Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chris is a Flight Genius, or, On Saving 69 cents.

For those of you who didn't know, I'm in Africa. And I'm pissed, because Toto has had me so excited for years about the Africa. There haven't been any rains here. What a waste of a trip. Anyway, I'll try to post some updates of what we've actually done while here, but the only time I've had to actually write was while on the plane over here a week ago. And without further ado:

Far and away this has been the most difficult trip I've ever been on. It started out with my roommate not having a single item in his suitcase 15 minutes before we had planned to leave for the airport. Well, I suppose it really started for him when it took me 10 minutes to buy my plane ticket, and since I'd just bought a ticket it increased the price for his flight – which he was not able to change after more than an hour on the phone. (The fare came back down later that day). At the airport, it continued with the plane taking us to DC having a mechanical failure. After waiting in the long line, we spoke with the gate agent who rebooked us. Now we were to be routed through London and would not arrive until more than 12 hours after planned in Cape Town. At this point I was fairly content to sit and read my novel, but Chris whipped out his trusty iTouch and, exploring options on, found what he thought to be a superior option. The gate agent told him that particular flight was not available. Chris, however, was not to be so easily deterred. After finding another flight, through Chicago and Amsterdam, he thought it worth another shot – but I had to go bug the agent this time. Knowing I had to spend the next 6 weeks in pretty close quarters with Chris, I thought it best to humor him, though I had little hope.

To my chagrin, it worked. Chris approached the counter, looked at me and said, “I am a flight genius.” I was forced to agree. If the whole psychiatry gig doesn't work out, he should totally just work for people. The connections worked, and we were booked for Amsterdam to get to Capetown at about our original destination. This was great, because the hostel we'd arranged for that night (from the airport – late, admittedly, but still) had required a 10% deposit. It came to USD 1.38. Split between us, that is 69 cents each.

While we did have to see the gate agent in Chicago because Chris didn't get all the right papers from the Columbus agent, we had a nice little flight to Amsterdam. Our connection time was short, and so we quickly printed out our boarding passes for the Cape Town flight from a self-serve kiosk. Since I'm a good person, and karma is real, mine printed without a hitch. Chris's, on the other hand, said that he had to see a gate agent. You can draw your own karmic conclusions. Now we had a new problem, though. Finding an agent. It took us at least 10 minutes to find where the gate agents were. Probably because they were not at the gate, like you might expect. There wasn't even an agent in the same terminal. Turns out that since they wear such nice periwinkle uniforms, they like to cluster the gate agents together. Gives them more of an effect, I suppose.

After watching the agent work on a computer with two different phones glued to her ears for at least 15 minutes, it became clear we were not going to make our flight. Since we don't have phones or any real plans in S. Africa yet, we elected to stay together and started discussing what two things we could do in our 24 hour layover in Amsterdam. (Incidentally, do vacation rules apply in Amsterdam? Or do their lack of rules negate the traveling rule of acceptable rule-breaking?) After our original boarding time had passed, the agent suddenly printed out two boarding passes and said, “Run to your gate.” Obedient young men that we are, we double-timed it across two terminals only to be asked by the security guard, “Why are you so late? Everyone is waiting for you two!”

Not everyone appreciates what a flight genius Chris is, evidently.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Folgers and the Sacrament Cup Redux, or, What I Did Last Saturday, or, Omphaloskepsis

Last Saturday was our ward talent show. This is what I did. You may remember it from here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Depressing Realization of the Time Period, or, Why I Hate William Harvey

Some people dream of awesome things, like flying or interacting with beautiful people. Some dream about crazy things, like teeth falling out. Some dream about high-school puppy love but wake-up screaming curses (my sister is awesome).

Not me. I'm old and boring.

I dreamed last night about preparing my presentation and powerpoint slides for a conference six weeks away. The dream was detailed - I remember typing out the bullets. In an outline format. I even remember what those bullet points were.

My life is average.

Best TV Intros of the Time Period, or, I Have Too Much Time On My Hands

First impressions and introductions are funny things. We judge people by them, and ignore later contrary evidence. Of course, this isn't just with people. We judge albums by their cover-art. I remember not buying the first book in a series for several years because the cover was too dorky looking. It later turned out to be my favorite book saga to date.

TV is no different really. Some shows have awesome intros, some have crappy ones. Think of that happy, care-free tune during the intro to The Office. You can hear it now, and if you’re like me, you are starting to laugh a little. I think I have been classically conditioned to expect funniness is coming when I hear that ditty. (We won’t speak of the past season or two).

Other intros channel awe, or wonder. Think of the LOST intro. That ethereal sound as the word spins across the screen combined with the narrow depth of field giving a blurry focus to it and the lack of anything else just seems to add to the questions surrounding the show.

Or there’s this intro, for Dexter, a show about your everyday-average-likeable-serial-killer-next-door. Somehow this just hits the spot between creepy and relatable.

My personal favorite introduction comes from a show that I actually do not enjoy all that much anymore, Rescue Me. But the music, the lighting, and the speed just work so well that it becomes, well, incredible.

However, the award for Best TV Show Intro has got to go to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The beautiful pastoral scene with its accompanying relaxing and melodious music makes one think of a hypnotist at work, and forms a stark contrast to the insanity of the show’s characters.

Of course, I have neglected many other great TV intros. What are some of your favorites?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Best of the Year (Part Whatever), or Books of 2009

Unlike last year, which was filled with tons of great new books, this year was a mediocre one for reading. At least for reading for enjoyment. I read about half as many books this year, too. However, there are a few that I read that were quite notable:

1. The Gathering Storm, Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson.

This was a relief. This is the 12th book in a series I started in 4th grade. The author died of a type of blood cancer a few years ago, and fans despaired of ever seeing the end. Brandon Sanderson was brought on board, and then the worry became how he could ever take over the reins of such a massive project. Well, he not only took the reins, he whipped the horses into a gallop. It was a great book, and made me very excited for the next two volumes.

2. The Perfect Mile, Neal Bascomb. A prize-winning book, this told the story of not only Bannister’s 4-min mile, but also of the other athletes at the time who were chasing the records and the amazing show-down race that occurred between them shortly thereafter. Tightly written and fun, unlike many history books, this book also captured the excitement of track racing quite well.

3. Born to Run, Chris McDougall.

As many of you know, I have started doing a fair amount of my running barefoot. I came across this book late in my research on unshod running, but it is a very fun and interesting read that does a good job of not only telling the important anthropologic story of the Tara Humara Native Americans, it also presents some of the research that has been done on footwear.

4. Cat’s Cradle, Vonnegut.

My friend Mark recommended this to me, but warned me that everything Vonnegut wrote related to how messed up living through the firebombing of Dresden had made him. The book was fantastic, but definitely endorsed a bleak/nihilistic outlook on life. It is told with the frame of a made-up, ultimately pointless religion called Bokononism. Below is a quote from the last chapter.

“’Maturity, the way I understand it,’ he told me, ‘is knowing what your limitations are.’ / He wasn’t far from Bokonon in defining maturity. Maturity,’ Bokonon tells us, ‘is a bitter disappointment for which no remedy exists, unless laughter can be said to remedy anything.’”

5. The Alchemist, Coelho

This was an interesting little metaphysical piece that explores the idea of growth through adversity. It endorses a type of foreordination that seems popular – if you are determined to accomplish something, all of the universe will bend to try and help you accomplish it. I read it immediately after reading Cat’s Cradle, and to say it was jarring is an understatement.

6. Pride & Prejudice, Austen

Although I’ve been through her home/museum, this was my first introduction to Austen. I found it intriguing, and disappointing. Let me first say this. Elizabeth Bennet kicks some serious ass. I was so impressed with this novel from a feminist perspective. Written in the early 19th C, this strong female protagonist with very clear individualistic ideas and actions was interesting. I was, however, very disappointed in Mr. Darcy and the “romance” that developed. He seemed a flat character, and I was confused as to the passion that developed between these two characters. But maybe I’m just bitter.

7. When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris

Actually, I did the right thing and let David Sedaris read this book to me. He is hilarious. I do, however, take some serious issue with the Sedaris family point-of-view on the bowtie.

8. Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie

Abercrombie really loves dark, flawed characters. The development he takes them through somewhat reminds me of Ludlum’s Jason Borne (the book is far better than the excellent movie, by the way).

9. Once A Runner
, John L Parker, Jr

If only I could run two miles, every day. Every day. And grow a beard. Or read an hour a day.

I read a handful of others, but these were the best. As you can see, it’s mostly a list of running books and fantasy novels, but I promise I like to read other things too. If you have any comments or recommendations, I would love to hear them.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bad Omens, or, Screwed by Genetics

My brother is not only far better looking than I am, he's also a much better person. And look what happened to his boys.

Christmas Eve, 2009

I think this is a sign that I should either not have children myself, or never, ever, ever, under any circumstance, allow him to interact with my children at all.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Movies of the Year, or, Look, A Bandwagon!

I guess I’ll jump on the bandwagon and do a “Movies of the Year” post. Having not seen as many films this year, though, compared to previous years, this is going to be a weak list.

Favorite Films of the Year:
Fantastic Mr. Fox – Holy smokes. Wes Anderson is a slugger.
Zombieland – Woody Harrelson was born to play this role. And the cameo at the end is genius.
Avatar – I don’t care that it’s the same as Pocahontas or Dances With Wolves.
Up – Pixar did it again. Not as awesome as Ratatouille, but definitely in their top 3.
Dear Zachary, - The most raw and emotional film I can imagine. And it’s a true story.
I Love You, Man - Anwar Sudat will never be just a Nobel Peace Prize winner again.

Somehow missed, and plan to repent:
District 9
The Watchmen
The Informant!
The Princess and the Frog
The Road
Sin Nombre
Up In The Air
Where the Wild Things Are
Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs
Crazy Heart
In The Loop
An Education
I can’t decide if Inglorious Basterds belongs on this list.

Movies Redeemed by Outside Forces:
Terminator: Salvation (Turn off your phone!)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Recovery From Bitterness, or, Liberal Memes

When people actually choose to work together, the results can be amazing.