Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Sunday, March 30, 2008
A Rock and A Hard Place
So...it comes down to this.
In order to keep the Comcast On Demand features and watch HD movies whenever I want, AND be able to record and watch TV shows in HD, I think I'm (and I can't believe I'm typing this), going to return the Tivo HD box and get the Comcast HD DVR box instead.
This is all about monopolies and money - or put another way - monopoly money. The Comcast HD DVR has a shitty interface compared to the magic of Tivo, but it's only $5 more a month than what I am paying now compared to a $300 Tivo box and $12.95 a month for the service.
If I keep the Tivo HD, I lose HD On Demand and Pay Per View services, and although I can upload movies and TV shows anytime via Amazon Unbox at an additional cost - they don't offer HD movies or shows - yet. I'm sure it's just a matter of time before they do, and I can reconsider my choice later.
Also, Comcast is supposedly going to be offering Tivo software on their boxes in the near(?) future, and it will simply be a software download to the box if you already have one.
Don't get me wrong. I adore Tivo - it's one of the best inventions ever. But I live in a Comcast monopoly that limits choice and access as HD and DVR technology gets integrated across all platforms and providers.
A third choice is to abandon Comcast alltogether and get an AppleTV unit. The only drawback there, is that it is a pay as you go provider, and it is not a DVR or TV Tuner, it's essentially an iPod interface for your TV. Seriously sexy interface and options however, but the beauty of a DVR is that it lets you record shows you might not otherwise watch, and experiment with shows you're not certain about. I don't want to pay $1.99 to watch something I'm not going to enjoy.
Change is never easy - even when the new technology is vastly improved upon.
I bit the bullet and bought the Tivo HD to go with the new HDTV. After all the trials and tribulations of setting the new TV up, I thought this would be a simple plug and play where I just swap out the old Tivo box and put in the new one.
Oh - how naive I am.
Here's the deal. In order to use an HD Tivo, you need something called a CableCARD from Comcast, and a technician has to install it. Two things are bad about this: 1. They only do installations between 9 and 5 on weekdays, so your job gets compromised, and 2. I just spent $75 on an HDMI cable I don't need. Now that the package is open - I'm not sure I can return it.
But wait, there's more! Tivo will work beautifully and record shows in HD. However, Comcast On Demand and Pay Per View are not available through a CableCARD. When I asked Comcast how much my bill would be lowered without these features available, they replied "zero - those services are free". Yeah - right - the services I care about most are free - then what am I paying for now?
Comcast has partnered with Tivo to create a Comcast/Tivo HD DVR - but it's only available in small parts of New England at the moment, AND you then sacrifice a lot of the neat Tivo features like downloading movies, and uploading photos and music.
Now, while it would be nice to get rid of the cable box and all the spaghetti on the back of my entertainment armoir, and use one remote instead of the three I'm using now, and get my shows recorded in HD, I happen to like watching movies "On Demand" and some of the other features I will lose with this "upgrade".
When I asked Comcast if they were planning on offering On Demand and Pay Per View through CableCARDs anytime soon, they replied: "The cable industry is working closely with the consumer electronics industry, but we don't have a date for this upgrade."
I'm seriously wondering if I shouldn't just return the Tivo HD, save myself $300, and continue watching recorded shows in SD, but since I watch almost everything on Tivo, it completely negates the point of having an HD TV. Arrrggggghhhhh.
I'm going to check out Verizon FiOS and see what's what with their service instead. Anybody have an opinion on this or experience with it?
Oh, and BTW, I have completely wasted an entire Saturday fooling around with this and the new GPS toy. The GPS toy is exactly that - lots of fun downloads and accessories to set up. I now have it programmed with an Australian guy's voice. I'm calling him "Bruce".
UPDATE: Of course, Verizon FiOS is not available to us urban dwellers, and there is no time table as to when it might be. So, Comcast can do whatever it damn well pleases. I'll be switching over as soon as it's available.
The new job requires me to visit about 30 different locations off campus every month, in many areas I've never been to before. I spent 20 minutes getting completely and utterly lost at the intersections of Old Court Road (times five it would seem), Park Heights Ave., and Stevenson Rd., yesterday and had to phone my assistant twice to figure out where to turn. It made me late for my first meeting with someone. Not a great first impression, and although they were very nice about it, it made me furious with myself.
Since the new job is paying for my cell phone, which will save me about $100-$150 bucks a month, I stopped at Best Buy on the way home last night and bought a new toy, which I will definitely deduct as a business expense on my taxes next year.
Tells me where to go, how to get there, and announces the actual street names, instead of just saying, "turn right in 200 feet", when, like yesterday, there were three right turns in the next 200 feet staring me down for choices.
The accuracy of the thing is downright scary. I live on an alleyway that rarely shows up on maps other than Google Earth, and taxi drivers and the pizza delivery guy usually end up calling me on my cell phone to let me know they're nearby, but can't figure it out. This thing shows my actual parking spot! And it lets you choose the voice you want to listen to, and pick a vehicle icon that actually looks like your car. You can even choose a tank as your icon if you want. It also lets you download photos to it, and you can use it like a photo album to show friends and family instead of hauling a laptop everywhere or printing the photos out. The screen size and clarity are perfect.
No more printing out Mapquest directions. No more maps for that matter. And hopefully, no more late meeting arrivals until I have the routes to all these new offices figured out. Garmin will make sure I get there on time.
I got an agenda this afternoon for a four hour meeting of our Sr. Executive Team with a consultant for Monday afternoon.
This is the agenda - I haven't changed a word:
- Review and finalization of the Vision - Discussion of our current business success model and the requirements to reach our strategic goal - Finalization of our values - Agreement of the Strategic Intents - Formation of the Performance Excellence teams - Process for selecting members - Presentation to the broader Leadership members
For four hours on a Monday. If that isn't the worst case of vague consultant double speak - from the 90's no less - I don't know what is.
How many times over how many years with how many consultants in how many organizations do I have to go through this same exact process over and over again?? Feels like "Groundhog Day", but not in a good way.
Great article over at Metropolismag.com on the frenzied building pace ramping up to the Beijing Olympics. Best description of the resources and the paradoxes of the Chinese government I've seen in print to date - especially as it relates to art and culture.
When I was there in Sept./Oct. the reality and the images I had the most difficulty reconciling were the rapidly decaying and disappearing hutong neighborhoods dating back to the Forbidden City, getting eaten up next to towering cranes and sleek, black glass, faced buildings. Where hard hats working on a new tower are side by side with men in bare feet and rags who are trying to mix rubble and sand to mend an old wall, which will probably be torn down within weeks in the name of progress.
When you mix capitalism with total Communist control, national pride, and an endless supply of free, exploitative labor - anything is truly possible...
The Olympic site itself no longer seemed like a lost cause. Touring it before, I thought there was no way the buildings would be finished and the vast dust bowl paved and tricked out with its planned parks, roads, and watercourses before the games began on August 8. It certainly will be—Herzog & de Meuron’s intoxicating “Bird’s Nest” stadium is now in punch list—but such sprinting has a cost. The New York Times reported in late January that six construction workers have died on Olympic sites in the last five years; the Times of London had previously put the number at ten. A long article on the official Beijing 2008 Web site was posted in early February, likely in response to all the bad press. The protesting-too-much begins with the headline, “Workers Enjoy Good Services at Olympic Venue Sites.”
The current transformation of Beijing also includes the wholesale razing of many of the old residential quarters in the central city, the residents themselves relocated to vast new tower blocks on the urban edge—deluxe hutongs in the sky—or simply made homeless without contingency. Several of the old neighborhoods along the tourist routes near the Forbidden City have been preserved in sterilized form. But there’s little opportunity here for outsider self-righteousness; the effects of such changes are not very different than they would be in any American city: low-rent buildings replaced by expensive ones through economic churn, people displaced, quaint neighborhoods locked in amber. Though having two invisible hands—the will of an all-powerful government plus the inexorable pressure of capital—seems to streamline the process.
I'm glad I got to witness some of it before it's all gone. And I'm even more grateful to have witnessed the very brink of wholesale urban change in Beijing and its culture.
“It's kind of hitting me finally that I need to get out there and find a job,” she said. “Even if it's just part-time just to help out however I can.”
Emphasis mine. KIND OF?? Finally??? Geez, Precious Princess, have a little self respect will ya?
The most shocking thing about this quote, and the story, is that it is about 40 and 50 somethings moving back home - NOT 20 somethings.
Honestly, I think the parents are enabling their children more than a little in this type of situation. Somewhere along the way, the message about growing up and taking responsibility for yourself fell way short. And I'm not suggesting that there aren't certain tragic or sudden instances that make relying on family necessary for short periods of time, but getting in over your head in credit card debt, a bad mortgage, not being able to hold a job, living above your means, or bad investment decisions aren't some of them.
And before I get hate mail, moving back home to take care of ailing or elderly parents when you are in your forties and fifties should in no way be confused with parents subsidizing them and is a gracious, selfless and very difficult situation to manage.
A friend sent this to me after reading my last post on "Full". Puts things in perspective. I hope I'm not violating anyone's copyright on this joke, or annoying anyone else by reposting an oldie but goody.
A male patient is lying in bed in the hospital, wearing an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose.
A young, student nurse appears to give him a partial sponge bath.
'Nurse', he mumbles, from behind the mask. 'Are my testicles black?'
Embarrassed, the young nurse replies, 'I don't know, Sir, I'm only here to wash your upper body and feet.'
He struggles to ask again, 'Nurse, please check. Are my testicles black?'
Concerned that he may elevate his blood pressure and heart rate from worry about his testicles, she overcomes her embarrassment and pulls back the covers. She raises his gown, holds his manhood in one hand and his testicles in the other. Then, she takes a close look and says, there's nothing wrong with them, Sir!'
The man pulls off his oxygen mask, smiles at her and says very slowly, 'Thank you very much. That was wonderful, but listen very, very closely......
I couldn't possibly stuff one more factoid in it today. I'm afraid to tilt my head lest it all run out.
Monday was simply an exercise in staying awake. Hospitals have so many rules and regulations that they are required by law to impart upon you, that it is perhaps the most mind numbingly, boring day you could imagine. Infection Control, Customer Service, JCAHO, HIPPA, Security, Parking, Benefits, multiple information systems. There is no way to make that stuff sexy for 8 hours, and with more than 100 people in a stuffy conference room, staying awake was the hardest part of the day.
Today was different. I got introduced to my new office, which is actually quite nice, with a gorgeous view over a lovely wooded lot. It's a bit bare for now, but I'll start taking in a load of photos and nicknack's every day until it's back to normal. My computer wasn't hooked up yet, so I borrowed the office of someone on Spring Break most of the day, and I'll take my laptop tomorrow in case it takes a few more days to set up. I ordered a new Blackberry, and by tomorrow or Monday, I hope to have all the passwords and sign ons to all the information systems I need to access completed.
I did have one unexpected guest at about 5:15 PM. A small mouse darted right under my feet into the closet. Apparently, he's well known in our suite and has managed to avoid all manner of extermination techniques.
Aside from figuring out how to work the copy machine, coffee maker, order post-it notes and office supplies, I spent more than an hour each with four of my direct reports and my new assistant trying to get a grip on their current projects and responsibilities. My new assistant rocks. This girl makes Katy Couric seem depressed. Perkiest thing I've ever met, and could easily run circles around my last assistant. She's been a huge help today and I look forward to working with her. Sadly, that means I'll either have to promote her soon or she'll get a better offer. She's been there only 3 months. I'll sit down with the rest of my direct reports tomorrow.
I had a budget meeting early this morning that just made me want to lay down in a dark room with a cool washcloth on my forehead afterwards. Numbers were flying fast and furious, and it was like trying to translate everything from Russian into English, or being dyslexic. I'll be fine by next month's meeting, and it was a good introduction, but my God - the scope of what I have to deal with is more than a little daunting.
The one little bright spot in my day right now is getting dressed in the morning. Seriously. I don't have to stand in front of my closet in my underwear with a cup of coffee for 15 minutes, staring blankly and trying to focus my brain on what outfit to wear, when I wore it last, and are those pants back from the dry cleaners yet? Everything is clean, hanging in bags, and these people haven't seen any of it.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go do something mindless like watch American Idol and rest my brain.
These Chinese acrobats will blow you away with their version of Swan Lake. The female lead is Wu Zhengdan and the prince is Wei Baohua of The Guangdong Acrobatics Troupe of China - Shanghai City Dance Company. I thought the frogs were great!
Speaking of spring and new beginnings, my new job starts on Monday. I'm really excited about it, but there are definitely things I will miss about my extended time off. In no particular order:
1. Staying up late watching movies and sleeping in without guilt. 2. The NYT crossword puzzle on line every morning. 3. Poached eggs and toast with tea every morning at about 9:30 AM. 4. Wearing comfortable sweaters and sweatpants without a bra or makeup for days on end. 5. Going to the gym in the middle of the day when no one is there and having the pool to myself. 6. Ditto the grocery store, post office, and mall. 7. Being able to get in the car and just go. 8. Visiting friends and family for extended periods of time. 9. NAPS
There are things I didn't do enough of while I had the time - I was actually very busy for all but 3 weeks of the entire 5 months I had off and thought I would get to entertain more and read more. Neither one happened as much as I had hoped. Something always came up.
And while I am looking forward to working hard and making a difference in the job that I will be doing, I'm not looking forward to sleep deprivation and having to dress professionally five days a week. Pantyhose and high heels were not missed - at all. That said, the transition back to being an executive might be a little easier to bear with the smart new Coach business tote and new suits I bought at the outlets in Lancaster yesterday.
Magnolias in bloom? Check Forsythia in bloom? Check Bright red buds bursting on trees and little green leaves peaking out everywhere you look? Check Bulbs bursting out of the ground? Check The line of cars waiting to get clean at the 21st St. Car Wash on Howard Street over 2 blocks long? Check.
On Monday, monks and other supporters started peaceful demonstrations to rally on the 49th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's exile to Nepal. Chinese authorities stepped in to quell the uprising, and now it's gotten quite violent.
"Now the blaze and blood in Lhasa has unclad the nature of the Dalai Lama, and it's time for the international community to recheck their stance toward the group under the camouflage of non-violence, if they do not want to be willingly misled.
The Dalai Lama and his clique have never for a day refrained from violence and terror. His childhood teacher, an Austrian, was a Nazi, and it's no secret that for quite a long time after he fled to India, he kept a force, armed by his western patron, for separatist activities. The peace advocator had also shown no interest in the global campaigns against U.S. wars on Afghanistan and Iraq."
Honestly, how can any rational person living in the free world swallow these propagandist delusional comments? It makes the Chinese look paranoid and completely out of touch with reality.
Whenever I get together with my friend "L" who is living in Beijing, and we find ourselves having an indulgently good time, whether it's over food, drinks, a spa, or just the atmosphere of a place, we always claim to have a "luxury problem". We've experienced severe LP crises everywhere from Baltimore, to Belgium, to Beijing, London, and the Caribbean together.
I'm having a severe case of "luxury problems" this week.
When we arrived at the resort yesterday around 5:30 PM, we checked in, the porter took our bags up to the room, and when he opened the door - my friend and I both about died.
Photo is from my cell phone, so it's not great, but you get the idea.
The ceiling must be at least 12-14 feet high in the center of the room. You could play basketball in here! Those French doors open out onto a terrace. The bathroom is all marble, and is bigger than my kitchen. There is a deep whirlpool tub with its own little step stool to climb into it (in which I took a bubble bath with a glass of wine last night), and a huge marble steam shower big enough for a party. There's even a full bar set up, and a separate coffee bar.
Today was rough work: Up at 8:30 for tea and juice and to read the paper and surf the net.
10:00 AM - Off for a swim in the huge pool (which for some reason, I had all to myself - laps galore!). 10:40 AM - A stop in the whirlpool / sauna before getting dressed for class. At 11:00, a stretching yoga class with an incredibly skinny, hard bodied instructor whose balance and flexibility made me cringe. 12:00 PM - lunch in the spa restaurant. 1:30 - 3:00 PM - a "Body Bliss" treatment which consisted of a massage, and an exfoliating scrub. You shower that off, and return for a papaya clay body masque, at which point you are wrapped in plastic and warm towels with a heating pad around your body for about 25 minutes while they massage your face and scalp. Another shower, and then an application of lotion all over.
I feel like I've had a skin transplant.
The last massage I had was in China. "L" took me to a very nice spa near her apartment in Beijing, and for 3 HOURS, we had a side by side Thai massage from two little Thai women. I was bent, stretched and pummeled in every possible position. Things were popping and cracking. And unlike spas in America where there is a discrete towel strategically located over your sensitive bits - not so in China. It's a full body massage. They give you a pair of ridiculous little rice paper panties to wear, but they're kind of useless from a privacy point of view (literally).
We took ourselves down the street and sat outside at a really wonderful Persian restaurant and continued our luxury problems over some really great seafood and wine.
No, that's not Klingon, it's a Mongolian drinking toast. And I learned it from my new Mongolian friends over a shot of Mongolian vodka this evening.
But first: I took my Uighur friend shopping today, and we ended up at Hunt Valley Town Center looking for shoes. Afterwards, she asked me if I would mind stopping at the grocery store to pick up a few items since she does not drive or have access to a car. I took her to Wegmans. Imagine taking a person from far Western China to the largest food store in America. Talk about shock and awe. After about 1/2 hour of filling her cart, she actually asked to leave because it was just too overwhelming for her. Hell, it's too overwhelming for me most times, so we left. And JUST in time - the storm hit as we put the last bag of groceries in the car. High winds, hail, sideways rain, tree branches flying everywhere - it was a very scary drive home, and her power was out when we got there. The outdoor temp plummeted from 56' to 36' in less than 15 minutes.
That was the first part of the day.
This evening, my Uighur friend invited me to a party hosted by the Humphrey Fellows for Hopkins. The Fellows from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain, and Mongolia were hosting an evening of food and drink from their countries, wearing traditional costumes and gave a short slide presentation on each country. I was very honored to be invited.
The food was nothing short of amazing. These people must have cooked for three days straight to produce all the food, and it was all amazing. Rice dishes, noodle dishes, lamb, chicken, shrimp, pastries stuffed with meat and vegetables - the table just groaned under the weight of it all.
It was a very wholesome evening of cultural exchange, food and music. The vodka toast came at the very end when the father of one of the Fellows, a huge bear of a man in an outfit right out of a Genghis Khan movie, who is visiting the US for the first time and doesn't speak a word of English, got up and gave a toast. His daughter translated for him, and it was very moving. He's only been in the US for three days so far, and he was so touched by the outpouring of affection and reception that he's had - he was very impressed. This is a man who lives in a yurt and lives a nomadic existence on the Mongolian steppes. His daughter is a physician, selected by a very competitive process to represent her country for a year at Johns Hopkins. He has every reason to be very proud indeed.
And I was very proud to have been part of the evening. It's a good thing I'm going to a spa for four days tomorrow - I'm stuffed.
Famed National Geographic photographer Michael Yamashita, went in search of Marco Polo's China and filmed the documentary: "Marco Polo: The China Mystery Revealed". YouTube had clips from the program, and I'm posting an 8 minute piece here that documents his journey from the Afghan / Pakistan border in the Pamir Mountains, and Lake Karakul where we travelled, to the city of Kashgar. The video does a great job of reflecting not only the beauty of the people and the scenery I got to experience, but after seeing his photos, I'm feeling pretty good about some of the shots I managed to get on a FAR less expensive camera than he's carrying around his neck! Watch it - it's great video.
"Cable from wall -> splitter Splitter -> HD Box -> TV Splitter -> Tivo -> TV"
Sounds simpler than it is, trust me, but it confirmed what I had already figured out. The initial problem turned out not to be my hookup scheme, but rather programming the TV properly to recognize all the inputs and outputs correctly. However, I think I'm going to have to upgrade to the HD Tivo in the nearer future than I planned, because the number of remote controls involved in switching back and forth between HD and Tivo are a pain in the patooty. I was going to get a Blue Ray player first, but honestly, I can download most any movie I have the time to watch now in HD, and I watch more recorded TV than movies. I left the DVD player disconnected for now just because I have other TVs in the house I can watch a DVD on, and it was just one more remote to mess around with.
OK, so after more fumbling around this morning, I FINALLY got the Cable Box and TV working together beautifully, and after sifting around the Tivo support web page and not finding the answer I was looking for, I broke down and called them. A brief clarification answered my own question, and now I just have to plug everything back together and and we should be in business.
Trying to do something like this when I am at the height of my monthly, crampy, hormonal self is probably one of the worst, and most frustrating things I could have picked to really piss myself off, but there you have it.
However, tonight is Friday, so I think there will be an HD new release movie from On Demand and popcorn and wine in my future! I'm thinking Elizabeth, the Golden Age, would suffice nicely. A powerful woman movie when I am feeling less than powerful in my technical abilities and overcome with XX chromosome frailties at the moment.
I might also treat myself to a nice steak and salad for dinner. I bought the ingredients to try and recreate the dark rum, bleu cheese, island pepper sauce I had in the islands. If it works, I'll post the recipe, and then bottle it and make a fortune.
UPDATE: No fortune in the first attempt at the sauce, but now I know what to do. I used too much rum and didn't reduce the rum enough to burn off the alcohol, which gave it a bitter taste. Bleu cheese was about right if I reduce the rum enough, and I overdid the peppers - it was too hot, and didn't let the cheese through. I had the foresight to serve the sauce on the side, so I didn't wreck a nice piece of tenderloin while I experiment. The next batch should be close to perfect, but this may be a fun thing to work on, master, and make my own. I still think I'm missing a secret ingredient. Maybe some caramelized onions? It was a smooth sauce, so it was cooked and/or blended.
PS Did I mention the HDTV rocks? It's like getting a new pair of glasses, or the Claritin commercial when they peel back the film and all the color is exposed. Wow.
I started by trying to turn in my old cable box to Comcast for an HD Tuner. Headed to the nearest Comcast office way out on West Northern Parkway, in a not so great area of town. I waited in a line that would make the DMV proud, only to discover that they WERE OUT of HDTV boxes!! They called Whitemarsh for me, and it turns out that office was flush with them, so I drove a 1/2 hour out of my way to Whitemarsh. Once there, it took about 10 minutes, there were no metal detectors or security guards waiting to pat me down, and I finally had a tuner. The whole process took 2 hours.
Got everything home and started unpacking and disconnecting things. Since when do you need an electrical engineering degree to watch your freakin TV? HDMI cables, component cables, splitters, coax, serial pins, RGB and RYW connectors? I got 'em all. The trouble is that the HDTV hookup instructions assume that all of your components are HD ready, and I'm still gonna be watching DVDs and Tivo in SD for a little while. After 3+ hours of messing with the new HDTV and trying to string together the DVD player, Tivo, and HD Cable Box with no success whatsoever, no matter what configuration I tried, I started downsizing.
I rarely rent DVDs anymore - I download movies and watch them, so I took out the DVD player and tried to connect the Tivo to the cable to the TV - still no dice. I can upgrade my Tivo box for about $100, but for now, I disconnected it and hooked it up to another TV in the house. My shows will still get recorded, and it buys me time to figure this mess out.
So....if anyone out there has had success in stringing together an HDTV, Comcast HD cable box, Tivo and a DVD - please drop me a line and give me some hints.
Thank you for letting me whine.
In other news - the TV is AWESOME, and it fits PERFECTLY into the armoir with just millimeters to spare.
OK, here are some of the photos I couldn't post from Aruba because I forgot my stupid upload cable:
One Happy Island:
Colorful Dutch architecture:
My own private beach for five days. Pardon the smudge on the left hand side of the photo. Sunblock cream. The reef in the distance was easy to swim to, and the fish were amazing.
A Perfect Sunset. From the deck of the little beach restaurant down the sand path from my bungalow.
I'm not sure if this chicken / rooster was killed escaping from the BBQ, or is supposed to be advertising for it, but you can insert your own "Why did the Chicken Cross the Road" joke here.
Ruins of an old gold smelting refinery on the island that we hiked around one day:
An unwelcome visitor to the ruins. This is a banded python. I nearly stepped right on him before I saw him! They are not native to Aruba and are an invasive species. Some people think that they may have swum over from the Venezuelan jungles, or escaped as pets. This one was a good four feet long or more.
A much more welcome visitor. These guys were absolutely everywhere. There is another species that comes in a bright neon blue color.
Slate's Joshua Kocera has been posting a series of articles all week on the China portion of a trip he started in Russia last fall. He ended up in Kashgar just a week or two before we arrived, during Ramadan.
Overall, his impressions match mine exactly - even down to the laughable "all for one and one for all" hypocrisy on a plaque in the garden of the Ida Kah Mosque which proclaims that the Chinese government is working hard to protect the cultural identity of the Uighurs, when in fact, every move they make only benefits the Chinese and further marginalizes and alienates the Uighur people and their rich culture.
He states that there is a $4 fee to enter Kashgar's old city. Unless our guide paid such a fee, I did not know about it, and find it very disturbing that a private Chinese businessman is benefiting from something like that and the residents of the town do not receive any of the benefits.
I urge you to read his article(s). I think it's very important for more US citizens to know about and understand the Uighurs and what they are enduring in Western China. For so many years, westerners have been all about "Free Tibet!", but I think if more of them knew about Xinjiang and the Uighurs, they would adopt the same policy of "Free the Uighurs!".
I'm taking my Uighur friend and her daughter shopping this weekend. I'll be anxious to know what she thinks of the article. She has been very frank and outspoken in her defense of her people and their culture. She works for the Chinese Red Cross and is studying at Hopkins to be able to take back HIV/AIDS education and treatment programs - something that is sorely lacking in her region. A recent article reported that the incidence of HIV/AIDS in China has increased by some 45% in the last year. Much of this was due to better reporting of data, but it is a real problem in the most populated place on the planet.
So I met up with my friends M and J last night near their house in Patterson Park at Three, the hot little restaurant on Baltimore St. at the end of the park.
Go there now.
Just amazing. It's mostly small plates, but they have some nice entrees too. We stuck with the small plates and just sat at the bar and chilled. Because M and J live practically across the street, they are regulars, so we hung out with co-owner Mike Harmel - who has a "three" tatoo on his forearm, so I guess he's committed to its success.
Chef Peter Livolsi from Pazo has done an awesome job. I had three (ha!) small plates: Blood orange and fennel salad with olives - delish; eggplant fritters with marinara and mozarella - big, paper thin slices of eggplant lightly breaded and fried - really a very light dish; and the piesta resistance - blackened loin of venison with cherries. Oh. My. God. Perfectly cooked, and perfectly seasoned. Next time, I'm getting two plates of this to make an entree - it's that good.
So, if you're looking for a place with bistro atmosphere, great food, and some really nice wines by the glass, give Three a try - you'll go back again. I will.
The atmosphere reminded me of 'b' - the beloved little restaurant up the street from me. It's like a neighborhood living room. Just a great joint with terrific food, consistently good, cozy atmosphere, and a great place to hang out. Every city neighborhood needs one.
I tried to stimulate the economy out of a recession today by buying an HDTV and a new dishwasher. Yes, one is sexy, the other one - not so much.
So, armed with my research from Consumer Reports, Cnet, and a few other sites, I headed to Best Buy to see what was what. I got a Sony Bravia 32BX4 - supposedly the best 32 inch out there at the moment. The sales guy kept trying to talk me into a larger model, but my entertainment armoir will only accommodate a 32 inch set, and besides, it's a TV, not a penis. I don't need a 50" inch screen to prove anything.
Best Buy didn't have the dishwasher I was looking for - a Bosch, so I headed to Lowe's. I had originally thought I might like one of the new drawer dishwasher models since I don't run the dishwasher all that often, and they look very slick. That was until I found out that their repair rate is horrible, they're really expensive, and they got a last place rating by Consumer Reports. Bosch, however, looks great, was highly rated, and has a "half load" option that allows you to wash a half load with less water and energy than a full load. It's energy efficiency and low noise ratings were also attractive. It's not the cheapest appliance out there, probably double what a Kenmore or Whirlpool runs, but it's not outrageously expensive either. I wanted the stainless steel finish, so they had to order it, and it'll be here in a couple of weeks.
Stay tuned for my battle installing the HDTV and getting it hooked up to everything else. First, I have to exchange my cable box for an HDTV tuner.
Finally, someone has created a search engine for Food Blogs! Titled, appropriately enough, Food Blog Search, you type in what you're looking for: ingredient; occasion; recipe; whatever, and it searches over 1,900 food blogs. I'm on a jerk chicken search after the Caribbean jaunt, and I got back over 20 pages of links to posts on jerk chicken.
That has to be one of the creepiest things I've ever heard, and just one more reason why the Catholic church and I have parted ways, and why I wish to be cremated once any and all organs and tissues have been donated.
I always thought the reverence of relics and other ancient body parts by the Church was creepy, but I had no idea that they still DID it.
I brought the glorious weather back with me from Aruba - you're welcome.
Interestingly, the State Dept. hasn't issued any travel warnings or alerts for Venezuela, Columbia or Ecuador yet. I'm sure Aruba will be fine despite its proximity, but the cruise industry may decide to give those waters a wide berth if things go south with the current tensions between the countries, or if war were to break out.
In more cheerful news - it's gorgeous outside! I had to go in for my pre-employment physical and paperwork this morning. Filled out tons of paperwork, peed in a cup, got stuck for a PPD (Tuberculin) Test and had blood drawn, smiled for the ubiquitous photo ID badge in Security and basically got processed. Book 'em, Danno.
I tried to take myself to Petit Louis Bistro for lunch, but they are closed on Mondays, so I headed over to Miss Shirley's for a fried oyster salad and some iced tea. They do serve incredible food there. I got a side of fried green tomatoes, and brought home half of it to have with eggs tomorrow morning.
After stopping at the grocery store and dry cleaners, I took the car to get all the winter salt and grime washed off and headed home, where I discovered that the back yard is now bursting with little green shoots for all the bulbs that the landscapers put in back in November. Can't wait to watch them explode! I have the windows wide open, and the cats are sniffing through the screens like they'd never smelled the outdoors before.
BTW, if you head up to Roland Park, and drive down 42nd street to the Super Fresh, you pass a stretch of homes that have carpets and carpets of lilac snow crocuses in bloom already right before you hit University Parkway. If you need a little spring tonic - head over there and check it out.
Airport blogging from Aruba while waiting for my flight. When the entire country empties out on Saturday and Sunday, the lines at the little airport here can get REALLY long. We arrived at 1:45 for 4:30 flights, and it took until just a few moments ago to finally get to the gate at 3:45. Immigration, security clearance #1, pick up luggage, customs, security clearance #2, drop off checked baggage....it was a lot of standing in lines, disrobing, taking off shoes, getting laptop in and out of case, and getting dressed again on the other side - twice.
We managed to do some shopping in Oranjestad and have a nice lunch on our way to the airport, but that resulted in additional shopping bags and carry on, so it's a lot to juggle just getting to the gate, and I'm sure the flight to JFK in NY will be full. Yeah.
Coming down mid week was a dream. We should have planned to go home mid week as well.
I swear the tan is already starting to fade, and the curls are falling flat.....