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.