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Wednesday, March 16th, 2016
7:14 am - Away from road noise
A couple of weeks ago I went backpacking at Point Reyes National Seashore. This wasn't the first time I'd been to Pt. Reyes, but the last time was 15 years ago (this is, you might imagine, a common theme: back in 2001 my employer sent me to San Francisco many times and I became as familiar with the city as you can when you experience it in 4-hour chunks of borrowed time). However, my memories are appropriately vague. I do know that we went to the Arch Rock portion, which was quite remarkable. And fortunate, as that particular section is permanently closed. Er. GONE.. SO I was very luck to experience it while it existed. Erosion: it happens.

Cut for excessive ramblingCollapse )

So, I learned stuff. Definitely going again. After I get a better sleeping bag.

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Monday, March 31st, 2014
9:11 am - On the veneration of ancient tupperware
Yesterday, I had some free time and instead of doing any of the thousand productive things I should have done at home, hopped on the metro and went to the Freer-Sackler Gallery. Because culture is totally more important than clean floors and being able to find things. Actually, I think that might be true.

Right now, the Sackler Gallery has an exhibition on Chigusa, a 700-year-old tea jar. I first learned of Chigusa about two years ago, when the Smithsonian did a podcast on it. I always meant to listen to the podcast, but never did. I've found a good description of Chigusa, and it's better than I could offer. Also, the exhibition prohibits pictures, and that's one of the rules I actually follow pretty studiously. So you'd do well to check that article out if you want specifics about the tea jar.

Instead, I'm going to discuss my reaction to it.

To begin with, let me point out something irreverent, possibly offensive, and entirely true. From a practical standpoint, most href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Japanese_tea_ceremony_equipment>chadōgu (tea tools) could be replaced with modern equivalents that would likely do the job better, and for a fraction of the cost.
However, the value of these items is not simply in their practical aspect, but in the aesthetic and ritual aspects.
Aesthetically, I personally disfavor Chigusa. While much is made of its particular characteristics, in a general sense it's a very common design of jar that one may find the world over: perhaps half a meter tall, made of heavy glazed stoneware, bulbous at the top and tapering to a somewhat narrower foot (but that foot is quite wide enough for it to be stable on its own), with a series of lugs around the lip, for holding a lid or cover. Chigusa is of a relatively common type, that was made in China in the 13th and 14th centuries. It's a particularly heavy throw of stoneware, with an uneven, blistered iron glaze. I happen to like a more delicate look with lighter and cooler colors, and a bit more care in the glaze. However, that's quite subjective, and naturally my opinion is irrelevant when it comes to chado.

And yet, it's here that we hit what I consider a major disconnect between Chinese and Japanese culture. China has a rather utilitarian view of tea. Yes, it's an important aspect of the culture - but it's just, well, tea. Japan has, since tea's introduction to Japan about a millennium ago, treated tea and the appurtenances thereof as being deeply spiritual. As was once put to me by someone who was demonstrating the Chinese tea ceremony: "When the Japanese tea ceremony is over, you get a sense of oneness with the universe or something. With this, you get tea."*
You see, Chigusa was certainly made at a kiln in China. We don't know just which kiln - after all, it was produced as a shipping container. That is, it wasn't made as an objet d'art at all. I suspect that the potter who made it would have been as surprised to find it so treated, as a warehouse worker today would be shocked to find a shipping pallet on display in an art gallery.
But from these humble origins came something far greater. Or utterly ridiculous, depending on your point of view. A revered tea master, Torii Insetsu, acquired this jar and deemed it to be in some way ideal; he endowed it with a name and displayed it. From there, it came to be a revered item which was accorded great respect. Its owners did continue using it for its intended purpose, transporting tea, throughout the centuries. As time went on, history accumulated and increasing levels of reverence and ceremony came to surround this jar, but it seems that until very recently it was in fact still used for a practical purpose.

I was left with two observations, really.

First, I notice that import and ceremony seem to stick to the jar, and spread from it. The jar itself is considered to be a worthy object, of course. But that reverence seems to be infectious. It was transported in a box. That box came to be valued; an outer box was constructed to protect that box. And then a third box was made in the early 20th century, to protect the now-significant outer (now middle) box. This pattern holds true for all of the accessories - the cloth cover, an item which was surely at the time pretty close to disposable, is now subject to careful preservation. The cords for lifting the jar and holding the cover in place are now, too afforded respect and import. The documents kept with the jar, recording the provenance of the jar and various impressions of it, are on display - as are the envelopes in which they were kept! At this rate, it seems that the cabinets in which Chigusa and its accessories are on display will themselves be considered historically significant at some point.

Second, the in a way the aesthetic and ritual importance of Chigusa is perhaps irrelevant. These aspects are subjective, but regardless of your opinion of them, Chigusa is a piece that has seen the evolution of Chado almost from the beginning. Bear in mind that Chigusa was made at a time when Japan still imported much of its tea from China. And through that time, Chigusa has remained in use. I cannot imagine any object, no matter how mundane, that would not develop significance over the course of such a span.

* He then asked what you get with a British creme tea, which I was demonstrating. I told him that you get to conquer most of the world.

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Monday, March 5th, 2012
5:49 pm - On apologies and contraception
I have an uneasy relationship with apologies. To me, it often seems as if it's just assumed that saying "I'm sorry" or some equivalent is enough to absolve someone of any responsibility for their actions. Actually, according to Altemeyer's research that's exactly the case, with people who rely on prayer (without seeking to atone to those they have hurt) for absolving their sins:
No admission of wrong-doing to injured parties is required, no restitution, and no change in behavior. But it works really well: Instant Guilt-Be-Gone; just add a little prayer. And why wouldn’t you sin again, since it’s so easy to erase the transgression with your Easyoff, Easy-on religious practice?

That is to say, there are in fact people who believe that if you hurt one person, you can ask a third part for forgiveness, and with no tangible effort on their part nor even anything tangible on the part of the third party, they are forgiven and do not feel any guilt.

On the other hand, there are some things you Just Can't Fix. And these are often the worst mistakes. Things that affect - or end - peoples' lives. I don't have any love for the people who respond to "Dammit, I just dropped my computer and it broke!" with "Well, why did you do that?". We live int he real world, accidents and mistakes can and do happen, and treating every act like it, and all of its results, were the result of that person's nigh-omniscient plan is both horribly antisocial and idiotic. Sometimes you just have to apologize, and do what you can to make sure it never happens again. And if you're on the receiving end, have the grace to accept that some things can't be fixed, accept the apology, and move on. Especially for public figures, well, I think that's likely to be de rigeuer, since a comment by a random person might potentially cost a celebrity thousands or millions of dollars, and there's no way that can be fixed - and, also, a celebrity going after a random person is likely to just make the celebrity look more like jerk. But I digress...

I'm not so great about accepting apologies when there's no attempt at damage control, because I feel like it's often abused - public abuse becomes private apology, and often the private apology is "I'm sorry you feel that way" (which translates to "I'm not at all sorry about what I did, I just don't want to have to experience the consequences of it."

So, when I caught the headline that Sandra Fluke did not accept Limbaugh's apology (warning, link automatically plays a video) I had to look into it a bit deeper.

I'd heard vaguely about the flap. It's a follow-on for the ongoing bit about contraception being a required part of healthcare. A Georgetown University Student, Sandra Fluke, testified to members of Congress (note, not to Congress - she was not allowed to testify before Congress) that the Catholic university's failure to pay for contraception was a financial hardship for students. Limbaugh, showing the amount of class I've come to expect since he became a household name in the 80s, called her a slut and a prostitute. My assumption, incidentally, was that he had done so implicitly; he usually has the presence of mind to not say anything which might be legally actionable, I think. I hadn't bothered to look into it more deeply. It was, in fact, news to me that Georgetown was Catholic - I'd simply never cared to find out. In Georgetown's favor, the President of the University stood by his student, writing a letter supporting her and condemning Limbaugh. Yeah, the head of the school she spoke against came out in Fluke's favor. Also, another president - Obama - called Fluke to thank her for her stand.

So, by the way, what did Limbaugh say? Well, I did find a transcript - the first day of this is about halfway down:
What does it say about the college co-ed Susan (sic) Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.

So, yeah. He went there. He did, in fact, call her by name (and framing her face on camera at the time) a slut and prostitute. For wanting her healthcare to cover birth control pills.

Oh, note I said "the first day." Because there was considerable stir from those comments. He was definitely informed that what he'd said was inappropriate. Because the very next day he said:
Oh, yeah, I’m gonna deal with this. I’m gonna deal with it. I think this is hilarious. Absolutely hilarious. The left has been thrown into an outright conniption fit! This is “phony soldiers” times ten. Oh, ten times worse than phony soldiers. The reaction that they are having to what I said yesterday about Susan Fluke — or Sandra Fluke, whatever her name is — the Georgetown student who went before a congressional committee and said she’s having so much sex, she’s going broke buying contraceptives and wants us to buy them. I said, “Well, what would you call someone who wants us to pay for her to have sex? What would you call that woman? You’d call ‘em a slut, a prostitute or whatever.”

Apparently, he kept this up for three days running, attacking this law student. this is being - not inaccurately - called out as slut shaming.
Being realistic, I'm pretty sure Limbaugh would invent something else derogatory to say about a male who happens to disagree with him. Limbaugh's hatred isn't hatred of women; misogyny is, I think, merely a tool he wields in his hatred of anyone who disagrees with him. But it is, admittedly, a very powerful tool that he wields with apparent glee.

Limbaugh, this celebrity with a nationwide radio show and TV show, with a massive audience (a fact which does not fill me with glee) spent three days attacking an otherwise unknown law student for expressing her views.
Now, I should mention, for those inclined to write Ms. Fluke off for being "just a student" and "not an adult" that while she is indeed a student she is also 30 years old; incontrovertibly an adult, and her views have as much validity as those of anyone else. And she had the temerity to express those views to Congress. For this, she received such derision from Limbaugh that I cannot describe merely as "inappropriate". I have had better treatment from a spider monkey that was trying to kill me (yes, that is an actual fact; I am not being hyperbolic).

Now, Limbaugh has finally been compelled to render an apology of sorts. But before I go into that, I'd like to delve into the content of Limbaugh's skepticism of Fluke's testimony, beyond the personal attacks. His criticism betrays a person who is critically out of touch with the notion of people on limited income (I can't even call this "the poor"; he doesn't seem to get the idea of "person who doesn't have functionally infinite wealth") and women's health.

First off, he rails against her numbers. Ms. Fluke testified that three years' supply of birth control would cost her $3,000. Limbaugh cited Planned Parenthood, which said that birth control pills cost $15-$50 a month. At the low end (which Limbaugh cites as the high end; either he can't do arithmetic, or he assumes his listeners can't), that's $540 for three years; at the high end that's $1,800. But... do you recognize those numbers? Those who have to worry about a typical health plan, without an endless font of money should. $15-$50/month... that's a co-pay. That's the amount you pay after your insurance pays the rest. What Ms. Fluke is citing is how much she pays because her birth control isn't covered at all. And if you do the math, she's citing a pretty reasonable $83/month. Okay, not "reasonable" in that she shouldn't have to pay that much, but perfectly plausible. Limbaugh can't seem to decide if that's so cheap she shouldn't have any need for insurance coverage, or so expensive that it justifies requiring women to be porn stars. Of course, it's neither. To most Americans, $83/month out of pocket is an acceptable but painful addition to the monthly budget. That's about what I pay each month for power. Well, during the winter. I'd rather not pay an extra utility bill every month, but I could. Of course, I'm a technical writer, not a law student. But I went to college to be a tech writer, and I do recall that time. And I did not have a spare $83 every month. And, you know, most people don't. It's not a trivial amount of money; it's certainly not an amount you can casually brush off, especially if, like many Americans, you're living paycheck to paycheck.

The other issue is, apparently, Limbaugh knows jack-all about contraception, birth control pills, or women's health. At least, judging from his comments. He opts to draw a false and ridiculous parallel between birth control pills and condoms. Yes, both serve a primary purpose of preventing pregnancy. And... um, the similarities pretty much stop there. Birth control pills are actually more effective than condoms at preventing pregnancy, though condoms can prevent disease transmission - if I recall correctly, teens are often told to use both, so it's not even an either/or there, as Limbaugh suggests. But the differences keep going. Thing is, you use condoms exactly as often as you have sex. No more, and if you're being responsible, no less. Pills? For them to be effective, you have to take them well in advance. In fact, for maximum effectiveness you have to take them over a month in advance. Consistently, too. You can't just say "Well, I broke up with my boyfriend, I won't be having sex in February, so I'll start up again later." Perhaps Limbaugh thinks birth control pills are taken the same day as one is planning to have sex? If so, he's laughably wrong.
But birth control pills are, in spite of the name, not really just about birth control. Many women use them to regular their cycles. I wont' go into gory details, but for some women this is medically necessary; it actually seems to be reasonably common. Whether or not that's the case for Ms. Fluke I shall not speculate. It is not my business - nor is it anyone else's. That's a matter between a woman and her doctor; granted I'd be highly amused to learn of Rush Limbaugh awkwardly stumbling over the topic of menstruation and so forth, and acknowledging how terrifically wrong he was, but really - isn't the notion of there being a "moral" prescription and an "immoral" prescription - as determined by your employer - ridiculous?
My point is, however, that Limbaugh's commentary wasn't just crude, offensive, misogynistic, and wholly inappropriate. It was also ignorant, false, and misleading.

But let's get to that apology.

After three days of verbal abuse against Sandra Fluke, Limbaugh started to feel the heat. Several advertisers have dropped him and as a result he rendered an apology on his website (don't click that, please, I'm simply including it for completeness). Yes, he is putting an apology on his website for something he said on his radio show? Recall what I said about public abuse becoming private apology? Not quite the same thing, but I have no illusion which one will get less circulation. Here's the full text:
For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.

I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit?In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level.

My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.

Emily Yoffe has nicely analyzed it, and concluded it is "a model of how not to apologize". And she's right. As an apology it's awful: it fails to convey anything like contrition, it comes across more as self-aggrandizing than apologetic, and I can't imagine how it might possibly mollify anyone. Additionally, it fails to actually contain any contrition at all. Limbaugh focuses strictly on his use of the words "slut" and "prostitute", he doesn't even make mention of everything else he said against Ms. Fluke. He outright lies about what he did - you do not make a poor word choice for three days running, and you do not apologize for a personal attack by claiming it wasn't a personal attack. Sandra Fluke cannot accept Rush Limbaugh's apology for leveling personal attacks against her, because he has not rendered such an apology at all!
To me, this isn't a real or sincere apology. It's something that was put up to say "See? He apologized! Why are you liberals being so mean! Just accept his apology and move on!" There's no contrition, no commitment to never do it again, never any acknowledgement that he even did wrong. And he didn't even do this until facing mounting financial pressure. There's no sincerity at all there.

Of course, I do have to step back a bit. I despise Rush Limbaugh. I loathe his politics, I loathe how he lies to and misleads people, and I feel his effect on our nation in the world bears a greater resemblance to the Spanish Flu than it does to the actions of a worthwhile human being. Am I too quick to judge against him? Am I biased?
Well, yes, I'm biased. So let's ask another opinion here. How about A conservative Republican who asks "are we being fair to Rush Limbaugh?".
I think he deals as well as I could with the counterarguments. To wit:
1) Yes, Limbaugh's comments were that bad. They are beyond the pale, and beyond even the minimal standards of decency already set.
2) The "equivalent" unacceptable liberal comments did not go unpunished.
3) Limbaugh is not, in fact, equivalent to any of the supposed "equivalents" ever brought up.
4) So what if a liberal commentator said something inappropriate? Tu quoque is a logical fallacy. What Limbaugh said was not acceptable, regardless of what anyone else said.

Now, we live in a free(ish?) country and I do believe in Freedom of Speech. Mr. Limbaugh is allowed to go on his show and call this woman who disagreed with him a "slut" and a "prostitute". I am - and you are - allowed to exercise your freedom of speech too. I suggestion you employ it thusly: "I do not wish for your station to carry Rush Limbaugh's show" and "If you continue to advertise with Rush Limbaugh, I will not support your products."
You can start here (part 1) and here (part 2) to find out about addressing your local station, or go for the advertisers. Or, you know, do both. Freedom of speech is nice, isn't it?

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Monday, October 10th, 2011
12:26 am - Occupy DC
I'm posting this for the people who don't follow my twitter feed, or just want to see it all in one place. What you're seeing are my tweets from this weekend and last weekend when I went to McPherson Square to see what OccupyDC is all about. Following the tweets are my overall impressions from each visit. I've added the numbering on the tweets so I could put them in proper order for easy viewing. I haven't made the picture URLs into hyperlinks, but copy them and they should work.

Last Weekend, October 2ndCollapse )

THIS WEEKEND, October 9thCollapse )

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Saturday, June 18th, 2011
2:48 am - Last Hurrah at Stacy's
“Must be nice to be a pigeon,” I said, taking another swig of coke and making a face. “You sure I can’t sell you on the idea of coffee? Nice, bitter, hot coffee that doesn’t taste like going down on a hooker from Candyland?”
--Shaun Mason, Deadline

Well, folks. So far it’s not official, but Sammy told me that June is the last month for Stacy’s Coffee Parlor. I think we’re all going to miss it. I know I will. So please come on Saturday the 25th, at 3:00 pm, to remember the good times we had, to wish Sammy well, and enjoy the good company we’ve always had.

As always, let me know if you need a ride from the metro.

Also, some folks will be discussing Mira Grant’s latest book, Deadline, which is disturbingly appropriate for such an occasion as this.

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Thursday, June 9th, 2011
2:33 am - Tea, but no wine (Mad Science Tea, 6/11/2011)
`Have some wine,' the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don't see any wine,' she remarked.
`There isn't any,' said the March Hare.
`Then it wasn't very civil of you to offer it,' said Alice angrily.
`It wasn't very civil of you to sit down without being invited,' said the March Hare.

But in this case, you ARE invited. But there will still be no wine – alcohol is not permitted in public parks.

This Saturday, beginning at 3:00 pm, please come to Lewinsville Park (http://maps.google.com/maps/place?cid=6965497655906969819&q=Lewinsville+Park&cd=1&cad=src:ppiwlink,view:smartmaps&ei=0mbsTfaQBKaYyASTqZzOBg&dtab=0) for a picnic and the flying of kites.

Don’t have a kite! No problem ! Mika and I have a few dozen that we’re more than happy to give away. They’re all rainbow-colored diamond-shaped kites, which were intended for a Gay rights demonstration; I hope you’re comfortable with that.

Other than kites, we’ll be bringing a portable shelter in case of rain or excess sun – bear in mind that the weather reports say this weekend should be warm, but not as hellishly hot as it has been – and plenty of water. We’ll also be bringing lemonade and iced tea. I intend to make some “traditional” picnic sandwiches – cucumber, egg salad, chicken salad, that sort of thing. Possibly fruit, and if I’m feeling ambitious, cookies.

What should you bring?
Well, a kite if you have one. Sunscreen wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. More water won’t hurt. Any outdoor thing like Frisbees or lawn darts that you might enjoy. Other drinks and finger foods would be very welcome (remember, no alcohol!). There are grills, but unless anyone specifically asks, Mika and I are not bringing any charcoal. Oh, and if anyone should have a good picnic blanket it might be nice; there are tables, to be sure, but no guarantee we’ll get one.

Most importantly, bring yourself! Remember, if you need a ride from the metro, let me know. If you’re nto sure where Lewinsville Park is, check the link above or call me. For those who don’t know, my cell phone is 913-269-9873.

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Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
10:28 pm - Sipping beverage divine
Nobody knew whither, till
An astrologer's old quill
To a sheepskin gave the story,
Underneath a new old-sign
Sipping beverage divine,

--John Keats, "Lines on the Mermaid Tavern"

The last Mad Science Coffee of the year shall occur at Stacy's this coming Saturday, December 11th. I hope to discuss plans for the coming year; and one hopes also more interesting topics, of which there is no shortage!
MSC Home Version will resume in January; I intend to rename that as Mad Science Tea, if there are no objections.

Sadly, it is massively unlikely that the mugs will be in by this Saturday, but we shall have them by January I am sure.

As always, if you need a ride from the metro, let me know, and of course don't hesitate to ask if you should need a ride from further afield.

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Sunday, June 27th, 2010
7:58 pm - Please redistribute and repost
Looking for something to do this Saturday?

Then come to Stacy's Coffee shop at 7 pm for a concert by Catherine Asaro and Donald Wolcott!

They’ll be playing music from Catherine Asaro’s recent novel, Diamond Star, as well as a combination of original rock, jazzy pop, jazz standards and classic rock. Catherine will be giving readings from Diamond Star as well.

Stacy’s Coffee Shop is at 709 West Broad Street, Falls Church, VA 22046. The phone number is (703)538-6266. Stacy’s serves a variety of sandwiches, pastries, ice cream, soft drinks, and of course excellent coffee.

Catherine Asaro is two-time Nebula® Award-Winning author of science fiction and fantasy. May 2009 saw the publication of her twenty-fourth book, Diamond Star (Baen Books). In April 2009, Starflight Music released a companion music CD, also titled Diamond Star, that offers readers a soundtrack for the book. The songs are performed by Point Valid, a vibrant young rock band from Baltimore, with Catherine as guest vocalist. Her second CD, Goodbye Note, was released in 2010.

Donald Wolcott has been playing piano since the age of five. In 2005, Donald received acclaim from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia as a top soloist in their annual jazz festival. In 2006 he was accepted as a bassist into the Montgomery County Honors Jazz Ensemble. In 2007 he earned an honorable mention for jazz performance in the National Distinguished Scholar Competition, and in 2008 he was one of only four people who received the coveted “Maestro Award” for individual performance at the Washington D.C. Heritage Music Festival. After his high school graduation in 2008, Donald accepted a scholarship to Towson University,
where he majors in Jazz Performance and is the pianist for the Towson Big Band, the school’s premiere
jazz ensemble.

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Monday, November 2nd, 2009
1:13 am - Winter Comes Early: Escape from Loft Mountain
As promised, the story of our previous camping trip.Collapse )

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Sunday, December 7th, 2008
2:17 pm - SoHo Coffee & Tea - DuPont Circle
SoHo Coffee & Tea
2050 P St NW
Washington, DC

DuPont Circle is a highly competitive market for a coffee shop. There are dozens of shops in the area, each one vying for the frequent foot traffic of the young, trendy throngs which flock to the area. With its location several blocks from the metro, SoHo Coffee & Tea is hardly the most convenient coffee shop in the area. It is, however, very close to the popular Brickskeller – and with SoHo’s incredibly late night hours that’s a major bonus.
During the day, SoHo is mainly frequented by students. With rows of tables and of course a wide array of food and caffeinated drinks, SoHo makes an ideal environment to study. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of couches, and while an individual shouldn’t have any trouble finding a seat there’s seldom enough free seats for a large group of people. As a result, SoHo really isn’t the place to take a group of friends to relax.
Later at night, SoHo empties out a bit. Since they’re open as late as 4:30 am, it’s a great spot for a late-night snack, someplace to recover from clubbing or for the night owls to hang out. As a nice bonus, SoHo even serves beer and wine.
SoHo is a great place for the younger crowd, especially students. The only major drawback is the cost: most drinks run about $4, and lunch can easily end up costing $15 or more. While that’s not too surprising for DuPont Circle, it can still be daunting on a limited budget. Even so, it’s well worth visiting.

The ratings:

(0-4) Regular coffee - 3. They grind their own, though they don’t seem to roast it there.

(0-2) Iced coffee – 2. Definitely what you need on a hot day, and as good as iced coffees anywhere.

(0-2) Latte - 2. Their mixed coffee drinks are excellent. I enjoyed a "Hello Gorgeous macchiato", which isn't anything like a real macchiato but was nonetheless quite tasty. A bit pricey though, at $4.

(0-2) Espresso - 2. I seldom drink straight espresso when a macchiato is available. The macchiato here is HUGE, the same size as a normal cup of coffee, with excellent foam and just the right flavor. Even stuffed up, that aroma came through beautifully. Perfect.

(0-2) Tea - 2. They have an excellent selection of loose leaf teas available iced and hot, with both classic blinds and some more innovative options.

(0-2) Non-caffeinated drinks - 2. There's a good selection of smoothies, soft drinks, and juice options.

(0-2) Pastries - 2. SoHo seems to have a deal with a nearby bakery, and the results are very positive indeed.

(0-2) Sandwiches - 2. SoHo has an excellent selection of sandwiches, wraps, and paninis, not to mention bagels, other breakfast foods and some incredible soups. The chicken bisque I tried was excellent.

(0-2) Ice cream - 2. Ice cream, milkshakes, and other concoctions hold a well-deserved place on the menu.

(0-2) Internet access - 2. Easy connection. It's only 802.11b, but even though the coffee shop was crowded I didn’t notice any lag; it's fine for regular web use, just not for hefty downloads. They also require a minimum $5 purchase to use their access, though there's no authentication or anything, it's simply a notice that they'll kick you out if all you're doing is using their connection.

(0-4) Comfort - 2. It's a largish place, but seems to be pretty crowded all the same. It's mostly oriented toward students, with a good number of tables and chairs for people with laptops or books. There are only a few couches along the far wall. To be fair, when I came it was almost entirely populated by kids studying for finals. On a definite plus, everyone was very polite and in spite of being crowded was still relaxing. Unfortunately, they only have a single unisex bathroom, which is rather vexatious for how many people were there.

(0-4) Hours - 4. Open until well into the am every night, the earliest they close is 12:30 am. On Fridays and Saturdays they close at 4 am. Can't ask for better.

(0-4) Staff - 3. I had the opportunity to observe a new staff member being trained. The staff is friendly and takes pride in their work. There was obvious care to make sure the new member was initiated into the intricacies of coffee, and not just taught to make some mixed drinks by rote.

(0-2) Music - 1. Background music, nothing to write home about but not intrusive either. The speakers are pretty well placed to get good coverage, but the acoustics of the place aren’t so great.

Total score of 29 out of a possible 36.

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Monday, December 1st, 2008
4:19 pm - "Coffee House" - Lee Highway past hte Home Depot.
Regular coffee - 2. They use caribou coffee. $2.05 for a large.

Iced coffee - do they know how to make a decent iced coffee?

Latte - 2. Had a pumpkin spice latte, seems pretty good. $3.89 for a medium.

Espresso - 1. The macchiatto came out as bitter and too hot for the proper flavor. $2.15 for a small.

Tea - 1. Chai latte. No bag tea that I saw, though.

Non-caffeinated drinks - 1. They have a cooler with soda. Not much else.

Pastries - 1. Distinctly meh. There are pastries, but nothing to write home about.

Sandwiches - 0. However, they promise to have them soon when they have a large refrigerator.

Ice cream - 0. No freezer or the like.

Internet access - 2. Connected right up.

Comfort - 2. The place seems a bit unfinished, but they do have a couch and a nice easy chair. Lots of cube shapes going on here, very modernist.

Hours - 1, but improving. They're open until 8 on weekdays except for Friday, when they're open until 11 pm, and until 6 on weekends.

Staff - 2. Well, they are bored teenagers, but they seem to be bored teenagers who give a damn. And I love it when I can quip "So, Jillian, do you like public transit?" "No, not really." "Well, that's unfortunate, because Andrew here just threw you under the bus." and have them get it.

Music - 1. XM Radio, jazz. Seems to fall toward the inoffensive category, but I can't say good things about the sound system they're using, which consists of residential-grade system in the corner.

I still need toc heck out their iced coffee, but for the moment I'm giving them a 1 there, as it's on the menu. Total score then is 17 out of a possible 28. The Coffee House has the unfortunate feel of a place which has just opened - and may not be open for too much longer. Right now it's a shoestring operation. With weekly live music, a large space, and an enthusiastic staff, they have a great deal of potential. Right now, though, there's not much but potential. And, to be honest, that really was the worst macchiatto I've ever had. They've got a long way to go before they'll be a success.

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Thursday, October 23rd, 2008
11:58 pm - Coffee talk?
As many here have likely figured out, I like coffee shops.

I've been thinking of making it a habit to visit various and sundry different coffee shops int he metro area and rating them.

So, I'd like get some ideas on how to rate these coffee shops. I'm thinking of making the scoring mechanism simple: if they don't have a given item or aspect,t hey get a 0. If they have it but it's not very good, they get a 1. If they have it and it's good, they get a 2. Score will be the total of the points. Simple, doesn't get too far into the esoterica of coffee - as you may know, I'd be unto myself wont to sit there and cup the coffee. Which may - and indeed does - have its value, but isn't really quite what most people care about.

So, what categories or aspects should I look for?

Right now, I've thought of the following:

(0-4) Regular coffee - basically, do they have a regular old cup o' joe?
(0-2) Iced coffee - do they know how to make a decent iced coffee?
Latte - how about mixed coffee drinks?
(0-2)Espresso - and can they make a good cup of the strong stuff?
(0-2)Tea - do they have tea? Is it in any way an improvement over making Lipton at home?
(0-2)Non-caffeinated drinks - How about for those who don't drink caffeine? Soda? Or something more?
(0-2)Pastries - Man does not live on coffee alone. He also needs cinnamon rolls.
(0-2)Sandwiches - and how about more substantial fare?
(0-2)Ice cream - oddly, ice cream is a common thing in coffee shops. How is it?
(0-2)Internet access - wireless? Pay wireless? Does it work?
(0-4)Comfort - is the shop a relaxing place, or does it offer all the ambiance of a dentist's waiting room?
(0-4)Hours - how are their hours? Convenient, or do they close just after you get off work?
(0-4)Staff - bored teenagers? People who care about their coffee? Disturbingly perky but remarkably friendly young men whom you end up being friends with?

Anyone have any other thoughts?

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Tuesday, October 7th, 2008
8:41 pm - Once more
In case anyone didn't see the previous post...

We're still looking for a fourth roommate. We've found a really great house, about a mile from the Vienna metro, but with the cost of the house and the utilities, it's not really a good option for only three people. However, it's very large and we could easily have four or even five people. It'd be something like $700/month after utilities.

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