Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Pillagers Win!

NEW YORK -- The Yorkville Pillagers won the 2004 championship of the Five Guys From A House fantasy football league last night. Led by Peyton Manning, the scrappy squad of running backs-by-committee and free agent wide receiver pickups defeated the 49sters by a final score of 88.03-86.61. Going into the playoffs, Yorkville had a four-game winning streak. A 10-4 regular-season record gave the Pillagers the second seed, and in their first playoff game they defeated the Voracious Vegans 86-74 with big days from Detroit WR Roy Williams and Oakland WR Jerry Porter. In the championship game, Brett Favre's 3 touchdowns and 385 yards passing staked the 49sters to an early 31-point lead, but the Pillagers stormed back with 18 points from Steve Christie and a late 20 points from Manning. New England WR Deion Branch and Buffalo rookie Shaud Williams added 11.6 and 10.6 points, respectively. But the outcome of the game was in doubt until the announcement Monday evening that 49sters and Philadelphia RB Brian Westbrook was inactive for the Monday night game vs. St. Louis. Without the opportunity to pick up any more points from Westbrook, the game was over for the 49sters and the Pillagers' victory, though narrow, was assured. The win set off a minor celebration of cheering and dancing at the team's headquarters on Manhattan's
Upper East Side. This is the first championship in the team's three-year history. The Pillagers played their first season in Greenwich Village before moving to Yorkville in 2003.

I've been playing fantasy football for three years, and I didn't ever expect to win a title, let alone in my third year. I have Peyton Manning and his touchdown-filled season to thank for my success; without him, I'd have been relegated to another middling finish out of the playoff hunt. I really enjoyed this season, and not just because I won the whole thing. In past years I micromanaged my teams all year: scouring many websites for advice and player rankings, looking for any edge I could find, trading players with fellow league owners out of desperation. This year I only made a few trades and kept most of my players all season. I only micromanaged the team in the playoffs when it really mattered. Since we don't run a "keepers" league, I won't know until next season's draft whether I get Manning again, and even if I do, there's no guarantee that he'll have as good a season as he had this year. In any case, I need to do a better job of acquiring top-tier running backs; without one, I had to rely on Manning for the bulk of my points and hope that my committee RBs and WRs could make up the rest. The strategy worked this year, but in past years it's been a struggle. But right now I'm going to sit back and enjoy the championship.

[Cue Queen's "We Are The Champions"]

Thursday, December 23, 2004

New pictures of Hunter are available

I just uploaded some pictures we took last Wednesday of Todd, Kitten, and Hunter, just before their move to Pittsburgh. I'm especially fond of the last one, where I'm holding Hunter and he looks scared to death that I'm either going to run off with him or drop him. Just hit up the photos link on the right side of the page. You know the one.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Best birthday ever? Could be

Ten years ago, on December 20, 1994, I had what might have been my worst birthday ever. I was a junior at Georgetown, finished with finals, just hanging around campus waiting to go home for the holidays. I was in a terrible frame of mind due to a bad breakup a few weeks earlier. I spent part of the day in my living room, making a mix tape of bitter, angry songs that expressed my thoughts on love at the time (it sucks!) and kept me in a foul mood. Liz (who was not my girlfriend yet) had planned to spend the evening bar hopping with me, but her parents had arrived that day to take her back to Starkville so the four of us just had dinner before they left later that night. Instead of spending my 21st birthday enjoying a drink at a bar with my friends, I bought a six-pack at a deli, drank it at home with a friend, then tried to get into a strip club. The club would have let me in, but my friend had no ID, so we went to 7-11 and then back home. If that wasn't my worst birthday ever, it's in the top three. The other chief contender is the one when I was a kid and my mom got me a Snoopy trash can for a birthday present.

Today was a much better birthday than 10 years ago. I took the day off, woke up at my usual time and enjoyed my usual morning shows over a leisurely breakfast. I spent the late morning watching some of the special features on my Return of the King EE DVD, including the documentaries on the music, the horses, and Cameron Duncan, a young New Zealand filmmaker who spent time with the cast and crew of the films while dying of cancer. Getting those out of the way leaves only five hours or so of other features to watch (not to mention the hours of extras that I haven't yet watched on the first two EE DVDs, or the four commentary tracks for each film).

After lunch I moved into the office and watched the entire extended edition of ROTK on my computer, so as not to compromise the picture resolution by watching it on my crappy old TV. I took a short break between the two discs to run out for coffee and groceries, but otherwise spent about four hours sitting in a darkened office, wearing headphones for top-quality sound, enjoying the Best Picture of 2004. As ROTK was the best of the trilogy, I think the ROTK EE is the best of the three extended editions. The added material is as seamless as it could be, and I have only the slightest complaints about the way one or two scenes were incorporated. Most of the time I couldn't even remember what I'd seen in the theater and what I was watching for the first time this afternoon. And it never fails: I got misty-eyed just before the Ride of the Rohirrim and at the end when all of Gondor bows to the four hobbits.

I've decided that when I finally get a widescreen, high-definition TV and surround sound audio system, I will inaugurate my new home theater system with a day-long screening of the entire extended edition Lord of the Rings trilogy. I figure I'll need about 14 hours for the whole megillah, factoring in bathroom and snack breaks. Maybe that will be how I celebrate my 35th birthday?

Friday, December 17, 2004

Friends moving away

We have been friends with Todd and Kitten (whose real name is Elizabeth but Liz and I know her by her nickname) for many years. I met Kitten when she came to Georgetown on her spring break from Oberlin to visit Liz, who has known her since middle school in Mississippi. Despite not knowing Kitten at all save for a blurry picture Liz kept in her dorm room, I had to pick her up at Union Station since Liz was at the opera when her train arrived. I met Todd a few years later when they had moved to New York for Kitten's graduate studies at Columbia and we came to NY on our spring break. We visited them here at least once a year before we moved here in 1999. Over the years, we have shared countless movies, plays (mostly off-off-off-Broadway), dinners, birthdays, holidays, and sad days. Liz acknowledges that their presence helped keep us here; without them, we might well have packed it in and moved elsewhere after a year. I could share many stories about good times with them, but there are too many worthy ones to include here. Suffice it to say that they are among our closest friends.

Good times can't last forever though (yet another corollary of the "we can't have fun every night" rule) and after the birth of their son Hunter this past May, they decided that it was time to move on. Todd found a great new job in Pittsburgh (which is much closer to his family in Ohio) and they're moving to the north side near PNC Park. We're sad to see them go, but it's a fantastic opportunity for them. We wish them the best of luck in their new surroundings.

And their move gives us a great reason to go to Pittsburgh next spring and take in a Pirates game.

Strange week

It's been a weird week for me. I've felt out of sorts for the past few days, like I'm coming down with something but without the physical effects of a cold or the flu. I'm not sick, so I'm going to blame external forces.

Monday night was my firm's annual holiday party, held once again in the conference rooms in our building. Liz and I worked it like a machine: first the raw bar room, then the Caribbean food, then the hot food in the cafeteria, then the cheese room, and finally dessert in the cafeteria again. I enjoyed it but for the first time didn't really mind leaving around 9 PM instead of sticking around later to see how drunk my co-workers could get. I must be getting older.

Tuesday saw the release of The Return of the King extended edition on DVD. As with the first two EEs, so far I've only watched bits and pieces of the movie and extras just to see what's there, but I'm impressed once again with what Peter Jackson and his team can do. I'll watch the whole 4+ hours no later than Monday, when I'm taking the day off for my birthday.

On Wednesday night, we had dinner with our friends Todd and Kitten and their son Hunter for the last time in New York. They are moving to Pittsburgh this afternoon. I think they deserve their own post, so more on them later.

Last night was the "Apprentice" finale. I don't pay much attention to the show, but Liz watches it, so I had to watch some of it, mostly the live half of last night's edition. It was just over-the-top ridiculous. I didn't know that many screaming Trump fans existed in New York. And how is it that all the women on both editions of the show could dress so awfully? No one, with the exception of Jen the finalist, had on anything acceptable. Amy from season 1 wore some kind of pink satin suit with fringes on the sleeves. Someone from this season had on a black jacket with gold trim. Jen C. from season 2 had on a pink pinstripe suit. And Omarosa wore what looked like a gray mens' tuxedo jacket with tails over a short skirt with her stomach partially exposed. Just terrible.

Finally, today I had to say my goodbyes to Todd, Kitten, and Hunter, and now I'm listening to Drake and Zeke's final show on Rock 103 in Memphis. I know it's strange that for the past six years I've spent my afternoons listening to the Internet broadcast of an afternoon drive-time show from Memphis, but these two guys have seen me through good times and bad and helped to liven up my day. I first discovered their show when I passed through Memphis on my way to Starkville in May 1998 to get married. When I got back to DC I started listening to their show over the Internet and it quickly became a regular part of my day. As a sometime e-mail contributor to their show I was first "Phil from DC" and later "Phil from New York." I have stopped co-workers in mid-sentence to listen to their "Bad Baby Name of the Day" feature. After 9/11 I e-mailed them to let them know I was OK, as I'd previously told them that I worked near the WTC. They made me laugh when I worked at a crappy job here in New York, indirectly keeping my spirits up. They aren't going away forever, just leaving Rock 103 for parts as yet unknown, possibly a morning show, and I'm hoping that they will pop up on the Internet again soon. My afternoons won't be the same without them.

"Liberry" blog makes the news in NZ

A New Zealand newspaper published an article about blogs a few weeks ago, and my friend Eric's "Tales from the 'Liberry'" blog made the sidebar under "International Blogs" alongside such luminaries as Talking Points Memo, Andrew Sullivan, and Wonkette. Congratulations, Eric!

Monday, December 13, 2004

A Tuba Christmas

On Sunday afternoon, between brunch with friends and the Steelers-Jets game, I went to Rockefeller Center for Tuba Christmas, an annual concert of Christmas carols performed by several hundred tubas and euphoniums (euphonia?). When I arrived at Rock Center at 3:15 PM, the crowd there to see the tree was already so large that I settled for a spot on 49th St. instead of in the plaza itself. I had a partially obscured view of the stage set up at one end of the ice rink, with a tree and giant toy soldier in my line of sight. But I was able to see row after row of Sousaphones file onto the stage, followed by many tubas and finally at least a hundred euphoniums on the ice rink itself. According to the emcee, who I could barely hear because of the speaker placement, the group had performers from as far away as Los Angeles and Germany, and ranged in ages from 10 to 80. They played for about 30-35 minutes, during which we heard many traditional carols and a few more classical pieces. My father had attended a Tuba Christmas at the Kennedy Center several years ago, and he told me at the time that it was the strangest thing to hear all those low instruments together. In most of the carol arrangements, the euphoniums played the melody while the tubas and Sousaphones harmonized. But I had to smile every time the tubas got the melody. I've never heard anything quite like all those tubas playing the melody of "Jingle Bells," just to cite one example. Despite the crush of the crowd and an icy wind in my face, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and am already looking forward to next year's concert.

I'm also preparing to announce my plans for "Viola Arbor Day."

Friday, December 10, 2004

my week in Microsoft training

I've been in a week-long training class in midtown Manhattan for Microsoft Active Directory. I didn't ask to go to training for AD; my boss signed me up for the class along with another Novell network analyst from our firm. All week, my colleague and I have joked/kidded/cursed from the back of the classroom at how everything Active Directory can do can be done quicker, easier, and better with Novell's eDirectory (formerly Novell Directory Services).

[GEEK TALK ALERT] Novell's directory system for network management came out about ten years ago, while AD debuted with Windows 2000 just four years ago. While Novell refined and expanded the scope of its product, Microsoft let its Windows NT domain system languish for years until they had no choice but to come up with a directory system of their own. For those of you who are not network techs, the basic problem with AD is that it is a massive hack to combine the administration of many systems into one big system. And it's far more complicated to deploy and maintain than a comparable management structure from Novell.

[RESUME NORMAL RANT] Aside from the class subject matter, I'm annoyed by plenty of other things this week. The instructor gets distracted and frequently veers off topic onto weird tangents. For example, on Wednesday he talked about the process of upgrading a Windows server from one version to another. He said that in terms of the power of the new OS versus the old, it was like when Bruce Banner became the Hulk. Then he asked why Bruce Banner didn't want to become the Hulk permanently, and I guess the class took up the topic. I went outside to check my e-mail (no Internet access in the classroom, more on that in a minute) and when I came back, the instructor was praising the "Blade" movie trilogy and proudly stating that his six-year-old son recites lines from the movies and has twice dressed up as the character for Halloween. He compared another aspect of the Microsoft networking system to changing planes when flying, and that led to a discussion of travel arrangements to Caribbean nations. It's not bad enough that most of the class material pertains to network problems that I will never see. I have to endure these oddball topics as well.

The other big problem with the training center (Learning Tree at the CBS Building on 52nd St.) is that the classrooms don't have any Internet access. I have been to four different training centers in Manhattan, run by four different companies. The previous three all had some form of Internet access, via the classroom computers or a wireless network for student laptops. I still have a job to do while I'm in training, and while classroom Internet access can be a major distraction, it has been invaluable for me to be able to manage my network and still participate in the class. Learning Tree has no Internet access in the classrooms and only a handful of Internet kiosks in the reception area, all of which are occupied during breaks. Thank God for my Blackberry, or I'd have a complete breakdown with no e-mail either. When I had to leave class early on Tuesday to go downtown to fix a problem at the office (incidentally, one that could not have been fixed remotely via a classroom Internet connection), I considered it a blessing. Learning Tree must have some kind of deal with my IT department, because lately all the training classes have been there. I'll have to find some other place for my next class, because I feel lost and scared without my precious Internet. Friday is the last day, and it will be shortened by a dentist appointment first thing in the morning and an early conclusion in the afternoon. By 4 PM I'll be surfing happily at home or at a Starbucks somewhere, glad to be away from AD hell.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

iPods in school

Manhattan's private Brearley School has instituted an iPod requirement for its language classes. Since the school already uses Macs for classwork, it seems the iPod was the logical choice of hardware for the students to use. Still, like Gothamist, I got along OK with crappy cassette tapes and headphones in high school, and I think part of a language curriculum should be that you have to look like a dork while learning. On the other hand, most of these kids probably had iPods already, and the rest were able to get them at a discount or rent them from the school. I'm not a big iPod fan, but I am the happy owner of a competitor's hard-drive-based music player, and I think it's a good thing that portable hard drives are making inroads in education. First Duke University issues them to freshmen, and now this. I predict that within five years children will be issued 5 TB (terabyte=1000 gigabytes) hard-drive devices that will store music, movies, schoolwork, and a complete copy of their DNA for use in cloning purposes. I'm sure it will still be an iPod: let's face it: even I will admit that Apple, and not another company, will provide these devices for years to come.

I need to go home now. The paint fumes in this office are clearly affecting my judgment. Check back later tonight or tomorrow for a post on what I've been doing all week.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Horns

The expression "throw up the horns" that I used the other day in reference to the VH1 metal countdown refers to this Penny-Arcade
comic from a few months back. And if you like that particular comic, during this holiday season you can show off your faith in both Jesus and Penny-Arcade by wearing the t-shirt.

I just felt like sharing.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

"BroadCatching" is catching on

Engadget posted this How-To on using RSS ("really simple syndication") and BitTorrent to automatically download your favorite TV shows to your PC as a sort of ersatz TiVo. If you have a broadband connection and no TiVo or you have one but missed a particular show, you can set up your PC to look for these shows on various torrent web sites, then download the shows automatically in the background. It's not exactly like a TiVo or a true DVR: you can't pause live TV with this method, and you have to hope that someone else out there is a fan of your show and has gone to the trouble of saving it and making it available for others to download. And it's still unclear if it's entirely legal to do this -- some people argue that this method of sharing TV shows isn't any different than recording them to VHS and giving the tape to a friend. But according to this comment thread on Engadget and this one on PVRblog.com it's illegal in Canada to upload shows when you're not the rightsholder and Paramount is sending out cease & desist letters to broadband users who are sharing their programs, like Enterprise. I tend to think that "broadcatching" falls under the fair use rules the courts have allowed, but I'm sure today's lawyers and courts will see things differently. So try this at your own risk.

I haven't set up any automatic downloads of shows, since I do have a DVR, but I've downloaded a few odd episodes of shows that I forgot to record. And I can see one potential use: catching US TV shows when I'm traveling overseas. Anytime I go away for more than a few days, I come home to hours of TV on my DVR, and I have to catch up on those shows before I can watch the new ones. I don't like to get more than a week behind on any of my regular shows, so I feel pressured to watch all that TV all at once or in a big hurry. I'd love to have the ability to download my shows using my hotel's broadband connection and watch them instead of the outdated American shows you get overseas or, in the case of Tokyo, barely any English-language TV at all. I admit that I watch too much TV as it is, and when I'm traveling I'd rather explore the foreign city than sit in my room watching TV. But if I want to relax after a long workday, I'd much rather see a new episode of a familiar show than an old one of a show I never watch. Broadcatching gives me a DVR-like option when I'm on the road.

VH1's 40 Most Awesomely Bad Metal Songs

VH1 has been running a marathon of countdown shows all weekend, and I just watched their special on "awesomely bad" metal songs. While I disagreed with some of their choices (Guns N' Roses' "Estranged," Queensryche's "Silent Lucidity," and Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" are excellent songs) most of the list made for inspired comedy. The message boards over at vh1.com are aflame with outraged metal fans upset that Riki Rachtman, the onetime host of MTV's "Headbangers Ball" rips on bands he used to ass-kiss every Saturday night and that most of the commentators don't have any musical qualifications, let alone heavy metal credibility. To which I say: so what? VH1 doesn't make these list shows or decade review shows to please fans of the music or the times. They make these shows because they're popular and funny. Making fun of these metal songs and videos is easy and well-deserved in most cases, and while I threw up the horns and rocked out to some of the music, I laughed my ass off for the entire show. If you watched Headbangers Ball back in the day you should absolutely catch this two-hour metal extravaganza when it reruns on Tuesday and Thursday next week. Now I need to listen to a little Metallica to cleanse my musical palate.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Hoopin' it up from the skybox

One of our vendors at work gave us tickets to a skybox at Madison Square Garden for tonight's Preseason NIT championship games. Liz had to work, so I was joined by our friend Todd and my boss, his wife, a few of his relatives and their friends, and the vendor's sales rep for an afternoon of basketball and free beer at the "World's Most Famous Arena." I'd never been in a skybox before, but I knew a little about what to expect. Even so, I was still impressed with the amenities and the service. MSG has a separate entrance for the skyboxes, so we didn't even have to go through security with the rest of the crowd. The suite had its own bathroom, several TVs (one providing the feed from the arena's video screen, the others with regular cable TV), a refrigerator filled with beer and sodas, and a spread of sandwiches, chicken wings, chips, pretzels, and cookies. The box was near the end of the court, so we looked almost directly over one basket and an excellent view of plays at the opposite end. We spent most of the first game talking instead of watching Michigan and Providence, but we thoroughly enjoyed the second game, the championship, matching Wake Forest against Arizona. I'm not sure if it was the holiday or football commitments but none of the four schools brought their pep bands, and only Arizona bothered to send any cheerleaders (four -- two guys and two girls). But there were more fans of the championship game schools than I expected, given that Wake Forest and Arizona are so far from New York. Throughout the game both sets of fans cheered back and forth as Arizona took an early lead and Wake clawed their way back. We were pulling for Wake Forest as my boss and his wife both have North Carolina roots, and though we wavered in our support during the first half, the team came back to take the lead for good with about 10 minutes left in the second half.

Watching a game from a skybox hasn't ruined me for sporting events the way that flying in business class spoiled me for coach, but it is great to have all the free food and drink you could want and no line for the bathroom. There's even a waiter who checks on you periodically and from whom you can order cocktails and more food. Liz had asked me if there would be shrimp, and while there wasn't any when we arrived I'm sure we could have ordered some. It occurred to me that skybox patrons never get the t-shirts, win the contests, or even appear on camera when they show fans in the stands. And with good reason: I can hardly imagine the overwhelming chorus of boos and howls of protest that would ensue if they announced that the person in skybox 1063 with ticket A5 had won a free dinner for two or whatever else they give away with those promotions. It would be like the "Simpsons" episode where Mr. Burns wins a car at a baseball game and the fans show their displeasure by throwing Marge's pretzels onto the field, injuring Whitey Ford. We also noticed that some of the other suites had more seats and possibly better amenities than we had. Next time Todd and I want the MSG suite equivalent to the "Ted Danson plane" that George insists on in the final episode of "Seinfeld." Why should we settle for any old skybox? We want the best they have to offer!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Starkville weekend wrapup

OK, it's a bit late for a weekend recap, but so what? It's my blog. You wanna make something of it? Why don't you come over here and tell me to my face? You throw that beer at me and I'm gonna go thermonuclear on your ass, beeyotch!

Sorry, I channeled Ron Artest and the Clemson-SC football teams for a minute. (And it wasn't funny.) Moving on to my review of our long weekend in Starkville, MS....

We left at the slightly more sane hour of 8 AM on Thursday morning. Typically, when flying out of town, we get the earliest flight available and leave our apartment before the sun is up in England. As predicted, we did in fact check e-mail and do a little web browsing from both LaGuardia and Memphis International Airport. At LaGuardia we stood at a high table outside a Starbucks kiosk and in Memphis we went to another terminal to the only Wi-Fi enabled gate in the airport. Not that there was any major news to track (other than the opening of Clinton's presidential library just across the border in Arkansas) but I was able to keep up with work and my other blogs for a few hours.

We got to Jackson, MS, in the middle of the afternoon where Liz's parents picked us up. We went straight to Corky's to meet Liz's aunt and uncle for an early dinner of pulled pork, brisket, sausage, onion loaf, baked beans, and slaw. That's what I ate, anyway. Corky's is a Memphis-based institution but they're expanding the business across the South, and I for one welcome our new barbeque overlords. After dinner we had a two-hour drive back to Starkville and an evening of “The Apprentice” on NBC. I haven't been watching the show all season and while I found this one episode interesting, it reminded me that I hate reality television and couldn't care less who stole which ad campaign ideas.

On Friday we met Liz's cousin for lunch at Harvey's (a Starkville institution) and I restrained myself by ordering the Tuscan chicken sandwich. Liz's cousin ordered the sandwich of the day: a country-fried steak on grilled sourdough with cheese, lettuce, and tomato. From just the one bite I had I must say it might have been one of the top five sandwiches I've ever tasted. I'm really tempted to try making this one at home, even though it would be but an echo of the glory that was the Harvey's lunchtime creation. I will need to find a good country-fried steak recipe for home use, though. Only for special occasions, of course.

We had dinner on Friday night at Gentry's, a new-ish restaurant just a few doors down from Harvey's. They have excellent steaks, one of which I enjoyed along with some grilled shrimp and their delicious brown bread covered with butter. For dessert we ordered their enormous chocolate cake and a smaller slice of coconut cake. It must have been fraternity or sorority formal night, because Gentry's was filled with well-groomed college students in tuxedos and evening dresses. Once again I was reminded that my college years are well behind me.

In case you hadn't noticed, food was a major aspect of the trip. It always is when we go to Starkville.

On Saturday, we went to the Mississippi State football game vs. Arkansas. Liz's parents have to arrive early to work in the president's box, so we went along early as well to check out the campus scene on game day. Right away we caught the Famous Maroon Band marching from a new amphitheater to the stadium, playing the school's fight song and leading the team to the locker room past cheering fans. We saw plenty of tailgaters (mostly in mobile homes or under makeshift tents instead of in parking lots), but none of them offered us any of their tasty barbeque treats. One group had set up a satellite dish and big-screen TV along with their grill and drinks. Now THAT'S tailgating! The student union and bookstore were busy with State fans loading up on school gear and cowbells. Just before we went into the stadium, we stopped by the MSU bakery for a scoop of homemade chocolate ice cream. Locally-produced foodstuffs is a benefit of a school with its own agriculture program.

About 45 minutes before kickoff we found our seats in Davis-Wade Stadium and got as comfortable as we could given the metal benches underneath us. One of the things I like best about college football is all the pageantry before games, most of which involves the band. The band took the field before the game and played the alma mater, the fight song, the national anthem, spelled out “MSU” and “STATE” to both sides of the field, and then lined up for the mascots and players to run out of the tunnel. Along with the usual guy in a bulldog suit, the school has a real bulldog trained to run out onto the field just before the team comes out. That bulldog was so excited, his trainer could barely hold him back. Throughout all of this activity, the crowd got louder and more anxious until the team came out and the fans went wild. Even pro teams don't get the support that home crowds give to their local college team. That kind of loyalty runs deep. From the way the fans cheered for the Bulldogs, you'd think they were playing for the national championship, instead of just playing out the string in a lousy season.

MSU jumped out to a 14-0 lead on Arkansas, but then the Razorbacks scored 17 unanswered points as they pushed the Bulldogs' defense all over the field. State had a great chance to score just before halftime, but questionable calls by the ref prevented them from getting a play off as the clock wound down. The Razorbacks kept converting third and fourth downs, and when a team does that, it's hard to keep them from scoring at will.

The halftime show was a tribute to America's armed forces. The MSU band played the fight songs for each branch of the military as a member of that branch presented the colors. They played more patriotic music as everyone in the crowd, Liz and I included, waved plastic American flags we were given as we had entered the stadium. I made several remarks about how we must be in a red state to get this kind of display, not that there was anything wrong with it. I don't have anything against our military, just its leadership in Washington, and I loved all the music. Thankfully,they didn't play an arrangement of Lee Greenwood's “God Bless the USA.”

In the second half, MSU again drove down the field, and lined up for a field goal which would have tied the game. But Arkansas blocked the attempt and one of their defenders ran the ball all the way back to make the score 24-14. Arkansas controlled the ball for the rest of the game, and though the Bulldogs did score again to get within three points, they couldn't overcome the mistakes on defense and lost 24-21. They played a tough game and except for a few bad calls and that one kick return might have pulled out a win. Their season finale is this Saturday against archrival Ole Miss in Oxford. Hopefully they can beat up on the Rebels and end the season on a positive note.

We consoled ourselves with a barbeque dinner at Little Dooey's (always mentioned on TV by the ESPN crew when they broadcast from Starkville, and if you were at our wedding you might remember they catered the picnic dinner) and a late showing of “The Incredibles.” The movie was a bit long but extremely funny. The illustrations of the hazards of capes were hysterical. We missed “Saturday Night Live” but caught nearly every replay of the Pistons-Pacers brawl and most of the commentary.

On Sunday we enjoyed a combination early Thanksgiving and early birthday dinner. We had chicken tenders, peas (green and black-eyed), fried okra, stuffing, deviled eggs, macaroni and cheese, and more chocolate cake for dessert. How many great meals can a person have in five days? All of them, apparently.

Yesterday we returned to New York, stopping first in Jackson for lunch at the Cracker Barrel. We will know when the red-staters have taken over the country when someone opens a Cracker Barrel franchise in Manhattan. Until then, Liz and I will have to enjoy their biscuits and gravy when we travel to more rural areas. We got back around 10:30 PM and our cats greeted us at the door. From their level of activity (wrestling, chasing each other around the place) you'd think no one came to see them while we were gone. I guess the cat sitter doesn't get the full performance.

One thing I learned this weekend: I am not yet a caffeine freak. It took me three days to realize that Liz's mother serves decaf coffee. I figured this out after I didn't get the shakes from my two cups in the morning. And because I snooped in the kitchen cabinets. Despite my non-caffeine-addled existence, I was able to function like a normal human being. Maybe it's the combination of coffee and work that makes me jittery. It's good to know that I can switch to decaf and still get along OK. And that when I'm in Starkville, Liz's grandmother drinks the “hi-test” so I can always stop by her house for a pick-up. She's 91, and if her constant caffeine consumption has anything to do with her longevity, I should be around for a long time too.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Going to Mississippi

Liz and I are off to Starkville for a few days to visit her family. We're going to hit all our favorite restaurants, cheer on the Mississippi State Bulldogs at the Arkansas game on Saturday, and celebrate our birthdays and Thanksgiving a little early. I love Mississippi, but I've decided that it's the least-connected state in the Union, after I tried six wi-fi hotspot search sites looking in vain for wireless Internet access in Starkville. There are a few places I can try, including a bagel cafe near our favorite BBQ joint, but even the university's wireless system requires a MSU login ID, which I do not have. Except for the time we spend waiting at the gate tomorrow and maybe one visit to this bagel place, I'll be disconnected for a few days. I will have my Blackberry with me, so I will have e-mail access, and I might try again to blog via e-mail. I can always go back to *shudder* dial-up, if I really need an Internet fix. I will have Neal Stephenson's The System of the World with me so I'll get some great reading done while I'm offline. Anyway, not that this is the world's most active blog, but things will be slow here until next week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

New bill before Senate would outlaw fast-forwarding through commercials

The lame-duck session of Congress has a nasty copyright bill under consideration that would make it illegal to fast-forward through the ads and previews on movie DVDs via hardware or software. So you don't have to worry about the cops busting down your door to break your remote's FFWD button...yet. But It's not much of a stretch to think that if this bill becomes law, sooner rather than later it will be illegal to fast-forward through commercials on your TiVo or DVR. Wired has a less-biased but still informative take on the story, and you can read all the gory details at publicknowledge.org. I don't usually send letters or faxes to my congressional representatives, but this might be a good time to take action. The publicknowledge site has a link to e-mail your rep. There is an excellent chance that if the bill passes its provisions will be tied up in lawsuits for years (like the various Internet indecency laws passed in the 1990s) but why let things get that far?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Al Reynolds had the world's worst bachelor party

The New York Post's Page Six has the story of the Star Jones-Al Reynolds prenup (he's got to stay with her for at least two years before he can get any of her money in a divorce), but what bothered me were the details of his bachelor party last Friday night at the Time Hotel.
First of all, he had 60 guys there. That's not too bad -- you can have a helluva party with that many people. But they had to get naked and wear bathrobes to sit around and drink. Right away I'd be uncomfortable. I wouldn't want to take off any of my clothes around my closest friends, and I'm talking about people I lived with back in college who saw me in various states of undress on many occasions.
Second, the bars at the party were sponsored by two liquor companies and a beer company, so presumably the be-robed partiers were limited to the brands the sponsors provided. That might be OK, but the sponsors were something called Hypnotiq, Remy (which I think is a liqueur, based on the ads I've seen in the subway) and the beer was described as "awful."
Finally, the topless girls arrived just before midnight, but they were "butt-ugly" according to the Page Six spy. Two of them did put on a simulated lesbian sex show, but some guests had had enough by that time and left. Now, I like girl-on-girl action, but not after drinking crappy beer in a bathrobe for two hours with 59 other similarly-attired guys.
The whole night sounds extremely unpleasant. This guy got married in Manhattan, for Jebus' sake! What happened to the old-fashioned hit-every-bar-and-strip club-on-the-island bachelor party? At least Reynolds could have used his bride's money to rent a nightclub for the evening and let his guests keep their clothes on. This fiasco makes my bachelor party (a Wednesday night visit to a Baltimore-area industrial park strip club) sound like a bender in Vegas with the Maloof brothers.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Dancing Citroen Transformer

This ad takes me back to the 1980s, when the Transformers ruled daytime cartoons. I'd like to think that at the end of the day, Optimus Prime and Megatron would get all the Autobots and Decepticons together for a big funky Transformers dance party. If that ever happened, we might have seen something that looked like this ad.

"Orange Alert for nerds," indeed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


I've added a new links section on the right side there for things that aren't blogs or the personal web sites of friends. The first link (and the reason for me to create the new heading) is to a new business that our friend Lynette has just launched: YourTourNYC.com. We've known Lynette since we first moved to New York five years ago; we met her through a mutual friend who worked with Liz back when we lived in Washington, DC. Lynette is now running a personalized New York City tour service for Japanese tourists. With her background in Japanese and business and her experiences studying and working in Japan, Lynette is uniquely qualified to assist Japanese tourists and help them make the most of a visit to New York. I wish her the best of luck with her new endeavor.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Sylvester Croom and Mississippi State football

Neely Tucker, a Starkville, MS, native, and graduate of Mississippi State, writes about Coach Croom and the MSU football program in this article published today. It's more favorable toward the university and the football program than some of the other articles written about State's hiring of Croom last year. For those who know a little about Starkville (or attended my wedding there in 1998), the article mentions the breakfast crowd at the Starkville Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants and a must-visit every time we see my wife's family. We're going to Starkville later this month for a pre-Thanksgiving vacation and we've got tickets to the State-Arkansas game that weekend. I can't wait to sit in the stands at a big-time college football game, wearing my MSU gear and maybe even clanging a cowbell if I can smuggle one in. And don't forget the stadium cuisine: chicken-on-a-stick. Mmm, that's good eatin'.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Star Wars Episode III teaser trailer is online

You can download your own copy here via a variety of links. The quickest links are probably the Bittorrent ones -- my copy downloaded in about two minutes (though at less than 9 MB it's a quick download any way you get it). If you haven't tried Bittorrent yet, give it a go. It's a P2P download method, but instead of your PC just downloading the file from others, you also upload the file as you download it. It's hard to explain, but it usually means quicker downloads for me than with traditional P2P apps (Kazaa, Gnutella, etc.)

About the trailer itself: It's 90 seconds long. The first half is the late Sir Alec Guinness narrating footage from Episodes I, II, and IV, then it delivers the good stuff: shots (and voice) of Darth Vader, Yoda, Mace Windu, a space battle, Padme and Anakin, and the climactic lightsaber duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan. It's better than the early teasers for Episode II (quick snapshots with Vader breathing audio), but it doesn't reveal much of anything about the story. Which is the general idea, I suppose: get the fans excited, give them a little eye candy, and remind everyone else that this franchise has one more installment on the way. I'm trying to stay positive about this movie, even though the last two were disappointing. Episode III could be the one that redeems the prequel trilogy, or it could put the last nail in the Star Wars coffin. Either way, I can't wait to see it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Four more years...

I guess we all should have known after last time that early exit polls are to be taken with an exceedingly large grain of salt. Despite what I said yesterday, I had a hard time containing my optimism. Unfortunately, Kerry wasn't able to pull out a win for the Democrats, and by winning 51% of the nationwide popular vote, Bush will be able to claim a mandate for just about anything he wants to do. With the gains the GOP made in the House and Senate, it will be even easier for them to push their legislative agenda. Still, I found a few hopeful signs in Robert Kaiser's chat this morning on the Washington Post web site. While the Democrats are essentially leaderless at this point (Hillary freakin' Clinton is the early front-runner for 2008!) and need to determine how to win elections in an increasingly Republican nation, the GOP doesn't have an heir apparent either. Even Jeb Bush will need the help of a successful 2nd term for his brother. And while I'm wondering if the Democrats have any relevance in American society anymore, Kaiser points out that in 1964, Republicans were doing similar soul-searching in the wake of a landslide Johnson victory over Goldwater and Democratic gains in Congress and governorships. Four years later Nixon took the White House. It's not much, but it's a start.

I keep reminding myself that twenty years ago I thought that Reagan's reelection meant the end of liberal policies everywhere and a nuclear war with the USSR. I was wrong about a war, and in 1986 the Democrats took back control of the Senate. Many, many things are possible between now and the next election. I'm not happy about these results, but I'm not moving to Canada either. I still have a wonderful wife and family, three cats who don't give a damn who runs the country as long as they have food in their bowls, a great job and a good life in the big city. I don't see any of that changing as a direct result of Bush's win.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Early exit poll results

If you haven't voted yet, you should probably not visit Wonkette until later tonight. She's putting up exit poll results as she gets them from her secret sources. I'm trying not to put much stock in these numbers yet, as it's early, no polls have closed yet, and we all remember how off the exit polls were four years ago.

In his chat today, Gene Weingarten pointed out how amazing it was that polling place lines were so long and no one was complaining. Even the woman in front of me who was upset at having to wait twice (and let the poll worker have it) seemed in decent spirits despite the delay.

For Liz: I am having a busy day at work, but when there's interesting news, I have to post. That's what good bloggers do. And like Passover, today is not like other days.

Here's yet another reason to vote

I'll just post the link: My Father's Vision (washingtonpost.com)

I fulfilled my civic duty

I chose, so I didn't lose. I voted, and thus did not die. I rocked the vote.

I had to wait about an hour to vote this morning at the school around the corner from my apartment. There were about six precincts crowded into one small cafeteria, and for some reason, mine had to work differently from the others. Every other time I've voted in New York, you wait in line to sign in, then you go directly to the booth and vote. But my precinct had one line for signing in and another line for actual voting. Of course, it was so crowded I got in the wrong line first and had to wait again after I'd signed in. And I didnt't even get a sticker that said "I Voted!" I had to skip my regular Tuesday morning workout, but I felt good anyway for having cast my vote. And on the way out, I saw Samantha Bee from The Daily Show with a camera crew. I smiled and made eye contact with her, and she smiled back. There's my celebrity sighting for the day.

It's the big day

All the campaigning is over. No more speeches, at least until someone concedes defeat (and hopefully that will happen on Tuesday night). The talking heads will keep quiet for a few hours. We go to the polls on Tuesday to pick a president. Unfortunately the options aren't much better than South Park's choice last week between a giant douche and a turd sandwich (I'd take the giant douche -- the sandwich would really reek after a few hours). But I've made my choice, and early tomorrow morning I'll go to the polls and make it official. I keep reminding myself that either way this election goes, it's not the end of the world. We'll do it again in four years. And four years after that. And again and again.

If you're registered to vote, please do. Even if you're voting for the other guy.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Al Goldstein is really, really screwed these days

Those of you who don't live in NY or read porn mags might not know who Al Goldstein is, so I'll explain. He used to publish Screw magazine and host a weekly cable access show in NYC, Midnight Blue. He appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and The Daily Show, and probably showed up elsewhere during his years on top. Well, now he's destitute and living in a homeless shelter. Today's Page Six has the latest details on Al's plight. I sort of feel bad for the guy, though it sounds like he brought his troubles on himself.

I'm writing about this story because Al's son, Jordan, is mentioned in the Page Six article. Although I don't know him, I went to college with him at Georgetown. He was the valedictorian of my graduating class. After Liz and I moved to NY and "discovered" Al Goldstein, one of our Georgetown friends and fellow New Yorkers pointed out that Al was Jordan's father. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to grow up with Al Goldstein as a father. And I'm not just saying that: it's really beyond my comprehension. I can more easily picture what it's like to have a famous actor or the President as your dad than I can think about living in a house with a giant middle finger in the backyard and porn stars hanging around all the time.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Richard Cohen: Hold Bush Accountable

Once again, I'm going political in this blog. Richard Cohen writes a scathing editorial in Thursday's Washington Post on why George W. Bush has to go. I still cannot believe that a Republican House impeached Bill Clinton in 1998 over a sex scandal, while Bush continues to ignore mounting evidence that the war in Iraq was and still is a mismanaged mistake. Cohen's mad as hell about these things too, and he's not going to take it any more. Maybe if Bush gets a second term, then he'll get impeached for his "high crimes and misdemeanors" against the republic. Wait, no, that won't happen because he, unlike Clinton, has a majority in Congress.

By the way, Cohen cites one of the poll results in this campaign that just blows my mind:

My peripatetic colleague Dana Milbank recently reported on a poll showing that 72 percent of Bush's supporters believe Iraq did in fact possess weapons of mass destruction and that 75 percent believed Hussein gave al Qaeda "substantial support." These beliefs are false, in contradiction of the facts, and even Bush, when pressed, has admitted that. But these beliefs did not arise out of nowhere. They are a direct consequence of the administration's repeated lies -- lies of commission, such as Cheney's statements, and lies of omission, the appalling failure to correct wrongly held views.

The people who hold these beliefs are all going to the polls Tuesday to vote for a man who has repeatedly lied and misled them. Unbe-freaking-lievable.

The Boston Red Sox win the World Series

I'm not much of a baseball fan, and I'm certainly not a Red Sox fan, but I'm just a little giddy after seeing Boston win its first championship since 1918. Even Liz, who doesn't care about either team, had to stay up to see how the game ended. I can't wait to see what The Sports Guy has to say in his column tomorrow, assuming he's coherent enough to write one. Now Chicago defines baseball futility: the White Sox haven't won a World Series since 1917, and the Cubs last won one in 1908. Maybe the best thing about this win for the Red Sox is that they'll hoist their championship banner at next year's home opener in front of the New York Yankees. How's that for rubbing it in their faces?

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Wedding photos are up

I keep forgetting to mention this: I posted our pictures from James & Jess' wedding. Check the photos link over there on the right side. There are two galleries for your enjoyment, and you can download any/all of the photos for your own nefarious purposes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Child's Play is back

Last year, Tycho and Gabe over at Penny Arcade ran a successful charity drive, called Child's Play, to purchase toys for a children's hospital in Seattle. The idea was that they were tired of the media portraying gamers as freaks, social misfits, and homicidal maniacs, and wanted to do something to show that gamers have feelings too. So they set up a charity to buy toys and gifts for sick kids at the hospital for the holidays. The response was phenomenal. They've brought back the charity again this year, only the drive has expanded to five hospitals around the country. They set up Amazon Wish Lists for each hospital with all sorts of toys, video games, and books. Your purchase goes straight to the hospital and will get there in time for Christmas if you order by December 20. I think this is an excellent way to help out kids who would otherwise have a really sad holiday stuck in the hospital. So please check out the charity's web site and see if you can find a gift that will help a kid feel better this Christmas.

Something for the Stephenson fans

Neal Stephenson answers Slashdot readers' questions in this interview posted today. (For those unfamiliar with the Slashdot interview model, the initial notice of the interview gets posted as a regular Slashdot story, and readers post their proposed questions as responses to the notice. The most highly moderated questions are then sent to the interview subject, who writes back, and the results are what you can read above.) As usual, Stephenson is funny, thoughtful, and long-winded. The Gibson question is the comedic highlight. But the entire thing is worth reading.

By the way, I've started reading The System of the World but I'm only a few pages into it so far. I haven't been carting it back and forth to work to read on the subway, so that's hindering my progress. But I have some large blocks of time available this weekend to devote to it.

Monday, October 18, 2004

The New York Times Magazine on Bush: Without a Doubt

Two political posts in two days, both from yesterday's NY Times. Today's link is to Ron Suskind's article in the Times Magazine about President Bush's faith and how it has shaped and directed his presidency. It's an enlightening and at times frightening look at how Bush lets his religious beliefs guide him, to the exclusion of any voices of dissent. Read this article and everything you've been hearing from the Bush administration about the war in Iraq and the "war on terrorism" will make perfect sense. Bush can't see that we're losing in Iraq because he truly believes that we're winning. He sees and hears what he wants to see and hear. And that really scares me when I think about what could happen in a second term for Bush.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

The New York Times endorses John Kerry

I don't talk much about politics in this blog, but I like all of the reasons the New York Times editorial board uses in their endorsement of John Kerry for President. Mostly, it's a list of reasons why George W. Bush should not be elected than why Kerry should be. But a sitting President has to run on his record, and Bush's record is the best example of why he should not get a second term. I don't think that anyone reading this blog will be surprised that I'm voting for Kerry next month, but if you're still thinking about your choice, or you're voting for Bush, maybe this endorsement will help you make up your mind.

The Times also endorses Chuck Schumer in the race for U.S. Senate, but that was really a no-brainer. Considering it's the NY Times, the Kerry endorsement is no surprise either, but I like how they make their points in both cases.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Amazon reviewers on "Family Circus"

Courtesy of Gene Weingarten's chat today: Amazon customer reviews of Bil Keane's "Family Circus" books. Start with What Does This Say? and then search for "family circus" if you want to read others. James, if you happen to see this, I think you'll like the reference to Sendero Luminosa. I know I got a special kick out of it.

Florida weekend - The Big Day - Sunday

I had the important job on Sunday morning of calling James to make sure he was up and ready to check out of his hotel room. Even though I set two alarms to insure I woke up on time, I kept waking up early and dreaming about having to wake up my friends for important events. When I called James, he was not only awake, but showered, packed, and sounding chipper.

The groomsmen, fathers of the bride and groom, and the hupah holders met at the hotel Perkins promptly at 9, which might be the first time that "five guys from a house" showed up on time for an event. Due to the dearth of decent restaurants in the immediate area of the hotel, we had to pretend we didn't see three of our significant others as they came into the same restaurant for breakfast about halfway through our meal. This time, I had the ham and egg skillet, with "cheesy alfredo sauce." The only way it would have been less kosher is if it had come with bacon-wrapped shrimp.

We dressed at the hotel and took a few pictures in the lobby before departing for the synagogue. The next few hours were full of the usual craziness before a wedding: keeping the bride and groom away from each other, taking pictures with family, figuring out how we were processing and recessing (since we never actually rehearsed the ceremony). As a Jew, and one of James' friends, I had the honor of signing both the marriage certificate and the ketubah, and it gave me great joy to know that I could be a part of the official documentation of their marriage. (This sounds dumb, but I really was touched to have this honor. He has other Jewish friends he could have asked to do this for him.) I also got to supply some of the music for the ceremony -- on CD, not live, but it counts. The ceremony itself went off without a hitch. There was a good bit of levity to the proceedings, as the rabbi cracked a few jokes and people had to be prompted for handshakes and handoffs. But the room got a little dusty when James and Jess read their own vows to each other. And we all had a good time rehearsing a shout of "mazel tov!" for the ritual breaking of the glass. My friend Rich, a fellow groomsman, pointed out that the shout was the only thing we rehearsed in the entire ceremony. I especially enjoyed the recessional music: "Linus and Lucy," also known as the "Peanuts" cartoon music. Then there were more pictures, and more visiting, and reviews of the ceremony, and then we got to eat.

The reception was in the synagogue's social hall. The highlight of the meal was the sushi appetizers, though all the food was good. I kept checking my watch (both the new pocketwatch James gave me and the other groomsmen as a gift and the clock on my cellphone), since we had to leave early to catch our flight home. But we got to spend plenty of time with our friends, along with the occasional few minutes to chat with the bride and groom. And even with our time constraints we got to see all the key wedding elements: the dancing, the cutting of the cake, and even the Jewish custom of hoisting the groom on a chair while everyone dances around. We wanted to do the same with Jess, but she begged off with an old injury that we might have inadvertently aggravated. We put off our departure as long as we dared, but eventually it was time to go. A quick change in the mens' room later, and we were all set for the flight home. We said our goodbyes to old and new friends and headed for the airport.

I had timed things just right, as we were able to refuel and drop off the car, check our bags, clear security, and get to our gate with about ten minutes to spare before boarding. The idea had been that we didn't want to spend time waiting at the gate instead of at the reception, and it worked out well. The flight back was OK, but I was disappointed with the video selection this time. While ESPN was one of the available channels, it wasn't working, probably because of some stupid NFL-Dish Network rule about showing the Sunday night game to cheap travelers. There wasn't anything else worth watching, and even the trivia game bored me since I'd seen all the questions two days before. I listened to my MP3 player for a few hours and relaxed. We landed early, but the airline made up for the time we gained by making us wait about 20 minutes for our luggage. Despite the late hour (10:30 PM) there was no cab line, and our driver even did us a favor by taking the Queensborough Bridge and avoiding the toll bridges further north, saving us a few bucks. (I'll have to remember that.) So it was a quick weekend trip, but a most worthwhile one. I'm glad we were able to be a part of James and Jess' celebration, and I hope they have many happy years together. They certainly got off to a good start.

Florida weekend - Saturday

We got up late on Saturday morning and went to look for breakfast/brunch food. Our hotel was in Cape Coral, across the river from Fort Myers, and there was a Perkins restaurant in the parking lot next to the hotel. But I was supposed to eat breakfast at that Perkins on Sunday morning with the other groomsmen, so we tried to find someplace else. The hotel guidebook listed a decent-sounding restaurant just down the street from the hotel, but when we drove around we couldn't find it. Apparently the guidebook was out of date, as the restaurant appeared to be under new management, a new name, and not open for breakfast. So we ended up back at Perkins after all. I had buttermilk pancakes and sausage, and Liz had biscuits & gravy, hash browns, bacon and eggs (and she gave me her eggs). The best thing was that they brought an entire pot of coffee for me, so I did my best to drink most of it.

We had a few more hours to kill before the non-rehearsal dinner at 4:30 (we got the early bird special!) so we explored Cape Coral by car. That took about half an hour and proved to be exceedingly dull. We saw many model homes, houses under construction, and strip malls, but nothing worth stopping the car for. Our backup boredom-relief plan was to go shopping at the Bell Tower complex across the highway from the restaurant in Fort Myers, so we went over there much earlier than we'd planned. As usually happens, Liz found many things she could buy, but there wasn't much for guys to look at. She did find a few bargains, and we tried out the world's best massage chair at Brookstone (only $3500, but it talks to you! And modifies its massage for your body!).

The non-rehearsal dinner was at Carrabbas, an Italian restaurant. The food was far superior to what the Olive Garden had to offer. We had fried mozzarella, chicken & cheese cannelloni, and creme brulee, and of course the scintillating conversation and general mayhem that characterizes any gathering of the "five guys from a house" group and their families. Maybe it was his past life as a waiter and bartender, or that it was his party, but James was working the room, making sure everyone enjoyed the food and the hospitality.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and changed clothes for the next activity: roller skating. OK, I didn't change clothes, since I wasn't going to skate, but Liz did. The roller rink was, like Liz expected, a giant warehouse-like building behind the strip malls and plazas of US 41 (the Tamiami highway, as it's the old route between Tampa and Miami). The place looked and sounded like it hadn't changed in twenty years. All of the music was pre-1992, and there were a few people out on the floor who looked and skated like they lived at the roller rink. There were also many more kids skating than I expected, including a number of teenagers that I would have thought had better things to do on a Saturday night. While Liz, James, Jess, and most other members of the wedding party skated and sweated the night away, I hung out in the back with the other wheeled footwear-disinclined. I hadn't seen some of these friends in several years, so I was glad to have time to catch up with them and make fun of the skating crowd with them. We spent about two hours skating and visiting before the rink started to close up. Most people went home at that point, reminding me once again that we're old folks now. But there were a few hardy souls, Liz and I among them, not willing to pack it in at 10:30 PM. So we went to a different Perkins for dessert (or in this case, more dessert and much coffee). The ice cream sundae Liz and I shared was delicious, but by 11:30 we were ready to collapse ourselves. (Where did my energy go? I slept late, didn't exert myself on skates, I just did some light shopping. I really am an old fogey.)

Monday, October 11, 2004

Florida weekend - Friday

This past weekend, Liz and I flew to Fort Myers, Florida, for the wedding of two of our college friends, James and Jess. We've known them almost as long as we've known each other, and they've been among our closest friends for many years. So it was with great joy and excitement that we traveled all the way to Florida for the festivities.

We left early Friday morning from JFK, on Song Airlines, which is Delta's low-cost/Southeast US carrier. It's similar to JetBlue, with leather seats and Dish Network in the seatbacks. The channel lineup was better on JetBlue, though I liked the MP3 music selections and the interactive music trivia game that lets you compete against other people on your flight. I won three rounds and had the highest score for the flight.

We got to Fort Myers about 11:30 AM, too early to check into our hotel. So we drove around for a while, locating the synagogue where the wedding was to take place, and getting lost a few times just to get that hassle out of the way. We eventually got a hotel room around 2:30 PM and took a good long nap before Shabbat services that night. This was Liz's first time at a Shabbat service, and she got to see more than she planned. James' parents and grandmother were there as well, and I don't think they'd ever seen a Shabbat service either. Not only was it the usual Friday night service, but it was also Simchat Torah, the annual celebration of reaching the end of the Torah and starting over at the beginning. It was also the night before a young man's bar mitzvah, and he performed about one third of the entire service. Before the service began, the rabbi called James and Jess to the bimah and gave them a blessing. For the Simchat Torah service, the rabbi and cantor took all the Torahs out of the ark and the congregation paraded around the sanctuary with them, accompanied by singing and dancing. Then the rabbi called on a member of the congregation to read from the Torah -- the last few verses of Deuteronomy and the first few verses of Genesis. I hadn't been to a Simchat Torah service in at least fifteen years, and the songs and prayers brought back warm memories of my childhood.

After the service, there was an oneg with cookies, brownies, and ice cream sundaes. Since we hadn't had dinner, we quickly went into sugar shock. I think I had three brownies and two or three scoops of mint chocolate chip ice cream. James and Jess hadn't eaten much for dinner either, so we went from the synagogue to the Olive Garden for a late supper, along with our friend Renee from New York and Scott, one of Jess' childhood friends. I'd never been to the Olive Garden before, and I was dying to try the "neverending pasta bowl," but since I'd already eaten my fill of sweets, I had a bowl of pasta e fagiole and some fried calamari and zucchini. After all that eating, we went back to our hotel and slept for a good long while.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Questionable "Poetry in Motion"

The MTA uses some ad space in subway cars for a program called "Poetry in Motion," where commuters can read a stanza of poetry in between ads for Dr. Zizmor's skin treatments and schools teaching English as a foreign language. I'd never given much thought to the poems the MTA chose to put up there, until I noticed that the latest selection was the first stanza of William Butler Yeats "The Second Coming." The subway sign reads:
TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Maybe it's just me, but that seems a little grim for a subway ride. I'm not one who likes to read a 9/11 subtext into everything, but there are some things here that remind me of that day, and of the religious fanatics who continue to plot against Americans. I get the point, MTA: you're trying to give us something more enriching than ads while we're trapped in your steel tubes. But I just want to get to work. I don't want to be scared on my way there. Next month, can you try to find something more uplifting?

Dr. Phil and the man who would be President

If you liked last week's entry when Dr. Phil and his wife "interviewed" President and Mrs. Bush, then you'll love this week's interview with the Kerrys. Lisa de Moraes watched so we don't have to. I especially liked that Dr. Phil got himself in trouble with his wife, then spent the interview trying to dig his way out of the hole. I honestly used to enjoy Dr. Phil when he was only on the air once in a while, but now that he's on constantly and always selling something I wish he'd just go away.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

From The Onion: Personal Relationship With God Also Public Relationship With God

The Onion isn't ha-ha funny anymore, and this article about one man's proselytizing didn't make me laugh. But it did remind me of the people who preach on the subway, telling a group of trapped commuters that they're all going to hell. (Ride in a non-air-conditioned subway car in the middle of the summer, and you'll feel like you're already there.) I don't like the panhandlers, the kids selling M&Ms for their "youth basketball team," (I really believe that one) or the people peddling batteries and trinkets, but at least they keep moving through the train so they don't bother me for too long. But the religious nuts who read from the Bible tend to stay in one car, in one place, for the entire ride. And even with headphones on, they are exceedingly annoying. Maybe this article, even tongue-in-cheek, sheds some light on their thought processes. If not, I don't want to know what they're really thinking. How thin is the line between the voice in your head telling you to preach to the nonbelievers and the same voice telling you to kill them all?

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

seen on Sunday at Union Square...

...a guy wearing my favorite T-shirt that can be purchased at any number of eclectic shops in Greenwich Village, bearing this slogan:


I've always wanted to buy it myself, but I'd never have the guts to wear it. Apparently someone did. If only I'd thought to sneak his picture.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Jim Caple and Youppi

I know that sportswriters reuse material all the time. Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon will say things on PTI that they wrote in the Washington Post that same day, and I've seen other writers on TV who will quote themselves without attributing their comments to themselves. That's OK. I do the same thing: I'll write something here, then I'll mention it in conversation without saying "As I wrote in my blog yesterday..." But over on ESPN.com, apparently Jim Caple is too busy to come up with something original to say about the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, DC. Yesterday, he wrote about his disappointment in the new deal and the end of baseball in Montreal. Today, he wrote the same column, only this time it's posted on ESPN.com's Page 2 and it's Youppi, the Expos' mascot, who expresses the same disappointment.

I think the psychological term for Caple's problem is transference.

Dr. Phil and the president

Lisa de Moraes reviews Dr. Phil's interview with the president and first lady which aired on his show on Wednesday. Based on her partial transcript, it doesn't seem to be much of an interview, filled with pseudo-questions and more blather from the interviewer than answers from the subjects. Somehow I'm not surprised that Dr. Phil seems more interested in promoting his show and his new book than asking the president any real questions (how about "what do you say to parents whose 18-year-old kids are going off to Iraq?"). And what the hell does he mean when he talks about teaching children about loving themselves and "discovering [their] authentic self?"

Monday, September 27, 2004

Digital Fortress stunk up the joint

I finished Digital Fortress yesterday on the train coming back from Maryland. I had about 150 pages to read when I got on the train and I flew through them in about 90 minutes, just so I could be done with the book. It annoyed me from start to finish, and its only redeeming quality was the laughability of its ending. If you know anything about technology, especially circa 1998, then you will probably find the premise of the ending as ludicrous as I did. Also, a child could figure out the solution to the final puzzle before any of the book's characters did. I promised my brother I'd send it to him, as one of his friends actually works for the government agency featured in the book. I met her this weekend and while she wouldn't admit that any of the facts of the book were true, she said that she thought it was ridiculous and that she made her co-workers read it as well. I can recommend both of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon books, but this one was not really worth my time, and certainly not worth what I paid for it. If my brother loses it, no harm done.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Today was a great day for geeks

If you're a geek (and if you're reading this, you probably are), then today might as well have been a national holiday for you. The Star Wars trilogy came out on DVD on Tuesday, and judging from the population at Best Buy this afternoon, it brought all the hermits out of their caves. Best Buy was doing a brisk business with the DVDs, and they threw in a special edition of Star Wars Insider with every sale. They had the ultimate geek table set up near the home theater section: the SW trilogy set, the Indiana Jones trilogy, the first season of Star Trek, The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions, and a few SW soundtracks just for kicks. I watched part of Star Wars on one HD TV, and when I got bored with that I caught a few minutes of The Empire Strikes Back on another HD set. Finally, they had the new Star Wars: Battlefront game going on yet another HD screen. I bought the DVDs, of course, but passed on the video game for now. FOR NOW. My first impressions of the DVDs will follow in a moment.

If Star Wars didn't work you into enough of a lather, the final volume of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, The System of the World, appeared on store shelves today. I had to pass on that as well for the time being, as I was already carrying the aforementioned DVDs and ten pounds of cat food. But Stephenson's latest will be mine soon enough. I'm still reading Dan Brown's Digital Fortress, which isn't half as good as The Da Vinci Code, which annoyed me far more than Angels & Demons. In other words, I'm only still reading it because I hate to give up on a book, no matter how bad, and because I refuse to put it down to get started on SoW. Actually, part of me wants to wait a while on SoW, since once it's over, it's over. It's not like the Harry Potter series, where we know there are at least two more books coming. While Stephenson will undoubtedly write more books, he's done with this trilogy, and once I read this last book, I can never experience it again for the first time. I'm sure this attitude won't last beyond the end of this month, though, as my curiosity to see just how this story ends will win out over my sadness at its ending.

So far, I've watched a few scenes from each movie in the trilogy, plus the Episode III preview on the bonus disc. I'm extremely impressed with what I've seen. The picture and sound are AMAZING. I'll have to watch with my headphones on, because even with my computer speakers I was blown away. I found myself saying the lines along with the actors, with perfect timing. I haven't watched these films in almost ten years, and I still know exactly when Darth Vader's next line comes. As for the changes George Lucas has made once again to these (the Special Editions) films, I have to say that I honestly don't care enough. I wish he'd never had the idea that Greedo should shoot first, and I liked the original music at the end of Return of the Jedi just fine. On the DVD, Greedo and Han shoot at about the same time, and while Greedo still misses by a mile (at point-blank range?!) it looks much more like the original film now. Otherwise, I never really had a problem with the Special Editions, so I'm happy with what he's given us here. God help me, I even like the new final shot from RotJ, where Sebastian Shaw's middle-aged Anakin Skywalker has been replaced with Hayden Christiansen as a late-twenties man with a curly mullet. If the entire SW saga is about Darth Vader, then putting the new Anakin at the end makes sense. At least Shaw is still on screen when Luke removes Vader's helmet just before he dies.

I'm not one of those people who screams about Lucas "raping my childhood" or other such nonsense. I'm sure that many of the so-called "purists" who said they'd never buy the DVDs unless they were the original films were out today, buying themselves a set anyway. These are movies, nothing more. I have a strong affection for them, as the SW universe was a huge part of my life while I was growing up, but I've realized that they're just entertainment. There's more to life than Star Wars. There's The Lord of the Rings.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

a day out with the guys

The theme of James' bachelor party, held in the afternoon and evening of Saturday, September 18, was "reset." We spent our day at Chelsea Piers, a bowling alley, and at a laser tag arcade in Times Square, and at each one we ran into minor and major problems that required the intervention of facilities staffers. Despite our difficulties, we had a great time hanging out, as we always do.

My role in the day's events started with a long bus ride downtown to meet everyone at the Chat 'n Chew diner near Union Square. I was supposed to get measured for my tuxedo before brunch but didn't make it because of the flooded subways. I was lucky to get there in time to eat. After a tasty omelet stuffed with sausage, peppers, and Mozzarella, we hopped on the subway and on the good foot over to Chelsea Piers. Our first stop was the driving range where we each rented a club and paid for a ticket for 80 or 100 balls. We ended up with three stalls at the far left end of the second level, where we proceeded to hit the crap out of the golf balls and tried not to injure ourselves or others. Near the end I was hitting the balls about 80 yards, which I thought wasn't too bad for someone who hasn't touched a driver since one day in high school gym class when they tried to teach us how to swing a club. The stalls have automatic ball tees: a mechanical tee pops up with a new ball each time you hit one (instead of the usual low-tech method of a bucket of balls). We had trouble with one of the stalls the entire time, and near the end of our stay this stall started popping the new ball up and down, like a whack-a-mole game. So now we had a new game: time your swing to when the ball popped out of the hole. Rich, who has actually played golf, was getting some serious lift with this method, while I had trouble with the timing. It was a unique twist on the otherwise routine driving range concept.

Next, we went downstairs to the batting cages. I passed on taking any swings myself, since I haven't looked at a pitch in over ten years and I was never much good at hitting a baseball or a softball. I'd already had enough trouble hitting a ball that wasn't moving over at the driving range, so I didn't want to try my hand at the batting cage. We didn't have too much trouble with the cages, though Rob tried the baseball "simulator," which was a video screen with a projected pitcher. When the projection wound up and threw, the baseball flew at you from a small hole near where the pitcher's release point would be. But for five or six pitches, the pitcher threw but no ball came out. One of the attendants reset the machine and Rob was able to finish his cuts. But this was an ill omen for what was to come.

We left Chelsea Piers around 5:30 and stopped at F&B on 23rd St. for a snack of gourmet hot dogs with fancy toppings -- I had one with guacamole, salsa, and shredded cheddar cheese. Our next stop was the bowling alley at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. James had seen it before and decided it was a "hive of scum and villainy" that would remind us all of our suburban or rural upbringings. It wasn't quite as nasty as we had expected, and actually wasn't such a bad place to spend an hour or so, especially if you had some time to kill before your bus left. We paid for an hour on one lane, figuring we'd easily get in two or three games even with six people. But we had too many mechanical problems with the lane. Our pin reset machine didn't reset properly a few times, our time ran out early, and even when they extended our time because of the breakdowns, our lane still shut down on us before we were done. So we overpaid for one game for six people. Even though we wanted to bowl another game, we decided we'd given them enough of our money and went to Virgil's for dinner. As always, Virgil's served us some excellent platters of ribs, lamb, chicken, sausage, beans, collard greens, and cornbread. Even the Cajun spring rolls we had as an appetizer were well done. Properly refueled, we walked two blocks to our final stop: Lazer Park.

By this time, some of us were realizing that we're not in our 20s anymore. Due to injuries, strains, and other mechanical failures, we were down to four players in the laser tag arena: James, Jon, Greg, and myself. We paid for two missions of two games each and after another wait, we entered the arena around 10:45. They gave each of us a "vest" which was bulky shoulder pads with a gun attached by a thick cable. The game was manhunt, or deathmatch if you prefer, but either way it was every man for himself. We were lumped in with about 15 other people, mostly teenagers, mostly racially mixed. In other words, the four of us were the "white boys." In the first game, something went wrong with my shoulder pads set, as I got shot about five times and then was unable to shoot anybody for the rest of the game. Jon had the same problem, and we just assumed that we had a limited number of lives. The second game went a little better. The pads worked properly, and instead of a score of -535, I fought my way to about 100 (25 points for shooting someone else, -5 every time someone shot you). In the second mission's two games, the four of us teamed up and controlled a corner of the arena. The first game of the second mission was a better effort for us, since the other kids didn't know what we were doing. They were all shouting about how they were getting creamed in our corner. In the last game, we took a different corner and tried to defend it, but the kids fought their way in. Eventually it devolved into a standoff, as we were trapped shooting at the kids and waiting for our pads to clear each time we got shot (each time you get hit, the system says "shields up" and you can't shoot anyone
for 4 seconds). Considering how upset the kids seemed to be at our tactics, I think our team was successful. When we were done, it was nearly midnight, and Rich and Rob had to get back to Brooklyn to get the car for the drive back to DC. So we parted ways in the Times Square subway station and I got home around 12:30 AM, about 13 hours after I left.

I think James had a good time, which was the most important thing since it was his party. Of the four main activities, the one I'm most likely to try again is the driving range, which is a surprise to me. Bowling is a close second, but I've done that before so it didn't really count as a new experience. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed hitting the balls and trying to figure out the basics of a golf swing. I'm not saying that I'm about to buy a set of clubs and start playing the links every weekend, but I'd definitely go to a driving range again. Maybe not the one at Chelsea Piers, though. Since I have no frame of reference, I have no idea what it should cost to hit 80 balls. But $20 for balls and $4 for a club seems a little expensive, so I don't think their driving range is going to become one of my regular haunts. Laser tag was fun, but Lazer Park's arena is too small and too crowded for me to go back there. And the kids were more than I wanted to deal with. I think I'll stick to the first-person shooters on my computer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

my newest toy

Because a fool and his money are soon parted, I am now the happy owner of a hard-drive MP3 player. No, I didn't buy an iPod. I'm not an iPod guy. I actually resent the iPod owners I see on the subway. Just because everyone else has one doesn't mean I need one. I've tried to use iTunes to manage my MP3 collection but it always seems to screw things up. Classical music CDs especially don't import correctly and require lots of tag editing. So I looked for a player that would let me organize my music my way, specifically one that would show up as another hard drive on my PC and let me drag and drop files onto it. After flirting for a long time (including my two weeks in Asia) with the iAudio M3 (the MP3 player with no LCD screen, just a remote), I decided on the iRiver H140. It's not just a 40 GB drag & drop player. It has an FM tuner, line in and microphone recording, support for just about every audio file format out there, can be used for plain old file storage, and it was cheaper than the 40 GB iPod. And the sound! I didn't think MP3s could sound this good! Until now I'd only heard my music on my laptop or my Treo 600, but never on a device designed for audio. As I write this post I'm listening to Sir Charles Mackerras' recording of Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks with the original all-wind orchestration, and I'm hearing notes I've never heard before. Earlier today I listened to some Dream Theater and some Allman Brothers, and in both cases I heard bass lines I never knew were there. It helps that I'm in a quiet room tapping away on my laptop, but even on the subway this evening coming home from work, I was able to hear songs with a clarity that I'd never before had on my commute. I will admit that the H140's navigation is nowhere near as cool as the iPod scroll wheel -- my player has a "joystick" that's really just a raised button on the front that toggles in four directions and clicks for various functions. There are short and long clicks for different features at different times. It takes some adjusting, but I'm getting the hang of it. For my next trick, I have to find the right cables to connect it to my stereo so I can use it as a jukebox for our infrequent parties. And then I can figure out how to use it in a car with our old CD player cassette adapter. The more I use this thing, I'm convinced I made the right decision. And I no longer resent those snobby iPod people, as I've got something cooler. So there.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

finally, some new pictures are up

I've uploaded pictures from Tokyo and Hong Kong. See the photos link over there on the right.

With the exception of a few shots taken in the evening, I thought my trusty old 2.1 MP Canon worked well. Maybe I was being too hasty looking for a replacement while I was over there.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

another Stephenson book review

Last night I finished Neal Stephenson's Interface, a thriller about a US presidential election, shadowy world-dominating organizations, and a candidate whose thoughts are being controlled by political consultants and media moguls. He wrote the book in 1994 with his uncle, Frederick George, and published it under the pseudonym Stephen Bury. 1994 puts it between Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, for those who follow Stephenson's career. I've never seen the novel in the US, but I found it in a bookstore in London's Gatwick Airport last summer and again this summer. Apparently Stephenson would rather not publicize this book -- there's no mention of it on his web site and I've only found it on Amazon.com under a search for Stephen Bury. Maybe, like his early novels, he doesn't think it's up to the standards of his later works. Or maybe he doesn't want to take full credit for it, since he co-wrote it with George. Or maybe he just doesn't like it much.

I didn't think it was that bad. I got caught up in the story and really liked it. It's a good thriller plotline of mysterious, all-powerful forces versus a few questioning heroes who quietly struggle behind the scenes until a final showdown. It reminded me of Robert Ludlum's novels Trevayne and The Icarus Agenda, both of which involved politics and campaigns, along with Ludlum's usual monolithic all-powerful bad guys.
The characters are well-defined, interesting, and sympathetic, qualities I don't always find in thrillers. And the writing style is similar to what Stephenson fans expect: casual prose, sometimes witty, sometimes tangential and rambling. It's definitely not as mature as Cryptonomicon or the Baroque Cycle trilogy, so hard-core fans may be disappointed. But casual readers who are looking for a good book to pass the time on that long flight back from London would enjoy it. In the end I forgot it was a Stephenson novel and just enjoyed it for the political thriller that it was.

My biggest complaint about the book has nothing to do with the writing or the story, but with the proofreading. Not to put too fine a point on it, this book was the most poorly edited and proofread book I have ever seen, and I've read lots of crappy paperbacks in my time. Every chapter had at least one spelling error or mistaken word, requiring me to re-read a sentence two or three times to discern what the authors were trying to say. The poor quality of this printing might be one of the reasons Stephenson doesn't tell his fans about this novel. It was a serious flaw that detracted from my involvement in and enjoyment of the story. It was so bad I nearly took a pen to my book to correct it so that friends who read my copy won't have to endure what I did.

Stephenson published another book under the Bury pseudonym, The Cobweb, in 1997. It's on my Amazon.com wishlist, if anyone wants to buy it for me. Otherwise, I'll pick it up myself, but not until I've read Stephenson's The System of the World, the final book in the Baroque Cycle which comes out later this month. And I've got Dan Brown's Deception Point to read in the meantime.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Jet lag is no fun

I keep dozing off in the early evening in front of the TV. Just like my father! Strangely, I was about to fall asleep during the Bush daughters' speech tonight, but woke up to talk back to the TV like I usually do. (Yes, I'm a complete whack job.)

One final thought on my Asia trip:

Based on my co-workers' stories and my impressions from guidebooks and other sources, I expected to be lost in Tokyo and right at home in Hong Kong. I thought for sure that I'd like having the possibility of an extra day for tourism in Hong Kong and that any time available for such things in Tokyo would be welcome, but useless, given the language barrier.

I was completely wrong. I fully enjoyed Tokyo and wish that I'd had another day there to explore. I had no trouble finding my way, the lack of communication only made things more interesting, and I loved the food. I got sick on the food in Hong Kong, visited the only major tourist attraction on my first day there, and discovered that there was nothing else to do aside from work but shop and sweat. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been miserable for three or four days, but I think I would just have been bored. I like to visit foreign cities that offer historic sights, not just modern consumerism. In Tokyo, I got a sense that the city's past was readily accessible, that it's been there for hundreds of years. Hong Kong, while it's definitely an old city, doesn't look or feel like it's been there for more than 50 years.

My Hong Kong hotel did have better English TV channels than the hotel in Tokyo, and thank God for that, or I'd really have been in trouble. Tokyo offered Japanese baseball, Olympic baseball (featuring Japan), and more Japanese baseball.
At least when I couldn't go out in the evenings, I got to see American TV shows (Law & Order, CSI, Smallville) and other Olympic sports.