Chicago Again

For the past week, I’ve been in Chicago on vacation. Immediately following is a summary of all the things we did during the time I was there. We did so much every day and night, and experienced a huge range of all that Chicago has to offer. It was a great trip, and I’m really glad I had Adam and Sarah to hang out with and show me around:

* Thursday night – arrived late at 11:40 despite taking the hour earlier flight. Had to check baggage. ugh. Adam and Sarah picked me up, we talked till 2.
* Friday – DuSable African American museum, lunch at Jim’s (sausages). Mario Kart. Picked Sarah up at work, ate at Pint, bar hopping near Sarah’s work and Wicker Park.
* Saturday – Breakfast at Valois. Bike ride with Sarah. Taste of Randolph St. festival. Book store at Lincoln Square, then The Grind for dinner. Mario Kart, Sex and the City, clubbing, Flash Taco.
* Sunday – Watched last of Sex and the City episodes, watched all of Flight of the Conchords, others got up at 1. Couldn’t find a restaurant – Al’s, Wishbone, others near Randolph. Greek Restaurant was open and very good. Checkerboard Lounge for jazz after
* Monday – Breakfast with Sarah at home, then Library. Adam dropped us off at MCA, but it was closed. Walked Michigan Ave to Lego Store and Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge, then to Chicago Board of Trade, met Adam at Fed Reserve. Lunch at Al’s Italian Beef at 4. Back to apt. Kingston Mines for blues music.
* Tuesday – MCA with Adam, Michigan Ave again, lunch with Sarah at Earwax Cafe, Gino’s East Pizza, Jersey Boys
* Wednesday – Chicago History Museum, met Sarah for lunch at Milk&Honey, field museum, navy pier, cirque shanghai, made soup.
* Thursday – Saw Adam and Sarah off, looked up apartments, caught up with email, left the apt, took slow bus to blue line, met Sarah for lunch at Pot Pan Thai, delayed flights, spent night in Denver airport.

And now, the detailed version:

For the past week I’ve been in Chicago on vacation. It was a forced vacation of sorts; I’ve been working too many hours, so I had to take some time off. Fortunately, we have flex time, so it was a week of vacation that didn’t use my vacation time. I used frequent flier miles to book the trip, and I was staying with friends, so the major expenses associated with a vacation were already taken care of.

I left on a Thursday afternoon and got to Chicago just fine. There was an earlier flight to Chicago, so I thought I’d capitalize on it and see if I could get in an hour early. I got on standby, and even had my name called. Once I got on the plane, I was put into first class seating, but there wasn’t any overhead storage, so my bag had to be checked. No big deal, I figured, as I’d still be arriving early and getting a first class seat. Unfortunately, the person who had my seat arrived, so I was almost screwed. There was a counting mistake, and it turned out there was accidentally still an available seat in the back, so I was sent back there. Then the plane was delayed significantly; we didn’t take off until my original flight was scheduled to leave. I arrived in Chicago not having saved any time AND having to wait in baggage claim for my bag. Ugh. Adam and Sarah met me at the airport and we drove back to their apartment, then talked for a couple hours before going to bed.

Friday Adam and I went to the DuSable African American Museum. It was interesting, but a little thin. Afterward we went out for lunch. I really like experiencing the local stuff off the tourist path, and we both felt like sausages, so we went to Jim’s right off the highway for sausages and fries. They came with hot peppers on the side. Curious, I took a bite, and immediately after swallowing had a bout of hiccups that took careful concentration and breathing to overcome. Back at the apartment we played a lot of Mario Kart until it was time to pick up Sarah at 3:30. We parked the car and started wandering around Division and Milwaukee. We had drinks at each of a number of places along the way, eating dinner at Pint, and continuing on to Wicker Park. It rained a little, but nothing serious. we got home and went to bed.

Saturday the three of us went to a place down the street called Valois, which is a great cafeteria-style restaurant, except that they made it in real-time. By the time we got through the line our omelets and sausages and hashbrowns were all ready. Sarah and I went for a bike ride down the path on the lake shore. We went south to South Beach, then turned around and rode back. It was a pleasant ride, with no elevation change and very little bike traffic. We found a festival that looked interesting, so we went to Randolph St. The festival wasn’t as cool as we had hoped; an odd assortment of vendors, food and beer, and very little to do. There was some live music, but we weren’t into it. We decided to go to Lincoln square up North and saw the throng of people leaving the baseball game and crowding into the bars. We had a nice little dinner at The Grind, and went into a tiny bookstore in Lincoln Square that had stacks of books everywhere and no organization or even easy way to squeeze through the aisles. It was cute. We drove back to the apartment to get ready for the night, then watched some Sex and the City episodes and played Mario Kart. We went out clubbing, and were supposed to meet a group of people for a 21st birthday party, but a hangup at the club had us not on the list, so we went somewhere else to wait for the rest to arrive, but their plans changed, and we ended up just the three of us. At about 4am we left and stopped at Flash Taco for some food on the way home. I wasn’t tired yet so I watched another episode of Sex and the City, then slept on the living room couch.

Sunday I was up at 9am. I watched a DVD of Flight of the Conchords, which was pretty fun. Then the others got up at around 1. It was a lazy afternoon. We eventually got out of the apartment and went searching for food. Oddly enough, everything was closed in Little Italy, so the original Al’s Italian sausage wasn’t going to happen. Neither was Wishbone, which is right next to Oprah’s studios. It took us a while, but we finally found a Greek restaurant that was not only open but enormous and crowded. We had some really good Greek food. We dropped it off at the apartment, then went out to a place nearby called the Checkerboard Lounge, which is a jazz club. The band was ok. The saxophonist wasn’t very good, and whenever he did a solo he’d ignore the rhythm and just play as many notes as he could as fast as he could. The singer and trumpet player were great, and the keyboard, drums, and bass were rock solid. They played some tunes I knew and some that I hadn’t heard before. We left a little early, and stopped by the grocery store for ice cream on the way.

Monday morning was pretty lazy. Sarah and I had breakfast at home and talked. Adam got back from his meeting and picked us up. We stopped by the library to get some museum passes, then Adam brought us to the Museum of Contemporary Art and dropped us off while he went to his next meeting. Unfortunately, the MCA is closed on Mondays, so we took a long hike along Michigan Ave, stopping at a mall for Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge and to ogle the statues at the Lego store. We continued our hike to the Chicago Board of Trade. The observation deck to the trading floor isn’t open to visitors, except for some academic groups, so I tried to see if I could make a convincing case to the security lady, but she shut me down before I had the chance to spin my yarn. Still, there was a visitor center, so we perused that for a while. Then we went next door to the Federal Reserve, where they have a small museum. There was a movie, and the docent was someone who had been in the business for a while and had some interesting stories and opinions, so we listened to him for a while, too. Eventually Adam arrived, and we finished up at the reserve. There were free bags of real shredded money, so I got a souvenir. We hadn’t had lunch yet, and it was nearly 4, so we tried again at Al’s Italian Beef, and this time managed to get some sandwiches and fries. Back to the apartment, where we played some more Mario Kart before going out to a place called Kingston Mines for some live blues. The place was free to students, so I used my old student ID to get in, and it was set up with two stages and two bands. First one stage would play for an hour, then the band on the other stage played for an hour. It was a good time.

Tuesday Adam and I had breakfast, then took the public transit down to Sarah’s office and walked to the nearby Earwax Cafe for lunch. Afterward Adam and I took a long walk downtown to the MCA, where it turned out it was free on Tuesdays anyway. Some exhibits were closed, and it was a lot smaller than we expected. Naturally, some of the contemporary art was just odd, but there was some really cool stuff. We had tons of time to burn, so Adam and I walked up Michigan Avenue, eventually getting to Daley Plaza, where we met Sarah. By this time it was 5:30, and we had tickets to see Jersey Boys at 7:30, so we considered some dinner options. We took the bus up to Gino’s East pizza and had a really good four cheese pizza. Then we took a taxi to the theater and found our seats. Jersey Boys was amazing. It was such a good show and even though we didn’t have the best seats and half the cast was understudies that night, it was still really impressive and enjoyable. After the show we caught the bus home and went to bed.

Wednesday we dropped Sarah off at work, then went to the Chicago History Museum. It started off slow, but once we got to the main exhibit hall, we were there for hours. There was so much stuff about Chicago and its history. Such a diverse and interesting past. There was one thing about the museum: they seemed to take credit for everything. For example, there was a big thing saying that a university in Chicago had a huge part in the development of the atomic bomb. Even the text said the university was responsible for the first sustained chain reaction and that then the scientists went on to develop the bomb. But they didn’t say the scientists had actually gone on to join many others at the national laboratories like Sandia, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, and Pacific Northwest National Lab to develop the bomb and the nuclear material used. Plus, the accomplishment in Chicago was only a small step towards the bomb, and it took a few years of serious research and development outside of Chicago to create the bomb.

Anyway, we made a running joke out of saying everything comes from Chicago and that all cities are suburbs of Chicago. After the museum we drove to meet Sarah for lunch, this time going to a place called Milk & Honey. Adam and I then went to the Field Museum. I was pretty tired from the Chicago history museum, but we pushed on. The Field Museum was amazing. It was enormous, with so many exhibits, and so many interesting things to see. We didn’t have passes to the special exhibits and we wouldn’t have had time to see them anyway. Adam had to leave for a meeting, so I blitzed through the rest of the exhibits before I had to leave, too. I left the museum and took the water taxi over to Navy Pier. I got a couple cookies there to tide me over, got a few postcards, and picked up a couple tickets for the Cirque Shanghai show. Sarah met me at the pier and we found our seats for the show. For only $15 it was worth it, but it was certainly no Jersey Boys. The acrobats had a lot of really cool acts. After the show we took a long walk for fun and chatted. Eventually we made it to the bus and got back, picking up the car and going to the grocery store for some ingredients. Then Sarah and I made a nice soup until Adam got home around 9:30. We ate, then went to bed.

Thursday morning I woke up to see Adam and Sarah go off to work. Adam had some exercises to go to, so I said a final goodbye. Then I packed, caught up on some email, perused some apartments in Chicago, and watched the Daily Show. A little after noon I got on the bus and took a very long ride downtown, sitting in the same intersection for about 20 minutes because of traffic. Then I caught the subway over to Division and met Sarah at 1:30 as she took her lunch break. We went down the street to a nice place called Pot Pan Thai. After lunch we said our goodbyes and I continued on the subway to the airport, checked in, and managed a small fire at work while I waited on my plane. Unfortunately, a refueling tank in Albuquerque was broken, so my plane was delayed significantly. It kept getting pushed back until it was impossible to make my connection from Denver to Pasco. At that point I scrambled to see if I could find another way to get to Denver on time, but with no luck. Two and a half hours after my plane was supposed to take off, it left the gate, and an hour after that it was finally off the tarmac and in the air. We arrived in Sioux Falls, then the plane was turned around within a few minutes and we were off again for Denver. We got in at 11:30, so I had missed my connection by many hours. Fortunately I had been re-booked on the next flight, but it wasn’t to leave until 8:40 the next morning, so I was stranded for the night. The customer service line was at least an hour long, and there was nothing open in the terminal, so I took the train to the other terminal, where there were a few places serving limited menus. Late at night the airport is in a strange state; the cleaning crews are taking care of things, and people are strewn about the terminals trying to get comfortable on the floor or in the seats with fixed armrests. Nothing is open, but the escalators moving walkways and security announcements are still chugging away endlessly. Everything and everybody is in a zombie state. I fed my zombiness by watching Plan 9 From Outer Space, then caught a couple hours of restless sleep. I caught my flight Friday morning and had a tired trip back to Pasco.

More Efficient Movies

I recently got a Playstation 3, partly for watching bluray movies, and partly for playing GTA4. It’s a great system for movies; starts up way faster than my HD-DVD player, better playback options, and my newest favorite playback feature: 1.5x. With 1.5x, the movie plays faster, but still with sound. The voices are still understandable, so I’m not really losing anything, and I can get through a 60 minute movie in 45 minutes. For particularly bad movies I can just bump it up to 10x and blaze through the bad parts. I just watched a horrible 97 minute movie in 50 minutes, and I don’t think I missed any details. I may be watching at 1.5x a lot in the future, but it worries me a little; if I get used to 1.5x, will that affect my attitude towards the speed of real life? Will I get frustrated when watching movies with others because it goes so slowly? Am I really capturing the essence of a movie by kicking it up a notch?

Mailbox Peak

This weekend a group of friends and I celebrated Nick’s bachelor party by hiking up Mailbox Peak. It’s not the most traditional way to do a bachelor party, but it was fun. Saturday morning six of us met at Ryan’s house, and by 8:30 we were on the road. We met the seventh at the campsite because he had to travel from Seattle. We left one car and most of the gear at the campsite, then drove to the trailhead of Mailbox Peak, which was only a few miles down the road.

This is a view of the whole mountain. We started at the bottom and walked all the way to the peak. It was about 3.3 miles from the beginning to the top, with a 4000 feet elevation gain.

{{:pics:mailboxpeak.jpg|View of the whole mountain}}

We knew the trail would not be easy. That kind of elevation gain in such a short distance meant really steep going, and it was further complicated by an unmaintained and muddy trail. There was even a sign warning us at the trailhead.

{{:pics:mailboxwarning.jpg|The warning at the beginning of the trail}}

After a few hundred feet up, there was a clear split in the group. Some of us were doing great, while others were dragging behind. We waited for them, and when the arrived we offered to take some of their gear. Doug gladly gave me his camera and lens, which I put in my backpack next to the tripod I had already been assigned. With food, water, and a spare shirt, as well as some safety stuff, my pack was probably the heaviest, but I was fine with it. Everyone said I needed the weight to keep me from blazing ahead.

The trail lived up to the sign; it was constantly rising, and with the roots making steps sometimes it was like climbing flight upon flight of uneven stairs. We tracked our altitude using Nick’s GPS, figuring out how much we had left to go and counting down to relief. We took a few breaks to let the others catch up, but made good progress. I was glad I had shorts and a tshirt; despite the cool weather I was still soaked in sweat. It was a pretty hike, though, and most of it was trees like the next picture.

{{:pics:mailboxtrail.jpg|Most of the trail was like this}}

Finally, I arrived with some of the others at the top. I had packed a sandwich, so I ate that, and passed my trail mix and beef jerky around. I brought a Netflix envelope stuffed with a blank CD and a note, so I put it in the mailbox to see if it’d get delivered, but also because it made a great gag. I also brought paper, envelopes, and stamps, and mailed myself a letter. I’m sure it’ll get delivered to me soon.

{{:pics:mailboxbobtop.jpg|Me standing next to the mailbox}}
{{:pics:mailboxnetflix.jpg|I put a Netflix envelope in to see if it would make it}}

Sadly, the peak was covered in cloud, so we didn’t have a very good view. We made the most of what we had, though, and when the last guys arrived at the top we took some photos.

{{:pics:mailboxgroup.jpg|Group picture of everyone}}

On the way down, we passed by some snow, and it beckoned us to ride it. We listened, and for about half an hour each of us took turns sliding down. The first time I did it on my feet, balancing as I skied down in tennis shoes. Next I started on my feet, then dove and rode on my belly, turning and standing right before the end. Ryan had some graceful runs, too, and Nick had fun bowling over someone at the bottom.

Soaked and stinging, we continued down the trail. We made really good time going down, mostly because it was all down, and the easiest way to do it was to jog gracefully, trying not to slip in the mud, and bouncing off trees to slow down. Along the way I picked up an empty water bottle. Then later I found a bandana on the trail and picked it up. Further still was a couple who asked me if I had seen a bandana. I said “Yep.” They said “How far back?” I said “About 12 inches.” Then I opened my backpack and handed the guy the bandana. He was very grateful, probably because it meant he didn’t have to walk all the way back up.

I waited at the warning sign as the rest arrived, and then we all went down to the cars. At the very bottom was a bottle of wine with a note that said “For the dude(s) who found my bandana.” What a great way to end a hike, and I had only picked it up because I didn’t want to see litter on the trail.

{{:pics:mailboxwine.jpg|A gift on returning back to the trailhead}}

We got in the cars and went back to the campsite, set up tents, and had burgers and cheddarwursts. Starting the fire took a while with wet materials, but we got it started using a nacho cheese dorito. We talked for a few hours until we were bored with the fire, then went to bed.

In the morning, we made pancakes and sausages for breakfast, cleaned up our campsite, and headed back. We stopped at Miner’s in Yakima for shakes, and everyone was walking funny from sore legs. We were back home an hour later.

It was a challenging hike. I’m still sore, but I was surprised how much energy I seem to have when hiking. I can just keep going no matter how difficult it is or how much weight I have, and I’m not even using very good equipment: my tennis shoes are years old and have no tread, and my backpack is from high school and not designed for serious hiking.  But it works for me, and I don’t know that I’d change it. In all, it was a good weekend.

In The Paper

A few weeks ago I went to the Friday night ballroom dancing session at Club Paradise. I hadn’t been in a long time, but everyone there still remembered me, so it was ok. A photographer showed up and was on the dance floor taking many pictures of everyone dancing. Later she sat down and talked to us and got names and ages and told us what it was for.

It appeared in the Sunday paper, and a picture of me dancing with someone appeared as a thumbnail on the front page, but also prominently on the front page of a section. Here it is in all its glory. The article doesn’t mention me, but the photo caption does, (and the name is spelled right, too).

Over the past day I’ve been getting emails and text messages and people coming up to me. I’m not particularly proud of being in the paper; it’s not my first time, and I hope it won’t be my last. It’s definitely the largest picture of me that’s been in a paper, and probably the widest distribution, too. But the context isn’t really something I’m proud of. There is so much pressure around here to not be single that it’s hard to slough off the shame and embarrassment of it, and having my photo shown so big in the paper saying “hey, Bob’s single” doesn’t really help. Plus, it’s not the most flattering picture of me, and my form isn’t that good; I’m trying to figure out what move I’m in the middle of doing that would cause me to have my right hand up like that. I guess it’s not that important.

Maybe I’ll get over it and appreciate it soon, but for now I’m just feeling meh about it.



Work and Software

To date I have intentionally not written about work or software development, and the little I have written about has been very vague. This has been because of my employment. I work in a national laboratory, where a lot of our value is in our intellectual property, and there is a strict process for disclosing anything outside of the lab. Any publication or video or presentation must be approved by at least five people before it is allowed outside the lab.

Naturally, this has a tendency to stifle things that people say outside the lab, and makes communication and marketing a little more difficult. Blogging and contributions on forums and comments on web sites are sticky as well, and we have to be careful about what is said and how it reflects on the lab.

For a while I’ve been pushing back, asking management, legal, and IP folks about what is allowed and what is not. They’re coming around and starting to see the value of participating in the online community, and seeing the importance of having a presence on the web.

The current interpretation of the rules is that once something has been through our review process and is approved for disclosure to the public, that approval is good for more than just the event or journal for which it was approved. In other words, once it’s been approved, we can reuse it anywhere.

So I’m going to write more about what I do, and post more media and information about the projects in which I participate, but it will only be stuff that has been approved already. It’s a fine line, but I’ll do my best to tread on the right side of it.

Eagle Creek

Saturday morning I went to bed at 2am and got up at 6am. I finished packing for the trip and waited for Doug to pick me up. We all met at Nick’s house, then the eight of us went in two cars down to Eagle Creek, which is in Oregon next to the Columbia River near the pleasant town of Hood River. We stopped in Hood River for bagel sandwiches before we finished the drive. It took a minute to find a parking spot, but we found a place and got all our gear together, then started the hike at about 12:30. The whole hike is through a canyon next to the creek, passing by, over, and even under tributaries to it, and passing from side to side over bridges. The hike itself was easy; very little elevation change. Even though my backpack was full, I was having fun on the walk and had extra energy.

We stopped a few times to let others catch up, and there were a couple stops where the view was amazing; one bit had a sheer wall over 150 feet high, and we could look straight down into the pool of water and see the bottom of the turquoise river. Eventually we made it to tunnel falls, 6.5 miles into the hike. The trail meets the waterfall and goes behind it through a small tunnel. It was loud and there was lots of spray. We took a bunch of pictures. I tried a vertical panorama, and it turned out pretty well. The picture below is a very very small version of it.

Some of the others were getting tired, and we hadn’t found our campsite yet. There was a rumor that the campsite we were planning to stay at further up was taken by boy scouts. I had tons of energy still, so Nick, Ryan, and I went ahead while the others stayed and rested. For a little bit I was even running with my pack. We passed a few more waterfalls, including one that split into two streams and then one went under the other. The few campsites we found were taken, though, so after a mile we turned around and went back to tunnel falls and met the rest. Then we walked back about a mile to the next campsite with free spaces.

We set up our tents and made dinner. Then we started a fire and smoked our clothes and hair. Eventually we went to bed; I had my phone so I was able to watch an episode of the Simpsons before falling asleep. Sleeping was rough, but I managed.

In the morning we got up, filtered some water from the creek, and had oatmeal. Then we packed our tents and left the campsite. The hike back was just as easy, and it only took us a few hours to make it back. The couple that had stayed in the campsite next to us had also parked next to us, and unfortunately their car’s window had been smashed the night before. Nick’s BMW was untouched, though.

Back in the vehicles, we stopped in Hood River at a nice cafe for burgers, then drove the rest of the way back to the tri-cities. It was a fun hike, and there were some gorgeous bits of scenery. I was surprised at how much I was in shape for it. Neither the weight of the pack nor the distance we hiked bothered me a bit.

San Antonio

On Memorial Day I traveled with two coworkers to San Antonio for a project. I’ve been working on some emergency management software for the Air Force, and we were going down to demo it for them and hopefully get a decent chunk of money to continue working on it. We had an early flight, and I arrived at the airport with my ticket 30 minutes before it was scheduled to leave (in other words, in plenty of time considering the Pasco airport). Unfortunately, the TSA guy checking tickets and IDs was an old man more interested in conversation than getting any actual work done, and though both x-ray lines were open (which I’ve only seen a couple times), the line was backed up pretty far. I made it through the line and got directly on the plane, giving Gariann a few gray hairs in the process as she got worried that I wouldn’t make it in time.

The flight to Denver was a lot of fun as we descended. For many miles we skimmed along right above the cloud line. It was like flying a couple feet above rolling hills, and occasionally we would go right next to a high standing cloud and it felt like we had narrowly avoid running straight into it. The flight from Denver to San Antonio was less interesting, though it was unfamiliar territory. As we exited the plane the oppressive humidity hit immediately. We made our way to the rental car and proceeded to get lost. Dave’s GPS couldn’t find the place, and my Google maps gave me completely wrong directions. Fortunately, we called the hotel and asked for directions after I directed us only a couple miles in the wrong direction. Bad Google. No no. 🙂

We checked in to the hotel, which was in the middle of nowhere, then met back downstairs and went out for a late lunch. We drove over to the Rudy’s BBQ place near Sea World. It was an interesting experience, but the ribs were good. After that we stopped at a Bass Pro Shop for Dave and explored that for a bit before going back to the hotel. I watched TV for a while, then accidentally fell asleep. I woke up completely drenched in sweat about an hour later. It was about 8, and I was hungry again, so I called Gariann and we went to dinner at the Cracker Barrel right next to the hotel. Then I went back to bed for good.

Up at 5:45 Texas time, I got ready and met Dave and Gariann for breakfast downstairs, and we drove about half an hour to the base where we would be doing our work. Fortunately, Tuesday was just for us to listen and watch, so I paid attention and watched the demos of the other software and listened to the discussions without saying anything. The other two were the program managers and military liaisons; I was the technical guy who made it all work. After the meetings all day, we went back to the hotel and changed, then met some of the other military folks at a different Rudy’s; this time I got a full rack of ribs. Back in the hotel we practiced our demo some more and I made a couple improvements to the software before going to bed.

Wednesday morning I woke up at 5:45 again and brought my things downstairs for breakfast. We stopped at Starbucks for some large containers of coffee for everyone (except me), then were praised as we delivered the coffee to all the military guys. The first part of the meeting was demos by other guys, and I took the opportunity to prepare for our presentation. When it came time for us, we got up there and ran through our demo with only a couple hiccups that actually were to our advantage. Dave was doing most of the talking as Gariann and I walked through the software, but at the end I had a few minutes to present a separate but related project that I also work on. After our demo was lunch, and we had some interesting discussions with some of the guys about our software that will probably lead to more work.

After the meeting we were done, so we went back to the hotel and took a nap. At about 7 we met up again and headed downtown. I had convinced the others to go down to the riverwalk, since I had never been there and hadn’t had a chance to do any sightseeing. Parking was odd. We stopped at a parking lot and there was a guy there who charged us $10 to park. I handed him a $5 and 5 $1s. He handed us back a $10 bill. I was thoroughly confused, but none of us were about to correct him. So we parked and got out and headed for the riverwalk, stopping to see the Alamo on the way. It was closed, so we only got to see the outside, but it was still pretty neat. Then we continued on.

The riverwalk is fascinating. It’s probably best described as Texas’s version of Venice. It’s a single river with small boat tours and walkways along both sides with many bridges connecting the two sides and restaurants all along the way with tables outside. We sat down for dinner at one restaurant and I watched people go by as we ate. Then we wandered up and down the walk for a while exploring, and finally stopped for ice cream on the way back.

Thursday morning we were up early again to get to the airport for our flight. We checked out, then headed back to the airport. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy. We didn’t see a single sign off the highway and ended up passing it. So I checked Google maps on my phone for directions and directed us to what didn’t seem quite right and ended up being completely wrong. It took us to the cargo terminal on the other side of the runway! It was very embarrassing for me to be wrong with the directions again no thanks to google. Usually I’m a huge fan of Google, and I love having Google Maps on my phone, but in San Antonio it just didn’t work out so well. We still made it to the airport on time, but none of us appreciated the scenic route around the whole airport.

The flights back were unexciting, and my efforts at sleeping were foiled by annoying passengers. After I returned to Pasco at 1:30, I went directly to work and had a meeting at 2:30. Then I was in meetings until 4:30, when I left to go home and change before softball practice. It was a really long day.


A few weeks ago I went to Boston for a conference. I hadn’t really been to Boston before (at least, not that I remember. I think I went when I was a lot younger), so I took the opportunity to travel a few days early and explore the city. As an added bonus, my friend from way back in high school is living in Boston, so I had a place to stay, a tour guide, and a great opportunity to catch up with a friend.

I flew early on Friday, May 9 to Boston, and had no trouble navigating the T to get to within a few blocks of Katie’s apartment. Her husband Tim was travelling to Seattle for a wedding, so she was glad to have company while he was away. We met up and I dropped my stuff at her place. We chatted for a while, then went to a spanish tapas place a few blocks away for dinner. It was mostly really tasty. I like to order risky dishes, and sometimes it works out very well. This tapas place was good. Our next stop was an irish bar nearby, where I had some Sam Adams seasonal, and we chatted for a couple hours.

Saturday we went to some museums and did a lot of walking. First was the Museum of Fine Art. It did indeed have a lot of fine art, including some of my favorite french impressionism. So Paris, Chicago, and Boston all contain my favorite artists and most memorable pieces. It was a large museum with many exhibits, so after a couple hours we were a bit exhausted. We wandered around searching for lunch and finally found Bertucci’s. A few blocks away from the MFA was the Isabella Gardner museum, which was the former home of a very rich woman who collected a lot of art and opened the lower floors of her mansion up as a museum and specified that upon her death the museum would remain exactly as she had left it. It was a neat place.

We meandered back to the apartment and collected ourselves a bit, then went out to dinner nearby at a place called Fireplace, which was a really nice restaurant that had good seafood. I had grilled bluefish, and really enjoyed it. We had some really good cheeses and a strange sausage as well. But looking at the wine list I realized we have it really good here in Washington. Back at the apartment we watched some british tv, then called it a night.

Sunday morning we went out to downtown Boston to do what is known as the Freedom Trail, and is essentially a painted red line that takes one on a hike of a couple miles past many of the most famous sites in Boston. Katie was a great tourguide as we went to each place on the trail, and it was amazing to think that each of those places was hundreds of years old and that these were the places that we had learned about in history and are so important to our past. It was really cool. A little sad, though, considering our history is only a few hundred years old and over in Europe they work in the thousands of years old. Oh well.

Lunch was a little Italian place in North End, where the food was excellent and the portions were gigantic. It was a great meal.

The last stop for us on the Freedom Trail was the USS Constitution. We joined the guided tour and got to see the various decks and struggle not to hit heads on ceilings below.

After we got back, Tim had returned from his trip, and they gave me a ride to my hotel in Waltham. I dropped off my stuff and they brought me back to the nearest T stop and left. From there I went to Cambridge and explored for a while before meeting my friend Dennis and his friends for dinner. We ate at a local bar and talked for a few hours. Then I took a cab back to my hotel and prepared for the conference the next day. My hotel room was huge. For some reason I was given a suite, so I had two bedrooms, two baths, a living room with a large flat screen tv, and a full kitchen. It was WAY more than I needed, so I closed off one of the bedrooms so they wouldn’t have to do any cleaning in there.

Monday was the conference, and there were a lot of interesting sessions to attend. In the evening was my poster session, where I presented one of my projects writing software for mobile devices used by law enforcement. It went well, and my posters looked fantastic.

Tuesday didn’t go as well. There were still a lot of sessions that interested me, but it wasn’t long after eating that it started to disagree with me in a bad way. I made to the end, but hastily went back to my hotel and proceded to writhe in misery throughout the night, barely sleeping and hurling more than I thought possible in the middle. I had planned to do a lot of work Tuesday night and then explore Boston more on Wednesday, but morning came and I didn’t feel like going out. Eventually I made it out by checkout time and took a cab to the nearest commuter rail station, where I took the train to the T, then took the T to the airport. I was a few hours early, so I had some lunch and caught up on some TV episodes I had been missing (yay for getting internet on my laptop through my cell phone).

The flight back was uneventful, and I made it home late Wednesday night.

The first part of my trip was great. I really liked Boston, though it’s definitely not my favorite city ever. It was nice catching up with Katie, and I’m glad I had her to show me around.

Wine Party and Lemon Meringue Pie

Last night was a wine party and barbecue. The wife of a friend and coworker works at a winery nearby, and every year employees have access to all the bottles that have been mislabeled or unlabeled at ridiculously low prices. They can get up to 15 cases (that’s 12 bottles per case), for $15 dollars each. She then sold us those cases at cost. The cases were mostly random; she works at a wine conglomerate that represents a few different wineries, so we had some variety. The point of the party was to get our cases and trade bottles with each other to get closer to the cases we wanted. First we had a barbecue and did some wine tasting.

I am horrible at judging wines; I couldn’t tell any difference between three of the four reds, and it was especially astonishing that they ranged in price from $10 to $75 per bottle. I don’t particularly like reds anyway, so I wasn’t too disappointed in myself. But I also wasn’t very good at blind tasting the whites either. I didn’t correctly identify any of them. Oh well.

In preparation for the barbecue, I spent part of the day in the kitchen working on my first lemon meringue pie. I had no idea how complicated it would be. The pie crust, meringue, and filling each required many steps, and some of them had to be done very close together. To confound matters, the recipe was split across three separate sections of the cookbook, so I was flipping back and forth. In the end it all came together, and when it went into the oven it looked fantastic. Then I tasted the filling and meringue in the bowl and got a little worried. There was a strong aftertaste of corn starch. It came out of the oven looking even better:

I let it cool for a bit, then put it in the fridge while I went to work for a while. Then I went to the wine party, and after we ate, I cut it up to discover how tasty it was. There were more people than I expected, so the cake had to get split into 14 slices. The thinness of the slices made the filling have a hard time staying together. That’s just an excuse, though. I should have boiled the filling a little longer so it would retain its shape. So it wasn’t the prettiest slice of pie, but the meringue part turned out great. And the taste more than made up for the presentation. The corn starch flavor was gone, and it tasted exactly like it should have.

In the future I’ll be doing the filling a little longer so it retains its shape better, but other than that, it was a great pie.

Happy Birthday to ME!

Sunday the 9th was my birthday, and it was a very happy one indeed, though thanks to some stupid legislation was one hour shorter than everyone else’s. I can’t complain, though; my grandma’s birthday is February 29th.

It started bright and early when I got a text message from Nick, then immediately after that from Carolyn. I replied to Nick that he had won and was the first to congratulate me, then found out later that they were actually competing with each other. I made it over to their house at 11 and brought the leftover cheesecake from the night before. We put it in the fridge for later, then Marina, Doug, and Naomi arrived shortly after. Marina and I followed the others to a short hiking trail about 25 minutes away called Twin Sisters at Wallula Gap. It was basically a pair of large rock pillars sticking up near the river. We wandered around and explored. As we walked by a fence, a man on the other side was walking towards us. I waved and said howdy, but he ignored us. Later, he got in his truck and moved it down his driveway to a vantage point where he sat in the truck and watched. At one point I got too close to the fence and was treated to a long blast from his horn until I moved, followed by some loud and indistinguishable yelling. He moved his truck again and we could see him watching from binoculars. What an odd and grumpy old man. Otherwise it was a pleasant hike, though more an exploration than any distance or difficulty.

We went back to town and stopped at Sonic for burgers and drinks, then went back to Nick and Carolyn’s for the cheesecake and to see the pictures. Afterwards I went home for a couple hours. I had intended to work, but ended up watching some shows online instead. I talked to one sister, then to my mom. I was supposed to arrive at my birthday party at 6:45 and dinner was to start at 7. I was watching the microwave clock and thought it was 5:30 when my mom called. She asked if I had to get ready, and I said I had plenty of time. Then I thought about it and realized the microwave was the only clock I hadn’t yet changed, and that there was no way I was going to be on time. I got off the phone and changed quickly, then bolted out the door. I talked to my mom again as I drove, watching the clock pass 6:45 and cursing every red light. Fortunately I found the place with little difficulty and walked in at 6:55, the last person to arrive.

The venue was the Blue Moon Restaurant, and it is only open for catered groups of 10 or more. They served a six course meal, and we were the only ones there. It was a total of 19 people, and it worked out great, even though there were people from a few different circles of friends. The first course was crostinis with Italian sausage. Second was a lobster bisque. After that was a salad with Dijon dressing, followed by a berry sorbet. For the entree, we chose between steak with Diane sauce, crusted chicken breast with Porcini sauce, sauteed pork loin, and salmon with fennel cream. I picked the salmon. After that was coffee, but I was able to get tea instead. Finally, dessert was a cheese souffle glace, which is like a combination of ice cream cake and cheesecake. It was all pretty good. The conversation was fun, and since I was towards the middle of the really long table I could listen to and participate in a few conversations at once. People were dressed nice, and despite all our efforts we still ended up with extra silverware at our places. I got a cookbook, a bottle of wine, and a nice card/scrapbook.

Afterwards I went home and talked to my other sister for a long time, then watched the first hour of a movie from 1919 called The Spiders by Fritz Lang before going to bed.

It was a really good day. I had fun with people I like, and throughout the day people were sending me text messages or calling me, or sending messages through Facebook or MySpace. I felt loved.