There’s Biplanes Over Chapel Hill (and I’m not too surprised…)

Yesterday, the weather was nice, so after a late lunch on the screened in porch (where we let our cats explore as we ate… they don’t get to go out there much), we went for a bike ride. Our house is surrounded by a woods, and there’s a muddy trail that connects us to the Bolin Creek Trail, which is a paved bike/walking path that runs through the woody part of the central town. For reasons unknown –there was no special event that I know about– there was a biplane flying around over the town. That’s Chapel Hill. And on the way back on the dirt trail, there were 2 white-tail deer. The deer are no surprise in themselves… our neighborhood has a lot of them. But they were running from us with their tails lifted high, and their thick tails must have been a foot long! The effect was exaggerated by the white stripes on their behinds. I had just never seen such extravagantly long tails on deer before. We were both fascinated. I wish I’d brought my camera.


Wow… keep meaning to write in this thing, but I’m not yet in the habit. I seem to have reached the maximum number of things I can think about at any one time. Anyway, here’s the short recap of what has been going on with me lately. Having bought a house in Chapel Hill, NC, I was legally obligated to either get pets and buy a hybrid car, or become a vegan. Now, I’m a vegetarian, but I’m not crazy enough to go vegan, so we got a couple of cats named Prettyboy and Floyd from an animal rescue group and picked up a “seaside pearl” (that means “blue”) Prius.

We got the cats about 4 days ago, and they had a bit of a trial adjusting (we faced a challenge convincing them to use the litter box for a couple of days, which is lovely on the hardwood floors and the erstwhile chair cushion), but seem to have decided to indulge us.

We bought the Prius almost accidentally… our old ’93 Toyota Corolla (dubbed the “Casserolla” when a cheese casserole was lingeringly spilled in the backseat) has been dying a shuddering death for months, so having put off getting a new car until we found (and financed) a house, we went out a couple of weekends ago to test drive a Toyota Yaris or a Scion xA. We did drive a Scion, but the Prius was just so much nicer (and with a better resale value) that we ordered one on the spot. It was delivered yesterday, on my birthday, October 24th. It’s pretty 21st century. We got the simplest option package, but even still that came with keyless entry and startup (as long as I have the “key” on me, I can open and start the car, without touching the key), and a rear-view backing-up camera. This is as close to a luxury car as I ever intend to buy. We saw a lecture last week by Dr. Wallace Broecker, the gentleman responsible for the groundbreaking theory of the Great Ocean Conveyor that was key in the understanding of global warming, on the need to develop an efficient way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. We chatted with him after the lecture, and among other things, I asked if the Prius would really help the environment… he praised it not only for those qualities, but also just for the engineering and comfort of it (his wife has one). I’m not fooling myself that I will save enough money in gas to make up for the price, but I felt like it was my civic responsibility to do what I could for the environment (and it really is a nice ride).

So, speaking of my birthday, we went out to visit some friends last night, then had a great time at Fuse, a local nightspot, where we had a good dinner and bumped into a different crowd of friends for a fun conversation. The night before, we went to the Cat’s Cradle to see Bettie Serveert (an old favorite band from the Netherlands, 15 years old now!), and really enjoyed the local opening act as well, Alina Simone. A few days before, we saw some friends’ bands… The Strugglers opening for The Prayers & Tears Of Arthur Digby Sellars at Local 506, and it was a great show as well. I used to see at least 2 or 3 shows a month (sometimes that many in a week!) just a few years ago, but I’m not as in the know about bands and shows these days. Still, we want to make it a point to get out to live shows more. My girlfriend’s younger, so her knowledge is a little more up to date than mine.

Man, what else? Work-work (we have revamped our database to be a lot faster and more powerful, and I’m renovating the charting package to match), and standards work (mostly SVG), and secret project work, and domestic stuff, and reading, and hanging out with friends, and seeing The Prestige (we don’t go out to movies that often, but I loved this book), and all that normal stuff that one does when one isn’t in a foreign land. I promise I’ll talk more about Morocco, by request, in some upcoming post. And more about technology. And less about quotidiana.

Prague, Land of Meat and Beer

…which is not really optimal for a vegetarian who hates beer. In the words of Uncle Tupelo, “Beautiful, as far as I can tell, but your Heaven looks just like my Hell.” There’s only so much fried cheese a man can take, I tell you! But tonight we ate at Lemon Leaf, an asian-fusion place outside the tourist district, and got a great meal for a good price. Inside the touristized zone, you can only get overpriced meatplates (or the aforementioned cheese… I mean, I love cheese, but I think I’ve gained 10 pounds this trip). Oh, and water is more expensive than beer, by far. My theory is that all water in Prague is allocated for the production of beer, and that they have to distill the beer out to extract water; this extra step accounts for the price of plain “gasless” water.

No doubt, though, Prague is a beautiful city, even though it’s clearly been “cleaned up”. Prices are no longer the legendary bargain, for the most part, probably due to the lousy exchange rate of the lowly dollar. But the buildings really are gorgeous, and Mucha, the father of Art Nouveau, is well represented here in his home country (my girlfriend and I love that style).

She wandered around the city while I met with the SVG Working Group in the local Sun offices (though we all went out at night, of course). She scoped out a lot of great sights, and after the meeting ended, we went around the town. She’s been a good sport about seeing some of the places again (in fact, she’s been to Prague before). Today we went to the Bone Church of Kutná Hora (a small town outside Prague), and then wandered the streets when we got back, seeing the tower of the famous First Defenestration of Prague.

We generally did the tourist thing here, seeing the Prgaue Castle (and the nearby erstwhile home of Kafka), the Charles Bridge, the Jewish Quarter, the cool astronomological clock (with it’s monkish glockenspiel), a couple museums, took a nighttime boat tour on the Vlatava, and watched one of the many Black Light Theater shows (Ta Fantasticka’s Aspects of Alice show, which took a strangely soft-pornographic twist in the second act). Oh, and just generally wandered around.

I must say that after seeing the chaotic and quirky Morocco, Prague seemed familiar by contrast. Two weeks in Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes, and Rabat, and the conversations there, really was eye-opening (I’ll write more about Morocco later). I’m glad we went to both places. It’s been a long trip, though, and it will be good to get home and get back to work.  Tomorrow, we are going to try to get up early and visit the city one last time before catching our afternoon flight home.

White House

After a rather long set of flights, with a moderate amount of hassle and too-long layovers (7 hours in London… just too little time to be able to spend any time in the city, so we slept instead), we arrived in Casablanca last night.

In the airport, we were immediately set upon by what I thought were people working on commission for hotels and cabs, but were guides in hindsight. The one the more persistently glommed on was a character from central casting, Hasan (the first of 3 Hasans we would meet last night). He recommended a hotel, and I went over to a policeman to see if he could tell me what normal prices were. There we met a voluable Tunisian, Abdul, who had missed his flight back to Scotland, and came along with us.

Hotel Guynemer ended up having more character than an Ibis, but that’s where Hasan started asking for money. I got irritated, because like I said, I hadn’t known he was a guide. But Abdul smoothed things over, and commissioned HAsan himself (though I ended up paying for dinner and drinks at the hotel).

Afterwards, we walked around the town a little, and went to a sort of variety club, with rotating singers (and dancing and ululating patrons) and hookahs. My girlfriend and I went home early, around 2 AM, but Abdul knocked on our door around 5 AM (to ask us if we were asleep), so he was out late. I hope he didn’t miss his flight again.

Hasan was downstairs again today, but we didn’t want to go shopping, so he split. We’re going to check out a mosque and a cathedral, then head out to Marrakech tonight. I’m sure there’s a Rick’s Bar here in Casa, but we’ll have to give it a miss this trip.

We’re Off on the Road to Morocco…

My sweetie and I are heading to Morocco! I have a W3C WebAPI Working Group F2F (face-to-face meeting) in Rabat, Morocco, and then an SVG WG F2F in Prague. How often am I going to get a chance to go to Morocco? So we decided to bookend some vacation on either side of it. We leave tomorrow (with layovers in NYC and London), and will spend some time in Casablanca, then travel to Marrakesh, then Fez, then on to Rabat. I believe that this is the first W3C meeting held on African soil.

We’ll be travelling for almost 3 weeks, returning October 2. Luckily, a good friend has volunteered to mind our house, feed the fish, and water the flowers in case it gets too dry.

I’m pretty excited. I’ve never been to either place (though I was once in Bratislava, pretty close to Prague). Also, this marks Continent #5 for me: I went to Japan in the Fall of 2004, and we travelled around Australia earlier this year. I’ve been to Europe a few times now, as has my girlfriend (though she’s not yet been to Asia, so it’s only Continent #4 for her). Now I only have to get down to South America and Antarctica, and I’ll have visited every continent on Earth! This is a silly little goal of mine. I’d also like to visit sub-Saharan Africa (aka “Real Africa”) and India, my favorite sub-continent. But that’s all far in the future… tomorrow, we fly to Morocco!

We certainly do get around! (Like a Webster’s dictionary, we’re Morocco-bound).

Still Unpacking…

About a month ago, we bought a house (a nice sunny one, with a little pond out back). When we moved in, we noticed how cheap, sparse, and generally inadequate all our furniture was. It looked fine back in our rental…

We’ve since picked up some more/better furniture, some at yard sales, some through friends, and some at stores.  Much of it is temporary, but it will serve until we can afford to incrementally replace it with stuff we really like.  It’s looking a bit better, but there’s still another pressing issue.

Despite the diligence of my girlfriend (and as a direct consequence of my own lazi-/busy-ness), we are still living out of boxes, stepping around boxes, and just generally using boxes as our main decorative motif. Our screened-in porch, a feature we’d hoped to use for evening dining and daytime lounging, sadly became a storage facility. But no more! Today, we motivated ourselves to clear it out, and we are putting up the funky retro 70s table, chairs, and bench that she got years ago for $50 and never had a place to use. It’s cast-iron and lime pleather and wood (and something made to resemble wood), and I think that it will be a nice accent to a house built in a rather late-70s style. Disclaimer: make no mistake, I lived through the 70s, and have no nostalgia for the hideous styles that oozed out of the drug-addled minds of designers of that era. But there’s no denying it, this house has touches of that time. But in a good way!

So this weekend, in addition to my finishing up some critical stuff for work, we plan to get this place is some sort of presentable order. Just in time for our trip abroad.