_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Real estate prose

I'm going to have to move out of my place within the next couple months because my landlord is selling the house. This is a major bummer for a number of reasons, including the fact that I really like the house and my roommates. For the moment, I'd like to highlight one particular reason this isn't much fun: wading through real estate listings. Specifically, the writing in real estate blurbs is absolutely insufferable.

Sometimes, it's just clunky:
"Secure accommodations where you will reside in proximity to some of our nation’s leaders."

Other times, it tends toward weird and/or carelessly written:
"Crispy hardwood floors!"

But the most popular approach, I'd have to say, is empty buzzword hyperbole:
"...this luxurious downtown Washington DC apartment building puts you at the nexus of District culture and commerce. This Southeast DC apartment building marks a new tier of luxury living in the heart of the nation's capitol. Make your home in Capitol Hill apartments in sophistication and downtown luxury!"

You know, I hear that last building is luxurious. But for all that luxury, they couldn't even decide what to call the neighborhood it's in -- three sentences, three different names. And of those three names (downtown, southeast DC, Capitol Hill), only one is a plausible name for the area where the building is.

The problem is that useful bits of information ("garden-level!") are often strewn amid the wreckage of this prose, meaning that you have to at least skim through countless repetitions of variations on these themes. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Johnny Flynn - Kentucky Pill
> Fran Healy (w/Neko Case) - Sing Me to Sleep
> Yeasayer - 2080
> Communist Daughter - Not the Kid
> Jack PeƱate - Pull My Heart Away
> Death Cab for Cutie - Crooked Teeth

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow jam

Yesterday I mentioned the big wallop of snow we got during last evening's rush hour, and how bad 16th Street looked by my house. According to the Post, it was even worse than it looked -- many were stuck for hours. (The article quotes someone who spent 5 hours traversing 6 miles of 16th St.)

At the risk of being a bit too smug, I'll note that my Metro trip home took the normal amount of time (though I'd rather have been biking), and after making dinner, I saw the traffic on 16th as I was walking a few blocks to a friend's place for tea and board games.

Metro car redesign

Holy moly, what a flash blizzard this evening -- from drizzle to furious snow to thundersnow to clear skies between 3:30 pm and 11:00 pm. With the rapid, wet snow, 16th St. near my house was almost literally stopped for several hours tonight. Glad I don't depend on a car to get home (and would like to avoid ever having to do that).

Anyway, speaking of transit, Metro is apparently soliciting public input on the interior layout of the new railcars that will soon be on the way. The Post has a public forum where folks can submit ideas. Some may not be entirely serious:
I would remove the doors, seats and air conditioning from the 1000 series cars, and give riders a credit for riding in these cars. they would be uncomfortable but cheap to maintain, and the swiping of their Farecard would operate as a release of liability."

(The 1000 series are the first cars purchased by Metro for its opening in the 70s; the NTSB has told Metro that they need to take them out of service because when there's an accident, they collapse into each other like the telescoping legs of a tripod.)

But a couple of very obvious themes show up in the comments, which Metro should be able to act on:

1) Perhaps a quarter of the comments ask for lower handholds that people of below-average height can use. Most of the current ones are at the top of the car, and this like it should be fairly easy to accommodate.

2) More than half of the suggestions are for changing the seat arrangement to benches along the walls of the car, instead of the commuter-train-style two-abreast. I wholeheartedly support this suggestion -- as many commenters point out, almost every other subway system does it this way. It's really a no-brainer, since the number of seats is almost the same, but standing room is greatly increased. Getting on a Metro train at rush hour is more difficult than it needs to be, because there's barely room for two people to get by each other in the aisle between the seats. Not only does this clog things up as people try to get in and out of the seats and aisles, but it leads people to linger by the doors because they don't want to deal with it, further gumming up the flow.

The only reason Metro hasn't opted for bench seats in their proposed layout is that they know there's a small but vocal group of people who ride from far suburban stops and view the Metro more like a commuter train than a subway. While this is somewhat understandable, it's just not workable at current ridership numbers. Perhaps Metro is hoping that by soliciting input, they'll be able to show a groundswell of support for bench seats, instead of making the proposal themselves and defending it against the likely onslaught of complaints...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to use a mouse

The Times has posted a timeline of Steve Jobs' reign at Apple, as part of their coverage of his leave of absence. It has a link to their original review of the first Macintosh. Being the first mainstream computer to use a mouse, the January 24, 1984 column contains the following passage:
You find either a word or an icon or pictogram on the screen representing what you want the computer to do, then slide the mouse on your desk to move the cursor into position over that screen object, then press the button on the mouse to activate that particular part of the program."

Sounds kind of difficult.

Monday, January 17, 2011


German can be kind of funny to begin with, but is definitely pretty awesome when paired with a cross-eyed opossum.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Potluck best practices

In early December I began what I'm calling my Potluck Initiative.* I realized that I always enjoy having people over for dinner, but I didn't get around to doing it often enough -- so I'm now having folks over every Thursday night. Somehow, giving it a name and a day of the week allowed me to do an end-run around my procrastination by changing the question from "Should I have people over for dinner?" to "Who should I have over for dinner next Thursday?"

I think it's worth devoting one night a week to the Potluck Initiative because it's one of my favorite social formats. If you have people over for a big party, it takes some doing, and you might not get the chance to talk to each of the guests for very long. Going out to eat is easy, but gets expensive fast, and you start to get anxious glances from the waitstaff if you linger for much more than an hour. Bars can be fun, but they're often loud and aren't cheap, either. Throwing a potluck is easy, cheap, and the dinner table naturally lends itself to leisurely conversation.

I've had five potlucks so far, and it's been a lot of fun. Each week I invite people I know from different settings -- college, grad school, work, DC Listening Lounge, etc. -- who don't know each other. This helps keep the conversation from falling into familiar ruts and gives everybody a chance to meet new people. Having everyone around a table avoids some potential pitfalls of trying to mix groups of friends.

You probably also enjoy having people over for dinner, and don't get around to doing it enough. Well, you should start a Potluck Initiative -- I'll let you set up your own franchise for a low fee. So far, I've established the following best practices for hosting a potluck:
  • Invite 4 or 5 people. Three guests is the minimum, both in terms of conversation and food. Once you hit six or more guests, however, the table is likely to split into sub-conversations and there'll be more dishes than you need. Four or five guests is just right. (Also, my table doesn't seat more than 6 people.)
  • Ensure people know no more than one other guest. Assuming you'd also like to mix it up in terms of groups of friends, it's okay to have two people who already know each other, but if you have more than that, it can get the conversation onto parochial topics that leave others idly pushing the food around on their plates.
  • Invite people about a week ahead of time. A potluck isn't the kind of thing you plan far in advance, so a week out seems about right, and still allows enough time to find other guests if folks are busy.
  • Send a confirmation email a day in advance. This ensures that everyone knows what they're bringing. But it also means that everyone has each others' email addresses, so they can send subsequent emails like "Good to meet you last night, here's that adorable slow loris video I was talking about."
  • Find easy recipes. As the host, I always make the main dish, but you don't need to make something fancy, and using recipe you're familiar with keeps it low-stress. I rely on lasagna, mac & cheese casserole, soups, and a couple other dishes.
  • Assign dishes ahead of time. Don't leave the variety of food to chance, figure out who's planning to bring what, and if anyone is vegetarian/vegan/etc. I generally present the options as side dish, salad, bread, and wine. Bread and wine are good for singles and people coming straight from work, while salad and sides are better for couples. I try to figure out what I'm making ahead of time so that the guests can coordinate (e.g. find the right wine pairing for mac & cheese).
  • Keep a spreadsheet. No, seriously, I actually do this. It's got a list of people I'd like to invite, as well as records of past potlucks. I can see if we had lasagna last time someone came, or calculate that the average time of adjournment has been 11:36 PM.

I'll provide updates to these best practices later, as I hone them through subsequent iterations. Meanwhile, I think we all recognize that you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, so let me know how your Potluck Initiative goes!

* In my head, this is a nod to the mumblecore film Funny Ha Ha. In one scene, the rudderless main character makes a to-do list that includes "Fitness Initiative!" as one of the items.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Snow in CT

What is that? It's the top of a submerged trash can at my parents' house in Connecticut. They got a whole bunch of snow in the most recent storm, which can be seen in the pictures Dad put on Flickr, if you're so inclined.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Half mast

Flags around the Washington Monument at half mast this past weekend.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

After a week of listening to The Current at work, I'm particularly enthused about this batch of (mostly new to me) music.

> Fitz and the Tantrums - Moneygrabber
> Wye Oak - Civilian
> Warpaint - Undertow
> Adele - Rolling in the Deep
> LCD Soundsystem - All I Want
> Superchunk - Digging for Something
> The Decemberists - 16 Military Wives

I particularly love the video treatment for "Moneygrabber."


It blizzarded ferociously while I was in Connecticut for Christmas. Davin suggested that he and I walk up to the bluff in the middle of it. It certainly took some effort, but it was fun -- the wind was blowing 40 or 50 mph when he took this picture of me. (It was taken at the overlook, but of course we couldn't see anything whatsoever.)

Had a nice Christmas visiting with the family. I posted a few pictures on Flickr.