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Celebrity Death Watch: Randy Jackson was the last player to hit a home run for the Dodgers before they moved to Los Angeles. Scott Walker was a pop singer with the Walker Brothers and on his own. Rafi Eitan was an Israeli spymaster who captured Adolf Eichmann, but (on the minus side) ran Jonathan Pollard as one of his informants. Larry Cohen directed horror movies. Andrew Marshall directed the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment. Gabriel Okara was a pioneer in English language literature (poetry and novels) in Nigeria. Fred Malek was an advisor to Richard Nixon and is particularly notorious for giving Nixon a list of Jews at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. W. H. Pugmire wrote horror fiction. Ranking Roger was a ska singer, who headed up The (English) Beat. Michel Bacos was the Air France pilot who stayed with the Jewish and Israeli hostages when his plane was hijacked to Entebbe. Valery Bykovsky was a cosmonaut.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I was stranded somewhere, possibly England, with all planes grounded, possibly after 9/11. Finally, they (not that I have any idea who "they" were) decided to bus everyone where they were going. Somehow, I ended up on a bus with only 3 other people. The driver got lost and we ended up going back to where we had been waiting. Apparently, everyone else had left. We had to wait for our bus to be repaired before we could go. I wondered how we were going to drive across the ocean, but it seemed we only had to drive to a ferry to cross the Atlantic.

MIT Intern Reception: Monday night was the annual reception for MIT students in the policy internship program. There weren’t any students interested in space policy this year, so I could just focus on giving general advice, aka corrupting young minds. One young woman told me I’d reassured her a lot when I told her it was okay not to know what she wanted to do, so I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to.

By the way, they changed venues this year. They've used a room in one of the House office buildings in the past. This time, they rented an event space next to the Shakespeare Theatre. The space looked attractive, but they didn't have as wide a variety of food. And it was very noisy.

Proper 21: A friend and I went out to dinner before theatre-going last night. This place was chosen entirely for a convenient location. The food was pretty good – or, at least, the roasted chicken with chimichurri sauce I had was good. But the service was mediocre (e.g. we had to ask a few times before getting our bill) and the noise level was outrageously loud. I won’t be going back unless I am with someone I really don’t want to converse with.

A Bronx Tale: The show we were going to see was A Bronx Tale at The National Theatre. I had seen neither Chazz Palminteri’s one man show nor the movie based on it, so I really had no idea what to expect. The basic story involves a boy named Calogero who witnesses a Mafia-related murder and, as a result of keeping quiet about it, gets involved with Sonny, the Mafioso, who treats him like a combination good-luck charm and son. That leads to conflict with Calogero’s parents. As Calogero grows up, race becomes a big issue, since he falls for a black girl in high school. His friends are ready to set off Molotov cocktails at a nightclub in the black neighborhood and Sonny keeps him from going along with them – which is fortunate, as they get blown up in their car. But Sonny gets killed by the son of the guy he’d killed at the beginning.

This is supposedly based on Palminteri’s life story, but I found parts of it rather implausible. Sonny’s lack of racism, for example, did not ring true. Nor did his encouraging Calogero to get out of the mob life. But, hey, I am a firm believer in emotional truths over facts, so I can suspend some disbelief.

This is a musical and I thought the music (by Alan Menken) worked reasonably well in pushing the story along. The most notable song is "Nicky Machiavelli," sung by Sonny to Calogero explaining his philosophy. And, while I like doo-wop, I do wish there had been a bit more of an ethnic flavor to the score.

I also wish there were local performers in it, but that is too much to ask for a short-run touring production of a Broadway musical. And several of the performers had been in the show on Broadway. I’ll particularly note Brianna-Marie Bell, who played Jane, and whose voice was particularly powerful in the song, "Webster Avenue," which opened the second act.

Overall, I enjoyed seeing this, but I wouldn’t put it into the essential musicals category.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Elder Roma Wilson was a gospel musician. Ntozake Shange was a poet and playwright, best known for For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf. Bernard Bragg co-founded the National Theatre of the Deaf. Whitey Bulger was a gangster. Roy Hargrove was a jazz trumpeter. Raymond Chow was a film producer in Hong Kong, credited with discovering Bruce Lee. Donna Axum was Miss America 1964. Francis Lai wrote the score for the film A Man and a Woman. Evelyn Y. Davis was an activist shareholder and corporate gadfly, who at least once made the list of 25 Most Annoying Washingtonians. Micheal O Suilleabhain was an Irish composer and musician. Wallace Triplett was the first African-American to play in the NFL.

Willie McCovey was a baseball great, primarily playing first base for the San Francisco Giants. He holds the National League record for grand slam home runs. There’s an inlet outside of Whatever Telephone Company It is Named For Today Ball Park in San Francisco that is known as McCovey Cove.

Little Shop of Horrors: Before going away, I saw Little Shop of Horrors at The Kennedy Center. This was part of their Broadway Center Stage series, which are concert versions, i.e. minimally staged, with actors sometimes referring to scripts. The most notable part of the staging was that, instead of using puppets for Audrey II, the person playing the plant wore a suit and gloves to represent it. That worked better than I might have expected, though I still prefer the puppetry. Anyway, it remains a fun show, with an enjoyable score. The performances were also quite good, with Megan Hilty doing an excellent job as Audrey, very much akin to Ellen Greene’s intonations. Josh Radnor was also good as Seymour. Lee Wilkof, who played Mr. Mushnik, was the original Seymour off-Broadway. And Michael James Leslie embodied Audrey II (the plant). Overall, it worth the late weeknight.

NYC Weekend – Part 1: Nancy Drewinsky and the Search for the Missing Letter I had a trip to New York already planned when I realized that I could just go up earlier on Friday and see this Fringe show, written and performed by my friend, Robin Bady. Robin is an excellent storyteller and this piece has to do with how the McCarthy era affected her family. She was too young to be really aware of what was happening as her father, an engineer, was suspected of being a communist, along with several of his colleagues. The answer is complex and her attempts to find out the story were met with reluctance to talk about what happened. It was an interesting story and well-told, though still somewhat of a work in progress. I hope to see how Robin develops it further as time goes on.

NYC Weekend – Part 2: Museum Going Saturday was a dreary day – cold, with heavy rain. Fortunately, New York has plenty of museums to spend such days in. I started with the Guggenheim on the grounds that I had never been there. The architecture is as much a draw as the artwork. The main exhibit was of works by a Swedish artist named Hilma af Klint. The most interesting of her work was from a series called Paintings for the Temple, which was based on her involvement in mystical philosophies like Theosophy, leading her to a mixture of abstract symbols and characters. They reminded me of the magical symbols I used to draw on the corners of my papers in school during a flirtation with witchcraft in my early teen years.

There was also an exhibition from the Thannhauser Collection, which included Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and other art, including several pieces by Picasso. Overall, I enjoyed the museum, but it was crowded and the admission fee is on the high side.

I walked a few blocks north to the Jewish Museum, which is free on Saturdays. I started with their permanent collection, which had several interesting pieces. I was particularly taken by a portrait of an Ethiopian Jew by Kehinde Wiley and by a sculpture called Venus Pareve by Hannah Wilke. I should also note that I was impressed with how much art by women was part of the collection. I also really liked an exhibit of excerpts from television shows having to do with psychotherapy.

But the main reason I had gone to the museum was to look at a temporary exhibit of work by Marc Chagall and other artists active in Vitebsk in the period just after the Russian revolution. Having been in Vitebsk in early September, I felt almost obliged to see this. And, of course, Chagall has long been one of my favorite artists. The exhibit also included works by Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitzky and others. There was a good mix of works and I thought the exhibit (which runs through early January) was well worth seeing.

By the way, I was just leaving there to meet a friend for coffee when I heard about the Pittsburgh massacre. I will write about that and other political matters separately.

NYC Weekend – Part 3: They Might Be Giants The actual reason for the trip to NYC had been to see They Might Be Giants at Terminal 5, a cavernous night club in the extreme western part of midtown, a land populated largely by auto dealerships. I think of them mostly as a novelty act, due to songs like Particle Man and Istanbul and Why Does the Sun Shine? All of those were part of the show. But there was a lot of other material, not all of it funny, and much of it too loud for me. I liked the second set better than the first, but I am really too old to go to concerts that don’t start until 9 at night. Also, I was completely earwormed by The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

NYC Weekend – Part 4: Restaurant Going Friday night a bunch of us had dinner after the show at Cowgirl in the West Village. I got Frito pie, which amused Robin, who was unfamiliar with this wonderful dish of chili (vegetarian in my case, though they also have beef) with cheese and sour cream and the like served over an actual bag of Fritos. I also had a very good IPA, but I don’t remember what it was and they don’t have their drink menu on-line. If you want Tex-mex food in Manhattan, this would fill the bill, but it was on the noisy side.

Saturday night’s dinner before the concert was at Inti, a Peruvian restaurant on 10th Avenue. I got a very nice grilled chicken dish, with garlicky vegetables. Surprisingly reasonable prices for mid-town Manhattan, too. I’d eat there again.

Before leaving on Sunday, I had brunch with friends at Pete’s Tavern in the Gramercy Park area This is one of several places that claims to be the oldest restaurant in New York. The fried chicken sandwich was very tasty. Overall, everyone seemed happy with their food and drinks (I went for Irish coffee) and the conversation was lively and entertaining.

Business Trip: I got home about 9 at night, which meant rushing around to unpack and pack for a business trip to Layton, Utah. Aside from being exhausted and having a fairly intense work schedule, there’s not really anything to say about that. I was originally supposed to come back Thursday night, but the trip got extended because our team had to outbrief in the late afternoon. I spent most of Saturday in a state of suspended animation.

WBRS Reception: I did drag myself out of the house on Sunday, first to go grocery shopping and later to go to a William Barton Rogers Society reception (related to giving to MIT) at the Spy Museum. There were heavy hors oeuvres (particularly good spicy tuna cones, as well as veggie tacos served in lime halves), along with lots of intelligent conversation. The main feature was a talk by Eric Alm, co-director of the Center for Microbiome Informatics and Therapeutics. His main point was that indigenous populations tend to have a more diverse microbiome population than people in the more developed world. He also had some interesting data on how quickly one’s microbiome can change in response to travel or illness. Fortunately, he didn’t mention any changes in response to dessert.

Things Still to Write About: Voting. Condo association annual meeting. How the Virginia Department of Transportation is going to screw us over. How Jeff Bezos is going to screw us over. Possibly a locked entry re: work.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Ed Charles played third base, including a stint with the Mets, including their 1969 World Series. Louise Slaughter was the oldest member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Sammy Wilson won a Tony for playing Paul in the original production of A Chorus Line. Frank Avruch played Bozo the Clown in Boston through the 1960’s. Charles Lazarus founded Toys R Us. Louis Kamookak discovered the wreck of HMS Erebus. Wayne Huizenga founded Blockbuster Video. Zell Miller was the Governor of Georgia for much of the 1990’s. Seo Min-woo was a K-pop singer. Linda Brown was the subject of a Supreme Court case on segregation. Stephane Audran was an actress, best known for Babette’s Feast. Peter Munk founded the largest gold mining company in the world. Anita Shreve was a novelist. Stephen Reinhardt was a liberal judge. Connie Lawn was the longest-serving White House correspondent. Ron Dunbar was a songwriter whose works include "Band of Gold" and the execrable "Patches."

Rusty Staub played baseball as part of the original Montreal Expos. He came over to the New York Mets in 1972 and was one of the more notable players for them during my high school years. I have a bobblehead of "Le Grand Orange," acquired when I went to a game in Montreal. He was also the first Mets player to get over 100 RBIs in one season.

Steven Bochco was a television producer, most famous for ensemble shows like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law. He also created Cop Rock, which is worth a look for the musical aspect.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist and the second wife of Nelson Mandela. She was a controversial figure, largely because of the human rights violations committed by her security detail. In addition to her praise of "necklacing," she is said to have ordered kidnappings. She also got involved in fraud related to a funeral fund.

Intern Reception: I went to a reception last week for MIT students looking for policy internships. This appeared to be the year of the economist, with nobody interested in space. I did enjoy several conversations, both with people I knew (including one from an unrelated and, hence, unexpected connection) and who I didn’t. But the most interesting moment of the evening was when a young woman leaned too close to a candle and her hair caught on fire. Nobody was injured, fortunately.

Pesach: As my father used to say to my mother, America is not as rich as they always told us. Here it is a major Jewish holiday and we don’t even have any bread in the house.

Interplanetary Addresses: I get a fair number of invitations to events, not all of which are anywhere near where I live. Not everybody remembers they are posting invitations to international websites or email lists. Therefore, it is not uncommon to get invited to something with the address being given only as, say, 2100 Main Street.

I have developed the mental habit of interpreting such things as 2100 Main Street, Mars.

Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 1: I was taking a shared taxi to Island Park. I expected to be dropped at the train station, but the driver turned down Carolina Avenue. When we reached my house, I asked to be let out, but the driver wouldn’t stop. Instead, he continued to the corner and turned left onto Austin Boulevard – but in the oncoming traffic lane. I finally got him to stop by opening the rear right-side door, while he was still moving slowly. I threw $40 at him and left. Also, the house numbers were wrong. My house was 127, instead of 60, and the house next door was 241, instead of 66.

Don’t Analyze This Dream, Part 2: I was somewhere in China with my mother. I had arrived a day earlier, so had already taken the river cruise included in our tour package, but I went with her again. Everyone had to show their passports to be able to board the boats and an American man objected. Then we were in the apartment of a man named Anuku and his mother said he spoke such good English because he had studied at Virginia Tech. He had a tattooed Delta on his arm to prove that.

Commute Hell: There was apparently smoke in the tunnel near Virginia Square, so the Orange Line was shut down from East Falls Church to Clarendon. I was smart enough not to think that shuttle bus service would work, so I took the 29N to King Street, where I could get the Blue or Yellow Line to work. It was slow and crowded and reminded me of how much I prefer trains.

Weird Words: Some friends on facebook have been discussing words that they mispronounced because they've only read them, not heard them. I have to admit that I find myself wondering what sort of life people are living that words like "hegemony" or "antipodes" come up in conversation.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Nini Theilade was a ballerina. Morgan Tsvangirai was the leader of the political opposition in Zimbabwe. Gunter Blobel won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Billy Graham was an evangelist. Emma Chambers was a British actress. Sridevi was a Bollywood superstar. Nanette Fabray was an actress and singer and probably best known for her work with Sid Caesar. Shmuel Auerbach was an influential Israeli rabbi. Barbara Alston sang "Da Doo Ron Ron." Eido Shimano was a controversial Buddhist leader, who was forced to resign from his role in the Zen Studies Society after a sex scandal.

Cynthia Heimel wrote humor pieces for a wide range o publications. Her book, Sex Tips for Girls was a big influence on me

Prince Henrik was the Prince Consort of Denmark. He’s only significant because he scored me 20 ghoul pool points due to a quick trade. Since the rules this year let you reuse somebody after a trade, it was an easy way to get on the board. Instead of putting I.M. Pei back on the top of my list, I reloaded with Stirling Moss on the grounds that his retirement from public life probably means he is down to mere weeks. I have been known to be wrong about this sort of thing, however.

About Arming Teachers: I’ve already written my opinions about gun control and the latest massacre hasn’t changed them. I do want to say, however, that the idea of arming teachers as a countermeasure is a terrible one. If there is a school shooting, police who respond will have no way of identifying teachers and are likely to shoot anybody who is brandishing a weapon.

About Punishment and Civil Disobedience: I also have a quick comment about students getting suspended for participating in protests. I believe they should be punished as long as the punishment is exactly the same as for any equivalent action, e.g. other unexcused absences. Part of civil disobedience is being willing to accept those punishments to bring attention to the issues being protested. Compare to Gandhi serving jail time in South Africa for refusing racially-based registration.

Visiting Escribitionist: I met [personal profile] lillibet at Belga Cafe for cocktails and conversation when she was in town. I tried a cocktail called Yuzu Making Me Crazy which consisted of Untitled No. 2 Gin, balsamic, yuzu, beet syrup, and plum bitters. It was lovely, both in taste and appearance. The conversation was equally lovely, covering people and places and ideas.

Month of Letters: I have failed this year, though I have a couple of days left to write to people. I thought I could catch up and just never managed to. Which is about where I am on housework, too.

Election Security: Thursday night, I went to an MIT Club meeting on election security. There was good conversation beforehand. The talk itself was also interesting, covering mathematical techniques for ensuring accuracy of voting. But I do wish they did these things at a better location than Maggiano’s, which I think serves up vast amounts of mediocre food and overpriced mediocre drinks.

Storytelling: I did Saturday night’s Better Said Than Done show, which had a theme involving love, marriage, and commitment. My story had to do with DLL, a MUD I played on in the 1993 time frame and on which my character and another character had a rather unusual wedding. There was a wide mix of stories and a responsive, albeit smallish, audience. Overall, it was a fun evening.
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Stupidest Swag Ever: When I wrote about the MIT School of Engineering Reception, I forgot to mention the swag they gave us. The silver shopping bag looked elegant, but what it had was a sleep mask with the words "engineer at rest." Oy.

The Grapevine: I dragged myself to Busboys and Poets in Takoma last Wednesday for storytelling with Angela Lloyd and Robin Bady, two of my favorite wild women. Angela had a great mix of stories, ranging from shopping with a man who was going to hop a train to her version of Cinderella. (Glass slippers go with everything.) Robin focused on the ghostly. As I expected, it was a great evening of stories and I only wish I’d had more time to hang out with both of these wonderful ladies.

Fall For the Book: Thursday night was another storytelling event – a Better Said Than Done show for the Fall for the Book festival. The theme was "Air Guitar: stories about faking, music, and playing with heart." I told a story about the trauma I suffered as a child at the hands of (well, keys of) a Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano - and my brother. The story mostly worked, though I still think the ending could use some improvement. Overall, it was interesting to see how various tellers interpreted the theme and the show was a lot of fun, though the audience was on the small side. There was also lots of great conversation with other tellers before and after the show.

TCC: On Saturday, I went to a Travelers’ Century Club luncheon. TCC is a group for people who have been to over 100 countries and territories. The catch is that their list of countries and territories is rather broad (e.g. Alaska and Hawaii get counted separately from CONUS). So I have rather mixed feelings about the whole thing, but it is always good to hang out with other well-traveled people. I had a lot of good conversations with interesting people (e..g the U.S. ambassador to Benin and her husband; she was surprised to be sitting between two people who had actually been to Benin). There were other people I would have liked to have gotten more time to talk with. Schedule permitting, I will try to go to future luncheons.

An Act of G-d: I saw this play at Signature Theatre on Sunday afternoon. The premise is that the Lord has come down to earth, inhabiting the body of actor – make that 7-times Helen Hayes award nominated actor – Tom Story and is going to revise the 10 commandments. The show is based on a twitter feed by David Javerbaum. That twitter sensibility makes for a lot of wisecracking and no real narrative line. There’s a lot of local insider humor (e.g. a reference to Bobby Smith, who is a better-known local actor). Some of it is genuinely funny, while some of the jokes are total groaners. The basic premise is that G-d created man in His image – and He is an asshole. Illustrative examples abound. It’s worth seeing as long as you aren’t really expecting anything particularly profound.

WBRS Reception: Sunday night was another reception at the Willard Intercontinental, this time for the William Barton Rogers Society, which has to do with donating above a certain amount of money to MIT. There was plenty of good conversation and very tasty food (heavy appetizers before the speaker, desserts after). The speech was about the D-Lab, which is MIT’s effort to involve students with projects in the developing world. I wish something like that had existed back in my undergraduate days, though I would probably have been too wimpy and conventional to get involved in it. As well-traveled as I am now, I can’t imagine 19-year-old me going to, say, Ghana. Anyway, the reception was a nice evening out. And, thankfully, no swag.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Vladimir Voevodsky was a mathematician. Tom Alter was in over 300 Bollywood films. Ralphie May was a comedian. Joseph Schmitt designed spacesuits for the earliest astronauts. Nora Johnson wrote The World of Henry Orient. Armando Calderon Sol was the first president of El Salvador after their civil war. Edna Dummerth played for the All American Girls Professional Baseball League. Connie Hawkins was a basketball player, whose career included the Harlem Globetrotters and the Phoenix Suns, among others. Herve Leroux was a fashion designer.

Embassy of Romania: Thursday night I went to a dinner at the Embassy of Romania, which was cosponsored by the MIT Club of Washington and the Harvard Club. You can tell events organized by the latter because they tend to be less organized. The ambassador talked about the history of Romania and was reasonably interesting, but the sound system was terrible. The buffet was quite good – a few types of dips, rice, vegetables, chicken, stuffed cabbage, mamaliga (i.e. polenta), and tiramisu and some sort of strudel-like things for dessert. It was a nice enough event, but I prefer there being tables to sit at when eating.

United Catering Operations: On Friday evening, I flew to Denver to go to a Frequent Flyer Giving event involving a tour of United Catering Operations. My flight out to Denver got delayed by a mechanical problem, so I didn’t get in until 11 at night and it took another half hour to get to my hotel. Fortunately,, the tour was worth it. We had to wear lab coats (personalized with our names, so we got to keep them) and hair nets. We went through various coolers and food preparation areas. United also caters for Frontier Airlines, British Air, Icelandair, as well as preparing food for the deli department at King Sooper and for the Air Force Academy. We had activities at some stations. For example, I put bread out on a conveyor belt for sandwich making for King Sooper and sliced cucumbers for a salad in the test kitchen. There were also trivia questions along the way, with chocolate coins as prizes. At the end, we got a tasty lunch (including rare bison on crostini, a salad with pears and acai and pomegranate dressing, a very tasty steak with asparagus, and triple mousse cake for dessert). There was also a charity auction, but I am trying to downsize. They gave everyone swag bags with a small Polaris pillow (which they discontinued because buttoning the pillowcase was too slow a process) and a couple of amenity kits. Then it was back to the airport and my flight home, which got in a half hour early. Overall, a fun but exhausting trip.

The Mistress Cycle: On Sunday afternoon, I went to see this show at Creative Cauldron. It’s more of a song cycle than a conventional musical, since there is a very minimal book. The piece tells the stories of five women, at different times and places in history. Ching (a composite character) was a 14-year old concubine in 12th-century China. Diane de Poitiers was the mistress of King Henri II in 16th-century France. Lulu White was forced into sex work at the age of 13 but went on to become a successful madam and the richest woman in New Orleans at the end of the 19th century. Anais Nin was the 20th century French writer of erotica. And Tess Walker was a composite of a modern 30-something woman.

I have some qualms about treating all of those characters as mistresses. I’d argue that there is a difference between the choices that some of the women (notably Anais Nin) made and being sold as a concubine. I also wish that the music had been more varied. Lulu White did get bluesy numbers (perfect for the vocal talents of Iyona Blake, who played that role) and Ching’s solos (especially "One in a Line") had a distinctive voice (and were well-performed by Justine Icy Moral), but the rest of the songs were a bit monotonous. That’s a pity since the performers were all quite good. Erica Clare was very expressive as Tess, so I wish she had had more interesting songs to sing. I thought the show was provocative and worth seeing, but the score didn’t excite me.

MIT School of Engineering Reception: Finally, Sunday night was a reception at the Willard for the MIT School of Engineering, in honor of selectees to the National Academy of Engineering. The food was pretty good (especially the desserts) and the conversation was lively and intelligent. The main talk had to do with increasing diversity in STEM. Overall, it was a pleasant evening out.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Linda Hopkins was a blues singer and actress. Dorothy Mengering was David Letterman’s mother and appeared on his show. J. Geils led an eponymous band. To paraphrase their most famous song, Death Stinks. Charlie Murphy was a comedian and actor – and less famous than his brother, Eddie. Bob Taylor was an internet pioneer, including playing major roles at ARPA, Xerox PARC, and DEC. Bruce Langhorne was a folk musician and, allegedly, the inspiration for Bob Dylan’s "Mr. Tambourine Man." Sylvia Moy was a songwriter, who wrote a number of Motown songs. Clifton James was an actor who played a lot of Southern sheriffs, despite being a native New Yorker. Dan Rooney chaired the Pittsburgh Steelers and later became U.S. ambassador to Ireland. Patricia McKissak wrote children’s books, including several biographies of African Americans. Sheila Abdus-Salaam was the first black woman to serve on the New York Court of Appeals. Apparently, she committed suicide, and there is a family history that may have played a role in that.

Sniffle, Cough: I thought it was just the absurdly high pollen count of this time of year, but actually succumbed to a cold. That meant that: a) I ended up skipping the second Passover seder, and b) I got nothing done at home. Except using a ridiculous number of tissues. Sigh. (I am mostly over it now. Well, except for my annual wish for the trees to have sex indoors.)

MIT Better World Event: This involved a reception and talks at the Newseum on Thursday night. Due to it being during Passover, I had to stick to drinking sparkling water and eating raw veggies (and some fruit for dessert), which was a bit disappointing. But the talks were interesting, particularly one by John Urshel, a math grad student who is probably better known for being a linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. And I saw some people I have not seen in years – literally, as one of those was someone I lived on the same floor as when I was a freshman, over 40 years ago. And I worked on a research project with her husband around 1978.

Taxes: I use Turbo Tax, which is not, in general, too painful. I did a pretty good job of putting all of the relevant paperwork in one place. But I still had to mail in one paper form, due to having sold some stock. Reminder: even mild annoyances are annoying.

You May Interpret These Dreams: In one recent dream, I was moving stacks of books around in my living room. In another (this one, during Passover), I was licking the chocolate glaze off a donut.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Chuck Barris was a TV producer, responsible for The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and The Gong Show. Dallas Green played for several baseball teams (mostly the Phillies) and managed a few, including some success with the Phillies and remarkable lack thereof with the Mets. Lola Albright was an actress, best known for her role in the TV show, Peter Gunn. Pete Shotton played the washboard, but is better known for his friendship with John Lennon and for founding the Fatty Arbuckle’s chain of diners in England. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian was the Governor-General of St. Kitts and Nevis, but I wouldn’t have heard of him were it not for a couple of my ghoul pool rivals having him on their lists. (My picks are thriving, alas.) David Storey was, appropriately, a writer, and won the Booker Prize for his 1976 novel, Saville. Bernie Wrightson drew horror comics and is best known as the creator of Swamp Thing. Ahmed Kathrada was an anti-apartheid activist. Darlene Cates played the mother in the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. William Powell wrote The Anarchist Cookbook, though he later tried to have it removed from circulation. Roland Schmitt was an executive at GE and president of RPI. Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay activism. Richard Bolles wrote What Color is Your Parachute?, a frequently recommended book on job-hunting, though I never found it particularly useful. Lonnie Brooks was a blues singer. Gary Austin created the improv theatre troupe, The Groundlings. Yevgeny Yevtushenko was a Russian poet, best known for his work Babi Yar, which was set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Quarterly Goals: I have been working on various projects, but haven’t finished any. I have not been reading things from the goals on my life list, alas. I treated myself to a pedicure, perfume, and a couple of extravagant meals out. And I have gotten in touch with the daughter-in-law of a cousin twice removed (in Israel) and a couple of the descendants of my great-grandfather’s brother.

MIT Reception: Monday night was the reception for MIT student in their policy internship program. It is always good to corrupt young minds, er, try to persuade students to: a) get involved with space policy and b) take advantage of all the non-work things to do in the D.C. area. Overall, it was a pleasant evening of decent food (heavy hors d’oeuvres) and intelligent conversation.

Loren Niemi House Concert: Storyteller Loren Niemi did a house concert in an apartment in Adams Morgan on Tuesday night. It was a nice intimate setting and he is always interesting to listen to. I particularly liked his story about re-encountering a woman he once knew under unexpected circumstances, which evoked a lot of memories for me about how life circumstances change. He also told an excellent ghost story.

Book Club: Wednesday night was book club. It was interesting because the person leading the discussion really disliked the book (Someone Will Be With You Shortly by Lisa Kogan, which is not really a typical book club type of book). I didn’t think it was a brilliant book, but it was typical women’s magazine humor and an entertaining enough read. The other news is that the person in the group who has annoyed me (because of not so hidden racism) is gone. I knew she was moving but it has happened a bit faster than I expected. I’m sure somebody else will grate on me – and that I irritate some people, too, but I’m still pleased.

Rasika: This modern Indian restaurant is generally considered one of the best restaurants in D.C. and, therefore, it is next to impossible to get a reservation there. A friend had managed to get a reservation for Friday night, with the catch being that it was on the decidedly early side. Alas, she got ill and couldn’t make it, but I decided it was worth taking advantage of the opportunity, even alone. The famous dish there is palak chaat, which is crispy spinach with yogurt and date and tamarind chutney. It is amazingly good and lived up to its reputation. That was followed by lamb achari, which was decently spicy and very tender, but felt a bit heavy. It came with rice and a mint paratha, which was good, but the flavor of the mint was kind of drowned out by the spices of the lamb. I also had a champagne cocktail, which was okay, but did not have as much ginger flavor as the menu had led me to believe. For dessert, there was excellent gulab jamun with amazing cardamom ice cream. Overall, it was a good meal, though I would order a different main course if I went again.

Out of This World: I had never actually been to the Ringling Brothers / Barnum & Bailey Circus and, this being their final tour, suggested this to the group of friends for whom I am Chief Entertainment Officer. So Friday night (after Rasika) found me with a couple of friends at the Verizon Center for the circus. The show is space-themed, which was a nice plus. There were impressive aerialists and superb horseback riding, but my favorite act was the guys riding motorbikes in a metal orb, with seven of them at one time. The lowlights were the clowns, who were mostly at the far end of the arena, so I couldn’t see what they were doing, and the big cats, who just looked too unhappy. I found myself wondering what has to go wrong in somebody’s life for them to think that a career yelling at lions and tigers is a good life choice. (Yes, I do know most circus performers are born to the life. Still…) I’m glad I went, but, overall, I’m not really sad that it’s ending.

Midwestern Gothic: This is a new musical at Signature Theatre. The book is by Royce Vavrek, who I was unfamiliar with, and Josh Schmidt, who wrote Adding Machine, a show I didn’t know quite what to make of. And that was more or less my reaction to this show. The plot centers around a sociopathic teenage girl named Stina, ably played by Morgan Keene. She sets up her friend to be St. Sebastian, tying him to a tree and shooting him with an arrow. She flirts with her creepy stepfather, Red, who takes semi-pornographic photos of her. Her mother is mostly absent, running a bar. Red picks up a woman, who Stina kills. So she and Red run off to an old, condemned house, where there is more blood shed. The music is a mixed bag, some of it operatic and some of it livelier. Overall, the show just didn’t work for me – and I like dark humor. I think the problem is that the likeable characters are nothing more than victims. Oh, well, it’s always worth seeing something new.

Knitting Group: And Sunday was knitting group. I am finally past the part of an afghan square that I'd had to tink because I'd forgotten the border on the sides.

Whew! What a hectic week. (And things had been busy at work, too, with a couple of big meetings to deal with.)
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Joe Fleishaker appeared in several Troma films, e.g. Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. Mell Lazarus drew Miss Peach and Momma. Actress Beth Howland actually died in December, but her death was only announced on May 24. She was best known for her role in the sitcom Alice, but I think she was more significant for being the original Amy in the musical Company, singing the patter song "Getting Married Today." Dave Swarbrick played the fiddle with Fairport Convention. Theresa Saldana was an actress, who is probably most famous for surviving being stabbed by an obsessed stalker. Peter Shaffer was a playwright, whose work included Amadeus and Equus. Gordie Howe was a hockey player. Muhammed Ali was a boxer and a poet. You didn’t really need me to tell you that, but what you might not know is that I won a bet on the first Ali-Frazier fight when I was in junior high. I bet on Frazier only on the grounds that Ali had been out of the game for so long.

JGSJW: The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington had their annual potluck luncheon on Sunday. The event started with an interesting talk on Jews in China, covering both historical and modern communities. Then there was a brief business meeting, before lunch. I had been assigned to the dessert group and baked blondies, with a new recipe that I found disappointing. There was an after-lunch game show, but I couldn’t stay for it, since I had another commitment. Anyway, it was a nice event, with plenty of good conversation.

Washington Folk Festival: That commitment was to tell stories at the Washington Folk Festival, in Glen Echo Park. My set was titled "Calculating Women," and I advertised it as stories of real, imaginary, and complex women who face the world with cleverness, with, and a touch of mathematics. I told mostly folk tales (including Maltese, Jewish, German, and American ones), plus the story of Sophie Germaine. I realized afterwards that I had completely forgotten about one of the stories I intended to tell. No wonder I finished a few minutes early. Anyway, it went reasonably well.

SafeTrack: The metro hell that started Saturday was tolerable during the work week, largely because the Fairfax Connector added on a temporary express bus from the Vienna Metro to the Pentagon. So far the bus has not been absurdly crowded, i.e. nobody has been forced to stand on it. It’s fairly chaotic at the Pentagon station at the end of the day, however. And they don’t actually appear to adhere to their schedule very accurately, though it’s still better than the metrobus I used to ride.

MIT Club Annual Meeting: Wednesday night, I braved the metro to go the MIT Club of DC Annual Meeting, which was at Maggiano’s. It’s not a restaurant I care for – large quantities of mediocre food – but the conversation was good, and I even made a potentially useful work-related connection. The featured speaker was Dava Newman, the Deputy Director of NASA. She emphasized Mars, but did speak a fair amount about uncrewed missions and even mentioned some of their work on aviation. The questions were, alas, too focused on Mars, but I’m not surprised about that.

By the way, I had very good Metro luck getting home, with just a four minute wait at Friendship Heights and a two minute wait at Metro Center.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This is one of those catch-up posts. What can I say? I do a lot of stuff.

Celebrity Death Watch: Arthur Anderson was the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun, telling us about cereal being magically delicious. Doris Roberts was a character actress, who I first took notice of when she played a guest role on St. Elsewhere. Ben-Zion Gold was the rabbi at Harvard Hillel during my years at the superior institution up the street.

You don’t need me to tell you about Prince. And you’d be better off asking somebody else about him, anyway, since his music wasn’t really my thing. Billy Paul, who sang "Me and Mrs. Jones," was more to my taste. But the musician whose death I really want to highlight is Papa Wemba. He was a major figure in the world of Afropop, which is very much my thing. If you can listen to his music without dancing, you may want to consult a doctor to make sure you aren't dead yourself.

Made in Space: As I mentioned previously, the theme of this year’s MIT Club of Washington seminar series was space. This talk was not actually part of the series, but many of the same people were there. The speaker was Andrew Rush, the President of Made in Space, which has demonstrated (in a very limited way) additive manufacturing in space. For example, they used a 3-D printer to produce a tool on the International Space Station. Their plans are a lot more ambitious. I grasp the benefit of not needing things to survive the launch environment, but he didn’t address having the manufacturing equipment survive the space environment. For example, what are the impacts to electronics of energetic charged particles? And he didn’t really talk about the economics at all, since certain components (mostly electronics) would need to be stockpiled in the manufacturing facility. Still, it was an interesting talk. And, as a bonus, one of the people there was someone I was very friendly with as an undergrad and hadn’t seen in close to 36 years!

Book Club: The major reason to belong to a book club is to force yourself to read books you might not choose otherwise. This session’s book was Minaret by Leila Aboulela. It was an interesting book, with a somewhat unsatisfying ending. It would have been helpful to know a little more about Sudanese culture – and clothing, as I had to google what a "tobe" is. (It turns out to be more like a sari than like a burka, which is what I had been envisioning. One thing I continue to find amazing is other people’s limited views of the world. That is, except for the Tajik woman in the group. Of course, they probably think my view of the world is weird - e.g. my scale of how much a country is likely to be a basket case based on what colonial power dominated it.

Speaking of the Basket Case Scale: The worst colonialists were the Belgians. It isn’t clear that there’s an adequate sample size, but I wouldn’t want more countries to be as screwed up as the Congo is.

The Dutch were horrible colonialists, but, fortunately, were usually kicked out by the French or British before they could do too much damage. There are, however, no excuses for the basket cases they made of Indonesia and New York City.

Former Portuguese colonies are, in general, doomed to an eternity of civil war. The only mitigation is that they tend to have great music.

Former French colonies are also doomed to be basket cases. On the plus side, the French are sometimes willing to come back in and help them out. And they tend to have good bread and good coffee.

Former English colonies are a mixed bag. They tend to have some level of democratic government, but may have lasting ethnic tensions. Quality of food and music is more variable.

Former German colonies seem to end up with suspiciously long serving leaders, but, again, it isn’t clear if the sample size is adequate to judge. On the plus side, they tend to have good roads.

Surprisingly, former Spanish colonies may be the most functional. Admittedly, the lifetime of a President for Life may be measured in days, but the periods between junta rule are often reasonably free politically.

Innovation Reception: I had an MIT-related reception to go to on Monday night, which was kind of a pain in the neck since, being Passover, I couldn’t eat much of the food. (They did have some raw veggies.) The talk was fairly interesting, with an emphasis on nano-technology. I have to admit to a certain level of skepticism about the emphasis on nano, largely because of my experience with the technology valley of death. That is, the overwhelming majority of technologies fail to make it from research to operations (or, in this case, commercial viability). Academics are always way too optimistic about this, but it affects the riskiness of technology investments.

Pierre Bensusan: My very favorite musician on the planet playing at a place just a couple of miles from my home? Of course, I was going to be there. I’ve seen Pierre perform live numerous times and I continue to be blown away by his guitar virtuosity.

Passover: I have been somewhat unenthusiastic about Passover this year. The only significant cooking achievement was a frittata with asparagus and mushrooms from the farmer’s market. And, frankly, that is as much a shopping achievement as a cooking one.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I am still jet-lagged, so that probably limits how interesting I am. Or am not.

Celebrity Death Watch: Bob Ebeling was a NASA engineer whose warning prior to the Challenger disaster was, alas, ignored. Rob Ford was the mayor of Toronto and followed in the mayoral path so clearly set by Marion Barry of Washington, DC. Andy Grove was the leading force behind the dominance of Intel. (He was also, by the way, a Shoah survivor.)

Day Without Metro: Metro welcomed me home from vacation by shutting down the rail system completely for a day in order to inspect cables that should really have been inspected during the weekend shutdowns we’ve had damn near every weekend for the past decade or so. I could get to work by bus if I were willing to spend enough time at it, but I opted to drive. And, really, it didn’t seem much worse than normal, perhaps because I timed things well. My only real complaint about the shutdown is that they waited until 4:30 in the afternoon to announce it, which is well within normal rush hour. And, indeed, I heard that a number of people had not gotten the message.

By the way, the real winner on public transit that day was apparently Capital Bikeshare. Too bad there are no bike sharing stations within 10 miles of my house.

Travel Planning: I have figured out plans for short breaks over Thanksgiving and Christmas . One is a trip to Martinique, based on a ridiculously low airfare from BWI. The other is a reasonably priced trip to Key West. In both cases, I expect hotel costs will balance the air deals, but so be it.

I am also thinking that my birthday will require a national park trip, but I’ve only gotten as far as narrowing it down to four possibilities for that. (The Key West trip will include an excursion to Dry Tortugas N.P.)

Oh, and before someone asks why the short breaks? I have, um, negative 60 something hours of vacation after the South Pacific excursion. I have commitments for at least 5 more days before the end of the calendar year.

MIT Summer Interns: Monday night was the annual reception for MIT’s DC summer intern program. Unfortunately, there weren’t any candidates looking for space policy related positions this year. It’s still good to mingle with students and other alumni.

Android Question: This isn’t something really important, but it’s been bugging me. When I go to my task manager and click "end all," my tablet will sometimes tell me it is closing 20-30+ applications. Those are apps I never actually opened. The weirdest part is that clearing the memory will sometimes increase memory usage, rather than decreasing it. None of this has any big impact on functionality, beyond sometimes needing to clear memory to get mail or webpages to load. But I would still like to understand it.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Mervin Field founded a polling company. Elizabeth Peet McIntosh was a spy, both with OSS and its successor, the CIA, and wrote a couple of books about women spies. Ornette Coleman was a major jazz composer and saxophonist. Christopher Lee was an actor, noted particularly for horror movies. It wasn’t his fault that the film adaptation of Dracula so completely mangles the book. Ron Moody was also an actor, best known for playing Faigin in the movie version of Oliver!. Jack King was the voice of the Apollo space missions.

Puzzle People Deaths: I met Leslie Billig only in passing at a couple of crossword tournaments, but it is clear from what other people have said that she was well-liked and a significant loss to the tribe of puzzlers. The loss that has hit me harder is that of Thomas Gazzola, known within the NPL as Maso. He was a brilliant man, the creator of numerous puzzles, including a late-night game that I still think of as Doubles Jeopardy, even though he later changed that to It Takes Two. I was always astonished (and excessively proud of myself) when I could beat him at any sort of trivia. His death is particularly tragic, as he was the victim of a drunk driver, who struck him while he was jogging near his home. This year’s con will not be the same without him.

Leading Jewish Minds: Tuesday night was the first Washington area edition of the Leading Jewish Minds at MIT series, sponsored by MIT Hillel. Traffic going to McLean was a mess, but I made it in plenty of the time to the home of our gracious hosts. I hadn’t expected to know anybody (other than the Hillel staff) but, in fact, the attendees included someone I met a while back via a mutual friend and another person whose cousin was a good friend some 30+ years ago. The event was advertised as having "light kosher dairy refreshments." Ignoring the kashrut question, at a non-Jewish event, that would mean wine and cheese and maybe crudites. At a Jewish event, light refreshments means a groaning board, including noodle kugel, spanakopita, lox, salads, etc.

The speaker was Dr. Gerald D. Cohen '88, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Macroeconomic Analysis at the US Department of the Treasury, who spoke about the outlook for the US economy. I thought the most interesting part of his talk had to do with metrics, i.e. how we actually measure how the economy is doing.

Food Pornography – Pizza Edition: There was a flyertalk dinner at Fireworks Pizza in the Courthouse area on Wednesday night. The place was quite noisy, which is an issue, but the food was well worth it. The beer list offered too many choices, so I went with a cocktail, instead – The Calm Before the Storm, which was their version of a Dark and Stormy. It was quite good, with strong ginger flavor. (One of the reasons I rarely order these is that most American ginger beer is unimpressive.) As for food, the tartufo pizza had lots of tasty mushrooms (shitake, cremini, maitake) and an excellent thin crust. It is probably the best pizza I’ve had in the area and I would certainly try some of their other offerings.

The evening also solved a bit of a mystery. A couple of weeks ago I ran into somebody at a bookstore, who clearly knew me as he called me by name. He looked vaguely familiar, and I was pretty sure there was a work connection, but I could not place him at all. Well, he was at that dinner and it turns out that he works with our software team. But he is based in Seattle, so it’s not like he’s around all the time. We had never actually worked together but had had a conversation re: flyertalk once on the way into the building (since I had a backpack with a flyertalk tag on it).

Everybody Knows: I thought that everybody knows that there are stalactites underneath the Lincoln Memorial, formed by the limestone of the carving dripping down into the cavernous understructure. I have, in fact, been there and seen them, though it is some years ago. Nobody in my office knew about this. Alas, it appears that they’ve closed off public access, so they will remain unconvinced.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Morris Wilkins invented the heart-shaped bathtub. Jim Bailey was a female impersonator. Beau Biden appeared to be a worthy successor to his father’s political legacy. Hermann Zapf designed typefaces. Will Holt wrote the song "Lemon Tree."

There were also two huge losses in the folk music world. Jean Ritchie was a major folk musician in the Appalachian tradition. I remember listening to her on records about as far back as I can remember. And Ronnie Gilbert was part of The Weavers, as well as having performed solo and with other musicians, notably Holly Near. She had a powerful voice and a powerful presence. Her song, "The Death of Stephen Biko," was one that reminded me that protest songs continued to be relevant after the 1960’s.

Washington Folk Festival: The last weekend in May was the Washington Folk Festival. Because I was doing the Indie 500 on Saturday, I was only able to attend on Sunday. My performance was at the end of the day, which meant a pretty thin audience. I did a couple of experiments in my telling, one of which worked, and one of which failed badly. The one that worked was to have a vote on "The Farmer and His Animals" about which of his animals (the rooster, the pig, or the cow) the farmer should kill. The one that didn’t work involved the idea that Henny Penny was the victim of auto-correct, having intended to tweet "the sky’s appalling" as part of her job as a weather observer. I had not entirely thought through what I was going to have other characters doing, so it fizzled. I also told a Bill Greenfield story and was amused to see someone in the audience aping my motions as Bill reached inside the mouth of the bear who was about to eat him, grabbed hold, and turned that bear inside out. For my own records, the other two stories I told were "Seeking Destiny" (with a little adjustment to get a chicken into it) and "Prince Rooster."

35th MIT Reunion: This weekend was my 35th MIT Reunion. Wow, do I feel old. But I also feel incentive to survive another 15 years, so I can get my red jacket. I flew up to Boston on Friday morning and got to campus in time to drop off my bags at Baker House (where I was staying in a room that had surprisingly few walls) before going first to the Hillel reception. I had a nice long conversation with someone I hadn’t seen since I graduated. Then I went over to the McCormick reception (the dorm I’d lived in as an undergrad), where the most interesting conversation I had was with a woman from the class of 1965 about her experiences trying to find a job with a chemistry degree in those days. The short version is that people told her she should be a secretary and her degree would be useful because she could spell the names of chemicals correctly!

As for Class of 1980 events, we had a talk on hacks and pranks, which was quite entertaining. Then we walked up to the MIT Museum for dinner. I saw many of the people I was most looking forward to seeing and had lots of interesting conversation. Apparently there was some confusion with the caterer which also meant we had an open bar. That may have enhanced some of the conversation, but I like to think my classmates are interesting enough even without a couple of glasses of white wine. I was astonished to discover that the museum shop had absolutely nothing I felt a deep need for. I guess I’ve bought it all on previous visits.

Unfortunately, the people in the room next to mine at Baker appeared to be a family who had never taught their children the concept of an inside voice. And, in fact, it appeared that the adults were themselves unaware of this concept. Between that, traffic noise from Memorial Drive, and doors slamming, I got way too little sleep. Fortunately, the Technology Day program was interesting enough that I didn’t drift off too much. The topic was "Private Lives in an Interconnected World" and the speakers covered topics ranging from nanophotonics (pretty marginally connected to the theme) to cybersecurity policy to use of data for urban planning. I wish there had been more time in the program for the Q&A. And I could make several snide comments about the presentation skills of academics. But, overall, it was worth a few hours of my time.

Then came lunch, which was followed by the presentations of the class gifts. My class raised over $2.3 million, which is pretty impressive for a year that isn’t a major reunion. (For major reunions - namely the 25th, 40th, and 50th - they count all gifts over the previous 5 years, as well as pledges for the next 5. For everyone else, it’s just the single year.)

We had a significant disadvantage at the Tech Challenge Games, because our class had only about 25 people there. The classes where people bring a bunch of young children can do more with some of the events. We were also disadvantaged in the trivia bowl part by being at the far end of the field, which highlighted the limits of the audio system. I have probably said this before, but I will note that: a) I suck at paper plane construction and b) I can redeem myself by writing haiku. Though the poetry contest topics this time out were definitely not very inspiring – red blazers, the 1916 move of Boston Tech to Cambridge, MIT football, and snowpocalypse. I think my best effort was on the first of those:

Cardinal jackets
make perfect accessories
to go with grey hair.

I took a break from crowds of people to call a friend who is recovering from surgery and to work logistics for getting together with another friend the next day. Then it was off to the new Ashdown House (way the hell over on Vassar Street) for a barbecue dinner. The food was about what you would expect of barbecue in Massachusetts, but there was plenty more good conversation. I skipped the later night activities for several reasons and was able to get some sleep before the feral family next door woke me up.

The Shrine of the Green Monster: I skipped the Sunday brunch because I just wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about it. Instead, I had a large and tasty late breakfast at The Friendly Toast, a place in Kendall Square that is more of less one of my regular Boston breakfast spots. (I had one of the daily specials – a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, black beans, veggie sausage, and jalapeno-jack cheese.)

Then I went over to the Hampton Inn near the airport to leave my bags. Back to the city, it was time to meet up with my friend, Penny, to go to Fenway Park! The timing on coordinating meeting up worked amazingly well, as I had just about stepped out of the Kenmore Square T stop when she called, telling me she was right outside the souvenir shop across from Boston Beer Works.

So, Fenway. No matter how many times I go there, I never tire of the energy of the ballpark. There is really no other place like it. We were up in the Pavilion Box seats, which meant a bit of a stair climb to get there, but the view was great and, because of the intimacy of the ballpark, it didn’t feel like we were away from the action. Things started badly, with Clay Buchholz gave up 3 runs in the top of the 2nd (and another run in the 4th), and the Sox were not doing anything offensively for ages. But when they did open up, they did so explosively. Starting with a home run by Rusney Castillo, they ended up scoring 7 runs in the bottom of the 8th. You may have heard us screaming ourselves hoarse if you were anywhere within, say, a couple of thousand miles. What an exciting half an inning and what a game!

Penny and I got some coffee afterwards. Then she went off to get her train to deep suburbia, while I decided it made sense to walk at least part of the way across town. In the end, I walked all the way down to South Station, because walking in Boston is just so pleasing. Thanks to the T and the hotel shuttle, I got to the hotel in time to try to get a semi-decent amount of sleep. Which means that, yes, I completely forgot about the Tony awards. That’s just as well since getting up for a 6 a.m. flight was challenging enough.

And now I am all caught up, at least until tomorrow.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Before I get into the main subject of this entry, I have a quick celebrity death watch note. Farley Mowat wrote about the Arctic. I associate him with the title Far North but Amazon indicates that I must have hallucinated that association.

I promised a while back to write more about my MIT experience. I was surprised that most of the comments had to do with teaching. Note that I can really only speak to having been Course 2 (mechanical engineering) in the late 1970’s, so I have an inherently limited perspective. I had mixed experiences with the teaching skills of various professors. The problem is, of course, that research is more important than teaching in promotions and, especially, tenure. That said, I think MIT does care more about teaching than a lot of other research universities do. And I found that my professors were generally willing to provide extra help.

So what were the barriers?

  1. In some cases, professors were not particularly interested in teaching introductory classes. This wasn’t a huge problem, but I did have some times when I felt a lack of enthusiasm. I suspect some may have been a lack of enthusiasm for teaching, in general. I remember this for Linear Algebra, in particular.

  2. If you are an expert on a subject, it is very often difficult to tell what is and isn’t hard for people to understand about that subject. I find that is true outside of academia, too, as a large part of my job is "geek to English translation."

  3. MIT students are used to grasping things quickly and are, hence, reluctant to admit they might need extra help. I think this is often a particular problem for women, by the way, because women saying, "help me with this" often gets men responding with, "here, let me do it for you." I’ll also note that I found it a huge relief to realize that some of the men in my lab classes were just as intimidated by big power machines as I was.

  4. In technical fields, there are a lot of things that build on prior knowledge. You can take six literature classes at once and only your eyesight will suffer. But you really can’t learn, say, fluid mechanics without having learned vector calculus. I found that the prerequisites for some classes were not realistic and I think there was some pressure on professors to minimize the number of prerequisites for a given class. My best example of this was a (graduate-level) acoustics class (I think this was 2.06J), which would have been a lot easier had I had some previous exposure to continuum mechanics, for familiarity with notation if nothing else.

    I should also note that this can be the downside of freshman year having been entirely pass-fail. I certainly had to do a certain amount of catching up to learn things (especially math) that I should have learned better then. But I think part of that was also that I learn math better in the context of using it rather than as an abstract subject.

  5. In terms of real world skills, there wasn’t enough emphasis on communication skills. We did have some (randomly selected) lab reports reviewed by a professor from the writing program. But I never had to give an oral presentation. I’ll also note that in many years of conference attendance, I’m not convinced that a lot of professors have these communication skills. I continue to believe that it is a bad idea for people to be professors of engineering without ever having worked as engineers. And, no, consulting gigs don’t count. Alas, I do not rule the world.

I think that most of these are problems across the board, rather than specific to MIT. My grad school experience suggests that Berkeley was somewhat more realistic about prerequisites than MIT was. But there was the same variability of teaching ability. The two most egregious examples I experienced there were a compressible fluid flow class where the key to success was memorizing the derivations for a dozen or so problems and a class on digital control systems that was being taught by a professor who wanted to learn the material himself. The latter, however, had some fun aspects to it. We figured out that the professor in question loved it if we stuck LEDs on our circuits to show what was going on. My lab partner and I also had a great division of labor. I went to class on Tuesdays, he went on Thursdays. For reports, he did the writing and I did the drawings (mostly circuit diagrams). Both of us thought we got the better deal out of that.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I’ll apologize up front for the length of this, but I have lots of things to catch up on. As I have said before, if you have more than two interests in life, you are doomed.

Celebrity Death Watch: Reubin Askew was a progressive governor of Florida, back in the days when such a thing was possible. Fred Phelps headed the Westboro Baptist Church, known for anti-gay bigotry. James R. Schlesinger held a number of government positions throughout his career, most notably as CIA director and as Secretary of Defense (and, later, Secretary of Energy.) After his government career, he was chairman of the board of Mitre. From my personal standpoint, his most notable position was as chair of the Position, Navigation and Timing board (which oversees GPS) and I have drafted at least a few white papers dealing with his recommendations.

Gene Feist founded the Roundabout Theatre Company, which has produced many notable performances, particularly revivals of musicals. David Brenner was a Canadian comedian. And Mitch Leigh wrote Man of La Mancha. His musical failures include Home Sweet Homer. He also wrote the Sara Lee jingle. Nobody doesn’t like Mitch Leigh. (Whose birth name was, by the way, Irwin Michnick, but that scans even worse.)

Non-celebrity Obituary: Kevin Brooks passed away last week. He was a storyteller who had a Ph.D. from MIT (via the Media lab) and worked at Motorola. I only met him briefly,, but I saw his dedication to storytelling and to Laura Packer, his widow. He was a bright, creative, and kind man and his loss will be sorely felt in both Boston and Kansas City.

Loveland: Loveland is Ann Randolph’s one-woman (plus an off-stage male voice) show, currently at Arena Stage. She plays Frannie Potts, whose talent is facial gesturing to sounds. Frannie is on a plane trip from California to her home town in Ohio and the story is a mixture of incidents on the plane with flashbacks involving Frannie’s relationship with her mother. This was billed as a comedy and it did have some funny moments. Unfortunately, most of the humor was a lot cruder than I’d prefer and I suspect thinner-skinned people would find a lot of the show remarkably offensive. I am sure Randolph knows this and is doing it deliberately. Or, at least, I hope anybody who would include a bit in which someone plays the harmonium to nursing home residents while singing, "listen to the drone, it will help you die," is being shocking intentionally. (I will admit I laughed at that bit. Then I went home and took three consecutive showers.) I didn’t stay for Randolph’s brief writing workshop after the show because her material was too far from anything I’d ever want to do.

House of Blue Leaves: I saw tickets on Goldstar for a production by the Providence Players of House of Blue Leaves, a play I remembered enjoying the previous time I saw it. They did a good job, with notable performances by Adam Downs as Artie and (especially) by Jayne Victor as Bunny. The play is a bit dated in some ways, but it is still an interesting dark comedy. I’m uncomfortable with the treatment of mental illness in it, but I recognize that one is supposed to be uncomfortable with that.

Chavurah Movie and Dinner Night: My chavurah had an outing to the Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival. We saw a movie called Under the Same Sun, which I will write about as part of a movie wrap-up in a day or so. Afterwards we had dinner at Noodles and Company, which isn’t really the most congenial atmosphere for mingling and conversation, though I do like their Indonesian peanut noodle sauté (which I get with tofu).

MIT Summer Intern Reception: The annual reception for MIT summer interns who are interested in the blend of technology and policy is always interesting. Unfortunately, none of this year’s crop of interns was interested in space, so I don’t think I was very helpful to them. There were a couple who expressed an interest in energy, but the overwhelming majority this year were interested in health care. That’s not surprising, but it is disappointing. Still, there was a lot of intelligent conversation (including some with fellow alumni) so was worth going to.

Corcoran Tour and Reception: The MIT Club of Washington had a reception at the Corcoran Gallery and a tour of the collection. The reception was quite lush, with things like smoked salmon and chocolate truffles. Interestingly, they serve only white wine to minimize risk of damage to the artwork. The museum highlights tour was excellent. Our docent was both informative and entertaining. My favorite piece was a sort of pastiche of Van Gogh painted by Robert Colescott. That probably says more about my tastes (dark humor and modernism) than it does about the collection, which is heavy on 19th century American art.

Minor Yarn Frenzy: A friend cleared out her stash and gave me 15 pounds of yarn she didn’t want. In exchange, I gave her old towels to donate to the animal shelter she sometimes volunteers at. About half of the yarn was stuff I could use. The rest of the yarn included rather more novelty yarns (ribbon yarn, pompon, muppet fur, etc.) than I would do anything with, but I know other yarnoholics and most of it has been distributed to grateful crafters. I have someone to send the rest to, but need time to package it and mail it off.

Baltimore Rock Opera Society: Friday night, I went to see the Baltimore Rock Opera Society production of Grundelhammer at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. Because it is easy (and free) to get to Old Town from my office, I had some time to shop beforehand. Shops along King Street include both a used bookstore and a yarn store, so you can imagine what happened. I also stopped at Mischa’s, because I had been running low on coffee. I am now restocked with some of Sulawesi’s finest. I also had time for dinner at Eammon’s, which has excellent fish and chips.

As for the show, it was somewhat over the top, but quite entertaining. The premise was a sort of medieval society where battle is fought with guitar riffs. The young son of the true king, Benedon, has to defeat the evil king, Lothario, who secures his power by feeding enemies to a monster (The Grundle). That way Benedon can save the kingdom (and, of course, get the girl). I’ll note the performance of Christopher Krysztifiak as Benedon, who showed a surprisingly wide range for this type of thing. This was also a complicated show technically, with elaborate puppetry (including some very amusing shadow puppets). The downside is that the scene changes took forever. Since they started almost a half hour late and the scene changes probably added up to an hour total, it made for a very late night.

Better Said Than Done – Into the Woods: I was part of a storytelling show on Saturday night. I told a story about our annual summer camp raft trip down the Delaware River. While I had told the story before, I reworked it a lot, which ate up a lot of my mental energy for a couple of weeks. One of the people I used to work on stories with used the phrase "kill your darlings" to refer to the need to cut out material that may be good but just doesn’t belong in that story. It was good advice to keep in mind and I was reasonably happy with how the story turned out. The audience reacted well, too.

I should also note that it was an excellent show, overall. It’s always interesting to me how many different ways a general theme can be interpreted and what a wide range of material and styles there are.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This is partly a reaction to this post by [livejournal.com profile] jim_p about his feelings towards MIT. Given that we’re now into college acceptance season, I thought it would be timely. I’m hoping a few of the things I have to say may be of some use to people trying to deal with the college decision.

My experience at MIT was rather different than Jim's. I certainly shared the shock of having to actually study to get decent grades and I particularly remember the low grade on my very first exam in that context. But I think a few things made a difference in how I handled that:

1) I had had previous exposure to being around other smart people, primarily thanks to the National Science Foundation. I went to Columbia University’s NSF-sponsored Science Honors Program on Saturdays for three years in high school. While SHP did not have exams or grades, it provided both an opportunity to feel lost with material that was over my head and an opportunity to learn that other students felt that way. The summer before my senior year, I went to another NSF program, the Program in Biochemistry at the Loomis-Chaffee School. That was an intense summer of learning biochemistry techniques, killing rats and pureeing their livers for our research, and having to make a reservation to take a nap on the lab couch. But more than pipetting or the ability to tie a knot one-handed, it taught me I could keep up in a competitive environment.

2) I also had the advantage of knowing that there was a fair chance that I’d change my mind about what I wanted to do. I entered MIT thinking I would major in chemistry and do biochemistry, specifically neurochemistry. But my brother was busy setting the Michigan State University record for changing majors. And I knew that there were a lot of other things I was interested in. In fact, one of the reasons I went to MIT was the idea that if I changed my mind, there would be other strong math / science departments to go to, which was potentially an issue at Yale or Dartmouth. A large number of the people I know who had problems at MIT had always known exactly what they wanted to do and didn’t know how to handle it when that didn’t work for them. (For those who don’t know, my degrees are in mechanical engineering.)

3) I grew up in a small town and had the sort of suburban childhood that involved lots of extracurricular activities. The small town aspect is important because one of the ironies of that sort of environment is that you’re forced to be exposed to things you might not realize you’d be interested in. When something was happening in town, everybody went, because there weren’t so many things to choose from. (I suspect this is no longer the case, given the internet.) And the extracurricular activities mattered because it never occurred to me not to get involved in things at MIT, which gave me both balance and community. Freshman year being all pass / fail definitely helped with that. I think that having other things to do forced me to be somewhat more organized about my time and gave me a chance to get some perspective when I was stressed out about school.

Along those lines, I once went to a movie with some friends the night before a final and ran into the TA for that class. He made some snide comment about my going to a movie instead of studying and I pointed out that, if I didn’t know the material then, I wasn’t going to know it much better the next morning. I felt it was more important to be relaxed for the final. (And, yes, I got a good grade in the class.)

4) Somewhere around the middle of my sophomore year, I decided on the consumerist approach to my education. MIT is not exactly a cheap place, so I figured the way to get my (well, my father’s) money’s worth was to take advantage of the resources that were available. It was that attitude that let me get over my psychological barriers to asking for help when I didn’t understand something. I found that professors (at least in the mechanical engineering department) were willing to spend time (either their office hours or an appointment) to help me understand the material.

I do feel lucky that I stumbled into something I liked and was good at fairly early in my college career. Part of 2.02 (Introduction to System Dynamics) clicked with me. People told me that if I liked that, I should take the introductory controls class, 2.14. Control Theory just worked with the way my mind works, so that’s what I ended up doing and what eventually led me to my career (which is much broader). Not everybody does find something that resonates with them the same way, so I appreciate that there is no particular advice I can give on how to do that, beyond being open to it happening.

I’m somewhat hesitant to write this, because it sounds arrogant, but by the time I was a senior, I felt pretty much like I could do anything I wanted. What I hadn’t learned was how to structure my time when I didn’t have anything external to impose structure on me. That became an issue in grad school after I had finished classes and was in the pure research mode. But that’s another story. As are at least three other things I will write about education sooner or later (which, alas, generally means later).
fauxklore: (travel)
I will do other catching up soon, but I wanted to write up some recent short travels.

Embassy of Lithuania: Technically, embassies are foreign territory, so my evening at the Embassy of Lithuania counts as travel, despite just requiring a trip to the border of Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. The building is actually one of the oldest embassies in the District, since it was opened in the 1920's. This was a typical MIT Club of Washington event, with an entertaining talk by the Deputy Chief of Mission, who focused largely on economics. I am, of course, interested in Lithuania since my father's family is from there. I am sad to say that the food was not very impressive and the beer was definitely not to my taste.

Frequent Traveler University: This edition of FTU was in Tampa, which is an easy flight from Washington. I'm not going to write up what got said in any detail, but I will note that this is the first time that there was actually any material on actual travel, rather than frequent flyer programs. There was still a lot about credit cards and various ways of using them to get lots of points and miles. But there were a couple of sessions by Stefan Krasowski (of Rapid Travel Chai which talked about finding flights and hotels in less traveled parts of the world and so on. I am well-traveled, but I learned a few things I hadn't already known. There was also a session on getting what you're entitled to without being a jerk. I like to think I didn't need that one, but ...

My favorite quote of the weekend was from Seth Miller. To wit (in the context of stretching the rules for transit visas in China and why not to), "there is no real upside to being detained, deported or arrested." I thoroughly agree.

I was also able to take advantage of being down that way to have dinner with an old friend, who I hadn't seen in 20+ years. Tracy took me to dinner at an excellent sushi place in Clearwater (known as Charlie's, though it has a more sushi-ish real name). And we had a lovely wide-ranging conversation, including topics as far afield as home schooling and Maltese fireworks.

McCormick 50th Anniversary: Finally, I went up to Boston this past weekend for the 50th anniversary of McCormick Hall, the dorm I lived in at MIT. The weekend included two brunches, a symposium (in which I learned a lot about Katherine Dexter McCormick, whose donation was responsible for the building, which, in turn, enabled MIT to admit more women by having somewhere to house them), a reception, and dinner. There were also tours of the building, which still looks quite good after all these years. By my day, there were several co-ed dorms and I will admit having chosen to live in McCormick largely because of it being physically nicer than many of the others. I only realized later on that, had I not lived there, I would have known maybe three other women.

But the real highlight was, of course, seeing people. Other attendees included one of my suitemates and a friend from Hillel, as well as the housemasters from throughout the years and Norma, the house manager who all of us who worked desk at the dorm were terrified of. It was also great meeting other women from throughout the years. And what do bright intellingent women talk about? Knitting, of course! (Actually, there was lots of conversation about what we studied, what we did now, and how we got from there to here.) All in all, it was a fun event and definitely worth the trip.
fauxklore: (Default)
This is intended to get me completely caught up here, a state that may last, oh, 15 minutes or so.

Frequent flyer meets business travel: I had a quick business trip to Denver a few weeks ago. I managed to arrange my flight out to be on a plane that Captain Denny Flanagan was piloting. It’s always good to be reminded that there are people working for the airlines who care about customer service. (And it was nice to chat with him before the flight.) I also used the trip as an opportunity to have dinner with friends who live out there, which is always nice. The work part was pretty intense, however.

Michael Chertoff: The former Director of Homeland Security gave a talk at an MIT-related reception I was at recently. I didn’t find anything he said particularly surprising, but I did think he completely dodged a question someone asked about the balance between security and privacy.

Domestic politics: Romney’s selection of Paul "Privatizing" Ryan as his running mate pretty much confirms my theory that the Republican Party no longer welcomes its former moderates. However, I doubt that the selection of a vice presidential candidate has much, if any, impact on who people vote for.

International politics: The first American company to open a franchise location in Libya is Cinnabon. This makes perfect sense if you think about local tastes. That is, of course, what makes it all the more surprising.

Women and the Olympics: There have been lots of stories this year about women and the Olympics. It was not until I read an article by Sally Jenkins in today’s Washington Post, however, that I learned a particularly appalling bit of history. In 1976 Margaret Thompson Murdock was the first woman shooter to make the American team. She tied with her team captain, Lanny Bassham. The rules prohibited a shoot-off, so Bassham was given the gold and Murdock the silver. To his credit, he pulled her up on the podium with him, but sheesh!

Story swap: There was a bonus story swap at Eve’s house Saturday night. We started outside around the fire pit, but moved inside when it began to rain. (The rain also prevented viewing the Perseids.) There were several travel related stories and lots of interesting conversation. This reminds me that I should someday put together a piece about places not to eat Chinese food, starting with Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. A particular highlight for me was Jake’s impassioned explanation of why donkeys might be chickens, which made his lawyer father proud of him and has the rest of us laughing hysterically.

Not laughing over traffic:: The Virginia Department of Transportation was doing their usual weekend work, otherwise known as how to screw up my drive home on the Beltway. What annoyed me the most is that the sign indicating that 3 of the 4 lanes were closed was after the exit I could have taken to avoid the mess. Of course, being Virginia, if they actually put up a useful highway sign, they would have to plant a tree immediately in front of it.

Pearl yarn: I got a notice from one of m local yarn shops that they had some of the Zealana pearl yarn, a limited edition created for the 30th anniversary of Vogue knitting. This is 50% crushed pearls, embedded in tencel, and only 500 skeins were made. Each skein is numbered and comes in a presentation box. If you think I could pass this up, you don’t know me very well. I was over there right when they opened. That was a good thing as they only had 20 skeins and I was number 18 in line. It is gorgeous and I think it was worth the 40 bucks. Not that I know what I am going to do with it. The best idea I heard from one of the other lucky purchasers was a bridal veil, but I am not exactly in need of one of those, alas.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: I’ve wanted to see this musical for some time, so took advantage of a production at Elden Street Players in Herndon. I found this very enjoyable. David Yazbek’s score suited the plot (based on the movie) well. In an earlier era, "Like Zis, Like Zat" would have gotten some radio play and "What Was a Woman to Do" would have had some life as a novelty piece. While the early set-up introducing the two con men is a bit longer than it needs to be, the book is funny, with several fairly subtle jokes. The performances were good, too, especially by Tom Flatt as Lawrence and Janette Moman as Muriel.

Travel planning, part 1: Helsinki: My annual birthday excursion this year is a long weekend in Helsinki. In the course of researching what to do, I have discovered a number of bizarre possibilities, some of them related to the city being the World Design Capital for 2012. Those include a walking map highlighting fonts on various signs (and, yes, I am enough of a geek to have downloaded the map), an exhibit titled "Flush: Design of Public Toilets," and an iron age market. There is also an event described as "urban festival brings together design and traditional Finnish rug washing piers." Even without the special events, Helsinki has some oddities, like a Hotel and Restaurant Museum. As someone who has driven out of my way to see things like the world’s largest towel (at the Cannon Towel Visitor Center in Kannapolis, North Carolina) and the water tower of the town of Joe, Montana, I expect to be in my element. (I’ve also downloaded walking tour brochures and directions to the largest yarn shop in town.)

Travel planning – part 2: Israel You may have read about the cheap fares that were available for a little while last week, due to a contractor failing to load fuel surcharges into an on-line system. Since I had already been looking at fares to Israel, I snagged a ticket. I have lots of planning yet to do, of course.

Travel planning – part 3: I also got frequent flyer tickets for Ozfest next year. This was fairly complex because I wanted to do a few things on the way to Perth and back. I’ve got one ticket (using United miles) to Singapore and back from Hong Kong. And I have another ticket (using American miles) from Singapore to Perth and Adelaide to Hong Kong. I’ll have almost a week in Singapore, which should allow me an excursion to Malaysia, too. I plan to take the Indian Pacific train from Perth to Adelaide. Finally, I will have a few days in Hong Kong, which should be enough time to eat lots of dim sum. Or maybe look for traditional Hong Kong rug washing piers.
fauxklore: (Default)
The meme runs like this:
Comment to this post and say you want a set, and I will pick seven things I would like you to talk about. They might make sense or be totally random. Then post that list, with your commentary, to your journal. Other people can get lists from you, and the meme merrily perpetuates itself.

[livejournal.com profile] cellio gave me Musical perception (you have a singleton LJ interest there), a place not on Earth you would like to travel to, nalbinding, decadent food, MIT, a superpower, a favorite board game.

Musical Perception: Actually, I have a broad interest in perception. I mentioned musical perception, specifically, for two reasons. One is that I went to many of the lectures at the Music and the Brain series that the Library of Congress had a couple of years ago. The other is that music is a particularly complicated art form.

The type of questions that intrigue me can be talked about in other contexts. For example, why do we like what we like? I can just as easily ask why Caravaggio's paintings blow me away as I can ask why I was drawn to Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" the first time I heard it. As another example, I've pondered the question of what defines Jewish music. I can ask that question just as well of, say, Jewish food.

But the most fundamental question that intrigues me has to do with my inner experience. I can never know that somebody else actually hears the same things I do when listening to a piece of music. By the same token, I can't know that somebody else's experience of a given color is the same as mine. Because music has so many aspects (pitch, rhythm, timbre, etc.) it seems like a particularly fruitful area to explore.

A Place Not on Earth I'd Like to Travel To: I expect that the question was intended to bring up space exploration, but I think that the deep sea would be as intriguing. I've been on a couple of tourist submarine rides and both were awesome.

Nalbinding: This is one of the most obscure crafts I pursue. I usually describe it as what the Vikings did because they didn't know how to knit, but the same technique is used in a lot of places, including Papua New Guinea. It is, essentially, a detached buttonhole stitch, worked with a single needle and short lengths of yarn or thread. I learned it because I saw a class being offered at the Montpelier Fall Fiber Festival a few years ago and couldn't resist learning something I knew nothing about.

Decadent food: There is nothing more decadent than perfectly ripe fresh berries, but there is a lot to be said for good chocolate. Good chocolate is the major argument in favor of the continued existence of Belgium.

MIT: I chose MIT for a simple reason. I intended to major in chemistry, but I also knew there was a good chance I would change my mind. I figured that anything I did would still be in the math / science arena and MIT is universally strong in those domains while the other school I seriously considered (Yale) is less so. The Boston area was also a big draw. (I was very attracted to Dartmouth, but worried about the lack of Jewish community in the local area, for example.)

It was a good choice for me. For one thing, I did change my mind about what I wanted to do and ended up majoring in mechanical engineering. For another, I think I did a good job of taking advantage of the cultural environment in Boston. I'd also say that I fit well into the campus environment. What I appreciate most about MIT is that people there are passionate about what they're doing (which isn't necessarily what they're studying). From what I've seen via the MIT Club of Washington and encounters with a handful of current students, that's still true.

A Superpower: My first thought was, "but, wait, isn't the U.S. the only superpower left?" Then I realized what the probable intent of the topic was. I think the superpower I would most like to have would be the ability to instantly understand and communicate in any language.

A Favorite Board Game: While I love all the modern games, there is still something about backgammon that tops anything else for me. Part of it is memories of many hours spent playing it with particular people, some of whom are, alas, no longer with us. But mostly it's the simple fact that it is a game of skill when I win and a game of luck when I lose.
fauxklore: (Default)
Between Pesach and tax season I am behind on everything. So this is another of those catch-all bits of rambling.

First, there are several celebrity deaths to note. Earl Scruggs was a bluegrass musician. Thomas Kinkade was a commercial artist. Mike Wallace had a huge influence on the nature of television journalism. Adrienne Rich was a feminist poet. And Reed Whittemore was one of my favorite modern poets, whose work was filled with grace and wit. If you are not familiar with his work, let me offer this short example.

I also want to note that my first boss at the Circle-A Ranch passed away recently. Wayne retired and moved to Oregon back in the 1990’s and I had a few years in line management as his replacement. That gave me the opportunity to try out management in a safe environment and was a good way to find out it was not really what I wanted to do.

While I am on death and news, Bingu wa Mutharika, the president of Malawi died recently. The interesting thing there is that the Vice President, Joyce Banda, is now the second woman to become a head of state in Africa, after Ellen Johnson SIrleaf of Liberia. In other African news, the coup in Mali looks to be heating up, so it looks like having gone to the Festival Au Desert last year was good timing on my part.

Among the things I never got around to writing about were several receptions, three of them MIT related. A dinner at the Embassy of New Zealand provided an opportunity to see some interesting architecture, with a roof shaped to resemble the hull of a ship. That was enhanced by my conversation over dinner with an architecture professor and critic. A few nights after that, I was at an event with departing MIT President Susan Hockfield. The most interesting part of her remarks had to do with the cost of an education. My alma mater has made real strides in financial aid and she said the average debt of graduating seniors is just $14,000, which I find quite remarkable. The final MIT related reception I went to was the annual one for summer interns. I brought along a friend who works at NASA and has potential openings. It is always good to see the enthusiasm of students and to reconnect with fellow alumni. The non-MIT event I went to was a friend’s promotion ceremony. Aside from the usual military ceremony, which I always enjoy, the setting was particularly interesting. Roosevelt Hall, the site of the National War College, is a spectacular Beaux Arts building overlooking the Potomac, with a particularly dramatic rotunda. We got there early so had time to look around at the display cases, which included several having to do with General Colin Powell, including his diplomas. And the honoree was someone who particularly deserved his promotion, making the whole thing a lovely occasion.

The only other significant thing I did recently without having written about it was go to the most recent Pro Musica Hebraica concert, which involved Marc-Andre Hamelin playing works by Chopin and Alkan. Chopin was not, of course, Jewish, but Alkan was and the link was their friendship, based on both of them being outsiders in Paris. It was an excellent evening of solo piano. The highlight was definitely Alkan’s four-movement "Symphony for Solo Piano." However, I will note that, if one had not been told that the composer was an Orthodox Jew, there is nothing in the music itself that would suggest that.

The other main thing I failed to write about was doing the Month of Letters project, which involved writing a letter every day in February (except Sundays and postal holidays, i.e. President’s Day). That let me get a few things I’d been meaning to send to people on their way, as well as using some of my vast supply of note cards. I am, alas, now behind in answering letters (and emails) that I got in return.

Finally, the clippings file offered up a couple of amusing advertisements. One is for a razor that "hydrates your skin like no other razor." Personally, I’ve always found that drinking water and using lotion were more effective ways to hydrate my skin than shaving my legs is ever likely to be. The other is for a cheese and breadcrumb mix. Because, you know, it is just too hard to sprinkle cheese and breadcrumbs separately on the top of a casserole.


fauxklore: (Default)

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