Monday, December 31, 2007


Last year, I worked on a detail design project, leading a team that put together a package for the Marine Sealift Command. They had just started testing the first ship of the T-AKE 1 Class, the USS LEWIS AND CLARK. Based on their shakedown experience, they asked for some modifications to the cargo spaces, the galley and messrooms, and the forward mast.

I did not do most of the work; it was done by our experts in arrangements, electrical engineering, structures, etc. However, I managed the overall project, and created the concept designs for the modifications. I may not have created the detail drawings, but I decided what would go where, with some guidance from my boss, and input from the customer.

The shipyard implemented the changes at the ship's Post Shakedown Availability (PSA). I haven't seen the ship since we did a ship check at the beginning of the project. On the left is an image of the forward mast as it was when the ship was built.

Today, I received an invitation to attend the commissioning ceremonies for the 5th vessel of the class. I've been getting invites for each ship, since I was involved with the detail design reviews about 4 years ago. The invite prompted me to see if they had implemented the modifications we designed.

On the right is the mast of the first ship as it is today. Note the addition of the radar up high, and a new middle platform where the existing horn has been shifted, and joined with a second horn. It may not look like much, but it is exciting for me. I designed that! It's the first time in the 5+ years I've been working that I've seen something I designed actually take shape in steel. I've spent most of my time doing analyses and design reviews, rather than actual design work. So this is quite a thrill.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bloody Business

I went to see Sweeney Todd the other night with Chris, Ryan and Bethany. Bluntly, I would not give a unreserved recommendation.

I thought it was great, and is exceptional technically. Many of the performances are excellent, and the story is gripping and well told. Easily one of, if not the best movie Tim Burton has ever made.

But I hesitate to recommend it to everyone, because it is so dark, so gory, so cynical about human nature. I know not everyone cares for the kind of black humor that this movie is full of. It is a tragedy in the classic sense.

However, if you aren't put off by a little (or a lot) of blood, and enjoy cinematic tension, dramatic irony, and morality delivered via catharsis, then I do urge you to go see Sweeney Todd.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dan vs. United Airlines

I had a plan.

I would leave work a little early, and head straight to Dulles. I'd be there with plenty of margin for the holiday rush, so I'd be at my gate in time. I even printed my ticket out ahead of time, which I usually don't. And it all worked. I was sitting at my gate an hour before takeoff, more than a half hour before boarding.

I watched many, many people come up to the counter, upset that they were on standby since they did not confirm their ticket and seat ahead of time. I was very glad I had altered my routine and done so.

Boarding time approaches. And passes. Takeoff time comes and goes. The monitor at the gate switches to "Departing: 5:30," and an announcement is made, telling us our flight is delayed due to mechanical problems. So 5:30 arrives, without any change. At 6:00, we are told our flight is canceled, and we can go to the United help desk at the other end of the terminal.

Rumors start as we stand in the 2 hour line. There are no open seats for Burlington or Manchester until Sunday. The hotel vouchers are worthless, since all the rooms are booked. We'll be here until Christmas.

At 8:00, I finally get to talk the the most competent of the four agents.

"Can you get me to Burlington tonight?"
"No, but we can put you on stand..."
"No. Can you get me to Portland tonight."

So they put me on a flight to Maine that leaves in about 2 hours. I call Vermont, and tell my friends I won't be able to see them like we planned. After a fashion, I make it over to my new departure terminal, and finally get some dinner, and then camp out at the gate.

Boarding at 9:35. Nope. Departing at 9:55. Nope.

Announcement: "The plane is ready, we're just waiting on the crew. They are scheduled to arrive from Chicago at 10:24. Your flight should depart at about 10:40."


The crew arrives, eventually, and does their pre-flight check, which takes longer than expected. Finally, a clearly exasperated gate agent pipes "Flight to Portland, now boarding all passengers." We rush out and across the tarmac to our cozy little jet. We slip into the night sky at about 11:15. I suppose I was lucky - I only had to wait around the terminal for 6 1/2 extra hours. I am very disappointed I didn't make it home to Vermont, though. This will be the first time I've ever gone a whole year without at least setting foot in Vermont. I especially miss seeing my friends who live there, or were home for the holidays.

I did learn a valuable lesson - go ahead and to the online check-in for flights, you can avoid getting screwed, especially on heavy-travel days. It won't do any good if the flight is canceled, though. Also, don't give the gate agents grief - they can't do much of anything, so you might as well be yelling at a stone. It runs off them like water off a duck's back.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How I Learned to Enjoy the Writer's Strike

I enjoy TV. I use my TiFaux liberally, and then watch (and rewatch) on my unnecessarily large high definition big screen. I am not above channel surfing, just coasting up and down the digital dial even when I am near certain there is nothing worth watching all the way through.

I recognize this as a failing of mine. I could spend the time better reading, taking up a useful hobby, something. But recognizing a problem does not correct it. I'm not looking to give up the tube; but merely focusing. With the DVR, I can watch only quality programming, and even skip commercials. All Killer, No Filler.

And now, unexpected help in continuing Dan's Personal Improvement Program. The Writer's Strike! Now, there's even less worthwhile shows on. Combined with the all-out assault on good taste that is Holiday Programming (seriously, Christmas Shoes?), and there is no time like the present to learn how to scale back and realign your time.

So, I've found a great book (Legacy of Ashes - it won the Pulitzer for a reason), and I'm excited to come home from work each night and dive right back into it. And while I look forward to the return of the well-crafted TV programs I enjoy (shouts-out to Battlestar Galactica, 30 Rock, and Pushing Daisies, yo), I look forward even more to a continued sense of application and time well spent.


I'm a big fan of many of the free services Google offers online. The two I use the most are probably GMail and Google Reader. I route all of my mail, except for my work account, through GMail. It is just so convenient and functional; it even has one of the best spam filters I've ever used.

But while GMail (and the time burglar that is GChat) are extremely helpful, I love Reader. My chief pleasure is learning new things, and Reader is a great way to tap into and aggregate information from as many sources as you like. I use it to keep up with baseball news, astronomy articles, world events, movie and television reviews; I even get updates from a biophysics site (Biocurious - check it out).

I often use the email function in Reader to let my friends know about articles or entries they might find interesting. However, it now has a nifty function that allows you to tag those entries you want to share, and collect them on a unique shared items site. I've had trouble using the embedding function, but I've placed a link over on the right as well, if you want to have a look.

This is all fine and good, but I hope anyone else out there who uses Reader will start sharing as well, so I can latch on and learn about the interesting things my friends and family are reading.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Touch of Class

Last night was the company's Washington Area Holiday Party. In the 5+ years I've been working, I had never been any of the various extracurricular events. But this year my friends talked me into going. And I'm glad they did.

It was held out in Tyson's Corner, at one of the hotels that has a nice ballroom. There was nothing particularly unusual: open bar and hors d'oeuvres before dinner, plenty of mingling and the like. A pretty decent dinner (steak, sweet potatoes, etc), door prizes, a band all the way from Syracuse (ooooh, love that Syracuse Sound!). But the most enjoyable aspect was enjoying myself with my friends. And I actually got to wear my tuxedo - hard to find opportunities to wear that without looking crazy. One does not bother with a self-tied bow tie when going for groceries.

I spent most of the evening with Sarah & Paul and Jason & Dawn. I had only met Dawn a few times before. But she is a blast. Not to be too pointed, but she is especially fun once she's been drinking. After they shut down the bars, she and Sarah made it their personal crusade to somehow finagle more drinks from the bartenders. Needless to say, they were both very successful.

Thinking back, though, I wish I had taken advantage of the cheap room rate to stay there for the night. It was freezing rain all the way home, and I was dead-dog tired. I had myself a little navigational adventure coming through Seven Corners. I'll have to remember that next year.

It is worth mentioning that I never need to see any of the company middle-management types on stage, drunkenly dancing with the band, wearing what can only be described as a disco-ball helmet. Never again.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


I've explained my love of libraries before, but truth be told I may like bookstores even more. I can't explain it any more than to say that while a library is fairly static, a bookstore is dynamic. Books flow through a bookstore, while they are archived in a library. I'm fond of both, but since I want to possess the books for myself, a bookshop might have a slight edge for me.

Having said that, there are good bookstores and bad. Having worked at a Barnes & Noble, I can tell you that many of them are not what I would call good bookstores. Books-a-Million is an awful, awful place. But some Borders are pretty good.

Independents are a gamble. It's where you will find the best bookstores, and the worst. The bad would be places like the used bookstore off of the main drag in Blacksburg, which had little beyond water-stained pulp novels. The good are places like Northshire Books, the local Olsson's chain around DC, and once upon a time, the bookstore my mom helped found, Deerleap Books.

The heart of a good bookstore is the selection. It doesn't have to be broad - you don't always want a warehouse. Just books chosen carefully, recommendations from an intelligent and well-read staff. Of course, it doesn't hurt if you have a nice place to put it all.

Few bookstores approach the aesthetic beauty of the great libraries like the British or the Library of Congress. But to finally come to a point, I just read about one that does. It is in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and is housed in converted church.

(It won an interior design award. To see more photos and information, read here and here)

It doesn't look cozy, but I think it would be a marvelous place to spend a few hours and pick up a few volumes. But only real classics of capital "L" Literature or great works of non-fiction. Buying the latest Oprah book here would seem wrong, somehow.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

L is for Leader

In the news today, lots of coverage of the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, stepping down as leader of the military. The common wisdom is that this is an important step towards fully democratizing Pakistan, but a dangerous one since the army is one of the few effective national institutions.

Before going on, it is important to remember that Musharraf was a dictator who seized power in a military coup. He has, at the very least, been unreceptive to allowing dissent and opposition parties. And even if he did appear thoughtful and well-spoken on The Daily Show a few months back, he is not exactly in the mold of the ideal democratic leader.

Keeping those caveats in mind, his resignation from the military reminds me of Washington stepping down as General of the Continental Army. That army was also the only effective national institution. And Washington declined to use his position, and his personal popularity, to shape the early United States as he saw fit. He stepped aside. I've often thought that, despite his "origin" as the leader of a coup d'etat, Musharraf had similar potential in Pakistan. He has not delivered on that potential yet, but this move seems a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Now that the presidential election is actually, sort-of, in a way, beginning for real now (primaries begin in a few weeks), I think we'll hear even more use of quagmire in the news. Popular opinion seems to be in agreement that the war in Iraq is something less than a brilliant success. Being historically minded, I wonder where in the spectrum of military operations this conflict will come to rest. I don't think it's a WWII, the now uniformly admired "Good War" (if such a term is even applicable for such a thing). I don't think it is even a Spanish-American War (Add two cups Manifest Destiny, one cup Declining Old World Monarchy, and dash of International Incident; cook over fire of Yellow Journalism. Serves one regiment of Rough Riders). But does it hit the bottom of the barrel?

I don't think so. Because the bottom is so very, very low. The biggest, most pointless disaster of a war, for my money, is the War of the Triple Alliance. Never heard of it?

In 1864, Paraguay managed to get into a war against Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. Take a moment and consult your atlas; Paraguay started the war almost surrounded. The only neighbor it wasn't at war with was Bolivia, which lay on the far side of the region known as the Gran Chaco, which is somewhat desolate even today.

It was not as bad as it sounds, though. At the time, Paraguay's army and navy outnumbered the combined totals of the Triple Alliance. But over the course of the next 6 years, Paraguay was beaten like few nations ever are. The navy was routed at the Battle of Riachuelo, losing control of the River Plate which was the only connection to the outside world, and gave the Triple Alliance free access to the most populated sections of Paraguay.

Records are incomplete, and there is great disagreement on the actual casualties. The Paraguayan people were very devoted to their president, and the war. So they "stayed the course" like no one else has before or since. One conservative estimate says that of a pre-war population of more than half a million, only 221,000 were left alive. Only about 28,000 men survived. This was beyond decimation - this was 9 times as bad as decimation. Demographically, the nation would not recover for generations. Meanwhile, even the victors were in difficult straits, with massive debt, significant losses of their own, and internecine squabbles over spoils and territory.

I find this war instructive for a number of reasons. First, it helps us to understand just how bad war can be, which is something no one should ever forget. Second, it serves as an anchor for one end of the spectrum of military failures and successes. And lastly, it illustrates what can happen when a nation "throws good money after bad" and continues a conflict beyond the point of reasonable hope.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Covet House

I love books. And I have a weakness for gadgets and gizmos. So, naturally, things like the Sony Reader interest me a great deal. Today, Amazon unveiled their e-book reader, the Kindle. It looks like it might meet their goal of being "an iPod for books." I do like the name, though; it recalls the quote at the bottom of the page from Plutarch. "The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled."

These products are problematic for me. I love to read, and these things are just so cool. However, I'm also a confessed bibliophile. A lot of people who call themselves "book-lovers" are actually what I would call "readers." They love books for the ideas they contain. I think of myself as a reader, but also as a true bibliophile. The books themselves, the substance of them, is important to me. There are great books, like say Coming into the Country, which would be just as good on these devices as the are in paperback. But I don't see how House of Leaves would be quite the same. A fine hardcover edition of your favorite book can be a prized possession, in a way a Reader or a Kindle never could be.

So my reaction to these devices, and the prospect of their widespread adoption, leaves me somewhat ambivalent. I am sure I will eventually get something like Kindle someday, but I doubt I will ever stop buying books.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


My old friend Aaron, who is in the Air Force, was in town this week. We got a chance to meet for dinner at Pizzeria Paradiso and catch up. This time last year he had his first son, Ben, who just started walking. Hopefully, I'll get a chance to see the whole family either at Christmas, or on the way to San Francisco in January.

We were able to meet up a second time at our Army friend Steve's house in Springfield. Steve made us dinner, delicious steaks, and we got to meet his new son Nathan. I feel guilty for not doing it sooner. Steve is a good friend, we ran track and cross country together in high school, but I almost never make it down to see him and his family. And they're only about a half hour away.

I've often taken comfort in the idea that while I don't have a wide circle of friends, those I have are individuals of the highest character. It occurs to me that friends like that demand better friendship than what I often give. Knowing this is a good thing - how can we correct our flaws if we don't learn about them first?

It was a great pleasure to see both of my friends and at least one of their families. Steve's sons, Tyler and Nathan, are a lot of fun. I had an extensive conversation regarding Scooby-doo with Tyler. And Nathan is awesome because he is a second son with red hair. People like that can't help but be cool.

Meanwhile, at work we have been doing a lot of research, reading academic papers and studies. Simultaneously, Sarah went to Italy to present a paper she co-authored, and Zina received word that one of her papers was selected for publication. So I've started to give more thought to trying to write a paper of my own. I've started doing some reading, to survey the literature in a few topics. I'm just not sure if I have any original insights that would warrant a paper, but in the meantime at least I will learn a few things.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Not Exactly Hints from Heloise

I think this strip is hilarious. It is creepy how similar my taste and sense of humor are to the author's. I picked up on all of the Battlestar Galactica references, and one to Big Trouble in Little China. I hope, for your sake, you do not. Check out more here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Damned Windy

I read about a very interesting idea today. In truth, it sounds like it is little more than a funnel that channels more wind into a turbine. I'd have to go back into my old aerodynamics textbooks, but I think this would increase the incident speed of the wind on the turbine blades. If memory serves, high-speed turbines are more efficient, so not only would it generate more power since there is more wind, but it would be more effective at harnessing the wind power flowing over the blades.

However, this strikes me as one of those crazy capers or zany schemes that never gets built, like Project Pluto or the Illinois. Intriguing idea, though I have to wonder what would happen if it got backwinded.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sic the Tiger on it!

You can vote for Ryan's video here from now until November 12th. Apparently you have to register as a YouTube user in order to vote, but it is worth it to win Ryan money to spend on my Christmas and birthday gifts.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Party Picture

A shot of Paul & Sarah, Zina, and me at the Halloween party.


It's really short, but I read an interesting piece by relief pitcher Todd Jones about how he pitches to Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. It gives an intriguing insight into how major league pitchers think about hitters, and how to work them. I wish more major leaguers, on both sides of the ball, wrote things like this. It would add depth to the readers' understanding of the game.

Spookfest 2007

Ah, Halloween. Twenty years ago, my hometown had a yearly "Spookfest," where locals would donate instead of handing out candy. The donations went towards a central party, where you could go to get candy. One stop shopping - very convenient. We would usually hit the Spookfest first, then work over the rest of the town - Halloween was a big deal in Bristol. And in 1987, I won a contest for the Spookfest button design, so I also got a savings bond. So Halloween has always been good to me.

This past weekend, I went to a costume party for the first time in years. The hosts required group costumes, so I went with Sarah & Paul and Zina & John as Dog, Beth, etc. from Dog the Bounty Hunter. Sarah put up some pictures here. Hilarious and quite a lot of fun. We spent almost as much time getting ready and sitting around in costume watching football as we did at the party itself. More fun than it sounds like, I assure you.

The weather is pretty great today, so I expect to get more trick-or-treaters than last year. I was disappointed, especially by the high proportion of not-really-costumed no-good teens. I would break out the hose, but I think that would cause too much trouble. Even if it would be ridiculously fun. Get off my lawn, you meddling kids!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Like many companies, my employer limits the use of the internet over the corporate network. Some sites are blocked. Up until recently, it was fairly benign. Then they blocked YouTube, which was understandable. Not much work-related traffic going through that address.

Then they blocked the automatic feed for Dilbert comics. You can still get to them through the Washington Post site, for instance, but I appreciated the irony of the corporation blocking access to a comic that is essentially about the humorous drudgery of corporate life. Still, there's a workaround.

Today, they started blocking Slate, the online magazine. It's the company's prerogative, of course - they have an interest in keeping us on task, not distracted by the internet. Personally, I like to read on my lunch break, and Slate does a good news roundup in the mornings that I like to check as I start my day. I guess I'll start reading it before I leave the house.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Car Dance

We drove out for lunch at work today, as well as running some errands for Halloween. Earlier in the day Sarah and I had chatted about the show Pushing Daisies. The show is... unlike most anything else on tv. It is saccharine-sweet.... you could become diabetic watching it. But it is also visually stunning, the writing has layers and layers and layers of clever asides and references, and it tackles issues of morality and mortality with subtlety. Well, subtle for network tv. It's been called a "forensic fairy tale," since it has murder mystery, romantic, comic, and fabulist elements.

One particular element of the most recent episode caught my attention, and was the reason it came up at work. One line of dialog ran "You don't need a birdhouse. You can build a birdhouse in your soul" (trust me, it made sense in the context of the show). Fans of the band They Might Be Giants will immediately recognize this from the second song on the 1990 album Flood. So over the commercials, I can't help but hum the song. And when the show comes back, two of the characters (both played by talented Broadway songstresses) are singing that very song in the backseat of a car on the way to visit a windmill. Students of literature will find two more layers here: The name They Might Be Giants comes from a George C. Scott movie of the same name, about a man who thinks he's Sherlock Holmes and solves murders. But the term originally refers to Don Quixote, who tilted at windmills because "they might be giants."

The point, beyond the cleverness of the writing, is I've been a fan of They Might Be Giants for many years now. And as Sarah, Zina, and I drove to lunch, and the conversation continued, I mentioned I had all of their albums on my iPod there in the car. Naturally, the song was quickly queued up. And we ended up singing along with it. I never sing when other people are in the car... but I always sing when I drive alone (and with some songs, I do the car dance). So that was something interesting and new.

And speaking of music, I want to recommend, again, the Avett Brothers album Four Thieves Gone. I especially like "Talk on Indolence," "Distraction #74" and "Matrimony." It's like a punk band that grew up in Appalachia. And if you like punk, can I interest you in some choir music? The Blue Ribbon Glee Club is a group in Chicago that does a Capella covers of Fugazi and The Clash. Check out the live version of the Pixies' "Where is My Mind."

Sunday, October 21, 2007


A pretty full day yesterday, and bittersweet. John & FilthyWife hosted a going-away party for Meg, who leaves for California early Monday afternoon. It's exciting, and I'll get to see her in January, hopefully. But it's never fun to watch your friends leave town.

It was a fun party, which John & FilthyWife are known for. Jane made cookies, which goes a long way with me. We watched the Michigan-Iowa State game, since John, Megan, her boyfriend Rich, and various others there were all Wolverines. Low key, good crowd. John is in a band, and very knowledgeable musically, and after the game he recommended a great band, the Avett Brothers. I went straight home and downloaded their song Talk on Indolence. Followed by the rest of the album. John called it "punk-folk." If that sounds intriguing, check it out.

Other folks got Meg nice going away gifts - Jane made her a scarf with a built-in pocket. I feel bad I didn't, but I don't like to think about it when my friends leave, so I rarely show the foresight to make those kind of nice gestures. Besides, I will see her again relatively soon.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I can't breathe...

My brother, Ryan, is extremely creative. Actually, both of my brothers are. But just now you can enjoy one of the fruits of Ryan's creativity.

He likes to enter various online video contests. He recently won a Mac Book and a $2500 gift certificate to the Apple Store from Friendlys. He also won a free ice cream party from same. And he keeps knocking out more brilliant shorts. This one is in the form of a commercial, for Tiger Balm. I will be reminding everyone I know to vote for this one, starting early next month according to Ryan.

So, without further delay, enjoy Tiger Balm Attack.

Mind Grapes

When do you get your best ideas? Is there a pattern to when you are creative or insightful? I've been thinking about this some lately. I've noticed I have more ideas than usual - mostly related to my work.

It started when we reorganized in our division, and moved into a different Group in the company. Previously, we were the Advanced Technology Division, and now we are Survivability and Advanced Technology. This reflects a new focus on the brilliant work of Dr JAWS and everyone who has been involved in developing and applying the new MOTISS program. However, I have no experience with the elements of survivability we are currently working one, so I don't fit into the new schema particularly well. Once we dig into the first part of survivability, which is called susceptibility, I think I will have more to offer. But I don't have much to contribute right now.

However, as I moved towards the margins of the current efforts, more and more details of the next steps have come to me. Mostly regarding statistical principles that could be applied (that I stole from sabermetric circles like Baseball Prospectus), but also concept design for susceptibility using parametrics, and signal integration for detection of low-observable systems.

This is all pretty wonky. But while I'm not very good at what I am doing on the job right now, I am very excited in the ideas for future work. And I never seem to get those kind of ideas when I am busy and fully tasked. This time, I'm writing them all down - some of them could be useful. If I can muster the effort, I think some could make decent papers for submission to various journals. I've never done anything like that before, but I've started to consider it.

On an unrelated front, some congratulations are apparently in order. First, my brother Chris got a much deserved, long-awaited raise. A significant raise. It is crass to discuss money, but percentage-wise it was in the double-digits. It is about time.

Lastly, I found out that Heidi has a job working at a restaurant in New York City called P*ONG. She's a pastry chef, and by the look of it this place is a great fit. I wish I had time to drive up and buy some cake.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fleet Week

Follow this link to see a cool video from the recent Fleet Week in San Francisco. It's an impressive piece of flying. But if you watch carefully in the first few seconds, you can see Steph's cutter, the ASPEN, in the background.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


I think there was something in the air on Saturday, because it seemed like everyone, on land and sea alike, had lost the ability to drive in a reasonable manner.

Sarah & Paul invited me to go sailing with them out of Annapolis for the day; one of Paul's coworkers has an O'Day 240, a nice little cruiser named No Problem. They had all gone sailing together, and the owner was impressed enough to let them borrow the boat for the day. I was thrilled to get invited along, since I haven't been sailing on anything over 16 feet for years, and I miss offshore sailing.

It was absolutely perfect on the water. Plenty of breeze, sunny but not hot. The wind did clock around some on us, and the tide was not entirely favorable. But if the weather was actually perfect, the sailing is less interesting - nothing to do. It's more fun if you have to work the sails, read the wind and the currents. So it was just fantastic; we ate lunch on the water, got the boat up to 7 knots (according to the GPS, at least), and put in some sea miles south of the Bay bridge. I had never been on the water before with Sarah or Paul, and they are a joy to sail with - sharp minds and easy manner, which I believe are critical crew characteristics if you want to enjoy your time on a boat. I just wish I was a little fresher with my sailing skills; there was a time when I would have had all sorts of handy tips and tricks for sail trim, boat speed, etc. But it's not like we were racing or anything.

But, our time on the water was wrapping up, since their dog Louie would soon need to be walked back in Virginia. So we headed back to the slip, and noticed that the wind was favorable for sailing right up the inlet. We set up, made the lay line, and headed in, just ahead of another, slightly larger sailboat. We head up the channel under sail, executing a pair of nice tacks. However, the channel turns pretty radically at the third and fourth sets of buoys, as you can see in this satellite view:

View Larger Map

We lost some speed coming out of the first tack into this hard turn. The other sailboat was motoring, and they didn't dump any speed when we started to stall, and were forced into another tack by the turn. We had very little speed, and they passed us on our starboard side. My rules of the road are rusty, but overtaking yields to overtaken, power yields to sail, and you err on the side of safety in a channel where vessels are restricted in their ability to maneuver. So I sleep easy, knowing we were in the right. But we ended up having to fend off with our bare hands, pushing on their boat, one of the pylons for the channel markers, all while Paul got the motor started and we brought the sails in so they would get damaged.

All in all, it was an ideal accident. No damage, everyone had some excitement before the letdown of cleaning up and leaving the boat. And it helped my confidence, oddly - a lot of things came back quickly, I like to think I was helpful. And I wouldn't hesitate to sail with those two again - I know if things go down, they'll be ready.

Oddly, it was like that all the way home, too. It seemed like everyone on the road was intent on cutting each other off, blasting across multiple lanes of traffic without hesitation. And there were other incidents of foolishness on the Bay, but it was just power boaters being their usual inconsiderate selves, so it isn't that remarkable.

In other news, go watch baseball. The Rockies have won something like 60 of their last 61 games, and it looks like the Indians and Red Sox might be in it for one hell of a slugging match over the next few games.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Is Windshield Wiper Fluid Flammable?

Earlier today, my friend Jesse responded to an email I sent on Monday. I had written to all of my old friends high school to congratulate our friend Aaron on his anniversary. I think Jesse responded to the same email since it was a quick way to use a ready-made distribution list.

Jesse's message was brief; Andrew Sayre, who we had all been good friends with up until about freshman year at Mount Abe, died. We've heard it was due to a heroin overdose.

I was good friends with Andrew in elementary school and junior high. We were identified as "gifted" children in those years, and we would often partner up for projects. I have very clear memories of competing in a balsa-wood bridge contest with a design we created together. But in high school, Andrew started getting into trouble some, at school and beyond. You could say we drifted apart, but it might be more accurate to say I chose to drift away from him. Not maliciously; I just stopped hanging out with someone who was gathering a reputation as a troublemaker.

As years wore on, I heard from time to time about Andrew. I got the impression he had not fulfilled the promise he once showed; truth be told, neither did I. But the few times I thought of him, I did not picture him doing particularly well. But this news exceeds even my worst imaginings. It is a tragedy, made even more so by how easily he could have been a success.

I am troubled; I knew 15 years ago that he was moving in a bad direction. He was my friend. And I did not do anything to help him. We are all responsible for our own lives and decisions, but that does not absolve us from failing to help those around us. I'm not here to rend my clothes and gnash my teeth, blaming myself for Andrew's tragic loss. But I can't help but wonder what portion of blame is rightfully mine.

Most importantly, my sympathies go out to Andrew's family. Even if he was troubled, if he caught some bad breaks or made some mistakes, that does that change the fact he was a good man. His passing is a great loss, and I hope they can find some comfort in this trying time.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Arts & Sciences

For the first time in a few years I went to Art on the Avenue and actually bought some art. Nothing fancy, mind you, but art nevertheless.

After doing my chores and getting my mop chopped, I joined Sarah & Paul for the biggest party in Del Ray. There was some really nice work for sale - I especially liked some handmade photo montages and a few Asian-styled silk screens. But after some encouragement, I bought a print of a still life by a local artist. The full size original was done for the owner of the Nationals. It is called "Still life with Baseball." I think I will hang it in my office at work, which could use some decoration.

Of course, afterwards we had no choice but to go to Poblano, followed by custard. Today's flavor was pumpkin, which is like eating creamy, frozen pumpkin pie. Extremely good.

I am very pleased, on the whole, but especially with the print. I've always had a very weak sense of aesthetics; matching colors can be a challenge for me. But I really think this print will work nicely in the office, particularly since it isn't a nautical picture like most folks have. Not that those are bad - I'm a big fan, I've got at least a dozen at home. Variety is good, though. And it helped that Sarah and Paul, who are much more aesthetically gifted, agreed.

In other news, I am jealous of Steph. Her boat will be out on San Francisco Bay, just for the day on Monday, to work 1 buoy and watch the Blue Angels. That sounds like a pretty great day at the office.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Programming Note

Just a reminder to anyone in the DC area, tomorrow is Art on the Avenue, easily the biggest yearly event in Del Ray. The whole of Mount Vernon Avenue in the neighborhood is shut down, and filled with booths selling food and various arts and crafts. There are also 3 stages of music and performances, and most of the businesses do something special (especially places like the Cheesetique and the Dairy Godmother). I highly recommend it.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Feats of Strength

All kinds of athletic achievement happening this past weekend. First up, Kirk took 7th overall in the Chesapeakeman Triathlon, an Ironman distance race in Cambridge. It is an incredible achievement, demanding months of training to even finish, let alone place so highly. He even won his age group, one of the most competitive. I am very glad he is done, too, since now he may be free from time to time, instead of training.

Second in our weekend review was Sarah and rest of the Capital Rowing Club at the Head of the Potomac regatta. For those unfamiliar with crew racing, head races are to other regattas as marathons are to a 100m dash. This course ran down the Potomac from Fletcher's boathouse to the Roosevelt Bridge. That's about 2.5-3 miles. In 15 minutes. I managed to see the start of one of their races by riding up the C&O Canal towpath, and caught the finish of the women's 4 from the Kennedy Center. Even though the starts are staggered, coming around the turn in the river at Georgetown, there were 9 boats all bunched together, and Sarah's passed at least one other team. It was pretty exciting, actually. Though a word of advice, if you go to a crew race - save your voice, don't bother cheering. Especially at the finish, or even as they row back to the dock, 'cause they are zombies in the boat at that point.

Lastly, and most dear to my heart, baseball. What an incredible finish to the regular season. My Reds did not do well, but I am a fan of the game as well. You can read elsewhere about the collapse of the Mets, but there is one measure that stands out in my mind. The sabermetricians at Baseball Prospectus do a Postseason Odds Report - the performance of the teams is quantified, and then they simulate the rest of the season 1 million times, measuring how many times each team qualifies for a playoff berth. By this measure, the Mets had the second highest Playoff Probability of any team, ever, that managed to not make the postseason. This was an epic choke, one for the history books, bigger than Philadelphia in 1964. And a the same time, the Rockies and Phillies both played extraordinary baseball for the past few weeks to earn their chances. Look up their stats since early September. Yes, the Mets choked and the Padres stumbled - but Colorado and Philadelphia both deserve to keep playing based on the quality of play they've shown, especially recently.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hull Speed

Quite suddenly, the weather here in DC has become ridiculously gorgeous. Perfect for picnics, bike rides, and other wholesome frolicking in the out-of-doors. On Saturday, I thought I might go for a nice long bike ride. Then I noticed that the wind was 15-20 knots.

The sailing was outstanding. I took Betty, it was a wild ride. Even as a trimaran, I though I might capsize her in some of the gusts. Also, while she is a fine little sailer, she does not really plane when she picks up speed. She kind of smashes through heavy chop when under sail. So heading upwind she moves quick, but you ship a lot of water over the bow. No harm done, just have a towel waiting back on shore.

I have never been good at estimating boat speed, so I hesitate to guess just how fast she was moving. Her hull speed would be about 5.3 knots, but the formulas for hull speed are not well suited for multihulls or long, thin vessels like kayaks. And Betty is both, so it's hard to guess what her top speed might be. But her mast had significant bend in it (as designed), the amas submerged from time to time, and we made it great time all over the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Stephanie and Aaron Invite You

Steph & Aaron were successfully married last Monday in Lake Placid. Enjoy these photos, won't you?

The festivities really got underway on Saturday, when there was a hike so family and friends could meet and get to know each other in the beautiful weather and wilderness. The only snag was the structure fire which closed the access road to the trailhead. Five fire departments were called in, according to the news that night. It was a beautiful day to be outside, so no one minded the extra mileage.

The wedding itself was held in lovely Church right on Mirror Lake, and was brief, to-the-point, yet wrought with meaning and personal touches. The reception also benefited from the excellent weather, and included a incredible spread of food and an bluegrass band. From start to finish, the entire wedding weekend was outstanding, and uniquely Steph & Aaron.

Thursday, August 30, 2007



It's been 50 year's since the first tentative steps into space. Within 10 years, we were almost on the moon. And in the 40 since then, we've... put some millionaires into space. And former members of boy bands! Truly, the Space Age has delivered on all of it's promise. A very cool anniversary, but bittersweet considering how much progress has slowed.

Though perhaps that assessment is unfair. There was widespread knowledge of the Americas in Europe by the late 15th century, but settlement did not begin in earnest until more than 100 years later. And space is quite a bit more inhospitable than, say, Massachusetts. But the degree to which progress has plateaued is disappointing. In fact, there seems to have been regression in the field of human exploration. Any return to the moon and points beyond will entail a lot of rework, as we redevelop capabilities that were allowed to wither away.

There has been great progress via telepresence, robotic probes and the like. The two Mars rovers are doing fantastic work, inspiring as well as meaningful scientifically. And if the point of exploring space is to just gather data, then that is enough. But my feelings hew closer to the old doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Albeit without the sinister overtones of conquest. It's just, moving off of Earth is what comes next. It's a gut feeling more than a reasoned position.

Looking back at Sputnik, how it was almost an afterthought to the development of ICBMs, you are struck at how small ideas, a cheap transmitter beeping in orbit for 3 weeks, can galvanize the whole world. I like that - there are so few truly iconic, world changing moments in history, and today marks the anniversary of one of the big ones.


My company requires that every employee completes a Self-Evaluation just prior to Personnel Reviews at the end of the year. They are usually due at the end of the fiscal year, and are passed up the chain as you are reviewed for bonuses, promotions, reassignment, etc. I did mine earlier this week. I truly detest this process. Mostly because my real self evaluation is pretty low. I wish it wasn't, but it is. And while I long for more challenging work, and responsibility, when I honestly assess myself, I'm not sure I would be equal to it.

This is not the place for me to explain my shortcomings, or to complain when in fact I've gotten some fairly good breaks. Maybe we are all intensely aware of our own flaws, and suffer from that knowledge. So I write this more to organize my own thoughts; how do you unbias yourself, and look in the mirror clearly? And finding your weaknesses, how do you then correct them? What if you weakness is such that it prevents you from figuring how to improve yourself? My solution is "find someone who is smart, and have them solve it for you." The problem is, who do you trust with something like that? Who is both close enough so they would take that burden, and have the intelligence and expertise to craft a solution?

This is where my train of thought derails, each year. So it cannot be surprising that I dislike evaluation season.

Lawn Boy

What is the stereotypical disease that affects all suburban home owners? You see it in movies and poorly plotted sitcoms all the time. It's superficial and tedious, and oh-so-much about Keeping Up with the Joneses. Oh yes, it's lawn care.

I had been rolling along quite comfortably with an ugly lawn. My crappy reel mower (old fashioned, Leave it to Beaver style manual cylinder of curved blades) was not particularly effective, especially if the grass got a little long. It was completely unable to deal with the very large patches of crabgrass I had cultivated. I often joked that my yard made it look like a witch lived there.

Finally, I cracked. I bought an electric extension cord mower. I sprayed some foul chemicals on the crabgrass. I attacked the fenceline with my weedwhacker. And now... it looks slightly better. Respectable, but I should have realized that only a huge capital outlay, with professional intervention, would really improve things.

I do feel my lawn no occupies a fitting place in the spectrum of yards in my neighborhood. Across the street, the loveliest house on the block sits on a perfectly manicured lawn. Next door, the entire property is a riot of plant growth and lawn gnomes. In every way, my yard is right in between. I think I can live with that.


I find myself very intrigued by the recent protests in Myanmar (FKA Burma), where Buddhist monks are leading what may be the beginnings of a revolution against the ruling military oligarchy. This is interesting on a number of levels. First, because of the secretive nature of the regime in Myanmar, in recent years there hasn't been much news out of the country, period. Second, my friend Vanessa worked for a few years for the non-profit EarthRights International, which sued Unocal regarding their Myanmar pipeline using the Alien Tort Act of 1789. The case was settled out of court, but Vanessa spent some time in Myanmar, and worked very closely with some of the people who I think would be involved with these protests. And lastly, revolutions and how they play out is inherently interesting.

Historically, revolutions are unique in the high degree of social dynamism. New ideas and systems, good and bad, come out of revolutions. We cannot disregard the often high human cost of these conflicts, but without them, we would not have modern representative democracy. Though all too often, the lofty ideals are corrupted, at least for a time. Rid yourself of a corrupt aristocracy - damn, you're dealing with Robespierre and the Terror. Do it again - oops, now you're living in early Soviet Russia. Revolutions, no matter what their origin or how justified they are, can be a roll of the dice.

On the face of it, the protests in Myanmar could be the seed of a reformed and open society. They current government is a corrupt oligarchy of military leaders, who have proven themselves only too willing to sell out their country and citizens for a few measly bucks. Almost anything would be an improvement. It suggests the question, if we are dedicated to spreading democracy and deposing authoritarian governments, what can we do to help promote that in Myanmar, given current events?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I noticed what I thought was an interesting parallel in the news the other day. However, I hesitate to write about it, since it doing so may be a violation of Godwin's Law. It touches lightly on Nazi's, and that is extreme and inflammatory. But the I think this particular news item contains valid echoes of historical events.

I'm speaking here of President Bush's recent remarks at the VFW Convention, where he seemed to say that the U.S. should not have left Vietnam. In fact, the speech seems to say the only reason the U.S. withdrew it's forces was domestic pressure.

The point here is not the legitimacy or accuracy of the President's analogies. Whether there are particular parallels between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam is not the question that interested me. It was the argument that Vietnam was lost at home. This is not a new position, obviously, but seems to have gained renewed credibility recently, at least with the President. I find it troubling because it parallels the "stabbed in the back" theory of World War I.

After the surrender of Germany and the punitive Treaty of Versailles, many Germans resented the loss of national prestige, the poverty only amplified by the Depression, and the decline of a once great state. A theory that won great credence was that the Great War was not lost on the battlefield, but at home. That a lack of domestic will and strength stabbed the German Army in the back. Most historians agree that this theory doesn't hold water, just as most dismiss the notion that Vietnam was a winnable war for the United States.

Historically, this argument is used to give cover to jingoism, arms buildups, power grabs, and authoritarianism. I'm not enough of a radical to suggest that the present case is so extreme. However, given the administration's track record of pushing for increased Executive power, the parallel is interesting. But parallels are useful only so far as they can be used for extrapolation. It isn't "Bush is a fascist" or anything so extreme. Perhaps it is only that when great powers face defeat (or merely lack of victory), blame is inevitably cast on a faceless opposition at home.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I'm a big fan of the Slate editor Dahlia Lithwick; I find all of her articles to be edifying and well-written. I particularly enjoyed yesterday's, partly because it includes a quote from The Simpsons.

The substance of the article was also highlighted for me, as I am still reading the excellent Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Ms. Lithwick points to the absurdity and danger of isolating the governors from the governed, excluding dissenting views. Removing dissenters from the room doesn't eliminate dissent. In fact it may increase it. This is a remarkable contrast to Dr. Goodwin's depiction of Abraham Lincoln. She presents him as a leader confident enough to bring dissent into his closest circle of advisers. Additionally, she repeatedly makes the point that the proper role of a national leader is not to follow public opinion, or ignore it, but to help shape it through well-reasoned ideas. If the president feels a policy is correct, let him stand forward and make his case. Perhaps reading this article and this book at the same time made the difference particularly notable to me.

In the book I am well into the Civil War. Please, no spoilers in the comments - I want to see how it ends for myself.

In news of more immediate but no less significant note, a happy birthday to Sarah yesterday. There was homemade ice cream cake from sister-in-law OtherSarah, and it was awesome.

Friday, August 17, 2007


A number of birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and dates of import lately. Megan, Aaron, and Sarah are all celebrating birthdays (making them Christmas babies, of a sort); Matt & Kate, Katie & Aaron, and Tyson & Michelle had their anniversaries. Great reasons for celebration, all around.

I enjoy trying to make the most of birthdays and the like. I think it belies a sentimental streak. The day doesn't mean much - fairly arbitrary, nothing special in of itself happens. It is only an observance that on the same date, once upon a time, something special did happen. And my observances often take an aspect of reflection. What's changed in a year, or since the celebrated event, why the person or couple being fêted is worthy of praise and festivities. It's a time to get into why your friends and family are so fantastic, and showing them how important they are.

There are other times that demand critique. Anti-versaries, that ask you to reflect back on your errors and your failures. It is not a positive experience, but if you can, there are lessons to learn. A yearly reminder not to make the same mistakes again, or a refresher on certain flaws or weakness in your character that must be kept in check. Examining these facts is not positive, but the outcome can be. We can try to become better, so when the birthdays and anniversaries arrive, we can be worthy of them.

'Tis not in mortals to command success
But we'll do more... we'll deserve it.
Cato: A Tragedy Act I, Scene II, by Joseph Addison

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I don't need instructions on how to Rock

I was invited to go with Abby, Sarah & Paul, and some of Abby's friends to an Alison Krauss and Union Station concert last night up at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. I had never been there before, and I was very impressed. It was a great place to see a show, and we lucked out and the weather cooled off to comfortable conditions.

Beyond the general excellence of the show and the very easy manner of the band, fun and relaxed, there were three elements of the evening that deserve special mention. Least significantly but still intriguing, on the drive home we saw a DeLorean on the beltway. This was of particular interest to me, since I just read that a small company in Texas acquired the rights to begin very limited production on new DeLoreans. And that should make anyone who grew up watching Back to the Future very happy. Gigawatts!

Secondly, [story not suitable for minors or the easily offended], there was the drive up to the show. The sights were not nearly so welcome. On the Beltway, along the side of the road, there was a car pulled over. Next to the car was an unfortunate individual. This person was completely naked, and in the process of relieving themselves. Not even in the woods - out in the open, with a not insignificant number of people driving by. I am certain that something went catastrophically wrong to bring this about. But it was still one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen on the highway.

Lastly, I spent a goodly portion of the night sharing some of my trademarked worthless trivia. Most apropos was "Did you know that Alison Krauss is married to Elvis Costello?" And no one did. And there is a reason no one knew this: it is not true. I was confused, since Krauss and Costello worked together on the Cold Mountain soundtrack, and Costello is married to jazz pianist Diana Krall. So my powers failed me, I am embarrassed to say.

For all that, the show was the complete highlight, and I recommend both the Merriweather Post Pavilion and Alison Krauss if you have the opportunity.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


I just got back from a long weekend in Portland with the Eling clan. Nothing too newsworthy - we had a picnic at Two Lights State Park, saw a movie, went to museums and out for bike rides. It was a lot of fun, though. It has been a while since I've been able to get together with the whole family, so that fact alone made it an excellent vacation.

While he is "on hiatus" and "between projects," Ryan put together a little something as a gift. We all got t-shirts:

So, that's awesome. For comparison:

Make your own humorous caricatures at I'm working up more here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Upper Deck

I went to the Reds-Nationals game last night at RFK. It's always good to go to a game, and especially so when I can see the Reds. But Washington, which is a pretty weak club this year, embarrassed the Reds, scoring 7 runs in first two innings, and not allowing Cincinnati any runs until the 6th. And even then it was only two. So it was a hard game for a Reds fan, but a night at the ballpark goes a long way.

We did get to see one rare and wonderful play. In the top of the fourth, Brandon Phillips reached on a single, and was followed by Adam Dunn. "Donkey" is a left-handed pull hitter, so the Nationals put on the shift, with both the second baseman and shortstop on the right hand side of the diamond, and the third baseman covering where the second baseman usually is. Phillips takes a big lead at first, and takes off with the pitch. No hit, no swing, but Phillips got such a good jump and is so speedy, catcher Brian Schneider did not even attempt a throw. So, a pretty normal stolen base. But here is where it gets good: Phillips keeps going. While Schneider holds the ball, Phillips sprints past third baseman Zimmerman, heading for third where no one is even covering. I'm not sure, because things happened pretty fast, but I think Schneider had flipped the ball back to the pitcher Lannan, who then ran towards third, flipping the ball to Zimmerman who was trying to catch up with Phillips. To no avail - safe at third. Unfortunately, Dunn flew out on the next pitch. Still, very cool.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


It has been a challenging week. Mostly because of many simultaneous changes, new arrangements and relationships. Including, but not limited to Steph moving to San Francisco, Aaron temporarily crashing at my house, and my return to the Home Office after 10 months at the DC site. Things have changed personally, professionally, geographically. And historically, I do not deal well with change.

On the plus side, it is great to be working at King Street. The projects are more interesting, and I get to see Sarah and Zina every day, which is a pleasure. And while Aaron is my first roommate in many years, it is working out extremely well.

The challenges come from what's gone. Steph was my best friend, and now she is 3000 miles away. I didn't care for the work in the DC office, but I got to ride to work every day, which felt great. The Home Office doesn't have the facilities for that right now. And while the new work is interesting, it is always frustrating for me to come into projects midstream. I always feel like I'm behind, which is something I hate almost more than anything. It makes me feel dumb.

However, this too shall pass, as the saying goes. I'm visiting my folks in Maine this weekend, seeing the new house and whatnot. There is some potential for some new programs at work that I would get in on the ground floor with, and they have potential for some travel. And tonight I'm going out and seeing the Reds play the Nationals. Tomorrow I might even have time after work for a bike ride...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Advice & Consent

AKA Garage Sale Lothario

Tuesday was different and interesting.

I rode in to New Jersey avenue, probably for the last time in a while. I'm transferring out of the program that is headquartered there, and headed back to the home office. I'm excited, for a number of reasons: I'm interested in the work I'll be doing, I'll be working with Sarah and Zina instead of Clowns, and I'll be back in my own office instead of sharing a room. The only drawback is even though it is closer to my house, it will be more difficult to bike there - no shower or locker facilities. Until the gym in the basement reopens, if ever...

After a productive morning, I rode over to CG HQ to meet Dave for lunch. It was very pleasant, and I bumped into a few old classmates and friends from my Academy days. And the weather relented just enough so I wasn't a sweaty mess when I got back.

On my ride in, I had noticed some tall masts and sails on Waterfront in DC, so I detoured through East Potomac Park to have a look. It was Gloria, the school ship of the Armada Nacional de Colombia. I can't find many of her particulars, but she looks like a modified copy of EAGLE. Regardless, she is a beautiful ship. I admit I was a sailing snob when I noticed that her sails were not harbor furled for her port call. You've got to square that away in Bristol fashion, if you ask me.

Shortly after I got home, I got Stella back from the shop. She failed inspection, so I had 15 days to get the various problems fixed. Nothing big - bulbs and similar things I hadn't even noticed. The one thing I knew going into the shop was the driver's side mirror was cracked. And that ended up being half the bill. All set for another year, though.

Sarah & Paul came over for a quick, simple dinner. It was just store-bought gnocchi and sauce, a very plain salad, and some cinnamon swirl bread I got at the farmer's market. They were good enough to bring some beer that a friend of Paul's brewed, and it was surprisingly good.

The reason for the visit was I needed Sarah's advice regarding a private matter - which will remain so. But it has been fascinating to me, how interested my friends have been in this subject. I'm not used to this kind of attention in my personal dealings. Steph seems to think the attention embarrasses me, but that is not the case. It is just completely unfamiliar. Her explanation is that they are just excited on my behalf. And I think once I get used to that , I'll learn to appreciate and welcome it. But right now it weirds me out a little.

However, the interest comes with one huge perk: expertise. This is not a subject I've ever been gifted with. But Steph & Aaron, Paul & Sarah, Meg, etc., have all been happy to assist me. And it has been extremely helpful. Never hurts to get smarter, no matter what the topic is.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Two excellent and interesting articles for your consideration today.

First, from the New York Times: Jury trials come to Japan. I, for one, didn't know that Japan had tribunal-style trials. I found the whole thing fascinating, especially the national campaign to educate citizens (well, technically subjects, I think). The article makes it sound like it is not so much a program to teach the students how to be jurors, but how to express their own opinions.

Chris has written in the past about crime in Japan - the 99.8% conviction rate, for instance, boggles the mind. "If they were innocent, why would they be on trial?" Sounds like a scary place to be falsely accused, and the intimation of forced confessions conflicts with my image of modern Japan as a restrained, peaceful nation. But an amazing social experiment is about to take place, on a national scale, and I hope to hear more about it, both in the news and from my friends overseas.

Next, some hard science via the New York Review of Books. One of the great futurists of the age, Freeman Dyson, writes on biotechnology. Dyson has a history of predicting some off-the-wall things (e.g. Dyson Trees), but the man is indisputably a genius. He was one of the great proponents of Project Orion - flying to Mars by riding the explosive blasts of hundreds of atomic bombs. But the article posits a "domestication" of biotechnology. Just as the computer went from the province of governments and huge corporations to individuals, so could genome design move from the lab to the home. It is an interesting parallel, and it raises some great questions that Dyson discusses. Foremost in my thinking is that if there are malicious hackers that create computer viruses, there will be biotech equivalents. Learning from our history, we should prioritize creating open source anti-virus organizations, like the Nortons or Anti-Virs that help contain digital mayhem.

Friday, July 13, 2007


It had been a while since I made "real" food. I almost never fix anything interesting for myself - I stick to a rotating roster of staples that are pretty good, but uninteresting. It takes guests to rouse me to actual cooking.

But I've had a hankering, and while my friends don't come over often, I always enjoy it. So I invited Steph & Aaron and Sarah & Paul over for dinner last night. Most of the meal was stuff I had done before, though I did try an experimental salad. It was a vaguely asian or vietnamese meal, though not intensely so.

Usually when I prepare a big meal, I get a little overwhelmed. But I planned this time, and the cooking went very smoothly. I was actually able to sit and visit with my friends before dinner, rather than run back and forth trying to get everything ready. And I think everyone liked the grub, too.

Best of all, everyone laughed a lot. Often when I have people over, I feel vaguely stiff and almost formal. But it was very relaxed. Steph, Aaron, and Sarah spent most of the first half hour trying to decide which single women on their crew team to set me up with. "So-and-so is nice, but she's 325 and built like a brick shithouse, she'd probably break Dan in half. Dan, how do you feel about the phrase 'hurts so good?'" That did a lot to create an informal atmosphere.

Cucumber, Tomato, and Pineapple Salad with Asian Dressing
Vietnamese Style Grilled Steak with Noodles
Chocolate-Caramel Tartlets

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I had another one of my satisfying but unproductive weekends again. I did a little laundry, and that was the beginning and end of any useful efforts on my part.

I did go on an excellent bike ride. The plan was to show Sarah, Zina, and her boyfriend John the Arlington Triangle, starting from Shirlington. Unfortunately, due to bike and car troubles, Zina and John were unable to join us this time.

The Triangle encompasses some of my favorite trails in the DC area. We headed up the Four Mile Run trail, to keep in the shade and close to the creek - it was extremely hot. The we crossed over to the W&OD, a converted rail trail that parallels most of the Four Mile Run. From there we double back onto the Custis trail, which runs mostly downhill to Rosslyn along I-66. From there onto the Mt. Vernon Trail along the river, back to the Four Mile Run and up to Shirlington.

I really enjoy the W&OD, since it is a nice, easy grade and straight. Well maintained, too. It runs all the way out to someplace called Purcellville, but I've only been as far as Wolf Trap. The Custis trail is not nearly as nice - nothing much to see, not in as nice shape. I love the Mount Vernon, though - it's in good shape, but the views are what make it. You go from Teddy Roosevelt Island, and it opens up onto the river. You can see most of the major monuments, the Capitol Dome, etc. There are cooling breezes off the Potomac, and the whole thing runs uninterrupted through parks, save for a short stretch in Old Town Alexandria.

I usually ride these trails on my own, so it is a particular pleasure to have people go with. Though it does give me some trouble - turns out I only have 3 speeds while biking: stopped, coasting, and going as fast as I can. I have to follow someone else to match pace (if I can).

There was one particularly humorous moment from this ride. I was riding ahead, and came up behind a father and young daughter. She was on one of those pedaling trailers for kids, so they can pedal some and help out. Well, she looked back at me, and I couldn't help myself. I started pulling faces, baring and gnashing my teeth.

"Daddy, go faster!"

And she starts pedaling like the devil himself is chasing her. I got carried away and tried to pace them as they accelerated, but Sarah said that while this was all hilarious we didn't really need to keep up. With the heat, and the 12+ miles we had left to cover, that was a smart call on her part.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Vanity, Thy Name is Dan

I've admired how professional and smart some of my coworkers look when they are on the job. Sarah and Zina, especially, take care in their attire and it reflects well on them. So, stealing a page from their book, and Chris's recent purchase of a number of suits that he wore to the CSI conference (as well as to work, on occasion), I upgraded my kit to include some new shirts and suits. I should have enough to keep a reasonable rotation going.

I wore one to work for the first time today. My boss saw and asked me if I was going to go apply for a loan. But everyone said very nice things, though I was a bit more dressed up than most. It will take some getting used to, but I felt a little sharper. So maybe it is worthwhile.

Heidi asked to see pictures, and I'm vain enough to take them and post them up here.

To be honest, the plan is that NOT wearing shirts with holes in the elbows will help convince my boss to bump me up from Associate Engineer to have some more responsibility, and get into managing some projects. Right now I'm helping out some, and Sarah gave me a bit of detail work to get some familiarity with how they do business. My hope is that by paying my dues and doing good work, I can eventually get into the same kind of project lead role in the near future. So the suits are part of my intricate plan: 1) Look Fresh, 2) Get better work, 3) Get Rich, 4) Snitches Get Stitches. I may have confused my cunning plan with the Code of the 'Hood.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Valley (of the Kings) Girl

Interesting news out of Egypt this week. Archaeologists from that august institution, The Discovery Channel, have found the long-lost mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, one of the few female Pharoahs. It is particularly interesting, because one of the the finest buildings of antiquity is her mortuary temple Djeser-Djeseru at Deir el-Bahri (seen to the right, photo courtesy Wikipedia), where her body isn't buried.

I'm a sucker for the old tales of Howard Carter stumbling into the tomb of Tutankhamen, and the misdirection angle makes this even more intriguing. There is evidence that Hatshepsut's stepson, Thutmose III, attempted to destroy all records of her, including removing statues from her temple, deleting her from official histories, even chipping her images out of hieroglyphics. Blended families are challenging, even when you are a God-King.

Regardless, it is a fascinating discovery. And the location the mummy was found may shed some evidence on the presumed actions of Thutmose III. It also gives me an excuse to put up a picture of Djeser-Djeseru, one of my favorite buildings. A grand stepped series of colonnades, set into the side of a stark sandstone cliff. Very cool.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Single Combat

When I bike on the streets, I am scrupulous about following laws and regulations. Not because I'm some sort of goody-goody; I enjoy breaking rules as much as the next 8 year old boy. But a few close calls in my past convinced me. If I get in front of a car, they might get their paint scratched. I get my legs broken. Risk assessment has to account for probability AND degree.

And it isn't enough for me to just follow the rules myself. I want everyone else to follow the rules, too. For a two main reasons: 1) If you follow the rules, you're less likely to directly endanger me, and 2) drivers often don't respect bikers since so many bikers break the rules. If there is a stop sign, put your foot down and stop. You wouldn't drive right through, right? So drivers learn to disrespect bikers, making it more likely they'll endanger me, no matter what I'm doing.

So it pisses me off when a cyclist rolls through a red light, or doesn't give me a bell or an "on your left" when they pass. And some guy did _b0th_ of those things, one after the other, this morning.

I often mark other cyclists as my goal for that particular ride. Usually, I see them up ahead, and make it my target to catch them before a particular point, or when our paths split. But this guy cruised by and built a big lead, and I knew I had my target for my morning ride.

Problem was, this son-of-a-bitch was fast. He was bigger than me, and riding a mountain bike vice my road bike. And I had to push to catch him. Our paths were almost identical - I trailed him from the intersection of Glebe and Commonwealth all the way to the 14th Street Bridge. And he drafted off me until Maine Avenue. About 4 miles or so, all told. Not much of a race, but it was a regular duel, exhausting. But I gained satisfaction. I made sure to yell "on your left" particularly loud, over the interstate traffic, as I passed him.

That was when a grey-haired gentleman passed me like I was standing still. Without making a sound. Damn it... He went the other way at the Jefferson, so I never had a chance to return the favor. I'll see you tomorrow, old man.

Of course, the locker room was unbearably hot, and the cold water ran out (how does that happen?) so I was overheated all morning. And the forecast reads "scorching" for this afternoon. I sure wish my big A/C unit was working right now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I like to think I know a little bit about some things. I'm not an expert about much of anything, just enough to be dangerous. But one of my chief pleasures is learning more, especially from people who are experts. And it is doubly enjoyable when they are passionate about the subject.

I bring this up because I recently had three very enjoyable conversations along these lines. The first was part of my ongoing rowing education courtesy Steph, Aaron, and Sarah. Aaron and Steph have explained technique and the various positions in the boat (stroke, "engine room," etc). Sarah has been teaching me about how they start, training methods, and coxing (which she did for the first time recently). I'm not a rower and don't imagine I'll ever find myself in a shell, but they make it interesting. Probably because all three of them clearly love rowing.

This past weekend, Chris was visiting while he was at a professional conference. He gave me a copy of the most recent Architectural Record. It had very interesting articles and gorgeous photos of the church of Saint-Pierre de Firminy by Le Corbusier, the refurbishment of Griffith Observatory, and other significant buildings. But what really got Chris going was the bit about the opening of Glass House. I'm not fluent in the design arts, so he had to teach my why Glass House was just an inferior rip-off of Mies Van der Rohe's Farnsworth House. In Chris's opinion, Farnsworth is "otherworldly" and a consistent expression of Van der Rohe's ideology and architectural ideals, while Glass House is the unwieldy marriage of the otherworldliness of Van der Rohe and the site-specificity and engagement of a Frank Lloyd Wright design. It was very cool to hear him hold forth.

And yesterday, I skipped out of work to have lunch with Sarah and Heidi, who is in town for a few days. She talked at length about her trip to China, how to find work in the pastry and 4-Star restaurant businesses, and Alexander Hamilton. I've always found Heidi to be much more culturally literate than myself, more traveled and with excellent taste. So I pay attention and try to pick up a few things. We talked about her visit to the National Portrait Gallery, and then about Hamilton. This was a bit more in my wheelhouse, but she just finished the latest big biography on him, and taught me a few things. So now I'm looking forward to getting that off my "to-read" shelf soon.

I am interested in all of these topics, in of themselves. But even more, I am interested in these people, and that includes their hobbies, interests, and passions. So I really enjoyed all of these conversations. They remind me how broad the world is.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lunchtime Conversation

Is that guy wearing he-capris?
- Z, on the way back from Moe's

And that was funny enough to make my day.

Good news, too. I was at the home office today, and my boss stopped by to tell me he's putting things in motion to pull me back from my current assignment as a glorified admin assistant. I get to be an engineer again, which is very exciting. The only drawback is biking to that office is much more problematic, since we don't have showers there. I may have to talk to the facilities folks and try to figure something out. Maybe the office next door has something?

But the important thing is getting back on track, work-wise. This current assignment is a dead-end, from a career perspective. And that has made me very aware and self-conscious of how much I have neglected my professional development. I've been on the job for five years - if I had been on the ball, I could have gotten my master's through distance learning, and my PE license. I apologize for the crude language, but in the words of my old sailing coach Karl, "why don't you unfuck that?" So I've started getting the information to put together my PE package, and after that, I may just roll right back into school. Better late than never.

And if you're looking for inspiration to get a grad degree in naval architecture or marine engineering, you could do worse than the SY Maltese Falcon. Now, I've already loved enough ships for a lifetime - nothing will ever replace Inferno and Eagle in my affections. But this ship is magnificent. I couldn't care less about the luxury cabins and dining rooms. But one person can sail her through a tack in less than 2 minutes. I missed stays enough times on Eagle to appreciate how amazing that is. Even so, the best part for me is figuring out the compromises of this Dynarig concept - can't fan the yards, or adjust the tilt, she seems to heel a lot, etc.

[photo courtesy]

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


I was channel-surfing last night and ended up on the Military Channel. It's like the History Channel, but even more old war footage. At any rate, the program that had just started was on the US Service Academies. I've seen things like this before, so I watched so I could make fun of the Air Force kids at with their blue bus driver hats at the government play school out in the Springs. And maybe catch some little bits about my old home at CGA.

The show focussed on the first summer, variously called Beast, Plebe or Swab Summer. I admit I learned a few things about the other academies' first year programs, but it reinforced my perception that the other schools got all the good toys. Of course, none of them have EAGLE, but she wasn't even mentioned.

There wasn't a lot about New London; most of the hour concentrated on Colorado Springs, West Point, and Annapolis. So it took me until the 2nd CG segment to realize those were my swabs they were filming. As I paid closer attention, I was able to pick out my old classmates acting as cadre. I was away from the school during most of that swab summer, mostly on at aviation familiarization or sail training on the Luders yawls. So I never knew there was filming going on. It's a shame they didn't come aboard EAGLE - that's were Swab Summer really stands apart from the other indoctrination programs.

At any rate, I got real kick out of seeing my erstwhile classmates and swabbies in action. I think this program might be part of a series - I will be sure to check the channel in the future.

Underway is the Only Way

After many busy weekends, I finally got Betty back on the water on Saturday. So, of course, the air was light and fluky. I had hoped to sail past the Alexandria Waterfront Festival, but there simply was not enough breeze to get there. In 4 hours of sailing out of Gravely Point, I didn't get farther than the south end of National Airport. In fact, I had to use the pedal drive for most of the the return leg. Even so, any day on the water is good. I've been getting a lot of compliment on Betty, usually at the dock. But on Saturday I was overtaken by a Catalina 25, and then a ski-doo, and all the occupants were appreciative. "Where can I get one of those?"

I hoped to go sailing again on Sunday, but there was even less breeze. I did get a chance to go out to brunch with Sarah, Steph & Aaron. We went to The Evening Star Cafe, and it was excellent as always. I was pleased to hear Sarah liked it, since she & Paul have been looking for a place to succeed their neighborhood brunch spot back in New Orleans.

Not sailing worked out well, since it forced me to do something productive with my day. Specifically, clean up my bike after riding in the rain last week. It was a mess, but now it rides like a dream. Very satisfying work, too - stripping the bike down, cleaning, re-greasing bearings and chains.

And the cherry on top was free cake. Yes, free cake. Steph had made some, but she and Aaron are both out of town, so I did them a favor and took the cake off their hands. Chocolate. But you must have ice cream to go with you chocolate cake. None at the house, and I didn't feel like going to the store just for ice cream. So with Can-Do American spirit and frontier-style ingenuity, I made my own. Just like Davey Crockett.

  • 1 Gallon ziploc bag
  • 1 quart ziploc bag
  • Ice cubes (about 2 trays)
  • 6 teaspoons Salt (ideally rock salt)
  • 1/2 cup Half&Half or light cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
Fill the large bag with the ice and salt. Place the rest of the ingredients in the small bag and seal it. Seal the smaller bag inside the larger bag, surrounded by the salt and ice. Now shake it all for 5-10 minutes. Then remove the smaller bag from the larger, then open the smaller and eat the ice cream inside.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bike Move Jam

Ne quid nimis (Moderation in all things) - Publius Terentius Afer

It was a good weekend, and I enjoyed everything I did. But it would have been nice for it to have been... less.

On Saturday I got up early so I could drive up to the north end of Rock Creek park with my trail bike. I headed down the Capital Crescent Trail to try to catch Steph & Aaron on the second of their two legs of Tom's Run. It is a 200 mile relay race, mostly on the C&O Canal. Teams divide into pairs, with one person biking along with a runner, periodically switching out, until the meet the next pair and do the hand-off. It's a neat event, as much about planning and logistics (pickups, sleep schedules, food, etc) as the actual racing. I met them just south of downtown Bethesday, and biked with them up to the end of their leg. After briefly meeting up with them at the overall finish line, I split for my next task.

It's strawberry season, so I went up to Larriland Farm again to pick enough for jam. Perfect weather for it, and luckily not many people out in the fields. There were a few passels of adorable children ("Mommy, when we get home can we make strawberry shakes? Shakes shakes shakes!"), and I got what I needed in short order. I also made my yearly stop at the Etchison Country Store on the way home for one of their delicious pulled pork sandwiches, and the "small" soda that weighs in at 40 oz.

I got home just in time to stow the berries before Meg picked me up to go get her Uhaul truck in Falls Church. After a lot of hard work by her friends and family, we got her moved to her new place near Shirlington. Really nice - the apartments are arranged around small courtyards, terraced down the side of a hill so most have small balconies with views towards Arlington Ridge. You might be able to watch the DC 4th of July fireworks from there.

After refueling and returning the truck, I got home at about 11pm. Sunday was less physically taxing, but also quite busy. I tried to help restore a friend's internet connection, then had to do all my own chores like mowing my awful lawn and doing laundry. And I had to make the jam (consult the back of you Sure-Jell brand pectin for recipes) before the berries had been in the fridge for too long. Now I have an okay-looking lawn, clean clothes, and more than 192 oz of strawberry jam to distribute. I just wish I could have moved some of these things to another weekend. I really wanted to go sailing.