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I've been working on a project which has a deadline at the end of March. For various reasons I won't go into publicly, the very first thing the people heading the project did was request an extension to the end of June.

We heard today that we may not get that extension.

We've been having three not horribly productive meetings a week. At today's meeting we heard (not quite verbatim but close) "If we don't get the extension, we'll have to have more meetings."

Because, yeah, right, that's going to help.
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1) If you have not been at the previous 3 meetings on a project, perhaps you might want to keep your mouth shut instead of whining about a topic we already spent six hours hashing out an agreement on.

2) I ignored much of the yammering above and bit my lip while writing Christmas cards. At some point, I wrote something in my notebook that started out having to do with the meeting and ended with "best wishes for a great 2019." I guess I don't multi-task as well as I think I do.

3) I need to find my National Park Passport book. It will, of course, be in the last place I look.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Philip Bosco was an actor, who won a Tony for his performance in Lend Me a Tenor. Jael Strauss was a fashion model. Les Kinsolving was the first White House correspondent to ask questions about the HIV/AIDS epidemic (during the Reagan administration). Julia Vinograd, known as the Bubble Lady, was a street poet in Berkeley. Harry Shlaudeman was a diplomat who served as ambassador to a number of Latin American countries, including Venezuela, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, and Nicaragua. Pete Shelley cofounded and was the lead singer of the Buzzcocks. Victor Hayden, known as The Mascara Snake, was an artist and perfomed with Captain Beefheart. Rosanell Eaton was a civil rights activist. Evelyn Berezin designed the first word processor and worked on computer systems for airline reservations. Alvin Epstein was an actor and director, best known as something of a specialist in the works of Samuel Beckett. Rob DesHotel was a television writer and producer who worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer among other shows. Jacques Gansler was the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from 1997 to 2001. Bob Bryan was the co-creator, with Marshall Dodge, of Bert & I, a series of humorous stories about a couple of fishermen in Maine. Nancy Wilson was a jazz singer. Patricia Marshall was an actress, best known for her roles in Good News and The Pajama Game. She was also the widow of playwright and screenwriter Larry Gelbart. Joan Steinbrenner was the widow of George Steinbrenner and got involved in the business aspects of the New York Yankees. Jerry Chestnut wrote country songs. Colin Kroll was the founder of Vine and HQ Trivia.

Melvin Dummar claimed to be an heir to Howard Hughes’s estate. His story is well known as the basis for the movie, Melvin and Howard.

Penny Marshall was an actress (best known for Laverne and Shirley) and director. She was one of the first women to become well known as a director. In particular, she directed my second favorite movie of all time, A League of Their Own.

Galt MacDermot wrote several musicals, notably Hair and Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Holiday Party: Today was the holiday party at work. This year, they went with somewhat Mediterranean catering, with hummus, grilled vegetables, and various grilled protein things, including salmon. There was also salad and cheese and crackers and fruit. And several desserts, including chocolate cake. This fit in well with my contribution to the white elephant gift exchange, which was a Turkish tea set, I had gotten as a gift from a hotel in Istanbul (two plastic cups, with saucers and spoons, plus powdered apple tea). I supplemented that with a Starbucks gift card. I ended up being the last to choose, so I ended up choosing to take a stack of boxes of Godiva chocolate truffles. At least one of those boxes will go with me to book club tomorrow.

Speaking of Work: If it weren’t for the telephone, I would get so much more done. I have been trying to write up notes from last week’s conference, but I keep getting interrupted. Tomorrow will be even worse, as most of the day will be occupied with a briefing on a study we’ve had going on. I should probably read some of the several slide packages in the read ahead, but I am not sure I can stay awake through that.

Conference

Dec. 13th, 2018 07:55 pm
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I spent yesterday and today at a work-related conference. One thing I find myself doing is counting the number of women at meetings and it was particularly low at this event. It’s hard to tell because not everyone was at all sessions, but it was definitely under 10%. Sigh.

Also, this was the sort of thing which has a token talk by a congresscritter. I won’t give specifics since it was a non-attribution event, but he offended me by giving a very partisan talk and by not using the correct name for the other party. In addition, aside from one slide his staff had prepared, almost none of his talk was relevant to the subject of the conference.
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I had a 90-minute meeting yesterday in which approximately 80 minutes were dedicated to arguing about the definition of one word. The person running the meeting had compiled a list of definitions for that word (and some related terms) from about a dozen source documents - and failed to include the single relevant document that solved the whole problem.

A number of years ago, I worked with somebody who would frequently go to a room where a meeting was taking place, put down a tall stack of books and papers on a desk or table, hang his suit jacket on the back of a chair, and leave. Then he would write an item in our end of week report that claimed he had attended the meeting. Another colleague and I had a running joke that these items should say that his jacket attended the meeting. (By the way, he also had a remarkable talent for being out sick on Mondays and Fridays. As a rule of thumb, this suggests alcohol or drug abuse.)

I mention this because, in writing up my notes about yesterday’s brain drain, I mentioned that a particular organization was not represented. I got an email back from a colleague saying he thought he had heard someone from that organization there. But, you know who else wasn’t there? That’s right - the colleague who wrote that email.

It is 644 days until my intended retirement date. That assumes I don’t strangle anyone in the meantime.
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I got my new computer at work this morning. There are a lot of annoyances associated with that, with Windows 10 being at the top of the list. I remember some years ago getting a new computer and whining about some earlier version of Windows and one of my colleagues saying that meant I can’t handle change. Er, no, I can deal with change just fine if it is change for a good reason. Randomly moving things around from where they’ve been for years does not qualify as a good reason.

Immediately after everything got set up, we had a brief power outage. I like to think of that as the universe complaining about change for the sake of change, too.

Things seem to be working okay now. Or as okay as a Windows machine is ever going to work.

Also, I should probably do something about the 11,500 items in my inbox.

Always Busy

May. 9th, 2018 11:05 am
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I have political rants to inflict on people, but let me first speak of what I have been up to.

Celebrity Death Watch: Sachio Kinugasa was a Japanese baseball player who played in 2215 consecutive games. Alice Provensen illustrated (and later wrote) children’s books. Larry Harvey founded Burning Man. Judith Leiber designed handbags (and died the same day as her husband, Gerson, a painter.) Abi Ofarim was an Israeli musician and dancer, best known for "Cinderella Rockeflla" with his wife Esther. Rabbi Aaron Panken was the President of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. Charles Steger was a former president of Virginia Tech. Paolo Ferrari played Archie Goodwin in the Italian television adaptation of the Nero Wolfe books. George Deukmejian was the governor of California through much of the 1980’s.

Conference Going: I spent three days last week at a work-related forum that may or may not prove useful in the future. Parts of it were like having somebody read a dictionary to me, parts had me metaphorically throwing up my hands in despair on how little progress we’ve made in too many years, and only a couple of speakers seemed to have anything concrete to say. I suspect it is just that I am old and have been through a few too many fads on how to engineer systems better. Also, I am tired of people who are speaking at space-related events starting out by admitting they don’t know anything about space systems. Or I could just have been cranky because I had to drive and, while Route 28 is almost tolerable in the morning, it is inevitably a slow-moving hellstream in the afternoon.

Canadian Embassy: On Wednesday evening, I went to an MIT Club event at the Embassy of Canada. The talk was on renewable energy (hydropower on the part of the Canadians; wind and solar on the part of the Americans) and how our grids play together. The interesting part was the relative dearth of east-west transmission lines in both countries, while there is good north-south connectivity. Admittedly, it’s not like anybody actually lives in the Dakotas or Saskatchewan … (Er, yes, I am joking. Sort of.) The reception was pretty much the wine and cheese and crackers sort (plus charcuterie and excellent dried fruit and mixed nuts). One of the embassy people was from Saskatchewan and I extracted some tourist tips from her, e.g. the existence of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Museum. (I have been trying to find a reason to go to that province, without much success. This sounds like a plausible weekend trip.) Aside from that, I talked with fellow alumni.

Around the World Embassy Tour: I did more embassy going on Saturday, which featured the annual Around the World Embassy Open House. (There is a separate event for EU embassies, which is this coming weekend, but I have prior commitments.) We started at the Embassy of Nepal, which had some photos, a short film, and food that it was too early in the day for. The Embassy of Guinea was just steps away, so we walked through, looked at the building and some photos, and listened to some music. Then we cabbed over to the Embassy of Angola, which was high on my list, largely because Paul Theroux hated it so much that it piqued my interest in going there. They had excellent snacks – some sort of peanut brittle like thing, chocolate cake, coconut rolls, what looked and tasted like malasadas (though I don’t know the Angolan name for them). There was also good coffee and some weird but not unpleasant drink made from corn. They also had a fair amount of swag, including paperweights and brochures and an issue of National Geographic.

We took the bus down 16th Street to the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center (roughly affiliated with the Embassy of Oman) where we dressed up in Omani clothing for selfies, drank coffee heavily scented with cardamom and rosewater, and ate dates. Then we cabbed over to the Embassy of Qatar, where we had more selfies in costume, more coffee, more dates, and some fairly substantial food (they had meat pies, chicken sandwiches, and cheese pies). They had advertised falconry but were unable to get permission for it.

That was as far as we had planned, so we looked at the map and settled on going to the northwest end of Embassy Row and the Embassy of South Africa. There was a long line, with free bottles of Nando’s lemon-herb sauce at the end of it, along with biltong samples. There was also a marketplace, mostly selling jewelry. (They had a food court, with food for sale, outside.) The Embassy of Bolivia was just across the street, so we went there and got some sort of alcoholic drinks. Inside, there was an art exhibit and a look at a fancy dining room. Back outside, there were costumed dancers. I was fading quickly and decided that I was better off going home at that point, but my friend wanted to stay to the bitter end. I abandoned her in line for the Embassy of Brazil (where, coincidentally, she was standing just a couple of people in front of a woman from my book club). I walked down to Dupont Circle and metroed home for a nap.

Paperwork: Our "improved" foreign travel reporting system at work (and, yes, that applies to embassy visits, unless you go to the embassy to get a visa for a real trip) is annoying. This is no surprise. I am especially peeved that they ignored all of my comments in the pre-rollout test session we had. Peeved but not, alas, surprised.

Team Israel: On Sunday, I satisfied my obsession with Jewish baseball players by seeing the documentary Heading Home: The Story of Team Israel as part of the Washington Jewish Film Festival. It was worth the schlep to Bethesda.

Crumbs and Whiskers: A few weeks ago, a friend had been talking about her struggles with depression and I asked what I could do to help. One of my suggestions was a visit to a cat café. (I have learned over the years that it is best to offer a few suggestions, because depressed people tend to be unable to think of what might help. And what helps me may not be right for you.) So we made that excursion Monday evening. Petting cats is good therapy and they’ve adopted out hundreds of cats, who get to live better in the café than they did in cages in shelters.

I mentioned that my mother sucked at naming cats. She had one named Mamacat and had named one of the ferals who hung out on her lawn Rita. So I was challenged on what makes a good name for a cat. I believe that the name of a god or goddess (ideally Egyptian, but others will do) is a good starting point. Beyond that, one should consider the cat’s physical characteristics. I’d love to have a pair of Siamese cats named Mocha and Java, for example. But avoid trite names like Tiger. Names of authors can work well. Royalty is always good. (My brother and his ex-wife had a cat named Empress Josefina, for example.) My former boss always named his cats after serial killers. Note: no matter how much I think you have misnamed your cat, I will never tell you this, because I am not a monster.

Other good therapy is walking and the weather was lovely for a stroll back to Foggy Bottom. M Street still annoys me, with large herds of slow-moving tourists, but the weather mostly made up for it.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Matthew Mellon was a billionaire, via inheritance and cryptocurrency. Harry Anderson was a magician and actor, best known for his role on Night Court. Bruno Sammartino was the longest reinging heavyweight wrestling champion. Avicii was a Swedish musician. Verne Troyer was an actor, best known for playing Mini-Me In the Austin Powers movies. Richard Jenrette was an investor who spent a lot of money restoring historic houses.

Carl Kassell was an NPR journalist, best known as a host of Wait, Wiat, Don’t Tell Me. Getting his voice on one’s answering machine was an excellent prize. I never entered, since the timing wasn’t convenient for me, but I do own a doll of him, bought via the NPR website many years ago.

Barbara Bush was the wife of one president and mother of another. While I didn’t agree with much of her politics, I admired her outspokenness and her efforts on behalf of people with dyslexia. She wasn’t a perfect person by any means, but all of us are products of the environments we grow up in.


I Can’t Complain But Sometimes I Still Do: Work is okay most of the time, but I could live without wrestling with administrivia. In particular, I have various mandatory training courses to do, mostly for my customer, not my company. They’re on a couple of different systems and some work only on one browser, some work only on a different browser, and some just outright don’t work. It’s a tremendous waste of time getting to them and figuring out how to get them to run.

Cirque du Soleil: Cirque du Soleil has a touring show in Tyson’s Corner right now, called Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico. The basic concept has a fool as a tourist with his various encounters including musicians, acrobats, and giant puppets (e.g. a horse, a jaguar). Cirque is very good with creative costumes and highly engineered set designs. The latter included an elaborate waterfall curtain. The circus stunts included an excellent juggler, some very impressive hoop divers, and particularly notable aerial leaping between what I think are Russian swings. There was, alas, a contortionist, but I know most other people aren’t creeped out by contortionism the way I am. The Mexican aspect came in via costumes and music, by the way, but there was less of a plotline than with some other Cirque shows I've seen.

Legal Seafoods: The friends I went to Cirque with and I had dinner before the show at Legal Seafoods. I had a tuna sashimi rice bowl, which had about three times as much rice as I was capable of eating. There was very good seafood salad and tasty mushrooms, but the spinach was bland and the kimchi was just okay. The tuna was good, but the dipping sauces for it were somewhat too salty. It wasn’t the most exciting meal ever, but it was fine and reasonably convenient.

The Best Doctor in Town: A friend told me about this play he was in. It was produced by Shoestring Theatre Company, which has a mission to build bridges between Northern Virginia and Southwest Virginia. I know a little about the southwest part of the state because I’m familiar with a bookshop in Big Stone Gap. And I’ve driven up I-81 from Tennessee. Still, I’m much more culturally aligned with NoVa.

The play was written by Amelia Townsend and tells the story of a hospital in which a surprising number of patients seem to be dying. Old people die, so it isn’t completely clear there’s anything fishy going on. There’salso a missing piece of jewelry and both a reporter and a cop who think there may be more to the story, but who are stifled in investigating it by their editor and the high sheriff, respectively. And then there’s a young resident who has his own story, but no evidence. Overall, I found the story absorbing, with a good mix of humor and a serious message about what trust means. There was also an undercurrent associated with the decline of coal mining. It was worth seeing and I will definitely keep my eyes open for future productions by this company.

It’s playing for another week, so do go see it if you are around Fairfax. And they will be taking it to Big Stone Gap at the end of May, so folks in that part of the state should look for it.

Weather: It looks like it is finally settling into springtime. The down side is that the air is now about 25% pollen.
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I had a rather hectic week. (So what else is new?)

One Day University: Saturday was One Day University. This time they did it at Lisner Auditorium, which is a good choice as the seats are reasonable comfortable and it’s easy to get to by metro.

The first speaker was Stephen Kotkin of Princeton, His talk was on American Foreign Policy: Where Are We Headed? He had a strong emphasis on the role of economic considerations, starting with the Clinton-era theory that as other nations got wealthier, they would become more like us. He focused on Iran, Russia, and China. His major points were that Iran is constrained by the Sunni-Shia conflict and the potential for Kurdistan to be a disruptive force in the Middle East. In short, he concluded that it shouldn’t be a priority. As for Russia, he said we can’t ignore it, but we overfocus on it. China, however, is an economic powerhouse and we should prioritize remaining competitive with it. The way to do that is to invest in infrastructure and scientific competitiveness. While he was an entertaining speaker, I thought his graphics were terrible. I also wish he had talked more about emerging nations. When someone asked a question about India, for example, his answer was entirely focused on their role as a buffer against China. I was also concerned that he made it all about economics and ignored moral questions, e.g. the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So I found his talk interesting but not entirely convincing.

The second speaker was Jacob Appel from Brown University on Ethical Dilemmas and Modern Medicine: Questions Nobody Wants to Ask.. He summed the issue up with two questions: 1) When do people have a right to healthcare that society refuses to give them? And 2) When can people refuse care that society wants to give them? Then he talked about several examples. Issues include the cost of treatment, quality of life, chance of recovery, whether or not the reasons somebody gives for their decision should matter, and how long-held someone’s beliefs are. My personal bias is to go with somebody’s stated wishes, whether or not I agree with them, but that’s easier said in theory than in practice. At any rate, I thought his talk was very interesting and the highlight of the day for me.

The third speaker was Carol Berkin, who is retired from Baruch College. Her talk was on What The Founding Fathers Were Really Like (and what we can still learn from them today). I have a quibble with her definition of founding fathers, as she focused entirely on the people who were at the Constitutional Convention. That leaves out a number of people who were important to independence, even if they may not have shaped the later form the United States took. But within her framework, the people she singled out as particularly notable were Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, Robert Morris, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, and (partly) James Madison. She had quite a lot to say about Gouverneur Morris, though I’d be somewhat more convinced had she pronounced his name correctly. At any rate, her key point was that most of the men at the Constitutional Convention were fairly ordinary, albeit rich. Still, 5 or 6 geniuses out of 55 delegates seems remarkable to me. Do we have anybody of that intellectual caliber in Congress nowadays? She was a good speaker, but I found her unconvincing, overall.

There was a break for lunch, during which I walked over to a Korean dumpling place I’d been meaning to try. Since when is it socially acceptable for somebody to occupy one of 6 seats at a restaurant while eating their own food out of a Tupperware? The food was just okay, by the way, so, for future reference, I would probably go to Beefsteak or Roti instead. Or maybe try one of the food trucks that were lined up around the corner.

The last speaker of the day was Anna Celenza from Georgetown University, speaking on The History of Jazz: America’s Greatest Original Art Form. This was the talk I was looking forward to the most. Perhaps it was the post-lunch haze or perhaps it was overly high expectations, but I was disappointed. She had some good points about the role of technology (specifically, recording, including piano rolls) in th spread of jazz She touched on several interesting topics (e.g. the racial divide in jazz, the role of agents) and ignored others (orchestration, role of women). Overall, her approach reminded me of my high school history teacher who spent months on the French revolution, 2 days on World War I, and one day on everything since.

Volunteer Training: Sunday saw me back in the city for a training session for the upcoming U.S. Science and Engineering Festival. The training was fairly painless. By the way, I think I was one of a handful of volunteers there who was not accompanied by school children. (I think the minimum age for volunteers is 13, but some of those kids looked younger to me.)


Work and Snow: We got a spring snowstorm on Wednesday. That meant the second day of my two-day meeting this week turned into a telecon. If I’m going to work from home, that’s probably the best sort of work to have. I was even able to reorganize my scarf drawer while listening to one of the presentations.

I was also busy because I had to cover a meeting for my boss and draft inputs for a semi-annual report. When I tell people that I go to meetings and write email for a living, I am only half in jest.

A Minor Ambition: Just once, I would like to finish reading the Sunday Washington Post on Sunday.


Now I am ready to search my house for a bag of pencils that I hope the other dimensional beings have returned. And to pack for my excursion to Connecticut for the ACPT.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Roy Dotrice was an actor whose career included a Tony for A Moon for the Misbegotten. Arthur Cinader founded J. Crew. Mychael Knight was a fashion designer. Cornelia Bailey was instrumental in preserving Gullah-Geechee culture in coastal Georgia. Paul Weitz was an astronaut. Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist who exposed political corruption. Dick Morley invented the programmable logic controller. Julian May was a science fiction writer and also wrote under the name Ian Thorne. Scott Putesky was the cofounder of the band Marilyn Manson. Al Hurricane was a singer, primarily of ranchera music.

Gord Downie was the lead singer of The Tragically Hip, a Canadian rock band. He was also on my ghoul pool list, with his death keeping me in 8th place. I’ve backfilled him with Rose Marie, entirely on the grounds of her being over 90 years old.

Richard Wilbur was a poet. In addition to being Poet Laureate of the U.S. and winning the Pulitzer prize twice, he was the primary lyricist for Bernstein’s Candide. In particular, he is credited with the lyrics to "Glitter and Be Gay."

Robert Guillaume was an actor. While he is best known for his television work (including Benson and Soap), he also had a significant Broadway career, including starring in Purlie (replacing Cleavon Little in the title role) and playing Nathan Detroit in an African-American production of Guys and Dolls.

Fats Domino was a singer-songwriter who played a major role in the development of rock and roll. His biggest hit was "Blueberry Hill," but there are a lot of other notable songs through the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Iona Opie was a folklorist. Along with her husband Peter, she studied nursery rhymes and children’s games and edited a classic collection of fairy tales. It is impossible to overstate the importance of their work on the study of childhood lore.



Roar Reading: Friday night I went to a reading of Roar: True Tales of Women Warrior. I know several of the authors, who shared their stories of the battles women fight in our society. And the profits are going to the National Network to End Domestic Violence. In addition, the reading was at Bard’s Alley, a newish bookstore pretty near my house. It was a good evening out and I definitely need to explore the store further. (Except, of course, that I am not really allowed to buy more books…)

The Bobs: Saturday night was the final concert of The Bobs, a new wave a capella group I first heard at a crafts fair in Berkeley in the 1980’s and have enjoyed the performances of for several years. Their arrangements were different from anything else I’d heard and I enjoyed the humor of many of their songs. The end of an era could be sad, but the evening had a positive energy. At least there are lots of recordings to keep their music alive.

The Wild Party: Sunday afternoon saw me in the city for the Constellation Theatre production of The Wild Party. This was the Andrew Lippa musical, which I had seen another production of before. I like much of the score and it was well-choreographed. But the second half has a lot less energy than the first half does. The cast was able, though there were a few issues with the balance between singers and orchestra. That particularly swallowed up some of the pieces Farrell Parker had as Queenie. If I didn’t already know the show, I might have gotten lost at times. It was worth seeing, but I wish somebody would do LaChiusa’s version so I can compare the two.

Conference Time: I spent Monday through Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center for MILCOM. I prefer smaller conferences where I don’t get frustrated over my inability to be in multiple places at once. It did help to have a few specific questions to focus on, e.g. identifying future technologies for my customer to focus on. I did learn enough for it to be worthwhile, overall. But commuting to Baltimore was a dubious decision. I do sleep better at home, but it was tiring, even though I did it by train, rather than car. I should also have studied the schedule a bit more deeply, as I didn’t make as much time as I should have to check out the exhibit floor.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Luis Olmo played outfield for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first Puerto Rican position player in the major leagues in 1943. (Hiram Bithorn had pitched for the Cubs a year earlier.) Sam Mele played baseball for a number of teams, notably the Red Sox. Tony Alamo was an evangelist who was best known for his church’s tracts, which often got left on car windshields, at least in Los Angeles. He was convicted as a sex offender, related to his sexual involvement with young girls.

Roar: I went to the Better Said Than Done storytelling show on Sunday night. It was a benefit for the National Network to End Domestic Violence and the nine women who performed told stories about their triumphs over sexism, harassment, and violence. The stories were interesting and heartfelt, with a wide range of content and telling styles. Obviously, I thought some of them were better than others and this is the sort of material that can lend itself to a certain amount of bibliotherapy (i.e. tellers who are focused on their therapeutic needs, rather than the audience). But I am more forgiving than usual since the underlying issues are ones we need to talk about.

Office Move: The powers that be decided that my officemate, who is about 90% retired, should not have his own office space, but should use a hot desk when he comes in. So they moved me to a one person office down the hall. The move was not handled well, with it taking far longer than it should have to get my phone hooked up. And I had to battle to get a white board installed in the new office. Now, I just have to finish unpacking, which is annoying enough.

Artomatic: I went with a couple of friends to Artomatic last night. This is an unjuried art exhibit, held periodically in one or another soon-to-be-renovated office building. This year’s is in Crystal City, so was convenient to my office. We only had time to hit a small percentage of it. My favorite pieces were a series of fused glass dresses (intended for display, not wear) and a quilt done on teabags. I also enjoyed some of the poems that were written about various of the exhibits. I just wish I’d had time to see more of it.

Uighur Food: After Artomatic, we went to dinner at Queen Amannisa, which is a Uighur restaurant. We ordered several dishes to share – orange and beet salad, lamb kabobs, meat nan, and a noodle dish with chicken. I thought all of them were good, though the noodles definitely topped my list. They were, alas, too spicy for my friends. I think that, overall, the meal was a success. And we certainly had good conversation during it. It was a pleasant evening, and worth a bit of sleep deprivation for.
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Celebrity Death Watch: Bill Walsh was not only a copy editor for The Washington Post, but wrote three cleverly titled books on the subject of copy editing - Lapsing Into a Comma, The Elephants of Style, and Yes, I Could Care Less. Phil Garland was a New Zealand folk singer. I particularly recommend his song "To the Tall Ships" (with lyrics by Joe Clark). James Cotton played blues harmonica. Derek Walcott was a Caribbean poet and Nobel laureate. Lawrence Montaigne was an actor with numerous television and movie appearances, as well as being in the original cast of Shinbone Alley. Felicia O’Dell was the internet celebrity chef Auntie Fee. Chuck Berry was a rock and roll superstar, but you didn't need me to tell you that. Jimmy Breslin was a columnist for Newsday and Son of Sam’s favorite penpal. David Rockefeller headed Chase Manhattan and chaired the Museum of Modern Art. I have reservations about his foreign policy activities (which may have, for example, helped trigger the Iran hostage crisis) but there is little doubt that he was a significant philanthropist with broad interests. Martin McGuiness was an IRA leader who became a peacemaker. Colin Dexter wrote the Inspector Morse series of mysteries. He also wrote a book about how to solve cryptic crosswords.

Non-celebrity Death Watch: Mary Joan Trafton was a colleague and a close friend. We started working for Milo at the same time and, over the course of numerous business trips, discovered compatible ways of thinking. This was especially true on trips to Boulder, where we realized that High Crimes, a mystery bookstore, would be open late when they had a signing. She was always willing to try out new restaurants and we spent lots of evenings exploring the crème brulees of Boulder. We had similar senses of humor, which included things like buying Milo a pointy-haired boss wig, which he wore when he did our performance reviews. She had been ill with cancer for a while, so her death was not a surprise, but it is still always painful to lose a friend. I am still waiting to hear what the arrangements will be and hope I will be able to go to whatever ceremony happens. At the very least, Suzanne (our other partner in crime) and I will do something.

Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing: I saw this new show at Signature Theatre on Saturday afternoon. Mrs. Elva Miller was a real person, who achieved a brief career in the mid-1960’s as a horrible singer. Debra Monk portrayed her and did an excellent job of both the bad singing and the moments when we glimpse her self-perception. Boyd Gaines played her husband, who was convalescing in a nursing home after a stroke. He was also convincing in a role that focused on his frustration over his condition. Then there is her niece, Joelle, played by Rebekah Brockman, who is torn between the fear that she is part of a group exploiting her aunt and the knowledge that Mrs. Miller is having fun with the whole experience. There is some generation gap material and some more serious topical material (e.g. re: Vietnam). But the real point is about following dreams. That makes Mrs. Miller surprisingly sympathetic. I will note, however, that I dearly hope nobody ever decides to produce a cast album of this show!

Story Swap: Our monthly swap was on Saturday night and was, as usual, fun. I took advantage of the late arrival of our teenage tellers to perform X. J. Kennedy’s poem, "In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus One Day." Later on, I told "Tia Miseria." There was the usual wide mix of stories and, later on, snacks and conversation.

World Storytelling Project: Yesterday being World Storytelling Day, I announced a project to learn a story from every country in the world. I am using the U.S. State Department list of independent countries, which has 195 countries on it. Obviously, I already know stories from some of these (and have personal stories from a few.) This is not the sort of thing I intend to put any particular deadline on, but it should be a fun challenge. And, yes, I have picked out a story from Afghanistan to tell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Corporate Miscommunication: We are all getting new phones. I got an email telling me mine was ready and that I needed to go to an office 30 some odd miles away to pick it up. Since that office doesn't open until 9 and we are talking about DC metro area traffic, that would kill half my day. In fact, our IT guy came around this afternoon delivering phones for the 50 or so of us in this office. This is much easier, of course, but I would have preferred them sending out the correct info to begin with.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
1) Thing the First is the ever popular celebrity death watch.

Sammy Lee was the first Asian American to win an Olympic gold medal (in platform diving in 1948). Pamela Robins wrote a lot of romance novels and smaller numbers of other novels. Greg Lake was the Lake of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer.

You don't need me to explain who John Glenn was. The first news story I remember being aware of (when I was about three and a half years old) was his orbiting the earth. He went on to serve in the Senate and got to fly on the Space Shuttle, too. By all accounts, he was a genuinely nice guy. Farewell to a true American hero.

2) Thing the second is an interesting idea from the conference I was at Tuesday and Wednesday.

They had 3 or 4 people each day appointed as "keynote listeners" who were charged with paying particular attention to a couple of themes and soliciting feedback from other attendees. They then summarized their observations towards the end of the day. I thought this worked well and did enhance the value of the conference, though it doesn't spare me from having to write up an after-action report.

3) Thing the third is a bit of whining about aging.

I really should have gotten an extended warranty on various body parts. A few years ago, I had issues with my left eye and my left foot. Now it appears to be the turn of my right side. Sigh.

Le Catch-up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transitions

Oct. 6th, 2016 03:30 pm
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
This is the time of year for transitions - between Rosh Hashanah and the government fiscal year. My company has a new president and CEO, as well, and I am reserving judgment on him. We had a strategic planning brainstorming session last week, at which I found myself wondering if I live on a different planet than everybody else.

As the election nears, I expect lots of senior people to resign, so nothing will get done for months. We have something we are trying to get done before then, which will be interesting because we are basically trying to do 6 months worth of work in a month. Except, of course, it isn't work per se. It's getting a bunch of people to sign off on an agreement and it should be doable if you find a way to keep the agreement from sitting on each person's desk for two weeks. The technical part - or, at least, the Geek to English translation - is easier than nagging people to review documents.

Bottom line is that my energy is focused in a couple of narrow channels. I will try to be more interesting soon.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
I am crazy busy right now, which is okay because the problem I am dealing with is an interesting one.

It does, however, bother me that I am often happiest with my job when all hell is breaking loose. My experiences where I have been trouble shooting a difficult issue let me use my creativity, as well as highlighting what I (and my organization) can bring to the table.

It's not like I want things to go wrong, so I feel vaguely guilty about this.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Yes, I’m behind. Life gets like that.

Celebrity Death Watch: Stuart Anderson founded the Black Angus Steakhouse chain. Richard Seltzer wrote a number of books abut of popular medicine / medical philosophy. Lois Duncan wrote suspense novels for young adults. Goro Hasegawa patented the game Othello. Ralph Stanley was a bluegrass star. Rabbi Chaim Avrohom Horowitz was the Bostoner Rebbe of New York (and, later, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel) and wrote a lot of influential Jewish music. Barbara Goldsmith wrote several non-fiction books, including a well-received 2005 biography of Marie Cure. Alvin Toffler was a futurist and author, best known for Future Shock. Mack Rice wrote such songs as "Mustang Sally." Finally (and most relevantly to my career), Simon Ramo was the "R" in TRW, and is pretty much considered the founder of systems engineering.

The Breakfast Club: Apparently, I saw exactly one movie over the past quarter. I think I kept falling asleep on airplanes instead of watching movies. Anyway, I had somehow never seen this teenage classic before. It may be 31 years old, but I think it stands up reasonably well. Maybe I think that because my teenage years are a long time ago. It has obvious flaws – clichéd roles and an unlikely ending – but it is watchable despite those. I do, however, wish there were better female role models.

Story Swap: I had two things on my calendar a week ago Saturday night, and decided I could only do one of them. As tempting as coral crocheting at a local yarn store was, I do love story swaps. And the person who was hosting it has a particularly amiable cat. (That reminds me of The Minister’s Cat, a parlor game that way too few people seem to know. The minister’s cat is an amiable cat who adores avocadoes. The minister’s cat is a belligerent cat who batters bandicoots. And so on.) Anyway, it was a good time, with some fun stories, particularly a quest story that Eve told. I told the story I had done for the Better Said Than Done competition.

Friends in Harmony: A friend had given me a ticket to a concert that a chorus she sings in was part of. Seeing that it was very close to home, why not? The event was called Friends in Harmony and featured four choral groups - Mosaic Harmony, Olam Tikvah Chorale, Ketzal Chorus, and the Sakura Choir. The idea was to celebrate the diversity of Fairfax County, so there was an invocation by the imam of a local mosque, followed by the singing, which included gospel, Jewish liturgical, Mexican, and Japanese music. They even provided a CD to take home. All in all, it was well organized and I enjoyed most of the music.

Business Trip: Then I went off to Colorado Springs on a business trip, which meant lots of work and not enough sleep. It was reasonably productive, particularly in terms of meeting some folks in person who I had only talked to on the phone in the past. And, on the way home, I reached my million miles on United!

La Cage Aux Folles: When I got home Friday, I had time for a brief nap before driving over to Signature Theatre to see the final show of the subscription year. I had seen La Cage Aux Folles during its original Broadway run many years ago. Signature’s version is, of course, scaled down, but is still a large show for them. It was very enjoyable, with an excellent performance by Bobby Smith as Albin. I continue to believe that "I Am What I Am" is one of the strongest first act closing numbers in musical theatre. There’s Jerry Herman’s catchy music, a reasonably witty book, and fun choreography, so it made for an enjoyable evening. Given the competing drag queen stories playing local theatres now, I’d say this is well worth prioritizing above Kinky Boots if you are going to see just one of them.

Conference Going: I spent much of the weekend in a state of suspended animation, recovering from my trip, though I did get a few errands done. Then the beginning of this week involved a work-related conference that was decently informative. I am reminded again and again that space is a small world, as there were several people there who I know from various of my past lives in the business (i.e. other jobs within my company, supporting different customers). I hate to say this, but I really hope I haven’t aged as badly as some of them have.


And now I am caught up, for, oh, about 3 hours. Especially as I have theatre tickets tonight.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
There are some floors of the building I work in which require a key card to access. That is, people who are going to them need to swipe their card before they can press the button for those floors.

Almost every day, there is someone who presses the button several times without it lighting up, before going through their bag to find their key card. At which point, we are usually past the floor they were going to.

I can understand a new employee forgetting once or twice. But this happens so often that I have to wonder if whatever organization(s) is/are involved hires only people who fail an intelligence test.

In other news, Thursday is food truck day in Crystal City. Yesterday's offerings included an Indian place that smelled pretty good and advertised "fresh fast healthy." It took me over 15 minutes of waiting in line to order and another 15 minutes to get my food. I suppose "fast" was meant in comparison to a flight to Delhi. And, by the way, while the food was tasty, a couple of pieces of the paneer were charred to hard lumps.

I should have gotten a banh mi instead.
fauxklore: (storyteller doll)
Celebrity Death Watch: Jok Church drew the science experiment comic strip You Can with Beakman and Jax. This was, apparently, the first syndicated comic strip drawn and distributed by computer. Daniel Berrigan was a priest and peace activist.

Business Trip: I spent most of the week in Florida for a series of meetings, which were reasonably interesting and productive. The highlight was a field trip to see the last satellite of our current program and the launch vehicle which it is going to get its ride on. This was just a shoe-cover tour, versus one requiring more protective equipment, but it is still always good to get to see actual hardware.

I also got to go out to dinner (at a very good Cuban restaurant) with some old friends who live down that way and talk about international travel.

I should note that this trip was my first experience with Jet Blue. The service was fine and, most importantly for a business trip, the schedule was convenient. And their snack options include blue corn chips, which are always a good thing.

The Mystery of Love and Sex: Despite having had to get up at oh-dark-thirty to drive back to Orlando for my flight home, I went to Signature Theatre Friday night for this play. The title is terribly misleading. While the story does have something to do with people coming to terms with their sexual identities, the real issues involve broader assumptions about who people are. The basic plot involves a Jewish woman and a black man, who have been best friends since they were children and who most people expect will marry each other. The only catch is that she might be in love with a woman. And he hasn’t come to terms with being gay because he’s a Baptist convinced he will go to hell. Then there’s the problem of her father, whose mystery novels have racist, sexist, and homophobic undertones. This all sounds like one of those dreadfully serious plays that 20 year olds write when they are being proud of themselves for coming out, but that isn’t the case at all. It’s actually quite funny and an enjoyable couple of hours. Too bad about the title, though.

Caroline, Or Change: I was too exhausted to do much of anything all weekend, which means I even skipped the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I did, however, have a ticket to this production at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church. I’m not all that keen on playwright Tony Kushner (mostly for political reasons, which I needn’t get into here). But this was a musical at a theatre I like a lot and I got the ticket very inexpensively, due to a gift certificate at Goldstar. I am glad I went because I liked it quite a lot. The plot involves a black maid working for a Jewish family in 1963 Louisiana and her complicated relationship with the sad son of the family. Some of the clever things involve her interactions with the radio (played by a trio of women in glittery red dresses), the washing machine (a woman), and the dryer (a man). The family is consumed in the tragedy of the mother’s death from lung cancer. The father has married a friend who is not adjusting well and who can’t reach the boy. At their best, musicals use their scores to illuminate character and to enhance the mood and Jeanine Tesori’s score, with a mix of ethnic styles, did this effectively. It also helped that Iyona Blake was outstanding in the title role. I also want to offer shout outs to Ethan Van Slyke as Noah Gellman, a demanding role for a young boy, and Tiara Whaley as Emmie Thibodeaux, who gave a spirited and convincing performance. This is playing through the end of May and I highly recommend it if you are looking for something to do in Northern Virginia.

Don’t Analyze This Dream: I am a bit vague on the details, but I know it involved serving one of my government customers, who is a big burly guy, coffee in little dainty teeny tiny floral cups.

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