28 December 2005

Narnia & snow

The movie was fun, but the big news is that apparently Denmark is expecting a blizzard overnight. We have seen pictures of the snow blanketing other parts of Europe on the TV news, but so far we've seen only a couple of inches here.

Look for pictures of snow angels & other snow critters tomorrow!!

As for Narnia, those of us who had read the books as kids liked it more than those who had not read the books, even as adults. I think they expected something deep & involved like Lord of the Rings. It's a good story, but it's no Lord of the Rings.

More Christmas in Denmark

So, we ate & ate, then sang Christmas carols around the tree, and we are ready to open presents, which the kids deliver to the grownups who clearly are not in enough of a hurry to get to the best part of Christmas.

In my family, the Unnamed Male Relative and I have a Christmas tradition. Ever year, we reminding my dad that we "always" get to open some present on Christmas Eve. This is patently false, but we say it every year anyway, and every year dad says "NO!" and wait for Santa to deliver the stuf that he always brings while we sleep. Then we get up early on Christmas morning shouting, "Santa came! Santa came!" (We may be old, but we are not grown up at Christmas!)

The Martian's young nieces were horrified to hear that American kids have to wait until Christmas morning to open their presents. In Denmark, Santa (julemanden) is just more the leader of a band of tricksters, nisse who are nice to good children and who play nasty tricks on bad children. They are all about knocking over the salt, making a mess in your bedroom, or giving you a bad hair day, rather than bringing presents to good children. The sleigh, reindeer, delivering gifts overnight... that's all crazy American stuff. Danish kids think Americans torture their children by making them wait all night. "How can the kids even get to sleep?" they wanted to know.

You can see in the picture some of my jul loot: a new Logitech keyboard/mouse with lots of tricks. I'm typing/clicking with it now, attached to the Mac, but without all the functionality that it will have once I get home & install the drivers on the PC. I don't think I have ever seena mouse with so many functions; I have no idea what I'll do with all the options!

You may also be able to see The Martian's sister holding the small pink scrapbook that I made for her daughter. As expected, the kids looked through the books quickly before moving on to toys. But the moms... Heh. I am pretty sure that they are addicted to the craft/hobby even before they get started. I did give them small scrapbooking kits for gifts, and they are excited about trying it themselves, now that they have seen one possibility. There is also a crafting chain store here in Denmark that carries more scrapbooking 'stuff,' although not yet at the level of the American stores. Heh.

What you can definitely see is one corner of the trash pile that resulted from the crazy unwrapping fest. Fourteen people unwrapping gifts makes a big pile of paper & ribbons & boxes & stuff.

While The Martian's brother-in-law cleaned up the mess, his sister was in the kitchen because (of course) we had to eat some more. This time it was just coffee and candy -- the latter including some of the konfekt that we made the day before. As if we could possibly eat any more. (Well, somehow we did!)

After chatting a bit, playing with some of the new toys and relaxing, we eventually left the whining, overtired kids to go back to The Martian's mom's house in Aalborg, to sleep a few hours before starting another day of over-eating.

The Martian earned big points with me by holding back a small present, so when he woke me on Christmas morning, he could say, "Santa came! Santa came!" He's a good Martian!

The first stop on Christmas day was his grandparents' new home, where we chatted and shared clementines. Then we walked (brrr cold!) down to his dad's place for lunch of a variety of Danish traditional Christmas foods, including sild (herring, not my favorite), and some pork goo (sylte) that neither The Martian nor his sister would touch with a 10-meter pole, but which his dad likes a lot. I liked it just fine; it tasted like deviled ham. They tell me I don't want to know how it's made; something about boiling the head of the pig... (la la la I can't hear you la la la).

Christmas evening, The Martian's childhood pal joined us for dinner and a few too many glasses of candy-flavored liquor (yum!). The Martian's pal & sister then went into the city to seek further libation, but I am too old to enjoy a hangover anymore, so The Martian and I chose sleep over hangovers.

I woke the next morning with a sore throat and a sniffle; The Martian had a sour stomach and a headache. I'm not sure which is worse, but I will say that Danish cold medicine works great.

The day ended at a concert by "The Original Local Blues Brothers" in Aalborg, a fun group that played great music even if the venue was so full of smoke that you could hardly see the stage. (It's very weird to be back in a place where smoking is allowed almost everywhere!) We went with a friend from Aarhus and his two cousins; afterward we (of course) had to get something to eat. What restaurant was still open at midnight? Burger King. Oh yes.

On our last day in Aalborg, I turned on my GPS receiver for kicks and saw that there was a geocache hidden only about 400 meters from The Martian's mom's house! She lives near a great hill that overlooks the Lim Fjord, and someone had a cache there. The Martian's nieces were visiting, so we grabbed them for a 'treasure hunt' while his mom fixed lunch. It was a very cold trudge up the hill, but the girls loved finding the 'treasure' and the small toys inside.

We're back in Århus now, and tonight we will eat some other strange Danish food and go see Narnia with friends. More yapping later... I have to start putting on layers to go out int he cold!

26 December 2005

Christmas in Denmark

JulaftenBefore I get to the real Danish Christmas story, I quit yesterday in he middle of the tale of risengrød, a rice goo that Danish elves eat. Turns out, people also eat it as part of dinner. To an American's eyes, it's more of a breakfast thing (like oatmeal), but I will not complain about food that has to be smothered in butter and brown sugar before you eat it.

The goo is made by cooking rice in milk instead of water. To avoid scalding the milk, Vikings since ancient times have been cooking the stuff by bringing the mixture to a boil, then taking it off the stove and wrapping the hot pot in blankets to finish cooking for some hours. Every Danish kid has a tale of accidentally jumping on the bed while the pot of goo was cooking in that fashion.

The night that we had the risengrød, The Martian and I also cooked one of my favorite 'American' foods: Shepherd's Pie. I don't know if any other American family eats this three-layer meat-veggie-starch dish, but it's easy and I like it, so that's what we made. The second option was mac-n-cheese. Maybe next time.

The next day was Danish Christmas, which they celebrate on Christmas Eve (julaften). The Martian's sister invited us to stay at her home in rural Mou, Denmark. The morning started with a Danish breakfast of coffee and smørbrød, bread and rolls smeared with butter and stuff: chocolate, jam, paté, shrimp, ham, cheeses, whatever. I mostly stay with jam; I can't seem to convince myself to eat liver for breakfast.

After breakfast, The Martian and his brother-in-law went out into their woods to cut down a Christmas tree. We all helped decorate it with a random assortment of stuff, including strings of Danish flags, a common decoration here for any celebration from birthdays to religious holidays. (I bet even George Bush doesn't have strings of American flags on his Christmas tree.)

The whole Martian horde descended on the house in late afternoon. Some brought food or wine; all brought presents that soon covered the base of the tree, much to the children's glee.

DinnerThe main dinner treats were duck and roast pork, including the crackling from the pork. We also had three styles of potatoes, cabbage, pickled squash, and oh, let's just say nobody went hungry.

After the third time the food rotated around the table, the adults were bloated, and the kids were jumping out of their skins. Because they want to move the process closer to the Present Opening stage, they help to clear the table.

The party then moved to the living room, where the man of the house lit the real candles! on the tree. It was the first time I had seen this traditional way of lighting a tree, and it may be the last; The Martian said electric lights are common even in Denmark nowadays.

Then everyone joined hands to sing Christmas carols while walking in a ring around the tree. It's a fun bit of ceremony, but after each song, the kids ask, "Is that enough singing yet?"

Because after the singing their anticipation ended with Opening Presents!

More next time!

25 December 2005

Messy messy messy

konfektAs promised, making the konfekt was a messy endeavor.

You start with marzipan, then add nougat, chocolate, nuts, sprinkles, and whatever you can find in the 'baking' section of a grocery store.

When making konfekt, individual creativity is the only limit. Some folk made candy creations that were real food art; others of us just made a big mess. Anything that didn't turn out as planned, we had to eat. Some things that turned out just fine, we ate anyway.

The marzipan was the 'frosting' on a long day of eating, anyway. I'm pretty sure that the word jul is not really Danish for 'Christmas,' but rather Danish for 'stuff yourself until you burst.

elf foodWe are about to eat again, so I will just leave you with a picture of what Danes feed nisser (elves, kind of), including the bigest one of all, julemanden (known to Americans as Santa Claus). It's called risengrød, and it's a porridge/goo made from rice.

I'll tell more about it and about our actual Christmas Eve celebration, when I next get a chance to sit still without a fork in my hand.

23 December 2005

Polar Bears

The Martian's stepfather has an interesting'hobby: He is a Polar Bear. This means that a few times each week (including this morning), he joins other Vikings in taking a swim in the nearby Lim Fjord.

Last night, he explained how it works. You go to the club's ladder, prepare yourself for the sim, climb into the (oh yes, freezing cold) fjord, hang there for 30 seconds or so, then get out and run about 50 meters to a sauna.

"Would you like to come?" he asked.

"Oh," I said, trying to sound disappointed, "I didn't bring a bathing suit."

"That's ok," he replied. "It's too cold to wear a bathing suit anyway."

I briefly considered getting naked & frozen in front of 300 total strangers, then said, "Er, no, I don't think I would be a good Viking woman."

Ordinarily I might have felt more compelled to participate in a family activity, but as The Martian pointed out, this is something that only his stepdad does, so it's not really 'family.' Whew!

22 December 2005

Danish Christmas treats

The Martian and I finished our Christmas shopping today; his sister will pick us up in some hours so we can spend Christmas in Aalborg. We could just hop on a train, but then we'd have to lug not only our clothes for the long weekend but also all the gifts, including some big toys that Uncle Martian had to get for his adorable nieces.

The smells from the sidewalk food vendors on the main shopping street here in Århus reminded me of the smell of roasting chestnuts from NY City sidewalk vendors. I also remember that they smelled a lot better than they taste. Here, they roast almonds with sugar: brændte mandler. This tastes as wonderful as it smells.

Another holiday treat that The Martian found for me while we were shopping is æble-skiver. It translates to "apple slices," but it is neither apple nor sliced. It's basically a dough ball that you dip in jam & powdered sugar. A Christmas treat, I'm told.

More to my liking are the cookies, brunkager and pebernødder. The first translates badly to 'brown cookies,' but they are similar to ginger snaps. The latter translates to 'pepper nuts,' but they are small (3/4 in. round) shortbreads with maybe a slight anise taste. I could live on these two foods, but The Martian insists on eating real food occasionally.

What's missing from the Danish cookie feast are the tins of what American stores market as Danish Butter Cookies. I have tried to explain what we think of as Danish cookies, but The Martian doesn't think anyone here actually eats them. "It's like those sticky gooey things you have in the bakery that you call a 'Danish'," he says. "No Dane would eat that."

He has, however, done a solid job of eating the first level of an enormous box of Danish chocolate that he got as a Christmas gift from work. Oh, back up a sec...

He shows up from work yesterday with some huge bags of stuff: a 5-ish-pound pork roast, a huge salmon filet, a bag of pistacios, two bottles of red wine, and the aforementioned enormous box (about 2 pounds) of chocolates. Heck of a gift!

The chocolates are interesting; most have marzipan at the center. I'm not crazy about marzipan, but I can eat anything surrounded by chocolate. Tomorrow, at The Martian's mom's house, we will be making marzipan -- konfekt -- with the nieces et al. Apparently it is a very messy thing, which means there will be good pictures.

I am told that Christmas dinner -- well, Christmas Eve (juleaften) -- will be some pork and duck. And, of course, more photo opportunities and adventures!

20 December 2005

Mac in Denmark

Denmark snows
Here's the view yesterday from the back windows of The Martian's farmhouse in northern Århus, Denmark. It was snowing when I shot this, though I don't think you can see it in the picture. This morning, the snow is mostly melted, and the sky is blue with some puffy clouds.

I've set up MiniMe (my Mac Mini), and it seems happy enough, although it has some interesting "quirks."

First, though, it did have two Small Adventures of its own as it traveled from Houston to Århus. It being a computer worth more than your average clothing item, I lugged it in my carry-on bag rather than stuffing it into checked luggage. I had some doubts about this, as in trips to Europe many years ago, they actually made you turn on your computers to prove that they were not bombs. Since MiniMe is not a laptop (think of it as your whole clunky PC squished into an attractive little MacPackage), there's really no way to prove it's a computer short of hooking it up to an external monitor.

Anyway, Googling on Mac Mini airport found a lot of at least anecdotal evidence that nobody makes you turn on a computer anymore. You stimply carry your cute little Mini & pretend it's a laptop -- put it on the x-ray machine belt separately from your other stuff. So MiniMe came on the trip.

Her first adventure was in Houston when I put her in laptop tray:

"Uh, what is that?" asked the non-Mac-literate TSA employee.

"It's a Mac Mini," said the newly Mac-literate traveler.

"It's cute!" the TSA employee said, with a look that indicated she didn't quite believe it was a computer. But it went through the machine ok, and all was well.

Cut to adventure #2, in Amsterdam. Same deal: Mac in laptop tray.

Dutch airport screener (looking puzzled): "What is this?"

"It's a Mac." (blank stare/frown from screener) "An Apple." (still blank stare) "A small computer." (lightbulb goes on)

"It's small! Is it something new?"

"Sure, new. It's a Mac Mini." (Ignore the fact that in Mac-o-phile world, it's 'old tech.')

As with Houston, it went through the x-ray machine without incident. The same cannot be said for two crafting hole punches, which I brought because I have not quite finished all my handmade Christmas gifts, eek!

Apparently in the Netherlands, hole punches are dangerous. I had to show them that one makes tiny holes and the other makes tiny hearts, to convince them that they were not weapons of mass destruction.

Yesterday was shopping day, which meant trudging around Århus with The Martian and a whole lot of other Danes who took a day off to get their shopping done. Today, The Martian had to work, and so I unhooked the keyboard, mouse and monitor from his boring old PC and hooked up the Mac.

Being a Dane, he has a Danish keyboard with extra keys for the extra Danish vowels I can't pronounce. Squeezing those vowels onto the keyboard meant that they also have moved some other standard typewriter keys, like quotes, question marks, dashes, etc. When I type on his PC, I make words that look like: Iøm (I'm). The Mac, however, ignores the extra keys and just makes them output what IT wants. As long as I don't look at the keyboard, I can type a question mark ? or a quote ' " or a () as usual.

I can't decide whether this makes the Mac smarter or dumber than a PC. It certainly makes me type without looking at the keys, as most non-English-letter keys make something other than what the key shows. For example, the key that says "Ø" actually produces quotes, just like the key in that location at my house does. The key that says "Æ" makes a semicolon, as my fingers expect. This means, of course, that the keys that say they make quotes and semicolons really make something else.

Call it, then, Adventures in Typing. I could actually become a touch-typist by the end of this trip...

Tonight we will have dinner with some friends, including two or three that were among the Danish horde that invaded my home space over the summer. Until then, I should be working on those crafting projects instead of messing with the Mac!

19 December 2005

In Denmark!

The nine-hour flight from Houston to Amsterdam was typically eventful. We left Houston quite late, which prompted one fellow passenger to have a screaming, crying fit in the waiting area at the airport. She was on her cell phone the first I noticed her carrying on; I thought she had just been notified that her entire family had been killed in some awful accident. But no, all her noise was about how she MIGHT miss her connection in Amsterdam. Turns out that despite leaving Houston late, we got to Amsterdam 2 minutes early.

I didn't sleep on the plane, although sometimes I do. This time, the problem was a 3-year-old who made it his mission to scream, at the top of his little lungs, for nine hours straight. I don't mean crying softly. I mean screaming like he was being tortured. Someday, some airline will offer a soundproofed "no chldren" section, and I will enjoy flying again.

A short hop from Amsterdam to Billund, Denmark was uneventful. I had the very first seat -- 1A -- on the plane, and all the leg room in the world. For a 1-hour flight. Poo!

I arrived in Billund to a blanket of new snow. The Martian said he was out with a spray gun all night just to make it all beautiful for me. Unfortunately, as we drove up toward Århus, the snow all but disappeared. We're also far enough north that the sun seems to start going down around 4:30 or so! It's not quite the shortest day of the year, but it's plenty short for this Southern gal!

This morning, it's snowing here in Århus, but it doesn't seem to be sticking. Still, it's a pretty way to wake up. The Martian lives out in the 'country' north of Århus, so it makes a nice winter scene that I'll try to capture with the camera today.

We'll go into the city this morning, since the Martian hasn't yet started on his Christmas shopping. More adventures to come, with pictures, I hope!

16 December 2005

Job Adventure update

As I mentioned yesterday, I'll be starting at a "real job" in January, when I get back from my holiday trip to Denmark.

Since 2001, I've been a freelancer, working for myself at home, making my own hours and wearing whatever is comfortable while I do my editing/writing work for clients. It's a fun/free lifestyle, but it's not easy to stay busy, e.g., earn a living.

My specialty is translating high-tech engineer-speak into English. The specialty stems from my abiding interest in science, despite my inability to actually be a scientist. I was a physics major for one semester of college. Having barely passed physics and calculus, I decided to pursue other options.

My first return to science was when I was a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, listening to an argument floating around the sports department. A Houston Astros pitcher was accused of scuffing the ball to alter its aerodynamic characteristics. The miffed sports staff was divided on how much a small scuff could affect the air flow around a baseball. Enter the curious young ex-physics major, who became an 'award-winning sports reporter' by explaining how scuffing makes a difference, especially for the split-fingered fastball.

Lately, my specialty has been photonics, because of my last full-time work as an editor at a company whose magazines cover that subject. Photonics comprises lasers, optics, fiber optics, detectors... a wide range of things that involve making, changing and collecting light.

When I started in that field, I didn't know a photon from a baseball, so I had to learn a lot, quickly. I think it's easy for someone who is trained in reporting because we journalists are (generally) not afraid to ask stupid questions.

Having accepted this new job, I'm back in the 'learn a lot, quickly' mode. It's an editing/writing job, and it involves translating engineering-speak into English. But this being Houston, the job is -- of course -- in the oil & gas industry.

Light readingI went to the office today to pick up some reading materials for my three weeks of pre-work vacation in Denmark. Exciting reading, full of sex & violence (think 'drill pipe grinding through bedrock', ow baby that's hot hot hot!)

The new commute will be 40 miles each way (owch) until February or March, when everything moves to a new building closer to home. I could cut the mileage in half by taking a more direct route that avoids the interstate and the tollway, but it takes twice as long because of all the lights and stop signs. Go figure.

The 40-mile trip took almost exactly 40 minutes today. The drive includes some 20 or so miles on the Sam Houston Tollway, on which the posted speed limit is 65 mph. Anyone actually driving 65 mph on that road would be quickly squished; the traffic in all lanes at 8:30 a.m. was doing 85-ish mph, with occasional 'crazy driver' passing everyone as if we were standing still. [I missed one question on my very first driver's license test, back in Illinois when I was 16. The question was, "What is the safest speed to drive?" There were four possible answers, none of which seemed right to me. I picked "the speed limit," as the lesser of four evils. The correct response was, "The speed of traffic." Go figure. Permission to drive 85 mph: granted!]

Someday I will write more about traffic and commuting, but this is already getting too long, and I haven't even gotten to the drug test yet. Oh yes, one condition of employment was "successful completion of a pre-employment drug screen."

Some years ago, when such drug tests were still rare but becoming more de rigeur, I expounded loudly about such an invasion of privacy, civil rights, "I would never..." blah blah. I don't use drugs (well, occasionally Advil), so I'm not concerned about my results. However, I think a nation that allows the use of alcohol and tobacco has drawn a rather arbitrary line in the sand about what constitutes 'drugs.' (I also note that my new employer provides free coffee -- my drug of choice -- in the office.)

I understand a company not wanting to hire someone with a "drug problem," but a rigorous interview/reference-checking process should screen that better than a 'take it when you feel like it' urine test. Someone who is committed to drug use probably knows how long a drug stays in the urine/kidneys, and just stays 'clean' for as many (or few) days as required. So I still oppose the concept, but there I was, peeing in a cup.

I was surprised that they asked me no questions about any medications I might be taking (none) or whether I had eaten any poppyseed buns recently (no); I suppose the tests are more specific nowadays than they used to be. They had me leave my purse on a hanger on the back of the door to the bathroom, and there was apparently some chemical in the toilet bowl to detect something because you're not allowed to flush when you're done.

Anyway, it's done. The company will get results next week. Now, it's time to do laundry and start packing for three weeks in Denmark.

15 December 2005

Power to the Car

I think the Camaro needs a new battery.

First, it doesn't start as 'crisply' as it once did. Instead of turning the key to hear a "VROOM," I turn the key to hear a "grunt VROOM."

Second, my best guess is that I have the oldest still-running battery in the history of car batteries. As far as I can guess/remember, my 1997 Camaro with not-quite-99,000 miles on it still has its original equipment battery. This sounds unlikely even to me, but I know that I have not put in a new battery since at least 2001; I do not recall buying a new battery even before that.

Furthermore, the poor old battery that's in there is an AC Delco battery. If the ex had replaced that battery, I don't imagine he would have replaced it with an OEM battery. I think we would have grabbed NAPA's Best or something equally convenient.

I found a website that talks about the average lifetime of a battery. It suggests that in frozen places (like upstate NY, where he car was 'born') an average lifetime might be 50-ish months. In hotter places (like Arizona, where it lived for the last several years), the lifetime decreases.

It probably helped that I barely drove the car while I was in Arizona. When you work at home and walk to the grocery store, your car has a pretty easy life.

Now that I'm in Houston, the beast works more often. The grocery store is close, but not walking-distance. Same with the dog park and almost anything else I want/need to do. Do she takes a lot of short hops. (This is bad for gas mileage as well as battery life; I can usually get 300 miles on a tank, but with all this short-hop nonsense, I sometimes don't even get 200.)

At any rate, one of my chores before I leave for Denmark this weekend is to get a new battery. Why before I leave? Well, it looks like right after I get back, I will be starting a great NEW JOB at a real office with a real commute (ugh!) but also a real salary and real benefits (yay!)

More about the job (and maybe an adventure with getting a new battery) later. The formal offer showed up in my in-box while I was typing this journal entry. I am so excited, I may jump out of my skin.

14 December 2005

The Martian's Decision

When I originally wrote the New Hair Day entry, I didn't have an "After" photo on it because I had given The Martian a choice on whether he wanted to wait and be surprised at the airport, or see a (bad) picture of the new 'do' now.

He decided he could not wait, and he thought I was an awful tease when I posted an entry with a before & no after photo. So I edited the New Hair Day entry, changed/added photos, and you can see the real transformation.

The 'after' photo is not the best picture (you can't really get a sense of the color & highlights), but the weather is nasty (tornado watch & occasional warnings!), so an indoor photo with flash is all I can do at the moment. The Martian will get some better ones in Denmark.

In those you will get to see the real "after," which is what you get when you try to do the cute styling all by yourself. Britany promised me that this cute cut would have a lot of options for straight, curly, pulled back, etc., so we'll be experimenting!

New Hair Day

One bad hair day is not so bad. When you get to 30 in a row, it's time for action: a New Hair Day.

I have this thing about hair, beauty & fashion: I don't much care for any of them. But there comes a time when you are about to leave for three weeks in Denmark and then come back to (you hope) a new job, and you are tired of looking at the three stripes of color bands across your head -- one from when you thought going all blonde would hide those... uh... platinum hairs; one from a year later, when you hoped a few highlights would blend your normal dark hair with the blonde; and one that is your real dark hair, six months grown out with far too many "platinum" accents.

The photo at the top of this entry is the 'Before,' shot a couple of weeks ago; you can see the growing dark roots & general scraggly mop "style." Last check, it hung to around the bottom of my shoulder blades in back.

I had to go to the grocery store, and this being The Woodlands I figured there would probably be a hair place in the same strip mall. Sure enough, I ended up at L'Avantage.

"My hair needs help," I said to the woman behind the reception desk. She looked up with a blank stare. The colorist standing behind her looked at my stringy mess and chuckled. "Oh sure," I said, laughing back. "Laugh now, but it might be you who has to fix this."

Turns out, she did start the repair work. Nancy, the Amazing Color Goddess, took me into the salon and said, "What are we going to do with this?" And I gave my standard salon reply:

"Whatever you want. My head is in your hands."

I am a bit crazy about this hair thing. I get to some point where I can't stand to look at my mop in the mirror, and I need something new and fresh. I don't care that much about hair, don't read the magazines that concern themselves with that sort of thing, and expect the professionals at a salon to figure out what will look best on my head.

I'm sure all beauty professionals go home at the end of a trying day to tell someone, "Grr! I wish my clients would just let me do what I know would look good on them!" But when it actually happens, it's a little scary: "What if I do something and she hates it?" I can see the deer-in-headlights look when they ask me, "Do you want this? how about this?" I simply smile and respond, "I'm really easy about this. You are the professional, and I want you to do what you think will look good."

Three hours and 500 gallons of coloring goo later ("Wow, I apologize, but I am still going to have to go mix some more color." "I told you I have a lot of hair." "But I tripled the recipe!") I had the roots of a new look.

Now it was up to Britany, the stylist, to mold it into something fun. "So, what are we doing here today?" she asked sweetly. Silly girl.

"My head is in your hands. The only thing I'm going to tell you is that I don't want it way short, but most of the time, I wear it up anyway, so losing some length is not an issue."

She asked a few more questions, and I had to reiterate, "I don't know anything about hair. I don't even know the meaning of what you just asked me. You are a professional, I trust you to do something fun and cute for me, and I'm in your hands."

After!Finally convinced, she joyfully grabbed the scissors and made me gorgeous. I don't mean "drop-dead, movie-star, three hours in the bathroom before work every morning" gorgeous; I mean "cute, manageable, flexible, fun" gorgeous that totally brought out the fabulous coloring that Nancy had so carefully painted in. I was so pleased with the whole look, I thought my face was going to bust from grinning.

I walked around the corner to pay for it, and the receptionist's mouth dropped. "Aren't you the one who came in with the..." She made a "big hair" gesture with her hands, and I nodded, grinning. "Ohmigawd!"

I love change :)

[A side giggle here: when I ran Blogger's spell check on this entry, it wanted to change "Ohmigawd" to "homicide." Say what?!]

13 December 2005

Tookie, Tookie

Call me an ostrich, but I don't watch TV, don't read the newspaper all that much. Until I hit Bloglines this morning for my daily reads, I thought "tookie" was a bird on George of the Jungle. ("tookie tookie!")

This morning, I see Tookie is a man's name. It's still his name, even though we killed him. We, us. You & I.

The Martian & I have had discussions about the death penalty. In his culture, in sweet, nonviolent Denmark, it's a totally unacceptable means of controlling crime. Over there, violent crime is a whisper. Maybe it is because Mother Denmark cares for her poor (her cradle-to-grave welfare system being another topic for another day). Or maybe it's because Denmark is small, insulated and has firm gun laws. Whatever the reason, Denmark (and much of the rest of Europe) thinks we Americans are uncivilized about the way we treat our worst criminals.

I don't like the death penalty, myself. Basically, I don't understand how a "Christian nation" (which we are, no matter how much we pretend not to be) not only accepts but actively legislates revenge as an instrumental part of society.

Tookie Williams did some very bad things. For one thing, he started a gang whose violence became the standard to which all gangs now aspire. He also may have killed people and laughed about it. A jury found him guilty of the killings; to the end, he maintained his innocence, and that really makes some people mad. How dare he second-guess the American justice system?

Only God and four dead people know the truth, and they're not talking. I'm a cynic so I'm happy to accept the jury verdict, but I have seen injustice, and I know that black men rarely get a fair shake. In this case, Williams' participation in creating gang violence -- regardless of his guilt or innocence in a specific killing -- was a sure-fire way to ensure that he would never get a fair shake.

And so he faced the real American justice system, which for all of our professed Christianity, metes out revenge. A good Christian has to believe a merciful God can forgive even the worst sins. But puny humans don't have the same capacity for forgiveness: A person who does a bad thing must pay some penalty, no?!

And even if we believe that God's forgiveness comes only after a sinner truly repents -- feeling the anguish of his victims as his penalty? -- we don't think that's enough. We want more. Prison time, so you can think about your awful crime and maybe change and redeem yourself (though we are cynical that you can change anyway).

For the worst cases, we are so outraged, so overwhelmed by a violent act, we have to believe a being who could commit such violence must be Other. And so, society justifies killing -- not one of its own, but something Other. It's not revenge, we say; it's just that society would be better off, we say, without this Other in its midst.

Surely, no intelligent person believes that the death penalty is a deterrent. Can you imagine the man torturing a rape victim and then deciding not to kill her because, "ooh I might get the death penalty"? No, he kills her because it's 'fun' or 'part of the gang initiation' or 'because then she can't testify against me' or some Other reason. We then kill him because his Otherness shows us that he cannot live in our Society and therefore should not.

America, through its 50 state legislatures and its Supreme Court, has made a list of what kinds of things convert a person from human to Other. I cynically note that when some other society's list is longer than (or simply different from) ours, we call them uncivilized.

A jury decided that Tookie Williams did something that was on California's list. While he waited for the American justice system to decide whether the jury was right and/or the list was fair, Williams did some thinking. "I may be innocent of those murders," he thought to himself, "but I did do a lot of Other things, including encouraging others to become Other. That's pretty sociopathic. Perhaps I can redeem myself to society by actively discouraging this Otherness I created."

So Williams began promoting an anti-gang, anti-violence message aimed at keeping kids from becoming Other. His works convinced many that he sincerely regretted his past Otherness enough to once again be One Of Us. Many more people, especially those in power, believed that he remained Other in his heart and dismissed the new, outwardly peaceful message as a sham.

I'm a cynic, and I have a hard time believing prison conversions. Until society can look into a person's heart to see Truth, it's too easy for a sociopathic liar to pretend he has 'changed.' And although I don't like the death penalty, I don't oppose it on principle; we have killed Others whose deaths -- I honestly believe -- made society a better place, just by removing the stench of their seething Evil.

That said, I don't think killing Tookie Williams made the world a better place. And it seems to me that's the only good reason society can give for intentionally killing a helpless man strapped to a gurney.

06 December 2005

Warm & cuddly, sorta

There's a nice coating of frost on the grass this morning here in beautiful, sunny Houston, which means today may be the day when the sweaters change places with the T-shirts until it warms up again. (This being Houston, however, the change-back date could be tomorrow.)

Cold weather is good sleeping weather and great cuddling weather. It just so happens that although The Martian is some thousands of miles away in his own cold place, I still have a nice warm cuddle machine. Her cold nose, notwithstanding, Lakrids is a marvelous cuddler -- if she can stop wiggling long enough to actually snuggle.

Sleeping with a dog is different from sleeping with a people. If you are having trouble falling asleep, and your dog is happily snoring there just an arm's length away, you can reach over and scritch her between the ears, or just above the tail, and she will wake up with a loving expression on her face. If you wake up & you are chilly and the dog has made a nice, warm spot just an arm's length away, the same scritching technique will allow you to skootch over into the warm spot, and she does not insist that she have it back, as long as she can press her doggie self upon some part of you while she warms up a new spot.

My dad is dumbfounded by the thought of this rambunctious, energy hound as a cuddler: "She sleeps on your bed? Doesn't she wake you up in the morning by pouncing all over you?"

Well, she has done that, but mostly she just curls up in a dog ball & sleeps or watches me sleep until she sees an eyeball. The eyeball, apparently, is the dog's universal signal of "Time to get up & start the very exciting and fun-filled day!" If I can keep my eyes closed, I can cuddle with her until noon. But of course I love to look at her cute face and scritch her belly, so ...

There are people who say that my dog is spoiled. I think they miss the point. If she is spoiled, it's only because she spoils me rotten.

03 December 2005

One big geek

BIG geekWhat you see here is a Mac Mini, the same one I showed you a couple of days ago, but hooked up to a 'slightly larger' monitor. [Mini-Me is there, really. Just to the right of the stereo. Try squinting. And if you squint hard enough at the text on the screen, you can read my iChat with my dad.)

Slightly larger, indeed. The old Dell monitor was a 17-incher. This baby is a 47-in. HDTV screen on which pictures and video look awesome and text becomes a fuzzy blur of unreadable typos. But dang if I can't sit on the couch, here, with my feet up and my wireless keyboard in my lap, mouse handy on the plush armrest, a glass of wine on the end table and the dog gnawing on a rawhide bone next to me. (That would be the dog who is usually not allowed to chew on yucky things on mom's couch, but mom is in Geek Heaven so it's all ok tonight.)

I've been through this 'ok, the pictures look great but I can't read anything' situation before, when I got the 20-in. flat screen for my big Dell a few years ago. OK, it has awesome resolution, but I had to increase the size of the desktop fonts and start reading Word Documents at 135%. (And not just because I'm over 40!) Resolution would be better if we could teach computers to discern between text thingies and non-text thingies to 're-resolve' at the new resolution.

Meanwhile, I have to step back a few hours to tell you the story of the cable. It's a fairly non-specialized thing, a DVI-to-HDMI cable. DVI is what's on the Mac; HDMI is what's on the TV. Many DVD recorders, cable boxes and other fancy techie things use those types of connections.

A jaunt over to Amazon.com was in order. There I found a plethora of such cables ranging from $15 to way more than anybody in their right mind would spend on a cable. (I mean, it's wire with some thingies on the ends, right?) Of course the problem for a true geek is that Amazon.com ships stuff. So you have to wait. Whine!

Thus the Camaro took me on a little trip to the local Technoglomerates, which I'll call Circuits R Us and Best Boys. I have to give them credit for at least having salespeople with a clue. When I said, "I need a DVI-to-HDMI cable" they knew what it was & where it could be found. They also only stock only the most expensive gold-plated cable brand in the universe. A mid-grade 6-foot cable on Amazon cost $35. These were over $100. For that, I could get two of them and overnight shipping at Amazon!

I had to stop for dog food at PetSmart among my shoping errands, and since Wal*Mart was on the way home, I thought I'd see whether they had anything. Say what you will about Wal*Mart. If you don't need the dang gold-plated wires, Wal*Mart has some that will work just fine & beat Amazon on even three-day shipping.

So I ran home with the cable, hooked it up & voila. A computer screen I can't read from the couch. But how cool is a slideshow of your vacation pix on an HDTV monitor? Sure, I could burn them onto a DVD but how lame & old-school is that?

Geekette & muttThe problem is (and oh yes, there's a problem), computers don't like televisions. They like 'monitors.' If you are a Mac person, you will notice right away on the above picture that some things are missing. Key things. The entire top bar is gone, and the bottom 'dock' is half gone. This is a very common issue when connecting any computer (Mac or otherwise) to a television. It's called "overscan." Apparently TV typically sends a lot of nonsense along with the picture, and the television set is prepared to ignore that & show you only the actual picture in the middle of the nonsense. Computers don't bother with nonsense... which means the TV cuts off useful things -- in this case, all my Mac menus.

There are fixes for this. Two pieces of software purport to let you lie to the television so it thinks the usual nonsense is there. Unfortunately, even though they purport to include clear instructions about how to make it work, I am too dumb. Then again, it's shareware and I haven't registered it yet. I don't mind registering & paying for good shareware. I do it often, in fact. But (duh) I like to see that it actually does something before I shell out $. And I can't seem to make these programs do anything for me at all, except take up space on the hard drive.

Anyway, I know it will work out, and soon I'll be crowing about how lucky I am to be typing on a 1920 x 1080 HDTV monitor on which I can't read beans, but wow the pictures are really pretty.

By the way, the dog DOES notice Purp's barks over the stereo speakers. iTunes sounds a lot better, too!

02 December 2005

Blog pet

"Purp" is my silly new puppy, a virtual dog that everyone can pet. He won't poop on my blog (I hope) or jump on visitors as my real live dog does, and he's ... purple. See him there on the right of the screen.

He enjoys being petted, or if you hold a treat over his head, he'll jump for it.

Amazingly, the real live dog is not the least bit interested in Purp's fake barks. Put a picture of a cat in front of her, and she goes nuts. Watch a TV show featuring animals, and she goes nuts. [Thus belying the myth that dogs can't 'see' television.] Play back a recording of her actual barks, and she goes nuts. But fake barks, she could care less.

I, on the other hand, am amused. Simple entertainment for a simple mind.

I almost made a pig instead, but pigs don't bark. Go figure.

Who, me? Scrooge?

I live in The Woodlands, Texas, a little Stepford Wives suburb of Houston where they still have things like Yard of the Month and Best Christmas Display competitions.

The displays in my neighborhood have been going up over the last few days, and they do make you feel all jolly when you drive in. They aren't out at every house but the numbers grow a little every day. You see here my favorite so far, a visual oxymoron in a place where some of the neighborhood kids have probably never seen actual snow.

Some of the houses on my street probably will remain dark because they are vacant. They are for sale or lease -- which probably makes the neighbors crazy since renters (say it with a shudder) are not reknowned for enthusiastic participation in Suburban Pride competitions.

Being a renter, I understand this lack of enthusiasm. I don't do grass, and it seems silly to spend money on flowers for someone else's yard, no matter how much it would make me smile. On the other hand, I would do the Christmas lights thing -- except that I'm going to be in Denmark for most of the season.

Last year The Martian came over to have his luggage stolen from the airport, a real American Christmas. He got to see some truly insane displays of Christmas lights, the mobs of harried shoppers, a candlelight Christmas Eve church service, and my family's particular Christmas morning rituals of stockings, coffee and excess.

This year I'll fly to Billund, Denmark, around mid-month. The Martian and I will do some shopping and activities in Åarhus, then head to Aalborg, where his parents live, for some activities (including one in which I cook some "American food" for his family. EEK!). For Christmas, which Danes celebrate on Christmas Eve, I think we will be heading to his sister's home in Mou. New Year's Eve will be back in Århus with friends.

I'm just a passenger for all this, and I'm game for whatever happens. My only requirement is that if that nasty herring is a part of the celebration, I will need a lot of good Danish butter cookies to wash it down.

I look forward to seeing a different culture of Christmas, but I know I will miss some of our rituals. My family will 'hold Christmas' until I am back from Denmark & the UMR is back from Brazil, where he spends Christmas with his girlfriend's family. Well, we will delay the present-opening part, but i'm sure that mom will un-decorate the house like a good girl on New Year's Day.

My own boxes of Christmas 'stuff' will stay in the attic this year, but that doesn't make me a Scrooge. I did open them to find my holiday sweaters, socks and jewelry, the dog's blinking Christmas collar (in need of a new battery of course) and 1-2 other mandatory holiday things. I've started using my Christmas dishes, and one of these days I might even play some Christmas iTunes.

And every time I leave the house, I'll enjoy everybody else's holiday light displays, even if our little neighborhood doesn't 'win' anything.