Tuesday, Dec. 20: last-minute preperations

Today I made a last-ditch effort (mostly a failure) to clean up some loose ends at work, then did some christmas shopping and ran a few pre-trip errands.

Snow, retail economics, munchkins

The snow, especially when it's just come down, is really magical to look at. It doesn't really show up that way in pictures.

Thursday night's DVD-with-dinner was "Robbert Gibbs Discusses Retail Economics and Downtown Ann Arbor Business". A reall thrill ride! No, actually it was pretty interesting. Mostly it was about applying to downtowns what mall designers know about maximizing retail sales, the goal being to attract business into downtowns. Some claims:

  • Traffic volume and parking availability (yuch) are big factors; when traffic is routed out of or around downtowns, business moves out to the freeway interchanges (where the traffic is). Most pedestrian malls don't work.
  • Visibility and accessibility are important; hence storefronts should be glass (without paper or blinds covering it), have lots of entrances, and should be close to the street and the sidewalk. Stuff like trees seem to be a frequent point of contention--citizens' committees will always ask for them, but they have to be placed carefully so as not to the block the views of stores.
  • Small independent retailers have a very hard time generating enough sales to support themselves. They often can't afford to hire someone to mind the store for them, hence can't stay open after working hours, which is when many of the sales are. (People often want to be able to stop by on the way back from work.)
  • Big "anchor" stores attract so many people that they can demand hefty incentives. But they provide advertising and bring enough customers to support lots of smaller stores nearby.

I came home Friday by way of the library, and stopped a few minute to watch the 18 & up Mario Kart tournament. Why is the library into these video game tournaments? I have no idea. Anyway, it was amusing to watch, but 18 & up seemed to mean, well, about 18, so I felt a bit out of place.

I also stopped by the co-op and picked up a few things, then we had a late dinner and watched "Numb3rs", the crime-fighting-mathematician TV show that Sara likes.

When I get up on the weekend and look out at the snow my first thought is usually just to stay home in my bathrobe and maybe read a book. But somehow I managed to get myself outdoors this morning. We went to juggling for a couple hours, had dinner with the jugglers at Banditos, then came back to our place for a game of "Super Munchkin". Which isn't anything special as a game, really--the fun part is the silly twists and cartoony artwork.

We sat around and chatted a while afterwards. When we'd resorted to showing them Hawaii pictures, they were finally driven off.

Alien laundry

Monday morning I got up early (well, OK, not quite as late as I usually do) and did my laundry before work.

Tuesday night we saw Alien with our book group. I liked it a little better than I remembered, actually. There's nothing in there that really gets me excited, but it's well done. There were some complaints that we don't really care for the crew since they don't have clearly established relationships. Which is true. But I like it that way; there's something that seems more realistic about showing them as a loose group of irritable individuals.

Wednesday we went grocery shopping after work, then had pumpkin soup, bread, and salad for dinner.

Today it's been snowing most of the day; impractical but pretty. I didn't bring a lunch, so I held out till 4 or so and then came to Eastern Accents to eat a couple buns and do some more work, including reading a few patches people had mailed me weeks ago. I really need to improve my turnaround time--when I wait too long it just ends up being more difficult because people forget the code and can't answer my questions about it.

Another weekend

Friday, Sara and I met a coworker of hers at Silvio's at 7, had some pretty good pizza, then went to a symphony band concert. They played the usual interesting mix of stuff, ending with the Copland's Lincoln Portrait--a wartime commission commemorating Lincoln, played in this case in honor of the 50th anniversary of Rosa Park's famous civil disobedience. Kind of a lot for one piece to bear.

There's snow everywhere and it's cold, so except for taking out the garbage I haven't been outside all weekend; I even skipped juggling.

But I did get a few minor chores done, thought about what to do for christmas presents, and did some reading. Current reading:

  • On the bus, I'm reading Eisenbud's "Geometry of Syzygies". Mainly I've just been reading through the appendices, most of which is stuff that I learned in grad school but that has faded a little since.
  • At home, because it's much too heavy to carry, Gilbert Hernandez's "Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories". I went through the library's copy of the similar collection from his brother and enjoyed it, so I'm trying this one too.
  • Temporarily superceded by "Palomar", "Maigret S'Amuse". Though the Maigret books are always conventional mysteries, there's often some funny twist; in this case, it's that Maigret is on a doctor-enforced vacation, and only following the mystery for fun in the newspapers.

Tuesday, Wednesday

One of the citi staff is a regular customer of a nearby sandwich place, so they brought us a platter of sandwiches for our donut hour Wednesday morning. A great improvement over donuts, which I seem to have less and less tolerance for. I'll eat donuts anyway if they're all that's available, but I always regret it almost immediately.

It took us a couple more days to get through "Troy". What a downer. Maybe I've seen enough movies for now.

Usually we keep the thermometer around 65 or 68 during the winter, but we've been keeping it at 60 this year. I can always put on another sweater or something, so it isn't a problem, except in the morning, when I have an even harder time than usual convincing myself to get out of bed.

Sunday, Monday

It was cold outside, and I didn't want to go anywhere. I have no idea what I actually *did* do. Played some music and caught up on the bills, I guess.

My neighbors on Broadway are all big on a proposal to make the neighborhood a historic district, so I sent email to the same list of city council people cc'd to the neighborhood list, explaining why it didn't seem like such a hot idea to me. For what that's worth.

Maybe as a result of that I went to bed kind of tense and woke up early Monday morning. Which gave me time to take a shower, play a little, then go to work. Work actually went reasonably well and I felt like I got a few things done.

We went grocery shopping on the way home, made some soup for dinner, and watched about the first our of Troy. The fight scenes all look like Street Fighter. Maybe they should call it: "The Illiad: The Video Game". I was extremely disappointed that they skipped the catalog of ships. Terrible reading, but it'd work great in a movie, wouldn't it? Maybe it's in the extras someplace.

Saturday

I went to juggling, had some pizza at the new NYPD location on South U. (A stuffed eggplant pizza; but perhaps more properly called an eggplant-stuffed pizza?)

Then I went home, and we watched the rest of Lagaan. Which was fine. Kind of restrained, if you could imagine that being applied to any movie in the genre.

Winter, Lagaan

Friday night we had some leftovers (we still have turkey soup, among other things), and started "Lagaan", a bollywood musical about villagers betting their taxes over a game of cricket with their contemptuous British occupiers.

The snow and cold have kept up. If I had the choice I think I'd just stock up on pasta and hot chocolate and stay indoors till April or so.

math seminars, snow

Thursday I planned to go to a math seminar in the afternoon and run an errand or two in the area. It was cold and snowy outside, and I was slow to get started, so I ended up working from home till seminar time.

It's often said that seminars tend to come in three phases: an introduction that can be understood by anyone, a middle section that's understood by the specialists, and an ending that only the speaker follows. Math seminars often seem to move the three phases particularly quickly. Partly that's just the rather unforgivingly technical nature of the subject, but sometimes it seems due more to a lack of imagination or thoughtfulness on the part of the speaker. They sometimes focus on the technical details of proofs to the point of ignoring motivation or any high-level view of the ideas. It's as if someone presented a new piece of software by running through the most important piece of code line-by-line.

Which is one reason I haven't been to many math seminars since finishing 5 years ago. That and titles like "Generalized foobar resolutions and the Humpty-Dumpty theorem, continued" which threaten to have passed into phase three weeks ago. (Though the main reason for skipping them, of course, is laziness.)

So I was pleasantly suprised when I actually found the seminar, by Craig Huneke, accessible and interesting. He paces things well and does a good job of sketching the major ideas without skipping the details. I was hoping to say hi to him afterwards but people had a lot of questions and I didn't want to hang around too long.

Afterwards I picked up a UPS--I've been wanting one for fieldses.org for a while, and intending to get one at the little downtown computer place downtown on Liberty, but the proprietor is always out whenever I walk by--then had a snack and worked a bit at Eastern Accents before coming home.

So maybe I should try a math seminar at least once a month or so.

Bach and Wesnoth

I finally got through a tedious bit of Wesnoth, which turned out to be the next-to-last section of the game. The final segment was faster. Games like this are inherently a little tedious--you spend a lot of time positioning units on the board, and decisions sometimes come down to toting up probabilities which can depend on many factors. But for some reason I find this addictive. So, having finished, I immediately went back to some earlier parts of the game to figure out what would happened if I did a few things completely differently.

The last few days I've been fiddling with Brahm's left-hand piano arrangement of Bach's D minor Chaconne for solo violin. It's big, loud, repetive, and carthartic, and being forced to use one hand forces some decisions that are kind of fun. I worked on it a few years ago and then dropped it. Maybe I'll make another attempt.

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