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Boston

Okay, first, the short list of gripes and quick asides:
1) I thought I gave myself a hernia the other week, and luckily after seeing the doctor, he’s assured me I’ve just pulled a groin/abdominal muscle, and that I’m a tard for not stretching properly before exercising.
2) What the F*CK is up with the germs this season? On the way back from Boston I exploded into a high fever, and I was sick all last week. Dude. This is F’d up. I’ve been on antibiotics three times this season alone. That’s three times in three months! That’s a greater number of times than I have been on antibiotics for the previous 3 years!
3) While sick, I told myself I’d quit coffee. I survived my pledge about three days. I’m drinking a nice cup of java even as we speak. So much for that.
4) Again, this blog entry is over a week old (more like two) — I just can’t seem to find the time to write. I need to change that.
Okay, so Boston.
Why did I go to Boston? I was invited to attend the tail end of the American Association of Museums conference, help host a workshop (read: be tech support in case anything bad went wrong (and it did (what’s up with the nested parentheticals?!) but I fixed it) or to answer stupid questions), and meet with folks from the museum world to try to figure out what their needs are for Pachyderm (my app I’ve been working on, search the archives if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and try to get their participation in the open source project if I can. I also met with folks from MIT that I’ve been working on a plug-in for pachyderm to connect to OKI/OSID repositories, and hear about what’s going on at MIT, etc. In any case, it was a close-to-last-minute trip, and I said yes because a) it seemed to be important to the project, and b) I’d never been to Boston, so it was a good opportunity for me to collect the spot and check off the box.
So I headed out Saturday afternoon on a red-eye flight to Boston from Oakland, with a layover in Denver for an hour. After a blessedly uneventful trip out to Bean Town, (there wasn’t much to see out the windows at that time of night) I arrived in the airport just after midnight, and took a cab to my hotel ‘Club Quarters Downtown Boston’ on Devonshire. The first thing that hit me coming out from the airport was the number and length of tunnels that we had to traverse in order to actually get into Boston proper. I had a moment where I imagined myself in some horrible movie with Stallone trying to save me from a flooded tunnel, but then blessedly it passed, and we were in the downtown area. From the back seat of the cab I got a fair sampling of the architecture and nightlife, as best as I could briefly on a Saturday night. What immediately blows my mind is the layers of history that were before my eyes. I saw several buildings that were quite obviously 17th or 18th century, brick structures of three stories, right next to other buildings that might have dated to the late 19th century, stone at ten stories, and then nearby high-rises that date to the mid 20th century. The next day I would have a reflection on this as an interesting element of the town’s character — the audacity to build these monumental buildings right next to a structure of historical importance, but the respect shown in not tearing them down. Much like New York City, but at a much smaller scale. There was no rhyme or reason to the layout, as the city streets meander much like a sixteenth century European town, but I would find out more about that as the days would progress. I saw not a few Irish pubs rocking the night away with locals spilling out into the streets, and I immediately wanted to be among them. But alas, it being almost one in the morning, and me feeling tired and needing to be fresh for the next day, I opted to just crawl into my hotel room and call it a night. As I checked in, I got a message that Peter (one of my compatriots from the Pachyderm project) had bid me welcome and asked for me to stop by if I got in before 1:15, which I just made, so I dropped by for a strategy meeting before the next day. I went back to my room and collapsed. The rooms, while clean and relatively spacious, were damned cold, and I could not for the life of me find the heat controls (Tim told me where they were later in the week), but that first night I just turned on the shower for a period to heat the room, and then climbed under the covers, trying to ignore the cold and the pain that I thought I was suffering from a self-inflicted hernia (read above).
The next day I awoke and fumbled around in bed until 9 AM or so, a luxury that I don’t get at home very often, but which was only a lukewarm blessing, given that it felt like it was six in the morning. There wasn’t a view from my room save a cigarette-covered balcony of gravel and a wall of office windows across the street, so after a quick glance past the curtains, I jumped in the shower, threw on my clothes and headed out into the streets, braving my way over to the Hynes Convention Center armed with nothing more than a subway token and a short written list of instructions on how to get from the park street station to where I needed to be by 10:30 am. I headed down to the lobby thinking I could ask the doorman for instructions to the T station (that’s what they call it in Boston), but I should have known better given the do-it-yourself nature of the check-in process that it might be hard to get someone’s attention. The lobby (if you could call it that, for it was a 20′ x 20′ room filled with two automatic check-in machines, two automatic check-out machines, and a front desk tended by one disaffected attendant) was flush with new guests, so instead of waiting around to maybe get some help, I walked out into the street, and went next door to the restaurant adjoining the hotel, the ‘Castle and Elephant’ (again, I must find it ironic and suspect that I was surrounded by pachyderm paraphenalia on a trip for Pachyderm) to ask for directions. I’m not sure what the hostess tried to tell me, but what I got in my head without coffee at that hour in the morning was something like ‘go down there, turn left, go two blocks, then turn right, then left’, and so I quickly thanked her and decided to fly blind, because those instructions didn’t tell me much at all (or at least I didn’t think they did — they turned out to be relatively accurate, if they had contained little details like street names). I bumbled down to the first left, and went up a few blocks, and found a bagel shop where I bought some liquid awake and a bagel I never ate, and asked the clerk behind the counter where I might need to go to get to park street station, and he didn’t know (‘They drive me in!’) so I was again on my own. I dropped into my innate city navigation mode, and launched out to find a city map on the route I was headed. I figured out which direction I was pointed, where I had to go, and headed on my way. I passed by a very famous graveyard, whose name I still don’t know, but Paul Revere is buried there, as well as members of B. Franklin’s family, and others (including Mother Goose), but I wouldn’t get a chance to take a look until the next day. I quickly passed the graveyard so neatly tucked between large historic buildings much younger than the grounds, and headed down the street to Boston Common and the Park Street station. I slipped down the station like a regular, coffee in hand, and caught the train in time to meet Peter and guests near the convention center.
I was running a little behind, so after a little bit of phone coordination, we met at a local bookstore / cafe (trying to remember the name, it starts with a ‘T’ — locals or former locals, help me out.) Anyhow, it was totally packed (seemed like a popular spot) and I was ahead of the group I was meeting with, so I snuck in and got us a table for 4 (we had to be moved to a table for 5). Peter arrived with our guests soon after, and we had a lovely brunch, discussing all things Pachyderm. There was much interest in getting instances up and running at several institutions, and even some interest in helping out with the project (in terms of accessibility and development documentation in particular). The conference was still going on at the Hynes, so we had to break and while our guests got back to their respective sessions, I headed back to the conference center with Peter to talk with their audio/mobile tour vendor about Pachyderm and what they might like to do with the application.
After a little while there, I was on my own and Peter provided me with a free pass to the Boston Museum of Science’s exhibit on the Science of Star Wars. I have to admit I was skeptical at first, thinking ‘oh God, not another exhibit of costumes and model ships, but because they were using the mobile tour guide software from the company I just previously talked with, and because I somewhat committed to check it out, I decided to go. I caught the ‘T’ again from the Hynes to Government Center (the train I was on stopped there, though it would had been better if I had taken the T all the way to Science Circle) and walked the rest of the way to the museum. I saw some fantastic examples of old red brick buildings dating back to the 1700’s along the way, and snapped off some pictures. Eventually I made my way over the bridge and over to the museum, which was hard to miss with the giant painting of C3PO’s head on the tower of the building. I have to tell you, this was by far the best Star Wars exhibit I’ve ever seen. What set his exhibit apart was its focus on learning and experimentation around the concepts of science that it discussed. There were stations where you could create mag-lev hover cars out of legos and put them through different courses, where you could experiment with robotics, and where you could interact with computer-modeled communities of Jawas or space port denizens by manipulating symbols on a white circular table which a computer eye picked up and turned into 3-d representations of buildings. The exhibit comes to Portland, OR in the fall, and Los Angeles next spring. I highly suggest you see it if you can.
After having my mind blown by Star Wars yet once again, I headed back to the hotel and went out to dinner that evening with Peter and his partner, and her sister. I had a great time and learned a great deal about Mongolia, Yurts and the co-mingling of archaic ways and modern technology that has happened in that region since the fall of the Soviet Union. It just reminds me how cool it is to meet new people.
That evening after dinner, Peter and I welcomed Tim into town (his flight came in late) and we had a few drinks and chatted about our plans for the next day, at the Pachyderm workshop. We headed for bed, and reconvened in the morning for breakfast. I had a ‘traditional’ English breakfast which had all the right elements, but not constructed in the right way (I’ve been to England, and I’m telling you, the beans go ON the toast, with an egg on top. There was no toast, and the beans were in a cup!).
After breakfast, we all headed out via taxi to the Museum of Science again, where in one of their education rooms we gave a Pachyderm training for about two dozen museum folk (and as it turns out, a state senator as well). The app fell over a few times during search because we were using the NMC production version which hasn’t been upgraded to fix that bug yet, but since I was there I was able to restart relatively quickly. All in all it was a successful training, and while there I spoke with another member of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts about the possibility of a new template for Pachyderm that they would fund.
Peter had to head back to the airport directly, but Tim and I were in town for one more day, so we took the T back to our ‘hood’ at Park Street, and on the way back we popped into the aforementioned graveyard and had a look around. It really was trippy to see all these headstones from the 17th and 18th century — I had always assumed Tim Burton was being cartooney and exaggerating the graphical style of his graveyards, but as it turns out, Tim Burton is 100% faithful and accurate to the style of the New England 17th century graveyard. We saw some famous graves, including Paul Revere and Mother Goose. We were there for about an hour, and then the guard was closing up and booted us.
We headed back to the hotel for an hour, then went out in search of food and entertainment. We wandered about through the old part of town (some of the shops dated back to the 1700’s) and ended up at Faneuli Hall, but that turned out to be pretty food-courty, and so we wandered off to the side and found a slightly more upscale restaurant (Houston’s, which turned out to be a chain). After an expensive but adequate meal, we wandered back over to the older establishments and had a beer or two at The Green Dragon Inn, which I found pretty funny myself. There was a Sox game on, so that occupied most of the inhabitants of the bar, but as we found out there was a competing event planned — ironically a comedy show, and ironically we were approached by a comedian who knows my friend Alana who is a comedian and who used to live in Boston. Small world. Tim and I left after a while, but before the comedy started, and on the walk back ran into the most interesting Holocaust memorial I’ve seen, with these really tall glass spires that are covered with the millions of numbers given to the victims of the concentration camps, and a path walked beneath each spire. Directly underneath each spire is a grate that steam rises from to fill the glass columns, and below the grate there were little lights – some constant, some twinkling, and some completely out. There were all sorts of quotes and figures along the walk, and each spire was named for a camp. To say the least, both of us were blown away by the experience. We left and headed back to the hotel.
The next day Tim had plans with friends, and I packed up, checked out and headed over to MIT to meet with the folks in the Open Knowledge Initiative group. The trip to Cambridge was nice, as I got to see parts of Boston that I hadn’t up until that point — above Boston Commons is beautiful, obviously where the upscale live. Cambridge was a trip of a town, half campus and half industrial complex. The cabbie dropped me off a few blocks too early, so I rolled my luggage down the street to the building I had to reach, and luckily it wasn’t raining that hard. All in all, I didn’t see much of MIT, but had a great meeting with the folks in OKI. We talked about pachyderm integration w/ OKI OSID, and I saw one of their other projects, Thalia. We went out to lunch, and then afterwards I headed to the airport. I knew I was coming down with something all day, but it didn’t really hit me until I got to the airport. I was definitely getting sick, and in a very unfriendly way.
The flight home was delayed by about a half hour, and although I showed up to the airport a few hours early, all I could do is sit and suffer as my illness set in. My ear and throat started to hurt, and I could feel a fever start to set in. By the time I was on the plane, things got decidedly worse, and in short, I suffered for 4 hours with a high level fever until I could land in Denver and get some Tylenol (the flight attendants couldn’t give me any medication that actually worked. I asked, and they said they could give me something called ‘non-aspirin’ that literally did nothing. A placebo. That’s hilarious to me.). The last leg I managed to survive only because of the Tylenol, but that flight back kicked off the worst ear infection / sore throat I’ve had in years. I was feverish for a few days, and only high-grade antibiotics cured it.
Well, that’s the trip (in brief -hah) and I’ve been back for a few weeks (got home on 5/2). Sorry if I lost coherency along the way. I’m tired, and it’s late, and the entry is two weeks late in the coming.

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