Happy Labor Day

A thorough explanation of why Chinese is so difficult to learn. I grew up hearing Chinese in the house and even attended some Chinese school, and I found it to be a bear. I never did really learn to write or read cursive Chinese handwriting very well (yes, Chinese has both print and cursive, like English), another item I'd add to this writer's litany of complaints. Just when you think you've memorized a character, someone scrawls it in their own cursive style and it's as if someone took a print character's brush strokes and tied them in butterfly knots. Of course, without cursive, writing Chinese, with its numerous strokes, is like writing English in neat block capital letters...sloooooooooow).

Curse of the Golden Flower, a movie by Zhang Yimou, starring Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat, releases this Christmas season (trailer). Yeah, I hate dandelions, too, but I wouldn't go so far as to call them a curse.

Crocodile hunter, felled by a stingray. Stung through the heart by a stingray...brutal. I guess it should be obvious from their names, but I didn't realize stingrays were that dangerous. Earlier this year, on a dive trip down in the Turks and Caicos islands, Dave and I fed stingrays just off the beach with some fish our guides had brought along for that purpose. We were soon overrun with stingrays, and one ran up my back and bit me. I popped out of the water, and Dave said the ray had drawn blood. Shortly thereafter, two lemon sharks wandered over, and I hustled out of the ocean.

Get your bootleg Van Goghs and Da Vincis: a city in China is the world's leading producer of reproductions of famous paintings. It doesn't surprise me one bit.

A computer program named WebCrow defeated dozens of human competitors in a crossword puzzle competition. Humans managed to defeat the program in two Italian crosswords featuring lots of puns and political clues.

That green lump that resembles playdough, the one they dump on your platter of sushi? That's not wasabi. Real, fresh wasabi is rarely served at sushi restaurants, but whenever a sushi restaurant offers it I'll request it. Real wasabi is not as hot as the faux stuff, but it's better for you. Unfortunately, the real deal costs a fortune.

Michael Apted's next in his Up documentary series is about to release. He interviewed many children at age 7 about their lives and dreams for 7 Up, and since then, he's gone back to check up on them every 7 years (each doc in the series is named after the age of the characters, so 14 Up, 21 Up, and so on). This next installment will be 49 Up. All the previous installments are on DVD.

The new Sunday Night Football theme (MP3) is by none other than John Williams.

Four words no man wants to hear: bleeding in the scrotum. It's been that kind of year for the Cubs.

HiveLive is a site that allows you to post and share files and information among public or private hives, or groups of people.

The Statistical Review of World Energy 2006, by British Petroleum, including historical data series in Excel format.

You got the touch! Feel, feel, feel, feel, feel...feel my heat!

Google Browser Stync

Bill Gates to transition out of full-time role at Microsoft in July 2008.

Google Browser Sync--umm, not show ready. It disabled my SessionSaver add-on, and now I lose my tabs whenever I close out of Firefox. I thought Google Browser Sync was supposed to preserve your browser tabs, but it just plain doesn't work. Sometimes it asks me if I want to reopen some tabs from my previous session, but they're never the tabs I had open when I closed out of Firefox. I was excited when I first heard about Google Browser Sync, but after a few days of use, I'm going to remove it. There was a time when every Google release was a pleasant surprise, but the bar has been lowered.

And speaking of tab preservation, why isn't that functionality just built into Firefox and Safari?

Superman Returns tix are available online now from sites like Fandango. I recommend seeing it in IMAX 3D, if there's such a theater near you.

No whammy indeed.

An estimated 16% of FEMA funds for Hurricane Katrina victims was misspent. Con men used false identities to obtain assistance checks to spend on anything from sex-change operations, Girls Gone Wild videos, vacations, and season tickets to the New Orleans Saints. Yes, some of that FEMA money went to waste. I'm referring, of course, to the person who purchased the Saints' season tickets.

In tribute of Father's Day, Nike is airing a commercial Sunday featuring Tiger Woods and his father. You can watch it online now.

Be careful when you get a haircut during World Cup. I was a barber shop getting a haircut when Peter Crouch scored for England today, and the guy cutting my hair was so excited he nearly gave me the Michael Madsen Reservoir Dogs special with his clippers.

Every time I see Dwayne Wade go by a defender to finish at the hoop, I wonder what Michael Jordan would have done in this "no hand check" era. Goodness gracious.

Can't Mark Cuban hire a copy editor for his blog? Isn't he a billionaire?

This modern art anecdote reminds me of the piece of modern art that was thrown out by the janitor at a museum because he thought it was trash. The artist couldn't have been more pleased with the outcome.

ScarJo, Shiloh, and the Mosquito

I finally started trying to plow through the two-feet-high stack of magazines that accumulated while I was in E. Europe. One of the first things I noticed was that Esquire was running its annual Sexiest Woman Alive mystery feature. That has to be Scarlett Johansson, though I don't mean to imply that I recognized her solely from that photo. Ahem. The current poll to guess the mystery woman shows Renee Zellweger in the lead with 60% of the vote, ScarJo in second at 28%. Without even looking at the photo you'd think the average Esquire reader could see how absurd those figures are.

Rumors have Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt selling the rights to their new baby Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt (which, by the way, sounds like a champagne I paired with oysters at dinner last week) to People magazine for $4.1 million and to Hello! magazine in Britain for $3.5 million. The Jolie-Pitts plan to donate the money to various charities. What's intriguing about the selling price is how it compares to the selling price of other pieces of art. You couldn't have purchased Roy Lichtenstein's Sinking Sun for that price, but you could have snagged Mark Rothko's White, Orange and Yellow. It says something about the world we live in when a celebrity couple can raise $7.6 million merely by selling off their baby photos. Not necessarily something bad or good, but something interesting about our culture. If only Andy Warhol were still alive. In the meantime, the social imperative for Brad and Angelina is clear. They must procreate like rabbits; with the funds their baby pics would generate, they'll cure world hunger within a decade, and in the meantime, they'd be raising the world's sexiness quotient.

Good overview on how to deal with mosquitos. I am one of those people that mosquitos love, and their bites leave huge, swollen welts on my skin. The sound of a mosquito buzzing near my ear late at night will rouse me from the deepest sleep, sending huge pulses of adrenaline through my system. At that point, I can't sleep until I've crushed the damn bugger with my palm.


Google Calendar launches.
Good essay by Chuck Klosterman on the emptiness of Barry Bonds breaking the Babe's HR record. At this point, however, it's not the sure thing it once was. Any minute, his body could just fail and and force him into retirement. Maybe the very substances that allowed him to make his late career run at the HR record will break him down just short of those milestones, a modern day Greek tragedy. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that perhaps we need to send in the forensic economists.
San Diego Serenade reenacts the bottom of the 10th inning of Game Six of the 1986 World Series in RBI Baseball. Conceptually brilliant, and I can't imagine how long it must have taken, but it's not super compelling watching RBI Baseball. If he could've gotten the ball to actually roll through Buckner's legs, that would have been unbelievable.
Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist, uses economics to answer mundane questions from readers of the Financial Times. For example, should a man leave the toilet seat down, as his wife demands? Sadly, the Financial Times requires a subscription to read the full columns or archived Harford articles, but Harford's website contains the gist of most of his responses.
An advance commitment from government to buy vaccines when and if they are developed would increase industry R&D in developing cures for low-probability, high-impact diseases (full PDF Report for download).
Yep, this gif is freaky, and so are these sculptures.
Scott Van Pelt does impressions of Mel Kiper and Stephen A. Smith (MP3). He should just do these impressions full-time when he's on Sportscenter; it would be funnier than his usual schtick and would finally complete the circular path that Sportscenter has taken towards becoming a parody of itself.

Vitamins and poison pills

Here are those snazzy opening titles from Thank You For Smoking.


Are vitamins really good for you? Well, I guess we can wait to see what happens to Ray Kurzweil. Most of the harmful effects of vitamins seem to arise in studies with high dosages. Should be interesting to see Barry Bonds and Kurzweil in about twenty years.


Once solely the domain of Corporate America, poison pills have come to the NFL. The Seahawks inserted a clause in their offer to Vikings receiver Nate Burleson that the contract would become guaranteed if he played five games in the state of Minnesota. So of course the Vikings did not match the offer, not that they would have even without the clause. I'd be surprised if these types of poison pills were allowed to stand. If you're allowed to make up random poison pills, then the entire concept of matching offer sheets is negated. You can make up anything to prevent a team from matching your offer.


Ryanair turns a profit by discounting plane tickets heavily and making up for that with fees for most every other flight amenity. It's difficult to ascertain exactly how the airlines turns its profit just from reading the article--it could be primarily a result of a low cost structure rather than gimmicky fees--but you can't argue with their results in a tough industry.


The most popular movie in South Korean history is King and the Clown, a movie inevitably compared to Brokeback Mountain for depicting a gay male relationship.


I would be remiss if I didn't record here that this was the first year that March Madness was streamed online, for free. This was a well-designed first effort, complete with a Boss Button, which would transform the streaming video window into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet with one click.


The cost-of-living in NYC is so high, I don't feel quite as guilty as I otherwise would in using the local Barnes and Noble and Sephora as a personal library and medicine cabinet. I still do feel guilty, but on the other hand, there's something of the New York survivor spirit in the frugality of such tactics. I have no idea if those high-falutin moisturizers really reduce aging, shrink pores, and restore a youthful complexion, but $50 for an ounce is probably too high a price to find out with my hard-earned savings.
Yesterday I stopped in B&N to flip through John Dewan's The Fielding Bible, which I do have on order, though from Amazon.com. It attempts to bring defensive evaluations to another level by using data from Baseball Information Solutions.
Instead of just looking at statistics, Dewan and company used video of every batted ball the past several seasons and translated each into a vector composed of direction and velocity. Then they computed which of those balls should have have been turned into an out by a particular fielder. That provided each defensive player with an expected number of outs, and the main statistic in the book is how many plays each player made versus expectation, the plus/minus. The book includes some other statistics for each position to evaluate things such as fielding of bunts for corner infielders and throwing arm for outfielders (the only position not evaluated is catcher).
Some of the book's conclusions align with widely held assumptions. Ichiro is the best right fielder (though the trend is one of decline). Orlando Hudson is probably the best defensive 2B in the game. Manny Ramirez and Adam Dunn are atrocious in left. Torii Hunter is fantastic in CF.
Bill James contributes an entire chapter on Derek Jeter's defense, a much debated topic. After putting Jeter through several different defensive evaluation systems and watching video of Jeter's best and worst plays, James, a noted contrarian, concedes that Jeter's defense is indeed lousy (Adam Everett evaluates as the best shortstop three years running, and it isn't even close). Hey, Jeter counts among his ex-girlfriends Jessica Alba and Adriana Lima; please allow us this one grudging flaw in his game.
At any rate, it's a fun compilation of stats to pore over, the type of book to bring to a ballgame and use to incite heated debates between innings.

Monday is New Yorker day

Asbestos litigation gone wild, by James Surowiecki. The article mentions the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which I first read about in another New Yorker article, by Atul Gawande, on malpractice. It's an example of an interesting economic solution to areas where litigation is out of control.
Also up at the Newyorker.com this week is audio from a talk Malcolm Gladwell gave on Feb. 21 at Columbia University on the phenomenon of prodigies and late bloomers in art. The inspiration for the talk is University of Chicago economist David Galenson's book Old Masters and Young Geniuses : The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, which divides artistic innovators into two groups: experimental innovators (Michelangelo, Jackson Pollock, Virginia Woolf, Alfred Hitchcock, e.g.), who peak later in life, and conceptual innovators (Picasso, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, and Orson Welles), who make sudden breakthroughs in their youth.
Malcolm Gladwell recently started a blog, a supplement to his regular writing and a place for reader comments and reactions to those pieces. As Will Ferrell said in Wedding Crashers, "Good! Good! More for you and me."

Hiroshi Sugimoto

The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. is hosting an exhibition of photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto. My favorite of his works are his blurred photos of architecture. He explains why and how he achieved the effect:
Early twentieth-century modernism was a watershed movement in cultural history, a stripping away of superfluous decoration. The spread of democracy and the innovations of the Machine Age swept aside the ostentation that heretofore had been a signifier of power and wealth.
I set out to trace the beginnings of modernism via architecture. Pushing out my old large-format camera's focal length to twice-infinity—with no stops on the bellows rail, the view through the lens was an utter blur—I discovered that superlative architecture survives the onslaught of blurred photography. Thus I began erosion-testing architecture for durability, melting away many of the buildings in the process.

The Word

James Surowiecki calls a foul on the U.S. patent system. Also in this week's New Yorker, a short story by Nabokov: "The Word".
Time magazine's Persons of the Year: Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono.
SwarmSketch: collective art on the web.
Beck's video for "Hell Yes" features all four working Sony QRIO robots performing a fan dance (see the video by going to Beck.com > Videos > "Hell Yes"). Domo arigato, mister robotos. Since Beck loves performing the robot when he performs, I thought the robots might accompany him in that. Robots performing the robot...guess I'll have to wait until I have a QRIO of my own to pull that off.


Ken visited this weekend, and, as usual when this walking encyclopedia of art is in town, we tried to take in some of the exhibitions that interested him. Our first stop was the Neue Galerie which owns and is currently exhibiting the largest collection of Egon Schiele works in the world. Schiele's portraits and nudes are really arresting. The portraits are intimate, as if he caught the subject letting down their guard and then drew them the instant they reacted to being discovered. The female nudes exhibit a shamelessness that seems very modern in retrospect, their legs spread or splayed at all sorts of obtuse angles like turn of the century porn stars.

I suspect Schiele's work was a huge influence on Peter Chung's Aeon Flux visual style as well as on Frank Miller in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Miller's Joker in that book resembles a Schiele.
Incidentally, the wait for the museum cafe, Cafe Sabarsky, was almost an hour. If you've a hankering for Viennese food...
Our next visit was to the Marian Goodman Gallery, currently exhibiting paintings from 2001-2005 by Gerhard Richter, renowned for being the the most expensive living artist, at least in auction. We were told that most Richters sell for several million in auction, with even letter-sized prints fetching $800,000. Most of the exhibition showcases his Abstraktes, not my favorite of his works, but at the last room of the exhibition are four of his Silikat pictures, massive grey paintings based on photographs of molecular structures. As such, they straddle the line between abstraction and representation, like all of his photo-based paintings. Any of his Silikats would make a fabulous desktop wallpaper.

Richter made many paintings based on photographs. Only two were on display here. One was Mustang Squadron (1964) which sold for $462,000, and the other, Waldhaus (2004), looked like a picture of a country home nestled among the trees, shot out the window of a moving car. I wasn't in New York for his 2002 MOMA exhibition, the one that traveled to Art Institute in Chicago, SF MOMA, and the Hirshhorn in D.C. Someday I hope to see his Iceberg in Fog in person.

Our final destination on the Artwalk was the James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea, currently exhibiting a Bill Viola exhibition. At some hours, it's nearly impossible to hail a cab, so by the time we arrived, we did not have enough time to watch the hour long video piece The Darker Side of Dawn, which depicts an oak tree against a sunrise and sunset. The most beautiful piece was Night Journey, a slow reverse zoom which begins with a few candles and then zooms back to reveal a woman lighting several dozens of candles. Other works including a slow-motion high-def video of a man and woman's hands under running water, a man and woman submerging their face in water and holding their breaths for as long as possible, and two lovers entwined below the surface of a darkened pool of water, thrashing, gasping for breath, and finally sinking into the darkness until they disappeared. Inspired by Elizabeth Berkley and and Kyle MacLachlan in Showgirls? Artists don't kiss and tell.
Some of his pieces were projected on walls or screens, while some other HD videos were shown on plasmas oriented vertically. Along with my desire for Richter wallpapers, I'd love to have some Bill Viola screensavers, but I suspect either would cost an arm and a leg. Actually, my arm and my leg probably wouldn't be enough, sad to say, though for that price I might be able to procure a few PAL videotapes.
Some excerpts from Viola's pieces can be seen in this Quicktime video at the Getty website. The Viola exhibit at the James Cohan Gallery ends Dec. 22.

Item(s) of note

Finally, a New Order DVD compilation worth owning. Item collects all of their music videos (along with two never-before-released clips, one of which is a new video for "Temptation," I think) and the documentary New Order Story which came out in VHS in the 90's. As a bonus, the cover is designed by Peter Saville.

A python tries to swallow an alligator, and then its stomach explodes (thx Karen)

From this week's New Yorker, an article on the state of the graphic novel.

Merck announces that its experimental vaccine Gardasil is 100%, yes, that's right, 100% effective in preventing cervical cancer. Stunning.

15 unresolved claims of unverified animals, from the Loch Ness monster to the Yeti to giant octopuses. As listed by the International Society of Cryptozoology.

A teaser poster for King Kong from the United International Pictures website...

Needles in haystacks

Back from Washington, DC, arriving to a snowstorm-sized pile of links in my newsreader...

The World Series of Poker's main event is down to just 12 players

Just one pro remains, Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, in 8th place (profile of Matusow in the NYTimes). Phil Ivey, one of the last big names, finished in 20th place, while last year's champ, Greg Raymer, finished 25th. Kate Hudson's brother Oliver earned the dubious honor of being the first player to be knocked out of the tourney, and on his very first hand. He had a pair of 10's, raised pre-flop, and Sam Farha called. The flop came A-A-10, and both guys found all their money in the center of the table. Farha had A-10 and left Hudson almost famous, befitting Kate's brother.

Esquire Magazine's Sexiest Woman Alive will be revealed in the November issue, but the clues give it away: Jessica Biel

Matthew Barney and Björk collaborate on a film which debuts at a museum in Japan

From the article, a summary of the movie titled Drawing Restraint 9: "Björk and Barney arrive as guests on board the ship. During a storm, they marry each other in a mysterious ceremony, morph into whales and then swim off towards the Antarctic. In this dream-like story, nothing is really narrated." Yep, that sounds like a Barney/Björk movie. Björk also revealed that "she and Barney plan to sell their New York home and live on a houseboat." That also sounds like something they'd do.

UCLA grad student plays Russian roulette as performance art, terrifying his classmates

Huge hubbub ensues, including possible legal action and the retirement of two professors known for controversial performance art of their own, but in the end all returned to normal and the student received an A-minus for the course.

Simpsons-Family Guy feud

This is sure to end with Homer gunned down in front of Kwik-E-Mart by Stewie Griffin.

Mansquito! Attack of the Sabretooth! Dog Soldiers!

At the Tour de France, Bobby Julich is riding elliptically-shaped chainrings

These chainrings change the effective gear ratio as you pedal. In this case, Julich's O.Symetric Harmonic chainrings maximize the gear ratio when pedals are horizontal, when you can theoretically apply the most effective perpendicular force to the pedals. Then the gear ratio decreases for the bringing the pedal across the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. Shimano once made a similar pedal but abandoned it because it's so tricky to integrate with the front derailleur (the chain is moving up and down through the derailleur cage).

Morgan Freeman buys a pop-a-shot machine

Since Freeman narrates every other movie out there these days, this is timely. And funny.

Countdown of features in the upcoming Movable Type 3.2

The bizarre and sometimes disturbing world of bioart

Everything, and I mean everything, you ever wanted to know about the male hug

Mine is a hug-happy family.

Trump tries on some bad idea jeans

The Whitney

Mark and Ken visited at various points this weekend. Ken led me to the Whitney Museum of American Art on Saturday afternoon. It was my first visit there. He wanted to see the Bill Viola exhibit, specifically. I wasn't familiar with Viola's work before, but after seeing Eve Sussman's hypnotic high definition video installation "89 Seconds at Alcazar" at MOMA, I had a newfound interest in video installations as an art form.

Viola's exhibit at the Whitney (purchased in 2002 with the Tate, London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris in a three-way partnership) was titled "Five Angels for the Millenium." On each of five screens in a darkened room, slow-motion video depicted images of angels flying up out of or down into pools of water. Slow-motion and reverse footage was employed in some shots to entrancing effect. It takes some patience to wait out each of the five angels; much of the time, the screens simply depict a dark pool of water, a few ripples reflecting colored light, or a few bubbles rising or falling. It also takes a while for your eyes to acclimate to the near total darkness in the room, so it's best to slow down once inside lest you nearly tackle some complete stranger as I did. I'm not sure what each of the angels represents, but the videos are mysterious and powerful, like a vision.

I also enjoyed the Tim Hawkinson exhibition. Many of his works examine his own body in unique ways, inspiring some new meditations on self, consciousness, and identity. "The Wall Chart of World History from Earliest Times to the Present" resembles a tub of intestines rendered in red ink as a tightly packed coil of spirals. "Signature" is an ingenious machine mounted on a school desk that continually signs the artist's name on a piece of paper before chopping it off and dropping it in a pile surrounding the desk. "The Emoter" is a mechanical face animated based on electrical readings from programming on television. Really fascinating body of work.

The Whitney admission prices are $12 for adults, $9.50 for students and seniors. Fridays from 6-9pm is pay-what-you-want admission.

Eve Sussman is now working on a video installation titled "Raptus," a modern recreation (set in Brooklyn) of the Jacques-Louis David painting "The Rape of the Sabine Women" (some images from the filming can be seen here).


Aaron, Roswitha, and Otto came to NYC, and, after an aborted attempt to visit the United Nations (closed for some undisclosed reason), we all went to visit the MOMA for the first time since its splashy re-opening. We visited on a Saturday afternoon, and as expected, a long line awaited. Individual tickets cost $20 each, and an individual membership, which allows you to purchase guest passes for $5 a person, costs $75. Purchasing a membership was a no-brainer, especially as I'm sure many more out-of-town visitors will want to see the new MOMA.

I wonder if Otto, who I barely recognized he'd grown up so much in the six months since I'd seen him last, looked around at some of the Miro or Pollock paintings and thought, "I'll be painting something like that in about two years with finger paints." With his long locks, a few strangers confused him for a girl, he has the look of a budding young artiste.

MOMA has perhaps the most impressive collection of modern art in the world, at least that I've seen. So many works you'd study in any introductory art history class are on display here, and MOMA has hundreds of other works still in storage, waiting to be hung. Another great thing about MOMA is that visitors are allowed to take photographs as long as they don't use flash.

One of my favorite activities in modern art museums is guessing the titles of works, or telling friends the titles of three works and having them guess which is which. The level of abstraction in modern art can turn it into a guessing game.

Too many interesting works to recount, but one that particularly struck me was a video piece depicting the buildup to the scene depicted in Velasquez's famous painting "Las Meninas," or "The Maids of Honor," which I saw at the Prado several years ago. The video piece was silent, as far as I could tell, and it was haunting. I was reminded of paintings that would come to life at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.

Another arresting piece was a series of three videos, shown side by side, of views of and from Yoshio Taniguchi's other museums, all of which are in Japan. One of the beautiful things about Taniguchi's museums, and the new MOMA is no exception, is that they afford unique views of the environment around the museum. In the case of MOMA, windows on all floors allow visitors a great perspective on the density and diversity of buildings and architecture surrounding the museum.

We stayed until closing time, until a security guard ushered Aaron and I out of the video room. Though all the pieces can be seen in an afternoon, I'll have to return sometime to soak more of it in. The greatest drawback to the MOMA right now is its popularity, and the dense crowds stand in sharp contrast to the wide open spaces of the museum and the amount of white space granted each piece. Imagine visiting the museum alone, being the only person strolling through every room. Its the great paradox at the heart of NYC, that the great art and culture that the city's population attracts is also overrun by that same population.

Aaron and Roswitha are extremely knowledgeable about and appreciative of modern art, and art in general, so it was a special treat to visit the new MOMA with them.

Dissenting opinions on the Koolhaas library

Derek forwarded me this article from Project for Public Spaces that offers a dissenting opinion on the Koolhaas library in Seattle. Their primary complaint is that the building interacts with the environment around it in a very artificial manner (i.e., reflections of the street in the glass exterior, the slight overhang on 4th Ave.).
Dissent is always good, and I'd agree that the building could present a more welcoming set of entrances and walls on all sides, except perhaps the side with the parking entrance. The overhang on 4th, which puts that entrance in the shade most of the time, might be more welcoming if it actually receded back and allowed sunlight to grace that entrance. Then add some outdoor seating, perhaps a cafe, and the 4th Ave face of the library would be much improved.
My main gripe with the library, which I still admire as a building, is that the book selection is lousy. I created a book hold list of some twenty books, and over a month later not one has shown as available. I requested books across all genres, some classics, some new bestsellers. Without a decent book selection, the Koolhaas library is an expensive Internet cafe.
Hopefully my donation of over two hundred books during my recent moving downsizing will find their way to the Koolhaas library shelves. Many I'd never read, so perhaps someday I'll check one of them out to read.

Seattle Essentials: Koolhaas' Seattle Public Library

I have a lot on my mind, but present things first: I write this from the new Central Library branch of the Seattle Public Library, designed by Rem Koolhaas. The entire glass and steel structure is a giant free wi-fi hotspot.
It struck me this morning that the end of my stay in Seattle is just around the corner, and all morning I've felt a bit nostalgic and sad. It was all prompted by a visit to the dentist. I realized at the end of my visit that it would be my last time at that office, and all the dentists and assistants (all 15 of them) came by to give me huge and to shake my hand (yes, I found it unusually sentimental). These were the first people I was wishing farewell, but it has started a clock ticking in my head. I wish I could shake this feeling of losing time, of imminent partings; it's so difficult to think straight under such pressure. Perhaps I can slow things down, and so for the next month that remains of my Seattle days, I want to document some of my favorite Seattle places, features, and people.
I'm both thrilled and heavyhearted to be finally visit this library. Thrilled because after just an hour or two here, I'm certain it's the coolest library I've ever visited. Heavyhearted because I'll only be able to use it for such a short period of time.
The architecture, a collaboration between Koolhaas and local firm LMN (responsible for Benaroya Hall and McCaw Hall) and Rem Koolhaas's OMA, is spectacular and overshadows the books themselves (see pages from OMA/LMN's original concept book). The glass and steel exterior lends a spectacular openness to the space and offers wonderful views of the surrounding buildings. Though it's the newest building on its block, it plays better with its neighboring structures than those structures play with it. 994,000 pieces of glass and 3,000 tons of steel died in the making of this facility. Each diamond-shaped piece of glass contains metallic mesh that filters the amount of sunlight entering the building so it doesn't overheat, and much of the building is made of recyclable materials. The library is already in line to receive the LEED (Leadrship in Energy and Environmental Design) award given by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
The library is the talk of the architectural world, and it's already a huge hit with Seattelites. A line was waiting outside both entrances this morning before it opened at 10am. I've already seen dozens of tours of adults and school children pass through. The youngsters scamper about the place as if it were a museum, and if it does nothing else but prompt people to visit this place of reading and research, it will have been a success. Certainly I never felt the urge to pay for parking just to visit the previous Central Library.
My only criticism is that most of the books I came to check out were already gone or put on hold by dozens of other people. I wrote down over twenty books I wanted to find but only located two of them. Amazon.com remains a beautiful thing. The books here don't seem as central to the space as they are in your average Barnes and Noble or Borders superstore, but the Koolhaas is far more interesting space. It seems like a space that wouldn't seem outdated fifty years into the future.
Since I moved to Seattle, the city has added Benaroya Hall (finest acoustic performance space I've ever experienced), the Experience Music Project by Gehry, McCaw Hall, Pacific Place Mall (a terrible layout for a mall, but contains the most affordable and city-friendly parking garage), a renovated Cinerama (an awesome movie theater with terrible seats but sweet bathrooms in which nearly everything is automated), and Safeco Field. It was an architectural renaissance. The city skyline still lacks a defined character, but each of those facilities was a memorable and worthwhile addition.
For once, I'm wishing for rain on a gorgeous, sunny day. I'd love to listen to the rain tickling this library's skin.

Lost in time

I got on Seattle time this morning. Now it's about 5:15 in the morning and I'm back off of Seattle time. It just takes one long phone call to Australia to kill your schedule.
For the life of me I couldn't remember how to dial an international number from the states (you need to first dial the international direct dial code, which is 011). Hmm. Since the country code for Australia is 61, that meant I woke up a lot of people in what I presume was the Boston area. Yikes. To all of those people who cursed me out, and those I hung up on, my deepest apologies. I deserved every four-letter word. With the thick Boston accents I wasn't quite sure what was being said, but the tone of voice left little to the imagination.
Sliding down memory lane

Got all my slides and negatives back today. Most of them came out, too, save a few stray shots taken when my shutter was closed or that brief period when my batteries crapped out and every other picture came out black.
I need a smaller, lighter camera to take with me into places where I couldn't or wouldn't bring my F100. I see gaps in my pictures, events and people and places, and I wish I had some photos to keep them fresh in my mind. And when you're out at a club or a bar and just want a picture of you and your inebriated companions, who cares about picture quality? Especially when posting to the web. I need a really thin, small, digital camera.
Well, next time. And nothing beats looking at slides on a light table with a loupe. That's about as close to seeing it with my own eyes again as I can get. Tomorrow I need to write down as much of the specifics of my trip as possible before it fades into history. My photos will help refresh my memory. Given my past ratios of success, I'd say I did okay this time around. About a little more than half of the photos are decent and usable which is pretty good. Throw out the five hundred photos I wasted on obscure dolphin fins and sperm whales off in the distance and I'd say about 3 out of 4 of my pics were ones I'll keep. Since I shot 17 rolls of 36, that's a lot of friggin slides to scan into my computer.
New Zealand's scenery helped. It's what you call postcard country. Everywhere you point your camera and click the shutter? Instant postcard. If my PC doesn't drive me crazy tomorrow, you may catch your first glimpse of some of my NZ and Oz shots.
New Zealand and Australian soundtrack

Clubbing in NZ and Australia, you get a feel for what's going down in the music world. Wouldn't you know it, the cool kids overseas listen to pretty much the same stuff you hear on the radio over here.
Let's see, I have to start with Eminem. Lots of Eminem. It wasn't a night out if I didn't hear Lose Yourself at some club. Good tune, but it always inspires thug dancing and mugging. Not attractive.
Creed?! Sure, you can label someone a snob if they raise their noses at popular music, but when I have to put up with garbage like Creed out clubbing I can understand where they're coming from. Not only is it destined for tomorrow's trash heap, it's also impossible to dance to.
Red Hot Chili Peppers. Haven't heard their new album, but By the Way is a good tune. Not really a dance tune but you can jump around and karaoke.
Kylie. Grrrrrrrr. We'd be out clubbing, drinking, yapping our heads off, and then suddenly a tune from Fever would come on, and Kylie would appear on the video screen, 15 feet tall, and everyone in the club would stop and stare, transfixed. Australia's sex kitten, purring "Come....come....come into my world." Every guy was ready to follow. What a great dance album.
If Michael Jackson is the monstrosity plastic surgery wishes to lock in the cellar, Kylie Minogue is the its poster child. Good lord. Speaking of which, if you don't have a copy of Kylie singing Can't Get You Out of My Head over New Order's Blue Monday, get thee to a file sharer straight away to download it. She's performed that mash in concert, and it's awesome.
Nelly. Hot in Here. I thought it had peaked at clubs here in the US but apparently, as with movies, everything lags by about half a year there in the Southern Hemisphere. Can't stand ten seconds of it on the radio, but in a dance club context it's groovable.
Back to the negatives. NZ and Oz are not immune to dreck like YMCA by the Village People and the Ketchup Song. Stuff like that, most of which I've erased from memory. It's like the wave at a sporting event. Exercise your freedom as a human being and resist. They'll tell you you're having fun, but you really aren't.
Down Under by Men at Work. Hearing it in Australia put it in a whole new light for me because I finally had a taste of . Packets of it could be found at breakfast each morning, next to the butter and jam. I tried it and will do it a favor by labeling it the Spam of the Southern Hemisphere.
The highlight for me was the first bar we visited in the Bay of Islands. One stretch of classic techno--
Alice Deejay, ATB, New Order...good stuff.

Sharon sent me this pic today of Alan and my new nephew Ryan. How beautiful is that?

@#$*&ing Windows

Okay, Macs are slower, but I'm really about ready to kick my Windows desktop over the edge of the deck here. Since Windows XP crapped out my CD-RW drive I installed a new one today, one that's supposed to be compatible with Windows XP and Roxio Easy CD Creator 5. I updated all the drivers for Roxio Easy CD Creator 5 off of their website. All of this took hours since my PC now takes about 30 minutes to boot after the Windows XP upgrade and I had to restart it several times.
Go to burn a CD. No luck. Easy CD Creator 5 engine failed to initialize. Go to the Roxio website and they claim they've had a rash of these because of antivirus software. So I disable that and try again. Same error. I update some more drivers and reboot. Half hour later? No dice.
I also get these annoying "Your paging file is too small" errors everytime I boot. It tells me to set a larger paging file. So I do. Then I have to reboot. Then the same error comes up again. I'm flipping my computer the middle digit the whole time, with both hands.
Fortunately I finally found some random program that Sony included with its CD-RW drive. I think I've got it working. I'll need it to burn all the photos from New Zealand and Australia to CDRs b/c my hard drive is getting really full.
Yes, Macs are slower, but damn if my laptop didn't work beautifully the whole trip. I could take digital photos from my travel buddies and load them into iPhoto and have a slideshow going in minutes. I could import digital video from my camcorder and burn movies onto CDs for other folks in about half an hour. Yeah, sure, you can do all these things on a Windows PC but you'd be sweating driver compatibility the whole way. I'm not quite ready to sign up for a Switch commercial, but outside the business environment I dread having to go to my Windows desktop for anything.
Alas, that's the only platform my slide and negative scanner is compatible with. I have hours of fun ahead of me, what with Photoshop crashing after every four photos I open and edit because my virtual memory is too low.
The only book I buy every year

I should stop writing about baseball because I don't think any of you give a damn, but I can't help it. Little League and years of watching the Cubs on WGN have distilled baseball into my blood.
There's one book I pre-order every year and await with the eagerness of a groom on his wedding night, or a young child on Christmas Eve. That book would be the annual Baseball Prospectus. This year's version is the best yet, with a whole new set of statistics and expanded player coverage.
I'm not sure how many times I've plugged Baseball Prospectus, but if they'd start putting out crap I'd stop. Move up to the next level of baseball understanding and buy yourself a copy.
Blog as vanity plate

Katie ranted about the blog as self-congratulatory exercise in vanity tonight, and I must admit that much of what she said is true. There's a certain presumptiousness in boring the world with the mundane details of your everyday life, and who really cares what I think about this or that anyway? In that respect, I almost crave to keep the visitors to my site at a minimum. And maybe I should reduce the frequency of my posts--perhaps I'm guilty of using this as a writing outlet at times. Maybe 2003 is the year I cut back my posts.
You can twist yourself into a pretzel trying to please your audience, too. Just who is my audience anyway? Random people from all over the place, who know me in all different contexts. Perhaps a large audience is a good thing. They keep you honest, because most will disappear if you sling too much BS. If no one was reading, would I still be writing? I had about one visitor a week for the first two months, and I never really publicized my site, but somehow one day suddenly all these random people were reading it. I have no idea how they found my site, and I still don't know who half of them are, but I read the traffic reports and they're there.
Of course, most my readers are too embarrassed to admit they visit my site, or if they do visit, it's a dirty secret. Boy, let me tell you, that's a great feeling. This must be what it feels like to be People magazine.
And what about blogging about blogs, like I'm doing now? That must be the ultimate in intellectual masturbation (I can't remember where I read that term, but it makes you cringe, and that's exactly the punishment you want to mete out to those guilty of perpetrating it).
I'm overthinking this. Why am I thinking about this right now anyway? Self-conscience is a terrible thing.

Johnny, my tour guide in New Zealand, was fond of Bushmill's Irish Whiskey, but tonight out at Mr. Lucky's I discovered the joys of Jameson's Irish Whiskey. Peter, clearly a scotch and whiskey aficionado, has set me on the path of goodness and there's no turning back.
American bourbon? As Johnny put it, f***ing swill.
Use it or lose it

Speaking of Mr. Lucky's, I met a few friends out for drinks tonight. Just as Tour de France bike racers have to get out even on their two days off during the Tour just so their body doesn't go into shock from not being pushed to the limit, I need to keep my liver primed and active in anticipation of Carnival in Rio. I'm not doing my gut any favors, but I suppose another week won't hurt.
I'm less worried about drinking myself to death in Rio than of getting shot. At least four people sent me e-mail links to articles about the recent violence in Rio, suspected to be caused by gangs. City of God may hit a little too close to home this weekend. I'll have to keep my head down and steer clear of danger.
Speaking of drinking...

Must send out props to Laura, who was one of the folks who showed up for drinks tonight. She thinks she doesn't get enough airtime here, and yet she definitely rallies for fun nights out more than just about anyone else here in Seattle (and after 4 weeks of living large in NZ and Oz I'm acutely aware of how slow my social life here is).
So Laura, your very own post. BTW, Laura also organized a birthday dinner for me this year, and since it was my last day in the office it was a doubly special event. It's also the last birthday I'll ever celebrate since next year that first digit is supposed to change (and after 4 weeks of living large with mostly younger kids in NZ and Oz, many of whom like to remind me of my age, I'm really hyper-tuned to my life clock...TICK TOCK, TICK TOCK, what have you done with your life old man?).

The Libeskind design for a memorial at Ground Zero has won. The slide show outlining the ideas behind the design are really intriguing.
I don't profess to know much about architecture, but the various Frank Lloyd Wright houses and buildings I've walked through are so inspirational. There aren't many things in life I have to have personalized for me, but it would be amazing to design your own home with an architect. How sad, that we must always live in someone else's conception of an ideal shelter, especially when our physical reaction to space is so personal.
Someday, perhaps, a place of my own.