Friday, July 27, 2012

The Hoff Theorem

I repeat what I call the Hoff Theorem over and over to my students (it's my one contribution to western thought): "Everything takes longer than you think, unless it fun."

In other words, humans are terrible at estimating things, whether it's how long it takes to write a history paper (or book), or, as Jeanine's lab researches, the height of and distance to physical objects. My friend John has trouble estimating the difficulty of hikes (see two entries below). Today he promised us an "easy" hike, which we wanted because we're running a race tomorrow, which of course means that we ended up on a near scramble to a very steep 11,000 ft. peak above this lake. By the way, I write all of this not to complain about hiking on a Friday, which was great, but to officially make excuses in advance of the race. If Jason beats me, it's because of my thrashed legs. Surely his 100-mile race last weekend does not equal hiking the day before. Great view of Mt. Timpanagos from the top, though.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

An Extended Touristical Interlude

The summer's main trip is over. It began in the wonderful German college city of Freiburg, where I was invited to give a paper at a symposium organized by a research center that American academics (especially in the humanities) can only dream about. I don't have any pictures from this leg of the journey because a) my phone went inexplicably dead [yes, I had the correct power converter]; and b) my computer's wireless went haywire. I was hopeful and excited that the wireless at the hotel simply sucked, so I could blog about how Americans exaggerate the technological prowess of the Germans, but as I learned stateside, the wireless card in my machine was blown. I will say this much by way of comparison, however: German pillows are atrocious. I was staying at a nice hotel (with spa) and was offered one outrageously large, square, and lumpy monstrosity, and another shaped like a giant tootsie roll. Honestly I had no idea through what combination/configuration of the two I was supposed to sleep. Any American in a Motel 6 would have cried foul. And really, why do Germans oppose sheets and mattress pads? I'm not sure I would have slept if not for the nightly ration of German pils (what's the plural of pils?). But on the plus side, whereas the KSU History Department has no lounge and just added the new amenity of a can of Folgers and a coffee pot in the main office, Freiburg's Institute for Advanced Study has the above amazing machine in their sleek, German chair- and modern art-filled lounge with push-button, on-demand espressos and cappuccinos (and good ones, too). And to top it off, they have an unlimited supply of high-quality beer in the fridge. If we did that, the Tea Party would shut us down. Suffice it to say that the Institute's beer came in handy when we watched (near said lounge, because the main town square was too packed) the Germans play the Italians in a Eurocup 2012 semifinal -- and especially handy when Germany fell behind 2-0 early on.

Oh yeah, the conference was great (if you like papers on demographic change and policy). Sure, Freiburg it's a bit touristical -- the brilliant adjective used by our generous German hosts (who, needless to say, speak otherwise impeccable English) -- but I highly recommend a visit. The running trails in the hills just above downtown offer great views of not only the ancient cathedral and guide-book-photo-worthy, twisty cobblestone streets, etc., but also the city's two most important sites:

From Germany I met Jeanine in Albany, spent the night at the Steves' house, had lunch at Fifty South, the outstanding Saratoga Springs restaurant owned by our wedding caterer, and then proceeded to Manchester, Vermont, where Bill, Uncle Paul, Aunt Robie, and I successfully surprised Jeanine's Mom for her 60th birthday at the bar of the Equinox Hotel. Notice the surprise has still not worn off.

After a few relaxing and properly cool days (the resort has both the wooded running trails we dream about in Utah and a classic golf course -- and Manchester's outlets don't seem overly touristical because they're in small buildings), we sliced across Vermont diagonally so I could finally show Jeanine my high school in very northern Massachusetts. Here I was reminded that memory is reconstructive. NMH remains remarkably pleasant (see chapel below, and yes, I know I was lucky to go to high school in a country club), and Michael Pollan should write a column about its student-driven farm, which existed a hundred years before the locavore movement. But somehow the campus seemed smaller than I remembered it, the surrounding mountains lower, and the distance to my heroically "out of the way" dorm not as far. Even my legendarily large senior-year room seemed smaller (amazing view of the Connecticut River Valley not shown):

But those qualifications aside, NMH is and always will be a special place.

The next stop was the annual July 4 gathering in the Adirondacks of family descended from my grandfather Wood and his brother (annual at least for those living on the east coast).

Here Milo pauses from pontificating the meaning of life with Liam at the Wood camp.

Here Milo is knocked over by the weight of the enormous fish on his pole:

Here Owen's napping den is discovered:

No comment here:

Gratuitous shot of geese:

The final stops were White Plains and then NYC, where we stayed with our old friends Katie and Ren (their Poppy is pictured; Rollie was elusive). Because, dear readers, you've come to expect a plethora of cute kids here, I've also thrown in (low-res) pictures of Chris and Lauren's Blaise, Luke, and Leyna.

No need to write much on familiar touristical spots in New York, especially in such a long entry, so it will suffice to say that if you're headed to New York soon, we recommend the Cloisters and the Broadway musical Once, and eating at the Red Rooster, Chez Josephine (founded by Josephine Baker's son), the Mermaid Inn, the Green Table, and Bette Midler's New Leaf. We sat at a table next to Michael Kors at Chez Josephine. I'm proud to say that I had no idea who he was, and did not even recognize his from television, but I guess he's a pretty big deal. Has anyone been to the Natural History Museum lately? The exhibits are hilariously frozen in 1961. And really, couldn't they at least put up a post-it note correcting the line about how we're descended from Neanderthals? (In fairness, the current exhibit on evolution is good.) [Blogger's much later note: ha -- in the remarkable tie-in department, we learned a year later -- in Germany, at the Humboldt Conference! -- that we humans are in fact partially descended from Neanderthals! You can read about it here, or in a recent New York Review of Books article about the Finnish researcher we heard talk who has mapped our genetic Neanderthal heritage.] Still, we were happy to learn about other, exotic cultures, at least as imagined by ex-eugenicists at mid century. And now we know how Japan looked a long long time ago and how Asian peoples carried whales after the hunt:

Of course, the most important thing we did in NYC was visit this exhibit at the Historical Society.