26 February 2007

Without music, life would be an error

I tried to put this message up last night, but MySpace decided it didn't feel like posting it. Good thing today's a snow day (it doesn't look all that bad out but I'll take it anyway--I hate driving in snow, and anyway, it'll be easier to chisel my car out of the ice in the toasty warm afternoon sunlight), otherwise I don't know when I'd find time to try again! Note that this posting is cutting into valuable "catch up on TV missed while I was out of town" time.

Blog #26 Attempt #62:

I'm back in jetlag avoidal mode. Nothing soothes and calms quite like good, soft music. Here are some music recommendations--songs to serenade and relax you, with the end goal of deep and rejuvenating sleep:

- Classical music works well. This classic should bring back memories of your fun and fulfilling childhood. You know what I'm talking about--that childhood you wish you could return to now...

- Light foreign music might put you in a relaxed state. This video will also give you tips on hot new fashion and dance moves, among other things. I miss the 80s. Apparently they missed the end of the 80s. I wonder if the singer is available...?

- This music video will bring pleasant dreams of food. Ah, who am I trying to kid... this one is more than a little on the creepy side, but hey, it has that morbid fascination thing going for it.

- And, finally, this song will not only relax you, it will also reenergize you for this fresh new work week.

20 February 2007

When I grow up, I want to be a superhero!

I'm happy to say that on this trip I have discovered my superhero power. Amazing--I wasn't even trying to find one! It seems that I have some kind of electromagnetic interference capability. But don't expect me to register this power with the World Superhero Registry or anything anytime soon.

It all started with my microwave; now it has afflicted my digital camera. I swear, it was working fine when I left my hotel room on Sunday afternoon. I started walking around London and suddenly the screen died. Can't see a thing. It hasn't deterred me from taking pictures, though--it seems to be taking them in spite of the lack of screen display. I just can't tell what I'm photographing. I've started a "point, pray, and click" methodology. I guess when I get home I'll find out whether anything turned out.

I guess I'm now in the market for a digital camera. My sister was just saying she wanted my camera if I got a new one. Now's her chance!

Speaking of superheroes, I read an interesting quote in the in-flight magazine. The article was about Pixar animated movies contrasted with old Disney movies. I quote:

"Pixar films take a different tack by creating modern, humanlike characters struggling with real-world issues in life-like places."

Suure. While the author makes a very creative statement, I didn't really see how Toy Story, The Incredibles, or other movies are particularly analogous to my life, even if they "live like humans in a society." I think my life is much more like Cinderella or Robin Hood than any of those new flicks...

16 February 2007

Each year one vicious habit rooted out

Now that we're more than halfway into the second month of the year, you've probably given up on all your New Year's resolutions. Have no fear--there is still time to get your New Year's resolutions back on track! Since I'm going to be in non-blogging status for the next several days, I wanted to leave you with a few tips on how to re-motivate yourself to be a better person in 2007.

Things you can do to improve your life:

Improve your Efficiency

There are many options here, more than I can name in an efficient period of time. Here are just a few:

- Get a DVR, and watch TV on fast forward. Why waste 1, 2, or 3 hours of your time watching the latest television shows, when you could get the same watching done in a fraction of the time? Tape everything, and watch it on fast forward! This works especially well with those weight loss shows. The person starts out slightly overweight, and after 5 minutes on fast forward, they're slim and slender! It's also good for those home decoration shows--ugly house to amazingly decorative home in 5 minutes.
- Like music, but have more songs than you can reasonably listen to within a week? I have a solution to that as well! Most people don't realize that they can listen to ITunes and Windows Media Player at the same time. It works great--you can pack even more of your favorite music into your day. It's like having your own randomized mashups.


- This is something that's on pretty much everyone's list. You may not have heard of this newfangled multitasking exercise that is popular in Japan. They have some wonderful exercise videos that feature workouts plus English language tips and tricks. I strongly recommend this one; it just gets better and better. You just have to stick with it thru some of the monotony. Once you get to 1:05 or 1:50 you'll be hooked.


We can't talk about exercise without talking about food/diet. Since your new multitasking workout plan is going to burn lots of calories, you can eat whatever you want. Here are some options that have low calories, low fat content, and delicious sounding ingredients. Oh, wait; no, they don't. Check it out:

- Ultimate Comfort Food
- The Mighty Chicken Stuff - Ramen noodles??
- Fried Chicken Tenders
- Simple Malaysian Fried Chicken - Um, I went to Malaysia. The people there are pretty skinny. How, if they eat this stuff???
- Dessert

Participate in a Volunteer Activity

After simplifying your life with multitasking workouts and abbreviated TV watching/music listening sessions, you'll have lots of time to dedicate to volunteer work. So now I offer you the world's easiest volunteering job: it's called the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is going on this weekend. All you have to do is sit in your house and look out the window. It's only a 15-minute commitment. If you can't handle that, you are either way too busy or way too lazy. Granted, you do have to try to identify birds. But hey, some of us enjoy that. Think of this as resume building experience...

15 February 2007

Puzzle of the Day: My Microwave

I like men, and I like puzzles. Men are known for their propensity for performing practical jokes and for generally not acting their age (once a teenage boy, always a teenage boy). In fact, if you believe things that are printed in books, the reason that women started being hired as telephone operators in the late 19th/early 20th centuries has nothing to do with women's rights or suffrage. According to p. 13 of this book, the teenage boys originally hired as telephone operators amused themselves by intentionally crossing wires and performing other pranks.

OK, now on to puzzles. Somehow I suspect that a man is behind the latest puzzle in my life. Clearly there are no other rational explanations. I recently returned from a business trip. I was tired and hungry, and decided I wanted dinner. I selected an appropriate microwave dinner, put it into my microwave, and pushed the buttons that I thought would initiate the cooking process. I was shocked and horrified to find that it did not work. For reasons that remain unclear, in my absence every microwave button had decided to begin performing some unrelated function. I'm still trying to figure out what some of the buttons mean.

Since I'm having so much fun with this new, more enigmatic microwave functionality I'm going to turn it into a game for you: Guess the Microwave Button Functionality! If you get 100% on this quiz game, I will personally send you happy thoughts (telepathically). On second thought, if you get a perfect score, maybe I'll send you the microwave...


Game title: Guess the Microwave Button Functionality!

Rules: Guess what each microwave button does. When you think you've figured it out, click on the button name (link) to see what it actually does.

Picture of the microwave. Look at it, trying to appear all normal.


Auto Defrost Clock One Minute +
Popcorn Potato Boil Water
Frozen Dinner Bacon Pizza Reheat
Fresh Vegetables Soften Ice Cream
Handy Helper Kids Meals Snack Bar
1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9
Power Level 0 Kitchen Timer
Pause/Cancel Start

For those cynics among you who don't believe my microwave is really this messed up, I started putting a video together to showcase the microwave button madness. Then I got bored and decided it wasn't worth the trouble.


If you got ten or more answers right: I have serious doubts about your sanity. You are about as rational as modern technology in my home, which is not a good thing. Recommend a visit to the shrink.

If you got fewer than ten answers correct: You're officially sane and rational. That may or may not be a good thing.


(Disclaimer, for those of you who have a difficult time identifying and understanding sarcasm: I know there is no rational reason to blame men for my microwave problems. I intended only to post the "students swapping signs" picture for your amusement. As I prepared to do so, I decided to cook a fantastic frozen dinner; that caused me to be reminded of my microwave 's personality issues. I decided that I might as well forge an otherwise illogical and irrational link between the two issues, just for fun.)

14 February 2007

At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.

Mother Nature apparently thinks I need to spend more time pondering Valentine's Day this year. Clearly. It's the only explanation for the ice storm that caused all our employers to send us home early this afternoon. Since the only conversation to be had at home was with those little heart-shaped candies, I decided to amuse myself by using my digital camera and random household objects (and, unfortunately, MS Paint) to create mini Valentines.

The initial idea was much more interesting than the final product. But that's not going to prevent me from posting the end results of my effort. I have nothing better to do... except perhaps watch American Idol. Who am I kidding--that's not really better, is it?

If you're still seeking the perfect Valentine to impress that special someone, perhaps one of these would work: (disclaimer: your expectations should be low; the attached are the product of boredom and tiredness after last night's insomnia)

- Valentine #01
- Valentine #02
- Valentine #03
- Valentine #04
- Valentine #05
- Valentine #06
- Valentine #07
- Valentine #08
- Valentine #09
- Valentine #10
- Valentine #11
- Valentine #12 Yeah, this one really, really didn't work out so well. But here are some tips/tricks if you're curious.

If you were completely disappointed by the cards (totally justified), I now present an opportunity to become even more deeply disappointed. Here are some variations on the traditional "Roses are Red" love poetry:

- Inspiring Jealousy:

Roses are red
Brown is an otter;
I think you're cute,
but your best friend is hotter.

- Love from afar:

Roses are red
Blue is the sea
You have a sweet smile
That's never for me

- For people like me, who are terrible with names:

Roses are red
Chocolates are sweet
I hope you don't mind
if I call you Pete

- For all those guys with that long floppy hairstyle that seems to be trendy:

Roses are red
And just 'cuz I care,
You used to be cute.
Now, please cut that hair!

- Bitter against 14 February hype? For you:

Roses are red
The sky is grey
There are few things I hate
much more than this day.

Try writing your own! It's hours of fun when you're stuck at home in an ice/sleet/snowstorm.

Hmm... next time I think I'll just read a book or something.

11 February 2007

Remember we're all in this alone

No plans for Valentine's Day? Don't worry! I can help you plan your entire evening. All you need to do is follow my simple three step process. If you do, by the end of the evening you will successfully be as despondent as possible. You have a few days to put this lofty goal into practice.

Step 1: Feel Sorry for Yourself

- Look your worst. There's no point fixing up. If you look nice, you'll feel okay about your life. You're alone on Valentine's Day--you're supposed to be miserable. Let it show.

- Eat lots of candy. Chocolate is especially good; plus, the sugar will help keep you awake til the end of the night. Unfortunately, I think it's past the deadline to personalize your chocolates with depressing and lonely messages.

- Listen to depressing music. You need the right song set to lower your spirits. To assist you, I have created a series of potential playlists. I packed as many depressing and minor key songs as I could onto a series of CD-length playlists (in case any of you still use that ancient technology). It was easy--just a classic knapsack problem... which, incidentally, is also useful when you're trying to spend all that last-minute foreign currency just before you board your flight home.

I digress. Here are my sample playlists:

- My personal Valentine's Day playlist. It's so long I had to divide it into Part 1 and Part 2.
- I also offer a darker, more depressing playlist option.
- You may also want a playlist with a cheesier angle. One might argue that some of the songs on the other playlists are also cheesy. That's nice.
- Still expecting to get a date in time for Valentine's Day? "Songs for the Optimist" is clearly the playlist for you. Have no fear, your hopes will be dashed in time for the glorious holiday.
- Just got out of a relationship? Here are some good end of relationship songs.
- Depressing classical music. These happen to be some of my favorite songs.
- Country Music, Part 1
- Country Music, Part 2 - With this disclaimer.

Step 2: Make Others Feel Sorry for You

It's not enough to feel sorry for yourself. To make the day truly miserable, you need to know that others pity you as well. To do this, you have to go out... alone. My recommendation is that you take a comfort food tour of the local area. Plan on visiting at least 5 restaurants--order only one or two items from each.

By the end you'll be even more depressed: you'll feel ten pounds heavier, you'll be at least ten pounds poorer, and you'll have seen all those happy couples out for their romantic dates... and they'll have seen you there all by your lonesome. You'll be that much closer to accomplishing your lofty goal of sadness.

So, what fits into a comfort food tour? Comfort food is very subjective. Ultimately I'll have to defer to your personal tastes, but here are some ideas to get you thinking:

- Fried mac & cheese - TGI Friday's. Always good.
- Meatloaf - Cracker Barrel. Who knew meatloaf could be so fancy?
- Mashed Potato Bowl - KFC. Mmm, fried chicken...
- Chicken pot pie - Boston Market

Seeking something more exotic? Try one of these:
- Taco Bell - Though this may be too exotic for some, there are people who consider it to be comfort food.
- Thai - Unless you have peanut allergies. I'm trying to depress you, not kill you.
- Chinese - Alternatively, you can go to a Chinese restaurant to sign up for their hockey team.
- Middle Eastern food
- Afghan food - Seriously, it's great.

Naturally, you can't skip dessert. Go for a few rounds of the sweet stuff. You might have cheesecake, apple pie, donuts, ice cream, or frozen custard... so many options!

Step 3: Feel Better by Comparing Your Life to Someone Else's Life

Forget being in love like the movies; this is the point of the evening where you come home and watch a really depressing movie. You'll feel more depressed overall, but ultimately will realize that your life could be a whole lot worse. Books could work too, but it would be easier to finish a movie in one evening than a book.

How do you select a movie? You may want to choose one that features some relationship that works out in the end; however, if you want to succeed in depressing yourself, it's better to pick one that has a depressing beginning, middle, and end.


- Anything by Thomas Hardy is a great choice--characters' lives always go from bad to worse to worst. Even the ones that "work out in the end" still don't seem happy. Far From the Madding Crowd is one option. Not depressing enough? Try Tess (based on Tess of the D'Urbervilles). It still has the lead for the most depressing movie I've ever seen. I don't think I could handle the book.
- Cyrano de Bergerac is good, too. No one ends up happy.
- If you chose the "Cheesy Depressing" song playlist, City of Angels might be a good movie choice for you. It's supposed to be a deep and depressing movie, but for some reason we ended up laughing hysterically through most of it.
- White Oleander. Her life is really, really messed up.
- Citizen Kane. Fall in love with Rosebud. But if you watch this, you must watch the equivalent Simpson's episode immediately afterwards.
- If you're a traditionalist, there's always Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet or another movie version of a Shakespearean play in which everyone dies in the end.
- The Day I Became a Woman - Um, no, it's probably not what you're thinking. It's a very ironic Persian film about the lives of a girl, a young woman, and an old woman.
- If you're into British crime drama, there's always Midsomer Murders. This episode is appropriate for creating further Valentine's Day depression.

So there you go--you now have Valentine's Day plans. There's no need to thank me. After all, I'm just here to help.

I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine

This was a busy week. What I didn't mention last weekend was that while my sister and I were in Roanoke, we learned that John Mayer was going to be performing there on Wednesday. Somehow one thing led to another, and I ended up buying tickets to the concert, plus a plane ticket from Dulles to the tiny Roanoke Airport. I flew down after work on Wednesday, attended the concert, then flew back first thing Thursday morning. I made it back to work in time for a 10:00 meeting. Crazy? Indeed.

It has been forever since I've been to such a big concert. I have to admit, my concert attendance has been rather single threaded lately. I'm not a huge John Mayer fan; that's okay, Emily's fandom made up for both of us. We arrived in time to catch the end of the opening act (Soulive), whose guitarist is an expert dancer. He was especially talented in performing the Junior High Shuffle. After an annoyingly long break John Mayer started his performance... We were too far back to appreciate his good looks. He succeeded in sounding exactly like himself. His ego filled all the vacant seats in the top corners of the Roanoke Civic Center (which Mr. Mayer indicated were the most "structurally sound" portions of the building). The womenfolk of the audience screamed in appreciation.

Don't get me wrong; I did enjoy the concert... :)

In honor of that efficient travel package, I'd like to pay tribute to the shortest flights (and trips) I've taken, and smallest airports I've visited.

- Dulles to Roanoke is less than 30 minutes. They don't even bother to turn the "Fasten Seatbelt" sign off. Or maybe I just flew on an especially turbulent day.

- Canberra to Melbourne. The airport is normal, the flight is of average length. I mention this one because it currently holds the record for my shortest trip--even shorter than this week's 12-hour vacation. When I was in Canberra in January 2006 I happened to hear that a real live (er... frozen) giant squid was on display for a limited time only in the Melbourne Aquarium. I did what any normal fan of deep sea creatures would do; I bought a plane ticket and flew down for a 6 or so hour day trip. I got a few pictures, of course. Hmm... maybe my parents shouldn't have let me read all those shipwreck stories when I was young. I swear most of them were in the ChildCraft Encyclopedias!

- London to Guernsey. The airport is tiny. The Channel Islands are beautiful, and worth their own posting. Next time I visit I'd like to go to Alderney. Its airport apparently used to be a polo field. I don't think it's even paved. According to the airport site, they feature a "knit while you wait" box -- they provide yarn, and you knit until your flight boards. They combine squares into blankets destined for various international destinations.

- Last but not least, my favorite short flight: Sydney to Canberra. The flight is well under an hour, but they still insist on feeding you. The flight takes off, the flight attendants run through the aisles throwing food at you, you shovel it down, they run through and pick up the trash, and then you land. It's very well choreographed. I discovered my beloved Fruity Bix cereal on one of those flights.

07 February 2007

Man is by nature a political animal.

I try to avoid politics. Interning on the Hill pretty much crushed any inclination toward politics. Hooray for the middle of the road!

I know these videos have a political theme to them, but that's not my intent. They're strangely addictive songs... nothing more, nothing less. I enjoy the creativity.

- What happens if the robots win
- This may affect you too

Wow, my caveat was longer than my message.

note: maldroid's other songs are good too

05 February 2007

do U wnt 2 D8

It's amazing how the US is so far behind the curve with some of the hottest modern technology. For instance, there's the marvel of text messaging. Sure, we use it now. But people in other countries started doing things like divorcing their wives and breaking up via text messaging long before us. It's such a hot trend, even the Prime Minister of Finland recently dumped his girlfriend via SMS. Classy. At least it's giving her an opportunity to write a book.

Now Finland is trying to out-tech itself. A Finnish author named Hannu Luntiala wrote a novel in text message. Unfortunately, it's in the Finnish dialect of SMS. But the publisher is considering translating it to other languages. If we're lucky they'll translate it into Ubykh or something. After all, they translated Harry Potter into Welsh... surely they'd choose a nice, obscure language (um... besides Finnish) for the text message book.

Text messaging books. Goodness. What next? An animated movie illustrated entirely in ASCII art? Oh, wait, someone did that a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... But surely no one has thought to do an ASCII music video...?

UPDATE: Apparently my posting was timely. Text message lingo is spreading like a disease... Or is this part of the natural evolution of language? After all, you don't often hear 17th century English. Things change.

04 February 2007

Surviving in SoVa

I've spent the weekend with Emily, my littlest sister. She's currently attending college in Buena Vista (that's Byoona Veesta), VA, which is kind of close to Roanoke. We learned yesterday that Roanoke is pretty boring. If you're in the area and decide you want some entertainment, we recommend Staunton, not Roanoke. Its status as a really cool place to visit is corroborated by the fact that it is home to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library. If you're not into reading but want to feel intellectually enlightened, you can visit the local wonder, Foamhenge. Thousands of days ago it was hewn from large styrofoam blocks by local mystic tribes. Or at least by people who didn't want to fly all the way to the UK to see the site.

Also, if you visit this area, you'll need to know a bit about the local customs so as to blend in. Here are some tips and tricks for surviving in the area:

- Everyone knows that Northern Virginia is "NoVa." Whilst in Southern Virginia, you should refer to the area as "SoVa." Everyone else does it. Trust me. Would I mislead you? Start a conversation with a local by saying some variant of the following: "Y'all, I ain't ne'er been ta SoVa afore." People will be indescribably impressed.

- Dress the part. Everyone around here wears camouflage. It's the local style. I thought it was trendy because you can never predict when that perfect prey is going to show up. But then Emily pointed out that it's just so you can hide whenever you want. For instance, you may need to hide out in one of the thousand local Walmart stores. It's cheaper than paying for a hotel.

- Bring a rocking chair. Everyone has them on the front porch. They make the scene very warm and inviting.

Now I need to drive home. What a shame; I'm going to miss the Super Bowl commercials, as well as that sporty thing that they show between the commercials. What's that called again?

02 February 2007

Allah yisallimak wa salimni minak

It's hard to believe that it has been ten years since I was in the Middle East (based primarily in Jerusalem) for an "Intensive Arabic" program. The main thing I learned was that it is much easier to forget Arabic than learn it. That was the time when my love affair with Hans Wehr began; he has been with me ever since.

I could tell many fascinating stories about my days in the Middle East--about the seediest hostel I've ever stayed in (it was even called "Hostel Lips"), or getting yelled at by a 90-year-old woman in Bethlehem for being left handed. But I'll save those for another day. Today is all about Arabic music. Haven't experienced Arabic music? Here are some good songs to test out first:

- Salma yaa Salaama, by Dalida: We had to memorize and sing this song in one of my early Egyptian Arabic classes, but I like it anyway. "The world is big, and its countries are many," but your love for your homeland never dies.

- Ismaouni, by Warda: Warda is a traditional Egyptian singer. Her music is more of an acquired taste, much like my acquired taste for a fairly bland Middle Eastern dish containing rice, lentils, and plain yogurt. This particular song features a woman pleading with her former lover, who pretends not to remember their past love. We had to memorize this one for an Arabic class as well. Why? That's a very good question.

- Nour al-Ayn, by Amr Diab: I love this Egyptian song, but I'll be honest... This is a super-cheesy video with an annoyingly long introduction. I recommend skipping ahead to 1:45, which is the real beginning of the song. This song is about his sweetheart (habibi)'s eyes, which are "the most beautiful eyes in existence."

- Leiley, by Dania: This song is a Lebanese export. What can I say; it has a great beat.

- Haoulou, by Cheb Mami: You probably don't realize this, but you've definitely heard this North African singer before. He provides the background vocals for Sting's song "Desert Rose." No, he is not a woman (so maybe he can sing in high vocal ranges). His music is worth checking out.

p.s. the subject line is a variant on a common Arabic farewell. "Allah yisallimak" means "God save you." This full goodbye translates to "God save you, and save me from you." :)