Made it into Dallas last night and took a shuttle to the Gaylord Texan Hotel and Convention Center, a mammoth complex right near the airport. I am attending my fourth National Athletic Directors Conference in the past four years (the others were in Anaheim and Nashville). Since I'm only here until first thing Monday morning, and I'll be engaged in a trio of four-hour mini-courses as well as other sessions in that time, plus I don't have a car, it's unlikely I will get out of this place to see anything else in Dallas. So I could well be anywhere in the country right now; the city itself doesn't register in my plans. Of course, there is a slew of restaurants and other diversions here in the convention/hotel complex, so I'll be living in the convention bubble this weekend, I guess.
When I got home after 1 in the morning after my trip to Williamstown last night, I dumped by pants into the washing machine, since part of my dinner wound up on my thigh while driving; I figured the pants would get clean while I slept. As I took the pants out this morning to put them in the dryer, I noticed I had not removed my wallet from the back pocket, so now I have a very soggy leather enclosure containing some waterlogged bills. Fortunately my driver's license and credit and ATM cards were unaffected; as I have a flight to Texas this evening, missing those would have been a big problem!
I am off to Bradley Airport for a weekend getaway of sorts. Lest that sound too leisurely, this is a work-related trip to the National Athletic Directors Conference, which is in Dallas this year. I scheduled this convention when I realized this would be an open weekend on the girls' varsity squash schedule, though we subsequently moved our Exeter match to tomorrow, so I will have to miss that.
I am back on the Williams College campus for the first time in a few years. This place is so familiar to me, and yet there are a handful of major architectural developments that have changed the place substantially since my last visit. I am exploring the replacement for Baxter Hall--the student center and dining hall I knew--the beautiful new Paresky Center. Spring Street has been largely transformed since my undergraduate days and there is a new academic building south of Sawyer Library. The theater has been thoroughly renovated and expanded as well, and that's where I am heading tonight. Happily, most of the campus remains just as I remember it.
Last weekend, while lining up some 2010 travel arrangements, I stumbled across the fact that the Cap and Bells theatrical troupe at Williams would be staging King John during the last few days of the College's fall term. Tonight was opening night. So once my team's practice wound up at 4:30, I jumped in my car and drove to Williamstown so I could knock off this rarely-performed Shakespeare work in my attempt to complete the canon. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the play is a rather enjoyable work. The Williams production--directed by a senior--was a very creditable endeavor, presented in the vastly scaled down Adams Memorial Theater (the College built a new Mainstage and converted the AMT into a much more intimate space). I thought this might be the hardest play to find on stage, but I suspect the three installments of Henry VI will be the final entries in the Bard's traditional canon that I will see produced.
Today is the first day of the winter trimester here at Choate. I am teaching History 423, The United States In Vietnam, an elective course I taught with some regularity before I was appointed Director of Athletics in 1996. In fact, it has been thirteen years since I did this course. So this term will be like getting reacquainted with an old friend. And I'll be able to approach the material from a relatively fresh perspective too. Moreover, I have visited Vietnam since the last time I handled this subject, so my time in Saigon should inform my teaching. Should be fun!
Tonight, the second season of Elvis Costello's Spectacle interview show aired on Sundance Channel. The singer tends to interview other musicians--though Bill Clinton popped up in one of the first season's episodes--and the guests in this edition were Bono and The Edge. As is typical of the series, a handful of musical numbers are interspersed with the banter and among the performances in this show, the U2 pair gave us a gripping rendition of "Stay (Faraway, So Close)."
I took the varsity girls' squash team to Taft today for our first match of the winter and we got pretty soundly beat. We did not have one of our top players, but even at full strength we probably could not have won this one. Happily, we returned to the Choate campus in time to see our varsity boys' basketball squad craft an exciting overtime win over Taft!
Some months back the iTunes Store was offering a pretty great deal on a collection of 20 remastered episodes of the original Star Trek series for something like $15. So I took the plunge. With some free time on my hands, this afternoon, I fired up the AppleTV and watched the two episodes from that three-year run that introduced the Romulans as a major nemesis of the Federation: "Balance Of Terror" and "The Enterprise Incident." I had forgotten how good Star Trek could be at its best, and these clearly were two superior episodes.
Having spent a few hours tonight finishing The Paris Vendetta, I am convinced this is the ideal type of thing to read on the Kindle. A hardback copy of the thriller would have set me back at least four or five more bucks, and it's hard to imagine I'd ever crack the pages of the volume ever again. In other words, this is a pretty disposable work. Moreover, a thriller is well suited for traveling, which is the time I am most likely to use the Kindle.
Having enjoyed both productions by The Bridge Project that I saw this year--The Cherry Orchard in Brooklyn in January and The Winter's Tale in London in August--today I booked tickets for both of 2010's offerings: As You Like It and The Tempest. I'll catch both at the Brooklyn Academy of Music: one in January and one in February.
The online price dropped dramatically, so I am now the proud owner of an Anakin Skywalker blue lightsaber replica!
I spent some time checking out the clips and mini-documentaries online about the forthcoming James Cameron flick Avatar, and this could shape up to be a pretty impressive cinematic experience. My plan is to find the biggest screen I can and strap on a pair of 3-D glasses to see it in all of its glory.
I am prepping for tomorrow's class and reading Frances FitzGerald's Fire In The Lake for the first time in a long while. Though it's controversial in some (i.e., right-wing) circles, I always liked this book because it's so well grounded in Vietnamese culture and history and helps unwind the Indochina conflict(s) by dealing with the culture clash(es) involved. This work holds up pretty well as I return to it nearly fifteen years later.
After finishing Season 1 on Blu-ray and using iTunes downloads to get caught up on all the Season 2 episodes that already have aired, my iTunes Season Pass for Fringe is now delivering new installments of the series each week that it airs. So Friday, my AppleTV downloads the new show that was broadcast on Fox the previous evening. This way, I'll have a fresh episode waiting for me at home tonight.
I would not have expected this: only 60% of the visitors to this blog are from the United States. 4% are from Canada and another 4% are from the U.K., and the rest are from around the globe.
The Amazon.com home page is supposed to be dynamic, since it's based on authentication. If the cookie reveals that it's me who has logged in, I should see different stuff than you do, based on my unique purchasing history. This is how the shopping site makes recommendations customized for each of us. So why am I bombarded with a big ad for the Kindle whenever I browse my way there? Shouldn't Amazon.com know I already own the device?
The sports-themed restaurant here in the hotel complex has about 30 big flat screen monitors spread all over and a 52-foot-wide megascreen on which you can watch nine broadcasts at once. A football lover's paradise on a Sunday afternoon!
This afternoon I am missing the Festival Of Lessons And Carols back home at Choate in the Seymour St. John Chapel. This nativity program of readings and sacred music--an academic tradition that started at King's College, Cambridge--always puts me into the spirit of the season.
No great surprise that Connecticut's junior senator is causing more trouble on health care reform, yesterday abandoning the Democratic Party's compromise agreement on the public option/Medicare angle.
Since my MacBook Air doesn't have a DVD drive, I tend to rent movies from the iTunes Store while traveling. I watched a pair of mostly forgettable but reasonably entertaining movies featuring the teenage demographic: Assassination Of A High School President and Camp. The former I watched during some down time between convention sessions in my hotel room yesterday and I watched Camp this morning on the flight up from Dallas. Hard to beat the convenience of downloading a flick for a few bucks and watching it whenever I want.
I recently updated my travel map page with projected destinations for 2010. Some of these trips I am not sure about yet, and I probably will be adding at least a brief U.K. jaunt in August at some point as well as additional travel during the last few months of the year.
I finally configured the 1TB Time Capsule I bought back in the summer (!) to enable the Time Machine software to automatically back up the hard drive (and two connected portable drives) associated with my primary iMac desktop computer. This will ensure I hang on to key documents, photos, videos, and music files in the event of a catastrophic drive failure. The initial backup is being processed while I sleep tonight.
I fired up the Blu-ray edition of this year's Star Trek reboot to listen to the audio commentary by director J.J. Abrams and the writers and producers. Pretty cool to hear the behind-the-scenes analysis from the filmmakers. I usually don't take advantage of these special audio tracks on my DVDs very often, but with a bit of time on my hands, this was an interesting diversion.
Just got in from the midnight opening of Avatar in 3D. While it won't go down as one of the finest films ever made, this is a hugely engaging spectacle (which you MUST see in 3D) that is a testament to imagination and technical wizardry. The movie is quite an accomplishment and a very entertaining ride that is well over two-and-a-half hours long. Thumbs up.
Unlike the cutting edge motion capture and CGI employed in Avatar, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is old-style stop-motion animation produced painstakingly. It works well in this Wes Anderson-helmed flick, featuring a great vocal cast, led by George Clooney, Meryl Streep, and Bill Murray. As one might expect from Anderson, there is a wonderfully subversive feel to the storyline, which is based on a Roald Dahl book.
As the roads were relatively clear after last night's storm--southern Connecticut didn't get dumped on as much as points south and east, apparently--I trekked down to New Haven to catch up on a couple of theatrical releases before things get busy with family time later in the week. First up was Me And Orson Welles, an account of a late 1930s Broadway production of Julius Caesar staged by Welles, told from the point of view of a high school senior (Zac Efron) who stumbles into the director's orbit. Lots of nice touches in this film, and the actor who played Welles was pretty convincing capturing the man physically and vocally.
Continuing my immersion in movies these first few days of break, I watched The Proposal on AppleTV this morning. This was a big box office hit in 2009 and I can see why: the chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds clicked nicely. Pretty disposable entertainment I suppose, but just the thing for a leisurely Sunday morning at the start of a vacation.
Took in a little of the Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skulls DVD--well, the first hour of it anyway. Reviewers were pretty harsh about this flick, and there's a lot to object to toward the end of the story (which felt like it was lifted from Close Encounters) but the warehouse scene and the stuff at Indy's college hold up pretty well.
Saw Invictus at the Wallingford movie palace, expecting there to be a blizzard well underway by the time I got out. Turned out the snow was delayed, but the film was very entertaining: a mix of politics and sport that was right up my alley. I found myself getting choked up a bit in some key places. The film is about inspiration, when you cut to the heart of it. I enjoyed seeing the sights of Cape Town, Pretoria, and Jo'burg I came to know a bit during my time there in 2006.
At the urging of a couple of girls on my team, I watched Love Actually on my AppleTV tonight. This was a pretty enjoyable movie, though perhaps a bit overloaded with too many couples in the mix. I loved the London setting, as well as the fact that not every pairing was wrapped up tidily as the final reel unspooled. And the acting is absolutely blue chip all the way: truly an all-star cast.
While traveling to Greenwich and back this afternoon, the girls insisted on an audio diet of Christmas music for the ride, so I had a couple of iPod playlists prepared for the occasion, which they supplemented with a few tunes of their own choosing. On the heels of that experience, I have finally succumbed and purchased my very own copy of Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You," a song I have resisted for years but I now bow before its schmaltzy charms.
By the way, the two Christmas albums from the a cappella group Straight No Chaser have been in heavy rotation on my iTunes. Definitely recommended.
I just gave a test to my U.S. In Vietnam class and am now celebrating being on holiday break (more or less). In spite of how much I love my job, even after all these years there is still a thrill to the sensation of finishing up before the start of a vacation!
The Memorial House common room is festively decorated with a fire roaring in the fireplace and plenty of treats for the boys coming back from their final school commitment before break: a concert presentation in the Arts Center. So spirits are high and we had an enjoyable evening. Most of the older kids are accompanying me to the midnight premiere of Avatar 3D later on at the local cineplex, once the third formers are in bed for the night. First thing in the morning, the campus empties out. Many of the kids are taking off before dawn to catch international flights.
Looks like the Democrats in the Senate will have a filibuster-free bill on health care reform after all. Like Obama's Copenhagen agreement on addressing climate change this past weekend, the Senate bill is the product of compromise and is surely disappointing in many respects. But I support the passage of this legislation--flawed as it may be--because it expands insurance coverage dramatically to 30 million more Americans, ensures insurance companies can't deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, and offers some deficit belief on top of that. Yes, there's lots more work ahead on this front in the future, but this is a creditable start.
Tonight is the longest night of the year, with the arrival of the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The good news is that tomorrow the days start getting longer!
AppleTV brought Adventureland as the movie du jour tonight. The central character is a recent college graduate in 1987--pretty close to where I was at that time. The setting is an amusement park in Pittsburgh--pretty far from where I was at that time. Anyway, this is basically a love story with a good 1980s soundtrack and reasonably entertaining.
A curious intersection of sneakers and space opera!
I loved Blue Harvest, the Family Guy take on the original Star Wars movie (which today's youth call Episode IV: A New Hope). So I was pretty pleased to get today's shipment from Amazon.com with the Something, Something, Something, Dark Side DVD: a similar send up of The Empire Strikes Back. Unfortunately, this one does not come with a digital copy included, as the last one did.
A couple months back, the iTunes Store introduced a couple of new formats: iTunes LP for music embedded with extra content (ostensibly to promote buying albums rather than singles) and iTunes Extra for movies embedded with extra features (presumably to woo folks who would otherwise buy DVDs for the special features). I missed Inglourious Basterds when it was out in the theaters this fall, so I bought the iTunes Extra version to see how it works on my computer screens and my AppleTV.
Watched Eddie Izzard's Live From Wembley stand-up gig today, and it was okay, but nothing anyone should rush to see.
Continuing my immersion in disposable entertainment while on holiday, I rented The Hangover on AppleTV tonight. Well made and well cast, with a few good laughs, this is just the sort of movie I am glad I saw but equally glad I didn't drop $10 to watch it in the cinema. Also, I am glad to know Mike Tyson's delight at the drum intro during "In The Air Tonight" equals my own.
Time Machine finally finished backing up my primary desktop computer. In retrospect, I should have done the first backup with a wired connection directly to the Time Capsule. And because I set up the home network in a screwy way, it took a lot longer to complete the backup process than it should have. But I can sleep a little better now that I have a master archive in place.
Caught an early matinee today and I liked Up In The Air a LOT. I approached this movie as a pretty experienced traveler--I average at least one round-trip flight a month--and I thought the film captured both the romance and the alienation of travel in the jet age. The film is timely, too: firmly grounded (sorry for the pun!) in the harsh economic realities currently facing the country. George Clooney led a terrific cast. This flick ought to be Oscar bait, for sure.
I stopped for a routine oil change--I was a bit overdue, and had the time to knock off this errand this afternoon--and ended up spending just over $400 on the Explorer. There were some "essential" services that needed to be performed, of course. Funny how this always happens. Ugh!
I didn't watch any of The Clone Wars--the CGI-animated Star Wars series set between Episodes II and III--when they aired on Cartoon Network, but I am slowly making my way through the first season on Blu-ray discs. This is a pretty well-crafted show: a mix of familiar and new characters in visually striking settings. Each episode is about 22 minutes long, so it's a quick hit to watch one when time allows.
In what should be seen as the ultimate tribute to the late Ted Kennedy, the U.S. Senate passed the health care reform bill this morning after months of deliberation and political wrangling. While there is the tricky business ahead of reconciling this version with the House bill, it looks like America will get at least a first wave of legislation addressing the health care needs of the nation. Hopefully there will be substantive reforms to follow on this front, as well. Though the process was controversial and messy, this legislation has to be considered a triumph for President Obama, Congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, and the Democrats.
I am so glad I invested in new pillows and new flannel sheets a couple of weeks ago. My bed always feels warm when I get in it and I've been experiencing great nights of sleep.
In the last 24 hours, the Internet has been abuzz with speculation that Apple may be close to announcing the release of a much-anticipated tablet device late next month. The Cupertino company has apparently scheduled a media event for January 26 and word has leaked out that leader Steve Jobs is "happy" with the new product. Industry watchers are expecting an announcement/demonstration of a device that is akin to a large iPod Touch. Some app developers reportedly have been asked to prepare full-screen demos of their software. The Apple tablet would be available by the spring. An exciting prospect!
Over in England, today is celebrated as Boxing Day and the BBC is airing a filmed version of the RSC's 2008 Hamlet production featuring David Tennant as the title character and Patrick Stewart as Polonius. It's being released on DVD the first week of next month and I pre-ordered a copy on the U.K. Amazon.com site. (Nice to have a region-free DVD player handy to fire up this Region 2 disc.)
The family tradition of a Christmas Day movie was moved up twenty-four hours this year. Our entire routine was different, in fact: we went out for Chinese food for the very first time in my whole life! Then we watched Brothers, which was a pretty intense and extremely well acted film. Loved the new U2 song, "Winter," over the closing credits, too.
Interesting online ad for Google here.
Saw the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes tonight. This film repurposes the famous detective as a brawling action hero (though one whose powers of observation and deduction are clearly on display as well). Good chemistry between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as the Holmes/Watson team. Not a memorable film, but worth seeing.
Spent most of today with my extended family: a couple dozen of my cousins from both sides of the family, as well as other relatives and family friends. The occasion was a milestone birthday for my dad, a surprise brunch event that carried over to an "after party" of sorts at my parents' house through the afternoon. A good chance to catch up with folks whom I rarely see nowadays.
Just firmed up plans for a five-day jaunt to Rio de Janiero in June. I have a ten-year visa for Brazil from my New Years trip to Buenos Aires and Rio a few years back, but will have to have it transferred to my new passport.
I left for Newark Airport plenty early, remembering my missed flight to London at the end of July. Moreover, there were supposed to be much longer lines through security due to the recent terrorism scare on a flight from Amsterdam on Christmas Day. Well I arrived in Newark early and had no delays getting checked in and through the security screening.
Off to Lisbon on an 8:15 flight!
I had a smooth flight over, with an open seat next to me giving me plenty of room to spread out. I slept a lot of the way, though I watched the first half of The Informer before I got too drowsy (I'll have to catch the rest on the way home). No problem clearing immigration, but now I have been waiting for over 30 minutes for my checked bag to appear. Seems like some of the luggage on our flight is stuck somewhere between the plane and the carousel. But I just connected with a Choate alum from about fifteen years ago who was on the same flight.
Once I pick up my rented car, I will drive a few hours south to the Algarve region.
Had an easy drive on the motorway down to the Algarve region, but was struck by the toll charged for the trip from Lisbon: €18.60, which equates to nearly $27!
I am settled in at the Vale Do Lobo resort, and was upgraded to a higher level of accommodation, which was nice. So I have a two-bedroom apartment with a private pool at my disposal for the next few days. The weather is warm but rainy and this is clearly the off-season for this place, as there don't seem to be many people in my immediate neighborhood in spite of the holidays.
I stupidly failed to pack any of my adapter plugs for the various devices (MacBook Air, iPhone, two iPods, Kindle, digital camera, a portable DVD player, and portable speakers for the iPod) I brought with me. (Okay, okay, I admit I have a hard time cutting the technological cord when I travel!) I have a couple of cheap European adapter plugs as well as the Apple World Travel Adapter kit back home, but that does me little good now! So I am rationing the use of each electronic gadget for the time being, as there apparently is not an appropriate adapter for U.S. plugs to be found in the south of Portugal--and I have looked in the resort newsagent, two local supermarkets, an electronics store, and a Staples office supply store. I did find an adapter for U.K. plugs in one store, which didn't surprise me as the majority of guests in this resort seem to be Brits (apparently this is a favorite holiday and retirement destination for the English).
I did, however, discover online an entertaining article on why plugs and voltage are different around the globe. It's an educational and witty read.
I am digesting the Season 3 DVDs of Friday Night Lights while on holiday here in Portugal and had forgotten just how excellent this show is. I had sort of lost touch with the series midway through the second season, but am enjoying every minute of each episode in this collection.
I stumbled across a Carrefour on the way into Seville, Spain this morning and was lucky enough to find an assortment of adaptor plugs within. I bought one of those that had plugs to flip out for Europe, the U.K., and the U.S., and it also has a USB port for easy iPod or iPhone charging. So I am back in business on the digital front!
After driving through Andalucia through the early part of the day, I arrived at the Mediterranean coast just after noon and was struck by the massive presence of the Rock of Gibraltar ahead of me. As I approached the sea, I noticed a few signs in Spanish and Arabic indicating ferries to Tangiers. I made my way to La Línea, the town next to Gibraltar, where I parked my car and walked across the frontier. (I didn't want the hassle of taking my rental car through immigration and customs checkpoints.) Once I cleared the actual border, the first thing I saw was a red British phone booth and a sign indicating I was on Winston Churchill Avenue. I then had to walk across an airplane runway (after being held a few minutes as a newly-arrived EasyJet plane taxied to the terminal). No joke: the only way into Gibraltar via land involves driving or walking across a working airfield! Though signs are in English and the local currency is pounds sterling, this place hardly feels British. The climate is too balmy, the local voices are mostly Spanish, and the layout of the streets has more of a Continental feel to it. Still, this is a fascinating hybrid sort of place.
I drove through the northeast and across the center of Spain on my last trip here. I am pleased to discover here in the southwest of the country the same phenomenon of the roadside black bull silhouettes popping up along the way.