Visiting Boston


After a few false starts this Winter, I finally made it to Boston this weekend. I went with Carolyn and Jumbo. It was great to take a road trip where I wasn’t in the driver’s seat `:]`

We stopped at the Museum of Science as soon as we arrived. It housed an excellent “history of mathematics” exhibit sponsored by IBM and sprinkled with comic strips to keep it from getting too heavy. I became comfortably lost there for almost an hour.

I stopped by the computing exhibit next and found a replica Enigma Machine -- a piece of WWII crypto history that was central to the plot of a book I just finished -- Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. The machine itself was understandably enclosed in a plastic display case, but an authentic Enigma transmission bleated out from a little speaker at the push of a button.

Around the corner I found “Whirlwind“, an early computer built down the river at MIT under an Air Force contract. The machine included a shoebox-size stack of “core” memory -- you know, the stuff made of ferrite donuts after which most Unixes name the memory dumps created for misbehaving programs1. The museum installed a 16-bit bank of interactive core memory nearby that you can fiddle with . Dime-sized compasses indicate the values programmed at each bit. Neat.

Due to a field trip, we were forced to crowdsurf over a thousand caffeinated field-tripping 5th-graders on our way out. After paying the exorbitant parking fee ($30 for 2.5hrs?) we jetted across town to the Aquarium.

The aquarium featured a 4-story-tall 290,000gal tank that you can view from every angle besides below. As we walked up the staircase that spiraled around it, we watched divers feeding some cranky-looking 8ft sand sharks. Very impressive.

We consulted Yelp for dinner ideas and decided on Cafe Belo, a Brazilian BBQ restaurant in Everett of the rodizio style. You pay a fixed price ($10, there) and servers stop by your table every few minutes with hot meats on skewers, asking if you’d like a slice. Brazilian Beef ribs, Jamaican chicken, sirloin, pork, and some killer garlic beef.

On Saturday I got up early and took the train to Cambridge to visit the MIT campus.

It was quiet save for a scattered handful of undergrads with MIT sweatshirts looking more energetic than any undergrads I’ve seen on a weekend morning.

Access was restricted to Rivest‘s hallway, the Program Analysis Group‘s wing2, and the Computer Systems Security Group‘s wing. I did, however, have lunch in the curiously-shaped Stata center and stumble across a Lisp Machine!

That afternoon we drove to the IMAX theater in Natick to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. An enterprising furniture salesman convinced IMAX to build this theater in the middle of his showroom, thus guaranteeing a continuous flow of people in a receptive frame of mind. Ingenious.

On Saturday night we met Jumbo’s high school buddy, Mike, at his home a few blocks from Bunker Hill. We all went out to celebrate Mike’s birthday at the Midwest Grill. It turned out to be another Rodizio restaurant. In addition to Cafe Belo’s fare, we had bacon-wrapped chicken, sirloin tips, checken breasts, chicken hearts (!), and some of the best keilbasa I’ve ever had. The hot buffet included some amazing smooth and buttery ocra, two stews, and some mean pork rinds.

As if to prevent me from floating off into culinary heaven, our waitress denied my request for draft Sam Adams (imagine that -- out of Sam Adams in Boston) and instead brought me a bottle.

We returned around noon today after having some killer french toast at Ball Square Cafe in Everett and climbing the Bunker Hill Monument.

  1. Linux 2.5+ gives you some options in this regard via its core_pattern `/proc` knob []
  2. Check out the deep reading list at the Program Analysis Reading Group’s site []

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