Worldcon 75 – a trip to Helsinki, part 3 — The Hugos

The Hugo Awards are one of the main events at a Worldcon.  They have been given out annually since 1955, and are one of the primary purposes of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS).  Retro-Hugos may be awarded on the 50th/75th/100th anniversary if none were originally given that year.  There were no Retro-Hugos in Helsinki.

This year, our friend Chuck Serface (aka “Two Buck Chuck”), was one of the finalists for Journey Planet, a fanzine he co-edited along with 6 other friends, including Christopher J. Garcia.  Chuck asked Stephen to be his designated acceptor, should they win.  This meant that we were invited to the Pre-Hugo reception.  We had an opportunity to talk with folks we knew, and folks we had just met.  We had a nice chat with Ada Palmer, who subsequently won the Campbell Award.  I was also talking to folks about Worldcon 76 next year, since I’m running the Program.

We ended up seated in front of Amal El-Mohtar (who won for her short story, see the post here), and Michi Trota and Julia Rios (who won along with co-editors Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas for Uncanny Magazine).  It was loud behind us.  But great fun.

We were also invited to the post-ceremony Loser’s Party.  Winners may attend, but will be mocked and made to wear silly hats.  Worldcon 76 co-hosted with George RR Martin at a local place Steam Hellsinki.  Great decorations, great food & drinks, great company.  Unfortunately, I had an early day with the Masquerade on Saturday, so we didn’t stay that late.

Worldcon 75 – a trip to Helsinki, part 2

Remember that advertisement about Worldcon?  Our expectations had been for a convention of 3500-4000.  In the last week, though, memberships surged.  The crowds on Wednesday were so bad that many members couldn’t get in to see the panels and presentations.  The hallways were full of folks trying to get to the events.

It got to the point where the convention Chairs made the decision to close membership and limit the number of day passes.  See the post here.  It generated a lot of discussion on-line, but generally folks were positive about the way it was handled.  The worst of the crowds died down around the Info Desk and Registration Desk, but the panel and presentation rooms were still packed.  The Ops staff ended up posting a sign on each door once the room was filled, so that folks wouldn’t keep trying to get in.

Our Outreach/Press Relations Area Head was actually a local news agency reporter, so had pre-existing connections into all of the Helsinki area outlets.  Here’s a permalink to her writeup in the JOF list on Facebook.  My suspicion is that her excellent PR skills lead to the tremendous local interest and the surge of attendees.

As I was busy with Masquerade prep, and in the midst of the crowding, I only got to see one event on Wednesday, but it was absolutely fabulous.  Tea and Jeopardy (Emma Newman and her husband Peter) did a live podcast recording with author George R.R. Martin.  Guests on the podcast get “a nice cup of tea, a cheeky bit of cake, and a spot of mild peril” as they visit the tea lair.  In this instance, after a delightful chat, GRRM drank the potion guaranteed to produce nightmares and the audience had to do their best death howls to wake him up.  Both Emma and Peter have pieces in the new Wild Cards book (which he is still editing).  And Emma avoided mentioning Game of Thrones completely.

As Debi Chowdhury and I were manning the Masquerade Sign-Up table, we kept seeing folks in some great costumes.  Debi was working the crowd and convinced many of them that they should enter the Masquerade.  My concerns about a small and short event became less and less as Wednesday became Thursday.

Worldcon 76 had a fan table and a display in the Exhibits hall.  We had several new pop-up banners, which we ordered from a printer in Estonia.  They did a great job and cost us about half what the same thing would have cost if printed in the US and shipped to Helsinki.  Kevin Roche, the Worldcon 76 chair, gave a great presentation at The Fannish Inquisition on Thursday afternoon.  He announced our two additional Guests of Honor, John Picacio (artist) and Frank Hayes (musician).  The Worldcon 76 crew also sponsored a party, along with several other potential future Worldcon sites, on Thursday evening.  We received pass-through funds from MidAmeriCon II and celebrated Andy’s birthday with cake.  And people started to see the green shirts we were all wearing during the week.


Worldcon 75 — a trip to Helsinki, part 1

While we were in Kansas City last year, for MidAmeriCon II (Worldcon 74), I was asked if I could help run the Masquerade.  I said sure, and figured it would be a good opportunity to visit Scandinavia.  Stephen had been before, but I’d never been to that part of the world.

We researched flights, looked at the various hotels that had rooms associated with the convention, talked with our friends, and then made a plan.  The plan took us from San Jose to Helsinki to Stockholm to Chicago and then back home.

We arrived at Helsinki’s Vantaa Airport about 3pm EEST (5am Pacific), jet lagged and dehydrated.  We caught a cab at the airport, and were extremely impressed with the efficiency of the process.  Well placed signage, in multiple languages, and plenty of TaksiHelsinki vehicles to get us to our hotel, the Original Sokos Hotel Vaakuna.  The hotel was built for the 1952 Winter Olympics.  It’s been well kept over the years, and I would say it’s more of a European business hotel than a tourist hotel.  That said, we were warmly welcomed and felt quite comfortable there.  They had plenty of power outlets for our converters, and we had a balcony room, which was a wonderful way to help us conquer jet lag.  So was the sauna, which is an expected feature for Helsinki hotels.

Monday we decided to do a walking tour of sorts, and play Ingress.  The mission set “Explore Helsinki” started right outside our hotel and took us around the downtown area.  We took our time to see the sights along the way, stopped in for coffee at one place, lunch at another.  We saw an advertisement for Worldcon in front of the tram stop (more about that later).  Tuesday we went to visit GE’s Helsinki office and meet some of the folks behind our operating room monitors and anesthesia machines.  And learned about the efficient and inexpensive public transportation system, as we took a bus and tram to get to/from the hotel.

Wednesday was the first day of Worldcon75.  I was there early, to meet with a couple of folks about tech, and generally help out.  The Masquerade Sign Up desk was part of the Info Desk, so I was extra staff for them.  We were not prepared for the deluge of people who bought memberships, most of whom were attending their first worldcon.  Despite best-laid plans, our signs couldn’t be seen easily, and line management was a challenge.  One lady who was asking about the schedule was visiting from Colorado and was there just for the day — she had been traveling to Helsinki for a completely different reason, heard about the convention from someone on the plane and decided to drop in!


Mounting grab bars

Mom decided that she wanted a grab bar on the two-step transition from the front hall to the back hall/laundry room, and another one at the bottom of the main staircase. (Wow!  she’s letting me change her house!)

After shopping a bit, it looked as if nearly everything was going to be by one of the major faucet/plumbing manufacturers.  Delta had a couple of different styles and colors that she was willing to let me get.  We got one like this – concealed mount, stainless, fairly basic.

Installation is a pain — it may well be worth hiring someone with experience to do this.  I was not dealing with tile, just plaster.  They tell you what size drill bit to use (a plus), but fail to tell you how deep you need to drill your holes in the wood studs (a major minus).  The screws are longer than the drill bit by a good 1/2″ — which means that you will be putting a 3″ long screw into wood without the benefit of a pre-drilled hole at the very end.  Where you have to use the most torque to get that screw to advance.

I can see why they specifically say not to put in the screw with a powered screwdriver or drill, you’ll just over-torque and mess up the screw head.  What I can’t see is why they don’t provide a drill bit that is appropriate for the screws.  I’ve purchased many products over the years that do exactly that, to make sure you use the right size/length.

My hand hurts, and I don’t even have 2 screws fully placed.  🙁


Swapping out Sargent Locks

Continuing the saga of house improvements for my mother…

After her fall, we knew that she needed someone in the house with her full time.  But she had spread her papers (financial and otherwise) all over the house.  I didn’t have time to actually sort and clean it all up, so opted to lock up the rooms until I was able to get to it.  When dad built the house in the 1960s, he opted for Sargent locks.  They are extremely well made with lots of security features (not surprising, they do high-end commercial locks).  But that means that they are not easy to remove.

After some searching, I found this video.  But using a vise grip or wrench damages the finish.  What other options exist?  I remembered a weird tool in dad’s collection, searched a bit on the Sargent Lock website, and realized that I had the necessary wrench.  With that and a phillips screwdriver, I was good to go.

Unfortunately, although I wanted to replace these with new Sargent locks, it wasn’t to be.  They are only doing commercial sales now, and the couple of local dealers I spoke with weren’t interested in a small sale.  It’s too bad, as they have some really cool options for key code (push-button) locks, proximity sensor locks, etc.

I ended up changing out the interior locks on the bedrooms and basement doors to Schlage lever-handles.  They’re nice, but mom doesn’t really like them.

Setting up an iPhone for your nonagenerian mother

Mom’s iPhone 5C started acting wonky — the touch screen was difficult to get to respond, even after a hard reset.  Then my cousin called me to tell me that mom’s phone kept giving an error about “wait 5 minutes and try again” — still not sure exactly what was not working.  But in any case, we decided to get her a new phone.  And then needed to figure out how to optimize a new iPhone 7 for her.

We had seen this post about how to optimize a laptop for your nonagenerian grandmother, but no corresponding piece for the iPhone.

First thing:  she can’t hold the 7plus — it’s too big for her hands.

Like John Krauss, I didn’t want to have to remember what to do when the phone somehow got reset.  Or the iOS upgraded.   So here’s what to do.  After you get the phone, go to Settings and make a bunch of changes from the defaults in iOS 10.2 — listed more or less in the order they show up:

  • Turn off Bluetooth
  • Consider turning off most notifications
  • Under General > Accessibility:
    • Larger Text > ON  — and then determine the size you need
    • Button Shapes > ON  —  this will show the hot spots as a shaded button (easier for folks to see and accurately touch)
    • Increase Contrast > Reduce Transparency > ON.  Consider darkening colors.
    • Reduce Motion > ON
    • AssistiveTouch > ON
    • Touch Accommodations — look at the options and consider changing the Hold Duration and more importantly Hold Repeat
    • 3-D Touch > OFF  (the average user has issues with this, the elderly user will not be able to do this correctly at all, and will inadvertently do things like delete stuff!)
    • Shake to Undo > OFF
    • Vibration > ON
    • Hearing Devices —
      • If you have a iPhone Hearing Aid, pair it here (turn on Bluetooth and ignore the recommendation above)
      • Turn on Hearing Aid Mode if appropriate (this should help with the squeal issue)
    • TTY — On only if you use a TTY device
    • LED Flash for Alerts > ON
    • Phone Noise Cancellation > ON
  • Restrictions > ENABLE, create a passcode (remember, it needs to be different than your unlock code), and then:
    • Consider disabling Siri
    • Do disable Installing/Deleting Apps and In-App Purchases
    • Lock down Location Services — AFTER you set up things like Find My Friends/Find My Phone if you want that turned on.
  • Under Sounds & Haptics:
    • Vibrate on Ring, Vibrate on Silent
    • Turn OFF Change with Buttons (it was far too easy for my mother to grab the phone and hit the buttons and then turn off the ringer).  Note that this doesn’t completely lock down those volume buttons — this should keep the ringer volume up, but not the actual sound volume.
    • Turn OFF System Haptics


Decide if you want to have some of the other remote options available or not — like AirDrop.  We opted to leave that on, so we could both share photos to her and receive photos from her when we were together.  We moved lots of the “standard” apps into folders and moved them to the second home screen so they weren’t distracting and she was far less likely to open them by mistake.


One week with the new phone and she is less frustrated, which means I’m getting fewer random messages.  Which means we’re both happier.


Nest Thermostat troubleshooting

We got Nest thermostats for our house over a year ago.  Easy installation (about 15 minutes) and setup.  So I figured I would get one for my mother, so she didn’t have to keep walking up and down the long hall to the thermostat to change it when she was hot or cold (or even worse, walk downstairs to change it after going to bed).  I put it in… and it kept saying “Delay 3:00” and the house was cold.  Now what?

The thermostat will delay heating or cooling if the furnace or A/C has just cycled off, for 3 or 5 minutes (depending on the type of equipment you have), to prevent damage to the system as a whole.  See here for more details.  Makes sense.  But the thermostat would show the Delay, count down to 0, turn on the furnace for 5 seconds, and then Delay again.  Repeatedly.  I couldn’t figure out what the problem was, and my mother wasn’t willing to give me the time to troubleshoot.  So the old thermostat went back on.

After mom’s fall, I wanted to try this again (along with adding security cameras, etc).  I put it back in, and it again did the whole Delay thing — but perhaps more importantly, it wasn’t holding a charge.

Now, it was hard to figure out what was *supposed* to be happening.  The website wasn’t that helpful.  The thermostat has an internal battery (as opposed to the AAs in the old White & Rodgers thermostat), and it’s supposed to trickle (re)charge from the existing wiring.  But it wasn’t holding a charge, and that also meant it wasn’t staying on-line.  The house dropped to 50F.

I spent quite a bit of time with their technical support chat (btw, chat is far better than a phone, because you are running back and forth to the circuit breakers, the furnace and A/C units to see if they are running, etc).  After going to second-tier support, we figured out that there wasn’t enough power coming through the wires, and I needed to have a “common” wire attached.  Which would require someone to come out and add one.

I called my mom’s HVAC company, got an appointment, and one of their technicians came out.  He said that we would need to have an installation team come out to run new wires, but he would see if he could troubleshoot for us, and get us a bid for new wiring if necessary.  We did find two unused wires, one of which might be good as a common. He had never seen a Nest thermostat before.  I showed him what I could do with mine from my mom’s house.  He went to the furnace room, popped off the covers, and the power wire basically fell off of the mounting screw.    He fixed that, wasn’t sure what else to do, and I told him thanks and I would deal with replacing the Nest thermostat.   I installed it, adding that extra wire — and it said that it had no power on the Rc wire (which it had had before).  I took off the “C” wire, and viola, it worked.  And it kept the power up!  For 4 days.  And then the power dropped below the level necessary for the wifi to work.  And the house was cold.


I did some more searching, this time for the definitions of the terms Voc Vin and Lin.   And found this wonderful article:

What your Nest could have told you but didn’t

You would think that the tech support folks would have asked me what the numbers were for the Voc and Vin, right?
Mine were Voc 35.7V and Vin 14.0V and Lin 20mA. So I have a power drain. It actually gets worse if I try to hook up that blue wire as a common (it may not actually be connected to anything useful).

So… back to the White & Rodgers thermostat. At least for now.

Oscars 2017

This year, we decided on our costumes fairly early:  Dr. Strange for Stephen and Jyn Erso for me.

I started making Stephen’s costume before Halloween and the first of November partners meeting, which was themed “SuperHeroes” (I wore the General Organa costume from last year).  Well, it wasn’t really ready for prime time at that event, and got put on the shelf for a bit.  Fast forward to February and needing to get it done.  I wove an inkle band for the neckline trim on the blue tunic.  I figured out a better way to create the Cloak of Levitation (both overall shape and the collar).  I broke down and just bought the jacket/vest for Jyn Erso, because I just didn’t have time to do the pleated sleeve insets or fit a jacket from scratch.

Stephen worked on upping our game for the video.  We totally rearranged the setup during a test run in the fall, and it made for far better traffic flow as folks were coming in.

And then my mom fell and ended up in the hospital.  So I stayed home and Stephen went to the party.  I was able to record my interview remotely and Stephen added it to the video feed at the end.  It was the most eventful Oscars ever, with the wrong movie being announced at the end.  Here’s the CNN article about what happened.  And a follow-on article about Why Typography Matters.



Nest Cam – exterior mounting tricks

We had been intending to add security cameras when we rebuilt the house.  But the options available at the time, even with our professional company, were more limited than we wanted.  We add a pair of DropCams before our trip to Europe a few years ago, and we now use them to keep an eye on the dogs.  At the time, there was no exterior-rated option for the cameras.  Earlier this year an exterior version was released by Nest (who bought out DropCam).  We put one up in the backyard, also so that we could keep an eye on the dogs.  It took about 15 minutes to install, because I had exterior power right under where I wanted it installed.

I wanted to put one at the front door, but I didn’t want to run the power line around the front of the door and windows of the house to the one exterior plug we had available.   Nest doesn’t expect you to do anything else, so doesn’t give instructions for how you might put the wires into your walls.  I did a quick internet search, and folks have done this, but few details were included.  Our neighborhood had a rash of burglaries and package thefts in the lead-up to Christmas, so this moved up on the ToDo list.

I quickly made a 3/4″ and 7/8″ hole in a piece of cardboard, and the plug went through the 3/4 hole easily — so I got a 3/4″ masonry drill bit.  It was actually a bit small, and I had to both shimmy the bit and use a file to make the hole wide enough.  Given that, and the fact that I had a wall full of insulation, I opted to go directly across (as opposed to trying to run the wire down towards the floor).  I got a single-gang box and was easily able to pull the wire across the wall and then replace the insulation around the wire.  I found an insert designed for running A/V cables through, where the plug end can be quite big compared to the actual wire, and it worked perfectly.

See photos below.

Key points:
  • you need a 7/8″ hole or larger to be able to pass the protected USB connector into/out of the wall
  • it’s easiest to put a single-gang box on the interior side and then use a flexible insert for one of the square switch plates
  • you need something to fill up the rest of the hole after you run the wire through
  • 7/8″ masonry drill bit
  • single-gang box (one intended for use in existing walls, as opposed to new construction)
  • Decora-type single-gang plate
  • flexible Decora insert (usually found in the Audio/Video section, not the Electrical section)






Oscars 2016

Although we had different initial plans, after seeing Star Wars:  The Force Awakens, I decided to dress as General Organa (Princess Leia).  It’s one of those easy to wear costumes, with a moderately elaborate hairdo that is always good for the Oscars party.   After seeing Bridge of Spies, Stephen decided to go as Jim Donovan, the attorney played by Tom Hanks.

For me, I needed a flight suit – but what color?  khaki?  grey?  blue-grey?  I decided on the khaki, which is most versatile, from Tru-Spec (same company we got the BlueBox 42 clothing pieces from).  And then a burgundy/mahogany cotton to make the vest she wears.  And then figuring out how to make the belt buckles.  

Stephen was pretty easy — his suit, plus a grey fedora and a plaid scarf.