Monday, December 31, 2007

San Francisco

During the week I spent in Northern California, I only managed to fit in one afternoon of sightseeing in San Francisco.  

We went up to Coit Tower atop Telegraph Hill.

It's a good place to catch the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz.

We also went to Lombard Street where at Russian Hill, there's a block where the traffic is one-lane, one-way, downhill, featuring 8 switchbacks and a 27% grade.  

A block East we saw the Google Street View car.  I've tried looking for myself on the Google Maps Street Views, but no luck so far (I'm not even sure the picture is of the same day.  If you want to try to find me (blue jacket, no backpack or bag, standing next to a taller man), I'm on Lombard, the block East of Lombard and Leavenworth, on the North side of the street.).  The Google Street View car was very unimpressive, by the way.  You'd think it'd be some fancy, high tech van, but it was just a dark colored, old-looking sedan with a tiny Google Street View sign on the driver's door and a rotating camera on what looked like a homemade support a few feet above the car's roof.  

You wouldn't think steep streets would be so interesting, but it's pretty cool.  

Afterwards, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and took a late afternoon stroll through the redwoods at Muir Woods.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

In Case You'd Like to See More of Me Online

Now I know what you all have been thinking:  weekly blog posts are not nearly enough online interaction with me.  In that case, here's the fairly exhaustive list of me online.

If you want to know what I'm reading:  click here (

If you want to know what I'm listening to: click here (  

And of course, I'm also on Facebook (I check-in vaguely regularly), Friendster and LinkedIn (I mostly ignore those accounts).  

(I assume that soon in the future, there will be a website that'll track my exact movements via GPS and send back video of what I see.)


Monday, December 24, 2007

Amsterdam, Finally

After Sean and I had to abort our trip to Amsterdam, I finally made it there when my parents came to visit me.   And a few days before 2008, I've finally managed to blog about it.

Look, how cute!

So, what can you do in Amsterdam with your parents?  A lot of art museums and the Anne Frank house.  The Anne Frank House is very crowded during the peak tourist season;  thankfully we visited after that and walked straight in.  It's the building with the dark, maybe black, street front.  

We went to Rembrandthuis, the Rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh Museum. Of the three, my favorite was probably Rembrandt's house, if only for the tiny little beds inside of cabinets (they didn't need big beds since everyone slept propped up because they thought it was better for your health). I think I would have liked the Van Gogh Museum better except that I'd seen the excellent Van Gogh & Gauguin: The Studio of the South exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago a couple years back. 

And as promised by my Lonely Planet guide, that green metal thing is an open-air urinal (actually two, one on each end).  


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Goodbye Old Friend

My Christmas present this year will be a new iPod (a silver 80GB classic).  So it's time to say goodbye to my old iPod -- a white 10GB 3G with the buttons in a row on top of the wheel (I like the non-movable buttons!).  I got it for $80 (with the laptop rebate) and it wasn't until a few months ago that my iTunes library outgrew the hard drive.  After 4 1/2 years (3 years of which I used it every day), the hard drive never quit on me and it still has the battery capacity to make it through a 6 hour cross-country flight.  I was very sad to see it go (for the 10% recycling discount).  At the store, I gave it a good petting and told it that it was going to a better place.  


Friday, December 21, 2007


About a week ago, it started snowing for real.  The total amount of snowfall so far this winter in Boston is 27 inches.  The only reason that the piles of snow aren't above my head is that between snowing, it rains.  

By the way, I don't think it's snowed at all in Bonn, and in Bonn I wouldn't have to wait an undetermined amount of time for the bus to arrive.  


Monday, December 17, 2007

Washington, D.C.

Sean and I went to D.C. for the weekend, temporarily escaping the snow in Boston.  It was really nice to visit some old friends (Sarah, Tim and Laura Jean, Cathy and Francis).  We also did a little sightseeing:  the monuments, the Capitol, the National Archives, and the Air and Space Museum.  All in all, it was pretty chill and I didn't bring a camera, so I don't have pictures to share either.  By the way, the National Christmas Tree is terribly ugly (giant, plastic, light-up bows?!).


Thursday, December 06, 2007

In Which I Become an Aunt

Say hello to Julia Irene, who couldn't wait any longer and arrived last Friday, 3 weeks early and weighing in at 5 lbs 9 oz.

A real cutie, isn't she? I get to see her, live and in person, in 2 weeks.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

Yale-Harvard Game

I'm hoping there will be an important blog update soon, but for now I'll have to counsel patience. By the way, Saturday before Thanksgiving, I went down to New Haven for the Yale-Harvard football game. Now when I say 'I went to the Game,' let's be clear, I didn't actually see any football; I spent 4-5 hours tailgating. I mostly hung out with people I've never met before -- although I ran into several good ol' Branfordians -- and now have a hilarious story involving vomiting (not me) that I can't in good conscience put on the internet. I also ran into Ted Kennedy at a Dunkin' Donuts just across the Connecticut border.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cambridge and Cambridge

Apologies for the long, long delay between posts (3 weeks!), but I was probably entirely psychotic during those weeks and any post might have constituted grounds for institutionalizing me, so it was probably all for the best.

I've made it to Cambridge, MA. I'm staying with Sean, who lives down the street from the Harvard Stadium (unfortunately the Yale-Harvard game is at Yale -- although I still might go) and just across the river from Harvard Square. It's a little weird to be back in the U.S., on the East Coast, in a real college-y area (hello, 1999, it's nice to see you again).

Continuing on the Yale-Harvard axis, a month ago, I was at the other Cambridge, in England, visiting the Institute of Astronomy. If you're an astrophysicist, I highly recommend visiting the IoA. The Institute building/grounds are nice (here's a photo of the cows outside my office window) and the people are friendly and seem to socialize all day (morning and afternoon tea/coffee!).

I had some fabulous Indian food, had a look around Cambridge, and went to a party. Cambridge is a very cute place (but packed with tourists and drunken students). Here's the second oldest building in Cambridge (the Round Church, 1130):

Of course, the biggest tourist attractions are the Colleges in Cambridge. I went to (I think) Trinity, St. John's and King's -- some of the oldest and, therefore, most visited by tourists. They all charged an admissions fee, which doesn't seem quite right to me (since I was accompanied by an University employee, it was free for me). At Cambridge, walking on the very well manicured lawns is reserved for senior members of the College (hence the signs, although I saw them ignored several times by tourists).

Yale has a college system based on Cambridge and a lot of neo-Gothic architecture, so I wasn't surprised by the Colleges -- although real Gothic is a lot cooler (this is the King's College chapel):

Despite the faux-oldness of Yale buildings, they have a logic which I had internalized as being more 'natural' or more 'authentic': Gothic buildings with gates and courtyards (you can walk on the grass at Yale) surrounded by a moat next to the sidewalk and the narrow streets. Yale is in the center of the city; the moat is at least partly functional, ensuring that fewer first-floor residents have their rooms broken into, and isn't everything in England old and close together with narrow streets? The one time I visited Princeton, I scoffed at their Gothic buildings surrounded by ginormous lawns. As it turns out, Princeton has it right (sigh). Some of the Colleges are huge, and many of the Colleges back onto the River Cam, their grounds (with ginormous, beautifully-manicured lawns) covering both banks of the river (this area is called The Backs).

The river (a river?!) is crossed by some very cute bridges and full of tourists punting boats.

After a few days in Cambridge, I caught a ride from a woman I met at the party up to Manchester for a few days. If Cambridge is (sigh) Princeton, then Manchester is Ohio State -- a huge campus and University. But just down the street from the campus was a the downtown area with a lot of clubs, bars, pubs, and restaurant. It looked like a cool place to be a student. I was too sick to do too much wandering, but I did manage to watch Control, the Joy Division biopic; it seemed appropriate to watch a movie about a Manchester band while in Manchester.

So, finally, I've managed to cover England, now one of these days I'll finally blog about Amsterdam. One last note, a while back I linked to this post by Tim, gushing about the music of the Mountain Goats, but it totally bears reiterating: they're totally awesome and I don't understand how I lived before hearing their music.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Yay, Germany!

After 10 days in the U.K., I've made it back to Germany. I've got at least a couple posts about the trip and other stuff to be blogged soon. Unfortunately, even though I had a lot of fun on the trip, England appears to be full of sick people and now I have a cold.

On Thursday evening, I was pretty much running on fumes when I arrived at the Manchester airport for the flight back to Bonn. And the airport was a real hassle with finding the right terminal, disorganized waiting lines to check-in (and in the U.K., the home of the queue!), very restrictive carry-on baggage rules, and not a lot of food options. And I was worried about catching one of the last buses from the Cologne airport to Bonn, but, I forgot, it's Germany (and not the U.K., nor the U.S.). The plane landed in Germany at 11:01pm. After a shuttle ride from the plane to the terminal, passport control, baggage claim, customs, the walk down to the end of the terminal, and a quick run when I saw the line of people getting on the bus, I was on a bus and out of the airport by 11:22pm. I was surfing the web in my apartment a little over a hour after landing. God bless Germany.

Anyway, stay tuned for a long-delayed post on Amsterdam, pictures from Cambridge, a story or two on Manchester, and maybe some musings on the mysteries of passport control (the woman at the London Stansted airport was seriously considering denying me entry). Also, I'm going to be in the U.S. from Nov. 10 to the new year. Make a case for why I should visit you while I'm Stateside in the comments.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Baseball Playoffs

In 2003, when the Cubs last made it to the playoffs, I lived in Chicago. In 2007, I live in Germany, and I have to wake up at 6am to catch the end of the game on a 4 inch window on my computer, using (which is actually kind of cool).

Still, not as cool as this: Saturday, October 4, 2003, I'm leaving my parents' house and the Cubs are losing the 4th game of the National League Divisional Series with the Atlanta Braves, when I get a call. Game 5 is Sunday night. In Atlanta. Tickets have been purchased and there's a spot for me. We leave at 5am, drive 13 hours to Atlanta, straight to the stadium. The Cubs win 5-1, Kerry Wood is the winning pitcher. Afterwards, fans mill around the Cubs dugout and cheer. When we're done, we get right back in the car and drive 13 hours back to Chicago.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More Blog Neglect

I don't know how I convinced myself of this, but I really thought that once summer was over, I'd have a lot of time on my hands to blog. Instead, my parents came to visit (eventually, I'll put up pictures of Amsterdam), and now I'm going to the U.K. next week (severely cutting into my baseball playoffs watching). I'm not even sure my digital camera is functional. It'll all get blogged ... eventually.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

4 Songs

On a weekend where both Eugene and Tim have posted about new music, I figured I'd better blog about music too. I don't have a TV, and I haven't been to any shows, but since I last reported on the state of my iPod (5 months ago), I've acquired 2.73 GB, 640 songs, and 36 albums. And, to the shame of having a John Mayer album, I can now add a Fall Out Boy album. My full music library no longer fits on my 4 year old iPod and I can listen to music on shuffle and think "what the hell is this?" or "I have this?"

Here are four songs that found their way onto my iPod in the last 5 months (and if any of you guys has some odd desire to actually listen to what I'm listening to, let me know):

1. Okkervil River - John Allyn Smith Sails

The only song that for which I haven't found an appropriate YouTube video, but you can listen to the entire album, The Stage Names, on their myspace page. I've already expressed my love for Okkervil River, but I just can't help myself. A lot more rock and with a more modern sound than their previous albums, but with somewhat of a draggy middle where things get a little too twee. "Unless It's Kicks" is probably the best song: a driving rock anthem to not letting being in a rock band wear you down. But it cannot beat "John Allyn Smith Sails" for pure awesomeness. The song starts acoustic, with a narrative about the poet John Berryman and his 1972 suicide, then segues into a cover of "Sloop John B." the traditional most known by its cover by the Beach Boys. "Sloop John B." people! Listen to it

2. Elliott Smith - Waltz #2

I found a live version of this song off the XO album somewhere and it's great: sad and sweet, melacholy and anger over the people we should know best but who are forever out of reach. Here's a similar live version:

Truthfully, I don't own a single Elliott Smith album; I'm fearful of spending the money and finding that his whisper-singing drives me nuts ("speak up! I can't hear you!"). And finding the original album version of the song does nothing to reassure me (it's audio only):

With the heavy drum line, it make me imagine that they're playing in some honky-tonk bar. And someone please explain the backing vocals to me. Why?!

3. The Smiths - Girlfriend in a Coma

I've been singing this 2 minute ditty for days now. I can't explain it, but I know it's brilliant (because "it's serious"?).

4. LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great

This song hasn't been released as a single yet, so I'm not sure if this is the actual music video for it (and the song seems to be a little faster than my album version) but whatever:

LCD Soundsystem has gotten a lot of press as sort of confessional indie music with an electronic dance music soul. The album, Sound of Silver, is pretty good, although I kind of think that "Someone Great" is the only can't miss track. But I can't help but wonder: who is supposed to listen to this music? What sort of giant electronica wave is LCD Soundsystem supposed to be on top of? Most people listen to electronica when they want to stop thinking and start dancing. Are people really going to start listen to it on the radio while their driving to work? Are they going to play this in Starbucks? What are we, French? (Yeah, I really don't know what makes me think that this is what the French do.)


Monday, September 17, 2007

What I Learned This Summer

So, truthfully, I don't remember 90% of the things I intended to put in a post with this title, but I'll give it my best '10 minutes after finishing one work assignment, 10 minutes before starting on another' shot:

1.) The way Germans say 'cool' is really cute. No really. It's like 'kuhl' with a bit of a rising intonation (you have to say it with a little smile). Ask Sean. He does a pretty good imitation.

2.) Even more surprising, salad is really good in Germany. In the U.S., a side salad (even in some really nice restaurants) is a couple pieces of limp iceberg lettuce. I've never seen iceberg lettuce in Germany. All the salads have really great looking and tasting greens (sadly, I don't know the names of different kinds of lettuce) and corn. Salad is really good with corn.

3.) Bring cash when you travel. In Germany and a lot of other places, credit cards aren't widely accepted (and bring small coins and make sure you've broken that fifty; no one likes to give you change).

4.) As terrible as I feel for being a stupid American and not bi- or tri- or quadlingual like some people here, it wouldn't matter if I knew 10 languages if one of them wasn't English. It's not just the language stupid American tourists use in Paris and worldwide, it's the language French tourists use in Budapest, the language Italian tourists use in Prague, etc. So, that's something. (Totally unrelatedly, everywhere I went I saw Japanese and Chinese tour groups. But I also saw young Japanese couples traveling on their own. Given what I know about Japan, not all of these couples could possibly be conversant in English, so they must be winging it. Pretty adventurous and impressive.)

5.) D'oh, I totally had a #5 and forgot it as I was writing #4.

[Updated 17.09.07, 11:44pm: Ah-ha! 5.) Did you realize that Canadians, the British, and all the Germans I've met refer to English units as 'imperial units'? It makes sense, but, honestly, it never even occurred to me and I'd never heard the term until I moved to Germany. I once tried to explain to someone that no American would ever use the term 'imperial units,' but they didn't really get it.]


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Summer's Over

I put Sean on a bus to the airport this morning (which explains why I'm at work at ten before 9AM). It'll be pretty weird without him. For one, I'll have to -- gasp! -- cook and clean for myself. But we basically moved into my current apartment together, so it'll take some getting used to just living there alone.

One the plus side, I can stop watching out for my nosy landlord (and start looking for him). He showed up one day a week or two after Sean arrived and was not happy at all to see that I had a guest. We avoided him for the rest of the summer by very paranoidally sneaking Sean in and out of the apartment and assiduously avoiding saying my landlord's name three time while looking in the bathroom mirror.

This probably also means that I'll start blogging more. I'm thinking that I should do a wrap-up of what I learned this summer.

Finally, there's some possibility that the Chicago Cubs will make the playoffs. What should I do if they make the playoffs? Playoff games might start at 2 in the morning. And the only option I'm aware of is paying for in order to listen to them. Suggestions?


Monday, September 03, 2007


My summer of tourism is almost over. It is supposed to be capped by a trip to Amsterdam this weekend, but, while train tickets were cheap, hotel rooms have been impossible to find at any reasonable price. Prague is a pretty good way to end a series of trips, though. Unfortunately, I'm too scattered these days to do Prague justice (in blog form), so you'll have to make do with a bunch of photos and some random notes.

The Old Town Square has this astronomical clock

in the tower of the Old Town Hall:

Before each hour, a giant crowd grows:

They're here to catch a glimpse of this (figures of the apostles pass the windows and wave -- it's not that exciting):

The other buildings in the square are pretty cool. Like this one

and this one, where Tycho Brahe is buried (sadly, when we wanted to go, it was closed).

From the top of the Old Town Hall, there's a nice view:

You can also see across the river to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral.

We spent one afternoon up there at Prague Castle, looking at all the pretty buildings, a few museums and the gardens on the other side of the castle (and on the other side of a moat). Two neat things I learned here. 1.) Even after the introduction of Christianity, burial rituals were more informed by pagan beliefs and people were buried with limbs bound or dislocated and covered by rocks to ensure they'd stay put in the grave. 2.) You can stand in the room where the Defenestration of Prague which touched off the Thirty Years' War (the Czechs seem to be the inventors of defenestration; this was the second Defenestration of Prague) occurred. But those guys survived the defenestration unharmed! They landed in a pile of manure.

The house where Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler lived is up by the castle. It's now a restaurant (Sean and I stopped for a beer), but with nary a mention of Brahe or Kepler. (By the way, it's possible to get 0.5 L of beer for the equivalent of 1 euro in Prague.)

To get to the other side of the river, you can cross on the Charles Bridge

Here's the view from the bridge at sunset.

There's a crucifix on the bridge of with golden text in Hebrew reading 'holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts.' The Lonely Planet guidebook explains that the text was funded by the fine imposed on a Jewish man who had been convicted of debasing the Holy Cross. At one of the old synagogues in the Jewish quarter (now a museum), it explains that his offense was in a coded letter to a friend, which was never deciphered.

Several blocks from the river is the Powder Tower (there's no particular reason I threw this in there; it's just cool looking):

We spent another afternoon going to many of the synagogues in the Jewish quarter. This is the Old-New Synagogue, built in the 13th century (and inside it really feels like it, if that makes any sense). It's still in use.

There are more than 12,000 graves in the Old Jewish Cemetary, dating from 1478 until 1786. The tombstones pile onto of each other and the ground slopes up from the path as they added more dirt to put in more graves.

The most famous person buried here is probably Jehuda Liwa ben Becalel, Rabbi Löw. Here's his tombstone and some of the people praying at it (I didn't see people praying at any other tombstones). He's probably best known for the story of his creation of a golem to protect the Jewish ghetto. According to legend, the golem's remains are hidden in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue.


Friday, August 31, 2007

If Somehow You Haven't Seen This Yet

From the Onion, the best article of the year. They must have been saving this one for a long time.


Sunday, August 19, 2007


Last weekend, Sean and I went to Brussels. The week prior, we looked up the prices for the train online but went to the train station to purchase the tickets. There we got tickets for less than half what we were quoted online. It was a very nice surprise and we left feeling like we must have somehow gotten away with something.

The train (the Deutsche Bahn ICE) to Brussels was very nice. On the German side of the border, it was very fast, maybe 120 mph, and we reached the border in under an hour. On the Belgium side of the border, it was much slower, so in total it took 3 hours door-to-door, including switching trains in Köln. Though there was no stop at the border, the difference between Belgium and Germany was noticeable and not just from the differences in train station signage. Heading northwest from Bonn, the countryside changes from flat farmland to woods with pastures for cows. On the German side of the border, buildings are mostly plaster (over what I presume is brick) painted solid colors: white, gray, a light yellow, sometimes pink, etc. Crossing the border, the buildings feature rustic, exposed red brick.

In Brussels, the maps in our Lonely Planet guide were deficient and we constantly took the longest, most roundabout routes to places. We stayed in the middle of the city (inside the ring road) near the Grand Place with all cobblestone streets (which hurt my feet) and where all the other tourists stayed. Here are the highlights of Brussels according to me:


>> Hey, look over there; it's a giant iron crystal thingee.

  • Hmm, well, it looks kinda far and there's beer here.
>> I'm sorry, I didn't hear you, I was busy ordering beer.


Belgium is where many famous comic book/strip characters were created, such as the Smurfs and Tintin. Many buildings have cartoon murals on their sides. There are also many comics book shops in the city (you know what else there was a lot of? For rent signs. Odd, huh?).

Royal Palace

We went to the Royal Palace, which is free but only open during the summer. It was a strange mix of royal palace, art exhibit, science demos for kids, and Belgium science press releases. I really can't explain it.

Manneken Pis

This is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Brussels. It's also really small and unimpressive.

A Little Art

This is Pieter Bruegel the Elder's The Fall of the Rebel Angels.

Grand Place

The Grand Place is the old central market square in Brussels. Around the Hotel de Ville (the last two pictures) are the guildhouses, most built around 1700 after the French tried to destroy the Hotel de Ville and got basically everything but.


We had mussels every day.

Sometimes this meant braving a gauntlet of restaurants and waiters trying to lure you in (we took the picture during the off-hours). (Also, at one restaurant, one of the waiters started beating up another waiter -- something you don't see everyday -- maybe Sean will provide the blow-by-blow in his blog.)

While the mussels were great, the frites were severely disappointing. So very sad. The little box of chocolates we bought, however, was excellent.


Did you hear? There's a lot of beer in Belgium. Sean worked on the Trappist beers, while I worked on the lambics. We liked this place below so much, we went twice.

This place had 2000 beers in their beer book.

While we were there, some people ordered this:

It's at least 5 L of beer.

Lambic beer is the real champagne of beer. Traditionally, it's produced by spontaneous fermentation (left exposed to the open air so that fermentation may occur spontaneously) and takes several years to mature. It's unique to one region of Belgium and has a distinctive sour flavor. Some varieties have fruit (such as cherries or raspberries) added to them. It's fantastic. I tried the gueuze (a mixture of different ages) and the raspberry from the Cantillon brewery (very traditional):

I also tried the Mort Subite Lambic Blanche, Framboise (raspberry), and Kriek (cherry) and the Lindeman Framboise. To round it out, I had some fruit beers (not lambics): apple, cherry, strawberry. I think. At the Cantillon brewery tour, they explained that the term lambic isn't protected, so any beer to claim to be a lambic, whether they use spontaneously fermentation, mature for several years and use real fruit not sweetners, or not. So which of these other "lambics" are the real deal? Well, the Mort Subite definitely had the sour flavor, while the Lindeman (while fantastic tasting, like a real raspberry down to the tart/bitter finish) wasn't sour at all. Sean and I both really like the brewery tour; if you find yourself in Brussels, it's totally worth a look.

On the ride back, we sat next to the empty operator's cab at the back of the train. It was separated from the cabin by a glass wall which would turn opaque when we approached a station. Weird.