Friday, June 22, 2007

Insufficient Postage

Forgive me Internet for I have sinned, it's been one week since my last confession blog post. And now it's been about three seconds since I last blasphemed.

This time I have a legitimate excuse (no really). Thursday morning my parents and sister came into town, and so most of my non-work time was filled showing them the sights and being a filthy tourist. And even though they left Sunday, I still have an excuse, since apparently my neighbors have finally figured out how to password protect their wireless routers, leaving me utterly without broadband. Those bastards.

So I suppose a "Week In Review" is in order. And even if it isn't, here it is. Watch out, it's pretty lengthy.

As previously mentioned, my parents and sister came into town Thursday morning. They didn't want to get a hotel, so I told them they could just stay at my place. Sure, it's a studio apartment, but it's a big studio apartment, large enough for four grown humans to sleep (sometimes on the floor!), so here they stayed. And while I was at work, here they stayed.

For weeks beforehand I'd asked them what they wanted to do while they were here, and their only answer was, "oh, we just want to see you," which while that's sweet and all, doesn't give me any clues as to things they, you know, want to do while they're here. Thursday and Friday night were pretty low-key, dinner and sitting around, mostly. But they got to see me, so I hope they were happy.

Saturday morning we took a bus down to my office, so I could show them around. They were impressed with all the free food, the scooters, and the incredible view beside which we get to eat lunch. As they should be, it's awesome.

After that was Battery Park and a ferry to Ellis Island. My mom's grandfather came through there on a boat from Wales early last century (boy, that feels weird to say), and we were hoping to find a record of his voyage. And find it we did, much to my mom's enjoyment. Apparently they've completely digitized all seven million hand-written immigration records for Ellis Island, and have them in a searchable database with scans of the original ships manifests and everything. It was pretty sweet to see in actual handwriting the first record of my great-grandfather's passage into America, complete with his age, height, work plans, relatives, etc. all carefully catalogued almost a hundred years ago.

So that was Saturday, and they left Sunday afternoon. Most of the rest of Sunday was spent lazying around, because that's what Sundays were made for. Also I had no internets.

Monday night I went to go see Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman, the preview for which was mentioned previously in passing. It turned out to be a very good movie. Or at least I liked it a lot. At first it was very difficult to see Timothy Spall as anything besides Peter Pettigrew, but by the end he had completely sold me. I won't ruin any of the plot, but suffice it to say it takes a special kind of person to be able to kill people for a living. If you get a chance to see the movie, I recommend it.

Tuesday and Wednesday were both pretty slow, but last night was quite the opposite. I went back to the UCB Theater (the scene of the crime) to see witness the Dave Hill Explosion. It was a very special evening for the Explosion, because none other than resident expert John Hodgman and internet superstar Jonathan Coulton were in attendance. The show was pretty hilarious, though Coulton only got to sing two songs before they had to call it a show. Hopefully I get to see more of him while I'm here.

And today was, well, Friday. And Thank God it Is. Tomorrow's Saturday, and you know what that means -- taking a bus down to Baltimore, Maryland, America's coldsore. For what you ask? Why, you'll just have to wait and see!

Congratulations on making it to the end of this lengthy post. Or at least for having the foresight to skip to the last sentence before you closed the window.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Like 'Beef', Without the 'B'

Tonight's scheduled enjoyment was none other than Mr. Eef Barzelay, of Clem Snide fame. Though I'm not sure how much longer he can keep billing himself as "of Clem Snide" since he's been touring solo for a while now. But Wikipedia tells me they have an album coming out some time this year, so that's encouraging.

But anyway, I saw him tonight, at Joe's Pub. I got there a little late, or rather, what I considered on time. Let me explain: When a concert says it starts at 7:30, one typically doesn't not expect it to actually start at 7:30. Usually this means they open the doors at 7:30, at which point there's an hour or so for people to wander in, maybe an opener, and then the actual performer. Usually, a ticket that says 7:30 actually means 8:30 or 9:00. Am I incorrect in assuming this?

I walked into Joe's Pub at 7:35 (I know because I checked the time), and Eef was already playing. I guess he's just very punctual. If only I were so dedicated to timeliness. I wasn't the only one that was "late", people streamed in for a good half hour after I did, and to similar dismay.

All that aside, the show was pretty good. The place was packed, and again, being that I was "late" I stood near the back. But the show was good. Unlike the last time I saw him, in Cleveland last spring, he had a full band, and played electric. I wouldn't say it fundamentally altered the performance, but it might have made it a little less personal.

The good news is, he was definitely playing new songs; only a couple were from Bitter Honey, and I only recognized a couple as Clem Snide songs. So it's possible he was playing new Clem Snide songs, or possibly new songs from an anticipated(-by-me) sophomore solo album. But given the fact that he was band-backed and electric, I'd say most of them were probably Clem Snide songs.

So it was a pretty good show, and quick as hell, actually. It started promptly at 7:30 and it was out by 8:15. I was sitting back and enjoying some coffee and cake uptown by 9:00. So that's nice I suppose.

In other news, my parents are flying into town early tomorrow morning, so I'll probably do something touristy (and thus blog-worthy) with them this weekend. Stay tuned for what is sure to be an action-packed thrill ride of action and thrills.

Note: The title of this post was the parting quote from Mr. Barzelay this evening, which would have helped a year ago when I kept spelling it Eaf while trying to Google him.

Note 2: This post was written in the shiny new Blogger Draft, which...doesn't really seem all that different yet. I do like the idea behind it though, as any respectable early adopter could agree.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Clash of Kings

I don't usually put a lot of stock in the blurbs on the back covers of books. I've seen too many along the lines of

Not at all...what could be considered...[the] worst book I've ever read[!]
-- Johnny Nobody, Des Moines Central High School Gazette

But there's a quote inside the front cover of A Clash of Kings that couldn't be truer:
The pages seem to pass in a blur as you read
-- Albuquerque Journal

This review is pretty much exactly what I experienced.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I'm reading A Song of Ice and Fire this Summer. I read the first book A Game of Thrones, and started on the second immediately afterward. Even at almost a thousand pages, I read A Clash of Kings in record time (for me anyway).

The book picks up where the prequel ended (duh), with the kingdom in a bitter civil war, faction fighting against faction and everyone looking to get something out of it. The once unified kingdom now consists of kingdoms led by a fifteen-year-old King in the North, a thirteen-year-old King on the Iron Throne, both of the previous king's brothers laying claim to the kingdom from the South and East, a fourteen-year-old self-proclaimed queen living in the lands to the far East, and a swarm of treacherous backstabbers taking whatever they can get from whichever side will give it to them. As you can see, the title's pretty descriptive. There are a lot of kings.

The most interesting part of the book, for me, was the way it handled the topic of religion. The first book glossed over the role of the gods in the lives of men, but this one took a deep look at how each of Westeros' religions played into their believers decisions. Throughout the book, a red comet hangs in the sky, visible from every direction, and each king or queen who sees it considers it a sign from their god(s) that they're the true leader, the one that will come out of this alive and on top. It serves to sort of unify all the sides, even as they're fighting against eachother.

As with its prequel, A Clash of Kings was at times almost painfully difficult to put down. Almost every chapter kept me begging for more, often leading me to read into the late hours of the night. There's plenty of action, even if most of it isn't outright battle, and there's no shortage of twists. It was so good I hiked to no less than two Barnes & Nobleses this evening in search of the third book, A Storm of Swords (though they weren't even two blocks apart)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Busy Little Bee

Since my last post was about how some blogs need to not update so often, I decided to let it slip a few days before posting again. That and I'm lazy. And it's been really busy lately. Busy doing what, you ask?

Tuesday night I went to go see Knocked Up. I'd heard a lot of good things about it, how it was the most hilarious movie of the Summer, and even better than The 40-Year-Old Virgin, so I figured why not find out for myself?

It was pretty hilarious, and indeed better than Virgin. Some of the scenes with Ben's roommates were fantastic, as were the ones with Alison's sister and brother-in-law (played by the great Paul Rudd). The scenes were so good in fact that I wish there were more of them, and less of the actual story.

As for the main plotline itself, it was a little wishy-washy. The two main characters go back and forth about whether or not a relationship is a good idea, sometimes happy, sometimes pretending to be happy, sometimes not happy at all. I realize that's probably more realistic than most movie relationships, but it was also a lot more confusing. You never knew how one person felt about the other at any given moment. But like I said, the movie was hilarious, and I'd definitely recommend it.

Last night I left work and went back down to the Knitting Factory to see the Noisettes, the Maccabees and Heypenny. Apparently, the illustrious brooklynvegan was there as well, though she wasn't as impressed with the Noisettes as I was, and was instead far more entertained with Maccabees than I was. So it goes. Personally, I thought the Noisettes were great. Very energetic, soulful, raucous. Heypenny was good too, but they didn't quite seem to fit in with the rest of the show.

And today was only really interesting at work. I was tempted to go see David Cross and others tonight in the Village, but I think I've done enough these past few days. Instead, I went back to the coffee shop this evening for a quiet night to myself, which was thoroughly enjoyed.

I'll probably end up doing something tomorrow night, though. So stay tuned.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Blog Posts vs. % Actually Read

DISCLAIMER: This post has nothing to do with New York, but it's something that bothers me, so in the spirit of the blogosphere, I'm venting. Feel free to stop reading at any time.

When will blogs realize that frequent posting does not lead to engaged readers?

Data is provided for the top 40 most frequently updated blogs over the last 30 days, according to Google Reader's trends feature. The chart was created using Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

There are two things to notice:

  1. I read less than half of the items from blogs that submit more than 10 items per day.

  2. I read at least 40% of the items from blogs that submit fewer than five items per day.

I read 100+ blogs a day, as do a lot of people I know (sometimes many more). One thing I've noticed is that some blogs (and it always seems like it's the professional bloggers, especially Gawker blogs) decide they should post 30+ items a day. What could they possibly have to write so much about?

Maybe their scope is too all-encompassing, maybe they follow too many stories, maybe the writers just get bored, or maybe management is pressing them to write more so they earn their paychecks. But as a lowly reader of these blogs, let me assure you, there is such a thing as too many blog posts. In fact, there's nothing that gets me to unsubscribe faster than seeing a ton of posts from one source. Gizmodo and Engadget are notorious postcount++'ers, and when I unsubscribed from both about two months ago it felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders.

I got so sick of Lifehacker's noise that I made my own trimmed version of the feed using Yahoo! Pipes that tries to filter out some of the noise.

The blogs that I tend to read most often (and by that I mean actually read) are the ones that post the most infrequently, and they're the ones I tend to enjoy reading more just because they tend to put more time and energy and research into each post. Schneier on Security and I, Cringely and The Daily WTF are some of my favorite blogs, and they post at most a few items each week. They don't badger me with posts every five minutes, and as a result when they have something to say it's usually something worth reading.

If you're a Reader user, go to your trends page and see if your reading habits are anything like mine. Post your findings in the comments.

Cooking Without a Net

One thing I've never been good at is cooking. Well, that's probably not true. One thing I've never considered myself good at is cooking. And cooking is kind of like tightrope walking in that you're only as good at it as you think you are. If you keep thinking you're going to fall, you will, and if you keep thinking you'll screw up and make a disgusting pile of crap instead of pancakes, you will. It's all about confidence.

I haven't done a lot of cooking (at least not by myself), and I haven't done any tightrope walking, but I figured I might as well try to get good at one of them, and I don't have any rope, so cooking it is. A nice bonus to this is that cooking is a lot cheaper than eating out every night, which is what I've been doing for the last three weeks.

As a nice ulterior motive, I want to be able to cook Lauren things from time to time so she'll be impressed with my mad skills and fall deeper and deeper in love with me and think I was the bee's knees and/or cat's pajamas. But for now let's assume all I want to do is cook a good meal and save some money.

Tonight's challenge: Cornbread. And not some instant pre-boxed Jiffy-brand cornbread, oh no, if I'm going to do it I'm going to do it without a net. This cornbread would be from scratch. The reasons for choosing cornbread are two-fold: a.) the recipe for cornbread was roughly "pour, mix, bake", and b.) cornbread is fucking delicious.

So off I was to the grocery store to buy the ingredients. Cornmeal, flour, eggs, shortening, sugar, salt, milk, and all the rest. My apartment came fully furnished, but it didn't have any cooking supplies further than cups and plates, so I also bought a baking pan and measuring cups, too.

Here's a shot of the gooey mixture just before going into the oven:

And here's a shot shortly after coming out:

Looks delicious, doesn't it? Well guess what, it was:

Now it wasn't perfect. The bottom was a little burnt, and the cornmeal was a little gritty, but it was nothing a little butter couldn't fix. And let me tell you, the smell was fantastic. Mmm mmm mmmm it smelled fantastic.

So there you have it. My first (and far from last) solo attempt at cooking, and a successful one at that.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Movie and a Show

The last couple of nights have been really fun and really tiring, but worth it in the end. Let me tell you about them:

Last night I went to the IFC Center to catch a showing of the film Day Night Day Night (trailer). I heard about it on Attack of the Show and a few other places around the internet, and it sounded interesting, so I decided to see what the fuss was about.

For those too lazy to watch the trailer, the movie's about an unnamed girl who volunteers to become a suicide bomber, on a mission to carry a backpack full of explosives into the heart of Times Square. Her ethnicity and the ethnicity of the people she's working with are completely ambiguous throughout the film, and it's never fully clear why they want to do it, or why she's volunteered. She occasionally whispers prayer-sounding things to an unnamed god and treasures a necklace in the shape of a key. The movie's not about any specific group wanting to blow up Times Square, it's about a girl who believes that her god wants her to become a martyr.

The movie was pretty slow, with very sparse dialog. There were long shots of the main character walking, staring, eating, and sometimes I felt like they might have been included just to make the film longer. Another annoying thing was the sound. I don't know if it was just loud in the theater or if the movie was shot this way, but every tiny sound was amplified to almost deafening levels. It was as if I had Wolverine's superhuman hearing ability for the duration of the film. The eating scenes were the worst, it was like I had my ear pressed up against her cheek as she chewed. It was...gross. And annoying. And really gross.

But overall the movie was okay. I give it a B-. It gave me something to do, it let me explore the city some more, and now I know where the IFC Center is so I can see more snobby indie films. Speaking of, there was a trailer for another movie that looked really fantastic, called Pierrepoint, the Last Hangman (trailer). I promise I want to see it for reasons other than that Peter Pettigrew is the star.

And that's a surprisingly good segue to tonight's events...

Tonight I went down to The Knitting Factory to see Harry and the Potters and Uncle Monsterface.

I'd never heard of Uncle Monsterface before, but let me tell you, they put on one hell of a show. A multimedia extravaganza, if you will, including projected movies, pre-recorded background instruments, inflatable ball/animals/guitars and a puppetshow. Yes, a puppetshow. It was quite hilarious and quite enjoyable. Listen to We Wear Capes or Derockracy and tell me that's not great. That will be the sound of you telling a lie.

After that, Harry and the Potters took the stage. For those of you too lazy to click through to their website before (shame on you, lazy jerks), Harry and the Potters is a wizard-themed indie rock band from Massachusetts. In fact, prior to researching to write this blog post, I didn't realize that the wizard-rock genre was so popular. I may have to explore this some more.

Anyway, they sing songs like "Voldemort Can't Stop the Rock" and "Save Ginny Weasley" and songs covering a variety of other Potter-themed topics. In fact, they call their three-pack of full-length CDs "Rock and Roll Cliffs Notes" for the books. Still, it's the kind of music you probably won't understand unless you've read the books. Luckily I have, and so did everyone else there, and we had a great time.

So yeah, there's my last two days. Full, fun, and tiring. Just the way they should be.