Sunday, July 25, 2004

Greetings from Canada, Eh.

Yup, been away for the past week at my yearly Welsh course, which as always provided a lot of fun and very little sleep. This year it was in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, which JesseriƱo informed me was quite nice. And he was correct. I took the bus into town and wandered across to Gatineau (technically in Quebec) to visit the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Got a few nice blisters from my not-so-great-for-walking sandals so hope I'm still capable of hobbling around again tomorrow. Or, rather, I hope the hobbling I'm going to be doing tomorrow is minimally painful.

After a week of relatively crappy dorm food, I treated myself to dinner out in the Byward Market at a Japanese restaurant, and it was like I'd died and gone to heaven. This chirashi bowl was beyond belief, probably because I've been good-food-deprived for a week, and sushi-deprived for a little longer than that. Add to that a nice Kirin lager, and a table out on the patio in sunny, breezy early evening weather...not a bad end to the day, despite blisters. I plan to really walk all around the Market tomorrow, and go to the nearby National Gallery of Canada. Maybe I'll have lunch or dinner in a pub--there seem to be many here, and the ones I've passed seem nice. And like Toronto, the buses are so clean and full of seemingly normal, calm people--it's a little bizarre. I feel like Canada is some weird twilight-zone version of the U.S.--only calmer and with more pubs and French-speakers.

Friday, July 16, 2004

What's in a Name?

Well, I sure haven't been very good about posting, considering how much time I've been online this week. Part of it is that I've been working on a freelance project, doing internet research/fact-checking for someone who's writing a baby name book. Weird synchronicity, considering I have one friend who's expecting a boy in September, and someone else (you know who you are!) who might also be producing a shorty next year.

In the process, I've been looking at a ridiculous amount of baby name websites, most of which are kinda crap. But I did find one site--not strictly about baby names per se--that was pretty interesting, called BehindtheName.com, about the history and etymology of first names. It has all this cool extra stuff besides the lists of names, like categories by country of origin, anagram names, namesakes, and which names were popular which year (of course mine is always towards the top, dammit--not A. Fortis but the real one. Doh!).

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Geeks Gone Wild, v. 1.2

I realize I've skipped a whole lot of geeky gaming since my last post about our D&D group, and I may yet fill y'all in on the intervening adventures, but I just had to vent about last night. What happened last night? Well, we went to fight a Medusa and I just happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time when said gorgon came barging into the room. Then I made the world's crappiest Will save--even considering my modifier is 8 I rolled approximately a 4--and therefore I am a Stone Cold Druid (that's not the official term, but it works).

And GET THIS--now I'm being carried around (along with Eretria, the other petrified party member) in a Bag of Holding. How embarraskin', as Popeye would say.

Opposed to the Government's No-Fly List?

From an e-mail from Sanjeev Bery, Field Organizer, ACLU of Northern California:
"CAPPS II -- the Computer-Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System -- would assign every airline passenger a red, yellow or green level threat. It would use secret intelligence and law enforcement records, and possibly credit databases and purchasing histories, to create its passenger profiles....Not only that, but even a 99.9% accuracy rate would leave 100,000 passengers a year facing possible wrongful delays or even detentions by law enforcement. And the federal government has admitted to a likely error rate of 4% -- or 4 million passengers."

For more on that, see this post of mine from a few days ago.

To take action by telling your congressperson to oppose CAPPS II, click here.

Friday, July 09, 2004

A Murder of Crow Websites

Okay, two doesn't really constitute a "murder." Apparently the only people who use that term are those who are poetically inclined, anyway--"flock" is the scientifically appropriate term, according to this crow FAQ from Dr. Kevin J. McGowan, Cornell University. If you've ever sought the answers to questions such as "Can crows be shot legally?" and "Do crows taste bad? Is that where 'to eat crow' comes from?" then this is the site for you.

But for my money (a moot point as I have very little and the website is free anyway) I'd rather browse around Crows.net, which has a number of voluntarily contributed observational logs of crow behavior. The people at Crows.net are (or were--nothing's newer than two years ago) compiling as many instances as possible of crow behavior and vocalizations in order to better study and interpret them. Crows are much smarter than your average birdbrain (my stepdad informed me that you can teach them several words, much like a parrot). Anyway, it was fascinating to read some of the accounts of people's encounters with crows.

The reason I was looking all this up is that I'm planning a painting that will have crows in it, and I was looking for some good photographs of crows, particularly close-ups of flocks of crows in flight. The painting will be about my grandfather, and will also include depictions of old photos of him painted trompe-l'oeil style, interspersed with the crows in a composition I'm still figuring out. The crows are there because of a strange occurrence which happened the morning my grandfather died:

It was around 7:00 am in June of 1997. I was 20 years old. He died in his bed, in his own house, where he had been receiving hospice care. My mother, stepdad and I had moved in to be with him. That morning we called the mortuary van, and we were all standing outside in the driveway as my grandfather's body was being put into the back of the van. I was standing next to my mom and my stepdad's sister (a former nurse, who'd been helping us care for my grandfather). Suddenly we realized there was a din, a racket, coming from overhead. When we looked up, there were a few dozen crows circling directly above the driveway, cawing loudly and raucously. It was one of the oddest things I'd ever seen and a very surreal moment. Not long after the van containing my grandfather's body had driven away, they dispersed.

On the crow websites, I've read that crows can bond with humans. I've read that they will circle overhead in a flock, cawing, when one of their own has died. I like to think that because my grandfather spent a lot of time outside in his garden, because he could whistle like a bird better than anyone I've ever met, that maybe the neighborhood crows mourned for him in their own way. Or maybe, scavengers that they are, they could simply smell death in the air. No matter what the reason is, though, it's going into my painting in some form.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Welcome to California, Now Go Home

Here's a real horror story from a British journalist traveling to the U.S. New prerequisite for being a journalist: ability to spend 26 hours unfairly "detained" in a holding cell.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

#1 in the Hood, G

So we've developed a possibly unhealthy fascination with the Cartoon Network Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force (a show which, as the official Adult Swim site points out, has little if anything to do with water, teens, or even a Hunger Force).

More specifically, for a show featuring an animated milkshake, box of fries, and wad of meat (appropriately named "Meatwad"), we (being Rob and I) noticed that it has a hell of a kick-ass theme song. The credits indicated that it was by Schoolly D, so off I went on a web search--we weren't entirely sure about some of the lyrics, namely the last line about Meatwad. We thought it sounded like the rapper was saying "ice on my fingers and my toes and I'm a 'tard," which would be highly politically incorrect but, bearing in mind Meatwad's personality, not inaccurate.

Fortunately, we found out that the phrase in question is "I'm a Taurus," freeing us from feeling any liberal guilt at enjoying such an obviously insensitive song lyric. Click here for the full song lyrics and mp3s of the theme song. For an amusing interview with the show's creators, click here.