Friday, October 31, 2014

End-of-the-Month Highlights Day

New photos have been added to the Life, 2014 and Seattle, 2014 albums.

  • Events
    • Celebrated a 5th Wedding Anniversary in Harper's Ferry and lost a FitBit in the Shenandoah on 10/4.

    • Had Game Night with Mexican food and weird German board games at the Smiths on 10/11.

    • Went on a week-long vacation in Washington State from 10/18 - 10/25, missing Anna's 33rd birthday, Booty's 12th birthday, and Amber's 10th birthday.

    • Planning to spend Halloween night quietly with the Ambrognes in Fairfax.

  • Projects
    • Worked on a proposal about big data and clouds.

    • Mercifully finished a weak Coursera course on Usable Security, and started a much better one on Software Security.

  • Consumerism
    • Enjoyed the new album by the Dirt Poor Robins.

    • Tore through multiple seasons of The Shield and Sons of Anarchy, and Parks and Recreation, Season Six. Still enjoying Person of Interest, Season Three.

    • Played Hearthstone and some classic Warcraft III.

October's Final Grade: A

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Armed and Dangerous by William Queen and Douglas Century:
In the midst of Sons of Anarchy viewing, I reread William Queen's book, Under and Alone about going undercover with a biker gang, and then picked up this book to pass the time on the plane home. This companion book details his attempts to catch a mountain man criminal in the hills of San Bernadino. The main case isn't particularly exciting, and the author seems to realize this, as he spends more time on tangential cases before reaching a rather ho-hum climax. I finished it in about two hours on the plane and had to start reading Ender's Game again to finish the flight.

Final Grade: D+

How I Met Your Mother, Season Nine:
From a technical viewpoint, this season already had two strikes against it -- the entire season takes place over a single weekend (drawing out the already overlong story), and one of the cast was off filming a movie (requiring contrived green screens and a solo storyline to keep him involved). This show is at its best with its quick one-off flashback jokes and at its worst when it tries to be serious or tease at the main storyline. Once the season finally starts wrapping up, it gets pretty good. Unfortunately, the season finale, while properly set up within the context of this season (so it's not really a twist ending), is illogical and useless against the character development set up in the last four seasons of the show. Had the show lasted only 2 seasons, it might have made sense, but after 9, it just felt like a slap in the face.

Final Grade: C-

Sons of Anarchy, Season Five:
Each season of SoA gets grimmer and more intense, becoming more of a stylized, violent family soap opera. This season isn't as good as the fourth, but kept me watching in spite of the occasionally unnecessarily long run-times of episodes.

Final Grade: B-

Tah-Dah by Scissor Sisters:
There's a number of good songs on this album, but nothing particularly different than their other albums. In this case, that's just fine.

Final Grade: B+

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Washington Travelogue, Part II of IV

Rain on the third morning in Seattle was a gentle tease, not unlike an interrupted cadence after a dominant pedal that fades out on the Top 40s Classical Music station before it can resolve to tonic. After huevos rancheros for breakfast, we walked back downtown and took Bill Spiedel's Underground Tour -- a lightweight historical tour of Seattle told from the tunnels beneath the city with extra emphasis on brothels, toilets, and puns. The tour was based around his history book (a typical self-published affair with overuse of ellipses, sentence fragments, and exclamation points), and provided a nice, succinct overview of Seattle's progression without the boring minutia. In a nutshell, they built too close to the water, pooped everywhere, and then took the opportunity to rebuild everything one level higher after a large fire.

From there, we toured a small, free gallery filled with modern art for sale in the thousands, an artisanal glassblower's shop where they were making Christmas ornaments, and the Grand Central Bakery for a chance to warm up with hippie sandwiches. We then walked to the Monorail station by way of the Seattle Public Library, an impressive homage to literacy in spite of the overbearing signs warning against being homeless whilst in a bathroom stall. The Monorail only had two stops and barely travelled half a mile, but it was quick, cheap, and worth the shoe leather.

My favourite part of the Seattle leg was the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project). At the time of our visit, it housed exhibits on Fantasy Worlds, Sci-Fi Icons, Horror Movies, Jimi Hendrix, the Evolution of the Guitar, Nirvana, and the History of Music Videos. Each exhibit balanced interest and interactivity well, without being too comprehensive (unlike The Spy Museum). We had reserved about 3 hours for this, but ended up wishing for another hour or so when they shooed everyone out at closing time (of course, the gift shop remained open for another hour).

In the evening, I caught up on my online coursework while Rebecca took advantage of a local yoga class. The rain finally hit in earnest this evening, with a downpour just as we went out to Pike Street for dinner. We had a warm, dry dinner at Bimbo's Cantina, a college-esque Mexican restaurant with bland, cheap food. Afterwards, I was bowled over on the sidewalk by a mumbling man clutching a bundle of blankets, and then defended by a trio of drunk, indignant stoners.

On Tuesday, we finally left Seattle and visited Anna's sister, Emily, south of Tacoma. With my knowledge of alien abductions, I was able to simply wave my ID to get on base, although Rebecca's driver's license was scrutinized heavily. We stayed for a couple hours, catching up on old times and older children, and then drove out to scenic Highway 101 for our trip up the Olympic Peninsula (a word which I always initially spell with too many Ns).

We stopped for lunch at the 101 Brewery, a modest roadhouse with surprisingly good burgers and beers for a place where you pay at the counter and the restroom is only for customers. It's definitely a good place to stop on any trip around the coast in spite of its poor sign kerning.

Lake Crescent Lodge is very much off the beaten trail, buried in the rain forest, and twenty miles from any semblance of a town. We arrived there in the late afternoon in moderate rain, and got a comfy, spartan room (no TVs or phones) looking directly onto the lake. Each room had a parking lot door and a lake door, which definitely complicated the posted Fire Emergency instructions: "In case of fire, exit via the front door, OR exit via the back door. Meet outside."

Although it was too late and drippy for serious hiking, we did the short Moments in Time Loop hike near the Lodge. The trees were weighed down with more green mosses than the set of Fraggle Rock, and we kept getting startled by black-tailed deer who would lurk just around the corner until we arrived.

That night, we ate in the informal warmth of the main lodge near the giant stone fireplace, where we had smoked salmon and clam chowder. With strains of 1930s four-beat jazz softly piped into the room and an Elysian stout in hand next to the Scrabble board, Rebecca remarked that we were like renegades lost out of time, braving the thunder and rain to enjoy the companionship of like-minded souls around the lake and its environs.

To be continued next Tuesday...

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Washington Travelogue, Part I of IV

Apart from the non-alcoholic beverage service on our United flight, everything else was behind a paywall -- from the snacks and meals to the movie options and even the real-time map of where the plane was at any given time. Luckily, we were blessed by the newfangled "TSA Pre" lines where you don't have to remove any clothing or deconstruct your luggage to get through, followed by an uneventful, direct flight and a majestic view of Mount Rainier looming above the cloudline.

We arrived in Seattle to a mild rain and, after getting a free rental upgrade from a Toyota Yaris (or Yaris-like alternative) to a Corolla S, we drove to the nearby suburb of Des Moines for lunch with Rebecca's grandmother. Later, we experienced Seattle traffic (which didn't seem nearly as bad as any given day on I-66) and arrived at the 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast in Capitol Hill. The owner, on his way to a charity event, quickly circled several nearby neighbourhoods that "got wild at night" on our map and then showed us to the comfortable Ruby Room. Intent on beating jet lag as quickly as possible, we spent the next few hours roaming the streets of Capitol Hill amidst a sea of facial hair and horn-rimmed glasses.

This area of Seattle was typical of a big city, with pedestrian traffic at all hours and scores of the mentally unwell souls who had slipped through the cracks talking to themselves in doorways or swirling through a Venn diagram of students, clubbers, and panhandlers. It was very walkable, and never felt unsafe.

We ended up at the Elysian Brewery for our first night's dinner, where Rebecca had a flight of pumpkin beers and an organic-sounding dish that she decided was 95% unnecessary carbs, mostly from cous-cous overload. Having stayed awake until 10 PM Pacific, we deemed the night a success and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning, we got up at 5 AM, and then again later at a less retarded time. After a breakfast of French toast with the other B&B patrons, we walked the 1.5 miles to Downtown Seattle for a typical touristy jaunt through Pike's Market. I mostly moved through the crowds people-watching while Rebecca took pictures of flower arrangements and smelled every item in the lavender stall (spoiler: they all smelled like lavender). From there, we hit the Space Needle by way of the Olympic Sculpture Park.

For most of the week, the weather was surprisingly accommodating. This day, in spite of the dread calls for rain, it was sunny with highs in the low 70s. We got good views of every mountain (the Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and the Olympians) from the top of the Needle.

After a quick lunch at Marcina Bakery, we also visited the Chihuly Glass and Garden exhibit. I had low expectations, since all I knew of Chihuly was the awful balloon animal chandeliers in the foyers of many museums and art galleries, and my expectations were just barely met. The museum was small, sparse, and not worth the admission fee. Apparently, Chihuly branched out from glassblowing on occasion, as evinced by the wall of third-grader-quality paintings in a poorly-lit exhibit near the restrooms.

We walked back to the B&B after Chihuly, straight up the infinite hill on Denny Way, and then drove out to visit Mollie and Hillel in Fremont, who we'd last seen at their Spokane wedding in July, 2010.

After the navigational challenge of learning that there was a second street directly under the main highway that did not show up properly on Google Maps, we posed for the obligatory tourist pictures with the Fremont Troll, a giant concrete sculpture under Highway 99 that was only mildly tattooed with obligatory big city graffiti.

We had drinks at the Fremont Brewery, and then walked to a nearby Turkish restaurant for dinner before finally visiting our hosts' temporary home in west Fremont, packed with a pug and three friendly cats. We learned from Hillel, who works in real estate, that a modest single-family home in the nearby Ballard neighborhood started around $600k, crushing Mike's dream of having us as next-door neighbours sometime in the future.

To be continued...

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