Glass of Thrones

As we walked along the river to the Titanic museum, we saw this gorgeous piece of art glass. I stopped to take a photo, and realized that it was one of a set of Game of Thrones inspired pieces.

In case you didn’t know, the show is filmed in Belfast, at Titanic Studios, just adjacent to the Titanic Museum.

There are six pieces in total, which were installed in April 2019.

One of the most amusing things to me is the different statements on the side warning folks:
It’s a long way down… Ascend at your own risk.
Climb at your own risk – for the step is steep and full of terror.
Remember Bran Stark – Climb at your own risk.
If you fall, no one will bring you back… Climb at your own risk
But nothing to stop you from climbing up.

More details here on the Visit Belfast site.

On to Belfast

Stephen and Andy read the map

We had a wonderful dinner at Fallon & Byrne on our last night in Dublin. We’d been there 5 years ago on the Fab Food Trails tour, although we just went to the wine cellar and shopped.

We took the train from Dublin to Belfast… with a “side” bus to finish the trip because they are working on the train lines. The Hilton Belfast hotel is just across the street from the train station. It was (of course!) raining when we arrived, so we put Stephen into a cab with all of the luggage and the rest of the group walked.

Titanic Museum

The next day we went to the Titanic Museum, which was a nice walk along the Lagan river. There were several interesting historical posts along the fence, as well as fantastic #GlassOfThrones artwork along the way (see here for more details).

Belfast Maritime Trail sign

I hadn’t realized just how big and busy a port Belfast was. Nor had I realized that they have been one of the premier ship building locations for 200 years. Harland & Wolff were premier shipbuilders, and then branched out into wind turbines and other newer technology in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, they declared bankruptcy about a week before we arrived. There are two huge hoists that dominate the Belfast skyline, known as Samson and Goliath, marked with H&W and used to move ships and other large objects.

I strongly recommend visiting the museum, and suggest you allocate at least three hours to go through all of the exhibits, especially going to see the SS Nomadic, which was one of the tender ships paired with RMS Titanic. Nomadic has been refurbished as she was in 1912, although she is in permanent drydock.

Worldcon 77, aka Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon – Part 2

Masquerade Award Ribbons

The Masquerade

We started on Wednesday afternoon with a tour of the CCD Auditorium, and had a chance to meet the professional staff. We verified our plans (made from afar with just drawings of the auditorium), and solidified our volunteer staff.

We got a chance to see how the auditorium would work and the views from the upper level on Thursday evening during the Opening Ceremonies and Retro Hugos. And were able to do some blocking work on the stage Friday morning as they were setting up for the evening’s orchestra/music event.

View from the stage
The CCD Auditorium seats 2000.

Contestant meeting, final tech prep, and then tech rehearsals all started before 10am on Saturday. We had four of the professional staff helping us, Stage Manager, Sound, Lights, and Video, alongside our volunteer crew. Rehearsal finished by 5:15pm, so we all had chance for a brief break and some dinner, before we opened the auditorium at 7:00pm, with two waves of seating. The show started on time at about 8:02pm.

Masquerade Director Kevin Roche
Masquerade Director Kevin Roche
Ric scorted in by Crowley & Aziraphale

We had a total of 35 entries cross the stage. About half were novices. A couple were folks who had first competed in Helsinki 2 years ago. The performance went very smoothly.

Masquerade MC Ric Bretschneider

Our halftime entertainment was Pecha Kucha Karaoke, led by our MC, who has hosted many Pecha Kucha events featuring both prepared presentations and karaoke presentations. The audience was entertained while the judges deliberated.

More photos can be seen in this Flickr album.

Worldcon 77, aka Dublin 2019: An Irish Worldcon – Part 1

British Airways plane at San Jose Airport

After Worldcon 76 in San Jose last year, we traveled to our sister city Dublin, Ireland. We’ve been looking forward to this since our visit there for the 2014 Eurocon. British Airways now has a non-stop from San Jose to London, so we took that flight and then a short hop to Dublin.

We coordinated with several friends and opted to stay at an AirBnB in the Silicon Docks area, just across the River Liffey from the Convention Center Dublin (CCD) where the bulk of the convention was being held. It was an even better location than we realized when we booked. There were several local restaurants within a block or two as well as a grocery store and bank just a long block away.

Most of us were involved in running the Masquerade in some fashion. We wanted a bit of time to relax before we got started with the work, so we all traveled in the weekend before.

hills of Ireland, near Glendalough
The hills of Ireland, near Glendalough

We learned how to work with the local transport system (TFI: Transport From Ireland) as we took the bus up to the office of Shamrock Rosettes to pick up the Masquerade ribbons. EPIC The Immigration Museum was just across the river on the way to the bus station. We did a day trip with Elegant Irish Tours down to Glendalough and Russborough Estate. (Thanks to Debbie for arranging it!)

The library at Russborough
The library at Russborough

More photos on Flickr here


Props: Chimney Sweep

This year we decided to be “old school” characters from Mary Poppins for the Oscars party. Most of the pieces were just assembling items from our closet. But there were two key things we needed — the Chimney Sweep prop that Bert carries, and the hat that Mary wears. Here’s how I made the chimney sweep.

I saw this post on Instructables:

So off I went to my local Joann Fabrics, to see what I could find that would work. The key find was chenille stems in black (think long pipe-cleaners). No need for paint. The second find was in the garage — black cardboard from a wine carrier. Maybe some touch up paint or even just a sharpie on the edges. The third key piece was a replacement shovel handle at Home Depot.

The wine carrier box had convenient pre-cut rounds (I guess for a tall bottle to stick out), which just popped out to use as the centers. They are about 1.5″ in diameter, so not too big. I colored the edges with a sharpie.

Then I glued down a total of 16 stems to each of the two rounds. Once the glue was set, I then glued them together.

Since the circles were just slightly larger than the end of the shovel handle, I opted to screw the assembly into the handle. This not only makes it easier to keep together, it makes it easy to undo for packing.

The final prop:

Battery Tender – trickle charger for your car

When my dad died, we had troubles keeping the battery in his car working, because we just didn’t drive it enough. After needing a jump from a friend, they recommended we get a trickle charger.

I did some research, and found the Battery Tender line of products from Deltran.  You just put the clips on the battery, plugged it in to the wall, and when the green light was solid, you had a full charge.  Of course, this required opening the hood to get to the battery.  What if I wanted to be able to quickly put the battery on and off the charger?  Deltran thought of this, they created the Ring Terminal Harness, which attaches to the battery posts and has a quick connect attachment to the charger itself.  I put one on my mom’s car, as she started driving less and less, and we just leave it attached all the time except when we are driving her car.  I put one on the truck, as we drive it infrequently, and it would be nice to boost it easily… but then the battery died.  The quick connect was not capped, and we could not figure out if this was the problem, or if it was just that the battery was old and at end of life.

So then I got their Digital Voltage Display accessory.  You attach this to the end of the cable and it will tell you what charge the battery has.  What we figured out is that the truck needs a fairly high voltage, definitely above 12V, in order to start.

They have several other accessories, including a USB port, a wireless battery monitor, a DC power connector and an ODBII connector. All can be seen here:

Worldcon 76

After years of prep, and some very frantic work through July and early August, we finally got to the day:  August 16th, Worldcon 76 in San Jose.
Worldcon 76 logo on the marquis at the San Jose Convention Center
We left home to travel 3 miles to the Fairmont hotel, our base during the convention, on Wednesday.  Everyone spent Wednesday setting up things like Program Operations (ProgOps), getting signs in place, and opening Registration for those who were pre-registered. Despite our best efforts, a few signs were missing and we were making things on the fly.  And once we saw how the crowds were moving and the rooms they kept asking us how to find, we made a few more directional ones.  One of the SJCC staff thought our idea for one was so good he was taking it back to management! Thursday afternoon the registration line was so long that I was walking the line to find my program participants so that they could get to their panels on time.  And I ran into my in-laws.  It was their first Worldcon, and we gave them their memberships for Christmas two years ago!
The biggest problem when you’re running the convention is that you don’t get much of a chance to actually participate in the convention.  But there were a few highlights:
  • having a chance to meet and work with all of the MexicanX Initiative participants.  They were universally friendly, professional, and willing to dive in wherever needed.
  • watching my husband create his own Masquerade entry and enter his first Masquerade competition.  He’s now gotten the bug and understands why most costumers are still working on things until the very last minute.
  • seeing N.K. Jemisin make history, winning her third consecutive Best Novel Hugo award, for The Stone Sky.
Now that it’s all done (well, almost, still a few loose ends to wrap up), we’re back to normal at home, working on the next set of Dueling DeadlinesTM.

Whirlpool Gladiator “Freezerator”

We got a Whirlpool Gladiator series garage fridge/freezer, the “Freezerator,” after the remodel.  It looks like a typical fridge/freezer with a smaller top section than bottom — except that the bottom is the freezer, and the top is either refrigerator or freezer.

Over the years, we have had ongoing problems with ice buildup in the freezer section.  And it became clear that it was water running down from the upper section.  We had defrosted it, to the point of being able to get the obvious ice dealt with, every couple of years. Earlier this year, we got a pair of TempSticks, which let us check on the temperature and humidity in both compartments.  The humidity always seemed a bit high, but there was no information in the user manual or on the web about what should be “normal” in either a fridge or freezer.

I did some searching on the web, and found this video by Dion Hock about his solution:  I remember having a standard freezer-over-fridge that did something similar years ago, so the whole concept of taking off the back of the upper unit was not foreign to me.

This is what I saw once I finally got the back off:


The entire back area was frozen solid, and this was 2 hours after I pulled the plug and started to let the freezer defrost!




Once I got the next layer off, I could see the drainage area.  The entire thing was full of ice still, and the actual drainage channel was a solid plug of ice.  That drain tube goes all the way down to the bottom of the device, to drain into the evaporation pan which is under the freezer compartment.

The basic defrost was done in about 2 hours, but it took over 6 hours and the application of some hot water using a turkey baster and straw directly into the top of the channel to get the ice to melt and the water to drain.

Now to see how long it takes before it gets iced over again.


Stockholm and the ABBA Museum

Stockholm is a city made up of many small islands with bridges and inlets and ferries.  We had two things we absolutely wanted to do in Stockholm — see the Vasa, and go to the ABBA museum.

To get there from our hotel, we needed to either walk “up and over” a portion of the harbor, or take the ferry across.  We opted to take the ferry over and walk back.  We walked across a small bridge to Skeppholmen, to see a sign with a QR code for a mobile guide.  We went past the af Chapman, around the Moderna Museet, to the ferry — we went across the harbor to Slussen and then back across to Djurgården.  We got to see the rides at the amusement park Gröna Lund while on the ferry.  One of them looked pretty gnarly — it’s apparently called Insane and is one of a handful of “4-D” coasters around the world.

We walked around the corner from the ferry to the ABBA Museum.  As we got our tickets, they asked if we wanted the audio tour as well, and then handed us a device about the size of a banana which played back audio clips when we held it over an indicator in various places in the exhibits.  Most of the audio was one of the four band members talking about a specific part of the exhibit and their history.  They also had different interactive stations where you swiped your ticket to later review your “audition” as a 5th member of the band, your sound mixing, or your on-stage performance.  Needless to say, I was taking close looks at all of their costumes and took lots of detail pictures.   We were told that one of the reasons they wore such wild outfits had to do with taxes, and if they weren’t something you would wear on the street, they weren’t taxed.   I’m sure we will find an excuse to make a set at some point – maybe the kimono-inspired ones.  The exhibits also included a section of Eurovision costumes, although Verka Serduchka’s wild silver outfit wasn’t there.

Remember the Vasa!

One of the highlights of our trip to Stockholm was going to the Vasa Museum to see the wreck of King Carl Gustav’s warship.

The ship sank on her maiden voyage — hadn’t even gotten out of the harbor — in 1628.   She was found and brought up in 1963, in amazingly good condition.  The sulfur content of the harbor water ended up decreasing the amount of oxygen in the water, and prevented degradation.

Museum technology has changed a lot since I was a kid.  There is no one path for folks to follow.  And the audio files that tell you about different sections of the exhibits are now downloadable in your language of choice.  And unlike most museums, this one allows flash photography.

Analysis of the wreckage, as well as contemporary tales of the ship, made it clear that she was not only top-heavy (and did not have enough ballast), but all of the gun ports were open, so she capsized from water pouring in when she tipped.