Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What a Drag It Is Getting Old

I may be getting a bit ahead of myself here, but one of the things I think about from time to time is what kind of an old person am I going to be. Will I be one of those old people who reflexively rejects anything new and different? I doubt it, but even at the ripe old age of 31, I occasionally catch myself rejecting new and unfamiliar things without giving them a fair shake.

I was thinking about this a lot today. As you probably haven't heard, the big news in the sports blogosphere right now is las night's episode of Costas Now, on which Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Buzz Bissinger launched a profanity-laced tirade against sports blogs in general and Deadspin's Will Leitch in particular. I don't think I'll ever react to any future forms of media distribution the way Bissinger reacted to sports blogs, but I'm not a professional writer and have no plans to become one, so I don't have as much skin in the game. While I don't think most people really "get" blogging, it seems like it's only professional journalists who feel threatened by what it represents who seem to be lashing out against it. I'm fairly confident that blogging is going to keep getting bigger and will eventually be recognized as a legitimate media distribution channel. In order for that to happen, the blogosphere will need to expand beyond its current sweet spot, which is a celebration of all things embraced by irreverent, nerdy, mostly male, gen X types. It's going to happen, of course, it's just going to take a little while for everyone else to get up to speed.

The thing that I find so exciting about the blogosphere (damn, I hate that word) is that as an irreverent, nerdy, mostly male, gen X type, I feel an immediate connection with so many of my fellow bloggers. As blogging becomes more mainstream, more people will be joining the club, and I'm sure that I'll start feeling some nostalgia for the good old days when you could jump into any blogging comment thread and drop an obscure Simpsons reference and be recognized as a member of a really dorky online fraternity. Of course, the great thing about blogging is that there's plenty of room for everyone. Deadspin doesn't have to disappear when someone starts publishing a more accessible sports blog.

Monday, April 28, 2008

On Average

Here's an interesting state-by-state breakdown of some demographic information and statistics that may or may not be relevant in this year's election. I was kind of surprised to see how average Rhode Island is in a lot of categories (gas price, illegal immigration, poverty, racial distribution, and per capita GDP). I feel like Rhode Island's small physical size throws off a lot of statistics because it has a smaller percentage of its citizens living in rural areas than most states. I was most surprised to see that at 47%, Rhode Island comes in 48th in the percentage of population who are married.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Milford Academy

Gil Thorp is one of most delightfully absurd comic strips out there. I've been reading it off and on for as long as I've been reading the comics and I've never noticed anything that tied the fictional town of Milford to any particular location. Out of the blue, the past two installments of the Gil Thorp have featured the Mudlarks playing softball and baseball games against two fairly recognizable New York towns, Binghamton and Chenango. Out of curiosity, I checked to see if there is a town named Milford nearby and sure enough, there is. The creator of Gil Thorp hailed from New Milford, CT but never referred to any particular state in the strip. Perhaps his successor is trying not-so-subtly to position Milford somewhere in New York State's Souther Tier.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fly Like An Eagle

I've recently received a few postcards asking me to submit my current contact information for some sort of a national Eagle Scout database. I've ignored the requests so far, since I'm hesitant to respond to any unsolicited request for information. Besides, they already know where I live. Apparently, I'm not the only Eagle Scout blogger, because others have written about this already. A number of them have expressed reservations about responding to the campaign since they disagree with the BSA's anti-gay stance. While I also oppose the exclusionary policies of the BSA, my hesitance to send in my information stems more from laziness and privacy concerns than ideology. If I ever have a son and the BSA has not changed their policies by then, I'm not sure if I'll encourage him to join scouting or not. I certainly value the experiences that I had as a scout, but at the same time, I don't agree with the way they discriminate against gays and atheists.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How I Learned Stop Worrying and Love Gentrification

There's an anti-gentrification campaign going on in Providence right now. The idea that gentrification is a problem that is destroying urban America and needs to be resisted at all times is really something that I have trouble wrapping my head around. I'm willing to concede that development isn't always done in a way that is beneficial to the community, but the idea that anything that might displace the economically disadvantaged needs to be vociferously opposed seems incredibly counterproductive. I think there are plenty of cities out there, Providence included, that wish their biggest problem was gentrification.

I think the last paragraph of this is post is very illuminating. The author of this post (who is also quoted in the article referenced by the post) has a more nuanced view of gentrification than a lot of anti-gentrification activists, yet he is still basically saying that even if development helps a community in some very tangible ways (good jobs and affordable housing), the underlying problem is still there because the development will somehow ruin the character of the neighborhood. To me, that seems like a completely unrealistic standard for development in all but the most wealthy and/or historic areas, never mind blighted inner-city neighborhoods. As an aside, not surprisingly, The Onion has the best take on the matter.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The 'S' is for super and the 'U' is for unique...

I've been a geography geek for most of my life. I attribute at least some of it to my interest in sports. I learned where most of the major cities in the US were located by following the sports teams that played in them. Baseball was my first love and the only sport I really cared about until I was in the fourth or fifth grade. I had a baseball dice game that I used to spend hours playing as a kid. When I got really ambitious/bored, I would create my own baseball league. I'd create a handful of teams, give them names, and even design logos that I would draw on a map of the US. I'm pretty sure that my suburban Detroit hometown always had a franchise. In general, I liked to give franchises to places that didn't have big league ball teams. The only one of my expansion teams that I can remember are the Idaho Potatoes. Where am I going with this story? As most sports fans probably know by now, in all likelihood, the Seattle Sonics are going to be moving to Oklahoma City. For a number of reasons, this whole thing reminds me of the obscure baseball expansion franchises I created as a kid. They'll be the first major pro sports teams in Oklahoma and one of the few between the Mississippi River and the west coast (outside of Texas, Denver, and Phoenix). In terms of population, the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Statistical Area has about 1.2M people, which is not huge but it's larger than several other MSAs that have major professional sports teams. It's also much larger than Boise, the presumptive home of the Idaho Potatoes.

While OKC is about to join the ranks of medium-sized cities with major professional sports teams, in my opinion, Seattle is about to join an even more interesting club. Once the Sonics leave town, Seattle will have only two major professional sports teams despite being the 15th largest MSA in the country (and one of the few large non-sunbelt MSAs growing at an appreciable rate). Eventually, taxpayers somewhere are going to get sick of subsidizing sports arenas for billionaire sports owners. From what I know about the situation in Seattle, I don't think that's what happened here, but I could see it happening in a place like Seattle. Now that you can follow your favorite teams from anywhere on earth, hometown allegiences are not as important as they once were. Take an MSA that is full of transplants who didn't grow up following the local team and add an especially shameless owner who is trying to extort taxpayer dollars for a underachieving team in a sport other than football and possibly, baseball, and I think that a city just might be willing to give said team the heave ho.

Monday, April 21, 2008

In Your Face

Here's an article about the latest trends in charitable giving. Instead of trying to coax people to pull money out of their pockets, charitable organizations are setting up websites that allow you to do things that you normally do online and capturing a portion of the advertising revenue. For example, instead of performing a web search through a regular search engine, you perform it through some charity's website. The charity sends your search off to a normal search engine and collects a small amount of money from advertisers for each search request that is brokered through their site.

One of the people profiled in the article is Dave King, a friend of mine who has created Lil' Green Patch, a Facebook application that works in a similar fashion. Instead of performing searches, you send virtual plants to your friends. For every 10 plants that you send, 1 sq foot of rainforest land in Costa Rica is saved. I've been using Facebook for a couple of months now and tending my own Lil' Green Patch, though I have to confess that I haven't been much of a virtual gardener. For whatever reason, I can't really get too enthused about sending virtual plants to people. In general, I've found that my personality is not all that compatible with Facebook. I have a pathological aversion to talking about myself and bothering other people, and really, what else can you do on Facebook other than talk about yourself and bother others? I realize that my fear is largely irrational, so maybe Facebook will help me get over my fear of annoying people. If anyone out there wants some virtual plants, let me know.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Snow Day

April 19 | 3:45 pm | Tuckerman Ravine - Mt. Washington - NH

Thursday, April 17, 2008


April 13 | 3:49 pm | Golden Gate Park - San Francisco

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Buc the Trend

We and a group of friends have been having themed potluck dinner a few times a month for a while now. Tonight's theme was coffee, and we found a good recipe for a coffee meat rub that gave me a chance to fire up the grill for the first time this season. We used Uncle Buc's Coffee Meat Rub on some pork chops and they came out very well. Of course, how could any recipe named after Uncle Buc (the official film of my 13th birthday) not be good? The coffee flavor wasn't very strong; I wouldn't have known that the chops had been rubbed in coffee had I not known the recipe. We didn't bother broiling the coffee, but other than that, we didn't stray from the recipe. We grilled ten medium-sized pork chops so we doubled the recipe, but we have a ton of rub left over, so we probably could have gotten by with a single batch.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Friendly Skies

I'm not someone who is on an airplane nearly every week, but I think I fly more than the average person. Even though I've racked up my fair share of frequent flier miles, I don't really have a lot of aviation horror stories. I don't know if I'm lucky or everyone else is just complaining about things that aren't really that big of a deal. We just got back from California, and our flight out was about as bad as things go for me when I fly, but in the grand scheme of things, it really wasn't that bad. We were scheduled to fly into San Jose via O'Hare on Friday night. Bad weather in Chicago delayed the first leg of our flight by about two and a half hours and by the time we finally arrived in Chicago, our flight to San Jose was long gone. Fortunately, the last flight to San Francisco was delayed by an hour and it had a lot of open seats, so we managed to get on that plane. We landed in San Francisco at 1 AM PDT and managed to finagle a change to our rental car agreement so we could pick up the car in San Francisco and drop it off in San Jose. We drove down to San Jose and checked into our hotel around 2:30 AM. So other than being awake for about 24 hours straight on Friday/Saturday, having to pay an extra $100 to pick up our car at one airport and leave it at another, and having to wait until Saturday afternoon before getting our checked luggage, nothing bad really happened. I'm not saying that air travel is all fun and games; we have friends who have "celebrated" more than one Christmas while stranded at O'Hare. I've just found that even when things go bad while traveling, it's usually not as bad as it sounds.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Is it Art?

We recently visited the new Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. The new building is stunning and the exhibits inside are also quite good. It's a major improvement from the old location. I was very impressed with their permanent collection. They featured a lot of young artists whose work was both interesting and accessible, which is not something that always goes together in contemporary art. I was also very amused by the Understand Modern Art Breath Spray for sale in the museum gift shop. Of course, I wasn't amused enough to buy a bottle of it, but the packaging is pretty hilarious. It's nice to see that they can present contemporary art and have a sense of humor about the whole thing.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Today is the Greatest

I just finished watching A Great Day in Harlem. It's a documentary about a photograph, which sounds like a strange proposition, unless you're familiar with the photograph in question.

The photograph was shot in Harlem back in 1958 by the legendary photographer Art Kane and it features nearly every important jazz musician who was working in New York at that time. It's hard to appreciate the gravity of this photograph without being fairly knowledgeable about jazz history. Like the picture, this documentary is probably only of interest to jazz aficionados and photography buffs.

The movie was filmed in 1994, presumably on a small budget, and it definitely shows. What the film lacks in production values, it more than makes up for in content. The filmmakers were able to interview a lot of the surviving members of the photo, many of whom were near the end of their lives (Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Milt Hinton, Art Farmer, etc.). The interview footage was fascinating and was complemented by archival footage of the musicians and home movie footage of the making of the photo that was shot by Milt Hinton's wife. I was especially impressed with the footage of some fairly obscure musicians. There was some great Stuff Smith footage, a great but largely unknown jazz violinist. Vic Dickinson, an incredible trombone player whom I had never heard of, was also featured.

It seems appropriate that the greatest photograph in the history of jazz was itself a product of improvisation. Kane was not even a professional photographer when he got the idea for the shoot. He sent word out across town for the musicians to assemble one morning in front of a brownstone in Harlem and when they started showing up, he wasn't even sure how to get the musicians to stand still long enough to pose for the photo. Like a great jazz solo, everything seemed to come together.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Subprime Time

I heard this story on the way home from work today. It's probably the best summary of the whole subprime mortgage debacle that I've heard or read anywhere. It's a tale of the perverse incentives that drove subprime mortgage brokers to steer clients into risky loans and how borrowers either deceived themselves or were deceived by their brokers (or both) into thinking they could afford the loans that they were taking out. It's a seven-and-a-half minute object lesson in behavior economics.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Abundantly Clear

I just finished reading Brink Lindsey's The Age of Abundance. It's something of a condensed libertarian history of the US, with an emphasis on the postwar period. The crux of the book is the idea that the culture war politics that have pervaded American political discourse since the late 1960s are a product of a libertarian awakening of sorts. The anti-establishment left and the religious right are two sides of the same coin. The rise of mass affluence has given people the chance to spend their surplus time, energy, and money on defining themselves, connecting with people who share their interests and values, and recruiting others to their side. Along the way, the population has become more comfortable with the ideas social and economic liberty, possibly unbeknownst to themselves. While I largely agreed with this thesis before reading the book, I think the book does upend a lot of the conventional wisdom about politics in postwar America, so it could be a very interesting read for anyone who has never been exposed to the writing of Lindsey and his contemporaries.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Super Mario

While you're watching Kansas play Memphis in the NCAA final tonight, make sure to keep your eyes on Mario "The Superintendent" Chalmers. I can't take all of the credit for the nickname, but I have enjoyed blurting it out every time he's made a great play throughout the tournament. If only there was a guy on Memphis named Skinner...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Blog Till You Drop

You may have heard that three prominent bloggers have recently suffered heart attacks; two of which proved to be fatal. While the tone of this article strikes me as a little bit alarmist, it's an interesting look into the lives of these and other online journalists. I say journalists instead of bloggers because the people that were profiled in the story sound more like journalists than bloggers to me. In my mind, anyone who is spending most of their time chasing down leads over the phone and/or in person in an attempt to scoop their competition is more of a journalist than a blogger. A blogger is more of a metajournalist, someone who distills the content produced by journalists into analysis, humor, opinion, or some combination of all three.

All of the blogs mentioned in this article cover the technology industry. I don't really read any of the technology industry blogs so I may not know what I'm talking about, but I suspect that because the technology industry gets so little coverage in mainstream media, anyone who wants to blog about technology really needs to be more of a journalist than a blogger because there's not enough technology content out there for bloggers to collect and assimilate into their blogs.

Timeliness is important in all writing, but I think that anyone who is sweating the milliseconds is more of an online journalist than a blogger. I may be in the minority, but I've always felt that the real value that blogs add to the media landscape is not their ability to cover breaking news in real time, rather it's their ability to offer insightful analysis in near real time and the way they are able to build a relationship between the blogger and the audience. When I want to hear about breaking news, I go to a news outlet. After I've digested the news, I generally head over to my favorite bloggers to hear their take on things. Sometimes, it's even nice to read someone's take on things after the dust has settled a little bit but before it's completely fallen off the front page and that's something that blogs do very well.

I don't think that the unfortunate passing of a couple of bloggers is indicative of a nationwide epidemic, but I would encourage the mothers of bloggers across the country to make sure to go downstairs at least once a week to make sure your sons (and daughters?) haven't dropped dead.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Where You From

The most unique Christmas gift that I received this year was a Genographic Project Test Kit (thank you, Michelle & in-laws). It included some documentation about the human journey out of Africa, an informational DVD, and a kit that I used to collect some of my own genetic material so it could be sent back to the lab for analysis. The results have finally arrived and they confirm something that I've known for a quite a while - I'm very white. I was secretly hoping that I had some kind of unexpected genetic lineage, perhaps an ancestor of mine was the bastard son of an Indian chief and a missionary's daughter or something like that. Still, it's exciting to see the path that my ancestors followed. The results that came back were for my Dad's side of the family. The lab can analyze DNA using genetic markers on the Y chromosome (father's side) or mitochondrial DNA (mother's side), but they can only do one test per kit so I had to choose (women, not having a Y chromosome, don't have that option).

My family's journey began somewhere around modern day Ethiopia about 50,000 years ago. From there, we headed north and crossed the Red Sea. By 45,000 years ago, we were on the Arabian Peninsula, where we headed north for a while before we took a sharp right turn around 40,000 years ago and headed east across Iraq, Iran, and finally stopped at the confluence of the Tian Shan, Hindu Kush, and Himalaya mountain ranges in Tajikistan about 35,000 years ago. Instead of fanning out across Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, we headed north toward Kazakhstan. Some of the population broke off to the northeast and headed for Siberia and eventually, North America, but we tacked to the northwest just east of the Ural Mountains and went on to become some of the first people to enter Europe around 30,000 years ago. We kept heading west through Russia and into Belarus and Poland before fanning out across Western Europe. We then huddled in Southern Spain during the last ice age before spreading back out across Western Europe once the glaciers retreated. After that, it's anyone's guess.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Breakfast of Champions

Wheaties is famous for featuring well-known and inspirational athletes on their cereal boxes. The box that I bought today, however, featured Bob Greene. Who is Bob Greene, you ask? He's Oprah's personal trainer, of course. This is not the first time I've encountered Mr. Greene. While touring the remote eastern side of the island of Maui in 2005, our tour guide pointed to a prime piece of oceanfront property and told us that Oprah's personal trainer was building a vacation home there. I love how Oprah's brand is so strong that even people who are tangentially related to her are minor celebrities. I think a good business school project would be to construct a graph showing how various products and corporations are related to Oprah and then determine how much of the US annual GDP can be directly or indirectly attributed to her business empire. My guess is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30%.