Sunday, February 29, 2004

An unexpected visit to Queens

This morning, Liz and I went to Queens for the funeral service for my mother's aunt who passed away on Friday. Some of you who know me might remember that my great aunt and uncle lived on Park Place in Brooklyn and that we used to visit them occasionally since we moved to New York over four years ago. My great uncle, her husband, died last summer, she had moved to her daughter's home in New Jersey, and her health had taken a few bad turns lately. It was a touching service. The two eulogies, one given by a neighbor from Brooklyn, the other by her son-in-law, reminded me of my aunt's love for family and friends, her garden, and her neighborhood. Liz pointed out that she also had a great love for animals; she and her husband kept cats for most of their lives, and after their elderly cat died last year, they got a new one-year-old cat. Even at the end of her life, she was still making jokes about the care she received at the hospital (she wasn't happy with the amount of salt in her IV drip) and enjoying the time she had with her family. My great aunt was a wonderful, funny, special woman, and I'll sincerely miss her.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Today' Tom the Dancing Bug

On the eve of the Oscars, today's TtDB made me laugh out loud.

Sorry I haven't written anything this week. I'd have posted my thoughts on gay marriage, or the presidential primaries, but many others have expressed what I'd want to say, only far more eloquently. All I'll say is if two people want to get married, let them get married. Go right ahead. I don't see why that should be a problem.

Liz and I saw a play tonight featuring a friend of ours in a prominent role. I can't comment on it yet, until we talk to him tomorrow at our Oscar party. Maybe I'll be able to write about it after that. Believe me, I REALLY want to post my opinions on this production.

Monday, February 23, 2004

my first impressions of the French press

The coffee I had from the press was better than the Filterfresh machine, but not even close to the Starbucks/drip quality to which I was becoming accustomed. I did get a small amount of sludge in the bottom of my cup, which is nothing new since the FF machine gives me the same thing. I think I used too much water for the initial brew, and too much milk in my cup (since the kitchen is down the hall and I didn't want to keep walking the hallways carrying mugs and coffeepots, I put the milk in first). But it was my first attempt with the press, so I'm trying to be forgiving and resisting the temptation to drop the whole idea and go back to Starbucks. I read the press pot guide on and found out right away that I'm not using the right kind of grinder for press pot coffee. Apparently a blade grinder like the one I have makes excellent fine grounds perfect for drip coffeemakers, but can't produce a uniform coarse grind suitable for a press. Hence the omnipresent sludge at the bottom of the mug. Since the alternative to the blade grinder (a wedding gift from a good friend) is a large and expensive burr grinder, I think I'll work with what I have. And my beans are several months old and not freshly ground by the time I make the coffee in the afternoons. Again, unless I start buying fresh beans in my office neighborhood and grinding them at my desk, I'm stuck with these limitations. If I go any further with this obsession, I'll have to start selling coffee at my desk to cover the costs. At least I'll go through the beans quicker if I'm using them every day. There is an empty cube in our space for the next few weeks. Maybe I could turn that into a coffee stand and make some extra cash.

The whole reason I have this problem in the first place is that I don't like to drink coffee with breakfast. I usually have a bowl of cereal and some OJ, and I've found that coffee doesn't sit well with that combination. The last time I did that, I was wired and vaguely nauseous until lunch. If I ate a full breakfast of eggs, sausage, muffins, etc., then I'd happily make drip coffee at home. But I don't have that kind of time or appetite in the mornings, so cereal it shall be. Besides, a cup of coffee around 2:30 PM is a great way to wake up for the rest of the afternoon.

Look at the fancy boy, with his ooh-la-la French coffee press!

I've become a coffee snob. The free coffee at the office comes from a Filterfresh vending machine, though I don't think of it as coffee. The drink that comes out is bitter, weak, and bears only a passing resemblance to what the rest of the civilized world considers to be coffee. We've complained to the catering company that handles the machines, but even when they change the grounds the coffee still tastes nasty. I spent most of last year drinking a cup or two a day of this crap, knowing that it was terrible. After I went home for Christmas and enjoyed good coffee made by my mother, I decided that I'd had enough of the crap. I got a Starbucks card for a Christmas present, so I started getting a cup a day from the Starbucks in the lobby. I also started drinking the coffee from the cafeteria, which is Ritazza and about the same quality as Starbucks, but for $.50 less. In my department, we've talked about getting a coffee maker, but I'd been advising against it. If we share a coffee maker in our office space, we have to share the chores of buying the grounds (and deciding what kind to get), keeping the machine clean, and so on. I know that it would get ugly after a while.

My policy of roughly $1/day on coffee lasted until Friday, when we received a money management book from my in-laws. One of the first anecdotes is about a woman who spends $3.50 a day on her grande double non-fat latte and realizes that her coffee habit is costing her big bucks from her future retirement income. I've heard this advice before, and had thought that $1 a day wasn't so bad, but in my financial situation, even good coffee can be a frivolous purchase if I do it every day. Having previously ruled out a drip coffee maker, I took the plunge (literally) and bought a coffee press for $20. I already have high-quality coffee beans at home, so I figure I can grind 2-3 days' worth of coffee and leave it in the refrigerator here at work, then make myself a decent cup whenever I want it. I'll try it after lunch and see how well it works out for me.

My latest kitchen exploits

For no other reason than it sounded like a tasty meal, I decided to make red beans and rice for Sunday's dinner. First I had to buy a stock pot, which I got at Bed, Bath, and Beyond on Saturday afternoon (along with a coffee press--more on that later). Then, on the way home, as I was reviewing the ingredients for the red beans, I realized that a) I needed lots of chicken stock, and b) I had old chicken bones in the freezer from which I had long planned to make stock but lacked a stock pot. Since I now had said pot, I made my own chicken stock on Saturday night. It sounds more exciting that it was. We did find time to go out for dinner with friends and entertain them at our place for a few hours, and I only got up every twenty minutes or so to skim the fat. The stock turned out OK, a little bland, but there was plenty to use.

Sunday night was the main event. I used one of Emeril's recipes for the red beans and rice, complete with the ham hocks and sausage. It was surprisingly easy. Everything went into the pot, covered with the stock, and it simmered for about two hours. I also made the cornbread that James baked for the Super Bowl soul food feast. Liz gave the entire meal an "A," and her criticisms were constructive as always. She likes a sweeter cornbread, so I'll add a little more sugar next time (and maybe some chopped jalapenos) and while the sausage and pork were delicious, the beans and broth didn't have much flavor. James makes this dish all the time, so I'll ask him what he does to make it extra tasty. I put some hot sauce in my bowl and it kicked things up the requisite extra notch.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Sportswriter responses to the Colorado football scandal

Some of the writers in's Writers' Bloc have posted their thoughts on the football program at the University of Colorado. I was appalled when I read in this week's Sports Illustrated Katie Hnida's account of her treatment and rape at the hands of Colorado football players. If it was possible, I was even more appalled/aghast/disgusted when I heard Coach Gary Barnett tell reporters in person, in front of cameras and microphones that his players treated Hnida the way they did because she was an "awful" player who "couldn't kick the ball through the uprights." Barnett has since apologized for his comments, which he claimed were "misinterpreted or taken out of context." Unfortunately for him, he's been suspended by the university pending an investigation, and the school president called his comments "unacceptable."

I should be surprised that someone like Barnett is in charge of a Division I football program, but after characters like Rick Neuheisel and Mike Price lost their jobs (for gambling and blowing university expense account funds on strippers, respectively), and years of stories about academic fraud in other programs (like Minnesota basketball a few years back) I'm not shocked by anything that happens in college athletics. But there's no way that Barnett should be allowed to keep his job after this week's events, even if it turns out he didn't know anything about the strippers, the harassment, or the alleged rape. Just the fact that these practices went on during his tenure should be enough to cost him his job. As the head coach, he must be held accountable for the actions of his assistants (who allegedly hired strippers for recruiting parties) and his players. There's no way to fix this problem with him staying at Colorado.

By the way, Rick Reilly's column in this week's SI is one of his best. It's not available online yet, so you'll have to pick up the magazine on the newsstand. Or you can borrow my copy when I'm done with it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Who wants a salary cap in baseball?

The owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry, responded to reporters' questions today about the Alex Rodriguez-to-Yankees trade by saying that baseball's economic system is 'out of whack'. He thinks that baseball now needs a salary cap instead of the revenue sharing and luxury tax system currently in place.

I don't have much sympathy for Mr. Henry. His team tried for several weeks to negotiate a trade for A-Rod and couldn't get the deal done. Had the Red Sox acquired Rodriguez, I guarantee you that Henry wouldn't have e-mailed reporters with the opinion that baseball needs a salary cap to keep his own team's spending under control. But because the Red Sox have to compete directly with the Yankees (they're in the same division) and the Yankees have no drag whatsoever on their payroll, now Henry thinks baseball needs a hard cap. Unfortunately, he's working under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that doesn't have a salary cap, and baseball isn't likely to institute one in the next agreement either. The baseball owners brought this state of affairs on themselves two years ago by not forcing a cap on the union or shutting down the game. NHL owners are prepared to shut down their league for as long as it takes to get a hard cap in place to prevent contracts like Rodriguez's from destroying hockey. If John Henry wants to own a team in a league with more favorable economic conditions, he should try the NFL. As much as people complain about parity and the salary cap in football, at least the season is always exciting and interesting, and nearly every team has a reasonable chance to make the playoffs. In baseball, my Pittsburgh Pirates can't hope to compete with the likes of the Yankees on the field or off, and so they're looking at a 12th consecutive losing season.

I agree with John Henry on this one: baseball needs a salary cap. However, he should have pushed harder for one when he had the chance. It's too late to complain now.

The future of mobile computing

I'm a regular visitor to Gizmodo, so I read with interest this article about one pundit's views on where increased storage will take mobile technology. I agree that greater storage on cellphones and PDAs will lead to more applications and hardware innovations to take advantage of the extra room. But I don't agree that it's a good thing. For the most part, I like a simple cell phone that just keeps track of my numbers and maybe a ringtone or two. I still don't see why cameras or video games need to be bundled into the cellular package. Just because I can keep my PowerPoint presentations on my PDA doesn't mean that it's the best tool to show them.

Speaking of new mobile technology, this seems as good a time as any to reveal that despite my love of simple cell phones, for the past few weeks I've been using a Treo 600 provided by my office as my phone and PDA. I wasn't as hot to get one as most people seemed to be, but when one of the pilot program units found its way into my possession, I didn't hesitate long to give it a try. Four years ago I bought a Palm Vx and used it lovingly for two years. But when I got an HP/Compaq iPaq from the office in December 2002, I made the PocketPC switch. Now I'm back to the Palm OS, and loving every minute of it. While the Treo 600 offers a web browser and rudimentary "push" e-mail functionality, I'm cheap, and since I don't pay for the data service on my AT&T account, I'm only using it as a phone/PDA combo. Even so, the phone sounds just as good as my Nokia 3595, and no one I've talked to has noticed a difference. I have a web browser on my Blackberry (data service paid for by my office), so I haven't really needed the browser on the Treo yet. I had to buy a $10 stereo headphone adapter, but once I got it I was able to listen to MP3s on the Treo just as I did with the iPaq, using my 256 MB Sandisk SD memory card for storage. The keyboard on the Treo is smaller than the Blackberry's, and I've had a little trouble with it, so I'm glad not to be using the Treo for my e-mail. I was able to reload almost all of the old apps I used on my Palm Vx and upgrade the ones that didn't run on the newer Treo OS. The built-in camera is nearly useless to me, as I already have a much more capable digital camera with important features like a flash and zoom lens. But I can see where people might want to use it, and it takes acceptable pictures for a cellphone camera.

Overall, I'm happy with my new toy, and so far my employer doesn't seem to mind me using it, so I'm going to keep it as long as they'll let me. I still don't see a need for an all-in-one gadget in my life, but the Treo is beginning to convince me I'm wrong. I know for sure that I'm keeping my Nokia phone for the few times I won't need the expensive and possibly fragile Treo. When I go cycling, for example, there's no way I'm putting the Treo in my Camelbak or saddlebag. And it's always good to have a backup cellphone just in case.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Brief weekend review

Friday night: Liz and I saw The Triplets of Belleville, one of the most creative and imaginative movies, animated or otherwise, that I've ever seen. It's about cycling and the Tour de France, but in the same way that Star Wars is about robots. The music alone is amazing, and I can't wait to see how the title song is performed at the Oscars.

Saturday: Liz volunteers at the ASPCA and she went to an adoption event where the featured guest of honor was the losing finalist from the first "Average Joe" series. I don't want to say that this guy wasn't a hit, but he had a stack of publicity photos and not many takers. Liz told me that someone at the event had to call her friends to come over and meet him so he would have something to do. At least the day was a success for the animals: at 3 PM when she left four dogs and fifteen cats had been adopted.

We went to Dawat, one of New York's best Indian restaurants, for dinner. They offered three prix fixe menus with five items each, and since we each ordered different options, we had about 10 dishes on the table when the main courses arrived. It was busy but delicious. Since they didn't offer sag paneer that night, we'll have to go back so Liz can get her favorite dish.

Sunday: I made buttermilk waffles for brunch and we spent the afternoon listening to Bob Dylan and George Jones CDs.

Monday: we went to see 21 Grams. It was quite a downer, though the actors were superb. Naomi Watts is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses, and though it had nothing to do with the movie, I kept wondering when Sean Penn will star in a biopic on Johnny Cash. Regarding the movie itself, at first I was put off by the editing, but after a few minutes it started making sense chronologically and helped the story. Next on my depressing Oscar movie list: Mystic River.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Is "Friends" overrated?

One TV reporter on thinks so. In looking at the series' key element, the relationships among the six cast members, Mr. Moore points out that there's not much depth to any of these characters. They've never gotten too far beyond what they were at the beginning of the series. He makes some other good points, but I think that the main problem with the series today is that it's just not funny anymore. Last night's big wedding episode just bored me to the point that I started washing dishes to get away from it. I'm sick of Ross's dorky behavior, Monica's control-freakishness, and where the hell are they hiding Rachel's baby? Apparently starting next week the writers are getting Ross and Rachel back together again, which is fine with me since I don't think they should have ever broken up. But if the series had ended abruptly last night I wouldn't care. It's been on too long, and I'm not looking forward to all the network hoopla that is certain to accompany the finale.

But is "Friends" overrated? I think it's a good sitcom, and in its best years in the late 1990s it rivaled some of the classics, but overall, I'd say it's just above average. For me, its reruns don't have the same "rewatchability" as "Seinfeld" and "Simpsons" reruns do. I think that's a crucial distinction that separates a good show from a great one.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

I'm Basil Fawlty!

I've always been a big fan of John Cleese, beginning with Monty Python and later in his movies and TV appearances. Of course, I also love Fawlty Towers, and tonight I finally broke out the DVD set I received for a holiday present. While watching some of the special features about the real-life hotel manager in Torquay, England, who was Cleese's inspiration for Basil Fawlty, and then the first episode of the series, I realized that I am Basil. And it's not necessarily a good thing. He flies off the handle at any perceived slight, he gets frustrated when being berated by his wife for not doing something she asked him to do, he hates requests from guests, and he mistreats the hired help at his hotel. That sounds so much like me at work it's almost scary. Luckily most of my co-workers think I'm funny when I'm upset, so that helps avoid potential problems. While I'd like to think I could change my ways, I'm not sure I want to. One of the funniest moments in the first episode of the series is at the end, when Basil is furious that he can't continue to abuse a crooked hotel guest (because the police are hauling the guest away) and he can't persuade a rich, classy couple to stay at his hotel. All he can do is clench his fist, rage at the potted plants outside, and go inside and break something. Cleese used to do this sort of thing on Monty Python as well, and I always found it hysterical. Maybe I need to start doing that at work. After a help desk phone call that ticks me off, I can just hang up and shake my fist at the phone while referring to the caller as a "toffee-nosed snob."

Or I could try therapy. No, I like my first idea better.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

No more "Playmakers"

ESPN has cancelled its dramatic series "Playmakers" after just one season. Unfortunately for the show, ESPN decided that it values its relationship with the NFL and its sponsors more than its programming, which is a shame. Like everything else in this world, it all comes down to money. I will admit that while the show was entertaining, I wondered how there could possibly be a second season, since they covered nearly every imaginable plotline in eleven episodes. They had marital problems, drug use and rehab, unplanned pregnancy, parent-child issues, homophobia, cancer, and steroids. I can't think of any story line that was left unmentioned, so aside from rotating these stories through the cast, I doubt a second season would do as well in the ratings. Still, I'd like to think that ESPN would have stood up to the NFL and said "it's just a show, relax." I never took any of the storylines that seriously, despite the "ripped-from-the-headlines" intentions. I thought it was about the same level of realism as the average "Law & Order."

Maybe the show will get a second chance on another network, like Showtime, that needs more highly-rated and critically-praised programming. I think it's unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Monday, February 02, 2004

My "Big Game" review

First of all, despite what MTV would have you believe, the incident with Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake was completely planned. Why else would she wear a tear-away bustier, and why would he hold onto the piece of it he tore off? (Go here for close-ups of Janet's unique nipple piercing -- the link isn't safe for work, so if you can't see it now, she's not wearing a pastie, it's a star-shaped piercing.) You can expect this footage to replace Howard Dean's scream in the pop-video rotation next week. The word is that the NFL does not expect to allow MTV to produce future halftime shows. Does this mean Up With People will be making a comeback?

Second, the commercials were mostly lackluster. I liked the Willie Nelson advice doll ad and the Bud ad with the talking monkey, but most of them were forgettable. The AOL ads weren't bad either; James liked the one where the driver of the hot rod went back in time. As usual, you can never go wrong with guys getting hit in the crotch, animal flatulence, or women in bikinis. James and I got the most comic mileage out of the ads for Cialis, especially the one describing the possible side effects and counteractive medications. In case you missed it, we think Cialis will give you (if you're a man) a foot-long erection that lasts four hours (and requires immediate medical attention) and weighs you down in front to the point that you'll suffer lower back pain hours later. And if you have a heart condition and take Cialis, you'll get low blood pressure as well. Doesn't that sound great? Where can I get a free sample?

Our meal was excellent. James' fried chicken was crispy yet juicy, the macaroni and cheese was creamy, and the collard greens were spicy but not too bitter. The cornbread was good but needed a little more bite, perhaps from jalapenos or homemade creamed corn. My lemon chess pie came out less solid than I'd hoped but was sweet and tart just the same, and I brought home half of it to enjoy later.

Finally, the game was better than I thought it would be. It's not one of the greatest games ever played, but I'll put it near the bottom of my top ten Super Bowls. I thought that Adam Vinatieri would miss the field goal at the end and we'd see our first ever overtime championship, but he picked the right time to make the kick.

So that's it for another football season. Now I get to suffer through the Penguins' cover-your-eyes-awful season, and the Pirates' soon-to-be terrible season. How soon is the NFL draft?