Friday, May 28, 2004

another casualty of Atkins

A. Zito & Sons Bakery, a Greenwich Village landmark for 80 years, is closing this weekend, and the owner says one of the reasons is that his business is down due to the popularity of low-carb Atkins diets. While I'm not sure I believe Atkins has THAT much to do with the closing (he mentions increases in rent and truck insurance rates as other factors), I'm not surprised that media outlets have picked up on the Atkins thread. Gothamist also carries the story and laments the imminent closure of Columbia Bagels, though it's not clear that Atkins dieters are to blame in that case. What's funny is that earlier this morning, while cursing a commercial for low-carb milk (why, God, why?), I suggested to Liz that in 20 years we'll all eat a gray goo that has the exact amount of calories, fat, carbs, protein, etc., to keep us all thin and beautiful. Gothamist had the same idea. Maybe that diet will just apply to fashion-obsessed New Yorkers, and I can continue to enjoy meals like tomorrow's anniversary feast at Morton's, where I will consume a steak the size of my head (Atkins-approved), preceded by a loaf of onion bread covered in rich creamy butter (Dr. Atkins rolls over in his grave). With a Godiva souffle cake for dessert. I may not be able to move afterward, but man, will that taste good.

Come on, people: a little bread won't kill you. And you know what else? Neither will good old-fashioned exercise. Let's back away from the low-carb cliff and keep in mind that a few minutes of exercise each day will drop more pounds from your ass than all the Atkins-labeled foodstuffs you cram in your mouth.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Jerry Seinfeld's garage is completed

Jerry Seinfeld has more money than all but a handful of New Yorkers, so I'm sure he didn't even notice that it took five years and considerable expense to build a garage on West 83rd Street for his car collection. The Smoking Gun has details, pictures, and blueprints. I don't care about the cars. If he's going to be ostentatious enough to a) own five cars and b) keep them in Manhattan, then he's entitled to have a secure place to keep them. What bothers me is that the "bachelor pad" above the garage is probably as big as my apartment, if not larger. Somehow that offends me more than the utterly unnecessary need for five cars in Manhattan. At least he can't drive all of them at the same time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

the latest addition to my desk at work

My desk is a cluttered mess despite my efforts to keep it tidy. But I did find room for this baseball souvenir a friend gave me on my recent visit to Washington. He'd gone to Pittsburgh for a hockey tournament and went to a Pirates game at PNC Park, where he received the following as a free giveaway:

It's a figurine of Chuck Tanner, the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates 1979 World Series Championship team. The team is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the last Pirates team to win a championship. At the rate the current Pirates are going, it might be 25 years before they win another World Series.

(I took the picture with the camera in my Treo 600, which accounts for the poor quality.)

Gmail is more popular than I thought

As a member, a few weeks back I received an invitation from Google (Blogger's parent company) to try their new Gmail e-mail service before the system goes live. Even though I already have too many e-mail accounts that I don't check, I created my Gmail account anyway, just to see what the system looks like. It seems about the same as Yahoo mail, only with more space. I'm hardly using the account right now, and I don't see any circumstances under which I'd use it more. I guess if I were stuck with Hotmail all the time, I'd see Gmail as a big improvement. At least I've reserved my usual e-mail handle on Gmail, so no one else gets it.

Last week, Wired and The Washington Post both covered GmailSwap, a site where those who want Gmail can beg those who have it for an invitation to join now, instead of when the system actually launches. There are all sorts of interesting things offered in exchange for a Gmail account, though I suspect most people aren't following through on the offer once they receive their coveted invitations. I responded to one post and agreed to send an invitation to a Yahoo! mail user in exchange for two pounds of Starbucks coffee beans. I doubt I'll actually see the coffee, though, as the same user has continued to post offers for coffee, Starbucks aprons, computer parts, secret shopping tutorials, and other things in exchange for Gmail access. I have a strong feeling I've been taken. (In retrospect, I could have told the guy that I would send him the invite once I got the coffee, but what reason did he have to believe that I'd follow through? I could have kept the coffee and sent the invitation to someone else.) In economic terms, the Gmail system has little value to me, so if I gave up something of virtually no value (and certainly no monetary value) in exchange for no coffee, I don't think I've lost much. Ideally, GmailSwap would be a great bartering system. Unfortunately, I think it's just a waste of time. That hasn't stopped me from looking for another potential suitor for my one remaining Gmail invite. If you're reading this, and you actually know me personally, and you want the invitation, e-mail me. You don't even have to give me anything in return.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Angst about the cost of living in NYC

Today's column in the New York Observer discusses why people living here are upset at the latest price increases in apartments, taxis, coffee, brunch -- you name it, it costs more this year than last year and someone is mad about it. The most interesting part is the psychological need behind the willingness of New Yorkers to spend more to keep up with their peers and neighbors. It's more difficult to go back to eating at diners once you've had a taste of the Four Seasons, or shop at a discount store after years shopping at boutiques in Soho. Apparently the disappointment at regressing is much worse than the high you get when you make that upgrade. It hasn't happened yet, but one of these days sticker shock is going to convince me that it's time to move out of this town. It would have to be something utterly essential to my existence, like a major subway fare hike or a huge increase in our rent. And I don't think I could just move to the suburbs, either. I'd have to pack up and get out of the entire region.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Jon Stewart's commencement address

Jon Stewart gave this outstanding commencement address at William & Mary over the weekend. Why couldn't Georgetown have gotten someone like him for my graduation in 1996? I went to several ceremonies that day, and the best speaker the University had was Richard Holbrooke, who addressed the School of Foreign Service graduates about his role in the negotiation of the Dayton Peace Accords for Bosnia. My school, the College of Arts and Sciences, listened to a speech from Louis Dupre (whoever he is), and all I can remember about the address was that halfway through I lost track of what he was talking about and instead watched where he put his water glass each time he took a drink. I doubt many of the SFS graduates from that day remember Holbrooke or his speech, but at least I remember who was there and what he talked about. I'm sure many of the William & Mary grads will remember Jon Stewart's speech many years from now.

I think it's safe for me to say that Georgetown will NEVER ask me to speak at commencement. I cannot imagine what might happen in my life that would make me worthy of addressing a graduating class. Although I'm sure that when Jon Stewart was 30, he didn't think William & Mary would ever ask him to give a commencement address.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Can this franchise be saved?

Christopher Bahn has some ideas about what can be done to save the Star Wars franchise. (By the way, Episode III opens exactly one year from today. Fanboys: line up now.) I've said all along that George Lucas should have let someone else direct his films. I still think Hayden Christiansen has potential as Anakin Skywalker, if he can get more emotion out of Lucas' terrible dialogue. His performance in Shattered Glass showed that he has range beyond what he was able to do in Attack of the Clones. By now enough ink has been spilled about midichlorians and Jar-Jar Binks that I'll leave those concepts alone. Having just seen The Seven Samurai, I agree that the more cribbing Lucas can do from Kurosawa's films, the better. Heck, I'd pay twice to see Samurai remade as a Star Wars film. Set it about ten years before Episode IV, when Darth Vader and the Empire are hunting down the Jedi. A remote outpost needs protection from interstellar pirates and tracks down some Jedi Knights who are trying to hide from the Empire. Throw in a space battle and a kick-ass tangle between the Jedi and the pirates (who have hired a dark Jedi and a few bounty hunters as mercenaries) , and you've got two hours of movie that's got to be better than Episode I.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Meet the Press hijinks

Gothamist, among many other press outlets, has a post about yesterday's unusual interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell on "Meet the Press." I'm usually busy or asleep when the show is on (I'm still a lazy guy at 30), but yesterday morning I was up and had the show on, mostly to make myself feel intellectual. So I wasn't watching too closely when all of a sudden the camera on Powell panned over to the body of water behind the secretary, and Tim Russert asked for someone to put the camera back on Powell. It was just a strange interlude in the middle of what was apparently a good interview. To his credit, Powell dressed down his press aide and got the camera back for Russert's last question.

I did pay closer attention later in the show when Russert asked Senators John McCain and Joe Biden about the persistent rumors of McCain's possibility as John Kerry's running mate. McCain still denies any interest ("categorically" was how he put it) but Biden thinks he'd make a great vice-president. I don't think it's going to happen, but I can't think of another possible running mate for Kerry who would energize the race like McCain might. At least a McCain-Cheney debate would be interesting.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

I must be getting older

Liz has been out of town since Tuesday. Of course I miss her, but for the first time ever, the prospect of a weekend with absolutely nothing to do and no one to see didn't bother me. In fact, I looked forward to having two full days to myself.

In the past, when Liz was away over a weekend and I was unable to find anything to do or anyone with whom to spend my time, I lamented my solitude. I would see couples on the street or at sidewalk cafes, groups of people enjoying themselves at bars, and think that my weekend was a waste. If I had more friends, or different friends who weren't busy doing other things, I could be one of those people living it up instead of sitting at home watching TV like I usually do during the week. Weeknights are for vegetating and feeling my ass grow; weekends are for partying. That's what I used to think. Woe be unto me if I spent my weekend evenings inside, while revelers and partygoers carried on outside my windows.

So here's how my weekend went: On Friday night I got a giant sandwich from the pizza place on the corner and watched my DVD of Pirates of the Caribbean, followed by Bob Costas' HBO show and a few other things I'd been saving up. I woke up Saturday morning to a beautiful sunny day, so I enjoyed a long bike ride in Central Park. In the evening I went to Times Square to see Hellboy, which was a good-time fun movie to see if your spouse doesn't like the comic book films, but you do, and thus you're by yourself. I went home, ate a giant burrito, and watched Silent Rage, a terrible action/horror B-movie starring Chuck Norris and Ron Silver.'s Sports Guy loves it, but I can't understand why. It sucks big, hairy ass. Even with the thunderstorm raging outside and me alone in the apartment, it wasn't scary in the least. Stephen Furst as comic relief was just dumb, and the love scene with Norris and his girlfriend set to bad disco music made me want to claw out my eyes and burn out my eardrums. The only bad thing about watching a terrible movie like that on your own is that there's no one to hear you make fun of it. Maybe the cats liked my jokes, but since they didn't laugh, it's hard to tell. Today I spent my morning watching "Meet the Press" and cleaning the apartment, finally getting rid of most of the plaster dust and dirt from the electrical work a few weeks ago. So Liz will come back to a clean, or at least cleaner, apartment.

I'm not quite as grown-up and domesticated as my friend Chris has become (scroll down for the story about his garbage travails), but I'm getting there.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

a belated weekend review

I spent last weekend in Washington, DC, visiting my family and some old college friends. I had lunch with one friend who is now an attorney and works in the same building (but not the same law firm) as my stepmother. We had a great time catching up, talking about old acquaintances, and comparing notes on our employers, among other things. I had dinner with two other former housemates from Georgetown, and we had plenty of fun and good food at Red, Hot, and Blue in Rosslyn.

On Saturday, yet another old friend from school came out to my father's house in Maryland, bringing with him his wife and five-month-old son. He's now a doctor, about to move home to Alabama, so I relished the chance to see him one more time before he moves to a place I'm not likely to ever visit. Later in the evening, some family friends who were passing through the area stopped by for a visit, so it was one busy day. But as much fun as it was to see all of these friends, those weren't the best highlights of my trip.

After my grandmother passed away last August, my father and aunt cleaned out her house in England and shipped back to the States several boxes of old photos, memorabilia, souvenirs, etc. The last time I visited my father, in November, I spent an entire evening looking through old slides of family vacations, graduations, proms, and concerts. This time, I stayed up late into Saturday night looking through a box of old photographs, many of which dated back to the 1920s and 1930s. I found pictures of my grandparents on their wedding day and honeymoon, of various aunts, uncles, and cousins, some of whom I've never met and others whom I've only known late in their lives, and of my father as a young boy and young man. One of my favorite pictures showed the German army marching through the streets of the isle of Jersey (where my family originated). That would have been a "forbidden" photo, and we surmised that one of my grandmother's relatives who lived there must have snuck the picture from a window overlooking the street.

The most moving photographs were those of my father's two brothers who died as young boys during WWII, in a German bombing raid on Glasgow, where my grandmother and great-grandmother had gone as a refuge from the bombings of London. It was sad to see pictures of two boys who never had the chance to grow up, and to understand in some small way my grandparents' grief over their loss. Incidentally, the elder boy was my namesake: he was also Philip Edward Catelinet. I've known that for years, but I'd never seen a picture of him until now.

Mixed in among the pictures were all sorts of other souvenirs. I found a stack of congratulatory telegrams my grandparents received on their wedding day, the article my grandfather wrote detailing his experience performing the Ralph Vaughan Williams tuba concerto, and a dinner menu for a 1960 Salvation Army charter flight from New York to London on the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). What first caught my eye on this item was the last line, under the drinks list:

"Served with your coffee: your choice of Virginian or American cigarettes"

My father pointed out the menu of alcoholic drinks available during dinner and reminded me that the Salvation Army does not allow drinking. Someone must have screwed up.

Finally, I returned to New York with several mementos of my grandfather. He was a great lover of cats, so I brought back a coffee mug with three cats on it, and some plastic cat "stick-ups" that so far have landed in a kitchen cabinet, while we figure out where to stick them. I also brought back a metal sculpture of an orchestra or band conductor standing at a podium. And my favorite item was the most personal, at least to me: my grandfather's conductor's baton. It's well-used, with the wood grip's finish worn off and the tip covered in white tape, hiding the place where the baton broke years ago (apparently it used to be at least half again as long as it is now). But it means a great deal to me, since I once thought of myself as a conductor. Even if I never use it, I will always have it to appreciate what he did with it.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Time to mess around with the blog again

My RSS reader picked up this eWeek story about Blogger's new features, like comments, posting by e-mail, member profiles, and new templates. I don't mind the template I'm using now, but every time I see another blog using it, I think about changing it. But the e-mail feature is something I've wanted for a long time. Now I can post updates from my Blackberry or maybe even my Treo. I'm not sure about Blogger's comments since I've been happy with Haloscan, except for the few times their site is down. I wonder how long Haloscan's business will last now that Blogger is giving away the comments feature.

Mostly I just wanted to post to make sure the new Blogger web site still works for me.

Friday, May 07, 2004

We're still here...

"Friends" ended last night, and yet the world didn't come to an end, as NBC may have led you to believe. There's always next week's finale of "Frasier" to signal Armageddon.

The "Friends" finale wasn't the best wrap-up ever, but it did tie up as many loose story ends as possible, and it was entertaining. I laughed more during this episode than I have for most of the shows this season, so that's a point in the show's favor. I'm glad that Ross and Rachel finally got back together, not that it was much of a surprise. As improbable as that relationship was, those two made a good couple. Too bad for the Paris job, I guess. The twins were a surprise, and I liked Chandler's reaction to the news. It would have been better if Joey had had more to do than look for the chick and duckling in the foosball table. I guess the writers will invent the premise for "Joey" in the pilot episode, which I'm sure means that we'll see some of the other "Friends" characters show up in that episode to help give him a sendoff and give the show a ratings boost right away. While I wouldn't think that a spinoff would do any good (I thought "Frasier" was a bad idea, and look how that turned out), I think "Joey" stands a good chance of being a hit. What else does NBC have to offer?

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The end of the world comes on Thursday night

Jennifer Frey's views on the impending conclusion of "Friends" clarify some of the reasons why I've grown tired, even resentful, of the show the past few years. I still like it, but the older I get and the longer I live in New York the show has become less interesting to me. Frey thinks that the show was always about escapism for the viewers. "Friends" always existed in a sort of vacuum, where most real-world events never affected it. (This is not a new viewpoint; I know I've read this idea elsewhere before.) 9/11 is the best example: where shows like "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City" at least addressed the terror attacks and the aftermath in passing, "Friends" never acknowledged that the world outside the characters' circle had anything to do with them. Of course, Frey also mentions things like Rachel's disappearing baby, Ross' missing son and ex-wife, and the clothes and apartments that people living on their supposed salaries could never afford. I still think the show's departure is long overdue, but if I remind myself that none of it is supposed to be real, I can accept it a little longer. Until Ross gets whiny one more time; then I'm going to put my foot through the TV.