Happy (slightly belated) birthday to me! I officially turned 0x1d years old yesterday. If you don't understand what that means, then go look up hexadecimal. It builds character, as my Sarah always says.
I've been trying to keep up with the blogging more lately, but I've been on vacation most of the past week, so I just didn't feel like it. Sarah and I left for Washington, DC on Thursday, got back late Sunday, and took Monday to recuperate. I actually went to work Tuesday (because I was trying to conserve vacation days), had a wretched day, and took my birthday to recover.
We had a nice trip down to DC on Thursday. The six hour drive was made somewhat more enjoyable by my recent purchase of an MP3onchannel from New Egg. It's basically just a car radio adapter for MP3 players and other audio devices. You plug the headphone jack of your MP3/CD/whatever player into the device, set your car radio to a particular FM channel, and you can get the audio on you car stereo system. Much handier than trying to share headphones (which isn't really safe when you're driving anyway). In addition to an analog audio input jack, this particular device also has a USB port with an integrated MP3 player, so you can just stick a USB thumb drive loaded with music into it and hit the play button on the device. A nice, cheap way to increase your music capacity.
Even without music, the drive down US-15 through rural Pennsylvania was actually very pleasant. It was clear and sunny and the scenery was breathtaking in several places.
My only complaint was the disproportionate number of flee markets and porn shops along the road. And I mean really disproportionate. In one place, I actually saw two porn shops within a mile of each other. Over the whole length of the trip, we probably passed a dozen adult video and novelty stores on US-15, most of the really seedy looking. We even passed one called the "Adult Gift Shoppe." Both Sarah and I agreed that there should be a law against using the archaic spelling of "shop" for porn stores.
We arrived at the Omni Shoreham in Washington at around 7:00 PM on Thursday, despite the fact that it's a 6 hour drive and we left at 11:00 AM. I blame MapQuest. I don't know why I still use their site. The directions are only right about half the time.
Actually, that's not really fair. The directions are usually pretty good, and as far as highways and major thoroughfares go, they're almost always right. The problem is with the details. In this case, MapQuest got us into Chevy Chase, MD (if you haven't heard, the town really is named after the actor), but sent us the wrong direction. We eventually ended up in White Flint, where we stopped at the Borders Books in the mall and consulted a few maps to get our bearings. On the up side, getting to the hotel from the mall was easy, so we ended up coming back to the mall on Friday night to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. (Yes, the Cheesecake Factory sells actual dinners, not just cheesecake. Although I didn't know that until we got there.)
On Friday morning, we went to the national zoo for what was probably a once in a lifetime experience: we saw Tai-Shan, the baby giant panda. This was a special treat for me because:
Of course, the rest of the zoo was very enjoyable as well. They had some very interesting features, including a series of towers with cables strung between them which the orangutans used to get from one habitat to the other. They also had free-range tamarins. Apparently the just let them run around in the trees. We didn't actually see any of them, but the concept was pretty neat.
Saturday was museum day. We went to the natural history museum and the museum of American history. They were both quite interesting. The American history museum was featuring a small Jim Henson exhibit, so we got to see some of the original Muppets, including a couple of the ones from The Dark Crystal, which still weirds me out nearly as much as it did when I first saw it as a kid over 20 years ago.
They also had a neat Information Age exhibit, featuring a number of really, really old computers. I was taken in by one that had buttons for memory addresses and various other CPU instructions right on the operator's console. I find it amazing that we've come so far, and yet, in many ways, we're still in the dark ages of computing.
We wrapped up our trip on Sunday, because the hotel prices doubled on Sunday night. In the morning, we went to the Freer and Sackler galleries to see the Asian art exhibit. They had beautiful collections, including some very lovely Japanese prints.
In the afternoon, we finished our tour off with a visit to the International Spy Museum. That was really cool, and much larger than I had expected. They actually had displays of real spy equipment, such as cigarette-box cameras, cyanide capsules, and assassination weapons. On a computing-related note, they even had a one-time pad - the paper variety. Very cool, but decrypting a message using a paper key must have been kind of a pain.
My birthday relaxation yesterday consisted of a trip to Ithaca with my mother and brother. We had lunch at the Moosewood Restaurant and then went shopping on the Commons. I love browsing used book stores, and Ithaca has quite a few of them. I ended up getting the second volume of a treatise on Buddhist Logic, a retelling of the Ramayana, and a small volume of collected works by Erasmus.
The only thing I don't like about Ithaca is that it's a little too pretentious. I guess that's not unexpected, what with it being the home of Cornell University, but does all the graffiti really have to be leftist political slogans? Can't the kids at Cornell just write the name of their favorite bands on the bathroom walls like everywhere else? I have no problem with feminism or pacifism, but when I see slogans advocating them drawn into the concrete on the sidewalk, it just seems...a little off.
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