Archive for October, 2005

No animals were harmed during the writing of this post

October 23rd, 2005

It’s a very old tradition. Whenever a movie, or a TV show, had a scene involving a hurt animal, the end-credits included a message stating that no animals were hurt during the shooting of the movie. Never mind if the plot included some person actually hurting the animal, or if the scene just included some animal which was dead or wounded, this disclaimer was shown.

Personally I always found it somewhat ridiculous. It seemed quite natural to me that if a scene showed a horse slipping during a chase, and later on the horse was shot to take it out of its misery, no real horse got its legs broken and no real horse was actually shot. But apparently just because it makes sense to me doesn’t mean it makes sense to all viewers.

At least, I assume these things came about as a result of complaint by actual people who didn’t have a clue. Since getting all those complaints must have scared everyone’s legal departments, they must have felt they had to either put on those disclaimers, or put some of the complainers out of their own misery. And the second option (merit notwithstanding) was not exactly practical, or legal.

Some actually took it in good stride. I remember some TV series in the past using this as a source for jokes, claiming things like that no actual ants and flies were hurt during the filming (or maybe it was that flies were hurt, I’m not so sure). I recall once seeing a disclaimer that no actual unicorns were hurt, as well.

There was also a great joke in the computer adventure game The Secret of Monkey Island. After giving poisoned meat to a bunch of guard dogs (vicious piranha poodles, in this case. Yes, this was a crazy game), a message popped up stating that no animals were hurt during the making of the scene, and that the dogs are not dead but only sleeping. Or something to that effect, it’s been more than a few years since I played the game last.

I’ve gotten used to it, and while notifications that no animals were hurt are still appearing on movie credits, I tend to just ignore them. I assumed almost everybody else tended to just ignore them as well, and that this was just being added as lip service without anyone paying too much attention

I was wrong. Things have escalated. The simple days when some brain-dead people merely required being reassured that no animals were actually hurt are passed. After all, what’s to prevent a studio from actually killing and torturing those poor animals, and then telling everyone they didn’t? People need some protection from those conniving movie studios and lying TV execs. There has to be a way to make sure. Some supporting evidence, or maybe a third party that would monitor all scenes including animals. Someone who would give support to the claims that it’s all really faked… Right? Wrong. Err… right.

end credits message about how no animals were harmed, this time with a name of a group that can verify itPersonally, I was very very surprised to find this out. But here I was, taking a few extra seconds after this episode of House ended, and what do I see on the screen? A statement letting me know that no animal was harmed during the making of the episode (I’m not sure if they were referring to the few very quick seconds that were supposed to involve cockfights, or to the few very quick seconds showing a dead rat in a mousetrap). But this time with a twist. This is not just asserted by the studio, no.

The scenes were monitored by a third party. By no less than the American Humane Association. I think that these people have way too much time on their hands if they can do that. Seriously so. Does anyone really think it’s a good idea to spend time and money on this? To have someone monitor dead rats to make sure they’re not really rats, or not really dead? Or to have someone monitor a few chickens, to make sure they don’t get any actual chance to peck each other for a moment?

I think they, or rather whoever think these functions of them are necessary, should have some sense talked into them. Or knocked into them. Or maybe just to be put out of their misery. It would be the humane thing to do, after all. Just as long as no animals (no other animals, anyway, but let’s not go into the whole evolution issue now) are harmed in the process.

You call that a highway?!

October 17th, 2005

The US part of my trip started at Los Angeles, proceeded to San Diego, and ended in San Francisco. A few days were set aside for getting to San Francisco from San Diego, and for stops along the way.

We decided to take highway 1, going along the coast. The only real options seemed either 1 or the 101, with 1 being touted as a scenic route. Highway 1 also went near most of the places we wanted to stop at along the way, including Santa Barbara, Solvang (requiring a very small detour), Hearst Castle, Carmel, and Monterey.

I’ve been warned that the highways and freeways in the US are of a somewhat different scale than what I’m used to from around here. Driving on the 101, 405, and 5, I could certainly agree with that. Large wide roadswith a sometimes insanely high number of lanes. So when it became the time to get on the Highway 1, I was expecting more of the same.

And was in for quite a surprise. For the most part the thing looks like an upgraded dirt road, and even that would be a compliment. A single lane only in each direction, and for the most part the lanes touch each other just like in a regular inner-city street. Heck, most inner-city streets I know are wider than this so called highway.

We joined it a little north of LA, in exactly where the map showed the connection. And there were those signs on the side of the road showing that it’s California Highway 1. And still we spent the first part of the drive seriously worried we’re on the wrong road. The word highway carries with it some expectations of size and construction levels which were just not there.

I do not expect a highway to have just one narrow lane. I do not expect it to be pitch black at night without any lampposts. I do not expect to have cars going in the opposite direction using the same road. I certainly do not expect such a large number of simple junctions inside it, requiring frequent stops and a constant state of alert on my part for joining vehicles.

At many many points, without any apparent change in the road, there would be a sign stating “highway ends” (or was it “freeway ends” ? I’m not sure, but I think highway), followed by a junction, and a “highway begins” sign. Sometimes they didn’t bother with the signs, though. Maybe they know themselves that it’s not a real highway anyway.

And all those are what we got on even just the non-scenic parts, before we reached the shore area. Once it became scenic, a few more factors joined the list. Namely, having one border of the road consisting of the face of a cliff, and the other one consisting of a long drop.

The so called highway just goes on and on as a narrow (narrow lanes, and no space on the edges of the road at all, except for the occasional shoulder intended to allow a few cars to park. No safety margins at all during driving) mountain road. But it’s still a highway, so nobody thought to maybe lower the speed limit along it. They’re not entirely insane, though, so whenever there was a sharp turn (which is almost every turn, and which happened on average a lot more than even once every kilometre, this is a narrow mountain road after all) there was a sign lowering the speed limit just for it. Yep, that amounts to lots of speed signs, each very localized.

And the drivers used to the region, or maybe also drivers with a death wish, or just drivers who aren’t too bright, actually tried to go along at full speed. Not all of them, but more than just a few. So OK, it’s true that normally I never go accidentally out of my lane when driving. But I’m a lot more relaxed knowing that I could if I had to or if it happened, without either smashing my car into a rock or dropping it down a sheer cliff. I tend to drive more carefully under such conditions, and to avoid driving too fast.

A few other drivers did so as well. But plenty just went on speeding. There were a few times I stopped in one of the available points with wider road shoulders, just to release the road so these people could overtake me. One lane each direction, I did mention that, right?

Worse yet, those parts of the road were full of bicycle riders. By the dozens. A highway lane full of bicycle riders. Followed by cars that couldn’t quite overtake them because they only had one lane, and the road twisted too much for them to have a clear view into the opposite lane to know if it’s going to be free for long enough. You can imagine what that did to the traffic speed on that direction. Which was thankfully on the opposite from ours, so even while I drove slow I didn’t have to slow to the crawl of the speed of a cyclist on a narrow mountain ledge.

Keeping the best for last, there was just this one extra factor that really brought all this together to absoloute perfection. Fog. Lots and lots of fog. At points (Though the one advantage of being high, and not directly at sea-level, was that most of the fog stayed down) the road was foggy enough that it was almost impossible to see more than a few meters ahead. This was good since I couldn’t see the drop, but was very bad because there was a drop there and I couldn’t see where.

Mind you, we were purposefully taking this road because it’s the scenic route. Never mind that I was too concentrated on staying perfectly inside the lane to pay a lot of attention to the view all the time. But the scenic route was fogged all over. So we couldn’t see the scenery even when we tried, most of the time. There were a few points where we had a clear view, unhindered by fog, and the scenery is indeed beautiful and well worth seeing. But mostly it was just driving on a lousy, narrow road, taken especially so that we could see a view which wasn’t even visible.

Fun.

Israel – US bumper sticker

October 16th, 2005

As seen on a car in a parking in Hollywood. I agree, it’s not all that exciting, but I didn’t expect any Israel flags at all over there, and especially not one on a bumper sticker.

The owner is also not a visiting Israeli or anything of the sort, or the only one would have been the Israeli flag, and the US flag wouldn’t have been there.

Maybe an American Jew. Maybe a patriotic US citizen who sympathises with Israel. I don’t know. The driver wasn’t there to ask, and frankly I’m not sure I’d have approached just to ask about that anyway.

But it was nice to see that, just on a plain bumper sticker, out of the blue.

Employee Safety

October 16th, 2005

How do you decrease the chances that someone will enter your store to rob the cash register and the safe? That’s a hard question, which I suppose a lot of stores debate.

One (or actually, many) of the usual means are security. You can hire security guards. You can put visible cameras that potential robbers know will assist in catching them later. All sorts of mundane stuff like that.

This video rental store in Los Angeles (I think it was somewhere next to Sunset blvd.) used two different ideas

The first one is directed at small-time theft. They state that you’re not allowed to enter with bags or backpacks. People are less likely to swipe a few DVD boxes if they can’t quickly hide them. They put it on the same sign forbidding food and drink, which on the one hand are different things since they’re not related to theft but to store cleanliness, but on the other hand this is also meant to prevent damage to inventory so there are similarities.

We were inside for a few moments, browsing the collection, and we both carried bags. V might have even had a small backpack. Nobody mentioned anything, and they didn’t seem too troubled by us being inside violating that sign on the door.

The second one is directed towards robbery. A sign stating that employees do not have keys to the safe. It tells potential burglars that the money isn’t in a cash register but in a safe. And it also tells them that going inside and threatening the employees won’t do them any good, since they can’t open the safe.

Is it true? I don’t know. Someone who work there has to have keys to the safe, otherwise there’s no way to put money in it, or take money out of it. But for someone scoping businesses, trying to decide where to hit, this might serve as a pretty good deterrent. On the chance that it’s true, robbing the place would get only the profits from one day, or maybe not even that. It won’t prevent a robbery, but it would shift it to a different place, which from the store’s perspective is good enough.

I’m just a little surprised that an area heavy with tourists is such a risk for robberies. I don’t have any experience in the field whatsoever, but I’d have expected people to attempt and be more low-profile when robbing stores.

Automatic bathroom devices

October 16th, 2005

The things are starting to become more and more popular in public toilets here as well, but we’re not even close to what I saw in my US trip. During the entire three weeks of the trip, there were maybe only two places where the public restrooms included water taps with a handle that needed operating by hand, for example.

Practically every single device had those motion detectors, IR sensors, or whatever. You put your hand near the tap, water flows, you take it away and the water stops. You put your hand under the air drier and hot air blows, you take it away, and it stops. Or at least, that’s the theory.

One problem I always have with those devices is that a large percentage of them tend to ignore my existence. I’m not very vain, but if I actually put my hand in front of a sensor whose sole purpose is to detect hands, I fully expect that sensor to notice that it’s there. And often enough, they don’t. Requires a whole procedure of moving closer and further from the sensor, changing angles, trying movements in different speeds, and sometimes just leaving and going elsewhere. All things that would not have been required if I had something to push, rotate, pull, or otherwise operate using physical contact.

But it some restrooms in the US I encountered a different range of problems. This was with automatic toilets. Ones which are supposed to automatically detect when you’re leaving, and then flush by themselves. And no, I’m not talking about urinals, I’m talking about full fledged toilets. Which are much more complicated, since they should be able to notice when you leave the cell/room, and not just the immediate vicinity. Otherwise they may flush when you’re still there, and haven’t finished.

As happened to me more than once. Including a couple that flushed a few times while I was still sitting on them. Darn, that gave me a start the first time it happened. You want to flush when I’m standing in front of you, even though I’m not done yet, that’s fine. Annoying and stupid, but fine. But flushing while someone is still sitting there, that’s just mean.

And then there were those few places, only two of them I think, that took automation to a new level. There are two common methods for hand drying in those places, either hot air blowers, or paper dispensers (and those few rotating towel roll things, but there aren’t a lot of them, and they’re semantically like the paper except they get washed instead of thrown). Automatic air blowers are common even here, in addition to those that operate when you press a button.

But paper dispensers, the ones I saw, are always always manual. You have to grab a piece of paper and pull. If it’s a paper roll, you pull until you have enough and then you tear it. Simple enough really.

Those two places, they had automatic paper dispensers. I was stunned. I reached with my hand to grab the paper and pull, when all of a sudden the roll starts to rotate automatically and the paper slides out. I grabbed the paper, tore a piece, and as soon as my hand was away it stopped going out.

That’s so pointless that I’m speechless (apart from the small matter of me having all this to say about it, of course). You still have to grab the paper by hand, and to manually tear it on the serrated edge of the dispenser. So why spew out the paper automatically? What does it save? What’s the benefit? What problem is it supposed to solve?

LAPD, the United States Court House, and bail

October 12th, 2005

In the previous post we finished with the Japanese gardens in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, and started to head back to the car.

Along the way, us bunch of criminal came along to no less than the LAPD building. Naturally, none of us really care much about the LAPD, or their building. Could be some of them are doing a stellar job, I’m not saying anything against the LA police, just that police departments by definition are not that much of a tourist attraction, right? Generally speaking, if as a tourist you get to know the police too well, it’s a very strong indication you have a problem.

But in this case there was a different cause for excitement, mostly on account of V, my partener for the trip.

Any of you watches the TV series The Closer? If not, check it out, a really good police drama. Good scripts, except for the pilot episode that had a paper thin mystey. But it’s less a procedural, and more about the main character, Brenda, which is being excellently acted by Kyra Sedgwick. In any case, the series takes place in LA, where their made up Priority Murder investigation unit is located inside the LAPD building, and they show pictures of it sometimes on the series.

Surprisingly enough, in real life the building looks exactly like it does on the series. Amazing, eh? So, in any case, police be here. We didn’t wander inside, mind you.

And we got another fun legal experience on the way back. Actually, I can’t remember if it was in front of the LAPD building, or later on in front of the United States Court House.

Which is, regardless of whether it was there or not, a big big building. I mean, big. Scary to think how many judges, legal aids, and other people it can contain. Even if some of the space is reserved for actual courts.

It’s also very elegant. I guess they think justice should not only be done, but also should be seen. Although, of course, it’s been a long long time since law and justice referred to the exact same things. I mean, that’s what lawyers are for, right? Sometimes to keep the two as far apart as possible. OK, OK, not fair, lawyer jokes. But I’m allowed.

So what is the funny event that transpired there, you ask? When we were standing there (And thinking about it some more, this was at the LAPD building, not the court house. But hey, the court is nice, so I’ll leave the pictures and narrative here anyway) we got approached by some guy who gave each and every one of us a band/keychain. Taking a look at them, they each had printed on them, in large letters, a phone number for a bail bond company. A 1-800 number, even.

It was even more amusing for me, because we don’t really have that whole bail bond concept here. I mean, I think we must have something similar in concept, but you don’t really have those very visible companies offering those services of paying your bail money for you. It’s not a large business like it is in the states.

They put people to stand outside the big central police station, and give everyone a phone number for the company. So heck, if we’d have gotten arrested for our crimes , we’ll have an obvious source to turn to when trying to arrange bail. Ha, as if I’d ever do anything so small-scale that a sane judge would allow me to be released on bail. Dream on.

We told the guy we’re not getting arrested at the moment. And that we don’t really count on needing bail money any time soon. But he gave them anyway, saying his instructions were to give one to each and every person passing nearby. Cute.

Japanese tea gardens in Littly Tokyo, Los Angeles

October 12th, 2005

Yes, yes, I know, I’m not telling trip stories in order. This is about one week into the trip already, and is my first trip post. Life’s hard.

This post covers part of the tour of Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. Little Tokyo being the Japanese district. Interesting (OK, so it’s not very interesting) point, the chinese districts are often called Chinatown, so I wonder why the Japanese are not Japantown, or on the contrary how come the Chinese ones aren’t Little Beijing.

When we started in Little Tokyo we wandered around some plazas, looked at the stores, the restaurants, and the people. Actual Japanese looking people. And not only the employees at the stores. Meaning that this Little Tokyo is indeed used by the Japanese descended population, and isn’t just a tourist attraction.

Originally we were looking for the Japanese American National Museum (Which will be covered in a different post). After some time of wandering around we striked upon the Little Tokyo Visitor Center, where the nice people explained it was just down the street, and handed us maps of Littly Tokyo (photocopied papers of what was a hand-drawn maps, but still much better than nothing). In addition they had a large map of Little Tokyo on the office’s door, a map which was different than the smaller one and contain many other sites.

Sites of which the only one we decided interested us where two Japanese gardens. That’s right, not one, but two. So we decided we have some time before we have to get back to the hotel, and we’ll go compare the gardens.

One was inside a hotel, and the other was in the bombastic sounding Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. Thinking about it, we figured the one in the cultural center is bound to be more impressive and authentic, so off we went to go and see it.

On the way we passed a square having what claimed to be (No, we did not speak to it. Inanimate objects do not speak, and if they speak to you then you should go consult a psychiatric. There was a sign. ) a Japanese stone garden. Consisting of a raised platform with four (Or was it five? My memory is playing tricks on me…) large pieces of rocks. I saw better Japanese stone gardens in construction sites. Blah.

So onward we went, to see the magnificent garden. The best that the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center could provide. And let me tell you, we were not impressed. Small, I can understand. Though it was really small. But small is fine. Small wasn’t the problem. Being dry and half dead was the problem. There was a nice stream there, except no water flowed in it. Not a drop. Some of the flora was dry as well. We took a look around, but the sounds we made were more of disappointment and derision than of awe.

Especially considering that The James Irvine Garden, as this garden was called (I think after a guy named Irvine, just a hunch on my part), had a few plaques stating that it received some lofty award.

Mind you, it looks much better on the picture than in real life, but be aware that this picture pretty much includes the whole thing, and from an angle where you can’t see that the creek is totally dry

We thought there may be more, and decided to try entering the centre and asking. Well, we did enter, from the only visible door on the garden. Which got us into a corridor full of closed rooms, and one open room where a few old Japanese guys were playing some board game (Looked like chess, but I wasn’t looking closely. Could have just as well been Go or something else more stereotypical). The corridor ended in an elevator, and all without any signs, directions, or offices. At that point we became bright enough to realize we have nothing more to look for over there, and went out.

Onward (Two block back, and one to the side, but semantically speaking it’s onward, especially since it was the right side to get back to the car) we went, to the garden in the New Otani hotel. Opinions were divided on whether it would be even worse, since it’s just a hotel, or better, since it’s a hotel as so has funding and can’t afford to disappoint guests.

We went over, and saw just walls of the large and tall hotel building, no garden entrance. We entered, and asked the front desk (Or was that another employee of the hotel standing in the lobby? Darn, my poor memory, it has only been a few weeks). We got directed to… the elevator. Which had a button for the garden level. Just press the G button, like most other places have for Ground floor. It means Garden here. Very intuitive, eh?

And the elevator went… up. The garden is high up, on a roof of the building, with a view over the street and the rooftops of some smaller buildings nearby.

And it was much much prettier. And bigger. We wandered around a bit (just a bit, it was bigger, but not that big), took pictures, and left.

Of course, this was America, so we noticed the traditional peace and harmony of the garden are used on evenings for something as Japanese and peaceful as… a pub. Beer on the garden, people, yay! Mind you, this was not evening, and there was no beer. So we left the garden, and left Little Tokyo.

Back

October 9th, 2005

I have just returned from a long trip. Well, just three and a half weeks or so, but since I don’t realy travel that much, it’s very long for me. This one had a little bit of London, and a lot of California.

Various stories, events, and impressions (and a few pictures, probably) will appear here in the near, and not so near, future. But after that long an abscence, I’m not really counting on having a lot of time to post everything just yet.

So this post is just to say that… I’m back.