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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I think he broke rap forever

I'm not a big fan of rap, but someone has to step in and save it from Kevin Federline. Maybe he needs a beatdown from Vanilla Ice.

Monday, August 21, 2006

late Monday review of the previous weekend

Friday night: drinks, followed by 7:35 PM showing of Snakes on a Plane. It was badly written, edited, and acted, and enormously entertaining in a theater full of semi-drunk fans hissing and throwing snakes at the screen. It's the communal moviegoing experience of the summer, but I don't think it's going to have legs like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Saturday: a cookout on Staten Island where there was much grilling of beef and drinking of beer. I think I ate and drank for about eight straight hours. The trip out there on the express bus was good, but the return trip via Queens and the F train wasn't so much fun. I did get some good photos, especially the one of my friend's new dog and his post-shave "Johnnycakes" look.

Sunday: riding in Central Park, followed by laziness.

I'm off work this week, and going to visit family in a few days, but before Wednesday I'm hanging out at home and taking care of errands I've been putting off for months, like renewing my passport and moving around some of my investments. And I should probably clean my apartment so I don't come home to a filthy mess or be embarrassed at the nastiness my cat sitter will have to endure in my absence.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reason #4,327 why I love New York

Every city has a basic odor to it, but only New York smells like New York. When I've been traveling and I come home, I know I'm back in New York when I get out of the cab or enter the subway system. You know it's summer in the city when you can smell the garbage piles on your block AFTER they've been hauled away. In today's Washington Post, David Segal and two experts on scents (a perfume maker and a retired sanitation worker) take a tour of some of New York's most odiferous locations: the Meatpacking District, Central Park, and Chinatown among them. I laughed out loud at some of the descriptions of the noxious smells they encountered. I've been through Chinatown on a humid summer morning, and it's home to some of the foulest stenches I've ever encountered. But I love the fact that no matter how much the government cleans up the city, it's always going to have that dirty, gritty feeling, especially in the summer. It's almost endearing, until I can't stand the stink and have to find some air-conditioning.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

another training ride, another long day on the bike

I spent all day Saturday on another training ride for the NYC Century next month.  Today's ride was scheduled for 58 miles, from Williamsburg to the Far Rockaways and back.  I volunteered to be a marshal for this ride, so when I arrived at the bike shop in Williamsburg I got an orange vest, a first aid kit, and the responsibility of helping shepherd 20 riders through Brooklyn and Queens.  There were a few other marshals leading the ride, so I occasionally took point, rode in the middle and pointed out turns, and swept at the back near the end of the ride.  As with the last training ride, we left late and stopped frequently to let the slower riders catch up.  Unlike the last ride, we never really split into slower and faster groups, so we ended up setting a slower overall pace than I would have preferred.  One of the other marshals told us about a pizza place he knew out in the Rockaways, so most of us stopped there before we went to the beach for a rest stop.  A few people went swimming, but mostly we sat on a stone wall, ate, and relaxed for a while. 

We left the Rockaways around 1 PM and for a while the whole group hung together.  But somewhere near the Aqueduct racetrack in Queens we lost about half the group, so we were down to nine riders.  I didn't want to abandon the lost riders; I saw that as a failure in my job as a marshal.  We made a few phone calls and tracked down some of them -- they'd made a wrong turn at the racetrack and ended up by JFK before they turned around.  A few others had already told us they were going to find their own ways back to Manhattan.  We met the "lost ones" about an hour later at Kissena Park.  By now it was 4 PM and we had 15 miles to go to return to the bike shop in Williamsburg.  Somehow we managed to keep the remaining riders together all the way back, with me riding "sweep" at the back to make sure we didn't lose anyone.  We pulled up at the bike shop at 5:40.  I dropped off my vest and rode back to Manhattan via the Williamsburg Bridge.  I turned on Allen St. and rode north onto 1st Avenue, and I got home about 6:15, only 11 hours after I'd left.  So it was a long day in the saddle for not as many miles as I feel like I rode.  However, the weather was excellent, I met some interesting people, and I had some great pizza out in the Rockaways.  And I know that I'm in good enough shape to handle a century next month. 

My stats for the day:

Total miles: 74
Average speed: 11.3 MPH (that's really slow for me)
Total miles so far in 2006: 559

Friday, August 11, 2006

RIP, Cat Detective Fred

Fred, the one-year-old tabby who assisted the Brooklyn DA's office in a sting operation on an unlicensed vet earlier this year, was killed by a car yesterday after he got out of the house. It's a terrible end for a cat who had many years of living large on his police-cat's pension ahead of him. My heart broke a little when I read this news story today.

It's also an argument for why no city cats (or any cats, for that matter) should be allowed outside. My cats stay inside all the time, and they don't seem to mind at all. Starlite in particular has been on the outside, as he was once a stray, and I don't think he's got any interest in going back outside. I used to think I might put him on a leash and try to walk him in Carl Schurz Park near my apartment, but I don't think he'd like that. Just getting the harness on him would be dangerous enough. No, he and Vladi will continue to eat well and enjoy life inside their luxurious Upper East Side digs.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

a fire on my street this evening

On my way home from the subway, I heard and saw a bunch of fire trucks and ambulances fly past me on 86th Street. That's a usual occurrence in New York. However, what's not usual is when they stop on 1st Avenue a few blocks south of my building. One of the apartments at 86th and 1st had a major fire, and as you can see from the photos I've just uploaded to Flickr, the fire department had to go in via the roof, the windows, and ground level. There's a pet store/groomer in that building, and the proprietors brought out about half a dozen dogs on leashes and a cat in a crate. The fire department also rescued a cat from the building, and I saw a guy, maybe the owner, tending to it as it was laying on the bumper of one of the fire trucks. (I hope the cat is OK -- it was hard to tell but I could see it was breathing. And of course I hope no one was hurt; it didn't look like there were any human casualties.) Once the fire was out, the firemen began removing burned and damaged items from the apartment via the windows. I didn't know this, but they just drop the damaged stuff onto the sidewalk rather than carry it out. It was actually sad to see kids' toys and blankets being tossed out as trash.

I didn't mean to become a sidewalk gawker, but I wasn't alone so I didn't feel guilty about it. Besides, whenever I see fire trucks in my neighborhood, I usually miss all the excitement and see the firemen cleaning up hoses and packing the trucks. At least this time I got to see them in action.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Water Taxi Beach

I went to Queens on Saturday afternoon to hang out with some friends at Water Taxi Beach. It's an outdoor bar and restaurant that imported several tons of New Jersey sand to Queens to create an artificial sandy beach. It was damn hot, even at 4 PM when I got there, but we had a good time sitting out in the sun (and under the cool water mist) and people-watching. My only complaint would be that the proprietors need to rake the sand more often. Once I saw the amount of cigarette butts in the sand I decided to keep my shoes on. I took some excellent photos of the Manhattan skyline from the beach. Sometimes I'm amazed at what my little camera can do.

By 7:30 PM we'd had enough of the beach and a few of us left in search of dinner. We had all passed Smokey's BBQ on the way to the beach, so we gave it a try. It turned out to be one of the better BBQ joints in the city. I had the Texas brisket sandwich, and it was some of the best melt-in-your-mouth brisket I'd ever had. The chef came out to our table and introduced himself, always a classy touch, and the wait staff was attentive, friendly, and quick. I'm looking forward to making another trip over there.

On an unrelated note, I've started a new project at home: digitally archiving my old print photos. Over the past few months I've dug out several drawers and boxes and found about 20 envelopes full of photos taken from 1995 to 2001, when I bought my first digital camera. Some of the earlier photos are blurry due to the crappy Olympus 35mm camera I had that lacked an auto-focus lens. But the photos from 1999 to 2001 are much better, as I'd moved up to an APS film camera by then. I bought a new scanner/printer on Saturday and I've already scanned in a bunch of photos from a wedding in 2001. If I can scan an envelope a night, I should be done with this project in a few weeks. There's a finite number of photos involved; it's not like I'm amassing any more prints to scan. I'm not expecting any kind of disaster to wipe out my old photos, but since I have all my music on my computer I might as well have all of my photos there as well.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

damn book meme tag thing *grumble*

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your Blog/Live Journal along with these instructions.
5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.
6. Tag five people.

From TCP/IP Blueprints (Burke, Bligh, Lee, et al.) (c) 1997:

If an interface still needs the IP address, it must renegotiate the lease before it expires. The automatic address allocation policy can be implemented by using dynamic allocation, but setting the lease time to be infinite.

Figure 6.1 illustrates the sequence of DHCP messages that are exchanged in order to negotiate the lease. Note that all messages from the client are broadcast because the client doesn't yet have an IP address.


David Pogue

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

a confession and a revelation

I've been watching Project Runway for the past few weeks. Normally I avoid reality TV shows like bird flu, but I'm watching this one because after over 14 years of reality programming (counting endless installments of The Real World), at long last I know one of the contestants. I went to high school with Angela Keslar, the designer everyone loves to hate this season. She was a year ahead of me: I was in the class of '92 at Westmont Hilltop High School in good old Johnstown, PA, and she was in the class of '91. I don't really remember much about her from school, and I didn't know her well enough to say if she was as bitchy then as the show makes her out to be now. I think she was involved in the theater, but I could be confusing her with someone else in her class. She may have been in the chorus with me, but lots of students were in the chorus. But I did go to school with her. So I've got that little connection to someone who is only marginally famous in her own right.