Thursday, January 31, 2008

On not pulling the trigger

I was thisclose to clicking "place your order now" for a brand-new Macbook Pro from the Apple Store when one of my colleagues forwarded me a blog post about rumors of new Macbook Pros coming soon from Apple. After talking to him, I closed the browser window.

I've been waiting for a while to buy a Macbook Pro. I've been thinking idly about it for about a year, and when I decided last fall that my next computer would be a laptop, a Macbook Pro was a natural choice. I don't want to use Windows Vista, I've gotten to like the software that comes with Mac OS X, and many of my friends have Macs and love them. A Macbook Pro would have the RAM and processor requirements that would be equivalent to my last few desktop PCs. And with a laptop at home, I could finally sit in front of the TV and use my own laptop instead of the one from work that isn't quite mine no matter how much I tweak it.

But a Macbook Pro would cost about twice what I paid for my last PC. It would be the most money I've ever spent on a computer. I bought a custom-built PC in 1998 that cost about $2500, and the only reason it cost that much was that I bought it through a vendor friend of mine and I wanted to give him some business. (Actually, the Macbook Pro would only be slightly more expensive than that PC, but with the warranty and the tax the difference is significant.) I know that for the price, I'm really getting two computers: Macs can run Windows as well as as OS X.

I guess what I'm really afraid of is that I'll buy a Pro now, and then in a week or two Apple will announce the new lineup and there will be some hot new feature that I really want but can't have. One of the rumors is that the Pro line will get the same multi-touch trackpad that the new Macbook Air has. Another rumor is that they'll update the hardware with the latest Intel processors. I know that every technology purchase is obsolete the minute you get it. On the other hand, if I'm one of the first ones with a new piece of hardware then I get to be one of the first ones to figure out what's wrong with it. The advantage of buying a Pro now is that the hardware has been tested by the user community and most of the issues are known. I'm not sure I want to be an early hardware adopter when I'm not that familiar with the OS either.

So I'm waiting for now. I'll give it a few more days. Maybe I'll do my taxes in the next few days and see how that affects my financial situation. Maybe Apple will decide to announce the new Macbook Pro specs next week and I can make a truly informed decision. Or maybe my gadget lust will overcome me, I'll click that "buy" button, and I'll hope that whenever the new laptops are announced my reaction is "meh."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Saturday night with the Philharmonic.

Saturday night was the first concert on my New York Philharmonic subscription series. Riccardo Muti was at the podium, and the first piece was Schumann's Piano Concerto with Radu Lupu. I'm not that familiar with this work except for the last movement, but I enjoyed watching Lupu interact with the other musicians and take cues from them. For example, the oboist would play a melody and Lupu would listen to how the oboist played it, then he would follow the same style a few measures later when the piano solo had the same melody. The orchestra for the Schumann was smaller than usual, with many of the Philharmonic's principal players missing. I don't know much about how a world-class orchestra operates, but it made sense to me that the assistant principals would lead their sections for the smaller concerto and then the heavyweights would come onstage after intermission to play the second half of the concert.

The major work on the program was Bruckner's Symphony No. 6. I don't know this piece that well either, but it is one of Bruckner's lesser-known symphonies, and undeservedly so. It's a beautiful work, with majestic fanfares for brass and sweeping melodies for the strings. I particularly enjoyed principal horn Philip Myers' solos in the Bruckner. I heard Myers play Strauss's Horn Concerto No. 1 with the Philharmonic three years ago, and I noticed the same quality of tone and vibrato in his orchestral playing as in his solo performance. There's also a huge difference between watching the NY Philharmonic on a big screen and with a professional sound system out in Lincoln Center Plaza (as we did back in September) and hearing them inside Avery Fisher Hall. The strings have a richer color and the brass resonate to the point that you can almost feel the sound. In short, it was glorious. I'm looking forward to my next concert in March, and I'm already excited about the Philharmonic's 2008-2009 season, when they will send Lorin Maazel off with a series of performances of Mahler's Symphony No. 8, his largest work. I will not miss that unless I'm dead, and even if that happens I'll find a way to haunt Lincoln Center.

One more thing: our programs had an insert with a list of people who had been subscribers for three or more years and were in the audience that night. I've never seen something like that before, but it was an innovative way to honor long-time listeners. And I recognized several of the names on the list as local musicians and minor celebrities. This is my first year as a subscriber, but it won't be the last. Maybe in a few years I'll see my name on that list.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Newark Pants Party report and photos

I went out to Newark on Saturday night for another Deadspin reader meet-up. The event was a Seton Hall-Louisville college basketball game at the brand-new Prudential Center. I took the PATH train over there, which was my first time on that train. If you like seeing the ass end of New Jersey, it's the train for you. We stopped at The Arena Bar, the only bar near the arena, and met up with the rest of the group. There were little kids in the bar, which reminded me of the 12-year-old coal miners on "30 Rock" a few weeks ago. I think one of these kids was playing poker at a table in the back.

We got to the game right around tipoff. We were sitting behind the Seton Hall band, and I noted that one of their game songs was the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. At first the game was lopsided in Louisville's favor but Seton Hall closed the gap by halftime and in the second half they got out in front for good. As a Georgetown fan I didn't want to cheer for "The Hall" but the atmosphere was infectious and soon all of us were screaming and high-fiving over SHU baskets. I forgot how much fun college basketball games can be.

After the game we took the PATH train back to Manhattan and took the subway to the Village. On the E train we ran into a group of girls dressed like flappers. So one of us asked them "are you going to a flapper party?" They said "no, we're going to a '20s party." OK then. They challenged my friend Jeff to a dance-off, and I think it's safe to say they got served.

We ended our night at Kettle of Fish in Greenwich Village, where I discovered the joy that is Six Point beer. I don't remember which beer I had, but I had a lot of them, and a shot of Wild Turkey. It was a great night.

Photos are in the usual place. I haven't tagged them with commenter names, but I will on request.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tim Page on Leonard Slatkin and the NSO

Sunday's Washington Post had a debate between Tim Page "One" and Tim Page "Two" over the benefits and effects of Leonard Slatkin's 12 years as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra. Slatkin is stepping down in June and moving on to other opportunities in Detroit and elsewhere. I'm not sure the "two minds" approach works as a story-telling device, but it's a unique way to explore the good and bad aspects of Slatkin's tenure in Washington. I was a fan of Slatkin before he came to DC, and a smooth sales rep from the Kennedy Center talked me into buying season tickets to the NSO based largely on the orchestra's hiring of him in 1994 (he conducted a few concerts a year in the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons before taking over full-time in 1996). I was a student at Georgetown at the time and I had avoided the NSO up to that point, as its reputation was not that good. Also, I couldn't really afford season tickets, but when the guy told me that getting in early was the best way for me to get to hear Slatkin conduct, I broke out my then-pristine credit card and paid up.

And it was worth it. I was a season ticket holder for four seasons, and the orchestra's playing improved each year. I especially enjoyed Slatkin's renditions of Mahler's symphonies; one of the highlights of my time in DC is hearing the NSO perform Mahler's Symphony No. 2 in January 1995. Slatkin had a particular fondness for the Labeque sisters piano duo, but I think it was justified: two years in a row I made sure to get tickets to their performances with the orchestra. Slatkin also emphasized American composers, and often included new works or seldom-performed works on his concert programs. I moved to New York in the fall of 1999 and so I have missed the remainder of Slatkin's time with the NSO, but I was aware that the excitement about Slatkin had abated. I still think Slatkin is an extraordinary musician and conductor and I'm sure he will continue to make his presence felt on the American musical scene. He'll leave behind an orchestra that is in much better musical shape than when he arrived, and I hope that the NSO continues to grow. I think Slatkin's legacy will be that he gave the NSO the push it needed to become an orchestra on par with other great American orchestras.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

'Who's going to clean up this mess?"

Gawker and Gothamist are both covering this story about an out-of-control New Year's Eve party and the resulting swath of destruction left behind in the host's apartment. People splashed wine on the walls, poured beer down the stairs, left an unspeakable mess on the couch and even tore the shower curtain off the rod in the bathroom. I've been to some crazy NYE parties, but nothing like this. It sounds like something out of a movie. The host is asking people for Paypal donations to cover the cost of the clean-up. I think that if you throw a party and your house gets trashed, you get what you asked for. I've thrown a few big parties too, and my apartment has always been a mess afterwards. The clean-up from any sort of party, whether dinner or alcohol blowout, is the big downside and one good reason why I haven't had anything bigger than an Oscars party at my place in over two years. I do have responsible friends, which may be one reason I've never faced a disaster of a mess like this one, but I still don't need to take chances.