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November 29, 2007

Through Darkest Boston….
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:06 PM * 71 comments

…with Car and GPS.

The other night I went to a High School Reception. In Boston. But to tell this story properly I must go back a month or so.

Last month we went to my elder daughter’s wedding. This took place in Pennsylvania. (See also: The Vanishing Gibson.) On the way down, I picked up one of those little after-market stick-on-the-windshield GPS navigators. I’d originally planned to pick up a Tom Tom (at the Staples in Littleton, on my way south), but when we got there we discovered that the Nextar x3-02 (which had been the same price as a Tom Tom the last time we’d been by there) was now a hundred bucks cheaper at around $200, so we got that instead.

The trip to Pennsylvania and back went smoothly enough, and we played with the device. It was pretty good on superhighways and in major metropolitan areas. When we got up to Colebrook, though, it sort of fell apart. A big problem seems to be in the maps that it relies on. Those come from Navteq (which apparently supplies the maps to a wide variety of automobile GPS systems), and in my little rural area there are missing roads, roads with wrong names, roads out of position … it’s a mess. I’ve been feeding in corrections at their website in an effort to make the thing useful around town, but it’s a slow process. No matter how hard I try, it won’t accept my actual home address. To find Home I punch in Center of Town and go from there.

Which brings us to last Tuesday. Last month I’d gotten an invitation to a reception for my old high school (Archbishop Stepinac), for alums who live in northern New England. The event was to be held at the Boston College Club, 100 Federal Street, Boston, 5:30-8:30 pm. I said I’d go. So, to test out the navigator, I just punched in the address and took off, with an hour of slop time built into my departure.

Down Rt. 3 I went in northern New Hampshire, with the little Nextar x3-02 telling me to make a U-turn if possible in 2.2 miles … 1.1 miles … half a mile. (It has a very cute little text-to-voice synthesizer.) “What da hey?” I thought, because there’s only one way to Boston from up here, and it’s south on Rt. 3. The point it was suggesting I turn around at arrived, and suddenly it was telling me to continue south on Rt. 3. (I wonder if, had I made a U-turn, I’d still be driving up and down Rt. 3? This morning, while testing it further driving from Colebrook to Canaan, VT (only one way to do that, and it’s north on 3) it kept telling me to make a U-turn if possible until I reached the point where it thought I should make the turn, then flipped and told me to continue north.)

Down the road I went, and it followed the route that I’d have chosen to get to Boston the fastest way. Rt. 3 to I—93, and I-93 the rest of the way. At Tilton, off to the east of the road, I saw the absolutely loveliest double rainbow. South I went. Rush hour commenced. Yes, I was going to hit downtown Boston right at the height of rush hour. Boston, famous for its—bizarre—roads and astounding drivers. I had deliberately not looked at a map in order to make this a challenge. Combat testing.

The test came very soon. I entered the Big Dig, and promptly lost satellite signal. The last instruction showing was to exit I-93 at Exit 23. So I did that. At the top of the ramp came a choice of Right or Left, with no cue from my little windshield-mounted device of which way to go. I chose Right, and went with the traffic while waiting for it to re-acquire and give me some guidance. It did, and told me to get on I-90 West, and take an immediate right. The entrance ramp to I-90 (the Mass Pike) was right in front of me. I got on, but there was no immediate right.

Westward I went. Eventually it told me to get off at Cambridge St. It sketched out a complicated way for me to get back onto I-90 East. I tried to follow it, but wound up being told to take a left when I was in the far-right lane, waiting at a light. This didn’t appeal, so I hung a quick right following the signs for Storrow Drive, which I figured would head me back toward where getting off at Exit 23 on I-93 would have placed me.

Following instructions I got off Storrow at Copley Square, thence to Commonwealth Avenue (an area I was more-or-less familiar with from going to Arisia at the Park Plaza all those years). Right on Arlington … when you get close to a turn the little map zooms to a close-up, with bar-graph on the right-hand side telling you how close to the turn you are … then “Turn left on Route 2 East.”

Route 2? What? There’s a Route 2 here? Oh, they must mean Boyleston Street… but by then I was past it. Recalculate the route … hey, that little text-to-voice synthesizer sure has an unusual idea of how “Essex Street” sounds.

Long story shorter: Got to the place, having burned the entire hour of slop time I’d built in. Pretty good for going somewhere I didn’t know how to find in rush hour Boston. There was a parking garage at the end of Federal Street, and that’s the first place in my life I ever had to show picture ID just to enter a public parking garage.

Up the street a ways, there was 100 Federal Street. Had to give my name to the security guard in the lobby. I was on a list he had. Elevator to the 36th floor, and there, in the Library of tthe Boston College Club, was … an open bar, and hot-and-cold running waiters with hot and cold meat-on-a-stick and mini-crab-cakes, and I don’t know what all.

Apparently some Men of Stepinac have done pretty well for themselves. There were around fifteen or twenty guys there by the time the evening was over, including one I recognized, my class. I rather liked high school, you must understand.

I was the only one there (other than Father Tom Collins, the golf coach) who wasn’t wearing a business suit (I was wearing squad pants, lumberjack boots, and an Aran sweater). I was one of two with a beard. No one else had a ponytail. I guess I’m an artist after all.

The big talk was about sports. (One of the fellows there was a retired NFL pro football player, y’see, and apparently sports is a big draw for new students.)

From the official Stepinac webpage: Varsity Football team defeats Christ The King in the CHSFL AA Championship Game.

I guess you had to have gone to Catholic School in order to understand that at first glance. (The link is actually to a screenshot from Miss Teresa’s “Xtreme Jesus” particle-link site.)

While I’m sure sports are important, for me the debate team was more important. Did I mention the theater? That’s really nice. The Major Bowes Theater (Gift, I suspect, of Major Bowes, of the original Amateur Hour). It’s a full proscenium stage, with theater seats and a balcony. Not just a stage at one end of the gym. Really good productions of good material. The extras in Child’s Play (with James Mason) all came from Stepinac.

For years Father T. J. McCaffery was the drama coach. People who know me will have heard T. J. stories. Some of our graduates who went from the Drama Club to acting were Alan Alda and Jon Voight. T.J. taught Religion. I recall his comments when he went to see Jon’s movie Midnight Cowboy, back when it came out. Basically—he praised the acting.

Other famous graduates: Captain Lou Albano.

Right now enrollment is 620, they’re trying to build that up to 750. A year at Stepinac costs around $7K in tuition, books, and fees … a bit less than half of what Iona or Fordham Prep cost. Everyone’s happy that we’re operating in the black. Stepinac students have a 98% acceptance rate into college.

Which gets to the next bit. Where folks were talking about where various teachers are now. (A surprising number are still there. Including Electron Ron Tedesco. Hey, I still have my copy of Basic Radio…!) But no one seemed to know where Vinnie Straka was.

Vincent Straka was my junior-year English teacher. Some years ago, I visited Stepinac one summer, with my wife, my elder daughter, and my god daughter. I walked in and said, “I”m back, and I brought women!” Well, I asked around then, and no one knew where Vinnie Straka was then, either. No students were around, just some of the teachers. Someone thought he was in New Jersey. No one knew anything else.

Let’s see… I tried on-line searches. No luck.

I dedicated The Apocalypse Door (my most overtly Catholic novel, as opposed to the others which are all Crypto-Catholic) to him. That was in 2002.

Well, yesterday I went on line again and Googled on Vincent Straka. Three hits from sites that weren’t written in Slovakian. All from this year.

First, from the Pequannock Township Board of Education, in January:

RESOLVED, that the Board of Education, upon recommendation of the Superintendent, approves a paid medical leave of absence for Vincent Straka….

That didn’t look good. The next didn’t look much better. From February, Township of Pequannock:

MOMENT OF SILENCE - In Memory of Vincent Straka. … [Mr. Vulcz] also told how students and faculty were saddened by the death of long-time English teacher Mr. Vincent Straka.

Third, this very brief obit, from February 1st:

VINCENT A. STRAKA, 62, of Butler died Monday. He had been an English teacher at Pequannock High School, where he worked for 26 years, and was a member of the New Jersey Education Association and the Morris County Education Association. He was a graduate of Fordham University, where he also received earned a master’s degree. He was a member of the Wildlife Conservation Society and a volunteer at the Patch Center, Pompton Lakes. Arrangements: M. John Scanlan Funeral Home, Pompton Plains section of Pequannock.

But I didn’t find that out until yesterday.

Getting out of Boston was simple. Out of the parking garage, hung a right, then another right, and straight on toward South Station. Followed the signs for I-93 North. I was already on I-93 before the GPS found a satellite lock. I drove home through an increasingly cold night; the rain that had given me the rainbow in the afternoon had turned to freezing rain, then snow. Driving got tricky. Franconia Notch was hellacious. I got home about an hour later than I expected, and slept late yesterday. Then I hit the web, researched as above, and now write this post.

Bottom line: The GPS is an amusing toy; next time I’ll get a higher class one, though this one is serving my simple needs. And this copy of The Apocalypse Door that I’ve been saving in case I ever got Vinnie’s address so I could sign it and send him a copy, so he’d know that I’d stayed awake in class … y’know, he must have been just 24 or 25 back when he was teaching me.

I don’t know if he has any family. None’s mentioned, though there are some hints. A Straka, Robert, of Pequannock, NJ, US, patented a high-bran snack food. A Vincent Straka, Jr. is searching for relatives of Valentine Andrew Straka and Margaret Molchan who left Lipany for the United States around 1916. There was a Mass Remembrance on June 10, requested by the Kalan Family. I could find out.

One more note: Over at, June 17th, someone named Lizzie says to someone named JoMo (a student at Pequannock) “yeah i loved what you said about straka, i think your speech was 10x’s better than the super’s
haha he talked about toasters for twenty minutes.”

JoMo’s 19. Must have been graduation.

Maybe JoMo can tell me something.

Comments on Through Darkest Boston....:
#1 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 11:38 PM:

We've got a Garmin windshield-mounted GPS and while it's useful in most cities, it's gotten us gloriously lost in the mountains and on country roads. Tall buildings also confuse it. And when you don't drive the way it expects you to go, it says, "re CAL culating" with the sort of snide sigh you'd expect from Marvin the depressed robot.

#2 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 11:38 PM:

I was glad I went to my 20-year reunion, because my sophomore English teacher was there; she died several (five, six?) years after that, still relatively young (in her sixties). "Julius Caesar" and "By the Waters of Babylon" and "Locksley Hall" ....

As for the street maps used for GPS ... they aren't any better when you meet them up close, trying to find something with a photo behind the stuff. (Why I work with the centerlines invisible: I may need the names, but I don't want to see that cr*ppy data they're using for the centerlines.)

#3 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2007, 11:57 PM:

Good grief. It should have told you to get off at the previous exit (Government Center) then follow the signs to Congress Street going south. You'd be at Federal in five minutes, given normal traffic.

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 01:00 AM:

Back in 2003 I posted a poem written by a guy named Taylor Mali that was in praise of teachers. I led into it by mentioning (by name) the best one I'd ever had. Damned if my former teacher didn't Google himself and turn up in my comments two years later to say hello and thank you.

I know some people with GPS gadgets out here, but when the maximum driving distance is about 100 miles and it's only doable on one or two roads, it doesn't seem all that necessary.

#5 ::: JaniceG ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 01:03 AM:

Uh-oh... We're staying in Boston for a few days after Smofcon and as I swore that the next time I drove in Boston I would do it with GPS, we've ordered it on the rental car. Makes me worry if the maps are going to be outdated or the signal is going to be lost in the parts of the city that I need it most! Luckily, my company's office is fairly easy to find in Burlington but that's not the part of the city that has in the past reduced me to tears. Pray for me... :->

#6 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 01:53 AM:

I bought a Miro or Mico or some name like that at Circuit City's Black Friday morning sale, for $99.99 plus tax (I didn't buy the touchscreen laptop I'd been eying the previous week, and was feeling like contributing to the economy that day, so...). It's sort of amusing and I expect will prove itself useful over time.

#7 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 01:54 AM:

Sat-nav is notoriously broken.

Here in the UK, it's common for heavy trucks to be directed down totally inappropriate roads. Though weight limits aren't on paper maps either, people using sat-nav don't seem to notice road signs.

Sometimes the "roads" aren't suitable for any vehicles that isn't built for off-road use. For sundry legal reasons, they might be a "highway".

#8 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 02:09 AM:

Sun's buildings actually are very clearly visible from US 3 between route 128 (I-93) and the route 62 exit, though getting to them from US 3 involved get off at the route 62 exit, turn right at the light at the bottom off the offramp, and tak a right at multilane road, then look for a complex of buildings on the right....

Another alternative is to take Middlesex Turnpike north from 128 (I-95) instead of US 3, and head north until coming to a weirdly shaped intersction; the Middlesex Pike -used- to go straight, but the roads geometry got changed so that most of the traffic gets persuaded to bear left. The first true left after that, is the driveway up to the main entrance of the Sun complex.... There's a Thai restaurant on the eastern side of the intersection, that long ago was a Pewter Pot Muffin Shop, when that chain existed....
Burlington is a completely different locality than Boston. It's an incorporated town with thousands and thousands of residents, in in a completely different Congressional district than Boston, is on it own sewer and water systems I believe (as opposed to water from Quabbin Reservoir out in the western part of the stateand sewage to Deer Island out in Boston Harbor/Massachusetts Bay), has its own town library and town hall and police and fire station and its own Building 19 1/2 salvage/overstock/random junk store, has FREE PARKING!!! -- unlike Boston....

#9 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 02:13 AM:

Some philosophers claim that if a technology is ever developed that can map Boston, the city will instantaneously disappear and be replaced by something even more incomprehensible.

Others say that this has already happened.

Yet others point at the Big Dig. One might quibble about the definition of "instantaneously". In fact most of the tunnel "construction" occurred on the winter solstice of 1999, at the moment of Algol's rising, in a semicontrolled chthonic deliquescence which left twelve dead and nearly eighty in states of indelible trauma. All the Big Dig work up until that moment consisted of ley mapping and geometric analysis; all the work that followed was to drain the poisoned fluids from the Earth and shore up the passages that remained.

Fortunately, the Dig Event geometry proliferated within 20% of planned bounds, and the routes that resulted were acceptable for traffic control. With a few obvious exceptions.

Why the Big Dig? Conspiracy theorists point at nearly eleven million cubic feet of charged superfluidic waste, currently trying to eat through its gold-lined restrainment pools beneath Fort Knox. And indeed the Department of Defense's esoterica divisions (if not most of the individual researchers) have benefitted greatly from the stuff. But the primary aim, as noted above, was to make Boston unmappable -- not just in practice, but in theory.

The tunnels of the Big Dig do not go where Google tells you they go. Route 93 is 27% shorter than naive geometry permits, beneath Boston proper. Three of its entrance ramp-tunnels emerge in the wrong order -- not that anyone has noticed. If you were to dig straight up from the site of the tragic 2006 accident[*], you would not emerge in Boston at all, but in the strictly concealed district of Braintree, MA which gave that town its cognomen in the dark summer of 1640.

To explicate the details further would only muddy the situation. (And the map. And potentially snarl rush-hour traffic for the next fortnight.) The point is, twenty-first century Boston is entirely immune to sympathetic and parasympathetic curses. Any sketch you make will become inaccurate before you can stick a thumbtack (or, to recall history, a drop of Ogoun-dedicated molasses) into it. As a pilot test of psychodefensive architectonics, the Big Dig has been a resounding success, and similar projects will undoubtedly be swung into play throughout the world before the Critical Date of 2012.

[* The accident was, after all that, utterly non-esoteric in origin. Against the sins of building contractors, the Old Ones themselves struggle in vain.]

#10 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 02:28 AM:

And what at that subway named Moebius?!

#11 ::: John at UConn ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 03:57 AM:

I used a Mio c320 to navigate from Northeastern CT to the (amazing) Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, then to an apartment in Roxbury. No problems, no other navigation used. It was amazing. The Mio is amazingly fast at recalculating, and getting signal, and managed to extrapolate my position through the Big Dig on the way home.

#12 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 04:11 AM:

Andrew Plotkin #9: Stone me! And I thought it was a classic of its kind when the local Minister for Railway Stuff-ups explained how the contractors for the Perth Underground had managed to route half a mile of the city loop through the Twilight Zone.

(Apparently construction had to be abandoned at that point for reasons not entirely unconnected with squamosity and rugoseness, but the Minister was not explicit upon the point, and was in any case overtaken with an attack of shouting in tongues, which is standard for political discourse here. A spokesman later explained that the reference to goats and their prolific progeny was either caused by the Minister mistaking her brief for that of the Minister for Agribusiness*, or else was meant as a description of the Leader of the Opposition.)

*Brief, not briefs. I mean, we explained about that regrettable misunderstanding last week. Sheesh!

#13 ::: Liz D. ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 04:42 AM:

Once upon a time, I thought I was a pretty good navigator, with an inborn sense of direction.

Then my daughter enrolled in a college in Massachusetts, and we rented a car at Logan and embarked on a voyage of....the damned. Several times.

Turns out I navigate well when (a) the sun is visible (b) there are landmarks, as there are in "hills to the west, bay to the east" -- you are on the San Francisco Peninsula.

Anyway, on daughter-delivery-to-college in August, we rented a car with a Garmin GPS system. Worked great for the airport to general vicinity of college, but since college town was having a spasm of surface road re-working...couldn't get there from here.

Eventually we learned (a) by direct reckoning, how to get from motel to dorm and (b) if buggered up on other expeditions, pull over, find the local street address, and re-set the danged thing.

Back home in California, Tom-tom works great except in downtown San Francisco, where the high-rises block satellite access. And Tom-tom doesn't have the world-weary voice that announces "recalculating" if you don't perform as expected.

#14 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 06:54 AM:

Yeah, Boston's a bit... well, it's totally barking mad, actually. I've learned to drive there by teaching myself a set number of routes through the city and then slowly expanding them by trying new things when traffic's slow, and by studying aerial images of my route before I leave. It's a process.

I'm in eastern PA for work right now. Eastern PA and Jersey confuse me, so I got a GPS unit with my rental car. So far it's told me to go through a washed out bridge, to make a left turn through a concrete Jersey barrier, and to drive several miles over a dirt road. (I'd do the dirt road in my Jetta just fine, but the rental car -- not so much. Low clearance.)

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:06 AM:

One problem with satnav systems is new subdivisions. It took months before my current address appeared on some maps (leading to one of my wife's relatives being misdirected by her satnav).

#16 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 07:35 AM:

"At the Mountains of Madness" has an amusing scene where the protagonist, being chased by a shoggoth, madly gibbers out stops on the Boston Red Line subway ("Harvard - Central - Kendal - Park, Harvard - Central - Kendal - Park").

Lovecraft would never have been able to do that today. The shoggoth would be stopped by "switching problems" long before it actually reached our terrified hero; and everyone would ignore Cthulhu's, uh, MBTA chairman Grabauskis's, announcements on the PA urging all toward terra terra terra.

#17 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:05 AM:

Boston's roads are clearly modeled on the Great Pentacle of London -- not the well known elder sigil that is the M25 motorway, but the underground one, tunneling through plague pits and graveyards, that is the Jubilee Line Extension.

Apropos Dave Bell's comments about satnav and trucks in rural England, the stereotyped story is of the 38-ton Polish farm produce truck that gets wedged between the dry-stone walls of a single track country lane, because the driver -- who speaks Polish and fluent Russian and a smattering of Serbo-Croat -- trusts the satnav when it says it'll take him to the M6 motorway (which, in fact, it would take him under by way of a tunnel with a 10' height clearance -- but that's another story). And the other story concerns the 25-year-old blonde in the £120,000 Mercedes who follows her satnav all the way down a dirt track into a shallow river because she thinks it leads to the country hotel Sir Rupert has hired for the wedding reception.

#18 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:13 AM:

Technology never replaces situational awareness.

#19 ::: Beth Friedman ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:23 AM:

I recently succumbed to the lure of GPS units and bought a Garmin Nuvi 250 when Costco had them at $300 ($100 off). But I'm about to return it, because Costco then offered the Garmin Nuvi 650 (slightly snazzier, with MP3 player) for the same price. (For any Costco members, the 650 is $300 at least until 10 December.)

I used it this week to find a place out in the boondocks (the wilds of Shorewood, MN), and it guided me perfectly, modulo one "reCALculating" when I wanted to take Highway 5 rather than Highway 7. The hardest part of any trip for me seems to be once I get off the main drag and have to find the actual location, and this worked very well for that.

I'm now in possession of an antique German spinning wheel that I think can be made functional with the repacement of the belt and the foot connector thingie. Oh, and it came with a hank of something ancient that I think might be flax.

#20 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 08:46 AM:

We have a Magellan Maestro, which I love for long-distance trips, or finding my way around urban areas.

Rural Southern Arizona is pretty much a disaster. It insists that the best route for me to take into Tucson is up a road that is surveyed but doesn't actually exist except as a jeep track. And it steadfastly ignores the actual main route.

And it also won't accept my home address.

The key here is when the maps in the thing were last updated, I think. You can find that out by going online and checking the model number. New GPS units have the newest Navsat maps. Older ones (the ones on sale....) have older map files. Allegedly the makers will put a map update online for the beasts, but they seem to have figured out that they can make money if you have to buy a new unit to get newer maps.

Still, I do love the thing.

#21 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:03 AM:

First, I use a Garmin GPS. It is a "handheld" model made for hikers (i.e. it is small and designed to conserve the batteries). But it also has "autorouting" and turn by turn directions for cars. The only thing is it doesn't talk to you, it just beeps when a turn is coming up, and displays the upcoming turn and which path you're supposed to take. That doesn't bother me. But some may want voice prompting, so you'll have to prioritize what's most important.

(Garmin Model 76CS Plus, for those keeping score)

Second, I downloaded what Garmin calls "high resolution" maps. These are limited by the amount of space available in the internal, nonvolatale memory. I was able to dump about a fifth of the entire united states into its memory. (And this is an older model, newer models likely have more memory). Garmin's maps are good. Really good. Seriously good. I have used this thing to get around in some of the craziest cities, and it has never led me astray.

The unit comes with a basic map of the entire US in ROM. But it can only do autorouting and turn-by-turn directions on whatever high resolution maps you download into its memory. if you don't have a high res map for that area, all you can do is display where you are, but it won't be able to tell you to turn right at the next light. So don't cheap out on memory.

Third, I always, always use an external antenna and (cigarette lighter for power) when in a car. I've used this thing without the external antenna, and it has a tough time finding satelites when it is inside a faraday cage with windows. Get an external magnetically mounted antenna, with about 10 feet of cabling, and just run it between the door frame and door and slap it on your roof. You'll find satellite reception skyrockets. There has been maybe one or two spots where I'm driving down a street with 40 story sky scrapers all around me, where the reception goes on the blink, but an external antenna is still a major improvement over an antenna on the back fo the device, sitting on your dashboard.

If you're getting a GPS, (christmas is coming ya know), I'd recommend a Garmin brand just for the high quality maps, and get an externally mounted antenna for your car, for way better reception.

#22 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:28 AM:

Hmmm. I get around New England with an eight year old Garmin V plus, with 6 year old maps (the new maps aren't broken down small enough to do the kind of routing I need, so I haven't bothered to update). It has gotten me to Blood Drives and Red Cross teaching assignments fine, with the exception of streets that it doesn't know exist. It was way useful on big disaster assignments where I didn't know the territory at all (but did keep trying to send me across broken bridges).
It doesn't have much memory (I can store most of inside-495, but just barely), but I can load disjunct map sets so I have both ends of a journey (with some minor problems). For modern Boston driving, I set it to off-road mode so it just points an arrow and shows the distance (I learned to drive around Boston, I know a lot of the basic topology once I get out of the big-dig).
I do use a good external antenna, which helps a lot in urban canyons and tree covered New England roads. It's waterproof, so I can use it boating, bicycling, or hiking (I've got mounts for the bike and the kayak).
It hooks to the ham radio in my pickup and you can find out where I am if I turn on beaconing. I can also do this with a hand-held radio - useful occasionally when doing first aid on public events. Funny how I'm willing to let people I know and random strangers keep tabs on me when I'd be very pissed if the Govt. was doing it.

#23 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:36 AM:

High school reunionish thing is a downtown Alumni Club, and you wear field boots and whacker pants? Deliberate statement, or just default clothing? At the Bethel Inn for Thanksgiving there were several people in clean jeans and nice flannel shirts (rural dress casual?).
But, much more important, did they make a decent Gibson at the Alumni Club?

#24 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:39 AM:

Charlie Stross #17:

There is also the Great Sigil of Atlanta which causes drivers to lose all ability to drive, and which causes discomfiture through an arcane spell known as the Multiple Peachtree (there's also the Simple Peachtree, which has been known to turn Damyankees -- everyone who isn't a Southerner -- into gibbering idiots). Personally, I blame it all on an alliance of Huitzilopochtli, Cthulhu, and Creflo.

An ancient prophecy says that it will only lose its malign power on the day that Jim Wootten and Neal Boortz simultaneously say something sensible.

#25 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:46 AM:

I have weird (but good) memories of the Boston area, sometimes even because of the traffic. Directions like "take the last left before the air force base" don't help when it's 1 in the morning, snowing, and the map you've got is one of the Hertz courtesy ones. The armed guard accepted "Oh, um, I guess it was the last left then...". Which was nice.

After it stopped snowing, I used to cycle from Bedford to Burlington. The oddest thing on the route was an old Irish telephone box (1960s - one of the ones with an A and a B button), fixed in front of someone's house. The owners'd even superglued some change to the shelf. I left 20p.

But what was really weird about the traffic in Boston was that it wasn't terribly bad at all, Big Dig and all. I found that Dublin was (and is) much worse. The hardest time I had was getting the car out of the hire lot: you'd be amazed how few cars over here have parking brakes in the footwell. Actually, I'd never heard them called parking brakes in the first place, which made using the index of the car manual very frustrating ("H, h, heating system? Where's the hand brake?")

Charlie Stross #17:
GPS isn't a required part of dumb transport decisions. A computer company I worked for changed its policy about not letting tech support have access to spare parts after the centralised system sent a truck-trailer down a cul-de-sac to deliver a sound-card-to-CDROM connection cable.

#26 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 09:59 AM:

My single attempt to use GPS navigation was in Boston in the summer of 2005. We were there for the marriage of Eva's niece, which was a huge family affair, as it was also de facto a party to celebrate the groom getting his PhD and the bride getting post-PhD employment. I'd rented a nice big car since Eva and I were traveling with my MIL, who was 86 at the time and needed to use a wheelchair for distances of more than a few hundred feet. As I hadn't driven in Boston in more than 20 years I accepted the GPS extra, figuring I would get an idea of how useful it actually was.

We got into Boston about 3 in the afternoon. The GPS wasn't a satnav system, so it demanded a bit more of my attention than I was comfortable giving it, being stuck in afternoon rush hour traffic after getting off the freeway interstate onto Storrow Drive. We were headed into Cambridge, just off Harvard Square, and so, of course, I got stuck in the wrong lane and ended up heading west again, in the wrong direction. In irritation and desperation* I ignored the GPS map and just navigated by the compass. Reverting to Boston Driver Survival Mode, I cut into the one lane that might get me somewhere I wanted to be, earning the undying hatred of several drivers whom I left an additional car length from their destinations.

We finally got to the hotel, where I parked the car. We didn't use it again until we went to the airport 4 days later, where I was told that someone in the hotel parking lot had dinged it, and was eventually sent a bill for $400 in repairs. The wedding, however, was great fun, and the then bride and groom will be staying at our house next month for our younger son's marriage. They'll have a lot less trouble navigating in Portland no matter what system they use.

* A truly self-defeating mix of emotions

#27 ::: Terry (in Germany) ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 10:21 AM:

A friend of mine found out (IIR the details C) that one of his beloved instructors had died when he was looking at his Lj inerets, and saw one of them was no longer unique to him.

That person was related to the teacher, whom she told him had died.

#28 ::: Terry (in Germany) ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 10:27 AM:

I like driving in Boston. Then again, I seem to deal well with long-term exposure to near death experiences.

On the other hand, I can't find way around. I tried to follow the map to get from Boston to Ayre, three time, three different ways of not being on the right roads.

#29 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 10:27 AM:

I was amused last week when, on a trip to Technik Museum Speyer, my parents' Magellan GPS said "make an unauthorized U-turn". (We didn't; we were approaching the museum entrance, and I suspect the waypoint it was using was on the museum grounds but not at the actual entrance.)

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 10:37 AM:

Andrew @ 9

My cubie says that if we're ever invaded, Boston is probably safe.

#31 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 11:01 AM:

Route 93 is 27% shorter than naive geometry permits, beneath Boston proper.

Of course it is.

#32 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 11:12 AM:

John #23:

I actually own a pair of dress pants (that I got for my daughter's wedding) but ... well, rural casual is about right. It's a very nice (dark grey) cable-knit Aran sweater. Boots is what I wear. I've got the lumberjack boots and the lineman's boots. (I do own some low-cut shoes, and there're around here somewhere.) Given the weather on the way back, I was glad to be dressed for it.

No, I didn't even ask for a Gibson. I was planning to drive in Boston traffic (then into the teeth of a threatened ice storm) after leaving. If I were somewhere in walking distance, that's one thing. Driving ... you know the deal. If you go to an accident after midnight and you don't find a drunk, keep looking: you haven't found all your patients.

#33 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 11:15 AM:

BTW, speaking of clothing, Abp. Stepinac HS is the reason I can tie a four-in-hand necktie in about two seconds flat, while running, and get the ends to come out even.

#34 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 11:37 AM:

Jon Meltzer #16: "Harvard - Central - Kendall - Park"

Hie thee hence, you leafy narc!

(I've been taking the Red Line daily for a year, and that has me permanently earwormed.)

#35 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 11:46 AM:

I got my wife a Garmin Nuvi 350 for Christmas last year, and she swears it's the best gift she's ever gotten. And Liz D, that "recalculating" announcement when you blow a turn, does sound ever-so-faintly exasperated.

#36 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 11:57 AM:

Boston is the only city that so far has been able to break my Garmin (and thus, by extension, me). Not even London could do that. Which is saying something, believe me.

A couple months ago I was trying to get to a place very near where Jim was just going, and had the exact same experience. I finally gave up and just went by sight, because I could *see* the building I was headed for, I just couldn't *get* there.

When I first got my Garmin last year (best Xmas present EVER), I switched it to the British voice b/c I figured I would rather have an Englishwoman sigh "reCALculating" at me than a Michigander. This came in handy for my most recent UK excursion, as I was well used to what it meant by "enter roundabout and take fourth exit".

So far the Garmin (StreetPilot i5) has been far more useful than not. The PNW has been the dodgiest, strangely enough -- I don't know if it's because the satellites are positioned so they tend to disappear behind mountains or what, but in both Seattle and Portland it kept losing the signal even with no big buildings anywhere near me. But overall I daresay it's saved my sanity, as traveling to places I haven't been before, but need to arrive at on time and with my wits about me is my livelihood. It *definitely* made this last trip to England possible, b/c after the last time, no way in HELL I was putting myself (or my bandmates) through that again.

(Oh, and Andrew #9: thanks so much for the history lesson. It all makes sense now!! ;)

#37 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 12:33 PM:

Here in the UK, it's common for heavy trucks to be directed down totally inappropriate roads.

In Boston, the highways along north and south sides of the Charles River are cars only; if a somewhat larger vehicle deigns to trespass, it will be dealt with mercilessly by the 9' high overpasses. Every August the news media stakes out the bridges in the certainty that a naive college student will run a U-Haul into a bridge somewhere near BU or MIT. This year the b0st0n [sic] LiveJournal group held a hit-the-bridge pool. There was a winner the first day that dorms opened.

It's bad enough that the exit signs in the Big Dig tunnel direct Route 3 traffic onto Storrow Drive without giving a height warning; I keep expecting some semi driver heading to New Hampshire to hit the Longfellow Bridge. But, now, we have portable devices to lure people onto inappropriate highways ...

#38 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 12:46 PM:

It once took me eight hours to get home from Boston. Home being Providence, fifty miles away. It felt like some all-powerful demon kept rearranging the streets just before I got to them to keep me trapped in the tunnels. Seriously nightmarish.

#39 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 01:02 PM:

Jim (32):
4-5 hours drive to Boston to hang out with some folks from your HS, and you then drove back home?

Fond of highway driving?

#40 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 01:25 PM:

Paula Lieberman at #8: Burlington is a completely different locality than Boston...and {has} its own Building 19 1/2 salvage/overstock/random junk store....

Hey, now: thanks for the tip.
But how has it come to pass that I've been to two ReaderCons, and nobody ever told me this? I may need to dispatch a stern note to the Committee.

#41 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 01:33 PM:

Fond of highway driving?

Fonder still of two-lane blacktop driving.

#42 ::: Duncan J Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 01:46 PM:

To All In General:

I've got a Garmin i3 Streetpilot -- obtained for my wife (she's a school bus driver, and goes on field trips, and needed one that could work off of AA batteries, since the busses don't have auxiliary 12 VDC outlets.

Now for the war story -- speaking of combat testing -- which we were. Two years ago I took the family ona driving trip in Europe. Now, I'd been stationed there (in bella Napoli!) and had done some driving around, but nothing like what was scheduled.

Paris to Dijon to Innsbruck to Venice to Rome to Turin to Paris.

Lucy did very well in every situation except Turin (which is where she got her name "Loopy Lucy", 'cause Lucy's got some 'splainin' to do!)

The i3 stores its map data on a micro-SD card. I bought the European version of the map software, and found a 1 GByte micro-SD, and managed to squeeze France, Italy, Germany, and Austria onto that card (just not all at the same time).

We had fun. While we were in Dijon, we had some free time, so we found the Cathedral of Mary Magdalene, and figured we'd go. (How many 8th century chapels are there in the US?) I turned on the i3, and scrolled through the list of Points of Interest -- and found the Cathedral, so away we went.

I'm not sure if my wife ever opened her eyes on the drive up to the top of the hill where the cathedral is located (all good fortifications should command the high ground, yes?) but it is a good thing that the Citroen C8 minivan that we were driving has power-folding outside mirrors. Otherwise, we'd never have gotten up that street.

So, now I have stood on the very steps where Richard the Lionheart stood where the Third Crusade began, and I've got pictures of the Reliquary of Mary Magdalene.

#43 ::: pb ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 01:49 PM:

Maybe it's because I've lived here nearly 30 years, but driving in and around Boston doesn't upset me. It's kind of relaxing in a way, like solving a puzzle. Except when I cross into Somerville. There's something spooky about that town, because the instant I go over the town line, I become completely and hopelessly lost.

#44 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 03:20 PM:

I love our GPS navigator. It does the job that used to be mine by default, and for all its flaws it does that job so much better than I can that I would cry hot tears of despair if it ever got broken or lost.

#45 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 04:20 PM:

pb #43:

I'm beginning to conclude that every city has its own "default grid"--not necessarily a real grid, but rather a way of laying out the streets. When you go from one town to another, and they don't have the same sort of grid, lostness ensues. I remember what happened when I visited Florence after living for a while in Venice--I kept getting lost in the newer section, but as soon as I got into the Centro Storico, I was well-grounded. There are a couple of spots here in Austin that I call "Bermuda Triangles", because they are indeed triangular; within those areas, directions don't seem to work; all you can do is memorize all the turns. North isn't north, it's more like west, and stuff like that.

#46 ::: Melissa (oddharmonic) ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 05:09 PM:

joann @45:

I wonder if those triangles are an artifact of Texas roads; there are several spots like that in north Dallas. Addison is full of them, even navigating by foot with a handheld GPS unit. (The area is chockablock with geocaches and geodetic benchmarks.)

#47 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 05:47 PM:

Melissa #46:

Not necessarily. As I have noted before, the worst of these is in the Bay Area, down at the bottom of the Bay. There is a spot where 101 takes a sort of bend as you go south, and from there on, all my logical directions stop having anything useful to do with the actual directions. And then it does it again. Not to mention the whole bit of 280 turning into 680.

I spent a couple days in Dallas last week, and encountered no weirdness, but then I didn't venture further west than the Galleria. There are definite strangenesses involving the Cedar Springs/Live Oak district, and the area around Fitzhugh/Knox/Henderson and anything they intersect--my directions to my husband for getting to Jimmy's for Italian groceries involved "take this exit, go left, and then it's ... somewhere." But none of that is as bad as the multiple intersecting grids on the interface between Seattle's Space Needle area and downtown. (Hmm. I wonder if some GPS failures in Portland and Seattle can be put down to the quadrant system?)

#48 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2007, 11:19 PM:

Jon@37: September pools may be the equivalent of clench-racing, but there are idiots to bet on all year round. Somewhere in the Globe archives is a picture of my first serious conductor crawling out the passenger window of his car because the truckload of apples next to him tried to go under the Magazine St. footbridge. The truck box ~exploded; if he'd opened the door, or tried the drivers'-side door, he would have had a car full of smashed apples

pb@43: After 34 years driving in the area, I can deal with Somerville if I have to, but it's never going to be easy; there are too many rail lines slicing the city lengthwise, and not enough bridges over them.

I hadn't read enough to realize that the large units work off of memory. Does anyone have experience with the navigation systems that will converse with your cellphone? I'm guessing these consult a central source (which may also be out-of-date -- cf Map*.com once trying to put me on a road that a shopping center had eaten several years before) because some of the cellphones the system is offered on don't have much memory and because it was described as staying connected for the entire route (and wouldn't that eat up the minutes!).

#49 ::: Fibrowitch ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 02:00 AM:

Hi, your name popped up on my rss feed for Arisia (doing registration, and I google alerts blogs that mention Arisia just in case some one is upset with us)

Just thought I would mention that Rt 3 through Colebrook use to be an undivided highway, single road with only a double line. I wonder if the GPS still thinks it is.

And Route 2 starts a the state house. Because we are weird out here. Hope to see you at Arisia, I'll be behind the registration desk.

#50 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 05:18 AM:

Rt. 3 through Colebrook is still a two-lane blacktop road with a double-yellow line.

#51 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 07:10 AM:

@43, @48: Somerville's biggest traffic problem (for non-residents) is its "if you don't know where you are, you don't belong here" attitude toward street signs. Only the cross streets are marked; not the main ones.

#52 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 07:07 PM:

Jon #51 That street-sign problem is also common in Sydney. You can be walking/riding for ages trying to figure out what the big street you're on is, while all the cross-streets are labelled.

My 'guidance system' is usually some photocopied pages from my Gregory's Guide or one of my other street directories. I'd like to take the whole book, but my bag's already too heavy.

#53 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2007, 01:02 AM:

Since I rarely drive more than five miles from my condo, I can't imagine needing a GPS. Once every couple of months I see a specialist and I know how to get to their clinics and the area around them. The last time I went anywhere remote, I just made two Google maps. I'm really good at looking at maps and remembering what they show.

#54 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2007, 01:13 PM:

Re each city having its own grid:

The street name pattern in Minneapolis made no sense to me until I realized it has 5 quadrants rather than 4, as the downtown portion of the grid curves with the river.

These days I am in the Omaha suburbs, which on a large scale follow the same pattern as most cities in the regions of the US that were surveyed by townships and sections -- regular N/S and E/W roads at mile and usually half-mile intervals. But between them are curving and twisting lanes and cul-de-sacs, not just for the typical residential subdivisions but even for the strip malls and office parks and warehouses. At least many of the streets are named systematically.

#55 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2007, 01:15 PM:

When I saw the thread title on the main page, my first thought was, "What the hell kind of new security theater have the Boston authorities done now?"

#56 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2007, 11:54 PM:

Jim, out of curiosity, when did you graduate Stepinac? I ask because my father is an alumnus, probably (based on his age) class of '64. (Feel free to email me if you don't want to air further details in public.)

#57 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 12:45 AM:

Betsey -- I'm Class of '72.

(Don't change Dicks in the middle of a screw! Vote for Nixon in '72!)

#58 ::: astronautgo ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2007, 07:54 AM:

There was a parking garage at the end of Federal Street, and that’s the first place in my life I ever had to show picture ID just to enter a public parking garage.

It is Boston. Lucky you didn't have any exposed wiring or printed circuit boards showing in your car. They'd have shut down the city for ten blocks around and charged you with a bomb hoax.

Also, hi, nice to meet you, sort of, though I didn't know I was meeting you at the time. I was the guy in the black suit behind the desk. ("Certainly! Coat room's over here, and then you're going to be in the Library, which is across the way, and to the right.")

#59 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2007, 12:09 AM:

[I could have sworn I replied last night...]

Jim, thanks.

(Just as well; if I'd discovered that you went to high school with my father, I think my head would have imploded with the force of the worlds colliding. Although I suppose it would help to establish me as being a Real Person, as opposed to animated footwear. [Although I suppose footwear would have to post more frequently, and more contentiously, than I do.])

#60 ::: Joe Moloughney ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2008, 11:02 PM:

Google is a great little toy, isn't it? My friend, "Mr. Vulcz," was googling himself and came across this and suggested that I check it out.

I'm "JoMo" (a simple combination of my first and last names). I, among many other youths, was a student and admirer of Mr. Straka. If there's anything you still don't know, I would be more than happy to offer any information I may have.

I check my email regularly. Good luck!

#61 ::: fidelio wonders--spam or get-out-the-word campaign ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2010, 09:01 AM:

Posts identical, or closely so, to Meferuite's just above have appeared today all over the place, according to Google. There's no link-back, in this post, but one wonders--or at least, I do.

#62 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2010, 08:55 PM:

Steve C. @35 said: I got my wife a Garmin Nuvi 350 for Christmas last year, and she swears it's the best gift she's ever gotten. And Liz D, that "recalculating" announcement when you blow a turn, does sound ever-so-faintly exasperated.

Only in the extremely snotty, default American voice, and to a lesser extent the British. The Australian is much nicer. :-> Plus, as noted above, it does amusing things to street names (among the Chicagoland suite that are particularly amusingly mangled: Lamon, Mannheim).

In re the 'Route 2' issue: I had no idea that 95th St in Chicago is officially (at least on my GPS's Navteq maps) "Ulysses S Grant Memorial Highway" until we got a GPS and tried to go to my grandma's house. I zoomed way in, realized it was between 94th and 96th, and went, "Huh, that's odd."

It also consistently thinks certain streets are reliably fast and arterial when they're NOT and the REAL artery is two blocks over. And if I take the real artery it tells me to dogleg over, persistently, for miles, which is durned annoying.

I still wouldn't trade it for the world, though, as a fairly permanently disoriented person. It's even valuable on some routes I take regularly -- when going to a friend's house party in Joliet, it's a relief to come out of mild boring-road-trance and not have to worry that I've missed the exit.

#63 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2010, 10:14 PM:

My Garmin GPS definitely does some odd things with names. I remember one time it pronounced a street name one way when announcing it as an upcoming exit, and then a different way when I'd exited and was about to turn onto it.

The name thing that I really like is when it's announcing an exit onto a Farm-to-Market road (of which there are quite a number in Texas). These are abbreviated "FM". In some circumstances, the Garmin expands abbreviations -- e.g., if taking an interchange to US 24, say, it'll say "United States 24" instead of "US 24". When exiting Beltway 610 to the main street nearest where I live, therefore, it'll instruct me to exit onto "Federated States of Micronesia 1093".

#64 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2010, 10:59 PM:

They ought to teach it to use 'Farm Road' or Ranch Road', whichever is appropriate. (I expect them to have someone in the company who understands the fine points.)

#65 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2010, 11:08 PM:

Our Tom Tom (the new device) expands Br (as in George Washington Br) not to Bridge but to Branch.

Which is kinda fun.

We got the Tom Tom when the Nextar's screen got broken. And since then we've added the little TMC/RDS antenna, for traffic condition updates, and have had some of the best experiences getting into and out of Boston and NYC that we've ever had.

#66 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2010, 09:26 AM:

P J Evans @66: I think it's an artifact of how the data is coded on the map, and not something that's been individually checked by a human.

Because there are way too many times in Chicago it says to "Turn left onto Street Louis Street" and other unpacking failures (like FM and Br). Then there was the time it told me to turn onto "Monarch Doctor." Refreshing, since the day before it'd said "onto Drive Martin Luther King Junior Drive" ...

Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, and you wouldn't want a GPS infested by hobgoblins, would you? :->

I'm told TomTom has a variety of highly amusing voices available for it (e.g. John Cleese, GlaDOS), and that it also encodes for easter eggs in the voices (when John Cleese has had to 'recalculate' too many times in quick succession, there's a 2-minute taunting queued).

#67 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2010, 09:48 AM:

GlaDOS? So the directions would be even more of a lie than usual?

#68 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2010, 10:16 AM:

Only when she's recakeulating.

#69 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2010, 10:19 AM:

"And when I'm lying, you'll be/Still a-drive."

#70 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2010, 10:23 AM:

I wonder if she says "I'm not even angry" when she recalculates.

#71 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2010, 10:37 AM:

If you fail to make the suggested turn, she says in a deadly quiet voice, "Fine."

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