Apr. 29, 2008

Joined a group of eight from work, including a visiting coworker from Raleigh, N.C., for a Phillies/Padres game at Citizens Bank Park — my third Phillies game in just five days!

Left work shortly after 4 p.m. to beat the traffic. Met up at a predetermined lot within the hour, but we were instructed to relocate to one of the few lots where tailgating is permitted. Enjoyed a few beers under clear, late-afternoon skies, then made our way into the game.

Bought my customary pulled-pork sandwich from Bull’s BBQ, then arrived at our seats high above home plate. We were relieved that the weather remained clear, but it grew very chilly as darkness fell. The game remained close until the Phillies took a 7–2 lead over the Padres in the eighth and held on for a 7–4 victory.

All in all, a very fun, relaxing night out with the team from work, and we’re already talking about making another group outing later this season. And given the Phillies have won every game I’ve attended this year, maybe I’ll keep bringing them some luck!

[ No. 433 ]

Apr. 25–27, 2008

Hit the road to join a weekend-long bachelor party in Pittsburgh for my old college friend, Tony.

Friday. Enjoyed clear weather and light traffic on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but endured nearly an hour of gridlock on I-376, Pittsburgh’s answer to the Schuylkill Expressway here in Philly. Parked at the garage across the street, then checked into the beautiful, historic Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel, then met up with Tony and a few of the guys at the hotel bar.

Walked across the Roberto Clemente Bridge toward PNC Park, where we watched a Phillies/Pirates game from seats near the left-field foul pole. After a few innings, we started playing the “hat game” — for each at bat, a baseball cap is passed to the next person in the row, who puts a dollar in the hat; if the batter hits a home run while you’re holding the cap, you win the pot. No one hit a homer during the remainder of the game, so the money became a post-game beer fund for the group.

As for the game itself, the Phillies jumped out to an early 6–0 lead and held on for a 6–5 win, and as an added bonus, we were treated to a great fireworks show after the game. One round of beer at the deafening Mullen’s Bar & Grill (formerly Hi-Tops), some more beers at a quieter table at the Park House, and we called it a day, completely exhausted.

Saturday. We were joined by a few more friends down at the hotel bar around noon. Sensing the need to pace myself for a long day on the town, I opted for some non-alcoholic beverages. The group then took a van ride over to the Church Brew Works for an excellent mid-afternoon lunch. I had heard raves about Church Brew, and it lived up to its reputation — the building had stood as St. John the Baptist Church since 1902, and was restored and converted into a spacious restaurant and microbrewery in 1996:

Church Brew Works, Pittsburgh

Went back to Mullen’s to watch some of the overhyped NFL draft, then returned to PNC Park for our second Phils/Bucs game of the weekend. This time, our seats were in the upper deck behind home plate with a spectacular view of the Pittsburgh skyline:

PNC Park, Pittsburgh

Played another round of the hat game with higher stakes: $2 for each at bat, but you get your money back if the batter gets a hit. It was only appropriate that Tony took home the largest pot of the weekend, but given the $2-per-person rule, his prize of $99 (an odd number) made little sense. On the field, the Phillies took another early six-run lead in this one and defeated the struggling Pirates again, 8–4.

Rode the subway (didn’t even know that one existed in Pittsburgh!) to Station Square, where we rode the Monongahela Incline, enjoyed a round of Yuenglings at the Shiloh Street Grille, then finished off the night at the Red Star Tavern.

Sunday: Enjoyed a great breakfast buffet at the crowded hotel restaurant, checked out of the hotel, and completed the trip back to the Philly suburbs in record time.

Great weekend all around, thanks to some excellent planning by Tony’s best man, Brandon!

[ No. 432 ]

Apr. 19, 2008

Memo to pizza and sandwich shops everywhere:

If your idea of a Buffalo chicken cheesesteak involves the use of Tabasco sauce, then you need to reevaluate the culinary skills of your kitchen personnel at once.

[ No. 431 ]

Apr. 17, 2008

When it comes to upgrades, they don’t make ’em like they used to.

  1. Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows Vista, has suffered from mediocre reviews since its launch last year, especially compared to its predecessor, Windows XP. Despite Vista’s shaky track record, Microsoft still plans to retire XP in June, just two months from now. In response, over 100,000 people have already signed an online “Save XP” petition that begs Microsoft to keep the old version on the shelves.
  2. Bear in mind that most Windows users are far less emotional about their computers than Mac fanatics, so the size of this grassroots XP movement is even more surprising.
  3. The latest version of our instant-messaging software at work, IBM Lotus Sametime Connect 7.5.1 (say that three times fast!), looks more polished than its previous incarnation and includes a handful of convenient new features. But none of those improvements matter, really — it takes 10 times as long to simply start the new Sametime, and once it’s running, the software is prone to frequent, unexplained crashes.
  4. So, just like Vista, the old one was better, and if I have any desire to retain my sanity, it’s pretty clear that I should go back to the older, more reliable version that I’d used for years.
  5. Even non-software-related upgrades tend to stink. Recently, someone had the bright idea to replace the regular faucets in our office restrooms with motion-sensor ones. Of course, the new faucets often ignore the presence of your hands in the basin, the water pressure is much lower, and you have no choice between hot and cold water — that’s my favorite feature of all.
  6. The moral of the story? Version 1.0 of anything is often perfectly acceptable, and version 2.0 is frequently overrated, if not downright terrible.

[ No. 430 ]

Apr. 15, 2008

A few days ago, I received an e-mail that contained a really bizarre, obscure acronym: SWMBO.

The exact wording of the message escapes me, but the note read something like: “Would you be able to reschedule this meeting? I’m now required by SWMBO to pick up the kids around that time.”

Got it yet?

Don’t feel bad — I had to look it up, too. Apparently, SWMBO is pronounced SWIM-bo, stands for “She Who Must Be Obeyed,” and traces its roots to a British novel from 1887 called She as well as a long-running British TV series, Rumpole of the Bailey.* (God bless Google and Wikipedia.)

Regardless of its origins, SWMBO is a fairly stupid term, given that its most concise definition — the word wife — actually contains fewer letters than its abbreviation.

* Update: In an e-mail with the subject line that reads, “Rumpole of the Bailey,” my friend Tony writes:

I’ve read most of those books. You can also get [the shows] on Netflix. I LOVE RUMPOLE! Very dry British humor. Good stuff.

Wow, I had no idea that anyone would recognize that title. I’ve been known to make a few too many obscure, Dennis Miller–esque pop-culture references, but Tony clearly outranks me on this one!

[ No. 429 ]

Apr. 9, 2008

Upon entering the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, Memphis coach John Calipari dismissed widespread concerns about his team’s inconsistent free-throw shooting (59.2%, the third-lowest percentage among 328 teams):

“We’ll miss some, but they really don’t play a factor. […] If you look at our team, there are so many other good things to talk about how we play. Like how we play defensively, how we swarm, how we play offensively. It’s different.”

In the same article, Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts added to the hubris:

“We’ve never lost a game because of our foul shooting.”

Well, at least not until Monday night. Memphis missed four of its last five shots at the foul line, and the Tigers fell short of capturing their first-ever national championship by losing in overtime to Kansas, 75–68.

For the record, I didn’t fill out a bracket this year, and had no strong feelings about either team in the title game. But still, it’s sad to know that Memphis’ tremendous 38–2 season will be forever overshadowed by a handful of missed free throws.

[ No. 428 ]

Apr. 2, 2008

Only three weeks remain until the unusually important Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, and not surprisingly, Hillary Clinton is busy pandering to voters in the Keystone State. In a speech to the AFL-CIO in Philadelphia yesterday, she predictably compared herself to — who else? — Rocky Balboa:

“Could you imagine if Rocky Balboa had gotten halfway up those art museum stairs and said, ‘Well, I guess that’s about far enough’? That’s not the way it works.
“Let me tell you something. When it comes to finishing the fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common. I never quit.”
Source: CNN, “Clinton: ‘Rocky’ and I aren’t quitters” (Apr. 1, 2007)

What a tired analogy. Sure, Rocky was an inspiring film, but I’d expect a presidential candidate to have something else to say about Philadelphia other than a boxing movie from 1976.

Besides, the comparison just doesn’t work. Rocky was a huge underdog, while Clinton is still the favorite in Pennsylvania (although her lead in the polls is waning fast). Despite his gritty determination, Rocky Balboa wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. And, as many news stories have already pointed out, Rocky lost his first big contest.

So, Hillary, are you sure you have a lot in common with the Italian Stallion?

[ No. 427 ]

Apr. 1, 2008

On this day every year, I try to convince myself that I can’t possibly fall for an April Fools’ Day joke. But someone usually manages to catch me off-guard anyway, and this year, ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption wins the prize.

PTI co-host Michael Wilbon opened the 30-minute sports talk show by exclaiming, “It’s April Fools’ Day, Tony! We should’ve come up with some kind of prank.” Mere seconds after that jovial introduction, Wilbon’s partner-in-crime, Tony Kornheiser, announced the lead story:

“…But we begin today with the stunning and shocking news that the NCAA has invalidated the last 16 seconds of Sunday’s Davidson/Kansas game, and that those last 16 seconds will be played again tomorrow night in North Carolina because a review of the tape of that game found out that Sherron Collins, who was so instrumental in closely guarding Stephen Curry at the end of the game, had already committed five fouls and should not have been on the floor.”

Kornheiser went on to say that he was “outraged” by the NCAA’s decision two days after the fact, but Wilbon countered that he was “encouraged” to see that the NCAA got the call right and fairly treated a smaller school in the process.

At the end of the 90-second segment, the pair grew quiet. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Kornheiser gleefully yelled, “April Fools’, everybody!”, high-fived Wilbon, and added for good measure, “Ha! You’re all idiots.”

I can’t even argue with him — they got me good, and it’s just one more reason why I love that show. (Make sure to watch the clip for the full effect.)

[ No. 426 ]