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12 December 2018 @ 07:18 pm
I went out to dinner with flyertalk friends last night. The metro was majorly screwed up - a cracked rail outside Foggy Bottom, leading to single tracking. It took me 45 minutes to get to Rosslyn, at which point I bailed and got a Lyft to the restaurant.

Mussel Bar is sort of lost on me, as I don’t do mollusks. The people who got mussels enjoyed them, though. I got onion soup, which was a bit too salty, and tuna tartare. The conversation was good and that’s more the point of these things.

I was luckier with metro going home. They were still single tracking, but I got to Ballston Station just a couple of minutes before my train.

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11 December 2018 @ 03:11 pm
The Cheery Metro Driver: There’s this one driver I sometimes get on the Orange Line who is notable for his cheeriness. In the morning, he has a spiel that includes things like, "as I always say, think great, be great." In the afternoon / evening, he has something to say at each stop, e.g. "Clarendon welcomes you," or "Ballston greets you with a warm hug." It’s silly, but it does make me smile.

Retirement Planning: My company is changing our retirement plan. I took advantage of a free consultation with Fidelity on the options for the new 401(K). I don’t think I learned much I didn’t already know, but it did help me figure out what to sign up for. The thing I am still unsure about is what to do with the existing 403(B). I can leave things where they are or roll them over to an IRA. I think leaving them where they are makes the most sense, because there are some pre-1987 contributions, which have different rules re: required minimum distributions. On the other hand, that increases the complexity of the calculations and it may not make that much of a difference.

Coffee Makers: One of my friends asked on facebook for advice about replacing a broken coffee maker. I wrote:

I'm usually making coffee just for myself, in which case I use the Vietnamese drip coffeemaker I bought for a quarter in the market in Saigon.

But if I am making coffee for a group, I love the Bodum Santos stovetop vacuum coffee maker. It has the advantages of being beautiful and making fabulous coffee, as well as looking complex so it impresses people.

She said that was a very Miriam answer. But to add to it, I actually have a lot of coffee makers, none of them automatic or electric. I use the simple Melitta filter pretty often, too, either letting the coffee drip directly into a mug or into a pot, depending on how many people I am making coffee for. It has two advantages over the Vietnamese drip pot. First, it is faster. But, more importantly, you can just throw out the filter and grounds, instead of having the mess of cleaning grounds out of the coffeemaker. I also have a little plastic drip coffeemaker that I use for extreme travel situations, e.g. camping or visiting relatives who think instant coffee is drinkable. That and a small baggie of coffee I have ground before leaving home has saved my life – and that of the people I was visiting.

The other one I use fairly regularly is an ibrik, i.e. the copper thingie used for making Turkish coffee. That’s quick, but takes a bit of skill. It also requires a much finer grind of coffee beans, which my grinder can’t really achieve, so I have to get the coffee for it ground at the roaster. I think it works best with a darker roast than I normally drink – practically burnt, though not quite Starbucks level of burntness. I recommend using Ethiopian harrar beans, though Yemen moka would be even better if you can find them. (For drip coffee, I primarily use Indonesian coffee beans. Haitian beans are also good for drip coffee.)

I am not a fan of the French press method. And please don’t even mention Keurig in my presence.

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10 December 2018 @ 01:33 pm
I posted a song on facebook for each night of Chanukah. Here’s the full collection for you to listen to during the last few hours of the eighth day. I was aiming for a wide variety and had fun selecting which ones to use.


behind a cut due to lengthCollapse )

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09 December 2018 @ 07:12 pm
I had a busy day today.

The Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington had a talk by Judy Russell re: legal and ethical implications of DNA. Her key point was the need for informed consent, including the risk of unexpected results, when asking someone to test. She also provided an excellent handout.

I had been concerned about the potential weather but there’s been no snow yet.

Tonight was the annual holiday party at my condo complex. In the past, our complex has done this jointly with the neighboring one (who we share a clubhouse with) but this year it was just us. That made it much less crowded and much quieter. And there was still food when I left a half hour before it ended. That was a huge improvement over all the times that the food ran out in a half-hour or less. I hadn’t realized before that our neighbors are vultures.

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08 December 2018 @ 09:59 pm
It was my turn to host our monthly story swap. Which meant making at least a nominal attempt at making my condo presentable.

As usual, I started out with good intentions to put things where they belong ( which is often the trash). But there is never really enough time. So the boxes where I put things I intend to get to are overflowing. And there are stacks of things on half of my bed, which I need to sort out.

Also, why do I have a bag-less vacuum? It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it is a pain to empty. The bin has way too small a capacity. Four sweeps over the floor did not get all of the dust and shreddies that spilled from emptying the shredder. But that was all I could handle doing.

After all that, three of the 5 people who had RSVPed canceled. We had nice seasonal stories anyway.

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07 December 2018 @ 03:43 pm
I had a 90-minute meeting yesterday in which approximately 80 minutes were dedicated to arguing about the definition of one word. The person running the meeting had compiled a list of definitions for that word (and some related terms) from about a dozen source documents - and failed to include the single relevant document that solved the whole problem.

A number of years ago, I worked with somebody who would frequently go to a room where a meeting was taking place, put down a tall stack of books and papers on a desk or table, hang his suit jacket on the back of a chair, and leave. Then he would write an item in our end of week report that claimed he had attended the meeting. Another colleague and I had a running joke that these items should say that his jacket attended the meeting. (By the way, he also had a remarkable talent for being out sick on Mondays and Fridays. As a rule of thumb, this suggests alcohol or drug abuse.)

I mention this because, in writing up my notes about yesterday’s brain drain, I mentioned that a particular organization was not represented. I got an email back from a colleague saying he thought he had heard someone from that organization there. But, you know who else wasn’t there? That’s right - the colleague who wrote that email.

It is 644 days until my intended retirement date. That assumes I don’t strangle anyone in the meantime.

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06 December 2018 @ 04:22 pm
The theme for Week 49 (December 3-9) is Winter. The primary suggestion for this was to write about someone whose name reminds you of winter. There wasn’t anyone obvious there. So, let’s use a really contrived connection. Winter means snow. S-N-O-W is a 4-letter word. And K-A-T-Z is a 4-letter name. So let us tackle the KATZ family.

Golde KATZ, nee GOLDWASSER, was my maternal grandfather’s aunt, the sister of his mother. I had a recent breakthrough by discovering that her husband, who I knew of as Hyman, came to the U.S. with the name Chene. (I had assumed he was Chaim, since that is the most common name for men who became Hyman in the U.S.) He arrived in New York on the Neckar from Bremen in December 1913. I haven’t quite tracked down when Goldie and one or more of their children arrived, but it has to be before 1925 because she was listed on Hyman’s naturalization certificate.

They had several children. The oldest, Rose, was born in 1910 and, according to a conversation I had with another relative, ended up living "somewhere in the Midwest." The next was Samuel, born in 1910 and known (at least by my mother) as "Sam Katz, the dwarf Communist printer." Interestingly, he has to have come to the U.S. after his mother and sister, since he was still listed as living in Zambrowa, Poland on Hyman’s naturalization certificate. On the 1930 census, there’s a gap of 12 years before the next son (Jacob or Jack, who was born in 1926 in New York) so that suggests Golde likely came closer to 1925. There were 4 more sons to come, with the youngest born in 1937.

I once complained to my uncle Herb about the difficulty of researching a common name like Katz. He said, "Yes, there’s just too many of them – Siamese, calico, tabby, and so on." If only, say, Rose had been called Calico instead!

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05 December 2018 @ 01:48 pm
I got my new computer at work this morning. There are a lot of annoyances associated with that, with Windows 10 being at the top of the list. I remember some years ago getting a new computer and whining about some earlier version of Windows and one of my colleagues saying that meant I can’t handle change. Er, no, I can deal with change just fine if it is change for a good reason. Randomly moving things around from where they’ve been for years does not qualify as a good reason.

Immediately after everything got set up, we had a brief power outage. I like to think of that as the universe complaining about change for the sake of change, too.

Things seem to be working okay now. Or as okay as a Windows machine is ever going to work.

Also, I should probably do something about the 11,500 items in my inbox.

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04 December 2018 @ 02:01 pm
Going back to the 5 questions meme, these are from lillibet. Feel free to ask me up to 5 questions and I will attempt to answer them.

1) Do you have a favorite month? If so, which and why? I like September, because I get to celebrate my birthday. Between that, the Jewish holiday season, and too many years of school, it logically feels like the new year to me. April is close behind because of warming weather and baseball.

2) If you had to leave the US, where would you settle? Israel is the most obvious place for me to go, since I’m eligible for citizenship there. And I have plenty of family around. Other possibilities are South Africa or Uruguay.

3) What kind of flooring do you prefer? Tile, carpet, hardwood, stone, other? Describe a particular favorite floor. I like the feel of carpet. Either 1970’s style shag carpeting or thick karakul wool carpeting. (I have a karakul wool area rug I bought in Namibia that I am still completely n love with after 20 some odd years.) But my all-time favorite floor was the radiant heat bathroom floor in a hotel room in Norway.

4) What's the nicest hotel you've ever stayed in, and why? Albergo Atlantic in Bologna, Italy was fabulous. The location was convenient, price was reasonable, room was clean and quiet. A decent breakfast (admittedly, a cold one, but that is typical for Italy) was included. The staff was friendly. It’s across the street from a good gelato place. And it's in Bologna!

Runner-up is The Library Hotel in New York. How could I not love a hotel that asks "fiction or nonfiction" when you check in? The only reason that it isn’t the winner is that it’s pricy.

5) What is the most interesting thing you've learned in the past week? Probably not interesting to anyone but me, but I found my great-great-grandfather’s birth certificate (from Ostrolenka, Poland) and, hence, I’ve identified my his parents. (That’s my maternal grandfather’s mother’s father, for those who are keeping track.)

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03 December 2018 @ 02:46 pm
Celebrity Death Watch: Bill Fischer held the Major League Baseball record of pitching 84 1/3 consecutive innings without giving up a walk while playing for the Kansas City Athletics in 1962. He was later a pitching coach, including 6 years for the Red Sox. Roy Bailey was a British folk singer, known for celebrating his working class roots. Olivia Hooker was the last survivor of the 1921 Tulsa race riot and went on to become the first African-American woman in the Coast Guard. Nicholas Roeg was a film director, best known for The Man Who Fell to Earth. Betty Bumpers was a pro-vaccination activist. Ricky Jay was a magician. Stephen Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants. Bernardo Bertolucci was a film director whowon an Oscar for The Last Emperor and also directed Last Tango in Paris.

Ken Berry was an actor. I will always associate him with the TV show F Troop, but he had a broad career, including Broadway, films, and television. An interesting bit of trivia is that he served in the Army and ended up in Special Services, where his Sergeant was Leonard Nimoy.

George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st President of the United States. He had a lengthy career of public service, including as a Navy aviator, a congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, and Director of Central Intelligence before becoming Vice President under Ronald Reagan. While I disagree with much of what he did politically (e.g., I think the war on drugs was a disaster for American cities), I think he did show a certain amount of pragmatism (e.g. agreeing to needed tax increases) and, unlike the current administration, he did respect our system of government. I should also note he earned me 18 ghoul pool points. (I have reloaded with Doris Day.)

Puzzle People Death Watch: Barbara Selfridge (Banterweight) died of a sudden heart attack the last week of November. I remember having a discussion with her once re: our similar tastes in pocketbooks. Rebecca Kornbluh (Arachne) also died recently. She was a crossword puzzle champion and a constructor of cryptograms and cryptic crosswords. I remember having a pleasant breakfast conversation with her at the Milwaukee NPL con this past summer.

Leftovers, Part 1 -Elections: A few weeks ago, I had a list of things to write about. One of them was the elections. I am reasonably pleased with the outcome of the midterms. The most important result for me personally was Tim Kaine defeating Confederate whacko Cory Stewart in the Senate race here in Virginia. I also want to note that there were three Democratic women who defeated Republican incumbents to win Congressional seats from Virginia. Abigail Spanberger defeated David Brat, Jennifer Wexton defeated Barbara Comstock, and Elaine Luria defeated Scott Taylor.

Leftovers, Part 2 – How Jeff Bezos Will Screw Us Over: I’m sure you’ve heard that Crystal City is going to be half of Amazon’s HQ2. What you may not realize is that Crystal City is where I work. They’ve already been closing some things to put in a movie theatre and a supermarket, which are good things in things in the long run, but annoying in the short run. They’ve now fenced off the building I used to work in because it is being renovated to become part of Bezosville. This adds a minute or so to my walk from the metro to the office, which matters when it is cold out.

If this would make my condo value go up, I’d be happier about it. But I don’t think Vienna is cool enough for Amazonians. It should be, given that we have a good coffee roaster (Café Amouri), an independent bookstore (Bard’s Alley), and a great acoustic music venue (Jammin’ Java). And we have awesome transit options – the metro and the W&OD Trail, to name two. But those young’uns seem to want to live in the city instead of hearing owls nesting in the courtyard at night. (Well, I haven’t verified that it’s an owl. It’s possible that one of my neighbors has developed a disturbing vocal tic.)

All I can do is go into wait and see mode.

Leftovers,Part 3 – How the Virginia Department of Transportation is Going to Screw Us Over: I heard about this at our annual condo association meeting. They are planning to change our exit from I-66. Admittedly, it is a bit of an issue right now, because you have to move all the way to the left pretty much immediately when you get off the highway to turn onto our street. But the solution they are proposing is a traffic circle. That is horribly pedestrian (and bicycle) unfriendly. I wonder how the Amazonians feel about traffic circles?

Obligatory Metro Rant: They are doing track work on the Yellow Line bridge. Which shouldn’t affect me. Except that, instead of thinking logically and realizing that would mean a lot more people taking the Blue Line so they should run Blue Line trains more often, they are actually running them less often than normal. Grrr.

Earworm of the Day: A colleague just relocated here from Los Angeles. When I asked him how his commute is, he told me it involves a bus and two trains. My mind immediately transformed that to "two buses and a train" and this is now stuck in my head.

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