Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Club - The Lost Symbol

Yep. Our book club read 'The Lost Symbol' this month. It's a national (maybe international?) bestseller, and it's set in our city. Every tourist is going to ask how to find the 'secret' buildings, so we might as well know what they're talking about.

To be honest, I've read both 'Angels and Demons' and 'The Davinci Code.' I thought they were fun, easy reads, interesting, but not to be taken too seriously. This book was the same. The plot was very similar to the other two books, which is ok, since that's about what I expected.

It actually was fun to read a book like this that is set in your own city. Lots of the highlighted sights are within just a few blocks of my house, and they do have interesting histories. Though I don't buy into conspiracy theories, I thought you could still get the 'stop and smell the roses' lesson from reading this book. It's fun to take the time to notice your surroundings and learn about the history of the city and its various buildings, and this book reminded me that there are lots of fun things still to be discovered and learned about in DC.

Craig & Patrick Visit DC

Last weekend, Craig and Patrick flew down to DC to visit. They arrived on Friday evening, and after a looong drive from BWI airport (welcome to DC traffic), we got back to our house. We ate out at Logan Tavern, which has a neighborhood pub feel and great American food - wings, burgers, etc. Then we headed out for a pub crawl to show them our neighborhood. We stopped by Churchkey to show-off our new fancy-beer bar. We walked down 14th Street, stopping in Bar Pilar, which has a great laid-back atmosphere, even on a busy Friday night. We wandered down U Street and on to 18th Street, where we stopped at Duplex. Eventually we circled back around to our house - with some live jazz at 18th Street Lounge on the way. It was a nice long walk and a great way for them to get a sense of the neighborhoods near us.

We also made a post-midnight stop at one of Jeff's and my favorite little food spots - Yum's II. It's a tiny Chinese place a block from our house with not chairs or tables and bullet proof glass. The Chinese food really is pretty good, and it also serves philly cheesesteaks, mozerella sticks, and all sorts of other American food - I'd never really tried the American food, but Patrick got mozerella sticks and they were surprisingly good. In fact, Yum's was packed when we got there - it was the only time I've had to wait in line, but the lo mein and crab rangoons were worth it.

On Saturday, we continued our walking tour of the city. We made our way around the White House to the national mall.

We saw the Washington Monument and then walked around the tidal basin - seeing the Jefferson Memorial and FDR Memorial - both of which I'd never visited before.

After that, we grabbed a cab to the Capitol and ate lunch on the run as we hurried to make the start of our Capitol tour.

It was the first time I've gone on a tour of the Capitol building since my family visited DC in 1997, so everything was pretty new to me. The little video at the beginning of the tour was actually pretty good - it goes over the history of legislation in the U.S. - but is much more interesting than it sounds (and it mentions the NASA Act!). The Senate was in session, so we decided to be really good citizens and check out the action from the gallery. Though the chamber wasn't very full, senators from Maryland, Minnesota, and Massachusetts were all there debating health care - so we felt well-represented. We also saw John McCain speak, which was neat.

Once we'd had enough of the health-care debate, we decided to walk home along Pennsylvania Avenue. We stopped at the W Hotel to enjoy the view of the city from their roof-top bar, and then continued on to the apartment. Dinner was at Lauriol Plaza - which has amazing Mexican food - and it was even better than I remembered. In a food coma from our fajitas, we only lasted through one beer at Bar Pilar before we (yawning) decided we'd rather sit at home in our PJs. So we introduced Craig and Patrick to "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" before falling asleep.

Sunday, the last day Craig & Patrick were in town, we headed to the Holocaust Museum - another DC tourist destination I've never visited. The museum is really interesting and well set-up, taking you on a path through that details, chronologically, the build-up to the holocaust, the actual policies and carrying out of the plan, and the post-war events. Since I'd never visited, I had lots to read, so it took us almost three hours to see the whole thing.

From the museum, we went for a late lunch at Ella's Woodfired Pizza in Penn Quarter - which has incredible pizza - I think we finished it in about 10 minutes, since we were so hungry at this point. For there it was a quick walk home to grab some gelato, pack, and watch a couple episodes of "It's Always Sunny" before heading to the airport.

It was a really fun weekend - I think Craig and Patrick got a good sense of the city and saw the things they really wanted to see, and I got to see quite a few things that are new to me, too. And there was lots of good food. But we also got plenty of exercise - I mapped out the walks we did over the weekend and it totaled to about 13 miles of walking.

Space Foundation Testimony on the Hill

After the Wednesday event on the hill, my co-workers and I were back on the hill the next morning, since my boss had been asked to testify to the House Science and Technology Subcommittee. He, and the other expert witnesses, talked about the status of the United States space program with regard to other countries' programs.

A number of newspapers carried stories about the event:

U.S. losing its lead in space, experts warn Congress
(Miami Herald) November 19, 2009, By Robert S. Boyd

Experts claim U.S. needs partners to maintain space prowess
(Florida Today) November 20, 2009, By Bart Jansen

2 key lawmakers dig in their heels to back NASA's troubled Constellation program Ares V

(Orlando Sentinel) November 19, 2009, By Mark K. Matthews

Jeff's Birthday

Last Wednesday (Nov. 18th) was Jeff's 25th Birthday! Now he can rent cars without an extra fee. (I think that's the only benefit of 25 we could think of.)

To celebrate, we went out to Birch & Barley, a new restaurant that just opened about a half-block from our house (very conveniently located). It has really good 'new American' style food, but it's big selling point its its very extensive beer collection. It has a two-page menu of beers available on tap, and any of them can be purchased in a 4 oz. tasting size, so you can try different things, and put together your own beer flight.

A bunch of our friends came in to town to celebrate - Jeff's friends Chris and Charlie were there from his econ program, there was also our friend Stephanie from GW, Jeff's cousin Sarah, Anya, from my UMD program, Ross and Dan - our friends from MIT, and Ross's girlfriend, Tory. So we had a really nice mix of people that we know through all different avenues. (Jaisha came too, but didn't end up staying due to a fiasco with the reservation/lack of table space. Sorry, Jaisha!)

Dinner was great, and afterward we went to Churchkey - the bar on the second floor of Birch & Barley, and chatted over one last beer before heading home.

Space Applications and International Development Event

About a month and a half ago, I posted about my "Space Applications and International Development" white paper that I written and had published at work.

So last week, on Wednesday, we held an event on Capitol Hill to go along with the release of the paper. It was a lot of work to put together - especially because it was the first time I had organized an event like this. Luckily, I wasn't doing it on my own, so I had the help and experience of my co-workers.

I spoke in the beginning of the event, giving an overview of the topic - explaining how space applications are used for international development - supporting applications like telemedicine, tele-education, disaster early warning (using remote sensing imagery), land use planning, and many others.

We then had two panels, with three speakers each. I was really happy with all of the speakers - they were interesting and engaging and all seemed very passionate about their work.

The first panel talked about how communications satellites and remote sensing satellites are used to help developing countries. The two representatives from the NASA SERVIR program talked about how they were called on to provide imagery, data, and other assistance for the mudslides in El Salvador last week. It was amazing to see real examples of how these space-based products are being used in real-time to react to natural disasters and save lives.

The second panel talked about how developing nations can develop their own space programs, and what the benefits are of doing so. The idea is that even by just investing in space expertise and possibly some hardware able to analyze remote sensing data, nations can develop products that are particularly suited to their own national priorities. The president of the Brazilian Space Agency spoke in this panel, describing some of the activities of the Brazilian program. Our other speakers, from the State Department and from the European Space Policy Institute, talked about the importance of engaging the international community and developing national space policy and legislation, to ensure new space nations fully benefit from resources are responsible international actors in space.

If you're interested, you can go to www.spacefoundation.org/research to see the full agenda of the event as well as any of the presentations.

Also, here is an article that was put together about the event.

Toronto, Canada

Two weekends ago (Nov. 13) my mom had a conference in Toronto, and I decided to fly up and meet her to hang out for the weekend. It's onl a bit more than an hour to fly there from DC, but surprisingly expensive - I think the taxes are more than the actual cost of the flight.

Anyway, I got there on Friday evening, a bit after her conference had ended. We decided to get dinner at a place called "Crush" - it's a wine bar just down the street from the hotel where we were staying. The food was great and my mom and I both tried a flight of Spanish wine.

On Saturday we started the day with a stop at Starbucks, and then make our way over to the CN Tower for a view of the city. It was very cool to see the view.

They also have a glass floor area, which was neat.

For lunch, we walked to the Distillery District and found a restaurant there. We decided to share nachos and then have soup, which seems like a reasonable amount of food, until the nachos came out and we saw there were enough for a family of five. (Of course we finished them anyway...)

The distillery area has lots of little boutiques, so we shopped around a lot. There was a place that sells fireplaces that you can hang on the wall, so you can just move them from room to room like a picture. My mom and I were joking that we should get one, and then we wouldn't have to watch the yule log on TV anymore. Though since it's a gas-fire, we wouldn't have any of that fire-poker excitement.

For dinner, we went out with my friend Dave Pritchard, who lives just outside Toronto - he went to MIT also, but I haven't seen him in a few years. We had great pasta and pizza dinner at a place called Lucy's and learned a bit about the crazy-fancy math stuff that Dave does for his PhD. The title of his PhD is "Linear Programming Tools & Approximation Algorithms for Combinatorial Optimization." I think it boiled down to him figuring out how write algorithms that solve problems that are (almost) impossible to solve. And something about helping traveling salesmen. I might need it explained once more. After dinner we went for beers and ended up discussing game theory - I've got the prisoner's dilemma written out on a napkin somewhere around here. It was a really fun evening.

Sunday was the last day my mom and I were in Toronto. We started the day with breakfast at Tim Hortons - we figured we had to give Canadian fast food a try. However, we ended up staying for an hour and half - this happened a lot during the weekend, we'd start chatting and the time would fly by.

We did eventually leave Tim Hortons and walk up Yonge Street. It turned out that Sunday was the Christmas parade in Toronto, so most of the rest of the day we spent watching that.

Then we had a very quick run through Chinatown and Kensington Market before heading to the airport.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Birthday Party!

It was my birthday yesterday, and Jeff's birthday is coming up in 9 days, so on Saturday we had a party to celebrate. We had a really good time - we haven't had a party at our apartment in more than a year, but now I think we might have to start having them more often. It was really fun to see people that we don't normally get to see on a regular basis. It was also really nice to get together with friends from my policy program and Jeff's econ program at the same time so people could meet each other.

There weren't any birthday decorations, but we did follow the theme by getting cupcakes - we actually picked up a dozen from DC Cupcake in Dupont Circle - so we had flavors ranging from "Princess" to "Peanut Butter Cup" - and they were all tasty!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Anniversary Celebration - Proof

Thanks to the excellent recommendation of our friend, Emma, Jeff and I decided to go to Proof for our anniversary dinner. Proof is a wine bar and restaurant, and the food was amazing. Here's what we had:

To Share
Plate of House Made Pates & Terrines
Olives with Citrus & Thyme

For Me
Warm Flatbred with Sheep's Milk Ricotta
Honey & Spice Glazed Pekin Duck Breast

For Jeff
Abalone "Three Minute" Ceviche
Fennel Crusted Pennsylvania Pork Loin

All with a very nice bottle of Pinot Noir.

It was an excellent dinner - the food was great and the atmosphere was cool and comfortable.

Jeff and I spent a while during our dinner trying to remember things from each of the six years that we've been together. A few highlights:

Year 1: Jeff and I went to London together November 14-18. We actually planned the trip before we started dating, so that we had only been dating two weeks when the trip happened. This is the first year Jeff met my family (as my boyfriend) - when he visited Minnesota for the first time in January. I met his parents for the first time in February (on Valentine's Day!) and tried my first ever Maryland crab cake. We also spent this summer living in DC (me) and Baltimore (Jeff) and braving the beltway almost every weekend to get together (foreshadowing, perhaps?).

Year 2: I spent this year in England, and Jeff played Party Poker while doing homework to build up enough savings to visit me five times. It’s the first year we spent Christmas with each other’s families. This was also the year of our three week Eurail trip, during which we celebrated the new year in Paris, and also visited Barcelona, Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Munich, Venice, Florence, Rome, Pompeii, Patras, and Athens. Wow… thinking about this really makes me want to do it again… but this time without sleeping on trains every other night.

Year 3: This was the year Jeff turned 21, and we had a big party for him that coincided with the Thanksgiving dinner at Theta Xi – I doubt I’ll never be able to plan anything better. It was also my senior year, so there was graduation in the spring – the first time our parents and extended families met as a group. Jeff and I had an awesome summer room in his fraternity, and this was the summer that my sister came to live in Boston for the first time, so Jeff really got a chance to know her (and we introduced her to her boyfriend – they’ve now been together about 3 years).

Year 4: Jeff and I spent this year shuttling between Medford, where I lived with some friends, and Boston, where Jeff was living. We had lots of big parties out in Medford to celebrate finally having a house (and a job). This was Jeff’s graduation, so there was another round of getting the families together. We also went on a celebratory trip to Punta Cana.

Year 5: This was the year Jeff and I moved to DC – we moved into our first apartment (which we still live in now). I started at GW, and Jeff was at UMD. We did a lot of exploring around DC this year, trying new restaurants and getting to know our neighborhood. It’s the year we met a lot of people who ended up becoming our good friends – Stephanie, Eric, Brian, Adam, Beth, Emma (who recommended the restaurant) and lots of others. We took our first spring break trip together – to Ecuador – and it was amazing. We also lived in Barcelona for a summer, meeting more great friends and enjoying a summer of amazing Mediterranean cuisine. Oh, patatas bravas.

Year 6: This was the past year (so you'll hear all about it in the upcoming Christmas card) – still living in DC, still going to graduate school. We went on a trip to Arizona with my family, watched Obama’s inauguration together on the National Mall, and went on trips to Europe and Peru. We spent the summer in DC, for the first time since Year One, above. :) And we went to my brother's wedding - the first wedding of a family member for either of us.

Of course, there are a million other things that have happened over the past six years, and I won’t try to write about them all. It really has been amazing, though, and we’re both excited for all the years to come.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Phone!

Last weekend, I lost my phone - actually, I remember where I left it, but when I went back to get it, it was gone, so I guess it was stolen.

But, on the bright side, that meant I got to shop for a new gadget. I ended up getting the Motorola Cliq phone. It runs Android, the google operating system, just like my G1 did. So far I like it - it was easy to set up my email - both work and home - as well as lots of other accounts - like facebook, last fm, etc. Motorola has a thing where it 'blurs' all your accounts together using widgets on the phone homepage, so you see updates from lots of different places.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Six Year Anniversary!

Today is Jeff's and my six-year anniversary! It seems crazy that it's already been six years, but lots has happened since we first started dating when I was a sophomore and he was a freshman in college. We've lived in two different cities, gone to three different schools (MIT, GWU, UMD), and seen a lot of the world together.

Jeff surprised me with a combined anniversary/birthday gift - an iPod Nano! It's the first time I've owned an iPod Nano, and I love it! It's so convenient for traveling, taking the metro, and working out (if I ever get a chance to do that...). In addition to music and video, it has games, a pedometer, a stop watch, an alarm, a voice recorder, a video recorder, and radio. I've already spent quite a few hours organizing music and playing games. :)


Jeff and I dressed up as a gangster and a flapper for Halloween. The costume was put together at the last second, mostly from odds and ends found at Target. (Though I already had my dress - it's a costume that I haven't warn in about 10 years...)

I think the costumes turned out well!

We went out on 14th St. with our friends Emma and Beth (Dread Pirate Roberts and a Boxer). Very fun night!