Tuesday, January 31, 2006

It's Just A Virus

to catch the Virus
That seems to be
The undercurrent of my insanity

-- Sarah Fimm

Now they're saying that a virus may cause obesity. You know what? I think that eventually we'll find out that everything is caused by a virus. Impoliteness? Virus. Using the word "like" in every sentence? That's a virus too. I imagine the following future conversation:

Doctor: I'm sorry, but you've tested positive for HLV, the Human Laziness Virus.

Me: Oh . . . man . . . that's, well, it's awful, but it explains so much lately . . . is there a cure?

Doctor: No. Well, actually, yes, there is a cure, but you'd be too lazy to take it, so for all practical purposes there is no cure.

Me: I understand, doctor. Thank you for your honesty.

Doctor: You'll have to take precautions to not infect others. HLV is primarily transmitted through saliva, but boring anecdotes can also be a carrier.

Me: OK. I'll try to be responsible.

Peeling Bananas Monkey Style

As a follow-up to this post, I tried peeling a banana the opposite way that I normally do. That is, peeling from the non-stem end. Memer said in a comment, "how could that possibly be easier? it's not simple societal convention that we use the stem end -- it's easier to get a good rip on the thing, innit?" That is pretty much what I thought before I tried it.

To peel from the non-stem end, you have to squeeze the tip of the banana until it splits, then peel. So it feels more like two steps compared to grabbing the stem and peeling all in one motion. However, it does seem to peel more "cleanly" this way. Then when you eat the banana, the stem makes a good handle to hold it with, which makes it feel kind of like eating a popsicle.

Is it easier? I don't know -- "easier" is probably the wrong choice of words, because both ways are very easy.

Is it better? Maybe. Holding the stem end while you eat the banana does seem a little bit better. But it is not a huge difference.

What interests me the most is that many of us have never even tried it, just like the coffee thing. We are creatures of habit.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

San Sebastian Street Festival

I happened to be in San Juan, Puerto Rico during the San Sebastian Street Festival in Old San Juan. This is a huge party, like Mardi Gras, and people come from all over the world to see it. During the day, some of the streets were packed with crowds like this. At night, it was even more crowded. There was music day and night, with both staged events and impromptu concerts on the street by groups of drummers. And of course there was plenty of rum and beer to drink.

Only one road leads from the mainland to Old San Juan. This helped make it easier to defend the city hundreds of years ago, but now it creates horrible traffic jams when everyone arrives for the festival. At first the taxi driver refused to take me there. "We'll never get there, and I'll get stuck and won't be able to get back." He only changed his mind when I told him I would settle for being dropped off somewhere near there, as close as he could reasonably get.

The festival was a lot of fun. It is one of those things you have to see to believe.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Travel with Tevas

One travel trick I've learned is that in tropical climates, Teva "Cross Terra" sandals are indispensable. They are comfortable enough that I can walk in them all day long for miles and miles. They have enough stability and traction for hiking on a muddy trail. They can be worn while wading or even swimming and they won't come off -- so they can protect your feet from sharp rocks and other hazards.

I've only had one of these sandals come off my feet once, and that was during a big wipeout while kayak-surfing. But because they float, I was able to retrieve the sandal. They keep your feet cool in hot weather. They can be washed when they get dirty, and they dry quickly. I took them on my trip to Puerto Rico and wore them every day.

Of course, I'm not suggesting being the "ugly American" and wearing the sandals to dinner at a posh restaurant. I do take dress shoes along, too. But for outdoor activities they are great.
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San Juan, Puerto Rico

This was the view from my hotel room balcony in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I spent the last week. The structure is part of an old fort that was used to defend the city hundreds of years ago. Though it was about 80 degrees there, it was very windy a lot of the week, and alternated between sun and rain. Still, it was great to get away from Portland for a little while.

This was actually the view from my third hotel room in the same hotel. My first one was flooded from a burst pipe in the floor above, the second was too small, but this third one was jussssst right! Once I got to this room, it made up for the first two, and the hotel was very good about letting me switch.

Friday, January 27, 2006

And Bananas

It turns out that not only have I been pouring coffee the wrong way all this time, I've been peeling bananas wrong, too! Monkeys -- who should be the experts in this -- peel bananas from the end opposite the stem, not from the stem end, and supposedly this way is easier. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, though.

Monday, January 16, 2006


Stacy at I Am A Fish has posted some cool stuff about Las Vegas lately. This reminds me, when I mention Las Vegas, about 50% of the time someone will reply with a comment like, "Oh, but Las Vegas is so fake."

Well, this may be shocking, but all art is fake. Michelangelo's David is fake -- that is not a naturally occurring rock formation. Through completely artificial means, it was modified to resemble something (a man) that it clearly is not. Ah, the deception, ah, the lack of authenticity!

But it gets worse. Evidently, many people will pay money to travel thousands of miles to look at this fake, artificial man, even though the same people would not be willing to go to the same trouble or expense to look at an actual man. It's as if these people actually prefer the fake to the real!

But the worship of fakery does not end there. For example, a painting of sunflowers by Van Gogh sold for $49 million. But who would pay that much for fake, 2-dimensional sunflowers, when you can buy a nice arrangement of the real thing for $34.95? And I think that even includes delivery!

Say what you want about the abstract expressionists, but their paint wasn't pretending to be a horse or a bowl of fruit or a hooker.

So yes, Las Vegas is fake, totally fake, just like some of the most valuable things in the world. And in a delightful twist, one of the casinos actually contains a fine art museum. Some visitors must think that the casino is fake but the museum is real. Is there really such a difference between paint arranged to resemble a Russian Tsar and a building interior arranged to resemble St. Mark's Square?

The First Letter

You've probably had an experience like this: you're trying to remember someone's last name, and you think to yourself, "I don't remember what it is, but I know it starts with a K."

This seemed weird to me the first time I really thought about it. If you don't know the name, how do you know what letter it starts with? But our memory may be more like a network of associations than a computer memory that stores exact data. So this no longer puzzles me. Instead, I've been thinking about the following variations . . .

How many times have you had this experience? You're trying to remember someone's name, and you think, "I don't remember what it is, but I know the second to the last letter is a T." Probably never, right? What about, "I don't remember what it is, but I know it had three vowels and six consonants." Never, right? Why is that? What is so special about the first letter, that we are more likely to associate a word with its first letter than with some other fact about the word? Is this a learned behavior, based on all those "Z is for Zebra" type of phrases we saw when we were learning to read?

When we try to remember a complex phrase, we might make up an acronym out of the first letters of the words, but we wouldn't try to remember the pattern of the last letters of the words. Why not?

When Japanese people forget words, do they often remember the first kanji but not the second or third? I don't know the answer to this, but somehow I doubt that it works that way. It seems like something to do with alphabetic writing.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Pouring Coffee

I recently discovered a new and improved way to pour a cup of coffee. If you put the cream in the mug first, then pour the coffee in, you don't have to stir it because the act of pouring the coffee in on top of the cream blends the mixture. So this saves a step, and saves dirtying a spoon or using one of those plastic stirring rods.

When I discovered this, I was shocked that in all the years I have been drinking coffee, this had never occurred to me before, and I'd never seen anyone do it. Most people pour the coffee, then the cream, then stir it.

I guess we learn how coffee should be served by watching what happens in restaurants. But in restaurants they can't do it the best way because they don't know how much cream you want. So restaurants have to use the less optimal method, and we all imitate it. Then it never occurs to us to try any other way, which is kind of funny.

I told a friend about this, and she said her father had taught her this before he died, and she had been just as surprised as I was. I thought it was very funny that this coffee-pouring thing was like a family secret handed down from generation to generation. No wonder I had not heard of it before. But now the secret is out.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Gadget Showdown: iPod vs. Sony PSP

If I had to have only one of these, I would definitely choose the iPod, since I use it every day. I have a car adapter for it, so I can listen as I drive to and from work. The PSP is a cool gadget, and great for watching movies on airplanes, but I don't travel often enough for that to be a big factor. The games are fairly good, but most of the time when I have free time to play games, I am at home anyway and may as well play something on Playstation 2.