Monday, December 29, 2003

Christmas Day

Here are some pictures from Christmas Day.

Here's Christina opening a present.

Here's me opening my big present from Christina -- a laptop cart.

Here's Teddy wearing one of his presents.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Christmas Eve Dinner

Christina fixed us a nice Christmas Eve dinner. Here are some pictures.

Christina enjoys a refreshing beverage while preparing dinner.

I put myself in charge of the multimedia entertainment options.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Dinner at my cousin Sean's

Yesterday we went over to my cousin Sean's for Christmas dinner. Here are some pictures.

Here's my cousin Sara and her fiance Marty.

Here's my cousin Sara again.

Here's Sara and Marty's bengal cat, Squirt.

Here's my cousin Sean and his fiancee Jeannine. Note her newly acquired ring.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Oh, Christmas Tree

Here's our Christmas tree this year, as prepared by Christina. The tree itself is older than I am and accompanied my family and me back from Germany in '72.

Thursday, December 18, 2003


Due to popular request, I've updated my travel page with trips from the past year and a half. (And links to descriptions, where available.) I also updated the maps.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Hugo Update: Forever

When we last heard from my project of reading the Hugo-award winning novels, I was at #22. I recently added #23 and #24.

I looked at the list of novels and decided to read the most recent one I hadn't read. That would be Forever Peace, by Joe Haldeman, the 1997 winner. But I knew that Haldeman's The Forever War had won the 1976 Hugo. Thinking that FP was the sequel to TFW, I decided I needed to read them in order.

Well, I was wrong, but that didn't matter. Forever Peace was another novel on the same subject as The Forever War, but in a different setting. The subject was war. I enjoyed them both, although The Forever War suffered from a goofy idea of what life would be like in the early 21st century. Forever Peace suffered from being too much of a cyberpunk novel -- I don't buy the whole nanotechnology hype.

On the other hand, TFW is the only SF novel I've ever seen that sets a section in the adjacent town of Hyattsville.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Down to #21

Despite two recent trivia outings, I've dropped to #21 on the Santa Fe Cafe's NTN rankings. Check out Christina at #48, though!

Unfortunately, our last experience at "the Fe" featured rather disappointing food. I guess we'll give it another chance when the students clear out for winter break, but we may have to look for a new location.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Dubious Achievement

Well, with the NFL season winding down and the Redskins all but eliminated from the playoffs, I have the question of what to root for. There's beating the Cowboys and the Eagles and hurting their playoff hopes (or positioning). There's going out on a winning note -- if the Skins run the table, they can avoid a losing season.

But I'm rooting for one sort of odd achievement. How about a Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl? That would mean that the Skins would have beaten both of the Super Bowl teams -- a feat last achieved in the Washington Redskins (8-8). OK, and the 2000 Titans (13-3). Still, the Titans had something else to root for that year...they were Super Bowl contenders in their own right. So I asked the questions: How often have teams beaten both Super Bowl teams, and have they ever been worse than the 2000 Skins?

The answers: 11 and yes (thanks to

The complete list:

  • 2000 Skins (8-8)
  • 2000 Titans (13-3)
  • 1996 Cowboys (10-6)
  • 1993 Dolphins (9-7)
  • 1986 Seahawks (10-6)
  • 1985 Dolphins (12-4)
  • 1981 Browns (5-11)
  • 1980 Cowboys (12-4)
  • 1980 Chargers (11-5)
  • 1979 Chargers (12-4)
  • 1978 Rams (12-4)

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Thanksgiving in North Carolina

Looks like I've been a little lax in posting recently. Let's correct that with a couple of pictures from our Thanksgiving trip to North Carolina. The first is of Christina and myself with our nephew, Luke.

The second is of me playing Magic: The Gathering with our nephew, Witt (and with Copper).

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Xpu Ha

The last excursion we took from Cancun included a stop at the Xpu Ha Palace Resort. There's been a proliferation of "eco-parks" on the "Riviera Maya" south of Cancun. One of these, at Xpu Ha, failed and was bought out by the Palace Resorts corportation. They've turned it into an all-inclusive resort. Based on the few hours we spent there, I can recommend it with the following qualifications:

  • You have to enjoy the idea of an all-inclusive resort.
  • It's a relatively isolated location.
  • It's great if you're looking for nature, but not necessarily a natural environment.

The best part of the resort for us was the snorkeling, both in the freshwater area and in the coastal lagoon.

An example of how it's not necessarily natural is the coastal lagoon. There are amazing quantities of absolutely stunning fish there. There is, however, a supply of fish food which brings them there. You're encouraged to feed them -- some other guests were annoyed that the fish were biting their hands when they went in carrying fish food. Duh.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

The Eyre Affair

Christina read The Eyre Affair for her book club and recommended it to me when she finished it. This is a fun book with a very unusual premise. This takes place in an alternate universe where the Crimean War is still going on in 1985. Thursday Next's father is a special operative in the Chrono Guard, which may have something to do with the changing timeline. But this, as Douglas Adams might say, is not his story.

Instead, this is the story of Thursday Next, literary detective. She investigates things like literary forgery, but things get weirder when her uncle invents a device that allows people to step into books, and it is stolen by a master criminal. I won't give away more of the plot, as part of the fun of the book is learning the twists and turns of the author's universe. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I knew more about Jane Eyre, though.

Anyway, it is a neat universe, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Traveler's Century Club

I ran across a reference to the Traveler's Century Club on FlyerTalk. It's an organization for those who have visited 100 or more "countries". They have a fairly loose definition of the term country -- Hawaii counts, for example. I fancy myself a bit of a world traveler -- so, how'm I doing?

15. Or 16. I'm trying to decide whether airport stopovers count. I was thinking of my times through the Frankfurt airport before recalling -- oh, yeah, I was born in Germany. To be fair, I have no memory of that, so I'm just going by what it says on my birth certificate. Anyway, the one in question is the Netherlands, since I changed planes in Amsterdam once.

The rest are:

  1. Alaska
  2. Australia
  3. Austria
  4. Belgium
  5. Canada
  6. Cyprus, Republic
  7. England
  8. Finland
  9. Germany
  10. Korea, South
  11. Mexico
  12. Poland
  13. Scotland
  14. United States (continental)
  15. Wales

Wednesday, November 19, 2003


I took a number of pictures in Chicago, but all but one were of the Marriott, the skyline, or some combination of the two. The other one was of the Billy Goat Tavern, but for some reason Moto Photo failed to give me a print of that one. Weird.

Anyway, I had a nice time for two and a half days in Chicago. I went to the Art Institute of Chicago -- two hours was far too little time -- and the aforementioned Billy Goat Tavern (cheezeborger, cheezeborger, cheezeborger).

The Marriott (officially the "Chicago Marriott Downtown at Medical District/UIC") was fairly nice, although the high-speed Internet access never worked while I was there. I spent most of my time at the conference.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Ranch Store Center

After the Arts & Crafts Fair on Saturday, my parents took us to the nearby town of Oracle. We went to the Ranch Store Center, which had a bunch of funky artsy stuff for sale. Well, it wasn't for sale when we got there, since they had closed up shop early. We wandered around and looked at the stuff; the robot was a particular favorite.

Afterwards, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Nonna Maria's Pizza.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Grantham Get-Together

Well, on the digital pictures -- note to self: the flash can wash out features if taken too close.

Friday and Saturday my parents had a booth at the Saddlebrooke Arts and Crafts Fair. Friday my Aunt Pam stopped by, and we got to visit with her. Saturday, my cousin Stephanie visited with her son Andrew and her nephew Brayden. It was my first opportunity to meet either of my first cousins once removed, and it was a lot of fun. Andrew is almost 4, and a very sweet, bright child. Brayden is six or so months old, and very cute. We are pictured below.

Hmm. Somehow he's the mature-looking one.

I was noticing recently that I have pictures of myself in that hat all over the world.

That picture in the background is the same one that's on my father's web page.

Saturday, November 15, 2003


It seems like I should have found more time to post lately, but I haven't. We got the actual pictures from Cancun developed, so I will probably scan some in. I spent a couple of days in Chicago; those pictures should be ready by now. Right now Christina and I are at the tail end of a trip to Arizona to see my parents. I took some digital pictures I'll download when we get back.

But for now, I thought I'd give an update on my Hugo-winning novel-reading project. When last mentioned, I had called American Gods the "most disappointing" such novel yet. I also said I was waiting for this year's winner to determine my next book in the series.

The two thoughts combine in my reading of Hominids, which won this year. That makes Hugo winner #22 for me. And 22nd out of 22 on my favorites, I might add.

I read this book on my first day of jury duty. The premise is fairly interesting -- a Neanderthal scientist from an alternate Earth creates a portal to our Earth. In their Earth, Neanderthals became the dominant species. The interactions between humans and our primate cousins (siblings?) provide a neat opportunity to examine our assumptions about "human nature" and how things "have to be". Unfortunately, this promise is wasted with somewhat preachy contrasts between the pacifist, environmentalist Neanderthals and big, bad humans. (Or would that be small, bad humans?) There's even a bad guy from a shadowy government agency. Other negatives include a bunch of forced Star Trek references (the novel might as well have been stamped, "for nerds, by a nerd") and wooden writing.)

Of course, all of this was sealed by the complete botching of the explanation of mathematics used in the book. Worse, number theory (my field). Since that was laughable (I mean, couldn't the author run it by somebody who knew something and say, "Please make sure I don't embarrass myself?"), I questioned the plausibility of the various other disciplines tapped for this ambitious book.

There are two sequels to Hominids -- Humans and Hybrids. I admit I ended up reading both of them. I guess I can identify three reasons -- one, I wanted to finish what I had started. Two, I wanted to get them out of the way in case one of them win's next year's Hugo. Three, and perhaps most importantly, my jury duty stretched out to four days and I desperately needed something to read -- quick.

Perhaps more later about the murder case for which I ended up serving on the jury. It was pretty interesting, but I have to be careful what I say. These are real people involved -- with real guns, who aren't afraid to shoot them. I don't want somebody learning how to use Google in a prison rehab program and finding his name on my web site.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Chichen Itza

Well, in the other digital photography we brought back from the Yucatan, I have some images of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. It's another World Heritage Site, and a truly impressive place to visit. It's amazing at the level of sophistication of a civilization that abandoned this site nearly half a millenium before the Spaniards arrived.

Seeing this ruined observatory was particulary striking. What's interesting is that the Mayans never seemed to have developed the telescope...

The Mayans also loved their sporting events. This is the largest of the ball courts at Chichen Itza. I took this picture to show where our season tickets would have been...

People told us they were going to stop letting tourists climb the big pyramid within the next year or so...

We were glad we got to climb it before the ban went into effect. The view was very nice...

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Garden View Room

We just got back from our (delayed) honeymoon in Cancun. I booked a "garden view" room at the Casa Magna Marriott. I was somewhat concerned about not getting a nice view. I shouldn't have been.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

My Giants

This Yahoo! article is headlined "Giants Sign Veteran Kicker Matt Conway". The article goes on to explain that they signed kicker Brett Conway to replace Matt Bryant. That's kind of sad (the mistake, not the signing, but as a Redskins fan, I can't say I'm sad to have a division rival have him kicking), but what tops is the link to a slideshow of the baseball Giants.

Monday, October 06, 2003

1999 Balbi Malbec Reserve

I previously decided to try keeping track of wines I drink to develop some sort of knowledge base. Since I enjoyed the Argentinian Malbec mentioned there, I picked up another one in my duty-free shopping spree on the way out of the UK. The 1999 Balbi Malbec Reserve was a very enjoyable, fruity, flavorful wine.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

While Christina was in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago, I got this book out of the library, took it home and read it all in one evening. I guess that's a pretty good recommendation, so feel free to pay more attention to that than the rest of my rambling.

I guess my political views have been lately more left than right, because I found myself agreeing with most of what Franken had to say. Occasionally, he was a bit too far out there...I guess at heart, I'm a moderate. Still, I appreciate a partisan who backs what he's saying with facts. Franken does (he has a Harvard research staff). I did find three mistakes...two of which I recall. At one point, he refers to a South Carolina politician named "Carole Campbell." I'm pretty sure he meant "Carroll Campbell." Also, he refers to a McCain-Bush debate from early 2001. I think he means 2000; I don't think Bush has debated anyone since he had to during the campaign.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Be Careful Where You Eat In Stratford...

I was composing an e-mail to my friend Melissa, and I thought I'd share one of the anecdotes I typed out with the rest of the world...

Earlier this month, I went to Stratford to see 'Cymbeline' with some associates. Stratford itself seemed like a bit of tourist trap. The restaurant we ate in had instructions for ordering in a pub that seemed aimed at foreigners unfamiliar with pub food, except the instructions made absolutely no sense. We ordered at the bar and sat down at our table to await the food being delivered. As we were sitting there I nudged a friend -- one of the two bartenders who had taken our order had lifted his shirt up and was happily rubbing his belly. I feel bad, but when he came over a few minutes later with two orders of fish and chips, I let the people who were seated facing away from the bar raise their hands and got mine only when the second bartender arrived with the third plate.

I enjoyed 'Cymbeline'. We had very nice seats two or three rows back from the stage. The actors would run by and narrowly avoid hitting me with their swords. I later read that the play is one of the few 'original' stories by Shakespeare, but he seems to have borrowed every cliche from every other play...royal remarriages, mistaken identity, women dressing up like men, poisoning, etc...

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Grantham v. Hornet

Christina recently got a fan to put in the kitchen window to clear out the "kitchen smells". When we deployed it, however, some hornets found their way in, attracted either by the sound of the fan or the aromas of Christina's cooking. That wasn't fun. I suspected that there was a nest around somewhere, but I couldn't locate it.

Today, I was out mowing the lawn, when I saw hornets buzzing around a bush. (Pictured below.)

I looked around, and eventually spotted the hornets congregating around a hole where the eaves met the wall of the house. So when Christina came home, we propped up a ladder to allow me access.

I wanted to spray the hornets with Raid, but Christina insisted that I cover up to protect myself. I ended up cloaked in a hooded windbreaker, jeans, gloves, ski goggles and a mask -- I felt like an extra from "Outbreak". But no wasp was going to get through to sting me.

So I climbed up the ladder and let loose with the Raid. I soaked the opening fairly well before the wind changed direction and prevented me from doing further damage. A couple of hours later, no wasps could be seen near the opening, though several survivors wandered around the yard. Below is a picture of the opening (green arrow) and and one of the victims (red circle).

So, next up is to look at the problem from the inside. It seems like the hornet nest was probably on the far side of the upstairs attic. Opening the attic door didn't produce a torrent of wasps (or any, for that matter), but I should go up there with a flashlight and explore further. And we're going to plug that hole soon.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Arizona Diamondbacks

My father writes...

I was hiking in the early morning when this rattled at me. I hadn't seen it lying in the shade along the trail. I have heard rattlers before but this one was sooo loud that, at first, I didn't realize what it was. It sounded like a locust right in my ear. I backed away from the sound until I spotted the snake. I suppose I was a couple of feet away from it when it began to warn me. In this picture, the snake is looking down the trail in the direction of my approach. I try and be watchful but the rattlers really blend into the desert landscape. That is my second close encounter within two weeks. This one is a big (old) snake, probably 4-5 feet long.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Surviving Isabel

Christina and I returned home from the Redskins' loss to find our 3-day ordeal without power to be over. As of this morning, we even have Internet access back. So what was it like to face the fury of the storm?

Well, I wasn't too impressed during the storm. I took this picture to show what the storm itself was like. Doesn't look like much, does it?

Somewhat more impressive was the scene at the end of our block the next morning...

Including the snapped-off top of the utility pole...

Thursday, September 18, 2003


I've been working on a project to re-teach myself American History over the past few years, in a process more in-depth than I learned in high school (the last time I studied such things). I started with the Revolutionary War era a few years back, and I've been working my way forward. I got sort of stuck after the Civil War. There's a lot written about that conflict, but not much about the late 19th century. I had mostly been reading political and military histories (well, specifically, biographies), but I got a little stuck.

I eventually realized that political and military personalities did not loom large in the post-Reconstruction era. Instead, the most interesting stories I read were those about technologies -- the railroad, the telegraph, and in this book, the steamship.

I started to read Transatlantic: Samuel Cunard, Isambard Brunel, and the Great Atlantic Steamships, appropriately enough, on my recently trip to the UK. It's a pretty good history of the development of the transatlantic steamships from the mid-19th century to around 1910.

Let me get my rating out of the way: 4 out of 5 stars. Good, now I can nitpick. What happened after 1910? Why end the story there? When did airplane supplant steamships as the best way to cross the Atlantic? What were the social and political impacts of the reduced time for transatlantic crossing? (Fox does have one chapter on that topic, but I find that more intriguing than all the details about ship construction or (heaven help us) ship financing.)

I think I've heard of this one before...

OK, the hurricane is bearing down on MD now, so I'll probably lose power soon, but I found something amusing I wanted to share.

I was reading this article when I came across this sentence,

"People talk about "customizing" outfits with accessories, but how long before on-the-spot manufacturing of clothing lets people design clothing themselves, or download designs from the Internet, and produce truly one-of-a-kind outfits? "

"On-the-spot manufacturing of clothing"? Hmm. I think Christina has been experimenting with something like that. You know, sewing.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Finca Las Paredes

It occurs to me that if I'm going to learn about wine, I should start keeping a record of what I drink.


Finca Las Paredes 2001, an Argentinian Malbec. "Soft." Fairly flavorful, nonetheless.

Monday, September 01, 2003

More Storm Pictures

Christina took this picture from our neighbor's house of the workers starting to remove the fallen tree...

More tree removal...

Here's a picture of a tree that had fallen on a local church...

Saturday, August 30, 2003


Michael Lewis is another author whose new releases I eagerly await. His latest, Moneyball, did not disappoint. It's the story of the Oakland A's, and how they've managed to stay competitive despite one of baseball's lowest payrolls. Billy Beane, the general manager, was a hot high school prospect who turned into a great baseball bust. As an executive, he's searching for a way to evaluate players that will avoid wasting money on players like him.

He and his cohorts have reduced baseball down to a science. Not only do they pick out good players based on statistics (rather than who "looks like a baseball player" -- there's a funny scene where some old scouts discuss a player's butt), but they have figure out which statistics matter. For example, stolen bases "look good", but getting caught stealing is one of the most damaging things that can happen. Walks, on the other hand, are a much undervalued commodity for hitters.

I'm not a huge baseball fan, but I really appreciated the idea that some people are trying to bring careful analysis to a superstition-riddled environment. I wonder how it would do with something more important -- like, say, football. I suspect smaller sample sizes and the more team-oriented nature of the game would make such an analysis impossible. On the other hand, lots of the analyses cited in Moneyball were counter-intuitive, so who knows...

Lewis comes across as a complete Beane and A's partisan in this book -- it's not the most objective work. I have a long-standing prejudice against the A's from the days the obnoxious Bash Brothers competed against my Twins. (Science is never going to come to fandom.) But since finishing this book last week, I've been checking the baseball standings and rooting, just a little bit, for the As.

5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, August 29, 2003

A Brief History of Nearly Everything

I recently finished A Brief History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I have mentioned before reading Bill Bryson books. He's one of the authors I make sure to read whatever new he has out. Usually, that's been some sort of entertaining travel writing (or perhaps something on language). His current book is a departure from that, which can be a dangerous thing. You don't necessarily want to see a travel writer thinking, "Hey, how hard could it be to write about science?"

As it turns out, Bryson does a pretty good job in the science popularization biz. About twenty years ago, I used to read Asimov's science popularization. It's interesting to see what's changed in the science world in the past twenty years (or more, since the Asimov anthologies tended to be dated). Also, as someone without a science background, Bryson takes a little different perspective. Fortuantely, he sticks to his strengths of finding interesting stories about the unusual personalities that the history of science has produced.

I only have two main complaints with the book. The first is the organization. It seems intended to take you from the formation of the universe up to the dawn of humanity. Somewhere in between, though, you find yourself reading about plate tectonics, entertained, but wondering where Bryson is going with all this. The second is that Bryson has a tendency to rely on secondary sources. Some things clearly get muddled along the line.

4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Summer in Minnesota

Last spring, I posted pictures I took at a stoplight in Minnesota. Yesterday, I took some more pictures at that same stoplight.

This time, Christina's driving. In the background, you can see the parking lot where the police takedown took place.

The following picture can be compared with this shot from winter.

I'm #20!

My recent trivia playing while traveling has moved me up to the No. 20 slot on the Santa Fe Cafe's NTN rankings. Christina and I went a couple of times at the Park Tavern Bloomington, where I wouldn't even make No. 50. It's a tough place. Still, I somehow won Sports IQ. We left that evening with three free drink coupons and a free appetizer coupon, bringing my haul to 5 drinks and 1 appetizer in two
nights that they've been giving stuff away. They're good for a year, so I intend to have quite the evening before they expire. Christina won 1 of the drink coupons, I picked up a drink and an appetizer for winning Sports IQ, and I got another drink coupon for "winning" a horse-racing thing they had. (They give everybody chips with numbers, play a videotaped horse race, and give you a drink if your horse wins.)

If a Tree Falls While We're Flying Home, Does Anybody Hear It?

We just got back from Minnesota. (Small number of pictures to follow.) We only were delayed about an hour, by storms in Baltimore. The captain went on about how we could take off, except the government wouldn't let us. Darn government. I don't know whether he blamed some cloud-seeding project, or the air traffic controllers for not letting all the planes fly into the storm at the same time.

When we came home, we found evidence that the storms had been serious, in the form of our next door neighbor's front yard...

Monday, August 25, 2003

Hail to the Redskins

OK, we got the season tickets. And we enjoy them. Well, we did for the first preseason game. For the second preseason game, there was such a dearth of people wanting to go that we ended up with Ben's parents' tickets on the 50-yard-line. (Well, maybe the 45.) Ben had club-level seats for the game, but he came down and joined us for the second half.

I took the digital camera along, and we ended up with some pictures to share.

"Honey, do we really have to go back to our seats up there for the season opener?"

A little pre-game entertainment...

Christina in her Champ Bailey jersey...

While some of us are partial to Fred Smoot...

The Redskins take the field...

Ground level view of the Redskin victory...

All in all fun, and I was glad to see them win, but I'll be glad when the real thing rolls around.