Wow, my readership has gone up…

2014/10/31

Until this month, my monthly page views had never broken two thousand, and the closest it had come until last month had been when some posts I wrote about Caltech politics got sent to a Caltech all-house political argument. Well, my views for this month are now over two thousand five hundred…I don’t know if I’ve caused more people to be aware of this blog or just been more interesting, or it’s just that people like to click on photos, but I’m certainly a bit surprised.

An Incident with the MIT Police

2014/10/30

I should probably write this down as soon as possible, while my memory is clear. While I admit that it doesn’t necessarily reflect particularly well on me, I want a record of it, and I want it public, in case the police decide to give me further trouble about this. If someone who isn’t me wants to save a copy of it to their hard drive as a back up, I would appreciate it.

This morning, I was walking to MIT Mental Health at around 9:45am for my appointment with Dr. Hsi. As I came to the point on Vassar Street where a large area is cordoned off for MIT’s memorial to Sean Collier, there was an MIT Police officer stopping traffic and pedestrians as a dump truck was entering the site across the sidewalk. I believe he was facing away from me. Once the truck passed, he started waving his hand that was closer to the buildings (away from the street) and pedestrians started passing him in the opposite direction as I was going. Since I assumed his other hand was stopping traffic, I decided to walk as well, and walked on the street side of him, but still on the sidewalk, to avoid running into the pedestrians going in the other way. I didn’t hear or see him say or gesture anything that I thought indicated I should stop.

Given that I am already creeped out and morally upset about the fetishization of Sean Collier, and was further annoyed by this situation, and was probably not in the most calm mental state, after passing, I decided to shout “Fuck Sean Collier!” twice loudly. Someone behind me, I assume the cop replied, “Fuck you, too!”, which I thought was an unsurprising and reasonable response. I replied, perhaps unwisely, “And fuck you, too!”, which was probably not a great decision on my part. I then continued walking to MIT Medical and went to my appointment assuming the matter had ended.

As I was walking down the stairs in Medical after my appointment, at about 10:45am, I saw an MIT bike cop (wearing a helmet and blue windbreaker) talking to one of the receptionists on the second floor. I started to wonder if this had something to do with me, but decided I was being paranoid and ignored it. However, he started to follow me down the stairs and asked me to stop. He asked if I was a student here, and I said he was. He then showed me a photo on his smartphone that was blurry but clearly my face photographed this morning, and asked if it was me. I said it was. I asked if he wanted to talk to me further, and he said he did, and that I “had some choice words about Sean Collier”, which I acknowledged I did. We stopped at the bottom of the stairs and I asked if he wanted to see my ID. He said he did, so I showed it to him, along with my driver’s license. He said he didn’t need the license, but took down my name and ID number. He asked me if I had a problem with Sean Collier, and I said I did, but that I didn’t wish to discuss it further. He said something about me of course having free speech. He also called on his radio, something in code, but since a second officer arrived in a few minutes, I assume it was a call for backup.

I asked if I was free to go and he said no, not until he finished taking down my information. I asked what I was being written up for, was it for what I’d said? He told me no, it was for crossing when a police officer had told me to stop. This seems plausible in that they would have had to photograph my face while I was crossing, though it is possible that it was a security camera photo taken later (the lighting in it makes me suspect that it was taken indoors), in which case I believe this to be a serious breach of MIT’s stated policies about when the police can access security camera footage.

In any case, I said that I thought the officer was waving me on, and he repeated that the officer had signaled me to stop and that I hadn’t. I repeatedly asserted that it was clearly a misunderstanding: I’d believed the waving hand was for traffic in both directions, and hadn’t heard him say anything contrary when I kept going. He let the matter drop, so I asked who the report was being written for, and he said he was submitting it at the police station. I asked whether it was public record and he said he didn’t know. I told him that I’d go down to the station in a couple of days to see if I could get a copy, and he said that was my right. He then asked if I “had a date of birth”; I said it was on my driver’s license and I showed him that; he took it down. Perhaps because he noticed that it was an out-of-state license, he asked if I lived on campus, and I said yes. He asked where, and I gave him my dorm and room number.

Eventually he told me I was free to go, and wished me a nice day. I replied that I hoped he understood if I didn’t wish him the same as I walked away, at which point a second officer showed up and stopped me, asking if we were done here. I told him that the first officer had said I was free to go and asked if he was changing that. After a bit of apparent confusion between them—certainly I was confused—it became clear I was free, and as I left one of them said “Have a nice day!” and I replied “I won’t!” I then walked to lab to write this up.

West Coast Trip 24: To the Space Needle by Monorail

2014/10/30

Naturally, I felt it necessary to ride the Seattle Monorail and see the Space Needle. I decided not to go to the top of the Space Needle because the line was quite long and because I wanted to save money, but I did spend some time walking around Seattle Center, the misnamed entertainment district north of downtown where the Space Needle and the northern terminal of the monorail are located.

Sometimes you just have to wonder what MIT is thinking…

2014/10/29

For a while, Facilities has been saying that they’re going to replace a number of the windows in my lab, even though my advisor has told them we don’t want them replaced, and even though the construction work is going to be a major inconvenience to us.  Today, they announced that they are in fact going to do this, and that they’re starting next week.  They won’t actually have the replacement windows they want for several months, but they’re in a mood to tear things apart, so they’ve told the Medieval Grad Student that she has to vacate her office so that they can tear out the window, which is most of the exterior wall of the office.  They’ll then “see how it goes” and put up a plywood temporary wall to keep out the coming winter weather for the next couple of months—note that they’re starting this in November—and then eventually put in new windows.  Given previous things I’ve been told about them not doing outdoor construction during winter, I do wonder why they’re starting now when they’re not going to get the windows to put in before January or so.

However, this isn’t the only annoying case of MIT unexpectedly moving people in the last week.  A week ago, I had to go to a Sidney-Pacific house meeting that was announced with only twenty-four hours notice on the Medieval Grad Student’s behalf because she was too sick but wanted to know what was going on with her dorm.  It turns out that they’ve decided they need to replace the whole ventilation system in the fourteen-year-old dorm because it was installed incorrectly when it was built.  Although they’re planning on building a new dorm as “swap space” for residents while they do renovations, they’re not going to wait for this.  Instead, they’re going to cram all the residents into half of the dorm for six months, with a large number of people sharing doubles as quads (quads with one bathroom), and then switch them to the other half after six months.  The Medieval Grad Student is unsurprisingly unhappy and looking for a private landlord.

You know what I don’t understand…?

2014/10/29

How people convince themselves that price is a moral or acceptable way to ration things when there is such a large disparity in how much money and earning potential people have.

West Coast Trip 23: To Vashon Island by Ferry

2014/10/28

A lot of Sunday, my one full day in Seattle, was spent visiting the Carnivore and the Crypto-Protestant at the Carnivore’s family’s farm on Vashon Island. Vashon Island is a rather strange place: it’s an island the size of Manhattan with a population of only ten thousand people despite being quite close to Seattle. Because the residents have long opposed the construction of a bridge, the island is only connected to mainland by ferries and has remained quite rural.

Like much of the population of the Island, the Carnivore’s parents commute to Seattle for work, but they also have a farm with a significant amount of tasty livestock. I visited on the day after the Carnivore’s sister’s wedding, which meant that there was a huge amount of leftover food, much of which they’d grown or raised themselves, including a freshly-killed pig.

Sino-Polish Cooking

2014/10/27
A pot of bigos.

A pot of bigos.

The Lieutenant and my non-Iranian flatmate with a table set with all the stuff we cooked.

The Lieutenant and my non-Iranian flatmate with a table set with all the stuff we cooked.

Back in September, the Lieutenant and I had a conversation about cooking that brought to light a lot of similarities between Polish and Chinese recipes.  We decided it would be neat to meet up to teach each other recipes and cook tasty things.  I ended up making bigos, which she really enjoyed, as she hadn’t previously known that sauerkraut could be an ingredient and not just a condiment, and vegan golabki.  She made a very savory dish consisting of stir-fried spinach, pork, and dehydrated shrimp.  (The last was something I’d never heard of before.)  It was all very tasty and we’re hoping we’ll be able to find time to have another one soon.

West Coast Trip 22: To Downtown Seattle by Light Rail

2014/10/26

Unfortunately, it turned out that none of the people I was visiting in Seattle had space for me to crash, so I ended up having to stay at a cheap motel by the airport while I was there. Besides being a bit expensive, this meant that I was fairly far from downtown. Fortunately, the Central Link light rail line runs to the airport frequently and fairly late into the night, so getting downtown from the motel wasn’t difficult, though it was about a half-hour trip each way.

For a city that doesn’t have any rapid transit lines, Seattle does seem to do a reasonably good job at transit, though I admit I didn’t really ride anything during a weekday rush hour. Like a number of cities on the West Coast, it has trolleybuses powered by cheap hydroelectric power. While the light rail is fairly limited, there are plans to expand it, and they do have a network of high-frequency, signal-priority buses with some bus lanes called RapidRide to serve areas where the light rail doesn’t go.

The main piece of transit infrastructure downtown, though, is the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, a north-south tunnel with five stops over a distance of about a mile and a half that serves both bus lines and the Central Link light rail. I found the signage and explanations of where different buses stopped in stations rather confusing, but was surprised by just how big the stations were: they reminded me somewhat of the underground stations on the DC Metrorail.

The Colourful Linguist recommended Seattle to me several years ago, so I wasn’t entirely surprised to find that downtown Seattle seemed nice and urban. I really didn’t expect how hilly it was, though, which surprised me a bit given my impression that bicycling is quite popular there.

West Coast Trip 21: Amtrak Cascades to Seattle

2014/10/24

I departed Vancouver on the Amtrak Cascades from Pacific Central Station. Unlike the other Amtrak trains that cross into Canada, the Cascades only has one stop north of the border, so they have partial border control at the station even though Border Patrol agents also board the train at the border to check everyone’s documents. This meant that I had to arrive quite early and spent a while in line at the station and then sitting in the train at the station. It also meant that a fence on the Cascades platform somewhat obscured my views of the rail yard and other trains in the station, unfortunately.

Our departure was further delayed by a fire along the tracks just outside of the station. We never got a clear explanation of what was going on, but from seeing the burnt-up area as we passed through and the number of fire vehicles present, it was apparently somewhat significant. The ride itself was fairly nice, and had internet. I also turned out to be sitting next to someone quite neat: a woman who was returning home from having hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to Vancouver. The Border Patrol agent who checked her passport and asked the purpose of her trip was very impressed and, afterwards, I talked to her a little about it. It sounded very neat, but also not like something I could ever imagine doing. (Backpacking in general isn’t something I could imagine having the stamina or endurance for.)

West Coast Trip 20: Across Vancouver from West to East

2014/10/22

After returning to Waterfront Station, I walked east a bit through downtown Vancouver and Chinatown. The city seemed pretty nice, although the quality of the neighborhood I was in got a bit worse as I passed Chinatown. After stopping for an ice cream cone, I took a trolleybus back to Waterfront Station and rode Skytrain a little more before getting off at Main Street and walking to Pacific Central Station to catch the Cascades to Seattle.


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