Sunday, August 30, 2009

On dinosaur feet and the death of a Liberal Lion ...

This week, when I wasn't busy copying other bloggers' posts without any acknowledgment, much like my heroes over at the Hartford Courant, I was visiting the Dinosaur State Park with my nephew and niece and mourning the death of Mr. Ted Kennedy.

Let's start with the dinosaurs.

I had no idea what was at Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. Seeing the signs on 91, I always assumed it to be a hokey place with fake dinosaur statues and mini golf or something. But the Professor's parents were bringing the little ones down for a visit, and, me having a day off and the Prof still on summer break, we decided to tag along.

I have to say, the place is kind of cool. For those who have no idea of what I'm referring, let me give you a bit of history. Back in 1966, 2,000 dinosaur tracks were found while the foundation for a new state building was being dug in Rocky Hill. Completely by accident. Can you imagine being the person who found these things? Needless to say, the building was scrapped and a park was born. 500 of the tracks remained unearthed and a giant dome structure was built over them, creating a museum for dinosaur fans to visit.

And do they visit. While we were there, busloads of kids were coming and going, along with some awkward teenagers that, I can only hope, were more into the "science" of these fossils than the "wow, dinosaurs!" awe that seemed to enrapt the park's tinier explorers.

Here's a poorly lit photo from inside the dome:

The kids had a blast, and the adults had fun, too. Of course, there was this one egotistical dinosaur we ran into on our way out of the park. He gave us some trouble, but we managed to get away. I even snapped a picture while we escaped:

Lousy, no good hipster brontosaurus ...

Anyway, that was the Dinosaur State Park.

Now onto Mr. Kennedy.

The passing of the Liberal Lion left me with a strong feeling of disconnect toward my home state of Massachusetts. His death reminded me that I'm not there anymore, a fact that is plain to see but which I still occasionally forget. I'm now at arm's length from my former city, outside, looking in, both for better and worse. Many friends went to the processionals, saw the motorcade, posted pictures on Facebook (which, I must admit, was kind of odd). But seeing so many people I know actively participating in such moments, being part of the funeral, the physical mourning, made the 90 minutes that separates me from my former home in Boston seem all the more great.

I suppose the strangest thing about Ted Kennedy's passing is the fact that there won't be any more new television footage of the man. For the 31 years I have been on this planet (and, until last August, having lived all of those years in Massachusetts), Kennedy's face has been a nearly nightly image, as common as the newscasters who he was speaking to or the townspeople seen at the gas station. I can't say I found the man to be perfect, but such thoughts really don't matter anymore. It was the comfort of seeing him that made him who he was. It was the fire that raged in his eyes on some days. The doughy smile on others. It was the fact that he was a constant. That is what I'll miss the most. Such a familiar image, lost into the ether.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I had heard about the Cash for Clunkers program, but ...

... apparently the New Haven Register is interested in a very different initiative:

The best part? 18% of the responses were "yes."

How does this work? Do I just need to turn in a chicken? Can it be from the grocery store? And how much money do I get for each chicken I turn in?

When we are the news, what is the news?

Back in February, I wrote about our (read: the general public's) seeming obsession with leaving comments on online news stories, as if our opinions were as, if not more, important than the stories themselves. I wondered why this was, and, frankly, what the point of allowing such activity brought to the legitimate act of news distribution. Well, thanks to the good folks at NBC 30, there is now a new level of public involvement in what used to be a purely objective way to relate important information.

You see, over at (the online outlet of channel 30), you can now rate the news stories.

I wish I was kidding.

Here's an example. A young person recently drowned in the Housatonic River. Quite a sad story. One, you would think, the average reader would see and say something like, "How horrible." You would think said reader would then refrain from clicking the small box to the right of said article, the box that says "I am: ." You'd think a tragedy would invoke a certain sense of respect.

Of course, you'd be wrong.

Here are the "ratings" for the article:

The website does not list the total number of votes, but the fact that anyone bothered to think that their emotional input was necessary after reading of a young person's death makes you stop to wonder, no? (I'm curious if the "laughing" and "bored" votes were nothing more than children deciding to be ironic.)

Honestly, what is the point of this? Are we so pathetically attention-starved that we need to be involved in everything we touch? Is that the reason for such inventions?

And what about the long-term effect of such immediate interaction? How could this affect what we consider "news?" If NBC 30's audience decides that politics or world news is boring, will the station decide to make such information obsolete? Will the news become nothing more than fluff a la E! News or Entertainment Tonight? Will celebrity birthdays overtake a recap of the stock market? Are Lolcats going to suddenly show up?

Sure, this may be taking things to an extreme, but one has to assume that these small changes will somehow play into future models of news.

Our world is constantly evolving. How do I feel about it? Sometimes I'm "thrilled," but things like this just make me "sad." Feel free to click on the sidebar to tell me your opinion. Wait, I don't have such technology.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another walk in the center ... this time with feeling!

Some people think all I do is complain. So, to prove them wrong, I'm devoting today's post to celebration! There are three shops that have opened in West Hartford center, filling some of the sad, lonesome vacancies that I wrote about back at the end of June.

Let's do a little before and after for our first two entries:

Yes, Max Muscle and Kaboos have arrived. And the center is the better for having them. Of course, I haven't actually entered either store. I hear Max Muscle has flat-screen televisions, but I'm on a strict "min muscle" program, so I don't see myself buying massive jars of supplements anytime soon.

Next up is a place I think many of us never would have imagined actually opening. Yes, I'm talking about Green Teahouse:

Like the infamous Chow across the street in Blue Back Square, Green Teahouse seemed like an elaborate prank being pulled on the residents of West Hartford. "When is it coming?" "Soon *snicker, snicker* soon."

But it is really here! And it looks great. I can see myself buying things inside right now ...

Moving on, there are several "coming soon" signs pock-marking the center. Are they actually coming soon? Or are they ...

I suppose time will tell, but it looks like we're going to be welcoming at least 3 more establishments in the somewhat near future:

I must say, I'm excited about Le Petit France. I grew up not far from their original store in Sturbridge, MA. Good stuff.

Of course, all is not roses and testosterone pills in the center. No, there are still stores dropping like flies. E.L. Wilde, Ritz Camera, and KZen are no longer with us. In their passing, I propose a toast, conveniently enough from West Hartford's newest "champagne room" (remember, men, there is no sex in the champagne room), Cuvee:

"Rub-a-dub, thanks for providing services to the residents of West Hartford and beyond."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What would happen if zombies were real? Let's ask the scientists ...

The BBC (normally a trusted source of news) ran a story today about zombies. As in, "How would we fare if these fictional creatures were real?" Really.

From the article:
If zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively.
That is the conclusion of a mathematical exercise carried out by researchers in Canada.
They say only frequent counter-attacks with increasing force would eradicate the fictional creatures.
The scientific paper is published in a book - Infectious Diseases Modelling Research Progress.
You can read the full article (with awesome zombie picture) over here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

In the dark (naturally)

Right now I'd rather not be writing a blog post. But since we are once again without electricity, there isn't much else for me to do but sit with the old laptop. The annoying thing is that we have neighbors close enough to us with electricity that I can "borrow" the wireless signal that I'm currently using.

The electric company must have a vendetta against our little stretch of pavement. Over the past month, we have lost electricity five or six times. Some of these have been fairly legit (meaning downed trees, horrible thunderstorms), but all of the outages lately have been completely random.

Shortly after the Professor and I moved to this apartment, CL&P (short for Connecticut Light & Power for those out of state) showed up to tell us that they were cutting the power to do work on some of the transformers. I can only assume this work has something to do with the nonsense we've been dealing with ever since (especially considering our landlord upstairs claims they'd never really lost power in the 10 years that he's lived in our house before this summer).

Oh well, I suppose there are some bright spots I can take away from no power at 9:45 PM on a night whose humidity is bordering on unbearable. For one, some of the neighbors are walking around outside in their pajamas. That's something you don't see every day. Then there's ... well, I suppose I have plenty of time, illuminated by the glow of the laptop, to figure it out.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I'm (holds up index finger) THIS many!

It's hard to believe, but OOTTS turned one yesterday. One full year of adjusting to a new town, meeting new people, and figuring out what one does when they get sucked away from almost everything they know. It both seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago when I decided, on a sticky night last August, that something like a blog may help the transition process. I saw it as an outlet to distract me while I waited to find a job and figure out what I wanted to pursue.

Thanks to the thousands of people who have visited over the past 366. And a special thanks to the few that are regulars (I'm still amazed that anyone is interested enough to come back once, let alone those who are here a few times a week!).

To celebrate, I got a cake from the folks who run the awesome blog Cake Wrecks. Here's what I received:

Friday, August 14, 2009

Local paper round-up: Sorry, Chad Smith, not in this town ...

The West Hartford News used to be a punching bag of poor writing, but that was soooooo three or four months ago. Some staff changes have improved the News greatly, pretty much to the point that there's nothing to make fun of. Well, almost nothing.

The paper has a section called "Happenings," where selected concert listings are printed. Wondering if Ratt is coming to Connecticut? Afraid that looking such information up online will put you on a "can you believe this guy is interested in going to see Ratt?" list? Look no further than "Happenings." They are ... wait for it ... happening, man! Don't you worry your pretty little head over nothing, baby! "Happenings" is gonna take care of you. (No offense to Ratt. I actually really dug them when I was a kid.)

Anyway, back to the present.

While perusing "Happenings" the other day, I noticed that there was a listing for the Chickenfoot concert that is happening (get it? Happening!) next week at Mohegan Sun. The listing looked like this:

Chickenfoot featuring Joe Satriani, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, and more

That made me wonder, "Who is more?" How many other guys can make up a band called Chickenfoot?

The answer? One. Chad Smith, drummer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers (hey, I hear they're from California or something). One name. And the News didn't print it.

So, essentially, the News must have decided that the extra five letters in Smith's last name were just too much. Sorry, Smith, we can't fit you in. Instead, you will be known as "more." No hard feelings.


Meanwhile, over at West Hartford Life, it appears as if someone may be drinking the Kool-Aid that used to filter through the pipes at the News. How else can one describe the following headline and opening paragraph:

First Max Muscle Opens Here
When Max Muscle opened its doors at 968 Farmington Avenue in West Hartford on July 1, it became the state's first and only Max Muscle Sports Nutrition store. This new store concept provides customers an in-store experience centered on the Max Muscle Information Center, featuring flat-screen televisions.
What is this Information Center? Who cares! There are FLAT-SCREEN televisions!

Seriously, though, how can that headline pass through an editor unscathed? "Opens Here?" Really? Then we have the overabundance of "Max Muscle" and "store." There are less than 50 words in that opening paragraph. "Max Muscle" and "store" both appear 3 times. That's a tad extreme, no?

But the author did cover the Five Ws (plus an added sixth): who, what, where, when, why, and what the hell are you trying to tell me here?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sure YOUR dog can talk, but does he sell antiques?

We have some very smart animals here in West Hartford. How smart? Take Big Shot, spokesperson (and proprietor?) of Estate Buys of West Hartford:

He's savvy, he speaks english, and he buys your old stuff. Dude has some eclectic taste, as well. Was that an octopus lamp? Strange ...

Friday, August 7, 2009

Random observation while heading into vacation

I leave you with this, which I recently experienced. I'll be back in a week or so:

Leaving the Francis Bacon retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one is dumped into a gallery containing several Caravaggio paintings. The juxtaposition of style is very jarring and discombobulating. However, when such an event is then immediately followed by finding Crispin Glover, he of George McFly, Willard, and creepy movie villain fame, standing next to you, dressed in a suit and dramatically telling his companion (also overdressed) how much the painting you are observing "moves him," one must pause to question reality for a moment.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Things I don't understand: The Cow Parade

Although I have been a Connecticut resident for now over a year, there are still a few things here that confuse me. The Cow Parade is one of these things.

Now, I understand the thought behind the project: gigantic fiberglass cows are painted, put on display all over town, then sold at auction, where several local organizations are able to benefit from the funds raised. My question is: why cows? Did the residents of town vote for them over something else? Why not gigantic nutmegs or huge Noah Webster heads? Maybe big bucks like in the logo for The Hartford? Life-sized Katherine Hepburns? Don't get me wrong, I realize we take our cattle fairly seriously here in West Hartford. But it seems we are more likely to EAT the cows than paint them. Look at our restaurants. We have 4 places that have strictly hamburger-based menus. We have steak houses. We have multiple ice cream shops.

Yes, we LOVE our cows. They're incredibly delicious.

Maybe we should have some new cows that celebrate our love of their flavor. One could be placed in front of Hall's Market and show the various cuts of meat available (as seen in this artist rendition):

Then maybe we could show the flip-side and offer up a protest cow display. Pick your burger joint: Plan B, Max Burger, Counter. Some cows outside with protest signs? Classic!

Or, to add a twist, we could have protest cows outside one restaurant and, at another burger place, the same cows in a line that reaches into the back door of the kitchen! Wow! How meta!

I suppose those aren't the best ideas.

Oh well. I must admit, though I may not quite "get" our fiberglass herd, there's something about them that feels kind of nice, I suppose. They may not be the prettiest things to look at, but I know as long as there's one in my sights, I'm still in town. And I guess that's not a bad thing, right?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Floating away with Servais Le Roy

Across from my desk there's this corkboard where I have all sorts of stuff tacked up: old race numbers, a photocopy of a page from a Get Fuzzy book, a postcard of a squirrel smoking - a pretty eclectic bunch of items. Anyway, this board also houses my calendar, which this year is "magicians of the past"-themed (last year was "Sci-Fi monsters of 1950s cinema"). For the most part, these magicians are household name guys like Harry Houdini, but this month brought up Servais Le Roy. Here's the picture from my calendar:

Having very little knowledge of Mr. Le Roy, I was intrigued by the image. Why was there a chicken in the top corner? And what was this fantastic levitation mystery?

I consulted my copy of The Illustrated History of Magic (yes, I am a total dork. To be fair, though, I've got a TON of books on lots of other subjects. Some of which are very cool). Apparently Le Roy was a rare performer who not only pleased audiences, but also invented tricks for other magicians. But what he is best known for is his trick known as the "Asrah," which he first performed around 1902:
Le Roy hypnotized his wife, covered her with a white silk cloth, caused her to float up in the air and then to hang in space as he passed a hoop over her vertical body. While he gestured dramatically, she floated higher. Suddenly he whipped away the cloth; she was gone!
Here's a YouTube video I found of the trick (with the added bonus of the magician pretending to be Le Roy):

You've got to love the weird man servants and the strange dancing. Something tells me this wasn't exactly the way Le Roy did the trick, but it's probably fairly close.

Of course, this got me thinking: what other Asrah videos are there out there? There's this dramatic television version (in Portuguese, perhaps?), starring some kind of heartthrob magician (based on the squeals from the audience) and using Aerosmith as a soundtrack:

Then there's this guy, who seems to think the music from Back to the Future is just the perfect accompaniment to the illusion:

Then there's ... this:

Not a very good rendition, but you do get to see the non sequitur of a big man with a tiny stroller at the beginning.

I guess this shows that Le Roy created something special, since the trick is still performed today. Of course, I still have no idea why the chicken is on the poster, but that's a mystery for another day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The steroid plot thickens ...

I was pretty bummed to hear this week's revelation that Red Sox slugger David Ortiz tested positive for steroids back in 2003. The news left me wondering why I should care about a sport that seems perfectly happy to lie to me over and over and over.

Since then, the plot has only gotten murkier for the Beantown team. Today's Boston Globe has a fantastic article detailing how two security staffers for the Sox were fired last year for illegal steroid use.

Some quick highlights:

• One of the guards in question is Jerry Remy's son, and he looks like a total muscle-bound freak.

• Security guards only get paid $11/hour, but there are perks. What perks? How about driving around in player's cars that they can never afford because they get paid $11/hour?

• MLB investigators spent as little as fifteen minutes "interviewing" the dismissed guards:
Remy, 30, said he believed the questioning, conducted in a Fenway Park conference room by MLB investigator Eduardo Dominguez, lasted about 15 minutes. It seemed to him a perfunctory exercise in damage control.

“They didn’t ask much at all; they wanted to make it disappear,’’ he said.

“Major League Baseball asked me, ‘Have you ever seen any players do steroids?’ ’’ Remy recalled. “I said, ‘No. no.’ . . . He said, ‘If you’re honest with me, nothing will happen to you.’ Next thing I know, I get fired.’’
• The Remy freak (seriously, check him out in the article pictures. Oh, and did I mention that he allegedly enjoys beating up women? Yeah, the article covers that, as well) says he had conversations with the personal assistant of David Ortiz about steroids:
That salaried personal assistant, Felix Leopoldo Marquez Galice, is a Dominican currently facing possible deportation for covering up his illegal status by using the name of a Puerto Rican man serving prison time for a drug offense ... “He admitted taking steroids. We had conversations about steroids,’’ said Remy.

“We’d talk, ‘This one works for that. This one makes you bulky. This one makes you harder,’ ’’ Remy recalled.
And Remy also claims that MLB investigators never bothered to ask about Galice.

These are some sad times to be a baseball fan. Even if some of these admissions are nothing more than fiction, there's got to be a certain amount of truth buried underneath it all. To read the full article, click here.