Monday, December 31, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
we strolled through this impromptu flea market. The market slowly blended into a food market located in the residential area abuting the vacant lots, which led into the antiques market.
The antiques market definitely caters to tourists. While there may be some bona fide antiques for sale, most of the stores sell replicas of Chinese art, clothing, and ceramics. Prices generally aren't marked, so haggling is the name of the game. I wound up only making a single purchase. I picked up a travel wallet for 45 Yuan (about 6 USD). It was at one of the stores that actually had prices marked on their items and it was in the discount bin, so I didn't wind up bargaining for it. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to make a deal, but I decided to put off the rest of my purchases until Beijing since I didn't find anything at the market that really caught my eye.
After making our purchases, we toured the Yu Gardens. The gardens were very similar to the gardens we toured in Suzhou yesterday. Like the garden in Suzhou, they hail from the Ming dynasty. It wasn't quite as nice, but it was still a relatively serene oasis in the heart of Shanghai.
We planned on sampling Shanghai's famous steamed buns and dumplings for lunch. As it turned out, this was a very popular lunch plan, and the line at the restaurant in the market was out the door and down the stairs. Fortunately, Chinese resturants are at least as efficient over here as they are back in the US, so we only had to wait for about half and hour to get a table and food started coming shortly thereafter. After throughly stuffing ourselves on delicious steamed dumplings, we walked back over to the Bund to take in the northern part of the road, which we had neglected on our first visit to the area on Thursday. We spotted the Goodyear Blimp flying up and down the river, which seemed odd to say the least. We stayed out until sunset to watch the buildings on the Bund and the skyscrapers across the river in Pudong light up the night sky. The light show in Pudong is somewhat disappointing, as a number of prominent buildings did not turn on their
lights until it was already completely dark. The iconic TV tower never got it lights fully going before we left shortly after 6 pm. We walked back to our hotel along East Nanjing Road, which turns into a pedestrian walkway lined with neon lights, stores, and masses of people that seems to run for mile until it ends at People's Park.
I think the reason it took me a while to warm up to Shanghai is I didn't really see the human face of it until today. I saw the architecture and the museums and the skyscapers, but it wasn't until today that I went into the market and saw people who weren't rushing to and from work. Shanghai is obviously much different than Hong Kong. It's a huge, sprawling city and I really only saw a small chunk of it. I was surprised by the relative lack of construction activity going on, at least in the areas that I saw. I was surprised to see vacant storefronts and vacant lots within spitting distance of shiny new skyscrapers. Not that the tourist areas of Shanghai are full of empty buildings or bereft of construction activity, but from the way China is portrayed in western media, I sometimes get the picture that the entire country is a construction site that stretches as far as the eye can see. We head up to Beijing tomorrow morning, so this may be my last blog
entry from China as I doubt that our hotel room in Beijing will have a computer.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Suzhou is a city of 5.7 million people, so it's kind of small by Chinese standards. It prospered as a center of trade throughout most of Chinese Imperial history due to its strategic location on China's Grand Canal. It was at one time (and perhaps, still is) the center of China's silk industry. Marco Polo even visited Suzhou on his travels through Asia, so it's not exactly your typical provincial city.
The train ride out was interesting. The countryside between Shanghai and Suzhou, which is about 50 miles to the west, is sparse and comprised of open fields, dingy apartment blocks, factories, and brand new roadways completely devoid of traffic. The train station in Suzhou is much nicer than Shanghai's, but the surrounding area is not very attractive. Once we got to the main street, Remin Lu (People's Street), things started looking a little better.
While looking for the Silk Museum, we were approached by a man with barely serviceable English skills who was trying to get us to take a tour of a silk factory. I was going to pass on it, but Michelle was interested so we decided to check it out. Upon entering, we were met by a young man in a suit who spoke English well and gave us a tour of the factory. The tour was very interesting; we learned a little bit about the lifecycle of the silkworm, handled silkworm cocoons, watched the workers operate the machinery and learned about the two kinds of silk they processed in the factory. The tour was ultimately a sales pitch, as it wound up in their factory store, but it was a very informative and low pressure sales pitch, more like a tour of a Napa Valley vineyard than the street vendors waiting outside of every train station and tourist attraction to accost any white person they see. We wound up purchasing a silk quilt before leaving.
After touring the factory, we headed up the street for the Silk Museum. The museum, like most museums in China, was not very impressive or interesting. The highlight was the live silkworms munching on mulberry leaves that they had on display. After breezing through the museum, we were standing on the street contemplating where to get lunch when we were approached by two young women, presumably from Suzhou. One of them was holding a camera so we first though they wanted us to take a picture for them, but we quickly figured out that they wanted to have their picture taken with us. Alan and I posed for the photo while Michelle took a picture of the girl taking a picture of her friend with us. We definitely got a lot more looks from the locals walking the streets of Suzhou than we have gotten in Shanghai or Hong Kong. I'm sure most people in Suzhou have encountered westerns before, but it's probably still not that common to see us on the streets. We weren't
the only western tourists in town today, but there were very few tourists in town from the west or the east who weren't there with a tour group.
After lunch, we visited one of the many gardens for which Suzhou is famous. We went to the largest and, at least according to our guidebook, most impressive - The Humble Administrator's Garden. The garden was quite nice, albeit quite crowded. Still, it was large enough that we occasionally had a small corner of it to ourselves, which was a welcome respite from the crowds and noise that have pervaded nearly every moment of our trip so far.
We then trudged our way back to the train station. When we arrived at 5pm, it was jam packed. The area outside of the station had the aura of a concert or some sort of large outdoor festival, with people gathered into small groups eating, talking, and playing games. We boarded the fast train at 6pm and were back in Shanghai by 6:30. We enjoyed another night of excellent Shanghainese cuisine at a restaurant called 1221. Unlike Wednesday's restaurant, this place was packed, mostly with expats and western tourists, but the food was excellent. After dinner drinks at an expat bar were a fitting end to my favorite day in (and around) Shanghai so far.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
then we had to taxi for what felt like at least 15 minutes. We finally parked on the apron and climbed down a flight of airstairs before boarding a bus to the terminal. This is apparently not usual at Pudong; there were at least 20 other airplanes parked on the airfield away from gates.
The differences between Hong Kong and mainland China are immediately visible upon arriving in Shanghai. There is a general drabness that pervaded the entire airport in Shanghai. Of course, few airports can compare to Hong Kong's, so that might not be a fair comparison. Pudong does feel a bit like old Detroit Metro in places. The bilingual signage that pervades in Hong Kong is nearly absent in Shanghai. This is understandable, of course, but I have still been a bit surprised. I have read that Beijing is pushing to get more bilingual singage in place for the Olympics, so perhaps it will be more like Hong Kong in that respect. The second obvious difference, which became visible on the eight-minute maglev train ride from the airport to the metro, is that mainland China is a lot larger than Hong Kong. Instead of high-rises as far as the eye can see, it's full of fields, forests, and modest apartment blocks until you reach the edge of the city, where the
buildings begin to rise, but the heights and densities never approach the scale of Hong Kong.
After checking into our hotel, we started walking over to the French Concession. Shanghai and Hong Kong are both fairly young cities in terms of their history and development, but Shanghai is the younger of the two. With the exception of the transit system, Shanghai's infrastructure definitely looks newer than Hong Kong's. Everything else, however, looks and feels older. The roads are jammed with people on bicycles and mopeds. Shanghai has its French Concession and art deco architecture while Hong Kong has demolished most of its historical structures.
We dined on some delicious Shanghainese food at the Restaurant Art Salon, a restaurant where all of the decorations and furiture are available for purchase. We were the only patrons in the restaurant, but the food was very good. We then headed over to the Blue Frog, a western-style chain of pub/club bars that caters to out-of-towners and ex-pats, I assume. After a couple pints of Tiger, we decided to call it a night and head back home.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Thursday, November 08, 2007
I also found this site, which ranks the top 101 cities in the US according to all kinds of different criteria. Prepare to waste time.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
I'm not going to review the movie, but I will offer one observation. I found the depiction of the crowd and media circus surrounding the standoff to be one of the most interesting aspects of the film, both in the way that it reflected the spirit of the times and how it made me think about a similar situation would be depicted in the media today.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
We visited Paine Field in Everett, WA while we were out in Seattle. Paine Field is home to one of the two factories in the Seattle area where Boeing manufactures commercial airliners. Paine Field is home to Boeing's widebody assembly lines. They are currently churning out 747s and 777s and will soon be building 787s there. The factory tour left a lot to be desired. It was fairly short and didn't really get into too much detail. We weren't able to get very close to any of the aircraft either. I did snap a pretty neat panoramic shot of the field, however. The composite image shown below is made up of eight separate photographs. The aircraft visible, from left to right, are an unmarked 777, the modified 747 DreamLifter that is used for ferrying parts for the 787 from various assembly lines around the world to the facility in Everett for final assembly, two Air India 777s, a Cathay Pacific 777, three more unmarked 777s, a 737 (I think), and a China Cargo 747 freighter.
Friday, November 02, 2007
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The real tragedy of rust belt is not the blighted downtowns and shuttered mills and factories, it's the colossal amount of human capital that has gone to waste. If Buffalo can find a way to harness the power of the human capital that exists within its core and metropolitan area, it will be able to reclaim at least a little bit of its past glory. For another cautiously optimistic viewpoint, read Richard Florida's assessment of the greater Toronto-Buffalo-Rochester,NY region.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Monday, October 29, 2007
Part of the problem was we spent most of out night at Trinity Brewhouse. Since I was sitting at a table the whole time, my cutoffs were not visible. The rest of the time we were at Waterfire, which was sparsely attended due to the rain. Plus Waterfire never seems to draw much of a young crowd, so most of the people there were not in costume and presumably had never heard of Arrested Development. Still, I was a little disappointed that I didn't get any comments about my costume. The highlight of my night, from a costume standpoint, was when a middle-aged woman from Georgia (the country, not the state) came up to us before Waterfire and asked if she could get her picture taken with us. I'm not sure how popular Arrested Development and/or never nudism is in Georgia, but with any luck, these things may be getting a little more recognition over in that part of the world.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
The fall colors were at or near their peak. It was a little hazy and the sun was right on top of us since we reached the peak shortly after noon, so none of the pictures from the top came out very well. Michelle snapped this nice photo of the colors during the hike up the mountain.
We started on the White Dot trail, then took the Cascade Link over the the Spellman Trail. The White Dot and White Cross trails are the most popular routes up the mountain so they were quite crowded, but once we got onto the Cascade and the Spellman trails, we hardly saw anyone else. The Spellman is supposedly the hardest way up the mountain. It involved a lot of scampering over boulders on all fours, but it wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. Once we reached the end of the Spellman, we took the Pumpelly trail up to the summit, where we had lunch. We then fought traffic all the way down the White Dot trail back to the parking lot.
All in all, it was about a five hour round trip. It wasn't as grueling as the hike we did up North Moat Mountain last year and views weren't quite as nice, but it was a very good hike and less than a two and half hour drive from home.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
GOD BLESS....From a Packer fan....
First of all, I find it amusing that someone who uses the online persona BrettFarve4 feels the need to state that he's a Packers fan. The way he qualifies his comment with this information almost makes it sound like he thinks that in football, fans generally root for the opposing team's players to suffer life-threatening injuries at the hands of their favorite team. I guess there are probably a handful of people whose favorite part of professional football is watching players from teams they dislike getting hurt, but it can't be a very large group of people, even amongst the Eagles and the Raiders fanbases. I can't image that there are very many Packers fans who harbor any sort of resentment towards the Bills, nevermind bloodlust. The two teams have only faced each other ten times in their history, and never in the postseason.
Speaking of MDS, make sure you read Larry Brown's (not that Larry Brown) interview with him.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
If you find yourself about 800 miles down the Pacific coast from Seattle and you're in the mood for Spanish Tapas (and really, when are you not in the mood for Spanish Tapas?), check out a place I visited back in May when I was in San Francisco. It's a little place in the Mission called Picaro. I've only had Tapas a few times, but I've always enjoyed it thoroughly. The chorizo at Picaro was amazing. I also discovered a delicious Spanish cheese called Manchego, which is made from sheep's milk.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
I enjoyed the first two seasons of Arrested Development more than the third, though I'm sure that the third season could have been as good if it was given a full run of episodes. Like most viewers, I was initially drawn to arguably the two most outrageous characters, Gob and Tobias, but I think that in the end, my favorite character was George Michael. What can I say, he reminds me of myself at that age, to a certain extent. The reason Arrested Development is so funny (and the reason it did so poorly in the ratings) is the continuous structure of its narrative. Unlike most sitcoms, which have an implicit reset back to normal at the end of every episode, Arrested Development continued every absurd plot detail from episode to episode (and from season to season). The writers not only made each episode of the show more ridiculous than a typical sitcom, they did so knowing that they were going to have to sustain nearly every single plotline throughout the life of the series. I'm sure that had the show continued on, it would've eventually collapsed under the weight of itself, so in some ways, it's good that it had an abbreviated life, but I think that it still could have continued at a very high level of quality and humor for one or two more seasons.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
One more thing: the subject of this post is the title under which Point Break was release in Francophone markets, but you knew that already.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Today's installment of Get Fuzzy is essentially a joke about this shtick. It mixes a contrived set-up (Bucky's sudden interest in religion, or at least, religious hucksters) with a lame punch line (Garfield is a sell-out) and yet it's still funny. I'm not as big a fan of Get Fuzzy as some, but it's certainly one of the better comic strips out there.
In other comics-related news, thanks to the gross negligence of his "friend" Herb, Dagwood is now a quadriplegic.
I could do without a picture of the Queen on every government issued document, but I'm definitely a fan of decorating currency with the likenesses of great intellectuals. I don't know think that's going to happen anytime soon over here, but all in all, we could have done a lot worse. Ben Franklin adorning the $100 bill, which is arguably the most useful piece of money on the planet, is remarkably subversive, at least by American standards. Another thing that we won't be seeing over here anytime soon is a legitimate $1 or $2 coin. I've always viewed our failure to embrace a coin denomination worth more than $0.25 as an example of the dark side of American exceptionalism. On this trip, however, it dawned on me that high value coins are more useful on vacation than in day-to-day life. I find that I make small purchases and interact with vending machines more often when I'm on a trip than I do when I'm at home. These are the types of transactions where high value coins excel. Of course, once we switch to an entirely electronic currency system, this entire discussion becomes moot.
From the airport, we hopped on the Heathrow Express train and headed into London. Alan was waiting for us at home so he could give us the keys to his flat before heading off to work, so we went for the quickest ride into town. Fifteen minutes later, we pulled into Paddington Station. One of my favorite things about visiting a somewhere for the first time is the ride from the airport to wherever I'm going. It's a time to get a first impression of the city, state, or country you are visiting and start picking up on the similarities and differences between your destination and other places. It's a chance to turn a generally mundane or tiresome event like a train or taxi ride into an adventure. The strangest thing about the ride into London was how the view never really changed. The view alternated between industrial sites, farmland, and dingy apartment blocks the entire ride. The view become more residential the closer we got to Paddington, but it never felt like we were entering a great metropolis. The train ride was a preview one of the more surprising thing I learned on this trip, namely, that London doesn't really feel like a huge international city. Or, more precisely, it didn't fit my preconceived notion of how all big, international cities look and feel.
Alan's flat is only a 10 or 15 minute walk from Paddington station, and we managed to find it without too much trouble. I was a bit surprised to see how pedestrian unfriendly London is. After thinking about this some more, I realized that I was actually disappointed by how hostile it is to jaywalkers. We encountered numerous fences set up around sidewalks at intersections that forced pedestrians to use the crosswalks. As a lifelong jaywalker, this cramped my style, but it probably was better that way since it prevented me from walking into oncoming traffic after looking the wrong way. I did appreciate how most pedestrian crossings had markings indicate which way to look before crossing. As a kindergarten graduate, I know that one should always look both ways before crossing the street, but it's harder than one might expect to get used to traffic coming at you from the opposite direction. Any time you need to react to something quickly, you fall back on your instincts.
Despite getting a decent amount of rest on the flight, I was still a bit tired. We took an hour and half long nap at the flat, which only made me feel more groggy, but we we had places to go and people to see, so I pressed on. We grabbed lunch at a tiny lunch counter around the corner from the flat. I suppose that it would be wrong to visit Britain and not have at least one barely edible meal. We managed to get that one out of the way first. After finishing lunch, he headed over to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are part of a large, contiguous green space so it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. My favorite thing in either of the parks was the Prince Albert Memorial, which happens to fall on the Kensington Gardens side of the park. We first caught a glimpse of the top of the memorial over the tops of the trees lining the flower walk, and at first it appeared that we were looking at the spire of an ornate cathedral.
Imagine my surprise when we reached the end of the walk and discovered that it was not a cathedral, rather a massive, almost rococo memorial to the a 19th century prince. Prince Albert died of typhoid fever at the rather young age of 42 and his memorial is a testament to both the tragedy of his death and the grandeur of the British Empire, which reached its peak during the reign of his wife, Queen Victoria.
As soon as we reached the memorial, it began to rain. Fortunately, a temporary structure had been erected next to the memorial for the Royal College of Art's summer show. We ducked into the exhibit to dodge the rain and check out the art. Most of the works on display were industrial design pieces. There was some interesting stuff there. I was fairly disappointed with the automotive design pieces, but I guess no one should be surprised that the Brits can't put together a good car anymore.
The weather soon cleared and we were back on our way. We soon came upon a memorial to another royal, this time, it was the Princess Diana Memorial. The Princess Di Memorial is as subdued as the Prince Albert Memorial is ostentatious. It's a concrete ring on a gradual slope with a stream of water running around it. Michelle was very fond of the memorial. I enjoyed its simple elegance, but I was still more impressed with the Prince Albert Memorial. I suppose that it's hard for me to appreciate a memorial to a person who died in my own lifetime, especially in a city with as much history as London.
We headed back to Alan's flat, where we met up with him and went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant near Paddington Station. The food was nothing special, but it was much better than lunch. After dinner, we headed over to Alan's local watering hole, The Swan. It was there that I got my first taste of real cask conditioned English ale. I was really looking forward to drinking real English ale in a real English pub. My favorite beers in the States are English-style ales. I've found a few places over here that serve real cask conditioned ales and I've always enjoyed them. So it came as a surprise to me that I was initially not that impressed with real English ales. We visited a different pub each night we spent in London, and I always found the real English ales somewhat disappointing. My working theory is that while a flat and slightly warm pint of ale is a novelty in America, it's not all that exciting in England. I also think that American microbrewed ales, like American wines, have bolder flavors than their old world counterparts, and have desensitized the American drinker's palette to the subtleties of the original beverages. I have to stress that while the ale didn't meet my perhaps unrealistically high expectations, it was still beer. I can't think of a better way to spend the evening of the longest day of the year than sitting in an outdoor beer garden in the northernmost capital city of the English-speaking world with good friends and a couple of pints. Darkness finally fell around 10 pm, and we soon headed back to Alan's flat.
Friday, September 21, 2007
The other Iberian treat that I have recently rediscovered are Marcona almonds. Marcona almonds are only grown in the Mediterranean region of Spain. If you've never tried a Marcona, you really owe it to yourself to find some. I'm not a huge fan of regular almonds, so don't worry if you're not a big almond or nut person, Marconas are in a league of their own. We got a big can of them at a Costco in Seattle for a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, we don't have a Costco near here, so I don't know how I'm going to get my fix once I finish off the can.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Fraternal Order of Eagles Lodge - Hyde Park, MA
Thursday, September 6th
I finally made it up to Boston for one of the Music Workshop shows. The workshop is organized by at least some of the same people who ran the artists-at-large series a few years ago. I didn't know much about the Fast Citizens going into the concert. Being a Chicago-based group, I was familiar with a number of the musicians, but I had never even heard of the band leader and with the exception of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, I had never seen any of the musicians play live in concert.
The first thing that struck me about this group was their age. Most of the guys in the band looked pretty young. With the exception of Lonberg-Holm, who has been on the scene in Chicago since before I started following it, all of these guys are part of the new generation. The "young lions" of the Chicago free improv scene, if you will.
I was very impressed with the rhythm section, especially the drummer, Frank Rosaly. I was most impressed with the way he accompanied the soloists during their improvisations. It was very subtle, but he seemed to have a real knack for working with the soloist. His ensemble playing was superb as well. His playing exuded an obvious enthusiasm that was immediately discernible to anyone listening to him or watching him. Anton Hatwich was a formidable presence on the bass. He takes a very aggressive approach to his playing, equally comfortable playing a bass line or a melodic line. Rounding out the rhythm section was the aforementioned Lonberg-Holm on cello, who played some incredible solos with some remarkable interplay with Rosaly and gave the sound a neat electronic edge with some of his sound effects.
I was also very impressed with the compositions that this band played. I tend not to pay as much attention to composition when listening to music like this since the majority of time is devoted to improvisation, but this band is more of an even mix of composition and improv. Keefe Jackson, the bandleader and tenor saxophonist, writes most of the tunes. This was my first exposure to Jackson and I was as impressed with his composition as I was disappointed with his improvisation. His solos primarily used short, clipped phrases that didn't really fit together and never went anywhere. I was disappointed with the entire horn section's solos to a certain degree. Most of the solos were lacking in direction. A number of solos simply trailed off instead of building to a conclusion. The horn section definitely sounded better in the second set, so perhaps it was just a matter of getting warmed up.
It seems odd that I would enjoy an improvised music show where the improvisation was only so-so, but I really did enjoy this show. It was my first exposure to a bunch of the newer faces on the Chicago scene and I really did enjoy the compositions and Frank Rosaly completely knocked me out on a couple of the numbers. If this group can stay together, I think it has the potential to become a really solid ensemble.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
On Sunday, I grilled up a great piece of salmon. I used a Goan Fish Curry spice packet that Michelle picked up at the grocery store. It's from Arora Creations, who sell a full line of Indian spice mixes. We've tried a number of their spice mixes, and they taste really good. It's the most authentic tasting Indian food I've ever been able to make at home. This was my first experience with the Goan Fish Curry. I marinated a sockeye salmon fillet in the spice mixture, lemon juice, and olive oil for about an hour and a half. The last time I grilled salmon, I left it on the grill for too long and it got too dry. I was determined not to let that happen this time. I fired up the grill and grilled some bell peppers on it. Though I didn't plan it this way, it turned out to be a great move because it gave the grill a chance to get nice and hot before I put the fish on it. Once the peppers were done, I put the fish onto it (face down) and let it cook for about six minutes. I flipped it over and brushed the top with some of the excess marinade, then let it cook for another three or four minutes, brushing marinade on it a couple of more times. The end result was delicious. It was cooked to perfection and the fish curry added a great flavor to an already delicious piece of fish. If I could change one thing, I would have let it marinate a while longer to soak up more of the flavor, but it was still a very tasty meal.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
I noticed this ad in last week's issue of Sports Illustrated. In case you can't make sense out my low-res photograph, it's a picture of a couple standing next to their air conditioners, each one "skinned" with the logo of their favorite college athletic program (Syracuse and Boston College, respectively). Below the picture, it says "Marriage counseling sold separately." The text of the ad goes on to explain how York now offers their air conditioners and heat pumps in many of your favorite college team colors.
I dislike this ad on several levels. For one, it's nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. This kind of thing has been done before. The gold standard in this genre is the "without college sports, this wouldn't be disgusting" commercial that ESPN ran a few years ago. In addition to its lack of wit, the York ad doesn't even pit two natural rivals against each other. Syracuse and BC aren't even in the same conference anymore, and even when they were in the same conference, it's not like they had much of a rivalry. If your marriage is so weak that it can't withstand the heated rivalry that is Syracuse vs. Boston College, I don't know how much counseling is going to help you. I'm hoping that they ran the same ad with different teams in other media markets and they chose Syracuse and BC for the New England market because they figured no one here really cares about college football. Another problem that I didn't even notice until I started ripping into this ad was that in order for it to make any sense, the couple in the ad must live in a house with two central air conditioners. I don't think I've ever been in a single-family home with two central air conditioners. Perhaps this is a common feature of the so-called McMansions I've been hearing so much about.
While I'm on the topic of air conditioners and Syracuse University, I must say that I find it ironic that Syracuse was the home of the largest air conditioner company in the world for so many years. When you think about it, the city of Syracuse was instrumental in creating the single appliance that made it possible for people to leave cities like Syracuse and move to places where an air conditioner might come in handy in months other than July and August.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Fortunately, things got better once we were aboard. While I did find myself stuck in the middle seat (on a 2-5-2 777 no less), it wasn't that bad. One advantage of having an interior seat on an overnight flight is that no one will need to climb over you to get out of their seat. This advantage is generally moot for me since I've never had much luck sleeping on airplanes. I managed to get a decent amount of shut-eye on this flight, however, so the middle was a good place to be. The flight from Boston to London is really not that long. It's only about 500 miles longer than the flight from Boston to San Francisco. One of the advantages of never flying in first or business class is that you really appreciate the perks you get when you fly overseas in coach. The pillows, blankets, movies, and yes, even airline food that are provided for the denizens of the coach-class cabin on an overseas seem like a decadent luxury when you're used to flying in coach class domestically. Our last long-haul flight was about 900 miles longer than the Boston-London flight, but since it was domestic (Chicago to Kahului), we didn't get anything to eat or drink save a couple of cursory drink and snack services.
The (relatively) short distance, the surprising amount of sleep that I enjoyed, and the fact that this was the first time I had flown internationally without having to make a connection made this trip a cinch. I was pleasantly surprised with Heathrow airport. I had heard nothing but bad things about the place, but we breezed through customs and immigration, claimed out luggage, and were on our way in no time.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
I was most surprised by how late the British were to amass their empire. The empire didn't reach its peak (from a teritorial standpoint, at least) until after World War I. The Spanish and Portugese (and perhaps the French and the Russians, I'm not sure) had a significant head start, but the British managed to catch up and surpass all of them. The author doesn't spend too much time trying to justify the negative aspects of the empire, but he also doesn't condemn the empire for failing to live up to modern standards. He highlights the things that the British got right, such as leaving behind the legacy of a free press in their colonies. The author does not mourn the end of the British Empire, but he is clearly of the mind that if you had to live under imperial rule and were given a choice in the matter, you'd certainly want to choose the British.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Monday, May 28, 2007
Monday, May 21, 2007
I haven't lost my confidence in the Wings, but I'm not exactly buying into the story that they outplayed Anaheim in games four and five. They certainly outshot the Ducks and spent more time in control of the puck. They may have even outhit the Ducks in yesterday's game, but I don't know if they really outplayed them. Anaheim generated just as many quality scoring chances as the Wings, they just did it with fewer shots. Because Detroit's offense is built around puck control and taking a lot of shots, they often look like they are dominating even when they aren't. When Anaheim was able to gain the zone, they were able to control the puck in a way that Detroit was rarely able to do in the Anaheim zone. They connected on more of their passes, they were able to control the puck behind the goal and in front of it, and their defenders were constantly pinching in and preventing the Wings from making the easy clear.
I couldn't believe how biased the analysts were in favor of Detroit (and I'm a Red Wings fan). Anaheim's fans are a bit upset as well (all eight of them). In the studio between the third period and the start of overtime, they practically declared Detroit the winner and signed off for the afternoon. Even if I'm wrong and Detroit really outplayed the Ducks for 60 minutes, all of that goes out the window in overtime. One mistake or bad bounce and the game is over. I don't think there is any doubt that the Wings got outplayed in OT. In her write-up of the game, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press seemed to attribute both of Anaheim's goals to luck, "a lucky bounce" and "the gift of a turnover". There was certainly an element of luck in Niedermayer's equalizer, but Selanne's game winner was all about skill and effort. It started when Lilja attempted a dangerous cross ice pass from the right side of the goal crease. He fanned on the pass and got muscled off the puck by an Anaheim player, who fed it to Selanne who then promptly deposited it in the back of the net. Luck had nothing to do with that sequence of events.
So why am I still confident that the Wings can win? Because tomorrow night, for the first time since game four, all of the pressure is going to be on the Ducks. The reason the Ducks have been successful despite the unimpressive numbers they have been putting up is because they have been more aggressive than the Wings. It doesn't hurt having J.S. Gigure between the pipes, and perhaps their confidence in their goaltender is what allows them to go on the attack, but come Tuesday night, the Wings will have no more excuses for playing tentative hockey. If guys like Draper and Maltby and especially Holmstrom can start out strong and make a statement early, I like Detroit's chances. If games three and four are any indication, there will be at least as many die hard Red Wings fans as die hard Ducks fans in attendance, so I don't see a big home ice advantage for Anaheim. If the Wings can force a game seven, it's anyone's series to take.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Friday, May 04, 2007
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Veterans Memorial Arts and Cultural Center - Providence, RI
Wednesday, May 2nd
The headliner at this concert was Itzhak Perlman, who played Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major. It's a coup for any orchestra to bring in a soloist of Perlman's caliber, and as one would expect, there were few empty seats in the house. One of the reasons I don't listen to much classical music anymore is because I find it hard to appreciate something that I am hearing for the first time. Classical music is so circumscribed that conductors and musicians can only make minor tweaks to phrasing and tempos to add their personal touch to a composition. Therefore, it's hard to listen to a single performance in isolation, you need a library of comparable performances of the same piece in you head to tell if you're listening to something truly exceptional.
Beethoven is probably my favorite classical composer, so the all Ludwig van program boded well for me. As I discovered after Perlman began playing, I'm somewhat familiar with the Violin Concerto in D, however, not familiar enough to grade Perlman's performance. Overall, the piece didn't do a whole lot for me. Like most classical performances that I've been to recently, it really didn't hold my attention.
The second half of the concert featured Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. At best, it's his fifth most famous symphony (after the 9th, 5th, 3rd, and 6th), but it's always been one of my favorites. I was cautiously optimistic going into the second half of the concert that I might enjoy what I was about to hear. As it turned out, I was completely blown away by the performance. The thing that I love about the seventh is how boisterous it is. It's constantly bursting with energy and always about to explode but manages to keep everything under control somehow. This point was emphasized by the orchestra, who cranked up the tempo slightly while playing with an almost extreme level of precision. The result was the first time in a long time that I was completely mesmerized by an orchestra.
In some ways, it feels bad to rave about how well a minor-league orchestra played Beethoven's Seventh after hearing one of the most famous soloists in the world play. On the other hand, had Perlman not been the soloist, I probably wouldn't have gone to the concert. In the end, the music matters more than the musician.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Monday, April 23, 2007
Thursday, April 19, 2007
In other sporting news, the NBA playoffs are coming up and for the first time since the early/mid 1990s, the Golden State Warriors are in the postseason. I learned this on Deadspin this morning, and like Hockey Night in Canada, it brought back some memories. My brother was a big Warriors fan in the early 1990s. For reasons that escape me now, we nicknamed Billy Owens "Baby Back Ribs" back when he was playing with the Warriors. Not Billy "Baby Back Ribs" Owens or "Baby Back Ribs" Owens mind you, simply "Back Back Ribs". I don't really have anything else to say about this, it just popped into my head for the first time in about 15 years today when I read about Golden State and Billy Owens.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I also wonder how important this story really is. Black players are well represented in professional football, which is easily the most popular sport in America today. Black athletes have risen to the top in many sports that had little to no black representation a generation or two ago. Jackie Robinson's story is important and it's one that all kids should learn, but the most important part of his story is not the game that he played, it's the way he humbly blazed the trail for all black professional athletes in the face of constant and often vicious racism.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Sunday, March 04, 2007
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Monday, February 19, 2007
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Johnny D's - Somerville, MA
Tuesday, February 13th
It's been almost four years since I last saw this band play live. They are still one of my favorite bands around and I hope that another four years doesn't elapse between now and the next time I hear them perform. Though I wasn't too excited about make the drive up to Boston for a Tuesday night show on the eve of the huge winter storm that turned out to be something of a dud, at least in southeast New England, it was fun to be back in my old neighborhood. I had only been to Johnny D's once before, for a Marc Ribot concert back in 2001. The crowd wasn't as large as the one at the Ribot show, but they were a lot more attentive, and with good reason.
The show got off to an unexpected start. I arrived around 8:45 (the show started at 8:30) and the band was already playing by the time I got there. I can't remember the last improvised music show I went to that started within 30 minutes of the published starting time. This was the first time I heard the band play live with their new cellist, Fred Lomberg-Holm. I was sad to hear trombonist Jeb Bishop was leaving the band. I thought his playing added a really interesting dimension to their sound and I had my doubts as to whether or not a cello could really replace that. I'm still not sure I feel about the addition of Lomberg-Holm. On the positive side, he can do some really interesting things with effect pedals. At times, it almost sounded like he was playing an electric guitar, which brought back some good memories of band prior to Acoustic Machine. Bishop's electric guitar was used sparingly in the days of the electric Vandermark 5, but I really liked the way it was used to give the music a harder edge On the negative side, the cello is not a trombone and it doesn't really bring the same kind of energy.
The first set was a lot more jazzy than I was expecting. Most of the numbers they played were upbeat and swinging, which is something that this band hasn't been doing as much of over the past few years. Vandermark picked up the clarinet for at least one piece in first set and parts of two more pieces in the second, which was a lot more clarinet than I am used to hearing from him. His clarinet playing is always very expressive, more so than any of his other alternate horns, so it was nice to hear more of it. Unfortunately, he didn't bring his tenor sax with him for this show. I asked him why he wasn't playing any tenor between sets and he explained that the band was getting ready for a European tour and carry-on luggage restrictions preclude him from brining his tenor and baritone saxophones as well as his clarinet and bass clarinet. The perils of being a multi-instrumentalist, I suppose. Dave Rempis split his time between alto and tenor sax so it's not like there was no tenor representation, but it would have been nice to hear Ken play a few licks on his most powerful horn.
The music in the second set was a lot sparser and tended to highlight individual group members instead of featuring full-bore group improvisation. The one exception was the last piece prior to the encore, a new song entitled "Compass Shatters Magnet". It started out with a Tim Daisy mallet solo on his drum kit which led into a hard-driving group improvisation with Kent Kessler laying down some particularly vicious bass lines which served to both keep the group anchored and help push them over the edge at the same time. It was an incredible piece and I hope it makes it onto their next album. The Vandermark 5 is a working group in the purest sense of the term. I've probably seen them play at least a dozen times over the past nine years and I can't recall ever hearing them play anything that predates their current album. This concert was pretty typical in that regard, about half of the music was from their latest release, A Discontinuous Line, and the rest were new songs.
Overall, it was a great show. It was also great to see the Boston Phoenix publish a review of the show. I found their coverage to of the local improvised music scene to be spotty at best when I lived in Boston a few years ago, it's nice to see that they are paying more attention to it.