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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Christopher tm Herdt's LiveJournal:

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Sunday, November 8th, 2015
6:59 pm
News from Northside
I like my neighborhood. Northside is a little smaller than I envisioned, not quite as self-contained as I'd hoped, but I'm enjoying it.

I haven't decided if I'm more of a Sidewinder Coffee or a Collective Espresso fan, so for now I split my visits between them both. Collective Espresso is the sleek & modern hipster coffee bar. Sidewinder matches better my 90s Gen-X cafe ideal, a third space, a neighborhood gathering place. OK, that makes it sound like I prefer Sidewinder, but I really enjoy them both!

Arcade Legacy: Bar Edition is the bar I've been to the most. They opened right after we moved here. Arcade games might not be the most social activity, but sometimes you're just looking for some light entertainment. Northside Tavern is a great neighborhood spot too, just don't be fooled by the locals ordering Hudepohl: it may be cheap, but it's among the worst beers I've ever swilled. Pay a couple dollars more for something decent. The Listing Loon I've been to only once, but the DJ was spinning a great set of punk and post-punk women for Ladyfest Cincinnati.

Tickle Pickle is a great place for a $10 hamburger. The Rob Zomwich is my favorite, although the rockstar-themed sandwich puns both entertain and pain me.

Today was my first visit to the army surplus store around the corner. The guy working there recognized my old $15 jacket, originally purchased from Harry's Army Surplus in Ann Arbor, as a Swedish military jacket. The pockets are distinctive, he said. That explains the 3 crowns on the buttons too!

With Shake It Records and Black Plastic just a couple blocks from each other, my eclectic vinyl collection is sure to grow, although I have a bad habit of passing up albums I know I like for intriguing dodgy selections that turn out to be duds. Why did I pass up Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," which I have heard hundreds of times, for Consolidated's "Business of Punishment"?!

I've been to Ruth's and Django and The Littlefield and Melt, but have yet to visit the Comet, Bistro Grace, the Kitchen Factory, the Golden Tajine, or Barrio. I still haven't hit up the N/S Yacht Club (no boating here, but built in a flood plain!), Urban Artifact (although I'm not a fan of Belgian-style sour ales), or C & D's Cafe (which from the description is Northside's version of Bob and Barbara's). When we were looking at a house on Barvac, I thought for certain we'd be regulars at the Comet.

There's plenty of retail space available, as well as light industrial/warehouse type spaces. It makes me wish I was more entrepreneurial--or maybe just loaded with spare cash--because this seems like a perfect place to try something a little outrageous. I'm still entertaining a few ideas.

There's a free monthly paper that covers just the neighborhood. It usually features at least one or two local businesses. I read a write-up of Spun Bicycles a day after I visited the shop and Dominic, the co-owner, introduced himself to me. On Monday nights a screen printing shop hosts live music. There's a bicycle co-op (I haven't visited yet) down the street from me. The neighborhood reminds me a little of West Philly (in a good way!).

My favorite place though, is Parker Woods and the Buttercup Valley Reserve. I'm an addict. Hilly serpentine trails through the forest. A short walk and you'd hardly know you're in the city, although you can still hear traffic. I've seen deer more visits than I haven't, as well as snakes, a multitude of squirrels, and birds of many varieties. It's been a great place to explore as the seasons change. You occasionally run into someone else out for a walk, maybe walking a dog, and you say a friendly, but quick, hello before moving on--you're both there for the solitude, not the company.

Next door to the woods is the Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, a magnificent place that is great for walks, jogs, or cycling. Back in the day, obelisks were very popular memorials! I sometimes wish it had a little of the flashiness of Milan's Cimitero Monumentale, but German Catholics are somewhat less ostentatious than Italian Catholics, apparently. Perhaps due to the proximity of the cemetery, one of our neighbors is Schott Memorials, which has a display of unused memorials in disarray in their back lot. Perhaps they are from customers who couldn't or have not yet payed. Eternal rest, on layaway.

There's no real grocer in the neighborhood, yet. There's an African specialty market close by that sells a few dry goods staples and spices, but really lacks the variety of even a corner grocer. There's a weekly farmer's market that is convenient, but for every other day of the week there's a Kroger in the next neighborhood over. I've biked there several times, but cycling here is for the bold. There's talk of a food co-op--the Apple Street Co-op--which would be fantastic, but I have no idea at this point if it is a going concern or a pipe dream.

I'll admit that for dining and entertainment we frequently head to Over the Rhine, a downtown-adjacent neighborhood that features charming urban architecture and, at least at some times of day, on certain days, a bustling street scene. I do miss our little section of Philadelphia's Gayborhood, Midtown Village--I've come to realize that people-watching was one of my main entertainments. But even though it is quieter, Northside, Cincinnati, has many charms.
Sunday, August 9th, 2015
6:24 pm
On Friday night, a thought occurred to me: beautiful weather, and just a couple weeks left in Philadelphia. It's time to ride bell-to-bell.

Bell-to-Bell means from Philadelphia's Liberty Bell to the Justice Bell in the Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge. It's about 50 miles, round-trip. I had talked about planning this as a group expedition that included tawdryjones and Simon, but I never got around to it and I felt like 9 hours notice wasn't quite enough. Sorry guys!
The journey...Collapse )
Friday, March 13th, 2015
6:05 pm
Watson, tell me a little about myself
Every year my department at work has a luncheon at which each of us presents an emerging technology, something a little out there, not necessarily ready for prime time. I selected IBM's Bluemix services, which basically comprise a Watson API--a way to ask Watson questions.

You remember Watson, right? He's the computer that beat Ken Jennings at Jeopardy!. I have not yet found the Bluemix API that allows you to phrase your answer in the form of a question.

One of the curious services they offer is Personality Insights. You supply a corpus of text written by an individual, and Watson analyzes it and tells you about the author's personality. You can try it yourself at their Personality Insights Demo.

LiveJournals--and personal blogs in general--are a great source of text by a single author! So naturally I had to analyze myself and some of my friends.

You need to supply it with a fair amount of text for the analysis. Supply it with a single post and the results may be skewed: some days I am apparently driven by curiosity (100%) and have no interest in artistic expression (0%). But supply it with your past 20 posts and you may have something.

Watson reports on the Big Five personality traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. They re-labeled Neuroticism Emotional Range because, let's face it, Neuroticism sounds bad. An interesting choice, though, as all of these seemingly positive traits become negative if you score low. They also break down each of the Big Five into sub-traits, and report on several other areas as well.

I took my previous 20 public posts (6879 words) and ran them though. All results are scored relative to other people, which I take to mean that if I score high in one area it means that Watson thinks that I am strong in that personality trait relative to the average survey response in Watson's database. Also, this is a computer basing a personality evaluation on a subset of a subset of a subset of my writing.

Some traits for which I scored high were expected:
  • Authority challenging - yes, it's true that I don't believe people in positions of power are more likely to be right. They do more often think they're right....
  • Self-efficacy - yes, I can and often do set out to do things and then actually do them. Even if they are difficult. Even if they aren't the best ideas.
  • Uncompromising - you mean stubborn? I can't take credit. That runs in my family.
  • Sympathy - sometimes to my detriment, but yes, I am concerned about the well-being of the people with which I share this planet.

Others were unexpectedly low--I cannot speak to their accuracy:
  • Artistic expression - I guess I express myself in other, more prosaic ways?
  • Self-discipline - I don't buy this for a minute. Unless you mean that I have other more important things to do right now....
  • Gregariousness - according to Watson, I am full of cold, icy stares.
  • Melancholy - not that I think I'm particularly glum, I just didn't think I'd rank lower than average.

The thing that was a real surprise for me was a low score on self-consciousness. Apparently, I don't give a damn what anyone thinks of me! Good for me.

Whether or not the results are accurate or meaningful, it is interesting to view the results and recognize that an artificial intelligence has deduced these things about you from publicly-available data. This is interesting and frightening. What if a potential employer decides that someone so uncompromising and authority-challenging isn't right for their organization? What if a health insurance provider decides that high scores in the Neuroticism category represent a financial risk and charge you more accordingly? It's basically Gattaca, except that they don't even need a DNA sample: they just sample your online footprint.
Sunday, May 4th, 2014
7:16 pm
Two more for the #selfie series

I dislike the latter, I rushed myself through it and nearly forgot that I always include a thick border until I had already cut away most of the edges.
Sunday, March 30th, 2014
3:16 pm
I guess it is going to be a series

Not sure how many more of these to make, but I feel like I may as well keep going.
Saturday, March 29th, 2014
10:48 am
3rd Selfie Print

Nicola says she can't stand the sight of this one.
Monday, March 10th, 2014
9:28 pm
Inspiration strikes again
Really it's a point of perverse pride that none of my many self-portraits could be recognized as the same person:
another self portrait
Saturday, February 1st, 2014
5:57 pm
In vino veritas, in vino fortis
If you've shopped at the Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits shop on 12th and Chestnut in Center City, Philadelphia, you may have run into Max G. He's incredibly tall, skinny, and friendly. His knowledge of wine is vast, which is particularly impressive because he is still a young man, but not surprising for wine is clearly his passion.

He can help find the right wine for you or the right wine for the occasion. You do have to speak his language a little. If he asks you what kinds of wine you usually like, you can't just shrug and say, "Mostly reds." That's not going to work. That gives him nothing to go on. So at least remember the names of a couple wines you like, or varietals you favor.

He's happy to help at any price range. If you're looking for something to impress the guests, he's your man. But he's a champion of lesser-known varietals and regions, and is always happy to help the bargain-conscious shopper find an underrated gem. We've picked up a few Max G. picks from Portugal lately that we've enjoyed.

OK, so you're getting a sense of Max G. Now let me tell you about another guy.

A couple months ago, a balding, barrel-chested man in a sport coat, about 50 years old, puffing on a stogie, blusters his way into the Wine & Spirits shop. "Can I smoke in here," he booms to no one in particular as he pollutes and poisons the entryway.

No sir. It is 2013. Like anyplace else in the entire country, no, you cannot smoke a cigar in here.

I'll call him OMITU: Only Man In The Universe. I can think of no reason other than an intense, consuming solipsism that could convince a man, in our place and time, that barging into a store with a lit cigar might possibly be permitted.

OMITU takes himself outside to enjoy smoking a few minutes more. When he returns, he does a little shopping at the front of the store before heading back to the more serious wines. "Do you have any good Barberas," he demands.

Max G is happy to oblige. He points the man to the selection of Italian wines, describes in some detail several Barberas, and recommends one Barbera in particular as a fine example of the varietal and a good bargain at $22 a bottle.

OMITU cogitates on the selection and proclaims, "There's a Barbera up by the registers that's on sale, sounds like a good one."

Max G says that, yes, it is a decent Barbera, but his recommendation is by far superior for the price. You won't be unhappy with the cheaper Barbera, but you will be happier still with the better Barbera. But OMITU was not swayed.

I was impressed and pleased that Max G stuck with his recommendation in the face of this rude, pompous, ridiculous man who, in the end, wasn't willing to spend 10 dollars more for a superior wine. (To be fair, my wine purchases are generally inexpensive, but I try not to act like an ass about it.)

And so OMITU took a somewhat inferior Barbera to his Italian BYO that evening. I am not sure he would have appreciated the better.

There are 3 morals to this story:
  • An expert, when confronted with the contradictions of the ill-informed, should stand his ground.
  • The churl, when consulting the expert, would do better not to second-guess his opinion.
  • Max G's picks at the Wine & Spirits shop are consistently excellent.
Saturday, December 7th, 2013
3:38 pm
danse des poupées mécaniques

humans imitating automata imitating humans. fascinating.

What it made me wonder is, what is the history of humans imitating human-imitating automata? Surely this has existed since the first automaton, possibly since the first inkling of an automaton. So what about the history of such in literature, art, performance? Just searching now for automata I am reminded of the great inventor, al-Jazari: a name I have not run across in years! His fantastical inventions pre-date Da Vinci's by at least 250 years.
Tuesday, November 12th, 2013
5:34 pm
I used to have 2 work keys, both nearly identical. When I picked a key, I'd get the right one about half the time. Exactly what you'd expect.

Now I have 3 work keys, all nearly identical. When I pick a key, I get the right one about zero percent of the time. When I pick a key from the remaining two, I get the right one zero percent of the time.

This feels like a Dirk Gently scenario.
Sunday, July 14th, 2013
7:30 pm
Pennypack Park
This morning, tawdryjones and I rode our bikes to Pennypack Park in NE Philly. The roundtrip from Center City was about 40 miles (Google says 38, but we had a few detours). The park itself is beautiful, a great paved trail that runs alongside a creek, lots of ups-and-downs and twists-and-turns to keep the trail interesting. We heard many birds and saw butterflies, squirrels, chipmunks, a snake, a horse (with rider), and deer. Anyone interested can view our approximate route. It looks like a short jog down Pine Road could get you to another trail along Pennypack Creek, but at that point we decided to turn back.

Of course, getting there and back was another story. Although we discovered that Yards Brewery, Morgan's Pier, and Sugar House Casino are within easy biking distance, after that the route was less pleasant. We biked through an industrial wasteland along Delaware Ave until Google's directions suggested taking Aramingo. The problem was that the route to get to Aramingo was also basically a freeway entrance to I-95 (it is very Michigan of me, I've discovered, to call it I-95 instead of 95). We took an alternate route to get to Aramingo, which had a bike path but was basically a major thoroughfare lined by big box stores and strip malls.

From Aramingo, we cut over on Castor Ave. to Kensington, which we took to Torresdale Ave., which also has a bike path. Torresdale is a good chunk of the ride--just keep going for 4-5 miles until you get to the prison(!), then the park will be on your left. I apologize to those who call Torresdale Ave. their home, but the area is run-down and was not my favorite part of the ride. The sun was also blazing and there wasn't a bit of shade.

(Have I mentioned that smartphones and GPS are awesome? They are, they really are.)

The park, as I said, was great. Although there were families out, joggers, fishermen, dog-walkers, other cyclists, and at least one equestrian, it was a quiet trail and fully-shaded. Apparently I was near (or under? or on?) the Frankford Avenue bridge, the oldest bridge still in use in the U.S. (built in 1697). My favorite park patrons were the super-fit old man (talk about muscle-definition! and flowing gray hair!) and the surly teen who was chain-smoking and listening to his iDevice. I also liked the latino family who clearly had managed to drive their car down the narrow bike path to have a barbecue party by the creek. tawdryjones mentioned an affinity for the Asian woman who was carrying enough bags that it looked like she was returning from a shopping trip to Macy's. The park is a gem, and although it is clearly appreciated by the neighboring residents, I do think it is a shame that there doesn't seem to be a convenient way to get there from Center City. Although if it were easier to get to, perhaps it wouldn't be as pleasant to visit!

On the way back we decided to avoid the industrial parks and take Kensington back from Torresdale. This was underneath the Market-Frankford line (the blue line, known by natives as the El), and I was grateful for the shade. On the other hand, the scenery left much to be desired. My favorite was the pregnant woman sitting on a stoop, vomiting between her legs. The neighborhood was a little rough. Eventually we saw a young hipster on a bike with lots of tattoos: the first sign of gentrification. Soon we found recognizable Fishtown landmarks, such as Kung-Fu Necktie.

Kensington turned into Front, and Front Street at some point becomes a narrow street paved with stones, so as soon as we found a street we knew (Fairmount) we rode over to 12th, and then south to Center City. Whereupon we went to Parc with well_lahdidah to celebrate a Bastille Day brunch.

I almost surely got too much sun.
Sunday, March 17th, 2013
3:45 pm
Video games I have played
I tried to come up with a top ten list of games that have consumed large chunks of my life, but I am apparently a terrible editor. I don't consider myself a gamer in the usual sense--I have no interest in first-person shooters, after all--but clearly I have spent many hours in pursuit of digital glory.

  1. Snack Attack - This Pac-Man knockoff was our first game for the Apple II. No one was better at this game than my mom. (No one in my family has ever believed that boys are better at video games than girls, because my mom will totally pwn you.)

  2. Pong - although we were jealous of our friends' Atari 2600 systems, dusting off my parents' Pong console was pretty awesome and earned us some old school cred.

  3. Snake Byte - for Apple II. This game has a variety of names, but it is probably the best game that requires only 2 keys to play.

  4. Pitfall - Kevin A. had an Atari 2600 and Pitfall was by far the best game. Kevin was great at it too--he had such an amazing score one day that he took a photograph of the screen. I believe there was a magazine such photos could be sent to and he would be listed as one of the Pitfall greats.

  5. [Unknown] - there was a driving game that my dad coded from a book on BASIC programming, meticulously retyping several pages of code. I don't remember what it was called, but it was another game that required just 2 keys. Low-res!

  6. Lode Runner - well, really Lode Runner 2, which had the create-your-own-levels feature. My brothers and I would create difficult puzzle levels to try to stump each other and my mom. (Again, like Snack Attack, my mom was the household champ at this game.)

  7. Galaga - I probably saw this first either at Pinball Pete's at the Frandor Shopping Center, or in the lodge at the Lansing Ski Club. This is still my favorite arcade game and I cannot resist dropping in a couple quarters whenever I see it.

  8. Archon - Llewelyn F. introduced me to this game, a battle chess of sorts. His family loved games--he taught me the little I know about chess, and introduced me to other board games, such as Stratego.

  9. Spyhunter - this game was fun to play on the Apple II, but was then impossibly difficult in the arcade!

  10. Autoduel - I went through a software pirating phase along with some other tweens and teens in the 517. Using byte editors we would take the already cracked code and insert our own handles in the place of the original person who overrode the copy-protection. Kevin A. was Black Lightning (and I was the derivative Blue Lightning), and he had inserted his handle into the opening of this game. Also, this game was where I first heard of Scranton, PA, as the game involved delivering/smuggling goods between different Northeast cities.

  11. Ultima V - 10 floppy disks! Copied from Jeremy F. aka The Cheese. I spent basically a year of my life playing this game. I never did win, although I never really knew what the goal was either. I used the byte editor to cheat and give all my characters the best weapons.  There was a wishing well in the game where you could throw in a gold coin an make a wish. The only wish that worked was a wish for a horse -- which gave you a horse. However, you could also wish for a sports car: Ferrari, Porsche, etc., and it would give you a horse. My first discovery of an Easter Egg, although I don't know if that was in the original or only in the cracked version I had.

  12. Law of the West - a choose-your-own-adventure type game where you could choose dialog snippets in conversations with people in a lawless Western town. From this game I took my BBS handle, El Gringo. (I had no idea what it meant.)

  13. Beyond Castle Wolfenstein - there's nothing quite like bombing Hitler. Although my favorite part was using the dagger to silently kill Nazi guards and drag their bodies into corners.

  14. Might and Magic - my first 3D maze game. Actually, I don't remember this one all that well except that I spent too much time playing it.

  15. Black Magic - one of the first games that I played to completion, whereupon I discovered its limited replay value.

  16. Gauntlet - there was a machine in the cafeteria at Manchester College, where I stayed for 2 weeks at a summer camp. I spent $60 playing Gauntlet with some of the other kids there (it was a 4-player game). I always played the elf, and now the phrase "the Elf shot the food" will forevermore be linked with my overzealous trigger-finger.

  17. R-Type - I always loved music and the graphics of this arcade game. Although I found it difficult, I was drawn to it all the same.

  18. Rampage - you play the bad guys and smash buildings. When you take too much damage you turn back into a tiny naked human and step sideways off the screen. Brilliant.

  19. Omega - a Rogue-like game that I downloaded off a BBS. I wasted well over a year playing this at different times in my life. A great game filled with all sorts of humor. (Spoiler: the way to win is to quit the game!)

  20. Risk - I used to play Risk long into the night on the Macs at the North Campus computing center as a freshman. I would probably be a millionaire today if I had used that time differently. Instead, I merely conquered the world many times over.

  21. Sim Earth - see above.

  22. Golden Axe - Tina rented out someone's Man Cave as an apartment for a while, and it contained a Golden Axe arcade machine. Bernie and I, during one visit, played the game straight through.

  23. Golden Tee '97 - Bernie and I used to play this at the Pony Keg Pub, the crummy country bar next to our apartment building, on paydays. Bernie was well-known there, at least to the bartenders. "Double Jack and Coke, short glass," he'd say. "Honey, you know the Coke is just for color," they'd advise. "I know," he'd reply.

  24. Pokemon - Nintendo Gameboy. Miranda and I played this for the entire year we lived in Plymouth and bought a second Gameboy in part to trade Pokemon, and in part so we wouldn't have to share. We were complete Pokemaniacs. (Gotta catch 'em all!) At one time I could have easily listed off the original 150 pokemon. There was a Burger King on campus that had a Pokemon trading night on Wednesdays. When I showed up I realized it was for children, and then I left feeling disappointed and creepy.

  25. Master of Magic - Nicola introduced this PC game to me. It's a fantastic game, highly addictive. It is only through great force of will that I am not playing it right now. It probably takes 4-5 hours to finish a game, so it is a dangerous pursuit.

  26. Plants versus Zombies - this iPad game is goofy, cute, and fun. "There's a zombie on your lawn...we don't want zombies on our lawns."

#25 on the timeline really should have been Bejeweled, which I played a lot on my Handspring Visor while I was waiting for Miranda to get out of work at the Borders HQ.
Wednesday, November 14th, 2012
9:53 am
Make your own phonetic alphabet table
2 years ago at Christmas my brother Ben suggested that I add a feature to my web page listing the NATO and Western Union phonetic alphabets: give people the opportunity to create their own.

I finally got around to building something: My Phonetic Alphabets.

It's not thoroughly tested yet, but feel free to check it out!

It's kind of fun to free-associate words for each letter, but certain letters (I'm looking at you, X) are particularly tricky. For example, Ben used xylophone for X, which isn't bad except that, over a bad connection, you might just hear the initial Z sound. I have to assume that's why both NATO and Western Union use x-ray instead. (I suppose x-rated would work as well, but would be more awkward when speaking with your call center operator.)

I find that food and animals tend to pop into my head. I'm curious to see what other people come up with.
Thursday, November 1st, 2012
9:40 pm
Google Hangouts
Before this week, the only time I'd used Google Hangouts was with my co-workers, and only then while we were in the same room, just testing it out.

This week, I was in 2 Google Hangouts. Monday with my mom and dad, and my brother and his girlfriend. Lansing, Laramie, and Philadelphia connected. Yesterday with Bernie and his friend Patricia, where we also attempted some screensharing and remote Java debugging. Detroit, D.C., and Philadelphia, connected.

Telepresence is the concept that someone can feel nearby even when they are far away. Maybe it's how close the camera was to his face, but it very nearly felt like Bernie was here. (Thankfully there's no smellepresence, am I right? Zing!)

I've also done video calls before, but usually just with one other party. It was interesting to see the conversation dynamic when more people are around. It really did feel like hanging out.
Sunday, September 9th, 2012
12:41 pm
The Jesus and Mary Chain - Union Transfer, 8 Sep 2012
I wasn't even really sure I was going to go to this show--I wanted to, but the tickets were expensive ($35) and I've had a bad track record lately seeing bands I saw 20 years ago. But when I saw R5 Productions tweet that there were only 20 tickets left, I had to make a decision. I gave Nicola a hard time about making me go to see Jay-Z but abandoning me for my Gen-X shows.

I'd never been to Union Transfer before, but it was only a short walk (~11 blocks) away. It's actually amazing the number of venues I can walk to--it's a luxury I don't often take advantage of. The venue was much nicer than I expected. The layout reminded me of St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit--a long floor with 2 balconies on the sides--only well-kept and with more character. Interesting light fixtures, wood arches, and best of all a very nice bar with a decent selection of draught beers (I guess most venues I've been to in Philly have at least some local brews on tap).

The Vandelles were the first opener, competent psychobilly/surf. The drummer was wild, arms flailing, and based on the length of her skirt I think she may well have flashed the folks in the front. As with many bands, I thought that they would have been better off dropping the vocals, which I thought detracted from the songs. As a backdrop, they had projected their Twitter handle (@thevandelles) and a QR code. I mean, I guess you've got to shamelessly self-promote to make it, but QR codes really irk me.

After The Vandelles, I moved up front & center, as I figured The Jesus and Mary Chain would be up next. And, at first, I thought they were: the guitarist's mop could easily have been William Reid's. The stage lights were turned off and only 3 bright lights back-lit the band, something that seemed very much in character, especially with the addition of a fog machine. But it was only a 3-piece with no vocals, and the songs were unfamiliar--although good. They were loud, noisy, and rhythmic and repetitive but that built suspense in a way that reminded me of Caspar Brötzmann Massacre (although the songs were, thankfully, shorter than Caspar Brötzmann's 15-minute dirges). It was everything that I wanted from the show, except that I had no idea who the band was.

After the set, I discovered it was--thanks to someone complaining about them on Twitter--the post-rock group The Psychic Paramount.

People starting pushing their way through the crowd at that point. It's always amazing that however crowded you think the floor is, twice as many people can pack into the same space. Whereas there were maybe 4-5 people in front of me, there were now 6-7 in spite of the fact that I hadn't moved.

When JAMC came out, my first thought was: William Reid has let himself go. He looked like Judah Friedlander, sans the ubiquitous cap. He was wearing a BBC t-shirt ("I hate the BBC..."). Jim Reid looked like a clean-cut older version of Jim Reid, with a sport-jacket over a t-shirt depicting 3 cassette tapes. The drummer was wearing a t-shirt and had a Prince Valiant pageboy haircut. The bass player looked like Lestrade from the Sherlock series, and the rhythm guitarist had a gray pompadour and looked like something between Johnny Cash and David Lynch.

There were a lot of bottles of Heineken on stage, and I have a feeling most of them were Jim Reid's. He was playing with the mic stand a lot, and I was a bit fearful for the audience directly ahead of him. At one point he knocked it over into the crowd, but the guy in front caught it before it hit anyone. He accidentally took a swipe at his brother while swinging it around. He cursed at his brother for tuning his guitar between songs, and it was hard to tell if it was good-natured cursing or not. The vocals were low in the mix, and I thought perhaps that was intentional.

They played nearly all the fan favorites, and I have to say that although much of the crowd sang along, the girl with the Philly/South Jersey accent adjacent to me was both horrifying and amusing. I could have done with a long and noisy feedback piece from the band, but in spite of the noise they are a pop band at heart.

It was a little odd to see a man in a sport-coat singing "I was incomplete/I'm a freak" though. Also, thinly-veiled ("honey dripping") or unveiled ("little skinny girl you're doing it for the first time") sexual references seemed a little creepier from a 50-year-old Jim Reid than they did from a 30-year-old Jim Reid in 1992. But he can't help getting older any more than I can.
Monday, July 2nd, 2012
9:55 am
Diablo Cody and Roman Mythology
On Saturday we watched Young Adult (using our cable's On-Demand service because it is easier to pay $6 than it is to find something you actually want to watch on your NetFlix subscription).

During one scene, the beautiful (but psychopathic) Mavis approaches Matt's man-cave. Through the window of the garage, you see a warm but dangerous glow of fire and Matt's hunched figure over it. (Matt has a bad leg from a brutal beating in high school, and relies on a crutch.)

"Hephaestus," I said.
"And Aphrodite," Nicola said.

We paused the movie and searched on the Internet. "diablo cody greek myth" and "diablo cody hephaestus" and so on. The closest we find is a GQ interview with Patton Oswald in which he refers to Charlize Theron as Aphrodite.

Of course, Greek is not quite the right mythology, and Hephaestus is not quite the right guy. Juno was the Roman version of Hera. The town in which Young Adult is set is Mercury, Minnesota--Mercury being the Romanized Hermes. And so Hephaestus becomes Vulcan and Aphrodite becomes Venus.

Diablo Cody clearly has a thing for Roman mythology, but we couldn't quite tell if it went much deeper than names and basic character traits. Venus was beautiful, but (like Mavis) she was also a psychopath (if such a term can be applied to a goddess).

What is truly baffling is that no one has, that we can find, written about this on the Internet. I'm posting this to be sure that at least one person has.
Wednesday, May 9th, 2012
9:12 pm
Coursera - Free Higher Education
The latest hotness* in higher education is Coursera, a joint-venture to offer free MOOCs (that's Massively Open Online Courses) from Michigan, Penn, Princeton, and Stanford.

I was particularly impressed by some of the faculty they got to participate, including:

(well_lahdidah pointed out that, maybe the participants are all Big Deals because only a Big Deal with tenure can afford to spend time chasing after the wind.)

Upon successfully completing coursework, Coursera may or may not, according to the highly non-committal language in their terms, choose to send you a Letter of Completion. A Letter of Completion which you agree you will not look to Coursera or their participating professors or institutions if you try to convince anyone of its creditworthiness. But who cares? Sometimes there are just things that you want to know, and sometimes there are things that would be useful to you if you knew them, regardless of whether a framed diploma told anyone else you knew them.

It's a pretty exciting idea. I hope to check one out, but of course I do have 8 more Penn courses to finish.

* "hotness" is maybe an exaggeration.
Sunday, April 29th, 2012
2:30 pm
Apple of Eris
Last night I was in Penn Station in NYC, waiting for an Amtrak train back to Philly. There was an old tennis ball on the floor, rolling slowly away from a group of people clustered under the departures sign.

I didn't pay much attention to it until, jarred by a passing traveller, it rolled towards a very stuffy-looking older couple. The woman made an open V with her feet and caught the ball. Probably used to have kids in youth soccer. She looked around, vaguely annoyed, as if she'd been the target of some prank. She turned and gave it a little putt with her instep towards a gaggle of miniskirts, little black dresses, and heels.

One of the girls took a break from tugging at the hem of her dress to make sure she wasn't violating indecent exposure law and turned around. She stared down a trio of guys. "Did you do that?" she accused. I don't know if the guys knew who the real culprit was, but if they did they kept mum. They shrugged.

The girl tried to pass the tennis ball along, but somehow got it wedged between the heel and the toe of her shoe. Suddenly she was off-balance, swaying on one foot, clutching at a friend for balance. She kicked her foot against the floor once, twice, but the tennis ball just became more firmly stuck. Finally, another friend reached down and removed the tennis ball with her hand and dropped it on the floor.

A young man passing by picked it up.

"Ew, I wouldn't touch that if I were you," one of the girls said.

"Why not?"

"I just wouldn't," she said.

He seemed to think about it for a second, and then he threw it hard against the ground. It was a beat-up old tennis ball and didn't have much bounce left in it, but it hopped a couple times, past a flinching teenage girl, past a man leaning on a barrier marked "Do not lean on barrier," and came to rest not far from there, more-or-less away from foot traffic.

It was marvelous. Where had it come from? I wished I had a bag of tennis balls with a tear in the bottom, so that as I walked a new fuzzy, bouncy agent of chaos would emerge.

Nicola told me that the bomb-sniffing dogs are given tennis balls as rewards. That explained why it looked slightly chewed upon. Hail Eris, the German shepherd!
Sunday, February 12th, 2012
1:25 pm
20 Years Ago -- A Valentine's Day to Remember
Well, nearly.

Thursday, February the 13th, 1992. My skiing accident. The members of the ski team who had qualified for Regionals had taken the day off from school to practice at Mt. Holly. I'd never skied Mt. Holly before, but like any ski hill in the Lower Peninsula, "Mountain" is a misnomer. Rumor has it that most are old landfills--Mount Trashmores.

I don't really know what happened. The details below are what I think I remember or what I was told later. I have no memory of the event. Maybe Nathan Ballard knows, since we were skiing together at the time. I imagine there was some glare on the snow, or shadows--during certain lighting conditions, the snow flattens out and it can be difficult to see. Maybe I was hot-dogging. I doubt it, but it's possible. Ballard was such a cocky kid--a good racer, but so young and inconsistent. He'd either finish in the top 10 or he'd DQ. It's possible I was hot-dogging, trying to show off.

At any rate, I skied off a cliff.

OK, I don't know if cliff is an exaggeration or not. Like I said, I have no recollection of the event. Needless to say, there was a vertical drop of some height, a drastic and unexpected change in elevation. One minute, I was skiing. The next minute--or several minutes, depending on how long I was unconscious--I was looking up at a bunch of concerned faces, including my ski coach. He told me there was so much blood on the snow he'd wanted to take a picture.

I went to the hospital and stayed the night for observation. I was supposed to take Angie Salstrom to the Valentine's dance. Tom O'Dougherty was taking Sarah Smith, and I was taking Angie Salstrom, we were all going together. I called her from the hospital and said something like, "Srmph, cnmt dmnce. Accdsmt." I don't recall if I got my point across or if someone else took over the talking for me.

I wasn't allowed to go to sleep, because I had a concussion. Many x-rays were taken of my head and neck. My nose was broken. My lips were the size of golf balls. The metal edge of one of my skis, which I sharpened before every race, had sliced into my face at an angle, just underneath my nose and just outside my left eye.

All in all, I was very lucky. It could have been much, much worse. I could be dead. I could be paralyzed. I could have brain damage.

Jim Colondo, my creative writing teacher, had the entire class make Valentine's Day cards on red construction paper for me the following day. I still have them, somewhere in my parents' house. How else could I have acquired a Valentine's Day card from a roomful of 17-and-18-year-olds, including Jomo Grady, of all people? I think Matt Collar, in his card, told me that the broken nose would make me look tough, like Brando or De Niro.

Stacy Walker sent me an FTD arrangement in a coffee mug with balloons printed on it.

Angie and Sarah, and probably others, came to visit me at home. Maybe Amanda Jones came to visit. I looked terrible. I looked like freshly-ground hamburger. I couldn't close my mouth all the way. I had handkerchief with me at all times to dab away the drool. Amanda and I had a date not long after--well, more like a sympathy date, I think she was already dating Zach Chartkoff at the time--to have dinner at Beggar's Banquet and see the opera at the Wharton Center. (Dr. Graeber, our English teacher, had surely put us up to the opera.) I'm sorry that she had to sit across from me as I tried my best to eat with dignity.

There was a tremendous amount of care and concern for me, far beyond what I would reasonably have expected. If I'd had any insight about anything important at the time, I think I would have realized that I had real and close friends. It should have been a humbling experience.

Although I hadn't trained since the accident, I skied again at the Regional meet. I think I was a little more reserved than usual. The conditions were icy, and many stronger skiers than I DQ'd that day. I did not, perhaps because I held back just a little. I missed qualifying for States in slalom by one or two places. Maybe if I'd skied more aggressively--balls out as we used to say, or shin it to win it--I could have made States. Or maybe I would have DQ'd like so many of the others.

Eventually, things started to heal. A couple weeks later, I looked normal. I thought I would always have the scars, but they are hardly visible now. I can still see the one under my nose right after I shave. The one next to my eye blends in with my crow's feet. My nose was crooked, but not so crooked that the doctors felt the need to cause me more pain by re-setting it. It's probably less-crooked now, after Drew Hudson punched me later that year and broke it again. I think he actually straightened it.

Somehow, I made it through the disaster relatively unscathed.

All the recent news stories about high school athletes and concussions do make me wonder if, possibly, that trauma may have influenced my behavior in the following year or so. That and the over 100 head x-rays I had that year. I did quite a few things that I was not proud of around that time. Maybe most of us do at that age, but I think I exceeded my quota. Perhaps it's wishful thinking to blame it on a concussion, indulging in a little post post post hoc denial of responsibility.

One of the head x-rays was taken from the same point-of-view as the Ministry A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste album cover, and become a decorative element in the apartment Sunil and Stephanie and I shared in 1994, taped over a lampshade. I don't know where the x-rays ended up. It looked cool, sure--but for me it was also a reminder of fates I had avoided.

When my brother Ben and I were skiing at Heavenly, at Lake Tahoe, some years later, we looked for the run where Sonny Bono met his demise. Orion. It was closed that day. A blue-square, or intermediate-level, run. We did not know it at the time, but he hadn't been skiing on the trail--he'd been skiing through the woods, "glade skiing", an expert-only, you'd best be sure you know damned-well what you're doing activity. The same thing Ben and I had been doing all day on the Nevada side of the resort. If you miss a turn, there's a rock or a tree waiting for you. Snow-snakes.

It's a marvel I am alive.
Sunday, January 22nd, 2012
2:17 pm
Spice Terminal closing
I just discovered that The Spice Terminal is closing! Their last day is January 29th, but they are still almost entirely cleared out. The signs say, "Thanks for 30 years of business."

I thought they were supposed to be moving to another location within the Reading Terminal Market, but I guess that didn't work out.

The Spice Terminal bought spices in large bulk quantities and then portioned them out into small plastic bags. It was much less expensive, and it most cases, much higher quality that the stuff you'd find in a grocery store. The cayenne pepper was so red, the black peppercorns so piquant! They had several varieties of black peppercorn. The Tellicherry, in particular, is a great peppercorn. Need something a little unusual, like filé powder for a proper gumbo? No problem, they've got it.

It was also our source for loose, whole-leaf tea. They stored it in glass containers, even though it should be stored in the dark, but I figured they turned it over so fast it didn't matter. It's the only place in town, that I know of, where you don't feel gouged and/or guilty for buying a half-pound of Darjeeling. (I know what you're saying: First flush Darjeeling? Second flush? Autumnal flush? Thing is: though I can differentiate a Keemun from an Assam, I'm not that much of a connoisseur.)

The people that worked there were always surly, but after a few visits you realized they were always surly: nothing against you, personally, just what working in a crowded market/tourist destination day-in, day-out can do to a person. The old Amish ladies seem immune and have smiles to spare, but I understand how the Terminal Market could grumpify a normal person.

What am I going to do for tea?! This is tragic!
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