A Surprisingly Useful Insurance Company
I just got off the phone with an insurance adjuster and--much to my surprise--it looks like I'll be getting a little more than $1500 as a settlement for my stolen scooter. That's awfully good news!
I just got off the phone with an insurance adjuster and--much to my surprise--it looks like I'll be getting a little more than $1500 as a settlement for my stolen scooter. That's awfully good news!
I just filed my last report at 2:19, just a few minutes past the 2:00 deadline. I don't feel too guilty about this, since I wrote a grand total of 101 reports (for two large sections of 16 students + 69 cross country team members), most of them in the past 24 hours. I'll have another 11 comments to write for my advisees in the next few days, once I digest their teachers' remarks, but that will be a walk in the park by comparison.
I saw the musical Spring Awakening on Broadway for the second time this evening, but this time had the unusual vantage point of seats on stage. The production is in its final six weeks, and the theater was at best two-thirds full tonight. Sitting on the side of the stage offered a fascinating perspective on the show. While the sound system and blocking are designed for those sitting out in the audience, I got to see the onstage action at close range and appreciate the acting more than I would have 10 or 12 rows back. It was a fun evening.
Now that the format war is well behind us, I am ready to shift to Blu-Ray discs in anticipation of an imminent upgrade to my viewing hardware (as well as my expected purchase of a PlayStation 3 with built-in Blu-Ray capacity). The first three titles I bought were heavily discounted on Amazon, and they arrived today.
The more I use OmniFocus (and its companion application for the iPhone) the more I appreciate this cleverly-designed piece of software. It's a Mac-only solution rooted in the Getting Things Done approach to time management. The beauty of it is its capacity to sync flawlessly via MobileMe between my various Macs and the iPhone.
I have a ticket to hear Handel's Messiah performed in Symphony Hall in Boston tonight--part of my Handel & Haydn Society concert subscription--but just don't have the energy to drive up to Beantown and back when I have a round trip to New Hampshire on tap for tomorrow. So I am bagging it.
First match of the squash season in my new role as head coach of the girls' varsity squad. We had a 4:30 match at Exeter, with nearly a three-hour trip each way, so this constituted a long day on the road. Happily, we won the match to start the season off right.
The above flyer, a scanned version of which I bumped into while surfing the Internet, advertises a poster I got as a kid (it's the smaller poster on the right in this ad). It's mounted on cardboard, and so has survived the ravages of time such that I rescued it when my parents moved out of my childhood home a few years back. It now hangs in my garage. Ah, nostalgia!
I usually travel the week after Christmas. In fact, I've rung in the last four New Years in San Juan, Rio de Janiero, Sydney, and Santa Fe (pretty good variety, if I do say so myself). No big plans for this year, at least not yet. Though I plan to be around for most of the break, I am considering a few days in Quebec City or Montreal or both. And I will spend two nights in New York City for the American Historical Association Annual Meeting after the New Year.
Were money no object, I'd design my workspace with three monitors, so that one could have my calendar and to-do list on it, another my e-mail in box, and the center whatever I am working on at the moment.
Short of that, I do have more computers than I can use right now. I am considering deploying one of the older ones (a G5 iMac) in my office so I can use it next to my MacBook. I'd use it for calendar and task functions, I suppose, and do e-mail and other work on the laptop. The two screens would not really be "spanning," since there would be two computers running them, but it would give me more functionality. Then again, it might be technological overkill.
So I've pretty much committed to return to teaching summer school and running the John F. Kennedy Institute here at Choate next summer. My other option was going to school full-time, but it looks like I'll put that on hold (again!). My reasons are part financial, part logistical, and part philosophical. I probably will go to the University of Cambridge to study for a couple of weeks in August, and perhaps do some coursework at Yale or Wesleyan next summer as well.
At this point, I am considering upgrading my HD television set to a 52" Samsung flat screen. This would live in my living room, of course. But I may hold off on that purchase a few months; it seems like I am still recovering financially from not teaching summer school in 2008 (all the while spending money while in Stanford and Oxford). Plus, surely prices are due to come down in January.
In the meantime, I may get a smaller set (26"?) for the study upstairs. I'd connect this to a new PlayStation 3 and--perhaps--an Apple TV unit. The PlayStation would provide Blu-Ray capacity, and I'd move it downstairs when I upgrade the living room set.
Big plans, big bucks. But at least it's all getting cheaper!
The Office, while capable of disappointing with some sub-par episodes, still manages to produce terrific comedy week after week. The Christmas-themed episode that aired last night was a home run.
Choate's boys' varsity hockey team just ended a dramatic showdown against arch-rival Deerfield in a packed Remsen Arena, breaking a 3-3 deadlock with an overtime goal. Sweet!
Today was a leisurely day: I slept in, which is rare for me. And I didn't do much along the lines of chores, projects, and the like. Every so often, it's nice to not have anything much to do. And today was one of those days.
I am very much looking forward to the new U2 album expected sometime early in 2009. Until then, I'll take what I can get in terms of new material from the band. For the launch of the (RED)WIRE digital magazine, U2 has recorded a cover of Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas." (RED)WIRE is part of Product (RED), designed to use commerce to help fight AIDS in Africa--not a bad cause, that. Check it out here.
537 electoral votes were cast yesterday in state capitals around the nation and now it is official: Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States. I've been good about not gloating, so permit me this moment of celebration:
I went out to a hibachi-style Japanese steakhouse in central Connecticut tonight to celebrate my mom's birthday. My folks seem to like the hibachi meals, but won't really give sushi a try, which I find weird because (a) I always have been a far more picky eater than either of them; and (b) in general they love fish. I, on the other hand, count sushi and sashimi among my favorite foods.
Pretty close to Christmas vacation right now: one day of classes remain (in which I am giving a test, so no prep is involved). I've got some athletics-related duties over the weekend, but for the most part the pace of life around Choate will slow to a crawl as the holidays approach.
No Line On The Horizon is the name of the forthcoming U2 album, due out the first week in March. Can't wait!
Our first real winter storm of the season has arrived, blanketing New England in snow. The roads are hazardous, but I'm not really going anywhere. I spent most of the day in the athletic center here on campus, playing host to a girls' basketball tournament. I'll be doing the same tomorrow until about 1:30 in the afternoon. Only then will vacation truly begin!
. . . this was considered state-of-the-art! I bought my first Mac in December 1985 and this is what the screen looked like then.
I watched the first two episodes of the HBO series True Blood tonight. The premise of the show is that a subpopulation of vampires have "come out of the coffin" and are now asking for equal rights in American society. The allegorical implications are a bit obvious, but the series seems to work for me thus far because of its well-drawn characters and its offbeat setting in rural Louisiana.
Today marks the winter solstice, which means the fall is officially over--even though it seemed like it ended quite a while ago!--and winter begins. Far more important to me is the fact that for the next six months the days will be getting longer. Ancient cultures used to like solstice fires to give the sun strength, having watched it slowly drop in the sky for months. People believed that solstice rituals were critically important to bringing humanity out of the darkness and cold. Though winter has a way to go, the Northern Hemisphere starts its gradual tilt closer to the sun, and that is worth celebrating.
Since another round of stormy weather hit New England last night and this morning, I decided to scrap a planned trip to Boston for a Bach Christmas concert staged by the Handel & Haydn Society (I am not making good use of my subscription, having backed out of two events this month!), hunted under the snowfall for my Sunday Times, grabbed a bite to eat, and drove slowly down I-91 to the art cinema in New Haven to settle in for a day at the movies.
First up was Slumdog Millionaire, which has earned some stellar reviews, including a favorable mention in Frank Rich's column this morning. This film was well worth the praise it has garnered. Having spent time in Mumbai and Agra--the two principal settings for the story--I appreciated the movie's presentation of India in all its splendor, misery, and diversity. An uneducated 18-year-old finds success on the Indian version of the television game show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" and is subsequently grilled by Bombay policeman who are convinced he has been cheating his way through the show. The television program and the interrogation sessions frame flashbacks to various points of the boy's life. Knowing much more than that might spoil enjoyment of the film, which is one I recommend strongly.
Next up was Milk, Gus Van Sant's biopic of the slain 1970s gay activist and San Francisco politician. While Sean Penn was outstanding in the title role and the rest of the cast was similarly strong, I found the film itself a bit tedious and too long. While the filmmakers clearly worked hard to present to lead character as a fleshed out human being, there was a sniff of heavy-handed political correctness informing the whole piece. Of course, the country has become from more tolerant in the last thirty years in many ways. One of the central elements of the storyline, however, was the fight over California Proposition 6, which was nearly reminiscent of this year's Prop 8 battle in the state. Some reviewers have commented that an earlier release of this film might have made an important impact on reversing the outcome of that recent referendum. I'm not sure if that's true, but even with its flaws, this film is an important document of a significant figure and his time in the struggle for human rights.
While in the car, I was listening to one of my favorite holiday traditions: public radio carrying the BBC feed of the annual Festival of Lessons & Carols from King's College Chapel, Cambridge.
I am enjoying the biography of cartoonist Charles Schulz by author David Michaelis, a book that was released a year ago to a bit of controversy. (Some family members and a few critics argued the biographer's attempt to humanize his subject ended up casting too harsh a light on some areas of Schulz's private life.) Apparently the "Peanuts" creator was captivated by the film Citizen Kane, watching it dozens of times over the course of his life. This book inspires me to pop in the DVD of this Orson Welles classic at some point this week.
I finished my Christmas shopping on schedule, before noon, and am quite satisfied with my choice of presents. I tend to spend more time looking for things that I like when I hit the shops and malls before the holidays. Thus I try to select gifts over the Internet to avoid the crowds. But I was disciplined this morning and assembled a stack of goodies at Borders without even buying anything for myself (aside from a couple of magazines).
On the way home, though, I stopped at Best Buy to pick up a store exclusive: a DVD/CD package documenting the recent reunion tour by The Police. I saw the band in its Hartford stop during the summer of 2007. This release is from a concert recorded in Buenos Aires later on the tour. The sound is terrific and I really like the behind-the-scenes documentary--which was filmed by Stewart Copeland's son--included on the DVD.
So I am well into "clearing the DVR" mode during this vacation and I got halfway through the first season of HBO's new series True Blood when I realized the seventh episode wasn't properly recorded. (Every so often the machine records on the wrong channel.) Since this series is not on iTunes and isn't being streamed on the HBO website, I was in a quandary: I was hooked on the show, but unable to watch the rest of the season without seeing this missing episode. On the Choate campus, all peer-to-peer sharing functions are blocked by the firewall, but this is not the case at my parents' house, so let's just say I was able to find an alternate way to see Episode 7. And since I transferred the next two episodes from ReplayTV to my MacBook using the handy DVArchive application, I will have just three more left to watch when I get back home late on Christmas Day.
I ran the below panel a year ago, but given the spirit of the holiday, it seems an appropriate message coming from the OTHER resident of the North Pole who flies through the air:
Our annual family pilgrimage to the cinema on Christmas Day led us to the film Doubt, which I had seen on Broadway in 2005. Frankly, this version was disappointing (or, as my father dubbed it, "overrated"). The casting of Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't rise to the standard set by the pairing of Cherry Jones and Brian F. O'Byrne in the staged version. And the pacing of the movie was a mess, undermining the dramatic tension that permeated the play.
Actress Eartha Kitt died today. The news reports online are already eulogizing her varied talents as a singer, dancer, an actress-- invariably using the word "sultry." My introduction to Ms. Kitt was in the role of Catwoman on the Batman television reruns of my childhood. I remember being confused about three different actresses portraying the villainess. But even a young age, it was clear to me that Eartha Kitt's portrayal was the most feline.
In Ireland, the day after Christmas is celebrated as St. Stephen's Day. In Britain this is Boxing Day, a holiday with a tradition of generosity. An interesting piece in the Op-Ed section of today's New York Times puts it all in context.
After spending a couple days of Christmas with my family, we are reunited again at my cousin Helen's house on Lake Pocotopaug for an enjoyable Saturday lunch. For some reason it's a little more relaxing getting together without the expected rituals of the holiday itself.
Had the chance to shake off my slothful holiday habits by hitting some tennis balls and playing a few tiebreakers with Christophe (I squandered a match point in the decisive one, dammit!) on the fast indoor courts of the Johnson Athletic Center this afternoon. This was my first time on the tennis courts in a couple months now, and whenever I'm away from the game, as soon as I start hitting I'm reminded of the sheer kinesthetic pleasure of striking the ball, especially when I am making contact in the sweet spot.
I guess it wasn't a matinee--more like a twi-nighter, as they say in baseball--but I caught a 5:15 showing of the new Bryan Singer film, Valkyrie. Despite a first-rate assemblage of British actors in support roles (e.g., Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Terence Stamp) this movie never found its groove, mostly due to the inadequacy of Tom Cruise as the lead. He simply lacks the gravitas to pull off this part; I kept thinking he was Lt. Kaffee in A Few Good Men--a role he actually did pull off quite convincingly. For a 46-year-old, Tommy-boy still has his youthful looks and vigor, but those qualities turned out to be distracting in this particular film. Cruise used to be able to disappear into meaty roles, such as in Born On The Fourth Of July, and I suppose he still can get away with action flicks with some credibility, but it's hard to consider him in a fully fleshed out adult dramatic role without thinking of him as Tom Cruise. He has anchored a string of cinematic duds the last few years, so one wonders if his reputation as "box office gold" is now a thing of the past.
I have resisted for a long time, but I ordered a PlayStation 3 tonight. I'm not really a video gamer (though I will cop to enjoying occasional outings on Guitar Hero or Rock Band) but the Blu-Ray functionality made this particular purchase especially worthwhile.
I've been listening a lot to The Beatles in my car lately, specifically the remixed songs on Love, the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas that I saw a year ago this week. This album is sonically so well produced (and it came with a DVD Audio disc that sounds even better with headphones!) that it makes me eager for the much-anticipated re-release of the Fab Four's music in digital form.
My movie of the day was The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, based--very loosely--on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it turned out to be one of the most magical experiences of cinematic storytelling I've seen in some time. Essentially Brad Pitt plays a character who was born as an old man and gradually becomes younger through the decades. The arc of his life intersects with that of Cate Blanchett's character, who ages in the, um, more traditional fashion. In many ways this tale is a romance, but it's much more than that. There were moments in this picture reminiscent of Forrest Gump, but I liked Benjamin Button a lot more than the earlier film (which I thought was overrated, frankly). This movie is not without its hokey moments and some dime store philosophizing, but the skill of the filmmakers is evident throughout. The presentation of Brad Pitt's character in his younger days, as a miniature old man, and in his dotage, looking like a teenager, is seamless. Whatever digital wizardry was employed here is very impressive. Pitt brings his "A" game to this role and Blanchett is as radiant as ever. Tilda Swinton also delivers a lovely performance, as always. Don't miss this film.
Tonight I tackled a task that has intimidated me for many months now: upgrading the engine that runs this blog, Movable Type, from version 3.31 to version 4.23. Not really having much of a foundation in manipulating databases that exist on remote servers, I was very nervous that I'd crash the blog and lose all the data I've been adding for nearly five years now. But armed with some good advice from the web, a few good technological tools (principally Dreamweaver as my FTP program and some useful virtual applications from my web hosting company), as well as a helping of of misplaced confidence, I sallied forth and was able to complete the upgrade without much trouble. I discovered a fairly serious glitch on the back end when I first finished the process, but with a bit of patience and some digging, I figured out what was wrong and was able to correct it.
So what does all of this mean for you, my (few) loyal readers? Well I hope to have a new look to this site later this week, as there are some new templates I will be able to try out. Most of the benefits of the upgrade will be invisible to you but really important to me, however. It is going to be a lot easier for me to add content to this blog from multiple computing platforms, including my iPhone. And there will be new features I can more easily implement now. So stay tuned . . .
The website for men's pro tennis has a new look to go along with the organization's re-branding as "ATP World Tour."
One of the most impressive and functional iPhone apps is Shazam, a program which "listens" to any song playing and searches its database so it can identify the song and artist. It even provides iTunes Store links. I used Shazam probably a half-dozen times in the last two weeks: in stores, restaurants, etc. This is one of the iPhone platform's "killer apps" in my estimation.
I've now picked up a handful of Blu-Ray titles, and several of them have come with a bonus digital copy. This means the package includes a disc and a code that enable me to download a copy of the movie to play in iTunes, presumably on a portable platform such as my MacBook or my iPhone. The irony of this is that I chose to buy the Blu-Ray version because of the stunning quality of the picture on a large 52" HD television set (that is soon to arrive!) but what I'm also getting is the ability to watch a movie like The Dark Knight on a tiny iPhone screen while riding a train--hardly the same viewing experience!