Friday, August 31, 2007

notes from a slow week

Oy vey, has it been quiet around here. I've been able to spend quality time with my Xbox 360 this week as well as watch all the sports I could want to see. Orchestra rehearsals resume next Thursday, so I'll have at least one night a week when I'm busy.

There's a new subway entrance at the corner of Broadway and Cortlandt Streets, on the same side of the street as my office building. One of the small ways the average subway commuter can game the system is to get in the right train car so that when you get to your destination, you're close to the station exit. When I lived in the Village I got on the front end of the E train in the morning, so I was close to the World Trade Center station exit and didn't have to walk down the platform. In the evenings, I'd get on the back of the train and get off close to the exit at West 3rd St. But that all changed when I moved to the Upper East Side. The 4/5 trains are so crowded in the mornings, and the station exits on either end no more or less convenient for me, that it didn't matter which car I used. I'd always get stuck in an uncomfortable spot and have to walk to the station exit. Now, with this new entrance on my block, I can get in the front car of the train and be only a few steps from the exit at work. I still have to cross Broadway to get on the train to go home, but I can save a little time on my morning commute. It's the small things in life, my friends.

I took a bit of a gamble last week and bought a subscription to the New York Philharmonic. They had a sale on all concerts so I picked out four that I really liked and got two tickets to each one. The catch is that I don't have any idea who will want to come to these concerts with me, but I have until January to find someone for the first concert. The real test is in June: Mahler's Ninth Symphony on June 7, and Bruckner's Eighth Symphony on June 21. Those are two gargantuan works, so whoever comes along is either in for a treat or should bring a pillow for a nap.

Monday, August 27, 2007

the quest for pizza

I got up at 6:30 AM on Sunday for a marshal training ride for the NYC Century in two weeks. I had to be at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn by 8 AM, so when I left home at 7:15 I had to race to get there on time. I arrived to find a few other cyclists waiting, and a few minutes later the ride organizer showed up. The route was the entire Brooklyn and Queens portion of the Century, leaving out the Bronx. The end of the ride was Astoria Park in Queens, so from Grand Army Plaza it should have been about 65 miles. Another ride organizer would be waiting for us in Astoria with free pizza.

We left Prospect Park around 9 AM in a light rain that thankfully stopped after 15 minutes or so. There were 14 of us, but almost immediately four riders dropped back leaving 10 for most of the ride. Two of the riders in our group appointed themselves as leaders for the first part of the ride, through Brooklyn to Canarsie Pier. I know that part of the route well, but I didn't mind letting these guys take the lead. We stopped at one point on the greenway out to the pier, and one of the "leaders" had us count off from 1 to 10, for what reason I have no idea. I was number 10. We got to Canarsie Pier without any trouble and took a break to eat and drink before starting off again.

We lost one rider right out of Canarsie. He was a long-distance cyclist and he had a bike loaded with panniers and bags, and he carried several compasses, whistles, lights, a camera, and I don't know what else. We assumed he had gadget trouble. Nine of us kept going, then we lost another rider just past Shea Stadium. We stopped near the Kissena Velodrome and waited for him, then one of the leaders went back to look for him. We waited another 10 minutes, then decided to leave when we started to cool down. Now there were 7 of us. We made a wrong turn near the velodrome and got off the cue sheet, so I got out my map and figured out a way back onto the route that didn't take us too far out of the way. Around 2:30 PM we arrived at Alley Pond Park, and I had to explain to the group that this was not the end of the ride and that the TA organizer would not be waiting at this park with the pizza.

When I ride any distance longer than 40 miles, I always bring my Camelbak filled with sandwiches, energy bars, pretzels, and fruit. I almost always end up bringing food home again. Most of the riders were getting hungry, and I started to worry about people bonking with 15 miles left to go. No one had warned them that there wouldn't be any rest stops on the ride. I gave out my Clif bars and tried to get people mentally energized for the last part of the ride.

A few other riders had caught up with us by now. Seven of us left Alley Pond and went about a mile before we figured out we'd gone the wrong way. We asked a driver for directions, but then we decided that since there were three of us who'd done the Century route many times before, we could find our way from memory and then get back onto the new route. We went a bit out of our way and rode in traffic along Northern Boulevard for a mile or two but we got back onto the route at Joe Michaels' Greenway. After that we were able to stay on the route. Around Flushing Meadows greenway the other part of the group took off, leaving me and two other slower riders behind. I took my time and waited for them for the last few miles of the route, keeping them in view behind me while I pointed out the turns.

We got to Astoria Park around 4:30 PM, about 90 minutes later than we had been expected to arrive. We did get pizza, and I got to share my opinion of the route and the nonexistent road markings with the organizers. I had been more pissed off about the lack of markings, but by the time I got to the park, I wasn't angry, just exhausted. I hung around for a few minutes, then left for home via the Queensborough Bridge.

I got home at 5:45 PM and my odometer showed 85 miles for the day. While I was more tired than I expected to be after that long a ride, I felt good knowing that I should be good to ride 100 miles in two weeks. With the proper organization and real rest stops, I shouldn't have any problems.

Friday, August 24, 2007

good things and bad things about my class

My Linux class was a "hands-on" affair, where we installed the OS on a PC and tinkered with it all week. It's the sort of thing I've been known to do on my own from time to time, so it was fun and interesting.

However, I had to work with another student. Usually that's not a problem, and sometimes it's even one of my co-workers, so we make a good team. But this time it was a guy from another company, so I had no idea what I'd be getting. He was a decent guy and seemed to know his IT business, but he was so busy answering phone calls and checking his Blackberry all week that he didn't pay much attention to the instructor. And he admitted that he was new to Linux, so he was a disaster when it came to the command line or following the labs. I tried to help him along and not get frustrated (and considering my tendencies, I think I did a good job of maintaining an even temperament). When he performed the instructions in the lab manual, I could tell he was just typing the commands, with no regard for what they did. When I did the labs, he'd make sure I followed all the steps, but he didn't care what happened. As soon as we finished the lab he'd go back to his laptop and e-mail or chat over IM with a friend.

Now, I've been known to go to IT training, get out my laptop, and spend 8 hours paying the least amount of attention possible while surfing the Web and goofing off. And I did have my laptop out all week as usual. However, I paid attention, asked questions, and got my work done. Despite the class being about 75% review for me, I think I learned a few things this week. By his own admission, my partner needs to buy a Linux book and spend some quality time installing and configuring a system on his own. I don't think he got anything out of a class that cost his company about $2000. Their loss, I suppose.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My once-a-year training class

I get to go to training (or a conference) once a year, so this week I'm in a four-day Linux class. I've been managing Linux servers at work for about four years with no formal instruction, just the bits and pieces I've picked up along the way. The class has turned out to be more of a review than new material, but that's OK. I need the practice, and it's been useful to see the best way to do things, instead of the haphazard methods I've been following for years.

One thing that the instructor said has been bothering me. He pointed out on the first day that many companies will pay for Linux software from vendors like Red Hat, Novell, etc., and buy support from those companies as well. However, since there's a rich community of Linux administrators on the Internet and many sites with Linux documentation and tips, the instructor said several times that it's a waste of money to pay for support. If you can get help for free, why pay for it?

Well, if something goes wrong with one of my production servers and I can't fix it, I don't want to tell my boss (or his boss) that I'm checking user groups and web forums and waiting for someone in Europe to get back to me with a suggestion. I'd be in a world of trouble. We buy support for all our software, regardless of how trivial or how extensive the user community is. You never know when you'll need help, and you can't rely on Joe Sysadmin in Fresno to know how to fix your systems. That's why we "waste" our money on support. Because you never know.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

update on my new friend

Two months ago I got my new cat, Grady, from the ASPCA. At first I thought they were going to get along famously, but my initial optimism was premature. About a week after Grady came home, something happened between the cats and Starlite wound up living under my bed. Later, he moved to the bathroom, where he had access to his own litter box and food, and he spent most of his time hiding behind the toilet. I tried to get him to come out, but any time Grady approached him, he'd scurry behind the toilet again. This state of affairs continued for over a month.

Last Friday, I was home early from jury duty, so I had time to call the ASPCA and see if they had any suggestions as to how I could get the cats to tolerate each other, if not live together happily. The doctor I spoke to gave me some tips and we laid out a basic strategy to get them reacquainted. Step One of the plan was to move Starlite from the bathroom to the office, where he has more room to move around and windows so he has something else to look at. I moved him in there on Friday night, and his behavior has improved since the move. He still runs and hides under a desk when Grady comes in, but when I keep the office door closed (which is most of the time) he's happy to climb onto my desk, roll around, and cry for attention. It's going to be a long process, and in the meantime I have to split my time between the living room and the office in order to keep them separated and still spend time with both cats. But there's hope for the future.

Grady continues to be one of the cutest cats ever. He's completely insane, though. He chases his tail all the time, and leaps from couch to chair to windowsill during his manic phases. I'm not sure he sleeps much. The past few mornings he's woken me up by chasing his tail on my bed. It's impossible to sleep with a cat jumping around next to you.

Friday, August 10, 2007

the two slowest days of my life

I had jury duty on Thursday and Friday in one of New York City's finest jury holding rooms. When I got the summons I thought it was for a different location than the last time I went, in 2001, but when I got to the jury room it was the same place as before. We had to arrive at 8:45 AM on Thursday morning, and it wasn't until close to 9:30 that they showed us the juror orientation video with Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer giving us a history of the court system, what happens in a courtroom, and so on. The best (or worst) part of the video was at the beginning. They show you a medieval "trial by ordeal" where they throw the defendant into a lake. The judicial theory was that if the accused floated, he or she was innocent. It looked like they filmed that part of the video somewhere in upstate New York, but for all I know they shot it in Central Park. After that, we sat around the jury room until just after noon, when they sent us out for a two-hour lunch. Yesterday I went to New Green Bo on Bayard St. to try the tong po pork (based on Alex Balk's recommendation). It was a platter of fatty pork over bok choy, smothered in some kind of tangy sauce, served with buns. It's not haunting my dreams the way it haunts Balk's, but it was tasty. After lunch I wandered around Chinatown for a while, then went back to the jury room. They let us go around 3:30 on Thursday and told us to come back at 10 AM today.

I got back to the courthouse right at 10 and waited half an hour before they did a roll call. Then it was two more hours of reading and surfing on my laptop (the courthouse has free Internet access now, albeit with some web filters -- for example, I could read blogs and post comments, but I couldn't sign into Blogger to write posts on my own blog) before they gave us another two-hour lunch break. This time I went to Au Bon Pain, then killed an hour at J&R Music. They were having a sale on EMI classical CD reissues, so I picked up some Vivaldi violin concertos, the complete Saint-Saens piano concertos, Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, and some Beethoven piano trios. I should not be allowed to shop on my lunch break. I got back to the courthouse right at 2 PM, and about 20 minutes later they said we were dismissed with credit for two days of service and we wouldn't have to come back for at least four years. A few people wanted to know why they couldn't have told us we were dismissed before lunch. I didn't care. But I am a little disappointed that we were never called for any trials. I would have liked to see some courtroom action. I did get two days off work with pay, which is always a good thing. And my public service is fulfilled until well into the 2nd Clinton administration.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

working from home thanks to the MTA

I missed all the excitement on Wednesday. I woke up around 8 AM, took a shower and put on the TV around 8:30, and that's when I found out I'd slept through severe thunderstorms that flooded all the subway lines in Manhattan. I spent my morning on a conference call and watching NY1 for updates on the subway situation. By lunchtime the reports were not promising, so my boss told me and the rest of the Manhattan staff to stay home and work. I got more work done from home today than I usually get done at the office. I'm not saying I want to work from home all the time, but it was kind of fun. I had the news on for a while, watched part of a movie during lunch, and then listened to music in the afternoon while working with one of the guys in the office to get a server installed.

On Thursday I'll be downtown at 111 Centre St. for jury duty. I haven't been called for jury duty in six or seven years. The last time I went, I took a book and read the entire time. I'll bring a book tomorrow, but I think I'll bring my laptop as well. From what I understand, the courthouse has Internet access, so maybe I'll be able to keep up with my various blogs and news sites. I'm not worried about getting picked for a trial. If it happens, I'll have something else to talk about besides the annoyance of sitting in a jury waiting room all day.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"Superfreak was just a song I wrote..."

This video is long, but worth the investment. I hope these two gentlemen patched up their differences.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

DC "Culottes" Party

I went to DC this weekend for another Deadspin baseball game meet-up. The plan was the same as the NY gathering I attended back in June: meet at a local bar in mid-afternoon, get acquainted over beers, then move on to the game (Nationals vs. Cardinals at RFK Stadium), and finish the evening at another bar. The first stop was the Pour House on Capitol Hill. We hung out there from about 3 PM to 6. There was only one other person I’d met in person before, but I got to know everyone else quickly. The bar ran a shuttle service to RFK Stadium, and the bus turned out to be an old yellow school bus. Riding in the back, I felt like I was back in high school, though I’d never been on the bus after having a few beers. By the time we got into the stadium, we’d missed out on the Thomas Jefferson bobble-head giveaway for that night. We all considered rolling some kids for their bobble-heads, but common sense prevailed. (I may look for one on eBay this week, though).

The game was a blowout: 12-1 in favor of the Nationals. We were sitting in the upper deck in dead center field, so we had a good view of the field. But it was HOT. Really hot. Disgustingly hot. It was the kind of heat that just settles in around you. You could see the haze in the stadium lights. There was no breeze up there despite the height, so we just suffered for about three hours. I had a few beers, some food, and lots of water, but it was uncomfortable the entire time. We made the best of it and had fun anyway. I felt bad for my friend Andrea; she flew halfway across the country to see the Cardinals and Albert Pujols. Not only did her team lose badly, for some reason Pujols wasn’t in the lineup. They could have used him.

After the game, we went back to Capitol Hill to The 18th Amendment, another bar a few blocks from the first one. This bar had a basement that was blissfully air-conditioned. My friend Jon came over from Arlington to hang out with us. There was some debauchery, but I will not discuss that sort of thing in this forum. Around 1 AM we’d had enough, and we took a cab back to his apartment in Arlington, where I crashed on his couch for the night. It was another fun time with the Deadspin gang, and I’m thinking about going to another gathering this fall, possibly in Las Vegas. I haven’t treated myself to a vacation like that in a long time. I think I have an excuse to do it now.

Photos from last night are in the usual place: click on the Flickr gadget on the right.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

If we were having a reunion, this would be the soundtrack

My high school class has never had a reunion. We graduated in 1992, fifteen years ago, and we have yet to reassemble as a group of more than six or seven people. I had hopes that we'd have some sort of even five years ago, but no. My now-ex-wife's 10-year reunion had to suffice for me, and in fact I enjoyed the hell out of that particular gathering. I suppose if I wanted something done for my class, I'd have to do it myself at this point, but I'm not that motivated to find a location and try to contact everyone. Especially considering that I don't live at home and it seems even more daunting to try to organize something like a reunion from far away.

However, if my class were to have a reunion, we'd have a playlist. "Yostal," one of my fellow Deadspin commenters, has a column on DeadOn called "Tied to the '90s." A few months ago he posted a playlist for a class of 1997 10-year reunion, so I asked him to do the same for 1992. Earlier this week he was lamenting that he had no ideas for his column, so I reminded him of my suggestion. You can read and hear what he came up with. I have to agree with most of his selections. I think a true DJ playlist would include more songs from 1990 and 1991, as well as the requisite '80s nostalgia tracks, but he's covered 1992 well.