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Sunday, June 29, 2003

Whirlwind Weekend 

Well, we're back from a rather whirlwind weekend. On Thursday night, Evelin suggested we go away for the weekend, so I cut the grass that evening and Saturday morning we threw the tent into the trunk to head out to Western Maryland with no real plans just to see what we could see. Well it turns out, we saw a lot. Saturday included the Cranesville Sub-Arctic Swamp, Deep Creek Cellars (including a short tour of their vineyard), Fort Necessity National Battlefield Park and Fallingwater. We then headed back to Deep Creek Lake for dinner at Deep Creek Brewing Co.'s brewpub and, not finding any camping sites, we pushed on to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia. Getting there at dark, we set up the tent and had a fairly restless night's sleep before heading out to hike the canyon ridge trail above Blackwater Gorge in the morning. The rest of the day was driving through the mountains (and very, very impressive mountains they were) in Virginia to stop at two more wineries (Deer Meadow Winery and Veramar Vineyard) before catching White's Ferry across the Potomac back into Maryland.

Needless to say, I'm exhausted at the moment ...

The best bit was the mountains along Route 55 in West Virginia; those around Seneca Rocks were particularly impressive. After that, it gets a bit hard to choose: Deep Creek Cellars was great, small-scale winemaking with impressive results -- the Blue Dolce blueberry wine (the only fruit wine they do) is particularly nice, as was the 2001 chardonnay (light wood, nice body and good acidity) and the 2001 Watershed Red Reserve, a Super Tuscan-style red with good levels of oak and tannin and tons of tobacco notes in it; Fallingwater was a magnificent example of what Frank Lloyd Wright could do when people gave him enough money and a free enough hand; the canyon rim was nice, a good five miles before breakfast, although there were only two places where you could break though the rhododendrons to see out over the gorge; and so on.

The only downers were a bad campsite near the entrance of the campground, a bit of disappointment with more of the beers at Deep Creek Brewing than not, being way too early to visit a West Virginia winery, and a stiff knee from the drive back ... actually the worst is realizing I have to go back to work tomorrow. Ick.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Filesharing 

The RIAA plan to sue filesharers really seems a bit counterproductive to me. It seems more likely to antagonize those who are already using filesharing networks than to help encourage the uptake of legal alternatives ... not that there are any real alternatives (at least not until iTunes develops a PC version).

Actually, a lot of the reporting of the suit threats irks me because it misses the distinction between filesharing networks and downloading music. Not all downloaded music is pirated material, and not all of it is accessed via peer-to-peer networks; however, the stigma being attached to electronically delivered music seems be applied in the popular press with a very broad brush. I have about 2 gigs of MP3s on my computer, none of which were downloaded from a peer-to-peer network. A bunch came from Amazon; others from CDs I ripped to create mixed Y2K+ versions of mixed tapes; and still others from artists websites, radio stations, and MP3.com.

Maybe I’m being too easily provoked by reporting that is trying to simplify a complex issue, but it I also think the RIAA and the major labels would rather not see any sort of digitized music files and that they benefit from popular confusion about legal downloading vs. downloads that violate copyright protections. For small artists, newcomers, and bigger acts that want to give a little something extra to the fans, I think MP3s are a great idea. In that vein, go ahead and (legally) download a few songs by these artists (links are to artist sites, not directly to MP3s): Pong Nan, Riku Lätti, and Maus (MP3s only available on the Icelandic version of the Maus site).

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Panda Pregnancy 

Last night there was to do at the zoo. I had to be there for giant panda training (I'm a volunteer behavior watcher, tracking panda behavior twice a month or so) and some event had things blocked up all around the place with lots of police because some mucky-mucky was supposed to be in attendance. I got in before the checkpoints were set up, but a lot of other people got tied up. (Actually, I was a bit worried that my car would end up being towed or something.) It turns out it was Smithsonian Resident Associates Night; no idea whose appearance required such an extensive shutdown, but whatever.

I thought the training was going to be a refresher on the ethogram, behaviors and so forth for the longitudinal study that I've been volunteering on since Mei and Tian arrived in D.C., but most of it was about panda pregnancy. Mei Xiang probably isn't preggers, but panda reproduction is so bizarre that its hard to say for sure until a cub does or doesn't appear. Right now the plan is limited watches in the morning to help train newcomers to the program; as the signs of pregnancy/psuedopregnancy progress, then we'll move up to 24-hour watches.

Not only to pandas have a very short window of opportunity for mating each year (just a day or two), it's impossible to know exactly when a birth might occur afterwards. A fertilized panda embryo can have implantation delayed for 30 to 50 days after mating, and only after that do you have the normal gestation period. So the pregnancy watch is likely to start in early July and run until September with a possible birth or end of pseudopregnancy at some point during then.

The other thing that makes pregnancy difficult to diagnose in pandas is pseudopregnancy, which means that the hormone levels in the bear go up to pregnancy levels and pregnancy-related activities (i.e., nest building and cradling objects) occur. Also ultrasounds aren't reliable because the cub (even at full term) is fairly tiny -- about the size of a stick of butter.

So, anyway, we got to see videos of panda births and of pregnancy/pseudopregnancy behaviors, which I guess is only fair because the last big training session was all about mating behavior and we got to watch tons of panda porn... I guess there's nothing else that can be said about that.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Random Encounters 

Apparently, I’m becoming this weird guy who talks to strangers for no good reason. Yesterday and today, while walking back from picking up lunch at Trader Joe’s, I accosted people in the parking lot. Yesterday it was a man who was getting into a Toyota Prius; today it was a woman with a dog.

Evelin and I are looking for a new car. Sunday we made the first plunge into the world of car buying with a trip to CarMax, but no decisions were made mostly because the thought of buying a car makes me a bit anxious. Not quite Woody Allen anxious, but close. Part of it is that I’ve gotten used to no car payment in the two years since the Civic was killed, part of it is that I just don’t want to deal with the hassle of arranging financing, committing to a decision about a new car, etc. I’m also torn because I want an HEV auto, but I’m not sure about the Prius, the Honda Insight is too small and the Civil Hybrid, well, I’m not sure. Concerns range from what’s maintenance going to cost to just the higher base cost. I don’t know.

The guy I talked to yesterday, however, seems to be like other Prius owners I’ve met: On the verge of being a cultist: These people love their car.

The woman I talked to today had a really cute little dog. He looked a bit like a husky, but smaller and the leg:body ratio was wrong. I thought he might be a husky-corgi cross (husgi?) or a puppy, but she said he was an 8-year-old shiba inu. A very inquisitive and cute dog, but I felt bad for him a bit as it was 93°F.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Pleased to Meet You 

And so it begins ...

I guess the first thing is to introduce myself. I am Carter, an editor for a trade newspaper in the D.C. metro area. Mine is the typical life, I guess: 34; happily married; working to keep our 63-year-old house from falling down around us (although not as agressively as I should); no pets (excepting the goldfish who live in our pond and the migratory bullfrog who spends a good deal of time there); no children (although not for the lack of trying). I drink wine and whisky, cook a lot, and have been a vegetarian since 1991.

Those are the basics. Hopefully things will get more interesting.

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