Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Chemex vs. the electric drip coffeemaker

Here's the promised photo from the Easter Sunday coffee showdown. The thing on the left is the Chemex coffeemaker; the one on the right is my father's 10-cup electric coffeemaker. The Chemex comes with a leather strap that secures a wooden holder around the stem so you can pour the coffee without burning your fingers. And the filters the Chemex coffeemaker uses are, of course, proprietary Chemex filters. Given the amount of effort involved in making coffee with the thing, I can't understand why anyone buys them.

New computer update

I've been using the new PC at home since Monday night. It's taken me a few days to get things set up the way I like them, but so far, I'm impressed. I've only played Unreal Tournament 2004 on the new system, and I had no idea just how cool the graphics looked on a top-shelf computer. I haven't had a chance to pick up any new games yet, but maybe this weekend I'll install something new. I also need to get an external USB enclosure for my 40 GB backup drive. One thing I'm really enjoying thus far is the new keyboard. My last Dell keyboard wore out quickly, and Liz and I both suffered with stiff keys for three years. This new keyboard feels more responsive and springy. Hopefully it will last longer than a year.

As for the old PC, my hopes of setting up a Linux server have been dashed once again. There really isn't room for me to have two full-size PCs in the office, especially when Liz gets her furniture in here. I've offered the computer to one of my friends, but I'm still waiting for his reply. I was planning to send Liz's old Compaq laptop to Dell for recycling, but one of my colleagues at work suggested that I post it on eBay. I've never tried to sell anything on eBay before, and I can't imagine anyone would want the old laptop for anything but parts or a museum display. But it only costs a few cents to list it, and who knows? I could actually make a few bucks that way. If there aren't any takers, I can still send it to Dell and do something good for the environment.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Easter weekend travels and travails

Our trip got off to a slow start, as it took us an hour to get from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and then another 20 minutes to find the entrance to the BQE from James & Jess's apartment in Ft. Greene. But by 7:30 we were on our way, and after a stop at a rest area in New Jersey we were fed, fueled, and ready for the drive. We passed the time listening to albums that I somehow missed over the past few years: Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Radiohead's OK Computer, and Franz Ferdinand (though I hadn't missed that one). I also treated everyone to some selections from my MP3 collection: the two sample songs from Stovokor (which we all agreed sucked ass), a little Mountain Sprout, and some Beatallica. We got to Bowie around 12:30 AM, chatted with my father for a while, and went to bed around 1:30. It had been a long day for everyone.

When my dad and stepmother got up on Friday morning, they noticed that our rental car was missing. Since no one from our party had gotten up early, they quickly figured out that the car had been stolen. Dad woke James, who got up right away to talk to the police. Liz and I hadn't left anything in the car, but James and Jess had left a few things there: some gifts for our friends' baby, James' coat, wallet, and briefcase, and their portable CD player and some CDs. Around 10 AM James got his briefcase returned to him. He is in the middle of his studies for his conversion to Judaism, and had some rare books that he'd borrowed from his rabbi in the bag. Evidently the car thief was kind enough to drop the bag and books at the synagogue, where a man attending the early morning services found the bag in the parking lot. Due to several complications with the car rental policy, we weren't able to get another car from Enterprise: 1) we'd violated our agreement by leaving the NY-NJ-CT area, and 2) Enterprise couldn't get us another car until they got a copy of the police report, which wasn't going to happen until Monday at the earliest. Liz and I immediately made train reservations for Sunday, and James & Jess planned to take the Chinatown bus instead.

We made some adjustments to our schedule and proceeded with our day. Liz, James, and I took the Metro into DC, while Jess went to Laurel, MD to visit with some other Georgetown friends. Liz and I had lunch with Marilyn (one of Liz's friends from her old DC paralegal job) and Michael (one of Liz's high school friends). After lunch the two of us went to Alexandria to see Rich & Theresa's new baby, Colin. We hung out there for a few hours and got some great pictures of Colin, mostly him sleeping on Rich's chest. Leaving VA, we took the Metro back downtown to Foggy Bottom where we met up with Chrissy and her fiance Michael. We drove out to Bowie and ate at Chili's (yes, the height of suburban chain-restaurant cuisine).

On Saturday morning Liz and I drove over to Gaithersburg to see Rob and Marissa. They were in the process of moving her stuff into his townhouse, so we only had a short time to visit with them, eat breakfast, and catch up. After that, we went back to Bowie and relaxed while my dad prepared the lasagna we'd asked him to make as the main course for dinner that night. My mother and brother showed up late in the afternoon and we enjoyed some of the best lasagna in the world.

We reconvened at 11:30 on Sunday morning for brunch. My father made quiche along with fresh bagels, lox, and fruit. My brother had brought along his 1970s-era Chemex (tm) coffee maker, and my mother insisted that we had to taste-test the coffee made with it next to regular electric drip coffee. They futzed with the Chemex for a while, using two-month old Blue Mountain beans from Zabar's in Manhattan, and argued about grinds, measurements, and water temperatures. During this experiment, my father looked as if he wanted to shoot himself, and even I, an avowed coffee snob, prepared to light myself on fire. We decided that the Chemex coffee was weaker than the drip coffee, but that might have been due to the coarsely ground beans in the filter. Unfortunately, I'd already had two cups of coffee, so I'm not sure I was the best test subject for the project. We chatted for a while after brunch but soon it was time for Liz and I to go to the train station. Another family reunion weekend in DC was over.

We came back on Amtrak, with a man snoring away behind us who could challenge my father for his title of loudest sleeper in recorded history. When we got home, our plans to have fresh pizza for dinner were dashed when the pizza place on the corner was closed. So was the nearby grocery store. We had to settle for frozen pizza from Gristede's instead. Just because Jesus came back from the dead, people think they should get the day off work.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Dude, I got another Dell!

It's the week of new computers here at Five Guys Productions. Liz got her new laptop on Monday, a Dell Inspiron 6000, and this afternoon my new gaming rig, a Dell Dimension 8400, arrived in my office. Here's what I got:

Pentium 4 640 series (3.2 GHz, 800 FSB)
256 MB nVidia 6800 GTO video card
250 GB SATA hard disk
SoundBlaster Audigy2 sound card
DVD-ROM and DVD+/-RW drives

It's not the top-of-the-line gaming system I'd get if money was not a factor, but on paper it's a great PC for a good price. Too bad I don't get to take it home until Monday, since I'm leaving straight from work to go to DC for the weekend. I can't even plug it in here at the office to fire it up, because I need to buy a $10 video adapter for my monitor first. And I'd probably get in some trouble for wasting time futzing with it. (No comment on the hypocrisy of blogging from work instead.) So I'll have to wait until Monday night to try out my games on my new monster system. I can't wait to see what Rise of Nations looks like on a system that can adequately handle hundreds of soldiers shooting at each other. And my first new game purchase for the new PC? Half-Life 2. As little Jamshed once said, "Oh, how I have waited for this day." Except that I get to wait just a little longer.

And then there's the question of what to do with the old system. For the moment I'm planning to keep it, and maybe turn it into a Linux file server. However, Liz may insist that I find a new home for it, so we'll see. Now is when I really need my man-cave.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Liz's latest project

For the past several years, Liz has worked with Connie Leung, a personal trainer, as both a client and a business associate. Last Friday, Connie's web site, Connie Leung Fitness, went live, and Liz played a major role in getting the site up. She produced all of the content, layout, and color schemes, while Rob Rotondi did the technical design, artwork, graphics, and coding. If you're in the New York City area and interested in working with a trainer, Liz and I can both vouch for Connie's skills and expertise.

We now return to your regularly scheduled non-advertising related blog posts.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Klingon rock

I give you Stovokor. Kahless himself would be impressed.

I can't be certain, but they just might be singing in Klingon. I didn't understand a word of either song I listened to on the way home, and the subway noise had nothing to do with it. But I did have the urge to eat gakh and drink blood wine.

UPDATE: Apparently they're in the movie Trekkies 2. Now I've got to see it.

The craziest sports day of the year

Dan Shanoff highlights all of today's insanity in today's Daily Quickie on It's the first day of the NCAA tournament, when thousands of office workers either skip out for long lunches or hide auto-refreshing scoreboards behind Word documents. Since I have a meeting this afternoon, I'll be taking the latter route. I've got six brackets: five in's online contest and one on the Washington Post's online game. I don't remember who wins in each one, but at least I had fun picking the early round games differently each time. I guess I'll pick one "master" bracket that I can agonize over for the next two weeks. Once again, I don't have any money at stake, just my pride.

It's also Congress' day to grill current and former major league baseball players on steroids. I think if the House really wanted to focus on baseball, they should have put these hearings off until Monday or Tuesday, so they could dominate the sports news cycle. Because that's what these hearings are really about: making news. Congress does have the power to revoke baseball's antitrust exemption, but they're not going to do it over steroids. I agree with Tony Kornheiser, who thinks the entire circus is an excuse for Virginia congressman Tom Davis to rake baseball over the coals for not putting a team in his backyard. I do think that the steroid scandal casts doubt over the records set in the past ten years, but aside from putting asterisks in the books, I'm more interested in what MLB is doing now to combat the problem. And doesn't Congress have better things to talk about than baseball?

And it's St. Patrick's Day. I can't wait to come home to drunk off-duty cops and firemen staggering around the Irish bars on 1st Avenue. I must be getting old, because I'm really beginning to detest any holidays that are just excuses to drink heavily. I'm looking at you, Halloween and New Year's Eve.

I hate tax time

Every year, it's the same routine: buy the tax software, go through ever-increasing numbers of forms and receipts, and watch the refund/owe meter fluctuate every time I enter a number or go back and check something. I went through both the federal and New York state taxes tonight, and watched the numbers jump all over the place. They seem to have settled now, after I wrangled a particularly nasty form into place, and they're not favorable. It's not as bad as 2002, when we owed so much I almost cried, but it's still painful. For next year, we're getting an accountant to do the taxes. With Liz's home business and everything that goes along with it, the taxes have become too difficult for me to do, even (or especially) using TaxCut.

Damn guv'mint, always takin' my money. I blame the Republicans, especially George Pataki.

And we had a major subway service outage on the East Side on Wednesday. A signal cable corroded and broke, shutting down service during the morning rush. It took me an hour to get to work, via a crosstown bus and a West Side subway line. Then, the replacement signal cable broke in midafternoon, screwing up the system again. I got home at a reasonable time, but come on! I pay $76 a month for the subway -- the least I ask is that it runs during RUSH HOUR. Again, I blame Pataki, for not helping out New York's transit system with more federal and state money. Of course, that money just comes out of my tax bill, so I guess I end up paying either way.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Frank Rich on TV, censorship, and a new movie

In this Sunday's New York Times, Frank Rich writes about the new documentary The Aristocrats. The film is a collection of comedians all telling variations on the same filthy joke, which is without question the raunchiest, nastiest bit of humor you will ever hear. But Rich's article is also about censorship and how television has changed over the past few years. I think it fits in well with the recent items on governmental oversight of the media.

Credit for the link goes to Liz, who e-mailed it to me on Thursday morning. First Jess sends me a link, and now Liz. Soon I'll have an entire press bureau, or at least an army of sources like Dave Barry has for his blog.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Most Expensive Album Never Made

I don't read the New York Times that often, so I have to thank Jess for sending me the link to this article this past Sunday about Guns N' Roses' long-awaited, oft-delayed new album, "Chinese Democracy." Maybe all you really need to know is this one line about the excesses of the many recording studios involved in the production over the years:
...Buckethead announced he would be more comfortable working inside a chicken coop, so one was built for him in the studio, from wood planks and chicken wire.

Rolling Stone had a feature on Axl Rose in 2000 that shared some of the same details as this article, and it's amazing that not much has changed in five years. Aside from a few live shows and an appearance at the 2002 MTV Movie Awards, Guns N' Roses the band is as dead now as it was in 1995.

Long ago, about when Slash, Duff, and Matt Sorum left the band, I gave up any hope that the album would be worth a damn. I'd much rather hear what Velvet Revolver does next than wait for Axl's magnum opus. It reminds me of Michael Douglas' character in Wonder Boys, who can't stop working on the followup to his bestselling novel -- at one point we see he's written over 2500 pages.

I think Jess said it best in the subject of the e-mail she sent me:
"Which will happen first: "Chinese Democracy" or, well, Chinese democracy? You make the call!"

Another troubling sign of government intervention

The Utah state legislature has approved a bill that would attempt to ban Internet porn. The details in the preceding link are fascinating. Apparently the lawmakers have no idea how this Internet thingy works. The bill would create a registry of Utah "adult content providers," require anyone who makes or hosts Web sites to rate their content for suitability for minors, and require Utah ISPs to block registered content for subscribers who request it. Never mind that most Internet pornography is created and hosted well outside the borders of Utah, and thus wouldn't be subject to the law. I love this quote from the link:

Creating a registry of Utah-based adult sites will not stop anybody from accessing online sex any more than standing chest deep in the Colorado River will stop its rush toward the Gulf of California.

Like Senator Stevens' proposal to apply FCC regulations to cable and satellite systems, and Jack Thompson's crusade against violent video games, Utah's anti-Internet porn bill is another attempt to remove parental responsibility for child-rearing. Why should parents have to worry about what their kids are watching, surfing, or playing, when they can let the government regulate all the content for them?

Friday, March 04, 2005

why haven't I been posting lately?

Mostly because I'm lazy. But I've also been working on a side project for a few weeks that has monopolized my weekends and evenings, for the most part. When it's done, I'll be sure to post about it. Most of you probably know what I'm talking about, since I've already filled you in, but if you're out of the loop, fear not, for all shall eventually be revealed. It's really not that big a deal, but I'm keeping it quiet until I'm done.

I've had a few thoughts to share with the group lately, so I'll try to put them up here soon.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Senator Stevens wants to regulate cable & satellite decency

This Republican family values crap is getting WAY out of hand. Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska told a group of broadcasters that he wants to extend FCC regulation of content to cable and satellite systems. (FCC standards currently apply only to broadcast radio and TV.) He thinks that people don't distinguish between broadcast and pay channels anymore, since most get their broadcast TV from cable and satellite services. I don't think he's got much of a chance to achieve this goal, despite a friendly White House and Congress. Cable and satellite companies have deep pockets and could tie up any legislation in the courts for years. If the government can't regulate indecency online, they're not going to be able to do anything about cable and satellite operators.

But it made me think about what's next on the government oversight agenda: DVDs? Movies? The recording industry? I can get my nudity and foul language from many other sources.

Where do you draw the line, Senator?