Note From Jon


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ba'rack Climbing in Franklin, WV

I missed out on Jeff's Obama fundraiser but it was worth it for a perfect day of climbing out in Franklin, WV. My two month layoff definitely showed as I had to "take" on Belly of the Whale and realized I wasn't ready to lead Jump Start but I made it up both and I felt great flashing Anchors Away. Most importantly my finger and foot injuries weren't a problem, so I am all clear to get out and do some more climbing!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hail Deer

Depending on whether it takes deer longer to eat dinner than it takes our family, we saw between 48 and 66 deer tonight. You see, having lost the past two deer counting games by guessing way too low (20), I went into this game with the highest deer count of the family (45). Not coincidentally, this year the car (with me at the helm) took an unorthodox route that went past Big Meadows (dining spot of a large number of deer) both on the way to dinner and on the way home. We saw 18 deer in the meadow area on the way to dinner and well over 20 on the way home. It's not entirely clear how many of those seen on the way home were just the same slow eaters we saw on the way in, hence the controversy between 48 and 66 deer. Either way my 45 deer guess was the closest...

EXCEPT that in a completely unprecedented move, my father (whose day we were belatedly celebrating) used his celebratory powers to award Mimsi a second guess (as a purported bonus for having spotted the first deer) and so at dinner she revised her initial guess of 20 up to the winning guess of 50. I am filing a protest.

The family is also filing a protest against Aramark which is attempting to ruin this family tradition by drastically reducing the quality of our dinner (I'll save the full review for the notes). Although I haven't figured out how yet, I also believe Aramark is responsible for the intense hail storm that forced us to pull off the Drive for a few minutes. Their plan was foiled however when the weather cleared up by the most important point of the trip when we stop to say hello to our grandparents at Cresent Rock overlook. And as you can see from the count, the hail certainly didn't scare the deer away...

Notes to Jon:
  • Deer Game Results
    • Mimsi (20)
    • Mom (33)
    • Dad (41) ... and 2 bears
    • Jon (45)
    • Mimsi #2(!) (50)*
    • Actual (48 to 66) ... and zero bears (sorry Dad).
  • Even more controversy on the deer count when Mom and Mimsi tried to include deers 67 and 68 which we saw just outside the entrance for Skyline Drive. As stated last year, deer outside the park do not count. For clarity that statement needs to be revised to "Deer outside of Skyline Drive do not count" since technically the park doesn't end until a sign at the bottom of the mountain, even though the game (in my mind at least) has always ended once we pass the Ranger station.
  • For the second year in a row we have been noticeably unimpressed with the food at Big Meadows. They have taken the menu and price upscale, while the serving size and (most importantly) taste has gone downhill. Worst of all they are starting to run out of things, including the most important dish of all: their Blackberry Ice Cream Pie. They were also out of the gumbo I ordered. The Brunswick Stew was a small $20 crock which consisted mostly of a large dry chicken leg. The Sheppard's Pie had an unusual flavor, but not necessarily in a good way. My Ratatouille was decent and the New Deal Turkey which my mom always orders was smaller and with less stuffing than usual (but at least it was still on the menu). They reminded me that I hated the Creme Brule there, so I tried the Bread Pudding which was ok, and probably a bigger hit than the Blackberry Ice Cream sundaes. Next trip we'll try Skyland for dinner. On the bright side, we got a seat by the window for the first time :-)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Artomatic final floors! ...a week too late

I'm pretty sure nobody was waiting on my review before checking out floors 4-6 at Artomatic, but if you were I apologize because well, the show ended last week. These floors had plenty of great individual work but I wasn't captivated by an entire exhibit the way I was by Chris Peloso and Tracey Lee on my first trip or Heather Bartlett and Patrick Wilson on my second. But there was still plenty of art that interested me:

John Pack had a whole series of mouth-watering food creations made entirely of sea debris. The ice cream and toppings were various corals and the cone was a seashell. Elizabeth Lundberg Morisette put together my favorite installation in 1,584 Bottles of Beer on the Wall (I've had my share). It was a testament to her grandfather "Sarge" who gave up drinking cold turkey at age 60 (saying "I've had my share") and who left her two coffee cans full of nails which were used to nail 1,584 not-necessarily-beer bottle caps to the wall (several were from my favorite IBC root beer)

I previously joked that BRASH was putting a poem up for every artist. I believe I have to revoke the joke. As far as I could tell, by my final trip on closing weekend BRASH had left a poem for all 1,000+ artists. Amazing. Congratulations. One of my favorites was her interpretation of Sabrina Cabada's Outside Looking In. I believe it was a fairly different interpretation than what Sabrina intended, but it made the piece for me. BRASH also had a great poem for another of my favorite pieces called Roadmap to Spring by Susan W. Holland. The trunk and branches of the tree are all made by exposing the bottom layer of the painting to reveal a map of the DC area.

For the most part I don't tend to be a fan of abstract art. Kay Layne and Pilar Jimenez's work was an exception for me. I think I liked Kay's work because the titles gave me a concept I could grasp onto. The subject of her painting was a simple red square (or should I say Krasnaya Ploshad! yukyukyuk). In the case of Corralled there were some circles surrounding the red square and as you can see on the left, here the red square is Waiting in Line. I have no idea what appealed to me about Pilar's work but it did. Maybe the background reminded me of a photo I had just accidentally taken of the concrete floor? Nope I have no idea.

While I wasn't sucked in for quite as long as I had been upstairs, two artists did have a number of different works that appealed to me. JD Yezierski had a series of photographs of nudes "painted" with projected images. I love the three-dimensionality that this gave to Mona's eyes. Other humorous ones included Ass on Ass with a projection of Rummy, and Jerry Fal-well endowed which I imagine you can also picture. Finally Nancy Daly had a broad range of fun pieces: from her commentary on men and women with strategically placed hearts, to a rolling office chair made entirely of post-its, and from a "Support our oops" photo of a burned out neon sign, to a blue bower bed with clever story which asks the question "Are good things a good enough replacement for good genes?"

Looking back, the highlight of the show for me was Tracey Lee's Refused: Return to Sender which used several pieces to tell the heartbreaking story of her relationship with her alcoholic parents. What I may remember most from this Artomatic experience though was getting so much feedback from the artists to my first blog post, and especially finding out Joseph Merchlinsky had made my favorite piece from 2004. Now if I can just figure out who made the Converse sneaker color study from the year before...

While I begin the wait until the next Artomatic and Darren and I continue to debate our mantle options I'll be keeping my eyes open for a glance like Cristin's...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The 500 Club at Fenway South

We’ve got it easy. Jump on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, grab free parking (or worst case $2), buy cheap food from the vendors in front of Pickles Pub, and scalp prime seats to the game for well less than face value. That’s the routine for most of the nine games that the Sox play here at Fenway South each season. Really I feel bad for the fans in Boston, the families we meet at each game who have realized they can fly the whole family down for a weekend of Sox games in Charm City for less than it would cost them to stay at home and watch. That’s the great thing about Fenway South, it’s not just geographically-challenged fans like Jeffrey and me making the O’s feel like they have 9 extra road games a year, the seats around us are usually filled with extended families of vacationing New Englanders. Ironically, I’m pretty sure we get to see more Sox games than they do each year.

I got an early start on my Sox watching this year with the trip in April to Yankee Stadium. That was quite an experience. I was in section 39 of the bleachers out in right field. It’s the home of the “Bleacher Creatures” and many of the Yankee fans there wore “Section 39” t-shirts. The “Roll Call” originates in this section, where the fans chant each player’s name during the top of the first inning until they get some acknowledgment from that player and move on to the next. The few Sox fans (at our game exactly 4 in the whole section) are generally welcomed with a collective chant of “Ass-Hole… Ass-Hole” as we walk to our seats (or in any way move around or draw attention to ourselves). When YMCA plays on the sound system, they encircle a Sox fan and sing “Why are you gay?” Nonetheless, I proudly wore my Sox cap the entire time.

That’s not as bold as it seems because of one important development in recent years: the bleachers are now alcohol-free. The Yankee fans I was with told me stories of the good old days when a Sox fan would be ruthlessly confronted by the chanting fans and often kicked out of the bleachers by security “for their own safety”. The situation has mellowed and I never felt any genuine hostility. That’s probably because I was with several Yankees fans, cheered for the Sox but not excessively loudly, and because two vocal Sox fans a few rows in front of me did an excellent job of drawing all the wrath in their direction. At one point the fan behind me tapped me on my back and asked “How is it that everyone is leaving you alone?” Even the Ass-Hole chant I got en route to my seat died half-heartedly after a couple of rounds. Even still I was a bit nervous as Joel took a photo of me after the game in front of the Yankees logo… giving a big thumbs down. With some drunken Yanks fans around I’d likely have been taking a rather different route out of (well over) the bleachers. It probably helped my cause that the Damn Yankees had crushed my Sox that night and everyone (but me) was feeling festive… But scoreboard aside it was a fun trip to Yankee Stadium and I thank Joel for organizing it. I especially enjoyed learning about the boltbus service which I rode home from Penn Station NYC to Metro Center D.C. for $15 (it could have been $1 if I booked far enough in advance)

I expected a better result for the Sox on May 13th at the Fenway South season opener. After all Jeffrey and I had never witnessed a Sox defeat there since our tradition began a couple of years ago. I should have known something was amiss when we had to pay face value for our tickets ($50/$50 for Sec. 34 Row JJ Seat 5 - Home Plate) and for once there actually seemed to be a few more Orioles fans than Red Sox fans (quite literally, we usually outnumber them considerably). Beckett got shelled, Manny stayed stuck on 498 HRs, and—other than it marking our first defeat—the most memorable thing about the game was that someone had followed through on the idea of a Fenway South poster that Jeffrey and I had often discussed but never executed.

Two weeks later the Sox were back in town on Friday May 30th. I made the mistake of assuming that $55 tickets would have to be good seats and snagged them for $20 a piece ($55/$20 Sec. 43 Row J Seat 8 - Press Box). They weren’t horrible (behind home plate next to the press boxes) but they were considerably farther away than we were used to. I did determine that it is easier to scalp tickets for the weekend games for some reason as there were far more sellers in the designated scalping area than there had been for our Tuesday night game on the 13th. Our seats may have been worse but the results were much better. It took 13 innings but the Sox finally broke it open and Papelbon locked down the 5-2 win… probably because by that time we had moved all the way down to the second row behind the plate. After managing only a single HR in the past two weeks, Manny was still stuck on #499 and stayed that way through this game.

We nearly skipped Saturday’s game. The forecast was for storms and Sarah was having a dinner party. We went anyway. We might not have forgiven ourselves if we didn’t. The evening started well, with second row seats just past third base for $30 ($32/$30 Sec. 62 Row BBB Seat 8 - 3rd Base), and it kept getting better. No rain ever came, the Sox won again, and everything was completely overshadowed by Manny finally crushing HR #500 in front of as noisy a crowd as he’d have found at Fenway (North). After taking photos of nearly every pitch Manny had seen for the past two days, the one pitch he finally got a hold of turned out to be the one that my focally-challenged camera managed to blur. But we were there for the memorable moment, probably the most historic sports moment Jeffrey or I have witnessed (though I did see Big Mac’s final four homers in his record-setting 1998 campaign—that might have won out had Barry not broken* that record only a few years later). Fans were so excited we were literally clamoring for the ball girl to toss us the piece of trash that Manny had dropped on his way into the dugout (we assumed it was a sunflower seed bag or somesuch—the zoom on my camera revealed it was only a crushed muddy cup that had gotten stuck to his cleat)

At this moment the Sox hold the best record in the AL East with a 7 game lead over the last place Os and Yankees. Hopefully that’s how things will look at Fenway South when the Sox return to finish the season series in the middle of August. Until then, Go Sox!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Geotag This!

I am officially not a fan of the current state of geotagging tools/websites. It would be hard to suck all of the fun out of the phenomenal hike/swim that is the White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run hike but Flickr and EveryTrail nearly accomplished it. It seems like a fun little idea to give you a map as the backdrop to the slideshow (and I basically went out and purchased a GPS in order to do just that) but the tools just aren't ready yet. Here is a short list of the problems I have now had with this process:

  • Picasa can't read the geotags in my photos edited by WWMX Location Stamper (Solution: Batch edit the version number with an Exif editor or switch editors)
  • Picasa photo maps can't be embedded in a blog (Solution: Use which creates the embedded code)
  • EveryTrail simply fails to read half of the photos uploaded from my PC and can't link to my Picasa photos (Solution: Use Flickr for my photos since EveryTrail can link to them)
  • Flickr limits me to 100MB/Month... and the photos from a single hike are 125MB (Solution: Change the default preferences in Flickr Uploadr to resize your photos to 1600—or smaller—and realize that it will still tell you that you are about to upload 125MB)
  • Flickr uploads photos and throws away the geotag data (Solution: Change the default setting in your Flickr account profile that disables importing of location data!)
  • Flickr Uploadr puts photos in reverse chronological order and only lets you reorder one at a time... and the photos don't go into the set specified (Solution: Use the Organizr in the web interface to place the photos in sets and choose Arrange to reverse their current order)
  • When Everytrail imports from Flickr... it only succeeds in importing half of the photos! (Solution: Import the other half manually from the computer a couple photos at a time)
  • Once they are all uploaded and you are about to manually readd the captions to the ones that didn't import from Flickr... realize that the photos are out of order and EveryTrail doesn't give you a mechanism to reorder them (Solution: Get pissed, write a seething blog entry about your frustration, post the slideshow in its traditional mapless form, get some sleep and try to remember how much fun the hike was instead of how frustrating embedding a geotagged slideshow into a blog currently is)
Oh yeah. Did I mention we had a fun hike returning to White Oak Canyon and Cedar Run yesterday? Enjoy the slideshow :-)

Note to Jon:
  • Stop at the Sheetz on the right-hand side of 211 in Warrenton instead of the Wawa on 29 in Gainesville (gas was 6 cents cheaper than Wawas morning price... which went up an additional 8 cents while we were out hiking!)
  • Plastic bags full of water apparently keep houseflies away. We saw several bags hung around Burgers 'n' Things and admittedly didn't see a lot of flies hanging around
  • Order the Dreamsicle Milkshake for the post-hike treat
  • Hike stats:
    Length: 8.1 miles
    Duration: 5 hours, 56 minutes, 9 seconds
    Average Speed: 1.4 mph
    Vertical up: 4193.4 ft
    Vertical down: 4218.6 ft

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Artomatic 2008: Round 2

Well it took two trips but I explored the next three floors of Artomatic (7-9). I was on my own for these visits which meant I could go at my own pace... which I discovered is really slow. I was taking nearly an hour and a half per floor. Hence the second trip. I am primarily chocking that pace up to getting absorbed into two exhibits: Heather Bartlett's Skinny Jeans exhibit space and Patrick Wilson's wall of diary entries and paintings.

Like Tracey Lee's Return to Sender, discussed previously, there wasn't a great deal of visual appeal to Heather's skinny jeans, but they provided a springboard for a lengthy mental conversation about self-image. On the jeans are a variety of weight-loss advertisements, barbie images, and most poignantly, posts from girls in online forums setting absurdly unhealthy weight goals for themselves and describing how they are staaaarving but aren't going to eat any dinner and are looking for support. It was truly frightening, and even more disturbing because I felt partly responsible. I'm attracted to skinny women. Perhaps it's driven by the same societal paradigm of beauty that has twisted these women's perception of themselves, but the fact remains that I don't find myself physically attracted to larger (or sadly even normal sized) women, and I'm not sure there is a way for me to change that. It was a sobering journey through the exhibit, which was greatly enhanced by thoughts and responses posted on the walls by viewers. While these issues are hardly new, it is rare that I stand in one area quietly reading and contemplating the issue as Heather's exhibit compelled me to do. The thought I left with was to be healthy and to take pride in yourself, not your body, and don't try to change for people like, well

Now to dispel the impression that I only like artwork without visual appeal or with plenty of prose, I present Eli Halpin's hugging octopus which caught my eye without reading the title or artist's statement. Of course I did like it more when I read about the inspiration: scientists' discovery that octopi can hug sharks to death. Deadly hugs. Maybe Shel Silverstein was wrong and we would rather play at tug-o-war than hug-o-war.

Ironically, from a visual standpoint my most memorable piece of the show so far is probably one of the most traditional. Joe Granski II's portrait of Cristin, Candlelight is mesmerizing and we stared at each other for an unhealthily long time (Cristin and I, not Joe and I). The poem Glance left by BRASH was the perfect complement for me. You can read it alongside the painting if you click on the photo.

BRASH is another of my favorite parts about Artomatic. BRASH is a mysterious poet who, for at least the last couple of shows, has been secretly leaving poetic additions as responses to various artists' works. This year "she" (gender based purely on a rumor I heard last year) seems to have somehow found the time to leave a poem for every single artist! Perhaps not quite but she seems much more prolific than at past shows and it was quite often that I would go 4 to 5 booths in a row which each had their own poem. Like the artwork, some of BRASH's poems worked for me better than others. Cristin, Candellight and Glance were a perfect pairing as was this How I Know It's Reality response to Deborah L. Brooks' wonderfully whimsical In Dreams All Things Are Possible.

One advantage to exploring Artomatic on my own is that after Darren visited these same floors we could compare notes (and photos) and see which works struck us both without any influence from each other. Two examples of this from these floors were Brandon Wu's I Don't Want to Go! which perfectly captured how I (and it) felt about them ripping The Awakening out of Hain's Point and shipping it off to some place I'll never visit in Springfield. Boo to the Parks Service for not doing whatever it took (spending my tax money presumably) to keep it there! The other piece was Patrick Wilson's FOVULATION, which was part of the second exhibit space (after Heather Bartlett's) that monopolized my time.

Darren and I were both drawn to Patrick Wilson's work. In addition, Darren and I both assumed they were by a female artist (which in hindsight seems odd since the subjects are pretty much exclusively partially-clothed women in science-fiction settings). The wall where Patrick's work is exhibited is completely filled. Surrounding the half-dozen or so paintings are countless pages of his journal entries, which are usually accompanied by a colored sketch of a potential piece, some of which are shown alongside the final work they evolved into. It was amazing to see how many sketches there were and fascinating to read the journal entries. Some of the entries which stood out to me were his confession of feeling ashamed/embarassed as his artwork became more sexually explicit, detailing his struggles with alcoholism, and the thought-provoking line "so many people tried to love me out of alcoholism but it didn't work. At first." Even more than most, Patrick put himself out there (including daily calorie counts!) for the world (well the DC area) to see, and I certainly appreciated it.

Without too much commentary I'll share some of my other favorites from these floors:

  • Tinaseamonster's random thoughts laser etched on wood, which I later found throughout the Clark St. Playhouse... except they didn't have my favorite one about maracas

  • Darren Smith's Cross and Ladder photo series commenting on symbols of faith vs. logic

  • Jack Whitsitt proving that a computer scientist (like me!) can be an artist as he wrote a Python script to build a mosaic of his face

  • Jose Piedra had several paintings that I loved but I got a good laugh out of the Washington Condiment which—whatever its relevance in his painting—just reminded me of the metal "condom"—as my friends and I referred to it—that the monument actually wore several years ago during repairs

  • Van Nyugen's Peace series delighted my eye...

  • While Solomon T. Wondimu's Protest tricked it. I initially saw it from so close that it looked exactly like the abstract swirls on a kitchen countertop I remember growing up and it wasn't until I looked back from across the room that I saw the faces

  • Darren also managed to trick me when he showed me his photo of Masai Conversation by Mitra M. Lore on his camera's LCD screen
I'll be back with the final three floors hopefully before the show ends next weekend (I'll get to the floors it's just a matter of whether I'll get a chance to write them up). Thanks again to the artists who found themselves referenced here and took the time to let me know they appreciated the mention.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Memorial Day Hike 2008: Much Less Water

Last year we found the rock slide on Cedar Run Trail which is still my favorite hike in the D.C. area. I'd have been happy to return this Memorial Day but I've been accused of being too rigid in my traditions, plus one of our merry band of hikers doesn't like water... or it might have something to do with the fact that we already had plans to hike Cedar Run again later this month :-)

Instead we selected a hike through Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg, MD for Memorial Day. The hike was an easy 9.1 loop around the perimeter of the park, which made for pleasant hiking through mostly shaded trails but not so much for spectacular views.

Notes to Jon:
  • If you don't print out a trail map at home you can use a photo of the park signs as a digital map
  • We finally remembered to look up local ice cream spots before the hike and ended up at the quite satisfactory Country Cone Cafe in Germantown, MD
  • Country Cone Cafe was perfect for this hike because the lactose intolerant among us could eat their frozen yogurt

  • Looking for tether ball? Country Cone Cafe has you covered there as well
  • While no one got any we certainly saw plenty of Poison Ivy (and spent quite a while debating what it looked like—are the leaves always shiny? Find out the way we did...)

  • Hike times: Total time about 7 hours. Hike and lunch 4 hours 45 minutes. Left Ballston just after 10am. At trailhead by 10:45. Finished hiking about 3:30. Ice cream at 4:00 and home by 5:00

  • The tool I use to geotag my photos—WWMX Location Stamper—doesn't play well with Picasa and requires the additional step of running something like Exiftool to adjust the version numbers

  • I investigated embedding a geotagged slideshow in the post but haven't found a good option yet (I'd like something more interactive than the interesting solution Rocky found). For now I'll link to the new capability in Picasa and Google Maps which is fairly good and just lacks the ability to show a GPS track and easily embed the result in a blog