Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Well, our trip to Tallinn was
fantastic, and a lot more Hanseatic than Lager-Loutish. This week I'll
write a series of posts about the trip; it's too much for just a single
We got up bright and early (4:15am taxi arrival) to catch our 6:45
flight from "London" Stansted airport to Tallinn. A relatively painless
2.5 hour flight and a short taxi ride (apparently we were overcharged,
paying 130 Estonian kroons for a ride from the airport to the old town.
But as the total fare came to less than £6, we can hardly complain)
later, we were at our hotel. The Meriton Old Town Hotel
is built into the old city walls at the northernmost tip of the old
town, and was a welcome sight indeed as we were desperate for a nap.
Our hotel, the Meriton Old Town Hotel, viewed from above
A few z's later we were ready to hit the old town. And what better than Oleviste Kirik
(St. Olaf's church)? I should have paid more attention to the guidebook
which pointed out that it was once considered the tallest building in
Europe (until the Eiffel Tower was built), but no. In our still
slightly-befuddled post-nap state, we wandered in and paid a nominal
fee which we thought was an admission charge. It was indeed an
admission charge, but to the tower rather than the church itself (free,
donations encouraged). OK, we thought (and said), a few stairs aren't
so bad. Stairs, stairs, stairs. Many narrow, medieval stairs later we
finally reached the summit: a rather narrow viewing platform that gave
impressive views of the city, and especially the old town. Did I
mention it was a nice, warm day? So we stood up there sweating and
panting (or at least I did), admiring the view (the picture of our
hotel above was taken from the platform) and steeling ourselves for the
trip down (always fun to try to pass someone in such a narrow passage).
Tallinn's old town, viewed from the tower
A view of the ferry port on the Baltic Sea. Our hotel room was the closest we got to the harbor.
Mrs. Dunce, who did not jump.
(Very soon there will be a full photo gallery at our photo site).
After such an effort we wandered down to the town square where lo and
behold we found ourselves outside a fine establishment with the curious
(Estonian?) name of Beer House.
Tallinn's only microbrewery (or so they say), but if you wander inside
it's anything but micro. A cavernous beer hall, with the classiest of
German beer drinking songs ringing out, and a few grizzled locals
propping up the bar (come to think of it, they looked rather English).
Loads and loads of outdoor seating, so we found ourselves a nice spot,
a couple of frosty mugs, some fried cheese, and the first of many
herring-based snacks (herring, potatoes, sour cream, onion and dill).
MMMmmmm good. As one is meant to do, we loitered for a while, watching
people pass and trying to guess their nationality (Not easy unless you
hear them speak, and even then it's quite difficult).
And then it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready for dinner.
OK, it was more an excuse to check out the local television channels.
Local? Hardly! There were English channels (BBC), German channels
(we'll come back to the German TV...), Finnish channels (lots of dubbed
American programs), Estonian channels (more dubbed programs from
various places), a Russian channel (strangely, they seemed to show an
awful lot of Mexican soap operas dubbed into Russian). But before we
knew it, it was dinner time and perhaps the highlight of the whole trip.
How touristy can you get? How about a restaurant with a medieval theme? Sure thing, that's where we were headed, to the Olde Hansa. A restaurant "established
to honour the Hanseatic League... a journey to Tallinn's golden age....
Studying medieval times with the Olde Hansa Guild and the Medieval
Choirs helps us to come into contact with the Hanseatic world of
centuries ago." Yes, indeed, not only of a medieval theme, but
apparantly serving historically accurate medieval victuals (somehow I
think it's not quite the same as the US equivalent).
The place was decorated with medieval-style wall paintings, (almost)
entirely lit with candles, staff were dressed in medieval costume
(tights? check. pointy shoes? check.), and a hip young three-piece band
were playing some swingin' jazz, daddy-o (OK, not really. They were
playing medieval songs on instruments like pipes, drums and the nyckleharpa).
Special dishes are a little heavy on the meaty side (Bear, Marinated in
rare spices and cooked over a fire in honour of Waldemar II, the brave
King of Denmark, EEK 650; Grandmerchant von Wehren's hunting company's
wonderful Rabbit roast; EEK 255), but the bounty of the sea was well
represented as well (dishes for fasting days, of course). We both had
dishes for fasting days (Mrs Dunce a smoke-grilled salmon, and me a
grilled salmon with forest mushrooms, both of which were excellent
indeed). Drinks were also traditional; we enjoyed a couple of "Dark
strong beers with herbs" and a "Light cinnamon beer", served in
medieval-style earthenware tankards. Water glasses were nice too,
slightly irregularly-shaped green glass (We took home a pair of
tankards and a pair of glasses, but don't worry, we paid for them). And
surely that was enough for our first day in town!
Monday, August 22, 2005
Gentle readers, please do not be dismayed at the lack of recent updates. I'm scrambling to get some (non-blog) things written before we depart tomorrow for our summer holiday. I'm hoping our trip is more Hanseatic League and less, errrr, lowbrow. Expect a trip report or three upon our return.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
An awful lot of the blogs I read on a regular or semi-regular basis are on Blogspot (now run by Google). One of them features a "Random blog" link which sends the clicker off to a mystery blog selected (apparently) at random from the whole mess. And mess it is: I followed it a couple of times and was a bit disturbed to find so many "spam blogs" among them.
They're quite easy to spot; their typical content is something like this:
Art And Craft Ideas Corks -
Art And Craft Ideas Corks Your ultimate art and craft ideas corks resource. Craft - Art And Craft Ideas Corks Sponsors Search the Directory: Results For 'art and craft ideas corks' Add Your Site Directory Listings1.Arts and Crafts IdeasRequest your free issue of Creative Home Arts Magazine today. Packed with creative arts and craft ideas, scrapbooking tips and projects from cover to cover. No st..
posted by *****fazscom at 8:46 AM 0 comments
Craft Ideas Corks -
Craft Ideas Corks Your ultimate craft ideas corks resource. Craft - Craft Ideas Corks Sponsors Search the Directory: Results For 'craft ideas corks' Add Your Site Directory Listings1.Craft Ideas - Bargain PricesShop fast. Buy smart. Shopzilla for Craft Ideas at over 50,000 Online Stores. Every product from every store means you get a Bargain Price. Don't just shop, Shopzilla.www.shopzilla.com2.C..
posted by *****fazscom at 8:31 AM 0 comments
Their names often contain random letter stings (e.g. fazscom), and/or product names (e.g. towelsite), and/or numbers, usually have no customization, and the default links still appear:
* Google News
These spamblogs are (I guess) intended to boost Google rankings of their underlying site (see this article for an interesting analysis and comment-discussion), perhaps in a nigritude ultramarine sort of way, or else trick browsers into visiting their site. To a large extent they seem automatically generated (although I guess human intervention is now required in order to create a blog). I wondered how common such blogs are within the Blogspot sphere, so I did a little experiment with the random blog link. I clicked it 100 times to see what came up (discounting any repetitions that occurred, if any). Of course I have no way of knowing that the sample is random, but this gives an impression of the proportion of spamblogs out there.
Of the 100 tests, 39 of them were spamblogs (including the following "themes":
Adult, Ammunition, Australia travel, Belts, Broker Mortgage, Cells, Christian dating, College, Cosmetic x2, Craft, Credit, Diaper, Disease sites, Fashion, Football, Healthcare products, Home Builder, Laser hair removal, Line of credit, Mortgage x2, Notes, Paris travel, Pasadena travel, Plus size, Pottery, Reality TV, Recipe, Sports Supplement, Stock, Tennessee, Tools, Transportation, Used treadmills, plus four miscellaneous junk sites with various content but clearly of a spam blog type).
The 61 "real" blogs were of various quality (including 10 blogs with only a single post more than a month old, but which were noticeably written by humans. Usually to say "Like everyone else I know, I am going to start blogging now, and this is my blog"). But this gives me a rough estimate of the proportion of blogspot blogs that are spammy, call it 40%. Is this a problem? I'm not sure, as the only way I come across them is by the random search, or occasionally they will turn up when I search blogs using Technorati (but it's quite clear that they are spammy; I need not follow a link to "Weight Loss Plans Weight Loss Plans Information About Weight Loss Plans click on this link to discover how good nutrition can help with dieting and weight lossNutrition advice Atkins Diet Best Fat Burners Cabbage Soup Diet Calories Counting Calories Diabetes Diet Diabetic Diet Diet Pills Diet Pill" when I am looking for a [real] blog that discusses "cabbage soup" [I somehow doubt I would take this route, however, with Epicurious just around the corner]). Surely they must be useful in some way to the designers; I'm just not sure how.
Although I didn't spend any time reading the "real" blogs that jumped out at me, I have to mention the blog of celticwanderlust, whose last entry happened to refer to our next holiday destination (just a few days): No, the Germans haven't bombed London again. It's much, much worse. The British have invaded Tallinn!!! Stag parties are terrorising this town, holding it hostage with there need to to be drunk, naked and loud all at the same time! I became used to this when the british invaded dublin (as if 900 years wasn't enough) and destroyed our pub and club culture....
We'll have to see if we manage to avoid the invasion; we're mostly after history and food (and definitely not being simultaneously drunk, naked and loud).
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
The various locations that findyourspot
have generated for various individuals certainly makes me wonder about
issues of payola. What is it that makes Little Rock and Sheboygan
appear on the list of self-proclaimed urban culture buffs in search of
the finer (blue) things in life, but not places like New York City and
Seattle (I do notice with some shame that My Brother The Thief
has managed to cleverly select his answers in a way that brings Seattle
into his list, perhaps just to rub my nose in it). So a few moments to
see just what could be making Little Rock and Sheboygan so desirable
for the Dunce family (and other individuals perhaps of my acguaintancedave), although I should note that Tulsa also came unexpectedly onto the "desirable" list for others (exhibit A, B, C).
First we start with Little Rock,
Arkansas. According to the official website the city motto is "City
Limitless" (a bit of a linguistic abomination, at least according to
the icky feeling in my stomach). Like all other cities in the world,
Little Rock offers "a wealth of unique sightseeing, day trip and tour opportunities", but even beyond the unique is the "one-of-a-kind [attraction] like the new William J. Clinton Presidential Center & Park." Little Rock is also home to the minor league baseball team (sigh!) the Arkansas Travelers
(just to give you an idea, they blew their most recent game because one
of their players forgot to touch third base [this is not a euphemism]).
It's also the headquarters of the Arkansas Cattlemen's Association (get
your Cattlemen's vanity license plate here[PDF]), and has street gangs if we want to join right in (Sensible street gang members, too, as indicated by this quote which led the article linked above: A Little Rock gang member, asked by a judge why he shot two men, had a two-word answer -- "Bad decision.'
That's my sort of gangbanger.). But finally I found the answer, just
what it is that makes Little Rock an ideal hometown. Like the
gangbanger's answer, it comes in two words: books and banjos (conference site). We love books and don't mind the sounds of banjos, so Little Rock could be the home for us.
Now we turn to the puzzling question of Sheboygan. The Chamber of Commerce calls it "a great place to live, raise a family, retire, golf and is a world-class manufacturing community.". The things to see and do
page gives a clear indication of priorities: five entries for "Arts",
six for "Bowling/Billiards". Not wishing to endorse stereotypical views
of Wisconsin in general I should also quote the Chamber of Commerce
site again: "When people think of Sheboygan County, the first things that come to mind are golf and fishing." (apparently good for record-size brown trout, but that has to be a euphemism), It also seems popular for hunting
as well (never mind that there were quiz options related to golf,
hunting and fishing, and I can't see the Dunces [or the otherdave]
being especially positive about any of these). Hate crimes? Check. Meth labs? Check. Porn ring? Ummm, maybe I'd better stop. I think I'd prefer Little Rock.
When I completed the quiz, I went back and did it a second time to see
what my least suitable US locations might be. I did this by answering
the opposite polarity for every question for which I expressed a
preference ("neutral" items remained neutral), and selected the least
desirable option when given choices. I'm sorry to report that the Gulf
Coast featured extremely heavily on my no-go list (Mrs. Dunce's mother
lives in Pensacola, which at least does not appear specifically on the
list). But it makes sense as I am a major whiner when it comes to hot
places, especially when they're also humid.
1. Melbourne FL
2. Fort Myers-Cape Coral FL
3. Mobile AL
4. Biloxi-Gulfport MS
5. Savannah GA
6. Yuma AZ
7. Coral Springs FL
8. Ocala FL
9. Dothan AL
11.Port Arthur TX
13.Delray Beach FL
14.Boca Raton FL
19.St. Petersburg FL
20.Lakeland-Winter Haven FL
21.Corpus Christi TX
Ummmm, looking a little closer it looks like my no-go list is heavily overlapping with the real list of Mrs. My Brother The Thief. Don't worry, I'll still come and visit (perhaps hiding inside air-conditioned buildings).
Monday, August 15, 2005
I'm not usually one to jump on web quizzes, blog memes and the like, but today I came across one that sounded genuinuely interesting and I couldn't resist. It came my way from des petits moments and goes a little something like this.
The site Find Your Spot offers a "relocation quiz" as a hook for their relocation services: We'll
instantly provide you with a tailored list of the best cities and small
towns that fit YOU. Compare the perfect hometowns and undiscovered
havens that match your interests. Dig deeper with colorful reports, job
listings, and more. So how could I not? WARNING You cannot
get your results without registering on their site, so you may wish to
use a less-valuable email address in case they load your inbox with
whose "best" list was heavy on the Carolinas, Tennessucky and Virginia,
my recommended locations are all over the place (rhyme? reason?). Of
course this only includes US cities so it may not be very accurate....
In order of "desirability", here they are.
1. Worcester MA
2. Hartford CT
3. Milwaukee WI
4. Providence RI
5. New Haven CT
6. Boston MA
7. Portland OR
8. Chicago IL
9. San Francisco CA
10.San Jose CA
15.Little Rock AR
16.Baton Rouge LA
17.New Orleans LA
18.Santa Fe NM
20.Las Vegas NV
24.San Diego CA
Although I didn't specify any particular regional preference, the South
(especially the southeast) barely featured on my list (OK, Little Rock
made a token appearance for some odd reason). Looking for rhyme or
reason, obviously my choice for city life and its associated activities
(live music, public transport and the like) skewed the list towards
population centers (but this was not strictly the case: as Sheboygan
doesn't come to [my] mind as a happening urban center). There are quite
a few university towns on the list, but not entirely (Sheboygan? Maybe not the best well-known university around, maybe they should fix their web site). The top three seem to be united in minor-league ice hockey, but the only really reliable indicator seems to be "Red vs. Blue":
considering the 2004 Presidential election returns, in terms of whether
a state voted Republican or Democrat. Of the top 24 locations, only
five were in "red states", and the highest rated of these was Little
Rock at #15 (Before anyone asks, there were not any Bill
Clinton-specific questions on the list).
The biggest mystery is why Sheboygan made the list (there were no questions about bratwurst, and I didn't indicate a desire to retire and/or play golf). I guess I won't be moving to any of these places anytime soon.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
It's all over the news today (or at least
all over the "news"): there is some concern that one of the final four
contestants on the UK's sixth season of Big Brother1 is not really a genuine, ordinary member of the public! As everyone's favorite best-selling newspaper in the UK put it,
Big Brother bosses Endemol have some urgent questions to answer over contestant Makosi Musambasi.
Makosi is revealed to be an actress who won her place on the show with the help of a slick, professional audition video.
That firm is said to have invoiced Endemol for £600. But Endemol deny
payment and say they did not know Makosi was with an agency.
Reality TV is supposed to be about ORDINARY people impressing the producers at auditions to win their chance of fame....
(wonky line breaks and emphasis courtesy of the original article, which
by the way appeared as the main front page article). So let me get this
straight. One of the contestants on this television entertainment
program is revealed to be an actor?! In the strange world of reality
television, that seems as real as you can possibly get, after all,
other housemates from this season have included (from the official Big
Brother site) an "entertainment entrepreneur", model and runner-up as
Miss Northern Ireland (1999), "Promotions Girl", "Most Handsome Man in
Italy" (1996). A plain old wannabe actress is plenty "real" in this
context. Anyway, when did "they" decide that reality television was
supposed to be about the ORDINARY? As far as I know, most ORDINARY
people are not quite so desperate for fame (or at least the low-grade fame that some contestants manage to achieve)
Or maybe I'm just jealous that they didn't want ME to be in ANY OF
their shows. But perhaps that's because I am not ORDINARY but only
1Big Brother is still hugely popular in the UK:
evictions are still decided (mostly) by public vote, daily programs are
quite highly rated, and extensive coverage appears even in the most
legitimate of news sources (Times, Guardian).
EDITED: Quick denial by everyone involved (SOURCE):
"Nothing untoward has gone on and Makosi went through the same audition process as anyone else," a spokesperson for Endemol insisted.
A rep for Envenio admitted that Makosi was on their books after signing up through the company's website but denied that the invoice related to her.
"As far as we know, Makosi is not an actress," Envenio chief executive Paul Booth told the BBC. "She signed up for our new faces section, which is for members of the public who aspire to be involved in the business. She put her details on our website. We emailed Makosi details of the Big Brother auditions, just like we emailed a lot of our members... it is no different to a company walking down the street looking for people....
A statement from Channel 4 read: "Makosi went through the same audition process as every other housemate and was not fast-tracked in any way."
Not that I'm keeping track or anything.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
As a bit of a map obessive I have been a big fan of Google Maps, and especially all the clever ways people have integrated other data into Google maps (e.g. Recent earthquakes, Traffic alerts, Find a taco truck in Seattle). Perhaps my favorite at the moment is the Google Maps Pedometer which uses Google Maps to plot, display, and calculate distances for any routes mapped by Google. The author developed it for running, but it applies just as well to cycling. Here is the route I photographed on my recent blog entry (my usual route, give or take a few back streets where I have choices). The distance is 5.40 miles (OK, perhaps the pedometer gives an excessively precise measure of 5.403858529828216 miles, the last ten or twelve digits of which should be considered highly suspect), almost entirely on side streets and taking somewhere in the vicinity of 22 minutes. Today I took a more direct route, illustrated here. It follows major bus routes until the last quarter mile or so, and is only 5.03 miles (5.032665737759287 if you want to be needlessly precise). You might think it should be faster -- I'm forced to ride at a quicker pace to flow with the traffic, and there's no joy in dawdling. But in fact it's consistently slower: today it took me about 28 minutes despite getting lucky with the traffic lights for the first half of the ride (8 traffic lights, compared to exactly zero in the first half of my preferred choice). The route is more direct and the running pace is quicker, so this is all about stopping and starting. I don't think I'll repeat the heavy-traffic route any time soon.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Once again I've ended up following the fad. Last time it was the novel Trilby, and now I've joined up with the Blackberry users. I didn't mean to, it just sort of happened. Kind of like this....
On Saturday morning I went to our local fruit and veg establishment to pick up a few chili peppers (and perhaps an impulse purchase of some locally-produced snacks of some kind). Having obtained the peppers (hot as blazes, by the way) and aforementioned locally-produced snacks (Japanese-style peanut crackers), I proceeded to the till where I saw another opportunity for impulse purchasing: plastic punnets of blackberries. Why not, I thought to myself, and asked for the price. "One pound" was the answer. A little steep, perhaps, but they looked really tasty, so I started to take one. "No, one pound for all of them." The carton of punnets was full and contained perhaps a dozen of them, each punnet perhaps 250g of the largest blackberries I'd ever seen, perhaps very near their sell-by date but how could I resist several pounds of blackberries for a pound? We sorted them out into "perfect" (say 30% of them), "fine for cooking" (squishy, but fine; perhaps another 60%), and "icky" (moldy or completely squished, the remaining 10%). A sudden influx of ready-to-go-bad fruit calls for desperate measures; fortunately we have several cookbooks by our near-neighbor Nigel Slater who is clearly obsessed with the summer fruits and has published a good number of recipes for the disposal of such. Here's where they went (aside from the sizable proportion that were eaten on their own):
"Perfect" berries went into a little fruit salad with some sliced-up green melon somewhere between a cantaloupe and a honeydew (which by coincidence we had already prepared).
Some of the less-than-perfect berries made their way into corn muffins (made by Mrs. Dunce), modified from a cherry and orange corn muffin recipe (instead of orange juice we used a tropical juice blend which did just fine). I had to chop the blackberries into quarters or sixths (or eighths for the largest of the blackberry gang) but they didn't disintegrate (surprisingly). Mmmmmmmmm.
And finally for Sunday breakfast I prepared a blackberry crumble without the crumble: put the rest of the berries into the bottom of a shallow pan, covered them completely with Greek-style plain yogurt (one of the staple ingredients in our home), then covered the top with a few tablespoons sugar. Popped the whole thing in the oven under a grill set as hot as it would go, and waited for a bit of carmelization. Can I say again, mmmmmmmmmmmm.
And just like that, they were gone (except for the muffins which we are carefully rationing out at a rate of one per person per day). I understand the craze although I couldn't figure out how to check my email (my fingers turned purple trying to compose a message, and I gave up).
Monday, August 08, 2005
Friday evening Mrs. Dunce and I took a little trip to lovely Kensington Olympia for this year's Great British Beer Festival (the largest beer festival in the UK). Friday night is perhaps the worst time to attend such a large festival as it was mobbed (and I mean mobbed) with after-work punters. The queue for entry stretched down the block -- I don't know exactly how far as we swanned in the CAMRA members' entrance1. The festival is set up geographically (but not properly corresponding to British geography), with beers from different regions grouped together (exceptions: "big brewers" were set up right at the front; bottled real ale was available at a separate bar; foreign beers in another; cider and perry in their own section as well [well, all the perry was sold out by the time we got there, as the festival had been going on since Tuesday]. Oh yeah, there was also a separate Wetherspoon bar.). I was rather impressed by the large number of mild ales on offer. It's difficult to get a handle on the hundreds of beers on offer; the question is always where to start. Mrs. Dunce chose to start with the award winners, while I followed a simpler path (targeting beers with "hoppy" in the flavor descriptions, for the most part, or else because the pump clip had a picture of a cute kitty on it2). As I've left our tasting notes at home, I'll save the beer ratings for another entry.
As I mentioned before, Friday night is the worst time to attend as it was unpleasantly crowded, and there were some tendencies for obnoxious people to shove their way to the front of the beer queues (beer is served by a relatively small number of volunteers, not all of whom have an experienced bartender's eye for "who's next"). There were, however, many individuals of the female persuasion present, far more than previous festivals we have attended (the Dunces' first festival as a couple featured what seemed like fewer than ten (10) women and a whole mess of men). Presumably this is a good thing for real ale which is fighting against a bit of a stereotype (beards, sandals, beer bellies): a couple years ago it was all the news that Madonna was a fan of real ale, but additional endorsements from famous women have not exactly been pouring in.
We forgot about the CAMRA members' lounge which offers the opportunity for card-carrying CAMRA members to quaff in the relatively uncrowded company of other sandal-wearing beardies with bellies, which would have allowed us to be a little less distressed by the crowds. There was no shortage of merchandise for sale, but we limited ourselves to a book on pub architecture (and were pleased to note that the Salisbury, the site of our wedding reception, featured quite prominently). OK we also donated a few pounds to the tombola (supporting historic pubs) but won a couple of glasses, a 2003 Good Beer Guide and a couple of badges for our trouble. After a few different beers we decided to leave before the very end (a little after 10pm) and joined a crowded train full of post-festival revelers, heading for home.
1Beer festivals do have a certain importance in the Dunce household. Our first proper date was the Pig's Ear beer festival, and our membership card for the Campaign for Real Ale was the first official document to bear Mrs. Dunce's married name.
2OK, I did pick one beer with a cute kitty on the pump clip, but I had already decided upon it on the basis of its description.
Friday, August 05, 2005
There is no shortage of pseudo-scientific terminology being used in avertisements. My favorite at the moment is the legendary Boswelox (TM)
for which I can do no better than the official statement (taken from
the link above, under the heading "The science behind the scenes"): "Boswelox(TM)
is a breakthrough phyto-complex created by L’Oréal Paris that combines
a power dose of boswellia serrata extract and manganese, which help
reduce the appearance of lines caused by facial micro-contractions.".
I'm not sure what a "power dose" is (concentrate, perhaps?) but
boswellia serrata is also known as frankincense oil. Perhaps it's a
"breakthough" in the phyto-complex (plant-derived compound) world
because no one has thought to combine the two (Your frankincense?! In
my manganese?!). Needless to say Boswelox(TM)
has been trademarked in the UK so don't think of making your own
Boswelox shampoo, perfume, haircare product or essential oil (I am not
a trademark expert but you may be able to get away with Boswelox soup
There is one such term which for some reason irritates me more than the rest, and that is "Absorbubbles", featured in Charmin toilet paper (the storyline of the advertisement linked above goes like this: "A
young bear calls her dad when there is very little toilet paper left
and she badly needs the toilet, however he tells his daughter that
Charmin has Absorbubbles and she does not need to use as much." Thank goodness for the miraculous Absorbubbles (trademarked,
of course). I'm not sure why I'm so bothered about Absorbubbles: maybe
it's the mental image of soap bubbles each with its own tiny payload of
human waste, perhaps it's the awkwardly repeated "b" (four bees in a
word [three pronounced] is a lot, especially since one has been
absorbed by the compounding process), or perhaps it's linguistic in
"Absorbubbles" is a verb-noun compound (the verb comes
first), and in which the noun ("bubble") is the entity which does the
absorbing (i.e. the subject of the sentence depicting what is going on
when an Absorbubble does what it's supposed to do) I'm not going to get
into whether it is an AGENT or not as this is a matter of some debate).
English verb-noun compounds tend to be of another sort; the first ones
that come to my mind are NOUN-VERB(-ER) like "widowmaker", "corkscrew"
(if "screw" is an action [quiet at the back!]). Wikipedia
gives a decent treatment of compounding, giving examples of "browbeat",
"sidestep" and "manhandle", all of which are N-V as well ("Compound
verbs composed of a noun and verb are comparatively rare, and the noun
is generally not the direct object of the verb. In English, compounds
such as *bread-bake or *car-drive do not exist."). I have had a lot
of trouble coming up with examples of true verb-noun compounds in
English, and even more finding instances like "Absorbubbles" where the
noun is the subject of the verb. The Wikipedia article linked above
gives two examples ("call girl" and "playboy", the latter of which is
an instance like "Absorbubbles" where the boy does the playing), but
both of these are ambiguous as both "call" and "play" are syntactically
ambiguous (they could be either a noun or a verb). Examples I've come
up with myself are "jump-rope", "popcorn", "repairman". So they do
exist and don't sound too bad (repeated exposure has a lot to do with
this), but all of the "verbs" involved could instead be nouns, while
this is not the case for "absorb" which does not have a noun homonym.
I'm still looking for an unambiguous verb-noun compound (OK, "bubble"
could also be a verb, but this is unlikely as it's pluralized [No one
is going to convince me that "bubbles" in this sense is a verb, marked
as third person present).
There's also a semantic component to my problems with "Absorbubbles"
which I alluded to before. What do bubbles do? They float, and they
pop. Who thought of putting bubbles on toilet paper, intended to absorb
vile waste, then float away and pop, releasing their contents (most
likely over someone's food). Needless to say I will avoid Absorbubbles
as long as I can.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
After a bicycle detour it's time to return to the West and the Tapestry Goes West festival; today I'll write a little about my impressions of the music (I've copied most of the artists' links from blogjam who has already taken the time to look them up). Here they are in the order in which they appeared (artists I missed aren't listed).
Friday night: We spent most of our time in lawless Silver City, trying to avoid looking high-strung outlaws in the eye. Who wants to be pumped full of lead on the first night of a festival?
Archie Bronson: A good loud rock band with a strong 1970s feel. Entertaining and energetic.
Rod Stern: Solo acoustic guitar stuff. Good, catchy songs, it's a shame about the lame spoken-word stuff. Hmmm where did I hear the same sort of thing before? Yawn, I'm soooooo shocked.
Swearing at Motorists: Playing on Friday in place of the Beat Up who, I guess, didn't show. Oh well. By far the best act I saw at the festival, see my previous entry for more.
Leaf Hound: Talk about 1970s rock, these guys had it in spades. I guess because they're a revived act from the late 60s/early 70s. One song sounded almost exactly like Black Sabbath, the next, Deep Purple, then there was a ZZ Top-ish one and so on. They were good at it but it's not exactly my thing.
Tokyo Dragons: Another act on the nostalgia parade, this time a hard rock sound from a little later in the 70s before all the spandex, glitter and makeup took over. It was all a bit much after Leaf Hound, I can take only so much of the 70s sound before I collapse into the fetal position (the 1970s, though my formative years, were not my best period). There was a lot of talk about whether the Dragons are serious or ironic (c.f. The Darkness) but really, who cares. A lot of people were really into them, and that matters more.
Misty's Big Adventure: We only saw their last couple of songs (in the rain, and the only real time we spent in Fort Smith on Friday) but it was a true spectacle. Goofy Zappa-ish something-or-another but mainly a lot like an insane cartoon soundtrack (their website gives a good impression of this). I can't really give justice to the dancing jester (of sorts) but I wish I'd seen more. There's a video for "Hey Man" on their Myspace blog (go to "view all blog entries").
And that was the music for Friday night. Saturday instead we spent nearly all of the day in Fort Smith (or at least that part of the day when the music was on).
Peter Bruntnell played the first Saturday set in Fort Smith. I've seen him quite a few times, some good acoustic songs (some of which are a little too catchy), but not many people braved the mist for his set.
Salty Dogs (didn't find a link): Some average bluegrass and old-timey standards (Beverly Hillbillies theme, Dueling Banjos, you get the idea), introduced in a slightly over-theatrical manner (a bit too Hee Haw for my liking) and played in a rather workmanlike fashion.
Swearing at Motorists played again after that; we were right down front and it was even better than the previous night, perhaps due to Dave's freakish control over the weather, stopping the rain for just long enough for their set.
We then headed over to Silver City for Circulus. A lot of people really hate them, as they manage to bring together several potential targets of hate into a convenient target: (1) They wear medieval costumes (c.f. renaissance faiyres). (2) They (mostly) play medieval instruments ("There's a reason people don't play those instruments any more"). (3) Their medieval music is fused with prog-rock of the most egregious sort (and it's not hard to find prog-haters). It's sort of like what might happen if a tour bus containing Yes and ELO crashed into the Minstrel's Tent at the Society for Creative Anachronism. But I think they're good fun (live); I'm a bit hesitant about their recorded material, however.
Unfortunately we returned too late to see the Rosinators who are fantastic. I've seen them many times and, I hope, many more. But it was raining fairly hard at this point so I chickened out and joined some of the masses inside the snack bar/bar/meeting hall where a lone (electric) pianist (the piano was electric not the pianist) was playing a little of this and a little of that.
And finally it was Alan Tyler to close the festival with some rocking country songs in the driving rain (or at least heavily blowing mist). Alan hosts the weekly club we attend on a not-quite-so-weekly basis at the moment. If only he'd update that website.
So that was it for the live music. Loads of people braved the rain and mud for the Sin City/Heavy Load nightclub in the campground but not us. We flopped into the tent and were dead to the world until morning. Or at least I was.
Other reviews of the festival can be found at Wendywire and blogjam (in case you're interested in reading reports that are untainted by my biased opinions).
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Today I followed the lead of a fellow London cycle commuter and documented my commute into London. Unlike MJ's rather harrowing commute through heavily trafficked streets (documented here) I have the good fortune of a route that involves almost entirely back streets. There is a (slightly) more direct route but it's one of the busiest roads around, with loads of traffic signals, heavy vehicles, lots of changing lanes and unpredictable drivers (and takes me about five minutes longer in the best of times). It's about 5.5 miles (depending on the exact route).
The first photo is our street; despite the incredible similarity with MJ's street (first photo in the thread linked above) we are separated by a mile or two. It's a fairly quiet residential street with buildings from various periods (on the right is early 20th century; just behind the trees on the left are some alms houses built in 1883). Cars need not be parked facing the direction of traffic.
I have now crossed busy Amhurst Park through a cycle-only entrance (motor traffic is one-way the other way), and am traveling south on the West Bank (on the west side of the railway headed for Liverpool Street). Yes it is a largely Hassidic neighborhood.
There is a small cluster of shops here (mostly kosher) and it's always jammed up with double-parked vehicles, plus plenty of slow and frequently stopping traffic for the many schools in the next couple of blocks. Hidden by the red van are two Hassidic gentlemen who walked out in front of me without looking.
Cutting through more back roads (where motor traffic is blocked) I come to Clissold Park. The main roads adjoining the park are narrow and heavily trafficked, which leads to fairly long tailbacks at the traffic lights. I avoid riding on pavements (sidewalks) so going through the park is the only choice. It's usually very empty during my commuting times so I can cruise through at full speed. There's a nice pond to my left, obscured by the trees.
More back roads on the other side of busy Green Lanes. Here's an instance of a chicane installed in the road for no reason other than to slow down the road traffic. Or more likely, to give speedy drivers some occasions to swerve at speed. Not pictured is the sign which visually illustrates that drivers should yield to oncoming traffic (except that some wag has flipped it upside down, so instead drivers from either side believe they should have the right of way). To the very left of the chicane is a gap through which cyclists can ride, if they don't mind some combination of broken glass and gnarled road surface.
Still more back roads, heading up a slight incline. The lack of traffic isn't just a coincidence; usually the only other drivers on most of this route are taxi drivers (suggesting that my route is a good one).
This is a real irritation most days: a shared-access cycle and pedestrian path along the edge of Highbury Fields. There are parks in both sides so cyclists need to be vigilant not only for pedestrians straying from a straight line, but also for small children, dogs and other park users running from one side to the other. At least today there was a clear path, and the shared section is only a couple hundred yards.
The most harrowing part of my journey and not well depicted in the following picture. This is the traffic roundabout at Highbury Corner; I take a long loop around it in order to go essentially in a straight line. Ah the beauties of London traffic control. There is usually a long line of traffic going to my left; in the photo I have just passed through it and am swinging around to my right. This is a major route (cycle and otherwise) into various parts of central London and as such I am leaving it very soon.
And just like that I leave Upper Street and duck down one of the many side roads. Again only cycles may travel in my direction. Note the split speed humps in the photo, as well as the "bicycle" markings on the road surface, and the nice terraced houses. And most importantly, that there is no traffic once again.
I briefly join up with another very popular cycle route. The green road surface is a dedicated cycle lane, emphasis on "dead". Note the cars parked right up to the edge of the cycle lane (Hello, door!). Also visible up ahead is a traffic island (the blue over yellow marker) which is there to slow down road traffic (it also features a road plateau). Most importantly it's not quite wide enough for a car and bicycle to go through at the same time (almost all cars swerve into the cycle lane to get through), unless the cyclist is keen on swapping a little paint. Fortunately the road plateaus mean that it's possible for a cyclist to travel at the same pace as the car traffic.
Just south of Kings Cross Station, this route avoids heavy traffic for the most part (although it's not often this quiet). I think the jagged paint markings are warning us about the zebra crossing up ahead (the one place where pedestrians have the right of way). This used to be quite a seedy area but has been greatly improved in the past year or two.
Now I join the masses of cyclists heading for the Russell Square area, the West End and all sorts of other popular central destinations. We're just passing into a traffic squeeze zone which mainly serves to trap delivery vehicles and create long traffic backups.
This is a brand new segregated cycle lane (which is gradually being extended westward at the rate of a block every few months). Dedicated traffic signals for cyclists and everything (although it's a real pain when delivery vehicles, ambulances etc. park in it). Unfortunately I'll want to go left in another two blocks, so it's almost not worthwhile to go from left to right for such a short trip.
And here it is, my destination. It's a really beautiful (apparently listed) building from the 1960s. Note the white railings which provide an efficient combination of semi-dry bicycle parking and a free bicycle buffet for local thieves.
My parking place, aka my office. Yes it is as small as it looks. That's my new 42-tooth chainring shining in the sun, a real difference from 32. Out the window you can see the windows of a large tourist hotel, which is why I don't change clothes in my room (I am afraid I cannot say the same about the tourists).
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
No one should be surprised that there is a competitive element to Dunce holidays, nearly always in the form of a SLUG BUG
contest. The basic idea of the game is to be the first to see a
Volkswagen Beetle, utter the words "SLUG BUG" plus its color, and punch
("slug") your opponent. The exact rules of the game are wildly divergent,
including the "no slugback" rule which prevents subsequent slugging for
the same bug, bonus points for certain colors or certain situations,
and whether the new Beetle is a legitimate slug bug.
In order to prevent disputes and permit high-stakes competition, we
have developed our own house rules (or out-of-house rules) as follows:
A competition shall begin at a designated moment and stakes must be
agreed upon before the first Slug Bug is spotted. The competition is
deemed complete at an agreed-upon destination, or if no destination is
specified, when the travelers return home. The first person to see a
qualifying Slug Bug and begin
the utterance "Slug Bug" shall be identified as the spotter of that
Slug Bug. The scoring utterance is not complete until the color (or
other words or phrases indicating the vehicles's appearance, such as
"British flag", "sunflowers", etc.) of the Slug Bug has been named (and
an opponent has been "slugged"), but another player cannot "scoop" a
scoring Slug Bug by finishing the phrase and/or slugging an opponent
first. Close calls should be decided by an impartial referee or by
agreement among the contestants; in the event of simultaneous
utterances the points shall be divided amongst the players. A player
may not unduly extend the pronunciation of the initial "S" of "Slug
Bug" in the hope of seeing a qualifying Slug Bug during the lengthy
sibilant. False identification of non-qualifying vehicles as Slug Bugs
is discouraged; frequent infractions may be subject to penalty.
Slugbacks are never permitted; once a Slug Bug has been spotted it is
removed from the competition. "Known" Slug Bugs (i.e., those with which
the participants are already familiar) are not eligible for scoring,
and it is considered bad form for one participant to select a route
including Slug Bugs known only to him/her, and to spot those Slug Bugs
as if they were unfamiliar. Spotting a Slug Bug not only offers the
satisfaction of being first, and of striking your opponent, but also
scores points as follows:
Ordinary VW Beetle aka bug ("Slug Bug"): One point
VW Beetle convertible ("Slug Bug convertible"): One and one-half points
VW Microbus aka VW van ("Slug Van"): Two points
In theory, ten points are awarded for spotting exceptionally customized vehicles such as a Slug Van converted into a truck, a Slug Bug dragster
or other exotic vehicles (Slug Helicopter, perhaps?). Such instances
must be agreed upon as "exceptional", otherwise they score no more than
a standard Slug Bug of the appropriate class.
Half points may be awarded to spotters of partial Slug Bugs, but
awarding of points in such instances must be agreed upon by the referee
or participants (in the absence of a referee).
No points are awarded for New Beetles or an updated Microbus (should such an atrocity be loosed upon our roads).
Additional scoring classifications may be implemented for specific
journeys (e.g. five points for a silver or gold Slug Bug for the
Queen's Jubilee) but these do not carry over into future competitions.
Our trip to Cornwall took us into one of the UK's Slug Bug hotspots, as
the VW Microbus is the vehicle of choice among the surfing community.
As such our spotting was fast and furious, mostly two-point Microbuses
so the scores mounted rapidly. I may have been at a slight disadvantage
to Opal Dunce as I was behind the wheel, but I have previously
prevailed under such circumstances. This time, however, it was not to
be. The competition started at 9am on Friday morning, and finished at
6pm on Sunday afternoon (a total of 57 hours).
Opal Dunce: 84 (1.47 Slug Bugs per hour)
The Dunce: 51.5 (0.90 per hour)
So I'll be buying the sushi this time around. I'll have to train more
for the next outing... I wonder how many Slug Bugs they have in
Estonia. Maybe I'll be the one to spot something like this.
Monday, August 01, 2005
Friday morning we set out bright and early (9am), headed for Cornwall and the Tapestry Goes West festival. An hour later we were still enjoying the London traffic creep, having been diverted for unspecified police activity near Mrs. Dunce's workplace (potential worriers, do not be concerned, this was nowhere near Dalgarno Road where snipers pointed guns at bare-bottomed bomb suspects at about the same time). I could go on in great detail about the journey, but will just say that at about 5pm we found ourselves in the vicinity of Spirit of the West, the festival venue. Only in the vicinity, however, as there is only a very limited amount of signage for this highly desirable tourist location. One hour later, after painstakingly traversing every road between St. Ives and Bodmin (perhaps exaggerated for dramatic effect) we found it & set to pitching our tent.
The Wild West theme park is divided into two areas: Fort Smith (the "good town", full of law-abiding citizens, proper businesses, and a snack bar) and Silver City (the "lawless town", full of stinking, no-good hombres of all sorts, a tavern full of lairy, leering misfits, and a gallows in the center of the square) and to some extent the musical entertainment reflected this difference (Fort Smith performers were all string quartets with powdered wigs, angel-faced boys' choirs and sweet little old ladies singing along to the player piano; Silver City performers were satanic demons eating the faces off young children, people who didn't wash their hands after using the toilet, and players of electrified instruments of all sorts. Or something like that).
There's plenty to tell about the weekend's events (to come later this week), but for now I'll just mention my musical highlight: Swearing at Motorists. Two guys, a singer/guitarist and a drummer (I don't think they are married OR brother and sister, there goes that comparison down the drain). A lot of loud, manic guitar playing and a sound somewhere between Flat Duo Jets and Steve Albini (Opal Dunce's opinion which I couldn't really better). Also the only act to perform on both the vile, degraded stage of Silver City (Friday night) and the pristine, family-friendly stage of Fort Smith (Saturday). Perhaps one of those circuit riders got to them in the night; there was definitely an unearthly power behind them, a few words from singer/guitarist Dave Doughman were enough to stop Saturday's rainfall just long enough for their set. When they finally finished I was near enough to the front to join the mad crush to buy Swearing at Motorists merchandise (I ended up with a handful of gravel, a corner of somebody else's setlist and part of Dave's ear. Actually, an early Swearing at Motorists CD). It's always a good feeling to be excited about a new band (OK they are not a new band, but new-to-me and not exactly well-known [as far as I know]).
Like i said, more tales from the Wild West later in the week. And possibly a cycle-commuting travelogue. We'll see...