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.


From the City of Alexandria Municipal Code:

Sec. 10-4-40 Location of parked vehicles.
No person shall park a motor vehicle on any street except close to and parallel to the right curb or the right edge of the roadway; provided, that a vehicle may be stopped close to and parallel to the left curb or left edge of the roadway on one-way streets and may be parked at an angle to a curb or roadway edge where permitted by proper authority and where the space is clearly marked for such parking. (Ord. No. 3402, 9/16/89, Sec. 91)

I had parked in front of my house on Thursday, and Friday night I noticed the ticket. I have never seen a cop car in my neighborhood except for responding to minor traffic accidents or the one small fire. But apparently they do make patrols past my house. So, don't park on the street facing against traffic, unless you are trying to offload $40.

Monday, June 04, 2007

First Person Singular

Steph and Aaron wanted to try their recipes for their upcoming rehearsal dinner, and invited Sarah & Paul, Dave, and me over to be their test panel. They made steak and chicken fajitas with red rice, accompanied by Steph's very potent sangria. It was all excellent, but I dug deep and nitpicked so I could give them "constructive feedback." I would have gone back for third, fourth, and fifth helpings if I had the room, though.

It was an interesting evening as well, for a few reasons. Since Steph & Sarah both row, and Aaron is their coach, the conversation naturally turned to crew quite a bit. Which was fun, but left Dave, Paul and I with less to contribute to the conversation. The crew discussions were interwoven with wedding talk, since Steph & Aaron are very busy preparing for theirs. Sarah & Paul had some excellent stories from their wedding (including lingerie, friendly advice at the Post Office, and arrests for public drunkeness), and Dave shared some thoughts from his and Sadie's. I had nothing at all to say at this point, so I just listened - some very funny stuff. So it was a good time, even if I didn't bring much to the table.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Strokes

I biked into DC this morning to watch the 14th Stonewall Regatta on the Anacostia. Steph, Sarah, Abby, and many other friends and acquaintances were racing, so I joined Sarah's husband Paul, her parents, and her dog, Louie, to watch and cheer. It was a long day, but a great deal of fun. I managed to get up close to the start of two of their races, and just barely made it down the river to the bridge in time to snap some photos. The slide show below should have a a link in the lower left to an album of the photos if you want to take a closer look.

I admit I'm a little envious of my rowing friends. Not for the actual rowing - I figure if I'm on the water, I want the wind doing the work. But I talk with Steph and Sarah often about their training and races, and it seems like they get a great deal of satisfaction from the experience. I doubt I have the competitive spark anymore to get up at 0430 to practice anything like they do. But they have this hobby, this sport, and it is something of substance they choose to do with their time. That is a fine thing to have, and I'm very glad for them. They did pretty damn well today, too.