Monday, January 31, 2005

When your time is up, it's up.

Timing is everything. The good news for this guy is that he canceled his Christmas trip to Sri Lanka at the last minute, thereby missing the tsunami. The bad news? He went to Austria instead, and died in an avalanche while snowboarding.

A new take on girls' basketball.

You simply cannot make these things up. A tumbling gymnast - or possibly cheerleader - is flipped up into the air and comes down through a basketball hoop.

I suppose she's just as happy they didn't try a three-point shot.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Or what you will.

I’ve always enjoyed good presentations of Shakespeare in the movies. Certainly the classics by Olivier and Branagh come to mind: Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, and so many others. And they don’t have to be set in the traditional setting of the play: McKellan’s Richard III is wonderful.

A new version of Twelfth Night came out on DVD this month. A British Channel 4 production, it’s set in present day and stars Parminder Nagra as Viola. It’s excellent, and I happily recommend it. Will you ever find it at your local Blockbuster? Unlikely. Yet another reason to get Netflix.

Speaking of which, over the first year that I had Netflix, I’ve watched about 45 movies. Enough to break even versus renting at the local video store (especially if you factor in convenience and not having to make repeated trips to the store to get and return the DVD). Well worth the cost when you figure that something between a quarter and a half of the disks I rented wouldn’t be available at the local store.

On tap for this weekend: Y Tu Mama Tambien and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. (Unless I successfully make it out to the theaters this weekend to see one of the many Oscar-nominated movies I haven’t seen yet.)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Squeeze a cold, starve a fever.

Someone out there with a warped imagination has come up with the idea of making plushie versions of germs. Above, you see the Common Cold. There’s also Sleeping Sickness, the Flu, and Dust Mites, among others.

Something to give to kids you want to have grow up to be doctors, I suppose. Or a guilt-free way to give someone a serious disease.

My favorite? Probably Steptococcus pyogenes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Can spring be far behind?

Well, yes.

The nice weather we’ve had for the past couple of weeks – since New Year’s Day, 5 days above 70 and a few more in the upper 60’s – had its effect on my front yard.

A bunch of crocuses have bloomed in my yard. (Crocusses? Croci? How about “A crocus came up in my yard, and then a bunch of others did, too.”) They looked festive over the weekend, when the temperature was in the 50’s; bright spots of color enlivening the dull winter lawn.

They don’t look quite so festive now, closed up and frozen, following Monday night’s 9 degrees. And I’m sure they’re not looking forward to today’s possibility of snow. I know I’m not.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Indiana Jones and the Elevators of Doom.

The building I work in was built around 1912, and is on the National Register of Historical Places for being the first skyscraper in Richmond. Strictly speaking, the elevators in the building don’t date back that far; if for no other reason, because they don’t have elevator operators driving us to the appropriate floors. But they probably date back to the mid- or early-sixties, as they have buttons that depress (and illuminate) when you push them, and not flat-panel buttons that light up when touched. And I’m not sure that the elevators have received any serious maintenance since then.

It’s always entertaining to get into one of these elevators, because you never know how it’s going to behave. Is this the trip that gets stuck between floors for a half-hour? Is this the one where the elevator doors don’t even begin to close for 45 seconds after you’ve punched the button for the floor you want to go to, or the one which begins or ends with a six-inch drop? Is this the ride where the elevator doors will open with an eight-inch step up to the destination floor?

I got into the elevator on the 17th floor, and pushed the button for the lobby. Went down to the 16th floor. Doors opened, and a couple of attorneys came in. They checked to see that the Lobby button was already pushed, and continued their discussion of whatever case they were working on. Doors closed. We didn’t move. After about 15 seconds – during which time it was clear they hadn’t noticed that the elevator wasn’t moving as they were too busy discussing confidential aspects of their client’s case – I asked if they could push a button, any button, in hopes of getting us moving again. One of them stared at me until she realized we hadn’t left the 16th floor yet, then waved her fingers over the panel of buttons without touching anything. It seemed to work, though, as we jerked into motion. Went down to the 12th floor, where a building maintenance person got in. He pushed the button for the 13th floor, and up we went.

The three of us who had been in the elevator stared at each other, and then pointed out to the maintenance guy that it certainly was strange that we just went up, as we’d been in the process of going down to the lobby. He looked at the panel, where the Lobby button was still lit, and agreed that it was odd, but since the elevator seemed to be working, it ought to take us to the lobby. He got out, and the doors closed.

We pushed the Lobby button again, and nothing happened. After 15 seconds, we pushed the Open Door button, and happily piled out, running into the maintenance guy – who was extremely surprised to see us again so soon. He agreed that perhaps the elevator was acting up, and did something to take it out of service.

The next elevator that came by properly delivered us to the lobby, but I stayed out of that particular elevator for the rest of the week.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

A Jedi craves not these things.

Hasbro announces a new toy in the Mr. Potatohead line: Darth Tater. Yes, a Darth Vader with removable eyes, nose, and whatnot.

Very, very bizarre. And just in time for the new movie.

Update: And now, the link should work. Sigh.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

One born every minute.

America: Land of opportunity, land of innovation. And certainly one of the places that acts as a showplace for frequent innovation is the grocery store, with hundreds of new products appearing every year (and most of those disappear quickly).

We ran across one of this year’s products recently, the Grapple. (The trademarked name is pronounced “grape - ell" and not to rhyme with “scrapple,” alas. Didn’t stop us from using the latter pronunciation, however.) Described as “Looks like an apple, tastes like a grape!”, it’s started appearing in local grocery stores in 4-packs, selling for $4.99 (on sale this week only, for $3.99). Sounds like an intriguing cross between an apple and a grape, and it’s located next to other engineered fruits and vegetables (“square” oranges and the like).

Someone at the office had a birthday today, so we bought her a 4-pack of Grapples. Even before she opened the container, the aroma was wafting throughout the room – and this is a warehouse. The aroma? Mostly concord grapes (i.e., Welch’s), and too much of it. The Grapples looked like regular apples, picked to fit nicely into the clear plastic 4-pack.

We cut one Grapple into slices, and tried it. The smell of concord grapes was reduced, masked by the aroma of ripe apple. When you bit into it, it had the texture and taste of a ripe, crisp apple. About 10 seconds after you swallow it, though, the lingering aftertaste goes from “apple” to “grape soda” – and then that aftertaste far outstays its welcome, turning from “grape soda” to “generic industrial grape soda,” not a good thing.

Somewhat belatedly, I looked at the ingredients, listed on the label. Turns out that Grapples aren’t a modern cross of two fruits, after all. They’re apples, with artificial grape flavor added. (Can’t tell if it’s injected or sprayed on, or some combination.) Not even sprayed with grape juice; it’s artificial grape flavor, which I suppose is why the dominant grape flavor was Grape Nehi.)

I can’t imagine anyone ever buying this stuff twice, and unless it goes on a much better sale, I can’t imagine many people buying it once. (And I’m glad that I wasn’t one of them.)

Junk mail can be entertaining.

Well, sometimes.

There’s one mailing list that I’m on jumps out at me when it’s used: it misspells my first name in a unique way, and one which creates a “name” never before used by anyone; at least, in any English-speaking country. And it appears that this mailing list is marketed as a list of current undergraduate students. (Its genesis evidently was either Duke or Duke’s alumni association, but somehow the degree and entry date information associated with my name got changed from the two-year MBA program beginning in 2000 to an undergraduate program starting in 2002 or later.)

Last week, I got junk mail from the US Army, exhorting me to join up. And if I’d send back the postage-paid card so they could send me more propaganda, they’d send me a t-shirt. Not entirely sure why the Army wants excessively aged and out-of-shape recruits, especially to rappel out of helicopters (prominently pictured in the ad), but there you are: your tax dollars, hard at work.

This week, I heard from NYU’s Stern School of Business, inviting me to take part in this summer’s program for undergraduates (the Stern Advantage Program, which sounds like it ought to be a finishing school for dominatrices) that serves as a 6-week introduction to business school. That's six weeks, and $8500. (Just to be clear, they want me to take part as a paying student, not as an instructor.)

To make my mailbox even more interesting, I also receive junk mail addressed to the parents of this nonexistent student, offering me loans at bargain rates to finance the remaining years of the student’s undergraduate career. Those offers go directly into the trash, though

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Comet Machholz.

If you're looking for a reason to stand around outside in the dark, here's one: Comet Machholz is said to be visible to the naked eye. Visibility will be obstructed somewhat between the 16th and 27th, due to the moon.

Of course, you'll also want to have a sky that isn't filled with clouds.

Friday, January 07, 2005


In the NY Times, Paul Krugman muses about writing a political novel. A bad political novel. One in which the basic rules of ethics don't apply to people aligned with the ruling party.

Oh, wait. Maybe he doesn't have to write it as fiction.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Toasty. MMmm.

Do you recall a few years ago when there was a short-lived fad promoting cooking on your automobile’s engine block while you were taking a long drive? If you triple-wrapped your food in heavy-duty aluminum foil, when you stopped 150 miles from home, you’d have piping-hot beef stew, or baked chicken, or poached eggs, or whatever. Well, I’ve just seen the computer geek equivalent. While working diligently at the BigLawFirm this morning, I noticed someone taking his sandwich out of his lunch bag, and placing it – still in its plastic sandwich bag – on top of the heat vents on top of his monitor, and then putting an insulating layer of papers on top of the sandwich. About an hour later, he retrieved his sandwich and ate it, presumably now nice and warm and with the cheese melted.

Personally, I use the microwave. But maybe that’s just me.