Ring

I’m a Tech man, and at MIT, rings are big. Basically, you get a ring. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re from the hippie, hacker, or frat-boy subcultures. You get a big square “brass rat” and then pretty much wear it all the time. I followed suit, wearing a stainless steel version (“steel rat”) nonstop until I lost it. I had a gold one too but I just didn’t like the idea of wearing a big chunk of valuable, dense, malleable (but non-elastic) metal all the time. Gold is stupid stuff to make jewelry out of, although I suppose silver (since it tarnishes) is even worse.

Anyway, being well indoctrinated with the idea that school==ring, I was attracted to the idea of getting one for Harvard too. There was a problem, though. Unlike MIT, Harvard has an open market for class rings, and three different vendors competing for the class’s business: Ringware (“the officially licensed class ring”), Herff-Jones (“the exclusive provider of traditional and contemporary ring styles for Harvard students”), and Balfour (“the only Harvard University class ring officially sponsored by students”).

The competition among providers has a nice free-market feel to it, but in practice it greatly damages the popularity of the ring. If everyone’s ring is the same, their sentimental value (and practical recognizability) are greatly improved. Nonetheless, I forged ahead. My finger itched from the missing ring, and I hated to wear a ring for one school but not the other.

In the end there was no competition at all. Of the rings on offer, only Balfour’s was designed by students with input from the administration (including my graduate school), sponsored by a student organization, and available in stainless steel (all as with the Rat, which they also manufacture). Aspirationally, being the third contender, they named it the One Ring. (This puts Harvard on Sauron’s side; I suspect it’s less than half joking.)

The saleslady claimed otherwise, but as far as I know I am the only person ever to combine the selfless academic devotion and personal vanity required to order a PhD One Ring. Thus, this may be the only One ever made, in (IIRC) size 7.5, medium face:

Lull

I dropped Sarah off at the airport late last night, ending two hectic weeks hosting (much-appreciated) visitors. Now my calendar looks like a 3 day lull before the Next Big Thing … moving into my permanent apartment.

I have successfully avoided stressing overmuch about the approaching event by reminding myself just how small a potato this is when compared to very common events like, say, buying a house. It may feel a little bit like camping indoors for the first few weeks, though, until I acquire some furniture.

Pole

Apart from another accidental detour scenic drive through downtown Vancouver, we spent Sunday at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology. The museum’s focus is on native/indigenous peoples, especially the natives of what is now the Province. This area, it turns out, was totem pole central in the days of totem poles, and a collection of poles form the centerpiece of the museum. The buildings architecture both reflects the poles (and the lintels often placed across them) and is specially designed to contain them.

Although monumental wood-carvings form the core permanent exhibit, I was more impressed by the less epic, and much less well-advertised, exhibits of artifacts from other native cultures, from the Inca and Maya to the Inuit, and West to Fiji. The museum’s size belies the scale of the collection, which is expanded by the use of countless glass-case drawers filled with centuries-old high-threadcount Inca fabric with intricate representational and geometric patterns still blazing with the full intensity of their dyes, or original Inuit parkas, or Fijian bone headdresses. Perhaps in a week, operating systematically, you might be able to glance at every object, but to read the descriptions you’d certainly need more time. (It doesn’t help that many objects are only numbered, and the description is in a separate paper catalog. Someone needs to get busy with QR codes.)

I must say I was less impressed with the collection of post-medieval European ceramics (i.e. plates and bowls), the bequeathed personal collection of the museum’s principal benefactor, but I don’t fault them for flattering the personal pecularities of the man who made possible the remarkable remainder.

Vancouver

Sarah and I decided to take advantage of the summer weekend, and drove North early (by our standards) this morning toward Vancouver. We spent the afternoon at Stanley Park, where we listened to Musqueam feminist hip-hop in a mix of English and Halkomelem, picked delicious wild black raspberries by the side of the road, and wandered along a beach dense with the world’s tannest Canadians.

In the evening we grabbed a veggie pizza from Boston Pizza, which was fine but in no way up to Boston standards, and watched The Lorax in Holland Park, Surrey with a few hundred other blankets of local families and such.

So far, apart from getting turned around on the way back to the hotel, we haven’t seen much of Vancouver proper. Maybe tomorrow.

Magic

I was surprised by the gradual resurgence of Magic: The Gathering over the past few years. I suppose it makes sense; to Wizards of the Coast, Magic (and Pokemon and its other properties) amount to printing money, so it stands to reason that they would invest in reviving and maintaining the game. Still, it seemed to be mostly limited to a relatively narrow circle of nostalgic former 7th grade Magicians.

In Seattle it’s different. At the office there’s a regular Magic table, with at least a half-dozen players, at lunch. The game shops are full of Magic players, with different special Magic events on different nights of the week.

It was only after coming home from the Magic-saturated Cafe Mox that I realized this might not be a coincidence. Wizards of the Coast is so named for the West coast, and they’re headquartered right outside Seattle. It should be no surprise that this is the base of deepest lasting support for their pyramid scheme card game.

Busy

Yesterday, whale watching, then dinner by the driftwood-choked beach at Deception Pass.

Today, dinner with my parents at the office, then dropped them off at the airport.

Tomorrow, picking up Sarah at the airport for her vacation.

Next week, moving into my new apartment.

Whale Watch

We spent the day on a whale watch in the San Juan islands. The whales we were watching are international travelers, and so we wound up in Canadian waters, not that there was a line painted on the surface. It was cool to see, although not exactly National Geographic Channel spectacular.

Much like the Cape Cod whale watches of my youth, we spent most of the time in transit. I suspect you could do better from the Canadian side, but then maybe the whales would be down here instead.

Unlike whale watching in the Atlantic, the water was almost lake-smooth, owing to the countless islands that scatter waves and deflect wind. Seasickness was nowhere to be found.

Home

After weeks of searching, and after cold-calling countless landlords and viewing more apartments than I can clearly remember, I signed a lease yesterday for a 1-bedroom apartment. I think it’s in Capitol Hill or First Hill or Downtown, unless it’s in some other district that I don’t even know about yet. Anyway, it’s right next to the convention center.

Rather than the property of a commercial landlord, the apartment I’ll be calling home for the next 12 months is the lone personal condominium of a former resident, who moved out but didn’t sell. It was a labor of love. After buying the place, she gutted and rebuilt it, from the checkerboard parquet floor to the crown molding and pressed metal ceiling (together a sort of 1990s homage to the 1890s). The effect, overall, is maybe not as upscale now as it was two decades ago, but for me the personal touch was a stark contrast to the uniform corporate widgets that seem to make up most of the city’s rental properties.

I winced a little at the rent (Seattle seems to be more expensive than Cambridge), but in truth everything cheaper was either utterly depressing or totally inconvenient (unless I wanted to spend an hour every day driving in traffic, and I don’t). In return I get the shortest possible walk to the main bus depot, from which I can catch a ride direct to my office (and back) every 10 minutes.

This is the first time I’ve rented my own unfurnished apartment, so while I have a floor (and cabinets), I don’t have anything to put on them. Currently, the plan is to do a whole lot of business with IKEA.

Vacant

My parents arrived on Sunday night, and I had an air mattress waiting for them in the … room … of my one bedroom apartment. Every hour since has been jammed full. They’ve been playing tourist while I’m at work, and otherwise helping me search for a new apartment, the deadline for which seems increasingly imminent. We’ve now looked through a dizzying number of different neighborhoods and buildings without finding anything better than a fall-back position.

We are close to a proof that my intersecting goals — non-multimodal, non-car commute to both Google offices, close to eateries and groceries, non-exorbitant rent, view of something better than a concrete wall — produce the empty set of empty apartments.

The Corner

The destination for this weekend turned out to be Cape Flattery, the Northwest corner of the contiguous USA and part of the Makah indian reservation, about 4.5 hours’ drive from Seattle (longer if you show up for the 3 PM ferry but don’t get a space until the 3:45). It’s essentially a cloud forest, although the intensity of the perpetual fog varies from place to place. There was enough sun on one of the beaches to give me my annual sunburn. I forgot my hat because at our campsite less than half a mile away, the cloud cover never broke at all.

We were met at The Store, which is next to The Restaurant, by a friend of a friend who showed us to a beautiful camping spot next to a NO CAMPING sign, told us to say, if anyone complained, that the Chief said it was OK, and then qualified that he was not really the Chief. (As far as we can tell, he is really the Chief.)

We hiked along a muddy trail and down a high steep bluff to Shi Shi beach, home to black sand and seal pups, and then out along a (Myst-style) boardwalk through a forest so foggy and bright as to cast what my friend termed Old Testament rays down through the trees.

We also glanced in at Toorcamp central, where I met a good friend from back home, then spent hours on the outskirts chatting with people who are world-famous to me but probably not really notable to you. Themes included incredibly dangerous remote-controlled helicopters and the future of privacy.

We bought shrink-wrapped firewood at The Store and then made S’Mores with peanut butter on the beach. A small patch of sky opened up long enough to reveal a Perseid fireball.

It was a good weekend.