Feb 29, 2008

Fun with statistics

It's leap day and by rights I can get the day off from blogging, according to Blog365. But it strikes me as so boring! I love daily updates on all the blogs I read so I can't let my own readers miss out!

The proposed law change in Norway to give gays marriage rights equal to those of straights has prompted some sheriff somewhere south in the country to claim that gays getting married will mean an increased crime rate in Norway. Never mind that the crime rate has been rising for quite some time now. One commentor to the debate posted this amusing comeback to the fallacy of seeing a correlation between trends simply because they happen at the same time:

  • Before the Christian People's Party was formed, there were far fewer divorces
  • A rise in the price of housing in Norway gives Norway more Olympic gold medals
  • An increase in the Moslem population in Norway gives Norway more chances at getting Olympic gold medals
  • More asthmatics means more criminals
  • A higher average in education level means fewer newspapers sold
  • A decrease in church attendance means increased longevity

(My translation; plucked from here)

Feb 28, 2008

Grizzly thoughts

Bergen has a club of sorts for people in the insurance and finance industry, and since that's the industry I am employed in, I meet a lot of current and former co-workers at the meetings. Tonight we our venue was one of the Hurtigruten's ships. We heard a talk about a new insurance company starting in Norway, and after the talk, we moved to the ship's forward restaurant for an excellent cod dinner and a view of fog settling on Fløien. (When codfish is so good it almost tastes like meat, you understand why it is such a prized fish.) We had coffee on deck 7 and I left as they were testing the ship's alarm systems; the ship will leave for Kirkenes tonight after 10 pm.

I enjoyed the company, the conversation, and mentioning my 25th anniversary party (which conflicts with the club's own 80th anniversary party). But what got to me was how many of my colleagues had gray or even white hair. One had been a dark brunette before, and I had to comment on her new blonde look. She said that she was in that neither-this-nor-that stage so she decided to dye it all blonde. A third woman with us had salt-and-pepper hair.

I remember once saying to myself that I didn't want to stay with the company until I'm gray, but I may have to eat my words, because tonight I found it quite comforting to think of joining my older co-workers in going grizzled.

Feb 27, 2008

Wal-Mart in the news in Norway

Before I visited friends and family in the US last summer, I had read a lot about Wal-Mart and its business practices, which made me decide I never wanted to shop there. But when the toilet clogs at 11 pm, and you really have go (and it's a no. 2), and your host has no plunger, Wal-Mart it is. And Wal-Mart's bathroom it is.

I must digress a bit: One thing I like about American stores is the fact that they have bathrooms. It's a surprise if you encounter one that doesn't. Grocery, book, clothing - all have a restroom. Here in Norway, you never hear of a store apologizing for the inconvenience because the north bathrooms are closed for renovation, so please use bathrooms at south end because Norwegian stores don't have bathrooms. At least, I've never discovered any. Considering the lack of public toilets in general in this country (a 7-story shopping mall in town has a few stalls on the 5th floor), I'm sure tourists believe Norwegians are like TV-heroes: You see us eating and drinking constantly, but you never catch us needing to use the john. Anyway, Wal-Mart had a choice of several plungers, so we got the one in a nice white stand that hides the plunger, plunger design being your basic red or black rubber thingy attached to a wooden pole. Oh, and we got the toilet unplugged. Yay!

Wal-Mart's big and popular because they are big and cheap. However, in the name of being consistently cheaper than any other store around, Wal-Mart stopped buying American and started buying Chinese. And that, it turns out, is how Wal-Mart got in the news in Norway today.

Amnesty International has criticized Norway's largest bank, DnB NOR (an awkward acronym due to something like 18.5 merges) has invested money from its children's funds in companies like Wal-Mart and Honeywell. The problem is that Wal-Mart buys Chinese and the Chinese use child labor under rather bad conditions; Honeywell manufactures arms. Not the sort of thing you want to build your own child's future financial well-being on. Not even Norway's main oil fund (meant to pay our pensions when we run out of young people who work) has kept its investments in these companies. The fund adopted an ethical profile a few years ago, so no matter how big and successful Wal-Mart is (it's the world's largest retailer), its Chinese products and ban on labor unions won't attract Norway's oil money.

(The news item in Norwegian, also featured in our weekly consumer TV program.)

Feb 26, 2008

I successfully drew an arc

I have nothing to report, nothing to add, nothing to say, so I find myself wishing it were leap day today so I could just ignore blogging today.

It's not like absolutely nothing happens in my life or that I'm unhappy or whatever. I have a friend laid up in a hospital in Austria because on his last day of winter vacation, he got run down by a Dane on the ski slope, and got his leg and wrist broken. We've been texting each other. Funny thing is, I dreamt about running over a cat, leaving it with a broken leg.

In other news, I ate spicy noodle soup, and changed purses today, just because, and am pleased by that (and the soup). I was a bit tired of the other purse and wanted something a tad classier looking, and anyway I was looking for the lottery card, because of course, the gang at work put me in charge of purchasing the lottery tickets every 10 weeks, and for that I need the lottery card with the pin code (oh, what was that code again?) so that we don't have to monitor the lottery tickets manually. I already transferred some things from my wallet to a new coin purse and some credit card holders, but not the lottery card.

In other news, my co-worker left it up to me to draw a diagram. That's what I get for thinking out loud. "Just do a few simple boxes, no need to color them…" The customer had used PowerPoint and really wanted the arcing arrow in the finished diagram, too. It's a flow chart of sorts describing various customer services. I chose to use InDesign and in a flash of insight and memory jogging, remembered how to use the pen tool to draw an arc and added an arrowhead to. If I may say so, I'm rather pleased that I was able to do that. Arcs and arrows tend to baffle those of us who work mainly with placing text and photos. The print-out of my finished work is on my co-worker's desk so he can take it to our customer and show him on Wednesday, as promised.

And the lottery card was in my purse the whole time.

Feb 25, 2008

An orchid for Miz UV

Because she really was fast! (And totally game.)

It really wasn't until I got an orchid as a gift and took a good look at this odd plant, that I began to realize why people like this flower. It is one of the planet's most common flowers, with the tropical varieties being what we appreciate as potted plants, while local varieties, just as beautiful but far more modest, get left alone next to a rainy path in Fyllingsdalen. Some time this summer, I will try to get a good picture of the local wild orchid. In the meantime, here is a Photoshopped version of an immigrant that used to sit on my desk:

Feb 24, 2008

Friends Survey

Read through the comments below about your friend (that's me, in this case; you didn't know we were friends?) and then follow the instructions at the bottom. Have fun!

  1. What time is it?
1:52 pm
  2. What's your full name?
Keera Ann Fox (not exactly a secret)
  3. What are you most afraid of?
Spiders, heights, and being helpless
  4. What was the last movie that you saw in a theater?
  5. Place of birth:
Long Beach, California - because its hospital was the closest, according to my mom
  6. Favorite food
Stuff that didn't originate in Norway, with the exception of brunost
  7. What's your natural hair color?
The one I have now: Ash brown
  8. Ever been to Alaska?
  9. Ever been toilet paper rolling?
What's that?
  10. Love someone so much it made you cry?
Yes, I'm happy to say
  11. Been in a car accident?
Not really. Was in the car at the time my mother hit that lady's garage post but can't say it was an accident so much as sudden parking. And I wasn't in the car when my dad drove over me when I was two. I only got a nice print of the tire tread across my chest, no injuries. No, the print faded long ago, so no photo. Thanks for asking.
  12. Croutons or bacon bits:
  13. Favorite day of the week:
Friday. Still.
  14. Favorite restaurant:
McDonald's (shaddup)
  15. Favorite Flower:
Rose. Always and forever the rose. Doesn't mean I don't like others, like tulips and fuscias and bluebells. I am simply partial to the rose. Even after finding a spider in one once. I've been wondering about that: Why would a spider crawl into a big, red rose and sit in the middle of it, hidden from view, risking interruption from bees and noses? Are roses the favorite flower of spiders, too?
  16. Favorite sports to watch:
Parking space races. I'm the rabbit because I take short cuts through the parking lot. Cars follow me thinking I'm headed for my own car to leave. (Ha!) The winner is the first guy to realize I'm just a pedestrian.
  17. Favorite drink:
  18. Favorite ice cream:
Ice cream is overrated. I haven't had any in my freezer since 1989, when I was expecting guests who like the stuff. If you must serve me ice cream, something with nuts would be nice.
  19. Disney or Warner Brothers:
WB more than WD.
  20. Ever been on a ship?
Yes, and more than once, too.
  21. What color is your bedroom carpet?
Motley blue.
  22. How many times did you fail your driver's test?
Once. Wasn't my fault, neither. Nuh-uh. I got bawled out by the DMV dude and you just can't go around bawling out 16-year-olds who are already nervous wrecks and then expect them not to make that unscheduled right turn into the gas station because you confused them with first grumbling that teenagers shouldn't be allowed to drive and then saying to turn left. So I couldn't find a left right when you said turn left and therefore turned right, and then you told me you meant at the intersection. Well, duh, dude, I made a left out of the gas station, didn't I? Into a 6-lane boulevard, no less. And you failed me, anyway. Well, your much younger and much nicer colleague didn't fail me the next time I tried, so there.
  23. Before this one, from whom did you get your last e-mail?
    I never got this as an e-mail. But my last e-mail was from some lady wanting me to check out another lady taking her clothes off.
  24. What do you do when you are bored?
This. (I have to go with the G-rated answer here.)
  25. Bedtime:
Self-imposed 9:30-ish. Wish I never had to have one, though.
  26. Who will respond to this [post] the quickest?
Probably Miz UV. She's fast!
  27. Who is the person you sent this to that is least likely to respond?
Those other thousands of readers my blog stats claim I have.
  28. Who is the person that you are most curious to see their responses?
Let me fix that for you: "Who is the person whose responses you are most curious to see?" It's not great, but it's more correct than it was. Now, what was the question?
  29. Favorite TV show:
    The Muppet Show.
  30. Last person you went to dinner with:
    Co-worker. Worked overtime. Can't remember what we ate, but it gave me gas.
  31. Who do you think will be President?
    The person who bribes the electorates or the voting machine company.
  32. What are your favorite colors?
    Periwinkle, Crimson red, Cornflower blue, and Cerise. To wear. I tend to avoid reds and use golds in home decorating.
  33. How many tattoos do you have?
None. Not likely to get any, either.
  34. How many pets do you have?
    Currently, 43. If I get off my butt and grab the vacuum cleaner, I can reduce that number to 8. I never can get rid of all the dust bunnies at once.
  35. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Oh, wait. I know this one. Somebody actually figured out it was the egg, because any genetic mutation is going to emerge there, not in the adult chicken.
  36. What do you want to do before you die?
Get all the answers. And I do mean all. I think I'll do it, too. I already have that chicken-egg thing answered.
  37. Have you ever been to Hawaii
No, but I want to.
  38. Have you been to countries outside the U.S.
Yes. I'm in one of them now. Let's make that question a little less US-centric, shall we? "Have you ever travelled outside your own country?"
  39. How many people are you sending this [post] to?
None. It's not e-mail, y'know.
  40. Time this survey ended:
2:54 pm. Takes a while to dig up the code for favorite colors, look for typos, fix questions and fetch another cup of coffee, you see.

Now it's your turn. Copy/paste the questions and give your own answers, and post on your own blog, or in the comments of this blog.

The theory is that you will learn a lot of little known facts about those who know you. Let's test that theory!

(Copy/pasted from Gekko herself)

Feb 23, 2008

Eating habits

Via Boing Boing, I got to this Science Daily article on eating habits, specifically, French vs. American eating habits.

Why don't the French get as fat as Americans, considering all the baguettes, wine, cheese, pate and pastries they eat? Because they use internal cues -- such as no longer feeling hungry -- to stop eating, reports a new Cornell study. Americans, on the other hand, tend to use external cues -- such as whether their plate is clean, they have run out of their beverage or the TV show they're watching is over.

This is not just a French vs. American issue, however. I see this as a general difference between individuals.

The traditional breakfast of a Norwegian is a couple of slices of bread topped with only one slice of cold cut or a spread of jam or a slice of cheese. That is generally also the traditional lunch. The Norwegians used to be poor, which is reflected in their spartan open-faced sandwiches. (In spite of introducing "real" sandwiches - and affluence - to the Norwegians, when they make one themselves, they always skimp on the ingredients.) One of the joys of staying at a hotel for Norwegians is the access to a wide variety of breads, spreads and hot dishes at the breakfast and lunch buffets, included in the price. One of the common complaints of Norwegians staying in hotels is that they always overeat. "Too much good food. Can't say no," they say.

That always strikes me as odd, because I can and do say "no". I pick my favorites or pick foods I'd never eat at home and want to try and I eat no more for breakfast or lunch at a hotel than I would at home. I must be French: I can listen to my own stomach, and so my eyes and tongue may suggest what to eat, but how much is decided below my rib cage.

Most of us grow up or end up with eating habits that are dictated by outside influences: The clock, someone else's hunger, someone else's cooking, the routines for dining, even TV ads for food.

In my family, we generally ate around 6 pm. If the TV was on, it was turned off. We ate at the dining table because that's where we had enough room for three. We all ate the same thing, and as I was told if I complained, some nights it's my favorite dish, other nights it's someone else's. So I got used to eating a variety of food. And we conversed at the dinner table. No "How was your day" sort of thing because we'd had that discussion earlier, but general stuff. I'd often do most of the talking. I'm always talking. If I'm not, you know I'm either sleeping, deep in concentration, or sick. Talking while eating naturally paces the eating. And that meant I felt full before I'd eaten everything on my plate. My family knew they weren't going to send my leftovers to starving kids abroad somewhere, so they encouraged me to eat as much as I could, but never forced me or made me feel guilty. Another habit we didn't have was rewarding good behavior (or broken hearts) with food. We didn't have a dish of snacks constantly sitting on the coffee table.

These sane eating habits were courtesy of Grandma who passed them on to both my mother and myself. Grandma had little control over her appetite, having had it destroyed by well-meaning parents who felt their daughter was way too skinny (Grandma ended up very fat as an adult). My own awareness of the sensation of food in my stomach - and an experience of what happens when I ignore it (I gained weight quickly) - has left me respecting my stomach and never wanting to stretch it.

Because society dictates when to eat, because most of us want dessert[1] too, because we all eat more when we're in the company of other people (says other research), we tend to eat more than we actually need, and at times when we aren't actually hungry. We glance at the clock to know if it's time to eat; we don't wait for a certain empty feeling in our stomach. Sometimes we can't wait; it's the designated lunch hour. Other things can make a person eat too fast and so lose that time it takes for the stomach to get a message to the brain that food has arrived (I'm told it takes 20 minutes). Some of my co-workers, due to the fact that Norwegian lunches are only 30 minutes, will wolf down their food in 20 and spend the last 10 having a smoke. It has never struck me as a relaxing way to eat. I still try to eat slowly, using the whole half hour (I have noticed that I've sped up in recent years, though). Relaxing at the dining table is another eating habit I got from childhood; I want to focus on the food, on the eating. If it's time to eat, eat. Have the (tickle) fight afterwards.

I know "they" tell you to snack in between meals if you want to lose weight. Never let more than 3 hours pass between eating something "they" say. I can't do that. If I'm not hungry, I'm not hungry. When I am hungry, however, I want to eat as soon as possible. Which means I should have something healthy waiting for me. Last night, I made up a batch of chili while a store-bought frozen pizza was cooking in the oven. I want to kill the growing habit of detouring through our local McDonald's every time I felt too tired to cook, so inspired by this article, I planned ahead for a week so that I could always find something in my fridge or freezer that would be quick and easy to make for when I get home from work.

I used to cook on Friday evenings. I used to thumb through my cookbooks, find something interesting to try and then I'd spend Friday evening enjoying my own kitchen and my own cooking and new discoveries in food. It's a habit I've fallen out of, but having an easy meal to go (the pizza) yesterday evening, coupled with an easy dish to make (the chili con carne), was encouraging and wonderfully meditative. The chili got to cook a while, then cool a while, while I vegged with my pizza in front of the TV. Yes, I do that. (I did, however, leave a slice of pizza, even though my show wasn't over.) It's either that or read at the table (or eat at the computer). First let me get my cooking habits back. Then we'll see about my eating habits. Good as they were, I have let them slide. I think that is probably what happens to most of us. We forget that nourishing ourselves properly is a way to love ourselves.


[1] I wrote "most of us" because I actually don't find dessert all that important (or tasty; I was raised with disappointing desserts like ice cream[2], jello and fruit cocktail). I do sometimes finish off a dinner at home with a couple of pieces of milk chocolate. Yes, you read that right: A couple of pieces. Chocolate has enough "heft" to satisfy with little.

[2] In the questionnaire for the metabolic typing diet, the assumption was made that everyone likes ice cream. I can happily do without; I haven't had any in my freezer since the 80's, when I was expecting company. Ice cream is in my category of foods labelled "It depends".

Feb 22, 2008

My gallery: Seascape

Had I known I was going to be writing stories about her paintings, I would have taken notes when Grandma told me about her works.

This seascape hangs in my living room above my couch, and I see it whenever I look up from my computer. What I know about this painting, is that it is from the coast of Maine, and it is a copy. Grandma copied another artist's seascape (I don't know who that artist was, except that it was a man), and that's how the painting is signed (barely visible at bottom left): Marion Mundal, copy. I remember when I was younger that that amused me. It made me think of my grandma as a copy.

I have always loved this painting. I think it was painted well before I was born because I can't remember this seascape not hanging on Grandma's wall. This painting has so many things about it that keep me fascinated: The movement of the water, the spray of the waves, the contrast between the dark rock and the moonlit sea, the moonlight itself coming from an off-canvas moon, the energy in the water that makes me forget the sky is absolutely calm and the horizon far away absolutely flat. I always think of storms when I look at the crashing waves, but it is actually a peaceful painting.

In one sense, it describes the artist herself very well: Grandma always had drive and energy, though her personality was that of a calm and easy-going person. Very much like a calm sea with some powerful tides.

When I asked Grandma if I could take the seascape home with me, she said only if I returned it.

I thought I was going to be able to.

I'll introduce you to its frame-maker next time I tell you about my gallery.

Feb 21, 2008

123 meme

Yep, this is making the rounds (again). I snatched it from Sparkling Red. Fortunately, this time I had a different book lying around. (I'm not tagging but you are welcome to feel tagged.)

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

But there is as it turns out other Egyptian evidence for a tradition of astrometeorology. We shall see from a look at the fourth-century BC Saft el-Henna naos that the hypothesis that Harkhebi was doing astrometeorology is strengthened by comparison with an earlier Egyptian tradition. The Saft el-Henna naos (sometimes called 'the naos of the decades') is now in several major pieces.

That scholarly bit of writing is from "Astronomy, Weather, and Calendars in the Ancient World" by Daryn Lehoux.

Feb 20, 2008

White like me

I never learned any racial slurs growing up. Nobody in my family ever used such terms. There was a reason for it: My grandma was half English and half Irish, and never heard the end of it - from the Irish side of her family. They made "Englishman" sound like a swear word, making it extra hard for her Irish mother, who herself retaliated by being one of the biggest racists my grandma ever knew. My grandma was understanding, though, because she knew the Irish had been the victims of more discrimination than the English. She told me of signs in New York city before the war that read "Help Wanted (NINA)". NINA stood for "No Irish Need Apply".

Grandma, however, found all people interesting - no matter what their last name, social class or skin color, and no matter what her mother said. She was her mother's exact opposite in that respect. The rest of the family - on both of my parents' sides - never expressed anything negative about any group of people based on that group's characteristics.

My own experiences being singled out for bullying simply because of my nationality has made me aware of how utterly cruel and stupid such categorizing is - especially where children are concerned. And children are always involved - somewhere, somehow.

Growing up, I had a Japanese-Polish friend, a Black baby-sitter, a foreign grandpa with a thick accent, another grandfather who was the son of two immigrants, and I myself became an immigrant. Like Grandma, I find people interesting. But I've also had a privileged life. Just how privileged, was brought home to me when I read this article: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. It is a good essay with a list of the unseen advantages that most white people are not even aware they have, myself included. For example:

I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

To any one the same skin color as me: You have to be heartless or very stupid if McIntosh's article doesn't make you think twice.

Feb 19, 2008


Surrounded by palm trees, dressed in light summer clothes, sporting dark sun glasses in the glaring and hot sunlight of Spain, we were totally enjoying the experience of being tourists. We didn't know a word Spanish, hardly knew where in the city we were, simply looking for the next store with cheap leather goods and moving single-mindedly towards it.

We almost tripped over the legless man on his homemade skateboard, propelling himself forward with his hands, a cup with money in it where his lap should have been.

"Spain is so uncivilized!" said one Norwegian in my group, offended at the sight of a beggar.[1]

In America I had seen physically handicapped people begging. Not often, but I had seen them. I have never seen them beg in Norway. I had never seen anyone beg in Norway. There was a good reason for it: Until 2006, begging was illegal here.

Now, I have given money to the city's "loose birds", as we say in Norwegian. The sort that huddle together on cold days, have nicotine-stained fingers, lots of gray hair and deep lines in their faces, and a constant need for alcohol. Sometimes I'll see one weaving along the sidewalk towards me, and sometimes I am able to have a bill ready to put in his hand. His eyes meet mine, and I get a clear and audible "thank you". I don't mind these guys. They have been around in this city longer than I have, and some may even have fought for this country's freedom.

I have also been known to give money to young drug addicts with just enough focus in their eyes to convince me they may actually use the cash to feed the dog they have with them.

The new crop of beggars, however, has managed to creep me out.

This past year, I - and many others in Bergen - have seen an increase in people holding out empty coffee cups of the kind that sit in a stack next to the ubiquitous self-service coffee machine now found in every newsstand and grocery store. This new crowd are younger men, less Norwegian-looking, and do not look you in the eye. They sit on their knees, knees resting on a plastic bag, arm resting on a knee, holding out a cardboard cup, eyes to the ground, face passive. They do not look dirty or sick or stoned, but they also do not look friendly or familiar. And so I find their presence disconcerting.

Since the beggars do nothing to disturb or disrupt, the police have had no reason to bother with them - until now. Now the city council has asked that the police find out exactly why so many beggars from primarily former east-block nations (and new EU-members) are currently kneeling on our sidewalks. The theories are many: They are organized criminals; they are slaves to organized criminals; they are decent but poor people who are supplementing their welfare checks from home.

I too want to know who they are, the silent ones who are now a part of my city. I want to know whether or not to give them some money, or to continue hurrying past them, grateful that they do not make eye contact.

[1] After joining the EU in 1986, Spain became a "civilized country" and the EU's fifth largest economy. Tourists no longer see Spain's handicapped begging - or cheap leather goods for sale.

Feb 18, 2008

Blood types here and there

A blood drive at work (I didn't participate at this time) offered some trivia about the distribution of blood types, which got me thinking. I gave blood a couple of times back when I lived in California, so I knew my blood type (O) was very common and very much in demand. I was therefore surprised to learn of the high number of type A's in Norway.

While hunting for the US statistics, I learned that the majority of the A's in Norway live in the northern part of the country. So I looked up the statistics for the Sami people, who live primarily north of the arctic circle:

People/per centType OType AType BType AB
USA (whites)4540114
Norway (Norwegians)394984
Sami (Lapps)296344

The distribution for Danes, Swedes and Finns is pretty similar to the Norwegians. The Icelanders, however, show a very clear preference for type O. My own blood type seems to be influenced by my British Isle ancestry.

Feb 17, 2008

Tutankhamun's wardrobe, Dylan's weather

As I passed by the Bryggen Museum on my to my hairdresser's, I noticed the poster advertising an exhibit of Tutankhamun's wardrobe. So I went in after I got my haircut.

I quickly found out why photography was allowed: The garments were replicas, not the original articles, inspired by what had been found in King Tut's tomb. What I didn't know, was that Egyptian pharaohs wore gloves. There were both ceremonial gloves (top in photo) and protective (bottom).

This garment, which looks like a modern fashion statement, was actually a clever piece of protection. It's one long narrow strip of cloth. Laying it across the shoulders protected those from the sun, and the tight criss-crossing of the ends around the waist functioned as a kidney belt for those jarring rides in horse-drawn chariots.

There were several tunicas on display. Several were gorgeously beaded, producing a three-dimensional effect. The photo shows a tunica for an 8-year-old. Several garments found in the tomb were for a child of that age, and the theory is that these items were buried with Tutankhamum as a way of commemorating the age he became pharaoh.

And here is a royal loin cloth.

Also temporarily exhibiting at the museum was an installation of photos and Bob Dylan lyrics, courtesy of Hard Rain:

Changing minds with a book is difficult, because those who buy it mostly agree with the authors already, but the Hard Rain exhibition of photos and Dylan’s lyric is now touring the planet and will be seen by over 10 million visitors."

The clever bastards. It worked. I saw it, started reading, and started thinking. I read that a pet in an industrialized nation has more rights (and more food) than starving children in Africa do, a perspective (and injustice) I've never thought about. I'd also like to vote for an entirely new system of government, not just a new head of government, because industrialized nations heavily subsidize crops in their own countries, crops that developing nations also grow, thus creating an unfair market for the latter's farmers. Also, pollution is as big a threat to our lives as is global warming, if not greater since pollution causes global warming.

Feb 16, 2008

Think of a number

One of my fellow Blog365-ers pointed me to this numbers game. It's similar to this pick a card game, so you should be able to figure out how it works.

Feb 15, 2008

More joys of having a new Mac

I'm still happy with my new Mac, and am discovering more joys of having a new Mac - especially one as zippy as the one I got (got extra RAM and extra MHz, didn't I):

  • Videos on YouTube aren't choppy
  • Image-intensive web sites load fast
  • I can finally use Google Earth
  • I can check out all the effects in Pixelmator without any waiting (or crashing)
  • Uploading photos to Blogger is a lot snappier
  • Having the speed and power to enjoy Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard), which includes:
    • Slide show function and RSS feed in Mail
    • Added screen space and less screen clutter with Spaces
    • Front Row - the media center for playing podcasts, music, DVDs, etc.
    • Overall snappiness and stability
  • Downloading a half dozen photos from my camera happens in a split second
  • Watching DVDs on the gorgeous, glossy flat screen
  • Built-in "Word of the Day" screen saver - and the screen saver shows the time
  • Showing a clip from a web page in a Dashboard widget, in my case the daily weather graph from my favorite weather site.
  • The new Apple keyboard that no longer has an edge that collects crumbs, cat hairs and dust.

Feb 14, 2008

February 14 is the day

...the afternoon sun returns to my apartment, like it did today. It splashed its gold all over my living room's north wall.

Why? What day did you think it was?

Oh, all right. Here:

Your Candy Heart Says "Get Real"
You're a bit of a cynic when it comes to love.
You don't lose your head, and hardly anyone penetrates your heart.

Your ideal Valentine's Day date: is all about the person you're seeing (with no mentions of v-day!)

Your flirting style: honest and even slightly sarcastic

What turns you off: romantic expectations and "greeting card" holidays

Why you're hot: you don't just play hard to get - you are hard to get

(I'm not that cynical. Not really. It's just that I'm the sort of woman who likes to browse hardware stores.)

Feb 13, 2008

Frozen heaven

"Describe a place you remember from your childhood" is the prompt from Imagination prompt.

A friend once asked me if I had ever ice skated, a question that brought back one of my fondest childhood activity - and memory.

When I was a kid, I lived in a rural area about 15 miles north of the city of Bergen. We would get a good, long freeze in January and if it stayed cold long enough, a small pond a couple of farms over from where I lived would freeze over. It wasn't really a pond, but a marsh that had a small body of water. We'd walk down a trail, past what in the summer were cow pastures until we got to our pond, almost hidden from the trail.

A couple of yards out in the pond was a solitary rock. That was where whoever measured the thickness of the ice would punch a hole and measure, leaving a pole behind to mark the hole. To be safe, the ice had to be a minimum of 15 centimeters (6 inches) thick - and clear. Steel ice, the Norwegians call it. When we were on the ice, we'd sometimes hear it make cracking sounds. Freezing water expands, so what we were hearing was the ice rubbing against its borders. The only thing that would ruin the pond was if it snowed on it before the surface froze properly. Snow makes ice bumpy.

Our impromptu ice skating rink was about the size of an olympic swimming pool. Around the ragged edge were rocks perfect for sitting on to change to skates, so all along the perimeter were dozens of pairs of boots and bags and rucksucks on a good evening. All kids' items. I rarely saw an adult, with the exception of the hole measuring guy. I think the eldest on the ice were in their mid-teens. The boys wore hockey skates, and we girls wore figure skates. I seem to remember the magical nights best: Skating under a starry sky, moonlight making the surrounding frost and snow glitter, the trees surrounding the pond adding to the feeling of being in our own world.

It was a friend who told me about the skating pond. My first skates had been her mother's grandmother's skates - old and black and rather pointy-toed. But I learned on those and then got my own pretty white ones. I loved ice skating! Much more than skiing. I never got daring on the ice but there was something about skating that felt so free. And the ice itself was pretty. It was so clear, I'd go off between the rocks and find a spot to just lie on my belly and look at the pond bottom through the ice. I also accidentally discovered that chipping the ice made it act like a prism, producing a rainbow effect. One shouldn't chip the ice, so I'd find a spot where nobody skated, like where the grass was poking up through the ice, and chip a bit with my skate blade, and then lie on my stomach with my eyes right next to the colors.

I haven't seen that pond since I moved away from that part of town in 1976. Out of curiosity, I did locate it on today's modern online maps - a summertime aerial view, making it look like the ordinary, cloudy marsh pond that it is. I will not go back. My magic pond will stay where it is at its best: In my childhood memory.

Feb 12, 2008

K, 'K? 'K!

I'm getting the hang of this anniversary thing.

I'm not supposed to do anything.

At all.

Except make suggestions for the meal.

Yeah, you're asking the right person, all right. I know as much about food as I do flowers, meaning I know roses, dandelions, pizza and hamburger. I'll eat anything, but I rarely remember its name.

Anyway, a few edible items have crossed my way that tasted so good to me I actually found out what they were called. And since scallops and flan both start with a K in Norwegian, I started getting an idea for the menu: All items must start with the letter K. We will likely have a four-course meal (or five, if you include the cake that comes with the coffee). So I offered my suggestions, and put the working out of details in the capable hands of a far more food-savvy co-worker (he knows how to actually make stuff like roasts and broiled fish). Said co-worker loves the idea of all K's, too, and it has given him ideas on how to design the printed menu.

So here is a Norwegian lesson (of sorts):

Starter: Kamskjell (scallops)
Entree: Kalvefilet (filet of veal)
Palette cleanser: Something that starts with K (which my more capable co-worker can work out for me)
Dessert: Karamellpudding (flan)
Kaffe avec (café avec is the original French) which would include cordials like Kahlua and konjakk (cognac)
served with kake (cake)

I did not specify how exactly any of this should be prepared. "Surprise me!" I said, finally settling into this whole being thrown a party thing.

Feb 11, 2008

Flatulence in computing

Wondering what to post today (so I stay daily), the Universe Internet gave me this gem:

Find and Replace Text with FART

Which concluded with:

FART is a free download for Windows only.

I guess we Mac users have to eat beans.

(Not to criticize Lifehacker, where I found the above; my sense of humor just never evolved past the fifth grade.)

Feb 10, 2008

Feeling the love

This is the photo my co-workers chose to use on the invitation they made up for my 25th anniversary party. I'm not frowning; I'm squinting into the sun with a candy pacifier in my mouth and awful hair (for some damned reason), trying to adjust the photographer. Or the camera. I forget. This photo is from almost 10 years ago and was taken during a departmental picnic. I may not have been entirely sober, either. (That probably explains the hair.)

It's a crappy photo of me, but I love that it's used anyway.

I love that my co-workers dare use it, dare play such a joke on me, dare risk getting me mad at them. (I did try to. I can't disappoint.)

I love that I am able to shake off any upsets about not looking perfect (or even normal) on the invitation.

I love that everybody in my department is having fun with my 25th anniversary. Sometimes planning a party is as much fun as the party itself.

I love that I have the sense to appreciate my loony co-workers with their practical jokes and huge hearts.

I love that I am one of them.

And I love that I didn't have to twist my closest co-worker's arm to get this photo so I could blog about it.

Feb 9, 2008

Of cucumbers and cash

It is a relaxing, lazy Saturday morning. My stomach is feeling better so I can genuinely enjoy a cup of coffee. I'm probably also feeling good because last night I finally did all my dishes, I even put them away, and I decluttered several piles. It was about time.

I've been neglecting my chores for far too long, doing only the absolute minimum, feeling unmotivated. I kept wanting to get my mojo back, but my best motivation (or threat, depending), having people over, was missing. The Universe, however, is magnificent and gives you what you need: In my case, a cucumber.

A preference for the grocery store's plastic shopping bags in the bad weather, and laziness when I got the shopping home, meant a pile of half-emptied grocery bags. Things for the refrigerator and freezer got put away, but everything else stayed in the bags. Which meant that if I wanted something I knew I'd bought, I'd have to hunt in the bags for it. Which is how I came to disturb the bag that had the cucumber.

The stink hit me at the same time as my realization that I had left a perfectly good vegetable to rot. Cucumbers are 90% liquid anyway, and a lot of that was now filling the bottom of the bag. The foul stench was starting to fill my apartment. Well, there was my motivation. I had to get off my butt and get the garbage out of my house, the bags emptied and them and their contents put away, and once I was on that roll, I also tackled the pile of mail - no, the two piles of mail - and caught an important bill on time (the first payment on my new computer; I don't want to make a bad impression) and went over January's bank statement.

Having caught up on my bills, I discovered I will have only NOK 800 left in my debit account to tide me over until payday February 20th. It has been a long time since I have had to watch my cash flow. The reason this time is that I have two big credit card charges to pay off (one from last year's summer vacation and the new one for the new iMac) and in my eagerness to do so, I forgot that January's paycheck also had to pay the TV license.

My first impulse was to transfer funds from my savings account. My next one was to put that off for as long as possible, and instead enjoy the game of making the money last. After all, this is what I tell people is typical Sag financial behavior: If we have to make 5 dollars last two weeks, we will. If we have 500 dollars to spend in two days, we will. So instead of dipping into the savings account immediately, I will see if I can't resist temptations and stick with what's in the debit account.

Too bad. I really wanted to buy a new garbage can for the kitchen today.

Feb 8, 2008

Naming diseases

NameThatDisease.com - The Disease Test

A little shaky on the sexually transmitted stuff, but a whizz on the pandemic things. Go figure.

(Via Paula.)

Feb 7, 2008

Return of the Rat

Today is the start of the Chinese new year, and the start of the year of the Rat. I was born in the year of the Rat, so I'm wondering if this can be seen as some sort of "return" like in western astrology, where a new cycle starts when a planet returns to the same position it has in your birth chart. The sun does this every year, which is why English speaking folks say "many happy returns" to someone on their birthday.

The Wikipedia description of the Rat more or less fits, with one huge exception: "Will not think twice about exacting revenge" is accurate only if it means I won't think about revenge at all. Even if it would be nice to see people who hurt me get their come-uppance, I can't be bothered to bring it about myself. Too much work. And too much karma.

Feb 6, 2008

Reminded of history

George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." That works for both individuals and nations. Another reason not to forget history, is so you don't accidentally upset those who remember it, and who may even have lived it.

Currently, the citizens of Bergen are arguing about whether or not to hang a huge portrait of Joseph Stalin on the side of our city hall, a 14-story tall building. The suggested display, done by a Norwegian artist, is based on Picasso's portrait of Stalin, in connection with the Picasso exhibit currently showing in Bergen. "It's art," says the artist, "art is meant to provoke." "Stalin was the worst mass-murderer in history," say the critics, "Nobody in their right mind would accept a portrait of Hitler hanging on a public building in Bergen, so why should we allow a portrait of Stalin?"

Myself, I understand the artist's point of view, especially since it seems to be a promotion for the exhibit. But the debate also shows what can happen when people don't remember the past, and even some odd responses: Some say that the portrait won't offend because nowadays, nobody knows who Stalin was. And the upside is that the current debate will teach those people who he was. To not hang up the portrait is to bury history, say others. On the flip-side, though, are Bergen's large population of immigrants from Chechnya and Ukraine, and they know only too well who Stalin was. Just as every Norwegian knows only too well who Hitler was. Also, not everyone may be aware of the tie-in to the Picasso exhibit. So, how much insult and pain does art have the right to inflict? And just how much ignorance and inconsideration can we allow ourselves?

This reminds me of my own asking why, in this day and age, we couldn't use "SS" on Norwegian license plates. Norwegian plates are two letters followed by 5 numbers. The first letter is connected to region, so cars with SR, SP and ST in their license are all registered in Bergen. SS was skipped because there are still people around who do remember their history. I felt a bit ashamed for forgetting the obvious.

And: Just a few weeks ago, an article in the paper about how we've outgrown our courthouse, making it necessary to hold trials in a neighboring building's banquet rooms, was not just inconvenient, but also a bit creepy and an affront to democracy: The banquet rooms are in the building the Gestapo appropriated during the German occupation of Norway, and where several Norwegians were tortured and killed. The building houses several nightclubs now, and the entrance the party-goers use faces the modest "bautastein" (menhir) commemorating those lost lives.

There is no easy answer regarding the hanging of the Stalin portrait on the city hall wall. We can't forget our past. The question is: What does the portrait remind us of?

Feb 5, 2008

5 trivial things about me

According to Paula I must write five things about myself:

  1. My throat needs a facial. Or whatever they call facials done to the throat area.
  2. I subscribed to TIME magazine last summer, read three issues, then fell behind. Still falling behind on my reading as in I have no clue what's been going on in TIME for the last three months.
  3. I don't make my bed at all. This is because I believe in airing out the dust mites. I can't see them, but I'm told they are there and if I can take God on faith alone, I guess I can do that with dust mites, so I roll back my "dyne" (down comforter to you non-Norwegians) to the foot of my bed, letting most of my mattress air for the day.
  4. I'm due for a haircut and can't make up my mind if I want to let my hair keep growing or lop it all off. I do want to look fantabulous for my anniversary party.
  5. I was putting laundry away in another room and found an old bottle of "Rose D'Or" nail polish. I've been having fun polishing nine long nails and one short nail in a deep rose color.
  6. The nail most likely to break is the one on my right middle finger. No, not from flipping people off.
  7. I can't count to five.

Feb 4, 2008

Tossing my name around the 'net

Go here to see me casually spreading my unique name around the internet. Actually, I wasn't expecting to see my name in full. Don't know what I was expecting. At least I won't mind if and when Google coughs this up when someone searches for "Keera Ann Fox". And, if you want to see more of that coyote (without squinting), go here.

PS: "Mighty Optical Illusions" and "The Daily Coyote" are two of my daily reads.

Feb 3, 2008

Answering when asked

The phone rang. Caller ID showed it to be the same Oslo number that had called several times this week. For some reason, I thought it was the local newspaper, trying to sell me a subscription to its dead-tree editions because, well, my brain was AWOL this week.

I answered. It was a Norwegian polling company, wanting to ask me about the media - TV, radio, internet. I decided I was in an answering mood (being the last one in the household to turn 15), so I agreed to answer the questions.

These sort of things always end up feeling a bit bizarre to me. My habits are not standard, and are comparatively limited. It started with questions about the radio. I listen to the radio only in the morning, and then to only one station, which is the main Norwegian national broadcaster's regional broadcast; it's the only way I keep abreast of some of the daily things (including traffic reports and newspaper headlines) in my county.

After answering "no" to all the other stations, I was asked about TV. I don't watch the main Norwegian TV stations, I don't watch TV news, I don't watch culture, sports or children's programs. My TV diet consists of various crime series, "Ugly Betty" and "Star Trek: TNG". Limited and unenlightening fare, yes, but I don't watch TV for enlightenment. For documentaries and animal programs, I answered "foreign stations" (that would be Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet).

As we went through the questions and answers, the female caller and I exchanged a few laughs (one brought on by my asking if there was a "makes me puke" choice) and I learned that she was probably my age. She was asking me about the main broadcaster, NRK (who I'm assuming paid for the survey because of some other questions), and I told her that if all TV stations were to disappear leaving me with only NRK, I'd probably watch it. "Habit," I told her. "I belong to that generation that grew up with only one TV station, so NRK is familiar". She told me that she was the same generation, but had had access to Swedish channels since she was from Eastern Norway.

I remember as a kid that we far from the Swedish border would be a bit envious of those closer to it, because of the choice it gave them. (Not that Swedish television is better than Norwegian.) We had just NRK here in Bergen and we waited desperately until 6 pm when the broadcasting would start for the day. Televisions back then had no stand-by mode, and even though we got transistorized TVs, the old habit of turning the TV on 5 or 10 minutes before the program started, harking back to the days when vacuum tubes needed to warm up first, was kept up in my grandparents for the rest of their lives. The result was that we'd often watch the analog clock face with a sweeping second hand that was broadcasted until the program started. When we finally got a color TV, we discovered that the clock was white on a blue background.

"What about British stations?" my pollster asked. "Only on the radio," I replied, remembering that our radio was always set to BBC and no one was to touch that dial. (Perhaps that's really where I got my "foreign" habits from; we never went completely native in our media choices in my family.) My grandparents were glued to the radio whenever Alistair Cook's "Letter From America" came on.

As the questioning wound down, I told her that my odd diet (ignoring the Norwegian stations and watching so many "foreign") was because I was foreign myself, and spoke English fluently. She asked me if I was British; I told her I was American. She then said I must have been in the country a long time, because I spoke Norwegian very well. "Thank you," I replied. "So do you." Then I laughed and apologized for being silly, but I had always wanted to reply that way. She laughed too and said she'd probably do the same thing.

The funny thing about being questioned, is that it had me wondering if I shouldn't try listening to internet radio, or watching streaming video (it may work on my Mac, finally). One thing that didn't come out, was why I listen to only one radio station: The display on the stereo in the living room no longer lights up, so in spite of having several channels pre-set, I can't tell what station I'm on or which one is the one I listen to in the morning. For that reason, all radios in my house (oddly, I have four), are tuned to the one station.

As I hung up the phone, I thought about keeping my land line subscription after all, for "entertainment purposes", because that was a most enjoyable 20 minutes.

Feb 2, 2008

Harlequin cat, argyle socks

A dream last night featured, at one point, an audience in front of a stage on which lay several cats and a couple of bunnies. The audience was free to go up on the stage and cuddle with an animal. I ended up petting a cat that was wearing a full-body stocking in a bright, multi-colored harlequin pattern. It was a very friendly cat, eagerly enjoying getting its ears rubbed.

I was trying to sort out in my headby googling if the pattern the cat was wearing was argyle or harlequin, when I remembered a funny incident in the elevator at work: I was on my way to my office on the top floor and found myself entertained by a threesome who were headed for a lower floor. The two girls were very interested in how the one guy was dressed. He was in a black shirt, black leather jacket, black pants, and black shoes, stylish and casual. One of the girls wanted to know if his socks matched his outfit. She asked the question several times. I found myself wanting to know, too. To her and my satisfaction, just as the elevator arrived on their floor, she bent down and lifted a pant leg.

He was wearing gray socks with a light pink and blue argyle pattern.

Feb 1, 2008

24 years and 10 months

I went back to work today. I'm not well yet, and there were moments at the office when my brain refused to function because a bit of fever and a bit of nausea reappeared. I haven't drunk any coffee for several days, either. Didn't dare. The chili ayurvedic tea went down well, though.

It was nice to be back, because I really needed the break from going stir-crazy at home. I spent the day trying to catch up on business cards. I'm the one responsible for making the business cards for all my co-workers (fortunately, not all of them at once). I also discovered that the fly in January was an illusion. When the outdoor blind rolled down and I saw the fly again, I made a closer inspection and discovered that it was quite dead - mummified, actually - and, perhaps caught by surprise, had become flattened and embedded in the rolling blind.

Waiting for me when I got back was a buff-colored envelope, nearly square in shape and about six inches wide, with my name in full typed somewhere in the upper left-hand side of the envelope. The disharmonious and rule-breaking placement bothered the ex-secretary in me. Inside was a buff-colored card with our CEO's name pre-printed on it, and a short, typed greeting wishing me a happy 25th anniversary. The CEO's name was also typed, not signed or even rubber-stamped. Huh, I thought. Two months early and she couldn't be bothered to sign it. I know, it's just a formality. I'm not sure what to do with the card. I'm thinking of tacking it up on my cork board.

Yes, on April 1 I will have been at this company for 25 years. I feel too young to hold such a record. Everyone else around me who has been here this long are showing far more gray than I am (I'm doing nicely with my eight single strands of silver, thank you). I didn't think I'd still be here. Over the years, restlessness and dissatisfaction have taken turns with enthusiasm and gratitude. But here I am, still am, and am currently in a gratitude phase (which beats the dissatisfaction phase of late last year).

My boss is responsible for organizing the anniversary party. I am allowed to have to up to 25 guests (myself included), on the company. My boss called me in to his office about two weeks ago and asked me about the party. I told him that half of me wanted to ignore the whole thing, while the other half knew better than to cheat her co-workers out of a fun time. He nodded in strong agreement at that one. After all, we do party well together. So I had to start thinking about who to invite, with a few extra names in case of cancellations, and a date for the shin-dig.

We ended up with March 28. That's the Friday that suits everyone in my department. I have to get that list of names to my boss, and drop hints about what gift I'd like to get if they collect enough money (there will be a collection; there always is). The last time somebody threw a big party for me, I was 9, it was my birthday, and I swore never again. At least this time there will be booze.