My Eulogy for Cleo and Jennifer Haston

Today we buried my wife’s parents in Flagstaff Arizona. These are the words I would like to have said at the service, but I can’t even think them without crying. There is no way I could have said them.

My favorite memories of Cleo and Jennifer show their humor. Cleo constantly joked with wait staff at the many restaurant meals we shared. They’d ask “Is there any thing else I can get you?”

He’d always – to the point of annoyance sometimes – answer “Money?”

My favorite story of Jennifer I didn’t experience directly but heard later, probably from Cleo. On one of the many trips the two of them took together they were on a beach. She noticed him check out a bikini clad woman walking along the shore and said, “Cleo, the only way you could get that girl was if you chased her down waving your W2.”

I was reminded of him at church last week when I noticed a woman in the aisle barefoot. Cleo once commented to someone who asked what Suanna and I’s church was like after he visited.

“No one at their church wears shoes.”

Which for Hope Chapel in Austin was funny but only half true.

The most important thing Cleo and Jennifer did for me though was to raise a daughter who knows how to be a better wife than I deserve. Their relationship taught her that life together isn’t always easy. You don’t always get along. You aren’t perfect toward each other.

But you approach life together. You try to make each other and everyone else laugh. You make the best of the bad times and in the end you are always there for each other.

And when you pass on, they take your bodies, turn them to ashes. Mingle those ashes together. Encase them in stone. And bury them in the ground side by side.

Then for as long as this planet circles its star the two of you will always be together.

The Vagrant Review

I met Peter Newman at LonCon 3 last summer and heard about The Vagrant
from him. The concept was compelling. A story where the main character doesn’t talk. And he is carrying a baby though a post-apocalyptic demonic wasteland.
Don’t think he mentioned one character was a goat.

From the beginning you know you are dealing with an author who is pushing for quality. A non-talking main character is a pretty big burden to take on for a first time author. But it works. He pulls it off and you never feel like he cheats where the character kind of talks.

The author’s prose style is also unique. If I had to compare him to someone it would be Neil Stephenson, who’s style is also peppered with one of a kind metaphors. Peter also anthropomorphizes everything, from the goat to grass thrown into the wind. The world comes alive in a number of different ways as you travel through the wasteland.

It is a melliu story, the book begins with The Vagrant at the beginning of a journey, carrying a thing to a place, and ends when he gets to that place and delivers the thing. I’m trying really hard to not spoil anything.

My only complaint with the book is it is too long. Maybe that is because of the current requirement by publishers that novels must be over 100,000 words, or if the author felt that’s how long it needed to be. But I could have done without yet another city we must travel through and experience another dark side of humanity.

Also there is a bad guy introduced in the last quarter of the book that just seem to be there for a possible sequel. I did feel the book stood on its own though, so don’t let that deter you from reading it.

Meeting an author before you read their book is a strange thing. Peter and his wife Emma – author of the Split Worlds books – are the team behind the Tea and Jeopardy Podcast. They are also two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I was so impressed with their proactive diligence in starting meet-ups at UK cons just for first time attendees. Lot’s of people say, “Hey someone ought to do something for people who’ve never been to a con.” They actually did something.

Give that, Peter obviously has a dark side. Some of the ways the demons use their powers to convert people into…things… are decidedly twisted and gross.

I enjoyed the theme of the book that one good person, who does the right thing even when it is the hard thing, can make a difference. The Vagrant was a paladin, doing good, not just avoiding evil.

Overall I like the book and think you all should go out and buy it.

This review was of the audiobook. I would have bought the Kindle version, but it isn’t available in the US. Stupid publishers.


It’s been a busy start of the year for me and I’m going to blog about the big changes soon.

But first let’s talk cocktails.

This month I’ve traveled quite a bit with a trip to Houston and one to Vegas. Both of these involved some good eats at nice restaurants and some time at bars. During those experiences I discovered there’s a big difference between a good cocktail and a bad one.

Mango Habanero Margarita.
Mango Habanero Margarita.

Churrascos has in my opinion the best steak in the world. That’s pretty high praise, but it’s true. They also made the beauty to the right for me. The Mango Habanero Margarita. Just a hint of heat in the drink, but more in the salt on the rim.

It was sooth as silk, which to me means the tequila was good. That’s the key to a margarita, good tequila. I could go into a whole blog post about tequila, but I won’t. Some people poo poo the idea of using an añejo tequila in a cocktail. They say it should only be drunk by itself. But I’m reminded of my culinary guru’s advice on sandwiches.

“Never use a bread for a sandwich you wouldn’t eat by itself.” – Alton Brown.

Why would you use an inferior tequila in a tequila drink?

After watching a number of mixologist in Vegas work their magic creating cocktails and some YouTubing of bartending videos, I’ve acquired a new avocation.

Republic Tequila
Republic Tequila
All new hobbies start with a trip for gear and in this case chemicals. I now own some cool glasses and a metal shaker with built-in jigger for measuring.

I also now have grenadine, agave nectar, lime juice and cherry syrup. OK, the last one is to make cherry Dr Pepper, which I’ve come to really like.

My favorite liquor is Tequila, specifically añejo Tequila, though I’ve had a number of good drinks with reposado Tequila as well. Specifically, my go to bottle is Republic añejo Tequila.

Yeah I like the bottle too.

Was the venerable margarita my first cocktail? No. There is a lot of discussion about what a margarita even is, and a lot of different recipes. I went for something a lot simpler.

Behold the Tequila Sunrise

Tequila Sunrise
Tequila Sunrise

I will try the margarita soon, but this my first creation and I wanted to share it with you.

I also plan on blogging more in the very near future. Really.

River Song’s Screwdriver Epihany

River Song’s Sonic Screwdriver
River Song’s Sonic Screwdriver

This morning I was doing some stuff in my home workshop/office and saw the box for my River Song Sonic Screwdriver and it got me to thinking, which lead to a really cool epiphany. Rather than jump to the cool part straight away I’ll give you some of my internal dialog.

In HTML Screenplay format.


(RON puts camera away on shelf and notices River Song Sonicscrewdriver box)


Wow, River Song got her own toy when she was in only one episode, that’s cool.


Dr David said, “Why would I give her a sonic?”

When did he give it to her? Did she have a sonic during her Matt Smith years?

CUT TO: MONTAGE OF RIVER SONG SCENES with fuzzy edge dream/memory effect as RON thinks about it.

He remembers her wizbang future tricorder/ipad all the time, but not her Sonic.

(Shot with her holding her red shoes in one hand and device in other.)
(Shot her showing device to someone)


Mmmmm…Of course there was obviously a lot of time he spent with her off screen.


(River Tells Rory about Stevie Wonder on the Thames.)River and Rory

(RIVER tells Dr Matt Smith she’ll travel with him anytime)
travel with me thenwhenever you want

CUT TO: RON in the Closet


Hey wouldn’t it be cool if they did a parallel Dr Who with Matt Smith and River Song? It could all take place in those off screen times.


You know one of the first things River said to Dr David was….

CUT TO: Scene from The Library where RIVER is looking closely at the Doctor’s face and says:



“You look so young.”



She got her Sonic from a Doctor that looked older than David Tennant.

Matt Smith was younger.

Smith never gave her her sonic.

Capaldi looks old.

This would prove Moffat was a genius if he does it. That first River Song episode wasn’t even one of his. He didn’t write the line “You look so young.” Matter of fact he screwed it up by making the next Doctor, the one River spends so much time with, the youngest Doctor ever.

Maybe he decided on an older Doctor just so he could make this line make sense.

Dang, now why didn’t I think of this before I was in a Q&A with Stephen Moffet at the Dr Who Premiere in Cardiff.

Home Stretch

Literally in the home stretch for the UK adventure. 17 jam packed days.

DrWhoPremierThis week we have Dr Who Premiere, with us in Cardiff today through Thursday.

Stupidly I didn’t bring my camera from London. What was I thinking? Could I catch a train and get there and back today?

Nine-Worlds-logoFriday through Sunday we have the Nine Worlds Convention in London.
icanmakeshoes_logoMonday and Tuesday of next week I’m getting private lessons on shoe making.I know a little strange, but I’ve had an interest in creating some high tech, geeky high heels for over a year. I’ve looked around the US for a place to learn to do it, but haven’t found anywhere within a reasonable distance and cost. Found I Can Make Shoes in London via an article and decided to check it out. I’d already missed their class on it, but found out I could just do it as a private lesson. I’m going to make the Mrs something Dr Who themed.
London WorldConThen lastly by not leastly, the reason we’re in the UK. Loncon3/WorldCon in London, where both The Mrs and I are presenters.

My presentation is

Intro to Electronics and Illumination in Costuming

Friday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)

Adding electronics and/or illumination to costumes used to require a high degree of technical knowledge, but now there are many products available making the process accessible to more costumers. This demonstration will show off some of the available technologies, including some of the exciting new developments in the e-Textiles movement.

Kevin Roche, Ron Davis, Amy Young

I’ve got two costume projects to complete before Loncon that require access to a laser cutter, and not time to get to the one at London Hackspace. But it is open 24hrs….

Power Voltage in the US and UK

Electrical outlets in the US and the UK look very different. Those in the UK are much bigger. They seem HUGE to me. They always have 3 prongs and the prongs are much larger.

Plugs & AdapterActually there is another kind of plug in the UK that has two prongs and is always marked “Shaver Only” and always in the bathroom. I’ve never used one of these so I don’t have much to say about them.

Talking to another visitor from the states about the outlets, he said, “…and it’s all 220”. In the US we do have larger 3 prong plugs that carry 240V. They are primarily used for large appliances like clothes washers and dryers. I also called them 220. I don’t know why since they are 240, unless it is that appliances that use them are called 220. The usage voltage is always lower than the outlet voltage.

But I wasn’t sure the current was actually the same. Did a little research today to answer this question and thought I’d share.

There are two main differences between household power in the US and the UK, voltage and cycle rate.


In the US your standard wall outlet provides power at 120 volts. In the UK, the standard wall outlet provides current at 230 volts. Both of those numbers are inaccurate. In the US it’s actually 114 to 126 V, and the UK is 230 -6% to +10%. According to Wikipedia, this is because in the UK, most power is still supplied to homes at 240.

If you are curious, US voltage is shared by Japan and Taiwan. UK voltage by Australia and New Zealand. The rest of the world is 230 +/- 6%, which is the new EU standard and something the UK is working to use.

Cycle Rate

Thanks to Nicola Tesla power is transmitted to our homes via Alternating Current. It gets it’s name from the fact “The direction of the current reverses, or alternates, 60 times per second (in the U.S.) or 50 times per second (in Europe, for example)”. (How Electricity Works)

So that’s another difference, they also have a different “hertz rate”. They alternate a different number of times per second.

From a traveler’s point of view, this just means you need an adapter to plug in your stuff. I’m sure most people think this is just because the plug shape is different, but there are some electrical stuff going on in there to change voltage and cycle rate. Interestingly this is actually one of the advantages of AC. It is easy to change the voltage at the point you want to use it.

I should also point out that a lot of stuff that lets you plug in your DC/battery powered devices, like a laptop or cell phone, really just needs a new plug. The conversion from AC to DC that happens already has to bring down the Voltage, way down. For instance my MacBook Pro’s power adapter bring it down to 20V.

This also means I can buy a UK MacBook adapter and use it with my MacBook without fear. Technically if I could just find the part with the plug on it, that’s all I’d need to make the switch. But alas, Apple doesn’t sell just that bit of cable or plug by itself, though they give you both when you buy an adapter.
Apple Plugs
Which is what I bought when we got to the UK. I needed a new power brick/cable anyway because my old one was frayed. I went to the Apple Store in London when we first got here and just bought a UK power adapter. It came with a cable and just the little plug part. I put the plug part on the Mrs’ US power adapter brick and used the cable on mine for the rest of the trip.

It’s The Little Things

There are a number of little things that are different in the UK. Here’s a few.

Switches are Upside Down Of course the Brits would say ours are upside down. 🙂 A light switch in the down position is On not off.

Plug Switches
Plug Switches

Every power outlet has a switch on it. I won’t even mention the plus are different and HUGE in the UK, but all the places you plug them in have a switch next to them that turns power to that one outlet on and off. This extends to things like your oven and countertop appliances.

They have different switches Like the US, there are lots of different power switches, but the one I see the most often is a rocker switch. It also makes the down is On more logical because they often have a little red flag on the top that’s only visible when the switch is down. So you can look down at a switch and tell if it On.

We have pull string switches in the States, but here they are very common in Bathrooms. They also make a lot of sense when you have a very small space and wouldn’t have a clear wall to put a switch on. I’m thinking about getting one for our bathroom at home, where the light switch is on the outside wall.

Melatonin requires a perscription As a guy who has trouble sleeping through the night, the supplement Melatonin is a requirement every evening. Imagine my surprise when I went to a natural food/vitamin shop and couldn’t find it. I asked and they said they didn’t carry it. A quick Google search told me there is no OTC Melatonin in the UK.

There’s a Tax on Dining InWhen you go to place like Starbucks or McDonalds, they will ask you if you want it “Dine In or Takeaway”. This isn’t just because they package it differently. They actually have to charge you more for Takeaway. I think it is a pound per order, but it may be per item. Starbucks actually lists two prices on the board.

US_vs_UK_KeyboardsHighlightThey have Different Computer KeyboardsI was registering my Oyster card when I joined the London HackerSpace and they wanted me to type in my email address. In the middle of the address I couldn’t find the @ sign. Shift-2 is the “, and the @ sign is where the ” is on our keyboard, over the single quote. Shift-3 is £, which maybe why I call the # the “pound key”. See the image for complete differences.

Stores with no UK Equivalent

Wal-Mart/Target There are some fairly large grocery stores, and a Tesco Super Store is a little like a Wal-Mart Super Store, but only a little. They have department stores where you can buy clothes and housewares, but they don’t have that category where you can buy toys, clothes, sporting goods, etc.

Hobby Lobby/Michael’s I needed a sewing kit and some proper needles. Well I can find cheap set at a Pound Store (Like our dollar stores and just as prolific), but there isn’t a big crafts store.


This has been the most difficult thing for us. We’re Americans and we’re used to tipping for everything. But in a conversation with an English photographer friend his comment was “Never. They picked their job, if they don’t like what they are paid get another job.”

On the other hand we Americans have corrupted the culture, and more places are encouraging tipping. At restaurants they either include a 10% “service charge” or say on the bill, “Service is NOT included”.

In the book Watching the English by an English anthropologist she told us it was an insult to tip a bartender at a Pub. That means they are “the help”. Instead you should occasionally buy them a pint.

They have a lot of delivery and none of those people expect to be tipped. I tipped a food delivery guy out of habit in Scotland and he appeared surprised.

In a twist, Uber, the disruptive car hire service started in the US, only allows tips for Taxi’s in London. Apparently London cabbies expect tips. (Uber by the way is cool. Used it for the first time getting from the train to our flat with 6 bags on arrival in London.)

Obviously the words used are different too, but you can find those in Britishisms.

Cardiff a Whogasim

DalekEyeWe spent a week in Cardiff and I have to say I really like the city. It was very different from Edinburgh which I liked as well.

Cardiff is a very modern city. Much more like American cities. Yes, it still had a castle in the middle of it and the house we stayed is was kind of “new” being built around 1920. But Cardiff has undergone a rejuvenation over the last couple of decades from a industrial port city to a cosmopolitan business and media center.

They like to say it is the youngest capital in Europe because it is the capital of Wales, which the Welch consider its own country. It is a new capital because the English just gave them back – devolved – some self rule in the last decade or so. But I think of it more like a state than a country, but that may just be me.

High Street

In the Cardiff High Street, but not the same as the Texas Mission burrito despite being a very similar big ass burrito place.
In the Cardiff High Street, but not the same as the Texas Mission burrito despite being a very similar big ass burrito place.
In every town in the UK they have a High Street. It is normally named this, but often that term encompases more than one street. The High Street is the main commercial shopping area. It has the majority of shops and many eating places. A smattering of banks and a Ladbrokes which is a sports betting chain here. As the High Street gets more popular, the road is often blocked off and it becomes a pedestrian only area.

So when you go to a new city and want to shop, you know to find out where the High Street is.

In Cardiff the High Street is more than one street. Doing a quick mapping thing, the area is about 92 Acres, 14 by 11 blocks. Some of this is enclosed completely, others parts are open areas. Much of it is blocked off to vehicles, and in the open outdoor areas you’ll often find street performers doing their thing. I even saw a street preacher on a literal soapbox speaking the truth in fire and brimstone. And people were listening.

Interestingly Google Maps will give you walking directions through the “mall” parts because it still thinks of them as streets. I get the impression they just closed off an outdoor mall and made it an indoor one. At least metaphorically, the architecture doesn’t look like it was ever designed to be outside.

Cardiff Quay

Cardiff Millennium Centre
Cardiff Millennium Centre
Another area of new development is around Cardiff bay. It’s called Cardiff Quay pronounced “key”. When shipping dropped off for the port the city decided to create a upscale business and entertainment zone around it. The new Welch Parliament building is right next to the water. The Millennium Center which is a beautiful performance and arts space. There’s a lot places to eat and it is very tourist focused.

It also the home of…

The Dr Who Experience

Whenever people asked why we came to Cardiff, I somewhat sheepishly answered “Dr. Who”.

The Dr Who Experience
The Dr Who Experience
I don’t think your average Brit understands just how popular Dr Who is in the States right now. Our hosts said they’d had other guests who came just to do the Dr Who Experience.

What is the Dr Who Experience? It’s a cross between a amusement park ride and a museum to the TV show.

The first floor is an “experience”. You walk through an an adventure that takes you from Starship Britain, lets you pilot the TARDIS, and run around with the Dr.

The second and third floor….wait I’ve got that all wrong.

The Ground Floor is the experience. The First and Second floors are the museum. The Brits don’t start numbering the floors until there is more than one.

The upper floors exhibit everything you could ever want to see from the show. There are at least 2 complete TARDIS consoles – the very first one rebuilt for the 50th anniversary special, and Tenent’s last one. Smith’s first console is part of the ride part of the experience. There is also the costumes of every Doctor. Costumes of most of the new companions from Rose through Claire. The top floor has props and monsters.

I took detailed pictures of everything and you can see them in my Dr Experience Album on Facebook.

Dr Who Watch
Dr Who Watch
I’ve noticed that my way of experiencing a place tends to include buying something. I now own a Scottish and Welsh flag for instance. At the Experience I wanted something unique and maybe subtle. Turns out they have a very nice Dr Who watch. If the band didn’t have the police box stuff on it, I don’t think anyone looking at it would realize it was Whovian at all.

I could go on about Cardiff, but I think this gives you a good understand of the place and my view on it.