Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Happy Zombie Jebus Day!

That was the subject of the e-mail I got from my younger brother the author this past Sunday. I liked it. And, it's shorter than "The First Sunday After The First Full Moon After The Vernal Equinox!"

In London I finished "Musicophilia : Tales of Music and the Brain" by Oliver Sacks, of "Awakenings" and "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat", blogged earlier. I think I'm getting somewhat tired of reading this kind of stuff -- "The Singing Neanderthals" might have to wait awhile. FFTKAT:

  • The brain of a musician is easily discernable in an autopsy?!?!? Enlarged corpus callosum (the large fiber that connects the two hemispheres of the brain) and fine motor control areas.
  • Music has proven to be an effective therapy for stroke-induced aphasia (lack of speech) -- the music survives, patients who cannot speak can sing lyrics, which seems to help their speech recover.
  • A couple of chapters talked about musical hallucinations -- people hearing music all the time. I think it's not like my hit parade -- or maybe it is, and they just don't have sufficient cycles to listen to the music and think or perform other mental activities.
  • There as numerous documented cases of musical people with severe dementia who still retain most or all of their musical skills. So, my vision of ending life as "the human jukebox" has already been realized many, many times.
So I finished this shortly after starting the 8 hour flight from Bristol to Newark. I pulled out the other book I had to read, Kim Stanley Robinson's "Sixty Days and Counting". Looking through the intro pages, I realized I had read the 1st book of this trilogy, "Forty Signs of Rain", blogged September 16, 2004 -- but had not read the 2nd book, "Fifty Degrees Below Zero".

Crisis. Seven hours left on a transatlantic flight, and if I want to read something, I must skip a volume in a trilogy. I refuse to watch movies on airplanes, it has to be the worst imaginable movie-watching experience. So, I said, whatever, and started the book. I'm somewhat bogged around halfway through. There have been enough back-references to figure out what the plot of the 2nd book was, so I think it's burned. This one is good, but somewhat annoying in that the protagonist is a middle-aged man who in his spare time from the plot is juggling three girlfriends. Grrr, yeah right. I guess KSR is getting to that age.

I did get a good musical reference from it: Astor Piazzolla, who was apparently the god of tango music from around 1960 on. I'm listening "Piazzolla En Suite" now, pretty good stuff, 3 stars.

Jams have been going well. The Monday night jam at Goshin's Tavern appears to be dying out -- too annoying to the pool players. I've been up at least twice at the last two Wednesday O'Neill jams, playing and singing pretty well. Last week the jam overall was kind of off, some country people there, and a gay guy doing "At Last", "Summertime", and "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" in a very high voice. He's not bad, but I don't think it's an appropriate venue for his material.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Blackbirds Are Back

The blackbirds came back two weekends ago, at least a dozen of them. We currently also have doves, sparrows, goldfinches, house finches, juncos, chickadees (3) and a pair of cardinals. Over the winter, we also had titmouse (3), starlings, a downy woodpecker, and a carolina wren. I saw the cooper's hawk flying around a couple of blocks away a couple of days ago.

England Swings

Flew to England (London Heathrow) on March 9, leaving at 2pm and arriving in London at 11am on Monday. We were supposed to have had a 6-1/2 hour layover in Newark, and as planned, I took a taxi with my coworker/traveller to Landmarc restaurant in Tribecca in Manhattan for dinner with my oldest daughter. This place was only about 4 blocks from the Holland Tunnel exit, and the cab ride from Newark airport was still $80 each way, woo-hoo! Dinner was excellent, and it was great to see Erica. They had as an appetizer "Roasted Bone Marrow" -- I had to see it. Umbeeleebabul -- 3 pieces of bone on end, some caramelized onions, with bread to spread the greasy, marrowy mess on -- yum!

So we get back to the airport and our 10:30pm Virgin Atlantic flight has been delayed until 4:00am :-( They gave us an option to give us a voucher to take a cab to JFK for a 12 midnight flight on American -- which we did. It wound up leaving at 1am. But, in changing our tickets, Virgin managed to cancel our homeward leg from Newark to Lexington. So coming home on the 14th, we get to Newark and have no ticket to Lexington. By the time they straigtened it out we missed our connection and had to come home through Cleveland, getting in at 11:15pm rather than 6:00pm. Given that I'd been up since 1:40am, it was a long day. I am hoping my lower back is going to forgive me soon and stop hurting. I had a great massage Friday, she really did a great job on the lower back -- it still hurts but at least I could stand up straight.

So England was fun, my 1st time there, only my 2nd time in Europe. I was at the Hotel Russell on Russell Square from Monday through Thursday morning. Tuesday through Thursday, I got up at 7:00am, walked over to Russell Square and ate breakfast there, with a large cup of coffee, and then took a few laps around the square, then went back and showered. In the evenings I drank enough to fall asleep at 11:00p every night. They were only 4 hours ahead of us (not on daylight savings yet), so the jet lag was really minimal.

My meetings for Tuesday and Wednesday got cancelled so I spent both days sightseeing. Tuesday I took The Big Bus 4 hour tour of London. Wednesday I spent 3-4 hours in The British Museum (just off of Russell Square) -- man, did they score a bunch of loot. Many many mummies and cases, and 60% of the statuary from the Parthenon ("protecting it from acid rain and vandalism"). I think I'm getting too old for museums tho.

Then I walked north around 6 blocks to The British National Library. Saw the magna carta and lots of other old books. Didn't do too much for me -- it didn't help that the lights were real dim, making it hard to see. I did like that their central glass cage with the fire walls that drop down from which the air can be evacuated was 10 stories tall. I think the one we saw at the Princeton library (which had the really cool 1/4 inch thick white marble walls instead of windows) was only 5 stories.

I then walked about 12 blocks south to Aldwyck, then west to Strand, past the Savoy Theatre and the Coal Hole Pub (out of the Gilbert & Sullivan movie "Topsy-Turvy" that my wife and I love) to Tralfagar Square. The bus tour the day before had shown me, the touristy parts of London, from Kensington Park in the west through Hyde Park, by Buckingham Palace, parliament, Big Ben, and finishing up with the financial district and the Tower of London, is only about 2 miles, very walkable.

Then Thursday morning we took the train west to Bristol, which is almost in Wales, I think around 1.5 hours. The English countryside was suitably quaint. The houses are all small, lots of tudor (shocker). I liked their streams with little boats and lots of swans.

I felt very comfortable there. I think that having a fondness for BBC series and English movies over the years helped make it feel relatively familiar. My coworker/traveller, who had lived in England, did me the solid of warning me about stepping off the curb -- the wrong-way traffic only almost ran me over once. They also have "Look Left" and "Look Right" on most pedestrian crosswalks through most of London. They also impede jaywalking where they don't want it by putting fences between the sidewalk and street.

It was also weird, the mimic in me so wanted to try a British accent. I was really conscious of the fact that anytime I opened my mouth anyone could tell I was an American. But, I never did. Two or three times, they spoke quickly and used terminology different from American English, I couldn't understand it at all.

I liked a lot of their different usages. I should have kept a list there, there were dozens of them:

  • "brilliant", shortened to "brill", for "cool" or "outstanding"
  • "way out" for "exit"
So anyway, after a meeting on Thursday in Bristol, home (interminably) on Friday. Food (pub, italian, chinese, indian) was generally OK -- except for a lambburger at "Mabel's Tavern" near the National Library where the "meat" patty was ???

Right now listening to "Here Is What Is", by Daniel Lanois, who is apparently a British pedal steel player studio musician. Very nice and quirky, 3.5 stars. I got it from Walter Tunis's blog. Walter is the Lexington Herald-Leader music critic, who I have pretty much always thought does a pretty good job. I have thought several times that it seems like he has been their critic pretty much forever. His blog says he started in 1980, and since we moved here April 1, 1981, I guess that makes sense.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Theocracy Sucks Even Worse Than Theism

All this foo going on in Tibet reminded me of this piece on Tibet when it was under the control of the monks, from Charlie Stross's blog. Here's a shocker: it ain't pretty.


A Waking Dream? A Psychotic Break?

This happened when we were flying to St. Martin. I meant to blog it earlier and forgot.

Anyway, we're in the Lexington airport to leave, and as I'm walking to the gate, the standard security announcement comes on:

The Department of Homeland Security has raised the alert level to orange. Please blah blah blah ...
But then, after the standard announcement finished, the same voice continued on:
And when you're done with your traveling, why not unwind and relax at Blah resort? They know how to get rid of the stress of travelling.
??? Holy shit, I thought ... commercials on airport security announcements? As my friend David says, is irony dead? I couldn't believe I had heard it. I asked an airline employee how long they had been doing that, she said a couple of months. I sat down and remarked on it to my wife and another woman seated by us. I don't particularly remember their reaction, but I don't think they acted as if I was crazy.

But, that was around 5 weeks ago, I have been in airports 4-5 times since then, and I have not heard this again. And, when I think about it, I just can't believe that they would do that. So was this a dream, or what? I guess I will ask my wife what she remembers about it.

Putting my shoes back on at security a week ago on my way to London (more later), I asked a TSA guy if there were commercials attached to the security announcements. He kind of ignored the question -- maybe not the sharpest pencil in the box -- shocker -- but did comment on the fact that "the level has been raised to orange" for around 18 months. Maybe time to change from the past participle to the past tense ...