Monday, February 27, 2017

What a Long, Strange Trip It Was (Emphasis on Long!)

(Regarding the title of this post...my apologies to the Grateful Dead)

Now that it's over and I can laugh about it, here's a little story about a trip to interview for a job (my new job, actually) in Indianapolis last month...

As originally booked, I was supposed to fly out of Harrisburg, PA at 2:30pm and arrive in Washington, D.C. around 3:30pm. Then, I was to catch a flight in D.C. at 5:15pm that would land me in Indianapolis at 7pm. After picking up my bag and rental car, I would've gotten to my hotel around 8pm at the latest. A good night's sleep and I would be fresh and ready for my interview the next morning. What's that saying about the best laid plans of mice and men...?

I got to the airport in Harrisburg in plenty of time...I parked my car, checked my bag, went through security, and got to the gate by ~1:30pm. Plenty of time, right? However, my flight to D.C. got delayed 20 minutes. Okay, I thought, no big deal. Then it was delayed another 20 minutes, and then another. It started to look like it would be tight making my flight to Indy but I still wasn't that worried. In the meantime, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find my former boss (with whom I'm still on good terms)...he happened to be on the same flight to D.C. and was waiting at the gate. We started chatting and when the flight got delayed again, we decided to go talk to the gate agent. After checking on the computer, she told me there wasn't another flight from D.C. to Indy until tomorrow morning. I told her that was no good because I absolutely HAD to get there for my interview the following morning. She said "then I'd suggest driving to D.C. to make it." Can you believe that? I suppose given the sorry state of air travel these days that I shouldn't be surprised, but it still blows my mind that the best she could do was tell me to start driving.

My former boss said he'd drive me because his flight in D.C. was a bit later and he couldn't afford any more delays either. While we were discussing this, two fellows in line behind us chimed in and we started chatting with them. They were in the same boat: one was heading home to Indy and the other was trying to get home to Denver. We asked if they wanted a ride and they said sure, so we all went and had the airline take our checked bags off the plane, piled into my former boss' car, and we hit the road for Dulles. By this point it was 2:45pm and it's typically a ~2 hour drive to Dulles...it was going be tight. Miraculously the traffic was very light and we were dropped off at the terminal by 4:35pm! The fellow heading to Denver didn't have a checked bag so he ran to make his 5:20pm flight. The other fellow was in the National Guard, had spent the last six weeks training at the fort here in PA, and was on his way back home to Indy.

We got to the ticket counter and tried to check our bags. The airline wouldn't let us because it was less than 45 minutes before departure (which is their policy). I explained that I absolutely HAD to get to Indy that night and that I needed to get on that plane but she wouldn't budge. I asked if there was a later flight to Indy on another airline...no luck on both. The other fellow had managed to have the airline book him a hotel room and get him on the first flight to Indy in the morning. The best they could do for me was a 10pm flight to Columbus, Ohio. I'd then have to rent a car and drive three hours to Indy. Having no choice, I took it. Hearing this, the fellow asked if he could ride with me as he'd rather get home that night. I said sure, so he changed to the same flight. We had five hours to kill so in return for me driving him, he bought dinner and beers which I thought was a fair trade.

After dinner we had over three hours to kill before the flight. I called to change my rental car pickup to Columbus and to let my hotel know I'd be checking in late. At this point I was exhausted and still had a 90 minute flight and a three hour drive ahead of me. Before the flight took off, the hotel called me back and said they were overbooked and that they'd given my room away. I could not believe it...what else could possibly go wrong?! Thankfully, they then told me they had booked me a room at a much nicer (and more expensive) hotel and paid for it, so it ended up being free for me. It was the one thing that had gone my way all day.

We got on the plane around 10pm, flew to Columbus, and were greeted by icy roads and frigid temps. By the time we got the rental car and our bags, it was 11:35pm, and it was slow going on the highway because of the ice. Eventually as we got further west toward Indiana, the roads cleared and I drove faster. We had a good long chat (he was a very nice guy), and when we got close to his exit near Indianapolis, he called his dad to meet us at a 24-hour White Castle.

By the time I dropped him off it was ~2:30am. I made it to my hotel a little before 3am, checked in, and went right to bed. My interview
 was at 9am the next morning but I was so overtired it took me a while to fall asleep. I eked out as much sleep as I could, skipping breakfast to squeeze in as much rest as possible. When I woke up my limbs and head felt so heavy I could barely move. I had bags under my eyes that made me look like Uncle Fester. All I had time for was a quick shower, getting dressed in my suit and tie, a quick pack of my bag, and down to check out and head over to the company. A Red Bull on the way to pep me up and that was how I faced my interview. All things considered, I think it went very well. Thankfully, my travel home the next day was uneventful and I now have a story worthy of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that I can look back on and laugh about.

So there you have it, my adventure! In retrospect, it was a real comedy of errors but at the time, it wasn't quite so funny! Do you have any travel disaster stories? If so, please share them in the comments below as I'd love to hear them and commiserate with you!

Friday, February 17, 2017

BOOK REVIEW: I Was Britpopped



I've always believed that the 1990s are second only to the 1960s as rock music's greatest decade. I'm sure some of you will accuse me of feeling this way because I grew up during the decade and these were my prime formative years, at least in terms of music since I was 10 when the 90s began and 19 when they ended. In my opinion, the 1990s were a great decade for a variety of reasons, mainly because it was the only decade other than the 1960s where there was a vibrant, exciting, and quality scene on both sides of the Atlantic at the same time. Between the alternative rock scene in the US and the indie/BritPop scene in the UK, bands were once again writing and recording music that captured the spirit of the times and pushing boundaries in the studio and on stage in a way that sadly hasn't been done since 2000 or so. It was the last decade when rock and instrument-based music was dominant, before rap, pop, and programmed music written by teams of songwriters became the industry norm. In the new book I Was BritPopped: The A-Z of BritPop, authors Jenny Natasha and Tom Boniface-Webb have presented the decade in British music in the form of an alphabetical guide to the bands, albums, singles, TV shows, and fashions that defined Cool Britannia and the entire movement.

***special thanks to the authors for sending me a copy of the book to review!***


As explained in the book's introduction, I Was BritPoppped was designed to not only be read front to back, but to be used as a reference where entries can be immediately turned to when information is needed.  The book doesn't cover the entire decade, but rather the core years of ~1992-1998 which corresponds with the movement's birth, peak, and decline. Understandably, the bulk of the book is dominated by the giants of BritPop: Blur, Suede, Pulp, Elastica, and Oasis. The numerous quality second and third tier bands like the Bluetones, Mansun, the Verve, Ocean Colour Scene, Supergrass, and more are well represented, while loads of one-hit wonders and bands at the margins of BritPop who did little more than cash in and ride the wave for a fleeting taste of fame round it out. I have to say that the breadth of what the authors covered was impressive, as I've always considered myself quite knowledgeable about the movement (especially for an American) yet there were plenty of lesser bands I'd never heard of.

 The classic 1995 TV special BritPop Now, hosted by Blur's Damon Albarn

The entire film of Live Forever is on YouTube and well worth viewing

Overall, this was an enjoyable book and a nice way to stimulate memories of the music from that era, much of which I still regularly listen to while a lot is stuff I haven't heard in years. By focusing on only the most relevant artists and releases and limiting the singles to those that were either culturally significant or charted in the Top 20, the authors prevent the book from getting too long and unwieldy. However, there were some problems I did have with the book. These mainly had to do with numerous typos and printing errors found throughout. The writing style could have been cleaned up and the flow and syntax improved. It simply seems that an additional edit of the entire book was in order. Finally, there were some glaring factual errors that irritated me a bit, the two biggest being when the book stated that Suede keyboardist Neil Codling is singer Brett Anderson's cousin (he's drummer Simon Gilbert's cousin), and that the Rolls-Royce in the swimming pool on the cover of Oasis' Be Here Now album is a tribute to Keith Moon because that's how he died (he actually died from an overdose of anti-alcoholism pills while sleeping in his apartment). Little details like these might not matter to casual readers who may be unaware, but for an obsessive (and some might say excessively so) music fan such as myself, these stuck out like a sore thumb. There also were just too many of the marginal/worthless bands who did little more than latch on to BritPop for a bit of fame at the expense of some more entries from the titans of the genre. In particular, while I understand why the authors wanted to keep the book confined to the core years of the scene, I do wish they'd made some exceptions for the heavyweights like Blur, Suede, Oasis, etc and discussed the albums they made both prior to (if applicable) and after (ditto) the movement ended in order to shed some light on how these bands adapted (or didn't) once the music had moved on. However, besides these criticisms, this is a fun book and well worth the read for anyone around my age who lived through those years, loved the music that came out of the UK in the 1990s, and still carries the flag for BritPop two decades after the movement peaked. It's good for an initial front to back reading before settling in as a fun reference book for future use.

MY RATING: 7/10

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Once Again, the New England Patriots are Champions!



(I'd meant to finish writing this and post it the day after the Super Bowl, but life got in the way as it usually does, so here it is a week late but no less relevant, especially if you're a fellow Patriots fan!)

As you all know, I've been a massive fan of the Boston sports teams for my entire life. Having been born in Massachusetts and spending my entire life in New Hampshire from the age of 3 until I moved to Pennsylvania two years ago, it's in my blood. The Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots, and Bruins have been my favorite teams since before I can remember and I'll support them until the day I die. I'm 37 years old and for the first 21 years of my life, I hadn't seen much greatness from my teams. Apart from the Celtics, who were one of the dominant NBA teams of the 1980s and won 3 titles in 5 Finals appearances during my childhood, the rest of the teams only gave us heartache. The Red Sox lost the 1986 World Series in crushing fashion, a collapse so bad that even despite the three titles they've won since 2004 I'm still scarred. The Bruins lost in their two Stanley Cup Finals appearances in 1988 and 1990, and the Patriots...let me just say that for anyone under 30, you have no idea how bad the Patriots used to be. They were the laughing stock of the NFL and apart from a Cinderella run to the Super Bowl in 1986 (where they promptly got crushed by the historically great '85 Chicago Bears), being a Patriots fan meant cheering on a perennially losing organization. The low point was when they came a hair's breadth from moving to St. Louis before Robert Kraft stepped in, bought the team, and started to invest money in the team, players, and coaching staff. Still, we cheered for them. Because of this, the past sixteen years of dominance have been especially sweet, but I think the Pats may have topped all of the great moments of the past with their recent victory in Super Bowl LI last week.



Going back two years ago, I wrote that their victory over the Seahawks was the greatest game I'd ever seen. I still think it was one of the best games I've ever seen, but at least right now the latest championship won by the Patriots takes the cake. After they trailed 21-0 to the Falcons in the second quarter, I didn't see how they could possibly win. The nadir was when the score was 28-3 midway through the third quarter...surely the team with the best record during the regular season couldn't go out like this, even to a supremely talented team like the Falcons? My only wish at that point was for them to score a few times to at least make it less of a blowout, but then they began to chip away at the lead little by little, their defense turned up the heat, and suddenly it was a game! I won't bore anyone with the details because if you watched the game, you don't need me to recap it, but when the Patriots completed the comeback to tie the game with less than a minute to go, it just felt like they had 100% of the momentum and that there was no way they'd lose the game. As soon as they got the ball in overtime, I knew it was over and they didn't prove me wrong with their historic 34-28 victory, completing the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history (a record they previously set two years before). As sweet as the game was for myriad reasons (including sticking it to Roger Goodell and the NFL), it was extra satisfying because with Julian Edelman's incredible catch late in the fourth quarter, we finally had a freaky fluke catch go our way after being on the wrong end of them in our previous three Super Bowl appearances. (Two of these completely flukey catches are the only reason the Patriots have five championships and not seven). The other cool thing was that after the game, a lot of my friends who are non-Patriots fans (or even Patriots haters) texted me to congratulate me on the game, and when I wore my Pats hat out and about in the days following, fellow Pats fans and even fans of other teams stopped me to talk about the game. That's one of my favorite things about sports, their ability to bring people together to talk and enjoy them even if they root for different teams (of course, this aspect can also lead to petty disagreements and trolling behavior on the internet, but let's just focus on the positive here).



I know that as a Boston sports fan, I've been spoiled over the last twenty years and that our teams and our fans are hated by most of the rest of the country, but I make no apologies. I've been following these teams my entire life and intend to do so until I die. With that in mind the Patriots latest Super Bowl victory is something I'll never forget. This run of success, spearheaded by Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, is something I'll likely not see again in my lifetime, so I plan to savor every moment of it. These are the kind of times any sports fan wishes for their team, and I and the rest of Patriots Nation happen to be fortunate enough to have witnessed this from 2001 to the present.  Like I keep telling my kids (all of them Patriots fans as well...was there ever a doubt?), enjoy this because it's not normal for a team to be this good for this long. I know I will, and the Patriots winning their fifth title in Super Bowl LI is the latest in a long line of sports memories I'll always remember.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Chemist on the Go

In case any of you were wondering what was going on in my real life as a chemist, I bring to you this brief update on my continuing adventures in securing my next position of full-time employment. Ever since I was laid off in November, I've been working at this non-stop. Because of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years I lost a lot of time since companies were closed for the holidays and those involved in the hiring process took time off for vacation. However, since mid-January things have started to pick up and the handful of phone interviews I had in November and December turned into a lot more. I continue to field a lot of phone calls, while over the last two weeks I've started to do some traveling for interviews. It's exciting since I'm not only learning about potential new opportunities, meeting interesting new people, and having interesting discussions as I move ever closer to rejoining the ranks of the employed, but it's been nice seeing new and different parts of the country in the process. I've logged a lot of miles in the car and the air, several nights at hotels, and not only have I learned about a lot of interesting science, but I'm realizing that wherever I end up that I'll be doing some absolutely fascinating work alongside equally talented and motivated people. For me, that's the most exciting thing when I think about what the future holds. I certainly didn't foresee being in this situation, but as with all things in life it's been a learning experience and will undoubtedly (and presumably) lead to something bigger and better. As always, in order to (hopefully) entertain and inform my fellow chemists or anyone else who may be going through this very ordeal, I'll write more once when there's an update that merits it. Until then, this chemist is still on the go!