Sunday, July 31, 2005

the bike ride to nowhere

On Saturday, James and I went for a long ride in New Jersey. I had suggested we find the Hudson River waterfront path on the Jersey side and ride down to Liberty State Park. He countered with a cue sheet for a ride out to Woodcliff Lake and Tice's Farm. Since I didn't have a cue sheet for my ride, I agreed to his idea.

We met at Central Park at 10 AM and set off for the GW Bridge. Since he let me lead, I got us there on the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway instead of Riverside Drive (which was one the cue sheet). No problem, though: we climbed the steep hill just past the bridge, turned around, climbed another few hills, and crossed the bridge. On the Jersey side, we set off in the wrong direction on Hudson Terrace, and quickly turned ourselves around. Then we cruised down the hill and missed the turn for Edgewater, so we had to backtrack up the hill again. After the Edgewater turn, we were in Palisades Park, which had some great wooded paths but plenty of steep climbs and speedy descents. We rode for about an hour, stopping periodically to consult the sheet and figure out where the hell we were. Ultimately we decided to give up on the cue sheet and just see where the path took us. Another rider said that the path ended about a mile and a half up the next hill, in Nyack. So we climbed another steep hill to get back to 9W, the highway that leads back to the GW Bridge. As we started back for the bridge, we finally saw the turn that put us back on the cue sheet to Tice's Farm. Since it was just after noon, we changed our minds and went back to our original plan.

The ride out was mostly on two-lane roads, with more rolling hills than I'm used to. We passed through several suburban neighborhoods, including the picturesque town of Westwood, where James once bought a bike frame. The hills and the heat were beginning to take their toll, and we couldn't wait to get to the farm and take a good long rest break. Finally, after two hours of riding, we were on the road that led to Tice's Farm. But where was the farm? We saw corporate offices for Hilton, KPMG, and BMW, a shopping center, and a grocery store, but no farm. We didn't think we'd find an actual farm -- on the way we'd passed several roadside produce stands labeled "[So-and-so's] Farm", so we figured that's what Tice's Farm would be -- but there was no sign of anything rustic out there. Eventually, we gave up and assumed that Farmer Tice sold out to the Gap, Pier 1, and Victoria's Secret so they could build Tice's Corner, the shopping center. (I forgot to mention that the cue sheet was a few years old, and the shopping center looked as though it was only a few years old.) We stopped for lunch at the only restaurant in the plaza, a Panera Bread sandwich shop. It was certainly an anticlimactic destination for the ride, but at least the food was good and the restaurant was air-conditioned.

At that point it was the middle of the afternoon, and we still had the return trip ahead of us. Since the grocery store didn't have any cold drinks, we found a mom & pop store where we bought more water and Gatorade. This was literally a "Mom & Pop" store: it was a small shack-like structure in a residential neighborhood, Mom was sleeping behind the counter, and Pop was watching the Yankees game. They could hardly be bothered to take our money. Thankfully, whoever wrote the cue sheet had mercy on his or her fellow cyclists, planning a return route that zig-zagged through suburban neighborhoods and avoided many steep climbs. There were a few short hills a few miles before the bridge, but nothing worse than what we'd already seen that day. Besides, at that point we were just happy to be on our way home. Since we'd only planned to ride about 40 miles, having to ride 60 miles (70+ in James' case, as he still had to ride back to Brooklyn) took more out of us than we'd expected. I had planned to be home by midafternoon, but instead I rolled in at 5:30. Still, it was a fun ride, and my legs don't feel sore at all today. Either I'm really going to hurt tomorrow, or I'm in better shape than I thought. The Tuesday morning Central Park laps, with all the hills, must be helping. Next time, we'll pick a route to a destination that's likely to still be there, like a park or a landmark. Maybe we'll ride out to Giants Stadium and dig up Jimmy Hoffa.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

If you follow gaming news, or political maneuvering to score points with constituents, then you've probably heard about the controversy surrounding Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The makers of the game included hidden sex scenes that could only be unlocked using hacking tools or add-on modifications. Let's ignore for a moment that the sex scenes show clothed game characters and do not show any genitalia or nudity. Hillary Clinton is up in arms about this issue, calling for the FTC to investigate the game's manufacturer and publisher. The U.S. House of Representatives even passed a resolution making the same request of the FTC. People are shocked (shocked!) that this sort of content found its way into a game that allows players to shoot anyone (bad guys, good guys, random pedestrians), steal cars, blow up cars and buildings, and wreak havoc in an urban environment on a massive scale. All of that violence is OK, even to the parents who bought it for their teenage and pre-teen children. But throw a little secret sex into the mix, and NOW we're all upset?!

I bought the game last week, after the "Hot Coffee" mod news broke (that's the software patch that lets you see the sex scenes) and word got out that the game's rating would be changed from M to AO and that the game might disappear from store shelves. I'd already planned to buy it, since I loved GTAIII and GTA: Vice City, so I wanted to make sure I could get a copy of the game. I'll be honest: it's an awesome game. I love the GTA series for the way they create a fully realistic world, if a bit cartoonish, inside your computer. The missions are no less violent than the missions in previous games. Last night I had to rob a National Guard outpost, which required me to shoot several soldiers in the middle of the theft. Other missions have involved drive-by shootings, home invasion, and gang fights. If you want to play the game but don't want to take on the missions, you can just drive around, try out all of the vehicles, check out the buildings and perform other tasks like working out at a gym to make your character stronger. It's such a complicated game that I could be playing it for months. I don't even care about the sex scenes; if I want to watch something like that, I know of many other ways to obtain it. I don't think it's right that Rockstar Games included this content, albeit locked away. I think on some level they were looking for this publicity. But I would never let anyone under 14 or 15 play the game. It's just too violent. The game itself is designed for you to cause trouble and break the law, and I don't think an 11-year-old child is mature enough to understand what they're doing. What really upsets me is the politicians jockeying for votes and exploiting this issue. Violent video games have been around for years, and they're going to be around for a long time. They're not the problem. The problem is the parents who succumb to the pressure from their young children and buy them games that are not appropriate for their age. A little more discipline in the home would go a long way.

Monday, July 25, 2005

too much time between posts

Work has been busier than usual lately, so posting from the office has become more difficult. Last week I had several moments when I wanted to put up a coherent thought, but couldn't find the time to do it. I would have posted something over the weekend, but our cable Internet connection is down AGAIN (second or third time this year!) so I was stuck using our neighbors' unreliable networks.

We finally got to see Spamalot on Friday night. It was funny, but not as hysterical as I had hoped. James, who saw it a few months ago, said "If I wanted to see a bad imitation of ...the Holy Grail, I could sit at home and do it myself." I enjoyed the parts of the show that were original (the new songs and the Lady of the Lake character) much more than I liked the parts that were lifted right from the movie. Tim Curry had the night off, so we got the standby King Arthur instead, and he was just fine. David Hyde Pierce was good, but I wasn't thinking how great it was that I got to see Niles in person. The thing about the show is that it's not actor-driven, so it would be just as funny (or unfunny) with unknowns instead of big names. It's a good show nonetheless, and if you're a Monty Python fan it's worth seeing. But I enjoyed Glengarry Glen Ross and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? much more than Spamalot. It's not really a fair comparison (musicals vs. dramatic plays) but the performances in the two plays were just outstanding, and those shows would definitely suffer without the lead actors.

Yesterday, Liz and I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We both really enjoyed the movie. Danny Elfman's music, especially the Oompa-Loompa songs, is exceptional even for his considerable talent. Johnny Depp makes a great Willy Wonka -- funny and odd but not as scary as Gene Wilder was. I don't think he was better than Wilder, or that Wilder's Wonka was better, because they are just completely different versions of the same character, in two vastly different movies. I still like the original film, but I could see Tim Burton's again. Liz didn't like the ending (which I won't spoil here), and I agree that there's a part that feels tacked-on and unnecessary. But overall we had a great time. And we can't wait to see Burton's Corpse Bride.

It's time to leave work and see if my home Internet connection is back up. Time Warner told me it was an "outage" (meaning I'm not the only one affected) and that it should be back up "soon." I guess we'll see what their definition of "soon" is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Every bachelor party needs a dwarf

Yesterday's New York Daily News had this story on the bachelor party of the son-in-law of Dennis Kozlowski. Don't miss the quotes from dwarf-for-hire Danny Black ("I'm like the Heidi Fleiss of dwarfdom") or the father of the groom, such as this one about the whereabouts of Kozlowski:

"Dennis was with me most of the time ... it wasn't like he was with a midget or something."

Monday, July 18, 2005


July 10, 2005 was my fifth anniversary in my current job. Since it was a Sunday, and I was out of the office the week of July 11, I thought I might have missed out on my 'happy anniversary' ceremony. I thought that, like a missed graduation, I'd get my reward for five years of service in my office mail. But this afternoon, my boss and the head of HR came into my office and presented me with a $50 Amex gift certificate for my time served. It's like prison: $10 for each year. I'm kidding. I love my job, my boss, and most of my co-workers. This firm has treated me well, and I've tried to do the best work I can. I have no interest in moving on, so I may well be here in 2010 to collect another anniversary gift certificate. I doubt I'll break any employment records, though. There's one secretary who has worked here 50 years, almost since the founding of the firm in 1946. The recruiter who got me this job was right when he said that people come to work here and they never leave [but he meant that in a good way].

Also in personal news, I can finally reveal (to the three people who read this blog and haven't heard yet) the nature of the other "secret" side project that I have been working on for the past few months. Last summer, I traveled to Frankfurt and London with a guy whose wife works as an editor for Wiley Publishing. She came with him to our office Christmas party, and we talked about my then co-worker who was writing a Blackberry book for Wiley. She asked me if I was interested in writing a book as well, and we chatted about some possible topics. After the party, she put me in touch with another editor who had some possible work for me. He and I discussed a few ideas and eventually it turned out that they had a book in progress that needed help to get it to press on time. I was interested in writing a book on Mozilla Firefox, but they already had a book in development. However, the lead writer wasn't going to be able to finish it on his own, so Wiley was looking for writers who could write a few chapters each. I took on three chapters and wrote them in February and March of this year. The book, Hacking Firefox, is done and should be on store shelves in a few weeks. I've already been paid for my work, so this isn't a plug to sell more books (it won't make a difference to my bottom line). I don't think my name will be on the cover; I just hope it will be inside the book somewhere. I'm supposed to get one copy of it when it comes out so I'll see if my name is in there. Anyway, that was the big project that kept me busy in the winter.

training class and DC weekend review

Reston Town Center turned out to be not as bad a place as I thought. It still bothers me that there's a weird downtown area out in the suburbs of Virginia, but by the time I left I didn't mind the decent restaurants or the convenient access from local highways.

On Wednesday night, Magnus, an old friend from high school who lives in Fairfax, came out to Reston to meet me for dinner. We went to Clyde's, whose menu I knew well from my years living in Georgetown. We spent a long time reconnecting and catching up on old friends from school. He spends far more time in Johnstown than I do, so he knew more about our former classmates than I do. We're still waiting for a class of 1992 reunion, but we both suspect that unless one of us decides to plan it, it's never going to happen.

Thursday was the longest day of class. There was too much material for one day, and one of the hands-on labs had many bugs, so we spent as much time fixing the bugs as we did actually learning about clusters. Taking advantage of the $5 lunch deal from the local restaurants, I had a Pizzeria Uno "Numero Uno" pizza for lunch. I must be getting old, or else I'm not used to eating that much grease at lunch, but the pizza didn't sit right all day. By 4:30, my lab was done and I was ready to hit the road. Rich, one of my college friends, was already out in my area of Virginia, and so he picked me up in front of my hotel. We went to the agreed-upon meeting place of Red, Hot, and Blue in Arlington, where we got an early start on beers and catching up. Rob and Jon met us there about an hour later, and we tucked into appetizers of sausage and cheese plates and chicken wings, followed by platters of ribs and pulled pork. Then we stayed to watch the Yankees-Red Sox game and talk smack (or listen to Rich and Jon, on opposing sides in the game, talk smack to each other). When the game wrapped up around 11, no one wanted to drive me back to Reston, so I caught a cab back to my hotel.

Friday's class went more smoothly than Thursday's, and I made a wiser decision about lunch, so I felt better all day. And while I don't think it's the best balance for the timing of the class, I was pleased when we were done by 2:30 PM instead of the expected time of 3:30 or even 4:00. I had enough time before we would be able to leave work that I took a cab to Georgetown and met my dad there instead of at a downtown Metro stop. We also had time to stop by the bookstore so I could buy an overpriced polo shirt and visit "Uncommon Grounds" for some coffee. I had another "I'm getting old" moment when I saw the signs at UG marking their 10th anniversary. I was a student when the campus coffeehouse opened in 1995, and I occasionally enjoyed their mochas while hanging out with friends. The coffeehouse looks about the same, and I don't think their menu has changed at all. We sat by one of the Leavey Center windows overlooking what's left of the playing fields behind Harbin Hall. Georgetown is starting construction on new buildings for the business and science programs, so the old baseball field is long gone and the soccer field has moved down the hill, and received a new Astroturf topping.

I spent Saturday and Sunday in Bowie visiting my father, stepmother, and brother. Magnus drove out from Fairfax to have dinner with us, and we enjoyed grilled steaks, shrimp and vegetable skewers, and potato salad. I stayed up late watching Saturday's Tour de France coverage on OLN and "borrowing" from my dad's CD collection.

On Sunday we had a brunch of oyster stew, bagels with lox, eggs, fruit salad, and blueberry muffin-bread (blueberry muffin mix baked in a bread pan instead of a muffin tray). My brother, who has been a violinist about as long as I've been a violist, is preparing for an audition for one of his orchestras, so we listened to him play his audition music and some other pieces for us. And then, too early as it always seems, I was on my way home on the train.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

welcome to "downtown" Reston

I'm in Reston, VA, this week for a Windows Server training class. I don't think I've ever been out here before (despite living in the DC area for seven years), and I've definitely never been to Reston Town Center until today. It's a faux-downtown area, with restaurants, upscale shops, a movie theater, and my hotel, all in the middle of suburban Washington, DC housing developments and apartments. There's really nothing else out here but townhouses, not even a decent strip mall. I think I've been living in New York too long. Now anything that isn't either urban or completely rural is just too weird for me. My class starts tomorrow, and it's just a block or so away from the hotel. I think I'd go crazy except that I have some old friends living in the area and I'm going to try to hang out with them while I'm out here. On Friday evening I'll go out to Bowie and spend the weekend at my dad's house, getting back to some semblance of normalcy.

I was also going to rant about the hotel's wireless connection, but I figured out a way to fix the problem I had with it. The hotel's ISP has some sort of funky DNS server that not only refuses to look up pages correctly, it even interferes with SSL certificates. Several sites with SSL encryption popped up with errors that the site's certificate came from the ISP, not the site itself. And that's just wrong, especially when the sites are Earthlink's webmail and my office's remote access system. But a quick substitution of a few known good DNS servers fixed that problem, and now I'm surfing without any trouble. Which is a good thing, because as I told my friend earlier tonight, I don't mind a hotel room that's small, smelly, or has a crappy bed. But if the Internet doesn't work properly, AND I'm paying $10/day for the privilege of using it, THEN I get mad. (OK, my office is paying the $10, but it's still a matter of principle for me.)

In other news, I've added a somewhat new wrinkle to my fitness regimen. For over two years I've lived near Central Park, but only in the past few weeks have I started riding my bike there during the week instead of just on weekends. I'm trying to establish a new habit of riding laps in the Park on Tuesday mornings before work instead of going to the gym. So far, it's working out well. I don't like the fact that cars are allowed in the Park after 7 AM, but I'm learning to live with it. This morning, before I left for DC, I rode four laps (or 24 miles) in the Park, and I loved every minute of it. I was done by 8:30 AM, so I was home in plenty of time to watch the Tour de France, pack, and catch up on a few other things. I can't wait to get back out there next week.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Steelers fan goes out in style

Sports followers have probably already seen or heard this story about the viewing for a recently deceased Steelers fan. I won't go so far to say that I want to be laid to rest or displayed in the same manner when my time comes, but maybe I could be buried with my Terrible Towel or a Steelers cap or something. I'm proud to count this man and his family among the Steelers' faithful.

Friday, July 01, 2005

My final theatrical viewing of Revenge of The Sith

I took Thursday and Friday off from my normal job to work on a side project. I was finished today at noon so instead of going home, I went to a matinee of Revenge of The Sith. It was my third and likely final time seeing the movie in the theater. It was as close to a perfect Star Wars showing experience as I could get: there were about 10 other people there, clearly all of them fans (who else would see a movie that's been out for 6 weeks?). There were no annoying cell phone calls, no laughter or talking, just a few geeks enjoying the movie.

By this time I've seen or heard many reviews, both good and bad. Unlike my previous prequel experiences, I still really like this movie even after hearing some negative opinions. I think it improves with each viewing. Even the romantic dialogue seemed less clunky today. Despite knowing how it turns out, I still hope that Mace Windu will kill Palpatine and prevent the destruction of the Jedi. Or that Yoda will finish the job. It's not a perfect film, but it's much better than I expected or hoped it would be. And that opening awes me every time I see it: the nearly 2-minute-long tracking shot of the 2 Jedi fighters, the space battle, and everything that happens on Grievous' ship, with Anakin and Obi-Wan working together. You can really see how close they are. I feel sad when they have their last friendly conversation, just before Obi-Wan leaves for Utapau.

I'm sorry to see Star Wars go, but for me it will live on in books, computer games, and even fan films. And the TV shows will be along in a few years. Star Wars will always be my favorite sci-fi universe, no matter what else comes along. Even the Lord of the Rings can't compete in the end. Although that reminds me: it's been a long time since I watched THAT trilogy. As much as I love Star Wars, I'm ready for a break. Bring on the elves!