself as I was hungry, but Erin's eel roll tasted as good as it looked, which was pretty good.  Then we headed back to the hotel in time for me to make the reading by Joe Haldeman, which is an absolute must for me whenever I get the chance.  Joe read first from a novel that's coming out early next year, called Work Done For Hire.  The passage he read was practically horror, very well done and disturbing, which ostensibly is fiction in the novel but still creepy as hell.  Then he read from the novel he's currently writing, titled Phobos Is Fear, which takes place in part on the Martian moon Phobos, which was nicely hard SF and a welcome relief.

After that, I was in the mood to party, so I headed for the karaoke party run by John and Denise and proceeded, after being a bit hesitant, to pick out some songs and belt them out, which were enjoyed and I was told I have a nice singing voice, which is good for my confidence when it comes to singing on my own sans karaoke machine.  Erin also dropped by to listen to me sing and one of these days I need to get her to join me, maybe after we've both had a bit of Irish whiskey to loosen us up.  I also stopped by a Gamicon party (that the gaming convention held in Iowa City in February) a Demicon party and a party that I forget the theme of but they had absinthe to share, which was kind of like chartruse, which I like but not enough to pay for.  After both Erin and Lauren had gone off to bed after 2pm, I decided to get my guitar and go sit in the consuite to play and sing a tune or two, and was soon joined by Ange Anderson and Robert Uy, and Robert did some wonderful harmonies to what I was singing and Ange was glad to get a chance to hear me sing too.  So after about 45 minutes of that the consuite was closed down and I went off to bed after a very good day.

Sunday I was up too damn early, but thankfully the consuite was open and had coffee and bagels and cream cheese out for us early risers.  Soon afterwards Erin was up too and looking for coffee herself, and told me about a steampunk props panel she wanted to go to.  I thought about it and then came in a bit after it had started and was treated to some wonderful props and learned how they were made from a couple of very good costumers.  One of the bits of advice they gave Erin after she'd asked a question was "never throw anything away", to which I said: NOOOOOO! and Erin laughed.  (As if Erin needs that advice in the first place.)

At noon there was the old farts panel, aka ICON: A Historical Perspective, where stories old and older were recalled with much verve and wit.  Sigh, we were all so much younger then.  Mark Moore, Greg Frost and Billjon provided the tales, while Spacey and Denny Lynch did the fact checking.  At least, that's what I recall through a glass darkly, and Fan Guest of Honor Steve Tait had a few things to add too, even if he wasn't quite there at the moment of creation.  Or is that procreation?  Never mind...

Then finally it was time to go, and we packed up and cleaned up the room, mostly, leaving only a few empty wine bottles behind and a nice tip for the housekeeper.  Lauren said she'd had a good time and told us we had some 'interesting' friends, but that she was treated nicely even if she got more then her share of attention from geeky guys over the weekend.  Erin and Lauren think they'll go to another con, Capricon, in Chicago next February, so it must have been fun, mostly.

In short: one of the best ICONs ever, except for all the other ones.  Next year the guests of honor will be Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch, and I know it will again be a very good time so I was happy to pre-register for next year.  You should too.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Windycon 40

I hadn't been to a Windycon since 2009, and since I didn't have to work on Monday as I get Veteran's Day off I thought I should take advantage of the opportunity to stay around on Sunday and go this year.  I packed some of Erin's art and my guitar in the car and took off at 7am on Friday morning for Chicago.  Other than forgetting the Hawaiian shirts I wanted to take with me, the trip down went well.  Because there was a parlor guitar I was curious to check out in the Milwaukee area, I took I-94 instead of I-90 from Madison and while the guitar wasn't anything special the route was toll-free and took only twenty minutes or so of additional time to travel.  I made it to the Westin hotel in Lombard by 3:30pm and promptly checked in and took my personal stuff to the room.  Then I hung Erin's art in the art show and chatted with friends I ran into there until 5pm.  I then headed for registration and got my badge and program.  I later connected with my roommates John and Debi and took in some music later listening to two friends, Graham and Becca Leathers performing together and enjoyed their concert very much.

The two Fan GoHs were also friends of ours, Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier, and I dropped by their room party after 10pm and took in more great music from the group of musicians that had gathered together there, many of them people I've camped with at Baggiecon during the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and it was wonderful.  (One of the fiddlers there, Amy McNally, was just amazing.)  I would have gone to more parties, but stayed at Bruce and Karen's room until midnight, helping myself to their spread of cheese, apples and wine, all delicious as you might expect.  Unfortunately around midnight I started nodding off thanks to being up so early in the day, so I went back to the room where my roomies were also about ready to turn in so my timing was good and I fell right to sleep after my head hit the pillow.

Saturday morning after downing some coffee I made in the room and chatting with Debi I went to check out the art show and talked with more friends before having lunch with John over at the food court in a mall next to the hotel.  Then I went to a reading by Mike Resnick which was fun even if the stories he read weren't particularly science-fictional, and then went to hear Bruce interview Karen and Karen interview Bruce in the Get-to-know the Fan GoH's panel, which was nicely done and fun.  I later dropped in on Bruce's talk about the latest on the NSA from the Snowden files and heard more code words than I could count on all my fingers and toes for the various ways the NSA was Hoovering (a very apt word for it, really) up data from the internet.  As usual, Bruce made it very intelligible for his fannish audience and there was some good Q&A at the end of his presentation.

I then met up for dinner at the hotel restaurant with John and Debi, and old friends Darlene Coltrain and her husband Steve Johnson (who also brought art to show himself) and Kathy Wappel, who we first met at the Bristol Renaissance Faire when Erin had a shop there.   We dined for almost two hours (it was busy but the service and food were both good, if pricey) and had a nice time catching up on things.  Then later I went to the filk room to hear a concert by Riverfolk, who were terrific, and then went out to party and eventually ended up back at Bruce and Karen's party (which was paired with a Minneapolis in 2073 party in the room next door) and pretty much spent the rest of the night there.  I did run into John McKana at the GT party and we had a nice conversation about his return to the U.P. from his job in California that he'd had for the past five+ years.

Sunday I got up early again and made it down in time to the consuite for a decent breakfast before the best of the spread was consumed and then went to hear yet another concert by Brenda Sutton, which was well worth it and fun.  She had a ballad about the Angry Birds that had all of us laughing which made me glad I finally had played the game on the iPhone Erin recently got so I could get the humor.  I then dropped by a panel on digital art that had Steve Johnson on it, but left early so I could catch the end of the panel on restaurants that Bruce and Karen were doing in the room next door.  Then it was time to check out of the art show, where Erin had made at least enough to make the effort of bringing and hanging it worth it and talked with Karen Hollingsworth (another friend and artist) while we were both packing out for about an hour.

Finally, I headed for the Dead Dog filk, and listened to some music before wandering off and playing a game of Zar in the hotel hallway for an hour with Matt and some other folks.  Then because Bonnie Somdahl said I should, I went back to the car to get my guitar and finally got into the filk circle and played along too.  My guitar playing wasn't good, but at least it wasn't bad and I spent about four hours there and got to sing 12-14 songs myself before finally leaving around 11pm and heading to John's home in Chicago for the night.  I'm glad Bonnie gave me the nudge to play.  I also heard another performer, Catherine, play some of her own songs and they were so nice (and she was a very good performer herself) I bought her CD before I left.  I'd also picked up Amy McNally's CD in the dealer's room earlier, so I have some more music I'm looking forward to hearing soon.

I was lucky enough to grab a parking spot on the street right in front of John's condo in north Chicago and went to bed after midnight.  The next morning we went to a nearby coffeehouse for coffee (tea for John, naturally) and a tasty bit of quiche before heading over to Kopi's Cafe for second breakfast and another cuppa before starting off back home around 11am.  I did run into some rain that turned to snow at the Illinois-Wisconsin border that lasted until I got to Milwaukee, which then turned to ice for a few minutes before clearing up, thankfully, and I stopped to pick up some tasty cheese for Erin just north of Madison and stopped to have a bite to eat at a place I used to like hanging out at in Eau Claire (The Acoustic Cafe) on the way as well.

It was a good trip, and I'm glad I went.  It was great to see a lot of people I hadn't seen for a few years and I hope I can make it back again next year to Windycon.

Monday, November 4, 2013


by C. K. Williams

Even when the rain falls relatively hard,
only one leaf at a time of the little tree
you planted on the balcony last year,
then another leaf at its time, and one more,
is set trembling by the constant droplets,

but the rain, the clouds flocked over the city,
you at the piano inside, your hesitant music
mingling with the din of the downpour,
the gush of rivulets loosed from the eaves,
the iron railings and flowing gutters,

all of it fuses in me with such intensity
that I can't help wondering why my longing
to live forever has so abated that it hardly
comes to me anymore, and never as it did,
as regret for what I might not live to live,

but rather as a layering of instants like this,
transient as the mist drawn from the rooftops,
yet emphatic as any note of the nocturne
you practice, and, the storm faltering, fading
into its own radiant passing, you practice again.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sonnet 73: That Time of Year Thou Mayst in Me Behold

by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Monday, September 16, 2013

How I became a fan

In particular, a science fiction fan.  I'd been a reader of science fiction and fantasy in my childhood, starting with the Scholastic Book Club paperbacks that I regularly bought in elementary school, including books by Robert Silverberg, Lester Del Rey, and Alexander Key.

Later on I discovered the Heinlein juveniles and the classics by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.  Then when I turned twelve or so I started reading Jack Vance's Dying Earth stories and then was passed Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy by my sister and I was hooked.  I also read Frank Herbert's Dune, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, plus some Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison's stories and anthologies.  I also read and had every Tarzan novel, so by the time I left home and went off to college I'd pretty much graduated from the public library's SF&F section, with some skipped courses left unread on the shelves.  Not that they were required.

In the meantime I'd also seen some SF TV, but it had been drivel like Lost In Space, Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, etc.  I somehow missed the original run of Star Trek but when I was a young teenager some of my buddies and I started watching afternoon reruns in the early 1970s after we were out of school, and we saw them all and enjoyed the experience.  Media SF was to me fun, but not as deep as what I'd been reading.  One thing I did miss out on was the SF&F peridoicals of the day, so I never saw those ads in the back talking about conventions and fandom.

Then after I'd gone to the University of Iowa for a semester in 1977 (after being a semi-truck driver while I was trying to figure out what to do with my life - long story), Iowa Public TV in the spring of 1978 started running episodes of Dr. Who at 10pm, Monday-Thursdays and somehow I discovered it and since I had the best color TV on the dorm floor I was living on, there was a gang of several guys who gathered every night to watch a half-hour fun-filled episode.  One of the people there, Mike Miller (aka "Spacey"), was a member of a group called SFLIS (Science Fiction League of Iowa Students) and told me about them and that they met weekly at a downtown bar, The Mill, and if I'd be interested in attending one.  I was, and I did, and I had fun talking science fiction with them over the next few semesters and watching Dr. Who until it was taken off the air in March of 1979.

Then in the fall of 1979 I was involved enough with the club to help a little with putting on a convention, which was ICon 4, that November.  I wasn't responsible for much and as a result had a great time while all was not so well otherwise.  (It's known as DisasterCon in ICon lore for a good reason.)  But I still liked what I saw of what was called "fandom" and the next spring went to another convention, Minicon, in Minneapolis, and then went to the next ICon in Cedar Rapids in the fall of 1980 and to many other cons since.  It's been great fun, mostly.

So thanks Spacey for introducing me to fandom, and I'll see you at ICon 38 in November!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

More folk fest speculation

Putting my Light Bulb Hat on (cue Lou and Peter Berryman for musical accompaniment), here's some further thoughts on ticket prices.

To better judge the cost of attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival, let's look at a couple of other folk fests I've been to so far this year.  Erin and I went to Red House Records' Barnfest a month ago where there were seven very good to fantastic (Dean Magraw is a guitar GOD) performances from 1pm to 8pm, and the cost per ticket was $27 each.  Now that's a bargain, no doubt about it.  Y'all should come join us at Barnfest next year, by the way.

Then last Labor Day weekend I went to Storyhill Fest up in Deerwood, MN where there was a two day festival with overnight camping for two nights, featuring eleven acts, two workshops, a group campfire and other activities, cost for two persons for the weekend: $250.  So for two persons and two nights, it worked out to a cost of $62.50 per day, with the cost for camping being $20 a day per person of that total cost.  (There was a bathhouse with hot showers and flush toilets available for those who were camping too.)

So for the Winnipeg folk fest, the total cost for five days of music and camping is about $325 (including taxes & fees), which divided by five is $65 Canadian.  So on a per day basis, the Winnipeg folk fest doesn't seem to cost more than you would expect.  Now I've never run a folk fest so I have no idea what costs scale and what costs don't, but perhaps the reason the Winnipeg fest was such a relative bargain for years was that they were still paying "festival scale" to performers who would accept that, but now they must pay more for acts (as CD sales have dried up as a revenue source), especially more for big name performers.  Also, and I don't know if this is anyone else's impression, but there does seem to have been an increase in the number of performers relative to the number of fest attendees, in particular performers at Big Blue at Night.  That might account for a significant part of the increase in ticket prices in the past several years, more so than the adding of a fifth night on Wednesday.

I was mentioning to Erin last night that while it was nice to have more acts, the fact is that you can't get to all of them and there's a law of diminishing returns that applies in general as a festival gets bigger.  (Not to mention all the "animations" in what I think of as the Winnipeg Folk Festival's Festival Camping Festival.)  At some point, maybe the possibility of having TWO festivals in Winnipeg at Bird's Hill Park would make sense, with one being a traditional folk festival and the other more like Bonnaroo/Coachella/Festapalooza/whatever.  I'm sure all the long-time fest volunteers right now are thinking: NOOOOOOOOOO!!!  Still, it's submitted for your approval Mr. Serling... (cue Wolfgang K's maniacal laughter...   ;-)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Winnipeg Folk Festival Ticket Prices

We all know that everything costs more that it used to, so I did a little investigating about ticket prices for the Winnipeg Folk Festival to see how much more it costs to go these days.  Most of my information comes from former websites and some newsletters from past years, and since most of us have gotten our fest tickets early I thought sticking to the Early Bird prices would be best, but keep in mind that all the prices listed below are lower than the at-the-gate prices charged for that year.  I've also included the Festival Camping ticket prices separately to see how that's changed as well.  Of course any corrections to my numbers are welcome.  FYI, all prices are in Canadian dollars.

Year   Early-Bird   Festival Camping

1980     $23*          N/A   (*) - advance ticket price

1985     $30           N/A
1988     $40           N/A
1990     $55           N/A
1992     $55           ???

1993     $55           ???
1995     $60           ???

1998     $77           $15
1999     $82           $15
2000     $85           $15
2001     $91           $15
2002     $91           $17
2003     $98           $20
2004     $98           $20
2005     $110          $25
2006     $117          $25
2007     $148.66       $25
2008     $151.75       $25

2009(1)  $157          $30    (1) - price before fifth day was added
2009(2)  $177          $30    (2) - plus additional $20 for said day

2010     $181.75       $35
2011     $189          $40
2012     $206          $75
2013     $215          $75

So it now costs about three times as much to go and camp as it did fifteen years ago, with most of that increase coming in the past six years.  I don't know how much overall inflation there's been in Canada during that time, but obviously gasoline prices have jumped.  The increase in Festival Camping prices seems more due to the huge demand for it than actual costs for site improvements.  (Quiet camping ticket prices in 2013 were $40, I think.)  Obviously it hasn't hurt attendance, with 2013 being a near-record year.  Still, it's a significant increase.

I'm going to pass this along to the festival office, in hopes that maybe we can have a lull in ticket price rises for a few years.  You never know, maybe someone will listen!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Dog Music

by Paul Zimmer

Amongst dogs are listeners and singers.
My big dog sang with me so purely,
puckering her ruffled lips into an O,
beginning with small, swallowing sounds
like Coltrane musing, then rising to power
and resonance, gulping air to continue—
her passion and sense of flawless form—
singing with me, but mostly for the art of dogs.

We joined in many fine songs—"Stardust,"
"Naima," "The Trout," "Jeg elsker Dig," "Perdido."
She was a great master and died young,
leaving me with unrelieved grief,
her talents known only to a few.

Now I have a small dog who does not sing
but listens with discernment, requiring
skill and spirit in my falsetto voice.
When I sing her name and words of love,
Andante, con brio, vivace, adagio,
at times she is so moved she turns
to place her paw across her snout,
closing her eyes, sighing like a girl
I held and danced with years ago.

But I am a pretender to dog music.
Indeed, true strains rise only from
the rich, red chambers of a canine heart;
these melodies best when the moon is up,
listeners and singers together and apart,
beyond friendship and anger,
far from any human imposter—
songs of bones, turds, conquests,
hunts and scents, ballads of
long nights lifting to starlight.

2013 Winnipeg Folk Festival

I've been going to the Winnipeg Folk Festival at Bird's Hill Provincial Park since 2005 with Erin and have always had a good time despite any difficulties, but this year's event was the best one I've been to yet.  As usual, we got off to a late start and again were delayed at the Canadian border by Customs who decided they had to check us out (again) for some reason.  We finally made it to Winnipeg and the Bhigg House around 11:30pm, where we went to bed as soon as we could and got up at 5:30am to jump back in the car and head out to the park and get in the festival camping lineup, which was long as usual.  Erin noticed that people who were getting dropped off and walking in were being let in as well, so she decided to load our garden cart and get in the walk-in line while I stuck with our car.  That turned out to be a good thing as she managed to get in early enough to claim one of the last good spots for the Baggiecon group in camping Zone 1A.  As I waited I visited with friends who were also in the lineup and played a little guitar, and then drove in and found our campsite and grabbed a cart to bring our tent and gear in and then set up our tent and helped set up the kitchen tent before heading down to hear the Wednesday evening show at the main stage.  By then there were around ten of us and we all walked down and spread our tarp back by the festival store and relaxed after a hectic day.

The first act was a local one, Oh My Darling, and they were very lively and musically sharp quartet.  The first tweener (a short set between the longer acts) was Tony Furtado, a great guitarist, and while he was playing I made my way up closer to the main stage for the next act, The Avett Brothers, who I'd missed hearing a couple of years ago and wanted to hear this year.  The Avett's did a very uptempo set which was well-received by the crowd, and while I also enjoyed it I would have also liked a few gentler songs in the mix.  Maybe another time.  After the Avett's were done I headed back to the back baggie and decided to call it an evening and go back to camp and get some sleep.

Thursday there aren't any festival daytime stages going, so we were able to relax and finish setting up camp, including our 10x20 shade structure (a car port, actually) and a smaller 10x10 shade canopy from Lana Klassen next to the kitchen tent which was a great idea.  There was the usual discussion about where things should go and the usual differences, but things worked out in the end, mostly.  Karen Cooper brought a huge 10x20 shade screen that we hung along the south wall of the shade structure and it blocked sunlight while allowing some breeze to come through.  With all our creature comforts in place we then could chill for a few more hours and then we headed down to hear more music at the main stage.

Sara Watkins was up first, and while she was o.k. it wasn't a memorable set (more about her later).  The first tweeners were The Magnificent 7s from Winnipeg and I really liked them from the first and made a mental note to hear them again later.  Then it was the Indigo Girls who got an enthusiastic welcome and in turn gave a wonderful performance - I'm still surprised at how much sound they can generate live as just a duo.  We again didn't have a tarp down up front but the next act, Josh Ritter and his band, was one I wanted to see as well as hear, so I walked up and went into the dance area to the right of the main stage to get a closer view.  Ritter and his band were spot on and were clearly having as good a time as the crowd was, and there was one bit during a song where Ritter paused, got down on his knees, and then gave a very good version of a wolf howl that had the crowd joining in as well.  A nice moment to be sure.  Then after Ritter was done I headed back to the group and heard a little more music by Serena Ryder before deciding to go back to camp early once again, where we sat around the camp fire and played some songs ourselves before turning in.

Friday morning I got up late and was greeted by Polly Peterson who gave me a #1 tarp ticket for the day's tarp run, er, stroll.  (There's a lineup in the morning for folks to lay a tarp down at the main stage, and having a #1 ticket means being in the first group to snag a spot.)  So I showered fast and ate some yogurt and a muffin, and then walked down as fast as I could and made it with thirty seconds to spare.  I got a good spot that had a nice view of the tweener side of the stage, which had moved to the left side after years of being on the right end of the main stage.  Then I had some time to catch my breath and cool down before going off to the first set at the Green Ash stage, where all the performers from last night's Main Stage show were playing together.  It was interesting but not fabulous.  Then I went to look for Erin and Dave Clement, as Dave wanted to hear David Francey at the Bur Oak stage as did I, so we set our chairs down there while Erin went off to the Big Bluestem stage to hear a collective of Winnipeg acts that included Oh My Darling, The Magnificent 7s and Nathan Rogers.  Just as Dave and I settled in and David Francey and his group (a guitarist and a very good mandolin player) started in with a song titled "Rain", it started to gently shower which was just one of those perfect little moments.  Francey apologized for not having a song that would stop the rain and then performed a wonderful set.  After that, Dave and I found Erin after some confusion about where to meet and caught some of a workshop that included Josh Ritter and a band from Philadelphia, Dr. Dog, that I'd never heard of but liked what I heard.  Then we all went off to hear Sylvia Tyson perform a show at Bur Oak, which was wonderful. 

After that, I went off to get something to eat before the main stage shows started.  The festival site this year was very different thanks to some major upgrades that included a new food booth area that was an improvement.  I found a place that served very tasty tacos and got a plate of them and ate them before joining folks at the tarp up front this time to hear the first main stage set by Nathan Rogers, who did a set songs by his father, Stan Rogers.  I was blown away, and the acapella version of Flowers of Bermuda Nathan sang was absolutely breathtaking.  Erin said even at the back baggie everyone was transfixed too.  The first tweener was a singer/songwriter, Jordie Lane, and his wife who because of travel woes had to drum on a bass case.  He was very good and I also made a note to catch more of him later.  Then I went back to rejoin Erin on the back baggie for the rest of the evening.  I liked Danny Michel and the Garifuna Collective, who reminded me of Paul Simon both with his singing and with his playing with musicians from Belize that he'd become friends with after a visit there.  I didn't stick around after than and headed back to camp for the evening, where we again played around the campfire until at around 12:30am there was a downpour that lasted fifteen minutes which forced us to move under the shade structure.  In the process I lost not only my reading glasses but also a capo.  Thankfully I found them both later.  We stayed up a little longer and then I went back to our tent to sleep.

Saturday morning we woke up to a clearing sky and after having to take a shower using the backup battery-powered pump I headed down with the tarp and a #1 ticket again and this time made it with a few minutes to spare and put the tarp down in practically the same spot as the day before.  Then I just went off by myself to hear a workshop at what's become my favorite stage, Shady Grove, featuring The Magnificent 7s, Sara Watkins and an dance band from Denmark, Habadekuk.  It was a great workshop where, as intended, the musicians have some fun jamming together.  Sara Watkins was much more engaging jamming than she'd been as a solo act, The Magnificent 7s were rocking out and the musicians from Habadekuk showed some fantastic musical chops joining in.  Definitely my favorite workshop of the fest.  I also had a nice time talking with my neighbor sitting next to me, who was from Winnipeg but had lived in Madison, Wisconsin too.  Then I headed for the Snowberry stage to hear a workshop of singer-songwriters, which wasn't as much of a jam but did feature some great songs from Jordie Lane, Sean Rowe and Hayes Carll.  (I liked the realignment of the Snowberry stage which used to have the main foot path running right through the middle of the stage audience, but there was a problem that cropped up later...)

The next stop was a workshop I was really looking forward too, a group of great guitarists, including Tony Furtardo, Martin Sexton and David Lindley.  Unfortunately, it was at Bur Oak which isn't one of the bigger stages to begin with, and it was hot out so many people had previously claimed a shady spot under the oak trees, so there was very little room and I had to settle on a spot so far back I could hardly see the stage through the trees.  Then on top of that there was a terrible amount of sound bleeding from the Snowberry stage (which now points directly at the Bur Oak area) which made it also hard to hear the performers at Bur Oak.  This was the only time during the fest I was truly disappointed.  Oh well.  After the end of the workshop I spotted Dave and Erin walking towards me and I joined them, and they told me they'd been even further back and could hardly hear a thing themselves.  The next workshop at Bur Oak was one we'd all wanted to see, a reunion of performers who had played at the very first Winnipeg Folk Festival in 1974, forty years ago.  (FYI, Dave Clement has been to all forty of them!)  We quickly scouted around while people were getting up and getting down and found a better spot and settled in.  I hadn't seen Leon Redbone for over twenty years, and while he was showing his age as a singer, his guitar playing was great and he had a fine pianist accompanying him.  Sylvia Tyson was also there and was fine, and Peter Paul van Camp, who had been an emcee for decades was a hoot reading his poetry.  The founder of the festival, Mitch Podolak, also appeared and got a standing ovation from the audience.

Then we all made our way over to the main stage and set our chairs up on the back baggie and had a meal while listening to Habedekuk, who were up first.  They were playing well, but being Danish they weren't much for stage patter between songs.  After they'd finished, I walked up to the front baggie to join a very crowed group, but thankfully the tarps next to us had some extra room and folks on them were nice enough to allow me to take up some of their space.  A duo called Whitehorse was up next and while they were very good (and VERY loud), they liked doing the looping and layering of instrument and voices, which they did very well but it just didn't engage me.  (Dave Clement later told me he liked them and didn't like Josh Ritter, so go figure.)  Next up was Martin Sexton, who I was glad to get to finally hear and was a great player, but again it wasn't that engaging.  Then it was Dr. John and his band, The Nite Trippers, and they were tight as a drum and fun.  Dr. John is pretty slow on his feet these days, but his playing is a good as ever and while there wasn't much patter it didn't really matter.  Definitely the best set of the night.  Then I headed back before the last band, Galactic, came up and picked up my chair to go back to camp.  (The past few years I haven't been staying for the last acts on Friday and Saturday, as the fest has dance-type bands that are very good but I'm just not into that kind of thing lately.)  Erin and I, and Lana Klassen took Marnie, one of the new members of our camp, and we walked around the festival camping site to have fun, and visited a games area (where I played Twister for the first time in decades), a temporary tattoo parlor, the latest Castle Boys project, which was a Space Barn, and then whatever else looked like fun to visit.  We didn't make it to Pope's Hill though.  Marnie really enjoyed it all and hopefully she will come back next year for more.

The last morning of the fest I again headed down to the tarp run to put our front tarp down, again in practically the same spot, got a bit of breakfast at one of the food booths, and waited to meet Erin at one of the new forest stages, Little Stage in the Forest, to hear Peter Paul van Camp read his poetry.  I found one of our Baggiecon crew there encamped in the front row already and we talked while I waited for Erin, and just as the show was beginning Erin walked up and we sat together and enjoyed a hilarious show. I can see why he was popular at the festival for all those years and the performance was over with all too quickly.  Then Erin and I made our way over to the Big Bluestem stage to catch the last part of a workshop there that featured the Blind Boys of Alabama doing their gospel thing, and then decided to catch a workshop at Green Ash of some "new" folk acts.  For once, we found a great spot near the stage to sit together and had a great time listening to The Milk Carton Kids, who were fine singers and musicians and had a wicked wit, and the Lake Street Dive from Boston and The Dunwells from England.   After that we had a hard time deciding, but we ended up going to the Snowberry stage to hear a group of Texans that included Hayes Carll and the Flatlanders, and a guy who called himself Matt the Electrician that we'd never heard of and really, really liked.  Erin then found Dave Clement, who had been with Karen Cooper until then, and we went to the other new forest stage, Spruce Hollow, to hear a workshop of Winnipeger bands that Dave wanted to catch.  Spruce Hollow was the only stage that was an actual ampitheater that had been set on a natural hillside, but it was still pretty rough ground.  Hopefully by next year it will be a bit smoother, and there was also a problem here with sound bleeding over from the nearby (really nearby) Little Stage in the Forest.  Right at the end I went right over to the Little Stage and claimed a spot for the three of us to sit and hear a set by The Milk Carton Kids, which Dave enjoyed and included some sarcastic banter with of all things a sign-language interpreter who gamely went along and had the audience laughing.  The Milk Carton Kids definitely have their stage patter down.  Then when they were done I decided to head back to camp to take a shower and just hang out for a while with Karen and Juan and have a couple of beers before heading back to main stage to hear the Flatlanders do a twangy set and then for the last act hear Xavier Rudd get his groove on.  (A little too much, as he went over and they actually had to turn him down during his last song due to time constraints.)  Then all of us from the Baggiecon camp joined together to hear the finale, with another turn by Nathan Rogers singing "The Mary Ellen Carter" (Nathan sang it last year, and I had no problem hearing him sing it again) and a nice version of Wild Mountain Thyme and a great version of Amazing Grace by The Blind Boys of Alabama.  Then we Baggieconers all formed a circle and sang Ripple and then walked slowly out singing sea shanties.  I tried to stay up for a while to play some music back at camp, but I was kind of tired and wasn't quite up for it.  I did stay up long enough to get to see some fantastic northern lights though, and Dave Clement was up to four in the morning playing songs.  It was pretty much a perfect fest this year, and when I asked Dave about some of his favorite years he said that the years had rounded off for him a long time ago.  Yep.

The next morning we all got up groggy and didn't start tearing down our camp until after 10am, and while we were doing that there was one officious person who came around to tell us we had to be out by noon.  We took a look over to where the big games encampment was and saw they weren't even close to being out and kind of shrugged our shoulders.  Thankfully it was nice and dry and we were able to get all our tents and such packed up nicely and we got out by 1pm and headed back to the Bhigg House in Winnipeg, where Erin took first dibs on a shower and I took a nap for a few hours.  Ruth had been thoughtful enough to put out some sandwich makings for us in the kitchen for all of us country mice to eat, which was much appreciated.  (The original idea was Peggy O'Neill's, so thanks to her too.)  Later that evening some friends of Dave's came by, including Kylea and we had a fun Dead Mouse Party.  Tuesday morning we all got up to have brunch at a deli nearby that was very good and then Erin and I said our goodbyes and took off for home.  We were both happy to NOT be held up and searched at the U.S. border this year and we made it back safe and sound at a decent hour to be greeted by some very happy dogs and cats.

All in all, this year's folk fest was the most fun one I've been to yet (with 2007's coming in second and 2012's a close third) and I'm looking forward to next year's.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Odds 'n ends

It's been a busy month, starting with a home project followed by a trip to Canada and then visit by my two sisters who drove up from Iowa to see us.  Of course I have some pictures and comments to go with.

The home project was putting a new shed up to replace our old rusting out one that you can see to the right of the new one in progress.  We had to wait all spring for two nice days in a row to first get the floor built and then attach walls and finally a roof, but it went pretty well and we're both happy with the result.

Erin in late June had taken one of our cats to the vet because of a sinus infection and while she was there someone brought in a kitten they'd seen alongside the highway.  The vet's office didn't have a space for him, so Erin said she'd be able to take care of him.  Erin named him Charlie and he was about six weeks old and so very cute.  I wasn't sure about keeping him but, really, how can anyone resist?

In other pet news, our dog Tucker developed a hot spot on his rear end that he kept bothering, so after a visit to the vet to treat it he got to wear a new collar to keep him from bothering it while it heals.  He was not amused.  He also kept running into our legs with it like a bull in a china shop.  He finally got it off last weekend and is much happier now.

A little over a week ago Erin and I went to Stillwater to hear some music in a park alongside the St. Croix River and while we were enjoying the lovely evening we saw some balloons ascend into the sky from the Wisconsin side of the river.  One descended almost down to the river and Erin had fun taking pictures of them with my camera that I was thoughtful enough to bring with me.

We also saw the gondola that offers rides on the river out taking a couple for a romantic float, and Erin snapped a picture of it as it passed underneath the lift bridge.

Last weekend my sisters came to visit and we had dinner in Stillwater on Friday night.  We were hoping to enjoy some fine dining outdoors along the riverbank, but the weather was cold and windy so we had to settle for dining indoors with a view instead.  Here's Erin on the left and my two sisters, Andrea in the middle and April on the right, at our table.

That's it.  I wish I had some images of our good times at this year's Winnipeg Folk Festival, but I never managed to remember my camera for even one of the five days we were there.  Maybe next year I will.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

If I Were a Dog

by Richard Shelton

I would trot down this road sniffing
on one side and then the other
peeing a little here and there
wherever I felt the urge
having a good time what the hell
saving some because it's a long road

but since I'm not a dog
I walk straight down the road
trying to get home before dark

if I were a dog and I had a master
who beat me I would run away
and go hungry and sniff around
until I found a master who loved me
I could tell by his smell and I
would lick his face so he knew

or maybe it would be a woman
I would protect her we could go
everywhere together even down this
dark road and I wouldn't run from side
to side sniffing I would always
be protecting her and I would stop
to pee only once in awhile

sometimes in the afternoon we could
go to the park and she would throw
a stick I would bring it back to her

each time I put the stick at her feet
I would say this is my heart
and she would say I will make it fly
but you must bring it back to me
I would always bring it back to her
and to no other if I were a dog

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Do You Love Me?

by Robert Wrigley

She's twelve and she's asking the dog,
who does, but who speaks
in tongues, whose feints and gyrations
are themselves parts of speech.

They're on the back porch
and I don't really mean to be taking this in
but once I've heard I can't stop listening. Again
and again she asks, and the good dog

sits and wiggles, leaps and licks.
Imagine never asking. Imagine why:
so sure you wouldn't dare, or couldn't care
less. I wonder if the dog's guileless brown eyes

can lie, if the perfect canine lack of abstractions
might not be a bit like the picture books
she "read" as a child, before her parents' lips
shaped the daily miracle of speech

and kisses, and the words were not lead
and weighed only air, and did not mean
so meanly. "Do you love me?" she says
and says, until the dog, sensing perhaps

its own awful speechlessness, tries to bolt,
but she holds it by the collar and will not
let go, until, having come closer,
I hear the rest of it. I hear it all.

She's got the dog's furry jowls in her hands,
she's speaking precisely
into its laid-back, quivering ears:
"Say it," she hisses, "say it to me."

Monday, May 20, 2013

On Visiting the Grave of My Stillborn Little Girl

by Elizabeth Gaskell 
Sunday July 4th 1836

I made a vow within my soul, O Child,
When thou wert laid beside my weary heart,
With marks of death on every tender part
That, if in time a living infant smiled,
Winning my ear with gentle sounds of love
In sunshine of such joy, I still would save
A green rest for thy memory, O Dove!
And oft times visit thy small, nameless grave.
Thee have I not forgot, my firstborn, though
Whose eyes ne'er opened to my wistful gaze,
Whose sufferings stamped with pain thy little brow;
I think of thee in these far happier days,
And thou, my child, from thy bright heaven see
How well I keep my faithful vow to thee.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

May Day snow

Yes, it snowed again starting late last night and falling until five this morning.  We had a total of around eight inches of snow in New Richmond and points south of us had up to fourteen inches of wet, heavy snow.  At three in the morning we lost power, which I knew because the alarm on the computers UPS was going off.  We had power restored at a quarter after six though as a crew fixed a power line just down the street from our house.  I took the dogs out to have a bit of fun while I cleared the snow off my car and took a few photos too.

From the front door of our house at 6:20am, when there was plenty of light thanks to it being May 2nd, hard as that may be to believe given the scene.

I didn't bother shoveling much, except to clear the front steps and walkway for the mail carrier.  It'll all melt soon enough.

The obligatory shot of the deck out back, which I didn't bother to shovel either.

Tucker and Ceilidh out just chillin'.

Out back in a winter wonderland.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Final Affection

by Paul Zimmer

I love the accomplishments of trees,
How they try to restrain great storms
And pacify the very worms that eat them.
Even their deaths seem to be considered.
I fear for trees, loving them so much.
I am nervous about each scar on bark,
Each leaf that browns. I want to
Lie in their crotches and sigh,
Whisper of sun and rains to come.

Sometimes on summer evenings I step
Out of my house to look at trees
Propping darkness up to the silence.

When I die I want to slant up
Through those trunks so slowly
I will see each rib of bark, each whorl;
Up through the canopy, the subtle veins
And lobes touching me with final affection;
Then to hover above and look down
One last time on the rich upliftings,
The circle that loves the sun and moon,
To see at last what held the darkness up.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

What is my D&D character?

It's a fair cop. (Via James Nicoll)

I Am A: Lawful Good Gnome Sorcerer (6th Level)

Ability Scores:

Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment when it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Gnomes are in wide demand as alchemists, inventors, and technicians, though most prefer to remain among their own kind in simple comfort. Gnomes adore animals, gems, and jokes, especially pranks. They love to learn by personal experience, and are always trying new ways to build things. Gnomes stand 3 to 3.5 feet tall and live about 350 to 500 years.

Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Earth Day snow

It started falling at sunset and kept falling all night long.  In the morning there was several inches of wet, heavy snow and slush covering everything.  I've seen snow this late in spring, but can't recall seeing this much.  Well, if it had been two degrees warmer it would have falling as sleet and rain, which wouldn't have been as pretty but I wouldn't have had to shovel it either.

As I was shoveling a path down the drive to haul the trash can out, the dogs were having fun.

Tucker takes off after Ceilidh!

The back deck again covered in deep snow, maybe for one last time?  Who knows?

Shoveling off the car, as an ice scraper just won't do.

Our foster dog Goldie came from North Carolina but she doesn't seem to mind the snow.  In fact, she likes playing in it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Not quite spring yet

It was a very frigid -9F this morning but it's still spring and the sun looks warm at least.  In the meantime I took a few pictures around the house and neighborhood yesterday to document the season.

Here's the pile of snow the city has dumped next to the ice rink a block from our house, with Missy grudgingly posing in front of it to give an idea of its size.

I finally got around to shoveling the back deck yesterday, and the drifts were deep.  Very deep.  Ridiculously deep. 

Even out in the open where there's no appreciable drifting of snow it's deep.  Fifteen inches worth of snow still to melt before it's really spring.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Con of the North 2013

Last weekend I went to the biggest gaming (not gambling!) convention in the Twin Cities, Con of the North, which was held again this year at the Holiday Inn hotel on the east side of St. Paul.  It's the one con I go to that's been an easy commute to and from my home in Wisconsin, but sadly it's moving next year to a new hotel on the far western side of the metro area because it's been getting bigger.  (Over 700 came this year.)  As usual, I got my board gaming fix in with not one, but two marathon games over the weekend, first on Friday with an eight hour game of Titan from 6pm to 2am.  I had a ticket (that's what you get to reserve a spot for a game) for a WWII miniatures game on Friday evening but it was cancelled, so while I was wondering what to do I sat down to play a few quick games of Zombie Dice with Richard Tatge and Brian Anderson, and Don Bailey came up and said he was playing Titan and asked if I'd be interested in joining them.  I did and had a great time playing an old game (Titan came out in the early 1980s) that was new to me, and had fun thanks to the other players being o.k. with me getting some mentoring from Don so I wouldn't just be the fresh meat du jour served up to the other players.  I went home tired because I had gotten up early to go to work on Friday, but it was worth it.

It was rough waking up on Saturday morning in time to make a 10am session of an aerial combat miniatures game, Spitfires and Messerschmitts, and thankfully I got a spot even though I was an alternate (which made it important for me to make it in on time).  I was on the British side and while we lost two out of three matches to the Germans, we found out later that the gamemaster's son was on the German side, so they had a ringer and we had some consolation.  Here's a couple of images I took of our combat in the sky:

We had some issues with command and control on the British side that sometimes had us flying around in circles, much to the Germans' amusement.  (BTW, the game board was beautifully done, with cotton clouds lending a nice touch.)

That's my Spitfire on the right, staring down said ringer's Messerschmitt.  I tried, but the dice were cruel and I got shot down.  Curse you Red Baron!

Later on Saturday afternoon I played a couple of Columbia Block war games, first Bobby Lee, which was a U.S. Civil War game with various scenarios, and I got to play both an 1863 session where I learned the hard way that you didn't win as the Confederates by slugging it out with the Union, but by taking advantage of the Rebel's greater mobility and advantages gained from fighting on friendly territory.  So when I played another session that started in 1861, even though I lost the First Battle of Bull Run (thanks again to poor die rolls, but I have to admit the Union side's commander did a better job than his real life counterparts did) I was able to regroup and risk a foray behind Union lines from the Shenandoah Valley into Pennsylvania (which in real life was a big headache for the Union as well) that caught my opponent off guard and kept the game from being a slow walk to Richmond for the Union side.  I had so much fun with those two games that I decided to skip the game I had scheduled for 6pm (in part because I reviewed the game earlier in the afternoon and wasn't really that taken by it) and instead played another block game, Hammer of the Scots, set in early 13th century Scotland.  My opponent wanted the Scottish side and I was happy to take the English, and we chose the William Wallace scenario.  It went badly for me at first as I made a mistake in the Scottish Lowlands that cost me forces while Wallace ran wild in the middle of Scotland, but my opponent didn't move fast enough to seize the Highlands before the English regrouped and I managed to trap Wallace and kill him with a combined force of English Knights (Lancaster and York) and Scottish nobility (Robert the Bruce) that was friendly to the English side, and after that it was just a mopping up operation for the English.  So no freedom for you, haggis eaters!

Since I was short on sleep I didn't stay late and after spending an hour playing Unreal Tournament and getting killed dozens of times by kids who were far quicker draws than me, I had one more go at aerial combat with another WWII miniatures game before going home to get some much needed snoozing.  Sunday morning I made it in bright and early at 10am (that's early for gamers) to play my second marathon boardgame, Mega Advanced Civilization, with eight other players.  This version is one that's been significantly augmented from the old Avalon Hill Advanced Civilization to add more trading cards, more calamities, and many more civilizations to play.  There were a few minor game balance issues, but it played well and I liked it very much.  We drew lots for first choice of civilizations and I got the #7 pick, which I sort of preferred as it's easier going later since you can see how the other player's choices pan out.  I took Babylon as I didn't want to play anything too challenging given I wasn't familiar with the new aspects of the game, and because it let me be at an end of the table so I had room for my backpack full of pop and munchies (I wasn't the only one brown bagging it, of course).  Here's a picture of the board after we were all set up and getting underway:

Yep, that's one BIG board!  Even with nine of us playing, we still didn't use the entire eastern side of the map.  Up to sixteen players can play, but we definitely had our hands full at nine.  Remarkably, we were able to keep things moving well and only got bogged down when we were getting more trade cards and spending more and more time trying to make deals with each other.  I was happy enough to get along with my two closest neighboring civilizations with no conflict due to disputes over territory.  The Assyrian player kind of surprised me by not contesting three city sites that Babylon really needs to do well, and as a result I had a pretty good run and I would have won at the end when we called time but I got hit by the Flood calamity (which is particularly bad for Babylon) on the last turn we played and I lost two cities so my score took a hit and I came in second to Nubia, who had the best place to play on the board and took advantage of it accordingly.  The calamities were fairly kind to me otherwise, while the western side of the board suffered from civil wars, epidemics, and other nasty major calamities while the eastern side mostly only got minor ones that didn't set them back too much.  Poor Egypt really got hammered both by calamities and from other civilizations pushing into their turf, particularly Nubia and to a lesser extent Assyria.  But the guy playing them took it well and we all had fun bantering with each other during the game.  It was definitely the highlight of a very fun con overall and even though it's going to be further away next year I'm sure I'll be going again and will probably get a room at the inn so I can get more sleep too.