Monday, March 31, 2008

At the Zoo

After two weeks of the busy spring break season, I have come up with the following helpful list for zoo visitors.

Be kind to your local zookeeper! Please:

1. Do not tap on the glass. No, actually it doesn't bother the animals, but it drives us CRAZY. And cleaning your fingerprints off the glass is the least rewarding part of this profession.

2. Remember that you are the ten thousandth person this weekend to ask me where the bathrooms are. I'm answering as patiently as humanly possible under the circumstances.

3. If I am holding a snake in my bare hands and talking to people in the public hallway, ask me if the snake is venomous. I need a good laugh.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Species-specific abilities

The other night at bedtime, I wanted to open a package of cookies without disturbing Rose, who was curled up on the couch in a way that was A, very cute, and B, very far from where I'd hear her snoring like a bulldozer while I was trying to fall asleep. So I turned the water on very loudly in the kitchen sink and opened the package right next to it so the noise of the running water would drown out the crackly food-wrapper sound.

In a flash, there were two pugs in the room with me. It is obviously not that easy to deceive their acute canine senses and the amazing animal mind.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The writing life

From this interview (with a writer named Lynn Viehl as well as many other things), basically my goal in life, except I hope not to have to get up into the double digits before I get my big break:
You started writing seriously in 1989, and you wrote some 22 unpublished novels in the decade before your big break. Have you since recycled some of that trash into something publishable?
I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve not written a single new word in the last nine years. Whenever my editor wants a book, I just open the trunk, dust off one of the old rejects, and send it in. Once you’ve hit the bestseller list, you can pretty much publish your grocery list. Speaking of bestsellers, do you want an advanced reading copy of my next novel, “Bread, Eggs and Milk”?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Reptile delinquents

This is a gang of juvenile leopard tortoises with stockings over them. Obviously they are getting ready to rob a bank. I managed to sneak up on them and snap a picture with my cell phone, to be used as evidence later.

OK, no, actually they are being shipped to California in a box, but that doesn't sound nearly as exciting.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Nice Cup of... oh you know. Again. (Part 3)

The West Coast legal department's shipment contained a box of Thin Mints. Having discovered the difference between the two versions of the peanut butter cookies, how could I not go out and find a local version of the Thin Mints? I owed it to society. Particularly because when I opened the box of Thin Mints and tried one, there was definitely something not right about it. It was not the cookie I remembered.

The two versions look different (West Coast on the left again, more dimpled), and have different textures (the West has more of a snap to it).

The West Coast version is again inferior. (Hooray!) Much less mint taste, for one thing. I think also less chocolate.

Oddly, despite all these differences, in this case the ingredients list are pretty much identical. I guess it's all in the execution.

The East Coast version, though, is still different from what I remember. It used to be perfectly smooth on top, not dimpled at all, and the chocolate was thicker. But it's OK that you can't go home again in this case because I don't care that much about Thin Mints anyway.

Monday, March 24, 2008

And speaking of Rock and Roll

This is not your father's rock song lyric quiz.

For some songs it only takes a particular word. And in some cases I failed to guess songs that I knew much better than others that I got right.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

And they wonder why music sales are down in this country

I just bought a CD from Japan. I now hold in my hands proof of something I have always believed: It is possible to sell CDs in wrapping that is easy to open.

I am a Luddite about all these links to YouTube that have taken over the whole Internet, but here is one of the songs on the CD.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

pugs with their chins down, etc.

Another example. They really have no shame.

In other news, when I hired the midday pugsitter, I told her not to bother trying to walk them, just to take them in the backyard and hang around, because Lilly would never go for a walk in the middle of the day. Well, apparently not only will Lilly go for a walk in the middle of the day with the dogwalker, she then will not go for a walk with me later the same day after dinner.

She does not appreciate me. This is why I had to get Rose.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Note from the dogwalker

Hi. The girls were pretty good today. Lilly rolled around in the grass a lot. Rose pooped out back and sneezed and snorted a lot.
In her note the first day, she said "They are very observant." We decided she must be referring that thing they do where they STARE at you relentlessly until you do something to serve or entertain them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

At the Zoo

I seem to be working full time at the zoo again. I didn't mention it here for a few days in the hope that I would wake up and it would all be a dream. But apparently it is not.

It is only another temporary job, fortunately, and I am hoping it will finally be the one that cures me of wanting to be in this business. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

People in glass houses

I have a friend, the author and journalist Beth Harpaz, whose name I shamelessly drop here in the hopes that people Googling her will find my blog and read it. She has spent the summer in Maine since she was a child. My mental image of Maine is that it's practically a third world country. (Sorry, Maine.) She sees it as some kind of paradise. I of course think that this is merely because she associates it with being on vacation and has it all tied up in her mind with romanticized memories of childhood. Anyway, she finds anything whatsoever connected to Maine fascinating. I always claim that she would find bird poop amazing as long as it was in Maine.

That is a kind of a long preface to the simple observation that apparently I am so fascinated by Japan that I will watch a entire fifteen minute TV show segment about how trash is separated and processed in Tokyo.

Do you think they'll do an episode on bird poop next? I can't wait!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Nice Cup of Milk and a Sit Down, part 2

(Continuing apologies to Nicey and Wifey.)

The original Girl Scout cookie plan was amended when a box of late birthday presents arrived from Wombatarama's West Coast legal office. This permitted the review of one more newfangled cookie (to come later, as we've got too many open boxes of cookies now) as well as a comparison taste test.

Girl Scout cookies are baked by two different companies. So along with our local box of Do-si-dos, we have a box of west coast Peanut Butter Sandwiches. They appear to use different recipes. The ingredient lists are different, and they look different. Do they taste different? Will this be yet another reason for me to bemoan not living in California, sitting by the pool under the palm tree in a t-shirt in March eating Peanut Butter Sandwiches with a glass of milk with a paper umbrella in it?

An interesting accidental experiment occurred at the start of the taste test. I got distracted and didn't realize that I was eating the West Coast cookie (the lighter one, on the left) when I meant to eat the East Coast one first. And at first I didn't know anything was wrong.

But when I tasted the East Coast cookie afterwards the difference was obvious. It's much richer in flavor and more peanutty. Going back to the West Coast one afterwards it's clear that the taste of that one is more dominated by sweet, and much less by peanut and fat.

This makes sense when you read the ingredients. The West Coast lists sugar first, before even flour, and shortening is above peanuts. (Everyone knows that ingredients are listed in order of quantity, right?) The East Coast cookie has the reverse proportion of both pairs, so less sugar and more peanut. It also uses peanut butter rather than peanuts, which I suppose might also matter.

Such a relief. It's nice for the East Coast to win out in the food department once in a while, although it doesn't really make up for the Japanese and Mexican. And the accidental experiment shows that if I did live in California I might not consciously realize what I was missing in the peanut butter cookie department. I might just eventually stop bothering to go look for them in cookie season after a couple of years without realizing exactly why I'd decided they weren't worth the effort. Which would probably be for the best, after all.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Gratuitous Capybaras

A reader of the Capybara Page sent this picture of capybaras in the wild.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

One thumb up

The Technical Staff demands that I report his opinion that there was 'nothing wrong' with the Lemon Cremes. But even he could tell that the east coast Do-si-dos were superior.

He had more to say but I told him to get his own dang blog.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Nice Cup of Milk and a Sit Down, part 1

(Apologies to Nicey and Wifey)

As a public service, this year I bought some newfangled kinds of Girl Scout cookies to report on, along with the usual "Do-si-dos" peanut butter sandwich. (I'm not going to talk about how good these are or you'll want some of mine, but more on these in part 2 of my report.)

Lemon Chalet Cremes: After repeated testing I am sorry to have to conclude that these are nasty. The "creme" is very odd. It tastes like nothing at first and then like lemon extract after a couple of seconds, which is disconcerting. The cookies themselves taste like nothing the whole time, and I am unmoved by the chalet and pine trees that are nicely embossed on them.

These are so bad that I took two out to jog my memory while I wrote this post, and only ate about 2/3 of one. I didn't want to finish the rest. This is very much not my usual approach to cookies.

"All Abouts": these are a plain cookie dipped in chocolate on one side. I hoped from the picture that this was dark chocolate, but instead it's that kind of thing the cookie companies call "fudge," which is neither particularly chocolately nor anything like fudge.

These were mostly inoffensive. I kept wanting to eat another, but I don't think that's because they were good. More that I kept waiting to feel like I'd eaten some chocolate.

Now, these cookies turn out to also need another sort of review, because they contain writing. They're embossed on the non-chocolate side with words embodying Girl Scout virtues, like "courage" and "confidence" and "fun."

It seems to me that some of them should say "out of touch with modern business methods." Because you still can't buy Girl Scout cookies on the Web. I read on their web site that troops aren't even allowed to do this on their own.

So, great. Girls are learning these business skills: having your parents sell things for you at work, and standing at a sales table in front of a grocery store all weekend. As far I can tell they're not even getting the nineteenth-century skill of selling door to door, because I've been working at home a lot over the past few years and no one has ever come to sell me any cookies.

And if they're really afraid that internet predators are going to stalk girls via cookie sales, I say: What better modern skill to teach than how to identify and avoid creepy people on the internet?

OK, I'm just cranky because it was so hard to find the danged cookies. A few more concrete remarks:

One way in which neither of these newfangled cookies is as good as Do-si-dos is the way they're packaged. Do-si-dos are wrapped in two rows, so you don't eat more than half a box at a time. In the other two, all the cookies are wrapped together. But I guess since they're not very good, there's not that much risk of eating the whole box at once.

Finally, it's odd that both contain partially hydrogenated shortening but are listed as having zero trans fat. Seems like someone's playing with the rules for rounding down here.

Well, that was disappointing. I'm going to go have some more Do-si-dos now to recover.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


This Asian water dragon at the Reptile House died on Monday. She was ancient, 19 years old, probably close to the maximum possible lifespan. We all thought she was sweet, because she was kind of blind and helpless and we had to hand-feed her earthworms behind the back of her former regular keeper who we didn't think spoiled her adequately.

No, she didn't have a name. That's something mammal people do. In fact reptile keepers often don't even use the English species name, but the Latin name instead. Sentimental fools.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The writing life

David Simon on "Homicide:"

I have to say, it was fictional. We did make some stuff up. I checked my WGA card and on the back it says I'm allowed to do that. My Baltimore newspaper guild membership card, long expired, would not have allowed it, but my WGA card seems to approve.

(From an interview about The Wire on Alan Sepinwall's blog.)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

pugs with their chins down

radiator pugs
Originally uploaded by chiwiri

Pugs always seem to want to rest their heads on something, even if it's another pug. The Technical Staff and I have often discussed the idea of starting a photo blog called

Some more candidates from flickr:

Another pug on a pug

Monday, March 10, 2008

Life lessons, fictional and otherwise

I am spending the morning reading about the last episode of The Wire on the web instead of working.

The theme of the triumph of the institution over the individual resonates a long way back for me. In my very first meaningful work experience, before I'd even graduated from high school, I learned the lesson that I've always thought of as "You should never love an institution because it can't love you back."

And yet, if you're the sort of person for whom meaningful work is crucial, who has to do a good job of something to feel like you exist, it's almost impossible not to repeatedly put yourself in the position where an institution can grind you down, break your heart and spit you out.

Someone remind me of this if the zoo ever calls about that job, OK?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The writing life

From The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee:

At his peak, he wrote maybe a hundred fortunes a month. The effort drained him. A decade into his soothsaying career, Lau because stymied by writer's block. He retired as their chief fortune cookie writer in 1995. "He told me it was the hardest job he ever got," said Derrick.

Also see the entertaining story here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Devil Bush in Japan

Devil Bush
Originally uploaded by pokoroto

Delegating the blogging: someone else's photo from Flickr.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The power of lowered expectations

Today's accomplishment: I managed to use one of those Borders checkout coupons before it expired.

Yeah, the book I was buying turned out to be already discounted so the coupon only applied to the chocolate rabbit. But I'm going to say it counts anyway.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The pen (or keyboard) is not mightier than the hungry pug dog

I am sorry to report that the pugs obviously do not read my blog. I still can't even take a deep breath late in the afternoon without causing a frenzy.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

General Announcement to Pug Dogs

You are never going to get dinner at 4:15, no matter how much you whine and dance. When I get up from the computer between 4 and 5 in the afternoon, you can assume that I am going to the bathroom, or making a cup of tea, or doing the laundry. I am not getting up to feed you, so it is a waste of energy to get hysterical.

Thank you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dangerous dogs

When I drive along Alaska Ave to the zoo in the morning I sometimes see a person walking two Irish wolfhounds. Now I've gotten used to it but the first few times, I almost drove off the road. It is an astonishing sight if you don't expect it. They are gigantic and there are two of them. Seriously, I can't believe that they don't cause all kinds of car accidents.

(Of course, I have the same problem with flowering trees in the spring. Nature is always trying to kill us one way or the other.)

Monday, March 3, 2008

What I learned...

while researching an article on effects of possible federal regulations on snake ownership:

Of the 4.8 million American households that have pet herps, 50 percent have a turtle, far more than any other type.

(According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturer's Association.)

I was surprised by this at first, because my feeling about turtles, especially aquatic ones, is that they're too much trouble to take care of unless I'm getting paid. But of course - it's because turtles are so cute that people probably don't even think of them as reptiles really.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Happy Belated Leap Day

Solomon Island leaf frog.

Wombat 1, Technology 0

Last night I set our newish DVD recorder to record two programs off the Japanese TV channel and they both worked.

Might this bode well for my propects of wrangling the blogging software?