Tuesday, July 25

Boston - Part 1

I've been in Boston for a few days now and there's so much to tell, which means I'll forget most of it! Anyhow, it's Tuesday evening here, and my birthday! I'm planning to take myself out for a quiet dinner soon then have an early night. I must be getting old! There's an added level of loneliness to walking around a strange town full of strange people on your birthday because not only do you want someone to say hi or to have a coffee with, but you want it more because it's your birthday and, damn it, someone should be making a fuss. Maybe that's just me... Anyhow, thanks for all the lovely messages and emails from home. I really appreciate them all :) Especially W&I who sent me a veritable theatre production of photos celebrating ,y birthday, including banners, costume changes AND a decorated cake! I'm a lucky Jac. So no moping about being miserable! (although I may have a nap)

Boston is a pretty cool city so far. I arrived late Sunday afternoon. I didn't have that immediate connection that I felt with Portland, but I still really like it. Clearly I'm here at the best time of year, since I'm not knee deep in snow, but even though they say it is warn I've been freezing my butt off ever since I arrived. My hotel AC seems to be in Kelvin, and has no off switch, and the conference facilities are like a meat storage facility! (in temperature only) I spend the last session yesterday with my teeth chattering, and trying to wrap my knees up in the tablecloth! I was even wearing jeans and a jumper!

It took 6 hours to fly from San Antonio, with a brief stopover in Houston. Houston airport was pretty schmick but I have to say the Boston airport smelt like p**p. not so good when you've just hopped off the plane. But after the scary mad rush through fluoro lighted tunnels in the taxi we were flying through the tiny, windy Boston streets and I was getting into the groove. Taxi triple parked and dropped me at my hotel, where I spent a full 2 minutes before heading BACK out the door and straight into the heart of Chinatown :) I'm staying in the theatre district which is right on the edge of Chinatown....couldn't have picked a better spot.

Chinatown here spans about 4 small blocks, rather than one street, and is (of course) full of great looking places to eat, and wonderful supermarkets. I just wandered for ages, reading menus and buying packets of tea, until I came across a Japanese place that looked good and had some of my favorite dishes on the menu. So, I bit the bullet and decided to do the full dining alone thing. I guess I could have gone to one of the packed Vietnamese places where no one would really have noticed me eating alone, but I took the near empty Japanese place instead. It was fine though because while I was there several other people also came in to eat alone. Maybe because it is dark and quiet. I'm not sure, but I enjoyed it. I ordered Agedashi-tofu (fried soft tofu squares in a light broth with ginger) as an entree then had the Yosenobe (thrown-together pot) for main. Both were excellent and the yosenobe was full of all sorts of beautiful seafood, tofu and vegetables as well as deliciously chewy udon. The octopus was exceptional, and everything was well prepared and organised perfectly in the dish, not chaotic, but so that you could gradually move through the different tastes and textures. Similarly, the tofu was gorgeous and crispy on the outside (but not to greasy) and meltingly soft in the middle. Now, it wasn't Earnest Bean tassie made tofu, so it'll never come close to Mitsuno's food, but it was a good second. I have temporarily forgotten the name of the place but I'm thinking of going again tonight to try something else, so I'll blog it later.

The meeting was good. A little scarier than the big conferences in terms of meeting people, partly because it was a small group (50-100) but also because there were mostly commercial groups represented, rather than academic facilities, which meant lots of suits! But I did managed to meet a lovely lass within the first hour. She's German but doing a postdoc in Sydney! Typical. But we hit it off and spent the rest of the meeting hanging out, which made it much more enjoyable. I'm impressed that an Australian group sent someone all the way here just for a user's group meeting!

The 'cocktail party' of the meeting was last night. When did "cocktail" come to mean beer and wine? I haven't been to a real conference cocktail mixer since 2000! Aussie/German girl and I made friends with another boy from Canada (us postdocs got to stick together) and convinced him to join us for dinner since he was also there on his own. We found a little (italian? fusion? confused?) place that turned out not to be too great, but it was still fun and their bread was delicious! I had garlic clam pasta which was pretty good.

And now, after all this talk of food, I've worked up quite an appetite so I think I'll head back into Chinatown and see what I can find. I haven't had a glass of champagne since I arrived in the US so I'll have to see if I can find one! I'll post part two of my Boston Adventures soon!

(PS. Blogger doesn't want to play the photo game at the moment, so pics coming soon)

Sunday, July 23

Eve of anticipation

It's Saturday night and I'm trying to get organised to head to Boston early tomorrow morning. We had some rain the afternoon which was delicious, and now it is still and heavy outside, the sky is pink, and the insects are having a lovely time!

I head to Boston tomorrow and come home again Wednesday afternoon. I'm nervous about the meeting in terms of the demographic and dress code, neither of which I have any clues about. Also about not knowing anyone, but that should be ok.

I spend the last few days at work moving offices. The new space is larger and has a window. It also has a soothing green feature wall that I respond well to. I'll be sharing it with another aussie lass who will arrive in September, but she's been working in the US for a few years. It's a bit sad to leave Vince behind because I really liked sharing an office with the Guamaniac, but I'm so glad to have a little more desk space! Here are some pics for you :)

my new office

more of my new office

Once I finish my packing I'm going to have a little early birthday celebration. I got a few packages in the mail today that I haven't opened yet, but I feel a little like a kid at christmas having them sitting there! I have to finish getting the house tidy first because the apartment complex are running their annual inspections while I'm away.

But anyhow, that's about all from me for the moment. I'll try to update the blog from Boston, if I can get the net working! Until then...

Me outside my office

Thursday, July 20

Petey Problems

I hate getting cars fixed. With a passion.

I took the car in to be checked out and to deal with the 'squealing belt on acceleration' problem. Belt was fixed fine and everything else apparently looked fine... Aside from a small note on the receipt saying 'check engine light - CMP sensor'. No dialogue, $200. Now at this point I am totally stoked to have Mr squealy Belt vanquished. Not so happy on the weekend when the car consistently takes several attempts to start, the check engine light stays on and running a diagnostic gives me P0340 - No camshaft position sensor detected. Argh. Filled car up with fuel and hoped it would go away (ostrich style). It didn't. I got fed up with it today and called the mechanic again. $75 for new cam sensor plus at least 3 hours labour and it may not even be the sensor itself... Spat it and rang the nearest official Chrysler dealer. Now, even more than getting the car fixed, I hate dealing with the 'official dealers' BUT they do know the car and if this is a common PT problem then they may know how to fix it without too much messing about. They quoted me $82 for full diagnostics (better be more that what I did - get code, google it) but only $14 for the part and $40 to install it. Needless to say Petey is off to visit the dealer tomorrow. Fingers crossed that this doesn't turn onto another 'why not just give us your wallet, phone, watch, first born child, soul..'

In other news our dinner at Saltgrass was excellent. I had the same thing I always order a 12oz ribeye (rare) and a baked potato (NO toppings). All good. I also had lunch today with Rev. Rita at my favorite yup cha place. It was fun! She's good value, and it was so good to be hanging out with someone outside of the work crowd, even though I really like the work croud.

Tonight looks like a good night for a swim! Any takers? ^_^

Wednesday, July 19


We're going out tonight to celebrate my birthday (a little early but I'll be away - and when I return everyone else will be in Australia!) and the PhD and whatever else we can come up with at the time. Going to one of my favorite steakhouses, Saltgrass (a Texan institution). I can't believe I have a favorite steakhouse, let alone several! These guys make a good bloody mary and their steak is excellent and cooked just the way you ask. They may not be as classy as the Little Rhine (on the riverwalk, Downtown) which is my other favorite, but they're not as pricy either! Last time we went to little rhine we not only had steak, but escagots, grilled asparagus, lobster... mmm

And while I'm updating, here's a screen shot of Bravenstar at level 33 and my new pet. He's a unique beast in WoW (Humar Pridelord) and it took me all night of sitting in a tree waiting for him to turn up so I could tame him! I've renamed him Ravage, and the (pop) cultured kids of my era will of course realise that he's named after the famous transformer. You missed my daggy hat phase though - for a while there I was running about with what everyone called 'my russian hat'. I now wish I'd taken a shot of that, but this one is much better ^_^

Bravenstar and Ravage

Tuesday, July 18

Cafe crud and butterflies

Howdy y'all,

I know it's been a while between updates so I'm working on being a bit more on the ball this week. Actually, things are pretty much the same as usual. It's still stupidly hot and there's been no storm activity since Independence Day. I say we arrange some kind of firework display in an attempt to taunt the weather!

There's some species of small brown butterfly that must hatch (emerge? what is the right word) during a very small time window here because there are literally thousands of them in the trees outside my apartment. One day there were none, the next the trees are full of them! Driving down my street is like that scene in Excalibur with the cherry blossoms, except the blossoms are brown... It's almost like driving through falling leaves, only they move in stilted slow motion. I've also seen some huge black and yellow butterflies - I should know what they are because Kath and I saw them in the butterfly house on our Hill Country tour, but I forget. They're gorgeous. There's a lot of Lantana here which is in bloom at the moment, and aside from the fact that I appear to be allergic to it (determined by the red rash on my ankles after walking through a small patch) the butterflies seem to love it. It's mostly yellow, not like the variable pink ones that I like so much in Oz, but still pretty (and they probably have all the other sorts too, I just haven't noticed yet!). Sunflowers seem to grow wild here too, although why they'd choose to bloom with such gusto in this heat I'm not sure!

This next part has been posted by Jac the Coffee Snob. She been repressed for quite a while now but occasionally makes an unpleasant appearance. Feel free to ignore her.... (hey, I heard that!)

I bought myself one of those little Italian stovetop espresso makes to try and vanquish the evil that is coffee in America and get my caffeine levels back up to normal. I've even found multiple fair trade coffee options in the supermarket, so I can stop buying the starbucks one. Even if it is fair trade, I still don't want to support the machine. I can't remember if I told you my dreadful coffee ordering experience in Portland where I ordered a macchiato from a man who ran a small coffee stand. He had a decent looking machine so I figured he knew what he was doing. Wrong! Initially I was seriously berated for ordering a macchiato "we don't make those starbucks style coffees here - we only make real coffee" said loudly and with much pretension. When I politely explained that macchiato means 'stained' (or a derivation thereof) in Italian and describes a coffee consisting of a shot of espresso 'stained' with a little milk or milk froth, the 'friendly barista' (neither word applies) continued with his tirade of how I was actually describing something called a cafe creme and why hadn't I ordered that in the first place and macchiatos were invented by starbucks... then he proceeded to make me something that vaguely resembled a latte made out of cream. Needless to say, I didn't go back. I'm guessing that cafe creme means coffee with cream so he may have been on the right track with something. Anyhow, my new coffee maker is great so no need to forage in the streets.

(sorry about the lack of accents on the text... I could get blogger to do it but it's the end of a long day and I can't really be bothered)

Friday, July 14

Pretty in pink

I'm taking Petey in for a service and check up tomorrow so fingers crossed that it won't be too expensive. Or if it is, that my warranty will cover it!

No other major news at the moment. I'm off for a swim soon, it's a scorcher today!

I've found a remedy to the Jac doesn't like drinking water but it's hot and she has to problem. It has also fixed my coke (cola) habit. Soda water. In a can! Simple, yet brilliant. It's cold, sugar free and it satisfied the need for fizz. Why did I not think of this earlier? I've been drinking the coke C2 rubbish...not sure if it's in Oz yet but it's 50:50 coke/diet coke and has the worst features of each of them (sugar AND the nasty artificial sweetener taste). And did I warn y'all to stay clear of the Coke Blak (blerk). Who mixes fizzy coke and weak coffee? It's all kinds of nasty! Pepsi trialed the same sort of thing in the mid 90's with Pepsi Kona, a screaming flop. As someone in a forum somewhere said (of coke blak) "what soft drink can survive when half its name is made up of the sound you make as you spit it out".

And finally, this little gem. Thanks Booey for the heads up on the amazing sunrise this morning. I hope some of you saw it! This is the tail end of it, I missed the rest.

pretty in pink

Tuesday, July 11

Reasons to love Hobart

From the Rose Bay High webcam this morning.

Random stuff of the moment

I just had a delicious swim in the pool that I'm 'pool-sitting'. The water temperature was 29 degrees C!

On the weekend I watched the tragedy that is Iron Chef America. A complete reproduction of the original, done remarkably badly. The highlight was tarragon salt which sounds like a great idea to me. Fresh tarragon + sea salt + coffee grinder. However, I also watch the challenger make tilapia noodles by turning the fish into a paste, adding some kind of cross linking enzyme that had a name like DR-DETH-54, and squirting the final mixture into a tank of hot water. Fish paste noodles...gross. I don't even think tarragon salt could save them.

I went back to the United Church on Sunday and this time I made much more of an effort not to be a shy turtle and it was great. I finally got to meet Pastor Rita (who was in Europe on my first visit) and she was lovely. I was even brave enough to stay for orange sherbert icecream afterwards. Who could resist??

The 'cook-out' on Saturday was fun. I took some lamb chops to put on the grill and had to fight to keep them!! Apparently they looked tasty, and they were! The butcher here cuts them so they're about an inch thick, as opposed to about 1cm in Australia, which means that for thems of us who likes out meats rare...read me (still making up for years of being stupidly vego) you can cook then to caramelised perfection on the outside and still have them deliciously rare in the middle. Alan, I know you're probably not reading this but it works a treat!

Apparently chuck a wobbly is another Australianism unheard in Texas. Can someone please explain where that one came from? I used it by accident today and a few heads turned in confusion. I didn't realise I had so many of these things in my vocab!

Thanks for all the comments, I love reading them ^_^

Saturday, July 8

Boston Baked Birthday

It's official - I'll be in Boston, Massachusetts for my birthday. I'm of to a "User's Group" meeting for a new software package that we're trialing. It's pretty neat stuff. Not sure if I've rambled on about it before but it allows you to build network of gene interactions then overlay functional pathways and disease processes(like signaling or immune response components) or drug targets onto the network. We're hoping it will be useful for interpreting lists of interesting genes that are coming out of the expression work. I've been doing a lot of the trailing so I'm going to this meeting to see what other people are doing with it and get an idea of weather it is flexible enough for what we need. Should be good. I've never been to Boston so I'm hoping I'll get a little time to poke around. There's supposed to be a big Chinatown which I'm hoping isn't too far away from my hotel. Not sure what else is nearby, I'll have to get online and do some hunting. If anyone knows Boston and has some ideas, let me know! I get in on the afternoon of the 23rd (Sunday) and leave the morning of the 26th. There's a cocktail reception on the first night of the meeting which sounds a little scary, but I may have to go in my day gear since my hotel is a half hour walk away. Anyway, it should be fun!

In other news, it's all pretty quiet at the moment with everyone away. I'm going to a real American BBQ (cookout?) on Saturday evening to say goodbye to one of the girls here who is leaving to take up an Assistant Professorship in Anthropology. I keep thinking it'll be similar to BBQs in Australia, the someone says 'grill pit' and I'm just not sure... It's byo meat and grog so I'm thinking lamb chops...mmm I'll have to be brave though because most of the people I usually hang out with are away, but lucky I have Tom :) I'm a bit whussy (how do you spell that??) when it comes to these social things.

4th of July was great, even with the rain. I stood out on the deck watching firework displays in all directions and in the middle was the leftovers of the electrical storm. Very cool. Then, when I jumped on WoW for a quick virtual run around, they had fireworks every hour as well, so I really was surrounded by them! WoW also had mugs of ale to celebrate so Bravenstar got a little tipsy, which is hard to watch because the screen blurs and goes all swimmy and you can't walk in a straight line if you try. Trying to speak is great, the program slurs your words and inserts hiccups! I did get some kind of bonus (charisma perhaps) for kissing one of the festival celebrants though Don't worry, it was a NPC (non-playing character).

That's all from Bravenstar and I for now. Methinks the Saucer is a no go tonight since I'd probably be the only one there, but perhaps I'll cook something yummy for dinner instead. I've been meaning to make a crawfish tail pasta with a creamy sauce and lots of chili and garlic...

Wednesday, July 5

Independence Day

Looks like nature is going to put on her own 4th of July fireworks tonight! There's a huge electrical storm just on the horizon looking out from my balcony and it's fantastic!

And here's my blog entry from earlier today. I didn't get to post in because the laptop crashed :)


I'm not feeling particularly star spangled yet, bit it's not even midday and I've yet to venture out into the world of July 4 fever. The television keeps telling me to 'be thankful for my freedoms, liberties and other flag waving buzzwords' and it seems that I should do that by going out and buying a Texas Edition truck or a side by side fridge-freezer! I've just realised that I have forgotten to wear the red, white and blue underpants that I bought especially to celebrate Independence Day! (and also because my washing bags were full and I'd run out of clothes) Oh well.

I'm about to head out to the airport to drop John and Jo off, as part of the mass exodus of friends. Luckily for me Mr Squiggle hasn't been eaten by coyotes and is looking as plump and happy as ever, so I can at least hang out with him, even if we are separated by glass walls. I think I may have turned him into a bit of a princess though... I was watching him peel grapes before eating them yesterday!

I got up this morning hoping to spend some of my day off playing WoW, only to discover that they're running maintenance and ALL the servers are down! They have 6 million players, more than half of whom are probably american, and they schedule maintenance on the one day people are not working and able to play??? Anyhow, I cooked myself a fry up and read the Current instead ^_^

Tuesday, July 4

Rainy days and Mondays

It's been raining on and off all weekend which has just been magnificent! Looks like it'll continue for another few days as well. The rain is so lovely I just want to stand out in it and jump about :) It's deceptive though because it's grey outside and looks like it'll be cool (I'm busting to wear long pants or a jumper) but it's still over 30 degrees, just stickier now. However, the breeze picked up on the weekend and it just felt like all the stale, bad air was being swept away. It was exactly what I needed. I was having a bit of a black few days earlier in the week, but I'm feeling better now. I guess I'm going to have to get used to it coming in waves like that. The next two months will be hard as well as most of the people I usually hang out with here are going away! As I mentioned earlier the plus is that I get two housesit a place with a pool and a place with cats and cable, but that doesn't quite make up for human contact. All will be well though, and there's always the virtual me (aka Bravenstar) who can hang out online with all kinds of weird and wonderful people, Andrew being a prime example. World of Warcraft is keeping me sane and expanding my bladder holding capacity ^_^

I had a huge weekend and I'm utterly exhausted now! Luckily it's Independence Day tomorrow (July 4) so I'm looking forward to sleeping in and fireworks! I was told on no uncertain terms that this is the "Most important holiday in America" so I went and bought myself some red, white and blue knickers to celebrate. But that was a sidetrack... This weekend we went apartment hunting with another Aussie lass who works in Florida. We're trying to poach her to came and work here (we need lab postdocs) so Joanne and I spent the entire weekend driving her to all the nearby apartment complexes looking a floorplans and demo homes etc. That stuff is really tiring! I think perhaps we went to the best one first, but perhaps that's because they made us pancakes for breakfast while showing us around! The great thing about looking through 30 other apartment complexes is that it made me realise that I really like my place. I had no real moment of going "gee, I wish I lived here" which was great because I didn't look at that many to start with. It was also interesting to see how people could be looking for two completely different things out of a living space Subtle aren't I? Anyhow, she was cool and hopefully she'll take the job. She's from the same lab as all the other Aussies here, which makes me the odd sheep again, but they're all Queenslanders so I don't mind so much :)

We also went to dinner at my favourite Japanese restaurant on Saturday night (sushi zushi - dumb name but great food) which meant soft shelled crab and the house seafood udon bowl for me. Mmmm. The secondhand CD store is next door so we digested by wandering the isles in there for a while. I picked up the second season of Six Feet Under so I'm looking forward to getting into that.

We also managed to fit in a little shopping on Sunday at my favourite mall here, La Cantera (it's open air and kinda glam). I spotted this t-shirt and it spoke to me: