Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Moving update, settling in

It's the end of day two here and I'm beginning to feel more comfortable in my new cubicle and office. The worst aspect of the move thus far has been the elevators in this building. The firm's New York headquarters building has 54 floors and 24 elevators, with six serving my firms's floors. This building has 34 floors and just 12 elevators, and of the six that serve our two floors, only four appear to be working at this time. In other words, we're "under-elevatored," to use the manufacturers' jargon. I arrived right at 9 AM yesterday morning to find a crowd of about 25 people waiting for the elevators for our floors. They didn't all work for my firm; I think most of them worked for the credit union that occupies the ten floors below ours. This morning when I arrived at 10 AM the crowd was sparse but the wait was much longer than I'm used to. And at 1 PM when we went to lunch in the cafeteria across the street, we had to think about the elevator waiting time for our departure and return. I'm glad I'm not on a time clock or else I'd have to arrive ten minutes early just to punch in on time.

I've uploaded some photos of my new cubicle, and I've already moved things around since yesterday. Initially, I set up my computers in the same way they had been configured at my old desk. But in this office I have less privacy than I used to, and the arrangement with my Mac in the middle of the desk was too open for me. This afternoon I moved the Mac to the inside corner of the cubicle, to the left of my laptop. This arrangement gives me a little more privacy from people walking by, or at least I think it does. And it gives me the rest of the desk for paperwork or testing other computers as needed.

I also deployed my rearview mirror when it arrived. For the time being it's going to rest in a coffee mug so I don't have to glue it to my monitor. I just have to remember to look at it when I hear people approaching me. And also not become absorbed in my own reflection.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The office move is nearly complete

This weekend my department and a few others are moving to a new office space across the street from the main office. It's a big effort and it's created plenty of work, and my employers are doing their best to make us feel like we're still part of the firm. They've given us some perks in the cafeteria, installed new vending machines and coffee makers in the new space, and built new cubicles with new VoIP phones. The last item's inclusion means that my group, in charge of the network, are now partly responsible for voice communication as well. These phones have already been an issue. As with any new technology (or new to you), there will be problems and a learning curve. The new office space opens tomorrow, and I was there this afternoon to unpack and check my computer setup. Last week I packed all of my office items except for my computers and peripherals, and the hardware department set up the computers yesterday. I lost a KVM switch and a spare mouse somewhere in the move process, so I hope to get those back later this week. Otherwise, everything is unpacked and set up so I can get right to work tomorrow.

I also ordered a rearview mirror for my computer monitor. Until Friday I had a prime cubicle in the back corner of our office, with my chair facing the entryway, so no one could sneak up behind me. Now my monitor is positioned facing away from the way my superiors will likely come to visit me. It's not that I'm doing things I don't want them to see, but I'm uncomfortable with the idea of people surprising me. I usually wear earbuds while I work so I can't hear people walking by. I hope that the mirror will give me a clue as to when my boss is about to stop by and see how I'm doing. And it will give me a way to check my teeth for stuck bits of food after lunch.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My money is on Moonlit Wang and Nutritious Love

The 2009 Name of the Year Tournament bracket is out. I'd watch out for Marrell Ya'Hynis Wilson as the 8 seed in the Sithole Regional. He could go deep in this tournament. So could Dr. Shasta Kielbasa in the Chrotchtangle Regional, though the potential matchup with Iris Macadangdang in the Sweet 16 will be a tough one. In the Bulltron Regional, I like the winner of the 6-11 pairing of Muffin Lord and Zeppy O'Green to go a long way, and over in the Dragonwagon Regional, Uranus Golden and Juvyline Cubangbang will both give the Rev. Valentine Handwerker a run for his money. It'll be an exciting tournament, there's no doubt of that.

The sad part is that I've spent more time analyzing this bracket than my NCAA picks. But I laughed longer at this one.

My one concession to the holiday

These are my kind of Irish tenors.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

This link is NSFW, home or anywhere else, but it's funny

I might regret linking to this blog post. My mother reads my blog on occasion. Several other friends, family, and other people I know and respect read it. Still, I would be remiss in my duties if I neglected to pass along another blog entry that made me laugh.

Kissing Suzy Kolber and With Leather, two of my favorite sports blogs, are running a March Madness bracket of sexual fetishes. I had never heard of most of the things that made the list, and when I looked them up yesterday at work, I made sure to use an outside Internet connection on my Mac. These aren't the sort of search terms you'd want your coworkers or managers to read in a log somewhere. And some of them aren't what you think they are. I suggest caution if you choose to investigate further. If you have the time to kill and the inclination, and you don't mind the poor audio quality, I recommend the podcast of the four bloggers making the picks for their brackets. In addition to hearing the explanations of all of the entries, they're also hysterically funny as they crack themselves up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I would have just called the cops

Here's another example of how NOT to use Twitter. When a drunk, smelly, and possibly homeless man wanders into your studio apartment and passes out in your bathroom, do not update your Twitter feed and ask your followers what you should do. And it's a bad idea to set up a video feed to broadcast you going into the bathroom to see what this hobo may or may not be doing in there. Your phone, which probably has a QWERTY keyboard on it, also has a number pad. You can use it to dial 911. In fact, your phone has an emergency call feature which should call 911 if you can't type that number yourself. I can't speak from experience, but I think the police tend to arrive quickly when you call about an intruder. Also, lock the front door. You live in a city, not some friendly rural hamlet.

This guy is lucky that the worst thing to happen as a result of his inaction is that he now has to fumigate his apartment. I've smelled some fragrant vagrants on the subway. If one of them stumbled into my apartment and passed out in the bathroom, I think I'd have to move.

I don't know what it's for, but I'm using it anyway

I tend to follow along with the social networking crowd. Many of my friends have begun using Twitter to send messages to each other and the world. So I've done it too. Right now, no one seems to be certain just what Twitter is supposed to be (though they are fairly certain what it is not). It's more than just Facebook-style status messages, but it's not a robust communication system or a full-fledged marketing tool yet. Based on the messages from my friends on my Twitter feed, it's a medium for incredibly brief thoughts, updates on events in peoples' lives, and the occasional promotional message. Twitter works well as a microblogging tool for instant response to events and feedback. During the Oscars, several friends and I sent Twitter messages (I don't like calling them "tweets" or "twits") to each other about the ceremony, the winners, and the presenters. It was like being part of a group live-blog but without the organization necessary to get everyone on the same site at the same time. One advantage of Twitter is that since the messages are limited to 140 characters, they can be sent and received as text messages on cell phones. I think I'd use it all the time if I had a phone with an unlimited text plan. As it is, I have two Twitter clients on my Mac, as well as the web site for all the other devices in my arsenal.

Of course, I still use Facebook, and sometimes I post the same message there as I do on Twitter. I also persist in maintaining this traditional blog, which feels more antiquated each day. I will resist the temptation to switch to Tumblr or some other format just because the crowd is moving that way. If you want to keep track of me by yet another technological means, you can find me at http://twitter.com/catelinp.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Saturday Morning Watchmen

With all the negative reviews of the movie, at least we fans never had to see this show come to pass.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

I'm laughing because I'm tired of complaining

Last night's Daily Show absolutely eviscerated the talking heads on CNBC over their coverage of the financial crisis. No one was safe. They started with Rick Santelli's rant on a trading floor about bailing out people with bad mortgages, and pointed out the hypocrisy of arguing against helping homeowners while favoring helping out the banks that got the homeowners into this mess. (The whole segment came up because Santelli cancelled on his scheduled appearance on the show.) I'm not sure what was the best (or worst) thing about CNBC: arguing that the worst was over six months ago or a year ago when the market still had twice the value it does now; telling us that companies like Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and AIG were in no way in danger of collapse; or talking to Allen Stanford about how he was making money in a bear market. Actually, that last one was definitely the worst. The guy was running a Ponzi scheme! Isn't CNBC a news channel? Aren't they supposed to cover these companies in depth? Shouldn't they have noticed the funny numbers in his portfolio? I guess after Bernie Madoff they figured no one else out there would be stupid enough to run a Ponzi scheme.

The Colbert Report's "Doom Bunker" segment was equally good. I am afraid of a werewolf Congress, but I think I could get by in a soybean-based economy.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Two nights with the London Philharmonic

I have a friend from NYRO who works for Lincoln Center. She was able to procure some free tickets for Friday and Sunday’s performances of the London Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. I checked with Kate and we planned to go to Sunday’s all-Rachmaninoff concert. I made plans to go out drinking with some friends from work on Friday evening. Then, on Friday afternoon, another friend from NYRO who had also taken advantage of the free tickets offer had an extra ticket for that evening’s concert. So I arranged to meet her there after a quick beer with my friends. I can’t turn down free tickets.

I got to Avery Fisher at 7:45, just in time for us to find our seats. The orchestra wasn’t on stage yet even though it was nearly 8 PM and the concert was about to begin. My friend suggested that it was a European custom to take the stage just before the concert started, and apparently she was correct as he orchestra took the stage en masse a few minutes after 8. Their strings’ seating arrangement was different from what I’m used to. Normally, orchestras have the first and second violins on the conductor’s left and the violas, cellos, and basses on his right. The London Philharmonic sat with the first violins to the left of conductor Vladimir Jurowski, as usual, but the second violins were on his right, directly opposite the firsts. The violas were next to the seconds, and the cellos and basses were next to the first violins. In other words, the cellos and basses were on the “wrong” side of the orchestra. The program for Friday’s concert included works by Mahler and Strauss, and this seating arrangement was more common in their time, though I didn’t remember that at first.

Introspection was the theme of Friday’s concert, and Mahler’s “Adagio” from Symphony No. 10 was a subtle choice for the opener. It’s not overly flashy or bombastic, but it has plenty of melodic lines and Mahlerian traits and it provides a top orchestra with many chances to show off. It also has one fortississimo blast from the orchestra about 3/4 of the way in, and this mighty exclamation had an unintended effect on at least one person in the audience. We were seated in the second tier, so we had a view of the orchestra-level seats. When the Philharmonic struck this massive chord, an old woman sitting on the aisle a few rows from the stage jumped out of her seat and actually walked around in a daze for a few seconds. Her coat flew one way, her program flew another, and she looked confused. By the time an usher reached her, her husband had directed her back to her seat. No one in the orchestra noticed, but I’m sure many people in the hall were as distracted by her as we were.

Leon Fleischer was the soloist for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, the second work on the program. Fleischer is in his 80s and, as my companion put it, he played the concerto the way an 80-year-old man would. He missed a few notes here and there, and his entrances were a bit shaky, but overall his was a cheerful, colorful performance. However, I didn’t feel as if the orchestra was as invested in the music. The best thing I could say about the whole concerto was that it felt limp. When I think of Mozart, I think light, energetic, and sprightly, and this rendition was none of those things. I’m sure the London Philharmonic has been on tour for several weeks by now and may be tired of some of the music they’re playing. It showed in the Mozart.

The second half of the concert was an improvement over the first half. The Philharmonic began with Gyorgi Ligeti’s Atmospheres, a nine-minute atonal work with individual parts for each string instrument along with the rest of the orchestra (which accounted for 87 total parts). I only knew of Ligeti’s music from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and while this work was not used in that film, the sound reminded me of that music. At one point I noticed Jurowski was beating time with his right hand and, with his upraised left hand, counting up from 1 to 5. I nudged my friend and pointed out what he was doing. By this time she caught on, he was counting back down from 5 with the same hand. I hardly noticed that the music had faded out. It didn’t dawn on me what was happening until he reached 1 and the trumpets played the famous fanfare that opens Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra. Rather than end the Ligeti to applause from the audience, Jurowski had opted to go straight into Strauss’s most well-known opening. It was incredibly effective. The Strauss also seemed like the piece that the orchestra most enjoyed playing, and the audience reaction at the conclusion was wildly enthusiastic. As I expected from an orchestra on tour, Jurowski and the orchestra took several curtain calls and after a few minutes of applause, played a five-minute encore from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier.

After the concert, we left Avery Fisher Hall and saw that the Metropolitan Opera was just wrapping up the second intermission of Madama Butterfly. Kate had gone to the opera with a friend who works at the Met, and since we were both going to be at Lincoln Center at the same time, we had tried to make plans to meet up but the different ending times for our two concerts made that difficult. Still, we walked over to the Met, hoping that Kate and her friend might be lingering in the lobby. As we approached the Met, I noticed a woman in a bright red blouse standing on the balcony overlooking Lincoln Center Plaza. I said “I think that’s Kate” and pointed up at her. She pointed back, and we shouted our greetings, Kate from the balcony and me from the plaza below. It was a lovely moment that needed its own music, and it was only slightly trashy that we were yelling at each other in a public plaza like characters from A Streetcar Named Desire. We decided to meet in an hour when her show let out, and my friend and I went to get something to eat.

Sunday’s concert was a much more traditional affair. When the orchestra took the stage, they were in a typical configuration with the first and second violins on the conductor’s left and the violas, cellos and basses on his right. They played an all-Rachmaninoff program that featured three works with which I was unfamiliar: the Isle of the Dead, the Piano Concerto No. 4, and the Symphonic Dances. I especially enjoyed the concerto, which was full of Rachmaninoff’s characteristic crashing piano chords and sweeping hyper-Romantic melodies. The theme from the second movement reminded me of the slow movement from Gershwin’s Piano Concerto, with its jazz-like theme that returned at the conclusion of the work. I was surprised that the orchestra didn’t play an encore, but given that most of Rachmaninoff’s repertoire is for solo piano and orchestra, I’m not sure what they would have played to follow up the Symphonic Dances. It was a great concert, though I must admit that I found Friday night’s performance much more enjoyable.

On both nights, I was impressed with Vladimir Jurowski’s conducting. He was crisp and clear without being overly dramatic, despite the lush Romantic music on both programs. At the end of the concert on Sunday, he did something I’ve never seen a conductor do before: he shook hands with all of the principal string players (who sit right in front of the podium), then he walked to the back and shook hands with the principal bassist. One of my friends who is a regular at NYRO concerts jokingly asked me why our music director never singles out a last-stand violinist or violist for a solo bow at the end of the concert. Jurowski’s recognition of the bass section reminded me of that joke.

The other major difference with both concerts vs. my regular New York Philharmonic concerts at Avery Fisher Hall was the audience. In my experience, NY Philharmonic audiences are mostly quiet and restrained, with a minimum of rustling programs or other extraneous noises. The audience for both London Philharmonic concerts was restless, fidgety, and noisy. On both nights, we had people nearby who were fiddling with plastic bags and papers. At Friday’s concert, a young girl in our row had a cellophane bag of candy which she kept opening and closing. On Sunday, the couple behind us had a plastic grocery bag of some kind that they were constantly adjusting, and at one point they dropped something that landed with a thud like a canteloupe. My theory for both concerts is that they gave out the tickets on the subway. Maybe it’s just me, and audiences for the NY Philharmonic are no better; I just have quiet people in my section.