Archive for February 2006

28/Feb/2006 – Why are kittens so cute?   9 comments

Image of Jasper, a too-adorable kitten.

Image lovingly ripped off from Daily Kitten.
You’re not going to turn me in, are you?

Get 100% of your recommended daily allowance of kitty cat cuteness at http://dailykitten.com/

Link discovered in Lydia’s blogroll.

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Posted Tuesday, February 28, 2006 by Grant in Random

25/Feb/2006 – Interweb Wisdom   4 comments

 

    There’s an old proverb that says just about whatever you want it to.

 

Posted Saturday, February 25, 2006 by Grant in Random

Paris Vacation, Day 10   12 comments

La Tour Eiffel, return to Pittsburgh
The Eiffel Tower

A photo rememberance of our trip to the City of Lights.

Grant’s Flickr page

Sunday, October 24

This was our travel day. We had to leave Paris. The weather commiserated with our melancholy mood. Perhaps the grey sky and drizzle were for the better, since, if the day had been beautiful with couples cavorting in the sun and children running and laughing, leaving would have been more painful.

After our breakfast on Rue Cler we ambled over to La Tour Eiffel (the Eiffel Tower) to say au revoir. Walking a different route, we discovered something new on the Parc du Champs de Mars, a little park with a carousel and a band pavilion. After several visits to this park, Paris was still revealing herself to us, perhaps inviting us to return.

Too soon, we headed back to the hotel to check out and wait for our transfer to the airport. The rainy drive was drab. Once at the airport, as we went through security, it occurred to me that this process is the same whether one is beginning the trip or ending it. The feelings, however, are much different. Leaving is more somber. The line-ups seem to move more slowly, the other passengers seem surlier, and passing security seems more of a hassle.

Unfortunately, on the plane, my in-seat entertainment system croaked. It was apparently a Windows application, judging by the error message that popped up before it crashed. And “crashed” isn’t a word that one wants to associate with anything on a plane before take-off. I just hoped the cockpit systems ran on something other than Windows.

Lydia shared her screen and headphones with me. We watched Madagascar, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and most of March of the Penguins. I also read some of my book that I hadn’t touched in Paris, 10 Lb. Penalty by Dick Francis.

The transatlantic flight—eight hours and change—was quite comfortable. We arrived in Philly and waited for our connecting flight to Pittsburgh. While strolling through one of the airports, I noticed an ad for Rosetta Stone, software that helps one learn a new language… hmmm. Like French?

What was my impression of Paris?

The city is clean and safe, buzzing with the hustle and bustle of a big city with its distractions. There is a wonderful mix of the historical with the modern. The subway system is efficient. The food is, for the most part, outstanding. Even the mid-autumn weather is pleasant.

But, Paris is expensive, too. Though I never felt unsafe, even at night, every city has crime and I am sure Paris has its dodgy spots. There are frequent strikes, as well. Paris has the problems of other big cities, but none of the darker side was very visible while I was there.

What I am most drawn to—even still—is Paris’s vitality. It is a living city.

Read more about day 10 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 9 | Day 10

Posted Saturday, February 18, 2006 by Grant in Random

9/Feb/2006 – Today’s Honku   3 comments

Today’s Honku

See more honku here

Clip art image of an angry driver

Hey, dude, it’s rush hour!
Blocking traffic to drop off?
Oh, four-way flashers

Posted Thursday, February 9, 2006 by Grant in Random

7/Feb/2006 – Someone Can’t Count… updated   23 comments

Someone Can’t Count

And that someone is not I.

Image of a confusing error message

Update: Ernie, a Yahoo! Web Developer, posted an acknowledgement of this issue and a promise to fix it.

So much for not listening to me.

I hope that Ernie and the rest of the Y!360° team will accept my apologies.Smiley

I’m thinking… This crow might taste better with a nice red wine reduction…

Tried to change my blast. It didn’t take. I got an error.

Read the error message (here is a bigger one) and see if you can tell me what’s wrong.

Also note the inconsistent character limit messages: “Limit 180 characters” vs. “Your blast must be under 100 characters…”

I would advise Yahoo! to fix the broken stuff on Y360° before adding new features. I would, but they wouldn’t listen.

Posted Tuesday, February 7, 2006 by Grant in Random

Paris Vacation, Day 9   6 comments

Rue Cler, Basilique du Sacré Cœur, Montmartre, and Geocaching
Image of a woman getting a light from a stranger

This man patiently helps a woman light a cigarette that he has just given her.

Image of a street with people and Sacré Cœur in the distance

You can see Sacré Cœur peeking above the shop rooftops.

Image of two wome standing in a sun-lit park

A photographer and Lydia check out the Basilica.

Image of a man standing with a sketch pad

An artist examines the Basilica, which he is sketching.

Image of a scupture of male and female torsos

This sculpture adorns a grave in a cemetery that contains a geocache.

Image of some graffiti giving the impression of a painter and canvas

Even graffiti is artistic on Montmartre.

Grant’s Flickr page

Sunday, October 23

It was our last day to tour. Perhaps as a consolation, the weather was gorgeous. The air was cool and the sky was a perfect blue with a few white streaks. We slept in a little bit that morning and then headed over to Rue Cler for breakfast.

Before we got to our destination, however, the funniest thing happened. An old, haggard-looking woman stopped us. She asked if we spoke French, to which Lydia said, “a little.” She then asked us for a cigarette, which we could not supply, since neither of us smoke. With only the briefest visible disappointment, the woman went on to tell us how we could take the bus to a beautiful garden where, we learned, one could get a very nice hamburger.

In the middle of this tale of discovery (which Mr. Steves carelessly left out of his Paris travel guide,) an unsuspecting man passed. The woman interrupted herself to ask him for a smoke. He was far more likely to have one, since he had a lit cigarette between his lips. After a moment’s hesitation he began to dig into his coat pockets for the requested item. In the meantime, we were further enlightened on the beauty of this garden and the superior nature of the hamburger there to be had.

The man handed the cigarette to the woman and turned to leave, only to be halted again by her, this time with the request for a light. The expression on his face was priceless. Nonetheless, he did as bid. After the woman had her lit cigarette, the man asked, “Bon?” meaning, “Are you okay, now? Can I get you anything else?” Just one word, one syllable in fact, delivered a massive payload of Parisian sarcasm. Fantastic.

As far as I could see, though, it was all lost on the woman. She turned back to us as if her donor never had existed and urged us not to miss the unearthly wonder of flora and the life-changing miracle of seared ground beef that awaited us at the terminus of the specified bus route. We thanked her and continued on to breakfast. I tell you, the characters one meets in a city.

I guess it had been too early for much activity on Rue Cler last Sunday, because this morning, having arrived a little later, we found the joint a-jumpin’. We even had on-street entertainment. A gentleman was playing his 19th century mp3 player (actually, it was a crank organ that reads music from punch-cards.) The expected monkey was notably absent, however.

Breakfast was a croissant for each of us. I had mine with a café au lait. As we sat and ate and sipped, we watched the throng of people pass along this busy street. Before leaving for the day’s touring, we strolled the street ourselves, took pictures, and bought chocolate. Being thus encumbered suggested a pit stop back at the hotel to unload our booty.

From breakfast to the hotel, from there to the Metro, and off we were to Montmartre, the only real hill in Paris and site of the Basilique du Sacré Cœur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart). Though it looks it, the church is not old. It was completed in 1919, which is young by Paris standards. Being situated on the only hill in Paris, it has a spectacular view of the city spread out before it.

That meant lots of people and lots of pictures. For me, it included a monstrous hike up 300 and more steps to the dome of the basilica. Why? For more pictures, silly. Before my climb, however, we ventured behind the church to a quaint park, remarkably void of tourists considering the masses out front. Here we tracked down and found the first geocache of the day.

Following the find, I made my way to the bottom of the stairs that lead me up to the dome. I mounted the cramped, stone, spiral stairs, which turned endlessly upwards. I could hear the voices of other climbers both below and ahead of me, but saw no one until the top. There, I came to a door that opened to a catwalk out onto the roof, but I was not there, yet. More stairs, both up and down along the rooflines brought me to another door.

I headed through and into gloom again for a further ascent. Once to the top, I was in a narrow, curving walkway no more than a couple feet wide. On the right there was a stone wall and, to the left, a short ledge that separated me from open air. My thighs and lungs were screaming. The view was fantastic.

The walkway circled all the way around the base of the dome to a second staircase that lead down. As I poked along among the other tourists, I heard English from a few folks, obviously traveling together. It was British English, which, to my ear, sounds more pleasant than my bland North American variety.

As I stood to frame a shot, one of the ladies in the British contingent, standing beside me, asked a question (which I have forgotten) to someone in her party. Her companion didn’t know the answer, so I offered one. At first, I think they were surprised to discover that someone had understood them, finding out that their secret code had been broken. Then, I imagined them wondering to themselves what else I may have overheard.

What surprised me, however, was that the lady’s male companion, after hearing maybe two or three sentences from me, nailed me as Canadian. When I told him he was correct but that I now lived in Pittsburgh, he said, “Ah, a Steelers fan, then.” I was quite surprised, first at his perception and then at his awareness of facts from other places. After all, I couldn’t have told him squat about the sports teams of his hometown, let alone nail his birthplace from his accent. Experiencing this kind of encounter is among the reasons I love to travel.

While I was torturing myself with the “spiraling stairs of death,” both up and down, Lydia had hunted down the second cache. After our rejoining, we were off on a Rick Steves-guided walk of the hill-top community. Back in the day, when Montmartre was actually outside the city, artists and free thinkers called this area home. Or, at least, they visited often. (Picasso is one who comes to mind, but there were others.) Along the way, we had lunch (with wine, naturally) and found our third cache, this one in a cemetery. Here, we released a travel bug, (which, at last recollection, has made its way to Germany somewhere.)

The hilly terrain put me in mind of Pittsburgh, but just a little. Our meandering stroll took us back down the hill to the Moulin Rouge (Red Mill.) The famous cabaret is located at one end of a stretch called Pigalle (pronounced incorrectly by WW II service men as “Pig Alley”.) This is the red light district. We didn’t venture in.

Instead, we hopped on the Metro (you didn’t see that coming, did you?) and headed into the heart of Paris, Ile de la Cite, once again. We had hoped to locate the cache that we had started earlier in the week, but we couldn’t find it. Lydia, who bristles at having to log a “did not find,” expended a sizable effort on the hunt. In the end, we came to the conclusion that the cache had been either vandalized or moved.

On that somewhat disappointing note, we headed back to our hotel. Tomorrow we were to head back home.

Sometimes when one visits a place, by the end of the trip, one is glad to leave. Like the familiar expression, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Paris didn’t give me that feeling.

If I had the opportunity (and a better command of French,) I would have stayed. I would have just told the folks back home, “Sell everything and send a check.” Seriously, I could see myself living in Paris, at least for a while. I believe that Lydia feels this way, too.

Read more about day 9 on Lydia’s blog.

< Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 >

Posted Saturday, February 4, 2006 by Grant in Myself, Travel

Tagged with ,

02/Feb/2006 – The Steel City   5 comments

The Steel City

That’s “Black and Gold,” not “Black and Yellow”

Photo of Heinz Field on a quiet Sunday

Sunday January 8, 2006 — The Holy Shrine of the Steelers, Heinz Field, is quiet this Sunday. They played and beat the Bengals in Cincinnati to advance in the NFL playoffs.

Image close up of a big Primanti's sandwich

The menu at Primanti Brothers is pretty much just sandwiches — all the same (local Italian bread, fries, cole slaw and tomato with your choice of meat) — served on wax paper. No plates or cutlery. I don’t think one can say they have experienced Pittsburgh unless they have had a Primanti’s.

Image of Steeler-colored loofahs

You know you’re in Pittsburgh when… Walmart has Steeler-colored loofahs.

Image of two girls, one holding a terrible towel.

Photographer: “Two of the youngest Pittsburgh Steelers fans along Penn Avenue in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, PA last Saturday afternoon.”
Photo by btezra This photo is licensed Some rights reserved.

I’m not from around here.

I don’t have parents or grandparents living in Bloomfield or Upper St. Clair. They didn’t work at J&L Steel down on Second Avenue. I don’t speak Pittsburghese, but have come to understand it.

I’m a transplant.

But, having lived in Da ‘Burgh for a little more than six years, I think I can share an observation or two.

The Big Small Town

Because of the natural topology, Pittsburgh is geographically small. Two rivers and a hill hem in the downtown area, called the Triangle. The World Trade Center plaza would cover the whole Triangle. The rest of the city is built on the hillsides and occasional flat bits.

The people are friendly and the city is relatively safe. I have been known to complain about the traffic here, but only in relative terms. Pittsburgh’s beats D.C. or L.A. traffic by leaps and bounds. The cost of living and pace of life are a dream. The weather is temperate, which provides all four seasons mildly delivered (usually.)

There is a lot going on in the Steel City. Museums, science center, art galleries, theater, symphony, parks, the National Aviary, shopping (after a fashion — we have the only IKEA for 200 miles,) universities. With lots of outdoor activities, too.

Three major league sports teams call this city home. For real. Even though it’s small, all three teams play in Pittsburgh. You will find fans of the Pirates and even the Penguins, but always on top, are the Pittsburgh Steelers (pronounced correctly as “da Picksburg Stillers”.)

The Drinking Town with a Football Problem

I read an interesting article in The Seattle Times today, “A passion forged in the Steel City.”

A telling excerpt from the article:

“The other day, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a poll asking an intriguing question: ‘Which would you least rather have happen — the Steelers lose the Super Bowl or the Penguins [the struggling NHL franchise] leave town?’ It came back 50-50.”

The history of the game here is thick and runs deep in the hearts of folks. Once seen first-hand, one is bound to ask, “Why?” Is it because, in the day, a football scholarship might give a teenage boy the chance for a better life than working in the mills or mines? Maybe.

Truth is, I don’t know the reason for Pittsburgh’s football fervor. I just know it exists. And it is infectious.

Posted Thursday, February 2, 2006 by Grant in Random