Tales in Two Cities

What a crazy weekend! Maybe it’s the weather; maybe it’s the impending return to employment. Whatever it is, I was definitely in the mood to go out–and so was everybody else.

Saturday night at the Bike Stop started out slow but got busy after midnight. I typically only run into one or two people I know despite Philly being a small-town big city. Tonight it was closer to a dozen, and two of those were people who moved out of Philly but happened to be back for the weekend. Some online-only acquaintances were also there in the flesh. It’s the most connected I’ve felt since coming back from NYC in 2004. So what to do when feeling so connected to Philly one night? Go to New York the next night!

V. asked me who I was going to see in NYC, but this was a no-agenda trip to just see who’s there. Turns out, everybody. From Dugout to Eagle to View, I ran into another dozen previous acquaintances and a few new ones as well. We even had a nice chat with the Dugout’s new manager: a drag queen who promised me she’d add some microbrews to the on-tap selection. You have to know the Dugout to appreciate how surreal that sentence is.

No night in NYC is complete without drama–or in this case Telenovela. My latest disagreement with R. came to an end at the Dugout, where I also discovered that he’s a close friend of C., whom I know from “elsewhere”. So we leave the Dugout, all best buddies. At the Eagle, I chat up N. who unknown to me has history with C. who sees us and storms out with S., or so R. tells me. Not being a mind-reader, I do something wrong and R.’s out the door, texting me about how he and C. are pissed at me. So I wander over to The View to end the night talking with T. whom I’d met earlier at the Dugout.

Next time on Los Ficheros De Base! C. and R. are heading down to Florida. Will they completely forget my unintentional slight or hire a Cuban hit man in Little Havana?

Pork Chops and Apple Sauce

As much as I tried to avoid The Brady Bunch as a kid, certain things are stuck in my mind like “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” and the titular Peter Brady quotation which sounds enough like Podcasts and Applescripts that I haven’t been able to think of anything else since starting this post.

The real news is that I’ve finally updated My Podcasts page. There no easy way to extract the list of podcasts from iTunes directly, so I had to write an Applescript to do it. I will describe future updates to the list in posts like this so I can just copy/paste from TextEdit into WordPress.

I highly recommend all the podcasts from qdnow.com, especially Grammar Girl and Mister Manners; they’re ideal for info-snacking addicts like me because of their brevity and focus. I’m keeping all the back episodes–all of which I’ve gone through–and will highlight some of my favorites in coming posts.

Enjoy the new list and the code if you’re so inclined, but mind the disclaimer! Applescripts have direct access to almost all applications and could do great harm either by accident or malice. Eventually I’ll move the code over to the coming-soon, new-and-improved wiki on The Core Dump.

Deadly Creatures

Gila Monsters Oh God! Popsucker turned me on to the upcoming game Deadly Creatures. It looks like a WWF version of the nature programs where a bug eats a bug, then a mouse eats a bug, then a snake eats a mouse, etcetera. One screen shot has a gila monster sneaking up on a scorpion. I hope the article is wrong about only getting to play as a tarantula or a scorpion; those who know me, you know I’m going to have to buy a WII just to play as a gila monster! A GILA MONSTER!

Actually, I’d also love to play Okami with the Wiimote if done right. My big problem with consoles, even my trusty PS2, is the typical controller makes for a horrible user experience. It’s unintuitive (A/B/C/D or x/triangle/square/circle? WTF?) and completely disconnected from what you’re doing in the game. That’s what makes the Wii (and the iPod Touch) significant from an interaction design perspective; they improve the user experience by creating an interface where the virtual system mimicks real-world action.

The big hurdle for true virtual reality gaming is feedback. Swinging a device to swing your sword is one thing, but having your swing interrupted by the satisfying thud of steel cutting into orc flesh is another. I’ll admit that I found the vibrating PS2 controller added to play even though I thought it was a silly idea at first. It’s primitive for sure, like Pong’s beeps and blips, and probably a dead end. My money’s on direct neural interface to solve the virtual reality problem in my lifetime. Yes, I would drop a wire into my brain. I might not be the first, especially if it’s an Apple iBrain 1.0, but I’ll definitely do it.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Philly Beer WeekThis year Philly Beer Week spans ten sudsy days (7 to 16 March). It’s right up there with the film festivals on my list of favorite things about Philly. Hopefully work doesn’t find me until beer weeks ends; so much good beer requires my undivided attention. The must-do event is the 19th annual tutored tasting at Penn; fI’ll be there for the 15:30 tasting on the 15th.

Many will raise glasses in memory of Michael Jackson. Despite many years of beer appreciation (a side effect of perl mongering), last year was my first time attending the tutored tasting. Jackson’s slightly rumpled appearance, British accent, and rambling stories imbued the large hall at Penn with a pub-like feel. Sam Calaglione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, shared the stage with Jackson that year, keeping the tasting on schedule and helping out a visibly frail Jackson. I regret not attending the tastings sooner, but I’m glad to have seen Jackson in person at least once.

Last year’s post-festival plan to tour local microbreweries fell apart due to work and the condo renovations. This year, barring an away contract, I’m going to make good on that plan. I may even go home to Pottsville and hit the Yuengling Brewery. I spent my first eighteen years within three blocks of the brewery, but I’ve never done the tour. I guess I’ve always been a late bloomer when it comes to beer, so I have plenty of catching up to do.

San Francisco, Safe and Sound

I arrived in San Francisco last night, safe and sound but a little later than expected. Nothing terrible happened, but little things added up to a few hours lost door-to-door. The origami seating in cattle class exacerbated my sciatica a little, but careful planning and unspeakable doses of ibuprofen are keeping me functional.

I’d say the highlight of getting to SF was the van ride from SFO to my hotel, a Super Shuttle shared with six other weary travelers. The first sign of trouble was the two man crew, a first-day driver and his trainer. Both had heavy Russian accents and neither seemed to know any of our hotels by name, obscure hotels like “The Marriott”. They made a great team–but only in the comic sense. The trainer would turn up the radio; the driver would turn it down. They’d bicker back and forth in Russian as each turn took us further away from our next destination. They finally overcame their reluctance about using the GPS plastered to the windshield. Maybe the female voice reminded them too much of wives nagging them to pull over and ask for directions.

It was about midnight when I settled into my hotel room, too late to explore the immediate surroundings. Traveling wore me out enough that it was straight to bed, although 3am EST is my usual bedtime now anyway. Hmmm, it’s like I was on PST before getting on the plane; will I end up on Hawaii time now that I’m actually in PST?

Seasonal Affection Disorder

67 degrees in Philadelphia in February? This mixed-up weather is driving me nuts, but yesterday’s unseasonable warmth did send one clear signal: Spring! Some less-evolved parts of my brain picked up that signal and passed it along as a dangerous and delicious cascade of chemicals that telegraphs T-R-O-U-B-L-E to other parts of my anatomy loud and clear.

If you watch me on Twitter, you know I went to Five Guys for a burger yesterday. Actually, I hit the Borders first to pick up VB’s recommendation [Amazon.com: A Spot of Bother], the AP Style Guide, and another book on grammar. This new podcast at qdnow.com has me fascinated and obsessed. Curse you, Grammar Girl! The other podcasts are also great, so I’ll have plenty of catching up to do while traveling. The burger came between buying books and picking up my car from the dealer in Northeast Philly.

I was definitely tricked into feeling the effects of Seasonal Affection Disorder. There were plenty of visual distractions within the blocks bounded by home, Borders, Five Guys, and Market East Station. Are men are looking better again this year, or has my change of address put me in a more target rich environment? Maybe it’s a little of both. Add my excitement about San Francisco, and it’s a perfect storm for walking into trash cans and street signs because of the extreme visual distraction effect.

So I’m in Five Guys and I notice this guy, a tall-dark-handsome twenty-something. I’m not as bad as the straight guys I see rubbernecking for five seconds when a particularly booty-full babe passes them; however, he notices me noticing him. He doesn’t send off an “Oh my God another man is checking me out!” vibe–but guys never do. Straight men are usually completely oblivious, and gay men will at least usually respond with a quick ping on the gaydar of solidarity. That reminds me, I need to turn down the gaydar before getting off the plane; my first visit to SF almost burned mine out from all the over-stimulation.

Enter the problem of the decade: The metrosexual. This often-younger man is well-groomed, well-mannered, and aware of his surroundings–barring the mobile mindset problem. When you ping them, they are likely to respond in some ambiguously positive way. Most are open-minded and don’t get offended by being noticed, and some enjoy whatever attention their efforts attract. Midtown Manhattan can be so confusing with all the false-positives running around.

There wasn’t really time for anything more than a few glances with all the errands to run. I sat down first, by the window to people-watch as usual. He sat further back, out of view, so I satisfied myself with a daydream starting with him walking up and asking “Is this seat taken?” in a seductive, accented voice. The burger barely lasted longer than the daydream; my more-evolved brain shoved it aside to make lists and schedules and plans. Burger scarfed, I hurried out the door for the subway and we exchanged one last glance. Another pleasant urban moment, as enjoyable and fleeting as the snippets of interesting conversations overheard on a busy street, gets filed under unsolved mysteries since I’d probably never see him again.

Imagine my surprise when I get this message from a guy I bookmarked months ago: “Five guys!” Philly can be such a small town. I didn’t recognize him (consciously at least) from his profile pictures because he’s too far away, making it hard to recognize his face–a confirmed shame since he’s rather handsome. Unfortunately he sent the message at 12:30 and was offline by the time I’d come up for air. Typical!

(2008-02-15) After a few messages back and forth, nothing. Oh well!

I dedicate the titular malaprop to Grammar Girl and her excellent episode on wordplay.

Having Laptop Now Better Than Wanting It Later

I Love My Black MacbookI’ve decided to take the laptop with me to San Francisco. My goal was to travel light and determine if mobile devices are enough for five days; my black Macbook won’t exactly fit into a manila envelope like a certain device I’m loving to hate, but it performs a few critical functions and even simplifies packing a little.

  • Laptop as Charger — My Crackberry and Touch will both charge from the laptop, so aside from their cables (Thanks, Apple, for not using a standard mini-USB port.) which I would need to take anyway, I won’t need separate charger bricks for them.
  • Laptop as Photo Storage — Losing small things is a hobby of mine. Instead of having memory cards floating around, I can reuse the USB cable from the Crackberry to download pictures to the Macbook and process them immediately. Processing the images at the end of each day means having a chance to go back and reshoot if necessary. Not that I take many pictures normally.
  • Blogging and Photoblogging — While it’s possible to do both with the Crackberry, it’s easier to do from a real computer with results that aren’t twitter-like and mobile phone hackish.
  • iTunes for Podcasts — The iTunes on the Touch is really just the store: No downloading podcasts or remixing smart playlists. I can’t imagine what my podcast inbox would look like after five days of neglect–even after the paring down.
  • Luggable Life over Mobile Mindset — I’ve had plenty of conversations about the problems with the mobile mindset lately, so I’m not completely buying into it. These devices are like the original Palmpilot to me; satellite devices meant to augment computers, not replace them. While it’s a nice idea to have my entire connected world with me, concealed, at all times, these devices are still more like day packs than steamer trunks for me. Some websites I frequent are painful if not impossible to use on the Touch or the Crackberry. Now, a 5×7 tablet device might just do the trick …

With most of my packing done a full 6.5 hours before departure, I know I’m doing well on keeping the luggage manageable. It’s worth the extra heft to carry my full digital world around with me, or so it seems before having to pass through airport security. We’ll see if that changes my opinion at all.