Friday, September 29, 2006

Dad at Fogo de Chão

What started out as a promising week work-wise turned sour Monday evening when I had to stay until 8pm to help fix a bug. It wasn't a huge deal really but I don't like to leave a situation unresolved, even if I'm not the cause of it. I put in some long hours Tuesday as well but Wednesday I made a point of leaving early, around 5:30pm, so I could go meet my Dad for dinner.

He was in town for work so along with a co-worker of his named Ken, we met up at McCormick & Schmick's in Crystal City for drinks. I was thinking we could just do dinner in the Arlington area but Ken had heard about a Brazilian restaurant in DC that he wanted to try. Right away I knew what he was talking about: the famous rodizio Fogo de Chão on Pennsylvania Avenue. I'd actually been there before back in February when I was visiting the area and was quite fond of their authentic selection despite the lack of chicken hearts.

Rather than hop back on the Metro, we got in the Audi and headed over there where we spent a good 10 minutes looking for parking before finally giving up and just paying for a garage. The meal we had was truly sumptuous, fit for a king really. My Portuguese was a bit rusty but I managed to order a few things in the native tongue including one of the best caipivodkas I've ever had.

Dinner was followed by a quick tour of northwest DC and a discussion about why there were so many cops on Connecticut Avenue and 17th Street. My theory was that this was the route intended to take either Hamid Karzai or Perez Musharraf (or both) back to their residences as they were dining at the White House that night. We didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Though I was sad to see my Dad off at his hotel, I was also happy that I got to see him at all. Living so far away from California, it's not often that I get to see friends and family from home. This Christmas will mark the first time in a year that I've been back and I'm looking forward to it with great fanfare.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Virgin Music Fest

On Saturday, my friends Reshma, Shayan, Faheem and myself drove up to Pimlico field outside Baltimore, Maryland to attend the 1st annual Virgin Music Fest. We met up with another cohort upon arrival, Seema, who came in from New York, and made our way to the event. The venue was divided into three areas with the well-known acts happening at the Grandstand stage at one end and lesser known acts appearing at the Clubhouse stage on the other side of the track. A large tent called the Darkhouse Dance tent played host to various DJs while a smaller tent called the Freaklounge had a running show of sideshow-esque acts throughout the day.

Lead singer of WolfmotherOur first event was Wolfmother which came on the Grandstand stage at 1pm. I'd heard their song Woman a number of times on Octane but not much else. They were actually quite good and their hard rocking chords evoked a late 70s, perhaps early 80s metal sound. But we couldn't stay too long as Reshma wanted to go check out The New Pornographers on the Clubhouse stage. A fairly large band at eight members, they put on a great show and definitely got me intrigued in their particular style.

Cee-Lo in a metal breastplateThe next two acts we saw were the Raconteurs and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, both on opposite stages. I honestly lost count of how many times we went back and forth. It seemed that near the end of every show there was a great exodus to the other side of the field, followed by a reversal not long after. Anyways, the next band to come on the Grandstand stage was Gnarls Barkley and they were just amazing. Apparently they have a new theme for every show and this one was Chariots of Fire so they dressed appropriately in Roman-esque garb. They played a ton of great material and closed on Crazy, an absolutely fantastic song to hear live.

The Killers during their final songThe Brazilian Girls were the next to appear on the smaller Clubhouse stage. Shayan is a big fan of theirs and he was bowled over by their performance. Contrary to their name, none of the members are Brazilian and only one, the lead singer, is a girl. During the performance, she had this white latex mask on and would apply make-up to it between songs. I only stayed for a few songs before heading over to see The Killers on the main stage. Now I'd been looking forward to this as they were played frequently on both Octane and Alt Nation. They played all the big hits from their first album like Somebody Told me and Mr. Brightside and even included songs from their upcoming one, most notably Bones. These guys were amazing and I would definitely pay to see them again live.

Roger Daltrey on vocalsAt this point, we headed back towards the smaller stage to see Thievery Corporation. After about 20 minutes there, Seema said that she wanted to go see The Who. Nobody else seemed interested so the two of us headed back to the big stage. We got there just in time to see Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, the only remaining original members of The Who, plus a bassist, keyboarder and drummer put on what I can only describe as the greatest rock show I've ever seen. I'm a big fan of the group but nothing could have prepared me for this performance.

Pete Townshend about to do his famous windmillThe vocals from both Daltrey and Townshend were spot-on and whenever Townshend did his famous "windmill" on the guitar, the crowd went nuts. I found it gratifying that the same band my Dad was such a big fan of could still rock the hell out of a venue like this one. People young and old, myself and Seema included, were screaming at the top of their lungs. Baba O'Riley, Behind Blue Eyes and My Generation were just a few of the hits that they played. I'd been hoping for something from Tommy so when I heard the opening notes to Pinball Wizard I thought I was going to lose it. They closed the show on Listening to You/See Me, a truly mesmerizing performance.

Flea from the Red Hot Chili PeppersThe Red Hot Chili Peppers came on at 8:30pm and, including their encore performance, rocked the crowd for nearly two hours. They played a good number of hits, most of them from Californication and By the Way. The only disappointment was that they didn't play Under the Bridge. Otherwise though it was a great show and definitely a great closer to what was a top-notch music festival. This was the 1st one in the US but I hope Virgin continues to bring this great event stateside year after year.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Tonight my cousin Katy and I had the pleasure of watching Frankenstein on stage at the Kennedy Center. This interpretation wavered little from the original and the set itself was very minimal. A large chain-like mesh hanging from a drop and a small raised platform, both of which were far upstage, were the only permanent fixtures on the simple black setting. With the exception of the occasional prop that was rolled out, this left nearly the entire area open for the actors to perform. Dry ice was also put to heavy use.

The story starts out in the far north aboard Captain Walton's ship, beleagured by ice floes. Sighting a distant figure, he sends out a party to investigate and they return with Victor Frankenstein. The rescued man proceeds to tell the story of his fascination with medieval alchemy and how it led to the realization that he could apply his knowledge to create life from death. The resultant monster kills his mentor, Professor Waldman, and goes on a rampage through the town before finally making his way to Victor's home in Geneva, Switzerland. He then kills Victor's closest friends and family after having been refused by Victor the creation of a synthetic companion.

At this point, Victor gives chase eventually ending up on the same ice floes as the captain's ship. Shortly after retelling his tale, Victor dies of exhaustion and the creature, having lost his only connection to the world, recovers the body. The captain takes this as an omen and sets sail for home. The last thing the sailors see as they depart the forbidding waters is the creature mourning over the loss of his creator.

The acting was absolutely top-notch. Dan Istrate seemed born for the part of Victor Frankenstein. The energy he brought to the stage plus his haunting features created a performance matched only by his co-star, Irakli Kavsadze, who played the creature. Irakli's hulking appearance and heavy makeup didn't dull his obvious talent and stage presence. The only issue I might mention are the slow-motion bits, especially during the fight scenes, which seemed somewhat contrived. Otherwise, this was an awesome performance that I would highly recommend.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The beauty of Suse with XGL

From the day I got my first company computer, I've always wanted the ability to put whatever OS I choose onto it. Naturally, certain elements within the IT department made it their goal in life to thwart such efforts in favor of uniformity. So when I started work at my current company, I was surprised to find out that I could install any OS I wanted though my PC came pre-installed with Windows XP.

Being a big fan of Suse, I immediately installed 10.1 in a dual-boot configuration but that was the extent of my efforts. By the end of my second day, I was already assigned a large task with a quickly approaching deadline and I simply didn't have the time to set up Suse the way I wanted. And so it languished like that for a few months until recently when it became imperative that I switch to a non-Windows OS.

The trepidation I had felt at having to setup my Linux environment dissapated as I rediscovered just how enjoyable it was to be using an industrial-strength OS again. Additionally, I became more productive thanks to quicker build times and a programmer-friendly interface. But not settling for just the basic setup, I went further and begin installing what could only be deemed as frivolous, though not unnecessary in my opinion.

MPlayer was one of the first optional components to get setup, quickly followed by Plugger and a few other goodies so that I could listen to Sirius. To complement my listening selection, I also downloaded Amarok thus enabling me to enjoy my personal music collection. So that I could make the most of my video card, I compiled the ATI drivers and setup a wicked screen saver. I even installed Google Earth so I could take full advantage of my newly enabled 3D effects.

Desktops can be switched between with easeBut by far the coolest thing I installed was XGL. I had made a half-hearted attempt about a week ago at installing it but it wasn't until I walked in this morning and saw my co-worker Grant running it that I finally decided to 'git er done'. Knowing that he was running Gentoo, I figured it had to be much easier in Suse and indeed it was. After about 30 minutes of downloading packages and reading various docs, I finally had it up and running although it took another hour of configuration before I was truly pleased with the results.

Note the transparency on the chat windowHaving used XGL for only about half a day, I can honestly say that it is quite possibly one of the coolest desktop experiences ever. Even my co-workers using Aqua on their Macs were impressed and made a point to stop by and check out what a true 3D desktop looked like. Back here at home, being on a standard '2D' desktop, I feel a bit constrained. So I think I'll sign off on this entry and go install XGL.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Teaching Ruby on Rails

Despite nearly a year of programming with the Ruby on Rails framework, teaching the subject is quite a different beast. A few months ago I mentioned Ruby on Rails (RoR from here on) to my cousin who then mentioned it to her boss that runs a training center in Columbia, Maryland. The more he read about it, the more excited he became about its potential growth. By this time I had moved to the DC area and was just an hour's drive away so it wasn't too long before I got a phone call inviting me to talk to him about RoR.

Now understand that I am very passionate about programming in RoR, even to the point of being evangelical about it. Michael, who runs the training center, has a background in programming and he immediately latched onto the power of a dynamically-typed, very expressive language such as Ruby. The presence of the Rails web framework, which makes J2EE look like a Model T, was an added bonus.

My lesson plan was centered around a two-hour presentation split between Ruby and Rails. For the Ruby half, I used Pickaxe as my template. It's such a well-organized book in how it teaches the Ruby language. Yet translating that into a one-hour class gave me cause to worry for the entire week leading up to the session. Eventually I settled on a "write as you speak" approach. Seeing as I'm a better programmer than public speaker, I wrote a small application that hit on all the major points of the Ruby language and printed out the code as a reference. Then over the course of the first hour, I rewrote the program from scratch stopping to answer questions or to highlight anything that wasn't immediately clear.

The second half of the lesson centered around Rails though after a small break I had only 45 minutes left. I must point out here that even though an intimate knowledge of Ruby is not required for developing applications in Rails, on a personal level I think it helps immensely, especially if you need to roll your own plugins. But with less than an hour to show off the power of Rails, I decided to go with a simple CRUD application relying mostly on scaffolding to generate the controller and views.

I got the feeling that the audience came from a Java background and that the Rails portion of the class was really what they came for. So after creating my basic application, I opened it up to questions and boy did they have questions! They ran the full gamut and consisted of things like "How do layouts work?" all the way to "Is Rails ready for the enterprise world?" (such a loaded question coming from a Java programmer!).

All in all, it was a great experience and looking back it's strange to think why I was so nervous. Within a few minutes of the class starting I settled into a routine and when it was over it was difficult to imagine that those two hours had flown by so quickly. I look forward not only to continuing to evangelize RoR but to teach it as well if given another opportunity.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

An interesting night in DC

Sean, Katy and JeffLate last night (or early morning, depending on how you look at it) my buddy Jeff arrived in Washington, DC. We met back in high school and have been friends ever since. Considering the late arrival of his flight, we had somewhat of a late start on the day and didn't get to the American History museum until 11:15am on Friday morning. There we met my cousin Katy and we explored the America on the Move exhibit. We also stood in awe of the American flag which had been draped over the Pentagon immediately following the attacks of 9/11.

Afterwards we headed over to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. This was by far one of the best museums I have visited yet in DC. From the very beginning, you are made to feel as if you are in Dachau or one of the other hellish concentration camps located throughout WWII-era Germany. In addition, the cruelty and pure evil that pervaded that time truly came to life through photographs and other media presentations.

Having decided that Jeff needed to experience some more positive parts of DC, I figured that Les Halles would be the best place to show off the city. We had an awesome lunch that left me postively stuffed. After experiencing some nasty delays on the Metro, we finally saw my cousin Katy off at the Rosslyn station and headed back to my place in Crystal City to prepare for that evening.

Sally, Sean and JeffAt around 9:30pm we met up with Sally, a fellow graduate of Carlsbad High School that Jeff knew through friends, in Dupont circle. We began the evening at Gazuza, a favorite of mine known for its excellent drinks and hookahs. After a few hours the conversation turned intellectual and it was then that we decided to go to Kramer's, one of the most well-known bookshops in the area that also happened to have a full service bar. After a few more hours there, we were ready to head home on the Metro.

Metro surfingIt was here that the night took a most interesting turn. While Jeff and Sally were firmly planted in their seats, I was indulging in an activity called 'Metro Surfing' which essentially involves trying to stay upright on the Metro without benefit of handholds. It's more difficult than it sounds, especially when drunk. Little did I know that a small man sitting nearby was taking notice.

Now I'm not sure what set this individual off but when he moved to exit the Metro at Rosslyn station, he suddenly turned to look at me and assaulted me with every verbal invective known to Man. Most of it involved the words queer, faggot and homo. My inquiries as to why he was so angry at me invited only more hate speech. After 30 seconds of this, I suddenly came to feel very sorry for this person. My initial anger turned to a light-hearted form of sympathy and I began to taunt him, definitely not one of my brighter moves. I asked him where his local Klan meeting was and and told him that I consistently voted Democrat which only seemed to agitate him more. Eventually Sally made it clear that she did not feel comfortable with the situation so I shut my mouth until he stepped off the Metro, the doors closed and we continued on our way.

When I was in the Holocaust museum earlier that day, it was difficult to understand how someone could hate someone else so much without knowing that person. Tonight on the Metro, that exact kind of hatred was directed at me. This person was obviously a small-minded and deranged individual but he is not the only one. We must always be aware of people of like this and realize that it can spring up in even the most diverse and tolerant of places.