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Sunday, February 28, 2010


When I drove my new (to me) 1992 Saab 900 to Carleton, it went kaput somewhere along I-90 in rural southern Minnesota. In a memorable episode, the bored, chain-smoking mechanics at the gas station spent a few minutes marveling at how strange these foreign cars are, then diagnosed the problem as a bad alternator. Thankfully, we were close enough to Northfield that installing a new battery gave us enough juice to get there and have the alternator rebuilt by someone more familiar with Swedish cars. The mechanics got a huge kick out of the wipers on the headlights as I backed out of the garage.

My dad is driving a 1996 Saab 900, and its alternator went bad this past Thursday on his drive home in the pouring rain. Fortunately, in the Saab-friendly land of Connecticut, all this required was a call to AAA to have it towed to the local Saab guy's place (well, and a repair bill).

My brother is driving a (different) 1992 Saab, and its alternator went bad this past Friday somewhere south of Twin Falls, ID while he was driving from Jackson, WY back to San Francisco. He was towed to the city ("one big strip mall," he said), where the mechanics diagnosed his alternator problem. They don't have Saab parts on hand in Twin Falls, and the garage isn't open on weekends, so Davin is spending a few days with that Built to Spill song stuck in his head, staying in what my mother referred to with dismay as a "fleabag motel," and seeing how much of Twin Falls you can cover on foot.

Incidentally, I'll be heading to San Francisco to visit this coming weekend. Presumably he'll make it back by then...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

There's a certain genre of New York Times article on social/lifestyle trends that could only appear in the Times. Specifically, articles focusing on issues that are only directly relevant to highly affluent city residents, and sourced almost entirely from anecdotes. These pieces are a bit ridiculous, but not nearly as insufferable as they sound from my description -- there's usually a grain of social trend truth, they're interesting, well-written, and usually allow readers a chance for a gratifying eye-roll or snicker at the upper-crust folks' expense.

There's a prime specimen of this genre on the most-emailed list right now, titled "Watch How You Hold That Crayon," about parents hiring occupational therapists to work with their children to improve their handwriting, often so that they can keep up with the stiff competition for admission at elite private nursery and elementary schools. I suspect part of the reason the article is on the most-emailed list is that plenty of people find the concept laughable. It also features the following passage:
"The nursery admission people tell you they want your child to be ready to learn how to write,” said the father, who spoke anonymously so his son wouldn’t run afoul of nursery school administrators. “And I knew they would take one look at the way my son held a crayon and he’d be out of the running.”

The father pointed out that many families use occupational therapists to help their children gain admission to elite schools. “Even with the economy like it is, the hottest question when we socialized at our country house this summer was not what country club do you belong to, but who is your child’s O.T. back in the city. And how can I get an appointment?”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Animal Collective - Watch the Fireworks
> Battles - Leyendecker
> Spoon - The Mystery Zone
> LCD Soundsystem - Get Innocuous
> The Arcade Fire - Rebellion (Lies)
> Avalanches (?) - [untitled track]

That's the same possible new Avalanches track I posted a while back. Sure do wish their new album would come out. They posted something about clearing samples in the middle of last year, but since their previous album had around 1,000 samples, I guess that could take a while.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Post-storm recap

I promise that I will move on to other topics besides the weather, but permit me one more post about the snowstorms.

Steve saw this NBC Nightly News piece about how people a few blocks south of us were coping with the snowfall:

The local Giant makes a cameo. (Though I would note that when I went on Friday night, there were still no eggs to be had in the whole store.)

The city sent a Bobcat to dig out our street on Friday, and it resulted it this very impressive 6-foot snow bank in front of the house:

My bike has been hibernating at work for more than a week. Steve points out that despite the reduced street widths, the pavement is bare on major streets, and biking is now easier than walking; I'm looking forward to riding it home from work on Tuesday.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


The whiteout conditions pictured in the previous post kept up through about 4 pm, and then the heavy snow appeared again later in the evening. But it's over now...I think we got another foot or so, but it's hard to tell with all the blowing and drifting. In any case, DC has now surpassed its previous all-time record for snow in a season, the 54.4" they had in 1898-99. (As an aside, who was so zealously measuring snowfall to the tenth of an inch in 1899?)

Work was closed again, of course. Aron came by this morning for some ping pong; at our urging, Mike trudged over at lunchtime (I'm not sure he would have come if he had realized how difficult it would be to get here from the Metro station). We played Risk, and occasionally exclaimed that it was still snowing in apocalyptic fashion outside.

In the evening, Steve, Nils and I headed to Ginger's house for a potluck and game night. It was only a couple blocks, but it felt like a major expedition when we had to charge through snowdrifts. After yet more eating and board games, this is what Newton Street looked like when we headed home:

Note that there are cars parked on both sides of the street, but you can really only see the ones on the left side.

I arrived home to find water coming in around the windows in my room. Several carefully-arranged buckets are now mostly keeping the drips off the floor. Work is closed again tomorrow for the fourth day straight, but I'll go in on Friday whether it's officially open or not, since I've had plenty of time at home...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Here's what it looks like outside my window right now:

Yikes. The office is closed for the third day in a row, though I actually went in for a few hours yesterday. A neighbor is having a game night potluck later, which I'll go to if I don't get snow blindness on my way there.

Monday, February 08, 2010


I went to Capitol Hill again today for a Super Bowl party. (Conveniently, I didn't have to work very hard at my annual ritual of pretending to care about football, as there was fairly little attention paid to the game.) I was going to take Metro (which is running on the underground sections), but when I arrived at the Columbia Heights station, they announced that it would be 30 minutes until the next train. Given that I would likely have also had to wait a long time for the transfer to the Red Line downtown, I decided to walk instead. I covered the 4 miles in just over an hour, which is pretty good considering the sorry state of sidewalk-shoveling. (I would like to self-righteously note that the area in front of my house is pristine -- you can see the sidewalk!)

In the course of my walk, I was surprised how snow-covered the streets still are. Despite sunshine today, nearly all roads, even major ones, are covered with packed snow. Side streets can verge on impassable. Metro has announced that tomorrow they will still only be running underground portions, and only a few bus lines will operate (and those only from 9am to 7pm). So I think it's safe to say that we haven't quite recovered from the storm. My office is closed tomorrow. Possibly complicating things further, the Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for Tuesday into Wednesday for the "potential for 5 or more inches of snow."

Anyway, I was going to brave Metro on the way home tonight, but as I left the party, there was a taxi dropping people off at the corner. Even though I'm very stingy when it comes to spending money on cabs, I took the opportunity, and it was a $20 well-spent. (Interestingly, when the cabbie made a remark about there being a lot of people out this evening, I made reference to the Super Bowl, and he said "The Super Bowl?". He did not know what it was, or that it had happened today. He was from Pakistan, and I explained that it was the championship match at the end of the American football season.)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Snowmageddon wrap-up

Quite a storm.

It snowed until 4 or 5 PM this evening, but Snowmageddon is now over. My relatively unscientific measure in the middle of the back yard shows about 20" of very heavy, wet snow. It comes up just past my knee, I had to kind of hurl myself forward to get to the middle of the yard. Wouldn't think that after years of living in Connecticut and Minnesota, the biggest snowfall I have ever seen would be in DC. Here's what the view out the back looked like a few hours before the storm ended:

Apparently locations north of here (between DC and Baltimore) received 36". I walked through downtown DC today on my way to Capitol Hill, and I think they had a few inches less. That matches the total measured at Reagan National Airport, 17.8" -- which makes it the fourth-largest storm on record in DC, and bumps the December storm to 8th, I believe. (Somewhat annoyingly, the airport is the official total for DC even though it's technically across the river in Virginia.)

I had a great day enjoying the storm...lounging around marveling at the snow outside, baking some orange-cinnamon coffee cake, shoveling, and later heading to Capitol Hill for some board games and dinner. I took a few more pictures today, which can be seen in my Snowmageddon Flickr set.

It feels very Minnesota-like here right now...packed snow on streets, renegade footpaths of tamped-down snow threading through uncleared areas, and roads and sidewalks that were a little melty in the afternoon refreezing to a crunchy state in temps that will be in the low teens tonight.

These gigantic mounds of snow are going to take a while to clean up or melt...getting around promises to be rather messy for a little while. Any bets on when I'll be able to start biking to work again?

Snowmageddon status

Not that I'm trying to provide breathless updates on the snowstorm, but...it's really snowing hard! Now the wind is picking up, and the power flickered a couple times. A couple hours ago things were more sedate:

That's the view from my front porch, but I also took a short walk and snapped a couple other photos.

Also, DCist had this amusing collection of grocery store madness photos.

Friday, February 05, 2010


So, we appear to have a major snowstorm on our hands (again). The snow has already started:

Apparently the only question is exactly how big the storm will be. The Weather Service recently updated their winter storm warning to call for snow totals of 20" - 30" in DC. Yowza.

I went into work this morning; it was pretty empty. It started to snow before lunchtime, and we were let out four hours early...I left my bike at the office (to avoid getting road salt on it) and took Metro home. I walked by Giant and saw that the lines stretched from each register to the back wall of the store, and there was little produce to be had. (When I went last night, there were no carts or baskets available, but there was still produce, and the lines only stretched halfway down the aisles.)

Metro will be closing the above-ground sections, but my stop is underground, so I can get downtown. I think I'll take a little walk on the Mall tomorrow morning, if I can, then head to Capitol Hill to play board games, as I did in December's Snowpocalypse. Should be interesting, and if the Weather Service is right, I suspect I won't be working on Monday.

As I was leaving the office this afternoon, I saw a woman who had paused by the door to put on a hat, scarf and gloves. "This is the first time I've seen falling snow," she said. She was in town from the Los Angeles office, staying through next week. "Well, it seems like this will be a pretty good example," I said. I wished her a good storm...when she walked out the door, she had a wide-eyed expression and turned her head up to look straight into the snow that was coming down. I'm sure she'll have a memorable weekend.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


As mentioned, I had a good weekend in New York, including Doughnut Plant (lemon, hazelnut), a couple nice brunches, seeing Alex and Alissa's new place in Park Slope, and catching up with an old high school friend.

One thing I wanted to talk about was the show that Alex, Shane and I went to on Friday night. The venue was in Bushwick, Brooklyn, which is a slightly sketchy neighborhood. We got off the subway, and didn't see the club...the only thing on the block was a guy standing next to a metal door that looked like an emergency exit for a warehouse. Amid all the graffiti, the door had a number scrawled on it in marker, and this turned out to match the address of the venue. We paused so Shane could finish his cigarette, but the guy asked us if we were going inside...he said "You can smoke upstairs" (unexpected, given the smoking ban) and shooed us inside. We climbed a narrow stairway, paid our $10, got our IDs checked, and proceeded inside.

The venue appeared to indeed be an old warehouse of some sort. There was only one unisex bathroom, and some people selling drinks from a folding table. Because the building was built between two angled streets, the main room was triangular, with the stage at the apex. But there were lots of people there, a young crowd. Alex observed that the style in which they were dressed was noticeably different from how we're accustomed to seeing people dress at shows. We were presumably just a few years older than most in the crowd, but noting the bit of cultural daylight between us and them did have a way of making one feel old.

The bands were experimental. There was a one-woman guitar drone performance that I liked. The headliner, Oneida, was interesting, but a bit too unstructured for me -- I think noise is good when it acts as a foil for the more ear-pleasing elements, but there was such an onslaught of discordant sound that it was overpowering. However, I think all three of us liked Zs, who managed to take discordant noise and shape it into compelling forms. The band's performance was impressively tight -- it almost seemed like they were applying jazz structures to the weird squalls of sound coming from their instruments (I say this without knowing a thing about jazz, so don't take it too literally).

Anyway, the whole thing was a cool New York experience...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Small Worlds, Part VIII

An addendum to my previous post:

I ran into Jeff at work today, and he said "Hey, did I see you in Brooklyn last weekend?" Apparently he did, as Alex and I were walking to the Brooklyn Museum, though I didn't notice Jeff. So, chalk up another coincidence -- though, as usual, it's not totally out of the blue, since we both went to see an exhibition that closed this weekend.

Coincidentally, Jeff had been part of an impressive coincidence-within-coincidence that happened previously.