Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Letter to Mr. Carter

One of my favorite blogs is Letters of Note. They post interesting letters from famous figures and offer a little bit of context behind them. The letters capture a moment in time that has faded from the public consciousness, but remain bright and vibrant in the words on the page. I decided to write a letter to the incarcerated Dwayne Carter, AKA Lil Wayne this afternoon. He entered Rikers prison in March for an 8-month sentence for gun possession. He is due to be released in November. I intend to mail this and will share his reply, if he feels so inclined.

Hello Mr. Carter,

It sounds silly to call you that. Kind of like calling Diddy "Sean" or Bono "Paul". What do they call you in prison? Well I'm sure all the other inmates call you Wayne or Weezy, but do the guards? I guess they've probably had their share of celebrities in Rikers Island, but someone of your stature and influence is a whole new ballgame. Are you in a separate ward? Do you get special treatment? I heard you got busted for having smuggling in headphones (I don't want to know how you got them, but I hope they have Purell stations where you are) which sounds a bit harsh to me. Taking away a rapper's headphones is like burning Picasso's paintbrush. Cruel and unusual.

I know you struggled with syrup just before prison, but if there's a silver lining in your sentence, it is that you will almost certainly get clean while you're locked up. Withdrawal isn't a pretty thing, but I can't imagine going cold turkey on top of not being able to express yourself the only way you've ever known. It's probably worse than solitary. I know you don't like to write your verses down, but I hope you've had a chance to put pen to paper, if only to get it out of your head. I hope you are finding other outlets for your creative energy. I know some prisons offer classes for inmates to earn a degree or something to help them find their footing when they get out. Of course you won't be needing "footing" like most will, but it's a better use of your time than memorizing bible verses or spending hours on the bench press.

I heard you filmed like 10 music videos and recorded hours of new songs the week before you turned yourself in. Sounds like what the junkies refer to as "the last binge". Well if you were afraid we would forget you, don't worry. It's like you never left. By my count, you still have verses on every good song I hear (except "Power" and I look forward to your remix), and every blog is buzzing about when you'll drop The Carter IV. Speaking of that, your newest album came out yesterday, which I like a lot. I love the triumphant string part on "Right Above It" and I think you made a great move by letting Nicki Minaj handle the hook on "What's Wrong With Them". Everyone knows she can rap, it's nice to see her pipes. I do have a couple beefs though. It's not that I'm not grateful, I am. It's just that I Am Not A Human Being sounds like a Rebirth B-side and messes up the flow of things a bit. Also, I've noticed that you get into some simile ruts from time to time. How many euphemisms for "big shit" can you come up with? "We the shit like diarrhea" sounds like you're scraping the bottom of the barrel. Also, you may be a bit pent up sexually, and the success of "Every Girl" may have gone to your head, but gifted or not, we don't need to hear that you can "fuck the world and make it come hard". I think it was EB White who said "Be obscure clearly". These nitpickings aside, the album shows that you were still going hard until your last hours of freedom. I guess we'll see how much of that was the promethazine and how much was Wayne. Here's to hoping it was all you.

Your Fan,


Monday, September 27, 2010

Fluff Festival 2010

One of the perks of living in Inman Square is that I can walk to just about everything. Central and Harvard are a brisk 10 minutes away. Kendall and Porter are maybe 15. Even Lechmere is remarkably close (I stupidly assumed everything on the Green Line was wicked far away). While these areas are fine and have public transportation, it's the underrated Union Square where I've found the most lively Somerville representation. They have a massive Farmer's Market every Saturday morning that nearly puts Arlington's to shame (except there's no Goat Cheese :( ) The Market accepts Food Stamps(!)* and even allows you to swipe your Credit Card and get tokens for the Fair rather than schlub around looking for an ATM. I had Honey Crisp apples there a couple weeks ago that were so juicy and sweet that I needed to take a seat. The bagels I bought from IGGYs were so good that I almost was able to eat them all before they got stale. Well if a huge Farmer's Market wasn't enough to warm the cockles of your heart, this past Saturday was the 5th annual Fluff Festival in Union Square, a celebration of Marshmallow Fluff, the sweet, sticky Union Square invention that debuted in 1917 and became New England's Nutella. As legend (wikipedia) has it, Archibald Query perfected the blend of sugar, vanilla and egg whites in his Somerville kitchen and began selling it door to door.  World War I's sugar shortage forced to Mr. Query to sell the rights to the product for a mere $500. Thanks to some dedicated folks in Union Square, his legacy lives on. I expected some Fluffernutter sandwiches and a couple T-shirts, but I was far off the mark. What The Fluff? is serious business. See the photos below.

*I don't use Food Stamps, but I think allowing them to be used at Farmer's Markets is a brilliant idea. .

I saw this sign on the way to the festival. I'll ignore that the acronym for the channel is "SCAT", but someone has to explain how Princess Leia and Darth Vader are associated with public access television.

This first of many "Fluff-themed" confections. These came courtesy of Kick-Ass Cupcakes.

Child-labor laws are loosened during the Fluff Festival.

The "FEAR FACTOR" portion of the Fluff Festival where people try to devise the next fluff-centric palate tickler.

Yes. That is a dill pickle and a cheese ball on a mattress of fluff and a saltine boxframe.

Ann ate it an loved it. She also loves Fluff. FIGURES.

My Fluff challenge. Pickle, tuna, Sriracha hot sauce, mustard, fluff.

The tart and briny topping was delicately balanced with the smooth sweetness of the fluff and the satisfying crunch of the salty cracker. It was pretty good actually, and probably something Jeff Kirkland would eat on a regular basis.

Of course, what sort of festival is complete without an flimsy excuse for alcohol! Fluff Martini? Of course! Hold the olives please.

 Even Harpoon got in on the action with a Fluff Porter. I did not try it as I wasn't super curious to taste anything's "residual sweatness".

 "Blind Man's Fluff". The preferred way to take out your anger on a loved one since 2006.

We found the Pharoah of Fluff, but not before he could get his hands on The Cat in the Hat.

There were oodles of games for the kiddies, although most had not developed the motor skills for them. This was Fluff Bowling.

Fluff Pyramid. I would have cleaned up on this one.

Fluff Toss. This one smacked into the board. I told him to try underhand if he wanted any tickets.

There was no age limit to pose as "Fluff-Boy". I make a dashing one if I do say so myself. Ignore the foot.

Someone is way too enthused for a $2 Fluffernutter. 

There was also a Fluff cooking contest judged by area celebrities. I could have easily taken a scoop of this and no one would have known. Except for the marshmallow on my face.

Some Fluff take on "dirt". I also could have stolen this but exercised restraint. Mostly because I don't really like Fluff.

If there is a God, this Angel Food Cake Peanut Butter tower would unanimously win first place. We did not hang around to find out.

Eager to commence the judging.

An appropriate Grand prize.

Thursday, September 23, 2010



Everyone collects something. Some people have a closet full of cowboy hats, others have separate houses for their classic cars. I like watches. I also have a lot of DVDs (some would say too many), but those don't really count in the way I have defined "collection" here. Not to go all steampunk on you, but I've always been enamored with examples of finely-tuned precision, from typewriters to Rube-Golberg contraptions. A beautiful old watch is the pinnacle blend of craftsmanship and function. I remember being young and holding the fancy watch my mom bought my dad for his birthday and being enthralled with the mechanisms held within such a small package.

The first watch I ever bought myself was a Fossil with a neon orange face and a silver band I saw in some mall display when I was 15. It had a unidirectional rotating dive bezel that made satisfying clicks whenever I twisted it. I never cared to find out the practical purpose behind the clicks. It took one trip to the beach before it became clogged with sand and would never click the same. The face weathered dings and scratches that would have certainly destroyed a lesser watch. Even the clasp became so stripped and worn that any sort of swift arm motion would cause the watch the frisbee off my arm. I loved that watch, but it succumbed to its injuries sometime during my freshman year of college, and it was time to graduate to a more "adult" timepiece. By adult I don't mean a pocket watch, I mean something that wasn't orange and didn't click. After a little searching, I found a watch that fit my budget (virtually nil) and made me wonder how I ever lived without it.

This is a Skagen. The first of many Skagens I would own. Sleek, sexy, simple, no numbers (watches don't need numbers people), IMPOSSIBLY THIN, virtually weightless. Did I mention how thin it is? I don't know where they fit the innards and moving parts, but it is a prime example of European engineering. I still wear this watch. This is the watch that catalyzed my love of watches. It took less than 2 years for its clasp to start flapping around, but by the time it did, it had already been assimilated into a hearty rotation of watches. In trhe years since, I've pared down and teased out exactly what I look for in a timepiece. Leather or Metal band? Leather. Simple or Messy face? Simple. Digital or Analog? Analog, of course. Unidirectional Rotating Dive Bezel? I'll take my chances, thanks. Here are the other watches in my collection:

Puma Move - I love this watch, but the face is more oval that I thought it would be and the battery died. I would wear it more if it weren't for that last point. I should really invest in my own watch tools and learn to do it myself.

This is my Nike Sportband running watch. It's a great running watch, and a pretty solid watch overall. The band is rubberized plastic, and the whole thing is comfortable and functional enough to wear casually if that were your cup of tea.

This is another Skagen. It has a rubber band and maintains the simple face and thin profile that Skagens are known for. I love it.

Another Skagen. I told you I have a lot. This is the last one though. For now.

This is a dirt-cheap Timex I bought to wear hiking/camping and it is fantastic. I find myself wearing it a ton in the summer when it's really hot, as leather bands get sticky (and smelly).

I got this WALL-E themed watch for free when I went and saw it at the theater. It's more of a novelty. I'm not even sure it fits around my wrist.

Lucien Piccard 26967WH. I think I had a gift certificate and used it on this. I wear it a lot, but I think the white stitching on the band is a little tacky. The checkered part of the face is hard to see in person, which is a good thing. Writing this post has made me realize that all my watches look the same.

This is the crown jewel of my collection and also the only one I've paid more than $100 for. My Eco-Drive. If you aren't familiar with Eco-Drives, they are solar powered. These aren't solar powered like those stupid calculators in 4th grade that would die if you covered up the solar panel with your finger. Eco-Drive can run for 9 months in complete darkness after being charged. It tells you the day/month/year and AM/PM if you're a narcoleptic. It does a lot more things I don't even know about. I bought it on Chronoshark, a Daily Deal watch website that is responsible for at least 3 of these watches, and a business I have a complex love/hate relationship with.

Up until a few weeks ago, these watches were strewn haphazardly on my bureau between a box of Q-tips and a bottle of cologne, but now they rest on a nice leather watch display stand compliments of Ms. AG. Now before you lambaste her for enabling me, I'd like to state for the record that the stand can only accommodate 9 watches, which is precisely how many I own now. DRAT!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On Repeat (No, seriously. For like 29 hours): B.o.B. feat. Rivers Cuomo - Magic

I have conflicting feelings about B.O.B. How can someone have the indie ear to sample Vampire Weekend and still make something as rousing and foot stomping as "Past My Shades"? On top of that, he grasps for Top 40 heights with the syrupy melodrama of "Airplanes", taking a back seat (more like the trunk) on his own album. Who said you had to spring for a tween-friendly chorus or tap into high-school angst to make a hit record? The culmination of B.o.B.'s efforts on all these fronts is the fantastic "Magic" that breathes life into the deflated husk of Weezer's Rivers Cuomo while still serving to give B.o.B. center stage to perform his verbal two-step.

I ran in the Reach the Beach (TOUCH ME TO FINISH, WHAT?) relay this weekend, and as any runner can attest, running music is critical. As the race did not allow iPods (unless you were that weirdo who wore his AND ran down the middle of the road at 3AM), we spent the first 6 legs playing musical iPods, trying to find the best song to buoy flagging runners and their drowsy teammates. We entertained "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo for a time, and CHO'B's pump-up song was some MGMT sampling hip-hop song, but by the time 5pm rolled around and our van was finally handed the baton, "Magic" had a stranglehold on the playlist. When we drove past a teammate, "Magic" was turned up to ear-shattering levels to give them a boost (not during quiet hours of course). When we pulled and waited for them to come by, we opened the back-doors of the van and allowed "Magic" to reverberate off the countryside. It inspired no less than 5 spontaneous dance parties, some of which were joined by complete strangers. By the end of the race, everyone on the team had virtually memorized the last 4 words of every line (especially "GOT YOUR MIND BABBLIN'" and "BREAK ALL THE RULES LIKE EVEL KNIEVEL"). I'm not sure if I will be able to listen to it again without feeling pain in my quads, but if any song deserves an On Repeat blog post, it is "Magic".

Sunday, September 19, 2010

EDU: Jambalaya

Since RTB rendered me virtually immobile for my Sunday, I decided I could muster up the strength to hobble and do something productive in the kitchen. The first chills of Fall is usually the time of year that I start to "get my soup on", but sometimes there are ways to get warm and toasty without drinking a hot liquid. Eating something with some Scoville-style heat is one such way. Usually when people aim for spicy, they crank out some wild chili recipe with jalapenos, but chili has always been unsatisfying for me, closer resembling chunky tomato sauce than an actual meal. I've had some tasty chili's, but for my money, jambalaya is where it's at. Something about the rice makes it taste heartier and wholesome, and the extra touches of the three kinds of peppers tend to impart a more complex flavor than most chilis that stick to the ground beef and kidney bean profile.

One problem I have with jambalaya is that almost every recipe calls for shrimp or crawfish or some other sea creature I'm not terribly keen on. Originating in Louisiana as a creole dish explains that I suppose. Even so, I was able to find a recipe that called for sausage instead.

This is almost everything you will need:

4 sausage links, casings removed 
1 medium onion, diced 
1 medium green pepper, diced
1 medium red pepper, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 large fresh tomatoes, seeded and large diced (or 1 14oz can diced tomatoes)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 serrano chiles, minced
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 Tsp. dried oregano
4 cups chicken stock
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups basmati rice, soaked for 30 minutes and rinsed
1/4 cup white wine vinegar or lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
olive oil, butter, salt and pepper

That is the Basmati rice soaking, as I was instructed. I wasn't completely sure why the rice needed to be soaked, (I assumed it was to lower cooking time), but as it turn out there's a bit of flavor science behind it to!

Here are the onion, peppers and celery all laid out.

First thing's first. Remove the casing from the sausage. I used some spicy Italian sausage from Foodmaster (shh, don't tell JL).

Easy enough. I don't exactly know what casings are, and I try not to think about it. I hope them being intestines is just an old wive's tale. Brown these in some olive oil until they are no longer pink, and set them aside.

Hey look! The rice is done! Drain/wash this and set it aside for later.

Throw in the diced veggies from earlier with the sausage juices and some butter, and cook for 10 minutes, until they are soft.

Dice up the Serrano peppers and garlic, and toss these into the pot for 2-3 minutes.

Next come the diced tomatoes and the tomato paste. Mix it around thoroughly. It starts smelling good around here. Well, it smelled good with the onions and the garlic too, but now it's starting to smell like jambalaya.

Toss in the Chicken stock, bay leaves, thyme, oregano and bring the whole mess to a boil. Once it is boiling, put in your Basmati rice and reduce heat to simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the rice is soft and the liquid is absorbed.

After the rice is cooked thoroughly, add the juice from one large lemon and your sausage back into the pot, and stir. Stir in the parsley and cover until serving.

I was concerned it wouldn't be very spicy, with only the Serrano peppers and sausage responsible for the heat, but I seriously underestimated the peppers. The jambalaya is deliciously spicy, but not overwhelming, and still has the delicious tomato and salty taste of a good chili. The vegetables are tender but not indistinguishable mush, and the rice is fluffy and tasty. A simple dish with lots to love.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

T-Tracker Review

Do you remember this post from February? The one where I completely dismissed the idea of a MBTA Bus Tracking system and made disparaging comments regarding the efficacy of Boston public transit? I stand by those comments, but since MBTA officials started tagging buses with GPS devices almost a year ago, something interesting happened. While the MBTA clung to a clunky telephone service to approximate when you could expect the next bus, web developers took matter into their own hands and made something functional. Boy is it ever.

If you go to the Rider Tools section of the MBTA site, you'll see 15 (FIFTEEN) assorted apps that you can use to find the nearest bus. As I've been spending a whole lot of time waiting for the #1 these days, I decided to give it a try on the way to class today. As I don't have an iPhone/Android, I opted for the Track the T webpage. Simply tell it the Bus you want, the direction you are traveling, and the stop (intersection), and it will give you the next five buses, complete with a real-time countdown that refreshes every thirty seconds to reflect any changes. This is all very exciting on paper, but does it really work? In my limited experience, sweet Mary and Joseph does it work.

If you can resist the urge to sprint a half a mile to try and catch the bus that is a minute away, resigning yourself to the next bus allows for a certain bit of relaxation. Now you know if you have time to grab a coffee instead of looking over your shoulder the whole time, ready to throw your change at the Barista at a moment's notice. Gone are the days where you get distracted by a friend and are beyond aloof trying to keep one eye on Mass Ave. It's a liberating feeling. Walking to Central Square, I saw the next bus was 11 minutes away, and I casually made it with 3 minutes to spare. On the way home, I checked and saw the bus was 3 minutes away, and it was perfect to the SECOND. When was the last time you said that about the T? Let me answer that, NEVER.

Soon, telling you kids about the hours you spent waiting for the bus will elicit the same reaction I give to my parents when they tell me about life before the internet and they gave their parents when they heard of life without TV. It's a wonderful thing. I'm ready for my hoverboard now.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On Repeat: Nipsey Hussle feat. Lloyd - Feelin' Myself

Don't judge a single by its album art. I guess it doesn't work as well as not judging a book by its cover, but I think it holds true here. I mean, weren't all books leather-bound when that saying rose to prominence anyway? Were they just judging the quality of the leather? The binding? The calligraphy? I digress. Anyway, the art for "Feelin' Myself" looks like some 2002 50 Cent/DMX clone with Olde English typography and a worn leather border. The only thing it is missing is a few bullet holes and a parental advisory sticker. Oh wait, there it is. Well, you'll be happy to know that Nipsey is both a formidable wordsmith but has no interest in posturing or flexing. 

"Feelin' Myself" is a tacklebox of a song. It has so many hooks I don't even know where one ends and another begins (get it?!?!). I guess I'll start with the beat. One would think that using a 2-second sample to anchor the entire song would come with some risks, but the snippet Nipsey uses here is some Kanye West level Motown mastery. It also helps that Lloyd's chorus (is it the chorus) is the pitch-perfect smooth self-assured groove that balances the street vibe of Nipsey's verses. Of course, Nipsey has his own counter-chorus which dovetails nicely into his second verse. As if these two (three?) catchy morsels weren't enough, a female voice drops in briefly to swoon and validate the claims of these young men. 

Did I say Nipsey is good with words? "Got your kids college 'round my neck" is one of those hilarious "let-me-put-my-insane-wealth-in-perspective" lines like Biggie's "Now we sip champagne when we thirst-ay" and Wayne's "Stand on my money, head-butt Yao Ming". I know next to nothing about Mr. Hussle, but let's hope he has more of these up his sleeve. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Oh Google, you've outdone yourselves.

So Google recently unveiled something called "Google Scribe" which is basically real-time predictive text for your emails/blogs/etc. As SS and anyone who's ever received a text from him can attest, predictive text has a little ways to go before it is ready to take over our emails and blog posts. Some would even say predictive text is a "might presumptious".

With that being said, Google is a pretty nifty company, so they have probably ironed out most of these problems before rolling this thing out. Right? RIGHT? Let's just see, shall we. I'm going to give Google Scribe a little test with some famous sentences, and see where it takes me. I'll give it the first couple words, and simply ride it to its logical conclusion.

Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream speech"

"I have a dream......that one day I will be able to see this on the map or by adding a new direction for the future of the world and the world of the living room and dining room with a view to share videos with friends and family to enjoy a good meal and a drink for the first time."

Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities"

"It was the best of times.....and the bad guys are not going to be a member of the Board of Directors of the Company and the Company shall be entitled to a refund of the purchase price of the product."

Maybe these are too obscure for our culture these days? Maybe people are too obsessed with music and Facebook to be searching for old speeches and classic literature. Let's try and give it something a bit more recent.

Cee-Lo Green "Fuck You"

"Although there's pain in my chest, I still.......have not found any instances of professional misconduct for this lawyer to other clients."

Wow Google. I mean, at least try and consider the context or something. It seems like all you have in your database are court logs. I'll give you one last chance to prove yourself. Here's a famous film quote you should have no trouble completing.

The Godfather

"I'm going to make him an offer....he can not be held responsible for."

Close enough. Bravo. But if it's all the same to you Google, I think I'll stick with predictive text for now and consider trying it again in 2035.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


There aren't many silver linings to the economy these days, but one of them is the dramatic drop in ticket sales for 2010, leaving bullies like Ticketmaster and Live Nation with plummeting stock and the choice between filling massive amphitheaters for pennies on the dollar or cancelling tours altogether. Slumping ticket sales are not genre-specific, with household names like Rihanna, The Jonas Brothers, The Eagles and Christina Aguilera forced to cancel or postpone their 2010 tours. While the artists themselves certainly share part of the blame for this phenomenon, I get a Cheshire Cat grin when I envision Ticketmaster executives sweating it out a bit.

If you've ever purchased a concert ticket in the last 15 years, the word Ticketmaster should conjure images much like the one at the top of this page, or that of a blood-sucking leech. I have been nickeled and dimed and bled nearly dry by their absurd "Convenience Charges" and "Venue Charges" and "Service Charges" and "Processing Charges" and "Shipping Charges" to the tune of hundreds of dollars. Often times, these charges eclipse the face value of the ticket itself, turning a spontaneous bit of fun into a wallet stretching night out. With upstarts like brown paper tickets and more and more venues able to process ticket sales on their respective websites, one can only hope that this speed bump is the beginning of the end.

With 2010 adding a financial element to Ticketmaster's simmering PR problem, Live Nation entertainment has   started a blog titled "Ticketology", wherein they promise to help us laymen "understand their business" through "transparency". Not sure why they needed research and focus groups to tell them that people hate service fees and aren't interested in buying tickets when they whole process feels like an auction you have no control over. At the NEW Ticketmaster, they "wake up every day obsessing over the fan experience", mostly because it doesn't take them as long to count their money as it used to. It all sounds like a 40 year old dad trying to negotiate with his teenage son to clean his room. It's all delicate phrasing and ego-massaging until you  get them to think it was their idea all along.

The actual improvements in transparency and personalization do nothing to bring down ticket prices, which Ticketmaster acknowledges as the true problem. Telling me up front that my $20 tickets will actually cost $45 out the door, does nothing but save me time when I X out the tab. Letting me pick my own seat or return the tickets within 3 days is not titillating to outweigh the outrageous service charges. It's been two weeks since their first post, and the blog has yet to make a peep. However, if you listen really closely, you can just make out the sound of Ticketmaster executives getting fired. That's one show I'd pay top dollar for.