January 28, 2010

Two in a series of past travel exploits.

This is another blast from our past travels that I'm posting photos now only because of the Metafilter postcard exchange.

Sometime in 2005, my good friend from grad school invited (or I otherwise wrangled an invitation from him) Renae and me to come to his family's cabin in the French Alps for New Year's Eve that year. We planned an entire Paris/London/Alps trip around his invitation.

We flew from Chicago to Paris, spent about 2 days there, then took a train to the southern French Alps. Our friend picked us up and drove us to his family's cabin up in the mountains! Our first stop was at a small hut where everyone in his family was gathered to bake bread in a wood-fired oven. It was incredible!

The New Year's Eve celebration was outstanding! There was a multi-course meal, with oysters, foie gras, and many other delicious dishes. We started eating at 8:00 pm, and didn't stop until the champagne flowed at midnight. It was so, so, so cool!!!

Everyone in the family was so incredible hospitable and kind to us. We spoke not a lick of French, and they went out of their way to make us feel welcome. It truly was the best part of the trip.

I think we were planning to leave on the 3rd, but because of the holiday and because we had not booked a return train ticket to Paris, we had to leave on the 2nd. It was our fault for not booking a ticket, but we were used to traveling in 1996 on trains where you could always ride on trains as standing-passengers. I guess times had changed. So we stayed overnight at a hotel in Grenoble, then went back to Paris to catch the Eurostar to London.

Somewhere in Paris, Renae got sick (actually, hadn't been 100% well in the Alps) and probably got a bit of food poisoning from a weird fish pizza that she ordered at a cafe. She hadn't slept the night before we were supposed to catch the first train out in the morning, so we were bracing for a crummy ride from Paris to London.

We had bought our Eurostar tickets online a few months ahead of time. When I ordered the tickets, I bought coach seats ($65 each, I think) for the return from London to Paris. But the Paris to London trip, all the coach seats were sold out. All the First Class tickets were around $500 or more, which was way more than I wanted to pay. After poking around on their website, I had found some middle class ticket that was something like "Business Economy" or something similar. From all I could tell, it was going to be a coach seat for $30 extra. Having no other options, though, we bought them.

When we finally got to the train platform and were directed to our seats, it turned out we were in First Class. In fact, the Eurostar only has First Class and coach. An in our car, there was only a family of four sharing the entire car with us. The seats were comfortable; there was a real table for us to use; and the breakfast was simple, but refreshing. We got toast with jam, which was the perfect meal for Renae's stomach.

London was great, but knowing that we'd have to cram a lot into a little bit of time, we chose to do only highlights. We spent a lot of time running around to some of the major sites. We paid for an all-city bus tour that allowed us to hop onto and off of any bus run by a popular bus tour company. We saw the Mousetrap. We shopped at Herrod's. We wandered through one of the residences of one of the Royals. We did not hang around for the changing of the guard.

After a few days in London, it was the Eurostar back to Paris. Coach was like riding in a plane on Southwest Airlines. It wasn't too cramped, but we weren't exactly comfortable. And no one brought us toast.

We had another night in Paris, then flew home.

Somewhere in this post, I should have pointed out that right about the time the plane took off from Chicago to Paris, I looked at Renae and realized that having been married for five and half years, it was the first actual vacation travel we had taken that did not involve a physics conference in any way.

January 26, 2010

One in a series of past travel exploits.

July 15 to 19 New York City
As part of the Metafilter postcard exchange, I decided to send out a bunch of old postcards that I have collected from past travels, but never got the chance to send out.

I wanted to do something extra as a part of the exchange, so I thought I'd post some photos from my trips and include the links on the postcards.

This trip to New York City was in the Summer of 2008. This was the last year for old Yankee Stadium and for Shea Stadium. Sometime during the early Spring or late Winter of that year it was announced that Billy Joel would play a concert at Shea. The concert was billed as "The Last Play at Shea". I'm a huge Billy Joel fan, and had seen him in concert several times before 2008. But, my wife had never seen him in concert, so I asked if she wanted to go. She said she would only go if my brother would go with us. We called him and he said he was totally in. That Saturday, we called for tickets and I was able to get through before they were all sold out.

When we got to NYC we were supposed to meet my brother somewhere in midtown. It turned out that the spot we were supposed to meet at took us right to the Major League Baseball All-Star parade. The photo above is of Ryan Dempster, who was in the game that year. The All-Star game was playing that year at Yankee Stadium.

We did lots of things on that trip, including walking from Central Park to Battery Park. We took pictures of our panda in various spots, including on the Staten Island ferry and in the terminal.

One of the places we wanted to go was to a place called Peanut Butter and Co. They sell unique peanut butter, which my wife had given to me one year for our anniversary. But they also have a restaurant that you can go to and get different gourmet peanut butter sandwiches. At the restaurant, I picked up some postcards, and these are some that I am sending out to the Mefites.

(The link below the photo will take you to a small gallery of photos from this trip.)

January 17, 2010

Since my last update on the 2-for-1 project in my room I have made some more progress. I've been able to clear off the table that does not have the computer on it. It was nice to be able to do a little grading on the table. I set up my roll of butcher paper on the top of the table and have been using that to take notes on as I'm working at the table.

Here's the latest stuff to leave the room:

  • A handful of tools went to the garage

  • 2 collector mugs (still in their boxes) went to the basement and will probably go out of the house this summer.

  • 2 boxes of random projects and parts went to the basement where I'm putting all my current and future projects until I have time to work on them.

  • A craft kit that I haven't had a chance to try out yet went to the basement.

  • 2 stacks of papers/magazines/journals were properly filed, a lot of which went out with the weekly trash.

  • My shop light for that I use for photography is going to live in the garage even though all my other photography gear lives in my room.

  • 3 comic books that I discovered I had duplicates of were sent to a friend.

  • Another paperbackswap book (a biography of William Randolph Hearst) was mailed out a week ago.

Also, an update to a few of the other things that I posted about previously: my firewire adapter that I put up for sale on ebay was sold but the data cable for an old phone did not sell on craigslist. I'll try relisting it either on ebay or craigslist again and if it doesn't sell, it will go to Goodwill.

Things that have come into the room:

  • Stack of Christmas presents including a farkel game, a small poster, a toy robot and a CD. These have mostly been put away.
  • A book I bought at a used bookstore.
  • A power strip
  • An Ikea tin for storing little things that tend to collect on the desk in the room.
Total items out for the year:


Total items in for the year:


January 14, 2010

Apple didn't like my homage to Nate Dogg

This is a screenshot of the podcast customer review page in the iTunes Store for one of the podcasts I listen to regularly. If you go read the reviews in iTunes right now, you won't see my review. It was removed, probably by Apple, most likely because of the critical comment I made about how someone at Apple did not like my full review of the podcast that I had tried to post before the one in the screenshot was posted.

When you write a podcast review on iTunes, you are presented with five "Tips for writing a great review":

  • Keep them short and to the point. Average iTunes customer reviews are about 200 words.
    Mine clocks in at 238 words. Granted, it is formatted a little differently and looks longer, but it's no significantly longer than what Apple calls average.
  • Praise podcasts on their own terms, not at the expense of other podcasts or the audience of other podcasts or genres.
    My review is nothing but praise, and says nothing about other podcasts or audiences of other podcasts.
  • Take the time to copy edit your work so that you avoid embarrassing typos or grammatical errors.
    Good advice. Done.
  • Do not use profanity or overtly sexual language.
    No problem here!
  • Do not use language that can be construed as hateful, especially in regards to lifestyle, religion, or race.
    Nothing in my review has anything to do with religion or race, so that's a non-issue. With respect to lifestyle, I suppose you could make a case about the numerous references to drunks, but if you know anything about the podcast I'm reviewing, you know that the topic of alcohol and drunks comes up frequently in the podcast itself. In fact, it is often in the titles and descriptions of the podcasts as posted to iTunes. And, my review is not "hateful" with regard to any lifestyle, so I don't really see it as going against this tip, either.

    At the very bottom after you write your review (not to exceed 6000 characters, mine clocks in at 1200 characters) there is one more line:

    If a review is deemed inappropriate, it will not be posted to the iTunes Store.

    I did some searching online to see if there were other people who had their reviews rejected from the iTunes Store. The only relevant information I could find came from a FAQ for Podcast Makers on Apple's site:

    Can I have a review removed?

    iTunes does not remove reviews for editorial purposes. Reviews with profanity, hate speech, explicit/pornographic content, or commentary that is completely off topic are prohibited. To request removal of a review, click on Report a Concern for that review.

    Again, if you know anything about the podcast I was reviewing, you would know that every line in my review was completely ON topic for their show.

    My guess is that Apple doesn't want their Customer Reviews to become like the ones you see on Amazon. (e.g. The Story about Ping, Tuscan Whole Milk) Which is a shame. Because if fans of podcasts (or any content on iTunes) can't have fun to promote their favorite artists, everyone sort of loses an opportunity to discover something new.

    Anyway, the full podcast review that I wanted to post is here. My apologies to Warren G and Nate Dogg...

    we podcast any speaking of his mind
    and we download em
    But you can't be any geek off the street,
    gotta be out of your parents basement, if you know what I mean, earn your keep!

    It was a clear black night, a clear white moon
    Nick D was in the seat, trying to consume
    some talk in the eve, chattin' with a drunk
    I'm rollin in my ride, beers are in the trunk

    Just hit the Northside on the Kennedy
    on a mission tryin' to find Mr. Nicky D.
    Got a 'dog with fries and I need to chew
    all you drunks know what's up with 312

    So I hooks a left on Addison and Clark
    The Cubs are out of town so I said "Let's park."
    I jumped out the ride, and started to cough
    Nick went on a rant and my pants fell off!

    [Nick D:]
    Since Andy's tweetin' me I'ma check my phone
    Laughin' so hard that I start to moan
    Won'tcha load up your ipod with The Nick D Show
    You can do it right now or at your leisure, bro!

    He's speaking
    about a previous era
    Nick fans,
    Brew and view,
    I dare ya.
    Are in the News

    [Nick D:]
    Wisconsin's where they're from and the "winner"'s gonna lose

    We brings
    where Chicago is home
    and home is Chicago

January 03, 2010

In with the new

Now that I've started taking things out of my room, I can start bringing things into my room. One of the projects I've been working on in the garage (for way too long) was the bookshelf in the photo here. This was the first major woodworking project I finished here at our place in Montgomery. Before we left for our Christmas road trip, I had applied a coat of polyurethane and had intended to do a light sanding and apply another coat. But, the temperature in the garage has dropped enough that I don't really think I should work on finishing any more for the winter. So, I brought it inside. It should help with organizing some of the stuff that stays in the room.

I took the cash that I got for the monitor I sold and spent it on a new USB headset for making skype calls, podcasts, and videos for class. I removed a microphone I got at American Science and Surplus to the basement.

Also coming into the room are 4 books I received for Christmas. Even though I have room in my 2-for-1 ratio to bring in the books without anything else going out, I thought it would be good to try to get rid of some books. Tomorrow I am mailing out a book that was requested of me via Paperback Swap. We really like this site for getting books that we'd like to read without paying cover price. You send a book you don't want to someone who does want the book, and in exchange you get a credit that can be spent to request a book you do want to read from another member. In essence, you end up getting books you want for the cost of mailing your books (about $2.25) to other people. In addition to the book I'm sending out, I found 7 physics journals scattered around the room that are heading to the basement.

Other things removed today: a Rubbermaid tub of physics stuff that belongs in the basement, an old computer plus keyboard and KVM switch, a box of photos, some broken glass from a photo frame
empty cups that I use to keep spare change in, 2 kick-disk hovercrafts (physics demo) and my stereo unit from college. I figured since I am sort of using fuzzy accounting to count the physics journals as books, I will make up for it by counting the computer, keyboard, and switch as one thing. So in total for the year I have:

Total items out:


Total items in:


January 02, 2010

Out with the old...

I've made a bit of progress on the great 2-for-1 exchange program in my room. In the photo are some of the things that have left my room, most permanently. I'm keeping track of the stuff going out and coming in so that I can adhere to my rule. I've been getting rid of the stuff in different ways:

Put away

I decided to put my backpack that normally lives in my room in the hallway closet. The backpack only really gets used for biking, and I don't see any bike rides in the next few months.

My old laptop is essentially dead, but I need to remove the hard drive before I can get rid of it. So it is going to the basement for now.

I'm also putting away (in the basement) some boxes that have been taking up space in the room. One is empty (it had our digital photo frame in it) and the other is half-full of some of my stuff that I moved from Bloomington.

Throw away

This one sort of breaks my heart, a little. I threw away a tiny USB laptop mouse. I think R. got it for me as a gift and I really liked it. But, it eventually wore out and stopped working reliably. I kept it to try to repair it or figure out something to do with it. I wasn't able to repair it and never came up with a great idea for it. I don't like the thought of this ending up in a land fill, but I wouldn't feel right with someone else getting frustrated by it like I did.

Give away

One of the things to leave my room is a first generation DVD-recorder. It works, but it does not always read the DVDs properly when you first put one in the machine. I took it apart and put it back together hoping I had cleaned it up enough to make it work better but no go. I'm going to list this on Freecycle and hope someone can make use of it so that it doesn't end up in the trash. Otherwise, I'll have to find an electronics recycling event to take it to.

Sell away

The other three things that are leaving the room are things that I'm trying to sell. I found out that eBay has a promotion where you can list 5 things every 30 days with no insertion fee. So, I put up for auction a USB/Firewire adapter that I had tried using for a project. We ended up using a different adapter for the project, so I no longer need this one.

I listed on craigslist a monitor that I had purchased at a thrift store. I had fixed up the monitor and used it for about a year before getting my new computer last month and no longer needing the monitor. The monitor sold almost immediately after listing it.

The other item I listed on craigslist is a data cable for my old cellular phone. I used it a few times, but I have a new phone and no longer need it. It's still for sale, make me an offer! ;)

Total items out


Total items in