Saturday, December 19, 2009

Random Germany Thought #2

Back the in the day, when I lived in Germany, I had the same stunning realization every time I visited the U.S. after several consecutive months of hearing nothing but various forms of European accented English: Americans talk funny. They have a twang, a cadenced whine. Not just Southerners or Texans. People I at one point would have said spoke normal, unaccented English sound like this. I probably sound like this. I'm sorry to report, it's not a pretty sound. Of course, about two minutes after I moved back to the U.S., I totally forgot about it.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Random Germany Thought

I took this picture at an outlet mall in New Hampshire and then forgot about it. But this vest (is it a fishing vest? what is it?) illustrates one of those little quirky differences between living in Bonn and living in Boston. This is the de rigeur fashion accessory for German retirees. Every white-haired man in Bonn sports one. I can't explain it. My neighborhood in Boston doesn't even have any retirees. Just yuppies.


DC in January?

Both Sean and my boss are out of town, so I'm commuting 90 minutes each way between an empty apartment and an empty office. Ridiculous. I'd work from home, but right now I don't trust myself to not sit on the couch all day.

Anyway, I'm thinking about going to DC during the AAS meeting, January 3-7. I'd stay Monday through Thursday. Anyone else going to be around then? I haven't committed to actually attending the meeting if I go (or going at all), so I might have a lot of time to hang out with people.


Monday, November 30, 2009

The Mountain Goats @ The Wilbur Theatre

Sean and I went to see the Mountain Goats last night at the Wilbur Theatre.

The Wilbur Theatre is a 10 minute walk from our apartment. It seats about 1200 with a general admission main floor and seating in the mezzanine and balcony. It's a nice place for a show. We sat the first row mezzanine, which are excellent seats. Living so close to the place also meant that I walked to the box office to buy tickets (I cannot stand all those online "convenience" charges).

Opening the show was Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy is essentially a solo project of Owen Pallett (although occasionally including a drummer). From skimming his wikipedia page, you'll find out that he's done the strings arrangement for such groups as Beruit and the Arcade Fire. Also, his second album has the awesome title, He Poos Clouds. I'm not sure how to describe the songs: intense baroque/geek pop? In live performances, what he does is play a few lines on the violin, then loop and sample those lines, and play another melody to the accompaniment of his original lines, then loop and sample those lines -- mixing and matching his samples, his playing, and singing. There's a little bit of stage magic too, controlling all the loops with (I couldn't really see) at least 4 foot pedals so you couldn't really tell at what point you're listening to him playing live and when you're listening to the sample. Pretty neat.

At this point, any reading the blog must know of my deep and abiding love for the Mountain Goats (that last link's to Tim's blog post which got me started back in the day). There's not a lot more I can say about that. But this was the first time I've seen them live, and so far I've got a few complaints about seeing them live:

Short shows. They played maybe for little over an hour. Sean saw them last year and it was the same. There was the opening act, and I don't feel like I got ripped off or anything, but it seems short to me.

The balance was off and the bass (both the instrument and the audio from the guy playing it) was too high.

The final thing is maybe a little uncharitable. At times, they sounded really good. And the middle section with just John Darnielle and his guitar was great. But with the full band and especially when playing their most popular songs, they really kick it up and play it loud. But the band isn't what makes the Mountain Goats the Mountain Goats. And the arrangements make them sound like a generic rock band (maybe a cover band comprised of suburban dads). On the other hand, I can understand that playing their most popular songs must be really boring for them.

Random point #1. The Mountain Goats are hilariously dorky-looking (and I've seen They Might Be Giants). I'd say they look like the band formed as a collaboration between the IT and accounting departments of a small medical supply company. When Sean went to their show last time, he took some friends who weren't very familiar with the band. One, they didn't recognize them when they came out to set up their equipment. Two, when they came back out to play and Sean's friend realizes that this is the band, he says "Is that Dwight Schrute?"

Random point #2. Even though I'd heard recordings of John Darnielle speaking before, it's rather startlingly in person to hear how different his singing voice is from his speaking voice. He sings in a distinctive, nasal staccato. Speaking, he's pitched much deeper and drawls (drawls!).

Here's the setlist as stolen from the Mountain Goats website forums.

1 Samuel 15:23
Old College Try
Psalms 40:2
Isaiah 45:23
Deuteronomy 2:10
Enoch 18:14
Genesis 30:3
From TG&Y (solo)
Blueberry Frost (solo)
Mole (solo)
Dance Music (solo)
(Owen comes out)
Going to Bristol
(everyone else comes back)
Hebrews 11:14
(Owen leaves)
Song for Dennis Brown (& hilarious Dennis Brown anecdote)
Genesis 3:23
This Year
Ezekiel 7 And The Permanent Efficacy Of Grace
Romans 10:9
No Children (w/ Owen on piano)

Mostly songs from the newest album. Enoch 18:14 is a bonus track. 3 songs from The Sunset Tree, 3 from We Shall All Be Healed, 2 from Tallahassee, 1 each from two other albums, 1 unreleased.

A studio version of the unreleased song "From TG&Y" is on the internet and linked above. Enjoy. I'd say that the live version was better.

Turns out John Darnielle appeared on The Colbert Report last month. I missed it but here it is.



Sean did all the cooking including homemade bread and apple butter,
turkey legs, Brussels sprouts, two kinds of mashes potatoes, pumpkin pie, and fresh-made whipped cream.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Best Books of the Decade

The AV Club has been running a series of "Best of the 00's" listicles. Given how slow my rate of book reading has been since I became an adult, I was rather pleased to see that I'd read 5 of the 20 books on the fiction list for "The best books of the ’00s." And since even better than a listicle is a ranked listicle, I thought I'd better order that subset of books:

1.) Never Let Me Go

I try to review the books I read at Each book can be rated on a five star scale. None of the I've rated so far have reached 5 stars. Never Let Me Go is the fabled 5 star worthy book. It's incredibly difficult to talk about this book without giving away the plot; I'm not going to even try. It's very short. It's easy to read. But it's impossible to put away. I think that the works of art I appreciate the most are those that strive to be the simplest. It's why Spirited Away is my favorite Miyazaki film.

I read this book in one sitting from 8pm to 4 am or so. Then I crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling and thought about it.

2.) Middlesex & 3.) The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay

I really love The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay, but Middlesex may be a little better. Kavalier & Clay is a fantastic story set about the "Golden Age" of comic books -- before, during, and after World War II. It's the kind of book you wish you were talented enough to write, the kind of book the grown-up version of any book-obsessed kid would have to love. I was in the Canary Islands when I read it (the Canary Islands!), and I'd steal some time after lunch to go back to my hotel room to finish reading it. With its pulp influences, it's a great story.

Middlesex is a great story too: like Kavalier & Clay it's about family, adventure, and the making of Americans with a historical setting. But it's one that that seems so real and yet so unique that I could never have conceived of it as a kid. I had to read the book first.

4.) Gilead

I read this book while severely jet-lagged and I remember thinking it was very good, but I'm not sure I found it particularly original or unmissable.

5.) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Of the 2000s Harry Potter books, I'm not sure I'd pick this one as the best. Way better than The Order of the Phoenix, probably a little better than The Deathly Hallows. But I seem to have very fond memories of The Goblet of Fire. What do you guys think?

By the way, most of these I reviewed on goodreads and Eugene wrote a whole bunch on Never Let Me Go at his blog.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

This Morning

I saw this when I came in this morning. I share the office with a
grad student though. I guess grad students don't merit name plates.


Monday, October 26, 2009

New Hampshire

Taken Sunday from my iPhone.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Still Alive

Just a note to say that I'm still here and the blog is still alive (I had to get this one in, so September wasn't totally blogless). Lots of planned posts, but as it turns out it's much more difficult to blog when I don't have work to avoid doing. ;) But I'll be back and running soon, I promise.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Goodbye Germany

So if you've missed all the references in the last few posts, I'm leaving Germany. I'm going to Boston, where I'll be living for at least a few years. I began this blog to document my adventures 'abroad', so there will be a few posts in September wrapping up my time here (pros & cons of Germany, travel summary, ... other ideas?). And what will happen to the blog once I'm ensonced in the USA? I'm not sure yet. For now, I'm going to keep going and see what's there to blog about life in the States. But I may end up pulling the plug. Don't worry, though, I won't just leave you hanging; if it looks like there's not enough to sustain the blog, I'll do a 'goodbye blog' post.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back in the Office

After 3 weeks and 1 day, I've finally gotten back into my office -- 4 days before I leave the country for good. But, finally, new windows:

Unfortunately (after 3 weeks and 1 days), there aren't any blinds yet. And my office gets sunlight all day long. So, it'll probably be hot (not so bad today) and impossible to see my computer screen. You can compare them to the old windows here (notice the lack of a dirt line in the new windows -- I tried to illustrate the old dirt line here). Looking out and through the new windows!


Sunday, August 16, 2009

I Did It!

I live in Poppelsdorf, a neighborhood in the city of Bonn. Just south of Poppelsdorf is Venusberg, and, then, south of that is the Kottenforst, a forest. It's not too far from Poppelsdorf, maybe a little more than 3 miles. To get to the Kottenforst, there are three options: go through the woods to the east of Venusberg, go through Venusberg, and go through the woods to the west of Venusberg.

View Kottenforst Bonn in a larger map

Going to the west of Venusberg is my usual route: run up the steep hill to the hospital, down the street with some pretty nice looking houses, through the wooded area to pastures with cows and horses, past the old brick bridge over a ravine with a very small stream, through the path that goes the back way to people's gardens, past the swimming pool, and home. You can run along the stream too -- very cute, winding along and over the stream. The furthest I've gotten is the green marker on the map.

On the other side, I usually get as far as the blue marker, running up the hill to the hospital, then winding back and forth and up and down through a forest path. This past weekend, I finally had the bright idea to go all the way to the top -- to Venusberg itself. There are running/walking/biking paths all over Bonn, along streets, through wooded areas, behind people's houses. That's the cool part. The bad part is that there are not really marked and you have to be careful that you don't get lost. I ran the path that went around Venusberg -- stopped to take in the view of the Siebengebirge and the Bad Godesberg castle. Then turned left to run through the forest. I hadn't decided how far to go, but I could see ahead that the forest was thinning -- blue sky ahead -- and then I was at Annaberger Hof.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Munich Again

After Salzburg, I spent a couple days hanging around Munich. Unlike my first visit, it was sightseeing-light, beer-drinking heavy: two beer halls, two beer gardens. The best Bavarian beer, in my opinion, is Schneider and you can get it at the Weisses Bräuhaus, where we had weißwurst. Weißwurst is supposed to be a morning thing, so we had to be there and drinking by noon. I feel like the Weisses Bräuhaus isn't as touristy as some bräuhaus-es and our (in typical fashion) gruff waitress totally warmed up to us -- even in our American ineptitude. The Hofbräuhaus, on the other hand, is a ginormous tourist trap and the waitress there (in a first for me in Germany) actually grubbed for a tip -- but it's probably still mandatory to visit.

In a typical Bavarian beer garden, they have stands for beer and food but it's acceptable to bring a picnic and only pay for drinks. We went to one out of the city center (near a very expensive looking neighborhood). Here's me and my friend Amy at one of the biergartens (thanks to Amy for the pictures in this post).
We also went to the beer garden by the Chinesischer Turm (Chinese Tower) in the Englischer Garten (English Garden, duh), a large public park in the center of town. It has 7000 seats and is the second largest in Munich. Germans are very committed to the outdoors; it hailed on us (we were partially protected by trees) and the people around kept on sitting and socializing.

There's a river in the garden with a standing wave that attracts surfers. Here's a picture of them:


Wednesday, August 05, 2009


Before I got booted from my office, I took a few days off and met up with a college friend in Munich. We took the train to Salzburg for a day. For all my obsession with visiting Salzburg, it was disappointing. Cute, but the weather was way too hot, and just not very exciting.

Above is the Mirabell Gardens with Festung Hohensalzburg (the city's fortress) rising above it. Behind me is the horse fountain that where the children and Maria sing 'Do Re Mi' in The Sound of Music. In addition to locations for the movie, Salzburg is known as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There's at least two museums devoted to him. This is the Mozart Geburtshaus -- the house he was born in. There's a museum, but it's expensive (7 euros), small, confusing, and not very enlightening. You do get to see some of his hair (yeah, really) and the little violin he played as a child.
After a couple not so successful attempts, we found the path up the hill to the fortress. We didn't go inside, but walked along the hill top from the fortress to Mönchsberg. It was cooler up there. Here you see the fortress, where we started, and some of the hilltop we walked along.
The other side of the Salzbach river and Kapuzinerberg (the hill sticking up from the city).
In addition to Festung Hohensalzburg, there was a lot of small, old, ruin-y fortresses up there.
Two views from the hilltop looking away from the city (i.e., the other side of the hill).

We stayed the night, and the next day, before heading back to Munich, we went to Untersberg. Untersberg is a mountain 16km south of Salzburg (we took the bus there) and over 1900m high. There's a cable car to take you to the summit. It's pretty expensive (21 euros, I think), but actually pretty cool. There's a little peak halfway up the mountain and I think it must be pretty scary to get there and see the ground drop away from you again as you continue up. I was crammed in the middle of the car and didn't see anything, but I heard a few gasps. Going up.
At the top, there's a path to a couple high points, and a sign that indicates that you can walk (90 minutes) all the way to an ice cave. We just sat and had a drink and took pictures.
Vaguely west-ish.
North-ish, you can see Salzburg in this one.
Going down.


Monday, August 03, 2009

Working from Home

It's 11AM on Monday morning and I'm working from home. And I'll be working from home for a while. They are replacing all the windows at work, meaning that my desk had to be cleaned out, the computer shut down and stored somewhere, and I won't be allowed back into my office for two weeks. (That's right, not only do I not have a place to sit at work, they shut down the computer on my desk too.) The timing is particularly annoying since -- if you didn't know already -- I'm leaving at the end of the month. So, I've cleaned out my desk and mailed 20kg of stuff to the U.S., but in two weeks I'll have to go back to work in an empty office for another two weeks before I leave. Anyway, here's the (very dim) before picture:


Monday, July 20, 2009

Italy - Bologna

On the last day of the trip, we took the train to Bologna and met up with another friend. He gave us a quick tour of the city (really excellent, so if the astronomy thing doesn't work out...).

This is the Basilica of San Petronio. The building was started in 1390 and completed in 1659, although the facade remains unfinished. Many plans for completing have been proposed but, as our friend remarked, "in typical Italian fashion, nothing's happened." Inside, there's the longest meridian line in the world, 66.8m, calculated and designed by Cassini. A description and photo of it can be found here.

Bologna is notable for all its arcades, allowing pedestrians to walk protected from the (very hot) sun. I didn't get a good picture of them, unfortunately. Bologna is also home to the University of Bologna, the oldest existing university in the Western world (founded in 1088!). Here's a photo of the anatomical theater (which dates to 1637).
The Seven Churches (Santo Stefano) is a collection of four (once seven, hence the name) Medieval churches, interlocked into one big complex. Parts of the church date to the 5th century and it's well worth a look. This photo isn't of the front or any particular part, but the wall caught my eye.
There were once over a hundred towers in Bologna, built by the richest families in Bologna in the 12th and 13th centuries. Many have collapsed or been destroyed. The two towers here are the most famous. The taller one is the Asinelli tower (97m) and the smaller the Garisenda tower (48m). Both of them are crooked. The Garisenda tower once stood 60m, but was lowered when it started to lean dangerously. It's mentioned several times in Dante's Divine Comedy.
After the tour, we had lunch (I had some really excellent melon and prosciutto) and headed to the airport.

And (woo-hoo!), I'm done blogging about Italy just in time to go to Salzburg tomorrow.


Sunday, July 19, 2009

Italy - Florence

A couple random notes on Italy: 1.) Despite my fears and the many horror stories I'd heard, every train we took was more or less on time. 2.) Italy is pretty cool and now I kind of get why it's such a ridiculously popular tourist attraction (kind of). It's too bad that my itinerary wasn't particularly me-friendly since the mountains were full of flowers (and I have allergies), there's tons of cheese (and I'm lactose-intolerant), and I had to ride around in buses through mountainous regions (and I get carsick).

Anyway, on to Florence.
This is the Duomo in Florence. What you're looking at is the Baptistry in the foreground, with the church behind, and Campanile (bell tower) jutting up behind the Baptistry. The giant red dome you see in the back is the largest brick dome ever -- created by Brunelleschi, completed in 1436 -- and the thing to do is to climb the stairs between the inside dome and the outside dome all the way to the top (not a great picture).
It costs 8 euros and there are some 460 steps. That's only 80 more than in Corniglia, so we scoffed at the signs warning that there is no lift. We were right to scoff; it was pretty easy.

Here's the fresco on the inside of the dome.
On the way up, you stop at the lower balcony, below the stained glass windows, while on the way down, you stop at the upper balcony.

Here's one of the balconies:
Looking down from one of the balconies:
From the top balcony, looking across
and looking up.

A little aside: inside the cathedral (and every cathedral), bare shoulders are a no-no. At the Milano Duomo, women sold cheap shawls right outside. Here, they gave out hospital gown-stype paper ponchos:

The top of the dome had some pretty good views. To the front of the cathedral and now you can see actually see the bell tower.
The big church in the middle is Santa Croce, which we visited the next day.
The large tower to the right is Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall. To the right of it (the three arches) is the Uffizi. The Uffizi is right next to the Arno River, so the green hills you see in the background are across it.

After climbing the dome, I was pretty hot and thirsty, so I got a granita from an ice cream place across the street. As we were standing and eating/drinking, a gypsy woman came up to us to beg. I guess she didn't like my response because she ripped the cup out of my hands (and I had a firm grip on it!) and walked away. We just stared in shock. I was basically done with it, though, and already thinking of where to dispose of it, so thanks random gypsy woman, I guess.

On the way back to the hotel that evening we saw these sidewalk chalk artists working.

The next day, we got up early to go to the Uffizi. Since we hadn't reserved tickets weeks in advance (as every guide book will suggest), we were somewhat nervous about waiting in line for hours for nothing. The museum is supposed to open at 9AM. We got there at 8:45AM to find signs saying that due to a staff meeting, the museum would open at 10:30AM. The without-reservations line was probably about 100 at that time. If the museum had opened at the usual time, we probably could have been inside within an hour. We could have left and come back, of course, but the line would have continued to grow while we were gone (and I'd guess that maybe only 20% of the people in line realized that the museum would not open on time). So, in the end, we waited. And by the time, we made it into the museum, we had waited for 3 hours (yikes!).
The most famous pieces are probably Botticelli's The Primavera and The Birth of Venus. This work is also in the collection, although in a room so dim it was nearly impossible to see. We got the audio guides but found them rather disappointingly unenlightening.

The Uffizi is near Ponte Vecchio, a Medieval bridge crossing the Arno with shops built onto it. All the shops are jewelry stores. I took this picture from inside the museum, I think.
For tiny streets, there's a tiny public bus:

Afterwards, we went to the Basilica of Santa Croce.
They had a really cool audio guide (totally worth it), although we got there kind of late and had only time to hear the highlights. They were restoring parts of the church and here you can see them working on it as tourists wander past.
Santa Croce holds the tombs of many famous Italians, such as Rossini,
and Dante.
Afterwards, we crossed the river and went up Piazzale Michelangelo. Even though it's basically a parking lot with some benches and a railing, I guess it's known as the place to be because it was full of tourists and people hawking knock-off handbags. (We heard about it from another tourist in the line at the Uffizi. He warned us about the 'many, many steps' to get up there. Pshaw.) The views were excellent. In this one, you see the old city wall to the left, the Boboli Gardens behind that, then down the river to the west, with the Ponte Vecchio the first bridge you see.
And here's the view in another direction, lookin across the river, where the Ponte Vecchio is out of the frame to the left of the photo. Coming down from the hilltop, I took this photo crossing the river at sunset.