May 26–29, 2006

Sights and sounds from the inaugural weekend of my fifth season in our group’s shore house in Avalon, N.J.:

  1. I noticed plenty of changes in the neighborhood, much like last year. Some changes are good, including a new Mexican place on 21st Street called The Real Enchilada, and a new state law that bans smoking at the bars. Some changes are not so good, including the sad but expected departure of Donnelly’s Deli, where we used to pick up breakfast sandwiches (usually scrambled eggs and cheese on kaiser rolls) and buffalo chicken cheesesteaks. And some changes, including a gaudy “Veteran’s Plaza” pavilion at 21st & Dune that’s still under construction, seem to indicate that Avalon has money to burn.
  2. Some things never change, including the perennial popularity of the Princeton, a sprawling hole-in-the-wall bar about a block from our house. No one in Avalon shells out $7 at the door for drink specials or talented cover bands, since both are nonexistent at “the P”; they show up there simply because everybody else does. Peer pressure is alive and well.
  3. I’m still not a big fan of the Princeton, but at the same time, I’m not about to stubbornly stay back at the house and watch TV while my friends go out. Life’s too short for that.
  4. Here’s an ideal itinerary for a Saturday at the shore: Get up around 10 a.m., walk 11 blocks to Uncle Bill’s Pancake House for a big breakfast, stop by the Borough Building to pick up beach tags for the season, walk home, and promptly fall asleep for an hour in an easy chair.
  5. The scene: Saturday night. Our third-floor deck overlooking Ocean Drive.
  6. The players: Me, my friend Marty, my two sisters, and some housemates, all enjoying a few beers.
  7. The situation: An ambulance (with its lights off) stops at the red light below us.
  8. Me: “Hey, Marty, your ride’s here.”
  9. [Laughter. Marty peers over the wooden railing, then frowns in mock disappointment.]
  10. Marty: “That’s not the beer truck!”
  11. [More laughter, mostly from me. Point goes to Marty.]

[ No. 257 ]

May 25, 2006

Here’s a pair of ad campaigns that are currently bothering me (and further proof that I watch far too much TV):

  1. If you carefully watch the latest round of “Click It or Ticket” commercials (at least the ones that are airing in the Philly area), you’ll notice that every driver that gets pulled over for not wearing a seat belt is male. Every single one. What, women don’t get busted for this infraction, too? Or do they just bat their eyelashes at the cop and sweet-talk their way out of it?
  2. On a related note, while I strongly believe in wearing one’s seat belt at all times, I’m not convinced that we need a law to enforce that behavior. If you’re too dumb or careless to wear one, then you’re simply jeopardizing your own safety. If it were up to me, I’d repeal any legislation concerning seat belts and let Darwin’s theory sort things out. But if you can make a good case for keeping such laws on the books, send me an e-mail and I’ll post it here.*
  3. A new series of Mac commercials features two actors standing in front of a stark white background. On the left, we see a dumpy-looking guy in his late 30s who’s wearing a drab suit — this is the out-of-touch, clunky PC. On the right, we see a skinny guy in his early 20s who’s wearing a sweatshirt and jeans — this, of course, is the eternally hip Mac. The specific sales pitch varies from ad to ad, but the general idea is that PCs are slow, hard to use, and hopelessly vulnerable to viruses, while Macs are flawless pieces of engineering that are miraculously immune to technical problems.
  4. I’ve previously complained about elitist Mac zealots, and this ad campaign simply underscores their arrogance. If some Mac-centric folks are going to persist in making generalizations about PCs, then I guess I’ll have to give them a taste of their own medicine:
  5. Even after 22 years on the market, Macs still comprise a small niche in personal computing, and most of them are used by graphic designers and musicians. If you don’t work in one of those creative fields, then you’d better get familiar with PCs — they’re not going away anytime soon, whether you like it or not.

* Update: Tony sheds some light on seat-belt laws:

When someone is injured in an accident, an insurance company cuts a check to reimburse the victim. People seem to think that their insurance premiums cover the amount, but that is rarely the case. A $30,000 insurance payout would eclipse the premiums that many people pay in their lifetime. Wearing a seat belt greatly reduces the chance of a major injury or death. This keeps costs down for all of us.

Makes sense to me. But something tells me that seat-belt laws are also a great way for the police force to boost their revenue.

An unnamed reader (who had found me through Fresh Pepper?) also wrote in:

OK, if you don’t think legislation is fair, anyone who fails to wear a seat belt and is in an accident must waive all medical coverage from their insurance carrier. This will keep my motor vehicle car insurance down.
There used to be a commercial of a PA state cop who looked into the camera and said, “I never unbuckle a dead person.” Further, a few years ago on TV I’m watching a trained monkey feed a man who survived a car accident. The man was lucky to have the monkey. Feed by monkey, seat belt. Your choice. You pay the consequences.

Um, I’m not too sure about that commercial with the monkey — I must have missed that one, and I’m sort of glad that I did. But as I replied to this reader, I never referred to such legislation as “unfair.” I simply wondered aloud whether it was necessary. And it’s become clear to me that such laws can have a significant effect on everyone’s insurance premiums.

Personally, if I was in a car accident and had chosen not to wear a seat belt, I wouldn’t expect my insurance to bail me out for my own negligence. But I’m sure many other people wouldn’t feel that way; a lot of folks have a sense of entitlement, especially when they make bad decisions.

[ No. 256 ]

May 22, 2006

Thanks to a button on the side of my camera phone that can accidentally take digital photos while the device is tucked into the front pocket of my jeans, I can now add “amateur abstract photography” to the list of skills on my résumé:

Composition in Denim, No. 1 Composition in Denim, No. 2 Composition in Denim, No. 3

The series of limited-edition photographs will be titled, Compositions in Denim.

[ No. 255 ]

May 17, 2006

It’s been almost a full year since the Pennsylvania state government voted themselves a huge pay raise in the middle of the night and then promptly hit the road for a 10-week summer vacation. At the time, most of the legislators probably assumed that no one would even notice the pay-raise bill, let alone remember anything about it by the time the next election rolled around.

Man, were they wrong. In fact, that little late-night stunt cost many of them their jobs.

Yesterday’s election was living proof that thousands of my fellow Keystone Staters have surprisingly long memories. They didn’t forget about the legislators’ pay grab, voted accordingly, and sent the greedy bums packing. Two top-ranking Republicans in the state Senate suffered stunning defeats, and the election saw the highest number of incumbent losses in over three decades.

Unfortunately, Philadelphia-area voters didn’t respond as strongly — only one incumbent who voted for the pay raise was defeated. But the rest of the state deserves kudos for calling our leaders on their irresponsible behavior.

Keep paying attention and keep voting.

[ No. 254 ]

May 11, 2006

This is very difficult for me to believe, but today is the 10th anniversary of my graduation from Penn State University.

I’ll never forget my commencement from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business Administration on the evening of Saturday, May 11, 1996. Inside the newly built Bryce Jordan Center, I joined a small group of fellow University Scholars Program students in a slow procession into the cavernous arena, where hundreds of our classmates and thousands of guests stood and watched our solemn entrance while strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” played overhead.

The procession was such a surreal and overwhelming moment that I had to focus most of my attention on simply keeping one foot in front of the other. Fortunately, I kept my balance long enough to arrive safely at my seat on the arena floor, and I was relieved to escape a lifelong sentence of being remembered as “that guy from college who tripped in the aisle at graduation.”

The ceremony was followed by many photos with family, friends, and my mentor, Dr. George Kleindorfer. Then my family and I sat down to a joyous dinner at the peerless Tavern in downtown State College. We capped off the evening with a few rounds of beer with my dad and some close friends at the Rathskeller, a basement bar that Dad also frequented during his Penn State days.

To this day, that remains one of the best nights of my life.

*     *     *     *     *

Many things have changed since that warm spring night in State College. Over the last decade, I’ve lived at five different addresses — two apartments out of state, back home for a short while, and two places in the Philly ’burbs near where I grew up. I’ve worked in a variety of IT jobs at five companies — large and small, urban and suburban, corporate, laid-back, and in-between. (And if you had told me in 1996 that I would undergo that much change in my first 10 years out of school, I would have declared you legally insane.)

It’s been an unpredictable, sometimes maddening, yet ultimately satisfying decade, and while I’ve learned plenty of lessons in my post-collegiate life, I also know that my work-hard, play-hard days at Dear Old State prepared me well for the journey. And I’m very fortunate that I’ve kept a number of close friends from college, too. The colorful stories that we recount from our undergrad days only get funnier with each passing year.

I can only imagine what the next 10 years will bring.

[ No. 253 ]

May 8, 2006

So, the San Francisco Giants came to town over the weekend for a three-game series against the Phillies, and remarkably, the Phillies won all three games and extended their winning streak to eight — their longest in 15 years.

But the big story, of course, was Barry Bonds, who hit the 713th home run of his career during Sunday night’s game. He’s now just one homer behind Babe Ruth, whose career total of 714 is surpassed only by Hank Aaron, who hit 755.

Given the widespread suspicion that Bonds has used steroids during his career, the Philly faithful came up with creative ways to give Bonds a hard time. Among my favorite signs that appeared in the stands at Citizens Bank Park (I wish I was there to see them in person):




And the scene wouldn’t have been complete without some steroid-related asterisks that may very well appear in the baseball record books of the future:

A constellation of asterisks for Barry Bonds

Looks like a new constellation — let’s call it The Big Cheater.

(Thanks to Larry for passing along the photo. That one’s a keeper.)

[ No. 252 ]

Photo credit: Deanne Fitzmaurice /
San Francisco Chronicle

May 7, 2006

I reached a surprising milestone earlier this week — the call timer on my cell phone informed me that I had placed and received 100 hours’ worth of calls since I had purchased the phone just over a year ago. That’s four entire days plus four hours of hot air, people.

That figure includes time spent checking my voice mail, too, but it’s a staggering statistic nonetheless — especially since I’ve never really thought of myself as a heavy cell-phone user. But the numbers don’t lie.

I guess I’ve come a long way from the days when I felt a little guilty about buying my first cell phone back in 2002. By now, social plans with friends change so frequently that a cell phone is practically required to keep up with everyone. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s the way things are.

[ No. 251 ]

May 2, 2006

Further proof that I leave part of my brain at home when I travel:

After landing in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., for a brief business trip, I boarded a National Car Rental shuttle and arrived at the Emerald Club aisle, where you can select a vehicle and proceed right to the drive-through checkout booth.

As I stepped off the shuttle, I reached into my wallet and flashed a green plastic card at the lot attendant. But only after I had gotten into the sedan that I’d picked out, I realized that I had mistakenly shown him my green Genuardi’s Club card, which entitles me to discounts at the local supermarket.

Amazingly, the guy didn’t even notice.

[ No. 250 ]