Posted on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011
So very tired...
The weather in Cologne today was odd. It was dreary and cold, but not the kind of cold that lands on you... it was more a general cold around your immediate vicinity. Sure I could see my breath and needed a jacket, but wearing gloves was too much, and my hands were perfectly fine without them. I'm a real weenie when it comes to having cold hands, so this was kind of freaky. In a good way.
What was decidedly not freaky was that they finally replaced the chocolate chicken! Isn't she awesome?
As today was my last day in Cologne I had intended to try and wander around a bit, but I was just too exhausted and had entirely too much work to do. So instead of eating dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, I just bought some pins and a T-shirt while breezing through after work...
It's a fairly small property, but has all the classic Hard Rock fixin's so I really like it here.
Alas, I didn't have time to hang around, so dinner consisted of glorious Patatjes Met "Pommes Frites mit Mayo" with a delicious Spritzringe and a Coke back at my hotel room for dessert...
While I was walking to the tram stop so I could get "home" I noticed some interesting things:
ONE: HINDENBURG! After the movie Titanic made a gazillion dollars, I remember asking when somebody would get around to making a modern movie drama about the Hindenburg tragedy...
Apparently they now have, as I've seen the posters around Cologne...
"Ein Traum von Ruhm" - "A Dream of Glory"
TWO: MADONNA! I've lost count of the number of times I've walked through Neumarkt, but this is the first time I can ever recall seeing this Madonna & Child statue glued to one of the buildings on the Eastern loop. While I'm sure it must have been beautiful at one time, it's kind of creepy now that pieces have fallen off and it's been partially eroded by pollution and the elements...
THREE: BANNED! I never take food or drinks onto the tram anyway, but I found it funny that fries and mayo are specifically banned on the signage (along with coffee and Kölsch/beer)...
And now I suppose I should probably pack my suitcase. I've got a long, strange journey ahead of me tomorrow, and the last thing I want to have to do when I wake up is pack before rushing off to the airport.
Posted on Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
It must be karma. I write about how travel really isn't that bad for me just six days ago... then today I proceed to have one of the single worst travel days I can remember in twenty years. Seriously, I sit here wracking my brains trying to come up with something that went right today... just one little thing that I can cling to... and there isn't anything.
• I check out of my Cologne, Germany hotel and have to pay nearly $100 for internet over 5 days. $100 for something that was supposed to be free...
And yet, no amount of discussion when I checked in could dissuade them from charging me for internet. Even calling up their own website did nothing to forward my cause. Since I had to have internet for work, there was nothing I could do but pay it.
• It snowed last night. My suitcase wheels keep getting gummed up with slush, so I end up dragging my suitcase for ten minutes to the tram stop. On the plus-side, this cleared the sidewalk for everybody else.
• It's foggy at the airport, and so my flight out is delayed. This is very, very bad, because...
• I have flown into Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport once. Every other time I've visited the city, it's been by train. I have never had to transfer planes there, so the total nightmare that ensued was entirely unexpected. After landing, LATE, the plane ended up racing around the airport for a good twenty minutes before we got to the gate. My arrival into Terminal 2-G necessitates exiting security and taking a long bus-ride though the French countryside so that I can get to Terminal 2-D and go back through security. By the time I finally got to the gate, they were already boarding the plane. So much for a bathroom break on my nonexistent 1-hour-40-minute layover. I can't wait to do this all over again on my way back.
• You know those flights that are so bad that having the plane go down in flames would actually be preferable to enduring it? Yeah.
• It will come as no surprise that my luggage was lost when I finally made it to Málaga, Spain. I can only imagine that it's still making the trip from Terminal 2-G to Terminal 2-D at Charles de Gaulle. Here is the "Passenger Kit" I got to survive on until my bag (hopefully) arrives tomorrow...
• I try to arrange pickup from my airport hotel's courtesy shuttle only to find out that there isn't one. This comes as a bit of a surprise, because it clearly stated that this is a feature of the hotel on their website...
I guess hotels can write whatever the fuck they want to on their website and not have to deliver.
• Since there's no shuttle, I end up taking the bus. Except the bus driver ignores my stop request and so I have to back-track with a 25 minute walk along a busy highway.
• This same noisy highway runs directly by my hotel. Which would ordinarily be a problem, except there's a major construction project next door with trucks, bulldozers, and lots of other heavy equipment, so I can barely hear the highway noise. Since it's now 7:00pm, I can only guess that the construction runs around the clock. As if all that weren't bad enough, the hotel is apparently trying to "camouflage" the noise by blasting elevator music in the hallways at full volume. Thank heavens I have earplugs, though I sincerely doubt they'll do much good against the full-on audio assault in this room.
And there you have it. A day where absolutely everything went wrong. I can only hope that things improve tomorrow or else I may never want to travel again.
Posted on Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
It should come as no surprise that I love Spain. Since I've started this blog I've been here in 2005, 2007, 2009, five months ago in 2010, and now today. It's probable I'll be visiting again next year because there's still so many places left I want to see.
This is my first visit to the Costa del Sol in the south of Spain, and it kills me that I am only here for two days. Tomorrow I plan to explore Málaga proper, but today was spent down the coast in Marbella. I had hoped to get on some kind of tour so I could go in-country and see a bit of beautiful Ronda but, alas, it wasn't meant to be. Maybe when I eventually get around to visiting Seville and Granada I can manage to see the city then.
Anyway... I awoke to a weather map that looked like this...
Coast of the sun indeed. Just yesterday I was schlepping my suitcase through the snowy sidewalks of Cologne.
Marbella is a major vacation city of the Costa del Sol, and home to many famous and extremely wealthy people. As a playground for the über-rich it also includes a marina complex, known as Puerto Banús, which was my ultimate destination today because it's home to the Hard Rock Cafe Marbella...
The rest of the day was a delicious mish-mash of good food and cool places to walk though in Puerto Banús...
And onward to Marbella...
Just a few photos from a beautiful day in a beautiful city!
And now off to bed before my legs collapse. I spent entirely too many hours walking today.
P.S. My suitcase was at the hotel waiting for me when I got back from dinner. As always, everything seems to work out in the end. Though all I really know for sure is that I'm glad to have clean underwear again...
Posted on Friday, February 4th, 2011
Another flawless day on the Costa del Sol with blue skies and a slight breeze to keep it from getting hot.
I had some work to do in the morning, but rushed through it so I could make it out to Málaga proper for lunch (TAPAS!!).
After lunch I decided to climb up to Gibralfaro Castle then work my way down to the Central Historic District. The climb itself was kind of nuts, and I was wishing I had just taken a taxi or tour bus to the top. Instead I ended up tired and with blistered feet. Oh well. The city was a lot of fun to explore, and the perfect weather didn't hurt either.
Just a few of the hundreds of photos I took...
Would have been nice to have even one more day... but I'm grateful for the few days I had.
Posted on Saturday, February 5th, 2011
Today was a "wasted" day spent traveling. It all started when I woke up early so I could catch the hotel courtesy shuttle to the airport for my 7:00am flight. Except the hotel LIED about having a courtesy shuttle, so I instead paid a taxi €15 ($20) for a three-minute ride to the airport. I would have walked, but it was pitch-black and I'd have to travel over two ditches and through a construction site to get there. When I had attempted it previously, I had barely made it there alive in broad daylight, so I figured my life was worth the $20.
The flight from Málaga to Paris was uneventful except, of course, having to deal with Charles de Gaulle airport once I arrived. Since I was avoiding the dreaded Terminal 2G this time, I thought it would be smooth sailing. Except it wasn't. Getting from 2D to 2F still required exiting and re-entering security, which is stupid as fuck. At least I had time to use the bathroom this time. Barely.
If forced to choose between a kick to the balls and having to transfer planes at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I'd have to give it some serious thought.
And then choose the kick in the balls, because that's a pain which will eventually end.
Weather at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam was mostly gusting winds, which had been canceling flights all morning. Fortunately, I made it out and arrived only 20 minutes late because...
DutchBitch drove to the airport for a quick meet-up, where she bought me some DutchyLand deliciousness...
Since I had missed meeting up with Dutchy when she was last in Florida, it was nice to get caught up for an hour-and-a-half. I also had to tell her about the sphincter-puckering landing my plane made into Amsterdam. I've flown in some pretty crazy shit and don't scare easily, but the wind was so bad that I thought for sure we were going to crash into the runway and explode. What an awesome way to die that would have been. DutchBitch promised to toss some patatjes met out onto the flaming remains of my plane if the worst were to happen, so at least I would have died happy.
Alas, our chat was over far too quickly, and it was time for me to catch my flight back to Cologne. This time the flight was fine. My luggage didn't get lost in Paris. And my airport hotel which promises a courtesy shuttle actually has a courtesy shuttle. So I guess it's all good in the end.
Until tomorrow when I fly back home...
Posted on Sunday, February 6th, 2011
Blargh. Two days of travel have left me more dead than usual. On to the bullets while I still have a will to live...
• TequilaCon. Unfortunately, there will be no TequilaCon event in 2011. In previous years, we've been extremely fortunate that the stars have aligned and everything has come together to make for an awesome event... but it just isn't happening this year for one reason or another. So rather than forcing together something mediocre, calling it "TequilaCon," and leaving people disappointed, we've decided to take a pass this year. The last thing anybody wants is to go to the time and expense of attending TequilaCon only to have it not live up to the high expectations set by previous years. As for the future... who can say? So long as there is tequila somewhere out there in the world, the possibility for a new TequilaCon will always be there. In the meanwhile... thanks for all your support. May your limes be juicy and your salt be salty until next we meet. Jenny, Brandon, Dave2, Vahid, and Mr. Tequila...
• Mayo. One of these days I'm bringing an extra suitcase with me so that I can pack it full of creamy delicious Dutch mayonnaise. I would have tried to smuggle a jar back this trip, but US Customs are real tight-asses when it comes to bringing superior food products into the country. The bastards.
Please note that I was NOT the person who opened the jar of mayo on the right, ate a few spoonfuls, then put the jar back on the shelf. Not that I could blame this person, but it wasn't me.
• Seriousness. But in all seriousness, who the fuck would open a jar of mayo in a grocery store, eat some of it, then put it back? If I looked, would there be slices of bread, cheese, and ham missing too? Did somebody make a fucking sandwich at the store? What the hell?
• Honestly. I mean, truly... honestly... what the bloody fuck? Did somebody obsessed with the creamy deliciousness of Dutch mayo realize that smuggling an entire jar was impossible... but smuggling a handful down their pants might work?
• Obsessive. Okay. Okay. Okay. I'm honestly not getting all obsessive over this, but these are the things that keep me awake at night, people. WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT MAYO?
• Foreigner. This morning as I was waiting to board my flight home, I made my way to some website where a video was available. After clicking on the video, I got an error message saying "I'm sorry this video is not available in your country." This left me dumbfounded and more than a little pissed off. I don't think that people should get to put videos on the internet unless the entire internet is allowed to look at them.
• Easy. One of the many movies I watched on my way home was Emma Stone in Easy A. It wasn't that this was a film I was dying to see, but it was one of the last things available that I hadn't already seen at least twice. Much to my shock and horror, I actually enjoyed this movie. It unapologetically borrows from a lot of those great 80's flicks like Sixteen Candies, Pretty in Pink, Say Anything, and the like. And does so pretty well. It always shocks me that quality films of any genre end up being made in this day and age... but for something in the teen angst/romance genre that doesn't completely suck? Miraculous.
Olive Penderghast is a forgettable nobody high school student who decides to embrace her newfound infamy as "school harlot" once a false rumor about her losing her virginity spreads throughout the school. Hilarity ensues. Not only is Emma Stone flawless as the witty and lethally unflappable lead, but they somehow managed to assemble a genius cast including Stanley Tucci, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Malcolm McDowell, and a surprisingly appropriately cast Lisa Kudrow. If you're looking for some mindless fun (that's actually fun), here's your film...
• Hard. As opposed to the total shit-stain of a movie called Life As We Know It. I mean, holy crap, does Katherine Heigl actively search out the shittiest, most pedestrian, predictable, ridiculously stupid scripts in the gutters of Hollywood to find her movie projects? How many sublimely idiotic spit-take reactions to the foul smell of baby poop do we really need? Wasn't Three Men and a Baby enough? Are we doomed to see it replayed in a movie every three years until the end of time? Granted, I fast-forwarded through most of this film as redundant pap, so perhaps some of the nuance was lost on me... but what the fuck?!?
Annnnnd... I'm spent.
There are plenty more bullets left in me, but my fingers stopped working about ten minutes ago. Just three more hours layover until I get to go home and (hopefully) sleep.
Posted on Monday, February 7th, 2011
Annnnnd my suitcase was beat to shit this past trip... zippers busted off, a nice gash in the side, and a handle half-way torn off. So now I am faced with the unenviable task of buying new luggage. This rates somewhere between getting a root canal and having chronic diarrhea on my Fun-O-Meter, so I'm really not looking forward to it. There's just something awful about spending big money on something the airlines actively try to destroy that makes me want to scream. I've toyed with the idea of buying cheap-ass bags, but the idea of having them fall apart so I end up chasing my underwear and toothpaste around a luggage carousel scares me more than the high price tag of the good shit.
As I am not an overly-sentimental kind of guy, I am trying my best not to get too sad over losing my travel companion from the past seven years. My faithful Samsonite roller bag has been around the world with me a dozen times, has been lost and recovered way too often, and always seemed to hold more crap than what physics would seem to allow.
Anyway... I have narrowed my choices to the folowing pieces...
Nickelodeon Spongebob Squarepants "Smile Face" Roller Tote...
Disney's "Pop" Mickey Mouse Rolling Travel Bag...
Sanrio Hello Kitty Pretty Pink Polkadots Wheely Suitcase...
Briggs & Riley "Transcend" Expandable Upright Suitcase...
Right now I'm leaning towards the Briggs & Riley bag because it comes highly recommended as a tough and durable choice for the frequent traveler. A pity it doesn't come in a more exciting design, but I guess that's the trade-off you make for getting a suitcase that's going to last a while.
I've got a couple of weeks to decide, so my fingers remain crossed that I can find Batman luggage before I have to purchase. I'd imagine there's few things cooler than pulling a Batman suitcase through the airport.
Posted on Tuesday, February 8th, 2011
I have an absurd amount of things to be thankful for. I've been so blessed in life that it seems as though I should be on my hands and knees thanking whatever gods there be every minute of every day for my abundance of awesomeness. Even the days that suck are still a paradise compared to those endured by scores of people less fortunate. Truly I am one of the luckiest people on earth.
Which is why it always catches me by surprise when the waves of depression wash upon my shore.
This morning I awoke with such a massive feeling of dread and despair that it was all I could do to climb out of bed. "What an asshole!" I tell myself. "You haven't got anything to be depressed about! You were just in frickin' SPAIN a few days ago for heaven's sake!"
Didn't matter. No amount of rationalization could make me feel better. No amount of self-analysis could reveal what had me feeling so down. No amount of chocolate pudding could erase the depression that swamped my every thought. I'm sure there's all kinds of pills available to fix stuff like this... but, alas, I don't have any of them, so all I could do was force myself to face the day.
Which sucked, of course, because the despair never truly went away. All I wanted was for the day to finally end in the hopes that I wake up feeling better tomorrow. And so I'm taking a couple of sleeping pills and going to bed at 7:00pm to speed up the process. I'll probably wake up at midnight, but no matter.
This past Sunday evening as I was flying home there was a beautiful sunset in The Cascades...
I keep thinking that if I stare at these photos long enough the world will come into focus, but the forecast remains cloudy.
Posted on Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
When I was visiting Tunisia last year, our tour stopped at a parking lot in Carthage where our guide had us exit the bus and look in one direction... towards a Islamic mosque. Then he had us look the opposite direction... towards a Christian church. He proudly told us that while Tunisia was predominantly Muslim, other faiths were welcome to worship there, and everybody gets along with their neighbors just fine even though they may worship in different ways. He then went on to say how Tunisians welcome and even encourages those of the Jewish faith to make an annual pilgrimage to their island of Djerba, where there's a famous synagogue housing one of the oldest handwritten copies of the Torah in existence. He was intent on getting across that Jews and Muslims aren't always enemies, and mutual respect goes a long ways towards a peaceful coexistence between faiths in Tunisia...
Looking one way... El Abidine Mosque
Looking the other... La cathédrale Saint-Louis de Carthage
It reminded me of when I was visiting Istanbul (in Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country) and the guide there remarked that it was not uncommon to have a mosque, church, and synagogue all within a short walking distance, with people of different faiths all living together peacefully in the same neighborhood.
Which in turn reminded me of when I was in Bali (in Indonesia, another predominantly Muslim country) and noted that a mosque, church, synagogue, and even a Buddhist temple could literally be built side-by-side with nobody thinking anything odd about it at all. The Balinese people may worship differently, but they can work, live, and play together just the same.
Not to say that some hateful morons don't occasionally come along and try to fuck up the peace for everybody. It seems there's always sad news about religious violence happening somewhere. Whether it be radical gangs torching a synagogue... or a mosque getting burned down by religious extremists... or a government committing violent acts in the name of a religion and a people they don't truly represent... or some other tragic event that undermines peaceful coexistence. But this is an unfortunate element that's present in all societies, and is contrary to the vast majority of people who simply want to live and worship in peace, regardless of what religion they adhere to.
Turns out that people are people wherever you go and, despite fundamental differences in our beliefs, it's an underlying desire to coexist in peace which unites us as humans...
Click to embiggen Scarboro Missions' excellent Golden Rule poster.
And that just reminded me of how Egyptian Muslims formed a human shield so Egyptian Coptic Christians could worship in peace at Christmas Mass after a recent bombing... just as Egyptian Christians formed a human shield so Egyptian Muslim protestors could perform their daily prayers without fear of attack during the recent uprising. In the end, these people have decided that they are all Egyptians, and banding together in unity despite their differences was their strength...
Christians form a human shield in Egypt... photo copyright Nevine Zaki
Which brings me to the entire point of this blog entry and how it relates to my country.
Because I find it alternately amusing and disgusting that the same people who feel that the USA is a "Christian Nation" and should be governed by "Christian principles" are completely losing their shit over the idea that "Islamic Nations" like Tunisia and Egypt may form new governments where "Islamic principles" play a part. As if freedom is only freedom and democracy is only democracy if they are governed by "Christian beliefs" at their core.
Personally, I think governments should be free of religious dogma and let religion function as an independent entity of personal choice (sound familiar?) but the hypocrisy of some Conservatives in the USA dictating that groups like The Muslim Brotherhood should have no voice in the government of Islamic nations is laughable. It's like if Muslims in Turkey suddenly dictated that Christian Conservatives should have no voice in the US government. Americans would lose their minds. Rush Limbaugh would fucking explode. And then he'd probably say we have to eat chicken at Thanksgiving because Turkey is anti-American or some stupid shit like that (you laugh... but remember Freedom Fries?).
And people wonder why The Middle East is so unstable. I don't want to get overly-political or analytical here, but from what I've seen with my own eyes, experienced in my own travels, and have confirmed by making Muslim friends both around the world and here at home... Islam having a voice in politics is not the problem. Forcing a country to adopt a system of leadership and government that is not representative of its peoples or serving their best interests, however, is a very big problem.
So let these countries find their own way. Encourage them to find their own way.
Because that's real democracy in action. Because that's what's going to produce a stable, prosperous country. Because that's what's going to make an ally not only for the United States of America, but for the world. People, at their heart, just want to worship as they choose and live in peace. Let this be the guiding force that rebuilds these countries. It worked pretty well for the USA.
At least in the beginning.
Yes, this may result in a government which is not in step with America's interests. Yes, there's no way of knowing where it will lead. Yes, there's a risk that some radical group might commandeer the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and get their peoples into a bigger mess than they are already in... but give the people a chance. Trust that in their heart they just want to worship as they choose and live in peace.
Just like most everybody else on this planet.
Posted on Thursday, February 10th, 2011
One of those days...
On the bright side, even heartache means you're feeling something.
And just in time for Valentine's Day.
Posted on Friday, February 11th, 2011
Posted on Saturday, February 12th, 2011
It's the twentieth anniversary of Twin Peaks! And it's being celebrated with an art show today in Los Angeles. Oh how I wish I could be there.
One of my favorite shows ever, David Lynch's epic story of secrets and murder in a small Pacific Northwest community was about the most fascinating, bizarre, beautiful, and altogether brilliant programs to ever air on television. While there have been a few shows that have tried to emulate its quirky genius over the years, there will likely never be anything quite like the strange saga of Laura Palmer ever again.
"She's dead... Wrapped in plastic..."
Even if the show wasn't spectacularly entertaining, I probably would have still been interested in watching it. Most of the exterior locations used in the series are about an hour-and-a-half from my home. David Lynch wanted to create a series that took a glimpse into the shady underside of small town living, and what he came up with was so convincing that I often felt that I could be living in Twin Peaks.
"My log does not judge..."
The tragedy of Twin Peaks is that it was canceled right in the middle of a massive cliffhanger at the end of its second season. David Lynch eventually released a movie called Fire Walk With Me which was eagerly anticipated by fans, but it ended up being more of a prequel than a sequel, and fared poorly at the box office. Even worse, it did very little to address all the lingering questions from the series.
"There is also a legend of a place called the Black Lodge..."
I haven't watched the full series in sequence since I revisited the first season five years ago, so I suppose it's time. The problem is that I'll just end up getting all sucked into the world of Twin Peaks again, knowing that it's going to be chopped off in middle of the story. I suppose it's futile, but a part of me still hopes that Lynch will get together the cast and wrap up what he started. Sure you run the risk of being disappointed, but at least you get closure.
"I'll see you again in 25 years. Meanwhile…"
Will we see another Twin Peaks project in 2015/2016 just as Laura Palmer promised? Who knows. That would certainly be awesome.
In the meanwhile... there's Fringe which is about the most messed-up show on television right now. Last night's episode approached a near Twin-Peaks-level of freakiness, which is no easy feat. It's so odd to me that J.J. Abrams shit-pile of a mess, Lost, got so much attention and blockbuster ratings when the real interesting stuff is happening over at his other series, Fringe.
Time for some cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee at the Double-R Diner.
"Through the darkness of futures past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds... fire, walk with me."
Posted on Sunday, February 13th, 2011
At 2:30am I ended up playing chauffeur to the hospital ER. While I was waiting, I saw a guy walk in holding one of his fingers that had gotten cut off. Holy crap. I could so not work the reception desk at an ER. I do not do well when people show up holding body parts. Or The bubonic plague.
• Debloggered. I've been noticing for quite a while now the long, slow, steady decline in blogging. It's a little depressing, but I didn't know how depressing until I was bored in the hospital waiting room and decided to edit my feed reader. It turns out twenty-eight of my feeds ended up getting deleted because they haven't been updated in over six months. Twenty-eight! I can't be sure, but I probably deleted close to that many a year ago. A few of the deleted bloggers I keep in touch with via Twitter or Facebook, so I guess that's okay. But there are others who apparently dropped off the face of the earth. A few left with a sad "this is my last entry" post, whereas others just... stopped.
A classic example is an expatriate who decided to move to Korea for a year so he could experience life in another country before getting his PhD. I found his blog during my third trip to Korea when I was Googling for... something... and kept reading because he was an interesting guy living an interesting life who had similar thoughts and hobbies (comic books!) to mine. Eventually he fell in love with a Korean girl, got married, ended up staying in Korea five years, got accepted at a school back in the USA, moved into a new apartment here with his wife, and then the entries just... stopped. It's so strange to have been a part of somebody's life for years and then =BLAM!= you have no idea what happened to them or how they're doing. I ended up doing some Google-stalking, found the guy on Twitter, then sent a request... but since I never commented on his blog, he doesn't know me and will probably ignore it.
It's the same story for a few other blogs I once followed. You get caught up in somebody's life, feel like you know them, then one day they're gone and you're left wondering. Now, granted, it's not like a blogger owes anybody anything. If they decide that blogging is no longer something they want to do, then that's all there is to it. But, even so, it's a little bit cruel. And a little bit curious. I wonder how many people would notice (or even care) if tomorrow I just... stopped?
• Fosterized. Last summer a song called Pumped Up Kicks by an unknown band called "Foster The People" was creeping through the blogosphere, infecting people wherever it landed. The song was contagious in a way that's truly rare... slamming through a catchy beat and even catchier nonsense lyrics that still haunt me months later. The odd thing being that the band was practically invisible, and finding any new material past their one song was nigh impossible. So imagine my surprise when I discovered that not only did they finally release a video for Pumped Up Kicks, they also unleashed an EP with three songs on iTunes (including Houdini, which has become permanently implanted in my head). Apparently an album is on the way. I'm hoping it sucks, because I don't know how I will be able to function with more than three awesome Foster The People songs constantly looping through my head...
• Branded. And so Russell Brand hosted Saturday Night Live last night. Compared to most recent episodes, it wasn't bad. But with the exception of Brand's monologue, Jay Pharoah's flawless Eminem impersonation, and a faux ad-spot for an offensively British movie called Don' You Go Rounin' Roun to Re Ro, it just wasn't that funny to me. By the time we got to the heinous A Spot of Tea sketch, I wanted to impale myself on my remote just to end the suffering. Surely even the people involved can't think this crap is in any way funny? Here's hoping Miley Cyrus manages to somehow have a good show in two weeks despite all evidence pointing to doom. Wow. If Hannah Montana can't make for a good episode of SNL they might as well hang it up.
• Weathered. Well, poop...
• Microsofnokia. Nokia, once the final word in mobile phones, has been sliding into irrelevance for years. First Blackberry skewered them in the business market. Then iPhone and Android served them their head in the personal smartphone market. In every way that matters Nokia was dying a slow death, never to be heard of again.
And then... Stephen Elop, a former Microsof employee (and Microsoft's eight largest shareholder), became CEO of Nokia. After a brutally honest critique of Nokia's complete lack of ability to compete in the market, Elop announced that Nokia was dumping pretty much everything and hitching its wagon to the Microsoft Windows Phone 7 train. It was spectacularly brilliant and evil. For all intents and purposes, Nokia was now a hardware division of Microsoft. For which Microsoft paid nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero dollars. When I first mentioned this, people called me a wingnut Microsoft-hating conspiracy theorist. And now another former Microsoft employee of sixteen years, Chris Weber, has just been installed as CEO of Nokia USA.
Get out your tinfoil hat!
I'd congratulate Microsoft for dropping to an entirely new level of evil, but I don't think this is going to make much difference. All they've done is ensure that what few manufacturers were making Windows Phone 7 handsets will now be embracing Android 100%. Good thing Microsoft has a lot of money, because that's about the only thing that's keeping them in the smartphone game. Alas, the same can't be said for Nokia. Since Microsoft has no financial interest in the company, they also have no risk. If this massive gamble doesn't pay off, Nokia is done for.
And let's not fool ourselves here, Nokia is done for.
UPDATE: Or billions. Whatever... this doesn't end well.
And on that sad note, I suppose I should try to get some work done before this weekend is over.
If only I could wake up...
Posted on Monday, February 14th, 2011
Happy Valentine's Day... one way or another...
Sometimes in matters of the heart, it's best to have high-caliber protection.
For my twisted valentines from previous years, visit the Blogography Valentine's Day Cards Page!
Posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011
I've been watching the current IBM Jeopardy! Challenge with great interest.
For those not in the know, the game show Jeopardy! has invited its two greatest champions... Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter... to come back for a special tournament where they will match wits with IBM's super-computer, "Watson." It's an interesting challenge, because Watson has to stand on his own... parsing the language of the questions and using an internal database (no internet) to formulate his answers. He then has to physically press a ring-in button, just like a real opponent would...
After the first game, Watson is destroying the competition with a $35,754 total over Rutter ($10,000) and Jennings ($4,800)... even though he missed the Final Jeopardy! question. There's another game to go, but it's pretty clear that Watson's immense collection of data and clever programming has given "him" an unbeatable edge.
What I like best about Watson is his "face" which displays a beautiful animated avatar designed by The Hype Framework. It pulses and moves with a lovely array of line-work to reflect his "thinking" in various ways...
But, as interesting as Watson is at playing Jeopardy, it's OTHER games he might end up playing that worry me. Like... say... GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR?!?
I, for one, welcome our new Jeopardy! Champion Overlord.
Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
I'm not sick, but I'm feeling like crap.
Probably because I made the mistake of taking a nap when I got home. That never works out well for me, but I was half-dead from the crazy events of the past week and couldn't help myself.
And so now I'm three-quarters-dead and have nobody to blame but myself...
Tomorrow's going to be a fun day.
In television news... Survivor sucks more and more each season because Jeff Probst tries and makes the show be about Jeff Probst. Sorry, but this show is supposed to be about the contestants. Stop trying to influence the game and manipulate Tribal Council to put the spotlight on you. It's not making the game any more interesting... it's making the game less relevant to the outcome. Just announce the challenges, initiate the conversation, snuff the torches, and SHUT THE FUCK UP. Also? Those "Redemption Island What-If Moments" are truly stupid and wasting valuable time we should be spending... oh... I dunno... WATCHING THE GAME.
In other television news... Mr. Sunshine has to be the biggest waste of television talent in recent memory. Matthew Perry, who was not only genius in Friends and Studio 60, but near-inspiring in his guest-appearances on The West Wing is wasted on mind-numbingly boring material. Allison Janney, who's run on The West Wing is legendary, has been given a one-dimensional joke of a character that's about as appealing as salmonella poisoning. They can't even get a guest-spot right, as they bring in somebody with real character like Kathy Najimy, then have her do... absolutely nothing? WTF?
In even more television news... Justified Season Two... wow. Just wow.
In Twitter news... SWOOOOOON!
BROOKE ALVAREZ! Guess I better hose down that goat's blood off my altar and take that photo!
And, on that stalker-ish note... it's almost midnight, so I suppose I should see just how big a mistake that afternoon nap was.
Posted on Thursday, February 17th, 2011
What an astoundingly horrible day. Seriously.
No matter where I went all day long, I was stepping in somebody's shit.
Why can't people just clean up their own messes so responsible people don't have to deal with their crap?
Posted on Friday, February 18th, 2011
Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens.
—Duke Leto Atreides, Dune
I've been struggling this week. A couple weeks, actually. Ever since I came back from Europe it seems as though I've been hit by one horrible thing after another and I'm starting to lose faith that things are ever going to get back to normal. Whatever "normal" is. It's like I left my life for a while, then came back to find all the things I recognize about it... missing.
Almost like it never existed and I'm just remembering it all wrong. Except I have pictures. And this blog. I'd blame the travel, but I know that's not true.
Because today as I was skimming the news sites, I figured it all out. And this is what did it...
Nooooooo! Not Giordano's! They say they'll stay open as they declare bankruptcy, but who knows how long that will last? Their cheese supplier could decide to stop delivering cheese tomorrow and where would that leave us? How can you make pizza without cheese?
And there it is.
I haven't eaten at Giordano's in quite a while... even though it's kind of a quintessential Chicago experience... but that's not the point. The point is that I always know I can go to back to Giordano's for a pizza and a beer if I wanted to...
Now I don't know how much longer that might be true. Giordano's could close tomorrow and I'd never get to have pizza there again. I don't know how much that would actually bother me if it happened, but the thought of it weighing on my mind is crushing me.
And if that's true for a pizza restaurant 1650 miles away then it's true for everything in my life.
Anything I do... anyplace I go... anyone I see... could be the last time.
I don't fear change. Really, I don't. In many ways I embrace change and welcome the new adventures it brings. But sometimes change makes you question the things you know... the things you believe in... the things that are true. And with all that doubt floating around my head lately, it's no wonder I don't want to get out of bed in the morning.
I suppose I should do something about that.
Or go to Chicago and have a Giordano's pizza and a beer while I still can.
Posted on Saturday, February 19th, 2011
Well today sucked.
You know your day sucked when the best part of it was a tub of Snack-Pack once it was all over.
More and more it feels as though life is just the shit you're forced to eat...
So you can have your chocolate pudding dessert...
Well screw that.
Posted on Sunday, February 20th, 2011
This morning I had waffles for breakfast. Isn't that what Sundays are for?
• Spy. A couple of people brought to my attention that Google Books has put some issues of Spy online for your reading pleasure! One of my favorite magazines of all time, Spy was the ultimate repository for satire writing, and had some of the most biting pranks and hoaxes ever committed. But this did not preclude Spy from tackling some serious matters in pop culture and politics as well. Hopefully Google will continue adding issues until all of them are online... that would save me from having to dig mine out of storage. If you want to take a look at what all the fuss was about, click here to visit Spy on Google Books!
• Endangered. It's that time of year when television shows are reaching their do-or-die point in the ratings. If not renewed soon, some shows I like are in danger of being cancelled...
Sadly, odds are that most of these shows are not long for this world. They'll probably be replaced with shitty "reality" shows that are inexplicably popular with the public at large. Heaven help us all.
• 18. After seeing the Mars landing hoax conspiracy movie Capricorn One on VHS rental sometime in the 80's, my mind was pretty much blown. It encouraged me to think about what actual cool stuff our government might be keeping from us. Area 51 was a good start. But the various moon landing conspiracy theories floating around became my obsession. Not so much that the landings were faked... but about what happened while we were up on the moon. And there were a lot of theories. Everything from alien encounters to extraterrestrial artifacts to weapon installations to secret missions. It was a tin-hat wearing dream come true. And now a new horror movie, Apollo 18, is being released to reveal the secret of NASA's "cancelled" final moon mission... and why we've never gone back...
It's been shot "documentary-style" (think Blair Witch Project) which I usually loathe in movies, but I just might make an exception this time if the reviews don't suck. The cheesy but intriguing trailer is on QuickTime, and the release date is March 4th.
Annnnd... I only have time for three bullets today. There are many things to be done yet today.
Posted on Monday, February 21st, 2011
Today is Presidents Day, a public holiday meant to coincide with the birthday of the first president of The United States of America: George Washington. Except his birthday isn't until tomorrow on the 22nd. But since that would be an inconvenient date from a retail business perspective, they move it to Monday every year. This way stores can have Presidents Day Weekend Sales to encourage people to spend whatever money they haven't already spent for Christmas, New Years, and Valentine's Day. And if you don't have any money left, I guess you're expected to use your credit card and go into debt (or, more likely, more into debt).
I had no intention of doing my duty and fulfilling my retail obligations today, but on my way over the mountain passes this afternoon I was told that Helly Hansen was going out of business in Seattle. Needless to say, I was compelled to drop by. I love Helly Hansen gear and since everything is 40%-50% off, I didn't have any choice in the matter...
Me in Edinburgh 1999, wearing my favorite Helly Hansen jacket.
I bought it in 1997 and am still wearing it today, 14 years later. THAT'S QUALITY!
Unfortunately Fortunately, they didn't have much left in size Large, so I didn't get the massive spending spree I was expecting. Still, I found a nice windbreaker, a couple hats, and some awesome gloves, so it was worth the trip. I also stopped for a meat-free burger at Johnny Rockets (woooo!) while I was there, so I guess it was a win-win Presidents Day for me after all (even though I had to work this morning).
And so now I'm in Seattle for a day.
Perhaps longer. A winter storm hit in the mountains tonight and is expected to dump a shit-load of snow and ice on the passes. Since my car can't use chains (no, I didn't know that when I bought it) I may be stuck.
My thoughts are with the people of Christchurch tonight. The shocking images coming out of the earthquake there are just gut-wrenching. I wish everybody a speedy recovery from such tragedy, and hope to visit your beautiful country one day.
Posted on Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011
Last night I got -zero- sleep.
It seemed like all the horrors of the world just wouldn't let my mind slip into oblivion... instead I was endlessly occupied with the events in Libya, The USA, New Zealand, Yemen, Bahrain, and the rest. There seemed no way to let it all go. Instead I just laid there feeling restless and helpless all night long.
When all I really wanted to do was go home.
But I was slammed with work all day long and, when it was time to leave, I found out I couldn't. The passes were either closed or a hellacious mess, and the weather was just getting worse. After four people at work started Googling maps and pass reports, the general consensus was that my best option was to drive to Portland and make a run up the Columbia Basin tomorrow.
So here I am in Portland, feeling exhausted and destroyed...
My hetero life-partner suggested I have pizza and beer at Rocco's... where philosophers & aliens meet!
Then it was time for the awesomeness of Powell's City of Books, where I spent WAY too much money,
Not on this particular book... though I wanted to. Badly.
Then Vahid just had to remind me of Mio Gelato. The bastard.
Stracciatella gelato and Powell's Books... the perfect combo.
Classy third-floor entertainment for gentlemen!
Time for... VOODOO DOUGHNUTS!! Where good things come in pink boxes.
A maple bar and voodoo doll doughnut for dessert!
For those who have never had the orgasmic pleasure of eating at Voodoo Doughnuts, here is the carousel of awesomeness which awaits...
And so now I think I will take my aching head and tired body to bed even though it's only 8:30.
Please please please let me get home tomorrow...
Posted on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011
And so my journey home continues... this time with pretty pictures!
Since it would still be less time to drive back to Seattle and go over the mountain passes, the first thing I did when I got up this morning was check the pass reports. One was closed. The other was "chains required" (and my car can't wear chains, even though I am legally required to carry them). And sooo... I had no choice but to continue the massive detour I was on...
This is how I usually get home. Travel time: 2hr 10min...
This is the detour I had to take. Travel time: 9hr 15min...
Well... technically it's 9 hours and 15 minutes. With my overnight stop in Portland, it actually took me 16 hours and 35 minutes to get home.
And thought the long, long drive sucked ass, there were some cool things to see along the way. My first stop? THE BRIDGE OF THE GODS! In ancient times, there was a natural stone bridge that crossed the Columbia River. Native American legend says that the bridge was put there by Manito, The Great Spirit, because he was sympathetic to the hard time people had crossing the river. A mural at the foot of the bridge shows what this looked like...
But due to a jealous rivalry between mountain gods, the bridge was destroyed (you can read all about it here). And so in 1920 we had to build our own bridge, which looks like this...
From there, I continued onward, eventually crossing the Columbia River into the small region of Maryhill, Washington. The place is kind of famous because of a World War I war memorial here... STONEHENGE! And unlike the old and busted Stonehenge in England, the Stonehenge here in Washington is new hotness...
There are a lot of wind turbines in the area...
The drive up through the Columbia Basin's county roads was pretty lonely. Most of the time I was the only driver on the road. Still, there was some nice scenery to be had...
And then, before I knew it, I was home. Exhausted and wanting to die... but home just the same.
Pretty as it was, I don't want to do this drive again any time soon.
Posted on Thursday, February 24th, 2011
A while back I got a phone call from Charter Communications, my cable company. It was a sales guy telling me that I could lock-in a great rate for more services than I currently had at less money than I was currently paying! "Wow! How can you do that?" I asked. "You're a good customer, and we want to keep you!" they said. "But what's the catch? How can I get more for less?" I asked. "No catch!" they said... "You just have to agree to a two-year contract!" I kept asking questions but, at every turn I was assured that my total bill would be less money.
Confident I had covered all the bases, I said "Sign me up!"
It ended up not being true, of course.
The first time I called because my bill was higher, I was told the increase was temporary because I made a change in the middle of a billing cycle. Today when I called a second time because my latest charge was still higher than I had been paying, they said the amount was correct. They didn't give a crap that I was promised something different. The situation was all my fault, and if I wanted to change my services, I'd have to pay $190 to get out of my contract or just suck it up and pay the extra $40 a month that I had "agreed" to.
They obviously don't know me very well. This wasn't some case of "buyer's remorse" over an agreement I made ten months ago and suddenly had second-thoughts over. This was a second complaint over an agreement I just made. I was LIED to. Twice. So here was MY plan...
I may have to pay $190 to get out of the contract of lies Charter had trapped me into... but they would be the ones paying for it. And I started my dissatisfaction campaign by posting this on Twitter:
Which was almost immediately replied to by a Charter Cable Twitter rep...
And... problem solved. Everything was fixed.
This was astounding. Somebody at Charter actually gets it. Somebody at Charter knows the value of customer service. Somebody at Charter understands that righting a wrong and keeping a customer happy is in the company's best interest. How? Let's take a look at my value as a customer to Charter Communications from the perspective of PHONE support vs. TWITTER support...
|MY CUSTOMER VALUE...|
CHARTER PHONE SUPPORT
|MY CUSTOMER VALUE...
CHARTER TWITTER SUPPORT
|AFTER ONE YEAR||$190||$1,529.16|
|AFTER TWO YEARS||$190||$3,058.32|
|AFTER THREE YEARS||$190||$4,587.48|
|AFTER FOUR YEARS||$190||$6,116.64|
|AFTER FIVE YEARS||$190||$7,645.80|
The customer service agent in phone support would have gotten the $190 early termination fee... and nothing more. Ever. On top of that, they would have had a very unhappy ex-customer who would spend their every waking hour thinking up ways of telling everybody and anybody how they had been lied to and cheated by their company.
The customer service agent on Twitter, however, now has a happy customer worth thousands of dollars to their bottom line over the next several years.
That's a $190 one-time payment vs. $1,529.16... ANNUALLY.
How do companies like this stay in business when parts of their organization don't understand the long-time value of a customer? All they see is policy regardless of consequence. They don't care what promises were made, they only care about what excuses they can make as to why they were made. They don't care about solving a problem, they only care about passing blame as to who is responsible for it.
I was told my bill would be less than I was paying.
And, in the end, it wasn't even the money that was important to me. It was the principle.
I'm not some whack-job trying to weasel my way out of an agreement I made. I'm a customer who was made a promise that was not kept. Every attempt to rectify the situation was met with more broken promises or outright defiance. Until I posted a complaint to Twitter and somebody at Charter saw it and decided my value as a customer was worth saving. And it's refreshing to know that somebody at Charter gives a crap about saving their revenue stream.
Because it only takes 131 customers.
Saving just 131 customers like me over a 5-year period is worth over a MILLION DOLLARS to Charter Communications. With money like that at stake, it's just a pity that George Vick isn't in charge of all customer service at Charter.
Because after what I've been through today with their phone "support," I have to seriously question whether the company will even be around in five years.
UPDATE: For those who asked, the problem was solved by removing all the extra "premium" channels and taking me back to the package I used to have, which is fine by me. I never cared about having the extra channels, and the only reason I added them in the first place was because I was told my monthly charge would be less money than I was currently paying (with two-year contract). Am I happy that Charter has a sales force which lies as a matter of policy? No. But I otherwise like the service I had at the price I was paying, so getting me back to where I was at is all that matters to me.
Posted on Friday, February 25th, 2011
Pig in Boots? How about Monkey in Boots?
Posted on Saturday, February 26th, 2011
When working at home I often have a DVD playing to drown out any background noise. Most times I pick a movie I've seen a bajillion times so I can focus on my work. It doesn't always happen though, because some movies I can watch over and over again without ever getting tired of them.
One of my favorite movies of all time is the Kevin Costner & James Earl Jones baseball-themed masterpiece, Field of Dreams. It's an astounding work on just about every level. The characters are rich and fully-formed. The story is deep and reflective. But it's the philosophy behind the film that is
"You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening."
— Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, Field of Dreams
Ever since then I've been obsessed with recognizing my significant moments while they're happening.
Today I completed a big part of a project I've been dreaming of for a long time. Right after clicking the "SAVE" button, I went and made myself a big salad with all the fixings and began to eat.
It was then that I realized I had just experienced a significant moment in my life.
ZOMFG! HAVE YOU TRIED THIS NEW KRAFT MEXICAN CHEESE BLEND WITH A TOUCH OF PHILADELPHIA CREAM CHEESE?!? IT'S FRICKIN' DELICIOUS!
Take THAT Archibald "Moonlight" Graham!
Posted on Sunday, February 27th, 2011
Welcome to a fabulous OSCARS EDITION of Bullet Sunday!
• Intro! This new tradition of inserting Oscar hosts into scenes from the nominated films just keeps getting better and better. Using technology from Inception, James Franco and Anne Hathaway go into the mind of former Oscar host Alec Baldwin to learn the secrets of hosting the show. The fact that they managed to work in Back to the Future at the end was just the icing on the cake...
Oscar telecast ©2011 by ABC Television
• The Winners! Not surprisingly, there were a few awards passed out that I felt could have gone elsewhere, but overall I was happy with the winners. Here's my break-down...
• Wrap-Up! Though James Franco faltered a bit at times, overall he and Anne Hathaway did a surprisingly good job hosting the show. The musical performances were mercifully short and half-way decent (including Gwyneth Paltrow, who I thought did a pretty good job considering she's not a professional singer... it was crazy seeing all the online haters unload on her while she performed). I also thought the presentations went very well. It will be interesting to see who hosts next year.
Annnnd... I've got a long day ahead of me tomorrow, so I guess that's all she wrote. See you at the movies.
Posted on Monday, February 28th, 2011
It's a tale as old as time, really.Against all odds two people find each other. They fall in love. They get married. They want to start a family but, for one reason or another, they can't have children. But their hearts are full and they have much to offer and so they find a way. Maybe they hire a surrogate to bear them the child they want so badly. There's much to do. Diapers to buy. Clothes to find. A nursery to build. Then all that's left to do is wait.
Nine months later, a son is born.
The happiest day of their lives has finally come.
Except in this case the happy couple in question is two Belgian guys living in France, the surrogate mother is in the Ukraine, and homophobic red tape has left a nursery empty for two years while the child is stuck in an orphanage...
In the above photo the biological father, Laurent Ghilain, is on the left. His husband, Peter Meurrens, is on the right. The empty crib in the middle is where their son, Samuel Ghilain, should have been.
A while back I read about their struggle to get a passport issued for their son so they could bring him home. I made a comment about how fucked up it was that a baby was in an orphanage when he had two perfectly good parents who were waiting for him. Literally begging for him. But nobody would hear their plea.
Then today I was emailed a link to a follow-up story.
Little Samuel is home at last...
And despite the fact that such insanity is nothing new, I watched this footage and wondered all over again how anybody could be so fucked up as to believe this child belonged anywhere except with his father. Later on, there was one part of the story that caught my attention. It was a set of still-photos showing Laurent and Peter visiting Laurent's newborn son...
And that's when it kind of hits you.
Breaking the situation down to its base elements, you end up with this...
Two images of fatherhood that would tug at the heartstrings of just about anyone, anywhere.
But put the two together, and a segment of the population inexplicably loses their fucking mind...
A child lucky enough to have two daddies who will love and cherish him forever is unacceptable. But a child who is orphaned, unwanted, or unloved is somehow better off.
A kid in a loving home is a bad thing when his parents are gay. But shoving that same kid in an orphanage somewhere is what's "best for the child."
How can anybody think this way and not be seen as anything less than a monster?
How can we tolerate a society that justifies such heinous treatment of children?
How can we live knowing that anybody could look at an image like this...
...and not see it as anything but a joyous and wonderful event?
Sometimes the people on this world we live in fill me with such depression and despair that my heart feels as though it can't take it any more. I get to the point where all I can see is the hatred that plagues humanity day after day and the weight of it crushes me so I can barely breath. All the pain, the suffering, the sadness, the death, the destruction... so many senseless horrors... they wear on my mind so heavily that I don't even want to exist anymore.
But then I watch something beautiful like this and it's all forgotten...
I like to think that one day all the bigoted assholes of this earth will be dead and forgotten to the betterment of all humanity. Indeed, some days it's the only thing that keeps me going.
In the meanwhile, welcome home, Samuel.