Friday, November 4, 2011

NYC Marathon '11

Everything ended up on Facebook this year...

Click here

Monday, September 19, 2011


The river they called a lake.

Vibrant streets

Beautiful buildings

Crazy-eyed bird

Good thing it's still 2011

Best way to get around, obviously

Rays of heaven beaming down on a sea of beauty

Austin City Limits

Alison Krauss

Stevie Wonder

Arcade Fire

We'll be back

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pepper Party 4

A lot of peppers this year. Nuff said.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Garden Update

It's late August and the summer has brought a fair amount of excitement to the land of the fire escape. A view from below shows a summer of growth.

Much of the growth has been due to the wet summer we've had, and regular watering to offset the super hot days. Although, the rain has been hard to manage, especially for my compost when it comes in hard and sideways.

But most importantly I got fruit this year: Mostly cucumbers and peppers.

However the other day I found something peculiar. One of my tomato plants was gnawed to the stems. It was completely stripped.

After a quick investigation. I found the culprit.

A tomato hornworm. Turns out these are pretty damaging machines, as I had learned the hard way. Although fortunately for me, there are these braconid wasps out there who like to control the tomato hornworm population by laying their eggs on the worms and slowly eating out their insides. I didn't really believe it when I heard it until I looked out the window and saw it being done...twice...pretty intense sight to see.

But all in all, the garden is still well. If only I could grow some friggin broccoli...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Old Time Warner

Wow, Time Warner. Your online bill pay website requires me to downgrade my browser to log in. Another reason for me to cancel you.

Look closely at the supported browser versions. The current latest version of IE is 9, the latest of Safari is 5, and Firefox is 5 as well. Are they for real? FIOS, why must you still not be available on my block!?!?!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Know Your Biker!

A week ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who had just started a new job. She said to me, "You have GOT to meet my new boss, you would love him, he rides his bike everywhere!" "Oh yeah?" I replied, raising an eyebrow. "Yeah! He does these 100 mile rides every weekend, with the whole racing outfit and everything!" My grin then turned to a grimace. I thought to myself, do I really look like the type of guy with that much free time and a voluntary urge to wear spandex?

The truth is, there are many types of riders out there. Different riders have different motives, different techniques and different reasons to be loved or hated. Most riders fall into one of several categories. In New York City, here are the top 9 different types of riders.

1) The Regular Commuter: These are the most noble of riders. They have one goal: Get from point A to point B. Most of these riders take their ride seriously because it is their most common mode of transportation. Therefor most of them follow the etiquette of the road and don't really cause a nuisance. Men and women alike, some are wearing business attire with sneakers to change out of later, and others are just casual normal looking people, just trying to beat the subway. This is me, and hundreds of thousands of other city dwellers. Respect them, because they are worthy of respect.

2) The Hardcore Cyclist: Nobody can be criticized for some good wholesome cardio, but is the outfit really necessary? C'mon, you look ridiculous. I don't go for a run in short shorts, nor do I take batting practice in a full baseball uniform, nor do I shave my legs to go for a swim. Actually, I would never shave my legs but that's besides the point. I honestly wish I had the free time to spend my mornings and weekends riding, but sadly for me I have a job and a social life to maintain. Sorry.

3) The Hispanic Food Delivery Man: Here come the stereotypes! But if you can prove me wrong, I'll shut up. These riders are typically found with plastic bags both covering their seat and also carrying delivery food. They are usually riding an old beat up mountain bike on the wrong side of the road, frequently going the wrong way in a bike lane. Sometimes they are wearing helmets and safety vests with the name of the restaurant (which is now the law) and sometime they are wearing only kitchen attire. Their poor road manners make normal bikers cringe and scream insults, but they ignore it because their speedy arrival promotes higher tips for the hungry awaiting customers.

4) The Asian Food Delivery Man: We've all seen them. The 45-year-old asian man riding an electric bicycle with an awkward baseball cap and a cigarette. I still remember the first time I saw one of these battery powered "bicycles" silently whiz by me. Within the last several years these riders have increased exponentially. Some appear to be delivering food, others seem to be up to no good. Verrry Mysteeeerious. We'll never know.

5) The Messenger: These frequently dreadlocked daredevil defy the logic of bicycle physics. Putting in hundreds of miles a day, these riders perform unlike any other, both in stamina and agility. Squeezing through crevices between busses and wiggling through crowds of people crossing the street, these impressive riders snake their way down the street with graceful form, almost invisible. They intimidate some pedestrians, but if you need to get a role of architectural plans from East 53rd St to Church Street, they are your go-to-guy.

6) The Tourist: These riders are easy to recognize because they are dressed like Europeans, not wearing helmets while slowly and awkwardly swerving around on dumb looking cruiser bikes they rented at Columbus Circle. They frequently have no clue whatsoever where they are going, and they love to get in your way. It's like they do it on purpose.

7) The Pedicabbies: These are the foreigners who take advantage of other foreigners. Ride by them and just listen to the garbage they spew. "I rode by Alec Baldwin yesterday." or "That building is the one from Ghost Busters." Fredereick Law Olmstead would turn over in his grave if he knew his park was infested by such sleazy sleeveless scammers. The only thing that makes horse and carriages worse is the fact that they poop all over the place.

8) The Hipsters: Hipsters are the only reason fixed gear bikes even exists. Maybe it's because fixies are the vinyls of bicycles: inferior yet "authentic." Anyway, these epically rad riders are mostly found in Brooklyn, where style trumps performance. Vintage style bikes line the streets and even the guys have baskets in front. It's weird. But that's why it's cool.

9) The Crazy Non-Bikers: These are riders who get the double takes. You see them mostly in the parks or on the Hudson Greenway. They are riding the recumbent bicycles or even bikes that look like elliptical machines. It makes you wonder what stoned bike shop nut came up with these ideas, yet its impressive performance makes you intrigued and somewhat jealous. Then again, it seems like something you would try once then go back to a regular bicycle.

Then again, maybe you are a mix of several categories. The point is, one type doesn't classify all riders. Some people hate all bikers because they associate all of them with the rule-breaking delivery guys or the wreckless traffic swervers. Some people think all riders are training for the Tour de France because of all the silly spandexed people out there. False associations just make it frustrating for the rest of us who are just trying to get from point A to point B. So the point is, know your biker, ok? Now get out of my way, I have somewhere to go.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Spring 2011 Garden

The garden is more or less complete for the season. I've expanded about 80% more than my previous year's surface area, now occupying more than half of the walkable area of the top level of the fire escape.

In here I have some Basil, Rosemary, Peas, a Pepper, a bunch of Fennel, Chamomile, 2 Easter Lilies, some cosmos and some duck foot ivy.

From left to right: in back in pots: Broccoli, Peppers, Chocolate Mint, random indoor plant, Sage; in middle planters: random stuff and String Beans, 4 each of Red and Green Bell, Cayenne and Jalapeno Peppers (that I got from Dad in Philly) , a Tomato Pot; Rain Catchment Bins; Compost...

To note is a funny "weed" I kept pulling out. It was obviously something that made it into my compost with a lot of seeds that eventually found themselves in pretty much everything I had planted for the past couple weeks. But I couldn't figure out what the darn thing was...

Yesterday morning I figured out what they were, as I was walking around a farmer's market in Madison, WI.

The plant caught my eye and I knew at once what had settled all over my garden. My roommate Dave had definitely put scrap zucchini in the compost bag, which had a whole bunch of seeds that would end up in the big compost bin and eventually get mixed in with soil to use. I'm going to get some of it growing in a pot or two and see if I can get some fruit out of it.

Biking Madison

Madison, WI was the setting for CNU19, the annual conference of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a non profit sustainable urban planning organization. The bicycle culture there was appropriately refreshing, to say the least. There were bikes everywhere, all over. Maybe it was the 1500 visitors they had that week, who knows.

Their new bike share program proved effective. See the lockup station that was found in several key locations throughout the city.

It was free if used for just a half hour, and $10 if taken for more thann that up to a whole day. Besides the fact that it looked like a clunky cruiser with a heavy metal basket welded to the front, they seemed to be well received and frequently used. Again, maybe it was just the conference.

Most surprising to me in Madison was the lack of bike security (which is obviously a huge concern of me in my current city). Bikes were locked up all over (or not) with nothing but cable locks. I saw maybe 3 chains the entire 4 days I was there. I went to rent a bike for the week and they weren't even going to give me a lock until I asked for one. A person I was with asked what happens if the bikes get stolen, to which the shop attendant responded in a confused and slow manner, for which he had no real response. "It's never happened so I don't really know."

There were also these other red bikes that were rented, these for free with a deposit. Although these were old bikes spray painted red. The entire bike, over cables and gears and brakes and everything. Really.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Strange Sleepers 4

And the winner is, myself...

See the rest of the Strange Sleepers series...

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Charm of the Third Time

I never enjoy doing my taxes. Adding to the difficulty this year was the fact that (unbeknownst to me) my birthday had (at one point in my life) changed. Yes, apparently your birthday can change.  And when filing tax returns, the IRS doesn't like it when you declare a different birthday than the SSA does, and the SSA thought it was the day before it actually was. But my birth certificate was correct, so when did it change?

It changed in 2003, when I got a new social security card. The office to do so was in the Veteran's Administration Building in Philadelphia, and I had to walk through a metal detector. What I didn't know at the time was that the metal detector was actually a magical portal of youth, making me exactly 1 day younger. I guess it was pretty cool, except that 8 years later I would have my federal tax return rejected by the federal government because in their eyes I was lying to them about my age.  But why would I lie to them about being younger? I'm dating an older woman.

When Turbo Tax told me that my return was rejected, I cried out in anger. After that I called up the SSA. They told me of the magical blessing of the portal of youth and the power I now possessed, but warned that the journey to restore my old body back to its original form required a long and perilous journey to the local SSA office and find my fate in the most dreaded terrain in all the world: A government agency waiting room.

After work the next day, I decided to venture onward to begin my quest to restore my age. The roads were perilous and the rain pricked my face as I slithered down 7th Ave on my bicycle. The aura was that of disturbing annoyance, very typical of West Midtown in general. My hinderances continued as the actual building was numbered out of order on the street, a timely allegory of my dilemma. I approached the dreary facade and encountered a locked glass door with a sign saying that the office is open from 9 to 4. 9 to 4?!? Thwarted again! Thwarted and dejected. But dejected yet determined. Determined to succeed in restoring my body back to my rightful age and ultimately...filing my tax return.

The next day I snuck out on my lunch break and jogged the 11 blocks back down to the office. The front door was open this time. I entered. A claustrophobically small lobby was occupied by a small desk and a slow-motion security guard. This struck me as peculiarly ineffective yet I kept my distance as I muttered to myself the reminder: "never underestimate the government, never underestimate the government..." A single elevator door straight ahead was my only directional option, so I approached it and pressed the only button. An awkward 143 seconds later, the door opened, with a confused woman asking both myself and the security guard where the bathroom was. It was a confusion indicative of my journey.

After the even more awkward 4 minute elevator ride from the ground floor to the third floor (I thought the lady was gonna burst), I entered the floor, followed a sign, and walked down a sterile looking hallway to a double door. Behind the door was the waiting room, the stage for my battle. I took my number, grabbed a form and sat down. There were 12 other people waiting. It was 11:47 AM. I hadn't quite beaten the lunch crowd like I had hoped. There were 3 windows, of course only two were staffed. So I sat, quickly filled out the form and awaited my chance to fight for my honor, and my birth date.

The wait was not easy, but rather a true test of the little remaining sanity that I still possessed. I gazed ahead at the security guard, who was of course armed. A sign behind him read "Do not ask the security guard for help with forms." I then overhead somebody whispering in an unknown language and slowly looked around and noticed most people probably didn't share my native language. Then, entering the room came somebody who also fit that criteria. He was also struck dumb with confusion. Several concerned people gestured to him to take a ticket and to fill out the form on the table. I looked out of the corner of my eyes as he looked at the form. I looked at him, I looked at the guard. The guard looked at him, he looked at the guard. I looked at him, then I looked at the guard, then back at him. Then I watched as the man demonstrated to the guard that he, in fact, spoke none of the 14 posted languages as he approached the guard and meekfully grunted, holding out the forms. He had actually taken both an English and a Spanish version of the same form, and he seemed to be wondering which one to fill out. The guard replied, politer than what was warranted, that he was allowed to fill out either, but that he as a security guard couldn't help him, because he was, in fact, only a security guard. The confused yet eager man was persistent but finally backed down as a kind samaritan agreed to help the man fill out his form, and the confused man sat down next to her. This was all well and good except that she was sitting right next to me, so I was then burdened with the caustic persian mumbles that buzzed in my ear like a mosquito. The kind woman slowly asked him to spell many of the indecipherable words that he spewed, but he was unable. As I pondered why somebody who was so inept at communicating deserved a social security card, the next person's name was called. I was only 5 numbers away from finally facing my fate.

The next person who walked to the open window also had an appearance of not speaking an ounce of english, and I quickly discovered that he too was incapable of speaking the primary language of this country. But what frustrated me even more was watching the hand signals of the window worker direct the confused man to walk back over to the table to fill out the form that everybody was supposed to fill out prior to window service! I sighed, but was relieved that maybe she would read the next number, making it one turn closer to my turn. However, instead she just waited...WAITED for him to complete the entire form. He was even distracted by another confused scoundrel asking him for directions. I almost jumped up at that moment to strangle them both, but I remained calm. I closed my eyes and tried to purge my mind of all thoughts.

Suddenly, an official looking man entered the waiting room and declared that he would like to take the next two numbers in line, to service them in the next room. two people got up and follow. 10 minutes passed. He then came in again. I quickly jumped to my feet and headed his way, making strong eye contact with a persistent stride. Surprised at my quick response, the man nodded accordingly, grinned and led me out the room, down the hall, and into a quite different looking room, one with many cubicles, resembling an actual office where actual work was done. The man led me to a cubicle with a kind woman at a desk who smiled and asked me for my form. She then proceeded to process my request and cheerfully ask how my day was. Confused, yet relieved, I sat back in my seat and exhaled. "Good...thank you," I slowly responded. The kind woman continued to dispel my anxiety while calmly explaining to me why my SS# had changed and how she was fixing it for me. Hypnotized by her soothing voice, my arms started tingling as she slid a form across the table for me to sign. I gazed down at the information to verify my new, and one time original birth date. I slowly signed on the line. The woman then smiled, took the form from me, and told me I was all set. I then arose from my chair in an aura of calmness, and walked out and around, through the door, down the hallways to the elevator, down, and out the strange small lobby to the familiar city streets. I looked back up at the subtle-looking government building, and sighed. I slowly walked back to work, drained yet relieved that I had emerged somewhat successful.

Later that week I logged into TurboTax and submitted my tax return again. An hour later I received an e-mail saying it was rejected. Again!?! Even though I discovered this while I was at work, I dropped everything I was doing and called up the SSA. After a 10 minute wait I was able to speak to a representative who confirmed that my birthdate did indeed change in the system, but perhaps the IRS hadn't been notified. As I refused to let the phone call end before I resolved the issue, the agent tried a variety of escape tactics. I persisted however, and then all of a sudden, in a surprise turn of events, the SSA rep proceeded to call the IRS while keeping me on the line in a conference call. The line rang as I awaited in eager anticipation. The automated menu came up and I listened to a series of interrupting beeps, which I presume was the SSA rep continually pressing "0." Finally a representative picked up an asked how he could be of assistance. I hesitated to hear if the SSA rep would speak but she did not, so I spoke up and explained my woes. The IRS person gave his generic response, blaming it on the SSA at which point the SSA rep jumped in and refuted his claim. The two began to bicker slightly, but then came to the shared conclusion that I should wait a week and re-file my taxes. I signed, having no confidence whatsoever in their decision, but somewhat defeated, I conceded to their advise and hung up.

A week later I re-filed my taxes, for the third time. Shortly afterwards I got an e-mail saying that my return was finally accepted. Finally! I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. My journey was almost over. Several weeks later my checking account was finally credited. I paid my rent, and went on with my life.

The End.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Plants Eating Snow

I've harvested water from my fire escape catchment basins to plant my indoor guys plenty of times, but not in this form. It's actually better in some ways because it melts slowly and avoids the occasional overflow.