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Posts in “Misc 2005”

December 19, 2005

Meetup Post Mortem

Hmm, what a remarkably poor choice of words, but that’s just like me. Post mortems are for the dead, and last Saturday’s blogger meetup was anything but. It started out quietly enough. Between sucking down one Smithwick’s after another and inhaling some deliciously-seasoned jerk pork, I enjoyed chatting with the folks at my end of the table, Albert, Michael, Marisa, Tulin, Duncan, Dan and Jonathan. Unfortunately it wasn’t practical to converse with the other half of the table, so I didn’t get to talk to Michael, Owen, Luna, Bobby, Howard, or Scott. (I didn’t actually get to meet everyone; the list is cribbed from Scott’s writeup.)

At one point, I noticed a fiddler and guitarist took seats at a table in the corner and began playing Irish dance music. It wasn’t long before the forces had swelled to include a half dozen more players. It was a full-tilt boogie Irish jam session. Being half Irish, I enjoyed this (they were good), but it made conversation challenging. Still, it wasn’t as loud as the “jukebox” I’ve heard at Fergie’s on other Saturday nights. Suddenly, some dancers in tap shoes began to dance. I don’t even know what to call what they were doing, but it was thrilling! I felt transported to Ireland for a few moments. Not too long after that I left, but I should have stayed, because I missed the invasion of the Santa Clauses. You don’t believe that that much wackiness could ensue in one evening? Owen has the full story, pictures and even video.

December 6, 2005

Bright Lights, Big City

On my travels over the weekend I managed to take in some of the dazzling new lights in downtown Philadelphia. On the way to pick up a friend at 30th Street Station, I finally glimpsed the new Cira Centre (designed by Cesar Pelli) lit up in all its glory. Although I had seen this building several times at night, this was the first time its animated lighting was working. If you want to see for yourself, check out these great pictures of the building by R. Bradley Maule. (And for more on Maule, see Albert Yee’s interview.) I also noticed a crew shooting a movie on the south commuter train platform. Miraculously, the trains were still running on time. Perhaps the Cira Centre was showing off to get a part in the movie? Even buildings want to be in show business.

I passed from the sublime to the ridiculous when a few minutes later I was assaulted by the apparition of City Hall tastelessly tarted up in colored lights. We were not amused; I like my stonework unpainted, thank you. My retinas still ache. The pain was assuaged by a draft Smithwick’s and dinner at Fergie’s pub. I’m likin’ this place and look forward to the next Philly Weblogger meetup there in a couple of weeks.

November 30, 2005

What Makes a Place Feel Livable?

We just noticed a new custom-framing store in the neighborhood, a chain called Fast Frame. That makes four such establishments within easy walking distance of one another. How many do we need? How many can we support? I don’t know, but without having much need for framing, I have to admit I’ve patronized three of them.

This year also saw the opening of two art galleries in town, one of which replaced the only (used) book store, probably done in by its indifferent selection and the proximity of the Barnes and Chernobyl (what an independent bookstore owner in my old neighborhood called B&N). Culturally, when an art gallery replaces a bookstore, we’re still about even.

All that art and with its attendant framing is probably a good thing for our town. It made me wonder what businesses are indicators of peace and prosperity. Are frame stores a reliable barometer? Probably so. I used to think it was Starbucks that was an indicator of culture and civilization, or at least an excess of disposable income. We only have one, although there’s a terrific independent store that’s thriving as well. Maybe it’s just the availability of good coffee. I know I don’t feel very civilized without it.

Come to think of it, what really sets the tone for quality of life isn’t a certain type of store at all. It’s trees, especially street trees, and especially street trees in urban settings. Think of Delancey Street (in downtown Philadelphia). The lack of trees is also an indicator. I can’t help noticing that the developments of cheek-to-jowl McMansions in the suburbs are utterly lacking in trees, making these places feel barren and soulless. Clearly I treasure trees, but I feel that even those who don’t will have their spirits uplifted by the presence of trees—even if they can’t put their finger on why.

November 27, 2005

The Exception That Proves the Rule And Other Links

The end of the Thanksgiving holiday is nigh, and I’ve been doing some random, senseless surfing (along with the usual purposeful, goal-oriented surfing). Check out “Tony! Toni! Tone! (a scientific theory)” [found on etherfarm]. Alex Blagg makes a case about guys named Tony. I was not part of his scientific study, otherwise things might have turned out differently.

A bit more entertaining is a short film starring four zombies called Zombie Interactive “Day of the Virus.” It’s very funny and there are a few surprises, but I will warn you that the film contains graphic footage of people using PowerPoint. You have been warned.

November 13, 2005

Moleskine Diaries

Although the Moleskine phenomenon fascinates me, I never actually bought one of their notebooks. I use a beat-up old thing called a Pocket Briefcase that works fine for my purposes and has street cred with the GTD crowd. What the PB lacks is a date-based way of working. Twenty years ago, I used to buy these nice little diaries from Leathersmith of London (I see they’re still around), but the local supply dried up.


Old diaries and Pocket Briefcase

Not quite as old as the Dead Sea Scrolls, but nevertheless ancient diaries, and my current Pocket Briefcase, which looks even older.

I was excited to learn that for 2006, Moleskine has introduced diaries (in both daily and weekly styles). Our local art-supply store carries the full line of Moleskine goodies, but I never saw the diaries offered. Finally I asked about them and was told they are perpetually back-ordered. I added my name to the waiting list...


After a week of nearly-daily posting, next week will be light. This blog is made possible by SEPTA (because I do most of my writing while commuting), but this week I won’t be taking the train at all. I’m trapped in north Jersey for a few days taking a course and later in the week have other engagements that require driving to work. To assuage the loss, I’m thinking of taking myself out to dinner in New York on Tuesday night, maybe even hit Pearl Oyster Bar for a lobster roll. Beats sitting around the hotel room.

November 9, 2005

Yahoo Eating Google’s Lunch

Literally. A few companies have learned that one secret to encouraging workaholic employee behavior is never giving said employees an excuse to leave the building. Free lunch is a good example. The company doesn’t get that much extra work out of the employee; it’s mainly just a nice perk. Free dinner, however, is another story—it’s an insidious trap. For one thing, you won’t be hungry for that free dinner at quitting time, so you’ll probably work a little later anyway. (Cha-ching!) Finally you’re hungry enough to eat, and after that, well what the heck, what’s another hour or two back at your desk. (Cha-ching again! At the hourly rate these folks are making, a measly free dinner is nothing to trade for several extra hours of productivity.) Google is one company that’s serious about keeping employees at work; they offer both free lunch and dinner. The free food attracts non-employees as well. TechCrunch reports that Yahoo employees (who have to pay for food) are making a sport of crashing Google’s cafeteria at lunch time. I don’t know... That may be the only way Yahoo is ever going to eat Google’s lunch.

November 6, 2005

Nice Weather for November

It was so warm, this kayaker was wearing shorts and flip-flops.

Right now it's windy and raining, but earlier today we enjoyed some glorious weather with temperatures in the seventies. The sun was shining and the trees were still wearing their brightest colors of the season as we headed out early this morning for an outing at a wetland near the Brandywine River. Everyone but me was equipped with sensible knee-high rubber boots. All I had were my hiking shoes which did nothing to keep the water out, but it wasn't so bad. The cool water was actually refreshing as I slogged through the muddy water.

For weeks now I've been thinking, This is the last nice weekend of the year, but each weekend seems better than the last; there seems to be no end to this warm weather.

October 4, 2005

It’s What’s for Lunch

Setting: A Sodexho on-site restaurant somewhere in suburbia. T approaches a table where R is sitting. On R’s plate is an unappetizing slab of deep-fried something.
T: (visibly recoiling) What’s that?
R: It’s supposed to be fish.
T: How can you prove it?
R: I, uh... I can’t.
T: Ah, it’s kind of a faith-based lunch then.

October 3, 2005

Another Misheard Lyric

Some of the spam I get masquerading as real email cracks me up. Like ones that pretend to reply to a message you sent: Re: lunch plans. Some of these fool the spam filters, but since I don't know the sender, I don't read it. (What were they thinking?) This morning I got one with the subject: Re: Re:

Two Re's were all I needed to start channeling Aretha Franklin:

Re, re, re, re, re
Just a little bit.
  .   .   .
Find out what it means to me.
Take care of TCP.
  .   .   .
Socket to me, Socket to me,
Socket to me, Socket to me.

TCP, sockets, who knew this song was about networking.

September 21, 2005

My Accordion Story

This is old news now, but I noticed that Becky of Good Grief! got an accordion for her birthday. What an excellent gift, although it may be like me getting a set of golf clubs. Cool, but pointless, as I have no ability for the game.

The long-suffering accordion has been unfairly singled out among musical instruments as the butt of countless insults over the years. A typical example is a cartoon by Gary Larson. The caption: “Welcome to heaven. Here’s your harp. Welcome to hell. Here’s your accordion.”

In the past, I laughed as hard as anyone at accordion jokes, but in recent years I’ve acquired respect and admiration for the instrument. Accordions are actually kind of hip now. (The same transformation happened to me with the bagpipes; I even considered joining a pipe band, although playing drums.) Anyway, on to my story.

I used to work with a wonderful accordionist named Tony DiGiulio. Tony reminisced that “in the old days” (as he put it), he would drop off his accordion on the steps of the Bellevue Stratford Hotel and then drive off to look for a place to park. Tony’s lesson for us young whippersnappers was that in the old days, he didn’t have to worry about someone stealing his accordion. I quipped, “Nobody stole it because it was an accordion!” Everyone got the joke, of course (even Tony laughed graciously), but now, if a collection of instruments just happened to be sitting unattended on some hotel steps somewhere, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the first instrument stolen were the accordion!

September 10, 2005

“One of a Kind” A Tribute to New Orleans

Harry Shearer's humor isn't everybody's cup of tea (although I heart him), but I think almost anybody would enjoy listening to last week's Le Show, a tribute to New Orleans (thanks to The 14th windiest state for the link). Between classic New Orleans music, Harry describes what New Orleans means to him as he recounts the rich history of Mardi Gras, hearing Randy Newman sing “Louisiana 1927” in the pouring rain, and of course, the food.

Harry tells us that the best sandwich in the world consists of “smoked duck, pepper jelly, cashew butter, on toasted sourdough with some red onions.” Sounds great, although clearly Harry has never had a lobster roll. Still, I'm willing to give that sandwich a chance. Someday, I hope.

It's a rich, warm, and informative tribute. Available as a RealAudio stream or MP3 podcast.

September 7, 2005

Technical Challenges

Communication looks to be a major challenge as people displaced by Katrina attempt to reconnect with loved ones without the benefit of the phones we all take for granted. A couple of posts on this topic on Robert Scoble’s blog caught my eye last week. He points to a piece at Skype Journal where Stuart Henshall suggests “virtualizing” phone numbers. He’s asking for people’s old numbers to be transferred to a soft phone with voicemail. Great, but that would require Internet access.

Now, bear with me for a second. If I had lost everything I owned, Internet access wouldn’t be the first thing I would want to replace, but when I think about it, it would be pretty high on the list. When we moved into this house two years ago, literally the first thing we did after the movers left was stack up some boxes and set up our computers. We wanted to feel “connected” —and we avoided unpacking. Win-win.

Apparently, Internet access is coming to the shelters. The Red Cross is asking for donations of equipment and expertise to set up Internet kiosks.

The other Scoble post that caught my eye had to do with how Microsoft is helping. For one thing, their home page features a prominent graphic that links to a list of relief organizations. What’s more important is Microsoft is making a sizable contribution. I’m sure other companies are doing the same, although without the same fanfare. For example, my company is matching all employee donations 100%.

Besides cash, Microsoft is also helping out with technical support as well. Scoble reported that “Red Cross servers under extreme load” and that “We have more than 100 employees working on their infrastructure...” Not only admirable, but probably essential. You see, the Red Cross web site runs Microsoft’s web server, IIS version 5.0. Learning this, I was reminded of a story I heard recently from someone about this software. This person worked for a company with a significant ecommerce presence and, due to the nature of the business, experienced periods of intense traffic. During these spikes, the servers would overload, and the only cure was to have technicians walk around rebooting them. Perhaps that was what was going on at the Red Cross. I’ve certainly seen Windows servers go “deaf” to connections or have services simply stop running even under a light load. The only fix was a reboot. What’s more, most people baby their servers by having only a single process running on them. By the way, the ecommerce company switched to Linux which solved the problem.

Well, I don’t know whether those people were rebooting servers at the Red Cross data center or not. It doesn’t matter; they are helping, and that’s what counts.

I’m not a Linux apologist any more than I’m a Microsoft basher, but as if FEMA hasn’t taken enough heat, let me bash them for this. It was reported in a number of places that registering for assistance from FEMA required Internet Explorer 6.0 running on Windows. Sure enough, after you enter the “captcha” image, you are informed that “In order to use this site, you must have JavaScript Enabled and Internet Explorer version 6.” Of course, you can call to register, but sheesh.

This is at odds with FEMA’s help page, which states:

The FEMA Web pages are best viewed using Netscape 4.0 or above or Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or above (for Mac) and 4.0 or above (for windows). You can download a browser at the Netscape site or the Microsoft site.

Oh, right, they said “viewed” not “used.” Not only lame, but it’s probably some kind of violation of the government’s own Section 508 web site accessibility requirements.

September 4, 2005

Double Your Money

If you haven't donated to help victims of Katrina yet, consider making a donation to a company that will match it. If you give $100 to the Red Cross, they get $100. If you give it while shopping at Lowe's, the Red Cross gets $200.

You don't have to shop at Lowe's, though. The Red Cross maintains a list of companies that are donating and offering matching programs, but there are many others. Check with your employer, too. My company is matching all employee donations dollar-for-dollar, and we learned today while out shopping that Whole Foods Market will, too.

September 1, 2005


I haven’t been able to follow the Katrina disaster very closely, but that’s just as well, because what little I saw broke my heart. I’m sure there were some people who were too foolish to evacuate, but I think most of those who stayed behind did because they had no choice. So many people have lost everything and many will be in want for weeks.

The Red Cross called last night and left a message. Normally I donate whenever the Bloodmobile comes to the office park, but things are not normal. I don’t know whether there’s an urgent need for blood, but I’m sure they can always use money. I’ll be sticking out my arm and getting out my wallet.

Looking for ways to donate or just hungry for news? See Matt’s list of Katrina resources.

August 25, 2005

Stop and Smell the Nicotiana

Speaking of recycling, I really look forward to taking the trash out to the curb.

The reason? I get to walk past the Nicotiana alata that Anne planted in the front yard. Nicotiana’s many small, white flowers are closed and withered-looking during the day, but at night, the flowers open wide and exude the most beguiling and intoxicating aroma. The flowers’ perfume mixed with the warm night air spins the stuff that sweet summer dreams are made of.

I told you it was intoxicating.

I must say the fragrance certainly affects my brain and reminded of a stupid thing I did long ago when under the influence of honeysuckle vapors. I was driving to New Hope on a hot night in the middle of summer and the honeysuckle filled the air with sweetness.

On this particular stretch of road there were neither street lights nor cars, just me sailing along under a starry sky, so I switched off my headlights and flew through the warm air in complete darkness. It was quite an ineffable feeling to be flying along like that until I realized I really couldn’t see where I was going. Yikes! Still, the memory of the warm night, the honeysuckle, and my uncharacteristic recklessness lingers.

If you’re looking for something decorative and, nay, intoxicating to grow, plant some nicotiana post haste.


These are not Nicotiana alata, but Nicotiana silvestris. Alata is typically shorter and broader, and its flowers are bigger than silvestris. We have some silvestris in the back yard, but this was actually taken at the Rodin Museum in Paris. The negative was handy.

August 24, 2005

Sixes and Sevens

Speaking of beer, I read in the Inquirer that’s list of the 100 best craft breweries in the world included 10 local ones. The Sly Fox is one of these, located in Phoenixville. I vetted the place by checking with Phoenixville resident and beer connoisseur Jim who gave it two thumbs up. While we live nowhere near Phoenixville, we will be driving right past it on our way to North Coventry Recycling soon.

We participate in curbside recycling, of course, but our community doesn’t collect everything that is recyclable (only paper, glass, and plastic items coded 1 and 2), so we save up our polystyrene (Styrofoam®™) and threes, fours, fives, sixes and sevens to take there a couple times a year. The place is a madhouse; it always raises my spirits to see such a level of participation, cooperation and enthusiasm for the purely voluntary effort of saving and sorting, um, trash.

It’s a good thing there’s a way to supplement community recycling. Albert reported that Philly’s “recycling numbers have dropped from last year’s total tonnage.” Whatever isn’t recycled goes in a landfill. Sure, it costs more to collect recyclables than trash, but landfill fees aren’t going down and dumping space isn’t infinite.

We’re trying to do our part. This trip, though, it’s as much about the beer as those sixes and sevens. That’s a powerful incentive to recycle. “We’ll take those empties, please.”

August 22, 2005

Cathedrals and Church Keys

Over the weekend, we were working on the “ham shack” in the attic, when we discovered an old church key from Ortlieb's brewery. (Funny, we don't drink much beer, but we'd just bought a case of Corona that morning.) I remember the Ortlieb's brand from long ago (although my father was dedicated to the rival brew from Schmidt's). I'm not positive, but I think the Ortlieb's name has passed into brewing history.

Later, Anne sent me a link to a Flickr set of pictures taken at what's left of Ortlieb's. Perusing that set reminded me of an article in the May/June issue of Preservation entitled “Raiders of the Lost City” that described the work of amateur “urban explorers” who photograph abandoned and decaying cathedrals of industry. That sounds like fun and reminds me of our visit to Eastern State Penitentiary back in June. (Some links from the article for vicarious exploration: Abandoned Places, Ikon Visual, and Abandoned Asylum.)

It makes we wonder: are we living and working in what are little more than temporary structures? I sometimes think that we as a society have a devotion to building new rather than maintaining the old. Is it really better to tear down and rebuild than maintain and renovate? I guess that depends on whether the building is one worth maintaining; many clearly are. Perhaps these thoughts come to me because I'm not new anymore, although I am lovingly maintained.

Odd what that church key unlocked, and oh yeah, it still worked great.

August 15, 2005

Gas-Saving Gimmicks Then And Now

Over the weekend I saw an old Thunderbird in beautiful condition on the Turnpike. It was a car that I thought was really cool—when I was ten years old. The older I got, the less interested in cars I became. By the time I turned 16, I had lost all interest in driving and my parents had to beg me to get my license.

As a consequence of that attitude, I have owned an unbroken string of boring cars. I have no regrets. If anything, I care even less about cars today. Ironically, I eat lunch at work with a couple of devoted car fans. I even find myself becoming genuinely interested in their conversations, although I don't have much to contribute. I think it's also amusing that my brother has a Porsche 928. It's a nice car.

Today, the Dodge Charger came up, and Ryan mentioned that its big V8 has something called a Multi-Displacement System which allows the engine to run on only four cylinders while cruising. That's a good thing these days. But then I thought, hey, that's nothing new. I had a ’67 Impala V8 that had exactly the same feature. It didn't save much gas though.

August 14, 2005

Unclear on the Concept

I heard the Alan Jackson/Jimmy Buffet song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” (actually written by Jim “Moose” Brown and Don Rollins) the other day. The title comes from these two lines:

It’s only half past twelve, but I don’t care
It’s five o’clock somewhere

I thought to myself, no, you don’t understand. If it’s 12:30 here, it can’t be 5:00 anywhere. That’s not how time zones work.

Or so I thought. Well, I was wrong. There are whole countries where the time zone is offset from GMT by a half hour, so the lyrics could make sense in certain places. For example, if Alan were laboring in Bombay, and at half past twelve was daydreaming of a cold one, he could take comfort in the fact that workers in Guam are streaming to local watering holes at five o’clock. If he were in St. John’s, Newfoundland, folks in Rome would be enjoying an after-work grappa. If he were working in Tehran, it would be sake time in Tokyo. And if he were in Darwin in the Northern Territories of Australia, at half past twelve it would be five o’clock at the Tiki Bar in Honolulu. I’ll bet you can get a nice margarita there almost any time.

August 12, 2005

Old News

CNN reported the “discovery” today of a large waterfall in Whiskeytown National Recreational Area near Whiskeytown, CA. The falls are twice the height of Niagara, although only half the height of the tallest falls in the world. Still, they're big. The falls were not completely unknown, but they were not on any map nor known to park officials.

The discovery was made in 2003 when a biologist noticed it on a satellite mapping system. Aha! I exclaimed. I have a satellite imaging system and a few spare minutes before work. I'll find it myself, so I slipped on my Merrells, slathered on some insect repellent, and pointed my browser to Alas, Google only provides high-altitude imagery of the park, so I called off the expedition. Everybody back to camp for hot dogs and beer.

I thought it strange that this discovery was made two years ago, but is just now being publicized, especially since the park wanted to get the news out to boost interest and attendance at the park.

August 1, 2005

The Longest Day

Quite a few people I know have moved recently, and I’ve heard my share of horror stories. I added one more to my collection last Friday when Anne and I helped her sister move out of a high-rise in Hoboken to a larger place about an hour away.

When we arrived a little after 8:00 AM, we were greeted by the disturbing news that their truck reservation fell through. The scoundrels had the reservation, they just couldn’t produce the truck. Not only that, but the building management had lost their reservation for Bogarting the elevator and truck parking space. It was several hours before she and her husband could find a truck, and then we were hampered by having to use the passenger elevator to move everything downstairs. Management acknowledged the snafu and were very cooperative at least in letting us build box mountains in the lobby and park in the “no parking” zone.

At least everything was well-packed and ready to go. They had collected discarded boxes rescued from recycling bins all over the building. It was quite an eclectic assortment. This made for some surprises as we discovered interesting boxes:

“When did you get this cool gelato machine?”

“Oh, I see. Right... it’s just the box.”

We finally finished around 8:30 and headed home. Carol and John swore they would never move themselves again. Good idea. When we moved two years ago, we never considered doing it ourselves. More to the point, our move went perfectly, although it’s not entirely because we used professionals. We were just very lucky.

No matter how you do it, moving is stressful. While waiting for the elevator, we wondered just how high moving ranked on the list of stressful activities. At that moment, we were all thinking that moving must be Number One, but then I remembered reading somewhere that public speaking is actually in first place. That made us wonder where Death fits in. Hmm. That should be pretty stressful—with the possible exception of Death by Chocolate. It’s apparently less stressful than public speaking, however... and moving too, probably. With this knowledge, the expression “I’d rather die” is starting to make sense.

July 28, 2005

Nothing To Say

Been reading an inordinate number of posts this morning spinning artful variations on “I have nothing to write about.” Here's mine. Unfortunately I have nothing artful to say about having nothing to say.

Is it the heat, or what? Maybe it was, but the temperature has dropped almost twenty degrees in the last 12 hours since a gusty front passed through. Yesterday was probably the hottest, muggiest day of the summer (at least I hope so). Naturally, the air conditioning in our department failed. Portable fans were brought in to circulate cooler air from other parts of the building. Frankly, the breeze was a relief from the normally frigid temperatures. I pitied the poor repair crew laboring up on the roof.

Today is delightful. Like Maine, even.

July 18, 2005

Trading Spaces

Apple II desk

The Apple II desk festooned with some essential accessories: a stuffed lobster and “They Might Be Giants” coffee mug. Admit it, you're jealous.

When we moved to a new house two years ago, we agreed that we should consolidate our hitherto separate offices into one room. That has worked out really well; neither of us needs isolation to stay focused, and we can just pipe up whenever we want to share things we find on the Web or help each other with problems. Frankly, I never get tired of her company.

Recently, we decided to move our office to a different room. The new office was a little smaller, and that presented us with some “opportunities” as we decided how best to pack all our stuff into tighter quarters.

The one big change for me is the desk. I've been using an Anthro-Cart for years, which I liked not only for its industrial chic, but also because it was so comfortable to work at. I only use a laptop now, so I don't need such a big desk anymore. Besides, Anne never liked the “industrial chic” aspect of the hulking putty-gray Anthro-Cart.

Since switching rooms involved disassembling the giant Anthro-Cart, we went into a huddle for alternatives. We decided to move the Anthro-Cart to the “ham shack” in the attic (for that far-off day when we actually get ham licenses), and I am now using the desk in the picture.

Sure, that desk looks like some mutant IKEA knockoff, but hey, I made it myself. Although it looks brand-new in the picture, I actually built it almost 20 years ago for a friend with an Apple II. After many years with his trusty Apple, he bought a PC which wouldn't fit on the desk, so he gave it back to me. ::sings:: “Reunited and it feels so gooood. Ooooh.”

Now aren't you glad this isn't a podcast?

July 15, 2005

Stumbling Upon Cats

Do people still do that cat blogging thing on Fridays? I never did; after all, every day is cat-blogging day at mere cat; I don't have to wait until Friday rolls around. My best pictures are always available up on the masthead.

This week I've found some pictures that put my puny collection to shame, however, thanks to a new Firefox extension called StumbleUpon. This extension lets you kill some serious time. It adds a toolbar with a few buttons on it (which do nothing until you sign up at The Stumble button connects you to a random web page selected from categories you choose. If you want, you can then vote thumbs up or down on the page; each vote helps StumbleUpon refine its picks. It does do a remarkable job of suggesting worthwhile sites, I must say. Of course, I chose Cats as one of my categories.

Herewith then, from the Things That Make You Wanna Go Awwww Department is my favorite: a cat who will clean your computer screen for free (make sure your sound is on for this one).

Don't thank me, thank StumbleUpon.

July 13, 2005

Reading vs Scanning

Not to belabor my problems with Spotlight last week, but I have to say Apple’s “documentation”—a few fluffy paragraphs extruded from Marketing’s pastry bag—was no help. I’m old enough to remember when Macs came with a stack of manuals. Ironically, you didn’t need any of them, Macs being all so user-friendly and such, but I fondly recall making tea and curling up with one for a good read. (Am I a geek, or what?) These days I picture the Documentation Department as one overworked marcomm intern.

Reading manuals has its rewards. When I started playing with computers, what made me an “expert” among my colleagues was that I had read the manual. (“Wow! How did you know that?!”) As I mentioned, I liked reading manuals. For one brief moment after college, I even considered writing documentation for a living. I interviewed at Computer Associates for a technical writing position, although I didn’t get the job. It’s a good thing, too, because I was saved from a life of unrewarding drudgery, not because writing documentation is boring, but because nobody reads it anyway.

But back to Apple. What’s so utterly pointless about this new style of documentation is that the text is so brief and superficial there’s nothing written that you couldn’t figure out on your own in a minute. I think the philosophy behind this Cliffs Notes style of documentation is not some kind of sanctioned corporate laziness, but an earnest attempt to craft something based on assumptions about the way people read today, especially on the Internet. Supposedly, people don’t read any more, they “scan.”

Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen wrote, “79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across.” Well, yes. That’s the way people read something unfamiliar. Scanning is a strategy that lets us decide if something is worth reading. Jakob is telling us to write for the scanning reader, and implies that scanning is all you can expect of your reader. I just don’t like the implication. Scanning is a new strategy to deal with information overload, but it doesn’t mean that people don’t read anymore.

I know that if a piece interests me, my attention span lengthens appropriately, whether it’s a monster New Yorker article or just the latest megapost by drunkenbatman. As for the younger generation having an attention span whittled down by television, that hasn’t been borne out in my experience. I’ve seen kids spend hours reading books they love. I think it’s all about the writing. Give me something good to read, and you’ve got my attention. If not, I’m scanning and moving on. The point of all this is, when I find something I like, I don’t want it to end, so if anything, I am advocating writing longer pieces rather than writing for scanning. Gee, I think this piece has gone on a little too long, but hey, thanks for scanning!

July 4, 2005

Our Forth

This morning we ambled over to the town square to watch the parade—all 10 minutes of it. It's nice living in a small town so close to the big city. Obviously, we skipped all the large-scale celebrations this weekend. Later, we had some grilled chorizo sausage with Corona and a mess of watermelon out on the deck while we watched a robin feed her young. All in all, a beautiful day. Something occurred to me today, though. Our flag is a thirteen-star version given to us by Anne's parents. We always liked it because it was a little unusual, but it dawned on me that it's the closest you can get to a flag with only the blue states on it.

Hope your Independence Day was enjoyable, too. Happy Birthday America!

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 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 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 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.

May 25, 2005

Afternoon Delight

I was in Washington last Saturday afternoon with a couple of hours to myself. The weather was glorious. I was wandering aimlessly in the sunshine (all the while replenishing my reserves of vitamin D), when I was drawn to the park at Dupont Circle by the sound of drums. I flopped down on the grass and began listening to this fine drum corps.


Drum corps

The drum corps cooling off between numbers.

Watching them play—not to mention the incredible sound—took me right back to my high school days. It was marching band that got me interested in drumming, since the guys in the drum section seemed to be having all the fun. Our drum line in high school was nothing like this group. They switched from playing hand-clappin' funky stuff to executing complicated almost melodic compositions in rhythm. Whatever they played, it was precise and energetic. A real treat.

So there I was minding my own business when I was tapped on the shoulder and asked to take a group picture. I grit my teeth every time this happens, because I always feel like a total idiot. Nobody ever hands me a camera I can understand; it's always a shiny plastic box with a million buttons on it. Sure, I know a shutter button when I see one, but I was still unable to take a picture with this thing on the first attempt. “Hold the button down longer,” they suggested helpfully. After squeezing the shutter button for a few seconds, the little box was finally satisfied and the picture was taken. Really, it wasn't that bad, but I really am a klutz with a digicam.

May 24, 2005

Abs-olutely True

Anne wants us to get cable so she can watch Kept on VH1. (Hunks battle for the privilege of escorting Jerry Hall. Some people will do anything for money.) After showing me the picture of a group of Speedo-clad dudes, I remarked, “You know, dear, I have rock-hard abs, too. They're just buried under two inches of blubber.” Buns of steel? Ditto.

New Claims for the Sunshine Vitamin

A good view of my vitamin D processing array. Vitamin D production can be regulated using a device called a “hat.”

Evidence is mounting that vitamin D can help prevent some cancers. That sounds promising, and gee, since milk is fortified with vitamin D, all but the lactose-intolerant are protected, right? Well, it turns out foods and supplements aren't the most efficient way to assimilate the vitamin. Fortunately, vitamin D is created naturally by the skin when it is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Those are the same rays that can cause skin cancer, of course, but apparently, the benefits of moderate exposure outweigh the risks.

This wasn't good news to me, because I have always avoided the sun. I burn easily, and my father had a few patches of skin cancer. Those are my principal reasons anyway. (Truthfully, I'm just not that “outdoorsy.”) Anyway, I was concerned that I wasn't getting enough vitamin D. Then my wife reminded me that with all that exposed skin on my head, I can generate more than enough vitamin D with the briefest of exposures. Cool.

May 23, 2005

The Point is Dead. Long Live The Point

I read (via the smedley log) that The Point in Bryn Mawr is closing. Management is reportedly “aggressively searching” for a new location, so all is not lost, but there’s just something about that room. After a show there last year, I wrote:

First, a little bit about The Point. It is a reincarnation of and homage to the Main Point, a legendary venue that hosted such artists as Bruce Springsteen many, many years ago. [blah blah blah] It has much the same feeling as the original Main Point: a kind of coffeehouse atmosphere (although now you can order drinks!) with tables, chairs, and even comfortable couches randomly arranged around the room. The room is just large enough to hold a fair-sized audience, yet small enough that no one is sitting too far away. It’s probably the perfect place to hear music. Come to think of it, it’s probably the perfect place to play music, too.

Amen to that. And now a moment of silence...

[   .   .   .   ]

Call me sentimental, but now I feel like I should see someone, anyone at The Point before the last show on June 25. One artist I was hoping to see this year is Tom Rush. Not exactly a newcomer, just someone I’ve never seen. I heard his new CD “Trolling for Owls” recently, and it’s probably the most entertaining hour I’ve ever spent. All these years I’ve been missing out. He won’t be appearing at The Point before it closes, however.

It would be great to nick a souvenir of the old place before it’s gone forever. One of those couches would be nice...

May 17, 2005

On or Off? I Could Care Less

Surfing around today, I encountered a variation of a common expression that always brings me up short. Allow me to explain.

I'm sure you've seen in countless cartoons the symbol of a brilliant new idea depicted by a glowing light bulb suspended over the thinker's head. When I have one of those A-ha! moments (really quite rare), I say that a light bulb went off. My darling wife kids me about this, because, if you think about it, when a light bulb goes off, you're in darkness. In my defense, I'm thinking of that bulb going off like an explosion of inspiration (or in my case, like a little firecracker), but she's right, saying that a light bulb went on just makes more sense.

In the interest of science, I checked with Google to see which version was more popular. I wasn't surprised that my wrong version garnered more hits. After all, that's not the only expression where the wrong version dominates. Take for instance the most egregious example I know, “I could care less.” Ugh. I guess you might be able to make that work if you delivered it drenched in sarcasm, but most people say it without a trace of irony when they really mean, I couldn't care less.

But hey, English isn't our strong suit. As Ralph Wiggum, young scholar and native speaker, once said, “Me fail English? That's unpossible.”

My Franchise Needed Some Exercise...

It's been cooped up all winter, so it was glad to get out and vote today. We arrived at the polls around 7:20 AM, and things were quiet. Not surprising, considering there are no hotly-contested races (most candidates “cross-filed” in fact), and since there are only about 1000 people in our ward, we didn't expect to see too many folks there. In other news, I have a friend running for commissioner in the neighboring township, so I am rooting for her.

May 11, 2005

Boring Things

We headed up to New York today to attend my sister-in-law’s graduation ceremony—she received her MBA from the Stern School of Business at NYU. The speeches were both inspiring and disturbing when you think of the responsibility these young people will have. After all, they represent the next generation of corporate looters, and we all look to them to uphold a long and proud tradition of flagrant disregard for ethical conduct and moral values in the pursuit of personal enrichment. I can say that (facetiously, of course), not because I’m so sure no graduate will ever cause a corporate scandal, but because I was won over by the earnestness and sincerity of the faculty’s devotion to ethical and socially-responsible behavior. The day gave me some hope that these tycoons were at least taught the difference between right and wrong.

Some random notes follow.

They have a pipe band. That is so cool, although I don’t quite get the Scottish connection. The pipe band played the processional while the graduates took their seats.

Besides the many inspiring speeches, they showed a video of campus life. My favorite quote from a professor: “I’m an accountant. I’m not a boring person. I just get very excited about boring things.” I wish I’d said that. I freely admit to getting excited about boring things. Whether I’m boring or not... well, let’s move on, shall we?

I was hoping to snag a lobster roll after the ceremony, but all the places I knew of close between lunch and dinner. We headed back to an early dinner at a nice Italian restaurant across the Hudson in Hoboken. Then we headed home. The graduate and her husband are taking some well-earned time off.

May 3, 2005

Doin’ the Loosen Up

I got a new pair of pants (pleated khakis, like all my other pants) the other day. They were bought online so I couldn’t try them on first. I ordered my current waist size, the largest I’ve ever worn, and they were, uh, a bit of a struggle to fasten.

Anybody remember “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells? (No, of course you don’t. Sorry.) Anyway that’s what all my pants are doing to me. (“Tighten up on that belt, drummer.”) Is there no end to this suburban sprawl? Time for some changes. Nothing drastic, just smaller portions.

While eating my smaller portion last night at dinner, Anne remarked on the oddness of the expression “cheating on your diet.” Normally, she said, when you cheat, you gain an advantage that helps you win (if you aren’t caught, that is). But if you “cheat” on your diet, you lose. Wouldn’t it be great if all cheating had such direct and visible consequences?

So, no cheating for me.

I hadn’t thought of Archie Bell in many, many years until “Tighten Up” popped into my head. When I first heard it, I thought it was the stupidest song I’d ever heard. Evidently, The Nazz (another band from Philly) thought little enough of the song to parody it with a version called “Loosen Up,” although I never actually heard it. I wonder if iTunes... Yeah! Sure enough, iTunes has both songs! The 30-second sample of “Loosen Up” is all you really need to hear to get the idea (it’s only 1:30 anyway).

April 30, 2005

Signed “Depressed In Philadelphia”

“Maybe it was all those years of futility for the Phillies.” Nope. I don’t follow hockey.

“Or the shadows cast by New York City to the north and Washington, D.C., to the south.” We have two suns?!

“Whatever the reasons, Philadelphia has earned the melancholy distinction of being America’s most depressed city.” [source Men’s Health]

Oh really? By their metric, it must be true (you can prove anything with the right statistics), but are you going to trust a bunch of ripped dudes hopped up on, ahem, supplements, or are you going to trust me? I’m telling you Philadelphia is a great city. By one important metric, population growth, Philadelphia is in good shape. While Philadelphia’s overall population continues to decline slowly, the downtown (“Center City”) population has grown substantially.

I wish I knew what we are all supposedly so depressed about. It certainly can’t be because of New York and Washington. New York is a great city, and I love going there, but there are some things about Philadelphia that are incontrovertibly better than New York (our Flower Show, for example). As for Washington, I have friends who fled to Philadelphia for the weekend in the dead of winter just because they couldn’t stand being in Washington for another second.

Don’t get me wrong. Philadelphia is not without its problems, but Philly is just so eminently (for lack of a better word) livable. Plus it’s located so conveniently close to New York and Washington! [Full Disclosure: Although I grew up in Germantown, a neighborhood in northwest Philly, I now live just outside the city.]

April 25, 2005

Fractional Birthdays

My brother and I were born exactly two and a half years apart. To avoid an ugly scene on birthdays when only one sibling was rightfully entitled to presents, the other child got a token gift in celebration of his “half birthday.” Thus fractional birthdays are a family tradition.

Anne turned 33 last week. As a recovering LP record collector, that number is especially significant to me. I thought it would be cool to celebrate her 33-1/3 birthday with a big party where everyone would bring their favorite albums to play on my vintage turntable. Well, it would be fun for me anyway.

I mentioned this idea to a friend who collects 78 records. Naturally, he thought it was a great idea. He's my friend, after all. What's more, he has a collector friend who will be turning 78 this year who thought of the same idea. Unlike us, I think he will actually go through with the party. (Trivia: 78-rpm records actually play at 78.26 rpm, so his party would be about three months after his actual birthday.)

Not to make you hungry, but I'm writing this between bites of the last piece of Anne's birthday cake, a sensuous triple chocolate cake from Aux Petits Delices in Wayne.

April 17, 2005

I Can Quit Whenever I Want

I started using the feed reader NewNewsWire a couple of months ago, but during that time I only added the handful of blogs I had already been reading the old-fashioned way. Although NewNewsWire would allow me to read many more blogs without spending much more time, I just didn't know what else to read! There are probably millions of blogs (after all, even I have one, sort of), but where to start? Since joining the Philadelphia Webloggers Meetup group, I learned about a ton of blogs based right here in Philly. I added most of the ones I could find to the blogroll on the right. While I certainly don't expect to be blogging more frequently than I do now, I can at least try to keep up with what the real bloggers are talking about.

April 10, 2005

Caution: Mellowing Agents at Work

A darn nice and productive weekend, if I say so myself. On Saturday, we blasted through the wall separating the front hall from the dining room. (The wall was added at some point as part of the changes to turn the house into a duplex.) That went very well, although it looks as if we will have to modify the hall closet as well before we’re finished.

Although Saturday’s weather was nice, Sunday was such a beautiful day that we ate outside—twice. In fact, lunch was our first outdoor meal of the season. During the afternoon, I happened to hear a segment of the rerun of A Prairie Home Companion, specifically the recurring bit sponsored by the “Ketchup Advisory Board” in which the benefits of ketchup’s “natural mellowing agents” are dramatized. I was reminded of this at dinner, which was a simple repast of burgers and margaritas. Between the ketchup and the margarita, it occurred to me that I had a double helping of mellowing agents. No wonder I feel so good! *hic*

April 5, 2005

Getting Things Done

Maybe it's just me, but the whole world seems buzzing about Getting Things Done (by David Allen)...

Yeah, it's just me.

Anyway, it's not that I don't “get things done,” but I would like to get more things done. One reason I don't is because I'm just not organized enough to keep track of the myriad less-pressing tasks, and a lot of small stuff falls through the cracks.

I first heard about GTD at Merlin Mann's site, 43 Folders, which I discovered while googling for info on Quicksilver. Since then I have probably been spending too much time there, reading about his productivity adventures with Moleskine notebooks and his Hipster PDA.

I don't spend all my time idly surfing productivity web sites, though. This past weekend, I bought Getting Things Done. Now I have to be careful not to let this book give me another reason to procrastinate, because after all, I need to finish the book before I can get anything done. Right?

One thing that I like about Getting Things Done is that it doesn't require any special equipment, such as a PDA (although I wish it were that simple). In fact, it's almost anti-equipment. For example, Mann's Hipster PDA is just a stack of index cards. I have a well-worn Levenger Pocket Briefcase which may work as an upscale Hipster PDA. We'll see. I checked out those chic Moleskine notebooks over the weekend, but couldn't bring myself to buy one. This morning, however, the guy sitting next to me on the train was writing in his Moleskine. I take that as some kind of sign.

No, I'm afraid it's going to take a lot more than a new notebook to make me more productive. It looks like I will have to actually change the way I do things. Sigh.

March 23, 2005


I have a so-called “ergonomic” desk chair, but I thwart its good intentions by sitting with one leg tucked under me most of the time. As you can imagine, that posture can lead to some problems. Being in the throes of middle age, I'm not as flxible as I used to be, and my knees have actually been giving me problems.


Typing that last sentence derailed my train of thought, and it's a good thing, too, since I don't have much more to say about my knee pain. Perhaps you noticed that I misspelled the word “flexible.” Every time I see the word flexible, I am reminded of a mystery that has haunted me since childhood. As a child, I noticed that the city transit buses were all made by a company called, no, it can't be, yes, it is, Flxible. (OK, that's hardly a haunting mystery, is it? Hey, I was a kid. And a good speller, too.)

I stared at the marque on countless buses over the years in an effort to see the missing “e” in the logo, but I finally gave up and had to admit the name was spelled without it. To get some closure, I just googled the word and learned all I needed to know about this company. I will share. The company started in 1913 making a sidecar for motorcycles connected by a flexible joint. Imagine going around corners with a rigid sidecar attached, and you can see the value of this invention. Henry Ford's inexpensive automobiles made sidecars obsolete overnight, and the company switched to making buses. The name changed from Flexible to Flxible in 1919, although I was unable to discover why the name was changed. Flxible went out of business in 1995. Mystery solved.

Well, my knee is starting to hurt again. Time to switch, uh, legs.


To WHOME it may concern,

The brand name FLXIBLE is nod to the copywrite laws of the US. That law says that no word in common use can be copywrite protected. The owners of the company wanted to coin the name as a discription of their unique product (the flexible joint side car) so they, Mssrs. Young and Dudte) dropped the "E" from the name and submitted it for copywrite protection and it has been known by that moniker ever since.

Now you know.


March 22, 2005

Only Suckers Play Powerball

Today I read in the Metro that Powerball odds might be lowered, because people are winning too often, and this is hurting sales. I don't get it. People are winning too often and this is hurting sales!? If I heard that a lottery was getting easier to win, I'd buy more tickets, not fewer. I guess people feel that it's just not worth playing when the jackpot is under a $100 million. I wouldn't sneeze at winning even a thousand dollars when my initial investment was a measly buck. If the odds are somehow better, then that's all the more reason to take a chance.

This news was all academic for me anyway, because I don't play Powerball. Don't get me wrong. I do play the lottery, but not Powerball. Why not? Because I know my lotteries. I have to. That's because the cornerstone, the linchpin, yea the quintessential nub of my retirement plan depends on winning the lottery, so I play early and I play often.

Since I'm playing for keeps, as it were, I don't waste my money on Powerball. No sir, I'm too smart for that. The odds on Powerball are way too low as it is. Even for a $5,000 prize, the odds are pretty long at 1 in 502,194, and for the big jackpot, the odds are an astronomical 1 in 120,526,770. Instead of Powerball, we play Pennsylvania's Cash 5. The big jackpot odds are pretty good at 1:575,757, similar to the $5,000 Powerball odds, but with typical jackpots far larger than that. With my golden years at stake, I can't afford to take any chances with my hard-earned money. Plus, you have the added entertainment value of a daily drawing as well. How can you lose?



I agree. I worked at a gas station when I was in college, and sold thousands of tickets. Guess what, nobody ever won anything. That game is a joke.

March 17, 2005

Smushed Boxen

Even though Anne and I are both mostly Irish, neither of us makes a big deal out of St. Patrick's Day. About all we did to commemorate the day was drink some decaf green tea. Do we know how to party or what! (I had my drinking binge last night at the Independence Brew Pub in the stimulating company of the Philadelphia Webloggers Meetup group. I had two brown ales for dinner and came home stinking of beer and cigarette smoke, but I had a great time.)

Anyway, smushed boxen. We were making dinner (pasta with bacon and peas tossed in ricotta), and Anne mentioned that she got the “smushed box” of pasta just for me. I usually make a point of buying the smushed box or the dented can on the theory that nobody will buy them, and they will just be thrown out. I mean, the items are always perfectly fine (except maybe things like potato chips). In a similar vein, I've also lost my taste for shiny and new and now often opt for something used. Maybe this is how antique collecting starts. Hmm.

Back to St. Patrick's Day, fine pictures of Philadelphia's parade here and here by Albert Yee.

January 27, 2005

Never Quit Smoking

The Smoked Joint is a new barbecue, uh, joint in downtown Philadelphia. Last week was our first opportunity to check it out. It's an interesting mix of country cookin' and big-city rock and roll with a funky feel tempered by lots of sophisticated touches.

The place is fairly large, and seemed even larger because it wasn't very crowded; there were a few people at the bar and most of the tables were empty. This concerned me. I can be very protective of new places that cater to one of my food fetishes, and I start to worry that if a place doesn't catch on, it won't be around long. After all, most restaurants fail.

We started with drinks. They have four beers on draft (and about twice as many bottled brews). I chose one I never heard of, a Belgian pilsner called Stella Artois. Very light.

Before I get to the food, I should admit that I am no expert on barbecue, it's just that I love smoked meats. I haven't been to very many barbecue places in the Philadelphia area (really only Abner's in Jenkintown and Hooley's in Ambler), but after this meal I will have to give the Smoked Joint top honors.

I usually try a restaurant's pulled pork sandwich, but the Smoked Joint doesn't serve one (they only had a heretical version on pita), so I ordered a platter with pulled pork and brisket. The two meats were nicely arranged on the plate, with a few slices of brisket neatly fanned out, and a nice pile of pulled pork surmounted by a stingy dollop of thick sauce. (Though small, it was plenty; I'm not a sauce guy.) The pulled pork was very good, perhaps a little drier and less tender than the best I've had, but the brisket was sensational, easily the best I've ever had—it was melt-in-your-mouth tender and utterly suffused with smoky goodness. The corn bread was unusual; not sweet like some, and it incorporated diced green pepper for a mild kick. The collards were perfect. We have collards from our backyard frequently and prepare them with onions. They're good, but they're even better smoked.

If I had to find something to complain about, it would be the service. There wasn't anything wrong, but everything was very slow. Fortunately, we weren't in a hurry.

When I Googled the place to double-check the address I was surprised and delighted to learn that the restaurant is the product of a collaboration between two Penn graduates, who graduated the same year I did. Read all about it.

January 23, 2005

Korn Shell version q

I noticed the other day that the Korn Shell (ksh93) had been updated to version q back in December. I was using version p, which I had installed using Fink. I thought I could use Fink again, but wasn't able to. For one thing, ksh93 is only listed in the CVS unstable distribution for 10.2. “Unstable” means it hasn't been tested, but that never fazed me. More importantly, however, the latest version available through Fink has been stuck at 20030621, which is a year and a half old. (That source isn't available anymore, so you couldn't build ksh93 if you wanted to through Fink. I wrote to the maintainer a while ago, but never heard anything.) To get newer versions, I edited the dot info file to point to the current source and in the past this worked well, but this time I couldn't get Fink to recognize there was a newer version.

Bypassing Fink, I found a simple set of instructions that described which packages to download from AT&T and how to compile them. All went smoothly, and I now have version q of ksh93.

January 17, 2005

QuickTime glitches

I was disappointed that the Macworld Keynote address was not webcast this year. Last year it was, but the quality was so poor, I felt like I didn't really see it. Since it was the most boring keynote I can remember, I never did watch it.

This year was different. Even though there was no news about PowerBooks (the only Apple product I'm interested in at the moment), there were lots of exciting developments from Apple that should make for an interesting year. I just don't think that 2005 will be the year of High Definition—except for the handful of early adopters who can afford $3500 for that HD video camera from Sony.

Over the weekend I tried watching the keynote mainly to check out Kunitake Ando's alleged meltdown. Something was wrong somewhere, because I couldn't get the keynote to stream without dropping out every couple seconds. I switched my connection speed (in 10.2.8, System Preferences:QuickTime) all the way down to “28.8 modem.” At that setting, the keynote was audio-only, but it still wouldn't play. The next day, it was working fine even on the highest setting (Intranet/LAN). At that speed, the picture was fairly large and the video was creamy smooth; it was nice to know that our DSL has no trouble keeping up with the flow.

January 14, 2005

Huygens Pronounced Huygens

Today the Huygens probe touched down successfully on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. I don't know how I missed the news, but I think this was the first I heard of the Cassini/Huygens mission, but then I can't keep up with all the interplanetary probes (especially them Yurpeen ones). This is an exciting mission, and I am as piqued as I was almost two years ago when I heard that NASA had finally lost contact after 30 years with Pioneer 10. (*sniff* God speed, little wanderer!)

I wanted to share my enthusiasm with my friends at lunch, but stopped short when I realized I didn't know how to pronounce Huygens. “How about that Titan thing,” I began lamely and finally admitted why I was avoiding the word Huygens. I felt better when no one at the table could pronounce it either.

I listened to how it was pronounced on NPR. The most common was HOY-gens, although one person said HIGH-gens. Then I Googled the pronunciation and found an mp3 with the name pronounced by five native Dutch speakers. That didn't help much, because I could never imitate the Dutch accent, and to my ear, each one pronounced it differently. The real sound is neither HOY-gens nor HIGH-gens, but to my ear HIGH-gens sounds closer, not that it's close.

While reading about Cassini, I read about NASA's comet-smashing probe, Deep Impact. I think this is going too far. Soft landings on other worlds is one thing, but this is weird science: smashing a comet just to see what happens. That is just rude. For all we know, the impact will change the comet's trajectory to one that will send it smashing into earth.

January 13, 2005

Light at the End of the (Winter) Tunnel

For someone who thinks he would like to live in Maine someday (where winter is brutal), days like today remind me how much I hate winter. Not that today was wintry—anything but. It was unseasonably warm (around 60) and that’s the trouble. As I walked to the train on the freshly-dampened pavement with a warm breeze gently blowing and a crescent moon in the sky, it felt like spring was just around the corner. The weather today reminded me how much I want winter to be over.

The light at the end of tunnel was the only thing sustaining me. That light was a faint glow in the western sky as I was leaving work. It’s the first day I noticed it. I was thrilled when we turned the corner toward longer days after the solstice last month, but this is the first day that I noticed the change in the sky.

There are also daffodil buds peeping through the ground. It won’t be so long...

January 3, 2005

Tsunami Prayer Service

We attended a prayer service for tsunami victims last night. I was glad to see that the church was very full since after the soothing sermon the congregants were steered past vases collecting money for relief organizations. I hope the collection was wildly successful since that's what's really needed now in addition to our prayers.