Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Remembering past New Year's Eves

Before 1990, I stayed home and watched the ball drop on TV. I think there were a few pre-teen years when I went to a friend's house for a sleepover. I didn't drink on New Year's Eve until 1993.

1990: watched fireworks in Johnstown, PA

1991: watched MTV's Top 20 video countdown, then went out to watch fireworks in Johnstown

1992: same as 1992.

1993: went to Pittsburgh and partied with some friends from high school. Got drunk, sobered up, dented Dad's Dodge Omni the next morning when I backed it into another car.

1994: went to a frat party at St. Francis College in Loretto, PA with the same HS friends as the previous year. The party ran out of beer at 12:30 AM after the frat guys used it up in a "beer fight" at midnight. Tried to sleep, failed, drove home sober at 5 AM.

1995: watched movies with some other friends from high school.

1996: low-key party at someone's apartment in DC with recent Georgetown graduates

1997: best NYE party ever with some friends at their house in Arlington. Had a great time and didn't get too drunk. Or I sobered up a little before we left.

1998: I don't remember, which must mean it wasn't that good.

1999: stayed home, drank a $40 bottle of champagne and watched TV waiting for Y2K to happen.

2000: stuck in Starkville, MS because of a blizzard in NY that canceled our original flight home before the holiday and a freak snowstorm in MS that nearly kept us from getting home on New Year's Day. I drove 30 MPH on icy Southern roads to get us to Memphis in time to catch our rescheduled flight home.

2001: had a long dinner at Tio Pepe, a restaurant in our neighborhood.

2002: went to the show at Cafe Wha? in Greenwich Village. Had fun for the first 3 hours, but should have left at 12:30 AM instead of sticking around until 2 AM. Those extra drinks did us in.

2003: Stayed home, watched movies.

2004: Went to New Orleans. Had dinner at Commander's Palace, got beer thrown on us in the French Quarter, then we went to a strip club to avoid the crowd.

2005: crazy party on the Upper East Side. Fun for a while, but I should have left shortly after midnight.

2006: same crazy party as 2005, only more crowded. This time we did leave just after midnight.

2007: stayed home, watched TV, cheered on Dick Clark and made fun of Ryan Seacrest

2008: I think we're going out to dinner, then staying home. It's cold and snowy outside.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Geeking out on my holiday vacation

I spent last week in Johnstown, PA, where I could have been blogging, but I chose to relax and spend time with my family instead. (I hope they appreciate the sacrifice on my part.) I had the opportunity to hang out with my mom and my brother and talk about music, computers, cooking, and coffee, among other things. We couldn't make coffee in the morning without discussing whether to use the electric coffeemaker or the French press, or which of the estimated 20 varieties of coffee beans to try that day. I come from a family of coffee addicts, and I admit that I feed my mother's coffee-collecting habit. In fact, her present this year was a gift box of three different varieties of beans from Gorilla Coffee in Brooklyn, my new favorite coffeehouse. On our last day in Johnstown, we did a direct taste-test with the same coffee made in the electric coffeemaker and in the French press. Both were drinkable without milk or sugar, but I thought the French press version had more "notes" to it. There was a extra flavor to the press coffee that the electric seemed to have filtered out. But I don't plan to use my French press more often. My four-cup Mr. Coffee is still more convenient.

My brother and I also managed to break my mom's computer while we were there. We were trying to hook up a spare hard drive internally when the power supply died. Since we couldn't resurrect that computer right away, we hooked up her old Pentium III/Windows 98 PC from 2001 and ran Damn Small Linux on it for a day. Michael called Dell tech support and to our surprise they sent replacement parts and a technician to our house on Christmas Eve to replace the power supply. So we only suffered for a few hours with less than two functioning computers in the house. We never did get the hard drive installed internally; we bought an external HD enclosure and used that instead.

We didn't get to our other long-term back-burner project of getting old files from our childhood Commodore 64 onto modern media. I did some Google searching yesterday on the best way to interface an old Commodore 1541 floppy disk drive to a Windows PC. (Mac would appear to be out of the question entirely.) It would take a hacked-up serial-parallel cable, some special software, and we would have to hope that the 5.25" floppy disks and the 1541 drive still work after 18 years in a hot attic. Given the magnitude of the project, I think that if we ever get around to doing it, we'll have to ship all the old equipment to my dad's house and let him hack away at it. It sound like his kind of project, especially since he's the one who keeps suggesting it. I'm interested in what we have on those old floppies (mostly papers and short stories we wrote as kids) but I think I could live with myself if I never got that data back.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Kaplan - NY Philharmonic story gets more interesting

A Google alert in my mailbox pointed me to this Metafilter post about Gilbert Kaplan. At first I was excited -- someone read my blog and quoted it! -- but then I read the post. Since I am on the record as not being a regular reader of the New York Times, I missed this article this past Tuesday that discusses the New York Philharmonic's dissatisfaction with Kaplan's performance with the orchestra. On the day of the historic performance I attended on December 8, the musicians met with the Philharmonic's president and complained about Kaplan's conducting. The Times article and the Metafilter post linked to the blog of David Finlayson, a trombonist in the Philharmonic, who wrote a long post critical of Kaplan. What I saw as "textbook" conducting gestures and a lack of overexpressive motion the musicians saw as an inability to shape phrases or give dynamic changes. Finlayson pointed out that Kaplan had trouble keeping the beat in one section and asked the orchestra to help him. Kaplan acknowledged the orchestra's comments and said that "if some people are displeased, I can't help it." According to the Times, the Philharmonic won't invite him back, and Kaplan wasn't expecting a return engagement. The December 8 concert was a special occasion.

Even in light of these stories, I'm not going to take back my comments about the performance that night. I love Mahler's 2nd Symphony, and I think Kaplan did an excellent job leading the orchestra through it. It was a performance that I'm going to remember for many, many years. I bought Kaplan's 2003 recording of the symphony, partly because of his story, but also because of his edition of the work with his corrections. But I don't think I'll seek out a Kaplan-led concert in the future, because I've already heard him conduct this piece and he doesn't conduct anything else. As for my quote in the Metafilter post, I meant it as a compliment. I see too many conductors whose gestures are unclear and muddled, and I prefer to see a clear beat over expressive emotional gestures.

I sympathize with the Philharmonic's musicians. I can see why they are upset. No one wants to be used for the gratification of someone else's ego. But I think the Philharmonic made the right choice for the concert. Kaplan is an expert on Mahler's 2nd, he's a well-known name in the music world, and he's got a compelling story (albeit, one that's only possible because of his immense wealth). I'm sure the Philharmonic considered other conductors with connections to the orchestra's past, and they chose Kaplan. It would have been a rousing concert with anyone on the podium. I still think Kaplan acquitted himself well, and I'm glad I was there that night.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another sign of the times: Novell cancels BrainShare 2009

Novell's BrainShare conference has been an industry tradition for 20 years, but it won't happen in 2009. Novell announced yesterday that next year's conference has been canceled due to a significant drop in customer registrations and comments from said customers that they're cutting back on travel and other expenses in light of the current economic climate. I went to BrainShare in 2002 and 2004, and I enjoyed both conferences immensely. I learned more about the Novell products I was already using, and attended sessions on new products that would help me in my job and in my career. My firm's decision to switch from Novell NetWare to Microsoft Active Directory signaled the end of my BrainShare experiences. When I read this story, my first thoughts were of the people of Salt Lake City that work for the Convention Center where they hold the conference, and for the hotels and businesses that depend on that business. I doubt there's another major conference scheduled for Salt Lake City that will make up that loss of business. It's sad, but many people are probably going to lose their jobs as a result of this decision. I can't blame Novell; it's not their fault the economy is what it is. If customers weren't going to make the trip to Utah for the conference, then Novell and the local businesses would lose money anyway. But it's bad news all around. Apple announced on Tuesday that it will pull out of MacWorld after 2009. I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft cuts back or even cancels its annual TechEd conference. That would be bad for me in particular, as I think it's my turn to go to TechEd in 2009. That's if my office allows me to go. It's a vicious circle.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another Mahler success for NYRO

I should have turned down that second glass of wine at dinner on Saturday evening. Kate and I met her parents, my mother, and my mother's friend Dave for dinner before the concert. The first meeting of the parents went extremely well, and I was having a good time so I had that extra wine. I thought I would be OK since I had plenty of water and ate a healthy amount of pasta and bread. But when I left the restaurant to get to the church for the concert, I realized I was just a little bit drunk. I hoped the slight inebriation would make me more relaxed for the concert, and for the most part it did. I played my part for the Britten violin concerto as well as I had in rehearsal and most importantly, I didn't play in the rests. By the intermission, I felt like I had sobered up, which left me nervous for the Mahler symphony in the second half.

Our performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 1 was as lyrical and bombastic as I had hoped it would be. From where I sat the piece sounded incredible, though my friends told me that the sound was muddled in the back of the church. We knew that would happen, given the cathedral-like architecture of the church. Still, it was exciting to see the winds with their bells up in the second movement, and I risked a quick glance at the horns when they stood up in the final moments of the symphony. I think we captured a little of the magic we had two years ago when we played Mahler's 3rd Symphony in another majestic Manhattan church. I hope we have another Mahler symphony on a future NYRO program. I vote for Symphony No. 5.

During this concert, I realized that while I enjoy playing Mahler, I would rather listen to it than perform it. Mahler's music is not the most difficult I've ever encountered, but it requires a level of concentration that I'm not used to in performance. By the time I play a symphony in concert, I've practiced and rehearsed it enough that I can play some of it on a form of "auto-pilot." My mind wanders a bit even though my fingers, eyes, and ears are fully engaged in the performance. Maybe I'm not the violist I used to be, but even though I know Mahler's 1st Symphony intimately, on Saturday night I found that when my mind wandered I stopped counting or had to scramble to get ready for my next entrance instead of being prepared. I had to concentrate more on what I was doing than with nearly everything else I've played recently. It was a useful lesson for me to learn that I should avoid those lapses in concentration and focus on the performance. I'm up there playing because I enjoy it, but also because I want to give the best performance possible so that my friends and family enjoy the music as well.

Now NYRO takes a short break, but we'll be back in January preparing for our next concert on February 14. I know that's Valentine's Day, but what's more romantic than an evening of classical music?

Friday, December 12, 2008

tech update: the Mac battery is not healthy, but the TV looks great

I've kept an eye on the "battery health" meter on my Dashboard and on how long my battery lasts when I unplug the power cord. The health hovers at about 25% and battery life has been under an hour for the past week. It's in a sorry state right now. I want to run the recalibration process (and I might be able to give that a go this weekend) but I think I'm going to need a replacement battery. That will require either a cal to support or a trip to one of New York's Apple stores to speak to a Genius. I think I'll try the Genius route if I can get an appointment before I leave for the holidays. I don't like the idea of fighting the crowds in the store to get tech support at the height of the shopping season, but if I can get a new battery in the store, that would be worth the effort.

My calibrated HDTV still looks spectacular, so I think that effort a few weeks ago was time well spent. The incredible thing about owning a HDTV is that I am always impressed by the picture quality, even after 18 months. I will never get tired of watching sports and movies with a picture that amazing.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hair you just can't trust

I knew there was something about Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's hair. It's crooked hair. Bad hair. The kind of hair that cheats you and then brags to its friends about it. Others have made this point far better than I can.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Gilbert Kaplan, the New York Philharmonic, and Mahler's Symphony No. 2

As a frequent Philharmonic attendee, I've had the chance to see the orchestra work with a few different conductors. Most of the time I've seen Lorin Maazel at the podium. I like Maazel. He's experienced, he knows the music inside and out, and the orchestra is accustomed to his conducting style. There's a certain energy in the room when he conducts. I don't think there's a significant chance of a mistake. But when there's a different conductor at the podium, I think it's more exciting. The orchestra is not as familiar with the new conductor's style or gestures, so they pay closer attention. And when they're playing music that isn't as familiar to them, with a new conductor, it just adds to the degree of difficulty. The orchestra doesn't play Mahler's 2nd Symphony that often, given that it's a long, enormous piece involving a choir, soloists, and an expansive orchestra. And last night was Kaplan's Philharmonic debut, so they'd never worked with him before. On top of that, it was the 100th anniversary of Mahler conducting the New York Symphony (which merged with the New York Philharmonic in 1928 to form the current orchestra) in the US premiere of the symphony. So I was looking forward to an exciting concert.

When we walked into Avery Fisher Hall we saw that they'd extended the stage into the first few rows of audience seats so they could fit the massive orchestra and full choir onstage. There were two sets of timpani and a battery of drums and bells on one side of the stage. The cellos had been moved to the edge of the stage (when Maazel conducts, the violas sit at the edge). A few minutes after 8, Gilbert Kaplan came to the podium. He looked the part of the conductor with his tails and bearing, but I was skeptical. This man was not a professionally trained conductor. He ran a magazine and got coached in how to conduct this particular piece. Granted, he's been doing it for over twenty years, and he's the world expert on the work, but how would he conduct? What kind of style does a conductor have if he's learned only one piece? (Incidentally, he conducted without a score. I remember reading that Kaplan originally conducted without a score because he didn't know how to read one. I assume he knows now, but he didn't need it.) His gestures were precise and deliberate. Each cue was exact without a wasted gesture. His beats were about as textbook as I've ever seen from a conductor. He only made a few gestures for one group or another to play loud or soft. Nearly every time he indicated a tempo change or dynamic, the orchestra gave him exactly what he wanted. At one point in the third movement, with nearly 45 minutes left in the entire work, he accidentally broke his baton on the bar mounted on the back of the podium and most of it went flying off the stage. I don't remember, but I might have gasped. I had no idea what he would do. He didn't have a music stand in front of him with a spare baton ready. Unless he had one in his pocket he was stuck. But he wasn't stuck; he just kept conducting like nothing had happened. He conducted the rest of the symphony, including the offstage bands (via video), the soloists and the choir with what was left of the baton, a nub about an inch or two long. He might have made his gestures a little more precise but otherwise he acted as if he had a full size baton in his hand.

Of course, the Philharmonic didn't disappoint me. They were focused on Kaplan's every movement and aware of the magnitude of the music. The strings sang with emotion, the E-flat clarinet squawked away, and the horns and trombones lifted their bells and threatened to shake the chandeliers. Then there was the percussion. Kate said afterward that the way the percussionists moved around from drums to bells and back was the same way that puppeteers help each other out when two or three people are performing with one puppet. One percussionist had to move to play a set of upright bells (that Kaplan had provided for the concert), then back to a drum, then he assisted one of the timpanists during a particularly loud moment. He moved in and out without disrupting the other players' performances. Watching all of the percussionists playing at once in a massive drum crescendo was thrilling. During the parts of the last movement with offstage brass and drums, the music sounded otherworldly. The choir entered and the music built to a majestic, ethereal climax that moved me almost to tears. When the orchestra reached the last few bars of the piece and the choir sang "Auferstehn!" at full volume, with an organ(!) backing the mighty forces assembled on stage, I was grinning and shuddering and barely holding myself together. It was unforgettable.

UPDATE: Here are two stories from the New York Times about Gilbert Kaplan and his career as an interpreter of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, one from last week and one from a few years ago when he re-recorded the work with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Regarding the latter link, I hope it wasn't Mahler's baton that Kaplan broke last night. If I were in Kaplan's shoes and owned Mahler's baton, of course I would have used it in last night's performance.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

A musical couple of weeks

In addition to my usual Thursday NYRO rehearsal, I've had rehearsals (and a concert this evening) with a chamber-sized ensemble at a friend's church. We're playing Saint-Saens' Christmas Oratorio, which sounds like the text of The Messiah but with different music. As a result I've been out late the past three nights. That's cut into my blogging time.

I'm practically giddy with excitement about Monday's New York Philharmonic concert with Gilbert Kaplan leading the orchestra in Mahler's Symphony No. 2. The "Resurrection" Symphony is one of my favorite works, and Kaplan is possibly the world's foremost expert on this piece. His recording of the symphony became a bestseller. I downloaded it from Amazon yesterday morning and listened to it at work. Except for one tiny blip at the end (which happened because of the way they broke up the movements into different tracks) the performance is incredible. If that recording is indicative of the performance I'm going to hear on Monday, I can't wait.

And then there's our big NYRO gala concert next Saturday. I haven't been playing as well as I'd like for the past several months, but this week's rehearsal was my best in a long time. I relaxed, paid close attention to the rhythms, and reminded myself that I know the music. I went into the rehearsal confident that I could be a valuable part of the orchestra, and it worked. I still missed a few notes (most notably in the last movement of the Mahler where the violas have an exposed fortissimo entrance) but I know what I have to work on for next weekend. I'm as excited about playing Mahler as I am about hearing it on Monday night. So it will be another busy week, but with what should be a fantastic payoff.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Calibrate your toys, come on!

I've had my HDTV for about 18 months, but until Friday I'd never calibrated it. I read the manual when I bought the TV and made a few adjustments based on feel, but most of the time I left the TV on the "Dynamic" setting. The manual suggested that setting was best for watching sports, and since I watch plenty of sports, it made sense to me. But last year at the Super Bowl party, one of my guests took one look at my TV's picture and said something like "You should calibrate your TV. You're pushing a lot of red. If I'd known I would have brought my calibration disc." I agreed that maybe I needed to make some more adjustments, but since he didn't have this disc with him that was the end of our conversation.

Last Friday, Gizmodo posted an item on how to calibrate your HDTV using the THX Optimizer program that comes with most THX-certified DVDs. I found the THX optimizer on one of my Star Wars DVDs and followed the instructions. I couldn't tell much of a difference on the Star Wars clip the optimizer played after I finished the procedure. But right now I'm watching the Denver-NY Jets game on my HD cable box using the same settings, and I think the picture looks better than it did before the procedure. The color range looks greater, the blacks are a little blacker, and the picture looks brighter overall. Although maybe I just think it looks better. It's hard to tell.

I'm also trying to calibrate the battery in my MacBook Pro. I've had this laptop for less than a year, and already the battery life is about 2/3 of what it was when I bought it. Two different utilities claim that my battery "health" is about 45%, and my battery lasts about two hours instead of three or more. Apple recommends that you not leave the laptop plugged in all the time, a suggestion that I willfully ignored for most of the time since I bought it. They also have a recommended battery recalibration procedure, which requires you to run the battery down completely, leave the computer powered off for five hours, and then recharge it for at least three hours while it's still powered off. The only eight-hour stretches when I don't use this laptop are overnight or the occasional weekend. Since I knew I would be out of the apartment most of the day on Thanksgiving, I ran the battery down to 0%, let the laptop hibernate, and let it sit while I went to eat at my friends' apartment. When I came home about 10 hour later, I plugged the MacBook back in and let it charge without using it. I powered it up on Friday morning, only to find that instead of a more healthy battery, I'd lost a few percentage points. I'm going to follow their recommendations a little more closely from now on, and let the MacBook run on battery power for at least an hour each day. But if the health doesn't improve, I will make use of my expensive three-year warranty and get a new battery. I know laptop batteries are fickle, but I shouldn't have this kind of problem on a nearly-brand-new laptop.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Getting older

This past Saturday night, Kate’s upstairs neighbors hosted a party. They told Kate and her roommates about the party earlier in the day and invited them to join in the fun. Kate and I had plans to meet her friends for a drink before dinner and then we planned to see “Quantum of Solace” before returning later in the evening. While we were at dinner I got a call about a problem at work that I needed to fix, so we skipped the movie and went back to her apartment so I could use her computer to log in and handle the issue. When we got to her building at about 9:30 PM, three girls followed us inside and went upstairs to what sounded like a raging blowout already in progress. I took care of my work problem and we considered our options for the rest of the evening. The noise coming from the apartment upstairs was unbelieveable. They played their music at high volume and sang and danced for hours. It sounded like they were playing basketball up there, from the way the thumping moved from one end of the room to the other.

At midnight, unable to sleep, we decided to watch a movie. We had to turn our volume up to hear the movie over the noise coming from upstairs. One of Kate’s neighbors in the next building came out of his apartment, stood in the courtyard in the back, and shouted at the 3rd floor party to keep it down. I don’t think they heard him. Kate said she’d give them until 2 AM, then she’d go ask them to turn down the music. By 1:45 AM we thought they might have given up for the night since the dancing had subsided, but then the music picked up again. At 2 AM Kate went upstairs. I offered to go with her but she declined, saying she could handle it. She came back a few minutes later and the volume went down. She told me that when she asked the girls to turn the music down, they said “we told your roommates we were having a party,” as if that was an excuse. Kate’s response was “it’s still 2 in the morning, so please turn it down.” By 3 AM we were finished with our movie, they were finished with their party, and everyone passed out.

My problem with Saturday night’s events is that I’m not used to being “that guy” who tells the neighbors to keep the noise down. I used to be a party guy. A few years ago, if my neighbors had told me they were having a party, I would have stopped by for a drink or two. I know I’m older and more mature, but I didn’t realize I’d also outgrown the loud and crazy parties of my youth. One of the reasons I didn’t mind moving to Park Slope was that I was tired of living above a noisy bar on the Upper East Side. For the first few years I lived there, the bar was a reminder that people were out having fun on a weekend night while I was at home watching TV. Then I found myself hanging out at that bar on weekend evenings and I realized that it wasn’t so much fun if I didn’t know anyone there. As I grew tired of the bar scene, I also became more comfortable staying home alone, and I didn’t want to hear the music or the loud conversations of the smokers outside at 2 AM. My apartment in Park Slope is on the first floor next to the building’s entrance, so I get a fair amount of noise from the hallway, but I don’t get the crowd noise from a constant weekend party. And if I decided to throw a massive housewarming blowout in my new apartment, I’d get shut down by my neighbors (many of whom have small children) in about 10 minutes. Now, a party is a few friends, a good meal, a bottle of wine, and we're all home by midnight. And I don't mind. Maybe there's an upside to growing older.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

PC Magazine is no longer (in print)

Ziff Davis announced yesterday that they will end the print version of PC Magazine and make the title online-only. I have been a subscriber to PC Magazine off and on since college, at home or at work. My father, or one of his co-workers, used to get the magazine at his office when I was in high school and college, so I would read his copy and get the reviews of new hardware, software, and gadgets. For example, I remember first reading about Windows NT in a copy of PC Magazine when I was still in high school. Back then, of course, print was the only way to get this kind of technology news.

As I've become an avid online reader of all thing technological, I saw less need for a print version of the same information, especially when the printed news was several weeks old by the time I got it. But I would still read PC Magazine when I found it on a colleague's desk at work. I hadn't planned to become a subscriber again, but then I went to a trade show at the Javits Center and an attractive saleswoman from Ziff Davis talked me into a four-year subscription. What can I say? She was hot, and I couldn't resist. As Krusty the Klown said, "I'm not made of stone!" Also, at $10 a year for four years, it wasn't a bad deal.

But as I read each issue of the magazine, I thought about how much easier it would be for me to read the same information online, updated, with search capability and windowing. So when my subscription lapsed a few years ago, I ignored the renewal letters begging me to stay with them. I suppose you could blame me for the failure of the print edition, or lump me in with the rest of the subscriber base that abandoned the dying medium for the online version. But digital media is the present and future, so this was an inevitable step for Ziff Davis. Dropping the print edition is the right decision.

Now if only they'd streamline their web site. There's a lot of things going on there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The new Guitar Hero game

A few weeks ago I picked up the latest edition of Guitar Hero, complete with new guitar controller. For the record, this makes three guitar controllers in my collection, and I live alone and can only use one at at time. Guitar Hero: World Tour has a few of my favorite songs in it, like "Livin' On A Prayer," "Ramblin' Man," "Stranglehold" and "Pull Me Under." However, the majority of the songs are ones that I've never heard before. Some are new songs by unfamiliar bands like Airbourne, The Enemy, Kent, and Radio Futura. Others are songs I should know by bands like The Cult and 311. (The entire song list is here.) Previous games would mix in new music with classic guitar hits in the same set. Most of the sets in World Tour consist of only new songs, with familiar hits appearing every six or seven songs. For example, I played the game for about 90 minutes on Tuesday night, and of the approximately ten songs I played, the only one I knew right away was "Hollywood Nights" by Bob Seger. The rest of the songs were completely new to me. I got through all of them without much trouble, which was refreshing. My biggest problem with the previous game in the series was that some of the song were too difficult for me even on the "Hard" setting. In Guitar Hero II I was able to play most of the songs on "Expert" and get through them. World Tour has made all the song easier overall, so that when I finish the game on Hard I shouldn't have much trouble replaying it on Expert and boosting my confidence.

I like the new guitar controller that came with this game. In addition to the usual fret buttons and strum bar, they've added a touchpad further down the neck that can be used as a tap zone or for sliding on certain notes. It adds variety and makes it easier to play some faster solos. I'm still learning how best to use it. And they've added a button near the strum bar that you can press with your hand to activate "Star Power" if that's easier than tilting the entire guitar.

I didn't buy the version of World Tour that includes the drum kit. I thought that would be overly ridiculous for my apartment. But I am considering buying the microphone controller that comes with the full band kit. Should my friends ever want to sing along, then we'd have the microphone and, with the extra guitars I already own, we'd have a little band ready to go. If that ever happens, expect photos.

Monday, November 10, 2008

seen on the subway this morning

This morning's commute included the first Christmas carol of the season, courtesy of a man playing the guitar and singing in Spanish. He played one unfamiliar non-holiday song from Pacific Street to DeKalb Avenue, then he played "Feliz Navidad" from DeKalb to Lawrence Street. I hate "Feliz Navidad." It's repetitive, simplistic, and worst of all, it gets stuck in my head for hours. When he started playing it I nearly pulled a muscle reaching for the volume on my iPod to drown him out. Even now there's still a hint of it floating around in my head.

This second item has been bothering me for a few days. Bank of America has a new subway ad campaign touting a reward program in which they give you $10 back for every $100 you spend on transit on their credit card. All the ads show "typical" New Yorkers with quotes like "Ten bucks back for every hundred spent on transit? Great. What about a solution for gridlock?" Or "Fantastic. What can you do about my neighbor's tap dancing?" The photos accompanying the quotes show people who are not smiling and happy about the reward. Their lips are pursed, making them look impatient and annoyed. The ads come across as arrogant. Instead of seeing the program as a benefit, the ads show a false sense of entitlement. They say New Yorkers are smug jerks who, when presented with a good deal, say (with a highly sarcastic tone) "Thanks. Now double it, get me another latte, and I'll think about it. And shut up."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I am excited

I was excited in 1992 when Bill Clinton won, but even that victory doesn't feel like this one. Back then, it didn't feel like the country was on as bad a path as it is now. Barack Obama's victory feels like a much bigger win for the Democratic Party and for the nation than Clinton/Gore. I'm looking forward to the transition and the first 100 days. I know that Obama will have a tough time getting anything done with the mess that Bush and Cheney have left him, but I'm thrilled at the prospect that we finally have a competent leader at the helm. Even if it's a difficult road, I'm elated at what the future holds. This has been an incredible night.

Time to sober up and go to bed. I still have to work in the morning.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting this morning

I sprang out of bed at 6 AM and was out the door ten minutes later. The line at PS 282 in Park Slope at 6:15 was out the school door, down the block, and ended around the corner. I waited about 20 minutes outside, then once I got inside someone told me I could skip the long line and go into the gym if I knew my election district. I had my voter registration confirmation with me so I went inside and got in line for my district. Just like four years ago on the Upper East Side, the gym was packed with people in a maze of lines for different districts. I waited about 45 minutes in line for my district. People were joking about the old machines and the lack of lines for some districts. One woman said "there's no line for 57" and I said "yeah, but you don't want to live there." (I have no idea where district 57 is in Brooklyn.) The best thing about the experience was that everyone seemed to be in a good mood. I heard only a handful of complaints. Everyone I talked to was happy to be there and not at all surprised to see the turnout. I voted at 7:15 and was on my way to the gym a few minutes later. The line outside the school was still down the block. On the way home I passed another school on 5th Avenue with a long line of its own.

Now we wait.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Why I shouldn't be nervous

All I can do tomorrow is go to the polls and vote. It's too late for me to have any other effect on the outcome of the election, and worrying about the results will do me no good. I have to get through the day. I'm getting up at 6 AM and going to the polls first thing, so I hope the lines will be short. Even in blue Park Slope, I expect long lines early in the morning.

I'm excited about watching the returns come in tomorrow evening. I haven't decided for certain what I'm doing, but I suspect I'll end up at home by myself with my laptop and the HDTV and full control of my election night environment. For some reason, I keep thinking about the 1992 election and how I watched the returns come in that night. I was a freshman at Georgetown, living in Darnall Hall, and it was my first presidential election as a voter. I watched the returns in the dorm lounge with the rest of my floormates, with the occasional stop by my friend Jeremy's room, where he had his computer dialed into Prodigy and was getting state-by-state results online. He and a few friends broke out a bottle of champagne early when Prodigy called the election for Clinton, about 20 minutes before the networks did. I smile when I think of how it was so high-tech at the time to monitor election results online.

Tomorrow night I'll have more than a few tabs open to different news sites, and maybe a bottle of something to drink to celebrate, or to drown my sorrows if things go the other way.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It couldn't have happened to a nicer douchebag

Yesterday, Senator Ted Stevens was found guilty on corruption charges. In an election year when Republicans can't do anything right, this clown pushed for an expedited trial in the hopes of clearing his name before Election Day, only to berate prosecutors from the stand and turn the case against himself. The Washington Post's Colbert King explains in his blog post yesterday:

Stevens, despite his years of service to the nation, failed to realize that he wasn't up on a Senate dais looking down at browbeaten witnesses or back home surrounded by Alaskan cronies and sycophants; that, instead, he was in a city that has long experience with politicians who become high and mighty, who start to think they're above the law, and who begin to regard gifts and tangible expressions of affection as entitlements.
It also didn't help that he claimed that gifts of home furnishings from contributors (such as a $2700 massage chair) weren't gifts but loans. I suppose people in Alaska regularly loan out expensive furniture for years at a time. Last night I spoke to Liz, who was a Senate page for a semester in high school, and she confirmed that Stevens had a reputation as a jerk. (Although she did say that Stevens' secretary had a steady supply of delicious salmon jerky and elk jerky that she would pass out to pages.) I hope the voters in Alaska will realize that they've got a corrupt politician working for them, and throw this guy out on his ass. Let him go to prison and explain to his fellow felons how the Internet is a "series of tubes."

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mahler makes me giddy

Last night was the first rehearsal for NYRO's December concert, where we're playing Benjamin Britten's Violin Concerto and Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1. Regular readers of this space will recall that I am a huge Mahler fan, so I am understandably excited to be performing one of my favorite works. We played Mahler's 3rd Symphony two years ago, and that concert is on a short list of my all-time greatest performances. I have high hopes that this year's gala concert will be an even greater success. For my part, I was grinning like an idiot throughout most of the sight-reading last night, despite missing notes and entrances. I'll have to channel that enthusiasm into my practicing, of which I have a great deal to do. Mahler's music isn't easy to play.

For those in the New York area who may be interested in attending the concert, it will be on Saturday, December 13. Watch this space for more information as the concert date approaches.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Zima is no more

MillerCoors (I didn't know that was the corporate name) has ended production of Zima, the Sprite of malt beverages. When it first came out nationwide in the summer of 1993, my high school friends who went to Pitt introduced me to it. I wasn't a hard-core beer drinker at the time, and here was this vaguely fruity-tasting thing that was just as cool as beer to drink at a party. Cooler, even. So I became something of a Zima fan. I would seek it out at parties, ask my friends to get it for me, and told everyone I knew to try it. It was a wild ride.

Soon, the wheels came off my Zima party bus. I had a small party for my friends in the Georgetown orchestra in the spring of 1994 and got a six-pack of Zima along with beer and hard liquor. Liz drank a couple of bottles of Zima, then switched to the crappy vodka I had on hand. Her evening ended with her getting sick all over my apartment, then looking like death for a few hours before she pulled back from the abyss. A few months later we had a party to celebrate the end of the semester, and I had five beers and one Zima. But that one Zima got me drunker than anything else I had that night, and I think I made a fool of myself that evening but I can't remember the details. I'm sure there were other instances like these; Zima was a fixture at most parties that year.

It wasn't long before we realized that a) we got too drunk too fast on Zima and b) it tasted like lime juice spiked with urine. Also, everyone we knew thought Zima was for girls. We moved on to beer and bourbon, Zima tried to re-brand itself as a drink for men, and then Smirnoff Ice came along and put Zima out of its misery.

I salute you, Zima. By being so awful, you taught me what good alcohol should taste like.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wow.

I didn't think it could get worse than the previous clip of the racist asshole in Johnstown, but I was wrong. Check out the video in this Gawker post from a line outside a rally in Bethlehem, PA.

I'm never moving out of New York.

Why am I not surprised?

I don't keep a close eye on western Pennsylvania politics anymore, which is why I read about Sarah Palin's campaign stop in Johnstown on gawker.com this afternoon. According to my hometown paper, the rally was a big success for the McCain campaign in front of a "raucous crowd." A crowd which also included this racist moron. This older gentleman brought a stuffed Curious George doll to the rally, put a Obama sticker on its head, and called it "little Hussein." People like that guy, and the rest of the adoring crowd that showed up to shower Sarah Palin with its affection, are among the reasons I don't live in Johnstown any longer, and truth be told, why I don't go home that often. When I grew up there, I encountered too many closed-minded racists and anti-Semites for me to feel completely comfortable in that environment. It doesn't help that the area is still economically depressed, with people out of work, a combination that fosters negative attitudes like the one displayed here. I'm really disappointed by what this video shows of my hometown, and fearful that recent polls that show the Obama ticket leading substantially are overinflated by people who don't want to be perceived as racist by the pollsters. If McCain and Palin win this election by encouraging idiots with outdated values, our nation will have taken a huge step backwards.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I refuse to freak out

Many of my friends at work are asking the question "Have you looked at your 401K lately?" It's become an issue of sarcastic pride. Who's lost more? Who's most worried? Who has done something rash with their investments?

I've looked at my retirement account, and I'm down since the beginning of the year. But I refuse to do anything irrational with my money. While I am worried about the economy, I'm not going to retire for at least 30 years. Over the long term, the stock market is an excellent place to keep your money. I'm confident that the market will eventually recover and that my portfolio will grow again. Until then, I will continue to buy shares in my mutual fund at a premium, and take advantage of my employer's generous matching benefit. If you're my age (34) or younger, I don't see any reason to worry about the short-term stock market gyrations. Those of us in the early to middle stages of our careers should ride it out and see what happens.

I am more concerned about bank failures and returns on my savings accounts. I keep my money with some of the larger banks, so I don't think I'll see a failure, but I do think I need to watch my interest rates with caution. I have the recent windfall from my lease buyout to keep safe until such a time as I want to use it as a down payment for buying a house or apartment. I can't afford to take a loss on that money. And I'm worried long-term about the nation's unimaginable debt.

Which brings me to the topic of the election. The Republicans have gotten plenty of campaign fodder from the old saw about Democrats being "tax and spend liberals." But the past eight years of the Bush administration's fiscal policies have grown this country's debt to an inconceivable $10 trillion dollars. When you cut taxes, then fund two wars without end, you need to find the money to pay for it somewhere. Apparently we found it in China. My generation and future generations are going to pay for the sheer irresponsibility and mismanagement of the current administration. If I didn't have enough reasons to vote for Obama/Biden before this past month, I certainly have enough now. If nothing else, I believe that Obama affords us the best chance to repair our image overseas, extricate ourselves from Iraq, and get our financial crisis under control.

That turned into an unintentional rant, but I'm going to leave it there.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Brooklyn's free-for-all


There are few things in New York that are free for the taking. The New York Philharmonic provides free concerts in the parks, but only in the summer and you have to contend with large crowds and people chatting while the music plays. The Staten Island Ferry is always free, but who wants to go to Staten Island? The Tour de Bronx is a free bike ride around the city's only borough on the US mainland, but you have to ride around the Bronx.

When I lived on the Upper East Side, used furniture could be found for free on the sidewalk any day of the week. The beginning and end of the month were the best times to find a slightly-used bookcase or weathered-but-still-useful futon. A discriminating scavenger might be able to furnish an entire apartment with cast-offs if there was a run of good weather. (Rain tends to devalue items left on the street.) I took full advantage of this arrangement while I lived in the neighborhood. I still have a DVD shelf that I picked up from the trash room of my old apartment building, and I left my old love seat and several discarded pieces of office furniture on the street when I moved out. They were gone within hours.

In Park Slope in Brooklyn, it's possible to find a good deal on street furniture, but it's more likely that you'll find used books, CDs, and DVDs or videotapes on apartment stoops on any given day. Park Slope has an unofficial swap meet mentality. If you have a box full of old books that you don't want to keep but can't bear to give away, you leave them on the street outside your building. Other residents know that these books are free for the taking. I've seen lots of weekend stoop sales as well, but I don't know why anyone would bother with that when you can find the same junk a block away in someone else's castoffs.

The free stuff phenomenon isn't limited to the sidewalks. Residents in my apartment building leave old books and CDs on the mail-drop table just inside the main doors. Just this weekend someone left behind two or three boxes of books and stacks of CDs. The problem is that these are usually books or CDs that no one wants. Kate was excited to find what appeared to be a Peter Gabriel box set a few weeks ago, only to be disappointed when I read the box and discovered that it was actually an old PC game (for Windows 95!) with music by Peter Gabriel. She did pick up several CDs by The Rembrandts, none of which had the theme to "Friends." Most of the time the CDs are old, crappy albums by established stars or recordings by artists I've never heard of. Since I live in a building with families with small children, there are plenty of baby books and childrens' videos left behind. I've seen multiple copies of "What To Expect When You're Expecting" (possibly the same one getting passed around) and this weekend's offering included "The Baby Whisperer." I will admit to taking advantage of the book selection: I picked up "Liar's Poker" by Michael Lewis a few weeks back and I passed up a copy of William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" only because I already own it and lent it to a friend. Leaving stuff out for free is only putting off the inevitable trashing of said items. The superintendent takes whatever doesn't get picked up by fellow residents to the trash after a day or two.

However, this weekend in addition to the books and CDs someone left the armchair seen above. (Note the "free!" sign, just in case the placement wasn't clear.) Who could resist such a find? Alas, I was running out the door and didn't have time to think about how much I would want this chair, and when I got home it was gone. I'll have to get a faux-Victorian paisley-covered armchair somewhere else.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's about time

When I heard that Matt Millen is out as the Detroit Lions president/GM, my first thought was this Simpsons quote (originally posed to Krusty the Klown):

"Why now? Why not five years ago?"
I think I said the same thing when the Knicks finally fired Isiah Thomas.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A close call this morning

I ride my bike in Prospect Park in the mornings a few days a week. A few weeks ago, another cyclist was killed at 8th Avenue and President Street when he tried to ride through a red light and a school bus speeding down 8th Avenue struck him. That intersection is on my way home from the park. I think about that accident on all my rides, but especially the morning ones when I might be slightly less alert from just having woken up. 8th Avenue is one-way and drivers tend to treat it like a highway. I've ridden home along 8th Avenue a few times and drivers have honked and shouted at me to get out of the way as they speed by. It's frightening.

However, this morning's near-miss was not at 8th Avenue, but at 5th Avenue, and it didn't involve a speeding car but a slow-moving one. I stopped at the light on the north side of 5th Avenue, waiting to cross and ride the last half-block to my building. There was another cyclist behind me listening to music on her iPod and singing along, and a car beside me. The light turned green and I started forward. That's when I saw a white car out of the corner of my left eye. I slammed on the brakes as a police cruiser eased past me through the intersection in what was a parking lane. The squad car hadn't been there a second before the light changed, which is why I hadn't noticed it. If I'd kept going the car would have hit me, albeit at about 5 MPH, but they still would have hit me. The cop car kept going down 5th Avenue, staying in the parking lane to get around another car in the traffic lane. As I rode down President Street, slightly shaken up, a minivan pulled up next to me and the driver said "I guess your life wasn't worth anything to them." I replied "They could have turned their lights on, at least." Someone behind us honked, and that was the end of our conversation.

I've had my share of close calls since I started riding in New York, but this was the first one with the police. I hope it's the last.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

quick thoughts on the 2008 NYC Century

I had planned to write my usual long post about the Century, from waking up at 4:30 AM to riding across the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn, to finishing at 6:30 PM and getting home at 7:45 PM. But that's about the entire thing in a nutshell, and if you want a more detailed breakdown, you can read the write-up I did for last year's century or the year before.

One major difference in 2008 was that with my move to Brooklyn, I was no longer a few minutes from the start in Central Park. Instead of getting up at 5 AM and practically rolling out of bed to the start, I woke up a half-hour earlier in Park Slope, took my breakfast of granola and yogurt with me, and rode up 4th Avenue to the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street subway station. I got onto a 2 train with about half a dozen other cyclists in a similar situation and rode to the start that way. At 14th Street, a group of five late-night revelers got on the train, headed home after a night of drinking and clubbing. One of them said "you know, Entourage is on tomorrow night" and I smiled because for them it was still Saturday night, but for me it was Sunday. Hey, I'd had about four hours sleep and everything was funny to me in that state. These kids asked me about the ride and my bike and I did my best to explain it to them. One of them even said he'd do the ride next year. Although he was from Boston, so he said he'd ride down first.

The other big difference from previous Centuries was that this year it was hotter than I'd ever remembered. I'm used to the Century being on a hot day, but somehow it was worse than ever. I think the problem might have been the deceptively cool winds that blew for most of the morning and early afternoon. The wind gave me a misguided sense that the temperature was cooler than it actually was, and that I was cooler as a result. For the first 50 miles I didn't drink enough water. I started to bonk around mile 40 and continued to have weird heart palpitations for the next 20-30 miles. It wasn't until I started drinking faster and took a long break at Astoria Park that I began to feel better.

For the last 25 miles, the only problems were my legs, neck, and ass all aching, and the poorly marked turns in the Bronx. I don't want to point fingers, but it seemed that whoever was in charge of the road markings in the Bronx decided that since the route hadn't changed much, the markings didn't need to be repainted. At an intersection of two greenways (the Hutchinson River Parkway and Pelham Parkway) I had to make an executive decision as to which way to go. The turn wasn't marked on the ground, and the cue sheet wasn't clear. I was the de facto leader of a small group of riders (since I was a marshal) and some of them wanted to go straight ahead, arguing that if the turn wasn't clear the ride organizers must have meant for us to keep going. But the questionable left turn looked more inviting to me. Another marshal rode ahead to scout, but before he could get out of sight five riders came back towards him. They said they'd gone about two miles that way and decided it was the wrong way. So I announced that we were going left and hoped that we'd see another marking on the road. Luckily for me and my brave band, there was another arrow on the ground about 50 feet ahead, proving that we were on the correct path. There were a few more turns like that but those all looked familiar and had faded markings, so we made it to the last rest stop just before it closed at 5:30 PM.

After I'd finished the ride at 6:30 PM and claimed my free water bottle and t-shirt, it was time to go home. I could have taken the subway home and no one would have questioned my dedication to riding. I'd already put 100 miles on the bike that day. But I had decided that I was riding back to Brooklyn, so I rode through traffic on 5th Avenue and Broadway all the way back to the Manhattan Bridge. It was a harrowing experience given my weariness and the cars and buses, but I got home in one piece before it was too dark to see and be seen. Next year I'll get a few bike lights for the ride home, just to be safe.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Scenes from a Mystic wedding, part 2: Sunday and Monday

The wedding wasn't until late Sunday afternoon, but the day started early with a hair appointment for Kate. I slept in until 9:30 AM, then jumped out of bed when I remembered I might have been needed for sound equipment setup at the wedding site. When I hadn't received any phone calls about that job, I relaxed, got some breakfast, and enjoyed the morning. I made a sandwich run for the bridal party, then I helped Kate get ready and had some time to sit outside and read my book before I got dressed for the ceremony.

The wedding was a few miles away in Groton, CT, on the local branch campus of the University of Connecticut. The ceremony took place on a hillside overlooking the water, with a hupa made of sticks and fabric, and a long processional from the reception hall further up the hill. I had the job of running the sound board and trying to keep the wind from affecting the microphones worn by the groom and the rabbi. The reception was a great deal of fun: lots of drinking, dancing, eating, and opportunities for entertaining photographs. Part of the dessert spread was a fondue "trough," and I took full advantage and loaded my plate with cookies and cake covered with chocolate. It took all of my willpower not to stick my face directly into that trough and Hoover it clean. When the reception ended at 11 PM we returned to the hotel, took over the hospitality room, and continued the party into the wee hours. Or so I heard. I packed it in around 1 AM, but I understand that some people stayed up much later, tried to get into the adjacent pool area, and were sent away by hotel management.

We got up late on Monday morning for a farewell brunch. Kate had asked me on Saturday morning if I was OK with the idea of stopping at Abbott's Lobsters in the Rough on the way back on Monday, and of course I agreed. Fresh lobster? Are you kidding me? Put me down for two. We said our goodbyes, collected our baggage and another couple who needed a ride back to New York, and drove a few miles down the road to Abbott's in Noank. Abbott's has fresh steamed lobster, lobster rolls, steamed clams, mussels, clam chowder, and a few other things on the menu, all at reasonable prices. I had a lobster roll, some chowder, and split a plate of steamed clams with Kate. She had a 1 1/4 lb lobster dinner, and finished her meal by picking up the lobster head and telling it "You were so good!" And it was. Fully sated on seafood, we got on the road back to the city, leaving behind the land of cheap drinks, delicious saltwater cuisine, and unhappy service workers.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

scenes from a Mystic wedding, part 1: Saturday

Kate and I traveled up to Mystic, CT, for a wedding over the Labor Day weekend. The groom was one of Kate's closest friends growing up, and she was a "groomsperson" in the wedding party. We drove up to Mystic on Saturday morning, leaving before 8 AM to try to get there in time for a schooner cruise around Mystic and the surrounding waterways. Along the way, I noted that my vaunted GPS had decided not to cooperate fully with our attempts to use it to navigate. It would only occasionally "acquire satellites," sometimes deigning not to see any in the sky just a few minutes after being locked on. At one point mid-morning it decided the current time was actually 8:45 PM, and it took several reboots to get the thing to switch back. Kate put up with my cursing my dysfunctional gadget, and my gadget addiction in general, and for that she is a trouper. Also, she knew the area around Mystic, so even without a fully functioning guidance system, we found the boat dock in time for the cruise.

The boat ride itself was fun once we got out onto the water and the rain stopped. But for most of the cruise a steady misting rain kept us all a little damp and chilled. Since it was August neither of us had thought to bring a jacket with us for the trip. Although the boat ride was the only time we would have needed the extra layer; the weather had improved dramatically by that evening. After the cruise we needed lunch and to do some last-minute shopping. We looked in vain for a decent dining option and when we found nothing promising, we went to The Ground Round. I don't think I'd been in a Ground Round since high school. I remembered this chain as the place where they showed old movies and gave you peanuts in the shell, and you could toss the empty peanut shells on the floor. This Ground Round had neither movies nor peanuts, but it did have the world's unhappiest bartender. The host seated us in the bar area, saying that they were busy and we'd get quicker service there. Even so, it took us almost a half-hour to get a sandwich and a salad. During our wait, the bartender complained every time the host put someone else in the bar, and, while trying to enter something in the register and talk to a poor soul applying for a job there, she told this man "could you stop talking for a minute? I can't get this drink order right with you talking to me."

Saturday night was the rehearsal dinner, followed by drinks at several bars in downtown Mystic. Mystic is a quaint resort-like town so the bar options were few and far-between: restaurants or an Irish pub. So we started with the Irish pub. It was obvious from the start that we were invading the locals' Saturday night hangout. Although I appreciated the cheap drinks and the bartender's heavy hand with the liquor, we were getting dirty looks from our fellow patrons. Things didn't improve when four of us decided to play pool on the 25-cent table in the back. We were almost done with our game when two gentlemen came over and made it clear they wanted the next game. They sat at the bar and glared at us for the next 20 minutes while we ineptly tried to finish our game. When Kate and I eventually won (on an 8-ball scratch by our opponents) these guys made a move for the table. That's when a group of girls approached them and pointed out that they had put their names on the whiteboard behind the pool table, which apparently gave them the rights to the next game. Their names had been on the board before we had started playing, so we assumed these girls were upset with us for cutting in line. But they hadn't appeared when we were playing, so we got away with a game. And it wasn't at all clear that the whiteboard was the pool table waiting list. The two guys who had been waiting went back to their seats at the bar and continued to glare at us. That's when our group decided to find another bar.

We moved the party down the street to a Mexican restaurant with strong margaritas, a sombrero we appropriated for the groom, and best of all, no unhappy patrons. About two hours later and many drinks later, six of us decided to go to Foxwoods. Our crowd was down to three girls and three guys, including the groom and one of his best friends. Kate had already retired for the evening so I was with a group of people that I didn't know that well. But when you're drinking, everyone's your friend. When we got to Foxwoods around 1:30 AM, the groom, his buddy, and his other girl friend who'd driven us there found a place at a craps table. The other two girls and I watched them play for a few minutes, then decided to walk around. After getting some food, they were ready to go home, and so was I. I'm not a casino fan. I don't gamble, I can see shows in New York, and I can't think of any other reasons I'd want to go to a casino. I'm not sure what I was expecting to happen by going there. I wasn't having a bad time, but I recognized that I was getting tired (I'd woken up at 7 AM and it was now 2:30 AM) and that if I stuck around until the groom and his friends were ready to leave, it might be a while and I'd get cranky. So we said goodnight to our friends (and our ride) and asked a security guard where we could get a cab. He pointed us toward the Grand Pequot side of the casino (visible only by signage from our location) and told us to find the valet at that entrance. What he neglected to say was that the Grand Pequot entrance was on the far side of the casino, so we walked for about 15 minutes to get there. The valet called us a cab, which blessedly appeared about 15 minutes earlier than she told me it would arrive. As soon as we were in the cab, the driver started complaining about the valet parking attendant who was taking his time moving the car in front of our cab. She said something nasty about his nationality. A few minutes later we saw a New York cab in front of us and she said something unpleasant about that cabdriver's presumed nation of origin. In other words, she was a flaming racist. We asked her about the types of people she picked up at the casino, and she told us about a drunk couple she'd taken home earlier that night. She said the husband was a fine fellow and she hadn't minded dropping him off, but the wife "talked about me like I wasn't even in the car" and she was offended. She told us she'd pulled over and ordered the wife out of the car, and that Connecticut law allowed her to do that. We were in the back woods at this point, and the three of us sitting in the back seat agreed with her so that she wouldn't find a reason to force us out of the car as well. I got back to my hotel at 3 AM. I found out the next morning that the groom and his friends got back at 4:30 AM, up $14 for the night after big gains and big losses when they started falling asleep at the table. Also, they hadn't seen any free alcoholic drinks while gambling, and one of them had a hot chocolate when he got cold. Had I known that, I might have stuck around. Who doesn't like free hot chocolate?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Computer problems on my vacation

On Monday morning I went to check my Windows desktop PC which I'd left on overnight. I found that it appeared to be dead. Moving the mouse didn't wake up the monitor from sleep mode and when I power-cycled the computer the monitor insisted that it had no signal. I opened the case and poked around. Everything looked OK inside. The PC was getting power because the optical drives' lights flickered when I turned it on, the fans came on, and the hard drive light worked. But I never got any POST messages or beeps indicating that the PC was trying to boot up. So it looked like the motherboard had died overnight. It's a three-year-old Dell PC that's out of warranty, and I bought my MacBook Pro to replace it, so it's no great loss. But it is now trash.

I wasted little time in dismembering the PC. I took out the hard drive, installed it in a USB enclosure, and used SuperDuper to clone my MacBook Pro to it. Now I have a spare, bootable copy of my Mac that I can run on any other Mac, or use to restore my system in a hurry if I have a hardware failure. This backup is in addition to the Time Machine backup drive that I keep at work. (In case you haven't noticed, I'm a zealot when it comes to data backup.) I might cannibalize the DVD drives as well, though I don't really need them.

I have another backup drive that I used to keep for the Windows PC. It now holds the last good backup of the PC, from just before my move to Brooklyn in July. I can access it from my Mac, but because it's in NTFS format, I can't write data to it from the Mac, I can only read it. I tried writing data from my Windows Vista VM on the Mac, but that didn't work either. If I want to edit that data or reformat the disk, I'll need another Windows PC. I could always bring home my work laptop and use that. Or I could take this as a sign that it's finally time to give Boot Camp a try and install Vista on the "bare metal" of my MacBook Pro. While I'd be able to access Windows resources natively with the Mac hardware, I'd lose 20-30 GB of hard drive space to my Windows installation. I've resisted that temptation until now, but without a reliable PC at home, I think my hand has been forced. But that will be a task for after my vacation. In order to use Boot Camp, I need to print out the software manual. However, my home printer has been out of order for a few weeks with ink cartridge issues. I need to replace the ink cartridges to get the printer working. So I'll have to wait to install Boot Camp until I go back to work after Labor Day, print out the instructions, then have a free day at home to play around. I love tinkering with my computers, so that sounds like a fine way to kill an afternoon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

the quest for pizza 2: cycling boogaloo

Sunday was the marshal training ride for the 2008 NYC Century. I've gone on the training ride three of the past four years, so I know what to expect:

don't make any other plans for ride day, or at least no plans before 8 PM
no matter what the mileage on the cue sheet says, expect to ride about 10%-20% further than that
expect the unexpected in terms of unanticipated delays

We met under the Brooklyn Bridge at 8 AM. There were about 20 cyclists, a few who looked familiar to me from rides past but most of them strangers. We got cue sheets from the organizer and at 8:45 we set off on the bulk of the 75-mile route. Pizza would be waiting for us at the end of the ride in Astoria Park, and we expected to get there by 3 PM.

By now I could do about half of the TA's route on auto-pilot -- they tend to use the same bike paths each year -- so I was trying to think of what the route would look like to a cyclist unfamiliar with Brooklyn and Queens streets. It wasn't easy. I've become such a graybeard cyclist that I hardly remember what it was like when I first started riding in the city. One of the biggest problems with the Century is always the road markings. TA volunteers do an outstanding job marking the route, to the point where some years I haven't had to use the cue sheet at all. But when you ride the route two weeks early, and not all the markings are there yet, you're going to run into problems. And that's what happened to us.

We were OK for roughly the first 25 miles, which took us to Canarsie Pier. Somewhere on the Shore Parkway bike path between Canarsie Pier and the turnoff to head north to Queens, the bike path was covered with sharp-edged broken sea shells. My tires had been fully inflated that morning but sometime in the afternoon when we were in Queens I noticed I'd developed a slow leak. I stopped a few times to pump up the tube but based on the holes in the tire I didn't think the air was helping much. The back tire continued to be a problem, and it was really impacting my ride.

Then we got lost in Alley Pond Park. We missed a turn somewhere and wound up near some ballfields asking passersby for directions. No one out there knew how to get back to numbered streets. My GPS wasn't any help either. It didn't work most of the time, and the few seconds when it did work it couldn't tell me anything more than that I was in Alley Pond Park. Thanks, Garmin! While one of our company patched a hole in his tube, the rest of the crew rode ahead to find the exit. They came back, minus one member, so we waited for him. He appeared about 15 minutes later, wondering where we were. He'd found the next turn out of the park and had been waiting there for us to arrive. Back on course, we were filled with confidence that we would soon be at Astoria Park and that our afternoon and evening plans were still safe. Alas, we were wrong.

We'd already had a two scheduled and two or three unscheduled rest stops. We had one more when my back tire gave out completely as we were crossing the Northern Boulevard Bridge. We pulled off onto "Unnamed Service Road" (that's what the cue sheet always calls it) and another rider and I took 15 minutes to change the tube in my tire. I'd seen this guy patch a tube already, and I guess I could have patched mine, but I just wanted to get back on the road so I opted to swap the tube and try patching the old one later on my own. I felt bad because I'd already thought about changing the tube, and I could have done it at one of the previous rest stops, but I'd decided to try to get home on the leaky tire and fix it on Monday. I won't make that mistake again.

By now it was late afternoon and we had about 10 miles to go to Astoria. To our credit, we only had to stop once more to help another of our company with his own tire issues. We arrived at Astoria Park about 5:30 PM. We did get some pizza, and even though it was cold, it was delicious. We shared our harrowing tales of woe and were comforted with the knowledge that our suggestions and corrections to the route would be taken into consideration over the next two weeks.

Then a few of us rode home through Long Island City, Williamsburg, and Fort Greene. I got back to Park Slope and my apartment at 7:15, almost 12 hours after I left. I rode 82 miles for the day, and my aching muscles feel it. But I also feel better prepared for the full 100 miles in two weeks. With a few more weekday laps in Prospect Park, I'll be in great shape.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Getting in the mood for football season, musically

If you're a football fan, then you've seen the NFL Films archives from the 1970s and 1980s narrated by John Facenda (of the "frozen tundra of Lambeau Field" fame). So you'd probably recognize the soundtrack to those films if you heard it. When I bought Madden '08 for the XBox last summer I loved how the old NFL films music played while you watched instant replays. I was browsing on eMusic the other day and came across this collection of music from the NFL Films series. All the classics are there: "Round Up," "Up She Rises," "Ramblin' Man from Gramblin'," and my personal favorite, "The Lineman." Listening to this music, I can picture slow-motion shots of the Raiders, Cowboys, and Steelers moving the football, catching passes and crushing their opponents. Last night for our fantasy football draft, my newfound friend Sam Spence provided the soundtrack as we made our picks and poked fun at everyone else's blunders.

I am now ready for some football.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Checking the calendar

The weather over the past weekend was so beautiful that I wondered if I'd slept through the rest of August and woken up sometime in late September. I'm used to the late summer months being filled with swelteringly hot days so the recent spate of low-80s temperatures, clear skies and cool breezes had me confused. I'm not complaining, and looking at the upcoming forecast it looks like warmer days are ahead, but I'm enjoying the weather while we have it.

I went for a long bike ride on Saturday afternoon to Floyd Bennett Field in southwest Brooklyn. Floyd Bennett Field was New York's first municipal airport, built in 1930 and used until the 1950s for commercial aviation and air freight. I'd been there several times before on NYC Century rides, but I'd only ridden through the parking lot and along one of the taxiways before heading out to the Rockaways on the ride route. This time FBF was my destination, and I took the time to explore the abandoned runways and see what I'd missed. Both main runways are intact, and cyclists (and motorists and motorcyclists) can ride the lengths and get the sense of what it would be like to ride along a busy runway at JFK. There's a section reserved for model airplane enthusiasts, and some windsurfers were taking advantage of another section of unused pavement to cruise in the breezes. I'd forgotten that one of the few remaining Concordes was parked out there, and I took a few photos with my cell phone camera. (A quick note about the phone's camera: I've had my Samsung SYNC for 18 months, so you'd think I'd know how to hold the camera to get wide shots. You'd be wrong. The camera takes photos lengthwise when it's held upright, and takes tall, narrow shots when you hold it sideways. In other words, what you're framing on the screen is not what you'll get when you take the shot. That's why all the photos from my FBF ride are "sideways.") I spent about 90 minutes exploring the old airfield, and I look forward to going back. Maybe I'll bring a kite next time, attach it to my bike, and see if it will pull me down the runway.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Requiem for a coffee mug

I've been at my job for a little more than eight years. During orientation on my first day in July 2000 I received a white coffee mug with a torch and the words "One Liberty" on it (I work at One Liberty Plaza downtown). Everyone got one. I don't remember who else started that day, but I'm sure they don't have their mugs anymore. I've drunk more cups of bad Filterfresh coffee from that mug than I care to remember. I've had my mug through two or three office moves. It survived 9/11. But it didn't survive a fall onto the kitchenette floor a few minutes ago. I was cleaning out the gunky residue from yesterday's Filterfresh brew when the mug slipped from my hands, bounced off the recycling bin and shattered on the floor. The handle broke into a few pieces, some more bits chipped off the rim, and there were shards of ceramic all over the floor. I didn't even look at the mug that closely before I threw it in the trash. I suppose I could have tried to glue it back together, but it's dead to me now.

So this is weird. It's not the loss of a mug: I've got several other coffee mugs both at work and at home, so it's easily replaced. Right now I'm drinking coffee from a mug that commemorates the firm's 60th anniversary two years ago. (For the anniversary, everyone on the admin staff received a mug and we had a reception in a conference room with wine and beer, while the attorneys had a lavish prom-like party at the AMNH.) But it feels like I've lost something that represented me when I started here as a cheerful 26-year-old who was still new to the city. I wasn't the experienced network administrator that I am now. I also wasn't the jaded graybeard that I seem to have become over the years. My boss at my last job used to say of the people who'd worked at that firm for years that they "knew where all the bodies are buried." I've started to feel like I'm that guy here. I haven't figured out yet whether that's good or bad or a mix. I might be ready for a job change soon, but since I don't know what that change might entail, I'm staying put.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Cooking in the new apartment

I ate most of my meals last week in restaurants, so when I had Friday night free I decided to stay home and cook. I had my heart set on a steak seared in my cast-iron skillet with tater tots on the side. (Hey, they're sort of like hash browns.) I turned up the oven and got the skillet ready, and turned on the air conditioners in both the living room and the bedroom. When I got the steak in the pan, it wasn't more than a minute before my entire living room filled with smoke and grease from the oil. I flipped the steak after a few minutes and threw the skillet in the oven, but that just made the smoke pour out of the oven instead. I cracked my apartment door to vent with the outside air, which helped a little. That's when the smoke detector in the hallway went off. I ran back into my apartment and grabbed a magazine to fan it. It stopped shrieking after about 30 seconds but not before my neighbor poked her head out her door to see wha was going on. She complimented me on the smell coming from my apartment. The dog in the next apartment over from hers kept barking so I'm not sure if he liked the steak aroma too or didn't like the noise. By now the steak was done and the tater tots were close, so I turned the oven down and put the steak on a plate to cool. My apartment was still filled with smoke. I had the brilliant idea that if I opened the doors to the outside and opened my door with the windows open I would circulate the air. Opening my door set off the hallway smoke detector again. After another attempt to silence it with the magazine, I gave up on clearing the air that way and went inside to eat. The steak was perfectly medium and delicious.

When I finished eating I cleaned up the stove, sprayed some air freshener and spritzed my couch with Febreeze. The smell wasn't so bad after the cleanup but it was still there. Also, I'd realized that my own smoke detector hadn't gone off while I was cooking, so I got up on my stepladder to check it. As I suspected, it didn't have a battery. Luckily for me, I had a spare 9V battery that I installed so next time I cook I'll hear all about it. Just before I fell asleep I remembered that my mother lights scented candles to clear the smell of potato latkes from the house. I should have tried that long before bedtime. I could still smell cooked meat when I went to bed.

The apartment still smelled this morning but it wasn't as strong as I'd feared. I tink it will fade in a day or two. The lesson I learned was that I shouldn't plan to do much frying in oil in that kitchen, unless I want to smell it for a week. Maybe I should take up baking instead.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

There's no crying over this move

I made my last visit to my old apartment on Monday night. I've gone to the old place a few times in the past week getting my last few possessions out of there. It's only been three weeks since I moved out and somehow I already forgot how unpleasant the 4/5 trains are at rush hour. I had an empty gym bag with me to carry some small things back, and I got dirty looks from a few people that I accidentally bumped with the bag. When I rode those trains every day, I always wanted to sneer at someone who gave me a look like that and say "can't you see we're on a crowded train? I can't help bumping into you." Instead I said nothing and turned up the volume on my iPod.

Over the weekend I'd moved my old loveseat to the curb and the rest of my furniture was already removed so all that was left last night was my bike rack and some trash. I swept the floors and gave each room a quick look to make sure everything was gone. Then without any sentimentality I locked the door and got in my friend's car for the trip back to Brooklyn. I didn't have the time to linger, nor did I have the desire. One way that I can tell I've made the right choice in moving to my new apartment is that I haven't missed anything about the old one. The old apartment doesn't have any emotional pull for me, even though I spent five years living there and going through some significant life changes. After Liz moved out, I made it into more of a space that was my own, but the apartment never felt like it was entirely mine. My new apartment has been mine from the beginning of the process, and every decorating or furnishing choice has been mine (with some helpful hints from friends). My one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn may be smaller but it feels larger and infinitely more comfortable than the old apartment ever did. Maybe these feelings are just new-apartment newness, but I already feel like I belong in my new building. That kind of comfort hasn't ever happened this quickly after a move. I've always had a bit of longing for the old place and the old commute. But not this time.

I'm going to miss some things about my old neighborhood, like the proximity to the parks, the restaurants, and the convenience of having drugstores and big chains nearby. But I'm not going to miss that old apartment. After I moved out, I saw how run down the old building really is. It's falling apart. The floors in my old apartment already sloped down from the walls to the center of each room, but without any furniture the slope feels more pronounced. When I looked out of the bedroom window I could see cracks that weren't there five years ago when I moved in. My building is settling and pulling away from the building next door. And one of the windows across from my bedroom has been shored up with pieces of wood. I'm glad to get out of there now, before anything bad happens.

Back at the new apartment, I've moved some of my non-essential belongings into my basement storage room. I'm trying to be less of a pack rat, so I'm not keeping anything that I don't absolutely need. The things in the storage room aren't essential, but they're not junk either. I've put my bike in there on the bike rack I've had since I moved to New York, so that gives me more floor space as well as room for another bike if I have a guest who rides over (or if I buy another bike someday). And I have started the process of hanging up my pictures. Within a week the place will look like I've lived there for years.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Living in a fishbowl

I'm still getting adjusted to living on the first floor with windows that look right onto the street. My windows are on the north side of the building so I get light all day long but never direct sunlight, so the apartment stays relatively cool without the air conditioners running. (I run my A/C all the time when I'm home anyway.) But with no gap between my windows and the sidewalk, I get a front-row seat for everyone who walks by. I can see them, and if it's after dark and I have the shades up, they can see me too. Two weeks ago I had the day off to get my cable modem replaced, and I had the shades up all afternoon. If I hadn't had a clock, I could have told the time by the amount of foot traffic outside. I'm half a block from the Union Street stop on the M/R lines and starting in the late afternoon there's a constant flow of people walking up President Street from the subway. I don't mind the people walking by, even when they stop outside my window and talk. If it's late at night and I'm trying to sleep, I just turn up the fan on the air conditioner and drown them out. And that's only happened once. There's nothing that interesting on the sidewalk outside for people to stop and chat for long.

What I'm not so happy about are the people who don't realize someone lives here. On that afternoon I was home, one of my neighbors stepped outside for a cigarette and stood right in front of my window. At least she had the decency to look toward the street instead of right in my window. Then on Sunday night I had the shades open while I was making dinner. A food delivery guy rode up and chained his bike to the metal bars guarding my air conditioner. That wasn't cool. There have been a few other times when people unloading their cars or waiting outside the building door have stood in front of my window.

The point is that I don't care if you're walking by, but if you can help it at all, please don't stop, stand, peer in, or otherwise pause in front of my windows. I'm thinking about putting a sign in the window that says "Please move along. I live here." However, I know I live in New York, and it wouldn't make any difference. In fact, it would probably make things worse and invite people to do stupid things. I'll just keep the shades down at night.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Gadget lust (and it's not for what you think)

I'm not getting an iPhone. Not yet, anyway.

I want a GPS receiver. Last weekend we went to a wedding on the north shore of Long Island, and since we had access to a car we drove there and back. We had directions from Google as well as the wedding location's own directions, so I thought we would be OK. For the most part, we were. But we made a wrong turn on the way there and had to call the place to get back onto the correct route. And the trip home was nearly a disaster. The combination of the lateness of the hour (after midnight) and the dark back roads had us all screwed up and wondering if we'd ever get back to civilization. One thing I noticed early on was that streets and even major highways out on Long Island are marked with the smallest possible street signs, and always on the opposite corner from where we were. We missed several turns because I couldn't read the street signs until we were nearly on top of them. I had my Blackberry and my cell phone with me, and both of them have Google Maps installed, but I couldn't get a signal on either one until we'd figured out our wrong turns and found the correct route. I kept thinking that if I'd had a GPS receiver I would have been able to program the directions and we wouldn't have been driving around in the dark for the better part of two hours. I've used GPS receivers before and while I've had fair to good results with them, I had no doubts at the time that one would have at least shown us that we were on the wrong road. Also, I've wanted one for cycling for a few years. I do most of my riding on city streets and seldom get lost, but it would be great to have a GPS receiver to confirm the mileage on my bike computer, as well as find my way around when I'm in unfamiliar neighborhoods. And I can always use another gadget.

I'm looking at a Garmin nuvi receiver on Amazon.com that would fit my needs. It's small enough to fit in a pocket or in my Camelbak but comes with the same turn-based directions and maps that I'm familiar with. I don't need MP3 or photo storage, but those are throw-ins that I don't think I can avoid. I've got another wedding on Long Island in a few weeks, so if I'm going to buy it I should order it soon. As with most gadget purchases, I'll think about it for another few days and see how desperate I get. But I think I'm going to do this. I think that there's always a technical solution to a problem, and I like to be prepared for any eventuality. I don't see how I won't end up buying one.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Not quite home yet

For the past few days, I've noticed a weird feeling I get whenever I'm at home in my new apartment. It was a familiar sensation of being in an unfamiliar place, but a place that was entirely my own. At first I thought I was just lonely after having a procession of movers, cable TV installers, and Kate here for company over the weekend. But when the feeling persisted into the week, and when it was strongest when I first came in the door, I remembered where and when I'd had this feeling before.

In August 1996 I moved into the one-bedroom apartment near Dupont Circle that Liz and I shared for three years. For the first two weeks, I lived there by myself, surrounded by boxes and only the furniture that came with the apartment. I didn't even have a TV yet. I certainly didn't have the Internet (though I did have a phone line, and a computer with a modem). For those first few weeks, the only light in the living room came from the fluorescent light in the kitchen, which gave the rest of the living room an odd glow. I didn't spend much time there by myself. Liz was in Los Angeles for business when I moved our things into the apartment, and she came back to DC after those two weeks and we furnished and decorated it together.

My new apartment has a fluorescent light in the kitchen that gives the rest of the living room that same odd glow when it's the primary light source. But I also have a floor lamp that compensates and adds a more natural light to the room. I'm surrounded by boxes, but the furniture in here is all mine. It's all the same furniture I had in the Manhattan apartment so it's familiar and comforting. I don't have any Internet service right now except for my cell phone as a modem, so I feel cut off while I'm at home. (I SHOULD have cable Internet right now, but that's a different rant.)

All of these things combined to give me that same sense of being out of place in a place that should feel like home. Once I realized what I was feeling, I took control of it and reminded myself that eventually this apartment will feel like home. It just takes time. Gradually the boxes will disappear and I'll come home, sit on my couch, and watch TV without even thinking that I'm in a new place. Because it won't be new anymore.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I'm moved in, and I'm worn out

Moving day started early on Saturday morning. I woke up just before my alarm at 7 AM and got a few last-minute things unplugged and ready for the movers. I was out getting donuts and coffee when the movers showed up right on the dot at 8 AM. I gave them a few directions (pack this, don't pack that) and tried to stay out of the way while the four of them each took a room and packed it. Kate was there for cat-wrangling and moral support, but she didn't like sitting around and not doing anything while the movers were working, so she retreated to Starbucks for an hour. I think the foreman woke up my neighbors at 8:30 when he found my shofar and tried a few tekiahs and teruahs. By 10:30 AM the truck was loaded and ready to go, and we got the cats into their carriers for the cab ride to Brooklyn and the new apartment. The movers showed up about 10 minutes after we got the cats settled in, and by noon the moving part was over. I got the kitchen set up while Time Warner hooked up my cable TV and Internet, then unpacked the bedroom in the evening. Then we watched "Deadliest Catch" and I promised to think about those guys when I'm complaining about my cushy desk job.

On Sunday I went back to Manhattan to clean up the old apartment and retrieve a few things the movers had missed (like my silverware and the food in my old refrigerator). I nearly wore out my shoulders hauling two bags of food and other odds and ends on the subway. I could have taken a cab, but that would have cost $30, and I don't think I had $30 of food in my bags. So I carried it. At this point the entertainment center is all set up, as is the computer in my bedroom/office. The one casualty so far is my old set of computer speakers. One of the cables got bent out of shape when it got packed, and now the lights flicker and I don't get any audio. The speakers are 10 years old and have been giving me trouble for years, so it's time to replace them anyway. Everything else seems to have made the trip without trouble. Now I can take my time unpacking my books and CDs and getting settled. I love my new apartment and my new neighborhood, and I can't wait to see what else is around here.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Countdown to moving day: 3 days to go

I picked up the keys to the new apartment this morning.  It's about a 20 minute walk from Kate's apartment, and about 15 minutes from the YMCA on 9th Street.  With the astoundingly fantastic neighborhood, the location just keeps getting better and better.  I met my new super, who seems like a good guy.  He grew up in the neighborhood and takes pride in the security of his buildings, which put me at ease.  Everything in the apartment itself was working, including both air conditioners, the refrigerator, and the oven.  I checked out the cabinets and the closets, and I still think I'll be able to get all of my things into the space without too much difficulty.  It will be crowded for a few weeks while I unpack but I'll manage. 

There is one not-so-small problem, and that is the lack of a storage room.  Both the broker and the landlord assured me that the apartment came with a 5'x5' storage room in the basement.  The extra storage became a big factor in my decision to take that apartment rather than continue looking for something else.  But this morning when I asked the super where the storage rooms were, he said my apartment was one of two that didn't come with a storage room.  He showed me a few places in the basement where I could keep my bike, and assured me that both of them were secure and that I didn't need to worry about my bike being stolen.  However, neither location is a substitute for a storage room where I could put things like my folding dining chairs, my cat carriers, or anything else I don't need every day.  I called my new landlord but he's on vacation until Monday.  Now the missing storage room isn't a show-stopper.  I have too much stuff as it is. But I'd been counting on having some extra space, so I'm disappointed.  I hope I can fit everything I'm keeping into the space I have.  I managed to fit too much stuff into my old apartment in Greenwich Village, so I'm sure I can manage.  I just don't want to feel cramped.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Something different on a Saturday night

"So when are we meeting up to go to the Roller Derby?"

Those are words I never expected to utter, but that's what I said on the phone with Kate on Saturday afternoon as we were planning our night. Two of her roommates are on the Queens of Pain team in the Gotham Girls Roller Derby league, and on Saturday evening we went to the gym at Hunter College to see them play the Brooklyn Bombshells. I had never seen roller derby before, so I had no idea what I was going to see. I was pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had.

The entertainment started early. Since it takes a while to get through the metal detectors and security at Hunter College, and because the league likes to raise money, they played bingo to pass the 90 minutes or so between opening the doors and starting the bout. They also sold tickets to a 50-50 raffle and talked about the halftime entertainment. The bout started at 8:30 PM and I was lost for the first few minutes. Actually, I was lost for most of the night, but gradually I figured out how the game worked. The bout has two 30-minute halves. The players rotate in and out of the game during stoppages, sort of like a hockey lineup. Each "jam" is about two minutes and features a "jammer" from each team wearing a star on their helmet. Everyone skates counterclockwise (turning left as in NASCAR) and the jammers have to work their way through the pack (the blockers) and pass everyone from the other team in order to score points. There are penalties, injuries, and strategies, some of which I understood but most were lost on me. Queens jumped out to an early lead and at halftime was up by 30 points. But they had a few injured players so the team had to double-shift, which wore them down as the game went on. After a halftime show of bicycle polo and a cheerleader performance, Brooklyn chipped away at the lead and got it under 30 before Queens managed to hold on for the win. They did so in front of a packed gym full of Brooklyn supporters, who cheered lustily for their team. I was shocked to see a full gym on a summer Saturday night, filled with people who were as into the game as this crowd was. Kate cheered for her friends and yelled at the referees on questionable penalty calls the same way she yells at the TV during Yankee games, which I thought was funny. I guess sports are sports.

At the end of the night we congratulated Kate's roommates and then went in search of food and drink, which we found at a nearby pub. We all had such a good time that we're definitely going back. Next time I'll even know where to sit and what kind of photos to take.