||[Aug. 13th, 2011|07:28 pm]
Ah, romantic, enticing, mysterious Albion Castle.
I've done some long-distance tire-kicking.
Exhibit A: property disclosures.
Fascinating reading. The documents confirm 300' tunnels which extend under SFHA land, which I still wasn't quite ready to believe. However, the caveats on the title insurance are particularly interesting. In no particular order, ~$230,000 of property taxes and late payment penalties owing for the last few years, a declaration of Historical Landmark Status (which could purportedly bring some tax relief, but I suspect just makes maintenance a nightmare), one settled lawsuit, one pending, one $385k judgement against the prior owners (can't deep link, but start with the San Mateo Superior Court records search, look up civil case numbers 471364 and 489868, and be frustrated by their transfer to the Napa Court that has no free online record retrieval service). Oh, and the water rights for the underground spring are apparently in doubt.
I'm not sure what status delinquent property taxes have - whether they transfer with the property to the new owner or stay as a debt against the previous one. If the former, perhaps it'd be possible to have them retroactively reassessed given the precipitous drop in property value (as demonstrated by the putatively low sale price)?
The neighbourhood is pretty awful, and while it doesn't look so bad compared to my former happy haunts, anecdotal reports (and driving around in Streetview) confirm that it's fairly unwelcoming.
With that said, it's an interesting area to take a risk with. Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that I'd been around the corner from it a time or two - the Box Shop is a near neighbour. The development plan for the area is promising, though it's rather unlikely that the department (or anything else in California) will have the money to execute on it anytime soon. Local luminaries hold strong views on the area and could be enticed into a cabal. And the easy access to the bay means I could commute to the Mountain View office in a personal hovercraft capable of ground-effect flight (it's licensed as a boat!).
I also drew a pentagram in sheep's blood and summoned the voice of a real estate agent, who instantly recognized the property and filled me in on the gossip - the property has indeed been on the market for several years, there is a bankruptcy going on, and the court lost patience and handed the matter over to liquidators. The back taxes and court payments, in her opinion, will have to be determined as part of bid acceptance by the court - which will be on a public review during which the court will accept overbids from the public (minimum raise is 10%). There's also been a reasonable level of interest in the property, although mostly from commercial buyers who don't quite appreciate the nature of the surrounding consumer desolation.
And so, here the matter rests. Given the in-court overbid provisions, it makes little sense to pursue a low bid. Even if the vendor accepts, there's a high risk that any outrageously fantastic price would find competition on the day, and my personal bidding ceiling for a property - however fantastic - in a city that I don't live in is nowhere near a million.
However, with one or two partners who'd be interested in co-financing and living there, the game could well be afoot.
|Exiting Poland, unpursued by a bear
||[Aug. 7th, 2011|12:47 pm]
Poland was remarkably anti-climactic, after all that. Everybody was quite charming, and right now there's toddlers crowding around me at the airport gate to poke at my boots and phone, to the discomfort of their mothers. It's really sweet.
(Also, Polish girls appear to often wind up quite tall when not malnourished. Who knew?)
The wedding was fun, the site was lovely, and the pressure to join in the drinking was never more than polite and easily demurred. Touring around afterwards with my mother turned into more family reunion and less adventure than expected (perhaps naively), but was pleasant enough until I ran out of spoons yesterday and turned surly.
I seem to be developing a weakness for quirky property. A lot of my responses to places that we saw consisted of, "ooh, I wonder how much it would cost to buy this?" The answer is usually more than I'd want to spend, but when weighed against the yacht or Albion Castle, they're within speculative range.
The gender-specificity of the language - particularly in formal mode - seems to lead to extra stickiness of gender perception. The split is about 50/50 here as back home, but, unlike home, people correct themselves here much less often when they hear my voice. There could be lots of reasons contributing, but, Sapir-Whorf fanperson that I am, I'll stick to this one.
Just as last time, my language skills leapt quickly when pressed into continuous service. Unfortunately, a common first question, particularly from those who know where I work (ie, family), is "exactly what does your job involve?" This is a question that I don't have a good answer for in English, let alone Polish, but it's an interesting exercise in incremental development, as the language that I'm prompted with when struggling to explain on any given occasion I reuse on subsequent ones, and the conversation goes on from there. I'm particularly proud of having worked out a perfectly idiomatic way of saying "I can neither confirm nor deny those numbers" without any help at all.
||[Jul. 29th, 2011|03:48 pm]
Here's what I wrote in a cafe earlier today, shortly after arriving in Warsaw:
I had a post brewing on how apprehensive I felt about visiting Poland, what with the blasphemy laws and general social conservativeness, but, having arrived and interacted with easily a dozen natives, nothing has gone horribly wrong and I'm entirely excited about being here. New country! (effectively)
(also, some debunking of the first link above. I reserve judgement.)
I'd parked in a cafe since my phone was low on battery and I had a long train ride ahead of me. Just as I was waiting for the preview to load before posting, a loud popping sound came from the kitchen and all the lights went out. Their circuit breaker had blown - and taken the RF unit of my phone with it. Now I have a pocket-sized paperweight with pretty lights.
See? I knew Poland was a bad place.
||[Jun. 27th, 2011|06:03 am]
This was about my fourth or fifth pride march, I think, but my first in New York (itself the third city I've done this in).
The parade itself was no great shakes to be in - the route wasn't completely closed off, so every half-mile or so we'd have to stop to let traffic flow past for a couple of minutes, which in turn led to very halting progression for the first half of the parade. Audience enthusiasm grew to a crescendo in the village, in contrast to the sustained crazy throughout the Sydney or SF routes.
The Google contingent was small but enthusiastic, if lacking the organizational might of Mountain View's Gayglers. On the upside, it didn't require mustering at retarded-o'clock (*cough*San Francisco*cough*), and had I thought about it, I'd have realized that it was probably going to start an hour or two late anyway and not rushed quite so much in the morning (which I hold at least partly to blame for my stepping on a rusty nail whlie getting ready - which, although it drew blood and will probably require some followup, at least didn't slow me down on the march). Somewhat surprisingly, despite the many-deep crowd lining the route, I managed to find 2muchexposition (otherwise trapped by meetings) and Gus, though missing Alexis and Tab.
Post-pride, however, was amazing. There's no large open spaces for people to congregate, unlike Sydney's Centennial Park or SF's UN Plaza, and so a couple of million people flow through the streets of west village and out to the Hudson foreshore, which was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, mostly with dark-skinned people being awesome and friendly. I have no idea where all the white people went - I suspect they were still following the tail end of the parade down when I piked for general exhaustion and went home to sleep - but I didn't particularly miss them.
Salmoning back into the village took a fair bit of effort, but then an accidental queue-jumping at a justifiably pretentious pizza place which was overflowing with the gay seated us at a streetside table from which to enjoy the overwhelming cuteness. It reminded me a bit of Sydney on early morning New Year's Day, when everyone has a contact Ecstasy high; and the crazy cultural mix of people here was a major contrast with San Francisco (which I'd never really thought of as a monoculture - quite the opposite, really - until coming to New York).
Having never actually watched a Pride parade, I'm in no position to comment on how it looked from the outside, but I had enormous amounts of fun.
||[Jun. 25th, 2011|08:53 pm]
I should post some followups to the general randomness that has pervaded my journal in recent months.|
In reverse chronological order:
I have a Zeo, it's collecting my sleep data, but it hasn't been particularly useful yet. Much more useful has simply been paying increasing attention to the general matter of sleep, and the conversations i've had with people about it where they've shared observations that have resonated with me.
I don't have a Neurosky (for daytime tracking). The Neurosky communications vanished into a black hole despite the odd nudge, so I suspect they're working on more interesting things. But I'm not too worried, because the combination of improved sleep and finding the right Adderall dosage has made me really quite remarkably - and consistently - productive. I think I've done more work in the past two months than I have in the preceding two years. It's a remarkably good feeling, and once I *ship* some of it (which starts to happen next week but probably extends through next quarter), I'm going to be very happy.
I'm not quite a Genspace member yet, since pushing to get work done by the end of this quarter is consuming all of my spare time. I have floated the idea of taking my team there for a genetic engineering offsite, though, which met with general acclaim followed by crickets. That'll likely be my first project, though I also have a few near future ones lined up which basically aim at meddling with the human biome (but the bonsai gift project remains prominent, and is possibly the one I'll be able to do at Genspace).
I was unable to get insurance for the yacht, but along the way, I learned why - wintering aboard here is an act of raw insanity. The Hudson regularly sees ice floes in winter. Living aboard just for the summer is financially impractical, I think - the cost of winterizing the boat and heated storage for winter (not strictly necessary, but I don't trust myself to do a good job of preparing it for outside storage) is high, but it's something I might revisit before next summer.
That might be all the laggards. There's posts coming about experimental protocol for Latisse and associated software, a Python-based MUD I started writing in a park last weekend, and why I'm scared of Poland. But for now, Happy Pride!
|This weekend isn't getting any cheaper
||[May. 28th, 2011|11:45 pm]
One day and half-way through the first Quantified Self conference, my mind is afire with thoughts of EEG machines.
After yet another delayed and circuitous flight that arrived over an hour late, and a night in a borrowed bed, the day began early with a blood draw for a free Scanadu analysis service before the conference proper started. I've spoken at QS meetups before (old face!), but this is the first time that something this big has happened. The program was a little nebulous until the last minute, but the results are solid and much better than I'd dared hope.
An early session concerned sleep tracking. Thanks to 2muchexposition's wise melatonin suggestion I'm sleeping better than I have in months, if not years, and, between that and modafinil, feel largely immune to jetlag. But I do wish I could prove those results, quantify them objectively, or monitor them for regression.
The Zeo is a wireless headset paired with an overgrown clock radio that between them have enough EEG cleverness to reliably distinguish between different sleep states. More importantly, the data from it, by default, gets shipped up to the Zeo service which provides a bunch of value-adds.
Christine Peterson had a poster up demonstrating some of the basic stats that you can correlate against sleep performance, which quantify just how bad caffeine and alcohol were for her (reduced quality sleep by something like 30 and 60 minutes, from memory).
Zeo also provide a deidentified aggregate dataset to researchers, which is the largest single sleep history database by two orders of magnitude. That's kinda great.
Some of the observations made by the Zeo staff suggest interesting experiments - for example, most of the deep sleep happens in the first third of the night. So despite the fact that most people seem to have a natural sleep duration that they require, it could be interesting to try to reduce that by trimming the time spent asleep after you've extracted all the early benefits. They only knew of one or two people who were trying such things, but it would require being able to measure the impact to waking productivity and performance.
That segues nicely into the second session, which was on the subject of attention and focus. I have a huge variance in productivity day to day, and always have. There are times when I focus monomaniacally on a task and make great strides in hours that seem to pass like days. Other times days will pass when I can't stay concentrated for more than a few minutes at a time and feel distaste towards starting on any meaningful projects. I have no idea why, and, until I started experimenting with Adderall, had no luck in forcing the productive mode. Even now, the drugs aren't particularly reliable.
Neurosky sell EEG headsets that are designed to distinguish between waking brain states, and one company rep spoke about some recent experiments that showed success in distinguishing between degrees of focused and distracted states. There's other approaches to this that are potentially interesting, like logging the title of the active window on the computer every few seconds, or monitoring idle time on mouse and keyboard. These, however, suffer from the dual flaws of being unreliable proxies for mental state and not involving high-tech wireless toys.
It'd probably be more useful to measure high-level task productivity, but that seems like a much harder problem with a great many confounding factors. I'd gladly settle for being able to more reliably force a state of flow; something that I find elusive all too often. Establishing a solid baseline of work focus prevalence would be a good start to this.
(There was an interesting side discussion about what one should generally chase as a result in personal experimentation: whether to seek the dramatic change or the continuous slow improvement. My feelings are that dramatic improvements - much like my melatonin epiphany - are a better goal. In theory, you don't need instruments capable of subtle measurements to observe these results; they're blindingly obvious. But between concern over tracking regressions and fallibility of self-assessment, having some objective metrics does have clear benefits. Particularly when I've already tried a lot of things to drive productivity, with frustrating inconsistency in results.)
These probably sound like the sessions were commercial product pitches; that really isn't the case. There were a lot of people talking about their experiences with various approaches, some of which involved commercial products. My personal biases bubbled those two up to the top. It does, however, seem a little rash to go directly from owning zero EEG units to two.
The Zeo appears to be the better integrated unit end to end. It has well defined goals - improve your sleep - and comes with tools, workflow and community that's all aimed at the same goal. The Neurosky, on the other hand, seems to still be groping for purpose. They're pitched as components to be used in various brain-related enterprises, and come with only trivial games and some product partnerships. Anything I'd want to do with them would likely have to be built from the ground up.
On the other hand, my sleep is actually pretty good now. Improving my daytime productivity is definitely the higher priority, and the first step to improving it is to be able to measure it. But I'm also relying on the Neurosky being capable of delivering the results, and need to buttonhole the rep to find out how to replicate the attention experiments that she described. More when I learn it.
One surprise booth was GreenGoose, who have built tiny, disposable, wireless accelerometers. They have a small-puffy-sticker form-factor and three years of life off their built-in 100mAh battery, which boggles my mind. The general idea is to stick them on... well, everything, really (a frisbee was one demo) to automatically build acceleration timeseries, then ..., and then - profit! They're totally cute.
And then another surprise was a gent carrying around a miniature makerbot-y looking box (it's the laser-cut-wood look) that was an OpenPCR thermocycler! For $512! I so regret missing the kickstarter for this.
But I digress (as usual).
In general, one of the critical observations that came out of today's panels was that there's a high variability in people's responses to any particular approach. The effects of pharmaceuticals aren't currently predictable (I get no concentration boost from Modafinil, unlike everyone else I know), nor those of dietary, behavioural or lifestyle changes. The only real way to improve is to measure your own response to these experiments - which is, of course, the heart of this entire movement. Maybe with more data we'll glean the factors which govern the responses and come full circle to being able to reliably predict effective treatments. But for now, the basic principle remains suck it and see.
I'm now at Hacker Dojo. My initial impression is that, compared to Noisebridge, the plant is better but the people are worse (harsh, but pithy). I've begged a couch for the night in South Bay (well on track to my expected result of spending my five nights in the bay area in five different beds; though I only manage four different cities) and tomorrow's conference program looks equally fun.
||[May. 23rd, 2011|04:21 pm]
It just wouldn't be a weekend in Iceland without being inconvenienced by a volcano. Luckily it has only delayed my departure by a few hours; I was a whole five hours outside the flight cancellation window. I do feel a pang of wistful regret; my fallback plan was the 3-day ferry to Denmark via the Faroe Islands. Would have been fabulous. Would also have been out of contact and depleted my annual leave to commitment-canceling levels, so it's probably for the best this way.
Iceland is fabulous. Well, Reykjavik is. Honesty compels me to admit I didn't see much outside it. The city itself (okay, I only really saw downtown) is low density, cute, and expensive. By expensive I mean prices comparable to New York, although it's hard to say for sure, since the exchange rate happens to trigger a bug in my brain.
See, one ISK is equivalent to a penny less comfort margin, so the simple rule is lop off two zeros to get the price in USD. I am, however, a technical person accustomed to engineering units, and it turns out to be unbelievably hard to not work in thousands.
When I first arrived at the airport, I went straight to an ATM and attempted to withdraw the largest amount it offered, being 80,000 ISK, which I interpreted as $80 (which is a small maximum limit, but hey, financial crisis, devaluation, bodes well for shopping!). Mysteriously, the ATM refused. I tried another ATM; same story. I called my bank, figuring their fraud system was unhappy about my location, and they assured me it would work next time. It didn't; but then another ATM that I tried had a maximum withdrawal of only 20,000 ISK, which worked. $20 doesn't seem like much, but then everybody takes Visa anyway.
Some time later I realized that I'd withdrawn $200 instead, and considered it a minor blessing that my daily withdrawal limit is below $800.
Not that this realization helped, since later that day, while in a mild panic since all the shops were closing at a ridiculously early time of 6pm, when the sunlight was equivalent to bright noon anywhere else on the planet, I found some bargain priced piscine leather gear. So remarkably priced was this store that I threw extra things more or less at random into my order, being vaguely aware that there's a minimum purchase amount required to be able to reclaim the 25% VAT at the airport. Bare seconds after the credit card transaction went through it dawned on me that I'd just spent an order of magnitude more than I'd expected.
On the upside, I now have two pairs of very nice gloves.
The light here is pretty amazing - and it isn't even summer! The darkest it gets, modulo cloud cover or, you know, volcano ash, is just-past-sunset lighting, meaning a bright southern sky shading to medium blue in the north. The city seems reasonably sedate on weeknights, though certifiably crazy on weekends.
There's a high standard of pulchritude, though with amusing local touches - people do make a point of getting dressed up to go out, which for the lads means a uniform of dark suit, white shirt, thin black tie - and a captain's hat! I captured no pictures, but erupted in giggles at every new sighting, particularly when they were hunting in packs.
The apartment that I stayed in (my first airbnb experience; entirely positive) had blinds and the like to deal with the continuous daylight, and, wary after my recent jetlag horrors, I packed facemask and melatonin, and wound up having amazingly good sleep. Rather too good, in fact; I kept sleeping through brunch. Out of curiosity, and as something of a control, I skipped the melatonin last night and slept wretchedly, with both trouble falling asleep and staying there for more than a few hours. Rather like my usual sleep cycle at home, in fact. Which is why I now have a large bottle of 1mg melatonin en route from Amazon for regular use, in an attempt to conquer the modern technical sleep conundrum.
I do regret not having a good way of tracking quality of sleep, and therefore no baseline to measure prospective improvements against, but then that's why I'm heading west for the Quantified Self conference this weekend.
But back to Iceland. There was a certain amount of box-ticking, given how many classically Icelandic experiences there are to try and the limited amount of time I had. Foal may be my new favourite meat. Whale is a bit over-rated, although there was a lot of variance between preparations. At our largest single dinner occasion we gorged on 14 different types of beast, which I won't try to enumerate. Only half or so were sea-dwellers.
Aside from the eating, it turns out horses are quite fun to ride, too. Quelle surprise! The Icelandic horse is pony-sized but famous for a couple of unique gaits, including the tölt, which is dramatically more comfortable than a typical trot. Mine broke into it only for a few seconds a time (it was a little sadistic; I like to think that my dinner the following night was its close relative) but easily enough to grasp the appeal. Cute animals. I may add keeping them to my list of things to do when I move onto a ranch.
I've been musing about doing the Inca Trail on horseback with increasing enthusiasm for a while now, and this ride made me feel more confident about the whole thing, although the fact that my motorbike muscles still hurt days afterwards does have me rethinking the wisdom of spending ten days on horseback. Still, trotting and gallop achievements unlocked!
The birthday party itself was one of the more enjoyable occasions I've attended in the northern hemisphere, and the dozen or so of us that had flown in from foreign lands for the occasion have spent the time since hanging out together. It turns out that Andie makes friends with good people. The exact moment was marked, of course, by the eruption we'd arranged earlier (bringing cakes through customs and quarantine is hard). Sadly, we were off by an hour due to a timezone misunderstanding (stupid daylight savings), but it's the thought that counts.
The eruption itself was moderately anticlimactic. The ash cloud hanging across the land on Sunday was pretty impressive, but since the emergency services people shut the roads down stat, it was impossible to get to anywhere close. We couldn't even decide, from the church tower, which particular cloud feature might have been the eruption. With any luck there'll be a better view from the plane.
There was also a Blue Lagoon and some Viking ruins and stuff, but it's time to head for the gate and try our collective hand at the Rolls Royce Volcanic Ash Roulette.
|Misfiring on all cylinders!
||[May. 20th, 2011|07:03 pm]
Recording not so much for posterity, but because I'm about to go out drinking, in Iceland, and there's no guarantee of remembering anything in a few hours.
Everybody knows that DNA is constructed of just four bases. Some people know that RNA is constructed of four bases too, only three of which are common with DNA. A plausible reason for this just struck me in the shower (what are they putting in the water here? Smells faintly sulfurous).
The central dogma of molecular biology states that DNA is transcribed to RNA which is translated to proteins. So the four bases (a 2-bit code) in DNA describe everything, basically.
But a computer-person point of view sees it from a different angle. This is a digital code with two interpreters, polymerase (transcribing DNA to RNA) and ribosomes (translating RNA to amino acids). Both interpreters require metadata to recognize that a section of xNA (DNA or RNA) is something that they should execute: polymerase looks for promoters or origins of replication; ribosomes seek ribosome binding sites. There's also metadata that stops the execution (stop codons, termination factors).
This is directly analogous to file headers on a disk - the kernel interpreter needs an ELF (or other binary format) header or #! line before it will start executing the following contents of a file. Even though the headers are written in the same binary language, they aren't machine code and are normally never executed.
But unwound DNA and RNA are basically very similar, and in a cell blind luck determines whether ribosomes and polymerases are bounced off RNA or DNA strands. (There's apparently a lot of complexity around the transcription process, so maybe there's some extra enzymatic defenses against ribosomes, but there's fewer of them in PCR, which might the idea valid there, at least). So from a system perspective, xNA is a five base code.
So, here's my bet: all metadata structures must involve a T/U. This is because DNA is an escaped form of RNA, where the T/U transformation is analogous to bitstuffing or URL-encoding (although it doesn't require extra space); and including a T/U is how the system avoids having the interpreters get confused over each other's metadata.
Quick research shows that this appears to hold true for promoters, start codons, stop codons, termination factors and RBSes. I think there's also some almost-obvious implications for the redundancy in the mappings of codons to amino acids, but I'll think about those later. The fact that every bit-stuffed T is bound to a non-bitstuffed A in the reverse strand is also interesting from a coding perspective.
Food and drink time!
(I think I also now have a real project to embark on at Genspace, which is to synthesize an mRNA strand containing all five bases and see just what happens. O'course, another few minutes research might reveal that (a) this is all old news and has already been explored, or (b) the notion of RNA with a T-base makes no chemical sense whatsoever.)
||[May. 14th, 2011|10:23 pm]
I signed up for the other Genspace course, and had the second (of three) classes today. Just like the prior course, I'm going to miss the last class due to travel, but I'm at this point thoroughly sold and will be petitioning for membership just as soon as I'm in town on a Wednesday.
This class is more about synthetic biology as an engineering discipline than the first course, which seemed to aim more at the traditional biological perspective. Despite that, the first classes of each cover roughly similar material, although with enough divergence to keep me entertained and learning.
But then we moved straight on to building a biosensor, and wound up with something that has apparently never been done before - a RecA promoter controlling Violacein expression. It's baking in an incubator overnight; I guess we find out tomorrow if there's a reason they've never been done before. If Brooklyn vanishes in a wave of purple goo, you'll know why.
I also found out what a biobrick actually is, although most of the material about them I'll be missing in the next class.
But I now have new project ideas too, which are all still plant-related: moving on from the original luminescent bonsai idea to having multi-coloured petals or leaves on a plant (iGEM has long since worked out the details of genetically-controlled pigmentation), or metal/explosive biosensing plans to detect mines in old minefields (aerial spray with pesticide and something fast growing (giant kudzu), then avoid the patches where it grows purple instead of green).
These are such great project ideas - particularly the minefield one - that it turns out they've already been attempted by iGEM teams (hence the links). I'll have to lift my game. But the Edinburgh minefield team, at least, only got partway in their allotted three months, and that problem might therefore still be interesting.
|Blogging: so easy to neglect.
||[May. 13th, 2011|02:06 am]
I got older last week. This has an upside: official exit from the Jesus Year. It was a fairly challenging one, at least in the first half. The second half was marked, instead, by the first hints of an insidious ennui that had me starting to quest for new projects in life. New York is still fabulous, don't get me wrong, but geographic fascination only lasts so long, and I get twitchy without some kind of aspiration to pursue.
It's tempting to think about buying property. It's a good time to make some long-range bets. The problem is that the places that I want to live are the only ones in the country where it still doesn't make sense. Add to this the uncertainty of biennial visa renewals and long term plans, and the opportunity costs become enormous.
Besides, there's other equally challenging options. Of late, I've been dwelling on the idea of having children. I don't have any biological clock thing going, I'm just continually surprised and impressed by how deep other people's family bonds are, and I suspect that I'd really appreciate having such things in about twenty or thirty years.
I'm also inclined to do this as a solo project. I have no objection to nuclear families in principle, there's just nothing in my solid decade or two of relationship history that makes me feel like partnerships are likely to last a time commensurate with combined child-rearing, and my personal history makes me wary of the impact of such things. Given that, I'd rather spare the sprogs the anguish (ah, English) and ringfence them away as much as possible from the emotional upheavals.
The practicalities of doing this partnerless seem superficially straightforward. This country has an active market in donor eggs, largely due to the legalization of payments to donors for genetic material. This country is also somewhat racist, which I'm optimistic will result in lower prices for my pick of Chinese and Indian eggs (there's a part of me that wants to tap African genetic diversity, but enriching the bloodline in that direction can wait; I'm thinking a bet on the likely ascendant nations over the next couple of generations is a better thing to do right now).
Surrogacy is also available here, but it may be cheaper to do that overseas, following patrissimo's and choiceful's example; though again there's some merit to the whole anchor baby thing. It'd be nice to have a president or two in the family.
I'm under no delusions as to how wonderful, easy-going or inexpensive babies are, of course, so the project would require moving somewhere with a low cost of living and access to cheap labour, probably in the form of illegal immigrants^W^Wundocumented workers. I hear au pairs can be cute. So maybe somewhere reputably adorable like Nashville, or any of the other smaller but well-connected cities that return surprising results on liveability indexes, and which would likely be fine for the four or five years before educational concerns drive a relocation to Australia or Europe (or maybe Canada?).
Somewhat to my surprise, the costs of those initial few years aren't that high (I would link, but different sources have numbers all over the map). Even doubling or tripling them to account for goldplated nursing and house staff support still leaves them... well, affordable. I'm sure there's all kinds of logistical complications that would arise, but a reasonable first approximation leaves quite a comfortable psychological and financial safety margin.
And while I was facing this prospective future with the dawning realization that it was genuinely achievable, a quiet and perfectly reasonable little voice in the back of my head pointed out that if I could afford two kids, I could probably afford a boat.
Without further ado I started research. Unlike past flirtations with this idea, I decided to abandon my passage-making aspirations and focus on comfort instead. This immediately excluded monohulls and opened up the rather interesting world of catamarans instead - or rather, condomarans*. Knowing nothing about them, I bought The Book, the first third of which is an appeal to sanity in all of the usual fears related to catamaran design (stability, capsizing, etc). I found it quite convincing and began to get rather excited about the whole thing.
(* If you, like me, initially misparsed that portmanteau, I'll just point out that the root word is condo, not condom)
There's two basic metrics that I'm judging boats by. How boat-like they are and how home-like they are. My prior fascination with blue-water monos focused on the former at the expense of the latter, and I still backslide sometimes. But the boats that I've looked at so far have definitely tended towards the more comfortable.
Liveability: scads of space. My only criticism for the interior is that it has a dual-stateroom layout, which will be half-wasted for most of the time. Headroom is excellent, and the boat is pretty spacious. Having the galley on the bridgedeck is a little awkward, and uses more space than it's probably worth, but that could go either way, most obviously when it comes to dining.
Boatability: there's some minor upsides, but for the most part, a boat that lives like an apartment also sails like an apartment. With that said, The Book is pretty upbeat about it as a sailor, and there's some definite upsides, like absurdly easy access to the engines.
This was the first boat I got excited about. There happens to be an exemplar not thirty miles away, although my enthusiasm was damped somewhat on discovering that she'd been out of the water for five years and had some rotting deck problems. But I spent quality time with the Stray Cat down in Annapolis (listed at about the same price, strangely), and quite liked her.
Boatability: by all accounts, this is a great boat. Over a thousand hulls out there, some of which have done pretty crazy passages. It's fast, agile, and a foot narrower than any of the other contenders, which makes it substantially easier to find a slip. The single sterndrive is a bit weird, though.
Liveability: utter, utter fail. I can't stand up straight in any part of the boat, including the shower. This was awfully disappointing, since it's one of the few boats with a single master-stateroom config that would minimize useless space.
Boatability: PDQ stands for Pretty Damn Quick. Canadian builder, delivered to the promise of the name. It's driven by twin outboards (on hydraulic pivots!), which I was suspicious of initially until I realized that meant that you could have a single type of outboard and fuel for both boat and tender, which instantly won me over. Definitely a sexy boat.
Liveability: Despite being by far the largest boat I looked at, by a couple of feet in each direction, it felt inordinately cramped. The cockpit is modest, the cabin startlingly claustrophobic (and has headroom problems), and again with the twin stateroom. This boat is famous for it's huge bathroom, which admittedly is nice, but doesn't make up for the rest of it.
There's a fixer-upper down in Maryland that I adore. There's apparently no structural problems, just cosmetic issues from water damage. I so deeply wanted this boat to be the one, but it would need something dramatic done to the insides, like cutting holes in the compartment walls to make it seem more spacious.
Boatability: this is another card-carrying condomaran, and it's kinda ugly. Like the PC35, it lacks traveler or screecher, which could partly explain the perceived performance faults, though hull shape - featuring bulbous protrusions dangling from the bridgedeck to add living space, arguably turning them into trimarans - certainly doesn't help. It does seem to have a better sailing reputation than the PC35 (although The Book is unconvinced).
Liveability: the boxiness makes for an amazing feeling of spaciousness inside. The cabin feels like an apartment, with all the right angles. Single stateroom config, with window into the cabin, and a very spacious cockpit that comes with tent-like covers that turn it into what seems to be very reasonable living space.
Unfortunately, the only one of these that I saw in Annapolis was the 34' variant. With that said, she still had all the qualities that I liked, but the headroom around the table in the cabin lacked that critical inch, and that's where I'd be spending 90% of my onboard waking time.
(Yes, I know I should add pictures. Particularly since I rented a crazy 8-16mm lens to photograph all these boats last weekend in cramped surroundings, which worked very well. But they're waiting on yet another project to become available.)
I'm somewhat proud of myself (and perhaps just a little surprised) at how adult I'm being about the entire thing. I'm largely discarding, with only a hint of wistfulness, all the features that make boats exciting but compromise on how comfortable they'd be as a home. And, one the boat has been selected and all the ducks lined up, the last step will be to see what the total monthly expenses - which will probably be around two to three times as much as I'm spending on rent now - would get me in the way of rental accommodation in the East Village, and choose between the two.
Yes, you were all correct. EV FTW.
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