Megnut

Archive for April 2005

Some land problems

My post last month about free land, Get yer free land!, has landed (har har) me in a tricky spot. I now seem to be the fifth Googe response for free land which is leading to strange emails from people. Two excerpts:

I would like to request more information about the free land. I'd like too know how I could get in on it also.

And today's missive, with (I hope) some typos:

would love to move from calif to on of the places that has free land . But i have quistions like I have two foster bays I need to know what that county would give to them to live on. The other thing is do they have places to rent until you build. the other is could you place a mudular or moble home on the land to live in while you get a job and you feel me.

I updated the post. I don't know about the free land, I only link to it. And I don't want to feel anyone.

So much light, so confused

Last night on the plane to France, I changed my watch and set it ahead six hours pretty much as soon as I got onboard. I like to begin my change to my new time zone as soon as possible. So I was little surprised and confused when the plane began its descent at 6:55 AM since we weren't due into Charles de Gaulle until 8:20. "Aha!" I thought, "the time must have changed already in Europe."

But then later in the day, I was at the UPS store overnighting some documents, and they had those clocks on the walls, and it showed New York six hours behind Paris. So I figured I must have been confused, and maybe I just moved my watch ahead five hours or something.

Then, even later, I noticed it was still light out, even though it was past 7 PM. I checked the weather and it said sunset was at 8:21 PM, which seemed very late for April 1st.

Then I bothered to check, and discovered that Europe had already sprung ahead, because they do so the last Sunday in March (see
When we change our clocks
). All that's a very long and dull way of saying: it's finally dark enough here for me to go to sleep. I stayed up all day and am now very tired, and obviously the lack of sleep caused some sort of time-related mental breakdown. Hopefully tomorrow will produce better time-telling results and less boring posts.

Me vs. Camilla's hair

Now that I'm in Europe, my hair -- perhaps in an homage to her pending nuptuals -- has chosen to channel Camilla Parker Bowles. Granted, it needs more length to get the look just right, but as a simple compare and contrast will show (Camilla and Me), my coiffure is right on track. Bring on the foxes and tweeds!

My Paris picture set

For those that read megnut.com through a news reader, you may be missing my photos from Paris that I've been posting to the site via Flickr. If you want to follow along on my adventures, you can check out my Flickr photo set, April in Paris 2005. So far there aren't a lot of photos, but as I wander the streets, I'll take more. They're all from my phone, so the quality isn't great. As I get (hopefully) better photos from my digital camera, I'll post those as well.

Soon to be even more French

Back to schoolThat thumbnail to the right is a photo of my new (er, I should say nouvelle) carte d'etudiant! That's right, it's back to school for me, and starting tomorrow I will begin to study French formally so that I'll no longer have to stammer sentences like, "I look for a phone card not to put in the phone but to press the numbers on the phone to use" or "the moon, like the moon and the earth and the plane -- the Space Shuttle -- that goes there, to the space."

Of course, the idea of actually speaking French properly, rather than concocting it through an assemblage of words and the application of Spanish grammar rules, saddens me a bit. I rather enjoyed walking into the pharmacy this morning (to combat my Camilla hair) with my request, "I look for the thing for the hair whose name I do not know, but it is like this," whereupon I slide two fingers into my hair to mimic a bobby pin holding it in place, "and it is not called barrette." I triumphed again! The monsieur directed me to the magasin Claire, an accessories store, where I purchased said chose.

Rehashing the same stale file sharing argument

Over on Dangerousmeta I saw a link to this Op-Ed by Daniel Henninger from the Wall Street Journal,Can Justice Scalia Solve the Riddles Of the Internet? Without profit even the digital world will break down. Having recently read the excellent profile of Justice Scalia in The New Yorker (which frustratingly doesn't appear to be online), I was curious to read the article. I was disappointed to discover it rehashed the same old fallacious arguments about people "stealing" music online, and worse, that it got mired in questions of morals.

One would expect the article, beginning with its subtitle, "Without profit even the digital world will break down," to espouse a pro free-market stance (it is the Wall Street Journal, after all), but one only has to read half of the piece before Mr. Henninger begins to crow for old business models to be locked in place by the government if "the people" (Pirates, I'm looking in your direction...) won't follow the old rules:

[T]here will always be another wave of digitized aliens hacking through the copyright walls. There has to be a better way.

There is. It's called right and wrong.

It may seem quaintly old school to suggest that people should stop downloading culture without paying simply because it's the right thing to do. But that may be the best option available.

For starters, if "the people" don't solve this problem themselves, Congress will, and you won't like the solution--unless you enjoy the tax code.

Why it's up to "the people" to solve a problem that's surely not theirs I don't know. Worse, the presumably pro free market writer Mr. Henninger, (who is the deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page) threatens/encourages/suggests government intervention rather than identify the real source of the problem: the media companies themselves. Instead he hints that downloaders may just well be a bunch of Commie freeloaders!

I would push this even further; it requires a moral or at least philosophical commitment to the legitimacy of profit. Absent that, there's no hope.

If only Mr. Henninger, the RIAA, and those enamored of their old business models predicated on tangible media would stop litigating for the past, they would see there's a whole lot of hope out there.

According to this Pew Internet & American Life Project March 2005 Data Memo (warning: pdf):

Current file downloaders are now more likely to say they use online music services like iTunes than they are to report using p2p services. The percentage of music downloaders who have tried paid services has grown from 24% in 2004 to 43% in our most recent survey.

There are two things happening with online file sharing:

1. It's the market's way of saying not that it doesn't see profit, per se, as legitimate but that the prices charged, for example, by BMG for Shakira's CD don't reflect its perceived value.

2. People are willing to pay when there's a means available for them to do so that embraces what's great about the digitization of media (easy access, portability, recommendations/sharing with friends and family, etc.).

Just because large companies chose to ignore this technology rather than embrace it doesn't mean the market should as well. The market is actually working as it should, and consumer demand is driving the development of stores like iTunes. The people/market aren't wrong, it's the companies who'd rather litigate instead of catching up, or leading.

What if big media companies -- instead of pouring millions into lawsuits like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer v. Grokster -- invested money to:

1. Digitize all the content in their catalogs, and offer it for sale through iTunes or some other online music store of choice. During the 2003 Eldred v. Ashcroft case, the Supreme Court found that 98 percent of all copyrighted works are not commercially available. Digitize all that, and suddenly there's a whole lot more to sell.

2. Continue to explore and expand ancillary revenue streams from all the album extras like concerts and merchandise. I seem to recall from a New Yorker article that this is where a lot of the money comes from anyway, and a large amount isn't from CD sales.

3. Embrace the web -- not just to create a distribution mechanism for the digital bits, but also for the fans. Create lively sites for each artist, populate them with real consistent content, create conversation space for aficionados (what fans have already done with sites like green plastic radiohead, a fan site for the band Radiohead) and build the traffic. Make money off of the ad revenue.

How hard is it to adapt and evolve one's business model to the changing time? I think that's what irks me the most about all this -- taking it to the courts to ensure that because something once was, it should (be legislated to) always be. All this "copyright" is just code for "profit."

P.S. What about a bumper sticker that says, "Your failed business model is not my problem"?

P.P.S. In retrospect, this is such a stupid article, I can't believe I wasted any time responding to it, when I could be enjoying the glories of Paris!

I finally acknowledge my limits

When I decided to run the Paris Marathon last fall, I did so for two main reasons: I was all hopped up on the running junk after the NYC Marathon and wanted to try another and wanted to try and go faster, and I wanted an excuse to go to Paris.

As the fall turned into winter though, I found I was less psyched for running. I turned my attention to skiing and, whether from exhaustion or lack of training, or over-training, or who knows, I found that whenever I did run, I had a bad run. I never felt good, either during the jog or after. I know for many people that's always the case, but for me running is usually something that makes me feel better; it gives me a real boost.

The more this happened, the more I dreaded my runs. The more I dreaded, the less I ran, until the cycle fed upon itself, culminating in a very difficult and long Brooklyn Half-Marathon last month. I told myself it was because I was tired (true) and that once I got some rest, I'd have great runs again (false). That hasn't been the case, and though I thought I'd "turn around" here in Paris, I haven't. I dreaded running from the moment I got here, and I was seriously beginning to dread 26.2 miles of Paris Marathon on April 10th.

So I decided a couple days ago that I wouldn't run the marathon. And just like that, the anxiety lifted. I'm not a good quitter, and it was *really* hard for me to allow myself to make this decision. In fact I can't recall a time where I've ever done something like this before. I'm pretty confident I could have finished the marathon, because I'm obstinate and can push through all kinds of nearly-incapacitating physical pain (thanks Tufts Crew!) but it seemed rather perverse to do something when clearly my body repeatedly was telling me not to.

More importantly, I want to love running. It's something that -- not to sound too overly dramatic but it's true -- has really sustained me during some very difficult dark periods of my life. And I didn't want to lose that.

So I'm back to running for fun, and I'm looking forward to some spring and summer fun races, where I hope to get the good feelings back and find the love again. I'll still be out there on Sunday, but I'll be cheering instead of perspiring. I'll be offering encouragement because I know what it's like to put in all the training and see it pay off on the big day, and the feeling that gives you. I've run 26.2 miles before, and I'll do it again. But I just won't do it this Sunday. And that's OK.

Unintended consequences

You're full after a lovely La Terrine de Courgettes au Coulis de Tomates Fraîches and a daunting but delicious Le Lapin en Cocotte when the waiter asks if you'd like dessert. Because you're spacing out a bit, and because he's lifting your empty plate, you assume he's asking if you're all finished. So you say, "Oui." Next thing you know you're ordering the tarte Tatin rather than extricate yourself from this unforeseen predicament. Good thing for the dessert compartment in the stomach. Perhaps French lessons are required after all.

Learn French too

Just because you're not here in Paris with me doesn't mean you can't join along from home. You too can learn all the French you need to know from About.com's Learn French - Lessons and Classes. C'est super!

The amazing world of my French class

On the very first day of French class, Madame spent the good part of our first hour together having everyone state their name, where they were from, what they did, and what hobbies and/or activites they enjoyed. I was surprised (and relieved) to discover that I was the only American. And in fact, one of only two North Americans! I tried to jot down as best I could everyone's name and hometown. Roughly here's the summary by country:

America (1) me!
Brazil (3)
China (5)
Columbia (1)
Japan (3)
Korea (1)
México (1)
Poland (1)
Russia (2)
Spain (1)

And what's even more interesting are the cities the group represents; the list reads like a "Great Cities of the World." Beijing, Moscow, México City, São Paolo, Shanghai, Tokyo...And of course, we're all in Paris learning French. It's pretty amazing.

Also what's even more amazing is our teacher, who seems to be able to speak nearly all the languages of her students. Sometimes she'll translate something to English or Spanish (which today tripped up one of the Chinese students, who started to ask about a word and the teacher said, "No, that's Spanish!"), when she isn't using French to define things. But she also cracked some joke in Chinese that got the Chinese students chuckling. And yesterday she surprised us all when she went to the board and started writing in Russian! Madame le professeur est incroyable!

Something you loved in Paris

It's hard to believe one quarter of my time here in Paris has passed already. I don't feel like I've even begun to do all the things I want, never mind the things I don't know I should be doing! Before it's too late, I'd like to hear some recommendations for interesting things you've done or experienced in Paris (or France, for that matter, if I could find the same wine in Paris, etc.).

Is there a little restaurant you loved? An amazing unpasteurised milk cheese you tasted once? A small store that sold lovely little things? Something you just don't think I should miss while I'm here? Comments are open, share what you will. Thanks!

Speaking of French cheese

According to this article, French mobilise to save cheeses under threat of extinction France is losing cheeses as producers are dying and taking their cheese making secrets to the grave.

A worrisome trend is looming in this country of cheese-lovers, where the nation's rich palette of 1,000 cheeses is being nibbled away at with the annual demise of several varieties..."The Mont-d'Or galette, which had been produced for some 400 years, disappeared this summer following the death of the last producer who knew the secret of how to make it."

That does sound worrisome. What's also worrisome is the reference in this article to "National Cheese Day" on "Friday." Did I just miss National Cheese Day?!?! Why weren't there big cheese posters everywhere telling me about this? Sure, they take the time to hang a giant neon sign for the Olympics on the Hôtel de Ville, but why not a giant poster of Brique de Brebis? No wonder a disastrous cheese extinction looms!

Cooking Under Fire on PBS

Finally, a reality TV show I can get into! On April 27, Cooking Under Fire will premiere on PBS.

Tracking 12 finalists plucked from the country's restaurants and culinary schools as they embark on a coast-to-coast cooking competition, this documentary-style series will bring viewers behind the scenes and into the kitchen. Each week, the aspiring chefs face intense cooking challenges, difficult deadlines, and the heated pressure of working against the clock. In order to survive, they must combine their kitchen savvy, unique style, and skills of organization and creativity to serve the judges a winning meal.

Contestants who fail to perform will run the risk of being "86ed" -- taken off the competition menu and sent home. But success will bring them one step closer to the ultimate culinary prize: a chef position in one of restaurateur Todd English's Manhattan restaurants.

Michael Ruhlman -- who you may recall is the author of some of my favorite books (see my The Soul of a Chef review) -- will be one of three judges in the competition. It should be good since I've really enjoyed every PBS reality show I've seen (Frontier House, Colonial House, etc.) I'm looking forward to it!

I found the Sox in Paris

Yay!! Red Sox in Paris. I know, it's a terrible photo but I really couldn't get a better photo of the TV. But the bar, if you need to know, is: The Highlander Pub, 8, rue des Nevers, 6° Paris. They will show the rest of the Sox games, as long as they don't conflict with Scottish Football. And yes, we won. Finally. It's a long season, but this was a very good win. :)

Beware the "wild" salmon

This is really disturbing: the New York Times reports that Stores Say Wild Salmon, but Tests Say Farm Bred in several stores in New York City.

Tests performed for The New York Times in March on salmon sold as wild by eight New York City stores, going for as much as $29 a pound, showed that the fish at six of the eight were farm raised. Farmed salmon, available year round, sells for $5 to $12 a pound in the city.

Emphasis mine.

Given the contaminants found in farmed salmon, this deceptive practice troubling for consumers trying to make informed healthy decisions. I used to eat a lot of salmon but have really dropped the amount I eat in the past few years. Now it's less than once a month whereas it used to be twice a week, if not more. It's too bad because I love salmon, but it's too difficult to determine its source, especially when suppliers appear to be lying.

Getting out of ruts

From On Cruise Control: How to get out of a life rut by Cynthia Hanson:

Along the journey of life, we're destined to fall into some ruts. Sometimes, they're big (think career change). Other times, they're small (think new exercise routine). Either way, experts say it's inevitable that we'll become bored with one or more facets of our lives.

This article talks about identifying ruts and then how to go about getting out of them. Something good to think about and be aware of.

April in Paris indeed

This picture of me smelling the lilacs near the Notre-Dame may be my favorite so far of the whole trip. The were just wonderful, and lilacs are one of my favorite flowers in the whole world. I'm so happy they're blooming now.

Eating on a Saturday night

I've been doing a fairly good job of eating at lots of yummy places while here in Paris. Obviously I've been doing a fairly crappy job of documenting those meals, mostly out of sheer laziness. But last night we decided to eat in for a change, and to soften the repeated blows my wallet has taken during this trip. To turn the documentation tide, I present a photo of what we had for dinner on Saturday night.

For our shopping, we decided we'd head to La Grande Epicerie Paris, the amazing food market at The Bon Marché -- one of Paris' grand department stores. We started in the wine section and being, in reality, poser gourmands and wine afficionados, we just grabbed two bottles that looked good and tried to escape before the woman started speaking to us in French about wine. My French class hasn't gotten to that level of interaction yet, and I wasn't up to the challenge. The take? A half bottle of Domaine Pradelle Crozes-Hermitage, 2002 (white) and a full size 2000 Saint-Joseph from Ferraton Père & Fils. Where they good? Seemed so to us. We're pretty much happy with anything from the Rhône.

Next stop, the meat counter where we procured some mousse de canard. Somehow I managed to leave it out of the nice photo, so here it is just tossed on a plate. Then, on to the cheese counter!

Here we were at a loss as there were just too many cheeses to choose from. Though I have French Cheeses: The Visual Guide to More Than 350 Cheeses from Every Region of France, it was no use among the vast selection (because I didn't have it with me and hadn't memorized it all, yet...). So I used my every-improving French to explain our predicament to Madame la Fromagère:

(In French, sort of)

Madame, we do not know the cheeses well of France. Is it possible that you make a selection of three cheeses for us to know more the cheese?

Of course!, she replied, quite happy to be put to such a test. So she asked a few more questions and we ended up with a Brie de Meaux, a Comté Rivoire, and a bouton Charolai which was a button of a lovely aged goat cheese. They were all excellent, and Madame chose well for us. The Charolai was my favorite new cheese in a long time.

We had also picked up a saucisson sec aux myrtilles, a dry sausage with a blueberry(!) coating. It was good, but didn't have much blueberry flavor. And of course, the requisite baguettes upon which to spread our yummy cheese and mousse. It was tasty and easy and I have to say, I want to do it again very soon!

For the French speakers

Here's one for my foodie French-speaking soon-to-be-or-already-are-in-France friends: Les 100 meilleurs bistrots à moins de 30 €. Note: The link points to ones in Paris, see the sidebar for those outside the Île-de-France. For the non-French speakers out there, it's a list of "The 100 best 30 € and under bistros."

I've been to two on the Paris list so far this visit: L'Ami Marcel (which was mentioned in the April 2005 Gourmet article "The Bistro Boom"); and L'Epi Dupin. Both were very good and I'd recommend either for a lovely meal. And see, if I were less lazy, I would have written posts about eating there! As penance, if my dinning companions post about the meals, I promise to make the appropriate links.

The carafe of water

One of the eternal questions that plagues me here in Paris is the question of the carafe of water. Why is it that every time I order une carafe de l'eau I stand a roughly 30% chance of getting it? And why is it that whenever a French person seems to order absolutely anything -- even just a tiny coffee -- they seem to get a liter of water alongside? Why? My food comes. My wine comes. But hardly ever do I get the water without repeating my request several times. I am now practicing how to say, "Monsieur, I am dying of thirst. The carafe, please!" in French. Is this some secret way for the French to stick it to me while still being polite?

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