Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Eileen vs the Volcano

So that big volcanic eruption in Chile a few days ago (here are some crazy pictures) created a massive ash cloud that's currently hovering over southern Australia and wreaking havoc on flight schedules. I was originally supposed to fly out today (tuesday the 14th) to Boston, hang out for a couple of days, and then fly on Friday night to Helsinki. That original flight was canceled and they couldn't get me a new one until Friday, so I scrapped that whole plan and will be going the other way around, via Singapore and onto Helsinki. (I will still be heading to New England after a few days in Helsinki)

Since I spent much of the day on hold with various airlines, I did catch up on my web surfing, in particular sports coverage- something that I used to be really into but I generally don't follow much anymore. There's been some excitement lately so here's what I've caught up on:

- Dallas Mavericks beat the Miami Heat to win the NBA finals. Yay! I've had a soft spot for Dirk ever since those pictures of him and Steve Nash wasted and posing with a fan circulated around this internet a few years ago. And the Mavs beat my two most hated teams, the Lakers and the Heat, en route to their championship, so good on them.

- The Bruins are going to be playing in Game 7 of the NHL finals, a sporting event that features two of my favorite things: the Stanley Cup, easily the coolest trophy in all of sports, and the Canadian national anthem. I have anthem envy; I admit it. Canada, your bacon is a sorry excuse for ham but "O Canada" was written to be belted out at a jammed-packed sporting arena. Sadly, due to my travel difficulties I will me watching Game 7 in my workplace cafeteria rather than at a beer soaked bar in Boston.

- Bill Simmons has started a new sports/pop culture blog called Grantland (it's named after a sportswriter, not a mythical place that torments academic scientists). I'm not feeling it. I guess I'm over Bill Simmons- I used to really enjoy his columns on the NBA, but his sexist attitude towards female sports fans (see this article as a prime example. Seriously??) sometimes makes me want to punch him in the face. While wearing my Celtics jersey dress. And yeah, his writing can be downright tiresome. Bill, so you like The Karate Kid, trips to Vegas, and the Wire? WE GET IT. As for some of the other names attached to Grantland, I've written about Dave Eggers before and overall I do love his writing, but maybe he should stick to novels and McSweeny's. I also like Chuck Klosterman. But Malcolm Gladwell? Don't even get me started. I read the Tipping Point and thought it was awful. He is my least favorite kind of non-fiction writer, an essayist who portrays his own ideas and theories as facts rather than opinions. He cherry picks examples to support these ideas and often uses correlative data to make causative arguments. The hard scientist in me just can't get past the inherent bias. So basically, I think the whole Grantland concept is stupid, but that's just my opinion.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Upcoming trip

I leave in a couple of days for a multinational, multipurpose trip. First I'll have a brief stay in Boston prior to heading to Helsinki, Finland for a work meeting and conference. My boss is on maternity leave so I'm filling in for her and will be presenting to a group of Very Important People who serve on the steering committee to a big Gates Foundation project our lab coordinates. Wish me luck! Also on the agenda are eating reindeer and herring and going to a Finnish sauna with the other conference goers, and activity that possibly involves seeing my colleagues naked.

After Helsinki, I'm off to Newport RI for a few days for Ern and Pat's wedding, yippeee!

And then it's another week and a half back in MA, catching up with friends and family before I fly back to Melbourne.

I'll do my best to post some updates along the way, so stay tuned here at DCoE.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Free music mix!

My friend Kelly organizes a music club that I participate in. By music club, I mean that we exchange mix CDs, not that we get together and play the recorder. We used to burn CDs and mail them, but for the latest round, we've gone high tech.

Here's a link to my mix if you're up for checking out some new music.
It downloads as a zipped folder. I tried to include a lot of Aussie bands I like, as they don't get much radio play in the US.
Get it soon, though, as the link will expire in a couple of weeks.


Warning: rant ahead

So, I've noticed a trend in the past several years, a trend that I'm not at all fond of. People no longer feel the need to respond to an invitation. And this bothers me.

I like organizing events and throwing parties, and despite my laissez-faire facade (whoa! I sense a theme: French terms commonly used in English), I am something of a compulsive planner. When planning an event, I don't need to have an exact number, but I do like to have a rough idea of how many people will be in attendance. I mean, there's a big difference between preparing a dinner party for 6 and setting up for cocktails and nibbles for 36. Back in the 2000s, we had Evite, but even by 2005 or so that was starting to lose its charm, and people stopped replying. And Facebook Events never really caught on- partly due to the horrible layout, and partly due to the fact that even to this day, not everyone uses Facebook. It's a good way to announce and event but no one feels the need to respond. Generally, when inviting people to something, I send out an email. How quaint. I've come to accept the fact that people generally don't respond to invitations anymore, and in some ways I blame the advent of the cell phone and other technologies. We used to have to be on time to meet someone at a designated meeting spot, otherwise we would never find each other. Now it's all "sorry 20 min late meet me at the bar on the corner thx!" I'm guilty of tardiness as well, so I'm certainly not pointing fingers.

However, not responding to an invitation is something I would never do. Sure, I get annoyed when someone doesn't answer yes or no to a group email about a Halloween party, but I get over it. Lately I've heard from a couple of friends that they've had to chase people down for a response to a wedding invitation. COME ON! Who doesn't respond to a wedding invitation?? Now that's just rude. Imagine my horror when I received an email a couple of weeks ago with something like "Just checking in because I never heard back, I know you're in Australia but are you coming to our wedding next weekend?"

Turns out that I wasn't going, but I had never received the invitation. (Damn you, international post!) And I was absolutely mortified that I was lumped in with the deadbeat non-responders. I always RSVP, even if with regrets.

In summary, if there's one courtesy I believe modern society should hold dear, it's the necessity to respond to an invitation, especially to a formal catered event. Even if you're a maybe, or might run late, at least provide a response. It's the polite thing to do.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Ode to convenience

As a city dweller, I've become a big fan of the corner store. Not those soulless chain 7-11s and Store 24s, mind you, but the little independent ones where the selection need not abide by corporate regulations and is therefore far more interesting. In Southie, I lived across the street from a convenience store known simply as The Hub, or as I like to call it "the most convenient convenience store." For a small shop, they stock pretty much anything one could ever want. In addition to the typical eggs, toilet paper, Gatorade, and other convenience store staples, they also sell booze and rent DVDs. Win! And you can even play Keno if you are so inclined. The staff were on the surly side but it added to the overall atmosphere.

Here in Fitzroy, my local corner store (generally called newsagents or milk bars in these parts) is more like a Building 19 version of a convenience store. I mean, look at that store front! I can't even figure out what the store's name is, so I just call it the Crazy Shop. It's fairly large for a convenience store and sells the standard fare plus any random item you may be seeking. A large tinfoil roasting pan? Check. An ashtray? Check. A "No Junk Mail" sticker for your mailbox? Check. Unfortunately, no alcohol sales or DVD rentals, but they do offer a dry cleaning service and sell tram passes, which almost makes up for it. I love the Crazy Shop and average a few visits a week, but I do avoid the food section, as many of the items look like they've been sitting on those shelves since the mid 1980s. The staff consists of three people: Young Guy, Middle-aged Guy Who Wears Suspenders, and Middle-aged Guy With a Bowl Haircut. Or so I thought. A few weeks ago Bowl Cut was wearing what was clearly a woman's blouse with a brooch. I went back to my apartment and expressed surprise that the man from the Crazy Shop was a transvestite. My flatmate's response? "That's a woman." Yikes!! I thought she was a man for an entire year. I kind of feel bad about it, but someone's in serious need of a makeover.