Tuesday, October 31, 2006

TREAT: Happy Halloween from Fifth Avenue Disney!

TRICK: A Tasteless Joke

If you feel like seeing a rather tasteless joke, select the text below. But don't say I didn't warn you.

> > Subject: inflatable doll
> >
> > A guy goes in an adult store and asks for an inflatable doll.
> >
> > Guy behind the counter says, "Male or female?"
> >
> > Customer says, "Female."
> >
> > Counter guy asks, "Black or white?"
> >
> > Customer says, "White."
> >
> > Counter guy asks, "Christian or Muslim?"
> >
> > Customer says, "What the hell does religion have to do with it?"
> >
> > Counter guy says, "The Muslim one blows itself up."
> >

Monday, October 30, 2006

Succisa Virescit

A touchstone, and a reminder. Et lux in tenebris lucet et tenebrae eam non conprehenderunt. -- John 1:5.

Le coeur à ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point. -- Blaise Pascal

Monday, October 23, 2006

Embracing My Inner Carnivore

Even when I was dating a vegetarian, I was never a vegetarian. Probably half the time we went out, I ordered steak. (It's the contrarian in me; I simply can't resist the opportunity to tease.) But it has been quite a while since I bought meat to cook at home.

So it was exciting recently to try some new meat recipes. The first foray was uninspiring, but the next two I tried were fabulous. One was a recipe for the "best burger" (secret ingredient is worcestire sauce) and the other recipe was for "shredded-chicken wraps with avocado, cucumber and cilantro".

They were both really good. Especially the shredded-chicken recipe. I added a few extra ingredients to the chicken mixture (including 1/4 mango and 1/3 C cherries), and it made an excellent stew. In fact, it was so delicious by itself, I never got around to putting it into wraps with the avocado and cilantro.

On both occasions, I was entirely delighted with the delicacies that I had cooked up from scratch. It was an almost biblical moment, to create something and pronounce it very good.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Fall Harvest (Views from the Skate Path)

In other news, I'm starting up with volleyball again, with the team sponsored by my old firm. There's plenty of room for improvement in my game, and plenty of people willing to give me pointers! In any event, it should be fun, and will give me a chance to practice socializing as an alternative to my usual "fight or flight" instinct.

The trapeze lessons will stay on hold until after the election; then maybe I'll take a few days off to take some lessons and have a bookcase delivered. (It's either that or get rid of some books!)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My Very Own Rice Bowls!

Rice-pattern ceramic ware (a style in which grains of rice set into the clay become translucent windows when the pottery is fired in the kiln) apparently originated in China over 1,000 years ago during the Song Dynasty.

My first encounter with these "rice bowls" (as we called them) was in the mid-1980's, when my family lived in Belgium. The local Seca gas station was giving away rice bowls for a while, and my parents assembled a good collection. (This was a much more useful and interesting customer reward system than Seca's ill-fated sock giveaway; they would give out just one sock at a time, as I recall, and a different color each week. So it was difficult to get a pair.)

Since then, I have always admired rice bowls -- but have seldom seen them. I actually went looking for some at the beginning of October. Neither Crate & Barrel nor Target carried them. (It was an unproductive foray into the stores, because I was also looking for fancy crystal goblets, of a particular type that probably does not exist anywhere other than my imagination).

Now I own a complete set! It was a gift from my parents for my birthday: rice spoons, rice cups, and rice saucers. The cups are for tea, but they are perfect for a shot of o.j. in the morning.

This is the same cup, from another angle (which makes it look more like a bowl):

The design inside is my favorite: a dragon.
And they also go well with the rice plates my grandfather gave me last year. It's clearly time for another mahjong party!!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gorilla Tag

My most popular video so far, according to YouTube:

(Some of you may remember this from my Dublin Zoo post.)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Friday, October 06, 2006

Boston vs. New York: The REAL Subway Series

New York has long since switched to a card-based entrance mechanism for its bus and subway mass transit lines. The simple, lightweight card, known as the "MetroCard", fits easily into a wallet or pocket and is thus more convenient for subway-riders such as yours truly. It also helps the police fight crime, by making it easier to track an individual's movements through the mass transit system. Most significantly from the transit authority's point of view, however, it facilitates fare hikes and makes it easier to steal money from unsuspecting consumers (they code in an expiration date for the dollars you have stored on a pay-per-ride card).*

The phenomenon of transit authority fare hikes (and commuter protests) is not a new one, of course -- one of the most colorful protest songs ever is "The MTA Song" (made popular in 1959 by the Kingston Trio). It features a hapless Boston-area commuter named Charlie who sets off for the office one day, blissfully unaware of a 5-cent fare hike, and who is not permitted to leave the subway train because he can't cough up the extra five cents to cover the full fare. (Much of the humor, of course, is the lovely absurdity of his predicament. Charlie is able to survive on the train indefinitely because every afternoon, his wife hands Charlie a sandwich through the open window as the train comes rumbling through! I guess if she wanted him back, she could slip a nickel into the sandwich... like a cake with a file in it. He is also sadly unable to find five fellow passengers willing to give him a penny each, or to sell anything he may have with him for a nickel, or... You get the picture.)

So now, in an unexpected fit of honesty, the Boston MTA has switched to its own MetroCard system, which it calls the "Charlie Ticket" (presumably in honor of all of its anticipated fare increases).

But I have to admit that the name, appearance and concept of the Charlie Ticket beat the MetroCard hollow. Chalk one up for the Bostonians.

FN* I have been unable to think up a legitimate reason for the expiration date. If you put, say, $22 dollars on a pay-per-ride card, and misplace the card for an extended period of time, you cannot then take the rides you have already paid for -- even though the transit system has ALREADY taken your money and incurs NO extra cost from allowing you to hop on the train a few years later. (After all, the trains are running anyway!)

And even if there has been a fare increase in the interim, the MTA is not injured by letting you use the card. Suppose you buy a MetroCard with a $18 value at a time when each ride is $2 -- so the MTA puts your $18 in the bank, and you expect to get 9 rides. Then you go off to Tierra del Fuego for a decade, and when you come back, the fare is $18 per ride. If there were no expiration date on your MetroCard, you could at least get your money's worth -- the $18 would only be worth 1 ride now, but at least you could take the ride you've paid for (the MTA has not stolen your $18).

Within a month or so of the expiration date, you can go to the ticket window (if there is one in your station) and request that the dollars be reinstated on your card. It's an annoying extra step, and one that a lot of subway users may not be aware of. But after that little grace period, the MTA makes it even harder -- you have to mail your card in to a central office and REQUEST that they deign to credit you for the money you've already paid them. I am about to try this with two of my old cards from 2004 and 2005 (containing roughly $30).

Thursday, October 05, 2006


On the subway, I'm seeing ads for a new TV series about a serial killer. It looks like it's supposed to be a comedy (presumably a dark comedy). I can hardly begin to explain how utterly depressing this is. I can see several potential downsides to this show, and no up-side.

Even if the potential downsides never materialize, it's a pity that our culture is apparently so permissive that the rebellious artists in our midst (if that's what the purveyors of this show are) need to resort to ever-greater extremes to be outlandish.

And the potential downsides -- further undermining respect for life among the weak-minded and those who are already marginally criminally inclined, and possibly inspiring copycats -- will not be prevented even if this show is canceled after the first season. In the electronic era, every video, movie or TV show is immortal. It will always be available somewhere to be revived, distributed on the internet, shown in eternal re-runs, etc.

Totally depressing. And it makes me wonder how we can survive as a society, when we are so saturated with entertainment that people are actually paid to think up and implement totally anti-social ideas to try to satisfy the demand for novelty. What next?

As I think about it though, I have to admit I'm less disturbed by one-shot deals, e.g., movies that try to crush or undermine everything that makes life worth living, or that try to break every taboo, etc. Such movies have a similar "persistence" problem for their anti-social effects, but I find the TV series more troubling. Perhaps because it means the creative team has likely already generated 16+ hours of video for this single theme and character, a character who is intended to draw people in (the advertisements make it clear that this anti-hero is intended to be "handsome" and "charming").

Sigh. Thank goodness I don't have to watch the show -- the macabre subway ads are plenty ghoulish enough for me.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006