Note From Jon


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.