Bay Area Trip Part II: Fun

I know... pretty lame, completing blog entries a week late.  Just a few quick bullets and photos from last weekend's Bay Area activities.
  • Meeting up with Christy and U-Boat in SF, after dropping off my rental bloatmobile off at SFO and taking BART up.

    Because, really, all the good parties end up in the bathroom. Oh, wait a second...

  • Oakland Farmer's Market with Christy! It's embarassing that I think of myself as a recreational foodie, but that I've never actually seen artichokes in bloom. Wow! A very pretty flower. Plus you can totally see, "Yep, it's just a big damn thistle."

  • CalTrain with Chuck down to South Bay, to end up at Perlick's birthday party. Happy birthday Perlick! If it helps you feel old, he's 35. Duuude.

    I brought provisions for margaritas and whipped up a batch. It was great to see that there are some young tEps (Darwin, sMark) hanging out with the Bay Area drooler crowd. In fact, sMark noted that this following conversation took place:

    Chuck: Yeah, so I sent it to a professional; I didn't have the right equipment.
    Bats: Oh, I guess you're not a tool whore like me.
    Perlick (to his co-workers): Yeah, if you guys are ever in the Boston area, and you need a tool, this is your man!

    We were talking about bicycle repair. Really. Um. Yeah.

  • Dinner over at Schmooz & Jen's--a kid-filled evening! Jason & Felicia, Lucky & Karthiga, and their respective kids were all over that night. Max also has one seriously awesome treehouse now.

  • A morning park hang-out session with the Schmoozes, and Pearl & Steve (and kids). Pearl is an architect now; she wanted to pick my brain about some building geekery stuff; I was happy to oblige.

  • Lunch with the rotating crowd back at the Schmoozes--Perlick & family also rolled by, and later Jofish & Erin.

  • A ride up to SF with Jofish & Erin, followed by dinner at SPQR with Judy & John--lovely little Italian Restaurant. I thoroughly recommend their little dishes, such as Brussels sprouts with garlic, parsley, capers, and lemon. Excellent octopus as well. However, not enough critical mass of omnivores to try Beef tongue with horseradish sauce, or other, even odder food. The main pasta dishes were good, but not as stellar or inventive--if I went back, I'd go for a vast selection of antipasti instead.

  • Jazz with Judy & John at Yoshi's San Francisco--Latin jazz by Eddie Palmieri All-Stars--fantastic and kickin'. If I go back, though, I would recommend either buying reserved seating or having dinner there--otherwise, it is a scramble for the seats that are left over.

  • I got dropped off at Seppo's in Oakland--a bunch of folks were throwing their Alinea Challenge Party. I consider myself quite fortunate that I got to sample some of their results--holy cow, odd tasty weird science!

  • Travels home sucked--not only being sick and groggy-headed, but dealing with a three hour delay due to weather at Logan, and arriving home around 1 AM. Ugh.

Huge thanks for everyone's hospitality!! Wow... an incredibly full, but tiring, weekend wrap up to a long trip. But I think I'll be back out there in July, if plans hold! Hope to see y'all soon!


Bay Area Trip Part Ia: To the Bloatmobile!

The rental vehicle from this trip is another story by itself. We were hauling three guys and a fair amount of gear, so I ordered Standard SUV Chevrolet Trailblazer or similar. I showed up, got my assignment, walked to spot J9, and… “Oh, you’ve got to be f’ing kidding.”

Yep… an Eddie Bauer Edition Ford Expedition. I went back to the desk to request something else.. unfortunately, the choices were a mini-van or cars… or waiting until they cleaned something more reasonable. So I wallowed out onto 101 in this beast.

I felt this strong wave of self-loathing every time that I got behind the wheel. I have confirmed that I have no wish whatsoever to drive one of these things. I have always been amazed by the clueless people who say, “Yeah, you SUV-haters are just too poor to afford one.” Um, what? You truly fail to understand the situation, don’t you? And for amusement, here’s a quote from a 2004 Malcolm Gladwell article on SUVs:

Bradsher brilliantly captures the mixture of bafflement and contempt that many auto executives feel toward the customers who buy their S.U.V.s. Fred J.Schaafsma,a top engineer for General Motors, says, “Sport-utility owners tend to be more like ‘I wonder how people view me,’ and are more willing to trade off flexibility or functionality to get that.” According to Bradsher, internal industry market research concluded that S.U.V.s tend to be bought by people who are insecure, vain, selfcentered, and self-absorbed, who are frequently nervous about their marriages, and who lack confidence in their driving skills. 

Ford’s S.U.V. designers took their cues from seeing “fashionably dressed women wearing hiking boots or even work boots while walking through expensive malls.” Toyota’s top marketing executive in the United States, Bradsher writes, loves to tell the story of how at a focus group in Los Angeles “an elegant woman in the group said that she needed her full-sized Lexus LX 470 to drive up over the curb and onto lawns to park at large parties in Beverly Hills.” One of Ford’s senior marketing executives was even blunter: “The only time those S.U.V.s are going to be off-road is when they miss the driveway at 3 A.M.”

Parking this thing was an annoyance. Another thing to remark on: I was trying to fold down the third row of seats, and couldn’t find the pull tab to release them. Then I looked in the back of the car: they are power fold-down/up seats. Oy. Yep, people must be that lazy.

At one point, we drove to the Home Depot ¾ of a mile away in that SUV, and grabbed some McDonalds for lunch since we were pressed for time. Eww. I felt so quintessentially American from that experience.

Then refilling it before returning it to the airport was what I expected—12 gallons… for a half tank of fuel.

Man… I’ll be happy when gas prices start going up again. 

Huh... apparently, they are.

And rest assured, I gave Avis a 1 out of 5 for "Received requested vehicle."


Bay Area Trip Part I: Work

I’m back home from a very long, busy seven days—I flew out to the Bay Area last Monday for work, slammed Tuesday through Friday, and then spent the weekend seeing a bunch of the Bay Area folks.

Some great things about this trip:

This is the part of the job that I really enjoy—getting out into the field, strapping on a tool vest, and doing all sorts of real physical work, from shimmying around the crawl space to climbing up on the roof, installing sensors, finding creative solutions to data acquisition problems, and figuring out ways to make a real house work.

Damn, a really big rat is eating the wires or something!

Being right near Fruitvale BART, 2.5 miles away from Bradley and Janie, and when I stood on the roof, I could see U-Boat and Christy’s place. And knowing that I would get to hang out with those folks on the weekend.

Trying out cool taco stands around Fruitvale BART… they felt pretty authentic, and were damn tasty.

They had the thermostat temporarily wired to a thermostat located in the crawl space, so we could do our tests. I thought that it ended up looking like an exceptionally blocky video game controller.

Man, this game is teh lame.

Some lousy things about this trip:

Several 10-12 hour days in a row—which is expected when you do field work, followed by catching up on email at the hotel. All in all, it was pretty exhausting, and I managed to catch a cold by the end of it...I’m still coughing and feeling fuzzy-headed now.

Time after time, my mantra became, “Why can’t it just be f’ing easy this time?” So many tasks took far longer than they had any right to. Instead of connecting my sensors to the HVAC system, I had to spend 45 minutes deciphering the wiring pattern that the installers used. A measurement that normally takes two minutes to set up became a full-hour affair involving two people lifting the air handler box with a pipe, hammering off a recalcitrant piece of metal, and taking a hacksaw to some errant screws. Grr. We ended up spending one evening doing testing with headlamps and flashlights.

I had originally intended to work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning, and then possibly take part of Friday off. No such luck. I dropped my two colleagues off at BART at lunch, and then continued on with more measurements, and then packed up our gear. Had to sneak into the factory ninja-style to pack up my gear, because everybody had left for the weekend by 4:30.

Man… it felt really good to get done with that week.


A Shout Out to my Favorite Ithacans

Um... actually, at this point, it's a case of "favorie former Ithacans," I think--has everyone left the area now in a diaspora from Cornell?

Anyway, on Monday's BOS-SFO flight, I was sightseeing from 30,000 foot window seat, as I often like to do. Looking out the left side of the plane a little while after takeoffs, I saw a really distinctive looking, long thin lake...

Hey wait... there are more of them. Oh hey, we're flying over the Finger Lakes! Cool! Sorry that the photo is so lousy--you might not really be able to tell water from land, but it was pretty obvious from my seat. Looking closer, I recognized I-90 running East-West. Couldn't make out the Erie Canal, though.

And for reference, the Wikipedia map:

I guess, just in general, thoughts of Ithaca make me smile. Then again, I haven't spent all that much wintertime there. Heh.


Coffee Hour: Kid Invasion!

Julie and Nikho (and their two sons) are doing a big road trip this summer--Nikho's up for tenure, and he wanted to take his family out travelling. So they've seen Rebar & Christy, Beef & Laurel, Hardpack & Milena, a variety of non-Tep friends, and will be seeing Woody & Robin, Leper & Elizabeth on their drive back. So to celebrate their stop in Boston, we had a great big coffee hour at my place!

Loads of kids were at this shindig--not just Julie & Nikho's, but Raj & Bindu's (daughter and son), Linder's baby, and T Stop & Jessie's Miss V.

Of course, bagels with all the fixins' were served:

(Canonical bagel: cream cheese, lox, slivered red onion, capers, cracked black pepper. Nom nom nom).

Also, Indy brought over his newly-purchased Smart Car. So cute! All of us geeked out around it...

Jean and BirdJen got to take it for a drive. Also, I took it upon myself to demonstrate that a person can fit in the back cargo area. Okay, not very comfortably. But you can fit.

As usual, events continued on into the afternoon... all good.

Great to see everyone! Safe and happy travels, Julie & Nikho!

Oooh... Pretty (Green Line)

For those of you who haven't already seen it--the EOT (Executive Office of Transportation) has done animated renderings of all the proposed Green Line stations to be built for the extension out to Medford. Also, it seems useful that they have narrowed down where the stops will be. Additionally, usual snarky and angry comments here.

Yes, yes, I know... it will be nice if we had any assurance that the Green Line Extension will be something more substantive than pretty animated renderings. But hey... something about it makes me feel generally hopeful.


It Pays to Know the Right People

Well, specifically: it pays to know R. Her company is a corporate sponsor of the DeCordova Museum, so as a result, she (and a guest!) can get in for free. So a few weeks ago, we did a bike trip from Watertown out there, and spent an afternoon checking out the museum.

But it gets even better! Because of the corporate sponsorship deal, this past weekend, we got into the opening of the newly installed exhibit: The Old, Weird America: Folk Themes in Contemporary Art.

This summer DeCordova Sculpture Park + Museum will host the award-winning traveling show The Old, Weird America, the first museum exhibition to explore the widespread resurgence of folk imagery and mythic history in recent art from the United States. Organized by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston senior curator Toby Kamps, the exhibition illustrates the relevance and appeal of folklore to contemporary artists, as well as the genre’s power to illuminate ingrained cultural forces and overlooked histories. The exhibition borrows its inspiration and title—with the author’s blessing—from music and cultural critic Greil Marcus’ 1997 book of the same title that examines the influence of folk music on Bob Dylan and The Band’s seminal album, The Basement Tapes.

Full on reception and everything. Including good beer!

The exhibits were a somewhat odd mix; sculpture, drawing, and photography, loosely linked by a general theme of Americana, ranging between Native American themes, the Civil War, the violence endemic in our history, and nineteen portraits of Abraham Lincoln impersonators. The WBUR story on the exhibit is here.

We got to walk through part of the sculpture garden afterwards; I particularly liked this one: Rick Brown's Butterfly (2004). I only found out by reading the website blurb that the artist's intent is to change the work over time:

Rick Brown's site-specific sculpture comprised of numerous concrete spheres and rectangular rods will be displayed in the Sculpture Park for several years. During this time, the artist will occasionally return to DeCordova to rearrange elements of his composition. The concept of Butterfly is based on the passage of time and resultant change, and the alterations Brown will make to the work will be responses to external stimuli other than the sculpture itself.

There is definitely a sign that states, "Do Not Climb on or Touch the Sculpture." Ooooh... but it looks so climbable ;) We both geeked out about the piece--both in terms of "what it means," as well as bits of concrete geekery ("... just how did they form these spheres? Wait... you can see the fill port left over on this sphere here....")

And this one made me laugh out loud--it appears to be a brand new installation. I like it a lot:

I didn't find a caption for it yet. The caution tape might just be temporary, for letting the grass grow back... but I think it adds more to the installation--e.g., random giant stick figure falls from the sky, so we need to put caution tape around it.

On an only-loosely-linked note, an amusing sign for the restrooms at Upper Crust Pizza in Harvard Square: