The Universe and Me

Sunday, July 30, 2006

She blinded me with science

You Passed 8th Grade Science
Congratulations, you got 7/8 correct!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

It's just another day

Actually, it's better than just another day because I've been on vacation from work. Lazing about my sister's pool is for some reason more enjoyable than dragging myself into my strange workplace where I find myself counting the years left (far too many) before I can swing retirement. If I knew the future, I could plan said retirement better. Say, if I was only going to live until age 70, then I could retire early. If I'm going to live up into triple digits, all hope is lost. There's a webpage called Death Forecast which asks some basic questions and predicts how long you will live. Here's the good and bad news in my case:
Varushka's Death Forecast: It is estimated that you will die at the age of 89 Years Old.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The people under the stairs

PBS series: Manor House. This time, modern day Brits are sent back to the Edwardian (pronounced Edwordian) Era for three months. I found this one of the most intriguing of the House specials. The dichotomy between upstairs and downstairs turned palpable and political. Seeing as the maid rooms were 89 steps up from their working quarters, I could understand why the servants were exhausted by the end of the first day and eventually on the verge of revolt. The first and second scullery maids must not have understood how long 16 hours of doing the washing up can feel like. Neither one could hack it for more than a few days. I think the third one only managed to stay because she was raised on a farm and found romance at the Manor.

The footmen didn’t have things much easier. They were paid according to height: the taller men were paid more than the shorter men. Didn’t I recently read an article where this still happens now? The taller you are, the higher your salary in comparison to shorter workers. So, that hasn’t changed. Not quite fair that the tutor kept making the footmen walk up four flights to open a window or some such nonsense. Suspect he was severely lonely. When he became upset over not being invited to the servant party, he decided he wouldn’t baby-sit that night and it occurred to me that sending people back in time seems to bring out the child in most everyone except the children.

As for the family: the youngest son was quite right when he complained that his mother was turning to mush. For someone who worked in an ER, she ended up caring only about etiquette (spending hours trying to figure out who sits next to whom at dinner), her clothes and looks. At first it bothered her that she saw so little of her children. After a few weeks, she seemed not to care. I’m not sure how the elder son spent his days as he wasn’t shown much. Horseback riding, perhaps. The younger boy, who I thought was going to be a brat at the beginning when he said he was looking forward to bossing around the servants, decided it was more fun to venture downstairs and befriend those servants. Good on him! The father reminded me of a big company boss who may know his workers names but sure doesn’t care to know anything they’re going through on or off the job. He was completely unaware that his staff disliked him. At the end, the family was sad to leave, but the servants were thrilled to see them go. Lining your staff up once a year at Christmas time to tell them what a great job you think they’re doing shows nothing but a lack of sincerity.

The most sympathetic person was the butler, Mr Edgar, who was often put in the impossible position of shielding the family from what the servants were going through and how they were living. Although it was understandable why the servants sometimes stepped out of line, I didn’t think it was right for them to have dinner at a town restaurant. They knew it wasn’t done in those times. So it seemed they were trying to get away with it deliberately. Antonia would have been sacked on the spot 100 years ago had she spoken up as she did. Kenny and Ellen’s romance would have cost at least her job, too, since such fraternizing among the staff was forbidden. And this I find strange because studies have shown that happy workers are productive workers. Best line: “He’s had a please and thank you bypass.”

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Comforting sounds

In recent wanderings around the web, I stumbled onto a site that had a song embedded, as so many of them do. I found the song extremely lovely and it stuck in my mind so I had to look up who recorded it. Turned out to be “The Zookeeper’s Boy” by a Danish band named Mew. It’s a single from their most recent CD titled Glass Handed Kites. Their own website describes their music as: complex and turbulent soundscapes to universe-quaking crescendo, sprawling, soaring bliss-rock, a sense of glacial fairy tale wonderment, flinging musical ideas, distorted nightmare images and heartbreak choruses, ethereal ballads with an other-worldy glisten. Just my thing! Listen to some of their songs at their My Space site. You can still vote for this band to be the Next Thing at Yahoo. The video to "The Zookeeper's Boy" can be found at You Tube. Here are the song's dream-inspired lyrics:

The Zookeeper's Boy - Mew

Are you my lady, are you?
Are you my lady, are you?

If I don't make it back from the city
Then it is only because I am drawn away
For you see, evidently there's a dark storm coming
And the chain on my swing is squeaking like a mouse

So are you my lady, are you?
So are you my lady, are you?
The rain, the rain, the rain is falling down
The cars remain

You're tall just like a giraffe
You have to climb to find its head
But if there's a glitch
You're an ostrich
You've got your head in the sand

In a submersible I can hardly breathe
As it takes me inside, so the light sings
Answer me truthfully, do the clouds kiss you?
With meringue-coloured hair, I know they cannot

Santa Ana winds bring seasickness
Zookeeper hear me out
How dare you go?
Cold in the rain…

Are you my lady, are you?
Are you my lady, are you?
The rain, the rain, the rain is falling down
The cars remain
I could not be seen with you
Working half the time and looking fine
In cars re-made

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Name Voyager

The Baby Name Wizard site has a Name Voyager where you can type in your name and see its ranking for every decade over the past century or more in a nifty chart. Seeing as my real name was invented sometime in the late 1920s, it's only on the chart for the past 7 decades. I was named after a classmate of my mother's, so she (being born in the mid 1930s) was probably one of the first to have the name. Its ranking was highest in the 1960s. Not a surprise, due to the books and movies that were written and made during that time. It's currently ranked 350. Sadly, my nickname Varushka does not appear at all.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Little Poop on the Prairie

PBS series: Frontier House. When we were considerably younger, my sister Linda used to exchange a word in popular TV shows with poop. Hence this post's title. She never foresaw how appropriate it would be in describing this series where three families are sent back to live as they did in 1883. Two of the families clashed immediately in training and their attitudes and behaviours towards each other never improved. Some of it was warranted. I was often offended by the Clune's too. Some of it seemed based on the ugly psychological trait of jealousy, particularly Mrs Glenn's. Taking every opportunity to diss the Clune's and saying with honesty she would "die if her bread didn't win the fair" did nothing to endear her to viewers. Or her husband, sadly. One wonders why these people signed up for this project. Was it merely a way to be on television? The continual whining about how difficult it was made that seem the case. As Carolyn asked me, "What did they think they were signing up for?" Has everyone bought into the romanticised Hollywood version of the past and lost sight of the tremendous hardships and sacrifices these people faced? How unrealistic is it for a participant to say, "I thought it was gonna be fun"?

Right from the beginning I had to roll my eyes at Mrs Clune for crying hysterically because she wasn't allowed to wear makeup. (She looked much better without it, actually.) And her teenage niece and daughter for trying to smuggle in mascara. Mr Clune was unhappy because he didn't have a life. Neither did the real homesteaders! He expected it would be romantic. Maybe he should have researched a little in advance. Several times he whined about not being allowed to hunt. I suspected, perhaps like the show's producers, that if he had, one or both of his young sons would not have returned to their palatial Southern California home. Saying they would have survived the winter because they would have hunted was ignorant coming from a man who'd only ever mowed his lawn once. And playing up his weight loss (due to hard work and dehydration), saying it was due to lack of protein was a slam against his nutritionist wife, though she didn't seem to notice or felt collusion was the best course.

The Clune's deliberately breaking the rules was offensive too. A still was illegal at the time and what Mr Clune thought his wife and four children would do if he was sent to the hoosegow, I don't know. Plus I didn't think the children should be around alcohol. Their trading with outsiders was somewhat understandable and I could have forgiven the kids watching a little TV until that box spring was discovered in their cabin and Mr Clune was positive homesteaders would have used it too. The small problem that box springs didn't exist in 1883 didn't trouble him. Luckily the project evaluators saw through all his little games and pointed out that IRL, he wouldn't be able to bend nature's rules.

Mrs Glenn seemed to view the project as a competition between the families and this was her undoing because it turned her into a mini-dictator. (Mr Glenn: "My wife has turned into some kind of Hitler.") I wanted to like her because she was determined to live the true pioneer lifestyle, but I doubt that would have included bossing around her husband to the point of ruining their marriage. Was she like that IRL? Seems he would have noticed. Her competitiveness never lessened. She never learned the real competition was against the land and weather, not the neighbours. So she couldn't bake up an Entenmann's showcase like Mrs Clune. Neither can I. But I can appreciate Mrs Clune's domestic skills and, like the Brooks family, would have found a way to trade something for that peach pie. Wow, that looked mighty tasty.

I finally mentioned the Brooks family. Have to say, Nate and his father couldn't have been more charming. They seemed to grasp the concept of the project and set about working to complete everything they needed to. They treated the other families graciously, respectfully and were willing to help and accept help. Nate's strength of character and sense of humour really shone through in what must have often been difficult and awkward circumstances with the Hatfields and McCoys.

Something this and the other PBS House projects really show is how difficult daily life was for women without modern appliances, running water, and electricity. They were stuck cooking and cleaning from the moment they got up until they dropped back in bed at night. It makes me grateful I was born in a time where women have more than a slavish existence. Conversely, the frontier seemed to be a man's paradise. Except for the average life expectancy being 40 part. The women were so happy to leave, but all the men started to choke up and even cry at the thought of leaving. It seemed as if the Clune women learned a lot from their experiences. Back home, Mrs Clune was lamenting the 21st century isolation from her children. The girls said they were tired of going to the mall every day and seemed bored. If nothing else, Mrs Glenn learned "people won't go to the doctor because they know they're gonna get knifed in the back" with bills they can't afford. What everyone should have learned was that survival makes you a winner. Not to take anything away from Nate's cleverness, but the best line was one of the girl's proclaiming that her "bonnet made her look like a mailbox."

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Do we need 'em? : ear mites

At least one of my kittens has ear mites, so I’m saying right away that no, we don’t need ear mites. In looking up some information on them, particularly how to get rid of the nasty critters, I didn’t find any need to keep ear mites either. Officially called Otodectes cyanotis from the Latin (meaning: picker of ear), they’re highly contagious crablike insects that resemble microscopic ticks. They live on the surface skin of the ear canal. Their eggs hatch four days after incubation. They become adults in about three weeks, then feed on ear wax and skin oils. Although they only live around two months, they breed replacements. Why I really want them gone is because their piercing of the auditory canal can cause secondary bacterial or fungal infections which can lead to deafness. So since they seem to bring nothing to the world of cats and dogs but grief, I say we don’t need ‘em. Especially in my house.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Rocking : the Quiz

Check out MSNBC for the musical Rocking: The Quiz. I socred a 68% but considering some of the questions were difficult, didn't think that was too bad. Then I looked at how everyone else fared and thought, hey, I know a fair amount of music trivia after all. Out of (so far) 7576 quiz takers, the scores have been:

0-10% = 0.1%
11-20% = 0.6%
21-30% = 3.1%
31-40% = 16%
41-50% = 22%
51-60% = 32%
61-70% = 15%
71-80% = 8.3%
81-90% = 1.4%
91-100% = 1.6%

Friday, July 07, 2006

The words you use should be your own

On an old podcast I was listening to the other day, Gervais and company mentioned that Shakespeare thought up several thousand words, including brilliant. The Internet says he made up over 3,000 words. While many of them didn’t catch on, English has incorporated about 1,200 of them. What I found interesting about the list I looked at was that some words I can’t imagine were not in use before his inventing them. Here are some:

Accused, addiction, advertising, aerial, alligator, amazement, articulate, assassination, bandit, bedroom, birthplace, blanket, blushing, bump, buzzer, cater, champion, circumstantial, compromise, countless, courtship, critical, daunting, dawn, deafening, demure, discontent, dishearten, dislocate, dwindle, educate, elbow, entomb, epileptic, equivocal, eyeball, fashionable, flawed, frugal, generous, gloomy, gossip, hint, hurry, impartial, investment, invulnerable, jaded, label, laughable, leapfrog, lonely, luggage, mimic, misplaced, monumental, moonbeam, mountaineer, negotiate, numb, obscene, ode, premeditated, radiance, rant, savagery, scuffle, secure, submerge, summit, swagger, torture, tranquil, unreal, varied, worthless.

And some phrases he invented:

All that glitters is not gold, as luck would have it, budge an inch (or not), catch cold, dead as a doornail, didn't sleep a wink, forever and a day, for goodness' sake, foul play, give the devil his due, good riddance, green-eyed jealousy, high time, household word, in a pickle, in stitches, in the twinkle of an eye, it's Greek to me, laughing stock, neither here nor there, no rhyme or reason, woe is me, one fell swoop, tower of strength, under the weather, what the dickens.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Not so pretty bubbles in the air

Movie: Green Street Hooligans. Good on Elijah Wood for breaking out of what could easily have been a career death as a hobbit typecast. His roles in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Everything is Illuminated have proved he’s more than Frodo and his character portrayal in this film only secures that fact. Reminiscent of Quadrophenia, but with soccer/football fans as the gangs, what seems like pointless, overdone violence creates a gritty and barbaric atmosphere of testosterone gone berserk. I can’t condone the extreme violence, but I did understand the message of there being a time to stand up for yourself and a time to walk away. The final scenes, especially, should have anyone going “Yes!” Though many of the characters lacked depth, and the subplot was flawed and weak as water, and the gangs didn’t actually seem to care a hoot about the sports teams, the other message of needing to belong to a group shone through at the end too, when Elijah returned to New York. Well done, but cringe-worthily brutal in many places.