Saturday, August 30, 2008

All Exciting at First

To celebrate the it's-about-time receiving of the keys to my new apartment, my friend Jamie and I decided to get some mid-morning pancakes. Rather than going to the slightly too-expensive local, known-good breakfast place, we hit the local instance of the International House of Pancakes on Biscayne Boulevard instead. I think this was, in fact, the first time I've ever eaten at an IHOP (anyone out there with evidence to the contrary, please let me know (I think I've eaten at some number of other similar joints (Golden Skillet, Waffle House, etc.) in my life (especially on the high school marching band trips that involved bus rides through large swaths of the American South) but never the place-itself (any of its selves))). And probably the last. At least for this particular House.

The terrible coffee and mediocre pancakes (eaten syrup-less, just for the record (my religion of preferring things dry continues)) aside, the generally depressing meal ended with the strangest cash-register interaction that I've had in a long while, thanks to the shrunken, incredibly old woman who was running the till. I paid with my plastic-account-interfacing-device, and as I went to the sign the receipt, this old woman noticed that I am left handed:

Old Woman: "Oh, left-handed are you?"
Me: "Uh-huh."
Old Woman: grabs my left hand as I hand her the signed receipt and holds it while talking "You know most of our presidents have been left handed."
Me: trying to free my hand from hers and bounce "Yeah, I've heard that."
Old Woman: grips my hand tighter "So was Hitler. Watch yourself."

I'm not sure if she was trying to warn me, or just make conversation, but, yeah, damn, I'm never going there ever again.

Friday, August 29, 2008


I don't often watch campaign events on TV (debates, yes; convention speeches, no) but I did watch Obama tonight, and the man sure can give a speech. Rhetoric is rhetoric, but it's good to hear your own side stated forcefully, and it does remind one that we need to win an election pretty badly at this point.

Pete, seriously, you can't joke about it, you do need to actually vote in your swing state this year. Please?

Thank goodness my barely-there cable subscription includes C-Span. I have very literally never appreciated C-Span before, but listen: video feed from the convention with no talking heads.

I don't really feel prepared for the business end of the election year. Watch in awe as the inane and arbitrary media narratives take form! Listen as your teeth starting grinding at night! Cast your vote in a state where the electoral result is all but predetermined!

Ellen wanted to watch Bill Clinton last night (he also sure can give a speech, obviously), so we did, in between making some bread pudding and playing most of a game of '78-vintage Trivial Pursuit and getting hammered with surprising efficacy on white Russians. I'm not saying this is the only way to take in convention coverage, but it's one way. Really the important thing is that you take part in the process.

I'm taking Friday off and flying to Pittsburgh for the long weekend, meanwhile, so happy preemptive Labor Day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Post-Nihil Drip

Someday, robots will prepare our burritos. Sitting, a few minutes ago, in the local instance of a national chain of quasi-Mexi-Cali-cuisine purveyors (corporate burrito-slingers), I was overcome by the umpteenth bout of cynicism that I've experienced since getting back to Miami last Monday (most of the cynicism is tied to apartment finding and being a student at a terribly dysfunctional POS public university, some of it also has to do with what is either allergies or an oncoming Summer cold making both the excessive heat of the out-of-doors and the excessive cool of the in-of-doors uncomfortable, but I suppose I'm trying to imply here that this cynicism is extra on top of that (chips and salsa? fuck that, chips and guac!). The staff of said local-not-local no-longer-owned-by-McDonald's-but-still-caring-very-much-about-its-stock-holders burrito locale has completely turned over since I was last there in late April; this, I suppose, is natural for such a place. That the poorly wrapped burrito that was making my hands more messy than normal - not that I'm claiming to be anything but a 'spiller' - combined with the fact that there was enough of a line to allow me to see the new burrito-wrappers making the same error over and over again without any hint of learning, perhaps caused me some amount of the embittered spirits (speaking of embittered spirits, I just figured out today, while trying to keep up on my German a bit and read some German wikipedia, that Jever, brewers of the finest Pilsener in Germany, also produce a Jever-flavored digestif! How could I have never found this out?!? The next person that reads this blog that is also going to be heading to Germany any time soon (what are the odds that I am describing myself here?), please do me the favor of acquiring a bottle. Hopefully they (the employees of burrito-unskill) will all turn over soon enough, or even better, I would say from the depths of the most-liberal chamber of my heart/soul, the employees will learn to make a better burrito.

I spent - I dunno - maybe 40 hours over the summer making photocopies. Somewhere around hour 7 or 8 I started to design in my head (while not fretting about the kind of damage that the green lightstrip was doing to my retinas) the robot that should have been doing my job for me. Really paring down the motions that the two arms make, slowly isolating the wasted motions and the potentially hazardous aspects (e.g. fragile pages being torn, middle pages in a thick book being not-pressed-down-enough, etc.). And a robot would never have to press the green button to make it go - it could be just a part of the photocopier, give the command without wasting the kinetic energy required to push the button. So far as I can tell, photocopying (though better paying, probably) is no more (or less) robot-able than burrito wrapping. My main fear is that Armageddon occurs before robots can take over (we have discussed before the merits of Zombie Apocalypse versus Alien Apocalypse, and I think Robot Apocalypse is the obvious third choice (though I still vote for Aliens)). The biosphere slowly (quickly!) expiring seems the worst choice, and still the most likely.

And that's cheering; that I can still walk around everyday (or sit, eating burritos) with the usual amounts of apathy, nihilism, and apocalypticism that are the cornerstones of the Pete Weltanschauung, and still mange to also be cynical about something as basic as not getting the end of the world that I want (Das Traugiste von allen!). Speaking of apathy, my transition (according to my tuition waiver) to Florida Resident appears to be complete. I might just have to, like, vote in the upcoming for National Topmost-Corporate-Lackey competition. Is anyone at the DNC? What company(ies) are doing the catering? What kind of burrito can you get there? That would really tie this post together...


Discussion of the Pittsburgh Pirates has dwindled on this blog in direct proportion to that team being any fun at all to watch, but tonight's game answered a nagging question: Did the club's management completely snuff out the team's genuinely solid offense by trading away its two most potent hitters? The ringing answer must be, "No, not completely!" Because here is the team scoring nine runs and still losing just as though their June roster were still intact.

Speaking of baseball of the bad-newsed variety: I want to add in a small way to Jack's omnibus Portland post by saying that at that Portland Beavers AAA game I had my closest approach to a professional foul ball ever. This one was a pop-up into the seats along the third base line late in the second game, which ended up landing about three seats to the right of where I was sitting at the time. In fact I stuck out my right hand in a not entirely graceful attempt to catch it, though the ball merely slapped off of the meaty part of my palm. (Small irrational voice inside of head: "When you were seven you used to take your baseball glove into the upper deck of Three Rivers Stadium with no hope whatsoever of catching a foul ball! Now that you are older and much closer to the field you could have finally used it! Why didn't you bring your baseball glove?!")

The ball hit the concrete near my feet and I picked it up easily enough as it rolled around down there (PGE Park being pretty well empty by this time on a worknight). I even got a smattering of applause from the people sitting in the section when I gave the ball to a kid who had also come after it. Which brings me to the true moral of this story: You should always try to become a kind and goodhearted person to make up for being bad at sports.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Two (Probably) Modest Olympic Proposals

In response to Jack's response to William Saletan below, I think his approach of judging Olympic swimming events on their artistic content would work well. I would further propose that you (1) make sure the judges are too old and/or politically motivated to be able to observe each performance fairly; (2) require the swimmers to compete in pairs; (3) freeze the pool and make them skate around on top of it; and (4) refer to it as "ice dancing".

As a second, contrasting proposal I suggest evaluating the outcome of each race as a kind of probability cloud, with a proportionately sized fractional medal assigned to each competitor based on the likelihood that they actually won. This approach probably won't sit well with the concepts of competition and fairness that most of us hold -- concepts, I must say, that give undue weight to the macroscopic, directly observable world that science only began to see beyond in the last century -- but note that the results will match those of most conventionally officiated sporting events to an infinitesimal tolerance. I like the nominally democratizing effect of this one, too, since arguably everyone in the world could have won any race with some vanishingly small probability. Granted, the odds that I medaled in this year's 100-meter butterfly are equivalent to the odds that Mickey Mouse exists and medaled too, but I ask you: Does that make the Olympic gold glitter any less brightly?

Reading Saletan's pieces, though, I don't believe he'd be at all satisfied with this, since his major concern is being utterly certain about the facts of the finish rather than creating a more equitable but still practical method of officiating. In this, sadly, I don't think he'll ever find satisfaction, because pretty soon his logical momentum will run him smack up against the same epistemological wall ("How can we truly be sure of anything?" "How can we be truly sure that we're truly sure?") that has impeded armchair philosophers ever since the start of this zany, global athletic competition called the human endeavor. Hopefully he at least hits that wall with the required 1.5 kilograms per cubic centimeter of force when he gets there.

All this is also related to the concept of a "quantum finish" described in an episode of Futurama, which counts as just about the geekiest joke about a horse race that I have ever heard of, though I will leave retelling it as an exercise to the reader.

Float Like a Butterfly, Swim Like a Bee

I'm kind of enthralled by this William Saletan article in Slate (plus followup) about whether Michael Phelps actually won the 100-meter butterfly. I don't mean that completely ironically, even if the proximate matter of concern seems ridiculous (triggering the wall sensor is part of the race, right?) Taking a step back, you're basically trying to take two athletic performances that are for all intents and purposes identical and to categorically declare one of them better than the other. It doesn't make any sense, and it's kind of funny that people do it.

I would argue that you can broaden this point and claim that longer, more complex sporting events are inherently better than simple races because they submerge these too-close-to-call situations. For example, in Super Bowl XL, as we all remember well, Ben Roethlisberger scored a fourth-down touchdown on a play that, when reviewed, showed that he was essentially exactly on the line marking the end zone: a too-close-to-call event. A hypothetical Seahawks proponent can protest that these are seven completely arbitrary points that may as well not be on the board, but he will also have to answer to the plays that set up the too-close-to-call event. Specifically, maybe a 3rd-and-28 37-yard completion to Hines Ward to the 3 would have been a good thing for the Seahawks defense to prevent.

And then there was this. Yeah, one could argue to the hypothetical Seahawks proponent. You like that?

The opposite strategy for more successfully evaluating races would be to make them more like the arts. Thus one would create room for aesthetic judgments that could qualify two performances that are equally assured on technical grounds; even if no consensus favorite emerges, a satisfying counterpoise of subjective evaluations can be struck. "Cavic can certainly swim," says Sportscaster A, "but Phelps has a way of expressing the 100-meter butterfly in a way I find personally more moving. Granted, it may be that, as an American, I relate more strongly to the theme of an American excelling at sports." "It's all moot," sniffs Sportscaster B, "No one can match Spitz's interpretations of the event from the 70s, and in any case the audience was larger and had better taste back then."

In short, although there is no good reason to challenge the viability of this particular Phelpsian gold medal, there are grounds to doubt the robustness of swimming as an effectively evaluable sporting event. A justifiable lack of confidence in the utility of the endeavor (even on its own terms) is, I add as a personal aside, why I have not committed myself to becoming a world-champion competitive swimmer.


One correction to my Portland post: I-84 in Portland is not the same highway as I-84 in Connecticut. They are two unrelated highways. Let me head off any potential liability:
DISCLAIMER. If you follow your dreams west out of Connecticut by taking I-84 as far as it will go, you will end up in Scranton, PA
I should also clear up an oversight in my Microsoft Decathlon post, specifically to note that the color scheme in my screenshot is out of whack. The game might look more impressive if the intended colors are present (black = blue; blue = green; white = yellow; purple = red), but I can't figure out how to fix it on my laptop. Maybe I need to upgrade my video card.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Robots, Insects, and Garbage!

School starts today, so maybe I'll wind up being busier soon, but being back in Miami, where there really is not much to do if you're a lame-wad like myself, I've already seen a couple of movies since being back. Having already mentioned WALL-E, which, again, was quite good - especially the first half (which was really it's own story in of itself - I was quite impressed with the way that the atmosphere-building details of the first half, such as the explanations of WALL-E's desertion, serve as story-building details for the half of the movie that takes place in space - one of the subtler expositions of modern (family? (animated?)) cinema), I will also now mention Tropic Thunder, which I saw, literally because we couldn't think of anything better to do, back on Saturday night.

Eventually I will stop going to movies that are manufactured for mainstream audiences, but for the time-being, I'll go ahead and go on record as having been let-down once again by a mainstream comedy. Though Jack Black is hilarious in his role. He's usually pretty funny, that guy. I wasn't a fan of School of Rock, but then again I only watched about 10 minutes of it, so maybe he was good in that? It's too bad that Robert Downey Jr. was in blackface, since that seems to overshadow the few bits that are actually funny - again, mostly just Jack Black's character going through withdrawal from heroin. Steve Coogan is also pretty funny. These things, minus the Jack Black praising, you can probably read about or have already read about out there in corporate entertainment media land, so I probably don't really need to be writing this.

At least there's the new Coen brothers movie to look forward to (although it looks more unabashedly ensemble-casted then their normal work - though their films up to now have tended to be ensemble casts as well, they never seem to be that in essence (as opposed to, say, Wes Anderson's movies since Rushmore) - rather, movies that happen to have ensemble casts).

In other news, I signed a lease on a new apartment this morning, so hopefully I'll be all resettled in Miami soon enough, and immediately look forward to leaving again as soon as I can in December. Though when I was visiting my (our) parents in July I watched the Miami Vice movie they made a couple years ago, to try and get myself back in the mood for South Florida. I think it worked. Just need a couple of go-fast boats and an appearance from Ghost Dog's best friend to make this year in Miami way better than last year (when I was way to fixated on the original Miami Vice (having planned on arriving at my first workshop dressed like Don Johnson (which I didn't do, though I did mention it as a concept and got some good laughs from that))).

A Week in Portland and Thereabouts

Saturday 8/9 I arrived in Portland (around 2 pm following a two-leg airplane trip and, before that, a middle-of-the-night airport shuttle van ride from my apartment to La Guardia) to be picked up by Nate and Kyle. The rest of the day was spent chitchatting, marveling at the still-not-very-furnished nature of Nate's apartment, and shopping for camping food. Dinner & beers that I don't remember very specifically were consumed at the Bridgeport Ale House.

Sunday 8/10 we left for Mount St. Helens, which lies a couple of hours north of Portland in southern Washington state. (recreational park map, here.) During the day we stopped at a couple of visitor centers to the west and northwest of the volcano and hiked a short-ish trail around what are called "hummocks," hill-sized pieces of inside-the-volcano rock that have been about ten miles outside the cone since 1980.

Johnston Ridge is the main viewpoint for the business side of the mountain. (During the eruption, gas had built up and blown out the north face of the mountain, leveling a whole bunch of forest with a huge lateral explosion.) We had some partly cloudy weather, but eventually the crater came into mostly full view. It's worth looking at before and after photos of the mountain (here, bottom of the page, or here) to get a sense of the extent of the explosion.

It's a pretty neat landscape around the mountain, with soft and sharply eroded ashy soil and varying amounts of wildflowers, scrub, and small trees grown back.

On the hummocks trail.
We camped at a site somewhat further away, one of those car-camping spots with handsome stands of trees and firewood for sale and a bunch of kids-these-days and their damn roller-shoes. So it wasn't the deep wilderness, but it was plenty adequate for cooking dinner (pasta and sausage, plus sweet potatoes baked in the campfire, which were excellent) and making s'mores and sleeping in a tent.

Monday 8/11 was highlighted by a walk through nearby Ape Cave. (Disclaimer: cave contains no apes. Naming rationale given here.) Ape Cave is a two-thousand-year-old lava tunnel to the south of St. Helens, offering a remarkably long passage with high ceilings, often upwards of twenty or thirty feet.

A feature of Ape Cave called "the meatball." No one knows why.
Jack and Nate in Ape Cave.
A later hike took us through a small patch of forest where lava had cooled around tree trunks, leaving ground dotted with perfectly round pits of trunk-sized diameter.

In the afternoon and evening we drove back to Portland by way of the Columbia River Gorge, stopping to look at several of the waterfalls along the old highway there. I forget the name of the waterfall pictured at right (click for larger image), but check out the patterns made by the green lichen on the rock face and the basalt itself.

If you want to really put a fine point on the difference between Connecticut and Oregon, by the way, you might compare what you can see in each state along I-84. Because the answer to one is "extraordinarily majestic river valley with sharp cliffs and waterfalls," and the answer to the other is "Hartford."

Tuesday 8/12 Nate began his workweek, so I switched into solitary city sightseeing mode in the afternoons. After breakfast on Hawthorne Ave. (lemon ricotta pancakes and the inevitable latte) I bused into downtown to buy a stack of used books at Powell's for fall reading. I will enthuse about the actual books as appropriate when I actually get around to reading them; Powell's, in the meantime, is itself a pretty great place to wander around for a while. I wandered down the waterfront and then over to the art museum, which has an impressively large postwar collection for a museum this size. An exhibit of glasswork by the German-Australian Klaus Moje was the highlight.

Inexplicable public art, plus Powell's.

Kyle described how ugly she finds the bridges in Portland, and how difficult it really is to make an ugly bridge in the first place, since design follows the structural imperatives so closely. As time went along I disagreed with her more and more; I think the city bridges are pretty neat-looking, in fact, and come by an honest industrial look. Below, the Hawthorne Bridge; above, the other one near the waterfront park (I don't remember its name).

Nate and I had dinner at nearby Pok Pok, for their two signature dishes, the Kai Yaang and Khao Man Som Tam. Without food reviewing chops I'll just lean on the word "delectable" and fondly recall as well the damn refreshing lychee-based mixed drink I had. Later that evening we watched the new Futurama direct-to-DVD movie, which is pretty funny if you're already a fan of Futurama. I'm just happy when I can do nerd things with Nate again.

Portland has municipally maintained electric car plug-inneries.
Wednesday 8/13 was phenomenally clear and lovely, which was a particularly good thing since I'd planned to hike up the trail to Council Crest, west of downtown. (Walking hilly city trails reminds me of Pittsburgh, which is pleasant in and of itself.) From Council Crest you have a bang-up view if the weather's right of the main mountains in the extended vicinity: Hood (which I'd gotten to gawk at from above during my plane's landing pattern on Saturday), Adams, St. Helens, and the further-off Rainier partly behind St. Helens. There's a fifth to the south, Jefferson, but I didn't know to look for it and I didn't notice it. (Maybe it was behind trees?) Anyway, the big four were pretty spectacular, rising up individually and way larger than their surrounding landscape, expressing a seeming force of being: it reminds you why people are so apt to assign spiritual import to natural features.

Mount Hood.
That evening Nate and I took in a Portland Beavers ballgame, which actually turned out to be a double-header of seven-inning games, against the Fresno Grizzlies. When we arrived (shortly before 7, though the first game had, unadvertised, been pushed to a 6:00 start) the Beavers were knocking around the opposing pitcher, who we eventually learned was Victor Santos, who you may recall as a member of the memorably depressing 2006 Pittsburgh Pirates. The crowd was the minor-league midweek standard size, which is to say pretty small. Small ball is always fun, though.

Thursday 8/14 was the day I borrowed Nate's car and drove out to the coast, jamming what should have been a two-day trip into a morning and afternoon. It's fun just to drive again, in a way, at least when the landscape is so striking. Nate had CDs of the complete Sibelius symphonies (Osmo Vänskä, cond.) in his car, so I had some pretty sweet tunes to groove along to.

View Larger Map

The Columbia River near Longview offers some great views: I love the majestic utilitarian bridges, and the signs of logging industry and agriculture add their own aesthetic appeal as well.
From a highway scenic viewpoint pullover.
Astoria, OR, is where Lewis and Clark ended their journey (turned around, rather), but I'll admit my draw to the place had more to do with my favoritism toward Astoria, Queens. Correspondingly I made sure when the opportunity struck to buy a latte on 37th Street. Astoria, OR, is a great place, though, with piers and seals and a hillside town and a particularly large and handsome utilitarian bridge reaching across the sound to Washington (I do love me a good Astoria bridge). The tourist presence is muted in Astoria.
Espresso shack on 37th St., Astoria, OR.
Seals and boats.

At the top of the town's hill there is a spectacular view and also the Astoria Column, a 1920s landmark decorated with a ribboning series of frescoes depicting its settlement by the (non-native) Americans. I really like this place. I was reminded after getting back to Connecticut that Astoria, OR, is where The Goonies was set and filmed, too.

Don't make me choose between Astorias! I'm glad I lingered here for a while.

One last furtive photo of the Astoria-Megler Bridge as seen from a stoplight.

Seaside is a more typical beachside tourist spot, with a nice long stretch of sandy beach. So I got to dip my feet in the Pacific for a little while, at least (figured, at left).

I also had a corn dog and played a game of pinball at one of the arcades there.

I want to know this guy's story: early middle age, dressed in white-collar attire (perhaps even including shoes; who knows?), wandering on his own knee-high in the Pacific at one in the afternoon on a Thursday. Last straw at the office?

One of many scenic views of coastal Oregon.
The coast continues to be scenic but I beat it pretty quickly down to Tillamook, where there is a popular dairy factory.

I bought a double-scoop ice cream cone (vanilla, marionberry pie) and watched the workers at the cheese conveyor belt for a while. The cheese itself arrives in the observable room on said conveyor belt already in large blocks, so you're not watching cheese being made so much as watching it being cut into smaller pieces and then packaged. My first thought was "hey, neat," although this passed fairly quickly into "thank Christ I don't have this job." Even without thinking about the fact that you're being watched by a bunch of tourists.

Fiberglass cows at the Tillamook County Creamery Association.
State Route 6 cuts through the Cascades. Belting through it with the windows down and blasting Harmonielehre on the stereo is probably bad for energy consumption but, whatever, I walk to work two hundred fifty days out of the year.

In the evening Nate, Kyle, and I met one of Ellen's friends to walk around an impressive public rose garden and eat Texas-style barbecue for dinner.

Man, I miss Portland.

Friday 8/15 was a low-key day: brunch at Cricket Cafe (tasty breakfast sandwiches, plus a mimosa made with raspberry lambic beer), doing laundry, purchasing a couple jars of jam and shipping them home, wandering down Hawthorne for an iced coffee and a mocha milkshake and reading some more Joan Didion essays. It was over a hundred degrees out by this point. I had a very short jog late in the afternoon, partly to try to sweat on my own terms for once and partly to burn off some of that mocha milkshake.

Nate and I met our mother's cousin Mary and her husband Jack for dinner (Kyle joined us too) at a place called Papa Haydn's -- it's fun to meet family members for the first time, and Mary and Jack are fun and interesting conversationalists. (Mary also noted a rule that if you visit Portland for ten days, you move there; having been there for eight, and feeling like I'm close to that mentality, that rule seems accurate.) My double-cut Carlton Farms pork chop was a culinary highlight, as was the marionberry cheesecake for dessert.

After dinner the three of us drove up the road to the Alladin Theater to catch an unclassifiable-ish show involving intertwined numbers from classical-scene rising star Nico Muhly and two more folkish vocalists (Sam Amidon, who has some pipes, and Thomas Bartlett, who stacked too many slow songs together towards the end of the second set). I hadn't been able to get into Muhly's music on CD much (there's a newish release I haven't listened to yet), but live it's a different animal with a kicking kind of quirkiness in it. A crunchy little piano-plus-laptop piece called "Skip Town" may have been the most fun to watch him play; an indomitable young violist named Nadia Sirota was also on hand for some crucial fiddling. The whole group (including a rather unobtrusive drummer) was usually involved in the vocal numbers, creating a nicely full and unusual band. All good, all good. The final chart, a through-composed folksong deconstruction of sorts called "The Only Tune," really tied it all together. The theater itself is an old-fashioned sit-down affair; the crowd was a bit on the small side, possibly since the newspaper listings shoehorned the show into the "classical" category.

Saturday 8/16 we slept in, had brunch downtown at the Bijou Cafe (where I ate a rather good oyster hash), knocked off a quickly-passing hour at a heavy-on-the-classics arcade called Ground Kontrol (Ms. Pac-Man! Q-Bert! Pinball machines! Head-to-head racing! Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!), and drove out to McMinnville to see the Spruce Goose and its attendant air and space museum. (Well, not the space part, since it's on a separate ticket. Gotta get my SR-71 kicks when it's cheaper to do so.) We all agreed that it's a bit of a stretch for a museum to spin the story of the Spruce Goose into a tale of inspiration and success against the odds. It is pretty cool to see it in person, though, as it possesses an inarguable ginormousness.

It belongs in a museum!
The final dinner was a spectacular one, at the Bistro Maison (also in McMinnville), featuring most memorably a fondue made with white truffle oil and three kinds of cheese. The fact that the three of us were still able to have an involving and intelligent dinner conversation after so much socializing through the week speaks well to us all, if I may say so.

Sunday 8/17 I departed, and by midnight or so was back in New Haven, CT. And here I am still.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Primarily a Post about Air Quotes

Following up on my little brother's comments below: there is an amusing entry in Wikipedia for Air Quotes. I find it funny for three reasons:
"One." The detailed, scholarly-toned description of how to do air quotes;

"Two." The dubious-sounding assertion that Germans do one inverted air quote mark, and that Frenchpeople do air guillemets;

"Three." The illustration, which is just this random dude doing air quotes.
This sort of thing represents Wikipedia's real advantage over traditional reference sources, I think.

If the humor there's too subtle, you can check out the blog Cake Wrecks (self-explanatory subtitle: "When Professional Cakes Go Horribly, Hilariously Wrong"). Don't miss this awesomely inappropriate cake made for a workplace anti-sexual-harassment seminar. Or the ("Olympics Rings").

* * * * *

Speaking of the Olympics, kind of, and again following up on my little brother's comments below: if you're really jonesing to relive the excitement of IBM's early-1980s Decathlon game, you can download Dosbox (here) and the game (here) and follow some simple directions (here), and in no time you'll be failing the pole vault like you were six years old again.

Pete and I did go head-to-head on this when he was visiting earlier this summer (living the dream of representing, respectively, West Germany and East Germany), proving a basic law of video games: It doesn't matter how old a game is or how good a game is; as long as you can beat your little brother at it, it's good.

* * * * *

Also, happy belated birthday, Pete!

Another Would-be Pithy Post

This is a bit behind the times, but forgive me, as I was out of the country, and then out-and-about, and then swamped with quite a bit of work (have I mentioned this fact yet? I think I worked more hours in July and August this year then I worked in the entire year preceding that (that probably doesn't actually add up, since I was tutoring and teaching and certainly prone to complaining about those hours as well (what good is a job if we can't complain about it, right? (though, actually, I have no complaints about my still-only-just-finished "summer job" (actually, just had an insight here, I think I like single quotes because you can't air quote with single quotes - well, I suppose you could, but people don't (incidentally, Jack, did you actually post something about air quotes when we were looking at the Wikipedia entry for them back at the end of June? - the main point of contention re: wikipedia's version of the air quote is whether or not the Germans actually invert one of their hands when they air quote to match the printed version of their written marks. According to Hoyle, they do; according to my first hand experience of Germanyland (oh yeah!, somewhere around 4.5 or 4.6 months in total (I, like, totally went to college, I'm a God-damned expert)) they (all Germans everywhere always) don't)))), but I finally saw the movie WALL-E last night, and, yeah, it was really good. And I don't want to have children now or anything. Very well written, and obvious in it's needing-to-have-been-carefully-planned-and-written. Super.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Not Enough Forward Momentum/What Do You Take for a Headache?

Waking up shortly before noon on the day after my birthday, having spent the prior evening at a Polish bar in Hollywood, Florida (named well after the other coast's Hollywood had made its name for itself (the keyboard I'm typing on has no key for the letter 's' - this is not a problem, as such, obviously (in that there are clearly 's's abounding in the first sentences of this sure-to-be-curtailed post), but it is slightly frustrating, and I'm tempted to avoid words that have 's's ("'s'es"?) - this being a difficult propozition, in fact, az there are quite a few 's's in most words)), I find myself inexplicably in the mood to blog, though have little to blog about, probably (hence the earlier intimation that this post, going nowhere and 's'-hindered as it is, will certainly continue the recent of mild trend of short would-be-pithy posts.

The main issue being that I do have stuff to blog about (can't really type that sentence without doing it to the tune of Mr. Rogers's closing song) - but can't quite weed through the what-is-appropriate and what-is-(mildly)-interesting from the whirlwind of actual hard work that I did for the bulk of July and August.

Did you know that Prokofiev was a Christian Scientist? Isn't that weird?

Has Frank Gehry designed any airports? He should.

I have read some books, about which I have several opinions...

This article, over on, tries to pry into the reasons why Decathlonland is in bad decline, but I think it misses two obviously related things (I think it' ridiculous to blame drugs for the decline of popularity in any sport):

- Microsoft Decathlon. This game, played with great joy by myself and my brothers - mostly at our Grandfather's house, if memory serves me correctly - were it to be updated for the current Millenium, had it been updated all along, would certainly kept the flame of decathlondom burning brightly. Anyone who has tested and trained their keyboard-sporting skills will always reckon with the awesome skill-set required by these tremendous, pixelated athletes. In fact, when I was last visiting Jack, he had put this game on his computer, via some emulator or another, and I would argue that it really holds up over time. Pole vaulting is still way too damn hard (though I did finally, I think for the first time ever, successfully pole vault entirely on my own). Why Microsoft abandoned the decathlon? Not sure, but the sport, surely, has never been the same.

- The general devaluation of public education, at all levels, but especially the high school and college levels, in the US, has precipitated a dramatic drop in the appreciation of breadth of the average would-be educated young person. With everyone so focused on some standardized notion of success - learn one thing and learn it well, or if not well, then, like, good enough to work for your uncle - they have forgotten the value of multiple skills, whether those skills be intellectual or athletic.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back from Portland

Back in New Haven. More on the trip later; for now I just wanted to echo Pete after his trip out to Portland a while ago and make a list of all the bars I visited while I was there:

Bridgeport Ale House

. . . I'm in second place!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tropical Storm Boring

I'm back in Miami, for what it's worth (not a whole lot, I don't think, except for an increase in sweat-production-while-being-utterly-inactive), just in time to witness the outer bands of a would-be hurricane casually swiping North Miami Beach. That is, it's been raining most of the day (it's gonna rain it's gonna rain (couldn't open the door door door...)). Don't have much else to report on that front, though if anything interesting happens I'll be sure to report it.

Otherwise, I just finished my 'summer job' with the American Symphony Orchestra, so I may or may not have anything to blog about that (it may take me a few days to determine and map out what was/is and wasn't/isn't bloggable).

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Off to Portland

In about 10 minutes I should be getting onto a middle-of-the-night shuttle van down to La Guardia, and if all goes as expected I'll be in Portland tomorrow afternoon for Nate & Jack Reunion Tour 2K8, although by "tour" I don't imply that we're getting any farther from Portland than McMinnville and Mount Saint Helens.

Will the town be big enough for the both of us? A week's time will tell the answer, which is "yes."

Happy mid-August to everyone in the meantime.

"Steve Pearce!"

Reading the Pirates recap tonight, I was reminded that I saw Steve Pearce hit a rather impressive home run for Altoona last summer when they were playing in New Britain. I didn't really know his name at the time so I didn't remark on it then; I was mostly keeping an eye out for probable soon-to-have-been-Pirates, but I think Pearce is the first position player to make it up.

I only have a vague memory of the home run, but it's surprisingly easy to look up year-old double-A baseball game recaps on The Internet, so I can confirm that it was in fact Steve Pearce. (From that same site: what the hell is up with the Altoona Curve's mascot? Is that seriously supposed to be a steam engine?)

"Steve Pearce!" should be shouted in the same manner as "Steve Holt!" from Arrested Development, along with the two-hand overhead fist pump.

That's probably all I've got to say about Steve Pearce.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Fall Schedule Watch

email exchange with Nate, yesterday to this morning
Nate: As a complete aside right now, I don't know why I do this to myself but going over David Robertson's concert season programming always makes me feel like I should be living in St. Louis instead of wherever else I am.

Jack: Well, you can always browse this one instead.

Nate: I don't know, I've never really cared for their interpretation of "@ Patriots".
Seriously, the longer the middle of this summer goes on the more it feels like I'm looking forward to stuff in the fall: the concerts and cultural oases, the legitimate Pittsburgh sports action (no knock on Jeff Karstens). There are music festivals around here, but I seem to have let them slip by again, just like last summer and the summer before that. Going to Portland for a week helps that, not that I'm broken up about going to Portland for a week.

I think I've at least broken a months-long streak of ineffective pleasure reading (which trailed off into a lingering, ultimately futile attempt to stay interested through the last quarter of Mark Kurlansky's Salt) by impulse-buying a rather large Joan Didion compendium over the weekend. Last night's chapter was what sounded like a very trenchant critique of Doris Lessing, although I admit it would be easier for me to evaluate that description if I'd ever read anything by Doris Lessing. But, the important thing is, reading deliberate and well-constructed prose spiked with little metallic slivers of alienation makes the summer swim along a bit better.

And I'll have time in Portland to find independent coffee shops and sit down and read Joan Didion for a while. I don't know if this counts as "hip," but it's as hip as I'm going to get.

Do the kids still say that? "Hip"?

I suspected for a while that this year's pleasure-reading drought had something to do with its new worktime-reading glut, but my simpler theory now is just that without a family vacation I didn't get the usual influx of smarty-pants beach reading.

David Robertson, I add for no real reason, is conducting two concerts with the New York Philharmonic in October, including one that I still immediately think of as an "all-Boosey" lineup.

* * * * *

gmail chat exchange with Pete, just now
Pete: wow I just saw you post that new post on the blog
like, I was reading the APizza post, and when I came back from the comments, a new post was up
me: awesome
it's like, live blogging
Pete: totally
me: hang on

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Apizza Affiliation Amendment

OK, so after heading over to Sally's this evening (arrived 5:30, waited for about 45 minutes to get in) and eating a fairly transcendental meatball & pepper pizza I'm ready to admit I can't really choose a favorite between Sally's and Frank Pepe. (This follows a couple of years of Pepe partisanship.) They're both really good; the end.

My next frontier in local foodery, I think, will be sampling the regionally famous steamed cheeseburger of Meriden, Connecticut. More specifically, of this one place called Ted's Restaurant. I've got to say that steamed cheeseburgers don't sound that appetizing, but I'm just happy that Connecticut has a plausible candidate for locally distinctive food item. (Besides the country's best pizza, I mean. For some reason I never feel like this counts somehow.) Also I'm pretty sure you get to call these "steamed hams" if you want to.

On rereading paragraph one I'm pretty sure I meant "transcendent" meatball & pepper pizza, but you know what, I'm sticking with "transcendental."