Sunday, November 14, 2010

Black Bear


September 19, 2010 | 4:06 pm | Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Tennessee

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

False Witness

I dropped my car off at the shop for some routine maintenance today. While I was settling my bill, the cashier asked if I or my wife had Facebook accounts. I didn't feel like explaining why I didn't want to "friend" or "become a fan" the service station, so I just lied and said no. I used to use this same tactic when a cashier asked if I had an e-mail address, but I've stopped since no one under the age of 75 can believably claim to not have an e-mail address anymore. I don't even know why I feel the need to lie in order to avoid having to politely refuse an offer to receive targeted marketing. I absolutely love declining to share my phone number when asked by a cashier - it makes me feel like I've just vetoed a bill in the UN Security Council.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

Re: Cycle

My 2010 bicycle commuting season came to an end today. Normally, it ends around Columbus Day, but a spate of uncooperative weather in early October prevented me from getting that one last ride in, so I decided to take advantage of today's unseasonably warm conditions and shift my schedule a bit so I could make it back home before sunset. As it turned out, today was a good day to stay off of the main highways since President Obama's visit this afternoon caused some major traffic tie-ups.

I managed to make 55 round trips this season, which eliminated roughly 750 car miles. This was about 150 miles more than last year, though still quite a bit shy of the 1000 mile goal that I set prior to last season. I also did a lot more riding for fitness and leisure and turned in just over 1600 total miles, my highest tally since 1997. According to Google Maps' bicycle directions, that's roughly the equivalent of biking from my house in Rhode Island to Omaha, via a route that parallels Interstate 90/80.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Social Skills

As I mentioned, we went to see The Social Network last weekend. It was one of the rare films that got a good review from both of us. One of the most interesting parts of the movie was how it depicted the social stratification across the student body at Harvard. As a product of public education, it never really occurred to me that as impressive as it is to get into a school like Harvard, just being smart and/or connected enough to get in doesn't mean that much to fellow students who come from the richest and most powerful families in the world. The other thing that I really liked was how it got me to root for Mark Zuckerberg's character while not making him very likable. The AV Club's Scott Tobias said it much better than I ever could in last week's Q&A:
As for his deficiencies as a human being, Zuckerberg, as played by Jesse Eisenberg, comes across as the classic outsider, a stranger to privilege whose desperate need to fit in runs against a social ineptitude he can’t overcome. Doesn’t that make him more identifiable than a pack of Harvard bluebloods?
Highly recommended.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Indochina

I've known of the culinary agglomeration known as Indian-style Chinese food for several years now. I first learned of it through Indian expats, all of whom seemed to yearn for it more than the traditional cuisine of their homeland. A few years later, I learned that Indo-Chinese food had reached American shores. More recently, I've heard about some of these dishes creeping their way onto Indian restaurant menus in the provinces. We popped into Taste of India last night for a quick bite before going to catch The Social Network, and much to our delight, found that they had added a small section of Indo-Chinese dishes to the end of their menu. I tried the Chili Chicken, which, as far as I understand, is the signature Indo-Chinese dish. I was a bit surprised to see that the chicken pieces were deep-fried. That's obviously part of what makes it Chinese, but I so rarely eat those kinds of dishes when I'm eating Chinese food that I've broken the Chinese food = deep fried association that tends to hold sway, especially in Americanized Chinese food. That's not the say that the Chili Chicken wasn't delicious. As one should probably expect when ordering a dish with the word "chili" in its name, it was quite spicy, though not overwhelmingly so. Michelle had another Indo-Chinese dish, the Chicken Hakka Noodles. Also a tasty dish, and the inclusion of noodles in an Indian-spiced dish gave it an even more exotic flavor. Our only complaint was that it was a bit too heavy on the noodles and too light on the chicken and vegetables. Take a close look at the menu the next time you visit your favorite Indian restaurant and see if they have any Indo-Chinese dishes, they're definitely worth a taste.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Smooth in Shanghai

You obviously can't tell, but when this picture was taken almost three years ago on Nanjing Road in Shanghai, the smooth sounds of Kenny G were being piped out into the noise and bustle of Shanghai's most vibrant commercial streetscape.


Even in the midst of so much western cultural and commercial influence, I found the music of Kenny G blasting out into the street rather odd (and slightly nauseating, of course). Fortunately, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! explained this phenomenon yesterday in the Not My Job segment of the show. As host Peter Sagal explained:
In China, especially in Shanghai, stores, buses and other public facilities play his beloved song "Going Home" when they want people to go home.
Wikipedia's Kenny G page corroborates this information and has some additional details about Kenny G's campaign to conquer the sonic landscape of modern China.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Night Rider

I don't bike at night. I figure that drivers have enough trouble seeing me during the day. Sure, I could get a headlight and a real taillight to go with my reflective vest and by blinky red light, but I really don't have much of a need to bike at night so why risk it? I went out for a short ride today about 15 minutes prior to sunset, thinking I had more daylight to work with than I actually did. I was riding on the bike path, so cars weren't an issue, but the combination of a rapidly disappearing sun on an already heavily overcast day and the near total lack of ambient light on the parts of the bike path that are walled off from the surrounding neighborhoods and streets by a canopy of tall trees made for a ride that was both challenging and exhilarating. I would definitely like to ride it at dusk again, though I'm going to upgrade my lighting situation before I do that so I can actually see where I'm going.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Invictus

We recently watched Invictus. If you see just one American movie this year that was set in South Africa and was released in 2009... see District 9 instead. Invictus managed to take an interesting event from a pivotal moment in history involving one of the most remarkable human beings of our time and make it seem boring and inconsequential. If you're looking for an interesting look at how sports helped to bring disparate peoples together during turbulent times, I'd recommend A City on Fire instead.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Get in the Ring

If I may gloat just a little bit, although I was off by a season, I was correct way back in January of last year when I predicted that the first significant mention of sport on Mad Men was going to be one of the Clay/Ali vs. Liston fights. It wasn't the centerpiece of last night's episode, and it wasn't really used to broach the subject of race as I predicted it might be, but it was definitely a big part of the episode. I'm so used to big fights and sporting events taking place on a weekend that I was confused when everyone came back into the office the day after the fight. I wouldn't expect Mad Men to screw up such a easily verifiable piece of period detail, and they were correct of course. The fight in question took place on May 25th, 1965, which was a Tuesday, in Lewiston, Maine. If boxing continues its seemingly inexorable decline in popularity, perhaps there will someday be another heavyweight title fight on a weeknight in central Maine.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted

Deadspin opened today with an incongruous picture of an fan at AT&T Park in San Francisco sporting a ponytail and a Giants jersey with the name of a heavy metal band embroidered across the back of it sidling up to the wine bar on the concourse. What really caught my eye in this photo wasn't the Chardonnay-swilling metalhead, it was the Chinese food concession stand called "Edsel Ford Fong".

Edsel Ford is a name that has always stuck with me. I'll never forget how on one of my many childhood visits to The Henry Ford Museum (now known as The Henry Ford), I asked my Dad what caused the early death of Henry Ford's son Edsel, and my Dad replied that he died of a broken heart. At the time, I didn't really understand what he meant by that. I was old enough to know that a broken heart wasn't a medical condition, but too young to appreciate the toll that emotional pain can take on a person's overall well-being. I pondered my Dad's response for a long time in an attempt to understand what he was saying, but it wasn't until I reflected on it a few years later that I was able to figure out what he meant.

It turns out that the Edsel Fords of Detroit aren't the only famous people named Edsel Ford. There was also a notoriously rude waiter in San Francisco's Chinatown named Edsel Ford Fong, for whom this concession stand is named. I expect a certain level of rudeness from the staff whenever I'm dining at an authentic Chinese restaurant, but generally that rudeness is product of inattention and the push to serve as many patrons as possible. Based on the descriptions of his work, Edsel Ford Fong sounds like a waiter who tried really hard to be the world's rudest and most irritating waiter. Unfortunately, the Wikipedia biography of Edsel Ford Fong doesn't explain how he wound up with his infamous sobriquet.

Edsel Ford Fung is no longer with us, but his name lives in at the concession stand and at Sam Wo's restaurant in San Francisco, where he plied his trade. I've never eaten at Sam Wo's, but I've definitely walked past it several times. I used to work with someone named Sam Wu, so the name always jumps out at me when I see it. I ate at a restaurant very close to Sam Wo's the first time I visited Chinatown. I know where I'll be stopping the next time I'm in town.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cool As A...

If you have a couple of cucumbers that you don't know what to do with, here's a really easy and delicious salad that I made a couple days ago.

2 medium sized cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
dash of pepper

Mix it all together and refrigerate for an hour or more. Enjoy.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Power Rankings

We spent yesterday afternoon at the 56th annual Newport Jazz Festival. I was very excited about this year's lineup, which was even more adventurous than last year. The first concert that we checked out was the Dave Douglas Brass Ecstasy quintet. I saw Douglas play with his Tiny Bell Trio about 12 years ago and I was really impressed, but with the exception of a couple of Masada records, I haven't paid too much attention to his work since then. I really liked their show, and especially liked the songs where Douglas really got to shine. My favorite numbers were a couple of original compositions dedicated to and in the style of two great jazz trumpeters (Enrico Rava and Lester Bowie).

Next up was the most anticipated show of the festival, Powerhouse Sound. I wasn't sure which version of the band was going to be appearing, but I was excited to see Jeff Parker walk out on stage, as I've been an admirer of his work for years but have never had the chance to hear him perform. Ken Vandermark lead the band along with longtime collaborator Nate McBride on electric bass and John Herndon on drums. While this was my favorite show of the festival, I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped. The first problem was the sound. It was really hard to hear Vandermark (who played tenor exclusively for this show) over his electrified colleagues. As Vandermark tweeted earlier today, the entire set was very intense. I thought it got to be a bit much at times. They did mellow out a bit in the final third of their set and delivered a stunning rendition of the trippy dub-inspired "Coxsonne".



The crowd was sparser than last year's Vandermark 5 performance (I'm sure overlapping with the Wynton Marsalis show on the main stage this year didn't help). I was a bit disappointed that Ken didn't take any breaks between the songs to announce their titles or the band members. It also pains me a bit to admit that I wasn't a big fan of Herndon's work on the drums. Until I sat down to write this post, I didn't realize that he's the drummer for Tortoise, one of my favorite bands. His drumming took the music into a more rock-oriented direction, which I felt was unnecessary with Parker and McBride already pulling the band that way. Powerhouse's other lineup features Paal Nilssen-Love on the drums and I think I would have enjoyed his sound better.

The final show, pianist Jason Moran was most pleasant surprise. His band played a good mix of originals and reinterpretations, including a stellar rendition of Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie" to close their set. It was good, solid jazz and Moran's work on the piano was always compelling and even a bit unconventional while still staying inside of a fairly conventional straight ahead jazz framework.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Deer Crossing

Deer Tick
Lupo's - Providence, RI
July 16, 2010

I finally got a chance to hear Deer Tick play live. They play in Providence a lot, though not as much as you might expect for a band from Providence. For whatever reason, I always seem to be busy or out of town when they're in Providence. The show was hosted by Lupo's but it took place outdoors on Union St. between Washington and Worchester. The acoustics weren't the best and it was oppressively humid even at 10pm, but it gave the show a more raucous vibe. It was an all-ages show (perhaps because of the outdoor venue), which skewed the crowd to the young side and made me feel even older.

Deer Tick put on a good show. They played for almost two hours straight and it was pretty obvious that they were having a lot of fun up on stage. They played a good mix of songs from all three of their albums as well as a number of covers. Hearing a good band play covers really makes you realize how bad most cover bands are. They covered "Maybelline" by Chuck Berry, "Break Down" by Tom Petty, "Twist & Shout" by the Beetles, and "Cheap Sunglasses" by ZZ Top. Their "Break Down" cover was incredible - I liked it better than the original (and I really like the original). "Cheap Sunglasses" has always been a favorite of mine, and their uptempo, de-funkified, borderline psychobilly rendition of it was sublime.

I was also pleased to see that they recently added an organ player to the band. In my opinion, there are very few bands that wouldn't benefit from the addition of an organ player. The only real disappointment, and it was a minor one, was that the band brought a special guest on stage to sing "These Old Shoes". The guest was the author of the song, a local musician who was also part of the opening act. A magnanimous gesture no doubt, but I really missed hearing Jack McCauley's raspy vocals on one of my favorite Deer Tick songs.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Indemnity Theft

I just watched Double Indemnity for the first time. I'm not sure what else I can say about a 66 year old film still rightly considered to be one of the greatest of all-time, so I'll just say that it's quite good and I recommend it highly. I don't watch a lot of movies, but a lot of the movies that I watch are the so-called classics. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I've managed to fall asleep while watching Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and The Maltese Falcon. In my defense, I was very tired when I sat down to watch all three of those masterpieces. Still, I think my inability to stay awake shows that I didn't take to those movies as strongly as I had hoped. I'm pleased to say that I never came close to dozing off during Double Indemnity.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

In the Arena

While flipping through the channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I stumbled upon yet another arena football league. It's called the Indoor Football League, not to be confused with the American Indoor Football Association or the Arena Football League (the granddaddy of all arena football leagues, which shut down in 2008 and was re-launched this year under the same name). The game, which featured the West Texas Roughnecks verses the Amarillo Venom, was being shown on a weird channel provided by my cable system that I rarely watch but usually seems to be airing local high school sports or infomercials.

I didn't watch the game for very long. The last arena football game I had watched prior to this match was the 2008 Arena Bowl, which turned out to be the final game of the original Arena Football League's first incarnation. That broadcast was kind of interesting because the commentators apparently had access to both team's playbooks. The announcers were diagramming and calling the plays out as the coaches were sending them in from the sidelines. It was kind of weird, but it held my interest in a game and a sport that I cared little about longer than a more conventional broadcast would have. The IFL game that I saw featured no such insider information from the broadcast booth, but it did feature a stoppage of play that lasted a minute or two while Amarillo's quarterback and head coach searched for a contact lens that popped out of the QB's eye on the previous play. The IFL ain't the NFL, the XFL, the Arena League, or even the now defunct arenafootball2 league, but I'm sure that Gary Bettman is more that a little jealous that a third-tier semi-pro arena football league can get their games televised nationwide on basic cable. Check your local listings for the next IFL game in your market and start developing some allegiances so you're be ready to go when the 2011 NFL season is canceled.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Thai Basil Chicken

We got some Thai basil from the farm this week, so I quickly went to the Google tonight to see what I could do with it. I found this quick and easy recipe and I was very happy with the results. I could have been convinced that it came from a restaurant, had I not prepared and cooked it myself. Try it if you have some Thai basil on hand.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Capital Gains


We recently got back from Greece. We had a great time on our trip and endured almost no travel-related hassles while there or en route, which was all the more amazing given the number of things that could have gone wrong.

One of the things I discovered while roaming around the historical sites of Athens is one of the few things I still remember from what little I ever learned about ancient Greece is architectural capital identification. As it turns out, this frequently came in handy, so if you're planning a trip to Greece and want to brush up on some history before going, learning your capital styles will give you a lot of bang for your buck. I've prepared the following image as a refresher:


Feel free to use the following rules to identify your capitals. Doric comes from The Dorians, whose invasion ushered in the Greek Dark Ages, so it's safe to say that they weren't known for their cultural refinement. Therefore, it's should come as no surprise that their capital style is the most austere. Corinthian capitals are the most ornate, not unlike Corinthian Leather. I don't have a mnemonic device for identifying Ionic capitals, but you should be able to use process of elimination.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

BASIC Training

I was intrigued by this recent tweet from Roger Ebert for an article entitled "Why Johnny can't code". The article, which was written by science fiction author David Brin almost four years ago, is disappointing. The entire article is built on the false assumption that there are no freely available line number BASIC interpreters available for modern personal computers. The author concludes that because of this, the kids of today will never learn how computers work and therefore, as a society, we've all but guaranteed our descent into a digital dark age.

A quick Google search invalidates the author's base assumption. He's correct in that most of today's programmers cut their programming teeth on BASIC (myself included), but to argue that it's the classical Greek or Latin of computer science is highly delusional.

Of course, even if computers came loaded with an interpreter for a modern BASIC-derived programming language he still wouldn't be happy because he's completely fixated on the original line numbered version of BASIC. He seems to think that line number BASIC is closer the actual machine code than other languages or BASIC dialects that omit line numbers while at the same time being the only language that is easy enough for a beginner to grasp. Line number basic is no closer or further from the metal than any other variant of BASIC. I don't think it's any easier to learn line number BASIC than a more modern dialect, and relying on line numbers leads to really bad programming habits and obscures a lot of the mathematical elegance that he talks about.

His dismissal of widely available modern scripting languages like Perl and Python is also confusing. He claims that they are too high-level to allow you to follow the logical flow of the program. If anything, languages like Python that provide an interactive shell are even easier to experiment with than BASIC since you can execute your program one line at a time and see exactly what is happening inside the computer.

I don't know if the world is headed for a shortage of computer programmers, but if it is, the availability (or perceived lack thereof) of line number BASIC interpreters on modern personal computers is neither the solution to nor the cause of this problem.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Have A Drink On Me

As I've mentioned before, I can't turn away from any story about the most outrageously unhealthy "food" items produced by America's culinary-industrial complex. This recent review of the 20 Worst Drinks in America is no exception, though it felt a little strange to see an item on the list that I actually enjoy. Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot took home the honor of America's worst beer. For those who have never tried it, a 12 oz bottle of Bigfoot weighs in at 330 calories and at 32.1 grams has the same amount of carbohydrates as an entire 12 pack of Michelob Ultra. In Bigfoot's defense, it's almost 10% ABV, which means it has more alcohol than 2 full light beers and it's so heavy that by the time you've finished one, you're ready for nap. Still, the article makes a good point, beer is not the healthiest of beverages. It's nowhere near as bad as America's worst beverage, but it's a lot easier to reach into your fridge and grab a beer or three than it is to drive to your local Cold Stone Creamery and order a 2,010 calorie shake.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Beyond the Motor City

We caught a screening of the PBS documentary Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City a couple of weeks ago (on a lovely night at the Grant's Block outdoor movie screen in downtown Providence, no less). It's a really interesting look at the history of transportation infrastructure in the US with an an emphasis on how Detroit benefited from it, contributed to it, and in a way, was destroyed by it. It's a must-watch for anyone who is interested in transportation policy or Detroit. I was really surprised to learn that as recently as the 1930s, Detroit had a commuter rail and streetcar system that was as comprehensive as any other comparable American city. Here's a link to the full video.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Where are they now?

If you have or ever had even a minor interest in professional wrestling and you haven't been reading The Dead Wrestler of the Week feature on Deadspin, you really need to check it out. It's a fascinating look at the flamboyant and dangerous world of professional wrestling, especially during the heyday of the World Wrestling Federation in the mid-1980s. Even after accounting for all of the occupational hazards of pro wrestling, it's more than a little disturbing that there are enough famous dead wrestlers from the 1980s and 90s to support a weekly feature on Deadspin.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Family Matters

Jeff Sharlet's book The Family is an eye-opening look inside of the secretive fundamentalist Christian organization of the same name that has intertwined itself with American power over the past 70 years, but I found the book more useful as a look inside of American Christian fundamentalism in general.

The book begins with a brief introduction to religious revival in American history before telling the story of Abraham Vereide, the founder of The Family. This section seemed a bit perfunctory and didn't really add much to the story other than establishing that American history is full of religious fervor and innovation, something that I assume anyone who picks up this book already knows.

The origins of The Family lie in the labor unrest of the Great Depression. The first of many tautologies upon which the faith of The Family and American fundamentalist Christianity rests is introduced when Vereide outlines his plan for labor-management conflict resolution. The idea is that the men in positions of power were put there by God. As long as they act in accordance with God's will, strife will disappear - and if it doesn't, it's clearly the fault of those who are resisting the will of the almighty.

The Family really got going during the Cold War. Their fundamentalism proved to be remarkably ecumenical in its search for proxies to use in the struggle against the Soviet Union and godless communism. Former Nazis and even Indonesia's murderous dictator Suharto and Somalia's Siad Barre (both Muslims) were all courted by The Family. It's no secret that the US has formed and continues to form alliances with some less than savory heads of state. The fact that fundamentalist Christianity has been used to sell national security imperatives is not all that shocking. Most shocking is how completely The Family has been able to install their narrative into the minds of politicians and citizens of all ideological stripes, not just their natural allies on the religious and authoritarian right.

Populist fundamentalism, the religion of megachurches, TV evangelists, and the common man and woman, and how it relates to and interacts with the elite fundamentalism of The Family is covered in the final chapters of the book. The elite fundamentalism of The Family is so stripped of anything that I recognize as Christianity that it does not feel cynical to conclude that its primarily mission is to exploit American civic religious traditions in order to consolidate power both at home and abroad. While I don't agree with their beliefs, I understand their lust for power. While this book taught me a lot about populist fundamentalism, I still have no idea what drives people into its embrace.

In some ways, my life experience has made me perfectly incapable of understanding this faith. I'm a secular liberal who was raised in the Catholic church. Had I not been exposed to any Christian faith tradition, I would probably only find populist fundamentalism strange instead of strange and contradictory. Contradiction may be at the heart of all religions, but it's the lifeblood of populist fundamentalism. The faith described in this book is like a game a Jeopardy! where the question for every answer is 'Who is Jesus?'. The contortions of mind that need to be maintained in order to preserve this constraint are baffling and have given rise to whole systems of knowledge, such as intelligent design, that provide revisionist explanations couched in the language of modernity for anything that threatens to undermine this axiom.

Other than showing that fundamentalism is here to stay, Sharlet doesn't speculate on what the future holds. This is wise on his part, though it's always fun to look into the future and to look back at the prognosticators of the past to see how wrong (or right) they were. The Family is an important book and well worth reading, even if you think you already understand the links between politics and religion in America.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Performance Anxiety

Here's a great article from today's Wall Street Journal Sunday insert about the inanity of annual performance reviews. The author is truly a man after my own heart. I just hope he doesn't get dinged too bad for this piece in his annual performance review...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Into This World We Are Thrown

I remember listening to WRIU late at night a few years ago and catching the end of an hilarious uptempo, latin style cover of The Doors' Riders on the Storm. I decided to figure out who was behind this delightful piece of nonsense tonight and quickly found my answer - it's from Señor Coconut and his orchestra. Here's a homemade YouTube tribute to the song.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Jazz Hands

The 2010 Newport Jazz Festival lineup was just announced. I'm pleased to see that last year's nod to the adventurous side of the genre wasn't a fluke. I'm very pleased to see that Ken Vandermark was invited back, this time with his Powerhouse Sound ensemble. I'm really looking forward to seeing them live in concert for the first time. Some other notables are Marshall Allen-Matthew Shipp-Joe Morris, the Matt Wilson quartet, and Herbie Hancock (all slated to perform on Sunday, along with Powerhouse Sound). I know where I'll be on August 8th.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The District 9!

We recently watched The Informant! and District 9 on consecutive nights. Watching these very different movies in such close proximity highlighted a lot of unexpected similarities between the two movie's main characters that I doubt I would have noticed had I watched the movies even a few weeks apart. For starters, they both work for companies known by three-letter abbreviations of their full names, but I'm sure that's just a coincidence. On a deeper level, both protagonists wind up in trouble in part due to their own naivety and both put in a sincere effort to make things right in ways that don't fit into their respective society's expectations.

In the spirit of truth being stranger than fiction, The Informant!'s Mark Whitacre is less believable than District 9's Wikus Var De Merwe, even though Whitacre is a real person. Despite his intelligence (or perhaps, because of it), he seems incapable of understanding the reality of his situation. Var De Merwe, on the other hand, quickly comes to grips with his situation despite being portrayed as fairly dim-witted (though to be fair, his situation is a bit more pressing than Whitacre's). Overall, I enjoyed District 9 a little bit more than The Informant!, but they're both above average.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Recipe for Success

At least half of the meals that I cook are loosely based on a recipe, if not completely improvised. The results are mixed at best, but every once in a while, I create something good. My most recent concoction came out quite while, so I've decided to record it for posterity.

Ingredients
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, shredded
1 large eggplant, cut into bite-sized strips
2 onions, finely chopped
3 tbs oyster sauce
2 tbs rice wine
2 tsp sugar
4 cloves minced garlic
chili sauce (as much or as little as you want)
2 tbs corn starch
2 tsp water (just enough to make a paste out of the corn starch)
1 tbs soy sauce
oil

Instructions
  • In a large bowl, mix the eggplant with the oyster sauce, sugar, 1 tbs of rice wine, and chili sauce until all of the pieces are coated
  • Shred the chicken breasts and mix with the soy sauce and the rest of the rice wine
  • Mix the water and corn starch with some soy sauce and chili sauce and set aside
  • In a large wok, brown the chicken with the onions
  • Remove the chicken & onions and saute the eggplant
  • When the eggplant is almost done, add the chicken back in and mix together
  • Add the water & corn starch mixture and mix well, then simmer covered on low heat for about five minutes

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Easier Rider

Google just added bicycle routes for 150 US cities (including Providence) to Google Maps. I've played around with it a little bit, and it does a pretty good job. I plugged my commute in and one of the three routes that it gave me was very close to the route that I take when I bike to work. It's definitely worth a look, but make sure to do a sanity check before saddling up, because a lot of the so-called bike friendly roads are anything but. For example, in Providence, Google Maps seems to think Elmwood Avenue is a great bicycle thoroughfare. It may have a decent sized shoulder in many places, but in general, I find it best to avoid roads with more than two lanes or lots of traffic or lots of parallel parking and Elwood Avenue fails all three of these tests.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring Break!

I've been enjoying the new TV show Modern Family. It's no Arrested Development, nor does it try to be, but it's still very funny. This week's episode ("Truth Be Told") was one of the best and it featured Judy Greer (Kitty from Arrested Development), who once again demonstrated her mastery of the the crazy, sex-starved woman role.

I also really enjoyed this spoof of CNN's The Situation Room from last weekend's Saturday Night Live. I never intentionally watch CNN, but every time I happen to catch it, it seems like all they're doing is reading viewer e-mails without any sort of commentary. This spoof takes that sort of behavior to its logical extreme.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

hoc-key?

On the topic of hockey, guess what the first Google search result for the term "hockey" is? Unlike the first results for "football", "baseball", and "basketball", it is not the official website of the North American professional sports league representing the sport, it's the Wikipedia page for ice hockey. The official NHL website is the 3rd result. For what it's worth, the NHL manages to come in first on Google.ca. This is either a case of the Google being the ultimate arbiter of the truth or the NHL focusing its search engine optimization efforts on the markets with the biggest bang for the buck.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Hockey Night

After playing pond hockey for the first time last year, I finally got the chance to play on a real hockey rink last night. It wasn't real hockey (8 on 8, no positions, no line changes, no offsides, no face-offs, etc.), but it was still a lot of fun. Actually, it was a lot more fun than real hockey, since my inability to do anything other than skate in a straight line and stickhandle two or three times before losing control of the puck would be a serious handicap if I actually had to worry about pesky details like staying onside or passing or playing defense. I've played a lot of different sports at sub-amateur levels, but ice hockey is the most enjoyable sport I've ever played at such a low skill level.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Snow Picnic


February 27, 2010 | 3:05 pm | Mt. Wachusett - Princeton, MA

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reading Exercises

I've never understood why people bring reading material with them to the gym. I certainly can't concentrate on reading under even moderate levels of physical exertion. Ever more puzzling is people who read books while exercising, since you really need two hands free to read a book, which eliminates pretty much all gym equipment except for exercise bikes, seated leg machines, and really slow treadmill walking. One of the bookworms I noticed at the gym today was a guy who was reading a book called Fraternity Gang Rape. With a title that provocative, I was hoping that it was from the true crime genre and not the how-to section, but it turns out that it's a semi-scholarly text on this disturbing phenomenon. I'm all for literacy and reading things that address uncomfortable issues, but this has got to be one of the stranger gym reads out there.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Surge Protector

Parade Magazine has yet to publish its annual list of the world's worst dictators, but it has been running an awesome advertisement for the Heat Surge space heater. Call me a cynic, but deep in my heart, I knew anyone willing to pay for a two-page advertorial in Parade had to be running some kind of a scam. This blog post does a good job explaining how much of a rip-off this product is, but I'm more intrigued by the "brains behind the beauty" section of the ad, pictured below.


Yes folks, the Heat Surge is controlled by digital circuity developed by actual Asian engineers. I also really loved that they felt the need to explain that the on-board computer wasn't developed by the Amish. Because if there's one thing the Amish are known for, it's semiconductors. People credulous enough to fall for this sales pitch are presumably the target audience for Parade's annual list of the world's worst dictators.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Snowcastle


February 20, 2010 | 3:11 pm | Hyannis, MA

Friday, February 12, 2010

Governor Roger Sterling

Is it just me, or do Florida Governor Charlie Crist and actor John Slatterly of Mad Men fame look the same (at least, in profile)?



For what it's worth, Roger would probably be pretty good at politics, but if the writers decide to have him run for election and win, it would completely ruin his character since he'd no longer be able to just say whatever he felt like saying all the time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Double Fantasy

As you may have heard, KFC was recently test marketing the Double Down, a bun-less chicken sandwich. Apparently, Americans still have too much dignity to eat bacon and cheese sandwiched between two pieces of boneless friend chicken, because I haven't seen any Double Down related advertising in several months. I recently saw a commercial for a very similar menu item called the Doublicious, which appears to be the same ingredients that were included in the Double Down (boneless fried chicken, bacon, and cheese) served on a sweet Hawaiian bun. The only Doublicious sighting I could find (other than the commercial that I saw) comes from Nebraska. Does this mean that the Doublicious is a retooled Double Down that is once again being test marketed in Omaha and Providence? It's hard to say, since with the exception of the aforementioned post, the Internet is blissfully unaware of the Doublicious right now. One thing is for sure - if this concoction sounds appetizing to you, you might want to get to a participating KFC before time runs out.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Crazy from the Heat

We saw Crazy Heart over the weekend. It's kind of a confusing film. The folklore surrounding the decadent and depressingly short life of the stereotypical country western troubadour is so thick that I went in to this movie expecting to see awful things happening to people who in no way deserved such a fate, but that's not how Crazy Heart plays out. Instead, it focuses on redemption and tells an uplifting, but still mostly believable story. I really liked how story was told using a cast of characters as sparse as the landscapes of the American Southwest that Jeff Bridges' character traveled trying to scratch out a living. The music obviously wasn't as memorable as Walk the Line, Crazy Heart's most obvious antecedent, but it was still enjoyable.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Enhance Image

I've always joked that designing the software used in movies is my dream job. You get to make software that looks really cool but doesn't actually have to do anything. NPR recently ran an interview with Mark Coleran, a user interface designer who is living the dream. It's a decent interview, but I was disappointed that doesn't discuss the ubiquitous "enhance image" feature that allows a spy to take a low resolution parking lot surveillance photograph and zoom in until he can read the VIN off of a car parked in the lot.

Friday, January 29, 2010

You Have Selected Regicide

If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one.

I heard this story on NPR about a group of French royalists who want to restore the monarchy. They recently held their annual gathering at the Basilica of St. Denis to mark the anniversary of the beheading of King Louis XVI and the end of the French monarchy. I mention this not because I'm a some sort of a crypto-royalist or because I have Bourbon blood coursing through my veins (or perhaps, just bourbon) but because I visited the Basilica while in Paris a couple years ago and I thought it was really interesting. As the story points out, more than 50 French monarchs are interred at St. Denis, including Pépin le Bref (Charlemagne's Dad), Clovis I, and, of course, Louis XVI. It's definitely worth a visit if you're looking for something to do in Paris that's slightly off the beaten path but still touristy.


June 11, 2008 | 3:52 pm | Saint-Denis, France

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Tablet By Any Other Name...

Apple released its long-awaited tablet device today. The iPad, as it is unfortunately named, will probably satisfy some market niche that I can't quite comprehend at the moment, but that's not why I'm mentioning it. I first became acquainted with the concept behind this device at a Providence Geeks dinner in the spring of last year when a guy whom I had never seen before and haven't seen since pitched me his idea for an iPad-based multimedia book reader application. His idea and his pitch didn't inspire much confidence, especially since at the time, I had no idea such a device was even rumored to be in development. A cursory internet search later that evening revealed that his idea at least had some basis in reality. Still, I can't get over the fact that he was calling this device the iPad back then, and that he was right. I thought that Apple surely would have found a better name for this thing than any of the silly names that were being tossed around on the Apple gossip blogs.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Michael & Michael

We went out to Providence College on Friday night, which has become, at least in my mind, Providence's premier comedy venue, to catch Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter. As you might expect, the show was a good mix of observational humor, meta-humor, and borderline anti-humor. They even went multimedia and played several clips of a recent interview they did with Fox 2 in Detroit. One of the clips is available online here. As they explained during the performance, they had been up all night prior to this interview and decided to have some fun with it. They also showed clips of them "helping" during the cooking demonstration segment and during the weather report, but I can't find them online.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Pope Must Die(t)

Mehmet Ali Agca, the guy who shot Pope John Paul II 29 years ago, was just released from prison. This article talks about how he's entertaining book, television, and movie deals and how he would like to meet the current Pope. Because everything in life reminds me of the Simpsons, his request for an audience with the current Pope makes me think of the scene from the Brother from the Same Planet episode where Homer goes to the Bigger Brothers office to sign up for their program.

Administrator: And what are your reasons for wanting to meet the Pope?
Mehmet's brain: Don't say so I can shoot him! Don't say so I can shoot him!
Mehmet's mouth: Uh, so I can shoot him?
Mehmet's brain: That's it, I'm gettin' outta here. [footsteps, and a door slam]

Monday, January 18, 2010

Charity Case

Donations have been pouring in from around in the world in response to the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti last week. Major disasters like this really expose the paradox of charitable giving. The main reason people give money in situations like this is out of a belief that their money will help the people affected by the disaster. As it turns out, this isn't always the case. Not all organizations have the expertise, personnel, or capacity to handle every kind of disaster. Some organizations don't try all that hard to use the money they receive to help victims of the disaster and some are outright frauds. Even legitimate organizations that have established operations on location may not be able to use all of the funds that they receive for disaster relief.

Some people look at all of these issues and conclude that charitable giving is a waste of time, another example of naive do-gooders paying no attention to the laws of unintended consequences. I have something of a love-hate relationship with charitable giving, but I think that these attitudes are counter productive. I think that do-gooders have a bad reputation. Sure, they sometimes cause more problems than they solve, but at least their hearts are in the right place. We should save most of our scorn for the people who are actively trying to make things worse.

This article has some good tips on making better charitable donations in the event of a major disaster. To sum it up in a single sentence, the best charitable gifts are the ones that are the least exciting to give. Giving may be an act of charity, but the giver also receives satisfaction of helping someone in need. It's more satisfying to think that your gift is being used to help save someone's life at this very moment in Haiti, but it doesn't help anyone if the charity that you gave to already has more money than they can spend in Haiti and can't redirect your funds to another area of the world because you earmarked it for the Haitian earthquake. So go ahead and donate money, but make sure you're giving it to reputable groups who can really use it and don't worry so much about the disaster of the day; there are plenty of people around the world in need of help, many in places you're probably never heard of. A good charity will make sure that your money goes to a place where it can make a difference, as long as you give them the opportunity to do so.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

(An Actual) Great Moment in Blog Commenting History

I read this article about a guy who gave up driving and riding in automobiles for a year. It's an interesting story, but perhaps even more amazing than his year-long car avoidance is the comments section. As of right now, there are 31 comments, and almost every one of is well-written and civil, including the commenters who disagree with the suject's lifestyle.

h/t: Felix Salmon

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Boxing Day

Any guesses as to what this program prints when you run it? l = 0? l = 100? Something else?

public class Foo {
static long e(long v) { return 0L; }

static <T> T e(T v) { return null; }

static void f(long l) {
System.out.println("l = " + l);
}

public static void main(String[] args) {
Long l = 100L;
f(e(l));
}
}

As it turns out, this program fails with a NullPointerException. There are two version of the e() method, one that takes a primitive long and one that takes a generic Object reference. Since l is a Long instead of a primitive long, the compiler is able to resolve the overload without needing to do unbox l, so it resolves it to the e() method that takes a generic Object reference. The result of this method is then auto-unboxed when it is passed into f(), and since the Object reference version of e() returns null, it fails with a NullPointerException. The solution is pretty easy, just call l.longValue() to convert the value into a primitive long, or better yet, declare l as a primitive long instead of a Long in the first place.

While this example of auto-unboxing and overloading confusion may look contrived and frivolous I've run into this error a couple of times in real life using the EasyMock#eq() methods to set up mock object test case expectations.

Autoboxing and unboxing is a fairly controversial language feature in some circles. I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but, as I've illustrated above, there are definitely some drawbacks. I like the Scala approach better, but there's no way to completely get rid of primitive types at the language level in Java, so autoboxing and unboxing is as good (or as bad, depending on your opinion) as it's going to get.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

This DJ

The AV Club recently ran a nice feature entitled Early experiences in pop-culture dorkiness, where the writers sounded off about their earliest known experiences of turning a critical and/or obsessive eye towards the pop-culture landscape. Many of these stories rang true for me, especially the ones about taping songs off of the radio and pretending to be a disc jockey. At the height of my personal imaginary media empire, I ran a radio station with its own call letters, sponsors (with commercials), and multiple on-air personalities (keep in mind that I almost always worked alone). My station was called NRP Shock Radio, a name that I stole from a Doonesbury comic strip. I believe the strip in question featured Mark taking a page out of the so-called shock jocks playbook and rebranding his program as "NPR Shock Radio". At the time, I had no idea what NPR or shock radio were, but I thought the name sounded cool. The NRP isn't a typo, I assume that I misread the comic.

Needless to say, when I first encountered ads for Quickshot's DJ Machine in the back of my comic books and Boy's Life, I knew I needed to have it. In case you've forgotten about the DJ Machine, or, more likely, you never knew what it was in the first place - here's a link you can check out (the only reference to it I could find online). I received this wonderful machine as a Christmas present in either 1988 or 89 and got plenty of use of it. I used the sound effects to create a jingle for NRP Shock Radio (lasers blasting in the background while I stuttered the 's' in shock). Like all good things, NRP Shock Radio eventually came to an end as I left it behind for other equally dorky pursuits. I'm pretty sure my parent's gave my DJ Machine away several years ago.

I finally got the chance to be a "real" DJ when I went to college. As luck would have it, my college radio shows probably had about as many listeners as NRP Shock Radio. My dorm had its own radio station, but it didn't broadcast. Instead, it sent its signal throughout the dorm over coaxial cable. This meant that anyone who wished to tune in from their room needed to forgo the free cable TV coming into their room and plug their stereo antenna into the cable hookup instead. Needless to say, it wasn't a popular choice. Fortunately, major record labels still thought we were a real radio station and sent us all kinds of promotional materials. Our studio was full of CDs and there was a closet full of old LPs across the hall. It was a really great resource. I was just starting to get into jazz and I probably listened to just about every one of the numerous old jazz records in the library.

I don't know if the radio station still exists, though I did come across a (broken) link to the web site that I built for the station (WLAY 90.1 FM - West Lafayette's Get Lucky Radio Station) on this online radio station directory.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Nasty, Brutish, and Short

I recently finished reading George Saunders' The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. I actually read it twice, once over the span of a couple of weeks and again on a flight (it's only about 130 pages long, some of which are illustrations).

It's hard to not read the story as an allegorical critique of American foreign policy. The first time I read the story, that's about all I got out of it and I found it rather obvious and dull. The second time I read the story, I was able to put politics aside and get into the story on a more personal level. More of Saunders' trademark wit and absurdity came through when I spent more time focusing on the characters (a bizarre assortment of humanoid robots) than trying to match each one to an historical figure (the book's jacket does it no favors by proclaiming it "an Animal Farm for our times").

I was disappointed by the ending at first, but after reading it again, I found it incredibly poignant. In Persuasion Nation, a collection of short stories, is the only other work of Saunders that I've read. What impressed me most about that book was how he was able to make such witty, insightful, and devastating observations about humanity in a handful of paragraphs. The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, while short, is not a short story, but the ending really demonstrates Saunders' ability to cover a lot of ground in a few pages though his efficient but memorable use of prose.