Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Jon Stewart on "Larry King Live"

I never watch LKL, so I completely missed Jon Stewart's appearance on the show for a full hour on Thursday, June 25. But I just finished reading the transcript (thanks to Gothamist for the tip) and I can practically visualize how it all went down. Stewart is insightful and hysterical at the same time, as he tends to be on The Daily Show, and the interplay between him and King is entertaining. It's a long read, but well worth it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

So what's YOUR neurotic behavior?

At the beginning of his chat today, Gene Weingarten posted some of the responses he received to a previous week's request for examples of neurotic behavior. All I have to say is that there are some bizarre, sick, and twisted people in the DC area.

Also, Gene hates the comic strip Mutts, even going so far as to post a "Mutts Embarrassment of the Week." He is now calling for the strip to be removed from the Washington Post, along with Classic Peanuts, BC, Family Circus, and others that he despises. I agree that some of these comics need to go, especially ones like Peanuts where the cartoonist is now deceased, but I enjoy Mutts. It's cute, sometimes it makes me laugh, and it always reminds me of my cats. I was going to say that Gene's problem with the strip is that you have to be a pet owner to really enjoy it, but I think he has a dog, so there goes that theory. I have to give him credit for turning me and many others on to Frazz, the best comic currently not appearing in the pages of the Post. (Liz, I know this because a) I read about it in Gene's chats, and b) I read the actual paper comics when I visit my dad.)

Sunday, June 27, 2004

The NY Times on the NY Philharmonic

Liz will be surprised that I'm posting this link. She doesn't think I ever read the NY Times. I don't, usually, but this evening I came across this article in the Magazine about the current state of the New York Philharmonic, America's oldest orchestra. At first, it's a discussion of the organization's financial status and recent changes in the subscription concert sales policies, but the orchestra's music director, Lorin Maazel, and the future of the orchestra also come into focus. It's seven pages online, but for me it was a quick read. Basically, the NY Phil is in much better shape financially than many other American orchestras, but they're struggling to find ways to attract and retain patrons like other artistic institutions.

Liz and I would love to purchase season tickets, but we would have a hard time affording even a small package of a few concerts a year. We had season tickets to the National Symphony Orchestra when we lived in Washington, DC, and I really miss the concerts. While listening to classical music on CD, MP3, or radio is excellent, it's no substitute for a live performance. Now, as typical New Yorkers, we look forward to the annual concerts in Central Park as our chance to hear the NY Philharmonic for free. This year, we're going on July 19, when the orchestra performs Smetana's Overture to The Bartered Bride, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, and my all-time favorite piece of orchestral music, Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Wired Magazine on Robots

Wired has an article on the upcoming film I, Robot and Isaac Asimov's literary career re: robots. I've always been a huge fan of Asimov's works, especially the "Foundation" and "Robot" novels, though I enjoyed everything of his that I read. And when I was growing up, I read plenty of Asimov. The article is a good overview of what he had to say about robots in general. I agree in part with what Doctorow says about Asimov's fiction (see page 2), but I think that for Asimov, character development was never that important. Visions of future worlds and societies were his primary focus, and his characters just took the story where he needed it to go. I'm sure that I wouldn't appreciate his books the same way now as I did fifteen or twenty years ago, but for me, a child with a serious interest in science fact and fiction, nobody explained it better or told a better story than Asimov.

I'm more than a little apprehensive of the movie version of "I, Robot." It's been years since I read the book, but I don't remember any guns or explosions in any of the stories. The movie trailer makes it look like a typical Will Smith summer blockbuster: loud and violent. Which in and of itself isn't so bad, but in the context of an Isaac Asimov story seems jarring. In fact, I can't recall any novel or story of his that directly involved violence. Usually his characters found peaceful ways to avoid conflict. Perhaps I'll just take it in as a sci-fi yarn, and try to forget the creative genius behind the source material.

Shmooze with Average Joe?! Sign me up!!

New Yorkish links to the summer's premiere event for Jewish singles, the Summer Shmooze cocktail party featuring Adam Mesh from NBC's "Average Joe." I got a spam e-mail about this party and thought I was special, but it seems I'm just in their target demographic: I have an e-mail address.

I love the picture of Adam in the ad. He's got a goofy smile, a cheesy unbuttoned shirt look, and an orange rainbow behind him. Who came up with this design? Attention ladies: you had your chance to meet Adam for free last February, when he was the featured attraction at an ASPCA adoption event on the Upper East Side. Now you'll have to pay, and pretend to be Jewish if you're not.

BTW, I'm back from Frankfurt, for the three people who didn't already know that.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

football and more...

On Tuesday night, Kerry and I watched the Germany-Netherlands game in the bar on the ground floor of the Main Tower, where my firm's office is located. The local IT administrator took us there on Monday for a pre-dinner drink and said that it was the place to be on Tuesday nights. And he was right. The bar has two areas inside the building - a glass-enclosed traditional bar, and more seating in the lobby just outside the bar, where the games were being projected on the wall. We arrived a few minutes after the game started and since the lobby was full, we had to drink in the bar itself. Inside the bar, we heard a DJ spinning old and new dance music instead of the game commentary, which was OK since neither of us understands any German. So we watched the game through the glass wall and enjoyed the "scenery" of the bar (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, etc.). For some reason, the bar employs three dancers - one shirtless guy and two women wearing nothing more than bras and panties - who danced in front of the DJ and on top of the bar. At one point one of the female dancers got another female bar patron to dance on the bar with her, giving us two shows to watch: the game and the dancers. Germany led after a goal in the first half, but the Netherlands scored in the 81st minute and the game ended in a tie. After the game the bar filled up and turned into a real "meat market." We observed the mating rituals of young Germans for a while (not much different from American mating rituals), then called it a night just before midnight. Despite (or due to) drinking two half-liters of hefe-weizen, I had the most restful night of my trip so far.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Sunday night and Monday in Frankfurt

On Sunday night, we found a street full of pubs showing the England-France football game in the Euro2004 tournament. England scored in the 38th minute but was unable to hold the lead until the end. France scored two goals at the end of the second half to win the game and break the hearts of all the English fans. Although I was rooting for England, I wasn't too upset about the loss. If it had been the Pittsburgh Steelers blowing a lead like that against a rival like Baltimore or Cleveland, I'd have been crushed, so I can understand how football-crazy Europeans get upset over a loss like this. It's only the first round, and England can still move on in the tournament by beating Switzerland and Croatia. Check the pictures link for some shots of Frankfurt and of us watching the game.

On Monday we went to work (that IS why I'm here). So far, the project is going well and we haven't had any serious complaints from users about the new firewall restrictions. It looks like we'll be done by Thursday evening, which is convenient since my flight leaves on Friday morning.

Part of the fun of dining in Frankfurt is figuring out what the English translation of the German menu really means. Kerry, one of my co-workers here, is a vegetarian, so he's had some trouble ordering meals. At one restaurant, one of the dishes said "tofu" along with some other words, in the English translation. It didn't mention that only part of the dish was tofu -- the rest of it was some sort of poultry. Last night, he was about to order something labeled "tatar" until I figured out that it was what we Americans call steak tartare, or raw meat. Instead, he had French onion soup and potato pancakes. I had a delicious veal cordon bleu, which was two veal cutlets pressed together, stuffed with ham and cheese, then breaded and fried. Served with fried potatoes and washed down with a half-liter of hefe-weizen, I'm lucky my heart didn't stop. But it was damn good.

Tonight, we're looking forward to the Germany-Netherlands match. We're going to find a busy pub area and enjoy the game with a large crowd. I don't think I'll cheer for Germany, but I definitely WON'T root for the Netherlands.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Still awake in Frankfurt

I've arrived safely in Frankfurt. I'm convinced the Frankfurt office only hires one driver, because the same guy who met me at the airport last year met me again this time. It's good to see a familiar face when you're in a foreign country. I think I actually slept for about an hour on the plane (which never happens) because I don't feel as tired now as I usually do after a red-eye flight to Europe. There's not much to do in Frankfurt on a Sunday: all the shops and most of the bars and restaurants are closed. We went for a long walk around town, ate lunch at one restaurant that was open, and had ice cream at a sidewalk stand, but by 3 PM we decided to hang out in our respective rooms until dinner at 7 PM. I watched a little of 24 Hours of Le Mans, but I must have taken a nap because when I came to, the race was over. Now I'm watching Switzerland vs. Croatia in the UEFA Euro 2004 football tournament. Soccer commentary in German isn't as exciting as Andres Cantor, though I'm sure the announcer will become animated if someone scores. Not that I care much about this match. Later tonight, England plays France, so I'll definitely have a team to root for in that game. Assuming I stay awake that long.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Wi-Fi comes to the Presidents Lounge at Newark Airport

I'm waiting in the business-class lounge to board my Saturday night flight to Frankfurt. Over the past four years at my firm, I've gotten to know this lounge well. Those of you who have never been here aren't missing much. You get free coffee, comfy leather chairs, and a view of the tarmac that's a little brighter than the one you get at the gate. Usually I have some coffee, a snack, and read while scoffing at my fellow travelers who can't be out of touch for a minute. These folks would hook up their laptops to the phones at the little tables and pay exorbitant rates to send a few e-mails. Although my office would pay for it, I've never dialed up from here, because I've never needed to, and because I only go online by modem in extreme emergencies. I've wondered why the airlines didn't put in a pay-per-access wireless network; I'd use that in a heartbeat.

Today, while walking up to the lounge's entry desk, I noticed a sign advertising the lounge's new complimentary wireless access for us business travelers. Now I can surf for free while waiting for the boarding call. Thank you, Continental Airlines. You guys rock. If only I had something important to do online right now....

Thursday, June 10, 2004

A soldier's view of a state funeral

In Thursday's Washington Post, Stephen Hunter writes an account of his role in the funeral for Dwight Eisenhower in 1969. I'm fascinated by the rituals associated with the military, and often moved by those traditions associated with state funerals. Hunter recounts the preparations that the privates went through, including multiple inspections and polishings, and the long stretch of time when he stood on the street waiting for the caisson bearing Eisenhower's body to pass by. Only then was he allowed to move, from one military stance to another. Today, Joel Achenbach writes about the honor guard in the Capitol Rotunda for Reagan's lying in state. It seems nothing has changed in 35 years, which is a good thing for this aspect of the military.

The closest I've ever been to what these soldiers go through is the time I had to substitute as a model for a Georgetown University art class. It was fall 1993, and I was a student worker in the Fine Arts department. One of the Drawing professors came in late in the afternoon, looking for anyone who could model for his figure drawing class. The regular nude model hadn't shown up. I agreed, but refused to do the job al fresco, and he said that was OK. I stood on a pedestal about five feet off the ground. For the first hour of class, he had the students draw quick sketches of me in various poses, most of which I chose: a quarterback with right arm cocked in a passing motion; playing an imaginary viola; variations on "The Thinker;" and so forth. For the last drawing, he asked me to assume a casual pose and hold it for about 20 minutes. No problem, I thought. I stood on the pedestal with my hands in my pockets, looking casual. For the first few minutes, I was fine. Then I started to notice some of the things Hunter mentions in his article: my heartbeat, my bladder, stiffness in various joints, etc. About fifteen minutes in, I felt lightheaded and the room started to go black. I knew I was about to pass out, but somehow I fought through it, shifted my position slightly, and managed to hold out until the class finished. Afterwards, one of the artists, an acquaintance, told me that he thought I was about to collapse; I had hoped that no one would have noticed. Anyway, the point of a long story is that if I couldn't get through 20 minutes standing with my hands in my pockets, I can't imagine how anyone could stand ramrod straight in a dress military uniform for hours at a time. It's just beyond my understanding.

You think your job stinks?

I'm having a rough day here: a too-long subway ride this morning, many things to do today before my Frankfurt trip, including a run up to the vet to exchange a bag of one type of cat food for another, and even a meeting that's sure to be tedious. But that's a picnic compared to this tale of the day in the life of an investment banker. I'm exhausted after just reading it -- I can't fathom what it would be like to live it. The accompanying article explains that the author no longer works for the unmentioned employer. He took a substantial pay cut to go to a job with regular hours. Anytime I start thinking that my compensation pales in comparison to what the associates here make, I need to remember that I get to go home at a regular hour and keep my weekends for myself. That's better than any sum of money.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

A different view of Ronald Reagan

It's impossible to avoid the accolades and tributes to the late Ronald Reagan this week, as the nation prepares to bury him on Friday. In today's Washington Post, Marc Fisher looks at Reagan's presidency and legacy a different way. Like Fisher, I also never understood how so many people could love this man so much, when he seemed so out of it, so detached from the realities of life in America. I didn't hate him (or if I did, it was a childish hatred born out of a lack of understanding of politics), but I knew that his economic ideas had long-term consequences for my generation, that his foreign policy might have gotten us all annihilated by the Soviet Union, and that his social ideas were just plain wrong. (OK, that's just me being a Democrat almost since birth.) There are those who promote Reagan as the greatest president of the 20th century, who seek to put his face on our paper money and coins, and who would name something in every state and county in the nation after him. They're wrong on every count. I'd put him in the top 10 presidents of the last century, but the Roosevelts, LBJ, and maybe even Clinton would come before him. (Clinton, for all his faults, did preside over one of the greatest periods of economic growth in history.) Besides, Reagan already has an airport, a federal office building, and an aircraft carrier that bear his name. Do we really need to name every third public school and municipal court building after him? If the Republicans have their way, I guess we do.

Reagan's passing is a sad occasion, and I admit that I'm moved when I read and hear some of the things people say about him. Thinking about Reagan reminds me of my middle school and high school years, which were filled with heated arguments with my conservative Republican friends about Reagan's policies and ideals. While I was usually on the losing ends of these arguments, they were some of the best times I had with my friends. Oh, to be young, idealistic, and naive about the real world again....

Friday, June 04, 2004


I gave my second and last Gmail invitation to Ed, the proprietor of Caffeine Free Digital, a mostly technology-oriented blog. I didn't get anything in return, other than an eventual plug for my blog in his. I just wanted to get rid of the thing, and from his posts and e-mails he seemed like a decent guy.

I've been drafted for more business travel this summer. I'm going to Frankfurt next Saturday for a week, then London in July, and Hong Kong and Tokyo in August. We're deploying a managed desktop firewall to all of our PCs, and my department is in charge of the server side of the operation. So we need to go along for the rollout and make sure people can still work despite our policies blocking any applications we don't want to allow, like instant messaging, viruses, and trojans. I don't know much about the software, but I'll pick it up in a hurry.

As part of my agreeing to work on this project (not that the idea of free travel around the world wasn't enough of an incentive), I asked for and received a new laptop. I had been using an IBM T30 ThinkPad for about a year, but I never really liked it that much. It was fast, and it had a touchpad, but it was large and heavy, and not particularly sleek for a ThinkPad. Our firm's summer associates, as well as myself since yesterday, are using brand-new T41 ThinkPads, which are slightly lighter, but faster and much better looking than the T30s. Plus they come with DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drives, so now I can rip and burn CDs and watch movies with the same portable PC. I think the screen is a little bigger than the T30, so my DVDs should look even better while I'm sitting in business class for seven hours. There's still no decent 3D gaming support in these laptops, but I can play Age of Empires II, so I'm all set.

On Wednesday night I watched The Magnificent Seven. Among other things I got from the movie, I now understand why Steve McQueen was such an action idol in the '60s and '70s -- he is the embodiment of cool. The closest modern actor I can think of who has or had the same onscreen persona would be Harrison Ford back in the '80s, in his Han Solo-Indiana Jones years. And even he played up the humor more than McQueen did in his roles. McQueen was more of a deadpan joker. It's fun to see all these great actors of that generation - Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn - in a film where none of them, save Brynner, had the fame and acclaim they would later achieve.

While Kurosawa's epic The Seven Samurai doesn't feel like it's over three hours even though it is, I liked the fact that The Magnificent Seven tells its story in a little over two, without sacrificing much to do so. It's missing some of the emotion of Samurai, though. For example, aside from the three boys who are upset at the death of Charles Bronson's character, I didn't get the sense that anyone else in the town would mourn the gunfighters the way the villagers in Samurai were going to mourn the fallen swordsmen. But overall the story translates well to the format of the western.

For me the best part of the movie was the music. Elmer Bernstein's score is one of the most famous in all of cinema, and even though I've heard it many times before, there's nothing like hearing that sweeping string melody while watching the hired guns ride across the open plains. It makes me want to head out on the range with my horse. Unfortunately, my horse is a hybrid bicycle, and the soundtrack doesn't fit well with the image of a guy in tight shorts and a colorful jersey pedaling around New York.

The DVD includes a 45-minute documentary in which the producers and surviving stars (as of 2001, when it was made -- at this point only Robert Vaughn and Eli Wallach are still alive) discuss the genesis and making of the movie. Bernstein's score gets a few minutes all by itself at the end, for those who enjoy that aspect of movies as much as I do.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Gmailswap works, in my case

Last week, I wrote about the popularity of Gmail, even in beta test, and my use of to unload an unwanted Gmail invitation. At the time I thought I'd wasted my invitation, but on Friday afternoon I got two bags of Starbucks coffee in the mail, just as we'd agreed. I had accidentally given the swapper the wrong ZIP code, so that explains why it took a few extra days for the post office to route the package. I still have one invitation left, and I've had a few e-mails from interested parties. The offerings on Gmailswap don't interest me right now -- they're either worthless or seem too good to be true -- so I've still got the invitation. I have a feeling that Gmail is going live in a few days or weeks, so the invitations will be worthless themselves soon. I guess I'd better get something for my last invitation soon.