Monday, December 24, 2007

Go Ahead and Listen



You didn't really think I was going to you leave you with that as my holiday post, did you?

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Friday, December 21, 2007

You Might Want to Turn the Volume Down for This One

And try not to look directly at it for extended periods of time.



Yes, that is Blair from The Facts of Life, and yes, she is singing to prisoners. I can't quite remember why. All I know is, I believe the original airing was the first time I heard that song, and I can't listen to it without thinking of this.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

In the Belly of the Meese

In what may the greatest advancement in tourism since the invention of the giant ball of twine, Swedish tourism promoters plan to build themselves an enormous moose. But what's that? "Big deal," you sneer? "It takes more than a fourteen-story-high ungulant that spans two counties to impress me." Your restraint is admirable, but what if I told you there was a restaurant in its belly, not to mention "a concert hall, conference rooms and a shop"? Yeah, I thought so.

Hear that? That's the sound of a thousand Canadian tourism officials simultaneously smacking themselves on the forehead.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Wow, Santa Really IS Watching

Received in my email today: a five-dollar-off coupon for online traffic school.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Knew He Was Around Here Somewhere. . .

Said by me while unpacking the creche during the James family Christmas Decoration Extravaganza:

"Hey, I think I found Jesus."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's been a rough day:




Which is why I feel the need to list the songs that (perhaps inexpilcably) make me smile:

Aerosmith, "Dude Looks Like a Lady":




Starship, "We Built This City":




The Hours, "Ali in the Jungle":




Blake Shelton, "The More I Drink":




Everclear, "AM Radio":




The Glenn Miller Orchestra, "In the Mood":




Scissor Sister, "Kiss You Off":




Katrina and the Waves, "Walking on Sunshine":




There. I feel better now.

Monday, December 10, 2007

For When Jazzercise Is Just Too Dignified

There's Hoolie Hoop. It's the exercise craze that's kinda fun for about ten minutes, then you get bored and leave it out on the lawn and forget about it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Omigod, Awards

You know Kelly, right? Kelly likes shoes:



And thanks to her love of shoes, Kelly is up for a People's Choice Award, easily the fourteenth most important media award given out in the month of January. You should vote for her, because if the "leave Britney alone" kid wins, we all lose.

Oh No She Didn't

Oh yes, she did.



And they were delicious.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Anatomy of a Fashion Disaster

I own a nearly shocking number of fabulous shoes. I shop with vim and purpose. I get my hair cut and colored at a fancy salon. And yet, deep in my heart, I know no matter what I do I can never be a truely stylish person, because I know that at one time I looked like this:



High waisted, acid washed, tapered jeans? Why yes. Oversized, "humorous" t-shirt that is not actually funny tucked into said jeans? Roger that. Not one, but two ridiculous necklaces, one a knit bag holding random items and the other a dead insect named Floyd encased in amber? But of course. Ugly, ill-fitted and wrinkled old-man sweater? Check. But really, can anything compete with the boy-band haircut with side- and back-fade? I didn't think so.

This, my friends, is what I looked like in the prime of my youth. Thank God that's over.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Disneyfication of the Italian Legal System

Recently, it has been reported that characters including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Daisy Duck (no relation) were summoned to appear in Italian court, in relation to a counterfeiting trial:

In what lawyers believe was a clerical error worthy of a Looney Tunes cartoon, a court in Naples sent a summons to the characters ordering them to appear Friday in a trial in the southern Italian city, officials said. . . "Unfortunately they cannot show up, as they are residents of Disneyland," the vice president of Disney Company Italia told The Associated Press.

This is true; as citizens of Disneyland, Mickey et al are essentially immune from international law. The "magic" kingdom is notorious for its isolationism (demonstrated by high tarriffs for a single-day visa, rigorously guarded borders and strict curfew for visitors) and has no extradition treaty with any of the EU member states. And, seeing as trying to extract an individual from "behind the happy curtain", as it's known in diplomatic circles, is far too dangerous, I think "clerical error" is definitely the right call here.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Salmon Dance!

It's the craze that's sweeping the nation!



Also, it's delicious with a sour cream and dill sauce.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Project Hairway

I love Project Runway, because it has highly skilled people competing in what they are best at. And I love judging people because, who doesn't? But, since every blog maintained by a female between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five has long since done a rundown on the contestants, I thought I would judge them by their hair:

Carmen: Highly sculptural: part high fashion, part horrible incident in a wind tunnel.







Chris: Standard male haircut, $12.99 at Supercuts.








Jack: Standard male haircut, $250 at sleekly minimalist salon.







Steven/Rami: Taking the graceful approach to male-pattern baldness and elimiating the evidence.







Kit: Very late-period Cyndi Lauper, but in a good way.







Christian: "A Flock of Seagulls in high humidity."









Elisa: Hair is pleasant, attractive. The crazy is in the eyes.








Jillian: Perfect pretty princess curls. I'm not sure quite why, but I seem to hate her.







Kevin: This season's token straight man celebrates with some wacky facial hair.







Ricky: Wears a lot of hats: the "hoping no one will notice" approach to male-pattern baldness.

Update: Having seen the latest episode of the show, I can confirm that he is not, in fact, bald. The reason for the hats remains a mystery.




Sweet P: Like her, hate the bangs. Not so much "stylish and youthful-looking" as it is "mutton dressed as lamb."






Victorya: Hair that will stop at nothing to win.

The Payoff



I think we may perhaps have had enough food.

Monday, November 26, 2007

So About To Be A Lifetime Movie of the Week

Beauty Queen Sabotage

Thanks to some backbreaking investigative work, I have managed to uncover rare video of the tragedy:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Day of Turkey!

It's eleven am here in the not-quite-frozen north of California and the nutbars are cooked, the pies are in the oven, my cheese ball is about a quarter consumed, I've washed two batches of dishes and I'm stirring the stuffing while Mom prepares the 25 pound turkey for the oven and Uncle Bruce plays his banjo. Here's to family and not burning the food.

Enjoy your tryptophan comas everyone!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Incredibly Irritating TV-Ad Line Heard Today, November 16th

"Time is running out to finish your Christmas shopping."

Therefore, in the spirit of the season that is clearly almost over, I say: "Bite me, Santa Clause 3."

What Do We Want? Residuals! When Do We Want Them? Later!



I'm not exactly a pinko commie strikelover, but I kind of think they have a point.


Update: The Colbert Report writers chime in, with their anything-you-can-do-we-can-do-half-an-hour-later contribution.

Monday, November 12, 2007

New Zealand Photos


STA_0493
Originally uploaded by Daisyj
I finally got the pictures from New Zealand uploaded. You can look at them here, and then I will finally shut up about my trip.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Pancakes in a Can?

Pancakes in a can.

I am horrified, yet oddly thrilled.

Down the Hobbit Hole


That's right; pictures from New Zealand are now off my camera and ready for uploading. Be very afraid.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

On the Nature of Hell

Sartre famously said, "Hell is other people." I say, "Hell is other people you work with who are bored because they already packed everything for the move, and have come into possession of a very large amount of bubble wrap."


p.s. Having spent most of the week so far listening to every pop song that ever charted in the seventies (long story), I am also willing to consider the possibility that Hell is Muskrat Love.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Ladybug, Ladybug

Ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug, ladybug

On Friday evening, when I came home, I found a ladybug on my doorframe. I captured it and put it outside, and when I came back in I noticed another. And another. In fact there were probably about a dozen of them crawling around on the corner above the door, apparently the result of a mass ladybug hatchery. It was like a scene from a tiny, adorable horror movie. Eventually, I managed to capture most of them and get them outdoors, but a few got away:



I have a feeling I am going to be finding ladybugs around here for a while.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

iArrgh

Recently, it happened that I turned thirty, about which the less said the better. But one postive side effect was my resultant aquisiton of an iPod touch, which I had wanted very badly. So you can imagine my disappointment when I got it home and found that my computer firmly believed it to be a camera. This turned out to be an OS issue which, after several attempts and an encounter with the phrase "panic: we are hanging here" I managed to resolve, only to find that now my computer refused to acknowledge it at all. At this point I abandoned my independent principles and took myself to the mad carnival of capitalism that is the Apple store on a Saturday afternoon. It took a while, but the guy who was helping me eventually determined that my problem was that I had the overwhelming nerve to attempt to continue using a computer that was nearly six years old, and there was no hope for me. I pointed out that this sucked and he agreed. But, all is not lost. For one thing, thanks to the move, IT seems to have disabled some of the security barriers on the work computers and I may be able to install iTunes there. And, for another thing, music appears to be only the start of the fun with this thing. For example, you can write blog posts on it.
Your hand does get a bit cramped, though.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Cubefarmed

The transition is complete: I am now a corporate drone.



And I don't even have a window.

YouTube Friday: The Triumphal Return

"How Your Cat Wakes You Up in the Morning"



It's funny 'cause it's true.


(Thanks to Mary for this one.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Wednesday: Heading Back

Over breakfast we chatted with the lady working in the cafe, who told us that her husband was currently traveling in America. She said he was amazed by the size of the portions they give you in restaurants there. Probably shocked that you don't have to pay for the bread, too.

As we were eating, a group of sheep came down the road. They huddled together in a group, stopped, and then made a sharp right turn through a gate, all apparently unattended, though there must have been a dog in there somewhere. I guess they weren't that worried about traffic on that road.

Just down the road from the B&B was the "Kauri Museum", an institution dedicated to the wood of the Kauri tree and the olde time logging thereof. It was actually kind of cool, with displays of Frontier Life, a full (though not working) sawmill and an entire wall of chainsaws. They even had manaquins modeled after the descendants of early settlers in their dioramas, for that extra touch of verisimilitude. For what I thought would be a quaint little local museum, it was surprisingly large and remarkably thorough, with the notable exception of there being any mention at all of the Maori and/or their use of/interactions with the Kauri forests. I realize that this all doesn't necessarily sound fascinating, but it actually was; a kind of upside-down mirror image of our own frontier memories.

Out front they were selling little Kauri seedlings for you to buy and plant in your garden, assuming you had the kind of garden that could be expected to one day support an eighty-ton tree. I would have bought one, but I have the sense that the California Department of Agriculture might take a dim view of that kind of individual conservation approach.

In fact, we spent so long at the museum, that we ended up cutting it kind of close to make it back to Auckland and return the rental car by one o'clock. Not that we were actually that far away, but when it comes to winding, hilly, two-lane roads with heavy truck traffic (once we got back onto Highway 1), "far" is relative. But, thanks to some skillful navigation (ahem), Mom driving rather faster than made her happy and only one U-turn, we found our way, filled up the gas tank and pulled into the rental agency parking lot at twelve fifty-five. You can't say we don't get our money's worth.

On paper, we still had a full day left, but the truth of the matter was that for all intents and purposes the trip was over. We hit a bookstore and the All Blacks team store, for unavailable-at-home books and cheesy souveniers, respectively. The New Zealand fashion week was going on right next to our hotel, but the public events wouldn't start until the weekend, so all there was to do was sit in the hotel lobby and wait fruitlessly for someone glamourous to wander by.

Of course, more things happened, and I probably would have been able to record them if I had gotten around to this less than a month later. But I think it's time to be done with this and move on.

After all, Luftansa is having a sale...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Tuesday, Part 2: Big Trees, Long Roads and a Surprising Lack of Sweet Potatoes

It was about three o'clock when we made it to the west coast, at a tiny resort town with enormous sand dunes and abundant rental cottages. There was a gas station here, too, but this appeared to be the one part of New Zealand where the gas price standardization had not taken effect and, at twenty cents a liter more than we had been paying, it seemed steep. So on we went.

The gas light came on just as we were entering the Kauri Forest National park. We had passed up a gas station with a prominent sign reading "Last Gas", but we didn't totally believe it. After all, this was a major tourist area, right? There were bound to be more stations near the park entrance. But when we asked the lady selling overpriced snacks at the first viewpoint we came to, she confirmed that the closest station was the one back the way we came, about ten minutes that way; the next wasn't for another twenty-five minutes or more ahead. (People in New Zealand tend to give distances in time, rather than distance, which suggests to me a certain consistency of speed.) We debated, and worried, while we went to take a look at the trees (they're big), and eventually, reluctantly, decided to turn around. Because, as much as we didn't want to backtrack, we wanted to be stuck out of gas on a remote road in a wilderness park in the gathering darkness even less. So back we went, which turned out the be the right idea.

(Okay, it doesn't really sound like a big adventure, but it could have been. Call it an adventure narrowly averted.)

Once we didn't have the gas thing to worry about, the Kauri forest was very interesting. Most of the island had been heavily logged, and it seemed likely that this particular area had been left alone more because it was up in a steep, mountainous area than out of any particular conservationist bent. Even so, some of it appeared to have been cleared at some point in the past, so you could see the various stages of the forest coming back. It was very peaceful, and almost completely empty.

Also totally empty: the town of Dargaville, Kumara captial of the world. At least that's what the guidebook said. Driving through, we didn't see much evidence of kumaras being grown there, unless they were cleverly disguised as sheep. There were a couple of fields that looked like they might have had something planted in them, but it was hard to tell. I suppose the qualifications for being a kumara capital are not that stringent.

It was just about dark when we found a place to stop, a B&B with an attached cafe in Matakohe (alert readers will recall that this is where I made it back to the internet and demanded attention). There was only one guest in the cafe, and none in the B&B, which meant that once the owners went home for the night we had the place to ourselves. The room was smallish, but there was a nice big sitting room with books and tea, and on our dresser we were provided with some chocolates and a small decanter of port, a development both odd and ideal.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Tuesday, Part One: History and the Road

We had the two remaining eggs for breakfast, soft-boiled, because there were egg cups in the cupboard, and when life hands you egg cups, you might as well make soft-boiled eggs.

This was our day to leave the Bay of Islands, but the question remained as to in what direction. After the marathon of driving on Saturday, it was clear we didn't want to do the whole thing in one shot, so the plan was to get within a couple of hours from Auckland and stop for the night. The choices were either to go back the way we came or take the longer, potentially more scenic route by way of the west coast, to look at some big trees. Big trees seem to run in the family, so ultimately we decided on the latter, but not until after we had had ourselves some history.

The story of relations between New Zealand's white settlers and native Maori is a longish and I'm sure deeply complicated one, but on the surface it's pretty familiar. Discovery, distrust, trade, disease, settlement, attacks, treaties, racism, broken treaties, attempts at elimination of culture, re-examination of treaties, hasty reconstruction of history, bilingual signage, inclusive mural painting, etc. Anyway, the big-time treaty that got the ball rolling here was signed at a place across the harbor from Russell, so we stopped by to have a look.

The Watangi Treaty grounds are certainly very historic, as well as being scenic and culturally sensitive. We viewed them in the company of several school groups, including one where the girls' uniforms included ankle-length skirts and straw hats. They (the grounds, not the schoolgirls) also had the biggest camelia bush (tree?) I have ever seen. Seriously, that thing must have been thirty feet tall. I have pictures.


It is a surprisingly long way from one side of the little strip on top of New Zealand to the other, with very few people in between. We stopped for lunch at the only town we passed through that had more than one paved street, at a place that would have done Roadfood proud. It was a cafe tucked in the back of a home-supply and hardware store, with tables out in the garden section. And the food wasn't bad, as long as you had generous definitions of the components. For example, if you were willing to accept a bagel as a peice of white bread with a hole in the middle, and cream cheese as a kind of creamy herb spread, then the fact that the smoked salmon was delicious could just put the dish over the border into actually tasty.

We were down to about a quarter tank of gas when we stopped for lunch, but we didn't worry too much about it. The little car was getting great milage, and the gas stations here were inconveniently located on the other side of the road, so we'd just push on to the next ones. It was nothing to worry about. (This is what is known as foreshadowing. It isn't very sublte.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lack of Updates Update

I know I'm falling behind a little bit here. More is coming soon, I promise.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thoughts About Sheep

Once you have spent a certain amount of time* in New Zealand, inevitably you begin thinking about sheep**. For example, you might wonder how sheep could ever have come from being some kind of wild animal to what they are now. Horses, I can see it. Even cows, if you think about buffalo and stuff. But sheep? Animals so dumb they have to outsource their thinking to dogs? You never hear about them returning to the wild, like pigs. To the best of my knowledge, feral sheep have never posed a danger to agriculture and/or traffic. But they have to have come from somewhere, right? At some point in history, our ancestors must have encountered great herds of noble Ur-sheep out on the steppes of somewhere, captured, broken and tamed them, and gradually bred them to the point where they would think "freedom" was a four-letter word, if they could spell. Or count. I know this, I just find it hard to believe sometimes.

*Three days
**No, not like that. Sicko.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Monday: Wet Wet Wet

Okay, here's my problem: I don't do "happy" well. Sure, I enjoy, appreciate, even prefer it in my actual life, but for blogging purposes it's a complete washout. Give me a miserable, sweltering, painful day in the middle of Texas and I can whip off paragraphs of hilarious bitching with ease. But joy? Delight? Contentment? I've got nothing. So, sorry about this one, but bear with me here guys; something's bound to go wrong eventually.

Our plans for the day were simple: an all-day boat trip around the bay, hoping to see (and possibly even swiming with) dolphins, and getting a look at whatever else might be out there. There were only nine people on our boat, including us, giving everyone plenty of room to move around and avoid making eye contact with each other. The guides were very of what seems to be the architypal New Zealand male-- beefy, with a prediliction for facial hair and rough humor. But they knew their stuff about the local nature and history, even if said knowledge did seem to owe more to enthusiam and the aquisition of random factoids than formal study.

We set out on a route around the eastern side of the bay, but almost immediately a report came in from a fishing boat about bottlenose dolphins sighted to the west. So the captain altered course, and we were off to see some dolphins.

We caught up to them at one of the previously mentioned coves (See: Sunday), where they were feeding off the fish at an offshore reef. There were about eight in the pod, and since that included babies there would be no swimming with this group. (Which didn't disappoint me as much as it might have; the water, as I have mentioned, was a little cold.)

You know how the handlers at dolphin shows always say that the tricks they perform (the dolphins, not the handlers) are just extensions of things they do in the wild? Well, they are. These dolphins spouted, they flipped, they jumped out of the water, singly and in pairs, even mama and baby together once or twice. Sometimes they would swim right up to us, coming so close that we could examine the shallow scars on their backs, and then draft off the wake at the front of the boat, right under our noses. Occasionally they would vanish entirely, reappearing in some other part of the cove, and we would motor over to catch up. I don't think they minded, though. If one thing is clear to me, it's that dolphins love attention. They're like the MTV reality show "stars" of the animal kingdom, only smarter.

It is to my everlasting regret that I elected not to bring my good digital camera, out of some insane fear it would get wet or fall overboard or something. So here I was with only my underwater camera, a cheap disposable in a plastic case with a limited number of pictures. Which meant that a) I couldn't keep snapping away, trying to get that perfect shot of a dolphin mid-flight, b) the quality of the photos I did take wasn't going to be that great, and c) since I didn't finish the roll there's no telling when I am going to get them developed.

On the other hand, if the worst thing you can say about your day is that you didn't get the ideal shot of a leaping wild dolphin, then you should probably shut the hell up and stop complainin already.

Eventually, we had to leave the dolphins to the next boat and continue on our tour. We were headed out to the Hole in the Rock, a famous natural feature known the world over for being a rock with a hole in it. And as we made our way out there, the boat suddenly slowed down and one of the guides indicated a couple of seabirds bobbing in the water.

"If you look over to your left there," he said, in an accent I couldn't possibly reproduce in writing, "you can see a couple of fairy penguins."

Penguins!

I had been hoping for, even a little bit counting on, seeing dolphins, but I had no expectations of penguins. Sure. they didn't jump around or do tricks or anything, and they were kind of hard to see, what with the waves and them being the world's smallest variety of penguin and all. But still. Penguins!

The Hole in the Rock was exactly as advertised, and quite impressive, with the added bonus that we did not get smashed against the side of it on our way through.

We took a roundabout route back through the bay, learning a little history and ogling the private island retreats of the very rich along the way. We stopped for lunch (for us: water crackers, Laughing Cow cheese and some odd-tasting potato chips) on a beach in a cove. If it had been summer and I had spent the day baking the in the subtropical heat, I probably would have gone for my swimsuit at this point. But, seeing as how I had just gotten the blood back into my fingers after being blasted by the wind on the boat, I settled for wading instead, with occasional arm-waving returns to the beach to drive the seagulls away from the food.

And see? There I go again. Beautiful day, lovely secluded island beach, pretty shells, blah blah blah. Would it help if I said that we failed to locate another pod of dolphins that we could swim with, so we had to go look at the first one again? Or that the New Zealand fur seals looked like pretty much every other seals I've seen, in the sense of being lumps of brown fur on a rock? No? I didn't think so.


Around here, at this time of year, the sun sets promptly at six. We were back from our tour by then, so we went down to the beach (the little rocky one in front of the motel) to watch it. And, seriously, you couldn't paint a scene like that. A sunset over a beautiful island, with boats bobbing on a peaceful bay in the foreground? Please. You might as well throw in dogs playing poker and Elvis performing in front of a quaint stone cottage and some fruit and go for the sweep.


Our motel (the one by the beach) came with a tiny but well-supplied kitchen area in which Mom, in her supreme momness, whipped up spinach omletes for dinner. At which point it occurred to me: omletes+orange juice+hash browns=classic American breakfast; omletes+wine+salad=chic French dinner.
One of the things I love about travel is the way it expands your mind.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Sunday: Time and Tide(pools)

I have a great new idea for a book I'm going to write. It will be a big, glossy coffee table book about the cemetaries in the most beautiful places in the world. Naturally, I'm calling it A View To Die For. Now all I need it a publishing contract, a photographer, a travel budget and a year off work.

I came up with that one today at the Russell Public Cemetary, which sits on the crest of a hill about the town, overlooking the water on both sides. Russell is technically on a peninsula, but it's an island for most practical purposes. The best (and, as far as the rental car company is concerned, only) way to get here is via ferry, owing to New Zealand's somewhat casual approach to paving roads in its outlying regions. At the moment, it is the quintesscential off-season seaside town; partially open and largely empty, with lots of seafood restaurants, chintzy gift shops and old wooden buildings. It reminds me somewhat of a miniature Provincetown, only warmer and without the rainbow flags.

It was still raining this morning, but in a way that suggested it was thinking about giving it up. Mom visited the local church and I slept in, watched a reply of last nights Rugby World Cup game and took the laundry out of the dryer. After she got back, the rain having given it up for now, we went out and explored Russell's main drag (which took all of about three minutes) and then walked up over the hill to the beach on the other side.

The Bay of Islands gets its name from the fact that it is a bay with a lot of islands in it. Northern New Zealand has a complicated coastline, possibly due to the effects of ancient volcanic and/or seismic activity, or possibly just because. At any rate, the result is dozens, possibly hundreds of sheltered little half-moon coves, calm, clear water and lots of vacation properties. At the moment, though, most of those seemed to be vacant, so we had the place practically to ourselves.

The water, when we reached it, proved to be coldish. Not Northern California bone-chilling, toe-numbing, are-you-kidding-I'm-not-going-in-there freezing, but cold enough that we didn't mind not having worn our swimsuits. Instead, we did what my family always does when we go to the beach: we went tidepooling.

For a good portion of my life, I thought that poking around looking for interesting things in rock pools was simply what people did when they went to the beach, to the point that I remember a college beach trip to Malibu when I spotted a particularly pormising outcropping and was surprised that everyone else would rather sit around on their towels than see what was there. I have since learned better and been embarassed, but fortunately I have reached a point in my life when I can begin to get over myself and anyway, I like tidepooling.

The ones we found today weren't exactly world-class-- no starfish at all, and only really tiny anemones-- but we did spot a couple of chitons, some shrimp and a variety of multicolored periwinkles. And of course, my pants got wet; no matter how far you roll your pantlegs up when you go to the beach, they always get wet. I think it's one of those laws-of-nature things.

After we were done at the beach it was only mid-afternoon, which meant we could have spent the rest of the day exploring and further enriching our knowledge of New Zealand history and nature. But we didn't. Instead, we bought some wine on sale at the local market and sat around drinking it and reading trashy novels on the patio attached to our room. What can I say? There are some things you just have to do at the beach.

Home Again, Home Again

Jiggety, as they say, jig.
But as usual, a little behind on the updates. Blogging will continue until it stops.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Blogging Delay

I was going to do lots of updating today, since I'm back in Auckland getting ready to leave, but it has been very hard getting on the computer. (Long story. Short version: the Westin here really needs to reconsider their business center setup. If all goes well, I should be reporting again tomorrow, except that it will still be today. More International Date Line jokes to follow.

Saturday, Part Two: The Drive

We left the Hobbiton farm at around eleven-thirty in the morning and pointed ourselves north. (Well, actually, south for about ten miles, then west for a while back to Cambridge, but our general goal was North.)We were headed for the Bay of Islands, which is in the northernmost part of the North Island, but we didn't intend to try and make it all the way there today.

We stopped for gas just south of Auckland, after watching gas station signs for a while and realizing that it didn't matter where you bought it, gas was $1.63.9 a liter. Call me a whacked out cynical conspiracy theorist, but I'm suspecting some price fixing here.

In the interests of making good time, and because we were hungry, we picked up lunch at the same rest stop, at the Subway. I am happy to report that the antipodean Subway tuna salad sandwich is every bit as reliably mediocre as its North American ancestor. Which brings us to our fun conversational exchange of the day:
Girl making our sandwiches, after learning where we are from: "Oh, do they have Subways in America?"
Us: "Um, yes."

The freeway only extends about twenty miles each way out of Auckland (New Zealand's largest city, by the way), and never gets wider than three lanes. In Los Angeles, that would be considered a driveway. For the rest of its length, State Highway 1 is one lane each way, with occasional passing lanes to allow annoyed locals to get around timid and confused visitors.

It started raining around Whangarei; nothing serious, jut an on-and-off drizzle to keep things interesting. I mentioned before how we meant to stop somewhere along the way for the night and finish the trip tomorrow, but there's something about driving-- it takes so much less effort to keep going than it does to stop and start again, that you just keep pushing on through, to the next town and the next, until you're close enough that you might as well go along to the end, even if it's further than you really intended to go. So, on we went, through the rain and the gathering darkness, across on the car ferry and down a wet, unidentifiable road into Russell, the oldest town in New Zealand. And when, after several wrong turns and a certain amount of map consultation by your faithful navigator, we ended up at one of the motels recommended by Lonely Planet, it seemed like something of a miracle.

It was, as Mom figured out later, "like we drove from Santa Cruz to Fort Bragg on Highway 1". In the rain. On the wrong side of the road. In, basically, a riding mower with a roof. But, anyway, we were here.

Five Town Names Contributing to the Difficulty of Map Reading in New Zealand

1. Whakamara
2. Whakamaramara
3. Whakamaru
4. Whakapara
5. Ngamatapouri

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Saturday, Part One: Hobbiton to Modesto

Yesterday evening we managed, after much perilous negotiation of roundabouts, to ind ourselves lodging at a modest but pleasant B&B on the outskirts of Cambridge. The area was described by both of my guidebooks as an almost overwhelmingly charming Victorian horse-country town, but looked to me more like a modest outer suburb of, say, Baltimore, but with more cows. I have got to start approaching guidebooks with a bit more skepticism.

Our stay included a full New Zealand breakfast, which is a lot like a full English breakfast (fried eggs, fried meat, fried mushrooms, baked tomato) except that the bacon here is more like Canadian bacon, a round piece of lean with a strip of fat around the edges. Also, I found it ironic that, at an establishment with an actual cow in the front yard (it belongs to a neighbor), they would serve you margarine for your toast.

We started early, because we had a lot to do and a long way to go. Around noon yesterday it became clear that we were never going to make both our planned stops in one day, so we chose the caves and put off Hobbiton. Which turned out to have been a good choice, because where yesterday had been gray and rainy, today had turned up bright and clear and cloudless. Perfect weather for tramping around the most famous sheep pasture in New Zealand.

There are, of course, no hobbits in Hobbiton. There are no doors either, or gardens or walls or bridges or buildings. What there is are a number of hobbit holes set into a hillside, a tree, a pond and lots and lots of sheep. It's lambing season, and every ewe (there's about six thousand of them on the farm) had a lamb or two with her, some born as recently as yesterday. (Incidentally, I decided that any lamb I saw was being raised for its wool.)

Our guide led us on a thorough tour, pointing out of the places where things used to be with lots of descriptions like "just over by those two lambs there, you can see where the road was." But that's okay, because I hadn't come for what wasn't there. I came for the hobbit holes, which were.

They had been rebuilt after the original impermenant movie set peices had succumbed to the elements and the resident sheep, and whitewashed to stand out against the green hillside. They were small and round and, even at only a few feet deep, gave off exactly the air of cozy hominess that had always made this imaginary place so appealing. I took more photos than was strictly rational, including one, for no reason, of a hedge. I really have to go and rewatch those movies now.

Side note: Our driver on the shuttle out to the site, a bluff and middle aged Kiwi man, could not have been more pleased to hear that we were from California. He and his wife were actually headed there next week, to go on a four-day cruise to Ensenada, and then up to Modesto.

Oh, how nice, we said.
Modesto? we thought.

It turned out that he was a fan of American muscle cars, and he was picking up a couple of them there to ship back out of Oakland. We wished him luck and said we'd keep an eye out for him when we got back to the Bay Area.

Things They Charge You Extra For in New Zealand

Bread and butter
Bread and olive oil
Bread with your soup
Tartar sauce
Ketchup
Butter pats

Friday: What Actually Happened

Have you ever seen a cave full of glow worms? They make constellations of tiny green lights above you, like a kid's room with those glowing stars stuck to the ceiling, only cooler.

We started our day in Auckland, as possibly the first people ever to be picked up at the Westin by the bright green Jucy Budget Rentals van. Not that I was embarrassed, of course. I'm sure all those people were just impressed by our forethought and economy.

Speaking of economy, the car that the van delivered us to could probably have fit in the average SUV's wheel well, with a pickup that reminded me of some of those old Bug commercials. (Zero to Sixty. Eventually.) But that was not exactly a bad thing; the roads here are narrow and gas prices are high. But anyway, none of those were our main concerns when we took to the roads; we were focused entirely on looking right, keeping left and not dying, respectively. It was all rather stressful.

The Waitomo caves are not that far from Auckland, but they're not that close either. To get to them, one drives south for about two hours, through green and rolling hills, past large numbers of sheep and cows (and more sheep, and more cows) who look like they are never going to be able to eat all of that grass, but by God they're going to try. You can stop and eat a meat pie at a roadside cafe, but it isn't recommended.

Eventually, you will reach the turnoff for the caves and take it, as soon as you figure out which lane to turn in to. (It can be tricky.) This being a popular backpackers stop, you have to get past the various "adventure travel" offerings, (I have noticed that, as nice as these New Zealanders seem, their automatic response to tourists is to try and throw them off, out of, and down things. I wonder about that.) then you buy your ticket and follow your guide down into the caves.

I will admit, judging by the standard of Carlsbad, the Waitomo caves were not large, nor extensively decorated. But, unlike the dead landscape of New Mexico, these caves have an active river running through them, supporting a whole underground ecosystem; most notably, the glow worms.

I could tell you all about the glow worms, their dietary requirements and their life cycles, but I figure that's the sort of thing you could look up if you are interested (and you're not, I can tell). So I'll just boil it down to the essentials here: they're worms* and they glow. And when you're in a boat, moving silently along an underground river and there are bunches and bunches of them glowing over your head, it's pretty damn cool.

*not really

I'm Back!

Sort of. I'm using the computer at the bed and breakfast in Matakohe where we are staying, but it is out front in the darkened restaurant and it's hard to see what I'm typing. Also, bugs are attracted to the monitor. But I am here.

By the way, I'd really appreciate a few comments to let me know that someone is reading this, because I'm feeling kind of abandoned here. Let's say if I get less than three I might abandon this enterprise all together. (Duplicates are okay.)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Friday Preview

We are striking out of Auckland today, into the countryside and away from the reliable internet access. So this may be the last you hear of me for a while, or it may not. We just don't know, do we? So I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you approximately what I will be talking about when I do make it back to the world of connectivity:
The renting of the car. It is of the extreme budget type. Terrifying junker? Adorable buggy? The only thing we know is it's a stick shift, so I won't be driving. Which brings us to:
Mom driving on the wrong side of the road. This may create a certain amount of tension, all the way to:
The Waitomo Caves. Boats! Glow worms! Claustrophobia! Bad sandwiches! I've been looking forward to this one. But not as much as to:
The Hobbitton set at Matamata. The only Lord of the Rings type activity we're doing here. Lest this, even then, make you think of me as a big dork, allow me to direct your attention to the people I saw on a documentary on TV last night, who had built an entire subculture and several web pages around an extra who had about three seconds of screen time in the first film. He seemed to have a sense of humor about it.

Anyway, those may or may not be the sorts of things you will hear from me, when you hear from me. Watch this space.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Thursday: Largely Victorian

Started today much later and in a slightly worse mood, both due to lack of sleep catching up. Today was Touring Auckland day, which we initiated by taking the free loop bus all the way around its route, staying on and doing half of it again before getting off at the top of the hill. The free bus had an odiferous homeless guy sleeping in the back, as they tend to, but it was otherwise a nice service.

We got off at Allbert Park, a very formal, very British and very floral public park overlooking the city. Did a loop around there, then walked across the university to the Auckland Domain, a much larger and wilder open space, somewhat in the mold of Central Park, only with fewer people and a cricket field. It also had a duck pond which, since it's early spring here, was well stocked with adorable little fluffy ducklings. Keeping to the Victorian theme*, we visted the Winter Garden, a pair of flower-stocked hothouses flanking a courtyard and accompanied by a fernery (ferns being something of a feature of New Zealand's native flora).

I realize, as I write it, that all of this sounds mind-numbingly dull, but it was really quite nice.

Fortunately for the dullness-quotient of this post, we bypassed the Auckland Museum, with its extensive displays on Maori history and culture and the roles** played by New Zealanders in various wars, because it was such a nice day. Instead, we went on to a nearby historic house, occupied by a local headmaster back in the nineteenth century and currently curated by a friendly little old lady, who took us on a very thorough tour of the approximately four rooms, totally devoid of any items of interest, unless you are a huge fan of mediocre watercolors. But she was nice, and the house was historic, and what the heck, right?


*Note: We do not actually plan our days around themes, I just use them to try and make the posts somewhat more coherent.
**Target.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wednesday: Far Better Than I Had Any Right to Expect

Arrived in Auckland at 4:45 am, local time, having had what amounted to almost a decent amount of sleep on the plane. Made it through immigration and customs, having assured the officials that we were not a threat to overstaying and agriculture, respectively, and arrived at the hotel by 6:30, bright-eyed and bushy tailed because that was 11:30 in real time. We are staying at the Westin, thanks to Mom's points, which is located kind of on the water at the edge of the business district. Our room looks directly into HP's Auckland office (we seem to be in a tech-heavy area, complete with Microsoft, HP, Sun and assorted telecom, kind of a "Silicon Quay"), so this afternoon we engaged in a little light industrial espionage, watching the employees chat, filch t-shirts and cut out by 4:30. We think they're in sales.

But, shockingly, learning about the lax work habits of antipodean tech workers was not the most exciting thing that happened today. That honor goes to the weather, which resolutely refused to live up to expectations and pour rain on us at any point, despite my not taking my raincoat. When day did finally break, it was bright and crystal-clear, if chilly, and it mostly stayed that way. So we decided to spend the day in Devonport, a charming suburb across the harbor with two extinct (I hope) volcanoes to climb and lots of lovely little Victorian-style houses to look at. We started with Second Breakfast (not counting the tea and cookies we had in the room) at a cafe where they left the big front doors open to let the air and the very bold local population of sparrows in, and served some positively excellent pastries. Then, in no particular order, we climbed both volcanoes, admired some WWII gun emplacements, walked on the beach, cut through a cemetery and a school yard, talked to a very vain Siamese cat, discovered that the numbering on one side of the street was completely independent of that on the other, except for the odd-even bit, and admired the early-spring floral displays, all before lunch. Which, yet again, was better than it had any business being.

The restaurant was recommended by the guidebook as having delicious wood-fired pizzas. The menu made it clear that they had leapt with enthusiasm onto the weird-topping bandwagon so, in the spirit of adventure, we ordered the smoked salmon, cream cheese, dill and caper pizza. Which I have had variations on before, but never with tomato sauce and mozzarella. Bizarre and misguided? Well, no. Delicious, actually. You see what I mean? (It also turned out that the lady sitting next to us was a gluten-intolerant tourist from South Carolina, but that doesn't really fit into my theme so I'm going to leave it out.)

I could go on, about the cool t-shirts from the designer seconds outlet, the fancy chocolate truffle with the candy rugby ball on top, the funky Japanese items at the $2(NZ) store, etc, but even I'm starting to get bored with all this positivity. But I do want to leave you with one reason this place is way nicer than it should be (I mean, aside from the free internet access at the hotel):
On our way back, we were trying to follow a different route than our random touristical wanderings away from the hotel. Naturally, we got lost. As we were standing on a corner, trying to determine if we had seen any of these buildings before, a woman popped out onto the patio of the restaurant above us.
"You look lost," she said. "Can I help you?"
"We're just trying to find our way back to the Westin, actually," we replied.
"Just go down this street, take a left and follow the water."
"Thank you!"
Now, I ask you, when does that happen? That doesn't happen.

I wonder if they have any biotech here?

Tuesday

There is no Tuesday.

Monday: Travel Notes

How is it that, with all the recent crackdowns, the FAA has not set a minimum penalty for whistling on international flights? (One suggestion: death.)

Quantas: Best in-flight entertainment ever. Slight point deduction for the fact that when I tried to watch the documentary on the Forbidden City, I got the movie "License to Wed", but that Robin Williams virus can be pernicious.

Quantas food: Not quite as good as Cathay Pacific's, but distinctly etable. Surprising, particularly when you consider that the British culinary tradition is to make everything taste like airplane food.

Post-dinner, approx. 11 pm
Flight Attendant: "Would you like some tea?"
Me: "Does it have caffine?"
FA (confused): "Doesn't tea always have caffine?"
Me (confused, somewhat embarassed): "Well, sometimes they make it without."
FA: "I'll check."
FA (returning): "Yes, it has caffine."
Me: "Okay, thank you, but not right now."

Today's travel epiphany: There isn't much point in having a window seat if you're flying over the Pacific at night.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Travel Update

Reporting in from Los Angeles International Airport, so named because it provides you with a visit to the third world without ever having to leave the country.

Off To New Zealand

I'm leaving for New Zealand in about five minutes. Further information to follow.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

And You Thought That Was Bad

Yesterday evening I was sitting at home, my windows open in honor of the late-summer warmth, when I heard a ghastly sound. A series of long, drawn-out scraping noises, like metal on metal, that went on for several minutes. A slow-motion car wreck, I wondered? A misguided attempt at do-it-yourself sewer repair? And then it hit me: One of the neighbor kids has taken up the violin.
God help us all.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Now This, This Can't Be Good

Personally, I blame the patients. If they had just had the good sense to have their steroid-refractory severe ulcerative colitis respond to our drug, instead of falling for the old placebo trick, then everything would be fine. Stupid patients.

Perhaps I should explain.

Yesterday at my place of employ, we had a company-wide all-hands meeting, to discuss some planned "changes in direction" for the business. This was not a surprise; we had known about it for a couple of months. Also not completely surprising was the announcement to get rid of a certain segment of the business (not related to anything I'm doing, so I felt bad for the people it affected, but only in an abstract way). Nope, the surprising part was the announcement that last Friday they learned that our lead drug candidate had failed in phase 3 clinical trials, and was being dropped. (For those of you not invovled in the biotech industry, allow me to translate: Oh. Shit.)

The upshot of all of this is that we are becoming a "more focused" company. Specifically, a smaller and more focused company. The good news is that the focus is going to be on the things my group is doing, and roughly half of this projects listed as the ones we are pinning our hopes to I have had some sort of role in working on. (For the bad news, see above). I don't know if this means I can feel confident about my chances of continued employment, but I do know that the phrase "moving forward" was used a lot.

Meanwhile, my stock options have now spent so much time underwater that I think they are SCUBA certified.

Yesterday afternoon was spent mostly in shock and gossip, with numerous intense hallway conversations in Mandarin littered with words like "severence" and "pipeline". I found myself with a stress headache and, in a possibly unrelated development, the hiccups. Today was more of the same, only without the hiccupping, and by midmorning several members of my group decided that we needed to bond through the adversity. I went to management for approval:

Me: We're thinking of going to Chevy's for a morale-boosting excercise.
My Boss: Sounds like a good idea. Have a margarita for me.

Two pitchers later, morale was showing a distinct improvement.

Friday, August 24, 2007

That is the one Truth: Remain afloat!

I don't usually just post links to Onion articles, because that is the path of the lazy blogger, but this is just awesome.

P.S. This one is pretty good too.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sometimes, I Think Humanity Could Use a Good Smack Upside the Head

Last night I went to a Fashion Event (more on that later) that had as one of its sponsors Botox. But not the ordinary beauty-through-facial-immobilization Botox, oh no. At this event they were promoting "Project Sweatfree", the beauty industry's latest attempt to eliminate all evidence of women as biological organisms, this time by injecting a powerful neurotoxin into their armpits.

What's next, surgical booger removal?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Finally!

Are you irritated by the amount of money you have hanging around? Do you have strange and delusional ideas about the needs of your pets? Or perhaps you simply enjoy the feeling of water pouring down your shoes? Well, have I got a product for you.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Nature of Humor

Absurdly fluffy show rabbit/dust mop: funny.




Absurdly fluffy show rabbit/dust mop with caption from i can has cheezeburger: hilarious.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Talk About Your Targeted Marketing

Do you ever come across a product that just seems like it has your name on it?

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Truly Dirty Job

Prior (much prior) to hosting the show Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel, Mike Rowe sold crap in the middle of the night on QVC.

Like "Precious Moments" figurines:


And a bag for your cat:


And Lava Lamps:


"A singular opportunity to not only enjoy the effects of bubbling lava, but also fuse you fingers together."

I don't get the sense that he truly believed in the products he was selling.

Is Someone Trying to Tell Me Something?

Apparently, I am not meant to get to work this week. On Wednesday it was (potential) jury duty, yesterday I had to get new tires and now I learn that all lanes of 880 are closed just past my exit because of a spill that was initially called sewage, but now is being described as "milk by-products". Either way, it's at least ten miles of stop-and-go traffic, and I honestly think my best bet is going to be to go across th Bay Bridge, through San Francisco, down 101 and back across the Dumbarton. Which is a ridiculously long way around, but I guess I should face it; there's no use driving over spilt milk.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

What Your Personal Electronics Think About You

Not that I don't love modern life, with its blogging and fuel additives and flush toilets, but I'm a little concerned by the number of inanimate objects that seem to have formed opinions about me. For example, my tivo is firmly convinced that I love the program "How It's Made" on the Discovery Channel. It records as many as it can hold, sometimes up to four a day, secure in the knowledge that I will be delighted to discover the exact steps required to assemble an air filter, or a pool cue. (For the record, I have watched a couple, and I don't dislike it. It's kind of soothing, in a segment-on-Mr.-Rogers kind of way.) Anyway, I guess it's better than the times my tivo thought I was a small, Korean-speaking child, or a gay man.

Spammers, on the other hand, have very different idea of me. The ones who reach my Yahoo account clearly believe me to be a gambling addict who needs to refinance her home (possibly due to debts incurred by too much time spent at INDIAN CASINO), while my gmail spammers have me down as a man who is insecure about his physical dimensions, who also speaks Spanish and is interested in investing in real estate. (I know this because about a month ago I discovered that Gmail had sent at least two critical non-spam emails to my spam folder, causing some social inconveniences and nearly causing Alice to miss a play. I'm not sure if I lost any others, so if you think I blew you off at some point in the recent past, I apologize.)

And then there's the "Recommended for You" feature at iTunes. Its top five choices for me:
1. Sean Kingston, "Beautiful Girls"
2. Fall Out Boy, "This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race"
3. Panic! At the Disco, "I Write Sins, Not Tragedies"
4. Emerson Drive, "Fall Into Me"
5. Sawyer Brown, "Some Girls Do"

Apparently, I'm a country-loving emo kid.

Actually, that one's not so far off.


So, what do your possessions think you like?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Four Things I Learned Today, And One I Already Knew

What I Learned:
1. When a tire catastrophically fails at 75 mph, it sounds like whup whup whupwhupwhupwhupWHUPWHUPWHUPWHUPWHUPWHUPWHUPWHUPWHUP
2. It takes a long time for a tow truck to reach you on 880 during rush hour.
3. The CHP maintains a fleet of tow trucks that patrol the freeways, looking for disabled vehicles and helping and/or towing them for free so that they do not disrupt the flow of traffic.
4. You still have to pay the tow driver you called forty dollars, even if your tire has already been changed by the time he gets there.


What I Knew:
1. It's really pathetic that I can't change a tire.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Sense of Place

On my way home tonight, I saw an elderly lady with purple hair.
I do live in* Berkeley, don't I?


*Okay, practically in.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Maybe I'm Reading Too Much

Because one of the first things I thought when I heard about this was, "What a great setting for a murder mystery."

Key quotes from an interview in Nature with one of the scientists:

Where will you be at the winter solstice?

I'll be drifting in the Arctic Ocean, somewhere near the North Pole, on an ice floe some 2 kilometres across and 3 metres thick. A suitable floe is being sought now. The Russians will build a makeshift research base on it made of prefabricated wooden cabins.


What can go wrong?

You need to be constantly aware of polar bears. All team members have been trained to shoot... Alcohol is also a bit of a concern: each member of the team is officially permitted one can of beer and one bottle of spirits per week. I would have preferred a bit more beer and less spirits. Drink can have disastrous consequences there.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Big Dumb Movie Goes Boom

Last night I went to see "Live Free Or Die Hard", possibly the best movie ever to be adapted from the New Hampshire state motto. A refreshingly retro movie-going experience, entirely free of people flying through the air, or morphing into something else, or having long conversations with characters who weren't added until post-production. There were, however, one liners, and explosions, and one liners that came directly after explosions. ("You just killed a helicopter with a car!" "I was out of bullets.") There was also pizza and refreshing adult beverages, because we saw it at the Cerrito, a second-run theater where such things are served. I like it there; it's cheap and there's a relaxed kind of atmosphere where you can get away with the occasional sotto voce commentary. (Me: "Since when do servers have CD drives?" Mary: ""That's where you lose your suspension of disbelief?")
In short, if you are in the market for a big dumb movie to go boom at you, you could do worse.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What To Say

Situation: Your friend has just told you that she is engaged.

Correct response: "Congratulations! I'm so happy for you."
Incorrect response: "WHAT?"

Live and learn.



(Potential, even worse responses:
"So, when's the baby due?"
"Is he mental or something?"
"That's what you think.")

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Public Notice

Attn: Everybody

Please be advised that, should you be employed as a summer intern at a biotech company, and should you decide that, as you are in possession of a pleasant singing voice, you would like to spend your days wandering about the lab singing (quote) "lalaladeladela" (or, alternatively, "dadadanananaah"), the people around you are not thinking "My, what a lovely voice. Aren't we lucky we have someone that talented here to sing for us?" They are, in fact, thinking "Dammit, shut up before I do something with this graduated cylinder that we're both going to regret."

Thank you; that is all.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Good Morning

Sometime around four this morning I woke up.
"Bad dream," I thought.
"Rumblerumblerumble," went a sound in the distance.
"Earthquake?" I thought.
"WHUMP," went the Earth.
"Yep. Earthquake."
And then I went back to sleep.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Well, Good

"We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer denies rumours that British forces had sowed panic in Basra, Iraq, by unleashing ferocious honey badgers (pictured). The badgers, slightly larger and scarier than the British woodland version, are in fact indigenous to the Middle East.

Slightly scary badgers?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Politics of Walking

Right, so here's my question: You know how when you go out for a walk around the office park, because it's a nice day and you could use the exercise, wearing the sneakers you keep under the desk (because you have become the kind of person who keeps sneakers under her desk, even though you still aren't sure how you feel about that) and your pantlegs rolled up because they're only the right length if you're wearing heels, and sometimes there is a person in front of you, walking just slightly slower than you are? So you end up kind of creeping up behind this person, fast enough that the gain is noticeable, but not so fast that you can just breeze on by. And then, when they sense you coming up behind them (by hearing or peripheral vision or ESP or whatever) they speed up just a little, so you're stuck walking uncomfortably close to a total stranger in a virtual lock-step, each of you totally pretending that the other one isn't there. So what do you do? Suddenly develop a need to tie your shoe, then walk unnaturally slowly the rest of the way? Jog for fifty feet and act like that is what you were going to do anyway? Just turn around and go back? Or put on a burst of speed like you just smelled something bad, ducking your head in a kind of "excuse me, sorry, coming through" apology without actually acknowledging the other walker's existence?

Personally, I tend to go with option D, but I'm open to suggestions.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Good Trailer, Bad Trailer

Recently, I went to see Ratatouille (excellent movie, by the way) and, of course, there were plenty of trailers to watch before the feature.

This one made me very happy:



I think I'm already in love with that robot.


And then there was this one, which made me question my sanity:



Because, to me, making a feature film based on a crappy cartoon from the sixties, and doing it live action, with an actual dog that flys, talks with that creepy moving-lip CGI thing and screams like Macaulay Culkin circa Home Alone sounds like a bad idea. But clearly a number of highly-paid movie executives, professionals at the height of their careers disagreed, and decided to spend more money than I am likely to see in my lifetime to make this idea a reality. So I have to wonder: Does their knowledge and experience mean nothing? Or could it be that they are right and, all appearances to the contrary, this is actually a good idea; that everything I thought I knew about reality is nothing but a sad and broken dream?

You see my problem.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Science: Marching Ever Onward

I was reading the news roundup in Nature today when I came across this little item, and I just had to share.

From the latest issue of Cellular Microbiology:

Scientists may have identified a step in the evolutionary path that produced the bubonic plague.

Bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is transmitted to humans by rat fleas. B. Joseph Hinnebusch of Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, and his colleagues report that a related bacterium, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, is toxic to fleas, causing diarrhoea.

They think this toxicity is due to a protein that acts in the flea gut. The researchers ruled out Tc toxins, a class of bacterial toxins with known insecticidal activity, as being to blame, leaving the identity of the protein unknown.

The group suggests that modification of the toxic protein may have enhanced flea-borne transmission and played a part in the genetic divergence of the two bacteria.



Clearly, this raises a couple of serious questions:

1. Fleas get diarrhea?
2. How can you tell?
3. Does that sound like the worst job in the world, or what?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Fetchez Les Chevres!

This is my backyard. These are about 300 goats. They are (almost) in the backyard because next door is Tilden Park, a very large and, in the summer, very flammable open space.



It's worth noting that this picture was taken less than an hour after they arrived. There used to be some grass on that hillside.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Bicycle Built for Neptune

In what is being described as a "major blow" to feminist t-shirt makers everywhere, pescatorial behaviorists at the University of Toomuchtimeontheirhands, New Mexico, have determined that fish do, in fact, require bicycles.

"To be honest, we're all a little surprised by these results," said Dr. Phil Landers, the principle investigator on the project. "The idea that legless animals that spend their entire existence under water might have such a strong affinity for such a clearly terrestrial machine seems counterintuitive, but that's the beauty of science. You just never know what you're going to learn."

He admitted to being unclear on how exactly the project was initiated, but denied early reports that it had anything to do with graduate student Diana Hartman's recent breakup with her longtime boyfriend and the lab's subsequent bar crawl to "help her get over that jerk".

In their experiments, the researchers observed the behavior patterns of two representative groups of fish, half of which were allowed unlimited access to bicycles while the others were not. They observed that the bicycle-positive fish appeared to be living happy and fullfilling lives, while those deprived of the two-wheeled conveyances became moody and irritable and were inclined to collect figurines.

What the fish actually do with the bicycles remains unknown.
"Obviously, these data raise almost as many questions as they answer," said Postdoctoral Fellow Roy Dreyfuss. "I think we're gonna need a bigger grant."

The wider implications of these results remain to be investigated, although law enforcement agencies have expressed interest in their possible relationship to the ususually high rate of bicycle thefts in towns along the Easter seaboard. Representatives of the Shwinn corporation refused to comment on reports of what is described as a "standing order" for an annual delivery of five thousand ten-speeds to the Santa Monica pier.

For their part, longtime advocates of the fish-bicycle anti-relationship claim to be undisturbed by the findings.
"While we welcome and encourage all forms of scientific inquiry," said a Metaphor Research Center spokesperson, "these people are clearly full of what a bear does in the woods."

Monday, July 02, 2007

Well, What Else Are You Going To Do With a BA in Classics?

Some young people, when they graduate from college, take some time off to find themselves, and maybe bang out a Great American Novel. Some get a job and a sublet and real clothes, and some go to grad school. And some go off sailing to Africa on a reproduction of a nineteenth-century slave ship. That last group? That would include my cousin Ella.

Re: Mondays

There are some mornings when you wake up, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and you've had a good night's sleep and are ready to face whatever delights the day may bring. Then there are mornings when you stumble out of bed at six-thirty to let out the dogs and put out the trash and then, upon returning on the hope you might get a few more minutes of sleep, discover you have locked yourself out of the house, and it is going to take an hour and a half and a hundred-dollar call to the locksmith to get you back in. Guess what kind of morning I'm having?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Craig Ferguson On Pleasanton

Recently, Craig Ferguson of the Late Late Show payed a visit to Pleasanton, California. He seems to have liked it:



Of course, it could just be that he needed the setup for the Gay Nineties Pizza joke.

The Top Seven Least Badass Album Titles Possible

7. Hamsterdance!
6. Back to Aquamarine
5. Rod Stewart Sings the American Songbook
4. . . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Happy Bunnies*
3. Dark Side of the Oreo
2. Not In The Face! Not In The Face!
1. Licensed To Il Divo



*Yes, I know that's a band name.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Okay, That's Quite Enough of That

Speaking of covers...

Last night when I was listening to the radio, I found that two stations were simultaneously playing an emo version of Time After Time and a sensitive-dude take on Hey Ya. To which I say, all right, it was cute when Alien Ant Farm did it, but this is getting ridiculous.

Where Have I Heard That Song 2

Staying with the canine theme here:



This one's for everyone who enjoyed the New Wave, but wished it included more writhing.

Also, that lady really should be wearing her seat belt.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Look! A thing!


This is Caddie. Caddie has a piece of sandpaper. You would think that sandpaper would not be the most comfortable thing to carry around in your mouth, but she doesn't seem to mind. She's just excited because she has a thing she can carry around, and she wants everyone to know it.

On Achievement

Recently finished reading a book about the Chicago World's Fair (thanks Abigail!) and I came across this quote in one of the last chapters. It's from a man named Sol Bloom, who was twenty-three when he was put in charge of the midway at the Fair. He made a massive amount of money, then lost it all investing in refrigerated train cars full of perishables just before the Pullman strike. About which, he had this to say:

"Being broke didn't disturb me in the least. I had started with nothing, and if now I found myself with nothing, I was at least even. Actually, I was much better than even: I had had a wonderful time."

Friday, June 22, 2007

Stolen from the blog of the incomparable Manolo:



Two questions immediately spring to mind:

a) What is an algorithm march?
b) How did ninjas get involved?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Department of I Swear, It Was Right Here a Minute Ago

Can someone check behind the sofa cushions? Chile loses a lake.

Where Have I Heard That Song Before?

New game! I've been hearing some wacky covers/samples on the radio lately, and I just had to share. Listen and name the original tune:


This one's for all you fans of mid-nineties white-boy rapping, random action scenes and synchronized dancing. You know who you are.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Top Ten All-Time Worst Things to Step In

10. Excrement, herbivore
9. A shallow hole
8. Burning coals, when you have not achieved the proper mental state* to walk across them unscathed
7. Excrement, carnivore
6. It
5. An unidentifiable thing that goes "squish"
4. Excrement, omnivore
3. A deep hole
2. A mud-filled sinkhole in the Everglades*
1. A land mine


*as represented by foot speed
*skip ahead to 4:15 for relevant clip

Friday, June 15, 2007

Summer TV

It's summertime, and the laziness is setting in. So, in honor of that, I'm copping out of my video selection this week and just posting a bit from the new American version of "Creature Comforts". It's by Aardman Animation (the Wallace and Grommit people) and they take interviews with ordinary people on a variety of subjects and have them being said by claymation animals. It's funny. I like it. Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Top Six Things You Least Expect to Find In Your Glove Compartment

6. Gloves
5. A chinchilla
4. Five pounds of gruyere
3. Hope for a better tomorrow
2. Pirate treasure
1. Yourself

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The New Ghettoization

Did you ever hear about something that you initially took to be a sign of the end of days, but then realized it was actually good news? That's how I felt when I heard about this Martha Stewart-themed housing development: rising dread and deep fear for what horrors we mortals have wrought, turning into a pleasant sense of optimism, only partially driven by cold medication.

Ms. Stewart is, of course, only the latest entity offering corporate identity as a surrogate for personal taste. You can already move into homes "inspired" by Thomas Kincade, in that paradise on Earth known as Vallejo, or forfeit your free will to the Disney Corporation in central Florida.

Now, I would rather live between a skunk ranch and a pit bull breeder* on a haunted Indian burial ground than in one of these places (after all, the restless spirits of the undead may fling knives around the room and make blood pour down the walls, but at least they'll never sneer at you for letting your lawn dry up or try and tell you what color you can paint your upstairs windowsills), but that isn't the point. The point is, there are people in the world who do want to live like that, and isn't it nice that we can round them up and put them all in the same place? Just think: they can live out the rest of their days squabbling amongst themselves about what three styles of ye olde light fixtures are classy enough to be allowed on the exteriors of their oversized, cheaply built houses, secure in the knowledge that no one near them will ever do anything even slightly individual and/or distinctive (which, as you know, causes all housing values within a ten mile radius to plummet like penguins dropped out of a hot air balloon), and leave the rest of us alone. Instead of segregating by race or religion, we can segregate by taste! (Or lack thereof.) (Or willingness to have said taste decided for one by a former model with excellent marketing skills.) So I say, good! Build more of these! Let every person in America who is afraid that their inability to control every aspect of their environment will drag them down to the dregs of society move in, so that those of us who don't can go ahead and paint our houses any damn way we please, and plant vegetable gardens in our front lawns, and convert our back yards into habitats for our seven pet gila lizards. The world would be a better place for it.

*Because the dogs would scare the skunks. Get it?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Top Fifteen All-Time Greatest Words That Begin With the Letter "P"

15. Plangent
14. Peregrine
13. Pi
12. Passel
11. Parallelogram
10. Psoriasis
9. Patsy
8. Puce
7. Periwinkle
6. Pneumatic
5. Persnickety
4. Palliative
3. Pert
2. Parsimonious
1. Pollywog

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Let the Controversy Begin!

If my wanderings around the blogosphere have taught me anything (besides precisely how much time I can get away with wasting at work) it's that nothing draws attention and gets a comments section going like a good list. Best this, worst that, shortest whatever. The downside is that everyone else figured this out before me, and all the good topics have been taken. Therefore, without further ado, Half the Fun presents:

The Top Ten All-Time Greatest Condiments

10. Chutney
9. Mustard, Yellow
8. Relish
7. Tabasco
6. Garum
5. Horseradish/Fake Wasabi*
4. Mustard, Fancy
3. Mayonnaise
2. Soy Sauce
1. Ketchup


*I have never been to a sushi restaurant fancy enough to serve real wasabi, hence its exclusion from this list.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sing! Sing A Song!

I don't usually go with topical videos, but I couldn't come up with anything this week, so I figured that with the Tony Awards on Sunday ("The Award Show No One In New York Understands Why No One Outside of New York Cares About") I'd go with the tribute to musical theater. I thought about going with this one, but it isn't exactly relevant and I'm pretty sure everyone has seen it already. So I picked a number from the first Broadway show I ever saw, on my trip to New York last year.



There really is nothing like the magical, uplifting feeling you get from American musical theater.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Warning Sign

If you have one of these:


You just might be a white, upper-middle class professional of a certain age.


(Sure, you may not actually be using it to buy a half-soy, no whip caramel macchiatos, extra hot to drink in your Prius while you listen to NPR, but let's face it, you might as well be.)

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Knee-Deep In Anklebiters

Last Sunday I went to my coworker's baby shower, where I was the only white person, the only single person and the only person not accompanied by one or more small children and/or babies and/or pregnant. It was an interesting party. Educational, too, especially for the hostess, who learned things like "Why You Don't Give a Gathering of Small Children Twenty-Four Colors of Play-Dough to Play With In a Carpeted Area" and "If You Own a Lovebird (They Bite), Be Sure to Warn People With Tiny Fingers to Keep Them Away From It". I didn't learn so much, but I did get to try seaweed-flavored potato chips, be slobbered on by another coworker's five-month-old (and help teach his mother how to do "this little piggy went to market") and impress another coworker's eleven-year-old with my shoes.