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DC, day 6: 24 June 2007

Started: 2007-07-22 19:06:45

Submitted: 2007-07-22 19:21:12

Visibility: World-readable

2028 EDT 25 June 2007

Like the previous day, Kiesa left for the conference before I got up on Sunday. I wandered around the immediate neighborhood in search of coffee. (It wasn't apparent if the Caribou Coffee I passed on Rhode Island Ave a block from our hotel took credit cards, so I looped around the block, passed a Whole Foods Market, and found a Starbucks that was mobbed and lacked a place to sit, so I went back to Caribou and they took my card.) I spotted a guy who looked like John Scalzi but wasn't (Scalzi himself came to DC for ALA but I later learned that he flew back to Ohio on Sunday morning). I headed down the street to Logan Circle, which was surrounded by random homeless guys on benches. I photographed the statue of the guy on horseback, which I vaguely recalled from 1990. I continued along Rhode Island Ave to Shaw/Howard U station, through a neighborhood that looked pretty sketchy during broad daylight.

I took the Metro to L'Enfant Plaza station and promptly got lost in L'Enfant Plaza, which turned out to be a darkened, closed 1980s mall with no obvious exits. I eventually emerged onto back streets a few blocks south of the Mall; my knowledge of DC navigation and some vague sense of absolute direction (it helped that I knew the time of day and could extrapolate compass directions from the shadows cast on DC's grid system) got me to the Mall and my target for the morning: the National Air and Space Museum.

I arrived at the museum a few minutes after opening at 10:00. Washington has its share of most holy sites, depending on one's personal preferences; the National Air and Space Museum is for every kid who stares at the night sky and wonders what's out there, and for every adult who looks up every time an airplane flies by, 35,000 feet above the ground, and wonders where it's going. I spent almost four hours, going through the various galleries and soaking in a hundred years of aviation and space exploration history. it didn't surprise me that I could have added text to many of the exhibits -- the full-sized mockup of the X-29 in the exhibit in computers and spaceflight didn't mention that the X-29 was basically unstable in flight and required the dynamic closed-loop feedback controller to maintain level flight -- the same technology that is used in modern, fly-by-wire civil airliners (most notably the A320 family and the 777) today. I especially enjoyed the U2 and the gallery highlighting spy photography, and the World War II gallery with its collection of military aircraft.

Happy to have visited the nation's flagship aviation museum, I emerged onto the Mall and contemplated the rest of my day. I ate a Luna bar and looked at the construction of a large Lego map of the United States, then headed north to the National Building Museum. When I got there, I knew I had made the right choice: an exhibit featuring David Macaulay had opened the day before. Since discovering David Macaulay in grade school via The Way Things Work, he shaped my view of the world and the things in it and was the single largest influence on my growing up to become an engineer of anyone I don't know personally. The exhibit was fantastic -- I saw original drawings from many of his books (including one he published in 2003 that I somehow didn't know about, Mosque), including original drawings on the walls that made up the exhibits themselves: an electrical outlet with a smiley face and a handful of mice looking at an art gallery for mice. I saw Macaulay's scale, 3d models for Mosque and sketchbooks that formed the basis for many of his books. It was a fantastic exhibit.

When I emerged, I called Willy to tell him about the serendipity of my find. He was suitably impressed.

I visited an exhibit on green building that left me feeling far too conservative (a nice change, every once and a while) and saw samples of artwork, historical documents, and building materials from the museum's archives.

My next stop was the National Gallery of Art, which was open until 18:00 since it was Sunday, so it made an obvious choice for my last museum of the day. I started in the auspiciously-named East Building, which contained more modern works. The building itself was a work of art, designed by I.M. Pei and featuring oddly-intersecting angels, large, flat surfaces, and walkways elevated over the open central area. While looking at an exhibit of lithography, I wondered what an exhibit of the test prints I made for iTi -- many of them dated and numbered, like the lithographs -- would look like.

I headed to the West Building, linked via an underground walkway, and visited the early twentieth century European photography and the random sculpture and Asian vases. I emerged at 17:45 and called Kiesa to arrange a rendezvous at 18:30 for supper. I walked through the National Gallery of Art's sculpture garden (my favorite was the typewriter eraser, caught in the act of falling and bouncing) and took the Metro to Woodley Park, where I rendezvoused with Kiesa and we decided to eat at a sushi restaurant across the street from the Metro stop rather than down the hill in Adams Morgan. I had the vegetable combo sushi platter, which wasn't quite as good as I hoped; Kiesa's steamed vegetables were less interesting than she was expecting as well. We ate dessert at Baskin and Robins across the street and took the Metro one stop south to Dupont Circle, where the Whole Foods next to our hotel was a simple walk down P street. I picked up orange juice and yogurt for breakfast while Kiesa surveyed DC's largest Whole Foods.

Back at our hotel, we prepared for our last day in the District of Columbia and went to bed early. (The lousy Internet access in the hotel didn't help matters; it didn't seem to be a bandwidth or packet-loss issue so much as a DNS cache issue; some sites I visited would behave poorly, while others (Google, for instance) would load quickly, even customized with my personal home page, suggesting there wasn't much page caching speeding things up.)

C will not only let you shoot yourself in the foot, it will hand you a new magazine when you run out of bullets.
- Charles Stross, Where we went wrong