September 2002

Maryland-Philadelphia trip

Gwen and I returned yesterday from a trip to Maryland and Philadelphia. The nominal reason for the trip was my cousin Josh’s wedding, but we wound up getting a lot more out of it than that.

It was, for one thing, an opportunity for Gwen to meet the family. In a pretty high-intensity way, admittedly: we all stayed in the same place, a miniscule house right in the old part of Annapolis called simply the House on Cornhill. My guess is that the whole house is less than 600 square feet, with very low ceilings, a funhouse staircase, and no right angles. Actually, though, it was quite pleasant.

We arrived at BWI on Thursday afternoon, a little later than expected because of heavy weather that kept us on the ground an extra two hours in St Louis. We picked up a rental car that we had reserved and drove in. Handy tip: if you reserve the super-cheap “economy” model, you’ll probably get the next class up anyhow. In our case, that meant getting a Dodge Neon instead of a Geo Metro. The Neon is no great shakes. I’m glad I don’t own one.

The wedding wasn’t until Saturday, so we had a fair amount of time to just hang out in Annapolis. One improbable high point was watching the Anna Nicole Show at the house. It was a bit like gawking at a car wreck.

The rehersal dinner was at the boathouse on St John’s campus, as it had been for both of Josh’s siblings. The ceremony was at the great hall on campus, as it had been for Josh’s brother Nat. After that, a bagpiper led us in a procession through the streets to the reception at a hotel a few blocks away. The ceremony was nice enough, though the rabbi made a few attempts at humor that wound up simply coming off as snarky to some people.

We all drifted out of the reception around 10:00 PM, headed back to the house, and changed. My sisters, Gwen, and myself went to a bar for beer and raw oysters, which was fun, but would have been better if we could hear each other talk.

Next morning we headed over to Sandy and Joe’s for a breakfast that consisted largely of bagels and various fishy things. That was fun, but we wanted to make good time up to Philadelphia, so we hit the road reasonably early.

The drive went by quickly and without incident. We stopped at a truck stop outside Wilmington DE and bought postcards. Delaware. What a silly excuse for a state. Texas has parks bigger than Delaware. Do those parks have their own senators? No.

In Philadelphia, we visited my friend Jen. She suggested we visit the Mütter Museum of medical oddities, which we enthusiastically agreed to. This was, obviously, another high point of the trip. Skeletons of conjoined-twin foetuses, a preserved giant colon, anacephalic foetuses floating in formaldehyde, etc. For entertainment, you can’t beat that with a stick.

Dinner was at a local seafood joint in Jen’s neighborhood, where Gwen indulged her craving for crab. King crab legs. I helped her out a little with those. Yum. After that, we made our way to the Nodding Head bar, where we had very tasty deserts. We were joined by Jen’s friend Vik, who hails from Annapolis originally. We talked about our trip, and he asked “Were you going to Lesley Donohoe’s wedding?” Yup. Small world. We participated in a trivia game the bar ran. We came in second, which won us a $25 gift certificate that covered more than half our tab. We would have won if my teammates hadn’t voted down a correct answer I suggested.

We headed back to Jen’s to crash. On the way there, walking up Van Pelt, a very old-looking street, Vik pointed out some of the historic features. Some of the houses had plaques showing a pine tree or what have you on their facades. Vik explained that before Philadelphia had a city fire department, it had private fire departments. Homeowners would subscribe to one fire department or another, and if you house caught fire or was at risk, your fire department would save your house, but if the neighbor subscribed to a different fire department, they wouldn’t waste any energy on that house. Vik also pointed out these mirror contraptions poking out from second-floor windows. These were used somewhat like security cameras today, to see who was at the front door.

The next morning, Jen, Vik, Gwen, and I headed out in the car to a restaurant Jen had pegged as a good breakfast joint. Closed Mondays. Plan B. That place didn’t open until 10:00 AM. Vik came up with Plan C, which turned out to be a tasty, homey little diner-type place called Sabrina’s. Walking towards it, we passed a bakery with irresistable smells emanating from it. We promised ourselves to stop their on the way back to the car. After stuffing ourselves on omelettes and other tasty morsels, we waddled back to the bakery, Isgro’s, where we picked up more yummies to bring with us to our next stop. The woman serving us at the counter encouraged us to have some of the cannoli halves they had set out as very generous free samples, but none of us had the room. We picked up some cannoli, crème brûlée, and something like a raspberry croissant.

We dropped Jen and Vik back on their street and set off. The drive back was almost identical to the drive up, and seemed to go by even more quickly.

Our destination was Takoma Park, MD, where we met up with Gwen’s old friends Sonya and Reed. They’re interesting folks, and we had a fun time poking around with Sonya. They have two young children, who inevitably required a lot of attention, and who are both very fond of Gwen.

Tuesday morning we headed out for the airport, made it there without incident, and were impressed by the zero-paperwork rental-car return. A woman waiting there with a handheld computer had punched up the license plate number, found our records, and printed out a receipt before we had even gotten out of the car. Gwen wound up spending at least five minutes at the BWI security checkpoint on account of a suspicious-looking perfume bottle (apparently because of its proximity to Washington DC, security at BWI is especially rigorous). I also noticed a guy with a badge of some sort, but in plain-clothes, being subjected to the whole shoes-off routine.

Our flight home was uneventful, and it was good to be back. Within two hours of landing, my allergies had bounced back. We had dinner at Guero’s to re-acquaint our tastebuds with spicy food.

Dirty Dancing

Saw the Mister Sinus treatment of Dirty Dancing last night with Gwen. As always, they were hilarious. I think they just keep getting better. Their commentary was all over the map last night.

I got the blues

I’ve been using OS X on my Mac for a little while now. I generally like it well enough, and there are some things I really like. But I have a peeve. Too many blue icons. Shown above is my dock, containing some of the programs I use most frequently. It’s hard to tell them apart at a glance because of the uniform color. Can’t the designers inject some yellow, or purple, or whatever?

Scammers get smart?

I just received the following e-mail

This mail, I know may embarrash you. By embarrashment, I mean coming from somebody you never know or met before, even coming from a country – (Nigeria) noted for dishonest and Fraudalent practises.

Well, this is not one of those Scam letters from Nigeria, but from a group of who are in distress and require your assistence. I am Mr. Ahmed Idris the credit controller of ZENITH BANK PLC, LAGOS – NIGERIA I am contacting you basen on your specialisation – PROPERTIES ALLOCATION…

What was this guy thinking? “Oh, if I say I’m different from all the other scammers, then I’ll have credibility!” The mind reels.

Our fearless leader

I was reading an article on the prospect of invading Iraq (despite the fact that it was written by Noam Chomsky), and was struck by his quote of George II, who explained the terrorists attacked us because they “hate our freedoms.” I realized, in that moment, that the administration’s response has been to limit our freedoms–perhaps so they’ll hate us less. Brilliant!

Then I decided it would be interesting to dig up the speech where Bush used the phrase. A trip to didn’t show me the speech, but it did reveal something interesting. There appears to be a complete index of Cheney’s speeches, and even Laura Bush’s, but there isn’t a complete listing of the President’s speeches in one place, and if you want more than his “greatest hits,” you need to do some digging (eventually I found it). He does have some lovely photo essays though, and those are easy to get to.

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Just finished William Gibson’s latest, All Tomorrow’s Parties, a follow-on to Virtual Light. As usual, he does an excellent job with spartan wordsmithing and big-ideaness. As usual, he leaves at least as much unsaid as said. And, as usual, he confuses “braze” with “braise.”

Twelve flowers

What makes this exhibit of flowers so interesting, apart from their beauty, is that the flowers were neither painted not photographed–they were scanned directly.

I need to go get a scanner and play with this technique.

Late Marriage

Saw the movie Late Marriage with Gwen yesterday. Interesting movie. Not particularly well acted, staged, filmed, or whatever, it was interesting for the story, of Georgian Jews in Israel, and specifically, a family’s efforts to marry their aging (31) son off to a suitable girl. Note that I’m not being gratuitously un-PC here–they were lining up 18-year olds for his consideration. Definitely an insight into a community that just plain operates according to a different set of rules than anything I’ve ever been around.

Damage control

Our fearless leader has spent 42% of his term on vacation. I realize there hasn’t been a whole lot going on that would require his attention, but this number is still surprising.

Then again, it’s probably a blessing in disguise. The more time he spends on the job, the more he can screw up.

News feeds

I recently started using Net Newswire, an RSS feed reader. What’s that? RSS is a specialized way of presenting information so that it can be digested by machines, rather than people. The little orange XML icon on my site points to an RSS version of my front page. You can think of an RSS reader as a very specialized web browser for presenting specialized files in a streamlined form.

Anyhow, you get an RSS reader, subscribe to “feeds” that interest you, and the reader sucks in that RSS document and presents it as a menu of stories. You can then quickly browse through a lot of article excerpts. It’s changing the way I read stuff online.

There are a bunch of different RSS readers out there, in the form of websites or specialized apps (even for the Newton!), but OS X readers seem disproportionately well represented.

There are also a lot of RSS feeds out there.

Update: The Guardian just published an article on newsfeed readers.