Category Archives: experiences

10 Best US State License Plate Designs of All Time

License plate design has interested me for a few years. It’s surprising how little thought seems to have gone into so many plate designs, considering their high visibility. My wife and I have spent hours debating the merits of the Texas plate, and our DC plates have gained national attention recently after President Obama agreed to use the District’s “Taxation Without Representation” plates on his presidential limousine.

This month, the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association announced their pick for Best Plate of 2012, the deeply mediocre effort from Nebraska that celebrates the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. Runners up included fairly rubbish plates from Nunavut, Oregon, and Arkansas. The criteria for the vote are supposedly “legibility and attractiveness.”

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Hurricane Island Outward Bound School

I recently had the opportunity to visit Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS), which runs sailing schools for teens, adult sailing courses and women’s sailing courses in Maine. Unlike other adventuring schools, which typically offer courses aimed at certifications, HIOBS focuses on building character and leadership skills. They also have a programs like corporate teambuilding events in Maine.

After touring the headquarters and site of the sailing school, I’ll definitely be looking for opportunities to take an Outward Bound course at Hurricane Island at some point in the future.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

This year, P and I took advantage of her west coast work trip to catch Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free music festival in the heart of San Francisco. We stayed with her college friend, Joe, and got to see some great performers, eat some tasty food, meet some new folks, unexpectedly run into old folks and walk a lot.

The lineup was great for any festival, let alone a free one, though the price of easy access was a massive crowd of people who seemed to prefer altering their minds with drugs rather than music. Not that I’m opposed to honoring a soulful rendition of “If the River Was Whiskey”, but I do prefer attentive listening. Due to crowds and transport logistics, we didn’t quite get to see everyone we wanted; Jolie Holland, AA Bondy, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn were a few victims of circumstance. We did get to see M Ward (good), Robert Plant (not so good), Robert Earl Keen (pretty good), The Felice Brothers (quite good) and Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings (very good). The clear standout, though, was Frank Fairfield.

A cynic might suggest that Fairfield’s style and personality is an affectation or a schtick. The man looks and talks as if he stepped into the outhouse beside his southern Appalachian cabin in 1870 and stepped out 140 years later. From his clothes to his humility, there’s very little that seems modern about him. Seeing him live, it’s clear that he’s genuinely a man out of time.

Frank Fairfield

We were running late and were thrilled to discover him playing the smallest stage of the festival. Despite a decent crowd, we walked right up to the front row and got to watch him from about 20 feet away. He played with vigor and feeling, and the instant he stopped, he was bashful, awkward, almost autistic. He was also the most consummate musician I’ve ever seen, starting with the fiddle, then moving to the banjo, then to the guitar, then back to the banjo, then to the fiddle again. The speed of his banjo playing seemed supernatural, and he played with the fiddle so ardently that he barely had any horsehair left on his bow by the end of his song. When he was done, he took a couple of quick bows, picked up his three instruments and walked off the stage to really good applause. It was great to see people lined up to buy his newest album, Out on the Open West, from his wife, who P tried to convince to come to DC.

As a treat just for you, here’s “Chilly Winds”, with a little background chatter, recorded from Frank Fairfield’s set:
Frank Fairfield – Chilly Winds (Live at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2011)

Connecticut Metro Map

As a companion piece to the Hartford Metro Map, I put together an imaginary metro system for the entire state of Connecticut in the celebrated Modernist style of Massimo Vignelli. The state is rotated counterclockwise, its contours are smoothed into basic shapes and major cities are nudged to fit along the main southwest to northeast artery, dubbed the Constitution Line. Other corners of the state are served by the Colonial, Nutmeg, Mill and Mystic Lines.

The Connecticut Metro Map is for sale now as a 23″ x 29″ poster through Zazzle, with all proceeds (about $7 per poster) going to Teach For America in Connecticut.

See a larger version here >>

Buy the map here >>

Connecticut Metro Map

Hartford Metro Map

I just completed an imaginary Hartford Metro map and am currently exploring printing options. At this point, it looks like a run of about 100 prints, 27″ x 16.5″ on heavy paper with a matte finish.

The price point hasn’t yet been set, but all proceeds will go to ConnectiKids, a Hartford-based “independent, non-profit youth development agency whose mission is to connect kids in Hartford to their potential by providing year-round enrichment opportunities linked directly to school curricula, taking a holistic approach to youth development, and exposing kids to role models who inspire positive choices and big dreams.”

In the coming days, I’ll be preparing a process post, where I detail the evolution of the project including station selection, line layout and timetable development while discussing the various design choices made along the way.

UPDATE: You can order your copy here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/886104268/hartford-metro-map

Volunteering for the Homeless Vulnerability Index

Last week, I volunteered as part of the Homeless Vulnerability Index (PDF), a method of determining which Hartford-area homeless were at the greatest risk. Based on the information gathered, those with the greatest need would be helped first. The project involved searching for the homeless in the early morning hours over two days, and visiting homeless shelters in the city in order to administer a survey. I was part of the latter effort at a shelter called Immaculate Conception, temporary home to about 80 men.

My first reaction was astonishment at the friendless and high spirits of the men I interviewed. While I expected them be guarded and reticent, they were remarkably candid in speaking about their history on the streets, where they typically slept, their medical conditions and how they made money. Since five of us had to survey all of the men over just three hours, I was disappointed that I didn’t have time to ask follow-up questions outside the scope of the study. I wanted to understand more about how they became homeless, what they did during the day and what was most difficult about their situations.

Ultimately, it was a touching and deeply fulfilling experience, particularly the results. An organization called Journey Home is now focusing on the 40 most vulnerable individuals of those surveyed, with the remaining 115 classified as “vulnerable” next in line for help finding housing. I’m already looking to volunteer again doing something similar, hopefully with the same group of men.

The Practical Hand

We went strolling around Eastern Market, idling past jewelry vendors and fruit merchants. Next to a tent hawking odd fur caps, we found a mess of unsorted books; some were on shelves, some on a table and some in boxes. The Book of the Hand caught my eye and I began leafing through it, wondering how its antiquated nomenclature would divine and define me based on the geometry of my hand.

The Practical Hand

As I turned to page 48, I saw it there, my hand with its stubby fingers and knotted knuckles. Eagerly, I read the caption. This is what I saw: