Celebrity Death Watch: Viktor Legostayev was the chief designer at Energiya, the Russian spacecraft company. Anita Ekberg was an actress. Dallas Taylor played drums with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Abdullah was the king of Saudi Arabia. Colleen McCullough wrote The Thorn Birds. Rod McKuen wrote poetry and song lyrics. Suzette Haden Elgin wrote The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, as well as a lot of science fiction. Ernie Banks was "Mr. Cub," a ballplayer known as much for his attitude ("Let’s play two!") as for his hall-of-fame caliber playing. Incidentally, I can’t help but be amused that he had twin sons.
The person I want to particularly highlight is Bernice Gordon, who constructed hundreds of crossword puzzles over 60+ years, dying yesterday at age 101. Her puzzles were clever and often innovative. I particularly enjoyed her last collaboration with David Steinberg. He was 16 years old and she was 100 at the time, which is further proof that puzzles really are for all ages.
Who Needs SkyMall When There is Still Hammacher Schlemmer?: Most of you know by now that the SkyMall catalogue, prime source of product mockery when flying, is no more. But, fear not. I still get the Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue, so product mockery lives! The most recent edition offers cashmere lounge pants – only $179.95 and only in charcoal grey for men and light grey for women. Er, no. Cashmere belongs in scarves or maybe sweaters or, if you are part of the 1%, coats. Or, or course, on goats.
Then there are the "taste-enhancing forks." Apparently the fork has diffuser paper, so you can have a drop of aromatic oil waft its scent to your nose while eating. Because, you know, real food doesn’t have enough scent of its own. They suggest that "pairing a drop of chocolate with a mouthful of strawberry intensifies their taste." I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally eat strawberries with a fork and I don't think their flavor needs to be enhanced. And the 60 bucks this costs can buy at least a couple of months’ worth of good chocolate. The kit includes not only the forks and droppers and diffuser papers but also "a multi-sensory evening program." Any associated aromatherapy does not, apparently, enhance the ability to write coherent advertising copy.
Finally, there is "the wireless speaker water bottle." I have horrible thoughts about this catching on and what torture it would enable people at work to inflict on me. I have woken up in the morning with many a strange desire, but never once have I thought that I need to listen to music via my water bottle.
First Flight: If you’ve ever had the pleasure to take a flight piloted by Captain Denny Flanagan, you will understand why he’s a great advertisement for the best of United Airlines. It was worth taking the train up to NY to fly from JFK to LAX with Captain Denny, followed by an ops tour and lunch. There were a dozen of us who did the flight and maybe a dozen or so locals who joined us for the rest. The ops tour included going out on the ramp to look at planes, going through the ops center, and various gate activities. For example, I got to make an announcement of a flight delay. What was interesting about that is how scripted the whole thing is. That is, the gate agents don’t really get to ad lib at all.
After lunch (at The Daily Grill, which is okay, but pricy for what it is), I was able to get together with a couple of friends in LA, which included petting yarn, drinking tea, and having interesting conversations.
Good Advertising For Your Employer: For my overnight at JFK, I stayed at the Hampton Inn. That isn’t exciting, but it’s a brand I find to be reasonably consistent and reliable at a fair price point. I mention it because the shuttle driver was another person who reflected well on his employer, enthusiastically repeating why he thought they were the best. You don’t see that attitude a lot nowadays, so it is worth noting when you do.
Restaurant Week Dinner: Our latest local flyertalk get-together was a restaurant week dinner at 701. They did an excellent job. For one thing, they had several choices for each course – and no upcharges. For another, everything I had was quite good. I want to particularly note the pear crisp, because it’s the sort of dessert I really should make and never think of. It was perfect winter food.
Amazing Art: Before that dinner, I had a little time to kill and dropped in at the National Portrait Gallery / Smithsonian American Art Museum. One of the current exhibits is of works by photorealist painter Richard Estes and it completely blew me away. In short, I found it nearly impossible to believe that these were paintings and not photographs. I may go back when I have more time and look more deeply.
TESS: My local alumni club had a talk Wednesday night on the Transient Exoplanet Survey Satellite, which is a proposed NASA mission to look for earth-like planets. This included dinner at Maggiano’s, home of vast quantities of mediocre Italian food. The talk was reasonably interesting. The orbital injection is complicated and looks risky to me. I thought the coolest part was a representation of certain signal features that enables separating out stars by their sizes by converting data to sound.