Model Dog

Ben Yakas at Gothamist wrote an amusing story suggesting that the MTA, the parent agency of the New York City Subway, adopt a mascot to improve relations between the agency and its straphanging public. Each of the twelve candidate mascots is illustrated by Matt Lubchansky.

Almost immediately, I was drawn to the dog in the bag, referred to with the tongue-twisting moniker “DAGBOG,” an obvious anagram of “Bag Dog.”


MTA rules dictate that any animal—including any dog—”must be enclosed in a container and carried in a manner which would not annoy other passengers.” Anyone who has lived in New York for a time has seen at least one instance of a person carrying a dog into a subway stations and onto trains by toting them into a blue Ikea bag.

I tried this once with Beagle Sam. It didn’t go well.

Last March, I was sitting Beagle Sam for the weekend, and we were headed to a party that was a thirty-minute walk away. Because it is still cold in March, I thought I would take Sam onto the subway to cut down our travel time—and outdoor exposure—to less than 10 minutes.

I put Sam in a blue Ikea bag, but once we boarded the train, Sam began to pant and shake. She was clearly nervous about the movement of the train. This concerned so much that we got off the train at the next station and walked the rest of the way to the party.

Alas, Sam was not cutout to be a “Bag Dog,” but perhaps she can at least model for the DAGBOG mascot.

Their Apizza is So Good, They Don’t Even Need Correct Spelling

 

Within eight hours of landing at JFK Airport after spending a month in Southern California, I was in a car heading up to New Haven, Connecticut for a day trip. The last time I was in New Haven was a bit over five years ago on a bike ride from Greenpoint to New Haven. My experience of New Haven was a bit rushed. I had ridden with a group from the New York Cycle Club, and we had split up into two groups. By the time my group had arrived in New Haven, there was only one other person with me, and the two of us headed to BAR on Crown Street. Many locals insist that BAR is one of best pizza places in New Haven.

Oh, and about New Haven pizza: they refer to it as apizza, which they pronounce as “ah-beets.”

I have a bad joke about this: “I hear the pizza is so good, they don’t even need correct spelling.”


On yesterday’s trip to New Haven, we went the tourist route. Wooster Street in New Haven’s Little Italy has two of the oldest apizza places in town. Unlike BAR, which has a very contemporary decor, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana and Sally’s Apizza, both on Wooster Street, predate World War II. Frank Pepe’s, for example, opened in 1925, and Sally’s, started by Frank’s nephew Sal, opened in 1938. Even Modern Apizza, on State Street, opened way back in 1934. BAR is by comparison an infant, having opened in 1991.

As is common with these touristy places, there’s going to be a wait. Fortunately, we arrived just before noon on Sunday, less than a half-hour after Sally’s opened and that queue appeared pretty short. As we drove by, I jumped out of the car to wait in line while my friends found a place to park the car.

A queue forms outside of Sally's Apizza

We waited about thirty minutes in line, which may seem like a long time, but we lucked out in a couple of ways. First, it was a mild and sunny January day. The sun was shining on us while we waited so we weren’t shivering from the cold, as one would this time of year. Second, the party of eleven that was immediately in front us in line abandoned their place in line. I suspect they went to Frank Pepe’s instead, but no matter the reason, our party of four was seated promptly after they left.

Once inside, we debated what to order. The ringleader of the group wanted to recreate the clam pie from Frank Pepe’s, but as none of us had been to Sally’s we figured it would be best to get a classic pie and a specialty pie.

The classic pie was a fresh tomato pie.

A fresh tomato pie from Sally's Apizza

This is the prototypical New Haven apizza. It is a charred crust topped only with tomato sauce, some herbs, and a bit of cheese—likely Parmesan. We requested that half the pie be topped with sausage and onions.

The specialty pie was something very novel for us accustomed to New York-style pizza: a white potato pie.

A white potato pie from Sally's Apizza

This was absolutely delicious. The potatoes were thinly sliced and baked in a cream sauce. It was like having potato-au-gratin on a pizza.

Last year, I made a sweet potato–au-gratin dish using Stephanie Izzard’s recipe that has been a hit every time I’ve brought it to a dinner party. I am tempted to experiment making a pizza pie using this recipe.

LA Famous on Plant-Based Instagram

Let’s face it. “Plant-based” is trendy.

Multiple people, who never would dared called themselves vegan, have recently been echoing the talking points of the 2019 Netflix documentary The Game Changers. In this trending doc, a UFC fighter dispels the idea that you need meat to be a body builder. You can be an aggro, muscly bro on a plant-based diet, too.

Also, in 2018, the New York Times‘s Kim Severson anticipated that plant-based foods would be big in 2019. At the time, she foresaw:

substantial vegetable entrées will become a fixture on restaurant menus, in the way that alternatives to dairy creamers became standard at coffee bars a few years ago. Many diners have started to eat less red meat or abandon animal protein altogether, whether for health, environmental or ethical reasons.

Severson also predicted that plant-based diets would integrate with the other fashionable low-carb diets of the day to create an army of plant-based paleos—or pegans—on the eve of the 2020s.

The prediction about the plant-based food being trendy seems to have borne out, and yesterday, as part of spending time with my friend Jennifer, we visited what she called the “lettuce food truck.” When we arrived at the Lettuce Feast LA food truck, parked on the Fairfax District’s namesake thoroughfare, I was surprise to learn that they didn’t just serve lettuce.

Instead, the “Lettuce food truck” serves plant-based chick’n sandwiches, with an emphasis on a Nashville-style hot chick’n offering.

While I did initially scratch my head about the existence and viability of a food truck serving only leafy greens, I also would not have been surprised either. I vaguely remembered that, in the same 2018 report about 2019 food trends, Severson predicted that new kinds of lettuce would be on-trend. She writes, “expect to see little-known varieties showing up on menus, and an explosion in lettuces grown hydroponically, many of them in urban container farms.”

Apparently, lettuce is too 2019 for the plant-based connoisseurs at Lettuce Feast.

I posted an Instagram story summarizing my surprise that the Lettuce food truck actually serves chick’n sandwiches.

Because I tagged them in the story, they responded and mentioned my post in their story, sarcastically adding, “who knew? 🤣🤣🤣.”

I mentioned their story in a subsequent story of mine—a small Instastory vortex—labeling it “That time @lettucefeastla made fun of me for not knowing they sold chick’n sammies.”

About an hour later, a guy I know IRL messaged me to tell me, “you’re LA famous now, my dude! I saw their post before I saw yours hahahaha.”

Not just “LA famous,” I replied, but LA famous on plant-based Instagram.

Because their post was an Instagram story, it disappeared within a day. In the digital age, things move fast. My fifteen nanoseconds of fame were over.

Kicking off 2020 with a Century Ride

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

Like I did on New Year’s Day 2016, I rode a century ride with the LA Wheelmen. Well, saying I rode with them is a bit untrue. I arrived at the start point in Malibu at 7:00 AM, but after about ten minutes they got so far ahead of me that I never saw them for the rest of the day.

As anyone who has spent any time with me over the past half year knows, I am not a happy person. I spent New Year’s Eve having a mild panic attack from the anxiety of a new year. Since about New Year’s Eve 2013, I have dreaded the new year because each one has turned out worse than the previous. This sullen feeling only gets compounded by knowing that seemingly everyone else was having fun looking forward to a bright future. I was not.

One of the few pure joys I have is bicycling. Again, it’s not a perfect relationship, but we get by. First, I am not that good at it. I am slow on the bike and, in my advancing age, I am cautious in traffic so I don’t take risks that younger, speedier cyclists take. Second, all my gear is from a different age. At first, it didn’t bother me having such old gear, but now I feel like a dinosaur riding a 9-speed bike with rim brakes and cable shifting. I think I realized that group riding might not be my thing, although there’s no way I’m doing something silly like getting a Peloton.

Yesterday, the Pacific Coast Highway was my peloton.

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

However, the greatest benefit of cycling has been able to spend hours burning away my nervous energy focusing on something other than my stress and anxieties. And yesterday, on New Year’s Day, I was able to do just that.


Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

I don’t have a lot to say about this ride to distinguish this ride from my 2016 effort. In both cases, the weather was chilly at the beginning, but there was a lot of sunshine in the afternoon and the temperature reached the upper 60s.

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

The scenery was absolutely stunning. I think Foothill Road in Ventura has become one of my favorite stretches of road out here. There’s rolling hills and a nice summit with plenty of pretty scenery—including the Pacific Ocean in the distance.

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

I was also enamored with the view on the way back. Riding south on the seaside of PCH provided multiple photo opportunities.

Kickoff Century Ride, New Year's Day 2020

But aside from that, my performance on this ride was not as great as the first time I did it. Here are some numbers:

Year20162020
Mileage100.8 mi.100.0 mi.
Total Time9:27:449:04:45
Moving Time7:12:367:14:49
Average Speed14.0 MPH13.8 MPH

One thing that sticks out is that I was faster four years ago than I was this year. I rode the full century at an average speed of 14.0 MPH in 2016, but this year, I dropped to 13.8 MPH. Don’t get me wrong: that is still a respectable speed for a rider like me. I would immediately attribute that to the fact that my last ride of over 50 miles was over four months ago, back in August. Also, as one of the LA Wheelmen riders remarked before he sprinted away from me on PCH, “we all were in better shape four years ago.” Also, 2015 was my best cycling year ever. I rode a long-distance ride just about every weekend between March and August that year. Although I ride a bike just about every day, I simply don’t have the base miles.

However, I’m never one to obsess about PRs, and on this ride, I had a different goal. Because there’s not a lot of daylight this time of year, my principal concern was finishing before the 4:30 PM sunset. And that I did.

My lasting impression of this ride from 2016 was how hard the last twenty-five miles were due to the hills and the traffic. This year I sought to mitigate those challenges.

That first time, I didn’t expect the hills to be so challenging on PCH, and I didn’t gear down enough to give myself a chance. By the end of the ride, I was wiped out. For 2020, I made an effort to “respect” the hills. I geared down early and often, and I believe that made a difference. I wasn’t exhausted at the end of the ride.

As for the traffic, it was bad. The southbound side of PCH runs next to the oceanside of the roadway. Many beachgoers park in the shoulder, which is where I ride for most of the way. Also, many cars don’t move to the left to give me a bit of space; they just whizz past me at 50 MPH with inches to spare. After that happening once or twice, I started to take the lane when the shoulder was unavailable.

2020 Hindsight: A Decade in Photos

A pile of spent confetti poppers lies on a hardwood floor signaling the end of a festive New Year's Day celebration.

By press time, it will be 2020 in most of the world. Pardon me if I seem a little unexcited about the coming of a new decade. After all, I lived through the year 2000—the turn of a century and a new millennium. And I was old enough to not only appreciate it, I went to three parties that night!

Ringing in a new decade in 2020 is, to me, like getting excited about Starbucks. “Oh, is this your first one?”

Although I’ve soured on just about all other social media, I’ve really been into posting Instagram Stories since the summer. I won’t explain all my reasons but I will say that I like that it remains a creative medium. I like telling stories through still images and concise text.

Last night, I got inspired to curate a Instastory—A Decade in Photos. Although there is a Highlight that is somewhat permanent, I am posting a gallery of the same photos here.

Happy New Year!

Why Bother Taking a Class When You Plan on Missing Half of It?

The winter session at Queens College begins in a few days, on January 2, and, today, I emailed the enrolled students about my online courses: Media Technologies and Contemporary Media. My welcome message lays out the schedule for the three-week term. My courses consist of twelve modules, just like the ones we cover in the in-person classes offered during the traditional fall and spring terms.

Within a few hours, I received messages from two students asking if they can finish all the course material early. Coincidentally, both students said they would be out of the country for about 10 days, starting on the 2nd, and that they would not have Internet access while abroad. One student suggested that they planned on finishing the work before they left on the 2nd. In other words, they wanted to complete all the work within a few days—something that takes over over two weeks on our accelerated winter schedule and that takes about two months in the fall and spring terms.

To be clear, going away is not the issue. I am running the course from California, which is quite manageable, because I have reliable Internet access and my mobile plan allows for tethering. But every year, my dad wants to visit Guatemala and I always have to rebuff him because I am not sure if I can reliably tend to the courses while out the country.

Why did these students enroll in a twenty-two day course and plan on missing about half of it?

This past semester, I found six cases of suspected plagiarism. Right now, I am in a distrustful spirit, and I have to wonder: were these students planning to cheat? Did they get the work from another student and just planned to dump that work as soon as they could?

I suggested to both students that they drop the course before it starts and take it when they actually have a chance of doing the work in a meaningful way.

How I Calculate Your Grade in My Class

All of my classes use a number of different assignments to calculate a student’s final grade. In some classes, all of the assessments—assignments and exams—are weighted equally. But most of the time, each assessment carries a different weight. Here’s how to calculate grades for both cases…

Assessments with Equal Weights

AssignmentWeightScore
Reading Quizzes20%92
Writing Exercise20%88
Midterm Exam20%84
Essay20%90
Final Exam20%80

This is really easy. To calculate your final grade, simply average all the scores.

  1. Make all scores percentages—out of 100 points—by dividing your score by the total number of points. For example, if you earned a 12 points on assessment with a total 15 possible points, your score is 12/15 = 80/100 = 80 points.
  2. Average the percentages. If you’ve earned 80, 90, 82, 72, and 78 on five assessment, the average is calculated by adding the scores and diving that sum by 5 (the number of assessment): 80+90+82+72+78 = 402, then divide 402 by 5. The result in this example is 80.2.

Your final grade would be 80.2% or a low B letter grade.

Assessments with Different Weights

AssignmentWeightScorePoints
Reading Quizzes25%9223
Writing Exercise15%8813.2
Midterm Exam20%8416.8
Essay20%9018
Final Exam20%8016

This requires multiplying each assessment score by the weighted percentage and then adding those results.

  1. Make all scores percentages—out of 100 points—by dividing your score by the total number of points. For example, if you earned a 12 points on assessment with a total 15 possible points, your score is 12/15 = 80/100 = 80 points. The table above includes the scores already computed as percentages.
  2. Multiply the scores by the weight of each assessment. For example, for Reading Quizzes in the table above, multiply the score 92 by 25%—which is 92 x .25 = 23 points. Do this for each assessment.
  3. Add the points together. In the above example, the result is 23+13.2+16.8+18+16 = 87.

Your final grade is 87% which is a high B letter grade.

How to Calculate Your Grade in the Middle of the Semester

If you want to know your grade before you’ve finished all the assessment, you can project your grade based on the work you’ve completed. Using the table above, let’s say that you know the scores for the first three assessments, but not the essay or the final exam.

  1. Multiply the scores by the weight of each assessment.
  2. Add the points for the assessment you’ve completed. This would be 23+13.2+16.8 = 53 points.
  3. Add the weights together for the assessments you’ve completed. For the first three assessments, the weights are 25+15+20 = 60.
  4. Divide your earned points by sum of the weights of assessments you’ve completed. In this example, it would 53 / 60 = .883333…, or 88.333 / 100, 88.33%.

Your grade at this point is a 88.33% or a high B letter grade.

Day Trip: Four Breweries in New York’s Hudson Valley

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

A little over a week ago, a few of my beer-loving friends planned a trip to the Hudson Valley to visit some of the many breweries in the area. Our initial list was really impossibly long. We quickly figured out that we would have to make the list shorter—something like four breweries—to make the trip feasible.

I should point out a few notes:

  1. I had almost nothing to do with the planning of the trip. The discussion was all done on What’s App, and I (in)famously don’t use this app. It’s for the best, I’m sure, since I either adopt early or not at all.
  2. We did this whole trip by automobile. While in years past, I would have written about this trip because I bicycled there, this was not one of those trips. I really haven’t been on the bike as much as I’d like.
  3. Hudson Valley Brewing in Beacon might be the best regarded of the breweries in the Hudson Valley, and we have all had the pleasure of going multiple times. We didn’t go on this trip, but it’s definitely one of the best… and easily the most crowded.

Plan Bee Farm Brewery

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

Our first stop was at Plan Bee Farm Brewery in Poughkeepsie. The brewery is located just a few miles east of downtown on a buculoic farm.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

The tap room is decorated with many hexagons, evoking the shape of a honeycomb throughout the space. They have a bottle rack with hexagons and even the tile on the bathroom floor is a hexagonal mosiac. I feel like a fool for not having snapped any photos of the decorative motif.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

Plan Bee says that their beers are all cultivated from ingredients sourced in the community. The yeast itself is cultivated in the honeycombs on the property. The beers were mostly wild ales, which I am happy to report gave them a very unique quality.

One beer that my friends ordered and let me try was a pickle beer. One person commented that tasted like the bagged pickle that you get with a sandwich from the diner. It wasn’t my favorite.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

The brewery has a really big outdoor space with tables for seating, a stage inside of a gazebo, and a basketball hoop and a cornhole setup. The latter two pieces were instrumental in a video I shot of my friend Jackie shooting a basket—it became the basis of a wonderful song.

Suarez Family Brewery

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

The taproom at Suarez Family Brewery is open for only a few hours on three days a week.

The taproom offers only small pours: four-ounce pours that allow you to taste most of their beers and still to find your way back to the car.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

One thing I really like was how the label on the bottles depicts parts of the taproom.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

Of the four brewery taprooms we visited on this day, Suarez Family was my overall favorite. Look for me to return on a bike after second winter passes us in in mid-May.

Sloop Brewing at The Factory

Sloop Brewing has become one of the largest breweries in the region. You can even find their beers at some Trader Joe’s stores in the city.

However, their scale doesn’t take away from the quality of their beers. Sloop had a taproom in Elizaville, which they called The Barn. Since then, they have moved to a much larger space in an industrial park campus—once used by IBM—in East Fishkill, known as The Factory.

The place is enormous and the taproom is one of the largest I can ever remember visiting. It is also really well lit.

Clearly, this is the place where a lot of their beer gets brewed and packaged for distribution.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

Of all the breweries on this trip, this was the only one with a full service restaurant.

A favorite aspect of this brewery was how they sought to appease both younger drinkers and old timers like me. For example, there was an Instagram-ready photo booth—a “Selfie Station”—in one corner of the taproom.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

And then directly opposite the photo booth was a flatscreen playing recorded episodes of MTV’s 120 Minutes, an early 1990s music video program on Sunday nights that more or less informed my musical tastes for the rest of the decade.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

Speaking of the full-service food menu, the folks at Sloop went to great pains to pair every one of their food offerings with a beer from the menu. There were some appropriate pairings, such chasing down The Sloop Burger with their flagship Juice Bomb IPA. But there were other pairings that didn’t compute: I didn’t note them so I can’t describe them here.

Equilibrium Brewing

Note: Equilibrium Brewing has opened a large taproom that wasn’t yet opened during our visit in November 2019.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

A couple of years ago, I tried to visit Equilibrium with some friends but there was no taproom, and the Equilibrium restaurant that is attached to the brewery didn’t let us stash our bikes inside. Instead, we rode to nearby Clemson Brothers, ordered food, and debated the impending tax bill. Good times.

Since then, the brewery opened a small taproom and has since opened a much larger space in central Middletown, next to the old passenger rail station that is sadly many miles from the current Middletown station on NJ Transit’s Port Jervis line.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

The smaller taproom is really nice and certainly deserved a visit due to the intimacy. By the time we arrived at this fourth brewery, it was late and the beertender was extra surly: he’d rather go home than serve us after sampling three other breweries. Also, I swear that some of the other patrons were drunk-crying.

Hudson Valley Brewery Tour

If Suarez Family was the nicest taproom to visit, the best beer was at Equilibrium. It was so good that a few of us stocked up on cans to take back home.

Afterword

As I said earlier, I didn’t have anything to do with planning this trip. It was all my friends Ian and Steve who plotted everything. I just had to show up and pay my share. In the event any of you read this site, thanks for handling it all, guys. It was a worthwhile escape from the city.

That Time I Shot and Posted a Video to Instagram and It Became a Beat

Last week, a few of my friends and I went on a tour of four breweries in the Hudson Valley. At Plan Bee Farm Brewery in Poughkeepsie, they had a cornhole set up and a basketball court on the side of their building.

A cornhole board rests against a barn wall underneath a basketball court.

It was a cold day—somewhere in the low 30s—and the cornhole board was put away, resting against the barn. Also, because it was the coldest day in memory, we were all bundled up in winter coats: our unacclimated bodies weren’t yet used to 30° F.

One of us grabbed a basketball and took a few shots. I shot a few photos, and also a couple of videos. My friend Jackie, wearing a winter coat and boots, took a jump shot and made a basket. I had starting shooting just before she took the shot, and I stopped it after she walked away triumphantly. The video lasts all of two seconds.

I posted the short video to Instagram as a post. Over the last few months, I have really taken to posting Stories, but something told me this would be a good video post.

Watch the Instagram video with the sound on. It should loop, and if you listen to it a few times, you should start to notice a beat. I hadn’t noticed the beat until my friend Walter posted a video of my video playing with the sound on and looping. All the while, his girlfriend starts singing to the beat.

View this post on Instagram

Saw Juan’s video. One take.

A post shared by WALTER PLUFF (@walterpluff) on

The song is one made popular by Sam Cooke, “Bring it On Home to Me.”


It was one of the coolest things I have ever unwittingly and unknowingly participated. A lot of things had to go right:

  1. Jackie’s shot had to hit all of the things it did: first, it hit the basket and the rim. It also had to hit the out-of-place cornhole board and the concrete below. Also, our friend Ian had to affirmingly comment offscreen “there it is!”
  2. The start and end points of the video had to be in the right spot. Remember that I shot and posted the video without any editing. Also, I’ll confess that I forget that recording and posting videos to Instagram include sound. In my mind, I was shooting silent—or MOS, if I can use a term from film studies.
  3. Instagram had to loop the video and maintain a low and consistent latency to keep the start the loop again without missing a beat—so to speak.
  4. Walter had to have his Instagram app with the sound on. And he had to be in the room with his girlfriend within listening range to notice the beat.
  5. Walter’s girlfriend had to have a song come to mind and begin singing it.
  6. The two must have had two iPhones nearby: one to play my looped video, and one to record her performance.

For someone who studies creative works all the time, but can’t make anything to save his life, I am thrilled to have been a part of this. But all I did was having the right friends do the right things at the right time.