Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas 2008

So somewhere a long the way the presents from Santa for us have all become gag gifts. Since L.’s brother and wife were visiting that just meant more gag gifts. There was a “Chocolate Factory” made for children but with an extra sticker on the front next to the smiling kids that “Now with extra child labor, child laborer not included”. The next was a statue of an over-sized hand giving a thumbs-up. L. got the Chia “herb” garden. (She had been complaining about Chia and Clapper commercials from being couch-bound for a while.) I got a giant jack (as in playing jacks) that weighs about twice what it looks. Good luck playing with it.
As for the home-made presents, well they made the underside of the tree a little bare. L. gave me a large framed piece of metal to put all the fridge magnets on (Everywhere we travel we buy one since they are small.). It was kind of funny since my present to her was the picture board to get the pictures off the fridge. When I brought it down all wrapped she got mad since she thought I had snooped in her closet and was bringing down my own gift since when wrapped they looked identical. I also gave her the duvet with the promise to finish the cover.
It seems like both of our favorite presents was the duvet this year. I didn’t think that goose down could be so warm. We went from 3 blankets down to the duvet and we still had to turn down the thermostat so we didn’t wake up sweating. Somehow it is just more comfortable and controls our individual temperatures better.
Normally after all the Christmas fun we get bored and see a movie. However we had thought ahead this time and bought tickets for the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall with the Rockettes. The show was understandably cheesy, and over the top but was fun to see, especially on Christmas. I wouldn’t want to make a yearly tradition out of it though. After that we headed out for dinner at where else but Carnegie Deli. It wasn’t a Jewish Holiday so they were still open. It has sort of become a tradition for L. and I to take people that visit there where we then all gorge on giant stacks of meat and see who can find the most obscure person’s picture on the wall. (They are famous for their pastrami sandwiches being 6 inches tall, and there is not a blank space on the wall because of all the famous people that have eaten there.)
I realize this is about as New York of a Christmas as you can get but we had a lot of fun.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Visits

Of course living in NYC one of the things that we had on our list was to go ice skating at Rockefeller Center. We agreed on a time with our friends to meet (They have lived here 8 years and it was still on their to-do list.) and found out when we got there that it was closed for a private party for a couple of hours. So instead we went to lunch. When we got back to Rockefeller Center and got to watch someone propose while we waited in line. Yes, it is crowded. Yes, the area to skate in is small. But, surprisingly it wasn’t as small or crowded as we thought it would be. It ended up being really fun. None of us fell, and after an hour we were all tired but surprisingly not cold until we stopped. There was another private party so we really didn’t have a choice. It was fun for a one time thing but there are cheaper places to skate otherwise.
Of course with every Christmas season it means that people visit, which is good since L. was still recovering. My sister wanted to see NYC at Christmas time. As it ended up she got here right before a huge snowstorm. This is fine as far as we are concerned because the trains still run in the snow. We ended up seeing the tree in Rockefeller. We got to see Santa at Macys with only a 10 minute wait because of the storm. I took them to my favorite pizza place, Lombari’s. Again with front row seats with no wait because of the storm. Now all this was fun but the storm went from rain to hail, sleet, snow, all while we were walking between subway stops with stroller and kids in tow. The next day, since my sister is really into cooking, so I took her to Stew Leonards (stewleonards.com). Among other things we got kits to build Gingerbread houses. It was the funniest thing, my sister’s son is three years old. He would sneak candy and run upstairs to eat it, even though we gave him the OK to eat as much as he wanted.
L.’s brother D. also came to visit. They stayed a little longer so they just bought passes for the train and I gave them a key to the house and they were able to come and go as they pleased. It is nice to have something for guests to do so that you don’t have to entertainment the whole time. In reality it is more along the lines of when they quickly grow bored of me entertaining.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Homemade Christmas

We really didn’t need anything for Christmas and we were no longer in school so we had extra time so this year we decided to make our gifts for each other. It sounds like such a good idea at first. Let people know you really care to spend time on a gift for them. Unfortunately it just didn’t turn out that way.
One of the influencing factors was L. had wanted to learn how to do stained glass. So we bought the supplies we needed and together made a simple piece to hang in the window. Well even a simple 6 inch square took around 9 hours of work from both of us. I thought it was just because it was the first time so I set out to make a stained glass star for the top of the tree. I had one as a child and tried to replicate it. I succeeded but again it took to long. As it turns out we ran out of time and didn’t make anything else out of stained glass.
So it is one thing making presents for other people but it is a whole other matter trying to make something for your spouse and keep it a surprise. There is only so much room and we both use all of it. I also had the problem of trying to figure out something that she could use that I could still make. I also had the problem that it seemed like anything I wanted to make, when I added up the materials list it always ended up costing more than if someone else made it in China.
My first idea was to sew a quilt, but I realized what she really wanted was a duvet, so the idea changed to a duvet cover. I bought the duvet but ran out of time. (A pretty constant theme when it comes around to Christmas time.) The second thing that I thought of to make jewellery using Fimo clay. It is funny, I had the idea in my head for some time, but I have never worked with the clay before. I just never had the time to look up how to use it. I finally pulled it off on Christmas Eve, of course by that time I had to make it in the living room so L. saw the whole process and got a good laugh. My third idea was a picture board. I ended up buying the cloth when I got the cloth for the duvet cover. This is the present that saved my butt. It ended up being easier to make than I thought. A staple-gun really speeds things up.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Winter Trips Into NYC

Last year while my friend and I would work on bikes L. and my friend's wife would go to BAM. (Brooklyn Academy of Music) If you buy the tickets in advance it is about the same price as a movie ($13) but you get the equivalent of a Broadway show. This year we bought tickets for all of us to go.
Woyzeck: A remake of a German play by the same name. Everything was set around a water plant so there was a large glass tank where some of the acting was done under water. The music was amazing and I am still kicking myself for not buying the album.
Meeting with Bodhisattva: A Taiwanese Buddhist drum beating that reminded me of the Japanese Taiko shows. The drums were huge and the beats were so rhythmic and soothing that all of us had a hard time staying awake.
Les 7 planches de la ruse: They used Chinese acrobats and giant Tangrams pieces that they shifted around the stage and built up into giant things. I know it sounds boring but I really got into the skill to balance these huge things while they built them and had people flipping and jumping all over them.
Bamboo Blues: It was supposed to be everything Indian (Asian Indian Culture). They used a lot of cloth so it was very flowy, and they projected a lot of stuff on the cloth as it billowed around the stage. I found it interesting as I am currently working on studying India right now for a project at work.

Also, with winter comes more bad weather, and that leads to more train trips into the city. This leads to more “interesting” interaction with the other people on the train. Of course there are always the drunk people on weekends that need to be dodged like orange cones. It is much better to see them there than trying to drive though.
On one of the trips in the guy next to us started playing music on his phone. He had it turned all the way up so it sounded distorted. I asked him politely to if he could turn it down and he launched into a tirade. I realized he wanted to argue so I figured the best defense was to ignore him. This made him yell more until everyone on the train was telling him to shut up. When he got off we all cheered. On another trip two guys asked a Catholic priest to be blessed for business meeting. Instead of blowing them off he took it seriously and asked about the what the meeting was about. Another time we got to listen to some kids headed back to Yale argue about affirmative action. Boy it is sad to see how disconnected spoiled rich since birth kids can be. While waiting for our train we also got to watch a schizophrenic guy showing card tricks to an invisible friend.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How to Con People

I have needed to do user testing for some time now on the software I was writing at work and all I can say is lawyers are stupid and annoying. I really can’t go into it further than that. For anyone not familiar with user testing it involves me sitting down with the user with a computer (or maybe paper prototypes) and asking them how they would complete certain actions, what they think, how they are confused, and so on. Basically the goal is to see how where and how confusing the software is to use. Although it seemed like I was supposed to be testing the software since this is my first major user testing where I did everything myself it seemed more like I was instead doing psychology tests on the users to get any answers out of them. While I knew everything I was doing was legitimate, convincing strangers of that is a whole other matter.
Of course like anyone, I had to pay the users for their work. The normal way is just to give them cash but my company wanted to cut them a check, and to do that they had t deal with tax issues, and that meant getting their social security number. If I introduced it as “I’m sorry, I need your SS# for tax reasons” they would not give it to me no matter what I said or did after that. However if I introduced it as “I’m sure the first thing you care about is getting paid” and just handed them the form to fill out they would ask about the SS# but fill it when when I told them it was for tax reasons. Given the goal of money upfront people will hand over personal info, stating something defensive up front and people will not let their guard down.
There was three different forms they had to sign. Since I was testing Senior Citizens for with the software, all the documents I had made up were in large text. Even though they were longer people read them. The ones the lawyers had made up were smaller and harder to read. People would sign them without a second thought. Also, the order of the documents made a difference. Once trust is established later documents were signed without reading. So just think of that the next time you go into a car dealer. All the trust-worthy things that look good will be large and in the first few documents being signed. Things for stuff like under-coatings will be on papers with fine print presented after you are tired of reading legal papers.
One of the funny things I ran into was scheduling around doctors appointments. Everyone I tested seemed to have a doctor appointment that week. I can only guess what the life of senior citizens is like on a weekly basis. But, the good news is that everyone liked it. Of course hearing over and over from people things they don’t like about something you spent so long is hard so I am glad I did not get that much of that.