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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in
Christopher tm Herdt's LiveJournal:
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|Saturday, December 7th, 2013|
|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|
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|
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|
|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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- [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!
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Spyhunter - this game was fun to play on the Apple II, but was then impossibly difficult in the arcade!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- Black Magic - one of the first games that I played to completion, whereupon I discovered its limited replay value.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)
- 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.
- Sim Earth - see above.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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|
|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|
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 smell
epresence, 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|
|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|
|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|
|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:
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|
|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.
"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|
|20 Years Ago -- A Valentine's Day to Remember
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|
|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!
|Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012|
|The microwave is talking to you
The Nintendo Wii has an "Everybody Votes" channel, where it asks you frivolous questions with 2 possible responses, and later you get to see how other people across the country or around the world responded.
One question was something like, "Do you feel happy when you look at a clock and see that it is 12:34?"
A lot of people did, but no, I don't. I also didn't find it all that impressive when it was 11 Nov 2011, or 11/11/11. I did buy a Slayer track on iTunes on 6/6/2006, but that was just to be funny. I mean, the Gregorian calendar? A 24-hour clock with 60 minute divisions? It's all so arbitrary anyway.
But I'm not immune! As it turns out, I do smile when I see a digital clock at 11:34
. Because enter 1134 on your calculator, turn it upside down, and it spells hEll
. Which, when you're a kid, feels pretty clever. And vaguely naughty.
In 8th grade I got a scientific calculator. This was not a $200 programmable graphing calculator like the kids today have, but it was, I believe, $70. And it had a decimal-to-hexadecimal function. And that's why I am able to remember the following number:
When you covert that to hexadecical, you get DEADA55
Absolutely the height of calculator-based humor for a 13-year-old .
Also, I enjoy when it's 10:15 on a Saturday night.
|Friday, October 21st, 2011|
|Two things I remember from the recession in the 80s
- Toothpaste-tube keys
These were similar to paint-saver keys, only they were marketing tchotchkes with a local business or political candidate's name printed on it. Time must have been tough if people were worried about the last pea-sized dollop of paste from a $1.29 tube. My parents had several of these around.
- Soap-sliver savers
Again, thrift reigned if people were willing to try to eke the last paper-thin wash out of a 50-cent soap bar. You put your leftover soap slivers in a little plastic machine, compress them, and presto!--you have a new, full-sized bar of soap. The ads always showed many different colors of soap merged into the new bar, which I thought was really cool--but also showed how people bought their soap at the time: extremely price-sensitive, no brand loyalties. I think my grandmother had one, but maybe I just saw the ads on TV. Other people also seem to recall this method of saving soap.
|Sunday, July 24th, 2011|
|Monday, June 6th, 2011|
|The Inability to Recycle
Earlier today, Nicola and I went to Maoz. Maoz is basically a fast-food place that serves a limited vegetarian menu: falafel (and toppings) and French fries. Given the other fare within a few hundred feet (a Five Guys, Mirabella Meatball, etc.) you can be fairly certain that Maoz attracts a bit of a hippie/granola element.
I was surprised then, as we were leaving, to see that the trash can had several aluminum cans in it, and the recycling was half trash.
I immediately attributed this to the ignorance of Philadelphians. It's easy to blame things on Philadelphians because many of them are louts and because I am among them but not of them. But after some thought, I've reconsidered.Why people might be putting their recycling in the trash:
- The recycling bin is a cardboard box with a blue plastic liner and is otherwise unlabelled.
- The recycling box is shorter than the trashcan, so people may not notice it.
- The recycling box is placed closer to the exit. Someone on their way out might see only the one receptacle and put everything, including their aluminum cans there.
That's still infuriating to me, but I have to remember that there is no can/bottle deposit in Pennsylvania, and citywide recycling efforts are still quite young compared to say, oh, anyplace else I've ever lived.Why people might be putting their trash in the recycling:
- The trash has a closed lid that you have to push trash through. No one wants to touch that nasty trash can lid.
- The recycling box is wide open, and unlabelled. You're supposed to know that it is recycling based on the blue plastic liner alone. This is non-obvious, especially for Philadelphians, who have no experience with recycling anyway.
Perhaps if the receptacles were properly labelled, if the recycling was in front of the trash (or at least equally visible), and the trash was easier to use, even a Philadelphian could figure it out.
Or maybe not. At Penn the recycling bin for aluminum has a circular opening with a diameter that suggests aluminum cans should be inserted. I still see the fine Ivy Leaguers throwing their cans in the trash.
Am I infuriated by this solely because I am from Michigan?
|Thursday, April 7th, 2011|
|UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
On Monday night I went to see United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speak on Penn's campus. The venue was full, so the organizers directed the overflow (myself included) to adjacent rooms where the speech could be seen via live video. He was speaking to the topic of empowering women, but the speech was not particularly interesting and focused for the most part on various familiar facts and statistics, some of which you can find linked from Gender Equality
He did have a couple anecdotes I liked. One was about an all-female UN policing force from India sent to Liberia to protect people there. Once the Liberian women saw who their protectors were, they too wanted to join. I think it shows how powerful role models can be.
The other was less relevant, but still entertaining: apparently as a schoolboy, he wrote a letter to Dag Hammarskjöld (then the UN Secretary General) in support of Hungary's 1956 revolution.
There were several moments of unintentional comedy:
- During Amy Gutmann's introduction, she cited among Ban Ki-moon's accomplishments his ability (in a different role in the UN) to grow consensus to issue a resolution condemning the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The humor here is at the expense of the United Nations, not Ban Ki-moon. How difficult should it be to condemn an act of terrorism?
- Ban Ki-moon said that he has increased the number of women in high-level roles in the UN by 40% during his tenure, but said there needed to be more women throughout the organization. He said that the UN was like a body, and that they had worked on the head but now needed to work on...he paused, and moved his hands up and down the sides of his chest...the waist. Because every woman likes to have a nice waist.
- He talked about how empowering women would help the UN achieve all of its Millennium Goals. This is undoubtedly true, but again the humor is at the expense of the United Nations. Millennium Goals? They say they have a target date of 2015 for their goals, but doesn't it just sound like they hope to accomplish something in the next 1000 years?
|Sunday, January 16th, 2011|
|A Problem Making Rice
There is a problem I frequently encounter when making rice. Here are the steps I follow:
- Measure out 2-1/4 cups water into a pan
- Boil water in pan
- Add one cup rice
- Return to boil
- Cover; cook over low heat for ~40 minutes
The problem occurs at the 3rd step. You see, I have already used the 1-cup measuring cup to measure the water, and now it is wet inside. If I use it to measure the rice, a bunch of rice is going to stick to the measuring cup and then I can't put it back in the drawer without tending to it first.
Some solutions I've used in the past to solve this problem:
- Use the half-cup measuring cup to measure one cup of rice. (This works pretty well, although if you're not quick about it, condensation from the boiling water can make rice stick to that measuring cup for the second scoop.)
- Dry the inside of the 1-cup measuring cup with a dishtowel before measuring the rice. This works, but requires effort.
One obvious solution is to use a another container, such as a bowl, and measure the cup of rice before measuring the water. It uses an additional container, but at the end everything is still clean! However, this requires forethought.
A somewhat obsessive solution would be to store the rice in 1-cup portions (as well_lahdidah
would say, aliquots
). As tidy as this solution seems, I feel it is best left to the Martha Stewarts and OCD homemakers of the world.Eureka!
I think I have it: perhaps the easiest solution would be to rinse the measuring cup after adding the rice, washing the few stuck grains down the sink. Wait, that's the tending to it first
issue that I was complaining about.
Also, I could buy a second 1-cup measuring cup.
|Saturday, August 28th, 2010|
|I walked 10 miles for rock'n'roll
Yesterday evening I went to Brickbat Books
(1.3 miles each way) for a book signing for Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine ’79–’83
and Why Be Something That You're Not: Detroit Hardcore 1979-1985
. I got there a few minutes late and the author was just standing around chit-chatting and drinking beer. I guess reading a selection from a zine compilation would be weird, but I expected more showmanship.
The zine comp was a nice historical artifact, and I had no idea that one of my favorite record labels--or I should say the label that carried some of my favorite records--originated as a zine in my hometown. But really, reading well-reproduced xerography from the early 80s isn't that fascinating, so when I was informed that I was thumbing through the last sale copy, I gave it up to an older overweight indie rocker.Why Be Something That You're Not
looked more interesting, so I picked up a copy. It looks somewhat amateurish, but the authors clearly knew how to get a hold of a lot of early 80s scenesters for quotes. Some of the stories I read are too good to be true, apocryphal no doubt, but from such threads are minor legends woven. I'm not very familiar with the bands discussed, but the places and the venues alone are entertaining to read about. The places that survived into the 90s are places I've been to see shows, or that I've heard stories about: the Halfway Inn is mentioned numerous times, Todd's in Detroit, a place on M.A.C. Avenue. And while I've never been to Menjo's, I think Bernie said he worked there as a parking lot attendant for a while (if he wasn't pulling my leg).
I'll probably send the book of to Jeremy or Flaster or Sumei after I'm done reading it (let me know if you're interested).
After I picked up the book, I headed over to West Philly (via trolley) for a show at the Danger Danger Gallery
. A band called Pissed Jeans was headlining, and they came highly recommended by Terry. Somehow I actually expected the venue to be an art gallery space, but I knew I'd found it when I found a bunch of white kids standing on the sidewalk in West Philly, smoking cigarettes. I couldn't even tell how I was supposed to get into the place--I just followed some people who didn't exactly look like they knew where they were going, but had numbers on their side. Up a flight of stairs, down a hallway, down a flight of stairs, through a couple rooms--the stage was basically in a living room. Are you too old for shows when you check a venue for smoke detectors and emergency exits, or just paranoid?
I saw four bands--I missed the first. Hot Guts was pretty hit-or-miss 3-piece, although I feel their misses were due primarily to their guitarist/vocalist. His guitar and mic were too prominent in the mix, and although at their best they reminded me of Joy Division, the occasional fake British accent was irritating. Their songs lacked a sense of drama, or tension, and often ended sloppily, for no apparent reason. Their best songs were the best of the show, though. The Fatty Acids, from Milwaukee, played in the basement and after 30 seconds of poppy hipster crap I decided I didn't need to risk hitting my head on an exposed pipe to hear more. Unnatural Helpers, from Seattle (with a record on Subpop), were the tightest band--they played well together--but the surf/rockabilly beats that backed up the garage rock got old fast. A competent drummer, but he only knows one beat.
At last, Pissed Jeans took the stage. The vocalist looked like a pretty normal guy, until he took his shirt off and the music started. A huge guy, both muscular yet sporting a gut, starting writhing and wailing and you were never sure if he was sure if he was singing into his microphone or his can or beer. I ran into Erica, an acquaintance, after the show who suggested catching them at Johnny Brendas, where Ray (?) has more room to roam around. Earlier I had been complaining in my head that hipsters don't move at shows anymore, but the crowd was moving now--I slipped my glasses into my pocket in case I got caught in the fray.
Terry had recommended Pissed Jeans with "If you like The Jesus Lizard..." and I definitely see the connection, although I thought Pissed Jeans was a little sloppy and the songwriting wasn't as good. Part of what made The Jesus Lizard amazing was that the musicians were always in complete control while David Yow acted like a cracked-out monkey on a long tether, and Pissed Jeans only delivered on part of that--although to be fair, the sound system in Danger Danger Gallery wasn't what you'd find at a larger venue, and frankly--I didn't like The Jesus Lizard the first time I saw them. I think that it would be worth checking them out again at Johnny Brendas.
I just missed the last trolley home, so I hoofed it back: 3.4 miles.
According to Google Maps walking directions, I only walked 9.6 miles yesterday, and 3.6 of them were technically just walking to work and back, so I guess I only walked 6 miles for rock'n'roll. Google Maps walking directions are pretty good about taking diagonals through parks--their routes match mine surprisingly well.
|Tuesday, July 27th, 2010|
|A Short Lesson: Maybe England, or Russia, or China
While my father was packing up sleeping bags after a weekend of camping with his grandkids (my niece and nephew), my nephew Lennox found a quarter.
Lennox is six years old, and he is very fond of money. Perhaps not in the conventional way that adults are fond of money, but he appreciates the shininess and weight of the metal, the ridged edges of the dimes and quarters, the images stamped onto the faces, and the names and numeric values assigned to denominations. To him, "money" means, specifically, coinage. Paper money has a different name: "dollars." At the moment, like many children, he prefers the former to the latter.
He picked up the quarter, he looked at it for a minute, and he frowned.
"Grandpa, I found a money. But I think it is from another country."
"What country do you think it is from?"
"Maybe England. Or Russia," he said. "Or China."
"I'm not so sure. Can you think of a different country that is close to where we are now?"
"Canada? And there is a deer on it. I bet there are a lot of deer in Canada!"
My father loved telling this story. He marveled that a 6-year-old could rattle off 3 foreign countries, and that he could conjecture about deer populations in Canada.
It's not really a story about Lennox, though: it's a story about my father. Most people, when faced with a child presenting such a quarter, would say, "It's from Canada." I probably would have answered "It's Canadian" without thinking twice. It's practically instinct--if you know the answer to a question someone is asking, offer it. That's being helpful. But answering "It's from Canada" would not have provoked any additional dialogue or prompted any other thoughts.
Instead, he asked a question. Not just any question, though: he didn't ask "What country is it from?" That's a demanding question with only one right answer. Faced with such a question, Lennox may very well have bit his lower lip or answered, "I don't know." Instead, he asked, "What country do you think it is from
?" That's a friendly question that allows for conjectures and theories. There's no wrong answer to what do you think?
, only the caveat that it may not agree with the answer to what do you think?
after more information has been processed.
My father asked just one more question, with a bit of a nudge in the right direction. He could have instead asked, "How do you think the quarter got here?" But the nudge was fair. A child who has little concept of how money circulates may not know that foreign coins are much more likely to be found where border crossings are frequent, and Lennox could very well have puzzled over that for a long while. With that one additional question, Lennox solved the mystery for himself. He explored the knowledge he already had, he applied logic to arrive at an answer both correct and his own, and he saw, however briefly, the power of inquiry.
Sometimes the questions you ask are more important than the answers you give. My father's instinct is to ask very good questions. How do you think we can cultivate this in ourselves?