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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Getting personal

For a while I've been thinking of revising my personal ad on Match.com. Some of the information there is pretty old, but sadly, most of it is still applicable. If you're interested, here's a link:
databoyechom

Sammie's deviantART site

Well, it's been a month and a half since Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org went offline. But Sammie has now posted an explanation and update on her deviantART site.

For those of you not familiar with it, deviantART is...er, I'm not exactly sure what it is. I guess it's an website used for posting and sharing photos and paintings of an "artsy" nature. A lot of the stuff there is very cool. You should check it out.

I'm going to add Sammie's deviantART site to my sidebar. Sammie's not only very beautiful and very funny, but also a great photographer, and you can see some of her work here. I just remembered that Camilla also has a deviantART site - I'll add that, too! Hmm, I wonder if Lauren has one...

Update, 5/4/2006: Sammie's new site is coming soon!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Adding some more links

I'm adding a few more blog links. One of them is long-overdue, and one of them is brand new to me.

But first, a new address for an old blog. Puppetdude has a new address, so I've linked to it. I've also retained his old address for the time being.

Ink On Paper is a blog by Ashley, an aspiring comic book writer from Lansing, Michigan. I've been stopping by to visit and comment on her site off and on for a few months, but I've never gotten around to linking to her. I'm finally taking care of that - my apologies for the delay, Ashley. She also has a LiveJournal and a MySpace site.

Content is a blog by Michael Plank of Camp Hill, PA, a city I know for its prison, its book clubs, and for getting lost there once when I missed the turnoff that would keep me on I-83 through Harrisburg to I-81. Content is a more political blog, as far to the left as Bill's IndusrialBlog is to the right. Michael is also into the band My Bloody Valentine, as am I, so he's eligible for immediate linking.

Mileage, 2000 - 2006

I dug another one of my gas mileage notepads out of my glove compartment. This one covered 10/1/2000 through 11/7/2003, which is where my previous charts picked up. So I added the older data to the spreadsheet I made the other day and more than doubled the number of data points.
1996 Toyota Tercel fuel economy
(miles per gallon)
10/1/2000 - 4/23/2006

The vertical black lines indicate December 1, and the vertical blue lines indicate June 1. I have placed labels for each year centered on the June 1 mark (with the exceptions of 2006, which is placed on the extreme right of the chart, and 2000, which is not labeled but is represented by all the points to the left of the first vertical black line.) By expanding the y-axis to concentrate the data in the middle third of the chart the sinusoidal nature of my gas mileage becomes pretty clear, reaching a peak in mid-Summer and a minimum in mid-Winter. Keep in mind that my driving habits do not vary significantly throughout the year: each workweek I put on at least 333 miles (5 x 66.6 miles). I take several long trips in the Summer, but do a lot of long trips in the Winter, too, especially around Christmas. Note the interesting lack of data points above 37 or 38 mpg in the Summer of 2004. I wonder what brought that on?

Price per gallon of gas
(in dollars)

One interesting feature comes out of the expanded price-per-gallon data: notice the dip down towards $1.00/gallon, a price not seen since the heady* days of the Clinton administration. Looking at the data shows that the drop began around 10/15/2001 (when gas fell below $1.30/gallon), reached a minimum on 12/12/2001 (when it hit $1.039/gallon), and ended around 3/23/2002 (when it rose above $1.30/gallon, never to return.**) This was a five-month period starting one month after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I still have another six years of notebooks floating around somewhere, including another four-and-a-half years of data for this car. But I'm really interested in knowing if anybody else has been keeping records of this sort?

*Heh heh, heh heh.
**That's not true. Prices dropped below $1.30/gallon on 11/22/2002 - way below, down to $1.249/gallon. Prices rose above $1.299 again with the 12/19/2002 fill-up, up to $1.459/gallon. Then they never dropped below $1.30/gallon again.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Why does fuel economy change with the seasons?

I've been keeping track of my fuel consumption since 1994. Every time I put gas in my car, I write down the date, how many miles I've driven since my last fill-up, how many gallons it takes to top off the tank, the price of the gasoline, and the location where I bought the gas.

One thing I've noticed since I started keeping records: I get better mileage in the Summer than I do in the Winter.

Here in Northeastern Pennsylvania there's a huge difference between Summer and Winter. Summer temperatures routinely hang in the 80's and sometimes 90's, while in the Winter daytime temperatures can stay well below freezing for days or even weeks at a time. Summers are usually quite humid, and Winters are usually very snowy.

I've discussed my variable mileage with a lot of people over the years and I've heard several theories as to why this is. The most persistent one, and one that I heard repeated recently on the Car Talk radio show, is that cold Winter air is more dense than hot Summer air. Your car needs to expend more effort to plow through the denser air.

OK, sounds reasonable. But yesterday I dug up an archived question to Car Talk from 1997 on this very topic, and they gave several different answers - different Winter driving habits, less efficient combustion, and a few others that I don't remember - but never once mentioned the "air density" theory. Interestingly, none of these theories were mentioned in the more recent broadcast.

So, what is the answer? Is there any one answer? Is anyone else keeping records of their mileage that we can compare?

Puppetdude is moving!

Puppetdude of Dunstable, England is moving! No, not from Dunstable - at least, not that I know of. He's moving his blog from Blogspot to Wordpress. The new Puppetdude blog can be found here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Gas and money

SuperG rightly pointed out that my gas mileage chart would benefit from labels on the x-axis. Unfortunately the program I am working with is so basic that there is no easy way to create the labels. I resorted to doing a screen grab of my graphs after they had been manipulated to make the length of the x-axis approximately equal, pasting it into Adobe PhotoDeluxe, and drawing vertical lines manually to indicate changes into December, March, June, and September for each year. The spacing between lines is not consistent because the data was collected sporadically, each time I put gas in my tank. The more fillups in a given period, the more data points. Full disclosure: I threw out two data points where I only topped off my tank, adding two or so gallons of gas. Because gas mileage is very dependent on the way you drive, I wanted to stick with large sample sizes where individual trip variations would be smoothed out over an entire tank of gas.
1996 Toyota Tercel fuel economy
(miles per gallon)
11/12/03 - 4/23/06

Comparing this chart to my previous Mileage chart will reveal a drop in the average fuel economy, from nearly 36mpg to closer to 35mpg. This is because this new version of the chart includes data from November 2003 through March 2004 that was not included on the previous chart, and fuel economy suffers in the Winter months (as can easily be seen on the chart) due to the greater density of cold air. The average fuel economy was determined by dividing the sum of all mileage measurements by the sum of all gallons of gas added.

Price per gallon of gas
(in dollars)
11/12/03 - 4/23/06


While I had my little notebook in front of me I decided to punch in all of the prices of gas (per gallon) that I had recorded over the same period. Note that gas prices can vary widely from place to place, especially from state to state, and these data points represent many different filling stations. Still, general trends are obvious: a gradual climb from February through May 2004, stabilizing (or at least showing variation around a semi-constant value) from June 2004 through March 2005. There is another, steeper rise from March 2005 through August 2005, spiking abruptly in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. Prices dropped fairly quickly through the end of 2005 - though never below where they were the previous March - but rose again through February 2006, only to drop off again in March - but not to pre-December 2005 levels. Since then prices have risen again to post-Katrina levels.

So, why are prices so high? I'm no economist, and there are plenty of analysts who have actually studied this situation. But I think the undiminished demand for fuel in the days following Katrina caused the people who set the prices on gas - or, shall we say, "the market" - to realize that higher price points will not result in reduction in consumption. It would be a bad business practice for them to sell gasoline for less than people are willing to pay for it. And we are all poorer as a result, save those who are invested in oil stocks.

So how much are you willing to pay for a gallon of gas?

Eight months until Christmas!

Panic.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mileage


1996 Toyota Tercel mileage
(miles per gallon)
3/15/2004 - 4/23/2006


I drive a 1996 Toyota Tercel, purchased new in April 1996 after the tragic death of my previous car (a 1990 Tercel, purchased used in 1992.) I have a daily work commute of more than 66 miles, 33.3 miles each way. About four miles of this commute are on suburban streets and the rest are highway miles. I average better than 35 miles per gallon and range anywhere from about 29 mpg to better than 42 mpg. My mileage suffers during cold weather and improves in hot weather, and is much better over long-range highway trips than over any combination of short-range trips.

Should I buy a new car, maybe even a hybrid? Newer models may offer marginally better mileage, but there is the expense of purchasing a new car to consider. Hybrids promise remarkable improvements in mileage, but these improvements are mostly realized in low-speed city driving when the electrical motor takes over - on the highway a hybrid will behave more like a conventional car, using the gas engine for power and rendering the electrical power system dead weight.

No, I'm happy with my Tercel, and with my Tercel's mileage, especially during the summer months. I think I'll hold onto my little old car for as long as I can.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Untold Tales: The Sun Pillar

I've told many stories about my morning walks with Haley, which ended with her death last May 23. This is a story that I meant to tell but never got around to giving more than a brief mention.

It was the morning of May 10, 2005. Haley was still vigorous and active, showing no signs that she would finally succumb to her lung cancer in two weeks. I was going through the morning walk pre-checks - some fruit juice for me, some pills for Haley. A glance out the east-facing kitchen windows revealed a suggestive glow on the horizon. I decided to grab my camera, sensing that the sunrise would be something I'd want to photograph.

We were barely out of the house when I saw the glow solidifying into a sun pillar.

Sun pillars are not particularly rare, but they rare enough to be fascinating. A fortunate alignment of specific types of clouds at a specific time of day will cause a sunrise or sunset to be topped by a column of light that can appear well before sunrise or linger well after sunset.


This is probably the tallest sun pillar I have ever seen.

The excitement of the sun pillar had disrupted our usual routine. Instead of leaving the house and traveling north or south and then west, we had taken off straight east towards the high school football stadium down the street from my house. Once I had taken a few pictures, we turned south and I began to think about what pattern we would walk that morning.

We had only gone a block or so when we ran into an older couple walking a beagle.

The beagle's name was Sam. We walked along together and talked for a while. Sam was the couple's son's dog, but they had inherited him for reasons that escape me.

We would run into the older couple and Sam a few more times in the next two weeks. Later, I made a point of walking along the path that I knew the couple took so that I could tell them that Haley had died. Then I stopped my morning walks. A big guy dressed in black walking a dog in the pre-dawn hours is an eccentric; take away the dog and he's a prowler.

I took a few more photos as we walked towards our turnaround point at my grandmother's house.

On the way back I was amazed at the persistence of the sun pillar. This photo was taken 37 minutes after the first picture. The sun is already well above the horizon -
I blocked it with the utility elevator shaft from Skatarama. A final photo of the sun pillar, 47 minutes after the first shot. We were already well into morning and the glare of the sun made it difficult to see if any trace of the sun pillar remained. As the photo reveals, it was still hanging in there.

So there it is, my first dogwalking story in a long time. Maybe someday I will have another dog, and resume my dogwalks, and have some new stories. In the meantime, I will see if I can dredge up some more untold tales from my dogwalks with Haley.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Strange Case of the Headless Rabbit

My cousin found a headless rabbit in her yard. She immediately suspected that the neighborhood's stray cats were responsible.

One of the reasons I don't wholly object to my mother, and my cousin's mother, sustaining the local stray cats with bowls of food and water replenished daily is that I hoped that they might help to hold down the local population of rodents and rabbits (which, I believe, are not technically rodents.) Rabbits run rampant through our gardens every year. Field mice stray from the fields into our houses. I have had to deal with several vole infestations in my garage and my garden shed, to the point that I considered calling in the vole's natural enemy - the mink.* (Images of releasing a mink in my garage to go on a vole hunt caused me no end of amusement two years ago. But what do you do with the mink afterwards? I suppose I would then have to introduce a fur trapper into my garage ecosystem.)

Still, it didn't seem to me that a cat would simply decapitate a rabbit. "Why take the head and leave the soft, delicious abdomen unscathed?" I asked. She agreed that this would be a strange thing for a cat to do - but, hey, cats catch mice and leave them as gifts for their owners rather than eating them. Cats are weird.

"So what else would have done it?" she asked.

"A bird, maybe?" I suggested.

A few years ago I saw my first vole, sort of, in a birdbath. Actually it was half a vole, the back half. I thought it was some sort of strange blossom that had landed in my birdbath, with a short stem and a black bud and a red blossoming flower. The "stem" turned out to be the vole's tail, the black "bud" was its back half, and the red "blossom" was just its guts spreading through the water. Ah, isn't nature lovely?

I figured some bird of prey had swept down and snatched a hapless vole as it scurried across my lawn towards the safety of my garden shed. The vole, a fat mouselike critter, put up a valiant struggle as the bird perched on the birdbath and gathered its strength to carry the rodent off in its beak. Maybe the vole scored some points with its sharp little teeth. (I had a vole bite me once, when I caught one just outside my garden shed and picked it up to study it. Dumb.) The bird, growing annoyed, realizing that it was in danger of losing its meal, and instinctively understanding the rapidly diminishing net energy gain from this food source as it subtracted out the increasing amount of effort being expended to secure the food source, made a snap decision and bit down hard with its powerful beak, cutting the vole in half and ending its struggles. Pleased with its decision, it let the part of the vole that had been outside its beak drop into the birdbath and flew off to consume its meal, or perhaps share it with a mate or its chicks.

That's what I guessed happened. It would have to be a pretty big bird, since voles are about half again as big as your average field mouse.

You would need a really big bird to bite the head clean off a rabbit.

It was a clean removal, too. Neat. No sign that the head had been torn from the body. What would do that?

Well, aside from a passing eagle, the only serious guess I could venture was a human. What else would remove the tough, crunchy head and leave the soft, chewy body behind?

I came up with some other theories. Maybe the rabbit was attacked by zombie rabbits, hungry for rabbit brains. Maybe the rabbit was a zombie rabbit and decapitation was the only certain means of killing it. Perhaps this was a rare Highlander Hare, lepus immortalus, and it was killed in single combat with another of its kind. I dunno.

Still, I'm gonna be on the lookout for a big, big bird prowling the neighborhood. A bird with an appetite for rabbit heads.

*I may be wrong here. Looks like the mink, in England, preys on a critter called the water vole, which looks pretty different from my garden-variety voles. Minks have put a significant dent in water vole populations. I first read about this in New Scientist a while back.


SEE ALSO: Headless Rabbits: Germany

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Relentlessness of Memory

I have an unusual sort of memory, I think. I've written about it in the past. It's not perfect, it doesn't involve photographic recall or a total inability to forget. Still, I think it's unusual. I've written about the way my memory works, and I've written about a sort of external memory storage trick that I use. Many of my postings are about memories of people or specific events, like the Challenger disaster or the first time I fell in love. These are memories that demand to be heard, to be brought to the fore, and by writing them out I make them quiet down for a while.

My memory is nothing compared to that of a woman I heard about this week on NPR.

She is called AJ.* She has total personal recall of every day of her life since she was a young girl. Her story is told here, and an interview with AJ is here.

Such a memory is a wonderful and terrible thing. Someday I may forget the sound of my grandmother's voice, the sensation of rubbing Ashes's belly, the experience of walking with Haley on the morning of the sun pillar, the meal that my father and I ate at Red Robin after I took him to see Revenge of the Sith. Someday I may forget the feeling of kissing my grandmother's cold forehead in the hospital the morning of December 13, 1998, of watching Ashes die at 7:52 PM on April 11, 2006, of listening to Haley let out a last sigh a few minutes after midnight on May 23, 2005, of seeing my dead father cradled in my mother's arms on August 24, 2005. Time and tide may help to diminish these painful memories.

AJ never will forget things like that in her life. She can't.

I'm glad I don't have her memory.

*For anyone wondering, the answer is: No.

Post stubs

I was too tired to write anything last night, and I don't have any time this morning to do justice to any of the topics I'd like to write about. So here are a few of the ideas I may flesh out in the future:

- Not all opinions are created equal. In a lot of debates in the national arena, there are two common misperceptions: that there are "two sides to every story"*, and that each side deserves equal time in order for the "debate" to be "fair and balanced." That's crap. Creationism - or any of an infinitude of other pseudosciences - doesn't have equal standing with real science, any more than meteorological weather reports on the news need to be balanced by reports from the side that promotes the "angry weather gods" point of view. ("Today Aeolus will be in quite a mood, releasing wind from the west to punish the nonbelievers in the valleys, while Thor is expected to join with Zeus in raining thunder and lightning on the mountain-dwelling infidels. Meanwhile, Poseidon...")

- Just because somebody uses some of the terminology of science strung together in an obscure way doesn't mean that they know what the hell they're talking about, or even that what they're saying has any rational foundation. Look at the Wikipedia discussion page for the Meme entry to see an example of this. It looks like most of the discussion has been hijacked by lunatics with a lot of time on their hands and a passing familiarity with some of the terminology but no real knowledge of the topic.

- Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org is still gone, and ANZAC Day is coming up. I miss her site.
Update, 5/4/2006: Sammie's new site is coming soon!

- The George W. Bush administration will be remembered for many things, but will generally be viewed in the context of a post-9/11 world. It's important to remember that Bush was President for 234 days before September 11, 2001. During that time his administration's main priority was not addressing the growing threat of terrorism, but getting rid of the massive budget surplus that had been left behind by the Clinton administration. Somebody needs to write a book that dispassionately looks at what Bush and his administration were doing during these first 234 days.

- How to think like a Republican:
  1. Deny that a problem exists.
  2. If that fails, blame Clinton.
  3. If it is obviously not possible to blame Clinton, blame Carter.
  4. If it is not possible to even blame Carter, blame FDR and the New Deal.
  5. If all else fails, bring up Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick.

- Will the "Right" finally admit they have been wrong all along, on everything from the economy to WMD's to foreign policy to the environment? Not very likely.

- When will we hear a clamor for the reinstatement of the Office of the Independent Counsel? Not as long as the Republicans own both Houses of Congress - unless a Democrat becomes President.

- Have you registered to vote yet?

- While we're on the topic, how are we doing with the whole electronic voting thing? Very badly, I think.

So there you go. Maybe I'll flesh some or all of these into posts at some point. Feel free to do so yourself - though I claim the book rights to "How To Think Like A Republican." You can have "The First 234 Days."

*My point here is that there are usually more than two "sides" to every story. Almost any statement can be met with many, many different points of view, and deciding to grant "equal time" to just one of them tends to oversimplify the discussion - and elevates one point of view above all the others.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Waking up with a bang

I have two alarm clocks side-by-side, one of which has two separate alarm settings. One of the clocks (the one with two settings) I have set to play music in the morning - WVIA-FM, the local NPR station. So when this goes off at 5:00 I'm usually greeted with classical music. I usually hit the snooze bar, once my mind has solved the "right or left?" puzzle presented by the two clocks (it's the one on the left), and roll over for more sleep.

At 5:03 my second alarm goes off. A loud, rude tone. I usually hit snooze on this one, too.

I've never worked out how long the snooze time is for each of these clocks. I think it's something like eight minutes. Most mornings I will repeat the snooze bar ritual until the music coming from NPR gives way to the 6:00 start of Morning Edition, which is the second setting of my left-hand clock. At 6:00 it's time to get up.

I must have worked through the snooze process several times this morning and was in the middle of an extended dream. Strangely enough, I know the exact basis for this dream: it was this post from The Daily Reflections of a Diet Coke Addict. I was in England, at Heathrow Airport. I've never been to Heathrow, so my dream substituted Shannon airport, slightly rearranged. I was at the check-in desk, checking in, I suppose. I was going through the usual airport rigamarole. It's hard to understand how my mind stretched out so little action across several snooze periods, but it did.

Anyway, the reason I believe my dream was based on the Airport security: feel the irony entry is not just that it was set at Heathrow airport, but because of the tanks.

Well, I'm assuming it was the tanks. I was almost done with my business at the check-in desk when the sound of a huge explosion rolled through the airport lobby.

The sound, but nothing else. No shrapnel, no smoke, nothing to tell us that an explosion had happened besides the sound. Everyone in the airport was a little confused and bewildered, but nobody seemed scared. Until the second one.

At that point there really wasn't a panic. I guess the characters in my dreams are made of pretty sturdy stuff. No, after the second boom everybody hit the floor and scrambled for cover - a pretty reasonable thing to do, I guess, since if you don't know where the trouble is, you're just as likely to be running toward it as you are away from it.

And then there was a third boom. And a fourth. A fifth. A sixth.

I think at this point I thought It must be the tanks, they must be shooting at something. But what?

I don't know. That was when I woke up and saw that it was 6:00. Time to stop hitting the snooze bar and get up.

I wonder if the dream will continue tonight?

Almost better

I think I'm almost over whatever it is that I've been sick with. I suspect it's been a succession of colds, abetted by reduced resistance brought on by stress. My voice is gradually returning - it's been reduced to a high, harsh croak these last few days - and I'm just hoping my coughing spells haven't caused any other damage.

My car passed its annual state inspection yesterday without any problems. This car turned ten years old about a week ago and passed the 255,555 mile mark yesterday, and it still gets mileage in the high 30's. It's had about six sets of tires, a dozen changes of headlight bulbs, about six new sets of wiper blades, one replaced exhaust system, at least one new timing belt, one battery replacement, a handful of air filters, a couple of EGR valves, a few PCV valves, and over 80 oil changes. It's still going strong.

Time is ticking away. Better get focused on the house stuff this week.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Ireland and London, 2006

Here's an index of all of my posts about my Ireland/London March 2006 vacation.

Pre-flight
In deep
The tickets are purchased, and the countdown begins.
Travel preparations: 24 days and counting
Getting ready to order money, while the world collapses into chaos over some cartoons.
I hate being right
Mo' money, mo' problems. Or, never underestimate the ability of your bank to screw things up.
Baggage limits
Always check with your airline before you pack.
Final days
Four days and counting.
Memories, pressed between the pages of a book
How to record your travel memories without doing any writing.
Almost
Luggage is all packed. And then unpacked again.

Postcards from Ireland
An explanatory post written before I left. I thought I'd be doing quite a lot of posting from Ireland. I didn't.

Phase 1: A week and a half in Ireland
Ireland: First view
The first photo I took during this visit, and possibly my best.
How to build a fire
Around here we just set the thermostat and forget it. In Ireland there's a little bit more to staying warm.
The two most surprising things about Ireland
Brightly-colored buildings and palm trees.
Beer
Beer.
Photos, photos everywhere and no USB connection!
My first "postcard" from Ireland.
Mountains in Ireland
Fermoy and the Blackwater
Culture shock setting in
My second post from Ireland.
Cork
A view of Ireland's second-largest city.

Phase 2: London
London, part 1
Kensington Gardens.
London, part 2
Beginning our bus tour of London. The Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, St. Martin-In-The-Fields, a "very strange-looking statue", Nelson's Column, and a first glance of Big Ben.
Trafalgar Square statue: Alison Lapper Pregnant
Discovering the identity of the "very strange-looking statue".
London, part 3
Big Ben and Parliament.
London, part 4
The London Eye, the Dali statues, St. Paul's Cathedral, The Monument, and Tower Bridge.
London, Part 5
The Tower of London, and the bus tour wraps up. Piccadilly Circus at night, and Les Miserables at the Queen's Theater on the West End.
London, Part 6
Our second day in London. Oxford Street, The London Dungeon, and misadventures with buses.
Leaving London

Back from London, and an Ashes update
My third and final post from Ireland.

Phase 3: St. Patrick's Day in Ireland
Back to Ireland
Two euros and fifty cents
A strange encounter with a very specific panhandler.
St. Patrick's Day in Ireland
Photos from the local St. Patrick's Day parade.
Ireland: The End
Leaving Ireland, and some parting thoughts.

I'm baaaaack!
Back home in Nanticoke.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Blogger Buddy System

Over the past week or so I've been getting a lot of hits from people wondering whatever became of Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org from Australia. I was a little worried in the first few days after I came back from Ireland because I couldn't get onto her site - one of the sites I visit daily - and I couldn't find any mention of her site's absence on the sites of any of the other regular commentors on her blog. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with Sammie herself, and she let me know what was going on. I posted an entry reporting what she had told me. Since that time that information has been passed on to a lot of people who have come to my site while surfing the net trying to find out what has happened to Sammie and her site.

I don't know Sammie personally, so it was a good thing I had tucked away her e-mail address at some point in the past, and a very good thing that she responded to my e-mail. There are a lot of other bloggers out there whose sites I used to visit fairly regularly who seem to have dropped off the net entirely, but I have no way of getting in touch with them to see where they've gotten to.

People stop blogging for a lot of reasons. Sometimes their lives get more complicated and they don't have time for blogging anymore. Sometimes they get fed up and decide to quit. Maybe they have other reasons.

There's a very real possibility that looms more darkly on the Internet than in the real world. Sometimes people die, and nobody knows about it.

Most of us are known here by user names, pen names, pseudonyms. "D.B. Echo" is not my real name - "D.B." stands for "DataBoy". You won't find me in the real world under that name. If something happened to me in the real world, you wouldn't see a headline shouting "D.B. ECHO NIBBLED TO DEATH BY CATS". Unless you knew where to look, you might not ever know what happened to me.

So I'm proposing the Blogger Buddy System. It works like this:

1. Every blogger picks one or more "Blogger Buddies" - people they are in regular contact with in the real world. (This should be direct, frequent contact - a friend, a relative, a co-worker. Virtual contact - telephone, IM, etc. - doesn't count, since it's still possible for something to happen to the blogger without a "virtual buddy" being aware of it for a long time.)

2. Each blogger posts contact information for their "Blogger Buddies" on their site. They also publicize this information and encourage readers to record it offsite. (Otherwise, if the site goes down it doesn't do much good.)

3. If something happens to a blogger or their site, their Blogger Buddies will post this information on their own sites - salted heavily with keywords that will assist anyone doing a websearch.

4. Now, this plan breaks down a bit in the event of a catastrophe, since it is possible that all of the Blog Buddies in a given region could be affected simultaneously. In that case it might be necessary to rely on a second tier of "virtual buddies" who are in regular but indirect contact with the blogger.

5. It's also possible that a given blogger will not be in direct contact with anyone else who is a blogger - strange as it may sound, there are still some people out there who don't have blogs. In that case they would probably want to set up a list of buddy e-mail addresses.

6. If all else fails, you could do what I did: scour the net for the sites of regular commentors for any mention of the missing blogger, and if that fails hope that you have the missing blogger's e-mail address tucked into your address book - and hope that they respond!

Related Posts:
Update, 5/4/2006: Sammie's new site is coming soon!
Sammie's deviantART site (April 30, 2006 - a link to an update by Sammie herself!)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Sick, and tired

I have been pretty sick for over a week with what I think have been two colds. The middle of last week my symptoms started - sore sinuses, with the pain sliding backwards over the course of a day to become a sore throat, followed by a ticklish cough with lots of mucus. I think I was just getting over that when the sore throat sequence started again this weekend.

I haven't really felt right since I came back from Ireland. Travel is always stressful for me, and coming back to a dying cat and the details of buying a house probably didn't help much. Add to that some other stresses, and I'm suddenly not at my shining best.

Ashes is dead. Soon the buying-the-house stress will become fixing-the-house stress. Eventually I'll get over my cold. I look forward to getting back to semi-normal sometime soon.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ashes is dead

Ashes died at 7:52 tonight.

Thank you to everyone who was keeping him in their thoughts and prayers.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Time for a few small repairs

I'm finally getting around to doing some long-overdue housekeeping on my blog links.

First off, I've moved a few more blogs into the "Blogs on hiatus" category. Now, just so nobody gets the wrong impression from this, "hiatus" isn't intended to indicate anything fancy. It basically means "This person hasn't posted in a really long time, I hope they're not dead or have decided to stop blogging altogether, and I really hope they start posting again soon." These are all blogs that I've enjoyed reading in the past, and I look forward to reading new stuff from them again someday. I hope they start posting again soon.

One of the blogs is technically on "lockdown", not "hiatus", but I've stuck it here anyway. Maybe someday the lockdown will be lifted. I always enjoyed reading this blog, and it was one of the few that was updated regularly. I miss it a lot.

One more blog is in the "Gone but not forgotten" category. Unlike the other blogs there, SuperG's "The Hurricane's Eye" is not "standing dead" (to use the Douglas Adams phrase.) It's just gone. But SuperG's other blog is back with a vengeance*.

I've finally gotten around to removing the "(on semi-hiatus)" from SuperG's My Distractions In This Modern Age. I toyed with the thought of putting "(temporarily offline due to technical issues)" after another of my links, but I think my previous blog entries about Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org being offline are serving the web-searching public pretty well - and considering how long SuperG's site has been off "semi-hiatus", this might be misleading in the long run.

I've also finally renamed Puppedude's Puppetdude3 to Puppetdude's Puppetdude. He made the change a long time ago, and I'm finally following suit.

There's an addition to the Blog Links, by special request: Jeffrey Hunter's Random Thoughts of A Deranged Mind! Check it out!

I've also done some housekeeping at NEPA Blogs. Go over there and see what people are blogging about in Northeastern Pennsylvania!

*The title of this post is a reference to the Shawn Colvin song "Sunny Came Home", but "with a vengeance" just kinda popped out here. I usually hear the relevant line in the song as "Sunny came home with a penguin."

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ireland: The End

Before I knew it it was time to go home.

I don't remember much of what went on that last Saturday, but I don't think it was very much. Packing, organizing, that sort of thing. Nothing exciting. And we all went to bed early since my flight was leaving Sunday morning, and it was a long drive to the airport, and we had to be there well in advance of my departure time.

I made it home without incident. The Atlantic was almost solidly cloudy along our entire route. Newark airport security was chaotic - arriving passengers had to claim our bags, go through Customs, re-check our bags, go back through a verrry slow security checkpoint, and then run across the airport to our connecting flights. All this with a carry-on bag that was dangerously overloaded with duty-free bath salts and a liter of Paddy whiskey.

Clouds on the way from Newark to BWI
I made it as far as baggage claim at BWI before my carry-on finally gave way - one of the D-ring connectors untwisted itself, rendering the shoulder strap useless.

I was the only passenger on my shuttle bus, which was driven by a Vietnam vet who currently does two weeks of medical missionary work each year in Ghana. He updated me on some of the events that had transpired in the three weeks since I had left the U.S. - mainly the dissolution of Iraq into outright civil war.

I got to my sister's house and couldn't find my car. I eventually located it in a side lot. I had a hard time getting the engine to turn over - it had been nearly a week since my sister had had it on the road, and once I got the car moving I quickly learned why: one of the rear tires was making a thwap-thwap-thwap noise. Feeling around the tire I couldn't locate anything that could have been responsible for the noise - maybe a stick had gotten caught in the wheel? - but I discovered that the left rear tire was very unevenly worn. So already a new expense was presenting itself to me.

I made it back to Nanticoke that night - a very dumb thing for me to do - and found Ashes weak and thin, but still alive. And he is still alive, on the bed behind me as I write this, three weeks after I returned home.

I miss some things about Ireland. I miss my friends, mainly. But I miss a few other things.

I miss Irish television. Sure, it's vapid and stupid and most shows are poorly-produced, but how does that compare to U.S. television, which is vapid and stupid and slickly produced? At least it felt more honest - or, when it was not being honest, the lack of honesty was at least blatantly obvious.
I miss The Podge and Rodge Show. This is a bizarre late-night show featuring two foul-mouthed anti-social puppets who interview figures from pop culture. (A typical quote: "Not that anybody gives a f*ck, but when is your new CD coming out?" Yes, the F-bomb is dropped reularly on The Podge and Rodge Show, at a fraction of the frequency you will hear it in everyday conversation.) It was good for a late-night laugh, and is the sort of thing you will never, ever see on U.S. broadcast TV.

I miss the cars. There were a lot fewer behemoths in everyday use, partly because gas is much more expensive over there - about twice what we pay for it. As long as fuel is so cheap in the U.S., we can expect the roads and highways to be clogged with oversized gas-guzzling cars and SUVs.

I'm happy to be home. There are some things about Ireland that were too quaint and laid-back for me. Still, there's a lot that I miss over there. I'm glad I got to visit one more time.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

St. Patrick's Day in Ireland

I've been told that St. Patrick's Day is no big deal in Ireland, not like the huge celebrations that we have here in New York City or Scranton or Philadelphia or Chicago. Maybe that was true once upon a time, but not while I was there. St. Patrick's Day is a national holiday, a bank holiday when virtually nothing is open. Even small towns have big parades, even small-town bed & breakfasts fill up with visitors, and most restaurants close early for the night because most of their patrons are busy giving their business to nearby pubs.

It snowed on St. Patrick's Day in Ireland. This never happens, but it happened this year. So the local parade was a pretty chilly event. I stood there trying to blend in with the crowd, waving an Irish flag and snapping pictures.

The police in Ireland are known as
the Gardai, or Garda, or "gards".
Their cars are very visible and pretty cool.


The Irish Army. Well, some of the Irish Army.
If you blow up the picture, you may see white
streaks of falling snow.


The local marching band.

Women's bagpipe band. There's something about
a woman playing the bagpipes...


Drummers, part of the same group as the bagpipers

Float ridiculing the idea of Garda Reserves
One of the most contentious issues while I was in Ireland was the formation of the Garda Reserves - civilians who are deputized to perform some police functions. The group most opposed to this were the Gardai themselves. Among the "New Garda Reserves" on this float are a pimp. several transvestite prostitutes, a number of convicts, and Osama bin Laden (identified by a sign on his back).

Jumbo Breakfast Roll
The Jumbo Breakfast Roll float, celebrating both the song which is currently very popular throughout Ireland and the hand-held version of the favorite Irish breakfast. "Two eggs, two rasher, two sausage, two bacon, two puddins - one black and white..."

The crowd begins to disperse after the parade
And then the parade was over, and it was time to head back to my friend's house and decide what to do in the day-and-a-half remaining to me.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Two euros and fifty cents

It was the Wednesday before St. Patrick's Day. I had been to the library to access the Internet (I am a paid-up member of a one-room library in a small town in Ireland, at least until next March!) and was now wandering up and down the main street of town trying to pick up some St. Patrick's Day decorations - flags, hats, pins - and maybe some chocolate, too.

I had had more luck with the chocolate. Every store in town had an extensively decorated front window, with streamers in green, white, and orange (or "gold", as many call it), Irish flags, leprechauns, what have you. But within, no such items were being offered for sale for the most part. One store had Irish flags and big tricolor hats, but they were pretty expensive and I wanted to shop around. None of the stores I stopped in had anything else - well, I did get some groceries, including chocolate, at one of the three supermarkets in town.

There are two things you should know about shopping in Ireland: most small towns have busy, extensive Main Streets with plenty of shops of all sorts. This is mainly because there's nowhere else to go. There are no malls or Wal-Marts lurking on the outskirts of town - well, not the outskirts of small towns, anyway - to lure away customers and starve the local shops as has happened in so many towns in America. The only alternative to doing business with the local radio shop or supermarket or dress store or barbershop is to travel to the next closest town and shop at their versions of the stores, unless you're prepared to travel many miles. So each store has a sort of monopoly on whatever sort of product it offers, and can charge prices just short of the point at which shoppers will decide it's worth their while to travel to the next town, or to a faraway mall, and see if they can do better. So the bottom line is: while each small town has a busy and thriving downtown, most consumers are paying through the eye.

The other thing to remember is that most of the chocolate you can get in Ireland is made by Cadbury, but it comes in a dizzying range of varieties.

Anyway. I had been to the store with expensive Irish flags and tricolor hats, stopped at one or both of the supermarkets on the main street (the third is a bit more out of the way, best accessed by car) and bought some groceries, including several bars of chocolate, and marched uphill to the SPAR Shop, a convenience store that I knew had nice St. Patrick's Day badges.

I bought a badge - a gold-coated plastic harp on a green ribbon - and began my hike downhill to the first shop to buy a flag and a tricolor hat. I stuffed the badge into my bag of groceries (another thing you should know: bring your own shopping bags to Ireland - they'll charge you 15 cents per bag at the stores) and headed down into the crowds of people on the sidewalk. Ahead of me I saw a hulking man who looked a lot like Elliott Gould. I glanced at him for only a second and made eye contact.

Ooops.

The man loped directly up to me. "Excuse me," he said. I tried to keep moving, but he stood directly in front of me. "Excuse me. Would you be able to give me two euros and fifty cents?"

What? Two euros and fifty cents? Why not two euros, or three euros? Why such a precise amount?

"I'm sorry," I lied. "I don't have..." I hefted the grocery bag. "Groceries, you know." I hoped he didn't notice my pockets bulging with coins of every denomination, including plenty of two-euro and half-euro coins.

He seemed to accept this explanation and moved on to his next mark. I carefully fingered my wallet and my passport pouch to make sure that both were still there.

Why two euros and fifty cents?

I found out why a few days later. Much of Ireland and Irish TV had been preoccupied that week with the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a series of horse races being held in England where several Irish horses with names like Beef or Salmon and War of Attrition were competing. Most of the regular daytime TV schedule had been pre-empted or rearranged to accomodate the races. Some people, I was told, would skip out of work to watch the races so they could have a better idea how the horses would perform in upcoming Irish horse races. Many, many bets were being placed at the legal bookmaker's shops that were scattered throughout town.

And the minimum bet?

Two euros and fifty cents.

I wonder if this guy bet on War of Attrition?

Back to Ireland

Returning to Ireland was like a wet slap in the face - literally. We got off the plane at Cork in a cold, driving rain and had to march across the tarmac and line up (sorry, queue up) outside of the terminal to pass through Passport Control.

While we had been enjoying cold, clear, and dry weather in London (with the exception of a few horizon-hugging clouds and the occasional snowflurries), Ireland had been enduring cold, cloudy, and rainy weather the whole weekend. Still, it felt nice to be back.

I began the final phase of my trip, the buildup to St. Patrick's Day that coming Friday. I did a little more walking around town and took a few more photographs whenever we drove somewhere.

Panorama of the Galtees as seen from the South
Seven overlapping photos,
total full-resolution width approximately 12 feet


Ruins of a church in Ballylanders, currently used as a
drop-off site for recyclables (bins are behind me in photo)



Galtees seen from the North

And that was very nearly it. My time was running out, and St. Patrick's Day was drawing near. I couldn't wait to see what the local parade would be like.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Interlude 3: Snow Day

I awoke this morning to a blizzard. The snow was coming down as if it were being shot from a cannon. By the time I left for work there were four inches of light, fluffy snow on my car. Fortunately the streets and sidewalks had retained enough heat from the past few days to melt most of what fell, and the early Spring sun took care of the rest. By the end of the day the morning's Winter Wonderland was only a memory. Was this the last snowstorm of the season?

By the way, Happy Love Day, everybody.

Interlude 2: Three weeks without Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org

March 15 was the last time I was able to go online in Ireland, and it was the first time I discovered that Sammie's sdfsdf.wox.org from Australia was offline. After returning to Nanticoke I was frustrated by my repeated failures to get onto Sammie's site. I eventually rummaged through my address book and found her e-mail address and fired off a message. I was delighted to get something back from Sammie which told me that her site was down due to technical issues with her web hosting service, not because she'd been eaten by koalas or carried off by a bunyip or swept away in the cyclone which hit a part of Australia about as close to her home as New Orleans is to Nanticoke (which is to say, not anywhere near).

It's been three weeks now. I just got another search engine query hit on my site from google.com.au for the phrase "sdfsdf.wox.org gone?" I've been getting a trickle of searches looking for this sort of information. People miss sdfsdf.wox.org. I miss sdfsdf.wox.org. I miss Sammie's writing, her gentle, self-effacing humor, her occasional deep insights, even her moments of self-doubt. I miss hearing about what's going on with her. I miss seeing her amazing photography. And I miss Sammie.

Sammie, I hope your site comes back soon. A lot of us do.

Related Posts:
Update, 5/4/2006: Sammie's new site is coming soon!
Sammie's deviantART site (April 30, 2006 - a link to an update by Sammie herself!)
The Blogger Buddy System (April 14, 2006)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Leaving London

Some of the rest you might already know. We had breakfast one last time at our hotel, packed our stuff, and checked out - not without incident. A new credit card system called "chip and PIN" has been strictly enforced since February 14 of this year in London and possibly throughout the entire U.K. requiring users of European-issued "chipped" credit cards to enter PIN numbers to use them - and woe unto you if you don't know your PIN number because you've never ever had to use it before. Fortunately, my credit cards were issued in the U.S. where "chip and PIN" is not yet in effect, so we were OK.

We hiked from our hotel to Paddington Station, dragging along our luggage newly-burdened with die-cast double-decker buses and pencil sharpeners in the shape of Big Ben. We took the Underground back to Victoria Station - beautiful and full of light in the daytime - and found our way to the Gatwick Express. The roomy, comfortable train glided easily out of the station on its southward course, past the vastness of the brick exterior of Victoria Station, past the industrial harshness and sky-scraping apartment buildings of South London, past the cramped tenements and row houses, past the chaotic garden plots known as the allotments, past gradually thinning houses giving way to fields and farmhouses and horses, and eventually past the highways that ring London, including one with a sign for Croydon. It took me a while to remember that this was referenced in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy ("not bloody Martin Smith from Croydon", a line which was not included in the movie version.) We also went through a tunnel at one point, which caused the Frenchman sitting across from me who was speaking to a woman on his cell phone to murmur a soft, drawn-out "Merrrrrde" after he was cut off in mid-conversation.

We got to Gatwick without any problems, but arrived too early to check our bags. We hung out a bit and got something to eat at the airport's McDonald's - the Happy Meal toy we got there, a Noddy figure with a garage door and storybook, is about ten times more complicated than anything I've seen in an American Happy Meal lately. By the time we made it back to the check-in desk, more than half of the people on our flight were there, too, waiting to check in. After check-in we were sent to a huge and vague central waiting area because Gatwick won't tell you what gate your flight is leaving from until it's time for you to board. I guess they like to keep their options open.

It was while we were waiting that we stopped in at the airport's Harrods (we never got to go to Harrods in London, even though it was quite close to our hotel) and at an excellent bookstore where I bought V For Vendetta.

After much anxious jumping up and checking of flight status displays, it was finally time for us to board. We made it onto the flight and soon were in the air.

We were heading back to Ireland.

Monday, April 03, 2006

London, part 6

Our second day of touring London was completely different from our first. We made it as far as the Disney Store on Oxford Street on a red double-decker bus before we hopped off to do some shopping.

I was not really impressed by Oxford Street. This was in part because I am a guy, and the word "shopping" generally doesn't send my heart singing the way it does for certain members of the fairer sex. (See my entry on "Hunting and gathering" for more about my views on shopping. The words "sports", "beer", or "Muscle Car" don't do much for me either, but I'm not sure what that means.) In part it was also because branches of many of the stores along Oxford Street, or their American analogs, are only a few minutes drive from my house in any of several local malls. But for my friends, this was a unique opportunity to shop at stores that I take for granted.

We spent a good bit of time on Oxford Street and decided to re-board a bus headed for Piccadilly Circus, where we would get our bearings, do some more shopping, and pick up a bus to our ultimate destination. I scanned the intricately complex bus schedule with some trepidation, aware of how I had gotten us dangerously far from our hotel the previous night by getting on the wrong bus. In the column for "Buses headed to this destination" the word "ALL" appeared for Piccadilly Circus. This looked easy.

Of course it was not. We sat in the upper deck with a French-speaking couple and enjoyed the ride for what seemed like a few minutes longer than it should have taken. Our bus eventually pulled across from a park, came to a stop - and then the driver shut off the engine. We began to mutter amongst ourselves and heard the driver, who was speaking to someone else, say "Do I still have passengers in my upper deck?" He came upstairs and, with some amusement, explained to us that this was the final destination for his bus. I wan't even aware that buses had final destinations in the middle of the day. Maybe it was lunchtime.

We got off somewhere in Bloomsbury and Fitzrova, possibly near Russell Square. Our bus options from this point were few, but we wanted to get in the neighborhood of the Tower Bridge, and we found a bus that would get us there. We got there by way of some of the less-touristy bits of South London, including an area known as The Elephant. But eventually we made it to within walking distance of our main destination for the day: The London Dungeon.


The London Dungeon is not an authentically historical site. It's basically a spook house, a place of grotesque and horrifying tableaux featuring wax figures and costumed actors. It's not too many steps above the haunted houses that are staged locally each Halloween, although the quality of the figures and the decorations in the Dungeon is a bit better than the stuff usually slapped together by firefighters and college students here.

Once again we were aided by a kindly couple who gave us a pass for a free adult admission with the purchase of an adult admission. As with the older couple at the Miso Noodle Bar the previous day and the guy who let us know that our Night Bus was headed in the wrong direction the previous night, contact was estblished by my friend, not by me. She is a good deal more sociable and engaging than I am and definitely has a way with people, whereas I tend to not make eye contact and simply hope that I don't have to defend my friends or myself from unprovoked acts of violence.

The London Dungeon is fun, but is mainly for kids. If you are traveling with adults only, don't expect anything more enlightening than a demonstration of various 17th-century torture implements (including one blunt member-chopper that I nicknamed the "tallywhacker".) But kids love the place.

Another bit of advice: if you go there, don't let on that you're a Catholic. They're not as tolerant of non-Protestants as you might think:
(Just kidding.)

We waited about a half hour to get into The London Dungeon. The tour itself took about 90 minutes (I think, I didn't actually check), and the after-tour in the gift shop took us right up to closing time. This was also closing time for pretty much everwhere else that we had considered visiting that day, so we decided to get a bus to Piccadilly Circus and go from there.

Again we were confounded by the bus schedules. We finally flagged down one bus and asked the driver where he was going. His response was "I don't know. I'm on diversion." - which seemed an odd sort of response from a man behind the wheel of a bus carrying passengers. We decided to let it go and try our luck elsewhere. We eventually got on a bus which was, once again, not going where we wanted to go. This was determined by my friend who, also once again, consulted with someone on the bus who advised us to ride that bus to the Liverpool Street station and get transportation from there. We opted to go Underground this time, the first time we had done that since we arrived in London via the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station and then the Circle Line to Paddington. This time we took the Central Line to Oxford Circus and then changed to the Bakerloo Line to Piccadilly Circus. We popped out in the lower floors of the Trocadero and did some shopping.

The afternoon had turned to evening and we hadn't had anything significant to eat since before noon. We hunted around a bit for a restaurant and decided on an Indian place on, I think, Shaftesbury Avenue. It was not a very good place. The food was overpriced and undersized and didn't taste very good. A request for water was responded to with the presentation of a huge bottle of very expensive mineral water. In the end the bill was twice what we had paid for the previous evening's meal.

We got our bearings and realized that we were very close to Leicester Square and Chinatown, two of the places specifically recommended by British blogger Puppetdude when I asked him for "advice for a hapless tourist". We staggered off to Leicester Square, zig-zagging from souvenir shop to souvenir shop, wandered around a bit (I had to restrain myself from taking pictures of a sign that simply read "SEX SHOP"), and eventually made our way back to a Starbucks. After coffee and pastries we gathered ourselves together and decided to make a push for Gerrard Street, London's Chinatown, which was heartbreakingly close and painfully full of what were probably wonderful and reasonably-priced Chinese restaurants. If only we had kept walking past the Indian place...

Our evening was pretty much over at this point. We walked down Wardour Street past two of the drunkest people I have ever seen in my life who were not face-down in puddles of their own vomit, walked past the Hard Rock Cafe and a group of bar-hopping girls who were dressed in skimpy clothing that seemed entirely inappropriate for the just-above-freezing temperatures, bid our farewells to Piccadilly Circus, got on a Night Bus actually headed for Paddington Station, and headed back to our hotel for one last night in London.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

London, part 5

Crossing the Tower Bridge
Phase 1 of our visit to London - touring the city in an open-top bus - was just about over. Phase 2 was a few hours away: seeing Les Miserables at the Queen's Theater. In between we wanted to do some walking, some shopping, and some eating. But first we had a few more stops to make.

The Tower of London
The Tower of London is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to be imprisoned, tortured, and executed there. It's smaller than you would think for a place with so much history. Once again we were faced with an unacceptably long line for the tour itself. Fortunately the gift shop was open and there was no line there. Seeing a costumed Beefeater added to the sense that I was in a sort of historical amusement park with its long lines and gift shops and costumed characters. (These guys aren't just random people dressed in costumes but are actual retired military personnel, so the perception that they are the British equivalent of Mickey Mouse at Disneyworld is probably moderately annoying.)

Wellington Arch
We boarded our bus with the intent of riding the tour around past our starting point at the Marble Arch and back to Piccadilly Circus, which is relatively close to the West End theaters. Along the way we crossed the Blackfriars Bridge, rode along the Victoria Embankment, passed the London Eye on the far bank of the Thames, saw Big Ben once again, flew past Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, zipped through Victoria Station, careened past Wellington Arch, made it around Hyde Park Corner without hitting any female astrophysicists on mopeds, rounded the Marble Arch, and headed on to Piccadilly Circus. I took pictures along the way, including one of this tiny car:

Look! A tiny, tiny car.
(Soon to be marketed in the U.S. as the "Smart Car")

Eventually we made our way to Piccadilly Circus and left the bus tour. It is said that you cannot stand for more than 37 minutes at Piccadilly Circus without meeting someone you know. I was wary of testing this theory - you never know who might show up.

Piccadilly Circus at night
We did some shopping and found a restaurant - the Miso Noodle Bar on Haymarket. This was a great little place, with good food, generous portions, courteous staff, and reasonable prices. We shared our table with an older couple from about an hour outside of London who came into town a few times a year, and were there that day to see a play. They were wrapping things up for the day, and kindly gave us a compact map of the city to help us during our visit. To my everlasting regret, I failed to give them my card with the address of this blog.

Les Miserables at the Queen's Theater was great. Jean Valjean was played by Tim Godwin, the understudy for the role, but I can't imagine the regular performer doing a better job. (I must admit that I found his resemblance to a bearded Jack Black in the opening scenes a little distracting!) Cornell John dominated the production in the part of Javert - during his ovation, I think I saw his smile broaden a bit when the audience's applause and whistles were punctuated by a certain American whooping from the balcony. The peformance was done on a purpose-built rotating stage which was used to simulate travel, provide in-the round views of scenes to all audience members, or simply allow for quick scene changes. I'd be interested in seeing how other touring companies stage the production, so I'll have to try to catch the show if it ever comes through Wilkes-Barre or Scranton.

After the show, it was just a matter of getting a Night Bus back to our hotel, or to Paddington Station, or to anything close. I managed to get us on a bus going the wrong way. We got off near St. Paul's, which is a pretty desolate spot in the middle of the night, but were able to quickly reboard a bus going in the right direction.

We made it back to our hotel, drew up some plans for the next day's adventures, and passed out.

London, part 4

The London Eye
There's a lot more to see in London than just Big Ben and Parliament. One good place from which to see it is the London Eye, the giant observation wheel built along the Thames in 2000. While the trip on the Eye takes only 30 minutes, the line looked several hours long...and that was for people with tickets. The line to get tickets was inside the building at the base on the left, and it also looked several hours long. Best to book ahead!

Dali statue at the South Bank Centre
Next to the London Eye is the County Hall Gallery, currently exhibiting a collection of works by Salvador Dali. The admission price is steep and the lines are long. If you don't have a lot of time or money to spend on a single exhibition, there is also a collection of statues based on the works of Dali lining the South Bank Centre near the London Eye.

St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul's Cathedral is another impressive bit of architecture, but it was difficult to get a good picture as the bus zipped along.

The Monument
This 205-ft. tall column is a monument to the Great Fire which destoyed much of London in 1666.

Tower Bridge and the H.M.S. Belfast
This is what a lot of people think of when they hear "London Bridge". London Bridge is, in fact, much less fancy - it's the bridge we were on when I took this picture! On the right you can see the H.M.S. Belfast, painted in that funky ship camouflage pattern designed to break up the ship's outline and create confusion as to direction of travel. The camouflage isn't fooling anyone anymore as it sits docked on the South Bank of the Thames, serving as a floating naval museum.

Keep in mind that everything I've described so far in London happened in a single day - and that day wasn't quite over yet. And we still had another whole day to our visit!