January 19th, 2006

An update. Why not?

I feel compelled to update today in response to a rather silly article in yesterday's New York Times concerning the dearth of blogs written by full-time business travellers. I'm curious to know how they concluded that such a shortfall exists. I know I tend not to post exactly what my travel schedule is as that's not something I want to share with complete strangers, and I'm sure I'm not alone amongst frequent travellers in such obfuscation. So how can they claim to know how many of us there are?

Besides that methodological weakness, the article seems to assume that we full-time business travellers must have lots of interesting stuff to write about. But, really, we don't. I could post about how my Friday afternoon flight from ORD to RDU was delayed, but when the flight has an on-time rating of 31%, that's just not very blogworthy. Or I could post about how my room at the Residence Inn in San Mateo was exactly like my room in Rochester. Or how annoyingly loud the heating system in the Club Quarters in Chicago is. Or I could gripe about how they replaced Comedy Central with Court TV on the hotel cable system earlier this month. But I'm bored with stuff like that after one paragraph.

Modern business travel is really no more exciting than the average daily commute, so whatever the Times might think, I just don't see it being the next big growth area in blogs.

That said, a blog is indeed a handy way to keep friends apprised of my whereabouts for dinner and other gatherings. So, I am now scheduled in Chicago through March. I'm still at the Club Quarters at Clark & Adams, but will be moving to a corporate apartment at 555 W. Madison sometime between now and Feb. 1.

I see that tomorrow Esa-Pekka Salonen is conducting the CSO in Adams and Sibelius, along with a Mozart Horn Concerto. I certainly hope I can get out of the office early enough to make it to that one.

Let's see. Other random stuff. For those you don't know it, New York Times Link Generator is a handy thing. It generates special article links that will (supposedly) keep working indefinitely, even after an article moves into the pay archive after two weeks. A very handy thing for bloggers who don't want their old posts to be full of broken links.

In the past six months or so, I've accidentally purchased several duplicate books, proving that my collection has gotten to the point where I have no choice but to catalog it. I still haven't found any solution that completely satisfies me, but for now I'm using Librarything, which at least meets the two most important criteria of being fast and web-based. My catalog there currently contains pretty much everything I've acquired in the last couple months, plus books that happened to be on the more accessible of the stacks that are threatening to take over my bedroom and storage room. There's an RSS feed of new additions if anyone wants to watch me catalog books when I'm home.

Also, since it's a new year, I'm going to attempt to get back in the habit of recording my thoughts about stuff I read. The new issue of McSweeney's (#18) is mostly disappointing, full of annoying literary exercises that fail to tell a worthwhile story or to have any other merits to compensate. Take Edmund White's "My Hustlers," for example. In it, the narrator recounts his encounters over the years with hustlers, first in small towns then in Chicago and New York. But the narrator never grows, never really learns anything, never gives us a reason to care about this string of meaningless encounters retold at excruciating length. And the story doesn't even compensate for its tedium with a decent sex scene or two.

There were a few stories that at least managed mediocrity. Joyce Carol Oates' "Bad Habits" is a sharp little tale about the eponymous serial killer and the effects of his arrest on his wife and kids. Nelly Reifler's "The Railway Nurse" is a dark short story of a nurse's rather unusual qualification exam (apparently set in a rather disturbing alternate history). And Joe Meno's "People Are Becoming Clouds" is a cute and sentimental tale of the marital problems that ensue when the wife develops the unfortunate habit of turning into a cloud.

Moving along to something I liked better, David Marusek's new novel Counting Heads is thoroughly enjoyable. Starting out in 2092, it's set in a future where nanotechnology has recently extended human lifespans more or less indefinitely, AI exists but isn't quite sufficient to replace humans, and cities are domed to protect from attack by hostile nanotech. Society in the United Democracies is divided into a working class of iterants (clones, owned by Applied People), guilds of Chartists (who live communally), and the "affs" who have the resources to do more or less whatever they want. Samson Hargar, an artist, and Eleanor Starke, a politician, are two such affs who seem destined for perfect lives when they're married and receive permission to have a child. But everything comes crashing down when a random gene test on Samson mis-identifies him as a terrorist, resulting in his being "seared" so that he can no longer benefit from nanotech or gene therapy.

As the novel moves forward to 2134, we learn of Eleanor's Garden Earth Project, an attempt to encourage humans to move to other planets, reducing Earth's population to a level at which its ecosystem can recover from man's influence. But there turn out to be vast conspiracies at work to destroy Eleanor's plans, and after she is killed in a shuttle crash, the remainder of the novel is about the last ditch efforts on the part of those loyal to Eleanor to preserve her legacy.

It's all lots of fun, and while Marusek nicely wraps up the plotlines for these characters, there are hints of all sorts of fascinating aspects of his world that I hope he'll follow up on in future novels.

The Symphony

My office desktop decided to crash this afternoon at 5:02pm. Everything was saved, so not a big deal, but I chose to take it as a sign I should stop for the day rather than spend 15 minutes starting everything back up just to work another half hour.

So I went up to Maggiano's for dinner, and then over to Symphony Center for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert. It's been far too long since I heard them there; I'd forgotten how fabulous they sound on a good night. John Adams' Naive and Sentimental Music was superb, utterly ravishing as it built from its opening guitar solo to the sumptuous waves of sound of the full orchestra. In the past, the CSO wasn't particularly good with minimalist or post-minimalist music, but it seems some of the older players (who obviously hated the stuff) have retired since I last heard the CSO in this repertoire, and Esa-Pekka Salonen inspired the current orchestra into an incredible performance.

The Mozart 4th Horn Concerto isn't a major work by any means, but CSO horn player Daniel Gingrich gave it a pleasant reading (and the final movement does feature some rather catchy tunes). The Sibelius 5th was also thoroughly enjoyable.

And now it's time for some more Dragon Quest 8.