My fractal commute: prelude

This is just a preview of a much longer posting that I’ve meant to write for a while, but haven’t gotten it rolling just yet.  Get it – rolling – about a commuting post?

I’ve come to realize that the path taken in my semi-regular commute is starting to look like a fractal.  I drive to work – yes, in Boston there is public transport, but it’s awkwardly suited for my home and office – and since rush hour is quite long, I use a wide variety of tricks to improve my time.

One of my annoyances is stoplights.  I don’t mind them most of the time, and firmly believe they are a useful at keeping society safer and more civilized.  I just don’t like waiting at one for more than a single cycle, which often happens during rush hour.  So I optimize my commute to avoid stoplights.

Now just avoiding stoplights isn’t going to turn a commute – even a Boston one, where some roads were laid down by cows – into a fractal.  But it’s a start, and a number of other factors, including maximum speed and interestingness, really do push my commute into a number of strange directions.

So this posting is partly to whet your appetite, but mostly to prompt me to write up a proper essay on the topic, including pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back …, oh, sorry got carried away.  But I will have a few jaggedy graphics to show, and true map geeks can see if they can backsolve where I work by overlaying on the local road grid.  (Note: all roads are paved; 17in wheels don’t like rocks.)

Summer vacations now mean >1 beach/day

Spend a long weekend on the Vineyard recently, and now that Roxanne is walkin’ and talkin’ (a lot), it was a very different experience from a year ago.

See, Amy and I aren’t really beach people, no matter how much my childhood (spend on the bay) and dreams (“Son of a Son of a Sailor”) may beg to differ; tanning is just out, and we have pools for swimming. But now that Roxanne can express her wishes, we visited more than one beach per day of our long weekend. It’s a whole new metaphor for what we do on vacation.

Friday spent far too long waiting for our ferry reservations (yes, you heard it here first: Shane was very early for something once in his life) and wandering around Woods Hole. We walked out on a small pier and looked at the beach, although I won’t count that as a beach.

After the ferry and lunch in the kitchenette, we headed out just a half mile to Beach Rd, where you can do two, count them, two beaches at once! After exhausing the local rock supply on the bay side by throwing them into the water, we headed across the road to walk out the stone jetty on the ocean side. More rocks were thrown there, of course. I’ll leave it to the reader to determine if this counts as two beaches or just one.

After a simple pasta and meatball dinner – having a kitchenette on vacation is a key planning point – we follow tradition and get back in the car for the last-minute drive to see the sunset. Everything is promising: we’re actually quite early, and the sun is nice and full still. But… As we drive across the island to that special spot on South beach, it starts getting darker. And darker. By the time we pass Edgartown to the Katama flats, the fog has settled in so thickly that you can’t even see the windsock at the airport. We went to the beach anyway, of course. It felt like there was nothing else in the world but sea, dunes, and fog. I don’t think we even knew exactly when the sun went down, but throwing rocks in the surf was sure fun.

At this dim and foggy point I fear for boring my readers, so I’ll just skip the rest of the rocks across the wavetops. Saturday included lobster rolls and clam chowder at Menemphsa, throwing more rocks on the beach (just one today), and buying seafood for dinners. Three rides later at the Flying Horses (the third one was free as we caught the brass ring! The attendant asks me if Roxanne wants to “Stay on for her free ride, or come back later?” – what a silly question), we get some cotton candy and head home for fresh bay scallop dinner.

Sunday was Chappy day, and taking the On Time III ferry across for it’s 30 second ride.  Mytoi is a definite spot to visit if you’re out there; a beautiful Japanese style garden amidst the scrub trees.  We spent quite a while on a windy and cloudy Wasqe point chasing the surf; luckily even sans sunscreen we survived, and even managed not to loose Roxanne in the very deep hole we had dug.  Then, since Amy wanted to do dinner out at the Black Dog Tavern (better than expected, but remember it’s Vineyard Haven so you need to BYOB), which required the requisite walking on the beach outside to find more rocks to throw.

Normally, two beaches would have been enough for the day, but we decided at the last minute to take the requisite mad dash, along dirt roads, to try to get to that special spot on South Beach in time for the sunset.  Dashing didn’t help – even running to the top of the dune (not on the grass, of course) and picking up Roxanne as far as we could reach would not bring the sun back into sight.  But the sky, and the sand, and the waves – they were a sight all their own, and one solely to ourselves without another soul in view.  So that makes three.

Monday’s ferry left only time for a few rocks on the ferry beach after we finished our Black Dog Bakery snacks, so sadly we couldn’t muster more than >2 beaches per day.  Maybe next time.

Trip Report: Who still smokes in California?

Spent much of last week in San Jose on a business trip.  While the work and my co-workers were great, the trip itself was rather painful since my back was still out.  Thank goodness JetBlue flies direct; although I appreciated the extra legroom, and the in-seat cable TV dulled my brain pleasantly, the seats really aren’t all that comfortable.  But the real pain came to the hotel…

There were a number of problems that combined resulted in me becoming nomadic for the trip: I slept in a different room every night.  First, due to an problem with our corporate travel tool, I was booked in the wrong hotel.  Luckily it was literally in the same parking lot as where I drove to, so I actually walked there after arriving.  Unfortunately it was the ‘cheap’ version of the brand.  And it was a smoking room.  That’s a sure fire way to get me smoking at the top, but no, the night staff swore they didn’t have any non-smoking rooms available.  It was nearly 10pm (really 1am body time), so I gave in for the night.

Lesson learned: I will never, ever stay in a smoking room again.  If necessary, I will call local information and call all the major hotels within a 15 min drive to see if any of them have an opening instead. My sweater still smelled after I got home.

The painful part was the bed: horribly hard.  In my tired confusion, I prayed that somehow the next night would be better, since the morning staff was desole, desole, and happy to give me a non-smoking room that evening.  As you’d expect, the bed was just as bad.  The next  morning I steeled myself for the argument, knowing they’d try to charge me for leaving early and what-not, don’t you know I’m staying on a corporate rate from a huge customer of your hotel, etc. etc.  But happily the morning staff was very pleasant, terribly sorry, and sent me on my way with no extra charges.

The third night was spent 2 miniutes down the road at a hotel that had a pool and a hot tub.  Much better.  Well, really only a mostly warm tub, but it still helped.

Oh, and the meeting really was great: good food, excellent company, and great teambuilding ideas.  Now, afterwards, comes the hard part where we have to actually go do some work and actually execute the ideas!  Sigh.  Working by yourself (my whole team is remote, at least from me) does get a little lonely sometimes.

While JetBlue supplies a cute little “Buh, bye, red eye” kit, unfortunately it didn’t work for me.  Miraculously, however, my daughter and wife very kindly let me sleep in at home until 11am the next morning.  Thank you!

NYC in 19 hours

No, it’s not the title of the latest travelogue, it’s my cheeky title about my recent trip to the Big Apple to help celebrate a good friend Bret’s 40th birthday.  Even though I was sick and just back from a red eye flight, it wasn’t one of those things that you miss.  Especially when he’s a food writer, and has reserved an entire restarant for his party!

I should really tell you where we went, but I can’t remember at the moment (plus I’m still undecided if I write specific reviews or not in this blog).  Thai, anyway, and quite good as you’d expect.  In fact the service was excellent: the waiters passing trays of hot finger foods quickly learned what our group – the Tufts crowd in the corner – liked and kept us well fed. I made sure to compliment the staff on their attentive and nonchalantly pleasant attitude after the event.

The Tufts crowd, comprising two of Bret’s friends, and our mutual friend Birdman, plus a couple of his relatives, and surprisingly enough his parents! ended up closing out the place.  So we decided to head over to a Brit Colonial repro bar that Bret said was a few blocks over for drinks.  Whee!  Quite posh, although I was disappointed that a fancy NYC lounge that attempted to recreate a British Officer’s Club from when England ruled the waves didn’t carry Tanqueray’s Malacca.  They did have one empty bottle though, and the barkeep was quite apologetic.  Plus, they had a whole list of Champagne Cocktails.

So I ended up staying out later, and drinking more, than I have since… well, since shortly after college.  And it was a total blast.  Not just Bret, and his family, and friends, and the amazing food.  Just doing it was fun.  Not that I need to do it again soon – at least not until the next 40th birthday party that comes around.

But that’s not getting you any closer to the secret of my title.  See, I had been away for a week on a business trip, and taken the red eye home with no sleep.  I really couldn’t justify staying away from home and family any longer than necessary.  So I sprung for the Acela, zipped down Sunday afternoon, had dinner, drinks, and more drinks; got honest to goodness 5+ hours of sleep at Birdman’s place; and had time to pick up bagels in those 19 hours before taking the Acela home.

Statistically speaking, I spent more time travelling than I actually spent with Bret, and if you add up the cost, it was $$$ per hour I got to see him.  Although staying in Birdman’s apartment was a bonus too.  And you can meet the nicest people on the train!  I imagine having reserved seats, so no-one is standing for three hours, really makes a difference in your travelling companions, however.

Oh, and Bret writes a blog about NYC food industry: I’m sorry to say that if you don’t know him, the delivery is no where near as good as he does in person.

Although I must respectfully disagree that Tufts grads never sing the song: of course we do!  But it usually is for the humor effect.

Exciting flights, boring flights

Actually, neither flight was exciting, which is just fine with me.  I spent the past half week in RTP at a business meeting, which was actually quite fun, considering you’re on the go from 8AM to 10PM each day.  Luckily my back pain had cleared up enough that I was down to a single dose of ibuprofin, so the flight was fine, although the office chairs were a little stiff.

Travelling for business is fun – as long as you don’t do it too often.  Except for this month (several trips unfortunately planned very close together), I’ve been successful in travelling just enough to still be exciting.  I must admit that having a big company travel agency really helps.  While the policies are byzantine, and you can get really strange looks if you try to do something out of policy, the travel website is actually pretty easy to use, and has a good variety of flights and hotels.

Stupid benefit I enjoy almost out of proportion to it’s value: we get a Hertz #1 Gold club membership just for signing up.  Along with earning miles or something that I’m not too sure about, the coolest thing is that Gold members have the cars waiting for them at the lot: your name is on the board (an interesting privacy issue, I suppose), you walk to your spot and drive away.  Much cooler, somehow, than standing in yet another line at the rental counter.

I was also almost absurdly lucky with dinners: a local co-worker suggested a place called Piedmont that turned out to have excellent food, the two people I went with each had a love of good food equal to my own, and a manager paid for it, saving me the trouble of putting that line in my expense report.  Yum and simplicity all in one.  And the team dinner the next night was at a kitchy place called Bogart’s, so we saw The Maltese Falcon in the background, although we were having too much fun to bother watching.  The food was surprisingly good, nearly as good as the first night, too.

The one disappointment was the bar staff.  What would you order at a place called Bogart’s?  I suppose there are a couple of valid answers to that, but if you love Casablanca as much as I do, you’d order a Champagne Cocktail.  Disappointingly, the waiter (who was pretty funny) came back and said the bartender didn’t know how to make it, what should he do?  I will admit at this point that I myself neglected to mention the bitters when I told him how to make it.  The result was pretty good nonetheless, probably because he ended up giving me a generous amount of a decent cognac.  Whoo!

Coming home, I was again struck by the oddity of air travel.  I rush out of one meeting, wait in lines at the airport wishing I had worn shorts and a lighter colored shirt.  Just two hours later, I walk off of the plane to sleet and frozen rain atop a dusting of wet snow.  Very discombobulating for the body to make the change.  I think it really struck me since I’ve been reading the Aubrey/Maturin novels, and was thinking about the human condition in a much earlier time.

Snow tires, meet snow

Living the irony; so to speak.  That’s not quite right, but it will do, lest I skip blogging at all.

Tried working at home, then drove down to the local tire shop to have the wunnerful (and cheap!) new tires put on Amy’s car.  The old ones had a few more weeks in them, but the new tires were already in the car just having picked them up from UPS, so why bother hauling them back and forth?  Even accounting for the local tire shop’s almost egregious pricing, I still came out ahead after getting an even bigger discount from

But that’s not what the story’s about.

Waitin’ for it to come around on the guitar.  Oh, wait, wrong story.

It’s just barely started serious flurries as I drive down there.  They mention it’s a wait for tire mounting – people in line and all that – no problem,  I brought both a book and my computer.  A while later, and ta-da, new tires.  (Actually all-seasons, but that’d ruin the title.)  So I walk out to the car and: bam, it’s really snowing, and it’s all over the road!  Wheeeee!

I actually drove into work, although it was mostly to go swimming at the club that happens to be there.  By the time I’m done and driving home, it’s really snowing, and everyone is pretty slow on the roadways.  Amy’s coming home early from work, but traffic is bad, so I need to pick up Roxanne.  No problem, I have new tires and 4 wheel drive today!

By the time we both get home, there’s nearly 3 inches of snow in the driveway, and my poor BMW (with decidedly non-new tires) has a little trouble getting up the hill.  What a day!

To double the irony, the brand new actual snow tires that I ordered for my BMW are scheduled to be put on – next Tuesday.  Probably just in time to wonder if I should switch to summer wheels, eh?

What does Fung Wah mean, anyway?

Blogger recounting an interesting trip to NYC on the Fung Wah.  Interesting, as in the old curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

I don’t do much linking to other blogs (well, yet), but had to include this one: the obvious real-life adventure is amusing, and I hadn’t heard this interesting quote before, where Fung Wah had a bus…

“yes, that’s right, roll over on an off-ramp this year … and then the joke went that Fung Wah was Chinese for ‘centripetal force.’)”

Physics geeks can laugh now.

I’m OK! But best wishes to Kevin’s Family

One of those odd moments in life after 9/11, I guess.  I was reading Soapbox and saw a posting linking to an online news story about a building explosion just a few blocks from where I work.  My first thought (after checking where it was) was to call my wife and tell her I’m OK.  Which I did.

Now I look to see the updated story (below), which unfortunately reports that one of the NStar workers who was doing repair work was killed in the explosion.  Our thoughts go out to his family.  8-(

“A victim was brought out of 1 Broadway in Cambridge this morning after an apparent electrical explosion in the basement.