Saturday, March 31, 2007
Things I Learned in College, Part II

Source: Flickr

I don't like tests, I find them useless. So I didn't take tests after my sophomore year of college. Instead, I developed an elaborate, basically insane but wonderfully enriching method of choosing courses. The end result was that I spent an absurd amount of time course shopping each semester, as well as hondling and petitioning with professors to cater to me. Ninety nine percent of the time, the alternative program that I proposed involved me doing more work ("Instead of your test, I'll write a 10 page research report on [insert esoteric topic here]"). In the end, I got my degree on time from my nice school in Philadelphia without bothering to complete my history requirement, life science requirement, or most of my humanities core requirements. And I didn't take a foreign language.

The other day I came across this brief piece I wrote back in the fall of my junior year when I was applying to join a leadership organization at Penn. I believe the question I was responding to had something to do with the type of way in which I show leadership, rather than following. Yes I really wrote this, and yes it's really true:

Each semester, I aim to take at least one class on a topic about which I know absolutely nothing. The course must have a professor who will captivate me, and students who share my desire to learn. To find such classes, I treat course shopping like guerrilla warfare. This semester alone, I've enrolled in and attended 14 different courses so far just to settle with the 4 that I am currently taking. The result is that in my two years here, I've taken seminars on middle eastern gender studies, travel writing, trickery, comparative history of genocide, and, currently, love and death in Japanese drama.

Some friends of mine have asked me over the years to try to write about how I approached this maniacal process. It always varied from semester to semester, but here's a shortlist of what I looked for in my classes:
- Class does not meet before 10:30am
- Class does not meet more than twice a week
- Class does not meet in a building more than 4 blocks from my apartment
- Class does not require gratuitous use of Blackboard
- Classroom has at least two windows, preferably facing south
- Professor must speak English as a first language, or understand enough of the language to know what a 6-4-3 double play is
- Professor must show ability to make jokes
- If professor laughs at own jokes, jokes must be funny
- Class does not require that I take tests
- Class rewards in-class participation
- Class does not contain more than three members of the basketball team

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Friday, March 30, 2007
I like lists

Source: Flickr

I make lots of lists. Probably because I'm really bad at doodling. For example, here's a list of some things that I'm good at:

1. Miniature Sports
2. Spelling
3. Watching TV shows about painting
4. Not being a criminal
5. Making lists of stuff

I am working on a list of things that I want to learn over the summer and will post it here when I have it ready.

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Random Musings

Trying to get work done here at home and it occurs to me that I'm totally unproductive when there's music on in the background. TV doesn't bother me in the same way, especially live sports that are not in the last two minutes of a game, but for some reason I get really into music and find myself focusing on lyrics more than on completing whatever task on which I'm working.

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Shameless Self-Promotion

An Apartment Therapy blogger named Chris actually quoted me from my silly little post about the new Whole Foods on the Bowery. Guess I should start using my Technorati Profile after all.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007
New Whole Foods on Bowery

Source: Racked

Check out this sneak peak of the new Whole Foods on the Bowery from their pre-opening party last night. We live in a weird time that people are celebrating the opening of a grocery store that already has several locations in the city, but ooh-- Jacques Torres chocolates and a Belgian fry bar! SRosen calls it grocery shopping in the post-modern age. I say produce is the new black.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007
How to Fix Everything: Blackboard

Source: Flickr
Now that I'm back in school, I'm again using the Blackboard Learning System, an online learning tool designed for students and their professors to be able to share documents and collaborate. Blackboard is used by hundreds of universities, and smartly fills a necessary niche in the world of academia.

Its design and interface is terrible, however, and seven years since I was first introduced to Blackboard as a freshman, I don't see a single upgrade to the core application. The app is using the same horrendously ugly navigational elements, with the same mid-90's-style page refreshes on each click. The discussion tools have not changed at all, and searching to find documents is a nightmare. The nav tools still don't really mean anything. This stuff reminds me why I always hated it when classes used Blackboard for anything (and this is despite being a huge nerd myself).

I genuinely hope that there are better tools than Blackboard out there now to college students, but in lieu of that, here's what I'd do if I redesigned Blackboard:

  1. Build in social networking features. One of the biggest problems with Blackboard as a student is that rather than being something cool, it's an educational tool that feels like one. I'd integrate Blackboard directly into Facebook (something every college student uses constantly now anyway) so that student responses to reading and homework that used to go on Blackboard's communication pages (often a requirement for liberal arts classes) would now be posted on Facebook. For privacy's sake, the material would function like a Facebook wall viewable only to those in the class, and would also appear as a new item in students' news feeds.

  2. Rebuild the entire thing using AJAX technologies. This one's a no-brainer. Blackboard is and has always been hideously slow, owing to the fact that as far as I can tell, it hasn't been recoded since about 2000. I'd rewrite the thing to make each "class site" navigation function without any page refreshes. Use ajax, use flash, whatever. I don't care, just fix it. I'd give noogies to every programmer who insists that each course page needs to spawn its own window. This is an educational tool, not a mid-90's banner ad for a porn site.

  3. Fix the awful navigation and use taggging to make files easy to search and sort. This is sort of a corollary to #2. I remember that as an undergrad, my professors who used Blackboard would invariably post all course files to one nav element, such as "Course Documents" or "Assignments," but almost never filtered appropriately. I could never find any of the course docs, and the subnav elements don't even make sense. Why is the "Announcements" list in the left column nav and then also as an element in the sub nav for "Communications?" I'm not a UI designer, but there's got to be a better way to organize this material.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Longing for the days of Alex's MVP and R&L Galleries

Source: Flickr

I cleaned my room at my parents' apartment this weekend (more on that in a future post), throwing away thousands of my baseball cards. Good ones, too, not just "commons." Even 10 years ago, this would have been unfathomable to me, let alone 15 years ago, when my collection probably could have been sold to a dealer for at least a few thousand dollars. Now the market for the cards is a fraction of what it once was, and the few cards I chose to keep were those that I saved more for sentimentality than any value that they might have once possessed.

Mark McGwire's once sought-after 1985 Topps rookie card (the '84 Olympic team card) is being listed on eBay for around $10. I was collecting baseball cards at exactly the time that their market reached unprecedented heights, and I remember when a PSA 10 of that McGwire card alone (and I had 2) could fetch upwards of $1,000. That card wasn't even the gem of my collection. At one point, I had the '87 Classic Bo Jackson, the '83 Topps Traded Darryl Strawberry, and the '90 Leaf Frank Thomas. Actually, Danny had that one, and I wanted it so bad. I've got a '78 Eddie Murray, a '79 Ozzie Smith, and even an '89 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr, the card that some say created the baseball card industry's feeding frenzy of the early 1990's. But man I wanted that Frank Thomas card.

There's a legion of kids about my age who believed that they'd one day become price guide-authoring, pre-blogger-era media superstars like their hero, the inimitable Dr. James Beckett. We never learned what the Dr. was for anyway.

For those dorky enough to remember it all, here's a trip down memory lane with some of my favorite cards:

The infamous 1988 Fleer Billy Ripken error card. Someone on the '88 Orioles team thought it would be funny to write "Fuck Face" at the bottom of Billy's bat during picture day (it was). Billy had a fairly indistinguished 12-year career as a second baseball for some crappy teams in the the light hitting late 80's-pre-power-surge era of steroid-free baseball, but the card's popularity was increased by the fact that Billy is Cal's little brother. Fleer pulled the card shortly after the error was discovered, but a few thousand were already out there. I pulled mine out of a rack pack sometime around 1991, an experience which, when prorated for my age and maturity at the time, ranks somewhere below seeing Beck in concert (really good) and above getting promoted at my first job (pretty decent) in the pantheon of my own memories. I am such a loser.

1987 Classic Bo Jackson, the "football/baseball" crossover rookie card. Classic cards weren't even meant to be collectibles, they were part of a trivia board game that could be played with the cards, and '87 was the first of several Classic series. This wasn't even really an official Bo Jackson rookie card, but because Classic made such a limited run in its first year, the card's rarity drove its value way up during the "Bo Knows Bo" era. I got this card in 1989 when I was at Westchester Summer Day camp. We were brought into some building to play board games during a rainy day, and I found the original Classic board game buried underneath several editions of Chutes & Ladders. I also remember that I saw Rocky for the first time that day, followed immediately by Rocky II and, the next day, Rocky III and Rocky IV. Looking back on it, I think I just had a counselor who was really into Rocky.

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr. card. If memory serves me right, this was card #1 in the set. Being card #1 was always a big deal, but it was particularly significant considering that this was Upper Deck's very first set and Griffey was drafted straight out of Moeller high school and had not yet even played a day of pro ball (nor would he ever play in the minors). Upper Deck was the first company to include a hologram on their cards. And yeah, I'm writing all of this from memory. I don't remember how I got this card, but clearly, I could have used some other hobbies when I was 9.

1981 Topps Harold Baines rookie card. I love this card. Despite the fact that the card is from the early '80's, everything says "70's" about it to me, from the ugly ass colors, to the cheap design, to Baines' amazing facial hair. I got this card when my uncle went to a tag sale and paid $3 to some guy for a binder filled with a bunch of cards from the 1980's, including an entire page of nothing but Vince Coleman cards, and 6 Oddibe McDowells. What a sweet binder.

Darryl Strawberry '83 Topps Traded rookie card. I got the '83 Strawberry in that same binder that my uncle bought for three bucks. Topps Traded was always an awesome series because while the regular Topps set was issued in advance of the season (usually around spring training), the "traded" set would come out toward the end of the season and would include cards of the players who had been traded to new teams, as well as any hot rookies. Strawberry was the big winner in '83, Kevin Maas was the guy in '90. Kevin Maas was awesome.

Frank Thomas 1990 Leaf rookie. The 1990 Leaf series was the first that I can remember where a company that already had an existing brand (Donruss) issued a fancy, premium brand (Leaf) that collectors went nuts over. I was so jealous that Danny had this card. I think I still am.

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While I am honored to be the cause of such's poorly directed. Very.

If my memory serves me, not only did I NOT have that card, but a certain friend of mine did. Blake Stuchin. He owned such a card, and what a glorious card it was.


If my memory serves me even more, my foolhardy friend, Blake Stuchin, traded the Frank Thomas 1990 Leaf for an Ernie Banks card. The trading partner in this swap? My brother. David Abramson.

Months later, Blake would realize his mistake. So silly was this was move that he would choose to block it out of his memory completely. He did learn one thing from this traumatizing ordeal....

When it comes to trading baseball cards, don't fuck with David Abramson.

By Anonymous Dan Abramson, at Tuesday, March 20, 2007 12:11:00 AM  

Wow, really? I honestly don't remember that at all. I guess there are some memories so traumatic that they merit being bottled up forever.

I wonder if Dave will trade me the Frank Thomas now for a Tony Gwynn '87 Topps O-Pee-Chee, an bucket filled with Vanilla Wafers. I know I'd make that deal.

By Blogger blake, at Tuesday, March 20, 2007 8:11:00 AM  

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Pete Rose is an idiot

Pete Rose
Source: Flickr
According to this ESPN story, Pete Rose admitted not only that he bet on baseball, but also that he bet on the Reds to win every night. Appearing on the Dan Patrick/Keith Olbermann ESPN Radio show, he said that he hopes to be reinstated in baseball so that he can manage again. Says Rose, "[It's] all about dollars, Dan and Keith. If I was ever reinstated. If an owner don't want to win and draw people, don't call my number," Rose said.

Pete Rose is a lying, cheating, greedy man. I'm not sure what book he's promoting this time that he's coming forward and coming clean, but I'm sure that he has some kind of ulterior motive in doing so. At least he could have the decency to do something really crazy to merit falling into that "wacky ex-athlete" category of celebs that we love or love to hate, like Mike Tyson and Charles Barkley.

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Monday, March 12, 2007
At least some channels still show music

Source: Flickr
I've noticed lately that live concerts are being broadcast with a lot of fast cuts now and I really don't like this. INHD's excellent London Live is a perfect example of this. The music sounds crisp, but the camera pans are dizzying and unpleasant. I've often watched entire songs performed without even a single clear visual on any of the band members.

The first concert I can remember that was this dizzying was Britney Spears' Onyx Hotel tour, which I remember being a big, splashy, nauseating HD mess. And yes, I watched it. Go ahead and judge me, I don't care.

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But do they have TUP?

Source: ESPN

Doug Gottlieb just said that he likes that a team plays "inside out" when discussing three consecutive matchup discussions. I love March Madness.

Also, Wikipedia just taught me that Doug Gottlieb is a convicted felon. Thanks Wikipedia!

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How I Consume Media

Source: Flickr.

I always get annoyed when I tell someone about something that I read, usually something along the lines of "Did you know that the AP is attempting to not cover Paris Hilton for one week?" and I'm asked how I have time to read "that stuff." It's always one of those "you know lots of weird stuff, you must have tons of free time" comments. This is a comment that's both annoying and ignorant, and almost only comes from people who don't understand how tech savvy, media-literate people my age interact with each other. Sounds pretentious, but

For the more curious and less foolish among you, I get most of my news from the feeds on my blogroll, which you can read in the sidebar on the right hand column of this page. This enables me to scan headlines on around 40 sites a day in just a few minutes. I also check the NY Times online most days and read Salon every day because, as my friends know, I am the world's only paying subscriber to

For those who understand these sorts of things, I love RSS and think that the company that finds a way to make an RSS product for the masses will make a killing. The word "RSS," of course, won't be in any of the marketing materials in order for this to be a success. For now, I use Bloglines.

I do not read five newspapers a day.

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Friday, March 09, 2007
what's in a name, or why i shouldn't write stream of consciousness

Source: Drugs@FDA

When I was working in pharmaceutical marketing, I always laughed about drug names, which I still believe are generated by throwing anywhere from 5 to 14 darts on a consonant dart board and then adding vowels where it seems appropriate to form a new fake-word-slash-drug-name.

I learned today that the FDA's website contains a searchable, sortable list of all drug name filings. Sure enough, looking through the site confirms that most drug names are terrible. They don't describe the product, and they sound almost as arcane as the scientific names of the active ingredient from which they're based.

For example, Novartis received approval on Monday of a drug called Tekturna which, according to the impossibly difficult-to-read label information, is some kind of renin inhibitor. The active ingredient is Aliskiren, which sounds kind of like either a girl I had a crush on in middle school, or a German lager that's rich in hops. I have no idea what renin is or why we want to inhibit it, but it's one syllable away from a Russian revolutionary, and clearly communism is not the answer, so let's go ahead and block it.

I prefer the non-FDA approved names like HeadOn. Got a headache? Go for HeadOn. Simple and to the point. If I could rename Viagra, I'd call it PenisUp. Then when the revenue started to flatline, I'd add an exclamation point to the name and introduce "PenisUp! Extreme." Also this reminds me that I think websites could have an amusing extreme spinoff division. Amazon Extreme! for example, would be like normal Amazon but obviously much more extreme. I think that just means it would get a bike rack, but I'm not sure.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007
things i would ask people if i had a blog community

MySpace is ugly. All of it. Have you ever seen a single MySpace page that isn't hideously unattractive? I know that that's sort of the idea, but for some reason it's the one social networking site that I just never latched on to (as if my empty profile) wasn't an obvious sign. Someone please point me in the direction of a well-designed MySpace page and I'll be pleasantly surprised.

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all aboard, all aboard, whooooa

Source: Wikipedia
Opened Wikipedia today and saw that the featured article is about The KLF, a leader in the British acid house music of the late 80's and early 90's. KLF is a fantastic story: a group of art student dropouts who created hit music for the sake of irony, made a bunch of money, and then burned more than $1,000,000 on a Scottish island just to make a coffee table book. As if that wasn't enough, they had the audacity to write a book called "The Manual" on how to make your own Brit chart topping hit, which mocked not only their own music, but also virtually every major electronic dance hit in the UK for the previous ten years. I love this story.


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As all of my friends know, I root for the NFL's only Canadian football team. Today my beloved Bills traded Willis McGahee to the Ravens for a third round draft choice, a seventh round draft choice, a leprechaun, five horseshoes, and a baby unicorn. This just like the Herschel Walker deal and the Bills are like the Cowboys, except the complete opposite. Hey Marv - was Larry Andersen not available?

Every year the Bills find a new way to make me question why I choose to blindly and unfailingly support a team located 8 hours north of me in a part of the country that I have no desire to visit, producing nothing but frustration for me as I watch their games in quiet desperation. Ok loud desperation but desperation nonetheless. Can someone at least put Steve Tasker in the Hall of Fame immediately so that I can calm my kvetching a bit? That'd be great, thanks.

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Reasons to Watch Television

Source: VH1

I love reality television. Hell, I support reality television. Surreal Life Fame Games is a joy. Sure, watching it makes me feel a little bit worse about myself as a person and about how I choose to spend my time with my expensive education. But I also learned that I thankfully do not have the low self esteem of CeCe Deville, the rage of Vanilla Ice, or the complete bitchiness of Verne Troyer. Surreal Life Fame Games has taught me that minor celebrities have no sense of irony, unless they get naked for a living and apparently appeared on the cover of a Girls Gone Wild music collection. I know what you're thinking... Joe Francis has a record label? Is it better than (Answer: No. Nothing is better than Save the 90's except maybe the newly released Monster Ballads Platinum Edition.

Tonight I watched the Surreal Life Fame Games celebrity phone bank challenge, where the B list cast was asked to call their B list friends and get them to call them back. Among the "stars" who called back... Frank Stallone. Joey Buttafuco. And big-time star, Carrot Top. No word on whether Carrot Top's crazy muscles called back, too. Do you think you can book Ron Jeremy just to name drop people for an hour? Because I'd pay $12 for that.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007
how to fix everything: pandas for peace

Source: Wikipedia

I'm not a political blogger, but I have the solution to how we can get out of the war in Iraq. Instead of 20,000 more troops, 20,000 pandas. We get thousands of pandas and drop them into the heart of the Middle East. Would anyone ever shoot a panda? No. They're adorable. Israel-Palestine? Pandas. African civil wars? Pandas. North Korea? Communist pandas. Panda politics will save the world from itself with bamboo shoots of love.

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Friday, March 02, 2007
i've got my money on the 1 seeds

What a clever way to raise money...

(PRLEAP.COM) NEW YORK; March 1, 2007 – Madness Against Malaria (MAM), a unique international online fundraising and awareness-raising initiative modeled after the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament, today entered its second phase as the top 64 teams were entered into a tournament bracket (see:

More than 100 teams from dozens of countries around the world have been participating in MAM, which launched in September 2006 and was lauded for its creativity by First Lady Laura Bush during the December 2006 White House summit on malaria. During the first phase, $68,000 in funds were raised to purchase more than 14,000 life-saving long-lasting insecticide treated mosquito nets (LLINs) – a simple yet remarkably effective means of combating a disease, which despite being fully preventable and curable, kills 1-3 million people each year – 70% of whom are children under the age of five.

Beginning today, the 64 teams that have raised the most money will compete "knock-out style" against each other for one week. The team from each pair that raises the most money in the allotted time period will move on to the next round. Just as in the NCAA basketball tournament, MAM will feature "Sweet 16," "Elite 8," and "Final Four" rounds leading up to the championship. On April 16, the winning team will be determined. All participants win the satisfaction of helping to save lives, and the real winners are those in the impoverished villages plagued by malaria that will benefit from these efforts.

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about me

I'm Blake. I like to learn stuff.

I like to learn about history, art, culture, sports, and politics. I like learning about what happens when you mix Diet Coke and Mentos. I like learning about Britney's latest flameup, Beckham's newest haircut, and how to make little origami gift boxes out a piece of 8.5x11.

I started this blog for me to have a place to write about the things that I've learned. I hope that you enjoy reading.

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I am a partner in The Rock Club, the NYC area's premier rock climbing gym. NYC kiddies - we're double the size of Chelsea Piers and way more fun. Programs and instruction for all skills and levels. Tell them Blake sent you and get a free carabineer. If you buy a membership, I will buy you a cupcake.

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