A Day in Portland

After my ass-kicker trip to California, I decided that I needed a little time off. I actually developed a specific plan, based on the fact that I was asked to do a conference presentation up in Portland, ME on Tuesday:

Monday: bail on work early, and go visit Bird & Jen in Dover; crash there overnight. This gets me one hour closer to Portland, and keeps me out of Boston-area traffic on the drive out.

Tuesday: after my conference talk, wander around Portland, and catch dinner there, considering that every article I've seen says, "...and man, the food scene is really picking up in this town..."

So visiting Bird & Jen was lovely--Jen made a neat apple/butternut squash/onion pastry dish, along with salad and risotto. I brought up some Port; we just chatted, drank, swapped photos, and geeked out.

Also, Jen seems to be doing her level best to keep the local farmers in business. Singlehandedly. This, for instance, is only half of her current winter squash stash, not to mention the apples, the sack of potatoes...

I was sent home with a spaghetti squash and a bunch of Cortlands--so hey, apple pie soon!

Anyway, the Dover to Portland drive was not terribly painful--in fact, watching the sun rise over barns in rural Maine (taking back roads to I-95) on a cold morning was quite lovely. My conference presentation went quite well; I think I was informative and got a few laughs... including a slow burn joke where I told it deadpan, went on, and a few seconds later people started to laugh. Unfortunately, I didn't have the presence of mind to say, "Yeah, I think I needed more coffee this morning too." The conference was on affordable housing, so there were few sessions that were relevant to me ("Predatory Lending Issues in Maine," or "Housing for Sex Offenders"); thus I felt no guilt about taking off early to explore the town.

After lunch, we stopped by the offices of our colleague who organized this session--her offices are right in "Oldport"--the historic shipping/warehouse district, which is now offices and shops. Their offices are in a renovated foundry, with the belt-driven power sheaves still mounted to the ceiling--check out the view from the window.

It was an absolutely perfect day for wandering around the streets--sunny, cloudless, and a high around 60 F. I walked out to the Portland Observatory--a lighthouse-like structure on the top of a hill, where you can take in a view of the whole city. However, it was closed for the season... ah well.

As a side note: A's mom's sweetie is the captain/owner of one of the tour boats here in Portland. I've gotten to go out on the boat while visiting here with A (a great time), hanging out in the wheelhouse. So one fun moment was walking back along the docks, and seeing--"Hey, I know that boat!"

(However, they're gone for the season, so they were not around to visit).

In my further wandering around town, I came across the Time and Temperature Building--at first glance, it evoked some historical seafaring purpose, such as how vital weather forecasts were for safe shipping, and the way that accurate timekeeping was required to provide longitude for navigation (as in Longitude-longitude).

However, the purported real answer was far more disappointing and prosaic:

The building is named after the large LED display screen on the roof that flashes the Time and Temperature to any Portlanders who might be interested. The building was built in 1914, and at the time was one of the tallest buildings in the country.

Ah well. I assume it was named after some older technology sign, before the LED sign came about. But what a lame name--it's like calling the Old John Hancock Building in Boston "the blue and red light building."

Spent a few hours at a local coffee shop with a great cappuccino, a wireless connection, and some postcards. The day wrapped up with dinner: my first attempt was The Back Bay Grill--recommended in the New York Times article (36 Hours: Portland, Maine). However, when I got there, I noticed the place was filled with older folks standing around with hors d'œuvres. Huh.

"Is this a private function or something?"

"No, it's a charity event. But if you'd like to join us, that would be $250."

"Um, maybe some other time."

Then off to my second choice--Fore Street--a great old converted brick building, with an open kitchen; pretty fun to see the hustling and flames, including the wood-fired oven, the rotisserie station, and some prep guys paring brussel sprouts off to one side. I had one of their signature items--the pork loin--it was outstanding: very juicy, with a great herb crust. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone spending time in Portland.

My kind of fun day in Portland. Definitely need to go back there sometime soon.


Another Bounce Trip

The tail end of this week was wrapping up the research my company is doing in Northern California—it was unfortunately the archetype of the ass-kicker work trip. I left on a 6 AM flight from Boston to Sacramento, drove for 2-½ hours up to Northern California, worked for the rest of the day, and wrapped up with a Home Depot run for supplies, finishing at 8:30 PM local time. Then we had day 2, involving a long day of work, and driving back Sacramento by midnight.

As a side note, seeing this view while pushing back in Boston makes me want to do a spoof of Hopper’s Nighthawks, except framed as an airport terminal building.

To continue the “sucky trip” note, all that we saw of town was on the ride in and out and from the airplane ride. Dinner was basic nourishment at the Thank Applegans’s It’s Chili Tuesday. We basically saw the jobsite and the inside of the attic; I spent Saturday flying home.

Speaking of attics, the houses in this subdivision are built with a layer of foil laminated to the underside of the roof sheathing—it’s called a radiant barrier. It is meant to reduce heat transfer from the roof due to radiation (via that foil coating) towards the house (in case you’re wondering, it basically works, but the marketing bullshit often makes outrageous claims, which makes me annoyed at the manufacturers). My colleague and I found out that this foil laminate also does a great job of killing your cell phone reception—it makes a pretty decent Faraday cage. There’s an idea for a new marketing tagline—“It’ll reduce your cooling bills, and it will reduce electromagnetic pulse damage to electronics in case of a nuclear blast!”

But back to the trip: we made a brief stop at a mega-big-box grocery store, to pick up apples, granola bars, and other non-Thank Applegans’s It’s Chili Tuesday sustenance. I was amused enough by the signage at the back of the store to take a picture:

Hey—if this were the “man store,” these would be the only sections! (well, okay, there might also be NACHOS. And hopefully TOILET PAPER).

One small “god hates me,” moment at work was removing our equipment from the outdoor power panel, and having the lawn sprinklers turn on next door. Right where I had to stand to do work. Grr. (Incidentally, it seems to be a requirement that all sprinklers in this town are set up to water the sidewalk as much as the lawn.)

Wah! I’m tired, I’m standing in a pool of water while undoing connections in an electrical panel, and now my butt is wet!

To add insult to injury, two minutes after I finished it (in record time), the sprinklers shut off. Grr!

Another random photo—a sign on a gas station convenience store on our drive home:

Huh… fair ‘nuff.


Since They're Not Bothering to Announce It...

News from Bird & Jen


Infrastructure Geekery: Boston from the Air

One addendum to my trip to Canada; on the plane ride home, I was in a great seat to view Boston from the air, so I got out my camera and started taking pictures. Not the best quality, given that I was taking shots through multiple layers of plexiglas, but it was still fun.

We came from the northeast (roughly speaking), and looped around south of town. As we were looping south for our approach, I saw a large open pit in the middle of a wooded neighborhood. Wow... cool--there's an active quarry right this close to the city?

After a combination of Google Earth and Google Maps research at home, I found out that it was the West Roxbury Crushed Stone Quarry. One of the top links for that subject was a Boston Globe article (West Roxbury: 'Tween a rock and a loud place). It talks about the complains the neighbors have about the quarry, being loud and filled with trucks. I have zero sympathy: the quarry has been there since the 1800s--didn't you manage to figure that out on the way in? I hold unfettered disgust for NIMBYist neighbors who move into a place with disruptive but necessary infrastructure, and then attempt to get it shut down. However, one of the comments in the article made me smile, showing a much more reasonable attitude:

Mark Sheehan, who lives on Woodbrier Road, which dead-ends at the quarry, also calls the company a ''good neighbor" that lets neighbors take sand for free. ''My feeling is, if you move next to railroad tracks, you've got to expect trains," he said. ''If you move next to a quarry, you've got to expect trucks and dust."

The approach into the airport was normal, until we were almost on the runway. All of a sudden, I heard the landing gear go up, and the engines revved back up to full power. "Huh.. must be a go-around." (an aborted landing of an aircraft which is on final approach). It felt a bit dramatic, but it's not a big deal--the same thing happened to me on a flight into PHL a few years ago. The captain got on the intercom later, and explained that there was another plane on a crossing taxiway that was "getting a bit close to the runway." I wonder if this is pilotese-don't-scare-the-passengers for, "...and this other shithead plane was sitting on THE GODDAMN RUNWAY I'M TRYING TO LAND ON or something.

But at least on the second loop around Boston, I got a nice shot of the Zakim Bridge and surrounding area:

Our final approach was right over the shipping container yards in South Boston (heading towards runways 4L/4R). Ah.. apparently the Paul W. Conley Container Terminal.

Incidentally, for those of you who don't know how runway designations work, it's the compass orientation/direction, divided by ten (rounded)--so an east-west runway would be marked 9 at one end, and 27 at the other. Do a Google Maps or Google Earth check of your local airport if this isn't clear--the runway numbers are large enough that you can see them in those shots.

Home again home again, jiggidy jig.


A Lovely Visit to Canada, Eh?

Work sent me up to Canada for about a week; I just got back on Wednesday. It was a really great trip--I got to work with my former colleagues, hang out socially with them, and see a bunch of friends from outside my work group, like Dan & Daniel, and R. The trip was striking in reminding me how odd it is to have multiple places that feel like home--even coming in on the shuttle bus from the highway, "Yep, there's the bank that puts up the temperature in degrees F instead of degrees C."

It was great going to all of the familiar places--the local cafe, the research test hut, walking down familiar streets, my favorite bakery... plus it was nice to have loonies and toonies in my pocket again. And hey--they were worth $1.026 and $2.052 USD (respectively) during this trip! Hmmm... I should probably keep my Canadian bank account, just as a hedge (well, admittedly a uselessly small one).

But I'm getting ahead of myself. My first night there, I got to go out to Oktoberfest--I went to one during my first October in Canada, so it was neat to go to another one; R. bought a bunch of tickets and had a spare. Beer, schnitzel, and cabbage rolls abounded, as well as folks in lederhosen doing their chop-a-log-in-time-to-music-and-then-dance-around deal. A very fun time.

It was great to enjoy the hospitality of many friends--Dan & Daniel put me up for a few nights, and we went out for sushi; Chief Grad Student had me and a coworker over for dinner; the group went out to dinner at the New Fancy Restaurant In Town; and I got to even crash in my old apartment (which is now R.'s place)--I'm hoping the 8-pack of beer was adequate payment.

Among the other Canadian moments, at one dinner, I ordered a Caesar (the drink): A Caesar, sometimes referred to as a Bloody Caesar, after the similar Bloody Mary, is a cocktail popular mainly in Canada. It typically contains vodka, clamato (a blend of tomato juice and clam broth), Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, and is served on the rocks in a large, celery salt-rimmed glass, and typically garnished with a stalk of celery and wedge of lime.

Dude, it's a country where they normally drink Clamato! How could I not feel at home?! (for those of you who don't know my history, I have liked Clamato, much to the horror of my friends, since college. I didn't realize before coming to K-W that it went to well with vodka).

I unfortunately had to spend all of Sunday writing up the report on the work from a few weeks ago for a Monday due date; however, at least I got to have lunch at my favorite local bakery/cafe (my historical refuge and "Must-get-out-of-house-while-writing-thesis" place).

Like I said, it's very nice to have another place that feels like "home," even if I don't live here anymore--similar to the type of happiness-of-just-being-in-a-familiar-place from being in the Bay Area.

So I will probably need to add K-W to my list of "places I need to go to once or twice a year to see folks" (like the Bay Area). Fortunately, I believe that work will tend to cooperate with this plan. I have plans to be back up here in February (I know... really clever--come to Southern Ontario in the coldest month of the year) for Iron Ring--we'll see if everything works out all right.

Degree Status: F'ing Done!

I have held off on an actual, "Yeah, I'm really done with my degree" post, even though the thesis deadline was a few weeks ago, and as far as I could tell, I had completed all the degree requirements. However, given how painful all this jumping through final hoops has been ("You have to ship another 3 copies of your 300 pages thesis to Canada, because your page numbers are in the wrong place."), I figured that there were still infinite numbers of things that could still go wrong. E.g., the office key that was returned by my friend was not actually entered into my account, and the warning notice went to the wrong address; there was a library book that I never heard about that had been taken out in my name, etc., etc.

However, I have been up in KW since Friday for work, and I got email telling me the bound copy of my thesis was ready. Holy crap:

(For some reason, this picture reminds me of, "I am being held for ransom; here is a copy of today's newspaper to prove that I am still alive at this date." Anyway.)

Yep, it's here, and it's real. To confirm, I went to the Graduate Studies Office, and they cut me an official letter stating I had completed all graduation requirements (I needed it for other reasons). And the online database agrees:

So at the risk of appearing to be trolling for 'congrat's' here, I believe I am, as I said, f'ing done. Holy crap. Many thanks to all of you who have provided such wonderful emotional support during this entire academic arc--as per the last line of my thesis dedication:

Finally, my widely scattered friends were my lifeline and connection to the community that I left behind in Boston. With their kindness and correspondence from all over the continent, they helped fight the isolation that I felt moving away from my home of over a decade, and helped me keep a measure of sanity throughout the darkest hours of this degree.


Identity Theft (Again?!?!)

I'm currently up in Canada, on a work trip through Wednesday up at the University. I have been enjoying the hospitality of my former school colleagues and my KW friends (Thanks Dan & Daniel! Hi R!).

Anyway, as I was wrapping up work today, I got a call on my cell phone from some unknown 800 number. I picked up, and it was an automated service from my credit card's fraud department. Huh.

It turns out that their automated systems had picked up odd usage patterns, and wanted to verify that I had made these purchases. United Airlines change fee, check. Airport shuttle from YYZ, check. $424 in purchases at a Wal-Mart in Corona, CA, uh...wait, what? (it's near Riverside--I didn't know, either).

Anyway, it turns out that there had been a few fraudulent purchases on my card today (in-person transactions--apparently, identity thieves like to eat at Jack in the Box), and the purchase was declined at the Wal-Mart. I'm surprised, but happy that they notified me this fast. It sounds like the credit card company is deleting the fraudulent purchases without a problem.

I'm surprised that they picked up these usage patterns so fast--it would not be surprising for me to pop up in random states and start buying things, given my work travel. However, I think the Wal-Mart purchase was pretty far outside of my normal patterns. Hey... scary data mining algorithms can sometimes work in our favor, right?

Anyway, I had a previous problem with identity theft in eary 2006--a compromised bank card in Canada; probably due to a large merchant with insecure servers sending PINs internally in the clear.

It makes me wonder if anything I did caused this breach... I have been nowhere near that part of California in years. I wonder if some online merchant I have purchased from has been compromised.


Architecture Rant Redux

Reading a recent story in the Globe & Mail reminded me of my earlier rant on the effect modern architecture has on the usability of buildings:

Another problem I have is that, over and over again, these name-recognized buildings sacrifice usability and positive occupant experience in favor of appearance. It goes against my philosophy of substance over flash and appearance. This problem is typical for what is called "magazine architecture"—other critics will laugh when you talk about adding a usability survey when evaluating the architectural value of a building. Services don't work, spaces overheat or are too cold, rain leaks in, etc.

The article was a story on the Daniel Libeskind addition to the Royal Ontario Museum:("Leaks, woes a smudge on Crystal's sparkle")--the previous blog post has a construction photo, showing the crystal growth off the side of the building.

To cite the article:

Good thing it was a dry summer. The new Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto's most talked-about new edifice, leaks.

At least, it did leak. Water penetrated the north end of the long window of the C5 restaurant, and puddles have appeared near windows on the third and fourth floors.

As winter approaches, fingers are crossed that there will be no more puddles, and that the Crystal's cladding, designed to prevent it from turning into an avalanche-maker, will function as well in cold reality as it does in theory. But it's clear, four months into the Crystal's life, the new spaces pose huge challenges, and leaks are the least of them.

This was no surprise to me. I have decided that in my field, my alarm bells for "future building failure imminent" go off if I hear the terms: (1) "fast-track," (2) "value engineered," or (3) "award-winning."

As some of my commentors pointed out, it is the most tragic that these failures of the building end up giving the collection short shrift--both in terms of potential damage to the items, and the loss of museum resources to fixing problems caused by the building:

The problem of installing artifacts in a space with no vertical walls challenged Hiroshi Sugimoto, the first artist to be exhibited in the ROM's fourth-floor Institute for Contemporary Culture. ...

Special new display cases have been bought to match the galleries, some with trapezoidal shapes. As well, the renovation has opened the entire building, old and new parts, to more daylight, which risks bleaching museum artifacts. So the museum has acquired special blinds that filter out 96 per cent of ultraviolet light, as well as blackout blinds that block exterior light.

“Daniel didn't design this building based on the collections,” said Mr. Rahimi (director of gallery development). “We had to design the collections to go with the building. We have an aesthetic imperative – partly because the architecture is so strong.”

And that last quote is simultaneously telling, depressing, and infuriating. However, it is not at all surprising.


My Dinner With Raj

The title is meant to goofily evoke the film My Dinner With Andre, which (as a complete digression) I wanted to spoof as My Dinner With Andre The Giant:

That was a good 64 ounch steak. Yum. [pause]

You gonna finish your potatoes?


Anyway, Raj (an old Tep friend) and I haven't seen each other in ages, so we got together to try out a restaurant we haven't been to yet: Tryst in Arlington Center. I found it very good, but not fantastic--though I admit I had a big lunch, so I went light on dinner fare. Their fried oyster appetizer was fantastic--a great burst of rawness in the center with that real oyster/ocean flavor. I was worried that on a Friday night, it would be intimidatingly filled with the Beautiful People, but it was more casual than I expected. In any case, it's awesome that there's a restaurant of this caliber within a 10 minute walk from my front door.

Aferwards, we retired to my place, where we sampled a variety of my Scotch whiskeys, and wrapped up with a nightcap of Drambuie.

I realized just how much I have been missing high quality, genuine, personal conversation lately in my life. Everything from "we're age X, where are we in life?," Raj musing about having children (incidentally--news is that kid #2 is due in December!), seeing how his daughter's personality is an odd combination of the two parents, how personalities evolve over a person's life (including shuddering with horror on who we were a decade ago)--all great things to talk about with an old friend over some fine drinks.

I guess this evening made me realize that I have been horribly lax about seeing friends lately--I don't think I've caught up with anyone in person for several weeks now. However, this upcoming week is socializing in spades--Marketa & Joe on Saturday; Amie & Guy on Monday; Crusher & Cat on Tuesday. Then flying to Canada for a week (leaving on Friday), and seeing my KW friends. Yay!


Dual Flush Toilet

My apologies for resorting to potty humor, but when I was at Dartmouth I found the delicate phrasing of this sign above a dual-flush toilet pretty amusing.

I think this needs to make its way into everyday speech--"Man... I gotta take a seriously high demand, or something's gonna burst!"

The reason why I was reminded to post this image was this New York Times editorial, by Robert Morris, arguing for consuming water in less stupid ways. I.e., we treat all domestic water to drinking quality, and then drink less than 1% of that water (according to the editorial). And we use that same water to flush toilets. Ugh... the waste of that process has always struck me--it's similar to how invaders sacking a city would destroy its water supply--throw dead animals and feces down the well. Of course, insert lawn irrigation rant here as well.

However, plumbing codes are probably the most hidebound, technophobic, and fragmented buildings codes that exist--more than other codes, the whim of local inspectors or unions holds sway (corrugated stainless steel tubing in California, as an example). As a result, it's not a rational process, and if you want to change the code, the battle has to be fought one municipality at a time. Therefore, I have little hope of these changes (e.g., separate water for flush/irrigation, graywater systems, etc.) making much headway.