Monday, May 29, 2006

It's a three-day weekend...

After work on Friday night, I went to a little hole-in-the-wall theater on the Lower East Side to see my friend Matt's latest show, a sketch comedy show called "Happy Hour." $25 got me a seat and all the PBR and watered-down margaritas I could drink. The show was all about love and sex, and Matt's big scene was when he played "Orgasm Man" and four women stripped off his shirt while he raved about his "special powers." It was more of Matt than I ever expected to see, but his performance was funny. Then we went out for a few beers with most of the cast and some of the audience, and I got to watch the Navy's finest trying to pick up girls (it is Fleet Week in NYC).

On Saturday night I went to the New York Philharmonic with Jess to hear Berlioz' Harold in Italy and Mahler's Symphony No. 1. The soloist for the Berlioz was Cynthia Phelps, the orchestra's principal violist, and she put in a solid performance. Lorin Maazel was conducting, and while I liked their performance of the work, I didn't think it was the absolute best they could have done. There were a few places where Phelps and the orchestra weren't completely together, and I thought she could have played louder throughout the piece. But it came together in the last movement (although I didn't realize that the solo viola doesn't play for most of the final movement). The Mahler symphony was just outstanding. Maazel conducted the entire work without a score (I don't even conduct that piece in front of my stereo without the score) and the orchestra sounded like they were all born to play that one symphony. They had everything the score calls for: five trumpets, seven horns, two sets of timpani, a full arsenal of percussion, and all the winds and strings you could possibly want. In the last movement, I got a little chill at my favorite part, when the horns stand up for the final fanfare. It was definitely the best live performance I've ever heard of Mahler's First Symphony. Note to self: look for a recording of Maazel conducting Symphony No. 2.

I went for a bike ride on Sunday, then hung out at home to watch the end of the Indy 500. After dinner I met up with some friends to see X-Men: The Last Stand, which wasn't quite as good as the 2nd movie but was chock full of action and all the subtle X-Men references you could ask for. I did notice one continuity error, and I wondered why at the end Wolverine loses his X-Man shirt in a kind of flesh-eating windstorm but not his X-Man uniform pants.

Today was my day to relax. I did get out to take care of one errand and I spent about a half-hour at PC Richard debating whether or not I should buy another air conditioner for my bedroom. I've got two AC units already, one in the living room and a smaller one in the office, and I don't know if I can justify to myself a need for a third unit just for the bedroom. But this will be my fourth year living in this apartment, and for the past three summers it's been difficult to sleep in the bedroom without air conditioning. I end up dozing for a few hours on top of the sheets, tossing and turning, instead of getting a solid night's sleep. I'm thinking about moving the office AC unit to the bedroom and just dealing with the heat in the office. Since I only use the office at night and on weekends, I might be able to get by without having AC in there. For now, I'm going to wait and see how hot it gets. And while I didn't get invited to any holiday cookouts, I didn't let that stop me from enjoying large quantities of grilled meat: I cooked a juicy, delicious steak on the stove, in my grillpan. It's not quite the same as cooking outdoors on a charcoal grill, but it was still damn tasty.

cycling update

I almost forgot about this new "feature."

Thursday, May 25: 3 early-morning laps in Central Park, 20 miles.

Sunday, May 28: 4 midday laps in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, 37.5 miles including getting to and from Brooklyn.

Total miles for 2006 so far: 211.3.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

another new laptop from work

We're rolling out new Windows XP laptops and desktops at work, and I've got one of the new IBM/Lenovo T60 ThinkPads that the cool kids have. Originally the hardware department gave me this laptop for testing the XP installation, but for the past week or so I've been using it as my regular work PC and bringing it home every night instead of my trusty but old T41. I might have to give the laptop back if they run short and need to give it to an attorney instead of a fork-and-spoon operator like me, but for the moment it's all mine.

Since it's a T series ThinkPad, it has the same basic look and feel as the T41, with just a few cosmetic changes. The touchpad is a little smaller, there's another USB port on the left side (which makes 3 total), and it doesn't have any serial or parallel ports at all. Inside, it's got a 2.6 GHz dual-core processor, a 60 GB hard disk, 1 GB of RAM, and a DVD/CD-RW optical drive. It also has a 20V power supply instead of the old 12V ones, so I have to bring the AC adapter home each night (which means I'll probably forget it when I travel -- I've had a spare IBM AC adapter at home for years but it won't work with the T60). So I can use it for all the usual work tasks, plus watching DVDs and surfing from home while watching TV, as I'm doing right now.

The annoying thing about the new laptop is that it's got the "official" office installation of Windows XP on it, so it's missing some software I use all the time (like Firefox and a CD burner). For years, I've set up my PCs myself, with my own installation of Windows XP and whatever software I choose. This laptop is also locked down, so I can't just install anything I want. Actually, I can, since I've got an administrative logon for the system, but I'm trying to keep the system as close to the office's configuration as I can. I did install Firefox because I just can't get through the day without it but I've held off on some other things for now. The real test of how the lockdown affects me will be in a few weeks when I take this laptop to Boston for Microsoft's Tech Ed conference. As long as I can use the convention center's wireless network, connect my media reader to upload photos, and watch movies, I should be OK. I'm really starting to like this laptop, so I'll be just a little upset if someone comes to take it from me. No lawyer is going to show it the kind of love and affection it deserves.

As for my old friend the T41, it's currently locked in a drawer at my desk, awaiting its well-earned retirement. However, I don't think that's a career of mating with R series ThinkPads to produce little baby X series ThinkPads. I'm fairly certain it will soon be on its way to a second career as a used laptop in another part of the world.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

an emasculating moment this evening

As I walked up to my apartment building this evening, I noticed this girl standing outside the bar next to my building, talking on her cell phone. I went into my building and got my mail, and took a minute to sort out what was important vs. what was trash (since the trash room is a few feet from the mailboxes, I usually toss the junk without ever taking it upstairs) when this girl came into the building. I'd also noticed two Ikea boxes, one long and one short, sitting in the foyer, across from the mailboxes. She was sort of poking at the boxes when I asked her if she needed some help with them. She had moved into one of the fifth-floor apartments last week and just returned from Ikea. She said she was waiting for a friend to help her, but he was having trouble finding a parking space. I offered to help her carry the boxes upstairs. I was able to carry the smaller one by myself, and while it was heavy, it wasn't too much trouble to go up four flights with it. My arms already starting to ache, we went back downstairs to get the second box. I looked at the side panel and saw that it weighed 156 lbs. There's no way I could carry that much myself, so she and I managed to get it up to the third floor before we ran out of gas. I was impressed we got it that far. She surprised me with her strength: she was maybe 5'4" and didn't look outwardly muscular, but she was capably handling her end of the long box. With the box on the third floor landing, she said her friend could take it the rest of the way. I told her to let me know if they needed my help when her friend got there and I went back to my apartment.

Just as I got inside, I had an idea. Why not open the large box and take the contents upstairs in pieces? I was about to get my box cutter and go back into the hallway when I heard the girl and her friend. I looked out through my peep-hole and saw this guy, who was definitely no bigger than me and maybe smaller, pick up the 156-lb, six-foot-long box, tuck it under his arm and go up the stairs with it. I just had to laugh. I can't compete with that kind of brute strength. Granted, I made his job a little easier by getting the box up two floors, but I couldn't carry that much weight under one arm to go up even one floor.

And now I'll be lucky if I can even lift my arms tomorrow. Damn.

I'm in Gene Weingarten's chat today

Finally, after several attempts over two-plus years, one of my posts has been accepted into the weekly chat on the Washington Post web site. If you think you know which one is mine, post something in the comments. I will let you know if you got it right.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Wiyos live at Barbes

My other big weekend activity was Saturday night's trip to Brooklyn to hear The Wiyos live at Barbes. I've written about The Wiyos a few times, most notably the last time I saw them live, at the same bar. The scene was essentially the same as the last time, and the back room of the bar was crowded and hot, but no one seemed to mind. Over two hours and two sets, the band played about a half-dozen songs from their last album, a few from their first album, and another five or six songs that I'd never heard before. They also made a few observations about their music, such as the fact that nearly all of their songs are either about getting together or breaking up, and that they obviously got into this kind of music for the money and the pop charts. I might have laughed loudest at the bassist's comment that they will play for weddings and divorce parties. My only complaint about the show was that it wasn't as much of a sing-along as the last one, so I was a little self-conscious when I sang along on the songs I knew (which was most of them). And they didn't play their version of George Gershwin's "Summertime," which is one of my favorites. They're playing at Joe's Pub in Manhattan on June 8, so I've got another chance to see them before they go on tour for the summer. Maybe it will be OK if I sing along at that show.

cycling report for May 20 and 21, 2006

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts of the miles I ride on my bike and where I go. Assuming, of course, that I remember to post this stuff here.

On Saturday, I rode the Manhattan loop, going north on the East Side and south along the West Side Greenway. There's a newly paved section on the West side, north of fairway near the waste treatment facility. This path runs parallel to the railroad tracks, instead of the old path, which was an access road leading to Riverbank State Park.
Total miles: 30.

Usually I just ride one day on a weekend. However, when I got up on Sunday morning, the weather looked fantastic, and I didn't think I should waste it by going to the gym or staying home. So I headed for Central Park, intending to ride three or four laps. However, when I got there, I remembered that there was an AIDS Walk in the park, which closed most of the paths on the west side. So I left the park, headed north and took St. Nicholas Ave. as far as I could go. St. Nicholas Ave. ended around 190th St., at the intersection of Ft. George Ave. and Audubon Ave. Audubon took me in a circle back to St. Nicholas, so I took Ft. George and found myself on Amsterdam Ave., headed south. I passed the Highbridge Tower Park and turned down Edgecombe Ave. to get back to the Harlem River Greenway. I hit 23 mph going north on the greenway, but could only manage 13 mph coming back, as I had a nasty headwind in my face. I rode back to Central Park and then around the park on Central Park West and 59th St. before heading north again on Third Ave. to get home.
Total miles: 21
Miles so far in 2006: 151.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Pittsburgh Pirates still stink, for 14 years and counting columnist Gene Wojciechowski writes about the sorry state of the Pittsburgh Pirates and how Pittsburgh is and always will be a Steelers town first. The saddest part of his column isn't in the text, it's the chart next to the column comparing the two teams' records since they each won a championship in 1979. The Pirates had a few good seasons and three division titles from 1990-1992, but since then they've had 13 losing seasons, and they're well on their way to a 14th. It's a damn shame. It doesn't help that the team made some terrible personnel decisions during that time (Pat Meares and Derek Bell come to mind immediately), wasting millions on has-beens and never-weres while trading away promising young players. There are constant rumors that Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, wants to buy the Pirates, but the current owners don't want to sell. I guess they'd rather have a losing team and a money-loser than increase the team's payroll and put together a winner. All Cuban has done with the Mavericks is make them into a perennial playoff team and title contender. I don't see why he couldn't do the same thing with the Pirates.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tony Snow, master of the blues flute

I'm not sure who came up with the idea of playing the flute in a blues band. Maybe it was Ian Anderson, or perhaps James Galway tried it once. It's not important. New press secretary Tony Snow knows how to play the flute, as shown in this clip that Wonkette found earlier today. Why he's playing a solo for "Stormy Monday," or why he finishes the song on the saxophone, well, those are questions left for you to ponder. I think this version of the song is an insult not only to the blues, but to flutists everywhere as well.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mother's Day weekend review

My mom and my brother came to New York for the weekend, so I got to play tourist along with them for a few days.

We went to see "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" on Friday night, and we all thought the show was hilarious. My brother and I decided not to try to get into the show as spelling bee contestants, although I'd like to think I'd have done well. My favorite part of the musical was the example sentences the organizers used for the spelling bee words. I didn't actually like the music that much, and a few of the songs went on too long, like the one for the little girl whose mother is in India and whose father doesn't make it to the bee. But I'd wanted to see this particular show for over a year, and I wasn't disappointed.

On Saturday my brother wanted to see Chelsea Market, so we went down there around lunchtime. We browsed through a few of the gourmet stores, and my only regret was that I didn't have a recipe with me for dinner on Saturday night. I was surrounded by all these delicious-looking ingredients but I didn't buy anything. We continued the food tour in Greenwich Village: falafel and shawarma sandwiches from Mamoun's, coffee from Grey Dog Coffee, and cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery. Then we went uptown to Zabar's, to which my brother had never been before, and I bought an electric kettle, a non-stick skillet, and a potato ricer. Michael just got a different ricer and a pound of coffee. We went back to my neighborhood for dinner at Penang. (In case it wasn't clear before, this weekend was mostly about doing things to fill in the time between excellent dining experiences.)

We took my mom to brunch at the Delta Grill on Sunday morning. I'd been to the Delta Grill many times, but never for brunch. I had an omelet wrapped in a potato cake, which reminded me of the SNL "Taco Town" commercial, and we all enjoyed some of their beignets (which were good but not even close to the ones at Cafe du Monde in New Orleans). After lunch we had a few hours to see the Guggenheim Museum and the David Smith sculpture exhibit that was closing that day. The sculptures were interesting but didn't do much for me. I liked his earlier works better than the later ones -- Smith spent his last years combining found steel objects into artworks, but it looked to me like he was just throwing together anything he could find and calling it art. Sunday night's Sopranos dinner was James' version of Carmela's baked ziti, and all I can say was that it was worth all the effort James put into the dish. That was one excellent meal.

I took a few pictures of Times Square and Washington Square while we were walking around this weekend. I was happy to see that while the Beasty Feast pet store on Bleecker Street near my old apartment now has a new name, the same cats still live there. Bonnie, the mean old mama cat, was in her usual spot on the sidewalk just outside the store. I knew well enough not to try to pet her, but she did let me take her picture.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

a new look around here

I thought I'd update the template after about two years with the old one. This one includes my profile, so I threw in one of the few photos of me that I have in my collection. I think I've put back everything I had in the old template. If I'm missing something, I'm sure I'll notice it. I saved several copies of the old template just in case I need it. One thing I've learned as an IT professional is that you can't have too many backups.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mr. Starlite in a compromising position

Originally uploaded by catelinp.
OK, I'm just posting this photo to try out Flickr's blog feature. And also because I love this shot. I'm not sure if he's mad at me for taking the picture or just comfortable with his body.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I'm on Gothamist!

Gothamist used one of my Bike New York photos for Sunday's "Extra, Extra" daily wrap-up post. I love Flickr tags.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Five Boro Bike Tour 2006

This year was my sixth time riding in Bike New York/The Five Boro Bike Tour, and I think this year's ride may have been my favorite. I hope my several readers will forgive me for bragging a little in this post. I've been riding as an adult for about eight years now, and while I've had my ups and downs physically over that time, so far in 2006 I feel like I'm riding better than ever.

I left my apartment and got warmed up by flying down Second and Fifth Avenues to my usual starting place in Greenwich Village, near my old apartment. (I'm one of those bad people who doesn't start the ride at Battery Park -- I prefer to jump in a few blocks north.) The ride followed the same route as in previous years: Sixth Avenue to Central Park, then north out of the park to the Madison Avenue Bridge to the Bronx. Coming out of the Bronx, the course takes the FDR Drive to the Queensboro Bridge, through Astoria, then south to Brooklyn, along the waterfront to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, then the Shore Parkway, and finally the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Staten Island. My favorite parts of the ride are the FDR and the BQE, as they are only open to bikes for this ride, once a year. So when I got onto those highways, I put my bike into high gear and took off. I rode safely but swiftly, passing rider after rider, my legs burning but the rest of me feeling fantastic. I was in the left lane on the BQE for most of the time. Riders in front of me either heard me coming or just sensed me behind them, because they kept moving to the right just as I was getting ready to pass them, leaving me plenty of room to blow by. At one point on the BQE, my bike computer said I was going 28 MPH, which might be a personal record. Including rest stops, I covered the entire 42-mile route in about four hours. At the end of the ride I felt like I could have gone another twenty miles. I actually had about eight miles left, which is the distance between the Staten Island ferry terminal and my apartment on the Upper East Side. So I ended up with 50 miles for the day, and 100 miles total so far in 2006. I'm a tenth of the way to my 1000-mile goal. I can tell that my legs are going to be aching tomorrow from all that hard work on the BQE, but the pain will be worth the effort. And the endorphins feel fantastic.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

the ORIGINAL "original" Star Wars trilogy on DVD

This just in: On September 12, Lucasfilm will release the original, non-Special Edition versions of the classic Star Wars trilogy on DVD. My friend Chris points out that he predicted just such an occurrence, though he was off by a year.

While I appreciate George Lucas's change of heart about releasing the original SW trilogy on DVD, I'm not planning to be among the many fans who will eagerly buy this nostalgia-filled edition of the movies on DVD the minute the stores open. I rarely watch the SE DVDs that I already have, so I don't think I need to spend more money on the trilogy. I don't actually hate the SE versions. Aside from the "HAN SHOT FIRST!" butchering (which was somewhat better on the SE DVD), I think the SE trilogy is an improvement over the original. I like the updated special effects and the added footage with Jabba the Hutt at Mos Eisley. I'm not a Star Wars purist or a completist, so it's not that important to me to own these editions as well. Besides, they're selling the 2004 SE DVD and the original edition in the same package, so I'd be re-buying something I already own.

I think I'll pass.

However, I am excited about the release of LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy on the same day. I LOVED the first LEGO Star Wars video game, which let you play through the prequel trilogy as LEGO versions of the movie characters. In fact, I recently re-installed it on my computer so I could play it again. It's ostensibly a kid's game, but it's so much fun to play and re-play that I don't care. Check out the link above for the trailer for the sequel, and you'll see what I mean. I'm not kidding about how fantastic the original game was. If you're a Star Wars fan and you own a decent computer or a video game system, you should have LEGO Star Wars in your collection, if for no other reason than the chance to chop Jar-Jar Binks into little LEGO pieces.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I "SAW" it last night

I was already tired Tuesday night when I was flipping channels around 12:15 AM. That's when I found SAW on one of my Cinemax or Showtime networks. It was only about five minutes in, so I started watching it. I hadn't planned to watch the entire movie, but since I hadn't seen it before, I ended up staying up until 2 AM watching the whole thing. I already knew the ending, or at least the most gruesome part, so I watched most of the movie shouting "just cut off your damn foot already!" at Cary Elwes. The rest of the film was predictable, and while the final twist surprised me, it wasn't unexpected. I thought it was a decent horror film, but not the groundbreaking movie that horror fans thought it was two years ago. And seeing it didn't make me want to see the sequel.

Horror movies, even when viewed just before bedtime, don't really scare me. But after I was in bed, I did get up again to make sure I'd locked my apartment door. You never know when the jigsaw killer will sneak in and lock you in his basement. I think next time I'm looking for a late-night movie, I'll try a comedy instead just to be safe.

Monday, May 01, 2006

a semi-productive weekend

Because I was on call for work this past week, I couldn't make any big plans for the weekend. I spent most of Saturday afternoon sitting in my living room watching the NFL Draft and answering calls from the help desk. The draft can be fun to watch (it always reminds me of the student housing apartment lottery at Georgetown), but when the weather outside is beautiful the last place I want to be is sitting inside looking at it through my windows. Which is why I finally decided to clean my apartment windows after living there for three years. My windows look out on First Avenue, and since before I moved in they've been covered in a layer of some kind of sooty substance that looks like it runs off the roof when it rains. I'd hoped that my landlord would have a cleaning crew power-wash the windows a few times a year, like in my old apartment in DC, but apparently they don't do that for five-story walkups. So I took matters into my own hands and figured out how to get the windows open enough for me to get some Windex onto them and wipe them down. It took half a roll of paper towels and I ended up with plenty of soot on me, but my windows are much, much better looking now. I even climbed out onto my fire escape for the first time. Now I've got a clear view of First Avenue. I realize that this story is probably of interest only to me, but it makes such a difference to sit in my living room with the shades up and not have the sunlight filtered through a layer of dirt. So that was my productive activity for the weekend.

I got out on Sunday morning for a bike ride in Central Park. I'm preparing for next Sunday's Bike New York, so I needed to put some miles on the bike when I had the chance. I managed to ride 28 miles nonstop yesterday. Combined with my initial ride of 20 miles two weeks ago, I'm at 48 miles so far for 2006. My goal this year is to ride 1000 miles before I put the bike away in October or November. Last year I got to 975 before the weather and social activities cut short my rides. So 1000 miles shouldn't be too hard to reach. After my ride, I went back outside for one of my favorite spring/summer activities: reading in the park. I sat in Carl Schurz Park for about two hours, reading William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties until my brother called me and then the office started paging me again. I also took a few photos in the park with my new camera, since I haven't had too many chances to use it yet. Check out the Flickr link if you want to see them.