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To Vicenza and Architecture [May. 26th, 2017|08:38 pm]
My workshop at JRC being finished, on Thursday we left Ispra and went to Vicenza, where my friend Aaron O. from middle school now lives.

The trip was not without hiccups. We took a taxi to the train station in Sesto Calende and then the train to Milano Centrale. That was supposed to be just one train, but it stopped one station short at Porto Garibaldi and we had to get off and wait (for a worryingly long time) for another train to take us the rest of the way. When we got to Milano Centrale we had to figure out where to buy tickets (the big red boxes are ticket vending machines, we learned), and then we discovered that the train we were planning to take was sold out! This is not a circumstance I have ever encountered before. But that route runs every hour, so we just got a pair of business-class tickets on the next one. That gave us time to grab some lunch in the station (I had a shockingly good 7-Euro salad) before traveling onward.

Aaron met us at the station in Vicenza and then drove us to his home one town over, where we were introduced to his wife, Ana, who is Romanian, and to their small dogs Jack and Terri, who were very alarmed about these dangerous invaders being let into the house, and had to bark at us for a good twenty minutes, at which point we received our canine security clearances and became their new best friends.

We spent the afternoon socializing and catching up (Aaron and I hadn't seen one another in about twenty years), then ordered pizza for dinner. I got another one with arugula (yay!) plus prosciutto and cream cheese, while Jerry had to get the one with what Google Translate claimed was "nails" (turns out that's a variety of mushroom shaped like big round-headed nails). Ana got gorgonzola-walnut, which is an amazing flavor combo on pizza! Afterwards we played several rounds of a rummy-like game with tiles instead of cards.

The next day we had a low-key morning before Aaron dropped us off to wander around the Vicenza city center. (He would've joined us, but his hip was being gimpy.) We saw a whole bunch of buildings by Palladio, including the Palladian Basilica, plus assorted other nifty old structured, including a facade with no building that now made up part of a wall and of course the old city wall. One interesting point is that we ran across a plaque in Italian for a historical building -- formerly a home for those crippled and mutilated by war -- and I was able to make out all of it except a pair of two-word phrases just by knowing my Latin roots.

The Palladian Basilica in Vicenza:

In additional to grand old buildings all over the place, one thing that struck me about architecture in Northern Italy is that the prototype for "house" is much stronger than it is in the US. Just about every house is two stories tall, blocky, and made of concrete. (Lumber is much more expensive in Europe, Aaron explained.) They all have roofs of curved red tile with eaves that overhang a small amount and a pitch of 22.5 degrees. There are a few rectangular windows in standard proportions, (none on the north side of the house) and they have either full storm shutters or, more commonly, rolling shutters ("rolladen"). And they're all painted a color not too far removed from pinky-orange.

This one (in Ispra) is a little fancy with the tower-like bits and dormer window, but take those away and they pretty much all look not far from this:
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Food in Ispra [May. 24th, 2017|10:52 pm]
My workshop is done! It was good, but I doubt recounting details would interest anybody other than my boss, so I will skip it. Instead, I will tell you what I've been eating for the last few days.

Dinner Sunday: we got hungry late in the evening and were too tired to go anywhere, so we ate in the hotel restaurant. We both got mixed salads (greens, celery, and tomatoes, which was surprisingly satisfying with good balsamic vinegar and olive oil on it), and shared a caprese salad and a fried cheese and shaved ham plate from the appetizer menu, which made for a very satisfying meal.

Breakfasts: the hotel has a nice continental breakfast spread. For me, that means a few slices of salami, turkey, and cheese, a couple boiled eggs, and maybe a little wedge of spreadable cheese. Fizzy (frizzante!) water to drink. The eggs have very orange yolks; I got one on the first day that was only soft-boiled, and it was amazing.

Lunch Monday: the cafeteria at the Joint Research Centre. Tasty enough for cafeteria food and remarkably inexpensive. I had a hefty roasted chicken leg with romanesco (the fractal broccoli/cauliflower hybrid) and a bottle of fizzy water and it was like, 4 euros.

Dinner Monday: more pizza! From Julius and Benny, in part because that's what we could find within walking distance that was open before 7 pm. It took us a while to figure out the menu well enough to order, but the Google Translate app does live translation of text through the phone camera, and it's kind of like magic. Like, awkward and unreliable magic, but still magic. I had a "Campagna", which is tomato, cheese, proscuitto, arugula, porcini, and parmesan. Jerry had a "Billy", which was tomato, cheese, red onion, shredded lettuce(!), roasted red pepper, and pepperoni. They were both excellent, and so big they didn't fit fully on the plate. The crust was amazingly thin, and necessitated a knife and fork to eat.

Lunch Tuesday: terrible sandwiches provided by the workshop. I ate half a dry ham and cheese, then pulled out the filling and folded it around the filling from a roasted vegetable sandwich. Then I ate a package of nuts Jerry got me that I had in my bag Just In Case. No stars, but made up for by...

Dinner Tuesday: a five-course meal for the workshop at the restaurant in our hotel. It started with an aperitif on the balcony of champagne or fruit punch and salmon pastry nibblies. The first plate was a slice of eggplant parmigiana (middling) with slices of salami and prosciutto or speck (excellent) or something (I can't remember, they have so many good cured meats around here). Next was a very cheesy risotto with asparagus. Then some little ravioli, filled with spinach, maybe? Finally, they brought pan-cooked fish (something white with silver skin) with vegetables and butter. And for dessert, a fruit cocktail with lemon ice. It was a very good meal.

Lunch Wednesday: still kinda full from the big dinner last night, I skipped the terrible sandwiches at the end of the workshop and just had a couple handfuls of almonds and some cheese sticks when I got back to the hotel.

Dinner Wednesday: went back to the German restaurant (La Baita) that Jerry had dinner at solo the previous night. He had wurst with spaetlze and lentils, and I had the leberkäaut;se with a fried egg and green salad (instead of potato salad) that he'd had previously. Thumbs up on both. Afterward, we got (small!) cones of gelato: limone for me, and ace (lemon, orange, and carrot) for him. I liked his, but it would've been too sweet for me to eat a whole scoop. My limone was very tart, and suited me well.

(Needless to say, I'm being flexible about eating low-carb while we're traveling in Forn Parts.)
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DEN -> JFK -> MXP -> Ispra [May. 21st, 2017|06:13 pm]
We're in Italy! Trying desperately to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime.

I am attending a workshop at the EU Joint Research Center in Ispra on Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday, then we'll head over to Vicenza to visit my friend Aaron O. from middle school.

The trip here was pretty uneventful. Denver to JFK on Delta, couple hour layover, and then JFK to Milano Malpensa on Alitalia. Left the house around 8 am on Saturday morning (thanks to Bob & Douglas for giving us a ride to the airport), landed in Italy around 10 am on Sunday morning. Which... is a very long day of travel. Got enough sleep on the airplane to feel like it was the next day, but not enough to really be rested and we are both so, so tired right now.

I watched Moana on the first leg, which was a pretty good way to while away a good chunk of it. I had intentions of doing some work coding on that flight, but of course the white noise and cramped space of the airplane kept me from getting anything productive done. The nice lady at the Alitalia desk in New York was able to reseat us next to each other in an aisle-window pair of seats near the rear of the aircraft, instead of two window seats in adjacent rows. So that was nice.

On arrival, we took a taxi to get from the airport to Ispra. It was pretty pricey, but I will get reimbursed and it was a lot more bearable than the 2.5 hour train ride would have been in our post-travel condition. It was slightly sketchy - more of a rideshare than a proper taxi - but it was a fixed price for the destination, so when the police closed down the main route and we got detoured all over the place through slow and heavy traffic, it was fine. And hey, we got a bit of a free scenic tour out of it. (I realized also that having GPS for the driver and in your phone so you can verify that you're going to the right place makes that kind of situation a lot less stressful.)

We checked into our hotel around noon and took showers to clean off the travel skunge, hooray! Then we went for a walk to look for someplace to get lunch. (And to be outside walking around in sunshine to fend off jetlag.) Saw a lot of very pretty Lago Maggiore (which I realized is literally "Major Lake" after hearing the name spoken aloud by an Italian). Saw a lot of pretty small Italian town. Saw a lot of closed businesses. Finally got lunch at around 3 after walking to a place about a mile away. Which, again, was fine. It's an adventure, we were feeling kinda hungry but not starving since our body clocks are totally out of sync, and it served the purpose of keeping us active in daylight. And the pizza was very good.

We came back to the hotel -- which is right on the lakeshore, by the by -- and wandered a bit more. Stuck our feet in the water, which was bracing and pleasant. Appreciated the scenery. Now attempting to stay awake until dark. Ish. We have, of course, already slagged an outlet splitter that turned out to be surge-protected for 110 volts by plugging it into a 220 outlet. All the fancy tech we have with us is happy to be plugged into whatever voltage, it's one of the most primitive components that turned out to be vulnerable. And it was only after it happened that I recalled this happening last time, too. Hooray for jetlag...
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More visitors, GotG2, Grandma [May. 15th, 2017|10:06 pm]
So I missed the concert I was expecting to go to on Wednesday, because when I was looking up details on Sunday, it turned out that the date had moved since I put it on my calendar, and it was that night and already sold out! Curses! But only kinda; my disappointment was mitigated by the fact that (1) I hadn't had time to get any anticipation built up, and (2) I was really, really tired, and I did not mind having at least some downtime in the weekend.

Things have been hectic lately. My friend Mike from high school came up to Boulder for lunch on Wednesday. And then on Thursday, my Mom & Larry were passing through town on the way to the mountains to go fishing for the weekend, so we had dinner (Smashburger) with them. Then I went of to Chris's for Games Night. (There were only four of us, so we played a game of Sentinels with the one-mini-villain-per-player setup that seemed to be going only okay for a long while but then came together very quickly at the end.)

On Friday, we got dinner at the Mondoplex with Douglas and then watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which was excellent; just as good as the first one, in my book. So that was lovely.

The weekend was taken up with dealing with bills, and backing up data, and getting my new phone to actually work properly (turns out my cellular data plan got switched off when updating plans) and other such chores. I also got in a nice long visit with Grandma on Saturday evening. She is dissatisfied with her current housekeeper, who is nosy (or as Grandma puts it, "a prowler"), not good at following instructions, and who adds knick-knacks and doilies to the house. ("You don't have any table scarves for the side tables!" Like my grandmother, having lived in that house for well in excess of half a century, doesn't have it all set up exactly how she wants it?) I told Grandma that it sounds like she means well, but doesn't have a lick of sense. I also got to hear stories about pigs and cows from when Grandma was a little girl in Oklahoma.

Plus of course there's also wedding planning and trip planning and trying to get a bunch of stuff done at work in between all the cloud vendor meetings. But things are good; I'm a little stressed, but mostly just busy.
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3 Breakfasts and a New Year [May. 9th, 2017|07:06 am]
We had a very busy, very social weekend with lots of out-of-town visitors.

Bryree & Marty were in town for a wedding, and the best time to get together was in the morning, so we had them come over for breakfast on Friday and I made eggs. There are not a huge number of breakfast places near us (especially since they were coming up from Littleton), and the ones there are serve everything with huge piles of toast and/or hashbrowns (which I can't eat), and then there's all the time you spend getting there and getting seated and ordering and so on instead of actually visiting, and since I'm used to cooking breakfast every morning anyway and had lots of breakfast components readily at hand, it was just easier and more enjoyable to make it than to go out.

Then, very late Friday night / early Saturday morning, my sister Sherilyn and her crew arrived. She and her hubby Devin were in town for a conference for a business venture they're involved in, and they drove down from Idaho, leaving on Friday evening and arriving at about 4:30 in the morning. They also brought their new baby Olive and a friend who grew up in Lakewood to babysit. They crashed in our guest room and library for a few hours of sleep, then ran off to Broomfield Event Center for the whole day. Again, breakfast was the best opportunity to have some visiting time, so I just cooked. That also meant I didn't have to be dressed for going out in public before 8 am. I made Denver omelets.

Went back to bed for a bit to recover from interrupted sleep, and then Jerry and I went off to the Lao New Year festival at the Lao Buddhist temple that's under construction over at Wasdworth & 108th. Did you know that was there? I didn't! Found out from Inclusivity Board, and it seemed like an important event to go and show community support for. Saw several other board members there, got some tasty nibbles (meatballs onna stick, gingery beef jerky), and watched some traditional dancing. Spent the rest of the day prepping to run Star Wars that evening over at the Nevilles'.

Sunday morning we said farewell to Sherilyn et al., who were headed out for church early, then off to visit Grandma, then back to their conference from noon-5, and then drove back to Idaho -- man, do 20-somethings have a lot of energy! We, on the other hand, went up to Boulder for brunch with Jofish & Erin, who are in town this week for the big HCI conference, plus Sarah and a couple friends of Erin's from E-Theta. So that was nice. We had brunch at Shine, which is one of the few places in Boulder that takes reservations for Sunday brunch. The food was tasty and it was far less twee an experience than is suggested by their website, so that was good.

And that was plenty of weekend as far as we were concerned. There was a gargantuan hailstorm in Denver yesterday, but nothing up in Boulder and very little in Westminster, so neither of us saw anything, although we have several friends with smashed-up car windows and/or houses. Yikes!
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Better, Descent, and Cake [May. 3rd, 2017|09:37 pm]
So yesterday I took a half-day. I let the morning be relaxed and went about my full set of ablutions in a sort of semi-mindful way, which is to say mostly doing the stuff I was doing rather than putting all my attention on a Long List Of Things To Do. I did a couple errands (stopped by Kaiser for a blood draw, picked up a lunch salad from the kebab place in Broomfield) on the way in to the office and got there a little after lunchtime. And it worked! I had a lot more focus and was able to get a number of things done. Today was also pretty good.

Last weekend we had folks over to play Descent on Saturday. The scenario was horribly broken (everyone online agrees that it's just impossible for the Overlord to win), but we managed to have a good time anyway. Played a few rounds of Exploding Kittens afterwards. Mostly just visiting with friends, yay!

Then on Sunday, we drove down to visit Bob & Mike for cake tasting. We had pistachio and pina colada regular cake, and bakalava and root beer float cheesecake. They were all good; the pina colada moved up a couple notches, but otherwise they stayed about where we had them originally. I should mention that we were tasting varieties that we were unsure about, because we're going to have multiple kinds of cake at the wedding. (I had the realization that one of our strategies for dealing with difficult wedding planning decisions is to find solutions that involve not making them. So far it's working well.)
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Lousy Monday [May. 1st, 2017|09:41 pm]
Ugh. Today was pretty much a bust and I would like a do-over. I woke up tired this morning and really wanted to just take the morning off and go back to bed, and frankly, I should have. I got almost nothing done because I didn't have the energy to focus on anything complicated, so I tried to tackle some dumb and straightforward but semi-urgent tasks. But they were slow, and not only was I unable to deal with switching back and forth between tasks, I couldn't maintain focus through waiting for things to finish. So I ended up putzing around a bunch and then I didn't even have enough energy to disengage from doing nothing and stayed late at work for no reason at all. Bleah.

So despite the feeling that I really ought to be extra-productive with the rest of the week, I think what I need to do tomorrow is not push myself to go in early or anything, but instead make myself enough space to feel relaxed and rested so that I can get over feeling overwhelmed by the bajillion things on my to-do list and focus. And then I'll be able to get something done.
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Legion [Apr. 30th, 2017|10:31 pm]
There's an awful lot of very good TV out there right now, but I gotta say, if you haven't watched Legion? You are missing out.

So Thing Number One is that the storytelling is unlike anything else I've ever seen. It's confusing at the beginning -- and frankly, even after having watched the whole thing, there are things that I'm still not entirely clear about -- but somehow it doesn't matter. I found myself saying "I have no idea what is going on, and I have even less idea what's going to happen next, but I can't wait to find out." Plus on a visual / cinematic level, the show does all kinds of bizarro things you've never seen before, and it makes them work.

Thing Number Two is that the acting is amazing. Whoever did the casting for this show deserves an award, because so many of the roles involve playing a wild range or weird mixture of personalities or deeply strange characters or conveying complex thoughts and emotions with little to no dialogue, and if anybody failed to pull it off, the whole thing would fall flat, but everybody just nails it.

Thing Three is... I don't know what it is, because it all happened at a subconscious level for me. It's probably something about the camera angles and the lighting and the sound and all that stuff, but whatever it is, it's really good. Because you'll be watching the show and nothing in particular is happening, and all you can think is something is really, really wrong; something terrible is going to happen and there's no reason at all to think that, except that something unidentifiable is off-kilter. Plus there's all this mental/psychological stuff happening, and a whole lot of it is represented symbolically and never gets explained, but it's plenty clear what it means.

I didn't binge the show because I don't like binge-watching and also because it's a pretty tense show, and sometimes after an episode I'd be like, okay, I'm really looking forward to the next one but that is seriously all I can handle for tonight. But I never once got bored with it.
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45, DnD Finale, March for Science [Apr. 24th, 2017|09:29 pm]
According to the calendar, I'm 45 years old as of yesterday. This seems improbable to me; that would imply that all the people I know who are around the same age as me are also in their mid-40s, and that can't be right, can it? But it's hard to argue with math, so I guess it must be so.

I got online greetings and phone calls galore to wish me a happy birthday, and they were all lovely and made me appreciate once more just how many really wonderful people I know. Yay! Thank you all!

We didn't do much of anything for my birthday. I'm not, like, opposed to recognizing it or anything, but there's just been so much going on lately with work and wedding prep and everything that I had no spare CPU cycles to really even think about it before Sunday. Mostly we spent the day playing the final session of our D&D campaign. I got to destroy the evil artifact that was mind-controlling the main villain, yay! It was a satisfying end, and it's the first time I've played from 1st level all the way to 20th level, so that was neat. Also, Brandon made very tasty Indian food for lunch, hooray!

On Saturday we managed to get ourselves up and take the bus downtown to March for Science, woo! We met up with and merged into the actual march about halfway along the route, somewhere on 16th street. I'm not much for political rallies (that old GenX hype-aversion syndrome), but it was kinda cool to be in a great big pro-science crowd taking over the streets. We couldn't get anybody to chant "Where would we be / without science? / Most of us would be dead!" (although I did see a number of signs expressing that sentiment), but when we got to Civic Center Park I got to chant "What do we want? / Evidence-based knowledge! / When to we want it? / After peer review!" and that made me very happy. We wandered around and checked out the various tables, and I almost felt bad that I'm already registered to vote, because there were so many opportunities to sign up. We didn't see anyone we knew (though according to Facebook quite a few were there), but I spotted a number of people I sort-of recognized from work. I think, anyway. We left before any of the speechifying started up (*shudder*), and that turned out to be good because partway back Jerry realized he'd forgotten to take his brain pills that morning! So yeah, definitely time to head home.
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Wumph, busy weekends, Easter, wedding prep [Apr. 18th, 2017|09:35 pm]
I was gonna say that there was something noteworthy about weekend before last, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was, alas, but then I remembered: taxes! I spent Saturday getting them actually filled out and printed and mailed off. Whee. And then Sunday was the next-to-last D&D session, where we strategized the big climactic boss fight. We are finishing a campaign that has gone all the way from 1st level to 20th, which is a first for me.

Last week, Kevin / Wumph was in town for CWA at CU, so we got to see him, which was nice. On Tuesday evening, Jerry and I joined him at a brewery on Pearl Street for the Puzzled Pint, which is a puzzle-solving event. There were four regular puzzles and a meta-puzzle that built on the other four, plus a bonus puzzle. The three of us blew through them in 35 minutes, plus 5 more for the bonus puzzle, which was pretty satisfying. Then we just hung out and talked for most of the evening.

Then Thursday night, the plan was for me to stay late at work and pick him up after his conference dinner. It turned out that the dinner was at NCAR! So that was pretty convenient. At one point he got trapped by speechifying from some politician and had to escape off the backside of the cafeteria patio. "I can jump a wall if I need to," he said. :) After the requisite here's-my-office tour, we went to the Floyds' for Game Night, yay!

I played a new game that I really wanted to love, but did not. It's called Skyway Robbery, and it was heists + steampunk + airships! It had amazing theming and interesting gameplay, but some pretty serious balance issues. There was one "win the game" card that came up at the very beginning, which I've seen discussions online suggesting should be removed for first-time-players, but the bigger issue it's a game with a lot of momentum (i.e., succeeding puts you in a good position to succeed even further), but also a lot of randomness that can leave you stymied for several turns in a row at the beginning. I dunno, I might play it again if somebody can find good houserules online for it, but it was a frustrating and disappointing experience.

Much less fun was that also that week Panthro was overeating and then throwing up just about every day. Gross. Well, then we found out that the cause was that he had worms. Ew! Double gross! Jerry took him to the vet and got medicine for it, and now he's doing a lot better. Fortunately, they're apparently a kind that are spread by flea bites, so we don't have to worry about the other kitties getting them. Ah, the joys of pet ownership.

This last weekend I spent Saturday prepping and running Star Wars. Plus I got a haircut and did some grocery shopping while I was thinking about how to structure the next little mini-adventure. Sunday was more interesting; we went over to Matt & Jason's for a lovely Easter luncheon (Jason made standing rib roast, wow), and then in the evening Bob & Mike came over to our place to discuss wedding cake. ZOMG weddings involve so much work. I'm glad we're doing this with a decade and a half of getting along under our belts already. On the other hand, I think people who get married in their early 20s don't realize how much they're saving by doing it when they don't know anybody yet!
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