Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pear Tree Redux

April 29 | 7:22 pm | My Backyard

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Radio on the Big Screen

We went out to see This American Life - Live! on Thursday night. I got into TAL early into its run and over the past decade, I've bounced between listening to the show religiously to barely tuning in at all, but I've always enjoyed the show immensely. My listenership is currently back on the upswing thanks to podcasts.

We both really enjoyed the movie. I was surprised by how little the movie deviated from the radio show's format. I'm sure that part of the reason was so they can air a condensed version of the movie on the radio, but I'd like to think that it had more to do with giving the fans the experience of being in the studio when the show is being recorded. Like nearly every episode I've ever heard of the radio show, the movie ended before I was ready. There was a good crowd on hand, though I don't know why the only theater in RI that screened the movie was the Showcase in Warwick. I would've thought that at least one of the art house theaters in Providence or Newport would've been all over this. If you missed the movie, there's going to be a nationwide encore screening on May 7th.

Polenta Surprise

The weather was so nice today that grilling was a given. I pulled out my grilling bible and found a couple new recipes that I decided to modify and put together. Such culinary ingenuity can be a dangerous proposition, but it turned out really well today. The first recipe was for penne pasta and grilled duck breast with tomatoes and mushrooms. I took a lot of liberties with this one, substituting chicken thighs for the duck breast, nothing for the mushrooms, and the second recipe for the penne. The second recipe was for grilled parmesan polenta crostini. I did this one by the book, though I omitted the cheese since I didn't have any. This was my first time grilling polenta, and I was very impressed with the way it came out. The grilled polenta also made an excellent pasta substitute. The dish looked a little ridiculous, circular slices of grilled polenta on the bottom of the plate topped with a chunky tomato sauce and large pieces of grilled chicken thigh, but it tasted excellent.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Name Calling

Ever wonder how common your name is? Here's a list of the 1000 most common surnames in the US. The sum of the total occurrences of the top 1000 surnames in this list is just under 110,000,000, or about 36% of the total US population. I've pulled the list into a spreadsheet, in case you want to crunch the numbers for yourself.

(h/t: Hermano)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Little Engine That Could?

Now that Google has added Java support to the App Engine, I decided to finally give it a try. I decided to go the Eclipse plug-in route since I already use Eclipse, but the plug-in didn't seem to include the development server (as the docs lead me to believe), so I couldn't test the sample application locally. Rather than try and figure out what was wrong, I downloaded the standalone App Engine SDK and installed that as well. I got a bunch of errors when I started the development server because it requires Java 6 and I'm running Mac OS X 10.4, which doesn't have an official Java 6 SDK (remind me again why I thought switching to Mac was a great idea for Java development?). I tried the ancient pre-release Java 6 JDK that Apple put out a few years ago but it failed with a bunch of weird XML parser errors, so I tried SoyLatte JDK 6 1.0.3 and that finally worked. I logged into App Engine to register my account (which can only be done via SMS) and entered my mobile #, but I have I yet to receive my activation code text message so I'm stuck for the time being. From what I've read, others appear to have had more luck with it, so as always YMMV.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cross Product

For those who weren't aware, the SXSW festival has been kind enough to take a ton of music from the artists who play at the festival and make it available for download (all gratis). Some kind souls have collected all of the downloads and packaged them into multi-gigabyte torrents for easy downloading. I've been slowly digesting the first torrent from this year. I was so impressed with one of the bands included in the torrent that I picked up their debut album and continue to be impressed by it. The band is Alberta Cross and they hail from Sweden and the UK. Those of you who have been burned by my music recommendations in the past take note, these guys are a serious blues rock outfit, not some kind of weird experimental noise unit. I've been making a conscious effort to listen to more accessible music recently because while I still like free improvised music, listening to it can be somewhat demanding and even I am not always in the mood to be challenged by the music I'm listening to. Check these guys out if you get a chance. They're slated to play at a number of festivals this year, including Coachella and Bonnaroo.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

After the Gold Rush

A lot of people have been talking about what American's spending habits are going to look like when (if?) the economy starts to improve. Some think consumers are going to back to their old habits while others think that consumers are going to be a bit more thrifty. The most persuasive argument I've seen in favor of the latter is this recent piece from the Economist.

While consumer spending habits reached ridiculously unsustainable levels or the past five years or so, it seems like people have been talking about American's propensity for living beyond their means for much longer than that. Given this, it seems kind of strange to hear people characterizing a return to mid-1980s or even mid-1990s levels of personal spending and savings as a return to fiscal discipline. Still, while the Americans of 10-20 years ago weren't exactly pinching pennies, you could still argue that their consumption habits were still within the realm of fiscal sustainability.

The magnitude of the reset is going to be determined by how much wealth is ultimately destroyed and the kinds of new financial regulations that are enacted. If, as I write this, we're closer to the end of this mess than the beginning and some new controls are added to at least address the known causes of our current financial predicament, we'll probably see a modest return to thrift once the dust settles. It would probably take another great depression and world war to turn Americans into fanatical savers. Hopefully, we can avoid that scenario.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Unknown Legend

Rachel Getting Married is a movie that I never would have considered watching had I not read a bunch of great reviews. While I believe that truly great art is by definition accessible to almost everyone, there's a lot of good art that is only accessible to those equipped with the tools to truly understand it on multiple levels. Rachel Getting Married may fall into that category, or it may be a self-indulgent piece of trash, or it might just not be my kind of film. Roger Ebert's review, which I did not read until after watching the movie, is particularly interesting. He loved the movie, but his review barely even talks about the story. That may be because there isn't much of a story being told, and that was my biggest problem with the film. The viewers of the movie are essentially guests at Rachel's wedding weekend. We watch it unfold and get some details from the past through conversations that the characters have with each other, but that's about it.

I found it funny that B-movie legend Roger Corman played one of the guests at the wedding and that there was a thank you note to him in the credits, but after I reading his bio, I learned that in addition to making lots of cheesy movies, he also gave a ton of big-name Hollywood types their start in the show business, including Jonathan Demme, the director of Rachel Getting Married.

I also had no idea that the groom's character was played by the lead singer of the band TV on the Radio. I know little about the beyond beyond being aware of their existence, so it's not surprising that I didn't recognize their lead singer. This information does help explain his acapella rendition of Unknown Legend during the wedding vows (perhaps my favorite part of the movie). The funny thing is that had I not decided to log onto the internet and register my disgust, I never would have learned about Roger Corman's contributions to the more respectable side of Hollywood or Tunde Adebimpe's (the aforementioned groom) acting career, both of which made the appreciate the movie a little bit more.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Back in the Saddle

I biked to work for the first time this year on Friday. It turned out to be a great day to bike to work since it was sunny and relatively warm (low 40s) in the morning and there was no traffic since it was Good Friday. The ride home wasn't quite as nice since it was threatening to rain the whole way, but I made it back without getting wet. My goal for this year is to bike the equivalent of 1000 driving miles to and from work. My round-trip commute is 13.6 miles by car, but it's a bit longer by bike (between 16.5 and 17.5 miles), so I'll need to bike about 1250 miles to cover the equivalent of 1000 driving miles. It's doable, but it's a pretty aggressive goal.