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Bay City Roller Coaster

Yesterday I returned from a whirlwind four days in San Francisco.  The primary reason for the trip was to conduct training for folks at the California Digital Library, but of course all kinds of other things happened.  Here’s the brain dump.

  • I can’t believe what great friends we have.  At a Sunday afternoon party at the gotomedia pad, we were joined by college friends from Oregon, others who live a four-hour drive from San Francisco, and another from Cleveland.  You read that right: one of our local friends flew out to the Bay Area to be at the party.  Well, that and to take a vacation in California, but still!  And that doesn’t even count the WaSP folks who also attended, like Simon, Porter, and Molly, who came from Kansas, Washington DC, and Arizona respectively.

    It was at the same party that I finally met Porter’s wife, so I can now stop referring to her as “Porter’s imaginary spouse.”

  • If there’s one thing I envy about San Francisco, it’s the BART system.  You can get darned near anywhere, and it makes commuting from the city over to Oakland a snap.  This is particularly true when your hotel is on a stop, and so is the place you’re headed.  Despite this, I still got turned around in downtown Oakland and was very nearly late for the second day of training.  The only reason I was able to find the place at all was that we’d walked over to the training facility the day before, so I was able to identify and use landmarks to reconstruct our path, and thus find the labs.

  • It turns out the BART ticket machines run on Windows.  I found this out by the usual method, of course. A picture of the screen on a BART ticket terminal with a Windows error dialog indicating a C++ crash.

  • In a conversation about the presidential campaign and Ohio being considered a key battleground state because of its employment situation and political complexity, one of my hosts opined, “The Bay Area pretty much spans the political spectrum from liberal to extremely liberal.”

  • At the WaSP and Friends after-dinner party on Tuesday, Tantek publicly announced his departure from Microsoft.  He refused to say where he was going next, although we’ve since learned that he’s headed to Technorati.  By Wednesday evening, I’d actually come to that conclusion without having seen the post, but of course I didn’t manage to post until now, so I look like a poser instead of eerily prescient… although if you’d take the word of a VP at Macromedia, he could attest to my prediction.

    Like others, in a way I’m sorry to see Microsoft losing such a passionate, intelligent, and committed standards advocate.  We could speculate all day as to whether or not there’s even room for people like him, but one could assume the same about AOL, and they funded a whole standards team for a few years.  In any case, Tantek firmly believes this is the right thing for him to do and seems happy with the life change it represents, so I can’t be anything but happy for him.  I can’t wait to see what he does at Technorati (and really hope the service stabilizes in the near future).

  • I spent a goodly portion of Tuesday evening talking, at various stages, with Rebecca Blood about the Web, adoption, growing up in the Midwest, and more.  On my flight home Thursday, I was delighted to discover a mini-profile of her in a Time article titled “Meet Joe Blog.”  It’s kind of a weird feeling to open a national magazine and read about someone you’d talked to just two days before.

  • Not only did Metagrrrl spend some time with my laptop at the party, so did Min Jung Kim.  Geez, this thing gets more action than I ever did.

  • At one point during the party, someone was copying a movie to his or her laptop.  I observed this activity for a few moments, then turned to Jonas Luster (who managed to get a picture of me drinking some MS kool-aid) and said, “You know, in Soviet America, the movies rip YOU!”

    Okay, maybe you had to be there.

Live From Iowa!

A brief sampling of vignettes from this week’s trip to Iowa City:

  • I got my picture taken with a bunch of people who’d driven from Wisconsin to be at the Web Camp.  As the picture was being taken, I felt like we were all bunched together to a degree that would have made a modest person blush.  The photo makes it look like the people on my side of the group were fearful of catching contagious diseases from each other.  Weird.
  • While walking around downtown Iowa City with some folks from the conference, we passed a Mexican restaurant called “Gringo’s”.  A block away, we passed an ice cream parlor called “Whitey’s”.

    Do I even have to tell you that I’m not making this up?

  • Tuesday night we had dinner at an Italian place, and when the hostess asked me if I’d like some freshly grated cheese on my entreé, I said I would.  “Just tell me when,” she said as she started.

    There was a short pause as she grated away.  “More?” she inquired.

    “You bet,” I replied.  “Did you ever see the TV commercial with the huge pile of—”

    “Oh, yes,” she said with authority, still grating.  “At my last job, that’s all anybody ever said to me.”

    “I think that’s enough,” I told her.  “And thanks for so thoroughly shooting down my lame, unoriginal attempt at a stupid joke.”

  • Iowa City, and for that matter the Cedar Rapids airport, are dotted with “Herkeys”, which are four-foot statues of the local sports mascot that have been ‘enhanced’ by various artists.  The statue outside the Museum of Natural History, for example, was covered in fur and titled “Bigfoot Herkey”, while the one in the airport sports a business suit, travel bag, and cell phone.  What I found interesting is that none of the Herkeys I saw had been structurally modified, either by addition or subtraction, but were simply decorated in some fashion.  I wonder if that was a participation constraint, or if perhaps the mascot is so revered that nobody even considered performing artistic surgery.

  • Just past the Museum of Natural History I glanced up at the roof of a building to see the American flag at half-mast.  I actually had to think about it for a second before I made the connection, but I thought I’d check.  “That’s to honor Reagan, I assume,” I said to Mark Hale, the conference organizer.  “How long are flags going to be lowered for him?”

    “I heard thirty days,” he said.  “Although I think ten of those might be in memory of the Democratic Party.”

Floridian Fun

The previous week’s silence was caused by a trip to visit my father at his new digs in Florida.  His house is really nice, but the weather was not.  Every single day was really, really hot, and humid to boot.  As an official pasty white northern boy, I had a lot of trouble handling it.  Dad’s house is of course air conditioned, but that just made going outside all the worse.  I had to wait until late in the afternoon before I could even go out on his lanai (screened-in patio).

Said lanai was frequently visited by earwigs, Florida’s answer to the silverfish.  Have I mentioned how much I loathe both forms of insect?  I mean, I’m no fan of insects generally, but silverfish and those hairy-centipede-like things we get in Ohio are particularly horrifying.  Earwigs are not much better, in my book.  What’s worse, they had a tendency to get into the house.  I was in the middle of feeding Carolyn breakfast one morning and looked down to see a sizeable earwig on my leg, having just stepped from my sock to my bare flesh, waving its feelers about as if trying to decide where it should attack.  In what I feel was an impressive display of parental fortitude, I managed to refrain from screaming like a panicked little girl.  Instead, I knocked the bug off my leg and then stomped on it five or six times, just to make a point.  Carolyn was fascinated enough by the new game I appeared to be playing that she didn’t complain about the interruption to her breakfast.

Of course, since Dad lives about an hour from Disney World, we took Carolyn on her first trip.  We went to EPCOT.  Why there?  A few reasons:

  1. They were having their annual flower exposition, so the grounds were even more beautiful than usual.
  2. We figured the crowds would be a lot thinner there than at the Magic Kingdom, an assumption that seemed to be correct.
  3. Carolyn’s too young to really appreciate differences between the parks.  We decided to save trips to the Magic Kingdom until she’s old enough to appreciate it more fully.
  4. EPCOT is my favorite of the parks at Disney World, especially the international section.

Because we’ll be back to visit Dad with some regularity, we were able to take a more relaxed attitude toward our day at EPCOT.  We’ve done the endurance-test sprint from park to park, packing in as much as possible.  This was a leisurely stroll through the parts of the park that most interested us.  We didn’t get to everything.  That was okay.  Because, as I mentioned, it was really damned hot.  Despite consuming lots of water at meals and while walking around, I think I managed to dehydrate.  That was a problem in China too, and now that I think about it, the weather was very similar.  We pretty much all felt like Carolyn did in ths picture.

A photograph of six-month-old Carolyn clutching a water bottle to herself as if it were the most precious thing on Earth-- which, at that moment, it probably was.

We actually got her to drink from the bottle, too, and without choking.  All right, keep your smart comments to yourselves.

One of the most fascinating things about the entire day was watching Carolyn react to everything around her.  To her, everything is of equal interest, and the most routine things can be as entrancing as a once-in-a-lifetime event.  (Not that this is the only time she’ll ever go to Disney—not by a long shot.)  After lunch at the Japanese pavilion, Dad decided to take his granddaughter to see the taiko drummers performing outside.  He held her up to see them better, and she immediately locked her gaze onto a three-year-old girl sitting on the ground about ten feet away.  Carolyn studied this girl as if she held the secret to life itself.  A few minutes later, a small tree came in for the same treatment.

I’ve heard it said that through a baby’s eyes, you can see the world anew.  It sounds wonderful, deep, meaningful.  It sounds like a homily for the ages.  In practice, it’s simply that you get to watch someone with no preconceptions about the world react to everything around her, but that alone is exhilirating and amusing, mystifying and fascinating.  I could spend all day watching her watch the world.  When she’s trying to figure something out, the look of pure, unadulterated concentration is so intense it makes me want to laugh with joy.  I can’t explain why.  It just does.

Later on that same afternoon, Carolyn discovered that in addition to fine books, O’Reilly also produces a great chew toy—I mean hat.

A photograph of six-month-old Carolyn chewing on the rim of her father's "O'Reilly Author" baseball cap.

That was shortly before lapsing into a late-afternoon nap.  Kat and I took advantage of the nap to park her with Grandpa and wander through the Moroccan pavilion, which is one of my favorites.  The architecture, rambling byways, and artistry of the pavilion are all top-notch, as you would expect: the Moroccan king sent his personal artists to create the frescoes and other aspects of the pavilion when it was constructed.  The covered bazaar area at the heart of the pavilion is almost like a hidden treasure, cool and generally uncrowded.

After a fine dinner at Les Chefs de France, we headed out of the park.  I snapped a final picture of the Spaceship Earth globe just a few minutes before the evening’s show began.

A photograph of the Spaceship Earth globe, illuminated by purple and pink lights in the deep twilight of a Florida evening.

Carolyn slept practically the whole way back to Dad’s place.  She’d been an amazingly good girl the whole day, considering the heat and level of activity.  I can’t believe how lucky Kat and I are to have such a wonderful daughter.

Mistaken For Help

While I was in Buffalo to conduct training at the university there, I discovered that I’d failed to pack any books or movies to while away the evenings.  Since I didn’t really want to pay $9.95 (or, you know, $12.95) for an in-room movie, I decided to head out to a Barnes & Noble and see what I could acquire.

After finding some classic (and massively discounted) Robert Silverberg and a Jack McDevitt novel I’d always meant to read, I headed back into the music-and-movies section to see what they had in the way of interesting DVDs.  Not much, as it turned out.  But while I was back there, within the space of about 45 seconds I had two different people ask me if I worked there.  The older lady who asked, upon hearing my negative, said, “Oh, I’m sorry.  You look like someone who would work in a bookstore.”

“I take that as a compliment, ma’am,” I said, and, smiling, headed toward the front of the store to purchase my books.

Austin City Events

So here I am in warm, sunny Austin, which has been chilly and rainy.  I actually don’t mind, as the weather is quite nice for the time of year, compared to back home.  I have similar reactions in San Francisco, which every November I’m there is chilly but feels great to me, so I’m walking around without a jacket while all the locals are complaining bitterly about how cold it is, and I scoff at them.  But anyway, SXSW04 is well underway and things are as crazy as expected.  We had a fun css-discuss / Webdesign-L / WaSP / W3C / random folks gathering at the Iron Cactus last night, and I finally got to meet SImon Willison.  Actually, I’ve been expanding my rel="met" roster quite a bit, so that’s cool.

So after that gathering, which was organized by James Craig, a bunch of us headed over to the party thrown by frog design.  Wow.  It was very loud, extraordinarily crowded, and had just the right amount of decadence.  There was this big screen on which they were projecting some kind of frog design promotional video, all quick cuts and rapid strobing and MTVesque everything, except it featured stuff on which they’d worked, including the iPod.  Then the video player crashed, and they had to reboot the system.  I got a picture with Tantek standing in front of the screen as it started up.  Tantek Çelik stands silhouetted in front of a projection screen on which can be seen a giant Windows XP bootup screen.  Thanks to the folks at frog design for giving us one of the funniest moments of the conference to date.  (This one’s for you, Scoble.)

When we entered the party, hostesses gave us little plastic cups with fake money in them.  Apparently you could gamble in the back, and with enough of this frog money could get little door prizes.  Or something.  I was amused by the fact that Tantek just walked around the party with a cup in his hand, and people kept stuffing their frog money into it.  He didn’t ask, didn’t say anything about the money one way or the other; he just kept being given more for no apparent reason.  Considering who employs him, that seemed somehow appropriate.

On Friday night I made a pilgramage to the throne of Lord British, or at least the temporary throne set up in Room 18AB of the Austin Convention Center.  Richard Garriott (whose works claimed many, many hours of my youth) and Warren Spector (ditto) talked about the current and future state of electronic gaming.  That was definitely enjoyable, as both men were good speakers and had just-different-enough views on the industry to make the session interesting.

I was encouraged to hear that they’re moving toward making online games less massively multiplayer, allowing people to find groups of friends and then let those groups continue playing without having to interact with the rest of the people online.  That sounds antisocial, but it’s actually more social than the current games.  I’ve avoided online games largely because I don’t want to have to deal with all the pre-teens killing my avatar and crowing about how I’ve been “0wnz0r3d.”  Sorry, kids, I have better things to do with my time.  If I could play interesting games with a restricted group of friends, though, I might be seriously tempted.  If Half-Life 2 comes out for Xbox with a good multiplayer component, that plus Halo 2 will probably be just about all she wrote.

Roadmarks II

Random observations and thoughts from the drive from New York City to Cleveland:

  • There are these signs along Interstate 80 in northern New Jersey that read, “UPGRADE – MAINTAIN SPEED.”  They come just before each hill, and I thought they very nicely captured what it’s like to be a computer user.
  • Peppered along the Pennsylvania stretch of I80 (all six hours of it), there are signs that read, “BUCKLE UP – NEXT MILLION MILES.”  My first thought was, As compared to what reference point?
  • In the middle of Pennsylvania, we discovered that hunting season is underway.  There were a lot of cars pulled off to the side of the interstate, and we saw quite a few men wearing faded camoflauge and bright orange vests, which seemed like the ultimate in contradictory clothing choices.  Later on, we saw a truck with a deer carcass lashed to a platform extended from the back bumper, right underneath the rear window and its stickered slogan: “Life’s a bitch – then you die.”
  • I’ve decided that if you’re a civilian and driving a Hummer, you’re basically piloting a giant self-propelled declaration of just how big a jerk you really are.  (I considered words other than “jerk” but this is, at least most of the time, a family site.)  As a civilian, you have no reason to own one, and even less reason to have it on the road.  That goes double for the H2, frankly.
  • On a very related note, I spotted a bumper sticker that said, “Supprt OPEC: Buy an SUV.”  No kidding!  I can’t tell you how pleased I was to learn that Saturn plans to introduce a gas/electric hybrid next year.

Roadmarks

Random observations and thoughts from the drive from Philadelphia to New York City:

  • A New Jersey license plate reading I4GOTT.
  • Back home in Ohio, gas pumps give you all kinds of directions, almost to the point of silliness.  After you insert your credit card and quickly remove it, they’ll tell you to LIFT NOZZLE and SELECT GRADE and BEGIN FUELING.  Out here on the Eastern Seaboard, the pumps read your card and tell you to OPERATE PUMP.  That’s it.  I guess if you can’t figure it out from there, it’s not their flippin’ problem.
  • There was a big sign right after we got on the New Jersey Turnpike that read “URGENT MESSAGE WHEN LIGHTS FLASHING – Tune radio to 1610 AM.”  There were no lights anywhere near the sign.
  • If you’re the driver of the large white Durango that was cut off twice by a yellow hardtop Tracker approaching the Verazzano Narrows Bridge, and almost cut off a third time getting onto the Belt Parkway East, early this afternoon, I’m really, really sorry.  Between the dense fog and the unfamiliar territory, we kept realizing we had to be in your lane at the last possible instant.  I swear to Doug it was nothing personal.

Morimoto

Wow.

Kat and I have just returned from Morimoto, where we had one of the most amazing meals of our entire lives.  Although we’d been seated at a table to start, Kat decided (and rightly so) that we should move to the sushi bar.  A view of the sushi bar from our seats, with Morimoto and his sushi staff slicing away So with a little help from the hostess, we moved to sit at the end of the bar, just a few feet from Morimoto himself, and after a bit of debate we decided to start out with the seared kobe beef and green tea soba noodles.  These were by themselves amazing, but they were just the beginning.  From there, we moved into the omakase, or chef’s tasting menu.  The best part of this was that we were seated right in front of the chef who was creating our meal, a sushi chef by the name of Alex, so we could ask questions and make requests while he prepared our courses.  And what did we have?

  1. Toro tartare (one of the restaurant’s signature dishes)
  2. Japanese oysters on the half-shell with four different sauces
  3. Seared scallop
  4. Sashimi salad of striped jack
  5. Mango sorbet with tiny wasabi beigniets
  6. Grilled half lobster in ginger sauce and rice noodles
  7. Grilled kobe beef with pan-seared foie gras
  8. Nigiri sushi including toro (fatty tuna), kanpachi (juvenile yellowtail), sawari (kingfish), Japanese tai (red snapper), needlefish, fluke, and fluke fin
  9. Chocolate temple dessert

It’s difficult to even imagine being able to come up with the words to describe how good everything was. Our chef leans toward the camera as he puts the finishing touches on an elaborate sushi platter Take the scallop, for example.  Alex scraped the meat off of a shell, then sliced it in half and bent over to closely inspect the two halves.  We couldn’t figure out what he was doing as he switched his gaze from one to the other, then back.  After a few moments he beckoned us close and said, “Look at this one.  See around the edges?”

We looked.  In the light, the edge was puckering and moving slowly.

“It’s still alive,” he said happily.  And then he sliced the meat into chunks, seared it on the sushi grill, and served it up with spicy extra-virgin olive oil and cherry tomato halves.

Even though I hate scallop to the extent that it makes me feel ill, I somehow just had to try a piece.  It was actually rather tasty, although I did keep it to that single piece.

The whole time, Alex graciously answered our every question of “Ooo! What’s that?” and “How is that made?” and “How do you get a meal prepared by Morimoto himself?”  He didn’t even take that last question personally; I’m sure he gets it all the time.  From our perch we got to watch Morimoto make mini-sushi, which we’re told is all the rage now in Japan.  Each little piece was maybe a centimeter long.  Not only did we think they were too cute for words, so did most of the staff.  We saw one waitress run after the server calling, “Wait, let me see, let me see!”

It was, in every sense, an incredible experience.  If we ever do make it back to Morimoto, we’ll not only try the omakase again, but we’ll ask to sit at Alex’s station on the sushi bar.

December 2017
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