29 December 2006

So you're new to (Waltham, Cambridge, or Arlington, MA) [for a co-worker]

Here are some things that have fared us well on this side of the Charles River, and some which haven't. Certainly, you can use Zagats, Boston.com, Improper, etc. to find stuff in Boston. But what about over here?

Japanese Food
First, locate the Porter Exchange, a Japanophile's haven adjacent to the Porter Square T-Stop. It has a grocery store and several tiny specialized eateries (noodles, sushi).

Bluefin (Cambridge): In the Porter Exchange. Decent-quality and affordable sushi. I like the sashimi bento.

Toraya (Arlington): Near Blue Ribbon BBQ up Mass Ave. This unassuming sushi joint is my favorite, especially the thoughtfully-prepared and very tasty sashimi bento that's only available during lunch. Arrive before noon on weekends to avoid crowds.

BBQ: Blue Ribbon (Arlington) vs Redbones (Somerville)
There's an age-old rivalry between Blue Ribbon BBQ and Redbones. I prefer Redbones, esp. either the massive "holy cow, I just ate a barnyard" all-you-can-eat lunch combo (which you'll find if you go out of your way to ask them for the lunch menu which oddly isn't default at lunchtime), or the St. Louis / Memphis rib combo.

We like the ever-crowded Dali (Somerville) for tapas, though the pricing makes it best for parties of >4.

Atasca (Cambridge) serves up our favorites: pork w/clams, salt cod, shrimp w/tomatoes and goat cheese, and tripe. (That's four dishes, although I'd be willing to have it mixed together.)

Avoid: Summer Shack (Cambridge @ Alewife)
J-Fav and I think it's funny that an overpriced, mediocre seafood place like the Summer Shack could have won so many honors for value and family quality. Augh! Stay away! (Not "hah, hah" funny, but "Mulder, could you look at this?" funny, as J-Fav would say.)

Goings-On Magazine
Look for the Improper Bostonian, a free glossy hipper-than-thou magazine that appears weekly those - uh - free magazine cubby streetside things. It is full of new restaurants, museum exhibit openings, and concert listings. Unfortunately, it's also full of itself.

Sandwiches and Fresh Bread
We love the sandwiches at High-Rise Bakery, which has several locations (Cambridge x 2, Boston). Unfortunately, it has earned the nickname "High-Price," as J-Fav calls it, and is usually swarming with a weekend crowd of people looking very... entitled. Gosh darn it, though, it has great food.

Pancakes / Diners
You've already met our favorite, the Deluxe Town Diner (Watertown). I enjoy the short stack of chocolate chip pancakes and then go into a coma.

Contemporary Art
Three recommendations:

HamburgersHands-down, I love just about any burger at Mr. & Mrs. Bartley's Burgers in Harvard Square. (No restrooms, though!)

Poetry-Only Bookstore
You never know when you'll need just the right edition of a particular Gertrude Stein piece. Or not. In any case: the Grolier Poetry Book Shop (Cambridge, in Harvard Square).

Game Store
Hundreds - I mean hundreds - of games of all sorts from around the world: The Games People Play (Cambridge, btwn. Harvard Sq. and Central Sq.)

I can hear my friends laughing, as my attempt to list things-to-do-'round-here is as unlikely as finding Jacques Cousteau at a rave. But, hey. (People, feel free to suggest more.)


Holiday Photos

J-Fav, Toby, and I returned from some holiday travel to our families (with a new and miraculously small Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10).

Last night we hung out with the Fergusbergs, playing Pictionary and making LED Throwies. As those of you who know them would have guessed, they applied this stuff to create the latest in fashion. Here are some photos of Toby and our luminous creations.

This reminds me of a much better version of those "How big is the Earth compared to the Sun?" illustrations in our dusty old elementary school science books.

Drink the Kool-Aid
"10 Ways to Build a Cult-Like Following" (Mind Power News)

Happy Holidays, everyone!


19 December 2006

Puzzles, Physics, Music, and Road Rage

A Joke
Heisenberg was out for a drive when a police officer pulled him over. "Do you know how fast you were going?"

"No," Heisenberg replied, "but I know exactly where I am."

Speaking of Heisenberg, here's the only puzzle I ever wrote. Some people solved it in just a few hours, if that.

Do you like puzzles? Marvel in retrospect at the many instructionless visual, auditory, and tactile problems of the 2003 MIT Mystery Hunt, co-organized by several of you dear readers and J-Fav. Commentary on several years of the Mystery Hunt by John Owens.

The puzzle Art Gallery makes me laugh. Some of you are pictured...

Harvard String Theorist and Biologist
Google video (free, streaming) of Charlie Rose interview: Lisa Randall and Edward O. Wilson.

Bad Drivers, Beware!
As seen on CNN, Platewire posts your complaints about bad drivers and their license plate numbers. Here's the Mass. page.

Evolution Textbook Stickers
Oy, vey.

Casino Math
From the Univ. of Las Vegas, Nevada. Learn about the odds.

New Music for You
Six months later, I still love Pandora.

Hang with me for a sec here. Over the six months, I've clicked "bookmark this song" for a variety of brash electronica, soothing ambient stuff, and pop. You can listen to snippets of each by clicking the little arrow "play" button at my publicly available profile. There are many artists here -- like "Jaya Radhe", which sounds to me like a mix of Enya and Indian music -- or "Come Alive" which never fails to improve my mood -- or good ol' raunchy and loud Primus, which was perfect for being in the office on a Sunday.

Yes, most of what I've bookmarked is trance electronica, which is what I bet permeates optics and electronics labs. J-Fav calls that my "thump thump beeping" music.

Tribute to New Orleans
Music video for U2 / Green Day's "The Saints are Coming." Give it a chance.


13 December 2006

Holiday Optics

[Written in 2006]

J-Fav is on the road with Toby tonight, leaving me to my idle devices. Bad! This gives me too much of a chance to procrastinate (i.e. think about optics) while my subconscious figures out what holiday presents to purchase.

See, it goes like this.

Every other night, I take Toby on a stroll up and down picturesque Mass. Ave. here in Arlington:

We pass many storefronts with Christmas lights in them. They make pretty reflections between the panes of glass - at least, that what I think they're doing:

You can make out at least four images of "copycat" bulbs for each "initial" bulb. Not only that, if you look closely, there are little microbulbs within each copycat. What's up with this? Let's start with the copycat bulbs.

The initial image of the bulb.

This is the situation, as seen looking down from the sky. The lightbulb, A, is illuminating its surroundings; you're the observer at the bottom. If you draw at least 2 rays leaving the bulb, your eyes (wherever they are) perceive the bulb where those rays intersect. As you'd expect, the bulb looks like it's where it is! (Actually, as you probably guessed, that's slightly inaccurate, but I'll bore you with that later.)

You've noticed that although glass looks clear, a fraction of light striking it bounces off like a mirror. What happens when some of the bulb light reflects off the far window pane?

Light striking the distant pane bounces off toward your eyes at a different angle. If we follow two rays again -- the solid blue one and the dotted blue one -- you see that they exit the near pane as if they were originating from a phantom bulb, B.

So how do you get the other phantom bulbs? It seems like they're created by multiple bounces between the insides of the two panes of glass! Check it out:

The green lines show you where the several-bounce rays are ejected from the near pane. Tracing those back for both eyes shows you where phantom bulb C looks like it's coming from.

Yes, this is an opportunity to hear myself talk, but at least now I can stop wondering if the images are due to bounces amongst the panes of glass or within the panes of glass (which is where the microbulb images are probably from).

The inaccuracy I admitted to above is that these diagrams neglect the fact that light changes direction a little bit upon entering and exiting each pane of glass. The true case for the original bulb A is really more like this, just as the water in a fishtank makes your fishies look like they're someplace else:

Zoom in on this image; the pink lines more faithfully represent where the light's really going. The bulb looks like it's at A', not A.

Still awake? Guess it's time for me to figure out my holiday shopping. This is what I see above my computer screen, over in the living room:



"Why do Santa and Ronald McDonald have a [brand] mythology but not Dave at Wendy's or the Burger King?" (In Brand as mythology at Seth Godin's blog.)

The psychedelic "star gate" sequences in 2001: A Space Odyssey were done using an optical technique called slit-scan photography. Here, someone unwrapped the slit scan imagery to find the source material. They used the technique in Dr. Who, too.

A discussion initiated by Jory Des Jardins at blogher regarding corporate burnout and the effects of having a "spongy" personality: "It's Not Just You."

"Perspective, or Porsche?," exploring symbols of success in academia and industry, by John Maeda at the MIT Media Lab.


09 December 2006

In a handbasket, I tell you...

Tonight's credit card purchases:


04 December 2006

Fast Food Tech, and...

xkcd webcomic
This one is called "Matrix Transform":

Fast Food Technology
On Sunday night, I ended up at merrily entered a new Burger King in Burlington, Mass. and found a new and awful item on their menu: the Quadruple Stacker. Yes, four buger patties, eight pieces of bacon, and a lot of cheese. (No, I didn't get it. But I was also surprised to be offered "onion ring sauce" with my onion rings, a weird creamy horseradish polymer.)

The onion ring box was impressive for two reasons, though. First, they eschewed the McDonald's-ish "I'm lovin' it" slang for some actually thoughtful text on the box, with little arrows to the steam holes and a reminder that the box fits in your car's cup holder. (Perhaps Godin would be proud.)

Second, the box referenced two patents. What could these be? Well, dear reader, they're U.S. Pat. Nos. 6,053,403 and 6,561,414.

These patents read quite differently than the optics- and graphics-related ones I'm usually seeing. For instance, here is how Liming Cai's attorney motivated the advantages of this particular french fry holder to the hapless patent examiner:

Initially, the scoop of the invention is capable of being formed utilizing conventional equipment with the formed configuration of the scoop specifically allowing for nesting of the scoops so as to minimize packing space, resulting in both shipping and storage economies. The formed configuration of the scoop provides a base which is not only readily accommodated within a conventional cup holder, whether in a carrying tray or a vehicle mounted cup holder, but is also particularly formed to provide a stable base for a self-standing scoop.

A significant object of the invention is the incorporation in the scoop of a sealed bottom, eliminating the gaps normally associated with folded paperboard cartons of this type. Thus, the scoop of the invention is particularly capable of accommodating various condiments and flavorings as might be applied to the finger foods supplied within the scoop, for example melt butter on popcorn, salt and pepper on fries of various types, and the like, all without leakage.

You have nothing to fear, of course, unless you are so brazen as to be idly making, selling, or using contraptions that perform exactly this:

1. A food scoop comprising a vertically elongate peripheral wall defining an upwardly opening container, said wall having an upper peripheral edge, and a lower peripheral edge with a bottom panel joined thereto, said upper edge having a first extent of a downwardly concave configuration and a second opposed extent of an upwardly convex configuration positioned higher relative to said first extent, said wall being of a substantially rectangular cross-section adjacent said lower edge and along a predetermined lower height of said scoop upward from said bottom panel, and of a substantially circular cross-section upward from said lower predetermined height along an upper predetermined height to said upper edge, said scoop being of a progressively increasing cross-section upward from said lower edge to said upper edge, said bottom panel having a first pair of laterally spaced coextensive edges integral with said wall along opposed lengths of said lower peripheral edge of said wall, and a second pair of spaced parallel linear edges extending between said first pair of edges and defining therewith a generally rectangular configuration for said bottom panel, said lower edge of said wall between said lengths thereof integral with said first pair of bottom edges being coextensive with said second pair of bottom panel edges and in engagement therewith along the full length of the second pair of edges, and a pair of side sealing panels, each having a base edge integral and coextensive with a linear edge of said second pair of parallel edges of said bottom panel, said side sealing panels overlying and being bonded to said peripheral wall of said scoop for a fixed height upward from said bottom panel.

Bazaar Bizarre
The wacky handmade holiday-time gift fair is back! Dec. 16 in Boston, and elsewhere. It's a fun experience even for a stick-in-the-mud like me.

Never Mind John Galt...
...who is this Caitlin Roran of gmail splash screen fame?