Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tuscany and Sicily

If my cadence here seems to have skipped a beat or two, it might be because I’ve been helping my parents plan our family trip to Italy, which will be from October 8th to 19th. As usual for our family’s vacations, we already have a jam-packed schedule lined up for almost the whole duration, to make sure that we see absolutely everything there is to see.

The great thing about traveling with my parents is that they handle all the logistics, reservations, and responsibility, so I’m just along for the ride. Well, almost … this time my name is on the car rental. I hope I don’t have to re-learn manual transmission driving in downtown Palermo.

At least it’s on the right side of the road.


A few minutes before sunset, the water glowed smooth like molten glass.  We put away the sails and drifted with the tide.  I closed my eyes and dove off the back.  It was cold and clear.  Mom joined me, and we held our toes out and pretended to be a pair of sea otters in the orange light.

Now it’s night, and the Milky Way stretches firmly overhead.  If someone had told me you could have a night like this, in my own home town, I would not have believed them.

Rock Show

On Tuesday evening I went to my first real arena concert with a friend from grad school. (I suppose I did go to that Ben Folds concert 5 years ago, but that was on a college campus and only cost a tenth the price.) This time it was The Black Keys, whom I would describe as a capital-R Rock Band. I suppose once upon a time they might have been termed Hard Rock.

They put on a good show. In addition to the excellent musical performance (best enjoyed through earplugs for hearing protection), the stage was backed with layers of curtains, spotlights, and jumbotrons, which served mostly to show distorted video of the performers from almost invisibly small, servo-mounted videocameras ringing the stage. (The tradition of cameramen pacing around the stage with a behemoth over their shoulder has become obsolete.)

The crowd looked a lot like us — OK, maybe a little younger, but I spotted a few gray-haired gentlemen too.

I took a bunch of pictures … which my phone mysteriously decided to delete. Hmmph.


I spent the day yesterday at the Climate March. I wasn’t really intending to. I was taking the subway to go shopping for electronics when I found myself mixed up with a community theatre troupe dressed as melting icebergs in white and blue foam. I was inspired to follow them down to 81st street, where the official schedule said there would be a “Scientist Rally” by the Hayden Planetarium.

I never found any such rally, but as I was leaving I happened to pass a gaggle of strangers wearing Harvard gear and carrying skillfully drawn signs, mostly promoting a campaign demanding that the Harvard endowment managers sell off all their investments in fossil fuel companies. On closer inspection, about half the group seemed to be from Hillel, escorted by one of the Rabbis.

I didn’t know anyone, but I also didn’t have anything else pressing to do, so I decided to stick around and experience the event for myself. As it turned out, most of that experience consisted of standing in the middle of the intersection of 81st Street and Central Park West, packed in as tightly as the L at rush hour as far as the eye could see. After a few hours of anticipation and not one whit of movement, enough people began to drift away that it was possible to struggle through the crowd to a vantage point of sorts.

Fisheye composite of the view down Central Park West.  You can even see a bit of midtown skyline in the distance.
Fisheye composite of the view down Central Park West. You can even see a bit of midtown skyline in the distance.

Eventually the bottle was uncorked, and we ambled our way down to Times Square. I carried my black umbrella (mostly for shade but I hear it can also be a protest symbol) and a large CO2 canister (which I was carrying only because I had been planning to get it refilled so I could make more seltzer water).

Participating in the march is, paradoxically, not a very good way to get any kind of perspective on the thing. I know how far it was to walk, but until I broke off at the end I only saw the handful of other groups immediately adjacent to mine. They were mostly chanting “ban fracking now!”, which seems counterproductive to me (I should have shouted “ban coal first!”).

The rhetoric was angry, and there were certainly more than a few extremists (Greenpeace), wackos (the Revolutionary Communist Party), and tangential issue lobbies (PETA), but overall I would describe the event as mostly a centrist demonstration, focusing on one number: 400,000. That’s the (high end) estimate of the number of marchers, making this perhaps the largest demonstration in New York City history. That’s also enough voters to make elected representatives consider that supporting the environment might be a winning campaign strategy.

EDIT: Sarah was at the march too, and took some great photos

Sarah's photo of the Peoples Climate March from a High Rise
Sarah’s photo of the Peoples Climate March from a High Rise

Sarah's photo of the Peoples Climate March opening banner
Sarah’s photo of the Peoples Climate March opening banner

Sarah's photo of the Peoples Climate March: Birds
Sarah’s photo of the Peoples Climate March: Birds

I love lamp


I ordered a lamp on Zazzle. It started because my dad said I should have a lamp on that table, and then I had this idea of wanting a lampshade with a vintage map on it, and I was shocked that there didn’t seem to be any store on the whole internet that would sell me a lampshade with an old-looking map on it, even though I thought that was totally a common thing.

Then I found out that at Zazzle you can print your own lampshades, so I started looking for a map, and I found out about the 1569 Mercator world map, which is literally the Mercator Projection, which is especially great for a lampshade because geometrically it’s actually a projection out from the sphere onto a cylinder.

Unfortunately the best-preserved copy of the map was chopped up into little pieces for some reason, and it took me a long time to find a high-resolution reconstruction, but eventually I found a copy of the one by Friedrich Wilhelm Krücken from 2011. Then I cropped off the decoration around the edges and tried to adjust the borders to make them line up at the seam and such, which sort of worked.

Anyway, I think it turned out pretty well. I would offer it up to all other map-lamp-lovers on Zazzle, but Friedrich Wilhelm Krücken is claiming copyright 2011 on this copy of a 445-year-old map(!), so maybe I’d better not.


I spent the evening at a low-key social event hosted by the Center for Jewish History, a little-known organization on an unassuming block in Chelsea. I had assumed they were some sort of museum, which turned out to be quite a bit off the mark. They describe themselves as an “archive”, which to my mind brings up images from Raiders of the Lost Ark (and perhaps H.P. Lovecraft). In practice, what this means is that, rather than trying to preserve a handful of truly ancient artifacts and scrolls, they are carefully storing absolutely every available document relevant to Jewish history, all the way up to the present day (although the modern stuff, being digital, doesn’t take up any shelf space). It comes to 100 million artifacts in total, filling 13 floors of storage space and ranging from financial records to paintings by Pissarro.

I should be clear that I had 100% definitely never heard of anyone named Pissarro before tonight, whereas everyone else in the room apparently had. Small talk, over kosher hors d’oeuvres and refined jazz, also included the precise impact of Scotland referendum outcomes on tomorrow’s USD-UKP exchange rate (esp. morning vs. afternoon fluctuations), who in the room would be attending opening night at the Metropolitan Opera this year, matchmaking, and who in the room might have benefited from the recent rescue of a particular distressed high speed trading firm.

My schmoozing skills were not up to the challenge. I was saved mostly by my sense of comic wonder, witnessing such an archetypal New York scene.

I escaped ASAP into the first tour of the facility. It was intriguing, as much as a floor full of identical white boxes can be. The reading room is very attractive, and the exhibits (which we did not actually have time to read) looked very nice.

I might come back some time, if only to make use of their genealogy services … preferably when there are enough scholars around that I might feel like I’m in my element.


Last week: air conditioner required, all night. (Thank goodness the apartment happened to come with one.)

This week: blanket required.

None of Seattle’s gradual seasons here. Winter is going to feel like a real novelty.


When I moved to New York, it seemed like my office was eerily silent … because half of my team went to Burning Man. Then I saw this movie about a professor in his 80′s who decided to go and loved it. Then I was at a cookout today and it seemed like half the people there had just come back from Burning Man.

Maybe I should go to Burning Man.

13 years

I never imagined that I would live to see an anniversary of 9/11 that went unremarked.

It so happens that my team at work, like millions of other office workers, faces the Lower Manhattan skyline, which is again dominated by the World Trade Center. And yet, at the end of the day yesterday, I realized that I hadn’t heard one mention of it.

Of the people I happened to be spending time with yesterday, most were not living in the US thirteen years ago, and perhaps none but me were even vaguely in the New York area. The papers were filled with anniversary commentaries, of course. My acquaintances and coworkers may not be a representative microcosm of New York City. Even so, it seemed remarkable to me, and I reminded my remaining teammates as we were packing up.

History recedes gradually, at different rates in different places and by different measures. In my little sphere, measuring by remembered anniversaries, the age of 9/11 lasted for 13 years.