Leslie's Latest News

Sunday, March 31, 2002

From my diary:

March 31, 1997: "We're having the biggest snowfall of the season - it's still snowing as I'm going to bed, but so far we've gotten 8 inches or more of heavy wet snow that's sticking in huge high piles to everything. I expect to see many branches down tomorrow."

March 31, 1998: [after the temperature hit 81 degrees on the 27th] "Hot again. This is so weird. Records are being set all through New England - 30-40 degrees above normal!"

Welcome to weather in New England.
LinkTo |

Garden report: It's clouding up, but warm, so I managed to get out today to do some garden work before the rain set in. Lots of bending and lifting and stooping - I know I'm going to be sore tomorrow. I planted two 6-foot rows of peas. One row is Sugar Snap, which tastes the best, but needs a 6-foot trellis to grow on, which is a nuisance. The other row is Sugar Bon, a variety that doesn't taste quite as good, but which grows smaller and matures more quickly. Of course, I'll probably miss one or the other if I take my planned trip to England in May/June - that's the trouble with travelling when you have a garden at home. Also did lots of pruning and cleanup. The crocus and squill are now in full bloom.

LinkTo |

I spent entirely too much time playing Magic Online today. They seem to have fixed the problems that were causing frequent server crashes, so it's a lot less frustrating these days. I am doing well in one of the Leagues (I'm currently 45th in one league of 1024 players, not all of whom are active), and today tried playing a little constructed Magic in the casual room and did quite well. Playing in the casual room was great because you could test your deck against quite a variety of players, just playing one right after another, something that's not so easy to do in real life. I don't know if I will keep playing so much when they start charging for it, but right now I'm taking full advantage of the free beta test period.
LinkTo |

Saturday, March 30, 2002

An expert panel, convened by the government and the American Diabetes Association, has issued a press release advising that people at risk be screened for "pre-diabetes" (which is their new term for impaired glucose tolerance). The announcement refers to the Diabetes Prevention Program I have been participating in, which showed that modest changes in lifestyle can prevent people with pre-diabetes from progressing to diabetes. (Without these changes, most people with pre-diabetes go on to develop diabetes within the next 10 years.) It's nice to see some specific recommendations coming out of the study.
LinkTo |

Dept. of guilty pleasures: Survivor has taken some twists and turns I did not predict. When the team swap happened, the three people I had identified as bad apples (Sean, Rob, and Sara) got split up, with Sean and Rob going to the stronger team that appeared to have a very good bond established, and Sara going to the weaker team. Right after the split, the weaker team lost the immunity challenge and Sara was ousted. I thought the next logical thing would be that the stronger team would get rid of Sean and Rob.

Boy, was I wrong. What actually happened this past week was that the weaker team, once they'd dropped Sara, formed a really tight bond and finally managed to win an immunity challenge. At the same time, Sean and Rob managed to bring discord among the the (previously) stronger team, which caused them to vote out one of their own, rather than either Sean or Rob. And it really wasn't due to any clever conniving on their part, either.

What happened was that Gabriel, who had stated that he was there to "learn how to form a community" rather than "play the game", spent a lot of time bonding with the new tribe members. So much so that John started getting really paranoid about whether he could trust Gabe to continue to vote with him. John tried to press Gabe to say what his intentions were, but the more John pressed, the more Gabe refused to commit. So John convinced everyone to vote against Gabe.

This may not be too bad a mistake, as I think John still has a 4-3 majority of the team on his side, but we shall see.

The producers also did an interesting thing. At the first reward challenge after the team swap, they allowed the winning team to "raid" the losing team's camp and take whatever they wanted. What a perfect way to break the old team ties and make people feel a part of the new team! The expressions on the faces of the team that was being raided made it pretty clear they weren't too happy with their erstwhile teammates who were doing the raiding. I can't help but wonder if a better tactical move would have been to have taken a bit less and not aroused quite some much resentment. Dunno...
LinkTo |

Friday, March 29, 2002

Two warm sunny days in a row - how nice! I walked in the Prospect Hill park both days; even in the winter it's a pleasant walk because there is a lot of green from the pine trees, but now you can tell it's starting to come back to life. There's this incredible high-pitched chirping coming from the low swampy area at the north end which is the spring peepers announcing their appearance. I also saw a robin and a butterfly today. I hope we get at least one good day this weekend so I can start doing some garden work.
LinkTo |

Wednesday, March 27, 2002

I read in this morning's Boston Globe that The West Wing is going to tackle the subject of land mines tonight. Unfortunately, President Barlett is going to decide against signing the treaty to ban land mines. I think this is really too bad. I feel that land mines are truly evil and it really upsets me that my country is not willing to make that statement. Land mines poison the very earth itself, and linger long after any particular conflict is over, causing huge amounts of suffering among ordinary people struggling to recover from the other devastations of war. I'm ashamed to see the United States on the list of non-signatories to the treaty, right up there with Afghanistan, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, North and South Korea, Libya, Russia, and Vietnam.
LinkTo |

Similar Minds offers an Enneagram Personality Test. My top three results pretty accurately reflected my current personality. (The numbers in parentheses are the number of points I scored in each category.)

(16) Fives are basically on some level estranged from the rest of the world, consequently, their mind is usually their best friend. They like to analyze things and make sense of them (that is their anchor), this makes them great inventors and philosophers. The immense inner world of fives can cause them to lose touch or interest in reality.

(15) Nines are open minded optimists. They are able to see everyones point of view, and have a natural desire for making peace. Consequently, they are skilled mediators. They often live by the 'go along to get along' creed. However their openness to other people can cause them to lose site of themselves and their own happiness.

(13) Sixes are defined by anxiety. They are gifted in their ability to see the dark and light sides of life (and of people and situations around them). This insight into possible outcomes makes them useful planners. However since they are never sure what will prevail they are always on edge and cling to predictable structures/systems for peace of mind.
LinkTo |

If you like trivia contests, here's a site that will let you play trivia from any email address. I blush to admit that I've been playing for a few weeks and have already hit their Top Ten List.
LinkTo |

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Reality Not Found
LinkTo |

My weight was down 2 pounds for the week, with 6 pounds to go. Let's see if I can continue this trend next week instead of bouncing back up.

Unfortunately, this was the week I got the annual survey from the National Weight Control Registry. The NWCR is a research study that is attempting to characterize the behaviors that are associated with successful weight loss by studying people who have actual lost weight. I joined the NWCR two years ago, as soon as I had met their criteria of losing 30 pounds and keeping it off for one year. When I joined, they sent me pages of forms to fill out, but the annual surveys are shorter and a lot more manageable. I was sorry, though, that I had to report a gain this year.
LinkTo |

Stephen King has two great talents. The one everyone knows about is his skill as a horror writer. But the talent that appeals to me more is his uncanny ability to capture the texture of everyday life, especially from the point of view of a child coming of age in the 1950's and 60's. With Hearts in Atlantis, the moviemakers have chosen to emphasize the latter aspect. In fact, the title refers to memories of a lost childhood, when the world seemed brighter and more full of possibility. I grew up in a time much like the one shown, where friends hung out together and played in the woods and went for ice cream and played games on a sunlit porch. A time when the days were long and lazy and soda came in glass bottles that clinked and mothers hung their washing out on the line and the Lone Ranger galloped across the small TV screen to the strains of the William Tell Overture. The choice of music from the period really added to the nostalgia. Every single selection was familiar to me and brought back memories.

The disappointing thing about the movie was that it didn't have much more than was shown in the preview. The preview was intriguing - hinting at all sorts of mysterious secrets, but the movie itself really didn't add particularly to what had already been divulged. The performances by Anthony Hopkins and the Anton Yelchin as the boy, Bobby Garfield, were excellent, however, and I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't seen the preview.
LinkTo |

Friday, March 22, 2002

It's sunny, but a bit brisk out there today. Went for a walk after a rather tense meeting, and the iPod oracle came through with Life in the Fast Lane (The Eagles), Seasons of Love (from Rent), and the Slavyanka Russian Men's Chorus singing For the Mercy of Peace. Here are a few lines from Seasons of Love:

525,600 minutes, 525,600 moments so dear
525,600 minutes
How do you measure - measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee,
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
525,600 minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

LinkTo |

Here's another idea out of science fiction that may become real: Lab-grown fish chunks could feed space travelers. I used to have nightmares about a story I read once, I think it was called "Chicken Little", where a giant chicken blob was propagated in a laboratory, fed by tubes of nutrient, and harvested to feed the hungry masses. Although that wasn't as bad as the one about the guy who raised giant cockroaches in his apartment so he could have meat ("tasted like chicken") in an overcrowded meat-deprived society.
LinkTo |

The "Gutsy Grannies" got eliminated on the third episode of The Amazing Race, after making a bad route choice (trying to go from Sao Paulo to Capetown via New York and London). Turbulence delayed the flight to London, so they got to Capetown about a day late. This was after they had earned their nickname by hang gliding off a spectacular height in Rio de Janeiro. I was rooting for them to stay in a bit longer.

Survivor did a random team swap, which now puts the two guys I can't stand (Sean and Rob) into the minority on the stronger team. It will be interesting to see if that team chooses to purposely lose an immunity challenge just so they can vote them out.
LinkTo |

Thursday, March 21, 2002

In spite of all the furor that's been happening at work this week, I actually have had a rather enjoyable and productive week. I recently got assigned to test a particular system component that has had major changes made since the previous release. It's a nice piece of work - complicated and challenging, but not out of my range of abilities. I've spent a couple of weeks studying the specs and writing test plans, but this week is the first time I've actually got my hands on running code. And I've particularly been enjoying working with the developers on this project, Jay and Seth, because they are really nice guys, very sharp, and very helpful and cooperative to work with. So things have been going very smoothly. During the past few days, I've been running some initial tests and smoking out some early bugs, and Jay and Seth promptly investigate each thing I find and usually have revised code with a fix ready for me in less than an hour. So I've really been able to make a lot of progress (in the little time I have to work in between the tension-fraught company meetings). Next week should be even better.
LinkTo |

My manager agreed to the May/June vacation, so I signed the salary reduction form. It will be interesting to see what percentage cooperation they get across the company, and what, if any, layoffs ensue.
LinkTo |

Wednesday, March 20, 2002

An interesting review of Rebecca Blood's new book about blogging.
LinkTo |

Here's an interesting site, Literary Locales, more than 500 picture links to the places that figure in the lives and writings of famous authors.
LinkTo |

Happy first day of Spring! I'm wearing a bright yellow sweater today to try to get in the mood. But it's a challenge, as it's snowing out. So it goes in New England.
LinkTo |

Tuesday, March 19, 2002

Much excitement at work today. Instead of the usual quarterly layoff, the new approach seems to be "voluntary" 6-month pay cuts. The original announcement by the CEO was rather attractive: the offer of a voluntary 10%, 15%, or 20% pay cut in return for stock options (probably worthless), or extra time off (wonderful!). But by the time the offer got through to the manager of development it was translated to "everybody better 'volunteer' for at least 10%" and "don't expect to take time off if it will impact our schedules" (and how could it not)? My manager's take on it was a bit more humane. He had to support the 10% quota, but he was willing to split it half and half between time off and stock options. This may allow me to take at least part of that British trip I was talking about a few weeks ago. It still falls in what appears (at the moment) to be a busy period for us, and at a time when other members of the group are taking time off due to birthing babies, but my manager is willing to consider giving me a week or 10 days.

We're supposed to decide all of this by tomorrow. And the form we're supposed to sign has a paragraph stating that we are doing this voluntarily, without coercion from management. Not sure if I can sign that with a straight face.
LinkTo |

Here's Julius Caesar's web log: Bloggus Caesari.
LinkTo |

Speaking of the Oscars, I finally got around to seeing Shrek, which is apparently a shoo-in for best animated film (and even a potential nominee for best picture if the animated category hadn't been created). I enjoyed it. The animation was technically quite impressive - the facial expressions were very expressive, and the handling of lighting, textures, flowing water and fire were all state-of-the-art. The Disney parodies weren't really pervasive to the story - they just came in a bit at the beginning and the end - although they were quite funny. The story itself was a pretty typical "fractured fairy tale" type of saga, complete with rescuing a princess from a fire-breathing dragon's castle, but with a twist. And Eddie Murphy as the wise-cracking donkey sidekick was funny, but in a way that it would be easy to overdose on. I will probably want to see the sequel, if only to admire the animation.
LinkTo |

Roger Ebert predicts the Oscar winners - not what should win, but what probably will win. Sample quote: "Possible dark horse [for Best Director]: Robert Altman, who on Oscar night will be the best filmmaker in the house, nominated or not. But he's an outsider, a maverick, and worst of all, a truly great director. Voters will wonder, if they honor him, who'll be next? Martin Scorsese?"
LinkTo |

I had a Diabetes Prevention Program quarterly check-in on Monday morning. The quarterly appointments are short; there's no blood test, just a weigh-in and a couple of questions. The weigh-in was not great - in the past week I'd gained back nearly everything I'd lost in the previous two weeks. I had been eating fairly well, but I think I just didn't get enough exercise. I'll try to do better this week, although it's hard when things are busy at work.

I also learned that the DPP has been renewed for another 5 years, starting in June. I'll probably sign up, since now that I can't donate blood (because I'm taking Tamoxifen), it's nice to have some way to contribute.
LinkTo |

Friday, March 15, 2002

Hooray - just made plane reservations for a trip to Orlando in April! Last year Alex signed up for a deal where we get a 5 nights in a Marriott time-sharing condominium for a reasonable rate (plus the obligation to attend a 90-minute sales pitch). But it wasn't until tonight that we finally got organized enough to book the plane tickets. Unfortunately, we waited a little too late, as we were unable to get a really good fare. Apparently April 12-17 is still in the "spring break" period. We ended up having to go down a day early to avoid Friday travel and get a rate we could be comfortable with.

Since the condo has plenty of room, we also invited Nancy Atherton to come down and join us. She just turned her latest book in to the publisher, so she is feeling great and is free to go. Nancy is a lot of fun to be with, so hitting the parks with her will be great. Another advantage of having Nancy with us is that she likes roller coasters, so Alex will have someone to go on the scary rides with.

Now I just have to figure out how to do all the stuff I have to do at work and at home in the next 4 weeks.
LinkTo |

Thursday, March 14, 2002

Machinka usually spends the day outdoors, and then comes back in for dinner when I get home in the evening. She is very timid when she's outside (a good thing!) and has learned to stay up on top of the retaining wall as I drive my car into the garage. Then she jumps down and stands with her nose pressed against where the door will open as I fumble with the house keys. When the door opens, she darts inside, usually startling Katisha, who has come down to sit on the steps to see what is happening. Katisha gives her a sardonic, "Kids, such energy!" type of look as Machinka streaks past her up the stairs.

When I go to bed, Machinka usually spends about 10 minutes curled up against me or snuggled into my armpit doing a sort of nursing routine, complete with the purring and the kneading paws. Then she curls up at the bottom of the bed to spend part of the night. At this point, she's so relaxed that I can pet her anywhere, and she never reacts with teeth or claws (even if I touch her belly, which is usually a sensitive spot in cats). At some point in the night she will go out again. Often she comes to be let back in when I go out for the newspaper in the morning or raise the garage door to go to work, but sometimes she doesn't come back again until the following night.

After owning Machinka, I begin to understand the superstitions surrounding black cats. She is sweet and loving but you just can't take a photograph of her - there's something about her shiny blackness that just seems to absorb light and elude the camera.
LinkTo |

Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Netflix turned up in Time magazine this week ("The Movie Is In the Mail"). Once again I adopt a new technology about a month before it appears in the mainstream press. I'm not an early adopter, I'm a "just a little bit ahead of time" adopter.

LinkTo |

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

Heard on the radio while driving home that Andrea Yates was convicted of capital murder after the jury spent all of 4 hours deliberating. I think that's too bad. It seems so clear to me that the woman is mentally ill and was not given the help she should have been given. The legal standard for mental illness just seems a little too restrictive. And even so, I'm not convinced that she actually knew right from wrong; she may have known that other people might think she was doing something wrong, but that's not the same as really believing yourself that something is wrong. I just hope she doesn't get a death sentence.
LinkTo |

I wish more of my friends had weblogs. Right now there are just two - Becky, my friend who got me started weblogging, and Matt and Amy, who started a weblog after their daughter Samantha was born. I love reading these logs because it makes me feel that I am a part of their lives, even though I don't get to see them as often as I would like. It would be wonderful if I could have this level of contact with all of my friends, especially old friends who have moved out of town and are now far away.
LinkTo |

A Rand Institute study mentioned in The Boston Globe today showed that obesity causes more health problems than smoking or drinking. I love reading items like this - it helps my motivation.
LinkTo |

Monday, March 11, 2002

Isaac Asimov died of AIDS contracted from a blood transfusion during open heart surgery in 1983, according to this note in Charlie's Diary. If true, I think this may be the first person I knew personally who I know died of AIDS.

I met Isaac back in the 60's when he lived in Newton and regularly attended the annual MITSFS picnic and other local fan events. I never really knew him well, but he knew who I was and we would sometimes chat when we encountered each other at science fiction conventions after his move to New York. The information apparently came out in a recently-published biography written by his second wife, Janet Jeppson.
LinkTo |

Weight loss report: down 3 pounds; 5 to go. This past week, I started recording everything I ate, something that is an incredible pain in the neck, but a behavior that studies have shown to have a very high correlation with successful weight loss. (It's a little like quantum physics - the act of observing how you eat inevitably changes how you eat.) I've also been trying to eat more fruits and vegetables, although the vegetables can be a challenge when you don't cook much. In fact, weight loss in general can be a challenge if you don't cook - so much of what is generally available in restaurants, etc., is really not very healthy. I rely a lot on frozen meals, usually Stouffer's Lean Cuisine line. I recently also found a line of Indian frozen meals from Ethnic Gourmet that are quite tasty, as well as being low fat and high fiber. The cafeteria at work sometimes serves low-fat wraps; you have to be careful because they rotate items on a daily basis, and some of their offerings are more healthful than others. Beyond that, I have to rely on salads with low-fat dressing and turkey and tuna sandwiches with low-fat mayo. It can get a little boring.

Yesterday afternoon, I had a scrumptious meal at the "Low-Fat No-Fat Gourmet Cafe and Juice Bar" on Arsenal Street here in Watertown. This has an extensive menu of low fat items, and is frequented by quite a diverse crowd, from bodybuilders with bulging biceps to middle-aged ladies trying to lose weight. They have come up with a way to make low-fat french fries that are pretty good, so I go there whenever the urge for fries strikes me. I wish that there were more places like this, in particular, one near work where I could eat lunch every day.
LinkTo |

Sunday, March 10, 2002

When I started this weblog, I promised myself that I wouldn't use it as a forum for bitching and moaning, since who would find that the least bit interesting? But I just spent several hours trying to finish up my tax returns, so am in a state of mind where I need to bitch and moan, just a little bit.

In general, since I started using TurboTax for my taxes, preparing my tax returns is a relatively painless process, aided by the fact that I keep track of my finances in Quicken. But this time I am up against a dilemma. I made the mistake of contributing to an IRA for 2001, even though I had also been contributing to a 401(k). This makes the IRA contribution non-deductible. What is worse is that when you have both deductible and non-deductible contributions in an IRA, you have to do an annual calculation keeping track of which percentage of your IRA balance is which. I knew this because many years ago, I once did a non-deductible contribution and then when I saw what paperwork was required, I vowed never to do it again. Unfortunately, I forgot.

So now in order to do my taxes, I'm supposed to find the copy of the Form 8086 I filed the last time I did this, some 20 years ago. I just ransacked the attic, and although I found some scattered tax returns, there is no way I'm going to be able to track down the last 8086 I filed. I think if I skip it, the government won't care because it is to their advantage - essentially the Form 8086 is my way to prove that I already paid taxes on a portion of my IRA so they shouldn't tax it again. If I can't find the form, then sometime in the future when I start taking payments out of my IRA, I'll be stuck paying taxes again on $2000 I already paid the taxes on. Grrrrr.
LinkTo |

Saturday, March 09, 2002

The Insider. Russell Crowe again, this time as Jeffrey Wigand, the scientist/corporate executive who leaked tobacco company secrets that became key evidence in the multi-billion dollar settlement between the tobacco companies and the states. Also Al Pacino as the crusading 60 Minutes producer who encouraged him to come forward, and, in a smaller role, Christopher Plummer as a very convincing Mike Douglas. The movie deals with Wigand's personal struggle as he deals with issues both moral and practical, and the story of how CBS and 60 Minutes (temporarily, at least) knuckled under to the tobacco company's threats to sue them for "tortious interference" if they ran the story.

I particularly enjoyed Crowe's finely-nuanced performance as Wigand, an ordinary guy thrust into a terrible situation, trying to hold onto his values as his life is crumbling around him. ("How does one go to jail?" he wonders at one point when he's trying to decide whether talk in defiance of a restraining order. "If I lose my job, what will I do about health insurance for my daughters?" Exactly the sort of practical question that would probably run through my mind if I were faced with the threat of jail.) In another scene, as they're moving out of the big house they can no longer afford, he tries to comfort his wife with the thought that this could be a new beginning for them. He's gotten a job as a high school teacher, and imagine how it will be, he tells her, to have him come home every night happy about how he's been spending the day.

I found myself comparing this in my mind to Erin Brockovich. Both were true stories about "little people" taking on big corporations on a health-related issue, but this one was a whole lot more believable.
LinkTo |

Witch hazel

It's an unusually warm day today, so a lot of things are popping into bloom: Christmas Rose, snowdrops, and crocus,
LinkTo |

My new camera arrived last night, and I stayed up too late trying to figure it out. Since this is a newer model in the same line I owned before, I expected the user interface to be somewhat similar, but there are a lot of changes. In particular, more of the functions have been moved to be menu-operated rather than button-operated, which I suppose saves them money, because it's easier to change software than to change manufacturing processes. It doesn't help that the manual that came with it is very brief, and, I think, incorrect in some places.

Still, I'm sure when I get over the initial familiarization, it will be fine. The zoom feature is very nice indeed, and there's a feature I haven't quite learned how to use that will produce short Quicktime movies. (Don't have the slightest idea how I can include such things on my web site, but at some point I'll try to figure it out.)
LinkTo |

Friday, March 08, 2002

The Magic Online beta test community is in a bit of a tizzy today, ever since Wizards of the Coast announced that they will soon be wiping out everybody's virtual card collections and making everyone start over (this time with more stringent limits on how many free cards a person can get per day).

It's funny because even though everyone knew from the start that these cards would only be good during the beta test period, some people have been going nuts setting up multiple accounts, getting the maximum number of cards allowed each day, and then trading cards to themselves to get them all into one account. One guy I know at work has something like 40,000 virtual cards. It's not purely a case of greed that motivated him, it was just so he'd have all the cards available so he can build whatever deck he'd like. But others have carried it much further, trading like sharks in the trade room, and even offering cards for sale on eBay. (In fact, right after this announcement went up, I went over to eBay and found several listings for beta test virtual cards that actually had bids on them.)

It is a strange and wonderful online world we live in.
LinkTo |

Overheard at work: "You guys give me shit for asking you to do too much, and the guys above me give me shit for not asking you to do enough." A succinct and accurate summary of what it's like to be a middle manager, and exactly the reason I decided I didn't like being one...
LinkTo |

Thursday, March 07, 2002

I am getting entirely too good at this. Not only did I predict who would get voted off tonight's Survivor, I was able to accurately name exactly which person each tribe member would vote for, and had a pretty good theory as to why. Like last time, there appears to be one tribe that is bonding pretty well, and one tribe that is totally dysfunctional. Unfortunately, within the dysfunctional tribe, the least likeable group seems to have the upper hand. I wonder what the producers will do, if anything. Last time something like this happened, they swapped people between the tribes in mid-game. That really shook things up. I wonder if they'll come up with something like that this time, or just let it play out.
LinkTo |

An interesting article on the dying art of typecasting. Need a job?
LinkTo |

Today is the one-year anniversary of my last radiation treatment.
LinkTo |

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

After learning that Prospect Hill is the second-highest point in Eastern Massachusetts, I decided today to go up to the top. It's really not all that much higher than the overlook where I usually go, but I don't usually go up there because the overlook has a better view. Also, up until recently, a 200 by 300 foot section at the top was fenced off for some sort of radar installation. But imagine my surprise when I went up there today and found that most of the installation had been cleared out and the fence removed. All that remains is one small fenced-off building and a large open area that is currently bare dirt, but will probably spring to life soon. Still not much of a view, though - too many trees all around the edges.

The iPod oracle today chose to comment on my indecision about the England trip, with this selection from Judy Collins' Houses:

I see myself a child running thru the trees
Searching for myself, looking for my life
Looking everywhere crawling on my knees
I cannot see the leaves, I cannot see the light
Your eyes are shining, your voice is sweet and clear
"Come on" you say "come with me, I'm going to the castle"
But I can only stand here-I cannot move to follow
I'm burning in the shadows and freezing in the sun.

LinkTo |

One of the things that I like about my current job is the very short commute - just a little over 4 miles, which takes only about 15 minutes on a typical day. But one of the things I realized recently is that it's also a very nice commute - past lots of interesting places and open spaces. Here is a brief description of the trip, with pointers to more information and pictures about some of the landmarks.

I start in Watertown, fairly near Watertown Square, and head west toward Waltham through residential streets, past The Village condominiums (home of my ex-boyfriend), my neighborhood supermarket Frances Food Mart, and a cemetary with ivy-covered walls. Where I turn onto Beaver Street, there used to be one of those old-fashioned summer ice cream stands on the corner, Dean Dairy, but they closed down last year and a few weeks ago the building was bulldozed into oblivion.

The road then dips and crosses a railroad track where I sometimes get held up by a commuter rail or freight train. Past the next major intersection, there's a neighborhood baseball field, then the Waltham Field Station of the University of Massachusetts, with its display gardens and a gorgeous mature Metasequoia glyptostroboides out in front. Across from the field station is the Cedar Hill Girl Scout camp, which I've never explored.

Next, there's a flat low area to the left that used to be DeVincent Farms, a wonderful place where I could get home-grown vegetables, including fresh corn in the summer. But sadly, a few years ago they sold out to Bentley College, which dominates the next section of the drive. They used it to build parking lots and athletic fields.

Just past Bentley, I pass the grounds of two historic houses, the Robert Treat Paine Estate ("Stonehurst") on the right and the Lyman Estate ("The Vale") on the left. The Paine estate is surrounded by the Storer Conservation Land, and there's one section near the road with a stand of maple trees that is just fantastic in the fall!

Although you can't see the houses from the road, they couldn't be more different. The Lyman house is a mansion in the Federalist style which was once the center of a 400-acre working estate with extensive farms and greenhouses. They still maintain their greenhouses, which are open to visitors, and they are mobbed in February when their wonderful collection of oldcamellia plants is in bloom.

The Paine house was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson (designer of Boston's Trinity Church) in 1866 in a rustic romanesque style, and the grounds were designed by my hero, Frederick Law Olmsted. I haven't visited the interior yet, although tours are available on Wednesday afternoons. (I really should sneak out of work some day and check it out.)

After passing the estates, the road continues through more residential areas, with some open space fronting a day school on the right. Turning right, past some nice old Victorian houses, including a b&b called the 1888 House, I hit the traffic nightmare that is Piety Corner (named for the multiple churches that are in its vicinity) and turn left onto Totten Pond Road. One last wooded area on the left is the start of Prospect Hill Park, which continues up a ridge along the back of the office park where I work, and which is where I walk almost every day. In researching it for this article, I discovered that Prospect Hill is the second highest point in Eastern Massachusetts (the Great Blue Hill, which you can see from the overlook, is the highest).

After Prospect Hill, I enter the world of Route 128 office parks, with restaurants, motels, and gas stations. I turn left in front of the imposing, glass-fronted Westin Hotel, wend my way past office buildings vacated by corporate cutbacks (Art Technology Group, Polaroid), and arrive at Prospect Place, an even more imposing office building perched high above Route 128.
LinkTo |

If anyone noticed my mention of going in for a hospital test a week or so ago and is wondering what happened, I got good news yesterday. The test came back normal and I don't need anything further at the moment; just need to follow-up in six months. That was a relief.
LinkTo |

In spite of the cold weather, the garden is still progressing. The 'Arnold Promise' witch hazel and the Christmas rose are in full bloom, and the viburnum buds are turning pink and ready to open with the next mild day. If I ever get the digital camera I ordered (a long story about a web retailer not to be trusted), I'll be able to post some pictures now and then. (I've cancelled the order with the unreliable guys and re-ordered from another, so we'll see.)

The problem with my old digital camera is that after two years of only intermittent use, the LCD screen died. Apparently this is to be expected because the manual says that part has a 'limited lifetime'. Unfortunately, Olympus wanted to charge $100 to fix it. The camera is not really worth that. So I'm spending a little under $300 to get a new camera (the Olympus D-510) with additional features: zoom, more pixels, and a USB connection (the old one was serial and very slow to download).
LinkTo |

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

I've been spending a lot of time and having a lot of fun playing Online Magic. The game is currently in an open beta test period, so it's free, which is a big plus. Another big plus is being able to get up a game of just about any sort at just about any time of the day or night, with competitors from around the world. (This evening I've played a guy from somewhere in Europe, and a French-speaking guy from Quebec, among others.) The game is also great because it lets me get in a lot of drafting practice, which would be expensive to do in the real world.

The downside is that it's a beta so the server crashes a lot, and also goes down for updates a lot. It's pretty good about getting you back to the same state you were in before the crash, but it does mean that you have to wait around for an indefinite period of time and keep trying to get back in. When this happens at 11:30 pm, when you're in the final round of a draft tournament, and you haven't had dinner yet because you can only play at your office because they don't have a version for the Mac, well, that's why I'm writing this entry. :-)
LinkTo |

I thought I'd talk a little more about that potential trip to England I mentioned a few postings back. My friend, Nancy Atherton, is a writer of a series of books (the Aunt Dimity series) that are set in England. So it's only logical that periodically she takes a nice tax-deductable trip to England to do research. Two years ago, she was staying at an inn in the Cotswolds and tramping through the countryside, when she encountered a woman with muddy boots who was herding a small flock of sheep. Now, Nancy is the kind of person who can hit it off with anyone she meets, so very soon she had been invited to tea at this lady's home. And later it turned out that the woman was the wife of a retired corporate CEO, and she just happened to have a cosy little cottage that she occasionally rents out. Not only that, but she also had a place on the ocean in Cornwall, a place I have never been but always have been wanting to see.

Cut to last spring, when Nancy and I and another friend were planning to take advantage of this situation and go to England. It was a perfect time for me, because I had just been laid off and was free to travel. But that was also when the big hoof-and-mouth disease problem was going on in England, and all the country walking paths were pretty much shut down. Since we had planned to take a rural vacation, with lots of walking, this was a major problem, and we decided to defer the trip.

So here we are now, with spring rolling around again, and with me stuck in a full-time job with not enough vacation. Thus the dilemma. Take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enjoy the English countryside with a native guide and one of my best friends who is a lot of fun to do things with, or continue slaving away at work. Hmmm, when you put it that way, it seems easy, doesn't it?
LinkTo |

Brrr... it's cold out there today. iPod selection of the day: Too Many Fish in the Sea, sung by The Marvelettes

My mother once told me something and every word is true
Don't waste your time on a fella who doesn't love you
He'll only mislead you, only grieve you
Don't worry about him, do without him
And while searching for a link for this lyric, I ran across an amusing web site of Misheard Lyrics, subtitled "Making fun of music. One song at a time." They cover hundreds of songs and artists. One example: Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi, with the line "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot" misheard as "A gay pair of guys put up a parking lot". You get the idea.
LinkTo |

Monday, March 04, 2002

There seem to be a million incarnations of these little personality quizes on the web. I haven't even posted all of the ones I've found. I drew the line at Which Springer-Verlag graduate text in mathematics are you? (I'm not making this up!)

What Flavour Are You? I am Vanilla Flavoured.I am Vanilla Flavoured.

I am one of the most popular flavours in the world. Subtle and smooth, I go reasonably with anyone, and rarely do anything to offend. I can be expected to be blending in in society. What Flavour Are You?

LinkTo |

I am The High Priestess. Which tarot card are you?

LinkTo |

I haven't made any personal entries for a few days because I've been brooding about what to do. I've been given a wonderful opportunity to spend 3 weeks in cottage in the Cotswolds (England), including a side trip to a place on the coast of Cornwall. The conflict is that it would be in late May and early June, when a project at work is likely to be intense, and I don't get that much vacation anyway. Would I be insanely stupid to quit my job in order to do this? Can't decide, but have been thinking about it a lot.
LinkTo |

The Pepys Project is an index of web logs from around the world. So far no entries from Slovakia, but I'll check back now and then to see if something turns up.
LinkTo |

Sunday, March 03, 2002

Undress Your Mac for Thrills talks about how new iMac owners have been staging "unpacking rituals" which they document with photographs on the web. Sounds strange, but there's something about the careful way Apple packages things that tends to encourage this sort of behavior. I have to admit, I felt a little of it when I unpacked my iPod. It came in a square box that unfolded into two halves - one half holding the iPod in a little nest surrounded by styrofoam, the other half with a set of compartments holding the various accessories. It was like the thrill I get being served a Bento box dinner at a Japanese restaurant. I actually carried the box around to show people. It just felt so right. (Okay, so I'm a weird techie geek - I admit it.)
LinkTo |

The Man Project is an interesting demonstration of web animation. The developer's home page is rather interesting (from a design point of view) also.
LinkTo |

Saturday, March 02, 2002

NASA is running an experiment in volunteer science - in your odd free moments, you can help to identify craters on Mars.

LinkTo |

Edward Tufte, author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, will be giving a one-day seminar, Presenting Data and Information, in Boston, on four dates, March 11-14. Cost of $320 includes copies of all three of his books.
LinkTo |

Saving Grace follows in the fine tradition of British comedies that are set in a picturesque village full of sweet and eccentric characters who pull together to solve a local problem. Brenda Blethyn stars as a middle-aged woman, recently widowed, who discovers that her husband has left her with crushing debts. (Actually, most of the village has figured this out before she does, and tries to shield her from the news in various touching ways.) To save her house, she uses her gardening skills to force a crop of marijuana in her attached greenhouse, then goes to London to try to find a drug dealer to sell it to. Various villagers assist her in this endeavor, happy to see that she is following the mores of the Cornish coast, where smuggling and other shady dealings have been long-standing tradition. Well-constructed and quite enjoyable.

In the DVD commentary track, Brenda Blethyn and the director Craig Ferguson tell a hilarious story about the filming of the scene where she looks for a drug dealer in London. They put her on an actual London street (Portobello Road), and had a bunch of extras dressed up to blend in with the streetwise characters. Brenda was out there in a white suit and hat, and was supposed to approach these guys offering to show them something interesting in her pocketbook. The director decided to shoot it like a wildlife film, and set up 3 hidden cameras and turned Brenda loose to approach people as they passed by. The funny part was that she was only introduced briefly to the extras, so when she started walking up to people, sometimes she would walk up to people who weren't in the film. Apparently she got several takers, who were perfectly happy to buy this fake bud of marijuana and introduce her to their dealers, and the director had to run up several times to rescue her.
LinkTo |

Well, that was a pleasant walk. iPod selection of the day, the Beatles'
I'm Only Sleeping:

Everybody seems to think I'm lazy
I don't mind, I think they're crazy
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find there's no need (there's no need)

LinkTo |

My weight-loss effort is going well. I was down 2 pounds this morning, with about 6 more to go. As an example of my committment, I'm going to walk to the corner store to get milk for my breakfast cereal, rather than take the car. (What's that you say? I ought to be committed...?)
LinkTo |

Here's an interesting talk by Bruce Sterling about the state of the net: Information Wants to be Worthless, the keynote speech given at the SXSW conference. He believes the Net has "proved toxic to business" and is returning to its non-commercial roots, and he cites blogging as one example of that trend. "The Net is becoming the planet's water cooler. It's all about the schmoozing and the gossip". A typical Sterling talk, with lots of really quotable bits. Here's one:

Lotta Web designers. They're always there. They travel in clumps. Because they speak their own unique languages, these people. Specifically, they speak ActiveX, ASP, CGI, HTML, Flash, and Java. It's a wonderful thing to see a profession so young, yet already so arcane. Furniture designers had to work for hundreds of years before they ever used terms like "ischial tuberosity." Even magazine designers, the closest relatives of Web designers, well, they still kinda speak English, at least until you get them started on typography.

LinkTo |

Friday, March 01, 2002

Just got back from visiting the beautiful Samantha and her amazingly sleep-deprived parents, Matt and Amy. Samantha is already one month old and has gained about three pounds since her birth. She is strong and squirmy and very adorable.
LinkTo |

The New York Times has an article noting the 40th anniversary of the Spacewar, the first computer game (A Long Time Ago, in a Lab Far Away . . .). It talks about the people who originated it and what they are doing now. When I was a member of the MIT Science Fiction Society in the 60's, I knew a bunch of people who used to hang out in the M.I.T. computer lab playing Spacewar, and a number of the names in the article are familiar to me. Many of them felt at the time that games were the true calling of computers, and the article describes how Spacewar actually influenced the direction of the industry. (Note that you will have to register to access this link, unfortunately.)
LinkTo |