Friday, Con

I went down and checked in at SFContario, got our information packets, and snagged a con-produced restaurant list.  Back in the room, I realized that I probably should somewhere to eat that night.  Mom wanted salmon, which helped to narrow down the choices nicely.

Casey’s Bar and Grill looked promising, so I found some reviews online.  One of them was unexpectedly hilarious.  This woman and a few of her friends went to Casey’s, and the waiter messed up the order and brought one of them food that had not been asked for.  They were not amused.  Then:

“3. The make-up: After we had finished our meal and watched our friend eat his, a gentleman came over and asked if we wanted dessert. We said no thank you. He asked if we were sure. We again repeated the no. He then said, “even if it’s on me?” We all paused and then agreed to the dessert. After he left and we all exchanged stories, I realize that we all paused for the same reason. From the way he asked the question, it sounded extremely sexual and freaked all of us out. When he came back, we had one piece of share amongst each other. Normally that would’ve been okay, but we were all going to our respective houses.

4. Awkward moment: After we were sexually solicited with cake, Andre came back over to ask us if we spoke to Alejandro, the manager. We realized that that was his name (he never introduced himself). He asked us if we didn’t mind telling him what Alejandro wanted. He seemed visibly relieved that he offered us cake. Maybe Andre had thought he would’ve been fired. We weren’t sure since by then, we just wanted to get out of there.”

We decided that being sexually propositioned with cake sounded like our kind of evening, and that none of the reviewers had a problem with the actual food being served (no food poisoning, bugs or fingers in the salad, etc), so we went.  The salmon was good, but a bit too strongly flavored for us.  For dessert, Mom ordered the mini dessert nachos, and after tasting that fried, caramelly goodness we decided that we’d have to come back and order the full plate.

We went to the opening ceremony, and snagged seats in the second row.  I can’t remember how it happened, but I got into a “don’t diss math” discussion with a con volunteer, Anton, who was sitting next to me and another volunteer whose name I can’t remember who was sitting in front of him.  It might have come about because Karl Schroeder, who was sitting in front of Mom, informed us that he hadn’t done well at all in high school math.  Then, when he went up to the stage to introduce himself, one of the con organizers stuck a fuzzy in his vacated seat.

The filk guest, Toyboat, performed a song for us, but they could have benefited from a more extensive sound check.  One of the guitars (or maybe the bass, I wasn’t paying attention) was much louder than all of the other instruments, even the electric drums.

After that, we went back to the room and I think this was around the time that Brother’s roommate’s mother decided that Brother had become a walking petri dish of disease who was going to get the whole hallway sick, and as a consequence, for the good of the college, Mom had to make Dad drive up to MA right now and remove Brother from the university premises for the good of all humanity.  Or something.  Roommate’s mother exhibited an almost fully developed inability to listen to reason, because not only did she discount the fact that brother had been going to the student health center for the past week and, if he’d really been dangerously contagious, they would have removed him for the good of all humanity, but also that Mom was in another freaking country, and as a result no, she really can’t answer her bloody phone.  At one point, roommate’s mother was calling Mom every fifteen minutes, despite the fact that Mom had told her to use email (the hotel had free wifi).

That particular saga continued over the entire weekend.


Friday, Casa Loma

We ate at some breakfast place with “golden” in the name.  It wasn’t that good.  I ordered a berry crepe because the fruit sounded good.  First, the waitress came back with pancakes.  Not cool. It seems like the older I get, the more lead-like pancakes get.  Hell if I was going to eat those right before hiking in and around Casa Loma.  So then I got the crepes, which featured disappointingly mushy fruit.  Gross.  I ate what I could and we agreed to never go back.

We dog-legged it up to Casa Loma, going College to Bloor-Yonge to Spadina to Dupont.  Luckily, the trains are both very simple (there being only two lines running through the area we were in) and very frequent (we never had to wait more than 5 minutes–often less–for the next train).  Many of the trains were your standard modular ones customized for easy transportation of the public, but the Spadina to Dupont one was…different.

Yeah.  We could see all the way down.

I snapped a quick picture before we had to get off, because the doors usually stayed open for the exact amount of time it took for the people wanting on and the people wanting off to switch places.  No room for stragglers or daydreamers on the Toronto subway.

We were paying attention, though, and disembarked in a timely manner.  The station and street we emerged onto looked a bit dodgy, but after we crossed under the train trestle it looked better.  We took the Baldwin steps up….

They seemed to be a  favorite with the area joggers.  A number of them passed us on the way up (we kept stopping to take pictures), and on the way back down, I saw a man doing some truly alarming leg warmup exercises at the foot of the stairs.

Casa Loma was built by “flamboyant entrepreneur” Sir Henry Pellatt in the early 1910’s.  He and his family only got to live in it, still unfinished (though Pellatt strikes me as the type who would never believe that his castle wouldn’t be improved with the addition of a few more rooms and maybe a couple extra horses or tropical plants), for about ten years before the yang caught up with his yin and he had to sell it off to the city of Toronto due to back taxes.

It looms!

Anyway, this 98-room extravaganza comes complete with a great hall, a library, greenhouse, tower, servants’ quarters, family suites, guest suites, a dining room, a study, secret passages connecting the study to the wine cellar and the second floor, a half-finished subterranean pool (the proposed design featured golden swans and skylights), and a tunnel connecting the main house to the stables and potting shed, because if you have to stock the greenhouse for your wife’s winter tea parties, you’re certainly not going to expose those plants to the harsh Canadian weather.

I think I've found where the bodies are buried.

They even had rooms down there for growing mushrooms and asparagus and other edibles that like the dark.  I mean, this guy really thought stuff through.

So.  Great hall:

Pellatt’s bedroom.  His wife had a suite all to herself.

Pellatt’s shower.  This was top o’ the line in 1914.  It has six spa-like side jets.  He needed a bath attendant to operate it, because the water temperature of each jet had to be tuned separately.

Ad for a similar device.  Also: only suited for the slimmest of flamboyant entrepreneurs.

Just looking at it makes my funny bone ache.

At one point we went into the wine cellar and saw the secret passageway to the study.  Took that up and found another one going to the second floor.  It’s around this point that we decided to explore the castle top-down.  Emerging onto the third floor hallway, we met a kid who’d just come down from the tower.  She told us that there’s a number of staircases, but it’s totally worth it.


We emerged into the attic.  After a bit of a wander, we realized that the only room not being used for storage of electric fans was this one:

Click to enlarge

Some of the beams were kind of low, but I’m kind of short, so it worked out.  We went up a couple stairs, and….

More stairs. Difficulty level: upped.

It continues....

The end

Well, the end of the staircases.  I went up to the last level, but I don’t have any pictures because the windows were only a few inches across and it really wasn’t interesting.  I’m not sure why Pellatt felt the need for a tower with teeny windows, but I guess flamboyant entrepreneurs don’t need reasons.

View of the roof from the penultimate landing:

We went back down.

Third floor hallway


Though actually, my favorite thing about Casa Loma is the role it played in WWII.  The whole mansion’s amazing, yes, but this story is awesome.  So, it’s WWII and London’s getting blitzed.  This means a number of problematic things, but the one we’re focusing on here is that the ASDIC manufacturing plant is rendered out of commission.  ASDICs, by the way, were early sonar devices that the allies used to detect German u-boats.  They were kind of important.  By this time, the Kiwanis Club had acquired possession of Casa Loma from the city of Toronto.  Somehow, a deal was struck between the allies in charge of ASDIC manufacturing and a few high-ranking Club members, because the Casa Loma became the home of the ASDIC devices for the rest of he war.  As one placard informed us: “Security experts today would have shuddered had they seen the one dollar padlock which was all that stood between the public and the secret operations.  Stragglers from the Casa Loma tours were kept away from the carriage room by a polite sign which read ‘Construction in progress.  Sorry for the inconvenience'”.

Yes.  They manufactured a crucial u-boat detecting device in a tourist attraction, and managed to get away with it without informing any but the highest-ranking Kiwanis Club members.  They didn’t even tell any government officials what was going on.  I like to think that this only worked because it’s Canada.  Hitler spent his spare time playing which would you rather with US economic targets, but Canada?  Meh.  Nothing going on, there.

Good-bye, Casa Loma.

For the interchange at Spadina, we had to traverse a long pedestrian walkway:

I've no clue who that guy is, but he makes the photo more awesome.

Bottom right corner, you can see the guts of an escalator.  They were piled all over the station, for some reason.

After that, we went back to the hotel and killed the few hours before the con.


So, I got back from SFcontario yesterday.  We didn’t just do the con; I’d never been in Toronto before so we did some touristy things, too.  I need more time to wrangle the photos for those, which is why I’m only covering Thursday right now.

Anyway.  We arrived at Pearson International early Thursday afternoon.  Took the 192 Rocket Bus to Kipling station, Kipling to Bloor-Yonge (pronounced “young”, for some reason), Bloor-Yonge to College.  Got off at College, ate a delicious chicken caesar wrap at the foot court, then legged it down to the Ramada.  International travel is hard work (haha), so I wanted to do nothing more than laze about and maybe sleep a bit.  However, I also wanted to hear Scalzi read a preview of his upcoming novel, Redshirts, at the library.  Scalzi won out, which is no surprise as he was half the reason I was in Toronto (the other half, if you’re wondering, was Schroeder).

So we grabbed a delicious dinner at a Chinese place which may or may not have been called Ho Jan (it’s the only one I can find on google maps after the fact) and legged it down College/Carlton st to the library.  The reading was being held in the basement, and I was delighted to find that the stairway down was lined with torches.

Canada, je t’aime.

I got my first experience of Scalzi in the flesh, and he was pretty much like I expected, but the photos and blog posts could not have prepared me for breadth and scope of his hand-gesture repertoire.  The reading was, quite simply, fabulous.  Someone else was supposed to come after Scalzi and do some stuff, but he was running late so Scalzi stuck around and answered questions, told funny stories about how people managed to take his April Fool’s joke a bit too seriously despite all the hints there’d been that it was totally not going to be made into a legit book, and pestered the students who’d come to get credit for a class.

Mother said I should have brought my book to get it signed, but by the end I couldn’t imagine summoning the energy required to stand around in the line.  So we left and I got to sleep, which was a better deal than Scalzi’d had, poor bugger.

Craft Show

Today we took Shu to the Philly Craft Show.  I don’t think we’ll make that mistake again.

She kept making snarky comments about the price tags.  I protested that we weren’t here to buy stuff, or judge the people who make the stuff, or to judge the people who buy the stuff the people make; but to look at what’s here to be looked at.  In a burst of inspiration, I said, “You don’t go the art museum and obsess over the price tags.  So don’t do that here.”  She said some crap about how the stuff in art museums is amazing, so she can believe that they warrant the ridiculous price tags.

I disagree, because I would be hard-pressed to walk away from three hours spent wandering an art museum with any increase in my sense of wonder at the ingenuity of human beings.  Art museums are frelling boring.  The craft show is better than an art museum because:

a) You’re allowed to touch.  You can touch the ceramics, try on the scarves, and tap these things with a finger nail because you’re not quite sure whether they’re made of glass or some sort of polymer resin.

b) If you still can’t tell what they’re made of, you can ask the dude who made them.  Go on.  He’s standing right there.  Strike up a conversation.  How else will you find out that this jewelry is made out of ancient bits of lace coated with metal?

c) And I swear, there’s always something interesting to learn or see.  I saw a booth of brightly-colored jewelry, and was about to skip it (because I find jewelry to be pretty boring), when a guy nearby asked me if I knew what it was made of.  I said no, and went in for a closer look.  Frelling Barbie Doll shoes, that’s what.

Yes, I know that the prices are astounding.  And that, fairly often, the artists sound wincingly pretentious.  And that many of these items do not serve a functional purpose, or if they did they wouldn’t serve it very well.  But if any of those things are occupying your mind while you gaze at the hauntingly beautiful scenes created in these fused glass pictures, then allow me to humbly suggest that you’re doing it very, very wrong.  I go to the craft show because there is beauty and wonder (yes, that’s paper cutting) to be found.  I’m not here to debate the meaning of art, because I think it’s all kind of a scam, anyway.  But there are people at that show who do unusual things with unexpected materials, or unconventional things with everyday materials.  Some have, apparently, devoted their lives to making the sort of kinetic sculpture which brings on a gigantic wave of nostalgia for when I visited the Franklin Institute as a kid.  Others have spent their time creating items of clothing which I can only think of as “thneeds“, but without the undercurrent of pointless environmental destruction.  There’s the sewing basket with a magnet hidden in the cover so that your little scissors don’t run away.  There’s the jewelry made out of pennies.  There’s the lighting fixtures made out of hand-made paper and nylon ribbing.  There’s the triptychs with intricate paintings which are mere centimeters across.

In short, it was way cool.

Taking Exams

I have to get this out of the way, first.  I told one of my bosses that I wasn’t going to be in to work tomorrow because I’ve got an exam.  He asked whether everything was ok.

New observation: you know you’ve gotten old when you hear the word “exam” and think of “medical examination” instead of “test-of-knowledge”.

So I’m taking the MFE tomorrow, and that’s bringing back memories of taking FM last year.  I’d taken FM for the first time in May (or June) of 2010 and failed.  This was the second go around, and I was anything but enthusiastic about studying for it along with completing my senior project for college.  Anyway, it was a computer-based test, which means that I’d get a preliminary pass or fail determination almost the moment I turned it in.

I passed.

I walked on air the whole way out of the testing area, into the room with the check-in desks where I gave them back my pencils and got my print-out stamped with some sort official seal, then into the hallway where I retrieved my purse from the locker and my coat from the…

My coat, my new coat, wasn’t hanging where it should have been.

In the end, it never made much sense because the testing center was the sort of place you only go to if you’ve got a few hundred to blow on the privilege of getting a chance to pass some sort of diabolical exam (which generally requires an even greater down-payment in textbooks, time, and education).  It’s not the sort of place where people routinely steal Old Navy pea coats on purpose, especially when there’s a Banana Republic one in the same size hanging a foot away.  In the end, the woman at the front desk took pity on me because it was cold out and I had on a t-shirt, so she let me take a too-large grey hoodie from the lost-and-found.

But it was pretty ok, because despite the sudden and unexpected loss of my coat, I’d still passed the frelling exam.  If I hadn’t passed, the loss of the coat would only have added insult to injury.

And frostbite.

I am not a proponent of Casett

This post started out as a list of shows that have been ruined by the addition of love triangles.  Then it turned into rant against Casett (I’m not active in the fan community, so I have no clue whether this is the accepted portmanteau for Beckett/Castle pairings).  Here goes:

I love Nathan Fillion, but that wasn’t enough to get me past the season two finale.  Castle’s into Beckett, and she knows it.  She refuses to go out with him, which is ok for me because I’d have problems with the pairing, anyway.  So she’s dating some sort of hunk (I don’t remember whether he was a detective, or a firefighter, or…), and then Castle said or did something which had her reconsidering.  So she dumped the hunk and went to go declare her love to Castle, except Castle goes, “Wait!  I have someone I want you to meet!” and then pulls his ex-wife into the picture. They’re going to be hanging out at his vacation house, apparently.

This is killing me for two reasons.  First, the love triangle is painful to watch.  Second, the writers have admitted that a Casett relationship is possible, which is so not cool.  I liked it when the attraction was one-sided; it made sense.  Castle is drawn to Beckett, both because she is an awesome person (also, he’s probably more than a little in love with the character he’s based off of her) and because he can’t have her.  Beckett likes Castle as a friend; he’s funny and smart, but he’s also impulsive and irresponsible and loves himself a bit too much.  She doesn’t actually want to date him, though, which is good because the relationship would never work.

Beckett and Castle spend a lot of time together because their jobs, for the moment, make it possible.  Beckett does her job and solves crimes, Castle does his and watches/(hinders/helps) her solve crimes.  The moment Castle gets bored with the Nikki Heat character, or the books tank, or someone in a position of power who isn’t one of Castle’s poker buddies decides that this whole civilian-writer-tailing-a-police-detective thing is wildly irresponsible, then Castle and Beckett won’t have an excuse to spend time together.

They need an excuse, too, because Beckett’s married to her job.  As soon as Castle ceases being part of it, she will be seeing much, much less of him.  I can just imagine it; Beckett comes home to Castle after a long day of work.  What do they talk about?  Castle, about the fictional murders he’s been fictionally solving all day, or Beckett, about the real murders she’s actually been trying to solve?  She’d get annoyed at him, because his murders are neat and clean and always have motives and closure, which is totally unrealistic.  He’d try to help solve her murders, which is a lot less charming when she has to feed him every detail she’s been banging her head on all day and then watch him rediscover every dead-end that she’s already run into.  Then he’d try to crack some jokes, maybe spin an implausible tale or two except it wouldn’t be amusing because she’s stressed and tired an he’s done the same thing a million times before.

And then there are the nights where Beckett doesn’t come home because she’s chasing a murderer, or a murderer’s chasing her, and Castle can’t be there.  Or the promotional events where Beckett’s dolled up but still doesn’t quite feel like she fits and then Castle makes a flirty comment to some other woman (or a couple other women because, let’s face it, he’s a bit like a hetero version of Captain Jack Harkness), and suddenly it’s not so easy to roll her eyes at his antics because he’s already got two ex-wives and they’re standing right there giving her a knowing look.

And that is why I stopped watching Castle, and why I am against Casett.  And love triangles.  Though that seems to have become a bit less relevant, now that I think about it.