Saturday, June 30, 2007

Packin' Up & the iPhone

Tomorrow evening I'm leaving for Ireland for my three-and-a-half-week trip. I'm not quite sure how I feel about going. I think I'm supposed to be glad about seeing my parents' house (which I haven't seen yet). Most of my relatives on my mother's side live scattered throughout Ireland, and I haven't seen them in 10 years. I think I'm should be looking forward to seeing them again, but I don't really know these people - Mom grew up with them and has traveled to Ireland her entire life, but I don't have the same relationships with them as she does, of course. Of course, then there's the part where we'll be burying my grandmother.

In any case, I have been slowly getting organized, going to the store to buy items I realize I need or should have (extra ear plugs came to mind). I have pretty much packed too; my duffle bag is stuffed to the proverbial gills. All my stuff never would have fit in the smaller suitcase for which I made a special trip to the storage facility. And I'm not even over packing necessarily, but I'm bringing a few items over for Mom and Dad, and those items took up more space than I thought they would. I did not manage to have room to even pack my rain jacket or the books I will need to borrow from the library tomorrow. I may have to go through what I have packed and remove a few of the nicer clothes I'd decided to pack, on the off chance they'd be needed. On the other hand...maybe just some severe reorganization is needed.

The iPhone came out yesterday; Chris is as happy as a clam. I stood outside the Apple Store at the mall all day; Jordan stopped by in mid-afternoon to bring me beverages, came again at about four in the afternoon, and let me go home just after five. Chris had camped out at the local AT & T store but was not able to get any of their supply, so he made off with one of the two that Jordan had purchased. It wasn't too bad a day, really. I had brought a sandwich and a few drinks (and Jordan kept me supplied and kept checking up on me throughout the day); I also had a book and a magazine, and Chris lent me his iPod (and is letting me borrow it for the duration of my trip to Ireland - relief!). Chris has been showing off his iPhone since last night.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Birthday Rant

My friend Stella turns 29 today. I had mailed her a card and left her a "Happy Birthday" message in her Live Journal comment section, but in glancing over and bypassing her other friends' comments, I felt a rant coming on. And I didn't want to leave a rant in her comments section because it's got less to do with her birthday and her friends' good wishes as it is all-around rant.

When it comes to birthdays, people seem to have one of a few settings: Turning a new decade, or the year before, people start to freak out and react as if birthdays are traumatizing. They get all angst-ridden because "they haven't accomplished anything," but they never specifically explain what it is they are not accomplishing. Do you have a certain goal you have set for yourself and have not met? What are you going to do to go after it then? Or have you tried to cure cancer and failed? Didn't win the Nobel Prize again? Or are you living your life, finding out what makes you happy, and going after it? That is what a success is, in my mind: Figuring out what you want, what makes you happy, and then going after it.

I was relieved to turn 30. It meant I was finally becoming my own person and that I had the right to make my own decisions and not have to be accountable to anyone for why I made specific choices. I don't think that happens to most people until they start coming into their own in their mid- to late-twenties. And it was literally last year for me when I started feeling that way. Now that I'm 31 and I finally have a college degree - which is not a marker of success; I just happen to be crap at anything that doesn't require that degree - I finally feel like I can go after the rest of what I want.

The other setting seems to be that he or she who is celebrating the birthday doesn't care; it's just another birthday. Which, you know... it is. If you are going to freak out because you are turning 30, or 40, or 50, or 120... well, would you rather the alternative?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Resting Up

My pictures are all finally up from our trip to San Francisco. Since Chris and I have been home I've been doing some odd running around and mentally preparing myself for my trip to Ireland: Picked up my new eyeglasses; done some laundry; ordered some clothes and a raincoat; ordered a few things Mom and Dad have asked me to pick up for them. I'll have to do laundry again before I leave, of course, but I've begun trying to simplify what I'll be packing (hence the ordering of new clothes).

I often feel that I need a few days to recover from a vacation. No matter how much fun I have, no matter what new things I have learned and discovered, coming back home has become a relief. I don't know why this is, but being away from home for more than a week makes me nervous. No, not nervous, maybe; I don't quite know what the proper word is. While I'm looking forward to my three-and-a-half-week trip to Ireland, I'm also apprehensive about being away from home for so long. I've been to Europe quite a few times, and have managed to do a fair amount of driving up and down the East Coast and out to California, but there's always a piece of worry in the back of my mind, a worry that something bad is going to happen while I'm away, some financial issue is going to develop and become exacerbated unless I'm here to take care of it, but won't be able to because I don't know about it and can't take care of it.

It's illogical, I know; few problems pop out of nowhere and become major complications in a short period of time, but I have had a few instances in which I've gone away, come home, and something has come up - usually my fault and entirely preventable - and even though I've grown up I'm still worried about something happening.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

San Francisco - Saturday

Today being our last day in San Francisco, and also since there was no conference for Chris to go to, we'd decided we'd trek up (over?) to Fisherman's Wharf and get us some good crab. (Last time we went to San Francisco together, I nudged Chris towards Fisherman's Wharf and introduced him to the line of seafood shacks they have, and he decreed that we would have to come back again and spend more time.)

We had some misadventures with the bus - the first took forever to show up (more than 20 minutes); the second and third were too full so not everyone got on; another few buses just kept going and didn't stop; etc. - so after more than half an hour of this we decided to hoof it at least through Chinatown. Finally caught a less-crowded bus and reached the Wharf.

We grabbed a crab cocktail and inspected the various lunching possibilities - and I think that no matter what we did we would have been happy about it - before actually heading into a sit-down restaurant that kept us standing outside longer than we'd been initially told. Although I'm not a big fan of sourdough bread, I opted for the lobster bisque in a sourdough bread bowl and a Caesar salad; Chris ordered half a cracked crab (which did look pretty good) and a cup of the lobster bisque; and we split an order of Oysters Rockefeller. We wandered a bit further down the Wharf, avoiding the blatant tourist traps (why would you want to go to Johnny Rocket's or the Rainforest Cafe if you had the option of fresh crab and seafood?) and shopping and decided to wander back to the hotel.

We dumped our stuff at the hotel and headed over a few blocks to the King George Hotel, because we had heard rumors of tea being served on the weekends. And actually, it was pretty nice: Dainty cups and saucers matched the plates, sugar bowl, creamer, and tea pot; there were four options for tea, each of which came with bottomless pots of tea (relief for Chris). We decided to combine the King George Tea, which came with a scone, preserves, and Devon clotted cream, a selection of tea sandwiches (cucumber; salmon and cream cheese; ham and cheese; and egg salad), tea cookies, and petit four; and the Queen Mary Tea, which came with the same selection of tea sandwiches, and tea cookies. Chris kindly let me try half his scone and some petit four.

I headed to Mass so I wouldn't have to be up amazingly early Sunday morning; I went to a rather impressive church that turned out to the seat of the archdiocese of San Francisco - the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption. It was actually one of the best Masses I've been to in a while - the priest actually smiled at every person who came down the aisle for Communion, which for some reason just made me kinda happy. Of course, the way these things sometimes work is that the church itself was a bit more than a mile away, so it took me just over half an hour to walk there and back, and by the time I got back to the hotel room Chris was starting to worry.

Because we had eaten tea, we weren't that hungry for dinner, but I'd heard of a hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant that allegedly had good food and since it happened to only be a couple blocks from our hotel, we had a late dinner. Turned out to be pretty good, too.

Friday, June 15, 2007

San Francisco - Friday

Tourist Day!

There wasn't too much on Friday that Chris wanted to take part in at the conference, and being in the mood for dim sum for lunch, we decided to hoof it on over and through Chinatown. We poked our noses in through a few stores (well, I did, and I dragged Chris through) - Chris bought me a silky pink messenger bag / purse in one of the bazaars - and stopped of for some bubble tea. We passed by one dim sum place - the type with the women standing out in front, shouting out, "Dim sum!" and pushing menus; after bypassing one restaurant (the place we went to last time, if I remember correctly), we agreed that the next place we came across that was advertising dim sum would be the place we'd eat.

Which is what we did.

It's always a bit spooky when you walk into a restaurant, and someone says, "Come with me, we'll go up to the second floor." I felt like we were buying some illegal merchandise (which, by the way, a former roommate who shall remain nameless did last summer; while we were living in Brooklyn, she went into Chinatown specifically to buy a "hot" purse - it was quite an adventure).

It wasn't quite like the previous restaurant we'd been to, in which various waitresses circulated with whatever happened to be ready - and we had the option of saying "yes" or "no." Instead, this was a place with an actual menu. We opted for the buffet, which was a misnomer only because there was no buffet; we were brought soup, and various plates (friend rice; chicken and cashews; a beef dish; and one or two others) were left at our table. It was all right, but not quite what we were in the market for.

We had made dinner arrangements with Justin tonight - the only night that we were collectively free (Justin has been running a bit ragged this past week, and will continue to run around like a headless chicken until we leave for Ireland in a couple of weeks, so this was the only night we could all get together, and I'm glad for that); he had found Anzu, which turned out to be right in our neighborhood and therefore within walking distance. In the mood for sushi, we ordered a bunch of various items from their sushi menu and had a good time. Not bad sushi; if I were to go back there, though, I would try one of the entrees.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

San Francisco - Thursday

Today was almost an exhausting day; we went all over creation. Chris and I became adventurous and braved the San Francisco buses, first taking the 38 Geary to Japantown, where we explored a grocery story (and were entertained by their typography, in particular the dairy section that was mistakenly labeled "Daily" - in a nicely carved permanent wooden sign) before wandering around the Peace Plaza and finding lunch. Fortunately the place abounds in restaurants, so we ventured into a Korean place that was pretty good. (I've never had Korean food before; I had Dolsot Bibimbap, and Chris had the Lunch Box Special, with bulgogi).

After we were done wandering around the Japantown malls for a while, and then caught the 38 Geary and continued on towards the rather surprisingly nifty remnants of the Sutro Baths - ruins, at this point, but it was possible to explore them directly by climbing all over them and walking around quite a lot, which was easy to do because every time we turned a corner there was something else to explore. I hadn't even heard of the baths previously - we went based on a recommendation of the sales clerk at 826 Valencia. Of course, it was also rather nice walking by the Pacific Ocean, especially when the weather was as good as it was.

Tonight - this evening, rather - was the Apple bash. I'm told that in years past it was held at the Apple Campus in Cupertino, but this year it was held at the Yerba Buena Gardens. Security was pretty tight so I didn't even try to smuggle myself in; but Chris went, and he called me later and I met him outside the Gardens; at least I could see how it was laid out, the crowds, and hear part of the band. It was a nice evening to be out walking, and apparently the Apple people had done a good job of catering. (Plus, Chris smuggled out for a me an ice cream sammich - and boy, was it a good one!)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

San Francisco - Wednesday

A rather quiet day - Chris went to a few sessions in the morning; we met up for lunch, went to the Metreon and stopped at the Buckhorn Grill for steak sandwiches. (The Metreon, across the street from the Moscone Center, was packed with Apple geeks; they were ubiquitous and I felt no shame at any time in asking any of them for directions.) After lunch Chris went back to the hotel room so that he could run through his own session which was scheduled later in the day, and I went off to explore a few museums, although I only made it to one (museums, for me, are more enjoyed when I have company): the California Academy of Sciences. It was pretty neat; they had a lot of marine and aquatic life, lots of fishes, and even some penguins (unfortunately I wasn't around for the penguin feeding). The museum seemed to be in the midst of expanding, or at least getting new marine life, so a good chunk of the first floor was roped off with explanations of what they were doing. I should have taken advantage of the free iPod tours that were offered (some poor kid was just hanging out by a big stack of iPods) but I have headphone issues - they never fit in my ears properly. While the first floor was dedicated to marine life, they had a second, smaller floor that had small bits of other sciences - anthropology, astronomy, perhaps a few others, too - but nothing as in-depth as the marine life exhibit.

This was my sole (no pun intended) excursion for the day; I was feeling lazy and I didn't want to hop around to the three or four other museums I could have gone to. Art museums I can really only muster enough interest in if I have good company, and San Francisco is definitely an art museum kind of town.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

San Francisco - Tuesday

Today I accomplished absolutely nothing. The two other churches I'd considered seeing were more than a mile away (from the hotel, and I think also not too close to each other), and I decided, quite frankly, that I don't want to go anywhere that is going to be a hassle to get to or make me exhausted (therefore not allowing me to appreciate what I'd expended energy to get to). In the process of this decision I've eliminated Angel Island because of the expense and distance (although that was one place I'd still like to go to) and the Presidio (which is too far to walk to and would take close to an hour and a half each way using public transportation).

Instead, I did nothing all morning and met Chris for lunch at Mel's Drive-In - where I had an amazing strawberry milkshake; and we headed on over to the Samovar Tea Lounge, which was fabulous. Before Chris and I got yelled at for taking pictures of what we ordered (I got the Samovar Masala Chai and two cherry oat scones; I forget which type of tea Chris had, but he had Bergamont Bread Pudding, which I wish I'd ordered) we had a lovely time; the food and tea were delicious; and the gardens surrounding the tea house were full of blooms.

Chris was interviewed by Scott McNulty of TUAW, an interview I got to hang out for, after which we decided to head on up to the Mission District so that we could play at 826 Valencia, a Writing Center masquerading as a pirate shop. We attempted to go to Mission Dolores, but found it closed for the day. (That might be the one stop I go back out of my way for.) By this time we were practically dragging, so we came back to the hotel and found dinner at a place just down the street from us, the Daily Grill, which was so godo that I'd put it on my list to go back to.

Monday, June 11, 2007

San Francisco - Sunday & Monday

Chris and I are in San Francisco for WWDC this week, although Chris has been spending much of his time with Apple folks and other professional computing types, while I've been trying (somewhat unsuccessfully) to find something new to do. I've been to San Francisco a few times before and have managed to see mostly everything I really wanted to see, and knowing that Chris would most likely be busy during the day with conference sessions and parties at night, I tried to find something that seemed interesting, but nothing really stood out. I found a few churches that looked as though they might be interesting, and thought the Presidio might be neat to see, and Angel Island.

We arrived Sunday afternoon - Justin retrieved us from the airport and dropped us off at the hotel - after which I have to admit that I can't remember what we did. We had heard of a party at 111 Minna, so we gamely traipsed over and had some rather good food and mingled with various other conference attendees.

Monday, being the day of keynotes, had Chris heading on over to the Moscone Center, so I decided to see the churches I'd thought might be interesting. I first went to was the Shrine of Saint Jude Thaddeus, a small but lovely shrine housed at St. Dominc's. It was, though, a rather long walk - over a mile from the hotel, so by the time I got there I was a bit cranky. But I had all the time in the world, so I took my time in getting to Grace Cathedral, which was absolutely gorgeous. Huge, almost Gothic, with lovely stained glass windows and paintings that were painted on the stone walls. There were two labyrinths - one inside the church, and one outside - which was a feature I'd never seen before in a church.

By this time, it was early afternoon (I had left late morning, an hour or so before lunch) so I wandered slowly back to the hotel, cursing myself for thinking that these churches weren't as close to each other (and more importantly to the hotel) as I had thought. My sleep pattern was still a bit off, so I wound up napping the rest of the afternoon, then meeting Chris for a light dinner before he went off to have dinner with some Apple compatriots.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Problems with Test Preparations

As is generally known, I recently completed an undergraduate degree, one that is a pathway to certification to teach English (or English Language Arts, as it's sometimes called), in grades 7-12 in New York State. There are a lot of requirements one must satisfy if one goes the route I am going through, including three tests, two of which I've already passed. The last one I need to take - and indeed, the last obstacle I need to overcome in order to apply for and receive my initial certificate (which would be good only for three or five years) is the Content Specialty Test, which I'm scheduled to take this Saturday. As the title of this test implies, there are many different versions based on the specific subject in which one wishes to become certified - Chemistry, Italian, Math, etc. In my case, I am scheduled to take the English CST. They're all meant to measure one's basic knowledge of subject matter. I'm not too worried about it; I can do well on any grammar question, and on the essay section; in regards to the questions about literature, I'll either know it or I won't, based on the classes I've taken and my background.

Nevertheless, in an attempt to at least become familiar with the format of the exam, and become familiar with the type of question answered, for Christmas I asked for and received this book from XAM Online. Alas, the review that is on could have helped, because the book is horrible.

And it's horrible not because of the questions it poses - although it should be noted that the book does state that it has not been endorsed by NYSTCE (the folks who actually put out the exam); that it has nothing to do with the exams given; nor does it use previous exams as sample tests (which is standard) - but because there are typos on nearly every page in the sample test. Sometimes there are two or three. And they're really stupid typos that make me thing that they didn't even run the spell checker and/or hire an editor, like spelling errors.

My favorite is in the answer section; the answer is given, but although for every single other answer you are told the rationale, what is in the book is this: "The answer is A. (Self explainatory.)" This was not a cheap book; it was nearly $60. And no, it wasn't my money, but if their typography isn't right, I can't quite trust the content either - despite their lack of affiliation. If I were more scientifically minded, though, I would buy one of their science test prep. books and go through it to see if their alleged preparation would lead to any inadvertent new-fangled science. Instead, I wrote them a letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

I write to you today because of my concerns with the book I purchased a few months ago, such that I could prepare myself for New York State’s CST exam. The specific book I purchased was CST English 003, ISBN 978-1-58197-851-3.

I am primarily troubled with the number of typographical errors I have encountered while trying to prepare for this test. As the edition I own was published in 2007, I was surprised that I found errors on nearly every page – at least within the sections that contained sample questions (which was the part I reviewed prior to my taking the CST). An incomplete list of typographical errors I encountered include:
•    An alignment issue on page 217, question 27, letter B
•    A period at the beginning of phrases  (example: in the answer section, page unknown, number 62, letter C)
•    Some phrases within the explanatory answer section were capitalized at the beginning of the line, while others were not capitalized (this was commonly found; one example is question 61 in the answer section)
•    Periods at the end of some phrases, and not in others (this was common) – occasionally some phrases ended with periods and other phrases did not, both within the same question

I also found a few instances of confusing or just unacceptable phraseology, as demonstrated in the explanation to the answer of number 42; the correct answer, being A, was explained merely as “self-explanatory.” Given that all other answers had some form of explanation, I fail to understand why that specific answer should be self-explanatory.

These are relatively minor infractions, of course, but I am concerned about the professionalism of sending such a text to print, especially in a test meant for pre-service English teachers. I can only hope that other editions were more carefully proofread. I bring these errors to your attention, though, because unfortunately such typographical errors reflect poorly on an otherwise potentially fine company that wishes to help prepare future educators.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Good Weekend

Last weekend was quite the social event for Chris and me. On Friday night Chris and I ventured into New York City, to see the Rock Bottom Remainders at Webster Hall. And they were wonderfully horrible. For some inexplicable reason - and this is a first - we wound up standing in line outside the venue until about 9:15; when we were finally let in, the band had already started. We've been to concerts that have started late before, but the doors had been opened and everyone had been let in; if people were late it wasn't because of the actions of the venue itself. It was a bit strange, but we found a good location to stand and had a good time. I recognized Dave Barry and Stephen King right away, and Amy Tan soon after; Scott Turow , Ridley Pearson, Roger McGuinn, and Frank McCourt were also part of the band.

Saturday night we went Weird Al at the Westbury Music Fair; Chris' friend Michael had bought tickets for himself and his kids, and had bought us tickets as well. The earplugs we had brought really helped; when we had gone to see Weird Al in the past, the volume tended to be so loud that lyrics were hardly discernible.

It was quite a busy weekend; I was glad I had nothing planned for Sunday because I needed the day to recover.