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April 30, 2005

Signed “Depressed In Philadelphia”

“Maybe it was all those years of futility for the Phillies.” Nope. I don’t follow hockey.

“Or the shadows cast by New York City to the north and Washington, D.C., to the south.” We have two suns?!

“Whatever the reasons, Philadelphia has earned the melancholy distinction of being America’s most depressed city.” [source Men’s Health]

Oh really? By their metric, it must be true (you can prove anything with the right statistics), but are you going to trust a bunch of ripped dudes hopped up on, ahem, supplements, or are you going to trust me? I’m telling you Philadelphia is a great city. By one important metric, population growth, Philadelphia is in good shape. While Philadelphia’s overall population continues to decline slowly, the downtown (“Center City”) population has grown substantially.

I wish I knew what we are all supposedly so depressed about. It certainly can’t be because of New York and Washington. New York is a great city, and I love going there, but there are some things about Philadelphia that are incontrovertibly better than New York (our Flower Show, for example). As for Washington, I have friends who fled to Philadelphia for the weekend in the dead of winter just because they couldn’t stand being in Washington for another second.

Don’t get me wrong. Philadelphia is not without its problems, but Philly is just so eminently (for lack of a better word) livable. Plus it’s located so conveniently close to New York and Washington! [Full Disclosure: Although I grew up in Germantown, a neighborhood in northwest Philly, I now live just outside the city.]

April 29, 2005

Mac mini

I got my sweaty mitts on a Mac mini the other night when I helped a friend “install” his and migrate files from a beige G3 running 8.5.1. The mini is indeed molto mini as you can see from the picture. I don't think it could be any smaller and still play CDs and DVDs. Well, it could be thinner, of course. I guess you can never be too thin...

Mac mini

The CD shows just how small the Mac mini is.

We actually considered getting one ourselves for use as a *backup “server,” but declined when we realized the mini only has room for a 2.5-inch laptop drive. The largest drive I've seen is a mere 80 gig, making it inadequate for backups.

I encountered a couple of glitches with the peripherals. The keyboard and mouse were generic cross-platform models from Logitech. The keyboard worked fine except that none of the modifier keys worked. Installing the Logitech software fixed that problem, but then the mouse wouldn't “click” anymore. I've never seen anything like it. Nothing I tried fixed that, so we swapped it with a Kensington mouse on a different Mac. I also was unable to get a USB Zip drive to work with the mini, although I didn't try very hard.

The mini was purchased with a 19-inch Sylvania LCD (1280 x 1024), which for about $350 looked great. I've seen some crappy flat panels in my day, and I was surprised that a display this cheap could look that good.


*Backup footnote. One interesting solution for backups is an external FireWire drive from WiebeTech called the TrayDock™. The TrayDock is a drive enclosure with removable trays that lets you hot-swap SATA or IDE drives. When you fill up a drive, just snap in another one. Thanks to Jim for pointing me to it.

If you're not backing up your precious data (for shame!), perhaps you should watch this video before it's too late. It's really a (seven-minute) infomercial for LiveVault (a backup and disaster-recovery service), but I found it extremely entertaining nevertheless. I had heard that John Cleese has enjoyed a very successful career making industrial films since leaving Monty Python, but this is the first one of that oeuvre I've seen. When you're finished watching the video, explore the rest of the Backup Trauma site; it's very Python-esque.

April 25, 2005

Fractional Birthdays

My brother and I were born exactly two and a half years apart. To avoid an ugly scene on birthdays when only one sibling was rightfully entitled to presents, the other child got a token gift in celebration of his “half birthday.” Thus fractional birthdays are a family tradition.

Anne turned 33 last week. As a recovering LP record collector, that number is especially significant to me. I thought it would be cool to celebrate her 33-1/3 birthday with a big party where everyone would bring their favorite albums to play on my vintage turntable. Well, it would be fun for me anyway.

I mentioned this idea to a friend who collects 78 records. Naturally, he thought it was a great idea. He's my friend, after all. What's more, he has a collector friend who will be turning 78 this year who thought of the same idea. Unlike us, I think he will actually go through with the party. (Trivia: 78-rpm records actually play at 78.26 rpm, so his party would be about three months after his actual birthday.)

Not to make you hungry, but I'm writing this between bites of the last piece of Anne's birthday cake, a sensuous triple chocolate cake from Aux Petits Delices in Wayne.

April 23, 2005

The Pyramid of Geezah

The big news this week was from the USDA, who redesigned the venerable Food Pyramid (oh, and there's a new Pope, too!). This reminds me of a joke (stop me if you've heard it): Overheard at the Stonehenge construction site, "What was wrong with the old wooden one?" But I digress.

I thought the old pyramid design was pretty cool, and it lent itself to endless interpretation. For example, feast your eyes on this Google images search. In contrast, one is immediately struck by the way the new pyramid looks. While the old one was constructed stone by stone, as it were, in horizontal rows, the new one is comprised of triangular sub-pyramids. In the old pyramid, evil carbs inhabited the base, and I think the USDA doesn't want to send the message that carbs are the foundation of a healthy diet what with plumpnitude rampant among the citizenry. The vertical triangles representing the food groups all have the same emphasis (although the width is proportional to the quantity of the food group). Genius. It's unfortunate, however, that those triangles look like pizza slices. To me, anyway.

New Food Pyramid

My custom pyramid. At normal magnification, the object in the circle looks like an apple slice.

Besides the new look, the pyramid web site lets you build a customized pyramid based on age and activity. I was dismayed to discover that my custom pyramid is the same as a 60 year old man's. That was a little disheartening, since I still have nine years to go. Then I took a closer look at my pyramid and realized that it was truly customized just for me as the pictures illustrate.

My Food Pyramid

At high magnification, however, the object is revealed as a lobster roll! This truly is a custom pyramid. I can get with this program!

One oddity concerns the USDA web site. The address I have heard publicized is, but there is an almost identical site at with a different set of choices for the “amount of moderate or vigorous activity (such as brisk walking, jogging, biking, aerobics, or yard work) you do in addition to your normal daily routine, most days.”


  • Less than 30 minutes
  • 30 to 60 minutes
  • More than 60 minutes


  • Less than 5 minutes
  • 6 to 10 minutes
  • More than 11 minutes

Strange. I'll have to check back and see if they synchronize the two versions.

April 21, 2005

National Poetry Month

I learned from Matt (of The Tattered Coat) that April is National Poetry Month. He's been sharing some poems and personal reminiscences over the last few weeks. Although I was an English major, poetry classes were always the hardest for me. With an attention span seriously attenuated by years of watching TV (that's my excuse, anyway), poetry always seemed like such work. It's not something to be skimmed, the way I would read a newspaper, it's something to be savored and lingered over. I was always richly rewarded when I spent time reading a poem carefully, however. Some of my favorite poets include Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Emily Dickinson.

I actually wrote a poem once for a class I took in college in 1989 called “British Writers II.” The assignment was to write a poem in heroic couplets in the style of Alexander Pope. Since April is also National Recycling Month, I thought I would post it here. As you might have guessed, it's about cats.


Crime and Punishment


The golden prize, now freed from treasure chest,
To burglar's mind did foolish schemes suggest.
Imprudent plans of plunder soon were made
Without a thought to retribution paid.
For mad designs can never go astray
When injudicious villain's pride holds sway.
Too late for him the bitter lesson learned:
Temptation's siren song should e'er be spurned.

The precious prize, though gilded, was not gold,
But just a humble wedge all streaked with mold.
The prize was cheese, the battlefield, a house;
The hapless thief foredoomed was just a mouse.

His twitching nose this cheese sniffed on the air,
The yellow bullion's smell was quite unfair
Although his expert nose was quite refined,
He could not name the cheese for which he pined.
The scent was from a cheese veined through and through,
If not a Stilton, then some other Blue.

This food sublime, he craved the chance to eat,
And so resolved to snatch that tasty treat.
With that he hatched a plan in no time flat,
Too bad he did not reckon with the Cat.

This cat, Symplegades, was aptly named,
Her teeth, for catching mice, were justly famed.
To guard the cheese her master gave his trust,
He knew the faith he placed in her was just.

That night the master's table sat uncleared,
The mouse's hunger grew as midnight neared.
With stealth and care he padded 'cross the floor,
'Til finally he faced the kitchen door.

The prize was close at hand, his nose decried,
When suddenly Symplegades he spied.
Though fast asleep, the tabby cat now stirred,
And thus great fear to mouse's heart conferred.
But hunger and the thought of cheese so sweet,
Made satisfaction dearer than defeat.

So wary mouse on noiseless feet embarked,
With care he hoped to leave his path unmarked.
But feline instinct keen did mouse provoke,
Unknown to him, the sleeping sentry woke.
The cat, though taut as bowstring, gave no sign,
She waited for the mouse to cross the line.
A few steps more, he saw the goal was nigh,
When suddenly he turned and gave a cry.

Symplegades attacked with mighty spring,
To mice a certain death she vowed to bring.
O'er top of him the massive hulk now loomed,
With whirling limbs in full retreat he zoomed.
The guardian's miscalculated pounce
Failed utterly her furry foe to trounce.
The cat's campaign seemed destined now to fail--
She leaped again and landed on his tail.
Blind panic foiled his struggle to get free,
Escape was hopeless, clearly he could see.
The yawning jaw found neck and closed to cut,
The mighty dental rocks came rushing shut.

Poor mouse! The golden treasure must forsake,
He found a sleep from which he'd never wake.
If asked, I'm sure, he surely would have said
Emphatically, he should have stayed in bed!

April 17, 2005

I Can Quit Whenever I Want

I started using the feed reader NewNewsWire a couple of months ago, but during that time I only added the handful of blogs I had already been reading the old-fashioned way. Although NewNewsWire would allow me to read many more blogs without spending much more time, I just didn't know what else to read! There are probably millions of blogs (after all, even I have one, sort of), but where to start? Since joining the Philadelphia Webloggers Meetup group, I learned about a ton of blogs based right here in Philly. I added most of the ones I could find to the blogroll on the right. While I certainly don't expect to be blogging more frequently than I do now, I can at least try to keep up with what the real bloggers are talking about.

Warm Weather, Cold Frame

It was a beautiful weekend, and I was glad to spend some time away from the computer.

Quite some time ago, Anne gave me a clipping from Horticulture magazine. The article, by Roger Swain (Horticulture editor and host of “The Victory Garden”), described the construction of a simple cold frame (the “poor man's greenhouse”) using discarded storm windows. Anne found four nice wooden-frame storm windows and so placed an order for four cold frames to match.

It took way longer than it should have, but I finally finished the first one this weekend. I made a number of mistakes along the way, all of which I was able to recover from, but Anne caught the worst one of all before it became a catastrophe. I had mis-measured one of the critical dimensions, and the storm window would never have fit the box. My mistake was quite embarrassing, considering this was a pretty simple project, but what the heck. I may have a lot of tools, but thank goodness she has a brain.


Homemade cold frame

Cold frame Number One. All it needs now is some paint.

April 16, 2005

Ferns Are Ferntastic

That's not my slogan, but I am sympathetic to the sentiment, ’cause I like ferns. I'm not sure how many gardeners really get excited by ferns, but last Thursday we went to hear someone who does. His name is John Mickel, and he has been Curator of Ferns at the New York Botanical Garden since 1969. We attended a lecture at Swarthmore sponsored by the Hardy Plant Society called “Hot New Ferns for American Gardens.” John gets excited by ferns, and his enthusiasm was contagious. After the slide show, we both had several new ideas for ferns we'd like to add to the garden.

Not that I'm much of gardener (I only grow one kind of fern), but I enjoy hearing about the plants as much as trying to grow them. One highlight of the lecture had to do with “fiddleheads,” which are the edible fronds of ferns and are shaped like the head of a violin. (They can be served either hot or cold and taste much like asparagus.) John pointed out the obvious—all ferns have fiddleheads—then went on to reveal that the edible kind come from the ostrich fern. Since first tasting fiddleheads, I had always wondered where they came from.

After the lecture, John was available in the lobby to sign his book (which I already owned, but neglected to bring with me). With each book sold, he included a bumper sticker that read “Ferns Are Ferntastic.” Corny but true.


Baby ostrich fern

Anne took this picture of one of our ostrich ferns earlier this week not long after it first appeared above ground. It's about three inches tall.

April 12, 2005

John Scofield Trio

Last Friday night we headed downtown to see John Scofield (my favorite guitarist) at the Zellerbach Theater. The show didn't start until 8:00, so we had time to work dinner into our plans. Anne thought we should try Cavanaugh's, which sounded appealing, and it was. It's a casual student hangout on Penn's campus about two blocks from the theater, and even at that early hour on a Friday evening was crowded and noisy.

They boast a large selection of beers, although there's no actual list that I could find. I fancied a Negra Modelo with my sausage sandwich, but alas that's one they didn't have. I had a Flying Fish (draft) instead. The food was excellent. I wish I had known about this place when I was a student.

In the lobby of the Zellerbach, there was a small jazz group playing. The players in this group were drawn from the Penn Jazz Ensemble. After the number, a snappily-dressed student invited us to see the band play immediately following the concert. Admission was free with ticket stub. Not bad.

Although this post is entitled “John Scofield Trio,” it's really about John Scofield's drummer, Bill Stewart. I first became aware of Bill's work from the Scofield album “Hand Jive.” That's still one of my favorite CDs ever, in large part because of Stewart's contribution. Scofield liked him, too; they worked together for five years. Bill reappeared on the last Scofield album, EnRoute, recorded live at the Blue Note in New York. He sounded better than ever.

Although this show was billed as the John Scofield Trio, I didn't make the connection that the trio would include Bill, although typically the tour band is similar if not identical to the one on the most-recent release. (Just as typically, however, the tour band does not include the same members for a number of reasons.) Anyway, I was thrilled at the unexpected treat of hearing Bill live. It's a challenge to describe his style in words, but I can say that he reminds me most of the young Tony Williams with whom he shares a fresh, creative approach to accompanying and soloing; always surprising, yet never jarring. I should also mention how much I enjoyed veteran bassist Steve Swallow's exquisitely lyrical solos.

You can check out a video of Bill soloing with the John Scofield band at Drummer World.

April 10, 2005

Caution: Mellowing Agents at Work

A darn nice and productive weekend, if I say so myself. On Saturday, we blasted through the wall separating the front hall from the dining room. (The wall was added at some point as part of the changes to turn the house into a duplex.) That went very well, although it looks as if we will have to modify the hall closet as well before we’re finished.

Although Saturday’s weather was nice, Sunday was such a beautiful day that we ate outside—twice. In fact, lunch was our first outdoor meal of the season. During the afternoon, I happened to hear a segment of the rerun of A Prairie Home Companion, specifically the recurring bit sponsored by the “Ketchup Advisory Board” in which the benefits of ketchup’s “natural mellowing agents” are dramatized. I was reminded of this at dinner, which was a simple repast of burgers and margaritas. Between the ketchup and the margarita, it occurred to me that I had a double helping of mellowing agents. No wonder I feel so good! *hic*

April 5, 2005

Getting Things Done

Maybe it's just me, but the whole world seems buzzing about Getting Things Done (by David Allen)...

Yeah, it's just me.

Anyway, it's not that I don't “get things done,” but I would like to get more things done. One reason I don't is because I'm just not organized enough to keep track of the myriad less-pressing tasks, and a lot of small stuff falls through the cracks.

I first heard about GTD at Merlin Mann's site, 43 Folders, which I discovered while googling for info on Quicksilver. Since then I have probably been spending too much time there, reading about his productivity adventures with Moleskine notebooks and his Hipster PDA.

I don't spend all my time idly surfing productivity web sites, though. This past weekend, I bought Getting Things Done. Now I have to be careful not to let this book give me another reason to procrastinate, because after all, I need to finish the book before I can get anything done. Right?

One thing that I like about Getting Things Done is that it doesn't require any special equipment, such as a PDA (although I wish it were that simple). In fact, it's almost anti-equipment. For example, Mann's Hipster PDA is just a stack of index cards. I have a well-worn Levenger Pocket Briefcase which may work as an upscale Hipster PDA. We'll see. I checked out those chic Moleskine notebooks over the weekend, but couldn't bring myself to buy one. This morning, however, the guy sitting next to me on the train was writing in his Moleskine. I take that as some kind of sign.

No, I'm afraid it's going to take a lot more than a new notebook to make me more productive. It looks like I will have to actually change the way I do things. Sigh.

April 1, 2005

Mosaic at Sellersville Theater

In December, 2005, I went to see a rock band made up of 5 Upper Bucks County high school students at the Sellersville Theater. I knew the drummer, who is the son of a friend of mine. They rented the theater and sold tickets for the benenfit of tsunami victims. These kids played amazingly well, playing their own compositions as well as covering some Dave Matthews tunes. Last Monday, the band, called Mosaic, took over the Sellersville Theater for another benefit concert. They packed the house again and raised $1,200 dollars. Whoa. There were two opening acts, Cody and Adam (on guitars), and Chris and Jim (on guitar and harmonica). I took some pictures.

We had a very enjoyable dinner nearby at The Perk beforehand.