2008-03-30

A Fun Boston Day

Apologies for another rambling post... but hey, it has pictures! That makes it more fun to read, right?

Anyway, Sunday was a fun wander-around-Boston day, complete with perfect weather (high near 50, cloudless skies). Marketa organized a dim sum run to Emperor's Garden--I've actually never been there, relying on China Pearl as my standard. It was actually great--the dining room is a soaring former theater, complete with a restored proscenium. A pretty neat space to eat in.


The food itself was yummy--the usual standards rolling around; a crowd of eight people makes for great variety at the table.

I was fascinated by the "old theater" aspect--however, I believe that back during my undergrad days, they showed either porn films, martial arts movies, or perhaps both. I figured that if these walls could talk, they'd probably say, "Eeewwwwww...." and "Do you know what they had to scrub off us?!" Sorry.

Some Google searching revealed that this building was formerly the Center Theatre:

This was the second theatre called "Globe" in Boston. Designed by Arthur Vinal, it opened in 1903. Its two-story, Romanesque entrance arch was cut into panels with centered light bulbs. The facing was light brick and terra cotta, topped with friezework, cornice, and balustrae. On the latter were eleven bronze posts topped with lamps. The Globe was famous for burlesque in the 1930's with Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Fannie Brice, Sophie Tucker, W.C. Fields, Abbott & Costello, and Gypsy Rose Lee among its performers.

A cool old postcard can be found here.

Afterwards, the group of us split up; JMD and I wandered down through the Commons (huge anti-China Falun Gong rally there) and the Garden, down Newbury Street.

We wandered over to the Hancock Tower--we went inside, and the security guard confirmed that they have permanently closed the observation deck, after September 11th. I'm guessing that the security concerns were mostly an excuse--they have converted the floor into office space, anyway.

However, it was cool to check out the moire patterns on the glass due to my polarized glasses--see my previous fun with polarization.

Huh... can I take a pic of the effect with my digital camera?


Yeah! Cool!


We continued on Huntington Avenue... it turns out the duck tours (which were out in force today) leave from there. We saw one of the duck boats with rainbow stripes on it... it made us go "Huh?" until we wandered around to the front:


Heh. Too cool. (For non-Boston types, the South End of Boston is well-known as a stylish gay neighborhood, which was sketchy perhaps a generation ago, but was colonized and gentrified by gay men.)

We also stopped by the Border's on Boylston; one of the books on the discount pile was New York from Land, Sea, & Air.


I thumbed through it... it was really cool to realize that New York City has become so ingrained into my history that I had seen the vast majority of the places pictured in the book--missed maybe 10% or less of the book. But better yet was the personal history and connections attached to various NYC locations. Carnegie Hall, where I saw Perlick sing the all-Tchaikovsky program back in 2001.... The Plaza Hotel, where our class had our senior prom... yummy pastrami on rye at Katz's... touring the UN building on a high school field trip.... being a little kid stuck climbing the winding spiral stairs inside the Statue of Liberty on a sweltering summer day.

Speaking of which--work is sending me to Newark on April 10th, and I'll be hanging out in the City afterwards. Anyone else want to visit then?

2008-03-29

They Might Be Giants, Somerville Theater

Friday morning, I was checking film schedules at the local Capitol and Somerville Theaters. Then I saw the stage performance sidebar: They Might Be Giants, playing that evening.

What?!? TMBG are playing one subway stop from my office? Tonight? Why didn't anyone tell me about this?!?! And Ticketmaster says they're sold out?!!?

DAMNNN YOOOUUUUU!!!! DAMMMNNN YOUUU ALLLLL!!!

Or alternately...

<WilliamShatner>KHAAAAAAANNNNN!!!<⁄WilliamShatner>

Anyway, on a whim after work, I wandered by the theater to see if anyone was selling tickets. As a matter of fact, yes--$33 for a front row balcony spot. Awesome.


The Johns put on a great show. Some songs off their new (2007) album, some of their more recent stuff (Older, Doctor Worm, James K. Polk, New York City), and lots of crowd-pleasing old favorites (Ana Ng, Birdhouse, Letterbox, Particle Man, The Guitar....all sorts of stuff that I know all the words to). As a wonderful surprise encore, they played all 20-odd "Fingertips" tracks from Apollo 18--the 15-second song snippets that would be interspersed between the regular songs, if you put the CD on shuffle play. Or as Beemer once put it, "Each of them is a threat of something that they could make into a song..."

In case you were wondering about the three heads in the background of the stage: Wikipedia to the rescue (I also lacked this item of TMBG lore, myself)--

Their atypical instrumentation, along with their songs which featured unusual subject matter and clever wordplay, soon attracted a strong local following. Their performances also featured absurdly comical stage props such as oversized fezzes and large cardboard cutout heads of newspaper editor William Allen White. Many of these props would later turn up in their first music videos.

If you would permit me to wax nostalgic, it was a bit odd to see the band that provided the geek-rock soundtrack to my undergrad years, and realize that they've been performing for 25 years (since 1982). Flansburgh looks like, well, a 40-something with a gut (to be fair, if you're not allowed that when you're married and 47, when would it be allowed?), who could be the hip/funny high school science teacher. He's obviously having a good time bouncing all around the stage. But I guess I feel some goofy protectiveness for a band that I'm such a big fan of.

To wit, I know that they're not lacking for work, given their new albums, touring, kids' albums and side projects all over the place. But I sometimes wonder if it is depressing to realize that a few albums from the 1990's reflect their greatest popular successes, and although people will keep buying their new work, they won't see that same level again. Also, the classic rock-band-with-a-history playing their "standards," and whether or not they get tired of doing so (i.e., the "No, we're not gonna fucking do 'Stonehenge'!" problem).

Anyway, looking at the Somerville Theater upcoming events--Eels are playing on Monday 31st (thanks, Jess, for playing Souljacker on the ride down to New York). Tempting, but I actually have to be at work early on Tuesday.

But as for other live music--Peter Mulvey (folk/rock solo guitar) is playing in Arlington next Friday, five minutes from my front door--anyone interested?

2008-03-18

Lookitt my Buuuut!!!

Okay, this might be one of the more ridiculous blog posts I've written in a while, but I took today off as a sick day, and I got really bored. Also, I don't understand how lying around the house and watching TV is supposed to make you feel better--my cough is about as bad, and I feel hideously unproductive. Well, at least I got a few loads of laundry done.

Anyway, this is a story about pants and my ass. Specifically: I have never had pants that fit me, because I am so ridiculously shaped--I'm in the bottom 1% of adult male heights in this country, and borderline overweight/obese according to BMI charts. As a result, my pants are 36 waist/30 inseam, with the bottom six inches lopped off the leg (yes, that's right--a 24 inch inseam). This means the seat of my pants are baggy, and the crotch hangs down well below the normal location.

I've always meant to try one of those custom-fit clothing websites--so I ordered a custom set of khakis from Land's End. There are loads of measurements (height, weight, sportcoat size, shoe size, waist, inseam, sleeve length...). Among them is "Seat shape"--Look at yourself from the side, and determine which of the following three options best describes the shape of your seat:. On other words, "What does your ass look like?"


Huh. I can't say that I spend much time looking at my ass. How to solve this problem?... time for digital camera, tripod, and timer!


Hrm... how much of that is the jeans fabric material? Apologies, but here's my butt in biking clothes:


Sorry if you want to burn your eyeballs out of your head now. Note that I'm not wearing a belly shirt--I pulled it up to remove a covering layer.

Man... to be honest, it appears that my ass is prominent, yo. Ahem: Prominent/High — The top of your seat curves sharply out from your lower back. (Do not choose this option if you simply feel you have a "large seat.") Huh... great, so it's the difference between having a prominent ass, or a fat one. Swell.

I will continue with stories of my ass and the fit of these new pants when they arrive (five to six weeks, according to the website).

2008-03-17

Full/Busy/Good Weekend

An incredibly fun/busy/good weekend, despite the fact that I came down with a really vicious cold or possibly the flu. I had been looking forward to the events of this weekend for months, so it really annoyed me that I was in rough shape for enjoying it.

Saturday morning was the REI Outdoor School GPS Navigation Class. I bought a cheap closeout GPS (Garmin GPS12) about a year ago, and have only scratched the surface in terms of functionality (see my previous geekery). I actually signed up for the class in September 2007, and the class has been cancelled/rescheduled/delayed continuously since then for me. Pretty ridiculous.

The first portion was classroom instruction--bearing and heading, and geeky stuff like UTMs, WGS84, NAD27. FYI, typical USGS maps are NAD27, but you should always check what system the map is under before using it.

The second half was playing around in the field with the units, in Rocky Woods in Medfield. It was fun--we got to find various geocaches, get familiar with the degree of accuracy, plug in waypoints and navigate to them. Unfortunately, it was in the 30's and snowing/raining for most of the morning. Ugh. Not good for me. But I'd highly recommend the class.


Spent the rest of the day sleeping.

Sunday morning was a coffee hour that Jean put on for some of her knitting/crocheting crowd. I got to meet lawyer-Susan and neighbor-Jenny, and Bird & Jen came down from NH as well.


I had organized a bunch of people (Bird, Jen, A, Guy, Indy, myself) to go see Avenue Q--we went out to dinner first in the South End to Hammersley's Bistro--it was lovely, just like last time. I split the appetizer Oven Roasted Sweetbreads and Poached Egg with Smoky Bacon and Balsamic Vinegar with a few others. Perfectly done--just a small non-overpowering portion, with a smoky flavorful crispy exterior, and an unctuous middle. Although Jen stayed away from Bill, declaiming, "Ewwww... thymus breath..."

For an entree, I had Hamersley's Cassoulet with Pork, Duck Confit and Garlic Sausage--also fabulous, and quite hearty and filling. A & Guy chose wines--A chose Telegramme by H Brunier & Fils--an amusing story behind it, of a bad wine year and reversed labels.

And then the show. Avenue Q. Yeah.


It was everything that I had been looking forward to--sitting down to hear, "It Sucks to be Me" made me think, "Yes! I'm here, I'm here, I'm here, for real!"


One wonderful part was getting the bits-between-songs filled in; they were at least as funny as the songs, if not better--the bridezilla bit, and the Electric Company style animation snippets:

Man: "Come"
Woman: "Mittment"

The Boston Globe Review is here. The show is playing for a few more days at least. But I suppose one reason why this show is so likeable is that besides its humor, it does have a degree of heart, and you enjoy the characters and the story.

One small disappointment: they dropped the patter section of "Schadenfreude":

Straight A student's getting B's…
Exes getting STDs…
Waking doormen from their naps…
Watching tourists reading maps…
Football players getting tackled…
CEOs getting shackled…
Watching actors never reach…
The ending of their Oscar speech!


Anyway, a fabulous weekend--many thanks to my friends for coming along on the jaunt! Definitely a weekend of The-Type-of-Stuff-That-Makes-Life-Worthwhile.

2008-03-12

Remarkably Bad Travel Karma

I’m wrapping one remarkably bad work trip right now, sitting at CLT and waiting for my delayed flight to leave here at 12:30 AM. My coworker is still pounding away on a report at midnight. But as for my brain state, at this point, I can see the city limits for “Uselessville” fading away in the rear view mirror. Thus I’m just blogging now.

First of all, this was a “hurry up and wait” trip—we didn’t know whether the client was going to come through with a signed agreement when we left the office on Friday evening. I found out via email from my coworker on Saturday—“We’re a go. Pack your bags.”

We were headed to look at some leaky buildings on the Florida panhandle. Incidentally, did you know that part of Florida is not on Eastern Time? That surprised me too, when I landed and unexpectedly found myself a different time zone.

Various and sundry delays happened during travel—we were on the ground by 11:30 PM. However, we had a 1.5 hour drive, and then Google Maps completely misdirected us to our hotel. We followed the map, and ended up in the parking lot of a closed Irish Pub. Almost like useful. After a few calls to the hotel, we ended up driving another half hour in circles to find the place.

Then, pulling into the parking lot at 2:30 AM, we saw (a) scads of teenagers lounging around on the hotel balconies, (b) a sheriff’s car pulling away from a complaint from management, and (c) piles of red plastic cups and Bud Light suitcases crushed on the pavement. Oh yeah… it’s spring break. Great. In case you were wondering, we did not experience any “Girls Gone Wild” events heading to our hotel rooms… not that I really would’ve given a crap at that hour. (“Yay. Boobies. Whatever.”)

We ended up getting 3 hours’ of sleep before a 7 AM wheels-up time.

The work itself went well; generally, one of those Good Days at Work. Although exhausting. And nope, we didn’t get to see the beach at all, except from the rooftop.



As a funny coincidence, one of our other coworkers was traveling that day, and connecting in CLT at the same time. So we got together for a celebratory round of margaritas for surviving this trip. I had to bail early to catch my flight, leaving my second drink on the table.

After getting to the gate, we found out: yes, we were dealing with a delay: 10:30 -> 11:15 -> 12:30. I texted that news to my coworker, and he wrote back:

Damn. It was tough to get those drinks down, but hey, apparently I am the clean up guy

Man… you know that it’s bad when your delayed evening flight is listed along with tomorrow morning’s 6 AM flights.


I realized that the later in my sleep-deprived state I got, the more I sounded like a Tourette's patient ("God fucking shit delay to after cockbite midnight damn...").

Ugh. I ended up getting home at 3:30 AM. I’m spending today catching up on sleep debt, actually.

2008-03-09

NYT Op-Ed: Geek Love

An amusing Op-Ed column by a senior editor at Wired about the death of Gary Gygax, and growing up as a geek.

Gary Gygax died last week and the universe did not collapse. This surprises me a little bit, because he built it.

I’m not talking about the cosmological, Big Bang part. Everyone who reads blogs knows that a flying spaghetti monster made all that. But Mr. Gygax co-created the game Dungeons & Dragons, and on that foundation of role-playing and polyhedral dice he constructed the social and intellectual structure of our world.

...

Yes, I played a little. In junior high and even later. Lawful good paladin. Had a flaming sword. It did not make me popular with the ladies, or indeed with anyone. Neither did my affinity for geometry, nor my ability to recite all of “Star Wars” from memory.

Yet on the strength of those skills and others like them, I now find myself on top of the world. Not wealthy or in charge or even particularly popular, but in instead of out. The stuff I know, the geeky stuff, is the stuff you and everyone else has to know now, too.


However, the real reason I'm bothering to blog about it is that there was a delightful flowchart on growing-up-geek, nailing many of the memes and experiences (although, I am proud to say, I've never been to a Con. Especially not a furry Con. Ew ew ew ew.)



To give credit where it is due: graphic by Sam Potts.

The thing that cinched it for me was that the image at the top of the article was just a closeup of the top corner of the flowchart. When you clicked to get the full image, at the bottom of the flowchart was:

DOUBTING THE TECHNICAL ACCURACY OF THIS DIAGRAM

and

BLOGGING ABOUT DIAGRAMS

Yeah. Busted. I just had to, at that point.

2008-03-05

Random Amusements

Not much content today; just some randomly amusing items.

First, I'm currently writing a conference paper--part of it is explaining the spatial moisture content of the exterior side of the wall (sheathing)--I had some pictures, so I decided to use color to make it more understandable:


Then I realized... aw man.. if I had selected another set of colors, I could totally have made Figure 6 of my paper a Mondrian knock-off.


Second, an amusing story from a coworker. One of the spare chairs in his office is missing the rear screws in the seat, so if you lean forward, it dumps you on the ground if you're not careful.

The boss came to visit, and was using this chair to take a conference call. My coworker wanted to give him a warning about the chair, without interrupting the call, so he wrote on a post-it: "J.--chair broken--don't lean forward!"

And then put the note on the table in front of J.

Badness ensues.

As my coworker put it, "I'm sorry, but sometimes, I'm just dumb."

Finally--JMD and I went out to the new local sushi place--it's just down the street. I owed her dinner, in return for a ride to the airport. It was very good--excellent Korean vegetable pancake, very tasty sushi, and extremely attentive service. So for those of you who will be crashing here in the future, we have an easy no-thought-required default dinner option (um, for the fish-eating among you, at least).