Tuesday, July 30, 2002

I finished GTA III last night. Suddenly, there is a void in my life; I need to find a game to play. I've gone back to Empire Earth for a while. I don't think I've really played that one out. I had forgotten how difficult the AI can be. I still find Galactic Battlegrounds more entertaining, based on the immersion in the Star Wars universe, but EE offers all sorts of units and animations that GB doesn't. And there's an EE expansion pack coming this fall, so I have to brush up on the game.

As you can tell, I haven't seen anything worth writing about lately, so you get these updates on my gaming life instead.

Monday, July 29, 2002

I'm up to the final mission in GTA III. That should explain the lateness of the hour. Must go to bed ... game will still be here in morning....

I saw Goldmember this weekend; extremely funny, but hopefully the last in the series. I don't think there's much left in the Austin Powers well.

Ate far too much at a pig roast on Saturday. The 25-mile bike ride today didn't do enough to burn off the calories.

I'll have to write more on Monday.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

I'm not sure how to link back to my own posts, so you'll have to check the archives from July 19 for my original post on this subject.

Josh Mankiewicz posted a followup to his article from last week about his Atkins diet success story. The followup piece mentions all of the e-mails he's received on the subject since the original piece aired. There are plenty of negative reactions to his story, both from people who, like me, think that Atkins dieters are slowly killing themselves with fat, and also from people who have gained weight on high-carb/low-fat diets and now think that doctors and dietitians have lied to them about the benefits of such diets. But there's not one mention anywhere about exercise playing a role in weight loss. I hate to repeat myself in this space, but I think I have to: you can't just change what you eat and expect to lose weight. You must exercise. You don't have to join a gym, buy expensive equipment, or hire a trainer. Go for a walk. You've got two legs, right? Use them. Often. Once you start burning more calories, you'll feel better, you'll look better, and these changes can be an incredible incentive to keep it up. It's worked for me.

Maybe I need my own infomercial, or at least a spot on Dateline, to make this point to people. Oh, that's right, I'm just an average schmuck. No one cares what I think.
I haven't had much to report lately. I seem to be on a Wednesday-Saturday update schedule, not that it's intentional. I'll try to do better from now on.

This evening I went to the NY Philharmonic's free concert in Central Park. I like the free part, and the relaxed attitude about open alcohol consumption. But I don't like the constant conversation while the orchestra is playing. Some of the people around us kept chattering the entire time, especially the drunk trio right in front of us. The trouble with the concerts being free is that you get all sorts of people who come for the picnic and stick around to chat during the actual performance. I guess you get what you pay for. At least this year I was able to hear the music clearly. Last year Liz and I sat so far away that we could barely hear anything. We couldn't even see the fireworks at the end of the show. This time we were much closer to the orchestra, and I could even see the stage. Plus they played all my old favorites. Dvorak's Carnival Overture, Bruch's Scottish Fantasy, Liszt's Les Preludes, Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite No.1, and Finlandia by Sibelius, a piece I once conducted back when I was a student at Georgetown. So I had a really good time.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Yesterday was an exciting and unusual day in New York. A transformer explosion at an East Side Con Edison power plant left parts of lower Manhattan without electricity for most of the day and evening. I found out about it while riding my bike through the Village, wondering why traffic was snarled up. When there's no power, the stoplights don't work, so drivers were on their own to stop for pedestrians crossing the streets. I managed to get dressed in the dark and found a nearby pet store that was still open so I could feed the cats. After that, I had to find a way to meet Liz in midtown, where there was power and she was shopping. Subways weren't running south of 34th Street, buses were packed, and while cabs were an option, traffic was so bad that it would have cost a fortune to go uptown. So, even though I'd already ridden about 25 miles on my bike and my legs were sore, I walked 40 blocks to 42nd Street to meet her. From there, we had a normal evening: dinner, a movie (Road to Perdition, which was excellent) and a stop at Starbuck's to keep cool. We also stopped to buy a spare flashlight, some candles, and batteries. I kept up with news reports on my Blackberry, and at 8 PM power was restored to about 15,000 customers. But we had to assume that we weren't among the lucky ones, and that we might be stuck overnight. At 10 PM we were at Starbuck's, where I was trying in vain to get my laptop to see the wireless network there. After 45 minutes of tweaks and tests, I had blown up the TCP/IP stack, so further attempts to connect and surf were futile. We caught a cab back to our apartment. To our weary joy, there were lights everywhere in the Village. Power for everyone! When we got home, we figured out from our clock that we'd had power since 8 PM. At least we've got the supplies in case there's another outage.

I would have posted this update last night, but as I was writing it, we had a series of brownouts that my computer didn't take well. The DSL was flaky too; probably the hardware at the central office was up and down for a few minutes. I opted to read a book instead, figuring that at least a book can't crash on you. It's all OK now, but I desperately need a UPS for the system now. Nothing like hearing your speakers make a loud buzzing noise while the lights dim to show you the necessity of steady electrical flow to an expensive computer. I'm going to have to endure the hardship of lugging a massive battery home on the subway tomorrow night. Poor me.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Three updates in one day? What is wrong with my world?

I've just uploaded some recent pictures of our cats. You can check them out at Yahoo!. Just browse to the "Recent Cat Pics" album and enjoy. Also, if you would like to see pictures of people you might know if you attended Starkville High School in Starkville, MS, circa 1992, then please peruse and enjoy the photos in the SHS Reunion album.

When I decide not to be a lazy ass I'll update the photos link on my main web site (link at left) to reflect the new Yahoo! photos site. I love automated upload tools.
I've been hearing about the Atkins diet for years, mostly from my wife, who just gets mad anytime anyone mentions it. I just saw this story on MSNBC.com about one of NBC's correspondents who's been on Atkins for years and loves it. Doctors are still arguing over whether this diet is actually any good for you. It's hard to disagree with the results, but I'd hate to see Mr. Mankiewicz's arteries from all that steak he's been eating.

My take on this diet and other "fad" diets like Sugarbusters or the Zone: if it works for you, great. More power to you. I hope you're exercising regularly, too. I think that one of the main reasons we're becoming one of the fattest countries in the world is that we have so many creature comforts -- remote control, food delivery, high-speed Internet, cordless phones, online shopping, etc. -- that we have little reason to get off our fat asses and do something physical. Fifty years ago, we ate more red meat and fat, but we also had to get up to turn on the TV, answer the phone, walk to work (because we couldn't afford a car), and so on. (Or at least this is what I assume happened back in the Dark Ages of the 1950s.) Anyway, we didn't have all these stay-at-home options available to us, so we were more active. It happened to me a few years ago. I used to work at Georgetown University (after I graduated from there) and as part of my job I walked across campus several times a day going to different departments to fix problems. When I left GU and took a job confined to one office, I gained weight because I didn't have to walk around all day anymore. Now I have to force myself to go to the gym twice a week and ride my bike on weekends so that I can eat the fatty foods I love. When I do eat something fatty, I feel guilty about it and make up for it by eating better at my next meal, or working even harder at the gym. I know that the alternative is to gain 15 pounds and feel out of shape.

Here's the other thing: people are stupid. They watch TV and see ads for products that let you burn fat while you sleep or watch TV. They believe that they can eat anything they want and keep the weight off without exercise. Or they just don't care. That's why we're a nation of fat-asses. It's not what we're eating that's killing us. It's that we don't exercise enough anymore.
The six design proposals for Ground Zero have been out since Tuesday, and the public reaction to them seems to be one of total disinterest. It doesn't help that all six concepts are essentially the same, with generic-looking office buildings on the east side of the site (where the smaller WTC buildings used to stand) and a large open plaza or park on the west side, including the "footprints" of the towers themselves. There's not much to recommend any one proposal over another, though I like No. 5 better than any of the others. It has a pair of towers among the office buildings, and the placement of the buildings, while impinging on the old towers' footprints, leads to speculation that it might be the most interesting to walk around. Of course, there are many unsolicited ideas out there as well. Jan Herman's The Juice turned me on to this outlandish concept yesterday. No one would ever build something like it today, but it's ideas like this that the current six options (which everyone was quick to say are just starting points and may change) are lacking.

I think that the WTC site cannot be left entirely open, as some have advocated. It's valuable real estate in one of the prime business districts in the world. So we need to rebuild something on the site. On the other hand, you can forget about rebuilding the WTC exactly as it was before. No one in the world would want to work on the upper floors, and no insurance company on the planet will insure buildings that tall here. And I don't think it's "letting the terrorists win" to build something different. "Letting them win" would have been the case if we had not pursued Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But I'm getting off topic.

I think that the WTC site needs a mix of office, commercial and cultural space, along with a significant memorial. Designers shouldn't be concerned with building something on the footprints of the old towers, either. Whatever is designed should allow for traffic to flow through the site from north to south, something that the WTC didn't really allow before. And West Street should be moved underground, to reconnect Battery Park City and the World Financial Center to the rest of downtown. The designers of the six proposals had these ideas in mind, but unless they have something really spectacular in store for the final design, what they've shown so far is unremarkable. Placing a series of office towers along Church Street with a park behind them will only divide downtown along that street, instead of West Street as before.

The sad thing is that one of these six proposals will likely become the final design as is, despite what we're being told about the fluid nature of the design process. There's a push from the site's leaseholder to move the rebuilding process along. To accomplish that, it will be easier to stick with one of these designs rather than throw them all away and start again. No matter what, there will be lawsuits and delays, as victims' families sue for a larger/different memorial, or while the leaseholder countersues the families for a larger office footprint. I predict that there is a long, sad road ahead for redeveloping the site.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

I haven't had anything remotely interesting to say lately, hence the dearth of updates. But lest anyone think I've dropped off the face of the earth, I am still alive and well.

The neighbors across the hall have finally moved out. They got rid of the yapping, pooping chihuahuas several months ago, but the humans lingered like a bad cold. Until last week, when workmen showed up to redo the walls and floor of the apartment. So now, instead of twelve dogs barking at all hours, or having to avoid the man who owned said dogs and left them alone in the apartment for weeks at a time while they pooped on the floor and made a terrible mess, we have workers playing Spanish-language talk radio early in the morning while they paint the walls and polish the floor. I'm assuming we'll get some new neighbors paying exorbitant rent in the next few weeks. Anyone has to be better than the last guy. On the other hand, he did have an unprotected wireless network that I could surf on if my DSL ever went down. That, like the dogs, is also gone.

Saturday, July 13, 2002

This latest post was intended for yesterday, but as usual I had trouble with Blogger at work. Must be some firewall thing getting in the way.

I went to see Attack of the Clones for the third and most likely final time in a theater Thursday night. I went back to the Ziegfield in midtown Manhattan and its glorious wide screen and superb sound system. It was a much different experience than the first time I was at the Ziegfield, on opening day for AOTC. That time, we had a huge cheering crowd. This time, a few of the hard-core fans from that day were there, but the theater was mostly empty and quiet. Just me and a few other geeks who needed one last fix at the Z. I still like the movie overall, but I just can't get past some of the editing choices and much of the acting of Hayden Christiansen and Natalie Portman. I know Portman is a decent actress, and HC has gotten good reviews in the past, but they just need some help here. And I wish I could buy the DVD in four months and edit the chapters so that certain scenes are swapped. If you put the balcony kiss scene AFTER the roll-in-the-grass scene, it makes more sense. Or cut it altogether and just have them kiss for the first time in the grass. And I'd dump about half the fireplace scene. Last night I noticed how they just sit there at the beginning of the scene, like two kids locked in a closet at a party and not sure whether to make out or just fidget uncomfortably. But the action sequences are still first-rate, and Yoda is just possibly the best thing in the movie. In any case, I'm having more fun playing with the movie's units in Galactic Battlegrounds than I am just watching them on screen.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

It's been a strange week in baseball. Last night's All Star Game, which I didn't watch (the first time in years I've skipped the game), ended in a tie when both teams ran out of pitchers in the 11th inning. It sounds like something out of a high school game or Little League. Plenty of great commentary has been written about this fiasco already, so I would just say go over to ESPN.com and have a look. I just can't believe that in a sport where the season seems doomed to a prolonged strike and rumors of steroid abuse run rampant, MLB can't even get its act together long enough to finish a great All Star Game. It boggles the mind. I hope they have a good, long strike later this summer, and that the result is a better revenue model for the game. But it won't happen that way, because the owners will cave like they always do, and we can look forward to many more years of the Yankees winning pennants and World Series trophies. When does football season start?

The other crazy thing in baseball this week is the cryogenic freezing of the body of Ted Williams, in the hope that he could be revived or cloned at some future time. Among the better columns on the subject is this one by Tom Farrey on ESPN.com. My favorite quote from the article is by a doctor who is hoping to clone humans someday.

"The world needs more Ted Williamses," Zavos said. "It needs more Elvises. How many happy people would there be if instead of hugging a statue of Elvis Presley, they could hug someone who looks like Elvis?"

As the Sports Guy would say, I don't even have a joke here.

The Ted Williams body business is just sad. I wouldn't have a problem with it (and I doubt too many others would either) if Williams himself had expressed a desire to be preserved this way. A last wish is a last wish, etc. But the fact that his son, John Henry Williams, took this action for his own personal motives, without regard to his father's wishes or the feelings of his siblings (half or otherwise), makes the tragedy of his death even worse. On the other hand, maybe the Red Sox can wheel his "vessel" out into left field at Fenway Park for a memorial service. John Henry can sell DNA samples as souvenirs. Fans can go home and grow their own little Ted Williamses and get rich when they all become major leaguers. Maybe if the Red Sox can get nine of them together, they can field a team that could actually win the World Series someday.

Nah, they'd probably find a way to mess that up too.

Saturday, July 06, 2002

I read about BlogAmp the other day, and since I had some time early this evening, I've added it to my blog links on the left. Now you can see all the strange and unusual music I listen to.

See, I'd write about something really exciting, but I'm just enjoying a relaxing weekend in the city. We went to see Twelfth Night in Central Park, which was excellent. The cast featured Zach Braff, Kristen Johnson, Christopher Lloyd, Oliver Platt, Julia Stiles, and Jimmy Smits, among others. And today I bought some new bike shorts! See how much fun I'm having?

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Not much new here; it's been a slow couple of days. We're staying here in the city for the four-day weekend, possibly to enjoy the fireworks, but more likely just to hang out and stay cool. Maybe Shakespeare in the Park on Saturday, if we can get tickets.

As you can see, I am now acknowledging my participation in the NYC Bloggers project by the link on the left. I've seen a few blogs there, usually the ones the editors recommend. I'm not sure yet if I get more enjoyment out of reading the blogs of others, or writing my own. I think I already have enough stuff to read on the Web every day, so I try to limit my blog reading as much as I can. I have to leave time for GTAIII.

Monday, July 01, 2002

I went to the Yankees-Mets game last night with Liz, James, and Jess. One of the doctors Liz works for gave her the tickets, which were excellent seats in the loge area, near the foul pole in right field. We had a few rowdy Yankees fans up there with us, who spent the game getting drunk and heckling Mets fans. It was much more entertaining than the game, an 8-0 rout by the Yankees. One guy sat directly behind us and had plenty of obnoxious chants and barbs for the Mets and their fans. He was particularly fond of shouting "In ... the ... closet!" at Mike Piazza, and "Beat ... the ... traffic!" at all the fans leaving early. Another guy behind us was attending the game with his girlfriend, a Mets fan. By the fourth inning, as her boyfriend joined with the first drunk guy to belittle the Mets, she looked like he wasn't getting any that night. By the seventh inning, I remarked that not only was he probably sleeping alone tonight, he might just get dumped on the way home. At one point, near the end of the game, Joe McEwing was at the plate for the Mets, and a few women several rows in front of us shouted "We love you, Super Joe!" To which the boyfriend responded with a sexual slur that none of us, not even James, connoisseur of profanity, had ever heard before. Even though this is a "family-friendly" blog, I have to print it here. He shouted back at these ladies, "Shut your cockwashers!" There was a ten-year-old boy in front of us; I shudder to think of his poor virgin ears. I guess the girlfriend was used to this behavior, because by the ninth inning she was curled up in his lap, half asleep. Unbelievable. That relationship can never last, though. Around here, a Yankees-Mets coupling is worse than a mixed-religion one. Much worse.

In other news, I've started my massive summer book for 2002: The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. First, a quick bit of history. I love reading, and there's something wrong if I'm without a book to read for any time longer than a few days. In the summer of 2000, I read what might be my all-time favorite book: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. It had everything: sex, violence, math, codebreaking, intrigue, and technology. I started it in mid-June and finished sometime in early August, so when I think of that summer, I think of that book. Last year, among other things, I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It was by far my favorite book of the series, though I was able to finish it in just a few weeks. But it was a large, heavy book to carry around, so I was especially motivated to read it quickly. This summer, I've been reading William Gibson novels and Mario Puzo's The Godfather, but I'm ready for something deeper. Liz has always wanted me to read The Brothers K, but I've been reluctant for years. I read Crime and Punishment over five months in 1996 and 1997, and while I enjoyed it, it was a difficult and tedious read. Karamazov is 250 pages longer and much "weightier" than C&P. I only hope that I like it enough that I can get through it in a few months. I always finish reading books that I start, so I'm stuck with it even if I get sick of it. And there's nothing worse than taking six months to read a book you don't like much. After this book, I have Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita and Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus on my list. So Dostoevsky is something of a warm-up. Of course, I also have plenty of sci-fi novels lined up to give my brain a rest if I get sick of the college reading list.