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.

Haven’t Laptop Will Travel

Haven’t Laptop Will TravelI’ve only been on a plane once since my last trip to San Francisco eight years ago. Now it’s time to get on one: This Thursday I’m heading back to SF for my birthday. The city’s in my top five, and it’s full of Philadelphia ex-pats there to pursue lifestyles more alternative and technological than Philly can provide. Their decision is understandable; I’ve often (and recently) questioned my dogged attachment to the East Coast.

While being places is wonderful, it’s the getting to and from that keeps me from traveling more often than once every few years. I’m not afraid of flying–I just hate it. I hate airports: The waiting, the overpriced food, the empty-gesture security protocols that make me feel like a criminal, being treated like baggage. The idea and sensation of flying actually excites me, but the experience is miserable: Seats designed for hobbits, impolite passengers, the lung-scarring air, the pressure changes killing my sinuses, the 1 in 5 chance of getting sick. I hate this whole process enough to avoid places I love for years at a time.

I’ve been putting together a plan and some lists. One thing deliberately left off the packing list is a laptop. My hypothesis is that my Crackberry and iPod Touch cover the essentials. The latter is a good-enough platform for web browsing when wifi’s available, and the former does a tolerable job when it’s T-Mobile’s EDGE network or nothing. The Touch has all my media; I may even download that free TWIT/WebAlert/every-other-blog audio book from audible.com to eat up the score of hours hurdling across the country. The Crackberry gives me email and twitter and text messaging from anywhere. (I really couldn’t care less about the fact that it’s a phone.) This could really work! It would be a triumph of minimalism and would test if a totally handheld life is possible, even if only for five days. There are always kiosks and internet cafes if I get desperate, right?

At T minus 71 hours, I find my resolve wavering. This act right now, blogging, is so much easier to do with a real computer. That computer happens to contain my new software love, Coda. It’s not just about having a computer; it’s about having my computer with all my software and customizations. I’m not ready to go cold turkey after four months surrounded by my harem of machines and their harmonious interactions–harmonious except for the tower still running XP. Only time will tell if I break down or stay the course.

So let me know what you think about the handheld good-enough hypothesis. Have you tried something similar? How have the new regulations about carry-on luggage affected your utility belt decisions? What should I know about traveling with tech in times like these?

Sunday Morning

My “morning” began at 14:25 today thanks to a late night attempt to merge my blogs and shared Google Feed. The lesson here is don’t install multiple WordPress plug-ins that affect dozens of posts after five beers out on the town. Things were back to normal by 06:00. Ugh.

To start the day off right, I broke out my brand new two-burner griddle. Mmm, pancakes and bacon. There may still be an electric griddle in my future; you can never have enough griddle. It’s a beautiful, sunny day perfect for people-watching in Rittenhouse Square, so I’m off to humanize and get out the door.

 

Two Burner Griddle

Cloverfield “A Terrible Thing” (1/5)

We have an early winner for “worst movie of 2008”. Avoid Cloverfield at all cost. I refuse to even link to it. This is probably one of the best examples of death by concept, although there’s very little evidence this movie had any kind of solid cinematic foundation.

First and foremost, the concept of the handheld camera ruined this movie. I didn’t find it all that effective in “Blair Witch” (I refuse to link to it as well) but it’s at least understandable given BW’s shoestring budget. Where exactly did Abrams’s $25 million go? The story’s so wrapped up in this contrivance that every other element of the movie suffers for it. Rather than creating a sense of realism, it was distracting and annoying–even sickening to some. This is what happens when filmmakers fall in love with a concept and become blind to its negative effects on the entire project.

Second, I just couldn’t like or believe any of the flatly-drawn characters who are slasher-film-victim stupid. I wish they’d written a snarky, monster-movie-savvy group of characters, something like what Scream did for the horror genre. The shaky-cam concept doesn’t help here either–except to help me appreciate the craft of shooting a scene and the value of well-framed reaction shots. We may never know if these characters were poorly written, poorly acted, or just poorly shot.

Third, it had pacing problems. That was a very long 90 minutes compared to the breathtakingly short 140 minutes of Aliens. I can’t really say it was slow, but it was jarringly uneven. That can be even worse since you never settle into the film. Something more deliberately paced like “Pan’s Labyrinth” benefits from slower, more European pacing. Maybe this hackish editing/pacing is deliberate, another sacrifice of quality for that “authentic” shaky-cam feel. Bleh.

Fourth, what little we see of the monsters isn’t all that great. I don’t even mean how little of it we actually get to see in the clear. The average scifi video game is at least as creative, but again the shaky-cam format sabotages any attempt to build the commingled fear and curiosity than made Alien a really scary ride. The beastie never does anything particularly interesting or awe inspiring. It’s big, it lumbers around, it sheds parasite or nymphs or something. Some unexpected ability or “they cut the power” sign of intelligence would have made for a much better monster. The scene where they’re rescuing Beth in the Time Warner Building was a missed opportunity for a clear shot of the monster doing something interesting, perplexing, and perhaps even plot-driving.

Fifth, clumsy attempts to copy classic scifi/horror moments fail miserably here. In particular, there’s a scene in the 6 subway tunnel where the night vision function of the hand held camera (more death-by-concept) reveals a new menace. Let’s be nice and call this a very poorly done “homage” to the superb scene in Aliens where the survivors discover a welded-shut door isn’t very useful in a building with dropped ceilings. The whole build-up with the motion tracker, the perplexed “in the room” readings, and the oh-so-well-done “oh shit oh shit” moment when everybody looks up and realizes how screwed they are–perfection. Once again, a perfection unattainable when slaved to the shaky-cam concept since you don’t get that visual narrative and empathic connection with the characters.

Two final comments: I was a little concerned that some scenes would be too close to home after 9/11, but amazingly the overpowered audio detracted from my discomfort at an advancing wall of dust and (relatively mind) snowfall of paper. Also, inexplicably KB and I started laughing during the subway scene. Still have no idea why it was funny, but it was.

I’m going to have to pick a real winner to exorcise the bad aftertaste of this movie. Let’s hope this isn’t a sign that Abrams is going to murder “Star Trek” with some similar “concept”.