Trip Part III through n: Canada, New York, etc.

A quick wrapup of the last legs of my trip--all told, it was two weeks on the road. I'm friggin' exhausted right now, but here's the update.

I spent a week up with the Canadian branch of the company--it was great to see all of them, and hang out at their lab--they have a pretty amazing setup.

I enjoyed the hospitality of Chief Grad Student for part of my stay--here's his wife and daughter visiting the lab. Cool stuff.

For the other part of the trip, I enjoyed Dan and Daniel's hospitality--it was great to see them, even though I just saw them at the beginning of October when they were in Boston. A home-cooked meal (with butternut squash soup with turkey bacon) was about as perfect of a fall meal as could be imagined. And apple pie too!

Also, I managed to get an evening free to have dinner with R.--she is finishing up soon, has gotten a job offer in Boston, and is moving here! Introductions to my circle of friends are definitely in order. As well as a party with... huh... G&Ts, Manhattans, Scotch... something like that.

Travel back from Canada (a YKF-DTW-LGA itinerary) was frustratingly bad. A long line at customs at DTW, followed by a delayed flight connection. Although during the delay, I was amused by the presence of a large gaggle of Japanese schoolgirls in their uniforms... I felt like something in bizarre-Quentin-Tarantino-style-action-movie-style was supposed to break out next en masse.

Transit from LaGuardia to Manhattan is frustratingly bad--the M60 bus (route shown below) is only about a seven mile trip, and took 45 minutes, with only moderate traffic. Just far too many stops along the route--it's just another bus line, not a special express that connects to the airport. One plus though--we passed by the Apollo Theater--I'd never actually seen it, myself.

Oh wait... did I tell you the actually sucky part of this trip? They lost my bags--in spectacular fashion. They put the luggage tag of the guy ahead of me on my rucksack, so it ended up on a Delta flight to Akron instead.

One interesting compensation when they lose your bags nowadays--they give you a free toiletry kit, which was actually pretty useful. It includes a T-shirt, which it useful to sleep in... although it definitely invites the wag, "My luggage went to Akron, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt."

The final insult was that I needed to drive up to Rhode Island the next evening--and they promised me they would have my bag in time. It arrived on a 4 PM flight... they told me it was picked up by the courier at 7 PM. 8 PM... 9:30... nothing, and nobody was answering the phones. I gave up and drove up to Warwick at that point, and got in at 1 AM.... ugh. My bags were delivered around midnight... my parents decided that instead of just having the courier re-deliver to Boston, they would drive my bags up to meet me (over lunch break) in Rhode Island. Very sweet... nuts, but very sweet.

Anyway, a complaint letter to Northwest is definitely in the works.

One thing I did with a free day in New York was to help my parents buy and install a flat panel TV--their old (27" tube) had died. I guess it's odd to think that some people don't think that moving a big screen TV in a station wagon and installing it isn't a do-it-yourself activity. As well as the idea that there are folks who can't spend five minutes with a remote and a manual, and then have a pretty decent handle on making consumer electronics work. In addition, I forget there are people who aren't used to, "Huh... I don't know that answer... one Google search later.. yep, HDMI is basically the same as DVI, but with a different form factor, plus it adds sound." I guess having an MIT engineer as a son is useful. (although I certainly hope this isn't my core competency).

So Dad got to watch the final game of the World Series in 46" high definition. Not a bad day's work.

To jump back to the end of the trip--I had a day-long class at the Boiler manufacturer in Rhode Island, and then drove back home this evening. Whew. I definitely could use a weekend now.


Trip Part IIa: MoMA Special Exhibit

A few months ago, Perlick recommended that I check out an exhibit at MoMA--Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling--a survey of the history of the prefabricated home and a building project of five contemporary prefabricated houses in the Museum's Fifty-fourth street lot. I'd been hoping to catch it before it closed on October 20th (um, yeah—a bit late for a review; sorry if any of you were interested in seeing it). So here's a long Bats-style rant, in the same spirit of previous architecture rants. Read it if you’re interested.

The exhibit is set up in two parts: the outdoor lot has five examples of contemporary prefabricated houses. Then inside, they have an exhibit on the history of prefabricated housing, going back to the 1900s (and the history timeline on the website goes back to the 1800s). I did the exhibits in that order—the outside stuff first.

The Houses (Outside)

I had a variety of reactions to the various houses—from amusement, to skepticism, to appreciation of the aesthetics, to downright disdain.

The Micro Compact Home, at 76 square feet, is a neat (and quite cute) concept.

The project is intended as a modern "machine for living," providing functioning spaces of sleeping, working/dining, cooking and hygiene for one or two people.

The house is constructed with a timber frame and clad in a panelized system of aluminum sheets. Following the installation of the support frame at the chosen site, the m-ch is hauled by truck or trailer and installed with a crane in minutes. … The m-ch is manufactured by micro compact home GmbH, an Austrian construction company, and is available exclusively in Europe for between €25,000 and €35,000 [$32,000 to $45,000 USD].

I like the fact that they so thoroughly emphasized the “live small” philosophy, and that they were very clever about the use of space. For instance, only a short (~3 foot tall) space is available below the loft bed, but if you open up a “pit” for your legs, you can have comfortable seating. But I doubt they’ll have many takers, others than those who would alternately consider an Airstream trailer.

System3 had a few neat things going for it—I think it might have been the “least impractical” of the designs I saw. The “double wide” construction comes broken down in a single 40 foot shipping container; one “box” (with the mechanicals) is shipped whole, and the adjacent “box” is made of panels stacked on top of the first box. It is also meant not just as a two-box system—it is supposed to be stackable and arrangeable; supposedly, with CNC milling of the outside panel, it is meant to be “mass customizable.”

The aesthetics were pretty neat—blonde clearcoated wood inside and out, space age looking windows, and arrays of little soda-can side viewports. Great door hardware too; and check out their floating island kitchen.

The Digitally-Fabricated Housing for New Orleans comes from MIT Prof Larry Sass; it is a 196-square-foot one-room shotgun house intended as one proposal for the rapid reconstruction of New Orleans. The technology that it is based on comes from a previous project: in an attempt to harness the speed and precision of laser cutters to fabricate simple shelters quickly and inexpensively. Joinery took the form of notches and grooves rather than traditional screws or nails. Five students, equipped only with rubber mallets, installed the first full-scale version in only two days.

It seems like a pretty neat concept, but I have doubts on what the savings might actually be. There’s more on this topic in the second part of this post, but let’s look at it two ways: materials and labor. In terms of materials, we’ve substituted sticks of wood (i.e., 2x4s, etc.) and sheathing (plywood, oriented strand board) for cleverly interlocking laser cut plywood. But there’s framing inside these digitally fabricated walls (photo shows a portion with a plexiglas skin)—in fact, a vertical and horizontal grid. Based on a quick estimate, sawn lumber and plywood are comparable on a board foot (volume) basis—so I don’t see any major material savings.

As for labor—that’s a balance of labor at the factory (and setup; capital costs of equipment, etc.), and the labor on site. A lot of these panelized systems just shift labor from the jobsite to the factory—which can be a good thing, as it’s under dry, warm, theft-resistant conditions that have great economies of scale. However, transportation costs can be the real killer—as far as I can tell, it’s the kicker for modular housing.

However, I’ve worked on several projects that were done in New Orleans or other areas affected by Katrina. And one thing I would note, in opposition to their “knock it together with rubber hammers” argument: the reason they’re having such a rough time getting rebuilt isn’t they’re lacking people with real hammers that drive in pointy nails. It’s that a huge portion of the population really doesn’t have much in the way of financial resources, and it seems like it’s just a naturally disorganized place. Add on top of that the fact that now they have to build to code—i.e., changing from putting their houses on a couple of concrete blocks to a real foundation that’s meant to withstand flooding—which adds costs not previously seen in that town. Also, don't forget that the "shell" of the building is only a piece of it. They argued that student labor could put together their prototype quickly. Okay, now what about electrical, plumbing, and heating/cooling? Huh... I guess we're back to needing skilled trades to build what us folks call a "house" instead of a "shack" eh?

Also, in terms of jobsite practicalities: imagine the scenario: “Aw, crap, the forklift ran over Panel EBW-7… what do we do now?” As opposed to normal construction: “Hey, a forklift ran over [a piece of framing, a window, a door]!” “Well, crap… do another run to the lumberyard, and kick the forklift driver’s ass for me.”

Another questions, coming from a guy who makes his living looking at screwed-up buildings. So you have all those panels, with all of those joints every two or three feet, with the clever interlocking mechanisms. What's your plan for weatherproofing? Caulk? And hope? A faith-based approach to water resistance? Or are you planning for these houses to be temporary anyway? Remember, New Orleans gets 60+ inches of rain a year.

However, I reserved a lot of my concentrated vitriol and disdain for The Cellophane House: it got just about everything wrong, while being 100% buzzword compliant. It’s an all-glass house that’s about as energy-inefficient as you could make something, yet it has what I’ll call “sustainable window dressing”—photovoltaic panels and a solar hot water system, to make you think they’re being green. As the blurb puts it: As designed for the exhibition Home Delivery … the house has the ability to operate entirely off-grid. Ummm, what? Maybe, if you live somewhere that never gets cold, or hot, or too much sun, or don’t mind if you get baked at 90° F, and don’t cook, or take showers at night, or use a toaster, or watch TV, or…

For a description of why I come down so hard on highly glazed buildings, see Can Highly Glazed Building Façades Be Green?, by my advisor from UW:

When I see a fully glazed, floor-to-ceiling commercial or institutional building, I see an energy-consuming nightmare of a building that requires lots of heating and cooling at the perimeter just to maintain comfort. The result, on a cold winter day, is that offices exposed to the sun require cooling, while those in the shade need heat. Unless the control system is highly tuned, too many of the occupants will also be uncomfortable. Although it is well accepted that “green” buildings are above all low energy consumption buildings, there is a mistaken belief, almost a myth, that buildings with large expanses of glass are somehow green.

Many designers have shown that beautiful and high-performance buildings can result from a proper balance of glazing quantity and quality. All too often, however, designers appear to choose all-glass curtain walls or floor-to-ceiling strip windows because they make it easy to create a sleek impression while leaving all the tricky details in the hands of the manufacturers. How much longer can we afford to pay the energy bills that result from that choice? It’s high time to revive the craft of designing beautiful facades that don’t cost the earth.

One thing I figured out recently, in my free time—windows are about the same R-value (or insulating value) as a 2x4 stud frame wall… IF YOU LEFT OUT THE GODDAMN INSULATION. Look at Cellophane House. Think about what I wrote. Huh. If you’re curious, I’ll send you my calculations.

Other buzzword-compliant aspects—a double façade (“twice the price, half the performance”), and building-integrated solar panels. Specifically, one of the walls has PV panels built in. So what’s wrong with that?

Well, you want to face solar panels around an angle equal to your latitude—which suggests that the right spot for a solar panel is the roof, or say, the part of the building that FACES THE FRIGGIN’ SKY. A quick calculation shows that going from the optimal solar angle (latitude) to a vertical orientation drops you to 2/3 of your possible solar production. And that’s assuming that your walls are never shaded… say, by trees or uh, adjacent buildings… another argument for using the roof (see sky, facing, friggin’). Considering how expensive PVs are, it’s a huge waste of money and resources to lose 1/3 of your production, off the bat, due to your poor design. As one of my friends who works for a solar design company puts it, “Man… on some of these architectural jobs, they would probably be much better off putting blue glass on the side of the building, and taking the money they saved and dumping it into clean power credits.”

Another instance of full-of-buzzwords-piss-me-off: the architects note that the design …makes no claims to permanence. The structural frame of the house is made entirely of off-the-shelf structural aluminum, upon which materials are collected rather than fixed. This allows the materials not only to retain their identity as discrete elements, but also to be disassembled instead of demolished, and eventually to be recycled instead of wasted. First of all, the way they detail it, the aluminum forms a horrible thermal bridge between the inside and outside, bleeding off heat in the winter… although they really don’t have insulation, so it doesn’t matter that much. But claiming environmental points for using aluminum that you can disassemble and reuse (aluminum has an insanely high embodied energy--the energy required to make the product) is an embarrassment. It’s like an arsonist claiming credit for helping put out the fire he started (not my analogy—Maureen Dowd’s jab at McCain crowing about the troop surge).

Another examples--a building shell that's an energy sieve--"... but hey, we have LED lights! Isn't that great!" Oy.

Yes, yes, I know, I should back off—“This is supposed to be art, not necessarily where somebody would live, or an engineering showcase.” And yes, it looks really cool—no argument from me there.

But is it sustainable, serviceable, or livable?—I think you can guess my view. Also, will other architects or consumers look at this building, and say, “Hey, cool, I want a neat building like this—plus it has solar panels, it must be energy efficient!” I just worry that people who don’t know better will be learning the wrong lesson.

The Exhibit (Inside)

The inside exhibit showed examples of prefabricated housing back to the 1930’s, and the history traces back further to the industrial revolution. Lot of great displays—Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion House, Thomas Edison’s single pour concrete house, Moishe Safdie’s Habitat 67, and lots of works by other famous name architects. Also, some cool shipping container projects.

But there was one striking refrain throughout the exhibit that made me a bit reflective. Almost all of them made statements along the lines of, “…with the efficiencies we are introducing with these factory-built houses, we will bring down the cost of housing; they will be mass-produced everywhere, and we will bring houses to everyone.” However, it seems like these predictions—over many decades—have mostly fallen on their face—which makes me suspicious of anyone who makes such a claim nowadays.

Now, of course, I’ll admit that there are exceptions—if you take a Darwinian view, and see what actually is surviving or thriving in the market today, you’ll see examples like the following, where prefabricated houses are fulfilling a certain need, as opposed to taking over the general market:

  • Modular construction (i.e., boxes on trailers that get put together on site) are a small but non-insignificant portion of the homebuilding industry.
  • Quonset huts--they filled a specific niche, but did it very well: In 1941 the United States Navy needed an all-purpose, lightweight building that could be shipped anywhere and assembled without skilled labor.
  • Prefabricated components (such as roof trusses, or windows and doors—things that make more economic sense to build off-site, instead of with site labor).
  • Panelized construction (such as pre-built wall or floor panels, or higher-tech solution like structural insulated panel system (SIPS). SIPS has a similar refrain—we’ll save money. With SIPS construction, you can get a superior, quickly dried in, very airtight, and well insulated house. But unfortunately for the SIPS guys, site/stick built construction is at a pretty darn low price point that’s really difficult to beat.

Another aspect of both the outdoor and indoor exhibits: most of them used base materials that were intrinsically more expensive, such as aluminum panels, or clearcoated wood. I’ll fully admit, these are sexy finishes, for sure—but very few things beat the cost of pieces of wood. Add the problems mentioned before (transportation costs), as well as the reduced on-site flexibility (“What, panel six is a foot too short? And it’s our fault because our drawings were wrong? Crap!”) Add to that the fact that all the modular assembly mechanisms—as clever as the engineering is—often add cost, by requiring connection hardware, crane use for installation, etc.

As a bottom line—maybe the day will come when prefabricated housing takes over the industry—and it might be a very good thing, given the problems I see in site-built construction. Maybe digital prototyping on a production housing scale will save us all. But I don’t think it’s likely to happen. Okay… maybe if we get houses sent to us from China in shipping containers… but that’s an ugly idea for all sorts of other reasons.


Trip Part II: New York City

Yet another Bats does a whirlwind tour of random New York City stuff trip report. Photos posted to Flickr here.

The big item that I have been anticipating was going to see the Metropolitan Opera's production of John Adams' Doctor Atomic.

I've been a huge fan of his work for ages, and I jumped at the chance to take a trip down to New York and see this opera produced (it was debuted in San Francisco in 2005). The opera is set on the night before the Trinity test in Los Alamos in 1945, and touches on the moral qualms that many of the scientists are feeling and the anxiety building up to the test shot--a more background here. The opera itself was great (New York Times review here); the staging, the music, the singing. I do have to admit, though, that I'm more of a fan of Adams' instrumental (rather than choral) works.

But as the singers were taking their bows, the audience went up in a roar--John Adams came on stage, and took a bow with them! He's the unfortunately washed out face in the photo below.

The opera was an afternoon performance, so I still had some daylight left. I decided to head uptown (178th Street) to check out the George Washington Bridge Bus Station--this infrastructure dorkery was inspired by the fact that San Francisco's St. Mary's (a.k.a. Our Lady of the Washing Machine Agitator) was designed by the same structural engineer, Pier Luigi Nervi. The bus station is, well, a kinda sketchy bus station ("... all the charm of the Port Authority..."), as you would expect--although I did not personally observe any pimps trying to scout out new "talent" among teenage runaways. But the structure itself is magnificent--huge soaring open spaces--check out the concrete trusses, and the triangular "waffle slab" ceilings!

Also, the upper bus deck is a perfect spot to get a shot of the George Washington bridge--the station deck feeds right onto the bridge.

Next, I decided that while I was up in this part of town, I would hit a place that I saw while channel surfing on Food Network: Melba's Restaurant in Harlem--they are famed for their fried chicken and waffles. The story the owner told on the show was that the origins came from jazz musicians back in the day, coming up at all times of night for food, sometimes breakfast, sometimes dinner.

To get there I took the A train... however, contrary to the song, that night, it wasn't the quickest way to Harlem... due to a service interruption on the AC line. But that doesn't scan very well, does it?

Melba's is a high class restaurant (i.e., not a no-atmosphere-fluorescent-light-linoleum-floor chicken shack)--a great meal there of fried chicken, cheddar grits, and sauteed spinach.

After dinner, I hit the other end of the musical spectrum, and caught a set at Terra Blues--a real, down home blues club in the West Village. The main act was SaRon Crenshaw (note--music-enabled page)--four piece blues band; did a kickin' renditions of Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine, The Sky is Crying, and some BB King favorites. Blasting loud and packed--all good.

Walking around Greenwich Village, there was a plethora of the out-on-a-Saturday-night-young-hip-stylish-clicky-high-heel women up and down the street, showing off their legs... uh, I mean outfits. I had a bit of my reaction of "[roll eyes] ...yes, yes, you're hot... and good for you... now go away..." (for background, see previous blog posts on the subject). I was worried that I'd end up getting annoyed at a club with lots of that population... but instead, the blues club was an older crowd which was there pretty much for the music, not for the 'scene.' Big win.

I chuckled to myself about the concept of writing the Existential Blues sometime (which I periodically suffer from).

After crashing at my sister's place, the next day, I headed to MoMa for their exhibit Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling. It actually warrants an entire post by itself, which I plan to do tomorrow. An interesting exhibit, but a lot of it filled me with frustration. I checked out other exhibits--for instance, the furniture and industrial design gallery (check out this version of the Eames chair done in carbon fiber composite, named Carbon Copy. Heh.) It's the exhibit that has a lot of great industrial "functional" art--a ball bearing, railroad springs, a circular saw blade.

Then I ran down to Chinatown for sammiches--I went to Bahn mi Saigon--a review of the place here--thanks to Jess for pointing it out! I asked for it hot (I didn't know that was a common option)--it was superb (although I must have bitten into an ass-kicking bit at the end). The review says that their bahn mi Saigon (roast pork) is highly recommended--I'll have to try it next time.

Anyway, a day on Long Island, and then off to Canada!


Trip Part I: Gallery Night Providence

I'm on my two-week marathon trip to Providence, New York (Long Island and New York City), Kitchener-Waterloo (work trip), back to NY, and then home. The first leg of this trip was organizing a bunch of people (Judy, John (her boyfriend), AJFBS & Guy, and their friend Matt) to hang out in Providence for an evening.

We were getting together for Gallery Night Providence--a free, fun-filled introduction to Providence’s exciting art scene! On the third Thursday of the month, from March through November, nineteen of the city’s hot “art spots” open their doors inviting you to a visual arts party.

The galleries ranged from an alcove in a bank lobby with half a dozen works, to the upstairs of an optometrist's shop, to the RISD's graduate student exhibit hall, to full-blown commercial art galleries (with salesfolks swooping down on the members of our party who looked like they might be in the market).

There were many interesting works; it was just fun to be immersed in art in a less-formal, pick-and-choose, non-museum environment. One oddly delightful work was a series of womens' underwear, made of thoroughly unsuitable materials: plastic grocery bags, burlap, bubble wrap. I was also struck by several photographs by Paul Clancy--mostly wanted to make a note to myself. I liked his Artist's Statement: During my own, personal journey in search for meaning, I most recently discovered the power of natural and architectural elements – both decaying and becoming – as potential reminders and symbols of guidance and transformation: what has been, what is, and what could be.

We spent a chunk of time at the Mathewson Street United Methodist Church--not just for the art, but because they had a 45-minute pipe organ concert.

I was familiar with one work he performed (Adagio in G minor by Albinoni)--it was used in the film Gallipoli (if you don't know the piece, you can play it on YouTube). As a music geek, it was wonderful to see a full-on pipe organ being run through its paces--many stops and voices; using the three manuals and the foot pedal keyboard (pedalboard). The number of controls on this organ was immense (600+, I think he said?)--although I ended up imagining Microsoft Pipe Organ: "...oh yeah, that's under Start -> Control Panels -> Stops, then use the left-click menu to go to 'Couplers'..."

Anyway, after we finished with art, we wandered around town and ended up having dinner at McCormick & Schmick's (a seafood place--a chain, but pretty darn tasty). Once again, I decided I need to spend more time here in Providence, exploring the city. Then again, perhaps similar activities in Boston proper are warranted as well.

We ended up leaving dinner around midnight; I had predicted that this would be the case, and had booked myself a hotel nearby. When searching on Expedia, there was a good deal ($70 for a three-star hotel) at a place called NYLO Hotel. The NYLO mission is simple: to create affordable, design-oriented hotels that are equal parts corporate, creative, and convenient. Huh... thought I'd give it a shot.

It actually turned out to be a pretty neat experience--they have a modern, loft-style design sense that is worlds away from the generic Courtyard Marriott/Hampton Inn universe. Check it out--polished concrete floors and walls, exposed pipes and ducts, laminated wood furniture, nicely selected industrial-looking door hardware. Actually, it was like spending a night in the house that I'd love to build someday.

Unfortunately, not many choices for locations right now--they're in Warwick, RI, and, uh, Plano, TX (um, what?... not all that useful). Although it had neat decor, I don't think I would have bothered going there except for the discount price--when I'm traveling for work, I'm looking for a bed, a wireless connection, and a localized crime rate that's under control--not an aesthetic experience.

Anyway, I took today off from work, and drove to my parents' place on Long Island, then spent the day puttering around (flushing the hot water heater, reinstalling McAfee on mom's computer, Home Depot run for project parts).

Weekend in NYC--woot!


Tep Wedding Report: Rugs and Lindsey

Short version:

Rugburn & Lindsey: successfully married; lovely ceremony and reception. A multitude of Teps in attendance. Family photo successfully taken. Hava nagila not conducted.

Longer version:

Rugburn & Lindsey got married this weekend; the ceremony was at the MIT Chapel, and the reception was at Harvard's Adolphus Busch Hall (a bit more on that later). I posted my limited batch of photos to Flickr; feel free to check them out.

A very cute moment of the ceremony: at the conclusion of the vows, the officiant asked if the bride and groom 'agreed to the terms and conditions' previously stated--Rugs wanted to have screens of EULA fine text and a mouse click, but that was vetoed.

The reception was at Harvard's Adolphus Busch Hall--it's odd; I've been passing by that building since the 1980s, but I've never been there, nor had an inkling what it was. As per the web page:

This building, completed in 1917, originally housed Harvard's "Germanic Museum," a collection of reproductions of famous German monumental sculpture. This collection was intended to round out the experience of Harvard students who studied German culture and who did not have the opportunity to study the original monuments in Europe. ...

The cornerstone of this building was laid in 1912. It is a sad irony that construction of the building began in earnest in July 1914, only weeks before the outbreak of a war that was drastically to undermine the German-American cultural understanding that Professor Francke had tirelessly striven to promote.

It has a great outdoor courtyard--one of those "feels like you've been transported to Europe" moments. The eerie glow is one of Frostbyte's LED sculptures, which was brought there and provided ambiance.

But as for the building--it is filled with plaster casts of Germanic (mostly religious) artwork from the 11th century onwards.

Check out this archway and this door with bas-reliefs of Genesis on the left-hand panel, and the Passion on the right. Also, be sure to check out this rather odd mural--Lewis Rubenstein's Scenes from the Ragnarok and Niebelungen Legends (1935-37). It shows some classically bare-chested warriors, except some are wielding World War I-era gas masks, helmets, and flamethrowers. A strikingly odd combination.

Teps came in from all over the place (SF, NYC), but if I try to list them, I'm sure I'll miss a bunch--I hope the family photo will get posted. Incidentally--yeah, I know, I'm lame about taking pictures of people; there are plenty of shots of the backs of heads and interesting architectural features. Hopefully, others will post their pictures, and there will be loads of candids there. In addition, the bride and groom set up a photo booth in the basement, so those might get posted or something.

A wacky small-world moment: I was seated at a table with a lot of Rugburn's high school friends--some of them even recognized me (and I remembered some of them) from their visits to Tep. But the wife of one of those friends is an art professor in Alabama--and she knows Golan through completely separate channels. I was amused to tell her, "Oh yeah--Golan, Rugburn... they were both in the same pledge class at Tep."

Wait... at least one photo of people--Rugburn looked damn classy, and Lindsey was absolutely stunning--1930's movie star territory, if you ask me:

Mazel tov all around!


Mostly a Symbolic Gesture

So yes, I got my butt over to town hall to make sure that I was registered to vote (MA deadline is October 15th):

As I said in a previous post on the topic, given the electoral college, and living in a non-swing state, it is mostly pointless for me to vote:

Yes, I know due to the inane setup of the electoral college and my being a Massachusetts resident/expatriate, my vote is completely irrelevant. It still gives me some satisfaction to know that, to paraphrase a friend, I did my part to "poke George W. Bush in the eye with a sharp stick."

But still, I encourage all of you to do the register, if you have not already done so.

Actually, there is a bit more of a reason to register in Massachusetts: there are three Ballot Questions to be decided. For those who don't know, they are:

Question 1 Massachusetts State Income Tax Repeal: Would repeal state income tax
Question 2 Massachusetts Sensible Marijuana Policy: Decriminalizes small amounts of marijuana
Question 3 Massachusetts Greyhound Protection Act: Aims to prohibit (professional) dog racing

For me, two and three are yes ($100 fine for under an ounce of marijuana) and yes (ending greyhound racing), but I don't feel terribly strongly on them.

But the fact that Question 1 is on the ballot makes me worry about the concept of representative democracy: If the measure passes, it will end the state's current 5.3% income tax on wages, interest, dividends and capital gains. If that happens, Massachusetts will join Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming in not taxing income.

Although I have a hint of a libertarian streak at my core, this initiative smacks of irresponsibility. The folks who are in favor of the question note:

It will take $11 billion away from "Big Government" every year and give to the workers.

It will force the Massachusetts legislature to cut the waste out of the state budget and get rid of government programs that don't work.

Note that this reduction, according to information that I've seen, is 40 percent of the state budget. To me, it comes across as more of a protest vote of "blah blah big government sucks," as opposed to any real solution. I agree that they're loads of painful waste in the state government, but it feels like they're of the mindset:

I want no income taxes. And I want my government services--but who cares about the other guy. And yes, I want a pony too.

Look--I'm a person that would not be hit that directly by this initiative passing--I don't own property (so I wouldn't get clobbered by the jump in property taxes that would result; only indirectly by rent increases), and I have no personal investment in the school system, which would also get screwed. And I still think it's a seriously dumb idea.

Huh... interesting... according to an article I could find on the current polling status, it seems like the majority is skewing in line with all of my positions. Cool.

Coffee: FAIL!

In my continuing series on why it's really hard to make a cup of coffee in the morning before having your first cup of coffee (for previous example, see "You Know You're Not Fully Awake in the Morning When...").

As usual, I fired up my single-serving drip maker, and starting pouring in water from the kettle. Stepped away to get some cereal, and--what--it's overflowing on the countertop?!?

Oh wait....

Aw, crap. Yeah, that would explain it. I got the mug turned right side up and started over.

Sometimes I wonder whether I should legally be allowed to drive without some caffeine in my system:

"Sir, how much coffee have you had this morning?"

"Uh... none sir."

"Please step out of the vehicle, sir. I'm going to administer this breathalyzer test. ... It looks like your blood caffeine content is below the legal limit. I'll have to ask you to sit in the cruiser..."



Jam-Packed Weekend

A busy social weekend; I'll try to write just enough to get an outline and some high points posted.

Friday evening, Judy and I went to the American Repertory Theater's production of Anna Deveare Smith's Let Me Down Easy--a one-woman performance, where she plays a variety of people that she has interviewed over time, ranging from a Harvard English professor, to former governor Anne Richards, to a doctor stuck caring for abandoned patients in New Orleans during Katrina, to survivors and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, to a Buddhist monk. Another character was Samantha Power, the Harvard professor who wrote a book that I'm interested in checking out sometime (A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide).

A bit more about the performer, as background: After years as an acting professor, Smith burst onto the theatre scene in 1992 with Fires in the Mirror, her chronicle of the Crown Heights riots. When a Hasidic driver ran over a seven-year-old Guyanese-American boy, violence erupted. Hours later, an angry mob murdered a young Hasidic professor. Clashes between Jews, African Americans, and police officers continued for days.

In the wake of the violence, Smith conducted hundreds of interviews with residents, politicians, and pundits. The purpose was not to cull information, but character...

Also, pictured below--her performing Jessye Norman (the opera singer) wonderful to see Smith put on Norman's regal diva mannerisms).

It took a little while to get past the artifice of rapidly-changing characters, but the play was cleverly structured, easing its way in with a more descriptive piece (the history of the song Amazing Grace--written by a former repentant slave trader, a fact that I was unaware of.) There was a mixture of topics (American health care, the Rwandan genocide)--some critics found it to be unfocused, which might be true, given the tight focus of her previous works (Crown Heights, Rodney King).

By bizarre coincidence, at the play, we ran into two of Judy's friends--the same one we ran into randomly when we went to see Copenhagen at the ART. Dinner at Casablanca together followed.

On Saturday, unfortunately, I had to head to the office, to get some work done for a Monday conference call. Happily, though, it turned out to be less work than I expected--it did not end up destroying the entire afternoon.

Dan and Daniel (from KW) were in town for a wedding, so that evening, they came up to Arlington to have dinner at Prose--I've been here a few times before, and I like their emphasis on local, interesting food and quirkiness (the reviews on that page are pretty informative). However, be well aware that it's not a place to go if you are in a rush--from sitting down to leaving was about three hours. And that included a teaser of two of three entrees landing in front of us, and then being whisked away when they realized they had the wrong table.

The tagliatele was a little bit of a disappointment that night--rolled very thick, and the inside had a bit of an uncooked dough texture. But the sauce was delicious (mmmm... cream.... Serrano ham...), as was the black bean soup appetizer.

I was amused by their take on the standard rote Massachusetts-mandated warning: Consuming rare or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness, court jesterism, paranormal activity, not calling one's mother often enough, and not returning one's graduation garb on time.

It was wonderful to catch up with Dan and Daniel--I realized that I really miss having leisurely rambling conversations with them. Dan tried quite hard to convince me that I needed to move back up to K-W. I'm glad I'll be seeing them in, uh... three weeks, I think.

Sunday was a coffee hour, celebrating anteejean's birthday. Many people, many bagels, lots of food, lingering on into the afternoon. Good times. A mixture of Tep folks, Jean's work friends, yarn friends, and cat folks (one of the people who runs St. Meows).

Random Tech Notes

Two random tech items tonight:

Many thanks to Jofish for his recommendation on solving my DVD-R hardware problem:

You may need to buy a new drive. Newegg has this for $21 shipped right now:


It arrived a few days after ordering; the bigger delay was getting my butt over to MicroCenter for a 4-pin molex connector to SATA power adapter. Pretty amazing: I plugged it in, and it worked--no scavenging for the right driver, installing, removing, reinstalling--what I expect for Windows hardware installs. It works, it burns DVDs. Go newegg!

Second, while running the energy simulation software I use all the time at work, I got the following error message:

Wow... hadn't seen that one before... it gave me a bit of a chuckle, despite crashing the program.