Note From Jon


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Third Childhood

If my life is a YouTube video (specifically my favorite Tales of Mere Existence video by Lev Yilmaz) then 2007 has been Phase 4 (and frankly I’m hoping a good part of Phase 5). While I can neither confirm nor deny that I am perfectly happy being single, looking back on my favorite photos of this year, I feel pretty confident that I’ve made the most of my enfreedoming. The hardest part was narrowing the photos down to 20 (an arbitrary limit I set once I saw that I had no chance of picking just 10), and I only succeeded because I don’t have many photos of the first four months of 2007, and, despite spending most of my free time at Sportrock, I have almost no climbing photos.

In keeping with the “rediscover all the music you like” portion of Phase 4, I found NPRs All Songs Considered and Song of the Year archives, which they recently reorganized into the musical crack that is Discover Songs. As a result I was well prepared when Sarah made the brilliant (if ethically ambiguous) suggestion that all of our friends make a mix CD of music to share with each other for Christmas.

“If” I made such a mix and wanted to share a soundtrack of this year to go with the slideshow here’s what would be on it and why:

1) Business Time by Flight Of The Conchords – Because when I’m down to just my socks you know what time it is… aw yeah It’s business time. That’s why they call them business socks. And because we listened to all the songs from the show en route to the Raven Rocks hike.

2) She's a Ho by Ludacris – Apparently not everyone is a fan of my indie tastes so on occasion I would get a request (demand?) for some booty music, and this was the crowd favorite on several car trips.

3) Pretty On The Inside by Ceann – Too bad I’m an outside kind of pretty guy… Saw these guys play at Murphy’s after the funhouse fountain photo, but they were upstaged by Darren unveiling his controversial nesting theory.

4) I Love Booster! by The Coup – One of the few songs without a good reason, other than I smiled all year long when this ode to shoplifters shuffled up.

5) Bukra Wba'do by Pink Martini – Pink Martini was the perfect accompaniment to our Wolf Trap picnic in June, and this song in particular became the theme song for the Arabic classes I’ve been taking.

6) We're From Barcelona by I'm From Barcelona – Because it’s impressive when you tour with more members than the Polyphonic Spree (29 vs. the 22 at the Spree show) and I figure I’m in good musical company when I found out DJ extraordinaire Sean was into these guys as well.

7) Abel by The National – Favorite song by my runner up for Band of the Year. As I listened to each song crescendo into a fiddle-frenzy (and every song eventually did) I had a quiet moment of gratitude for the friendships I’ve made and strengthened this year.

8) The Championship by The Polyphonic Spree – Best show of the year. When George and I went for his birthday, it was the last night of their tour and the lead singer’s birthday. As The Frames proved well, one lesson I learned this year: Always catch a band on the last night of their tour. Bonus points because of my crush on the flautist who squeezed my hand as she walked through the crowd.

9) Here's Your Future by The Thermals – Finding them on the 2006 list of overlooked bands prompted my expedition through the entire Song of the Day archives and resulted in pretty much everything else that happened for me musically this year. They still remain undeservedly overlooked though as I wound up catching them by myself at the Black Cat (I mean none of my friends came, not that it was a private showing, they aren’t that overlooked).

10) Rain by Bishop Allen – My personal Band of the Year. In a year overflowing with new (to me) bands, these guys are my favorite. They have a variety of different sounds (including one song that I always forget isn’t Modest Mouse) and I like every one of them.

11) Dark Matter by Andrew Bird – Days after I first heard his album, this song was played during the intermission of a Fringe Festival show at Studio Theatre. I loved the song and I loved both shows we saw there (Abstract Nude and Trixie Tickles – though I can’t remember which intermission it was) so now they’ll always be blended in a mash of mental happiness.

12) The President's Dead by Okkervil River – The moment of gratitude I felt at The National concert is captured perfectly in the section from this song:

…there was spring on the wind.
If you don't live through a day for the littlest things,
And the littlest ways made you feel you were blessed
If you died right then, well you know you'd be missed,
But there's no better state to cease to exist
And you wouldn't feel sad, and you wouldn't resist
Cause you knew what you had, and were thankful for it
In your own little way, I'm a small quiet man
I've got no wars to win, I don't have a big plan
But I love my new place, and I love my old friends
And I scrimp and save, and one day I'll have kids.
I can truthfully say that my day was like that…
13) Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo by Jens Lekman – Another one that just made me smile and I hoped sharing it with friends would increase my odds of having company at the show when he comes back into town.

14) A Front Row Seat to Hear Ole Johnny Sing by Shel Silverstein – I can’t deal with Shel’s voice when he’s reading his poems but it didn’t bother me here, and I always love a song by (or in this case about) Johnny Cash.

15) Dime by Cake – Truly a “rediscover all the music you like”, I decided to look up an old favorite and see if they had anything new and this is what I got. I know, not NPR related, hard to believe. Let’s see if I can finish the rest of the album without any NPR inspired music…

16) Frayed Blue Jeans by Matt Palka - Darren’s friend from college wrote a novel about biking across the country and made this soundtrack (and even a music video) to go along with it.

17) My Spot by Colouring Lesson – Our friend Trevor’s band who play locally in the D.C. area, hopefully this will encourage more of our friends to come join us at their shows!

18) Lives by Modest Mouse – It’s hard to remember to live before you die… Words buffeted into my head while it was stuck out the window of a bush taxi riding through Guinea.

19) Arc of Time (Time Code) by Bright Eyes – I discovered this band through…, which was my music discovery source before NPR (and before Pandora was blocked at work!)

20) Gopala Over Credits by John McDowell – The theme song from Born Into Brothels which I saw in 2006 but didn’t download (from iTunes, before I learned about their 7 burn limitation) until I was reminded of the song from an HBO trailer.

21) Let Your Troubles Roll By by Carbon Leaf – The best band to never show up on NPR. Dave Connolly introduced me to these guys last year and I caught them at three shows in 2007 (possibly a fourth this Saturday). No song cheers me up more than hearing the chorus of this one live.

I found a host of other great songs and artists this year, but with a couple of exceptions those are only the ones which had personal memories for me beyond the music. For simply a “best of” from my exhaustive search of the NPR archives, here are some additional bands and songs I found for your listening pleasure:

Yardsale by The Avett Brothers
Just one More by John Rae and the River
Children of December by The Slip
Between the Moon and The Ocean by Bon Savants
While you were Sleeping by Elvis Perkins
I Trained Her to Love Me by Nick Lowe
Man O’ War by Eric Bachmann
The Sun Shines Down on Me by Daniel Johnston
This Lamb Sells Condos by Final Fantasy
The Funeral by Band of Horses
The Ballad of Bitter Honey by Eef Barzelay
Handle With Care by Jenny Lewis
Nantes by Beirut
Not Big by Lily Allen
Personal by Stars
Deserter by Matthew Dear
Aspect of an Old Maid by The Mendoza Line
Earned Average Dance America by The Seedy Seeds
Don’t Bother Me by The Blakes
Paper Planes by M.I.A.
The Minaret by John Vanderslice

Monday, December 24, 2007

Spiked Frosty

The family took a drive around the old (for me at least) neighborhood to check out the lights on Christmas Eve. I still don't think anyone beats my parents neighbor who has been adding lights each year for at least the past 20 years. Rumor has it they have to borrow power from next door...

It was a pleasant drive, save for discovering two disembodied Frosties... Enjoy the slideshow and Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Driving cross-country... on a Segway

So I know you’ve all been wondering about this photo I posted back in July (and if not, why not?). I must get about a dozen emails a day asking me “What’s the deal with that t-shirt, and how do I get one?” It’s gotten to the point where I can’t answer all the messages personally anymore so I figured it was time I made a public address:

10mph is a fun documentary about a couple of guys who quit their cush jobs in cubicle land and film themselves driving across the country… on a Segway.

It’s a great concept, and an even better movie, but what makes it personal for me is that the filmmakers, Hunter Weeks and Josh Caldwell, are my friends and housemates from college. I don’t usually do promotion, but this film and these guys definitely deserve an exception. They’ve worked out a pretty impressive deal with an organization called OurStage, which supports independent musicians and filmmakers. In order to help my friends out, all you have to do is register (for free) with OurStage using the 10MPH link and they’ll get $1 which they can use to help finish their forthcoming documentary called 10 yards (which incidentally explores a favorite “hobby” of mine, fantasy football). And if you just aren't willing to register with OurStage... you can always make a direct donation to support their work.

But wait, there’s more! Not only do they get $1 for each registration but they are the first filmmakers ever to give away an iTunes download of their film free of charge. That means that once you register with OurStage, you’ll be able to download the entire feature-length documentary. I’ve registered myself and done some research into OurStage (though not in that order) and it is legitimate and offers an opportunity to both support and discover independent artists by voting on their work Hot-or-Not style. Check out an article in the Wired blog about OurStage.

10mph had a successful run on the film festival circuit and did a national tour of theatres this summer. I caught it here in D.C. when the film came through the E St. Cinema and even cut short my African trip by a day to be sure I was home in time. Josh and Hunter have pick-your-price DVDs available on their website and soon they’ll be posting the entire movie on YouTube. Whatever way works the best for you there’s a way to watch the documentary, and trust me, the “tractor” and “self-righteous cop” scenes alone would make the film worth watching.

And, as an added bonus, if you register with OurStage in the next 30 minutes and help them out, then you are allowed to look at my embarrassing decade old photos I am posting below of the filmmakers and I on our Indonesian abroad. This is your opportunity to watch me try to dance… in a skirt. This was probably the stupidest I looked in my entire life (until I sang “I’m too sexy” at karaoke a few months back). You know that’s got to be funny. But you are NOT authorized to look at these photos without registering at Don’t you do it… your guilty conscience will haunt you forever… Now here's that link one last time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

White Elephant leads to Airing of Grievances

I feel like the Red Paperclip guy... in reverse. Over the course of the weekend, I managed to trade a never used (but 10 year old) Wok for a handmade knit thong (not particularly useful to me, but at least unique) which in turn I traded for a slightly flat soccer ball (that I’d hoped was going to be a volleyball). Ah White Elephant season. I really can’t complain though because our fourth annual holiday party was a success. I know it was a success because of my two critical criteria: 1) Does Dave manage to string another set of lights 40+ feet up in our tree without breaking a limb (his or the tree’s)? Check (bonus points this year for enduring 50 MPH wind gusts that were too much for our (formerly) rooftop santa). 2) Does our slightly sagging floor manage to hold the 50+ people crammed upstairs to watch or participate in the two hour White Elephant gift exchange? Check. And while not an official criteria for success, a surprising number of people seemed to have a pretty good time…

And if the 100 photos in the slideshow just aren't enough for you... you can always check out Carmel's

Special Thanks goes out to:
  • Diana who came over at noon to bake dozens of cookies to be decorated
  • Dave for risking his life and keeping the tree climbing tradition alive
  • Dharma for lending us her climbing rope so Jeff and I could keep Dave alive
  • Jan Louis for answering our special request for his black bean dish
  • Everyone who brought food, decorated, or helped with all of the endless tasks that come up during a party.
Thank You!

White Elephant stats and awards:
  • 48 Participants
  • Running time: 2 hours 8 minutes
  • Remember to underline the 6 and the 9
  • Rules: Three steal max, when stolen from you must take a present from under the tree
  • Gifts stolen the maximum number of times: Yaneev’s Dancing, Singing James Brown. The Christmas Story Leg Lamp. My hand-knit thong (that sounds wrong). Minh’s Atari in a joystick. Missing any?
  • Regifts from White Elephants past: Kevin’s Smiley Clock (3rd year), Darren’s Oklahoma guidebook and Candy Panties (2nd year – yeah this sounds bad), Joel’s Amtrak board game (2nd year), CharAnn’s Penis Pasta (2nd year), Yaneev’s Jesus doll (2nd year). Screaming flying monkey (2nd year). Virginia Beach Bikini Salt Shaker (2nd year). Melissa’s framed photo of Joel (2nd year for the tradition even though this was the 2007 photo). Sadly, Christine failed to show up with what would have been the record setting 4th year for the Soviet Era Geography quiz book…
  • Best wrapped gift: Joel’s Festivus themed present
  • Best gift combination: A bottle of milk with … the Boobie Squirt Gun
  • Best gift for photo blackmail: The purple penis drink bottle that Joel couldn’t put down (and it wasn’t even his gift)
  • Winner of this year’s Lost and Found gift: Allison. She got sunglasses, bike shorts, a lens cap to a camera, and water balloons
  • And the 2007 Gift of the Year: Yaneev’s Dancing, Singing James Brown
Notes for the 5th annual Jon and Darren Holiday Party:
  • Come up with a better name. 4 years running and the best we can come up with is Jon and Darren’s Holiday (previously Xmas) Party? The suggestion box is now open
  • So far the following people have been found to have committed the cardinal sin of leaving behind the White Elephant gift they are responsible for removing from the premises. Why do you think I actually take photos of the gift everyone opens? We take this seriously and follow international doping policies: a first offense results in a two year ban, the second offense is a lifetime ban:
    • CharAnn for the Boy Bands CD – 1st offense
  • We had 90 yeses and 17 maybes and while we haven’t conducted the official postmortem to hone next year’s list (based on accuracy of evite response), I’d roughly say that 70 people were on hand for dinner. The 15 Peruvian chickens (cut into 8 pieces each) were enough for everyone but the 10 sides of fried plantains and yucca were gone about halfway through. Jan Louis brought black beans, we supplemented with 12 cups of rice, and several people brought casseroles but nearly all sides were gone by the end of the night. Next year we should bump up the ratio of sides to chicken
  • Devise a new mounting system for the rooftop santa which can sustain 50 MPH winds
  • Purchase a tree skirt
  • Buy three indoor outlet timers so ALL lights are timed instead of just the outside ones (every day we came home to a half lit house)
  • Conduct research into the best extension pole for Dave to use while stringing lights. The paintbrush-duct-taped-to-the-broom-handle looked classy but it wasn’t effective enough

Friday, December 14, 2007

“You’ve got the keys right?”

Except that I didn’t… and Flea wasn’t kidding. Dread crept into our eyes with each empty pocket we checked. We really shouldn’t have been surprised. I mean, the Redskins had actually won the game… they’d finally held a fourth quarter lead… with their backup quarterback even. Something had to correct this cosmic imbalance, and apparently that something was going to be us. Oblivious to the revelation Flea and I just had, our friends JB and Swag called out cheerily that they’d found the car. Flea and I just stared at each other. Warm thoughts of the car heater I’d been craving since the second quarter faded away with the color from our faces. It was 30 degrees at 12:30am on a Thursday night, and the four of us were standing in the middle of the parking lot at FedEx field… without any car keys.

“I gave them to you when you turned the music on” I reminded Flea, but he already knew. I calmed down a bit. We’d probably left them in the car and not locked it when we finished tailgating. Right? Flea and I joined JB and Swag at the car… praying it was unlocked. You could literally see the sigh of relief in the air when the door opened. Flea jumped into the car to search, and immediately returned with… a girl’s hand purse? Holy shit, was this the wrong car!?! … No, it had Flea’s aftermarket stereo, Redskin stickers on the doors, and all our tailgating gear in the back. This was his car. “Britney”, whose license, credit cards and cash we now had must be a friend of Flea’s wife. The four of us scoured the car wondering how a set of keys magically transformed into a girls purse! But. there. were. no. keys! Seriously, what do you do in this situation?

We split up. Flea headed back to the stadium (we had done a lot of jumping up and down as the Redskins won). If the keys could be found at this point they’d be at the seats. JB took a moment to check with 411 for the mysterious Britney. They didn’t have a number… nor did they have a joke like the clever group a few cars down that JB checked with (no they didn’t know Britney ****, but they did know Britney Spears! Hilarious I tell you). Well unless Britney had our car keys, she wasn’t going to do us much good, so JB and Swag decided to retrace our path across the parking lot. Really, what are the chances you could even remember which cars you walked between across an entire parking lot, let alone spot a set of keys in the dark. And they were pretty trashed. But I let them stumble away and I crawled around looking under every car anywhere near our spot and the one where we’d tailgated. I turned up a knit hat and a lone glove… but no keys. I was too upset to remember that the spot where I was crawling around on my stomach… had been the pisser before the game (just remembered that now actually. Damn. I feel the need to stop writing and go shower).

As I lay in (hopefully) evaporated piss, I prayed things were going better for Flea. Turns out he was at the seats now… about to get arrested. Security didn’t take too kindly to his return as they cleared out the stadium. “You’ve got to leave now, or you will be arrested!” the guard shouted. Flea could hear the radio crackle out commands of sections where stragglers remained. “Section 410, get them out of there now!... Section 109… he’s got to go!” Flea pleaded just long enough to search all around the seats… and not find anything. Ok. So one more shot. Flea turned into the bathroom we’d stopped at on the way out. Except that when he turned in… a woman walked out. WTF? Yep, this was a women’s bathroom, not the men’s which had been right outside our section, which meant… Flea checked the wrong seats! Hope was still alive. This time he went back to the right section… where his newest security friend was unthrilled to see him again. “You want to spend the night in jail!” he yelled so loudly that I’m surprised I didn’t hear it out in the parking lot. Flea was on his knees practically in tears begging the guard to let him check the seats. “I was in the wrong section before, look, here is my ticket!” Finally, luck was on our side because the enforcer relented and even helped look for the keys, which turned out to be…

...nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, back at the car I’d exhausted all of my search options and decided to see what AAA could do for me. They’ve helped with keys locked in the car before… but I was already in the car, without the keys. A friendly woman named Leslie answered and I was happy to learn that their locksmiths can make ignition keys too… if the car doesn’t have advanced security features on the ignition… and if there are any locksmiths working in the area at say 12:30am on a Thursday night. Shocker, there weren’t. BUT, I was a AAA “Plus” member so we could get a free tow up to 100 miles away. Loudon county, where Flea lives, felt 100 miles away at that point, but I am pretty sure it isn’t. So that was a possibility for the car, but what about the four of us? Well, she could check on whether there was an extended cab tow truck in the area. I’ll leave it as an exercise to you to guess whether they had one. Yeah. Not so much. Metro is closed. Leslie offered to call us a taxi but we’d have to foot the bill for that, halfway around the Beltway to my car in Merrifield. She sounded as upset as I was that AAA couldn’t help.

The situation couldn’t be much worse. That is until I dropped my head on the steering wheel… and the car started going berserk. Lights blinking, horn blaring. Great, I’d set off the alarm and guess what I have no keys to shut it off! Then it stopped. Then it started again… and I knew we were saved. It wasn’t the alarm, it was the panic button and someone had the keys! Leslie and I were practically hugging each other through the phone as I explained what was happening.

I stared out through the windshield and my eyes picked out JB triumphantly holding the keys in the air. So what happened? Had Flea gotten them from customer service and met up with JB and Swag on the way back? Nope. JB had found them on his hike back to the stadium. And where exactly had he found them? In. A. Bush. Let that sink in for a moment. He found them in a bush. All the way across the parking lot from our car, next to the stadium. In a bush. At night. Of course when JB found them, Swag logically pointed out that was great and all but that they weren’t our keys. Why should they be our keys… they were across the entire parking lot… in a bush. They spent the entire walk back from the bush arguing about whether the H on the keychain stood for Honda or Hyundai. As they explained where they’d found them (did I mention it was in a bush?) I remembered a moment on the walk back when I heard footsteps behind me and turned to see Flea as he tried to jump into me. I know now his jump is when the keys tumbled out of his jacket pocket and into, well you know, A BUSH! What I will never know is how the hell JB found them there…

And this story has an epilogue (yeah I know, it’s long enough already). Flea joined us back at the car and we started all over explaining what happened from each person’s perspective… and expressed our disbelief at the discovery in the bush about as many times as I have here. As we all stood around the car laughing hysterically and gasping for air... a girl walked right between us all and opened up Flea’s car door! BRITNEY! I recognized her from her ID. She was as happy to have her purse back as we were to have the keys and joined in the revelry as she retold her story.

It was so cold. She was so drunk. She’d lost her friends around halftime and was supposed to meet back up with them at their car. Britney got to the car but no one was there yet. It was unlocked so she curled up in the back seat of her friend Adam’s car. Only of course it wasn’t Adam’s car. It was Flea’s car. And apparently she’d napped (or passed out) there happily for most of the second half. Turns out Adam was parked just a few cars down. And he too had a white car. But it was a car, and Flea drives a Hyundai SUV! How drunk do you have to be to not know the difference?!? Well Britney had been that drunk...

Britney eventually walked back off to her group of friends with her recovered purse and as we drove home we realized two things:

  • If we hadn’t lost the keys, we’d have been long gone with Britney’s purse
  • The group of friends who Britney walked back too… were the same clever ones who didn’t know her, but knew Britney Spears.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rampaging Reindeer

We gave the new Festivus pole a week to shine on its own, but on Sunday it was time to unleash the reindeer. Each year we try to add a bit more, which means we need to recruit plenty of help! We try to turn it into a celebration in its own right but really it's more Darren and I trying to squeeze some free labor out of our friends. Thankfully they all had a good spirit about it (unlike me, who was grumpy all morning from trying to recover our satellite TV signal after a couch broke the jack. Damn gnomes always rearranging furniture and breaking things...) Luckily Sarah's gourmet Mac and Cheese and Natalie's gluten-free cake buried any lingering frustration I had. Having friends who bake so well has got to be one of the keys to a happy life.

New additions for our fourth year were the Festivus pole, the huge star on our front gable (which admittedly is lost a bit in all the icicle lights surrounding it), and Santa's sleigh which could literally fly off of our roof at any moment.

Enjoy the photos while I record some of the mundane notes that I'll want to remember for next year:
  • Buy colored lights with white wire for the windows and door (why is that style of light so hard to find?). If we can't find any then string the lights as tightly as possible and double up any excess length on the bottom of the window.
  • Santa is prevented from liftoff by a string from the base of the fan to the vent on the roof (careful reaching over the power lines...) and two strings tied together to make one long connection from the base, through the window, and finally tied off on the leg of the futon.
  • The star is attached to the gable by fishing wire that is hanging from the spindle of a rolling pin that is jammed between the shingles and vinyl siding at the peak of the roof (follow all that?). Probably don't need to put all the little stars around gable as well next year.
  • Suck up to your friends all year because their help is invaluable when it comes time to decorate (it also helps to lure them to the house with promises of a CD exchange party - more on that later)!

Thursday, December 6, 2007


As mentioned previously, I’m going through a phase of minor addiction to online edutainment. A few days ago I thought I might be able to manage my habit. I was coming to terms with losing my first Scrabulous game, and having finally beaten level 12 of the World Traveler’s quiz, I was ready to retire with my newfound knowledge that Vladivostok, Russia is just above North Korea and that somehow Norway inexplicably owns an island midway between South Africa and Antarctica called Bouvet. But then my little pusher, I mean sister, had to go ahead and ruin everything by offering me some of this great stuff she found at and I was hooked all over again.

FreeRice is essentially an adaptive vocabulary quiz. Each time you get a word right the next one is theoretically harder. Get one wrong and it gets easier. Nothing too exciting… unless you are a mild word nerd (philologist) like me with fond memories of the now-renamed “verbal” section of the SAT. But what makes FreeRice unique (to me at least) is the philanthropy angle. For every word you get right, the proprietors of FreeRice donate 20 grains of rice to the UN’s World Food Programme. Riiiiiggggttttt. But apparently it is legitimate. Now admittedly it isn’t the most efficient way to donate time or money to a charitable cause, and I think my circle of friends would contract dramatically if I started throwing out some of the higher level words in conversation, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling just a bit vogie each time I get a word right. I figure I’ve donated some food, learned a new word that could help in Scrabulous someday, and gotten one step closer to reaching vocab level 50 (level 48 so far – yeah it keeps track of that too. Did I mention it taps into my competitive vein?). And I’ll admit that the philologist in me enjoys learning a word that we’ve heard through our lives but probably had no idea what it meant, like kith (friends, as in kith and kin). Plus, while my friends may not speak these words, they do write them, like George's satori (enlightenment) and Dagny's affianced (betrothed)…

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Festivus for the rest of us

Frank Costanza: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.

Cosmo Kramer: What happened to the doll?

Frank Costanza: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us!

Our house lost a tree this year. Thankfully it wasn’t the Connolly Tree, which now stands alone in the front yard, patiently awaiting the addition of this year’s strand of lights. The Connolly Tree did look rather lonely though and the right side of our lawn is just a bit empty now that the massive maple has been removed. So Darren and I came up with a plan: Where the maple once stood… we would erect a Festivus Pole! Although traditionally unadorned we decided it would look like a flagpole or unfinished construction project if we simply planted a pole there, so we decided to enhance our Festivus Pole with a friendly (though not so subtle) sign. In honor of Festivus, which falls before Christmas, we will give the pole a week in our front yard alone before the full onslaught of holiday lights and decorations are added next Sunday.

Notes to Jon:

  • While we nearly settled for the pole of a volleyball net or PVC pipe (spray painted chrome), our search led us to the electrical aisle in Home Depot where we discovered a Festivus pole that had been captured and was being sold as electrical conduit. We liberated the pole from a dreary existence shielding electrical cable in some commercial warehouse and brought it home. I believe it is 2” outer diameter, ¼” thick, and 10’ long, and while it isn’t aluminum, it does meet the Festivus requirement of having “a high strength to weight ratio”.

  • Three sections of four foot rebar hold the pole in place surprisingly well.

  • Painting the white letters on the black board is critical to being able to read the Happy Festivus sign. Just using the lights alone wouldn’t have been legible.

  • We drilled holes in the sign just big enough for each light’s base to slide through but not for the bulb itself. This was a plus because we didn’t have to glue the lights in place, but then again we did have to take out each bulb and reinsert it once we slid the base through the hole… and that can be a problem because: Although the lights say they stay lit when a bulb “burns out”… they don’t stay lit when a bulb isn’t seated properly in the first place. Turns out that made it a pain in the ass to figure out which bulb wasn’t reseated properly when I plugged the sign in and it didn’t light!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Facebook Free-Fall

I blame Chris. I didn't know why exactly, but I knew I didn't want anything to do with MySpace or Facebook. I was fairly proud that not only did I not have an account with either of them, I had never actually been to anyone's page on either site (the fact that MySpace is blocked at work probably made that easier). Then I traveled around West Africa this summer and I took my first step down the slippery slope which seems to have tossed me right off a cliff (I just finished watching the 2006 season of Everest on the Discovery Channel so that's the imagery I have in my head right now). I noticed that whenever we stopped at an internet cafe and I checked my email or uploaded photos, Chris seemed to be updating something on Facebook. When I got home I wanted to know how my malaria-stricken friend was faring as he made a solo trek through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote D'Ivore (did I mention he's hard core). Having seen him in operation I knew the best place to find out wasn't his blog... but on his Facebook profile!

The trouble (or blessing, if you worry about stalkers) with Facebook is that in order to view someone's profile you have to have a profile of your own (and get them to accept you as a friend). Despite my reservations I relented and created a blank profile so I could keep up with him. Oh I took precautions. I was very clear in my status message and in a note that I wasn't actually planning to use Facebook and asked everyone to please not "friend" me. And yet I suddenly got a flood of friend requests. It turns out the other trouble with Facebook is that no one can see your status or your notes without being your friend in the first place. Damn catch-22. I ignored the requests for a while (several weeks actually) but as they piled up I figured there was no harm in simply accepting them since then my friends would see my status and my note and realize I had no intention of being sucked into the Facebook world. Wrong again. Soon I was getting emails about people writing on my wall, asking me to compare movie tastes, and even challenging me to a game of something called Scrabulous. Again I resisted. For weeks.

And then one day I was having lunch with the Scrabulous challenger who berated me for not accepting her request to play. Apparently when you challenge someone you actually start the game and she'd started with a high scoring word and was excited to see if I could catch up. The next day I accepted the challenge. And ever since I've been in Facebook free-fall over that 10,000 foot cliff without the sherpa's safety line.

See Scrabulous is fantastic. It's like Scrabble... but so much better. I've always had a thing for words... and games... and yet ironically while I enjoy an occasional game of Scrabble I haven't played it considerably more than any other board game growing up (perhaps I am still bummed about being denied the word "revoided" in a travel Scrabble game on my trip to the UK in 2000 - here let me use it in a sentence for you: "The cashier scanned my Corn Flakes twice, so she voided one of the transactions... but it failed to clear the charges so she called over her manager... who revoided it". See perfectly valid! But I digress...). So why is Scrabulous better than Scrabble? Well for one thing you essentially have an unlimited amount of time to plot your perfect move. But what really does it for me is the built in dictionary lookup that is available in "regular" games. I can check all sorts of weird combinations of my letters and magically stumble across the perfect word which I never even knew existed! There is just something exciting about typing in an endless combination of letters that you really need (ok so "need" is relative) to form a valid word and suddenly having the valid word appear in glorious green print. Instead of only playing safe words that you know everyone will agree on (like revoided :-p) I can discover that "aa" is a word (a type of lava flow - which I somehow knew from Geology classes), as is "oe", and that "qaid" is a useful "q" word that doesn't contain a "u". Other words I have discovered from Scrabulous (I'll update this list over time... unless I manage to shake this addiction)
  • Grister - Someone who grinds things, I believe. This was also my first ever "Bingo" (80 points for that word) where I used all 7 of my tiles (revoided would have been my first which is why I fought so hard for it).
  • Torii - A word I didn't use in the game but found while trying different letter combos. This was probably my favorite because a couple days later I was looking through Emily's blog about her trip to Asia and she had a picture of a Torii (the Shinto gate shown in her picture)

  • Vogie - An obscure Scottish word used in the 18th and 19th century which means... happy! You can never have too many words for happy, so I am bringing vogie back (and I'm not the only one)

  • Ut - A Middle English precursor to "do" (as in do re mi - the song certainly makes more sense now that they changed it to do). But more importantly it allowed me to play my second bingo "entreat" on the only spot on the board where it could fit.

  • Askoi - The plural of Askos, a modern term for a form of ancient greek pottery used to pour liquids.

  • Oxyphenbutazone - Some molecule that is far more famous as the highest scoring single play word in American Scrabble. No I did not type that in randomly. I saw it on the Scrabulous high score board and did some investigating.

  • Inchers - My highest scoring bingo thus far (for 113 points), doesn't really seem like a word at all until you put a number in front of it, e.g. 9-inchers.

  • Dildoes - Ahem. Scrabble word lists aren't censored, so if you've got the letters... Anyway, aside from the good laugh we got out of this bingo—which incidentally played off of the word "Fakes"—we learned that this word can be spelled as either dildos or dildoes (though blogger thinks they are both misspelled, I guess they do censor). Who knew?

I might have been safe if Scrabulous was the end of it, after all I can only play as fast as my opponent is willing to so I should be able to squeeze some sort of a life in between... but today... today Alexandra doomed, er challenged me to the Traveler's IQ Quiz. This was even more fun than Scrabulous, and I could play as much as I want (yes there is a Scrabulous mode where you play against the computer but I'm not stupid enough to try that... I hope). This is a geography quiz where you have a map of the world and they throw out cities (or historic landmarks/battles etc.) and you click as close as you can to their location on the map in under 10 seconds. They plant a flag where you click and then toss in another flag at the actual location and award you points based on how many kilometers you were off (I'm proud to say my closest guess so far was 20KM off... on the location of Fenway Park!). The questions get harder for each of the 12 rounds and you have to score enough each round to advance. All three tries today I missed out on getting the 55,000 in round 11 to make it to the 12th and final round (my second try I missed 55,000 by 197 points!). And now I am off to try one more time before bed to reach round 12...

Somebody please set up an intervention...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Antietam: Bringin' Sepia Back

On Sarah’s suggestion, we took a different style of hike Sunday as we visited Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, MD. More than anything else I think the trip was inspired by her knowledge of a local ice cream shop to hit after the hike (something we’ve deemed essential as a post-hike ritual… even when it is in the 40s apparently) While it was cold, Sarah’s booty music warmed us up (and inspired some ribald inside jokes) and while it wasn’t the solemnest of visits the Battlefield has seen I would recommend this as an interesting change of pace hike. Here are some notes to recreate our success:

  • Depart Ballston around 10:45. Sleeping in and hiking, a new concept for us
  • Pick up lunch at Sheetz off highway 65 (we missed the 5 subs for $10 deal, but may go for that next time). Optionally, make assorted jokes about where AB can store food, the Fizzinator, low hanging front ends, riding handlebar mustaches, and general ho-liday puns (it worked for us)
  • Our “family” arrived at the Visitor Center about 12:40 ($6 per family or $4 per person) and took a 20 minute “running” tour of the quarter mile loop of memorials around the visitor center. Leave more time for a more respectful pace (honestly, once Darren decided to bring sexy back with his Civil War era mustache, we knew what kind of a day it was going to be and decided not to fight it)
  • Watch the 26 minute video at 1pm on how General McClellan failed to press the Union advantages, potentially resulting in another three years of war (it also gives an overview of the fighting that day which is useful as you hike those areas)
  • From 1:30 to 4:30, take the driving tour and stop to re-enact the day’s battles along the Cornfield Trail (download an audio tour), the Union Advance Trail, and the Final Attack Trail, which total about 4.3 miles of easy hiking (except for the perilous groundhog holes! You have been warned…)
  • Reward yourself with a stop at Nutter’s Ice Cream Shoppe a mile away on the main street of Sharpsburg. We worried it would be closed by 5pm… on a Sunday… in November… but they are open until 9pm (not that we stayed that long)! We agreed the Pumpkin ice cream was our favorite flavor but it was hard to beat the Hot Apple Sundae with Vanilla and the Hot Fudge Sundae with Peanut Butter Ripple.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Through the looking-glass

It all began on our family trip to the UK in 2000. We stumbled across the Victoria and Albert museum during a Chihuly exhibition. It's ironic we discovered his work in London since his studio is in Seattle (granted I have been to London and not to Seattle so I guess it isn't that ironic... and there's a long debate on what irony is anyway). I then saw his Sea Forms exhibit at the Monterey Aquarium in 2004 and his permanent (I think) installation at the Bellagio in Vegas that same year. Since then it has become a bit of a family tradition to visit any Chihuly installations in the vicinity. Last year we caught the show at the Botanical Gardens in New York and this year we took Friday off work in order to pull a day-night doubleheader on the last nighttime show at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh (of course they have since extended it... until February!)

Despite the overcast skies and my camera's inability to take decent low light shots (or my inability to adjust the settings appropriately... but let's go with the first option), the weekend turned out as well as we could have imagined. Our plan was nearly foiled when they sold out of tickets for the night show, but Dad managed to get three tickets for us and through tactical use of the elevator and the incoming crowds all four of us wound up inside. Way to go Dad! We weren't the only family engaged in covert operations though, as I witnessed someone pass tickets back out through a fence later in the evening. I guess it was a popular exhibit! The rest of the trip was just as enjoyable because we got to visit my good friend James (who recently launched a promising, though sadly Republican, political career by defeating a 20+ year incumbent for a seat on the Mt. Lebanon school board. Congratulations James!) and his two adorable kids, and as an added bonus we picked up lunch at Jimmy John's, a staple of Mimsi's college diet which doesn't exist in the DC area.

The slideshow is a mix of my photos and Mimsi's photos, with all of the nighttime (and generally any of the more impressive) shots taken by her.

Where will our next Chihuly encounter take place...

Monday, November 5, 2007

I’d climb the highest mountain...

Jemaine: Would you really do that, climb the highest mountain?

Bret: No, probably not

Jemaine: Why not make it a bit more realistic… things you’d actually do?

Bret: Well, I’d hang out with her… (check out the Flight of the Conchord's song)

Or in my case, I’d hike Old Rag. And since I wasn’t hiking up for, or with, anyone in particular I reveled in my mostly solo hike (which made for some fun shadography). Thanks to Diana for getting me to finally do this climb for the first time (it only took about 31 years of living around here!), for driving, and for letting me cast the deciding scheduling vote so I could hike it on my birthday weekend.

Notes to Jon:

  • I theorized that we witnessed the latest sunrise ever over our morning pitstop, Wawa. This is the first year of the new daylight savings time and Saturday was the last morning before we fell back, so that sunrise shot was taken at 7:41 am.
  • We spotted the strangest rainbow (a rainspot?) which was a prism of color that kept glowing out of one spot in the clouds a good distance away from the sun. It remained for the final 15 minutes of the drive and was visible even as our road twisted off in different directions.
  • Departing Ballston at 7am was early enough to avoid the bottlenecks on the rock scramble section despite being one of the busiest weekends of the year. Leaving later would have been a disaster. Hiking back down the rock scramble around 1pm we encountered people who’d presumably arrived closer to 10 or 11am. They were in a line that easily stretched back 100 people and couldn’t possibly have taken less than an hour to work through the bottleneck.
  • There is a bypass to the left of the bottleneck (as seen from the bottom), but it isn’t for the faint of heart and I needed a hand (actually a bent leg) to get started. It also isn’t much of an option when the line gets as long as it did because no one is going to let you pass through the line to get to the bypass. Coming back down on the other hand worked just fine!
  • We chose to hike up the rock scramble and then back down it rather than taking the easier fire road home. If you are willing to crab walk down the bypass I think that’s the better option. I didn’t take the fire road but I can’t imagine it would be more exciting than another trek through the rocks.
  • The hike took about two hours each way, which accounted for a decent amount of time wandering off for photos, but not much for waiting in line if you go later.

  • My winter biking gloves were perfect for keeping my hands warm and scrape-free.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And the Lord said "Peter... I can see your house from here"

Pardon me while I get a little sappy. In my friend’s Journal of Discovery he mentions recalling three good times you had this week. Thankfully I have far more than three moments to be grateful for, but I had an experience yesterday along those lines that I wanted to make a note of.

I was returning from a rainy business trip to Orlando. For the flight I had picked a book written by Matt Palka, one of Darren’s good friends from college. In Moment in the Sun, Matt relates his experience of moving from Ohio to California in the summer after graduation… by bicycle (with shades of my friends’ documentary about their cross country segway trip, and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild – without the tragedy). As we began our descent, I closed the book and peered out the window.

I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of scale between Matt’s travels on his bike and the enormous spread of countryside below me. In one glance I was taking in more than he could hope to cover in a day. Many people hate flying, but I always pick a window seat and feel like a kid again when watching the world from above. Never was that more true than yesterday when I rolled my fleece into a pillow for my chin and rested my forehead against the plastic window.

As an aside, I noticed a line on the airplane wing with text that read “Do not walk outside this area”… on both sides of the line! (I think “Get the hell back over here” might be more appropriate for one side). I tried to photograph this incongruity but my water damaged cell phone camera (the one with the LED flash that stays on at all times... even with the phone turned off... and constantly has people pointing out that my pocket is glowing) wasn't up for the task, as seen at the top of this post, so I recreated the blurred out sign here.

But once I’d had my fun with incomprehensible signage I began to scan the scene below. First I played how-high-are-we which I guessed at about 2000 ft (based on my recollection of similar sized scenery from my skydive) and then I played the where-are-we game. I was debating between the Eastern Shore and the Jamestown area when we passed over a bridge that I quickly concluded was the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. That’s when the real treat began.

The sun was setting, the sky was cloudless, and we were flying lower and slower than I ever remember. As I began picking out obvious landmarks, like the Masonic Temple in Alexandria, the plane began tracing a backwards question mark path to approach National Airport from the north side. My excitement built as we turned out over Arlington and I followed the line of high rises west from Rosslyn, through Courthouse, Clarendon and past their end in Ballston. The girl sitting behind me must have assumed I’d never flown before as I practically hopped in my seat scanning the intersections below. I remember the feeling playing with Google Earth when I first located my house, and I always got a rush flying into Logan Airport on a Friday night after spending the afternoon testing our ship simulator in the exact same spot of our virtual Boston harbor, but it was even more thrilling to finally see my house from an airplane.

I’ve played this game on most D.C. flights but never come closer than perhaps seeing the subdivision where I lived in high school. This time I found the intersection and began counting down each house until I found mine. We were impossibly low and making a wide turn that seemed to pivot around that specific spot. I could see the empty driveways, the dead tree in the front yard (that will soon come down), and the backyard filled with memories of watching movies projected on the back of the house and playing croquet until midnight… with the author of the book I had just been reading!

Matt includes a CD of his music to accompany the novel and I had my own soundtrack of a favorite Roger Waters song playing in my head, with the lyrics “And the Lord said, Peter, I can see your house from here” on repeat as my eye drew a straight line from the house to the Washington Monument and on to the Capital. They were all glowing a fiery orange thanks to another of my favorite aspects of D.C., the autumn sunsets. The plane completed its question mark path, but not without triggering a whole series of memories. I could see the Blue Ridge mountains marking the horizon, where my grandparents ashes are scattered. The plane passed over Great Falls, where I’ve begun doing some outdoor rock climbing. I saw the Women in the Armed Forces Memorial where another grandmother, who was a member of the WAVES, is scattered. Finally the plane swooped over Gravelly Point, where I stop on nearly every bike ride to picnic, read, or just catch one plane landing before finishing my favorite bike loop. Matt Palka rode across the country to find where he wanted to be; In one ten minute final approach I was reminded that at least for now I’ve answered that question (and of course I finally saw my house from an airplane!).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Call to the post

Saturday was my fourth trip to the Gold Cup (of either the International or Virginia varieties). For this annual tradition Jeffrey once again obtained a prime spot on the North Rail. By now, Jeffrey nearly has this process as well refined as our trips up to Fenway South… er Camden Yards for the Sox/O’s games. The only change I’d recommend for next year is to not bury the meat and cheese bags at the bottom of an ice filled cooler. My hands are numb right now just thinking of fishing them out. Everything else fell into place as it has in past years: food, parking passes, bow ties, and betting. Looking at the photos one might even get confused as to which year they were taken!


While I wasn’t nearly as successful as Jeffrey (who picked correctly in 6 of the 7 races – oftentimes placing two bets on the winning horse – and walked away with $52), it was easily my winningest year as well. Fly Past, Bon Fleur, and Orpington won three consecutive races for me and helped me to $7 in prize money (all of which, for tax purposes, has “officially” been returned to the original owners of course). I have a feeling I actually won more than that but some of it may have been embezzled by our bookie who would repeatedly declare the winnings and then apologize that she’d miscalculated when later handing me a dollar or two less… but we still love her (and she has priority deck privileges)

A few final notes for next year:

  • Don’t bet on horses whose names start with “Fields of…”. Fields of Autumn failed me, as did my big time sleeper pick Fields of Omagh (winner of the 2005 cup – he was a sleeper because that fact isn’t listed on his entry which only shows 2006 and 2007 results).
  • Don’t bet on a jockey who has just won a race and is then added as a last minute substitution to the next race. Robert Walsh rode Seeyouattheevent to victory in the International Gold Cup (when my money was on Fields of Omagh), and then proceeded to lead his horse off the course after suckering me into putting my money on him in the final race!
  • Bet with Jeffrey who seems enamored of jockey Jeff Murphy and horses bred by Morris Farms.
  • Make sure the bowtie is right side up if it has horses or other objects with obvious right-side-up-edness on it (unless you remember to tell people who point it out that you wear it that way for luck).
  • When it’s time to remember how to tie a bow tie next year… watch this video…

… unless that isn’t necessary anymore now that the bowtie has become part of my official Red Sox playoff watching attire (damn baseball superstitions!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When it's time to

The other day I was reminded about the emotional power of music... when the wrong song popped up on my iPod as I drove a friend home. In what seems to be a bit of a theme among my friends, he has been getting over someone and the song definitely brought that to the surface. (Note to Jon: Take Woke Up New by The Mountain Goats out of the shuffle rotation!) This got me thinking though about what songs would be good to listen to when getting over someone (other than generally happy songs and not any songs that have special memories with that person). I'll share my conclusions in a minute but first I recommend that anyone getting over someone (or anyone who likes to laugh) watch this video:

The playlist I came up with, based on my own experiences of songs that have helped me move on over the years looks something like:

  1. Looking for a Song by Big Audio Dynamite
  2. I'm Not Crying by Flight of the Conchords
  3. I'll Be On My Way by Corduroy
  4. Just One More by Jon-Rae and the River
  5. Shake Some Action by The Farm
  6. The Internet is for Porn by Avenue Q
  7. Rain by Bishop Allen
  8. I Believe by Booth and the Bad Angel
  9. Get Rhythm by Johnny Cash
  10. Let Your Troubles Roll By by Carbon Leaf
  11. Float On by Modest Mouse
  12. Tomorrow by James
  13. Beautiful Day by U2
And the annotated version for anyone interested in why I chose those songs in roughly that order:
  1. Looking for a Song by Big Audio Dynamite:
    • For some reason I had in my head that the chorus of this song was "Looking for a song, to help me move along". It's not. But I had already determined that it was kicking off the mix and I will continue to sing the chorus my way.
  2. I'm Not Crying by Flight of the Conchords
    • Denial (that you care). "I'm not crying, it's just been raining... on my face"
  3. I'll Be On My Way by Corduroy
    • Anger. "I'll say fuck you and then I'll be on my way!"
  4. Just One More by Jon-Rae and the River
    • Bonus Night! The title says it all, please "Just One More". Could also lead to Phase 3 of the Breakup video
  5. Shake Some Action by The Farm
    • Random Hook Ups. Everyone figures "some action's what I need"
  6. The Internet is for Porn by Avenue Q
    • Really a 5b for any friends who aren't having much luck with 5a
  7. Rain by Bishop Allen
    • On side B of this LP we start to get to the more healing, uplifting songs starting with: "Cause if its ever gonna get any better, it's gotta get worse for a day"
  8. I Believe by Booth and the Bad Angel
    • "Why be a song if you can be a symphony, don't give your power away"
  9. Get Rhythm by Johnny Cash
    • "When you get the blues, come on get rhythm"
  10. Let Your Troubles Roll By by Carbon Leaf
    • "When all of your tears dry, let your troubles roll by"
  11. Float On by Modest Mouse
    • Just a damn great song... "And we'll all float on okay..."
  12. Tomorrow by James
    • "Can't catch love with a net or a gun, gotta keep faith that your path will change, gotta keep faith that your luck will change... tomorrow"
  13. Beautiful Day by U2
    • The verse starting at 3:20 sums everything up perfectly for me "What you don't have you don't need it now, don't need it now..."
And of course, as Lev says "As soon as you are perfectly happy and content about being alone... get a new girlfriend and repeat from the beginning..."

Maybe I'll make a CD for my friend...

What would be on your list?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Did I choose to write this?

This was the original intent of my blog, to document things I learned at lectures but tended to forget almost immediately. Hence, Note To Jon.

Tonight was the first opportunity I had to attend this years Capital Science Lectures at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Michael Gazzaniga of UCSB presented a lecture on neuroscience called Brains, Minds, and Social Process. It actually turned out to be about a new Law and Neuroscience project Dr. Gazzaniga is co-Directing (Sandra Day O'Connor is the Honorary Chair - no Darren, not Sarah Connor).

He touched on the idea that the brain makes a decision before we are even conscious of the decision and the implications that this has for free will and by extension the idea of legal responsibility. He addressed how neuroscience would be related to persistent vegetative states like Terry Schiavo's, or to the concept of bias such as the Duke lacrosse case. But my goal isn't really to attempt to recap the lectures just record a few of the memorable highlights.

One quote I liked: "Man may think he is great, but to a mosquito we are just something to eat."

He had done a lot of work with people whose connection between the two hemispheres of their brain had been severed. He described a split-brain experiment that was performed. They show people two images and have them focus in between them. In all brains everything on the left of the focal point is processed by the right hemisphere and vice versa. In split-brain patients the left hemisphere would literally have no knowledge of what the left eye saw. The experiment would show a chicken foot on the right and a snowy driveway on the left. The patient then had to point to one of 4 images which was most closely related to the object in front of them. There was a chicken in front of the chicken foot and a shovel in front of the snowy driveway. When asked to point the split-brain patient could correctly point to the shovel and chicken with the corresponding hand (left eye sees snowy driveway, right hemisphere processes and sends signal to left hand to point to shovel). What gets interesting is when the patient is asked why they picked a chicken and a shovel. Only the left hemisphere processes speech, and the left hemisphere has no knowledge of the snowy driveway, but it still serves as an interpreter and tries to come up with the most plausible excuse that it can. So verbally the split-brain patient would explain "The chicken foot is associated with the chicken and the shovel is needed to clean the shit out of the chicken coop".

You can measure the brain response of a patient experiencing various emotions, "Pride", "Envy", "Pity" will have a unique brain signature in a given person. What is interesting (and disturbing) is that if the patient is shown an image with someone in an extreme outgroup (e.g. a drug addict) these emotions aren't registered at all. The brain shows no response, as if the person in the outgroup isn't even human.

Another interesting philosophical experiment that was posed was the trolley problem. The wiki explains it better than I will, but here were my notes:
You are a passenger on a trolley that is out of control and hurtling down a track towards five people tied to the track by a mad philosopher (that was from the wiki, but I loved the phrase so I am borrowing it). There is a flip you can switch to divert the train off to a side track that has one person tied to it. Should you flip the switch? 89% say it is morally right to flip the switch.

The second scenario is that you are on a footbridge above the trolley track and see it coming toward the five people tied to the track. You realize you can stop the train if you drop a very heavy object on the track. Conveniently a very fat man happens to be standing next to you and is the only thing heavy enough to stop the train (you yourself are not fat enough to jump down and stop the train). Should you push him off to save the 5? 11% say it is morally right to push the fat man.

So what's the difference? Do we have a special place in our hearts for fat men? To me, I suppose it is because you are actively killing the fat man and in the first case you are simply flipping a switch (which will likely lead to someone's death, but that was the mad philosophers doing, and who knows maybe the person on that track will somehow get untied in time - hey I'm an optimist).

Our prison population consists of 20-30% psychopaths and 65-85% people with Antisocial Personality Disorders.

Dr. Gazzaniga believe courtrooms will be shifting over from having psychiatrists and psychologists testifying about what they "think" to having neuroscientists testifying about what they "know".

Anybody still reading this :-p

Sunday, October 7, 2007

These shoes were made for skydiving

If I start an official life list I can now cross skydiving off of it. My friend Mary went for a casual tandem skydive three months ago... and now some 50 jumps, several thousand dollars, and a certification later she convinced Darren, Jenn and I to give it a shot. While I don't see myself joining the Real World: Drop Zone (as we decided to call the wacky drama filled hookup hangar) that has consumed Mary's weekends ever since, I could definitely be convinced to jump again (though after seeing the hard landing by one of the AFF students on our load, I'm thinking that original plan of taking the six hour class and jumping solo might not have been the best way to start).

Jenn got her video guy but we ultimately had to split up into two loads. Darren went with jumpmaster Nick, while Mary tried a threeway with a couple of the girls who'd also got hooked this summer. They went up on "otter load 7" which allowed us to photograph their landings before Jenn and I took off on "otter load 9". Jenn also had Nick as her jumpmaster, and Elmo was her videographer (who even got some video and photos of me!). Mario was my jumpmaster and had me go through the process of watching the altimeter, waving off and then pulling our chute. I loved the transition from the wind rushing past my face at 120 MPH to absolute silence when the chute opens.

I also realized that my REI attic sale Keens have lived quite a full life since I got them in June: trekking across West Africa, kicking it in Class V Whitewater, and now free-falling for over a mile. I wonder what adventure they will have next...

Here's the video that Jenn got. Most of it is of her, but you get an idea of what the experience is like and you can see me jump out of the plane around 3:32 left and then around 0:24 left you see me land in the background (rainbow chute)...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

What we did on our summer vacations...

Darren and I decided to get a bit fancier with this year's SOJDGs. Instead of just watching a movie we kicked off the BBQ season with the Inaugural YouTube Film Festival, and decided to close the season with a slideshow of our friends summer trips (summer trips was rather broadly interpreted). Aside from the plummeting temperature, everything turned out as I had hoped: I got to see my friends' vacation photos and discovered some new spots to add to my travel ToDo list.

For those of you who missed the BBQ (why would you do that?) or couldn't handle the cold, here is your chance to see the slideshow (but not hear it - you'll need to improvise your commentary Mystery Science Theatre style).

If you don't have the time or patience to sit through all 251 photos you can view them as a photo album. On the other hand if 251 photos just aren't enough for you then select any of the of the links below to be taken to additional photos from that person (and you might want to consider getting a more interesting job)

The slideshow consists of (in order):

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Funhouse Fountain

My new favorite activity in D.C. is the free Friday Jazz in the Sculpture Garden... which sadly wrapped up its season today. However I intend to make it a fairly regular Friday activity next summer. Here's my plan for the perfect weekend kickoff:
  • Grab free parking spot on Madison Dr.
  • Bring sunglasses and picnic (or buy food from the cafe in the garden)
  • Pick a spot on the east side of the fountain where the sun will shine longest
  • Dip feet in the fountain
  • Soak up the sun and sounds of live jazz
  • And for some bonus fun... bring friends and a waterproof camera (thanks Darren!)

Not enough distortion...... Hmmm. Perhaps too much ... Just right

Plus the performance ends early enough to have plenty of time for the rest of your Friday evening plans... like listening to Ceann play "You're Pretty on the Inside" at Murphy's in Old Town.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thank you Bent.

I found out this morning that my co-worker lost his long battle with cancer last night. Bent was one of the original founders of the simulator product I work on, and without him this job that I love would never have existed. Bent, you wore a smile every day that I knew you and I agree with Jacek that this is exactly how I want to remember you. Thank you Bent.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yay B!

This is more of a public thank you letter than a blog post. I just wanted to say a huge thanks to AB for coming to my impromptu deck staining party. She and Jeffrey (who came last year) now have priority deck privileges over all other guests at future BBQs. I bet the rest of you wish you'd come now, huh! Well it is too late, you'll have to wait for next year (or 4 years as the stain bucket claims) for a chance to earn your deck privileges.

Darren and I have been planning to re-stain the deck for over a year now (here's a tip - when you stain decking, use brushes instead of rollers, so you don't have to redo it). But in order for both of us to have a free weekend day at the same time... with nice weather... and no rain forecast... and Darren not being too tired from a bike ride that morning... or me from climbing... well you get the idea. Darren is at this moment competing in a 24 hour mountain bike race in Missouri, but I had Saturday free so I figured I might as well put a stop to the endless procrastination (don't worry we've got plenty of other projects that fall into that category, The God of Procrastination will still be appeased.) I planned to do it on my own (not realizing how long that would have taken me!), but AB volunteered (and sounded genuinely excited) to come help.

And so once again, thank you AB for making the whole process fun, for keeping me calm when it started to rain(!), for not complaining about our musical accompaniment, and for staining even faster than I did (not that that's tough to do). Without your help I would still be out there staining in the dark.

Since the original intent of this blog was to help me remember things:
We used "Behr Premium Wood-Toned Weatherproofing Wood Sealer + Finish #501 Natural Cedar" from Home Depot... and didn't need nearly the 5 gallons that I bought. Doh!

Before and After...