Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Heavy Hitters

I've been a fan of personal injury attorney's commercials for as long as I've been familiar with the genre. It pleases me to no end that there is apparently a production agency that has used the same slogan and jingle for different law firms in the Providence and Upstate New York markets. Here's one of the commercials for Syracuse's own heavy hitters Alexander & Catalano, and here's a commercial from Providence's Heavy Hitter, Rob Levine.

Must Love Dogs

Since I've tried to at least mention all of the movies I've watched this year, I'd be remiss to not finish the job before the new year. I was disappointed with V for Vendetta, which we watched a month or so back. I didn't like how the movie felt the need to spell out every detail about the plot to the viewers (sometimes, more than once). The story and setting drew a lot of obvious parallels to George Orwell's 1984, which hurt the movie since it's pretty hard to measure up to 1984. Of course, you shouldn't really trust the words of a critic who fell asleep before the end of the movie. It did clear up some confusion I've always had about Guy Fawkes Night, but I still don't really understand why the British named the holiday after Fawkes. Isn't that sort of like the US making 9/11 a national holiday and calling it Osama bin Laden Day?

I finally got around to seeing Hot Fuzz over Christmas. I liked it, though not as much as I liked Shaun of the Dead. I think Hot Fuzz may have been a bit too over the top for me. It's possible that I haven't seen enough action & cop movies to truly appreciate the depth of the satire in Hot Fuzz.

Finally, I went with my dog-loving family to watch Marley & Me after Christmas. It's pretty much a movie about a dog with a perfunctory mid-life crisis tacked on. Don't bother seeing it unless you really like seeing dogs chew on furniture.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hub Cap

The great jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard passed away yesterday. He hadn't been very active recently and I haven't listened to his music in a while, but he was one of my favorites back when I was first getting into jazz. I don't have any of his recordings as a leader and I thought that Out to Lunch was the only recording of Hubbard that I owned until the LAT obit reminded me that he played on Coltrane's Ascension sessions, but my old college radio station had a lot of Hubbard's recondings on vinyl and I spun them regularly. One my favorites was Live at the Northsea Jazz Festival 1980, which is the only post-Blue Note Hubbard album that I've listened to extensively. He was truly one of the last of the great hard bop players.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Out Like a Lamb

The most depressing part of the Lions amassing the NFL's first 0-16 record is the realization that I grew up during the post-merger golden age of Detroit Lions football. The reason that is depressing is because the Lions' post-merger golden age of the 1990s wasn't much of a golden age. While they made six of their nine post-merger playoff appearances during the 1990s, they still only won one of those playoff games, never even made it to the Superbowl, and only had five winning seasons. The Lions record from 1990-99 was 79-81, which is much better than the 40-104 record they've managed to amass over this decade, but it's still a losing record.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Infamous Bowls

Some people complain about how the proliferation of huge restaurant chains has destroyed America's regional diversity. What these people fail to realize is that restaurant chains don't destroy regional culture; they demarcate it. Take Bob Evans for example. That middle American dining institution has no franchises in New England and only a handful of them in the other northeastern states (unless you consider Pennsylvania part of the northeast - PA is lousy with Bob Evans franchises).

I had kind of forgotten about Bob Evans until I was back home for Thanksgiving and saw a commercial advertising their answer to KFC's Famous Bowls. It's called the Chicken Fried Deep Dish Dinner, and it takes the KFC Famous Bowl and goes a step further by adding a biscuit into the mix. I've always been fascinated by the Famous Bowl. I'm convinced that the dish was created when someone at KFC headquarters walked into the test kitchen and demanded that the chefs create a new dish that incorporated all existing KFC menu items. I'm not the only one who is fascinated by the Famous Bowl either - comedian Patton Oswalt has carved out a niche for himself in the comedy world with his Famous Bowls routine. With Bob Evans' recent shot across the bow in the Famous Bowls Wars, both of us should have plenty of material to feed our Famous Bowls obsession for the foreseeable future.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Meanwhile, Back in Communist Russia...

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra was in town last week. Michelle has been interested in seeing their show for a couple of years, so we decided to check it out. I went in with pretty low expectations, but I still managed to leave disappointed. The Christmas portion of their show is built around a "true meaning of Christmas" narrative that is borderline nonsensical and difficult to follow. Mixed in with the narrative are heavy metal interpretations of popular Christmas carols and original songs. The original Christmas songs, with the exception of a couple that they played near the end of the Christmas portion of the concert, were awful. I don't understand why they didn't make better use of the existing body of Christmas music and fables that are already known and loved by the majority of western world. Creating new and compelling holiday music and stories is a pretty tall order. Based on the legion of fans who go to see their show every year, I guess the TSO has created a Christmas story that resonates with some people, but it didn't do much for either of us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

WTF?

As anyone who still has a job is probably aware of by now, companies are trying to minimize the costs of doing business during these lean times. I got an e-mail from management at my job last week outlining a number of cost-cutting initiatives that have recently been put into effect. The one that caught my eye was an admonishment for employees with company-provided mobile phones (a club that I am not a member of) to stop texting so much. I've always wondered why texting is so expensive. After all, a single text message is at most a couple hundred bytes worth of data. A voice call is at least thousands of bytes per second. Based on the five minutes of research I just did, it appears that it's because texting is such a cash cow for wireless carriers. By charging ridiculously high rates for text messages, carriers basically force anyone who wants to use text messaging on regular basis to buy an unlimited plan, guaranteeing them an extra $5-10/month per customer over the life of their contract. Carriers can charge whatever the market will bear, of course, but any business that is built on constantly ripping off its customers is setting itself up for fall when someone comes in and challenges the status quo. At the very least, once Internet-connected mobile devices achieve critical mass, text messaging is going to go the way of the CB radio unless the pricing model is rationalized.

Postscript:
I've been sitting on this post for a couple of days and wouldn't you know it - Google has gone ahead and added SMS text messaging to Gmail. I don't this is going to put an end to extortionate text messaging rates, but I'm still holding out hope that Google/Android is going to finally force some sense into the US cellular phone market.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Pipe Dream

I've created a couple new Yahoo! Pipes for Michael David Smith's writing on College Football Talk and Pro Football Talk. It probably would have been more useful to put these together earlier in the football season, but I never got around to it (which was just kind of dumb on my part, since it took all of five minutes to put these feeds together). Here's the College Football Talk feed URL and here's the one for Pro Football Talk.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Walk on Water

Google Maps is a great tool and it keeps getting better. Their public transit and walking directions are nice new feature. The walking directions are really cool because Google Maps will gladly generate walking directions for any route, no matter how ridiculous it might be. Here's a nice leisurely stroll you might want to take the next time you need to go from LA to New York but aren't in a big hurry. Google estimates that it would take you 38 days to make the 2800 mile trek (assuming you don't stop anywhere along the way).

Michelle discovered an interesting routing for her trip to Falmouth. The walking directions have you hiking all the way up to Boston, hopping on a ferry to Provincetown, and then walking all the way around Cape Cod. When we first looked at it, we thought that Google was suggesting that you walk on water from Boston to Provincetown. While it may sound like Google is copping out by including a ferry ride in the walking directions, I doubt that pedestrian traffic is allowed on the bridges that span the Cape Cod Canal, so there technically is no way to walk to Falmouth. Perhaps the next release of Google Maps will include a swimming option.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Flat Earth Society

The Flatlands Collective
Lilypad - Cambridge, MA
Thursday, December 4th

The Flatlands Collective is a group of Chicago musicians and the Boston-based Dutch saxophonist Jorrit Dijkstra. I'm pretty sure that this was the first time I've ever seen Dijkstra live. I've certainly had plenty of opportunities to see him play, but for whatever reason, it never worked out until yesterday. Dijkstra impressed me more as a composer and bandleader than he did as a soloist last night. In his defense, the music was structured in a way that didn't give the musicians as much of a chance to stretch out as a normal free jazz unit and the ensemble had a tendency to drown out the soloists, which may have been due to the acoustics of the room.

I really like the sound that larger ensembles are able to produce and the pieces that I enjoyed the most at this show were the ones that really made use of the entire group, especially, the horn section. It was also great to hear Frank Rosaly play again, after being so impressed with his playing the last time I saw him. I felt he shined as an accompanist the last time, but this time, I was more impressed with his solos. He used a lot of dynamic and rhythmic contrasts, which gave his solos a real lyrical quality. I was most impressed with clarinetist James Falzone. I had never even heard of him before the show so I had no idea what to expect, but I was really blown away by both the quality of his phrasing and the consistency of his tone.

I really enjoyed some of the tunes the band played and some of them didn't do anything for me at all, there wasn't very much middle ground. Most of the time, however, it was a really good show.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

College Humor

B.J. Novak (a/k/a Ryan Howard a/k/a "The Temp") was in town on Friday doing stand-up so we went and checked it out. The show was at Providence College so the audience was at least 95% college students. I still can't get over how young college students are these days, but it's nice to know that they enjoy the humor of The Office even if they haven't entered the workaday world yet.

We hit YouTube before the show to look for some examples of Novak's stand-up routine to decide if it was any good. As usual, YouTube delivered. Here's a couple of clips that we watched - both of which were included in his show on Friday.

Novak is pretty funny on stage. His humor is mostly observational and pretty nerdy, so it's right up my alley. He did bits about how pandas are endangered due to their aversion to mating(that's not the whole story, but it certainly doesn't help) and how everyone who appears in porn films is considered a porn "star". While I may never have technically told any jokes based on those ideas, I've certainly thought about it before, so we definitely have similar senses of humor.

After the show, he did a short Q&A session. The Office spoiler alert: Kevin is going to shoot up the office (with sexy results) before turning the gun on himself in the season finale. Just kidding - no juicy Office gossip was revealed. Although, he didn't say anything about Kevin not shooting up the office in the season finale...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Are You My Type?

I heard about Typealyzer today, a service that takes a blog URL, analyzes the content, and spits out a Myers-Briggs score. It's been a while since I've taken a Myers-Briggs assessment, so I don't remember exactly how I scored last time and I suppose it's possible that I have changed since then, but I'm skeptical of the ESTP score that Typealyzer assigned to this blog. I'm pretty sure that I was either an INTJ or an INTP the last time I took the test. According to Typealyzer, I am a "doer", who is active and playful, often full of energy; talking and joking. I may also be impulsive and have problems sitting still. Sounds just like me, right? This whole thing sounds kind of silly, but any business model that is based on converting the vanity of bloggers into profits probably has a halfway decent chance of being successful. Perhaps my blog is not active enough for it to deliver an accurate score, but I'm not completely sold on Typealyzer yet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chocolate News

Porter is my favorite beer variety, but it's not something I like to drink in warm weather. It's a bit too hearty for a day at the beach. When the leaves start to fall and days get shorter, I start getting in the mood for a nice porter, but I couldn't find any decent porter on my last trip to the liquor store. The only thing they had was Sam Adams Honey Porter, which isn't my favorite. I would up picking up some Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. It was a bit pricey ($10 for a 6 pack), but when you consider that it has two and a half times as much alcohol by volume as Bud Light (10.6% vs. 4.2%), it's actually a pretty good deal if all you're going for is maximum amount of buzz per dollar. If you're more worried about taste, it's arguably an ever better value. It's incredibly rich, as you might imagine, but it's still very smooth and the high alcohol content is not overwhelming.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Trading Spaces

Trader Joe's recently opened their first store in the state of Rhode Island. We checked it out shortly after the grand opening and I picked up a loaf of their three seed and honey bread, and it is really good. It's the first bread that I can ever remember eating that has fennel seeds on it (the other two seeds are poppy and sesame). I think the fennel works really well, but I may not be the most objective observer, since I basically love fennel in anything.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Demographic Novel

After the 2004 election, there was a lot of talk about how Bush won 97 of the 100 fastest growing counties in America and how the Republican's fecundity spelled doom for the Democrat's chances in national elections. After last night's election, there's a lot of talk about how the Republican's lost a lot of the youth vote and the college-educated vote and how this spells doom for the Republicans. While I'm fascinated by demographic trends, I try not to put too much stock into them. Pundits mine the demographic data after every election to explain why the winning candidate won the election, then extrapolate it into the future, forgetting how fickle the American electorate tends to be.

Now that I've railed against this practice, I'm going to engage in it. Returning to the exit poll results, the 66% of the 18-29 year old vote that Obama captured is the highest percentage any candidate has captured in any age bracket over the past eight elections. Since I'm just north of the 18-29 age bracket, I find the difference between my age bracket, who supported Obama 53% of the time, and the 18-29 bracket really interesting. I can think of a few probable reasons for the youth's embrace of Obama. They were probably excited by the "newness" of Obama and the Obama campaign also probably did a good job at reaching out to the youth vote. George W. Bush's unpopularity probably gave Obama a big boost in their eyes since for most of the people in the 18-29 group, the only presidential administration of their adult lives has been Bush's. The thing that I think really separates the under 30s from the 30+s is Ronald Reagan. I doubt that very many people under the age of 30 remember much of anything about the Reagan years. The youngest voters in this year's election would have been born after Reagan left office and the oldest under 30 voters would have been just turning 10 when Reagan rode off into the sunset. The Republican party can continue to hold up Reagan as one of their standard bearers, (though I question whether this is true anymore), but it's unlikely to inspire anyone who was born after 1980.

While demographics are hardly destiny, that doesn't mean that Obama's victory isn't indicative of any sociopolitical change. I think it's important to remember that it was only 40 years ago that George Wallace ran for President as a third-party candidate on a segregationist platform and won 13.5 % of the popular vote (8.6% of the electoral college with 5 states: AR, LA, AL, MS, and GA). Wallace won 31% of North Carolina's popular vote in 1968; 40 years later, Obama won 49.67% of the popular vote, and may have won the state, though at the moment, it's still too close to call.

We should probably spend a little less time trying to figure out if America is a center-right country or a center-left country or whether or not the Republicans can appeal to voters outside of rural areas and the states of the old Confederacy. These kinds of questions assume that all voters are ideologically consistent within their chosen (or given) political caste when in fact most are anything but. The changes in America's politics are driven by the changes in American society. When politics get too far ahead of or behind society, political realignments happen. The changes that have happened in American society that made it possible to elect a black man as president have been bubbling up for a long time and yesterday, American politics finally caught up.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

X-Men 4: Halloween

Happy belated Halloween, from the X-Men


I wound up on pumpkin carving detail this year. I think it was one of my better carvings. After Michelle did such a good job last year, I had to step up my game.


Perhaps even more impressive than the carving is this photo that I snapped - a hand-held 1 second exposure with no noticeable blur.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Did you hear the one about the sheep beauty pageant held for the men of Saudi Arabia?

Working Studs

I'll always remember my introduction to the works of the late Studs Terkel, who passed away yesterday at the age of 96. I was in sixth grade and browsing the stacks at my middle school library when I noticed a book called "Working Studs". Needless to say, I was surprised to see such a subversive work of non-fiction at a middle school library until I took a second look and discovered that it was the classic "Working" by Studs Terkel. This remembrance of Terkel, which aired on NPR yesterday, includes Terkel recounting a time that one of Jerry Falwell's minions called a library in Georgia to complain about a pornographic book called "Working Studs" by someone named Terkel. I guess I had the potential to be a great moralizing ignoramus from a young age. If only someone would have recognized that and nurtured me down that path.

I've never read "Working" (or "Working Studs", for that matter), though I did read this book during a lapse in employment several years ago. It's written in the same style as Working and bills itself as something of a modern day remake of the classic. I gave Michelle a copy of "Working" for Christmas last year, so I'm sure I'll get around to reading it once the statute of limitations on reclaiming a gift that you gave someone else expires and/or I ever finish "Infinite Jest".

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bohemian Rhapsody

We visited Fall River for the first time yesterday. Visited may be a bit too strong of a word, we got off the highway downtown and went to the Factory of Terror haunted house. I can't say that I was all that frightened by it, and having to evacuate at about the halfway point after all the lights had been turned on and all the actors had broken character due to a false fire alarm didn't really help. Afterwards, we had dinner at a nearby Portuguese restaurant, where I sampled Sagres Bohemia (a Portuguese beer) for the first time. I'd definitely have it again should the opportunity present itself. As the Wikipedia entry states, it's a Dunkel style beer, so it's a dark beer and slightly sweet.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Most Valuable Fan

As I've mentioned before, I don't go to very many baseball games, but when I do go to a game, chances are one of the teams will make it to the World Series. I didn't go to any ballgames in 2006 or 2007, but I went to two baseball games this season, and one of them was a Phillies game. The other one was a Red Sox game, so had the Sox managed to complete their comeback in the ALCS, I would have been two for two this year. Of course, the Phillies game that I went to was an exhibition game, but I'm still going to count it in my streak.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Voted For President and All I Got Was This Stupid MP3

In case you weren't planning on voting in next week's election, perhaps Wilco's offer of a free song download is enough to entice you to head out to the polls. I'm not a Wilco fan per se and I was planning on voting in the election before I heard about this offer, but I like a couple of their songs and I've been meaning to listen to more of their stuff for a while so I decided to partake. I don't like the tune (a Dylan cover) as much as the couple of Wilco songs that I'm familiar with, but it's still a pretty good song.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Burn After Watching

We went to the Cable Car last night to see the latest Coen Brothers film, Burn After Reading. It's a pretty standard Coen Bros. production. I enjoyed the movie while we were watching it, but once I got home and started to think about it again, a lot of things started to bother me. The Coens tend to make movies about deeply and/or tragically flawed people who find themselves in a relatively run-of-the mill sticky situation that they somehow manage to escalate into a tragedy. Burn After Reading follows this formula, but raises the stakes by making every single character tragically flawed. Not only does no one ever really manage to do the right thing in this movie, it's not always clear why they are willing to do such dangerous/illegal/unethical things. Perhaps I'm expecting too much from a screwball black comedy, but I think this movie would have been better with a little bit more depth and a little bit less breadth in the character department.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Whole Classics

I tend not to notice the music that they play at grocery stores. Occasionally, you hear something unexpected, but it's usually so bland that you don't even realize it's playing. I was at my local Whole Foods tonight and my ears perked up when I heard "Hey Baby" by Ted Nugent. Classic rock at the grocery store is strange enough, but The Motor City Madman at Whole Foods is a whole nothing thing. I kind of doubt that The Nuge would shop with the liberal elitists at Whole Foods even if they were offering a half-off sale on all bow-hunted wild game. As it turns out, "Hey Baby" was only just the beginning of a Whole Foods classic rock block, which I have immortalized in playlist form. After the Nuge, they got proggy with Yes' "Yours is No Disgrace", a veritable deep cut, and capped it all off with the J. Geils Band and "I Must Have Got Lost". They switched back to some more Whole Foods appropriate indie folk after that, but for about 15 minutes tonight, the store was rockin'.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

On The Level

Our dishwasher has been on fritz lately. I found an appliance repairman who came out and replaced the fill value. Unfortunately, that only fixed the problem for a couple of days. The repairman sent his apprentice back out to take another look at the dishwasher. Tagging along with the apprentice was another guy who looked to be about 80 years old. The older guy was quite frail and his breathing was labored even when he was laying down on the floor of our kitchen looking underneath the dishwasher (the pack of Pall Malls sticking out of his pocket probably contributed to this as much as his advanced age), but he turned out to be something of a master dishwasher repairman.

As you might expect, the dishwasher started running just fine for the first time all week when the repairmen showed up. We sat around waiting to see if the dishwasher would make it into its rinse cycle successfully. After about 20 minutes with no problems, the repairmen were getting ready to pack up their tools when the old guy, who had been intently examining the side of the dishwasher door for a few minutes, suddenly realized that the dishwasher was way off level. He checked it with a level, then, in a scene that kind of reminded me of Arrested Development's Uncle Jack, barked out commands to the younger, stronger, and somewhat dimwitted apprentice to get the dishwasher back on level.

The leveling seems to have done the trick as the dishwasher has run successfully several times since the fix. If your dishwasher ever stops filling, you might want to check the level. If that doesn't fix it and you have to bring in a repairman, don't be alarmed if a chain-smoking octogenarian shows up to fix it. Just sit back and watch him work his magic. Where does one find such repairmen? On craigslist, of course. Not having a repairman of choice, I started looking around on the web for appliance repair services, only to be horrified by the abysmal reviews of the local appliance repair businesses. I went to Craigslist on a hunch, and found a number of people advertising appliance repair services. A Craigslist advertisement is no guarantee of good service, but I feel like people who are working independently instead of for a store or an appliance repair company are more likely to try and deliver good service, since the only thing they have to trade on is their reputation.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Food

I mentioned that tapenade rubbed steak is delicious on the grill. I've come to discover that tapenade rubbed anything tastes great on the grill. I've also tried it on pork chops and hamburgers. In both cases, I didn't even bother giving it any time to set in before throwing it on the grill, but the results were still delicious.

Grilling season is coming to a close, so I'll add that my new favorite condiment is fig jam.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rathaus



June 12 | 12:12 pm | Vienna

Friday, September 26, 2008

Men of Tomorrow

I just finished reading Men of Tomorrow, a book about the birth of the comic book industry. As usual, I stumbled upon it while wandering aimlessly though the library, though I do remember hearing good things about the book when it came out and may have even given it to a friend as a Christmas gift a few years back. While I found some of the writing a bit labored, the book presents a ton of information in a well-organized and coherent way. You don't need to be a comic book enthusiast (or former enthusiast) to enjoy the book, but it certainly would help. Still, there's enough really interesting stuff about the socioeconomic history of comics, especially in the first half of the book, to appeal to anyone who is interested in the history of mass media, business, entertainment, labor, or politics.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thai Not?

Thai is the gateway drug of ethnic food.
I said this during a discussion about ethnic food today. I was trying to be funny, but I think it's pretty accurate.

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

I normally don't pay much attention to the Emmys in particular and award shows in general, but I was pleased to hear that one my favorite shows, Mad Men, won the big prize last night. If you haven't been watching, you should tune in. If not for its richly developed characters and intricate plot lines, then for the influence it will soon have over everything that you wear.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Peeping Hi


Poor Hi - it looks like Lois has thwarted his favorite Saturday afternoon activity - sitting around the house "reading" his porno mags. I guess "Peeps" could be interpreted as a play on People Magazine instead of a stag rag, but sitting around the house reading People is arguably an even more depraved activity for a wholesome family man like Hi. A final possibility is that he subscribes to some sort of weird underground Mashmallow Peeps fetishist magazine, which is certainly the most depraved interpretation of them all.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Juror #47

A few weeks ago, I received a jury duty summons. I'd never been called to serve on a jury before, so I was kind of excited but, like any good American, I was also kind of dreading the whole thing. As it turned out, I didn't get called to serve on a jury. In fact, no one in the pool of potential jurors was called to serve. I was a little bummed, but I guess it was better than having to be one of the alternate jurors on a trial that spends two weeks in deliberation and ends in a mistrial.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Immaculate Reception

Oberon

September 13 | 6:22 pm | Grand Rapids, MI

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Gay Nineties

I finally got around to checking out Hulu. It's pretty cool and all, but that's not why I'm mentioning it here. I wound up watching a recent episode of The Simpsons that essentially rewrote the entire history of the series. It was kind of shocking, though I've been paying so little attention to The Simpsons lately that perhaps this kind of stuff is happening on weekly basis now. In case you don't feel like watching the episode, it's a flashback to Homer and Marge's post-high school courtship, during the early 1990s. The Simpsons has often taken a fairly laid-back approach to geography and the passage of time, and the show has even pointed out its own inconsistencies for a laugh a few times, but as far as I know, the show had always treated the past as a fixed point a time. I guess that's no longer the case. I'm not angry or anything, the Simpsons is still one of the all-time great TV shows, even if it's gotten a bit long in the tooth as of late. Still, it is a little disappointing that they felt the need to upend the entire Simpsons space-time continuum just to cram in a few lame jokes about grunge rock, political correctness, and Bill Clinton.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Days of Thunder

I've seen more movies in the theaters this summer than I have in a long time. I think it has more to do with circumstances than a noticeable uptick in the quality of the films being produced in Hollywood. That being said, I did enjoy Tropic Thunder on my most recent trip to the local cineplex. It wasn't as quotable as I thought it was going to be, but it was still funny. One of my favorite characters in the star-studded cast was the special effects assistant, an actor named Dempsey Silva with a single line on his IMDB resume. If there's an Oscar for rookie of the year, he's my nomination.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Beyond Compare

I had a friend in high school who was a Dinosaur Jr. fanatic. In fact, he was such a huge fan that he refused to call them anything but their original name (Dinosaur). So while I've been familiar with Dinosaur Jr. and many of the original member's side projects for a long time, I never actually got around to listening to any of their music until recently. I recently picked up Beyond, which I later learned is result of the band's recent reunion after 19 years apart. It's a great album, and it's the first time I've really gotten excited about anything new in the rock/alt rock genre in a long time. I think that one of the reasons I've never been too big on a lot of the alt rock/indie rock bands is a lot of them don't rock all that hard. The stuff on Beyond rocks pretty hard. It's generally more of a punk influenced sound than the blues rock sound that I really dig, but I've never had a problem with punk rock, providing that it actually rocks.

As an aside, in addition to just getting around to discovering Dinosaur Jr., I'm also still getting my feet wet in the digital music world. I was considering just purchasing a single track from the album (This is All I Came To Do), since it was the only one I was familiar with before making my purchase, but I decided against it. While I like the idea of being able to pick and choose songs individually, I still think that for any reasonably serious artist, the album, while it may be a completely artificial construct in the digital music world, is still an important artistic statement.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lucky Kitchen

We've been having some good luck in the kitchen lately. I mentioned to my Mom last week that we had a lot of eggplant and tomatoes from our farm share. As luck would have it, she came across a recipe for eggplant and tomato stacks that she sent our way. We tried it last night and it was incredible. I'm not a huge fan of eggplant, but I loved it in this dish. We made a number of modifications to the recipe, including omitting the zucchini since we didn't have any on hand, substituting dried oregano, basil, and parsley for the fresh herbs that the recipe called for, and reducing the amount of olive oil and cheese, but it was still delicious. If I ever own my own Italian restaurant, this is going on the appetizers menu. Full disclosure: I generally find Williams-Sonoma (the source of the recipe) a tad pretentious (we certainly didn't bake our stacks in a 12 in. cast iron fry pan ($120.00) as the recipe suggested), but a good recipe is a good recipe.

This morning, I decided to make omelettes. I started by sauteing some onions and fresh garlic in a little olive oil. As an aside, we've been getting fresh garlic from our farm share, and I'm completely hooked on it. It is so much better than the pre-minced garlic that we had been getting from the grocery store. I then added the eggs, some Monterrey Jack cheese, and some diced tomatoes to the onions and garlic. The end result was delicious. Omelettes are the casserole (or fried rice) of breakfast; you just throw in whatever ingredients that you can find and see what happens. The best omelettes tend to be the ones that have the least amount of planning, and this was no exception.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Good Knight

We finally went to see The Dark Knight last weekend. It's as good as everyone says it is, for the most part. It's certainly the darkest of all the Batman films (though, oddly enough, it probably has more daylight scenes than any of the recent Batman movies). All I can add to the litany of praise heaped on the film are my own, mostly geography-related observations. For one, it appears that Gotham is both a city and a state (or perhaps a city-state) since all of the cars in the movie had Gotham licenses plates. These license plates look very similar to those of the State of Illinois, which leads me to my second observation - Gotham City looks a lot like Chicago in this movie. As it turns out, most of the movie was filmed in Chicago. I thought it was kind of strange, since I had always assumed that Gotham City was a synonym for New York City, but as it turns out, the real-life location of Gotham has been a subject of considerable debate for quite some time. This isn't a case of slopping filmmaking however, Christopher Nolan, the director of the Dark Knight, deliberately used Chicago as the prototype for the Gotham City of his movies. Finally, (mini spoiler alert) I thought that scene at the beginning of the movie where the Joker shows up at a meeting of Gotham's criminal underground was a subtle reference to the 1960s Batman movie, but I'm not sure if that's something that a director like Nolan, who has succeeded brilliantly at rescuing the Batman franchise from its descent into camp and idiocy in the late 90s, would even want to do.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wardrobe Malfunction

I really enjoy biking to work, but scrambling to stuff my backpack with a change of clothes before heading out the door had been a bit of an issue. On Monday, I forgot to bring a change of socks, so I had to wear my loafers with my white athletic socks. Today, I remembered the socks but forgot my shoes. Thank goodness for the relaxed dress code of the 21st century office.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

IZSM

I've been listening to a lot of IZSM lately, a band that I recently discovered on last.fm. I'm particularly enamored by a tune called Izmus, which you can download (legitimately) here, if you're interested. I don't really know a whole lot about the band, other than that they're from Venezuela. The have a MySpace page, of course, but it's in Spanish. Two of their MySpace friends are Living Colour and Vernon Reid, which is a strong endorsement, at least in my book.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Collective Bargaining

If nothing else, the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics sure featured a lot of people. At the time, I joked that it was simply due to China's huge population; they have so many people that every square inch of space is occupied. My second, slightly less lame take on that joke was that it was an immense make-work project. Anyone who has ever visited China should know what I mean; transactions that usually only require a single salesperson in US seem to require two or three in China. Leave it to David Brooks to see something more sinister at work. He sees the opening ceremony as a collectivist challenge to the individualism of the west. Whether or not he saw the same threat to western values during the opening ceremonies of the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, or the 1964 Tokyo games, all of which took place in Japan, a country with a culture that is much more suspicious of individuality than China, he doesn't say. I suspect that you getting a better insight into what he's thinking if you replace collectivism with another -ism beginning with c, but that also doesn't really work since China wouldn't be hosting the Olympics right now if they hadn't decided to start ditching most of their communist economic system 30 years ago.

This piece, along with this rebuttal from The Economist, tie in well with the book that I just finished reading, Edward O. Wilson's On Human Nature. Wilson's thesis echoes The Economist's view that humans across all cultures generally act in their own best interest. Furthermore, Wilson argues that there is a common genetic basis that constrains the full range of human social behavior and that cultures can change quickly under the right conditions and humans can quickly adapt to different cultures. In fact, two of the examples that he used to demonstrate humanity's cultural flexibility involved Chinese immigrant populations in Jamaica and Guyana.

On Human Nature is as heavy as its title implies, but it was still a fascinating read. Had I had the proper amount of time to dedicate to it, I certainly could have read it from cover to cover in one sitting. The book is now 30 years old, but as far as I can tell, still incredibly relevant. I picked this book up because my interest in evolution and evolutionary psychology has been sparked over the past few years by all of the intelligent design nonsense that's been in the news. It has certainly motivated me to learn more about science in general and evolution in particular and I hope that it's had a similar effect on others.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Friday, August 08, 2008

Air Supply

With the Beijing Olympics officially getting underway today, there have been plenty of stories in the news about the air quality (or the complete lack thereof) in Beijing. I certainly noticed the pollution when I visited China last fall, but it didn't really affect me physically. Had I not been able to see the haze, I don't think that I would have noticed that the air quality was any worse than a typical American city. Of course, I didn't attempt any strenuous physical activity while I was over there. The morning we left Shanghai, there was a road race going on right in front of our hotel. Although the air quality hadn't bothered me up to that point, the idea of running a 5K in the middle of Shanghai did make me feel a little queasy. In a strange way, I was almost disappointed that I didn't find breathing the air in China as uncomfortable as I thought I would. It's been such a big story for so long that it's almost become a tourist attraction.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Unleash the Beast

I've been laughing all day at this lame joke from today's installment of The Box of Paperbacks Book Club that for all intents and purposes, I shouldn't even understand. It's a recycled joke from some 1980s hack comedian whose name has been lost to the ages. Ready for it? What does HBO stand for (ca. mid 1980s)? Hey!, Beastmaster's on! Beastmaster, of course, is a 1980s sci-fi/fantasy movie that was in heavy rotation on cable during my childhood, but I've never actually seen the movie. I think I knew some people who were big fans of the movie, but I'm not even sure. For whatever reason, I've always found Beastmaster amusing, and I watched so much bad stand-up comedy on basic cable in the late 80s/early 90s that I can picture in my head the exact kind of comedian who would make a joke like this one.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

Lonely?

You might want to consider moving to Syracuse. According to CNN, it's the 14th best place in the US for singles. While I was never technically single when I lived in the 'Cuse, it didn't really strike me a singles hotspot. If you're single and looking to move but don't think you can handle the fast pace and subtropical weather of Syracuse, don't despair - Marquette, MI came in 23rd place.

Even by the incredibly low journalistic standards of the top 10/25/100 lists that news organizations put together to drum up sales, this list is pretty weak. The article doesn't even explain their selection methodology. Apparently, it's the 25 cities in America with the highest percentage of singles and an "over-30 scene". I'm not even sure if the ratio of single men to single women was factored into their calculation (or the percentage of single homosexuals, for that matter).

h/t Hermano

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Stitch in Time


While playing a game of the nominally non-contact sport of ultimate frisbee yesterday, my chin met the side of one of my teammates' head. It didn't really hurt, but I was bleeding more than I would have liked. Three stitches later, everything is back to normal.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tapenade Rubbed Steak

I was looking for a good, simple grilling recipe on Sunday so I turned to the cookbook that has never let me down and found an interesting approach to steak. You take a piece of steak (in my case, a one and a half pound of boneless sirloin steak) and spread a healthy amount of black olive tapenade all over the meat. You then wrap it up in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. To grill it, sear it on each side for a few minutes then let it cook over indirect medium heat until it reaches the desired level of doneness. I cooked my steak for just under an hour and it came out medium to medium rare. The tapenade imparted a lot of flavor to the meat without overwhelming it. I'll probably try this recipe with some other meats since it came out so well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

When You're Here, You're Family

This story is a couple weeks old, but I couldn't resist commenting on it. The NBC affiliate in Providence did a story where they called the Rhode Island Department of Tourism's toll-free number and asked a variety of rudimentary questions about Rhode Island and discovered that the people answering the calls knew next to nothing about the state. For example, when asked where one could find a good Italian meal in Rhode Island, the operator recommended the Olive Garden in South Attleboro, MA. The calls were being handled by a call center in Kansas City, MO so it's not surprising that the people fielding them knew nothing about Rhode Island.

In defense of the Department of Tourism's outsourcing choice, the toll-free number is not designed to be a tourist hotline; its only purpose is to allow potential visitors to request a travel guide. That being said, they probably should set up a second level of support staffed by people with local knowledge to assist callers who had questions about their visit to Rhode Island.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Grizzly Adams

I found this collection of Sports Illustrated's most usual covers a while back, but I still feel the need to comment on this cover in particular. It was kind of shocking to see an SI cover story starting a discussion about whether or not it would be a good idea to deliberately wipe out the wild grizzly bear population of North America. Even if SI still deemed the outdoors a worthy topic for a cover story, I can't imagine that they would ever consider debating the deliberate extinction of a species. I read the article, and while the author takes an anti-forced extinction position, he views the eventual extinction of the grizzly as a forgone conclusion. Nearly 40 years after this article was penned, the grizzly has been removed from the endangered species list (at least, in Yellowstone National Park), so overall, the grizzly's future has been somewhat brighter than this article predicted.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wall E. Weasel's

I've read some reviews that have put Wall-E on the short list for best picture of 2008. While I wasn't quite that enthusiastic about it, I still thought it was a good movie. Like all good animation, it works on several levels. It's got fun stuff for the kids, not-so-subtle references to 2001 and other pop culture ephemera for the adults, and killer animation for people who enjoy movies solely for their visuals. Like most children's entertainment that is in any way creative or interesting, it has generated a fair amount of controversy. This is all pretty silly, of course. I think that the real message that Wall-E is trying to convey is the old adage about how the unexamined life is not worth living. All of the characters in the movie are forced at some point to choose between the comfortable status quo and the unknown. My one complaint is that after building up all of this tension, the ending is somewhat anti-climatic and unsatisfying. Perhaps they were just keeping the powder dry for the sequel.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Love Is

I've been using last.fm's "love" feature to flag songs that I love in order to inform their music selection algorithm about my tastes, but I've also been using it as a way to keep track of interesting artists that I've heard for the first time on last.fm so I can go back and explore more of their music at some point in the future. Needless to say, I was kind of bummed when I learned that last.fm doesn't provide a feed of your entire loved music history. Fortunately, a fellow named Jamie Thompson is hosting a little last.fm loved music feed service that anyone with a last.fm account can use to create a feed of their entire loved music history. Here's my feed. I've also added it to the right-hand side of this blog underneath the blogroll.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

For Eyes


As you can see (unless you need glasses), I have recently joined the those in need of corrective lenses club. I probably joined the club a while back, but I didn't get my eyes checked out until recently. I don't know when I first noticed that my vision was starting to degrade, but it was obvious by last fall when I was in China and my brother and his surgically enhanced eyes were able to easily read street signs that I could barely decipher (pretty amazing, given that he doesn't even know Chinese). Even though my vision is still pretty good, I notice a remarkable difference when I put on my glasses. Everything more than a couple feet away from me is noticeably sharper. It's nice to be able to see in HD again.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sandwich Artistry

I've always been a big fan of sandwiches, and I discovered a new favorite on our trip to Europe. I discovered it at the Schönbrunn Palace snack bar of all places. It's simple, a baguette with Brie a couple strips of green pepper, and a healthy amount of fresh cracked pepper. I was very hungry when I had it for the first time, so it's not surprising that I found it so delicious, but I've made it a few times since getting back home and it still tastes great. Bon appetit.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

LRU For Dummies

I needed a Least Recently Used data structure for some work I was doing so I went out to see what I could find in the open source world. I have used the LRUMap from Commons Collections before, but I was hoping to find one that makes use of generics. I checked out Google Collections, but they don't have any LRU data structures (yet). Fortunately, I check out the JavaDocs for LinkedHashMap on a hunch and was happy to discover that Sun already implemented an LRU algorithm in LinkedHashMap that can be enabled by setting a constructor parameter. They even provided a protected method that can be overriden in a subclass to create a fixed-size LRU map in fewer than 10 lines of code. The JavaDocs explain it all if you're interested.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Horror

I recently picked up Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I'm not entirely sure why I decided to read it, other than it's one of many notable works of literature that I've never read. I went to the library looking for a work of fiction, but beyond that, I didn't really have anything in mind. I enjoyed the book, but I had a few problems with it. The first was that I picked up the Norton Critical Edition, which clocks in at 420 pages. The story itself is only 70 of those pages. I failed to consult the table of contents before diving into it, so I thought that it was a novel-length story. I tend to read longer stories differently than shorter ones. I don't pay attention as closely at the start of a longer story since I figure that the first 20 or 30 pages are just going to start developing the themes and characters that will be fully fleshed out throughout the course of the book. Once I was 20 or 30 pages into Heart of Darkness, I was almost halfway through the story. I didn't realize how short the story was until I was about 2/3rds of the way through it, at which point, I had no desire to go back to the beginning and read it more closely.

My bigger problem was the extent to which the story has been woven into western culture over the past 100 years. It's hard to approach a work of literature from a fresh perspective after you've already seen it parodied on Seinfeld. While I didn't read much of the source material, criticism, and historical information presented in the other 350 pages of the Norton Critical Edition, that which I did read was in some ways more interesting to me than the story. I'd still say that the story is required reading for any student of the scramble for Africa.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Correction

I used to read letters to the editor pretty religiously, but I've all but stopped reading them over the past couple of years. I guess I used to find them mildly amusing, but I grew tired of the inane and barely coherent arguments that are the bread and butter of typical letter to the editor writers. Fortunately, I skimmed the letters to the editor in today's ProJo because I came across a surprisingly good and informative letter to the editor. It's a refutation of several of the great myths of Rhode Island history, including one that I've perpetuated on my blog. As it turns out, the law passed in Rhode Island in May of 1776 only repealed the requirement that all government officers swear allegiance to the king; Rhode Island didn't actually declare independence until July 18, 1776 when the legislature ratified the Declaration of Independence.

Independence Day

I finally made it up to Boston for the 4th of July this year. I've wanted to catch the fireworks in Boston ever since I lived there, but for various reasons, it never worked out. I wasn't sure if I could still be impressed by a fireworks display, but I have to admit that they take things to another level on the 4th up in Boston. They had fireworks that lit up the sky with smiling faces and cubes when they exploded. They had fireworks that slowly floated back down to earth on balloons. They had a grand finale so massive that the smoke from the fireworks that exploded at the beginning of the finale practically washed out the explosions at the end.

One of the great things about the 4th of July is it's a pretty low-key holiday. The only things that are expected of you are eating, drinking, and watching explosions. I was pleased that even in Boston, one of the few legitimate 4th of July destinations, everything is still pretty low-key. With the exception of the crowd, the "celebrity" guests, and the sheer volume of firepower on display, it really wasn't any different than watching the fireworks at a park in Anytown, USA.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Iron Man

After two unsuccessful attempts, we finally caught Iron Man last night. With the exception of the Batman franchise, Michelle is usually more excited about comic book/action adventure movies than I am. While we both enjoyed Iron Man, I definitely liked it more than she did. It's not a theatrical masterpiece, but it's highly entertaining and incredibly whimsical. I suspect that most people don't go into superhero movies hoping for whimsy, but as an unabashed fan of the 1960s Batman TV series, I have always loved superhero movies that don't take themselves too seriously and constantly wink at the audience. If that's not your thing, Iron Man still has enough explosions and high-tech gadgets to keep up appearances.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

West Side Story

Yesterday, I biked to work for the first time at my present job. It was actually the first time I've biked to work in seven years. This is the first job I've had in a while that has the facilities to support bicycle commuting (showers and bike storage) and is close enough to home that I can still make it to and from work in a reasonable amount of time when traveling by bike. I really should have done this a lot sooner, but it's taken me a while to find a good bike route across the west side of Providence. I figured out most of the route that I wound up taking last summer, but at the time, I felt like it had a couple of high traffic chokepoints that I wouldn't be able to make it through so I started looking for a new route that went up the more bike-friendly east side. After trying a friend's route across the west side that involved riding across Federal Hill, I decided to give my old route another try. After fighting the traffic on Dean St., riding around Olneyville Square suddenly didn't look so bad. As it turns out, the traffic on my route is not as a bad during the weekday commute as it is on a Saturday morning, since the most of the high-traffic areas are commercial districts that don't see as many shoppers during they week as they do on weekends.

Here's a link to the main section of my route. It goes from Park Ave. and Cranston St. to Branch Ave. and Charles St. I don't actually follow the route that I've mapped out between Park Ave and Webster Ave; instead, I follow the Washington Secondary Bike Path.

Hopefully, I'll be able to bike to work at least a couple times per week for the rest of the summer. It takes me just over twice as long to bike as it does to drive (40 minutes vs. 15). Unless gas prices shoot up by a couple more dollars per gallon, I'm not really going to be saving myself much money, but I should get some good exercise.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Alice Again

One of the fun things about blogging is that after you've done it a while, you'll start to notice patterns in your writing that you never would have expected. When I started blogging, I never expected that I would have so much to say about Alice Cooper. To wit, while walking around the shopping mall inside of Vienna's Gasometer a few weeks ago, I noticed that it had its own walk of fame. Since Falco and Ahnold are the only Austrian celebrities I can think of off the top of my head, I wasn't surprised that I had never heard of anyone in the walk of fame. Nor was I surprised to see that one person in the walk of fame that I did recognize was Alice Cooper. Normally, I might have a little pity for an aging rocker who decided it was worth his time to let a second-rate Austrian shopping mall immortalize him in their walk of fame, but I feel like Alice Cooper's enshrinement was more of a labor of love and whimsy than desperation.

We were driving home after our flight back from Vienna when I discovered that the local classic rock radio station is now airing Nights with Alice Cooper (only on Saturday nights, sadly). One of the deep cuts that Alice treated us to was one of his own, a song I had never heard before called "I Love America". It's essentially a less profane, cold war version of "America - Fuck Yeah!". It's not all that funny or clever, but it's distinctly Cooper.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Ice Harvest

After hearing about Gavin Weightman's The Frozen-Water Trade: A True Story shortly after it was published in 2003 and having my interest rekindled after noticing a small sign on an old warehouse in Charlestown commemorating the frozen water trade while walking the Freedom Trail in 2006, I finally got around to reading the book. The book is largely the story of Frederic Tudor, the man who was largely responsible for creating the ice industry prior to artificial refrigeration. Before I heard about this book, I had no idea that people ever harvested ice from lakes and rivers and stored it so it would be available during the warmer months. I had heard of icehouses and iceboxes but I guess I never really thought about where the ice came from. When I learned that Tudor shipped ice to the Caribbean, the American South, and even to India without artificial refrigeration, I was astounded and it was that astonishment that led to my interest in the book.

Once I was able to wrap my head around the idea that the ice trade, the book didn't really have much else to offer in the way of shocking realizations. The book devoted some space to one of Tudor's partners, Nathaniel Wyeth, who was responsible for most of the technical innovations that made it possible to harvest large volumes of ice from frozen lakes and ponds in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Once that was worked out, the ice business was like any other weather-dependent business. Tudor exploited the technical advantages that Wyeth provided to harvest more ice in less time at a lower cost than his competitors, but in the end, his success had more to do with the network of relationships he built around the world and his refusal to cede any ground to his competitors.

The most interesting thing about the whole story was not the supply side of the ice business; it was the demand side. The US was the first country where year-round access to ice in all climates was considered a necessity instead of an extravagant luxury. While there certainly was demand for ice in the tropical climes of the Caribbean and India, ice was still seen as more of a luxury good. Even today, American's attitudes towards ice differ from the rest of the world. Sit down at a restaurant anywhere in the 50 states and the first thing that you'll get is a tall, cool glass of ice water. American brewers have spent so much time and money trying to convince customers that their beer is the coldest that it's become the stuff of parody. The books doesn't offer any explanation for American's love of ice. It might be good old American exceptionalism, but I have my own theory. The climate of the eastern part of North America is a lot more variable than that of Western Europe. The average temperature in Philadelphia during the summer is about the same as the average temperature in Rome during the summer, but Philadelphia gets much colder in the winter. There's really nowhere in the eastern US that has comfortable weather throughout the winter and the summer, so it makes sense that in addition to the obvious demand for summer ice in sweltering American South there would also be more demand for summer ice in Northeastern US cities than anywhere in Western Europe.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin

I knew this morning when I heard that George Carlin had passed away that I would read many tributes in the blogosphere today. Certain deaths really resonate in blogging world. Generally, they feature men who did great or at least interesting things while living by their own credo and not worrying too much about what the rest of the world thought of them. I suspect that deep down, this is how most of us bloggers would like to see ourselves remembered and therefore, it should come as no surprise that we feel the need to mourn the passing of the great elders of the tribe to which we aspire.

I'm not going to eulogize Carlin because I'm not that familiar with his body of work. I liked the pieces of it that I managed to catch, but I never really sought it out. I will mention that I was just thinking about what he was up to and how old he was after his name came up in a conversation I had with some friends about Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (in which Carlin plays Rufus, of course) on Saturday. I'm not suggesting that the act of me thinking about George Carlin for the first time in a few years led to his passing 24 hours later, but it is strange how things like that happen sometime. Perhaps Carlin once did a bit about this phenomenon.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Das dritte European Impressions

I can't look at the tiles on the roof of Stephansdom without thinking of the Jamaican Flag. Apparently, it's a rather recent addition to the church.

Vienna was full of European soccer fans while we were visited since it is one of the host cities for the 2008 Euro Cup tournament.

Of all the countries whose fans traveled to Vienna for the tournament, Poland had the largest and most vocal contingent.

I've never felt more connection to my Polish heritage than I did while riding the U Bahn with a horde of Polish soccer fans in full regalia on their way back from the stadium.

For a city that was packed with European soccer fans, there was surprisingly little rioting going on while we were there. Many of Vienna's more delicate landmarks, including the Burggarten, were closed to prevent them from getting trashed.

This was the first time I've ever visited multiple countries on an overseas trip and it was interesting to see the contrasts between Paris and Vienna that I probably wouldn't have noticed had I visited them on separate trips.

I didn't see a single street musician my entire time in Vienna. I was disappointed, but I chalked it up to the Euro 2008 tournament.

The grounds at the Belvedere Palace were not in very good condition and even if they were in good shape, they wouldn't have been anywhere near as impressive as the grounds at the Schönbrunn Palace.

The art museum in the Oberes Belvedere had a decent collection of German Expressionist paintings, but it was not as rich of a collection as I would have hoped for a city that was so important to that movement.

I'm better at passing as a European than I imagined. The flight attendants on our intra-European flights generally addressed me in German before English. Vendors on the streets of Vienna guessed that I was Polish, Russian, and German before American (as long as I hadn't said anything to them yet).

Saturday, June 21, 2008

European Impressions, Part Deux

The Musée d'Orsay has more famous and familiar paintings per square foot than any other museum I've ever visited. It's an astounding collection for any museum, let alone a museum that opened in 1986!

Regardless of what your Paris guidebooks may tell you, if you want to visit the street markets of Paris, you better go first thing in the morning and preferably on a weekend.

I've now seen three Statues of Liberty (NYC, Tokyo, Paris)

Hot dogs are much more readily available in Paris than I ever would have imagined.

One of the few American meals that I miss while traveling is a nice greasy breakfast. Fortunately, we were able to get one in Paris.

When visiting places with a lot of history, it's interesting to see what events and people they choose to focus on at their historic attractions. Most of the historic attractions in Paris focused on the revolution, of course. In Vienna, they seemed to focus on Maria Theresa and Franz Josef I, their most famous and last* monarchs, respectively. Marie Antoinette comes up quite a bit in both cities, since she was the daughter of Maria Theresa and wife of Louis XVI.
* Technically, Franz Josef I wasn't the last Habsburg monarch, but he reigned for 68 years and the monarchy was dissolved two years after his death

I've developed a fondness for Roman Ruins, no matter how unimpressive they are.

French coffee is stronger (and better) than Viennese coffee (Don't take my word for it, however, as I only had coffee one time in each city).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Some European Impressions

Paris is as beautiful as everyone says - but not in the way that I expected. It has a gritty, lived-in kind of feeling that only enhances its beauty, in my opinion.

Paris is more multicultural than I was led to believe.

The Paris Metro system is one of best public transit systems I've ever ridden. If we had to wait more than two minutes for a train, it was a long wait.

The only thing worse than the crowds at the Louvre were the people who were taking pictures of all of the paintings. I hope that the art museums of Paris (and the rest of the world, for that matter) start prohibiting all photography in their galleries. In the age of digital photography, it's not enough to just outlaw flash photography.

I was under the impression that the only kinds of stores on the Champs-Elysees were high-end luxury goods stores. It certainly had plenty of these, but there were plenty of shopping opportunities for those on more of a budget.

Even after taking into account the weakness of the dollar, drinkable wine is still very affordable in France.

The best part about worldwide theatrical releases of films is seeing how the titles get translated. What Happens in Vegas was Jackpot in France and Love Vegas in Austria. I guess the Greater Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau uses a different slogan in its foreign language marketing materials. (Note: this observation should not be construed as an endorsement of the film What Happens in Vegas)

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Who Shot Nice Guy Eddie?

In an ongoing attempt to turn my blog into the Internet's premier source of Quabbin Reservoir related news, I present this article from last Sunday's ProJo. It sounds like a nice place to do some hiking, biking, or just plain old relaxing, especially in the fall. I may have to make the trip up there sometime this autumn. If I do go, rest assured, you'll read about it here first.

The Cup is Raised



Welcome back to Detroit, Stanley.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Slack to the Future

Over this past Memorial Day weekend, I was thinking about how it was a year ago that Ace Cowboy turned the lights off over at his personal blog. For whatever reason, it seems like it's been way longer than a year since Slack LaLane fell out of my daily rotation. I'm happy to report that Ace has gotten the proverbial band back together over here. Kudos bar, indeed.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Viral Donut

The I Love Donuts billboard is back up in Providence. In case you've never seen it, it's just a picture of a donut and a URL - ILikeDonuts.com. I finally went to the website and it turns out it's just a advertising company trying to drum up business. I guess I walked right into their trap.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dewey Defeats Truman

So on Friday night, when I thought I was witnessing baseball history, it turns out I was actually watching a rerun of Monday's Red Sox game. Unless John Lester throws a no-hitter this afternoon, he's not the second player in MLB history to throw back-to-back no-hitters. I suppose I should have been skeptical about Lester throwing on four day's rest against the Royals at home on a night that, according to the Red Sox schedule, they were supposed to be playing in Oakland, but I was too caught up in the moment to think about it.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I Want My TVP

I recently came across this Vandermark 5 music video on last.fm. I'm not joking when I call it a music video, it's not just footage of them playing in concert, it's got multiple camera angles, close-ups, and all sorts of post-production touches.





As far as I can tell, it was aired on TVP Kultura, a Polish arts and culture television station. I never imagined that I would ever be envious of Polish television. If they had programming like this in Poland 100 years ago, perhaps my great-grandparents never would have emigrated to the US.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

No Way

Congrats to John Lester of the Boston Red Sox for throwing his second no-no of the week. I happened to flip to the game tonight in the fifth inning and noticed that Lester was back on the hill and hadn't given up a hit yet. I usually don't pay much attention to the Sox or regular season baseball, but I'm glad I caught this. I know that almost everything that could have possibly happened on a baseball field has already happened before, but I don't think there are too many pitchers who have thrown two no-hitters in the same week.

Identity Crisis

If you've read an in-flight magazine in the past year, you've probably seen ads for LifeLock, the company that has so much confidence in their identity theft prevention service that they made publicly divulging their CEO's social security number the centerpiece of their ad campaign. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Back to the Future

It's taken about 15 years, but it's finally happened - the Red Wings and the Penguins are finally meeting in the Stanley Cup finals. This was a common prognostication, especially for this guy, back in the early 90s when the Penguins last ruled the NHL and the Red Wings were establishing themselves as one of the league's premier (regular-season) teams. In 1992, the last time the Penguins advanced to the finals, they faced an original six team with a backup goaltender by the name of Dominik Hasek. This time around, they're facing an original six team with a backup goaltender... you see where this is going. Hasek introduced himself to the NHL in game four of the 1992 finals when he came on in relief of Ed Belfour. By then, the Blackhawks had already lost the series, but Hasek's brilliance at least gave them a chance to stave off the sweep. As a Red Wings fan, I'm hoping that the Penguins of 2008 don't fare as well as their 1992 edition and I'm also hoping that Hasek's NHL career doesn't end the same way it began.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Feast or Famine

In preparation for our trip to London last year, I read a lengthy history of the British Empire. In preparation for our upcoming trip to Paris, I decided to look for some novels featuring the city of lights. My first choice was Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, but they didn't have a copy of it available when I went to the library and I wasn't about to embark on a transcontinental flight without some reading material, so I picked up Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow, a book that I found a recommendation for on a random literature blog. It's the debut novel by Faize Guene, a Algerian-French college student. As I thumbed through the book in the library, I realized that I couldn't recall the last book I read that was written by a woman. Perhaps breaking this streak with a book written by a teenager wasn't the greatest idea. It was a light read and heartwarming without being too sentimental, but it didn't do a whole lot for me. With the exception of about three pages, none of the story actually took place in Paris. Instead, the book paints a fairly vivid picture of the much less glamorous immigrant neighborhoods on the outskits of Paris. Since I doubt we'll be making it out there on our trip, this book at least gave me a taste of what life is like for people stuck between France and their homeland.

I did eventually get my hands on a copy of A Moveable Feast, which I just finished reading. Not all of the stories in the book take place in Paris, but the ones that do are quite evocative. I fear that the stories may have romanticized the Parisian cafe well beyond what any establishment could hope to offer, however. I probably learned more about Hemingway than Paris from the book. I've always pictured Hemingway as impossibly rugged and gruff; uncomfortable unless he was in a bull fight, boxing match, war, safari, or some other sort of manly pursuit. His persona in A Moveable Feast doesn't really fit this description. The Hemingway of A Moveable Feast is rather docile and domestic. His persona does start to change in the final story, which contains some of the anger and philandering that I have always associated with Hemingway.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Streakhouse, Please

While I rarely dine at fast food restaurants, I do have a soft spot in my heart for their advertisements. This recent Burger King spot is one of my current favorites.





I love the idea of someone who wants a steakhouse burger so badly that he'll gladly wreck his own car and the car in front of him in the line at the drive through just to get his burger a little bit faster. I also love how he didn't bother to actually place an order; he just pulled up to the window and pushed out the car that was already there. Even if this was socially acceptable behavior, it wouldn't have helped him get his steakhouse burger any faster since you still have to actually order your meal before you can pick it up at the drive through window. Finally, the way he politely says "steakhouse, please" with a demented smile on his face once he pushes the other car out of the way is priceless. After completely flaunting the most basic rules of driving and drive through etiquette, he calmly places his order in a completely matter-of-fact way that would lead one to believe that he does this kind of thing every day.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In the Zone

One of my favorite things about flying back home to Michigan is hearing the automated timezone announcement at Detroit Metro Airport. In case you've never heard it, it runs about every ten minutes in the terminal and announces in English, Japanese, and Mandarin that Detroit is in the Eastern Timezone. As far as I know, this is the only message that they bothered to translate into any foreign languages. I can appreciate how confusing it can be for someone who doesn't speak English to travel to the US, but is it really necessary to tell people the name of the current timezone in their native language? For starters, airports have clocks all over the place, so anyone who is confused about the current time after a 12 hour flight from Asia only needs to look around for a few seconds. Never mind the fact that I doubt people who live outside of North America are familiar with the names that we give the timezones over here. I've found that the only people who really need to be reminded that Detroit is in the Eastern Time Zone are certain residents of the northeast who think that the Central Time Zone begins somewhere west of Schenectady.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Reservoir Dogs

On my flight back from San Francisco, we flew over the Quabbin Reservoir on the approach into Boston. The sun had just risen and it gave the reservoir a really eerie look. The view of it on Google Maps doesn't really do it justice. It made me think about reservoirs, and led me to conclude, correctly, that the Quabbin and Scituate Reservoirs are the largest inland bodies of water in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, respectively. I thought it was strange that I couldn't name a reservoir in any other place that I've lived until I realized that most of the other places I've lived have been near large and/or Great Lakes. From what I read on Wikipedia, the stories of the creation of these reservoirs sounds fascinating, since they were both constructed in the early part of the 20th century over land that was already settled and populated.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Wi-Infidelity

How's this for irony? I've spent most of this week in the high technology capitol of the world at what is probably one of the largest software developer conferences in the world and today is the first day I've had reliable access to the Internet. Did I miss anything good? I could have found a coffee shop or, *gasp*, actually paid for WiFi access at my hotel, of course, but those things involve work and/or money. I can understand how 15,000 software developers and their arsenal of wireless devices could overwhelm the wireless network at a convention center, but you'd think that if any place could handle that kind of load, the premier destination for high-technology conferences could.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Swedish Fish

The performance of Detroit's Swedish contingent in last night's Wings-Avs game was probably the greatest gift that Sweden has given the world since reasonably priced, some assembly required, particle board furniture. If only Babcock would put three of the Swedish forwards together to create the Ikea line.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

My Giant

I just finished watching the first season of Human Giant, MTV's newish sketch comedy show. I had never heard of the show until I read this AV Club review. I haven't watched MTV intentionally in at least 10 years so I was kind of skeptical, but I gave it a chance and I'm glad that I did. It's pretty funny stuff. The sketches are all pretty short, but I think that's a good thing. Sketch comedy is so hit-or-miss that it's better to end a good skit early than let a bad one drag on. The sketches are more conceptual than SNL and a lot more absurd, so I definitely appreciated that. With a three-man cast and not a lot in the way of production values, it's a lot more raw than other sketch comedy shows. The humor isn't all that insightful. They occasionally take shots at pop culture and current events, but it's mostly three guys performing reductio ad absurdum on everyday situations.