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Showing posts from October, 2011

Born to Travel Show about Iceland

Yesterday morning, a television show focused on Iceland finally aired here in the U.S., after having been heavily hyped by Inspired by Iceland. The show was only a half hour long, but it must have run a promo for the give-a-way of a trip to Iceland 4 times in that time period. I must say the affect was a little bit like the show was a paid advertisement for Iceland or something.

But actually it is part of ABC (American Broadcast Cooperation)'s Educational and Entertaining Saturday morning lineup, which includes Jack Hannah's Wild Animals and this show. So it is kind of a throw back to good old fashioned family friendly programming by one of the national broadcast companies.

The show was however not about Iceland, really. It was about the host, Richard Weiss, "investigating" what it is like for Icelanders to live so close to volcanoes. He did a good job of explaining the terror and downside of this fact of Icelandic life, especially by a long bit on the Westmann Islan…

On the flip side

The Bay Area Rapid Transit system, affectionately called Bart, zips all around the bay area, from the hills of San Francisco way out to the back bay. It is one of the real unifying points of the diverse communities in the area, and something the local people are pretty proud of.

Ironically, however, when riding the Bart, no one talks to each other. All these individuals standing and sitting right next to each other, and yet they are not conversing at all. When I used to ride Bart a lot, as an undergraduate, everyone had their nose buried in a newspaper or book. But nowadays, almost 20 years later, everyone has their attention on their smart phones and ipads. They are, in other words, far more interested in letting the people who aren't on the Bart with them know what they are up to, than in taking the time to talk to the people around them.

And I think that happens more and more to travelers these days, that their primary concern is to make sure friends and family back home get to…

Black and white and gray

When I moved into my new apartment in Walnut Creek, I decided to go with a black and white decorative theme in the bedroom. I have a white dresser drawer and some black and white accessories, so I bought a black wooden platform bedframe with a cool swooping headboard (called Miami style). It was however a bit more challenging than I thought to find a bedspread I liked with a black and white design. In fact, I found one for Palmer's bed (a small single bed in the corner of my room, which can fold up into a chair) before I found one for my bed. It is a black and white and grey with some orange and teal on it, a sort of skateboarder motif. Then I finally found a bedspread I liked, mostly grey with a dark grey border on the bottom and black and white leaf design in the middle. I thought I would end up folding Palmer's bed into a chair most days, but actually the bedspreads go so well together I just leave both beds out and made even on the nights Palmer isn't here.

I was pret…

The danger with praise

Last week I gave back my students their first papers, which they had written about the Viking Age in the North Atlantic. I actually gave them their papers one day with my comments on it, but without a grade, and let them tell me what grade they thought the paper deserved. Most students gave themselves a B+, which actually is about what I was going to give them. One student gave himself a C, which was too low; his paper was not that bad. 
Another one of my students came up to me all freaked out about my comments, and wanted to argue every single point I had made. He tried to verbally explain things he had not explained well in the paper. After about 5 minutes of this, I finally put my arm around his shoulders and asked him if he thought his paper was really terrible or something? "Yes! You said my thesis contradicted my conclusion, that makes a bad paper!" I simply shook my head and took the paper away from him. Today I am giving him back his paper and he'll see his final …

The thing that changed

A few years ago, I decided to make a cake for my Christmas at my cousin's house. I made up the recipe myself, using a custard mix for part of it but I left off the carmel icing and used a cookie-bar base and whipped cream topping instead. It looked good, but once I took my first bite, I realized that without the carmel coating, the custard had no sweetness to it. And the cookie bar bottom had basically no sweetness to it either, since it was supposed to have a very sugary fruit toping, instead of a very mild custard topping. So I made a dessert that had basically no sweetness.
It took me a while to learn the moral of this tale, and to really make it part of my new thinking. Because I have always prided myself on my ability to improvise on the spot, or to make a situation work. 
But when I tried to fix this dessert, by adding a sugar coating to it afterwards and trying to rebake it, creme brule style, it became even more of a disaster. The custard and whipped cream melted into the co…

China syndrome

After reading all the blogs and news reports about the Chinese businessman/official who wants to buy up a sizable piece of realestate near Sandir, I suppose I was extra sensitive to a news item that I heard last night about realestate here in California. 
California was very badly hit by the recession, especially because so much of our economy is in realestate. So I had been curious why housing prices have not fallen more dramatically; 9-12% unemployment should have brought it down a notch or two. But nope, it is still as ridiculous as ever. $450,000 for a tiny house in a run-down neighborhood, an absolutely impossible sum to save up for. So one has no choice but to take a huge loan from the bank or rent the rest of one's life.  
Anyhow, after the crash there were not so many people willing to buy homes, especially homes worth more than 1 million dollars. 
But last night I found out that the clever realestate agents and bankers in California, and in other parts of the US, did not tak…

Roof liner

I have a white 1993 SAAB 9000CS, and today I am putting a new liner on its interior roof. The old liner got a hole in it sometime in 2003 or 4, and then it started to sag around that point, right over the middle of the back seat. The sag got worse and worse as more and more fabric came loose from the metal roof of the car, until eventually it was hard to see out of the rear view mirror. This, plus the fact that the car leaked oil terribly and the engine head was cracked, made my dad and others suggest I should probably sell the car. I of course was unwilling to do so. Not only do I not have the title to the car (long story - I lost it during my move to California in 2003 and have never had a chance to go back to Virginia to get a replacement), but I wouldn't want to sell the car anyhow. I bought it in 2000, from an Ethiopian guy who owned the gas station where it used to get serviced by the doctor who bought it new. That part doesn't matter so much I guess, save to suggest tha…

Occupy Walnut Creek

Last week no one thought anyone would show up at the protest planned in the affluent suburb that I now live in, Walnut Creek. But they were wrong--200 people showed up. And the protests are planned every Wednesday at 4pm. This is not quite the die-hard protests you see elsewhere in the country, where people are actually camping in front of public buildings and banks, literally occupying the space. This one is a more moderate affair, lasting only a few hours, and yet still considered noteworthy in that it is happening at all. This is not a place known for protests. And unlike some other protests, which have an aggressive edge to them, this protest is being organized mostly out of the peace organization in the area.

I am planning on going. I have been drafting slogans and think I finally decided on what I want to put: "Billions for the Banks!  Trillions for the Military!  Nothing for the Middle Class!" but I am worried that has too much anger in it. This protest is not about b…

Temporary reprieve

My students have been writing "response papers" to each reading we have done in class. Although they constitute 20% of their overall grade for the semester, I am grading each paper on a check, check plus or check minus scale, with a maximum of 5 points per paper. In other words, I am grading those response papers really easy.
By contrast, this week I am grading the first research paper they have had to write for this course. They will have a second one later in the semester. These I am grading much harder, in as much as I have made it clear that an A paper has to not just meet all my expectations, but actually exceed them.
Though I am not done grading, it does seem that the students are putting in a sincere effort. But so far none of the papers have really wowed me.
The one about cows inhabiting Iceland did amuse me, however.

And inordinate amount of time

We had a meeting with Palmer's teacher, the school principal, the class room assistant, and the school psychologist today. The main issue seems to be that Palmer takes too long to do everything. It is making his teacher kind of crazy in the head, always trying to coax him into the next activity, always trying to console him when he missed out on getting this or that because he is too slow.

I suspect this has something to do with his zodiac sign--Cancers are not known to be great at being efficient and quick about things--because I tell you what: he sure did not get it from his mom.

Columbus Day Uncertainty

My Saab has a hydraulic clutch, which means the clutch only works when the fluid in the line is full, with no air bubbles, etc. Otherwise, if there is pressure missing in the line, when I step down on the clutch petal it goes all the way to the floor and basically nothing happens to help smooth the transition from one gear to another. After two days of forcing my car into gear, I have made an appointment with a local Saab specialist to get the clutch serviced.

The funny thing is I made the appointment online, and I did it for Monday. Monday is a holiday here, Columbus Day. Like many of the lessor holidays in the US, it is almost impossible to predict whether or not a business will be open or closed on Monday. UC Berkeley is closed, since we are run by the State, as will be the post office. But usually nothing else is.

We'll see though. I could have a surreal experience on Monday, standing in front of the shop, appointment reminder in hand, with no sign of life anywhere inside, and…

A return to a regular life

Starting in May of this year, when I packed up my apartment in Iceland, through July, when I thought I might be getting a job in Seattle, and into August when I moved to a new place in Walnut Creek, my life has been in a constant state of transition. I did not have time to think or really even process all that, in my rush to get a chapter of my dissertation finished and prepare for a conference in Sweden.

When I got back Tuesday, it was straight to teaching and then celebrating my birthday on Wednesday. Finally today, Friday the 7th of October, for the first time in about 6 months, I have time to look around and just take stock of my life. Get organized, get focused. Goof off. Play Suduko. Watch TV. Go to the gym. Get a bicycle. All these things I have half-thought about doing but have been too stressed out to actually do.

Of course I like having tension and excitement in my life, but in all honesty, I am really very ready for its opposite. I think I deserve it.

Shortest trip ever

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I was in Iceland for a total of two hours, but still got to buy skyr and hotdogs, eat hankikjot and kiss my cousin.

Kalmar Castle

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Today I took my first real look around a real castle. I had dinner at a castle in Uppsala a few years ago, but I never got to look around. The only other castle I had been in was Cinderella's castle in Disneyland.

It turns out a real castle is a lot different than that.

Kalmar castle has a very long history, starting in the 1100s and in use as a royal residence all the way into the 18th century (as far as I understood it). It was really interesting to see the models of all the different phases of building, and the way different kings changed the castles.

What surprised me about it though was that the castle was far more than a royal residence. Of course I assumed it would have outbuildings and servants and stables and kitchens, etc., but I did not expect that castles were also prisons.

Kalmar castle's interpretative text and set up makes this use of the castle very apparent. There are only two rooms visible to the public which they cannot enter, one is the woman's prison, a…

Inspiring

Today I went to an exhibition at the Smaland Museum entitled Embrace! The curator of the exhibition is a Chinese-American who recently moved to Vaxjo from New York City. She has an amazing eye for art, and put together a beautiful exhibition of Swedish artists working in New York that pairs so well with the permanent exhibition about Swedish emigration to the U.S. She is using the exhibit as a spring board to discuss emigrant/immigrant issues in Sweden today, working especially with school groups. It was so inspiring to meet her.

One of the people on the tour with me is an American anthropologist, younger than myself, who has been living in the Marshall Islands. She is the State Anthropologist for that country of 70,000 people, a country that will, by all projections, be wiped off the map in 50 years, thanks to the rise in global sea levels. We talked about what a weighty responsibility she has, to work with a community in such a tremendous period of transformation, and under real thr…