Exile

I’m back in Westport.  My plane landed in La Guardia airport, from which I took the M60 bus to 125th Street station on Metro North, and then caught a commuter train back to Westport, where a friend picked me up.  It was really pretty convenient, and probably faster than driving, though with checked luggage or without a friend to pick me up it would have been much less fun.

I had hoped to spend some time programming in Florida, but our days were full, and I spent my few free hours engrossed in Exile, by David Richard North Patterson, which I have on loan from my grandparents.  Exile is a history textbook on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, disguised as a legal thriller (and love story).  In structure it strongly resembles The DaVinci Code; in both cases the plot is designed to introduce characters in situations where they may reasonably give long history lectures without boring the reader.  Exile is the far better book, though, both because its academic monologues are actually true and because Patterson, though not a great artist, is a full class above Brown on the spectrum of pop fiction.

My appreciation for the book may be helped somewhat by the fact that the main character, David, is a liberal secular American Jew and a Democrat who went to Harvard for grad school.  He’s also written to be unrealistically uninformed about this history, in order to allow other characters to give the information they want.  Patterson’s perspective is carefully neutral, and intriguingly pessimistic.  His personal assertions do occasionally bleed through, but they are both mild and obvious enough not to wreck the book.  I definitely feel as though this book gave me a much more complete understanding of the Palestinian perspective, and the history behind it.

The book was written in 2006, and so predates, for example, the Hamas takeover of Gaza.  This change dramatically alters the effect of the book.  The book avoids predictions, but it does offer a carefully limited vision of two paths, one optimistic and one pessimistic.  The events in Gaza, over the past two years and also over the past week, make it quite clear which one we’re on.

Florida

I’m spending a few days in Florida with family, some of whom live here, and others who live in New York but come down for a sort of annual family reunion.  It’s a pretty fantastic idea, seeing as today’s high in Boca Raton was 79 Fahrenheit… basically perfect weather.

My flight was kind of a mess, with a 5:45 AM departure, which means leaving the house around 3 AM.  Our schedule has been the usual mix of eating, movies, and touristy stuff.  Yesterday was a tourist day: my parents, myself, and my sister’s family rented two canoes and set off along a 4.5-mile path, cleared through the rushes of the eastern Everglades.  It was arduous and painful, and I never quite managed to put on enough sunblock, but we saw several alligators and soaked in the ambiance of floating silently through the lilypads, with freshwater marsh grass to the horizon in every direction.

The movie was Bedtime Stories, for which I might have had higher expectations had I known that it starred Adam Sandler.  It was, in fact, a classic Sandler comedy, transposed down to the level of a 7-year-old, instead of his usual level of a 7th-grader.  That makes it a bit of a strange beast, and I can’t quite work out a scale on which to judge it.

Traitor

Last night I watched Traitor with a few friends. I think it’s probably the best movie yet made about the “War on Terror”, and I recommend it.  It’s a small cast, tightly focused around the protagonist Samir, played by Don Cheadle.  Samir is a highly skilled guru in explosives, as well as a bit of electrical engineering and computer science, who works as part of an international team of criminals.

This part made me wonder where I’d seen Don Cheadle before, and why this all seemed so familiar.  Eventually I figured it out.  Cheadle played Basher Tarr in Ocean’s Eleven.  Basher is … a highly skilled guru in explosives, as well as a bit of electrical engineering and computer science, who works as part of an international team of criminals.  The characters are in fact quite different as a matter of personality, role, even accent, but the parallel is striking.

This reminded me of another similar case.  Brian Cox, in the Bourne Identity, played Ward Abbott, a US military official who worked on an ultra-clandestine project to create a new breed of super-soldiers using medical high technology of questionable ethics, the details of which are never exactly made clear.  Unfortunately, the process also creates a susceptibility to amnesia, and the soldier he created (Jason Bourne) loses all memory of the project.  As a result, Bourne spends most of the film trying to determine how he was created and, upon discovering Abbott and his project, turns against him, and attempts to kill the officials responsible for the project.

Brian Cox (the same actor) also played William Stryker in X-Men 2. Stryker is… you know what?  I’m not going to repeat it.  It’s exactly the whole above paragraph, only with Wolverine instead of Bourne.  Yes yes, I’m sure we can trace it all back to Shelley’s Frankenstein, but still…

It makes me wonder how casting works in Hollywood.  It occurs to me that I actually have a friend who’s worked in casting; I should run this by her.

Sledding

Last night I went sledding with a few friends at the Birchwood Country Club.  It was dark, dark enough that there were no colors, and the snow seemed a dim dark gray.  It was cold, but Christina provided gourmet hot cocoa in a dewar, and my mother outfitted all comers in warm winter gear.

The starry night sky, the snow-covered golf course, and the silhouetted trees were all beautiful in the night, so I tried to take a few pictures.  It was far too dark for digital photography without a flash, or even film photography without a tripod, so I knew that I would lose these subtleties, but it seemed worth a try.  I was stymied, however, by an unexpected effect:

Breath Betrays
Breath Betrays

It seems that the flash was so bright, the air so cold, and the aperture so wide, that all you can see in each picture is my breath, condensed into a cloud, floating in front of the scene.  In fact, if you look carefully enough, you can even see the sledders, hidden behind the fog.  I don’t know how to explain the subtle colorations in the vapor.

I did eventually manage to take some pictures by breathing away from the camera and such.  Still, it was a bit shocking.

Paint in Process

I’m back home in Westport.  It’s Tuesday.  On Sunday, my dad and I pretty much finished disassembling the bicycle, save for one last piece: the drive-side bottom bracket hub.  This piece really did not want to come off, and the correct technique for removing it requires a special-purpose triangular pin spanner or lockring tool.  I was hoping to get the bike painted, and it seemed wise to remove this piece first, so I headed out, with my mom knitting in the passenger seat, to the nearest bike store.

The first place I went to (Westport Bicycles) gave me a long spiel about how they don’t know if it’s even possible to remove it, and sometimes it needs to be heated up to free it, and they couldn’t do it now, and they couldn’t let me borrow a lockring wrench, and they might not even have the correct tool, and the usual method would require me to retrieve the spindle too…  They offered to let me leave the frame there and they would “look at it later”.

The next place I went to (Tri&Cycle) took one glance at it and said “we don’t have the tool for that.  It takes a very special tool that comes in from both sides.  You should try Outdoor Sports in Wilton; that guy has a ton of tools.”  Then he went back to tweaking the handlebar geometry for a weekend warrior in spandex biking on a treadmill.

We kept Outdoor Sports in mind but kept going the way we were going, to Cycle Dynamics.  The British dude by the front door said “oh, that’s interesting.  That hub’s counterthreaded, so all this time you’ve been trying to loosen it you’ve actually been tightening it.”.  He proceeded to put the frame in a bikestand, search for an approximately appropriate triangular spanner (not quite the right tool but close enough), and freed up the hub in a few seconds.  He then offered to remove the head tube bearing races, which my dad and I had assumed were welded into the frame.  In fact, they were simply press-fitted onto the head-tube, and came off with sort of splayed tube and a few strokes of a hammer.  He charged us $8.00 for his work, plus tax.

As far as I can tell, the hub is not counterthreaded, though perhaps it would be on a more recent bicycle.

With the frame truly and completely disassembled, we set off for Atlantic Powdercoating Inc. in Milford (they don’t have a website), recommended by a friend who took family portraits for the owner’s Christmas cards.  Once we skated across the ice-sheet of a parking lot, we were greeted by the owner, Mike.  Mike was helpful, friendly, knowledgeable, and perfectly happy to blast, clean, mask, and paint the frame and fork in bright yellow.  He estimated $125 and 6-8 weeks.

We’ll see.

Jonesin’

Last night my mom and I rented Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  We finished it this afternoon, and my mom liked it so much that she pulled the VHS copy of Temple of Doom from 1986 off the shelf, and we watched that too.  My verdict is the same as everyone else’s: they were both bad, but Temple of Doom was indisputably worse.  I have to say that Temple is special, in a way that I had not realized before.  It seems to be a true case of self-parody, a surrealist comedy mocking the Indiana Jones concept, rather than an action-adventure flick with a few laugh lines.

The rest of the day was spent at a friend’s house for what I believe was my first Christmas-tree decorating.  It was tiring, and painful if you weren’t the one with the gloves (spruce means sharp!), but the result, with 5 chained strings of multicolored lights, was quite nice.  I preferred the lunching to the decorating.

My dad and I also completed* the disassembly of the Atala road bike.  This took some doing, as we lacked any of the specialized tools for bottom-bracket disassembly, and the handlebar removal appeared to be designed for a nonstandard 7 millimeter Allen wrench.  We improvised with a sheet of bronze and a 1/4″ wrench.  That means it’s at least theoretically conceivable that I could get this thing painted tomorrow.

*: except for the drive-side bottom bracket cover, which seems to be quite thoroughly stuck.  Maybe I’ll swing by a bike shop tomorrow and see if they have the special wrench.

Greater

Its still snowing, and it looks like it’s been going all night. There’s over a foot on the ground. Only main streets have been plowed. It looks much more genteel in the daylight, though. Last night the air looked like a boiling ocean; today it looks like a rather organized affair.

Cold weather puts me in the mood for malted milk. When I first moved into this apartment I brought with me a canister of Carnation Malted Milk Mix. Unfortunately, the canister had been around for too long, and the powder inside had coalesced into chunks. I had to break them up before they had any chance of dissolving, which was such a pain that the mix sat unopened for a year at a time.

This week I decided to take another look, and was not terribly surprised that all of the chunks had become stuck together themselves, forming a single enormous rock of malted milk mix, nearly impossible to remove from the container. My malted milk dreams were in peril.

After prying the boulder out of the jar, I thought a bit about how to proceed, and then pulled out a cheese grater. It worked perfectly. The grater reduced the rock back to a fine powder with a minimum of effort (ok maybe a medium).

Yummy.

Snow!

It’s snowing.  It’s snowing endless powder, maybe a foot by the end of the day.  It’s windy, so huge puffs of snow are continuously peeling off of every roof and careening across the street.  Every streetlight reveals waves of snow.

The christmas-tree lights strung all through the city that looked so silly last week look beautiful today, reflected in the snow.  The streets are white, and (unlike the gridlock when this happened last year) mostly empty.

There’s nothing like a city under snow.

Eat

Not much to report.  Some weird dreams, about deflationary currencies, buying an XO at Walmart (you can’t), finding an Olympus digital SLR (possible) that stores photos directly to DVD (nonexistent).

I went out to a very fancy dinner tonight with a bunch of Chorallaries, and spent about 5 times as much as I’m normally inclined to spend on a restaurant meal.  It was a fun adventure though, and I justified it by noting that I probably won’t have to pay for any other meal (beyond groceries already purchased) for two weeks.

It’s getting pretty cold, so I’m quite happy to be in Florida next week, visiting family.  It’s gonna be pretty cold coming home though…  I’ll be home before New Year’s Eve, so buzz me if you’re cooking up a plan.

Wash

Today I washed my Harvard ID card.  Surprisingly, it appears entirely unscathed.  Also, Harvard is replacing all of our cards next month, so it has to be replaced anyway.  The new ones have an RFID tag and two magnetic stripes; God only knows why.

I also attempted to wash the sketchy old blanket that we had lying around the apartment, along with the bathmat, washtowels, and a random pillowcase.  I put them all together and washed them on hot, hoping to sterilize them.  Instead, they all came out with an unfortunate sort of Rohrshach tie-dye, from what I’m not sure.  In any event, I threw them out.  After wasting $1.75 to wash them, it was surprisingly satisfying to throw them into the dumpster.