Friday, May 29, 2009

Things I never did while studying for the spelling bee

I watched part of the National Spelling Bee this morning, and I was amazed at what these kids do to prepare for the rigors of competition. All I ever did was have my mom quiz me with practice words from the spelling bee handbook. With that work ethic, no wonder I never made it to DC. Josephine Kao, one of the favorites until she spelled out in the fifth round, memorized chemicals on the toothpaste tube:

She said she fixes words in her mind as she goes through her day, even memorizing the spellings of the chemicals on her tube of toothpaste. "I think I'll probably still study a bit," she said afterward. "Otherwise, I wouldn't know what to do."

Josephine, you'll be fine. Six months from now you'll have a new academic obsession at which you will excel, and you'll forget all about spelling.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And now, Keyboard Gato

Of course, Keyboard Cat has a non-union Mexican equivalent. Senor Speilbergo never had to worry about his American counterpart showing up on set to disparage his directing abilities, though.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The real story of Keyboard Cat

I'm as taken with the sudden rise of Keyboard Cat as everyone else. So I was surprised to learn that his name is Fatso and he's been around for years. As proof, I submit this enlightening video.

It's early, but I think we can get Keyboard Cat to play organ for NYRO's 2010-11 season.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In-flight Wi-Fi? What about in-train Wi-Fi?

AirTran is in the process of rolling out WiFi to all of its planes by the middle of the summer. Some carriers offer Wi-Fi on some of their flights but not all of them, so AirTran will be the first carrier to offer it on all flights all the time. Delta had the Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi system on the flights I took to and from New Orleans last month, but I didn't pay for the privilege. I had brought enough in-flight entertainment options with me, and when I did get out my laptop for a few minutes on the flight home, I barely had enough room to use it. I tried writing the outline for a blog entry about the trip but I couldn't see the screen and type at the same time. I wasn't prepared to pay $8-$10 for mobile Internet when I couldn't read anything. I might give the Internet a shot on a future flight, but with the airlines charging me $15 to check a bag, I feel like they're already getting enough of my money.

However, I would be more interested in Wi-Fi access on Amtrak. I take the train to and from DC several times a year, and to Johnstown for Christmas. The three-hour trip to DC isn't so bad, but I start to get crazy on the seven-hour haul to Johnstown. The ticket for that trip is so cheap that I would gladly pay $10 or $12 for Internet access, even spotty, all the way to Johnstown. It's not that I need to be online that whole time; obviously, I've survived this long and many other trips without it. But it would be a great way to pass the time, in addition to the books and movies I already bring with me. Amtrak has tried onboard Wi-Fi before but I haven't seen or heard about anything on their trains in a few years. I'm sure there are significant technical hurdles. Any Internet access system would have to utilize the cellular network , and on a fast-moving train, you have the same problems as you have in the air: multiple clients being handed off to cell towers at high speeds. But it's 2009 and we're all well-connected travelers. Amtrak, let's get this done already. If the buses to Boston and DC can do it, I'm sure you can too.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Alan Gilbert has a bright future with the New York Philharmonic

I have been fortunate to attend two weeks of NY Philharmonic concerts led by their incoming music director, Alan Gilbert. I saw him conduct the Philharmonic's concert in Prospect Park last summer, but I was sitting far from the stage and couldn't make out much beyond his white jacket at the podium. These two concerts in May were my chance to see him up close.

On Friday, May 1, I heard them perform works by Dvorak, Martinu and Saint-Saens, including the latter's Violin Concerto with Joshua Bell as the soloist. Bell's performance was phenomenal, and I enjoyed Gilbert's work at the podium as well. He has an expressive and fluid style and he appeared to have a clear command of the orchestra. But these were three works with which I was not familiar, so I was excited to see him conduct this week's program, which included Mahler's Symphony No. 1. I got tickets for this week's concert via a ticket voucher. Normally I wouldn't think of going to concerts two weeks in a row (even I have limits for how much music I can take), but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to hear the orchestra play Mahler, and under the baton of a new conductor. Three years ago I heard the Philharmonic play Mahler's 1st Symphony with Lorin Maazel conducting. While I remember that concert as being an excellent performance, I think I may have been more enthralled by the music than I was the musicians. I know Mahler's 1st extremely well, and even more so having just played it with NYRO in December. Last night was my first chance to hear it performed since that December concert.

New Yorkers need have no fears about Gilbert's ability to lead the Philharmonic. When the orchestra reached the first "explosion" of the brass and percussion in the first movement, I had chills. It was partly for the music, of course. Mahler affects me that way. But it was also from the thrill of seeing an energetic young conductor leading an orchestra that was clearly his own. I broke into a big smile and I hung on every note of the rest of the piece. I especially enjoyed the balance Gilbert achieved among all the parts. Every note in Mahler's music is important, and I thought that Gilbert did an outstanding job of insuring that every instrument came out with its part. When the Philharmonic reached the climax of the last movement I was practically giddy. The audience flew out of their seats at the end in rapturous applause, and Gilbert seemed genuinely humbled by the reception.

Gilbert has hit the jackpot. He's a native New Yorker whose parents were violinists in the Philharmonic (and his mother still is). He's in his early 40s and he's got the job of leading one of the most prominent orchestras in the world. If he's as successful as an ambassador for classical music as he is as a conductor, he could have a career like Leonard Bernstein's if he wanted. As one of my friends said to me after the concert, this guy has a future with the orchestra. I cannot wait to see how Gilbert does next season.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Subway Doctor

Gothamist posted an interview this morning with Dr. Zizmor, the subway dermatologist. I've been in New York about 10 years, and Dr. Zizmor's ads were among the first I noticed when I moved here and became a regular subway commuter. I've always had a low opinion of Dr. Z's practice. I tend to devalue local businesses that I see advertising in the subway, mostly because the older cars are so dingy and the ads look weathered and of poor quality as a result. I think it reflects badly on the business that chooses to advertise down there. My ex-wife used to work for a dermatologist, and everyone assumed that he was Dr. Z. (He was not.) Maybe that's just my opinion. I've never asked anyone if they've patronized an establishment based on a subway ad.

Stigma or not, the ads work for Dr. Z. He's built a successful practice and was ranked as one of the 10 best doctors in America by Harper's. It's good to know he's a reputable physician, should I ever need to have a tattoo removed.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

That was the wettest I've ever been

I have never enjoyed riding my bike in the rain. I ride all summer long, but if I wake up for a ride and it's raining, I go to the gym instead. However, if I'm already riding and the rain starts, I can cope with it. There's nothing like a warm summer shower to cool you off on a hot day.

I'd been checking the weather reports all week for Sunday and Bike New York (AKA the 5 Boro Bike Tour) and they went from sunny to cloudy to a little afternoon rain. When I woke up this morning, I dressed as if it was going to rain in the afternoon, hopefully when I was riding home from the Staten Island Ferry. I wore my usual bike jersey and shorts and put on a water-resistant jacket. I stowed a pair of pants in my Camelbak but I didn't plan to wear them unless it got colder. I left the apartment at 7:30 under cloudy skies and a light rain. I wasn't happy but I'd been in this situation before. It's rained on the ride in years past but the sun always comes out by the afternoon. I wasn't so optimistic today but I hoped that the rain would pass and the streets would be dry.

Well, that's not how things went. By the time I got to Greenwich Village, the light rain had not subsided. I pulled onto Sixth Avenue as soon as the first wave of riders went by, and didn't notice until we neared Central Park that in my haste to get the ride behind me I'd gotten onto the route in front of the pace car. My butt was wet from the spray coming off my rear tire, and as the rain picked up, it was difficult to tell whether my face was getting wet from the rain or from the spray from other bikes.

The rain eased off a bit when I got to the Astoria Park rest stop. For some reason, they crammed all the riders into a parking lot instead of using a grassy hill as in past years. Having all the riders in a smaller space led to long lines (but luckily not a long wait) for the port-a-potties. After we left the rest stop, the light rain became a steady shower that didn't let up for the rest of the day. I considered bailing out of the ride at the Brooklyn Bridge and going home. But then an odd thing happened. The wetter I got, the less I cared about being wet. I reached a saturation point where I couldn't get any wetter. My rain jacket was soaked, my shoes and socks were squishing, and I got "prune hands." When I pulled over at the Commodore Barry rest stop in Brooklyn, I was singing along with the Motown songs spun by the radio DJ and looking forward to the BQE and the rest of the ride.

The worst thing about stopping every 45 minutes was the cooling-off. Even with being drenched, I didn't notice the cool air while I was riding. But as soon as I stopped, I started shivering. I usually like to take some time at each rest stop to eat something, walk a bit, and stretch my legs. On this ride, though, I only stopped long enough to use the bathroom, eat something quickly, and stretch in a hurry. At the end of the ride, I spent about 10 minutes at the festival on Staten Island, then I got back on the road to the ferry. The DJ at the festival played light rock hits, and one of the songs was Sheryl Crow's "Soak Up The Sun." Um, not today, buddy. And I didn't appreciate the reminder of the current state of affairs.

There was no wait for the ferry as in past years, but once again they put all of the cyclists in the "car" section of the boat. I suppose they do it that way to fit more riders on each boat, but I don't like it. There's no place to sit down, and there's no respite from the wind that cuts through the boat. And if you're a visitor to NY for the ride, you can't see the Statue of Liberty or the Manhattan skyline from that part of the boat. I turned my back to the wind and tucked my hands in my armpits to try to keep from shivering.

My teeth were chattering as I got off the ferry. The steady rain continued as I rode up through the South Street Seaport to the Manhattan Bridge. I had thought about taking the subway home, but I figured I had come this far, so I should finish the trip on the bike. I returned home to my warm, dry apartment at 2:15 PM, peeled off everything I was wearing, and took the longest, hottest, most luxurious shower I can remember. Afterward, I unpacked my Camelbak and found that everything in it got wet: my wallet, my camera, two bike maps, and even the pants I had stowed at the bottom. I'm surprised that my Blackberry still works after I got it wet. Apparently it takes far more punishment than I am capable of in order to destroy a 7290.

Now I am dry, and my hands are soft and supple after absorbing all that rainwater. I've found a cure for my perpetually dry hands, but at what cost?