19 July 2000
Conolulu and Vacation Report
I attended Westercon 53, 'Conolulu', in Honolulu, Hawaii, over the 4th of July weekend, and made it a vacation of sorts by arriving a couple days before and staying a few days after, allowing time for sight-seeing both on Oahu and the Big Island of Hawaii. Just before the trip I bought a digital camera (an Olympus D-460), with the thought that it would be fun to snap pics and post them to this website as on-the-spot convention coverage. This editorial is a combination convention report, technology report, and vacation report.
Technology report. The photo of the Locus Awards winners on this page was the only one I posted from the con. It's fun to snap pics with a digital camera; you can take as many as you want without worrying about film and developing costs. On the other hand, there are technological considerations that affect the ease of getting photographs from the camera onto a website. First of all, you can control the resolution that the camera records exposures. This affects how many exposures will fit onto a single memory ('SmartMedia') card. (I didn't buy any extras.) Using a medium resolution, which saves each exposure as a jpg file 1280x960 pixels in size, the memory card holds 36 exposures. So in practice using the digital camera was similar to using a conventional film camera; every three dozen exposures I had to stop and reset the camera. Instead of loading a new roll of film, this meant connecting the camera to my laptop PC via a serial cable and downloading the 36 graphic images using software supplied with the camera. This took about 10 minutes. Then the memory card could be wiped and re-used.
Of course, I don't need 1280x960 images for website images, and there's no reason to take such high-resolution photographs (or even higher) unless one plans to make hardcopies, which I don't. Next time I might as well record at a lower resolution. Another problem with files of that size is that each exposure results in a jpg file about 200KB in size. I took about 200 pictures during the trip. That's a lot of bytes stuck on my laptop...
Convention report. Convention? What convention? It was a small convention, no more than a couple hundred people I'd guess, easily swallowed up by the tourist crowds in the hotel, who were mostly Japanese. The convention took place at the Sheraton Waikiki, the prominent curved, mustard-colored structure in the photo at right. (This one is a scan from a postcard, not a picture that I took. Click each thumbnail to see a larger image.)
Vacation report. Interesting facts (i.e., things I didn't know until I got there): Waikiki, one of the most famous beaches in the world, is not all that big, less than a mile long. The sand was imported from Molokai, one of the other Hawaiian islands. Until early in the 20th century, the Waikiki area was a swamp; then a drainage canal was built, a canal that creates essentially a peninsula, making access to Waikiki possible only from the west and east, not from directly inland, the north.
Diamond Head, the distinctive promontory visible in virtually every photograph of Waikiki, is a crater -- it's round, from above. (I got a great view of it from my window seat as my plane arrived midday.) It's 700+ feet above sea level at the top, and there's a trail you can hike up, from the interior of the crater.
Convention report. The hotel was spacious and there were more, faster, elevators (five on each side of the elevator lobby) than at any convention hotel I remember. We saw two or three Japanese wedding parties pass through the hotel every day. Programming was held on the second floor, where the meeting rooms looked directly out at the pool deck and the ocean beyond. (It was not sunny every day.) There was a restaurant on the 30th floor, offering spectacular views of the beach,
and the convention suite was brilliantly located on the hotel's top, 31st, floor, directly above the pool area and providing revealing views of the beach, the rock and coral visible through the shallow water just offshore, and the colors of the water. One day a school fish, appearing from above as a dark, shifting blob, was visible just offshore; up close in the water, the individual fish were only about an inch long.
There was only one track of programming. Events ranged from panels on local Hawaii authors, art techniques demonstrated by guest-of-honor Ctein, and discussions of 1999 in review and the importance of short stories. Events I looked into were moderately well attended, considering the allure of the beach and water outside...crowded though it usually was. Of course, pro's were just as likely to be found in the bar sipping Mai Tais...
The Locus Awards banquet on Sunday evening was well-attended, and the feast included roast suckling pig. The plaques given the winners were handsomely designed with an outline of the island of Oahu. David Hartwell was up on stage three times, each time in a different Hawaiian shirt.
Vacation report. Following the convention Charles Brown and I flew to the Big Island of Hawaii for four days. I had been to Maui before, and now Oahu, but the Big Island was like neither of those.
Our first stop was a homey Bed and Breakfast near Volcanoes National Park. Interesting facts I had not known: there are five more-or-less active volcanoes on the island, not just the big two, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The National Park is situated around the caldera of one of the other three, called Kilauea, which lies part-way up the southern slope of Mauna Loa at about the 4000 foot level, and the climate zone there is rainforest. It drizzled most of the two days we were there. (There's a sixth volcano, still submerged, south of the island; in 10,000 - 100,000 years it's expected to emerge and substantially enlarge the island's size.) We drove around the main caldera, walked through a lava tube, visited the museum, and (technology report) I used the 'macro' setting of my camera to take close-ups of some wildflowers.
From the caldera you drive a 20 mile road down to the coast, past craters and through bleak lava landscapes, where signs warn against harming the nene birds and signal passage across the "Lava flow of 1978" or "Lava flow of 1969". The road ends along the rugged shore several miles from the active eruption (it's been active for about 20 years now), and ominous signs discourage casual hikers from making the trek without adequate water and other supplies. We were no nearer than about 4 miles from the visible plume of steam (last photo).
After two days we drove around the south end of the island, taking a memorable detour to South Point, the southern tip of the island and the southernmost point in the US. The ten-mile road got narrower and narrower until it almost disappeared, and at the end was a scene straight out of Myst, a barren landscape decorated with enigmatic artifacts. From the end, it's 7500 miles south to Antarctica.
Our final destination was a luxury resort on the island's northwest coast, The Orchid at Mauna Lani. This part of the island resembles the surface of the moon, with the several resorts along the coast standing like oases amid the 19th century lava flows (from Mauna Loa and Kaupulehu) and scrub brush. There are no beaches to speak of, but the resorts are self-contained, with golf courses, swimming pools, and shops. There's little reason to do anything but sit by the pool day after day and indulge at the restaurants. We weren't the only SF people visiting after Westercon; Tom and Tanya Doherty were there, and so were a few fans. At Brown's Beach House the Dohertys, Charles, and I had dinner as the sun set, spectacularly, and the Hula dancer danced; the next night Charles and I went back and were rewarded with another sunset just as terrific...
On the last morning -- July 8 -- I drove us into Kona to stop at the local Borders and buy my copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Then we drove the Belt Road north to Waimea and the Parker Ranch area (which produces most of Hawaii's beef), took a sidetrip to peer down into the Waipio Valley, then drove south down the Hamakua Coast on the northeast side of the island. I was disappointed (having been to Maui) that this windward coast was not more lush, and admit to being somewhat disappointed with the Big Island overall, excepting the volcanoes. (Alas, the roads up Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa were either inaccessible due to brush fires or prohibited for use in rental cars.) For scenery, I'd return to Maui -- or, from everything I've heard, try Kauai next.
Our planes left late that night (and were packed). I got about 75 pages of Harry read before falling asleep.
Technology report. The camera is fun, but it hasn't made the process of getting pictures onto the website quite as easy as I'd hoped. It took most of two evenings to select pictures for this page, re-size them, and create the thumbnails (not to mention moving them from my laptop to my desktop PC); it can't have been much less time than it would have been to get regular prints developed and scan them for the website. (And prints have the advantage of being easier to show to friends.) Maybe I'll try again at Worldcon...
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