Trusting No One

“Is he turning he has to turn there are barricades why isn’t he signalling why isn’t he slowing down he’s going to crash into the barricades is he turning he has to turn he’s going to hit me I can’t stay here which way should I move is he turning HE HAS TO TURN!”

As the speeding pick-up truck bears down on me, what is going through my mind is a bona fide run-on paragraph, there being no time for even mental punctuation.   Continue reading

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Humble Pie

They don’t have Pepsi™.

Well, maybe that’s a little sweeping. In the spirit of Heinlein’s Fair Witnesses, let me amend that statement to reflect precisely what I saw or, more accurately, did not see.

In four weeks in the major cities of New Zealand and Australia, I did not see one can, bottle (glass or plastic), or soda fountain dispensing Pepsi™. Not in a restaurant. Not in a bar. Not in a full-service grocery or convenience store. Not in a vending machine.

I did not see even one ad for Pepsi™—no billboard, street sign, or TV spot—and I think that says it all.   Continue reading

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The Opposite of Familiarity

This morning I set off on a familiar walk, but with an unfamiliar task: participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count (whose rather loosey goosey rules allow said count to be done anywhere). Two miles in, I had seen the usual suspects (mourning doves, verdin, Anna’s hummingbirds, house finches, grackles, curve-billed thrashers) as well as a few occasional shows (red-tailed hawks, roadrunners). Good fun, if you like that sort of thing, and it turns out that I do.

As I paused at one corner, I thought I saw an American kestrel about a block away. Since I was observing birds for scientific purposes, I diverted from my planned route, trying to get close enough to confirm the identification without flushing the bird. Mission completed, I turned back to my main route, glancing idly at the irrigated field on my left. I almost fell off my walking shoes.   Continue reading

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Critters and ShamWows

Walking on St. Kilda’s Beach, outside Melbourne, I espy—amid the entirely pedestrian, albeit not at all ambulatory, pebbles and bits of shell—a slimy, crabby critter.  Using my camera’s zoom, I keep my distance while documenting the encounter.  Although it’s pretty surely dead, you never know what will jump up and suck your face off.

Critter on St. Kilda's Beach

And then another one, laid out a little differently—pretty surely the same type of critter, more surely dead, and, in any case, less well positioned for jumping up.  More confident, I move a little closer to inspect it: in this layout it is more jellyfish than crab.

Dead critter on St. Kilda's Beach

Yet this gelatinous mass does not seem exactly like the only other jellyfish I have seen on this trip, through the glass of an aquarium in Auckland.

Jellyfish in Auckland aquarium

Where is the delicate, diaphanous build that produced the grace in motion of the aquarium specimens?  Can these be the same type of critter?  I can see I’m going to need some professional confirmation of my tentative identification.   Continue reading

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The Poetry of Insomnia

And now for something mostly different: a mid-week post.  As I reconfigure my other website/blog, I am going back through its posts and linking them better to the topic now at hand:  advice for doing RFP responses (the better to promote my book on said topic) rather than the publishing journey. Where posts cannot be re-purposed, out they go. But there’s one that I can neither re-purpose, nor quite bring myself to let go. So – here’s a mid-week blast from my past: 03 September 2013.

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Flash of yellow breast
Stymies the novice birder:
Mystery bird flits.

What was that bird with the yellow belly outside the Big Guy’s study yesterday?

Fall storms delay play
As final round disappoints;
Watched balls will not fall.

Will Graham De Laet be happy with his third-place finish this week?

And why is haiku so much harder than it looks?   Continue reading

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Unusual

“Is that a tip?”

The speaker is the desk manager at our hotel in Rotorua, a seismically active area of New Zealand. Well, an area where the country’s ubiquitous seismic activity shows in the form of steam vents, geysers, acidic blue pools, and bubbling mud pots, not to mention an occasional eruption that changes the landscape’s topography.

Isabel Gibson's photos of Rotorua

But I digress. Unusual, I know.

I’m there to settle our account before we check out. I look at the bill for two glasses of wine and note the amount on the, umm, tip line that has, apparently baffled this guy. Is it a trick question?

“Yes,” I reply.

There is a short pause. He seems at a loss for what to say next, so I jump in. Unusual, I know.   Continue reading

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An Empirical Test Could Help

And, of course, you’ll see the water draining the other way.

Before our trip to New Zealand and Australia, several people primed us to watch for a counter-clockwise spin in the bathtub or toilet.

Coriolis effect, you know, they’d say.

And we’d nod knowledgeably, just as if we, too, invoked the Coriolis effect daily to explain phenomena. Like, you know, the tendency to traverse grocery-store aisles clockwise, at least when the main entry is on the left-hand side.

So. Did we see a counter-clockwise spin in the water as it drained or flushed? No.

Did we even look for a counter-clockwise spin? No.    Continue reading

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Say What?

And we’re coming up on the county symmetry, on the left.

As we boogie down the highway, our guide is narrating notable bits in our surroundings, as usual, and I am listening oh so carefully, also as usual. OK, my attention may have slipped just a bit. Huh? What was that about symmetry?

I am about to ask the Big Guy what I missed, when a graveyard comes into view. On the left.

Ah. Not ‘symmetry’ but ‘cimitry’ – what I would call a ‘seh-meh-ter-ee,’ enunciating every syllable.

For a mix of Americans, Canadians, New Zealanders, and Australians, we’ve done pretty well so far, bridging the inevitable communication gaps. Our everyday guides take the lead, substituting North American terminology for their own, apparently effortlessly. And so we travel in a bus, not a coach. We pass sheep and cattle ranches, not stations. We line up on the sidewalk, we don’t queue up on the pavement.

But, of course, as cemetery/cimitry/symmetry illustrates, terminology is only part of the problem: there’s the pronunciation too.   Continue reading

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What We Got Here

What we got here…is a failure to communicate.
Captain, Road Prison 36 in Cool Hand Luke

Another in a set of reflections on our recent trip to New Zealand and Australia.

We have lots of kinds of coffee.

He shouldn’t sound impatient, but he does, just a little. The ordering sequence has, evidently, not gone entirely to his expectation. Or to his liking, for that matter. I go back over it in my mind, to see where things went off the rails.

I’ll have a coffee. That’s the Big Guy. Me, I have sensibly ordered tea.

What kind of coffee? That’s the trainee, fingers hovering over his cash register’s keys, poised to make the selection.

Just a regular coffee. The Big Guy again, a little at a loss as to how to specify what he wants.

We have lots of kinds of coffee. The trainee doesn’t say it, but it’s clear that ‘regular’ is not one of those kinds.

Oh dear. Here we are, on only our second day in this not very foreign country, already annoying the locals by stumbling over the basics. I mean, we thought we spoke their language.   Continue reading

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