Sunday, December 27, 2009

earning her stripes

I'd like to send a hearty congratulations to Sarah Thomas, who yesterday afternoon became the first woman to referee in a college football bowl championship game. Thomas took the field as a line judge during the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl between Ohio and Marshall universities. I dare say, I couldn't have cared less about the game itself, but it was grand to see Thomas out there making her calls! And appropriately enough, one of the announcers for the national telecast was Pam Ward, who in 2000 became the first female sportscaster to call play-by-play for a college bowl game.

As I wrote back in March, the world of professional sports officiating has remained largely impervious to women. But in Thomas, who was the subject of a supportive New York Times profile earlier this fall, we might be witnessing the first legitimate female candidate for a refereeing position in the almighty National Football League. A mother to two young boys, Thomas, 36, became the first woman to ref in Division I in 2007. Today, she's the only woman officiating at the highest level of college football. Here she is in a recent interview:

Of course, the only frustrating thing about the news of Thomas's feat is that it highlights the fact that there's still a long way to go as far as allowing women officials to follow their dreams of making it to the pros. It's particularly disheartening for me, a serious baseball fan, to know that even in the über-macho NFL, a woman right now has a better chance of breaking the stained grass barrier to pro officiating than any current female umpire with her sights set on calling games in the MLB. Still, it's obviously a step in the right direction, and I wish Thomas nothing but the best!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2009 cassini all-stars

2009 was a spectacular year for the Cassini spacecraft, which in July celebrated five years in orbit around Saturn. I've been following the mission pretty closely since then, and the results cease to amaze me. So to wrap up the year, I decided to join in on all the "best-of-09" blog action with my very own 2009 Cassini All-Star Team! The following are, in my mind, the 12 most captivating images to have hurdled a billion miles through space this year, from the eyes of Cassini's cameras to a few desktops in Colorado, and then out onto the World Wide Web for all to enjoy. Kudos to Carolyn Porco and the rest of her CICLOPS team for a job well done. Can't wait to see what's in store for 2010! &infin

12. View From Down Under
A lovely natural-color view taken from roughly 48 degrees below the plane of Saturn's rings. The dark stripe across Saturn is actually the shadow created by the sun shining on the rings edge-on.

11. Ring Around Titan
Not the most detailed image ever taken of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, but this eerie view won me over nevertheless. Look closely and you'll see a very thin ring around the moon's outer edge, demarcating the boundary of Titan's thick atmosphere. This shot is best viewed enlarged.

10. Slopes of Enceladus
In November, Cassini performed two flybys of Saturn's sixth-largest moon, Enceladus. One of the most intriguing moons in the entire solar system, Enceladus features rare geological activity at its southern pole. This close-up of the "tiger stripe" region, taken from only about 1,000 miles above the surface, highlights icy ridges that seem ripe for ripping up on skis or snowboard!

9. Shades of Gray
While I of course enjoy the color views that Cassini's cameras occasionally capture, there's something stark and haunting about a scene like this one, with the planet's rings shown in various shades of gray. Simply stunning.

8. Prometheus Streaming
This one really surprised me. On the lower left you'll notice the 53-mile-wide potato-shaped moon Prometheus making its way through Saturn's ribbony F ring. But also cool are the dark trails to the right, which Prometheus left previously on the ring!

7. Into the Darkness
Taken as the coming winter approached Saturn's southern pole and prepared to cloak it in darkness, this image bespoke to me the enormity of the jeweled planet; the stormy vortex seen here is roughly as large as the Earth! Looking closely at the whorls and eddys within, you can't help but be humbled by the scale of it all.

6. Spouting Plumes
Down is up in this shot of Enceladus, taken during one of the November flybys. Spouting from the moon's active southern pole are jets of water and other volatiles, which are believed to spew out like water geysers here on Earth. I love that the image is so off-center; though likely done to make sure Cassini captured the full extent of the plumes, to me it just makes the composition that much more compelling.

5. ...Now You Don't
I love, love, love this much going on! For one thing, you have Saturn's shadow making the rings seem to disappear, which is spooky and awesome. The fact that Saturn's night side is visible at all here is a result of "ringshine," an effect in which the light bouncing off the lit part of the rings scatters and hits the planet's surface, faintly illuminating it. You'll also notice the long shadow of Saturn's moon Tethys on the rings at the upper right. And last but not least, the small moon Janus can be seen hovering above the top ring. Amazing!

4. Pock-marked Moon
Sure, Saturn has many small, cratered moons, and yes, a lot of them look alike. But in my mind, this shot of the 660-mile-wide Tethys belongs in an art gallery. Gouging the surface at right is the large crater Penelope.

3. Titanic Shadow
What a beautiful shot of Saturn, its thin ring plane, and that ginormous shadow cast by the Saturnian system's largest moon, Titan. Wow.

2. Akimbo
I don't even want to spoil this one with words. If it weren't for the next shot, this would be my winner for 2009. Don't miss the closeup.

1. The Rite of Spring
I have to say, it was pretty difficult to sort through Cassini's cache of images to pick my favorite dozen from this year. But there was never any doubt as to which one would top the list. My photographic Cassini All-Star of 2009 is this truly mesmerizing view of Saturn during the planet's equinox this past August. In the interest of keeping this post to a manageable length, I'll say no more, but I urge you to visit the image's description page to read about how the shot was taken and what, exactly, is going on. You can also check out this brief summary from Time Magazine, which named the photo to its 2009 Year In Pictures.

Honorable Mention: The Seven Sisters
Okay, I had to add one more to the list, for personal reasons! This photo of the Pleiades cluster was actually taken in 2008, but it was released to the public back in April. As you might have noticed, these familiar stars (especially one in particular) are near to my heart, so it was wonderful for me to find out that Cassini would take a moment give them a look-see :)

Friday, December 18, 2009

the sounds of xmas

With just a week to go before Christmas, I figured it was time I started thinking about doing another holiday mix. So, on the heels of my original Brooklyn Xmas mix—which won rave reviews from the people for whom I actually printed the playlist onto CD (remember those?)—I give you the second in the series, aptly titled "Brooklyn Holiday." As before, the flavor is mainly indie pop/rock with shades of blues, old-school country, and 80s hip-hop. This year I've also thrown in a Hanukkah song and a little lullaby for those of you who, like myself, celebrate Christmas in a secular way. Hope you enjoy it!

Brooklyn Holiday mix | Listen on Spotify
Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses
Come On Santa - The Ravonettes
Christmas - Rogue Wave
Are You Coming Over For Christmas? - Belle & Sebastian
White Wine in the Sun - Tim Minchin
Silent Night - Priscilla Ahn
Christmas Is - Run-DMC
Santa Claus Is Back In Town - Elvis Presley
Little Christmas Tree - Michael Jackson
Don't Shoot Me Santa - The Killers
Back Door Santa - JET
Hanukkah Dance - Woodie Guthrie
Carol of the Bells - The Bird and the Bee
Maybe Next Year (X-mas Song) - Meiko
All I Want For Christmas - Matt Costa
The Heartache Can Wait - Brandi Carlile
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon

Thursday, October 22, 2009

godless gaining ground

As an unapologetic atheist, I've been pleased to hear so much in the last several months about what appears to be a very real growth of public support for the godless life. Helped along by the likes of Twitter and a few good blogs, I've become convinced that despite what you may hear, there are actually quite a few ladies and germs out there who don't need some guy in the sky to make their world go 'round!

But don't just take my word for it; let's look at the evidence! A couple of weeks ago, the Atheist Alliance International held their annual meeting in California, and they reported record attendance. The term "no god" was the most tweeted term on Twitter for a short while this week, while this gem of a Twitter offshoot was created to replace the word "science" in any tweet that mentions the words "God" or "Jesus." And just two days ago, it was announced that the New York City subway system will soon carry a new advertisement proclaiming (apparently with statistics to back it) that more than 1 million New Yorkers—that's about 15 percent of the city's population—are "good without God."

By the way, don't forget that earlier this year, Barack Obama gave a shout-out to atheists during his inaugural speech, the first time any incoming president has done so. And on top of all this, I recently found out about a wonderful Internet show called Mr. Deity, which is beyond cool. The segments are short, they're all available online, and while some could use a little more direction, their overall impact is priceless. All I can say is: God FSM bless the nonbelievers.

Friday, October 16, 2009

brandi carlile will rock your world

I have my bathroom to thank for Brandi Carlile being in my life. If I hadn't redone it from scratch last summer and been forced to relocate to my folks' house for two months, I never would have watched almost every second of prime-time coverage of the Summer Olympics. And I certainly wouldn't have heard and fallen in love with her song, "The Story," which was played repeatedly for a commercial. I also have my father to thank, who on his own went out and bought me her brilliant album of the same title.

So that's how I found out about this amazingly soulful rock-country-pop chanteuse from suburban Washington State. It's rare to find a singer who can as easily pull off moving folksy ballads as absolutely steamroll through Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." But Carlile does it all with a maturity that far exceeds her 28 years.

I was lucky enough to catch Brandi in concert recently when she played the Beacon in Manhattan. I scored third-row seats close to dead center, and this made the experience pretty magical. Carlile works closely with a set of twins, Phil and Tim Hanseroth, who play guitar and bass and who also contribute backing vocals. The set started off with the three of them plus their new drummer huddled around a single mike on the soft unplugged ballad, "Oh Dear," which actually concludes her new album, Give Up the Ghost. Carlile then proceeded to rattle off song after song from her three full-length albums, all the while giving the audience some amusing and, at times, poignant commentary (this play-by-play is from an earlier concert, but you definitely get the idea).

Highlights of the show included "Turpentine," in which Brandi divided the audience up into sections so that we could engage in a resounding three-part harmony at the appointed times. She also led her bandmates in a completely unplugged version of "Dying Day," which was absolutely incredible. This is the historic Beacon Theater, mind you, full to capacity as far as I can tell. A barefoot Brandi and friends shuffle up to the very front of the stage with no microphones, no amps—nada; they belt out this song; and heck if we didn't all get a chill down our spines. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster later on in the show. Brandi gushed like a 12-year-old with a crush about recording sessions with her idol, Elton John, who sang and played piano on one of her new tunes, "Caroline." Shortly thereafter, she broke into a devastating song, "That Year," about the suicide of one of her high school classmates.

One particularly amusing moment came when Brandi introduced a new song she'd written as a spoof of modern country tunes. She played us a few examples of horribly bad lyrics from actual songs she'd heard on the radio, and then broke out into this hilarious new piece, the name of which I didn't catch. She also took to the piano to do a lovely rendition of "Let It Be" before finally rocking out to her big hit, "The Story," which I had first heard during the Olympics just over a year prior. Of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention what was perhaps the most rewarding event of the whole concert for me: when Brandi threw one of her guitar picks into the crowd and it hit my leg. I've been using that pick ever since to practice my guitar again after having let it collect dust for a couple of years.

Suffice it to say, regardless of what kind of music you listen to, you pretty much can't be a human and not be entertained at a Brandi Carlile concert. So if she stops by a venue near you, do not walk, run to the box office and make sure you get a ticket. This young lady is going to be a huge star and will most likely be selling out arenas before long, so get a piece of the action now while the crowds are more intimate. I guarantee you won't regret it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

climate genie: wish list for blog action day

Today (and every October 15th) is Blog Action Day. Now in its third year, the event aims to bring worldwide attention to one critical global issue through the power of blogging. This year, that issue is climate change.

As someone who blogs fairly regularly about the human impact on our environment, I originally considered whipping out yet another issue and hammering into your brains why it's so critically important to our one shot at keeping the world habitable. But then came all the pressure of choosing the perfect topic, and, well, I blanked. So I decided that it would instead be more fun to make a list of things I'd love to see come true in the name of quelling some our climate problems. Call it my little climate genie project! But instead of the traditional three wishes, I get 10. Okay, here we go!

Wish #1: Here's where I wish for an infinite number of other wishes. Obviously.

Wish #2: I wish people would teach their kids not to keep the water running while they brush their teeth. Personally, I've never understood this phenomenon—why one would keep the water on whilst brushing one's teeth. Call me crazy, but I've never in my life kept the water running, and my teeth and I have turned out just fine, thank you. And as I now know as a grown-up, it's just a needless waste of water! And we all know how I feel about that.

Wish #3: I wish people would just recycle already. It's really not that hard, and if everyone got on board, it would decrease pollution and use of fossil fuels like nobody's business. I visited an environmentally-friendly camp in New Hampshire this weekend, and I was amazed at (okay, and a little jealous of) their recycling shed. Everything was separated into its proper place, like with like, in dozens of plastic bins. My inner "J" was off the charts! And while I admit that most city dwellers like myself don't have room for such a tidy separation depot, lots of other Americans do; simply use a corner of your garage, ladies and germs. Even if that's too advanced for you, just separating your empty bottles and used newspapers and doing what you need to do to get these items to your municipal recycling collection area would be a huge step forward.

Wish #4: I wish people would carpool more. It just makes sense. Vehicle emissions are one of the biggest contributors to global warming, and while I'm not saying we should take all cars off the streets, it behooves us to use them more wisely. Plus, it would decrease traffic! A win-win for those of you who otherwise can't use public transportation.

Wish #5: I wish major supermarkets would start restricting what foods are available at certain times of the year. The amount of money spent and carbon dioxide belched into the air trucking out-of-season foods thousands of miles across the continent is just shameful. Not only that, all the time spent in transit means the foods you buy are far from fresh, even if you eat them the day you take them home!

Wish #6: I wish people would stop watching crappy doomsday movies like The Day After Tomorrow. These over-the-top films don't do any good for the dissemination of real science. Don't get me wrong, I am a science fiction fan. But I would bet that most people who go to these slick Hollywood apocalypse flicks come out thinking that whatever the hunky actor playing a government agent just said was real science, since it sure sounded plausible. No, friends, the Statue of Liberty isn't going to be underwater anytime soon. Don't believe the hype!

Wish #7: I wish we would finally get serious about solar energy. The Chinese are starting to make it a priority, and the U.S. is painfully behind in making solar cell technology cheap enough to compete with other fuel sources. We've got another several billion years of sunlight left; let's do this!

Wish #8: Back to food: I wish people would start thinking more critically about where their food comes from. Agriculture is another one of the biggest sources of pollution in the world, whether it's in the form of the chemicals used as fertilizers and pesticides, or in the form of methane burped and tooted out of cattle. I guarantee you if you follow the trail back far enough, it'll make you sick to know what that double Whopper just did to the people, animals, plants, and soil it touched along the way to your mouth.

Wish #9: I wish someone would build a car that could drive 300+ miles on one tank and look awesome in the process. What? It's already been done? Score!

Wish #10: And finally, I wish we would really start teaching our kids what climate change is all about. Let's stop treating this like some political hot-button issue that'll offend people to high heaven and blow up in everyone's face if we actually discuss it in any meaningful way. Climate change is not made up; it is happening, and we've known about it for at least half a century. The kids of today are going to be living with our messed up world for a long time to come. The least we owe them is a basic understanding of what's going on so that they'll be equipped with, at the minimum, an accurate vocabulary with which to continue the discussion with their kids. One idea: It would be great to start some version of the TED talks (which I love dearly) specifically aimed at grades 6-12. That would be sweet!

Friday, October 09, 2009

lady laureates

It's only been a few hours since the Nobel Prize committee gave the world something to talk about with its rather surprising choice of Barack Obama as the recipient of 2009's Nobel Prize for peace. Lost in the commotion are some impressive historical facts: More Nobel Prizes were given to women this year than in any year before, and it was the first time a woman received a prize in the category of either chemistry or physics in 45 years. Congratulations to Elizabeth Blackburn (Physiology or Medicine); Carol Greider (Physiology or Medicine); Ada Yonath (Chemistry); and Herta Müller (Literature), who are pictured clockwise from top left.

Sadly, of course, women trail men by far as recipients of Nobel Prizes. As of today, the ratio of awards won by men to those won by women is a dismal 762 to 40. And there has yet to be a female recipient of the award for economics. But hopefully the 2009 showing is a harbinger of a sea change in that respect. For some perspective, I've put together this chart showing all prizes that have gone to women thus far (click to see full-size version). &infin

Update: Well, I guess I should have waited to post this until today's economics prize announcement, because ladies and gentlemen, we now have our first-ever female winner in the category of Economic Sciences! Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University (pictured at right) shares the 2009 prize with another American, Oliver Williamson for their "analysis of economic governance." That brings the total prize tally for women to five in 2009 and 41 overall. Way to go! I've updated the chart below.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

the worth of water

A famous man once quipped, "When the well's dry, we know the worth of water." That man was Benjamin Franklin, writing in his 1746 edition of Poor Richard's Almanack. For a guy who lived 260-odd years years ago, Franklin sure sounds like he knew a lot about the year 2009. That's because the state of the world's clean water supply today is so dire, it's becoming inevitable that an all-out water war is likely to come to pass very soon. You think running out of oil is going to be a crisis? Oh, it will be. But it'll be nothing compared to the very real—and already growing—problem that a lack of clean freshwater will present to the human population.

Let me make this clear: People are already dying from a lack of clean water. Roughly one-sixth of the world's population currently does not have access to safe drinking water; that's over 1 billion people today! If we don't act now, you, too, are going to be affected. Yes, you, in your luxury condo in that big American city. Yes, you, in your rural wooded town with a seemingly endless supply of nearby rivers and streams. And yes, especially you, in your 2.5-acre lot in sprawling suburbia in the middle of the desert. And I promise you, it's not going to be a matter of if, it'll simply be a matter of when.

So what is the problem, exactly? The Earth is covered with 326 million trillion gallons of water; you'd think that'd be enough to keep us all hydrated. The reality is, although dihydrogen oxide is present on our planet in copious amounts, less and less of it is available for us to drink, while more and more of it is being polluted by fat cat companies who don't give a damn about anything but the bottom line. And sadly, the governments of some the biggest polluters—China, the United States, and India come to mind—are doing precious little to combat the disastrous effects that a lack of clean water is already having on their citizens.

From all I've been learning over the past few weeks on this topic, I could literally write a book about what's wrong with our water today—and why you should care. Instead, I'm going to make three simple recommendations for how you can do your part. I strongly suggest you comply with at least one of these; otherwise, I just might have to get all Erin Brokovitch on your ass!

1. Get Smart, Part 1: Watch a Movie! If you don't see another film for the rest of the year, do yourself and the world a favor and rent 2008's Flow, directed by Irena Salina. By doing so, you'll get to see with your own two eyes what the major threats to the world's clean water supply are. Most jaw-dropping to me was discovering how companies that want to treat water as a commodity are, in collusion with the World Bank, screwing people the world over by taking over previously communal freshwater supplies and selling that water back—often polluted, no less!—at exorbitant markups. And they do it with a smile, too. It's disgusting.

2. Stop buying bottled water. Sounds simple, and really, it is. It's not just a matter of saving all that wasted plastic—not to mention the thousands of tons of fossil fuels spent trucking and shipping very heavy water from far reaches of the globe (ahem, Fiji Water) to your nearest supermarket or corner bodega. You should also keep in mind that the companies that package and sell water are making gobs of money off of something you can get for free just by turning on the tap or using a water fountain. What's more, most of the water you get in bottled water is simply tap water anyway—it's not any safer or tastier! Do you really want to help giants like Coke (Dasani), Pepsi (Aquafina), and Nestle (Poland Spring, Deer Park, San Pellegrino, and Perrier, among others) line their pockets with more of your money at the expense of the environment? I didn't think so. Instead, just buy a safe (BPA-free) washable, reusable water bottle and bring it with you to the gym or wherever you need portable water. See? Easy. It'll save you a few bucks in the process, too.

3. Get Smart, Part 2: Read! I won't bother mentioning some of the great books on water consumption, pollution, and misuse that are already out there. If you've read down this far, I'm simply going to reward you with a much quicker tip: Pick up the Summer 2009 issue of Good magazine and read it cover to cover. In this issue you'll find an excellent explanation of why dams are so bad for us; a look ahead at how drinking pee may be in our future; an illustrated listing of all major models of water gun ever produced (yes, I'm talking Super Soakers); a step-by-step guide to reducing your water impact; a moving plea from legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle on why we need to take care of our oceans; and much more. Alternately, pay a visit to The New York Times, which just published an important series on water pollution called Toxic Waters. Among other things, you'll read how good people are getting cancer from carcinogens in their tap water and how an unregulated farming industry has been dumping tons of pollutants into our water supply for years with nary a slap on the wrist.

The good thing to keep in mind, of course, is that all is not lost. One word of hope I've gotten from almost everything I've read and watched about our current water crisis is that with a lot of hard work, some concentrated brainpower, and some political will, we can easily solve all of our water issues before they become truly catastrophic. But you have to understand the problem before you can fix it. So get educated and spread the word, and we might not have to bear out old Ben Franklin's prediction about finding the true worth of water. &infin

Thursday, September 17, 2009

oh yes, you will be mine

Living in a big city, in a neighborhood with seriously annoying parking, I really don't need a car. I've been using mass transit for over a decade now, and aside from the occasional late-night (read: early-morning) never-ending wait, you really can't complain too much about the New York City commuter system. I mean, my carbon footprint is a fraction of pretty much anyone who uses a motor vehicle, and counting traffic, the train often gets me where I want to go faster than a car anyway. So I'm good.

But you know what? Screw all that.

Starting today, I'm buying a lottery ticket every day until I win the big one. What irrational craziness has invaded my brain, you ask? Simple: I want to be one of the first people to own this pimped out green machine, the new L1 diesel bullet car from your favorite German car maker and mine, the almighty Volkswagen.

The L1 was designed with the goal of consuming as little energy as possible. And wow, they've made a few seriously funky adjustments to do just that. The most obvious are that the car seats only two people—one in front of the other, like in a fighter jet; and that the rear wheels are all but invisible, shielded to improve the car's aerodynamics. It reminds me of something out of Tron, which I have a strange itch to go watch again right this second. Oh, and the result of all this new engineering and design? The L1 can go 100 kilometers on 1 liter of diesel. That's 170 mpg, people!!

Now for the messy details: Volkswagen says the L1 will be available next year in limited numbers. What that means in plain English is that only multibillionaires will be able to afford one. If the run is successful, consumers will have to wait until at least 2013 for the L1 to go into regular production. I'll be waiting, alright, but I'm gonna add to my bookmarks in the meantime. &infin

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

snail mail to president obama

Dear Mr. President,

I have never felt compelled to write to someone in your office before, but after hearing you speak to Congress on health care this evening, I simply had to put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard, anyway).

I am 32 years old, in overall good health. My brother, J, however, is very ill. Just 30 years old, he suffers from a rare and serious form of multiple sclerosis. Every day is a struggle; there are times when he literally cannot move his limbs, and when the most basic of tasks are impossible. For the last four years, J has endured a cocktail of drugs, from daily injections to monthly infusions of steroids and other chemicals that have helped with the MS but ravaged his body in other ways.

For the moment, my brother enjoys a good job that accommodates his physical ailments and provides private health insurance. But even so, his medical bills are extremely high. He has been denied various treatments despite his desperate state, and he is often forced to go to the emergency room, where out-of-pocket costs are exorbitant. But perhaps scariest of all, Mr. President, is that my brother lives in Massachusetts, the one state in the Union that assures health insurance for all. What of all the other Americans, suffering day in and day out as he does, who can’t get any coverage at all based on their condition, which will never go away and will therefore be “pre-existing” for the rest of their lives?

To be sure, I didn’t write to burden you with another sob story. What I am writing with is my message that you must pass this health care bill. This may be the fight of our time, but it is one that simply cannot fail. I urge you to continue to reach out to our young people, to educate them about how government works for them. One of the biggest problems I see with American politics today is that the right aims to keep its followers down. They want to keep information out of the hands of those who most need it. You and I both know that it’s the poor and uneducated who have most at stake with this bill—and who least understand it. It’s an unfortunate state of affairs when fear is the driving factor holding up as important a bill as this one. And so I urge you to keep fighting the good fight.

Thank you for all the hope you inspire in so many of us.



Tuesday, August 18, 2009


You feel it long before you see it
The faintest of breezes gives your
   cheek momentary pause
The hairs on your arm sway,
   ever so slightly,
   as wheat in an Iowa field
A rumble, low and steady
Perks your eardrums alive
Ahhhh: a driving wind
Small relief from the thick fog of August heat
Excitement grows as a thunder draws
   nearer and nearer
You avert your eyes to delay
   impending joy

The train!
Is here!

Now get to work

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

jordi sabater pi (1922 - 2009)

Unless you live in Spain or are connected to the world of ethology, you've probably never heard of Jordi Sabater Pi, who died last week at the age of 87. Yet he was one of the most successful and influential Spanish primatologists of the 20th century.

Born in Barcelona in 1922, Sabater Pi traveled to the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea when he was just 17. There, he decided to research the local rainforest fauna, which included various species of great ape. He taught himself the Fang language and gained the nickname of "the person who never drinks water" among the friends he made there. He went on to study in other parts of Africa, at which time he made some crucial discoveries about primate behavior. One of his most important finds was that chimpanzees in the Okorobiko mountains transmitted cultural information from one generation to the next, and in particular used sticks to maintain community ties. In Rwanda, Sabater Pi also worked with primatologist Dian Fossey; the two collaborated in a study of mountain gorillas.

Despite decades of work and dozens of scientific publications, Sabater Pi is probably best known for his role in finding the only albino gorilla known to modern science. In 1962, he was the director of the Ikunde Zoological Adaptation and Experimentation Center in Guinea when a group of locals told him that they'd found a rare animal in the bush. The men had killed a mother gorilla who was supposedly threatening their crops, and they soon realized she had been holding a single baby the color of snow. Sabater Pi purchased the orphan, who would go on to become the most famous resident ever to reside at the Barcelona Zoo. He was named Floquet de Neu, which means "Snowflake" in Catalan, and he lived for close to 40 years until his death in 2003.

Aside from his fieldwork and later duties as a professor at the University of Barcelona, Sabater Pi enjoyed drawing. A collection of his nature sketches—along with thousands of his documents and photographs—can be seen at the Barcelona Science Park in Spain. For those of you who speak Catalan, this interview, which he gave just over a year ago, provides a wealth of information about his background, achievements, and personal thoughts.

Monday, July 20, 2009

to the moon(s)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the first human steps on the giant orb that lights our skies at night and captivates our collective imagination. And of course, in this instant news age of Twitter and blog reporting (ahem), it's no surprise that pretty much every media outlet is covering the event—and that businesses are using any angle they can to cash in.

But what was surprising to me about the day in question, July 20, 1969 (N.B. it was already July 21st in the U.K. and points east when Neil Armstrong put his boot down), was that the only way people could really follow along was via radio. I'd heard stories of people watching the news on television that night and of feeling glued to the set as the reports came in. Yet until yesterday, when, prompted by the death of newscaster Walter Cronkite I watched the CBS broadcast (see below) for the first time, I had never realized just how in-the-dark the country and the world really was about what was happening. And frankly, it starts to make sense why all these conspiracy theorists might have been so skeptical!

As you can see for yourself, the broadcast included a crude animation of what was supposedly happening as the Eagle landed. And that was it, folks! The only other clue people had that this was actually taking place was the rather anticlimactic radio broadcast between the Eagle astronauts and NASA's Houston command center. Today, of course, we take for granted that it's standard operating procedure for space agencies to provide live video feeds from high-resolution cameras flanking rockets and other spacecraft as they're flung through the atmosphere, into space, and onto the surfaces of other worlds. So it really makes me appreciate just how far we've come since then.

As for our future on the moon, much has been discussed about the next couple of decades of human spaceflight, and I'm somewhat ambivalent about our current direction. Certainly I'd love to see humans achieve ever-more impressive feats and conquer the cosmos one planet at a time. But I'm not sure that setting up a base on the moon is going to be our best way to make that happen. I would definitely want to make sure that programs like Cassini and New Horizons, which are doing advanced scouting to help us figure out which are really the most interesting and worthwhile places to send humans, get properly funded before we start sending people to hang out on the rather dull and relatively uninteresting moon. (Sorry, moon; nothing personal.) Either way, the leaders at NASA and the other space agencies will have a lot of hard questions to answer in the coming years, and I don't envy their difficult task.

For today, though, I think we can all agree that taking a look back at what we've achieved so far makes a lot of sense, especially when old-school science fiction is so much fun! Among other things, this little media frenzy might very well be a career-changing inspiration to a future planetary scientist or astronaut-in-waiting. And who knows? Perhaps that young girl watching a moon special on TV this evening will grow up to be the first person to walk on Enceladus or Titan or Europa—all moons with a lot more promise of life than our cold, yet ever-enchanting, Luna.

Monday, July 13, 2009

the myth of the unbiased judge

The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor began today, and by all accounts, plenty of senators are ready to dig their heels in and start grilling when the questioning session begins in earnest tomorrow morning. I suppose this is to be expected nowadays, and I'm not particularly concerned that Sotomayor will have any trouble getting confirmed. But I wanted to take a moment to discuss what many believe is going to be a central argument in these proceedings: namely, that a Supreme Court justice (or any court judge for that matter) is supposed to be completely unbiased when deciding his or her rulings.

To this I say: Nonsense.

Justices of the Supreme Court—and indeed of any trial court in the United States—are charged with applying the rule of law as written in the Constitution and the web of Congressional laws passed in the 200-odd years since our country began. As discussed in some detail in yesterday's New York Times, some, including Chief Justice Roberts in his own confirmation hearings, have likened Supreme Court justices to baseball umpires; the idea is that they simply enforce the laws, they don't make them. But everyone knows that judges' decisions are but interpretations of the law. Laws aren't always black or white; if they were, we wouldn't need judges. Indeed, the word "judge" implicitly suggests using one's experiences and understanding of the law to make a conclusion about a given case.

So how do judges make legal decisions? Well, they hear arguments from both sides and look to current laws and judicial precedents to guide them whenever possible. But when precedent is lacking, or when society has changed such that precedents must be rethought, it is personal point of view that necessarily impacts how a judge views the facts of a case. This is indisputable; there would be no "conservative" judges or "liberal" judges otherwise—there would simply be judges. And there wouldn't be any need to question Supreme Court appointees quite so fiercely; everyone would be in agreement about what's right and what's wrong.

Ergo, to complain about a judge drawing on her background to help interpret laws and predict how decisions may play out in the real world is kind of crazy. I guarantee you that every Supreme Court justice has drawn from his or her experiences at one time or another during his or her career. That legal verdicts are also called "opinions" is another etymological clue to the fact that even the Founding Fathers realized that judges would draw from their lives to make decisions.

From everything that's been said so far about Sonia Sotomayor, it seems clear that she's a superb judge who has been as objective as realistically possible in her decisions. Indeed, out of some 400 cases she's decided as an Appellate Court judge, only three were overturned by the Supreme Court—and of those, two were narrow decisions. Sotomayor may be wishing right now that she had refrained from her "wise Latina" comment, but most people forget that immediately before it, Sotomayor declared that "there can never be a universal definition of wise." This was, perhaps, the wisest remark of all.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

summer sounds

Well, it's officially summer again, and that means it's time for me to start thinking about making a summer mix! While I ponder the particulars, I thought I'd share a few of the songs I've been obsessing over for the past couple of months. &infin

My Delirium (Ladyhawke): To my mind, Kiwi lass Pip Brown, who goes by the name Ladyhawke, comes off as a hipster, techie version of Stevie Nicks (her voice isn't nearly as witchy, but she does pull off the husky alto rather well). There was a span of two or three days where I think I listened to this song oh, maybe 30 times. And the video is fun...a cross between "Take On Me" and Thelma and Louise.

The Girl and the Robot (Röyksopp feat. Robyn): Maybe it's because I work for a company whose mascot is a robot, but I love the idea of Robyn falling for a real automaton in this collaboration with fellow Scandinavians Röyksopp. The song is addictive, and the video (which happens to share the woman-waiting-in-bedroom theme from "My Delirium") is fantastic.

Gimme Sympathy (Metric): I recently saw Metric in concert, and they were off-the-wall fun. This particular video is rather pedestrian (empty stage, band playing, colorful lights, yadda yadda), but the song is fresh, and I love it. I dare you to blast it into your earbuds or car stero and not start bopping your head.

Graveyard Girl (M83): I've written of my adoration of M83 on these pages before, but it definitely bears repeating! This song is a holdover from last year, but it simply does not get old. It's the perfect addition to any summer mix.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

revolution within

With all that is going on in Iran right now following the country's recent controversial elections, many people are struggling to understand the historical background of these fast-changing current events. To that end, I thought it would be a good time to recommend a work that I've been a fan of for some time now: Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis is an autobiographical account of an independent-minded Iranian girl (Satrapi) growing up at a time of great political unrest. But unlike most autobiographies, Persepolis is told in black-and-white comic form, which makes the story at once approachable and timeless. The book centers around Satrapi's life as part of a relatively well-educated and progressive Iranian family before and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Not only does Satrapi give context for understanding what happened and how Iranian society transformed in the aftermath, but she also does a wonderful job of offering a unique and eye-opening view of what it was like being an inquisitive, punk-loving female in an often repressive, male-centric society. I actually had the pleasure of hearing Satrapi as part of a panel discussion with fellow graphic artist Chris Ware this past winter, and she was an incredible speaker—every bit as animated and full of life as her character in the books and film!

So far there have been four Persepolis books published in French; all four have been translated and compiled into one U.S. publication called The Complete Persepolis. It's a fast read, and I recommend it as an excellent addition to any bookshelf. Alternately, the book was adapted into a motion picture in 2007 (it won the Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for an Academy Award), so Netflixing it is certainly a worthwhile option! Although Persepolis may not delve into the most current goings-on in Iran, it will give audiences young and old a substantive background with which to begin further research into that country's recent past. &infin

Update: A new online version of Persepolis, which uses Satrapi's illustrations (with her permission), has been created to address the events of the recent election. It is called Persepolis 2.0.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

lovable losers

Oh, Mets. This season, my New York Metropolitans have found every way imaginable to lose. Forgetting to slide at home plate? Check. Thrown out at third for the last out? More than once! Missing third base on the way home? You betcha. Dropping a routine pop up against the boys in pinstripes with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and letting the tying and winning runs score in the process? Holy mother of—

But then, you have to take a step back and think of the bigger picture. Hey, we did well just to get back into that game! How many other times have we laid down and died from the third inning onward? At least the Phillies lost, too! In the broadcast afterward, you could tell that the sportscasters—several of them former Mets themselves—were literally at a loss of words for this latest, most humiliating debacle. Others were downright angry: These guys get paid millions of dollars to drop pop-ups? They'll try harder tomorrow?!

It is not easy being a fan of the New York Mets. For one thing, we've had more than our share of disastrous seasons, despite our large payroll. But for another thing, we will always, always play in the shadow of our crosstown neighbors, the New York Yankees. Sure, there are plenty of Yankee haters in the world. But most of them don't have to share the same subway car, the same cubicle, the same line at the Shake Shack, as so many of those smug Yankee fans—many of whom, i will point out, have no real reason to root for the Yankees other than the fact that they are the darlings of the baseball world. I mean, come on, how can Hillary Clinton, who's a Cubs fan first and foremost, just pick up and start rooting for an American League team once she moves to New York? It's called front-running. And it's annoying.

As I made my way into the kitchen after this incredulous loss tonight, I almost wished we could go back to the old days, when the Mets were lovable losers. We'd all just shrug and smile. This story from Wikipedia warmed my heart:

How bad were the Mets those first several seasons? Absolutely terrible. On May 26, 1964, in Chicago, they played like champions (at least for one game) and pummeled the Chicago Cubs, 19-1. According to legend, later that day a fan called a New York newspaper to get the score. He was told: "They scored 19 runs." There was a long silence, then the fan asked: "Did they win?"

Then a friend of mine, a fellow die-hard, emailed me, and of course he had some good points:

What can you do but laugh? If that wasn't the most ridiculous loss in Met history, I don't know what was, but it probably involved Marv Throneberry. The truth is, it's a simple example of who the Mets are vs. who the Yankees are. We are fated to suffer bizarre indignities, and the Yankees are fated to capitalize on the bizarre indignities that befall others. It was inevitable that at some point we would lose a game to them in ridiculous fashion. They have Jeffrey Maier catching Jeter's ball; we have Zeile's hit bouncing off the top of the wall as Timo dogs it around second. They have Rivera; we have Benitez. Even this year, it's been evident—they have Melky Cabrera delivering 100 walkoff hits, while we have Ryan Church forgetting to touch third base.

Whether we knew it or not at the time, this is what we signed up for when we became Met fans. So when we reach the inevitable confluence of our destinies, what else can we do but laugh? This is who we are, this is our heritage. We share it with each other, and we all know EXACTLY how it feels. We may be doomed, but we'll never be alone.

I guess that's the only comfort I can take right now. I know it's just one game out of the entire season. And I guess I'll get over this cruel shame that creeps in knowing that at least half of Yankee nation is laughing at you. But I suppose that's what makes true Mets fans what they are. You win some, you lose some, and then you laugh at Bobby V getting fined for his Groucho clubhouse disguise. I can't believe it's been 10 years since that happened, by the way...The good old days, already? I'm getting old.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

stop-action magic

I'm a sucker for stop-motion films, so I thought I'd post a few of my recent faves. Some of these animations include humans, some are more of the "claymation" variety, but either way, they're really fun.

Sweet Dreams by Kirsten Lepore

Sorry I'm Late by Tomas Mankovsky

Western Spaghetti by PES

DEADLINE by Bang-Yao Liu

Her Morning Elegance by Oren Lavie

Friday, May 29, 2009

rebuilding america

Good things are starting to happen on the streets (and bridges, and railways) of America.

A few weeks ago I attended a lively panel discussion at the Municipal Arts Society called "Transportation and New York's future." The panelists, who represented various levels of governance of the metro area's infrastructure, fed us with insights into the development of some long-awaited road, subway, and train improvements in and around the city. With President Obama pledging significant funds to repair and upgrade our crumbling infrastructure, the sense of excitement at the possibility of pipe-dream projects actually seeing the light of day was palpable.

For example, one of the city's new ventures, which was unveiled this week when parts of Broadway were officially closed off to vehicular traffic, has pedestrians—not cars—ruling Times Square for the first time. So far the move, which aims to emulate programs in other major cities, has been hailed mostly as a success. But that's just one of many projects around the country aimed at improving the landscape of our roadways and railways, so that they can more efficiently—and cleanly—serve not only cars but buses, cyclists, train commuters, and pedestrians.

A glance at the current issue of GOOD magazine is all you'll need to get your wheels spinning (so to speak) on the topic of rebuilding America. It contains an almost mouth-watering feast of articles and infographics focusing on the future of transportation and—there's that ugly word again—infrastructure around the U.S. If you don't get GOOD (and I suggest that you do if you're interested in science, environment, design, society, and the public good), you can power through the online version of many of the articles from the issue.

In particular, I recommend checking out their "livable streets" contest posting, which features interactive graphics depicting the revitalization of various American cityscapes. Some of the designs may at a glance seem prohibitively expensive, especially for cities that are already reeling from the current economic downturn. But the ideas are there to grow on, and could be implemented slowly, or with some creative, cheaper solutions. One example is the idea of making crosswalks built out of brick, which gives intersections more of a sense of pedestrian right-of-way. Of course, ripping up roads to put bricks in is expensive. But that hasn't stopped Providence, Rhode Island, from painting fake bricks onto their crosswalks to get the same effect (pictured)—but for much less cash.

Anyway, keep your eye out for more on this hot topic. I long to see the day when cars and buses and bikes and trains and our own two feet can get us where we need to go without causing a fuss and completely wrecking the environment in the process. It may take some doing, but I think we're on a promising new track.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

blazing trails

Congratulations to Justine Siegal, who tonight will become the first woman to ever coach men's baseball at the professional level. Siegal, who has long been a staunch promoter of women's and girls' inclusion in the baseball world, has been hired as a coach for the Massachusetts-based Brockton Rox, a member of the Canadian-American League. Siegal has been playing baseball for nearly 30 years, and she's competed internationally with some of the best female baseball players in the world. She's also coached for many of those years, both in the U.S. and internationally. Best of luck to Siegal throughout the season!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

three simple things

Twenty years ago, a little book called 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth was published for the first time. I remember getting a copy shortly thereafter, around the time of the big 1990 Earth Day celebration, and I vowed to practice as many of the 50 things as humanly possible. I guess I lost track of my copy, but I've always tried to live by that vow to the best of my ability.

As luck would have it, I happened to find an old copy of 50 Simple Things on a neighborhood stoop a few weeks ago, so I of course picked it up. (By the way, the habit of leaving used books on stoops for others to take, instead of tossing them in the trash, is one of my favorite Brooklyn traditions.) I wasn't surprised to find that although 50 Simple Things was written decades before things like carbon credits and hybrid vehicles became mainstream ideas, it remains as relevant as ever. So on this Earth Day, I thought I'd pick out what I consider to be the top three truly simplest things from the book that you can do to pitch in.

Stop junk mail: According to 50 Simple Things, in the late 80s Americans received almost 2 million tons of junk mail each year, and could expect to spend eight full months of their life opening it. While these stats are now 20 years old, I can personally attest to the never-ending influx of catalogs, credit card come-ons, and other unwanted mail that continues to pour through. Indeed, the EPA estimates that the amount of junk mail Americans get today has doubled to 4 million tons. How many trees, and how much energy and money have we lost to the junk mail industry? Now that we're in the age of email and spam (which is another problem, but certainly not as detrimental environmentally), it's pretty shocking to contemplate just how much we're wasting on junk mail. The good news is, there are a number of easy things you can do to cut down on your mailings. One is to simply call the companies you regularly get mailings from and tell them to stop. But you can also get in touch with the Direct Marketing Association, which handles postal mail preferences on this handy website. Or, you can sign up with groups like, which strive to help eliminate unwanted mail from being sent. Of course, for any mail you do get, make sure you recycle it! (And if you're worried about privacy, I recommend purchasing a cheap shredder.)

Recharge your batteries: Since 50 Simple Things was published, battery technology has gotten a lot better. For one thing, the amount of toxic mercury in household batteries has decreased by some 98 percent. On the flip side, though, we're using and throwing out more batteries than ever before, what with the rapid increase in the number of electronics that now call for batteries, where electrical cords might once have been used. So the two simple things you can do to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals released into the ground and air as a result of battery use are: use rechargeable batteries and recycle the one-use batteries you do purchase. Rechargeable batteries have gotten significantly cheaper and longer-lasting than in years past, and they're really easy to use. And more and more companies are offering free recycling not only of basic alkaline batteries, but for things like cell phone and camera batteries, too. For example, many Whole Foods Markets feature battery recycling bins, where the public can drop off used batteries. If you don't have a Whole Foods in your neighborhood, go to Earth911 to find the battery recycling center nearest you. And for more on battery recycling in general, check out this page from the EPA.

Bring your own bag: Paper bags are making a comeback at some retail stores, but plastic bags are still cheaper to make, so they aren't going away anytime soon. You can recycle paper bags and reuse plastic bags for garbage or packaging, but your greenest option is to bring your own bag when you go shopping. It sounds simple, but there's one catch: you have to remember to bring your bag even when you don't anticipate going shopping! Pretty much every chain grocery store has made some money off of selling non-disposable grocery bags, which look and feel virtuous when you parade them out of the store. But so often, people forget to bring them the next time they go to buy something, which defeats the whole purpose of buying a reusable bag in the first place! So if you really want to make a difference, buy an easily collapsible canvas or sturdy plastic bag—and not one you care too much about keeping pretty—in your car or your handbag or briefcase at all times. You'll be surprised at how often you find yourself using it, and you'll feel a lot better when you get home and realize that there's no baggage to dispose of!

Friday, April 17, 2009

citi field of dreams

And then it was gone.

I had been looking forward to my first trip to Citi Field for some time, and yet when it finally arrived, there was a sense of anxiety that welled up in my gut. The moment had at last come for me to take in the finality of Shea Stadium's demise. As I wrote last fall, it was like an old friend had gone out to pasture, never to return. Seeing photographs of the battered old stands, first stripped nude, then knocked down and picked apart by giant metallic arms, it reminded me of watching a dead animal decomposing. I had friends who went out to watch the demolition of the last piece, but I had wanted nothing of it. And without a reason to head out to Flushing for the past six months, I suppose I was keeping myself stuck in the denial stage of grief.

But then, as I sat on the north side of a surprisingly uncrowded rush-hour 7 train around 5:30 yesterday evening, the emotions took over. The familiar sight of the bright blue cylinder off in the distance, usually sporting some snazzy new slogan like "Amazing Again" or "Our Team, Our Time," simply didn't materialize. With Citi Field a bit further east, it appeared for a moment as though I'd see nothing but trees where once a grand, albeit quirky, stadium once stood. I'm sure this sounds completely ridiculous to those of you who aren't sports fans, but I'm a sucker for sports drama, and will admit to shedding a tear at the drop of a hat for things like a player getting his number retired, the death of a beloved sports announcer, and, yes, even some of those cheesy profiles they dish us during the Olympics. So I suppose I should have guessed that this might happen, but I honestly wasn't expecting to feel so overwhelmed.

That said, it was a day for hello, not goodbye, and my little moment was eclipsed by the view of a really spiffy-looking new ballpark! After pulling into the newly re-christened "Mets - Willets Point" stop, I took out my camera and got ready to use it. In front of the main gate, I met my friends, who, to my amusement, were decked out in as much Mets gear as I was. After looking unsuccessfully for the home plate location commemorating Shea (that part of the parking lot wasn't paved over yet, so I guess we'll catch it next time), we headed into the new Jackie Robinson rotunda.

My first impression was that it's certainly a nice entryway. There are two sets of stairs flanking a series of escalators and a giant "42" statue, along with photos of and quotations from the late Jackie Robinson. At this point I have to mention that although I grew up a Mets fan and will die a Mets fan, I also root for the San Francisco Giants, because my father grew up rooting for the New York Giants before they moved out west. You probably already know that the Mets took the colors of the Giants and the crosstown rival Brooklyn Dodgers after those two teams left for California in the 1950s, leaving New York without a National League team. And you may have also heard that Brooklyn-born Mets owner Fred Wilpon basically designed his new stadium to look exactly like the Dodgers' old Ebbets Field. Well, I can tell you right now that it's kind of ridiculous how much the Dodgers have a place in this stadium over not only the Giants, but over the Mets themselves. In the entryways and the walkways, the Mets are nowhere to be seen except in the occasional appearance of a friendly Mr. Met. There are some photos of former Mets along the far left field façade of the building, but that's pretty much it. The Dodgers are recalled not just in the design of the entryway, but in the fact that the whole rotunda celebrates a Dodger, and also in a gigantic photograph of Ebbets field that greets you as you enter the main field level. This, as opposed to Shea, where all around you had posters and photographs of historic Met moments and our Mets heroes. Honestly, I was disappointed big-time in this lack of celebration of our team, and I truly hope that in coming years the powers that be do something to rectify the situation.

But wow, what a view once the field came into view. Since we got there early, we decided to take a long stroll around the entire stadium before heading up to our seats. The sight lines looked amazing, the colors were vibrant, the field was very, very green, and it was almost surreal to think that this was my new baseball home. The ushers were spotty about letting people down into the lower seats to take photographs, which was a departure from the ability to walk down for autographs until just before game time at Shea. It was great to see the new, gigantic Mets apple. That, plus the orange foul poles, were really the two things that said "Mets" about the field itself. Incidentally, my brother pointed out to me recently that the outfield walls, with their orange lettering on a sea of black, were reminiscent of the old Polo Grounds, home of the baseball Giants back in the day, and the first home stadium that the Mets ever played in. Okay, I will give them that. But I honestly don't think that whoever designed that wall was doing so with the Giants in mind! People have also suggested that the seat color of green was done as a nod to the Polo Grounds, and again I say hooey. Stadiums with forest green seats are pretty much the norm these days.

Aside from the field itself, we of course had to take note of the food situation, which had been written about in numerous articles over the previous several weeks. Although it was an hour before game time, the field level was absolutely swarming with people, and where a few of the main "gourmet" food booths, including the Shake Shack and Blue Smoke, were located, it was a genuine mob scene. You could barely move just to pass on through, and I can only imagine how long the wait was for a Shack burger. I can't help but wonder whether the Mets might have been better served to place some of the nicer booths higher up in the Promenade level... It was nice to see probably the most prominent reminder of Shea in this area, though: the old New York skyline, which had been nicely re-lit and which still had the ribbon over the former Twin Towers. And I don't want to forget to mention a small but important point: The Mets are finally featuring recycling bins next to their trash cans! As annoyed as I always was that Shea never EVER had recycling, I was very glad to see those special bottle-and-can receptacles dotting Citi Field.

Anyway, around the corner, behind right-center field we noticed some picnic tables, which seemed like a cool idea. It'll be interesting to see if those become a place where people run to in order to stake out spots for the evening, as the views are probably better from there than from a lot of seats. Behind those, we discovered a nice area where the old Home Run Apple was quietly hiding. There's actually a second entrance at this part of the field, just across the street from all the chop shops of Willets Point. But few people were taking advantage of it. That said, a couple dozen fans had lined up to have their picture taken with the dented old apple, which had clearly seen better days. I'm glad that the Mets decided to bring it over, though, as there had been some discussion about its future.

The only other real surprise was a mini supermarket located underneath the Pepsi porch area. Never in a sporting arena have I seen a place to buy foodstuffs like gummi bears, rice crackers, cookies (loved the orange-and-blue black-and-whites), prepackaged cold foods like pasta salad and sandwiches, etc. The prices were pretty high for what they were, but if you consider you're gonna pay for convenience, it wasn't outrageous. After that, we headed up to the middle level (which we skipped completely except for my five-minute stop in the very girlie Alyssa Milano Mets store; no return trip necessary), and then straight up to the Promenade, which is, for all intents and purposes, the upper deck.

It's been said that the Promenade at Citi Field is as high as the Mezzanine level at Shea. And it shows. The views, especially closer to the plate, are excellent. I truly doubt that there are any bad seats in the whole place. In the front sections there were loads of seats available for handicapped fans to bring their wheelchairs, which was really nice to see. And the sight lines were quite good no matter where you were. Our seats were up in the left field corner, just to the left of the foul pole. We definitely couldn't see the left field wall, or a good 10 feet in front of it, and that did cause us to miss a couple of plays. But overall you had a stellar view of 99 percent of the field, even from pretty far away.

By the time we got to our seats, we had worked up an appetite, so it was time to try the culinary offerings. I've decided to eat something different at each of the nine games I have tickets for this year. So for this first night, I had the grilled sausage sandwich. I'll save my review for another post later in the year, but I will say that I was happy to see they are finally letting us keep the bottle caps for our drinks! Temperatures were in the low 40s for the evening, and with steady winds whipping around, we were pretty much freezing from the moment we sat down. Food lines at regular old hot dog stands were relatively long until about the 6th inning, when some people actually started to leave (I'm telling you, it was chilly). Around that time, I took a long stroll to check out some of the team stores—and to get some blood flowing to the outer extremities, which were starting to lose feeling—and they had some nice new wares at the main shop on the Promenade level. I did notice there are a lot fewer stores than at Shea, so the main shop was crammed with people—although the fact that it was the third game in the life of the new stadium and that the store was heated probably also had something to do with it.

In the late innings, we decided to move closer to the plate, and into the lower reserved Promenade section (there was no trouble in doing so). Once again, I will say that the view was amazing, and we were still in the top level of the stadium! The game itself was a typical Mets game: get a lead, give up a lead, desperation catch-up push at the end that falls just short. But I think it's safe to say that the day was less about the baseball game before us than about taking in the new situation. After the last out was recorded, we headed for the exits, which weren't as crowded as I'd prepared for (but again, many people had left early). The parking lot was easy to navigate, and we were on the highway in less than 10 minutes. All in all it was a stellar evening, and I came away with the feeling that Citi Field is going to be an awesome baseball stadium for a long, long time. They built it. Now, let the championships come!