Posted on Monday, July 1st, 2013
Ooh! Today was Canada Day!
Apparently "Canada Day" is declared as such because July 1st is the anniversary date of the day when three North American colonies were super-glued together to form "Canada" in 1867. It seems a little unfair that there's no USA Day today. Instead we get Independence Day in three days and a newspaper called USA Today. I guess that's a fair trade.
In honor of The Great White North's special day, I've decided to re-print my "Canada Travel Journal" from 2009. Which, in turn, is a re-print of a guest-post I made for my Canadian compadre, LeSombre (whose blog is apparently down right now?).
And so, without further ado, here's my trips to Canada...
So congrats to our neighbor to the north, and here's to many happy Canada Days to come.
Posted on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013
And so Google Reader is dead.
Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.
As in I opened up my feed reader this morning and it returned no new articles.
Now, before I jump into things, I should probably talk a little bit about why I even give a crap seeing as how blogs are dying and most everything ends up on Facebook anyway. The short answer is "clutter." Yes, many blogs and news sources post their articles (or, more likely, a link to their articles) on Facebook. The problem is that my Facebook newsfeed is also jammed up with tons of other stuff. And that's fine... I actually enjoy keeping up with my friends by all the crazy crap they post... but I don't want to have to go digging through all that to find the blog and news posts I'm looking for. I want them in a separate place so I can quickly get to the material I'm seeking. And that material generally breaks down like this...
And so... where am I at now that Google Reader has gone the way of the dodo?
Well, I can't very well give up having a central service to keep track of my feeds so I can make sure things are synced between all my computers and iDevices, so I went looking for another service. At first I hopped on the Feedly bandwagon as most my friend have because, hey, it's free. But what happens when they too realize there's no money to be made in free webfeeds? And so I bailed from Feedly and signed up with Feed Wrangler. Unlike other "free" services with no business model for actually staying in business, Feed Wrangler is charging $19.95 a year to manage your feeds. A relatively small amount that I am happy to pay so I won't have to go through the Google Reader crap again.
And how am I accessing Feed Wrangler?
Well... their web interface is really good. Very clean. They have smart feeds there which is a spiffy feature. But I prefer to use an offline app so I can have a more feature-rich experience and a cache of my feeds so I can read where I don't have internet.
My first "real" feed reader was NetNewsWire. Brent Simmons clearly new what he was doing when he created it, as the thing Just Made Perfect Sense. It worked like a dream. Everything was so smart in implementation. But then Simmons sold it to NewsGator who in turn sold it to an app house called Black Pixel back in 2011. Black Pixel was more like a Black Hole from which information never escapes, so I finally ditched NetNewsWire for a new app called Reeder.
Reeder was slick looking, but pretty much brain-dead. When you "mark all as read" in NetNewsWire, it assumed you didn't want to read any more from that feed and popped you to the next one. Reeder just sat there like a turd after choosing "mark all as read," which made me hate the fucking app every time I had to manually step through shit I wasn't interested in.... WHICH IS WHY I MARKED IT ALL AS READ!!! Even worse, you could only navigate backwards to the previous post IF IT WAS IN THE SAME FEED! If the previous post was in a different feed, too fucking bad, you can't see it. Dumb stuff like that permitted Reeder, but I used it most of the time anyway because the alternatives were worse. Reeder for Mac doesn't work with Feed Wrangler (yet) even though the iPhone version does, so I was forced to dump it at long last.
The app recommended for connecting to Feed Wrangler that works right now is ReadKit. Unfortunately, ReadKit is even more mind-bogglingly brain-dead than Reeder. Not only does it have BOTH the "mark all as read" stupidity AND the navigation failure... it also has stupid keyboard shortcuts that ARE NOT USER DEFINABLE! With NetNewsWire, Brent Simmons picked the biggest fucking key on the keyboard to go to the next article... THE SPACE BAR! With ReadKit, it's the "J" key or something like that. A key you have to hunt for rather than lazily smashing the bottom of your keyboard. Not that it makes any difference... ReadKit doesn't even have a "Next Unread" button. It has a "show only unread" option, but it doesn't work until after you leave the current feed. Insanity.
Meanwhile, Black Pixel finally released NetNewsWire4 Beta. Desperate for a feed reader that actually made it easy to read my fucking webfeeds, I downloaded it. Even though it doesn't sync with any feed service. The good news is that after you "mark all as read," you actually jump past all the stuff you don't want to read to get to the next unread article (would be nice if it popped you to the next feed automatically but hey, it's beta). So far so good. Does it manage to navigate to the previous feed when you hit the back button to navigate back through the stuff you've read? Oh... this is new... there's no back button. NO FUCKING BACK BUTTON!! I know this is beta software, but how in the hell do you justify releasing a feed reader without a fucking back button? There may be a key for that, but I couldn't find it. And there's no documentation to speak of, so whatever.
I give up.
The only person I trust to write a feed reader that makes fucking sense is Brent Simons, but he's out of that game. I suppose I could cross my fingers and hope that on of the many alternative reader developers take a minute to truly understand what makes a good user experience, but I'm beginning to doubt that will ever happen. Everybody seems to be releasing the same reader with the same failings... they just look a little different and have a different name.
And so I'm back to reading my feed bank by using Feed Wrangler's website.
Maybe one day I'll spend the time to develop my own feed reader. One that will remember what articles you've read regard of which feed they're in and let you backtrack through them. One that will actually MARK SHIT AS READ AND THEN MOVE PAST IT SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO DEAL WITH IT ANY MORE. One that has keyboard shortcuts that make fucking sense. One that syncs with Feed Wrangler. One that doesn't make me start dropping F-bombs every time I go to talk about it.
But probably not.
Perhaps I should just follow Google's lead after all and give it all up.
Posted on Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013
The past several days have been extremely difficult for me on many levels.
Which is why waking up to a very nice email first thing in the morning was enough to have me walking on air all day.
The letter was from "somebody you don't know" who wrote to thank me for keeping Blogography going, then tell me that today he removed a DaveToon from his cubical at work that had been hanging there ever since I first posted it to my blog over four years ago.
I was a little confused as to why he would write to me about REMOVING a cartoon I made... until I followed the link in his email and saw this...
All I could say in return was "Thanks so much. I'm sorry you had to wait this long... even sorrier I had to draw it in the first place."
Which is hardly adequate, but I meant every word.
Posted on Thursday, July 4th, 2013
Happy birthday you big, beautiful, crazy bastard.
Thanks for the apple pie.
Posted on Friday, July 5th, 2013
Sometimes I have to wonder why I'm still blogging.
Especially when I have to deal with this shit all the time...
I spent an hour yesterday trying to post a picture of a monkey with a flag before giving up.
There's got to be a better use of my time than that.
Posted on Saturday, July 6th, 2013
I love games and always have. They are a great way to socialize, have fun, and maybe even learn something. In my case, they are also a way to escape from my life, even if for just a couple hours.
One of the games I've played a couple times that seems to be on everybody's radar lately is Cards Against Humanity. It's kind of an Apples-to-Apples peer judging game, but totally demented, sick, disgusting, and inappropriate. But... when played with the right people, it can also be a hilarious way to spend an evening.
Basically, somebody draws a Black Card to read to the group, then the other players have to put in the best response to "fill in the blanks" from the White Cards in their hand. The questions can be disturbing enough. But it's the answers that take things to an entirely new level.
Now, given the general audience of this blog, numerous hands of the game simply cannot be displayed here. But... the cards are completely free to download and craft yourself, so you can go to the Cards Against Humanity website, download a PDF, then read or make them (though it's probably easier to just go buy them).
In case you don't want to go to the trouble, here's some of the tamer things that came from the games we played...
Well, okay, maybe one slightly inappropriate one...
See, I said that sometimes you learn something, and there it is.
Not a game for everyone. But funny if you're a bit despicable and have similar-minded friends and/or family. If you should decide to try playing it, you might want to examine every card carefully before proceeding in mixed company.
This stuff is supposed to be fun, people!
Posted on Sunday, July 7th, 2013
I'm in an 80's state of mind... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Sadness. My thoughts are with those affected by the Bodh Gaya Temple bombing in India... including Buddhists around the world. This most holy site is said to be the place that Buddha obtained enlightenment, and is a hugely important pilgrimage spot I have long wanted to visit. Why somebody would wish to destroy a place of importance to a people whose entire belief system revolves around non-violence and inner-peace is beyond me, but here we are.
• Heat! Was very pleasantly surprised by The Heat. From the trailers I couldn't tell if it was going to be funny-funny or funny-stupid. Sure, it dips into funny-stupid a few times... usually when Melissa McCarthy is allowed to improvise for too long a stretch... or Sandra Bullock tries too hard to be awkward and uptight... but it always gets back on track. Basically, Bullock plays an FBI Agent that ends up in Boston to track down a very, very bad man. While there she runs afoul of local cop McCarthy but, as so often happens, ends up teaming up with her. The supporting cast is pure gold, with appearances by Jane Curtin, Michael Rapaport, Taran Killam, Thomas F. Wilson (Biff!), Nate Corddry, Joey McIntyre, Zach Woods, Marlon Wayans... and probably a lot more I don't remember.
It's worth a matinee price to see in theaters, and definitely worth a rental.
• Concert! The Chateau Ste. Michelle is a winery over in Woodinville that has an amphitheater which gets some pretty decent musical talent to play. It's a beautiful venue, but the lawn seating is mostly obstructed and not laid out very well. This means it's not the best place for a concert, but it's okay. Except when you have to watch a drunken train wreck pee her pants.
Anyway, tonight it was Pat Benatar headlining with Terri Nunn and Berlin opening up. Benatar was a little rough vocally, but entertaining. Berlin was amazing. They have a new album coming out, and the taste they gave us at the concert will definitely have me checking it out.
• Faced! I've often wondered about what kind of mentality it takes for somebody to think that people would like to see their giant face plastered all over a bus. Whatever it is, I'm seeing more and more of it, so it must be pretty common. This one I saw on my way to The Coast on Friday was particularly clever, because they had to position afore-mentioned giant head between obstacles...
• Woman! There's a video of Dustin Hoffman discussing his role of Dorothy Michaels in Tootsie which has been burning up the internets. It's a pretty powerful piece, and the epiphany he had about "interesting women" being dismissed because of their looks comes from a perspective most men will never have...
Not surprisingly, not everybody can appreciate what Mr.. Hoffman is trying to say. Some of the comments I've read are positively awful. But that's the internet for you.
No more bullets... but tomorrow is another day...
Posted on Monday, July 8th, 2013
One year ago today I was waking up from an alcohol-induced coma in The Bahamas with nothing but a huge bar tab and the pocket ripped off my shorts to show for it.
Today I ate breakfast at McDonalds then went to work.
Funny the difference a year can make.
Nothing against McDonalds, but I'd give up a hundred of their "Breakfast Biscuit Sandwiches with Egg and Cheese Only" for just one Bahamian beer right now.
Beer nuts optional.
Posted on Tuesday, July 9th, 2013
Yesterday morning I had to head back over the mountains early so I could make it to work on time. The drive is usually 2-hours, 15-minutes... but I always budget 2-1/2 hours just in case something weird happens.
Like some asshole in front of me deciding to drive 15 miles an hour under the speed limit while in a no-passing zone for 20-minutes.
Or, more likely, because I have to stop at McDonalds for breakfast. Which went something like this...
"Welcome to McDonald's! Would you like to try our new Egg White Delight McMuffin Sandwich?"
"What? — No. — Oh gross. No."
"Sorry, we have to ask. What can I get for ya?"
Now, I'm not doubting her word... I'm sure they really are required to ask people to try the Egg White Delight. My question is why? Do they expect that you'll order that hideous-sounding sandwich in addition to what you're already buying? That's not very realistic. Best case scenario is that you'll eat that egg white shit-sandwich instead of what you were already going to buy. Are they cheaper to make, thus more profitable or something? I doubt it. So I just don't get it.
Especially since the Egg White Delight McMuffin looks like this...
Oh hell no.
Because that photo comes directly from McDonalds where it was undoubtedly styled perfectly and still looks like shit. I can only guess how utterly awful it looks "in real life." The best part of an egg is the yolk, and I sure as hell ain't going to go for a sandwich without it. Go sell that disgusting, slimy, mass of vomit-inducing hell to somebody else, McDonalds.
And speaking of food styling... this is what I'm talking about...
From experience, I can tell you that a really good food stylist is worth their weight in gold. The better they are at making stuff look amazing, the less time you have to spend in Photoshop!
But even the best food stylist in the universe would have trouble making the Egg White Delight McMuffin look edible.
= shudder =
Posted on Wednesday, July 10th, 2013
The problem is that it's SO expensive to do it right.
Even if I start saving immediately after I get back from this year's vacation in October, I still won't have enough money to afford the trip by the time Winter 2014 rolls around. Which means I'll have to go into credit card debt. Unless I wait until winter 2015, which I'd really rather not do.
And, yes... I know exactly what this sounds like.
"Oh boo hoo! People in Africa are starving and you can't afford to vacation in Antarctica! Poor little you!"
And I totally agree. This is the cream of First World Problems right here.
And so I've got to buckle down and get serious over the next couple months so I can make this happen.
Why can't I have millions of dollars so stuff like "budgeting for a vacation" doesn't have to occupy my time?
Okay, okay... that's the cream of First World Problems.
Posted on Thursday, July 11th, 2013
Probably not a good idea to watch a documentary on germs, viruses, and diseases before traveling.
And... back to packing.
Posted on Friday, July 12th, 2013
The drive over the mountains to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is just 2-1/2 hours. Which is just about as long as it takes to fly over when you add together the driving, waiting, and flight time. Money-wise, it's a wash too, as gas and parking come very close to the cost of airfare.
All things considered, I prefer to fly. But, more often than not, I end up driving because my tiny local airport keeps reducing the number of flights into Seatac and has shitty connections to other flights. And by "shitty" I actually mean "horrendously shitty" because the layovers can be 4 or 5 hours long. Which is entirely too much time to be spending at an airport.
It's getting to the point where the 2-1/2 hour drive is getting to be far, far worse than a long layover. Case in point, what I went through to get here today...
And that's only the stuff that made me so angry I remembered it.
So... adding an extra 4 or 5 hours to my trip? Not quite the horrendously shitty endeavor it used to be.
At least not when compared to the horrendously shitty driving alternative.
Posted on Saturday, July 13th, 2013
In order to save money on airfare, I flew into Atlanta a day early. Sure it meant getting up at 4:00am this morning, but the cost of flying is getting to be so outrageous that you do what you gotta do. The up-side was that I ended up getting into town at 2:00, which left me time to meet up with some Atlanta peeps for dinner.
And what a dinner it was...
Dante's Down the Hatch "Jazz and Fondue Restaurant and Club" has been an Atlanta institution for 43 years that I've never heard of. Which is odd, because it's fairly famous. It's a themed restaurant built around a "sailing ship" that's surrounded by live crocodiles. Kind of like dining in the middle of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, but without the animatronic pirates and stuff...
All this plus CHEESES OF THE WORLD!!!
The menu is a bit confusing. I thought I was ordering vegetable fondue, but it ended up being vegetables and a pot of boiling oil. But that didn't stop me from unintentionally stealing some of somebody else's cheese, which was delicious (Houston, I owe you dinner next time I'm in town!)...
The jazz was good. Really good. And since our table was inside the ship, we had a front-row seat!
All in all an awesome way to spend an evening. I'm sad that the place is closing at the end of the month, as I would have absolutely come here again.
Posted on Sunday, July 14th, 2013
Don't let invading Kaiju keep you down... because Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Rim! Okay, I am having trouble deciding if Pacific Rim is so bad it's good... or so bad it's bad. The concept of giant robots fighting giant alien monsters is fantastic. But the story they came up with around that concept was shockingly bad and hugely inconsistent (IT TAKES TWO PILOTS TO OPERATE A JAEGER ROBOT... UNLESS IT DOESN"T!). The acting was, with one exception, awful. And it didn't help that they were being given groan-inducing, cheesy dialogue to work with. That being said, I am still glad I saw the movie in a really good theater because the special effects and battle sequences were mind-blowing...
All in all, a bit of a misstep for brilliant director Guillermo del Toro... but an entertaining one. If you have time to kill, it's worth watching on the big screen. Just keep your expectations in check.
• Acting! The one exception to the really bad acting in Pacific Rim I was talking about? Mana Ashida's performance as young Mako. Absolutely riveting. You could feel her terror in every frame, and it was almost enough to believe that she was actually being chased by a Godzilla-sized monster. She should get some kind of award for that...
I'm guessing this photo came from Warner Bros. and/or Legendary Pictures.
It will be very interesting to see where Mana's considerable talent takes her as an actor.
• Idris! Yeah, okay... if I'm being honest here, Idris Elba was pretty brilliant playing Stacker Pentecost considering the genuinely awful lines he had to deliver.
• Stereotypical! One last comment about Pacific Rim... thanks to everybody involved for once again giving us genius scientists that act so damn stupid and geeky that it's impossible to believe that they are, in fact, genus scientists. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day, both of whom I like as actors, were completely wasted in their roles, being used as some idiotic attempt at comic relief that only served to disrupt the film. Badly. Can we please give up on this overused, stereotypical crutch that never ends up as hysterical as was intended? (see: Brent Spiner in Independence Day or any number of other flicks in genre entertainment where genius scientists appear for "humor value" in a script).
And in another direction entirely...
• Verdict. Well, I wish I could say I'm surprised, but the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman was hardly shocking. I'm not going to pretend I have all the answers here, but there's a few things I feel I have to get off my chest...
Zimmerman's story is, at the very least, exaggerated and not entirely supported by facts in evidence. And because of Zimmerman's actions and poor judgement, a 17-year-old kid is dead. Hopefully some lessons will be learned from this tragic situation. But the verdict has me worried that people will take away the wrong lesson.
Heaven help us.
As always, Faiqa has written up a response that's far better than anything I could come up with, so I leave you with a link to her blog.
Take care of each other out there.
Posted on Monday, July 15th, 2013
"GET BACK HERE, TACO BOY!"
I'm pretty sure I was already kinda awake, but it was those words reverberating through the hallway of my hotel after hearing a door slam that finally managed to really wake me up.
Or, in this case, more like parents not minding their kids at 5:30am.
Not the best way to start my day, but it did start my imagination running as to how some kid would end up with "Taco Boy" as a nickname. At least I hope it's a nickname.
After that minor incident, I really have no complaints about my day. None. Checkout at the hotel was painless. The shuttle to the airport was on time. The people at the Sixt desk were awesome. My rental car ended up being a Prius that I really enjoy driving. The trip down to my job site was completely uneventful. The day's work started early and went well. I had Dr. Pepper, Pretzels, and GIANT Kit-Kat for lunch. A nice breeze took the edge off the afternoon heat. I caught up on my emails. I had a terrific dinner with a friend from work. Now I'm laying in bed listening to cicadas (or some other noisy bugs) screech into the night.
Well, okay, I really could do without the screeching bugs, but it sure beats screeching kids at 5:30 in the morning, so there's that.
And now I just don't know what to do with myself since I have nothing to complain about.
A few more days like this and I may have to give up blogging.
Oh... speaking of kids... this video was shared on Facebook by Certifiable Princess and is must-watch material...
Just one more good thing to come out of my day.
Dayamn! These videos are like popcorn. You just can't stop reaching for another handful.
Except I have an early call to work, so no more for me.
Posted on Tuesday, July 16th, 2013
Maybe because I'm just so exhausted, but I'm just not getting it.
Why is it that all these homophobic bigots seem to think that gay people are all about gay sex and ONLY gay sex? That there couldn't possibly be something more to their lives than their sex life? That it is impossible for a hetero-challenged man or woman to possibly be interested in something other than where they like to put their bits and pieces?
Because, I gotta tell you... any time I've been hanging out with friends who are gay, their sexuality rarely enters the conversation. We talk about travel... or movies... or books... or restaurants... or music... or work... or pretty much all the same things I talk about with my straight friends. And yet here is how I picture Barber & Crampton must think the conversation goes...
ME: Hey lesbian friend, what's up?
LESBIAN FRIEND: Pussy. Vagina, pussy. Labia, labia, breasts, pussy. PUSSY!!!
ME: I hear that! How about you, gay friend?
GAY FRIEND: Cock. COCK COCK COCK COCK COCK!
I'm not saying that relationships and sex never come up, but it's never the single all-consuming topic of conversation that these idiots seem to think it is.
No. The only people who are interested in talking about gay sex and ONLY gay sex 24/7 seem to be homophobic bigots like Barber & Crampton.
Which kind of makes me wish they'd just fuck each other and get it out of their system already. Maybe if all of them did that, I wouldn't have to keep hearing about gay sex every time I'm on the internet or turning on the television.
Heck, even the gays and lesbians must be tired of it by now.
Posted on Wednesday, July 17th, 2013
Apparently my punishment for having a day with no complaints is to have everything go wrong for two days. I just can't seem to catch a break.
So... lesson learned: Find something to complain about, even when you have nothing to complain about, or get something to complain about. I guess that's just the way the universe works. From now on when I ask somebody how it's going... and they answer "I have no complaints!"... I'm going to respond with "THEN YOU ARE A FOOL!!!"
Because I'm all about constructive feedback.
Work has been an all-consuming day-and-night affair. I'm not just burning the candle at both ends, but instead taking a flamethrower to the candle then falling asleep on it. Except I don't have time to sleep, so I pop back up with melted candle on my face and go back to work.
Fortunately, I'm working in Zombie Country again, so I fit right in...
And now for the complaints...
THERE! Hopefully all that complaining will put me back on track for mildly crappy days instead of horrendously shitty days.
Thanks a lot, Universe.
Posted on Thursday, July 18th, 2013
The plan was to wake up early, have a quick breakfast, get my work done, go shoe-shopping, have a nice leisurely lunch, then head to the airport a full two hours early.
The reality was that I woke up early, had a quick breakfast, started in on work... WHEN ALL OF A SUDDEN EVERYTHING WENT TERRIBLY, TERRIBLY WRONG! AAAAAAHHHHHHH!
And so I managed to get to the aiport just 45 minutes before my international flight, boarding the plane just 30 minutes before take-off (thank you TSA Pre-Check!).
Without new shoes. Without lunch. Without my santiy.
The flight to the Netherlands itself wasn't too bad. I just watched movies to pass the time.
Add in some episodes of The Newsroom and the 10-hour flight was over just like that.
Posted on Friday, July 19th, 2013
Pretty much the only thing on the agenda today...
I swear, if I lived here in DutchyLand, I'd undoubtedly weigh 600 pounds.
Posted on Saturday, July 20th, 2013
I pretty much have one day in the Netherlands before heading out again.
The DutchBitch decided that this would be best spent visiting "Maastrecht." I thought this might be the name of a windmill... or perhaps a cheese farm... but she tells me that it is a city. "Wow! There are other cities in the Netherlands than Amsterdam?!? I asked before getting slapped in the face.
And so there are. Maastricht is about as far as you can get from Amsterdam whilst still being inside the Netherlands...
It's a very pretty city. The first photo I took was this statue of St. Hubertus reading a book to his deer skull hat...
One of the more famous landmarks of Maastricht is the red tower of St. Jan's. Which looks fantastic when photographed in HDR...
Sadly, there was bad news to be found in the shadow of the Red Tower... somebody lost their Miffy doll and binky. She now waits patiently for her owner to come back and get her...
Walking through the city I found this really cool "Bidweg" monument... "Bidweg" meaning "Way of Prayer"...
The waterway nearby is filled with brilliant green plants which I thought looked like something out of a Van Gogh painting...
There's a wall surrounding old Maastricht that you can walk on top of. It's quite pretty and looks more like a garden than a wall...
The wall itself is home to a lot of flowers and plants that have managed to grow between the cracks...
I got excited when I saw a Free Ladies party... until I saw it was a month ago...
A sign asking people to be quiet so the neighbors can live in peace was interesting. I wonder if it works. I sincerely doubt it would any effect in the USA...
Awesome kid drawings at a Maastricht school...
The DutchBitch then took us to hell...
Helpoort... or "Hell Gate"... is the oldest surviving city gate in the Netherlands (from the year 1229!). It's in amazingly good shape for being so old, and well worth a visit.
After wandering around for a few hours, it was time to head back to Casa de DutchBitch. But not before... WAFFLES!!!
The perfect end to a perfect afternoon.
Posted on Sunday, July 21st, 2013
Take off your wooden shoes and relax... because a special DUTCHYLAND TRAVEL edition of Bullet Sunday starts now...
• Schiphol! Amsterdam's International Airport is named Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and it's easily one of my favorite airports in the world. It's incredibly well organized, navigation signs are everywhere, and I've never seen extremely long lines for anything. Today I was flying Business Class, and it was literally ten minutes between when the DutchBitch dropped me off and I had gone through bag drop-off and security to be sitting in the KLM Lounge drinking a Coke and one of Dutchy's delicious cheese sandwiches. As if that weren't enough, every employee I have ever encountered at Schiphol has been exceedingly friendly and helpful. One of the cool things they do that seems to be increasingly common outside the USA is to have a monitor to tell you when luggage from your flight has hit the baggage carousel. Schiphol goes one step further and provides an estimate as to when the bag will be unloaded...
Never mind that it's almost always wrong (my suitcase was "expected" at 8:48, but it's 8:54 in this photo and it still hasn't shown up), at least they're trying to keep passengers informed!
• KLM! The major airline for the Netherlands is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. When flying KLM, Business Class travelers are treated exceptionally well. But it's my memories of flying the airline when I was a coach passenger with little travel status that makes me love the company. As an example, way back in 2002 my Northwest Airlines flight arrived late at Schiphol and I missed my connecting KLM flight to London. When I explained that I was now going to miss my train to Edinburgh, the transfer agent asked if they could change my ticket from London to Edinburgh at no charge so I wouldn't delay my vacation. I very nearly went into shock. This just isn't done in the airline industry... especially when something is another airline's fault. But Northwest was a partner company and there was room on the next flight to Edinburgh, so KLM didn't give it a second thought. I probably had "Silver" status back then, but I don't think they even bothered to check before they made the offer. This not only saved me the cost of a train ticket, but actually ended up putting me ahead of schedule for my trip. And that's just one example. KLM has bent over backwards to help me out like that more than once, and is one of the few airlines I honestly have -zero- complaints about.
• Food! Another perk of flying KLM? The food. Yes. The food... on an airline! First of all, I can't recall a time that there wasn't a vegetarian option. Whether it be a simple sandwich or full meal service, they always seem to have a meat-free selection. Second of all, I can't recall ever having a bad meal. Tonight I wasn't hungry, but I couldn't say no when they offered dinner service... on my two-hour flight to Helsinki. Now-a-days, you'd be lucky to get a free snack on a flight that short, but here's KLM's idea of service...
That's cheese gnocchi pasta pillows over spinach, a mozzarella and tomato salad with lemon olive oil dressing, a dinner roll with butter, and a chocolate-praline mousse pudding with cookie topping for dessert. ON A TWO-HOUR FLIGHT! Even on an hour hop, I've been served everything from delicious cheese sandwiches to pizza. It's unreal. I don't just like flying KLM, I thrill to flying KLM, and the wonderful food is a big part of that.
• Trains! In the Western USA, we don't have a very good train network at all. As an example... if I want to take the train to Seattle, I first have to drive 20 minutes to Wenatchee, then catch the one train that goes to Seattle every day... at 5:35am. This is pretty much useless, so I never take the train. Contrast that with the train network in the Netherlands...
Image grabbed from the internet... source unknown.
For a rather small country, the rail coverage is astounding. You can go just about anywhere on clean, comfortable, fast trains with schedules that are actually useful. I long for this kind of service where I live.
• S.T.E.P. The US Department of State has a program called "STEP" which is the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. US citizens traveling or living abroad can register their trip so that if they run into a problem it's easier for them to get help from local embassies since they'll already have your information. It also lets the embassy know that you are in the area in case something seriously bad happens... like a violent uprising, government takeover, invasion, or Justin Bieber concert. I'm guessing if something like that were to happen, they could track down everybody registered in STEP and make sure they're safe. Or, I suppose they could also be hacked by terrorists so that it's easier to find potential hostages and/or victims. Regardless, given the world we now live in, I've decided to risk it and have gotten in the habit of entering my trips abroad into STEP. Whether you decide to do that or not, it's still worth your time to see what the program offers, so here's a link to the Bureau of Consular Affairs and STEP.
And on that note, I must say... Tot ziens! Vaarwel! Dag!
Posted on Monday, July 22nd, 2013
"Why in the hell are you going to Helsinki?"
I must have heard that (or a variation of that) at least a dozen times. Which is fine, I suppose, because it doesn't seem to be a big travel destination for Americans.
The honest answer is "Because I haven't been there before."
Or, more accurately, "Because I haven't been there before and they have a Hard Rock Cafe."
The interesting thing about my day was how shocking the weather was. In no way could it have been identified as "summer"... or even in the same ballpark as "summer." It was cold, windy, rainy, overcast, dark, and very much "Fall-like." Some people would find this horrible. I look at the weather back home where it's 100°F and I am totally loving it.
Since it was raining, I decided to wander around the more non-touristy areas and save the "big attractions" for tomorrow when the weather is supposed to improve. This allowed me to soak in the Finnish architecture, which is mind-bogglingly great. Especially the human column support designs, which are awesome...
Trying to stay dry in the rain, I suppose...
Then it was off to St. Johns, which is a very nice church with an especially nice painting above the altar...
From there I headed down to the southern waterfront and then up to Observatory Hill, where there's a really cool statue called "Haaksirikkoiset" (Shipwrecked) by Robert Stigell...
I CAN SEE RUSSIA FROM MY BOAT! (St. Petersburg is 185 miles away)
Restaurants are insanely expensive here. To save money, I decided to pick up a few groceries to make my own meals a few times. As I headed out, I noticed some cool old buildings across the street...
And, of course, there's the Hard Rock Cafe. It's in a mall of some kind, and is small but nice. Since it's a newer cafe, they've used the shitty "Hipster Lounge" design aesthetic, but they (wisely) took a step back and made sure to include a good selection of memorabilia, which is great.
One of those pieces of memorabilia is some hand-penned lyrics to an unfinished (and unused) Nirvana song. Much to my dismay, Kurt Cobain doesn't know the difference between "your" and "you're" which made me want to grab a red pen and scrawl a correction on it...
I ended up having a "Caribbean Black Bean Burger" because the Helsinki Hard Rock didn't have the usual "Veggie-Leggie" burger. The flavor was pretty good. The problem was that it had a marinated black bean patty and some kind of sauce on top, which made the burger a wet-hot mess. It was so slippery that it was impossible to keep in the bun. Which was a soggy bun, because the marinade had soaked into it. Making this the singular most stupid fucking "burger" I've ever attempted to eat. Which begs the question... when this was dreamed up, did they ever bother to fucking try one before putting it on the menu? Because there is no way this should be sold like this. The thing costs $23 (with fries!) and I was only to eat half of it because even attempting to eat it with a knife and fork proved futile. I don't expect amazing food at a Hard Rock, but I at least expect it to be edible. The "Caribbean Black Bean Burger" was a disgusting inedible mess.
Sometimes when traveling to foreign lands, people will ask me "Is it weird over there?" To which I always have the same response... "Not weird, just different. The USA is by far the weirdest place I've ever been. And I'm being completely honest. When it comes to seeing absolutely bizarre shit, nobody tops America (WE'RE NUMBER ONE! WE'RE NUMBER ONE!).
Which is not to say there aren't weird moments. But most of those come from finding American crap in the country you're visiting. And Helsinki has a lot of that. A prime example is some pillows advertising Lexington, Kentucky that I saw in a shop window. Which is not too weird until you see that they're advertising Lexington seafood at a restaurant that I don't think even exists. In particular, they're advertising Lexington crab... when Lexington isn't anywhere near the ocean... or any crabs. So, yeah... kinda weird...
But the weirdest thing in Helsinki so far? Tex-Mex restaurants. I've seen quite a few, so I'm guessing that it must be a popular cuisine here...
Well that's not too weird, I suppose.
Until you look at a menu and see that they have a kind of "Tex-Mex Cajun Barbecue" fusion thing going on...
It's like somebody wanted to serve American cuisine at their restaurant and just said "Fuck it! I'm putting all their regional shit in there!" Which has me totally inspired to create a "Spanish Italian Greek" restaurant when I get back home.
And take a gander at the menu prices there... Cheese Fajitas are 18,90€ which comes out to $25 USD... FOR FRICKIN' CHEESE FAJITAS!! Salsa and Chips? That'll run you $7.70... which is made even more horrible when you consider that most US restaurants serve them to you for free so you have something to snack on while you wait for your food.
I'm almost afraid to try the salsa here. Odds are it's made with herring.
Anyway, it's just turned 2:00am, so I suppose I should try and get some sleep. Sightseeing is so much more interesting when you're eyes are actually open.
Posted on Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
When I looked out my window this morning I was excited to see that it was still overcast, yet not raining. Perfect weather for exploring!
One of the many nice things about the city is that Helsinki has an excellent tram system for getting around. Even so, I usually like to walk so I don't miss anything between stops. Having cooler weather makes the walking so much nicer.
Hammers aren't the only thing swinging here... LOOK OUT!
My first stop was someplace I wasn't interested in going. But I went anyway because I really didn't want people screaming "ZOMG! I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT YOU WENT ALL THE WAY TO HELSINKI AND DIDN'T VISIT THE ROCK CHURCH!" at me. And so I give you... Temppeliaukion Church...
Thrilling, I know. But it does get more interesting on the inside...
It's nice enough, I guess, but I like churches for their artwork, so this one really doesn't do it for me. I did like the way that accents, like this prayer candle rack, are bolted onto the rock though...
As I was walking to Senate Square, I saw a statue of a little girl riding a tiny dinosaur. You're welcome...
The top of Senate Square features The Cathedral of Helsinki. It's absolutely beautiful on the outside... but kind of boring on the inside...
Below Senate Square is Market Square, where vendors are selling all kinds of delicious goods. Including berries, which are incredibly popular here...
From there it's a short walk to beautiful Uspenski Cathedral...
As you can tell from my later photos, the overcast skies did not last long. By 2:00 it was so hot that I had to retreat to my hotel room for a couple hours until I could brave the heat again. This time so I could travel to the very awesome Jean Sibelius Monument north of the city center. The guy was a famous composer, and this work is supposed to symbolize his music...
And then it was time for the Museum of Finland, which is an amazing, amazing insight into the history and culture of the country...
They had a map room, which was heaven for a map fan like me...
The exhibits are really well done, but some of them were kind of creepy...
The last stop on my itinerary today was Kamppi Chapel of Silence. It's a stunning architectural achievement that's incredibly beautiful inside and out...
The interior is indeed a pleasant retreat from the noises of the city, and really is silent if all the people inside are quiet.
And that's a wrap. Tomorrow is an early start for me, so it's off to bed I go...
Posted on Wednesday, July 24th, 2013
Estonia is a country I've wanted to visit for about a decade now. The reason is a rather odd one, so I'll leave that until a bit later in the entry.
If I was going to ever visit Estonia, now would be the time to do it considering that Tallinn is just a 2-hour ferry ride across the Gulf of Finland. Of course, St. Petersburg, one of my bucket-list dream destinations is just 4-1/2 hours away by train, but the visa requirements are a bit crazy on that one...
Map taken from Google Maps!
There are a few options for the crossing, but I went with Tallink Silja Line because it seemed to be the most reliable. It also looked to be the most comfortable, being more like a cruise ship than any ferry I've ever been on (seriously, there's a supermarket on board!).
The weather in Tallinn, which I checked multiple times, was forecast to be 78° so I didn't bother taking a jacket. I just jumped on an early tram (which was driven by somebody looking suspiciously like Thor, God of Thunder!), jumped off at the West Terminal stop, and away we go...
Tallinn's Old Town was a quick (though somewhat confusing) 15-minute walk from the harbor. After walking up a cobblestone path you reach the city gates, which are right out of medieval times...
As far as medieval cities go, the illusion here is shattered almost instantly because this is what you see the minute you enter...
Oh well. It's not like you're getting an authentic experience anyway. McDonald's aside, Old Town Tallinn is very much like Disneyland. It's mostly crowds, restaurants, and souvenir shops... with a few attractions sprinkled in. Mostly churches. Some museums.
Now, as you can see, the weather was hardly the warm paradise I was told. I kept thinking that it would warm up as the day went on, but it never did. Apparently weather forecasts are just as useless here as they are back home. I was fairly comfortable as it wasn't freezing or anything... but I sure wish I would have brought a jacket. Lesson learned.
My first stop was Holy Spirit Church so I could see their beautiful clock...
It is indeed beautiful, but... crooked. As is just about everything in Tallinn. Nothing is quite straight here, which is enough to drive a photographer crazy. Add that to the very narrow streets which necessitates using a wide-angle lens that just exaggerated how crooked everything is, and I was pretty much a basket case by the time I left. Still, it's a pretty kind of crooked, and I love the stone streets that run through it all...
My second stop was the St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Since I wasn't going to make it to St. Petersburg, this was about as close as I was going to get to seeing a Russian Orthodox church this trip. Unfortunately, the cathedral is undergoing restoration so it has green webbing all over it, but it's still quite beautiful...
Not really knowing what else to do after seeing the clock and St. Nevsky, I ended up just wandering around for the five hours I had left. Tallinn has a lot of randomly cool things to see, so it was easy to kill the time.
The defensive wall that surrounds the city has numerous towers, but I only saw one which looked like the castle towers I expected (you know, the kind that look like rooks in a chess set)...
There's a trio of old houses called "The Three Sisters" that I passed as I walked to the Maritime Museum. I'm not quite sure what makes them any more special than the hundred other houses in the city, but tourist groups were going nuts over them, so here you go...
The Maritime Museum is housed within the city's biggest tower, called "Fat Margaret." The building itself is kind of boring, though the museum inside is very nice. But the biggest attraction for me was the terrace at the top. From here you can look out on the entire city, and the view is pretty cool...
Of the half-dozen churches I visited, my favorite was a tiny little hole-in-the-wall place called "Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church of the Mother of God with Three Hands." It's very... shall we say... rustic in appearance, but a lot of fun to visit...
As I was walking along the walls of the city, I saw a sign for the Tallinn Flower Festival. Thinking this might be a cool thing to see, I stepped outside the gate and saw... this...
I'm guessing it must continue on somewhere else? Back inside the wall, I started photographing a bunch of crumbling buildings because the textures were just so amazing. Who knows when I might be able to use such beautiful decay as reference material for a project?
Not everything beautiful is falling apart though. Tallinn is filled with little secret alleys and courtyards that are fun to wander around...
Street art break!
And a couple of nifty signs I added to my photo collection...
There were quite a few "American-style" restaurants in the city, but the Texas Honky Tonk Cantina was my favorite concept of them all...
And now, at long last, is the reason I wanted to visit Estonia's capital for all these years. Tallinn is home to the Depeche Mode Bar! That's right, it's a bar devoted to my favorite band! The decor and music is all Depeche Mode all the time...
I don't think that this is the original location, because the photos I saw years ago looked different, but it's still pretty cool (they have a Pin-Bot pinball machine!). If you're a DM fan, then it's a must-visit place.
And, just like that, my seven hours in Estonia were over. Time to head back to Helsinki...
All in all, a great way to spend the day. If you're in Helsinki for a while, it's a day-trip worth doing.
Posted on Thursday, July 25th, 2013
I didn't think that Helsinki was that much closer to the North Pole than home, but I was wrong. Sunset here is around 10:30pm, which means it's light out until 11:00pm. Usually I like the idea of wandering around a city at dusk because the light is so fantastic for photos, but can't seem to get motivated to go for a walk an hour before midnight.
Yesterday I made such grandiose plans for today.
Finland has hundreds of islands floating off its coast, so I was keen to take some kind of cruise that would let me see some of them. The cruise I found is a three-hour excursion up the coast to the town of Porvoo, and seemed to be exactly what I was wanting. Just look at all the cool islands and stuff along the way...
Map taken from Google Maps!
But then I woke up this morning and the last thing I wanted to do was climb on a boat for three hours, then slog around a tourist-trap city for two hours, then spend another three hours on a boat back to Helsinki. There just isn't enough islands in all of Finland to make that sound appealing. Especially after the trip to Estonia yesterday.
So I down-sized my plans and thought that a 90-minute harbor cruise would be a better option for me.
But as I was getting ready to walk to the South Harbor, I admitted to myself that even 90 minutes on a boat crawling with tourists was too much.
So I down-sized my plans once again and decided to eat lots of Finnish pastries today.
The pastries here are pretty amazing. I especially like the Karelian pies, which have a thin crust filled with some kind of sticky rice and an egg glaze on top... not overly sweet, but tasty. Today I went for something different, and ended up with the Finnish version of a cinnamon roll, and some kind of twisty sparkly donut that had anise (licorice) flavoring...
After wandering around the neighborhood shops for a while, I decided to go back to the hotel for a nap before lunch. Since I'll be headed home this weekend, I might as well start prepping myself for the time change.
But mostly I just felt like being lazy for once.
Lunch was pizza at a really good Italian joint just down the street from my hotel. As I was waiting for my order to cook, I looked up and saw the Chick-Fil-A cows drawn on a chalkboard next to a sketch of Sophia Loren for no reason at all...
Random stuff like this really makes my day.
But not quite as much as stopping in the corner market for a Coke and some chips only to find Cheese Balls with a penis-shaped mascot and MINIPUSSI...
Delicious! And just right. I'm so glad I didn't splurge and get the MAXIPUSSI.
After my late lunch, I wandered around the city some more, snapping a few pictures for duck soup. It was all good until I got back to my hotel and found out that my camera somehow got set to 32-BAZILLION ISO, so everything was all grainy...
Lesson learned. Check your ISO every time you take out your camera. I'm just thankful that this happened on shots that I already had... if it had happened for my entire Estonia trip I would be freaking out.
When it came time for dinner, I just wasn't hungry enough to justify paying $40 for something to eat. Instead I decided that I wanted an OREO McFlurry for dinner. Unfortunately, the local McDonalds didn't have OREO. I was given choices of "licorice" or "powder" or "Smarties candies." Licorice didn't sound appetizing as a McFlurry flavor. Powder had me concerned that it was a cocaine-based flavor, and I needed to get my sleep tonight. So I went with Smarties, which are kinda like M&M's back home... but not really, as the flavor is different (and the chocolate firmer, but smoother and less sugary). It was totally delicious, and my day had been made.
Until I was walking back to my hotel and got attacked by this thing...
As I was making my way past it, the tube deflated and smacked me on the head. I took a step back and was getting ready to beat the crap out of it, but decided I didn't want to spend my last night in Helsinki in jail.
Turns out advertising here is just as annoying as it is back home.
Except when it isn't, because most times I find Finnish and Estonian ads to be oddly subdued. They definitely want to keep your expectations in check...
American Ad: WE'VE GOT THE BEST FUCKING FOOD IN TOWN!
Finnish Ad: Probably best in town.
American Ad: THE BEST FUCKING ELK SOUP YOU'LL EVER EAT!
Estonian Ad: Decent bowl of elk soup.
I'll bet the ads for escort services here are a real hoot.
And now I suppose I should start packing my suitcase and getting ready for my flight back to DutchyLand tomorrow. Given how utterly lazy I've been all day today, that's going to take a major effort.
Maybe I should just do that in the morning?
Yeah. This can totally wait until morning.
The morning where I'll be all "ZOMG! WHY DIDN'T I PACK THIS SHIT UP LAST NIGHT? NOW I'M GOING TO MISS MY BUS TO THE AIRPORT! AAAAAAHHH!
I never learn.
Posted on Friday, July 26th, 2013
I woke up early and felt like I should be running around buying last-minute souvenirs on my last day, but then remembered that I stopped collecting souvenirs years ago. I don't have room for that crap, so photographs have become my souvenirs. Thanks to the digital age, they don't take up much room at all.
And so now I've visited Helsinki (and Tallinn, at last), which is nice... but, just like when I visited Oslo and Stockholm, I'm disappointed that I didn't have time to head north into the wilds of Fennoscandia, or spend any time exploring the coastline. This is a fascinating geological part of the world, and visiting a few cities is not like I've really seen any of it.
More to add to my bucket list, I suppose.
One thing I did do was head back to the Hard Rock Cafe Helsinki so I could take some pictures. When I was there for lunch a few days ago it was crowded and crazy, so this time I went just before they opened. As I had mentioned before, the cafe is a bit on the small side, so it only took two shots to capture the entire dining floor...
After the Hard Rock, it was time to check out of my hotel so I could catch the FinAir bus to Helsinki-Vantaa Airport. Which, oddly enough, had NO line at security despite being fairly busy. Security itself is kind of spacey and futuristic with glass gates that light up so you know when to enter... then hold you there until you've been cleared.
Other than some noisy assholes in the business lounge and some rode assholes crowding in line at the gate, my trip back to DutchyLand was uneventful.
Time for PATATJES MET with DutchBitch. Again...
I'm so going to miss this...
Posted on Saturday, July 27th, 2013
Back in the Netherlands for one last day of vacation time.
The "Pixar 25 Years of Animation Expo" has been traveling around the world since it first began in New York back in 2005. With each new stop, it gets updated with material from their latest works, so now it's actually more like the "Pixar 34 Years of Animation Expo." And it's currently showing in Amsterdam, so off we went...
The expo is pretty great, mostly focusing on the artwork that goes into a Pixar production before it ever gets to a computer... but they've got a few exhibits dedicated to showing how the computer art is created as well. But the highlight of the show has to be a giant beautifully crafted zoetrope featuring the Toy Story characters. It's Pixar animation of an entirely different kind, and well worth checking out.
From there it was time to cash in some of my Reward Certificates at the Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam. I had been dying for a Coke to wake me up all day, but the Coke machine was broken, so I started going into withdrawals right there in the restaurant while waiting for my lunch.
After a Coke-free meal we stopped at Ben & Jerry's for ice cream, which is always a treat because they've got an awesome mural painted on the walls...
We were going to see the Greatest Illusion Show on Earth because, honestly, how could you not... but being lazy at Casa de DutchBitch sounded more appealing, so Hans Klok will have to wait for another time...
And there it is... the end of my week's vacation. Tomorrow it's back to Schiphol Airport and my flight home.
Posted on Sunday, July 28th, 2013
Better renew that passport... because another special TRAVEL edition of Bullet Sunday starts now...
• George! For anybody outside the UK wondering if theirs was the only country obsessing over a new royal baby in Britain, the answer is no. I saw it everywhere I went, and I think every single newspaper in Helsinki announced the birth while I was there...
Not quite sure why it's Great Britain's monarchy that gets people so obsessed when there are plenty of other royals in other countries of the world, but there you have it.
• McBathroom! Much like all forms of DRM, this ridiculous protection racket that the McDonald's near my hotel used to keep their bathroom "for customers only" was grossly ineffective...
As I sat eating my fries and McFlurry, I saw person after person hold the door while exiting so that people could go in without having to use the code. Which makes me wonder why McDonald's bothered at all.
• Frommers! My go-to travel guides have always been Frommers. And when I started transitioning from printed books to online guides, it was always Frommers.com that I went to first. Their information was so professional, informative, and trustworthy, that I didn't feel the need to go anywhere else. But not any more. Just about everything there is badly out of date. As an example, I almost skipped going to Estonia because Frommers had this to say...
Arranging a visa for a visit to Estonia, across the water, is time-consuming and requires planning prior to your arrival in Helsinki. But once you're there, the rich, once-forbidden majesty of this capital of the Baltic republic opens before you, at prices, at least for souvenir goods, that you'll find surprisingly low.
And, in another section, this...
Don't think you can jump on a ferryboat for a spontaneous excursion to Estonia. At press time, despite the fact that Estonia is a semiautonomous nation, visas were mandatory and required applications submitted days or even weeks in advance, preferably from the Estonian embassy or consulate in your home nation.
Well, their "press time" must have been before December 2007... six years ago... because that's when Estonia became a Schengen Country, which means no visa is required for countries mentioned in the agreement (like the USA). Not only did I not need a visa for a visit of up to 90 days, nobody on either side of my excursion to Tallinn bothered to even look at my passport.
Even more embarrassing for Frommers? They don't even have the currency right...
Currency -- The national currency is called the kroon, abbreviated as EEK, and is made up of 100 sents. The kroon is pegged to the German mark, 1DEM = 8EEK. The rate of exchange at press time was $1 = 17.03 kroons.
It's been two-and-a-half years since Estonia adopted the Euro. Do they not even have a single person employed at Frommers to keep track of major events like this so at least the travel basics are correct in their online guides? Apparently not, which means that Frommers is essentially useless for travel planning. Kind of sad that this once-great bastion of travel advice has fallen so low.
• Beer! The Tallink ferry I used to get from Helsinki to Estonia has a duty-free supermarket onboard. Yes, supermarket. I was a little surprised to see such a huge alcohol section there... especially for beer, which was stacked in cases on pallets. Well, it turns out that the reason they have so much beer is that they sell so much beer. Everywhere I went onboard people had cases and cases of the stuff with them. Even the elderly lady sitting next to me in the lounge was not immune...
Give that I saw people with shopping carts hauling dozens of cases of beer off the ship, I'd say her two cases of Beck's was rather restrained.
• Chair! Just because I can't help myself... here are the chairs in the waiting lounge at Helsinki's West Terminal...
• Finnish! I've seen a lot of foreign languages in my travels, but Finnish is the most perplexing yet. Just look at this dialogue box that popped up at my hotel when connecting to the internet...
Those are some really, really long and complicated words!
• Machine! And speaking of dialogue boxes, this idiotic crap kept popping up on my Mac while I was away...
Well, dumbass, the reason you haven't backed up is because my Time Capsule is 4700 miles away! Can't you look at what IP address you're using and figure that out so I don't have to be interrupted by your stupid shit? I swear, for everything Apple does that's amazingly smart and convenient, there's at least one other thing that's hugely stupid and inconvenient. The thing I (usually) love about Apple is the tiny details they handle that takes crap out of your way. Why they can't apply a little of that logic here is a mystery.
Annnnd... that's a wrap. Please put your tray tables up and make sure your seat back is in an upright position for landing...
Posted on Monday, July 29th, 2013
Somebody wrote a rant about how "karma" is a load of shit and it's being passed around Facebook like a virus. It's amusing, I guess, but the author doesn't understand karma, thus misses the point entirely.
Karma is based on a simple Buddhist principle, but can be pretty complex in concept (which is the opposite of how things usually work). So when somebody inaccurately boils karma down to "Do good and you'll receive good in return. Do bad and you'll receive bad in return"... then gets all pissed off because they think they're doing nothing but good but receiving nothing but bad... while people they perceive as "evil" are doing mostly bad stuff and yet only good things seem to happen for them. Well, yeah... it's frustrating, I know. But that's not the way actual "karma" works, and ranting otherwise is kind of silly. It's like being upset that your dishwasher can't play CDs or something*.
In any event, karma can mean different things to different people, so I suppose there's no "right answer"... but any answer people arrive at should at least be an informed one, and I'm not seeing much of that.
To me, karma is not some kind of cosmic competition where your good deeds and bad deeds are weighed against each other for points, then measured against other people's points to determine who gets to have good things happen to them. Buddhism doesn't have a deity to do the math required, so the idea of karma being some kind of "cosmic judgement" doesn't really fit.
So what is it then?
Karma is cause and effect.
• Greet somebody with a smile, and they will probably be react with kindness.
• Greet somebody with a punch in the face, and they will probably react very differently.
Now, those are obviously simplistic examples. Some people are assholes and all the smiles in the world aren't going to make them treat you kindly... but the principle of cause and effect being illustrated is what karma is all about. And when you look at it in those terms, that's where Buddhists find truth in the guiding philosophy behind their faith...
• Positive actions result in happiness.
• Negative actions result in suffering.
Note that I did not say "Positive actions result in your happiness" or "Negative actions result in your suffering"... and this is where most people who are tossing "karma" around get it wrong. They expect that their actions, positive or negative, have consequences, good or bad, that will reflect back on them... usually in some physically measurable way...
• I don't spread gossip and I found a penny on the sidewalk! It's karma!
• I have a positive attitude and I won a new car! It's karma!
• I drunkenly peed on my best friend's dog and I got stung by a bee! It's karma!
I'm not saying that there's no physically measurable payoff for what you put out there... obviously there can be... but most times that's not the case at all. Perhaps your positive action pays off for you, but only mentally or spiritually. Perhaps your positive action pays off for somebody else. Perhaps your positive action won't have any immediate effect at all, and it will be years before there's any kind of payoff. Whatever. It's the fact that there is a payoff... some time, some how, some way... that defines the cause and effect of karma.
Whether that payoff is something negative or positive is up to you. Or, to be more precise, up to the intent of your actions (that's a very Buddhist thing to say).
So go out there and make good karma by doing something positive!
That way I can wallow in negativity and bitterness over the crappy day I just had and know that some kind of payoff in goodness is happening somewhere.
Which will make my day a little less bitter and crappy.
See? That's karma in action.
*But wouldn't it be cool if your dishwasher could play CDs? Music while you wash your soup bowls!
Posted on Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
Yesterday was not a great day.
Today wasn't much better.
Partly because once things start to go wrong, they always seem to continue to go wrong... but mostly because I had an exhausting 3-1/2 hour drive awaiting me at the end of my work day. As I have written many times before, the journey to Spokane is long, boring, and filled with mostly nothing. Which is not to say that I have anything against Spokane itself... it's actually a pleasant and interesting city... it's just not so frickin' mind-blowing that I want to spend 3-1/2 hours driving here.
But... work... and all that.
About 2/3 of the way to Spokane is an exit for the city of Washtucna, Washington. I have never been there. But every time I drive by the exit sign, I find myself saying "Washtucna" out loud over and over again in an attempt to find the proper pronunciation, all the while wondering what the city might be like. Today was no different...
When all of a sudden...
RATTLE! RATTLE! RATTLE! RATTLE!
Apparently my muffler and/or exhaust pipe has now come loose from the frame of my car.
As I said, once things start to go wrong, they always seem to continue to go wrong, because I had already been having problems with my piece-of-shit automobile. And now I have new ones.
So... as you can see by this map, I was not exaggerating about the vast expanse of nothing going on in the Central Washington Columbia Basin...
There was nowhere I could pull off I-90 and travel to where I could be assured of there being an auto repair shop... certainly not one that would be open at 6:00pm. All I could really do was keep going and hope my car didn't fall apart before I got to Spokane. And all the while I was having to listen to...
RATTLE! RATTLE! RATTLE! RATTLE!
Luckily for me, my car held together.
Like the Millenium Falcon, but not really.
And so I did what any normal person would do after driving 3-1/2 hours with a car that's falling apart. PIZZA!!!
Car repairs can wait until tomorrow.
Posted on Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
When last we left our intrepid hero, his car was making heinous rattling noises.
The only mechanic shop I know in Spokane is Dee's Auto. So in-between work and checking out of my hotel, I gave them a call. They said that muffler & exhaust were out of their expertise, and I should give Muffler Mart a try.
How refreshing to have a mechanic send business away rather than charge you to take a look at something they know they can't fix, then make you pay for a referral.
Muffler Mart ("Three Old Guys and One Kid Work Here!") very kindly squeezed my piece-of-crap car in for a look after only a short wait. They found that my exhaust system was in great shape, and the racket was just a screw that had gone missing (I can so relate to that). They replaced the screw and refused to let me pay them for their time.
How refreshing to have a mechanic not try and sell you something you don't need, but instead apply a band-aid to your car's ouchie at no charge.
Am I in the Twilight Zone? Not one, but two honest mechanics?
So... when my muffler actually does need to be replaced, I guess I'm driving 3-1/2 to Spokane. Muffler Mart is exactly the kind of business I want to support with my hard-earned dollars.
In other news, this happened...
Yes. iPhone will not work because it is too hot to use.
UNLESS YOU NEED TO MAKE AN EMERGENCY CALL! THEN IT WILL WORK PERFECTLY FINE!
I guess 9-1-1 calls have magical heat-defying properties.
Lesson learned. Don't leave your iPhone in a hot car even for just a little while.