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September 29, 2006

Alan Arkin Film Festival

Alan Arkin, one of my favorite actors, is currently starring in Little Miss Sunshine (haven’t seen it). To celebrate, we are kicking off an Alan Arkin film festival here at chez mere with two Arkin movies that are in our Netflix queue. The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming (1966) is in the house, and Wait Until Dark (1967) is timed to arrive right around Halloween. Oooh, scary.


Tony, I have to say that the day Little Miss Sunshine goes on sale, I'm buying it. And Alan Arkin has a lot to do with it...he is a great foil in that movie, and a curmudgeon of the highest order. Fun stuff. Sounds like a great Film Fest.

oh man, Little Miss Sunshine was incredible. i'm definitely gonna buy that one once it comes out.

Wasn't he in the movie where Audrey Hepburn played a blind woman? That was a great flick.

Sparky, Yep, that was him. Wait Until Dark.

September 27, 2006

It’s a Sickness

A couple of weeks ago, I worked a party at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. We were in the small upstairs ballroom (the Chase Room). When we arrived, I was stunned to find out that in the Center’s main theater, Modern Drummer magazine was hosting their annual mega concert, featuring some of the world’s greatest drummers. I clutched my chest and popped a couple of nitros. Stewart Copeland is here in this building?! Fan me, somebody.


I pulled myself together and got to work. Somebody had to joke that all those drummers were in the house just to hear me. Ha-ha. Very funny. Of course, then I half-expected to see Stewart Copeland poke his head in the door to, you know, check me out.

Ever since then, I’ve been living in a highly agitated state. I needed to find a release to satisfy the nearly unbearable tension. Last night, I got it. While Anne was at a beekeeping meeting, I slaked my unquenchable thirst and indulged in that perversion so vile that none dare speak its name. In the quiet of the empty house, I plugged in the speakers, cranked up the volume, and surfed the internet looking for... drum solos!

It’ll just be our little secret, ’kay?

September 26, 2006

Prescription for Change

Ah, another lovely fall day, fulfilling the promise of early autumn and with it the chance of several more weeks of perfect weather before things turn raw and nasty. It’s also that time of year when any vacant storefronts in the neighborhood are temporarily converted into campaign headquarters or Halloween stores.

One prominent store on the busiest corner in town closed forever a few months ago. I noted the closing with mixed feelings. The store was an independent pharmacy that no doubt finally succumbed to the competition from two nearby chains. On the one hand, it’s always sad to see an independent go under, especially since I knew someone who worked there. On the other hand, while the store was practically an historic landmark, it hadn’t changed in literally about 50 years and looked every day its age.

The store sat vacant for a few months until it was suddenly transformed into a campaign headquarters. The only remnant of the original interior was a large sign at the back over the old pharmacy counter: “Prescriptions.” Hmm, I thought, that could mean “Prescription for Change,” except all the candidates are incumbents.

September 22, 2006

Vending Machines That Keep the Change

Anne reports a new trend in vending machines. If they owe you change, they keep it unless you press the coin return. Then they’re all like “Oh, right, your change. Sorry, I forgot.” Hoping you wouldn’t notice, I guess. Are these machines just broken, or is this a sneaky new profit center in the making? I’m inclined to think so, and some bright spark probably got a nice fat bonus out of the idea. Well, it’s really nothing new. Vending machines have been stealing money from us for years. I mean who hasn’t lost money to one?

September 20, 2006

Movable Type Upgrade [nanoblog]

Speaking of Movable Type, I upgraded to Movable Type 3.32 last night. I hope no one noticed; you weren’t supposed to. There was a minor glitch in the submenus, however. The submenu is supposed to show the subcategories under a main category. In the case where a main category has no subcategories, the glitch caused all the categories to display instead of none. Bit of a head scratcher, but I found a solution that didn’t involve any hackery. Yell if you see anything odd. Chances are it was there before the upgrade. ;-)

September 19, 2006

Comment Spam

Albert flagged a comment on the previous post as comment spam. True, it was spam in that it wasn’t a legitimate comment, but on the other hand it was spam for a Philly blog, so what the heck... it stays.

The real comment spam I get (the vast majority of which are variations on “cheap meds”) is siphoned off automatically. The daily total is all over the place, but averages around 40. Here’s the weird thing. I have another currently-dormant domain that contains nothing but a stock install of Movable Type 3.2 that I installed late last year. There’s one post with comments and trackbacks wide open. I just checked and that blog has not received a single comment or trackback spam in eight months. Where is the love?


Yup, good ole "Drama Queen" has been busy with the spam. I got hit too. Of course, his site is actually sort of entertaining, anybody who suggests Pat Burrell as player/manager of the Phillies has my attention. (OK, I didn't say it was a good idea, just an interesting one).

DQ hit me - after a post where I go on & on about being not-quite-a-sports-fan. Yikes - he may be a good writer of post but not so much a reader of them.

A Google search reveals just how many blogs he spammed—almost a hundred. At least I only got hit once. Clearly I would never visit his site on principle, not to mention the fact that I have virtually no interest in the Phillies, although I was an admirer of Wade Bloggs’ Phreakin Phils. Ellen, “DQ” made me think of Dairy Queen.

Aiigh - NOW I'm thinking of Dairy Queen.

Blizzard - mmmmmmm!

September 17, 2006

Lobster Roll Mashup

I have always been fascinated by maps and overcompensated for my lack of a sense of direction by buying a lot of them. I never thought I would be able to customize my own maps until Google Maps came along. I think it all started when I saw Andrea’s SEPTA Google map. I thought Wow I would like to do that, followed immediately by Wow, I don’t know how to do that. Besides I didn’t have anything I wanted to map.

When I started browsing Safari Books Online, I noticed an O’Reilly book called Google Map Hacks. That didn’t explain everything, but it was inspiring, and it introduced me to the Google Maps API. After reading the documentation, a terrific tutorial by Mike Williams, and browsing the Google group Google Maps API, I was on my way. I got lost in a few places (could have really used a map) , but finally found my way. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, at least to stick pins on a map.

So here we are. Introducing the Lobster Roll Finder (I had to map something I love, right?). I started with Maine and added about 10 points so far, but I’ll keep adding places as time goes on. If you don’t find that a compelling use of Google Maps (and I’m sure you won’t), pay a visit to Beer Mapping. Now that’s useful. Also check out Google Maps Mania, a blog devoted to Google Maps mashups. If even that bores you, there’s always Google Earth.


I have a funny and thoughtful Phillies blog that I think you'll enjoy. Come check it out at

Hope to see you there, and keep spreading the Philly love!

boo comment spamming. yay google api-ing! good stuff. now, i have to organize a road trip. sometime down the line, i'm gonna get up there to try me some lobster rolls.

Albert, Now you have directions. :-) While a New England road trip is a great idea, don't forget some of the best lobster rolls are found in Manhattan. It's a pity I've never had one there.

September 15, 2006

Safari Books Online

Like most nerds, I am learning new technologies (and brushing up on old ones) all the time. It’s fun, actually. The challenge is finding that one cogent explanation of a difficult concept that makes the light bulb go on. There’s a notion that one can learn anything just by Googling it, and I Google like a madman, but I’ve always preferred those old-fashioned repositories of knowledge called “books.” (Remember them?) Books pack a lot of solid information in one place.

Trouble is, even the largest chains have a limited selection of technology books, and I like to compare titles before spending my money. It would be great if there were a way to browse all the books available on a topic.

Enter Safari Books Online. SBO has been around for a while, but for some reason I ignored it, because I thought it was an O’Reilly-only thing, since they promote it heavily on their site. As much as I love O’Reilly, the plan wasn’t compelling enough. A little investigation, however, revealed that SBO offers books from over 30 publishers, including Peachpit, New Riders, and, of course, O’Reilly.

As soon as I found that out, I signed up for the cheapest plan, which gives me online access to five books at a time, which I can swap for others in as little as 30 days. That’s 60 books a year. Besides full access to all those books, the entire library is always searchable and the search results contain enough of a excerpt that it’s easy to determine if the book is worth “getting.”

I feel like the proverbial kid in the candy store which led me to grab some books I wouldn’t normally have read, so I’ve been having a little fun this week with a new project. More on that soon.


What a neat service. I'd love to hear your follow-up on this, whether you were able to accurately make comparisons and ultimately purchase the right book for your needs. This would be interesting to see whether other genre publishers would follow suit.

i signed up for Safari a while it's pretty nice, especally if you have a print to pdf print driver *wink wink nudge nudge*

I use it to reference Cisco Press books i may only been a chapter or two out of.

September 10, 2006

Jenkintown Jazz Festival

Here’s something to do today if you like jazz and beer: the Jenkintown Jazz and Brewfest. The jazz is free; click the link to see the lineup of outstanding musicians. $20 buys you a cup that will runneth over with all the beer samples you can handle. Here’s the list:

  • Anchor Steam
  • Anheuser-Busch
  • Appalachian Brewing Co.
  • Carlsberg
  • Crabby Larry’s Brewpub
  • Cricket Hill Brewery
  • Fullers ESB
  • General Lafayette
  • Hacker Pschorr Weiss
  • Harpoon Brewery
  • JW Dundee’s
  • John Harvard’s Brew House
  • Lancaster Brewing Company
  • Legacy Brewing
  • Magic Hat
  • Paulaner Oktoberfest
  • Penn Brewing Company
  • Redhook Brewery
  • Rock Bottom Brewery
  • Rogue Ales
  • Rolling Rock
  • Troegs Brewing Company
  • Victory Brewing Company
  • Warsteiner Dunkel
  • Weyerbacher Brewing
  • Widmer
  • Yards Brewing Company

I hope to attend at least the first hour and possibly return for the last hour, sampling cup in hand. Look for a tipsy guy with a Leica.


Hello, I would like to a vendor in the Jazz fest this year 2007, can you tell me how to get information of being a vendor.
267 319 1711
Daddy's Lemonade
P.O. Box 29784
Elkins Park, PA 19027

September 8, 2006

Cats on a Plane

Yesterday I was talking to a colleague at work who was thinking about bringing some cats into a pet-less household. (This was not his idea.) He seemed game, but I could see the abject terror in his eyes.

Later that day in the same vein, I had an original idea—or so I thought: Cats on a Plane. Can’t you just see it? Hilarity and horror automatically ensue.

Well, a couple of months ago, someone reached into the future and stole my idea. That’s what I get for leaving my tinfoil hat at home (cf. Captain Retcon). “Cats on a Plane” is in the can and has already been enjoyed by millions.

‘Cats on a Plane’ is a short film created for the 48 Hour Film Festival in San Diego. We were given Disaster Film as our genre. Upon realizing that we had a plane set to shoot on and four cats in our writers’ backyard, the film we needed to make became obvious. With the Emmy winnning [sic] special effects team Helix helming production and Bliss Productions’ multi-award winning experience with 48 Hour Film projects, we created something timely, unique, and hopefully very entertaining in two days.

Our given restrictions:
Genre: Disaster
Line of Dialog: “What would Elvis do?”
Character Name/Occupation: Sally Brown / Event Planner
Prop: Beach Towel

It stars Sweet Pea, Butch, and Squeaker, terrifying names if ever I heard one. I dare you to watch this without covering your eyes. Cats on a Plane.

September 5, 2006

Hug Your Cats (and Dogs)

Dan Rubin’s first post after returning from vacation was a beautiful and moving tribute to his Bouvier des Flandres, Twinkle. Maybe a little too moving, but hey I am a softy when it comes to pets. My deepest condolences to Dan and family.

Closer to me and to the feline inspiration of this place, two notable cats passed recently. Jim’s Bingo was well into his teens, but still way too young. My friend Keith’s Alf was almost 20. Too much sad news for one week.


One of my cats passed away last week also. Cancer. This time last year we had seven cats. Now we have five.

I am so sorry to hear that. It has been an awful week.

thanks. still a big hole in this house.

Thanks for pointing the article out, it was touching. Now I need to squish my kittie in adoration and attention

My deepest condolence to Dan n family as well. i can understand how it feels coz i had gone thru the same experience. Funny many could not see the bond between a human n animal can be strongly forged. My reply to them is that, 'Never segregate animals and humans. We are both living things created by God. Treat them with respect and others will.'

September 4, 2006

Secret Sauce

We’ve been setting aside some of the tomato harvest (plums and Juliets) to try and make sauce.

Plum and Juliet tomatoes

Plum and Juilet tomatoes we set aside for sauce.

In the past, our homemade sauce has tasted more like tomato soup than tomato sauce. It has a delicious tomato flavor, but tastes nothing like the jar sauce we usually use (Whole Foods’ 365 brand marinara) or any other I’ve tried for that matter. For this attempt, Anne borrowed a Victorio food strainer from a friend.

Victorio food strainer

The Victorio food strainer. Whole tomatoes go in the hopper; pulpy juice comes down the chute.

We ended up with about 7 quarts of tomato juice that was very watery. After adding onions and garlic, we let it simmer for hours. When it was reduced to about 2 quarts, it was still thin, but the texture seemed right. We’re wondering does it really take that many tomatoes to make two measly quarts? What’s the secret? Anyone? Bueller?


I don't know for certain, but I suspect it has to do with the variety of tomato and its "meatiness to pulpiness" ratio. (I made that up.) That's my guess, anyway-- perhaps I should do my own research on the subject....

We always chop and drain the tomatoes and then only add the liquid as needed. Also, try frying a bit of good quality tomato paste in olive oil and chopped onions before adding the fresh tomatoes. Finely minced carrots and celery also do wonders for flavor.

Yoko, You’re right that meaty is good, which is why we grew plums this year, which are very meaty and suitable for sauce, but not a lot of meat survived the Victorio.
Jim, Some recipes we consulted specified chopping the tomatoes, but we wanted to try the Victorio. I tasted it today, and it is delicious; nothing like tomato soup. I think it needs a touch of sugar. I don’t think it’s too late to add carrots and celery; thanks for the suggestion.

It sounds like you have plenty of tomatoes to work with, and all the right machinery. I find that I usually need to add 2 cans of tomato paste, those tiny little cans.

Sparky, Jim also recommended tomato paste. Next time... I added finely diced carrots and celery and the final sauce was truly excellent, bursting with tomato flavor without tasting like tomato soup as our efforts usually did in the past.

September 2, 2006

Live from Beaver Stadium!

Greetings sports fans! Live blogging from Beaver Stadium for my first-ever Penn State football game. Let’s go right to the pictures.

. State College sign

We’d like to thank some of our sponsors... Weather brought to you by Ernesto.

Penn State Tailgate

Parking lot. Considering the amount of rain, the field wasn’t all that soggy.

Penn State Tailgate

Tailgating is a big part of the games, and the main (OK, only) reason I’m here. It’s still raining hard, so we’re stuck in the back of the car. Cheers!

Penn State Tailgate

We had shrimp cocktail, Boursin cheese on a baguette, and of course beer.


We’ve finished eating and are listening to the pre-game show on “Rocky 104.9.” Frankly, it's incomprehensible to me, although Anne is helping me decode the language. I just don’t have the sports gene. We’ve finished eating and despite what the announcer admits are “lousy conditions” are heading in to the stadium for a few minutes at least. Wait... Morelli to Butler... Touchdown Penn State!!! Can you feel the excitement?! We are outa here.

UPDATE (next day): We got to the stadium during the first quarter, sat in the rain (which wasn’t that bad actually) and lasted until half-time.

Beaver Stadium, Penn State vs. Akron

The weather didn’t seem to affect attendance much. It may have been raining steadily, but at least it wasn’t cold.

In wandering around looking for our seats, we passed a room labeled “Associated Press Darkroom.” I’m sure it’s still in use, although not for its original purpose, of course.

Walking back to the car

At half-time we walked back to our car, as did a lot of people. I felt like I had the only non-SUV in the parking lot. For once, I wished I had one, because I almost got stuck in the mud.

Final score: Penn State 34, Akron 16.

September 1, 2006

I Feel the Need for Mead

When I think of mead, I think of a beverage so antique that it was last quaffed by Robin Hood and his Merry Men or maybe King Arthur and his posse. Mead is old, supposedly older than wine, but it is still being made. I confess I never even knew what it was until recently. Wikipedia told me more than I wanted to know, but suffice to say it is “an alcoholic drink of fermented honey and water.” I finally tasted some.

On vacation, we stopped at a “wine bar” in Rockland, Maine, called In Good Company. It was my first wine bar experience. Although I remember a place in Philly back in the Eighties called Le Wine Bar, I had never set foot in the place nor in any other wine bar since. They made us feel right at home and we were offered a list of at least 60 wines and 20 beers. There on the last page at the end of the beer list was a single mead, Lurgashall English Mead. Surprisingly, no in the place had ever tasted it, so Anne being all about honey, ordered it. Mead is neither a wine nor a beer, but frankly it's far closer to wine than beer. It smelled like honey, but was surprisingly dry in taste. Delicious. No wonder it was so popular in olden days. We ordered a cheese assortment from the tempting appetizer menu and had a merry ole time, except for some occasional urges to rob from the rich and give to the poor.


That brought back memories. When most kids in my high school were having keg parties in the woods, my posse and I were making mead in the bathtub. Ah, good times.