Matt Brundage

Archive for 2008

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Peering into the flask

Medium Image I recently discovered that former schoolmate Josh Tillman now has a Wikipedia entry — it was created shortly after he performed at the Sasquatch Music Festival and joined Fleet Foxes as their drummer. It got me thinking about the various levels of interconnectedness that many esteemed Pacific Northwest indie bands and artists share.

Let’s start with Pedro the Lion, a band that utilized many musicians, both on stage and in the studio. Nearly two-dozen musicians are known to have performed in some capacity with the band. Many of these musicians, in turn, belong to other bands or have side projects of their own. While the list is not conclusive, the homogeneity of it all is still astounding. For instance, three members are now with Fleet Foxes. Four members have been associated with the band Headphones. Incredibly, five members have been associated with Crystal Skulls. Four have seen tenure in the band Seldom. Two a piece with Damien Jurado, Denison Witmer, and The Soft Drugs. I could go on.

It’s as if the indie rock culture in the Pacific Northwest is just that: an “active culture” with molecules constantly splitting apart, multiplying, and fusing together.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Subaru’s welcome party

I have mixed feelings about the quietly patriotic Subaru commercial, Welcome Party. Premise: a group of adventurers travel to the easternmost point of the United States every New Year’s Eve to whoop it up and watch the sunrise over the lonely Atlantic Ocean the following morning.

The first few seconds reveal a lighthouse just before dawn, flashing its light on the cold crashing waves. Studying this scene, one can plainly ascertain that this lighthouse is not the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse located at Quoddy Head State Park in Maine. So right off the bat, we have deception. The lighthouse depicted in the commercial cannot even be the easternmost lighthouse in the US.

Then, the narrator intones “it’s not easy getting to the easternmost point in the US…”, as if Maine State Route 189 were merely an unpaved Indian trail.

He continues, “There we are: the very first people to meet the new year.” Again, this is wrong on at least two levels. First, those immediately west of the International Date Line would technically be the first people to meet the new year. But even if we assume that the narrator meant the first people in the United States to meet the new year, it would still be incorrect, as the 1883 standardization of time zones means that huge swaths of the country now meet the new year simultaneously. People as far west as Indiana would meet the new year at the same time as these “Maine adventurers.” Furthermore, Quoddy Head may be the easternmost point in the lower 48 states, but Semisopochnoi Island, Alaska takes the cake for the easternmost point in all US territory, by longitude. The little bugger is actually in the eastern hemisphere!

The narrator goes on: “We like to think of ourselves as a welcome party.” Yeah, but the party happened five hours ago, in Greenwich, England.

The closing shot of the commercial shows a sunrise over what is conceivably Quoddy Head State Park, but now I’m not so sure. In actuality, Canada sort of ruins the view. [Map] [Image] You be the judge.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Sniff and Munch: What a Bunch!

To the right: Sniff and Munch enjoy a summer morning in the front yard. They’re usually house bunnies, but if the weather is just right, Annie will take them out for a little while.

Below: Annie writes about the rabbits.

It’s interesting to see how these two bunnies have been developing their unique personalities and bonding with us since we’ve adopted them. They make us laugh and smile and are a lot of fun to have around.

Sniff is still a mamma’s boy. He likes to hop over to me and either nudge me or lick my feet or slippers, which is his way of asking for a petting. Sometime he gets so into it that he doesn’t even realized that I have taken off my slippers and walked away to do something else. I have used my slipper as a “pacifier” until I can come back and give him a proper petting. Sometimes, he wants a petting so bad that he won’t even take his favorite treat. When I hand him a piece of pear, he would put his head down for a petting rather than gobble it up. That’s when I know he wants love and attention. I’m training him to get on his hind legs and give me a kiss for a treat. He’s starting to make the association and starts to get on his hind legs and stick up his nose whenever I make a kissing sound. It only works when I have treats and when he’s hungry though. Most of the time, he just looks at me like “dream on, lady!”

Munch, the little guy, is a little more independent. We keep calling Munch “the little guy” but he has now outgrown Sniff. Munch is the fun and active one. He likes to do corkscrew hops and dash across the room which scares Sniff half to death. One time, he was dashing around in the living room then he jumped onto the hardwood floor in the foyer which sent him slipping and sliding everywhere before he could recover. Matt and I were on the floor laughing at him. It was like watching Bambi ice skating for the first time. Munch also loves to run upstairs to our bedroom as soon as I open the kitchen gate and burrow under the bed. He doesn’t seek out pettings or treats like Sniff but will come running if he sees me giving Sniff a petting.

I like having them run around upstairs while I work. They occasionally run into the office for a petting.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

The Grand Canyon and Sedona

Annie sitting pretty Eariler this month, Annie, two of her three sisters, and I went out to Arizona for a week.

I have to admit: I was a bad tourist. I did virtually no preparation before the trip — I didn’t even look at a map of the general area, the hotel, amenities, et cetera. I couldn’t have even given you a ballpark estimate of how far away we would be staying from the canyon rim. I hadn’t planned a thing. Perhaps my inactivity was due to my general feeling of apathy toward the whole trip. Until we touched down in Flagstaff, I approached the trip as just another situation to slog through — just something that I had to do. Naturally, my expectations weren’t very high. Even Annie admitted that she didn’t expect us to fill up the whole week with touring and exploring.

How wrong we were. Our six-day stay turned out to be the perfect amount of time. Every day was eventful and we remained active. So active, in fact, that we were usually sound asleep by 9 or 10pm. And we’d wake up before the alarm — usually around 6am. Ideal. Arizona was good for our circadian rhythms.

Matt looking out Arriving in Flagstaff on the first day, I made a spur-of-the-moment good decision — one that I was frequently grateful of as the week progressed. I was torn between hiring a taxi or renting a car. In another “bad tourist” move, I had failed to reserve a rental car ahead of time. I simply walked up to the counter at the airport and asked what types of cars they had. I probably paid a premium for this, but as I found out later, it was worth it. I drove that Chevrolet Malibu (The car you can’t ignore) everywhere; we even took a day trip to Sedona. I must tell you, every mile of that trip was scenic. (It would have been ideal to have some John Denver or Glen Campbell CDs with me, but I digress…) The car came in handy at the Grand Canyon as well, as our hotel was a good five or more miles from the canyon rim. Yeah, not renting a car would have been a serious mistake.

Hiking was very gratifying and enjoyable, even with the prospect that, in the event of a false step, I could be instantly impaled, maimed, or suffer blunt force trauma. I spent a good ten hours (spread out over two days) hiking the winding trails down into the canyon. Obviously, the views were beautiful and serene, but it was also unexpectedly quiet. The silence enveloped me. It was akin to being underwater — the sheer vastness and stillness of it all almost seemed to press in on me. It was very surreal – especially when the only sound I’d hear would be the wings of a huge raven, hovering and soaring overhead; or the occasional whisper of wind funneling itself up the canyon walls; or the clip-clomp of a line of pack mules, laboring their way down the trail.

Photos from the trip

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Mid-month roundup

…This is how I know that I’m a bad blogger: Last week, Annie, her two eldest sisters, and I spent a week out west, conquering the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and the open road, yet I have no blog post to show for it! During our stay, we averaged about 100 photos per day. An unwieldy photo gallery is forthcoming, I promise. And, perhaps, some quality commentary.

…Warren Buffett has given us the green light to start investing again; I’m hopeful that next week will be another solid rebuilding week for the Dow. I’ve sufficiently rationalized my “losses” thus far; I’m truly no longer affected by them. It’s all play money until you have to use it. As I focus the bulk of my investments in retirement accounts, a decreasing percentage of my portfolio hinges on the day-to-day rise and fall of stocks.

…Lately, I’ve been enamored by the work of one J.D. Roth, owner and writer of both Get Rich Slowly and Get Fit Slowly. Every day, I’m in awe at the consistent quality of his work. He’s introduced me to a number of related financial sites. With the wealth of good, free financial information available, it’s a wonder why anyone would choose to hire a financial advisor — unless, of course, one dislikes dealing with his financial situation. As for me, I revel in it. At times, I worry that I worry too much about money. I seriously wouldn’t mind getting randomly audited by the IRS. It would be a pleasant experience for me.

On a related note, sometimes I wish that I had significant consumer debt, only because it would be personally gratifying to pay it off. I’m intrigued by stories of people in debt, and the methods they use to overcome their debt and their bad habits. It would be an incredible feeling of accomplishment to eliminate, say, massive credit card debt. The source of your problems is literally subtracted out of existence.

…I was recently bestowed with a couple of quality “seasoned” laptops that my company had long since abandoned: a four-year-old IBM ThinkPad and a slightly older Dell Inspiron 8100. Both are steps up from my current notebook, a Windows 2000-era Dell that makes a grating grinding sound whenever it’s turned on. Oh, and the touchpad frustratingly registers false clicks at random.

…Some of my coworkers and I have just moved into a swing space, as our office area is being renovated. The problem is that it’s four floors below street level, in a secluded, bomb-proof room with no air flow — conditioned or otherwise. I keep telling myself that at least I’m not working in a uranium mine in Novosibirsk, Russia. I’m entertaining the idea of not shaving or otherwise grooming myself for the duration of our stay in the dungeon, as a quiet protest.

…I’m off to the Maryland Renaissance Festival later today, so I suppose that I will take in a couple of turkey legs and a significant amount of jerky. (Annie cannot resist the jerky vendor.) It will be good to be a part of such a large gathering of geeks. No swords allowed. :-(

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Sodium and sports drinks

I recently got a message out of the blue from a woman who felt compelled to respond to a report that I had written in 2000 for a college health class assignment. Her message below has been lightly edited for clarity:

I have a friend who must work outdoors no matter how hot or humid. Last night, we were discussing that maybe he should drink more Gatorade, etc. (This worked for my ex-husband so well: I could tell by looking at him if he had drunk[1] water or Gatorade when it was hot. With water, he had that exhausted look; with Gatorade, his skin looked good and he had lower exhaustion.) The problem is that my friend has high blood pressure, so I worry if he might get too much salt from the sports drinks. Could you suggest something he might buy or make to help himself? He was really feeling poor last night. I feel bad for him. Budget is an issue for him as well, so, it couldn’t be anything too expensive. Thank you so much! Look forward to an answer.

The 110mg of sodium in a serving of Gatorade is there for two reasons:

  1. to replenish the sodium lost naturally when you sweat;
  2. it gives the body that “thirsty” feeling, which then encourages you to drink more, thus maintaining proper hydration.

Keep in mind that your friend’s high blood pressure may not necessarily be the result of salt sensitivity. While there is indeed a correlation between the two, it’s not quite as strong as conventional wisdom would have us believe. Other factors that can contribute to high blood pressure are obesity, renin homeostasis, insulin resistance, genetics, and age. Obesity is perhaps the most prominent contributing factor.

When I exercise (jogging, weight lifting, volleyball), I usually just drink water. My workouts usually don’t last long enough to warrant the consumption of sports drinks…

If your friend is worried about being exhausted after strenuous work, but wants to limit sodium, I would suggest tomato juice. It has half the calories of your average fruit juice, but still has enough calories to keep your blood glucose levels up. (Incidentally, tomato juice has about half the sugars of Gatorade.) It’s overflowing with potassium, with over 25% RDA per serving. Campbell’s even has a low sodium variety, which I drink on a regular basis. Ounce for ounce, it’s a healthier, natural alternative to Gatorade.

I’ve also found that bananas are good before or after exercise. They’re easy to digest, contain loads of potassium, and are a healthy source of energy.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Dominus Vobiscum

Latin Mass at St. John the Evangelist On Friday, I just so happened to re-read an article that I had posted on my website some time ago, Rod Dreher’s “Latin mass as stumbling block?” While I’ve always been interested in attending Latin Mass — and have even gone to some on occasion at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington DC — I didn’t know much about them, or their histories.

A quick read of the Traditional Catholic Directory keyed me in on the various decrees, contrasts, etiquette, history, politics, and locations of the Traditional Catholic Mass, also known as the Tridentine Mass. As it turns out, the Latin Mass that I’ve been attending at St. Matthew’s is the Novus Ordo, that is, the Mass promulgated by Paul VI in 1969, after the Second Vatican Council. The fact that it’s shrouded in Latin doesn’t change the fact that it’s the revised Mass that did away with many Catholic traditions and became more ecumenical and charismatic. I grew up attending a liberal, charismatic Catholic church and I naturally thought of it as “normal”, knowing no other way of celebrating Mass.

After moving to Silver Spring in 2005, I started attending St. John the Evangelist parish, which is but a five minute walk from my doorstep. I quickly noticed how orthodox everything was. Masses were centered more on the fundamentals and less on making the congregation “feel good”.

Looking back, Mass at my old charismatic church was akin to a town hall meeting, with all the shaking hands, smiling, and welcoming that we were encouraged to participate in. And, given the fact that the Pastoral Council tried to shoehorn large helpings of ecumenicism and multiculturalism into every Mass, I ended up spending many Sunday mornings relearning many Catholic (and Protestant!) hymns and responses in Spanish, Tagalog, Swahili, or whatever else they happened to throw at us. This approach may be appealing to many people, but deep down, I longed for something more quiet and more reverent that I knew had to exist somewhere.

As it turns out, Traditional Latin Masses were happening right under my nose. The “Old Church” of St. John’s has been holding such Masses in conjunction with Our Lady Queen of Poland parish, which has shared the building since 1977. How this tidbit of information never reached me until now is a complete mystery. I had the fortune of attending the Mass this past Sunday; I’m sure that I’ll be attending many more. My grandparents have even expressed interest in attending as well. “It’ll be just like the olden days,” my grandmother said.

It did feel like I was going back in time. The women were wearing hats and various head-coverings, and many of the men were in suits. In fact, I felt slightly out of place in my dress slacks and long-sleeve Oxford. It was a Low Mass, so there was no singing of any kind. The only music occurred at the prelude and at the very end. The priest was “mic’ed” only during the readings and the homily, which were the only English parts of the Mass. There were long stretches of time when the priest was facing the altar and had his back to the congregation. Many of the Latin prayers were barely discernible and still more were spoken in a whisper or were simply mouthed. Communion was different as well. Instead standing in lines, congregants knelt at the gate in front of the pews, and the priest would walk back and forth, issuing the Eucharist. As congregants went back to their pews, others knelt in their place.

It was an entirely different experience — miles away from my old “quasi-charismatic” Catholic church, and the polar opposite of many mainline Protestant services/explosions. Needless to say, I felt entirely at home.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Whom to root for

The film Casablanca got me thinking about the way many of us “choose sides” when we watch a film with war themes. What vexes me is that one can’t always pull for a certain country — no country provides an assurance of consistency. Even the United States is not exempt from this rule, as Clint Eastwood’s complementary films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima let on.

In general, yes, one can pull for the United States — unless they’re depicted torching huts deep in the jungles of Vietnam. Pull for England/the United Kingdom, except when they’re at war with America (The Patriot) or with Scottish clans (Braveheart). France is tricky: pull for them during the French and Indian War (The Last of the Mohicans), other colonial conquests, the American Revolution, but then not during the Napoleonic wars (War and Peace, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World). With few exceptions (the Franco-Prussian War and the Algerian War come to mind), pull for them from the middle of the 19th century onward.

Pull for Germany during the Austro-Prussian War, but not during World War I (All Quiet on the Western Front) or World War II (Saving Private Ryan). It is also permissible to root for “good” Germans (a la The Pianist and Casablanca) but only if the films make it clear that most Germans are bad. Pull for Austria, but only in the months immediately preceding the Anschluss and the subsequent occupation (The Sound of Music). Pull for Russia/USSR during the Napoleonic wars and World War II, but not during the Cold War or the Invasion of Afghanistan…

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Found money

Since I can remember, I’ve always been fond of picking up pennies and other coins that I find on the sidewalk, in parking lots, on public floors, etc. That, coupled with the fact that I meticulously record every monetary transaction in Quicken, means that I spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of this minute source of income.

A recent New Yorker article showed that the act of picking up pennies on the street amounts to little more than minimum wage, if extrapolated over a full hour. Still, there’s a certain enjoyment in it all, even though pennies — and coins in general — are sadly on their way out. When the half-penny was discontinued in 1857, it “had significantly more purchasing power than a dime does today.” (New Yorker) If the Treasury were rational about its coin-minting policies, the penny, nickel, and dime would not be long for this world. The quarter’s days would also be numbered.

It seems as if the only real utility that coins have now is to make change during a purchase. Many people can’t even be inconvenienced to pay with coins anymore. With credit card companies encouraging that small payments be made with cards, the perceived inconvenience of coins has increased.

As for me, I will continue to pick up pennies on the sidewalk as long as the U.S. Mint keeps producing them.

Update

A vindication of sorts.