Saturday, September 27, 2008

I always knew I liked them...

I've always liked Google (or, for those of you supporting McCain, "the google" - keep using those Video Professor CDs, you'll get there eventually) for a number of reasons. Mostly that the products they produce are so darn useful. I blog here, I've used Gmail since I first managed to wrangle an invite (remember the beta? When users had like 6 invites?), Google Reader is my preferred RSS reader both at home and on my mobile, Google Maps takes Yahoo! to school and while I've never really needed Google Earth, it's awfully fun to play with...

They're also a very cool company. They encourage employees to use 20% of their work time to pursue their own projects, some of which have turned out to be more cool Google products. And don't get me started on the Googleplex. I want to work at the Googleplex, and I don't do anything even remotely useful to them. Those kids play areas filled with multicolored balls? I didn't encounter on until I was just over the height restriction for it, and I was quite resentful. Google? Has one for the Googlers. They're just fun. They feed the Googlers quite well and have snack and drink stations every five feet (hyperbole alert)!

So now I have one more reason to like them. They have taken an official stance in opposition to  California's reprehensible Proposition 8 (constitutional amendment banning gay marriage), claiming that, 
"it is the chilling and discriminatory effect of the proposition on many of our employees that brings Google to publicly oppose Proposition 8. While we respect the strongly-held beliefs that people have on both sides of this argument, we see this fundamentally as an issue of equality. We hope that California voters will vote no on Proposition 8 -- we should not eliminate anyone's fundamental rights, whatever their sexuality, to marry the person they love."
See the Official Google Blog for the full statement.

Way to go Google. Thanks for being a standup sort of company. And Happy Tenth Birthday!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Warning - cute fuzzies ahead

It's just occurred to me that I haven't tormented you with any pictures of the rabbits lately, so here's a few. Jupiter is very much Juno's bitch - here she is demanding grooming from her bunny by shoving her head under his. (Just after crawling over him to get up the ramp. She's totally bossy.) We've moved their house to the dining room, mostly so that the occasional kicked out poo would be easier to clean, and because we can less obtrusively pen them up when we're out, so that she doesn't use the couch as a litter box. Most of the reading that I've done has suggested that limiting the amount of space available to the bunnies helps them to learn that their litter boxes are the only places to poop, so we've been penning them up while we're out, and it does seem to be helping. I expect the hardwood floors in the dining room are also less attractive than the nice hay filled litter boxes too. Last night I was able to leave the two of them free to roam and when I woke up there were no piles of poo anywhere other than the litter boxes. Of course, since they haven't been out in the living room unattended recently, I hadn't been as vigilant about keeping the backside of the red chair blocked, and when I got up this morning Jupiter had managed to trap himself up inside the underside of the chair again. Fortunately we've had that happen before, and this time he hopped right out as soon as I tipped the chair. Last time we thought we'd lost him!

Jupiter is a well trained bunny though - here he is grooming Juno's ears as per her demand. We have little unfinished wooden boxes in their cage to reduce the grade of the ramps from level to level, and in addition to making them both more comfortable climbing up to the penthouse, Jupiter has also discovered that they are great for gnawing on, which was his only bad habit before he had the boxes. We'd presented all sorts of things to him for his chewing needs, none of which met with his approval the way that the living room baseboard did, until now! He never uses anything other than his litter box and is really quite the little gentleman.

Unrelatedly, Alison is the only one participating in the "Name that room" debate, and she could use some help...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What's that in the keyboard tray?

What, you may ask, is that thing in the keyboard tray? It's a laptop. A third laptop. My desk is stupid. And the worst thing is, I really enjoy how stupid it is.

The third laptop, in all fairness, doesn't belong to me. It's Dave's $200 Craigslist special that he bought to have a beater for tour purposes. It's perfectly adequate for web purposes, but otherwise, well, a OLPC would probably be a better computer. (And far niftier. If I were going to allow a fourth laptop to come live in my desk area, it would have to be a OLPC.)  Come to think of it, perhaps I should make one of these spare laptops a Linux machine. It would have to be my old computer (the Dell XPS, left) because there's still the chance that Dave might want to use his mostly abandoned laptop, and he'd probably expect it to still be running XP when he did.

The XPS, now that it's been supplanted by the mac, really doesn't do anything except sync with my windows mobile phone for backup purposes (I don't really want to waste the space on my windows partition on the mac with Outlook, not when there's this perfectly good computer that already has that job) and run Azureus. The keyboard tray computer has only one task, and that's to sync up with the scanner for my part-time extra money gig. You would think that the two things that need to sync with a PC could share, but no, it turns out that they both want different versions of active sync (the scanner is seriously old) and the two versions refuse to coexist. Jerks. So that's why it lives in the keyboard tray, it's not called upon all that often.

I think the only way to make this less lame is to either get rid of one of these or install Linux on the XPS. Otherwise this is just stupid. (But neatly so. I even have a little black stool for the XPS to live on.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Name that room!

I've never really looked into the whole Feng Shui thing, but I do notice that changing simple things about a room's layout really changes my attitude towards that room, though it might just be that changes like that most often happen at the same time as basic cleaning and clutter removal. I'll have to experiment further, eliminating the cleaning variable.

In any event, today I cleaned up my hallway bookshelves, picked up a used shorty Ikea Billy for the spare room and shuffled a lot of stuff (and dust - whew) around, and now I like this room more than I did before. Some of that may be the rug no longer trying to trip me upon entry however. I'm not much of a rug person, I like wood floors, but Dave's a fan, so we have big rugs in the living room and the spare room.

I really need to think of a better name for the spare room. It used to be our bedroom, back when we had another roommate, but when Jon left us, I moved us into the smaller room. Now I have the absurd luxury of a room that is entirely for bed related activities. And for clothes. It feels really decadent to not have to cram a desk and some bookshelves and perhaps a TV into the "bedroom". It's just the bedroom. The old bedroom needs a new name though. It's become a sort of second living room, with a futon in case of guests and the old TV, on one side, and the computer room on the other. The office? The study? (I've always wanted a room that I could call "the study", but honestly, what am I studying? w00t?) The den? The spare room is just so lame, as names for less-obvious rooms go. Any suggestions?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blissed Out Lunch Break

This week is starting to wear on me, and after a breakfast sandwich at our eleven o'clock coffee break, I wasn't terribly hungry when lunch was called at one, so I've opted to skip lunch in favor of a nap in the hammock. It's the most wonderful feeling, just lazing here between these two trees, on this wonderfully solid hammock (hung, no doubt, by carps many seasons ago, given the growth on the trees.) I almost wish I had a little blanket or a hoodie, because while the trees still look like summer, the breeze here in the shade and in the lee of these glacially formed Central Park boulders speaks of autumn.

It's easy to forget you're in Manhattan here, with the pond behind us and the trees surrounding, the Delacourt could be any one of a thousand outdoor theatres anywhere in the country. The sun is warm, the breeze refreshing and the work seriously dirty!

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to pull the brim of my baseball cap over my eyes and let the birds and the half-heard conversation lull me to sleep.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

That's one efficient pickle!

I'm doing double duty this week, mild-manneredly working the audio strike for Hair/Hamlet at the park for the Public by day, rocking out with Fela! at night. Since the strike at the park is 9-6 and our show call is 6-11:30ish, Reid and I have been grabbing a cab from the park, and Dave's been hustling to cover our asses, and as you can imagine, I'm not getting as much sleep as I'd like.

Which makes it a great week for me to train to mix the show, right?! Our show extended for two weeks past our anticipated closing date (originally this coming Sunday) and Dave had already accepted work for a few days next week that conflict with our show schedule, so we're training a sub for him this week. Reid, wisely, decided that it would also be a good chance to train his sub, which turns out to be me. I'm concerned that I don't possess sufficient ego to sub for the A1. Mixing a large off-Broadway musical seems to require a certain amount of unflagging faith in one's own infallibility, something I'm not sure I have, especially after being told that my strengths lie in electrics, not sound...

In all seriousness, I'm excited to get to mix the show, and the work is the park has been a lot of fun. The raccoon poo aside. (One of the joys of outdoor theatre is always the invasion of unwanted flora and fauna, in this case represented by the raccoons. They seem to like the warmth of the amps and power distros, so they make nests above them, and they poop. Everywhere. Raccoon feces look a lot like larger, sloppier rabbit pellets, but rabbits eat mostly clean stuff, whereas the raccoons that live in Central Park eat, well, anything, and it shows.) The people in that crew are great though, so it's still a lot of fun. Today we electrified a pickle.

A few years ago, when I was MEing and then ASMing for an opera festival in Virginia, I first encountered the electric pickle. I found a nasty old piece of cable with a male edison plug on it and two rusty drywall screws connected to the bare wires. It looked like an especially nasty method of committing suicide to me, but I was told that it was an important piece of gear for opening night. It was the pickle wire. The opening night tradition was to light up a pickle on opening night.

The audio head at the Public had never heard of this until yesterday and I have no idea who brought it up, but at first people didn't believe it. I lent my assurances that, in fact, the pickle does light up as advertised. So he decided that he needed to see it happen, and was all set to order some pickles from the deli from which we order our coffee break food, but we decided that they probably wouldn't deliver an order of two large pickles and nothing else! Today, after coffee break, we put the theory into action, and, sure enough, science still works, and the pickle still glows. (In case you were curious, the brine that the cucumber was pickled in is the source of the orange glow.) This was much more fun than doing it with a full cast and crew though - with just the audio geeks and a few carps wandering by, we took it all out. Lots of jokes about EQing the color (if you really want a different color, use a different kind of sodium, but don't eat that pickle) and someone decided to put a multi-meter on the pickle to see what the resistance of a pickle was.

Turns out, about 1 Ohm. That's one efficient pickle!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Perhaps Crackpot isn't a bad word afterall... er... Crockpot...

Growing up we never had a slow cooker, so this small appliance, like the toaster oven, has just never seemed terribly useful to me. I scorned it, and its cousin the breadmaker. Dave, it turns out, has always wanted a breadmaker, and while I thought it was sort of silly, he decided we should buy one a few months ago and picked up the 2 lb Cuisinart model with Amazon rewards cards. After a few months, I am being forced to eat my words, but since Dave makes very nice honey wheat bread, at least I can make a sandwich of them. The bread maker is really rather cool, the sandwich bread we make is so much heartier and tastier than the store bought variety and I enjoy knowing exactly what went into it.

Earlier today Dave and I were talking about what we could possibly do to reduce our energy usage further. We already use CFLs in all but a very few of our lamps (I can't take the color temperature of even the best CFLs in the bathroom, and the short duration of use there makes them less useful anyhow) and LEDs just aren't quite there yet, I don't think, though I would like to switch when they arrive at a reasonable price/utility balance. We don't use air conditioning during the summer, and we're conservative with our use of fans to replace it. We keep the heat decently low in the winter and with the advent of the new windows, we should be able to do even better this year on that score. Our refrigerator is a hulking energy beast, but since we rent we have very little control over that, alas. It probably accounts for at least half our power bill all by itself! ConEd has had ads on the subway with energy saver tips, encouraging you to visit their website for more tips. Now, I'm pretty savvy, but there's always the chance that I've missed something or forgotten something, so I went to check out the list.

The majority of the list is concerned with heating and cooling (as it should be, those are major energy sinks for most households) which I can't do much about; appliances, which for the most part I don't have (hulking refrigerator aside); and lighting, which I've already addressed, but they did suggest that using a slow cooker instead of the oven was more efficient. It seems that seven hours of slow cooker time uses less than half the electricity of an hour of electric oven. Now, I have a gas stove and I neither want to do the math to compare BTUs to kWhs, nor to delude myself into thinking that the energy savings would be significant, given the amounts involved, but it did get me to thinking. The bread machine is pretty nifty because we can throw all the ingredients in and set the timer, coming back hours later to fresh tasty bread. It seems to me that the slow cooker would do the same thing for soups and roasts and chili. All things I like to eat as the weather turns cooler. Maybe we should get one...

Dave, it turns out, is very brand loyal to Cuisinart, due to the longevity of his college toaster oven. (Another small appliance I never had, and therefore never thought I needed. We still have his college toaster oven though, and it is a perfectly nice item, I freely admit.) Therefore, the Cuisinart 4 quart cooker, pictured above, is the obvious front runner, but I would love your insight. Do you use a slow cooker? What kind? What size? And most importantly, what do you make in it?

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I admit it, if I had more money, I would be an alpha consumer, at least of gadgets. (I'll never be an alpha consumer of, say, fashion items, no matter how much money I have.) I like Apple, I like every product of theirs that I've owned, and I pay attention to the products they release. I'd buy more of them if I could afford it. So obviously when they announced the new nanos, I looked at my second generation nano and wished it were sexier. However, the thing that most intrigued me from that announcement was not hardware related at all. The sexy new gadgets play with iTunes 8, and iTunes 8 has a neat new feature, Genius.

I've been known to waste a stupid amount of time cleaning up and relabeling my iTunes library, but I've never been one for the creation of playlists - I get distracted too easily by listening to the songs I'm considering that I never actually accomplish anything. Genius was made just for me, clearly. You pick a song from your library, hit the little atom icon, and presto - a 25 song playlist culled from your library to compliment the seed song! My first three tries produced very reasonable and listenable lists. A Cathie Ryan song produced a very mellow list, with Loreena McKennitt, Dougie MacLean and the Chieftains featured prominently (Enya and Ray Lynch I can see too, but I question the inclusion of Rosa Passos...) but iTunes doesn't know Battlefield Band at all, which I would have liked to have associated with the general Celtic-ness.  It made me a nice Christmas list when I planted The King's Singers version of "Veni, Veni Emmanuel", focusing mostly on similar choral and sacred music, but with a bit of Dean Martin for fun. It even made me smile by including "Tessie" and "Dirty Water" in a playlist based on the Dropkick Murphys "Shipping Up to Boston".

I suspect that the utility of this feature is directly proportional to the size of your library. With my 60G library, it has lots of options, with a smaller library it might return stranger matches, forced to stretch a bit.

The system has some faults - it doesn't like the Beatles, for one. (Honestly, who doesn't like the Beatles?) The Beatles are notoriously NOT available for download on iTunes, so it seems that it's not sure how to deal with them, as they aren't built into its initial knowledge base.  Clearly the goal of Genius is to sell more music on iTunes - even for Battlefield Band and Fela Kuti, on which the Genius list choked, it lists top albums for download and "Top Songs You're Missing" in the Genius Sidebar.  As such, it has a skew towards things that are available on iTunes, and is less able to deal with more obscure tracks. The true test is going to be in its ability to learn these artists from association. This feature is not for the privacy anxious, as it learns based on your listening habits and those of all your fellow iTunes minions, uploaded and presumably cross-referenced, but I'm hoping that as the user base grows, iTunes Genius will learn Battlefield Band, Fela Kuti and maybe even the Beatles.

Monday, September 08, 2008

What is this productivity you speak of?

Dave worked an all-night/all-day fashion week gig last night to this evening, and my goal was to get to bed at a reasonable hour and then get our apartment back into some sort of order. I didn't do very well...

We still have this sort of permadirt left from when our landlord had the new windows installed.  The old windows were original to the building - impossible to properly clean and essentially nonexistent in the insulation department. When it got cold outside I could sit at my desk and feel equal parts heat from the radiator and cold from the windows! Our landlord, as the oil prices get higher and higher, has grown more and more agitated about the heating costs (one of the best things about NYC is that most apartment rentals include heat, so if the apartment isn't energy efficient in that regard, the right person is footing the bill for it) and we've pointed to the terrible windows several times, not expecting any response.

So we're pretty darn thrilled to have them, but getting the work completed was like pulling teeth. Poor Dave was stuck with doing that dental duty as well, as I was busy that week. It was a pretty neat thing to watch, but getting them to clean up afterwards was just a hopeless task. What had been billed as a one day project turned into nearly a week of pestering the contractor and moving all our stuff around. They literally ripped the old windows out of their seat in the wall and then mounted the new ones in their place, which created a great deal of plastery white chips everywhere and powdery dirt that got into everything. They patched everything back up, but didn't do a terribly neat job of it, which left yet more dust and grime.

Today I think I may have finally gotten the best part of it out of our bedroom, which is great, but the spare room has been on a messy downward spiral since the construction, with the bicycles everywhere (there are only two of them, but it feels like they're everywhere), bunny stuff spilling out of the closet and piles of crap on the futon. There are empty boxes living next to my desk, piles of who knows what all over Dave's desk and every flat surface is covered. I don't even know what's at the bottom of some of these piles! I was really hoping to get that dealt with today, and all I seem to have accomplished is the area around Dave's (much neater) desk. I'm actually quite proud of that 5 foot square, and I did get the laundry all done!

Sadly, my cleaning streak ended when I turned on the Sox game, and now here I am, wasting time talking about the cleaning I'm not doing.  I did finally come up with an excuse for posting some of these window pictures though!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Never a dull moment

We had our first two show day on Fela! today, and boy did it suck! The air conditioning at 37 Arts is never the most reliable thing in the world, as I know well from last year, and today was apparently one of its off days. It was stupid hot on stage for both shows, and keeping mics attached to actors (where by actors I mean crazy-ass dancers who sing) was a constant challenge. The ladies were so humid in the dressing room that it was hard to even tape them up initially, and once they get to serious sweating, no hope. 

The ladies weren't the real problem though, the real problem turned out to be Sahr. Sahr plays the lead, Fela Kuti, and he, quite literally, does not leave the stage during act one. Not once. There's not even a way to sneak him off while something else happens, because nothing else happens. It's completely and totally the Sahr show. (This theme continues into act two, but there are two quick changes, one of which can be made to afford us about a minute if we need to repair or replace something.) Since there is no way to get Sahr off stage, and the show is set in a club to begin with, the emergency back up for his mic is the handheld 58 that he uses for the intro and subsequently leaves on a stand with the band. As I'm sure you've guessed by now, we lost Sahr's mic, victim of the excessive heat induced sweat, in the beginning of the matinee's act one, and had to scramble to work around the handheld for some of his onstage actions. (Hard to roll a joint with one hand, right?) At intermission we changed out the entire thing, as Reid had heard some popping as well. New transmitter, new cable, new element - with freshly sewn on (by me) windscreen. New everything. The switch was smooth, the fix effective. During act two I lost a transmitter on one of the key women, Nicole, but nothing drastically out of the ordinary, and easily fixed on a costume change.

We wrote the whole thing off. At least it was the matinee. Fixed Nicole up, and headed out for dinner. Apparently it was monsoon season in NYC this afternoon. We were totally soaked before we'd even gone half a block! Dripping, we ate our tasty kebab rolls from the Pakistani place and rushed back to reset for the second run.

All was well at RF check, no problems. Sahr's old mic, given time to dry out and a brisk squirt with canned air, was miraculously revived, but we opted to stick with the new-brand-new one. Better safe than sorry.

We thought.

This time it went by the end of the first number. Same thing. Sweat rolled right down into the element and this time there was no salvaging it. Total goner. I'm quite sure that's the shortest life of any E6 I've ever encountered. Less than two hours. So again, Sahr spent the first act on the handheld, with some adjustments around it. And again, we swapped out at intermission. This time we were forced to go back to the earlier mic, as we were totally out of spares at that point (we lost another yesterday and haven't received replacements yet), but we got lucky and it sounded ok. We did err on the side of distance from his face, in an attempt to avert further disaster, and that lead to a lot of breath noise, that would have made me crazy, if I hadn't already been there.

Fortunately, Sahr is a total pro and takes everything in stride, including the appearance in the audience of Beyonce and Jay-Z, which pretty much tripped all the women out. (They said it was good though, that they were so tired by then that having celebs added energy to the show for them.) I'm not a big fan of either myself, but I now have a positive impression of them both because they made a point of staying around after the show for a meet and greet (and some photos for our cast) with the company. It's always nice to see celebrities engaging like that, rather than running off after the show in order to avoid the paparazzi. (Looking at YOU, Katie Holmes. We totally saw you do that the other day.)

After the show, while Reid was talking to folks about our show (awful), the real Fela Kuti's manager talked to him a bit about the PA that they had cobbled together for Fela back in the day, and that no matter what anyone else said, it sounded great, just like Fela would have wanted it himself. I was really glad to see Reid get that sort of affirmation, because his job in mixing this show is an absolute beast and I'm not sure how much anyone realizes that.

There really wasn't anything we could have done differently today, so I'm not going to dwell on it for long. AC craps out, actors sweat, gear fails. Nothing to be done about it.

I still felt like an asshole though.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Raindrops on roses... or at least houseplants.

We walked off the train into the first few drops of a lovely rainstorm - at least now that I have dry clothes on I think it's lovely! That's not entirely true. I like walking in the rain a great deal, but I'm not really a big fan when I'm still carrying all my stuff from work. Anyhow, within a block it was coming down pretty hard and we got good and soaked.

When I got home, I had to water the plants. I know this is silly, and certainly a case of me anthropomorphizing totally inappropriate things, but I feel bad for houseplants when it rains. It seems as though they know that the rain is coming down and can't figure out why they aren't getting any. (This is not totally absurd, since the changes in the air probably to key them in on some cellular level to expect water. Feeling disappointed for them, however, is a little bit daffy.)

Today was, as I expect you noticed earlier, Dave's birthday. We didn't do much celebrating, as we had a show call at 6 for Fela! and two shows tomorrow puts a damper on going out post show. I did at least take him out for an early dinner and we went down to Tekserve to pick up his birthday present. I'd been at a loss all week - the only thing he really wants is a macbook, and that's just slightly (ever so slightly) out of my price range! Last night on the train he was listening to his iPod and said something about how he'd not had the headphones out of the jack since he got it, two years ago. Those awful little earbuds that come with the iPod. (If anyone needs some, by the by, I have three sets in my desk drawer. I really have no idea where some of them came from. I don't have enough iPods to justify this. There's no reason for it.) I hate those things. I hate them especially much on other people who are near me on the train, but I hate listening to them too, and it occurred to me that Dave might likewise dislike them. So I asked if he'd ever considered getting a better set. I have the old Shure E3c model and I love them. He said he just hadn't wanted to spend the money. Perfect! A luxury item you wouldn't buy for yourself? Bingo! Birthday present! Now, I'm not made of money, far from it, so he has to settle for the SE110s, but he seems to like them, and they are a great deal better than the ones he has.

Note to Steve Jobs: You could do a major public service for transit riders everywhere if you would just include a slightly better headphone with the iPod. The ubiquity of the iPod, in all its many incarnations, means that you could single handedly reduce the irritation level of all the people who do not want to hear other people's tunes! It can't be that expensive, I'm not asking you to include Shure SE530s or anything, just something like the junkers that came with my xm radio. Slightly isolating. With similarly meh sound quality to the current iPod buds. 

Friday, September 05, 2008

Just a note...

Happy Birthday, Dave!

Fudge/Umbridge '08

I'm a day late, and always more than a dollar short, but I'm finally watching Sarah Palin's snarky speech from yesterday at the RNC. Ten minutes in, I found myself wanting to throw things, and then I realized who she reminded me of.

Dolores Umbridge. 

I thought I was just terribly clever, but it turns out that quite a number of other people had come up with the idea as well. I googled it, and found a Facebook group and a Yahoo question on the subject. So much for my independent cleverness. The Facebook group even suggests that perhaps McCain, old and out of touch, could perhaps be Fudge. I think that one's just a stretch to match the Palin-Umbridge connection, but it made a good title...