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June 26, 2005

Lobster Rolls for Lunch

OK, let’s get back to basics. The first piece I ever put up on the web (back in ’00) was devoted to lobster rolls and those pages are still the most-popular section of this site by far. It’s not something I blog about much, however, but lobster rolls formed the highlight of this weekend, sooooo...

Back in May, I wrote about hearing Cal Hancock of Hancock Gourmet Lobster inteviewed by Jim Coleman on A Chef’s Table. Her company makes a variety of lobster products, including a lobster roll, which you can order online. This we did at our earliest opportunity, and four of us gathered on Saturday afternoon to partake. I’ll let the pictures tell the story.


Lobster roll kit from Hancock Gourmet Lobster

The lobster roll kit is shipped overnight in an iced styrofoam cooler and includes six rolls and one pound of lobster salad. Price is $58 plus $21.50 shipping, which is exactly what you would pay for six rolls in a restaurant in Maine. Except you don’t have to go to Maine. A steal, I’m tellin’ ya.


Six top-split rolls

So I said to these rolls, “You’re not from around here are you?” I’ve occasionally seen top-split rolls in supermarkets in Philadelphia, but none as nice as these. Note the large uncrusted area on the end just ready for buttering.


Tub of lobster salad

The heart of a lobster roll is the salad. The ingredients list is simple: “lobster meat, mayonnaise, spices.” It looks like it wasn’t dressed with anything at all, which is exactly how I like it. In addition, the lobster itself was sweet and tender.


The finished lobster roll

The top-split rolls grilled to an even, golden brown. The finished product was about as good as any I’ve ever eaten.


Scott’s homemade cherry pie

Bonus! For dessert, Scott brought a cherry pie. Homemade crust, of course, and some of the cherries came from their two-year old sour cherry tree.

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about lobster rolls, but for those still reading, there’s more! I keep up with lobster roll doings around the web with a Google Alert, which, um, alerted me to two interesting articles about lobster rolls in New York last week. One was an article in the Village Voice surveying a handful of Manhattan lobster rolls. Another was from the food blog “The Food Section” highlighting a visit to New York by French food blogger Clotilde Dusoulier who enjoyed her first lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar. Even though New York is only two hours away, I’ve never had a lobster roll there. Really got to do something about that....

June 24, 2005

Hold It Right There

Ben stopped by the office to see a couple of friends and brought some new photographic toys to show off. Biggest and baddest had to be a 70-200mm zoom with vibration reduction for use on his D70. I had never used one of these lenses, which use some kind of magic engineering to counteract the shakes. When it’s working, the image in the viewfinder is rock-solid. Very spooky. Now you, too, can have nerves of steel for only $1800. You’ll have muscles of steel in short order as well; it weighs a ton. Good thing there isn’t any such animal for Leicas. I wasn’t envious over the lens so much as I was envious over having $1800 to blow on toys.

He also showed me a little gadget that stores the images—80 gigabytes worth. Since he shoots exclusively in RAW mode, he’ll need the room.

He’s heading to China this weekend for an extended vacation, and I’m sure he’ll take lots of pictures with this rig. He promised to have a gallery up by August, but considering the time it will take to convert and edit each RAW image, I’m thinking maybe September. Maybe.

In any case, have a great trip, Ben. Bon voyage!

June 22, 2005

Book Meme

What is the total number of books I've owned?

No idea, really, but probably pushing a thousand, although I got rid of a lot when I moved in 2003. Before I got my first computer (in 1988), books and records were my principal diversion and entertainment. I returned to college in 1988 as an English major specifically because I wanted a liberal-arts education and to become “well-read.” Four years of reading great novels won't make you well-read, of course, but it was a life-changing experience nevertheless.

I used to buy books more quickly than I could read them; there are some books I own that I have never read. The accumulation created storage problems, and I eventually decided that I would simply stop buying shelves. If I wanted to add a book, I had to get rid of one first to make room.


What was the last book that I bought?

Getting Things Done by David Allen.


What was the last book that I read?

Getting Things Done by David Allen. I haven't finished reading it, nor started implementing the principles, but his philosophy looks promising.


Name 5 books that mean a lot to you.

My favorite question. I'm not sure I can stop at five. Let's see...

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein. I was given this book around my 10th birthday by erudite and astute friends. At the time I thought books were the most uncool present, especially this one, but it was an inspired gift. I didn't read it until years later, but it became one of my favorites, much more so than The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Boundary Riders by Joan Phipson (1963). Easily my favorite children's book, also a gift. First runner-up would probably be Arnie, the Doughnut by Laurie Keller, which I just read last year. You're never too old for stuff like that!

When I was a kid, I devoured most of the books in the Hardy Boys series and a handful of Tom Swift. A few years ago, I was going through my holdings looking for dead wood and rediscovered my Hardy Boys collection. As I opened one at random I was expecting to be catapulted back to my childhood. Wow, was I disappointed. I mean those books were terrible!

Mainstreams of Modern Art by John Canaday. The book that helped me finally start to “get” art. Runner-up on this topic, The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe. Although I was an English major, my favorite course was the art history survey. Unlike a lot of the students who may have been tempted to doze off in the darkened auditorium as masterpieces flickered across the screen, I was wide awake, enthralled.

In high school, I was absolutely mad for JD Salinger, so some mention of his work should be made. I read everything I could find by him (which wasn't much) I especially liked Nine Stories. I wonder if anyone reads Catcher in the Rye anymore...

I've always been interested in humor. Ring Lardner, Jean Shepherd, and Woody Allen are all favorites. There are a few authors (if not books), I'd like to single out. PG Wodehouse is best known for the Jeeves books, although my favorite work of his is a short story called “Uncle Fred Flits By.” Although Wodehouse is sublime, SJ Perelman is the only author who can consistently make milk come out of my nose. Check out “No Starch in the The Dhoti, S'il Vous Plait.” I should also mention a comic strip that I have only read in “book” form, Bill Griffith's Zippy the Pinhead.

I like books about books and books about words. I have the compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, but my most treasured dictionary is a Webster's New International Unabridged Second Edition. This is regarded as the last “prescriptive” dictionary; it took a stand on definitions and usage, rather than merely describing how words are used—and often misused. I'm looking at you, irregardless.

Dictionaries are important, but my favorite word book of all would have to be Henry Fowler's Modern English Usage, especially the first edition, which I don't own.

I really should pick a novel from my four years as an English major. I'll go with a rather obvious choice, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

A few years ago we joined a short-lived book discussion group. We read some terrific mostly-recent fiction. I would have to say that my favorite of that group was Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.

Was that five?


Thanks to Michael for tagging me. As fun as this was, someone has to stop the insanity, so the meme stops here. After all, how is anybody supposed to Get Things Done?

June 19, 2005

Animal Magnetism

The highlight of a long weekend of work was an encounter with a very friendly barn cat. I approached this fellow warily with my best cat manners, but he was friendliness itself.

At one point when I squatted to pet him, he hopped up on my legs and attempted to sprawl. I had to pry all twenty claws off before I could stand up. A little later I was talking on the phone near a fence, and he hopped up on the fence nearby. When I wasn’t looking he sprang onto my shoulder and seemed content to perch there, wrapped around me like a boa.

He was a "tuxedo" (mostly black with a white bib), which is what I was wearing at the time. He blended in so well that from a distance someone thought I looked like a hunchback. After five minutes of this I explained that I had to go to work.

On the ride home, we were talking about poodle crosses (Labradoodles and Goldendoodles). “Talking about” here means repeating the names and giggling (we were tired and extremely punchy). Then we started to make up other crosses. St. Bernoodle. German Stroodle. Pit Boodle. Cocker Spoodle. Siberian Hoodle. Rottwoodle. Etc.

If I could turn serious for a moment here...

OK. Done.

We hit the Waffle House twice on this trip, and they redeemed themselves after a substandard meal three weeks ago.

Tonight we recreated my favorite burger from Copa II, the Mediterranean, just because we happened to have the two ingredients in house: olive tapenade and goat cheese. It’s good to be home.

June 17, 2005


Well, it's happened. My first tagging, by Michael for the book meme. I found out kind of by accident, too. I read Michael's feed regularly, but since it's truncated, I make occasional visits to the site to catch up; hence the delay. Was I surprised to find my name there. It's always been my private conceit that no one reads this stuff, but I'm starting to suspect that my readership is way up in the single digits now.

But I digress. If you think you can get me to reveal all my deep, dark secrets by merely “tagging” me, well, uh, you’re right. The deep, dark secret I’m trying to hide is that I don’t read much, so I’ll need some time to work up some spin.

June 16, 2005

SEPTA Outrage

Fun day for regional rail riders. (That would include me.) When I left work at around 5:30, no trains were running due to a power outrage. (Is that spelled right? Yeah, I think so.) I took it in stride, as all long-suffering commuters must do when entrusting SEPTA to deliver them to their destinations. My wife was kind enough to rescue me, and the disaster didn't ruin our evening. We couldn't rescue any fellow travelers, because for one, the car was full of mulch bags, and for another, everyone else had already struck out across country in search of alternatives.

This might be a good opportunity for any of you perhaps disgruntled SEPTA customers to take a survey being conducted by PhillyRiders (as seen on PhillyFuture). Vent that spleen; you'll feel better. That is, if any of you PhillyRiders are home yet. Godspeed!

Talk About Switchers

Two rumors have swirled around Apple for years like vultures: that Apple would be switching to Intel chips and that Apple was about to be bought by <insert Big Company here>. Both rumors were utterly preposterous, of course.

Of course.

Last week, the first of those rumors became reality, and if you believe Robert Cringely, the second as well. I guess I should have seen it coming (Apple switching to Intel, that is), but I sure didn’t. After all, there were no shortage of signs.

Apple has had problems with chipmakers (both Motorola and IBM) for a while now. It was a perennial embarrassment that the hottest new hardware introduced at Macworld was rarely available the same day and sometimes not for months. This situation reached crisis proportions last summer when chip shortages forced Apple to announce the release of the next-generation G5 iMacs months ahead of time. Stock of existing G4 iMacs was running out, and there weren’t enough G5 chips to release the new iMacs on schedule; Apple had to explain the gap. Ouch. I don’t think Steve Jobs was too happy about that. I can picture him gritting his teeth, pounding his fist into his palm and swearing that nothing like this will ever happen again.

And that’s just the shortages. In terms of power, the G5 was the apotheosis of the PowerPC line, but in other ways it just wasn’t cutting it. The size and heat output of the current G5 processor basically eliminated its use in laptops. Although the G5 had been in desktops since 2003, Apple was unable to wrap a portable around one. With laptop sales beginning to overtake desktops, it was vital to offer a competitive fast PowerBook in the line.

Those are some of the reasons why the switch to Intel almost seems inevitable in hindsight. It still surprised me, though, because switching to Intel always seemed like a step backward away from the more advanced G5 (RISC vs CISC, Altivec, megahertz myth, etc). For my part, while I never anticipated the switch to Intel, I was so confident that a G5 PowerBook was far away if not impossible that earlier this year I bought a G4 Powerbook. Turned out I was right—there will never be a G5 PowerBook—but for the wrong reasons, of course. Either way I feel like I got it at just the right time. For all I know it may be the last PowerPC PowerBook ever. Ah, I’ve got me a classic.

So what’s the fallout for me and other Mac users? I have to agree with most pundits that for the vast majority of users, the switch to Intel won’t make a difference. Apple will have lost an important technological bragging point, however. Megahertz for megahertz the PowerPC is “faster” than the x86 chips. Without it, there will be no more bargain-priced supercomputer clusters, and Steve will never be able to make the claim that Macs are faster. I’ll miss those Photoshop deathmatches at Macworld.

What got me writing this post is an article by Robert Cringely. I read him every week, and he invariably has an insightful take on technology. This time I’m not so sure. He thinks Apple and Intel are merging and that Steve will in effect be selling Apple to Intel. Every point he makes is thought-provoking, yet in the end his thesis is undermined by the fact that Apple approached Intel, not the other way around. The way I see it, it’s a win for both Apple and Intel, but that scenario doesn’t automatically mean a loss (of any significance) for Microsoft. End of story. For now.

That’s just my take. For some meaningful insights on Cringely’s piece, be sure to check out John Gruber’s reaction.

June 15, 2005

Shall We Dance?

Albert recently posted a Flickr set of photos of dancers at the Five Spot. I threw my back out just looking at these pictures, but it also brought back some memories of my occasional visits there.

For a long time I had wanted to learn how to dance, but being painfully shy and physically awkward, I had never so much as set foot on a dance floor (although I was tricked once into dancing a polka at my brother's wedding). With no experience I knew I needed professional help. Psychologically at least I was ready. I had reached a stage in my life where I didn't mind looking completely foolish in front of women. (That only took like about 25 years.) A musician friend who is a semi-pro swing dancer suggested Arthur Murray. I studied there for about two years and made achingly slow progress. Eventually I felt confident enough to start branching out, going wherever “beginner” classes were offered at a number of clubs, including of course the Five Spot. Eventually, however, I drifted away from dancing.

Once I met Anne, the subject of dancing came up. She had never danced much, but was interested in learning, but being a low priority for both of us, it was back-burnered. Then friends of ours invited us to join a small dance class near Princeton. While Princeton is not exactly around the corner, this opportunity landed in our lap, so we decided to try it. Last night was our first class, and it went very well. Unfortunately, it was the last class for the season, but we plan to rejoin in the fall.

By the way, I haven't seen the remake of “Shall We Dance?”, but I sure enjoyed the Japanese original. I recommend seeking it out.

June 10, 2005

TMBG Free Show

They Might Be Giants will be appearing at Penn's Landing for free on July 23. We are planning to attend. Be there or be an equilateral rectangle.

June 8, 2005

Salute to the Graduates

I haven't been to a graduation since my own in 1993—at the age of 39. (It was my third attempt at college, but that's a story for another post.) Then this year, two! First, my sister-in-law Carol and now my nephew, Andrew.

The ceremony was scheduled for Monday night with a big party for all the relatives beforehand. It was great seeing all those people, some of whom I haven't seen in years. The ceremony was postponed because of rain, but the graduates (Andrew and his friend Paul) donned their caps and gowns and mugged for portraits with the relatives. After dinner, most of the adults gathered in the dining room for a game of Trivial Pursuit, and the “catching up” continued.

Most people weren't able to attend the actual ceremony on Tuesday evening, which was kind of a shame, but none of the graduates lacked for company; the stadium was packed. Andrew is headed to Drexel University in the fall.



The diplomas.



Later as dusk falls, the lights in the stadium came on and attracted a swarm of mortarboards. Quite a sight to behold.

June 6, 2005


What a weekend. Let me tell you alllll about it.

Friday night I went to the Philadelphia Area AppleScript Users Group meeting. Ben Waldie covered some of the new scripting features in Tiger. I haven't upgraded to Tiger yet, but most of the other attendees hadn't either. After seeing all the new features, I think I will install Tiger sooner rather than later, bugs and all.

The gang at Jack's Firehouse. Prison food was never like this. [Photo by Anne Brennan]

On Saturday Anne and I joined a group of photographers for an outing to the extremely photogenic Eastern State Penitentiary, an historic prison in the Fairmount section of Philadelphia. We convened across the street for lunch at Jack's Firehouse, one of our favorite restaurants. When we arrived, Alec Long, who organized the event, was already there along with Jorj and Susan Bauer. (Jorj and I have so many similar interests I was wondering if we were separated at birth. No, that's impossible. He has hair.)

Alec had gotten us a long table out on the sidewalk. This was an excellent choice all around, especially because we had plenty of natural light for taking pictures! The only way to improve this situation would be if the sidewalk were in Paris.

Lunch was terrific. I had smoked brisket and Anne had catfish. We even saw owner Jack McDavid himself coming and going in a big blue pickup running errands.

I'm not a photoblogger, just an enthusiastic if admittedly inactive photographer. In other words, I'm not sure I “belonged” there, but that didn't seem to matter. I felt like I was among old friends. It was hard to believe most of us had never met before. I am grateful to Albert Yee for inviting me to join this group. By the way, Albert posted links to everyone's site on his blog. Check it out. Some great work there. Perhaps most amazing to me is Justin Smith. At 17, he already has a great eye. That's right, I said 17. When I was 17, I was still sucking my thumb and watching cartoons. These kids today.

The prison itself is massive and immutable not to mention extremely decrepit. I expected it to feel sombre and haunting, but the overall mood was significantly leavened by the large amount of natural light flowing in from the skylights. I didn't feel anyone's “presence” while I was there. Perhaps any ghosts are long gone.

Speaking of ghosts, early in the visit I was surprised to see some ghostly white cats up on the roof. This was my first encounter with the two art installations at ESP. The cats were created by Linda Brenner for an installation called Ghost Cats. 39 white plaster cats are scattered about the grounds, retracing the pawsteps of a colony of feral cats that lived in the prison after it closed in 1971. The installation is dedicated to the memory of Dan McCloud who cared for the cats for 28 years.

Moments later, I could hear a tremendous racket coming from the cell block ahead of me. The noise was from Pandemonium, an installation by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. At first I thought it was electronic, and indeed there were wires leading to the cells, but the wires controlled actuators that struck found elements (furniture and other old junk in the cells) creating a wide variety of sounds. I was enthralled with the effect, the variety of rhythms, and the seemingly infinite combinations of timbres. I forgot I was supposed to be taking pictures.

The photographic opportunities of ESP were a bit overwhelming. About all I did was finish up the roll of Tri-X that was already in the Leica and took about a half roll of slides. Anne took about 40 shots. The slides will have to be developed, but I processed the Tri-X and put Anne's pictures up, too, if anyone's interested. Mine are black-and-white, hers are color. Start here.

We left the prison a little early to meet our friend Jessica for pizza in her new apartment and helped her with some things.

On Sunday morning, I met my friend Ben at a used camera show sponsored by Photorama. Most of the wares were old film cameras, although it looked as if one dealer was selling digital equipment. I don't know who buys this stuff and how all these dealers survive. Of course, being a film devotee, I hope they thrive and prosper.

June 4, 2005

Tales from Down Under

When I was a kid, my friend Dennis and I would often go to the Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill, but not to commune with nature. No, we would descend into the storm sewers of Chestnut Hill to explore. We would enter in broad daylight, and once we even took a small ladder in with us; it's amazing no one ever stopped us. We thought the sewers were pretty cool, but there really wasn't much exciting going on, just a trickle of water and no sign of rats. After all, this was Chestnut Hill.

Anyone who has ever watched the climactic chase scene in The Third Man when the villain Harry Lime (Orson Welles) is cornered in the sewers of Vienna has seen some serious sewers. You could drive a truck through those. Somewhere in between are the sewers of Philadelphia.

I’ve been reading a site I found via the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society called “The History of Philadelphia’s Watersheds and Sewers” compiled by Adam Levine. It’s fascinating reading to this retired sewer rat. Just be sure to put on your hip boots before diving in.

June 1, 2005


The house guitarist here at mere cat, John Scofield, has a new album that is WXPN’s Featured Album of the Week. It’s called “That’s What I Say: The Music of Ray Charles.”

For those unfamiliar with his work, it would be an understatement to say he is “versatile.” I think if Scofield were a major-league pitcher, he’d lead the league in strikeouts, because every pitch is a changeup. About every other album Scofield switches gears from straight-ahead jazz to, well, something else. Of course, versatility alone has nothing to do with quality, but I will say that no matter whom he surrounds himself with, he never loses his unique style.

His last album was recorded live with a jazz trio. This time, it’s a tribute album to Ray Charles with singers—a first! “ScoFeaAlb” is my lame attempt at a tribute to his album from two years ago, “Oh!” under the name ScoLoHoFo (for band members Scofield, Lovano, Holland, and Foster). Doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? Oh. Well.