Oct 31, 2006

Little monsters

There is no tradition for Halloween in Norway. Yes, as a pagan holiday, there used to be a celebration that got co-opted by Christianity, but the pumpkin-carving, costume-wearing, trick-or-treating version is new. I care not for the modern version of Halloween, in all its current mass-market plastic glory: In the US, it's become a carneval, where people where any kind of costume, not just scary or witchy ones. In Norway, they make the effort to be scary - and obnoxious. This is the fourth year of trick-or-treating in my neighborhood, and the second time one of my windows has gotten egged. At least I had plenty of soapy warm water on hand, since I happen to be doing the dishes.

Oct 30, 2006

Politics, lack of - part 2

In a comment to my post 13 about blogging, Tim says that he never would have guessed I avoid political blogs, and wonders why I do.

I'm in a sort of no-man's-land when it comes to politics:

1. I don't live in the US any more and haven't lived there since 1981, and am eligible to vote only in presidential elections as an expatriate who is a permanent resident of a foreign country. So local issues mean nothing to me. Presidential elections are of more interest to me, but not always enough to get me to go through the rigamarole of getting an absentee ballot. After all, my choices are between Tweedledee and Tweedledum from the two reigning parties, and some far more interesting loser (as in won't get enough votes) from an obscure party.

2. As a foreign national living in Norway, I am eligible to vote only in local elections, not national ones. So every four years, I have to make up my mind which of the 8-12 parties I think is the best. Yeah, right. That's when I find myself thinking like an American and realize that I don't like any of the 8-12 parties. One year I voted for what some call the farmer's party because I thought it was the least obnoxious. They lost completely; I must've been the only one who voted for them.

Lovely track record, being able to pick losers like that. ;-)

Would reading political blogs help? I tried. I actually read a couple in Norwegian but what's the point in following national politics when it's only local that would matter? And anyway, my mind was already made up, or when it wasn't, I found it impossible to decide. I can't relate to a lot of the issues, either. I don't live in the US and see no point in slagging through US blogs; there's nothing I can do about local issues - just the guy in the White House. Perhaps you're wondering about issues that affect my friends and family in the US? Well, I know I don't agree politically with my Republican mother (and no, she's not one of those fundamentalist right-wing nutjobs) so she's on her own, and I don't agree whole-heartedly with my Dem friends, either, so they have to fend for themselves, too. (That said, I did enjoy looking at the ballot for California and discussing it with my friend Beep, but it was more of an intellectual exercise. And rainy Sunday.)

Frustrated with Blogger

Blogger was down all weekend. My post below is back-dated to October 28, which was when I wrote it, but published only today. I don't think it was published correctly, though, because the RSS-feed isn't updated. And now I can't publish this gripe. Grr... Time to make the move to something else, I guess.

UPDATE: Finally! My posts have gone through properly, Monday evening local time, and the RSS-feed is updated.

Oct 28, 2006

Rural sprawl

Thursday I flew to Oslo, to attend an "open house" for the printing industry. I went with my boss and a co-worker who's a printer (I'm a graphic designer, in case you were wondering). I have not flown to Oslo since the new airport at Gardermoen opened, about 10 years ago. I also had not flown with the newish Norwegian airline, called - appropriately - Norwegian. Nor had I flown since the new restrictions on hand luggage and safety checks were put into effect this autumn.

Business trips are a series of taxis, flights, newspapers, coffees, phone calls, papers, and back again. And the 50 minute flight to Oslo is a sure place to run into other co-workers.

We took off in the dark since it was before dawn. We landed in gray and low clouds. My first impression of Gardermoen was that is was typical of the modern style of commercial buildings: A lot of stone floors, accented with warm, narrow-slatted wood walls and skylights. I prefer our local one, with an interior from the decade before: Much more white.

The amusing thing about travelling with others is how it pulverizes one's own sense of responsibility. If I travel alone, and the taxi is stuck in traffic, I worry about missing my flight, big time. But travelling with three others, and one of them my boss, left me feeling that it didn't matter what would happen since we'd be three in the same boat. Since I tend to be a Responsible Person And A Tad Anal, being able to relax, actually going into a frame of mind where I didn't bother to check times or anything, was different for me. The one time I did pipe up, was when we got into the security check line only five minutes before our plane was due to take off. I got us to go change our booking to a later flight.

When Norway was discussing where to put its new national (main) airport, one of the cons regarding Gardermoen (a former military airport) was that it too often got fogged in. Still, they went with Gardermoen, and then the building of the airport express railway caused other troubles and scandals, like blasting a tunnel so table water started leaking, leaving a number of locals with dry wells. I was thinking about that as we sped through a bucolic landscape, dotted with yellow-leafed trees, and dreamy with drifting mist.

Oslo is Norway's capital and largest city, and the greater Oslo area numbers one million. (Norway's population is 4.5 million.) We drove around in sections that were built up in the 1960's and 1970's, climbing up a hill in low clouds to our destination. Instead of taking the train back to the airport, we took a taxi the whole way. With a pre-agreed price, it was cheaper for the three of us. I sat in the back, watching mist and fog roll through the low hills, seeing one farm after another pass by, and I suddenly realized that the big city wasn't that big. Cities in the US go on and on and on, while here, it was just a few miles before the highway left suburbia and ribboned past barns, fields and silo bags.

It is so easy to believe that we've taken over every bit of nature and built everywhere, because of all the urban sprawl, but my trip to Oslo showed me that there is still a lot of rural sprawl, too.

Oct 27, 2006

13 about blogging

  1. Do you like the look and the contents of your blog?
    Looks: I'm OK with the Blogger template and my own photo in the header. Contents: See answer to 5.
  2. Does your family know about your blog?
  3. Can you tell your friends about your blog? Do you consider it a private thing?
    Friends were the first I told about my blog. And how can a public webpage be private, anyway?
  4. Do you just read the blogs of those who comment on your blog? Or do you try to discover new blogs?
  5. Does your blog positively affect your mind? Give an example.
    I want my blog to reflect the best of me. I don't want it to be a collection of complaints. I have this thing about the written word; it's so permanent, so I want the permanent to be something positive. In that respect, my blog makes me focus on the constructive, on what may be worth reading even when it's no longer fresh. I think you'll see this most clearly in the posts from this past year.
  6. What does the number of visitors to your blog mean? Do you use a traffic counter?
    My ISP monitors hits to my webpages, including my blog. I get a lot of hits, and recently, an increase in commentors and comments. I'd write even if no-one read me, but it is a definite perk to get feedback on what I write. (Comment, people, comment! Thanks.)
  7. Do you imagine what other bloggers look like?
    No need. Most post pictures, or at least post what they'd like you to think they look like.
  8. Do you think blogging has any real benefit?
    Oh, yes. There are so many different kinds of blogs, with different styles and agendas and information. It's another, modern way to explore and connect with humanity, and in some cases, make new friends.
  9. Do you think that the blogsphere is a stand alone community separated from the real world?
    It's stand-alone the way a Star Trek convention is. There may be a certain subculture and people into the blogosphere for its own sake, but blogs are written by real people in the real world experiencing real lives, so it's not really separate from the rest of life.
  10. Do some political blogs scare you? Do you avoid them?
    I avoid. Not interested.
  11. Do you think that criticizing your blog is useful?
    Not sure what this question is about - critical comments or criticizing having a blog in the first place. But I've realized that the answer is this: No, not useful. It's a personal blog, a personal outlet for my thoughts, my creativity in writing. Criticism of something that personal serves no purpose.
  12. Have you ever thought about what would happen to your blog if you died?
  13. Which blogger has had the greatest impression on you?
    Someone who no longer blogs - Granny Gets A Vibrator (Grannyvibes.blogspot.com). I was enjoying her writing and following her funny take on life through her blog, when she got a life-threatening illness and had to give up her blog. When somebody's life reaches mine through a webpage and personal words, to the point that I cry, worry, care, and miss them, then yeah, I'm impressed, I'm awed by them and by the blogosphere. A wonderful thing.

Stolen from Paula, another impressive blogger.

Oct 22, 2006

An October greeting

Autumn Ortuvann 2006 - 12   —  Originally uploaded by thinkbigshrinktofit

When I was a kid, I didn't like autumn. Autumn meant gray skies, gray trees, gray ground. I was well and truly adult before I discovered that the gray comes between autumn and winter. Autumn itself is color: Bright, brilliant, contrasting, changing.

Last year's September and October were rough for me; this year's were also. September was Grandma's birth month, and October Grandpa's. Autumn became, last year, a season of emptiness, of everything dying, never to return.

After a shaky start, this autumn is turning into a season of peace and wonder. It doesn't feel like death. It is merely change. A change with so much wonder and subtleties and beauty that it lifts any spirit. No more needing to worry about the future. As sure as there are trees losing leaves, there will be trees sprouting new ones. The days are shortening, but they are also heading for the turn, the solstice, the march towards longer days.

It's not the permanence of things we can trust in, because nothing stays the same. We can trust in the process, though, the continuing cycle of birth, growth, maturity, rest, rebirth - whether it be ideas, ourselves or nature (though last year I raged at the lack of things staying the same).

And I noticed today, for the first time, that a painting of Norwegian scenery done by Grandma was given as a birthday present to Grandpa; it says so in the signature: "To John - Oct 7 1950 - Marion".

There is so much love behind that simple greeting. It is a reminder of all the love they had for each other - and for the children in their care: My mother and myself. October has become a month of hope and hearts.

Oct 18, 2006

One of a kind

LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

According to HowManyOfMe.com, there are zero people in the US with the first name "Keera", and 158,983 people with the last name "Fox". (Taken from beep.)

Oct 14, 2006

At a 12th grade reading level

I have a LiveJournal blog. I don't use it; it's just there so I don't have to leave anonymous comments on friends' LiveJournals. As a lark, I used a LiveJournal-oriented Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test to see what level of reading comprehension my little post would require. Here is the result:

kafox's Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 12
Average number of words per sentence:16.17
Average number of syllables per word:1.77
Total words in sample:97
Analyze your journal! Username:
Another fun meme brought to you by rfreebern

And here's the text of my LiveJournal post that only a high school senior can read and understand:

"I got tired of being anonymous
This ain't my blog or anything. I just got tired of being anonymous when commenting on friends' LiveJournals, so I signed up.
If you really want to find me, check out my homepage home.online.no/~kafox/ or my blog home.online.no/~kafox/blogfiles/."

Turbulence Jet stream

12102006-Mollerdalselven   —  Originally uploaded by thinkbigshrinktofit

It's been quite a week, starting with two days sick and off work, computer problems (still), and last night I dreamt I was in a plane crash.

Where to start. Well, being sick wasn't serious, and definitely due to psychological stuff, and the rest (avoidance) did me some good (also turned out that a guilty conscience about not sending one finished job to the printers wasn't necessary as the job wasn't finished after all; I came back to corrections). I needed a better attitude and went back to work with a new approach. (Co-worker problems.) Upgrading the OS on the computer at work proved to be pre-mature since we have to interface with some pretty old systems elsewhere and the newest OS wasn't having that.

It's not only finally autumn (I wore gloves yesterday), but also that time of year when new calendars come out. This time I bought a Moleskine 18-month diary. Yeah, moving away from the hi-tech (my Zire 72) to lo-tech. I'm so trendy. I love shopping for new calendars. Bought Gary Larson's The Far Side Page-A-Day, as well.

Trendy, too, is power yoga, though the trend is fading in the US, said our instructor. But darned if Thursday night's class wasn't one of the best work-outs I have ever had. I really hate exercising but if I do anything at all for myself on the living room floor, it's yoga. Yoga works wonders for desk jockeys. Yoga combined with working muscles all the way in to your spine is perfection. I am really looking forward to next week's class. I'm sore today but intend to try to do a couple of rounds myself at home before next week. The photo of Møllendalselven (Mill Valley River) in Bergen was taken while waiting for class to start. I was a half hour early and in a part of town I had never been in before and wandered around a bit, discovering some things nice, some things not so nice.

My work week, with it's not so good start, ended well, and my boss let me have all of Christmas off (I have vacation time coming), so I can fly to San Francisco and visit a good friend there. Flights are booked.

I have no fear of flying, but last night I dreamt I was in a plane crash. I opened the door to get off because I wasn't supposed be on this flight, but the plane was already moving. I didn't have my seatbelt on and braced myself. I could see where the plane was headed, as if I was in the cockpit, and when we crashed, I was uninjured but thrown to the floor and breathing in some really toxic fumes. I woke up with the diagnosis acid burns on the inside of my lungs. What to make of such dreams? Then I fell asleep again, and was in San Francisco with my father and his wife, who wasn't his wife (and I haven't seen my dad since 1981), and we were doing tourist things but having a challenge with manure in one neighborhood we parked in. That last I got: I had walked past a container outside a grocery store, and they have a butcher shop; they had apparantly hosed something down and the odor from the puddles was nauseating.

My dreams (when I have/remember them) always fascinate me: They are pieced together like a movie, with changing perspectives (though my eyes are always the camera) and sometimes with variations on a scene in the same dream, but good dialog and definitely good pacing. My subconscious would make a killing in Hollywood. But what to make of plane crashes and bad smells and such (oh, and dozens of cats at one point)? Nothing. I intend to make nothing of it. I recognized a number of elements from my waking, conscious life so I know where the script writer got her ideas. And if there is anything more to this, if I find myself worrying, I'll pray for clarification. And remember to put on my seatbelt.

Oct 7, 2006

Huddling at the bus stop

What I saw waiting for the bus   —  Originally uploaded by thinkbigshrinktofit

The norm for autumn in this part of the world is driving rain. It's "slash-and-drench". I had a number of parcels to lug home from shopping today, and had managed to find a seat in the bus shelter. The pictures shows the view I had.

The woman in a black coat in front of me had a rucksack purse, and the edging on a zipper pocket had turned up, allowing a little bit of water to pool on her purse. That held my fascination for a while, making my wait nearly zen.

People variously had umbrellas or nothing, and were variously more or less dry or more or less wet. Quietly they stood still, or quietly they chatted, waiting for a gas-fueled chance to get out of the rain. It was more hushed than on a sunny day - like a low-pressure system means low-key behavior. I too was waiting, sitting in my red rubber boots, parcels on my lap piled to my chin, and realized that I actually enjoyed this. The rain, the puddles, the huddles, the community that comes from sharing the whims of the weather.

It had been a long time since the last time, way back before summer. Today's gray wetness was like an old friend coming back to visit.

New coffee maker

New coffee maker   —  Originally uploaded by thinkbigshrinktofit

I was in the store looking for a space heater come winter and saw this cute little thing. "Is that an espresso maker or just a regular coffee maker?" The answer was that it was a regular coffee maker with a capacity of two cups. Perfect for single me!

When I got home, I went shopping for coffee. I had a coffee meme recently, and was reminded of one of the questions ("Do you have complicated taste?"), as I browsed the shelf for filter coffee. I saw a green bag of organically grown coffee. Yes, definitely! And then immediately saw the Max Havelaar brand of coffee, a "fair trade" brand that means more money to the coffee grower, not the middleman. Choices, choices. I went with Max Havelaar. If I don't like it, I'll try the organically grown next time.

My second choice of coffee was Swiss chocolate and mint, which is what's in my souvenier mug from San Francisco now as I type. I thought it looked good with my new coffee maker.

Oct 6, 2006

Banking in Norway

Aside from the nifty debet card and the equally nifty giro system, banking in Norway has always left me slightly paranoid. In my comments to my last post I mention that I prefer online banking (it's not virtual; it's real but digital) because "today's banks have that "customer friendly" crap where everyone can see and hear your business (and how much cash you're getting) as you stand at some "service island" where everyone can see and hear you."

Thing is, Norwegians have never done discrete banking. Before the advent of the queue ticket, we'd all bunch up at whatever teller we thought would finish first. It generates a lovely, paranoid feeling to be standing at a teller handling your entire pay check, heaps of cash, and any personal financial problems with two to four complete strangers literally breathing over your shoulder. It was such a contrast to standing in a long, roped line at the bank in California on a Friday afternoon, with everyone waiting to deposit or cash pay checks. The paranoia there comes from some bored fellow customer who chats up strangers in the line. Which is a nice way to pass the time, while your eyes are glued to the little lights at each teller station. Two ahead of me, one ahead of me, my turn, which one will light up first - ah, her second to the end. And no one except the teller gets a clue about what you're doing at the bank. I like that.

For a while, banking in Norway was wonderfully Californian for me. We got queue tickets, stood in a huddled mass in the middle of foot traffic and hungrily watched the numbers on the digitial display count up slowly to our number. We'd check the time stamp on the queue ticket and suggested waiting time and play mind games with ourselves about how accurate the estimation was. And then "beep!", our number was up and we'd stride alone and envied to a waiting teller. Ah, privacy.

Then they revamped the bank, removed the two rows of counters with six teller stations and installed two high tables with computers and free-for-all ATMs. Both bank employees and customers used the same ATMs. So sometimes there'd be a wait while the teller had to wait in line after another customer. And anybody waiting their turn could see what the teller was doing, how much money was being withdrawn for me. Feh.

It may be the Venus in Capricorn in me, but it's also my unwillingness to offer myself up as a potential victim (which happened to this man): If I want to let you in on my personal finances, I'd prefer it to be by choice, my choice, and not because of a fashion in "customer friendliness".

Oct 5, 2006

How to make yourself break into a sweat

  1. At work, upgrade the OS on your computer. Make sure you have rush jobs. Discover that things don't work quite as expected any more and the tower under your desk has a new ticking sound. Things stop working, one by one.
  2. In your netbank, close out a bank account, the one with the most money in it, by closing the account and transferring the funds to another existing account as one operation. Watch all references to the old account disappear completely while the money it had has not yet made into the new account. Wonder if you typed the correct account number. Panic. Think comforting thoughts like, "Stupid bank!"
  3. Re-install the previous version of the OS on your computer at work. Discover that you can no longer log-in even though you have system administrator privileges. Run all the diagnostics you can think of, restart in UNIX mode and type in the one command you remember once helped you on another computer. Listen to the processor rev up so high that it starts to sound scary so you actually decide to leave the room just to calm your nerves. Get somewhat excited at the prospect of the computer actually blowing up.
  4. Think about the increased adrenaline you've been giving yourself lately and why and get your heart racing all over again.

Fortunately, the money is now where it's supposed to be (and I won't do it quite like that again if I ever close another account), and tech support is sending someone tomorrow morning first thing to fix my computer.

How have your last 24 hours been?

Oct 3, 2006

Blogging about a six word story

I came across the idea of a six word story here and she got it from a Flickr group. Apparantly, Ernest Hemingway wrote one: "For sale: baby shoes, never used." And I have to say, that's a damned good story. Now to think up some of my own. Check out the comments at the above two sites for other people's "stories".

My own pathetic attempts:

Thinking about it, she thought otherwise.
Outwardly they laughed; inwardly they loathed.
She almost knew what she wanted.
History as written is always false.
I stole that without getting caught.
She went to a conference overseas.
Blogging about a six word story.

Your turn!

Oct 2, 2006

What if you don't have any dreams?

I'm a fan of the Daily Motivator by Ralph Marsden, but a statement in one Marsden's inpirational "movies" got me thinking. It said something along the lines of having had dreams when young, and about reawakening them. I didn't have dreams. I had daydreams, crazy fantasies I knew would never come true, but I had nothing that was so concrete that it could be made manifest, nothing that could be transformed into a goal. And it used to bother me. I used to wonder why I couldn't figure out what to do with my life, why others seemed to find picking a major for college or how they knew what line of work they wanted. I knew what I didn't want, but not what I did want.

I took the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) which colleges require for admission; when you take the test, you can have the results sent for free to three colleges/universities of your choice. I had absolutely no clue where to have my test results sent; I didn't know which college - if any - I wanted to attend. It made me cry. My mother said as long as I got my high school diploma, she didn't care if I went on to college. That helped relieve some of the pressure I was feeling.

I took the High School Proficiency Exam in 11th grade. If you pass it, you can quit high school (I managed to panic both my mother and guidance counselor). I took it because I was tired of school and because I was curious. The exam was very practical, asking questions about comparison shopping and balancing checkbooks and calculating fees - stuff no high school I knew of taught in any class. I passed but didn't quit school. I graduated with honors.

I was 17.5 years old, done with school, and went to work. A year later I was working for a travel agent and the office manager there - a single mother with unfashionable hair and a car that constantly conked out on her - said that if I learned the business I could end up where she was. She didn't know it, but that was the motivation I needed to go to college. I did not want to end up where she was. I went to a junior (two year) college, my major was psychology, and I graduated from those two years with honors. I still didn't know what to do with my life. I went to Norway to visit.

I ended up staying in Norway. I learned on the job and eventually (in 1990) found the work I love to do. It was practically handed to me. Since then I have worked at the same company as a hack typographer/graphic designer, doing - among other creative things - the layout on the company magazine. And never again have I felt bored with my work.

This is one reason why I say in my blog profile "Generally becoming happier and happier with each passing day, which actually makes me very happy because I thought I was destined to be miserable." And my point? I have none. I landed on the crest of a wave of life and was deposited safe and sound somewhere nice, none of it ever planned for. Does that work for everyone? No. But for those of us who are clueless, I guess I'm saying, don't sweat it. You don't have to have your life mapped out in every detail.

We are all ambitious in some area of life. Some of us have ambitions that have nothing to do with career or money or even family. You may find that a hobby or self-development is vocation enough for you. That's another reason not to worry if you hit 30 or 40 or 50 and still haven't figured out what to do with your life. Chances are, you've been doing what you were meant to do all along; it just doesn't have anything to do with a career or college degree.

One of my favorite things

is bubblewrap. For mouseclick-free enjoyment go here and pick manic mode.