Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Whaaaaa!

Here are my plans!
Saturday, December 16: leave CMU at about noon. Drive home to Cleveland, then get on a plane to Denver.
Sunday, Dec. 17-Wednesday, Dec. 20: Ski in Colorado with one of my best friends from high school. Also, his brother (another one of my friends from high school) and his parents, who are very cool too.
Thursday, Dec. 21: Return home for a few days of good ol' Christmas family time.
Sunday, Dec. 24: Go to The Villages, Florida, for a few days of good ol' Christmas other-side-of-the-family time.
Thursday, Dec. 28: Return home, hang out with other friends from high school, get ready to go to Europe. Hopefully interview with Microsoft at some point.
Monday, Jan. 15: Fly to Zurich, Switzerland. !
Tuesday, Jan. 16-Sunday, Jan. 21: Ski in the Alps. I have no idea where or how. I'm thinking St. Anton, Austria, because I hear you can get there pretty easily from Zurich by train. (other ski recommendations are welcome! please! if you have Alps skiing experience, tell me where I should go! even if you're a random dude who just happened across this page on a "next blog" click!)
Sunday, Jan. 21- Monday, Jan. 22: Find my way to Maastricht, Netherlands. Maybe through Brussels airport. Maybe by train. We'll see.
Monday, Jan. 22- Friday, June 15: Study in the Netherlands.

All plane tickets have been bought. Again, I can't say this enough: Thank you to whatever forces of nature/luck/planning/fortune/love have given me all of these opportunities. I guess I could say it enough, but only if I said it enough that it started sounding insincere.

(there's a little nagging doubt that these trips are like toys under the Christmas tree; I'll enjoy them for a few days, but then they'll be over, and it's all just the materialistic enjoyment of it all anyway. the sort of nagging doubt that warns: "the best things in life can't be bought." HOWEVER, I have two reasons to quash the worry: Colorado is about seeing one of my best friends, not about skiing; Florida is about seeing my grandparents, including maybe the last opportunity I get to see my grandfather; and Europe is about experiencing the world from another angle. They're not just fun diversionary trips. Although two of them are that too. The other reason that I shouldn't worry is that I worry too much about everything.)

(and if it sounds like I'm glossing over the somewhat more solemn Florida trip in the midst of two brighter, shinier trips that also involve skiing... maybe I am a bit, but if I am, it's not conscious. I think I'm still in denial that anything could happen to my grandpa, even though now they're into experimental cancer treatments. this is probably a topic for another post.)

Again, thank you for everything; I have no complaints whatsoever.

...although all these trips do make it hard to concentrate on schoolwork!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Starbucks: pros and cons

Starting with the obvious:

Pro: They resurrected (or maybe created) the modern coffeeshop. They created reasonable places for people to go to spend time. (think about it: where else can you go just to BE, without paying to eat something or drink alcohol?)

Con: They're all the same. As far as homogenization goes, they're no better than McDonald's.

Pro: However, by creating the coffeeshop business, they allowed OTHER coffeeshops (with personality and perhaps even a soul) to prosper. Go to Kiva Han, go to Kiva Han, for God's sake if you are at the corner of forbes and craig and you go to Starbucks you have made the wrong choice.

Con: Their drinks are too expensive. It's tough to walk in with a $5 and walk out with any real amount of money*. Obvious solution: get a "small cup of coffee" ($1.50 or so- still reasonable I guess, if it's good quality coffee)
*note also that if you have acquired a daily Starbucks habit, at $3 or so per drink, that's over $1000 per year.

Con: It's not good quality coffee. Ergg... and this is where I wish I bookmarked articles to back up points like this. I read a couple of articles by people who knew coffee, and they said Starbucks espresso is pretty awful.

Pro: Well, at least they're tasty!

Con: So is a pie tin full of whipped cream and a bag of marshmallows. I'll just say it's unhealthy, and leave it at that. I could quote facts if you want (like a *small* white chocolate mocha- my mom's favorite- is 410 empty calories) but you probably already agree with me. (look at that, I sneaked in a fact while I was saying I wasn't going to quote facts!) They hide the not-so-well-prepared coffee with gobs of cream and sugar. And flavored syrups.

Con: drink sizes! Come on. When a single drink can have as much caffeine as a 12-pack of coke (see the table about 1/4-way down... a Venti is 24 oz. of brewed coffee... 3*135 = 405 ~ 12*34 = 408), that's a little excessive. And empty calories, etc. The insidious thing is that they market it as just a thing to drink, not a dessert. But whatever, you can write this off, because people choose what they want to drink. If they want to drink the equivalent of a few slices of cake in a coffee cup, it's their call.
What you can't dispute is that "tall", "grande", and "venti" are obnoxious. Making fun of them is lame by now, but I will anyway. (trivia and ordering tip: there IS a "short." But you have to ask for it- it's not on the menu. It's 8 oz.)

Pro: They serve fair trade coffee. How much fair trade coffee? 3.7% of their coffee is Fair Trade certified. (see wikipedia) Still, better than nothing.

Pro: They're sorta left-wing. And good for them! Hard to find, in the corporate world. You know, they donate lots to liberal groups I think. Okay, that's not very convincing. Here's one actual fact I know: (also from Wikipedia) they had some quote about being gay on their cups, and some crazy religious right group tried to bully them into taking it off, and they didn't. Great!

Con: The Green Tea Latte. This was an abomination of a drink. Do you know how to make a Starbucks Green Tea Latte? (as I saw it when they made it)... two scoops green powder, a bunch of squirts of some mango-flavored syrup, and then he went behind the espresso machine, I assume to put some warm milk in it, and then it looks like that April Fool's Day prank where you dye the milk green and everyone gets weirded out. Plus, it tastes awful.

Okay, I'm still no fan of Starbucks, but it turns out there are two sides to the coin! Well, there are two sides to every coin... but this one is less unbalanced than I thought. They're still a little evil though.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Things I learn about a Thanksgiving dinner

1. Make your own cranberry sauce! Seriously. Do it. You have no excuse. It takes a half hour, you can do it whenever and throw it in the fridge, and it is so much better than the purple cylinder that comes from a can. Here's how to do it:

- Get 12 oz of cranberries (they come in a 12 oz package in the produce section.)
- Add (are you ready? this is the hard step...) 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 2 cinnamon sticks, 3 cloves, half an orange peel (just the orange, get as little white part as you can), and the juice of 1 full orange.
- Simmer until most of the berries break.
- Cool; remove the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and orange peel. (okay, really, this is the hard step. Finding the cloves can be tough.)

If you're missing some of those ingredients, improvise (some ground cinnamon instead of sticks, for example).

2. Timing, timing, timing. It's about 50% of good cooking.

3. Boil your potatoes a little longer than usual if you're going to mash them.

4. Almonds and green beans go well together. Cook the green beans more than I did, though.

5. Make your own stuffing croutons! I didn't, but I should have. Get some bread about 2 days before, cut it into cubes, and leave it out to get all hard. The harder, the better. I guess you could toast it too; I didn't think about that.

6. If you put this meal together competently, and you're not expected to know how to (say, if you're a college student), people will talk about how great it is so much that it'll make you uncomfortable.

7. Listen to the band BOAT; they're what might have happened if Wolf Parade had been less whiny and more happy. Of course, I judge bands based entirely on singers' voices, so that may not be accurate. RIYL: any of those goddamn cutesy bands like Architecture in Helsinki. Starting points: Quickly and Quietly, Last Cans of Paint.

8. If Tom Robbins started a religion, I would probably follow it. Also, dudes and Christianity are messing up our world. Read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.

9, 10, and 11. Thank you for everything; I have no complaints whatsoever.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Airplane tomorrow!

Wow!

I still get a little bit giddy every time I get to fly on an airplane. Tomorrow I'm going to Florida (at 9:30AM!) to visit my grandparents. Rock! My seat is 5D. That's like the second best seat on the plane! (front, aisle)

Also, I am The Luckiest. Within the next two months, I will be flying to Florida (again), Colorado (maybe, hopefully...), Seattle (?! Wouldn't that be awesome! Microsoft!), and EUROPE! Yeah! Maybe Zurich. What have I done to deserve this? (Well, I'll tell you: paved my own path into the study abroad world, interviewed well with MS, and most of all, worked and made money. However, what have I done to deserve not having to pay that money right back into CMU? I think that's a better question.)

But let's not play the "I'm not worthy" game, because that's not the point! You can thank those that put you in this position without grovelling. You can accept great turns of events, just as long as you are willing to accept the not-so-great as well.

I hope I never get tired of flying.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Okay, 5 honestly good songs

Again, keeping in mind that we're not making "top 5" lists...

1. Matt Pond PA- Closest (Look Out)
This is by far the best song on an album of not-so-great songs. Just listen to it and imagine that you're in your backyard (at your real home, not your college home... if the two are still distinct places for you) on a summer evening. There's a heck of a storm brewing, and it's windy, but you're grilling hamburgers with slices of pineapple. Oh yeah, and a friend from high school is visiting, but that friend is leaving, and you're not going to see that friend for a long time. That's kind of what this song is like.

2. The Polyphonic Spree- Section 12 (Hold Me Now)
Wow. This is pop music perfection, part 2. If you asked me "why do you like the music that you like?" I'd play you this song. If you still wondered, and if you weren't grinning and feeling like everything is all right again!, well, maybe Slipknot would be more your thing.

3. Queens of the Stone Age- Go With the Flow
Sorry. Here's some of my indie cred back. Okay, so they were Alternative Rock radio darlings. (so were RHCP and SOAD, so that doesn't prove anything, but that's another argument...) This song is repetitive, kind of heavy, and not particularly inspired. But it does kind of sound a little bit like all the devil-may-care freewheeling spirit that may be missing from a lot of the rest of my music. Also, it's got a great color scheme; the video's neat. It's black and red. The rest of the music I own is probably shades of blue and green.

4. Ekoostik Hookah- Thief
You can get this song here (in FLAC only, sorry). That's a testament to their hippie love-everyone song distribution style. I feel like jam bands are salvageable! Really! But listening to them is like going to the world's largest spaghetti dinner, featuring a chef who wears a loose diamond ring on each finger. Yeah, if you stick around long enough, you might find some gems in your noodles. But you have to wait a while. Oh yeah, and since they tend to record every concert, the pile of spaghetti grows without end. All that said, this song is one of those gems. If I happen across any more, I'll let you know.

5. Talking Heads- Once in a Lifetime
Everything about this song is good. David Byrne's his halting, nerdly, semi-stuttering delivery of the spoken vocals rocks like a grandparent on a porch. The lyrics are pretty nice. The bassline punctuates everything nicely without getting in the way. And have you seen the video?! If I could perform any one song like the original artist, it'd be this one.

I'd post Five Great Albums next, but that's enough pretension for me for a while. Thanks for listening, and tune in next week!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ram inspired me...

I was reading this, and I thought, hey, that looks like fun. (I also agreed on most counts, and played "Dinner Bell" on my WRCT show) Then I programmed for 48 hours. But THEN I submitted my program and it passed the checkpoint, so I decided, sleep be damned, I am going to make my own damn list. Categorization, prioritization, gushing about things I like- all of these are fun activities. In fact, I think that's secretly why I played Magic cards for so many years: I really liked putting the cards into categories. And ranking them. And then entering tournaments, trying to squeak by without buying awesome cards and wondering why I lost. And then going home, crying about it a little bit, and sorting my cards some more. Luckily for my educational career as well as my personal well-being, I gave up that nasty little habit.

So I started making a list. But, as usually happens when you set out to make a list, you get a list of things that you don't actually want to put on the list, and you end up with a list you're unsatisfied with. So I found a couple of kinda-sappy songs by bands I really like, realized I was making a kinda-sappy list, and threw out the old idea of making a list like Ram's and started making a List of Songs That Make Me Really Goddamn Sappy. But then, of course, as I was looking for more songs to fit this list, I came across five songs that really fit the list I was trying to make in the first place. So. Two lists.

And without further ado, I'll kick off the List of Songs By Bands That I Really Like That Make Me Goddamn Sappy with:

1. Sufjan Stevens- The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out To Get Us!
This one is a little easier to take than the rest. You kind of expect this list to contain at least one song by Sufjan Stevens, the kind of guy that a lot of straight guys say "I'm not gay, but if I went gay for someone, it'd be him." (let it be noted that the phrase "being gay for someone" is pretty funny) (also let it be noted that I'm not in the crowd that would say that about Sufjan Stevens. Now, Andrew Bird, on the other hand...) The point is, I couldn't take this song for its saccharine content on the first, maybe, 10 listens. But then I kept listening to it, and it rose to the top of my "Illinois" rankings, and then kept going, and pretty soon I was singing "We were in love, we were in love! Palisades, palisades..." and the whole last verse, with "Deep in the tower, the praries below... terrible sting, terrible storm..." and continuing on through "I can tell you, I love him each day" is very pretty indeed, and that's all I'll say about it.

2. Death Cab for Cutie- Photobooth
Okay, here is Pop Music Perfection part 1. This is the sad love song, in my book. Yeah, okay, Death Cab, major label, OC soundtrack, Postal Service, bunch of tools, and Ben Gibbard looks like Mark Stehlik. Oh, and programmed drums. Whatever. Just try to listen to this song without feeling sad (and nostalgic; what an insidious kind of sadness!). Okay, so maybe you can; you're not a sad sappy sucker like me. Fair enough.

3. Architecture in Helsinki- Maybe You Can Owe Me
Had this song been about a minute shorter, it might ascend into heaven itself. As it is, it's just so, so precious. The beat is catchy, the vocals are shamelessly twee, and I can't get over "I know it's complicated, here's the keys to the door/ of the room where I'm staying, you can sleep on the floor./ Halfway through the night can we talk and see/ 'cause there's no way that I'll sleep when you're near me." Look, this list isn't a "List of Songs with Great Lyrics or Profound Meanings," all right?

4. Weezer- Across the Sea
Ram, Ram, Ram. You listed this as the one song you'd leave off of Pinkerton. I thought about it for a little bit, then I decided that I'm in no state to judge its objective quality because I love it so much, but you're still wrong. And it's still my measuring stick for pop/rock song climaxes. By the time it gets to "words and dreams and a million screams/ oh, how I need a hand in mine to feel"... it's good enough, along with the opening riff from "Tired of Sex," to forgive Weezer for spawning a decade of crummy imitators (including Weezer, part 2).

5. Modest Mouse- 3rd Planet
What's good about this song? It's kinda mid-tempo, there's no catchy beat, nothing really to make you want to listen to it again after you listen to it once. On the first listen through The Moon and Antarctica, a damn fine record, your ear might get drawn to the dancier "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" or the epic "Stars are Projectors", or maybe the dystopian-sounding "A Different City", or the bizarre lyrics of "Wild Pack of Family Dogs." But this made my list, and the others didn't. Why? Beats me. There's nothing special about lines like "Your heart felt good/ it was drippin' pitch and made of wood" or "That's how the world began/ and that's how the world will end." Is it the mood of the whole album influencing my rating? Is it just my associations with it and skiing? Does it just manage to pick a few good words, making me get all sad just because it says something about a heart? I don't know. Yet, this song stirs up the ol' emotional brackish pond like few others.

There's list one. You want a red telephone to the music that sets off my emotional system, there it is. Now, if you want a list of songs that are perfect to more people than just me, well, I made that list too. But you'll have to wait for the next post.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

It's been a week

I guess the things that I have to say are:
1. Cooking classes are great! I went to a Thanksgiving Dinner class today.
2. Networks is not the coolest thing I've ever done.
3. I feel a little stagnant, in terms of what I do. I would like to know what it is that I enjoy a lot, besides skiing, travel, and food. Change is good.
4. I have a lot of work, but
5. I should not whine so much about it; instead, I should get it done.

None of these are new sentiments, so I will not belabor them. Thank you for everything; I have no complaints whatsoever.

Friday, November 03, 2006

According to Hendrix, it's a frustrated mess

If I had to pick one psychological disorder that I'm most likely to have, I think it'd be manic depression. And what does it take to get me on a manic kick? Apparently a Networks project will do it. Wow. Thursday, I was just on fire all day. A few times in the last couple days, I've just realized that I'm actually Enjoying a Moment (which seems to be the essence of how to live your life well, period). Thursday I was bicycling outside, it was windy, I was stupid-cold, and it felt great! There were leaves flailing around, Sly and the Family Stone blasting into my ears, I was wearing a nifty new t-shirt (from NPP, incidentally), and it was all fine! Plus, while I've been coding, except for the last few hours when I realized that I wasn't going to get it done, and that it would interfere with something else I wanted to do, it's been great.

But I don't like Networks overall. What's the deal? I think it's just that there's a project that I can make continuous progress on, that I really want to get done. Also, I want to control it and really take charge, so I know it's all The Best. All the same, I didn't cook all week until today because I was so busy with that noise, and as a result, my ground beef went bad. Nuts. But I did cook some meatballs (with other meat, don't worry!) with a brown sauce (still tricky to make a roux) as well as some potato pancakes and applesauce. With a bunch of help from Julie. Thanks!

Saw another great concert tonight! The Fiery Furnaces opened up with most of their Bitter Tea album in one big medley. Then they played some other songs. As usual, it was unlike their albums, and also unlike the other show I've seen them play. I can't even say why I like them so much, but I really enjoyed it. Which is unusual for me and concerts. I think maybe one reason I like them so much is that it's something to like a lot- it's kind of arbitrary (sort of like skiing). I just decide I'm going to really love this band, and then as a result, I do. But really, what's the difference? If I think their albums are genius, but they get a 60-something on Metacritic, who cares?

If it's good to do something useless but do it really well (some would say that's the definition of art) ("some" would be "me") (maybe), then it's also good to like something for no reason but like it a lot. If you think about it more and then decide you don't really like it, you lose!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

It could be worse!

Our neighbors all apparently have Techno clocks. They look at their clocks and say "what time is it?" and the clock says "it's techno time!"
However, I'm working on Networks in Kevin's apartment now, and apparently his neighbors have worse clocks. "What time is it?" "It's Vertical Horizon time!"

That said, I'd trade. At least it's probably not Vertical Horizon time past midnight.