Coming Out of Left Field

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"Katrina" relief

RenaRF on Daily Kos has compiled a list of organizations accepting donations for relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Rather than duplicating the list (which seems to have been updated since I first saw it on Easily Addictive), I'll link directly to the post instead:

Hurricane Katrina disaster relief

I couldn't decide between the American Red Cross and United Jewish Communities (the Red Cross will probably do a large part of the relief work, but will surely attract a large part of the donations as well), so I think I'll end up sending something to both of them. If you have the resources and the desire to give, please do the same, for those or any of the other organizations listed on DailyKos.

Update #1: turns out there is another way you can offer help -- by providing temporary housing for those deprived of shelter by the hurricane. This morning (9/1), MoveOn.org set up HurricaneHousing.org, and a group of Louisiana professionals has created Operation: Share Your Home. Now I wish that we'd moved earlier -- maybe that way we'd have a spare bed or even a couch in the living room to offer.

Update #2: Found a link (via Tribe.net) to the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, which has joined with other groups to set up a LGBT relief fund.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Ice cream, ice cream, we all scream for ... fizzy flakes?

The good folks at MIT have invented a new method of making ice cream -- or, at least, what they call ice cream:

MIT crew churns out ice cream with sizzle (requires free registration to read)

"CAMBRIDGE -- Like many great scientific discoveries, Teresa Baker's breakthrough in MIT's grimy Cryogenic Engineering Laboratory last October was punctuated by a memorable exclamation of victory. She raced upstairs from the first-floor lab and announced to her fellow graduate students: ''I made ice cream, come down and eat it!"

Baker's work involves liquid carbon dioxide, bulky stainless steel cylinders, heat exchangers, and vanilla ice cream mix, and it may change the way ice cream is made in the $20 billion-a-year industry. For consumers, the novel device could popularize a new type of frozen dessert that combines the chill of ice cream with the explosive fizz of soda pop."

I have nothing against fizz per se. But when I want bubbles up my nose, I'll order a soda or a seltzer. I'm also not sure how well the flakes will go over. It would be pretty darn hard to eat a cone filled with flakes instead of cream, and somehow not as satisfying.

Good thing they aren't experimenting with gelato too. Then I'd really be in a bind.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

The Paris experience: day 5 / departure / misc.

We had hoped to go to Notre Dame on our last day in Paris, but after all the walking we'd done already, we didn't feel up to it. So my wife cast about for something close by and found the Jeu de Paume, a visual arts museum that turned out to be running a Charlie Chaplin exhibit. We spent a few happy hours looking at photos and watching several clips from his films, and left feeling Chaplin's comedy needed no translation.

The next day it was up early and on to the airport (where a security checker asked me, jokingly, "No weapons today?" and I answered, "Not anyday!"), then on the plane to JFK, then to wife's brother's house for the night, then back home to Boston the next day. It was an amazing trip, and I can't wait to go back.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

-- Bottled water was inordinately expensive, at least at the touristy spots. We ended up buying a large bottle from a grocery store and using it to refill the small ones we'd carry around.

-- We also managed to keep costs down by eating out just once a day. Breakfast came with the hotel, and we often snagged some rolls or pain au chocolat to take with us for lunch. The same grocery store supplied cheese, napkins and utensils.

-- The hotel was billed as a four-star hotel. I'd probably rank it around three stars. It was safe, clean, and located very close to where we wanted to go. It also had thin walls, two single beds that we had to push together every day after housekeeping visited, and no shower curtain.

-- I'm not sure if the hotel's TV channels catered to international guests or whether the offerings were just limited, but we saw quite a few American shows that were dubbed in French ("Law and Order", "Friends", "The Pretender", "Stargate: Atlantis", "Spin City"). We did catch some news, the French version of "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire", and a couple of movies with different plots but similar situations. Both featured well-off but unhappy middle-aged men who try (literally in one case) to switch lives with someone else. I've forgotten their names, but do remember one other film we started but quickly gave up on, Brève traversée. If I'm going to watch two characters whose relationship shouldn't have started and isn't going to go anywhere, at least hurry up about it.

-- My French was adequate, though my wife did most of the talking. Seems to be the case in English, too!

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The Paris experience: day 4

Since my wife and I know we're coming back to Paris (we're already trying to find a date), we had only a few must-sees for this trip. One of them was Versailles, which my wife hadn't been to in a while and which I -- having never been to France before -- had never been to period. After debating what exactly we wanted to see, we booked a minibus tour for the whole day: the palace in the morning, with time for walking around the gardens and having lunch, and the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette's Hamlet in the afternoon.

The palace was every bit as ornate and luxurious as the guidebooks say. Unfortunately, August in Paris is high tourist season; between the tour groups in front of us and the ones behind us, we couldn't spend more than a couple of minutes in each room. Our guide made the best of it, pointing out portraits of the royals and explaining how Louis XIV and his successors made their private lives open to the public. The queen even had to give birth in front of an audience (one reason why Marie Antoinette hated living there).

It was an extremely hot day, so we only did a little exploring of the gardens and took a few pictures. Because of the aggressive souvenir vendors, who would converge on tourists as soon as they exited the main gates, we stayed close to the palace until it was time to head to the afternoon sights. Even then, we had to wait for our afternoon guide to track down the bus, and the vendors had no compunction about walking right into the middle of the group to get attention (or, we later speculated, to distract people while someone else picked their pockets).

Fortunately, the Trianons and the Hamlet were much less crowded and much more relaxed. Two years ago, the Hamlet was converted into a working farm, so we got to meet assorted animals, including a friendly donkey that trotted right up to the fence. In her day, Marie Antoinette liked to play farmer, doing her own milking and selling butter and cheese to the villagers, who may or may not have had a choice in the matter. The Trianons were less elaborate than the palace, but since they were the lodgings of the kings' mistresses, they were chateaus, not shacks.

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The Paris experience: days 2 and 3

Day 2 was another museum day -- the Musée d'Orsay in the morning, the Musée Rodin in the afternoon. I'm glad we did it that way instead of the other way around. It seemed again like the entire tourist population was at the Musée d'Orsay, which is more specialized and much smaller than the Louvre and thus had much less elbow room. We couldn't even get within shouting distance of the Van Goghs, much less examine them properly, and most of the rooms dedicated to the leading Impressionists were just as bad. The Musée Rodin by contrast was quite peaceful, with a great collection of his sculptures and some film footage (silent, unfortunately) of the master strolling with friends, at work in his studio, etc.

Day 3 we spent on the Boulevard St. Michel. We wanted to pick up some French books during our stay, and the Club ABC representative had recommended we check out Gibert Jeune, where snagged some Tintin books on sale. My wife also found some romans to add to her collection. After picnicking in and walking around the Jardin du Luxembourg -- I was tempted to get a sailboat for rent, like the kids -- we went to an used bookstore and found some more titles. If we hadn't been on foot, we could've easily spent more time and money both at the stores and at the bouquinistes. Considering that we only had two big suitcases between us, it was probably just as well.

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The Paris experience: day 1

Our real first day in Paris was spent at the Louvre. Although the rest of the tourist population was probably there too, it didn't feel as crowded as I expected. Naturally there were clumps of people at the star attractions, but the museum is so big and has so much that folks tend to spread themselves around.

An acquaintance who teaches art history had told us that there were a couple of special things about the Mona Lisa:

-- it was the first portrait that tried to have a relationship with the viewer
-- it tried to portray the soul of a person, not just the appearance

On his advice, when we found the Mona Lisa we didn't take any pictures, we just stood there for a while and gazed at it, then walked around (not very far, thanks to the crowd) and looked at it from different angles. Forget the "Da Vinci Code." How did Leonardo figure out how to get her eyes to follow you? That's what I want to figure out.

We also saw Winged Victory and Venus De Milo (in our jet-lagged state, we mixed them up until we realized that the one has no head but arms, and vice versa), a lot of the Louvre's Egyptian collections, and some of the Northern Renaissance paintings like Rembrandt's Bathsheba.

That night we again had dinner at the Colibri, sitting inside this time, where we were joined by a pigeon that strutted around as if it owned the place. For all I know, maybe it did!

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The Paris experience: arrival

Getting to Paris was more complicated than we would've liked. Club ABC Tours, which we booked through, didn't have an option for leaving from Logan Airport. Instead, we could do either JFK, via Air France, or Newark, via Air India. (A pretty clear choice, even if Newark/Air India was $100 cheaper). We ended up driving to my wife's brother's house on Saturday afternoon, which left us enough time to drop off the car and grab a quick bite before catching a cab to the airport.

Apart from being long and somewhat turbulent, the flight was fine. We watched Madagascar, which was cute if not particularly memorable, read, and tried to sleep. The nice thing about going with Club ABC was that once we deplaned and got our luggage, a representative was there to meet all the members and ferry us to our respective hotels (in our case, the Hotel de Castiglione in the 8th Arrondissement).

The overnight flight left us with just enough energy to dump our bags and find a bistro to eat. For dinner we chose to sit outside, upon which some mischievious weather spirit decided to greet us with a proper Paris storm.

Lesson of the day: an awning doesn't offer that much in the way of rain protection, especially if your table is positioned right under the part where all the water collects.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Paris, c'est parfait ...

... or as close to it as we can get. Longer post forthcoming, as soon as I finish wading through a couple thousand e-mail.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Paris peregrination

The wife and I leave on vacation tomorrow, which means this blog will be on hold until we get back. While there is WiFi at our hotel, we have enough stuff to carry without schlepping the laptop across the Atlantic (assuming it would even work with European power outlets). And if one of us -- ok, me -- gets Internet withdrawal, I'm sure there are Internet cafes we could pop into for a quick fix. But with all that there is to do in Paris, it probably won't be a problem.

Au revoir, et à bientôt!

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Same-sex swan couple

Hmmmm. Maybe there is something in the water around here:

"Boston's beloved pair of swans -- feted by city leaders, residents, and tourists alike as one of the Hub's most celebrated summer attractions -- are a same-sex couple. Yes, scientific tests have shown that the pair, named Romeo and Juliet, are really Juliet and Juliet." (free registration required to read full article)

My favorite quote in the article comes from MassEquality.org's Marty Rouse: "We should still cherish and love our swans, no matter whom they choose to swim with."

Update: Bay Windows now has a related poll on their website:

What should Romeo and Juliet's new names be?

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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Stupid criminal quote of the day

"I know my son has done some bad things, but I did not train him to be this dumb."

Armando Garcia, speaking of his son, Daniel Garcia, who was recently arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to sell. On his way to court, he had hidden the drugs under a rock -- near the Stamford police department.

Hat tip to hadassahchana at Easily Addictive for the link.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Back to school!

Normally I would not be celebrating the start of school (though I am eager and anxious to get my third project wrapped up), but if it means good job news for the wife, I'm the first to dance. She's been going on lots of interviews lately, and just heard back from one preschool -- they liked her, and she liked them. Yay cool school! Yay new job!

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Harry Potter quotes of the day

"... I really had not thought that that's what I was doing."

J.K. Rowling, in a recent interview with Time magazine, admitting that she didn't realize she was writing a fantasy novel until after the first Harry Potter book was complete.

"I would have thought that the wizards, witches, trolls, unicorns, hidden worlds, jumping chocolate frogs, owl mail, magic food, ghosts, broomsticks and spells would have given her a clue?"

Terry Pratchett, in a letter to the Sunday Times, as quoted by BBC News.

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Maine maze

Kevin Costner put a baseball diamond in his cornfield. Charles Peavy has put a maze in his -- specifically, a World Series maze:



Pretty cool design, and not the slightest bit "corny".

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Out with the old, in with the new

All of our stuff in the old apartment has now been moved to our old place, recycled, given away, or thrown away. Cleaning has been done -- not as much as we'd planned, since the ex-landlords have already started tearing down wallpaper, moving appliances, and making more of a mess than we'd left behind. House keys have been removed from keyrings and left behind.

We've moved out of one place, moved into another, and are now free to move on.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

43 Things

Also from the Robot Co-Op, a look at what I'm doing:



There's some overlap between this blog and 43 Things, but I'm trying to keep it to a minimum. The entries on 43 Things tend to be shorter and more numerous anyway, and this blog is cluttered enough as it is!

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43 Places

For anyone wondering where I've been and where I'm going:



The map is a little deceptive, since choosing a city as a place highlights the whole state (or, in the case of foreign cities, the whole darn country), but it's pretty cool nevertheless. The site itself is tremendously addictive; even while writing this I'm thinking of cities, restaurants, museums, etc. to add. So much to tag, so little time ...

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Literary letter

Dear Ms. Rowling,

Not fair. Soooooooooo not fair.

I wish I had some Veritaserum so that you'd have to tell me everything you're planning for Book #7. Either that, or a time-travel machine so I could snag an advance copy.

Barring the sudden appearance of either, I'll have to spend the next several months in a state of tortured suspense, whiling away the time in endless speculating, obsessive surfing of HP-related websites, and compulsive revisiting of Books #1 through #6 in an effort to guess what on earth will happen next.

Which is exactly what you planned, isn't it?

Damn, you're good.

Regards,

soxfan

P.S. Don't worry about making me wait a year for #7. I made it through the Red Sox-Yankees playoff series last year, so I can survive anything.

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