Log in

30 June 2016 @ 05:12 pm
Yes, I’m behind. Life gets like that.

Celebrity Death Watch: Stuart Anderson founded the Black Angus Steakhouse chain. Richard Seltzer wrote a number of books abut of popular medicine / medical philosophy. Lois Duncan wrote suspense novels for young adults. Goro Hasegawa patented the game Othello. Ralph Stanley was a bluegrass star. Rabbi Chaim Avrohom Horowitz was the Bostoner Rebbe of New York (and, later, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel) and wrote a lot of influential Jewish music. Barbara Goldsmith wrote several non-fiction books, including a well-received 2005 biography of Marie Cure. Alvin Toffler was a futurist and author, best known for Future Shock. Mack Rice wrote such songs as "Mustang Sally." Finally (and most relevantly to my career), Simon Ramo was the "R" in TRW, and is pretty much considered the founder of systems engineering.

The Breakfast Club: Apparently, I saw exactly one movie over the past quarter. I think I kept falling asleep on airplanes instead of watching movies. Anyway, I had somehow never seen this teenage classic before. It may be 31 years old, but I think it stands up reasonably well. Maybe I think that because my teenage years are a long time ago. It has obvious flaws – clichéd roles and an unlikely ending – but it is watchable despite those. I do, however, wish there were better female role models.

Story Swap: I had two things on my calendar a week ago Saturday night, and decided I could only do one of them. As tempting as coral crocheting at a local yarn store was, I do love story swaps. And the person who was hosting it has a particularly amiable cat. (That reminds me of The Minister’s Cat, a parlor game that way too few people seem to know. The minister’s cat is an amiable cat who adores avocadoes. The minister’s cat is a belligerent cat who batters bandicoots. And so on.) Anyway, it was a good time, with some fun stories, particularly a quest story that Eve told. I told the story I had done for the Better Said Than Done competition.

Friends in Harmony: A friend had given me a ticket to a concert that a chorus she sings in was part of. Seeing that it was very close to home, why not? The event was called Friends in Harmony and featured four choral groups - Mosaic Harmony, Olam Tikvah Chorale, Ketzal Chorus, and the Sakura Choir. The idea was to celebrate the diversity of Fairfax County, so there was an invocation by the imam of a local mosque, followed by the singing, which included gospel, Jewish liturgical, Mexican, and Japanese music. They even provided a CD to take home. All in all, it was well organized and I enjoyed most of the music.

Business Trip: Then I went off to Colorado Springs on a business trip, which meant lots of work and not enough sleep. It was reasonably productive, particularly in terms of meeting some folks in person who I had only talked to on the phone in the past. And, on the way home, I reached my million miles on United!

La Cage Aux Folles: When I got home Friday, I had time for a brief nap before driving over to Signature Theatre to see the final show of the subscription year. I had seen La Cage Aux Folles during its original Broadway run many years ago. Signature’s version is, of course, scaled down, but is still a large show for them. It was very enjoyable, with an excellent performance by Bobby Smith as Albin. I continue to believe that "I Am What I Am" is one of the strongest first act closing numbers in musical theatre. There’s Jerry Herman’s catchy music, a reasonably witty book, and fun choreography, so it made for an enjoyable evening. Given the competing drag queen stories playing local theatres now, I’d say this is well worth prioritizing above Kinky Boots if you are going to see just one of them.

Conference Going: I spent much of the weekend in a state of suspended animation, recovering from my trip, though I did get a few errands done. Then the beginning of this week involved a work-related conference that was decently informative. I am reminded again and again that space is a small world, as there were several people there who I know from various of my past lives in the business (i.e. other jobs within my company, supporting different customers). I hate to say this, but I really hope I haven’t aged as badly as some of them have.

And now I am caught up, for, oh, about 3 hours. Especially as I have theatre tickets tonight.
17 June 2016 @ 03:23 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Janet Waldo was the voice of Judy Jetson and Penelope Pitstop, among a large number of acting roles. George Voinovich was the governor of Ohio through pretty much all of the 1980's, after which he became a U.S. Senator.

Metro: Surge #1 is over and was not too annoying, thanks to the temporary bus service from Fairfax Connector. Except that last night I was coming from the city and had the usual lengthy wait for a train at Foggy Bottom, complete with inadequate information. It didn't really affect tme, but they were announcing a train as being a Blue Line one, when it was actually Silver. The exact same thing happened this morning at Rosslyn, which was more irritating as I was already in a bad mood and running late due to multiple Orange Line screw-ups. To wit: 1) despite there allegedly being no track work, there was still single tracking between East Falls Church and Ballston, 2) the announcements only were addressing a different (and supposedly resolved) track issue, 3) none of this info was on the rail alerts, and 4) the two trains before mine skipped Ballston, so my train ended up with Tokyo-level crowding.

The next surge includes two weeks of no service between Rosslyn and Arlington Cemetery. They are suggesting people stay on the Orange (or Silver) Line to L'Enfant Plaza and then take the Yellow Line south. Which only adds about 35-40 minutes to the trip. There are a couple of alternatives I know of, but the most useful one is that I am actually going to have to deal with that mess for two days, due to a mixture of travel and a conference.

Kinky Boots: I went to see Kinky Boots at the Kennedy Center last night (which is why I was waiting for the metro at Foggy Bottom in the first place). Anyway, the show has a book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. It tells the story of a young man, Charlie Price, who inherits his family's shoe factory and decides to save the livelihoods of the long-term factory workers by entering a niche market. And what niche market is that? High heeled boots for drag queens. See, he had met Lola, whose footwear needs inspire ideas that will be just the thing for this upcoming show in Milan. Winning over the workers, who aren't necessarily comfortable with Lola, is only part of the problem. See, Charlie has to convince himself, too.

You know that everything is going to work out just fine, including Lola's father issues, Charlie's love life, and, of course, the factory. This is pretty much your average feel-good, everything works if you just accept everyone musical, with some gorgeous shoes thrown in. And I say that as a devotee of flats. The score is also fairly predictable. Lola gets some big, showy numbers, while there's a little more thoughtful material about what being a man is ("Not My Father's Son"). The music was pleasant enough for the most part (though the production numbers weren't really my style), but not really memorable.

Adam Kaplan did well as Charlie, but was (of course) overshadowed by J. Harrison Ghee as Lola. I did find myself wondering if the casting was intended to be color-blind or whether Lola being black was supposed to add even more to the whole lack of acceptance vibe. The performer I need to especially single out is Tiffany Engen as Lauren, the factory worker with a crush on Charlie. She was a phenomenal dancer and really conveyed the emotions behind her apparently hopeless feelings.

The most interesting thing about this show is that it's touring here right now, while La Cage Aux Folles is playing at Signature Theatre. Drag queens, self-acceptance, Harvey Fierstein - do I see a pattern here? And that apparent coincidence is why I found myself wondering whether Kinky Boots is anything more than a rehashing of the same old same old. It's not a bad show, but why bother when Jerry Herman's music gives you something to inflict an ear worm on yourself with? (To be fair, I've never really seen the point of drag shows and I've been accused of being the straightest person on the planet. Stilettos don't make me feel good - they make my feet hurt.)
15 June 2016 @ 12:47 pm
Since I spent this past weekend largely in suspended animation and I don't feel like inciting anybody over politics, here is a review of the contents of my third Graze box.

Snack #1 – Malaysian Laksa: This is one of Graze’s aromatic broths. It consists of a spicy coconut paste, which you add hot water to, plus a side snack of chili lime cashews and coconut flakes. It has 140 calories. The dominant flavors of the broth are tamarind and chili, but there’s a nice complex mix of seasonings. I thought it was very tasty and surprisingly filling – just the right thing to eat before a long meeting that was going to run well into lunchtime. The cashews didn’t seem to have much of the chili and lime flavoring, but it’s possible that was just overwhelmed by the broth. There was also a lot more coconut than cashew. The downside, of course, is that you need to be eating this somewhere where you have a mug and hot water available, so it works at my office, but is not suitable for, say, an airplane.

Snack #2 – Chocolate Cherry Protein Granola Topper: This is a mix of cocoa granola, chopped hazelnuts, freeze-dried cherry pieces, and soy protein crisps. It’s 150 calories and intended to be used to top yogurt. I did taste a spoonful before putting it on a cup of yogurt (actually vanilla skyr) and it was pretty good even on its own. The chocolate flavor is definitely dominant and, frankly, the cherries were barely detectable. There was a nice crunchiness and, overall, I thought this was quite successful, though I would probably use it with plain yogurt in the future.

Snack #3 – Peachy Orchard: This is a mixture of rhubarb slices (i.e. sweetened, dried rhubarb, really more chunks than slices), dried pear, and peach fruit drops (i.e. a sort of peach flavored gummy). It’s 110 calories and fairly high in sugar (20 grams), though largely from fruit purees in the peach drops. I was skeptical because dried pear sounded a bit weird. And I don’t think I’d ever actually eaten rhubarb before. I first tried each of the components separately and wasn’t crazy about the texture of the pear slices and was undecided about the rhubarb. Then I tried eating two or three of the components together. That was far more successful, largely because the peach drops are extremely good. Overall, this wasn’t bad, but isn’t something I’d want frequently.

Snack #4 – Thai Tom Yum: Another aromatic broth, this one is only 50 calories. It consists of a hot and sour paste, some dried vegetables (red pepper and zucchini) and rice noodle pieces, all of which you put in a mug (or bowl) and add hot water to, then stir for a couple of minutes. The paste had a very strong smell, which was only an issue in that I decided to throw the empty packet into the kitchen trash instead of my office trash can. The sour flavors from tamarind paste and lime dominated the flavor, which was fine with me. It was also fairly spicy, which is also something I am good with. It didn’t look like there were a lot of noodles in the packet, but they rehydrated to be quite a bit more than I’d thought there would be. Overall, I thought this was very tasty. And it was filling enough to make a decent lunch. The downsides are twofold. Like all of the broths, you need to be somewhere with a mug and hot water available. It’s also higher in sodium than I’d prefer, but not any worse than most restaurant soups (and better than many). I rated it as "like," rather than "love" for those reasons.

Snack #5 - Twist of Black Pepper Popping Corn This is a small (130 calorie) bag of microwave popcorn, with a little bit of black pepper to flavor it. It took a little over a minute and 20 seconds to pop in my microwave, which is pretty standard for small bags of popcorn. The black pepper was a nice addition to the popcorn. But I have to question the economics of this snack. Even not on sale, a packet of 100 calorie microwave popcorn is under a dollar, while each graze snack comes out to $1.50. I realize that some of the premium is for convenience – and, to some extent, wholesomeness, as the Graze snacks aren’t full of artificial ingredients. Still, I mind that premium less when it’s a matter of paying for more creative offerings.

Snack #6 – Caramel Apple: This consists of soft wedges of dried apple, with a toffee sauce to dip them in. It is 80 calories, which is pretty good for something sweet like this. I normally prefer my apples crunchier, but the soft texture actually worked well with the dipping sauce. The dip was sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. I found this surprisingly enjoyable.

Snack #7 – Chinese Shiitake:> Yes, yet another aromatic broth. This one has 100 calories and consists of a mushroom broth paste, rice noodle pieces, corn, and dried shiitake mushroom slices, which you add hot water to. It was a bit spicier than I was expecting, which is fine with me, though obviously would not be to everyone’s taste. The mushroom pieces ended up nicely chewy. I’m not convinced that the noodles added much, though there was nothing offensive about them. Overall, I thought all three of the aromatic broths were quite good, but I’d have liked getting a wider variety of types of snacks in this box.

Snack #8 – New York Everything Bagel: These are miniature breadsticks, with poppy seeds, onion, and sesame seeds. The packet is 150 calories. It’s a good thing this is portion-controlled, because these are thoroughly delicious and I would inevitably eat as many as I could lay my hands on. I rated this as "love" and definitely hope to see it frequently.

Overall, I remain pleased with Graze. All of the contents of this box had something to recommend them, though I’d have preferred not having quite so many things that required preparation (the broths and the popcorn). I snoozed my next box a week, due to a business trip, but you will hear more about Graze. If you are interested in signing up, let me know and I’ll give you a code for free 1st (4 snack) and 5th (8 snack) boxes.
10 June 2016 @ 12:56 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Joe Fleishaker appeared in several Troma films, e.g. Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. Mell Lazarus drew Miss Peach and Momma. Actress Beth Howland actually died in December, but her death was only announced on May 24. She was best known for her role in the sitcom Alice, but I think she was more significant for being the original Amy in the musical Company, singing the patter song "Getting Married Today." Dave Swarbrick played the fiddle with Fairport Convention. Theresa Saldana was an actress, who is probably most famous for surviving being stabbed by an obsessed stalker. Peter Shaffer was a playwright, whose work included Amadeus and Equus. Gordie Howe was a hockey player. Muhammed Ali was a boxer and a poet. You didn’t really need me to tell you that, but what you might not know is that I won a bet on the first Ali-Frazier fight when I was in junior high. I bet on Frazier only on the grounds that Ali had been out of the game for so long.

JGSJW: The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington had their annual potluck luncheon on Sunday. The event started with an interesting talk on Jews in China, covering both historical and modern communities. Then there was a brief business meeting, before lunch. I had been assigned to the dessert group and baked blondies, with a new recipe that I found disappointing. There was an after-lunch game show, but I couldn’t stay for it, since I had another commitment. Anyway, it was a nice event, with plenty of good conversation.

Washington Folk Festival: That commitment was to tell stories at the Washington Folk Festival, in Glen Echo Park. My set was titled "Calculating Women," and I advertised it as stories of real, imaginary, and complex women who face the world with cleverness, with, and a touch of mathematics. I told mostly folk tales (including Maltese, Jewish, German, and American ones), plus the story of Sophie Germaine. I realized afterwards that I had completely forgotten about one of the stories I intended to tell. No wonder I finished a few minutes early. Anyway, it went reasonably well.

SafeTrack: The metro hell that started Saturday was tolerable during the work week, largely because the Fairfax Connector added on a temporary express bus from the Vienna Metro to the Pentagon. So far the bus has not been absurdly crowded, i.e. nobody has been forced to stand on it. It’s fairly chaotic at the Pentagon station at the end of the day, however. And they don’t actually appear to adhere to their schedule very accurately, though it’s still better than the metrobus I used to ride.

MIT Club Annual Meeting: Wednesday night, I braved the metro to go the MIT Club of DC Annual Meeting, which was at Maggiano’s. It’s not a restaurant I care for – large quantities of mediocre food – but the conversation was good, and I even made a potentially useful work-related connection. The featured speaker was Dava Newman, the Deputy Director of NASA. She emphasized Mars, but did speak a fair amount about uncrewed missions and even mentioned some of their work on aviation. The questions were, alas, too focused on Mars, but I’m not surprised about that.

By the way, I had very good Metro luck getting home, with just a four minute wait at Friendship Heights and a two minute wait at Metro Center.
08 June 2016 @ 02:12 pm
Saturday was our local (Washington, D.C.) puzzle tournament. It was kind of a pain getting to GWU for it, since Metro had started "SafeTrack" (for which I have much ruder names), meaning trains were scheduled to run every 18-20 minutes. Which would be fine if they were running more often than every 45 minutes. Because, in addition to the scheduled single-tracking between East Falls Church and Ballston, they were also single-tracking between Clarendon and Foggy Bottom due to flooding in the Rosslyn tunnel. I had left myself plenty of time and was still able to go over to Bourbon Coffee on L Street to get some decent coffee before things started.

The first puzzle, by Peter Broda and Lena Webb, was straightforward enough. The theme wasn’t especially interesting and, frankly, one could probably solve it without ever figuring out what the theme was. Still, I solved cleanly and felt I was off to a good start.

Puzzle 2, by Andy Kravis and Neville Fogarty, was somewhat more my speed, with a theme that invoked puns in the style of Merl Reagle. It was my favorite of the day and, again, a clean solve. I found Puzzle 3, by Sam Trabuco, a lot less enjoyable, largely because I thought several of the answers were a stretch. I did, however, solve it cleanly. Things were going quite well and, in fact, after the first three puzzles, I was 6th on the Outside Track (out of 77). Admittedly, I was probably behind almost everyone on the Inside Track (i.e. the people who can solve the easy puzzles in about the time it takes me to pick up my pencil), but I was still pleased. On another pleasant note, somewhere in there (I think it was between the second and third puzzles), there were miniature pies.

Last year, I had been unable to find the Jose Andres veggie fast food place, Beefsteak, but now that I knew where it was, it made a good lunch destination for a few of us. You can build your own combo, but for a first time visit, it made sense to try one of their predesigned bowls. The kimchi-wa is described as containing rice, corn, carrot, cabbage, edamame, bok choy, garlic yogurt sauce and is topped with scallions, sesame seeds, corn nuts, kimchi, and soy ginger dressing. This was very tasty and proved to be quite a lot of food. I will definitely eat here again.

Things had been going swimmingly, but then came Puzzle 4, by Erik Agard and Joanne Sullivan. I figured out the theme fairly quickly, so that wasn’t a problem. The issue I had was a lot of difficult fill. Maybe other people know who the President of Nigeria is offhand, but it isn't the sort of thing that comes trippingly to my fingertips. In fact, I did get that answer, more or less letter by letter. But I got hung up in the upper left corner, largely because I got too attached to a particular wrong answer. So I ended up with 4 wrong squares and, to show how big an impact one puzzle can have, dropped from 6th to 34th on the Outside Track.

Puzzle 5 was a team effort by all the constructors and, fortunately, I found it more straightforward. I solved it cleanly, which brought me up to 21st on the Outside Track and 60th overall. That put me at the 49th percentile overall, which is mediocre, but it is better than last year when I’d been 61st out of 100 competitors, i.e. at the 29th percentile.

Overall, I had a good time, even though none of the puzzles really blew me away. At the end of the day, I stopped in at Whole Foods to buy a couple of things and then waited the better part of a millennium (okay, 40 or so minutes) for a train. They were still single-tracking through the tunnel, though Metro had apparently decided during the day that actually informing people of this was too much effort. Not that it mattered all that much, but I was exhausted when I got home.
Tags: ,
02 June 2016 @ 01:59 pm
Here are my comments on the snacks I got in my second Graze box.

Snack #1 – Stars & Stripes: This is a mix of blueberry flavored cranberries, mini blackcurrant fruit stars, and raspberry fruit strings. It’s 130 calories. I didn’t actually think I was going to like this as: a) I am not really a big fan of most dried fruit, and b) I have only had blackcurrant before in tea. But it proved to be pretty good. The blackcurrant stars and the raspberry stripes are really more gummies than fruit. On the down side, it is high in sugar (25 grams, admittedly mostly natural from fruit juice and fruit puree) and I didn’t find it very filling. I should also note that I thought that the stars made this a very pretty offering.

Snack #2 – Sour Cream & Garlic Crostini: Not just crostini, but garlic crostini, along with sour cream & onion cashews. This was also 130 calories. This is the sort of thing that is pretty much guaranteed to work for me since I love cashews, croutons, sour cream, onions, and garlic. And, indeed, I did like it, though it was also not as exciting as trying something I wouldn’t normally choose to eat if that makes any sense.

Snack #3 – Strawberries and Cream Protein Granola Topper: This consisted of oat and barley granola, yogurt-coated strawberry pieces, freeze-dried strawberries, and soy protein crispies. Calorie count is 130. (Hmm, there seemed to be a pattern there.) I tasted this on its own first and thought it rather bland. Then I did what most people seem to with this – used it to top a bowl of yogurt. In my case, that was plain whole milk yogurt from the Mennonite farmers at my farmers’ market. I found that considerably more successful and it made quite a nice (and, surprisingly filling) breakfast. I’m left with mixed feelings, though, since my original purpose in signing up for Graze was to shake up my afternoon snacks and, obviously, eating one for breakfast did nothing for that. I guess there is nothing wrong with a change of pace for breakfast, too.

Snack #4 – Butterscotch Popcorn Flapjack: This is a soft granola bar type of thing, with rolled oats and butterscotch popcorn pieces. It’s 250 calories, but there are three bars in the package, so you could actually eat them one at a time. Or you could, that is, if they weren’t so delicious. The butterscotch flavoring made this sweet, but it didn’t feel cloying. This was also quite filling, so it was handy to have with me during a long meeting.

Snack #5 – Energizing Almond, Carrot & Apple: This had almonds, carrot and orange chews, and soft apple pieces. This is high in fiber and 180 calories. The almonds were just almonds – which is fine with me. The carrot chews were kind of weird, with a faint orange flavor, but not any real carroty taste. I usually think of dried apple as hard, but these were big, chewy pieces and, frankly, the texture didn’t work for me. Trying to eat the pieces blended together didn’t make much of a difference. This wasn’t terrible, but, since I can get both almonds and nice crisp apples easily enough, I marked this to trash.

Snack #6 – Brooklyn Bites: I have no idea what poppy seed pretzels, cheese cashews, and roasted pumpkin seeds have to do with Brooklyn. This is 160 calories and is a reasonable mix of savory tastes. The pumpkin seeds are soy sauce flavored, which is nice, but there are too many of them relative to the pretzels and cashews. And I thought the cheese flavoring of the cashews was a bit off – kind of artificial tasting. Not bad, but not exciting.

Snack #7 – Snickerdoodle Dip with Cinnamon Pretzel Sticks: At 150 calories, this isn’t nearly as horrifying as it sounds. And, assuming you like cinnamon as much as I do, it’s thoroughly delicious. I especially appreciated that it wasn’t super sweet. This is also a good argument for the controlled portion size, since I suspect I could go through a whole jar of the snickerdoodle dip on its own.

Snack #8 – Spicy Sriracha Crunch: This is a bit hard to describe. It’s a mix of salted jumbo corn kernels (sort of like corn nuts) and peas and half-popped corn kernels, both with a sriracha flavoring. It’s 110 calories, which is reasonable for this sort of thing. I like crunchy snacks and I like spicy foods, so I anticipated enjoying it. I did like it, but not quite as much as I expected to. It’s a strong flavor and I think it would go well with a beer, but I was eating it at work, so that wasn’t an option.

Overall, I liked the variety of snacks I got. Eight snacks every two weeks seems like an appropriate amount and it was only slightly tricky to spread them out across that time period. It was harder to decide which order to try them in. There was nothing I thought was terrible, though I didn’t care for the texture of the apple pieces in the Energizing Almond, Carrot & Apple. Still, it’s easy enough to rate something as "trash" and not get it again. (Other ratings are "try," "like," and "love." Presumably, the latter two will result in your getting those snacks more often.) I’m planning to continue with Graze for the meantime, since I’m finding it a good way to increase the variety of what I snack on.

Again, if you are interested, I have codes that will get you your first and fifth boxes free (first box is 4 snacks; fifth is 8.) Just let me know.
31 May 2016 @ 02:27 pm
Apparently some people spend three-day weekends relaxing and doing nothing. I wish.

Saturday night was Best in Show, the Better Said Than Done 5th anniversary storytelling contest. I did run a few errands during the day, but I also did a few more run-throughs of my story to make sure I would be within the time limits. Despite which, I still forgot a line - not that anybody else noticed, but it still annoys me when I do that. Anyway, this being a new story, it was hard to guess in advance how well it would work, so I was relieved when the audience laughed good and hard at the right places. While I didn't win the contest, I had a lot of fun and got a lot of nice compliments on the story. I was particularly intrigued by people (including people I didn't know) commenting on how good my pacing was, since that's really not something I'm conscious of. All of the tellers did a great job and even the weakest of the stories were still deserving of being heard. Thanks to everyone and, especially, to Jessica for making it all happen.

Sunday's venture was a chavurah cook-out. I had signed up to bring dessert and made s'mores bars on the grounds that: 1) they are incredibly quick and easy and 2) they seemed like a suitable sort of thing for a cook-out. There was a good turn-out, despite the rain which had us end up eating inside. I have house envy. I should also note that I am surprised when people bring obviously boughten food to a pot luck. Aren't you at least supposed to transfer stuff from the store container to your own Tupperware and pretend you made it? Or is that just one of those obsolete rules I learned back in my youth when the giant redwoods were saplings?

Fortunately, the rain disappeared by Monday, when I drove to Baltimore to watch the Red Sox beat up on the Orioles. The bottom line is that Steven Wright's knuckleball is hard to hit and he pitched a complete game (unusual nowadays), ending in a 7-2 BoSox win. I'm also impressed with how fast Mookie Betts is. By the way, there were two plays that were overturned on review, which is kind of weird. I can't get used to the idea of umpires using instant replay. I continue to believe that there is no better way to spend a hot summer afternoon than at a baseball game and it's always better when my team wins.

It would actually be nice to have a weekend when I have time to finish reading the Sunday paper (which includes doing the puzzles) some time before, say, Thursday.
There are some floors of the building I work in which require a key card to access. That is, people who are going to them need to swipe their card before they can press the button for those floors.

Almost every day, there is someone who presses the button several times without it lighting up, before going through their bag to find their key card. At which point, we are usually past the floor they were going to.

I can understand a new employee forgetting once or twice. But this happens so often that I have to wonder if whatever organization(s) is/are involved hires only people who fail an intelligence test.

In other news, Thursday is food truck day in Crystal City. Yesterday's offerings included an Indian place that smelled pretty good and advertised "fresh fast healthy." It took me over 15 minutes of waiting in line to order and another 15 minutes to get my food. I suppose "fast" was meant in comparison to a flight to Delhi. And, by the way, while the food was tasty, a couple of pieces of the paneer were charred to hard lumps.

I should have gotten a banh mi instead.
Captain Denny Flanagan is a United pilot who has an amazing reputation for customer service and has been, oddly, willing to go and hang out with flyertalk types, including posting his schedule on flyertalk. I've flown with him a few times and run into him at airports (mostly LAX) a few times and had dinner with him (and a bunch of other folks) a few more times. He's retiring in a couple of weeks and I would have liked to be on his retirement flight. But that's the middle of the week and I still have, um, negative 30 something hours of vacation, so it just wasn't workable. But, looking at his schedule, I did see something eminently doable. Namely, he had a flight from LAX to DEN on Saturday afternoon and a flight from DEN to DCA on Sunday morning. There were plans for a dinner get-together in Denver, as well. So, why not?

For various complicated reasons, it made sense for me to fly from IAD to LAS on Friday night and spend the night not really getting any sleep in Vegas. I may have won a couple of hundred bucks on a slot machine somewhere in there. By the way, the flight to LAS was on a 737 and there was some weird DirecTV problem that kept them from charging for it. Which would have been fine, except that the set at my seat was not allowing me to change channels. I had a book and crossword puzzles, so it didn't really matter, but I also now know more about Home and Garden TV (or whatever it's called) than I ever wanted to. Unfortunately, I fell asleep during the part that would have told me which house in Islington the couple who were moving to London chose.

I got upgraded going from LAS to LAX, which isn't really a long enough flight for it to matter. I must have fallen fairly soundly asleep, as I have absolutely no memory of the flight between boarding and deplaning. I had a few hours to kill at LAX, during which I ran into a colleague, who was on his way to London, and we had a nice chat. (He and I worked in the same organization 20 or so years ago and, while he is semi-retired now, we are technically in the same department again.)

On board the LAX-DEN flight, I met up with three other people (a guy from San Francisco, his wife, and her sister) going for Denny's event. Captain Denny took us up to his "sky office" and we all got photos sitting in his seat on the 757 - and wearing his hat. Once we got to Denver, the four of us shared a cab downtown. The others were gung-ho about going to a marijuana dispensary, which is something I have no interest in. I went to my hotel, instead, and zoned out for an hour or so.

I was staying at the Brown Palace, which is historic and classy. (It is also Marriott branded these days, as part of their Autograph Collection.) I like staying at places with character, but let's just say it's a good thing I don't feel the need for large rooms. I also think it's a bit weird that the closet is inside the bathroom. On the plus side, the bed proved to be extraordinarily comfortable. And there was a ceiling fan. (No mosquito net, however. Whenever I am staying somewhere with a ceiling fan and a mozzie net, I feel like I'm in one of those Sydney Greenstreet movies from the 1940's. Though it occurs to me that I can't actually name a Sydney Greenstreet movie that involves ceiling fans and a mozzie net. At any rate, the Brown Palace oozes comfort, not exoticism.)

I wandered over tot he Sheraton for drinks and dinner. The Titan IPA was just OK, the chili was good (and sufficiently spicy). And the conversation was first rate, though I probably should not have replied to the question "Are you Canadian?" with "no, I'm normal." (I was talking to a guy from Edmonton and someone else joined us in the middle. Random people don't normally ask me if I'm Canadian.) As far as I could tell, everyone talked to everyone else, which is the mark of a good party.

I was, however, exhausted, so left fairly early and went to bed by 10. In the morning, I walked up to Union Station (just about a mile, and a very pleasant walk in the cool weather), where I got the new train to the airport. They claim the train takes 37 minutes, but it was actually more like 50. DEN is a good airport in terms of facilities and I enjoyed breakfast at Pour La France, followed by browsing at the store around the corner from the airport branch of the Tattered Cover (which sells all sorts of local arts stuff and offered numerous temptations that I resisted). And, of course, The Tattered Cover itself requires tremendous restraint.

The flight was fine. I stayed at the gate long enough to wish Denny well before going home, where I immediately took a nap. All in all, it was a completely ridiculous trip, but it was fun. And I think it's important to remember people's life's milestones, of which retirement is certainly one.
19 May 2016 @ 09:43 am
I had a coupon for a free sample box from Graze, a subscription box for snacks. I’ve been thinking I’d like to experiment with my snack routine for afternoon snacks, so decided it would be worth trying out. I should explain that I eat lunch about 11:30 and dinner about 7:30, so having a snack in the mid-afternoon works well for me. I’ve been eating either a granola bar or a packet of Trader Joe’s trek mix with almonds, cashews, and dark chocolate. The latter is pretty much my idea of an ideal snack. It’s a little salty, a little sweet, decently high in protein, and a reasonable (1.5 ounce) portion size. However, it is a bit high in calories at 260. Still, woman does not live by nuts and chocolate alone and Graze has a pretty wide variety. While they choose what to send you, you can check off a lot of boxes on preferences, so it seemed worth a try. I have things set to avoid raisins and bananas and, after this initial box, will be getting an 8 snack box every other week. In other words, expect lots of snack reviews.

Snack #1 – Sweet Mustard Ranch: The ingredients for this were poppy seed pretzels, sour cream & onion cashews, and mustard breadsticks. Calorie count is 130. I thought this was tasty enough, though I tend to like my mustard spicier. There was a definite hint of sour cream flavor, which was nice, and definitely preferable to the expected ranch flavoring. Overall, I thought this was pretty good, but not something I would want to eat frequently.

Snack #2 – Pumpkin Spice Flapjack: This is the British sort of flapjack, i.e. a sort of miniature granola bar (well, actually three of them to the package) made with rolled oats, dates, and pumpkin spice mix, i.e. sweet spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Calorie count is 230. It’s somewhat higher in sugar than I’d want to eat every day, but it isn’t cloyingly sweet. It was moist and chewy and, overall, quite pleasing in both taste and texture. Dates are the sort of thing I don’t normally eat, largely because of their sticky texture. They worked well in this, however, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Snack #3 – Chocolate Pretzel: This consisted of pretzel sticks with a thick chocolate hazelnut dip, sort of like Nutella. Calorie count is 140. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with anything along these lines and I found this absolutely delicious. It was my favorite snack of the box.

Snack #4 – Salted Fudge and Peanut Cookie: This is not an actual cookie, but a deconstructed one. It’s a mix of salted peanuts, redskin peanuts, miniature cocoa cookies, and vanilla fudge. Calorie count is 230. The redskin peanuts definitely dominated the flavor profile, which is fine because they are something I like. The little cubes of vanilla fudge didn’t seem to add much to this. Overall, it was very good. I think it would be even better without the fudge, which mostly added calories without a lot of flavor.

The Verdict: None of the snacks here were horrible, though I obviously liked some better than others and adjusted my ratings accordingly. I think the biggest challenge going ahead will be to keep myself from eating all of the stuff at one go. (I managed not to do it this time, by limiting what I took to the office.) By the way, if you are interested in trying this, I have codes that will get you your first and fifth boxes free, so just ask for one.