A Limited List of Queens Trivia Nights, Ranked

In reverse order of difficulty and obscurity of questions:

  1. Ridgewood Ale House, Thursdays, 8:00
  2. Sek’end Sun, Mondays, 8:00
  3. The Local Hostel, Thursdays, 7:00
  4. Astoria Tavern, Tuesday, 8:00
  5. Strand Smokehouse, Tuesday, 8:00-ish

To be fair, none of these trivia nights were especially tricky. I’m basically splitting hairs here.

Sadly, the Local Hostel in Long Island City has apparently stopped their Thursday trivia night. I went a handful of times in 2014, but stopped once I left the neighborhood for fear that I’d run into my ex. Also, I usually teach Thursday nights.

Honorable mention: Amity Hall, Wednesday nights, for being difficult but only warrants a mention as it’s in Manhattan. It relies on a broad knowledge base. Bring friends.

Bike Gear I Bought and You Might Like

Bicycling can be a spendy hobby, and every season is a new opportunity to blow a whole lot of money.

Although it’s fun to shop for new stuff, there’s some anxiety whether you’re getting quality goods, whether you need it in the first place, and whether you spent too much money. As someone who has scoffed at buying unnecessary bike gear, but only after spending thousands on stuff that now sits in a box, I’m here to save you a lot of trouble.

This is some of the cycling gear I bought over the last year that didn’t suck. Buy from Amazon through these links, and I’ll get a small commission.

  • Canari Cyclewear Men’s Velo Gel Padded Bike Short. I bought many of my bike shorts in the early 2000s, back when I first started cycling and back when Cannondale still made things in the USA. To their credit, those cycling shorts lasted a long time, but after thousands of miles and scores of machine wash cycles, the fabric started to thin and began to let the sun shine where it is not supposed to shine. I bought this particular pair of shorts on Amazon because it was really basic. Maybe someone really needs a 12-panel short, but I don’t. After a single seventy-mile–ride, it did the trick. I didn’t think about the short. That’s good because good cycling shorts should be like a good plumber: the best one is the one you don’t notice.

  • Knog Blinder Mob The Face Front USB Rechargeable Light. There are two kinds of bike lights: “be-seen” lights and “see” lights. Because I ride in a city with reasonably well-illuminated streets, I only need lights to be-seen. Over the years, I have bought about twenty different sets of bike lights, and all of them have some fatal flaw. The only “be-seen” lights that I liked were the Kong Blinder 4 series of lights. They offer the rare combination of bright illumination, portability, easy to remove without tools, cost, burn time, and USB charging. However, the straps would regularly break, rendering the entire light useless because the straps could not be replaced. In the last year, they have redesigned the straps and are much sturdier. And should they break, they’re replaceable! The new iteration of the Knog Blinder 4 fixed this fatal flaw. I can now recommend them.

  • Stainless Steel Swing Top Beer Growler – 1 Liter. Regular readers of this site know that I really enjoy a crafty beer after a long ride, especially one that ends at an area brewery. This stainless-steel growler is small—just a little bigger than a pint glass, but holds a full quart (or liter). It is very light so you can carry it in your backpack as you cycle for hours. But most importantly, because it’s made from stainless steel, it won’t break—and won’t cut you with shards of glass—should you crash. Best of all, they will even fill it in California. This might have been my most important cycling purchase of the year.

There’s a lot of other gear you’ll need if you’re just starting out, but if you’re dusting off your bike for the year, consider picking up these goods.

Understanding The Matrix

The Matrix series of films was a rare combination of complex storytelling and a financially successful film franchise, but an even more richly opaque Matrix is ITA Software’s Matrix Airfare Search.

In the right hands, the Matrix Airfare Search can be a very powerful tool for finding flights at the right price. Like the better known search engines such as Orbitz, Expedia, and Kayak, the Matrix allows you to search with a flexible date range, restrict airlines, and even select nearby airports for an origin and destination.

However, the Matrix also offers powerful tools for frequent travelers, such as restricting a search by an alliance, forcing connections at specific airports, and searching for available flights with availability in certain fare booking codes. I used it frequently during my mileage running days before earning elite status and, more recently, multi-city bookings became much more difficult.

Once you’ve used the Matrix, you might be ready to move on to the advanced functions it offers frequent flyers. Google, which owns ITA Software and its Matrix Airfare Search tool, published a guide for the advanced routing codes that will search for flights using a variety of criteria. I recommend checking it out. However, if you feel like you need a basic primer on using the advanced routing codes, the folks at Upgraded Points list tips for finding the right flight using the Matrix.

Both guides are very long and detailed, but knowing how to maximize the potential of this flight search tool could help plan the right itinerary for you. It helped me when I used to care more about flying frequently.

Los Sures at the Metrograph

Los Sures is a documentary about the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood and produced and directed by Diego Echeverria. Used with permission, © 1983 Ellen Tolmie.

Los Sures is a documentary about the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood and produced and directed by Diego Echeverria. Used with permission, © 1983 Ellen Tolmie.

Did you miss the screening of Los Sures and the presentation of the Living Los Sures project last month at NYU?

Good news, then! Beginning tomorrow, Metrograph—New York City’s newest independent film venue—will be screening Diego Echeverria’s 1984 film Los Sures and shorts from the continuing Living Los Sures project. The theatrical release will run from April 15–21.

Los Sures is a 1984 film about the “southsiders” of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The film was reemerged in the last few years because it captured the Brooklyn neighborhood that has dramatically changed and all but disappeared—and not necessarily because I screened it in my New York Independents class back in 2006. Union Docs has been working on the companion Living Los Sures project as an oral history to document the current state of the neighborhood and its changes.

Update: Screen Slate has posted an interview with the filmmaker, Diego Echevarria.

Los Sures and Living Los Sures

  • April 15—21
  • Metrograph, 7 Ludlow St, New York
  • $15.00
  • Buy Tickets

Scully Appreciation Society

Before the home opener at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, the team paid tribute to Vin Scully by replaying some of the most memorable calls of his 67-year tenure as the Dodger’s broadcast announcer. The fifteen-minute–long tribute included the players from those moments, including Sandy Koufax, three-quarters of the celebrated 1970s Dodgers infield, a video tribute from Kirk Gibson, and even Don Newcombe. The now eighty-nine year–old Newcombe who was Brooklyn’s starting pitcher at Scully’s first Dodger’s game assignment.1

As Scully gets closers to calling his final game this year, there will undoubtedly be more tributes such as these. But perhaps the best tribute to his career is the nearly–5000-word biographical article Greg King wrote for SABR.

As King notes, it is Scully—not Koufax or Kershaw— who is clearly the “greatest left hander” in Dodger history.

  1. I would embed the video, but, inexplicably, MLB does not support HTTPS embeds. 

Cervantes and Shakespeare T-Shirt

Four hundred years ago this month, Miguel de Cervantes Cortinas and William Shakespeare died. It is almost cosmic that the most celebrated Renaissance writer of Spain and the most celebrated Renaissance writer of England both died on same day: April 23, 1616.

If it seems unlikely that Cervantes and Shakespeare died on the very same day, it is because they did not die on the same day. Cervantes died a day earlier, on April 22, 1616. And because England was still using the Julian calendar in 1616, Shakespeare died 11 days later on May 3, 1616. However, you cannot deny that it makes for a better story if the two did die on the very same day. In fact, the United Nations has—since 1995—observed a World Book and Copyright Day on April 23 to remember the passing of Cervantes and of Shakespeare, as well as that of other writers including Garcilaso de la Vega and Vladimir Nabokov.

To commemorate the quadcentennial, I printed a run of t-shirts.


The all-black t-shirts are made from 100% high-quality, ring spun cotton that makes for very soft and comfortable shirt. The artwork is discharged. Unlike most every t-shirt printed today, there is no layer of plastic ink nor is the fabric dyed. Instead, I removed (“discharged”) the black color from the t-shirt, leaving behind the natural color of the all-cotton fabric. On the black t-shirt, the artwork looks sepia-toned. It’s very cool.

The result is the most comfortable t-shirt you’ve worn and because the artwork is not dyed, it will never fade. It might even last until the quincentennial, although the t-shirt might not last that long.

If you’re interested in getting a shirt, order one at my popup online store.

This t-shirt will be available to order until April 15, 2016 to arrive at US addresses by April 22.

Buy this t-shirt!

Virgin America, or Why Airline Mergers Suck

Earlier this week, Alaska Airlines successfully bid to acquire Virgin America—every startup’s favorite upstart airline.

Though the airline struggled to turn a profit since it launched in 2007, it offered a compellingly different experience than the network carriers and other low-cost carriers. This was one of the first airlines to offer an in-seat food and beverage ordering system. On my maiden flight in 2010, I remember ordering a few cans of 21st Amendment IPA while watching some recent episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Virgin America was also distinct because of their purple mood lighting, the aromatically filled cabins, and their Euro-hip inflight safety video.

Now with Alaska Airlines acquiring the airline, those distinct features will apparently be gone. Earlier today, Virgin America dispatched a message to members of its Elevate loyalty program. It reassured them that nothing dramatic would change on Virgin America over the next several months, but that’s only because mergers such as these take a long time to clear regulatory hurdles and because, you know, mergers are hard.

Please know that you will not see any changes during the next several months – and potentially until the end of the year – until the merger receives regulatory and shareholder approval. Furthermore, there will likely be no significant changes to your flying experience for as many as 18 months or more while the two airlines merge into one. Until the transaction is officially approved – typically a process that can take upwards of six months – both airlines will continue to operate independently and there will be no changes to our flight schedules, the Virgin America product and guest experience, Elevate Status levels or your ability to earn and redeem points.

With that, we can say goodbye to another friendly flier. From this press release, it’s not hard to see Virgin America morphing into Alaska Airlines, much like United Airlines morphed into Continental Airlines after their 2009 merger. And I probably won’t be happy with the result.

Ten Years without Tribeca

The Tribeca Film Festival starts next month, and I will be observing ten years of skipping films screening at this festival. I last went to a film screening at Tribeca in 2006, when I saw two films. One was the worst film I ever watched in a theater, and the second was the site of the worst Q&A session I’ve ever endured. After both experiences, with some very oblivious film viewers, I swore I would never return.

The Worst Film

Choking Man seemed promising at the time. It featured Mandy Pantankin, who I held in high regard from appearing in the Showtime dramedy Dead Like Me, and it took place in Queens.

The apparent inspiration for Choking Man (2006), the last film I ever watched at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The apparent inspiration for Choking Man (2006), the last film I ever watched at the Tribeca Film Festival.

I haven’t revisited the film since watching it at the festival: I have not re-screened it nor did I follow up to research the filmmaker’s vision. While it’s true that filmmakers sometimes find inspiration in the strangest places, this film seemed to be informed by two unlikely bits of inspiration:

  • The colorful “Choking Man” posters that appear in every New York City–restaurant. At the time, there was a version with a lemon wedge and a fish. It was hard not to notice.
  • Some New York Times article that revealed that there are a lot of languages spoken in Queens. Who knew?!?

As far as substance, these two bits were all the film had to offer. The characters in this film are all very flat, and the flimsy plot was immediately forgettable. I didn’t leave the screening, but I did mentally “check out” once Jorge, the Ecuadorian immigrant at the center of the film’s fish-out-of-water story, starts doing magic. If this was supposed to be a moment of magical realism, someone needed to pay more attention in his Latin American literature class.

After the screening had ended, there was the requisite Q&A. The audience loved the film and expressed their gee-whiz fascination with Queens and brown people, and they marveled at the area “by the airport.” They showered the filmmaker with praise and mid-2000s–era platitudes, such as “poignant” and “transcendent.” I never wanted to vomit in public as bad as I did then. It probably didn’t help matters that I saw this film with a girl I had already broken up with, but we decided to watch the film together anyway because we wouldn’t give up our tickets. (Hi, Tori.)

One could be forgiven for thinking that the audience was just being polite. After all, why would any want to be mean in public? But days earlier, I witnessed the Tribeca audience draw their “critical” claws. And it wasn’t pretty.

The Worst Audience

Two hours and forty-eight minutes is a long time to sit through a movie. No one I knew at the time would go with me, but Free Will [Der freie Wille] was one of the boldest films I had seen at the time. The story profiles Theo, a convicted rapist, after serving his sentence at a mental institution. Now free, he struggles to suppress his urge to rape again.

The Free Will (2005)

At first, Theo comports himself, but as the film continues, he finds himself consumed with his urges. On a cognitive level, he’s aware that it is wrong and that violating his parole will bring dire consequences. But he’s clearly sick, and serving time did not heal him. With each subsequent scene, the visuals in the film become more unstable. The pace of the editing quickens. The film stock becomes “faster,” which makes for a more grainy and noisy look to the film. Perhaps most noticeably, the cinematographer starts to hold the camera in his hand, and the image shakes considerably.

The duration of the film also exacerbates the difficulty of identifying with Theo. Throughout the film, we want Theo to control his urges, but by the end, we share his exhaustion. Much like Chantal Akerman needed nearly three-and-a-half hours to show Jeanne Dielman’s dreary life, this film needed to torment its audience for it to share Theo’s demons.

For the people who remained through the entire screening, their questions were harsh. Not only was Matthias Glasner, the film’s director, in attendance, but the actor who played Theo, Jürgen Vogel, was also present. The audience interrogated both Glasner and Vogel. Some questioners seemed to forget that they had seen a fiction film and treated Vogel as if he was an actual rapist. Others grilled Glasner over the “shaky” camera towards the end of the film. One viewer even asked, “Couldn’t you find a cameraman with a steady hand?” Both Glasner and Vogel seemed dumbfounded. At the time, the world held the US in pretty low esteem because of George W. Bush and his War in Iraq. This Q&A did not help elevate our global status.

To be fair, Tribeca screens well over a hundred films each year at its festival, and this was the first or second year after it had expanded north of Canal Street. With more and more films, there are going to be “duds.” But it was the audience’s taste, not the selected films, that really bothered me.

I didn’t want to sit with them ever again.

Tell the New York State Legislature to Fund CUNY

This week, the New York State Assembly will finish their proposed state budget for the following year. The budget process includes negotiations between the state legislature and the governor, but this year, the City University of New York is in precarious position after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested in his State of the State address in January that the city of New York should be responsible to fully fund CUNY. Last year, the state contributed $485 million to CUNY and placing that kind of financial burden on the City of New York is tantamount to defunding CUNY for that amount. It would be a catastrophe for public secondary education in the nation’s largest city.

If you’re a resident of New York State, ask the state legislature to reject Cuomo’s budget proposal and to contribute to CUNY and the livelihood of the state.

Related: Read Paul Krugman's account of how CUNY levels the economic playing field for students.

Update: Joseph R. Lentol (NY Assembly, District 50) supports an increase of funding for CUNY.

I Quant Do This Anymore

WNYC’s Note to Self recently asked its listeners to share stories about using mobile apps and fitness trackers to quantify their daily progress—with dieting, sleeping, fitness—for the episode, Your Quantified Body, Your Quantified Self.

I’ve maintained a pretty ambivalent attitude towards the new wave of trackers that have emerged over the last decade with the advent of the smartphone and the proliferation of wearables. In the mid-2000s, I used to employ a heart rate monitor to do interval training for bicycle rides. I have since soured on the practice. After sinking hundred of dollars on a couple of Polar devices, I learned that the best way to train is to simply put in the miles and find a few hills along the way. Of course, others swear by it so your “mileage” may vary.

However, I have unwittingly resumed tracking my activity after getting an Apple Watch. The stock Activity app not only counts my steps, but it awards me circles for meeting daily goals. If I keep active for thirty minutes throughout the day, I get a green circle. If I avert sitting for a full hour, twelve hours throughout the day, I get a blue circle. And if I burn 870 calories, I get a red circle. I regularly meet these goals, but unless I bike more than fifteen miles or take a very long walk, it’s easy to miss meeting the calorie-burned goal. Thus, no red circle for me.

In the episode, we hear about people becoming anxious in meeting their goals, including walking laps around their kitchen before bedtime in order to walk the requisite number of steps. This resonated with me because, once, I was twenty calories short of my daily goal. My solution? I walked to the corner pizza shop to burn those twenty-plus calories and to get that elusive red circle. But I also bought 300-calorie slice of pepperoni.

Obviously, it would have been better not meeting my calorie-burned goal. The Apple Watch and its activity tracking couldn’t save me from my own poor eating choices, and because it does not record my eating, it was none the wiser.

We also hear that for many who obsessively tracked their fitness, dieting, or sleep, they almost invariably were overcome with anxiety, fearing they would not meet their goals. Ultimately, this anxiety leads to their abandoning the trackers. One participant noted that instead of using the notifications to make exercising a regular habit, she noted that dismissing and ignoring the reminders became the habit. Overall, the participants all soured on the experience, much like I did with heart-rate monitoring a decade ago and with journaling and habit-tracking in recent years.

I should note that I have found this podcast series and New Tech City—its predecessor as a segment on WNYC radio—to be bothersome. The host is too technoutopian for my taste and seems very cozy with the technocratic entrepreneurs that she profiles. In this episode, instead of conceding that trackers offer only temporary benefits for most, she imagined possibilities for “what will they think of next?”

You might take a personality test before you choose a tracker, one that understands that you are a social butterfly, and you need social support. You need that competitive edge with your friends… Or you would respond better to a fitness tracker that lights up in soothing colors, indicating it’s lovely outside, the sun is about to set, and right now would be the perfect time to take a twenty-minute walk.

Did you get that? It’s not that constantly tracking our eating, sleeping, and exercise are unnatural processes that as humans we will invariably abandon. It’s that the tracking devices and apps simply don’t have enough data. Yet.