Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Way behind, but proud of Aidan...

Yes, yes, I know: I have a large backlog of posts and every intention of attacking it Real Soon Now.

This evening, though, Aidan was sitting at dinner and made me proud enough that I wanted to post right away :-).

A: "Dad, why are brothers and sisters not allowed to marry one another?"

me: explanation; he gets genes and DNA at least a basic level, so the concept of recessive etc. was no big deal.

A: "OK. But then how come I can raise only one eyebrow when I couldn't have got that gene from either you or [Jenny] because you can't do it?"

We discussed - briefly! - some possible explanations; but I was just really happy to have him thinking about this stuff and asking questions entirely spontaneously. He got icecream and extra kisses :-)).

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

UK trip - mass photo post

We had a week in the UK, with a couple of days in Paris inserted in the middle (primarily for Aidan to see the Eiffel tower - see next post); not much tourist stuff this trip, almost entirely visiting family. Those of you - are there any? - not related to me will wish to skip the following photo barrage...

Incidentally, the rather large young man with a naked Keiran on his lap is only 5 (I think!) - my sister has *large* sons!

Food porn: Salmon Wellington

We have a local food/restaurant blogger and reporter, Steve Barnes, whose writing I like and whose taste has generally proven good. In a recent post, he gave a recipe for Salmon Wellington. I'd been meaning to make Beef Wellington - mmm, steak AND pastry! - for a long time, and this was a version that also appealed to Jenny, so I made it for a fancy-guest-dinner. I thought it came out really well, and was not too hard, either; I've made it once since, and it really shows off the excellent salmon Jenny tracked down at Two Cousins fish market (also from a suggestion of Steve's). Yum.

[The second photo is of the caramel-cream sauce just before adding pinot noir and reducing. I am always surprised by how foolproof caramel is to make and manipulate!]

Yono's - another good Albany restaurant

We are slowly finding good places to eat here. Yono's is one of the oddest, in an entirely good way!

The location put Jenny off initially: it's in the downtown Hampton Inn. The front bar area has a casual brasserie, and the chef - Yono - was out there socialising and enjoying his wine list :). But the formal dining room is through a further door, and leads to a cozy, very elegant room that reminds me very much of Victoria&Albert's at Disney: a secluded escape space much more upscale than its surroundings. Service was excellent and very much in line with the space; they didn't blink at our informality (we were not expecting such a place!) or the presence of two small boys. Kudos.

The menu has two halves: one is Indonesian, reflecting I believe Yono's birth and upbringing, with the other being fairly standard US/international. Choosing was *difficult* - there are enough items which have high appeal that I would have had no trouble placing three or four complete orders [kurobuta marinated pork belly, an interesting foie preparation, alligator, ostrich (with mushrooms and more foie)... an that's ignoring the Indonesian side]. We went, though, for the special mini-tasting menu offer of four courses for $44, wine three wines paired for only $10 more. Pretty superb value. [Aidan had Indonesian fried rice and a fish dish that I am blanking on.]

The food didn't quite live up to the high expectations, but was never bad: the venison of my main course was simply a little too bland and overwhelmed by unsubtle fig sauce, the snapper of the appetiser slightly overcooked. But some items were great: the presentation of Jenny's bisque as a cup of tea with a fried wonton as the teabag, the slice of almost-raw tuna as an amuse-bouche, and other touches. Looking at the menu online right now, it's entirely changed for today, suggesting an unusual responsiveness to ingredient availability, and we plan to return several times. The wines also deserve mention: generous pours, well-matched, high-quality, and again not a hint of reservation at replacing a newly-opened but corked bottle.

Overall, remarkably good and a hugely pleasant surprise. Very glad to find Yono's as we continue to explore Albany's dining scene.


The local YMCA has - among many virtues - an extremely enthusiastic hike/bushwhack/outdoors leader, who recently acquired Y accreditation to be allowed to lead groups. The first of these was a gentle snowshoe trip, and seemed like an excellent opportunity to get Aidan and Jenny some new snowshoes and play in the snow.

Oh, and Keiran came, too :-).

We all had a blast; special thanks to Alan (the leader) and to Jeanette (I believe) who acted as 'sweeper' and came back to find us when we were initially slightly late. Aidan got to go break trail, which he loved, but he is so light that it didn't actually break trail much for the rest of us..

Back in the groove. OK, more like jolting over a rut.

...and no, nothing here is an April Fool's post. I seem to have skipped March entirely, and am hence once again catching up.

This will swiftly end as I try to hit the various grant opportunities available from the stimulus funds in the next, um, 2-3 weeks or so... but for now, let's throw up some more pics and so on.

First up: me being somewhat silly and attemptedly arty in self-portrait mode. Otherwise known as one of the very few photos of myself I actually quite like!

Monday, February 23, 2009

BBC book list meme

BBC Book List: Apparently (and as currently infecting the blog world) the BBC reckons most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. I fgured this would be a good first step into blog memes!
1) Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading. I think frankly I can assume that anything on here is likely to be on my 'plan' list, but we'll see.
[My addition:]
4) Italicise those started but not finished

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen X
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien X+
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling X
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee X
6 The Bible X
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte X
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell X+
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman X
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens X
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott X
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy *
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller X
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare X
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier - OK, so I was wrong; no desire to read this.
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien X+
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks *
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger X+
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger X
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot *
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell X
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald X+
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens X
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams X+
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky X
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck X+
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll X+
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame X
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy X
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens X
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis X+
34 Emma - Jane Austen X
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis X+ (How do both this and general Narnia make the list?)
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini *
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Berniere *
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden X
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne X
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell X+
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown X (what is this doing on the list?)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving X
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins X
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery X
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy *
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding X
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan X
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel *
52 Dune - Frank Herbert X+
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons X+ (and the radio show also)
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen X
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth (OK, a second I have no interest in),
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens X+
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley X+
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon X+
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez X
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck X+
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov X
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas X
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac X
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy X
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding X
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie *
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville X
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens X
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker X+
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson X+
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath *
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome X
78 Germinal - Emile Zola *
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray *
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens X
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker X
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro X+
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert X
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White - X+
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle X+
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton X (poor choice of her works, though)
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad X
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery X
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks X
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams - X
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole X
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute X
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas X
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare X (see number 14!)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl X+
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo *

Which is 71 completed, I think. Silly list. I would bet on a couple of folks I know being close to 100..

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An actual work post?!

No, really :).

I have been pondering teaching. Class this semester is (as least to me!) going really well: I have a critical mass of students who are unafraid to speak up and who are willing to suggest tangents to which material may be related. The material is largely prepared and those parts which are not, I have the pile of sources assembled (read: have not been up until a.m. the night before class!) And I have not (yet?) lost the high from being 'on stage' in front of the class. On the flip side, the class is not so big as to be unmanageable; I know the names of most of the regular contributors. I'm really enjoying teaching, and the vibes coming back are positive.

Possible negatives:
* class participation is a part of the grade; but there are still a significant number of folks sitting at the back, not taking part. I plan to note the consequences of that quite explicitly next class
* too much diversion. I hope that being able to tie the class content to concrete examples helps it to stick and make sense, but I have to be careful not to get too far off-track. For instance, we've been discussing feeding control pathways; I think it's appropriate for the class to spend a moment thinking about the concept of actual hunger - foreign to them - but not for the whole class to be devoted to global food politics :-). [Which is a danger in part because I would enjoy such a class-long digression!]
* speed. I know from some of the post-class questions that some folks in class are having a hard time keeping up. That's another reason for the frequent question pauses and parenthetical material: allows folks to catch up and consolidate. But teaching to such a large ability curve is always going to be tough here. I'll keep working on the right balance. But I'm still unwilling to give handouts that even come close to substituting for class presence. Any advice?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Keiran photo post

Pretty up-to-date: here's Keiran as he looks (well, as of a day or so ago) perched up on my shoulders. Both photo and video, no less :-).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Photo quality

Brief note: Blogger seems to apply a dusty haze to all pics uploaded. They start out much clearer: if you want a better copy of one for some reason, drop me a line!

Aidan, fashion plate

Am I *sure* this is my kid?

Aidan has recently developed very strong interest both in 'looking spiffy' and in what exactly constitutes same. Here's his most recent 'getting dressed up for school hat day' ensemble:

Not as obvious, but equally considered, is the outfit he wore to have a couple of my lab members come take care of him and Keiran last weekend while J and I went to her company's annual party:

- he's instructing the crew in details of how to play TransAmerica. I'm told that he won both that and the StarWars Monopoly that Scott (whose back is to camera) had brought in the hopes of gaining revenge for his previous loss.

OK, maybe he's my kid :-)).

Moon over VT

We spent a fun couple of days up in VT with friends recently. Getting there, no problem, although the Golf had one refusal at their steep, twisty, dirt road.

Then it snowed.

Getting *down* said road in the absence of traction control, snow tyres, chains, >2-wheel drive, or other accoutrements was a tad tricky. I left Jenny and the boys at base camp (with the snow-tyred Subaru!) while I tried to get down using the snowbanks as a braking device. Lots of fun, for certain high-epinephrine values of fun!

Almost worked; I only needed one tow truck. Whose driver looked at my almost-bald tyres and managed not to say 'bloody idiot,' instead limiting himself to 'well, no wonder' :).

Yes, I now have new tyres.

Anyway: adventure aside, we took some neat moon photos from the deck of the house.

Two boys

A random Saturday morning with matching yellow-clad boys.

You can have 'sweet' version:

or Aidan-preferred 'lunatic' version:

:-). I think Keiran is still getting used to his elder brother's antics..

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Aidan, photographer

This past Sat, Jenny and I went down to CT for her company's annual bash. That meant that we had to get sitters - plural - for the boys. Luckily, I have a lab full of folks willing to help out (yes, we paid them, despite protests. I'm really not that evil. Mostly).

[Thanks, Melanie, Vickie, Scott!]

Apparently Aidan was again enjoying digital self-portraits:

That kid is far too cute for his own good.

(The party was ok; food was better this year, and we had a good table, plus the CEO gave a decent speech. And Jenny got to do some important schmoozing.)

Tosca: a superb restaurant in Troy

Following the recent panning of SweetWood Grill here, I thought I should rapidly post a review of our favourite local(ish) restaurant up here in Albany. One of the concerns on moving here 6 months ago was that we'd be missing out on good restaurants, and there's *some* truth to that. However, there's a very strong local foodie scene - I should note in particular the restaurant review column of the local paper, Table Hopping - and we were very, very lucky to have one of our first restaurant visits be Tosca. It's one of a group of adjacent efforts from the same chef and staff, I believe: a gourmet market (with amazingly limited choices, honestly, even if they do carry Ribena!), a sandwich place that is *fabulous*, and the flagship restaurant.

It's possible to find mixed reviews of Tosca online; in general, they praise the food unreservedly but have qualms with regard to price, noise, or occasionally service. We've only been twice, but I've never seen any flaws in those areas (indeed, on our first trip we had one of the very best servers we've ever met). I would guess that a full meal with wine is going to cost ~$80 all-in, and that's certainly at the top end for the market; but it's worth it. From a sublime chilled peach soup, through an intensely earthy chargrilled wild mushroom side dish, to an exquisite rack of lamb, *everything* we've eaten there has been either very good or exceptional. As in, honestly, often better than our one trip to per se (sacrilege, I know!).

Anyway: very glad that Tosca exists locally. The 30 min trip is a bummer, but we'll continue to make it.

Halting State

- as in the recent book by Charlie Stross, possibly my favourite current author. I was about to launch a post in praise of this, which I read over the weekend, when one came out. So I put the guts of my intended post into a comment there; the discussion will undoubtedly be more energetic over there, anyway, so go read.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama as Reaganite?

I somehow (OK, I bit a Bushie lure, mea culpa) got embroiled in a small Facebook tiff (to which it is I think impossible to link directly): a commentator suggested that Obama would be likely to govern a la Ronald Reagan. As I noted there:

From the Guardian today:
"Obama's conservative style – the fact that he invented a new tradition this year, by speaking at inauguration eve dinners in honour of Colin Powell and John McCain – gives him the space to act differently where it matters, on the substance.

There is a precedent, albeit indirect, for this trick. It comes from the man Obama hailed during the 2008 campaign as a "transformational" president: ­Ronald Reagan. Once elected, Reagan did not look over his shoulder at the previous consensus. Instead he seized the moment to drive through his own small government agenda, assuming the ­public would soon come around. He did not feel obliged to meet the centre-left halfway. And yet he wrapped it all in a warmth and charm that ensured it was not threatening. He too was a radical on substance, no matter how cosily traditional his style."

I think that's about right. Any admiration of Reagan will be of the style tricks, not - thankfully! - the policies that brought deficits, inequality, and military adventureship. Hmm. That would be a subset of the farcical idiocies that GWB brought. More of that from BHO? I think not.

The comment I responded to noted that "Knowing Reagan is one of Obama's heroes gives me hope that I know I'm not wrong. Thank God for that" and I could not resist a taunt:

"gives me hope that I know I'm not wrong. Thank God for that." - hey, in two sentences you managed to (i) hose the grammar, (ii) assert personal infallibility and (iii) invoke a deity. Are you *sure* you're not channeling Bush?

Hey, I gave the guy a day of peace in honour of the inauguration, but how much restraint do you want here? :)

SweetWood Grill - a poor experience

I used to have a bunch of restaurant reviews on my old UVa web page, now long since defunct; with the move to Albany, I thought that it would be useful to start that up again.

The proximal spur for this, though, was a really poor meal and bizarre experience up in Vermont last week. We'd gone to visit friends, I'd just finished a big grant, so we wanted a nice meal. Our hosts chose the SweetWood Grill, and it seemed pleasant enough; the wine list is pretty well chosen, too.

Appetisers - e.g. a cod 'brandade' which was just a deep-fried very bland ball of meal and a little fish - were OK but not inspiring. Service was fine, again innocuous - a couple of odd notes such as bread (excellent ciabatta) not arriving until half way through the main courses, but no problem.

Main dishes.. ah, there was the problem. My filet, ordered medium-rare: gray. I was surprised, honestly: that's a neophyte mistake. That brought the usual problem: send it back? Well, things had gone pretty slowly and we had the two boys with us, so no - just mention the problem to the waitress. Then I tasted the potato gratin under the chicken dish of one of our hosts, who asked me "is this supposed to be so bitter?" The potato was *raw*. That's a bigger problem, especially as Jenny had ordered the same thing: the alkaloids in raw potato are toxic and NOT what you want in breastmilk! So of four entrees, three were really badly miscooked. Again, mention to waitress - slightly more annoyed now!

We had desserts, which were really very good (especially the creme brulee, classically and well done). The bill came. What didn't come was any word from the chef, note of apology, removal of any item from the bill, or such. So I left a cash tip for the waitress - she'd been basically fine - and noted on the check that the kitchen did NOT deserve a gratuity. The next day, our hosts received a phone call asking what the problem had been (!) so I sent a brief email to the chef, Jeff Lynn, to explain. What I got back was a vituperative screed of insult and defensiveness that left me off-balance for several hours - really quite amazing.

Net: I'm assured that this was an exception, but don't ever plan to return to check. The food that was good was in a couple of cases very good, but this is one of the very few restaurants (I think the first!) that's actually served toxic food to us, and the chef's rant was truly deranged - I would have to advise to steer well clear. 1/5 stars :-).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009's done.

Welcome, President Obama. May you not only do better than your predecessor - now *that's* a low standard! - but also maintain the hope, optimism, and calm with which you start.

If you could do something about our 401k and the national debt, too....

..thanks :).

Monday, January 19, 2009


Snow delayed the travel for Christmas, but the eventual trip was just fine - the only downside was that I knew I had to come back up on Boxing Day to begin my grant purdah!

From which there are few photos, other than one in passing from Jenny, on the trip back, of the VP-in-waiting's home... and so ended 2008. At least the grants got in on time!
OK, back to the catching up. Did I mention that I had been shovelling snow? I actually quite like this picture - I think it would make a good icon some place :).

A real post! Inauguration and folk music

We're rapidly approaching the final day on my '385 days until the moron is GONE!' calendar, and every commentator known to man has pointed out the delightful apposition of MLK Jr.'s day of remembrance, today, and tomorrow's inauguration. [OK, it *is* pretty cool.]

I just hope that we don't have the same buyer's remorse that hit the left of the UK Labour party with Blair. There are parallels - Tony eventually went off the deep end into faith-based governance, and the current US system allows only professed Christians to be elected, basically - but I do have hope: Gitmo is being closed (but the bigoted pastor still gets to speak at the celebration!), more money is going into science (but dammit, stop cutting taxes!), and the cabinet seems mostly full of smart people (if they are allowed to speak.. see Steven Chu on fuel taxes today..).

OK. For one day, I'm going to just permit internal belief that the progressive left might actually see some of their hopes realised. And as a symbolic startpoint? How about Pete Seeger singing the 'radical' verses of This Land is Your Land?

Keiran and house, mid Dec '08

Yes, more photo fodder. We got the first snow of the season - I calculated a week or so ago that I have shovelled about 5 tonnes thus far this winter, and we have a short driveway! - and Keiran was being cute. That's all ;-).

Vigeant/Stumbris visit

We were lucky enough to have house guests the first weekend in the house (that's not even slightly sarcastic; Margot and Steve are pretty much the first people that Jenny and I ever made friends with as a couple, and some of our very favourite people in the world. Gush, gush.) - so a total of four small boys (and their accompanying adults) enjoyed each other, some early Christmas presents, a walk in the woods, and generally hanging out. Most amusing moment: handing Margot one of her presents (a signed Neil Gaiman print) in a tube and seeing a wry smile on her face followed by "Ewan, open that flat package" - she had got me the exact same print, but framed!

As you can see from several of these pictures, the older three boys thought that the digital cameras were far too much fun :).

We also went to CMOST - the Children's Museum of Science and Technology - and had the place totally to ourselves! Not that we were complaining. The boys' favourite exhibit was the green-room 'be a weather anchor' video system, but the rockpool aquarium got my vote. And they had a neat planetarium/movie screen which we again had to ourselves (and could hence be silly in while lounging on cushions. Much fun)

It was a blast, and a wonderful way to christen the house.


...let's try this again: does the new storage in fact work to allow me to upload a picture of the shower? ;-)

Well, yes. Good!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The house is ours :).

You should come visit. Yes, YOU.

[Seriously. We love guests, and the chance that you're reading this and *don't* know us seems pretty minimal :)]

This is the moving-in day; the number of boxes has decreased (but not yet to zero) since then. Keiran is enjoying the new fire:

- we had a long debate over whether we should have a wood-burning 'real' fireplace or the gas imitation, with Jenny arguing for the latter. As you can see, probably, she - and convenience - won out. Jenny is also responsible for arty touches such as the mosaic :). I didn't get a fireplace; what I did get was a decent cooktop-oven combination:

and (most sybaritically) a shower. Not just a beautiful shower - although it is! - but also one that is (i) large enough for me to not feel cramped and (ii) has a 7' shower head instead of the usual below-my-head-height positioning :-)).

...err. Oops. Apparently the photos here have exceeded my hamster balance or something. OK, I have actually fixed this, but the fix will not be in place until tomorrow... so those of you waiting with bated breath will just have to wait until then for shower photos :-)