Saturday, June 28, 2008

No Stop Til Nanuet

Vacation has begun and we made it from Baltimore to Nanuet last night and today we will trek on to Cape Cod.

We have a full tank of gas, a trunk full of soda (leftovers from the graduation party) and two bicycles hanging on the back of an SUV. It's broad daylight and I forgot my sunglasses at home

Not exactly the Blues Brothers, but it'll do for now.

Hit it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Book List Ballot Box Stuffing

Modern Library, the highbrow imprint of Random House did one of those 100 Best Novels list things that anyone can do. Since such lists are ubiquitous the value lies in the prestige of the listmakers. Modern Library which reprints classic works of literature would seem to have that sort of clout. Indeed, their list is full of the usual suspects. This particular list could have been made any time in the last fifty years and not have been much different.

Say what you want about contemporary fiction, but there is a notable absence of anything written in the past twenty-five years. The literature canon ossified solid about the time that John Steinbeck pushed James Fennimore Cooper off of required reading lists.

Honestly, if you make such a list in this day and age without including at least one book by Toni Morrison, you are setting yourself up for accusations of fuddy-duddyness. Slaughterhouse Five doesn't appear until number 18, but I can live with that, even if I don't recognize a few of the books rated higher.

Where they really made a mistake was in letting the readers vote on their own list. Methinks some folks with a little too much time on their hands and some rather ideological agendas did some ballot box stuffing. Let's compare the top ten in each.
  1. ULYSSES by James Joyce
  2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
  6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
  7. CATCH-22
  8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
  9. SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence
  10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck

  1. ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand
  3. BATTLEFIELD EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard
  4. THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
  6. 1984 by George Orwell
  7. ANTHEM by Ayn Rand
  8. WE THE LIVING by Ayn Rand
  9. MISSION EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard
  10. FEAR by L. Ron Hubbard
So according to the readers of this site, the greatest authors ever were Ayn Rand and L.Ron Hubbard, followed distantly by J.R.R. Tolkien. Noted horndog and crypto-fascist Robert Heinlein gets five entries on the longer list. I could go on for days about what this says about the internet community at large, but I won't, largely because I dislike death threats from rabid cult members.

But it does make clear to me why Ron Paul is not President in real life and why we better never go to online voting for things that really matter. At least not until the counting software is really, really secure.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Picture A Meme

I’ve been wanting to do a meme as a post for a while, but all I keep running into variations of the “Tell Us n Random/Embarrassing/Blackmailable Things About You”, where n has been as high as 10 lately. Then Jeff, who always has the best memes tried this one which has a strong creative element to it. You use images to answer the typical dopey personal questions.

I don’t know if I have made them too cryptic or too obvious, but I’d like to see people give these quasi-riddles a chance.

The Mosaic Picture Meme

The Rules:

1. Type your answer to each of the questions below into Google Image Search or same type of search engine for pictures.

2. Using only the first page of results, pick one image. You can’t search forever for a certain image.

3. Arrange the pictures into a collage.

The Questions and Answers:

I’ve taken the rules one step further and not given the answers directly, only a clue that with the image would lead you to the right answer. See if you can figure out the search term I used.

Click on picture to embiggen.

1. What is your name?… My name is not common, but it is popular enough that plenty of people other than me have much larger web footprints. Since I use yellojkt exclusively online, this singer guy is welcome to my real name. I’m looking for the name of the album pictured. That would tell me that you have found the right name. In order to protect my meager efforts at online privacy, iIf you do recognize him and leave the real name in the comments I will erase it.

2. What is your favorite food?… This album title has half of it right. Not so much the chocolate part.

3. What high school did you go to?… Home of the Eagles, not this guy who has the same name.

4. What is your favorite color? … White and gold – The official colors of the Yellow Jackets. All three of my cars are white and gold, just like the Rambling Wreck which is a Ford Model A, not the yaar and model of the car shown here. Which is a what?

5. Who is your celebrity crush?… Still the Hottest Woman Ever. A gimmie.

6. What is your favorite drink?… A tie. When these two individual search terms are mixed together with vodka, what drink do they make?

7. What is your dream vacation?… Maybe not my dream vacation, but like Jeff, I've always wanted to see where my DNA was from.

8. What is your favorite dessert?… A South Florida specialty.

9. What do you want to be or do when you grow up?… Being a ‘used bookstore’ owner is the only way to turn my hobby into career. I planned part of a vacation once just to go to this particular one. Can anyone name it?

10. What do you love most in life?… You’ll never get this one. It’s a very inside joke.

11. What is one word that describes you?… At least I think this word fits. You may disagree.

12. What is your blog name?… harmless untruths are…also made by this phone manufacturer.

I’ll acknowledge right answers in the comments, but other than that, you are on your own. And give it a try if you have as much time to kill as I obviously did.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Cape Cod Clues

This year for vacation rather than driving cross-country or going to China or Vietnam, we are staying much closer to home. We have rented a vacation house with two other families and are going to set up base camp in Brewster on Cape Cod for a week.

We spent the evening figuring out day-trips and things to do. We don't want to over-program, but we also want to catch all the cool stuff. We're going to take bicycles to Martha's Vineyard one day. Another will be an out and back driving trip to New Bedford. And some want to take a day to head into Boston, which our family has seen a lot of.

My quandary is what to do on the days we are staying local. I'd love to have tips for inexpensive restaurants, good used book stores, and light outdoorsy activities in the area. One of my ideas was for all the dads to head into P-town for a night of karaoke, but that idea didn't go over well.

BlatantTravelTipSoliciting®: What ideas can you offer? No guarantee I can will take any of them up, but I'm open to anything.

Friday, June 20, 2008

FiOS Follies 3

The last time I left off on this tragic tale, I told of my new high-def television and no high-def signal to use it on. I had called to get an HD set-top but was told that they were out of stock until the end of March. Well, in April I went and gave them a call. By now I had decided that I really wanted an HD-DVR downstairs so that I could record and watch all those great nature shows and maybe the next season of The L Word. I got the usual pass around from tech support to orders to billings. It seems my old order was still in the system and had to be deleted before I could request a different box.

I was told it would take a few hours to cancel the old order and that I would have my new box in three to five days. That was two months ago.

Yesterday, my wife had some spare time so she said she would give then a call. Again they told us it would be a few days. Today we went out for a late night at BigBoxOfBooks. When we got back at about eleven there was a box on the steps that hadn't been there when we left at six. My wife looked puzzled and said she hadn't ordered anything off the internet lately.

It turns out that it was the new set top box. After running some new wires around I had Showtime in HD just in time for the reruns of Weeds, Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, and Penn and Teller's Bullshit: The War on Porn. Penn Jillette is explaining how porn is healthy and wholesome. At least on premium cable. And in high definition.

BlatantCommentWhoring®: Would anyone pay for premium channels if there weren't late night smutty pseudo-documentaries?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The MacDonald Collection

(click on image to read titles)

I’ve mentioned before that I collect Kurt Vonnegut books, but I also collect vintage paperbacks from the 50s and 60s, mostly by John D. MacDonald. Like old wine these are very fragile commodities and too delicate to actually read. That means I have to buy reading copies of the books if I want to actually see the words.

In some cases this presents problems. JDM did a novelization of the Judy Garland movie I Could Go On Singing and despised it so much that he banned the publisher from ever reprinting it. A request the publisher has unfortunately honored, even posthumously. On the internet copies of this book go for between $50 and $100. Since old paperbacks are notoriously fragile, I dare not take this book out of the wrapper to ever read. I take solace in the knowledge that the author would want it that way.

Book collecting, like many hobbies, is full of rules that are arbitrary, silly, and inexplicable. Only first editions with dust jackets are of any value. In paperbacks, the difference between a fine condition and good can be subtle and hard to describe. Keeping track of the printings can also be difficult. There are often dozens of printings of any given MacDonald novel.

I have a reference book called A MacDonald Potpourri by Walter and Jean Shine. It is the bible for JDM fans. It lists every version of every edition of each MacDonald book. For example, the only difference between the true first edition of The Long Lavender Look and the second printing is that the back cover uses a slightly different photo of JDM on the back and the ads for other Travis McGee books in the back has a slightly different list.

Like all collecting, rarity and interest (supply and demand) dictate pricing. Deciding what is going to be popular in advance is a fool’s game. There is rarely any chance of figuring out what will become popular. If you had the foresight to buy Eragon when it was a self-published novel by a teenager. Richard Bachman paperbacks, written by Stephen King under a pseudonym are also rare and valuable. On the other hand, it's unlikely that a full set of Babysitter Club books, even if first printings in near new condition, will ever be worth more than a quarter each at a yard sale.

Books, as opposed to other collectibles, have a utility that other forms of tulipmania type of knick-knacks don’t. If the bottom falls out of the commemorative plate market, they aren’t really suitable as tableware, but a book can always be read.

That said, since my son is off to college soon, it's time to liquidate his Beanie Baby collection to pay the tuition. How's that secondary market going?

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What makes something collectible?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Father's Day Ride

Father’s Day has few perks since it is the bastard stepchild of Mother’s Day in terms of history and importance. With few firm traditions, its up to the dad in the family to make of the day what he wants. I used to use my Father’s Day prerogative to force the rest of the family to go on a family bike ride every year. I would pick a family friendly trail such as the NCR, the B&A or the Mt. Vernon Trail. I tried not to push too hard and strove to keep the grumbling to a minimum. A few years ago even this modest activity became more honored in the breach and my suggestion for a family ride would be met with general eye-rolling and heavy sighing. And that was just my wife.

Back when I was doing the Tour Dem Parks ride, the last segment of the ride was supposed to be out to the Gwynns Falls Trail and back to Carroll Park. That day was unbearably hot and I was sagging after 25 miles of ride. That is when it hit me that the Gwynn Falls Trail would be perfect for one last father-son bike ride before he went off to college.

I reminded him several times during the week that we had plans for Sunday, but when he asked to stay over at a friend’s house Saturday night, I figured he was planning to ditch me. But to my surprise, he walked in the door at 9 am, if not eager, at least awake. We carbo-loaded a breakfast and loaded our bikes onto my new bike carrier. We started the ride at Carroll Park which is just fifteen miles up the road from my house in the industrial wasteland of south Baltimore.

The Gwynn Falls Trail goes all the way from Middle River to the Security Boulevard Park and Ride and winds its way through southwest Baltimore and Leakin Park. Leakin Park is to Bodymore, Murderland as the Pine Barrens are to Sopranos, New Jersey. The park is big and little traveled and a great place to dump bodies. The trail is an attempt to give the area a little more purpose than just being an outdoor graveyard for drug dealers that have annoyed someone.

The park FAQ has this information:
Is the Trail a safe place to be?
Yes, the Baltimore City Police Department has assigned police officers to patrol the Trail which has experienced no serious incidents since beginning operation in 1999. This is clearly an example of "a used trail being a safe trail."
Methinks they doth protest too much. In our two hours on the trail we saw maybe a dozen people total and were often the only riders in sight. Compared to the traffic jam that places like the NCR and BWI trails are, the quiet and solitude were a pleasant change of pace. Make no doubt about it, the tree lined canopy makes for a relaxing cool ride, but the Gwynn Falls Trail is definitely one of the better kept outdoor recreational secrets in Mobtown.

The path itself is a mixed bag of newly paved dedicated paths and bridges, abandoned roadway, and gravel trail all connected by the occasional detour down or around an active road. Heading upstream there is one long slightly steep stretch that leads to the unpaved part of the trail. This packed gravel section, while muddy, is the flattest part of the trail and a lot of fun if you have good fat tires and don't mind a little splashing.

We went a little past the main trailhead at Leakin Park but turned around rather than go up the last switchback. And like all riverside trails, going downstream was a lot more fun than upstream. When we got back to the car tired and out of water, I asked my son why he came along. He said it was because would have never heard the end of it from Mom if he hadn’t gone since this might be the last chance to do this. I thanked him for the effort.

On the way home, we stopped for gelato and went to a bike shop where he helped me pick out a new rear rack and bag as a Father’s Day present. And I woke up the next morning to find that he had left me a “Happy Father’s Day” message on my Facebook wall. That ride and that message are two of the greatest Father’s Day gifts I have gotten. I want to tell him thanks for the ride. It's been a great eighteen years as a father.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Taste of Hon-ey

My wife had to go to Johns Hopkins this weekend to take a test so I drove her there and decided to kill an hour or two in Hampden. I had forgotten that this weekend was Hon-Fest, Baltimore's celebration of everything kitschy. Luckily I was early enough to still get some street parking because all of 36th Street aka The Avenue was closed off from Chestnut to Falls Road. There were street vendors and festival food and crafts everywhere. And plenty of people dressed in their full Hon-ware regalia, which is anything remotely 50s or 60s with big hair and tacky colors.

For non-Baltimoron readers, "hon" is a local term of endearment used by waitresses and hairdressers and the like. I have been unironically "hon"-ed by all sorts of people. However, in Baltimore, the word has taken on a larger embrace of all things trashy. John Waters in a Washington Post article has officially renounced his association with hon-culture. From the article he says:
"To me, it's used up," Waters said of Hon style. "It's condescending now. The people that celebrate it are not from it. I feel that in some weird way they're looking slightly down on it. I only celebrate something I can look up to."
I'm not really sure how Baltimore became associated with all things kitschy except through Water's off-kilter tributes to his hometown like Hairspray. But he clearly created a beehived monster. The phenomenon has outgrown its roots and the flames of Hon-ness are fanned by marketing juggernaut Cafe Hon in Hampden (recently reviewed by Alex here).

Of more concern to me was the notice that Atomic Books is moving off the Avenue to consolidate digs with Atomic Pop on Falls Road. I wrote about Atomic Books back in this post and I have irregularly patronized the store since its original location on Maryland Avenue. Atomic Books is noted for also being devoted to all things quirky. However, unlike the backward looking nostalgia of the Hon-osphere, Atomic Books tries to stay cutting edge and avant-garde. Not that it doesn't carry it's share of retro-merchandise, but their product selection has an edginess that goes beyond glittery cat-eye glasses.

Not being a native of the area, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to react to this institutionalized celebration of a very narrow slice of time and culture in Baltimore history. It's like when I travel to foreign countries and the tour always includes a night of traditional dancers in native costumes. And then after the show the performers change back into jeans and tee-shirts and go listen to pop-music at a nightclub. They are just giving the tourists a look at how they expect things to be rather than how they really are.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: When does pop-culture promotion cross over into patronizing exploitation?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Battle Of The Bands: Stipe and Co. vs Plant and Krauss

It's pretty rare that I see more than one concert in a month, so when I saw two shows within three days, I figured the only way to do them both justice was a side-by-side review.

Accelerate Tour

Robert Plant/Allison Krauss
The Raising Sand Revue

Blurry Overexposed Cell Phone Picture


80s college radio giants return to form with a new hard-rocking album determined to win-over a new generation of fans.
Heavy-metal legend teams with bluegrass diva to apply their respective talents to a smörgåsbord of roots and blues tunes.
Opening Act

The National put on a quick paced thirty minute set that impressed me with good tunes played well. They are a bit of a kitchen sink band with a violinist, trombonist and trumpet player. Several songs are intriguing enough to hunt down on iTunes.

Less to my taste was Modest Mouse whose aggressive sweaty playing was just working too hard.

Newly minted recording artist Sharon Little claims to have been waiting tables six months ago and seemed genuinely giddy to be on stage. She had a strong bluesy voice that hit both high and low notes. Her all-original music written with band-mate Scott Sax was traditional but powerful.

T Bone Burnett also had two song sent in the middle of the show. I used it for a much needed power-nap.
Stage Presence

Michael Stipe came dressed in a suit and tie that was both stylish and subversive. He has an oddly comforting politeness while introducing songs. His spastic wobbling and careening around stage is fascinating in its complete lack of pretense or grace. His endorsement of Obama drew a mixed reaction. My son who was in the cheaper seats claims it was all cheers, while where I was I heard plenty of boo’s.
Robert Plant could easily have been The Dude’s cousin with his loose casual shirt and long flowing hair. He had an air of bemused easiness and occasionally just tossed out flourishes of his rock-god trademarked moves. Allison Krauss looked ethereal in a long flowing dress and floated around the stage like an angel.

Stage Show

A series of video screens behind the stage kept a quick paced very stylized video show going. While it was very visually arresting, it was not much help for shorter audience members that couldn’t see the stage and distracted from Stipe’s mesmerizing stage moves.
A simple backdrop curtain behind the stage with rather mundane lighting effects. Video screens on either side of the stage gave plenty of clear close-ups of the performers.

Amusing Anecdote

Michael Stipe was doing some sill audience participation stuff. He asked who was there right now and claimed it was not a trick question. Then he asked who was alive in 1979 when the band got started. My wife and I looked at each other and realized that had known each other as long as REM had been around.

Robert Plant asked who had been here in 1969. He then called them liars. He had been reminded that he had played that very stage with his "old mates" over 39 years ago as the opening act for The Who. His memory of the event seemed a little fuzzy, but he did recall that they caused such a ruckus that they had to use their earnings to buy new equipment before the next show.

Lots of hits and older songs as kept the tempo from ever flagging. Mike Mills singing “(Don't Go Back To) Rockville” got the crowd going. Beyond the hits I enjoyed “Electrolite” which I had never heard before.

“The Battle of Evermore” done as a down-tempo Celtic epic is the clear crowd pleaser. More impressive was Krauss’s fully a capella version of “Down to the River to Pray” with Plant and others singing gospel harmony back-up.
Show Length
1 hour 55 minutes2 hours even
Audience Demeanor

Ranging from distracted to obnoxious. The entire place stood the entire show which in inconvenient for shorter audience members, like my wife. The clods I talked about in this post seemed epidemic.
Polite and involved. The entire audience sat down less than a minute into the first song and stayed seated except for ovations and the last couple of numbers.

Noticeable Omissions
“The End of the World”

“Stairway to Heaven”

Other Reviews

The Washington Post had both a review in the dead trees edition and a song-by-song critique on their Post-Rock blog.
The New York Times review of the Madison Square Garden show applies here as well.


REM puts on a big show, but big acts draw disinterest fans and rowdy audiences. It's almost not worth the trouble.

It's great to see a legend in action. Plant's voice is as strong as it ever was, but it would have been better to hear more material that made it famous.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Which show would you have rather seen (and for Courtney, which did you prefer)?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Family Fotos

Pictures of my son always go over well, so today I'm going to up the ante and post some photos of the largest gathering of the yellojkt clan since my Grandmother's funeral. The occasion was my son's graduation. We talked my aunt who has an old farmhouse in northeastern Maryland to host a graduation picnic on Memorial Day weekend. I then got relatives from both sides of my family to make the trek from Florida to Massachusetts up for the event.

One of our guests was a semi-pro photographer, so we made him sing for his supper and he composed and shot some great group portraits.

The first is my wife, my son and myself. My wife has been wanting a current shot of the three of us and has made all sorts of reprints from wallet size to 5x7s of this shot.

This picture is my side of the family and includes in no order: my father and mother, my brother, his wife and their four kids, two uncles, two aunts, a cousin, that cousin's wife and their adorable girl (who is the subject of one of the most viewed Foma posts ever).

On my wife's side of the family, we have a much smaller crowd consisting of her mother, brother, her brother's wife, and our niece. In this picture we have represented genetic stock from the following countries: Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, Spain, Cuba, Vietnam, China, and Japan.

While I haven't supplied enough information to fill out a full genealogical chart, this provides a good start at keeping track of the various relatives that keep things interesting.

I was so excited to get so many family members to all show up in one place on one day. It's good to have family willing to celebrate the happy milestones as well as the sad. And this was a happy event indeed.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Concert Clods

The whole family went to see REM at Merriweather Post Pavilion last night and it only took a few people to remind me why I don't like rock concerts much anymore. It's not the music, it's the crowd.

Stand All Night Guy. For the REM set, the point was moot since the entire audience stood for the whole show anyways, but there was one guy determined to jump the gun. During the Modest Mouse opening set, about five rows ahead of us, a fairly tall guy decided he wanted to stand for a better view. Nevermind that only ten people in the whole pavilion were standing and none of them were in front of them. Two were dancing in place, so you can excuse the enthusiasm, but this guy just stood there with his arms folded. The second time security came by and asked him to sit down, he got argumentative and waved at the scattered other standers. Then as soon as the security guy was out of sight, stood up again.

Sing Along Guy. Right at the second song he decided that since he knew nearly all the words, he would sing along even if nobody else was. Only he was louder than Michael Stipe and not nearly as in-tune.

Cocktail Party Couples. Two couples our age or older sat in front of us quietly chatting amongst themselves drinking beer and wine. When the show started, they rearranged their seating and the guys watched the show occasionally exchanging comments while the wives went on to face each other and have a conversation between themselves for the entire rest of the show. They didn't look at the stage once and there was intermittent hugging. I couldn't hear myself think over music even with earplugs, but these two acted like they had just run into old friends at the grocery store for nearly two hours.

Drunken Song Requester.
Also known as Sing Along Guy. He wanted to hear "Driver 8" really bad. Between each song he would just yell it over and over again. Finally, about half way through the show, Michael Stipe announced "This next song is by request" and went into "Driver 8". Since Drunken Song Requester was in the last row of the pavilion I was impressed. That didn't stop him from continuing to request it. At one point, he said "I know they already played it" and yelled for "End Of The World" (which never did get played) before going back to "Driver 8".

Elbow To The Head Guy. Okay, this was also Sing Along Guy. My wife is short and can't see over all the people standing, so at a show she often just sits down and watches them monitors. At least three times, Drunken Song Requester managed to knock her in the head with his elbow without any apology. Just before the break before the encore, she decided that she just wasn't enjoying the show and headed to the car early. Soon after she got there, who should have walked in front of her but Drunken Song Requester who had left right as the encore started. I told her that running him over would have been justifiable homicide.

So really, we only encountered a few inconsiderate people but also one Really Obnoxious Asshole. And it only takes one to ruin a show. Let's hope he doesn't have tickets to the Robert Plant/Allison Krauss show tomorrow. I don't want to have to listen to a drunken idiot scream for "Stairway To Heaven" all night.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Tour Dem Parks

Yesterday, despite the heat, I went on the Tour Dem Parks charity bicycle ride. I like these little events sponsored by local charities where you pay a fee, do a ride, and get a tee shirt. While I admire people like HRH Courtney that can go out and raise a ton of money for a super-charity, that is not my style or level of dedication. This event was in support of Baltimore City Parks and the route went through as many as possible. Since the focus is on parks, many of which I had never even heard of, here are my impressions.

CARROLL PARK – The ride started and stopped here. I had never been to this park, the centerpiece of which is the Carroll Mansion which is one of those minor tourist attractions I have never been to. All over were signs to not park on the grass which would have been tempting had I not been so severely warned. Since I got there an hour early, I got real close parking and helped myself to some bananas for breakfast.

MIDDLE BRANCH PARK – From Carroll Park, the Gwynns Falls Trail runs through some of Baltimore’s finest industrial wasteland including the incinerator that welcomes visitors to Charm City. Once through there it becomes the part of Middle River Park, a nice sleepy park (and I say sleepy because a few people were sleeping on the park benches) along the Middle River that is part swamp and part open sewer. Right near the end of the park was a gorgeous boat house where some folks were washing something.

SOLO GIBBS PARK – Rejoining the main route took us around Ravens Stadium and then through Solo Gibbs Parks which as we navigated bollards and skinny paths seemed more residential playground than full-fledged park, but it was busy and went by fast.

FEDERAL HILL PARK - The route through Federal Hill was some of the most tedious with lots of cross streets and traffic, but the view from Federal Hill was worth it. Overlooking the entire Inner Harbor, this little park is one of the most charming places in Baltimore. Lots of riders were taking breaks for pictures and sightseeing. I had never actually been to the park before and it was smaller but prettier than I had imagined. Down below we could see a throng of runners on a charity run.

HARBORPLACE - While not technically a park, the Inner Harbor is definitely park-like and as we swooped through the plaza, we joined the route of the charity run (it might have been Susan Komen or Race For The Cure, I never quite got the name) all the way out to Canton. The race volunteers and traffic police kept yelling at the bicyclists to stay away from the runners and sometimes gave contradictory directions on which side of the street to stay on. Still, it was nice to have Boston Street closed to traffic.

O’DONNELL SQUARE – Canton is one of my favorite Baltimore neighborhoods, but we just zipped through once we were free of the runners.

PATTERSON PARK- Patterson Park is the largest park in Baltimore and should be a Central Park or Boston Meadows style centerpiece, but it isn’t. While well landscaped, it was a little shabby. The trail wandered through the hill and a large tree downed by recent storms nearly totally blocked one part of the path. Right at the southwest corner we went by a gorgeous mega-playground built like a fort that was completely kid free at 9 am on a Sunday morning. The first rest area was right in front of the Patterson Pagoda, a regional landmark. It was cool to see it up close.

CLIFTON PARK – The ride to Clifton Park was through some of the worst war-zone abandoned rowhouse areas of Baltimore. On the left just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, there was a huge four block area that had been bulldozed clear. A big sign noting what is was for went by to fast to read. All the bicyclists waved at the ladies coming out of church in their Sunday finery and big hats. At Clifton Park, the bicylclists started getting confused about the route. It went up a large steep hill past the clubhouse of the infamous Clifton Golf Course and back down the other side.

HERRING RUN PARK – Right at this park I saw a Taco Truck setting up on the side of the road with a lot of guys in soccer jerseys setting up a field. Then it was around Lake Montebello on a very nice biking/jogging path. Past this point the route wandered through some very nice neighborhoods including the elderly housing apartments that stand where Memorial Stadium used to be. While not marked on the cue sheet, one park was surrounded by mansions and completely landscaped with flowers all in bloom.

WYMAN PARK – This shaded meandering park went by too fast to enjoy as we headed downhill to the next rest area across the street from the Stieff Silver Building. Here the heat was beginning to build and plenty of people were using the hose to cool off.

DRUID HILL PARK – Truly the crown jewel of Baltimore City, this park was busy with all sorts of activity. The route took us along the lake, past the conservatory and zoo and to a beautiful path behind the park that led down a steep switchback to the Jones Falls Trail. This trail kept appearing and disappearing as it led back into the central area of Baltimore.

MOUNT ROYAL - At this point I was getting confused and just following groups of riders and we wandered through the Mount Royal area. At one point in the median of a bigger road, a group of more serious cyclists were waiting at the route split for a lost buddy. The long route went from there west to the trailhead of the Gwynns Falls Trail. That was the trail/park I was really looking forward to but I checked my watch and odometer. I had gone over twenty-five miles already, it was after eleven and over ninety degrees. I headed back to the start.

CARROLL PARK – The route back went along MLK Boulevard past UMB and through some newer housing developments including one advertising townhomes in the low 300s. Back at the park, all the ballfields were busy and the announcers were booming over the speakers in Spanish. Back at the Carriage House, all bikers were crowding around the Gatorade. I had a hockey puck burger and a Chipotle pork taco before heading home.

It’s been several years since I did an organized ride in Baltimore and I loved the route of this one. You really saw all aspects of the city, good and bad. And there are some real hidden gem parks along the way. And if somewhere in your travels, you pass a wheezing, puffing guy in a loud gold GT biking jersey, that was me.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Streets of Soho

I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand
walkin through the streets of Soho in the rain.
He was lookin for the place called Lee Ho Fooks,
gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein.

On Thursday I posted a picture of me in front of Lee Ho Fooks, the Soho Chinese restaurant made famous by Warren Zevon. The slip of paper in my hand was not a menu, but a coupon that a street barker was handing out. In our group that was touring together, there was an age divide right around 35 that recognized the cultural significance of the place while the younger generation was perplexed with our fascination.

Since we were with a group tour, we had most of our meals covered which meant eating a lot of mediocre food in places that cater to tourists. We had fish and chips one night and curry another. We did have Chinese one day at a different Chinatown place, but no beef chow mein.

On our free night, we found ourselves back in the Soho/Charing Cross area looking for a place and stumbled onto Norman’s Coach and Horses that was a traditional British pub catering to the locals rather than the tourists. And even though we picked it at random out of severe hunger, it seems that the place has a colorful history. The upstairs dining room was closed for a private party but they let us eat down in the pub portion. I had a bangers sandwich that had a cutesy name and my wife had the meat pie. Both were delicious.

We kept getting jostled by the drinking patrons who were very wrapped up in watching some international rugby tournament. For dessert, two doors down was an authentic French pastry shop with outdoor dining. That was a great way to satisfy our sweet tooths in Soho. So we had lots of great dining in London, but never did run into any werewolves with perfect hair walking with the queen.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Personality Drink Quiz

By the date of the is file, I stole this quiz from HRH Courtney quite a while ago. But it's funny even if kinda dopey. Hint: Take it more than once to realize that it's just mega-random.

The Recipe For yellojkt

3 parts Shrewdness
2 parts Prosperity
1 part Understanding

Splash of Slyness

Finish off with whipped cream

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Links Not Safe For Anywhere

Rob Balder is a song parodist that works the geek circuit. I saw him last year at Balticon (the graduation festivities prevented me from letting my nerd flag fly this year) with several other members of the Funny Music Project. The FuMP aspires to incubate the next Weird Al and releases two songs a week on their website and as a podcast.

I subscribe through iTunes and find maybe one in five songs funny, but since it doesn't cost anything to listen, no harm, no foul. One song called "JFGI" (and I did have to Google the title) was a random list of phrases monotoned Alan Ginsberg style. I went to the website and got this explanation:
All of the phrases in this song were entered into a search engine at least once, causing someone to click through to or
We all get very strange search engine links. I know that Flasshe puts one in many of his posts. I'm still skeeved out that I get weekly hits for "Jordan Todosey naked", but if you mention the thirteen-year-old actress in the same post as The Naked Brothers Band, it's bound to happen.

Since the song's lyrics were all Google searches I decided to see where they went. I've gone and done the "I'm Feeling Lucky" search for each phrase. A few just led back to the song, so I went on to the next ranked site. While I did this with SafeSearch off, only one link led to a genuine porn site. And its probably not the one you would expect. Several led to YouTube clips, so I marked those as such, just in case you don't want the distraction. A few lead to either the official site or MySpace page of a band and could play music randomly. You've been warned.

See if you are as curious as I was. A disturbingly large number of links lead to medical sites. I don't know if that reflects on the typical Google search or the subject matter of FuMP songs.

fat chicks in spandex
meredith baxter birney my breast
praying to the porcelain god
see peoples guts and boobs
eat all the old people song
what is meant by halitosis
funny rapers (Video, and the funniest of the lot)
wonder woman topless
resthome for hoes
do the pee wee herman
pictures of maggots in a cat
psycho slut from hell
the pill mood swing cures
skinny dipping woman with boobs showing
i got a hangnail hangin from my cuticle
pissin blood in urine
paddle my bum free download
death worm
the most wonderful kind of brassiere
public enemy lyrics stomp a mud hole in your ass
boobs tits melons cans racks
melvin and the chipmunks
taliban on ice
rubber master
brobdingnagian blender
duh duh diarrhea
lederhosen teenager
clips showing little boys being potty trained and going pee

I spy
An infinite supply of passers-by.
They misidentify but come to verify
And clarify.
I'm terrified and horrified,
Yet purified, they glorify
The Ubermind, the great Third Eye.
You want to find
Who, what or why?

im in yur cat
infected hangnail
chester cheese woods
lex luthor raper
lolcats addiction
cause for blown up stomach
buffet design
dr. demento and gonorrhea
chuck norris is a sissy
chicken explosion blood baby monsters
pimple on back that turned black
take maxi pads trash
babaganoosh is in the house
which reo speedwagon song is used in horton hears a who
star trek boxer shorts
galaga ship
police nabbed my dad (Video)
sears funny clerk lingerie dept
yuppie bathrooms
dead brain
what is degenerated cell
soviet duck
blood covered boobs
hermione strips
world robot
godzilla sample
snorks theme song
woman knee in the balls
the meaning of miserable
peekin in someones bathroom
fake inflatable breasts (Video)
mild attack of dyslexia
zombie death horde
albino claw footed frog
inflatable love
superfriends porn
breasts like basketballs
a moose once bit my sister
stupid and loud
hobbit potato (Video)
girls in bikinis getting wedgies
how i got the clap
gallbladder palpitations
how people look like when burned
lettuce worms
piss into his face
be nice to new jersey

don't shoot rob balder (Video)
The last line is a parody of "Don't Talk" as performed by Rob Balder and other members of the FuMP crew.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: Which of these disturbed you the most? Which one did you have to check out?

Monday, June 02, 2008

BooksFirst - May 2008

Books Bought


Books Read

Funny Boys by Warren Adler
Comrade J by Pete Early


Both of the books I read this month were impulse check-outs from the local library in the new releases section. The library is a good place to find recent books that may not be getting the front of the store publicity at the local BigBoxOfBooks™.

I picked Funny Boys by Warren Adler because the cover blurb said it was by the writer of The War Of The Roses. While I haven’t seen that movie, I am a fan of dark humor and expected as much from this book. Dark it definitely is, comedy is a little tougher to call. The hero of the book is Mickey Fine, an aspiring Borscht Belt comedian that takes a job as the “tumbler” or social director/master of ceremonies at a Mob-run Catskills resort. The entire cast of Jewish and Italian gangsters talk with accents that would make Damon Runyon wince. Mickey is the jokester that is never short of a sub-Henny Youngman-esque one-liner.

Despite the corny lines, the humor in the book is plenty dark. The gangsters are based on real 1930s thugs and do all the killing, stealing, loan-sharking, and pimping you would expect. The book has a sexual explicitness that would be unheard of in a 50s gangster movie comedy. In the second chapter, Mutzie Feder, the ditzy high-school grad heroine, is brutally deflowered by her mobbed-up boyfriend. And that is just the beginning of her sexual degradation and the hands of the gangsters. That this story has a sweet romantic comedy screwball plot makes these scenes even more jarring.

Overall, I can't recommend this book because of the wildly clashing tones and themes. It aims to be a Pritzi's Honor type of satire, but the level of humor just can't be sustained.

I haven’t been reading that much non-fiction lately, but Citizen J by Pete Early caught my eye because I like true-life stories of espionage. The book details the career of Col. Sergei Tretyakov who was the second highest ranking spy in Russia’s UN delegation before he defected in 2000, long after the Cold War ended. The first part of the book details his rise through the KGB and its successor, the SVR, as a foreign field officer, first in Canada and then in New York.

The book is full of details about the methods of Russian intelligence agencies and how they dupe and trick officials into unwittingly or deliberately passing on classified information. Strobe Talbott, respected Russian expert and Clinton administration official, was a particularly valuable source, if not an actual spy. He also cites the myth of nuclear winter as advocated by Carl Sagan to have been particularly effective Soviet disinformation.

Among the revelations is that at one time two UN ambassadors from former Soviet republics were actually still-active Russian agents or informants. He also documents the way that a Russian SVR officer inside the Iraq Oil For Food program enriched cronies with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of shady deals.

It was the cronyism and kleptocracy of the Yeltsin and Putin eras that drove Tretyakov to betray his country. He was well rewarded for his defection but claims that money was not his motivation. He says he could no longer serve an organization that was so badly pillaging his motherland. A lot of the accusations in the book must be taken with huge blocks of salt because they are basically unverifiable. What can be taken as gospel is the in-fighting and treachery that takes place inside the Russian bureaucracy as they continue to try subvert and disrupt U.S. goals.

While we have declared the Cold War over as we take on The War On Terror, we must remember that we still have enemies elsewhere in the world.