Post-Fellowship Potpourri

Not all of my fellowship experiences merited a post, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of mentioning. As I start preparing to move back to the D.C. area, I’ve been thinking about some of the things in Cambridge I’ll miss and some of the small moments I won’t soon forget. Here’s an incomplete collection:

  • The Harvard Natural History Museum: This is a spectacular — and surprisingly large — place to spend a day. Shockingly detailed glass flowers and apples unify art and science into masterful objects that preserve flora for the ages. Skeletons, mounted animals, minerals of every variety and much more are presented in beautiful glass cases with ample information for anyone yearning to learn more. It’s also the home to a series of lectures, including one by fellow Rowan Jacobsen, who spoke about one of his books, “Apples of Uncommon Character.”
  • Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments: A hidden gem in the Harvard science building is the small Putnam Gallery dedicated to old scientific instruments, back when they were works of art as well as tools of science.
  • Roxy’s Grilled Cheese (and Arcade): If you’re into grilled cheese, Roxy’s is a good choice. While you’re there, you might notice people coming in, bypassing the counter and heading straight for a walk-in freezer. That’s because there’s a secret bar in the back. Entry is gained through aforementioned walk-in freezer door. Once in, step up to the bar or try your hand at a number of pin ball machines, classic video games, Skee-Ball or tabletop shuffleboard.
  • A few minutes later, I snagged a ball. Cool.

    Fenway’s Green Monster: Want to hang out at the top of the Green Monster? Turns out there’s a way without spending hundreds of dollars on an overpriced ticket. If you’re going to the game, show up a couple of hours early. Buy a “Red Sox Nation” pass for $20 and voila! You get to watch batting practice from the top of the Green Monster. Chances of snagging a ball? Very high.

  • MIT’s Tunnels: Linking most, though not all, of MIT’s buildings is an extensive network of tunnels. They won’t win any awards for design or decoration, but for staying out of the cold when scurrying between classes, they can’t be beat. Under building E19, MIT students have painted murals, some of which can be brought to life with augmented reality apps. Under building 10 you can find the blacksmithing and glass-blowing shops. Unfortunately, the tunnels are not especially well marked. Still, it beats going outside in February.
  • Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government: Few places in Cambridge fascinate me more than the Kennedy School of Government. I took or sat in on three classes there, and spent copious time in the luxurious atrium working or eating lunch. (Great cafeteria, lovely atrium. Anyone can go in.) With four interconnected buildings arranged in a rectangle, it has the feel of a country club for government officials, or officials in waiting. Former cabinet officials stalk the halls (why yes, that is former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; no, excuse me, former White House Science Advisor John Holdren). The student body is as varied as it is impressive: military officers, members of the foreign service, international fellows, public health students, law students, even retired diplomats. These are smart and dedicated people, and it’s easy to believe the people walking the halls here will soon be walking the halls of Congress, the Old Executive Office Building, or the World Bank. And yet, there’s also a high school dimension that diminishes the whole enterprise. Cliques become apparent. Name-dropping is common. Everyone wears the same perfume and it’s called Ambition.
  • Boston’s BlueBikes: City bike sharing services are nothing new and the bikes are anything but hidden, but I’ll miss Boston’s recently upgraded system. Known as Hubway when I moved here, the system has since been rebranded BlueBikes. As part of the switchover, old bikes are being replaced. And while the new ones don’t appear to be much different, they are more advanced in one delightful way. Instead of having specific gears, they feature a continuously variable transmission. As the shifter knob turns, the gears smoothly adjust. There’s no derailleur to move the chain into a discreet position. The result is a smooth ride. Love it.
  • Nathan Myhrvold: If you don’t know who Nathan Myhrvold is, acquaint yourself. His resume reads like the goals of a precocious child, which I’m guessing he was. He began college at 14 and earned a PhD in mathematics. He became the CTO of Microsoft and then left to earn a culinary degree in France. He became publicly prominent with the publishing of a $500, five-volume cookbook called Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of CookingHe has since launched a nuclear power company called TerraPower, which is pushing a form of nuclear power called a traveling-wave reactor. So why bring him up? In a few short weeks, I encountered Myrhvold three times. The first was at Harvard where he was talking about his latest cookbook series on bread. It is also obscenely long, expensive and beautiful. Then I saw him at the World Conference talking about scientific innovations. And then again at Berkeley talking about nuclear power. By the way, his cooking/baking lab? It overlooks the nuclear power lab. As to whether Myrhvold is either hidden or a gem: ok, you got me. He’s just an interesting character.
  • Edward Snowden, live from Russia.

    Edward Snowden: Speaking of interesting characters, during one of my final cybersecurity classes, Bruce Schneier was being a bit coy. As he shooed people away from his computer, I could tell he was also in frantic communications with someone. That someone was Edward Snowden (yet another interesting character). Once class was called to order, he put Snowden up on the screen and invited questions. As students peppered him — “would you do it again?” “was it worth it?” “do you think it made a difference?” — it quickly became clear that Snowden likes to talk (I guess that’s something the NSA probably realized too late). His answers were long and rambled and the excitement of being in a live conversation with Snowden fairly quickly turned into the tedium of wishing he’d make his point more succinctly. The Kennedy School students, meanwhile, were surprisingly withering. In retrospect it makes sense. These are overwhelmingly made up of people from government and the national security apparatus, and Edward Snowden is certainly a maligned figure in those circles. A post-video debate quickly emerged over whether Snowden was a spy (consensus: no) or a traitor (consensus: not a traitor, but maybe an arrogant fool). As a journalist, my view was distinctly different, and not widely shared. One tidbit that was of interest to us all: when Snowden goes out onto the Russian street, he leaves his glasses behind. Without them, he’s rarely recognized.

  • Mount Auburn Cemetery: Not far from our house is a hidden gem that I only learned about recently: Mount Auburn Cemetery. Now spanning 174 acres, it was the first “rural” cemetery when it was consecrated in 1831 four miles from Boston. More than 100,000 people have been buried here and it seems just as many visit every weekend, mostly birdwatchers. It is an astoundingly gorgeous place to wander, especially in spring and fall, and served as inspiration for Central Park. If you ever get the chance to visit, do.
  • Blue Bottle Coffee: I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but if every cup came from Blue Bottle, I could be. I had heard that it was the place to get coffee, but I was skeptical. So when I spotted one while walking with Cynthia, who is a big coffee drinker, I suggested we try it out. We ordered two lattes and chatted with the barista as he did his magic. After he drew a perfect leaf on the second cup, we took our sips. Heavenly. Clean. Smooth. I don’t know what they do, but it’s easily the best coffee I’ve ever had.

Yeah, so I’ll miss this place.

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