Armenian Food Festival 2006

After the play, I headed south to the Armenian food festival. Last year, I had a good experience at an Armenian festival in Oakland. Although the festival was supposed to close at 8:00pm, when I arrived at 6:00pm it was already mostly shut down. I wandered among the few booths still open and grabbed one of the two types of hot dishes remaining: an Armenian sausage (soujook) sandwich. When I ordered they grabbed one of these aluminum-wrapped sandwiches out of a steamer and handed it to me. It consisted of slices of sausage, red pepper, pickle, and possibly mustard on a hoagie roll; the sausage itself was chewy, quite red, spicy, and definitely screamed "this is meat." It satisfied.

While I ate I watched some Armenian folk/line dancing. About a dozen women clasped hands and danced in a semi-circle, kicking and stepping in synch. They were clearly having fun and it made everyone at the festival watch. A handful of men formed their own square and dance in a different style with arms outstretched at shoulder height and with much more foot movement. When the music increased right before the festival really ended, more women joined the women's line. It really was a festival.

And one can tell the festival was authentic since all the announcements were made in Armenian. Some, though not all, were repeated in English.

Before I left, I grabbed two cheese filled pastries, one that looked like a turnover and one that looked like baklava except with cheese instead of nuts. (I didn't realize they were both cheese when I bought them.) Reheating them later that evening in the oven along with some vegetables, they completed my dinner. Incidentally, as I bought them, the woman in the pastry section were trying to figure out why they were closing early. Some hypothesized it might be because, aside for them, the festival was effectively out of food. I suppose that's what happens when one goes to a festival in the evening of the last day.

SF Shakespeare Festival 2006

On Sunday, September 17th 2006, I spend the afternoon watching the play The Tempest at the SF Shakespeare Festival's series of free performances in the park. In this case, the park was in the Presidio. I'd forgotten how nice some of the roads into the Presidio are, full of tall, clean, smooth, airy trees, leading to a feeling of being in a wide open forest.

I arrived about a third of the way into the first half but since I'd printed out some play summarizes I quickly caught up to speed. It was a decent performance. I'd never seen The Tempest before and enjoyed the morally ambiguous story. There were two notable features of this particular performance. One, the actress playing the "airy magical spirit" Ariel clearly had training as a dancer and her movements alone evoked this description. Two, both the stage hands and the background of the set were an identical blue, allowing the stage hands to blend in on the stage. They actually participated in scenes, handing our swords, acting as a wardrobe, and even fighting. Their appearance and actions, along with the magical buffet and wedding celebration, emphasized appropriately the magical and unearthly nature of the island on which the play was set.

Interesting Articles: August 15th-September 17th 2006

* Can parking tickets measure corruption? (American Public Media's Marketplace). In short, yes. If the short radio story intrigued you (as it did me), the full length academic paper linked to from that page is a worthwhile browse. Plus, it makes one realize the large quantity of publicly available data out there.

* Comma quirk irks Rogers (Globe and Mail). In short, bad punctuation can cost you. In this case, 2.1 million dollars.

* U.S. Rice Supply Contaminated: Genetically Altered Variety Is Found in Long-Grain Rice (Washington Post). News you may have missed but probably should know.

* Qapla! (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). A thoughtful retrospective on Star Trek, its fans, its changing popularity, and its view of humanity. Nothing amazing but still a neat listen especially given the apropos vignettes dotting the piece. (The story is the last one on the page.)

* Microbial Mug Shots: Telltale patterns finger bad bacteria (Science News). Another application of AI to other fields: shine a laser at a cell and have a computer analyze the resulting diffraction image to identify the cell type. The abstract of the source article, Feature extraction from light-scatter patterns of Listeria colonies for identification and classification (Journal of Biomedical Optics), is online.
* Blood clot protein is stretchiest natural fiber ever found (Science News). Evolution can produce pretty amazing pieces of engineering. The abstract of the source article, Fibrin fibers have extraordinary extensibility and elasticity (Science), is online.

* Rogue alga routed (Science News). One of the rare pieces of a successful defense against an invasion from a dangerously aggressive non-native species. A news release, Caulerpa Taxifolia Eradication: Officials Proclaim Victory Over "Killer Algae" But Remain Vigilant to New Sightings, contains a similar summary as the article.

* Holy Smoke: Burning incense, candles pollute air in churches (Science News). Candles may be hazardous to your health, more hazardous than emissions from vehicle engines.
* Sauna use among dads linked to tumors in children (Science News). One usually hears about activities an expecting mother should avoid while pregnant because of possible negative effects on her child. This study turns the table a little and finds men's sauna use in the months before conception is correlated with tumors in the children later conceived. Admittedly it's not a causal study but the idea that a baby's health could be influenced by the health of the sperm used to conceive it is intriguing. The abstract of the source article, Parental heat exposure and risk of childhood brain tumor: A Children's Oncology Group study (American Journal of Epidemiology), is online.
* Bad Vibrations? Ultrasound disturbs mouse brains (Science News). Be careful with unnecessary medical procedures.

Psychology and Medicine:
* In Health Care, Consumer Theory Falls Flat (Wall Street Journal). Reports on a study that shows no correlation between the actual quality of care a patient received and how good the patient thought the quality of care received was.

Belmont Greek Festival 2006

On Sunday September 3rd 2006, a friend and I headed to the Belmont Greek Festival around dinner time.

The festival was nearly identical to last year's: much space devoted to food and drinks, some space devoted to music and dancing, and a little space devoted to items for sale. And, like last year, as the night wore on, the crowd got younger in age until I was (or felt) older than most people there.

I wish I'd remembered how good the gyros were last year. These were the last things we had this year and they were excellent, clearly heads above everything else. Simply thinly sliced grilled meat served wrapped a terrific circular piece of bread (puffy and so vaguely naan-like but with a moister and less oily texture).

Before the gyros we tried a number of merely okay or decent items: fasolatha (thick hearty tomato-based soup), pilaf, souvlakia (grilled skewers of lamb), tiropita (baked filo dough filled with cheese), moussakka (eggplant and beef lasagna - this was huge and I always find it too meaty). Nothing we'd especially endorse.

We also tried three desserts. As expected, the loukoumades, deep fried honey balls dipped in honey, were definitely the best and worth the wait in the long line that sells them (and doesn't sell anything else). As for the other desserts, kataife, a exotic-looking version of baklava, was okay. It didn't have enough "content" -- too much air around the shredded pastry. (Look at the dessert pictures to see what I mean.) The other dessert, galactoboureko, was decent: filo dough filled with custard and topped with -you guessed it- honey. There is a theme in Greek desserts. :>

It was a nice way to spend two and a half hours. It didn't feel that long because we were always wandering around and looking at things or relaxedly waiting in some food line or another. And I learned one neat fact from the brochure: the independent market across the street from my apartment building is Greek.