Monday, June 30, 2008

They Followed Me Home! Can I Keep Them?

Reason why I will never, ever get caught up on my reading, #96: forgetting to reply to a book club declining the featured selections and then becoming immediately attached to them when they come and being unable to bring myself to send them back.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What I Did On My Australian Vacation: Day Thirteen

And this is it! The last day! The end! I'm sure some of you out there are breathing a sigh of relief that I'm shutting up about this now, but I hope it was of some interest to people nevertheless. Anyway...

Day Thirteen:

Yep, sadly this was the day of our departure. It also happened to be Anzac day, a national holiday in which Australians and New Zealanders honor their war dead in general, and those who fell in the battle of Gallipoli in WWI in particular. A lot of people don't even realize that the Australians played a role in WWI, but they lost something like 8,000 people in that battle, a staggering number for such a sparsely populated country. And, I have to say, for all America's gung-ho flag-waving and continual protestations about how much we "Support Our Troops!", from what I've seen, the Australian people almost make me a little ashamed at how Americans treat such holidays. Namely, either by celebrating them as a fun excuse for a day off work, or by becoming aggressively over-sentimental. The Australian observance of Anzac day, by contrast, seemed to me much more universal, solemn, dignified, and heartfelt. Our tour guide even got up at 4 AM to attend a dawn remembrance service in Sydney, saying her friends would never forgive her if they found out she was in the city and hadn't gone. I can't easily imagine an American of the same age saying the same thing.

Anyway. We may not have been up at 4AM to honor the Australian war dead, but we were nevertheless up early, as we had to leave for the airport at 7:30. Our guide was back in plenty of time to say goodbye, though, and several members of our group were also there to see us off. (We were the first ones to depart that morning. A lot of the others didn't leave until the afternoon.)

I've already bitched about the flight back. Suffice it to say that it was, well, pretty much hell, that I was cramped and miserable and unable to sleep, and that by the time we landed in Los Angeles (which was only the first leg of the trip for me), everybody was tired and cranky and snappish. Not a pleasant way to wrap up two weeks of fun and relaxation, really, which is why I'm glad that it's already starting to fade in my memory a bit, in favor of the much more pleasant stuff in between the Flights From Hell. But, man, I cannot wait for the day when they finally get around to inventing the transporter. Or at least the day when I'm independently wealthy and can fly first class. I'm not taking any bets as to which of those two is less likely, though.

Oh, And...

Here's your Doctor Who discussion post for this week's US episode, "Forest of the Dead."

What I Did On My Australian Vacation: Day Twelve

Yes, over two months after returning from the vacation, I'm finally getting very close to finishing up my account of it! Here we have...

Day Twelve:

This was our free day in Sydney, and my friend and I were on our own, since my relatives had opted for a bus tour of the Blue Mountains instead. As it turned out, we definitely made the better choice by staying in town, as they were fogged in the entire way, and, alas, the pretty views they'd paid to see were almost entirely invisible.

We started out at the National Maritime Museum, because it was nearby and it was free. It looked pretty small from the outside, and the name wasn't all that inspiring, so I had visions of a drab little place with displays of rusty sea anchors and mannequins in naval uniform. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be one of the most fascinating museums I've ever been in. I'd say it's not so much a museum of maritime history as a museum that takes the ocean as a central theme around which to build an exploration of all aspects of Australian history, with a lot of emphasis on social issues. We seemed to be the only ones there, and were immediately latched onto by a volunteer tour guide, who showed us around the entire museum. In was a long, substantial tour, full of all kinds of interesting stuff -- our guide clearly knew and cared about her subject matter -- and it still only scratched the surface of all the amazing pieces of history they had crammed in there. We could easily have spent the entire day there, and part of me seriously wanted to, but it hardly seemed right to spend our only day in Sydney looking at the inside of one museum, so we reluctantly tore ourselves away and went for a wander.

We did our exploration of the city (or, rather, a small section of it) partly on foot and partly via the monorail. You know, the only other monorails I've been on have been the one at Disneyworld and one that went back and forth between casinos at Las Vegas. I remember when they were the Transportation of the Future!, and we were all going to be using them to get around come the 21st century. What ever happened to that? Because now they're just sort of... retro. It's a shame, too, because they seem like a pretty good means of public transportation. The views are certainly better than on a subway. The one in Sydney just goes in a big circle around the center part of the city, but it was incredibly handy, considering that a) it was still raining off and on all day, and b) my friend can't necessarily walk for long distances without needing to sit down for a bit.

Anyway, we rode the monorail all the way around once, just for the hell of it, then got off and took a walk through the Queen Victoria Building. This, as the name might suggest, is an old Victorian building, which now houses a large, upscale shopping center. The interior is very pretty, and preserves a lot of the original decor. It also houses a huge mechanical clock that displays various scenes from Australian history. Here's a picture of the clock:

You gotta love the Victorians and their ostentatious mechanical gadgets.

After that, we were planning on visiting the Australian Museum, but as soon as we got close to it, we could see that that might not be a terribly good idea. There was a huge crowd of people there, and as far as we could tell, it looked like the line to get in stretched most of the way down the block. I'm not sure if there was something special going on that day, or if it's always that busy, or if it was just that everybody in Sydney decided that they had nothing better to do on a rainy Thursday than visit the museum, but whatever the cause, we figured that, well, if we didn't want to spend our entire day in Sydney inside a museum, we certainly didn't want to spend it standing outside of one waiting to get in.

We went and hung out in the park for a while, instead, while the sun was out, then had a nice lunch at some Malaysian place. Looking for something else to do, we realized that our monorail passes had come with coupons for $5 admission to something called the "Powerhouse Museum", and that said museum was right off a monorail stop (which was convenient, because it was raining harder at this point). We had no idea what exactly this place was, but it promised to have "something for everyone," so we figured we'd check it out and see whether that was an accurate assessment or not.

It turns out that it's called the "Powerhouse Museum" because it's located in what used to be an old powerhouse building, and that it bills itself as a museum of "science+design." The first floor seemed to be filled primarily with exhibits of Ordinary Household Items Designed So That You Cannot Tell What They Actually Are and Clothing That No One Would Ever Wear, Except Maybe in a 1970's Science Fiction Show. These were kind of entertaining to me, albeit in ways that I don't think they were quite intended to be, but left me a little dubious as to whether this was necessarily the most interesting way to spend the last day of my vacation. But the deeper we went into the building, the more interesting things got. The giant, functional (although not currently functioning) steam engine was pretty cool, as were the associated steampunk technology exhibits. But it wasn't until we hit the basement, which contained the nifty geeky computers-and-robots stuff that I was prepared to admit that the museum, did, indeed, live up to the "something for everyone" advertising. We had a lot of fun down there, looking at the obsolete computers and watching the dancing robot arm, and ended up staying until the museum closed.

Then we ate ice cream cones in the rain, which is the sort of experience I think everyone ought to embrace on a semi-regular basis.

That evening, this being the last full day of our tour, our whole group got together for a farewell dinner, at which there was much conversation and reminiscence, and much taking of photographs, and, yes, more mango daiquiris. Ah, parting is such sweet, mango-flavored sorrow...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

And Those Kids Need To Get Off My Lawn, Too!

Ah, we've hit that time of year... The noisy time of year, that is, when people spend two freakin' weeks celebrating what's supposed to be a one-day holiday with a continuous series of loud shrieks, sizzles and bangs. Well, at least this year it's not happening over one of those weeks when I have to be in bed early...

Words, Words, Words

This Wordle toy is way too much fun to waste your time play with. You feed it a chunk of text, and it gives you back a pretty "word cloud" graphic illustrating word-use frequency.

I fed it the June '08 page of my blog, just to see what it would do. Then I removed the dates and tags and bylines, because otherwise they completely dominated the graphic. and tried it again. Here 'tis:

(Click to go to the full-sized version. You can't see much on the thumbnail.)

What that tells you, other than that I've been talking about my vacation a lot, I don't know. But it entertained me. So I did June '07 for comparison:

And then June '06:

And then I realized there were other things I should be doing with my life and stopped.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Another Week, Another Exciting Adventure In Time And Space

OK, here's your usual Doctor Who discussion post for this week's airing-in-the-US episode, "Silence in the Library."

I'd remind you all about not giving out spoilers for later stuff, but I think the episode itself does a pretty good job of that for me.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Yeah, Like I Needed To Answer All Those Questions To Figure This Out.

Your result for The Fashion Style Test...

Fashion Enemy

[Flamboyant Conventional Random Prissy]

It's not that you rebel against fashion. You just don't give a damn about it. You think there are so many more important things in life than remembering what neckcut and what trousers' length you should be wearing this particular month. You usually just put on what you can currently buy at shop. Most people do not pay any more attention to your clothes than you do yourself. But I'm sure they notice your other qualities.

The opposite style from yours is Glamorous Soul [Tasteful Original Deliberate Sexy].

All the categories: Librarian Sporty Hottie Office Master Uptown Girl/ Boy Brainy Student Movie Star Fashionista Glamorous Soul Fashion Enemy Bar Cruiser Kid Next Door Sex Bomb Hippie Kid Fashion Rebel Fashion Artist Catwalk God(ess)

Take The Fashion Style Test at HelloQuizzy

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What I Did On My Australian Vacation: Day Eleven

Day Eleven:

This was our first full day in Sydney, and it started out with a bus tour of the city. I found it much easier to relax and enjoy it this time than I did in Melbourne, knowing that I was actually going to have some time to get out and explore on my own the next day. I will say, though, that Sydney, while a pleasant enough city, didn't strike me with the same charming first impression that Melbourne did. Maybe it was simply that Melbourne was my first sight of Australia after that interminable plane ride; maybe it had something to do with the fact that our guide, a Sydneysider, over-hyped it a bit (albeit in a friendly and amusing way); or maybe it was just that both the weather and the traffic were worse than they had been in Melbourne.

Regardless, it was a nice tour, with stops at various parks and at the Royal Botanic Gardens. But the highlight was the tour of the Sydney Opera House. You know, I have to admit that I never understood quite what was so aesthetically impressive about the Opera House. It's eye-catching, certainly, but in a funny and rather impractical-looking way. I must say, though, that it's considerably more impressive close up, and the inside -- or much of the inside, at any rate -- is beautiful. Even if bits of it were torn up for renovations at the time. (They were putting in more elevators.) And even I, who knows essentially nothing about the practicalities of sound engineering, could tell that the acoustics in the theaters were exquisite. We also watched a couple of moderately interesting films on the history of the building, and learned that they started building it before they were remotely sure exactly how (or whether) the engineering was going to work... You have to love the eternal, borderline-insane, can-do optimism of the Aussies. Heh.

Here's a picture of the Opera House from across the harbor:

And one taken inside, in one of the areas where they'd actually let you take pictures:

After the Opera House, we headed out to Bondi Beach, a famous surfer beach that has apparently been featured in lots of movies that I've never seen. There weren't too many surfers out that day, as it was still raining off and on, but I've never let a little rain dissuade me from enjoying a stroll down the beach. (Hey, I live in a place that's about as land-locked as you can get. I take my beach-going however it comes.) Also, there was more ice cream. Yay!

Then it was back to town, where we boarded a boat for a luncheon cruise through Sydney Harbor, featuring yet another tasty buffet spread and some pretty views of the Opera House and the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge.

After lunch, we went to some place that sold opals. Apparently Australia is quite famous for its opals, which are also the country's national gemstone. While several members of our group seemed to really enjoy shopping for opal jewelry, well, the only thing I'm less interested in than wearing jewelry is shopping for it. Fortunately, though, the shop also had some really cool displays of opalized fossils, so the less fashion-conscious and more science-minded of us could mostly keep ourselves entertained.

We then had the evening free, so my friend and I decided to visit the famous Sydney Aquarium, which was well worth spending a few hours exploring. I've been in lots of aquaria with observation tubes where you can walk among swimming sharks, but Sydney's blew them all out of the water. Er, so to speak. If nothing else, I didn't know rays got that big. Wow.

And then, because it happened to be said friend's birthday, my family and I took her out for dinner at a fun little restaurant on Darling Harbor, where we also discovered the joys of mango daiquiris, and my aunt's friend investigated the question of whether the Aussies might be onto something when it comes to the practice of putting fried eggs and beet slices on their burgers. (Her verdict: not bad. But I figured I'd stick with the chicken, anyway.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Look, It's Random Links!

Because it's been quite a while since I did one of these posts...

Check Out 'Life on Mars': Trailer for the upcoming US version of Life on Mars. Colm Meany, not much to my surprise, appears capable of doing a perfectly good Gene Hunt. Everything else about this, however, makes my brain hurt. And did they actually just say, "in a world turned upside-down?" Has that not become too cliche to use yet?

Powder Game: Not really a game, more of a fascinating web toy... thingy. I remember linking to a different version of this ages and ages ago, but this one has even more features to distract you from whatever it is you ought to be doing. Don't worry about the badly-translated instructions; just have fun playing around.

The 6 Most Badass Stunts Ever Pulled in the Name of Science: Do not try these at home!

Weather Underground photo gallery: Socorro: I sometimes complain about living here in the middle of nowhere, but the truth is that this place can be really, really pretty. As these photos taken by various people in my general area aptly prove. There's a heavy emphasis on weather, but then it is a weather-related website.

1001 Things Mr. Raymond Can't Do When He GMs: Will probably give the tabletop gamers among you a chuckle or two. And make absolutely zero sense to anybody else.

Easy Come, Easy Go

I just got my economic stimulus check! Hello, $600!

Of course, a few days ago, I also got my credit card bill. Goodbye, $600!

*fans self futilely*

It's midnight, it's still 82 degrees outside, and I'm trapped in a building full of computers and other heat-producing equipment with no functioning A/C and windows that don't open.

Please send ice cream.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Because Today Is Definitely Friday

Here's the regularly scheduled Doctor Who discussion post for tonight's US-aired episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp."

Random Whining For Friday

Why is it that whenever I finally get one thing fixed, something else immediately breaks?

Gaaah, I hate being a homeowner.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Family Portrait

The internet has thoughtfully provided me with a carefully rendered portrait of my immediate household:

Pyzam Family Sticker Toy
Create your own family sticker graphic at

The sad thing is, this is probably a better picture than I could have drawn by myself.

What I Did On My Australian Vacation: Day Ten

I'm getting towards the end here, really!

Day Ten:

The casino across from our hotel had an attraction called the "Wildlife Dome," which we got a free ticket for when we arrived in Cairns, so we decided to go and check it out before leaving the city. I wasn't expecting a whole heck of a lot, to be honest, but what we saw of it was surprisingly nice, although the only wildlife we actually manged to see there were birds. We walked into the bird enclosure, discovered we'd arrived just in time for the bird show and stopped to watch, but that ate up most of the limited time we had that morning. I think it was worth it, though. It featured a talk from one of the birds' keepers, showcased lots of native Australian birds, and was generally pretty interesting. It also featured some unintentional moments of comedy, such as when she tried to get the kookaburra -- the only bird that came out in a carrier instead of flying freely around the enclosure and coming when called -- to go back into its box. Apparently it needed to be enticed into doing this with a trail of food scraps leading back to the carrier, but some other bird kept swooping in and stealing them, upon which the kookaburra would promptly fly right back to its slightly flummoxed handler.

And I got to have a fun personal encounter with a lorikeet (a smallish, colorful parrot). These birds eat nectar and are attracted to brightly colored flowers, so two volunteers from the audience, yours truly included, got to hold up some large fake flowers which the keeper would dab with drops of nectar or sugar water, and the bird would fly back and forth between them, sucking up the food. It was very nifty to watch. But at one point it arrived back at my flower before she did, looked displeased at finding no more food, and settled itself on top of my head to wait for some to arrive. I don't know why having a bird on top of your head should be that much fun, but somehow it is.

My mother managed to miss getting a picture of me with the bird on my noggin, but here I am giving it its lunch. You can probably tell I'm enjoying myself.

Anyway, after our bird encounter, we said goodbye to Cairns and left on a plane bound for Syndey.

Our hotel in Sydney was in many ways the least appealing of all the ones we stayed at. The rooms were cramped and the plumbing was loud enough that your next-door neighbor's shower could serve as an effective wake-up call, whether you wanted it to or not. But the location was pretty hard to beat. We were right across from Darling Harbor (excuse me: Darling Harbour), and I could look out my window and see the back of the famous Sydney Aquarium.

Sydney is also where our luck with weather finally ran out. Every other place we'd been so far, the weather had been unutterably gorgeous, about as perfect as weather ever gets. But it rained off and on the entire time we were in Sydney. Not that I begrudge it; they really needed the rain, apparently. And we weren't about to let it stop us!

Although we didn't really do very much on that first night in Sydney, mostly just strolled around the Darling Harbo(u)r area a bit in the rain.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stupid Things That Are Stupid

Bah! Why do stupid quizzes show up with so much stupid white space at the top? And why are my stupid HTML skills not up to fixing this? It's almost enough to make me stop posting stupid quizzes. Except then I'd have to come up with some real content...

I'll Start Planning For That Now, Then.

Behold... My Future

I will marry The Doctor.

After a wild honeymoon, We will settle down in London in our fabulous Mansion.

We will have 1771561 kid(s) together.

Our family will zoom around in a tan Dodge Neon.

I will spend my days as a radio telescope operator, and live happily ever after.

whats your future

Monday, June 09, 2008

How The Heck Is It This Far Into June Already?

Current clothes: Blue jeans. A black t-shirt from White Sands National Monument, with a picture of sunset (or possibly sunrise) over the sands. Black belt. White socks. No shoes at the moment.

Current mood: Tired and... Well, sort of OK, but with a potential state of "not feeling terribly well" lurking in the background and occasionally creeping up on me. I'm being Extreme Morning Person right now, and it really doesn't agree with me.

Current music: Most recently, Paul Simon's The Rhythm of the Saints.

Current annoyance: Oh, there are many, but the biggest one right now is that a couple of days ago a 25-pound cat essentially fell asleep on top of my head and I've had a sore, stiff neck ever since.

Current thing: Not doing much. Still. Over a month later, and that mellow, apathetic mood I came back from vacation in is still with me. Compared to how stressed out I was before I left, I'm sure this is much better for my health, but it's not especially good for getting anything done. At least I've mostly traded the state of constantly wanting to do nothing but play The Sims 2 for a state of constantly wanting to do nothing but read. I'm counting that as progress.

Current desktop picture: This picture taken from the top of Mauna Kea.

Current book: A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon. It's basically about a moderately dysfunctional English family and their various issues with their love lives, which doesn't seem like the sort of thing I'd normally care for at all. But I liked The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, so I figured I'd give this one a shot. And, man, I'm astonished by how utterly absorbed I've become in it.

Current song in head: "Mr. Brightside" by the Killers.

Current DVD in player: I think most recently was an episode of Stargate SG-1. I'm most of the way through season 7 now.

Current refreshment: Nothing. But I'm thirsty. And kind of hungry. I think I'm going to go and have some dinner soon.

Current worry: How much of a bitch it's going to be getting shifted around from being Extreme Morning Person to working night shift on the weekend. Gah, but this schedule we're on is just annoying.

Current thought: I want a bacon cheeseburger. And onion rings. Screw healthy eating.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

OK, Yesterday Was Friday, Right?

Then this must be your regularly scheduled Doctor Who discussion post, for last night's US-aired episode, "The Doctor's Daughter." And if that's not a title guaranteed to provoke some discussion, I don't know what is.

Usual spoiler policies apply, of course.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

What I Did On My Australian Vacation: Day Nine

I will finish this some time before I take my next vacation, I swear!

Day Nine:

This was our second day in the Cairns area, and I'd call it easily the fullest day of the entire trip. We started out on a scenic railroad tour through the mountains, which featured some pretty waterfalls. Here's a view looking out at the back of the train:

And a waterfall:

The railroad trip ended in the "village" of Kuranda, which is actually a tourist area featuring shops and wildlife parks and such. Unfortunately, we didn't get a whole lot of time to look around there, as it was scheduled to be a short stop, anyway, and the train got in late due to some brake trouble. But there was at least time for ice cream, and I also accidentally bought some mango wine. I'm honestly not at all sure how that happened. One minute I was walking past the wine vendor's stall happily minding my own business, the next I was overwhelmed with sales patter and found myself forking over money. According to the label, said wine won some sort of "tourism award." I can only assume that this honor was actually awarded in recognition of the hypnotic mind ray they were obviously employing. But, hey, I figured it might be a cool thing to bring home for my friends. If it was actually decent, we could enjoy it, and if it was terrible, we could have a laugh about it. (I did have a sample, but I am no judge of wine. All I can say is that it tasted like at least vaguely like mango, and that it clearly helped to chemically pave the way for the mind rays.) Unfortunately, the wine never did make it home. Since Australia doesn't have any regulations against liquids on domestic flights, I stuffed it into my carry on, figuring the bottle would be less likely to incur damage that way than in the checked luggage... and promptly forgot it was in there until it was confiscated by security when I went to fly home. Ah, well. Easy come, easy... mango. Or something.

Anyway, after that brief stop, we went on to a whole host of activities at the "Rainforestation." Which is, um, a station in the rain forest. First, we got a guided tour of a rather nice little zoo, where I finally got to see live kangaroos. Not quite as exciting as seeing them in the wild, but you could pet them, which was fun. We were introduced to lots of other native critters, too, including snakes and lizards, dingos, various marsupials, and crocodiles. Thanks to those last, I got to see the single most entertaining danger sign ever:

Speaking of crocodiles, I had my picture taken with a little one, as well as with a koala:

The cheesy hat in the first picture is one they gave me to pose with the croc in. The other, much cooler, hat is one I bought in Alice Springs.

Next up was a guided nature tour through a reforested section of rain forest on an old second-hand amphibious military vehicle called an "army duck." Vehicles that transform from cars into boats always look so cool in the movies... This one, by contrast, was kind of clunky and dorky, but nifty to ride on, anyway. We didn't see a whole lot of wildlife: giant butterflies, turtles in the lake, and a brief glimpse of a bird I believe the guide referred to as a "bush turkey." Oh, and a couple of huge spiders hanging in immense webs in the area where the vehicles were docked. But we did get introduced to lots and lots of plants, some of which were frankly kind of scary. (Spiders I'm not afraid of. Trees that grab your clothing and won't let you go... That kind of freaks me out.)

Somewhere in here, we had a nice buffet lunch, and then in the afternoon, there was a half-hour show featuring aboriginal dancers. This... was kind of cheesy, to be honest, and I had terrible mixed feelings about it, with half of me thinking it was a shameful exploitation of an ancient culture, and the other half countering with, "Hey, these guys have to eat, and they seem to be enjoying themselves, so go them." This internal debate, however, got completely short-circuited when they called for volunteers from the audience, and one of the guys from our tour group raised his hand. No matter what your political or philosophical stance, it is impossible not to find a giant pasty American in an orange polo shirt trying to do a kangaroo dance hysterically funny.

This was followed by a demonstration of various native skills and art forms. We were all given a brief lesson in boomerang throwing. My friend proved extremely good at it. Me, I couldn't even get the thing to go away from me, let alone making it come back. We were also introduced to the didgeridoo, which looks like it ought to be incredibly easy to play, an impression I'm sure is utterly deceptive.

And then we proceeded back down the mountain on the Skyrail cableway, a long, long, long tram line -- 7.5 km! -- that skims above the rain forest treetops, giving some of the most in-freaking-credible views I have ever seen in my life. Seriously, the entire Australia trip was probably worth it just for those views.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Hey, What's Time To A Time Lord, Anyway?

Because I just realized I forgot -- last week's temporary hiatus having apparently thrown me off -- here's your slightly belated regularly scheduled Doctor Who discussion post, for Friday's US-aired episode "The Poison Sky." As always, no spoilers for anything past this point, please!