fauxklore: (travel)
I also collect state capitals. My specific goal is to do a volksmarch in every capital, generally involving the actual capitol building. Cheyenne was on my way back to Denver (where I’ve done the appropriate walk already) so made for a reasonable morning excursion.

I had not done a 10K volksmarch in nearly two years. I have been having sporadic foot issues, which were probably not helped by how much walking I did in New York the weekend before. It was hot out. It was not really fun.

It didn’t help that the walk wasn’t particularly interesting. There were a few sections of historic buildings, but there was a large part around a lake in a park and another large section through a cemetery, neither of which were notable. The area around the Capitol was better, but the Capitol itself is closed for renovation. There was an attractive Greek Orthodox church and a synagogue across from a statue of Robert Burns. I’d have liked more background on some of the historic houses. So, overall, I thought the walk was meh, but it did serve its purpose.

After the walk, I drove back to Denver and checked into the Hampton Inn near the airport for the night. I have stayed there countless times over the years and it remains reliable for what it is. I called some friends and we made plans for dinner. Normally, I’d have been up for meeting them downtown, but I was pretty worn out and suggested we eat near where I was. That required a bit of research and, through the simple expedient of seeing what the iphone said was nearby, we ended up at African Grill and Bar in the Green Valley Ranch shopping center, a couple of miles down Tower Road.

What a find! Okay, they didn’t actually have any African beers other than Tusker (which is Kenyan, so doesn’t really go with West African food). But the food was excellent. We ordered lamb samosas, fried plantains, spinach stew with oxtail, coconut stew with chicken, and okra stew with goat. The stews came with rice, too. Everything was tasty and all of the dishes were different from each other. Seeing as I do have occasions to be in that area, I am definitely going to keep this place on my go-to list for the future.

And the next day I flew home, though with a delay of a couple of hours. Thus ended an all too brief vacation.
fauxklore: (travel)
One of my life list items is visiting every National Park in the U.S. So it made sense to leverage off my trip to Carhenge to drive a couple of hours further north to Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. (For those who might wonder, I had previously been to Badlands National Park. In fact, I think that may have been the first National Park I ever went to.) It was an easy and uncrowded drive, with the highlight being a sudden stop to let a couple of pronghorn cross the road just before I got to the turnoff for the park visitor center. Once at the visitor center, I had to choose which tour to take. I decided on the Natural Entrance tour, which is the most popular. You’re not allowed to take any bags into the cave, so I went back out to the car to leave pretty much everything except my camera (and my wallet and car keys). I did have time to stamp my National Park passport book and to buy a long-sleeved tee shirt, as well as to watch the park movie and read some of the exhibits, before the tour.

The tour passes the natural entrance, but doesn’t actually use it. The ranger did use a ribbon to demonstrate the wind from the cave that gives it its name. Then we went through a door and down a lot of steps into the cave. There are a total of about 300 steps along the tour (mostly down – you take an elevator out) and roughly half of them are in this first section. When the whole group got down, the ranger talked about two specific types of formations in the cave – boxwork and frostwork. Frankly, neither is anywhere near as spectacular as normal stalagmites and stalactites.

We continued along through the cave, with various stops for talks. The tour covers about 2/3 of a mile, which is a very small part of the overall cave complex, which is still not completely mapped. The most interesting parts were when our ranger (Sina Bear Eagle, a Lakota woman) told the Lakota emergence story, which has to do with the origins of both bison and people. She also read some fascinating excerpts from a journal kept by Alvin MacDonald, who led early tours of the cave. Apparently, it didn’t bother him to leave 3 of the 9 people on one of his tours in the cave overnight!

After the tour was over, I contemplated doing one or two of the short nature trails that were alleged to start near the visitor center. I was, alas, unable to find where either of the trailheads was, so nixed that plan. Instead, I drove on, stopping to look at a herd of bison just outside the park road. These were reintroduced to the area in 1913 and came mostly from the Bronx Zoo. (A few more were brought over from Yellowstone in 1916.) They’re really quite magnificent, at least from what I consider a safe distance.

The next couple of hours involved driving a series of back roads from South Dakota going west and then south into Wyoming. My destination for the night was Guernsey, Wyoming. I’d booked a room at the Cobblestone Inn there based pretty much on being a reasonable distance for my plans. It was adequate. I’d have said it was nice, but the first room they put me in had not actually been serviced. And the second one was lacking a shower curtain. But the really egregious sin was their failure to have coffee / hot water available in the breakfast room the next morning. Yes, I understand that things break, but as a person who considers access to caffeine to be a basic human right, being told just to use the coffeemaker in my room makes me knock at least one to two stars off my rating of any hotel.
fauxklore: (travel)
Title pun thanks to my college friend, Mark.

Having seen 3 total solar eclipses previously, all of which required considerably more complicated travel (Ghana in 2006, Kiribati in 2009, and Micronesia in 2016), there was no way I was going to miss out on the Great American Eclipse. Looking at the path of totality, I realized what would be the ideal spot for me to go. I planned a full year out for my trip to Alliance, Nebraska, home of Carhenge. This is a quirky place, which is always a plus. The combination of a good length of totality (2 and a half minutes) and reasonable odds of good weather made it an ideal destination.

So, after a night at the Fairfield Inn at JFK (just adequate), I took a Jet Blue flight to DEN, where I picked up a rental car. As is all too typical of google maps, their directions are so determined to shave off every possible inch that they make all sorts of pointless turns. Google also has a touching faith in road signs. I might turn on West Kansas Street, but there has to be some visible sign for it in order for me to do so. Still, I managed to find my way along various back roads of Nebraska and made it to the Alliance Hotel and Suites. I was paying about five times what my room would normally cost and about ten times what it was worth, but it was reasonably convenient. At least it was clean, albeit shabby.

Carhenge itself is a few miles north of Alliance. The weather looked iffy, with rain overnight and a lot of fog in the morning. But things cleared up as eclipse time neared. I should note that they were charging $50 for parking, but this was a charity fundraiser, so I was okay with it. There were other parking options a somewhat further walk away. I toured the sight, amused by the car art (e.g. The Fourd Seasons). The main henge is fascinating – built to the proportions of Stonehenge. It’s a must for any fan of uniquely American bizarre tourist attractions. To make things even better, its founder, Jim Reinder, was there, and he thoroughly enjoyed being interviewed by the local media, as well as watching the eclipse with his extended family.

As for the eclipse, I had brought eclipse glasses, my aluminized mylar filter, and solar binoculars. I also had a small tripod and a device for attaching my iphone to the binoculars. What I had not quite figured out at home was that the tripod interfered with the binocular attachment. And I couldn’t hold the binoculars steady enough without it, so there went my main photography plan. I did take a few photos of the "point and pray" variety, but nothing was really great. The eclipse, however, was great. Even at my fourth experience of totality, the feeling of awe was overwhelming. While there were plenty of people around, the site is big enough that it didn’t feel crowded. And it was obvious that everyone was completely amazed by what they were seeing. I think that even applied to the handful of cosplayers who showed up – a couple of people dressed as aliens and one guy as an auto tech kangaroo.

After the sun came back, I waited a while before braving the traffic. I was smart enough to stay a second night in Alliance, so I only had to make it the few miles back to town. My understanding is that the traffic going any further was pretty dreadful. I was glad to take a nap instead of dealing with that. I would end up doing plenty of driving the next day.

Catch-up

Aug. 9th, 2017 01:44 pm
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I've been busy for most of the past week.

Celebrity Death Watch: Ara Parseghian coached football for Notre Dame and appears in crosswords fairly often. Judith Jones edited cookbooks. Ernst Zundel was a Holocaust denier. Darren Daulton played baseball, largely for the Phillies. Don Baylor also played baseball, including a stint with the Red Sox in 1986, during which he set a record for being hit by pitches. Haruo Nakajima was the first actor to portray Godzilla. Glen Campbell was a countryish pop singer, notable for songs such as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Rhinestone Cowboy."

I want to particularly highlight Barbara Cook, who was one of the greatest Broadway stars of all time. Some of her more famous roles included Marian in The Music Man, Cunegonde in Candide (in which she achieved a tour de force with "Glitter and Be Gay"), and Amalia in She Loves Me. She had a fabulous voice and, unlike many great singers, she could also act.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Michael Cotter was a Minnesota farmer turned storyteller, who told stories of his farm life. He was a quiet and skilled teller, who I was privileged to hear a few times.

I am way behind on reading magazines, so I only just caught the news (via the MIT section of Technology Review) that Kathy Porter-Jordan, a friend from my undergraduate days died nearly a year ago. I particularly remember one year on Shavuout when she and I delved into the subject of leprosy in the Tanach.

Trip to Oregon: I made a quick trip last week to Portland, Oregon for the memorial service for my friend, Mary Joan. The travel was a bit stressful, as a thunderstorm struck just after we had been boarded (but before the plane was fully fueled). In the end, we got delayed about two hours. My decision to take a non-stop was vindicated as I figured I was fine as long as I got there some time on Thursday night. The delay was extended a little on arrival as a guy in the row behind mine had a medical emergency (significant enough for the flight attendant to be bringing him oxygen) and we had to wait for paramedics to take him off before we could disembark. But, I got there, so everything was okay.

My friend, Suzanne, was at the same hotel and, fortunately, has a compatible attitude towards timing. (Google maps says it’s a 22 minute drive, so let’s figure 45 minutes and then let’s add an extra half hour just in case we get lost ….) The ceremony was brief, with a few people (each of the two of us included) speaking, with a longer speech by Mary Joan’s husband. Then everybody went out to lunch, at which we learned that the day had been chosen since it would have been their 44th wedding anniversary.

The trip home went smoother, despite it involving a redeye too short for more than a nap. I also had a longish wait for the moon buggy from the D-gates to the main terminal at IAD, so it took longer to get to my car than to drive home. At least I had time to nap for a few hours before my next commitment.

Ben’s Bar Mitzvah: A friend’s son’s bar mitzvah was Saturday. The service was your standard Chabad service, which I won’t comment on. Ben did fine on the Torah reading and his haftorah and his mother did the expected job of bursting into tears during her brief speech afterwards. There was pretty good food at the Kiddush lunch. The big reception was in the evening at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. I only had time for a quick look through the museum, but it would be worth going back and spending half a day to see it all. There was reasonably good food and slightly odd entertainment, mostly oriented towards the kids, e.g. a sword swallower. Overall, it was a pretty nice event.

Embassy of Haiti: I went to an MIT Club of Washington event at the Embassy of Haiti last night. Actually, it was a joint event with the Harvard Club and they far outnumbered us. The embassy is beautiful, with a large art collection – practically a gallery. The ambassador was personable and gave a brief and entertaining speech. The food was okay – rice, chicken, fish, pork – and they had tasty rum punch and cake for dessert. The only problem was that it was very crowded and the food line was quite chaotic. Still, it is always worth going to these sorts of things.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Ilya Glazunov was a Russian painter. Liu Xiaobo was a Chinese writer and dissident. More significantly, he was on my ghoul pool list, since I saw a newspaper article that said his organs were failing in time to use him for my one-time trade. (Tommy Tune should now live until next year.) Fresh Kid Ice was a rapper. Mahi Beamer was a Hawaiian singer. George Romero was a director, best known for the movie Night of the Living Dead. Martin Landau was an actor, notable for starring in Mission: Impossible.

I want to especially highlight Maryam Mirzakhani. She was the first woman to win the Fields Medal, which is the top honor for a mathematician. I will refrain from commenting on the spelling of her first name.

What I Left Out of the NPL Con Write-up: I completely forgot to include my appreciation for all the hard work that Hathor and B-side did as Con hosts. Mea maxima culpa.

The Hotel Rant: I spend a lot of time at hotels. Therefore, I feel qualified to state that most hotels suck. I have already mentioned slow elevators. But there are many many many ways that hotels can make my life miserable.

My chief complaint is hotels that hide their light switches. This was one of the sins of the Hotel Revere, where the NPL con was. There was one dim light near the door, which was not adequate for finding the black on black switches that turned on both the desk lamp and the lamp between the two beds. The latter was especially annoying as there was a switch nearby that did not, so far as I could tell, control anything. At least there was a nearly adequate amount of light once I located those switches. There is one hotel I used to sometimes stay at on business trips (The Boulder Broker) where I learned to pack my own light bulbs, since there wasn’t anything brighter than 25 watts within their guest rooms.

Next on the list is the near impossibility of getting mattresses and pillows right. Most hotel mattresses are too soft. Except for the ones that appear to have been hewn out of granite. It is one thing to have had a super-hard surface when I stayed at the Ice Hotel in Quebec. And, actually, that had several layers of reindeer skins, which made it softer than the mattress at a particularly dreadful hotel in Benin that I have mercifully forgotten the name of. Pillows are even more of a problem, as there are usually too many of them and no good place to leave the extra 20 or so they pile on the bed. The worst offenders in this category are bolsters. I have never met a person who actually uses those bolsters. All hotel managers and designers need to read "The Princess and the Pea" and/or watch the musical, Once Upon a Mattress. Or at least try to sleep in the beds at their hotels.

Speaking of useless things on beds, I have never understood those ridiculous shawl-like pieces of fabrics hotels like to drape across the foot of the bed.

Drapes are often a problem. I tend to bring some duct tape so I can get them to close all the way and blot out light. I have probably ranted before on the subject of hotels that locate their drapes in places that require you to climb over or rearrange furniture in order to close them.

Sound is an even more annoying thing than light. I will note that the Hotel Revere had good sound-proofing. But many hotels do not. I particularly despise atrium hotels, i.e. ones where the rooms are arranged around a tall, sound-reflecting open area. This is an especially common design for Hyatts, which is a reason why I usually prefer Marriotts if I am going to stay at chain hotels.

Bathrooms pose a number of issues. If there is going to be a tub, it should be deep enough to soak in. Bonus points if the hotel provides bath salts or bubble bath. But a shower alone is acceptable, as long as: a) you don’t have to spend a half hour figuring out how the fuck to turn it on and adjust the temperature, b) the shower head is not so far away from where a person would stand to allow the shower water to cool too much by the time it reaches the body, and c) there is some sort of closure that prevents the shower from flooding the entire bathroom when it is used. (I am speaking to every hotel in France here.) Good things include heated floors (ah, Norway) and heated towel racks. However, hot water remains more important. I think it was Ulan Ude where I first encountered the notion that a hotel might have heated towel racks without having hot water, but I’ve run into it once or twice since. And I hope never to have that happen again.

I am not particularly fussy with respect to toiletries, with the proviso that they shouldn’t smell weird. I prefer individual bottles rather than the current eco-trend of large squeezy bottles that: a) you can’t take home with you and b) I don’t trust not to be contaminated with something disgusting. If worst comes to worst, my standard toiletries bag includes a small bottle of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, which is also useable as shampoo, laundry detergent, and reading material.

Finally, there is temperature control. It goes without saying that the thermostat should be easily visible when you enter the room and should not require rearranging furniture to reach. The thermostat should be digital and it should be possible to set the controls for either Fahrenheit (i.e. real temperature) or Celsius. The thermostat should be easily visible and not require an advanced degree in engineering to operate. Come to think of it, I have an advanced degree in engineering and half the time I can’t figure out how to get the bloody temperature to something I can tolerate. (Admittedly, I have about a 1.5 degree comfort range.) The default temperature setting should not be 90F in winter and 60F in summer. If I ruled the world, it would be 76F everywhere all the time.

Hotels that don’t suck include half the hotels in Italy (though the other half are amongst the noisiest places on the planet, so one must seek expert advice) and exactly two hotels in New York (The Algonquin and The Library Hotel). The former is bookable using Marriott points. But one needn’t spend a fortune to stay at one of the rare tolerable hotels in the world. The Albergo Atlantic in Bologna can be had for under 60 bucks a night, including breakfast.

Mr. Taken: The first show I saw at this year’s Capital Fringe was Mr. Taken. Ward Kay, who wrote it, is a Style Invitational devotee. And Valerie Holt, daughter of Empress Pat Myers, was part of the six person cast. The story involves a group of friends and their relationships. At the beginning, Jen is living with Marcus, though they don’t treat each other very well. Eric and Liz have just gotten engaged. And then there is Patty, who is crazy about a guy who has a girlfriend (hence, nicknamed "Mr. Taken") but who Jen is sort of trying to fix up with nerdy Charles. Marcus confronts Jen about her behavior, in front of the others (at a pre-Christmas get-together) and then moves out. Some months later, Patty has spent the night with Eric, whose engagement ended because Liz slept with someone else, when Liz suddenly walks in... All of the performances were good, especially those of Jamel Lewis as Charles, Brooke Bangston as Patty, and, of course, Valerie as Liz. But the show didn’t completely work for me. I had a hard time figuring out why these people were even friends in the first place, never mind sleeping together in various combinations. Then again, this is mostly farce, which is a form of theatre I don’t much care for.

The Originalist: On Saturday, I went to see The Originalist at Arena Stage. This is a play about Antonin Scalia, who was very convincingly played by Edward Gero. His foil throughout is a young African-American lesbian law clerk, Cat, played by Jade Wheeler. There is another clerk, Brad (played by Brett Mack) helping out, but he’s mostly there as sort of the anti-Cat and plays a much smaller role. Why does a flaming liberal want to clerk for a justice like Scalia? Well, she explains, she needs to understand monsters to know how to fight them. Scalia is only partly monstrous in this. He is capable of learning some things from Cat, as well as influencing her. At any rate, I thought this was an excellent play. It was often genuinely funny, while carrying a serious message about whether it is even possible to find a political middle. That’s a question I find even more relevant now than when this play was first produced in 2015. (And, remember, I am a charter member of the Dead Armadillo Party.) I also thought that the use of music – mostly opera excerpts – to delineate scenes was very effective. Overall, I highly recommend seeing this. If one could, it would be ideal to see the evening performance on 22 July, when Ruth Bader Ginsburg is going to be doing the talkback (along with Arena’s artistic director, Molly Smith.)

BeaCon

Jul. 14th, 2017 03:46 pm
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So last week was the annual National Puzzlers’ League (NPL) convention. This year’s was in Boston, so it was a quick flight up and an easy trip from the airport via the Silver Line to South Station and shank’s mare to the hotel. The Hotel Revere is well-located, near the Boston Common. It is, however, a remarkably ugly building and triggered a number of my hotel peeves. But my rant on how much I hate pretty much all hotels is off topic here.

At any rate, I wasn’t at Con to spend time whining about my hotel room. First there was a picnic of sorts. It was on the rooftop terrace of the hotel, which turned out to be the rooftop of the parking garage (so, one took the elevator down to it). The food offerings consisted of a few different types of flatbread pizza. That was okay, albeit not what I think of as picnic fare. The drinks were pricy. But that is pretty much to be expected at big city hotels and, really, I was there to socialize. I’m fairly sure I didn’t see everybody I wanted to. I should probably note for those who are unfamiliar with NPL that we go by noms, not our real names, so I will refer to people that way.

Right after that, it turned out that Tortoise and Songlian were running It Takes Two and Donimo and I paired up for that. This was originally invented by Maso as Doubles Jeopardy and there are some special rounds where, say, one partner is blindfolded and has to identify plastic fruit handed to solve a clue that the other partner can see. Other clues have two parts and each partner has to answer one. Things can get fairly silly. I will keep things nebulous for obvious reasons, but I will note that the final round was particularly clever, with the two people having to guess the answers to each other’s clues. All in all, this was a very fun game – and a fine tribute to Maso’s memory.

After that, I did a miniganza by Kryptogram called Exquisite Inheritance, which was based on Exquisite Fruit questions from last year. I don’t remember who I solved it with, but will note that two of us (myself being one) had never heard of the answer.

My friend, Ron, had asked me if I had time to get together when I was in Boston and we settled on doing a couple of walk-around puzzles together, which also allowed him a taste of what NPL is about. Walk-arounds are one of the things I particularly appreciate about the NPL con, since they provide a fun way of seeing the city the con is in. We started with A Walk in the Park with /dev/joe, which consisted of several flats (i.e. cryptic clues in verse form) that led around the Public Garden. Fortunately, I’d been tipped off to an error in the instructions, so we went around clockwise. The flats were, in general, straightforward types – things like changing a letter or finding a homonym – versus some of the more recent types that are harder to figure out what to do with. At any rate, it was, indeed, a pleasant walk in the park and covered some of the more interesting sites in the park like the monument to ether.

We took a break with Rubrick’s Movie Remakes puzzle, which required changing one letter in a movie title to match a description of the “remade” movie. The results were often had us laughing out loud. We did get hung up on a few of the clues (in one case, because it was out of order) so I had a few to finish later on with a couple of other people.

Then we headed further afield via the T to do A Lazy Somerville Puzzle Stroll by Capital R and Ryma. This had 4 stops, with a puzzle at each. The only one that really caused us any hesitation was at the bike store, where we were confused about which direction the wheels turned to get from one letter to the next. At any rate, this was another pleasant walk with reasonably interesting and straightforward puzzles to solve along the way. We celebrated finishing it with ice cream at J. P. Licks. Since we were near Ron’s apartment at that point, he headed home, while I returned to the hotel.

I had a bit of a rest before meeting up with a group to go to dinner at Teranga, a Senegalese restaurant in the South End. I had never eaten Senegalese food before, so was especially looking forward to this. The food was delicious. I shared in an appetizer of acara, which was a fried black-eyed pea batter, and had a chicken dish called yassa guinaar for the main course. We had a largish group – 13 people – which made it impossible to talk to the people at the other end of the table, but everybody at the end I was at seemed happy.

Back at the hotel, it was time for the official program. I am sure I am not the only person who is relieved that intros are now limited to first timers. There’s still something of an icebreaker game. In this case, that was Shifting Gears by Shrdlu. The table was divided into walkers and sitters. Each round, the walkers moved to a new partner. The game itself involved finding a word to fit a given category using letters from both partners’ game sheets. The catch was that we hadn’t noticed that there were different sheets for walkers and sitters until a few people ended up with the same pair of letters repeated. It was still a good concept for a game, despite that bit of a setback.

Then came included by Murdoch, which involved extracting answers that fit a category from a series of sentences. You were also supposed to write your own sentence, but we didn’t have enough time to get to that part.

The biggest challenge of the evening was Cryptictionary by 530nm330Hz and Tortoise. This had teams coming up with cryptic clues, which had to be drawn in Pictionary style. Some of them were more challenging than others – and it was pretty clear that there was a wide range of artistic skill among the players. The clues were put up on two walls later on and we got to solve a cryptic puzzle with them, which was a lot of fun.

Then the over-the-weekend cryptics for pairs solving got handed out and it was time for more unofficial games. I joined a team for Slick’s GenCon Hunt. This was somewhat frustrating as parts of it involved some specific board game related knowledge and, while I do play board games, I don’t play a lot of them and am not really up to date. The lighting in the room (or lack thereof) was also a problem for a couple of the puzzles because it was hard to distinguish some colors. Mostly this served to convince me not to go to GenCon.


I’d intended to go to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on Friday. But I had slept reasonably late (and would actually have slept a bit later had it not been for a spam call on my mobile) and the weather was kind of crappy. So there was time for more puzzles and games. That included solving the Cryptictionary clues (with a large enough group that I won’t attempt to list everyone), pair solving two of the con cryptics (I did Boston Garden with Neendy and Outside the Box with Lyric), and playing Capital R’s Mystery Jeopardy, which was excellent. The mystery aspect came in with the categories not being identified and being something else that was guessable.

The Friday night official program started with Entry Points by T McAy and Trick, which involved identifying four-letter words from words in their dictionary entries. This was pretty clever and there were lots of aha moments along the way. Then came Consonant Conundrum by Bluff. This involved guessing words in given categories and choosing them in a way to avoid being blocked by using the most common consonants. The concept was reasonably good, but the execution failed for me because the pacing was uneven and confusing. Finally, there was On the Rack by Hot, which involved seven members of each large team becoming human Scrabble tiles and spelling out words suggested by the rest of the team. This was pretty funny as people scrambled to rearrange themselves on stage. However, the scoring depended only on the number of words spelled and not their lengths, which might have added another level of challenge.

After hours, I played Bluff’s Trios, which is a trivia game. Elf, Adam, and I made a pretty good team, though we blew it in the final round. Then I played part of Game Showdown by Zair. This had rounds based on different game shows (e.g. Password). Unfortunately, there were several technical glitches and we were only able to play a couple of rounds. Somewhere in there, it was after 2 a.m. and I decided that I had been up late enough, though I still managed to stay up later once I got to my room.

Saturday always starts with the business meeting. The main question is always where the con is going to be in two years. (We already know the next year – 2018 will be Milwaukee.) The result is that 2019 will be in Boulder, Colorado. I know Boulder well, having spent more time there than any other place I’ve not actually lived in. This gives me incentive to write a walk-around puzzle for it. In fact, I know what the final answer will be based on. I also know of an interesting connection between Milwaukee and Boulder that could provide a puzzle for next year. (I have a well-formed concept, but am not sure how hard it will be to execute.) The other topic that got some discussion was an anti-harassment policy, and I am pleased that the major issue had to do with how much to spend on legal advice. Though I will admit that when I saw the excellence policy distributed this year, my first thought was to wonder exactly what incident had triggered it.

Somewhere in between the business meeting and the afternoon session, I did the third con cryptic (Make Way for Ducklings by Trazom) with Shrdlu. We zoomed through it particularly quickly, by the way, not that it matters. I also played Noam’s Jeopardy, which is always a pleasure. (Come to think of it, that might have been later in the day. Things get blurry.)

As for the official puzzles for the afternoon, those started with Time Test from Willz, which consisted of seven puzzles, some of which I did well at and others of which I completely failed to get in the allotted time. Then came Cartoon Rebuses by Toonhead! I am not a particularly visual thinker and I am pop culture illiterate so had a hard time with this one, though I thought it was done well. In retrospect, I might have done well to team up with somebody else on it. Finally, there was the annual flat-solving competition, edited by Saxifrage. I don’t even bother with this, though I do go up to my room and flip through it to see if there are any I can do easily. There are too many types of flats for me to keep up with, for one thing. I will note that I was able to do more than I expected, including two enigmatic rebuses (rebi?)

I vaguely intended to get back down for the con photo, but instead got in an interminable wait for the elevator. Slow elevators are on my hotel peeve list, but this was particularly ridiculous – nearly 20 minutes (and there were people in the foyer on my floor before I got there).

The big deal of con is, of course, always the Extravaganza. This year was by Navin, Shaggy, Spelvin, and Zebraboy. It turns out that the title Bar Exam referred not to law, but to chocolate bars. The key thing for me is that I like to have a team where everyone is contributing. We had one person who clearly felt that he was not. I would have liked to have seen more of the puzzles and was irritated by another person whose priority was doing things fast. If you want to be that competitive, I think you shouldn’t sign up for a casual team. You might also try listening to other people. (Hint: if you are given a sharpie, there is probably a reason.) I was probably more snappish than I should have been. Perhaps there might be a better way of describing the two categories of teams? Maybe in terms of how much people want to emphasize solo solving versus cooperation? Or maybe I was just too sleep deprived – a state which has been known to induce more than the usual bitchiness.

I didn’t do anything after hours on Saturday night. I could even have gone to bed at a sane hour, but I got into an interesting conversation (NPL has a lot of interesting people) and there went another hour.

As for Sunday, no awards for me this year, which is just as well as I need to be getting rid of things. And no particular travel hassles afterwards, though I flew back into IAD and had the inevitable delays getting home from there.
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The NPL Con will get its own write-up, but I did some other things before that.

Celebrity Death Watch: First, a quick note about someone I mentioned last time. My friend, Megan, reminded me that Michael Bond not only wrote about Paddington Bear, but also wrote the Monsieur Pamplemousse series of mysteries. I’m not sure I’d ever connected up the name before.

Since then we’ve lost a number of people. Anthony Young was one of the losingest pitchers in baseball, losing 27 consecutive decisions for the Mets. Ketumile Masire was the second president of Botswana. Gary DeCarlo was responsible for "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye." Simone Veil survived Auschwitz and went on to a prominent role dealing with women’s issues in France. Heathcote Williams was a poet and actor. Gene Conley pitched for the Braves (including a World Series championship in 1957) and won three NBA titles with the Celtics during the off-season. While Otto Graham also won championships in two major professional sports (football and basketball in his case), unlike Conley he didn’t play both during the same years. Sheila Michaels popularized the title "Ms." Spencer Johnson wrote Who Moved My Cheese, which, of course, became the biggest best-seller ever in Wisconsin. Neil Welch was behind the Abscam sting. Jon Underwood founded the Death Café movement. Interestingly, he apparently died suddenly (related to undiagnosed leukemia) at only 44. Shlomo Helbrans was the founder of the Chasidic cult Lev Tahor. Nelsan Ellis was an actor, best known for True Blood.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: John McLaughlin was a storyteller and baseball enthusiast in Florida.

Terry Duncan had filled several government leadership roles involving satellite communications. I had the privilege of working with him in two of his jobs and was always impressed by his calmness and ability to listen to his staff. He was only 46 and died within a few weeks of his cancer diagnosis.

Karl Hedrick had been a professor at MIT in my undergrad days and later went to Berkeley. I took a couple of classes from him at MIT. I will not remember the exact titles of because it was a long time ago, but one involved Linear Dynamic Systems and Estimation (i.e. Kalman filter type stuff) and the other had to do with Nonlinear Dynamics and Control. He was an excellent teacher and I appreciated his mentorship.

Geostock: This is a big party that friends in Colorado give every year. It’s mostly an event for hanging out, talking, eating, and drinking. In the food category, a definite highlight was the ice cream truck they’d hired for a couple of hours. We also drank a toast to a dear departed friend, which included a skype connection to another absent friend. Beyond that, lots of talk about aging parents and estate issues and how we need to clear out our own crap. And there are conversations you can have with people you’ve known for ages that you can’t have with other people. Also, noting children, there is something wrong with the rotation of the earth.

Hotel Note: I stayed at the Residence Inn in Louisville this time, because it was somewhat cheaper than the Hampton Inn. This was a mistake as they had a basketball court. That appeared to be immediately underneath my room and they let kids play basketball until after 11 at night. Sheesh. (It also hit another of my hotel peeves in that one had to practically climb over the built-in desk to close the drapes for the dining room window.)

Vegas: For complex frequent flyer reasons, it made sense to detour from Denver back to DC via Las Vegas. Vegas remains a great city for people watching, though I did have one somewhat annoying encounter this time.

30ish guy: Come on, say hi to me.

Me: you're drunk.

Him: no, I'm just a total asshole.

I guess there is something to be said for self-awareness, but he was still obnoxious. Beyond that, I spent my entertainment (i.e. gambling) budget for the night, but it took me long enough to do so that I was content.

Brine: I was back for Independence Day, which I spent trying to get caught up at home. I did also go out to lunch with a group of friends. We went to Brine, a seafood place in the Mosaic District. We all went for the simply grilled fish (trout, swordfish, soft-shell crabs among the six of us), which were served over arugula. We also sampled pretty much the entire dessert menu. I think the crème caramel (which had espresso and chocolate, so was not the traditional version) was the definite winner there. At any rate, the bottom line is good food, good service, and going on a quiet day at lunchtime made it quiet enough to be able to hear one another.
fauxklore: (Default)
Celebrity Death Watch: Vin Garbutt was a British folk singer, best known for protest songs. Sam Panopoulos invented Hawaiian pizza, which should be protested. Adam West was Batman. Andimba Toivo ya Toivo was a cofounder of SWAPO and more or less relegated to minor ministries within the Namibian government after independence. Samuel V. Wilson directed (and reorganized) the Defense Intelligence Agency in the 1970’s. Rosalie Sorrels was a singer-songwriter. A. R. Gurney was a playwright, best known for The Cocktail Hour. Bill Dana was a comedian, best known for his Jose Jiminez character, which seems horribly dated and racist nowadays. Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor of Germany, including 8 years prior to and 8 years after the 1990 reunification. Stephen Furst was an actor, best known for playing Flounder in Animal House. Baldwin Lonsdale was the president of Vanuatu. Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz was the founder of ArtScroll publications, an influential publisher of Jewish texts. Frederick Leboyer popularized a natural childbirth approach. Gabe Pressman was a television reporter in New York. Michael Nyqvist was a Swedish actor. Michael Bond created Paddington Bear.

Business Trip #1: I got back from New York in time to unpack and pack for the first of two back-to-back business trips. That one was to Colorado Springs for an annual meeting. I flew out from DCA via ORD, which wouldn’t be my first choice, but it worked okay. I was even able to have a sit-down dinner at a Chili’s in the airport. I waited forever (about 7 minutes) before being given water. Fortunately, once I called the server out on that, she was efficient. That was not the case a couple of nights later at a diner in Colorado Springs, where I was tempted to leave, citing the need to go to the police station and file a missing persons report for my server. There is something of a stereotype about women eating alone being bad tippers. Self-fulfilling prophecy at work.

Anyway, the work stuff was reasonably productive, though, as is typical of this sort of thing, most of the value was the conversations in the hallway between presentations. Connections are, as always, everything.

The Weekend In-Between – Awesome Con: I had made plans to go with a friend to Awesome Con, which is a comic con type of thing at the D.C. Convention Center. I am not a science fiction / comic book type for the most part and am fairly pop-culture illiterate. My primary interest was people watching and I do find it intriguing how much effort people put into cosplay and such. We spent most of our time on the sales floor, though didn’t manage to cover all of it. I bought a fairly spectacular hat because the friend I was with is an evil person who refused to talk me out of it. I also bought a couple of gifts which I won’t talk about until they are given. We did also go to a panel on women in geekdom, which was less focused than I was hoping for, but still reasonably interesting. I later found out that another friend of mine was there (i.e. at that same panel) but I didn’t see her.

Overall, the event was overwhelmingly huge, which I found something of an energy drain. They also did a terrible job of signage and a pretty egregious set-up for food, with most of the food stands having no nearby seating. If I go again in the future, I might try to do more planning and focus on panels more. And maybe get more sleep in the week beforehand.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch: The next day, I had tickets to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch at The Kennedy Center. I had heard good things about this show, but never seen it (or heard the music) before. The premise is a concert by Hedwig, the victim of a botched (and not really voluntary) sex change operation. There are various references to (and sort-of glimpses into) a much larger concert being given at the same time by Tommy Gnosis, who turns out to have an interesting history with Hedwig. That relationship drives some of the transformation behind the story.

Unfortunately, the story is pretty thin. There is an interesting mix of music and some mildly funny lines. And there is no doubt that Euan Morton (who played the lead) is very talented. But I thought the whole thing was heavy handed and not well pulled together. I also want to note that the lighting was completely irritating. Incidentally, I ran into a couple of friends, who were puzzled by the whole thing. We concluded we are just too old and clearly not the target demographic for this material.

Business Trip #2: Unpack, do laundry, pack. Such is my life at times. I was off to the Bay Area for a one day meeting. It was actually pretty interesting and included a high bay tour, which is always one of my favorite things to do. But quick trips like this are always pretty exhausting. I should note that I had originally been scheduled to fly out on American through DFW, but weather delays let me persuade them to put me on a non-stop on United to SFO. I did come back on American (via CLT), which featured just as much service as is typical of them (i.e. next to none). The highlight of CLT was spotting a plane painted in PSA livery. I used to fly PSA quite a bit between L.A. and the Bay Area, but they were bought by USAir a lot a lot of years ago.

Book Club: I got back in time to make it to book club. This meeting's topic was A Man Called Ove. I believe it was the first time that everybody liked a book. If you haven't read it, do. It's quirky and funny and touching in equal measures.

Jesus Christ Superstar: The only thing on my calendar this past weekend (well, aside from catching up on sleep) was seeing Jesus Christ Superstar at Signature Theatre. I really know this show from its original cast recording of over 45 years ago – and will admit that it is not one I particularly like. I remain unimpressed by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, but, then, it was an early experiment with rock opera and the form hadn’t really been figured out. (ALW, of course, never did figure it out, but others have.)

Signature is always a good place to see musicals for several reasons. Among those are a number of performers, including Nastascia Diaz as Mary Magdalene and Bobby Smith as Pontius Pilate. I was also impressed with Karma Camp’s choreography and thought the lighting and projections were used in interesting ways to create the sets. Overall, I’d say this was a good production of a flawed show.
fauxklore: (Default)
This was the weekend of June 9th through 11th. Yes, I am behind. Live with it.

Part 1 - 31 Chambers Street: I decided to leverage off a flyertalk-related trip to New York and took a vacation day, enabling me to get up to the city early enough to spend some time at the Municipal Archives. The main thing I was looking for was the death certificate for my great-grandfather, Henry Schwarzbord. I also obtained the death certificate for Rose Lebofsky, my great-uncle Nathan’s first wife, and the marriage certificate for another great-uncle,Willi Lubowsky (aka Wulf Chlebiocky). None of those actually told me much that I didn’t already know, but did confirm some transcription errors on Family Search. And I am somewhat of a completist regarding documentation.

Part 2 - Soup Do: Soup Do is an annual flyertalk dinner event, held the Friday night before the Brooklyn Reality Tour. It’s basically a lot of people in the back room of La Bonne Soup, eating dinner, and talking about travel and frequent flyer miles and such. There’s a prix fixe dinner available (though only 2 of us at the table I was at did it). I thought it was a good deal – salad, soup, dessert, and a glass of wine for about 30 bucks once you add in tax and tip. The wine was so-so, but the salad, onion soup, and crème caramel were all quite nice. And, of course, the point is the conversation, which was lively and entertaining.

Part 3 - the Brooklyn Reality Tour: This is an annual flyertalk event, focused largely on food and conversation. We started with Smorgasburg, which provided an early lunch stop. It was hard to choose among all the options, but I went with a Peking duck bao (a bit messy) at someone’s recommendation and the very trendy (and delicious) halo-halo, which consists of ube ice cream with dragon fruit, jackfruit, tapioca pearls, blackberries, red mung beans, coconut, mango, and a little almond milk. Then we drove over to an overlook of the Verrazano Narrows, before going on to Coney Island. We drove around various neighborhoods, including Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach, and Sheepshead Bay. We attempted to go to Floyd Bennett Field, but the hangar with the display of historic aircraft had closed early, so were foiled in the sightseeing attempt. More driving around included Crown Heights, Prospect Park, Grand Army Plaza, and, of course, Dan’s childhood home and elementary school, because you do that sort of thing when you run the tour. We had a bakery stop at Butter and Scotch, which had excellent pecan pie. I bailed at L&B Spumoni Gardens, since I had theatre tickets, but the rest of the tour included a pizza dinner there and the traditional sunset over Manhattan from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Part 4 - Pacific Overtures: Pacific Overtures is my favorite Sondheim score, so I would have been interested in this revival at Classic Stage Company even if it didn’t have George Takei playing the Reciter. He does have a nicely resonant voice, but the real highlight of the performances for me was Megan Masako Haley, playing Tamate and, later on, a girl mistaken for a geisha. Much of her role was silent, but she was very expressive and elegant, highlighting the simplicity of the production. I thought that the overall aesthetic felt essentially Japanese, which is pretty much the point. I was disappointed in them having cut "Chrysanthemum Tea," which has one of Sondheim’s absolute best internal rhymes ("it’s an herb that’s superb for disturbances at sea") but they did an excellent job with the other songs. "Please Hello" is proof that Sondheim’s talents at pastiche, for example. And "A Bowler Hat," is my single favorite Sondheim song of all time, as it reveals character so effectively by showing Kayama’s transformation as he absorbs Western culture. This was a lovely production, with fine voices and was well worth seeing.

Part 5 - Welsh brunch at Sunken Hundred: Sunday morning had me back in Brooklyn for brunch at Sunken Hundred, a Welsh restaurant. This was part of the "around the world in 5 boroughs" project that one flyertalker started. I had crampog, which are oatmeal and buckwheat pancakes, which came with a blueberry and fenugreek compote and rosemary butter. I also tasted a small piece of a scone. The food was fabulous and I would happily eat there again.

Part 7 - Ernest Shackleton Loves Me: I am not sure where I first saw this show advertised, but the name itself was enough to sell me, given my interest in polar exploration. (Though, for the record, I think Douglas Mawson was even more impressive than Ernest Shackleton.) And it’s a musical – well, just take my money! The premise is interestingly bizarre – a 45 year old woman seeking a relationship finds love with the long-dead explorer via a dating website. It’s probably just a fantasy from her single-parenthood induced sleep deprivation, but they act out various parts of the Endurance expedition and Kat learns about optimism and standing up for herself. Both Val Vigoda as Kat and Wade McCollum as Shackleton (and other male roles) were clearly having fun in this very quirky show. Overall, there was a lot of laugh-out-loud humor and lively music (sea chanteys! Yes!) And they even used Frank Hurley’s actual photos and footage. I could quibble about the script making Shackleton’s journey to South Georgia too much of a solo effort, but, then, this wasn’t titled Frank Worsley Was the Best Navigator Ever. I thought this was a lot of fun and am very glad I had the opportunity to see it.

Part 8 – Ben’s I grew up going to Ben’s Kosher Deli in Baldwin. The one in the city is not as good (and, definitely, not up to the 2nd Avenue Deli) but it is conveniently located close to Penn Station for pre-train dining. I got a tongue sandwich and stuffed derma. The former was good, but the latter was quite disappointing, with overly salted gravy. The service was also decidedly mediocre. It wasn’t a horrible meal, but it didn’t fully satisfy my Jewish deli needs. Fortunately, I have at least one more trip to New York planned this summer.
fauxklore: (travel)
I have a long-standing theory that a trip is worth taking if you can spend three times as long at your destination as it takes to get there and back. This rule sometimes gets violated for business travel and, alas, has to get violated for things like retirements and funerals / memorial services. But I apply it when possible and particularly to rationalize things like going to Europe for a long weekend.

In this case, I had never been to Budapest, so why not? I flew United to Brussels on Thursday night, which was a bit stressful because thunderstorms delayed our takeoff quite a bit. But things were efficient at BRU and I had plenty of time to make my connection to Brussels Air. The flight to Budapest got in a bit late for no obvious reason and I had a longer than expected wait for the minibus to the city center. I stayed at the Hotel Casati, which was very well located (about a block from the opera house) and quite stylish.

My tourism endeavors included:


  • free walking tour of Jewish quarter. This included 3 synagogues, various monuments, and lots of historical and cultural commentary. The Grand Synagogue is quite huge and elaborate, and is alleged to be the second largest synagogue in the world. There are lots of contradictory sources on this, with contenders in New York and Israel and, possibly Ukraine. It is, at any rate, very large, particularly as the complex includes a museum (built on the site of the birthplace of Theodor Herzl) and a Shoah memorial. Frankly, it is far too ornate for my tastes.

  • the better part of a day on Castle Hill (which is on the Buda side of the river. There are more attractions on the Pest side.) With more time, I'd have gone into the National Gallery and the Matthias Church. Admiring them (the former is part of the Royal Palace) from the outside would have to do. The latter (and the nearby Fisherman's Bastion) are particularly jaw-dropping. At any rate, the area was quite pleasing architecturally and well worth meandering around. I did stop in at the Medieval Jewish Chapel, which is a small museum with a few intriguing details. There is, apparently, more archaeological work going on, with more of the historic Jewish sites on that side of the river to open eventually.

  • more of central Pest, including Liberty Square, Parliament, the shoes on the Danube (a Shoah memorial, symbolizing the victims of the Arrow Cross militia), Vaci Utca (typical touristy shopping street), and so on.

  • a long walk up Andrassy Street, all the way to Heroes' Square. This provided a good mix of architecture and entertainment, in the form of a large street fair, with rock and jazz music playing and crafts and food for sale.



I could have used a few more days, frankly, to go to museums and maybe one of the thermal baths. Overall, it was a good getaway.

Atlanta

May. 8th, 2017 02:18 pm
fauxklore: (baseball)
I went to Atlanta for the weekend. My primary motivation was checking out the new ballpark, but, of course, that wasn’t all I did.

I had no issues with my United flights either way. In fact, I got upgraded both ways, though they failed to email me the upgrade notification for the return. It is also a big advantage to fly an airline other than Delta to/from ATL because you come in and out of the T-gates and don’t need to take a train to your plane.

I had contemplated staying near the ballpark, but decided that didn’t really make sense because it is the middle of nowhere in deep suburbia. Staying in midtown was actually more convenient, allowing me to take MARTA to and from the airport. More significantly, it also allowed me to do some important sightseeing on Saturday morning.

The High Museum of Art is one of the major art museums of the country. It is normally fairly pricy, but I have a Bank of America credit card, which gives me free access to various museums on the first weekend of the month. I find that if I have to pay to go to a museum, I feel like I need to see everything. But getting in free means I can just pick and choose a few parts to see without feeling like I’ve wasted money.

My main priority was the African art selection. There is an interesting mix of both traditional and contemporary pieces from several countries. My favorite – actually, my favorite piece in the entire museum – was one named Taago by El Anatsui, a Ghanian artist. It consists of pieces of aluminum from the tops and necks of local liquor bottles, joined with wire, to form a sculpture reminiscent of kente cloth. There was also a special exhibit of works by Ashley Bryan, who illustrated a lot of books based on folklore.

I moved on to the contemporary art, which includes a large collection of works by folk artist, Howard Finster. Other notable works include a painting by Richard Estes, whose photorealism I’ve admired for some time, and Insect Icon Tapestry by Jon Eric Riis. All in all, I spent a few pleasant hours at the museum, before heading off to the Cumberland area to meet up with friends for a late lunch / early dinner at Copeland’s. The food was good and the conversation was intelligent and wide ranging. Eventually, we left and they dropped me at the ballpark.

My first impression of SunTrust Park was that it was chaotic. They are still developing The Battery, a shopping and entertainment complex around the stadium. From what I could tell with the crowds, it is pretty much a collection of high end restaurants and watering holes. I fought my way through to the Right Field Gate, where there was a long and chaotic set of lines to get into the ballpark itself. I had bought a ticket package for Star Wars day, which included an R.A. Dickey Stormtrooper bobblehead, so my first stop was to redeem my voucher for that. The instructions they had emailed actually told me the wrong place to go to do that, but it was easily enough resolved. I should probably note that I am not really a big Star Wars fan, but it is always fun to add to my collection of ballpark gimmes.

That accomplished, I went to check off their monument garden, which has various exhibits on the history of the team. Of course, much of that history is pre-Atlanta – both in Boston and in Milwaukee – but that is fair enough. The statue of Hank Aaron is the centerpiece, as it should be. Overall, it is a reasonable exhibit, though the crowds were a bit of a pain.

The actual stands were not crowded. There were a few people at the entrance to the seating area taking photos with costumed Star Wars characters, but not so many actually sitting down to see the game. The Braves were playing the Cardinals, so this fell into the class of games in which I didn’t care who won. It looks like the Braves have a fair number of loyal fans. Unfortunately, those are generally identifiable by the tomahawk chop, a particularly obnoxious method of cheering. I appreciate the enthusiasm, but would prefer a non-racist way of showing it. On the plus side, several people sang along with the national anthem, and, later on, with "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." (Singing along to the latter is one of my three primary ballpark rating criteria, along with local character and a general level of fan engagement.)

It was actually hard to gauge fan engagement, because the weather sucked, with a few brief rain showers, which weren’t enough to affect play, but did send many people scurrying for cover. I’ll also note that there appeared to be particularly long lines for the concessions (none of which seemed particularly local or interesting). They don’t have any vendors in the stands, either, which doesn’t help.

As for the game, the Cardinals won, largely because Julio Teheran’s pitching was not up to snuff. I’ll also note that I was impressed by a couple of nice catches that Randal Grichuk made in right field. And Aledmys Diaz hit a three-run homer which pretty much clinched the game for St. Louis. Overall, it was a reasonably exciting game to watch.

I’d rate the ballpark in the group of vast group of middling ones. It’s a pleasant enough place to watch a game, but lacks soul. It also loses significant points for difficulty of access. Their website claims the Circulator bus connects the ballpark to the Cumberland Transit Center, but that bus actually appears to stop running at 9 p.m. and does not run at all on Sundays. The transit center is a long walk from the ballpark. There is a closer stop to a Cobb County Transit bus, though the ballpark staff misdirected me on how to get to that stop. And that bus runs infrequently, so was very crowded, largely with fans complaining that it is supposed to be the Atlanta Braves, not the Cobb County Braves. I should also note that the ballpark website pushes Uber as their transit solution, but the Uber pickup location had a line three blocks long. That is, of course, in addition to the cost and moral issues associated with Uber. When the team played at Turner Field, they ran shuttle buses from the Five Points MARTA station, which was a much better solution.

The really important thing is that I have, again, been to a game at every major league ballpark. One does, after all, have to keep up one’s standards when it comes to obsessions.

As for the rest of the weekend, I got home in time for a much needed nap, followed by dinner at Tachibana for a friend’s 50th birthday. What I didn’t get done was any housework, alas.
fauxklore: (travel)
Celebrity Death Watch: Chelsea Brown was an actress on Laugh-In. Roy Sievers played baseball for several teams, notably the Washington Senators in two of their incarnations. Paul O’Neill founded Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Tim Pigott-Smith was a British actor. Joanne Kyger was pretty much the only female poet of the beat generation. Eugene Lang was controversial as a businessman, since he was arguably a patent troll, but redeemed himself by founding the I Have a Dream Foundation and funding not only scholarships, but additional support, for poor public school children.

The big name of recent deaths is, of course, Don Rickles. I have to say that I never really cared much for insult comedy he specialized in.

Parade: I went to see Parade, Jason Robert Brown’s musical about the Leo Frank case, at Keegan Theatre on Friday night. I saw a different production of this show (at Ford’s Theatre) a few years ago. My conclusion is essentially the same. The score is excellent, but the book suffers from the failure to take a consistent point of view. Except for Tom Watson, the villains are more opportunists than anything else. Britt Craig is trying to revive his journalistic career, while Hugh Dorsey is trying to win the gubernatorial race. Frank, himself, comes across as (not surprisingly) puzzled over what Is happening to him. The change in his relationship with his wife, Lucille, is also an interesting aspect of the show. As for the performances, I thought that Michael Innocenti was quite good as Leo Frank, though he had some trouble with pronouncing the words of the Sh’ma at the end. Eleanor Todd as Lucille and Timothy Hayes Lynch as Governor Slaton were also quite good. But the real scene stealer was Malcolm Lee as Jim Conley. I should note that I had seen Lee perform before – as the Dryer in Caroline or Change at Creative Cauldron. He’s a performer I will have to watch out for more in the future.

United Airlines: So there have been two United Airlines (really Continental – since ALL of the management of the combined company are ex-Cons, but that’s a point of interest only for airline geeks) "scandals" in the news. Both of which are really illustrations of the abuse of social media.

Let’s take "leggings gate" first. The way this was portrayed is that United kicked two girls off a plane for wearing leggings. Except, that isn’t actually what happened. They denied boarding to two teenagers who were traveling on an employee’s pass. That pass has conditions, which include a dress code. You can argue the propriety of that dress code elsewhere, because it is beside the point. The two kids, who knew the rules, left with no comment. An unrelated family behind them in line included a ten-year-old girl wearing leggings, her father (wearing shorts), and her mother. The mother saw the teenagers told to leave and concluded that her daughter needed to put on a dress over the leggings – despite nobody from the airline having claimed that. A professional outrage blogger at another gate witnessed the incident and – again, with no actual knowledge of what had happened – took to twitter. Much unjustified outrage followed.

Let me try a fictional example to explain the absurdity of the story. Suppose the New York Yankees offered to give me a first class plane ticket to anywhere I wanted to, with the condition that, since I would be representing them by accepting this ticket, I would have to wear a pink sleeveless NYY tank top. I show up dressed, instead, in respectable clothes, i.e. a long-sleeved blue Boston Red Sox shirt. They are perfectly within their rights to deny me boarding.

Today’s outrage is a little trickier. The story is that a flight from ORD to SDF (that is, Chicago O’Hare to Louisville) needed four seats for a deadheading crew. The flight was full and had boarded. They asked for volunteers, offering a $400 voucher (plus an overnight hotel stay, as there were no other flights that night) and then upping the offer to an $800 voucher. Nobody volunteered. So they went to the Involuntarily Denied Boarding (IDB) procedure. The deadheading crew are in a "must fly" situation, so four passengers have to be IDB’d. There is a pre-determined order for who gets chosen, based on status, fare basis, time of check-in, etc., with specific exemptions for disabled passengers and unaccompanied minors. Those people are compensated at 400% of the fare they paid, up to a maximum of $1350. That is paid as a check, not a voucher.

The third person they called refused to deplane, saying he was a doctor who had to tend to patients in the morning. (I have no way of knowing whether or not this is true. Nor does it matter.) He continued to refuse to leave, so law enforcement was called. Apparently, the cops handled him roughly and two passengers got that on video. Outrage ensued.

As far as I am concerned, the cops (who are not employees of COdbaUA – or, technically, Republic, as this was an Express flight) are legitimately being targeted for their roughness. Apparently, at least one of those cops has been placed on leave while the incident is being investigated. But the passenger was clearly in the wrong in refusing to deplane. (He also probably made things worse by going limp when grabbed by the cops. Which is rather bizarre under the circumstances, but who knows what his personal history with police is?) And the airline was correct in calling the police to remove him. In this case, the story is focused on the wrong party, almost entirely out of ignorance and (I suspect) prejudice.

Now, UA’s social media team is undeniably inept in responding to these things. That is also an entirely different matter.

I will continue to fly United when its routes and fares make sense for me.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (ACPT) was this past weekend and I was there to test myself again. Because I had some odds and ends to do at work (including a meeting), I took a 3 o’clock train up, which meant I arrived at the hotel just before things started. There had been an Amtrak incident (their term, not mine – an Acela train clipped a New Jersey Transit train just outside Penn Station in the morning) which made me nervous about delays, but things were pretty much on time. Checking into the hotel was rather slow, however, largely because they gave me an upgraded room. I guess puzzle people don’t travel enough for there to be all too many with my elevated Marriott status. (Which I actually get out of being a United Million Miler, but, hey, I’ll take it.)

Anyway, part of the weekend involved the Second World Palindrome Championship, which didn’t really interest me. My issue is that I care a lot more about elegance and sense than sheer length of palindromes, so tend to dislike those with proper names and odd interjections and the like. It’s sort of like times I went to see a double feature and hated the first movie, but had to sit through it to get to the second one. Palindromes are the Blue Velvet of the puzzle world for me.

Fortunately, the other part of Friday night was more like Something Wild. (And, in case you wondered, that is a real life double feature example from my misspent youth.) There was a competition with two rounds, each of which had you choosing one of three puzzles to do. The first round options were Diagramless, Puns & Anagrams, and Cryptic. It was a tough choice, but I opted for the Puns & Anagrams, thinking that I’d be more likely to get bogged down in the Cryptic. I wasn’t particularly fast, but I did finish it in time. The second round options were Split Decisions, Spiral, or Marching Bands. I chose Marching Bands and, while there were a few clues that took me a while, I got through it reasonably quickly.

After the interminable voting on palindromes, there was a wine and cheese reception, which gave me a chance to chat with a few people I see all too infrequently. They announced prizes for the evening puzzles (one for each of the six possible combinations). And then I went up to my suite and collapsed.

This is as good a time as any to note that I have never really seen the point of getting a suite upgrade when I’m traveling alone. The "junior suite"at the Stamford Marriott is also somewhat oddly designed, as there is no desk area. Nor are there enough electrical outlets. I’d rather have a table than a huge ottoman, personally. It didn’t really matter much for the weekend, but I’d have been annoyed were I staying there on a business trip.

Anyway, Saturday came. I’d made plans to meet a couple of folks for breakfast. Since the hotel didn’t have their lounge open on weekends, they had given me breakfast coupons (free for continental breakfast, but you could upgrade to the full buffet for 5 bucks), so I could treat one person each day.

But, you really want to know about the ACPT, not hear me gloating about hotel status perks. I will refrain from including spoilers here since there are still people solving at home, but I will write some and rot13 them in the comments.

Puzzle 1 was by Bruce Haight, whose name didn’t immediately conjure up anything for me, though it seems he’s had a lot of puzzles published over the past couple of years. It was fairly straightforward, though there was a bit of a trick with one entry. It had the sort of theme that didn’t really matter much to being able to solve the puzzle. But it could have helped with that one tricky entry. (Not that I actually noticed that at the time, since I knew the answers to the relevant clues.) I solved this cleanly in 7 minutes, which is decent for normal people but the top solvers can finish in 3-4 minutes.

Puzzle 2 was by Patrick Berry, who is one of my favorite constructors. He is consistently clever. This puzzle had a nice little wordplay theme, which I finished cleanly in 13 minutes.

Puzzle 3 was by Brendan Emmett Quigley, who is a very evil man. The actual theme of the puzzle wasn’t especially hard, if you have done enough tricky puzzles. The fill, however – and, specifically, parts of the theme answers - included some very unusual words. I relied a lot on the crossings and did, indeed, manage to solve it cleanly, but it took me 21 minutes.

During the lunch break, I walked over to the mall food court, which isn’t exactly exciting, but is convenient. I also bought some puzzle books. Because, you never know, there might be some horrible disaster that stops puzzles from being published and I only have enough on hand to last me a couple of years.

Puzzle 4 was by Julie Berube, a constructor who I was entirely unfamiliar with. The theme was straightforward enough, though of a kind I don’t find especially interesting. There were only a couple of squares which gave me any hesitation since either of two letters could be legitimate, but, in both cases, the crossings resolved any potential ambiguity. I’m not sure of my time on this, since it didn’t show up on the scan. I think (based on the score) that it took me 8 minutes. At any rate, I was still error free, which was very exciting.

But the dreaded Puzzle 5 was lurking. I had failed at this one, always the hardest one of the tournament, in my previous attempts at the ACPT. I was a bit relieved to see it was by Mike Shenk, whose puzzles I do (and enjoy) frequently. Then I looked at the puzzle and skipped a couple of heartbeats. But, wait, here was a clue I knew. And there was another. And, what? Could it be? A theme answer I knew that led me to what Mike was up to. Well, only partially, and it got me into trouble on the northeast corner. But the fill was falling. And, then, I realized that Mike had more up his sleeve. Yes! I figured out what was going on and, with furious erasing and replacing, I solved puzzle 5! Let me say that again. I solved puzzle 5! Admittedly, it took me 28 minutes. But I solved puzzle 5! It was one of those "now I can die happy" moments, akin to the Red Sox 2004 World Series Championship for me. Was it possible that I would actually have an entirely error-free ACPT? (I should also note that I thought this was an incredibly clever puzzle and it was my favorite of the competition.)

Puzzle 6 was by Lynn Lempel. In some ways, you didn’t really have to figure out the theme to get this one, though the wordplay was fun and did make a few of the answers go faster. I finished it cleanly in 13 minutes. At the end of the day on Saturday, I was in 130th place, which is quite a lot better than I’d done in the past.

Saturday night started with dinner. I ended up with a few other people at a South Indian vegetarian place a few blocks from the hotel. The food was good and reasonably priced. It’s worth remembering for the future.

The evening program started with more palindromes, about which the less said the better. I was happier with the trivia contest, even though there was more pop culture than is optimal for me. (On the other hand, I knew two of the music clues that other people on my team did not. And my encyclopedic knowledge of musicals proved useful.) There was also the Merl Reagle MEmoRiaL Award, which went to Manny Nosowsky and was accompanied by a lovely mini-documentary about him and his puzzles and his support to other constructors and so on.

While I had fun on Saturday night, I was up later than I should have been and then had trouble sleeping. Why, yes, I do relate to "The Princess and the Pea." Anyway, the morning came, as did breakfast. And so to puzzle 7.

Puzzle 7 is the last of the ones everybody does and is a Sunday sized one. This year’s was constructed by Joel Fagliano. As far as themes go, it wasn’t particularly difficult. I was, however, rather slow, partly because I probably should have asked for the large-size clues. It’s just as likely that it was simply lack of stamina, however. I was also being rather deliberate because I wanted to end up with completely clean solves. The bottom line is that it took me 20 minutes, which meant I slipped in the standings and finished in 141st place.

I had arranged an earlier train than I’d have liked to for reasons that aren’t worth getting into here. (In short, for somebody who travels so much, I can be kind of flaky on scheduling.) So I slipped out in the middle of the talent show and completely missed the finals. I heard that there were some interesting things in them – e.g. the B finalists being given the A clues by mistake and a critical error by Tyler Hinman in the A finals. Next time I need to schedule better.

Bottom line is that I was reasonably happy with how I did this year. I was one of only 65 contestants who had an error-free outing. And I continued to climb the ranks. I think a lot of that improvement is that, while I haven’t been trying to solve puzzles particularly quickly, I have made an effort to do more hard puzzles. For the record, here is my performance over all of the times I’ve competed:


2009 – 265 / 654 (55th percentile)
2012 – 241 / 594 (59th percentile)
2014 – 202 / 580 (65th percentile)
2016 – 171 / 576 (70th percentile)
2017 – 141 / 619 (77th percentile)

If I can keep up this pace, I could make it to B division next year!
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Marian Javits was an arts patron and the widow of Jacob Javits, who a few of you may remember from the days when there was such a thing as a liberal Republican. Joseph Wapner was the first judge on The People’s Court. Shrley Palesh played for a few teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Howard Schmidt was a major figure in government cybersecurity strategy. Joe Rogers co-founded Waffle House, thus saving the stomach linings of many a drunken Southerner. Rene Preval served two terms as president of Haiti. Tommy Page was a singer-songwriter. Miriam Colon was a Puerto Rican actress. Edi Fitzroy was a reggae singer. Fred Weintraub owned The Bitter End, an important venue for folk music and comedy. Kurt Moll was an opera singer. Robert Osborne as a film historian and hosted Turner Classic Movies. Joni Sledge sang as part of Sister Sledge. Robert James Waller wrote The Bridges of Madison County. Amy Krouse Rosenthal was a prolific writer of children’s books, among other things. Mother Divine was the leader of a cult founded by her husband. Royal Robbins was a big name in rock climbing but, more significantly to me, founded an eponymous clothing company that makes awesome clothes for traveling, including that green plaid shirt I am wearing in the overwhelming majority of my travel photos.

Errata: I erred. It was Jason Chaffetz, not Paul Ryan who made the stupid statement about iphones and health insurance.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was in Japan and upset over finding I had inadvertently taken my (work) cell phone with me. I was with another woman and we went down an escalator to exit a building with a very tall skylight. We were held up at the bottom of the escalator until there was a group of 4 men and 4 women and we all had to walk through a metal detector and send our things through an x-ray machine. Then we had to sing a song together before we could exit. Afterwards, I found out there was a side exit and people waited in line to sing, with fans of them gathered at the side of the security screening.

Story Slam: This month’s story slam theme was Womanhood, so I pulled out my "Woman of Valor" story, which is starting to get to having a reasonable ending. It went fairly well, though I finished third, so didn’t walk away with any money. I do wish, however, that this would go back to being on a Thursday night, because it conflicted with The Grapevine and I had to make an actual choice.

World Baseball Classic: Oh, well. Israel had a good run, but blew it in the second round.

Culpeper Tells / Virginia Storytelling Alliance Gathering: This past weekend was the Culpeper Tells festival and, once again, the VASA Gathering was held together with it. I preferred when we had a separate retreat, which made for a different sort of event, but I’ll take what I can get. I took off from work on Friday, intending to get some household odds and ends done and drive out earlyish. But I fell prey to the lure of napping and hit the road later than I intended, subjecting me to the inevitable slog through Gainesville. I was not all that enthusiastic to arrive at the hotel and find myself parking next to a vehicle advertising Pest Control and, specifically, "thermo bed bug eradication." Either their method works or the guy with the bedbug truck was just staying overnight at the hotel, as I didn’t get bitten by anything, but it was still disturbing.

Anyway, a bunch of us went out to dinner at Luigi’s which is mediocre red sauce Italian food. At least our server was mostly up to dealing with a big group. We came back to the hotel for a concert by Lynn Ruehlmann and Megan Hicks. Lynn blended the story of Psyche and Eros with the story of her own marriage, while Megan told a folk tale and her personal love story separately. Both were very good. That was followed by a story swap.

Megan did a workshop on Saturday morning, mostly emphasizing that we are all living history. There was a lot of confusion about when we were supposed to get into the room at the library, as well as confusion over who was signed up for what.

The actual festival started after lunchtime. There were four tellers – Geraldine Buckley, Michael Reno Harrell, Adam Booth, and Donald Davis. Each of them had just under an hour in the afternoon and then another half hour in the evening concert. The highlight of the day as far as I was concerned was Adam’s telling of "Ashton," a story from his Appalachian series, involving a coal miner's wife, and the early recordings of country music. It was exquisitely crafted and well-told. I should also note that I thought it was interesting that all of the tellers were telling more or less personal stories and there weren’t any traditional stories at all. By the way, there was also a story slam, but my name didn’t get drawn from the hat, alas.

At the dinner break, I ended up with a few people at a small place called Four C’s. I have this theory that, if you see a few ethnic items on what is otherwise an American restaurant menu, you should order from those, because it means the cook is including some of his family specialties. There were several Peruvian items on the menu, so these were clearly the way to go. I ended up getting some very tasty grilled fish that way. There’s no atmosphere, but the food was good and very reasonably priced and the service was friendly and efficient. It’s a good place to keep in mind for the future.

There was another swap back at the hotel afterwards, but it was too late for me, especially what with changing the clocks.

Sunday morning had the VASA annual meeting (which hadn’t actually been mentioned on the schedule). All I will say is that I am really glad I am no longer on the board. That was followed by "sacred stories" (not my thing) and puns (very much my thing). I told "Why I’m Not a Millionaire" to transition us between the two.

Overall, it was a reasonably good weekend. I was annoyed at various little things, but being among my storytelling tribe made up for them.

Annoying Weather: We had been having lovely spring-like weather, but it changed radically for the weekend. And Monday night was a sort of winter storm. Only sort of, as the snow total can’t have been more than a couple of inches, but there was plenty of sleet. In other words, things were nasty and icy. OPM made a bad call with a three hour delay and my company made a worse call by sending out confusing emails. One said we were on a mandatory delay in the subject line, but the body said all offices were open. Another had a subject line reading "message 1 of 2" but there was no "message 2 of 2." I had brought my laptop home and told my boss I was going to work from home, so none of this affected me per se, but it made me grumpy. I dislike working from home to begin with (too many distractions, including the fact that I really need to replace my desk chair) so I was inclined to be grumpy.

I’m back in the office today. One area of my walk to the metro was treacherous, but most of it was clear. I expect it to be worse tonight, since it isn’t supposed to get above freezing all day.

More Corporate Miscommunication: We are all getting new phones. I got an email telling me mine was ready and that I needed to go to an office 30 some odd miles away to pick it up. Since that office doesn't open until 9 and we are talking about DC metro area traffic, that would kill half my day. In fact, our IT guy came around this afternoon delivering phones for the 50 or so of us in this office. This is much easier, of course, but I would have preferred them sending out the correct info to begin with.
fauxklore: (travel)
I flew to Albuquerque on Friday. Because it was a fairly last minute trip and ABQ is not exactly a well-served airport, I ended up buying a one-way flight on American via DFW and using miles for a return on United. Mostly, this reminded me how much I hate American. To be fair, I don't have status with them and I am unwilling to pay for an allegedly better seat (another $42 for a middle seat a few rows closer to the front? really?) so it isn't a fair comparison. But their seats are less comfortable than being crammed into a typical third world bus. I did manage to get an aisle seat (only middles available when I booked) but even there, the customer service was crappy. The first time I asked, the gate agent told me to ask again in a half hour. United actually knows how to keep lists and add people to them.

I also hate that they have about 37 boarding groups before they get to group 1. (Okay, group 1 is actually just the sixth group to board. But, still.)

We got to DFW about 20 minutes early and then had to wait 40 minutes for our gate. Fortunately, I had plenty of time. And my connecting flight was in the same terminal. So it wasn't too stressful to get to the onward flight.

I stayed at the Hyatt Place near ABQ because 1) the friends I was carpooling with the next day were staying there and 2) it was cheap. I'd been there before and it is, er, adequate. My major complaint is their lack of thermostats with numbers on them. I know exactly what temperature I like a room to be. With a slider that just says "warmer" or "colder," I can't get it right. And, yes, I am a pea princess when it comes to this.
But they are friendly, their airport shuttle works, and did I mention that it was cheap?

The reason for the trip was Groot's memorial service. This was at Bosque del Apache, a National wildlife refuge outside Socorro. It's sad that it takes funerals and such to see various old friends, but I am glad I was able to make it. And I was, frankly, inspired by hearing how many lives he had touched. There isn't a much better thing to say about someone's life than knowing they made a difference to others.

There was also music and good food (awesome posole) and a herd of cranes flew over, which was most appropriate. (By the way, I googled what the collective noun for cranes is. And, really, herd seems way too unpoetic, but who am I to argue?)

Later, back in Albuquerque, we went to dinner at Scalo. The food was good, but I really shouldn't have gotten the insalata caprese to start, as that made the meal just too much food. The veal picatta was very tender, but I had to ignore most of the pasta that came with it. I did still get dessert - a hazelnut semifreddo. And they have good coffee, which is something all too rare at restaurants.

Flying home on United was much more comfortable. Though the flight from ABQ arrived at some extreme corner of terminal B, from which it was more than half a mile to the train that connects things to the real airport. And getting home from IAD was annoying as I could see an Orange Line train across the platform at East Falls Church when the Silver Line train arrived there. And I could see it close its doors and depart about 6 seconds before the Silver Line train doors opened to let me out. That meant standing out in the cold for 18 minutes for the next train.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I have thoughtful brilliance to write, but this ain't it. However, I have done a few things lately...

Celebrity Death Watch: William Peter Blatty wrote The Exorcist. Alan Jabbour was a fiddler and founded the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Dick Gautier is best known for having played Hymie the Robot on Get Smart, but I want to note he was also Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway (and, in fact, won a Tony for that role.) Anthony Armstrong-Jones was better known as Lord Snowden, a photographer and the one-time husband of Princess Margaret. He was, by all accounts, better as a photographer than as a husband. Vicki Lansky wrote the cookbook, Feed Me I’m Yours. Brenda C. Barnes was the CEO of Sara Lee for several years. Loalwa Braz was a Brazilian singer-songwriter. Maggie Roche was a folk-rock singer, who performed primarily with her sisters. Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte were both baseball players from the Dominican Republic, who died in car accidents on the same day. Eugene Cernan was an astronaut and, notably, the last man to walk on the moon. Mike Connors was an actor, best known for playing Mannix. Bob Holiday was an actor and played Superman more than any other actor, including starring in the musical, It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. John Hurt was an actor, most famous for starring in The Elephant Man. Mary Tyler Moore was an actress, most famous for her television roles (especially as Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show) but also on Broadway and in film. In Minneapolis, there is a statue of her tossing her hat in the air. Harold Rosen led the team that built the first geosynchronous communications satellite. Etienne Tshisekedi was the head of the opposition party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for many years, including a couple of brief stints as Prime Minister. David Axelrod was a jazz / fusion musician, composer, and producer.

Professor Irwin Corey was an interesting comedian, parodizing a certain sort of intellectual and billing himself as "the world’s foremost authority." More importantly, he was on my ghoul pool list, so his death earned me 15 points in the game.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: John Shipman, known to many as Groot, passed away on January 31st after a short battle with an aggressive cancer. He was a kind and generous man, a lover of good music and good food, and proud of his influence on students at New Mexico Tech. I don’t get to Albuquerque often, but will miss having dinner and conversation with him when I do.

Storytelling: I told Border Crossings, a story about travel and weddings and the like last Saturday night as part of the Better Said Than Done show at The Auld Shebeen. It went well. You can watch the video and see for yourself.

A Visit to Lebanon: The most recent embassy event I went to (via my alumni association) was last Monday night at the residence of the Ambassador of Lebanon. The food was tasty, with a wide mix of dishes, including particularly notable fattoush. There were also good Lebanese wines. The talks were by the charge d’affaires and by the president of the MIT Alumni Association and were quite positive about the future of Lebanon. Good food, an interesting setting, and intelligent conversation always makes a nice evening out.

Business Trip: I went out to California last week for a meeting in San Diego. I took advantage of the trip to spend part of a day at the corporate mothership in Los Angeles, which was fairly productive, as were the discussions I actually took the trip for. The travel was rather annoying since it got set up a bit last minute, meaning I ended up with window seats, instead of my preferred aisles. (On short flights, I like windows, but not disturbing people in order to get up is a higher priority.) The flight to LAX was particularly cramped. And the wifi wasn’t working, so there was no entertainment. The drive to San Diego was not as bad as it might be, but there were some rough spots, especially since I left later than I’d planned to. Mostly, I got held up by an accident around San Clemente and then things just crawled through La Jolla getting to my hotel. The main result was that I concluded that the same person who designs United’s economy class seats designed the seat in the Kia Forte I had. That is, poor padding and no lumbar support. I flew back from SAN, with a connection at LAX. Actually, I didn’t fly back – I flew to EWR, since I had pre-existing plans in New York. About which more in a minute.

I was also able to get together on Thursday night with an old friend for dinner and a nice, far-reaching conversation.

Jewish Soul Food: Since I got to New York after midnight, I slept in on Saturday morning. That meant skipping breakfast and having an early lunch. The matzoh ball soup at the Second Avenue Deli is fairly good, though since when does chicken soup have dill in it? The half a tongue sandwich I also had was sheer perfection. Add in a full sour pickle and this addict got her fix for the next several months.

Milk and Honey: The purpose of the trip was seeing York Theatre’s mufti (i.e. semi-staged, street clothes) production of Jerry Herman’s first musical, Milk and Honey. I was familiar with only a couple of the songs from this show and concluded the score really needs to be known much better. It’s lively, very clearly Jewish music (since the object was to make a sort of Israeli equivalent to Oklahoma), and simply a delight. The performances were wonderful too, especially Alix Korey as Sylvia Weiss, the role originated by Molly Picon. I also really liked how they handled the parts of the staging that involved animals. The show is probably unrevivable for a number of reasons, but I still enjoyed it immensely. I’ve seen several shows at York and I continue to be impressed.

Not That Jewish: This is Monica Piper’s one-woman show at New World Stages. It is billed as comedy, but it’s really storytelling. I was expecting something of a comic rant about Judaism, but this was a more serious and deeper exploration of what being Jewish means if someone is not particularly religious. There are dark areas – failed relationships, parents dying, single parenthood, breast cancer. But there is a lot of humor along the way. And the piece got pulled together well at the end. Overall, I’m glad I saw it.

Trains: Amtrak was surprisingly efficient going home. The Washington Metro, not so much, as they had scheduled track work that shut down the Orange Line from Eastern Market to Foggy Bottom. Normally, I’d get off Amtrak at New Carrolton and just ride the entire length of the Orange Line, which is slow, but means I don’t have to shlep luggage. This time, I took the Red Line from Union Station to Gallery Place, Yellow Line from Gallery Place to Pentagon, Blue Line from Pentagon to Rosslyn, and then the Orange Line home. I’m exhausted just typing that. And the next Safe Track surge approacheth, sigh.

Nicaragua

Jan. 25th, 2017 01:45 pm
fauxklore: (travel)
I got back from vacation on Sunday, but am still not really caught up, either at work or home.

Anyway, the whole point of the vacation was to avoid being around DC during the inauguration. This is not a political statement. It has to do with avoiding crowds. Especially crowds of people who don't know how to ride the metro correctly. (Stand on the right, damn it! And let people off before you try to get on.) Even though I don't get off for MLK Day or Inauguration Day, the guvvies do, so I also knew nothing would be happening at work.

Why Nicaragua? Well, it's a reasonable distance to go for a shortish trip. It's relatively safe. And relatively cheap. Plus, of course, I had never been there before. I spent one night in Houston on the way, followed by three nights each in Leon and Granada. I'd have liked a couple of more days, which would have allowed me to get to Isla de Ometepe, which has petroglyphs and other pre-Columbian sites, but I couldn't bend the calendar to my will. I did manage to stop for part of a day in Masaya on the way back to the Managua airport.

Highlights, in brief:

Leon has a lot of interesting churches to look at. The Cathedral is the largest in Central America, allegedly having been intended for the far larger and more prosperous city of Lima, Peru. La Merced has the most elaborate interior. El Calvario had my favorite exterior, with brightly painted scenes.

There are also museums to visit. The Museum of Revolution was interesting, but difficult due to my limited Spanish. Leon was the center of the 1970's revolution that overthrew Somoza and there was a definite Sandinista propaganda aspect to the museum. Fortunately, one does not need language skills to deal with art museums and the Ortiz-Gurdian Foundation is quite a good one, with a lot of modern Latin American painting (and some older pieces). My favorite museum, however, was the Museum of Legends and Traditions, which had extensive descriptions in English of the folkloric papier-mache figures it depicted. Lots of familiar stories, e.g. La Llorona, were included, but there was others I hadn't encountered before, such as the woman who lost a child after being raped and gets revenge on unfaithful men by asphyxiating them with her engorged tit.

There was also a nice park and coffee house culture. I need a certain annual dose of sitting in plazas watching the world go by and was able to fulfill some of that requirement.

As for Granada, it is the more popular tourist destination, but I found it less appealing. There's an excellent museum in the Convent of San Francisco and some interesting archaeological exhibits at Mi Museo. The ChocoMuseo was less interesting than it should be, largely because it was too crowded. The churches are, in general, less extravagant than those in Leon, except for María Auxiliadora, which is simply lovely. The problem I had was that the whole vibe was just too touristy. Granada is a popular place for Americans to retire to, so it just didn't feel foreign enough. I don't really see much point in going to Central America and being surrounded by, say, Irish pubs. It probably didn't help that it was very very hot and humid. Leon was, technically, hotter, but was also breezier, so it was pleasanter to walk around.

As for Masya, the two main things to see there are the volcano and the crafts market. The former is erupting and I will have to say that standing at the crater watching the extensive smoke was quite something. The museum at the visitor center is, alas, not all that good. As for the crafts market, I'm not really a big shopper and I thought a lot of what there was for sale was much of a muchness. I did buy a doll for the collection I don't have (i.e. I don't collect dolls, but everyone in my family thinks I do), but didn't find anything else that was at all tempting.

Overall, I'd say the trip satisfied its purpose. I enjoyed myself, though I don't feel any particular need to go back.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
2016 was not a great year for me, though I did have a few great things happen. I had certainly underestimated the impact of changing jobs, mostly in terms of how much mental energy that absorbed. I can't count how many nights I went to bed more or less right after supper.

I did finish one life list item, namely seeing the stone monoliths of Babeldaop. I got somewhat more involved with the Style Invitational Loser community, going to a few related social events. I started doing graze, which has, in addition to providing interesting snacks, given me something to write about here. And I had a particularly interesting year with respect to storytelling and to genealogy. Here are the details, in my usual categories.

Books: I only read 88 books last year, 48 of which were fiction. Only 6 were rereads. The ones I disliked include Lenore Glenn Offord’s Clues to Burn and Parnell Hall’s The Puzzle Lady and the Sudoku Lady. The absolute worst was a Laos Travel Guide which had about 40 pages about Laos and 100+ pages about studying mixed martial arts in Thailand, plus a chapter on ketogenic diets. I described this as the literary equivalent of the movie Disco Beaver From Outer Space.

On the positive side, some of the nonfiction books I enjoyed wereCocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Leaving Before the Rains Come (two of Alexandra Fuller’s memoirs), Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux (about his travels in Angola), Crossworld by Marc Romano (about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament), and Motoring With Mohammed by Eric Hansen (about Yemen). As for fiction, I enjoyed Christopher Buckley’s No Way to Treat a First Lady, To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman (who often writes teenage girls well), and three books by Tess Gerritsen - The Apprentice, Ice Cold, and, especially, The Bone Garden.

Volksmarch: Nothing, zero, nada, nil. Sigh. I’m not sure why, but I just don’t seem to have been very interested in walking other than as a means of transportation.

Travel: The biggest trip of the year was, obviously, the eclipse cruise in the South Pacific, which included the visit to Babeldaop, as well as seeing the giant stone money of Yap, and, of course, my third total solar eclipse. It also pushed me over the edge of qualifying for the Travelers’ Century Club, so I joined it, even though I still think their country list is pretty silly. My only other international trip of the year was to Martinique, mostly to take advantage of a cheap airfare.

I had business trips to Los Angeles, Florida (the Space Coast), and Colorado Springs.

Personal domestic travel included a trip to L.A. and Denver for Captain Denny Flanagan’s pre-retirement get-together, Stamford (Connecticut, that is, for the ACPT), Salt Lake City (for the NPL con), New York (for Lolapuzzoola and for my high school reunion), Pittsburgh (for Loserfest), Chicago (to see the Art Institute and go to an Elvis Costello concert), and Key West. On the way home from Salt Lake City, I achieved Million Mile status on United.

I should also note that I flew a few times on Jet Blue, which I hadn’t done before. I’m fairly impressed with their service, though I don’t think much of their frequent flyer program.

Culture: I went to several story swaps, of course, as well as several of the shows at The Grapevine and a couple of storytelling-related fringe shows. In terms of performing, I did the Washington Folk Festival. But, more importantly, I performed in three Better Said Than Done shows, including the Best in Show competition. I’m particularly happy to have the summer camp story on video. And I’m glad to be working with some family material in a way that I think works for humor without being disrespectful.

I saw 11 movies over the past year, with only one in a theatre. I think the best of them was The Imitation Game. I went to three music events. Both of those categories are things I would like to do more of this coming year. I also went to a Cirque du Soleil show and to a comedy show.

My biggest cultural activity of the year was going to the theatre. If I’ve counted right, I went to six non-musicals and 21 musicals. The worst of those was The Flick at Signature Theatre. As a friend said, "How many people walked out when you saw it?" Highlights included Matilda at the Kennedy Center, 110 in the Shade at Ford’s Theatre, The Lonesome West at Keegan Theatre, The Wild Party at Iron Crow in Baltimore, Freaky Friday at Signature Theatre, and, especially, Caroline, or Change and Monsters of the Villa Diodati at Creative Cauldron. The latter has become one of my favorite theatres in the region, with high quality performances in an intimate setting.

Genealogy: Note that I added this category this year. I made a fair amount of progress, particularly on my mother’s side of the family, with highlights including meeting a cousin and tracking down info on a couple of my grandfather’s siblings. I’m also proud of having funded the translation of the chapters my paternal grandfather contributed to the Lite Yizkor Book. And I got my DNA tested, though that hasn’t led me to any major revelations yet.

Goals: I pretty much failed miserably on my goals for last year, other than reaching million mile status on United. It isn’t even worth enumerating progress on others, all of which were, at best, one step forward and two steps back. I’m giving myself a 25% for the year.

As for the coming year, I still have hope that I can get things done. I’m tempted to write something like "oh, just grow up already," but let’s be somewhat specific and measurable.


  • Complete at least one household organizing project.

  • Complete at least one knitting or crochet project.

  • Complete at least one writing project.

  • Contact one "lost" family member every month to request genealogical information.

  • Spend at least a half hour each week reading things from the reading goals on my life list.

  • Treat myself to one indulgence (e.g. spa treatment or special meal or the like) every month.

fauxklore: (travel)
Celebrity Death Watch: Rose Evansky was a British hair stylist who popularized blow drying as a styling technique. Louis Harris was a pollster. Gordie Tapp performed on Hee Haw. Paul Peter Porges and Duck Edwing were both cartoonists for Mad Magazine. Robert Leo Hulseman invented the red solo cup. Piers Seller was an astronaut and meteorologist. Richard Adams wrote Watership Down among other novels. Vera Rubin was an astronomer, largely responsible for the theory of dark matter. George Michael was a singer before he went-went. George Irving was an actor, particularly well known for his work on Broadway.

Carrie Fisher was an actress and writer, best known for her work in the Star Wars series. She wrote interestingly about drug addiction and mental health issues in Postcards from the Edge and Wishful Drinking. Her mother, actress Debbie Reynolds, died the next day. Interestingly, Reynolds had co-starred with George Irving in Irene.


About 2016: Just for the record, I don’t for one minute believe that 2016 was a particularly horrible year with respect to celebrity deaths. There may have been more than in some other years (though that isn’t really clear, since there isn’t a set standard for who to count). But you should expect some statistical fluctuations and they really aren’t meaningful.

Dreamwidth: I see a lot of people moving to Dreamwidth because of the LJ servers moving to Moscow. I do have an account there and I should probably look at doing likewise. My recollection is that there were just enough annoyances about the site that kept me from switching there a long time ago, but I’ve kept the account in case there was some reason to. (Which was mostly a concern about DDOS attacks on LJ.) At any rate, I don’t expect to do anything before the weekend / new year if at all.

Chappy Chanukah: I went to the chavurah Chanukah party Saturday night. The drive was a bit scary as it was very foggy out. The party was fun, overall. My contribution to the white elephant gift exchange was a box of notecards, while I ended up with a few CDs. I’d made Moroccan orange salad (basically, orange segments, marinated in rosewater and cinnamon), which is kind of a pain since segmented oranges goes slowly. I really should make my mother’s potato latkes because, eating some at the party, reminded me that nobody else’s are anywhere near as good. I won't explain why, since I am sworn to secrecy.

Minor Vacation – Key West: I took a short trip down to Key West to thaw out a bit. I flew down on Sunday. I thought the flight would be emptier on Christmas Day, but I thought wrong. The advantage of going to touristy places on holidays is that lots of things are open. I’d arrived in the mid-afternoon and had enough time to do the Conch Train tour, which is informative, though a bit pricy.

I started Monday with breakfast at Blue Heaven, which a friend had recommended. Eating in the garden, amongst the roosters, was atmospheric, and the food was pretty good. Then I walked over to Hemingway’s House. I was glad I took the guided tour (included in the price of admission) as the guide was quite entertaining, particularly about Hemingway’s wives. After the tour, one could walk around and count the toes on the cats. Then I walked over to the Southernmost Point in the Continental U.S., where I waited in line an hour for a photo with the buoy, which marks 90 miles from Cuba. I got some key lime gelato in lieu of lunch, then browsed some shops for a while, buying a pair of Keene sandals to replace the last ones I destroyed.

After an afternoon nap, I had a light supper at Conch Republic. Then it was time for the ghost tour I’d signed up for. The tour was, alas, disappointing, with more emphasis on taking photos that might show orbs and ectoplasm than on the stories behind various allegedly haunted places. There were a couple of good stories, notably the famous one of Robert the Doll, but, overall, the guide just wasn’t much of a storyteller. There are several other companies doing ghost tours in Key West, so maybe one of the others is better.

On Tuesday, I had an exquisite breakfast at Sarabeth’s – lemon ricotta pancakes that actually tasted lemony. I walked up to the Butterfly Conservancy which was enjoyable, though overpriced for its size. I followed part of a walking tour I had downloaded, which took me over to the cemetery. Unfortunately, their office was closed, so I couldn’t get their tour map. I was still able to find a few interesting things, e.g. the graves of the victims of the explosion of the Maine and the monument commemorating that event. Oh, yes, I also stopped in at the Tennessee Williams exhibit. And had lunch at Margaritaville, where they were not, alas, playing Jimmy Buffett music.

Tuesday night, I had dinner with two high school friends (one of whom lives there; the other was visiting her) and their children (one has a son, the other a daughter). We had an excellent meal at Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island. And even more excellent reminiscing, going back to junior high. (They lived at the other end of town, so we didn’t go to the same elementary school.)

I had enough time on Wednesday for a stroll through Harry Truman’s Little White House and a walk along the harbor front before going to the airport. My flight home was fairly uncrowded and would have been on time had we not had to wait for the gate at DCA. Overall, it was a good few days away.

Le Catch-up

Dec. 1st, 2016 05:05 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Oy, am I behind. But I won’t get caught up by kvetching alone, so here is an attempt at catching up.

Celebrity Death Watch: Yaffa Eliach was a Holocaust historian. Robert Vaughan was an actor, best known for playing Napoleon Solo on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. Little known fact is that I had a Napoleon Solo doll when I was a kid and he had a wonderful relationship with Barbie, often helping her escape from Russian spies and wild animals and so on. Leon Russell was a musician and songwriter. Gwen Ifill was a journalist, primarily on PBS. Mose Allison was a jazz pianist. Whitney Smith designed the flag of Guyana, which I mention only because he is claimed to have coined the word "vexillology," thus enabling Sheldon Cooper’s "Fun With Flags" shtick on The Big Bang Theory. Ruth Gruber was a journalist and humanitarian. Sharon Jones was a soul singer. Ben Zion Shenker was a rabbi and composer of over 500 Hasidic niggunim. Florence Henderson was an actress, best known for portraying Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch. Ron Glass was also an actor and associated in my mind with his role on Barney Miller. Grant Tinker was a television executive, including heading NBC in the 1980’s. And, of course, he was the husband of Mary Tyler Moore before that. Michael "Jim" Deiligatti invented the Big Mac. Brigid O’Brien followed in the tradition of her father, Pat, and acted.

Leonard Cohen was a singer-songwriter, who I’ve always thought of as the Poet Laureate of Depression. That isn’t intended as a negative statement. It just means that there are times when you need to wallow in despair and his music suited that mood perfectly.

Melvin Laird was the Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973 (under Richard Nixon). While serving in Congress, he supposedly convinced Spiro Agnew to resign the Vice Presidency. He had a lot of influence on how Pentagon budgeting is done. Most importantly, he ended the Vietnam era conscription and initiated the All Volunteer Force.

Jay Forrester was, essentially, the founder of system dynamics. I will admit to qualms about the application of systems models for economic analysis, but his work did enable the growth of systems thinking in the world at large. Hence, he made a difference in the opportunities I’ve had in my career.

And then there was Fidel Castro. He was a dictator and it’s clear that he oppressed the Cuban people. On the other hand, his commitment to education and health care was real. That doesn’t balance out the evils of his government, of course. I will note, however, that the U.S. has had a lot less animosity against lots of dictators who are at least equally bad. How much do you hear about Teodoro Obiang Nguerna Mbasogo, for example? Admittedly, Equatorial Guinea )see, I saved you from having to look him up) isn’t 90 miles from Florida, but the point remains that the treatment of Cuba has not been entirely rational. I am hoping that Fidel’s death may work towards normalizing things. I do still hope to go to Cuba at some point, since my grandfather lived there in the 1920’s and my grandparents met and married there.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Milt Eisner was a member of my chavurah. He was a retired statistician and a puzzle person, who competed at least a few times in the ACPT.

Condo Association Meeting: Our annual meeting was right after election day. It wasn’t too painful. And they had good brownies.

WBRS Reception: Then came the William Barton Rogers Society reception. This is an MIT related thing and a reward for a certain level of donation. It was at the Mayflower, which is less impressive than one might think. They served heavy hors d’oeuvres. The speaker was John Lienhard, who is the director of the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab. He was reasonably entertaining. But, really, the value of these events is the opportunity to have intelligent conversations before the main speaker.

Housecleaning and Swap Hosting: Hosting a story swap forced me to do a certain amount of house cleaning. It is fairly appalling to turn up coupons that expired two years ago and such.

Anyway, there was a small group at the swap but it was still enjoyable. I was particularly pleased that Margaret told a First Nations story that is, apparently, in the novel Mrs. Mike, a book I remember entirely for some gruesome medical details involving: 1) diphtheria and 2) amputation.

JGS 36th Anniversary Luncheon: The meal was just okay, but the talk, by Arthur Kurzweil, was excellent. He was entertaining and inspiring. I have commented in the past about genealogy in terms of connectedness to my family’s history and I’ve also thought about that connectivity when I go to shul, admittedly all too rarely. (That is, by the way, why I prefer a more traditional service.) Anyway, as always, it is all about stories and he told good ones.

Book Club: We had a good discussion of How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway, which involves a Japanese war bride. But I am getting increasingly annoyed at the racism (and other general narrowmindedness) of one person in the group. Sigh.

Work: Work has been particularly hectic lately. I was at a full day class one day and have been in endless meetings other days. The telephone is also both my chief tool and the bane of my existence. I’ve also been suffering a lot of IT hell, with issues on three of the four systems I use. However, I suppose it is worth it as I did get a very positive performance review.

The Secret Garden: I went with a friend to see The Secret Garden at Shakespeare Theatre Company. This is one of my favorite Broadway scores of all time. Really, almost the whole score is earworm worthy. I do still think that the book, even as somewhat rewritten here, is probably incomprehensible to anyone who have never read the original novel. But who cares when there is such luscious music with songs like "Lily’s Eyes" and "Where in the World" and
"How Could I Ever Know?" (They did, alas, cut out "Race You to the Top of the Morning.") I should also mention the excellent performances, including Anya Rothman’s as Mary Lennox,, Josh Young as Neville, and, especially, Michael Xavier as Archibald and Lizzie Klepmperar as Lily. (Note, too, that Daisy Egan, who played Mary Lennox on Broadway in 1991 and won a Tony at it, plays Martha, but that’s not an especially showy role.) Anyway, if you live here, go to see this show. If you don’t, you could do worse than to listen to the original cast recording a few thousand times.

Martinique: Finally, I went to Martinique this past weekend. It sounds unlikely, but Norwegian flies from BWI to Martinique and Guadeloupe at very low fares, so why not? I stayed at the Hotel Bambou in the Trois Islet area, which was decent enough for the price. They were very friendly, but the wifi in the room didn’t work well and, while the price included both breakfast and dinner, the dinner buffet was not very good. One expects better of a French colony.

Anyway, it was an easy ferry ride to Fort de France, the capital, where I was eager to see the Bibliotheque Schoelcher, which is very impressive indeed. It was built in France in 1889, then disassembled and shipped piece by piece to Martinique. Schoelcher, by the way, was the major abolitionist writer of the French West Indies. I spent a couple of more hours meandering around the city, which has some interesting architecture (somewhat akin in New Orleans). The Grand Marche was another highlight, especially as there was a lively band playing in front. Overall, it was worth a few hours meandering around.

My rule of thumb for travel is that I need to do something every day, so my Sunday venture was to Musee de la Pagerie, which was the birthplace of Empress Josephine. There was a special exhibit about the history of jazz, but it was dense words, entirely in French, so I didn’t read much of it. The actual museum has pictures of Josephine, along with a few of Napoleon, as well as a few artifacts, many of which I gathered are reproductions. There is also a sugar house (the family was in the sugar cane business) and attractive grounds.

Other than that, I spent time swimming, both in the pool and in the sea. And lazing on the beach. I walked up to the casino, which is remarkably unimpressive, and to the Creole Village shops, which are likewise.

All in all, it was a pleasant enough but not especially exciting trip.

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