The third time’s the charm

May 31, 2007

With one jewel in the Triple Crown still undecided (the Belmont Stakes will be run on June 9th 2007) most people have already lost interest in horse racing for the year. Yes, there are still those fans that will watch the race for the shear love of horse racing but, due to the length of a horse’s nose, there will be none of the excitement that surrounded the Belmont in 2004 when Smarty Jones had a shot at the Triple Crown.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term ‘Triple Crown’ it refers to a series of three races on dirt tracks for three year old thoroughbreds. Although the races are open to three year old fillies (female horses), it is rare for them to run in the races. There have been Kentucky Derby winners that have been fillies and geldings (castrated males), but the field typically consists of colts (uncastrated males). Typically the trainers choose to run the fillies in the women’s version of the Triple Crown which starts with the Kentucky Oaks the Friday before the Derby. As is typical in most sports the female’s version gets much less attention than the male’s. So although as a female athlete this offends me, I am going to go along and choose to focus on the mostly boys’ races here.

The three races that make up the Triple Crown are: the mile and a quarter Kentucky Derby run the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky; the mile and 3/16th Preakness Stakes run two weeks later at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland; and the mile and a half Belmont Stakes run five weeks after the Kentucky Derby at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. If one horse has the stamina and talent to win these three races it gets awarded the prestigious title of Triple Crown winner. The winner also receives a $5 million dollar bonus for winning all three races. This amount pales in comparison to the stud fees a Triple Crown winner could accumulate. Throughout the history of horse racing in America there have been eleven Triple Crown winners.

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Altitude Discrimination?

May 30, 2007

Two days ago, the BBC reported on Fifa’s decision to ban international soccer matches at altitudes greater than 2,500 meters. If you think about that for a minute, you know where this is going. This has sparked huge protest from certain Latin American nations, namely Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia, where a great deal of the countries are at altitudes much higher than 2,500m. Cuzco, a not-insignificant city in Peru, is at 3,400m, which is something of a problem since Peru was planning to have World Cup qualifiers there. La Paz, one of Bolivia’s capital cities*, is 3,600m. To put this in a perhaps more familiar perspective to some, Mexico City only barely makes it into legal play, being at 2,240m.

Fifa, of course, claims they made the decision based on its medical committee’s recommendation that high-altitude play was unhealthy and unfair. Some people, however, have a different theory:

 Local commentators in Peru… suggested Fifa made the decision after pressure from South America’s two major football powers, Brazil and Argentina.

Both nations have struggled in recent years while playing at altitude, where the thin air hands an advantage to those acclimatised to the conditions.

Playing sport in conditions of high altitude places heavy demands on the body, forcing the heart to work harder.

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Harry Potter and the BIG FAT SECRET, pt. II

May 29, 2007

This might be an ongoing series of posts in the lead-up to July 21st.

Last we left, I was arguing that we needed the tight security, it built up the suspense, it was excellent marketing and kept the endings fun (or tragically heartbreaking) for us all.

J. K. Rowling totally agrees with me (well, really, Leaky Cauldron agrees with me and she agrees with them…)

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Garden Weekend

May 28, 2007

When I lived in Iowa, Memorial Day weekend was the time when everyone planted their vegetable gardens. In those days (before global warming), the early June nights might still be cool but we were pretty well assured that the danger of frost was past and the growing season could begin. I had no gardening experience except what I’d learned from my grandfather, so I planted everything in my Iowa garden that he used to plant in his garden in the north Georgia mountains. And so I can attest that, for a limited time only, okra will grow rampant in Iowa (and since there is virtually no one there who knows what okra is, there’s no one to eat all the excess). Purple hull and lady peas (really not peas but we call them that) also are excellent cultivars in Iowa. (Again, limited acceptance.) Melons are dicey – I think I managed to get one watermelon harvested before frost in three seasons. 

So now I’m gardening in a more southern clime, and this is actually a report on how things are doing. The cucumber vines are blooming and beginning to climb their trelllis. The fig tree has recovered from the Great Easter Freeze, although we may be short of figs this year. Ditto the blueberry bushes. Strawberry season was pretty good for all concerned – the birds, mice, rabbits and me. And for the first time, my pomegranite bush is blooming! Could it be that there will be home-grown poms this year? 

The featured attraction of course is the tomato garden. All of the plants are in the ground now and doing well, including the Hillbillies which, as my faithful readers will remember, were planted separately under the unfortunate waning moon. Most of the tomato plants have bloomed, and several have set fruit already. This weekend, I sprinkled a small pinch of slow release organic fertilizer around all the blooming plants, in an effort to boost production. This is a new thing for me this year so I will let you know if I think it makes a difference. 

The big job for the tomato garden this weekend was STAKING. I do not believe in the “sprawl” method of growing tomatoes. Not here in the south, where sprawl invites pests and fusarium wilt. So, thanks to the help of Goshawk (who made the stakes and cages in return for tomato futures), the plants are staked and caged for the summer campaign. 

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Whew. Now I can relax. And think about next year’s garden. Okra? Perhaps a row or two of Silver Queen corn? 


HP Sucks!

May 26, 2007

I am seriously upset with the Hewlett-Packard Company for their declining product quality and recent changes in their policy for dealing with warranty issues. Historically, I have been a big HP fan. I bought their first (and several more recent) calculator and their first ink-jet printer and have bought many of their laser printers for my home and business. HP had carefully built up a reputation for quality and service from their beginning in electronic instrumentation and kept it as they moved into calculators and printers. However, my recent experience indicates that they have abandoned their focus on quality and have compounded that mistake by also abandoning their reputation for service. 

In March I bought a new HP Deskjet 9800 printer (11 X 17 inkjet printer) to replace a similar one I had been using for about 4 years in my office and had finally just worn out. Ten days ago that new printer just quit working and sent my computer a message that it had a “carriage fault”. There was nothing I could see wrong with the printer so I took it to my local independent computer repair shop. They reported that it did, in fact, have a carriage fault caused by a broken carriage belt and attachment point and that they could not fix it because HP would not sell them repair parts. When I called HP they said warranty repairs were handled by sending the broken printer to HP and they would fix it and send it back in 3 to 6 weeks.  When I protested that this offer was completely unacceptable since I could not shut my business down for a month waiting for them to repair the printer, they offered that I could pay them $50 to send a refurbished (I think this means “previously broken”) printer and then I could send my printer back in the same box. It seems to me that HP has tried to increase their short-term profits by making cheap printers and living off their reputation for quality. That resulted in a lot of warranty claims so they are attempting to reduce that expense by making it difficult to get warranty service (no local shop service, just mail in your printer at your expense) and hoping most people will not pursue a claim.

Obviously, I won’t continue to be an HP customer and will take every opportunity to discuss how unhappy I am with their quality and service. What is the leadership team at HP thinking? I am thinking I will have to figure out which other printer company to buy from.


Judging people by their covers…

May 25, 2007

There are things you notice about someone’s house when you go over for the first time. Maybe you always scope the kitchen. Maybe you are interested in the sound system. Maybe it’s what DVDs they have, what CDs, what’s hanging on their walls.

Me? I scope the bookshelves. When I get tours, I compulsively read the spines of books when walking by shelves. I don’t even realize I do it. I’m not the only one.

What books people own say a lot about them. What their interests are. Their guilty pleasures.

I judge people by their books, and not always fairly. I will mildly scorn a grown woman reading Gossip Girl in public. And I LOVE Gossip Girl. If you’re reading the latest best-selling mass-market paperback on the metro, I will peg you for a tourist. If you’re reading Ulysses, you’re a student. Or pretentious. Or both.

Of course, I assume that other people judge me by the books I’m reading, so it creates a bit of pressure.

I go through a minor freakout when I take the metro into town, because what will I read?! DC has an unwritten code that during the rush hour, one must read the paper, The Economist or something similar. Not a lot of books to be seen, except in the hands of tourists. Outside of rush hour though? Do I really want to be caught reading Clarice Bean Spells Trouble? Even though I have to read it for work? Or should I save that guilty pleasure for the confines of my house? The latest biography of Mao would be a good choice, but is way to big to fit into my cute purse. I need something smart, hip, cool, and small. Banana Yoshimoto usually fits the bill.At the coffee shop, I can bring whatever. Sometimes I will bring Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood and you can think of me what you will. But I’m much more likely to grab whatever the latest literary fiction bestseller I’m reading. The Kite Runner or Special Topics in Calamity Physics. (Actually, I highly recommend you leave that last one at home. I really didn’t like it.)

This might just be my own paranoia, but there has to be a reason that cross-generational favorites, like Harry Potter and The Confessions of Georgia Nicolson get released with multiple covers– the regular “kid” cover and a boring, sedate, I-swear-this-isn’t-a-kid’s-book “adult” cover.

One the other hand, I kinda like the pressure. It makes me read adult books.


Under the Volcano

May 25, 2007

I have been off the ‘Net while I vacationed with the family in Costa Rica. CR is a great place to vacation, even for us aging Boomers. The activities there (e.g., white water rafting, horseback riding, the ZIP line through the cloud forest) are still attainable for those of us who were born before 1960. And the local distilled spirit, Guaro, is to die for when mixed with a simple sugar sirup and lime juice. 

My most spectacular experience in CR was watching the eruption of the Arenal volcano, CR’s youngest and most active volcano. It was considered extinct until 1968, when it erupted rather violently (killing almost 100 people unfortunately located on its slopes), and it has been in continuous eruption ever since. Arenal is a stratovolcano (meaning it forms a distinct cone, among other things), and is more similar to Mt. Doom in Mordor (but less gloomy, as there are trees on the slopes of Arenal and no sign of orcs) than it is to the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

An expatriate acquaintance of my sister’s, who now lives in CR, found a wonderful lodging for us on the edge of the volcano. It took almost all day to travel there from San Jose, but it was well worth it. When we reached the end of the one-lane gravel road, we found a warm welcome and an unsurpassed view.

Following dinner on the hotel’s deck (which allowed continual eruption-watching), we retired with freshened Guaro sours to the decks of our rooms, facing the volcano’s flank. It was not quite dark and the local Howler Monkeys were in great voice. An entire family of the Howlers was nesting in a tree just down the slope from our rooms, and we could hear and see all their late evening activity. (Their howls sound like a mixture of dog barks and masculine screams. Think about that…)

Arenal is high enough (5,435 feet) that it is often shrouded in clouds during the rainy season, which is now. But we were lucky in that the clouds dissipated after a rather spectacular thunder storm and we were able to see the streams of lava flowing down the mountainside. Occasionally, we could hear the explosions coming from Arenal – a scary sound when one considers that the next explosion could signal the ultimate eruption. Fortunately for us, Arenal remained relatively calm.

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Name That Trend

May 24, 2007

About two weeks ago, we marked … well, Mother’s Day, yes, but that’s not what I want to talk about. But a couple of days before Mother’s Day, the SSA released the list of most popular baby names for 2006, in what someone aptly described as “Christmas for name nerds”. (Here’s the link).

I’ve loved reading about names since well before having a child; a lot of it due to sheer nosiness (what do other people think makes a good name? Oh my God, who would name their kid THAT?) and a bit of it due to wanting to give my fictional characters names that are more than just placeholders. When the Baby Name Voyager went online, I spent a truly embarrassing amount of time on it, watching names like Jaden and Isis spike upwards over the last few years while names like Dorothy and Pearl went into freefall around the middle of the century. The procession of Top Ten lists is interesting to watch; the top ten boys’ names of a hundred years ago wouldn’t look too strange to us now, but the girls’ names include Dorothy, Ruth and Mildred, none of which are exactly burning up the charts at the moment.

Since I live in a state which has a reputation for giving its children, shall we say, original names I tend to notice the names borne by the children at the playground. Sadly, nothing terribly original has come to my attention – probably the middle of SLC isn’t the place to find the exotic hybrids that site talks about. Mostly, the babies (including mine) seem to have either highly-popular yet classic names (Isabella, Jacob) or they are members of the “Aidan” trend so deplored by members of this site. I’ve never met a small Arvel or Daxen, but I’ve encountered Kadens, Bradens and Madisons beyond count. The most exotic Aidan-offshoot I’ve met so far is a Drayden.

Personally, I prefer names with established histories behind them, though I realize that in expressing a preference for older names I’m not being entirely consistent. All names were made up at some point, and an old Kiowa name meaning “Willow” shouldn’t technically be any more legit than just using the English word “Willow.” What I can’t fathom – and what I don’t think has been done before this era – is inventing names which consist simply of pretty sounds. Kaden does not, as far as I can tell, mean a thing in any language. Ditto for something like Kayla (though you could stretch things a bit and argue that it’s a nicknameish derivation of Katherine).

So what do you think? Old and laden with meaning (possibly not very flattering – Jacob means “supplanter”), or new and to hell with the meaning? Some combination of the two? Does a name’s popularity factor into your inclination to use it? Does the surge of Aidan-derivatives confuse you as much as it does me?


Musical Interludes for the Deaf

May 20, 2007

Today at church, I wanted to ask the sign interpreter a question after the service. When I got over to her, though, there was another person talking to her already, who asked her about the responses she had gotten from other hearing people in the congregation. (We’ve only had a sign interpreter coming for about a year, so it’s still a new and surprising phenomenon to some people.)

She said that on the most part, people were complimentary and said they enjoyed watching her sign, or were happy she was there to provide the service, etc. A few people, however, had chastised her, and the deaf and hard-of-hearing people she was interpreting for by extension, for signing during the musical interludes. Because it was disrespectful. Because they weren’t listening.

Listening? Seriously, what are the deaf supposed to do during a musical break in an otherwise verbal service? The interpreter said that it is quite common for the deaf to use those times to catch up on news and chat, because they’re not really getting much from the music. Certainly, today it might have been more interesting for them to watch, because they were sitting where they could see the musicians, but, when the piece is a long accompanied violin solo of more than five minutes, is suspect it gets kind of predictable. Why not sign? It’s not like it’s a loud distraction.

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Those Quirky Danes!

May 19, 2007

I’ve been in seven different countries in the past six weeks, so you’ll have to forgive my tardy updating. I’ll begin my musings with the first, and dirtiest, stop on the tour: Germany’s neighbor to the north, Denmark.

Germans head to Denmark in the summer to rent seaside cottages and enjoy the lovely beaches. They drive up, trunk full of provisions (Denmark is comparably expensive), and go out only to the beach. Many of them never explore the country or its people further.

Too cold for the beach over the Easter holiday, my mother and I had little to do but wander . . . and wonder about those Danes. We discovered, for example, that the Danes have an odd sense of humor. First, we tried to enter the art museum, but were greeted at all entrances by this sign:

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