Apparently Blogography has been linked to on a China travel forum, and my email address has been posted as well, because I awoke to find two dozen emails with questions awaiting me.
Since I am completely backlogged with my email just now (sorry) I thought I'd write a quick entry to address some of the questions I received, mostly about my driver for the past two days...
Your driver sounds wonderful. How do I get ahold of him? Does he have a web site?
I honestly don't know. I have his mobile number (in case I got lost), but won't be posting it here. The driver was arranged through my hotel's concierge desk, and I'd imagine that all hotels will have a list of reputable drivers in Beijing. When you check in, just ask them to hook you up.
You were totally ripped off at 1000 RMB a day... you can get a driver for 600 RMB!!
As I mentioned, I KNOW I could have gotten a driver for less (or a taxi for even less than that). But I wanted an experienced driver with English skills, and I went through my hotel to get him... all of this adds cost. But look at what I got in return! He looked out for me and got me a second chance to actually see The Great Wall because he knew it was important to me from our talks. How can you put a price on that? He was easily worth 2000 RMB a day for what I got in return. IMPORTANT: if you hire a driver, it is very important to know that the negotiated fee covers ONLY the car and his services... you are responsible for all tolls, parking, and fees.
How much did you tip your driver?
My hotel had told me that the 1000 RMB included tip, as tipping is not customary here. So, on the first day, I just paid him that much. But, after the effort he went through to make my trip (literally) a dream come true... I added another 200 RMB the second day. He was most grateful for the extra, and I probably should have given him more.
Is a driver safer than a taxi?
I am guessing that a professional driver is, though I can't say for sure. Unlike taxis, drivers have a reputation to maintain, so it would be pretty stupid for them to start ripping off their customers. My driver was very sensitive to my comfort level. On the morning of the first day, he was very easy-going through traffic... but as he noticed I wasn't bothered by more aggressive driving, he became more and more daring as to how he worked his way through traffic. By the end of the second day, I felt like I had hired The Transporter because he was whipping through traffic and speeding along at a breakneck pace. Had I acted nervous about what he was doing, I'm certain he would have sensed this and backed off. I am telling you right now, there is NO SUBSTITUTE for a professional driver. None.
You make it sound like you can drive right up to The Great Wall, but I don't think this is true, is it?
I can only speak from having visited at Mutianyu, but no... you can't drive right up to The Wall. Where I was, we drove to a parking area, and then I hiked to a cable car that takes you to the top. You can also walk the 1000 (or thereabouts) steps to the top, but you get a terrific view from the cable car, so I highly recommend it...
When you visit the temples and such, does your driver go with you?
No. He's a driver, not a tour guide. If you want a private guide, they can be hired separately. The driver simply drops you off, explains what to do, and then leaves you to explore. Sometimes, like when I visited "The Spirit Way" or "The Forbidden City" I arranged to have the driver drop me off at one end, then pick me up at the other end after I've walked through. If there was no place for him to park on the other side, I'd simply ring his number on my mobile phone (but hang up immediately so I don't get billed for the call) and he'd drive right up to get me. IMPORTANT: As I understand it, most of China's mobile service is CDMA (like Verizon Wireless has in the US)... and GSM coverage is limited. Be sure to check with your mobile company before you go to see if your phone will work, if you need to have one handy.
What hotel are you staying at?
It's called the "Holiday Inn Central Plaza." Unlike the US, where Holiday Inn is sometimes viewed as a cheaper, low-end hotel, in Asia it's exactly the opposite. I've stayed in amazing Holiday Inn hotels from Thailand to Japan, and they'll all top-notch. This particular hotel is very nice and not outrageously expensive, but the location is not the best, being tucked away in the South-Western area of the city (where there are few attractions). Fortunately, taxis are plentiful and inexpensive... but if you want to be closer to the action (and don't mind paying for it), there are better choices.
My intent today was to do as little as possible so I could relax on my last day in Beijing, and I think I succeeded.
After rolling out of bed at 9:00am, I had breakfast at the hotel next to a couple of annoying bitches who were shameless about being critical of their time here in China. This just baffles me. I mean, why travel outside the US if you are going to complain about things not being like the US when you leave the country? You are a GUEST here... if you are going to be dumbasses, at least have the courtesy not to do it in a public venue.
Missing my driver already, I ended up taking a taxi to Lama Temple. This is a terrific oasis of calm in the northeastern corner of the city...
I then walked the short distance to Confucius Temple, but it was under heavy construction, so I gave up on that idea pretty quickly. Since a subway station was nearby, I decided to just take the metro to the southeastern corner of the city so I could visit the "Beijing Friendship Store" and have lunch. I ended up eating at the Pizza Hut here, thinking it would be a nice change of pace from all the tofu I've been consuming over the past week. Turns out I should have just eaten a traditional Chinese vegetarian meal at the Buddhist temple, because I ended up feeling pretty sick after eating my cheese pizza.
Not feeling well at all, I decided to just walk to Tienanmen Square to see what festivities might be going on for National Day. This was a mistake, because walking 2-1/2 miles with a sick stomach does nothing to make you feel any better. By the time I got there, I was ready to puke or die or both. Turns out it was a wasted trip anyway, because I was either too early or too late to see whatever display was going on. It was just an endless mass of people waiting for something to happen...
And that was it. I flagged down a taxi to take me back to the hotel so I could chew on a few Pepto Bismol tablets and watch television. Since I had already been to The Great Wall (twice), there wasn't much else I wanted to do. All that's left is to pack my suitcase, get some sleep, and head off to the airport in the morning.
Goodbye to the Middle Kingdom. Thanks for having me. 谢谢
The flight home always seem to pass more quickly than the flight away. Part of this is because, thanks to the rotation of the earth and prevailing tail-winds, it is quicker... by about 1-1/2 hours this time... but it doesn't explain everything. I mean, what's an hour in the course of a 13 hour flight? Not much. Perhaps it's a mental thing?
Overall, I can say that I loved my brief time in China. Absolutely loved it. I have been dreaming of standing upon The Great Wall since I was very young, and now that I have actually done it, it feels as though a part of my life that was missing is now complete. All my other experiences on the trip, wonderful as they were, pale in comparison. If you ever have the opportunity to visit The Middle Kingdom, I highly recommend it.
If you do go, however, there are some things to prepare yourself for...
If you can get past these sticking points, then you will see and experience things that will blow your mind. Chinese culture is thousands of years old, and will capture your imagination in a way that few others can.
I always seem to get memed just as I am leaving the country. It must be a conspiracy. And since today's entry is running a little late (it's a long, boring commentary on all the television shows I missed while I was in China), I thought I'd grab two that I've noticed so far, as I catch up with the blogosphere.
James has tagged me with the "Thinkers. Leaders. Doers." meme that, apparently, is all the rage in the Canadian Blogosphere just now. The task is to choose eleven smart and famous individuals to "rule the world" from a list of 100 individuals listed on a BBC website. You must select a leader, a thinker, and an economist, with the other 8 being anybody you wish. Needless to say, I'm rather pissed that I am not on the list, but whatever. Here are my picks...
Thinker: The Dalai Lama. This was a very tough choice. My gut instinct was to select the Dalai Lama, as I am a huge fan of his teachings (specifically) and Buddhism (in general). For me, the entire concept behind Buddhism that I find so appealing is to "do no harm" whether that be by thought or action. But, unfortunately for us, we live in a chain of escalating violence where the Dalai Lama's peaceful ways simply could not rule the world very effectively. I was all set to choose somebody else, but kept coming back to the fact that a world ruled by the Dalai Lama would not be "ruled" at all... it would be a world governed by mutual respect for life. Such a dream is so appealing to me, that I simply could not choose anybody else.
Leader: Nelson Mandela. Believe it or not, I was very close to selecting former President Bill Clinton for the spot. If you can ignore his womanizing and the entire Lewinsky affair, he was actually a decent leader who did much for many people. Unlike President Bush, who I honestly think doesn't give a crap about 98% of the people he is supposed to be representing, I always had the sense that Clinton actually cared. Another contender was Vaclav Havel, because he was always so forward-thinking in his motives for political action, and we could certainly use some of that. But in the end I chose Mandela because he is such an icon for reform against oppressive elements, and a living embodiment of dignity and respect in leadership. How can you argue with that?
Economist: Steve Jobs. This should surprise no one, as I have made it quite clear that I worship the ground His Steveness walks on. He drives success from innovation and beauty as much by economic factors, and this is the way it should be. I loathe the idea of stagnate economics driven by the likes of Bill Gates, who keeps us mired down with a shitty OS (Windows) to run shittier programs (MS Office) and then builds a fortune not by innovation, but on the basis of entrapment. Apple keeps releasing amazing stuff which makes life more interesting, and what do we get from Microsoft? More bloated, buggy crapware that's pretty much the same old shit with a new name or version number. F#@% Bill Gates. F#@% him up his stupid ass (which I would gladly do for even a fraction of his unfathomable wealth).
As for the others... I stopped paging through the endless list of 100 individuals, because many of the people there, while worthy, are simply not in the realm of possibility for me. I decided to just toss out eight additional people that I feel are smart/famous enough to rule the world with the above-mentioned persons (and, granted, I did not give this as much thought as I probably should have... choosing instead to just write down people who popped into my head).
Anthony has tagged me with the "23rd Post Meme" where you search your blog archive for your 23rd entry, then excerpt the fifth sentence. He wonders if I have stopped doing memes, which I haven't... I just don't tag other bloggers with them anymore.
Anyway, here's an excerpt from my 23rd post... "Of life and Arizona".
This amazing, amazing place was supposed to kill 2 hours on the way to the Big Event, but ended up sucking an entire day... and I would have dearly loved to stay longer.
This was said in reference to the Sedona area of Arizona (near the Grand Canyon), which truly is one of the most amazing places on earth.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got another 8 hours of television to watch...
The new television season was in full-swing as I left the country, leaving me a little despondent about not seeing all the cool stuff that was coming up. Fortunately, I have a dual-tuner TiVo to record stuff while I'm gone, so all that's left to do is catch up on all the crap I missed.
Just in case nobody cares about my TV ramblings, I've put everything into an extended entry...
On the way back from China, United had a pretty good music selection going on, so I was listening to their inflight despite having my iPod fully loaded. One of the channels was playing some really amazing music with interviews from the artist, and so I check with the iTunes Music Store when I got home and, sure enough, Conjure One's Extraordinary Ways was available for purchase. If you are looking for some haunting melodies to mellow out with, then I suggest taking a quick listen. As for myself, I'm completely addicted...
Of the tracks listed, Endless Dream and Extraordinary Ways are favorites. There's also an official web site.
I like getting thoughtful (or even not-so-thoughtful) comments on entries I post. And because I realize that sometimes people wish to comment anonymously for one reason or another, you don't ever have to leave your name or email address to speak your mind. So long as you have something to contribute (even if it's in disagreement with something I've said), I don't care if I know who you are or not. Sometimes this backfires, because people will just call you a name or leave a string of profanity or wish you dead but, for the most part, it's worth the effort.
But, in the end, Blogography is like a magazine with myself as sole editor-in-chief, and I occasionally choose to delete comments as I see fit. It's rare, but it does happen if I feel the comment does nothing to contribute to the conversation (negative or positive) and is just trolling for attention or shock value.
Comments are easy to monitor, because Movable Type has an approval system which allows me to review each and every one.
It's the anonymous emails that drive me insane.
Since my email address appears on every single page of this site, many people choose to write to me. Most of the time I'm happy to receive mail, because it gives me the opportunity to get to know my readers a bit better. Odds are, even if you are vehemently opposed to something I've said, I will gladly reply as a courtesy for having spent your valuable time writing to me. That's why I put my email address out there in the first place.
But now, as people are discovering anonymous re-mailers, I am getting a considerable amount of anonymous emails with the sole purpose of attacking me for one reason or another. Sometimes it's just bizarre comments fueled by ignorance. Other times, they are the most hateful, horrible things you can imagine. Other times they are just plain stupid. Like this one for instance...
"I searched Google to find a recipe and your site came up. I clicked on the link, but the recipe was not there. Why do you advertise recipes on Google if you are not going to provide them? This is very unfair and misleading and wastes my time. You need to post the recipe you promised!!!"
Of course, they sent the email through an anonymous re-mailer, so I don't even know who it is or why they are so stupid. Furthermore, my incentive to reply is nil. If I had replied, here is what I would say...
Dear Ignorant Bitch,
Since you didn't tell me your name, is "Ignorant Bitch" okay? Great, thanks! Google is a search engine that indexes all pages of a web site, and I have no control over the results they provide you. I certainly do not advertise anything on Google as you imply, and don't promise shit. Odds are, you don't know how to perform a proper search anyway, and ended up with a monthly archive page with thousands of words that somehow contained the random words you were searching for. Perhaps if you bothered to send me your actual name and a valid email address, I would give you some tips on using quotes and wildcard characters to find what you are looking for but, since my mother told me not to talk to strangers, I guess you're on your own. Thanks for visiting Blogography!
But emails like that are just harmless entertainment. It's the deranged psychos that baffle me...
"I have written to you five times for help with my MT templates and you have not responded!! I was trying to be nice! Would you be happier if I hunt you down and beat the answers out of you? Hahaha!"
Here's the interesting bit... not only were the five emails sent anonymously, but they were sent over the course of two days! My reply, had I felt like responding to an anonymous re-mailer, would go something like this...
Dear Psycho Hand-jobber,
Beating the answer out of me is probably the best approach, assuming that you are well-manicured and have experience in porn films or prostitution (and are not easily frightened by large objects). As for your enthusiastic need for assistance, please realize that I travel... a lot... and do not always have access to my email. Furthermore, while I am happy to help when I am able, demanding an immediate response is rather rude if the person in question is not being paid to assist you. I suggest that you either: A) get some manners, patience, and common sense; B) pay me my hourly rate; or C) be really good at that hand-job you're promising. Thanks so much for taking time to write with the promise sexual favors! That doesn't happen nearly enough around here!
And then there's the scary ones (heavily edited for profanity and massively corrected for spelling)...
"LIKE _______ SO MUCH?? THEN ____ ___ YOU ___________ ______!!! ITS ____ _____ LIKE YOU WHO _______ HATE AMERICA THAT NEED TO BE _______ SHOT!!!!! ______ _______ ______ LOVING ______!!!! ____ ___ AND DIE ______!! OR MOVE TO CANADA WITH THE REST OF YOU ______ LOVING ____!
Charming. And completely anonymous from a bogus Yahoo! address. I suppose I'm taking my life into my own hands here...
Dear Anonymous Pussy,
Whenever I put my opinion out there, I sign my name to it. By using a fake address and not signing your name, do you really expect I give a crap over anything you have to say? Perhaps your ignorant, racist remarks are so embarrassing to you that you just can't bring yourself to sign your name... I have no idea. But, for future reference, if you wish to be taken seriously regarding your thoroughly offensive comments, I'd suggest the following: A) spell check; B) tact; C) a thesaurus; and D) some balls. Thanks for reading. I hope I can anger you even further in the future!
Anyway, if you want to send me an anonymous email or comment, that's fine if you have something to say. But if you are doing it just to be a sack-licking, monkey-spanking, dumbass... don't bother. I don't care. And if you don't have to balls to sign your name when you flame me, then you probably don't care either.
When I got back from Hong Kong in early September, I was dumbfounded to have received an interview request from a Japanese reader. It was her ambition to interview bloggers from all over the world for a web project of some kind. I thought it was crazy that she would want to interview me (there are far more interesting choices out there, I'm sure!), but I went ahead and did it anyway. This evening I was sent a transcript of the Instant Message interview so that I could edit my comments before it was translated. Since I am a rambling moron during an IM session, this was really nice of her. It would be cruel to have me coming off looking a bigger moron than I normally do.
Anyway, I'm going to publish the interview here, in case anybody is interested. As a side-note, I made a few minor edits on the questions so they would make more sense to the English reader...
Blogography from David Simmer II (2005年9月18日)
Your blog is cute with cartoons and things! How do you make it?
Thanks! My blog is just a Movable Type install with a few plugins added. The cartoons are drawn in Adobe Illustrator then exported as GIFs. The CSS layouts are hand-coded in either BBEdit or TextMate. All my entries are created with a program called "ecto" on a Macintosh.
You are famous for blogging. Is it fun to be a famous blogger?
Oh I'm not famous at all! On very rare occasions I will be recognized at the airport or something because I am wearing a Blogography T-Shirt, but that's it. I'm grateful for the regular readers I have, but most people don't even know I exist. I don't think about it very much because I find it shocking that anybody would care to read what I have to say in the first place.
How did you think of Blogography for your name?
This is my third blog. My previous two were complete failures, and were called "Dave's World" and "DaveBlog." When I decided to try again, I wanted to pick something unusual and not put my name in the title. As I was working on the layout, I had the television on and changed the channel until an A&E television show called "Biography" showed up. Half-way through the program, it suddenly occurred to me that "Autobiography" (a book about one's self) could become "Autoblogography" (a BLOG about one's self). I Googled "Blogography" and nothing turned up, so I check to see if the domain was available. It was, and so "Blogography" became the name of my new blog.
Are you mad because there are other Blogography on the web now?
No. Not even a little bit. The more people use the term, the more my domain has relevance and value on the internet. If somebody chooses to name their site "blogography," it's like free advertising for me because people will be typing "blogography.com" to find it, and end up getting my blog instead... who could be mad about that?
I like your blog because it is new every day. Is it difficult to think of postings to write?
Not really. I don't plan anything to write, I just sit down when I have a free moment and something always seems to pop into my head. Sometimes, when something cool or amazing happens, it's easier than on boring days... but I don't put a lot of effort into my writing (and it probably shows!). I force myself to write every day because once you skip a day, it's easy to skip another... then another... then another... and pretty soon you're posting just once a month or something, then it's like "why bother?" The down-side of writing every day is that you end up with some pretty poor entries every once in a while. I definitely have my share.
Are there things you like to write best of all?
Any day that provides an easy topic is a favorite. I especially love writing on days where I am traveling and get to see something amazing. Next week I'll be visiting China, which is someplace I've always wanted to go. Those entries will undoubtedly write themselves. I'll be saying things like... "I walked on the Great Wall of China this morning..." and be guaranteed of something cool to say about it. I also like to write rants, because being able to vent your frustrations to the entire world is liberating (I always feel bad about it the next day through).
Which things do you not like best?
Nothing. If I don't feel like writing about something, I just won't write about it. This includes my friends, family and work... because it's not fair that they should have to worry about what I might say about them. I also don't write about my more personal feelings or problems or anything like that. Some things you have to keep for yourself.
Is blogging fun or work (for you)?
Definitely fun. If it was work, I wouldn't be doing it (well, unless somebody was paying me to!). What's most fun about having a blog is the people you meet, and that's all I need to keep myself motivated to continue... making new friends, hearing new ideas, and meeting new people.
What other blogs do you admire?
I admire any blogger that puts in the effort to stick with it, and it doesn't matter what kind of blog it is. Every time I visit a site where they have posted a new entry, I admire that because I know what it takes to keep a blog going. The mortality rate for new blogs is staggering. Somebody starts one because it's trendy... then realizes it's not as easy as it looks and abandons it. So now the internet is littered with dead blogs and broken links which kind of messes it up for the rest of us.
Do you think blogging will keep (being) popular?
Sure... but probably not as we know it now. As technologies improve and bandwidth increases, we'll probably transition to video blogs or something like that. It's a natural evolution, just like the popularity of "podcasting" is now. In the meanwhile, I don't think that written blogs are going to disappear anytime soon, even though the focus may change from time to time.
Do you have a plan for the Blogography future?
Not right now. There are some rendering bugs in Internet Explorer that drive me nuts, so fixing Blogography to display properly in IE is about the only immediate thing I have in mind. Other than that, I plan to just keep doing what I am doing so long as people are still interested in reading it.
Thank you for your time.
Today was not the best day ever.
I had a major data loss that took two full hours to recover from, and things just went downhill from there.
Even after work had ended, things continued to suck. I went to the Mini Mart for some popcorn to enjoy during Veronica Mars tonight, only to find out that some moron had parked his piece-of-shit car across two spaces, meaning I couldn't park in front. Then when I left, I had to follow his white-trash redneck ass, only to have him stop in the middle of the street so he could open the car door and puke on the pavement.
That would have been bad enough, but when I turned to go around him, I got stuck behind some idiot going 15mph in a 25mph zone. Then when I finally got home, the electricity went out, so my TiVo had to power up again, which takes like... FOREVER... so the day of suckage continues.
After all that, I was almost afraid to check my email. But then I get an announcement from Apple that the entire Bad Boy catalog is now available exclusively on the iTunes Music Store!
Cool! This means I can finally purchase such classics as Niggas Gonna Die by Shyne, Me and My Bitch by The Notorious B.I.G., and Goin' Be Some Shit by The Lox!
Life is good after all!
Alrighty then! So far as I can tell, I've just watched my last episodes of Lost and Alias!
Lost is just ridiculous. They refuse to wrap up mysteries and move on to something new. It's just the same crap over and over and over again. Locke's flashback episode from last year had one of the coolest plot twists and fascinating reveals ever to air on television. What do we get for THIS season's Locke episode? NOTHING! We learn that he had issues with his father and that he dated Katy Sagal. THAT'S IT!! And then there's all the long, drawn-out angst and drama with absolutely no substance. Locke and Jack argue about PUSHING A F#@%ING BUTTON for like, TEN MINUTES!! Who gives a crap about PUSHING A BUTTON?!?
WTF? Seriously, that's the best we're going to get? And how many f#@%ing times are we going to see flashbacks of how everybody got down the hatch? It wasn't exciting THE FIRST TIME!
And then look at next week's previews... everybody's going to be arguing and getting all dramatic over FOOD. This might have been interesting if everybody was shown to be starving for the past five episodes. But oh no... food is never mentioned. Now, next week, COMPLETELY OUT OF THE BLUE food is going to make for a lot of senseless yelling and screaming. Not because it moves the story forward, but because the writers seem to think that yelling and screaming is entertaining television...
Well, whatever... I'm done. Unless Evangeline Lilly starts walking around topless, I just don't care. If they ever bother to answer any ACTUAL F#@%ING QUESTIONS SO WE CAN MOVE ON TO SOMETHING NEW and stop milking the same old crap, somebody let me know.
Alias is almost as bad. I sit back in total amazement wondering what happened to one of my favorite shows. The first two seasons were miraculous. Mind-blowing spy intrigue that simply didn't let up. Watching an episode of Alias was like running a marathon where you were totally exhausted at the end, yet begging for more. Now, everything that made the show so cool is gone. It's just GONE.
Sydney's undercover operations in exotic locations? GONE! The Rimbaldi mystery? GONE! Competition with Anna Espinosa? GONE! A worthy bad guy? GONE! A secret double-life to hide from friends? GONE! And keep in mind here... it's not like they wrapped up all these things and then moved on to something even more interesting. Oh no. They just abandoned them and went on to stories far less entertaining (like last season's "zombie" episodes). Alias is just a run-of-the-mill, wanna-be action drama now. I keep expecting Steven Segall to guest star.
I'm not saying that the show has to stay the exact same all the time (that would make it Lost), I'm just saying that you can't expect people to stick around while the writers rest on their laurels and take the easy way out at every opportunity. I was hoping that the nifty cliffhanger would have Michael Vaughn turn out to be evil or something cool. Instead, they set up a potentially delicious new direction for the show... then dump it without consequence.
Well, whatever... I've had enough. If it ends up being Vaughn in the cryo-chamber or something interesting, somebody let me know.
I blame my impatience and dissatisfaction on Veronica Mars. If Veronica wasn't so frickin' amazing... illustrating how GOOD television can actually be... I might be content with the latest crapfest coming out of Lost and Alias. Instead, JJ Abrams can suck it. Get off your ass and FIX YOUR LAME-ASS SHOWS!!
Guys like to look at naked women.
This should come as no surprise to anybody, and it's not really our fault... we're just built that way. Women probably look at this as a defect, but I prefer to see it as part of our charm. In any event, if the ladies are okay with showing their naked body to a bunch of neanderthals at a strip club... isn't their right to bump and grind guaranteed by The Constitution or something?
Well, not according to the prude dumbasses on the Seattle City Council. Now, instead of some erotically innocent drunken fun, there are stupid rules to follow...
Which pretty much takes all the fun out of going to a strip club. Those heady days of anonymously heading out to a dark and seedy joint for a drink*, lap-dance, and stuffing a G-string with twenties are gone... at least in Seattle. That sucks ass!
And before you go all "but Dave, strip clubs are exploiting women!" I have to heartily disagree. The clearer thinker will realize that it is actually the MEN who are being exploited... for their cash. Women throw boobies in our faces and, as if by magic, our money disappears. We go home happy and poor. The ladies go home happy and wealthy.
Everybody is happy.
But not anymore. Not in Seattle.
So let's look at this for what it REALLY is... an effort by local government to tell us how to live our lives and drive strip clubs out of business. So congratulations Seattle! A harmless activity between consenting adults has just been BANNED by people who think that THEIR morals and way of life should be YOUR morals and way of life. And America loses just a little bit more of her freedom because people in power don't want for you to be free... they want you to look, act, talk, worship, and be entertained exactly like they do.
I don't care whether you agree or disagree with a woman's right to get naked for money... the big picture here is that legislation like this is only the beginning. How long will it be before movie theaters aren't allowed to show R-rated movies? How long will it be before museums can't display works of art that contain nudity? How long will it be before libraries won't be able to carry children's books that show unclothed animals? How long will it be before wearing a bikini is a crime?
And you can just forget about Boobie-Thon.
Where does it stop?
The answer is... it doesn't. The morons of the "Moral Majority" will not stop until everything they consider to be "morally improper" has been eliminated. Stopped. Banned. Destroyed. Gone.
And that's not right. That's not America.
America is having a cold beer after a long hot day in a darkened club with a fist full of bills and a total stranger's boobies in your face. Fortunately you can still find this American dream but, if you live in Seattle, you now have to drive up to Canada to get to it. Sadly, that's yet another trade imbalance for our economy to deal with... we're even exporting bare breasts now.
I weep for a future where guys can't see fine American boobies in a country that was founded so that they could do just that. Seattle mayor Greg Nickels (along with council members Jan Drago, Richard McIver, Jim Compton, David Della and Richard Conlin) can kiss my ass. F#@% all of you America-hating bitches.
* The only drinks you can order at a Seattle strip-club are of the non-alcoholic variety. You have to be sure you are drunk enough to lose your shame, but not so drunk you get bounced, BEFORE entering the club. Just another helpful tip from your friends at Blogography!
I had written up a long rant about Microsoft's proposal to brand webfeeds with a new icon, and Dave Winer's asinine response to it. This is one case where Microsoft is actually Doing The Right Thing and asking for people's opinions. But Winer and his massive ego doesn't want anybody but him to make decisions.
Eventually I decided not to post it, because responding to Winer's never-ending obsessions is bordering on an obsession all its own.
But then Patrick stepped up and voiced some very good points, so I thought I would post my comments as well. Winer is Winer and won't change, but he has significant voice in the grand scheme of things, and that means he should not go unchallenged when he is wrong. What I love best about him is when he calls those who dare to disagree with his opinion "arrogant," which is the very definition of hypocrisy.
It also makes me laugh.
But he just picked up a couple million from the sale of "weblogs.com" so maybe he's entitled to be an ass?
Anyway, in case anybody cares, I object strongly to the use of "XML" as the "official badge" for webfeeds. XML is ambiguous as a label, even if it is technically correct. eXtensible Markup Language can be used for many, many things... not just webfeeds, and using it to title something so specific is pretty stupid. Not to mention the fact that it is consumer-hostile and is just going to confuse matters as more data enters XML-space. It would be like saying all varieties of fruit should be named "fruit" instead of specializing for distinction... apples, oranges, bananas, and the rest. It's just wrong.
I disagree with Microsoft on many things, but coming up with an icon to better identify webfeeds (and jettisoning the ambiguous "XML" badge once and for all) is okay by me. If they listen to the community of webfeed users and factor their input into their decision... I, for one, will be jumping on board. And since Microsoft actually has the muscle to get it adopted, I guess their monopoly is good for something.
I don't hate Dave Winer. I actually respect the work he has done to help people more easily assimilate data into their lives. He is now (and continues to be) an important force in the world of blogging and webfeeds. But I am sick of his god complex. I am tired of his constantly accusing people of attacking him simply because they disagree with his opinions. There are smart people out there who deserve to have a voice in the Way Things Work. Sometimes I wish Winer would just shut the f#@% up and let them speak. His opinion isn't the only one that matters, and nobody should have to be on the receiving end of a Winer bitch-slap for giving theirs.
UPDATE: I received a rather rude email telling me that there is nothing wrong with calling XML by the name "XML" and I am the one that should shut up.
Okay, I will shut up... if anybody can adequately explain how people are going to distinguish XML schemas when you aren't specific about their application. Here's an example... MS Word has it's own XML file format with a schema called "WordML". Saving in that format will give you a valid XML document. But you can't open such a document in a feed reader like FeedDemon or NetNewswire, nor can you parse it with an online feed service like NewsGator, Feedster or whatever. XML schemas are specific and, to end confusion, naming and branding conventions need to be specific as well.
Webfeeds are a genre of XML schema. There's RSS, RSS 2.0, Atom, and the rest. Since any webfeed reader worth its salt should be able to parse them all, they should be grouped under a single umbrella with an icon/branding that distinguishes them from other XML schemas. It shouldn't matter to the end-user whether a feed is RSS or Atom... people shouldn't have to care. We need something to end the confusion.
Dave Winer is pretty much demanding that everything be called one thing (RSS) and branded another (XML) which is crazy confusing. Atom is not RSS, and it is not going away. I personally believe Atom is the superior schema for webfeeds and don't want it to go away. But there is room for both, and I see nothing wrong with people having a choice of which schema to distribute... so long as the end-user doesn't have to be confused by it. Let's group the specifics (RSS, Atom), eliminate the obtuse (XML), and simplify the reference (webfeeds) with a new icon so we can continue moving forward. There are other worlds to explore.
Me, my friend, and a theater packed with nerds were treated to Joss Whedon's genius in the form of Serenity, the movie sequel to the ill-fated cult-favorite television series Firefly.
But as the credits were rolling, I couldn't help but think about what could have been. NOT for Serenity, which I enjoyed quite a lot. NOT for Firefly which was cancelled because of network morons grossly mishandling the show. NOT for Joss Whedon, who abandoned the "Buffyverse" to try something new. But for Star Wars.
Yes, Star Wars.
Star Wars started out as total brilliance, and then escalated into one of the greatest science fiction films of all-time (and best sequels ever) with The Empire Strikes Back. It remains my undisputed favorite sci-fi film, and a total masterwork in the canon of filmmaking. But then George Lucas found out how much money there was to be made in toys and merchandising rights (of which he maintains 100% control), and Star Wars was flushed down the toilet.
No longer were the Star Wars sequels about the story. It was about everything except the story. It was about selling action figures and stuffed Ewok dolls (case in point: everybody knows what an Ewok is, even though they were never named in the film). By the time Return of the Jedi came along, serious sci-fi was shoved aside for burp and fart jokes to appeal to the kiddies. The prequels gave us even more fart jokes, and then descended into untold levels of suckage with cardboard characters so boring and annoying that they were the least interesting thing on the screen.
Star Wars became a joke of cosmic proportions, and only partially redeemed itself with Revenge of the Sith.
So this is what a sequel looks like when the creator resists the temptation to sell out.
Whedon didn't introduce cutesy characters to sell toys. Whedon didn't dumb down the show to the lowest denominator so two-year-olds would be entertained. Whedon didn't destroy what he created for the sake of special effects. Everything that made the original Firefly series so compelling is right here in spades.
Unlike dumbass characters that typify the "new" Star Wars universe (exemplified by Jar Jar Binks) who you wish dead every minute they're on-screen, you actually care about the people whose story you are watching. You feel their pain and share in their triumphs. You relate. Serenity is all about the characters, and everything else takes a back seat... just as it should be. Sure it makes for a slower pace, but by the end of the film you're totally absorbed in a world that's not your own.
That's not to say that there aren't problems. The film is unevenly balanced in parts, clumsily shifting between action and drama that accentuates its television heritage, but it never self-destructs as it so easily could. Trademark Whedon humor and witty dialogue drive the story forward through the rough patches, and easily make up for any shortcomings.
The story revolves around killing-machine savant River Tam, and the mystery of why "The Alliance" is so desperate to reclaim her. Along the way there are kick-ass fight scenes, stellar special effects, and more than a little dose of tragedy. I enjoyed it all, even if my favorite character had to suffer for it (proving once again that Whedon knows just what buttons to push to involve the viewer).
I'm not convinced that a 2-hour movie is the best format for Whedon's talent... he needs time to develop his stories that he just doesn't get here. But he did the best he could with what he was given and wraps things up in a way that won't disappoint the fans. I can only hope that between the box office and DVD sales, Serenity makes enough money that the dumbass network execs second-guess their decision to cancel Firefly.
And if there were any justice, the show would return in a new television series in better hands than those at Fox who worked so hard to make it fail the last time.
The small stone tumbled haphazardly down the side of the mountain, bouncing along the shale with a "pok pok pok" as he fell. By the time the little rock had landed in a grassy outcropping several hundred feet below, he was very confused. He was also up-side down, though he barely noticed. He was a stone after all. Perhaps in a few hundred years he could sort out what had happened just then, but time moves slowly when you're a rock, so he had plenty of time to spare.
His new surroundings were quite pleasant. The grass on which he lay was tender and smelled like summer. A battered tree further up the outcropping shaded him from the heat of the mid-day sun. Wildflowers grew nearby, scattered about like polka dots against the scrub. And beyond the outcrop was a view of the valley below, both beautiful and serene. There was a gentle breeze now, and the sound of the wind was pleasing had he the ears to hear it.
Being made of stone, the little rock knew none of this, for he had not the facilities to hear or feel or smell or see.
But he did sense that he was in a better place, and so the small stone was content.
Sometimes I envy the life of rocks.
The reaction to my entry yesterday has been a little surprising. There's not a lot of comments, but I've received a number of emails... a large number of emails... from people who are concerned about me after having read it.
So, for anybody curious, I am not getting all sentimental about rocks because something terrible has happened in my life. I'm okay. My family is okay. My friends are okay. Everything is okay with me.
Except when I read the news out of Guatemala/Mexico and Pakistan/India.
Guatemala and Mexico have been hit hard by Hurricane Stan, with hundreds (perhaps thousands) dead. Pakistan & Northern India have been devastated by earthquake, with the death toll topping 30,000... and estimates saying the total could end up running much, much higher.
To calm my thoughts when I am upset, I often write stupid little stories for myself. They're just for me, and nobody but a select few ever see them because they often have meaning only to myself. If somebody were to read through my story journal, they'd probably think me insane because they couldn't possibly understand what was running through my head at the time I wrote in it.
But yesterday as the day was ending, I couldn't bring myself to write anything for Blogography with all the things going on in the world. I finally just decided to post the story of the little stone who fell, just to have something to say. I figured most people would ignore it or think I was medicated. But instead there was a bunch of email waiting for me when I woke up asking if I was okay.
So thanks for that.
What the story was trying to say was that sometimes we wish we were made of stone so that we could close ourselves to the horrors of the world around us. But if we were stone, we'd miss the good things in life as well, so we should be content with knowing that we're in the place we're meant to be. There are good things to be found if we open our senses to finding them.
At least that's what I keep telling myself.
But then I read the news that Aardman Studios (the people who created my beloved Wallace & Gromit) has burned to the ground, and find myself envying the life of rocks just a little bit once again.
Packed: There's nothing more fun than packing suitcases for a trip! Today I am having maximum fun. At least that's what I am telling myself as I try to get my stuff together. Again.
Booked: One thing I am happy to be packing is some cool new reading material that was sent to me. Sure beats trying to find something at the airport! I rarely have time to read except when I am traveling, so big link love goes out to James for his much appreciated thoughtfulness!
Crypto: A while back Sven had mentioned in an email that I should get a security certificate so I can digitally sign and encrypt my email. It sounded really complicated, so I put it on my "to do" list and forgot about it. Then the other day while I was in the middle of a phone call, I went ahead and tried it because it didn't cost anything and I was bored. Well, my faithful Mac made it fantastically easy, so now all my email is digitally signed (verifying that I was the one who really sent it) and, if you have a security certificate on your machine, anything I send to you will be encrypted as well. It's all very cool, and the Mac is really smart in that it can manage your certificates for you automatically. Here are the easy instructions for Mac users (I'm sure Windows isn't too much more difficult). And speaking of Windows users... I am told that Outlook stupidly marks digitally signed email as having an attachment. So don't be surprised when Windows sufferers get mad at you for sending an attachment they can't find.
iStinc: Apple's .Mac service has the ability to sync your data between multiple computers, which is amazingly handy... in theory. Despite several upgrades over the years, syncing STILL doesn't work as advertised. Sometimes things don't sync properly, and sometimes they don't sync AT ALL. My beautiful new email security certificates refuse to sync, despite the fact that I have specifically marked the new keychain I made for them as syncable. I've tried everything, but it's a no go. Furthermore, manually importing the certificates works until the next sync, at which time they are erased. I wish Apple would fix this crap once and for all, because it's not just keychains that screws up... everything screws up in sync eventually: bookmarks, email accounts, address books, and all the rest.
Phoney: I'm getting quite a few Google search referrals wanting to learn about my new Motorola a840 global mobile phone. Well, there's not much to say. The phone works as advertised. You can use the default CDMA network where available, then switch to GSM service when it's not. You CANNOT, however, switch to a GSM service when Verizon CDMA is available. It is your "home" network and overrides all others. So if you are buying the phone thinking that you can switch between Verizon, T-Mobile, Cingular, or whoever... it won't work, even if you use one of their SIM cards. It's a good phone, but all is not perfect... the phone is MASSIVELY HUGE compared to every other phone I've used. Not bad, just MUCH, MUCH bigger than I would have preferred. Also, as usual for Verizon phones, Bluetooth support is missing (dumbasses). Still, if you travel the globe like I do, it is super sweet to be able to make and receive calls wherever you go over both CDMA and GSM networks (except Japan, natch)... all on one phone number.
Universe: A while back I answered some of the biggest questions in science. Among them was a "what is the Universe made of" type thing. In my answer, I said that so-called dark matter is actually residue from temporal shifts in the universe... not actual "matter" at all. Now scientists are starting to catch up. All I can say is that when they finally figure out that I was right all along, they had better use the name I had given to the buffer particle that keeps the Universe from collapsing on itself... the "Daveon Particle"... or I shall be very cross indeed.
Gameable: For my upcoming trip, there will be a lot of mucking about on trains, so I thought that I would get a new "PlayStation Portable" PSP to pass the time between books. I gave one a try at a demo booth and discovered something strange... the games suck ass. I mean, there were a couple racing games that were pretty amazing, but everything else was kind of "eh." Since at most I would want just one racing game, I took a pass. Then when I got home I checked the game review sites, and they confirm what I had just found out: PSP games are mediocre. IGN reviews show NO perfect 10 games, just two 9-star games (racers), and a measly ten 8-star games (mostly sports)! That's just sad. I wonder if the much less cool Nintendo DS fares any better?
Back to packing...
Well, I'm off for a short vacation. At last.
I will be writing an entry every day, as usual, but may not have internet access each day to post them. If you ordered a Blogography Logo Shirt or a Bad Monkey Shirt as of 2pm yesterday, Seattle time, you've been shipped. Anything arriving after that will, sadly, have to ship out the week of the 24th when I return (alas, I have nobody to cover shipments for me this trip). Custom orders and back-orders will be printed up in early November.
Everybody play nice...
A boring and uneventful drive over to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was salvaged by a fantastic flight on one of Northwest Airlines newer A330 aircraft, where everybody has their own personal entertainment center. Since this was a free flight, I was in coach, but there seemed to be slightly more room than usual on this plane, so I didn't mind much.
Thanks to dozens of movie choices and games, the flight to Amsterdam flew by (heh heh) in no time.
I got to see Batman Begins (great, seen it before), Fantastic Four (not nearly as bad as I had thought), War of the Worlds (interesting flick with a crap ending), March of the Penguins (cute, but I fast-forwarded through much of it), Bewitched (truly awful, and I fast-forwarded through practically all of it), plus play a few games of trivia and Bejeweled. I was still playing as the landing gear came down, and still can't figure out where the 9 hours went. THAT'S the way to fly international.
I was very nervous when I surfed by Apple's web site, curious to know what their "big announcement" was going to be and how much it was going to cost me. Turns out it won't cost me a thing. The new media features in the iMac G5 are nice, but I've already got both a Mac and a TV. The new video iPod isn't impressive enough to warrant purchase, and the new video offerings at the increasingly mis-named iTunes Music Store are shows I don't care about and are only being offered at a crappy 320x240 resolution. Sure that's fine for an iPod, but there are plenty of other media portables out there with bigger screens, bigger storage, and better resolution for me to pay $1.99 a pop for crummy low-res copies of Lost and Desperate Housewives. What in the heck is Apple thinking?!?
Oh well. I don't really have the money to buy a cool new toy from Apple just now. With that in mind, I suppose I should be glad that they didn't release a cool new toy I couldn't live without.
On a sadder note, a small bird seems to be trapped here inside Schiphol International Airport. He flies up to the skylight, realizes he can't get out, and then flies down to the railing and starts chirping... I am guessing in the hopes that some other bird will answer and he can go home (or at least get outside)...
The poor little guy just flies from rail to rail calling out for help... it really is heartbreaking (I seem to be having March of the Penguins flashbacks here). Hopefully he gets it all figured out. I doubt a diet of leftover french fries and being trapped in an airport is a very good life for one who is meant to fly free.
My favorite place on earth is Edinburgh, Scotland. Tying for a close second would be a dozen different places in Italy, the city of Rome included.
And so here I am in the Eternal City, almost five years after my first visit during the Catholic Church's Holy Year of 2000. My love for Roma has not diminished, and I am just as excited over being here now as I was then. There are sights here to overwhelm the senses of even the most jaded traveler...
Now I want a gelato.
According to the weatherman, it was supposed to be raining today. But looking out my window, all I saw was scattered clouds. By the afternoon, even the clouds were gone, leaving a flawless blue sky. The sun was so bright, in fact, that it made getting some photos difficult... even with a polarizing filter on my lens. I never thought that I would find myself complaining over a perfect day.
Wanting to avoid the 2-3 hour lines at the Vatican Museum, I got there 30 minutes early. The queue was already forming, and in another half-hour the line was around the corner and out of sight. It would seem that the longer you wait to show up, the longer you wait to get in.
However long you wait, it's all worth it once you get inside. They don't let you take photos of the Sistine Chapel, but there are plenty of other remarkable ceilings to photograph...
There are hundreds (thousands) of renditions of Jesus in the Vatican Museum, some of them surprisingly clever. I particularly liked this one, where he is looking around at things with a notable curiosity...
Last time I was here, I didn't get to visit their collection of Roman statue art. It's pretty impressive and, from the lack of crowds, severely under-appreciated...
After three hours wandering the museum, it was time to walk over to Saint Peter's. Unlike my visit in 2000, they now have metal detectors and baggage inspection. This adds a significant amount of time to entering the basilica, though I suppose it's a smart thing to do. Oddly enough, they looked to be setting up for a rock concert in front. I guess the new pope knows how to party...
The queue to go to the top of Michelangelo's Dome was not too bad, though it's hard to imagine anybody complaining about standing in line to see something so magnificent...
The view from the bottom back up is equally stunning... with ant-sized people scattered below...
Around noon, the clouds were mostly gone, leaving a terrific view of the city...
All that, and the day isn't even half over.
I had another full day in Rome, but didn't want to risk the weather turning, so I decided to walk through some of the major sites while the sun was shining. After a pilgrimage to the Spanish Steps and the Hard Rock Cafe Rome, it was time to get started.
First a walk to the Trevi Fountain, which was crowded as always...
Next up was The Pantheon, which is a remarkable architectural achievement considering it was built over 2000 years ago. Apparently, it's the oldest pagan temple left in the city (though it was unsurprisingly converted into a church at some point)...
After walking around the Piazza Navona, the day was wrapping up, so it was back towards the hotel and a walk through the Forum...
And back to the Colosseum...
The perfect end to a perfect day in the Eternal City!
There was really only one choice for dinner... Alfredo alla Scrofa. This is one of two restaurants in Rome claiming to be the inventor of Fettucini Alfredo, which is my favorite pasta dish. But this is the real Fettucini Alfredo, which is quite a bit different than the grotesque imitation you'll find at a typical "Italian" restaurant in the US.
REAL Fettucuni Alfredo has very thin noodles... almost noodle shavings instead of the thick, gummy crap typical of Americanized pasta. REAL Fettucini Alfredo is thick with a deliciously aged, sharp parmesan cheese instead of the flavorless, watery cream that plagues Americanized Alfredo sauce. REAL Fettucini Alfredo is so good that it's practically worth a trip to Rome just to taste it...
REAL Fettucini Alfredo is impossible to describe with mere words... but "orgasmic" comes to mind...
My fear about the weather changing was unfounded, as today was even more perfect than yesterday. I don't think I saw a single cloud in the sky all day. Bellisima!
Since I rushed to get to all the major sights taken care of the day before, I was left with a lot of time to explore some lesser known, yet no-less interesting attractions today... starting with those right out the front door of my hotel, the Temple of Hercules and the Temple of Portunus, which I can see from my window each morning...
Then it's just a quick hop across the street to see the Bocca della Verita (Mouth of Truth), which is supposed to snap shut on the hands of those telling lies...
And then it's a short walk back past the hotel to the brilliant Capitoline Museums, atop Capitoline Hill which was the center of ancient Rome. These are probably my favorite museums of the city, and today was the last day of an amazing exhibit which focused on the architectural wonders of the city. There were beautiful pen and ink renderings from around the world of various Roman landmarks, each more fascinating than the last. The "regular" collection is pretty special as well...
The statue of the woman with -ahem- extra parts is a bit disturbing... particularly when a rather important piece of the extra parts has fallen off. This is also where the pieces of a massive statue (since fallen apart) reside, including this giant hand...
From the roof I got an excellent view of the city. Just another crappy day...
I hope the weather is even half this good as I head north tomorrow.
After lunch, I was half-way tempted to just go back to the hotel and relax, but that would be a total waste of such a beautiful day, so I decided to head north to Esquiline (this is the tallest of Rome's hills, and one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city). Unfortunately, unlike the major attractions, all the smaller churches close down for 3 or 4 hours at lunchtime, meaning that most places I went were closed. About the only thing open was Santa Maria Maggiore, a basilica so stunning that it pretty much made the entire trip worthwhile on its own...
I dare say that the interior rivals St. Peter's at The Vatican for sheer beauty and opulence...
The stained glass window here is one of the prettiest I've seen outside the Rose Window from Notre Dame in Paris. The basilica was so dark, it was difficult to get a clear shot, but I was able to capture the bright colors that make it so beautiful...
Since San Pietro in Vincoli, home of Michelangelo's Moses statue was still closed, I headed to the Barberini Museum. Unfortunately, photography isn't permitted, because there were several famous works of art stashed here... including that shot of a portly Henry the VIII that's so well known.
On the way back to the hotel, I kept seeing more and more Cabiniere (Military Police), complete with riot gear, hanging out. It started at the Column of Marcus Aurelius...
... but really became noticeable once you reached the end of the Via del Corso to the Piazza Venezia...
Once I reached the front of Il Vittoriano, a massive demonstration (protest?) march was happening, so I guess that's what all the fuss is about...
It was difficult to tell what the march was for, because all the signage seemed to be different... as if everybody was protesting about whatever was on their mind. It was very much a non-violent demonstration, so I have no idea why the Cabiniere were present in such depth (there were even helicopters hovering above). Probably just preventative measures, because who knows how riots get started?
Tomorrow is an early travel day, so that's enough adventuring for today...
Neither my hotel in Florence or my hotel in Venice has internet access. On top of that, there isn't a place I can use my computer for internet (only public terminals), so I guess I'll just have to store all my entries up and post them when I get back to Rome. It's quite strange how some places seem quite content to pretty much ignore the internet entirely.
I don't much care for schedules. The idea of spending my vacation glued to a clock and having every minute of every day planned out to every detail is not my idea of a vacation at all. I would much rather have a general idea of where I am going and what I want to see, then just fill in the specifics as I go.
I had exactly three goals while in Tuscany... 1) Visit the Academy Museum in Florence, so I could see the greatest sculpture in the known universe: Michelangelo's David. 2) Visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, one of the most highly regarded on the planet, to see such astounding works as Botticelli's Birth of Venus. 3) Wander out to the Tuscan countryside to take in the scenery and visit a few cities like Sienna or Lucca or San Gimignano or something.
Unfortunately, ALL these things require either timed reservations or some kind of tour. Otherwise you'll spend most of your time waiting in a queue or lost. So I decided to visit the galleries today, and save the countryside for tomorrow. Two days of being glued to the clock.
David is just as jaw-dropping stunning as you'd expect. How Michelangelo managed to inject such life into a block of stone, I cannot fathom. No words I use could adequately describe just how beautiful it is. No photograph can adequately capture the overwhelming presence such a work has. And since photography is forbidden, I suppose it's for the best. There is a copy of the original in front of the Uffizi Gallery, however...
The elegance and grace of the human body perfectly captured. Unfortunately, you'll never really get just how perfect from looking at a picture. Sorry, you'll just have to book a trip to Florence for that.
The Uffizi itself is nice enough, and contains a terrific assortment of art treasures... but, if you didn't purchase tickets in advance, it's not really worth the 3 to 4 hours of waiting it takes to enter. Since I already had reservations, it wasn't a problem. There's Botticelli's Birth of Venus, as expected, but also a more provacative The Venus of Urbino, which is worth a look (you naughty monkey!).
The city of Florence is more "interesting" than it is "beautiful," which is why I'm only here for the day, but there are a number of wonderful sights to be had... like the Duomo...
And the banks of the Arno...
And all the cool buildings, which look so great against that cloudless blue sky...
Anyway, after walking through the Central Market area and wandering through a few more museums (and eating entirely too much delicious pasta for dinner) my short stay in Firenze had come to an end.
After four flawless days of blue skies and plenty of sunshine, my luck with the weather suddenly changed. Cloudless skies from yesterday had been replaced with thick gray clouds and a dreary mist in the valleys. It never rained, but the morning was far from ideal.
Still, Tuscany is Tuscany and, even without the sunshine, is pretty special. The sunflower fields of summer have gone (with only a few stray flowers still hanging around), but the grape harvest has just ended and the leaves are starting to turn. This provided a nice splash of color against the green and gray of my day...
The tour I had selected included a visit to the tiny medieval hilltop town of San Gimignano. Surprisingly, the sun was just starting to clear out the clouds by the time we arrived...
After an hour wandering through the charming streets of a village that seems removed from time, we journeyed to a small winery for lunch. This is exactly the type of place you'd expect to see in Tuscany, and nobody was disappointed...
The last stop on the tour was a visit to the beautiful city of Sienna at the heart of Tuscany. It's large size makes it seem much like dozens of other Italian cities, but the sun had cleared away much of the gloom, leaving a beautiful afternoon at the Piazza Del Campo...
Not exactly what I was hoping for on a "Best of Tuscany Tour," but a nice outing nevertheless. I can see now the only way to really see the Tuscan countryside is to rent a car and wander the back-roads yourself. Maybe next time. Me? I was just happy to finally have some blue skies.
And on that happy note, feel free to leave Blogography and enjoy the rest of your day. HOWEVER, if you feel like listening to me bitch about why organized tours suck ass... then feel free to keep reading in an extended entry...
Wouldn't you know it. Now that I am leaving Tuscany, the sun is out once again, providing cloudless blue skies as the train pulls into Venice. Not that I am complaining, mind you, but I would have traded just about any day on my vacation for this kind of weather while I was wandering about the Tuscan countryside.
Oh well. Venice is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and having sunshine and blue skies can only accentuate the amazing sites the city has to offer...
One of the things I love most about Venice are the details. Everywhere you look, there are little artistic touches that grace doors, walls, fountains, and everyday objects that make you really appreciate what a very special place this is.
Just a couple of cool things I noticed this morning...
How cool would it be to take a hundred of these photos and create a scavenger hunt through the streets of Venice? Given the maze-like nature of the city, it could be a very difficult game indeed.
After the perfectly clear skies yesterday, awaking to a dreary, cold, and overcast day was quite a shock. The weather took a complete 360 overnight, which kind of sucks ass.
The day started at the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) while the queue was short. In the early days of Venice, this was the "Palace of Justice" and home to the city government. It was made to show off the wealth and splendor of the Venetian Republic, and does so exceedingly well. You can't take photos inside but, even if you could, it would be difficult to capture the immense size and lush visuals each room presents. All I could manage was a picture of the courtyard...
I should have gone to the top of St. Mark's Campanile yesterday when the sky was blue, but oh well. Even cloudy, it's still a heck of a view over the city...
The weather wasn't improving, so I took a "vaparetto" (water bus) to the small island of Murano off the northern coast of Venice. Murano is famous for glassworks, and there are a number of working factories and showrooms you can tour. As a huge fan of glass maestro Dale Chihuly, I could not resist.
Sadly, much of the stuff I would actually buy is way, way out of my price range. Even if I could afford it, getting it back home in one piece would be tricky. Still, it's fun to watch (I especially like this guy's "inspiration" he's got hanging on the wall there)...
Murano itself is kind of like a miniature version of Venice, with its own system of canals and bridges. Had the sun been out, it might even be considered "charming"...
With the weather holding firm, I decided to look for some indoor activities in the Dorsoduro area. There are two notable galleries here, the first of which is the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art. It's quite a nice collection, and includes many famous artists like Picasso, Pollock (whom she discovered), Miro, Kandinsky, and some terrific Mondrians. Just across the next canal is the Accademia Museum, which houses the largest collection of Venetian art in the world. It's pretty sweet, but most of these religious-themed paintings are starting to all look alike to me. After seeing your hundredth version of St. Sebastian being martyred and your millionth version of Mary holding baby Jesus... well, even the different artistic interpretations aren't enough to keep things interesting.
As the day was ending, the weather was actually starting to clear up a bit. I can only hope that this means Venice is in for a better day tomorrow.
When I woke up I could hear the rain before I even looked out the window. I guess this only goes to prove that things can always get worse. So now instead of being merely overcast and cool, it's cloudy, cold, and wet. I didn't think it was possible to be depressed in Venice, but here it is.
My first instinct was to just lay around in bed all day, but that seems a terrible waste, so I decided to walk over to the beautiful Santa Maria della Salute, which is one of Venice's most historic churches...
With the rain letting up a little bit, I decided to schlep towards the northern part of the city so I could visit the Ca' d'Oro museum. Along the way, I happened upon the "Bridge of Sighs" which is an ornate covered bridge where prisoners were marched across to face torture and possibly death after their sentencing at the Palazzo Ducale...
The Ca' d'Oro ("House of Gold") got its name because the facade was once gilded in gold. Now it's a museum and the gold has long since weathered away. The works are pretty much more of the same, but there's a few gems that made the trip worthwhile. Out on the loggia, you can look out over the Grand Canal along with the tiny guardian lions there...
Not exactly the way I pictured my last day in Venice, but it's what I got. Tomorrow it's five hours on a train and back to Rome. Until then, it's one last walk along the Grand Canal at night...
Left a cold and wet Venice only to arrive in a warmer, yet far wetter Rome.
This is making me really, really thankful that I had spots of fantastic weather when I did. If the entire vacation had been under this weather, I would be really depressed. As it is, I'm more sad about it coming to an end than I am over the weather. After five hours on a train, all I had the energy for was to walk to the Hard Rock for dinner, then drag my soggy ass back to the hotel. After a few hours out in the rain, I'm really ready for bed.
But I can't go to bed, because I've got five days of blog entries to upload.
I haven't decided what I'm going to do tomorrow. I'm sure it will involve being wet.
Two big releases happened whilst I was in the northern environs of Italia... first, Depeche Mode's latest album, Playing the Angel hit on Tuesday. Next, Apple released some new computers and an utterly brilliant piece of software called Aperture on Wednesday.
Sadly, Depeche Mode's latest was a bit of a disappointment after the initial beauty of the single release Precious (not to mention the long, long wait since the last album). I like half the tracks well enough... but it seems more of an experiment than a refined work. Dave Gahan's voice is amazing as always, it's the musical accompaniment that's lacking. I don't know if Martin Gore is in a phase where everything has to be disjointed, raw, gritty, and stuck in a feedback loop... but it does not "feel" like a Depeche Mode album, and that's a bitter pill to swallow after the long months of anticipation. Some pretty major DM fans are referring to it as "noise" instead of music. While I wouldn't go that far, I can definitely see where they're coming from.
Apple Computer's Aperture, on the other hand, is an absolutely astounding software release that is going to entirely change how I work with digital photos. I cannot wait to get my hands on it, and will probably never shoot in JPEG mode again. If you're a professional photographer, here's a link you really need to follow.
Time for bed.
The weather wasn't bad in Rome this morning, but forecasts showed it to be getting worse as the day goes one, culminating in rain showers. I was going to spend the day wandering through churches and museums I hadn't visited yet... but, at the last minute, decided to head back up north to Pisa where it was only partly cloudy. I figured I might as well see the "Leaning Tower" before it falls over.
Unfortunately, the wait to be able to climb to the top was 4 hours... which I didn't have time for... but the thing looks scary enough that perhaps it was for the best? It's not just leaning, it's really leaning (and even this photo doesn't do it justice because of the curvature of my wide-angle lens!)...
The Tower is interesting and all, but the Duomo that sits next to it is amazing...
Heading back to Rome, the rain was only a sprinkle. After a last walk around the Colosseum and along The Forum, the rain had stopped completely.
Around the dinner hour, I found myself at The Pantheon and ended up having a perfect plate of spaghetti with a view from my table to die for...
As if that wasn't enough, dinner music was provided by (I shit you not) the Hare Krishnas, who totally rocked the house...
And so ends my last night in Italy.
Oh goody... I am back in Seattle now. Barely. And sans luggage. This was not a pleasant trip home, and I'll give all the gory details about the non-stop stupidity that deposited me here tomorrow. Right now, I have to take a three hour nap so I can go back to the airport and get my bag off the next flight (at least I hope so). This is exactly what you want to do after traveling for 22 hours.
I have to wonder exactly what a person's breaking point is when it comes to being screwed over.
Today they're called "flight attendants," but if you take a ride on the Wayback Machine, they were called "stewardesses." A while ago, I read an interesting interview with one of the first stewardesses who was asked about flying now vs. flying back then. She lamented that flying back when she was working was so much more special. People dressed up in their finest clothes and were on their best behavior instead of showing up in sweatpants and being rude and demanding. People considered the flight an adventure instead of an annoyance. People thought of the flight as part of their vacation, not just a means to get to their vacation. She thought that flying had become so commonplace that people were apathetic towards it and that it has ruined the experience.
She is, of course, completely full of shit.
What's ruined the experience of flying is how the airlines started treating their customers like cattle and abusing them at every turn. What she is bitching about is, in reality, how people have reacted to how they're treated.
As for me, I'm ready to start showing up at the airport drunk and in my underwear.
My flight out of Rome yesterday was delayed 35 minutes because the inbound flight was late. They ended up "making up the time in the air"* and landed as scheduled at 1:00. So far so good.
But here's the problem... MY CONNECTING FLIGHT OUT OF AMSTERDAM HAD ALREADY BEEN BOARDING FOR 25 F#@%ING MINUTES! On my way over I had a FIVE HOUR layover, on the way back I had NEGATIVE 25 MINUTES layover. Who is the idiot who schedules this crap?
And that's just the beginning. My Northwest Airlines flight over the Atlantic went like this...
And we won't even get into the stupid crap on the connection flight to Seattle once I connected in Minneapolis. I am beginning to wonder if I would have been smarter to PAY for my flight on a competing airline rather than use frequent flier milage to get a FREE flight on Northwest. Seriously, just how much worse can it get?
Since they're in bankruptcy now, I'm guessing the answer would be "a lot worse."
I think I am past my breaking point right now, and this was on a flight I didn't even pay for.
* When airlines say that they are going to "make time up in the air" I think we all know that this is a load of horse shit. Airlines heavily... HEAVILY pad their schedules so that they can still claim a high "on-time arrival rate" despite their constant late departures. For example, the flight I took (#45 out of Amsterdam to Minneapolis) which leaves at 2:05pm and arrives at 4:05pm is being discontinued at the end up the month. It is being replaced with a NEW flight #45 which takes off at 2:05pm but is now arriving at 4:25pm. Twenty minutes of additional slop time to make up for even later departures, I guess. I'm sure they'll claim it's some kind of annual change in weather patterns, but it's all crap no matter how you try to sell it. The simple fact is that planes DO NOT take off on time with any regularity, yet somehow end up LANDING on time?? I wish the FAA would get off their asses and start requiring honesty in airline schedules. But that would mean that they actually have to do some work, and what government agency is interested in actually working for the people they are paid to be serving? Dumbasses.
Those who effect positive change in a negative world full of hate and violence have my upmost admiration and respect. That pretty much sums up Rosa Parks for me.
But I never really understood that until a few years ago.
I've always known what Rosa Parks had done... she refused to give up her seat to a white man, was arrested because of it, and is credited with being the founder of the Civil Rights Movement... that's taught in school and is an ingrained part of American culture. But it wasn't until 2002 that I found out she was so much more than just an act of defiance. That's when CBS television aired The Rosa Parks Story.
And the strange thing was that I didn't tune in because I was wanting to know more about Rosa Parks, I tuned in because the movie starred Angela Bassett, of which I am a huge, huge fan.
But Angela Bassett, despite her incredible performance, turned out to be the least important part of the film. Rosa Park's story was amazing enough all on its own...
After seeing the film, I became obsessed with her. I read her book, tracked down interviews, and started reading books about the Civil Rights Movement. She was a fascinating piece of history, a living legend, and was made even more so because she never set out to be the icon she eventually became.
Most people have the idea that Miss Parks was just tired from work one day, and made the snap decision to be stubborn when told to give up her seat. It didn't really work like that. Yes she was tired from work, but not so much so that she wouldn't have given up her seat to somebody who was handicapped, pregnant, elderly, or whatever... she was tired of the treatment she had to endure on a daily basis, and that's what motivated her to defy a horrible law which defined her as less than a person because of the color of her skin. This was the culmination of years of systematic abuse... not some wacky stunt because she had a hard day at work. It always infuriates me when people diminish what happened because they think she was "too tired to know any better" or thought she had PMS or some other excuse that explains away her behavior that day. Make no mistake, Miss Parks knew full well the consequences of her actions, and deserves to be called a hero for standing up for equal rights under the law.
It just so happens that "standing up" meant sitting down this time.
The Rosa Parks Story is available on DVD, and well worth a rental at your local video store. Her book, Quiet Strength is also worth a read, and could quite possibly make you take a new look at the world around you, much as it did me. If you want to read something right now, Scholastic has a site available for their children's book My Story, by Rosa Parks which is terrific, and they also have a really good interview online (even though it's written for kids, it's still great stuff).
Rest in peace Miss Parks... and thank you for being one of those rare persons effecting positive change in a negative world, and making things better for all of us because of it.
I've recently started drinking Kool-Aid again.
No, I have no idea why. I haven't drunk it since I was a kid and yet, as I was walking by the Kool-Aid aisle in the store, I had the sudden urge to buy some. And not the pre-mixed crap either... the real Kool-Aid in little packets that requires you to add your own sugar in huge amounts. Sadly, some of the standard flavors I used to enjoy have been replaced with strange new varieties, but they're still ever so yummy.
Which is not surprising. I mean, Kool-Aid consists of is a cup of sugar that has been chemically flavored... what's not to love about that? The only thing that frightens me is not tooth decay or a shorter life expectancy, but the Kool-Aid Man...
Crazy bastard. He always shows up and starts busting through walls and stuff so he can terrorize kids and feed their hyperactive young bodies a crap-load of sugar. But he's a man(?) with a mission, so you've gotta respect that.
But now we have an all new Kool-Aid Man...
What the f#@% is THAT?!? In an attempt to make Kool-Aid Man "cool" they've given him a Hawaiian shirt, hip purple tennis-shoes, and pants. PANTS?!? Kool-Aid man doesn't have PANTS! This is just sick. If Kool-Aid Man wears pants, that means that Kool-Aid Man is packin'.
Kool-Aid Man now has a penis.
I can only assume it's made of glass like the rest of him. Going to the bathroom must be a very delicate and dangerous process... and I don't even want to speculate about Kool-Aid Man gettin' busy with it.
Who are the sick and twisted dumbasses that would give Kool-Aid Man a penis? He used to be a glass picture of Kool-Aid with arms and legs... I have no idea what he is supposed to be now. Is he some kind of mutant? Was a man somehow combined with a picture of Kool-Aid in a freak nuclear accident or something?
This is highly disturbing.
Oh well. All I can say is that if new scary-ass Kool-Aid Man crashes through my wall, he's getting a kick in his glass testicles. Call me a pussy if you like, but I don't think the manly rules of engagement apply in a situation like this.
Anxious to have a post about Kool-Aid Man's penis no longer be the first entry on my blog, I am picking up Kevin's Halloween Meme (oooh... say that out loud... "Halloween Meme" and then follow it with an evil "Bwaaah ha ha haaaaahhh!").
Sorry Kevin, but you missed the perfect name for this one: Hallowmeme! Get it?! Ha ha ha! I kill me!
Anyway, I like Halloween well enough, but it has not always turned out to be the best night of the year for me. Something unexpected (and not in a good way) always seems to happen. I guess that's why this year I'll be hidden away in my apartment catching up on television shows I missed from my recent travels instead of heading out to a party or something.
Lovely. Now the entire internet knows that I like to dress up as Wonder Woman... ahem, I mean that I once dressed up as Wonder Woman for a costume party JUST ONCE and I didn't enjoy it at all. No sir, not one bit... with my sexy satin hot pants, my shiny bustier, and my kicky tiara and golden lasso... nuh uh... nope, that was no fun at all. Hated every minute of it.
But I must say, my ass was looking mighty fine in those pants!
Thanks a lot Kevin. I'm sure I've just added a few more gay percentage points to my profile because of this. What am I now... 25%? I dunno, 25% to 28%... somewhere in there I think? Damn those satin hot pants and my fine-looking ass!
Returning home from back-to-back travels is never a good thing. Not only has work piled up while you were gone, but your TiVo ends up so packed with television shows to watch that you have to wonder if you will ever manage to work your way free.
Fortunately, there are only two shows I can't live without, and all the rest I am pretty much skimming through, so it's not as bad as it could be. Good thing, because I don't have the time for television right now...
Sigh. When a television genius like Joss Whedon says that Veronica Mars is the best TV show ever you would think that people would want to watch it. The fact that this is a true statement makes you think that people would be dying to watch it. Every episode is so tightly written and so brilliantly acted that the show seems to redeem television all on its own. Sadly, despite all of this (or, knowing American viewing habits, IN spite of this), the show will be lucky to last out its second season.
What is wrong with you people?
Last season was excellent from start to finish, and the last few episodes had jaw-dropping moments so profound that I wanted to have Rob Thomas' baby (he's the guy who created the show). This year, Veronica has shown no signs of slowing down and the episodes have been as amazing as ever. If you think this is just another high school angst crapfest, you couldn't be more wrong. It's a brilliant detective drama/comedy that's the one of the most clever and intelligent series ever to air on network television. It's only been five episodes and already we've had a tragic bus crash, a cameo appearance by Kevin Smith, Charisma Carpenter in a bikini, Steve Guttenberg, and Veronica is being her usual self... destroying powerful people and solving mysteries that Jessica Fletcher wouldn't have the balls to face. If you are missing Veronica Mars, you are missing life. The first season is out on DVD now, so there are no excuses.
Speaking of Kevin Smith, he's got a blog running for the filming of Clerks 2 and a spoiler images he's provided shows that one of the funniest people on the planet, Wanda Sykes, will be making an appearance. This woman is so funny that I actually sat through the movie Monster-in-Law (starring, heaven help us, Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez) because Sykes was in it. I am trying really, really hard not to get overly-psyched for Clerks 2, but I absolutely cannot wait to see what crazy stuff Smith is going to do with the "Jersey Trilogy" this time.
After Veronica Mars, the best show going has to be Grey's Anatomy (Sundays at 10pm, ABC). The medical drama part is better than ER, the comedy part is sheer writing genius, the eye candy is sweet (in the form of Katherine Heigl and Sandra Oh), and it has my favorite character on television (George). This show could have failed so easily because the dialogue doesn't really impress on the page, but the cast somehow makes every line sparkle. Who could guess that a simple exchange like this could be the funniest thing on television all week...
Izzy: "Way to go George!"
George: "I have my finger in a heart."
Izzy: "Very cool!"
It's just so flat when you see it in print, but when performed by Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight it totally kills. I have no idea how they can keep things going so well for more than a couple of seasons, but I sure hope they manage it. Veronica doesn't have the ratings (a scary 2.5) to run much longer, but Grey's is a hit (a stellar 12.2) and can have a nice long run if they keep things interesting enough.
And speaking of stellar, Mr. Sulu has just come out of the closet and announced he's gay. Well, not really Mr. Sulu... he's married and has a daughter just out of Starfleet Academy... but the guy who plays him, George Takei. This got me to wondering why we haven't yet seen a gay character in Star Trek. I mean, in the Star Trek future everybody is supposed to be so advanced and tolerant of alternative lifestyles (you'd have to be with aliens walking around), yet it seems that anything not hetero has been jettisoned into space. It's all kind of bizarre when you stop and think about it. For the next Star Trek series, why not toss in a couple of hot alien lesbians and see if that affects ratings any. Nothing makes a sci-fi geek happier than hot alien lesbians.
And, since there is no better way to end a post than by talking about hot alien lesbians, I guess there's no point blathering on any further.
Watching A History of Violence is an exercise in patience that is rewarded with some terrific performances. Surprisingly, a big part of that is unexpected talent from Lord of the Rings vet Viggo Mortensen. I've seen him in miscellaneous movies, but usually in throw-away roles requiring zero acting ability. This time around he turns in a carefully crafted performance of measured subtlety that salvages an otherwise predictable film.
Oh yeah... there's also nifty left-field roles for Ed Harris (spooky!) and William Hurt (12 shades of crazy!).
As the title suggests, there are moments of gross-out violence that are only partially gratuitous. I suppose you could argue they are necessary to put the characters into context, but I'm not quite convinced. I thought the movie Crash had more to say, but A History of Violence is still noteworthy. The story revolves around an apparently meek and mild diner owner who has a shocking and violent run-in with armed robbers. Once he becomes a local hero things start to escalate out of control. The plot-holes and completely unrealistic ending aside, it's worth a look when it hits video.
Speaking of violence... people who can't shut the f#@% up during a movie shouldn't go to movies in the first place. One of these days I'm going to be sitting in front of a rude talker and they're going to end up DEAD DEAD DEAD!! If I would have killed the dumbass, I wonder if he could appreciate the irony of dying during a film with "violence" in the title? I sincerely doubt it.
I've been watching the Frappr (Friend Mapper) project with interest. It's a little raw around the edges, but there are some bloggers having a lot of fun with it (like Belinda over at Ninja Poodles), so I decided to start one so I can see where everybody comes from.
Just click here to visit the Blogography Map and add yourself! Feel free to list your blog or web site URL in your comments so that people can come visit you.
After that, you can browse the map (zooming in and out as needed) to see everybody's pins and then click on them to get details. Or you can click on a person's name in the list and be taking instantly to their pin and see where they are at in the world. Pretty nifty...
I was hoping to create Frappr maps to mark my travels, but there doesn't seem to be a way to create a "closed" map which allows only the administrator to add pins. I'll have to study the specs for Google Maps API so I can see what's involved with making one on my own.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I really must be getting back to catching up on my TiVo watching. A moment I have been dreaming of since the very first episode of The West Wing has finally come to pass: Toby's stupid, arrogant ass just got fired... I can't wait to see what else happened in the world of television while I was away.
I don't know why, but I always expect that holidays will somehow be special for me. Things that usually go wrong will go right. Problems will somehow solve themselves. Big piles of money will fall from the sky. Stuff like that.
It never happens, of course, but it doesn't hurt to hope.
Today being Halloween, my hopes were running high. This is a fun holiday, so there was no reason to expect anything except a Big Day of Fun. But then I woke up and saw this...
... and knew that today was going to suck just as bad as every other day. Bad enough that the electricity kept going off and on all night, but the back-up battery in my alarm clock was dead too. Oh well. The good news is that I didn't get any trick-or-treaters tonight, so now I can eat all the Halloween candy myself. That kicks ass!
Thanks to everybody who has been adding themselves to my Blogography Reader's Map. I get a couple thousand unique visitors every day, and it's kind of cool seeing who you are and where y'all come from.
And now I'm off to pack my suitcase...
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