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 :-)

House buying

As I write this - Jan 18th - I just opened our 401k and realised HOW much money has vanished this past year. About 50%.

No, that's not a typo :-(. Picking smallcap and international stocks has been good in the past; not this year.

Which is one of many reasons that I'm glad we moved to a place where we could afford to buy a house that we *really* like without killing ourselves financially. Here we are at the closing - only 6 weeks behind schedule, pretty good for construction! - with Keiran being held by our realtor (Lisa Wallock; we'd recommend her if you happen to need a house in Albany)

and with Jenny and the attorneys.

For once we actually got our money's worth out of the legal fee: the very last paper (as in, I have the keys in my pocket and everyone has their coats on) had a title issue, and it took four of them several hours the next morning to resolve it, after I did not respond favourably to the suggestion that we should "just sign" papers binding us to conditions that didn't exist :-).

Anyway: one very large cheque, and an even larger debt, and we bought a house. Of which pictures should be next!

Behind again..

..yeah, yeah, I know. OK, time for another burst here.

[The planned updates here, as well as construction of a real homepage were scheduled for the vacation break. Until I got both my grant white papers accepted and spent the entire time working 20-hour days chained to the laptop. Argh.. but some hope, and at least I get brownie points for tenure even for just applying.]