Postcard Madness

Blogging here from Perlick's couch in NYC; I'm heading out to lunch with him and Probe in just a bit. Yay wireless! My sister has no connection--she actually checks email from the public library. Somebody needs to tell her that nowadays that's on a par with having a party line for your telephone connection.

Well, I ran out of time this year to send out a full set of holiday cards—I managed to get a bunch out by December 23rd, but I had to triage a bunch of people (e.g., the ones I saw/am seeing in person over the holidays). But if you’re one of them, don’t despair! I’m sending you a cool postcard from New York City instead!

Partially for my own records, I wanted to write down something about these postcards. I wandered into the Barnes & Noble near Lincoln Center, and they had a rack of postcards that are Not the Standard Shots (i.e., here’s the Brooklyn Bridge, here’s the Empire State Building, here’s the Statue of Liberty). Instead, they are unusual and artful shots that are still distinctly New York locations. For instance, the one on the lower left is a shot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge lit up at night—how neat is that? The Verrazano is awesome; it was the longest bridge in the world from 1964 until 1981 (took over from the Golden Gate when it was built). It is the one that runs between Staten Island and Brooklyn; it has a really clean 1950/60’s Modern design, a lot like the Whitestone Bridge. And I think the postcard on the top left (clouds over the Manhattan Bridge) looks almost like a Magritte painting (although the bridge tower needs a bowler hat floating above it or something). To give mad props where they are due, these cards are by Konstantino Hatzisarros/Psaris Productions.

I have sent out 77 postcards this year. Yup, I keep track. And I bet that level of anal retention is hardly a surprise for most of you. Apologies if I am bursting any recipient’s “I am a beautiful and unique snowflake” fantasy—-I send out a lot of friggin’ postcards (mostly because I travel too much). Anyway, I’m short of my annual record of 80 (back from 2003: let’s see if I can fire off four more by Saturday!

[Edit: 4 more postcards!]


Home for the Holidays

As promised, some tales of Christmas on Long Island with the family. No real laugh-out-loud conflicts this year; just some bemused observations.

It’s Christmas day, and I’m spending the evening running simulations for work/thesis (my overdue report). Don’t worry, it’s not as much as a hardship as it might sound like; I have been looking for things to keep myself occupied. After writing Christmas cards, doing several loads of laundry, flushing the hot water heater, multiple blog posts, setting up my mom’s new fridge, rebuilding the kitchen faucet, and replacing the drinking water filters, I have finally reached the breaking point of going back to work on my thesis. My current goal is to get this report done (or done enough) that I can hang out in the City without too much guilt.

Back at home, dad gets into the Christmas spirit, but unfortunately, he is the only one in the family in that camp. So he sits in the living room alone playing a record of Perry Como singing carols at ninety-year-old-Florida-driver speed. I’m not sure what my mom and sister are doing, but my answer is an iPod and Bose noise-cancelling headphones. Then, dad returns to his all-day-sports-watching marathons.

And on to gifts--as I mentioned earlier, my sister and I have the gift exchange down to its perfunctory essentials—gift certificates, Amazon wishlists, cash, done. Mom got me a calendar (um, anybody want a 2007 puppy calendar?), and an offer to take me out clothing shopping. As for dad… well, he has been following the same pattern for several years now. He buys me books that, to be honest, would appeal to the high school “me,” rather than to the person I am now. This year included Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination, and The Art and History of Stan Winston Studios (the guys who did production design on Terminator, Alien, Predator, Edward Scissorhands, and many other). The books are mildly diverting, and fun for a brief read. But looking at the pile of books my dad has gotten me for Christmas for the past five years, I realize that the only time I read them is the few days after Christmas. So far, sentimentality has kept me from selling them on eBay, although they just sit in a pile, unread.

I spent some time walking around the neighborhood, just to get out of the house and feel like I’m doing something. Many of the nearby lots are now scrapers (i.e., level the house, and build a huge McMansion right up to the lot lines), or had major additions bolted on to them. To add to the Trend of Tacky, some houses went nuts with oversized inflatable Christmas decorations (see this recent New York Times article on this topic). This is the land of monster houses, SUVs, and inflatable decorations, with their fans whining away-—get me the hell out of here!

[Dammit... photo-posting feature is broken. I have a shot that actually captures a monster house, with two SUVs in the driveway, and two inflatable decorations with rotating motorized parts inside. Woo!]


The BatBerry!

If anyone needs to reach me stateside, I bought a BlackBerry Pearl from T-Mobile, as I threatened to do before. The number is my 617 VoIP number, plus 3,486,038.

Even though I have not yet activated the data package (e.g., web browsing and email), I am pretty impressed by the Pearl. The camera is quite serviceable for "I want to gather basic visual information," the display and interface is great--I just keep on getting into new features, and saying, "Wow, that's so not dumb!" And the thing is bloody tiny--I have a photo comparing it to my current phone, but Blogger isn't letting me upload right now.

Incidentally, does anyone have recommendations for a contact manager to go with the BB? I thought that RIM would have a software package that does this on the PC end, but I haven't come across it yet. I don't run Outlook right now, although it seems like it integrates into the BB, if you add a plug-in. Anyone use ACT! ? Or have other recommendations?


Season's Greetings!

This was a post that I abandoned as a draft a few weeks ago; it seemed appropriate to finish it for the holidays. Back in Canada, I was walking by the local sex shop, and their sidewalk sign made me laugh:

These guys are a local area sex shop chain; see their very corporate "History and Mission" page: Growing The Stag Shop Brand: The Stag Shop brand has grown tremendously to fifteen stores across Southwestern Ontario and an impressive online business that sells Stag Shop products internationally.

I've never gone into one, but they have always struck me as less of a seedy straight up porn store, but rather a place for couples to buy "You want me to wear what?!?" outfits for their little games--e.g.:

What are we playing tonight?

Um... how about, uh, Zamboni driver and the last figure skater on the ice?

Nah... we did that last week. How about your Little Bo Peep outfit?

In the wash.


How about "Landlady and the handy tenant?"

Oh yeah, sounds good!

Okay, I'll stop now.


Laundry Eit

During this three-week YYZ-BOS-MSP-LGA-YYZ trip, I’ve been lugging loads of stuff on my back (including Christmas gifts); however, periodic laundry is still necessary to stay in clean underwear. So I ran two loads at JMD’s place; as I pulled some clothing out of the dryer, I noticed that it had a distinctly odd smell.

Not a fresh laundry smell… a little bit rank… uh… what’s that still rattling around in the dryer? Oh… looks like a little stone, or maybe… oh, a partially dissolved multivitamin, that I must have left in a pocket. I usually take my vitamins with my other meds, like niacin for cholesterol control (1000 mg twice/day), and, uh…

Aw, crap. Yeah, I guess that smell was a fishy smell. I’m guessing that the pill partially dissolved in the washing machine (it is enteric coated), and then melted and redistributed in the dryer. After two rewashings, my fleece vest only sorta smells like I used it to wrap up a mackerel for a few days. Any advice for odor removal? Lemon juice? Baking soda?

Also--JMD, I hope that dryer doesn't have a fishy odor now.

Anybody know Swedish?

Because I'd love to know what Swedish is for "El Camino."

This seriously pimped out (heh) Volvo was found by my buddy Psycho Security Guard (who is in the Minneapolis area). Too funny. Note that the liftback window is just hanging from hinges from the roof, and the wind can totally whip around inside the cabin. Seems like Minneapolis is one of those places where you wouldn't want to try this modification.

Hey U-Boat and Christy--whaddaya say? Might make it easier to haul kiteboards and bikes, right? You might not even need to remove them before pulling the car into the garage!

A Catch-Up Summary

As you can probably tell from the lack of recent posts, I’ve been going non-stop for this week of travel since I left; I’m currently writing this on my MSP-LGA flight. Admittedly, it has been both work and socializing—e.g., “I really need to catch up with him/her while I’m in town with a free evening.” I’ve barely had time to read the newspaper beyond the headlines, write Christmas cards (although I’ve been carrying them through Cambridge, New Hampshire, Westford, Arlington, Minneapolis, and now New York), or even enter phone numbers into my new phone.

  • I had about as perfect of a homecoming to Boston as I could wish for—got off the plane, rode to South Station, walked to Brehznev’s, and got a plate of scallion pancakes with a bunch of folks. I got to hang out with Morton, Sarah, and Guy over at Tep afterwards; Morton and Sarah showed off progress on their house. As a side note, however, I think that the slogan for the Silver Line will need to be, “Like the Green Line, but even suckier!” Slow, jerky ride, overcrowded, badly routed. When the luggage racks are in use coming back from the airport, and there are people standing in the aisle of the bus, it turns into an uncoordinated clusterfuck (people don’t want to get off, so others can’t extract their bags…). At least they have Charlie Card ticket machines at the Logan terminals, so I didn’t get screwed as per last time.

  • Took the train up to see Bird & Jen, and to hang out and check out their new kitchen. Got the best Christmas present evah from them (although the humor might be lost on folks who didn’t grow up in the New York tri-state area): a ceramic version of the Greek corner restaurant paper coffee cup! There's even a seam where the original seam is on the paper version!

  • Since work is paying for this travel, it was time to head down to a day-long meeting at the office, followed by smaller meetings and the office Christmas party. My coworkers and their families all came into town; one of them asked if I had any Canadian honies crying over my departure from K-W. I replied with my practiced line, “Well, short fat dorky guys like me are definitely not in hot demand--we really don’t draw much market share. If guys were sodas, I’d probably be friggin' Shasta or something.”
  • By fortuitous coincidence, U-Boat and Christy were in Boston, and they organized a power dinner at India Samraat. As you can see, they seriously pull in the crowds (well, that, and the central location).

  • My former boss and my advisor are doing a series of building science seminars around the country, and they bring a member of the firm along for logistics support (taking attendance, audio visual, running out to buy video tapes). I got to do the job for the Minneapolis show: although I’ve seen them both present plenty of times, it’s really good to see two people I know and respect at the top of their game. The audience was about 50 people; it included lots of business colleagues/friends that I was happy to catch up with.
  • Hopped onto the Minneapolis Light Rail (an awesome little system, BTW—they have funky three-section cars; the short middle section holds the middle wheel trucks) to link up with Psycho Security Guard, and meet his wife and two year old daughter. Stayed up late drinking Scotch (he is building up a serious collection, like me), and he got me to the airport the next day.
I am now stuck in Long Island burb world on dialup; actively looking for things to keep me occupied--I’ll be here for 12 days. I’ll keep you posted as the entertaining family conflicts and stories roll in.


Going Wheels Up

I'm going to be heading out for my Boston-Minneapolis-New York holiday trip in a little over twelve hours, now--my airport shuttle picks me up after noon. But I have not finished the report/thesis chapter that was supposed to get done before I leave. Suck. It looks like I'm failing the "return either with your shield or on it" test (Don't worry--in reality, my mom doesn't have this attitude towards my academic performance. Well, not anymore at least).

Well, looking forward to being in Boston. Scallion pies! Yay!


Christmas Shopping

Oh, the intersection of the holidays and dealing with odd relatives has started early for me this year. My sister and I have been corresponding over gifts for our parents, as well as for each other. My sister and I don't really have much in common, or know each other very well by this point. So our gift exchange for the past five years has been perfunctory and whatever the opposite word is for "heartfelt": stuff off my Amazon list, and a Barnes and Nobles gift card. Well, I got this email today:

I got "The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating," so you can take it off your wish list.

In terms of my gift, I had to buy a score of "The Nutcracker" because it was checked out of the library. If you would like to pay for it, it was about $25 ($24.47 plus 8.375% tax).

I realize that this is, for all logistical purposes, about the same as a gift card. But it seems like a particularly (but amusingly) socially clueless way to do gift exchanges. Just to be a wise-ass, I might ask her if she can send up a receipt ;)--after all, it was $26.52, to be exact with tax.

Oy. Survival plan for New York: hide in my room working on a conference paper or thesis, and go to the City to hang out with Perlick and Air Force Guy.

Food Wackiness

Oh no, it's another 'Bats Goes to the Asian Food Store' post.

I know my way around Asian food stores well enough that I seldom run across surprises. But I saw this can on the shelf this weekend... I wondered...


Oh. Yikes.

Now, I occasionally revel in eating bug-like things. Like grilled amaebi (sweet shrimp) head. Or pickled tiny whole shrimp. Or playing Jabba the Hut when eating fried soft shell crab ([crunch crunch] HO HO HO HO HO).

But "Silkworm Pupa Seasoned With Soy Sauce and Sugar" is a bit much for me, thanks. Yeah, I know... wuss.


A Weekend Edition Sunday Morning

Stumbled my way out of bed this morning, powered up the laptop, and kicked on WBUR on iTunes. While half awake/half reading the Times headlines/half listening, I heard a story about egg nog recipes.

Wait... he sounds like Alton.

I am removing a dewar of liquid nitrogen...

It is Alton! Awesome. Here's the story, if you're interested.

They also had an interview with the songwriter Jonathan Coulton, who has been doing a new-song-every-week project. They played his song Code Monkey--very funny and cute; a worthwhile use of 3 minutes of your time. It's my understanding that it was a pretty hot netmeme/download for a while, but I missed it the first time.

Code Monkey like Fritos
Code Monkey like Tab and Mountain Dew

Hey Boston locals--he's playing in Somerville and Cambridge on Tuesday (12th)! Also, his merch page is pretty good--hey Christy, they have a cool squid T-shirt!

Speaking of net stuff I missed the first time around, has everyone seen the Evite page for the War in Iraq? Very funny, in a rueful filled-with-hindsight way:

Hello World Leaders! Come join us, The United States, as we wage war on Iraq, November 14th in Bagdad! It should be a good time: CNN is coming, and we have some really cool new missiles and stuff. Saddam is totally evil, so you're not going to want to miss this!!!!

If you don't know how to get to Iraq, you can see a map here, or you can call Dick at his secure, undisclosed location for directions (202-774-0471). Please RSVP so we know how much pizza to order.

And, of course, the US and Britain are the only ones replying "Yes."


Grump grump grump (Thesis Progress)

I had another meeting with my advisor this afternoon, to talk through the modeling work I've been cranking on. It was another productive and good meeting... the good news is that he is ok with my approach. The bad news is that he laid out what still needs to be done, and it's way more than what I can finish in the next three days. Crap. We promised this report to the client before the end of the year, so it looks like I'm going to be working on this material throughout my trip to Boston and Minneapolis. Too bad I couldn't meet with my advisor about a week ago; I needed his input before I could take the next step. He was out of the country then; I sent him some email, but he didn't get time to look at it.

I'm going to a colleague's holiday party tonight. I don't really feel like going to a party. But then again, I don't particularly feel like getting work done either.

[Update 12:08 AM]: Okay, feeling a bit better after the party; good to head out and be social for a while. Even if there were a few of the standard uncomfortable party moments ("Shit shit shit.. what's her name again?"), hanging out, having a few laughs and several drinks was quite helpful. It was an interesting brief overlap with the tribe of Women Who Wear Pointy Toe High Heel Shoes. ("Um, are those going to look as silly as I think they will in five years? And more importantly, are they as uncomfortable as I think they are? How often do you trip over the tips when you're climbing stairs? Enh... wear 'em if you want, but gimme a woman wearin' formal flats any day. Or hikings boots. Rawr.")


A Recipe Recommendation (Butterflied Chicken)

To continue the food geekery posts, I had Dan and Daniel over for dinner, and wanted to share the recipe I used. I broiled up a chicken, using Alton Brown's Broiled, Butterflied Chicken Recipe; also made oven-roasted rutabagas, Japanese pumpkin (kabocha), and califlower--a very wintery meal. A fun evening, and great company.

Butterflying chicken (or spatchcocking--a cool word learned from Dan) is a pretty neat procedure--it makes the oddly-shaped chicken into a flat plane that cooks much more quickly and evenly. Also, using poultry shears to de-backbone a carcass is friggin' cool--a good reason to have one. [cronch cronch] After removing the backbone, you open it up like a book, and remove the keelbone (at the center of the breast) to make it lie flat. The step of stuffing flavorants under the skin (cracked black peppercorns, garlic, olive oil, salt) worked really well.

Oh yeah... a picture. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures tonight, but this is the Pollo Al Mattone (Chicken under a brick) that I made out at U5's a few years ago; similarly butterflied, er, spatchcocked.

Yes kids--you too can play "Wicked Witch of the East" with your food!

Yeah, I should be running simulations and writing instead. Arg. Anyway, seven wakeups, and I'm on a plane to Boston. See you folks in town soon!

Food Geekery!

Awesome! Harold McGee (author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen) now has a column in the New York Times!

This occasional column, the Curious Cook, will be a window on that big and busy world, on the endless intricacies of foods and the ingenuity of the people who make them and study them. The column is meant to share the buzz, to pass along news of interesting scientific research on food, cooking and eating.

He's such a geek, which definitely makes him part of our tribe, as shown by his story of how he got into the field of popularizing food science:

It was 30 years ago in a university library that I first stumbled across the scientific approach to food in the pages of Cereal Chemistry, The Journal of Food Science and similar publications. As I browsed through a couple of issues I couldn’t help grinning at the incongruity of high scientific language and high-tech instrumentation being applied to utterly ordinary, everyday things. It was strangely exhilarating to see such intellectual firepower aimed at the kneading of bread dough or the grilling of a hamburger or the mitigation of the gassy effects of beans, to be confronted with startling scanning-electron-microscope close-ups of the bacteria in yogurt, the mold in blue cheese, the surface of cooked spaghetti.
Now, after three decades and two books about the science of cooking, that initially strange literature is familiar territory to me — familiar and still full of surprises. My heart leaps when I collect my mail and spot the blue-sky cover of The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Incidentally, this week's column is about garlic with green spots, and why they can turn foods bluish-turquoise when mixed in.

As a final note, I have found that the combination of Alton Brown's Good Eats and On Food and Cooking is great for learning food science. Alton shows the basics of the concept with practical examples, and has these great visuals to cement the ideas in your mind (e.g., showing the action of lactobacteria using sock puppets, or using clear tubes filled with D-cell batteries to symbolize the starch forms amylose and amylopectin). Then you can delve into a few pages of McGee to get the full story.

McGee's book is also an excellent reason for why I haven't bothered to hook up my television. How can half an hour of sitcoms (80% filler, 20% good zingers, on a good day) compete with, "Man... I should really know this stuff... time to bone up on the Maillard reaction"?


Yikes... getting more real....

I just booked the movers for going from Canada back to Boston today. Yikes.

They're coming to pick up my stuff on January 29th, and it should be delivered on February 2-5, 2007. Dates are on my Google calendar.

Man... it feels weird... I really am moving back to Boston. It's starting to sink in.


Kitchen Wet Zone Design Geekery

To be honest, I really wanted to write this post just so that people could complain, "Fer chrissakes, Bats, you've blogged about everything but the kitchen si... oh fuck you!" The again, looking at my archives, it appears that I already have. Ah well.

I recently had the landlord replace the crappy kitchen faucet: it leaked at the tap, both hot and cold, even after replacing the washers; the valve stem packing was shot (i.e., water weeped out from the handles whenever it was on); the entire assembly wobbled freely due to nuts that had corroded off; and it leaked water into the cabinet. I asked him to replace it with a basic single-handle design, and that's what I got. I don't understand why anyone would want a two handle unit--slapping open the faucet with back of your hand when your fingers are covered with chicken goop or other unpleasantness is the way to go.

I realized that the sink setup is as good as it will get in a rental apartment like this, so I wanted to take the opportunity to geek out about kitchen design. The "wet zone" that I refer to comes from Kitchens for Cooks (Deborah Krasner). Instead of talking about the "work triangle" (fridge/sink/stove), more current kitchen designers think of sections that are wet/dry/hot/or cold work stations.

I have talked about my overall kitchen design philosophy in the past--the "power area" kitchen work station, with everything within arm's reach--i.e., comparable to a cockpit or air trafffic control workstation. As a result, I wince when I see kitchens with purely decorative/non-functional elements that inhibit efficiency, smack dab in the main work space. To continue the analogy I used above, "...yes, that's a very nice jar of colored pasta on display, but I CAN'T SEE MY GODDAMN ALTIMETER!. Alternately, you can call me a "counter space fascist." I believe that there is a lot of ergonomic/functional similarity between a kitchen and a woodworking shop--it's just that the medium is different.

But back to the wet zone. I installed a drain rack above the sink on a whim--it was something being tossed in the trash. It has turned out to be a big help for organization: I can store washing implements that will drain into the sink, as shown. Also, it is useful if I'm scrubbing potatoes or other vegetables--it gives me a place to stage them out of. If I was doing it again in a fancy kitchen, I might see if I could find stainless steel perforated stock or grating.

It reminds me a bit of the drainrack shown in that book I mentioned: it is a vertically oriented dish drainage/storage rack that drains into the sink. Seems like a pretty slick space-saving design, as long as cleaning out the collected crud is not too painful.

I'm very happy with the replacement strainer basket that I bought at an Asian food store--I asked, "why the heck haven't I used these before?!" Specifically, normal sink strainer baskets do two jobs badly (strain out solids, and block the sink for filling). I have found that they often slip out of place and unintentionally block off the sink at the worst times possible. Instead, I leave this strainer basket in place (which fits cleanly over the opening), and periodically knock out the collected bits into the compost bin.

You might ask, "well, how about a disposal instead?" Well, the more I understand garbage disposals, the less I favor them. For instance, there was a great story on Marketplace, on how Thanksgiving is the single most busy day for plumbers, due to disposal abuse. As a plumber describes it:

People think the garbage disposals are wood chippers and they overfeed 'em. Drains clog. You wind up cutting out sections of drains just to get through to what has gone wrong. ... In short, think of how you feel after the typical Thanksgiving dinner. Now think of your plumbing trying to digest 10 times as much turkey, bones included, potato peels, stuffing .... And what's really nice is the mix of smells and colors and tastes as you're pulling it out. So, you can get, oh, I don't know, Ajax mixed with turkey and then a little bit of Drano to stir that up. Then some pumpkin pie mashed in.

Also, I know I had this discussion on one blog or LJ, but there was the debate on which is less environmentally damaging: putting food scraps in the trash (and then landfilling them), or putting them down the garbage disposal (in both cases, best solution is composting for vegetable scraps; see tales of my compost bin). Based on what I researched, landfilling is the less damaging option--putting solids down the drain add tremendously to the sewage treatment loading and boosts the nitrogen content of the effluent. This has been verified by a colleague who did his undergrad Civil degree concentrating on water resources.

Note that I have lived in places with garbage disposals and even installed them; I think my worst offense was back at Pemberton Street, when I took the remains from making stock (chicken bones/carcass, mushified vegetables), and funneled it all down the InSinkerator. So I think I will probably minimize their use from now on--I'll have one, but no more 'dump the pot and hit the switch.'

To wrap up, here's the ideal "wet zone" design in my future kitchen. I would try to set up two sinks: one small one near the "power area" station, for hand washing, food prep, pot filling, and cleanup near that space; and one larger one further away for dish and pot washing. The pot wash sink should be a large single bowl--I don't know anyone who fills one sink for soap and the other for rinse in this day and age: two smaller basins are a lot less useful than a single larger one. This pot wash sink should be large enough to hold my largest pans lying flat, and have fairly large "landing"/staging and drainboard areas. I am also a huge fan of integrated drainboards.

I love undermount sinks (no lip on the countertop; you can just sweep drips and crap down into the sink)--see this site on sink mounting options. Of course, that mounting system requires a compatible counter material, such as stainless steel, stone (including FireSlate), solid surface (i.e., Corian or similar) or concrete.

As for the "supply" end of things, a single handle, single hole faucet is the cleanest and most effective, in my opinion. I can't decide on whether or not I like built-in sprayers--I've found them useful, but I've also dealt with some that were utterly anemic. Also, I like built-in soap dispensers: they are relatively trendy, but I am a huge fan of de-crapifying the counter area as much as possible--fewer things to wipe up around. Probably also a filtered water tap. I'd consider installing a commercial kitchen pre-rinse sprayer, like in the tEp downstairs kitchen, at the dish/pot sink. The price is a lot more competitive if you're just buying it from a plumbing supply store and installing it yourself. Perhaps cobbling together a wall-mounted single-handle shower valve with a hose and sprayer/valve assembly and a a wall hook connection.


Recent Fun and Updates

It's been a not-so-bad couple of days. Unfortunately, Mother Nature looked at her calendar and remembered, "Oh crap, it's supposed to be winter," and turned the dial down to around freezing. Our group moved back into our old (windowless) offices from the portable trailers we were swapped into during asbestos remediation; that and getting my laptop fixed pretty much wiped any thesis productivity for Friday.

But that night was dinner over at Dan and Daniel's (some lovely salmon, roast squash, pilaf, and beans). A bunch of people came over, and we watched Pedro Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. A very fun evening.

As we were wrapping up the night, conversations turned to Christmas and Santa Claus. I love hanging out with clever and funny people--we free-associated our way through a bunch of riffs on "modern communication with Santa," as recorded on Dan's LJ:

Thank you for calling the North Pole. All of our elves are currently assisting other wishers. Your wish list is important to us. We will process your wish list call in the order of nice to naughty.

On Saturday morning, the new grad student and I went to the Farmer's Market, stopping at the new Starbuck's on the way. A fun way to spend the morning--she had been meaning to go down and check out that market, and I've been going there for a while, so I could play tour guide ("...these are the Croatian farmers I get my Japanese pumpkin from"). After perusing the rutabagas, I told her that I could try to cure her childhood phobia of root vegetables with the Cook's Bible oven roasted vegetable recipe (I have it scanned and PDF'd, if anyone wanted to try it out for themselves--a very nice, low-effort fall dish). Incidentally, is anyone besides me amused that there is a turnip disambiguation page on Wikipedia? Or that there is an International Rutabaga Curling Championship that takes place annually at the Ithaca, NY farmer's market?

Well, back to work; thesis simulations are still progressing, but bloody well slowly. I realized that I'm leaving in in eleven days--I'm starting to think, "Ok, what food can I buy and finish before I get on a plane?" More importantly, I need to finish a report section for a client (which is also a thesis chapter) before then. Ack.

The Laptop of Theseus

Much like my bicycle of many replacement parts, my laptop has suffered many a gutting and repair. This came up because I recently had the keyboard replaced, and I just tallied up what is original and what is not.

I have replaced the mainboard... twice (for free the second time), the DVD-R/CD-RW (cheap eBay fix), touchpad (for free on the second mainboard replacement), the hard drive (30 GB to 60 GB), power supply, and just recently the keyboard--a big problem because the screen "increase brightness" control failed, and it had gotten dialed down. So it now has a new keyboard, without a shiny worn spot on the space bar. It was a major exercise in frustration, because the shop took about a month to receive the part, but in fairness, they waived the installation fee in compensation.

To some degree, I find it amusing or a challenge to see how long I can keep this machine going. I like the worn character--various trim pieces are missing, the "intel inside" sticker is barely readable, and the paint is worn off of all corners--it's like comparing an undergrad's Brass Rat to mine--"Wow! They have corners when they're new!"

I've been putting off replacing this machine because my former employer will buy a new laptop when I return to being employed there (probaby March 2007). I just checked how ancient it is--I got it in September 2002, so it is just over four years old. But I realized that I don't particularly need to upgrade the power or capacity of this machine--it runs the applications that I need without being painfully slow in any way. I'm wondering if hardware manufacturers are realizing and/or noticing the delay in computer replacement, because people don't need an upgrade to run MumblyApp 2008 Pro.

T-Mobile Annoyances

I have been trying to order a new mobile phone over the web for delivery in MA, as I proposed earlier. However, I have been running into problems. I get through most of the transaction, hit the "order" key, and I got the error message "We're sorry, but we are currently unable to process your order online. Please visit one of our retail stores to complete your order."

I tried this on two different browsers (Opera and IE), with the same problem. I wonder if the web page is checking the IP address of the computer that is placing the order, and is noting a mismatch (computer in Canada, and delivered to MA). If so, I'm really annoyed. As friends have pointed out, trying to get a phone set up remotely isn't that unusual of a situation, if you're moving.

So do folks have any guesses if this might be the case? If so, any recommendations on how to use proxy servers etc. to spoof a MA address? Or would you not trust such a system for secure transactions?