You Got to Be Kidding Me!

From the Department of Really Late Movie Reviews…

Posted in Entertainment by Stacy McMahon on September 30, 2006

Back when I had HBO I used it to seek out the old or obscure movies that I tend to prefer. I don’t have HBO anymore but Netflix fills the gap nicely, especially since going to the theater is so expensive now that I really only do it for social occasions.

Anyway, though I’m not a big sports fan I remembered liking Varsity Blues, so when Friday Night Lights showed up on my recommendations I decided to try it. Am I ever glad I did! What a great movie. It starts off a little slow and disjointed, but you soon realize that’s because they’re introducing the main characters, who don’t necessarily hang out in one group. Character development–imagine that. And you wouldn’t expect Hollywood to choreograph a football game worth anything but this looked great to me, especially since a lot of the camera angles seemed designed to mimic the way TV covers a game. People who know more about football than I do (almost everyone) might find stuff to criticize there, but it looked brilliant to me. The cast is an ensemble and I didn’t recognize most of the faces, so they apparantly haven’t gone on to great things yet, but Billy Bob Thornton does his usual great job, in this case as the coach balancing small-town political pressure to win against his personal responsibility to the players, who after all still kids. And all done with near-zero melodrama and no obvious plot formulas. Of course it’s a coming-of-age movie so there are formulas all over the place, but as in Top Gun they’re used wisely and advance the plot without distracting. I’m not really a football fan, but I think it’s safe to say Friday Night Lights is a football movie for football fans. You can never assume that in these PC times…

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Rain and More Auld Acquaintances

Posted in Social Life by Stacy McMahon on September 28, 2006

I seem to be on a run with running into people I used to know. Riding Metro into my old neighborhood to pick up my car from the Subaru dealer this afternoon, the cold wind and rain were blowing sideways hard enough that there wasn’t any truly dry place on the platform, let alone outside. I therefore decided to take the elevator to the street level and stay dry for a couple more minutes. Wouldn’t you know it, over my shoulder I hear another familiar voice saying “Stacy!”, and turn around to see Darren, a former classmate at Virginia Tech who lives in Huntington.

We caught up a bit as the bus saved him from getting soaked on what would otherwise have been a 15-minute walk to his house, but I was mostly thinking “this rain is going to trash my balcony.” Had I been expecting a thunderstorm, I’d have taken down my hammock or at least brought the pillow inside and stacked the chairs. I’d also have taken the 36″ planter box off the railing since it will fill with water in a downpour.

When I got home though, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Yes, the pillow is wet but it’s all synthetic so that’s not an emergency. The 24″ planter box on the railing was enjoying the rain just fine, as it should since I drilled drain holes in the side after the floods this spring. And my plucky little apple tree is still green and standing up straight. The 36″ box, though, and all the catnip in it are done. I guess it’s going to be time to plant those snow peas…

Call Me a Cab! …Ok, You’re a Cab

Posted in Economics, Social Life, Travel by Stacy McMahon on September 28, 2006

In London a couple years ago, Vicky and I joined her old bridge-playing buddy Jason for a night of clubbing. Jason warned me that British girls are snobbish and unfriendly, and he was right, but it was a fun evening anyway. One of the more interesting parts came near the end when we took a ‘black’ or unregistered cab back to the hotel. This was just a guy making some extra cash by driving people around at night, and quite a bit cheaper than a real cab. Of course you can’t visit London without riding in the funky oldtime cabs, and we did take one of those to the Eurostar terminal the next day.

I thought about that this morning when a coworker joked that he’s going to make a lot of money driving a cab today, since several of us need rides to a going-away lunch. I’ve taken two cab rides in the past week or so, once from National to my house on the way home from California, and another from Japone to Rosslyn when the metro unexpectedly closed at midnight instead of 2am like I thought. Both were $15-20 including tip, which strikes me as a pretty nice hourly rate.

Of course that’s the benefit of the artificial scarcity created by the taxi licensing system, but like most regulatory systems it creates an opportunity for freeriding. In each of my cab rides, the distance was around 5 miles. You probably have to drive around a bit in between fares, but let’s say you have a 5-mile fare for every 10 miles driven. The standard mileage deduction on your taxes is 42 cents, so that’s a cost of $4.20 for your ten miles of driving. If you undercut the pros by $5 then you’re pulling in, conservatively, around $6 for your ten miles. If you can do that 3 times an hour, that’s $18/hr.

So, if you call yourself a cab for 3 hours a night 2-3 times a week, that’s all your going-out money. Not a bad little racket, especially if you’re a student of humanity (or of drunk girls coming home from the club!)

Ok, This is Kinda Good!

Posted in Music, The Intrawebs by Stacy McMahon on September 27, 2006

My alternate title for this post was “Fear my net.stalking skillz, or I Can Read LJ and Click on Links!”. But I decided that was going a long way for not much of a joke. Anyway, I ran across Meagan’s LJ and from there to her AudioStreet page where she’s got an mp3 posted. I’ve told a couple of my friends before how she brought down the house at Freddie’s one night, so I was pretty interested to hear her singing her own stuff. And you know what? I like it! She definitely reminds me of someone I’ve heard before, though I can’t come up with the name offhand. Think somewhere between Tracy Bonham and Veruca Salt Ani DiFranco, though that’s probably a horrible comparison and all my more music-literate friends will tar and feather me for it. Anyway, go listen, you’ll like it!

Too White and Nerdy

Posted in Silly/Funny, The Intrawebs by Stacy McMahon on September 27, 2006

This explains a few things…

You are 24% white and nerdy.
How White and Nerdy Are You?

Here’s the video. There, I just saved you a few white-n-nerdy points!

Modern Architecture (con’t)

Posted in Politics, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on September 25, 2006

Clearly, I wasn’t clear in my last post. That’s non-sarcastic–as I look back I don’t think I made my point well. Christina and Clint’s comments just confirm it. Given that, a couple points bear elucidating (I got yer $10 word right here!):

  1. Nontraditional architecture – What I meant to do was respond to the WaPo writer’s assertion that “Not to build such a splendid, modern structure would have been a dumbfounding mistake. The error would have been noticed around the world…” It seems to me that the implication is ‘new and cool’ has intrinsic value of its own. The marketplace may say that it does, but I think saying DC should have interesting modern buildings because other great cities like London, Berlin, Hong Kong, etc have them just a variation on “everybody’s doing it”. A pissing contest, as Clint said.

    That’s not to say that DC should always have neoclassical architecture because it’s always had neoclassical architecture in the past (though this is apparantly the city’s policy.) I just feel that if the motivation is “I saw something awesome in London last summer, there should be something weird and interesting here too”, that’s a bad reason to build something. A good reason would be that the design addresses a particular set of needs in an innovative way and was preferably “invented here” by local talent. I’m not going to have much extra pride in my city because someone brought in outside talent to build something intended to look like a shinier version of something else in some other city, without much regard for setting or function. Yes, that’s an aesthetic sense on my part, but that being so it puts me in the Ayn Rand school, which is also basically the Frank Lloyd Wright school so I’ll go ahead and hold my head up.

  2. Property rights – Just to talk about Clint’s point for a moment. I disagree on the basis that if your neighbor were to build a borg cube with pink bunnies that takes up their entire lot, it reduces the market value of your property because most people don’t want to live next to a borg cube (with or without pink bunnies) and will be willing to pay less for your house. So it does affect you, and along with health hazards related to industrial facilities, that is the reason we have zoning. If enough people want to live in borg cubes, they can in theory get together and buy land, lobby the county to create a borg cube zone, and cube it up to their heart’s content (as long as they plant trees so the next subdivision isn’t forced to live making the same boring cubist jokes day after day)

Modern Architecture

Posted in Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on September 24, 2006

Real quick, this Post article from last year about the approval of Norman Foster’s glass canopy for the Old Patent Office Building courtyard (link from DCist) gives me an chance to say something I like to say about architecture and urban design whenever I find someone to listen. The article includes the following sentiment beloved of, from what I can tell, every architect in the universe:

Not to build such a splendid, modern structure would have been a dumbfounding mistake. The error would have been noticed around the world, for sure. Today, architecture plays a significant role in establishing a city’s competitive credentials. To turn down a wonderful building out of excessive caution or misplaced preservationist zeal? Definitely embarrrassing.

My personal opinions aside (short version: I’m on the fence about modern architecture, but have no love for columns and porticos just because they’re traditional) it’s an even bigger error of judgement to potentially blight the landscape for the next century or more just to add a big-name building to the city’s resume, or because something similar looks cool somewhere else in the world. Followers build things to keep up with the Joneses. We should do-or not do-based strictly on our own needs and wants.

Check Your Dryer!!!

Posted in Miscellaneous by Stacy McMahon on September 23, 2006

A lot of my button-down shirts have plastic tabs in the corners of the collar to keep them stiff and pointy. I am usually too lazy to take them out before washing, but it’s never been a problem til today. Or so I thought. I bought a new shirt this morning and went to give it the pre-wearing wash. When it came out of the dryer it was short one plastic tab. I felt around the bottom of the dryer, checked the lint filter, nothing. I said a mental “blah!” and went on about my folding and ironing. Afterward I decided to check again just for fun. This time I spotted a faint outline of something next to one of the fins inside the dryer.

It was a plastic tab, partially stuck under the fin. But it wasn’t the one that came out of my new shirt, it went with some other shirt. I went on to recover the matching tab, plus the one for the new shirt for a total of three. So one of my shirts needs tabs, doesn’t have them, and may not have had them for several months. Check those dryers!

And Speaking of Flying…

Posted in Aircraft and Flying by Stacy McMahon on September 22, 2006

Getting a private pilot’s license has always been “on my list”. My dad had his when he was about my age, and flew my mom around on some of their dates. I know I’d love it. I’ve always had a natural feel for what makes airplanes tick, and natural talent at handling any vehicle I’ve ever tried, from bikes to powerboats.

So when one of my relatives last weekend was complaining about airport security, and declaring that if she ever flew again she’d be her own pilot, it made me start thinking about small planes again. I’m a compulsive researcher (just ask my friends; one of the most common complaints about me is my know-it-all tendencies) and set off to find out what kind of small airplanes (lightplanes) are available today. Answer: the majority are disappointingly the same as when I was a kid looking through my dad’s old flying stuff.

The few new-age designs out there have specs that tell me something about their designers’ intent. For example, the useful load (weight capacity, incl. fuel) of a Piper Saratoga and a Lancair IV are within 100 lbs or so, but the Lancair cruises almost twice as fast and is 20%+ more fuel-efficient. If you compare any two old and new designs with similar seating capacities, you’ll find about the same thing. New airplanes carry the same load as old ones, but generally faster and with lower fuel consumption–using the same Continental or Lycoming engines.

That’s a whole box of cookies for modern aerodynamics and materials science, but it leaves me scratching my head in one way. The two aircraft linked above, which are fairly typical, have a max load of about 1200 lbs including up to 60-70 gallons of fuel. At a little over 6 lbs/gallon, that’s 400 lbs or so out of that 1200, leaving 800 to divide among pilot, passengers and luggage. Even 6-seat lightplanes come with numbers like that, so unless I’m missing something pretty much every single-engine lightplane on the market can’t fill all its seats without being gigantically overloaded!

Kirin is non-alcoholic beer

Posted in Social Life by Stacy McMahon on September 21, 2006

Tonight had a bit of magic to it. I was up late last night, so tired this morning and dying by 5:30 when I got home. I laid down and slept like a baby for two hours. This was one of those sleeps where you start off feeling just peaceful and relaxed, and wake up feeling completely refreshed. These don’t come around often, at least not to me. I woke up around 7:15, made dinner and got ready to go meet Angel, Ian and their crew for karaoke at Cafe Japone.

I don’t go to DC much these days, and Japone is in the neighborhood where I used to work. But more on that later. Coming from Virginia I have to change trains at Metro Center. I glanced around the platform in case I might spot anyone en route. That happened more than once going to parties back in the day, but not tonight. Just when I’d satisfied myself of that, though, I heard a familiar voice calling my name. It was Ryan Schutt, an old friend from Virginia Tech who was on his way home from the Nats game. He lives in Rockville but I almost never see him. He said he hardly ever comes into the city either, so the odds of us meeting like that are astronomical. He’s doing well and is getting ready to go to Japan for two weeks on vacation. Didn’t get much detail besides that as I got off the train two stops later, but it sure can be a small world!

I arrived at Japone a little early, so I decided to check out my old office building. It’s still there, as is the organization I worked for, but I’d say a good 3/4 of everything around it has changed. An old womens hospital two blocks away has become a high-rent apartment building, there’s a fountain and an outdoor patio bar where there used to be ..not that stuff anyway. Lulu’s is gone, though I’ve heard of it lately so maybe it just moved. Almost every nearby building has had some renovation, an addition, new facade, something. I walked on over to Connecticut Ave, and saw a line outside the Lucky Bar. I knew that couldn’t be right, and it wasn’t; there’s a place next door with loud music and what looked like the Tower Records logo for a sign. At least the Lucky is still there. Some things never change, like the McDonalds across from Joseph A. Bank on M Street. Others definitely do. There must have been 2-3 Cosis in the 10 or so blocks I walked, and of course many Starbucks. I saw a Krispy Kreme off Dupont Circle of all places, which amused me since that’s about the last place I’d expect glazed donuts to be popular.

After all that, Japone was a letdown. It was good to see people but the room was small, the beer weak, the whiskey ready to run your car, and the other patrons far too loud to hear anyone sing. I think I’ll stick with Freddie’s for karaoke, but I wouldn’t trade the rest of this evening for anything.