Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Insured?  Can’t prove it by the ID Card!

My ex is still on my auto insurance policy through Geico.  (Long story.)  He’s covered by the same policy, but not as a “spouse”.

I recently got my insurance ID cards for the two vehicles (mine and his).  Three cards per vehicle, all listing only me as “Insured”.

This became a problem a few months ago, when he got stopped for a broken tail light.  He got a ticket because his “proof of insurance” didn’t cover him.  We got Geico to fax paperwork indicating that he was covered under the policy, which should have taken care of things.

With the new ID cards, I called Geico to request cards be issued with him as “Insured” as well.  No can do, they tell me.  Even though he’s insured under the policy, only myself and my “spouse” can be listed on the ID cards as actually insured.  What’s up with that?

So I’m having them fax the paperwork again, and then I will give it and the new cards to my ex.  If he gets stopped, he’ll probably have to argue with the cop over whether or not his insurance is valid, and he might even have to get a ticket that he’ll have to fight (with all the stress and time lost that accompanies that).

I’m pleased that Geico will cover other than immediate family under the same policy, but this refusal to list as insured someone who is insured is ridiculous.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Movie Review
    — 300

I finally saw 300, via Netflix.  I am soooo glad I didn’t see this one in the theaters.

One word sums up this movie: “juvenile”.

Disclosure: 300 is based on the comic book of the same name.  When the comic came out, I bought the first issue, read it, thought “What a piece of crap”, and didn’t buy the second issue.  My opinion of the comic has not changed since then, and the movie supports that feeling.

You know what would be cool?  Lots of blood squirting everywhere.  Like in that King Arthur movie, when the guy’s arms and legs come off.

You know what would be cool?  Lots of symbolic, dramatic lighting, like everything is occurring at sunset or under a full moon.

You know what would be cool?  A bottomless pit in the middle of the court of Sparta, with no railings or grating or cover, because, like, Spartans are so bad ass that they never slip, stumble, or fall.

You know what would be cool?  If the dramatic scenes all had shit floating in the air to give it a dreamy quality.  Snow, dust, pollen, whatever.

You know what would be cool?  If all the Spartans went shirtless all the time and were like totally ripped.  Dude, that would be gay, not cool!  Oh, well don’t worry, they won’t ever touch each other, so it won’t really be gay.  Just sorta.

You know what would be cool?  If we added reverb and other modulation to the voices at their most dramatic moments.  That would, like, totally help carry the symbolism through.

You know what would be cool?  If we had a voiceover going through the whole movie, sometimes reiterating the action but usually just giving color commentary and saying poetic shit.  And it would be way cool to — surprise! — make the voiceover be the story of the Spartans being told to others, to inspire them to fight crazy.

You know what would be cool?  If the Spartans were so bad ass that even their allies thought they were crazy and would run away.

You know what would be cool?  If there were all these dramatic, tension-filled conversations between the Spartans, full of pauses and deep brooding stares.  Um, dude, you’ve gone into the gay zone again!  Okay, we’ll have them break off the looks early, so no one could possibly think that there’s something gay going on.

You know what would be cool?  If we did all the action scenes cutting in and out of slow-mo, so you could totally see all the sword cuts and tumbling bodies and splashing blood.

You know what would be cool?  If the entire cast was men, just beating the snot out of each other.  Dude, gay thing again!  You need something with a woman, so we can get the chicks to let us see it.  No problem, man: we’ll add a subplot with the queen, and she can have sex in it, too.  She’ll be totally hot, and it will be rough, beating the snot out of each other sex.  And if we have to trim the film to make it shorter, we can cut the subplot some, removing girl stuff and keeping all the bad ass fight scenes!

You know what would be cool?  If this movie didn’t make me fear that the director’s upcoming Watchmen film will be more of the same.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Caught You!
    — Kymco Scooters

“Caught You!” identifies places where people don't quite do the full job with their marketing materials and ads: major typos, Photoshop flubs, etc.

This is a page from the latest Kymco Scooters promotional booklet, about the Sento scooter.  Each page of the booklet has a large cropped image of the scooter on the outside edge of the page — left, in this case — plus a couple smaller colors shots and specs for the vehicle.

Unfortunately, the Sento only has its name on the front left side of the scooter (as you can see from the two- full-scooter images), while this page ended up as a left page, so the front right side would be shown in the large cropped image (and thus would not have the logo on it).

So to fix that, they took the front left side and flipped the image horizontally.  This seems a perfectly reasonable thing to try, except that it reverses all logos, including the main Kymco logo — see the inset on the right — and it would reverse the Sento logo as well.  So what did they do?  They apparently digitally removed (Photoshopped out) the Sento logo, and then pasted in a new, non-reversed copy.  Except, as seen on the inset on the left, they didn’t get it at quite the right place — it’s too high, not angled right, and of course, the “S” should be closest to the headlight (hard to help that, though).   All in all, a pretty lousy job, probably a rush.

The right answer, of course, would have been to move the Sento to a right hand page in the booklet, so they could have used a correct, unaltered image.  Second best would have been to use a non-flipped image of the side without the Sento logo — so the Kymco logo wouldn’t be flipped and they wouldn’t have to remove the flipped Sento logo — and then just paste in the isolated Sento logo (at the right place and angle, of course).

Prototype for iPod commercials?

I caught this 1989 video from the Belle Stars over the weekend at a bar in Los Angeles:

Check things out between 1:50 and 2:00.  Silhouetted guy dancing wildly in front of neon color backgrounds?  Hmmm, where have we seen that in recent years?

Updated on January 27, 2010.
Original video was gone from YouTube, had to find a new copy.

Appropriate day for an update to this, given that the iPad was announced this morning.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What Were They Thinking?
    — Meds for Cross-eyed and Possessed Pets

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

You probably saw these website ads for 1-800-PetMeds early this year: when the mouse passes over the ad, it turns into a bone or a fly, and the dog or cat’s eyes follow it.  Cute, huh?

At least until you move the cursor to extreme points — such as between the pet’s eyes — and the eye-tracking algorithm breaks, turning the pet into some hideous monstrosity, either a cross-eyed cat that probably can’t aim to find its litter box, or a possessed pug (ugly enough to start with).

(Maybe the dog is having visions of the future and is about to paint?  Or spray?  Or spray paint?   Where’s Mr. Muggles when we need him?)

Seriously, test your Flash ads before you deploy them.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Be careful out there…

Be careful out there, folks.
…In the rain.
…On slick streets.
…On hills and curves.
…Passing cars.
…With other cars changing lanes.
…At dusk.
…And all of these together.

Or you might end up on Columbian Way, passing a car to change lanes in front of it, and have another car zip off I-5 onto Columbian and cut right in front of you to change across two lanes.

Down goes the scooter, skidding on its side up the hill.  (Here’s a map.  It happened right about at the top of the curve.  Thursday, October 9, at about 6:15 pm.)

Down goes the rider, body surfing on the wet asphalt.  Face down, feet first, uphill.  Looking at the wheels of the car he just passed coming closer as the driver slams on his brakes.  And the other driver just zips on up the hill and around the curve, probably not even realizing anything happened.

Thank god for leather jackets and helmets, and for drivers who are on their toes and able to stop.

Clothing Damage
  • Wet pants and shirt (but nothing torn).
  • Half-dollar sized abrasion on the jacket’s left elbow, and other scrapes on that sleeve, but the wet pavement actually protected the jacket from other damage, I think.
  • Leather shoes have a scuffed up right toe.  I probably lifted my feet up during the slide.
  • iPhone in the front jacket pocket is fine.
Scooter Damage
  • Half-dollar sized scrape on the scooter trunk.
  • Small scrapes on other side bits.
  • Busted housing for right front blinker, but it still works.
  • Scraped aluminum from the right brake lever and the metal end of the throttle handle.
  • Throttle handle’s metal end is now tipped out and spins.
  • Throttle was stuck at first, but got it unstuck after 30 seconds or so.  The throttle doesn’t always roll back to off now, though; the tipped end provides too much friction against the rubber handle, although I can spin the tipped end to a position where it's about 90% fine.  (I’ll definitely need to get this fixed.)
  • Badly scraped and cracked footboard side panels (they were already scraped from dropping the scooter in the past, but now scraped even more).
  • Mirror out of whack, but I think I’ve adjusted it back to okay now.
  • The exhaust pipe or muffler appears to have taken a little damage, too, bending one of the bolts inward a little.  I don’t notice any issues with it — and I’ve done two 60-mile rides since — but I should get it looked at.
Except for the throttle issue, seems to be cosmetic damage and drivable.

Personal Damage
  • Bruised right knee.
  • Scraped left elbow, even a trickle of blood.
  • Tingly left pinkie and forearm.  Still bothering me a little bit, few days later.
  • Would have gone to the chiropractor the next day, as a preventative, but they are closed on Fridays.  I seem to be doing fine in that regard, though, so the regular Wednesday appointment will do.

Nobody tell my mother, okay?

Updated on January 26, 2010
I didn’t note it at the time, but I was on my way home (a) to meet the guy doing some landscaping work for me to consult about my back stairs, and (b) to have a first dinner date with the guy who has now become my boyfriend in the intervening year-and-some.

What is a “Twink”?

Moved this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Movie Review
    — Iron Man

I finally saw Iron Man last weekend, when the Columbia City Cinema got it in as a second run film.  It was pretty good, I thought.

Mind you, I’ve never been a fan of Iron Man.  Not that I dislike Iron Man, but I just haven’t ever followed the character other than in the pages of The Avengers.  (This is probably because he’s a tech-based character.  I’m a big fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes, where every member has to have a unique non-tech power; Iron Man is a no-go in that scenario.)

As a result, I know the basics of the the character arc for Iron Man without being able to get hung up on the details.  That makes me an ideal audience for a superhero movie: I know of Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, and I can identify the character prepped to be the Mandarin in a future film, but I’m in no place to complain if Happy Hogan is relegated to just a chauffeur in the movie but was so much more than that in the comics.

What I particularly liked about the film, though, is that it was a superhero film without being full of the arch-villain.  Obadiah Stane was more organically grown from Tony Stark’s back story, as opposed to Lex Luthor’s maniacal jealous businessman or Norman Osborne going off the deep end to become the Green Goblin.

Also nice was the fact that despite this being a movie based around a tech character, there wasn’t either the “bounce the character off he walls so frenetically that the audience loses all sense of direction” from Spider-Man 3, nor the “blow up every vehicle in the city” from The Dark Knight.  I want to be able to tell who is hitting whom and why; keep the property damage only to that which needs to be done, not gratuitous explosions because you’ve got the budget.

The only down side to this film was entirely on the theater’s part.  They were alternating showings of it with Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 (two films that go back-to-back so logically!) in the same theater, and people for the next film were filing in during the Iron Man credits.  And thus to hasten things along… no, they didn’t stop things before the legendary post-credits scene, but they turned off the camera, so we got to hear it but not see it.  Grrr.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What Were They Thinking?
    — A comma, a comma, my kingdom for a comma!

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

There is a new “ride the bus” ad on Seattle city (and King County) buses, with alleged bus riders saying “I do make a difference by riding the bus.”  But it raises a question to me:
Who the heck was the copy writer on this?
There are four ways you could use this basic sentence:
I make a difference by riding the bus.
This is the answer you would give to the question “How can you have an effect and promote a green lifestyle?”  The response is simple and factual.  Riding the bus is the important thing here.
I make a difference, by riding the bus.
This is the answer you would give to the question “Can you have an effect and promote a green lifestyle?”  Yes, you can (hello Obama), and here’s how I do it.  It’s a little more forward.  It stresses that you can make a difference, with riding the bus being one person’s answer.
I do make a difference, by riding the bus.
Here, the response would be to a question like “Can someone really have an effect and promote a green lifestyle?”  There’s a bit of disbelief in that, requiring the refutation word “do”, and then the clarification of how the person makes a difference.
I do make a difference by riding the bus.
But this is the version actually being used.  This is the response to “I don’t think one person riding the bus can really have an effect and promote a green life.  Prove it.”  The response is refutational, and petulant, and ultimately inadequate.  There needs to be a little foot stomp and the follow-up line “I do, I do, I do, I do, I do!”  (And I don’t mean to reference an ABBA song here.)

In other words, they opted for the worst of the four options, the one that carries the least weight and the most whining.

But you know, maybe there are other potential values to the wording.  Maybe if we look at the meter of the line?
i DO make a DIFerence by RIding the BUS.
Hmm, okay.  But as I said, that seems a bit whining with the emphasis on “do”.  If we remove the “do”, we get this:
I make a DIFerence by RIDing the BUS.
The meter here ends up falling on the first syllable instead of the second, but then swoops into the same meter for the rest of the phrase.  That’s not a bad thing, since it then stresses personal responsibility, but it results in no reason to include “do”.

(Note as well that the ad chose to emphasize “make a difference” and “bus”.  While that's arguably a design choice, it runs counter to using the meter to influence the meaning by forcing emphasis that goes in a different direction.)

So meter is out as a reason to use this wording.  Anything else?

Oh lord, no.
“I do.”
Could this be a subliminal gay marriage thing, maybe?  By putting those words — which hold a lot of symbolic power in our culture — in front of thousands of people every day, are we keeping the concept of marriage in the front of everyone’s subconscious?  And since marriage really only gets coverage in light of same-sex civil marriage these days, is reminding people that it exists a subtle way of pushing for tolerance?

Or am I a conspiracy theorist today?  <grin>

[Thanks to the Seattle Transit Blog for the image.]

[Thanks to William Shakespeare for the entry title reference.]

Updated on January 25, 2010

Movie Review
    — Mamma Mia!

Please don’t make Pierce Brosnan sing in a movie ever again.  Ever.

Note: I have not seen the stage version of this, so I can’t comment on how well or poorly the screenplay meshes with the original.  But I have my suspicions that a few things got dropped in the movie.

Beyond that, make no mistake, Mamma Mia! is not a “serious” movie.  It is camp.  And when it remembers that it’s okay to be campy, that’s where the film excels and sells itself to the audience, making us smile, giggle and twitter, and even sing along.  (It’s ABBA music.  You’re supposed to sing along!)

When the movie pushes in a bit of melodrama — Sophie and Sky’s tiny spat, for example — it stutters and stumbles.  (Or anytime Brosnan sings.)  But as soon as the next whoop-it-up chorus-boys-and-girls dance number comes along, all is good again.

The casting, or more the use of the cast, is spotty.  The two adult women sidekicks rip into the film with abandon, chewing the scenery and carrying the film forward.  Meryl Streep always feels reined in by uncertainty — should she just say “fuck it” and embrace the cheese, or should she hold back?  This is informed by the character she is playing, perhaps, but she never feels like she is inhabiting a movie built around ABBA songs.  The girl playing Sophie is a wide-eyed cipher; her motives and dreams are vaguely mentioned throughout the movie, but she never really projects them.  Sky is cute but otherwise empty.  All three adult male cast members seem more stunned by the film than anything else; again, while that’s part of the characters, it comes across to the viewer as mediocre acting (or poor directing).

Thank goodness for one of the men’s implied gay romance.  The confession exchange on the boat gave more depth to the two characters talking than the entire rest of the film had, and included a genuinely clever crossed-signals dialogue bit.

Also annoying was the insistence on groups of three — three adult women, three adult men, Sophie and her two girlfriends.  Sophie’s gal pals are so prominent in the first 10 minutes that their near absence from the rest of the film stands out strongly.  And should there have been a threesome (ahem) with Sky as the pivot point, to keep that balance?  Oh yes, we did see Sky, the black bartender, and one other guy together for about 3 seconds in one scene, so maybe there was such a triad intended.  (Typical story logic says that the unnamed third guy there should also be the gay fling attached to one of the adult men, but I don’t think it was the same actor.)

In the end, you have two choices with this film: sit outside it and analyze it and find it wanting, or inhabit the film’s world and burst out into song, dance, and sequins as needed.  The choice is easy; the hard part is dealing with Pierce Brosnan’s singing voice.

Updated on January 22, 2010

Monday, July 28, 2008

Movie Review
    — Kung Fu Panda

The nearest theater to my house is the Columbia City Cinema, only about 1/2 mile away.  Only a couple years old, they’ve just added a 100-seat second screen to their 200-seat upstairs offering.  I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of the weekend matinee — just $6 before 4:00 — and I’ve gone 3 of the past 4 weekends.  (Having two screens makes that easier: there’s always something new for me to see, since they typically seem to swap out one film each week.)

(They also have single-person bags of popcorn for the reasonable price of just $2!  Yay!  And coming soon are the new Mummy film, maybe the new animated Star Wars, and they are trying to get second-run shots of Iron Man and Mamma Mia!  Double yay!)

In the past few weeks, I saw WALL-E (mini-review: “Cute, but not all that inspiring.  Went downhill in the pleasure arena once they left Earth, although there wouldn’t have been much story otherwise.”) and The Dark Knight (mini-review: “Heath Ledger was fantastic, the bat-cowl still makes Christian Bale look like a doofus, and I miss the decor from the previous film, where Gotham had some character to it rather than being just another name for Chicago.   Too many ridiculous exploding car chase scenes, too.”), and this Sunday, I went to see the new Jack Black-voiced computer animated film, Kung Fu Panda.

This review is going to sound like a bit of a back-handed compliment.  My apology for that, but it cannot be helped, since I only have things to say about the places the film didn’t let me down…

About all I can really say about Kung Fu Panda is that it wasn’t as bad as I feared, on almost every level.  When you expect systemic mediocrity but go above that, you end up with something that’s at least light and enjoyable.

There is nothing particularly deep and enlightening about this film (but I didn’t expect there would be).  It is all set in a generic, pseudo-mystical valley in semi-ancient China — as these things often are — but not one with anything particularly recognizable as “true” legends, just the typical made-for-the-movies type.  (Compare to Mulan, which was based on real people and had more solidity and coherence to its setting.)  On the plus side, though, while they make abundant use of the Li River rock formations, there’s no visit to either the Great Wall or the Forbidden City, which are stock movie-set-in-China references.

The movie trips lightly by most of the details of kung fu (and various other martial arts), making no mention of “chi” or “shaolin”, and it makes little use of stereotypical guttural “huuuuu-CHA” sound effects and only some tiny bits of “mystical energy” effects.  There’s lots of “wire work” effects, but little of it out of the realm of what gets seen in live-action Hong Kong films — and some parts of the rope bridge sequence are clever enough to forgive even those excesses.

I was worried that Jack Black’s comedy stylings would overwhelm the film or make his Po character stick out too much, but I was pleased to have that not be the case.  Likewise with several of the other “name” actors doing voice work; not having paid attention to who was whom going in, I didn’t get broken out of the film by Angelina Jolie or Jackie Chan or Lucy Liu.  I was also pleased to see several Asian actor names in the voice credits.

Sometimes animated fare decides that it has to push a “message” hard alongside the story, and sometimes even on top of it.  There’s a little bit of messaging here — “everyone has his own strengths” and “use your opponent’s biggest weakness against him” — but they were pretty much stated once and then silently played on later.  (Okay, except for “There are no accidents.”  That one was hammered in a few times, and even the characters meta-commented on the hammering.)

In the end, I smiled in a few places, and the kids in the audience (there were about a dozen, half the crowd) seemed tickled by parts of the film.  So, good enough for a matinee.

Updated on January 21, 2010
One thing that I found intriguing and forgot to mention the first time around is that all the peasants were pigs, ducks, and chickens — meats used in Chinese cooking.  I’m not sure what meta-meaning to take from that; maybe it's just nothing more than the difference between common creatures and the exotics of the kung fu heroes?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Phone Call of the Day

A few minutes ago, I was in the middle of a 2-person meeting at work, when the office phone rang, with no caller ID identified (which just means it came from an external location, I think).  Excusing myself, I answered the phone, to hear an automated voice.  (“Oy,” I thought.  “The telemarketers have tracked me to work!”)

No, it was a collect call from King County Jail!  They had a recording of the person’s name (someone male), garbled and unintelligible so I had no idea what the name actually was (although maybe if I knew the guy’s voice and name, I could have understood what was said), and then a request for me to accept the phone charges or not.

Two user experience issues with this:
  • No idea what the cost of accepting the call was
  • No way to replay the person’s name if I didn't catch it the first time around (and since I was a bit shocked to get a call from the Jail, I wasn’t listening all that closely)
So I looked at the phone for a few seconds, and hung up.   Then quickly called about the only person I could think of outside of work who would have and would call my work number, just to be sure he wasn’t in jail for some reason.   (He wasn’t.)

Hope it was (a) a wrong number rather than someone I know who was depending on me, and (b) the inmate isn’t limited to the stereotype single attempt to call someone and I blew it for him.   There hasn’t been a second call, so who knows?

Updated on January 21, 2010

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Butch Fun Cars III?

Kymco People S 125.  2007.  Royal Blue.

Deposit this afternoon, balance and pick up next Saturday.

More later…

(Here’s the reference for the entry title.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Letter of Comment
    — “Trapped in the Closet”

This letter was sent to the Seattle Weekly, in response to this February 27, 2008 article (titled “Seattle, You Love Your Mainstream Country Music” inside the issue, but “Trapped in the Closet” on the cover).  It was published in the March 19, 2008 edition, but the online  version only carries a portion of the letters.  (Which makes no sense: online is where you can easily print them all.)  The letter was edited slightly (which is fine); original content removed is [blue in brackets].  Special thanks to Spencer for letting me know the letter was published.
Brian Barr and the Weekly’s editor must be wearing their Wranglers a size too tight.   How else do you cover feature a story with a blurb like “Trapped in the Closet” without making any mention of the gay and lesbian side of things?

GLBTQ country-western dancing and music is alive and kicking [(up its heels)] in the Seattle area.   The non-profit, volunteer-run Rain Country Dance Association currently produces dance nights at the Cuff Complex on Capitol Hill every Friday night and alternate Wednesdays, providing both dance instruction and all your favorite country-western dance music.   Rain Country is also in an expansion mode this month: we are adding a classic country music night at the Seattle Eagle, and Monday lessons and dancing at Swank in Kent.  (Kudos to the Weekly for your recent story on gay life in Kent!)   We also produce a monthly non-bar dance night at a Seattle church.

[Rain Country’s biggest news, of course, is the upcoming Emerald City Hoedown on April 25-27, with a whole weekend of dancing and dance workshops, including guest instructors from San Francisco.]

And [since someone will be thinking the question,] no, you don’t have to show your “gay card” at any of our dances.   Everyone is welcome.   [We don’t care who you sleep with, so long as you like to dance!  Check us out online at]

-- Jim Drew
   [President, Rain Country]

Where were you when the lights went out?

Me, I was driving up Rainier Avenue.

It’s always a bit freaky to be walking or driving underneath a streetlight just as it decides to go out.   (Did I cause that?)    For years, I used to clap twice after that would happen (it happened at least once a week to me, I swear), claiming that it was a “psychic clap-on/clap-off light”.   The light would go off because I was about to clap.  Prove that it wasn’t!


The weird feeling of a streetlight gong off is nothing quite like driving through an intersection and the lights suddenly going off for blocks in every direction.  (Shit!   Did I cause that?)   That’s what happened last night, at around 11:30 pm, on Rainier near 23rd.   Bright flash and then dark.   Then about a block further, another flash as everything came back on, and then immediately off again, and then a couple more repeats of that in the next few seconds.   It started to look like a scene from a horror film.

Another half mile along and the power was on in that neighborhood, although when I cam back down Rainier an hour later, the power was still off in the zone I had been driving through.   I assume it’s back on this morning.  I don’t see anything on the Seattle Times website today, so I assume it was nothing big enough to mention.   No semi plowing into a transformer station to destroy a time-traveling killer robot or anything.<

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ireland: Amsterdam to Seattle, er, make that to Minneapolis and then to Seattle (Sunday, March 2)

Written Sunday, March 2 at 1:04 pm (Minneapolis time), somewhere over the Atlantic

No such luck with a long layover in Amsterdam

We apparently made up some of the time lost on the ground during our flight  We were supposed to arrive at 12:15 and we were on the ground at 1:00.  Still, my flight to Seattle was to leave at 1:15.  The KLM agent told me they had already booked me onto a replacement flight and sent me to the T4 transfer station.  (Amsterdam has so much international traffic that they have several staffed stations set up specifically to deal with hundreds of rebookings and reroutings.  In the states, you generally have to work with just your airline.)

When I got there, I had to wait for a couple people, and then the agent said if I ran I would still make my Seattle flight, but the gate was… yes, you guessed it, the furthest one from where we were.  I would have to cover 2 blocks of terminal in 8 minutes, with two carry-ons.  Like Hell.  (The last time I tried that, for a redeye flight to Chicago a year ago, 7 of us made it – only because the flight was 15 minutes late leaving – but they had given away all but 3 of the seats, and two solo travelers snapped up two of them, leaving me and my boyfriend and a family of three with no solution.)  So I walked as fast as I could manage, and an agent met me about 100 feet from the gate saying she had just turned away another traveller.  Could I have made it if I had actually ran?  Maybe, but I think karma would have said “No” and left me just a sweaty upset mess.

So she sent me back to the T6 transfer station.  Unlike the T4 one, this one had people in line.  Lots of people.  It took me just under two hours to get through the line (and by then, the number of people in the line had almost doubled; poor people in the line at that point!).  At which point they couldn’t find me in the system.  They eventually did: I had been rebooked after all, as the original agent said, on a flight to Minneapolis and then to Seattle.  Which was scheduled to leave… wait for it… 2 hours 10 minutes after my original one.  Also known as “in about 10 minutes”. Also known as “if you run, you can make it.”  Also known as… you guessed it, back to the same gate, the farthest one away!  Argh!

So I hustled (a little running, but not much) back to gate E22, and got on.  The flight was still boarding 10 minutes after it was supposed to take off.  I think a bunch of people got shuttled onto it late like me.  But at least I’m on the flight.  Unfortunately, that also means another layover in Minneapolis before the next Seattle flight.  Best guess is as much as 4 hours.  I was originally supposed to be back in Seattle at 2:35 pm, now it’s going to be close to 11:30 pm.

So much for any hopes of either a pleasant Sunday or staving off reverse jetlag.

Watched Chicken Little on the flight so far.  Useless waste of an animated film, almost nothing to recommend it.  Will probably watch Cars and Juno, too, unless I can sleep some.

The baby on the Amsterdam flight shut up once we were finally in the air, and then started up again after we landed.  This flight has one of the same sort: wailing until we were in the air, fortunately sleeping now.

Updated on January 14, 2010

Ireland: Dublin to Amsterdam (Sunday, March 2)

Written Sunday, March 2 at 11:09 am (Dublin time), somewhere over England

Boy, it doesn’t take but one experience to show you how much airports suck.

Make that how much American airports suck.

With a 9:40 am flight to Amsterdam, I caught the 7:55 bus to the airport from the City Centre.  I know, that’s less that a two-hour window, and in the States they always recommend a minimum two hours, three if you’re flying international.  (Which is utter bullshit, of course.  The only time you need two hours is if you’re flying a hub airline before 8:00 am on a business day.  And I’ve not seen any reason to need an hour beyond that for international flights, since there’s nothing extra you usually need to do.)

I would guess (based on the number of terminals and the number of posted flights for a Sunday morning) that Dublin’s airport is 1/2 to 2/3 the size of SeaTac, with of course vastly more traffic going International.  At the Dublin airport, they don’t have separate ticket counters for checking in for each airline, which in the States leaves some deserted and some utterly mobbed.  Instead, in Dublin they have check-in areas allocating different departing flights to different areas.  Load balancing!  Efficiency!  Imagine!  And thus my wait for a check-in machine: zero people.  My wait for checking my bags: zero people.  My wait to have the security person check my boarding pass and passport: two people.  My wait to go through security: zero people.  (And they didn’t make me remove my shoes, either!)

In other words, the absolute best check in and security experience you can imagine in today’s environment.  Less than 10 minutes from arriving at the check-in area to being through security, at 8:20 am.

On the other had, Aer Lingus still sucks.  Same lousy legroom, same hawking of perfume and charging for beverages.  And let’s add in that the seats in front of the exit rows don’t recline, so I’m having to uncomfortably turn sideways just to type this.  And the various regular announcements are spoken in English but from a tape in Irish (with a big increase in volume levels), and the speaker is right over my head, so I have to plug my ears every time an Irish announcement comes on, or go deaf.

But that’s not the worst of it.  There’s some sort of a threatened Aer Lingus strike in the air, and that apparently has taken the effect of either a slowdown or a sick out for the baggage handlers.  Which means we boarded on time… and sat on the tarmack.  40 minutes after we were scheduled to take off, they finally fired up the engines… and we sat for another 25 minutes before we finally left.

(And yes, there was the requisite crying baby, wailing the entire time.)

You’ll recall that coming through Amsterdam, we had a two-hour scheduled layover that turned into five hours.  Going back (me today, Mom and Grandma on Tuesday), we’re only scheduled for a one-hour layover.

I’ll pause to let you do the probability math…

Yup.  My flight to Amsterdam is now scheduled to arrive after my connection home departs.  (Even at the 40-minutes late mark, I doubt they could have transferred my luggage in time.)  Which leaves me at a loss for how long my delay will be in Amsterdam; depends on how often Northwest and KLM leave for Seattle (not sure which I’m taking back; check-in in terminal said KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines – but boarding pass says Northwest, which we flew to Amsterdam last week; they are partners, obviously).

Mom did buy Trip Insurance, so that will be my first thing to check when I get there.  I think it doesn’t kick in until there’s a 6-hour delay or some such, though.  (And whether it gets me anything, or just reimburses her, I don’t know.)

The cynical yet hopeful side of me says “Maybe they’ll bump me by 12 or 24 hours, and I’ll have to (get to) go into Amsterdam for a period of time, maybe even having them put me up for the night.”  Damn, I’d hate that.

I’m reminded that the guys I was originally in the row with on the flight to Amsterdam last week expressed that they couldn’t imagine having to get on another flight after the long one to Seattle, implying too much stress and annoyance to handle.  I think I get what they meant, now.

Updated on January 14, 2010

Ireland: Dublin (Saturday, March 1) — Part 6 (night)

Written Sunday, March 2 at 2:25 pm, Dublin (at the hotel)

I noticed that some of the crossing lights on O’Connell count down the seconds until the signal turns green for you, as opposed to the stateside method some use of counting down how much time is left.  I suppose that has its value, in getting people to wait a few more seconds rather than stepping out into traffic because they’re in a hurry.

There’s a store just around the corner on Henry Street (the big pedestrian shopping mall) that is truly putrid smelling.  It’s some sort of a hand-made cosmetics place, but there is an odor from it which wafts down onto O’Connell, even at 2:30 am, hours after closing.  It smells like a huge vat of Palmolive; fine as a passing whiff, maybe, but totally turns my stomach in this volume.

My goal for the evening is to stay up later tonight/this morning, and only get a few hours sleep.  That will prompt me to sleep early on the flight back, and hopefully get back closer to my typical weekend schedule (waking up late morning) to ease myself back through the jetlag faster.  We’ll see if it works.

I have to catch a bus to the airport at about 7:30 am tomorrow, for a 9:50 flight to Amsterdam.  Then it’s a one-hour layover there (cross fingers!) and back to Seattle, in at 2:35 in the afternoon.  I’ll have to take the bus back home, but that’s fine.  (If it isn’t raining, of course.  Weather report doesn’t predict that for Seattle right now.)

Updated on January 13, 2010

Updated on April 30, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Ireland: Dublin (Saturday, March 1) — Part 5 (dinner)

Written Saturday, March 1 at 7:17 pm, Dublin (at the hotel)

The Irish Stew was mediocre — underseasoned and soupy — but the side salad, a mix of green salad and slaw, was pretty good.  And the bread & butter pudding with hot custard was quite yummy.

I’ve taken over 120 video snippets so far on the trip, amounting to 20 MB of space, somewhere around 90 minutes of video, I suspect, ranging from 3-4 seconds up to 8 minutes.  I’m going to be editing this stuff forever!  (Actually, I’ll try to do minimal editing, just chopping useless seconds from the start and end.  I’ll stitch a bunch of the short pieces together into longer bits, with interstitial headings, probably ending up mostly 30 second to 2 minutes each, which will make for better YouTube viewing and will keep me from embedding 100 videos in my blog.)

Ireland: Dublin (Saturday, March 1) — Part 4 (afternoon)

Written Saturday, March 1 at 5:48 pm, Dublin (at the hotel)

It took me a while to find the Archaeolgical wing of the museum, down on Kildare Street.  I had to wander around the Trinity College area a while, before I found it with the National Library and Leinster House (where Parliament and the Irish Senate meet).  Since it faces the square of Leinster House and that square is all fenced in for security, the museum gets short shrift; you can’t see much of its front.

I did get to pass by the statue of Molly Malone, the fishmonger (or perhaps prostitute) from the song of the same name (also know as “Cockles and Mussels”), the unofficial anthem of Dublin.

I only got to see the museum for about 30 minutes, so I stayed on the first floor, with the prehistoric exhibits, including the Bog Men (people ritually murdered and buried in the peat bogs, preserved for hundreds and thousands of years), the Hill of Tara, and a artifacts like cauldrons and gold work.  I was especially impressed by the torcs, which I had always assumed were fairly thick stretched bars of gold, but many of them were very fine spirals of gold instead, created by making a three- or four-flanged ingot, heating it, and twisting it while stretching it.

During my last trip to Europe (back in 1984), some photography was doable in museums, so long as it was flashless.  Apparently absolutely none is allowed in the National Museum of Ireland, though, as I got reprimanded for using my non-lit digital video camera.  Oh well, I got a couple bits of video today from in the museums, but I didn’t try to “cheat” after the reprimand.

Dinner soon. Flanagan’s next to the hotel serves Irish Stew, and I haven’t had that all week, so it’s time.  And then a nap before going out, maybe.

Updated on January 12, 2010

Ireland: Dublin (Friday–Saturday, February 29–March 1) — Part 3 (night/morning/afternoon)

Written Saturday, March 1 at 2:28 pm, Dublin (at the hotel)

My hotel room is a top floor garret room, with a single bed tucked into the corner.  A pretty lousy bed, truth be told: thin useless pillow, and a mattress that you can feel all the springs in.  There’s a dedicated bathroom, though, which isn’t too bad, though, and there’s wireless, and ultimately, it’s a room in the City Centre area at not-too-expensive a price.

The view out my tiny window pretty much just shows the top floor of the building across the street, although I can also catch a view of the Spire.  The 120-meter tall Dublin Spire was erected in early 2003 as a replacement for the 138-foot Nelson’s Pillar, which had been blown up by the IRA in 1966 (possibly to commemorate the Easter Uprising of 1916).  It is a silver spike narrowing from about 10 feet at the base to 6 inches at the top.  The top several feet hasve white LED lights at night.

After breakfast, I took the tram back to Collins Barracks and visited the Decorative Arts wing of the National Museum of Ireland.  They have on display a reconstruction of a Viking longboat originally built in the Dublin area around 1042 and sunk (along with several other boats) in a Danish fjord some 50 years later, the Havhingsten fra Glendalough (“Sea Stallion from Glendalough”).  The boat was reconstructed using period tools and techniques, taking 44,000 man hours to complete, and then it was sailed back to Dublin by a crew of 65, with stops at several locations along the way in Denmark and Norway.

The museum also has a display about the Easter Uprising of 1916, which led to Irish independence 6 or 7 years later.  Via other displays at the museum, it’s clear that such uprisings occurred every 20-40 years, going back into the 1700s and before.  Not that this tells modern American audiences anything about what to expect when occupying Iraq, oh, no.  (Basically, the locals always want an occupying force out, and every generation will fight to get rid of the oppressors.)

Other displays include a look at Irish soldiers around the world, going back to 1550.  Much of it centers on Irish brigades in World Wars I and II, of course, but there are large parts about the Irish during English colonial days, the “Wild Geese” Irish expats serving in continental European armies in the 19th century, and the Irish brigades in the Boer War, the Spanish Civil War, and even the American Civil War (mostly on the side of the Union, but there was an Irish regiment out of Tennessee fighting for the South).  Interestingly, one ploy to strive for freedom from British rule in the 1860s was an Irish invasion of Canada (!) through Niagara, New York; the Irish beat the Canadian militia at the Battle of Ridgeway, but fell back to the States on rumor of British troops arriving.

Other exhbits that I saw included Irish silverwork, Irish coins, and a some miscellany from the general collections, including a fabulous dress done by Charles Worth, founder of the first house of couture in Paris.  (I have a friend who studied couture in Paris a few years ago.)

Coming back, I wandered through the large pedestrian shopping mall that runs from Jervis to O’Connell, to the Spire.  Bought some souvenirs: three t-shirts, a mug and a shot glass, and some shortbread and chocolates; some for me, some for others.

I opted to not go to the Guinness Storehouse, when I found out that the tour was €14.  Half that would have been fine, but $20 was too steep for me.  I’ll probably be sorry later, and have to come back to Dublin someday.  <grin>

Shortly, I’m going to head out to the Archeological wing of the National Museum, on the south side of the Liffey.

Updated on January 12, 2010

Updated on April 30, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ireland: Dublin (Friday, February 29) — Part 2 (afternoon/evening)

Written Friday, February 29 at 10:11 pm, Dublin (at the hotel)

Wandered down to the Liffey and hit Forbidden Planet.  Came back with a dozen miscellaneous back issue from their overstock bin at 25 cents each, and a copy of Justice League Legends, reprinting part of “The Lightning Saga” and a couple issues of Justice League, including a new cover for my anal-retentive Legion of Super-Heroes collection.

Later, I headed back into Temple Bar — past the actual Temple Bar, in fact — and had dinner at a Chinese fast food place (duck in plum sauce) and then a Nutella and ice cream crêpe and coffee for dessert.  On the way back, stopped in the Temple Bar Trading Co. shop, or the side that was open, which was all Guinness stuff.  Mugs, chocolates, refrigerator magnets, sure.  Soccer balls, rugby balls, t-shirts, okay.  Soft-boiled egg cups?  Slippers?  Underwear?  Oy!  (Or is that “Oi!”?)

My mother observed that she wasn’t picking up the Irish accent as readily as she has with other accents on past trips.  Me either, and that surprised me at first, although I’ve noticed it creeping in more the last couple days.  I suspect it’s because we’ve had three of us to reinforce each other’s American speech modes.  Now that I’m on my own, I’ll be picking it up much faster, I’m sure.

I’ll be heading out to the pubs in a bit.

Updated on January 11, 2010

Updated on April 30, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Ireland: Dublin (Friday, February 29) — Part 1 (afternoon)

Written Friday, February 29 at 2:58 pm, Dublin (at the hotel)

We arrived in Dublin a bit early, I think.  I pulled my suitcase out into the terminal, got a chicken, cheese, and stuffing panini, and then hopped on the Luas tram for a €1.50 ride to Abbey Street, less than two blocks from my hotel.

Makes me look forward to when our light rail in Seattle will be done, next year.  I’ll be able to catch a bus less than a block from the house, switch to the tram after about a 5 minute ride, and then take a 20 minute ride right to the airport.  It will take a bit longer (and take more timing) than just getting in the car, but it will generally be quite convenient.

I’m going to go out for a bit and wander O’Connell Street, and probably down to Forbidden Planet.  I expect to hit both Guinness Storehouse and the National Museum (for the Viking exhibit) tomorrow.

Updated on January 11, 2010
Seattle light rail is open now, and I’ve taken it to and from the airport a few times.  I’ve found that catching the bus a block from the house isn’t much fun at 6:00 am in the rain.  And I’ve found that the last bus past the light rail station on the way home is sometimes before my flight gets in, so I have to hoof it home.  (Which is about a 15 minute walk, not bad unless I’m lugging heavy luggage.)

Until recently, I’ve had to catch a shuttle bus from the last train station to the airport.  I’ll be heading to Washington DC this coming weekend for Mid-Atlantic Leather, and they just opened the final leg all the way to the airport a month ago — well, with a few blocks walk at the end, through the parking garage apparently — so we’ll see how that changes things.  Of course, I’ll also probably be schlepping the 50 pound portable sling…

Ireland: Blarney Castle, Mallow, Killarney, and back to Dublin (Thursday–Friday, February 28–29

Written Friday, February 29 at 12:25 pm, on the train to Dublin

Yesterday’s trip took us toward Cork, to Blarney Castle (and the Blarney Stone), probably the most famous tourist attraction in Ireland.  We drove toward Cork, then took the scenic route on the north side of Inishcarra reservoir, then into Blarney, where we had lunch.

Blarney Castle has large grounds, the castle ruins, a “rock close” (a garden path through some large boulders), and a manor house built a couple hundred years ago.  There are several stops and viewpoints around the grounds, explaining various history bits, including a cave with alleged tunnels to Cork, Kerry, and the lake; the dungeon, likely castle well, and kennel; the lake, where valuable gold plate was said to be tossed to keep it from the hands of the British (the lake was drained in the 1800s, but no sign of the plate was ever found); the lookout tower, and so forth.

Perhaps the most striking aspect was how small the castle actually was.  A basement and an entry room; rooms for the Earl, his daughters, and the priest; a “family room”; a banquet hall; a kitchen no larger than my own; and a couple garderobes (privies).  That’s it.  Presumably any guards and staff were housed outside the castle, but the image of one housing dozens of people inside is completely blown away.

Being there in February, the manor house was closed to tours, the rock close was technically closed as they were building a new boardwalk for it, but by going up the exit steps, I was able to get in and see pretty much all I wanted to.  In truth, there probably should have been a reduced entry fee, since perhaps 1/3 of the site was unavailable.  On the other hand, one of the guidebooks showed the line to kiss the Blarney Stone in spring or summer, with people lined up solid all around the battlements and around the banquet hall below.  In contrast, while I was in the castle proper, there were maybe a dozen others in there as well, such that I could go to any part and linger or backtrack as desired without having to deal with huge crowds.  And since Mom and Grandma couldn’t negotiate much in terms of steps well, and were getting a bit worn down by all the driving all week long, I don’t think we would have done much more there if it were available.

And yes, I did kiss the Blarney Stone.  With that added gift of eloquence, now you’ll never get me to shut up.  <grin>

We returned via Mallow and Rathmore, then stopped at the Lidl (closer to a Fred Meyer, perhaps, than anything else in the Northwest; grocery store plus some other stuff) to get the making for dinner.  I made pork chops, quiche lorraine (okay, I baked a pre-made one of those), and beets, plus pre-made strawberry trifle cups for dessert.

Friday morning came a bit earlier, as I made oatmeal and scrambled eggs with “bacon” (ham, to Americans) and bits of pork chops I had salvaged the night before, pre-cooking.  And then a scramble (heh) to the train.  The ticket to Dublin was €33 ($50, about the same as a ticket from Portland to Vancouver BC, maybe), purchased from the Irish Rail website; purchased at the station, it would have been €62!

The more I’ve travelled in recent years, the bigger a fan I’ve become of using public transportation — the El in Chicago, airport bus and subway in New York — but cross-country rail could be a whole different level.  It has been an enjoyable trip, however — except for the persistent rattle in something above the window next to me.  The cars are clean and modern, with little tables and even a food service cart coming through the aisle.  (It’s also a faster trip than by car, I think, with only two stops between Mallow and Dublin.)  Miles and miles of green Irish countryside going by, nothing much to see.

We should be in Dublin in 30-40 minutes, I think, and then I’ll catch a cab or bus to Lynam’s Hotel on O’Connell Street, where I’ll be for the next couple nights.  I’m going to try to start shifting my schedule back around the clock, staying up late tonight, sleeping late tomorrow, and staying up late and probably sleeping very little on Saturday night, so that I’ll knock out on the plane to Amsterdam and then back to Seattle.  I’m scheduled back in Seattle at 2:30 pm.  The aim being, then to wake up the equivalent of late morning on Sunday (like I usually would) and being back to something close to my usual weekend schedule, minimizing the jetlag coming back.  We’ll see.

Updated on April 29, 2010:
Moved part of this post to the Sounds Kinky-er blog:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ireland: Interlude

Written Thursday, February 28 at 9:34 pm, Killarney (upstairs at the cottage)

An unusual thing I’ve noticed here in Ireland is that hot air hand dryers are everywhere in toilets.  I have only seen a single paper towel dispenser all week.  In part, I suppose that this is a marker of how much forest (and thus paper products) we have in the States, vs. how little they have in Ireland.

But I also wonder if hot air hand dryers are more “green” (as they have always claimed to be).  There would be a larger overhead in the creation of each dryer vs. that of a paper towel dispenser, and there are ongoing electricity costs and higher maintenance costs of the physical device.  But on the other hand, day to day usage is just electricity.  No need to stock and load paper towels, no need to truck in paper towels, no need to do everything required to create paper towels, and no need to dispose of paper towels (and I bet relatively few are recycled).  When you think about it, there are a lot of costs involved in the day-to-day “maintenance” of the towel dispenser.

Oops, out of time to write of today’s trip now, will have to do that first thing on Friday.

Updated on January 8, 2010
Here is a Wikipedia page which pretty much confirms the idea I wrote above.  On the other hand, it also says that (a) people prefer to use paper towels, (b) hand dryers are less nygenic, and (c) hand dryers may actually blow germs off your hands and around the restroom.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ireland: The Ring of Kerry and the Gap of Dunloe (Wednesday, February 27)

Written Wednesday, February 27 at 7:19 pm, Killarney (upstairs at the cottage)

The weather was bright and warm today (it’s supposed to rain again tomorrow), so we drove the Ring of Kerry today.  We headed up to Kilorglin, then along the north edge of the Iveragh Peninsula, along the south side of Dingle Bay which had been so nasty a couple days ago but was now very calm.

The Ring of Kerry is quite definitely the big tourist road in the southwest region.  While much of the road is but two narrow lanes, it would still be navigable by a tour bus, which much of the Dingle and Beara peninsulas were not.  We only saw one tour bus all day, though (February is well outside the season); that probably made for a nicer trip, with far less traffic.  There were several patches of road construction along the way, including major work in Waterville and Castlecove; getting ready for the season, no doubt.

We stopped for ice cream in Castlecove (and I also bought a 2 CD set of Merle Haggard songs there), and then lunch in Kenmare, our third trip through that very nice little town.  We also shopped at the Kerry Wool Market shop there.  I bought a sweater and a ski cap; a bit expensive at €90 ($135), but they are wool and they will be my major souvenirs of the trip.  (I had also bought a €10 made-in-China-from-acrylic-yarn Ireland scarf in Dublin on Saturday.)

Rather than take the route back from Kenmare we’ve done twice, or back through the National Park, we went down into Black Valley and through the Gap of Dunloe.  Single-lane track the entire way (about 20 km), past sheep and farmhouses and looming upthrusts of rock; it was as close to a natural rollercoaster as you’ll find.  This time, I had the video camera with me and I recorded several snippets of driving on the dashboard of the car, including a full 8 minutes of harrowing drive through the Gap of Dunloe.  (I figure if I play it double time and add an Irish jig soundtrack, I’ve got the potential for a really cool and popular viral video on YouTube!  Remember that you saw it here first!)

We’ll be going into Killarney to the Danny Mann again shortly, so I can have my nightly Guinness and e-mail.  One of the bartenders is starting to recognize me!  (I was there until closing last night.)

After coming home from the pub each night, I’ve been watching DVDs I brought with me. So far finished Pretty Woman, watched Season 1 Episode 2 of Stargate: Atlantis, and two episodes of Season 1 of Will & Grace.  Maybe some Queer As Folk Season 4 tonight?

Finished Before Dishonor today.  Peter David is a great writer of Star Trek novels, tying disparate bits of continuity together into a superb whole, and doing it with dialogue that always seems note-perfect.  (He does Worf to a “T”.)  Although I’ve watched little Star Trek since the very start of Voyager, and thus haven’t seen either of the big Borg episodes referenced in this book, nor several of the lesser episode references — and didn’t know many of the secondary characters, at least one of whom is from an entire series of Star Trek novels that he has done — to see several of his creations from when he wrote the comics for DC Comics who are based on rec.arts.comics denizens from the time (late ’80s/early ’90s)show up here: Admiral Galloway and the TNG-era descendants of TOS-era security personnel Meyer and Boyajian make cameo appearances.)  And of course, when he made the pivotal reference to a Kirk-era TV show enemy, two words was all I needed to have a “Holy crap!” moment.  Connecting with your reader to do that with just two words, that’s good writing.

We’ll be going to Blarney Castle tomorrow — probably taking the north side of Inishcarra Reservoir and avoiding going into Cork at all — and then north to Mallow and back to Killarney.  Only about 10 miles is road we’ve been on before; much of should be pretty good road, except maybe the part along the reservoir.  It’s supposed to be rainy all day tomorrow, based on last night’s weather widget forecast.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ireland: The Beara Peninsula (Tuesday, February 26)

Written Tuesday, February 26 at 6:20 pm, Killarney (upstairs in the cottage)

The weather was nicer today, and we headed to the Beara Peninsula, south of Killarney and Kenmare.  First we backtracked to Kenmare by the route we had taken back from there before, then drove the north side of Beara Peninsula along the Kenmare River as it widened out to the sea.

Unfortunately, I left my video camera at the cottage by accident, so no videos today.  Sigh.

The color of the waters were beautiful — green and a rich medium blue — and the landscape was fantastic, with limestone everywhere.  (And sheep, plenty of sheep.)  We stopped several times to view the water landscapes, plus at a ruined house that must have dated back 200 years and a similarly aged ruined church (Kilcatherine, I think) in the midst of gravestones, even with gravestones in the church itself.  There were a myriad of small featureless stones in amidst the ones from the past century which looked likely to be headstones from decades and maybe even centuries ago, when easily-weathering limestone is all that could be used.

A long portion of the road was again single lane, for several miles, although it never felt particularly dangerous due to there being sheep pastures and houses frequently along the way.

After a late lunch in Castletownbere, we went a little further out to the local castle, the ruins of Dunboy Castle (destroyed in 1602 because O’Sullivan Bere was in rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I) and the being-massively-renovated Puxley Castle (burned in 1920 by the IRA, now being restored into the Capella Dunboy Castle hotel).  The signage there answered one of our question about why people had settled out on the near-barren, windswept coasts: because the Normans forced them from their ancestral homelands and this was what was left.  The O’Sullivan clan had been forced to this area; we had seen that name abundant on gravestones earlier in the day.

We drove back on the south side of the peninsula to Glengarriff, and then over Caha Pass and through Turner’s Rock Tunnel, a series of one long and four small rough-hewn tunnels carved through the mountain rock.  We stopped briefly at the Bonane Heritage Park, where there were recreations of various Bronze Age-style sites, but we would have had to walk a 3 km uphill trail, so we stuck with just viewing a crannóog (hut in the middle of a pond) and a short hike up to a viewpoint to see the valley spread out below us.

Finished The Ringworld Throne last night, and as I expected, it didn’t have as good an ending as I wanted.  A big part was the character names; previous books had two or three Ringworld characters with odd names (Harloprillar, etc.), but this one had a dozen or more, making them difficult to track.  There were also large chunks of story in the last 50 pages which were either viewed by the characters rather than involving them directly, or which were related second-hand.  I got the feeling that Niven had more story than he could fit in, and ended up summarizing chunks to move things along instead of them maybe dragging.

Updated on January 5, 2010

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ireland: The Dingle Peninsula and Killarney (Monday, February 25)

Written Monday, February 25 at 11:45 pm, Killarney (at the kitchen table)

It was very windy and rainy all day.  The most dramatic part of the day’s trip was the drive over Connor Pass, down into Dingle.  Very rocky, and only one lane for a couple miles, which included a very tight squeeze past a van coming down in the other direction; now I know the meaning of “wide spot in the road”!  Probably a good thing that there was no visibility off the side of the road due to major fog/clouds, so we couldn’t see what were avoiding falling off into.

We stopped in Dingle for gas and snacks, deciding not to go out on the loop at the tip of the peninsula, figuring that it was so icky, we wouldn’t really enjoy it.  On the way back, we stopped near Inch, where the wind was whipping Dingle Bay (right off the Atlantic) into a frenzy.  We tried to have lunch in Castlemaine, but the pub advertising “Good Food Served Daily” apparently had a different meaning of “Daily” in mind than we did.  We ended up with Fish & Chips at an Irish fast food joint called Micko’s in Kilorglin; I also had “curry fries”, fries with a glop of curry gravy on them.  (Pretty good, actually.  Not that far from poutine, I’m sure.)

(“Kil” – “Cill” in the Irish – means “church”.  Nothing to do with a battle site or anything like that.)

I have a couple rules when traveling:
  • You can eat at any restaurant, even the lowliest dive or chain restaurant, but you can’t eat at any restaurant (or any chain) twice.
  • And you can’t eat at any place that you could eat at when at home.
So no Burger King or Subway, but White Castle and Long John Silver’s (or Micko’s) are fine if you’re from the Northwest (since they aren’t).  I make an exception for “necessity foods” like coffee — Starbucks is fine anywhere (although if there a chain like Caribou, I frequent it instead of Starbucks when in Chicago and DC).  I also sometimes make an exception for brunch vs. dinner (in places where there are not a lot of breakfast options), since the meals tend to be so different.

Almost nothing was open in Killarney at 8:30 on a Monday night, and we didn’t want anything horribly fancy.  We ended up at a local Chinese place.  I can’t get Mom and Grandma to do Indian (which is why I went ahead and had the Chicken Curry for lunch yesterday and the Curry Fries today).  At the supermarket, I noticed Uncle Ben’s (apparently the same brand as in the States) has Curry and Korma sauces here.  I wonder if I can get those in Washington?

Other food experiments today were an apple soda called Cidona (not worth trying again) and a Moro bar, chocolate around caramel around a chocolate and crunch (malt?) center (pretty good).

Finally got my e-mail program set up to send and receive.  Good thing, since there were 90 items with the work e-mail on Thursday–Sunday, and 280+ on one work-related list I’m on that I’ll have to wade through in big ass chunks.  I also started posting these blog entries, with retro timestamps to echo when they were written, not when they were uploaded.

Checked out just what “black pudding” is via Wikipedia (blood sausage; blood plus fillers like oatmeal).  I had it a couple days ago and ate it (because one must try things like that when travelling, right?); it was okay, but nothing I’d write home about.  (Oops, too late!)  I also looked up “craic”, a term I’ve seen used by Irish boys on a couple cruise sites.  It’s nothing kinky, seems to mean roughly “fun” — “I’m a young, craic guy” — and comes from the same root as “crack”, a term we rarely use that way in English any more.

Tomorrow will probably be the Beara Peninsula, I think, or maybe Blarney Castle and other areas near Cork, although my mother has no interest in actually going into Cork or other cities.  If the weather is clear, we might do the Ring of Kerry rather than waiting for later in the week, lest it rain again.

Updated on January 4, 2010

Ireland: Killarney (Sunday, February 24)

Written Monday, February 25 at 10:40 am, Killarney (at the kitchen table)

Went to the Internet café last night, late, for just 35 minutes.  Barely made a dent in my accumulated e-mail, but made sure the Rain Country folk knew I was alive, and replied to a couple work items.  Then went to the Danny Mann pub to use their wireless, and got through a bunch more e-mail.  Should have set up the e-mail program while there to just download all my e-mail, to take care of offline, but didn’t think to.  Tried to update QuickTime on the computer, but failed to get a good enough connection.  Looks like I need an XVid codec to view the videos I took on this computer, but the one out there for the Mac won’t run on a G3, so I’m out of luck; I can store them, but not view them except on the little Flip camera.  I’ll have to wait until I get home to do anything more with them.

We’re going north to Tralee and then out on the Dingle Peninsula, about another 120 miles of driving, it looks like.  No idea what the roads will be like, of course, and thus how fast the trip will be.  It’s also windy and rainy, so it may be a slow trip.

Looks like I’ll finally finish Larry Niven’s The Ringworld Throne today (I actually finished it on Tuesday).  I’ve only been working at it in spurts (when I travel) for a year and some.  Not as good as the previous two novels in the series; doubt I’ll get the fourth one.  I think the plot is scattered; the parts with the vampire slayers and the parts with Louis and Hindmost and company are only sort of intersecting, and there are too many pieces missing from the latter plotline for me to do more than stumble along.  Maybe everything will come together in the final 40-50 pages, but I’m not confident that it will be a satisfying conclusion.  And then I can get back to the second half of Peter David’s latest Star Trek novel, Before Dishonor, also lain fallow for a couple months.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ireland: Kenmare and Killarney (Sunday, February 24)

Written Sunday, February 24 at 6:40 pm, Killarney (at the kitchen table)

Today, we drove down to Kenmare, through the Killarney National Park.   We stopped at Lough Leane and walked up to the Torc Waterfall, then travelled further along.  The roads were incredibly narrow and winding, and the speed markings were as high as 100 km/h (60 mph), absolutely ridiculous for those roads; 40 km/h (25 mph) would have been more appropriate.  Later on, we stopped at Ladies View, named for the reaction that Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting had when viewing the Lakes of Killarney from that spot.

Kenmare was a nice little town.  We had lunch and stopped into a linen and lace shop and into two wool shops.  Kenmare is on the Ring of Kerry drive, so we’ll go through there again later in the week.

Driving back, we took what looked on the map to be a lesser road, but we knew it couldn’t be any worse than what we had been on.  Indeed, it was technically longer (length-wise) than the N7 through the park, but only took us half the time due to much easier road.

We stopped at the grocery store again for snacks for tonight and a few other things.  Included in this purchase: Nutella, and honeycomb ice cream.  Never had them before.  (Nutella is chocolate-flavored hazelnut butter, next to the peanut butter; not nearly as flexible as peanut butter due to the cocoa in it.  Honeycomb ice cream is honey flavored with crunchy bits of toffee or seafoam or some such.  Yummy.)

Going to definitely get into town to the Internet café tonight.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ireland: Killarney (Saturday, February 23)

Written Saturday, February 23 at 11:46 pm, Killarney (upstairs in the cottage)

Coming back after dinner later, Mom missed the final turn to our cottage (inside the complex).  It was dark.  But she would miss it again at dusk on Sunday, too.  Turns out she was counting the speedbumps rather than the streets, and was remembering the original count from Saturday night.

Had quite good fish & chips for dinner, at a pub which eventually had traditional Irish music playing, after the France v. England Six Nations rugby match.  Watching that — I’ve never seen rugby before, and I still can’t figure out what prompts a new throw of the ball (a “scrum”?) — I can sure see why rugby is popular in the gay community these days:
  • It’s a drinking game.  Every one of the British players (not so much the Frogs) looked like he’d be downing a pitcher of Guinness or Foster’s or something more British after the match.
  • It’s hyper-masculine.  It’s like “tackle soccer” or “football without the rest break after every 30 seconds of play”.  Yes, Virginia, gay guys do fetishize extreme masculinity.  (Well, natural masculinity, as opposed to fake shit like pro wrestling.)
  • It’s off the radar in America.  Gay guys have to be either bleeding edge or at least sharply non-mainstream, at least until the mainstream catches on.  Doesn’t matter if that’s facial hair, showtunes, or sports; rugby is so much easier to embrace when Joe Average Straight Guy has at best a passing awareness of it.
  • Beefy boys in shorts and sweaty shirts tackling each other en masse, pulling at each other, unobtrusively grabbing who knows what bits of flesh along the way.  Good lord, it’s almost an orgy!  Who needs the bathhouse?
  • September 11.  Rugby got a huge boost in the gay community due to Mark Bingham’s involvement in stopping the 4th plane on 9/11.  A genuine gay hero makes rugby a gay sport.
After the game was over, but before Mom was ready to leave the music (we had to eventually in order to get to the SuperValu before it closed), I went a-wandering.  Hoped to find an Internet café, but both I found closed at 10:00 (one had already locked up at 9:45 when I got there, grr), so I haven’t checked my e-mail yet and told anyone I’m actually here and intact.  Found a music store and bought some cheap CD reissues (4 for the price of 3 at €3.99 each): Pam Tillis, Dolly Parton, Mickey Gilley, and Charlie Rich.

Don’t know what we’re doing tomorrow.  Maybe driving the Ring of Kerry (that’s some long route around the county) or going to the Dingle Peninsula; I think I read that there are some archeological ruins up there.  If not tomorrow, then later in the week.

Should find the train station tomorrow and get my ticket for Friday morning.