Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Someone famous was born on that day after all

I'd be amazed if you remembered this[^] post. Humour me, go and read it, I'll wait.

Today whilst taking in my daily dose of internet websites I found an article bemoaning the difficulty of persuading a nation (the USA) to take an interest in the 200th Birthday of one of it's sons. Of course a great many Americans were born in the year 1808 but could you name many of them? I certainly couldn't have though I'd heard of this one.

I asked Sonya the same question and she had no idea. So I filled in a little detail; he was a first president. Quick as a flash she came back with George Washington. I fear that answer was more than somewhat innacurate; George died in 1799. One might have expected suspicions to be raised on such an obvious clue let alone the use of the term 'a first president' rather than 'the first president'. So she racked her brains some more. Thus through a ragtag assortment of other former US presidents. Not a one of them correct. So I gave her the other hint; not only was he the first president, he was the only one.

Bingo! Jefferson Davis[^] she blurted out.

What I found interesting was the US centric guessing; not a hint that there might have been presidents elsewhere.

So it seems that Terry Lane (to hark back to the original link up there) was wrong; someone of consequence *was* born on June 3. Robin will be delighted to hear of it!

Monday, February 25, 2008

When you run out of Cherry Ripes

what's left except to go to the source?

Yep, I've booked for another trip to Australia. Alas, it's almost 7 months from now but it'll give me something to look forward to, particularly considering it'll have been, by then, 3 years since I was last in Australia. Methinks Melbourne will have changed somewhat since then.

Frequent flyer points are a wonderful thing though this trip uses almost all of em up.

That poor bastard Heino gets to put up with me for a fortnight and I've already told him I don't want any of that gourmet food[^]; I want Aussie fast food for the entire two weeks. It'll have to last me a while.

Fish and Chips, Dogs Eye with Dead Horse (Pie 'n Sauce), Chiko Rolls, Australian Hamburgers, Sausage Rolls, Pasties, Snot Blocks (Vanilla Slices), Neanish Tarts, Roast Pork Sanga at Myers with lots of crackling, and Steamed Dimmos (steamed Dim Sims; you're not a lot wiser after that explanation are you?).

I'm positively drooling at the thought!

Followed by Violet Crumbles, Chokitos, the Cherry Ripes aforesaid, Flake bars, Aeros, Polly Waffles, Wagon Wheels and Golden Roughs etc.

I wouldn't want you to imagine all the above foodstuffs will be consumed at the same meal; it'd be physically impossible (and ones physician might also have a thing or two to say). But I do have to cram a few years of deprivation into one glorious fortnight!

To say nothing of the pleasure of strutting once more down Swanston Street, bearing left at Collins Street and thence through the Block Arcade and Royal Arcade. Even Gog and Magog (the saddest pair of wooden statues you've ever seen) will be a welcome sight!

I'm kinda hoping the cute girl who used to work at the pharmacy in the Royal Arcade is still there but somehow I doubt it; that was a decade ago!

I have to admit to a certain curiousity about Birrarung Marr[^] given that it was opened after I left Melbourne. Knowing that Angel[^] is there adds to the interest. I well remember sitting on a tram in St Kilda Road, when Angel was still at the National Gallery, and listening to two earnest young things raving about how 'plastic' it looked.

In short, I plan to do exactly what I've done in the past when visiting Melbourne after leaving; enjoy! And will I go look at the house I used to live in in Footscray[^]? You bet I will!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Valet Service

Well, I meant to continue writing about our Los Angeles trip but what with one thing and another (that's code for a bunch of 1940's movies recorded while I was away) I didn't get around to it.

One of the things I noticed was just how much valet parking there seems to be in LA. We have it here in Scottsdale to a small extent but nowhere near as much as I saw over there.

I'm not sure I get the why of it here. You have to understand, if you've never been to Scottsdale/Phoenix, just how large the car parks are at the malls. At the local strip mall across the road they have a Walmarts, a Bashas Supermarket and various smaller businesses spread around a car park that's at least twenty times larger than the floor area of the businesses themselves. I've never seen it anywhere near capacity, not even on Christmas Eve.

They don't do valet parking over there but that's illustrative of the sheer size of the car parks here. Over on Scottsdale Road, at one of the restaurant strips, they have similarly large car parks and yet somehow it seems to be acceptable that the restaurants will cordon off a couple of acres or so of nearby parking and insist it be valet usage only. Of course that means that those of us who choose not to use valet service have to park a considerable distance away. Because, of course, the catch to using valet service is that one is expected to pay someone you've never seen before to get into the drivers seat and park it god only knows where, in hopes that upon emergence they'll find it and bring it back.

Having surrendered the ticket to the youth to reclaim your property, you stand around like a spare part waiting for it to arrive. And when it does arrive you have to tip the guy. Now payment for services rendered I understand. I even understand that this whole valet thing is (or is at least seen as) a service. Hence the payment. But it seems that one has to nonchalantly slip the five bucks or so over while you and the recipient both pretend nothing has happened. Is the taxman watching? Is it technically illegal and are we in fear of arrest? I have no idea but I fear I've never learned the art of slipping someone a tip and making it look like nothing's happened.

Like I say, I just don't get it. Doubtless, when I've graduated to my walking frame, it might make sense but for now it's just an exercise in trust that I get to pay for!

I shouldn't be too superior about it though; one of the nice things about staying in Las Vegas on the strip is that one pulls in to the front of the hotel, hoists ones suitcase(s) out of the boot and hands the keys over. They park it god knows where and you don't see the car again until it's time to leave three or four days later. Of course, in Las Vegas you don't *care* where the car is at the time.

Los Angeles takes the valet parking thing to greater extreme but I can partially understand why; space is at much more of a premium and there's merit in the idea of paying someone to park ones vehicle in a crowded car park whilst one is doing something more enjoyable. I imagine it decreases the incidence of dings as well; do you really want some careless slob parking by ear?

But what took my breath away was when we passed Longs Drugs on Lincoln Blvd; there, at a damn chemists shop of all places, they have valet parking!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gone bowling

Today we did the Hollywood Tourist thing. We didn't start out that way though; originally we planned to visit the observatory at Griffith Park. Alas, we hadn't done our research; it's closed on Mondays even if it's Presidents Day. But it's an interesting location anyway and you'll recognise it if you've ever seen Rebel without a cause[^] or, more recently, Bowfinger[^].


Well, given that we couldn't get inside and see the planetarium show we wandered back down the hill and headed into Hollywood. The next place we visited was the Hollywood Bowl.


That's me dagging around on the stage. Sonya was quite surprised that we could just walk in and climb around on the stage. We had the entire joint to ourselves; not another soul in sight.

And from there we ended up at Graumanns Chinese Theatre. I've been there before but not when it was quite so crowded as today. Doubtless you know the general idea; selected stars leave hand and footprints in cement out the front and we hoi polloi get to goggle wide-eyed at the results. Sonya wanted to do the theatre tour this time; 12 bucks a head. Which is about 11 bucks more than it's worth. Sure, we got to see inside the theatre. Which we could have done anytime by purchasing tickets to a movie. And we got a brief lecture on the history of the theatre. Then we got a sales spiel detailing the cost of VIP tickets vs non VIP tickets at the new Chinese 6 theatre spin-off. I think we proved the truth of the old adage about a sucker being born every minute!

Nonetheless, an enjoyable day. A pity our time in Los Angeles has come to an end; we're driving back to Phoenix tomorrow. But I think I can spin one or two more blog entries out of the last few days. Stay tuned!

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I promised last night I'd talk about Marilyn Monroe after we'd revisited her tomb. Which we did today. She's buried in quite the smallest urban cemetery I've ever seen. Which means that I've seen smaller cemeteries in out of the way places but this one is in deep Los Angeles. A local might dispute that and if s/he did I'd have no comeback but I'm judging it by the scale of a world map and on that scale it surely is in Los Angeles.

You drive up Wilshire Boulevard into Westwood, turn right off the Boulevard into what looks like city car park territory, do another quick right turn and suddenly you're in a cemetery. It's surrounded by twenty storey office towers. Here's a context shot I took.


If you've lived in Melbourne this image might seem vaguely familiar. It certainly seems so to me. Doesn't it look almost exactly like the view along St Kilda Road looking south from Commercial Road?

I'm not completely unfamiliar with cemeteries in downtown settings though we don't have any such in Melbourne. I've visited cemeteries in Boston right in the heart of the commercial centre. There are one or two in Manhattan within spitting distance of Wall Street.

Once in the cemetery you're in a quiet world. Here are buried Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin, Frank Zappa and other luminaries; also Robert Nathan. Who? Robert Nathan of course, who wrote the novel which became the screenplay for one of my favourite films, Portrait of Jennie[^].

Perhaps the most famous corpse there is, of course, Marily Monroe. I find it difficult to understand the fame she's accrued. Had she lived another two decades she'd most likely have been forgotten but of course she didn't live. Thus a mystique accumulates around the corpse of much ado about nothing much! Here's a shot of her tomb.


I only took the one shot so you can't see it but this slab of marble is not parallel with the surface of the earth as one might expect. Nope, it's half way up a wall. Above and below are named nobodies. If you touch the marble belonging to the named nobodies it feels slightly rough to the touch; if you touch Marilyns it's smoother than a babies bum. That's what 45 years of fans caressing a chunk of marble will do! I suspect that a century hence a depth of an inch will be measurable!

Well I wrote somewhat disparagingly about Marilyn but one cannot deny the way the idea of Marilyn has influenced some aspects of western culture, as witness the scenes in Tommy[^] (another movie I love).

And I'm not completely immune to the allure of the goddess herself; I watched a year ago Bus Stop[^] though that was as much because some of the action takes place in Phoenix as because Marilyn was in it. I'm still puzzled by some of the shots that purport to have been shot in the Phoenix of 1956 but show topology that doesn't feel right for Phoenix.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cherry Ripes

So today we went and did the Universal Studios tour. When Sonya was planning this trip she dithered about whether we ought to spend the extra thirty bucks a head to get 'head of the line' tickets. I said go for it. Eventually she did. As it turns out, we really didn't need them; the place was hardly packed. But, as I pointed out, we weren't to know that ahead of time and it would have been mighty galling to be one of the crowd of unwashed. Instead we got to the head of the line every time. Well worth the extra moolah!

You might, if you're a longtime reader, have noticed a recurring theme with our holidays - Sonya does the leg work of planning and booking and I'm along for the ride. Suits me just fine I might add. Of course, if ever I can persuade her to go back to Australia with me the boot'll be on the other foot!

I enjoyed the Terminator show, especially when Sonya jumped as things came out of the screen. The 3D illusions these days are pretty good though you're still wearing special glasses. The big difference is it seems to be done with polarised lenses these days instead of having one red and one green lens. Makes it that much more convincing. That said, I felt the depth of field was all wrong; there's Arnie in extreme foreground and there's the rest of the world quite some feet behind him with very little intermediate. The kid who plays the John Connor part is still an annoying little turd.

Of course it's also done with special seating; they lift the seat all of an inch but keep the camera moving down so you feel as though the motion is much greater. Then, at the climax, explosion onscreen and echoing throughout the theatre, they drop the seat that entire inch and the jolt shocks the heck out of one! Most effective.

Then we did the Universal backlot tour. Sure enough, there was the Bates motel with the old American Gothic mansion up the stairway. A pity you're on a tram at the time and they don't stop. On the other hand, thirty or fourty years of tourists all getting out and touching would do to the exhibit what's happened to Marilyn Monroes tombstone over at the Westwood Cemetery. (More on that tomorrow when we visit there again).

Thence to the Shrek 4D show. Cute, and I did enjoy the first Shrek movie. I haven't seen the second yet. But this time they overdid the bouncing seats. It *is* possible to have too much of a good thing!

You'll remember I commented on the traffic last night? This time we took Sunset Boulevard heading west, just about sundown. And I kid you not, there must have been five miles of stop and slow and stop traffic heading back the other way.

My wife has no chance whatsoever of convincing me to move here, even if we could afford it!

However, perhaps there is a chance. We dined at the Boars Head pub on Santa Monica Boulevard. Last week I'd caught her checking if there was anywhere in LA where we could get fish and chips and that pub came up. So we gave it a whirl. In the event I didn't order fish and chips (couldn't bring myself to do it) and besides they had braised lamb shanks! It turned out to be the right decision. Sonya pronounced the fish and chips excellent, but what does she know? She was born here in LA! I had a few mouthfuls and was disappointed. The British may have invented fish and chips but I maintain that Australia and New Zealand raised them to the level of haute cuisine!

I did enjoy the lamb shank.

At which point I thought I'd had the high point of the evening. How wrong I was, for as we walked back to the car Sonya noticed, in the gift shop attached to and part of the Boars Head pub, a Kangaroo warning sign of the kind seen so frequently on Australian country roads. In we went and there I found Cherry Ripes, Flake Bars, Timeouts, Violet Crumbles, Tim-Tams and Turkish Delights. (All are Australian candy bars save for the Tim-Tams, they're chocolate biscuits (cookies)).

So it's Robbie pig heaven time! Night y'all!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

That spot on my pants is water!

Tonight I'm in Los Angeles on a short holiday with my wife. It's her fortieth high school reunion this weekend and we thought we'd grab a couple of days away before it; and a couple of days away afterward. Thus we drove from Phoenix to LA.

I'm feeling quite pleased with myself actually; I drove from Indio (about 140 miles out) all the way through downtown LA to the hotel. I can now add Los Angeles to the list of cities whose peak hour traffic I've survived.

On the way over I noticed a billboard off to the side of the road; the message was 'That spot on my pants is water!'. I have no idea *what* they were advertising, the message alone was sufficiently arresting that I noticed nothing else. Of course I read it out to Sonya and she looked puzzled as she asked 'What???'. I repeated the message, at which point I'm sure she was convinced I'd lost my marbles. And of course, by this time, the billboard was behind us. It probably didn't help that I'd voiced, a mere five minutes earlier, a desire for a 'monkey face' and had to explain what I meant (it's a kind of layer cookie/biscuit with the shape of a face on one side).

We took the opportunity to visit the General Patton museum beside Interstate 10, where, in the garden out the front, I took this photo.


Your guess is as good as mine what it means!

I have to say that my wife has no chance whatsoever of convincing me to move to LA if the traffic we experienced after checking in to the hotel is anything to go by. I don't exaggerate when I say that it took us over an hour to drive from the corner of Lincoln and Wilshire to the corner of Westwood and Wilshire, a distance of maybe three miles. I could have walked it faster!

I've said it before and I'll probably say it again; Phoenix people who complain about Phoenix traffic don't know they're alive!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Taxing times

My daily drive to work takes me past many a strip mall, enough that I barely notice them anymore. But there's one that does catch the eye.

There's a company with an office there who do tax returns. It's now tax time in the US so what more natural, it seems to have occurred to the manager, than to have two guys standing outside advertising to the passing horde. Ordinarily I might not have noticed even that much but for the fact that one is costumed as Abraham Lincoln, complete with stovepipe hat and beard. The other? He gets to parade before us in a green costume, done up to look like the Statue of Liberty. Poor bastard even has a torch to wave at us as we drive by. And wave it he does!

Being a cynical old bastard it occurs to me to wonder how effective this is. Do people really drive down Tatum Boulevard, see Abraham Lincoln and Liberty and think 'oh, I *must* take my tax returns to those people!'???

I suppose, in a way, it's working, inasmuch as I've noticed and am now writing about it. But do I have the slightest idea which company it is? Do I care? And will I take my taxes to them? Not on your life!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wow, kewl!

The other night I caught Andrew checking out video cards on Newegg. He was looking at a PCI-E card for about $130 and when I asked why he replied that someone on World of Warcraft had advised him to get that model to improve his frame rate. A pity then that his PC doesn't have a PCI-E slot! I will admit that the AGP card he had was pretty long in the tooth; a Radeon 7000 series about four years old.

Perhaps I should have left it at that, having advised him that there was no way the chosen card was going to even fit into his PC let alone work. But it just so happened that we had a much more recent AGP card sitting around waiting for someone to use it. Not only that, my car still needed a wash!

So today, as I was relaxing over a plate of bacon and eggs, he brought the subject up. You should have seen the look on his face when I handed him a screwdriver and the card. 'You mean I have to do the work myself?'. 'Damn straight' I replied. No need any more to follow that up with homilies about the value of work experience; he's heard it all before. I reckon he could recite it back at me! Doesn't mean he believes it; just that he's heard it all before!

A few false starts and he had the old card out and new card installed. At this point I decided it was as well to become more actively involved; if he screwed up the driver installation guess who'd have to repair the damage? But as it turned out, he could have done that portion himself as well; finally the device driver installation world has cottoned on to the fact that not everyone knows or cares for the details of their hardware, they just want it to work now dammit! In short, it was a no-brainer install.

Thence to dxdiags, to check a few things. On the Display tab there's a couple of buttons, one to check 2D graphics, the other to check 3D graphics. Try em out. (Start button, Run, type in 'dxdiags' without the quotes and hit OK). The 2D graphics test (Test DirectDraw) draws some very boring graphics and asks, afterward, if you saw what it drew. The second test draws a bouncing white rectangle inside a somewhat larger black rectangle. It looks almost exactly like the bouncing ball in the old pong game from 1975.

Andrew saw it and said 'wow, kewl!' I couldn't believe my ears! Here he is, in 2008, surrounded by games such as WoW and he's impressed with a little white rectangle bouncing around inside a black rectangle, on the same screen that 5 minutes hence he'll be playing WoW on.

But I reckon if he saw a real pong game he'd yawn and pronounce it old fashioned. He'd be right.

Oh, my car got it's wash. By my reckoning he owes me 4 more car washes and he owes Mom 5 more. Sometimes, as he and I agreed, it sucks to be Andrew!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I'm definitely ready

for the return of summer.

Firstly, even if this is my 7th Northern Hemisphere winter it *still* feels wrong to be shivering in February.

But mostly I'm just tired of shivering. It's been getting as low as 40 F at midnight and that's way too low for my tastes. Stop laughing, those of you living in snowlands; I've never lived where it snows and I suspect I never will.

I do recall winter mornings (in July!) in the early 60's in Melbourne where it did get cold enough that the water in the puddles would be frozen if we got to school at 8 AM. That was the nearest we ever got to ice-skating. I remember walking to school past frost laden lawns and pretending that I was smoking. And I remember feeling miserable as I shivered then. I still feel miserable shivering!

Give me my Phoenix 100 F at midnight instead! I'm ready for it.

Monday, February 04, 2008

We won, they lost

Not a one of you would be surprised to learn that I couldn't have cared less who won the Superbowl, even if the game was played a mere 20 or so miles west of here, at Glendale. Where I come from we'd call it a suburb of Phoenix but I now know better than to commit that sin. I still remember the withering glance I got from a waitress in a restaurant in Huntington Beach when I made the mistake of saying it was in Los Angeles. Hey, I'm used to seeing world maps that show a blob called Los Angeles that encompasses the area within fifty miles!

Andrew spent the weekend in a Patriotic fervor, undaunted by Giants. Came the game itself and he shocked me by forsaking, for the second time in a week, World of Warcraft and gluing himself to the TV set. I suppose I shouldn't have been shocked; he'd been talking about the Patriots all week, with 'we're going to win' this and 'we're going to kick ass' that, and so on.

In the event the Giants won. A doleful Andrew emerged from his room and announced that 'they lost'. A pointed question or two to put that news into its proper context and I asked 'don't you mean *we* lost?'. No, he affirmed, 'we' didn't lose, 'they' lost.

This isn't the first time I've observed this phenomena. Last summer when the Phoenix baseball team (whatever they're called) was on top it was 'we won' but when they lost a game it was 'they lost'.

I fear it's going to take some time to make him understand the concept of the fairweather friend!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Actress

I've mentioned once or twice that Andrew has become a big fan of World of Warcraft. I may even have hinted that it's become quite an obsession with him; to the extent that he's all but stopped watching TV and neglects his homework. Well, I can't blame the latter on WoW; lazy bastard would neglect homework on principle!

One of his Christmas gifts was an Xbox 360 from his father. Dad gets off lightly; he buys the box itself, basks in the moment of gratitude and it's over for him. We get the pleasure of forking out the monthly subscription fees to say nothing of having to purchase, the day after Christmas, another network switch and network cable, plus drilling holes in the wall to run the cable. Let's not go there with wireless; I find the technology irritating and unreliable.

And of course, having sprung for the extra networking hardware (we haven't subscribed to the online services), Andrew ignores his Xbox; he wants to play WoW. Bloody kids!

Well, one side benefit of having an unused Xbox in the house was that I belatedly remembered it can act as a Media Centre Extender. Ten minutes following easy instructions and 20 bucks for yet another remote control and Sonya was able to watch American Idol up in Andrews room from our HTPC while I continue to watch old movies on our 57 inch widescreen TV.

Gotta love technology. Indeed, I can't imagine ever going back to the old way we used to watch movies on TV; staying up to 2 AM to catch it live.

Somehow Andrew seemed uneasy with the idea of his mother sitting up there in his room watching American Idol. I feel uneasy about it too but for entirely different reasons; I can't stand American Idol (or Australian Idol or Philippine Idol for that matter. I suspect I'd hate Russian Idol just as much). Did you need me saying that to know it?

In Andrews case the excuse put forward was that his room wasn't in a fit state. My comment, that it ought always to be in a fit state, fell on deaf ears. Even when I invoked Her Majesty and remembered I was in the wrong country and quickly changed to invoking The President he seemed unimpressed. I have to admit, it does seem unlikely that either personage will visit but it never hurts to be prepared.

Thus to the other night, when Andrew suddenly discovered that he has an Xbox at about the same time that Mom intimated a desire to watch this weeks installments of American Idol. Just between us, I reckon it was sheer bloody mindedness; Mom wanted to watch his TV so he decided to use the Xbox himself merely to thwart her. But Mom is a martyr to her offspring and she meekly accepted the situation. Me? I'd have ridden roughshod over his objections, reminded him of a year or more of obsessive WoW and told him he could damn well wait. But that's me.

The following evening, when I got home from the office, he was back at the computer playing WoW. Case closed methinks!

At dinner I told him I'd heard his computer the previous night whimpering. 'Andrew, where are you? Why have you forsaken me?' and so on. Morgan (yeah, she's back living here) piped up with the best fake credulity I've ever seen. 'Really???'.

She couldn't be that stupid, could she??