Archive for category Holiday Highlights
A while ago I posted about the difference between couchette cars and sleeping cars in Europe, mentioning that I wanted to compare that experience with the newly-introduced lie-flat sleeper buses in New Zealand. Well, I tried that, but the bus turned up hours late, it was not a sleeper bus because the only sleeper bus had had some water damage, I sat upright without sleeping all night and did not get the promised free onesie until I complained on Twitter, and the bus company has now gone out of business without any help from my hypothetical damning blog post.
The most obvious difference is that in the USA, you can take a five-day train journey and stay in the same country, whereas in Europe, I’ve only ever travelled for one day or night at a time. On European trains, you keep all your luggage either in the room with you or on a luggage rack elsewhere in the carriage, and carry it off yourself, which makes sense for a one-night trip. On Amtrak you can check in your larger luggage, and pick it up from a carousel at the end of your voyage.
I was travelling with Joey Marianer (you know, that guy who sings things I write sometimes!) and we were booked to take the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Portland, then the Empire Builder to Minneapolis.
Our train from San Diego to Los Angeles broke down, and then the new engine which had been brought into service to pull us along also broke down. We ended up getting off that train in San Juan Capistrano and waiting for a train to Los Angeles, from whence we took a bus to Bakersfield, and then a train to catch up with the night train we were originally scheduled to be on in Martinez, twelve hours later than we were scheduled to get on it. Our checked luggage made it to our destination despite all the changes of route, and I’m still not sure how.
Luckily, we had a few other JoCo Cruise sea monkeys with us for most of that part of the voyage, so we could commiserate together. I’ll comment on it more in the sections below. Compare them with the corresponding sections in the European couchette vs. sleeping cars post if you want more detail on both sides of the comparison.
There were no washbasins in the rooms, as there are on European trains, but there were basins and even showers, with provided towels and soap, at the ends of the carriages. It’s possible that European trains had showers as well, but I never noticed as I shower in the mornings but I always got off the train first thing. Unsurprisingly, they were the kind of shower that only runs for a minute or so each time you press the button, and rarely gets warm. Good enough to clean up when you really need to, but not pleasant.
During the day, we could either stay in our room or visit the observation car, where we had spectacular views of snowy landscapes. Photos from a moving vehicle don’t do it justice, so I captured an hour and a half of video:
Both the train and the replacement bus on the first day had tables, but the tables on the bus were too shaky to play card games on.
You’re not given any kind of welcome package on these trains. Given that people could be joining them at any time of day and staying for multiple days, and full evening meals, towels, etc. are provided throughout the journey anyway, such a gesture wouldn’t make too much sense. I’d have appreciated earplugs, though, and I like the newrest slippers from European sleepers as souvenirs.
While on European trains I’ve travelled alone and shared a four-to-six-bed room with strangers, occasionally lucking out with a room to myself, on Amtrak you book by the room, and fill it with whichever people you are travelling with. We booked a two-bed roomette — that’s two bunk beds, in a cabin just big enough for someone to stand next to the beds. There wouldn’t have been room to keep our suitcases in the room, but there was a slim cupboard where we could put some things. During the day, the top bunk was folded away and the bottom bunk was folded into two seats facing each other, with a fold-out table between them.
In terms of comfort and bed linen, the beds were closer those in the sleeper cars in European trains rather than a couchette. I’m told that the top bunk was more difficult to sleep on due to movement and noise.
On a European train, your ticket includes breakfast in bed just before you’re scheduled to get off the train, and perhaps a snack or drink when you board late in the evening. When you’ve booked sleeper cars on a multi-day Amtrak voyage, it includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner throughout the trip, in a scenic dining car. There are about five choices for the main course of each meal, and the choices were the same on both trains. You can have whichever meal you want, even with extra sides and toppings, and salad and dessert at dinner; only alcohol costs extra. This was a good way to ease into the real world after being on a cruise ship with unlimited included food — we just had to get used to having only one main course at each meal. Here’s a menu.
Passengers not in sleeper cars can also eat in the dining car, but they have to pay for their meals. We could go to breakfast at any time during a certain time window. Reservations are taken for lunch and dinner, with sleeper passengers getting first pick. Tables fit four people, and we were usually seated with other passengers, which often led to interesting conversations. On our first night, we were seated with a couple who had also endured the replacement train/bus debacle, so we had something to talk about.
On that note, for the first day of our trip, we were not on the sleeper train so did not have access to any of these nice meals. We got a partial refund for that. On one of the trains there were tea, coffee, and mini-muffins available for free, and on one there was an enterprising announcer trying to make more money out of our predicament:
The sea monkeys we were with shared some of their food (they were not taking a sleeper, so had packed food for their shorter journey), and another passenger shared her home-grown mandarins, in exchange for some ukulele music and IT help from Joey, as I recall. There were many friendly conversations. [Note: these experiences may not be available on your Amtrak sleeper train adventure.] We bought some food at the station in LA while waiting for the bus to Bakersfield.
I’ve now written almost 1200 words, mostly as an excuse to show you my one-and-a-half-hour-long video of scenery. Do look at the description of that video if you like the quality Josh Woodward soundtrack and want to know which songs they are. Also, check out my friend Joseph’s Patreon, as he not only makes music and stories but also provided some great hugs and conversation while we were changing trains in Portland.
If you are still interested in visiting New Zealand despite the lack of motorised beds, read up on some kiwi facts I made up, which were quite popular on Twitter.
At the Presidential Variety Show, and later the Open Mic Night, on JoCo Cruise Crazy 5, I recited my poem ‘They might not be giants.‘ Here’s a video from the Open Mic; pretend I said that ‘I was waiting for the shaking to stop’ was the name of my Taylor Swift cover band.
I brought along some locally-printed copies of this Len-Peralta-drawn poster of the poem, since I figured people would like them, and if they bought the ones on Zazzle they’d have to give a lot of extra money to Zazzle and the postal service.
The posters I printed are 11×17 inches (approximately A3) on 300gsm silk-coated stock, which is really quite fancy and sturdy. Quite a few people wanted them, which meant (since we’re not supposed to sell things while onboard, and I was mostly able to resist the urge to give them away) I had more fruity drinks and other items than I otherwise would have, plus some cash from sea monkeys I saw on land. But some people who wanted posters didn’t manage to catch me at the right time to get one. I have some posters left, which you can order from my Etsy store. (Note: when I wrote this post originally, I was temporarily in New Zealand, and it was economical for me to send posters to the US for a lowish price. That is no longer the case, so I have updated the post with a link to my Etsy store which has the correct postage from Austria.) If you’re in Europe, the combined price is slightly lower than from Zazzle while still giving me a bigger cut and getting you a better-quality poster. It is of course better value for both of us if you order more than one at a time, since the postage costs the same amount for multiple posters unless you’re ordering a ridiculous number of them. I’m not a warehouse full of elves, nor am I on my home turf at the moment (update: okay, now I am), so I can’t make any promises about how soon I will post posters after you order, but I’ll do my best. Feel free to order from Zazzle if you prefer elven reliability.
If you want me to sign it or write some kind of message or doodle in the small area or empty space, say so in the message to the vendor when you check out (update: I am not sure if there is a way to do that on Etsy, but contact me here, on twitter, on Etsy or something). Please note that I have not settled on an official famous-person-style autograph yet, so results may vary. Also, my doodles are the doodles of a poet, not those of Len Peralta, so don’t expect them to match the quality of the rest of the poster.
If I gave you a poster on the ship and you didn’t have anything to give in return, you can donate something:
Or you could lend some money on Kiva and join the Sea Monkey team I created yesterday. I don’t have a day job at the moment, so I am no longer promising to lend poster proceeds on Kiva before using them, but I probably will anyway as long as I have enough savings to live on.
Many other things also happened on JoCo Cruise Crazy, which I might summarise when I have time. I have a lot of video to upload when I eventually get home. For now, here’s The Future Soon a cappella and Jim Boggia’s cover of Paul McCartney’s ‘Junk’.
I visited the Vatican recently, and a friend was kind enough to put this song in my head beforehand:
After arriving early enough to get to the front of the line for Saint Peter’s Basilica fairly quickly, being turned away because of a weapon I’d brought from Geneva (no, not antimatter), coming back unarmed and being let through without waiting in the then-hours-long line because they noticed I had ‘problems’ (I had blisters. Also, I’m not very good at walking), and then being repeatedly offered paid guided tours to skip the line while I was going to the post office and generally chilling out, I decided to write a parody. Here it is; The Vatican Nag:
Half off gods that come in threes!
Twelve for ten on rosaries!
Fourteen euros ninety-nine
to skip the line, skip the line, skip the line!
Buy a stick to take a selfie.
Try a discount saved-from-hell fee.
Whatever your indulgence is,
they’ll upsell the whole Jesus
doing the Vatican Nag.
Get in line for that basilica?
Only clueless pilgrims will, a co-
lossal fee will leave you poor as a m-
onk enjoying guided tourism.
You don’t have to spend the day there.
Save the day and spend your pay there.
Two, four, six… great!
Ninety euros, skip the wait!
Half off gods that come in threes!
Twelve for ten on rosaries!
Fourteen euros ninety-nine
to skip the line, skip the line, skip the line!
Hawkers oft insisting crap’ll
put you off the Sistine Chapel.
Don’t Holy See ’em;
try the Colosseum.
Hide in your attic and
never do that again.
Out of the Vatican Nag!
I used some artistic license here, but a lot of it is true. There were plenty of people selling 12 one-euro rosaries for the price of ten, and the ‘skip the line’ tours were either €15 or €43 depending on the kind of tour. People selling selfie sticks, hats, cellphone chargers, and flat wooden things that magically transform into sets of bowls were all over Rome and the Vatican. I did not see anyone selling indulgences (‘saved-from-hell fees’), however. Also, it wasn’t all that annoying, really. But do see the Colosseum.
I thought about saying ‘then the cost’ll send you Pentecostal’ but I think that’s even worse than the lines I have. I also wanted to use ‘poperies’ in the first line, but since it would be indistinguishable from ‘pot pourris’ if anyone actually sang it, I decided to go with the holy three-for-one deal.
In other news, I’ve been reciting my poems at Open Phil, a great open mic night in Vienna hosted by the Phil half of Crazy for Jane. You can watch some of the performances on the online highlights reels, but to see the whole thing you really have to be there.
I recited a revised version of Ten Minutes a Day at the JoCo Cruise Crazy 4 open mic, because it’s about how to start doing the things you’re passionate about when you’re not in a position to literally quit your job like all these JoCo cruisers did. I introduced it with some quotes from John Hodgman from this video, which can be seen with more context in the JoCo Cruise Crazy 2 Q&A.
Here are the words I intended to say:
Ten minutes a day:
that’s all you need
to realise your dreams —
not as hard as it seems!
Ten minutes can always be freed.
Ten minutes a day,
a sixth of a clock,
to keep up your writing,
the forced march providing
the force to march through writers’ block.
Ten minutes a day
can’t be denied,
to read through your bookshelf
and castle your rook self,
with culture of kings by your side.
Ten minutes a day,
one day at a time.
To inch past the worst of it,
combat inertia that
nothing excuses, must try if it uses just
ten minutes a day.
Don’t you forget
to learn a new language:
word spread, grammar sandwich.
Ten minutes to keep your tongue wet.
Ten minutes a day,
not big amounts,
to work on your fitness;
don’t tire yourself witless,
but even a small workout counts.
Ten minutes a day,
on or offline
to maintain your friendships;
accept rain, and send drips,
as long as it’s something, it’s fine.
Ten minutes a day —
find it somehow!
Deny social network fun;
finally get work done.
You’ve got all these things to make, it’s really not hard to take
ten minutes a day.
That’s all you do.
To try meditation —
You have to take some time for you!
Ten minutes a day;
it doesn’t take long
to tidy a tight space,
put junk in the right place,
and live with things where they belong.
Ten minutes a day;
put down those chores
to teach well your baby;
remember that maybe
its life will be bigger than yours.
Ten minutes a day?
I can do that!
Grab life while I’m alive!
Did all the things, and I’ve
got what I’m leaping for now,
and I’m sleeping for
ten minutes a day.
That’s all I need. [yawn]
Night dreams are boring,
my real dreams are [sound of snoring]
The main change since the last version of this poem is that I replaced ‘if you’ve spread spores’ with ‘put down those chores’ and moved that stanza nearer the conflicting advice to tidy up, because in the end it’s all about conflicting advice. The ‘spores’ line always seemed like grhyme scraped off the bottom of a barrel anyway. Also, people might take offense at my likening parents to fungi (not that there’s anything wrong with fungi), and if they’re going to take offense at my views on reproduction, I’d rather they react to The Family Tradition.
I’d recited an earlier version of this at an open mic in Geneva, which went well: my stated goal for that performance was to make the audience yawn, and I succeeded. But I was nervous that people would think it was over when it wasn’t, so I started the last few lines while people were still laughing too loudly about the previous ones to hear me. It’s a good problem to have, I guess. So my goal on the cruise, aside from getting all the words right (I got six words wrong, but they weren’t the most important ones, and I don’t remember whether ‘sleep dreams’ instead of ‘night dreams’ was a mistake or a premeditated improvement) not hesitating or rushing too much, and not dropping entire lines or displaying as much high rising terminal as I did at the last JCCC open mic, was to wait until the laughter died down before continuing with the last few lines. I succeeded! Achievement unlocked: elementary stagecraft.
My dictionary says that ‘stagecraft’ doesn’t mean what I thought it meant, but I’m sticking with it because ‘stagecraft’ is only two letters away from ‘spacecraft’. It’s a pretty cool thing to have. On the subject of spacecraft, I highly recommend seeing Atlantis on display at Kennedy Space Center; the way they show it to you is great. I’ll put up my video of it later.
While practising the poem, I got pretty self-conscious about the corny/overwrought rhymes, and wondered whether it was worth wading through them to get to the laugh line. Oh well: stagecraft! Jack Conte from Pomplamoose was hosting the open mic, and I think he is made of stagecraft. Hank Green was also hosting, but he made it pretty clear that he is made mostly of quarks. Hank Green, we’re not so different, you and I.
A few people who heard this poem at open mic have told me they were inspired by it, and are making progress on various projects because of it, and that’s great. But when I wrote this it was out of frustration with the idea. It always takes more than ten minutes, and there are always other things to do in the day, and if I try to do more than a few of these ‘ten minute’ things there isn’t enough time for sleep. Maybe I need to be stricter about stopping when the time’s up no matter whether I feel like doing more or am still waiting for my nearly-five-year-old Mac Ayu to let me start. I put in the ‘teach well your baby’ stanza almost as a joke, because I’m amazed that people with children have time and energy to do anything else at all, and yet they are told to spend just that wafer-thin amount of extra time doing each of several conflicting things to raise their children better, as well as all the other things. If you really only have ten minutes a day for a child, consider spending them on contraception.
The spontaneous Mr. Creosote reference in the last paragraph made me think of this extra stanza:
Ten minutes a day:
it’s just wafer-thin!
To add to your total,
Conserve it, but don’t hold it in.
Which is kind of gross and kind of negative, but if you have something you want to create, and you just spew out whatever you can in ten minutes, it’s better than forgetting about it or using up mental energy fretting about forgetting it. If time is your nemesis, fight it with emesis.
My last post here said that JoCo Cruise Crazy would have a ball pit. Due to hygiene regulations, that ball pit became an imaginary ball pit, but there were still at least two real ball pits on the ship. The one I brought was sewn onto my pants for the annual Fancy Pants parade. Anyone who wanted to get into my ball pit would have to at least buy me dinner first.
I did, however, flash my balls at people occasionally:
Ultimately, giving such a ‘special show’ to the Monarch of the Seas, Queen Courtney, won me a trophy, and the title of Best In Terms of Pants. Here’s the video of the parade from my own camera (expertly wielded by Simcha, who also took his own videos of the cruise), showing my humble beginnings and triumphant return:
And here’s a video from an angle that shows the rest of the parade well. You can almost see that when Jonathan Coulton is walking around humming God Save the Queen, I flash my balls at him and make him laugh a little:
I thought I had some fancy pants, and now I know it’s true. I looked at all the fancy pants and held the trophy high:
Everybody cheered, but I swear by Coulton’s beard, that everybody had the best pants. For while it may not seem like it from the fact that I was wearing toys bought from a baby store and making jokes about balls, I am mature enough to understand that the key to happiness cannot be in supplanting someone else’s pants. Chances are you’re best in everybody’s pants. There were shiny pants, blinking pants, gumbo pants (I liked them, and he did put a ring in it), squid pants, wrong pants and right pants; you can see some of them up-close in Atom Moore’s gallery.
Some of the balls were less securely attached than others, causing a wardrobe malfunction whereby a few of my balls fell off during the parade. This was fun, because I could throw them to my adoring fans (of which I have none) in the hot tub at the end of the catwalk. It looks like they were thoroughly examined. I’m told the people in the tub chanted ‘ball pit pants!’ to correct Her Majesty’s proclamation of ‘balloon pants’. Off with their heads!
The fancy pants parade was followed immediately by a movie night, which was followed by a concert. As I made my way to the concert, I heard that somebody had already added ball pit pants to the life-sized Lego statue of Jonathan Coulton that brick artist and JoCo Cruise Crazy 4 performer Nathan Sawaya had unveiled earlier in the week and left in the game room to be embellished. I was honoured!
The guy who took that photo got a bit creative with the later shots.
Some people wondered how I made the pants, and some did assume I’d used balloons, due to the difficulty of attaching and transporting balls. But they are, in fact, balls. I started with some old jeans that were starting to fall apart. After searching for playpen balls in the toy sections of various stores without success, I finally found some at a store called Babywalz, and bought two hundred. They were for babies, and definitely not the crush-proof kind Randall Munroe recommended for adults. As such, they were made of a quite supple plastic that was easy to get a needle through, so I could sew them on. At first I only attached them with one stitch each, and these were probably the balls that fell off during the parade. We each got a single playpen ball in our swag bags when we boarded the ship, but those ones were harder than mine and wouldn’t have been easy to sew. The swag bags also contained the pants/squid/robot/monkey playing cards that the one pictured comes from; while this post is not technically part of Writing Cards and Letters, I couldn’t resist using such a card. The pants cards were designed by Katie Rice.
I used nearly a hundred balls to cover the front, outer sides, and back lower calves of my pants. I left the other parts ball-free so that I would be able to sit down, and wouldn’t have to splay my legs apart to make room for my balls, as I have little experience in that. On the backs of my legs I sewed some coloured foam circles I found in the craft section of a bookstore… not as many as I’d intended to sew, since I only remembered to do that on the night before flying out.
The balls were not crush-proof, but as Randall Munroe warned us, there still wasn’t really a way to compress them for transport. My pants filled that third of my suitcase that I usually struggle to fill without going over the weight limit. As I continued my vacation to Kennedy Space Center, Chicago (including Fermilab) and MarsCon, I accumulated more and more souvenirs, and my victorious balls got more and more crushed. I still showed the pants to a hot-tub full of dementites at MarsCon, though, and once again threw some balls in for playing.
The tutu was a birthday gift made by my mother; if you like it, and you live in New Zealand, you might be able to get your own. The ‘great tits’ T-shirt (entirely necessary to balance the inevitable ball jokes) was from an ornithological society which has since sold its domain name to a more lucrative enterprise.
The other ball pit was created by Christopher Badell (not pictured), one of my thirteen roommates in the Presidential Suite, and also the official sponsor (in the name of his company, Greater Than Games) of the imaginary ball pit. He brought a few hundred balls to float on the surface of our suite’s private hot tub, which were fun to play with on the only occasion I had spare time to sit in a hot tub. There may be video of that later from another of my roomies (or ‘suities’, I guess.) I added a few spare balls from my pants to that hot tub as well, making a total of three hot tubs graced by my balls.
My boss gave me a new car for Christmas, the very day that I got my new camera, which can take high-speed video. So it seemed natural to combine the two. The soundtrack is ‘A New Car’ from the album ‘Brontosaurus’ by Da Vinci’s Notebook. Paul and Storm (the comedy music duo formed from roughly half of Da Vinci’s Notebook) said they wouldn’t sue me for using it.
The new camera is a Canon PowerShot S100, in case you’re wondering. Most of setup at the beginning was shot with my Canon PowerShot G9 in time-lapse mode, and the rest is shot with the S100 at 240 frames per second, 320×240 pixels. The domino shot looks a bit dim because I tried to do it in natural light, since the flickering of fluorescent light is too noticeable at high speed. The rest was lit with a halogen lamp.
Practically everything went wrong during the making of this video. I learnt:
- Either my dominoes are bad quality (they were from the $2 shop), I’m terrible at setting them up, or dominoes in general are more difficult to set up in a line than one would think. I ended up putting them on their sides.
- Natural light after spending far too long setting up dominoes on a winter afternoon is not bright enough for high-speed video.
- I’m not as good at building houses of cards as I used to be. Or they don’t make playing cards like they used to.
- Natural light after spending far too long setting up dominoes and then spending far too long setting up playing cards on a winter afternoon is not bright enough for high-speed video.
- Halogen lamps don’t flicker at 50Hz.
- A container of glitter hit by a toy car goes a long way.
- When dealing with piles of shaving cream, always know where your towel is.
Maybe I should make a blooper video.
Edit: Oh, alright. I made a blooper video. It uses ‘Incompetent’s Lament‘ by Paul and Storm as the soundtrack, which contains the F word, so if you don’t want to hear it, just turn the sound off.
Last weekend I was on my way to a concert in Lausanne when I came across a building with a light show projected onto it. I stopped to film it in high resolution with my fancy new camera. Later I added appropriate music to the different scenes, to make it a bit more interesting. Here is the result:
Most of this music is explicitly released under a Creative Commons license, and most can be downloaded for free (there are links below), and most comes from artists who generally don’t mind people using their music and don’t have labels that are likely to sue me, but there are a few tracks I didn’t make 100% sure I was allowed to use, so I hope those artists don’t mind being included.
I tried to include as many different artists as possible so that people will discover someone new. The only ones I used twice are Jonathan Coulton (well, he only got a short bit at the beginning) Jonathan Mann (I planned from the beginning to use Penguins Having a Party, not suspecting that he’d written a song in which he said ‘building’ over and over, which is the perfect space-filler in a video of a building) and The Cow Exchange (I had many possibilities for the last song, but this one followed better musically from the one before it.)
I did this fairly quickly, to get it ready by Christmas, so most of the time I just searched my music library for keywords relating to a scene and picked the first song I found that seemed to fit. There may be better matches in songs which don’t happen to have the right keywords in the title, or which I don’t have yet, or which I ignored because I didn’t know what the artist’s or their label’s policy on reuse was.
You can get most of the songs for free, but I encourage you to support the artists if you can, and if you like what they do, of course. The songs are: Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, if only because it was an excuse to make a fort out of language books. Here is a video of my reading my poem Séjours linguistiques (originally titled ‘Discours inférieur’ in order to have a tenuous link to the playing card of the week.)
They’d look something like this, only with a real model, a real hairdresser, a real photographer, a real graphic designer, perhaps a makeup artist, and some mention of a brand.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if somebody else had already done this. I didn’t search, because I wanted to do it anyway. I had planned to wear a red bra over the top of the Superman T-shirt, but I forgot about it until a few hours after I posted this. Oh well; I remember Supergirl puts a bra on over the top of her clothes at one point in the movie, so it wouldn’t be so original for me to do it. Also, it probably would have looked terrible.
Completely unrelated, but important: don’t forget to watch the last ever space shuttle launch on NASA TV if you aren’t able to hold your breath for 20 minutes and fly alongside it, or can’t get to Florida in time.
Here is a video I made using some of my footage from the quiz show on the first JoCo Cruise Crazy, Jonathan Coulton’s first concert in Amsterdam and a tour of Gruyères I took in February, and a song about moustaches from an audio recording of a Jonathan Coulton concert. It explains my ulterior motive for wanting The Bearded One to come to Switzerland.
I had the idea for this during the tour, as soon as I heard about Chupia Barba, but I only got around to editing together the video today. I’m on holiday from work for the next two weeks, but with no particular travel plans, so I’m hoping to finish many of the creative projects I’ve started, and perhaps even post one every weekday. I’m going to put these posts into a ‘Holiday Highlights’ category, out of nostalgia for primary school when we always had to write a ‘Holiday Highlights’ story at the beginning of a new term. I promise they won’t all be about Jonathan Coulton, or beards.
If you do like Jonathan Coulton, though, you might like the videos I took of the other concerts I went to recently, in Bristol, Manchester and London. Also, booking for JoCo Cruise Crazy II is open, although not all the entertainers have been announced yet. It’s not going to Jamaica, so you really have no reason not to go. Here are some reasons to go from the aforementioned concert recordings.
If you prefer maths, and particularly overhyped constants such as pi, you might like that this video is 3:14:15 long.