04 December 2010

365 Days in the City: Day 89 - Herb Garden Buffet

I've been negligent in writing about my city life, namely because while there's a lot going on, nothing really quirky has occurred--well that changed last night.

A few posts back I mentioned how popular my front stoop is for night-time visitors. Since that time, I've placed plants from my apartment in Lake O out front, which has helped remind passers-by that in fact my loft isn't empty. Visitation has dropped significantly.

Two nights ago, I came home and noticed there was a lot of soil on the sidewalk in front of my stoop. Upon further investigation, I noticed someone had dug around in my strawberry pot and taken my small shovel. I was confused, but had frankly hoped the strawberries would die this winter anyway, so wasn't too concerned.

Last night, as I returned home and walked to my front door, I noticed a haggard-looking woman leaning over my oregano and thyme herb pot. As I neared the door and the clearly homeless woman, she didn't flinch one bit as she treated my herb garden as a salad bar. My first inclination was to tell her to back off my herbs, but then I remembered that in fact I didn't ever actually use those herbs, I had secretly hoped they (like the strawberries) would also die, and that she probably needed them way more than I did. So, I just walked by, opened my front door and called it a night.

She hasn't eaten all of my plants yet, but it's only Saturday, and I hear the Herb Garden Buffet has nightly specials throughout the weekend. If you're hungry, I've got a small serving of strawberry plant, withered clematis and some rosemary. I'm sorry to say, we are fresh out of oregano and thyme.

02 December 2010

Evolution Disillusion

Evolution, or the progression of a species, is an observable phenomenon that is constantly driving itself forward. Whether you believe it to be a part of a greater plan or simply the natural order of things, we can all agree that as species evolve or progress, they ideally become better and better.

The relationship of natural selection and evolution tend to go hand-in-hand, however in the case of human beings, I'd say that's not necessarily the situation. We have progressed so far beyond the simple concept of survival of the fittest, that we can all live without any real regard to the core rules of survival so closely adhered to by our many animal neighbors. While I don't really want to offend the majority of the population that would quickly die off if we had to actually resort to self-survival skills (and I don't exclude myself from that soft-exteriored majority), there is a lot of evidence to suggest that we have evolved to a point of uselessness in an actual practical sense. Brush aside the invention of Segways, reality television shows, Go-gurt, Paris Hilton, or the paparazzi that follow her (none of which would have existed if we were still foraging for food, or heck, even farming for that matter) and I would like to point out one particular piece of evidence that highlights my point.

Have you ever thought much about ending petlessness?

Well, I haven't either. However, apparently the folks down at the Oregon Humane Society have, and they mean business. Plastered all over every billboard from here to Timbuktu (that's a little town in eastern Oregon) is the most ridiculous (but admittedly endearing) campaign to end one of the least dangerous afflictions to afflict any afflicted people since the beginning of afflictions. Petlessness? Is that really something to combat or end? Aren't the petless happy?

To tie up the loose end on how this relates to evolution, the one great evidence of a species that has evolved past it's own usefulness (in my mind) is a society that addresses issues with zealous flair that are so unimportant to the core of that society's survival as to make them seem too trivial to waste the word trivial when describing them. Because so many of us aren't likely to die of plague or hunger any time soon (or be eaten by a higher mammal) and the most foraging we need to do is in our refrigerator (or to the nearest McDonald's), we can actually afford to spend time brooding on issues that have propelled us to the stratospheric upper-echelons of the nugatory.

I know. I'm being unfair. But I should at this point disclaim to you, my friends on the internet, that I love pets. I really do. Dogs, cats, rats, hamsters, parakeets, anoles, cockatiels, I'll take them all. I love pets. But some people don't, and that's okay. It's not a plague to be petless. It's not dangerous. It's not contagious. I doubt a single petless soul who sees that billboard or the hundreds of other media pieces that echo its message will say "Well heck, I never realized it, but I do need a pet. I'm going to get one today!" Because the truth is, most petless people are happy. The petless are like you and me. They go to work and live their lives. Like you and me, they enjoy good food, dancing, sleeping-in and all the other things an overly-evolved society enjoys. They just happen to like it without a furry companion to share every minute with.

Someone spent tens of thousands of dollars to develop and implement this campaign. Many someones thought of it and spent many hours working on it. They are the overly evolved who sit in squishy chairs and try to imagine what life would be like without a Whole Foods on every corner and the non-organic hell it would be.

In the mean time, there are the less fortunate of our over-evolved species who are actually still trying to survive. They are all around us. They are like you and me. They may or may not have work and are probably having a hard time living their lives. Like you and me, they enjoy good food, but may be grateful to have any at all. Dancing is something they probably only do once-in-a-while, and sleeping, let alone sleeping-in, may not be a comfortable, feasible or regular practice. They are probably not concerned with petlessness, organics, excessive individualistic freedoms or staying out of the mainstream. They are still concerned about surviving and maybe one day gaining admission to the indulgent club the rest of us languish in as we pine for a better world.

Indeed, we live in an overly-evolved society where trite, but influential pet projects (no pun intended) garner millions of dollars of public and private funding. It's a comfortable and gilded world where special interests so far from the basic necessities of life, or even the outskirts of resources for valuable personal progression, can command center stage and suggest that you and I participate in something as frivolous as ending petlessness.


No offense Oregon Humane Society, I'm all for those homeless kitties and puppies to find a forever home before their time is up, but in a world full of human homelessness, healthlessness, foodlessness, lovelessness, freedomlessness and hopelessness, I don't need to invent petlessness and add it to my list of things to fight to end.

02 November 2010

365 Days in the City: Day 58 - Asparagus Walls and Parking Tickets

So my loft has been coming along miserably. Between being out of town, working late and trying to maintain some vestige of a social life, my place has maintained the look of a second-hand furniture warehouse where you see 'Going out of Business' signs and offers on Craigslist for a pair of used armchairs for $40 (and yes, a pair of armchairs I own came from CL for $40).

The clutter of boxes and other personal effects (which, by the way, where the heck does that term come from?) was like a maze/obstacle course/sadistic Saw game/fire hazard and got so bad, that I accidentally dropped my wallet into a pile of things and had to cancel my cards because I didn't know where my wallet was and I needed to spend money.

Then came the challenge.

A good friend of mine suggested that what I really needed was a deadline. [Queue angelic, heavenly music indicating a break-through moment] He suggested that maybe if I hosted a dinner party (which he and his wife were of course invited to) on Sunday, I would be motivated to go balls out (pardon the brash term) and finish from Friday to 4:59 on Sunday before the party.

I accepted. From Friday evening to 4:59 (and actually more like 5:08) on Sunday, I spent several hours at Lowe's and Home Depot (where I bought a circular saw and a 13-foot ladder among other things), built a kitchen bar/island out of cedar wood and a salvaged door, painted a 12-foot wall twice (first color wasn't right), moved furniture, sold furniture on CL (and hauled it 15 miles to the person's house) , stashed boxes, trashed tons of stuff, vacuumed, killed the last of my summer veggie plants, swept, installed lighting, swept, and prepared a meal. [phew!]

It was a lovely dinner party. My wall is painted asparagus green (after the second paint color was applied) and so I decided to serve asparagus in it's honor. The only down side of the evening, was that as we set off for a walk between dinner and dessert, we noticed that both couples had received parking tickets, which made for a bit of a pisser (again, brash) on the evening.

Still a lot to do on the place, but once it's done, I will post a house tour on here. Until then, here's to another set of adventures in the city!

17 October 2010

365 Days in the City: Day 42 - Street Cars and Homeless Penguins

This day simply couldn't get any more entertaining.

I decided to ride the street car to meet a friend for lunch today. It was my first time trying it, and like a kid on the first day of school, I wasn't without apprehension. I checked the schedule and walked the two blocks to the stop. On time, clean and quick, it was great. Even better, I live in the fare-free zone that encompasses most of downtown Portland (what an amazing city this is), so it was without cost. Lunch was fine and I headed back to get on the street car.

As I was awaiting the car, a man sat down next to me who was clearly homeless (I was breathing through my mouth for a while). I didn't really pay any attention and continued my telephone web browsing, until a somewhat chirpy, sing-song voice said:

"Excuse me, could you tell me what time the next car comes?"
"In about two minutes," I said.
"Thank you, penguins are not very good at reading small print, but we can march in straight lines in temperatures of negative 50, so we are rather militant."

I'm sorry what?

I looked up and now noticed the man next to me. Penguin hat (like the ones that have a face on them and ear-covers that are like wings) and a face painted red. I decided to engage.

"Well, it's a good thing it isn't that cold here," I said.
"Indeed, but it was chilly today," he said as though he hadn't just suggested he was a penguin. "But I don't much like marching in lines, do you?"

I indicated that indeed I didn't.

"It gets quite sunny here, which can lead to sunburn," he said pointing to his face which was clearly painted cherry red and flaking badly. "But if you try to steal anything, they will catch you, red handed," he observed, opening his palm to reveal more paint. I laughed and he indicated that I sounded like I might be a Portlander, and asked if I knew the mayor, whom he said he was quite close with.

He asked where I was from and was excited to hear that I was from the DC area.

"I used to live in Dupont Circle! Have you heard of it?" he asked.
"Yes, I have."
"I worked for a congressman there for a while."
"Oh."
"Are you involved in politics, is that why you lived in DC" he asked.

I explained that my father worker for the Smithsonian (which isn't even why we lived in DC, but it's an easy connection. This revelation made him very excited.

"Ohhhhhh! The Smithsonian! Well, I used to work there also." he beamed "You could say I change jobs like some people do shoes." But then his demeanor darkened a bit. "But I don't like to talk about that experience."

Sadly the street car came at the moment. The penguin had explained to me earlier that he didn't like crowded street cars, and this one had quite a few people in it. So, he wished me well and we shook hands as he waved to everyone on the car.

Well, Portland has penguins who hang out with the mayor after migrating from the DC area where they enjoyed stints with congressmen and the Smithsonian. Well, not the Smithsonian, we don't talk about that.

Best. Day. Yet.

365 Days in the City: Day 41 - Kicking Butt & Taking Names

Working late and traveling to New Orleans for a convention have put a cramp in my ability to move the loft forward. I am ready for it to be ready!

Yesterday I made some great progress not only on the apartment front, but also on the "Oh my gosh I love living in the city so much, everything is so close and cool" front. I met some friends at Mother's Bistro for breakfast and following that, I went over to the Saturday Market to hopefully score some affordable local artists' work to display on my walls.

I heart the Portland Saturday Market.

The outing was a success, however, I learned from this experience to always bring plenty of cash to the Saturday Market, as I had to visit ATMs twice, racking up a whole $7 in withdrawal fees [sad day].

On the way back I stopped into a little antiques shop two blocks from my house and scored two awesome arm chairs really inexpensively. This day was going very well.

I headed over across the river and met a couple friends for lunch and we went to the Rebuilding Center where I needed to shop for an old door (to use as a top for a kitchen island), and some old wood to top an old buffet I bought earlier in the week. Score and score!

The day continued surveying a couple more Portland restaurants with a friend and then a restful evening at home, putting some of my new artwork in frames and catching up on my guilty pleasure, the Real World.

All in all, a fantastical Day 41.

03 October 2010

365 Days in the City: Day 27 - The Front Stoop

I finally got my internet connected yesterday, so I hope to update more often as was planned originally (despite the disbelief of some).

Since I moved in, matched only by "how's the apartment coming?" is the question "Do you feel safe?" (To remind the world, my apartment is on the first floor with direct street-level access, which is apparently terrifying to everyone, ignoring the fact that
most peoples' houses have first floor, direct street-level access.) In brief, the answer is yes, I feel very safe.

Now that being said, having first floor, direct street-level access in a downtown area isn't without it's, well charm. Living in The Pearl, Portland's trendy, art district is a far cry from anything dangerous, but it certainly can be a mixed bag.

On the lighter side of things, the other day I walked out to find a sweet Ferrari parked out front (how bad could a neighborhood really be with a Ferrari parked out front?). The part I am now finding charming about my new loft that at first was a source of major concern is my front stoop. It is a very popular place. I generally enter and exit my loft through the back door into the garage, as I a
m typically driving somewhere. As a result, I typically leave the front light off. The other night I came home (at around midnight) and there were two men standing on my front stoop talking. It kind of freaked me out, but as soon as I walked in, they left. From that point on I decided it was entertaining. Two nights ago, I turned off a movie and was surprised to hear a woman talking out front. I walked downstairs and realized she was having a rather scandalous conversation with a man on my front stoop. I really wanted to turn the light on to give them a scare, but it seemed unwelcoming. After all, they chose my stoop to have their personal conversation, and darn it, I was going to live up to a reputation for hospitality.

So I put a welcome mat out.

Today while I was working on unpacking, a man came and sat on the stoop for a while. I'm not sure what he was doing, but he was using the mat, which made me happy.

So in summary, yes, I feel very safe, and yes, the front stoop may be the most happening place in town. I'm thinking of putting a chair out there and maybe even a fold-away bed.

21 September 2010

365 Days in the City: Days 1 through 15

Having family stay in my old apartment as it's coup de grace caused the city loft move project to sit dormant for almost two weeks (after all, guests can't see an apartment hemorrhaging boxes as you move out, they have to see it in all its glory). As a result, there isn't much to report on for the first 12 days of the past 15, but I'm trying to prove to you, my intimate friends on the WWW (that's World Wide Web, thank you Mr. Gore).

The move went well (thanks to some great people), and while I still haven't set up Internet in the apartment to facilitate quick blog entries as interesting things happen, I thought I'd give a quick recap (before I get too miserably behind) of a few city highlights of the past couple days since I've been an urbanite:

  • When I arrived at the apartment on Sunday with some stuff to off-load, there was a homeless lady sleeping two doors down. I gave her a bottle of water later as I walked by, hopefully she liked it.
  • I left my front door open to the street while I was unpacking on Sunday. There was a beautiful breeze and then it began to storm. I walked outside under the tree in front of my place and was very happy.
  • As it got dark, I decided to close the door when I shady figure walked by my door a few times and sorta peered in. A few minutes later he knocked on the door and explained that he worked near by and had left his bag when his boss locked up. He asked if he could use my phone to call his boss. Feeling a little sheepish (and distrusting) I lied saying my phone wasn't hooked up and there was RiteAid around the corner. For better or for worse, I lied to a random guy who knocked on my door the first night in my apartment. He could have just needed the phone, or he could have beaten, robbed and ultimately brutally murdered me on my first night in the Pearl. I think I'm okay with being a liar.
Cheers to the new place!

18 September 2010

365 Days in the City

I'm a downtown city-dweller now. It doesn't really feel like anything has changed about me, but then again it does a little. I feel trendier than I did when I was a suburbanite. My old furniture just doesn't fit anymore. It's just not who I am. I am a city dweller.

While not the type to typically bore the world with journal-style rantings, I thought it might be fun to share some of the annals of my life for a year (or maybe more) in a 1200
square foot loft in the Pearl District of Portland. I now live (well, actually tomorrow is when I am going to sleep there for the first time, tonight I am camping out on the floor of my almost empty apartment in Lake Oswego. But my furniture is living there now) in a first-floor, street entry, store-front apartment. I am sandwiched between a hip little Italian restaurant and a garage entry (where I get to park my car for a fee that might be considered steep). I am urbane.

In what I hope to be short entries accompanied by photos of my experiences and anecdotes, I plan to document my life for a year. ...We'll see how that goes.

30 June 2010

You Should Always Finish What You Start (And Other Official Statements)

(If you are just joining us, please see this entry)

OFFICIAL STATEMENT #4

Patronizing tones should be used with caution. Some people believe in a ambivalence of the human race and therefore don't know if you are patronizing them or being serious. I feel like I am on both sides of this coin because 1) I tend to believe in the ambivalence of the human race and 2) I tend to say patronizing things. I suppose I need to change one of those.

# # #

OFFICIAL STATEMENT #5

(Per a coworker) When you are talking about something and the other person you are talking to agrees with you, you should always just stop mid-sentence once they agree. It saves the planet by lowering your emissions of CO2.

# # #

OFFICIAL STATEMENT #6

You should always finish one official statement before moving on to others (for example I am now working on statement #6 when I haven't even finished five or four). This is an example of the attention-deficit society we live in. While waiting in line for dinner at IKEA (the greatest place in the entire world [see Official Statement #7]) with my friends and their kids, the five-year-old had her tray behind mine, and she was tail-gating me. There was a terribly long line that evening, and as the person in front of me moved forward a couple feet, the five-year-old immediately asked (in an innocent tone), "Chris, aren't you going to move forward?" as she pushed her tray up so it was all in my grill. I smiled and moved forward and reflected on how impatient I can be (probably as a result of the immediacy of most things these days) and then was a little startled to think of how much more impatient the rising generation will be, because they never had to wait for anything. Well except for dinner at IKEA.

# # #

OFFICIAL STATEMENT #7

IKEA is the greatest place in the entire world.

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29 June 2010

Left is the New Right (and Other Official Statements)

What exactly qualifies an entity or an individual to make a public or official statement? I suppose you have to be a PhD or a nation or be elected by a group of people or something, but I think more common people should make official statements. It's not like we don't have statements to make, and it's not like those who make statements are all that much more qualified than the rest of us. While we clearly live in a reasonably opinionated world, few people take the time to write their opinions down and distribute them in one form or another for the world to see as official statements. We should definitely do more of that.

Oh that vein, I'd like to release a few official statements of my own. Please enjoy.

OFFICIAL STATEMENT #1

The Chris Show has officially stated today that the two cobs of corn that Chris Giovarelli, Chris Show president, prime minister and only contributor, ate for dinner were excellent. The Chris Show believes more people should buy sweet corn and eat it.

# # #

OFFICIAL STATEMENT #2

I would like to officially proclaim and state that the left is the new right. No, where not talking politics, we're talking driving. Due to popular demand and the overwhelming participation by the Oregonians all around me, the right lane is now the passing lane, and the left is the slow lane. When you pull into traffic, it is your immediate job to get into the left lane and then go below the speed limit. This is simply how it must be. Ideally, when pulling into traffic, just go straight into the left lane (especially if cars are coming up quickly in said lane) and pretend like you are going to punch it, but then don't. When driving in the left lane down a road with two lanes going in the same direction, it is especially appropriate to match the speed of a car to your right and then together, drop to five or six below the speed limit. This shows great prudence and impenetrability to those behind you. Let it be known from this statement, they will be grateful you have force fed them the roses they didn't want to stop and smell by their own fruition. Equally important, is that if you have been driving down a road in the right lane for a while (silly you), it is not only appropriate, but now expected, that you will randomly, with the jerk of the wheel, move into the left lane, even if that means cutting of cars there. Please understand, this is for the betterment of society. Those who can stand driving fast enough to actually pass you can just as easily scoot on over to the right lane to get around you, it's the least they can do for the nerve of driving the speed limit!

# # #

OFFICIAL STATEMENT #3:

Chris Giovarelli will be releasing official statements throughout the next several days. Check back here for updates if you are interested in learning more.

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02 June 2010

Silence Is Golden

In a striking blow to all of those crooks, thieves, hooligans and vicious criminals out there, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that in order to invoke your so-called Miranda right of silence, you have to tell the officers who are arresting you that you'd like to remain silent. Puzzling.

In similar news, the IRS has decided to waive federal income tax, you just have to pay a tax-waiving fee approximately equal to 30 percent of your income, but depending on how much you make it could be less or more. If you have a good accountant, he/she can find ways for you to lower that fee to almost nothing, but if that accountant is "too good," you may be found guilty of income tax waiver fee evasion, and end up in jail with Bruno as your roommate (see yesterday's post). But I digress...

Maybe it's just the small, raging, liberal, ACLU advocate inside of me trying to get out, but I worry about how the tone, cadence and pitch of the verbal declaration of desired silence may be used against the individual who is innocent until proven guilty. What if my voice squeaks when I'm nervous (like if I'm being arrested for a crime I clearly didn't commit)? What if I am just feeling a little agitated and upon stating my desire to remain silent I seem a little crazy, unbalanced, edgy, or I don't know, guilty?

Even Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the Justices who was on the losing end of the five-to-four decision, thought it was dumb, saying in her written dissenting opinion (and I'm paraphrasing), "This is dumb."

This is the reality we now face:

Arresting officer: "You have the right to remain silent, anything you say will be used against you in court."

Me (or any other presumably innocent citizen): [silence]

Arresting officer: "Maybe you didn't hear me, you have the right to remain silent."

Me (or anyone else now freaking out): [silence]

Arresting officer: "You can remain silent so I can't make something you said seem incriminating, but you have to tell me that's what you want to do!"

Me (sheepisly): "I'd l-l-like to r-r-remain s-silent."

Arresting officer: "I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understood what you said while I was [insert something related to the crime I'm being arrested for which is meant to shock me into confession]. Did you say something about violent?"

Me (annoyed/scared/unsure now): "No?"

Arresting officer: "Okay, so you aren't waiving your rights, let's play ball..."

Subsequently, Chris Giovarelli was tried and convicted of whatever crime you imagined, based on the arresting officer's testimony that he confessed to "wanting to remain violent."

And that's the value of silence.

01 June 2010

Litter-al Punishments

Sometimes when I am driving home on a certain route, I pass a sign that always makes me smile, and sometimes makes me laugh out loud (that's LOL), and shake my head. The sign reminds drivers that littering is illegal, and claims a maximum possible fine of $6250.

Yes, six thousand two hundred fifty dollars.

This raises two questions in my mind. 1) How on Earth did someone come up with that number, and 2) what on Earth would you have to litter in order to be fined the maximum $6250?

I decided to investigate a little more. After going through a number of state Web sites, I discovered the interesting item really isn't in the aforementioned questions, but that in reality, the sign is lying to the public (Yep, you heard it here first folks, the state is lying to us. I am calling this situation Littergate, and I am certain Fox News will cover it. Heck, they'll probably offer me a position as a pundit for this. [Said positions have been given out for less. {Yes, that was an ellipsis inside an ellipsis, and this is an ellipsis inside an ellipsis inside an ellipsis.}]).

The penalty for littering caries a maximum fine of $6250, yes, but it also carries a potential one year in jail, or both! Now, I don't know about you, but the next time I am about to throw, say, a file cabinet full of papers and toxic waste out of my car window (surely deserving of a $6250 fine if it's at least three drawers that are good and full of paper and a big glob of mercury), I'm not really going to be thinking about the check I might have to write for $6250 if they ever link the abandoned files back to me. What I'm going to be thinking about is Bruno (pictured above), who might be my roommate (and maybe more) for a year.

You want to stop Oregon from littering? Put old Bruno's photo on a poster that has one of those talking bubbles coming out of his mouth that says something like: "Go on, throw that empty Mickey D's cup out your window, I dare you." or "I'll be waiting for you." or even "Looking for a roommate, just throw something big out your car window and all my dreams could come true." I'm not sure exactly how to phrase it, or pull it off with real panache, but I'm sure the state's marketers could do a bang up job.

Incidentally, Oregon law classifies littering as a Class A misdemeanor, with puts it in the ranks of stalking, recklessly endangering a highway worker, prostitution, obtaining food stamps unlawfully, hunting with an artificial light (what?), applying a tattoo without a license, child neglect, assaulting an officer and unlawfully operating an ambulance, among other things.

So next time you think about littering (not that you would think about it, or even litter for that matter, but just in case you do), consider not only how it might affect the environment (ha. ha.), but who might be your newest friend as a result... suddenly a preposterous fine of $6250 may not seem so bad.

WRITER'S NOTE: I'd like to thank a friend for reminding me of the need to blog about this particular topic. While he will remain nameless, a la Chris Show rules, I appreciate his brief rant on the topic, which corroborated my first claim of seeing this ridiculous sign.

19 March 2010

There's No 'I' in Team

Have you ever sat and watched a flock of birds moving through the sky in what seems like perfect unison? Or, similarly, have you ever been at an aquarium and seen a school of fish darting through the water like one solid mass? Ever wondered how they do that with such synchronization and perfect coordination? I have.

When watching these amazing natural, living (and moving) formations, I have wondered if there is some extra sensory organ, perhaps similar a bat's sonar or a spacial field of sorts, that helps these groups move. I imagined scientists having done, or currently undertaking research to discover an incredible new source of honing and spacial mapping. The world would never be the same. Such technology would be added to cars to prevent collisions (a technology that already exists for help in baking up), to people to limit embarrassing slams into doorways (you know how that goes, you think you'll make it through fine, and then somehow, part of you just doesn't make it and is now throbbing with a vertical imprint of the molding to show for it) and the entire world's population of deer (to stop them from running into the cars that will also be working to stop running into them). I finally researched the answer some time ago, and it turns out the answer is actually (and maybe disappointingly) much simpler.

Birds and fish travel in flocks and schools primarily for protection. The large, traveling animal mass can confuse and intimidate predators (would you just jump into a heard of fast-moving apples or a gaggle of tortilla chips?). Protection is most guaranteed to those in the middle of the pack, and hence the tight-knit nature of these groups.

In 1984, zoologist Wayne Potts filmed flocks of birds to observe their coordinated movement. From his research (which was published in Nature, a preeminent scholarly publication on all things, well, nature-related) he found that the behavior does not come from any mystical super-sense, but just common sense. As birds on the outer portions of the flock turned inward (either simply to change direction, or to move more to the middle of the group), those around them reacted by moving in the same direction. This movement spread like a wave across the flock until every bird changed direction in order to stay with the group (those who don't stay with the group tend not to last long in the wild). Incidentally, typically movement into the flock is the only movement that is mimicked, individual birds who choose to turn away from the flock tend to go it alone.

What is particularly interesting about the reaction time in this sudden changes, is that it was far faster than could be easily explained by simple visual recognition. The mean reaction time to a bird's startle at a flash of light was measured at 38 milliseconds, but reactions to flock movements were measured at under 15 milliseconds. In response to this finding, Potts developed what he called the chorus line hypothesis, so named because of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Call. He proposed that the birds could anticipate a wave as it approached them from farther away than the bird next to them. This quick reaction is much like how the New York performers could react to an unexpected high kick nearly twice as fast as normal human visual reaction time due to anticipation from movement further down the line.

There you have it, it's simple as a desire to stick together. Truly, there's no 'I' in team, but in this case, there should be an 'I' in flock and school, because of one final tidbit: flocks and schools have no leaders. All the birds are acting on there own in direct reaction to everyone else. The result can sometimes be what seems like a confused group of animals. One individual turns inward, and so the group follows out of instinct. They dart one way and then the other and then back again. Apparently this behavior is normal (albeit inefficient), and eventually the will of the majority is able to get everyone moving in the right direction. Now if only we could take a few cues from that bit of avarian sociology!

16 March 2010

Ga-Ga for Gaga

At the very least, you have probably heard her name. It's almost impossible these days to have any connection to the media and not hear it. You may have caught a few of her tunes on the radio (even, if like me, don't listen to the radio, couldn't really name the songs, or maybe didn't even realize they were performed by her). You've possibly even picked up an urban legend or two about her, or gone so far as to have gawked at her incredibly eccentric dress code, inspired by her friend, Lady Starlight (search "red lace music awards," if you haven't).

Four months ago, I heard her name once in a while, but didn't know any of her music and was frankly bothered by the scent of extreme pop idol status she seemed to be earning. Now, I need to admit to my intimate friends here on the World Wide Web that I am slightly obsessed with Lady Gaga. She deserves every ounce of extreme pop idol status she has earned.

For what it's worth, I still only know two of her songs (Telephone and Paparazzi), but my interest (and admiration) in this nearly-instant sensation comes from much more than "just" her music. Lady Gaga is an example of someone who has created a personal brand empire through her own hard work and determination. She began playing the piano by ear at age four, and by 13 had written her first piano ballad. Now, at 23 years old, she has commanded the rise of a monarch-like media presence and surging fan base in less than 24 months. Since landing on the international scene with the launch of her first album, The Fame (Aug 2008), Gaga has won 54 music awards (according to a tally on Wikipedia), including two Grammys (with six Grammy nominations).

Her music is fresh, fun and lively (and she writes most, if not all of it) with a great mix of meaning. She is an activist and has contributed to raising millions of dollars for a number of causes. Her work has even landed her in the surprising role of creative director for Polaroid. Her skills portfolio seems to include a wide gamut that is serving her well in the fast-paced entertainment world of today.

She's definitely not boring, she isn't without controversy, and keeping with the music world du jour, she certainly isn't without considerable innuendo. That said, she's still very good, and no one can deny that, no matter their Gaga misgivings.

In a recent Advertising Age, cover story, the periodical outlined her incredible rise to global prominence fueled, in no small part, by her business acumen and social media genius. Wielding the powers of the internet, Facebook, Twitter and others as an arsenal at her well-managed hand, Gaga has created an impressive, connected and dedicated fan base of millions. The Ad Age article cites her November Bad Romance music video launch as a perfect illustration of her media control. The video became available first exclusively on LadyGaga.com, causing the Universal Music server to crash, a week-long trend topic on Twitter and more than 110 million views on YouTube. Her most recent video launch, Telephone, has been heralded as a return to music videos as cinema experiences (see MJ's Thriller), rather than the typical song-length artsy clippings of lip-syncing artists traipsing around overly monochromatic, or sickeningly technicolor sets with wind-blown curtains and confusing scene shifts (phew).

In the same Ad Age article, Gaga's manager since 2007, Troy Carter, credits here with control over the vast majority of decision-making in relation to her empire. While his comments hint at a "my way attitude," with the pop princess, who can blame her, it's working terribly well.

In a recent Parade article, American Idol super judge Simon Cowell, when naming Gaga as his number one pick to replace him at the end of this season, called her "the most relevant pop artist in the world at the moment... And I've met her. She is very smart. I like her." Coming from anyone else in his position, that'd be nice, but Cowell, who is known is his day to have made more than one grown man cry, isn't notorious for throwing out loose-lipped compliments.

No matter what your preconceived notion of her may be, Lady Gaga has reached levels in less than two years that many artists have never reached in a lifetime of work, and she seems to be doing it with some staying power. That deserves respect.

At first glance, Gaga has all the surface characteristics of a one-hit wonder, or one of the many shallow pop starlets of our hyped-up world, but with the non-sequitur depth and track record of a true artist, diva (see Christina Aguilera's unexpected rise over Brittany Spears) and long-term fixture. She is genuine, open and real, and stands up for what she believes in. She hasn't been afraid to be an eccentric, young powerhouse risen from an slightly insecure, Catholic school girl, to harness an image and brand of international acclaim.


Where will she be in five or ten years? I don't know. I hope it's still at the tops of the charts, but at the least, I hope she's cemented herself in a place with the likes of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Elvis and Marilyn Monroe--icons whose times may pass, but whose contributions, controversial as than may be, remain timeless.

07 March 2010

Luxurious Snacks

Isn't it funny how words bring certain thoughts and references to our minds? Any variety of word can draw on innumerable experiences from our lives and paint a picture as brief as a clip or flash, or as long and detailed as a memory or series of thoughts and concepts. I get a particular kick out of words people don't like.

I have a friend with whom I used to work who had a thing against the word "snacks" and similarly against the word "luxurious." He couldn't really ever describe why he didn't like the sound, thought, or connotations that came with those words, but nonetheless, he just didn't like them. (It goes without saying, that we often though of types of foods that we could offer him between meals that might somehow be considered decadent or extravagant to necessitate the use of luxurious snacks to describe them).

For me, the work is "stinky." I just can't handle the idea of something being stinky. It's the smell of cheese, dirty socks and other rank odors. I detest the word, and it makes me think of those stinky things when the word comes up. Just smelling something bad makes me think of the word, which sets me on a spiral of stink. Stinky stinks.

When I overcome my crazy spiral, I really enjoy asking other people about words they don't like. It's particularly rewarding to see their faces and the passion they pour into their lists. Some of the favorites (or least-favorites, as it were) that I've heard are: moist, damp, finger, slacks, blouse, crotch (ha!), flesh, smear and sore. The list could go on and on, but it's so interesting really. What makes certain words unappealing? Is it the type of word, what it describes, or just our reference points to the particular word?

Words are so funny to begin with. No matter the language, we are just combining symbols (of one form or another) that represent sounds and concepts. Sometimes the same combination of symbols can mean different things depending on the context, or different symbols can sound the same even if they mean different things. It's really amazing that as you read this, your mind has associated all of these random symbols together to make sentences and meaning just as I wrote them on the screen.

Well
, what about you, what words are on your list of least favorites?

11 February 2010

Snow is Very in Right Now

As the East Coast becomes the new Siberia, and Vancouver the new Atacama, I've seen and heard a number of people throwing snowballs (so to speak) in the faces of environmentalists, touting the recent precipitation as a sure sign that global warming is not only non-existent, but patently absurd.

Now before I go any further, let me set a few simple premises to guide us through this entry: 1) the Earth's climate is changing, it's been measured, denying it is patently absurd. 2) Whether it's caused by man, a natural Earth cycle, or otherwise, is irrelevant to this post. 3) I'm not a liberal, tree-hugging hippie.

For a very long time I was one of the smug. I sat by and watched the blizzards and heavy winter weather and amused myself thinking of how each extra flake of snow was like another little needle, piercing their "scientific" bubble. I was pleased to see their environmental igloo melting away at its foundations and was certain global warming would go by the wayside like health care reform or Sarah Palin's bid to run the world (oh wait). When "they" changed global warming to global climate change, I declared victory in Iraq--er--the environment, and prepared for their widened approach to fail as only a second-string strategy could. This is no longer my opinion, and I'd like to briefly explain why, for the information of anyone who may be interested.

The Earth is heating up and it is changing some of the make up of our weather systems. Lest you think my move to Oregon has negatively affected my judgement on the matter, let me dispel your fears with on simple phrase: I hate the green movement. While all the many facets of climate change are more in-depth than I wish to address here, suffice to say that as the earth becomes warmer, more water is evaporated into the warm air. When it comes to winter, while the air is hardly warm, it is still warmer than it used to be. This leads to increased precipitation in certain areas. The change in temperature, which equates to more ice melting and therefore, changing temperatures and flows of oceans also disrupts current weather patterns. Areas that once got a lot of precipitation, instead have their water evaporated which then travels elsewhere. Locations with little ability to withstand heavy precipitation are faced with it, causing increased erosion and desertification. When our atmosphere is concerned, to simply say "things are heating up," is insufficient to understand the intricacies of the issue. While I may have gloated when global warming became global climate change, it was in fact the correct adjustment made by more years of research and understanding about our evolving systems.

Whether or not you believe humans have created global warming, climate change is a reality, and it's far more complex than our limited liberal or conservative opinions and agendas can take us. Single (or even coupled) weather events cannot prove a point. Snow in DC or no snow in Vancouver is only one small piece of the puzzle. For what it's worth, I propose we all learn a little more about the Earth, before making its natural, all be them, reactionary, processes the poster children for our political stances.



05 February 2010

The Beautiful Commonwealth

Now, a week after Caressa Cameron, a native of Fredericksburg, Virginia, was crowned Miss. America 2010, I believe it's very timely to point out that Virginia is a very good looking state. Being that I was raised there, I understand if you feel as though I might be a little biased, but I believe you will come to my side--the Old Dominion side.

Let's be clear before we go any further, I'm not talking in the slightest about the people (although, yes, the denizens are, on a case-to-case basis, quite attractive). And I'm not talking about the landscape (although, again, with mountains, rolling hills, lush forests and shoreline, we've got a pretty beautiful place [which sounds redundant, but isn't]). I'm not even talking about the wide array flora and fauna (okay, I just wanted to use that expression, because it makes me feel very David Attenborough).

I'm talking about borders. Yes, borders. Virginia is a very well-shaped state. When looked upon with any map that outlines man-made state lines, Virginia is, geographically, very good looking. It's got peaks, dips, straight lines, jagged lines. It's really got a little of everything.

Come on a features tour with me, won't you (Please see image below to reinforce the tour)? At first glance, the Commonwealth looks a bit like a scalene triangle. Beginning at the southern side, Virginia has a rather a planed southern border. The straight x-axis tilts slightly, causing the state to look ready and poised for movement. Coming up the western side, the tip juts up, like a shark's fin, before plunging down and then back up in a steep, sail-like rise. Another jut before the descending lines of the northern tip make way for the drop, slide and finger-like peninsulas of the inner Chesapeake shoreline. The Eastern Shore peninsula, while perhaps awkward in its separation from the rest of the state (see Michigan, which would be a very good looking state, were it not for that silly western monstrosity), provides a nice weight to balance the expansive western span. All together, Virginia looks not unlike a sleek, maritime vessel sailing triumphantly from battle (although admittedly, it also looks a bit like a duck that's fallen flat on its face).

The borders weren't always this (I dare say) sexy. Virginia has a long history of shifting its lines. In the early colonial periods, the name "Virginia" applies to basically he entire East Coast down to South Carolina and north and west up into inland Canada. From their, the state was sculpted down to its current trim and tone self through agreements, treaties and general demands from what would turn out to be less good looking states and provinces (let's be honest, aside from Quebec, Canada doesn't have a lot going for it in terms of good looking dividing lines).

Lest you call me a xenophobe, there are a number of states I find attractive (and a number I find unattractive).

Top attractive state lines:
  1. Virginia (of course)
  2. Texas
  3. Illinois
  4. Michigan (minus the western monstrosity)
  5. Hawaii
  6. Florida
  7. New Jersey
  8. Montana (business in front, party in back)
  9. Louisiana (like a foot with algae growing off it)
  10. Idaho

Least attractive state lines:
  1. Wyoming & Colorado (tie for fugliness)
  2. All the other square-like ones
  3. Minnesota (it's like a strange, lanky, tall person)
  4. Oklahoma (what is that sticky-outty thing?)
  5. Maryland (it's so close to being attractive, but instead looks like it's had bites taken out from surrounding states)

03 February 2010

Yes, I'm Back, But I Might Be Going Out Again

Dear Blog,

I want you to know that even though I haven't written on you, visited you, or SEO optimized you in the past 90 days, two hours and 25 minutes (but who's counting?), that I still loved you during all of that time. I thought about you often, but just didn't make the time for you. It pained me... more than you will know.

I've been collecting stories to write on you about.

I've got 10 a the moment, and they're rearing to go.

[Long pause]

I've been thinking about doing another blog.

[Deep breath]

Okay, there, I finally said it. It would be a totally different genre. Nothing would compete with you directly. I even have a pseudonym to publish it under. It's just that I think I have a fun idea, and it would be a good additional release (I know, I don't even use this release, why do I need another?).

It's a blog about cooking. I know what you're thinking. "Cooking? Really?" But it's not like that, blog. I want to do a blog from the vantage point of a single guy cooking. None of the frilly stuff (What is blanching anyway?) No wasted time with foofy crap. Raw. You know?

The other day (like four months ago), I created a stage name for myself. It came from a meeting (which was going on way too long) in which I needed to entertain myself and the person sitting next to me. We thought up names we could take on for an alter-famous-ego. My name is Max Stone (awesome, huh blog?).

But look, I'm still me. This is still The Chris Show. The other blog will be Max's show. It's a clear, psychological divide. Two people, one body. Easy.

I think I'm going to call the blog Cock of the Wok. It seemed kinda cheeky (But then again, I don't even own a Wok, and don't really want to do Asian food only). It should be cool. So blog, I hope you'll forgive me for having ignored you for a bit. I'm back, and even if I do have another blog getting ready to launch, I won't ever forget you. You were my first blog.

What do you think blog?

Yours,
Chris (AKA Max Stone)

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