Blog: August 2012

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Israel pictures

I've finally distilled my pictures from Israel into a single album (68 photos). Lots of parks and sculptures, and a bunch in and around the Old City.

Picasa album

(Somebody let me know if that link stops working and I'll repost elsewhere.)

I still owe more posts about the trip, including the program at Shalom Hartman, davening at Shira Chadasha, and miscellaneous other things. Oh, and for the curious, my complaint against Air Canada is currently at VISA. Next up on that front will be Christopher Elliott (thanks for the tips).

Two thumbs up: Iris and Ivory Tea House, Cheswick PA

My parents' 50th wedding anniversary was last week, and we threw a luncheon party for them today at Iris and Ivory Tea House in Cheswick (Pittsburgh suburbs). They treated us very well and on that basis I recommend them for parties up to around 70 people (their maximum capacity).

The tea house is closed on Sundays except for private parties like ours, so we were not sharing the place, and the attention of the staff, with anybody else (a concern I had when looking at party rooms in larger places). Michelle, Angela, and Vanessa were extremely attentive, taking care of our every need promptly while never ever being in the way. The room was beautifully set. (We were in the Iris Room, which looks like it could comfortably hold up to around 40 people.)

The food was tasty and well-presented. The tossed salads had plenty of "real" vegetables, not the often-found mound of greens with two cucumber slices and a few cherry tomatoes. The tilapia was flavorful, and I heard good things about the other dishes. There was not as much variety in the roasted vegetables as I'd hoped for, but they were good nonetheless. (The squash-averse might have a different opinion on that.) The portions were filling and not excessive.

They do not have a liquor license but invited us to bring wine (or spirits) if we wanted, on condition that we pour it ourselves. They provided openers and ice buckets for our (white) wine, so that was no trouble at all. They also said we were welcome to bring in our own cake, which we did, though they could have provided desserts.

They are normally open for lunch and tea but not for dinner (except for catering business like ours). So I was in the possibly-unusual position of choosing a party venue without ever having eaten there, but I got a favorable impression from talking with them so I decided to go for it. I'm glad I did; it worked out very well.

A Pennsic vignette

Wednesday night as we were preparing dinner a mighty storm came roaring down on us. It started with high winds, during which we dropped the canopies and made sure tents were secure. As the rains started, most of us headed for the house and a few instead headed for the pantry and kitchen, the other buildings (rather than tents) in camp.

In the house we opened the camp-ward windows (which were not wind-ward) to watch the storm. After a few minutes someone spotted an impending visitor, and a moment later we opened the door to Alaric, bearing an umbrella and a mischievous smile. He noted that they in the kitchen/pantry were well-stocked with food and drink and they were concerned about us. We requested goldfish crackers and water and he headed back across the camp.

A few minutes later he returned, bearing a box of crackers, a jug of water, and a bottle of white wine. (Fish calls for white and not red, right?) We thanked him and he returned to the pantry rather than joining us. We went back to watching the storm and listening to Lucetta tell a Russian fairy tale.

Several minutes later Alaric was back, this time bearing a bottle of red wine, mere moments after we had finished the bottle of white. He also offered us uncooked pasta, but we declined that offer. The storm ended not long after; I don't know what the next round would have been.

The next night, at about the same time, another big storm came through. This time the people heading into the house brought sustenance -- and it's just as well, because I don't think the pantry folks would have sent an emissary out into a hailstorm.

It would be easier if it could just read my mind

The trip home from Pennsic involved detours at both ends, so I decided to turn on the GPS app on my phone (Android, Navigator, came pre-loaded) for a running commentary. (Good thing, too; the obvious path out of Cooper's Lake wasn't.) This experience reminded me of some things I really want a GPS to do for me. It's possible that it already does some of these; I'm an infrequent GPS user and was fiddling with it at the side of a rural road.

I want to constrain a route without spelling it out: "Go home from here, taking Route 422 rather than staying on 19 and, in Pittsburgh, detouring through downtown instead of via Liberty Bridge". I can, of course, just do that and let it recalculate, as I did, but I would like it to take that information into account in case there's a better way to execute that plan.

I want it to learn from its recalculations. In an ideal world I would be able to turn it on in "observer" mode while I drive, and then later tell it to navigate as close to my usual habits as possible. My GPS should be able to learn that I don't like the eastbound 376 entrance in Squirrel Hill, or the West End Bridge, or Carson Street during rush hours.

I want to be able to tell it take current conditions into account. My phone knows that it's currently pouring rain or dark; I should be able to tell it "prefer local roads over highways during heavy rain" or "try not to take Business 22 at night" or even "check conditions up ahead and advise me on when to take a rest stop" (for longer trips).

That's just until the self-driving cars are ready, of course.