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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bike Lockup

I had an extremely unsuccessful trip to the Apple Store in Bethesda this evening. (The 3G connection keeps freezing up on my iPhone, but I don't think it's a network problem because it works again once I turn 3G off and then on again...I suspect they'll just swap out my phone.) I mindlessly got on the train to go home, not the train to Bethesda, and by the time I got myself straightened out, I missed my service appointment by 10 minutes.

I then emerged from the Apple Store to find that someone had locked their bike next to mine and inadvertently locked mine as well. (I brought my bike with me on the Metro.) I had also forgotten my lights at work, and needed to bike home before dark, so I devised the following plan to liberate my bike: Make it appear that I was fiddling suspiciously with the other bike in the hopes that the owner was in the Apple Store and would see me out on the sidewalk and come to rescue it. This worked amazingly well, as a woman appeared about 5 minutes later to ask me what I was doing to her bike...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cultural blind spots

We all gain familiarity with most of the range of American mass culture as we grow up, either directly or by peer and media osmosis. So even if you never used a fast food drive-through on a regular basis or (for my generation) watched GI Joe frequently, you are conversant with the basics -- a squawky "Do you want fries with that?," or "...and knowing is half the battle," or whatever.

However, I suspect that each of us had specific cultural blind spots that persisted into adolescence (or even adulthood) as a result of the quirks of our childhoods. I say this because there are a few basic areas of American culture in which, over the years, I have realized that my comprehension was very low, in the bottom few percentiles:

Sports fandom
We hardly ever watched sports in my house growing up. The only thing Dad watched was tennis, and only very occasionally. We only went to sports events as part of Cub Scout trips (Yankee games) or when my friend's dad got tickets for free (Whalers games). None of my close friends were big into professional sports. And Connecticut had no major league professional sports teams after the Whalers left. As a result, at some point I realized that I couldn't relate to the concept of sports fandom. Why would you be concerned with how a specific team does, or wear their hat? What did that do for you, exactly? You could talk about it in class the next day when your team won, but you didn't actually have anything to do with them winning, so that's not really a valid point. In any case, a lot of time and energy spent on something with no apparent return. Today I still don't find myself engaged with sports -- going to the ballpark is fun, but for the experience, not following a team.

For whatever reason, my family generally does not make sandwiches, and does not go to places like Subway that are sandwich-focused. I always brought my lunch to school, but it was never a sandwich. The only sandwich we ate with any regularity when I was a kid was grilled cheese, but in retrospect, I thought of this as a specific item, not as a member of an entire genre of foods that I might want to eat. In my mind, a sandwich was a last-resort means of consuming food eaten by those who had no other options. I have come around to sandwiches, however. I actually remember eating a sub at Hogan Brothers while visiting Carleton with my dad and thinking to myself, "Hey sandwiches can be good!" (In contrast with the local pizza, which is terrible, which at the time I had thought was impossible.)

Playing cards
I was never around people who played cards while growing up. Thus, at an embarrassingly late age, I lacked some key concepts and skills. Not only how to shuffle, which is kind of hard regardless, but also things like how to hold a hand of cards. To misquote Kenny Rogers, "You got to know how to hold 'em." I do now play cards sometimes, though I still can't shuffle.

I don't really regret that I was so outside the norm on these aspects of our culture. It's the kind of thing that gives each of us unique perspectives...e.g. while someone else might approach an issue from a sandwich-centric perspective, I might be more open-minded.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

NYT on the farm

Just after I posted about the Public Farm 1 installation at PS1, the New York Times writes it up. Note that the woman in the accompanying photo is trying unsuccessfully (I say, anyway) to look relaxed lying on the grass.

Monday, August 18, 2008


The Times reports on a study that mapped European genetic variation. It yielded sort of a misshapen Venn Diagram, which can be seen below.

Most obvious conclusion: The Finns are weird, off sulking in a genetic corner by themselves. Since that's half my own heritage, the nugget about the Finnish stemming from a small founding population is particularly interesting to hear. It does seem, however, that the graphic is potentially a bit misleading. I'm not sure what the units are ("Eigenvectors?" Yeah, I think my cell phone has a thingy that coverts those to miles per hour), but I know from what little biology I've taken that the percentage of DNA shared between even the most distinct human populations on earth is more than 90%. So portraying Finns as sitting off by themselves may exaggerate the difference for the casual reader.

Anyway, this talk of Finns as outliers reminds me of the exhibition I saw at PS1 this weekend -- Arctic Hysteria, a show of current Finnish art. Some very cool stuff. I think my favorites were:

> A long series of photographs of daily life, with handwritten notes on them about the day's weather and other things happening in the world around the photographer.

> A dark room filled with the figures of antique diving suits, with loud shots of escaping compressed air cylcing on and off. Surprisingly disconcerting. (The PS1 description links it to the sinking of the Kursk.)

> A video piece called Screaming Men, in which men in suits step off an icebreaker ship to perform in a screaming chorus on the ice.

> Clothes made entirely out of leaves and other plant matter, very cool-looking.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gardening in NYC

Potentially Photoshopped? No, it's just PS1's summer installation called PF1 (Public Farm 1), which is growing vegetables and flowers outside the museum. It's both cool-looking and admirable for its advocacy of urban gardening. More pictures on Flickr.

I hung out in the city with my parents on Saturday, which was great. We walked around, went to the Botanical Garden, and had dinner with Alex at a pretty good Thai place. I also brought them to Doughnut Plant, where I proceeded to eat more doughnuts* than the two of them combined.

Dad also shared the following doughnut-related anecdote at dinner, which was new to me: [roughly quoting] "Teague's preschool was called Boulder Knoll. One day, we were there for a school picnic. There were doughnuts, and I knew that we had failed as parents when I saw Teague eating one over a trash can so that he wouldn't get any crumbs in the grass."

* White peach, coconut cream, and strawberry jelly with vanilla bean glaze, in case you're interested.

Friday, August 15, 2008

On the bus

I posted a while back about the sketchiness (but also the cheapness) of the Chinatown bus to NYC. This weekend I'm trying Washington Deluxe, which also leaves from near my office. It's $5 more expensive ($40 round-trip).

The bus was a bit late, but it is cleaner. Our driver sang "Unchained Melody" over the PA as we made our way put of DC. The woman next to me half-whispered "I hear they show dirty movies." I will report back with a full review later (of the bus, not any potential dirty movies).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Albums in order

I was flipping through my CDs this past weekend, and I got the urge to arrange them in order of how much I like them. I have had this urge before, but it always seemed like a silly way to spend an hour. But this time I guess I was bored, because I did it, and I took pictures to record my current taste for my own personal posterity. Below is the top 20, with #1 on top. If you are also bored, you can look at the full set of 223 albums, which I uploaded to Flickr in a fit of self-absorption.

(This naturally omits the albums I have only in digital format, or burned on CD. I also excluded the few albums that I simply don't listen to anymore, as well as Zaireeka, since it's not really operating on the same plane.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Draw A Cow

Doug would like you to Draw A Cow. You can also look at other people's cows, including a wiener-dog-esque effort by yours truly.

I have my own collective art assemblage that I'm working on, and I may ask you to help at some point...

Obligatory gushing

So, I've had my iPhone for going on a couple weeks. I will refrain from continually talking about it in the future, but this thing is amazing. Look at it -- several years ago, I would have been amazed if anyone had fit just the very nice screen into a package that small. But it also happens to have a phone, GPS, fast internet over 3G or WiFi, a video iPod, 16 gigs of storage, and a very impressive touch-based operating system.

It was great to have while out of town last week. On a day-to-day basis, the best thing about it is the ability to get my email and look things up on the internet wherever I am. However, the applications you can download are also pretty neat, like the one that will pick out restaurants near my current location. I can only imagine what creative developers will do in the future with a device that knows where it is, has access to everything on the internet, has a big touch screen and audio, and is with its user all the time. Given the quantity of stuff that's being created just for the iPhone, seems like Apple has a pretty good shot at dominating the entire upper half of the cell phone market.

Anyway, if you call, email, instant message or text me (or even leave a comment on this blog), I'll pretty much get it right away.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> The Bad Plus - Lost of Love [YouTube]
> M.I.A. - Bird Flu [YouTube]
> Thievery Corporation - Lebanese Blonde
> Bill Callahan - Sycamore [YouTube]
> Modest Mouse - White Lies, Yellow Teeth
> Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
> The Gossip - Standing in the Way of Control [YouTube]

Monday, August 04, 2008

Moustaches only

I'm on my way to Dayton for the week. (And I'm loving my new iPhone, which allows me to write this blog post from the airport.)

The US Airways announcer just made a long announcement that ended with "moustaches only in first class." I'm assuming that's not what she actually said. (But it would make first class extra-classy.)