Saturday, January 31, 2004

The "Big Game"* party that almost was but then wasn't

About six weeks ago, James and I had the brilliant idea that all our friends should come to New York to watch the big game tomorrow and gorge on chili, nachos, and other fattening dishes. Two weeks ago, James told me that none of our friends were coming due to various conflicts and travel issues. No problem, we said; we'll have a party here with some people we know in NY. Then, on Thursday, I had this conversation with James:

Him: "Those bastards."
Me: "Who's not coming to the party now?"
Him: "Counting you and me, there will be two people at the party."

So we're down to the two of us watching the game and eating soul food, the current menu unless James changes his mind again. Rather than make Az-Tec Calendar dip from The Border Cookbook, I'm taking things in a completely different direction and making dessert, specifically lemon chess pie, from In the Kitchen with Bill, a collection/satire of Bill Clinton's favorite recipes. I'm not really a dessert person: while I enjoy eating them, I'm not interested in making them. But the feast of fried chicken, mac and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread doesn't need an appetizer. Around the end of third quarter, though, I'll be looking for something sweet to take the edge off all the salt and spice, and chess pie is perfect for rounding out the menu. I'd never heard of chess pie before meeting Liz's family and spending holidays in Mississippi, and now I wonder how I lived for 21 years without ever eating it.

You might think that our choice of a Southern-style dinner means we're pulling for Carolina in tomorrow's game, but that's not the case. I don't care who wins, I just hope it's a good game. We could just as easily make New England clam chowder, except that James already had all the ingredients for the fried chicken dinner. I don't think we've ever tried to match the meal to the teams in the game, it's just too hard sometimes.

*I'd use the term "Super Bowl, but I'm afraid I'll get sued by the NFL. Damn! I said "Super Bowl!" And I said "Super Bowl" again! Oops, I can't say "NFL" either. $%@&%&^!@%!!!

Please, NFL lawyers, don't sue me!

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

another geeky entry

Every few months, I get the inspiration to try Linux on my work laptop again. I've run Red Hat 8 and 9 on an IBM T22 and a T30, and now I'm using SuSE 9 Professional on my T30. The problem is that every few months, when I try Linux on the laptop, I remember why I inevitably dump the 5 GB or so I set aside for Linux and go back to using my Windows XP partition exclusively. While most of the hardware in the laptop works right after the installation, things that I rely on, like my built-in wireless card, don't work without lots of tweaking. Since I couldn't get the built-in wireless to work, I'm using my back-up PC card instead. Even that card takes some work to make it function properly. The good news is that once it works, it's just like I'm using Windows. I'm posting this entry from Galeon, a web browser running in Linux. I've installed Ximian Desktop 2 on the system, since it's now a Novell product, and so far I like it. If this OS doesn't crash as much as Windows, I just might stick with it. At least I can use it in March at BrainShare and look cool.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem with Linux is that I can't read my work e-mail (Lotus Notes) or manage my network without going back to Windows. Which is why Linux on the desktop will remain a novelty for me. It's something to play with or use in frustration when Windows keeps crashing, but ultimately I'm stuck with Windows.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Quiet Indignity: Which Mystery Science Theater 3000 Villain Are You?

You are The Master
What MST3K Villain are you?

I am proud to be the Master, as Manos: The Hands of Fate is one of my favorite MST3K movies. Back in the mid-1990s, I used to have a Torgo screen saver, where he was running from the Master. Good times.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The Da Vinci Code

I've been meaning to write a brief review of this novel since I finished it a few weeks ago. After reading some reviews of it online and seeing Dan Brown on the "Today" show, I thought I should check it out. My mother got the book for me for my birthday, finally giving me the opportunity to read it.

At first, I didn't care for the writing style or the story. Throughout, it reads like a typical thriller: a cliffhanger on every page, Angnot much character development, but plenty of intrigue and excitement to keep the reader's attention. It reminded me of the later Robert Ludlum novels, published after Ludlum died and penned by a cadre of ghostwriters. For all we know, Dan Brown could be one of those ghostwriters. However, as the book went on and Brown got into the codes and symbolism of the story, I found myself unable to stop reading. As much as I didn't want to like the book, I couldn't help enjoying it. At the end, I didn't know much more about the characters than I knew at the beginning, but it didn't matter. The story was gripping, and even the excess of symbolic data wasn't too overpowering, though it was annoying at times to repeatedly learn that some modern custom started as a pagan ritual two thousand years ago. I liked the book enough that I'm going to read Angels and Demons, Brown's other novel featuring the same main character, and I'm curious how the movie version of The Da Vinci Code will look.

I'm currently reading Douglas R. Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, and that's keeping my mind occupied in vastly different ways. I should be working out some of the puzzles in the book with paper and pencil, and that's hard to do on a crowded subway train in winter. I end up trying to work them out in my head instead, which is equally difficult in a crowded subway.

a little tech for you

After work this evening, I attended a Novell presentation on their current and future plans for the Linux platform. It had been billed as an exclusive opportunity to hear Novell's CTO talk about Novell and Linux from a technical perspective. Only 100 people would be allowed to attend. So, of course, I replied to the invite right away to secure my seat.

When I arrived at the Marriott Marquis, there were about 30 people in a room set up for 100. So right away, the presentation wasn't the hot attraction it was made out to be. That's OK: it was a Tuesday night, it was about 20 degrees outside, American Idol was on later. There were many reasons to skip the entire thing. Unfortunately, the CTO had to cancel at the last minute, so we heard from a marketing/product manager instead, and the presentation turned into a review of Novell's acquisitions in 2003 (Ximian, SuSE, SilverStream). What was most annoying was the interaction between the Novell geeks and the Linux geeks. As the marketing rep talked about Ximian Desktop being the most popular Linux desktop, the techie sitting next to me crossed his arms and shook his head; it was obvious he had some other Linux desktop in mind. Later, when someone asked how many copies of Ximian Desktop Novell had shipped worldwide, another Linux zealot pointed out that

1) Ximian Desktop is a free download, so there's no such concept as shipping that particular product;
2) Ximian Desktop comes with many Linux distributions, so there are millions of copies of it in use or at least available.

Neither of these points answered the man's question, and the Novell rep didn't have numbers for him either. My point is that these kind of arguments about Linux-- which desktop is more popular, which distribution is better, which vendors support your favorite distribution or desktop -- are just what I was hoping to avoid at tonight's event. Novell is trying to sell an operating system and a desktop interface, and it doesn't do the Novell community any good for us to be arguing over which interface or setup tool is better. I'm afraid that at BrainShare in March Novell's CEO will say something about Novell and Linux and inadvertently upset half the audience by mentioning GNOME instead of KDE. The trouble with Linux enthusiasts is that they all have different opinions about what makes the idea Linux installation, and will defend these opinions to death. These people scare me, and now Novell has invited them into the tent.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Comments are now available

Now the 3-5 people who actually read my blog can post their comments. Thanks to Chris Galdieri for the indirect tip on Haloscan; you can check out his blog via the link on the right.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Greek food and MoMA QNS

I spent the afternoon in Queens with my brother, who was in town for the weekend for a event. I joined his group of fellow Dopers(?) for lunch at a Greek restaurant in Astoria and then a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, currently located out in Queens while the Manhattan museum undergoes renovations. For lunch I had pastitsio, a sort of Greek lasagna with macaroni and ground beef. At the MoMA, there are selections from the museum's permanent collection on exhibit and two special exhibits. The permanent collection art disappointed me, compared to what I've seen in the Manhattan museum, but the special exhibits were interesting.

I'm glad I had the chance to spend some time with my brother and meet some of his friends from the Internet. And yet I'm disappointed that I spent my entire afternoon with people I (or rather, he) met through the Internet and not once did I quote Rob Truhn's oft-attributed line: "Sometimes you meet these chicks on the Internet, and they have no legs." All of the people I met today, men and women, had fully functioning appendages, as far as I could tell. And they were all fun to hang around; my fears of geeky inside jokes were unfounded. I'm tempted to join the Dope boards myself, though I really don't have the time to hang out on another web site just for the heck of it.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Hold the hot pants

The president of FIFA (the world's governing body for soccer) suggested that female players wear sexier uniforms to bring more attention to the sport.

My favorite line in the article is this one:

FIFA spokesman Andreas Herren said Friday that Blatter never mentioned the word "hot pants.''

But you have to see it in context. I laughed out loud at it.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Damn, it's cold out there

I've lived through cold weather like this before, but not since I was growing up in western Pennsylvania. January 1985 was particularly memorable: the temperature was 20 degrees below zero for a few days around the time of the presidential inauguration. It wasn't always that bad, but every winter we could count on a few weeks of subfreezing temperatures and plenty of snow. I looked forward to winter. So I'm entertained when it gets cold or snowy in New York and the city threatens to close down completely. But this current Arctic air blast is ridiculous. I actively hate the 4/5 trains now that number of people on them remains the same but they're all wearing so much extra clothing, it's even more crowded than usual. At least I'm finally getting some use out of the sweaters and warm pajamas we used to wear all winter in our old apartment. Our current place has such powerful heating that when it's above freezing outside, we're lounging in shorts like it's the middle of summer. Now that it's cold enough to run the Iditarod down Broadway, our apartment actually feels normal.

It's almost enough to make me wish for summertime heat. Almost.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Easterblogg's take on the Moon-Mars missions

Gregg Easterbrook has posted his thoughts on the Bush administration's new space initiative. I'm interested in this story, as you read in this space yesterday, and so you know I'm as big a fan of space exploration as you'll find. But this new plan is the boondoggle to end all boondoggles, as Easterbrook outlines clearly. Let's get a space elevator or a shuttle replacement first, and establish a cheaper, easier way to get people and things into orbit. Then we can think about getting to Mars.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Nerd Test

59.523809523809525% of me is a huge nerd! How about you?

The above link courtesy of my brother, who posted in his blog that he is 73.8% nerdy. I'd believe that, but not based on this test. I had no idea about some of these questions, and I can't imagine how he knows the answers that I don't. I forget, of course, that we've lived apart for 12 years, so anything is possible.

Why go to the moon?

President Bush wants to go to the Moon, and then to Mars. That's one hell of a bad idea with the economy still in such sad shape. Why should the American taxpayer care about going to the Moon or Mars. Plenty of people have enough trouble getting groceries and affordable medicine to get excited about space travel. I guess the idea is to distract the public with dreams of Moon landings to keep the focus away from the debacle in Iraq and more terrorism threats. It worked in the 1960s when everyone was afraid of war with the USSR, so I guess it could work now.

As much as I like the idea of increased space exploration, we need a cheap way to get materials and people into orbit first. A space elevator would be the best solution to this problem, giving us a stable orbital platform from which to assemble a Moon lander craft and ultimately a Mars lander. But I don't hear anything from the Bush administration about space elevator research. That's probably because it's the most boring but sensible proposal for getting to orbit, and it's not going to capture the imagination of the average American like a Moon landing. Nothing gets public attention like lavish unnecessary spending, and that's just what Bush is going to propose.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

I love Netflix

Last night, Liz and I watched The French Connection on DVD, rented from Netflix. What a fantastic movie! The acting, the action scenes, even the cat-and-mouse chase scenes were all riveting. I'd seen the subway chase before in countless clip shows but it was even better in the context of the complete film. We had fun playing "where in NY is that?" and I successfully picked out the Grand Central subway shuttle platform before it was identified on camera. On a different note, William Friedkin's direction was excellent, and we noticed the same camera angles and shots that he used two years later in The Exorcist. Before Netflix I wouldn't have thought to rent this movie at Blockbuster; I'd get distracted by more recent releases and pass up old classics like this one. But with Netflix, I put classics in the queue when I think of them and then it's a surprise when an old gem like this one turns up in my mailbox. If the ease of use and unlimited rental time didn't turn people on to Netflix, then the old movie angle should.

I feel like an idiot that I'm so excited for a 32-year-old movie that everyone else has seen many times, but if you're like me and haven't seen it before, you owe it to yourself to check it out, and on DVD. It wouldn't be half as good on TV.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

The Upper East Side and the USPS

Apparently, the Postal Service thinks that East Side walkup residents are not interested in receiving any packages, because they never deliver any without at least three notices and a visit on your behalf to the post office. Three times now we've had issues getting packages delivered to our apartment: most recently two Christmas presents, and before that, a roll of stamps we ordered from the USPS web site. See, the way it works up here in the 10128 area code is that our mail comes from the Yorkville Station post office on 3rd Avenue, but the mail carriers operate from Gracie Station on 83rd St. So if we ask for a package to be redelivered (because we were home but the carrier didn't bother to knock on our door or buzz our apartment and just left a notice instead) the carrier gets the package from Yorkville and takes it to Gracie. If we're home again but they don't drop off the package, it goes back to Yorkville. Or maybe to Gracie, depending on who we ask or what the mail carrier feels like doing. When we call Yorkville Station (because it's the number on the notices they've left us) they tell us to call Gracie Station. When we call them, they tell us that our mail is at Yorkville Station, so we should call them. Eventually, we get our packages, but it's always a struggle. We've been through this three times, and we're sick of it. So if you're going to send us something, e-mail me for my office address. My firm has a superior mail room staff that is happy to deliver any package large or small, with several layers of record-keeping to insure that it got there.

Oh, I almost forgot: last Tuesday, we didn't get any mail at all. Not because we didn't have any, but because the mail carrier must have skipped our building altogether. We taped the redelivery notice to our mailbox that morning, and it was still there when I got home from work after 6 PM. Someone finally collected it when they delivered mail on Wednesday.

And the USPS wonders why they're losing business to UPS and FedEx.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Happy New Year

We had planned to watch a movie last night, but SciFi's Twilight Zone Marathon sucked us in and we ended up watching many episodes of classic Rod Serling entertainment. When I was a kid, I had a book of original stories that became Twilight Zone episodes. I've tried to catch as many shows as possible that I can remember from the book. So far I've seen "I Sing the Body Electric," by Ray Bradbury, "The Mighty Casey," "Little Girl Lost," and "A Stop at Willoughby," though I missed "Third from the Sun," one of my favorite stories. But there are more than 12 hours of episodes yet, with many other gems to come. "Elegy," "To Serve Man," "The Eye of the Beholder," just to name a few.

Meanwhile, there is football, but so far most of the games stink. I am looking forward to the Rose Bowl in about an hour, but that's the only game I'm interested in today. I'm planning my weekend around the NFL playoffs instead.