Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Another year has come and gone

Once again, it's New Year's Eve, I'm at work, listening to WQXR's Classical Countdown for 2003. I guess this is what adulthood is really like: the same thing as last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, too. It's not so bad. At least there isn't much work to do today. And the music is great. WQXR doesn't always play the standard hits by the usual composers, so it's a welcome change to hear my old favorites when I haven't heard them all year. And during the countdown, you hear the entire work, uninterrupted, which is unusual for ad-driven radio. Right now, they're playing Handel's entire Water Music suite, all 59 minutes of it.

I've stayed away from most year-in-review material so far, except for Dave Barry's annual list and the roll call of the dead on CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend. Here's my 2003 review: I went on some great trips, both for business (London and Frankfurt) and for pleasure (Mississippi, Maryland [twice], Pennsylvania). Liz and I moved into a larger apartment. I read some great books, saw a few excellent movies (and a bunch of not-so-good ones), and even got a chance to play the viola again. On the other hand, I've endured a few nasty terror alerts, a blackout, a hurricane (and subsequent blackout), and I suspect my suffering on the 4/5 subway lines has only begun. My grandmother passed away this year, but I did see her in England one last time just a few weeks before she died, and I'll always be grateful I had that opportunity. Overall, above average. At least it wasn't ever dull.

I'm making just one resolution for 2004: get to work earlier.

We don't have any big New Year's Eve plans tonight. I hate to think I'm getting old, but the idea of fighting crowds at a bar or restaurant isn't too appealing anymore. The fact that it's another "amateur night" doesn't make revelry any more attractive. We had a good time at Cafe Wha? last year, but I'm getting to the point that staying in or hanging out with friends sounds like the best bet. So we're staying home, watching movies and ordering food, and looking forward to 2004.

Monday, December 29, 2003

"Well, we're back."

When you've only been away for six days, paraphrasing Sam Gamgee doesn't have the same effect as it does in the book.

Liz and I were in Johnstown, PA for most of last week, visiting my mother and other family and friends. I got to meet some new additions to my extended family and catch up with old friends I hadn't seen in ten years or more. I could have used one more day at home but we did almost everything that we'd planned on, and ate enough for three vacations, so I suppose six days was enough.

We took the train from New York to Johnstown and decided that's the only way to travel. It took about eight hours each way but driving would have taken almost that long and flying about the same (once you factor in the travel time to and from the airport, the wait at the airport, and the drive from Pittsburgh to Johnstown). Once you're on the train, there's nothing to worry about, except falling asleep and missing your stop, which has never happened to us. You can use your computer, cell phone, or PDA as much as you want, you can eat and drink anytime, and you are always free to move about the train. It's the most stress-free long-distance travel experience we've had in years. And it's the cheapest way to get there from here! I just hope that the rumors of Amtrak closing the Harrisburg to Pittsburgh rail link are just rumors, because after taking the train, I'd hate to go back to driving. And then travelers would miss the famous Horseshoe Curve.

One of the highlights of the trip was something I hadn't planned on: cleaning my bedroom. I have this old clothes bureau that's been in my room since I was about seven years old. As soon as I got it, I started putting all sorts of junk into it, everything from schoolwork and newspapers to crafts projects to small toys to hard candy. The past few times I've been home, my mother has asked me to look through all the stuff in my room and see if I could throw anything away. I spent most of Friday afternoon sorting through all the bureau drawers and tossed two large bags' worth of junk: the aforementioned old hard candy and school newspapers, broken toys, many duplicate concert programs, and all sorts of detritus that a boy tends to collect over fifteen years. I kept all the work I did as a student, even though I doubt I'll ever need any of it again. I just thought that I should have evidence of my public school education, at least until I clean out the bureau again.

Monday, December 22, 2003

I hate orange alerts

Once again, there are vague and mysterious threats to our national security, so once again we're on orange alert thanks to the DHS. While the news stories tell of al Qaida operatives disguised as foreign pilots and dirty bombs inside the US, Tom Ridge tells us to go about our business: travel, shop, enjoy the holiday. Meanwhile, we'll be at orange until the end of January. I'm supposed to be calm with all this madness going on? It's enough trouble for me to finish preparing for the holidays; I don't need to worry about whether Manhattan will still be here next week. I wish that DHS would either tell us exactly what the threat is, or not tell us about the orange alert status in the first place. If we can't be trusted with the details of the threats, then we shouldn't need to know that they exist. If there's an attack, it won't make much different if we knew that we were at a greater risk before it happened. One news story mentioned that al Qaida detainees have said that increased security discourages planned attacks, so I guess that's why DHS bothers to tell us about these threats at all. Even so, I'd rather not know about the threats or the alerts. I guess my only option is to stop reading the stories. Just note the orange alert, get more bottled water and canned soup, and go about my daily business.

And if we have access to all this e-mail and cell phone traffic, why are we not arresting more al Qaida operatives? If we're listening in on their communications, it would seem we know who these people are. Our government hasn't shown much reticence toward arresting people on mere suspicions before now, so what's the holdup?

Thursday, December 18, 2003

My late-night, best as I can remember it, spoiler-filled review of The Return of the King

It's definitely the best of this trilogy, and it affirms the entire trilogy in my all-time best movies pantheon. As much as I'd wanted to be, I hadn't been moved to tears by any scenes in the first two films. But for ROTK, the theater was dusty and my allergies kicked in more than once. I'll admit that I wasn't completely into the movie for the first hour or so: I was enjoying it, but I was thinking that I liked The Two Towers better so far. All that changed when the Rohirrim arrived at Minas Tirith and Theoden spoke to his army. My favorite scene in the book is at the end of the chapter entitled "The Siege of Gondor," when Tolkien writes, "Horns, horns, horns. Horns wildly blowing from the north. Rohan had come at last." (indicating the arrival of the riders of Rohan). This scene in the movie equaled my expectations and kicked the movie into another plane of filmmaking, as far as I'm concerned. The Battle of the Pelennor Fields was every bit as exciting as it is on the page, and then some. I missed the Mouth of Sauron at the gates of Mordor, but Aragorn's inspirational speech and the resulting confrontation didn't lack for excitement either. The Frodo-Sam-Gollum triangle was even better this time around. Even more than last year, Andy Serkis deserves consideration for Best Supporting Actor. His Gollum is even more cunning and deceitful than he was in TTT, and Serkis does an amazing job with the role. I especially liked the Smeagol and Deagol opening scene, where we find out how Smeagol became Gollum. But the best and most moving scene in the movie was at the end, when Aragorn, now King Elessar, and all the people of Gondor bow before the four hobbits. I admit that the theater got really dusty then. The ending was a little drawn out, but the stories needed to be wrapped up and there's no other way to end it than to put Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf and Elrond on the ship. I'm sure the ending will be extra long in the extended edition next fall. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the extended version of ROTK runs five hours.

I'm sure there were more things I wanted to mention in this review. It would be more coherent if it hadn't taken me over an hour to get home on the subway. (Remember kids, the 42nd St. shuttle doesn't run between midnight and 6 AM!) So I'm sure you won't mind if I write more about this later, especially after I see it a few more times.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

I need my Stadium Buddy tonight

PvPonline presents its review of Return of the King.

I guess I'll stay thirsty for now.

More additions to my reading list

At the moment I'm reading The Face of Battle, by John Keegan. It's a history of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme told from the soldier's point of view. After that, I'll take Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid with me on my train trip home for Christmas. I found out about Hofstadter's book while reading reviews of Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, which was last month's epic read. If that's not enough, the Washington Post has recommendations for Tolkien fans who want to explore some of the author's source material and inspiration. I'm familiar with some of the Irish medieval epics from a class at Georgetown, and I've seen the musical version of Camelot, but I'll have to check out these other epics that I've only seen in excerpts so far.

Only 6 1/2 hours to go.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

A dissenting opinion on "The Lord Of the Rings"

As everyone who knows me is aware, I love the Lord of the Rings, both the books and the movies. While movie reviewers are heaping praise upon the final installment of the theatrical trilogy (just take a look at the way things are tracking on rottentomatoes.com), there are a few people out there who don't care for Tolkien or the movies. In the interests of fairness, before I post my review tomorrow evening, I thought I should give equal time to those with contrary views. My old college buddy Chris Galdieri is one, as is the author of this article on msnbc.com. While I could take the time to refute their views point by point, it's not worth it. My own wife doesn't like the trilogy, and no amount of convincing has changed her mind so far, nor do I have any hope that she'll feel differently in the future. I'm content to let these people think what they want, and I'll enjoy the world of Tolkien without them.

Even though they're wrong.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Finished your holiday shopping yet?

I'm almost done, I just have a few items to pick up in stores. Up to now I've done all my shopping on Amazon, which makes my life so easy with its wish lists and gift certificates. To be honest, PVPOnline covered my feelings on holiday shopping on Saturday. I got a gift certificate for J&R from my office today, and it makes me so happy. It's a gift that I can use for anything I want, and I don't have to feel guilty for spending it on something frivolous like a computer game. The rest of the year I have to carefully watch where my money goes, and while I don't have to confer with my wife every time I buy something for myself, I do feel a certain amount of guilt when I spend my hard-earned money on fun things instead of food, shelter, clothing, or other necessary items of living. And that's my own self-generated guilt. What's my point? Gift certificates are great.

I'm just killing time until 6, when the office holiday party gets going. At 6:05, I plan to be working my way through a bottle of Chimay and a platter of shrimp. Mmm, beer.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Battlestar Galactica returns

I just finished watching the Sci-Fi Channel's remake?/re-imaging? of Battlestar Galactica . It was better than I expected. It probably helped that I don't remember much of the original TV series, so I didn't have many preconceptions of the characters or the story. While the movie doesn't explain why the Cylons are back, it does have a ending that leaves open the possibility of more movies or a weekly series. I wonder if the ratings will be high enough to warrant a regular series. And will Edward James Olmos, who said that people shouldn't watch the movie, return for a series? There aren't any other high-profile stars in the movie, so they won't spend too much money on the cast, but they do need Olmos to provide the necessary leadership role. If it comes back as a series, I'll probably watch it.

The BCS mess

The BCS has finally proven itself to be worthy of all the derision and abuse it's taken in the media for five years. Oklahoma, despite losing its final game (and league championship) by 28 points, will play Louisiana State for the "national championship" in the Sugar Bowl. Meanwhile, USC, the current No.1 team in both polls, traditionally the determinator of the "national championship," plays no. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl instead of hosting LSU in the Sugar Bowl for the title. Now there's talk of a split championship should USC win the Rose Bowl and remain No.1 in the AP poll.

Everything that went wrong here points to a true playoff to determine a champion. Every other NCAA sport in every division has a playoff system; only the money invested in the bowl structure and the BCS keeps Division 1-A football from having a playoff. I've heard all kinds of schemes to create a playoff system: 8 teams starting in December, 4 teams in January, one game after the bowls end, played on Martin Luther King Day. One of the craziest appeared in Dan Shanoff's Daily Quickie column on ESPN.com on Tuesday. Shanoff advocates a 117-team bracket beginning in the middle of the college football season. The first five games are rivalries and tuneups, then the real fun begins in week 6 when all the Division 1-A teams are seeded into a bracket. Of all the ideas, that's definitely the least likely to happen. It would mean the end of the athletic conference system as far as football is concerned, it would screw up traditional rivalry weekends at the end of the season, and because it makes the most sense.

Here's what I would do:

1. Shorten the season. Eleven games is enough for everyone. If you play in an early-season "kickoff classic," that counts as one of your 11 games.

2. I'd keep the bowl system in place, but require seven wins for a team to be bowl-eligible. If you can't go 7-4 at least, you shouldn't play in the postseason. Teams that don't get seeded into the playoff bracket are eligible to play in non-playoff bowls.

3. I would use the major bowls for my eight-team playoff system. We'd start with 8, and then see if we could expand it later. But you use the computer rankings and polls for seeding purposes only, just like March Madness, and then play the first round of games in mid-December, the semifinals on New Year's Day, and the final game two weeks later, ideally, when the NFL takes a week off between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. The two championship teams would play 14 games, which is not unreasonable since most of the college players will have played that many games in a season in high school, assuming they went to the playoffs, and you'd be done before the spring semester really got started. Six bowl games would be used for the playoffs, maybe the Sugar, Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Cotton and Gator Bowls, and the rest are for non-playoff teams. Or you could rotate the bowl games in the playoff system, so that the Rose Bowl could occasionally get its usual Pac-10 vs. Big-10 matchup.

I know this plan isn't original; I've seen it somewhere before and can't remember where. But I think it's the most workable solution for the next few years. Everyone gets what they want: a real way to choose a national champion in football. The extra games are kept to a minimum. The schools gets millions of dollars in advertising and network rights. Bowl organizers get increased interest in their games. If the playoff system expands to 16 teams, even more bowls get even more interest.

If I can remember any, I'll bring up counterarguments tomorrow.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

You've never seen Santa like this before

I hope you will enjoy Fresh Hell, drawn by Eric Fritzius from a story by my wife. She and a friend developed the joke many years ago, and three or four years ago Eric turned it into a comic for a short-lived parody web site. I think the artwork really captures the message.

A snowy afternoon with the Royal Navy

I neglected to mention that the silence of a winter snowstorm on 1st Avenue is periodically interrupted by the sound of multiple snowplow trucks passing by. These garbage truck-like behemoths sound like a tank battalion, and last night they went by about every half hour. Today they've been less frequent, but it's still noisier than I like. Of course, it's always noisy living above this avenue.

I spent the afternoon watching Horatio Hornblower: Duty, recorded a few nights ago on A&E. My father is a fan of the Hornblower novels and has recommended them to me on several occasions. And after seeing Master and Commander the other day, I thought I'd explore the British naval tradition further. The Hornblower movie was quite exciting, if the level of suspension of disbelief was sometimes high. At one point an artillery cannon on shore hits a moving rowboat with its first shot. I thought that you needed ranging fire first with old cannons like that. Otherwise, the production looked better than I expected for a cable network, and the actors (who have played these roles several times before) all were excellent. A&E is re-running another Hornblower movie tomorrow morning, so I'll get another opportunity to enjoy the story. I wouldn't have wanted to serve aboard a wooden vessel in that time period, given the many nasty ways a person could be maimed or killed in battle, but I like watching it on TV. And while I'll ask my father if I can borrow his 6-DVD set of the first series of Hornblower movies, I suspect he'll offer me some of his collection of the original C.S. Forester novels instead. If the stories are as good on paper as they are on screen, I'll take him up on it.

Friday's (and Saturday's) snowstorm

As much as I enjoy the snow, it's mostly a nuisance anymore. Getting home from work tonight was a slow slog through slushy sidewalks and crowded intersections. We're supposed to go downtown for dinner tomorrow night but who knows if the restaurant will be open or if we'll be able to get there.

On the other hand, even in New York there's nothing quite like the silence of a winter snowstorm.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

our Netflix history

I've checked the records, and the movies we held the longest were The Deer Hunter (six weeks), Under the Sand (six weeks), The Limey (seven weeks), Mulholland Drive (eight weeks), The Blair Witch Project (11 weeks), and, leading the pack at 13 weeks, The House of Mirth.

Of these, only Deer Hunter and Under the Sand are downers. The others are ones that we couldn't find the time to watch or couldn't get into the right frame of mind for several weeks. After we had Blair Witch for for two months, it just made sense to wait and watch it around Halloween. And I had no interest in the House of Mirth, so Liz had to wait until she had some time when I was busy elsewhere so she could watch it. I'd say as far as we're concerned, the results are inconclusive. Looking over the list, we haven't rented many depressing movies, and our average hold time is one month regardless of the picture. We've been meaning to watch more movies through Netflix, so hopefully our churn rate will improve.

More about Netflix

The New York Times' Circuits section has an article about the propensity of Netflix subscribers to hold onto sad or serious movies for longer periods than comedies or happy movies. That's been the case with us. We had The Deer Hunter (must be a common choice) for weeks, but we've watched all sorts of fun movies within days of receiving them. I requested my full rental history from Netflix so I can see how closely our habits follow this pattern.

Master and Commander

I took Wednesday off to spend time with Liz on her birthday, but since she told me that I didn't have to be there for every waking moment, I went to see Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World at the Loews Kips Bay Theater. I love going to weekday matinees: there's never a crowd in the theater, no lines at concessions or the bathrooms, so it's always a pleasant experience. The movie was excellent, easily one of the best movies I've seen so far this year. I liked that there wasn't any attempt to introduce the audience to the crew of the ship. The movie started with the ship already at sea for weeks, and the viewer had to meet the sailors as the story progressed. It was as if I had been dropped onto the ship and at times it felt like I was actually a part of the crew. I really enjoyed the way the movie portrayed life at sea in 1805: the traditions, the ceremony, the habits of the officers and crew. The battle scenes were as harrowing as I imagined 19th-century naval warfare to be, especially the first engagement between the two ships. I thought the music and the score was outstanding, especially the use of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis for the funeral scenes. Russell Crowe clearly enjoyed being back in a commanding role, and Paul Bettany as the ship's doctor and captain's best friend was an excellent counterpoint. It was a great movie, but I'm not sure it's going to be a Best Picture nominee. I think there are going to be too many other good movies this year that will edge it out. However, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Crowe or Bettany get acting nominations out of it. Their performances were just that compelling.

By the way, the movie is playing all over Manhattan, but the Kips Bay theater has it on a DLP screen, so that's why I trekked all the way downtown for it. Always go digital if you can.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Mister Herman has a blog

One of my wife's best friends from back home in Starkville, MS, Eric Fritzius, now has a blog. I've been a semi-regular visitor to his main web site, Mister Herman's Home Page, for several years now, and proud member of his mailing list since my college days. Of particular note on his site are the Horribly True Tales from the Drunken Trucker and the Recipes Page. I've only ever tried one recipe, Supacheez, and it didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. (I think I used too much taco seasoning.) Just reading the Tales and the recipes is most of the fun. Anyway, check out Eric's blog. I've always enjoyed reading his e-mails and epics, so I'm happy to see I can enjoy his particular brand of storytelling on a more frequent basis.

Monday, December 01, 2003

It begins

After harassing my friends for the third time, we finally agreed on a theater and showtime for The Return of the King. Hence, I just bought my ticket. For anyone who might want to join us, we're going to the 6:30 PM show on Dec. 17 at the Loews 34th St. in Manhattan. I've seen the two previous movies of the trilogy there on opening night, and so it's fitting that we see the final film there as well.

I had to restrain myself from buying the issue of Newsweek with Aragorn on the cover. This week, I'm re-reading the book for the fourth time. I can't wait to see Eowyn take on the Lord of the Nazgul during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Grond smashing against the gates of Minas Tirith. The final confrontation between Frodo and Gollum. Aragorn becoming the King.

I told myself I wouldn't get all geeky over this movie, but it seems inevitable.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

My new chair

As I approach 30 years of age, I believe it's time to enjoy the finer things in life. Ideally, I'd have an overstuffed recliner to relax in, but I have to work my way up. So I got a smaller, less expensive chair and footstool from Ikea last Sunday. Here's me, looking comfortable after I assembled the chair Wednesday night.

Love Actually

Liz and I saw Love Actually at the Loews Kips Bay theater last night. It was a touching, funny, sad, ultimately heartwarming romance that reminded me what it feels like to be in love for the first time, the second time, to have your heart broken, and to find happiness. It was sappy and too sweet in a few places, and completely implausible in others, but we both loved the movie. The casting was perfect, and we had fun afterward trying to name British actors who weren't in it (there aren't too many; to paraphrase an old friend: when this one was cast, everyone got a part). I particularly liked Kiera Knightley, and I was slightly disappointed that she didn't have a larger role. That's unavoidable in a movie with so many characters and stories to tell. But just about everything about the movie went right, even the plot threads that were weaker than others. I wouldn't say that it's my favorite romantic comedy ever; that's still the timeless When Harry Met Sally. But this one is a great movie that with its holiday setting is just right for this time of year. Take someone that you love to see it, you won't be disappointed.

More reasons to play fantasy football

1. I live in Manhattan, so I'm limited to watching the Giants, Jets, or other teams in their respective divisions every Sunday. Usually, these games are not that exciting, like today's 24-7 Bills over Giants game. At the same time, Indianapolis and New England played a thrilling 38-34 Patriots win, in a back-and-forth game that was far more enthralling than the one I got to see. I don't have a satellite dish, so I can't get the NFL Sunday Ticket package to watch anything other than what the networks are showing. Even if I wanted to see the Steelers every week, I'd have to go to a sports bar and pay for food and drinks to do it. Which leads me to ...

2. The Steelers are awful this year. Mark Madden is upset that the fantasy stats geeks root against them? He's lucky anyone bothers to show up for games. I couldn't even bother to work myself into a mild lather as I watched the scores of the Steelers-Bengals game flash by earlier today. When they can't run or pass the ball effectively or stop the other team when it matters, I don't blame the fantasy fans so much. Fantasy football gives me a way to stay interested in the NFL season when my team is out of it by week 9.

Mark Madden's dim view of fantasy football

In yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mark Madden makes it clear he detests fantasy football for what he think's it's done to the real thing. He cites the oft-used example of Donovan McNabb being overrated because he's an excellent fantasy player but his real-world stats don't measure up. He thinks that Trent Green is a better quarterback than McNabb but the fantasy "geeks" don't think so. He's even more upset about the way the network caters to the fantasy football player by running individual player stats updates during the game along with out-of-town scores. And he doesn't like people rooting against the Steelers because they have a fantasy player on the other team.

First of all, fantasy football is harmless. A few million "geeks" like myself are just having fun and finding a new way to enjoy a game we already love. And since there are so many of us, fantasy football is here to stay. The networks want to keep viewers, so they're going to show what people want to see: individual statistics. As for players being overrated or underrated, I don't recall too many sports journalists citing fantasy football stats when discussing Rush Limbaugh's comments on McNabb earlier this season. And I hope that NFL GMs don't look too long or hard at fantasy football stats when drafting players or signing free agents. To paraphrase a much-used line, an NFL manager who uses fantasy football stats as real-world evidence often ends up playing fantasy football full-time.

McNabb is a great player who does not have the supporting cast in Philadelphia that Trent Green (also a great player) has in Kansas City. Trent Green doesn't have to score an occasional running touchdown because he can rely on Priest Holmes to do it for him. Philadelphia, last I checked, had several decent running backs, but none on the level of Holmes. McNabb has to do much more to support his team than Trent Green does. I think many NFL GMs would be happy to have either QB.

There are plenty of fantasy football nuts out there who give the game a bad name, just as there are plenty of role-playing nuts who give that practice a bad image, or religious fanatics who make their beliefs look bad. Vocal minorities can ruin anything for the majority, and fantasy sports are no different. I've had to edit myself when talking about my fantasy team with people who don't play, because it is boring to hear about a bunch of guys arguing over backup running backs and kickers. But there's nothing inherently wrong with taking a real game we love and finding a way we can pretend we're really involved in it. None of us in our league harbors any belief that we'll ever actually work for an NFL team, so fantasy football is an opportunity for us to participate.

I do agree with Madden's implication that people who root against their team just for fantasy purposes are idiots, or certainly not good fans of the home team in the first place. I've never rooted against the Steelers, and I never will, no matter what the fantasy implications. Also, Madden doesn't mind exploiting fantasy geeks by taking their money for seminars, and I don't think that's a bad thing either. I see no problem with parting fools and their money. I enjoy fantasy football, but I'm not about to spend any money on supporting my habit. If I lose games to guys who pay for guides and seminars, more power to them. I've got better things on which to spend my time and money.

I noticed the omission of fantasy baseball from his article. I've never heard Madden say a bad thing about the roto-geeks who spend the entire baseball season poring over stats and trading players, just like in fantasy football. I wonder what he thinks of the baseball side of things. Maybe he doesn't mind that game as much, since baseball has always been about individual statistics as much as team play. But the stats focus in football is a recent development that cleary bothers him. Too bad. Fantasy football is here to stay, and it's not hurting anyone but the people who play it. I'm proud to be a fantasy geek.

Friday, November 28, 2003

A good Thanksgiving

We had some friends over, we cooked, we ate well, we watched football. All in all, a great way to spend a Thursday.

The highlight of the meal for me was the challah stuffing I made, based on a recipe I found on The Internet. The trick was in soaking the bread first before mixing in the sauteed onions and mushrooms; after baking it came out in one giant piece that could be served in chunks, like a cake. That's some good stuffing. The turkey turned out well, too, but turkey's not that hard to get right. Our friends brought over mac & cheese that was superb. Dessert was homemade pumpkin and pecan pies, also brought by our guests. My only disappointment is that I didn't pass out in my new Ikea armchair after dinner. There's plenty of time for that over the rest of the weekend, and over the lifespan of the chair, of course.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Some thoughts on tonight's episode of Star Trek: Enterprise

On tonight's episode, Archer and T'Pol travel back in time to Detroit in 2004 to stop a Xindi plot to eradicate humanity with a bioweapon. I love time travel stories, but this one pushed the boundaries of what I'm willing to believe. (In case you couldn't tell, I'm going to go all geeky in this entry; if this bothers you, please come back another time). Obviously, if you haven't watched this week's episode yet, spoiler abound, so you should probably skip this entry, too.

First of all, the mysterious Daniels appears and tells Archer that he and T'Pol must go immediately back in time to stop the Xindi plot. When T'Pol is skeptical, Archer says that Daniels couldn't do it himself because it would take too much time to obtain permission for him to go. Isn't he from the future? Can't he tell what happened in 2004 and go back at any time of his choosing to find the Xindi?

Archer and T'Pol arrive in 2004 Detroit with the universe's most powerful, versatile PDA. It can detect car alarms, unlock cars, crack ATMs to retrieve cash, track humans and Xindi, and probably make coffee too. I'd have few problems here, either, if I had a magic PDA with all the answers.

Archer and T'Pol steal a truck and drive all over Detroit late at night. While I can accept that Archer is smart enough to figure out how to operate an automatic shift car, how does he know what stoplights and traffic signs mean? I suppose the magic PDA tells him.

The show ends with a phase pistol battle on the rooftops and streets of one of the industrial neighborhoods of Detroit. Yes, it takes place late at night, and in what looks like a deserted area, but wouldn't someone hear the noise and commotion? Don't any of the other factories have security guards who watch for strange occurrences late at night?

What really bothered me about this episode was that it ignored Star Trek's previously detailed extensive timeline, which states that Khan Noonien Singh leads his superhuman followers in the Eugenics Wars in the late 1990s. It didn't look like much had happened in Detroit. Maybe I missed a memo and the Star Trek framers have adjusted the "history of the future" to account for these changes. Or maybe civilization really had collapsed a few years earlier but no one in Detroit noticed.

Despite the plausibility factor, I did enjoy tonight's show. The writers have a lot of different story threads working at the moment, and they're keeping my interest. I hope they can sustain the show's fine form the rest of the season.

I had a sudden flashback to a late 1980s Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade where Scott Bakula, then the star of "Quantum Leap," sang on one of the parade floats. I hope he doesn't turn up in the parade tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

No one cool hangs out in MY neighborhood

Today's idle browsing took me to Gawker, where I found the weekend wrapup of celebrity sightings. Not one of them is any further north or east than 80th and Amsterdam, and that was Bob Vila, of all people. Random celebrity sightings are the one thing I miss now that I don't live in Greenwich Village anymore. We used to see all sorts of people on the streets: Julianne Moore, Uma and Ethan, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Mark Feuerstein (of "Good Morning Miami," long before that show was on), and Janeane Garofalo. I guess the Upper East Side really is another universe entirely separate from the rest of Manhattan. That topic sounds like it could have some greater depth. I must ruminate on it and see what I can come up with.

TMQ finds a permanent home

Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column has found a permanent home on NFL.com. Update your bookmarks accordingly.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Another survey

I got another survey from a friend today. I answered one of these last December, and I thought the results would once again serve as a halfway-decent entry.


1. WHAT IS YOUR FULL NAME? Philip Edward Catelinet
2. What COLOR PANTS ARE YOU WEARING? blue jeans
3. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 2
4. WHAT ARE THE LAST 4 DIGITS OF YOUR PHONE NUMBER? 9313
5. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? chili con carne
6. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? purple
7. HOW IS THE WEATHER RIGHT NOW? about 50 degrees, clear
8. LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? my wife
9. THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT OPPOSITE SEX? legs
10. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS? yes
11. HOW ARE YOU TODAY? cool and calm
12. FAVORITE NON-ALCOHOLIC DRINK? coffee
13. FAVORITE ALCOHOLIC DRINK? Maker's Mark bourbon, on the rocks or with ginger ale.
14. FAVORITE SPORTS? football, hockey
15. HAIR COLOR? brown
16. EYE COLOR? hazel
17. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? yes
18. SIBLINGS AND THEIR AGES? Michael, 26
20. FAVORITE FOOD? NY-style pizza
21. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? The Two Towers, extended edition, on DVD. Last one in a theater: Elf
22. FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR? New Year's Day. Lots of football and nowhere to be.
24. ARE YOU TOO SHY TO ASK SOMEONE OUT? I hope so. I've been married over 5 years.
26. SUMMER OR WINTER? winter
29. CHOCOLATE OR VANILLA? chocolate
30. DO YOU WANT YOUR FRIENDS TO WRITE BACK? sure
31. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Avirat, complaining that I never call or write and asking when I'm coming to visit him. (I'll be in Johnstown at Christmas!)
32. WHO IS LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Duncan (who is he?)
33. LIVING ARRANGEMENTS? large Manhattan apartment with my wife and 3 cats
34. What BOOKS ARE YOU READING? Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson
35. WHAT'S ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? nothing, this is a laptop.
36. FAVORITE BOARD GAME? Trivial Pursuit
37. WHAT DID YOU DO LAST NIGHT? stayed home and watched The Two Towers on DVD
38. FAVORITE SMELLS? burning leaves in autumn, salty sea air, something good I'm cooking in my kitchen
39. CAN YOU TOUCH YOUR NOSE WITH YOUR TONGUE? no
40. WHAT INSPIRES YOU? Lance Armstrong's accomplishments in the Tour de France
41. BUTTERED, PLAIN, OR SALTED POPCORN? just a little salt. The movie theater butter will kill you.
42. FAVORITE CAR? Lamborghini Countach
43. FAVORITE FLOWER? no man should have a favorite flower
44. HOW MANY KEYS ON YOUR RING? four
45. FAVORITE DAY(s) OF THE WEEK? Saturday
46. RED OR WHITE WINE? red, preferably merlot.
47. WHAT DID YOU DO FOR YOUR LAST BIRTHDAY? I don't remember; having a birthday 5 days before Christmas means you never do anything special
48. DO YOU CARRY A DONOR CARD? no
49. LIFETIME GOALS? find my purpose in life
50. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU THINK OF WHEN YOU WAKE UP IN THE
MORNING? it's too early to be up (even if it's 11 AM on a weekend)





Friday, November 21, 2003

Thoughts (in no particular order) while watching The Two Towers: Extended Edition DVD

If I have the choice of an elf princess or a shield-maiden of Rohan who knows her way with a sword, I think I'm taking the shield-maiden. Aragorn must have some kind of ear fetish to choose Arwen.

Elrond is a jerk. He's a lot more kind in the book.

I don't care if it's not in the book: I get chills every time the elves arrive at Helm's Deep. Now THAT's an army.

Gimli still gets the best lines.

The added scene with Boromir, Faramir, and their father, Denethor, sheds some much-needed light on Faramir's motivation for taking the ring to Osgiliath. I still don't like the choice, but it makes more sense with the extra footage.

I don't know how it's possible, but the battle at Helm's Deep gets more dramatic each time I watch it. When Aragorn and Theoden ride out together against hopeless odds, and then Gandalf and Eomer appear with two thousand more riders... well, it's just better each time.

Overall, the new scenes provide clarification for choices and events in the original version. I liked everything that was restored, except for Theodred's funeral. The most moving scene in the theatrical version was Theoden's grief at his son's grave. The funeral scene just delays that emotional moment, and I preferred the original edit. But that's my only complaint. Like the extended edition of Fellowship before it, The Two Towers improves by leaps and bounds in this longer version. Peter Jackson HAS to get the Oscar for Return of the King.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Parents: beware!

Would you let your children spend the night with this man?

Seriously, I'd like to know what the children who want to spend time with Michael Jackson are thinking. I'm curious about the parents as well, but the interest of the children bothers me. It's not like Jackson is the most famous pop icon anymore. Maybe I'm just too old to understand them, but where does he find these kids that idolize him and want to spend the night at his house? How did these kids become his fans in the first place? And knowing what we know about him and his eccentricities, why do their parents let them hang out with him?

A new look

I've broken down and switched templates. I don't really like any of the ones Blogger.com has to offer, but I also lack the necessary HTML skills to properly design my own. So I'll go with this one for a while. At least the links format properly now and I can add all sorts of stuff on the right side. Look for more links to friends, cool sites, and anything else I remember to put there as days go by.

Pooping on the radio

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog continues his press tour promoting his new album. Today, he appeared on NPR's Fresh Air. As usual, Triumph was a scream. I don't know how they keep this gig going; it's consistently hilarious. The article in last week's Entertainment Weekly told the full story of Triumph's rise to the pinnacle of showbiz success, and should be required reading for any Triumph fan.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I'm the last one to chime in on this story...

New York Metro.com asks several celebrities their thoughts on how Paris Hilton can rehabilitate her image after her sex tape became public. I like Lewis Black's response the best, though Lizzie Grubman probably has the most accurate opinion. This girl has nothing to worry about. She's got a burgeoning career as a model/socialite/TV star, and there's no such thing as bad publicity, right?

As for the tape itself, I've seen it, and it's not worth anyone's time. There's much better porn out there than this garbage. If you're going to videotape yourself having sex for future enjoyment, at least turn the lights on so you can see the action. Night-vision goggles are no way to watch dirty movies.

Monday, November 17, 2003

I, uh... need to, um... go home early for an, ur... emergency. Yeah, that's it.

This morning I got my "your purchase has shipped" e-mail from Amazon.com indicating that my copy of The Two Towers: Extended Edition was on its way. The e-mail said I'd get it in 3-7 days. On a routine stop by my office mailbox I found a present: my copy had arrived! Now that's fast service. I'm watching bits of it now, just to check the discs, in case there's a problem and I need to return it. That's a good reason. It looks damn fantastic and the one added scene at the beginning ("Elven Rope") restores a bit of story that I didn't realize I'd missed in the theatrical release. I'll need to pick a night this week with no good TV (tough during sweeps) and watch the entire thing. Maybe a day off from work is a good idea.

Get Fuzzy apologizes to Pittsburgh

Today's Get Fuzzy comic is an apology to the city of Pittsburgh for a strip two weeks ago that some people thought wasn't so funny. Apparently the artist, Darby Conley, has a friend in Pittsburgh and intended the strip as an inside joke. I thought it was funny and not the least bit offensive, but it seems the good people of Pittsburgh are more sensitive than he or I thought. Anyway, today's apology should resolve the matter, unless you're from Sewickley.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

TMQ is back!

Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column is back, on FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS.com. Read and enjoy. I'm still reading it myself, but the content doesn't seem to have suffered for his time off.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Jon's party on Saturday night

Check the photos link; I posted a few pictures from the party. I forgot to charge my camera battery before I left, so I only got a few shots before the camera died. Yes, there was an appearance by the Solid White Dancers. It has been two years since we last performed, and our choreography was off. Still, the effect on the adoring crowd was the same.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Back in DC

I've returned to Washington, DC, for another weekend visit with family and friends. James and I came down on one of the Chinatown buses this evening. My only previous bus travel experience was with Peter Pan Lines, and the Chinatown way is a little different. Instead of a bus picking us up at 7th and 34th Sts. at 4:30 PM, we had a 15-passenger van waiting for us. Unfortunately, there were about 20 people waiting for the bus. The first fifteen of us got into the van, along with our bags, and the driver took us the longest way possible between midtown and Chinatown, even for rush hour. The others had to take a cab to Chinatown; luckily for them, the bus company reimbursed them for the cab fare. Meanwhile, in the van, there was barely any room for anyone to breathe, let alone shift our bags or move limbs. We got to the Chinatown stop a little after 5 PM and got on the real bus (thankfully, a full-size tour bus). As soon as the bus pulled away, the driver (who was the same guy who'd piloted the van from 34th St.) turned on the movie, which was a bootleg copy of Pirates of the Caribbean. We couldn't tell at first, but the washed-out colors, the dull audio, and the black dots on the screen for the projectionist eventually clued us in. I'm glad I saw it last summer, because half the good lines were inaudible, the excellent music was drowned out, and the movie cut off with a few minutes remaining, so I had to tell James how it ended. We made two stops on the way: one at a travel plaza in New Jersey where the driver got a huge plate of chicken, biscuits, and gravy, and another quick stop in Baltimore. At the NJ stop, the driver turned off the movie when the bus pulled in, and when we left, it was a few minutes before it started up again. This prompted the following exchange between James and I:

James: When is he going to put the movie back on, now that I've gotten into it?
Me: Give him a break. He's steering the bus with his knees while he eats.

OK, it was funnier when we were there. Around 10:15, we pulled into Chinatown in DC and the fun was over. It wasn't the worst bus ride of my life, but it was definitely more interesting than Peter Pan buses tend to be. And the people on the bus were less objectionable than the Peter Pan crowd tends to be. I'm going back on the PP bus on Monday morning. I'm suprising myself by thinking this, but I'm actually inclined to try the Chinatown bus again sometime. It was less crowded and took only a few minutes longer than the PP bus. On the other hand, this whole bus experience is making me wistful for Amtrak. I miss the train.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

'The Zombie Survival Guide' (washingtonpost.com)

Once again, Gene Weingarten's Tuesday chat features a wealth of useful information. Read this chat transcript to find out how to protect yourself and your loved ones from the zombie menace.

Novell buys SuSE

Most people who read this blog regularly (all five of you) won't know what the heck that means. So I'm going to geek out for a while. This morning, Novell announced that it is buying SuSE, a German company that produces a distribution of the Linux operating system. It's an exciting move for Novell, which has been working for a year on migrating its product line to run on Linux as well as their proprietary NetWare OS. I'd been hearing for a while that SuSE was going to be the preferred Linux distribution for Novell's products, and this purchase confirms that. It gives Novell a powerful operating system to offer its customers, who have been migrating their operations to Windows systems for the past ten years. I've been a loyal Novell and NetWare administrator for most of that time, and I'm looking forward to getting Novell's products on a stable, open source, community-supported platform.

In-depth analysis can be found in many places.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

The Marathon

One of the unexpected perks of our apartment on 1st Avenue is a front-row view of the NYC Marathon. We're right in the middle of the long stretch up 1st Avenue, so starting around 10 AM today the street was lined with cheering fans who didn't let up until late in the afternoon. We watched the lead men run by around 11 AM, then went outside just past noon to watch for our friends running the race. I took some pictures of the race, which you can see by clicking on the photos link over there on the left. My favorite runner, aside from our friends, was the Star Wars stormtrooper in full armor. He had to be hot.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Halloween in NYC

The thing I love about Halloween here is that it's so hard to tell if someone is wearing a costume or just dressed that way normally. There are some obvious ones, like the woman dressed as a devil at Starbucks in my building, but then there was the purple-haired woman in black leather I saw outside the office this morning. How do I know if that's not how she usually dresses?

I'm actually tired of Halloween. It's a kids holiday that's been adopted by adults, so now the pressure to come up with a funny, creative costume each year is back. It was so much easier when I was a kid and could pull off Luke Skywalker or Superman several years in a row. My last great costume was 1998, when Liz and I dressed as Lolita and Humbert Humbert. Of course, this costume pair was her idea. To give you some idea of how lame my costumes have been in recent years...

1992 - Secret Service agent: trenchcoat, sunglasses, earpiece borrowed from my dad
1993 and 1994 - Wayne from Wayne's World: black t-shirt, ripped jeans, official "Wayne's World" hat
1999 - Jerry Seinfeld-esque comedian: black jeans, dress shirt, sneakers.
2000 - rock band roadie: flannel shirt, boots, one of my many ballcaps

I'm tired of trying to be clever each year, and the older I get, the less fun it is. We're going to a party tonight and I don't think I'm dressing up at all. That's lame, but maybe we'll say it's my protest against the concept of adults parading around in kids' costumes. I realize the irony of going to the party in the first place; I should just stay home if I'm that bothered by it, but I do like a good party.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Space storm hits; Earth survives

I can't imagine what the headline writers were thinking. Check out the title of the full story on MSNBC.com if you think I came up with the joke. Maybe they wrote the headline with extraterrestrial readers in mind. Web surfers near Alpha Centauri who might have been concerned that our planet would be destroyed by the solar flares can relax.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Idiot dieting consumers

One of my favorite topics is the stupidity of the American public, especially as it relates to diet and exercise. Gregg Easterbrook has a great post this morning about Dr. Phil's new line of weight-loss foods. I've always wanted to sit on my ass and eat Milky Way bars and wait for the pounds to melt away. Apparently, if I eat Dr. Phil's Shape Up! bars, I get the same effect. Thanks, Dr. Phil!

Also, Ruben Bolling's Tom the Dancing Bug covered the plight of the obese American in his typical fashion last week.

Diet AND exercise, people. I can't say it enough. Get off your ass and walk around the block, then eat a salad. With the dressing on the side, for God's sake.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Yankees lose! Tha-a-a-a Yankees lose!

I'm not exactly jumping for joy over here, but New York's going to be infinitely more entertaining for the next few months after the Yankees loss to the Marlins in the World Series. George Steinbrenner is about to lose his mind and fire everyone who works at Yankee Stadium. Torre? Gone. Cashman? Gone. The guy who paints the chalk lines on the field? Gone. Billy Martin's ghost? Pick up line two, George wants you to come back. I can't wait. Hell, this might be my big chance to break into the majors. Big Stein might think that if the Red Sox can get to the ALCS with a 28-year-old GM with a business degree, maybe the Yankees can get to the playoffs with a 30-year-old network analyst and former English major who knows nothing about baseball. My only regret about the Yankees losing the series is that there won't be a ticker tape parade near my office next week. The last one in 2000 was all sorts of fun.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

No more TMQ

Because of his "Kill Bill" rant in his blog, ESPN fired Gregg Easterbrook from his "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" job and removed all his archived columns. I think it's a major overreaction by ESPN to comments that clearly were made in haste and without the benefit of an editor. Possibly they're trying to be oversensitive now, in the wake of Rush Limbaugh's racist comments on their NFL pregame show, but in this case, it's obviously a case of retribution by Michael Eisner for Easterbrook's disparaging comments. Howard Kurtz has some quotes to this effect by Easterbrook's colleagues and friends over at the Washington Post. Even though Easterbrook's blog and his ESPN.com gig aren't related, I can understand to some extent why ESPN took the action it did. My other favorite columnist on Page 2 is Bill Simmons, and he always restrains himself from commenting on his employers or their coverage of sporting events. I wish we could get his insights on ESPN and ABC, but I understand that he's able to keep his gig by keeping his mouth shut. It looks like Easterbrook would have been wise to follow the Sports Guy's lead. But that doesn't excuse ESPN for its knee-jerk reaction, especially in light of his total apology. The man isn't anti-Semitic, and he's paid for his mistake. Let him keep his job, for God's sake.

I've sent a nasty e-mail to the editors at ESPN.com and a message of support to Easterbrook himself. I hope that he can find another home for TMQ; it's been a highlight of my football season for two years now. Where else will I find out about the hottest cheerleaders in the league? Stop me before I e-mail again!

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Tour de Bronx

I spent most of Sunday on the free Tour de Bronx bike ride. I left my apartment at 8:30 AM to meet up with some other cyclists riding from Central Park to the start. When we got there, it was chilly and cloudy but dry. Around 10 a cold rain fell and threatened to call off the ride, or at least started to convince me to go home and get back into bed. But I ate a massive cheeseburger and fries for dinner on Saturday, and I wasn't about to go back without working that off. When the rain eased at 10:30 the organizers started the ride, and a sodden crowd of riders went forth. Except for being wet for about half the ride, I enjoyed myself. It was tougher than the last time I rode it, in 2001. About half the route followed the TA Century route through the Bronx, so I was familiar with the streets. There were more hills on this route than there were the last time, including the Riverdale hills that are a part of the TA Century as well. The annoying aspect of the ride was the constant police presence. I don't mind having the police around; at one point I saw a woman who'd had a nasty fall, and another rider flagged down a passing cop about two minutes later. But the police formed a cordon or "safety cell" around the ride, so there were frequent stops where they held the riders while closing the streets ahead of the group. It was only a 40-mile ride, which I could have covered in about four hours, but with the holdups it took me about 4 1/2 hours instead. Still, the sun came out in the afternoon, and there were some tasty snacks at the rest stops. I didn't mind all the hills, even the long climb to Poe Park at the end, but my legs will be hurting tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2003

The Sports Guy on last night's Yankees-Red Sox game

As I was watching last night's game, at some point in the eighth inning I said to Liz, "The Sports Guy must be losing his mind right about now." Sure enough, he was: Paradise lost, again. I'm not a fan of either team in last night's game, but I definitely know how he feels. This part of his column describes how I feel about the Pittsburgh Steelers, and sometimes the Pirates and Penguins:

"Hey, this is my team. I came to grips with that a long time ago. They're part of my life. Sometimes they lift me to a higher place. Sometimes they punch me in the stomach and leave me for dead. There's no rhyme or reason. And there are thousands and thousands of diehards just like me, all trapped in that same bad marriage, united by our experiences and memories."

Every year, when the Steelers lose in the playoffs, or don't even get there, I swear it's the last year I'm going to root for them. Liz gets mad at me when I change the channel when they're losing. But I always change the channel back, and I always come back to them every autumn. They're my team, and I can't stay mad at them for long. I'm still bitter about the Pirates losing game 7 of the 1992 NLCS to the Braves (they've never recovered from that one), but every spring, I follow the team hoping that this year they'll find some magic and get to the playoffs. The Penguins won a few championships when I wasn't a big hockey fan, but I still keep the faith that they'll get another one soon. When they've played marathon playoff games and lost, it hurts in that numb way that only a loss by your team can. So I know exactly what it feels like for Bill Simmons to watch his team lose again to a hated rival in the biggest game of the season. There's always next year, but the pain of losses like this lingers for a long time.

And he's right: FOX's baseball ratings are about to go straight into the toilet. A Cubs-Red Sox series would have been a ratings Goliath, but Yankees-Marlins only excites people here in New York, a handful of die-hard fans in Florida, and no one else. I think it will go to the Yankees in six games, which means that we'll have another ticker tape parade up Broadway in about ten days. But I won't be watching the games to see how it happens.

Easterbrook's apology

In Monday's entry in Easterblogg, Gregg Easterbrook attacked the new movie Kill Bill for a number of reasons you can read if you scroll down on the link above. At the end of the piece, he suggested that the Miramax and Disney executives who approved the movie should have reconsidered doing so because they are Jewish and should have had a better sensitivity to violence in all forms. That didn't offend me, but his next statement about the worship of money by these Jewish moguls did bother me. However, it must not have offended me too much, because I didn't fire off an angry e-mail to Easterbrook or resolve never to read his blog or his ESPN.com TMQ column again. I thought instead that this statement must have been a poor choice of words and gave him the benefit of the doubt. Today, that generosity has been rewarded: he agrees with his critics that what he wrote was poorly worded, and he's issued an apology.

I love reading Easterbrook's writing. He's interesting, funny in a dry way, exceedingly intelligent, and I even enjoy his forays into political and economic topics that I don't usually follow. I'm glad that he came back to this item and confirmed what I already assumed: he's not anti-Semitic, just a writer who doesn't always edit himself carefully enough. And I can go back to reading his posts without feeling any guilt (except when I'm avoiding work).

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Beatallica

This made my day. For best results, read the lyrics while listening to the songs. The artists have altered the Lennon/McCartney originals in ways that I think will amuse you.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Anna Kournikova - professional TV awards presenter

ESPN.com has this story about Anna Kournikova considering retirement from tennis and moving into a career in acting and TV awards shows. I didn't realize that it was possible for someone to list "TV awards presenter" on their resume as a profession. I think that's the domain of people who end up being "famous for being famous," who are still well-known by the public long after whatever they did to become famous is forgotten. Considering how Kournikova's tennis career and professional life to this point has been something of a sideshow, maybe cashing in on her fame by becoming a celebrity gadabout is her best option. Ten years from now, we'll just think of her as a hot Russian bimbo without remembering her as the onetime joke of the womens' tennis circuit.

Monday, October 13, 2003

new pictures available

I've just posted some pictures from this weekend's Georgetown Theatre Alumni events. The truly embarrassing photos are still on my hard drive, but the family-friendly ones are available from the photo link on the left.

Liz and I had a great time visiting with old friends and making new ones this weekend. The main event was at the Yale Club near Grand Central Station, and it was much more than I expected. We had drinks in the Tap Room and dinner in one of the ballrooms, where there were portraits of Bill Clinton, George Bush the elder, and Gerald Ford on the walls (I took a few shots of the Clinton portrait). We dined, drank, and danced the night away, and then adjourned to the W Hotel on Lexington Avenue for more general carousing. Sunday was a little difficult, as Liz and I are no longer as used to hangovers as we once were. I made it to brunch with some friends, but she opted to stay in and recuperate. On Monday it's back to our normal boring lives.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

More fun with Neal Stephenson

Some links for fans:

Neal Stephenson's web site, with links to many other places.

Quicksilver annotation web site

Interview with Mr. Stephenson, with links to commentary on Quicksilver and links to reviews.

In the Beginning was
the Command Line
, available for you to download and read at your leisure. I'm sure Mr. Stephenson and his publisher would appreciate it if you bought the paperback edition of the same text, but why do that when you can print it and make your own book? Design your own cover! Get creative! By the way, on his web site (linked above), Stephenson admits that the book is out-of-date and could use a revision. He's been working on the Mac OS for years, on which he'd have no trouble using emacs to write and edit text. James, I'm sorry I didn't mention that emacs is an open-source text editor that runs on a variety of platforms, including but not limited to Linux, Unix, BSD, the Mac OS, and even Windows. I'm a vi user, if I'm forced to choose one or the other, so I'm not expected to be an emacs expert.


Following up on last week's article about the White House leak scandal, the Washington Post today published this story about Valerie Wilson (aka Valerie Plame). The news outlets I read last week characterized her as more of a desk jockey than James Bond-like spy; however, this article portrays her as just the sort of secret agent you'd expect to find in the movies. I especially like the part about when the agents-in-training at "The Farm" went to see "Spies Like Us" during a break. I loved that movie! Anyway, after reading the article, I'm still confused as to why the administration would want to expose one of its own operatives and compromise untold secure operations. I'm sure that if there is any long-term blowback, the Bush White House will just blame the Clintons, saying that the blown ops were Clinton projects.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Neal Stephenson at Barnes & Noble

Tonight was the author's appearance at the Union Square bookstore. He gave a brief introduction and took questions for about 45 minutes. Nearly all the questions were about his writing process or broad elements of his books, and most elicited interesting responses from Stephenson. There were a few geeky text-based questions, including one about how to pronounce "Qwghlm" to which Stephenson clearly had a well-rehearsed answer. After the Q&A he took his time signing books for the attendees. I opted for the "no inscription" option, so I just have a scrawl on the title page of my new copy of "Quicksilver." I did have the chance to tell him that reading "Cryptonomicon" was the highlight of my summer of 2000, and that I'm looking forward to his new book being the highlight of the upcoming winter. It's going to take me a while to read it. I have several other books I'd like to read at the same time, so I'm not sure yet where I'll fit in 900 pages of historical fiction. I've read the first chapter, and so far, it's great stuff. I have to decide if I want to haul this thing back and forth to the office every day. If I do, I have to dedicate some time at lunch to reading it to make the workout worthwhile.

Friday, October 03, 2003

The Sports Guy's NFL picks for week 5

The Sports Guy always cracks me up, but his picks column this week made me laugh out loud. Look for the Sports Illustrated cover ideas and his updated review of ESPN's "Playmakers."

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Slackware 9.1

Once again, I've changed Linux distros on my test PC at the office. This time, it's back to Slackware and release 9.1 which came out a few days ago. As usual with Slackware, it took me three tries before I got the OS installed properly. The first time, I screwed up the partitions and it didn't boot at all. On the second try I installed LILO to the / partition, forgetting that my previous install of Mandrake 9.x had written GRUB to the master boot record. It took me a few minutes to figure out why the word "GRUB" showed up on the screen at bootup and nothing else. Finally, on the third try, I put LILO on the MBR and everything worked. I like Slackware because it makes me do things the hard way; while I appreciate Red Hat and Mandrake's ease of installation, sometimes I like a distro that forces me to work with text files and learn how the guts of the OS operate. Now I need to find time to play around with the new install and see what it can do that previous Slackware releases couldn't. I've heard rumors that there is an automatic software update tool in the product this time around. My biggest complaint about Slackware 9.0 was that I couldn't easily patch packages or upgrade to newer versions of utilities. I must seek out this mysterious upgrade tool and understand it.

Plugging a leak in the White House

I have to admit that I'm a little confused about this White House leak scandal that's brewing down in DC. Ann Gearhart, in this article in today's Washington Post, helps to figure out why some Bush administration officials thought that the best way to get back at an enemy was to blow his wife's cover. The leak itself doesn't make much sense to me. If the administration was upset at Joseph Wilson's comments about the supposed Iraqi pursuit of nuclear material, how does it benefit the White House to expose his wife as a CIA operative who allegedly worked on the WMD search? Does it discredit her as a secret agent, implying that she didn't do a good enough job of looking for clues? Apparently that wasn't the intent since, according to inside sources, she recommended her husband for the fact-finding trip to Niger where he couldn't find any evidence that Saddam Hussein sought African uranium for his nuclear arsenal. But it still doesn't make any sense to me to try to hurt him by leaking her name. Clearly, whatever the administration's intent was, it's backfired now. Not only have they ruined the career of an agent and done untold damage to CIA operations, they've got egg all over their faces as a result. Well done.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Frogs Marching

This story in the Washington Post made me laugh. It must be the mental image of someone being forced by other, ostensibly larger, stronger people, to move along to a place they don't want to go. I had forgotten that the expression even turned up in the first Harry Potter novel. Apparently it could wind up in the OED as well now.

Monday, September 29, 2003

The Return of the King trailer is now online

Go, watch, and weep at the beauty and magnificence of the last movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If it doesn't win Best Picture, there is no God.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

The World Outside the Web - Neal Stephenson's new book upends geek chic. By Paul Boutin

Neal Stephenson's latest book, Quicksilver, is out. My friend James told me about this review on Slate.com which is quite complimentary. I got through Cryptonomicon's 900+ pages without any lasting damage, so I think I can handle this latest tome. James also tells me that Mr. Stephenson will be appearing at a Manhattan Barnes & Noble in October to sign copies of the book. Date and time, please? You know I'm there. And I never go to book signings.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

By the way, the Nokia 3595 has turned out to be a champ. No dropped calls so far, and I've found excellent network coverage here and in the Baltimore/DC/VA area. Even the funky keypad doesn't annoy me. It's a keeper, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's looking for a cheap GSM phone from AT&T.

If you liked "Badgers," you'll love "Scampi"

Gene Weingarten's chat produced this link this afternoon. I think this one is even better than "Badgers," though the song isn't as catchy.

I wish I'd been in on the chat, with all the references to bad baby names. My afternoon radio show of choice, Drake and Zeke on Rock 103 in Memphis, have featured a different bad baby name every day for years. Some of them are astounding, others dumb, most of them just plain funny. Apparently it's too much trouble to use normal names anymore. Though things can go too far the other way. One of my standard jokes at Georgetown was that if you were trying to get into a keg party and someone challenged you at the door to name one of the house's residents, you stood a good chance of guessing correctly if you said Dave or Jen.


Sunday, September 21, 2003

More power to me

Since my last message, I've been at my dad's house in Bowie without power. We had just hooked up his new computer and his cable modem+wireless network when the power flickered for the last time and went out. I'd been able to surf at high speed for about 30 seconds total before everything went off. The neighbors across the main road from his house never lost power, and the neighbors directly across his street got their power back Friday afternoon, but as of 1 PM Saturday, my dad's side of the street was still dark. As much as I enjoyed visiting with him and my stepmother, tonight I'm at my brother's apartment in Baltimore, where he's had power the entire time. On Sunday I'll be out in Virginia with some friends who also have power and whom I'd hoped to see earlier in the week had Isabel not screwed up my entire plan. I've got some good pictures of the non-flooded areas of Baltimore that I'll upload sometime, probably Monday afternoon when I'm back in NYC.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

My plans to visit friends and finally tour the Holocaust museum are on hold now, as the governments and businesses of the DC area and the Metro system are shut down for Thursday and presumably Friday as well. I have no idea if I'll get to see anyone while I'm here, aside from my family. I'm already sick of the storm coverage. They've hyped Isabel to the point that if it isn't an earth-shattering cataclysm of a storm, people will be disappointed. They're all going to be at home, waiting to be impressed, and if all we get is some rain and a little wind, people will complain about the time and money lost. OTOH, if it flattens everything in its path, I'll feel better being stuck out here in Bowie instead of being caught downtown out in the open. Maybe I'll get out to Virginia on Sunday to see some people. Who knows? Virginia as we know it may not be there by Friday morning.

Since my father hasn't gotten his cable modem installed yet, I've been reduced back to dial-up. I hate "narrowband" Internet access.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

I've gone back to school

I'm back at Georgetown University today, the first stop on my five-day vacation trip to DC. After a dull early-morning bus ride here, I hauled my luggage across campus to my father's office in St. Mary's. Those of you who lived there once would not recognize the halls -- they've gutted and renovated it into an entirely new office space. My dad gets a cubicle at one end of the 4th floor, where the ceiling is mostly exposed concrete and steel beams. I had a bacon cheeseburger at the Tombs for lunch and then I checked out the new addition to campus, the southwest quad. I took some pictures that will be online as soon as I can get them uploaded to the laptop. It looks good from the outside, and architecturally fits in with New South and Village C. I couldn't get inside, of course, so I can't speak for what the dorm rooms themselves look like, but it's a quiet corner of campus with a brand-new two-level dining hall. Apparently the students walk up Tondorf Drive (the road behind Harbin and Village C) to classes on the upper part of campus, instead of climbing the Village C steps and walking through Red Square. And they trip on the stairs in the cafeteria while carrying their food from one level to the other looking for friends. Now I'm sitting in the Leavey Center lounge surfing wirelessly on the campus network, which is blessedly open to the public. My firewall "shields" are up, however; there's no telling what manner of worms and viruses are buzzing around me. Speaking of which, MSNBC is reporting that another Blaster-like worm is about to spread. Just in time to foul stuff up with a hurricane coming. This should be a fun couple of days.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Gadgets to drool over

This article over at MSNBC.com explains why none of the cool stuff is out on the show floor at TECHXNY/PC Expo. Apparently the top manufacturers show their new toys to the press in closed evening events, and the public can't attend. I wouldn't be surprised if there's only one tech show in New York next year, and I'd be even more surprised if it were worth attending, even for free. For all my troubles today, I have magazines, a hat, and some sore legs. I would have liked one of those Siemens phones at the top of the page, though.

My old cell phone is dying (though it's been behaving for a few days) so I broke down and bought a new one at an AT&T store today. I got the Nokia 3595 mostly because it was free after a rebate. It's a GSM/GPRS phone, so I'm expecting to have some issues with the network now, but I'm hoping it will be a good choice. TDMA is on the way out, and GSM is the wave of the future. I'm on the hook with AT&T for another two years now, but I don't have any complaints about their service or the network so far. My old phone was the Nokia 3360, and the only reason I bought that one was for the infrared function that I never used. It cost me $30 and withstood almost two years of moderate use, so if the 3595 lasts as long, it'll be a good choice.
I'm coming to you live from PC Expo at the Javits Center, and you're not missing anything. This show gets smaller every year. Hardly anyone brought any hardware to the show, and the biggest crowds are at AMD's booth where they're giving away coffee and at a DLT booth with free popcorn. I'm writing this from the Olympus booth while watching a camera demo and borrowing Internet access from HP's booth next door. As usual, the best freebies are from the magazine racks out front. I've got plenty of reading material for my bus trip tomorrow. It's just sad that the vendor turnout and hardware selection is so sparse. This industry desperately needs an economic upswing.

And you thought your job was bad

Popular science has posted their list of The Worst Jobs in Science. The jobs themselves are terrible, disgusting, and just plain boring in some cases, but while you enjoy the descriptions, don't miss the icons that conveniently code the jobs for you. Where else would you find astronaut, barnyard masturbator, and stool sample analyzer on the same list?

Monday, September 15, 2003

This is how I spend my vacation?!

I am trying to figure out some formatting for the blog itself. I'm not ready to abandon this template entirely, so I'm just playing around with the links and trying to eliminate some of the whitespace at the top. The "what's Phil listening to" section is gone, since I've stopped using WinAmp in favor of the Quintessential Music Player and I haven't looked for a BlogAmp plug-in for it yet. The real problem is that I don't remember many of the tricks I learned back in the early days of HTML coding. Once upon a time, I designed web pages for a living, until it became the domain of people with visual arts skills instead of hard-core coders like myself. Futzing with Blogger templates involves much HTML manipulation, and I just don't have the time or inclination to worry about it. In the end, I'll probably just dump the template and use a new one.

Friday, September 12, 2003

ESPN.com - Page2 - The best time of your life

The Sports Guy's latest column is up on ESPN's Page 2, entitled "The best time of your life." He spent much more time playing dorm games his freshman year than I did, but it still brought back lots of memories. My freshman buddies and I played dorm room horse with a closet-mounted plastic hoop and foam ball, played catch in the hallways, and generally made fools of ourselves. The lacrosse players on my floor were far more destructive, and I vaguely remember some sort of contest involving cafeteria brownies and the hallway wall, ending with a chocolate mess of frosting and crumbs. Back then, it wasn't a good weekend for them unless it ended with the lounge locked up until they cleaned up the mess.

Those were the days.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

I'm sitting in on Gene Weingarten's weekly chat on the Washington Post web site, and someone posted this link about badgers. I'm not sure what it's about, but it's funny in a stupid way. I'll be hearing the "mushroom, mushroom!" bit in my head the rest of the day.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Today was my fourth New York City Century bike ride. It was my second time riding the full 100 miles, and this year went much better than last year's 12-hour debacle that ended at dusk as two weary riders (James and myself) straggled into Central Park to find the organizers packing up all the food and supplies. This year, I started at 6:20 AM from the park, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge just after sunrise (the sun on the bridge and Lower Manhattan may have been the most beautiful thing I saw all day), and got to the first rest stop at Prospect Park by 7:30. Last year, James and I started an hour later, took our time all day, and paid for it with our late finish. This time, I covered the 20-mile distances between rest stops in about 1 1/2 hours each. I got to Canarsie Pier at 9:10, Alley Pond Park at 11:20, and Astoria Park at 1:10. It took me about an hour and 45 minutes to get to Van Cortlandt Park from Astoria, only 17 miles away, but that time was lengthened because of the slow crossing of the Triborough Bridge. Climbing and descending the bridge path's stairs and negotiating the narrow path took about 30 minutes, but it was a good relaxing start to that leg of the ride. Last year, the route in the Bronx was longer, so leaving the Van Cortlandt Park rest stop we had 20 miles of bike paths and steep hills before we got back to Manhattan and a long coasting descent on Riverside Drive. This year, the organizers wisely eliminated about 9 miles of bike paths and changed the exit from the park so that we went straight to the Riverdale hills. After 90 miles, the hills weren't much fun, but they weren't as difficult as I remembered them from last year. My ride ended with a long coast down the east side of Manhattan, on the newly reopened Harlem River Greenway. When I pulled into Central Park at 5:05 PM (total ride time, including rests, was 10 hours 45 minutes) I had hoped that triumphant fanfares would play along 110th St. Unfortunately, the orchestra wasn't there, so I had to settle for music in my head instead. I hung around the finish for about 40 minutes, chatting with a few people I knew and enjoying a few more snacks. Eventually I realized that all good things must end, and I went home just before 6 PM.

Now my legs hurt, my ass is sore, and I'm sure I'll feel like crap tomorrow. But right now I'm still on an endorphin high that won't quit. I can't wait for next year's Century, and I'm seriously thinking about some long rides on Long Island in October. I'm definitely in for the Tour de Bronx this year; I had a great time on that ride two years ago.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Let's try using a title!

If I took the time to use all the Blogger features, this could be one heck of a blog. This time, I'm trying titles.
I've changed the domain pointer of www.fiveguysproductions.com to point to this blog, instead of my primary home page. There's not much there worth looking at anymore, and this is the page I want people to see. Now I need to fix my template to use the old link and put a link to my Webshots page on the side as well. Why am I writing this? Because I feel a need to update with only the most mundane information possible.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

My friend Jessica has started her own blog. It's much more interesting than this one. Check it out, and tell her I sent you. Then tell me, because I'd love to know that someone other than me reads this thing.

Monday, September 01, 2003

This week's New Yorker has an article on the past, present, and future of New York City's water supply. In case I didn't have anything else to worry about (finances, blackouts, terrorist attacks), now I can add the water supply to my list. The two main water tunnels are so old and decrepit that they may be leaking or ready to break, but the shutoff mechanisms are so old there's no way to shut them off to check them. City water officials are afraid that if they shut off the supply to check the tunnels for leaks, they won't be able to open the tunnels again. And any sort of break or serious damage to either tunnel would mean that most of the city would be without water for several years. Yes, that's years, not days or a week or two. There's a third tunnel under construction, with modern valves and cutoffs, but it won't be ready until 2020 at the earliest. On the bright side, I was fascinated as always by the subterranean design of this city. There's almost as much complexity below ground as there is above it. And I think that it would be difficult for terrorists to damage something that far underground. I'll use my worrying energy to focus on more blackouts, subway disasters, and other airline-related incidents.

Last night we enjoyed Memphis' best barbeque for dinner. We had ribs, pulled pork, chicken, and baked beans from Corky's, via the magic of mail order. I supplied corn salad, and our friends who did most of the cooking also made macaroni and cheese and biscuits. And we had Corky's fudge pie for dessert. I ate way too much but it was impossible to hold back. Today we're taking it easy. It's raining, so I doubt we'll even go out for groceries. And it wouldn't feel like Monday if I didn't spend most of my day in front of the computer.

Friday, August 29, 2003

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

With Mars at its closest to Earth in hundreds of years, a renewed interest in astronomy led me to Celestia, free software that lets you explore hundreds of stars, planets, asteroids, and more. My favorite feature is the "go to" button that takes you on a trip to your heavenly destination, flying at many times the speed of light to get there. My only regret is that I live in stargazing-unfriendly Manhattan, and that even if the lights were turned off again (please, no more blackouts!), there are still too many tall buildings between me and the western horizon for me to be able to see Mars. I missed Halley's Comet in 1986, so this one is no big tragedy for me. (That time, it was my own ineptness: I looked for several weeks, but either I was looking in the wrong part of the sky or the moon obscured it, because I never did see that comet. Thanks a lot, Odyssey Magazine.)

Fans of The Daily Show will recognize the characters at this web site from a recent re-airing of a Mo Rocca interview. Don't miss the "about" page with the complete display of posters in the ad campaign. My favorite is "Transmission." I can't believe these posters are actually visible around San Francisco, or that people thought that the campaign would be effective. I look forward to the cartoons featuring the characters in the posters. I'd say more but I like to keep this blog PG-13 so you'll have to click on the link to learn more.

Monday, August 25, 2003

On Wednesday we got our PVR cable box from Time Warner. It hasn't changed our lives yet, but we're getting there. So far we've recorded episodes of the Simpsons, Futurama, some soaps, and a few of the Adult Swim shows on Cartoon Network. I love the ability to pause and rewind live TV programs whenever I miss a line of dialogue or action. And the best part is the price: $7.95 on top of the digital cable charges, no equipment fees. So instead of buying a TiVo and figuring out how to wire it into my system, I got a box from Time Warner that does almost all of the same functions, for much less money. The only thing it doesn't do is let you record any program featuring any actor or genre you like. But I can live without the collected works of William Shatner collecting on my box's hard drive.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Now that the power is back (for now? I hope it stays on!), I thought you might want to hear what happened to me, and later, us.

Yesterday afternoon, I was at my desk, enjoying a frappuccino from the Starbucks in my building's lobby, when the overhead lights went out. The computers and lights in our cubicles stayed on, so at first we thought someone had just turned off the lights in the computer room (there are light switches for our office outside in the computer room itself). Then I noticed that the large A/C units in the room were off as well. Our desks, PCs, and servers are all on a large battery backup system, that's why they stayed on. Maybe it was just our room, I thought. No, the rest of the floor was off too. Then came the announcement from the building management that the power was off in the entire building. Immediately, I packed up my laptop and grabbed my cell phone and Blackberry off my desk. If we were about to evacuate, I wanted to have everything with me. I was also thanking God that I hadn't waited a few more minutes to get my coffee, or else I could have been stuck in the elevator.

Then my boss told us to start shutting off the file servers gracefully, so that the battery system could stay up longer. For the next two hours, we shut down servers, figured out what we wanted to leave running as long as possible, and I watched the local news over the Internet. Our Internet connections and firewalls were still up, so as long as I didn't have anything important to do, I relayed news to others. The biggest debate was between marketing people and our web site management group, about what message to put on the firm web site and how to get it there.

Finally, around 6:15, my boss announced that we had done all we could and that we were leaving. We raided the cafeteria for water and snacks: I took a few bananas, some almonds, and water bottles. One guy loaded up his duffel bag with all sorts of junk before my boss told him to stop. Damn looters. :) We walked down to the 19th floor where someone offered us a ride on the freight elevator the rest of the way. The elevator got us to the 5th floor and stopped there, so we walked the rest of the way down.

So it was about 6:30 when I set off with David, who lives at 1st and 64th, about 24 blocks south of me, and Hazem, who was the looter I mentioned before. In addition to the food, he also carried his laptop and his smelly gym clothes in his bag. I kept cursing myself for hauling my own laptop with me, but guess what I'm e-mailing you from now? Anyway, we walked up Broadway to City Hall, then went up Center Street past the courthouses, to Lafayette Street, to Fourth Avenue, to Park Avenue at 14th Street. Along the way we kept trying to call our wives on our cell phones, to no avail. Hazem's Blackberry/cell phone combo device died on him, so he kept stopping to find paper clips or other pointy objects with which to poke its tiny "reset" switch. We passed a massive crowd heading for the Brooklyn Bridge, lots of people walking in both directions, and all sorts of signs of New Yorkers helping each other out. One mission near Canal Street moved its food service outside and gave dinner to anyone who wanted it. Lines at payphones and sidewalk vendors were orderly, and the bars were crowded with people who either gave up walking home or lived in the area.

Around 14th St. Hazem stopped at a payphone to try and call his cell phone provider for help. David and I left him there; David said he was slowing us down with his huge bag. At 23rd St. we turned and headed east to 1st Avenue. By now the sidewalk traffic was mostly moving north and the car traffic was severely backed up, with everyone trying to get to the Queensboro Bridge to Queens or further uptown. At a few intersections, regular folks helped the cops direct traffic. Past the Bridge at 60th Street the car traffic almost disappeared, and with no streetlights, it was extremely dark. But there were still plenty of people on the streets, and most of the restaurants were open by candlelight, so we were able to find our way. David went home and I was on my own for the last 25 blocks. My pocket flashlight showed me the way, especially up the dark stairs to my apartment. Liz was just fine when I got there, though she was a little scared and a lot lonely, with just the cats for company. I got home at 9:10, about 2 hours and 45 minutes after I left my office. Today, my legs and back are sore, but not excessively so. I may forego a big bike ride this weekend, though.

We spent the rest of the evening trying to keep cool and listening to the party outside in front of the bar downstairs. Around 11:30, for me much earlier than usual, we blew out the only candle we had and went to bed.

Partly because of the heat, and because of the situation, I slept for a long time, but I kept dreaming of the power coming back on when we woke up. Unfortunately, it wasn't. We took cold showers and ate energy bars for breakfast, not daring to open the fridge to see how the food was doing. About 11:30 we ventured out. While lots of businesses were closed, many others were open, including grocery stores and delis. Heading south down Lexington Avenue, we were about to turn and head for Central Park when I noticed that the stoplights were on a few blocks down. Around 75th Street, the power was on, so we stopped in a store to get an extra flashlight, another candle, and a transistor radio. For me, the worst part of the situation wasn't the lack of power, it was the lack of communication. The last news reports I'd heard were at 6 PM the night before, and waking up I had no idea if the power problems were getting better or worse. We found a pizza restaurant on 2nd Avenue that was serving everything but pizza, so we had lunch there. (Apparently the pizza oven chefs hadn't made it to Manhattan yet.) After lunch, finding no other place with power and room for us to sit down, we went home, around 2:30 PM. We still had no power, so we napped, listened to news reports, and read. Finally, a few minutes before 6 PM, I heard a few beeps and buzzes, and saw the LED panels on our electronics light up. On the street, people cheered and cars honked as lights went on in the restaurants and stores.

Life will get back to normal in short order. Unless I hear otherwise, I'm supposed to be at work tomorrow morning at 7 AM to turn the computers back on. Hopefully I won't be there long and I can try to enjoy the rest of the weekend. Our cell phones are working again, but circuits are still busy. If you left me a message, I'll check it when I can.

Friday, August 08, 2003

The new Led Zeppelin album is incredible. It sounds like Zep is playing a concert at my desk. I loved the BBC Sessions album from a few years back; I think I've found its replacement in my CD/MP3 rotation.

On the return flight from Frankfurt I watched "Down With Love" which was a charming romantic comedy, and a few minutes of the end of "X2." Then, to keep my good mood going, I broke out the laptop and watched the director's cut of "Almost Famous." That's still one of my favorite movies of all time, and it always makes me smile and cry at the same time. Yes, I admit I get a little broken up watching it. Maybe the plane was dusty. This time around, I really liked the kid from "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared" who plays the rabid Zeppelin fan. I hadn't noticed before, but he's wearing a shirt that reads "To be a rock and not the road" on the front and "Have you seen the bridge?" on the back. How Zep-fan geeky is that? I want that shirt.

Monday, August 04, 2003

We spent all day Sunday in the office working, finishing up the bits of work we didn't do on Saturday. By 7 PM we were all done, so we went to a restaurant on the other side of the river for dinner. It's been extremely hot here for the past few days, and though our table was inside, the restaurant had large doors to the patio wide open and our table was just inside the door. So we sweated through a delicious meal. I had sea bass over orange-ginger risotto and a raspberry mousse with mango ice cream for dessert. I enjoyed playing "name that tune" while listening to the pianist: he played continuously for about 45 minutes at a time, with everything from old jazz standards to Gershwin to "Strangers in Paradise" to Paul Simon's "The Boxer."

I'm back in the office again today, but there's not too much for me to do. At lunch I'm planning to buy some chocolate to take home, and I might take the tourist elevator to the top of the Main Tower to take some pictures. I uploaded a few more pictures last night, and I'll put more up today.

They have all these little cars here that look like go-karts or bumper cars. I can't believe how popular they are. The "SMART" car looks small enough that I could drive it into my hotel room and pack it in my carry-on bag. There's a sports car convertible version that looks slightly better, but I don't think I'd buy one. The "KA" is just ugly. There are few SUVs on the roads; in fact, I'm not sure I've seen one, but my colleague here says that he has seen a BMW version. There's nothing like the Lincoln Navigator or Ford Excursion here. But they do have plenty of bikes. There are on-street bike lanes, and on the busy streets, bikes share the sidewalk with pedestrians. I keep expecting to be run over by a cyclist, but they go slowly enough that there aren't any accidents. There are also these rent-a-bikes parked every so often on the sidewalks. You use your cell phone (also called "handy" over here) to call the number printed on the bike (or or send an SMS message, we're not sure), and give them the serial number printed on the bike lock. You get an unlock code in response, and the bike is yours for however long you need it. When you're done, you lock it up again, and I suppose you call back to let them know where you left it. The charges could go to your credit card, but I bet they put them on your cell phone bill. Anyway, pictures of some of the cars and the bike should be available at my Webshots URL (see below) by the time you read this.

I'm ready to go home. I like traveling, but I want to sleep in my own bed again and do my own cooking. Besides, the relaxed schedule of the office here and the convenience of staying in a hotel less than five minutes from the office is too soft. It doesn't feel like I'm actually working while I'm here. And all the rich food is undoing the good work I've put in on my bike and in the gym. Getting back to New York will put my whole system back in order, and I'm looking forward to that. And, of course, I miss Liz and the cats. They're the best reason for wanting to go home.