It's just as big as it needs to be.

Jan 08, 2009

After running around for much of Friday night running errands (like exchanging a hard drive for a faster model) and getting to bed later than expected, Lyssa and I slept in later than we'd expected on Saturday morning - 1100 EST5EDT, to be precise. While that happens to be my usual weekend get-up time Lyssa's is significantly earlier, which basically means that we got a late start to the day. I hurried to get dressed in some of my finest clothes because I was headed downtown that afternoon for the January 2009 Chrononaut's Stroll, organized by G.D. Falksen. In recent years, DC hasn't had much overt steampunk activity; Lyssa and I have talked about organizing a tea or an outing but the holidays happened and plans had to be hurriedly changed. Thus, it was with some trepidation that I hit the local Metro station and rode towards the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian Metrorail stop is right across the street from the Smithsonian Castle, which is the home of a rather nice art gallery as well as a large walking garden which is nice even in early January. To my continued surprise, there was a sizable crowd in full gear of all kinds: there were the obligatory airship pilots, aristocrats, a few tinkerers, and a small number of time travellers with various and sundry sorts of equipment.

Geoff wisely stated in the original announcement that everyone should be highly selective of what they carried with them due to increased security in downtown DC, including the museums.

Unfortunately, I haven't had time to rebuild my supply of calling cards since Saloncon, so while I was able to learn the names of a few people in attendance I don't recall many of them, and I rather suspect that my own name was lost in the noise. Thus, I don't have a whole lot to say about wandering around greeting people and running into a couple of familiar faces, most of whom attend Spellbound. I'd brought a few of the disposable cameras from the wedding with me, so I was able to snap a few pictures before they ran out; I was also in a couple of the group photographs taken before we started the museum crawl. Our first stop was the Peacock Room, done in a Chinese style that involved green lacquer and designs in gilt that covered the walls from floor to ceiling. The light was kept low in the room (probably for purposes of preservation, which is probably why flash photography was prohibited in there), so between that any contacts bothering me (which they did all through the day and well after I removed them) I didn't really get a good look at anything. After that we trooped a couple of blocks down to the Air and Space Museum to check out their history of aviation. On display there are a number of antique airplanes from the turn of the 20th century in excellent condition. There was a certain amount of good-natured scoffing at the idea of manned air travel (note to self: not all time travellers are from the relative future) and the commercial air travel display (when was it, exactly, that commercial airplanes lost their legroom?)

It was around this time that the mass of people began to fragment; I wound up with a small group from Pennsylvania and points northward who were headed in the general direction of the National Gallery of Art, in particular a single piece in the lower level called "Big Man", which is pretty much what it says on the tin - a large-than-life-sized sculpture of a nude man, probably well into his 50's, crouched in a corner. The capsule description aside, "Big Man" is unusual in how realistic it is: you can count the minute folds in the sculpture's skin if you've a mind to. Back on the street we spent some time taking pictures and screwing around in front of a massive cast iron sculpture of a spider.

Afterward we walked down to the Smithsonian to pay a visit to the Thomas Edison exhibit, which features a large number of artifacts from that era of history. From the invention of the light bulb to tastefully decorated toasters (?!) to some notable failures in the commerical field of electrical equipment to an array of power meters through the ages (better seen than described), they have a little of everything on display. My disposable cameras ran out of film prior to our arrival, so unfortunately I didn't get any pictures.

Once again, Nikola Tesla got screwed. He recieved only a passing mention at the exhibit, in a portrait about the size of a postcard.

Afterward we wandered around the exhibit of internal combustion and steam engines down the hall and marveled not only at the complexity of the geartrains but the sheer sizes of them. At least one engine on display there was as big as my car, and probably weighed twice as much. Unfortunately, rather than go to the American History Museum to meet up with the rest of the group I had to go home early because I had another engagement to attend to that evening, namely a gather at Hasufin and Mika's place. It was shortly after I dragged myself home, running low on blood sugar and wondering what in the hell had gone wrong with one of my contact lenses (they're disposable, so I should probably pitch them and open a fresh bubble pack) that I discovered that my phone had gone catatonic. Lyssa had both messaged and tried to phone me a number of times but I hadn't realized it because they never got through.

Once we got that sorted out I packed up my gear, got us loaded into the TARDIS, and headed for Hasufin and Mika's place by way of Tara Thai in Falls Church. Lyssa hadn't eaten all day and I was running on the remains of a soft pretzel purchased outside of the Air and Space Museum, so it was fair to say that both of us were dying on the wire. Dinner passed in a haze of protein and fat (it was Thai food, after all) and once the bill was paid and the haze in our heads cleared, we got back on the road and arrived fashionably late to a full house: everyone from Chris to Kyrin had emerged from the woodwork to converge upon the Monolith Party, where the fire pit was burning merrily, the grill sizzling away, and the sword rack was converted into a buffet.

The reason for this gather was obscure, I'll admit; the Mad Scientist Coffee Klatsch is, at heart, a pack of geeks of many sorts and types. One thing that we all appreciate is science fiction, and Saturday was 4 January 2009, or 1/4/9, which we seized upon immediately from Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 and 2010: Odyssey Two as the dimensions of the infamous monolith, the squares of the first three prime numbers.

"How obvious, now, was that mathematical ratio of its sides, the quadratic sequence 1:4:9! And how naive to have imagined that the series ended there, in only three dimensions!"

As geeks of a feather are wont to do, we pretty much sat around that night shooting the breeze about gaming, math, physics, genetic engineering, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. At one point later in the evening we had a discussion on the finer points of one-time pads in cryptography and the history of numbers stations on the shortwave bands.

Jason went home early that evening as he wasn't feeling so well, followed by Lyssa, who wanted to go home and rest. I didn't get home until 0300 EST5EDT on Sunday morning, where I found Lyssa still awake, sitting on the couch knitting. Neither of us were much in a mood to sleep, so we sat up for a while watching a movie, A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors on cable. I'd completely forgotten that a young Lawrence Fishburne played one of the Elm Street kids... Lyssa wound up going to bed before the movie was over, though it wasn't until 0400 or so that I could finally get to sleep.

The next morning we got up in time to get ready and head out to run a few errands that needed done. After some fumbling around we finally got lunch at the Greek Grill in Fairfax and then knocked out the grocery shopping at Giant before returning home. After putting away everything that needed to go in the pantry or fridge, I napped on the couch for an hour or so, until Hasufin, Mika, Chris, Cassie, and Kash came over to spend the afternoon before the out-of-town contingent headed for home. While Lyssa napped in the other room the rest of us piled into the TARDIS to head to Micro Center so that I could pick up an HDMI cable to connect the BluRay player to the home entertainment system. As one would expect, the moment we set foot in the store the entire group scattered to the four winds; I found the cable without too much trouble and spent the rest of the time searching for the other passengers.

Once back home I crawled behind the entertainment center and patched in a few cables to connect the BluRay player so that we could watch Paprika, the latest brainchild of Satoshi Kon. Kon is the mastermind behind a number of thoroughly bewildering anime, Perfect Blue among them. In case you haven't heard of Paprika (which I hadn't, truth be told), it's a story about the havoc wreaked when a device which allows psychotherapists to directly experience the dreams of people falls into the wrong hands - a former researcher turned terrorist and a megalomaniacal CEO. It's a very.. hallucinatory movie.. to put it mildly. A common theme in Kon's work appears to be characters either going mad, wondering if they're going mad, or some combination of the two. It also has one of the catchiest soundtracks I've heard in a while.

What a strange, strange movie. Pi strange, in fact.

I'm still wondering why the peripheral speakers of the surround sound system aren't working, though the ones in the front of the room are. I suspect that some of the wires are reversed on the terminals, a common enough problem that I used to run into when I was wrangling my own sound system years ago.

After dinner, playing with water-filled bouncy balls (which are really good for practicing contact juggling with because they're less likely to wreak havoc when you drop them), we went out to get dinner at Coastal Flats at Tyson's Corner mall. Around 2100 or 2200 EST5EDT, Chris and Cassie left for New Jersey, Kash left for Maryland, and Lyssa and I started in on the laundry.

Kind of an anti-climactic end to the weekend, no?