Monday, May 31, 2004

Greetings from Mexico!

I'll give an update when we get back, but Christina has posted one at her new travel blog.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Wine Update

1999 Columbia Crest Semillon

We had some people over for fondue last weekend. Christina wanted to find a good white wine to use both in the cheese fondue and serve with it. We're not big fans of white wine, but we settled on the Columbia Crest Semillon. The reasoning behind it was somewhat convoluted. Christina had a recipe that called for using sauterne. I now see that's, "a generic name used in the United States for inexpensive white wines..." I confused it with Sauternes, which is French wine, based mainly on the semillon grape. Oh, well.

It turned out we enjoyed this more than other white wines. I had read some in The Everything Wine Book about lower-acidity white wines. I thought it might be the acidity that caused me not to like white wines. I came up with Gewürztraminer and Viognier as low-acid whites, but there didn't seem anything appropriate (read: in our price range) in either.

2002 Santa Rita Cabernet

We opened this recently to have with some salmon. We're always getting it confused with Santa Maria, but I think I like the Santa Rita better. It wasn't spectacular (it couldn't compare with the Cousiño-Macul), but it was solid. The leftover wine we finished tonight wasn't great; maybe we didn't seal it well enough, or maybe we stored it too close to the stove. I tried some Santa Marias at a tasting at our favorite wine store. They didn't work for me, but what really upset my palate were the Anakena wines. I'm definitely going to have to stay away from them.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004


One of the places I drove the Caddy last week was the Bloomington Park Tavern. This used to be my favorite place to play NTN trivia -- they would have a guy giving out prizes to the top finishers. I haven't seen that there lately, and I used up my last two free drink coupons. (I still have a free appetizer.)

Anyway, I got e-mail from someone who had seen one of my previous NTN posts. He maintains a database of top 100 finishes on NTN premium games. I was pleased to see that last week a colleague and I helped the Park Tavern make it into the top 100 for only the second time this year. I was also pleased to win that game at the Park Tavern, especially since the topic was "Coastal California," and my colleague was from, well, Coastal California.

My next US trip is to Burlington, VT, and I was disappointed to find out there are no NTN locations in Vermont.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Car Talk

Who said traveling isn't an adventure? When I travel for work, the company will generally refuse to pick up the tab on anything larger than a compact. This is fine, if slightly stingy, most of the time. But on this trip, I'm taking an extra day (not paid for by the company) to visit my grandmother, whom I don't want to cram into a compact car. A colleague of mine ("Bill") recently discovered that the company was happy if you got a bigger car, but paid the difference yourself. As it turned out the difference for an intermediate car was $1/day. And as long as I was going through the hassle of paying something extra myself, why not spring for $3/day for the full-size. And if I've gone that far, what's $6/day for the premium? I mean, it seemed like fun to play around with XM radio, and I get $50/day food per diem whether I spend it or not. (I just had dinner at Taco Bell.)

Well, I got to the rental car facility, and instead of the promised go-right-to-my-car, there was a note that I was to go to the counter. Well, I managed to deduce that from "GRANTHAM J CTR" on their big board. Turns out either they were out of the premium, or as a frequent renter, I got an upgrade, because he gave me directions to a luxury car.

So I've spent today tooling around town in my Caddy, going through the Taco Bell drive through, and listening to the BBC on my XM radio. Who said traveling isn't an adventure?

Monday, May 17, 2004

Board Gaming

I went over to Paul's on Saturday for some board gaming. Since Ben and George were running late, Paul, Doug and I played a couple of shorter card-based games first.

High Society

High Society is played with a special deck of cards. Most of the cards represent luxuries you bid on; some represent fortunes or misfortunes (which you also bid on). The winner is the person with the most valuable luxuries (after you eliminate the player with the least money). Before we started playing, we discussed whether there had to be a winner. We concluded that the only way the game could end without a winner was if everybody had the same amount of money, but that was unlikely.

There are some interesting strategic aspects to the game. Aside from the ordinary risks of bidding up one item only to have someone else get another, more valuable item more cheaply (after your cash is depleted), you can't be too aggressive in bidding -- or you'll end up with the least amount of money. Furthermore, the game ends when the fourth "multiplier" card (multiply the value of all luxuries by 2 or 1/2) is drawn -- so you don't know in advance when the game will be over. There's a review of the game here. (By the way, I recommend that reviewer's other reviews, if you're interested in reading well-written game reviews.)

You've probably guessed the punch line -- after much frenzied bidding, the game ended, and we each were left with $25 million dollars. So nobody won.


I had played Ivanhoe before and enjoyed it. The goal of Ivanhoe is to win a certain number of different types (or colors) of "jousts". You draw cards, which have different point values on them, and you can "spend" the cards to try to win a tournament. Whoever spends the most points wins the tournament. There are lots of complicating factors here -- you can only spend cards of the same color of the tournament (except for "supporter" cards, which are colorless), there are "action" cards which can, among other things, change the color of the tournament, etc. The colors actually represent different kinds of weapons, but we never really referred to them by the weapons themselves.

Empire Builder

It turns out that "Empire Builder" is the name of an actual train, too. Huh. It's also the name for a train board game, which is what we played when Ben and George showed up.

Empire Builder has a map of North America with various cities labeled. You connect the cities with tracks, represented by colored crayon markings. I assume the crayon wipes off after the game; I didn't stick around to find out. You spend money to build track, which you use to pick up and deliver goods, which make you money, which you use to build more track. The winner is the first to connect six of the seven "major" cities and accumulate $250 million.

We spent most of the game connecting the cities. Only in the last hour or so were people focused on collecting the $250 million. I ended up with $206, good for third place, but I felt like it was close enough that I hadn't seriously misestimated how to play the game. It was a lot of fun connecting up the different cities, and the map-drawing gave the game a different and interesting feel.

It turns out there are other versions of this game with other settings. To give a few examples, India Rails has "special rules regarding pilgrims," Lunar Rails takes place on the moon (I don't entirely see the point), and the forthcoming Russian Rails "begins in the post WWII era, with players drawing rail lines and delivering loads wary of the inevitable fall of the Soviet Union."

Those might be fun, although I'm also intrigued by Ticket to Ride, not in the same series of games. After the 8 hours we spent playing Empire Builder, the 1-2 hour playing time might be a nice change of pace.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Books I Read on the Switzerland Trip

Travel is always a good time for me to catch up on my reading, especially with long transatlantic flights. I read the better part of the following three book on our recent trip to Switzerland.

The Speed of Dark

The Speed of Dark is part of my new Nebula reading project. It's the most recent winner, and the 12th Nebula I've read.

It's a near-future story about an Lou, an autistic man, who, with the help of modern therapies, has found a functioning role in society. His new boss, however, wants to start him on a new therapy to "cure" him of his autism.

That's the source of some of the conflict in the book. The interesting part, for me, however, was the point-of-view. Most of it is told from the standpoint of Lou, through all of his lack of understanding of "normal" human nuances of emotion and behavior. It's thought-provoking about what really is "normal" or "correct" behavior.

The Diamond Age

I had started The Diamond Age during my now-defunct Hugo project. I knew I needed to grab another book before taking to the air, so I picked this one up. It was mostly enjoyable, although it did get a little bit weird during the end. The political/scientific mumbo-jumbo towards the end got laid on a little thick, but some of the characters were very compelling. I'm generally not a fan of "nanotech" fiction, so this is probably as much as I could be expected to enjoy this book.

Fear of Wine

I picked up Fear of Wine on the same having-something-to-read principle. It wouldn't be my first choice in wine books (indeed, Christina got me a wine book that I've been enjoying). But it's nice to pick up a few tips (like the difference between the Wine Spectator and the Wine Advocate) from different sources. This book went into a little bit too much detail about the different regions (in that way, it might work better as a reference work), but it had a lot of stuff I was glad to read.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2000

Monday, to celebrate Christina's acceptance to the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference, I brought home a wine a little bit above the single-digit-priced vintages we usually enjoy. Since I know Christina enjoys Chilean reds, in particular, Cousiño-Macul, I brought home a bottle of Cousiño-Macul Antiguas Reservas Cabernet Sauvignon 2000.

This article does a good job of explaining Cousiño-Macul's recent move to a new location, and how they managed to keep the quality good throughout.

Because of our limited wine-drinking budget, we usually don't end up with winemakers' higher-priced (and presumably better-quality) "reserve" selections. In this case, whether due to age or quality, the softer and more subtle flavors really came through. It's definitely a type of wine I would enjoy having more of.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Bern, Baby, Berne

I'm still not sure if it's "Bern" or "Berne" -- probably one if you're speaking German, and another if you're speaking French. Anyway, last Thursday, after the conference ended, we headed up to Bern for a day trip. The Swiss trains are great -- clean, new and on-time.

The old town of Bern is home to many beautiful fountains. Here's one:

Some of the fountains are less is topped by an ogre eating some children:

Here's me outside of Einstein's old house:

We climbed up to the town rose garden. The roses weren't yet in bloom, but we got quite a view:

We also saw the bear pits. Bern was named by a king after the next animal he killed, which happened to be a bear. They've been keeping bears in pits for hundreds of years. Doesn't seem the most comfortable environs:

Bern is a World Heritage Site and the 22nd one I've visited. I updated my World Heritage page with the two Switzerland sites we visited.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Map Update

Well, my blob of visited countries in Central Europe continues to expand. I've updated my travel page by adding Switzerland to my World 66 maps, as well as adding Charleston and Switzerland to my list of trips.

I don't expect to visit any new countries this year, but I have high hopes for next year.

Sunday, May 09, 2004


George, Ben and I went skiing at Wisp in March. Ben just recently mailed me a picture he took of me skiing there. I've edited it for size, and to crop out the dirty joke.


We're back from Switzerland. Christina dropped off a bunch of pictures at Moto Photo today. I did get one taken at the conference that I can post now.

I'm not sure if that constitutes cruelty to animals. Or to me.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Trummelbach Falls

Yesterday was the free afternoon of the conference. Christina and I decided to skip the excursion. I didn't see the point of going halfway to the highest train station in Europe, getting out for an hour, then heading back down. If we were going to do a trip like that, we'd go all the way to the top. It's a good thing we didn't -- aside from the price, the clouds took away the view yesterday (as see on the Jungfraujoch channel on our TV).

Instead, we headed to Trummelbach Falls, a short bus-and-train ride away. (OK, and a 5-minute walk.) The falls, according to the brochure, are the only mountain-interior, accessible waterfalls in Europe. They're also really, really, neat. I don't think our pictures will do them justice.

There weren't a lot of signs (an interesting change from most tourist attractions), but I did learn that most of the water from the Jungfrau mountains, and the nearby Monch and Eiger, drain through the falls. Given the spring snow melt, that's a fair bit of water. Lord Byron was inspired to write some poetry by the falls.

I'm sure Christina will give more detail when she posts. That might not be until we get back.

In any case, the Jungfrau region is a World Heritage Site. This marks my 21st World Heritage Site visited. Only 733 to go!

Monday, May 03, 2004


Since I know that Christina will soon be posting to her newly created travel blog (I'll link to it when it goes live), I'll save the details of the trip for her to report. Instead I'll concentrate on the minutiae of travel that consume what airline we ended up on.

For some reason, I could only get Christina a free ticket to Switzerland on Lufthansa. I am restricted to booking American (the nationality, not the brand) airlines, but I was able to book the flight on the way over as a United codeshare. By the warped logic this sort of thing goes by, that counts. On the way back, they routed her via Boston, a feat I was unable to duplicate. So she'll be on her own once we get to Frankfurt.

Though I had flown Lufthansa on intra-European flights before, I had never flow it across the pond. All in all, it was fairly nice. The check-in agent took our old seat assignments (in separate rows of the plane) and gave us some crew rest seats I guess they decided they didn't need. They were standard economy seats (i.e., not very comfortable), but they were window and aisle in a 2-4-2 combination. All in all, very survivable.

The Lufthansa "Senator's Club" in Frankfurt was a nice place to relax, although there was more smoking than you'd get in an American facility. They had a room with lounge chairs, which was a nice way of relaxing after the plane. Our flight to Zurich was fairly empty, and I slept through it.