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Monday, August 31, 2009


An article in the NY Times about people leaving Facebook makes some good points -- Facebook owns all the content, your interests and social networks are mined for commercial purposes, it can cheapen social connections, etc. All are good points, but it's so useful that the problems aren't enough to make me abandon it yet.

It reminded me, however, how lucky we are that the internet itself was created as a government project, with radically open rules. Some sort of wide-ranging computer network was inevitable, but imagine if it had been created by a company, for profit. If we all logged on to AOL (version 15.2) today to do all the things we now do on the internet, it would be much crappier for having years of only certain companies who paid AOL offering content, and no wild and wooly experimentation. And there would no doubt be constant controversies over privacy and use of personal information, except the company providing the network (and maybe a couple rivals, like Compuserve version 23.8) would be the only way to tap into these essential services, so there'd be little consumer leverage. Facebook could potentially parlay its position as the premier social network into something genuinely worrisome, but thank goodness the network itself is, in some important ways, a public space.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Guilford's spaceship

Last week, while browsing the NY Times homepage during lunch, I glanced past one of those articles that are blurbed on the front page with just the headline and a small picture. "Hey," I thought, "that looks like that weird building we used to see when we went to the beach." It was that building, actually -- a 1980s condo building in my hometown of Guilford ("known for its almost-exaggeratedly adorable Colonial, Federal and Victorian houses") had made the Times.

I'm quite surprised that it ever got zoning approval -- Guilford is very conservative on that sort of thing -- but it is pretty cool. As a kid, I always thought it was an office building, and wondered why they had chosen a design that afforded them so little space for actual offices.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

Modest Mouse - King Rat
Spacehog - In the Meantime
Animal Collective - My Girls
Animal Collective - Summertime Clothes
Talking Heads - Once in a Lifetime
Andrew Bird - Fitz and the Dizzyspells
Hot Chip - Over and Over

Some good videos in there, too. "King Rat" is a new Modest Mouse single, and things get very Seussian in the last couple minutes. The Andrew Bird video is one of the few I've ever seen backed by a live recording. And the "Once in a Lifetime" clip reminds me that I really need to get Stop Making Sense.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I had a nice weekend in New York. As I mentioned previously, I brought my bike, which was really enjoyable -- the subway is great, and I still used it a number of times, but there's something to be said for the sense of the city you get when moving through it on a bike, as opposed to popping up in various discrete locations from holes in the ground. Kudos to Amtrak for changing their policy to allow folding bikes as carry-on luggage. (Carrying a folding bike is also a great conversation starter.)

Along with going to the PS1 Warm Up and the ritual staying out 'til 4 am with Nina and Shane, Alex and I saw Beeswax, one of those tiny indie films that won't be coming to DC. We picked it because we both count director Andrew Bujalski's other films, Funny Ha Ha and especially Mutual Appreciation, among our favorites. He's one of the originators of the "Mumblecore" genre, whose films generally don't have too much of a plot and emphasize characters and the interactions between them with realistic (some would say boring) dialogue. Beeswax branched out ever so slightly in subject matter with characters that were a bit older and less urban than those in Bujalski's previous films.

I liked it a lot. You know how when you watch a movie, even one that seeks to be true to life, the way that events unfold and the way that people talk are movie-fied? Beeswax, in contrast, feels real throughout. The film doesn't have that cinematic rhythm that seeps into even the smallest scenes of other movies, and as a result, I find it much easier to engage with the characters. To put it another way, films typically distill things a bit in order to convey characters and plot in a manageable amount of time. Bujalski still constructs the narrative for the viewer by writing a script outline (from which the actors improvise), choosing which scenes and shots to use, etc., but he leaves in a lot of the muddled stuff that would have been involved if the narrative had been unfolding with real people -- the conversations that don't really go anywhere, people not expressing exactly what they mean, the "um" between words, etc. He can't cover as much ground this way -- the plot moves very little -- but our understanding of the characters is much deeper and more nuanced. If you've got the patience for this approach, I'd recommend Beeswax and Bujalski's other films.

Friday, August 14, 2009

In Brooklyn

I'm in NYC for the weekend, staying with Alex. But he's at work today, so I'm biking around -- I brought my folding bike with me, and it's really cool to have a bike in the city. (Last night it took me less time to bike from Penn Station to Astoria than it usually does to take the subway there.)

Anyway, I went down to Doughnut Plant this morning (white peach raised and banana walnut cake), and then around Brooklyn. I'm in Prospect Park at the moment, and miraculously ran across an Animal Collective sound check for a show tonight. It's not as good as actually seeing the show, but I got to hear a couple songs -- they just played "Guys Eyes."

And while I was standing here, a woman walked by holding an iguana over her head, which she would periodically bring down in front of her face to talk to. As she came close enough for me to hear, she said "You're such a good boy," and brought its head to her mouth to give it a slobbery kiss, as some people do to their dogs (this being an iguana, the was presumably not much reciprocal slobber).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day's events

Today I:
  • Arrived home to find that the aloe plant in the kitchen had somehow tipped over and fallen off the counter during the day, leaving a big mess and a distressed plant.
  • Opened the mail and found that I've been called for federal jury duty "for a special trial that is expected to last at least 4 to 6 weeks."  Yikes.  Having served DC jury duty last fall apparently does not exempt me from the federal version.
  • Successfully made Pad Thai -- woo hoo!

Monday, August 10, 2009


My doctor told me I should go without dairy for a couple weeks to see if I'm lactose intolerant (sorry if this is TMI). So, the weekend before last, I ate the last of my yogurt in a grand dairy finale, and set off on a couple lactose-free weeks.

Only, it turns out I'm really bad at this. Witness:
  • A few days in, we have an "ice cream social" at work, and soon after I finish my sundae, I realize that I have sabotaged myself.  But I still have a solid 10 days before my follow-up appointment.
  • A couple days later at frisbee, some kids from a Jewish summer camp give us their leftover kosher pizza.  Score!  Unfortunately, I later realize that pizza involves cheese.
  • While hiking this past weekend, I happily accept an offer of cheese and bread.  D'oh!
  • On the way to my follow-up appointment this morning, I get a croissant sandwich...with cheese.
I would note that three of four dairy errors involved free food.  Apparently my free food reflex remains strong enough to send a direct chomp signal without doing any cross-checking.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Last month I took a class on Thai cooking at Leah's store. It was very tasty, and demystified Pad Thai to the point where I think I can make it (haven't tried yet -- it requires a run out to the Asian grocery store in Wheaton). In any case, I was inspired enough to buy a wok this weekend, which I seasoned yesterday and tried out for the first time tonight.

I made a veggie stir fry with ginger from a recipe I found online, and it was pretty good. It also reminded me how much I hate following recipes. I can't seem to keep more than one step/measurement in my mind at once, so I'm forever compulsively checking the ingredient list or instructions. It makes for a very halting, non-relaxing time in the kitchen. But I do really enjoy cooking once I get to the point of knowing a recipe by heart, or even better, mastering the general principles involved in a dish and then improvising from there. Of course, to date, I have only achieved the latter with lasagna and quiche. (And grilled cheese, but I don't think that counts.) I should be able to add stir-frying in short order -- although the recipe I made tonight had a few extra wrinkles, it's pretty simple in general.