Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Catching the National Tree and Yule Log Before They're Gone

Submitted for your viewing pleasure, another photographic journey making you feel like you were there too!

Tourist silhouettes before reaching the grounds.

Why a picture of this pole? Because I bruised my right knee on it trying to step over the fence. Just one of the many sacrifices I made for your reading pleasure.

Maryland representin'!

Santa and his slave labor elves are on leave for 11 months.

The source of B and T Crowd's inferiority complex.

Fortunately the state tree didn't smell like the final 15 minutes of the NJ Turnpike.

The Yule Log is a great way to warm your hands and...

...a great way to lose your hands.

The view downwind of the Yule Log kept me smelling like a fireplace all night.

Miniature buildings and trains abound.

Chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga, choo-choo heaven.

Get it comes...

I landed a penny in the train on my first throw, but my second bounced out.

So pretty.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas...At One Metro Station

Every DC metro station that I've visited has been bland and utilitarian. So it was quite a surprise when I arrived at the Friendship Heights station today. Lots of holiday decorations to be seen from the moment the elevator doors open until the platform escalators. I'll surmise this was all paid for by station employees or Metro has a budget surplus its not telling us about. Nevertheless, well done Friendship Heights! Pictures courtesy of my 1.3 MP cell phone camera.

Off the elevator, I was faced with a gluttony of blown-up holiday characters and items.

Nutcracker soldiers defend the wreaths and lights adorning the Metro booth.

Not pictured are ribbons and garland wrapped around every rail.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

My Cat Has A Plastic Bag Fetish

I had a cat that was always fond of plastic bags. Actually, "fond" isn't the right word. The Cat made out with plastic bags, licking them until I distracted him with food or simply took the bag away. I don't understand this phenomena.

Don't try and look innocent, I know what you two were doing behind my back.

Back when I was living in B and T Crowd territory, my family had a cat who lived for 16 years, passing away in my sophomore year of college, yet I don't recall catching him hooking up with some plastic lover. The more recent cat left Old Navy bags dripping with saliva. I asked the vet about this and she said she hasn't heard anything negative about the practice. I'd imagine he's ingesting some amount of plastic toxins, but if the vet says it's fine, then it's fine.

Looks like our Cat isn't the only plastic lover.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Postcard Secret Admission, 20 Years Late

Twenty years ago I boldly, stupidly, and rather immaturely told my parents a lie. I have come here and not Post(card) Secrets to let them know I can no longer live with this lie. They took me at my word when my word's commodity was overvalued. Granted it's the only lie I ever told my parents, but enough is enough. I was never a troublemaking kid, quite the opposite in fact, so my singular lie is a grand lie when it's the only lie that I've ever told them. And this I am not lying about.

When I was a young lad of about eight years old, I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, didn't get the jokes on "Who's the Boss," and knew my sister's prized possession was her Tiffany and Debbie Gibson cassettes. I watched tons of cartoons and was impressionable and easily brainwashed on any toy that I had to have even if I didn't know I needed to have it. I loved the cartoons, I needed the cartoons, and I wanted to talk to the cartoons. And that's when my trouble started.

It wasn't enough for me to play with my mutated turtles or G.I. Joe figures. It wasn't enough for me to listen to them on the TV. And it wasn't enough to hear them talk when I pulled the string or pushed a button on one of my toys to hear their battle cry again and again. Nope, I had to speak with them, one-on-one and without adult supervision.

It was a pleasure speaking with you except for the mountain of guilt.

During my endless supply of cartoon viewing, I enjoyed a few shows that didn't lend themselves to a line of toys. Like any "normal" kid, I enjoyed Looney Tunes with Bugs Bunny, DuckTales during WPIX's Disney Afternoon, and the Woody Woodpecker Show. I felt no connection to Looney Tunes characters or Disney players, but I could relate to Woody; we look alike.

I wanted to talk to him and surely he wanted to hear what I had to say. At that age I knew this wasn't really the case, but it'd be sooooooo cool to hear his voice when I chose and not when the show aired. Ever the curious child, my prayers were finally answered during one of the show's many commercial bombardments.

Turns out that Woody Woodpecker had his own telephone number that I could call to hear one of his stories!

Whenever I wanted!

I only had to pickup the phone!

Oh the memories...

I knew right from wrong so I was well aware that I needed parental permission and that the call would cost upward of $1/minute. Yet I called the 900 number anyway, in a most unimpressive and unnecessary rebellious act, avoiding the proper channels of approval. That's right, without parents' permission! I remember hearing Woody's laugh and grinning ear to ear because he was breaking the fourth wall of acting, all for me.

"Son, can you come in our bedroom?" asked my parents.

Gulp. It was about to hit the fan. A term of phrase I didn't know about for many years.

I remember standing at the foot of their bed when they grilled me under the interrogation spotlight of their soul searching eyes. They brought up the 900 number charges and asked if I knew anything about it. I said "no." Taking me at my ever angelic word, they chalked it up to a mistake by the phone company or just a friend of mine making the call when I wasn't looking. Sure.

Chilly Willy was never funny, entertaining, nor in Mr. Woodpecker's league of comedy.

Then I watched, with a burning coal of guilt in my stomach, as my father called AT&T to have the charges removed saying it was a mistake on their part. With the charges removed we went about our lives except me. With every utterance of Woody Woodpecker's laugh, I've been reminded of the time I called his phone number and the only time I've told my parents a lie.

So with my woodpecker tail squarely between my legs, mom and dad, allow me to publicly apologize for not telling you the truth, then subjecting you to ask AT&T to remove the charges under a false premise, and waiting 20 years to let you know about it. It wasn't bad enough that I made the call without telling you first, but I also provided false testimony on the stand. I don't know why I did it, but I did.

As a full-fledged, self-sufficient, and married adult, I will rest a little easier knowing you know this lie and that you can't penalize me by taking away my cartoon time in front of the TV.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ready For The 1st Annual DC Metro Marathon

The other day I sacrificed my lower body for the sake of this godforsaken blog. I took the Metro between Wheaton and Dupont Circle and back again. Wouldn't you know it, but both stations had at least one escalator out of service. With no signs barring fools from trying to make their way up, I saw an opportunity to get exercise while researching a quick blog post.

I managed Dupont Circle's escalator with relative ease, only slightly losing the feeling in my legs during the last 20 steps. Final stair count: 146 +/- 2, depending on the half steps it was stopped on. This puts Dupont Circle behind Rosslyn's 160 steps.

Feeling like a champ after Dupont Circle, I tackled Wheaton's stairmaster at the end of my day. I had heard stories about Wheaton's height, but didn't think it would be much worse than Dupont Circle. I may have a minor cold and haven't exercised in over a week, but I'm young and I'm (kinda, not really) strong.

Turns out, I'm also completely wrong.

I have nothing on my sister and her four marathons in the last 18 months, but she never climbed this!

Wheaton's middle escalator was out of service, allowing the escalator-goers, in both directions, ample time to mock, point, and gawk at the fool (that's me!) who turned down mechanical help. I started my hike pretty well, moving faster than the up escalator for the first 100 steps. Then I started to lose the battle during steps 101 through 130 when I slowed to the escalator's pace.

Everyone riding the escalator enjoyed my climb because they couldn't wait to pass me by.

I looked up from my counting and was faced with the daunting task of many more steps than I had planned. I had to press forward. This harangue of a blog entry depended on it; the escalator-goers were watching; and because the escalator wasn't working, my only choice was to finish the workout or else jump the rail. But my parents didn't raise a quitter! Well, maybe I've quit on a few things, but I digress.

As of June 3, 2005, the Washington Post said I had walked up the tallest escalator in the Western Hemisphere!

I lost ground to the escalator during this final leg. Around step 157 I lost the feeling in my calves and around step 166 I lost touch with my entire lower half. Out of breath and delirious, I also lost count temporarily. Yet, I could see the light darkness at the end of the tunnel. 186 +/- 2 steps later, drunk from the adrenaline rush, I had finally, valiantly, and pathetically walked to the top of the Wheaton escalator. Never mind that I still had another 36 steps to climb to reach the Veirs Mill Road walkover and parking garage.

When Metro runs its first escalator marathon, it'll surely include Dupont Circle, Rosslyn, and Wheaton. And after this day's 332-step training session, I'll be ready. Sort of.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Diving Game Winning Basketball Shot

Just because this is a great shot!

Just like the coach drew it up, I'm sure.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Greatness That Are Solari and Split-Flap Departure Boards

Among the enjoyable moments during my visit to B and T Crowd territory for the Thanksgiving weekend, was visiting the Newark Train Station (NTS) because I got to see the NTS mechanical information board.

There may be shady people and poorly lit roads around the station...

...but if you make it this far, it's worth it...until, that is, you have to get back to the NJ Turnpike.

For years I'd visit the NTS with my dad when he would dropoff or pickup my mom for one of her Amtrak trips between New Jersey and Maryland to visit her mother. After surviving a not-so-safe 6-block drive through downtown Newark, we'd reach the station where I'd wait with my mom until her train arrived. The only way to determine its status, in a time before Internet status updates, was to look at the huge mechanical information board in the main terminal.

I had no idea this was called a Solari Departure Board or a split-flap display. You can thank me later for this great party icebreaker.

I was, and still am, in awe when the board updates. From what little engineering knowledge I have, the board has hundreds of openings for letter and location placards that flip. Each letter placeholder has about 40 placards for 26 letters, 10 numbers, and a few punctuation/miscellaneous symbols. The location placards flip through every city served by Amtrak. I just love the sights and flickering sounds of the board. When a board in Boston's South Station was replaced, an electronic "ticktickticktick" sound was added because I'm not the only one who loves to hear it.

Better visibility, lower power consumption, and distinct sounds alerting people to updates...why replace what isn't broken?

Having not been in the NTS (also known as Penn Station) for a good 10 years, I was excited to see if the board had been replaced with a next generation electronic board. We walked passed the information booth and there it was...the same mechanical board. Even in these modern times, it's the old school mechanical board that's getting things done.

With this schematic I'm one step closer to building my own!

After what felt like an eternal 7-minute wait, I heard the familiar flicks behind the board and before I knew it, the entire board went into action. Every placeholder in every column for every train began flipping through Amtrak stops, arrival times, track numbers, train numbers, and status.

The board worked perfectly, yet again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bike Hero - Viral Marketing or Not, It's Impressive

In preparation of my first full Guitar Hero World Tour Band playdate this weekend, checkout this video called "Bike Hero." Even if it's likely part of Guitar Hero's marketing campaign, it's a great viral video. The premise is this guy charted the chords for "Prisoner of Society" on the roads and sidewalks of his neighborhood. He then rode over the path with his bike that had LCD lights timed to blink as he hit the notes. He added things like note streaks, star power activation, and a full-size Lars during the ride. Enjoy.

Even if it's not homemade, it's still awesome.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

NIH Drivers And Turn Signals Don't Play Well Together

I make my way down Route 29, the Beltway, and Old Georgetown Road five times a week at roughly the same time. Though there are too many cars for me to remember the person I cutoff last week or the driver who rode his brakes, I can count on a regular traffic pattern. Outside of an accident, I know when to expect backups, slowdowns, and idiots who ride exit lanes only to cut over at the last minute.

The NIH campus is full of smart people, so why can't they use a turn signal?

Among the most egregious violators during every drive are those turning left into NIH from Old Georgetown Road. I'll admit this isn't the worst driving offense. It's more of an annoyance and minor safety hazard. The violators will appear to brake for no logical reason, only to then make their way over to the left-turn only lane. There is no warning. I just ask that they use a turn signal so I don't feel the need to expunge road rage built-up over the previous 40 minutes of driving.

To help researchers arrive safely, let's be careful when turning off of Old Georgetown Road.

Does it really matter that I miss a light or get honked at because a NIHer decided to take their sweet old time getting over and not giving anyone a head's up that they're turning left? Outside of being a few minutes later to work, it doesn't stop the earth from spinning, but it is a safety hazard. Okay, a minor safety hazard. Though I expect and prepare for these non-signalers, others may not be so lucky.

Three entrances off of 187 are three left turn signal deadzones.

Having to slowdown without reasonable notice or caution is unsafe. This is not a situation with unfamiliar drivers making last-minute decisions to changes lanes and turn left. At 7:15 in the morning, we're all locals and we all know the roads. I guess part of knowing the roads is expecting NIHers to fail a basic driving test requirement of turn signal usage.

For the good of traffic flow toward downtown Bethesda and in an effort to practice safer driving, please NIHers, don't be scared to use your turn signal.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

And You Play Music While Pumping Gas Because?

Perhaps it's a sign that I've become a crotchety old man before 30 years of age, but why do people feel the need to play music while pumping gas? This goes beyond loud speakers and bass vibrations that I can only hope loosens their wheel nuts enough to give them a hilarious 3-wheeled car. As documented many times, I am not about to be a music critic, but even I know the music often sucks.

Just because you bought expensive audioware doesn't mean that I want to hear it.

There's no way that hearing the music is so important that y0u just have listen to it all the time. Would it kill you to turn it off? Are you looking to win over someone's affection because the music is even louder with your door open so its speakers are heard too? It's not like anyone is looking to dance at their gas pumps.

My time at a gas station could be a lot funnier.

I don't understand the need or purpose of killing your battery just to play your jams. Of course, I'm being kind here, giving the benefit of the doubt that you do have your engine turned off. The other day by the beltway and Wisconsin Avenue, someone was pumping gas and powering their awful music with their engine. I'm pretty sure that that's a big safety hazard. Idiot.

So that's why there's no self service in New Jersey!

These bastions of noise pollution must be aware of how loud their symphony of gobbledygook is to everyone quietly pumping their gas. I don't understand why there's a need to make everyone else aware of your music preference. Windows and doors were made to give us audible privacy, yet these gas station DJs see their opening to annoy everyone.

Playing music is annoying, but it's not this stupid. I love how this guy keeps pumping after the car goes bye-bye.

Perhaps the music wouldn't be so loud if I took the flammable liquid readily at my disposal to destroy their subwoofers. Now that sounds great to me.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New York Giants Gameday Experience In 22 Pictures & 2 Videos

Have you ever had the kind of day when you take mental snapshots of the moment, the people, and the place because you know how rare these moments are? Events like a graduation, newborn's first day, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and confirmation are to be remembered (except when my voice cracked during my Torah portion). They are all well and good, but I'm talking about non-scheduled events that surpass your wildest expectations. I had such a day with my dad last weekend.

Last Sunday, after the Father cracked the piggy bank for tickets, he and I went to the Giants/Cowboys game at the Meadowlands. After I drove the 3.5 hours from Maryland on Saturday, it was a 20-minute drive from my parents' home because they still live in a B and T Crowd zip code. We arrived early to soak-up the atmosphere and get a feel for what season ticket holders go through each game. After this experience, we certainly had had our fill.

As the following 22 (out of 120) pictures and 2 (out of 4) videos attest, we saw everything, did everything, and had the preeminent father-son day.

Now that's some serious beef!

This was the classiest tailgate spread we found...tablecloths, bottles of wine, martini glasses, rack of lamb, cheese, and crackers.

The new Giants Stadium; unnecessary, except that it's a guaranteed moneymaker with more luxury suites and $20,000 personal seat licenses.

Parking lots open five hours before kickoff, but gates don't open for another three hours, creating long porta-potty lines.

The Giants' practice bubble had some fan activities. It was nice to be out of the sun and feel some high-quality artificial turf.

So you're telling me if I want to kick field goals in my house, I need this much ceiling clearance? Note that this unit doesn't have the Baltimore Extension.

I will find every Guitar Hero experience and chicken out from playing because some kid gets 5 stars on the expert level just before me.

It was a beautiful fall day...until the sunset and temperatures dropped.

We may have walked over Jimmy Hoffa.

This is either an artsy picture of engineering or another sign of New Jersey's industrial complex.

No mezzanine escalator for us...lower tier all the way!

Another artsy photo or sad attempt at reminding you that we took the lower escalator?

I'm one year older than Eli, yet here I am writing a blog and he's a Super Bowl winning QB. Where did my parents go wrong?

The players are so much bigger up close.

How do NFL QBs throw the ball over 60 yards and hit the receiver in stride? Oh that's right, they've sacrificed their entire lives to make it this far. Thank you Eli.

It's a bird, it's a plane, no it's the hi-end zone cam!

Seats 13 and 14, also known as 49.5- and 50-yard line seats. It was a tight fit with everyone in their winter coats. Note the empty chicken wing baskets...the only non-fried food offered. You're allowed to bring food in, but that's not the true experience.

If you listen closely amid the poor quality video, you'll hear the voice of the greatest Father in the world.

Did I mention we were at the 50 and could see everything?

I made the mistake of getting my dad a cup of coffee during halftime only to battle a packed concourse that stood still. The new stadium should alleviate this problem, that is if you can afford tickets.

Bottles of soda and water are served cap-free so that caps don't become projectiles? I'd much rather throw a bottle than a cap anyway, to protest carbonation loss.

Yep, that's $10 for pulled pork or beef brisket from a stand in the stadium concourse. So classy.

Yep #2, that's $8 for a beer and $4.25 for water.

It's hard to complain when you see seven touchdowns, enjoy a convincing victory by the Giants, and experience it all with daddy.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Redskins Game To Decide The President...Again?

If you want to know the most reliable way to predict the winner of Tuesday's Presidential election, don't worry about polls and their many flaws, worry about the winner of Monday night's Redskins/Steelers game.

The Redskins are favored by 2 points, but it's the straight-up winner that matters every four years.

For 17 of the last 18 Presidential elections, when the Redskins win their final home game before the election, the incumbent party's candidate also wins; when the Redskins lose their final home game, the challenging party's candidate unseats the incumbent party's candidate.

Obama is favored to win by 104 to 128 electoral votes; just wait until the game's outcome before making your final bet.

Of course, the first time that this didn't hold was 2004, so we're either at the start of a new coincidence or that was just a (very close) bump in the road.

Knowing this predictor, who do you want to win the game?