Monday, November 27, 2006

The Great Coffee War of 2006

Talk about being overcaffeinated: Soon, four different coffee shops will battle it out on East Ninth Street and Second Avenue in New York City. This coffee connoisseur's paradise finds each within 200 square feet of each other.

Prior to today, it was a two-way battle between the chain, Starbucks, and the indie underdog, Mudspot. Today sees the opening of the second Max Brenner outlet in New York, housed in the spot that Starbucks was a year ago and now directionally opposite the retail giant on the south side of the street. And -- according to the sign I read last night -- Veselka is now expanding its operations several doors down, opening its own coffee shop directly opposite the Mudspot.

Talk about craziness, as well as market oversaturation. We'll see who is standing within a year, but my hope is that the plucky and enterprising Mudspot, which I have a lot of love for, continues to thrive.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

"Ghost" in the Machine

As I had mentioned earlier, I have been reading "The Ghost Map", Steven Johnson's look into the 1854 London cholera epidemic. Now that I've finished it, I can say it's a fine book, notwithstanding the extended passages involving fecal matter and Johnson's habit of wandering in places.

A medical mystery chronicling an eight-day outbreak that touched almost every family in the Broad Street area, Johnson uses this event both as a focal point for discussing the evolution of cities and how this event helped to change how we combat large-scale epidemics. One begat the other-- the infrastructure of London helped the cholera breed in 1854. The end chapters, which looks at the future could hold in disease management, are even more eerie and chilling.

As Johnson himself writes in his blog, "So many of the issues that define the modern world today -- the runaway growth of megacities, environmental crises, fears of apocalyptic epidemics, digital mapping, the need for clean water, urban terror, the rise of amateur expertise -- are there, in embryo, in the Broad Street outbreak." Talk about a giant premise, one that he ultimately tackles well.

To me, though, the most eye-opening part of his book comes towards the end when he discusses what could happen in the future. Noting that by 2015, the largest cities are expected to be Tokyo, Mumbai, Dhaka, Sao Paulo and Dehli -- astonishingly, each with populations of more than 20 million -- he writes, "the megacities of the twenty-first century will have to learn all over again the lessons that London muddled through in the nineteenth." We are left with the impression that cholera could strike a major city again, and be even more deadly. Also intriguing is his idea that global warming and the energy crunch "will have disruptive effects on existing cities in the coming decades".

Those expecting only the blow-by-blow of what happened in 1854 will ultimately be disappointed. It's more than that. It's also not the normal Johnson polemic-- it's a large departure from his earlier works, and an improvement. I would love to see him tackle this vein, the historical thriller, again.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Read Like Me

For those who have been asking about what I read online, I've made my Bloglines feed public. You can find it here. It's very unorganized, but tell me if I'm missing something I should be reading.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Already Over: Sunday Brunch

I've now giving up on weekend brunch.

Forgive me, but I've never really understood the purpose of this New York city staple.

You wake up, still a bit groggy from the previous night's excursions, and struggle to make it to that weekend's brunch destination. This even though it's the early afternoon. You arrive and hope that everyone else will make it, so that your reservation isn't ganked -- my apologies, 'gank' is my new favorite word -- by another. You make small talk and your mildew-embedded mind tries to catch up with the conversation. Everyone looks like they're struggling to get through this endeavor.

The check comes and you gawk at how much you've paid for so little; you're still malnourished. And, after awkward goodbyes, you go home to be non-productive. Really, more than anything, you crave a nap.

I hope that whomever came up with the idea of brunch was dragged into the public square, and drawn and quartered in full view of all the other townsfolk. Seriously, I hate the idea that much. From now on, I'm going to leisurely grab a coffee and a newspaper-- at my own pace.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Fool Me-- You Can't Get Fooled Again"

It's not often I give a writer a second try.

I've given up on more authors than I care to admit, after being let down by one of their efforts. The popular-with-my-generation Chuck Palahniuk is an example of this, oddly enough-- nothing to do with prose or subject matter, his works just weren't something I was interested enough in to invest the money and time in a second try. "Fight Club" was 'eh' to me and I stopped "Invisible Monsters" after 10 pages. I fear I was spoiled by "Fight Club", the film.

Don Dellilo is another example that comes to mind here, to name another writer. And, in the musical realm, I fear this might be true with Bloc Party's upcoming sophomore effort, based upon the advance reviews of its next album based on what I'm hearing and reading.

But Steven Johnson is one author who I have given a second pass. Although I disliked his earlier effort -- "Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter", the title of which encapsulates the book's focus quite well -- I am finding his newest, "The Ghost Map", to be a real page-turner. More likely than not, it has to do with the change from theory to non-fiction.

More on this book soon. But it just struck me, as I looked at my bookshelf, how many author's full canons I have there, and few singular efforts.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

You Know You're Going to Have a Tough Monday Workday When... realize some joker has switched the regular coffee and the decaf in the kitchen. Ack.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Early Obituary: Bamn!

On St. Mark's Place in the East Village, a new take on the self-serve fast-food joint has been getting a great deal of media attention not only in New York, but nationally. Calling itself Bamn!, this new 'eatery' bills itself as a 25-hour automat. Basically, you can plop in $2 in quarters, push a white button and out pops a teriyaki burger.

For a while, it became a good place to grab a quick meal on the go; it's certainly unique in this day and age.

It was a concept that quickly lost flavor, though, in my mind. Same selection day in and day out. Same class of tourist-y people gawking at the concept. And despite the whole "25 hours a day" hook, it remains suspiciously unopen when I walk to the subway each morning. I'd like to think Bamn! will be around for the long run, but the owners need to change the fare up a bit.

But, each time I pass it, it's feeling more and more like a novelty act, something that will soon disappear from the East Village landscape.

[Photo by Tina Fineberg of the Associated Press]

Monday, November 06, 2006

Tired of Lifestyle Porn

Thrillist. Daily Candy. Urban Daddy. Very Short List. And now, from the New York Times, comes Urbanite. I'm signed up for each of these e-newsletters (often dubbed 'lifestyle porn'), and I'm feeling a little fatigued from all of it.

So many choices to be found within, so little time. Is it just me, or is this category -- while catering to different niches, for the most part -- becoming oversubscribed?

Of these, I'm most partial to the erudite Very Short List, which started its run in early September. While some might find it boring (Gawker did), it's become the one I look to each morning. As describes it, the e-newsletter "carries recommendations of unheralded cultural and entertainment products, including books, CDs and DVDs." Now in beta, it offers contributions from Kurt Andersen and is hard to find for those seeking it out-- a bracketed search of its name doesn't even come up its site among the first 10 pages of results on Google. Here's to hoping this one catches on further.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Funky Beer Memories

Halloween. What does one do when their refrigerator dies and there are two cases of beer within that were on their way to becoming funky? Obviously, it's time to take off the wig, put away the candy and invite the friends over. That's how my Halloween night started and why I'm now cleaning up my apartment.

While I'm more than a little peeved at the thought of eating out for the near future, this brings back some fond meories of when I was a senior in high school. My good friends and I had gone to a Bridgeport, Conn. liquor store and bought a ton of beer, which was then transferred to the trunk of my car-- a Peugot, which we referred to as the clown car because of the amount of people we could fit in there. Every other day for about a month, we put fresh ice in there; my car became known as a party on wheels. Definitely good times, even with what soon became skanky beer, until my father made me open up the trunk and I got in a load of trouble.

Ah, good memories.