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22 July 2016 @ 08:44 am
Here is the most recent set of Graze snacks.

Snack #1 – Peanut Butter & Jelly: This consists of baked salted peanuts, raspberry fruit strings, and vanilla fudge. Due to the latter two ingredients, it is rather high in sugar (16 grams) and is 220 calories. On the plus side, it has 7 grams of protein. And, wow, is it delicious. Those raspberry fruit strings have really strong fruit flavor. I’m not convinced the vanilla fudge bits add much, frankly, though they aren’t offensive. If it weren’t for the sugar content, I would rate this as "love," but given that, I left it as "like."

Snack #2 – Honeycomb Flapjack: This is described as a rustic rolled oat flapjack (i.e. a soft granola bar sort of thing) with honeycomb and chocolate drizzle. While 240 calories is kind of high for a snack, that’s about what things like Clif bars run. And this is filling enough to stand in for lunch between telecons. At any rate, I thought it was fabulous – lots of honey flavor (although the honeycomb candy doesn’t contain any actual honey), along with a touch of chocolate. I’ve liked all the flapjacks Graze has sent, but this is my favorite so far.

Snack #3 – Soy Roasted Seeds: When I saw soy-roasted, I was concerned that this combination of roasted pumpkin seeds and roasted sunflower seeds might be very salty. But, in fact, it has only 90 mg of sodium. It is 200 calories, but that is for what felt like quite a lot of seeds. Overall, I thought this was fairly basic, but good. I don’t normally eat sunflower seeds because they usually come in the shells and I have a stupid phobia about accidentally swallowing a whole seed and having it sprout inside me. (Note that this phobia is very specific to sunflower seeds – other seeds are fine. It is probably related to my aversion to sunflowers. And, yes, I know I am nuts.) Anyway, the seeds here are shelled, so I consider them safe. This was pretty tasty and filling, but not something unusual enough that I would necessarily want to get it often.

Snack #4 – Sweet Memphis Barbecue: This consists of salsa flavored peanuts, wild rice sticks, and BBQ flavored peas and is 190 calories. I thought this was a good, crunchy snack. The rice sticks were rather bland on their own, but the combination of ingredients made it a lot more interesting. This is the sort of thing I would never have thought of on my own, which is exactly why I am doing Graze.

Snack #5 – Lightly Salted Popping Corn This is a 130 calorie bag of microwave popcorn. It’s pretty good microwave popcorn but not significantly different from what you can buy in the supermarket at a slightly lower price. The black pepper popcorn I’d gotten in a previous box is somewhat more interesting.

Snack #6 - Yummertime Punch: This is a dried fruit mixture, specifically goldenberries, pineapple, and coconut. I had to google goldenberries and it turns out they are what I know best as cape gooseberries, a common ingredient in yogurt in South Africa (though, apparently, native to South America) and available at our farmer’s markets in northern Virginia a week or two each summer. Since dried pineapple is my favorite dried fruit, I was really looking forward to this. Unfortunately, the combination was not as well balanced as I’d hoped, with way too much coconut. The dried pineapple was also a bit odd in texture and not as sweet as it often is. The goldenberries were, however, incredibly good. The mixture was not terrible, overall, but disappointing, given what this combination should be.

Snack #7 – Thai Sweet Chili Bites This consists of a sweet chili sauce with soy crackers to dip into it. It’s only 80 calories. The sauce was both sweeter and less hot than I expected. They were tasty and I liked them, but I’d have loved for them to be a bit hotter. I suspect I am in the minority on this. At any rate, a nice change of pace.

Snack #8 – Roasted Chili Honey Peanuts & Almonds: This is a mixture of roasted almonds and peanuts with a chili and honey glaze. It’s 210 calories. This is an excellent mix of spicy and sweet and right up my alley as snacks go. I’ve rated it as "love" in hopes of getting it frequently.

Overall, this box was a good mix of sweet and savory. Most of the snacks in it were interesting and not necessarily things I would have tried on my own. My biggest issue is deciding which one to eat which day!

If you want to try this yourself, just ask me for a code that will get you your first (4 snack) and fifth (8 snack) boxes free.
Back in late January, I devised an initial set of rules for a game I called Safety: It’s Not Jeopardy. Based on some feedback on the National Puzzlers’ League facebook page, I made some minor tweaks to those rules, mostly to randomize how players passed questions. I also somehow changed the word "Safety" to "Security" and wrote 60, rather than 42, questions, but blame those changes on a faulty memory.

I did note that I took it for granted that I could write interesting, yet challenging but fair, trivia questions. Given the results, I was clearly wrong. I overfocused on what I thought was interesting and overestimated what people would know. Given how many fights Robert and I have had over the years over his fondness for the phrase "but everybody knows that" (generally referring to things that maybe four people in the known universe know), I should have known better. Or at least tested things more on a different set of friends.

The first set of players quickly got into not even attempting to answer the questions. A passer-by asked what was going on and one of the players said this was the hardest trivia game ever. Clearly, I had misgauged what people know. What bothered me was not that people weren’t getting the answers, but that it was clear they were not having fun. I did get some useful feedback and thought it was worth revising questions as much as I could overnight and running it again the next night. That did work better, but it was still clear that an interesting item of trivia does not necessarily make a good trivia question.

To give a couple of examples of questions I was surprised people didn’t get:

  1. Q: Bel Kaufman’s best known literary work is the novel, Up the Down Staircase. Who was Kaufman’s famous literary grandfather?

    A: Sholem Aleichem – this falls into the category of things I assumed "everybody" knows, but apparently not so much. This is something I could have rewritten, perhaps by adding a mention of Sholem Aleichem’s most famous character, Tevye.

  2. Q: The only painting Caravaggio ever signed is Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. In what city can that painting be found?

    A: Valletta, Malta (in St. John’s Co-Catherdral) – I didn’t necessarily assume everybody knows this per se, but I did assume a significant number of people know Caravaggio was a Knight of Malta, having been exiled to that nation after her murdered someone in a bar brawl in Naples. (And, for what it’s worth, people should know more about him, as he was arguably the greatest painter of the 17th century.)

  3. Q: In 2015, the movie industry of what country surpassed Hollywood to become the second largest in the world?

    A: Nigeria. The intended trick is that Bollywood (i.e. the Indian film industry) is the largest in the world. But apparently the existence of Nollywood is more obscure than I thought. It’s not like I was asking about The CEO, a Nollywood movie that was the first film ever to premiere aboard an airplane. (Apparently, it was funded, in part, by Air France.)

To give an example of something I was able to rewrite to make it easier to guess:

Q: What Middle Eastern airline features a shower spa in its Airbus 380 first class cabin?

A: Emirates

Here, the change was adding the words "Middle Eastern" to the question.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the game mechanism (which is what I had been primarily focused on) is basically sound, though could use a bit more tweaking. If I do the game again, I need to put a lot more effort into how the questions are written. I’d intended to have a mix of difficulties, but the only question which actually proved easy was:

Q: Who was the second man to walk on the moon?

A: Buzz Aldrin

I probably won’t run this again next year, but intend to the year after. My reasoning on next year is actually because I have an idea for something else, which is probably a mini-ganza, though it could be a (live) pub quiz. We’ll see as it develops.

I also want to note that I was pleased to see more games and puzzles run by women this year, though there is still a gender imbalance. Saxifrage collaborated with Cazique on a Jeopardy, for example. And, most significantly, Colossus ran the Extravaganza.
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18 July 2016 @ 01:18 pm
I still have entries to write about my trivia game and my genealogy updates. But I don't want to fall too far behind on things I am doing, so let's do that one first.

Celebrity Death Watch: John McMartin was a musical theatre actor, notable for performances in Little Mary Sunshine, Sweet Charity, and, especially, Follies, where he was the originator of the role of Benjamin Stone. Larry Bock founded the USA Science and Engineering Festival (which I have volunteered at a couple of times). Interestingly, even though I met him several times, I never realized he was legally blind until reading his obituary. Carolyn See was a writer, whose works included several novels, though her daughter, Lisa See, is arguably more famous. Alan Vega was part of a band named Suicide, though he died of natural causes.

Tapas: An old friend was in town for a NASA-related program she is involved in for the next year. We were able to get together early Monday evening for drinks and tapas at Jaleo, where happy hour is always a good deal. Afterwards, we strolled through TechSHop, the local Crystal City makerspace. I discovered that they have bookbinding classes. That could be handy, since it is certainly closer to my usual haunts than most other places that teach, say, Coptic stitch. Overall, a pleasant evening.

Going-Away Shindig: Wednesday night, I had a going-away happy hour to go to for an old friend who is changing jobs after 20+ years. It was a good opportunity to see a lot of people I hadn’t seen in ages. Unfortunately, I had only a couple of days’ notice, so was unable to acquire a suitable present. I also had to rush off since book club was that evening. That was slightly difficult, as I still had another 80 or so pages of the book to read (out of nearly 600) but there was still plenty of controversy and the spoilers didn’t really matter much. (I did finish the book the next day.)

Sunday Madness: I spent much of rest of the week trying to catch up on household odds and ends (not super successfully) and napping. Well, and working. Saturday was mostly filled with suspended animation, i.e. frequent naps in between bouts of reading and housework. But then came Sunday.

First event was the Style Invitational Loser Brunch. The service at Grevey’s was inefficient, as they were understaffed, but the food was okay. The conversation was wide-ranging, including topics ranging politics (of course) to bell-ringing. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had my next commitment.

That second event was rehearsal for an upcoming storytelling show. (Saturday, July 30th at The Auld Shebeen. More shameless self-promotion to follow.) My story went well, but it is a bit on the short side. That is better than it being too long, of course, but I do wonder if there is anything worth adding.

Finally, my chavurah had an evening outing to see The Capital Steps do a free performance at Mason District Park. They are, of course, well known for their political humor, and the show was very funny. My favorite piece was probably the one in which a woman complained about transgender bathroom use on the grounds of making lines for women’s rooms even longer. I did wish there had been more Brexit humor, but it does take time to write appropriate songs. There was also one piece about Metro, but nothing about how bloody long it would take to get out of the park after the show.

A General Comment on Life: Oy.
15 July 2016 @ 10:54 am
This year’s National Puzzlers’ League convention was in Salt Lake City. I flew in on Wednesday evening. The trip there was made slightly complicated by a metro snafu, but I avoided the delays by taking a pricy taxi to Dulles instead. I have often claimed that I am sure that my death will be at the hands of a third world taxi driver and I now believe that, for these purposes, northern Virginia qualifies as the third world. But, anyway, I got to the airport in plenty of time for my flights to DEN and on to SLC. On arrival, I got a shuttle to the hotel, along with a couple of other NPLers (and a couple of people who had come in for some other purpose, though I can’t imagine what).

The hotel was the Marriott City Center. As usual, Marriott ignored my profile (or, more likely, wiped out my preferences for the umpty-umpth time), which means I ended up in a room that was too close to the con hospitality suite. So I had another 45 minute delay while I switched rooms to one where I had some hope of sleeping. Seeing as how it was after 1 a.m. at that point, I didn’t try doing anything but sleeping.

There aren’t scheduled activities on Thursday, so I started out with breakfast at the Little America Coffee Shop (which was not quite as good as I remembered it being from my previous trip to Salt Lake City) and a longish walk over to Gilgal Sculpture Garden, which is as surreal as their website had led me to believe. Let’s just say that a Sphinx with the face of Joseph Smith is not something one sees every day. Look at the Tour section on their website for pictures of all the sculptures, with explanations. I’d say this is a must see for fans of visionary art and a must avoid for anybody with good taste. In other words, I loved it. (And it was a great excuse for a long walk on a day with extremely pleasant weather. I should probably note that I set a new record on the step counter on my iphone, though admittedly I don’t normally carry the phone around with me on weekends, which is when I tend to go out for real walks.)

From there, I walked back downtown and made my way to the Family History Library to do some research. I’ll write more about that in my next genealogy update, since there is no reason for puzzle folk to hear about my quest to find out about a mysterious cousin known as Sam Katz, the dwarf Communist printer.

The official program began Thursday night, with a game called Puzzlemasters All by Mr. E. This had everyone emceeing the sort of quizzes that Willz does on NPR on Sundays, moving from table to table while doing so. It was reasonably fun, though I’m not sure it was really effective as a mixer in that there wasn’t really time to get to know your fellow players. Next came Blankety Blanks by Murdoch. This had trivia questions, with the twist that each question had some words, each starting with the same letter, blanked out. The most fun part was that we were challenged to write more questions of the same sort. Finally came, Cryptic Mad Libs by Ucaoimhu and $8.90. This had three parts, with the first two involving answering questions and the final part using those to fill in the blanks in cryptic clues. It was clear we were being led down certain paths, but the result was very funny. Then, the over-the-weekend cryptics got handed out and the real event (i.e. the after-hours games) began. I know I played Noam’s Jeopardy, which was fun as always. At some point (but it might have actually been before the official program), I played Spelvin’s game "What?" which involved guessing answers to questions while having only a few words of the question. And late in the night, I ran my game, "Security – It’s Not Jeopardy." Which was, frankly, a fiasco. I will write about that separately, because there are some useful lessons out of that, and I did manage to do some editing and make it not quite so horrible for the second group of guinea pigs. I went to bed somewhere around 3 a.m.

Friday dawned a bit too early, as I had to be available for a work-related call. Fortunately, it didn’t happen, as I’m not sure I would have been coherent enough to answer technical questions. I was walking towards Temple Square figuring I’d get breakfast on the way, when I ran into a couple of other NPLers so ate with them. Then we did part of the Temple Square walk-around puzzle. They wanted to do more in depth sightseeing and I wanted to go back to the Family History Library, so we separated.

I resurfaced from my genealogical haze in time to go back to the hotel and work on pair solving one of the cryptics with Venn, who is fairly new to these puzzles. Then came dinner and the official program for the evening. That started with Dictionary Triathlon by T. McAy. This involved being given a word and a rule and trying to guess the next word in the dictionary that would follow the given rule. It was done in pairs and was reasonably entertaining. Then came Dilemma by Tinhorn in which one had to answer either/or trivia questions and characterize them by how likely you were to be correct. This was substantially harder than I would have expected. Or maybe I was just really tired, as evidenced by my misunderstanding the very first instruction in the next game, Shrediting by Rubrick. That didn’t really matter since the point of it was mangling a given set of poetry (well, song lyrics – in the case of my table, the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s "Subterranean Homesick Blues"). This is the sort of thing that is the most fun if you don’t overthink it.

As for Friday’s after-hours games, I know I played Navin’s Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, a sort of pub quiz team game, the most amusing part of which was his take on figure skating which had one person per team (fortunately, not me) trying to draw answers to trivia questions with a "skate" consisting of a marker velcroed to his foot. I also know I played a Hamilton-inspired Jeopardy by Cazique and Saxifrage at some point, but can’t remember whether it was Friday night or Saturday night or maybe Saturday afternoon. I also played "Doubles Jeopardy" by Tortoise in one of those time slots, which was also quite amusing. My memory failings should not be considered a reflection on the quality of the games. And I know that I ran my game again on Friday night, with many of the questions rewritten, and somewhat more successful results than the first time around. Oh, there was also a trivia game by Vroo that he wrote partly in response to his feedback on my game, though the only thing it had in common was a randomization aspect. Somewhere along the way, it became some time after 3 a.m. As I have said many times before, there is something seriously wrong with the rotation of the earth.

I did make it out of bed on Saturday morning for breakfast and the business meeting. We already knew that next year’s con is in Boston, a city that I am always happy to have excuses to go to. There were two bids for the following year and the resulting vote ended up with us deciding on Milwaukee in 2018. I’m very happy about that because the other option was Southern California, which is a place I spend a lot of time in already. I’ve been to Milwaukee a couple of times and I like it (and, of course, I like the friends I have there.) In addition, I think moving around between regions is a good thing for national organizations to do and we haven’t had enough cons in the middle of the country. The other item that came up in the business meeting had to do with whether to spend money on hiring someone to scan in old issues of The Enigma and, given how much volunteer work so many people have done, I am pleased that idea got pretty much no support.

But I was here for the games and puzzles and there were more of those on Saturday afternoon. Time Test by Willz consisted of several short word puzzles, most of which I did fine at. But there were a couple I couldn’t complete, . Then came Urban Renewal by Manx. This involved combining words and changing letters to form the names of cities and is exactly the sort of clever puzzle I particularly like. I was, alas, rather slow at it and had to finish later, but it was still fun. Finally, there was the annual flat competition. There are way too many kinds of flats nowadays and I only really understand a few types of them. So I thought it was a good opportunity for a nap instead. Alas, sleep eluded me, but I did rest for a bit before the convention photo. We were gathered uncomfortably on a set of steps outside the hotel. The steps were narrowish and it was hot out and the whole thing took way too long, so I got kind of grumpy.

One of the highlights of con is always the extravaganza and this year was no exception. Colossus dressed in a bee costume (which she apparently already had from some previous event) and the puzzle descriptions were filled with bee-related puns, though the obvious "National Buzz-lers League" didn’t show up. There was a good mix of puzzles and I think each of the four members of the team I was on did pretty much an equal amount of work. We did finish, but not especially quickly.

As for after-hours games, I am always happy to play the latest version of "Makeshift Jeopardy" by Arcs, which has a high level of silliness. I was also eager to play b-side’s "Mormon Jeopardy," and enjoyed it very much, not least because I did well against some tough competition. Somehow, I had hit my second wind, which let me get in quickly on lots of the clues. Finally, I always enjoy Dart’s games and was happy to play another edition of "Only Connect," although I wasn’t really much of an asset to my team.

I had an early flight in the morning, so gave up around 2:30 in the morning and tried to get a few hours of sleep. I think I got more sleep on the flights home, however, and pretty much collapsed once I did get home. I figure I’ll be caught up on sleep somewhere around next June.
06 July 2016 @ 01:14 pm
So what else is new?

Celebrity Death Watch: Noel Neill played Lois Lane on the 1950’s Adventures of Superman series. Abner Mikva was a representative from Illinois and, later, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Max Ticktin was a leader of both Hillel and Chavurah Judaism (playing a key role in Fabrangen, here in D.C., for example), as well as teaching at George Washington University.

Elie Wiesel deserves his own paragraph. I first encountered him when I was 13 or 14 and read The Town Beyond the Wall. This was the novel that got me started keeping a commonplace book (that is, a collection of quotes), because I felt compelled to copy down his condemnation of indifference. I went on to read several of Wiesel’s other works and, of course, he was a highly visible voice of witness regarding the Shoah. In short, he was one of the reasons I feel the obligation to tell the stories of my family. Memory is important.

The Bridges of Madison County: I have neither read this novel nor seen the movie adaptation, so I can’t say how true to the source material this musical, which I saw last week at The Kennedy Center, is. The great surprise of the evening was that composer Jason Robert Brown was conducting the score himself and I found it interesting to watch his conducting, which was fluid. As for the show, I thought the first act dragged a bit, but the second act really caught me. I did seem to have gotten something in my eyes during parts of it. Overall, I liked much of the score and still have "One Second and a Million Miles" stuck in my head. I do, however, wish there was more actual choreography. As for the performances, they were all at least okay, though Elizabeth Stanley’s Italian accent seemed uneven to me. The highlights were the comic relief provided by the neighbors, played by Mary Callanan and David Hess. Overall, it was worth seeing.

DNA: I sent in my sample to Family Tree DNA several weeks ago and got results back a couple of weeks ago. The first match I had was with a (known) second cousin once removed. Figuring out potential relationships is tricky as so many people don’t really list info in their profiles, and I am probably guilty of not having filled mine out enough either. Anyway, my haplogroup on the maternal side is V7a and my ancestry is claimed to be 98% Ashkenazi Jewish and 2% North African, which is not especially surprising. I need to invest some time in understanding all this and how to sort through the 700+ matches I have.

Long Weekend: I had grand plans for organizing and decluttering. Well, at least I did laundry and went to knitting group. (I did go through some things, but, sheesh, there is an awful lot of crap of stuff in my place.)
05 July 2016 @ 04:22 pm
I do have other things to write about, but wanted to get this entry up while things are still fresh in my mind.

Snack #1 – Herby Bread Basket: This consists of miniature basil breadsticks, oregano rice crackers, and garlic crostini. It’s 90 calories. The basil and oregano are the dominant flavors, which is fine by me. The mixture is nice and crunchy and a nice change from the more ordinary sort of chips or crackers. It’s a good thing for the controlled portion, as I think I could mindlessly eat large sacks of this sort of thing.

Snack #2 – Garden of England: This 80 calorie snack is a mixture of soft dried apple slices, miniature dried strawberries, and dried black currants. I think I’ve discovered the secret to Graze’s dried apple slices – namely, their oddly chewy texture is off-putting on its own, but works well if you eat them with other, sweeter fruit bits. Strawberries are pretty much my favorite food on the planet and the currants added a bit of tang to the whole mix. I rated this as "love."

Snack #3 – Mango Coconut Protein Granola Topper: This consists of a mango and passion fruit sauce, along with oat and barley granola, almond slivers, and coconut flakes. It’s 140 calories. This has 9 grams of sugar, which is actually lower than I’d have expected for this sort of thing. Anyway, it’s meant to be eaten with yogurt and works well as breakfast this way. Given the relative exoticism of the contents, I was surprised to find this the least interesting of the protein toppers I’ve tried so far. It was okay, but the mango flavor got drowned out by the tang of the yogurt.

Snack #4 – Honey Drizzled Cashews: This is pretty much what it sounds like – roasted cashews in a honey glaze. It’s 180 calories, and, to my taste, worth every single one of them. It’s not an especially creative snack, admittedly. But I love cashews and I liked that this was sweet without being cloyingly so. It also think it would go well with dried pineapple or candied ginger, not that I had either of those around my office.

Snack #5 – Kettlecorn Kern Pops These are somewhere between corn nuts and popcorn. They’re 130 calories. I was afraid these would be too sweet, but they were actually okay, since a fair amount of the sugar settled into the bottom of the punnet. They were a bit bland and really dominated by crunchiness. Which was fine, but I’d say they weren’t very interesting.

Snack #6 – White Chocolate with Wild Blueberry Toasts: One of the things Graze seems to do particularly well is their dips. This snack consisted of a little wholegrain toast bits with blueberries in them which you can dip into a thinnish white chocolate cream. It’s really hard to go wrong with those ingredients and it’s even better that it comes out to just 130 calories for a sweet treat. I’d have liked the dip to be a bit thicker, but that is really a minor quibble.

Snack #7 – Vietnamese Pho: This is the least successful of the aromatic broths I’ve gotten so far. On the plus side, it is 60 calories and did make for a filling lunch. But it didn’t taste much like actual pho, which is normally a beef and noodle soup. There were small rice noodle pieces, but they were pretty generic. I will admit that the shiitake mushroom slices did give a touch of meatiness to the flavor. But the soup was really dominated by the spices in the broth and, in particular, star anise. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t really what I was expecting. Which is a shame since I’ve liked the other broths so much.

Snack #8 – Cocoa & Vanilla Protein Flapjack: Graze describes this as rustic rolled oat cocoa flapjack with mixed seeds." That is, it is, basically, three miniature cocoa-flavored chewy granola bars. At 250 calories, it is more a meal than a snack, which is fine when one is stuck in endless hours of meetings. It was pretty tasty and filling enough to make the afternoon survivable. Well, once I got my blood caffeine level back up, that is.

Overall, this box was a good mix of snacks, with a wider variety than I'd gotten last time. I'm impressed that I haven't yet gotten any duplicates, though I realize that saying that has now doomed me as far as the next box I get. As my goal was increasing the variety of what I eat, I think this has been wildly successful. Though I did still buy a big bag of the little bags of Trader Joe's almond, cashew and chocolate trail mix (the most perfect trail mix in the world) the other day.
01 July 2016 @ 02:58 pm
It's time for the quarterly goal progress round-up. I've stared at afghans and travelogues and tapes / LPs, but done damn little beyond that. I've read just a few more pages of the Bible.

As for email, 5800 is just about 1000, isn't it? At least as close as I've gotten on the paper decluttering, though I have really good intentions for that this weekend. I have been working on this, but I still hear the rustling coming from the stacks of paper late at night and the piles seem to grow.

As for volksmarch events, there have been issues with weather. And weekend exhaustion. And sheer laziness.

However, the quarter was not a complete failure. I am officially a United million-miler. Gold status forever!
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.