Monday, March 29, 2010

F1 in Melbourne: Ferrari does what they need to

button_mclaren_2010 The Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne is in the books, with Button winning outright in the McLaren, Kubica taking second in the Renault, and Massa and Alonso coming in third and fourth in the Ferraris.

After two weeks, most everything is right in the F1 universe, as Ferrari sits atop the constructors’ list, and Alonso and Massa top the drivers’ list.

I had been under the impression McLaren was considered somewhat behind the others in terms of adapting to the new rules and restrictions. Maybe, as Hamilton ended in 6th after the only 2-stop strategy amongst those in the points. However, Button’s win seems to indicate McLaren are well on their way to catching the others, if they were ever, in fact, behind.

Vettel held the lead until a late brake failure and resulting crash, continuing the two-race trend of lots of speed from the Red Bull, but questionable reliability.

And Schumi did the square root of nothing, coming in 10th and only deserving a mention because, well, he’s Michael frickin’ Schumacher, isn’t he?

Off we go to Malaysia in two weeks for more happy fun good times.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Original music coming to Frisco - really!

Buried amongst the nuggets on DC9 At Night this week was this: Lochrann's Irish Pub and Eatery (in Frisco Square right across Main St from Pizza Hut Park) will be hosting live, original music, for free, on Thursday evenings.

The first show will include The Early Republic and The Roomsounds (yeah, I know, or actually I don't know) on 3/25. Around CIT, we are circling 4/22 in our TV Guides as The Orbans make a visit.

The bands start at 8:00 and finish up at 11:00, so no guilt about being out late on a school night. And did we mention it's free?

The closest thing to original music Frisco has seen to date is Ed Earl's washboard skills down at Randy's Steak House, or perhaps the mice at Manny's. So this is big news round these parts.

Also found in the same DC9 post: Appearing for one night only, at Nokia on 5/12, will be Foreigner, Styx, and Kansas. Just in case you missed 7th grade and would like to relive it or your mom bleached out your concert T-shirts. God help all who attend.

You have got to be frickin' kidding

Really? Snow at the end of March? Awesomeness!

And thus does the plan for another weekend die a cold and wet death...

Another reason to set Bing as your homepage

If you haven't tried Microsoft's latest answer to Google - the Bing search page - you should. I say this not as a Microsoft shill (even though I am one), but as a user who has seen worthwhile results out of it. Bing search is every bit as good as Google's. Microsoft has been working for the better part of a decade to earn the previous sentence, and they have finally done it.

Outside of search excellence, I love Bing, and have it set as my homepage, because Bing brings you, every day, a stunning image you will see nowhere else. Some of the best, most original photography in the world is featured, for free, on Bing, with a new image appearing daily.

Today's image, of a flower farm in the Netherlands, is a particularly good example, and prompted this post. Click on the picture below for a much larger, and much more impressive, view.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Far West China Blog - utterly fascinating

I have no idea how I wound up on a blog entitled Xinjiang: Far West China, but that is one of the best parts about just random surfing. You find something good/great, but couldn't retrace your steps to save your life.

Well, I don't want to lose this one, and I can think of a few CIT readers who will be interested to tune in. The author is a 20-something American named Josh, who has lived in a large town/small city in Xinjiang for three or four years. He and his American wife teach English, do some travel writing, and, it seems, spend a lot of time traveling the province on their second hand motorcycle, taking pictures, writing, and generally living as big an adventure as seems possible in the 21st Century.

I am fascinated by Xinjiang. It is, to me at least, as far off the beaten path as anywhere on the planet, yet has a history which goes back thousands of years. Josh's blog is a completely different, and very informative, view of this beautiful and remote place.

Go check it out. Drop Josh a note. Tell him CIT sent you!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ferrari starts well

The Bahrain GP is in the books, and Ferrari is off to a good start. Alonso won and Massa took second, and it doesn't get any better than that after one race.

A few things to mention:

1. Vettel in the Red Bull seemed to be the class of the field until a mechanical problem relegated him to fourth. Early in the race, no one seemed able to stay with him. Reliability has been a problem for Red Bull in the past. It seems if they can get past it, they are a team to be reckoned with.

2. Hamilton took 3rd in the McLaren, which was better than expected. You have to figure the McLaren guys are going to figure the new rules out sooner rather than later. I would have preferred they got off to a slower start, but it's silly to think they aren't going to be in the thick of the championship run.

3. Schumi did OK in his first race in 3 years (has it really been that long?), placing 7th. However, he was the slower of the Mercedes, finishing behind teammate Nico Rosberg and having his hands full holding off Button in the second (or is it first - he is the reigning champ) McLaren.

If your wardrobe contains some red, and mine has for a long time, you have to like how thing stand after one. Bring on Melbourne!

Thailand gets some unrest on

Red-shirted supporters of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006, have poured into Bangkok by the tens of thousands, looking to force current PM Abhisit Vejjajiva into dissolving Parliament and calling new elections.

Thailand has long been as close to democracy as there is in Southeast Asia, and has a proud tradition as the only country in the region to not be dominated by the Euros (or, at least not colonized by said Euros). However, it's certainly no peaceable kingdom. Coups, military governments, and violent protest are nothing new. At least it's easy to figure out which side is which.

I don't pretend to know the details on this one, nor do I have any insight whatsoever regarding who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. However, I do have some built-in skepticism which I feel compelled to voice:

1. Am I the only one who is suspicious of huge popular movements which can rally 100,000 or more poor, illiterate farmers from isolated, rural parts of the country? I know, I know, the US Civil Rights Movement did exactly that in a responsible and productive manner. But seriously, how often has that been repeated on the world stage? Isn't it a bit more common to see someone mobilizing this sort of crowd to benefit themselves? Or am I getting overly cynical in my dodderhood?

2. The former PM, Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006 on charges of corruption and graft, has been in self-imposed exile in Dubai for the past 3 or 4 years. If he were in exile in Laos, or Taiwan, or even Hoboken, I'd be a bit more sympathetic. But Dubai? Really?

3. The red-shirt movement appears to be running out of gas and money. The current wave of protest is seen as the last gasp before irrelevancy. Leaders are promising non-violence, but lets wait on the Nobel Prize for a few days. As the protest sputters to a halt, does the leadership get a bit more desperate?

I try not to be overly cynical, but sometimes, events on the World News page seem to invite it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The return of F1

This weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix represents the beginning of a new age in Formula One, and the return of the world's fastest sport to these virtual pages.

The retirement of Schmacher, the rise of Hamilton, the ascendancy of Ross Brawn, and the mediocre showing by the boys from the Scuderia have all sapped my interest over the past few years. But now, Schumi is back, even if it is in a Mercedes, enormous rule changes make the outcome of any race a study in unpredictability, at least at this point, and Massa is back in red. So, what's not to like?

I don't pretend to be any sort of expert on F1, but I have been somewhat more than a casual fan for 30 years now. I look forward to this season as I have for no other in recent memory.

Don't expect up-to-the-minute news from the circus here, but do expect a few tune-ins, some commentary, and some unabashed tifosi-like banner waving.

Let's go!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Live music alert - EdgeFest may suck less this year

The annual EdgeFest show has been pretty disappointing for the past few years. And I don't think it's because I'm too old. For sure, the music isn't too loud.

Whatever. This year's second stage will include Phoenix. Which MIGHT make a trip to Pizza Hut Park on May 1 a worthwhile endeavor. Assuming the tickets aren't ridiculous, of course. And as long as I can get out before the Limp Bizkit reunion takes the stage.

Monday, March 08, 2010

OK Go's amazing latest video

No doubt I am the last person on the planet to see this, but I have to post it. It took 70 takes to get this thing right. Can you imagine how frustrating take 69 must have been?

The band is OK Go, the song is "This Too Shall Pass".

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Vampire humor?

Three vampires walk into a bar. The first one says, "I'll have a pint of blood."

The second one says, "I'll have one, too."

The third one says, "I'll have a pint of plasma."

The bartender says, "So, that'll be two Bloods and a Blood Lite?"

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Live music field trip: Dropkick Murphys

DKM CIT took a field trip on Monday night to House of Blues to see Boston-based Celtic-punkers Dropkick Murphys. The short version: A+, with a bit of AP credit putting the GPA well over 4.0.

Zowie. That’s what a rock show is supposed to be like.

As is becoming tradition around here, a few words on the venue first. I had not been to HoB prior, and was pleasantly surprised by the whole thing.

Dinner prior was good to very good – standard pub fare but better than most. Beer was cold, if not terribly cheap. The only ding on the restaurant was price. And perhaps noise. We were there to see a punk band, so noise isn’t really a problem, per se. However, there was a bit too much late 90’s Top 40 turned up to 11. Could have done without that.

The show hall is a good setup. The open floor area has a couple of bars, and enough room to get out of the way if the action in front of the stage gets to be too much. The balcony is right on top of the stage. I couldn’t see a lot of it from our vantage point on the floor, but the first few rows of the balcony are certainly top-notch seats.

But, seriously, who goes to a Dropkick show to sit?

One other thing about HoB – we got out of the place in no time. I was shocked and pleased with how quickly we were able to clear the hall, get outside, and get the car. We were on the freeway and headed home within 15 minutes of the last cymbal crash. Amazing.

We missed the first act of the evening, who must have been on stage for every bit of 15 minutes. We did catch most of the second band, a punk-bluegrass (I think) outfit who called themselves Larry and His Flask. Loved them! What they lacked in skill they made up in enthusiasm. As a group, they set new facial-hair records. All of them looked like they had spent the last six months in the Canadian Rockies hunting moose. Two of them were, I'm pretty sure, only partially human. The maniac playing the stand-up bass like it was a ukulele was distinctly chimp-like, and one of the guitarists was a dead-ringer for a Geico caveman.

I think I’d like to see Larry and His Flask in a different setting. Maybe an outdoor one, where the mayhem wouldn’t be too difficult to take. I sure wouldn’t want to see them in a small venue. I’m fairly certain the walls of a place like the Barley House would collapse from the antics inside.

They were cray-zee. But entertaining.

After a reasonable break, it was Dropkick time. They started loud and fast, and just kept going from there for the next hour and a half.

I haven’t been in GA at a rowdy show in some time, and had forgotten all about the initial surge when the band starts. What must have been 25 rather strapping lads pushed right the f*** past us at the first note. I managed to sidestep the worst of it, but one of our party wound up wearing his beer. I had a moment of old-guy “WTF!?!?!”, then remembered where I was and went with it.

The moshing (if we still call it that) was, I suspect, pretty tame by usual Dropkick standards. Some mild crowd-surfing and a bit of pushing and shoving continued through the entire show, but it was restricted to front and center. Our spot, approx 10 feet from the stage but off to the left a little, was very calm, with everyone around us just having fun jumping up and down and shouting along with the songs.

DKM played most of the hits – I missed “The Worker’s Song”, but they included pretty much everything else. Maniacal lead singer Al Barr continuously charged off the stage and into the personal space of those gathered front and center. The rest of the band put as much energy into the songs as the screaming crowd did. By the end of the show, I was drenched with sweat and flung beer and laughing my head off.

Highlights? Heck, take your pick. “State of Massachusetts” was the first real sing-along number. Nearly all of the women from the floor climbed up on stage to sing “Kiss Me, I’m @#$@-Faced” – there were a lot more women in attendance than I expected. The bring-the-house-down finale was “Shipping Up to Boston”, with the crowd bellowing the few lyrics out, drowning Barr’s gravelly roar.

It was all great.

DKM’s next album, which will be released this year, was recorded live in Boston over St Paddy’s week last year. Go get this album and the DVD. These guys work their a**es off on stage, put on a great show, and I can only imagine what a Boston, St. Patrick’s Day crowd must be like.

To sum, then: I loved everything about this show: Venue, opening act, headline act, and the entire show experience. Go to HoB, go see Larry and His Flask somewhere safe, go see DKM. And rock on!

Oi! Oi! Oi!

Chilean earthquake literally knocked Earth off axis

earthquake A bit more holy-crap kind of news from this past weekend’s massive earthquake in Chile: The shake was enough to shift Earth’s axis and actually shortened the span of our days.

The numbers are, of course, very small – the axis shift was in inches and the day-shortening was in milliseconds, but still, that’s one heck of a shake. In fact, it was the seventh strongest earthquake ever measured.

The forces at work in something like this are mind-boggling. Think about how much of a shove it takes to knock over a stack of bricks or to shake a tree just a tiny bit. Now apply that same sort of thinking to the force required to flatten buildings and send huge ocean waves 7,000 miles across the Pacific. Makes me feel pretty insignificant and tiny.

Monday, March 01, 2010


Ouch, in several ways.

Comedy show field trip: Craig Ferguson

craig_ferguson_01 CIT took another field trip this past weekend, this time up to the Winstar Casino in lovely Thackerville OK, to see CBS Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson. This served as the front end of our Celtic-themed weekend, with the back being the Dropkick Murphys at House of Blues on Mon night.

One thing to get out of the way straight off: Some of you out there, esp those of you who are more familiar with the local happenings, may be thinking to yourself, “Oi, Mudgey. I thought you was skint.” Or, you know, less Cockney words to that effect.

Well, skint I am, no doubt. But I am deeply, and far more than monetarily, indebted to a number of friends who have very generously helped me get out and do some very cool stuff lately. The list is long, you all know who you are, and I am so very grateful to you one and all. I am fortunate indeed to have friends like youse guys.

So, on with the report.

First, let’s talk about the venue: The extremely huge, extremely cheesy Winstar Casino.

What. A. Slag-heap.

I don’t even know where to start on this place. All night, I felt like I was in the remake of Walking Tall (the one with The Rock). From the moment the massive, brighter-than-10,000-suns marquee loomed out of the mist on I-35, I got the distinct impression Thackerville had sold its small-town soul to attract this low-budget Den of Iniquity.

You pull into the 40,000 acre parking lot (at least) and get a look at the massive, gaudy facade of the joint, and you can’t help but throw up in your mouth a little. Part of it is supposed to resemble the Coliseum in Rome, some of it a sort of French castle, some of it who-knows-what-but-it-sure-is-big-Ethel. Blinking LEDs embedded into the machined brick walls (magical twinkling, I guess), no windows anywhere, fire exits right off the back of the Spotsylvania Mall, it may be the ugliest building ever built.

Once you walk up to the door (I think the front door, but who the hell really knows?); past the thousands of dualie pick-up trucks, knackered mid-90s domestic compacts, and peeling minivans; you walk in and immediately get the good news from 20,000 (rough estimate) cigarettes. My eyes watered and I aged 10 years within the first fifteen feet.

While navigating the mile and a quarter (no kidding) around to the theater, you walk past rank after rank after rank of slot machines. The entire world’s supply of slot machines. I saw maybe 10 gaming tables in the entire place. The rest was slot machine after slot machine after slot machine. There was a fitting representation of the entire bottom third of the socio-economic food chain from across the Big XII present, smoking, rubbing their bulging bellies through their soiled T-shirts, pushing trucker caps back on their greasy heads, inhaling oxygen through tubes under their noses, staring, unblinking, at the rotating numbers and symbols on the screens in front of them. The sound is nonstop, droning, no doubt scientifically proven to remind the listener of winning. I didn’t see anyone win anything, but maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention.

As you walk thru the joint, you move from “Rome” to “Versailles” to “China”. The signs tell you so, and I guess the goldish-textured foam decorations and sculptures sort of change in keeping with the local theme. The fast-food stops along the wall, all with minimal cafeteria-style seating, seem to keep up with the current “country” – the pizza place was in the “Rome” area, at least.

The fast food is terrible, over-priced, and terrible. And did I mention it's terrible? And over-priced? And terrible? The sit-down restaurants - I counted two, one being the “Toby Keith America-Will-Punch-You-In-The-Nuts-You-A-Rab-Jerk-Face Bar and Grill” or somesuch, the other might have been “Shite Sandwich”, but I could be remembering that wrong - were crowded and looked and smelled at least as bad as the fast food.

The fit and finish of the entire place screamed “Centex” to me. Lots of flat mauve paint, glossy Snowflake White basic crown molding, hollow-core doors, and industrial carpet. A good, strong wind would likely blow the place to smithereens.

Throughout the evening, I couldn’t shake the mental image of, somewhere in the center of the complex, a secret door which opened onto an irregular-shaped hallway, glowingly red-lit, with moisture dripping down the rounded, pulsating walls. In my mind’s eye, the hallway led to a huge open space ringed by computers attended by geeky drones wearing dark slacks, white short-sleeved dress shirts, and skinny black ties. In the center of the space sits a huge, horned, red-skinned and slimy Creature from the lowest depths of Hell, bellowing with demonic laughter and snacking on the severed limbs of degenerate gamblers and slow waitresses.

I couldn’t tell if I was reminded of Dawn of the Dead, Idiocracy, or WALL-E more. I was literally embarrassed to be an American while I was there.

In other words, I really didn’t like the place.

Fortunately, we weren’t there to see it, nor to gamble, nor to have dinner. We were there for a comedy show.

The theater was the world’s biggest banquet room. It could probably have been subdivided into 200 small break-out rooms. The problem with banquet rooms is they have flat floors. Trying to pack 2,000 people (I’m guessing, but I’d bet I’m pretty close), sitting on lousy stackable banquet chairs, into a room the size of flight deck on a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier means the people in the back aren’t going to be able to see jack. There was a home-made-looking 2X4-and-chipboard riser for the very back, but I’m sure a lot of people only got a rumor of the visuals in the show.

There was some spare opener, some poor schlub who got to go warm up the crowd. He wasn’t terrible, did a number of homophobic jokes which clearly resonated with the audience full of Ed Earls and Darlenes, and was gone pretty quickly.

Ferguson himself was outstanding. He ran around the stage and absolutely killed for a good hour, maybe longer. Cussing, Scotland, booze, TV, celebrities, relationships, sex, and cussing (and a bit more cussing) – all got the treatment. Ferguson is a pro, has great writers, and has timing like few others. Neatly timed call-backs to earlier parts of the monologue (“Magic Baby Door” was a frequent reference) set up and joined a wide range of topics. Ferguson kept “trying” to come back to a joke he wanted to tell, and the payoff there was worthwhile. It’s a tribute to the guy’s skill that I think a good deal of his act was made up on the spot, but I just can’t be sure. It seemed spontaneous, but he had so few misfires it seems difficult to believe he was ad-libbing.

Whatever. He killed. I laughed a LOT. I was a fan before. Now, I’m ready to hero-worship. He single-handedly saved the evening and made the drive to Thackerville and the visit to the Wal-Mart of casinos worthwhile. We’ve adopted Craig Ferguson as both the Official Stand-up AND the Official Late Night Host of silly little CIT.

And that, my friends, is the highest praise I can gin up.