Tuesday, February 26, 2008

another new feature

When I can't think of anything interesting to write about, I'll just add something new to the already-busy panel on the right side of the blog. Today's new addition is a chat applet that's supposed to connect you (the reader) directly to me (the blogger) via Google Talk/Gmail Chat whenever I'm online. Now, if you want to tell me directly and immediately what you think of one of my posts, you can use the chat feature instead of leaving me a permanent comment. Of course, it's Google chat, so your message will be archived forever in my Gmail account. So keep that in mind if you're the type who prefers not to leave any electronic footprint behind.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Don't mess with a good thing, OR a substitute funny

I had planned to post a detailed schedule for a typical Thursday, the point being that I'm a creature of habit and I do the same things and eat the same food every Thursday on my way to orchestra rehearsal. But then I went and changed some of my patterns today, and that messed up my universe to the point that I got stuck on the subway, was nearly late for rehearsal, barely had time to eat, and generally couldn't have had a worse time getting my evening started. Things improved from there (I can say right now that our next concert on March 29 will be spectacular!) but I decided to scrap what I was going to write.

Instead, I present this, with no fanfare. Really, I couldn't do it justice. There are many, many comedic gems on the site, including this, this, this one here (ooh la la!), and this other one from the later period. I think my parents may have some of these in their collections.

Freezing my ass off for astronomy

I remembered almost at the last minute that there was a full lunar eclipse last night, so after dinner I bundled up and hustled over to Carl Schurz Park on the East River to check it out. The last lunar eclipse I saw was in 1989 or 1990, and I camped out in front of my house in a lawn chair with binoculars, and all the neighbors thought I was either spying on them or watching for UFOs. When I got to the esplanade, I found a small crowd of fellow amateur astronomers and an assortment of telescopes. Members of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York were there with information about what the eclipse was, how long it would last, and what other stars were visible during the eclipse. When the moon was about halfway shadowed by the Earth, Saturn became visible just below and to the right of the moon. One of the astronomers reoriented his telescope to point it at Saturn and people lined up and took turns gazing at Saturn and its rings. I'd never seen Saturn's rings before, but there they were: a little line angling through the small disk that was the planet. I could also see Titan, Saturn's largest moon, and another unidentified moon of Saturn, both of which were visible just as tiny specks. The moon itself turned a light reddish color, and through another telescope I could see seas and craters more clearly than on a full moon evening. Later, as the moon was totally shadowed by the Earth, other stars appeared over Manhattan: Sirius, Rigel, the constellation Orion, the Big Dipper, and Polaris (the "North Star"). I hadn't seen stars over Manhattan since the blackout in 2003 and while there weren't as many stars out as there had been that night, it was still a better show than we get in the city on any given night. I called Kate, who was at home in Park Slope, and she could see all kinds of stars out while the moon was obscured. I really do have to move out of Manhattan.

By 10:45 I'd been outside for about two hours, and while I was enjoying the show, I was also freezing. The total portion of the eclipse was nearly over, so I walked home as fast as my chilled legs and feet could take me. Once inside I realized I could have been watching the eclipse from my window, as the moon had risen high enough that it cleared the buildings across the street. I had a cup of hot tea and got my blood circulating again, and today I'm happy to report that I don't seem to have frostbite or any other permanent damage. The next lunar eclipse is scheduled for late 2010, and I just hope it's a little warmer. Why can't the universe schedule all eclipses for warm summer nights?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

One purchase begets others

Since I bought the Macbook Pro two weeks ago, I've had to make some other, ancillary purchases. Last week it was an external hard drive to keep at the office for backups. Tonight it was a new laptop backpack.

I have a tough time finding laptop bags that I like. I've tried standard bags that go over one shoulder, a messenger bag (first detailed here, later derided as "the Big Bag"), and several backpacks. My favorite bag was the backpack I got for attending Novell's BrainShare conference in 2002. I took that backpack everywhere for 18 months until the shoulder straps began to give and I tore a hole in the bottom two days after the NYC blackout by carrying too much weight. I had hoped to get a replacement backpack at BrainShare 2004, but they gave us rolling bags instead. Don't get me wrong: I love my rolling bag and I use it on trips out of town, but it's not much good outdoors on NY sidewalks, and forget about carrying it up and down the subway stairs. I used the messenger bag for about two years, but with everything I carry to work (probably more than I need) it was too hard on my neck and shoulder.

For the past 15 months I've been using a backpack I got at a VMWare training class, but it's starting to wear out now. I really prefer a backpack to anything else, despite how unprofessional it might look, so I looked for a tough but still fashionable backpack to hold my stuff. I settled on a black Wenger backpack I found at J&R. It's another "big bag" but this time I want something that can hold my laptop, my lunch, a book and maybe even a change of clothes if it's a weekend and I'm going away. It certainly looks sturdy enough for my needs. I'll see how well it performs on Thursday when I have rehearsal after work. If it fits my music stand along with everything else, I'll be ecstatic.

UPDATE: It doesn't quite fit the music stand, but it won't stick out as much as it did in the VMWare bag.

Friday, February 15, 2008

More Guitar Hero?

My friends and readers know I love Guitar Hero (even though I don't play it enough, as the figurative ass-kicking I received from one of my guests after the Super Bowl party proved) and I can't get enough of the game. Sometimes I wish every song was a GH song. Last night at dinner the restaurant had an '80s rock station on the sound system, and when "Paradise City" came on I said I could play it on GH when I got home, then I remembered that it's not in any of the games (yet). My friends also know that I have a bit of a thing for Aerosmith. I've seen them live three times, and while they're approaching Rolling Stones-like longevity, I still listen to their older music, mostly material from the '80s and '90s.

So it is with excitement and trepidation that I greet the news that the next GH title will be dedicated to Aerosmith. I've never thought of Aerosmith as a great guitar band, though there are a few songs with excellent solos from Joe Perry, "Sweet Emotion" and "Dream On" among them. The latter song is going to be a free download this weekend so I will have to find some time to work on my Joe Perry impression on Saturday or Sunday. But I'm not sure that an entire game devoted to Aerosmith is the best next step for the GH franchise. There are so many great rock bands and songs out there that are crying out for the GH treatment that I wonder if this move is just a way to throw a bone to the GH owners who haven't upgraded to the group- and party-friendly Rock Band game. Or maybe there's a huge Aerosmith fan among the GH hero design staff. I'll buy the game in June, there's no question about that. I mean, it's not like I'm the best manager of my own cash flow (see here and here for two recent examples).

Follow-up on the previous post: I bought a WD MyBook external drive on Wednesday evening and I've been using that for Time Machine backups. I'm leaving the drive at work so I have an offsite backup. If you're not backing up your data, you should do it immediately. One hard drive failure can cost you years of photos, music, and documents. Do it! Do it now!!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

still loving the new Mac

I've spent lots of time on my new laptop this week and while I'm still figuring out how best to use all of its features, I'm really enjoying it. I hooked it up to my 19" widescreen LCD last night and unlike Windows, which would prompt me for what kind of monitor it was and how to configure it, the Mac just added it as a second screen. Right away I could drag an application like Firefox to the LCD panel and use two monitors like I do at work.

One thing I haven't been able to do yet is take advantage of the Time Machine backup feature. I have a spare external HD at home, but when I tried to format it for the Mac I got an I/O error that I haven't been able to solve. I might end up buying a new, larger external HD anyway and keep the other one for my PC. Otherwise the Mac has been everything I wanted and more. I've been carrying it back and forth to work since I got it, and while I think I'll stop doing that eventually, for now I can't really bear to be parted from it. It's just that much fun to use.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I have a new toy, and I love it

Last Friday, I caved and clicked the "buy" button. Less than a week later, I am now the proud owner of a MacBook Pro. As of yesterday, the FedEx tracking still said it was in Shanghai, but it appeared at my desk at 11 AM this morning. I commemorated the occasion by taking photos of the unboxing. So far, I'm really happy with it. I've been telling my friends that I'm not excited so much as filled with a sense of smug self-satisfaction. I guess this is what it feels like to own a Mac.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Tales of moving

Saturday was moving day for several people close to me. James and Jessica moved to their new apartment in Bed-Stuy, and since James was busy at a school debate tournament in New Jersey, I had to stand in for him and help Jess. "Help" consisted of making multiple stops in the U-Haul van that she and our friend Jeremy rented to move things they were giving away. We started in Fort Greene at the old apartment, dropped off several bags of junk at Housing Works in Brooklyn Heights, moved an air conditioner into Kate's new apartment in Park Slope (she was also moving on Saturday), and then drove out to Jeremy's place in Queens to drop off chairs and couches at his apartment. We picked up Jess at her new apartment on the way to Queens, so I got to see the new place and I gave it my seal of approval.

We stopped at a McDonald's for lunch and went through the drive-thru lane. I haven't eaten at McDonald's in years, so I ordered one of their new Angus burgers. I'm still waiting to try it, because they forgot to put mine in the bag. I had to eat chicken nuggets instead. At least I got lots of fries.

After lunch we drove the U-Haul out to IKEA in Hicksville on Long Island. Jess and I were both riding in the passenger seat, with one seat belt for both of us. Had we been in an accident, I would be dead now, as the seat belt was right across my throat and windpipe. IKEA was another adventure. We only took about 90 minutes to shop, but it took about an hour to collect all our things from the warehouse and another hour or more waiting in various lines. The home delivery line in particular took an hour. We had arrived at IKEA at 3:30 PM, and we left around 7 to drive back to Fort Greene. Then we had more cleaning and moving to do before we finally ate dinner at a tiny bistro on Carlton Avenue at 10 PM. I took a cab home with my sole purchase of the day, a new LACK coffee table that already has a chip out of one corner. Stupid $30 coffee tables. But it went together in about 10 minutes on Sunday morning, so it was ready for the Super Bowl party that evening.

Speaking of moving, I will have to find a new apartment by midsummer. It's a long story that I won't recap here, but my building is for sale and the new owners want to make some big changes that wouldn't be fun (or possible) with people living there. So a few phone calls and conversations with lawyers later, I've agreed to move out and be compensated for my trouble. I'm looking at renting for another year or two, hopefully in Park Slope in Brooklyn, and then I'll take a serious look at buying an apartment in an affordable and maybe decent neighborhood in Brooklyn. This will be the first time I've lived outside of Manhattan, and while I'm apprehensive about re-learning all my commutes and bike routes, I'm excited about the change. I have some time to think about where I want to live and I don't have to feel rushed. It's going to be fun.

"That was a hell of a thing."

That was the most exciting fourth quarter of a Super Bowl that I've ever seen.

I had my regular party going on again this year. I made Buffalo Chicken Dip, James made Cincinnati chili, and we had baked beans, hot dogs, cookies for dessert, and lots of beer. The party turned out to be a couples event, as everyone there had a spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend with them. That was unintentional but a funny touch. We were enjoying the game but not really into it until the 4th quarter. When New England scored to take a 14-10 lead with 3 minutes left, the air went out of the room. I don't think any of us thought the Giants could come back and score a touchdown against that defense. But wow, we were wrong. Eli Manning played out of his mind. I've watched the replay half a dozen times and I still can't figure out how he avoided a sack AND threw the ball to David Tyree, who caught it with his hand and his helmet. And when Manning floated that ball to the corner of the end zone for Plaxico Burress, we went nuts. We were screaming and jumping and calling people and just freaking out. And then we had to wait and see how the Patriots responded. When the game ended, we were all drained and elated. I said "we get a parade on Tuesday!" The Giants' victory parade will go up Broadway from Battery Park to City Hall, and that goes right by my office building, so I'll be there.

I'm still kind of giddy about this game today. It's not my team, and it feels much different from the Steelers' championship two years ago. That game was crappy and didn't have as exciting an ending, and I felt relieved more than anything else when it was over. I'm not a Giants fan but unless you're a Patriots fan it's impossible to watch the way that game ended last night and not root for the Giants to pull out the win. It's that kind of exciting victory that has me in a great mood today. We don't get to watch football again until September, so I'm glad the game went out on such a high note.