Monday, February 26, 2007


Snow and rain in DC yesterday, which brought a day wrought with peril on the roads. The weather was not especially bad, but due to lack of resources it takes the cities a while to clear the roads. I had the pleasure of dodging the slip-sliding locals on my way to get groceries, and then again while heading to BWI for a pick-up.

It was worth it, though. The grocery run was preceded by excellent brisket and eggs at the Evening Star, and the trip to BWI was followed by homemade meatballs, chocolate fondue, Halo deathmatches, and Night Watch. Freaky russian vampire movie, check it out.

I had a great day of gaming on Saturday, when I annihilated Aaron in the slayer deathmatches. But my mojo was not working Sunday, where he got his full measure of revenge. I did have fun playing against Steph. There was a tutorial element, since she didn't know the controls. Then she rocket-launchered me, and the gloves came off. Winning is fun.

I'm surprised how taken I've become with video games recently. I was talking with Ryan not too long ago, and he said he felt the same way. "Aren't we a little old for this?" And when I'm not actually playing, it does seem childish and escapist - I should be reading and being a grown-up. But it is so much fun, especially when I'm playing with someone else. It becomes social, and yes, it is escapist, but so is most entertainment. At least this is something I've found that I can enjoy with my brothers and my friends.

Though, it is another brick in the geeky house I'm building for myself: playing Halo, watching Battlestar Galactica, being an engineer, my library... It's all a bit nerdy. Oh well. As the Simpsons put it:

The geek shall inherit the earth. - Rainier Wolfcastle, "Undercover Nerd"


The craze for Texas Hold'em from a few years back passed me by largely untouched. I haven't played poker since high school, when my friends would gather at Pete's place and play for nickels and pennies. Lacking any measure of skill, 7 Card Draw was often our game of choice. I never bothered to learn percentages and strategies. I'd have to do the math to figure out if 3 of a kind beats a flush (pretty sure, but ironically I wouldn't bet on it).

Given all that, I was somewhat apprehensive when Dave invited me over on Saturday to play poker with some Coasties (including one of my swabs from my 3/c year). It was low stakes, $10 for the first game, $5 for the second. I got taken in the first game. I made a really horrible bluff, failing to raise when anyone who really had a good hand would have done so, ruining the deception. So my old classmate Pete took my money.

The second game was different. I wish I could say I suddenly learned to play, but I simply had the cards. In the course of 4 hands, I had 3 of a kind twice. I blew it in the end, and ended up being the last one to bow out to the winner. Fortunately, 1st place got $20, but 2nd place got his $5 back. So I lost $10 in the afternoon, but it could have been worse. Dave put it well: it cost about as much as a movie, it was easily as much fun, I got to see some old friends, AND their was a nice spread of beer, chips, and homemade cookies.

I'm not sure this will make me the kind of guy who plays poker much. But I think I get the appeal of the regular poker games so many people play. It always seemed like an easy way to lose money. But it was fun, and if you apply yourself it engages the mind, which is always a good thing.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I'm a big fan of the Metro here in DC. It's cheaper than driving and parking in the city, it's clean, usually pretty fast, and an all-around world-class mass transit system. According to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, WMATA has the 10th largest system in the world by mileage, and about 564,000 riders per day. But it isn't perfect. Recently, there's been a spate of fatal accidents involving Metrobuses and pedestrians. And there is a lot of infighting going on involving the expansion out to Dulles Airport.

I enjoy riding Metro, and it's incredibly convenient for me - I have a short bus ride to my local station, and the DC office is literally across the street from the Navy Yard station. But the other day, my ride home was a bit of a trial. I left later than usual, so I think I rode home with most of that 564,000 on my train. By the time I had transferred over to the Yellow Line, it was very crowded. But the unusual thing was something was clearly wrong with our train. That is odd in my experience - Metro seems to be pretty good about the mechanical aspect of their rolling stock. But the operator was having trouble stopping at the correct position in the stations, and we seemed to have to stop and 're-boot' after each station before we could get up to speed. We crawled at a walking pace from the Crystal City stop to National Airport. Luckily, that is one of the shortest sections in the whole system, but it was still frustrating. Especially compared to the usual seamless operation.

But I have Mass Transit Karma. It all balanced out this morning, when all my buses and trains showed up as soon as I was at the stops and stations. No crowds, no waiting. AND there was a gentleman sitting across from me on the Yellow Line wearing a kick-ass black velour tracksuit. This guy was traveling in style, and he knew it.

I didn't have much experience riding subways or buses before DC. I had been on the T in Boston a few times. I never rode the Blacksburg Transit at Virginia Tech. So maybe I'd be less of a fan of Metro if I had been on the NYC Subway, which goes everywhere, apparently. I did like the Tokyo subway when I visited a few years ago, but that may be because each station has its own theme song that plays when the train arrives. How's the transit in your town?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The End of (Snow) Days

So D.C. is once again in the grip of a killer storm that brought about 2" of snow and sleet overnight. Work is an absolute tomb, all the schools are closed, and the Federales are opening two hours late. It's not exclusively because no one here knows how to drive in snow. In their defense, I just now saw my first city plow clearing and salting. The roads are not at all good. I think I was spoiled in Vermont, where even my small town owned multiple plow trucks and a Cat with a huge snowblower attachment to do the sidewalks. I guess the cities here have made the smart choice, though. Spending the money to provide a similar level of snow-clearing capacity would be an irresponsible waste of funds. Plus: Snow Day! Always fun.

I could not wait any longer, so last night I made two batches of green apple curry and prepared to eat the custard cake Mom ordered for me last week. I made one regular batch of curry, and one vegetarian, and invited whoever felt like having a free dinner over to chow down. Steph & Aaron were able to make it for dinner, and Jane joined us for dessert. It's a good thing I made two batches - we made very short work of almost all of it. I was surprised how hungry we all were. Just enough leftovers for a lunch or two.

The custard cake was fantastic, too. After consultation with an expert (Jane), I went with vanilla cake, chocolate custard with chocolate chunks, topped with caramel. I had been picturing a vanilla cake with chocolate custard in place of icing filling. NOT SO. It was mostly custard, with thin layers of cake at the top, middle, and bottom. Plenty of caramel topping, and a kind of white icing shell. It was delicious. A cross-section is shown at right - just enough to deliver a promised slice to Sarah, and some to go with my lunch today. Nothing goes so well with a Snow Day as frozen custard cake.

In more momentous news, Ryan &Magda are the proud parents of a new baby girl, Sophia Magdalena. Ryan likes it when you call him Big Poppa. AND Mere & Matt found out they are expecting a girl in June. Apparently the name "Morac" is being debated. Not as good as "Scorpiona," but not bad.

Susan's Green Apple Curry


2 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cup peeled & chopped Granny Smith apple
1 clove minced garlic
2 tbsp. flour
2-3 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. salt (optional)
2 cups milk
2 cups cooked & cubed chicken (or tofu)
Onion powder (to taste)


Melt butter - sauté apples, onion powder, and garlic. Stir in flour, curry powder, and salt (if desired). Blend in milk with wire whisk and stir until thick. Add more flour to thicken if necessary. Add chicken. Serve over rice. Garnish with crumbled bacon, coconut, raisins, cashews or peanuts, dried cranberries, etc.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pitchers and Catchers

Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training this week. Ah, baseball season isn't that far off now... On the days I'm at the NJ Avenue office, I can see the new Nationals ballpark going up along South Capital Street. I had occasion to drive past it last week on my way home. I have high hopes for it. There is a good page on it's final appearance and construction updates here. The same site has really good coverage of the entire building boom currently underway along M St SE. It has changed immeasurably since the first time I was there as an intern in the summer of 2001. There was nothing but empty lots and muffler shops; now it's ballparks, high rise offices, and the new DOT Headquarters.

On a more personal note, I've been thinking about work a lot lately. Tyson's visit, especially, got me thinking about how to get better work out of the people I supervise now. It's made trickier by the facts that 1) I'm not really their boss or superior, merely the 'senior engineer' in our little group, and 2) I intensely dislike them on a personal level. Since I'm not the boss, per se, it's not like I'm going to be held responsible for the group's performance. But I'm sick of sitting by while they run around like chickens with their heads cut off. They suffer from 3 main faults, in my opinion.

  • They are far too in love with meetings and 'summits'; if there is one thing I've learned at work and in the military, it's that nothing ever gets done in a meeting. Once you start getting into the details of getting something accomplished, you're "in the weeds" and "getting sidetracked" and "need to take this off-line." I hate meetings.
  • They are too timid; one in particular is seems petrified of getting his head bitten off by the Program Manager. He never makes decisions, he has to call his counterpart at the shipyard to talk about it. And when he reports something up the chain as a problem (i.e. he hasn't already been told exactly what to do) he only brings the problem, and never a suggested solution.
  • They think they already have all the answers. This is puzzling, given the other two major problems. But they seem to think they know what needs to happen better than anyone else.
I also have personal reasons for disliking them, but I have to chalk that up to bad luck. But I do want to figure out how to get their heads straightened out professionally. I want to do a good job. This is easily the highest-profile task I've been on since starting work, with a many opportunities to network and forge good working relationships with counterparts at other companies and the Navy. I'm afraid if things don't get fixed my name will get lumped in with these knuckleheads.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I was having such a nice weekend. On Friday night, Tyson came to visit, after finishing up his training at Yorktown. We went to Annapolis and visited the Oberlanders. Melissa made a really delicious dinner, and Kirk and Tyson got to catch up on 4 1/2 years of sea stories. Good times. On Saturday, I finally got the HD digital video recorder from Comcast, so I can watch the HD and record the HD channels. They seem to have accidentally turned on the premium HD channels as well, so the first thing I watched was The Empire Strikes Back. It's rough seeing Han get frozen in carbonite, but the asteroid chase in the Falcon makes it all worthwhile. Hmmmm, it seems I geeked out all over my keyboard there... sorry.

Steph & Aaron stopped by on Sunday morning so Steph could borrow my oven to bake a chocolate cake. The plan was I would come over after I finished my chores, and we would play Halo 2, watch a movie, eat, watch the Superbowl, etc. However, while I was doing my laundry, I started to feel awful. Weak, nauseous. But I rallied, because I really wanted some of that cake, and to have some fun.

And I did have fun, but I had to excuse myself a few times when I thought I was going to be sick. The pulled pork, the cake, everything was great. I just couldn't work up any appetite, which made me feel worse, since Steph & Aaron put so much effort into putting out a great spread. I felt ok while I was distracted by the game, or while we watched The Guardian (hoorah Coast Guard). But once I got home after the game, I barely got any sleep for the sickness.

I'm not looking for sympathy - everybody gets sick from time to time - but I wonder if maybe I was selfish. By going over for dinner, I'm worried I infected Steph & Aaron. So a word to the wise should be sufficient: if you get sick, quarantine yourself. Try not making your friends sick, too.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I hope you can see this because I'm doing it as hard as I can

I'm sure most readers will have heard about the recent panic in Boston caused by ads for Aqua Teen Hunger Force, one of the cartoon shows on the Adult Swim block on the Cartoon Network. The ads, which were LED images, similar to a Lite Brite, were of Ignignokt, one of two Mooninites (see image, left).

It is very tempting to draw some very broad conclusions from this incident. On the one hand, you can take it as an indictment of how paranoid and frightened people have become in this country, where an ad (not a hoax - there was no intent to make these things look like bombs) can provoke such a response. On the other, you could conclude that it shows that many people are still naive about how the world really is now: they could have been bombs, the threats are real, etc., and the advertiser should know better. I think both conclusions are faintly ridiculous, and the whole thing overblown. I don't think any reasonably intelligent person would have thought these things were a threat. Meanwhile, making grand pronouncements about how this demonstrates the effect of fearmongering is similarly unfounded. People were dumb, and that's not news.