Sunday, December 31, 2006

the last post of 2006

I considered writing a long, month-by-month year-in-review post, but I don't have that kind of time and I don't really think anyone wants to read it. I've got the archives for that. Instead, I'd prefer to reflect on the year that's gone by and think about how I can improve myself in 2007.

I knew going in that getting divorced in 2006 would be a good thing. My marriage had been over for a long time and it was just a matter of my ex-wife and I facing that fact and taking care of business. I don't bear her any ill will after everything that happened, and I hope that she and I can continue to be friends. Being single has turned out to be more fun than I thought. However, I've been seeing someone for a while now, and it's going incredibly well, and I hope that relationship continues to grow. I've got a good feeling about it.

I tried a lot of new things in 2006. I became a karaoke star (at least in my head). I tried to be more spontaneous. I worked up the courage to talk to strange women. I rode over 1000 miles on my bike between April and November. But the best decision I made all year was taking up the viola again. I keep talking about playing the viola because it's done so much for my well-being and it was the most fulfilling thing I did.

My resolution for 2006 was to be more optimistic. I think I kept it. I had my gloomy moments, but then I'd remind myself that I live in an exciting city at an exciting time in my life, and that I have many, many good things and people in my life. My resolution for 2007 is to travel more. I traveled this year, but I stayed on the East Coast the whole time. I'd like to visit friends in Pittsburgh, see my family more often, and get back to Europe. I'm already thinking about a ski trip to Vermont in January or February, so I'll start with that and work my way up to flying overseas again. The bottom line is that this blog needs to hit the road a little more often in 2007.

And that's it. I'm going to a party in a few hours where I will try not to drink to excess and ring in the new year sensibly. Tomorrow, it's 12+ hours of college football. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

new phone, old phone photos

I bought a new cell phone today, completing the upgrade of my three major gadgets for 2006 (digital camera, iPod, and cell phone). I got a Cingular SYNC, AKA the Samsung A707. It's my first flip phone, and my first non-Nokia phone since 1999. (I had a crappy Audiovox analog phone on Cellular One from September 1997 to April 1999.) I'm still getting used to it, so I'll post a real review in a few days. But I like it so far. I had to give up my late, great, AT&T Wireless calling plan with unlimited nights, weekends, and mobile-to-mobile minutes for $40/month, but I get rollover and Internet access with the new phone. And I paid for text messaging (finally!) so I don't have to pay 10 cents a message anymore. So if you text me, I will respond without feeling guilty.

Getting a new phone means putting the old one out to pasture, or in this case, stashing it in a drawer. I liked my old Nokia smartphone, but I never used any of the smartphone features. I took some photos with the camera over the past year or so, and to preserve them I've uploaded them to Flickr. Flickr says they were all taken today, but most of them were taken earlier this year. This photo of Magenta is one of my favorites. It was my phone background for all of 2006, a constant reminder of my late friend. I still miss the big guy.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

back home for a few days

I'm just checking in to let the rest of the world know that I didn't drop off the face of the earth. I've been out of town since Saturday, visiting my mom in Johnstown and now my aunt and uncle and cousins in Reading, PA. I've had Internet access the entire time I've been away, but I didn't have much to share. And clearly I don't have much to say now, either. I've gotten caught up on sleep, reconnected with some friends from high school, and tried to alleviate the boredom of being back in my hometown for a few days.

Johnstown is a weird place to me now. There's a certain level of familiarity with the city: for example, my neighborhood looks exactly the same as it always did, and the streets all go to the same places. But the downtown area has changed significantly and I didn't recognize most of the buildings as we drove down the hill from my neighborhood to downtown. It was still Johnstown, but not a Johnstown I know.

This has also been the first trip home where I didn't feel bad that I could only stay for a few days. In years past I've left to return to New York thinking that I should have stayed longer. I had a much better time at home than I expected, but this year it felt like just long enough to be there. I'm in a hotel in Reading now and I'm ready to go back to New York tomorrow night. I'm looking forward to a long weekend in the city with no major plans. I do have some things in mind to do to occupy those three days, most of them relaxing and low-key.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ow, my head...

I had planned to take it easy at last night's office holiday party. But when I saw they had Maker's Mark at the open bar, that was the end of that plan. I made a new plan: take advantage of free Maker's Mark until they threw us out. Mission accomplished.

How do I know I was drunk? I talked to a bunch of people I didn't know, and I thought that when the party was over the after-party at a bar down the street sounded like a good idea. However, I wasn't that bad, I think. I remember the entire evening, the good and the not so good. I've got a hangover that's about a 7 on a scale from 1 to 10. Back in August I came to work with a 14. But I actually got to work a few minutes early this morning, thanks to one of my friends calling me at 7:45 AM to get my address for his holiday card. I think I'll feel completely human again once the little drummer boy in my head takes a break.

While I try to avoid passing out at my desk, check out the photographic record of the debauchery.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I think Mahler would have approved

Last night's performance of Mahler's 3rd Symphony had a few rough spots but overall was as fantastic and spectacular as I'd hoped it would be, and then some. When we stood up before the concert for the conductor's entrance, I looked at the church and saw a full house. On a Saturday night during the holiday season, the hall was full. The first movement took 40 minutes, but it felt like it went much faster than that. I'd eaten an early dinner, so after intermission I noticed I was hungry again. To make things worse, I think I smelled hamburgers in the church, and for most of the 2nd movement, all I could think about (aside from the music) was who had brought in food and why weren't they sharing it with me. After the 3rd movement we paused to tune and bring in the children's chorus. However, the kids kept us waiting, and waiting, and we couldn't tell what was going on. Finally, one of the percussionists opened the door to the backstage area, and let the chorus in. Apparently the door was locked or stuck from the other side. The last movement, my favorite, was so beautiful and perfect that I had goosebumps almost the entire time. After the concert, I went outside and my friends greeted me with applause and autograph requests. I actually signed a few programs. It was the best concert I've played since high school, and a hell of a way to end the year. I cannot wait to get back in January and start on the music for the next performance. Which is February 10, by the way.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Live here long enough, and it will happen to you

Last night I was coming home late on the subway, around 11:45 PM. I got on the J train in Brooklyn and there were a few other people in the car with me. The two guys sitting across from me were dressed well enough and were talking to each other -- in other words, completely non-threatening at first glance. I had my headphones on and was doing my usual routine of enjoying my music and looking around the car, but avoiding eye contact with everyone else. I happened to look at the two guys across from me and that's when I noticed one of them had a hole in his pants just south of his crotch. And poking out of this hole was more than a hint of his Schwannstucker. I looked away and kept my eyes anywhere but on him. I don't think this was a subway pervert or flasher situation, because he was talking to his friend the other time and from what I could tell his buddy didn't notice the little buddy hanging out and enjoying the evening air. Crotch-hole must have felt the breeze at the next stop because out of the corner of my eye I saw him adjust his pants and jacket to hide his junk. Unfortunately, I now have an image of this guy's tallywhacker etched on my brain. Just what I wanted for Christmas!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Tuba Christmas and TARCon X

Sunday was a busier-than-usual day for me. I started out with EPL: Arsenal v Chelsea from Stamford Bridge on FOX Soccer Network. Just when I thought Arsenal was going to hang on for a win, Chelsea scored to tie and the game ended 1-1. As soon as the game was over, I went to SoHo for one errand, then walked up to Astor Place for another, then to Rockefeller Center for Tuba Christmas.

This was my third time at New York's Tuba Christmas, so at this point I think I'm a geeky fan. I wasn't the only one: there were a few people next to me who had just come for the music (as opposed to having a family member in the ensemble), and then there was this guy. You might have seen him on Conan O'Brien a few years ago as Blackwolf the Dragonmaster, when Triumph the Insult Comic Dog made fun of the Star Wars fans outside the Ziegfield theater. When I heard his voice yesterday as he loudly extolled the virtues of Tuba Christmas both here and abroad, I remembered that I'd seen him there last year, giving the same speech. His presence reminded me that no matter how geeky I might be on any given subject, there's someone out there geekier than me. The concert was fun as always, and there's nothing quite like hearing 300-plus tubas and euphoniums blasting out Christmas carols. One thing that I have to remember for next year is that Rockefeller Center is deceptively cold. It was about 50 degrees yesterday afternoon, but with the wind blowing across the ice rink, it felt more like 40 degrees and I was freezing without the lining in my jacket. I took some videos of the concert with my digital camera, but they're too big for YouTube so I need to find some software to shrink them before I can post them.

Later that evening, I met my regular Sunday night crew for the finale of The Amazing Race, which we watched at TARCon X at Stitch, a bar near Penn Station. The crowd at the bar cheered on the racers during the show, drowning out most of the dialogue. When the racers got to New York, the bar went crazy. The party calmed down after the show ended, then got out of control as the winners and the 2nd and 3rd place finishers arrived for photos. I'm surprised that I enjoyed the show this season as much as I did and I'm already excited about the next installment in the spring. I'm not ready to start posting on the Amazing Race message boards like some of the fans last night, but I'd agree that I'm hooked.

Friday, December 08, 2006

my baby, my iPod

After last night's rehearsal, I went out for a drink with a few fellow musicians. The conversation turned to pets, and one woman showed us a photo of her cat on her cell phone. Not to be outdone, I showed them a photo of me with both of my cats that I had on my phone. I must have accidentally scrolled to the next photo, which was of my iPod. I had made a joke about not having kids so my cats were my kids, then the iPod photo popped up, so I played it off as a joke about my iPod being like a child too. I think I came off looking like the geek that I am. And I don't even remember why I took a photo of my iPod with my phone.

This morning I dreamed that I was shopping in a department store and carrying my jacket around, with my iPod in its usual inside pocket. I put the jacket down to try something on, then I must have forgotten the jacket, because the next thing I remember from the dream is collecting the jacket from the store's lost and found department. I told the lost and found clerk "that's my jacket, and my keys are in the right front pocket." He handed me the jacket, and I checked the inside pocket but my iPod wasn't there. The rest of the dream was short but vivid. I was upset that my iPod was gone and that I'd have to get a new one, and cursing my stupidity at forgetting the jacket in the first place, leading to the loss of the iPod. When I woke up and realized it had all been a dream I was incredibly relieved. I still had to go straight to my computer and make sure that the iPod was there, plugged in, charged and synched, just where I'd left it the night before.

Also, we rehearsed in the new church for this concert last night. I took a few photos and uploaded them to Flickr. The church is more like a cathedral: long, with a high ceiling and massive altar. The choral and concluding movements are going to sound fantastic in there, but the others are going to echo like crazy. It's still going to be an excellent concert.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Funde Razor at Barcade

Last night Rita and I went to Barcade for Funde Razor, a special event benefitting Child's Play Charity. I've mentioned Barcade before -- it's a bar in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn with 20+ beers on tap and an assortment of classic '80s arcade games lining the walls. Last night's event featured my favorite PS2 game, Guitar Hero, projected on a big screen above the bar. Actually, it was Guitar Hero II, which lets you play duets with a friend (the original game was a solo-only affair). The organizers raffled off several custom-made GH controllers made from actual guitars, and put together a 16-player GH II tournament bracket. Rita hadn't seen the game before, and I haven't played it in months, so I didn't even consider signing up. I took some photos, but I didn't use the flash because I didn't want to distract the contestants, so that's why they're so dark. The crowd cheered when the players rocked out and got high scores and booed when they failed, just like a real concert. We stuck around for about an hour, but the bar was crowded and there weren't any seats, so we went home. I didn't buy any raffle tickets, but I'll make a donation to Child's Play again this year. And I'm still thinking seriously about picking up a PS2 and both Guitar Hero games, just for the hell of it.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

99-tuba tribute to Tommy Johnson

Tuesday's Washington Post featured this article about Tommy Johnson, the longtime Hollywood tubist who performed on countless soundtracks, TV shows, commercials, and jingles. As my father pointed out, it was something of a "missing man" salute, with 99 performers in the concert. I wish I could have heard what the finale to Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony sounds like when performed by an all-tuba ensemble. When I saw the article, I thought it was about Tuba Christmas, which takes place this Sunday in New York at the skating rink at Rockefeller Center. I'm planning to be there again this year, strictly as a spectator, as I've never played a tuba in my life. But I feel a family connection to all things tuba-related, since my grandfather played it. This year I'll bring my camera, and I think I'll tell people I've got a relative in the group so that no one gives me a hard time about taking up a prime viewing spot.

Monday, December 04, 2006

NYRO's next concert: Mahler's Symphony No. 3 on December 16

Most of my regular readers in the New York City area should have already received an e-mail about my next concert, but I'll post this anyway as a reminder, and for anyone who just wanders over to my site. The rehearsals for the concert have been going extremely well, and I'm really excited about the performance. If nothing else, it's NOT a Christmas concert, so don't worry about hearing us play holiday tunes.

The notes below come from NYRO's music director and conductor, David Leibowitz.

On Saturday, December 16, the New York Repertory Orchestra will perform Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. 3. This titanic work, for large orchestra, mezzo-soprano soloist, women’s chorus, and children’s chorus — over 100 performers — embodies Mahler’s epic struggle to create a musical world that encompasses the entirety of the mankind’s experience – from the external natural world, to humanity’s internal world of dreams, joy, pain, self-doubt, and, finally, the redemptive power of love.

And what better way is there to triumph over a cold and dark winter’s night than with a performance of one of the world’s great musical masterpieces?


Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor – Judith Engel, mezzo-soprano

Saturday, December 16, 2006 – 8:00 p.m.
Where: Church of St. Paul the Apostle – 9th Avenue & 60th Street
(NOTE: This is not our usual venue – we needed a much bigger space for this immense work!)

$10 — All proceeds from this special benefit concert go towards maintaining NYRO’s ongoing mission — free performances of the world’s greatest music for everyone in our community

Ticket information:
· Tickets can be reserved by using the link on the <> page or by calling 212.662.8383.


Here's some info about the program:

Mahler’s epic Third Symphony embodies the composer’s struggle to create a musical world that encompasses the fullness of the human experience. It begins with the annual rebirth of springtime and the simple beauty of nature (complete with the flowers of the fields and animals of the forests). It moves on to a profound meditation on humanity’s place in the cosmos, a charming chorus of angels looking down from heaven, and then, finally, an overwhelming apotheosis of the beauty and power of love.

NYRO will be joined by soloist, Judith Engel, who has been recognized for her vocal mastery and superb dramatic skills. Her voluptuous mezzo-soprano has been described as “a bejeweled voice of absolute transparency and expert control.”

The emotional sweep of this monumental work is unrivalled in all of music. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear this towering masterpiece and to support NYRO at the same time!

Friday, December 01, 2006

the end of an era

I just unsubscribed myself from the Novell NetWare administrators' e-mail list. I've been on this e-mail list since 1997, through several different jobs as a Novell network administrator. But my office is in the final stages of eliminating NetWare from our network, and I hadn't been an active participant in the list for a long time. It's one more reminder that my career as a Novell admin is at an end.

I also used to be active on a Novell GroupWise e-mail list, back in the late '90s and 2000 when I e-mail management was my primary job function. Copies of my posts on this list are still floating around the Internet, which explains why they come up when you Google "Phil Catelinet." I have to use Lotus Notes at work, and I still miss GroupWise. It was a real e-mail system, as opposed to Notes, which is a database with an e-mail system awkwardly bolted onto it.

I forgot to mark this milestone in my life, but the end of May 2006 wasn't just the 10-year anniversary of my graduation from Georgetown. May 29, 2006 was the 10th anniversary of the start date of my first real job out of college as an IT professional. As of this year, I've been working full-time in IT for 10 years. And with my Novell background, I already feel like a graybeard talking about the "good old days" when we had to use floppy disks and program in BASIC. Maybe this year when I'm home for Christmas I'll finally break out my old Commodore 64 and see if it still works.

Monday, November 27, 2006

one holiday down, one to go

I don't feel like recapping my entire weekend in depth this morning, so I'll just mention the highlights:

I prepped the turkey and started making the gravy late Wednesday night after spending most of the evening drinking with some friends. While the gravy was simmering on the stove, I was downstairs at the bar enjoying a few more beers. Maybe it was my state of inebriation, or maybe it was the fact that I used the giblets to make it, but that was the best gravy I've ever had. I could drink it straight. The brined turkey came out juicy and delicious, just as I'd hoped. Thanksgiving dinner was a complete success, and the old and new friends who dined at my apartment thoroughly enjoyed the meal. In the process, I used every single plate and bowl in my set of dishes. I've never seen that happen before.

Saturday night was a "Match Game" marathon viewing party at a friend's apartment. It was a collision of worlds as old friends from Georgetown got reacquainted and met new friends from New York and beyond. I took some of the photos from that night, but I don't remember which ones -- someone else commandeered my camera and got some great snapshots.

I also saw The Departed (finally!) and Casino Royale this weekend. They're both excellent movies, but they could each lose about 15 minutes. I spent nearly six hours in movie theaters this weekend, and I only saw two films.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

my annual pre-Thanksgiving slow day post

I could probably re-post last year's pre-Thanksgiving post without changing any of the details and it would be just as appropriate now as it was then. But there's no "we" anymore, just me, so the plans for tonight, tomorrow, and the rest of the weekend differ greatly from last year. Considering the events of last year's Thanksgiving weekend, which I didn't even allude to in this space, I'm happy for the changes. My God, it really has been a year. Hard to believe.

As in past years, I'm staying in the city for Thanksgiving. I was tempted to visit my family this year, but even if I'm traveling by myself it's still a serious pain in the ass to get out of New York for this weekend. I'm hosting tomorrow night's dinner for some friends at my apartment, and I'm in charge of the turkey, gravy, and cornbread. This evening, I'm brining the 13-lb turkey in a giant bucket of salt water. I've brined chickens before, but never a turkey. Brining the bird is supposed to seal in all the moisture and leave you and your guests with an extra-juicy turkey. It's worked for roast chicken, so it should work just as well on a turkey, just on a larger scale. Tomorrow morning James arrives with the roasting pan and we'll cook that bad boy for about four hours. Hopefully, when the rest of my guests arrive in the afternoon we'll have an actual meal to serve them. No matter what, the best thing about having dinner at my apartment is that when I'm ready to pass out in a food coma, I can do it on my own couch.

I'm not sure how I'm spending the rest of my weekend, but I'll probably see at least one movie and maybe finish up one of the projects I've been working on at home lately. If nothing else, it will be a much less dramatic weekend than last year.

Monday, November 20, 2006

pre-Thanksgiving weekend activities

I haven't posted a weekend wrap-up lately, though I've been keeping busy. Most of the time my weekends consist of waking up around 10 AM on Saturday, watching an EPL game on FOX Soccer Network, then figuring out what to do with the rest of my day. Sundays are roughly the same, except that on Sunday nights I go to a friend's apartment to watch "The Amazing Race." This weekend wasn't that different, but I did make some changes.

On Saturday afternoon I went to Mo's Caribbean to watch the Ohio State-Michigan game with some friends, both partisan and non-. Mo's has a frat-boy feel to it, and just about everyone there had some stake in the game, so whenever either team scored the place erupted in cheers and drunken renditions of "Hail To The Victors" or the OSU fight song. The game was as entertaining as I'd hoped, and the rowdy atmosphere made for a fun viewing experience, definitely better than watching it at home. James couldn't see the game, so I sent him updates by text message in the 2nd half. I have to get a better deal on text messages in my next cell phone plan, because I'm too cheap to pay 10 cents a message.

After the game I ate a quick dinner at a pizza joint and hopped on the subway to Williamsburg to catch up with some friends from work who were wrapping up an all-day pub crawl. The first stop was Barcade, a bar with an assortment of 1980s-era arcade games and at least 20 microbrews on tap. After a few drinks there, the remainder of the pub crawl group moved on to The Levee to wrap up. I ended up getting home around 2 AM, thankfully not so drunk as to be hung over on Sunday.

On Sunday morning another friend from work picked me up in his SUV and we drove out to Ikea so I could pick up some new furniture. Last week I wrote about my old bookcase nearly falling over on me. I'd looked around my neighborhood at some other bookcase and dresser options, but I hadn't seen anything in my price range or that I really preferred over something from Ikea. My friend agreed to give me a ride and save me the delivery charge, and I promised we'd go early so he could have the rest of his day for his own plans. I bought a new six-drawer dresser for my bedroom, a new bookcase, a second CD tower for my living room, and a new floor lamp for the living room and a desk lamp for my office. We got back from the store at 12:30, and I spent the rest of my afternoon assembling the bookcase, lamp, and dresser. I was going to wait until my friends came over on Thursday for Thanksgiving to move the old bookcase to the trash, but when I noticed it had the same hex bolts as the Ikea furniture I took it apart and threw it out in pieces. It was in surprisingly decent shape after all, and I probably could have moved some other things around and kept it. But since it didn't match anything else in my apartment and it was so old I decided to trash it anyway. And after I'd re-shelved all my books I didn't need a second bookcase.

I took some photos of the mess I made yesterday, so check them out in this Flickr set. Note the special appearance by Vladi in one of the photos.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I coulda been a conductor

I've developed a habit of humming, whistling, or singing along with whatever music I'm listening to, usually classical music. This isn't news to anyone close to me, as I've been doing this for years, probably as far back as my teens. It's sort of like the noises the late Glenn Gould made on his recordings. I'm aware of this habit, and when I'm at work or in a quiet environment I try to keep it down. But when I'm walking or, more recently, on the subway, the occasional odd hum or scat-like sound comes out. This evening I was waiting in line at the grocery store and listening to a Beethoven piano concerto, and absent-mindedly humming along with the music. The guy in front of me must have heard me, because he turned and looked at me like I was crazy. I'm not really self-conscious about this habit, but I'm beginning to think I should be.

The good thing is that unlike Gould, I don't hum or sing along when I'm playing the viola. I can't play and talk, sing, or hum at the same time. In fact, when I was in college I had an exam for a music theory class where I had to play one melody and sing a different tune at the same time. It was one of the most difficult musical things I've had to learn, and I doubt I could do it again now. Also, this habit is not to be confused with my other habit of "air-conducting" along with classical music. Since I live alone and sit in a cubicle by myself at work, I'm not at all worried that someone is going to see me conducting an orchestra that isn't there.

All of these weird idiosyncracies are probably signs that I should have pursued a career in music, or at least gotten back into active playing well before this fall.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

old bookshelves and new books

I have an old bookcase at home. I don't know how old it is, exactly; it came with my first post-college apartment in Washington, and I brought it to New York when I moved here in 1999. It's a cheap piece of junk that was ready for replacement seven years ago, and continued years of abuse by piling too many books on it have not helped matters. Since I moved to my current apartment on the UES, the bookshelf has been listing to one side, and it's been obvious that the end is near for my oldest piece of furniture. On Monday night, I was looking through my cookbooks for a particular recipe when one of the shelves started to collapse. One of the plastic pins supporting the shelf fell out of its hole and the others looked ready to go at any minute. I started pulling books off the weakened shelf and putting them on the floor in a calm, methodical manner. That's when the entire bookcase shifted even more to one side and looked ready to fall over entirely. I held up the bookcase with my right hand and started throwing books onto the floor, trying to accomplish in my own way what the bookcase seemed intent on doing without my help. While I was doing this, the cats looked at me like I was crazy, and I'm sure I looked ridiculous as I hurled books to the floor while leaning against the bookcase. (To be fair, the cats always look at me like I'm crazy. I'll save that for another post.) I cleared the collapsed shelf and moved some other books from another shelf, so the bookcase appears to be stable now. But I've got books piled on the floor and on my old computer desk instead of on the shelf, and I still have a bookcase that's leaning to the right and threatening to fall over any time. I think I'll have to go shopping for a new bookcase this weekend.

In the meantime I gave away a few books to a co-worker and started thinking about getting rid of some of my other books. Clearly, getting more books would be a bad idea given my current situation. However, on Wednesday night, James and I went to the Borders at the Time Warner Center for a discussion and signing of The Blind Side with Michael Lewis. I bought a copy of Lewis' new book for him to sign, and since the store gave all of us coupons for 30% off any sports books, I bought Friday Night Lights as well. I love the TV show, and I didn't see the movie last year because I wanted to read the book first. So I gave away two books, and I picked up two more. My grand plan to decrease the number of books in my office is off to a smashing start.

One note on the signing: James, along with a few other people in front of us, had Lewis personalize the signature in the book. But I just had him sign it for me without putting my name in it. If I'd planned to give the book as a gift, I'd have had him personalize it. Since the book is for me, I didn't feel like I needed to see "To Phil" next to the signature. James accused me of intending to re-sell the book on eBay, which made me think that's what Lewis thought I planned to do as well. Rest assured I'm not selling my copy of The Blind Side on eBay. I do remember reading somewhere that signed copies of books are worth more without a personalized inscription, and that did play into my thinking. But I just didn't need to see my own name on the inside of the book.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

fun at the polls

I voted on my way to the gym this morning at 7:15 AM. The polls had been open for an hour, and that's as long as it took for the voting machine for my precinct to break down. This is what happens when your machines date back to the Eisenhower administration. When the poll workers couldn't figure out why the main lever was stuck, they started handing out paper ballots. "Now our votes only count if it's close," I said to another woman waiting in line with me. I sat down at the table, with no privacy curtain or cardboard box to hide my choices, and filled out the ballot in pen. The poll worker in charge of the precinct told us to write our names on the ballots. Uh, no, I don't think so. I told her it's supposed to be a secret ballot, so I didn't write my name on mine. I just folded it up and gave it back to her. The way I figure it, I'd already signed the voter roll, so that proves that I voted. Had I voted by machine, it doesn't record my name, so why would I put my name on the paper ballot? But I'm sure that they don't count paper ballots unless the election is close, and in New York none of the major races are going to be close. So I showed up to vote, but I'll just have to accept on faith that my vote counted for something.

This is supposed to be the last election for the old voting machines in New York. Next year we're supposed to get new electronic voting machines. I can just imagine the lines at the polls next year, with the poll workers being just as clueless as the voters as to how the machines work. I think I'll vote absentee ballot next time.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

our long laundry nightmare is over

Of course the laundromat was closed when I got there last night at 5:30, despite their earlier promise to stay open until 6 PM. But they were open this morning at 11, as promised. Half open, as it turned out. The front shutters were halfway up, so I had to squeeze through the door to get in. There were two guys working with power tools in the back, and if I were a less honest person, I could have just grabbed my stuff and left. Instead, I paid them, and I didn't even complain about the fact that they held onto my laundry without any indication that I'd ever be able to pick it up. I unpacked it when I got home, and everything was there, with the added bonus that nothing smelled like smoke.

So all's well that ends well, and so on. I realize now that I was exaggerating the effect of this "hostage crisis" on my life, but I did really want my clothes back. I could afford to replace the things in that bag, but it was a matter of principle. I shouldn't have to replace it unless the original clothes were destroyed in the fire. I do still need to go shopping for more clothes, but now I can afford to wait a few more days and go when it's convenient to my schedule, instead of changing my plans so I can buy some emergency khakis.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Laundry held hostage: day 8

I can see my laundry bag sitting on the counter of the laundromat, but with the place closed and the shutters locked, it might as well be in Siberia. Earlier this afternoon, I called the laundromat and they actually answered the phone. I asked the guy if they were open and he said yes. Then I asked how late they'd be open, and he said until 6 PM. (Their posted hours are 7:30 AM to 7:30 PM.) So I said I'd leave work early and come get my stuff by 6. I asked several times if they'd be open at 6, and after hearing a long conversation in another language, he said yes. He said they'd be open at 11 AM tomorrow, not that that helps me much. I should have just left work immediately and gone home, because now that I'm about ready to leave, they're not answering the phone anymore. I guess I'll go now anyway, and plan to come in late tomorrow. If anyone who reads my blog has any thoughts on how to get my laundry out of there through some other method (landlord, police, possible threat of legal action), I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, October 27, 2006

a bunch of new CDs

Since I'm in class this week, I get "out" of work earlier than usual. Class ended at 4:45 yesterday afternoon, so I was on my way uptown for orchestra rehearsal an hour early. That extra time gave me the chance to go to Tower Records in Lincoln Square. Tower is closing their New York stores (I don't know if they're closing anything else) and they've marked down all of their remaining inventory. Right now the discount is at 25% off everything. I don't listen to much popular music anymore, so I went straight to the classical department. I had a mental list of composers and works that I needed to fill out my collection. Unfortunately, the selection has already been well picked over. I found a number of CDs anyway, but I had to lower my usual snobbish conductor/orchestra/label standards. Here's what I picked up:

Mozart: Symphonies 39, 40, 41 (Gunter Wand, NDR Symphony Orchestra)
Bruckner: F Minor Mass (a bunch of people I've never heard of before, it was $12 before the discount)
Bruckner: Symphony No. 2 (Eschenbach, Houston)
Stravinsky: Petrushka and Pulcinella Suite (Bernstein, NY Philharmonic)
Stravinsky: Rite of Spring and Firebird Suites (Ozawa/Chicago and Leinsdorf/Boston)
Strauss: Don Quixote and Schumann: Cello Concerto (Rostropovich on cello, Karajan and Bernstein, Berlin Orch. and Nat'l Orchestre de France)
Dvorak: Violin Concerto and Piano Quintet (Sarah Chang, Colin Davis, London Sym. Orch.)
Chopin: 2 piano concertos and some other works for piano & orchestra (Skrowaczewski, Alexis Weissenberg on piano)
Mahler: Symphony No. 7 (Barenboim, Staatskapelle Berlin)

They also had one copy of my grandfather's recording of Vaughan Williams' Tuba Concerto. Eight years ago, when EMI released the CD, I bought five copies of it at the same Lincoln Square Tower Records location on a weekend trip to New York because I couldn't find it anywhere in DC or online. At this point my father has three or four copies of it, my mother has two, and my brother and I have at least one apiece, so I left Tower's last copy on the rack.

I got nine CDs for a little over $100. The receipt said I saved $32, and I'm not sure if that's much of a bargain. At rehearsal my stand partner pointed out that I could pay $10 for CDs on iTunes or just download the same music illegally. I'm aware of both of those options, and I prefer to have physical copies of all of my music when possible. That way I have the original source material should I need to re-rip or restore my electronic copies of my collection. I've ripped all the CDs and put them on my iPod, but so far I've only listened to part of the Chopin disc. I'll get out earlier this afternoon, so I'll check out some of the others as I'm wandering the UES looking for bits and pieces of my costume for Saturday night's Halloween party. What I can find will determine what my costume turns out to be.

Still no word from the laundromat. Not only are they still closed, it doesn't look like anyone has been in there. I may be buying more clothes over the weekend to replace what's being held hostage.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Five years of iPods

Monday, October 23 was the fifth anniversary of Apple's launch of the iPod. So I'm a few days behind on this post. I just re-read my post from September 2004 where I discussed my then-brand-new iRiver MP3 player. At that time I described myself as "not an iPod guy" and said that I resented all the iPod owners I saw on the subway. Well, as a recent buyer of an iPod of my own, I guess I have to eat those words. Part of it was industry peer pressure. There are more accessories and third-party support options for iPod owners than for any other player, due to the iPod's overwhelming market share. And as much of a pain in the ass it has been to re-tag all of my music files so that they show up properly in the iPod's menu, it was a job that I'd been putting off for too long. Finally, while my old iRiver player had more built-in features, like an FM radio, line-in and microphone recording, and a dedicated line-out jack, I can count on one hand the number of times I used any of them (and in fact I never used the record function). I ran out of reasons NOT to buy an iPod. And having bought one, I'd have to say I'd get one again. I don't know if I'll run out and buy the rumored "widescreen video iPod" that iPod fanatics expect Apple to announce any day now. But when my current iPod is ready to go to gadget heaven, I'll probably go to the Apple store and get a new one.

I'm still resisting the temptation to get a Macbook.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

frustration at home

Last night, on my way home from work, I found a battalion's worth of fire trucks on 1st Avenue between 87th and 88th Streets. Frequent readers of my infrequent postings will recall that this past summer I came home to find fire trucks one block south, putting out a fire in one of the apartment buildings. This time, they were one block closer to mine, and the fire in question, while apparently minor, happened in the building where my regular drop-off laundry is located. When I walked by at 7 PM, the laundromat was still open despite the presence of several firemen, a little smoke, and some fire hoses. But the lady behind the counter said my clothes weren't ready yet, and could I come back at 7:30? I said that was fine and went home to find that I had no cable TV or Internet. Great.

At 7:30 I went back out to the laundromat. By now FDNY was running water through some internal vent in the building, and showering the sidewalk in front with the runoff. When I looked in the laundromat, one of the firemen said "no one's in there" and I could see why: there were several inches of water on the floor and running out the door. I waited around until 8 PM but there was no sign that anyone was going to reappear to mind the store and give me my laundry. At that point I'd have accepted it in any condition, including "sopping wet." I eventually gave up and went home to call Time Warner and learned that they had a service problem over several blocks, including my own. I was able to sponge off a neighbor's DSL line for the evening (I know, God forbid I should go without Internet access!) but I didn't get to watch Monday Night Football or any of my recorded shows from the weekend. I did get some practicing done, however, so the lack of other entertainment options had at least one benefit.

This morning I left early, as I'm in a training class for VMWare the rest of the week. At 8 AM the laundromat wasn't open yet, and I was in a hurry anyway. But when I went by there at 5:30 PM, the shutters were still down and there was a sign in the window reading "closed for a few days -- cleaning store." So now they're holding my laundry hostage while they clean up the mess. It didn't even look that bad in there. Maybe tomorrow I can catch them while they're cleaning up the place. On the other hand, a few years ago one of the Chinese restaurants down the street had a fire and closed down, but left a sign on the door that said "we be open soon." That was in 2004 and I'm STILL waiting for them to reopen. I wonder if I have any legal options if the laundromat never reopens and lets me collect my laundry?

At least my cable TV and Internet were back when I got home tonight.

Friday, October 20, 2006

quick catch-up post

I'm new to NYRO, but I think it's customary that the orchestra gets a week off from rehearsal after a concert. However, since our next concert is Mahler's 3rd Symphony, and we have only 8 weeks to rehearse, instead of a week off we had our first Mahler rehearsal tonight. It went far better than I expected. The orchestra is more than capable of playing the work. More importantly to me, I'm capable of playing it. I wasn't sure I'd be up to the challenge, but it was easier to hear my section's entrances and play the right notes when I was playing with the viola section, as opposed to practicing the part by myself at home. I still have hours and hours of practice ahead of me, but it's not going to be impossible. By comparison, the Tchaikovsky symphony we played last weekend was more difficult in some places.

After rehearsal, I went to The Gaf to watch the end of Game 7 of the Mets-Cardinals NLCS. I wanted to be in a crowd if the Mets won, so I'd have some fellow fans to celebrate with. Instead, the Mets went down 3-1, and I paid for my beers and got the hell out of there. I had planned to go back there on Saturday night to watch game 1 of a Mets-Tigers World Series, but now I'm not sure I'll even watch the thing. I know the Mets are my adopted NY baseball team, and if the Pittsburgh Pirates were to ever miraculously get back into the playoffs I'd be cheering for them. So the Mets loss doesn't hurt me as much as it does the die-hard, grew-up-in-New-York-rooting-for-the-Mets fans. I acknowledge that. But it still doesn't feel good to me. I wanted to see the Mets in the World Series. I wanted a Mets championship parade through the Canyon of Heroes. Instead, I'll settle for the sour grapes of knowing that the Cardinals will probably lose 4 games to 0 or 4-1 to the Tigers in the World Series. And that there's always next year. And more importantly, there's football season, and hockey season, and EPL (Arsenal is finally showing signs of life!) and college basketball to keep my sports needs satisfied.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

proof that I played a concert Saturday night

IMG_0636, originally uploaded by catelinp.

I had my friends take a photo of me after my concert on Saturday night to prove that I actually played in public with an orchestra for the first time in about a decade. Also, I don't have any recent photos of me all dressed up and with my viola, so here we are. The concert was a complete success. My friends enjoyed it, and we got several ovations at the end. I'm happier than I can express in words to have been a part of it.

For everyone who had something else to do tonight, the next concert is Mahler's 3rd Symphony on December 16. Mark your calendars now. I know it's the height of Christmas party season. That's why I'm getting the word out now, so you can tell people "I can't come to your party, I've got to hear my friend Phil play Mahler." It's going to be fantastic.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

oy vey, or Only in New York...

... would a Yankees pitcher crash a small plane into an Upper East Side high-rise apartment building. Seriously, I'm truly sorry for Cory Lidle's family. Apparently his wife was on a plane on her way to LA when her husband's plane crashed into an apartment building at 72nd St. and York Avenue in Manhattan, so she probably didn't know anything had happened until she got off her flight. It's a terrible, tragic story. Really, I don't know what else to say.

I was supposed to go to game 1 of the NLCS tonight at Shea Stadium. At 5:45 PM I was at Century 21 buying a light rain jacket and a Mets cap so I could stay dry and support my adopted NY baseball team. At 6 I was on the subway with a co-worker (going to the game with me) when a guy in full Mets team gear said that not only was the NLCS game cancelled, but game 2 of the ALCS was off as well because of the Lidle tragedy. We were already getting off the subway in midtown to meet my colleague's cousin, so the three of us went to a bar to get more news and see if the rain would let up. By 7 we found out the game was in fact officially postponed, so we had a few more drinks and made plans to go to the makeup game on Friday instead. Then I went home, had a late dinner, and watched yesterday's episode of "Friday Night Lights" (quite possibly my new favorite show; I'll have to write an entire post on the show sometime). Tomorrow night is dress rehearsal for Saturday's concert, so I wouldn't have been able to go to a game at all tomorrow. Friday, on the other hand, works out almost perfectly for me. If there is a game, and I can go, of course I'll have a write-up here by Saturday.

Friday, October 06, 2006

NYRO update

Last night's rehearsal was the first one where I felt comfortable with the music, especially the Tchaikovsky symphony. I still need to practice my parts this week, but I think I'm ready for the concert. I'd better be, as it's next Saturday night, October 14. And they've listed my name on the roster on the orchestra's web site, so I guess that makes me a full member of the orchestra. I hope there's no hazing for new members -- I'll have to check on that.

Earlier this week I received my part for Mahler's Symphony No. 3, the only piece on the December concert program. Those who know me know that I LOVE Mahler. As excited as I am for next weekend, I'm really looking forward to the next concert. I've never played a Mahler symphony before so I'm apprehensive about my ability to play the music. I've looked over the part and I know that I can play it, but it's going to require lots of practice time over the next two months. I can't wait to get started learning it.

Here are the full details for the concert next Saturday, for anyone who reads this blog but didn't receive the e-mail I sent out last week (the program notes were written by the orchestra's music director and conductor):

When: Saturday, October 14, 2006 – 8:00 p.m.

Where: Good Shepherd-Faith Church @ 152 West 66th St. (between B'way & Amsterdam)

Admission: FREE


  • José Pablo Moncayo : Huapango
  • Darius Milhaud: Le Carnaval d'Aix – Mitchell Vines, piano
  • Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 "Winter Dreams"

Here's some info about the program:

Returning to the NYRO stage, pianist Mitchell Vines will join us as soloist in Darius Milhaud's light-hearted and free-spirited piano concerto, Le Carnaval d'Aix. Inspired by the commedia dell'arte tradition, it consists of 12 miniatures that portray the different characters, events, and moods of carnival time in the French village of Aix-en-Provence. Full of lively rhythms and tender melodies, Le Carnaval d'Aix is light, joyful, and a lot of fun.

The major work on the program will be the Symphony No. 1 in G minor by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Written by the youthful composer (and subtitled "Winter Dreams") the piece is by turns haunting, graceful, lighthearted, and, finally, immensely powerful. Full of the wonderful melodies, robust harmonies, and sensuous orchestral colors for which he would soon become world-famous, this first essay in the symphonic genre gives us an early look at the young genius.

Our concert begins with the rousing Huapango, by Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo. Based on the Mexican folk dances from the popular festivals of the costal region of Veracruz, Huapango is an exhilarating mix of distinctly Latin rhythms and melodies; when these rhythms and melodies are combined, the results are wild, raucous and very exciting!

Hope to see you there,

David Leibowitz, Music Director

New York Repertory Orchestra

Thursday, October 05, 2006

my bathroom sink has been fixed

In case anyone was curious, I got my new sink on Tuesday. It wobbles a bit, though, so I need to call my super to see if he still needs to work on it. But now I can brush my teeth in the bathroom again.

Wednesday night at Varsity Letters reading series

Two nights in a row for me out on the town means that the cats are getting restless. It gets worse, boys: I've got rehearsal on Thursday and a busy weekend ahead. (Like they're reading my blog...)

I went to a monthly sports book reading event at Happy Ending on the Lower East Side. It's hosted by Dan Shanoff, who used to write the Daily Quickie column on and now blogs on his own. I'd been wanting to go for a while, but I've always had other plans. However, this evening I was free, so I had dinner at work and then hopped the J train to Bowery and Delancey. (Quick side note: I hardly ever take the J/M/Z trains, and when I do, I feel like I'm on a completely different subway system in some foreign city. The trains and stations look the same, but they're so unfamiliar that they seem completely alien to me. And when I get out of the subway, I'm in a neighborhood that's I've left largely unexplored, so I always expect to get lost.) The big draw for this month's reading was Will Leitch, editor of, one of my favorite blogs. Before Will got up to talk, the guys who do the 0:01 photo for ESPN The Magazine each month presented a slide show of their work and talked about their new book, a collection of 0:01 photos. Then Tom Callahan, author of a new book about Johnny Unitas, talked about working with Unitas and interviewing old Baltimore Colts players and coaches. Will was the last speaker on the program, and he read two short pieces, one from his book Life as a Loser and another that I think he said hasn't been published yet (I don't remember exactly).

After the reading I stuck around, had another beer or two, and got to meet Will, his fiancee Shari (with her own book now on sale), Dan Shanoff, and some other Deadspin readers and sports fans. I ended up sticking around until the bitter end, mostly because I wasn't in any hurry to get home and I was enjoying talking sports and making fun of everyone else's teams. I'm already looking forward to the next event: a reading with Michael Lewis (of "Moneyball" fame) on November 8. Next time I think the Deadspin readers need to wear nametags with their commenter names on them. I'm not sure who I met this evening, but I'm sure some of them are regular commenters over there. I'll have to become a little more active in that regard myself. Not that it's a big secret, but over there I'm Peter Cavan, a pseudonym my grandfather used to use (to what end, I have no idea).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

last night's party on Steve Forbes' yacht

It's been a while since I got to go to something cool in New York as part of my job. Last night, my boss and I attended a vendor's security briefing at a midtown hotel and then took a bus with a few dozen other IT managers to Steve Forbes' yacht, The Highlander, for a cruise around Manhattan. We enjoyed fine wine, a buffet dinner, some incredible weather, and utterly fantastic sunset views of the city skyline and New Jersey. I may be bragging, but I think these are some of the best photos I've ever taken. I'm especially proud of this one. We did have to listen to a sales pitch from the company president, but it was worth it for the food, drink, and atmosphere. I talked to a guy in ESPN's IT department and found out that yes, they actually do shoot the "This is SportsCenter" ads at the network's Bristol offices (I had thought that some of them were in a studio somewhere). However, he wasn't in any of the ads. We got a gift bag on the way off the boat with some Forbes magazines and a wrapped package that turned out to be a desktop notecard holder and pen set that I left at home. A free ride on a luxury yacht, all the food and wine I could want, and swag at the end? That's a perfect work outing in my book.

Monday, October 02, 2006

weekend recap, and a bonus rant about plumbing

On Friday night, just as I was leaving work, I got an invitation to join some of my co-workers for drinks. We went to Loreley on Rivington, where my friends were out back in the garden enjoying liters of German beer. I had two liters of Spaten Oktoberfest and soon I was loving life as much as they were. Around 10 PM everyone else had taken off, leaving me and one other guy to continue the evening's revelry. We stopped at a pizza place for something to help soak up the beer, then we went to a Bleecker Street bar where his friend was serving the drinks. A few more beers later, and I was just on the happy side of drunk. (As opposed to the 'blacked-out, how did I get home?' side of drunk.) We took the party to Taco Bell on Sixth Ave., a haunt I haven't visited since I moved out of the Village three years ago. After hours of drinking, a burrito seemed like a fantastic idea at 1 AM, and I didn't realize until the next morning what a terrible decision it really was. After our run for the border we walked down 4th St. to the East Side to get taxis home. On the way we ran into one of my old friends from college, his wife, and another friend of theirs. Only in New York does it make perfect sense that I'd run into a friend at 1:45 AM on a deserted East Village street.

I took it easy on Saturday morning, what with my hangover and all. I didn't have much time to sleep in, as the plumber showed up around 10 AM to start working on my bathroom sink.


Last weekend, I noticed that I had some kind of (what seemed like a minor) clog in my bathroom sink. Whenever I ran the water in the bathroom, I'd hear a gurgling sound from my kitchen sink (the two rooms are adjacent and the sink pipes are connected). I didn't think much about it until last Tuesday night. I washed some dishes, then went into the bathroom and noticed that my bathroom sink had filled almost to the point of overflowing with dirty dishwater. I bailed it out, then called my super to let him know about the problem. He called me back on Wednesday afternoon to tell me that his plumber had been over there to look at the situation and that it would be fixed shortly. So imagine my surprise when I came home that night to find a huge mess in both the kitchen and the bathroom. Apparently the plumber had had to get under my kitchen sink, so all of the liquor and cleaning supplies I keep there were on the kitchen floor, along with a generous amount of filth. The bathroom was just as bad, and I didn't have a functioning bathroom sink either. At least my shower, toilet, and kitchen sink were still working. My super stopped by and said that he'd try to have the work finished on Thursday or Friday, and if nothing else, he'd get someone to clean up the kitchen. When I got home from rehearsal on Thursday night, nothing had changed. No cleanup or further repairs seem to have happened. By Friday night the work in the kitchen was done, so on Saturday morning I put all of my stuff back under the sink. The plumber worked in the bathroom on Saturday and again on Sunday, and by Sunday afternoon I had a new cabinet and sink in my bathroom, but it was still not connected. The last thing I heard was that the plumbing supply store in my neighborhood was closed on Monday, so the plumber would get the supplies on Tuesday, though he didn't say exactly when he'd finish the job.

In addition to all of that mishegoss, on Saturday night I managed to lock myself out of the apartment while I was making dinner. My super had flipped the switch on the apartment door that sets the knob to locked, and I'm not used to that. I took out the trash, and just as the door closed I realized I didn't have my keys. I did have my phone, so I called my super and he was kind enough to come right over and let me back in. Actually, as the plumber had his spare key to my apartment, the super had to jimmy the lock with a piece of metal. In the meantime, James had arrived for dinner and football, and he made many, many jokes about my ineptitude. We were able to save the chili I'd left on the stove, and Michigan beat Minnesota, so it turned out to be a good night after all.

The rant part of this is that all I had was a damn clog in the pipes, and now I'm getting a new sink?! I don't really see how a clogged pipe leads to a completely new sink, and while I'm waiting for workmen and supplies to finish the job, I'm brushing my teeth and washing my face in my kitchen. I wish I'd taken pictures of the mess; it was quite spectacular.


I watched football for a while on Sunday afternoon, then I had an early dinner and went to the Javits Center for Kol Nidre service for the start of Yom Kippur. It's supposed to be a 25-hour fast (from sundown to one hour after sundown the next day), but since I'd had to eat dinner at 4:30 on Sunday and I waited until 8 PM to eat dinner tonight, it ended up being about a 28-hour fast. Tonight's dinner was a three-egg omelet with green onions, Cheddar cheese and cilantro, hash browns with mushrooms, turkey bacon, and toast. Mmm, breakfast for dinner.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

this battery recall stuff is getting out of hand

First Dell laptop batteries, then Apple laptop batteries, and now this:

Over 500000 IBM/Lenovo laptop batteries subject to recall

I've been using an IBM/Lenovo T60 ThinkPad for the past four months, and it's on the list. I just checked my battery and it's not subject to the recall. Although this is a laptop from work, so I wouldn't have to handle the recall if it was affected, but it's good to know that my laptop isn't going to explode on me, or worse, on my cats when I'm not home. I'm willing to bet that the TSA issues a blanket ban on all laptop batteries on flights sometime soon, just because they can.

Stupid Sony with their stupid laptop battery screw-ups....

Monday, September 25, 2006

my iPod artwork addiction

Aside from being my newest toy, my iPod has also become a sort of obsession with me lately. I spent last weekend re-ripping some of my CDs to put them on the iPod and re-tagging tracks so I can find them on the iPod. I've spent the past few evenings trying to get all of the album artwork set properly in iTunes so that the CD cover will appear on the iPod while a track is playing. iTunes will automatically supply the artwork for albums if:
  • iTunes sells the album or songs from it in the Store
  • the album is tagged properly so iTunes can recognize it
Nearly all of my rock and pop CDs have the correct album art, but my classical CDs largely do not. At first I tried looking up the albums in the iTunes store and re-tagging my music to match the listing in the Store. This approach failed more times than it worked, so I resigned myself to scanning my CD covers and applying the artwork manually. Then I read a post on an Apple discussion board that suggested using Google to find the album art. Instead of Google, I used to look up CDs, then I copied the CD cover graphic from the web page and pasted it into iTunes. But I have so many CDs without artwork that for each one I add, it seems like I have two more to fix. And when I sit down to fix a few CDs, I end up spending an hour correcting as many as I can. "Just one more," I tell myself, "and then I'll go to bed."

The worst part? When I listen to music on my iPod, I'm not looking at it -- it's always in my bag or on my desk and out of the way. So I don't even see all this album cover art I've gone to such lengths to add to my collection. But the process of adding the artwork has become an addiction. I may need an iPod support group soon.

Sunday afternoon beer tasting

I went to a friend's house out in Queens on Sunday afternoon for a beer tasting & cookout. He's got some friends who are serious beer connoisseurs, and they picked up about 15 or 16 varieties of microbrews, some European and some from North America. Everyone got a brandy snifter glass and about 3 oz. of each kind of beer as we tried them. Since some of the beers had high alcohol content (a few were 10% alcohol) most of us drank a few glasses of water between rounds. Aside from the fact that I had to be at work this morning and couldn't afford a Monday morning hangover, I wouldn't have been able to tell the differences between some of the brews had I not cleansed my palate each time. I don't remember any of the brands now, but there was a strong IPA that made Sierra Nevada Pale Ale taste like dirt (and I love Sierra Nevada), a British barley wine that tasted more like a fine wine than beer, and a champagne-like beer that we drank to start the day. I had to leave around 7:30, so I only got through nine or ten beers. The food was excellent as well: smoked duck quesadillas, tilapia soft tacos, steak tacos, and several different kinds of salsa and guacamole. We even had homemade sorbet and chocolate souffle for dessert (which I ate from a "go cup" as I was leaving). And I got to watch Sunday's NFL games in HD for the first time and talk football with a roomful of addicts. There were even a few fellow fantasy football managers at the party, and we must have seemed like complete geeks to those who don't follow the real game or the fake kind. All in all, it was a great way to spend a Sunday.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Comments change

I've switched the comments setting for my blog to "only registered users may post comments." That means that if you're already a Blogger user, you just log in with your Blogger account and comment away. If you're not a Blogger user, but you've got a Google account, like Gmail, you can use that. If you don't have either one, you can register for an account. I realize this might be a pain in the ass for those few people who just like to send me a quick response, but I've gotten some weird comments lately, and I want to prevent any other comment spam from appearing on the blog. If you've got a problem with this change, post something in the comments.

Or you could e-mail me instead.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

first impressions of the iPod

I got my iPod yesterday afternoon at work, and though I was busy doing my actual job, I found some time to play around with it and put my music on it. The music on it sounds excellent -- I'd forgotten how good MP3s can sound on a player with a functioning headphone jack. And it really is a triumph of design. I knew iPods were beautiful devices, but it wasn't until I held mine in my hand and used the click-wheel that I realized just how cool they are. One of the first things I did was install Rockbox on the iPod. I have music in a few non-MP3 formats that the iPod won't play natively, and I've been using Rockbox on my iRiver player for about 18 months, so I thought I'd want it on the iPod as well. Unfortunately, Rockbox for the iPod isn't as prime-time ready as it is for the iRiver, and it crashed the iPod a few times last night. It was fine today as I was walking around my neighborhood, but it's nearly impossible to read the display and the OS prevents me from doing cool things like show off my photos and automatically sync podcasts with iTunes. So this afternoon and evening I converted or re-ripped to MP3 my CDs that were in alternate formats on my computer. Now I'm importing all of my music into iTunes and I'm preparing to become a full-fledged iPod/iTunes user.

Maybe my only complaint about the iPod is that Apple doesn't ship it with any kind of protective case. There's a little faux velvet sleeve in the box that keeps the iPod from getting scratched, but in the event of a drop or a fall (like when my cats inevitably knock it off my desk) the sleeve isn't going to be of much help. So on Saturday evening iPod and I went to the Apple store in midtown and I bought it a proper $30 plastic and rubber case. The Apple store itself is a weird place to hang out. It's open 24 hours, which makes me wonder who is in there at 4 AM on a Tuesday. It was crowded with people checking their e-mail and surfing on MacBooks and iMacs, some of them tourists and some locals. And there are iPods everywhere of all makes and models. As much as I like my iPod, the new nano with the curved, brushed metal exterior (like the old iPod Mini) was tempting. All the iPods have music and videos on them, so there's a veritable cacophony of sound. All they need to do is serve alcohol and it would be one of the hippest bars in Manhattan.

Friday, September 15, 2006

the home PC is back... but for how long?

I got my replacement hard drive for my Dell home PC this afternoon, and I installed it this evening after orchestra rehearsal. After an aborted first install (somehow I put Windows on H: instead of C:) I've got my PC up and running again. The funny part of the whole ordeal was that the Dell tech appeared at my office with the replacement hard drive. I had no idea what was going on when the lobby receptionist called me to say "Dell is here to see you." I explained to the tech that the PC in need of repair was at home, and the woman was happy to give me the new hard drive and an RMA label for the old one so I could ship it back to Dell. And I was afraid I'd have to argue, cajole, or otherwise browbeat this person into letting me have my replacement drive. Now I just have to leave the PC on for a while and see if it crashes again.

Tonight was my second orchestra rehearsal, and it seems that my week of practice paid off, for the most part. I still made a few mistakes, but I was far more comfortable with the music than I was last week. It looks like I'm going to be sticking around with this group, so I'll keep updating you, my faithful readers, as the first concert approaches next month. At least one of you had better come out to support me. God knows I've gone to enough plays and concerts for my friends. You all owe me, damn it!

By the way, it's the New York Repertory Orchestra.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

because a fool and his money are soon parted...

... I just became an iPod owner. Well, not quite "just." I ordered a refurbished 60GB black iPod from the Apple store this afternoon. I should have it next week. But I feel dirty. I'll try to justify this purchase, for my benefit and for my friends, who have heard me say in the past "I don't want an iPod. I'm happy with my iRiver MP3 player [a Korean iPod knockoff with more features]."

The iRiver player is two years old, and for the past year the headphone jack has been funky. I have to wiggle and pull on it to get my music to sound right. Otherwise it "crackles" and sounds muffled. I've done some Googling and it's possible to open the player and re-solder the headphone jack. But I'm not an electronics expert and I don't own a soldering iron. I don't even own the proper tool to open the case. There's no guarantee this surgical procedure would work or that I'd be able to get the player back together again. And I'd have to do this at work, because my cats get all excited anytime I do any work on my desk at home and get in my way. So the iRiver player is probably going to end up on eBay, where I hope some music lover with expertise in repairs will pick it up.

Another reason I decided to get the iPod is that it's got 60 GB of space, instead of my current 40 GB. I'm actually running out of room on my player, and rather than delete something, I thought I'd just get a larger player. And I can hack the iPod firmware to customize it the same way I've hacked the iRiver, so I don't have to use iTunes. And I can finally be one of the "cool" kids with the iPod. Which means it'll probably get stolen on the subway in the first week. The tipping point for the iPod buy was yesterday, when Apple announced the new iPods. They slashed prices on the old 60 GB refurbs, so I can get one for 2/3 of what I paid for the iRiver when it was new. So if I turn the iPod into a paperweight in the first ten minutes with a hack, at least I won't be out the full purchase price.

In other tech news, I finally got Dell to replace the bad hard drive in my home PC. However, instead of just shipping me the replacement drive, apparently they're going to send someone to my house to install it. I wonder how long I'll have to wait for that service call?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

2006 NYC Century riding diary

Instead of my usual multiple-paragraph recap of the NYC Century, I thought this year I'd write it a little differently. Some of the times are approximate, as I didn't check my watch or take all of these notes while I was riding.

4:45 AM: I got about four or five hours' sleep on Saturday night, but when the alarm goes off, it's still too early. I get up right away and turn on some lights and start getting ready.

5:30 AM: I roll out onto 1st Ave, notice the two bartenders at The Gaf are still awake and sitting at the far end of the bar, and I ride over to Central Park. I check in at the marshals table, get my orange vest and supplies, and wait to be "pulsed" with the rest of the riders.

6:10 AM: I leave the Park at the tail end of a large group of riders. Like last year, we meander around upper Manhattan over to Riverside Drive, then we take Ninth Avenue to the Village, then down Broadway to the Brooklyn Bridge. My favorite part of the day: riding across the Brooklyn Bridge with the sun coming up on my left.

7:30 AM: I arrive at Prospect Park for the first rest stop. So far, so good. I get some food, stretch, and roll out about 20 minutes later.

8:30 AM: I get to the Shore Parkway bike path, which has been recently paved and rehabbed. I kick the bike into high gear and start dropping riders behind me. I love moments like this one. I also notice my quads are already starting to ache, and I've just ridden 30 miles so far. It's going to be a long day.

9:30 AM: I arrive at Canarsie Pier, the second rest stop. I take a little more time to rest and eat, but I'm still on a good pace for the day. I leave the rest stop just before 10.

10:15 AM: I stop to help another rider with a flat. I get the inner tube changed, but I can't get any air into the tire with her pump. Her friend rides back to meet us and he doesn't get too far with the pump either. I tell them to look for a gas station and see if they can use a compressor to inflate the tire. It turns out there are two or three gas stations less than half a mile from where we were.

11 AM: I see another rider on a red and gold Trek 7500FX (the same bike as mine), so I slow down to chat with her. She bought hers used about 18 months back, and added a rear rack and bag. She and her husband are making their own route, starting from Prospect Park and cutting out the Bronx. That's fine with me; they paid for the ride, so they can go where they want. I leave them behind in Corona Park, but they catch up to me after I make a few wrong turns. I see them again after I take my lap around the Kissena Park velodrome, and I wonder if she's going to take her bike for a lap. It doesn't look like she will.

12 PM: I get to the rest stop in Kissena Park. I don't like the food selection here (no PB & J sandwiches) so I get out some of the food I packed. I've been carrying it long enough, I might as well eat some of it. I take another 20 minutes or so to rest up, then I hit the road again.

12:45 PM: I miss a badly-marked turn a few miles later and ride about a mile out of my way before I see another group of riders who look as confused as I do. I can't figure out where we're supposed to go on the map, so we all decide to backtrack and see if we can find our way. About a mile later, we see the missed turn and get back on the route. It would be the worst road marking I'd see all day, which is a good sign.

1:40 PM: I'm in the middle of a conversation with another rider about his musical tastes (he had his iPod strapped to his handlebars along with some speakers) when I hear someone calling for a marshal. It's another rider with a flat. Again, I manage to get the tube changed, using one of my spare tubes, but again we can't get the tire inflated with my pump or his. Another marshal stops and tries a CO2 cartridge, but we end up wasting most of it. Another pair of riders stop with a decent bike pump, but the rider whose bike we're working on doesn't seem happy with the amount of air we're able to put in the tire. After 15 minutes, I make the same suggestion to him about finding a gas station, and I leave the three of them there.

2:40 PM: I arrive at the Astoria Park rest stop, about 65 miles into the ride. With all my delays, and 35 miles remaining, I'm now wondering if I can get to the finish at Central Park by 6 PM, when they close it down. I know the marshal check-in table will be open late, but I want to get there by 6 if I can manage it. I try to cram 30 minutes of rest into 20 minutes of actual time and I leave Astoria Park around 3 PM.

3:20 PM: I finally get off the Triboro Bridge, on Ward's Island. If riding across the Brooklyn Bridge at sunrise is the yearly high point of the Century, riding across the Triboro Bridge in its crappy, tiny bike lane is the annual nadir. It's a necessary evil, and I appreciate that the path is there, but it just sucks. We all have to walk our bikes up the stairs, and most of us are confused by the bike ramps (little narrow-channeled metal rails that let you roll the bike up the stairs) mounted to the stairs. They're mounted on the left side of the stairs, but most people walk with their bikes on the right so they don't get chain grease on their legs. Putting the bike ramps on the left side means bikers have to walk with the bike on the wrong side. Most of the riders today carry their bikes instead.

4 PM-4:30 PM: The Bronx. I am repeatedly asked how many miles are left, and I give a different, incorrect answer each time. The truth is that my bike computer has one mileage count and the cue sheet has another, so I'm left guessing how many actual miles remain. I try to make them happy by telling them that it's only a few miles to the next rest stop.

4:53 PM: Van Cortlandt Park rest stop. 90 miles complete, and the cue sheet says it's 104 total miles this year from start to finish. I'm now in serious danger of getting back after 6. I grab some food, stretch, say hi to a rider I met on one of my training rides, and I get out of there about 5:10 PM.

5:30 PM: I'm in a group of 10-20 riders. There are no Riverdale hills this year, so we're cruising on level streets through the South Bronx to the Broadway Bridge and Manhattan. A few people in the group have never been in this part of Manhattan before, but I assure them that I've been here many times and I know the way we're going. We weave through traffic on Dyckman and get onto the Harlem River Greenway. I put the bike back into high gear, finding reserves of energy I didn't know I had, and I get the bike up to 20 MPH. A trio of riders speeds past me on my left, and I wonder what combination of lightweight bikes, age, and physical shape allows them to pass me at will that late in the ride. One of them has knobby tires on his bike, which makes me feel even worse.

5:45 PM: It's nearly the home stretch. There are about half a dozen riders ahead of me, including the ones that passed me before, and they all miss a turn. I shout "RIGHT TURN!!" at them and slow down to make the turn. They fall in well behind me. I would have slowed down for them, but since they'd all passed me on the Greenway, I'm not doing them any favors now.

5:55 PM: I ride into Central Park and find the reception committee is still hard at work. I check back in at the marshal table, collect my t-shirt and water bottle. My day is officially over. Total mileage for the century: my computer says roughly 103 miles. I was ahead of the cue sheet for most of the ride, so I'm not sure how I caught up.

6:15 PM: I decide to stick around for a while and help clean up. There is word that a truck will soon arrive onto which we can load all of the leftover shirts, bottles, and office supplies. I give the truck until 7 PM to show up, then I'm leaving. In the meantime, I help break down tables, move some boxes around, and chat with various people also hanging around the finish area.

6:45 PM: No sign of the truck. I keep stretching and walking around, trying to keep my circulation up. I know that if I sit down, I'm not getting up for a while.

6:59 PM: The truck arrives. There are about 15 people helping to load the truck.

7:10 PM: A trio of homeless women come over and get into an argument with the TA staff about getting free water bottles and the large pile of leftover fruit and bread near the park entrance. Many profanities are uttered, as far as I could tell all coming from the homeless women.

7:20 PM: The truck is moved near the pile of materials near the park entrance. Another homeless man walks over and keeps pestering us for a piece of bread. The food is all going on another truck that will take it to the Bowery Mission, so we're not supposed to give it out. Eventually, the homeless man wanders off. I feel bad, but policy is policy.

7:30 PM: The truck is now almost full. Earlier, the TA staff had asked if any of us remaining marshals wanted to come down to the TA office on 27th St. to unload the truck, offering free beer as an incentive. If I lived downtown, I might have considered it, but I'm really tired and hungry now, and the prospect of riding 60 blocks home in the dark (or taking the subway) isn't a welcome one. And I have things to do at home tonight. I say goodbye to the staff, thank them again for organizing another great ride, and head out. On the way out, I see a woman that I met on one of my training rides. She and a friend just finished the Century a few minutes ago, which reminds me of my "Century from Hell" in 2002, when I bonked in the Bronx and needed serious encouragement from James just to finish. I talk with them for a few minutes, but my stomach is rumbling and my muscles are screaming for relief, so it's time for me to go home.

7:45 PM: I wait in line at Luigi's for my reward, a stromboli filled with pepperoni, sausage, ham and cheese. I'm still wearing my bike clothes. I probably smell terrible, but I don't care.

8 PM: I've showered, I'm eating my dinner, watching TV, and resting my sore ass on the couch. I foresee an early bedtime tonight.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Thursday was quite a night

Tonight was my first orchestra rehearsal in this century. The last time I played in an orchestra, I was in college and I was the principal violist and unofficial assistant conductor. Now, I'm a regular guy in the back of the section, just happy to be there. I thought I played fairly well for having taken so much time off. It helped that I was sight-reading the music along with the rest of the orchestra. Next week is a strings-only rehearsal, and I've got some work to do on the music before then.

When I got home, I put on the Steelers-Dolphins game, and I started screaming at the TV like it was the Super Bowl all over again. I need to tone it down just a bit for the regular season, or else I'll have a heart attack for certain. But Pittsburgh pulled out the win, so everything turned out OK. From what I saw, it doesn't look like this team has lost anything from last season. After the game, I watched the pre-game show, and seeing the ceremony where they unveiled the banners for each championship team made me all kinds of happy. By the way, the John Williams theme for NBC's football coverage makes it sound like the Imperial stormtroopers are marching into the Rebel base. I keep expecting to see Darth Vader on the field. I'll have to wait for a Raiders game to see that.

And I rode 20 miles in Central Park early this morning in my final tune-up for Sunday's NYC Century. I'm at 775 miles for the year, and after this weekend I'll be close to 900. I think my goal of 1000 miles is within reach, even with me taking half the summer off from the bike. Next summer I'll have to set the bar even higher.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

orchestra update

At my audition last Tuesday, I played better than I expected I would, considering I hadn't played for anything significant like that in about 15 years. Yes, the last time I auditioned for something of importance I was in high school. Anyway, I didn't hear from the orchestra after the audition so I took that to mean that I didn't get in. I'm OK with that, because I played to the best of my ability and if it wasn't what they were looking for, so be it.

I contacted two other Manhattan-based community orchestras and I've got tryouts with them in the coming weeks. So I will be playing somewhere, at least for a few weeks. In the meantime I'm still practicing almost every night, probably driving my neighbors crazy with the Telemann concerto and the viola parts to various symphonies. I think I'm rounding back into the form I had when I was in high school, which, to be honest, was when I was at the peak of my talents. I hardly ever had time to practice in college, so I learned the orchestral music in rehearsals instead of on my own. I'm trying things differently this time around. We'll see how long I can keep up the regular practicing.

Friday, September 01, 2006

yes, I am ready for some football

My fantasy football draft is tomorrow evening, and I've done no research. I have several recent issues of Sports Illustrated and whatever information I find online tonight or tomorrow. This year my brother is in the league with me, along with my old college friends and some other people we've picked up. Also, I'm in a "suicide" pool at work, where you pick the winner of one game each week, and you're eliminated when you get your pick wrong. And I'm in another pick'em league with a friend I saw at my college reunion last June. So it will be a busy football season for me online.

Speaking of pro football, the Steelers went 0-4 in the preseason, and while I'm not worried, I am trying to temper my expectations for this year. I'll be happy if they make the playoffs -- in their conference, anything more than that is gravy.

I watched Mississippi State get crushed by South Carolina last night. The score may have been just 15-0, but MSU looked awful. It should have been 35-0 given how they played. It's going to be a long season in Starkville. Penn State plays Akron tomorrow, and that should be an easy win for them. Like with Pittsburgh, I'll be happy if Penn State has a winning record and goes to a New Year's Day bowl game. They lost a lot of good players from last year's team, so I doubt they'll match last year's record, but a winning season isn't too much to ask. Otherwise, fans will be calling for Joe Paterno's head once again.

Monday, August 28, 2006

explaining the recent photos

As I mentioned in this space on Wednesday, I spent most of last week in the DC area visiting family and friends. Here are some highlights:

Thursday: I had lunch with two of my old college friends/former roommates at The Quarterdeck in Arlington. The three of us attacked a pile of two dozen crabs and made them disappear over the course of two hours. I would have taken pictures of the feast, but I would have gotten Old Bay seasoning on my camera. Back at home that afternoon, I took a number of photos of flowers in my father's garden. I played with the macro and color filter settings on the camera just to see what would happen. Later that night, my brother and his friend came over for dinner, and then we had a little family concert. I forgot about the weird facial expressions I make while I'm playing the viola.

Friday: my father and I took my cousin to the Air & Space Museum. I hadn't been there in about ten years, but I immediately noticed the addition of the SpaceShipOne and the glider that went around the world in the museum's main hall. My cousin went off to see the space exploration wing, so my dad and I went to see the WWI and WWII planes at the opposite end of the museum. We're aviation geeks, so we noticed changes like that they'd moved the Messerschmidt 262 from the WWII hall to the jet plane exhibit. Also, the Star Trek U.S.S. Enterprise now sits in the basement gift shop, instead of in an exhibit hall. I thought it looked better hanging from the ceiling, but in its new glass case I got better close-ups. That night we watched The Blue Max, a movie about German fighter pilots in WWI, starring George Peppard and James Mason. The flying sequences were fantastic, but the accents were not. Since it was an American production, the actors spoke in clipped accents meant to signify them as foreign. However, about 20 minutes in, George Peppard, also playing a German, gave up all pretense of an accent and became Hannibal from The A-Team.

Saturday: I drove out to the Dulles Airport area of Virginia to visit a good friend who recently moved there from New York. I didn't take any photos while I was there, so that explains why there aren't any. I'm still a little disturbed by the "town center" concept of suburban planning, but I'm getting used to the idea, as it's clearly here to stay. Though if I'd moved out to the far western suburbs of DC about ten years ago to get away from civilization, I think I'd be upset that civilization has now expanded out that far. Where my friend lives now was farmland just a few years ago. Now it's townhouses, apartments, and a brand new shopping center. I wonder what kind of character these new neighborhoods will have ten years from now. Right now they're not all that inviting: there's too much space between the large houses, and not enough space between the townhouses. And the town center doesn't offer much in the way of entertainment (though there is a multiplex under construction and presumably more restaurants on the way). I guess if you're moving out that far, you're not looking for different dining options each night. In any case, my friend is ecstatic to be there and out of New York, and I was glad to see the change.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I'm sure I'm not the first one to say this...

Now that we've demoted their homeworld to a dwarf planet, we'll have no one to blame but ourselves when the Plutonians invade out of spite.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

If it's my vacation, that must mean I'm in DC

I took this week off work because I had the time and hadn't taken a vacation all summer. (My trip to Boston didn't count, as it was for work.) I started my summer with a trip to DC for my Georgetown class reunion, so in addition to the chance to see my family, coming back here seemed like a good way to bookend the season.

This is as good a time as any to reveal my latest project. I am a violist, but I haven't played actively for years. I've picked up the viola about once a year and messed around with it just to make sure my fingers still knew where the notes were, but my calluses disappeared long ago and I haven't played in any sort of organized group since college. Lately I've had a strong urge to get back into performing with an ensemble, so about a month ago I started making an effort to practice regularly. I've been practicing some of my old favorite pieces, and they're beginning to sound like I think they should. I'll put it this way: I haven't actually PRACTICED since high school (by which I mean playing passages or even single measures over and over again), but I found myself doing that the other night, probably annoying my neighbors in the process. A few weeks ago I decided I was ready to take a chance at getting into a community orchestra, so I set up an audition with a local group I'd heard about during my last real performing gig (a community theater production of Company in May 2003). I won't say which orchestra it is yet; I'll wait and see if I pass the audition first. I'm surprised at how much I want to do this. I haven't had this kind of desire for a life goal in a long, long time. My audition is next Tuesday night. I'm not nervous yet, but I'm starting to think I will be by then. If I don't get into this group, there are others in NYC, so I will play somewhere with someone else this fall.

I bring all of this up because while I'm down here, my brother, my cousin who's visiting from England, and probably a few other friends and relatives are helping me with my practice sessions. My brother has been playing the violin for almost as many years as I've been playing the viola, but the difference is that he's currently taking lessons, while I'm just working on my own. On Wednesday night he brought his violin to my dad's house and we went over my audition pieces for about two hours. He gave me some much-needed feedback and insight, and I just hope I can remember all of the things he's told me and incorporate them into my performance.