Leslie's Latest News

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Last night I watched the first hour of the new PBS series Frontier House, about 3 modern-day families trying to live the lives of homesteaders in 1883 Montana. I think the premise is really interesting and the scenery is fantastic, but out of 5000 applicants, why did they pick these particular families? I realize that they're trying to show the level of hardship by our current standards, but these guys really seem to be miserable, and it's only the first day! I wish they'd picked people with a bit more sense of adventure and would focus a bit less on the whining. I mean, I can understand being upset about the absence of toilet paper, but getting wigged out because you have to do without mascara is something I just don't get.
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Monday, April 29, 2002

This may be old news to Patrick O'Brian fans, but I've just learned that Russell Crowe will star as Jack Aubrey in the first movie to be based on his work. Directed by Peter Weir, filming is set to start in June. Oh dear, I hope they don't screw it up. I love Russell Crowe, so that's promising, at least, and Peter Weir has done some good work (The Truman Show, etc.).
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When I heard this on a radio talk show the other night, I thought they were making it up, but from this report in the Dallas News, it appears to be true. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's representatives asked that women be barred from air traffic control duties when he traveled Thursday to Central Texas for a summit with President Bush, and at least some officials complied with the request. Sheesh.
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Nostalgia. When I was a kid, one of the pieces of teenage lore that was passed on by word of mouth were a couple of special phone numbers. I don't know exactly what the technical sitation was, but these numbers would get you to some sort of giant party line where everyone who called in could talk to everyone else. It was terribly exciting to call this number and try to make contact with these ghostly, distant voices. Teenagers always had the same impulse to connect with others and meet new people, but now it's so much easier with chat rooms and instant messaging. Sometimes it feels like I grew up in the dark ages.
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Sunday, April 28, 2002

Take the What High School
Stereotype Are You?
quiz, by Angel.
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The Virgin Suicides. This movie is a cross between a black comedy and a dreamy reverie. Five beautiful teenage sisters are remembered in retrospect by a group of now-grown adolescent boys. At first I was surprised that this film was directed by a woman (Sofia Coppola), as the women in the film don't seem to exist as real people - they are simply objects of the boys' wistful and unattainable dreams. But later I thought that maybe what the film is about is how hard it is for women to live their lives when they're surrounded by people who have their own ideas of what they should be. Caught in the middle between the boys' fantasies, their mother's desire to keep them under control, and their father's detachment, the suicides may be symbolic of their inability to live their own lives.

Based on a book by Jeffrey Eugenides, there's a lot of lovely language in the voice overs, to go with the lovely cinematography. Here's an example, which comes as the boys are looking at a diary written by one of the girls:

We started to learn about their lives, coming to all the collective memories of times that we hadn't experienced. We felt the imprisonment of being a girl, the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing what colors went together. We knew that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them. We knew that they knew everything about us, and that we couldn't fathom them at all.
This comes straight out of the boys' imaginations, as the excerpts they'd been reading from the diary had been very prosaic: things like "We had creamed corn for dinner today." And later, when the high school Lotharo finally does attain the unattainable Lux (meaning Light?), she awakens the next morning, abandoned, on the high school football field, then never sees him again. Another contradiction women are faced with: men want women to embody their dream of perfection, but they also want the sweaty realities of sex. And what the women want never seems to come into the equation.
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Florida trip - Monday, a day of rest. Monday was the day Alex was obligated to show up for the Marriott sales pitch, so we decided we would take it easy that day. Alex headed out at 9am for the talk, while Nancy and I slept in, and then I wandered out to sit in the sun by the pool. When Alex was free, we drove Nancy to a local Borders bookstore where she schmoozed with the manager and signed some of her books (thus making her trip a business trip). For lunch, we went back to the Crab House and ate more crabcakes. In the afternoon, we went to an area called "Downtown Disney", which is an area of shops and restaurants with no admission charge. I must admit that I had a big hot fudge sundae at the Ghirardelli shop there (and it was wonderful!). When the rain returned, we headed off for dinner at an excellent Japanese restaurant, and then back to the Marriott, where Nancy and I soothed our tired muscles in the outdoor hot tub. One more day left, and we'd saved the best for last. Tomorrow we would hit The Magic Kingdom!
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Saturday, April 27, 2002

Eat, Drink, Man, Woman is a movie about food and relationships that is set in modern Taiwan (with subtitles). It tells the story of a father, a master chef, and his three daughters. Each Sunday, the father cooks an elaborate meal for his family which is depicted with loving care in the movie. This is not cooking for the squeamish, as fine oriental cooking often starts with living ingredients: you see the fish being caught and gutted, the fowl being plucked, the mass of bug-eyed frogs sitting on the countertop. You watch dumplings being stuffed and delicately formed, and drool over the final elaborate presentations, when I wished I was watching this on the big screen rather than on my TV set so I could have gotten a better look at the individual dishes. (The person who said to plan a Chinese dinner after watching this couldn't have been more right. The problem is finding a Chinese restaurant that could live up to the meals presented on screen.) The stories of the daughters were fairly interesting (one was a teacher, one was a high-powered airline executive, and the youngest worked in a fast food restaurant(!)), and the father's story even had a satisfying little twist and the end.
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Just finished mowing the lawn for the first time this year. It took two hours because I kept noticing other things that needed to be done. What my yard needs is a couple of days of my time to weed, prune, fertilize, and mulch, but it's not gonna happen. The best I can hope for is to squeeze in maybe a half hour to an hour each morning before going to work. It looks like I'll be going away next weekend to celebrate Eastern Orthodox Easter with my father in Connecticut, and then there are only two more weekends at home before I set off for England. Gosh, I hate working full time.

On a more positive note, here's what's blooming in my yard right now: pink quince, pink dogwood, white crabapple, pink cherry, white pear, yellow forsythia, white fothergilla, tulips of various colors - both hybrid and species, white daffodils (the yellow have already passed), yellow trout lilies, purple grape hyacinth, violet and white wood hyacinth, bright blue squill and pulmonaria, fuchsia spring pea, violet periwinkle, violets, wild phlox, moss phlox, and johnny-jump-ups, yellow celandine poppy, pink-and-white lenten rose, white bleeding heart, and white potentilla and rock cress. And the lilacs are just about to start. I love spring.
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Florida trip - Sunday at Epcot. On Sunday, we went to Disney's Epcot, an area that is more like a world's fair than a theme park. One section, called Wonders of Tomorrow, has a series of semi-educational exhibits, and the second part, called World Showcase, has a series of country pavilions with cultural exhibits, architecture, entertainment, shopping, restaurants, and sometimes gardens, all related to that country. The World Showcase pavilions are staffed by students from the actual countries, so they can be fun to talk to.

We'd been managing to do this whole trip without hardly paying any admission fees. Alex and I had two 4-day Disney tickets from years ago that still had one unused day, so that paid for our admission to Epcot. We pulled the same trick with the second half of a two-day pass to Universal. And we still had two free tickets that came with the Marriott rental. Nancy, also, had two days from an old Disney pass that she was able to use. You have to be careful now, as the newer Disney tickets come with some restrictions on them, but the old ones used to be good forever.

It was a pleasure to go to a Disney park because everything was so smooth and organized. There was almost no line for parking and only a short wait for the tram ride to the park. There were lots of ticket booths open, so the lines were very short. There was an extra stop for security, which didn't used to be there, but once again the lines were short. And once you got into the park, they had the Fastpass system for all the popular rides, so there was very little standing in lines there.

The day at Epcot had the worst weather of the whole trip, with a lot of rain in the afternoon. I guess Epcot is the best place to run into bad weather, though, as a lot of the exhibits are indoors. The one outside ride, the new Test Track, was shut down during our Fastpass window because of the rain, but they honored the Fastpass later in the day when the rain cleared up.

While it rained, we went to The Living Seas, which is an aquarium exhibit, Living on the Land, which is a boat ride through a series of greenhouses demonstrating new crop-growing techniques, and Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, which is a really clever 3-D movie with a few added effects.

We didn't have time to go into all the World Showcase pavilions, but we did some shopping in Britain and China, had lunch in China, and a really great dinner in France. (I had duck a l'orange, with a chocolate mousse for dessert. Yum.) One of the nice features of the Disney parks is that if you buy things, you can have them sent to a pickup desk near the front gate, so you don't have to carry them around with you all day. Alex took advantage of this to buy a really big monorail set that he later set up in the living room of our condo.

We ended the day by watching the spectacular laser and fireworks show they have every night in the central lagoon. It was easy to get a good viewing spot, since you could watch from the entire perimeter of the lagoon.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2002

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Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Florida trip - Saturday at Islands of Adventure. Islands of Adventure is a fairly new theme park at the Universal Studios complex. Alex and I had been there on our previous visit to Florida, and it definitely has a few things worth seeing. But Universal Studios is just not up to the standard of Disney in the area of crowd management. There were long lines everywhere - to get into the parking lot, to buy tickets, to get onto rides, even to get fast passes. Even though they charge the same as Disney, they don't provide the same level of service. But they do have some exciting rides, and the ambiance of a some of the areas is really outstanding, so it's worth visiting if you're feeling up to a moderate level of hassle. Islands of Adventure seems to be particularly popular with teenagers, as there's a higher proportion of "extreme" rides than you will find at the Disney parks. There's also a higher level of loud music, particularly on the Marvel Super Hero Island.

The Port of Entry serves the same purpose as the Magic Kingdom's Main Street, but it's designed as an exotic port with very attractive, slightly other-worldly architecture. It was fun just to look around at all the interesting details. As at Disney, the Port of Entry has mostly services, shops, and eating facilities. The rest of the park is laid out as five islands around a central lagoon - each island with a different theme.

Seuss Landing is designed for the younger kids, and has rides based on the Dr. Seuss books. The restaurant is called Green Eggs and Ham, and even the landscaping uses oddly-shaped trees that look like they've come out of a Dr. Seuss book. It's fun to walk through, but we didn't stop at any of the attractions.

Crossing the bridge to The Lost Continent is a complete change of pace. Lush tropical vegetation and slightly ominous mood music set the scene, and then you start to notice fragments of destroyed temples and massive statues that have fallen into ruin. This island has a fantasy theme; Nancy noticed that a lot of the shops were selling things that you might find in the dealer's room of a science fiction convention. There's also a really cute fountain that talks to people and sends out interesting sprays of water accompanied by sound effects. If you go, you definitely should plan on eating at the Mythos Restaurant. Located in a grotto with a view of the lagoon, this restaurant has really high-quality gourmet food, and is quite reasonably priced. Not at all the sort of thing you would expect to find in a theme park. And it's usually not very crowded; I guess it's a little too high-class for the teenagers that come for the thrill rides.

Speaking of which, the signature ride of The Lost Continent area is called Fire and Ice, two intertwined roller coasters that are supposed to symbolize dueling dragons - one orange and one blue. The rides hang below the track with their feet dangling, get turned upside down multiple times, and go through several points where the two roller coasters rush past each other without much room to spare. Alex and Nancy decided to pass this one up, which was fine with me. (By the way, if you have Quicktime or Windows Media Player, do check out the links to the Universal web site. They have a feature called Ride it on the Web! which presents short movies that give a pretty good flavor of what each of the rides is like.) Instead, we went on the kiddy roller coaster, based on a Unicorn theme, which was very tame.

The third island is called Jurassic Park and features a Jurassic Park boat ride that starts off quite peacefully with views of animatronic dinosaurs and then ends with an attack by a T-Rex and a plunge in the dark into a pool of water. I've done it once, but I didn't really want to do it again, so I let Alex and Nancy go on it while I went and tried to get them Fast Pass tickets to The Hulk (another ride I wasn't planning to try). Unfortunately, the Fast Passes were all gone by this point, so my errand was fruitless. But the Jurassic Park area was a pleasant one to hang around in, cool and shady, full of tropical foliage and flowers.

The next island, Toon Lagoon was the home of the water rides. We passed up Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls flume ride, and stood in line for Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges, a white-water rafting ride. We'd been on this one before, and had come prepared in fairly quick-drying clothing, because you do get very wet on this ride. It's fun, though, with lots of fast swirling rapids and tricky waterfalls that get some of the people and not others, depending on how the raft is oriented. It wasn't a really hot day, but it was warm enough that getting wet wasn't much of a problem.

The last area, Marvel Super Hero Island was the most crowded, and featured the Incredible Hulk roller coaster that starts out by shooting you out of a gun and then goes through one of the most convoluted series of loops I have ever seen. I let Alex and Nancy stand in line for this one, and went over to relax at the edge of the lagoon in the Port of Entry area. One ride we didn't get to here was a Spiderman ride which appeared to be something like the Back to the Future ride, where you watch a 3-D movie while riding in a car that rocks and tilts to simulate movement.

After The Hulk, though, we'd had enough excitement for one day, so after browsing through the shops we hiked the long hike back to the parking garage (no trams like they have at Disney, unfortunately), and went out for another good dinner, this time at a place called The Crab House on International Drive.
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Monday, April 22, 2002

I was aware of the little transponder chips that are now used to track runners' times in road races. In fact, I'd even used one two years ago when I ran in the Tufts 10K. But here's the latest twist. In the Boston Marathon, the runners could arrange to have the chip initiate e-mail messages reporting the runner's times at several intermediate points during the race. Now if the runner was carrying a PDA that could receive wireless e-mail....
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I liked this poem about losing memories - so appropriate for us aging baby boomers.
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Weight loss department: I had two quite nice weeks with the step counter, thanks to my Florida adventures. I racked up 62,784 steps last week, and 67,972 steps the week before. Unfortunately, I stopped logging my food intake during the vacation, so my weight just held steady with no loss. I have 4 1/2 weeks left to make some progress before I go to England and get messed up again.
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Sunday, April 21, 2002

I've been awfully busy lately. In addition to just getting back from Florida, and having an office move at work, I spent the weekend at a local Boston "relaxacon" and low-key planning session for Noreascon 4 (the 2004 Science Fiction Worldcon in Boston). I have to admit that a lot of the planning was done over very nice meals, including one mass dim sum expedition to Chau Chow City on Essex Street this morning. But all of this activity has made it hard for me to keep up with the little necessities of life, and it's also meant that I'm missing out on some of the spring blossoms that are finally appearing in my garden. The daffodils bloomed just as I was leaving for Florida and then shriveled up in the few days of 90-degree heat we had when I got back. But I managed to take a few pictures of things that are in bloom today: trout lilies (variety 'Pagoda'), a not very common but really lovely bulb with graceful flowers that look like little yellow butterflies, and the multi-colored quince that I've sort of espaliered up against the fence.

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Friday, April 19, 2002

Florida trip - Friday at Cypress Gardens. We didn't have a full day available on Friday because we needed to pick up Nancy Atherton at the airport around 4pm, so we decided to go to Cypress Gardens for a taste of the older Florida vacation experience. Cypress Gardens is near Winter Haven, about 25 miles south of Orlando. Dating back to the 30's, it is known for its water ski shows, which were originally started to entertain troops stationed nearby during WW II. It also has a small botanical garden at the edge of a lake, which can be toured on foot or on boats that traverse a canal down the middle. The boats give you a nice view of the cypress trees with their distinctive "knees", but you have to go on foot if you want to see the spectacular banyan tree. There are a variety of other attractions, including a very elaborate model train setup, floral topiary, a paddleboat ride around the lake (with views of osprey nests), a small exhibit of the history of the gardens, and so forth. And let's not forget the swimming pool in the shape of the state of Florida, which was featured in an Esther Williams movie. Other things we didn't get to were an aviary, an ice-skating show, an elevated viewing platform, a butterfly garden, a "Gone with the Wind" museum, and some water rides.

In summary, Cypress Gardens was a little kitschy and nowhere near as slick as the modern theme parks, but it was pleasant and green and a relaxing way to start our vacation.

Picking up Nancy at the airport was a little tricky because they were being very strict about not allowing any cars to stop for any length of time at the curb unless they were actively loading or unloading. Luckily there were two of us, so I could get out and look for Nancy while Alex circled around the airport. We all went and checked into our luxurious suite at the Marriott, and then had a really nice dinner at a new Thai restaurant we'd noticed near the hotel.
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Here's an interesting critique of typography in movies.
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Florida trip - Getting there and staying there. Flying to Florida was my first experience with air travel since Sept. 11. It went pretty smoothly, although there was a lot more baggage and identity checking going on. (Now I understand why the latest travel catalogs offer ID holders you can wear around your neck - it seemed like we had to show ID just about every 5 minutes in the airport.) Alex got searched both going and coming back. I think the first one was a random check and the second was perhaps due to having a lot of electronics in his carry-on bag. On the second check he was asked to take his shoes off. But we didn't run into any long lines and no real inconvenience.

The flight check-in was more automated than I'd seen it before. There were these stations where you swiped your credit card and entered information like how many bags you were checking, whether anyone had tampered with your bags, etc. You could even make seat selection there. Then you went to a human-staffed station to actually check your bags.

We few Northwest and had a stopover in Detroit. On the way down, the second leg was delayed to allow for an engine repair, so we got to explore the brand-new air terminal, which is 1 1/4 miles long and has an elevated tram running from one end to the other. (Of course we had to ride the tram - in the front car, no less.)

The first night in Orlando, we stayed in a random cheap hotel, but for the remaining nights Alex had arranged for us to stay at a Marriott vacation resort on International Drive. He had gotten a greatly reduced rate in return for sitting through a 90-minute sales presentation. The suite we had was great - it had two bedrooms and a living room, 2 screened porches looking out over a golf course, a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and jacuzzi. There was an outdoor swimming pool and jacuzzi not too far away. Very nice.

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There was an article in the Wall Street Journal the other day saying that one good side effect of all the layoffs is that the employees that are left have more space to spread out into. Well, that's not what's happening at our company. As people have been laid off we have been crammed into tighter and tighter quarters. When I first started work last summer, we occupied 3 half-floors, right now we are in 2, and on Monday we will all be moving into 1. We went to look at the new location yesterday, and saw that cubicles have been crammed into every open space up to the limit of the fire codes. The really frustrating thing is the area we're vacating is not being sublet, since there is no demand for office space these days. Apparently just having it on the books as "available for sublet" has some sort of accounting advantage.
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Wednesday, April 17, 2002

We're back from Florida, sigh. We left very pleasant weather in the 80's to come home to 95 degree heat and the cab ride from hell. (Non-airconditioned, fighting stop-and-go rush-hour traffic for nearly an hour. It's really too bad that there's no reasonable way to get to the Boston airport. Taking the T from my house would mean 1/2 mile walk, a bus, a subway, a trolley car, another subway, and a bus, so that's a bit impractical) At least the cats are fine (Machinka only knocked over one potted plant) and everything else is okay. Just need to get caught up on unpacking, laundry, etc., and then I'll write a report on what we did in the Orlando area.
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Wednesday, April 10, 2002

I've been out of action for over a week because there was some sort of problem with my Blogger account, possibly related to a system upgrade they performed last week. In any case, it seems to be fixed now, and so I'll try to catch up a little bit.

The big news is that Alex and I are heading off to Orlando tomorrow, to be joined there by our friend Nancy Atherton for a short week of frolicking in the various theme parks. If I find an internet cafe, I might post from Florida, otherwise you'll see me back here next week.

Weight loss is not going very well. I had a good week on the step counter (46,194 steps) and my food log says I ate reasonably well, but I went back up 1.5 lbs for a total net loss of 1.5 pounds in 5 weeks. Not good. One new development, however, is that Alex has decided that he wants to lose weight, too, so hopefully we will be good influences on each other. In fact, he's offered to cook me a low-fat dinner tonight for our weekly reality show get-together. So that will be nice.

If I hadn't been going out of town, I might have appeared on CBS TV. They are doing a story on the government's pre-diabetes announcement (see my March 30 posting) and the Joslin press office called me to see if I would be interested in being interviewed. But its got to be late this week or early next week - exactly when I'll be out of town. Just as well - I don't have a thing to wear. :-)

Found an amusing web site, Television Without Pity, that offers mercilessly cutting recaps of many current TV shows. They don't much like Rob (on Survivor) either.

The forsythia and daffodils are blooming, but sorry, no time to take pictures. I have to get packed for this trip. Gosh, it's such a relief to be back online!
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Monday, April 01, 2002

Alex and I went to see Monsoon Wedding today - a delightful movie I highly recommend. It portrays the four days of family interaction leading up to an arranged wedding between the daughter of an upper-class Indian family and a "non-resident Indian", a computer programmer living in the United States. Although set in a foreign culture, the film is very accessible, since the dialog is partly in English and the various family interactions showed that families are the same everywhere. I particularly liked the actor who played the father; the way he showed his love for his daughter and his niece was very moving. There were comic bits as well, and lots of exuberant singing and dancing. Overall, it was sort of a cross between Gosford Park (with its interweaving story lines) and Moulin Rouge (which itself was influenced by the Indian "Bollywood" movie style). It's one of those movies that might be hard to find, but if you get a chance to see it, you'll be glad you did.
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Weight loss department: I'm down another pound this week, for a total of 3 pounds with 5 to go. At the suggestion of my DPP coach, I tried wearing a step counter this week. This is a good way to judge your total activity, including all the little things you do as part of your daily life, not just the half hour you set aside for "exercise". This week I registered a total of just under 32,000 steps, which is a little above sedentary (which would be around 20,000), but not especially active. When I was working at this previously, I could do 50,000 - 55,000 weeks. Of course, that was when I was working part-time and had a little more free time. It will be interesting to see what I log the week I go to Florida.
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