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December 28, 2005

The Geator on XPN?

Now that the results of that great marketing experiment known as “The 885 All Time Greatest Albums” are in, it’s clear that XPN has a mandate to please boomers. (Hey, that’s me!) In that spirit, Jerry Blavat has been tapped to host a nostalgia show called “The Geator’s Rock and Roll Rhythm & Blues Express.” I have nothing against rock and roll history, and I’m as nostalgic as the next person, but when I was a “yon teen” in the Sixties, I thought Jerry Blavat was pretty creepy and anything but cool. I’ll try to keep an open mind and check this show out. In my old age, I’ve become more of a history buff.

December 24, 2005

Dress Your Cats for Christmas and Other Tales

Well, here it is Christmas Eve and our Christmas is basically over already. Yesterday we headed to the in-laws’ for a very festive dinner with Anne’s parents and her sister and husband. After dinner we all got to open our presents two days early. That was fun. Tonight we went to church and when we got home, I had an overpowering urge to mull something. I stifled the impulse, and instead we tucked into a nice dinner of leftovers.

So you’re probably wondering if we dressed our cats for Christmas. Well, we didn’t (why risk life-threatening injuries?), but I see that Mrs. Harridan has successfully dressed two of her cats in holiday splendor here and here. Those reindeer antlers look like they stayed on all of maybe 1/125 second. Still, very cute.

While our cats may not be dressed for Christmas, we’ve been decorating the rest of the house. Two weeks ago we purchased our Christmas tree, a Fraser fir, and decorated it, although not without incident. A cat (or cats) chewed clear through the wires of one of the light strings. Fortunately, the lights weren’t plugged in at the time. We also wrapped the banister and doorways with princess pine garland.




While we enjoy giving and getting presents as much as anyone, this year we decided to do things a little differently; Anne proposed a plan to donate what we spend on each other to our favorite charity. Not long after that, I read a post by Chris in the same spirit, “Take the ten bucks you were going to blow on tube socks for your aunt Beatrice and donate it to the gulf coast releif effort.” That’s what we decided to do this year if only for each other. We didn’t want to deprive our Aunt Beatrice of her tube socks.

Christmas Day will be a whirlwind of visits with relatives and friends that we’re both looking forward to. In fact, I need to make a pie crust before heading to bed tonight, so if you’ll excuse me...

Merry Christmas everyone!

December 21, 2005

Wolfgang Puck, M.D.

I already had my monster cold for the year, so I was kind of surprised when I felt a sore throat coming on last Friday. It didn’t ruin my weekend; I went to the Philly blogger meetup on Saturday and heard Paranoid and Mosaik at the Sellersville Theater on Sunday. By Monday, however, I was really sick. Unfortunately, there was a serious fire burning at work, so I had to go in. At the urging of co-workers (who for some strange reason were all holding handkerchiefs over their mouths), I stayed home Tuesday.

My body craved chicken soup, so when i finally got up, I headed out to Whole Foods. There were only two choices, one of which was called No Chicken Noodle Soup. Now it’s all well and good to leave the chicken meat out of the soup, but how do you make no-chicken broth? I needed the real thing. The other choice was Wolfgang Puck’s Organic Chicken with Egg Noodles. Just the ticket! I had this soup for lunch and dinner and spent the rest of the time in bed. Today as if by magic my sore throat is gone. Of course, I know it’s not magic, it’s the chicken soup. Who needs a flu shot?

Now that my illness is over, it occurs to me how unfair it is that after all that suffering I don’t get to keep the husky, sexy voice I was blessed with for the last few days. Oh, well, I’m just grateful to be healthy again. Thanks, Dr. Puck. My co-pay is in the mail.

December 19, 2005

Meetup Post Mortem

Hmm, what a remarkably poor choice of words, but that’s just like me. Post mortems are for the dead, and last Saturday’s blogger meetup was anything but. It started out quietly enough. Between sucking down one Smithwick’s after another and inhaling some deliciously-seasoned jerk pork, I enjoyed chatting with the folks at my end of the table, Albert, Michael, Marisa, Tulin, Duncan, Dan and Jonathan. Unfortunately it wasn’t practical to converse with the other half of the table, so I didn’t get to talk to Michael, Owen, Luna, Bobby, Howard, or Scott. (I didn’t actually get to meet everyone; the list is cribbed from Scott’s writeup.)

At one point, I noticed a fiddler and guitarist took seats at a table in the corner and began playing Irish dance music. It wasn’t long before the forces had swelled to include a half dozen more players. It was a full-tilt boogie Irish jam session. Being half Irish, I enjoyed this (they were good), but it made conversation challenging. Still, it wasn’t as loud as the “jukebox” I’ve heard at Fergie’s on other Saturday nights. Suddenly, some dancers in tap shoes began to dance. I don’t even know what to call what they were doing, but it was thrilling! I felt transported to Ireland for a few moments. Not too long after that I left, but I should have stayed, because I missed the invasion of the Santa Clauses. You don’t believe that that much wackiness could ensue in one evening? Owen has the full story, pictures and even video.

December 18, 2005

Lobster Rolls Rock!

Bon Appétit January 2006

So claims Bon Appétit, a magazine we cancelled a while ago but continue to receive for some reason. Anne couldn’t help noticing one of the headlines on the cover of the January, 2006 issue: “Lobster Rolls Rock!” Well, yes they do, and they rule as well (or whatever term the kids use these days to indicate unqualified approbation). It’s the Best of the Year issue, and the lobster roll was named Top Dish of 2005. Rebecca Charles of New York’s Pearl Oyster Bar gets the credit for igniting the alleged firestorm of popularity. Deservedly so, I might add. My sources all agree that Pearl serves the best lobster roll in New York. The article includes a mouth-watering photo of a larger-than-life roll that got me all hot and buttered, uh, I mean bothered. Maybe I should consider renewing my subscription...

December 14, 2005

Hog Bay Notebook Replaced By Mori

TUAW reported that one of my favorite applications, Hog Bay Notebook, has been retired and replaced with a rewritten version named Mori. Sure enough, it’s true.

Mori is much more than an upgrade to Hog Bay Notebook. Rather, developer Jesse Grosjean has built a “platform” in Mori that allows for future growth. The biggest architectural change is that Mori uses an open-source framework for plugins called Blocks, which allows features to be bolted on to the basic platform; it’s a flexible and sensible approach.

While Mori is not an open-source project, it’s nevertheless quite open. For one thing, users are encouraged to participate in the development process by submitting feature requests, and there’s an SDK available for anyone who wants to write a plugin. If you don’t like the way Mori works, you can change it. Besides the new plugin-based architecture, another big change from Hog Bay Notebook is that Mori uses Core Data for its file format. As a result of this decision, Mori requires Tiger.

As a 1.0 application, Mori hasn’t reached feature parity with the mature Hog Bay Notebook. While it’s quite usable just the way it is, I think I’ll stay with Hog Bay Notebook for a while longer and just spend Tuesdays with Mori until it matures a little.

By the way, Jesse Grosjean lives in Maine, and you can bet I asked him once for his opinion on the lobster rolls in his area. He was gracious enough to recommend a few places, although we haven’t ventured far enough north in the state to try them yet. Maybe next year. Oh, and best wishes to Jesse on the birth of his first child, Jaeda!

December 13, 2005

QotD: Christmas Songs

I have managed to avoid most of the onslaught of Christmas music this holiday season except at work where a colleague a few cubes away burning with Christmas zeal plays music all day long. Fortunately, I can barely hear it, and the only ill effects are a vague malaise that accretes to full-blown queasiness by the end of the day. Come to think of it, I don’t think that feeling comes from the music.


Anyway... time to pop The Question.

Question: What’s your favorite and least-favorite Christmas song?

My Answer: Favorite is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Hugh Martin, composer; Ralph Blaine, lyrics). Call me sentimental. No favorite version, although it should be noted that I’ve never heard the most famous one by Judy Garland. Least favorite: “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (Johnny Marks, composer and lyricist).

You are encouraged to answer the Question of the Day for yourself in the comments or on your blog. Whoops! I don’t have comments, do I? Well, I’m working on that. A grateful tip of the propeller beanie to Erik Barzeski for the QotD meme.

This just in: Anne would like to add two more least-favorite songs to the trash heap: “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Santa Baby.” More fuel for the bonfire.

December 11, 2005

Biodiesel—It’s Not Just for Cars

Announcer: We secretly switched the heating oil they usually use with renewable bio-heating oil that contains between 20% and 50% biodiesel. Let’s see if they notice...


Me: Anne, do you think the house smells like French fries?
Anne: No, why?
Me: Oh, no reason. I just had a funny feeling it should.


Wind turbine in Somerset, PA

I took this picture about 4 years ago of one of the six 1.5-megawatt wind turbines located in Somerset, Pennsylvania. The wind farm is operated by Exelon. That little hatch at the bottom is actually a full-size door--the tower is about 200 feet tall and each blade is almost 100 feet long.

Yep, count us among the households who didn’t notice. This winter Anne switched our heating-oil supplier to The Good Fuels Company, and last week we got our first tankful of blended heating oil that includes at least 20% renewable biodiesel made from vegetable oils. So far, so good. I didn’t expect our home to smell like French fries. In fact I was a little disappointed when it didn’t.

The biggest surprise was that the blended oil is about 20 cents cheaper than the price we were quoted by our regular heating-oil dealer. Can’t complain about that. Our switch wasn’t based on economic reasons. We both wanted to support alternative fuels, and this was an easy way to do it. Who knew it would be cheaper, too?

This wasn’t our first foray into renewable energy. We had been buying electricity from The Energy Coop (instead of PECO/Exelon), who were licensed to sell electricity from renewable resources as a result of deregulation. We paid a premium for several year for renewable electricity until we learned about a new program called PECO Wind, which provides electricity generated by wind. Since I am psyched about wind turbines (see photo), we switched to PECO Wind for our electricity. Again, we are paying a premium for 100% wind power, but it is cheaper than buying electricity from The Energy Coop. Of course, we’re indebted to the Coop for starting the bio-heating oil program in the first place.

(For more biodiesel news in Pennsylvania, see the America’s Hometown piece, “Homegrown Energy Solutions from the Rendell Administration.”)

December 9, 2005

When Honey and Lemon Won’t Cut It

I’ve never been into heavy-metal music (with the exception of a brief dalliance with Black Sabbath eons ago). Driving late at night far from home, however, I often scan the unfamiliar FM band for tunes. Recently I encountered some metal where the vocalist clearly sounded as if he had gargled with razor blades as the saying goes. Actually his singing wasn’t “clear” at all; it was more a tortured hoarse screaming than singing. Frankly it was a dark and frightening sound. I wondered how any human being could produce such a sound without destroying their voice. It turns out many can’t, and some singers have severely damaged their voices from night after night of screaming on stage.

Yesterday on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Melissa Cross, a vocal coach who teaches heavy-metal singers how to sound as if they’re destroying their vocal chords without doing any real damage. (She was plugging her instructional DVD called The Zen of Screaming. Now you, too, can sing death metal!) She provided a fascinating look at vocal techniques I never knew about; she was even able to demonstrate the demonic sounds I heard that night. A quick search at Wikipedia turned up two death-metal bands, Cryptopsy and Kataklysm, and I checked out some samples at the ITMS. Yep, that’s the sound. My throat started to hurt just listening to it.

It was amusing that Terry Gross introduced the interview with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” as an example of heavy-metal singing. I guess early Led Zeppelin can be considered proto-metal, but Robert Plant sounds more like an angelic choir boy by comparison.

In other music-related news, XPN played Paul Simon’s “The Late Great Johnny Ace” from Hearts and Bones on the 25th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder. That album isn’t one of Simon’s most famous, but I always liked it just the same—especially that song.

December 7, 2005

Name That PowerBook!

What is it with people naming their computers? Jerry Pournelle famously did so for decades, and he owned a slew of them. TUAW-er David Chartier takes this naming thing so seriously that he asked the TUAW readership for help. Another TUAW contributor, raconteur, bon vivant and all-around man-about-Mac, Scott McNulty has christened his new PowerBook Ozymandias—a great choice.

I’m here to go public with my PowerBook’s name, because I think it’s quite clever, although I can’t take credit for it. I owe the name to my wife Anne who combined the PowerBook’s case material (aluminum) with my name: Look for Al Green on a network near you.

December 6, 2005

Bright Lights, Big City

On my travels over the weekend I managed to take in some of the dazzling new lights in downtown Philadelphia. On the way to pick up a friend at 30th Street Station, I finally glimpsed the new Cira Centre (designed by Cesar Pelli) lit up in all its glory. Although I had seen this building several times at night, this was the first time its animated lighting was working. If you want to see for yourself, check out these great pictures of the building by R. Bradley Maule. (And for more on Maule, see Albert Yee’s interview.) I also noticed a crew shooting a movie on the south commuter train platform. Miraculously, the trains were still running on time. Perhaps the Cira Centre was showing off to get a part in the movie? Even buildings want to be in show business.

I passed from the sublime to the ridiculous when a few minutes later I was assaulted by the apparition of City Hall tastelessly tarted up in colored lights. We were not amused; I like my stonework unpainted, thank you. My retinas still ache. The pain was assuaged by a draft Smithwick’s and dinner at Fergie’s pub. I’m likin’ this place and look forward to the next Philly Weblogger meetup there in a couple of weeks.