Category Archives: boston

All’s well

I woke up at 1:15 to the sound of the fire alarm blaring. Stumbling
blearily out of bed, I grabbed a jacket, stuffed my laptop into the
bag, and slipped on my boots. The alarm showed no sign of abating, so
I took seven flights of stairs down to the ground.

Two fire engines were parked outside YMCA. A crowd of people in
various stages of sleep milled around waiting for news. I remembered
to bring my glasses this time, so I could see

Aside from a strange flickering on one of the floors, there seemed to
be no sign of a fire. When one fire engine drove off, I knew things
were all right.

I don’t remember feeling annoyed about interrupted sleep. I was just
glad that there wasn’t a fire and that if there was, the response
would be quick.

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The room

Simon Law reminds me that a camera is not essential, and that I can
draw pictures with my words. Here is the room I find myself in.

A single fluorescent tube lights the room. It sits above a small desk,
which is too high for me to type comfortably on if I use the provided
chair. I sit on the bed instead, over a light blue bedsheet secured by
crisp hospital corners to a bed that seems—if it is at all
possible—just a bit shorter than the twin-sized bed back in my dorm.

The cotton is rough against my skin. For a moment, I think of a friend
and her difficulties with bed bugs. Then again, even the best of
hotels are infested with them, so I do not worry too much about being
penny-wise and pound-foolish. I think positive thoughts and assume
there are none.

Both the blanket and the radiator are superfluous this summer night. A
large window admits the slightest hint of a breeze, along with the
sounds of Boston at night: the constant whir of airconditioners,
sirens trailing off into the distance, cars rumbling past. I can see
into the windows of the Northeastern University, and find myself not
particularly caring that they can see in, especially as I wouldn’t be
able to do much about it anyway. These roughly-painted wood and glass
windows have probably never bothered with luxuries such as curtains or

I am glad that I packed a light nightgown instead of a flannel one. I
regret forgetting to bring slippers. I hesitate for a moment before I
grit my teeth and tiptoe gingerly towards the communal bathroom. After
all, I survived other dormitory floors. While I’m at it, I also
fill a paper cup with water from the bathroom sink.

I think this just might be the most bare-bones place I’ve ever stayed
in. Well, except for the Internet cafe that I spent the night in one
time—yes, Internet cafes can sometimes come out cheaper than hostels,
particularly when in Japan. It’s doable, though, and doesn’t bother me

Hostelling International will have room tomorrow, but that means
bringing my stuff to IBM, and I’ll have to call ahead to make sure I
get the spot. I think I’ll stay here another night if the room is
available. This might even work out better for now than, say,
couch-surfing—although I’m certainly looking forward to couch-surfing
next time around.

To bed. I’ll dream about my presentation and work out the details tomorrow.

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All set up

It’s interesting, flying without knowing exactly where you’re going to
end up. I hadn’t been able to get in touch with friends in Boston in
the days leading up to my departure, so I flew without any concrete
plans for accommodations. Meep!

I first headed to Hostelling International on 12 Hemenway St. They were fully booked, so they referred me to Oasis Guest House a short walk away. Oasis was a bit out of my starving-grad-student budget, though, at over USD 100 for a single room with a shared bath. The proprietor was kind enough to refer me to YMCA, and even let me use his phone for free. Awww!

So I’ve checked into the YMCA on 316 Huntington Ave (+1 617 536 7800).
The rates are still a bit ouch (USD 49 per night including taxes), but
I feel less guilty now about my research supervisor’s budget. I wish
I’d brought a swimsuit, as the facilities include a swimming pool, a
steam room and a sauna!

The library that I’m blogging from is a few blocks away. Northeastern University Library has free wireless and airconditioned comfort, and all you need is a photo ID. Sweet. They’re open until 11.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll find out whether I’m okay with staying at the Y
for another day and whether I can book another day there. It’s not a
bad place: no frills, but totally workable. (And they have towels and
soap, even! I should’ve brought my slippers.) If I can’t make that
work, then I may have to throw myself upon the mercy of IBMers and/or
the local tech scene and find a couch I can crash on tomorrow night.

I’ll need to forage for food and plan my 2-3 minute spiel sometime
later tonight, but it’s nice to know that I’ve gotten that sorted out.
I need to also buy travel-sized toothpaste. (Darn you, airport security!)

But hey, we have a plan…

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‘tinerant Tuesday

I firmly believe that the best way to get to know a city is to wander
around. With that in mind, I strolled around downtown Boston, picking
up a pocket-sized fold-out map and various brochures from the Visitor
Information Center and a bottle of Noodler’s Ink from a wonderful
little pen shop on Bromfield. I also took the opportunity to pass by
the Free Software Foundation. RMS was out, but I met John Sullivan and
gave him a hug for working on Planner. (I’d forgotten to bake
gluten-free cookies for him. Oops.) I also walked around the park,
wandered over to the public library, and bought a pattern and some
cloth from Walmart.

Boston is pretty, with plenty of trees and beautiful brick buildings
lining narrow, winding roads. It is thus all too easy to get lost in,
not because the streets are difficult to locate on a map (they’re
clearly labelled) but because wandering around without any particular
aim is so pleasant. =)

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Boston Science Museum

I cannot resist science museums. I am endlessly amused by models and
hands-on experiments. As a reward for good behavior or just for fun,
my father and I would take the motorcycle to a dusty building that
contained much-loved exhibits: an echoing shell that stretched between
floors, a wooden catenary arch, a rotating platform for demonstrating
the gyroscopic properties of a bicycle wheel… I had fun
rediscovering everything, running my fingers over the impossible
figure of the Penrose triangle and boggling again at how visual
illusions tricked me into seeing things even though I knew what’s
going on.

The Boston Science Museum is, of course, far more advanced than the
underfunded science center of my youth. This one had augmented reality
displays, lightning shows, and liquid nitrogen demos. The Star Wars
exhibit was fascinating, drawing plenty of connections between the
fantasies of the screen and the realities of current technology.
Scattered throughout the exhibit were hands-on engineering challenges:
build a magnetic levitation train from LEGO(tm), plan a Tatooine base,
experiment with robots’ facial expressions… It was fun to see adults
eyeing the interactive areas, probably also wishing that the kids
would hurry up and put the pieces back already!

It was a lot of fun, and I wish that I had more energy today. I had to
miss the MIT museum and a few other museums because of cramps, but
that’s okay. Maybe I can take the second circus. =)

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