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9/20, 9PM





Monday, July 10, 2006
10:48 PM      

Strange Goings-On
I woke this morning to odd rhythmic buzzing sounds coming from several electrical devices around the apartment and a nervous-looking flicker in all of the lights. I quickly realized the problem was occurring throughout my apartment building, and decided to take a walk down the street. Porch lights along the block told the tale that the problem affected my entire block at the very least. Whatever was going on, it didn't look like a brown-out.

Shortly after I returned home from my little tour (somewhere around 6:30 this morning), I heard an explosion, and figured that the flickering had been caused by a faulty transformer somewhere nearby. I expected the lights to go out, but they never did. Still, the voltage fluctuations were bad enough to interrupt my DSL connection for about half an hour.

About five minutes after the explosion, two fire trucks arrived. From their sirens, I had a sense that they must have stopped nearby. I returned to the street, and found that just a block away, a very large steel manhole cover had been blown up and onto the street.

I've seen the aftermath of three of these transformer explosions now. When they go, the explosions are shockingly powerful. In one case, the manhole cover came down and trashed two parked cars. In another, the intense heat of the ensuing fire burned two or three parked cars completely, and melted the tires of several others. That same fire even melted the glass lighting globes on the front of a nearby apartment building.

These things are buried under the sidewalks and streets all around the city, and when they fail, they often fail catastrophically. If this thing had happened around 8:30 instead of 6:30, the results could have been tragic.


A Veritable Sports Vesuvius
After 8 stages, the Tour de France takes a rest day today, a collective sigh that coincides with the culmination of the World Cup of soccer (football, if you're European), the Wimbledon championships, and the 20th anniversary of the first time an American won the Tour — could Lance have timed his string of victories and his retirement any better?

Interestingly, the guy who won yesterday's stage is a Frenchman with an Italian last name (Sylvain Calzati). I wonder if the World Cup finals stirred up any internal conflict... In Manhattan, some serious fans of the Italian World Cup team hanged the French in effigy on West Broadway.

Even the riders on the Tour had World Cup fever — a bunch of them took early shuttles from the race to the rest day location, just so they could watch the match. Over the last couple of weeks, it was amazing to come upon substantial crowds gathered in bars and even appliance stores to gather around a TV screen and watch the World Cup matches.

The Tour has had a rickety feel this year, the first time in many years where a handful of dominant players have not emerged after three or four stages. I have my doubts about whether Ullrich would have had a win in him, if he hadn't been eliminated before the start — in this sport, you only have so many years in top form. Jan spent most of those years as ‘Lance's bridesmaid,’ as the broadcasters like to refer to him.

The pundits pegged all the wrong people for the time trials, and many of the folks who were the closest thing to favorites, have some significant deficits to overcome. It's a drag that there won't be a team time trial this year. The TTT is one of the coolest events in cycling.

Another cool thing in this Tour has been watching Australia's McEwen win stages 2, 4, and 6. The guy really does seem to come from nowhere, and by the time you win three stages, it becomes pretty clear that you're no fluke.

And with all that said, I'm still planning to watch the drama unfold. I've been in front of the tube for each and every stage so far. I suspect that this year's winner will be a one-time champ. That really doesn't make the event any less intriguing to watch.


I never was bleeding-edge,
but I used to be an early adopter. I suppose in some arenas, I still am, but I'm a big believer in letting the technology shake out these days. I have a G4 quicksilver machine, having watched the G5, the G5 dual, and the G5 quad roll by. I'm in no rush to own an Intel Mac, but I figure my next machine will be some sort of multi-processor Intel machine.

It was only when it became clear that my local video store's inventory of VHS offerings was in decline, that I finally hauled off and purchased a DVD player. It turned out to be an opportunity to upgrade my VHS machine at the same time — I bought a combi-player.

The biggest selling point for me, was that I could use S-video for all my signal sources. I'd seen the clear differences between composite, S-video, and coax cables in my own system. The combi-player allowed me to use S-video instead of coax for my VHS playback. My old tapes look like new.

You might be saying to yourself ‘hey, there's HDMI and component video.’ You'd be right, but my large screen TV (bought about the time that rear-projection sets were just beginning to come down in price) only takes S-video and composite inputs.

The end result is that I'm really happy with how good my video looks, and I don't really care that it's not the most current technology. It just works, it looks way better than average, and it didn't cost me an arm and a leg.

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