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August 29, 2005

I Drank Many Beers

Six to be exact. No, I haven’t suddenly taken to the bottle. I was just "sampling" beers at Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery in Phoenixville where Anne and I had lunch on Saturday. I ordered a sampler of five Sly Fox brews, and here they are from best to worst (in my humble and utterly unsophisticated opinion):

  1. Pete’s Peerless Ale
  2. Jakes ESB
  3. Helles Golden Lager
  4. Galena Anniversary IPA
  5. O’Reilly’s Stout

I really didn’t care for the stout, but I liked all the others. There were at least another six or so beers I didn’t get to taste. The food was great, too.

But that’s only five... The sixth beer was yet to come.

After lunch, we headed home as fast as we could given the rain, and I grabbed a train to Philly and strolled over to Nodding Head for the Philadelphia Webloggers meetup. This was the best meetup yet, perhaps because of the change in location (Nodding Head instead of Independence Brew Pub) as well as time (Saturday afternoon instead of Wednesday evenings). Thanks to events czar Scott for not only organizing but paying the monthly Meetup fee. Way beyond the call of duty.

There were at least 20 people there. Unfortunately, I was a full hour late to this meetup and apparently missed some punctual people who had already left. As it was, I didn’t even get to talk to everybody who was still there either. Still I had a great time. This may be my last meetup for a while as Saturdays are not usually a good day for me.

I met Michael of River Tyde, and one of the topics of conversation was Katrina. He explained something I didn’t know about New Orleans. Most of the city is below sea level and is protected by levees. If water crests the levees, it will not only flood the city, but have nowhere to go after the hurricane passes through. He’s written about it here and here. See also this article at WWLTV in New Orleans.

This morning, Katrina has weakened to Category 4 as it is about to hit land. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you in the storm’s path.

August 25, 2005

Stop and Smell the Nicotiana

Speaking of recycling, I really look forward to taking the trash out to the curb.

The reason? I get to walk past the Nicotiana alata that Anne planted in the front yard. Nicotiana’s many small, white flowers are closed and withered-looking during the day, but at night, the flowers open wide and exude the most beguiling and intoxicating aroma. The flowers’ perfume mixed with the warm night air spins the stuff that sweet summer dreams are made of.

I told you it was intoxicating.

I must say the fragrance certainly affects my brain and reminded of a stupid thing I did long ago when under the influence of honeysuckle vapors. I was driving to New Hope on a hot night in the middle of summer and the honeysuckle filled the air with sweetness.

On this particular stretch of road there were neither street lights nor cars, just me sailing along under a starry sky, so I switched off my headlights and flew through the warm air in complete darkness. It was quite an ineffable feeling to be flying along like that until I realized I really couldn’t see where I was going. Yikes! Still, the memory of the warm night, the honeysuckle, and my uncharacteristic recklessness lingers.

If you’re looking for something decorative and, nay, intoxicating to grow, plant some nicotiana post haste.


These are not Nicotiana alata, but Nicotiana silvestris. Alata is typically shorter and broader, and its flowers are bigger than silvestris. We have some silvestris in the back yard, but this was actually taken at the Rodin Museum in Paris. The negative was handy.

August 24, 2005

Sixes and Sevens

Speaking of beer, I read in the Inquirer that’s list of the 100 best craft breweries in the world included 10 local ones. The Sly Fox is one of these, located in Phoenixville. I vetted the place by checking with Phoenixville resident and beer connoisseur Jim who gave it two thumbs up. While we live nowhere near Phoenixville, we will be driving right past it on our way to North Coventry Recycling soon.

We participate in curbside recycling, of course, but our community doesn’t collect everything that is recyclable (only paper, glass, and plastic items coded 1 and 2), so we save up our polystyrene (Styrofoam®™) and threes, fours, fives, sixes and sevens to take there a couple times a year. The place is a madhouse; it always raises my spirits to see such a level of participation, cooperation and enthusiasm for the purely voluntary effort of saving and sorting, um, trash.

It’s a good thing there’s a way to supplement community recycling. Albert reported that Philly’s “recycling numbers have dropped from last year’s total tonnage.” Whatever isn’t recycled goes in a landfill. Sure, it costs more to collect recyclables than trash, but landfill fees aren’t going down and dumping space isn’t infinite.

We’re trying to do our part. This trip, though, it’s as much about the beer as those sixes and sevens. That’s a powerful incentive to recycle. “We’ll take those empties, please.”

August 22, 2005

Cathedrals and Church Keys

Over the weekend, we were working on the “ham shack” in the attic, when we discovered an old church key from Ortlieb's brewery. (Funny, we don't drink much beer, but we'd just bought a case of Corona that morning.) I remember the Ortlieb's brand from long ago (although my father was dedicated to the rival brew from Schmidt's). I'm not positive, but I think the Ortlieb's name has passed into brewing history.

Later, Anne sent me a link to a Flickr set of pictures taken at what's left of Ortlieb's. Perusing that set reminded me of an article in the May/June issue of Preservation entitled “Raiders of the Lost City” that described the work of amateur “urban explorers” who photograph abandoned and decaying cathedrals of industry. That sounds like fun and reminds me of our visit to Eastern State Penitentiary back in June. (Some links from the article for vicarious exploration: Abandoned Places, Ikon Visual, and Abandoned Asylum.)

It makes we wonder: are we living and working in what are little more than temporary structures? I sometimes think that we as a society have a devotion to building new rather than maintaining the old. Is it really better to tear down and rebuild than maintain and renovate? I guess that depends on whether the building is one worth maintaining; many clearly are. Perhaps these thoughts come to me because I'm not new anymore, although I am lovingly maintained.

Odd what that church key unlocked, and oh yeah, it still worked great.

August 18, 2005

Panic in Henrico County

From the Henrico County, Virginia visitor's page:

One of Henrico's oldest traditions is simple hospitality, a friendly welcome and neighborliness. Whether you're here to stay or only stopping in for a brief trip, we welcome you and hope you enjoy your time here.

That's a mighty neighborly sentiment there. So what happened there Tuesday morning? By that I don't just mean the stampede in which neighbor trampled neighbor for a shot at four-year-old iBooks. (I wouldn't cross the street for a four-year-old iBook even if it cost only $50.) What provokes such mania? Are there really that many Mac users there? Hmm.

It stokes my jaundiced view of human nature to assume that the stampede was caused by “market forces,” i.e, make anything cheap enough and everybody wants it, whether they need it or not. Who doesn't love a bargain?

Then I thought about the numbers. The population of Henrico county is about 382,000. Assuming a market share of 3%, there are about 11,000 Mac users in the county. With estimates of the mob ranging from 4,000 to 12,000, that means that the crowd could have consisted entirely of Mac users who genuinely wanted an Apple laptop. In that case, I'm ashamed that the gentle and benevolent community of Mac users would act in such an un-neighborly fashion. Bah, I bet it was those PC-packin’ “switchers” causing all the trouble.

But seriously, the other bad news is the reason those iBooks went on sale—the county has switched to Dell. How did that happen? In the words of Superintendent Fred Morton, “It was a number of variables, not one single thing.” In the end, however, it was all about the money; Dell simply cut the county a better deal (about 20% less), at least on paper. One other “variable” was software. Everyone wanted Microsoft Office, and for all its faults, I can't blame them, but the iBooks came with AppleWorks. Adding a copy of Office to each iBook would have raised the price another 20%.

I worry that the decision was short-sighted. Except for the lack of Office, everyone was very happy with the iBooks and Apple. They may find that the Dells have a higher hardware failure rate. Both the Apple and Dell proposals included an extra 2% of the total quantity for loaner laptops. The Dell proposal went on to include a promise to stretch that to 5% if necessary. It might be necessary; Dell ought to know their return rate. The other big maintenance headache will be viruses. i hope they aren't underestimating the threat.

There are apparently still a ton of Macs in Henrico schools. The county owns 27,000 iBooks. After selling this batch of 1,000 I don't know how many they have left. They also have almost 5,000 iMacs. It will be interesting to hear a progress report after the Dells are deployed and used side-by-side with the Macs.

Well, whatever. It's their call. Both the school board and a nine-member evaluation committee voted unanimously to accept the Dell proposal. I wish them well. As for that stampede, I hope the next sale runs more smoothly. I like how Frank reported it, “Apple introduces the new iCrush and the iRiot.”

August 15, 2005

Gas-Saving Gimmicks Then And Now

Over the weekend I saw an old Thunderbird in beautiful condition on the Turnpike. It was a car that I thought was really cool—when I was ten years old. The older I got, the less interested in cars I became. By the time I turned 16, I had lost all interest in driving and my parents had to beg me to get my license.

As a consequence of that attitude, I have owned an unbroken string of boring cars. I have no regrets. If anything, I care even less about cars today. Ironically, I eat lunch at work with a couple of devoted car fans. I even find myself becoming genuinely interested in their conversations, although I don't have much to contribute. I think it's also amusing that my brother has a Porsche 928. It's a nice car.

Today, the Dodge Charger came up, and Ryan mentioned that its big V8 has something called a Multi-Displacement System which allows the engine to run on only four cylinders while cruising. That's a good thing these days. But then I thought, hey, that's nothing new. I had a ’67 Impala V8 that had exactly the same feature. It didn't save much gas though.

August 14, 2005

Unclear on the Concept

I heard the Alan Jackson/Jimmy Buffet song “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” (actually written by Jim “Moose” Brown and Don Rollins) the other day. The title comes from these two lines:

It’s only half past twelve, but I don’t care
It’s five o’clock somewhere

I thought to myself, no, you don’t understand. If it’s 12:30 here, it can’t be 5:00 anywhere. That’s not how time zones work.

Or so I thought. Well, I was wrong. There are whole countries where the time zone is offset from GMT by a half hour, so the lyrics could make sense in certain places. For example, if Alan were laboring in Bombay, and at half past twelve was daydreaming of a cold one, he could take comfort in the fact that workers in Guam are streaming to local watering holes at five o’clock. If he were in St. John’s, Newfoundland, folks in Rome would be enjoying an after-work grappa. If he were working in Tehran, it would be sake time in Tokyo. And if he were in Darwin in the Northern Territories of Australia, at half past twelve it would be five o’clock at the Tiki Bar in Honolulu. I’ll bet you can get a nice margarita there almost any time.

August 13, 2005

Short Night Out

Last night we went to a nearby Brew Ha Ha! (a local chain of coffeehouses) to see two of Anne's co-workers who are in a band called OverUnderground.

Whoa! We could hardly get in the door, it was so crowded. The members of the band are barely out of high school and most of their fans are the same age. Anne asked, "Do you feel..." I finished her sentence: "Old?" At least I wasn't the only fifty-something there, although I think the few others were beaming, indulgent parents.

As they were preparing to start, keyboardist Will made an announcement. He explained that the fire code prohibited occupancy by more than 50 people, so he asked for volunteers to leave. We couldn't count ourselves as hardcore fans, so we grabbed our lattes and eased out during the first tune, right after I had taken a few pictures of Will, Alex (on guitar) and the drummer. They sounded pretty good.

August 12, 2005

Old News

CNN reported the “discovery” today of a large waterfall in Whiskeytown National Recreational Area near Whiskeytown, CA. The falls are twice the height of Niagara, although only half the height of the tallest falls in the world. Still, they're big. The falls were not completely unknown, but they were not on any map nor known to park officials.

The discovery was made in 2003 when a biologist noticed it on a satellite mapping system. Aha! I exclaimed. I have a satellite imaging system and a few spare minutes before work. I'll find it myself, so I slipped on my Merrells, slathered on some insect repellent, and pointed my browser to Alas, Google only provides high-altitude imagery of the park, so I called off the expedition. Everybody back to camp for hot dogs and beer.

I thought it strange that this discovery was made two years ago, but is just now being publicized, especially since the park wanted to get the news out to boost interest and attendance at the park.

August 10, 2005

Nothing Personal

The tomato crop has been coming in so fast that we’ve had to give some of it away. We staked Jim with an assortment of red, yellow, and orange ones, and he was kind enough to give us four ears of fresh, locally-grown corn, all of which we polished off last night.

Tomatoes aren’t the only comestibles Anne is growing in the garden this year. She’s trying seedless watermelons, too. These are challenging to grow (don’t ask me; something about diploid and triploid), but so far we have four thriving babies on the vine. Anne told me she saw something new and strange at Whole Foods yesterday—the “personal” watermelon. Cute, but weird and kind of sad in a way. Between the two of us, we go through a lot of watermelon in a summer, so the personal size just wouldn’t cut it. Besides, one personal costs about as much as an impersonal.

We wondered why watermelons are so huge, so breeding a more wieldy toy variety makes some sense. At the moment, our biggest homegrown watermelon has almost reached the “personal” size (it’s a little bigger than a grapefruit). It will be interesting to see just how big it gets.

August 8, 2005

Ninth Street Market

July 30 marked the second outing of the Philly Photobloggers, a loose conglomeration of, um, Philly photobloggers.

I was excited when Alec Long proposed the Ninth Street Market for our next location. One reason was because I am fascinated both by street photography and teeming humanity as a subject—and the Market promised to teem. I thought it would offer me an opportunity to work on my shyness as well. Finally, I thought it would just be plain fun to go back there. I haven’t been to the Market in probably 20 years, not since the days when I had a friend who used to live at 10th and Wharton.

We gathered at Anthony’s Italian Coffee House where I had a rich cup of coffee and a bagel mit schmeer. A fine start (although I shoulda had that bagel toasted). I shot my first pic sitting at the table when this gentleman stopped to photograph a member of our party. It felt more like a pretext than anything else, but a pretext for what I’ll never know, because he soon wandered off. That was the only odd note in the symphony of human interaction that day. It’s the people who make the market so special, and we were fortunate to meet our share of interesting and charming folks.

As for the picture making itself, I had fun—if confronting your limitations can be called fun. I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunities, that’s for sure, sticking mostly to non-human subjects. In looking over my edit, I feel that I’ve robbed most of the pictures of context. The Market is really all about its storefronts and stalls and sidewalks full of people. You know, teeming. There’s no sense of that in my set. I did start to loosen up about halfway through and most of the pictures I chose are from the end of the roll. Here they are.

We finished the day with lunch at Pat’s Steaks. I had been rehearsing my order for weeks (“provolone without”) so I wouldn’t get yelled at. When my turn came, I delivered my line and managed to do a passable impersonation of a “regular” After all, I enjoy being treated like cattle. It’s all those years of riding SEPTA, I guess.

August 3, 2005

Burgers and Fries

While Philadelphia can’t field a decent lobster roll, the city has no shortage of good burgers. Don’t just take my word for it. I learned from Scott that’s list of “The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die” includes not one but two burgers from my fair city. The only other burg to snag two entries in this elite list was New York. Scott has already sampled the burger from Rouge. I look forward to his review of Barclay Prime as well. I haven’t been to either restaurant, but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion, baseless as it may be, and blogging about it.

What am I looking for in a burger? Not perfection, certainly. Where burgers are concerned, I’m a polyglut; I enjoy plain and fancy alike. My first gourmet burger was years ago at a chain called H.A. Winstons with locations formerly in downtown Philadelphia (I think at 15th and Locust where Fado is now) and on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr. That introduced me to the concept of the burger with toppings a trifle more exotic than American cheese. Since then I’ve lost count of all the burgers I’ve eaten, but a few stand out.

In downtown Philly, my vote goes to Copa II, which consistently serves some of the best burgers I’ve ever had. My favorite is the Mediterranean (olive tapénade and goat cheese). My other two favorites are both near Wilmington. The Charcoal Pit on Concord Pike (Route 202) offers just the basics, but the basics flawlessly executed. One thing they do exceptionally well is cook your burger exactly to order. If you want rare, rare is what you get. My single favorite burger comes from Cromwell’s Tavern in Greenville. It’s a blackened bleu cheeseburger made with Black Angus beef.

What’s a burger without fries? There’s a thread on Chowhound’s Pennsylvania message board about “great fries in Philly.” Here again, Copa II gets the nod from me for their Spanish fries. But the best fries I’ve ever had anywhere came from Le Bar Lyonnais, the little bistro downstairs at Le Bec Fin. Le Bec is too rich for my blood, but downstairs is informal and surprisingly affordable.

New York City has a lot of little coffee shops, such as Viand on the upper east side or Tom’s Restaurant (made famous by Seinfeld). The burgers in these little places are invariably terrific. I will have to try this Rouge burger myself some time...

August 1, 2005

The Longest Day

Quite a few people I know have moved recently, and I’ve heard my share of horror stories. I added one more to my collection last Friday when Anne and I helped her sister move out of a high-rise in Hoboken to a larger place about an hour away.

When we arrived a little after 8:00 AM, we were greeted by the disturbing news that their truck reservation fell through. The scoundrels had the reservation, they just couldn’t produce the truck. Not only that, but the building management had lost their reservation for Bogarting the elevator and truck parking space. It was several hours before she and her husband could find a truck, and then we were hampered by having to use the passenger elevator to move everything downstairs. Management acknowledged the snafu and were very cooperative at least in letting us build box mountains in the lobby and park in the “no parking” zone.

At least everything was well-packed and ready to go. They had collected discarded boxes rescued from recycling bins all over the building. It was quite an eclectic assortment. This made for some surprises as we discovered interesting boxes:

“When did you get this cool gelato machine?”

“Oh, I see. Right... it’s just the box.”

We finally finished around 8:30 and headed home. Carol and John swore they would never move themselves again. Good idea. When we moved two years ago, we never considered doing it ourselves. More to the point, our move went perfectly, although it’s not entirely because we used professionals. We were just very lucky.

No matter how you do it, moving is stressful. While waiting for the elevator, we wondered just how high moving ranked on the list of stressful activities. At that moment, we were all thinking that moving must be Number One, but then I remembered reading somewhere that public speaking is actually in first place. That made us wonder where Death fits in. Hmm. That should be pretty stressful—with the possible exception of Death by Chocolate. It’s apparently less stressful than public speaking, however... and moving too, probably. With this knowledge, the expression “I’d rather die” is starting to make sense.