Entry for December 19, 2007: Snow and food

First off, happy 40th birthdays to Ron J.K. and David I.S., the first of my cohort to pass this milestone! On Thursday, 13 December 2007, we rushed to leave after a mandatory meeting at work. Unfortunately, most other Boston-area employers also released their staffers around the same time, just as an early afternoon Nor'easter arrived.

Heavy snow and traffic resulted in hellish commutes — it took me 3.5 hours to drive 10 miles home, and Owen E. had the worst commute of my co-workers, taking six hours to get from Framingham to Brookline, Massachusetts! Route 9 was particulary treacherous through the hills of Wellesley, and Janice and I repeatedly shoveled our driveway. In addition, we got plowed in a few frustrating times, and several more inches of wet snow fell on Sunday.

To add insult to injury, I took my car in to Direct Tire & Auto in Natick, Mass., because of a loud whine or rattle when I started it up in the cold weather. Although that turned out to be a loose belt, my 1998 Honda Civic coupe also needed an oil pan and exhaust repairs costing $1,300. There's never a good time for such an unexpected expense!

On a lighter note, Janice and I volunteered at an Animal Rescue League event in chilly downtown Boston on Saturday, Dec. 15. We helped serve as crowd control for the 96th Annual Christmas for Horses near City Hall. It was nice to see the fine police and park ranger horses, as well as children dressed as Santa's elves and fellow animal lovers, especially since snow prevented Janice from getting to her regular shelter shift in Dedham on Sunday morning.

Afterwards, we had lunch at Faneuil Hall's excellent, if crowded, food court and walked among the throngs of shoppers in Quincy Market and Downtown Crossing before catching a train home. We also put up our holiday decorations.

Over the weekend, I watched documentaries about classic rock and heavy metal music, inspired by Led Zepplin's well-received reunion concert. (I've blogged previously about music, including the troubled Amy Winehouse.) I was less pleased to learn that in its quest for ratings, the Food Network has had a falling out with chef Mario Batali (and to a lesser extent, with Emeril Lagasse), as the trend toward younger celebrities and competition over informative cooking shows continues on cable television. Yes, they helped create that culture, but I still prefer the quirky personalities of experts such as Alton Brown over the admittedly attractive and more homey newer cooks.

That dilution of brand identity is similar to what I've seen on other channels. Discovery used to be devoted to "hard science," murder-investigation procedurals seem to dominate the so-called Arts & Entertainment network, and even the Cartoon Network has experimented with live-action series. Many genre entertainment fans have been dismayed that the SciFi Channel is still chasing ratings with professional wrestling, schlock horror, and reality shows rather than original quality programming.

The Wild Web is no different, as journalists at CW and elsewhere grapple with shrinking print readership, pressure to maximize "clicks," and shifting reader habits and technologies. On Tuesday, I attended another interesting presentation on this topic by a Washington Post editor who gave examples of sites rising to the challenge.

Speaking of changing newsrooms, one of the reasons I've enjoyed NBC's short-lived time-travel drama Journeyman is how it has depicted a San Francisco newspaper in different periods. At least Pushing Daisies, one of my favorite new shows of this autumn, was recognized with a Golden Globe nomination and renewal.

Although last Thursday's D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands: Holy Steel" teleconference and Sunday's City of Heroes virtual session were truncated because of show shoveling, the face-to-face role-players turned out for a solid D&D3.5 "Vanished Lands: the Broken Chains" Arabian fantasy game. The announcement of Peter Jackson's potential return to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth encouraged fantasy film fans everywhere.

Newcomer Sara F.'s boyfriend Josh C. wasn't able to get organized in time to run a D20 Call of Cthulu/Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death steampunk/horror one-shot this coming weekend, but I look forward to the return of Paul J. and other college students for our makeup session in just over a week. I hope to catch up on snailmailings soon. In the meantime, may all your holidays be happy!