Saturday, 7 July 2007

Visiting New York City for a Day

Last Thursday Holly and I took a day trip into New York City to spend time with some friends of mine that were visiting from other countries. Teague was coming down from Canada and Geri was staying with her cousin Emily while she was visiting from Singapore. It had been a while since I was in the city. While my sister was attending New York University I went with my parents on day trips into Manhattan regularly, but the last time I had been there was to move her out of her dorm when she was graduating (which was quite some time ago).

I had to get an early start to make the most of the day. My alarm went off at 8am, and I was out the door by 9:30. It takes an hour to drive from Terryville to the Metro-North train station in Fairfield, but from there you can catch a train that goes directly to Grand Central Station. Since you avoid all the traffic and the tolls on the way into the city it beats driving into downtown Manhattan.

All of us met up in the main hall at Grand Central. From there we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As you can see from this photo, the featured exhibit was "Venice and the Islamic World." We were lucky getting there on the fifth of July because the exhibit was only there until the eighth. They didn't allow any photography around this particular exhibit, but there were a number of beautiful Venetian paintings and a few large carpets laid out for display that were gifts from various sultans to the Venetian doges. On the way out there was a gift shop (of course) with art books and the like available for sale. I did pick up a copy of Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the City. Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, and I had been looking to read something by him ever since.

Other highlights from the museum include this Buddhist shrine in the Asian arts wing

and this giant portrait of George Washington crossing the Delaware.

We didn't spend too much time in the museum because we had to catch a 3:30 cruise. We rushed across half the width of Manhattan to get to Pier 83 where the Circle Line cruise ship was docked. We made it just as they were about to depart. The rush was worth it because once we were on board we were treated to some great views of the southern tip of Manhattan:

The weather remained foggy and hazy the entire day, but at least the rain held off until later in the evening.

After the two hour cruise we took the subway down to Spring Street and walked over to Little Italy. We decided to eat at a place called Taormina, which was one of the few restaurants with enough room to seat all five of us. I ate an exquisite linguini pescatore for dinner--pasta mixed with mussels, clams, and shrimp. We did a little shopping for souvenirs and then went out for dessert. We walked up Bleeker Street to a place called Magnolia Bakery in the West Village to have some cupcakes. I had been there once before a number of years ago, but I had forgotten how good their cupcakes were. I managed to get through two, but once I had finished the second one I was completely full.

We had some trouble finding a subway station in the West Village, but along the way I managed to get some cool pictures of the city at night:

We said a hurried goodbye to Geri and Emily on subway before continuing on to Grand Central. Holly and I made it there just in time to catch the 12:22am train back to Fairfield. We didn't get home until past three in the morning, but it was worth it. A long but thoroughly enjoyable day.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

On A Calm Day

Today officially marks the half-way point of my summer vacation.

A plumber came by in the morning to fix the dilapidated network of pipes in my cellar. I celebrated the return of a functioning water system by taking a long shower, shaving, spiking my hair, and drinking a tall glass of Code Red poured from a freshly opened two liter bottle. Code Red is lightly carbonated and loses its fizz within a couple days after being opened. It's best to drink it fresh.

After eating lunch I took the dog (there is a distinct dissimilarity in referring to him as the dog as opposed to my dog, which tells you something about how I feel about the dog living in this house) for an afternoon walk. The heat that had been oppressing the northeast had subsided after a series of storms that came through on Thursday, leaving Friday and Saturday sunny and beautiful. I walked down past where Washington Road turns into Scott Road, a stretch of street lined with trees on both sides. We clipped along at an even pace.

When I returned I took time to water the plants around the house, refilling the small watering can several times to make sure the soil around the base of each of them was properly saturated. It'd be more efficient to use a larger watering can, perhaps, but I think there's a Zen-like quality to taking your time with a smaller one.

As the sunlight coming in through the windows began to dim I picked up the Saturday edition of The Wallstreet Journal and read an article by Lucette Lagnado, a Jewish expatriate from Cairo. Her family fled Egypt when Nasser came to power in 1954. She was writing about how she had recently returned to Cairo to see how much the place had changed. Apparently it had--a lot. Lagnado lamented how the city had lost its glamour and prestige since the demise of the colonial era and the exodus of its European population. It included pictures of street scenes in Cairo during the 1940's. Something about the article appealed to me.

When I finished reading it I thumbed through the rest of the newspaper. Nothing else caught my eye.

Then, as I was sipping the last drop of Code Red and beginning on a bottle of Snapple, it struck me to walk outside to take a few pictures of the scenery around my house before the sunlight became too faint. It was fitting, in a sense, to have something that would remind me of calm summer days in Connecticut. Just a token of a moment in time, and nothing more.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Basement Disaster

The long white pipe laying on the floor in the foreground use to be attached to the ceiling along that wooden beam, connected to other pipes.

Imagine my dismay when, after using the toilet while getting ready for bed last night, I heard the sound of what could've been a fountain running in the basement. "This," I thought to myself, "cannot be good."

I went downstairs and was greeted by this sight: a large section of pipe, clearly not where it should be. At the time the water was gushing from the broken end seen in the upper-righthand corner of this photo. I called my father, who is out of town at the moment, and asked him what the purpose of this long white pipe was. That's when I learned that it happens to be the main sewage line for my house (or was, up until the point that it detached itself).

The good news is that I still have plenty of running water, and there won't be any issues with the well drying up. The bad news is that anything that goes down a drain in my house will end up on my basement floor.

Worse plumbing disaster in living memory.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Lessons from Orwell's 1984

This afternoon I finished reading George Orwell's 1984, a novel that describes a negative utopia, a police state that controls everything: your day-to-day life, history, the laws of science, everything right down to your own thoughts. It is a horribly depressing read, and by the end it's tempting to dismiss the whole thing as being impossible of ever happening, if only to rid yourself of the image of the dark future it depicts.

And it seems so easy to dismiss on first glance. "Wow, living in a police state sucks. Right then. Democracy and freedom all the way, huzzah!" and call it a day. In the afterword, however, Erich Fromm takes special pains to point out to the reader (the reader that has bothered to look at the afterword anyway) that Orwell's nightmare scenario of a Big Brother-esque government can just as easily happen in a Western-style democracy as it can in a communist or fascist state.

Today the message of Orwell's 1984 is more prevalent than ever because in some ways you can already see aspects of his novel in today's society (or more accurately, in America).

In the book Big Brother has total control over information. If they tell you something happened there's no way to disprove it. The main character of the story, Winston Smith, has trouble dealing with this concept. His country of Oceania is at war with Eurasia and, according to the government, always has been. Smith knows however that as recently as four years ago Oceania was at war with Eastasia, not Eurasia. There are no records of this except for his personal memory. Anything that says otherwise (old speeches, newspaper archives, books, etc.) have either been destroyed or altered by the Ministry of Truth, which Smith himself works for. He has no way of proving that Oceania was ever at war with anyone but Eurasia. Big Brother says it's true. The rest of the population believes it's true. All written records in existence say it's true. Who's to say it's not true?

This introduces the idea of doublethink, the mentality of simultaneously believing and denying the truth of something. Stephen Colbert coined another word for it: Wikiality.

In this clip of The Colbert Report Colbert explains how anything that a majority of people agree on is considered truth on Wikipedia. In theory Wikipedia works much in the same way as the Ministry of Truth, except instead of a totalitarian system in which information is handed down from a higher authority as being true it's mutually decided on by a popular majority. That's Fromm's point in the afterword of 1984: both democracies and totalitarian governments can produce the same result of elaborately fabricated lies.

The Wikipedia-Ministry of Truth comparison only works in theory of course. Wikipedia has a team of editors and administrators that work to stamp out anything that's not true on its pages. Colbert asks his viewers to change the page on African elephants to say the population has tripled over the last six months, but within hours after his broadcast the Wikipedia page on elephants was locked to prevent any editing. The reason given by the administrators was that people were trying to "hack" the page.

With mindful intervention the Wikipedia staff can prevent most things that are obviously false from making it to Wikipedia entries (or else quickly correct them). But the point is valid: if everyone else accepts something as true, who's to say it's not?

The example Colbert provides of a 14% increase in Americans over the course of eighteen months believing that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction after the Bush administration hinted that he did over and over again in every possible speech, interview, and news broadcast is sobering. The same was true of the insinuations the Bush administration made that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11.

The fact is the population of African elephants has not tripled in the last six months and Saddam Hussein did not have anything to do with 9/11. But if a majority of people believe it, who's to say it's not true? As Colbert says, "If you go against what the majority of people perceive to be reality, you're the one who's crazy." The same way Winston Smith was crazy.

Some of the self-contradictions that Big Brother makes in 1984 seem absurd. How can a government completely deny something that it previously stated as being true?

But if there's one thing The Daily Show likes to point out, it's how often members of the Bush administration contradict themselves. Here's a clip revealing a contradiction made by Washington Press Secretary Tony Snow:

In one clip, Tony Snow says that the firing of U.S. attorneys was based on performance. In the other, he states that he has never said that. In that very instance, Tony Snow was using doublethink.

Orwell wrote 1984 as a warning to future generations about the dangers of an all-powerful government. We should be mindful that he was talking about the democracies as well as the dictatorships.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Government Surveillance Never Looked So Good

Yesterday we finished filming a public service announcement for the ACLU's Stand Up for Freedom Contest. The contest is for the best thirty second PSA or five minute podcast on one of the following subjects: due process of the law, censorship, or government surveillance. The one we chose was government surveillance.

Since there are a bunch of legal obligations involved with contest submissions I'm afraid the final video won't be online any time soon (contest winners aren't going to be announced until November 1), but what I do have is this wonderful photo from one of the scenes we shot. Here a surveillance team made up of (from left to right) Mitch Bilodeau, Eric Milne, and Josh Hubbard listen in on a phone call being made by Mike Anderson. Members of our surveillance team are all sharply dressed in business casual attire (on account of the lack of ties), reflecting the more relaxed look of today's government official. Sunglasses were provided courtesy of Holly Lutters.

It was difficult cutting down the ten minutes of footage we had to just thirty seconds, but I like the end result. I'll be working on composing background music before submitting the final product. I'll keep you all updated on how we do in the contest.

Mike Anderson, Mitch Bilodeau, and Eric Milne previously appeared inThe Compassion of Miguel del Fuego. Josh Hubbard was the ping pong ace in JDC Energy Drink!.

Friday, 14 October 2005

Some Funny Stories in My Guitar Store

I thought I'd utilize the current week's post to let you know about some senseless scenes that demonstrate that we don't all realize what we're doing.

I worked in a music store in Glasgow, Scotland, for right around 20 years. Any individual who has ever worked in that sort of environment will let you know they've seen some entirely bizarre stuff. Element in that I was the guitar-repair fellow, and the potential for bizarreness rockets into the stratosphere.

Here's display A to kick things off:

1. There was the youthful person with a silver-shimmer Charvel—a Model 375, in the event that I recall effectively. Anyway, exhausted with his guitar's completion, he chooses to strip it off. He dunks the guitar in a vat of paint stripper before considering, "Goodness, perhaps I ought to have taken the equipment and pickups off first."

When I saw it, the greater part of the guitar's plastic bits had liquefied and the dark equipment was route past its best.

2. . Fella acquires a guitar he's set up together himself. It looks great. He lets me know he's wired up every one of the segments effectively yet the guitar doesn't work. I investigate the control depression and all the wires and capacitors are to be sure associated in the right places ... with Plasticine demonstrating mud and sticky tape. There's not a drop of bind in sight.

3. Bolstered up that his beginner guitar was leaving tune—most likely expected to extend the strings—a tenderfoot player thinks of a virtuoso thought. He gets the guitar in order then coats every machine head with Superglue. On the off chance that it can't move, it can't leave tune, correct? At that point he broke a string. Er ... (See the primary photograph at the highest point of this post.)

4. Irate client approaches one Saturday morning with a Squier Stratocaster he purchased the earlier week. "It's not working," he barks. I investigate and detect the issue instantly. He's exclusive gone and fitted his new guitar with an arrangement of traditional strings.

He tied immense bunches toward the end of every string to stop them sneaking past the vibrato. That ought to have been his first piece of information. Electric guitars don't adapt too well to plastic strings, I let him know. He quits yelling.

5. This one is startling. Man is purchasing a guitar link. He says it's for his girl, who has quite recently got her first electric guitar. He's going to leave when he says, "Things being what they are, I simply clip the end off one end of the lead and fit a divider attachment, then?"

"No!" I answered. He felt that the guitar was connected straightforwardly to a divider attachment. Envision that! His girl could have been singed. I clarified the entire idea of electric guitars and sold him a practice amp. Fiasco turned away, I trust.

I have incalculable more stories like this. The youthful fellow staying up for quite a long time the earlier night attempting to screw the vibrato arm into his Stratocaster's jack attachment is simply one more one.

The message is, in case you're not certain what you're doing, get some guidance first. There's no disgrace in conceding you don't know something. In case you're one of those guitarists that has been round the piece and knows a thing or two, offer it with those less experienced.

That is precisely what I'll be doing next time when I'll be taking a gander at the issues that can be created by top nuts. See you then!