Friday, October 30, 2015

Lunch and Boston's Official Pumpkin

What a pleasure it was having lunch with my good friend Elizabeth! I felt so professional meeting her on her lunch hour and walking through the buzzing streets of Boston. The historic cemeteries I passed were crying my name as I walked by, but alas, no time to stop and explore.

We did, however, discover these massive pumpkins (one weighing in at over 1,000lbs!), so that has to count for something. Oh, and we walked through the impressive Holocaust Memorial, and I did get a few minutes to read the plaques at the Irish Famine Memorial. I guess Boston is like DC, everywhere you look there's an interesting monument or site to see.

Good times!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

It's so Beautiful: Emacs and Chrome, Side by Side on Android.

For me, Android Multi Window support has always been a marketing optimized feature. Sure, the functionality looks good in demos, but because it's limited to specific apps, never really found myself able to use it.

However, I'm now officially sold. Turns out, Chrome and Gnuroot are both multi-window capable. In more Geeky terms, that means I can fire up emacs, kick off Racket, and place a Chrome browser either hovering over, or next to emacs.

Alas, words don't do this setup justice. Behold!

Gorgeous, right? And quite functional, too.

All this works out of the box, with no need to tweak anything. Learn more about Multi Window support here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Back in Boston

We're back in Boston and what better way to celebrate being in the area than dinner with the Boston Kiddies? (Formerly known as, DCT and The Twins) -- oh, and their parents were there, too.

After dinner the kids played with some Mystery Playmobil Figures. To my surprise, the figures came in more pieces than I expected and the kids had a bit of challenge getting them together. Shira, Shmuel and I all helped. But in the end, the kids were happy with their figures.

Like the Mystery Lego Minfigs, the concept is a cool one. But they're just slightly on the pricey side for what you get. While the older kids were assembling little parts, Gavriella played with the Fisher Price Noah's Ark Animals we bought her. Yes, they come in pairs. She immediately took to organizing and playing with them. They're a winner.

Pizza, kids and fun - what more could you ask for?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Full Moon

Review: Snapper

Is it possible to write a novel about nothing? Well, not exactly nothing, but little more than the life experiences we normally go through? You know, having and losing your first job; finding and losing your first love; getting into trouble with your childhood friends. That sort of thing. Snapper, by Brian Kimberling, seems to be out to prove that you can do just this.

I admit it, I randomly picked Snapper because of the birds on the cover. And while I enjoyed the book, it took me nearly all of it to realize there this isn't going to be a normal, plot driven, book. It's more a collection of life's little adventures, told with wit and humor.

I further admit that if there's one that kept me reading, it was the main character, Nathan Lochmueller. Man, I'd love to sit down with him and hear more stories. I love that he chooses a life path which makes sense to him, yet is baffling to most others ("wait, you're a professional bird watcher?"). I like that his stories are equal parts victories and missteps, with the arc bending towards a life of happiness and fulfillment. He doesn't always say or do the right thing, yet is self aware enough to know when he's made those missteps.

In the end Snapper was a pleasant book. If you enjoy the first couple of chapters (really, short stories in their own right), you'll enjoy the whole book. If you find yourself asking "what's the point," then do yourself a favor and put the book down.

Monday, October 26, 2015

ClimbZone - Bringing Fun To New Heights

I've got the answer to your next rainy day activity: ClimbZone. Yes, it's located in Laurel, Maryland, which means it's 30~45 minutes away from the District. And yes, it's not cheap, at $25/person. But oh my, is it amazing fun. ClimbZone is a warehouse size building filled with different themed climbing walls. At each wall is an auto-belaying rope. You clip your harness in, unclip the belaying rope, and off you go. When you're ready to go down, you simply let go and the belay rope gently lowers you to the ground. That's about all there is to it. The rest is just pure fun.

We hit ClimbZone this last Sunday, and even though it was busy, nobody had to wait for any walls. There was always something to climb. Shira and our friend's 3 kids did the climbing. I did the photographing and cheering (more on that below, and no, I didn't have to pay to get in).

Apparently, anyone older than 2 years old can climb. And they had many small kids playing on the walls like it was nothing. There were also adults climbing. Along with the climbing walls, there were a couple of moon-bouce like structures for younger kids to play on.

I decided to opt out of this adventure. My fear of heights would have very quickly kicked in, leaving me more stressed out than anything else. Though, part of me does see an opportunity for a little heights coping therapy here. $25 is going to be far cheaper than a therapists appointment, right? So I'm thinking I should hit the gym with Shira, pay my $25 and just push my fear of heights ever so slightly. Sure, I'll look downright foolish next to the kids who effortlessly scale the walls, but it seems like a safe place to incrementally tackle one of my phobias. Or maybe not.

All I know is, the kids had fun, got a great workout, got to work on their problem solving skills. That's a winner in my book!

View Photos

Friday, October 23, 2015

Fun with Fabric: from Jeans to Ancient Weapon

Pondering a pair of jeans that had outlived their usefulness I immediately knew the best way to upcycle them. While the Internet is bursting with ideas, there was one clear option: Weaponize Them. That's right, use the fabric to construct a David and Goliath style sling. Instructions for doing so are here, but I always got tripped up with the first step: find a swatch of leather. The instructions begin with this warning:

You can use fabric, like jeans, but they tend to rip around the hole the cords go through unless you reinforce them.

With retired jeans in my hands, I had to ask: did I really care about the longevity of this project? So it'll rip along the holes, who cares. Let's make one of history's oldest projectile weapons!

I used whatever resources I had lying on or near my desk. And this was the result:

Who knew a regular whole punch would have no problem cutting through jeans fabric?

You're eyes do not deceive you: the cordage I had readily at hand was indeed fuchsia. Between the blue jeans material and the fuchsia cordage, I've probably replicated the sling that comes with Medivial Warrior Barbie. Luckily, I'm very open minded about these matters.

So I've finally got my sling. And earlier this week, I tossed into my bag to take on a walk along the Potomac. When the coast seemed clear, I hopped down to the edge of the water. I grabbed a largeish pebble and deftly placed it in the sling. I then spun the swing and the appointed time, let go of one of the ends. The rock went splashing into the Potomac. It was absolutely pathetic. Surely someone got this on video and is, as I type this, posting it on YouTube. But I persevered and launched a few more projectiles.

The whole thing felt illicit, like I was somehow committing a crime by tossing rocks that came from the Potomac, back into the Potomac.

It was also fun and challenging and like any new skill, humbling. The experience was sort of like trying to hit a golf ball using only your intuition. It's harder than it looks.

I'm proud to say I have zero photos of me slinging or attempting to sling.

I've got a long ways to go before I even have anything resembling control with this primitive weapon. If I get the chance, I'm thinking about hitting the tennis court with some tennis balls. In a contained space, how much damage can I do? Hopefully, we'll find out!

Incidentally, check out this YouTube video, it shows the ancient sling being used for warfare today. Remarkable.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Paleontologist Next Door - Discovering DC's 'Accidental Museum of Paleontology'

Continuing on the Dinosaurs in DC theme I give you

Unintentionally, the city’s builders have assembled a diverse and public display of fossils, providing windows into ancient environments spanning more than 500 million years

Together, these fossils form D.C.’s “Accidental Museum of Paleontology.”

To make the Accidental Museum accessible to the public requires only some identification and background.

The site then goes on to provide 14 "galleries," each of which is a public location in the city where you can find unexpected fossils. Also provided is in depth information as to what you're actually looking at. It's sort of geocaching meets paleontology, meets who-can-find-the-most-obscure-city-monuments. In other words, it's perfect for me.

I planned tonight's run so it would take me by Gallery 9 and Gallery 10. Both locations are found in high traffic areas in the city. Gallery 9 is at 2121 Pennsylvania Ave NW, while Gallery 10 is at 3333 M Street smack dab in Georgetown. I specifically brought along my cell phone macro lens, as I expected any fossils I'd find would be tiny. That is, if I found any at all.

To my absolute amazement, both sites yielded dozens of easily visible fossils. Here's a few snapshots I took:

Obviously, it's hard to tell scale from these photos, but most of the above specimens were half dollar size or lager. They were quite visible and I didn't need to bother with the macro lens.

I can only image what folks thought as they rushed by me intently inspected and photographing the apparently blank wall of a building. I half expected a security guard to come out and interrogate me, but in the end, nobody said a word. The Pennsylvania Ave location, Gallery 9 was more impressive than the M street spot, but both will do if you want to get your fossil fix. To think, most people will just whiz by these locations and never notice or consider the mysterious shapes embedded within. Such a shame, and such an opportunity for those willing to dig a little deeper.

OK, so I found some squiggly marks on the wall. What's the big deal? According to DCFossils, I was looking at the remains of Crinoids that lived, oh, about 160 million years ago. If I'm reading this chart correctly, that means that while these sea creatures were alive, so were the dinosaurs. That's mighty impressive in my book.

To help plan your visit to these sites, here's a Custom Google Map with sites marked on them. And just as importantly, keep your eyes peeled for other fossils, they're out there, just waiting to be (re)discovered.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rush Hour

Another Stop on the Arlington, "Wait, What?" Tour

First we had our Million Dollar Bus Stop. Then we had our 3 minutes of fame for our jail and now this: $350,000 Water Treatment Plant fence art project. And what does $350,000 in art buy you? On the surface, not as much as you might think. David and I ran by the display yesterday and here's a couple of snapshots:

Naturally, many are quick to dismiss the project. As usual, the comments on arlnow don't disappoint, with one of the top ones being this one right here:

I hope these artists are relatives of the official that approved this project. I would like to think that this is the result of graft and corruption rather than just stupidity and aesthetic incompetence.

Or this one:

Most 6-year olds could attach their plastic toys to a fence, which is what this looks like was done. Geez, AC just loves, loves, loves to spend money. Was this part of a leftover slush fund after the Artishpere was closed?

Come to think of it, maybe we should have hired our nieces and nephew for the job.

Joking aside, I'm not so quick to call the project a flop. Before you decry this project as a waste, or inferior, check out this video that tackles the age old question: how to appreciate art when you're pretty sure you or your 6 year old could have done the same thing.

As the video suggests, we shouldn't be saying I could do that, but rather ask Why did they do that? I don't have the answer, but I'd be up for going to back to the exhibit and trying to tease out the answer to this question.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Name that Tree: Dinosaur Edition

I'd past by this particular tree dozens, if not hundreds of times:

The fan shaped leaves give away its identity. It's a Ginkgo tree, which even a cursory bit of research will tell you that it's one remarkable specimen. Ginkgo trees are unique because they have incredibly ancient lineage. If you warped yourself back in time 200 million year, you'd find dinosaurs, and you'd find Gingko trees. In all this time, the Ginkgo tree hasn't really changed. That's staggering. It stands alone:

When we think about flowering plants, there are about 350,000 living species. And in an evolutionary sense, they’re equivalent to that one species of ginkgo. They’re all more closely related to each other than they are to anything else. But the ginkgo is solitary and unique, not very obviously related to any living plant. One of the points I wanted to draw out in the book is that in the past there were a variety of ginkgo-like plants, but this is the only one surviving.

While Ginkgo's are unique, they're also quite commmon. According to one study, they were 5th most common genus in DC.

While Ginkgo's are common, female versions of the tree aren't. They apparently produce vile smelling fruit that's compared to vomit. Thing is, that awful smell probably appealed to some animal at some point:

It’s the outer part of the seed that produces the smell, and it smells, to put it bluntly, like vomit. More than likely, it reflects some sort of adaptation or modification in its dispersal biology. Probably either now or in the past the smell has been attractive to animals. You hear stories of dogs, for example, eating ginkgo seeds — sometimes with not a terribly happy outcome in that they don’t feel so good afterward. But it must be part of a dispersal system. The interesting question is, are the things that adapted to disperse it still around? Or are they extinct?

There’s this wonderful idea that [Daniel] Janzen and [Paul] Martin published about how many neo-tropical fruits don’t appear to have any dispersers in the contemporary fauna. And their idea was that as many large mammals went extinct about 10,000 years ago, many plants actually lost their most important dispersal agents. So in a sense, the plants have continued to live on, while the dispersers themselves have already gone extinct.

e360: So their theory would say that the ginkgo smell would have attracted dinosaurs to eat it?

Crane: Yes, or more likely some mammals that died out much more recently. But the idea is that the tree now could be out of phase with its dispersal agents.

Imagine that: that Ginkgo has been around so long that it's optimized for life that's long extinct. Amazing. And right in front of me the whole time.

Monday, October 19, 2015

DC United - Rowdy Fun For The Whole Family

We had an outstanding time at yesterday's DC United soccer game. It was Shira's first, and my second (the last time I'd been was in 2009) DC United match. Not a whole had changed since my last visit: RFK is still looking incredibly run down, the cheese pupusas's were still quite tasty and the DC United fans didn't stop chanting for all 90+ minutes. We sat over in the family fan section, which gave us a slightly toned down version of the game, but one where we still stood for the vast majority of the game.

I'm still amazed how close we were to the action and how incredibly athletic the players are. Running for 45 minutes straight, that's crazy. Shira enjoyed the spectacle herself, though, was mortified when after the 4th 3rd goal someone in our section threw their beer in the air to celebrate. The result was a nasty shower we could have done without. But I suppose that's part of the joy of soccer, what it lacks in scoring, it makes up for in general rowdiness.

Definitely an awesome time!