Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bowling for Dollars

Here are my bowl picks for this season, in descending order of confidence. I got off to a good start tonight with TCU's decisive victory over Northern Illinois tonight. Upset picks are denoted by boldface type.

Hawaii BowlArizona State vs. Hawai'iHawai'i
Sugar BowlNotre Dame vs. LSULSU
Fiesta BowlBoise State vs. OklahomaOklahoma
Texas BowlRutgers vs. Kansas StateRutgers
Gator BowlWest Virginia vs. Georgia TechWest Virginia
Poinsettia BowlTCU vs. Northern IllinoisTCU
Alamo BowlTexas vs. IowaTexas
Outback BowlTennessee vs. Penn StateTennessee
BCS ChampionshipFlorida vs. Ohio StateOhio State
Emerald BowlFlorida State vs. UCLAUCLA
Sun BowlOregon State vs. MissouriOregon State
Holiday BowlCalifornia vs. Texas A&MCalifornia
Independenc BowlOklahoma State vs. AlabamaOklahoma State
Orange BowlLouisville vs. Wake ForestLouisvile
Motor City BowlMiddle Tennessee State vs. Central MichiganCentral Michigan
Liberty BowlHouston vs. South CarolinaSouth Carolina
Insight BowlTexas Tech vs. MinnesotaTexas Tech
Papajohns.com BowlSouth Florida vs. East CarolinaSouth Florida
Chick-fil-A BowlGeorgia vs. Virginia TechVirginia Tech
New Orleans BowlRice vs. TroyRice
International BowlCincinnati vs. Western MichiganCincinnati
Capital One BowlArkansas vs. WisconsinWisconsin
Rose BowlUSC vs. MichiganMichigan
Meineke Car Care BowlNavy vs. Boston CollegeBoston College
Armed Forces BowlTulsa vs. UtahUtah
New Mexico BowlNew Mexico vs. San Jose StateSan Jose State
MPC Computers BowlMiami vs. NevadaNevada
Music City BowlClemson vs. KentuckyKentucky
Las Vegas BowlBYU vs. OregonBYU
GMAC BowlOhio vs. Southern MississippiSouthern Mississippi
Champs Sports BowlPurdue vs. MarylandPurdue

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fast Food Nation

The McDonald's and Taco Bell franchises that are closest to my house are located on opposite corners of the same intersection. For reasons that I will probably never know, both restaurants were demolished within a few weeks of each other earlier this fall and are now in the process of being rebuilt from the ground up. Having never dined at either of these restaurants, I can't say what was so wrong with them that they had to be completely torn down and rebuilt.

Taco Bell is an interesting restaurant. I don't think I've eaten there since I was in college and I have no desire to ever eat there again, but I do really enjoy their commercials. I can't think of any other product or service whose advertisements I enjoy as much relative to the product or service being sold.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Light Show

Here's a picture of the first annual Christmas light display at our house. It's not exactly Clark Griswold quality, but it's a start.

Sikh and You Shall Find

Due to the limitations of the form and the drudgery of churning out one strip after another each day in perpetuity, comic strip artists will occasionally (some more occasionally than other) craft a comic strip whose joke requires such an obvious set-up that any humor that may have been there is sucked completely out of the page. Today's installment of Curtis, a comic that is rarely funny even when such shenanigans are not being used, demonstrates a textbook application of this technique.

Ray Billingsley achieves a rare two-fer in this strip, he constructs a joke that requires knowledge of eastern religions and underground artists (knowledge that as far as I know has never been required to understand Curtis) and links it together in such a contrived fashion that it is painfully unfunny.

Monday, November 13, 2006

This is Our Country?

The Football Outsiders know a lot about football, but they probably know even more about the annoying things that people who enjoy football have put up with in order to watch football. I was browsing through the notes in this week's installment of Audibles at the Line when the following comment about Chevy's latest ad campaign, running in heavy rotation during all televised American sporting events, caught my eye:
“Not only does that ad not make me want to buy a Chevy, it makes me want to join Al Qaeda.”

I couldn't agree more. The old "Like a Rock" campaign was insufferable, of course, but at least it didn't feature John Cougar Mellencamp and his cornpone paeans to folk wisdom and knee-jerk patriotism. I loathe John Cougar and his entire songbook. I even refuse to refer to him by his nom de plume John Mellencamp. You can't just add the word 'Cougar' to your name and then remove it once you become a commercial success. As you can see, my distaste for him is deep-seeded and highly irrational.

Setting aside my reservations about the music and the musician, the commercial itself is borderline insulting. It's full of stock footage celebrating at worst the banality of life in America and at worst, some of the darkest days in our history. Ok, so there are a couple of perfunctory clips of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, who are certainly spinning in their graves over being included in this travesty. After that, it's all downhill. There is some footage of kids at the sock hop, followed by the Vietnam War, anti-Vietnam War protests, probably a clip from Woodstock for good measure, Nixon resigning, some other crappy moments in American history, and New Orleans under six feet of water. What are future installments (and you know there are going to be future installments) of this series of commercials going to show? Lee Harvey Oswald? The Manson Family? Jimmy Carter? Have Americans gotten so stupid that they feel nostalgia for any even that happened more then 30 years ago, regardless of whether or not it was good?

If this campaign runs as long as their "Like a Rock" campaign, I'm going to have to seriously consider whether or not I want to remain a sports fan.

Beauty is a Rare Thing

NPR did a piece on free jazz legend Ornette Coleman this morning. It's always nice to see someone in the free jazz community get some coverage in the mainstream media. I'm not a huge Ornette fan. In fact, I don't own a single Ornette Coleman recording. I guess that's somewhat shameful for someone who considers himself a free jazz afficianado, but my recording collection is very sparse by jazz collector standards anyway. I'm familliar with some of his work from the 1960s and I like almost all of it. I haven't been too impressed with any of his recent stuff, but I've only heard a small sample.

I've never seen Coleman play live, and I probably never will. From what I understand, he rarely plays live shows anymore. I heard that he played a free show on the Boston Common sometime back in the 1980s. Nowadays, you're probably lucky to hear him play a show in his hometown (New York?), let alone a free show in the middle of a city park. I'm not knocking Coleman by any means, his impact on the world of creative improvised music has been profound. I'm just saying that I can't really consider someone who is not out there making music on a regular basis part of the vanguard of the free jazz movement. Still, it was a nice piece and he is a much more deserving of an in-depth profile than most of the musicians that I hear about on NPR.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Forklift Safety Dance

Michelle has to go into the plant sometimes for her job, so she has to take all kinds of safety training classes. Today's class featured a forklift safety video (in German). Whatever the video may have lacked in educational value it more than made up for in humor. After she told me about the video, I was laughing so hard that we decided that we had to find it on the Internet. Fortunately, we weren't the only people who found it hilarious. Check out the video for yourself. You probably wouldn't learn anything about forklift safety, but you should enjoy it. This video, by the way, does nothing to dispel the reputation that Germans have for being really weird.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day

I spent more time studying in college than most people, but I never pulled an "all-nighter". Unlike many of my classmates, I never spent the final minutes before an exam looking over notes, trying to memorize that last piece of information that would help me pass the test. My approach to politics, however, has always been to spend the night before the election cramming, trying to figure out which candidates and proposals I support. I usually make up my mind on the big-name candidates before the election, but I never pay attention to the local races and the more obscure offices until the last minute. It would actually make more sense to figure out the smaller races first, since the only media coverage that those races tend to get happens a month or two before the election. I always pledge to pay more attention to local races after each election, but I never manage to make good on that pledge. I'll do things differently in 2008, I'm sure.

In my defense, I had to vote on no fewer than 22 separate ballot questions in this election (9 statewide and 13 citywide). I'm not a big fan of ballot questions. With ballot questions, the most important thing seems to be the wording. I don't know if there is any ballot proposition that could not be passed given the right amount of creative wordsmithing. I only thought a couple of the questions on this year's ballot were somewhat misleading. My main complaint was the overall inanity of some of them. There was a statewide question to approve $4M in bonds to rehabilitate a state park. Perhaps I shouldn't be complaining about fiscal transparency in a state as legendary for corruption as Rhode Island, but isn't this something that could have been taken care of by the legislature without having to solicit the opinion of every registered voter?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dodelik Wapen 2

I caught part of Lethal Weapon 2 on TV last week. It was the first time I had ever seen the movie, which came out in 1989. For those of have forgotten or never saw the movie, the bad guys in this installment are a group of South Africans doing some shady business in LA. A lot of people would probably write this movie off as a mindless action flick. They are probably right, but I found it interesting to see how much the movie used the political situation in apartheid South Africa to advance the plot of the movie. It featured, among other things, an anti-apartheid protest outside of a bank that was doing business with the South Africans and Mel Gibson's character being called a kaffir lover by one of the South African diplomats. I guess the point I'm trying to make is that even movies that appear to be made simply for mindless entertainment provide an insight into the world as it was when the film was made. As for the title of this post, it's my attempt at translating "Lethal Weapon 2" into Afrikaans.

Wicked Smaht

Morgan Quitno Press came out with their rankings of the smartest states in the US. Vermont came in first, but the big winner was New England, taking the top three spots and six of the top 14. Rhode Island came in 14th, which makes us the the dumbest state in New England. That doesn't really matter, since we can totally kick the rest of New England's asses.

In all seriousness, I don't really put too much stock in any rankings like these, especially when they come from someone I've never heard of, like Morgan Quitno Press. I'm not surprised to see that the New England states scored so well, however. They are veritable magnets for bookish intellectual types. What do you think I'm doing here?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Barbershop Quartet

I got my hair cut this morning at my local barber shop. It would be more accurate to say that I got my hair cut at one of my local barber shops. There are at least three or four barber shops near by house. The Park Senate Barber Shop where I get my hair cut may not be the closest barber shop to my house, but it's only about three blocks away and it's the first one I found. Though I've only gone there three times, I can already say it's one of the best barber shops I've ever been to. I've gotten a great hair cut each time I've gone. My hair style is simple enough that it's nearly impossible for anyone with a license to cut hair to give me a bad haircut, but that doesn't mean I always leave the barber shop looking exactly the way I want to look. Each time George (I believe that's my barber's name) has cut my hair, it's come out exactly the way I wanted it.

I've been a big fan of old school barber shops for a while now. As a kid, however, I always hated getting my hair cut. My Dad went bald in his 20s and he got his biannual hair cut at the barber shop in his office, so my Mom was the one who usually took me to get my hair cut. She took me to a number of different places, none of which I liked very much. The worst, by far, was the hair salon at our local Meijer's (The Golden Knight Salon, I believe it was called). I absolutely loathed that place. Finally, when I was probably 11 or 12, I got my first taste of an old school barber shop, Mel's Golden Razor. I immediately took a liking to Mel's. The decor at Mel's was a random collection of Detroit Tigers and University of Michigan sports memorabilia. There was no muzak being piped into the shop, the barbers didn't ask me stupid questions like what grade I was in, if the TV was on, it was tuned to either sports, the news, or an old black-and-white movie. Like all great barber shops, it was a place where you could just go and be a guy. If you wanted to talk, you could. If you wanted to sit silently in your chair while you got you hair trimmed, you could and no one would care.

I don't know how much longer these kinds of barber shops are going to be with us. Whenever I get a haircut, I'm usually the youngest patron in the place, unless someone else has brought their children or grandchildren with them. There doesn't appear to be a new generation of barbers coming up through the ranks. The youngest barber I've come across at any of the old school shops I've been to over the past five years looked to be at least 45.

I've always had good luck with Italian barbers. I've been going to Italian-American and Italian barbers for so long now that I don't remember exactly how I decided that they are better at cutting hair than people from other ethnic backgrounds. It probably has something to do with all of the moving around I've done. It's a lot easier to choose a new barber shop from a list of places you've never heard of if you have some simple rules of thumb, like last name must end with a vowel.

I'll close by posting my barber shop recommendations. If you're ever in any of these areas and need a haircut, check one of them out.

Mel's Golden Razor
595 Forest Ave
Plymouth, MI
The original. I hear that one of the barbers who used to work at Mel's (Larry) has opened up his own place across the street from Mel's. I'm not sure what his place is called, but it's worth checking out as well.

Tony's Barber Shop
7601 Madison St # A,
Forest Park, IL
This place is run by two brothers from the old country who spend most of the time making bad jokes and then laughing hysterically at them.

Alibrandi's Barber Shop
194 Holland St
Somerville, MA
Lots of sports memorabilia on the walls here too.

Ottavio's Barber Shop
472 W Broadway # A
South Boston, MA
Ottavio is from the old country and does a great job.

Salvatore's Barber Shop
6288 Thompson Rd
East Syracuse, NY
Every square inch of wall space is covered in postcards from around the world. Sal and Frank (the barbers) spend as much time busting on each other as they do cutting your hair.

Park Senate Barber Shop
46 Rolfe Sq
Cranston, RI
A great barber shop in a neighborhood full of clip joints.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mountain Jam

We headed up to New Hampshire this past weekend for some hiking and foliage. We hiked up to the peak of North Moat Mountain (3196'). I took a couple of panoramic photos that actually came out well for a change. The first one was taken somewhere around the halfway point and the second one was taken from the peak.

I've done a little hiking the White Mountains before, but this was the first time I've ever climbed one of the peaks. It was probably the most difficult hike I've ever done, but it was well worth it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Damn Yankees

After writing that I didn't think the Tigers had a chance against the Yankees on Wednesday, they went on to win the next three games and take the series. Perhaps Jim Leyland found my blog post on the Internet and posted a copy of it in the Tigers' clubhouse to inspire the team. Perhaps I should go on record saying I don't think the Tigers have a chance against Oakland right now for good luck.

In retrospect, it seems that Detroit sports fans should have been able to predict the Yankees' early exit from the postseason. The Yankees are similar to the pre-lockout Red Wings in a lot of ways. They both had streaks in the mid-late 1990s when they were the dominant teams in their respective sports. They then used their deep pockets and championship pedigree to bring in hired guns each season in order to keep the dynasty rolling. In both cases, a fat payroll full of all-stars failed to pay the kind of dividends that management and fans had hoped for. You may be able to buy your way to a championship in professional sports, but you have to build a dynasty. I don't think the Yankees are going to start playing moneyball anytime soon, however. Being able to outspend all other teams is a huge advantage and chances are that it will eventually pay off again sometime in the near future.

Whenever a big-name free agent signs with the Yankees, I tend to see it as almost a sign of failure on the part of the signee. For the most part, the guys they have picked up over the past few years have been great players who were never able to win with their previous team. Baseball is a team sport, but all great players are judged by whether or not they were able to win the big game. In a way, when a guy with great stats but no postseason heroics signs with the Yankees, he's saying that he's not good enough to lead a franchise to glory and is therefore casting his lot with the team that, statistically speaking, has the best chance of winning it all. I can't really begrudge someone like Johnny Damon for wanting to get out of Kansas City (plus his path to the Bronx went through Oakland and Boston), but guys like A-Rod and Giambi were part of some pretty good teams in Seattle and Oakland and Randy Johnson won a World Series with his previous club. A-Rod's move to the Yankees looked even more desperate, since he was even willing to give up the most glamorous infield position for a chance to play in New York. Perhaps that's part of the reason he's so reviled right now.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Beta Max

I switched over to Blogger beta yesterday. There aren't a lot of changes or new features, but it is an improvement. They finally brought the spell checker up to the level of the GMail spell checker. Hopefully, this means they also improved its dictionary. The other big improvement to the publishing tool is allowing you to type the time and date of your posts instead of having to select the month, date, year, hour, and minute from select lists. The best new feature is the ability to automatically add labels or tags to each post. I started doing this by hand using Technorati tags earlier this year, but I got sick of it because it was kind of a pain to do manually.

Keeping with the beta theme, as MDS pointed out, I failed to mention Acres of Books in my post yesterday. Acres of Books, for those who aren't aware, is a huge used book store in Long Beach, CA. I would have to say that it's the best used book store I've ever seen. My first (and so far, only) visit to the store was about four years ago. I overheard a conversation between two customers while I was there that can really only be overheard at a used book store. I don't remember exactly what they were talking about, but it was basically a discussion about the virtues of Betamax. From what I heard, it sounded like these two people regularly watched movies on their Betamax machines at home. Keep in mind that this was in 2002. They either loved watching the same movies over and over or they were members of some secret underground network that is copying new movies over Betamax. Either way, they are exactly the kind of people who shop at used book stores.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Get Used

I'm not a big fan of shopping, and I'm even less interested in recreational shopping, but given the choice of spending an afternoon browsing around a great library or a great used book store, there's a good chance I'd pick the book store. Michelle and I took Tuesday off in honor of my birthday, and spent some time at Cellar Stories, Rhode Island's largest used book store. I've been to the store a couple times now, and it's definitely a top-shelf used book store.

I've spent a lot of time in used book stores across our great nation, and I've come up with a list of things to look for and to watch out for when shopping for used books. First, the things to look for:

  • Clutter: A used book store should be cluttered. There should be more books than shelf space. Boxes of uncategorized books lying around are always a plus. Books and Memories in Syracuse is probably the most cluttered used book store I've ever seen. I have no problem with that, but I wouldn't complain if they decided to tidy up a little bit.

  • Oddity: There should be a good selection of odds and ends of dubious historical and/or literary value. Appliance repair manuals from the 1950s, books predicting the extinction of all mammals by 1987, etc.

  • Pulp: All great used book stores should have a prominent collection of pulp novels. Here's a good example. Note: I've never read this book, but I did stumble upon it at a used book store in Oak Park, IL and the title has stuck with me.

Things to watch out for:

  • Customers: Used book stores should be empty. Frankly, I have no idea how any of them stay in business. If there are a lot of customers in a used book store, it's probably because it's maintaining an acceptable level of neatness and/or refusing to shelve books that no sane person would ever want to read or purchase.

  • Decor: The less effort put into the aesthetics of a used book store, the better. Be wary of any store smelling of fresh paint. Ideally, all vertical surfaces in the store should be covered in shelves that reach from the floor to as close to the ceiling as possible. If the store has any furniture, it should be uncomfortable, used, and at least 30 years old.

  • New Books: It's very hard to run a new & used book store that preserves the used book store look and feel. Powells Books does a good job of it, but most stores can't pull this one off and probably shouldn't try (unless they want to make money, or something).

I'll end on a PSA in case this post has actually inspired someone to visit a used book store for the first time. The sale price for a used book is always written in pencil in the upper right-hand corner of the first page of the book. Any book store that fails to observe this convention is not a used book store, regardless of the ownership history of the books they are selling.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tiger Town

I started following major league baseball sometime in the middle of the 1983 season, so the 1984 campaign was the first one that I followed from start to finish. While I became interested in baseball in 1983, I became a true fan in 1984. It was pretty hard not to be a fan in the Detroit area that year, with the Tigers starting off the season 35-5 and cruising to the world championship. When the Tigers won the American League East again three years later, I began to get the feeling that the Tigers were going to be making fairly regular appearances in the playoffs. I don't remember much about the 1987 ALCS between the Tigers and the Twins. Had I known that the Tigers wouldn't reach the playoffs again for another 19 years, I probably would have tried to savor those games a little more.

I doubt that last night's 8-4 loss against the Yankees provided much comfort for the long suffering fans of Detroit. I don't really include myself in that group anymore. The Tigers are still my favorite baseball team, but I abandoned them and the game of baseball for a long time before slowing creeping back over the past few years. No sports team will ever be as important to me as the Tiger teams of my youth. My 10 year-old self would have truly believed that the Tigers could recover from their end-of-season train wreck and last night's beatdown to win the series. Since I can't muster that kind of devotion anymore, I don't know if I can call myself a true fan. I'm still going to watch them play and root them on, since I know that when it comes to the Tigers, playing in October is not something that can be taken for granted.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Die Wiedervereinigung

There are two great national events that I've always felt a special connection to even though I didn't really get to experience them firsthand. The events are the American Bicentennial and German Reunification, and the reason I feel connected to both of them is largely due to my birthday. I was born in 1976 and I have always kind of taken pride in that, even though most of the bicentennial celebrations were probably over by the time I was born and even if they hadn't been, I was too young to know what was going on. The German Reunification, which happened 16 years ago today, coincided with my 14th birthday. I had just begun my study of the German language about a month earlier. The whole sequence of events that led up to the reunification of Germany was probably the most historically significant thing that had happened in my life up to that point, so the reunification seemed a lot more important to me then it probably would today.

As far as I know, no formerly divided nations reunited today and America did not pull out all of the stops for a year-long nationwide celebration of our 230th year of independence. The second digit of my odometer did turn over for the third time, however. I've been feigning horror over the prospect of leaving my 20's behind for the past few weeks, but my heart really hasn't been in it. I have neither dreaded turning 30 nor have I felt the need to take stock of what I have and have not managed to accomplish up to this point. Age is not as important as it used to be, anyway. While visiting reunified Germany a couple of years ago, I was kind of bummed that I never did the whole backpack through Europe thing when I was in college. Checking in for our flight back to the US, I saw a couple who looked to be in their 40s or 50s standing in line with their packs. More and more, youth is no longer wasted on the young. I didn't manage to experience everything that I wanted to experience in my 20s, but I think I did most of the things that I felt were really important.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I read this post yesterday and it reminded me of an hilarious disclaimer that we had to sign last year when we went hiking in a private nature preserve on Maui. Though you may not have guessed from the tone of this disclaimer, the trail was nice and at no point on the hike did we fear for our lives.

Nature is unpredictable and dangerous. Mountains are dangerous. Many books have been written about these dangers, and there's no way we can list them all here. Read the books.

The Waihee Valley swinging Bridges Trail is covered in steep terrain with loose, slippery and unstable footing. The weather can make matters worse. Sheer drops are everywhere. You may fall, be injured or die. There are hidden holes. You could break your leg. There are wild animals, which may be vicious or carriers of dread (sic) diseases. Plants can be poisonous as well. We don't do anything to protect you from any of this. We do not inspect, supervise or maintain the grounds, rocks, cliffs or other features, natural or otherwise.

Real dangers are present even on trails. Trails are not sidewalks. They can be, and are, steep, slippery and dangerous. Trail features made or enhanced by humans, such as steps, suspension bridges, walls and railings (if any) can break, collapse, or otherwise fail catastrophically at any time. We don't promise to inspect, supervise or maintain them in any way. They may be negligently constructed or repaired. They are unsafe, period. Live with it or stay away.

Stay on the trails whenever possible. The terrain, in addition to being dangerous, is surprisingly complex. You may get lost. Carry food, water and first aid supplies and a cell phone at all times.

Rocks and other objects can fall from the cliffs. They can tumble down slopes. This can happen naturally, or be caused by other hikers above you. Rocks of all sizes, including huge boulders, can shift, move or fall with no warning. A whole rock formation might collapse and squash you like a bug. Don't think it can't happen.

Weather can be dangerous, regardless of the forecast. Be prepared with extra clothing, including rain gear. Hypothermia, heat stroke, lightning, etc. can kill you. Rain can cause swelling of the steam (sic), including flash floods and turn easy terrain into a deathtrap.

If you scramble in high places (scrambling is moving over terrain steep enough to use your hands) without proper experience, training, or equipment, or allow children to do so, you are making a terrible mistake. Even if you know what you've doing, lots of things can go wrong and you be injured or die. It happens all the time.

The landowner does not provide rangers or security personnel. The other people on the trail, including other visitors, our employees, agents, and guests, and anyone else who might sneak in, may be stupid, reckless, or otherwise dangerous. They may be mentally ill, criminally insane, drunk, using illegal drugs and/or armed with deadly weapons and ready to use them. We aren't necessarily going to do anything about it. We refuse to take responsibility.

If you hike, you may die or be seriously injured. This is true whether you are experienced or not, trained or not, equipped or not, though training and equipment may help. It's a fact, hiking is extremely dangerous. If you don't like it, stay at home. You really shouldn't be doing it anyway. We don't provide supervision or instruction. We are not responsible for, and do not inspect or maintain the trails. As far as we know, any of them can and will fail and send you plunging to your death. There are countless tons of loose rock ready to be dislodged and fall on you or someone else. There is any number of extremely and unusually dangerous conditions existing on and around the trail, and elsewhere on the property. We may or may not know about any specific hazard, but even if we do, don't expect us to try to warn you. You're on your own.

Rescue services are not provided by the landowner, and may not be available quickly or at all. Local rescue squads may not be equipped for or trained in mountain rescue. If you are lucky enough to have somebody try to rescue you or treat your injuries, they may be incompetent or worse. This includes doctors and hospitals. We assume no responsibility. Also, if you decide to participate in a rescue of some other unfortunate person, that's your choice. Don't do it unless you are willing to assume all risks.

By entering the Waihee Valley Swinging Bridges Trail, you are agreeing that we owe you no duty of care of any other duty. We promise you nothing. We do not and will not even try to keep the premises safe for any purpose. The premises are not safe for any purpose. This is no joke. We won't even try to warn you about dangerous or hazardous condition (sic), whether we know about it or not. If we do decide to warn you about something, that doesn't mean we will try to warn you about something else. If we do make an effort to fix an unsafe condition, we may not try to correct any others, and we may make matters worse! We and our employees or agents may do things that are unwise and dangerous. Sorry, we're not responsible. We may give you bad advice. Don't listen to us. In short, ENTER AND USE THE PRESERVE AT YOUR OWN RISK. And have fun!


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Primary Colors

I voted for the first time in Rhode Island yesterday. It was pretty exciting to be casting a ballot in the most important primary in the country. It was also pretty exciting to vote in a health club for the first time. I've voted in schools, churches, and fire departments, but never in a private business and certainly never in a gym. According to a study cited in Marginal Revolution, voters were more likely to vote in favor of measures to increase school funding when casting their ballots at a school and more likely to vote against stem cell research when casting their ballots at a church. So I suppose that voting at a health club would make people more like to vote for former athletes.

I also voted defensively for the first time. I pulled the lever for Steve Laffey in the Republican Senate primary for no reason other than I felt like he had the best chance of losing in the general election. I used to find defensive voting somewhat unsavory. It seemed like a perversion of the democratic process to me. That position seems somewhat naive to me now. I guess in an ideal world, elections would be reasoned debates about important issues. Since this is not the case, defensive voting is a tactic that one must resort to from time to time.

The incumbent, Lincoln Chafee, managed to pull though with 54.2% of the vote, so in the end, my defensive vote really didn't make a difference. This doesn't guarantee him victory in the general election, but it he will be a much more formidable challenger to former state attorney general Sheldon Whitehouse. How's that for surname determinism: he hasn't even been elected to the Senate yet and he's already got the White House in his sights.

I have to admit that beyond their electability, I really haven't paid very much attention to the candidates. I know where they stand on all of the hot button issues, but that's about it. I've definitely become more of an independent voter over the past few years, but at the same time, I can't in good conscience cast a vote against divided government this November, so I'm going to be voting for Whitehouse unless he gets pulled over with a dead hooker in the trunk of the car.

In another time, perhaps I could have supported Chafee. He claims to embrace most of the principles of the Republican party that I agree with and eschew the ones that I dislike. Still, I find it hard to get too excited about him. I was put off by a campaign ad that he aired a couple months ago where the first priority that he mentioned was restoring civility to government. Is this really an issue that anyone outside of the media cares about? I'd like my elected representatives to not be arrogant jerks, but politics being what it is, sometimes, you have to take the gloves off. Politics is a dirty game even when the stakes aren't high and I can't imagine anyone who would want their representatives to not be willing to play that game when the interests of their constituents are under attack. Of course, Whitehouse will get my vote even if he says the exact same thing, so it really doesn't matter, at least, not this year.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Talkin' Sports

I'm glad I wasn't the only person who wondered why SI picked the Dolphins to make it to the Superbowl. Jim Donaldson shared my sentiments in today's Projo. I also doubt that I was the only Lions fan who was secretly hoping that Daunte Culpepper would have to leave the game on Thursday to force a battle of the ex-Lions quarterbacks.

If you told me last year at this time that in one year's time, the Detroit Tigers would have the best record in the American League, I would've been pleasantly shocked. Given the way they had been playing up until about a month ago however, it'll be a crying shame if they fail to make it to the postseason. They're well on their way to a late season collapse of epic proportions right now. The pervese thing is that they're doing it with some great pitching. They have lost a countless number of close, low scoring games during their current losing stretch. If they can right the ship and play .500 ball from here on in, I think they'll be safe. I'm not sure if they can pull it off. The bad old Tigers tended to start of the season bad and finish even worse. The new and improved Tigers seem to be following the same general outline of the old script.

I missed the Notre Dame - Penn State game bloodbath yesterday, but it's looking more and more like Notre Dame is as good as advertiesed this year. Notre Dame is hyped up by the sports media every season, and like the proverbial stopped clock, the sports media seems to have gotten it right this time. Now that I've dealt with my issues with the New York Yankees, Notre Dame football is the only team for which I harbor an irrational resentment. Actually, I take that back, my hatred of Notre Dame is completely rational. Even though Michigan hasn't looked too strong so far and Notre Dame has already beaten two high-quality opponents, I think the Wolverines have a good chance. Sometimes, the best time to face a tough opponent is when said opponent is coming off of a lopsided victory. It's been a while since Michigan has come out strong in a big game, I hope they can do it next weekend against the Irish.

I'm happy to see Andy Roddick in the U.S. Open final. I hadn't watched tennis in years until I watched parts of Agassi's last two matches. I was surprised to see how well it held my interest. Tennis can be a very mesmerizing game to watch, especially when the players get a nice volley going. I've always liked Roddick. I try not to develop too much of a personal attachment to professional athletes. I feel like a lot of people project that qualities that they admire in people onto their favorite athletes and then get mad when the athletes don't live up to that image. Roddick has always seemed like a really down-to-earth kind of guy and someone who really enjoys the game. He just dropped the first set 6-2 and I don't think he really has much of a chance, but it's good to see him back in the finals nonetheless.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Smart Games

Not to throw more fuel on the fire that is the debate over whether or not Ultimate Frisbee is a real sport, but according to this study, the better a university's ultimate team is, the smarter its students are. Based on the information in this press release, I can't say that I'm convinced of the intellectual superiority of ultimate players (myself excluded, of course). The press release cites two measurements of academic performance, graduation rate and the number of Rhodes and Marshall scholarship recipients. I don't think graduation rate statistics say much about the quality of students at a particular school. A school with a very easy academic program could achieve a high graduation rate with a mediocre student body while a school with a very challenging program could have a lower graduation rate even with a very intelligent student body. The other dubious part of this study is that compares the academic performance of the entire student bodies at the schools, not just the ultimate players. For all we know, none of the ultimate players at the schools in the study graduated and/or earned a prestigious scholarship.

So why do schools with high rates of academic achievement tend to have good ultimate teams? Maybe it has something to do with ultimate being a sport popular with upper-middle class nerds, the same kind of people who tend to graduate from elite private universities and receive prestigious scholarships.

Hat tip: Deadspin

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

All That Glitters

It appears that the NFL has banned Gary Glitter's stadium anthem "Rock and Roll Part 2" from their stadiums this season. Loyal readers of Data Janitor will remember that Glitter was arrested in Vietnam last year for having sex with underage girls. Now that he's serving an 11 year sentence in a Vietnamese jail, the NFL appears to be in full damage control mode. After all, they wouldn't want to risk losing any revenue if one of those professional outrage manufacturing interest groups were to catch wind of this and organize some sort of a completely ineffective boycott. I wish the NFL didn't take such a reactionary approach to anything that could possibly offend a fan in the "heartland". I'm not going to be picketing in front of NFL stadiums demanding that they play "Rock and Roll Part 2" or anything, but I stand by my original statements. If a song is good, it's good regardless of whether or not the person who wrote it or performed it is a criminal sex offender and enjoying the song is in no way an endorsement of the singer's crimes.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fighting the System

Zippy the Pinhead has never really tried to be a very accessible comic strip. I suppose it's lost some of its subversive underground comic edginess after being in syndication all these years, but it's certainly no Hi and Lois. The Comics Curmudgeon may have hit the nail on the head when he called Zippy "the Cathy of the surrealist/postmodern set". So while I'm sure that everyone who has ever read Zippy as scratched their heads at least once or twice trying to figure out what was going on, today's strip makes what I would consider a very obscure pop culture reference even by Zippy's already low standards.

I'm not entirely sure, but the sign pictured in the first and fourth panels looks an awful lot like the sign for a New York System in Providence that I've driven past a couple times. What is a New York System, you might ask? It's what a restaurant that serves New York style hot dogs is called in Rhode Island. Extra points to Zippy for calling them wieners instead of hot dogs, as is the custom in the Ocean State. Writing nationally syndicated comic strips that are only understood by people from Rhode Island is probably not the surest way to stardom, but at this point, I think Zippy can pretty much get away with anything.

Zippy's pandering to my new homestate notwithstanding, I've been a fan of the strip for a while. I enjoy the wordplay and if nothing else, it will make future historians even more baffled when they try and analyze old newspaper comics.

Friday, August 25, 2006

If It Looks Like a Duck...

I don't really expect Mallard Fillmore to be funny or insightful, but I do expect it to get its right-wing talking points correct. Sadly, today's strip doesn't even clear that admittedly low bar.

I think what he meant to say was: Don't suggest that an "intelligent designer" may have guided, not created evolution. This alternate statement is more in line with standard ID boilerplate, but it probably still would have offended Mallard's hard-core creationist fans, of which I'm sure there are plenty. By saying "created" instead of "guided", Mallard appears to be expressing the belief held by many religious people who have decided to reconcile their faith and modern science by looking at evolution as God's program for the development of life on earth. While Mallard has never been a complete wingnut, the idea of him appealing to religious liberals and moderates is risible, so I have to assume that this was a mistake.

Of course, even if you overlook the mistake, the strip still doesn't make any sense. No school district, to my knowledge, has taken any sort of action against a student who expressed a belief in intelligent design or creationism. There have been numerous cases where people have taken action against teachers and school officials who have made intelligent design and creationism part of their science curriculum, however.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ultimate Fighting Championship

Ultimate frisbee seems to get its fair share of criticism. I must admit that I was quite skeptical of the game before I started playing it. Even though I will openly admit to enjoying the game, I do understand why it is so reviled. For one, most of the people who play the game are (or were at one time) nerds and/or hippies. No one is surprised when marching bands, chess clubs, and tree huggers get ripped on. In fact, it would be surprising if these people were not ridiculed. Ultimate players are even worse than the aforementioned misfits in some ways, since they are working against the stereotype that nerds and hippies are neither interested in nor capable of strenuous physical activity.

In addition to the oddball reputation of its players, the game of ultimate is a bit strange as well. For one, it's played with a frisbee, which is considered by most of the world to be little more than a child's toy. I also don't think that ultimate is much of a spectator sport. It's just not that much fun to watch, even if you understand what's going on and you're watching people competing at a high level. At least, that's my take on it. I seem to be developing a case of sports-related ADD that is preventing me from being able to pay attention to any sporting event for more than 30 seconds at a time, so it could be me.

Ultimate also has this idea called "spirit of the game". It's really just good sportsmanship, which is theoretically part of every sport, but in ultimate, it's really part of the mythology of the game. There is no other sport (that I know of) where you can seriously tell someone that they are dishonoring the game they are playing with their poor sportsmanship. If, for example, the NFL were to adopt a "spirit of the game" bylaw, I would probably stop being a football fan. People don't shell out hundreds of dollars to watch good sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is great, however, when you want to play a pick-up game after work for fun. Because of ultimate's insistence on sportsmanship and it's attractiveness to misfits, you don't run into a lot of jerks on playing field. Most of the athletes who enjoy turning a meaningless game into a street fight wouldn't even consider playing ultimate.

The key to the success of ultimate frisbee is its outsider status. Were it to become a more mainstream sport, the laid-back atmosphere and spirit of the game would probably disappear. At that point, most of the nerds and hippies would split and ultimate would have to compete with every other sport for athletes. In the end, all sports are made-up arbitrary games, but I don't see how chasing after a plastic disc could ever be considered as respectable as kicking a soccer ball, hitting a baseball, or catching a football.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Snakes on Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

If you're having trouble getting tickets for Snakes on a Plane at your local cineplex, you may have more luck grabbing a copy of Snakes on a Train, it's direct-to-video rip-off, at your local video store.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Get on the Bus

Today's Providence Sunday Journal had a fairly interesting and in-depth article about regional transportation. Specifically, the way that the transit needs of businesses and employees are changing as more companies move away from dense urban areas and into less developed suburban and rural communities. A lot of articles about transit tend to take the position that the solution to every problem is for everyone to turn in their cars and move back into city centers. Thankfully, this article refrains from that dogma and takes a real look into the current state of suburban life and business and examines how RIPTA is trying to meet the needs of a more decentralized population. If public transit is ever going to become useful for people who have other options, it's going to have to start serving their needs better. I think that's going to mean more reliance on flexibility and technology. Unfortunately, since public transit is generally more concerned with political grandstanding and urban planning mythology than actually serving the transit needs of the public, I have my doubts about whether or not this transformation can occur. The article also doesn't fall back on the notion that if gas prices continue to rise, people will decide to turn in their cars and depopulate suburbia. The end of relatively cheap gas is going to bring changes, of course, but I'm far from convinced that it's going to lead to a mass extinction of suburban car culture.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Ultimate Warrior

Saturday marked the end of the summer ultimate frisbee season in these parts. Our team didn't do all that well, I think we either tied for dead last or came in second-to-last in the eleven team league. It seems like whenever I participate in team sports, the team I'm on doesn't do all that well. I've even been accused of being an inverse Michael Jordan, i.e. someone so bad that he makes the people who play with him even worse. I don't think that's he case, but I haven't ruled it out either.

Some people would argue that ultimate frisbee really isn't a sport. I don't enjoy getting into these kinds of debates, but I will say that I think a lot of people confuse "not a sport" with "a sport that I don't like". When I started playing ultimate a couple of years ago, I did it mainly as a way to get some exercise. It delivered plenty of exercise, but I didn't really enjoy it that much. I stopped playing for a while, then came back to it last fall with a different attitude. Instead of just looking at it was a way to get my heart pumping, I decided to make more of an effort to learn the game. I have enjoyed it a lot more ever since I started caring more about the game.

Here's a picture of me from last Saturday's tournament. Lest anyone think my hairline has receded drastically in the past year, I'm the nose, arms, and knee on the right side of the photo. Note that I am severely out of position on defense in this photo. I was getting burned by this guy all game long.

Circus Clown

Making fun of the Family Circus comic strip is certainly not new. I'm pretty sure that I was appreciating the Family Circus on a purely ironic level by the time I was 12 or 13. Pearls Before Swine, a comic strip that I'm admittedly not too familiar with, is mocking the Family Circus this week, with fairly hilarious results. The premise is that comic strip writers are no longer allowed to keep their characters in a state of suspended animation where they never age, so the kids in the Family Circus are now all grown up. Only instead of growing up into fine and upstanding members of the community like their parents, they are a bunch of lowlifes, as evidenced by today's strip.

I feel like this is probably a fairly accurate depiction of how the lives of Family Circus kids would turn out if they were allowed to grow up. After living such an idyllic childhood, I'm pretty sure that once they got out into the real world, they'd have trouble coping and wind up running a meth lab out of their Dad's tool shed or something like that. If desire a significantly more profane send-up of the Family Circus, be sure to check out the Dysfunctional Family Circus.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Victory Day

Today is Victory Day or V-J Day, the day that Japan officially surrendered to the allies in World War II. The only state that still observes this holiday is Rhode Island. My commute was noticeably faster today, which is probably due to the fact that the only "difficult" part of my relatively painless commute is the interchange in front of the Rhode Island state house. As far as I know, state employees are the only people in Rhode Island who don't have to come to work on Victory Day.

Apparently, Victory Day is somewhat controversial due to the events leading up to Japan's surrender. Why Rhode Island is the lone holdout amongst the states is somewhat confusing. According to the Wikipedia entry, one of the men purported to be the jubilant sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square in the iconic Life Magazine photograph was from Newport, but that doesn't seem like a good enough reason to keep observing the holiday. For the record, I don't really have an opinion about the holiday. Not observing the holiday because of the atomic bomb smacks of historical revisionism to me. At the same time, we don't commemorate the end of any of our other wars with a holiday. Armistice (Veterans) Day once commemorated the end of World War I, but it's scope has been expanded to honor veterans of all wars since then.

I wouldn't be surprised if Victory Day eventually gets dropped from Rhode Island's state holiday roster after all of the people who fought and lived through World War II are gone. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if people are still taking it off 100 years from now, completely unaware of the historical significance of the day.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Land of the Blind

We checked out the Rhode Island International Film Festival last night. I try to attend film festivals whenever I have a chance, more out of a sense of obligation than out of a love of cinema. I feel like I should take advantage of the chance to see some interesting films when I have the chance, but I find the whole thing somewhat tedious. Even a small-time festival screens at least a couple dozen films. Deciding which film(s) to attend is not exactly a logistical nightmare, but it's a lot more demanding than deciding between the 6:30 and 9:30 showing of Talladega Nights. Selecting films from this year's festival was a bit easier than the past couple of years at the Syracuse International Film and Video Festival. The RIIFF is a much bigger festival so a number of films featured actors and directors I had actually heard of before. I discovered last night that the thing I really like about film festivals are the short films. The movie we checked out last night was feature length, which was fine, but at that point, it's basically no different than going to the movies. The only difference is that there are no previews. Unlike most of the feature length movies in the festival, the one we saw last night didn't start out with a short film appetizer. The bulk of the shorts are being screened during the day, so I don't think I'm going to get a chance to see any of them. The other downside of seeing big name movies at a small festival is there is very little chance that the director or the actors will be on hand for a Q&A session after the screening.

The movie we checked out last night was called Land of the Blind. It was a political satire starring Ralph Fiennes as an idealistic and patriotic army officer and Donald Sutherland as an imprisoned revolutionary playwright. The movie took a cynical yet honest look at how revolutions that topple an oppressive government often wind up being as bad or worse than the previous regime once they take power. The president (for life) is a fairly amusing composite of tyrants throughout the ages. His preoccupation with film and exaggerated basketball skills are an homage to Kim Jong Il, I assume. He's got some Franco in him as well as some 18th century aristocracy, as evidenced by the powdered wigs. There are several none to subtle similarities between him and George W. Bush as well, in case you were wondering. The movie starts off a lot better than it ends. I tend to have trouble with the endings of a lot of art house films, and this was no exception. The story was told in a somewhat non-linear fashion, and unless I was totally missing something, the final scene chronologically occurred about two-thirds of the way through the movie. So I left the theater without a lot of closure, but I got the point. As Roger Daultry once said: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

The movie had a very sparse score, but the music that was there was excellent. Another thing that I liked was how they mixed American and British-accented English. Most of the actors were British and it appeared to be filmed in Britain (the cars were all right-hand drive, for example), but the American actors didn't change their accents. I thought that this made the film more universal. By mixing accents from the US and Britain and symbolism from around the world, the place that they created was completely fictional but entirely realistic.

The film was screened at the Cable Car Cinema, a small art house theater in Providence. It was our first visit to the theater and we found it quite nice. It was the first time I ever watched a movie at a theater seated on a love seat. One side of the theater has regular fold-down movie seats while the other has rows of love seats. It's a nice touch and fortunately, they seem to keep the couches pretty clean, which is a welcome change from some art house cinemas.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Benedict Wallace

Mitch Albom's column today is a perfect example of why he's a horrible sports writer. If this column is to be believed, either Mitch is personally hurt and offended by Ben Wallace's decision to sign with da Bulls for a truckload of cash or he's extremely naive. The whole sportswriter feigning outrage over someone signing a contact with an inferior team just because they offered him more money is tiring, to say the least. I'd like to see every writer who is guilty of this transgression detail all of the times that he personally has turned down a new job that paid 40% more than his current position.

All Mitch does in this column is try to connect with the Pistons fans who feel slighted by Wallace's departure. It's little more than a piece of propaganda designed to stoke their outrage and make them feel like Mitch shares their pain; presumably as a way to feed dollars into the Mitch Albom media empire. I love how Mitch states that he should be used to these kind of moves by now, but he really thought Wallace was different. Blaming himself for being so blind in the final sentence is the coup de grace. I hope that Morrie Schwarzenegger returns from his long hiatus and weighs in on Mitch's latest piece of work.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Carolina Hurricanes: 2006 Avco Cup Champions

With their victory in game seven of the Stanley Cup finals last night, the Carolina Hurricanes became the second team to win the top prizes in both the long-defunct WHA and the NHL (Quebec/Colorado was the first). This is assuming that you include the storied history of New England/Hartford Whalers in the Hurricane's lineage, of course. This was the first Stanley Cup final that pitted two former WHA teams against each other. The WHA has a pretty impressive history in the NHL. Since the four surviving teams joined the NHL in 1979, all but Winnipeg (now Phoenix) has won a Stanley Cup. Hartford (now Carolina) has one, Quebec (now Colorado) has two, and Edmonton has five. The ex-WHA teams have combined for 11 appearances in the Stanley Cup finals since 1980. Not bad for a league that could barely pay the rent at its arenas and distinguished itself with garish (even by 1970s standards) uniforms. Finally, this marks the third consecutive Stanley Cup final in which the team that lost eliminated the Detroit Red Wings from the playoffs in an earlier round (Anaheim in 2003, Calgary in 2004, and Edmonton in 2006).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Save Screech's House

Pity poor Dustin Diamond. Not only will he never be known as anything more than that guy who played Screech on "Saved By the Bell", he's also about to lose his home. In an effort to keep his house, if not his reputation, he's launched a campaign to get back at the shady financier who abandoned him in his time of need and raise enough money to keep a roof over his head by selling t-shirts online.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Mt. Tom Trail

We went hiking out in the Arcadia Management Area this past weekend. I'm writing this post mostly to document how we got there, since finding these kinds of hiking trails is generally more difficult than the actual hike. I'd like to do this hike again in the fall, since it offers some decent views. The trail takes you up to the top of Mt. Tom, which isn't much of a mountain, and back down to the road (RI-165). We turned around and came back the same way at that point, but there were some more trails north of 165 that we could have explored.

  • Exit I-95 onto RI-102S

  • Right onto RI-3 S (Nooseneck Hill Rd.)

  • Right onto RI-165 (Ten Rod Rd.)

  • Pass Arcadia Management Area main entrance

  • Pass a white church on right

  • Take the next left onto Mt. Tom Rd.

  • Travel less than a mile down Mt. Tom Rd and park at small clearing on the left side of the road before small bridge over stream

  • Mt. Tom trail starts on the other side of the road

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Summer Reading

I just finished reading Little Children (in record time) and I recommend it to anyone looking for a good summer read. I love the idea of summer reading, but I've rarely gone out of my way to read during the summer, and most of the reading that I've done during the summer has been no different from what I would have read during any other season. Little Children has been on my to read list for a while, so it was somewhat coincidental that I started reading it on the beach over Memorial Day weekend, but it turned out to be a perfect fit. It's the second book I've read by Tom Perotta. I've also read The Wishbones, which I also enjoyed, but I didn't find the story, characters, or writing as compelling as Little Children.

As for summer movie recommendations, I've been on something of a 1980s New York movie kick as of late. I've watched Wall Street; Bright Lights, Big City; Party Monster and most recently, The Bonfire of the Vanities. I enjoyed all of the aforementioned movies, with the exception of Party Monster, but I really liked The Bonfire of the Vanities. I understand that it got some pretty awful reviews back in the day, but I think it's a really great movie if you're into ridiculous melodrama and overacting. I've never read the book so I don't know if the movie does it any justice. I can understand why the movie didn't get great reviews, but I found it really enjoyable.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Road Trip

Sports Illustrated has been dumbing down its content for quite a while now, and The Pop Culture Grid is one of its latest forays into People the Magazine territory. I don't mind the PCG too much because it's quick and to the point, unlike the puff pieces they run about various athlete's workout programs and interviews with B-list celebrities who happen to enjoy sports. This week's grid asks four athletes where they'd like to go on road trip. Two of the four listed places that, as of SI's printing, are not accessible by car from the continental United States. Kara Lawson of the WNBA's Monarchs listed Capetown, South Africa as her ideal road trip destination. Perhaps she envisions flying to Johannesburg first, the grid doesn't really allow for any elaboration. I would advise anyone to avoid getting into a car with White Sox slugger Jim Thome, whose idea of a good road trip is packing up the car and driving to Hawai'i.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lost Angeles

In honor of the net's newest mp3 blog, brought to you by an old friend, I thought I'd share a relatively recent discovery of mine in the realm of online digital music. Ladies and gentlemen, it's The Hollywood Squaretet. If you like avant garde jazz and punk rock, which you most certainly don't, you'll love the Squaretet. Seriously though, I've only heard the two songs they have available on their site, Lost Angeles and Welcome to the F.U. Lounge, but it's some pretty interesting stuff. It's loud, abrasive, angry, and funny. Bonus points if you catch the reference to the Rolling Stone's "Heartbreaker" at the end of "Lost Angeles".

Death of a Salesman

I don't know if I'm cut out for a job in sales. When I was a kid, my parent's would usually participate in our neighborhood's annual garage sale. One year I was minding the store on a particularly slow afternoon when I decided that the best way to drum up business was to offer all shoppers free cups of water. I proclaimed this sweet deal with a homemade sign and went inside to fetch a pitcher of water and some cups, but it didn't manage to drum up any new business. Did I mention that it was raining at the time?

I was reminded of this today when I went to my local Stop & Shop and noticed a table near the checkout with a bunch of used books on it. Since I'm a sucker for used books, I took a closer look and saw that it was part of a promotion. Anyone who bought two raffle tickets to benefit a local children's cancer charity got a free book. Now I didn't look at every book on the table, but the stuff that I saw was pretty bottom-shelf material. I didn't see any microwave oven user's manuals or Garfield books, but it really looked like they asked all of the employees to bring in any books they had at home that they didn't want anymore. Free water, anyone?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Outside Providence

Michelle's parents were in town this past weekend (our first visitors in Rhode Island). Unfortunately, it was pouring rain the entire time, so we weren't able to do a lot of the things that we had planned. We wound up spending most of our time in the car and indoors in Providence. I like to write about travel, and while we didn't travel away from home this weekend, we've only lived here for a little more than a month so in some ways, visiting Providence was sort of like a vacation.

We kicked off the weekend on Friday night with dinner at Andino's on Federal Hill, Providence's Italian neighborhood. I hadn't been to Federal Hill since we moved here and the only place I had been to on Federal Hill was an Indian restaurant, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Andino's turned out to be a pretty old-school Italian restaurant (what some might call a red-checkered-tablecloth Italian restaurant). Maybe I'm being a little bit too harsh, but my experience wasn't the greatest. We had a 7pm reservation and were running a little bit late, so I dropped Michelle and her parents off at the restaurant and went to find parking. When I made it to the restaurant, the first thing the hostess said to me was "it's at least a 45 minute wait." No greeting or even an inquiry as to whether or not I already had a reservation. The service was disappointing the entire evening and the atmosphere was a bit lacking as well. The food wasn't bad, but I'm pretty sure you can do a lot better somewhere else on Federal Hill.

The rain managed to let up for a little while on Saturday. We headed back to Providence and took a stroll around the Brown University campus. We've driven past different parts of the Brown campus several times since moving here, but this was the first time we have explored it on foot. We broke for lunch on Thayer Street, then went downtown and took a stroll through the Waterplace Park and the Riverwalk. We pretty much had downtown Providence to ourselves, which was somewhat disappointing, but not too surprising given the weather. I'm not sure how lively downtown Providence is on a typical Saturday afternoon when the weather is decent. It sounds like they have a lot of festivals downtown during the summer, so it sounds like it could be a happening place.

After the park, we headed over to the RISD Museum. The museum definitely lives up to its reputation. It's not a huge museum, but the breadth and quality of the artwork on display is quite impressive for a museum of its size. Unfortunately, a number of exhibits were closed. Of course, we'll have plenty of chances to go back and visit when they re-open for a very reasonable $8 cover charge or during their monthly free exhibitions.

I though that the RISD Museum provided excellent background information and context for most of the items they had on display. I always try to maintain a balance between observing art and reading about it when I visit a museum. It's tempting to just read the descriptions and give the artwork a cursory glance when you're at a museum that provides you with a lot of good information, but it's a chance I'm willing to take. I had one of my worst art appreciation experiences ever at the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum in Boston, which deliberately eschews any information or context about the art on display. I think the best approach is to really key in on the pieces that captivates your interest and read about or just buzz by the stuff that you aren't really into.

We had tentatively planned to go to Newport on Sunday, but the weather was even worse than it had been on Saturday, so we decided to stick around Providence again. We did a driving tour of downtown and the east side, which probably wasn't much of a tour, seeing as we don't know our way around town all that well. We then headed over to the Providence Place Mall, one of the jewels of Providence's rejuvenated downtown. Putting a big mall in the center of a city may seem kind of strange or even grotesque, but I kind of like the idea. Providence is too small to support a blocks-long retail district downtown, so it's either a mall or nothing. They got a lot of things right with the Providence Place Mall, including a row of shops and restaurants accessible at street level and an architectural style that fits into the downtown landscape about as well as a mall could hope to. That being said, the parking situation was completely insane. Once we entered the parking garage from the street, it took at least five minutes to get to the take a ticket machine. Getting out took at least 20 minutes. It didn't appear that any of the ticket booths were out-of-service, so I'm guessing that it's that bad on most rainy weekends.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Destination Unknown

The Economist weighed in (subscription required) on Syracuse's DestiNY USA shopping and entertainment complex this week. Needless to say, they aren't exactly bullish on its prospects. They more or less echo the sentiments that I have already expressed on this blog. The project still appears to be a longshot, and even if it ever gets off the ground, it's not going to magically solve all of Syracuse's economic woes. As an added bonus, the print edition has a nice photo of Clinton Square under an almost eerie purple-colored sky. On newstands now.

Weigh In

I just got my new Rhode Island driver's license in the mail. It's the first driver's license I've ever had that has my weight printed on it. Perhaps it's part of a statewide attempt to shame people into losing weight.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Maple Leaf Rag

This is a cautionary tale about the consequences of wearing sports apparel for teams that you do not follow or support. My good friend Greg Wu gave me a nice Toronto Maple Leafs "throwback" t-shirt a few years ago. When I wear the shirt out in public, I often get comments from people who see the shirt and assume that I am a Maple Leafs fan. It happened to me twice today at the grocery store. The first encounter was with an employee who told me about a co-worker who loves the Maple Leafs so much that he flew to Toronto a couple times this past season to watch them play. The second encounter was with the aforementioned employee himself. I finally had to fess up and tell him that I wasn't actually a Maple Leafs fan after he started asking me my opinion of some of the personel moves that the Leafs made this season, about which I knew absolutely nothing.

These kinds of interactions make sense. There probably aren't too many die hard Leafs fans anywhere in the States, so when people see someone who they think shares their allegiance, they want to acknowledge it. Two interactions that I still don't quite understand are a cabbie who once asked me if I played for the Maple Leafs when I wore the shirt and some fans at a Kansas City Royals game who called MDS (who was wearing a Detroit Red Wings shirt at the time) and me out for wearing hockey t-shirts to a baseball game.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Between the NHL and NBA playoffs and the NFL draft, I've been watching more sports programming than usual as of late. Because of this, I've seen that commercial for Heineken Light about a million times. The first time I saw it, I instantly recognized the song as a very bad rip-off of the old Sir Mix-A-Lot tune "Swass". I'm not much of a music downloader, so I can't offer a link to the song, but check your favorite legal or illegal download sites if you're curious. The lyrics are available here. According to the Urban Dictionary, swass either means super cool or sweaty ass (or perhaps both, depending on context and usage).


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

You Shot Who in the What Now?

This week's AV Club has a handy guide for anyone out there who is not annoying enough on their own and needs more obscure Simpsons quotes to insert into daily conversation. I have been accused excessive Simpsons quoting many times, so I have some pretty strong views on what constitutes a good Simpsons quote. The AV Club has picked out some good ones. Personally, the only quotes from their list that I ever use are: "I was saying 'Boo-urns", "Crisitunity!", "You shot who in the what now?", and, of course, the timeless "Worst. Episode. Ever." Some of my other favorites that weren't listed in this piece are:

Quote: "Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter"
Episode: "Mountain of Madness" (2/2/97)
Context: Homer's response after Bart launches into a diatribe against teamwork, sharing, helping, and tolerance.
Real-Life uses: Any time you see somebody broadcasting strange and frightening viewpoints. Of course, if you think this person really is a nutjob, it's best not to let them hear you, lest they add you to their mailing list.

Quote: "But I did a good job... a good job"
Episode: "Homer at the Bat" (2/20/92)
Context: Mr. Burns is upbraiding the hypnotist that he hired for his softball team for making Roger Clemens think he's a chicken. The hypnotist pulls out his watch and utters this quote to convince Mr. Burns that he actually did a good job.
Real-Life uses: Whenever you mess up, you can mimic the hypnotist's soothing voice to try and cover up your mistake.

Quote: "One highway, zero city"
Episode: "The Bart Wants What It Wants" (5/18/99)
Context: Rainer Wolfcastle speaks this memorable line when Homer asks him what kind of gas mileage his gigantic SUV gets.
Real-Life uses: A good way to describe any gas guzzler. Bonus points for saying it with a German accent.

Quote: "Fox turned into a hardcore sex channel so gradually, I didn't even notice"
Episode: "Lisa's Wedding" (3/26/95)
Context: This episode shows a look into the future (2010), where Marge is upset with the state of the Fox television network.
Real-Life uses: Any time you need to bemoan the state of network television programming.

Quote: "The nye Mets are my favorite squadron"
Episode: "Much Apu About Nothing" (5/5/96)
Context: With an anti-illegal immigrant fervor spreading across Springfield, Apu tries to blend in by feigning an interest in Major League Baseball.
Real-Life uses: A humorous way to declare your ignorance in a certain area, especially sports.

Quote: "It's my first day"
Episode: "Simpson Tide" (3/29/98)
Context: After using this excuse for his latest screw-up at work, then using it again after Mr. Burns learns that it was not Homer's first day and demands to know why he thought he could get away with lying to him, Homer loses his job and joins the Naval Reserve, where he uses the same excuse yet again after nearly causing an international incident on the high seas.
Real-Life uses: A way to absolve yourself of any and all responsibility no matter how badly you've just screwed up.


On the Rhode

When I started this blog, I hoped that it would be a good way to keep friends and well-wishers up-to-date on the latest goings on in my life. I have attracted more readers than I thought I would, but I haven't been very good at keeping anyone up-to-date. Keeping that in mind, I'm happy to announce to that we bid adieu to Syracuse about three weeks ago for the biggest little state in the union, Rhode Island. This was the fourth time I've moved across state lines since graduating from college, so I guess this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. Syracuse was never my favorite place to call home and in some ways, I knew that we were going to be leaving there sooner rather than later.

It's not too difficult to find people who are ready to bad mouth Syracuse. On at least three or four occasions over the past three years, I have met people who, upon learning that I lived in Syracuse, proceeded to tell me how much they loathe the 'Cuse. I don't consider myself a master of social etiquette, but I try to avoid openly insulting someone's hometown upon meeting them, no matter how much I might dislike it.

Sadly, a lot of what people dislike about Syracuse is true. Like most once vibrant cities that are down on their luck, Syracuse is trying to reinvent itself. There seems to be a real effort to help improve the relationship between the university and the city and if that continues in earnest, I'm sure it will pay some dividends. Without the university, Syracuse really would be the hellhole that people claim it already is. So while Syracuse may get a bit of a make-over, it will probably never be the hip and vibrant city that it claims it wants to be. Even in its glory days, I doubt it was all that exciting of a place. Still, in my opinion, there are no boring cities, only boring people. My grandparents spent most of their lives in Terre Haute, Indiana and probably lived a more stimulating life than some people who live in the middle of great international cities.

Not to kick Syracuse while it's down, but I have to say that the weather there is really awful. I've spent most of my life in so-called bad weather areas, but Syracuse is only place where the weather really bothered me. According to the National Oceanograhic and Atmospheric Administration, the average annual chance of precipitation in Syracuse is 46.6% and the average percentage of available sunlight is 44.6%. Statistically speaking, you have a better chance of seeing the sun and staying dry in Seattle and Portland than in Syracuse. On top of that, you've got a mean annual snowfall of 110 inches to deal with.

While our careers are ultimately what pulled us away from Syracuse, the general malaise that permeates life in Central New York was a strong contributing factor. In Syracuse, it is impossible to ignore the signs of decay and decline. Even if you look beyond the vacant buildings and empty freeways, there is a strong undercurrent of negativity and resignation flowing through almost all public discourse. It's difficult to enjoy life in a place that everyone is trying to figure out how to get away from.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Best Job Ever

I subscribed to Money magazine not because I thought it was a great publication, but because they offered me a one-year subscription for $10 and threw in a bonus one-year subscription to Business 2.0. I figured that I could easily get $10 of value out of that proposition, so I accepted. This month's issue of Money ranks the top 50 jobs in America, and as it turns out, I've got the best job. Actually, that's not entirely true, as I am unemployed right now. When I start my new job in a week or two, I will once again be employed in America's top profession (drum roll, please)... software engineering.

I don't know if I entirely agree with their methodology. For one, the person they singled out as having the number one best job in America is the director of technology at Electronic Arts. I don't know anyone who works at EA, but I have found that most video game companies have a reputation for being relatively bad places to work. Still, I'm glad that they didn't join the chorus of media types who have been proclaiming that software engineering jobs are all going to India, China, and other low-cost areas of the world. Outsourcing is real, of course, but there is still plenty of good work left for talented software engineers in the US and I can't see that situation changing any time in the foreseeable future.

Me and My Shadow

MDS pointed me to Kevin Smith's blog yesterday. Be sure to read his nine-part series about Jason Mewes (Jay of Jay and Silent Bob fame) and his struggle with and victory over drug addiction, entitled "Me and My Shadow". It's a great piece of writing. I read all nine parts consecutively yesterday afternoon.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Fish Story

If you have enjoyed a nice sushi dinner recently, you may have the Rev. Sun Myung Moon to thank for your delicious meal. According to this story, which ran in the Chicago Tribune yesterday and was also featured on the public radio program Marketplace, True World Group, a vertically integrated fresh seafood wholesaler, was founded by Moon and is closely affiliated with his Unification Church. As the article states, True World supplies most of the estimated 9000 sushi restaurants in the US and funnels a portion of its profits to Moon's Unification Church.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Help Wanted

I'm back in the job market, and I have learned a few things that may be somewhat useful and/or interesting to other job seekers out there. These things only apply in situations where you are receiving a lot of unsolicited job leads from various staffing agencies and recruiters who find your resume on any of the big job searching web sites. These recruiters abound in the high-tech world, I'm not so sure how common they are in other industries. Some recruiters have good leads, but most of them are trying to fill pretty undesirable jobs, IMHO. A good way to figure out who they are working for without having to call them back is to take the company description out of the e-mail they sent and search for a key phrase from that description in Google. Generally, they just cut and paste the company description from the company website, which Google has almost certainly indexed, so you can figure out if its a company you are interested in or not pretty easily.

The other thing that I have learned is that a lot of these staffing and recruiting companies have outsourced some of their work to India. I've gotten numerous phone calls from people who spoke barely intelligible English about six-month contact development positions in Iowa that utilize technologies and skills that appear nowhere on my resume or online job profile. I guess with the money that these companies have saved by outsourcing their work to a C-list Indian call center, they can afford to have someone call every job seeker in their database about every position that comes across their desk regardless of their qualifications, location, or experience.

Still, I think that job searching technology is improving. I'm a big fan of Simply Hired, which is a job search engine that searches all of the major job search engines and corporate websites and aggregates the results for you. It has the most extensive search filtering capabilities of any job search engine I have seen.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

School Days

I was filling out a job application that asked for the mailing address of my high school. To my surprise, my Google search turned up a Wikipedia entry for my high school. Any estimate on how much longer until Wikipedia has cataloged every piece of information known to man?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Country Bumpkins

I can't believe that this story didn't get more coverage in Syracuse. Last week, New York gubernatorial candidate Elliot Spitzer gave a speech in Manhattan where he compared upstate New York to Appalachia. I don't think that Spitzer was trying to insult upstate New York (or Appalachia, for that matter) as some of his opponents have suggested, though I disagree with his analogy. I agree that upstate New York is in pretty bad economic shape, but it is facing the same problems that plague almost all of the rust belt. It's more of an urban poverty/blight issue, whereas Appalachia's problems have more to due with crushing rural poverty.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Get Physical

I was flipping through an inflight magazine last month when I came across an ad for ROM - The 4-Minute Cross Trainer. I tend to be skeptical of anything that I see advertised in an inflight magazine, so when I saw an ad for a machine that looks like a torture device that promises a full-body workout in only four minutes and can be yours for the low, low price of $14,615, I thought that I had stumbled upon a satirical inflight magazine that was planted in my seatpocket by the editors of The Onion. The ROM is apparently legit, and there are even ROM gyms opening up that allow regular folks to experience this amazing workout without having to shell out 15 grand.

As this article points out, the four minute workout claim is misleading. It's a four minute upper-body workout, four minutes of rest, and a four minute lower-body workout. Maybe the ROM really is a 60 minute workout compressed into 12 minutes, I'm not really in a position to judge. Their low-quality website doesn't really inspire much confidence, and the endless barrage of high-pressure sales tactics only makes matters worse. If these two things weren't damning enough, the magazine ad included a testimonial from Tony Robbins, who owns three ROMs and keeps one at his home, one at his vacation home in Fiji, and brings the other one with him wherever he travels. Yikes.


Friday, March 17, 2006

Facts about Corned Beef

1. Corned beef was my favorite food for a number of years. My Mom made corned beef on my birthday (per my request) at least once between my sixth and eighth birthdays.
2. For much longer than I care to admit, I thought that corned beef was pork. I assumed that any pinkish colored meat came from a pig, even if it was called 'beef'.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Expectations for Demographics

A number of pundits have been using demographic data to map out the end of liberalism in America. For whatever reason, conservative pundits love to point out that Seattle has 45% more dogs than children. Since Seattle is a liberal place, this can only mean that liberals and their dogs will die out faster than they can reproduce, and voila!, permanent conservative majority, right? I'm no demographer and I have no data to back up my claims, but maybe the reason Seattle is approaching a 2:1 dog-to-kid ratio is because it's so damn expensive that families can't afford to live there anymore. Then again, according to this dataset, you're more likely to be a conservative if you like dogs, so maybe Seattle is actually the most conservative city in the US. Maybe I'm right, maybe the conservative pundits are right, the point is that cherry-picking demographic data that supports your pet thesis (no pun intended) and then extrapolating it out 20-30 years into the future is idiotic, which is exactly the point that Kevin Drum makes today.

It's probably true that religious conservatives are reproducing faster than their liberal counterparts. I'm even willing to concede that most of these kids will maintain a good chunk of their religious upbringing well into adulthood. What we cannot possibly know right now is how politics, religion, and culture will change in the future. After all, prior to the 1960s, the northeast was the power base of the Republican party and the south voted Democrat. Some people have their political affiliations imprinted on their minds at a young age and never deviate. For everyone else, the issues of the day influence their voting patterns.

Even if the important social and political issues remain the same, which is highly unlikely, the next generation of liberal and conservative politicians will have different attitudes and approaches than their predecessors. My gut feeling is that the post-boomer generation of political leaders are going to reject a lot of the culture war issues. They weren't there to take sides, so it will be much easier for both sides to cut their loses and stop arguing about the 1960s.