Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Getting screwed out of an apartment

I think the moral of this essay in the Village Voice is that even though it costs a bundle and a half, use a broker when you're getting a New York apartment. It would be so easy for anyone in this town or any other to show their own (rented) place, take thousands of dollars in security deposits and rent, then take off for points overseas without U.S. extradition treaties. I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often. Maybe it does, and those kinds of stories are so common they just don't make the news.

(Linked via Gawker)

Friday, June 24, 2005

Last night's Engadget meetup

Last week, Engadget put the word out that they were hosting a meetup event in Manhattan's East Village on Thursday night. I've never been to a meetup event before, but I figured this one sounded like fun, and less of a forced social interaction than other meetups I've avoided thus far (NYC bloggers and Slashdot, primarily). So after work I took the J/M/Z train to Essex Street in the East Village, feeling like I was in another city altogether. That's what happens when you take an unfamiliar subway line to an unfamiliar neighborhood. I found the location of the meetup without any trouble: Compact Impact, a Japanese gadget store. It's not really an electronics store like I'd seen in Tokyo. It's just a storefront with a small showroom of quirky Japanese gadgets, like a light-up pen, magnetic necklaces, portable inflatable speakers, and so on. The Engadget editors were already there chatting with attendees and handing out raffle tickets for the giveaways later that night. Around 8 PM they held a Q&A session, and I asked the first question (is there any perceived competition with Gizmodo or other gadget blogs) and one of the last ones (what upcoming gadgets or toys were the editors excited about). Then, at about 8:45, they raffled off about 20 different prizes, including Nintendo DS games, iPod add-ons, a Pocket PC, and an Orange SPV smartphone. I didn't win anything, but I still had fun talking to other gadget geeks and seeing the editors (whom I'd heard before on podcasts but never seen in person).

The only bad thing about the event was that the store was way too small for the number of people who showed up. There were probably 150-200 people there at peak times like the Q&A and the raffle, and the store was just not large enough to fit everyone comfortably. I'm sure we broke several fire code regulations. It's hard to find a large space in New York that could hold that many people and allow for speakers and microphones without costing the organizers and attendees a fortune. I spent about half my time outside the store keeping cool and talking to other "Engadgeteers," and ventured inside just for the main events. Also, they offered free beer in small plastic cups, which was a cool gesture. But there were quite a few kids there who were under 21, and while I didn't see any of them drinking, I didn't see anyone carding them either. I kept hoping we'd avoid a police bust for serving minors (talk about your flashbacks to college days!). I think it was a great event nevertheless, and I hope they have another one. I need another chance to win a new cell phone.

I took a few pictures at the event, and I'll try to remember to upload them tonight. I did send them to Engadget, so they may show up there before they show up here.

PS: Engadget has their story up now, with a few of my pictures as well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

It's the end of an era in Pittsburgh

Myron Cope has retired as the color commentator for and most recognizable voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I grew up listening to Cope's colorful broadcasts of Steeler games, and his various "Copeisms" (see the link for a list) were the absolute highlights of the game. His postgame show, where he presided over a loving audience of semi-inebriated fans in "Cope's Cabana," was always great fun to hear. My mom and I used to listen to games on Sunday afternoons when we'd play orchestra concerts, go to Pittsburgh, or otherwise be away from the TV, and no matter how the team was doing that day Myron Cope made the game worthwhile. When James and Rob went to a Steelers game in 1998, in my directions to Pittsburgh and the stadium I strongly recommended that they tune into "Cope's Cabana" on the way home. Upon their return to DC, when I asked them about the game and Cope, James said, "That guy was juiced!" I saw Cope once in person, after a Steelers-Texans game at Heinz Field. He took calls and questions from a small group of hardy fans in the "Cabana," smoking and nursing a beer the whole time. I didn't have the chance to meet him, but just seeing him made me feel better about a terrible game that the Steelers should have won easily.

Cope, whose previous career was as a sportswriter for newspapers and Sports Illustrated, is going to continue writing in his retirement. His memoir, Double Yoi!, is a wonderful account of his life as a sportswriter and broadcaster, and should be required reading for any Steelers fan. I'll have to get some of his other books as well. Steelers games on the radio won't be the same without him, but at least he'll keep on writing.

Monday, June 20, 2005

new pictures

Exactly one month after the trip to Portland and Seattle, pictures from the vacation are now available on my photos page via the link on the right side there. I also uploaded a few pictures from the NYC Mississippi Picnic on June 11. My apologies for the near-unendurable delay in posting these new pictures, and I'll try to do better next time.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Neal Stephenson's thoughts on "Star Wars" in today's NY Times

Neal Stephenson offers his opinion of Revenge of the Sith and what the movie means for popular culture in an op-ed contribution entitled "Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out." He suggests that today's technology experts and scientists play a similar role in our society as the Jedi do in the "Star Wars" universe. As someone who has always wanted to be a Jedi and use the Force (and even developed a comprehensive comparison of the Jedi and Novell network experts), I love Stephenson's idea. If only that were a lightsaber clipped to my belt instead of a Blackberry....

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Gizmodo tries some OS X on Intel wizardry

The big announcement in the computing world last week was Apple's decision to switch from PowerPC to Intel processors. While Mac zealots and ordinary users have sung the praises of Mac OS (and especially OS X) for many years, there was never a way for PC users to get in on the action without buying an overpriced computer from Apple with a PowerPC processor inside. (Note to non-techies: software written for PowerPC-powered computers won't run on Intel-powered PCs, and vice versa.) However, with the announcement of the move from PowerPC to Intel, there's a distinct possibility that Apple will start selling OS X as a standalone operating system that will run on any Intel-based computer. Suddenly, the world of OS X may be opened to everyone, regardless of the hardware platform used. Even if Apple keeps their OS on their hardware, I think it's a good move for them to use Intel processors. Their systems have lagged behind Intel's for several years, so now Mac users will enjoy the speed of the latest processors, and will no longer need to point to the beauty of their OS as a reason to endure slower computers.

But the migration to Intel hardware will take Apple a few years, so all the rejoicing and speculation is premature. However, there are rumors that Apple already has a version of OS X that runs on Intel platforms, and that such a beast is loose in the wilderness of the Internet. Gizmodo found a Bittorrent file of a possible OS X Intel release, and this is the story of what happened when they tried to install it. I laughed out loud while reading it.

And if you don't get the term at the end, just Google it.

Monday, June 13, 2005

No more student loans

This is sort of old news at this point, but as of the end of May my student loans from college are paid in full. Nine years after the fact, my degree is mine and mine alone. Granted, people who know will remind me that one of the major benefits of going to Georgetown was that my tuition was free because my father worked at the university (and still does). Even with that serious chunk of money off the table, I still had to come up with money for room and board, books, phone and cable bills, and so on. My parents helped out, and I had a series of work-study jobs for all four years (one of which turned into a career in IT). But I also had to borrow money from Aunt Sallie Mae. However, with my final payment last month, I'm all clear. One major debt is gone from my life.

Now I can go to law school! No, wait...

I can pay down my credit card bills instead. Hmmm...

Screw it, I'm buying a car. No more subway for me, I'm driving to work!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Music meme time!

Eric called on me to respond to this musical baton blog thing that seems to be going around like the flu. The albums came to me quickly, but the songs required a greater effort. At one point I almost included Damn Yankees' "High Enough," as an example of my high school hair metal power ballad days, but realized that even though I really like that song, it's far too cheesy to be included on the list. I'm happy with my selections.

Total size of music files on my computer: 25 GB, 4258 songs. That's on my iRiver MP3 player, but it's roughly a mirror image of the music on my home PC. That includes most of my own CD collection, about twenty of Liz's CDs, some CDs I've ripped from my Dad's extensive collection, and a bunch of podcasts. They're mostly MP3 files, but a few years ago I went through a brief phase of ripping albums in Ogg Vorbis format. Since Ogg files won't play on an iPod, that precluded my purchasing one, and that's one of the reasons I got the iRiver instead. That, and I hate iTunes.

The last CD I bought was: I came back from Oregon with 10 or 11 used (but new to me) CDs, all of them classical.
Bruckner, Symphonies 3, 4, 5 and 8
Mahler, Symphony No. 5
Mozart, Flute Concertos
Bach, organ music
Leonard Bernstein, Orchestral suites from West Side Story, On the Town, and Fancy Free.
Also, Liz picked up Johnny Cash's Live at San Quentin to add to our growing Cash collection.

Song playing right now on my iFruit (that's iRiver to you): the latest Bandana Blues podcast. It's one of several blues podcasts I listen to each week. This one is a joint production between a guy here in the US and another one in the Netherlands, with a great assortment of old and new blues music.

Top five albums:

Led Zeppelin, II
Guns N' Roses, Appetite for Destruction
Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited
The Beatles, Revolver
The Who, Tommy

Five songs that mean a lot to me:

"Faithfully" - Journey
This song was the theme for my senior prom in 1992. I went to the prom with Carol, who has been one of my best friends for many years. The song is a reminder of that time in my life, and of her. While the lyrics don't represent the relationship she and I have had over the years, I think it's a great love song anyway. And I wish I could play it on the piano.

"Desolation Row" - Bob Dylan
Liz and I probably own a dozen Dylan albums, including live concerts, and I could easily choose any song from any album for this list. But "Desolation Row" is my favorite track from Highway 61 Revisited, and it's just a beautiful song, lyrically and musically. I wasn't always a Bob Dylan fan, but listening to this song convinced me. Dylan's skills with the harmonica are the perfect embellishment, and the solo here reminds me of an argument Liz and I had with her aunt and uncle on our trip to Oregon in 2000. We were driving from Portland to Seattle, listening to "Desolation Row" on the Live Bootleg 1966 album, and Liz and I argued that Dylan is one of the greatest harmonica players ever. I think her aunt and uncle disagreed, but I can't remember who they said was better.

"The Scientist" - Coldplay
Last fall, I decided to give Coldplay a try. James and Jess had raved about how great the band was, and I knew Liz liked a few of their songs. I only knew one Coldplay song at the time, and I didn't even know its name. So I tracked down A Rush of Blood to the Head and listened to it on the way to work one morning. When "The Scientist" started up, with its simple melody and piano chords, I couldn't believe how much I loved it. I'd never heard anything like it that I'd enjoyed that much. I've since become a big fan of their music, and I would have bought their new album on Tuesday except for some work issues that kept me from getting out at lunch. I'm definitely buying it this week.
By the way, the song I knew turned out to be "Clocks," which is also a great track, though not quite as excellent as "The Scientist."

"Good Morning, Good Morning" - The Beatles
When I was in college, I used to go to my father's office in the medical school late at night to study. Usually I was alone, but sometimes Anthony, one of the students who worked for my dad and a good friend of mine, would also be there studying. Whenever we were there at the same time, we didn't get much work done; instead, we'd talk about girls, classes, and music (he was the pianist for the choir and we'd performed together several times). One night we were listening to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Anthony got incredibly excited about the meter changes and the brass parts in "Good Morning, Good Morning." We played it a few times, marveling at the sheer fun of the song. I remember him listening, laughing, and making me laugh along with him. I think about the two of us hanging out, having fun and putting off work. Definitely good times.

"Sinfonia" from Cantata No. 29 - J.S. Bach, Switched-on Bach (Wendy Carlos)
My parents are both musicians and from an early age my brother and I were exposed to classical music. We would listen to it in the car on road trips and at home on weekends -- Pittsburgh FM station WQED's "Listener's Choice" program was a fixture of our Saturday afternoons. But I didn't really get into classical music until my father introduced me to Switched-On Bach, Wendy Carlos' Moog-synthesized versions of some of Bach's works. I nearly wore out the vinyl edition of the album, and later the cassette tape copy I made of the album. This piece is the first track on the album and a joyful explosion of music that's unmistakably Bach yet unusual by its electronic sound. It might be the one work that turned me on to classical music forever. It reminds me of an age when I was discovering composers and classic works, hearing fantastic old music for the first time. Every once in a while, I'll hear an unfamiliar piece by one of my favorite composers and I'll feel that excitement again. It makes me feel young.

Recent discoveries?
I hear all sorts of new music through podcasts, but one band stands out: WIYOS, an old-time blues/folk/ragtime-sort of band I heard on Dave Raven's Raven 'n' Blues podcast a few months ago. Also, Liz's uncle is a big fan of Chris Knight, and played a few of his songs for us. The music was cool: a more countrified version of early Bruce Springsteen, but the songs on the album were so depressing that they made Nebraska sound like a collection of party anthems.

Who's next?


Monday, June 06, 2005

The best steak I've ever cooked

I will now sing the praises of my own cooking skills.

Monday nights are usually "fend for yourself" night in our house. Liz has to get up extra early on Tuesday mornings, so rather than wait for me to get home to make dinner, she usually eats by herself. As a result, I'm free to make anything I want on Mondays. Usually I make some sort of messy omelet or egg sandwiches, but I wanted something different tonight. James has been telling me for the longest time how delicious a steak seared in a cast iron skillet can be. So I decided to give it a try. I picked up a sirloin steak and a small potato at the grocery store and found this recipe online so I'd know the temperatures and timings. I followed the recipe exactly and I have to say I've never cooked a better steak in my life. It wasn't the best steak I've ever eaten -- I'll reserve that accolade for the porterhouse at Morton's of Chicago -- but it was by far the best one I've ever cooked. Liz tasted it and agreed with me that it was an excellent steak. I can't wait to make it again with better meat, from FreshDirect. And I cooked it a little longer than I like. It was medium well instead of a plain medium. But now that I've done it once, it will be easy to get it right the next time.

I overcooked the baked potato, but that's OK, as it was hardly the focus of the meal. But damn! that was one hell of a steak.