It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

As the year draws to its close, I like to reflect on all that has happened. This last year was a tough one in some ways. Both Sue and I lost our closest remaining family members. Neither one was expected, and it will still take a while to absorb that loss.

This was also a year of amazing highlights. We got to see Neil Gaiman (again) and Amanda Palmer, Gogol Bordello, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Eddie Izzard, Chvrches, Jake Shimabukuro, Selwyn Birchwood, and many other great shows. We went to many Lightning playoff games and watched them eliminate both Detroit and Montreal from the playoffs. We watched the US Womens’ Soccer Team beat Brazil. We got to see Arsenal beat Stoke City at Emirates Stadium in London.
Arsenal vs Stoke City

Of course the highlight of the year was our trip to the UK. About a week each in Scotland and London. I have been fortunate to go on some great vacations, but this one was the best by far.

Rob & Sue in Glencoe

Dinner at the Shard

And so it goes. Fantastic memories made, and some great personal losses. 2015 will be memorable for both the good and the bad. We will miss the ones that we lost, but I am reminded every day of how lucky I am to still be here.

Here’s to hoping that you all have a great 2016.

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Random Thoughts from the UK

Back in September we got back from our trip to the UK about 12 hours before we needed to be back at work. I’ve still not finished going through the 700+ pictures, but here are some observations from the trip.


  1. I saw more sheep in my first two hours in Scotland than I had in my entire life up to that point.
  2. The history is amazing. The first day in Scotland we went inside a building that was 200 years old when Columbus sailed to America. We got to see iron-age ruins and more castles than we could count.
  3. Diesel was $6.76 a gallon. Renting a car for four days cost us £63 (about $95) in fuel.
  4. They do not require that you pay before pumping fuel.
  5. Driving on the left was not as bad as I’d feared. I did have to think about intersections and roundabouts before I got to them, but after the first few minutes I was cool with it.
  6. Staying to the left was easy, but it did take some time to get used to sitting on the right side of the car while driving. I kept wanting to put my (right) side of the car on the left side of the lane, sticking Sue out in the weeds.
  7. Roads are for the most part incredibly narrow. Once off of the main highways there are a lot of single-track roads. We had a few adventures backing down cliff-side roads or slamming on the brakes around a corner to let oncoming traffic past.
  8. I am a huge fan of roundabouts. I wish we could install them all over the place here, but if we did I would stay indoors for three months until natural selection had some time to work on people who cannot drive.
  9. Eddie Izzard was right. There are castles everywhere.
  10. The Isle of Skye was never on my radar before I met Sue. I wish I could go spend a few months there. It is magical.
  11. I saw more beautiful sights in a week than I could ever hope to photograph.
  12. Haggis is actually really good.
  13. We would usually get a couple of complimentary glasses of whisky when checking into a hotel.
  14. Scottish accents outside of Glasgow are music to my ears. They are more of a challenge in Glasgow, but I got better at understanding Glaswegians after a few days.
  15. Glasgow has the simplest underground map in the universe.
  16. Cabs in Glasgow and Edinburgh are magical. We once had to wait about five minutes for a cab when we were well outside of the Edinburgh city center, but other than that one time I don’t think it ever took more than a minute or two. Most of the time we would ask for someone to call us a cab and the cab would be pulling up to the curb as we were walking out the door.
  17. Pub culture, at least where we went, was much more enjoyable than our sports-bar dudebro culture. Almost all of the pubs we visited (we tried for a large sample size) were really chilled out places.
  18. Seeing the scenery all around Britain made me truly understand the settings for almost every fantasy novel I’d ever read. Except for Michael Moorcock. That stuff is just weird.
  19. Returning our rental car, the guy at the rental place asked where we were off to next. I said London. He told me that I would wish I was back in Scotland. He was right.
  20. If you like ciders, there are many more cider options available in Britain. They are not super-sweet like most US ciders.


  1. Do not attempt to drive in London. If you think you might need to drive in London for some reason, you are wrong.
  2. I love cities, and if you love cities at all you NEED to see London. It is one of the greatest cities ever. We had a week there and just barely scratched the surface.
  3. If you like history at all, go to Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and the British Museum. Now.
  4. The London underground is amazing. I don’t think it ever took more than about 20-30 minutes to get where we needed to go, and we didn’t need to use cabs.
  5. There are lots of phone apps you can use that let you plan out a route on the underground. We pretty much always knew where we were.
  6. If you visit London, get an Oyster card ahead of time. Arriving in town with pre-paid transit cards in our pockets made everything super-easy.
  7. Pubs in London seemed a bit more generic than the ones in Scotland. There were some really good ones, but they all seem to be owned by a few big chains and they have deals with different breweries. Ex: If you are tired of Greene King beers, you are out of luck if you visit a pub that only serves Greene King products.
  8. A surprising amount of people in both Scotland and London would just drink Budweiser and eat McDonalds.
  9. Scaffolding was the theme of the trip. Glasgow University’s tower was shrouded in scaffolding. Same with Westminster Abbey and many other locations. When Google maps said we’d arrived at a pub we were looking for, but we didn’t see it, I said “look behind that scaffolding over there.” Sure enough, there was the pub.
  10. Dinner in the Shard, the tallest building in London, was a memory to last a lifetime. The entire wall is glass, and we sat next to it looking down on the Thames and the Tower Bridge while the sun set. You will need to make reservations months in advance. If you ever go, make sure to visit the restroom.
  11. For a good trip off of the beaten path, check out the Saturday morning market on Brick Lane. There is a lot of incredible street art in that neighborhood as well.
  12. The train to Gatwick airport took much longer than expected. Glad we left early. I thought it would take about two hours but it ended up taking around four.
  13. Calling Gatwick a London airport is a lie. It is halfway to the southern coast from London.
  14. British Airways rocks. That was the best flight ever. For some odd reason though, the GPS map on the video screen in front of me gave the locations of nearby shipwrecks. At least they weren’t airplane crashes.

First thing I ate when we got back to the US: A Publix Sub.

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Ticket to Ride

I will often plan trips around an event. I have traveled to many places around the country where I’ve had tickets to concerts or sporting events. One funny side effect of this is that I get emails every week from places I’ve been to, advertising new events.

I don’t have immediate plans to get back to any of those places but I haven’t yet brought myself to unsubscribe from the emails. I get a smile on my face when I think about the places I’ve been to and the events I’ve seen. I get an email from a place in Denver and I remember going to see B.B. King at Red Rocks after hiking in the mountains. I get an email from Soldier Field and I remember seeing the New Zealand All Blacks and visiting my friends Alex and Rachel in Chicago.

It’s almost as if this email spam is a form of postcard sent to myself to remind me about the places I’ve been, and how fortunate I have been. I think I’ll stay on the mailing lists for now.

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King of the Blues

B.B. King passed away last night. As I’ve mentioned before, I have seen literally hundreds of concerts. B.B. King was one of the ones I got to see a couple of times, and I have never seen a more gracious performer.

He was already about 80 years old when I first saw him. Definitely not a young guy anymore, but he still played over 200 shows a year. When I saw him, the band would start playing and after a few minutes he would ride a Jazzy to the edge of the stage, then slowly walk out and sit down before letting his guitar Lucille join in with the band. At the first opportunity, he would apologize for sitting during the show, since diabetes made it difficult for him to stand for very long. The shows were short, and it seemed that half of the show was B.B. telling stories in between the songs.

Had almost anyone else done a show that way, I’d feel ripped off. Not so with B.B. King. His stories were as captivating as his music, and I felt as though I were listening to a Grandfather I never had. Each time I saw him I knew that I was looking at a living legend, but it always seemed like HE was the most grateful person in the room just because people came to see him. When he walked off of the stage he seemed to have been energized by the experience. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing the same job for 66 years and still being so deeply in love with it.

The last time I saw B.B. was in 2007. A friend had toured Red Rocks in Colorado and taken some pictures there. I got it into my head that I wanted to see a show there so I kept my eye on the concert schedule. When I saw a show on Labor Day weekend with B.B. King, Etta James, and Al Green, I snapped up tickets right away.

Now all I had to do was figure out how to get to Colorado.

If you ever get a chance to go to Red Rocks, do it. It’s still the best concert venue I’ve ever been to. Al Green rocked the place. Etta James is a legend in her own right, and someone I’ve been fortunate to see a couple of times. Then came B.B.

Understand, 2007 was not a very happy time in the USA. There was a lot of negativity and cynicism. We were stuck in a war in Iraq that seemed to be getting worse, the economy was going downhill, and every piece of news seemed worse than the last. At least we had a clear, cool September night watching B.B. King on the most beautiful stage I’ve ever seen. At some point during the show, he started to tell a story.

He talked about being a little kid in Mississippi in the 1930’s. He talked about segregation, and how the black and white people of the town never really mixed. The one place where they would gather together was at the town park on Sunday’s after church. He told us about the time that he snuck a drink from the water fountain that was for white people, and then he knew the secret that the white people were being conned, because he knew that their water wasn’t any better than his.

B.B. Paused. He looked out over the crowd, and he finally said: “Thank you all for making this a better place.”

It was a dose of perspective. As bad as things seemed at the time, this man had seen worse, and was grateful to have witnessed the change. As stupid and as petty as we can be, we can still move forward, even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

I suppose that’s the heart of the Blues. Young, old, rich, or poor, we all have to pay our dues at some point. That doesn’t mean we can’t keep moving forward.

I’ll miss you B.B. I wish you could know how much this song helped me out when I was paying my own dues.

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“A good traveller has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

We had plans for this year. They never happened. In one respect I can look back on the year and think that we accomplished little of what we set out to do. Then I think about what actually happened this year and I don't know how we could have asked for much better.

None of our travel plans came through, but we still ended up with a couple of great trips. We were in Miami in June and Chicago in November. Not the best timing for either one of those, but in each case the timing was not of our choosing.

Miami came about from a work conference that Sue had. We spent a few days at the Biltmore in Coral Gables. Sue spent her day in meetings while I alternated between the pool, watching World Cup matches at the clubhouse, and watching the filming of a commercial with Gisele Bündchen. After the conference was over we shifted over to South Beach and spent a couple of days and nights enjoying that area.


Miami Beach

The trip to Chicago was to take advantage of probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team play against the US Eagles. The All Blacks are probably the most successful sports team of all time. They had only played in the USA three times before in their 110+ year history, and the chances of me getting to New Zealand to see them play are pretty slim. When I heard that they were playing in Chicago, I jumped at the chance to go see them. The All Blacks beat the Eagles 74-6 (Ouch) but like I said, they are probably the most dominant team in the history of sport. Seeing them do the Haka in front of a sold out Soldier Field is a memory for the ages. After that we explored downtown Chicago, ate fantastic food, and got to have a great night out with my friends Alex and Rachel, including a show at the Second City comedy club.

All Blacks vs Eagles at Soldier Field

Cloud Gate

Chicago Night

Chicago Streets 2014

I got to see my good friend Jennifer get married. She wanted to combine a beach wedding with a family vacation, so for the first time ever I got to see her and all of her kids here in Florida. I usually have to go to Tennessee to see them all. It’s always a lot of fun to visit Tennessee, but it was nice to be able to show them what it’s like where I live.

As far as shows go, I got to see some great music, including a few bands I always seemed to miss before. After two failed attempts in years past I finally got to see an entire set from Trombone Shorty. Other highlights include the Soul Rebels, Winery Dogs, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Bad Religion, Offspring, Xandria, a few Orchestra shows, and a few dozen other bands.


I also got to have one of my photos hanging in the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts for a month. You may have seen it if you’re on my Christmas card list.

The trips and the shows were good, but the real highlights for me this year were the people that I spent my time with. It was great to see Alex & Rachel. I really enjoyed seeing Jenn and her family. I got to see Geo, Rod, Perry, and Bill all together at the Winery Dogs show. Sue and I took her Mom out to a really good dinner at Berns. I can finally say that I went there and I got to share it with two of my favorite people.

Rude Boys

The simplest pleasure of the year was sitting down with Sue during the occasional free evening over the course of a few months and reading Neil Gaimans' Sandman series together. I'd been meaning to re-read it for a while. I never read it until the series was complete and in graphic novel form. When I finally read it a few years back it was the best thing I'd read all year. It's probably the best thing I've read this year also, so sharing it with Sue was pretty cool.

Here's to the hopes for a better 2015, especially for the people I know who are having rough times lately.

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Best setlist of your life

I’m a sucker for “Top x” lists. I thought I would make one of my own that I haven’t seen before.

I like live music. From my first concert (Iron Maiden in 1986) I was hooked. I have seen literally hundreds of bands in my life, and I do mean literally. I had seen over 300 bands when I moved to Florida 23 years ago and stopped counting. What I’ve compiled here is the best setlist taken from all of those shows. If I could make one concert out of the best songs I’ve seen, this would be it.

These aren’t necessarily my favorite songs, or even the best that these bands have to offer. All that they have in common is that I’ve seen these songs played live, and the band KILLED it that night. Usually it had something to do with the way I felt about the song or how the crowd reacted to it, but that’s all part of the fun of live music.

I’ve tried to keep this list reasonable in length. Under 20 songs. I’d love to hear from you and know what your picks would be. Oh, and this show takes place at Red Rocks, where I also had the pleasure of seeing a show a few years ago.

Slayer – Reigning Blood – The best opening song in the history of ever. The crowd explodes with energy when this song gets going.

Offspring – Staring at the Sun – High energy fun that keeps speeding up. There’s more to living than only surviving. Maybe I’m not there, but I’m still trying.

Ramones – Pinhead – I could list a half-dozen Ramones songs. I could list a half-dozen that are essentially the same same song, but what fun it was.

Dream Theater – Finally Free – The closing song from the best concert I’ve ever seen. I still get chills to hear the last line: “We’ll meet again my friend, someday soon.” Ministry of Lost Souls takes a close second here.

Iron Maiden – Hallowed Be Thy Name – Many different songs in one. Maiden is one of the best live bands ever. I was spoiled that they were my first. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Flaming Lips – She Don’t Use Jelly – The Lips are a spectacle to behold. Pure goofy fun and the crowd is half the show.

Stevie Ray Vaughn – Tightrope – Guitars look like they were born to be in this mans’ hands. Only the luckiest ones were.

Jeff Beck – Where Were You – Probably the only person who could bring tears to my eyes with nothing but a guitar.

Snow Patrol – The Life-ning – “Waking up in your arms, a place to call my own, This is all I ever wanted from life.”

Ani Difranco – Shameless – A girl, a guitar, and utter fearlessness.

Rush – Turn The Page – A Taoist manifesto from one of the best live bands.

U2 – City of Blinding Lights – Not many bands can really pull off a show in a football stadium, but when they do, WOW.

Guns n Roses – November Rain – The highlight of a great night with great friends, when GnR was at the top of their game. The play of tension in this is superb. Just when you think it’s over, it gets even better.

Regina Spektor – On The Radio – There is more wisdom packed into this song than there was in my college philosophy classes.

Intermission with a story told by B.B. King. The man is a living legend and a joy to see live.

Al Green – Here I Am (Come and Take me) – Even into his 60’s this man could put on a show. The fact that I saw him at Red Rocks in Colorado made it unforgettable.

Peter Murphy – Ziggy Stardust – I’ve never seen Bowie, but Peter Murphy ends his set with this. It’s such a good song, and a great way to close out the show.

Assemblage 23 – Alive – “Here comes that old familiar pain, Like a long lost friend’s return”

VNV Nation – Perpetual – The show closer for me. May you all be never-ending light.

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Tempting the Fates

I think that in most cases I am able to do a decent job of enjoying the moment. I have my down times, but I have a deep appreciation for the moments where things are going well.

What I am less likely to do is actually acknowledge when things are going well. I may recognize it but I practically never state it. On the flip side I don’t always let on when things are going poorly either, but this is not one of those times.

Let me take a moment to express that life has been good lately. I am thankful for that fact, and deeply grateful for the good times that I have had.

I hope that such good fortune occurs for each and every one of you, and that you will be able to recognize it and appreciate it when it does.

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Observations on Sports Commentary

I enjoy watching some sports, either live or on TV. What I have no patience for is all of the circus that surrounds it. Sports talk radio, rumours, off-field drama, “sports yelling shows” where hosts argue over sports, whatever. I don’t care. Just tell me when the game or the race is on. It has been years since I’ve watched anything on ESPN that wasn’t a game that accidentally made it onto their broadcast schedule. I’m convinced that in the eyes of ESPN and many other sportscasters, they ARE the content that we all want to see.

If you watch the actual games on TV it’s a little better, but not much. At least you have the game to watch. Over time you will start to notice that most sporstscasters convey very little information. If you took out all of the pointless clichés and superlatives you’d be left with nothing but the noise of the crowd, occasionally interrupted by a few stories that may be interesting, and maybe even a little actual information about the game. I’m probably in the minority but I think that would VASTLY improve the broadcasts.

A good example of that played out today at work. We turned on the TV in the breakroom to watch the USA – Germany match in the World Cup. Not having cable, we watched the game on Univision, so all of the commentary was in Spanish. Someone would come into the room and see the game on, then come over to watch. They would be into the game, following the action and reacting to it for about ten minutes before they would look at the rest of us and ask “Are they speaking Spanish?” This happened several times. Yes there were sportscasters, but the fact that almost nobody in the room knew what they were saying didn’t diminish the enjoyment of the game.

Many people like sports. Practically none of us participate in them at the level seen on TV. Sportscasters get better access to the games and the players than the rest of us do, and too often they act as though that makes them a critical part of the action. I wish every sportscaster could have this experience of seeing people enjoy a game for a good amount of time without even noticing that the sportscasters were not a part of it.

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Spring Crazy

What a month and a half.

Seasons in Florida are a little backwards. In most of the country, people hide inside during the winter, and come out to play in the summer. Winters in Florida are limited to a handful of cold snaps. Summers consist of 95 degree weather with 90% humidity and afternoon thunderstorms for about 5 months solid. As a consequence, we do most of our outdoor play during the winter and spring, while our outdoor time in the summer is generally limited to the warm nights. March always seems to have the most going on as far as outdoor festivals go, and this year was no different.

From March until now, this is a partial list of the events we’ve attended:

  • Gasparilla Arts Fest
  • Gasparilla Music Fest
  • Alton Brown
  • Cigar City Hunahpu Day
  • Tapas & Wine Tasting
  • Carmen
  • VNV Nation
  • MacDill Airfest
  • 3 days at the St. Pete Grand Prix
  • National Geographic Live
  • 2 Lightning Games
  • Festival of Speed
  • Dinner at Berns
  • A class on making sushi

Sue skipped the Hunahpu day, but she went to everything else. Many of these events were back-to-back, so for example a concert one night was followed by getting up at dawn the next morning for the airshow.

There are still some things coming up, but it’s calming down a bit as summer draws near.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

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2013 was more or less a continuation of 2012. A few small trips instead of a big one, and after going to the 2012 DragonCon we followed through with two more SF/Fantasy conferences in 2013.

First up was the ICFA conference in Orlando, followed by the WorldCon in San Antonio. At DragonCon last year, we wondered why there were so few writers attending the conference. We found out that it was because it’s the same weekend as WorldCon, where they give out the Hugo awards every year. DragonCon is in Atlanta every year, but WorldCon moves to a different location each year, as voted on by the members. This year’s WorldCon was in San Antonio which had the benefit of being relatively close as well as being a place I always wanted to see, so we made that trip over the Labor Day weekend.

If the 2012 DragonCon had very few writers, we more than made up for it this year. Between ICFA and WorldCon we got to meet dozens of writers, including Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, John Scalzi, Joe Haldeman, Kij Johnson, Paolo Bacigalupi, and many others. San Antonio was fun, and I think we managed our time there well. We had just enough time to see everything we wanted to without being rushed. I’m all conventioned out now.

Other highlights of the year include seeing Sue win a couple of awards, seeing my friend Jenn graduate from college, and seeing Sue’s Brother graduate as well. I also managed to get 4 pictures published in an insert for the Tampa Bay Times. Between Sue winning awards and the conferences, I’ve lost track of all of the awards banquets I’ve been to this year.

Two small stories from the year, both from the ICFA conference in Orlando:

I met a guy from Sweden. The conference was his first trip to the USA. He said: “All that I know of America comes from TV and movies. I’ve always wanted to come to America, to see what it’s really like. Now that I’m here it all just seems so, well, fake.”
Someone answered: “You’re in Orlando.”

On Maybe the 2nd day of the conference, Sue and I are getting ready to meet Neil Gaiman, who is a massively popular writer in geek circles. He is surrounded with people everywhere he goes at the conference. Sue walks up to Neil Gaiman, he looks at her, and his eyes light up. He smiles and says “Oh, it’s you! I love your hair.” How frickin’ cool is that?

Here’s to a great 2014!

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