Monday, December 31, 2007

Planet of the Legendary Soylent Omega Men

We saw I Am Legend yesterday. I was familiar with the premise going in, but I hadn't planned on seeing it at the theater, so I wasn't entirely sure what it was all about. None of us were too crazy about the film, but it did make me wonder how the storyline compares to other last-man-on-earth stories. The only other film I could think of was The Omega Man, which I have never seen despite having had it on my Netflix queue for about the past two years. As it turns out, The Omega Man was adapted from the same novel as I Am Legend. According to this post, I Am Legend takes numerous liberties with the original story, which is more of a Planet of the Apes kind of story than a traditional zombie movie. If you have a lot of free time on your hands, you may wish to view The Omega Man and The Last Man on Earth and read the book before going to see I Am Legend and decide which version you like best. If you're going to do all of that, you might as well watch Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green while you're at it to complete the Charlton Heston dystopic science fiction trifecta.

Monday, December 10, 2007

'Sup Skinny?

Ever want to know how you stack up to all of your neighbors from a demographic standpoint? You can head over to ZIPskinny and plug in your zip code to get an idea of how your lifestyle choices are bringing the statistics for your neighborhood up or down. I learned about this site while wandering around the Freep's website looking for a holiday gift guide. I wouldn't recommend giving anyone this URL as a Christmas present, but it's at least worth a look.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Market Correction

Saturday, November 24: We headed for over to old town this morning to check out the markets and the Yu Gardens. From the moment we left the hotel, it was obvious that it was a weekend, as the streets were much more crowded than they had been our previous two mornings in Shanghai. As we approached old town, we came upon a run-down section of town where modern buildings gave way to garbage-strewn vacant lots and squalid apartment buildings. On the streets of this ghost slum, a crowded market that covered every square foot of street frontage in this several square block area was doing a brisk business in everything from live poultry and fowl to 1990s era personal electronics. None of the vendors were set up in stalls, they simply spread there wares out across blankets on the street. This market catered to locals, obviously, so we were spared from the fake designer watch and handbag sales pitches that await western tourists on nearly every street corner as
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

Silk Road

We decided to take a day trip away from Shanghai today. So far, I've found Shanghai somewhat underwhelming so I was hoping that getting away from the city might help. We arrived at the Shanghai Rail Station around 9 am. The station did nothing to improve my opinion of Shanghai. It's a dilapadated example of typical soul-crushing socialist architecture. We purchased our tickets for the historic city of Suzhou in the equally depressing ticket office next door and waited for the train.

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

Shanghai Nights

Wednesday, November 21, 2007: We left Hong Kong this morning. We took an express bus to the airport but we arrived a little later than we had planned due to heavy traffic. Still, we managed to check in, cash in the remaining balance on our Octopus cards (Hong Kong public transit cards), and exchange our leftover Hong Kong dollars for Chinese Yuan before boarding our flight. We weren't able to grab breakfast, but since we're in a part of the world where airlines still believe in serving meals on two-hour flights, that wasn't too big of a problem. Our two-hour flight wound up taking about three and a half hours. We were handed a slip of paper after boarding informing us that flights to China may be delayed without notice due to unexpected and unknowable Chinese ATC directives. Our flight wound up sitting on the ground for about 45 minutes due to one of these delays. Once we reached Shanghai, we were put into a holding pattern for about half and hour, and
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

Lonely Continent

If you've ever looked in the travel section at your local library or bookstore, you are probably familiar with Lonely Planet series of guidebooks. Unlike some travel guides that only focus on the most popular travel destinations, Lonely Planet tries to provide guidance to all travelers, perhaps to a fault. I remember flipping through their write-up of Kinshasa a while back, which offered many useful pieces of advice, such as how much to bribe the various characters you were likely to encounter on your way from the airport to the hotel and the hours of day during which it may be safe to leave the hotel. In spite of this, I was still somewhat shocked to find a copy of the Lonely Planet's guide to Antarctica when I was at the bookstore last week. According to this this article, Antarctic tourism is exploding, with an estimated 28,000 visitors in 2006. That's a lot more that I had figured, but unless a fairly large percentage of those visitors are buying a copy of the Lonely Planet's guide to Antarctica, I doubt it's a moneymaker. If nothing else, it cements their reputation as the go-to source for travel information for obscure destinations (at least, for Western, English-speaking travelers). I'm kind of surprised they haven't enlisted one of the Apollo astronauts to write a Lonely Planet guidebook for the Moon.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Links for People Who Enjoy Wasting Time

This post let me to this site. I scored a 78% on Cities of Rhode Island quiz, which is a decent score for a non-native, I think. I also tried the World Leaders quiz. I scored a 98%, but it took me about three minutes. The quiz is a bit out-of-date, showing the former Nigerian, British and French heads of state. They did manage to update Japan, whose Prime Minister has been on the job for just over a month.

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

Dog Eat Dog

I just watched Dog Day Afternoon for the first time. I'm not much of a film critic, but I know what I like, and I really liked this movie. I'm obviously not the first person to express this sentiment, but I felt it was worth mentioning since it's been a while since I was that impressed with a movie. I've watched a number of films from Hollywood's so-called second golden age, and while I've appreciated almost all of them, I don't think I've ever enjoyed one as thoroughly as I enjoyed "Dog Day Afternoon". Perhaps Taxi Driver, but I watched that one was back when I was an angry teenager, so it may have seemed more poignant.

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

Panorama-rama

Panoramic shots are one of my favorite features of digital photography. Here's a panorama I took on our hike up Mt. Monadnock. It wasn't a great day for photography, but the panorama still looks nice.



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

Summer Reading

Astute readers will notice a new set of links on the right-hand side of the page. I dropped in a widget from Google Reader that includes links to stories from around the web that I have decided are worth reading.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Pumpkin Cutter

Kudos bar to Michelle for the great job she did on the jack-o-lantern yesterday. She usually sweet talks me into carving the gourd by praising my carving skills, but I think this picture shows where the real pumpkin carving talent lies in this household.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Buffalo Stance

Free exchange has been blogging about Buffalo, NY a lot this week. The posts are all interesting, and all related to an article written by Ed Glaser in the current issue of City Journal entitled: Can Buffalo Ever Come Back?. I'm not very familiar with Buffalo. I've driven through it many times and I once stopped at LaNova for dinner, but I am something of a armchair rust belt historian and urban planning wonk. I agree that cities like Buffalo and Detroit are probably not going to return to prominence any time soon. Still, I'm more bullish on the future of the rust belt than Glaser, if for no other reason than I'm not sure how things can get any worse. Glaser's argument is that federal, state, and local governments should stop throwing money at "prestige" economic development projects. I didn't realize that we were even still arguing about this; of course convention centers, unusable public transit systems, and other such boondoggles are bad ideas. Glaser's piece comes off sounding contrarian, but he's not really saying anything new. I agree that a lot of money has been wasted and that a more friendly tax and regulation climate could have helped, but is there really anything rust belt cities could have done to prevent their demises? Even if Buffalo had decided in 1960 that it needed to get into the knowledge economy in a big way, would it have even been possible? Even if all of the labor unions had disbanded, manufacturers would still have had to pay a higher hourly wage in Buffalo than in the south due to the higher cost of living, higher cost of land, etc.

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

Stick that in your pipe and smoke it

I finally got around to checking out Yahoo! Pipes today. I was trying to figure out an easy way to create an RSS feed that would pull out all of the Fanhouse posts written by MDS. The default RSS feed that AOL publishes for all of the Fanhouse bloggers is the general feed for the entire site. I heard about Pipes whenever it came it (sometime last year, if memory serves) and I thought it could do stuff like this but I really wasn't sure. As luck would have it, this is exactly the kind of thing that Pipes was designed for. I have created a pipe called Fanhouse MDS and made it available as an RSS feed that mines the Fanhouse RSS feed for Michael David Smith's posts. It seems to be working correctly, but it only fetches the 20 most recent posts at a time. This doesn't seem to be a problem once you plug the feed into an RSS reader that keeps track of history, but if you're viewing the output of feed by itself, you might only see a couple of MDS posts (or possibly none), although I can't image it's too often that his Fanhouse colleagues manage to crank out 20 or more posts before he has a chance to publish at least a couple.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Georgia on my Mind

This year marked the first time Michelle and I didn't dress up in complementary Halloween costumes. None of the other Arrested Development characters were a good fit for her, so she put together sort of a generic vampire outfit. Perhaps this was why no one commented on my costume while we were out on Saturday night. I figured going in that my costume was going to be something that people would either find hilarious or not understand. I hadn't counted on a third possibility, which is what happened with the friends we went out with. All of them were somewhat familiar with the show, but none of them were big fans. They didn't get the costume at first, but after some prompting, they found it funny.

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 21, 2007

Mountain Do

We did our annual fall hike this weekend. We climbed Mt. Monadnock, a 3165 foot peak in southern New Hampshire. According to signs I read at the park, it's the most climbed mountain on earth. Everything I've found on the web says it the second most climbed mountain (after Mt. Fuji). I'm not sure which one is true, but needless to say, it's a fairly popular climb. We visited Mt. Fuji on our trip to Japan a few years ago, but we didn't manage to make it to the top. Had we done so, climbing Monadnock would have made for an impressive 1-2 punch, but it was still an enjoyable hike.

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

Great Moments in Blog Commenting History

According to MDS, Kevin Everett, the Buffalo Bills TE who suffered a severe spinal cord injury, is walking on his own and expected to make a full recovery. This is great news, of course. I couldn't help but notice the first comment on this post. It's from a reader who goes by the name of BrettFavre4, who says:

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

Road Food

One of the joys of travel is eating great food that you can't always find at home. When we were out in Seattle last month, we ate at a superb Chinese restaurant, the New Kowloon Seafood Restaurant. With the exception of a cold chicken dish that I didn't much care for, everything dish they served was outstanding. I'm sure there are a number of great places in Seattle for authentic Chinese food, but you definitely can't go wrong with New Kowloon.

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

Used to it

A friend of mine has recently re-launched her used book online store. You can check it out here. I'm not sure how I feel about shopping for used books online. As I've said before, I'm a big fan of the used book store atmosphere. I generally don't go to a used book store looking for a specific book; perhaps a genre or even an author, but if you go in looking for a specific title, you're generally going to be disappointed. The website is a bit rough around the edges, but it looks like it will get the job done. Perhaps its lack of polish is intentional, a paean to the thrown together style of the used book store. If you love used books but avoid used books stores due to the weirdos who hang out in them, this website may be the answer for you.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Revved Up Like a Douche

I was astounded to learn recently that the song "Blinded by the Light", a long-time staple of classic rock radio, was written and originally performed by Bruce Spingsteen. I heard his version for the first time last week, and I like it a lot more than Manfred Mann's more famous rendition. I was never much of a fan of Springsteen but I've been warming up to at least some of his older stuff lately. My favorite Springsteen songs combine rock and roll with spoken word and even orchestral sensibilities, and "Blinded by the Light" is a great example of this style. You can listen to both version here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

You're Under Arrest

I finally finished watching Arrested Development. Every episode from every season from start to finish, in chronological order. Arrested Development is a show that either you've never heard of or you've seen every episode multiple times. I'm proud to consider myself a member of that second group. It's a little late in the game for me to declare the show's brilliance. I'm still not sure why I didn't get into this show when it was on the air. I do remember watching a few episodes early on and thinking that it was pretty good, but I never really gave it much of a chance. In all fairness, Arrested Development is a lot easier to enjoy on DVD. Still, I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that until very recently, I assumed that every show on TV was junk until presented with massive amounts of evidence to the contrary. I don't know if TV has gotten a lot better, or I've recently entered the sweet spot of the network's primary demographic target, but today I feel like there are more good shows on network/basic cable/premium cable TV than I could ever hope to watch on a regular basis, and I certainly didn't feel that way as recently as a year or two ago.

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

Extrême limite

If the world ended tomorrow, my one regret would be that I never got a chance to see Point Break Live! on stage. I'm being facetious here, but only a little bit. I learned about this absurdist reality-play today on Deadspin and I have been barely able to contain myself ever since. The saddest part of this story is that I've never even seen the movie Point Break. I saw the commercials for it hundreds of times back in 1991 when it came out. I remember thinking how ridiculous it looked, but at the same time, I must have had some desire to watch it and experience the absurdity firsthand. The show is out in LA right now so it doesn't look like I'm going to get a chance to catch it anytime soon. Here's a teaser from the YouTubes.



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

Garfield Gets Meta

As both I and other more astute readers of the funnies have noted, comic strips often go through impossibly strange and/or implausible set-ups in order to include aG punch line that the artist was unable to shoehorn into his strip through conventional means. This generally doesn't work very well because the punch line usually isn't even all that funny to begin with.



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.

Spare Change

Thursday, June 21st: We arrived in London on a beautiful sunny morning. This may be the first time that anyone has ever written that last sentence. After taking care of all of our travel related business, we hit the ATM to pick up some local currency. The notes are similar to Euros in that each denomination is a different size. I can understand how this might come in handy for blind people, but it's a mess for people like me who carry bills around in a money clip. If I ever relocate to Europe, I may have to invest in a new tri-fold wallet. Our withdrawal came out in a mixture of £10 and £20 notes. I was not surprised to see Queen Elizabeth II's face on the notes, but I was surprised to see another face on the back. The new £20 note features Adam Smith on the backside while £10 note depicts Charles Darwin. Think about that for a second. The guy on the back of England's £10 note is someone many Americans would rank somewhere between Satan and Hillary Clinton on a scale of pure evil. It's a small but poignant example of the little differences between the US and England.












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

Iberia

I've been feasting on some treats from the Iberian peninsula recently that I felt inclined to write about. I'm by no means a wine connoisseur, but I was quite impressed with the bottle of Charamba that I just finished. Charamba is a red wine from Portugal. I don't know if it's a hard and fast rule that Californian wines tend to be fruitier than their old world counterparts, but Charamba definitely bucks this trend, if it is even an actual trend, with its bold and fruity taste. The bottle found its way into our house via a friend who brought it over for a get together last month. When I looked it up online, I discovered that in addition to being a great tasting wine, Charamba is also quite inexpensive ($5-$6, according to a couple websites). Look for it the next time you stop by the liquor store, though I'm not sure how widely available Portugese wine is in the States. I assume it's pretty easy to find in Rhode Island, beyond that, I'm not sure.

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

Pollination Time



September 2 | 1:01 pm | Snohomish, WA

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fast Citizens

Keefe Jackson's Fast Citizens
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

In a Silent Way

I heard about the passing of jazz/fusion pianist/composer Joe Zawinul yesterday. I wasn't a huge fan of his music. I never really got into Weather Report, though to be honest, I haven't listened to very much of their catalog. I found myself on the road last night and the radio happened to be tuned to WGBH. It was their evening jazz show, which I usually don't listen to, but they were playing In a Silent Way in memory of Zawinul so I kept listening. I had forgotten that Zawinul played the organ on In a Silent Way. As it turns out, he also composed the tune. I've listened to it plenty of times, but I had never been able to really get into it. I have always been disappointed by Miles Davis' electric and fusion work. Not because it's bad or because I'm some kind of jazz purist, but because it never really lives up to its potential. His electric tunes all show these brief flashes of brilliance, but they never manage to sustain it for an entire tune. Anyway, something happened last night, because for the first time, I just 'got' In a Silent Way. I was just overwhelmed by the beauty of the piece. I've always felt that In a Silent Way stands apart from the rest of the electric Miles songbook because of it's ethereal and ambient undertones. This sound is largely absent from the rock and funk infused music that followed In a Silent Way.

Dang Quesadillas

Since I seem to be having trouble keeping this thing going, I thought it might good to go back to my roots, poorly thought out food criticism. I'll start with tonight's meal. Obsessive readers of this blog will remember that we have pear trees in our backyard. Those blossoms have matured into a bumper crop of pears this year and we've been trying to figure out what to do with all of them. I found this recipe for pear and prosciutto quesadillas and gave it a try tonight. I have heard that prosciutto and fruit is considered a delicacy by some, but I had my doubts. After feasting on these quesadillas, all of my doubts have been erased. It's a pretty simple dish to put together, as well. I didn't even bother with the goat cheese that the recipe calls for and I baked them for 10 minutes at 350 instead of frying them in a pan.

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

The Big East/ACC Rivalry Ruined My Marriage



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

Fog Hat

We went to Town Beach after work last Thursday to play some beach ultimate. We drove into a fairly think layer of fog as we approached the beach. If you've never seen a beach shrouded in fog, it really is quite a sight to behold. It's best if the beach is not crawling with people, since the emptiness combined with the fog makes for a very mysterious atmosphere. I'm still such a tourist when it comes to the ocean. I make it a point to go swimming every time I go to the beach regardless of weather, water temperature, etc. because going to the beach is still a pretty novel experience for me, even though I now live close enough to the water to drive to the beach after work. True to form, I went in for a swim after playing frisbee. The sun had set and it was starting to get pretty dark by then. I'm pretty sure it was the first time I ever went swimming in the ocean in the dark. Like a foggy beach, a swim at dusk is another highly recommended experience.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

In The House



July 21 | 7:37 am | Cardiff, Wales (Courtesy of Hermano)

Airport '07

Wednesday, June 20: Most people seem to hate Logan airport. I never minded it that much when I lived in Boston. I assumed that what people really hated was fighting the traffic into and out of the city. Since Providence has neither the runway length nor the demand to support non-stop flights to Europe, we decided to fly out of Logan for our trip to London. After checking in for our flight, I now know why people can't stand Logan. We arrived just under two hours prior to our 7pm departure and proceeded to stand in line at check-in for about forty minutes. We then moved on to security, where maybe half of the available lanes were open. After waiting another 20 or 30 minutes in line, we hurried through the cramped terminal (made even smaller by construction, of course) to our gate, where boarding had already started.

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

Empire Record

Prior to my recent trip to London (more on that later), I decided to do something that I had been meaning to do for a while - read up on the history of the British Empire. I wrote this exercise off as trip preparation, but I knew from the beginning that studying the British Empire wasn't going to help me find my way around London. Still, it was as good an excuse as any and I checked a copy of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire out at my local library. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It covers approximately 400 years of history in just over 600 pages. It's a thick book, no doubt, but you would probably need a couple more volumes of the same size to really get into the fine details of the empire. This book is more of a survey of the empire from start to finish, which is exactly what I was looking for, since I knew very little about the history of the empire.

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

Panic in Detroit

On the way home tonight, I caught part of On Point, a decent news talk show out of WBUR in Boston. One of the guests on tonight's show was GM's vice chairman product development, Bob Lutz. I don't follow the auto industry as closely as a I used to, so while I am familiar with Lutz's name, I don't really know anything about him. He started off talking about the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid that GM is hoping will finally be the car that will best the competition in style, quality, and efficiency. He's not a very good speaker and his voice leaves a lot to be desired, but I can't really hold that against him. Once he switched out of sales pitch mode and starting fielding questions from the host and the callers, he came completely unhinged. He sounded more like an anonymous commenter on a third-rate conservative blog than an executive of a fortune 5 company. He literally responded to a caller's question about the possibility of improving the efficiency of gasoline engines by challenging the caller to come up with some new ideas. I could practically hear the spittle hit the microphone when he started talking about "professor" Tom Friedman's ideas about the US automotive industry. I don't know if he was confusing Friedman, who to my knowledge is not and has never been a college professor, with his colleague Paul Krugman, who is a professor. Either way, it made him sound like a complete fool. If this is what Detroit, or at least GM, has to offer, the US auto industry is in even worse shape than I had previously imagined.

If it looks like a duck...

As I noted last year, the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated from the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup runner-up for three consecutive years. This year, the were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion. I don't know if that's an improvement or not.

Word of the Day

Yesterday, I learned via Deadspin about a list of 100 words that Houghton Mifflin believes all high school graduates should know. Conspicuous by their absence were some of my favorite words, such as the, is, and like. In all seriousness, I love words, especially ones like these that no one ever uses in conversation, and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I don't know every word on the list. It seems like every time I learn a new word or a new historical fact, I come across a reference to this new piece of knowledge the very next day. This has happened to me so many times that I'm sure that it's not a coincidence and it must happen to other people as well. Sure enough, on my way to work this morning, I was listening to Frank Deford's weekly sports rant on NPR. He ended his missive about the twin spectator death marches that are the NBA and NHL playoffs with the top 100 word jejune. This phenomenon makes me wonder how often I encounter words or facts that I'm not familiar with and just ignore without even noticing it.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sunset


May 26 | 8:10 pm | Bristol, RI

Monday, May 21, 2007

Outplayed

This year's NHL Western Conference final has to be one of the strangest playoff series I've ever seen. The Red Wings are on the brink of elimination after amassing a 2-1 lead, and yet I still feel like they are going to win. The obvious parallel to this series is the 2002 Western Conference finals, where the Wings and the Avalanche alternated wins in the first four games before Colorado won game 5 on the road in overtime after it looked like the Wings had it in the bag. The Wings, of course, managed to win games six and seven en route to the Stanley Cup. After that game five loss, however, I didn't think they had much of a chance.

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

An Appeal

I received an appeal from a former co-worker regarding her father, Dr. Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir. Dr. Alamgir is a prominent Bangladeshi intellectual, civil servant, and pro-democracy activist who has often clashed with the powers that be in his country. He has been imprisoned and tortured by prior regimes and earlier this year, he was rounded up by the current administration and imprisoned without charge. His children have launched a campaign to raise awareness of his plight and to solicit help and support. A similar campaign in 2002 helped to secure Dr. Alamgir's release from a previous wrongful incarceration. Please do what you can and pass this information on to anyone else who can help.

Independence Day

I wasn't aware of this until I moved here, but Rhode Island actually declared its independence from the British on May 4, 1776, two months ahead of the rest of the colonies.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Seven Up

Rhode Island Philharmonic
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

Hey Stoopid

Longtime readers of this blog may remember a post I once wrote about madcap rocker Alice Cooper's syndicated radio show Nights with Alice Cooper. So far, that post has received two comments, both from people who mistook me for Alice himself. The most recent comment was left in the wee hours of this morning (8:21 pm HADT yesterday). This commenter left his phone number and mailing address, which is pretty weird, but here's where it gets really strange - he claims to live in the Lahaina Shores Beach Resort on Maui, which is where Michelle and I stayed on our honeymoon. If only he could have found my blog a year and half ago, I could have told him in person thanks but Alice wouldn't be requiring his services for his upcoming tour of South America. Still, I shouldn't complain. At least the people who are mistaking me for Alice are fans of his show.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Live Free Or Die



April 21 | 3:09 pm | Tuckerman Ravine - Mt. Washington - NH

Monday, April 23, 2007

So Long, Andrew

I learned of the passing of one Andrew Hill, of my all time favorite jazz pianists, on my way home from work on Friday. I don't remember exactly how I discovered his music. I picked up Point of Departure about 10 years ago on a whim and I was immediately hooked. Hill's music was a unique synthesis of 20th century classical composition and free improvisation. Normally, I'm not all that impressed with attempts to fuse jazz and classical traditions together, but Hill was an exception. His large group recordings are masterpieces for the way he utilizes every voice in the band to its fullest potential and creates a sound that is even bigger than the already augmented group. With the exception of John Coltrane, Hill created more hauntingly beautiful music than any of his contemporaries. It's too bad that I never got a chance to hear him play live in concert, but I'm pleased that his genius was finally recognized before he passed away.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hockey Night

As far as I'm concerned, the best thing about the NHL moving to Versus is the feed from CBC I'm watching right now. Versus has used the CBC feed for games three and four of the Detroit vs. Calgary series. I'm not sure why Versus didn't send their own crew out to Calgary. I did hear the announcers give a shout out to all of Versus viewers south of the 48th parallel during Tuesday night's game, so at the very least, we know that Versus is not stealing the feed off of CBC's satellite. Right now, the Premier of the Province of Alberta, who is in attendance at tonight's game, is being interviewed. You just don't get that kind of coverage from American hockey broadcast crews. Part of me enjoys the CBC coverage because it reminds me of home, but I mostly enjoy it because their broadcast crew is much better than Versus. I also recently discovered that CBC is streaming every Hockey Night in Canada playoff game online.

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

Here's to you, Mr. Robinson

Along with the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier has been a fair amount of hand-wringing about the declining numbers of black ballplayers in Major League Baseball today. From what I understand, MLB has largely vacated America's inner cities, where its baseball development programs had nurtured many future stars, for Latin America. Like many businesses, MLB took a look at the global market and decided that their player development dollars would go further in Latin America, where costs are lower and they can get young talent on the fast track at a younger age due to looser regulations. None of the articles I have read, including this one in today's ProJo have mentioned the globalization angle, but I think it's an important part of the story.

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

Remembering Kilgore Trout

As you have no doubt heard by now, Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday. With the exception of his friend Issac Asimov, Vonnegut is the only novelist whose works I have read extensively. I got onto a pretty big Vonnegut kick about ten years ago. It has subsided in recent years, but I picked up Galapagos last year and it brought me right back to the excitement I felt as a younger man reading his unique voice for the first time. Here are some more interesting reflections on the man and his works.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Musician

I just found out that a documentary film about my favorite musician, Ken Vandermark, is about to be released. Here's a brief synopsis and here's a short clip.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Branch Davidians, Part Deux

A friend and I were recently talking about the Branch Davidians, and we wondered if any followers of that spiritual persuasion still exist. As luck would have it, someone else was thinking the same thing and wrote a newspaper story about the reorganized Branch Davidians, now called The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness. The new church is led by a former Branch Davidian who was exiled from the church in the mid-1980s after challenging David Koresch. The new church currently has about a dozen members. Other than owing a lot of money to the IRS, the new leader doesn't appear to be in trouble with the law. I don't see this new church having much success building a cult on the ruins of the Branch Davidian compound, but I've been wrong about these things in the past. I've never felt the urge to join a cult, but if I ever do, I hope that I'll at least join one that has a sizable and/or growing membership. Indoor plumbing would also be a big plus, but maybe that's just me.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Bracket Coverage

I enter a modest college football betting pool every season, but I rarely fill out an NCAA bracket and when I do, I never have any money riding on it. I may want to reconsider this strategy, as I tend to fare rather poorly in my football pool but finish near the top in March. This year has been no exception, so far. I managed to get three of the final four correct. The only one I missed was Florida (I had Maryland) and the only reason I missed Florida was because I'm kind of sick of them. Were I playing with my head instead of my heart, perhaps I would have had the Gators in the final four. The last time I remember filling out a bracket, I managed to guess the entire final four correctly (2002). I attribute my success in the NCAA basketball tournament to my lack of knowledge about and interest in college basketball. I tend to put a lot of effort into my bowl picks because I've always watched a lot more college football than college basketball and feel like I know enough to make intelligent decisions. For what it's worth, I have Ohio State over UCLA in the final.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hi Neighbor!

Today's ProJo had a neat article about Mark Hellendrung, the businessman behind the revival of Narragansett Beer. I picked up my first 'gansett shortly after moving to Rhode Island last year and I haven't been able to stop drinking the stuff ever since. Ok, so that's not exactly true, but I do think it tastes pretty good for a regional beer. My love of regional cuisine was the reason I picked up a Narragansett in the first place. I'm a sucker for regional food. Case in point, I don't particularly enjoy sweetened iced tea, but I always take my tea sweet when I'm visiting the south. Lucky for me, Narragansett is a regional taste that actually tastes good (otherwise, I'd be drinking a lot of nasty tasting beer in the name of authenticity). It's not quite up to the level of Shiner Bock, the champagne of regional beers, but it's a good, reasonably priced beer. If you've ever in Rhode Island or stumble upon some kind of weird Rhode Island-themed bar in your hometown, give one a try.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Fire Water

In an incredible act of American Indian synergy, I bought a 16 oz can of Narragansett with two Sacajawea dollars tonight.






Monday, February 19, 2007

Cliff Walk


February 18 | 3:18 pm | Newport, RI

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Compass Shatters Magnet

The Vandermark 5
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.