Hang ten, world dudes!

Posted 22 May, 2008 by graham in Santa Monica, usa

We got the Santa Monica College course list today in the post. Page 76:

KIN PE 51A, Beginning Surfing (1 unit)
This class is designed to cover the fundamentals and technique of surfing.

KIN PE 51B, Intermediate Surfing (1 unit)
This class is designed to cover various intermediate techniques for surfing.

Note that for Intermediate Surfing you’re expected to bring your own wetsuit and surfboard. Class meets every Wednesday, 7am – 10am, in classroom code BEACH, by lifeguard tower #26.

Locals can get a grant to study this, and those units count towards your university degree. If you’re not a local, like me (and before you ask no I’m not signing up), it costs $195.
Now, if you divide the cost of the Iraq war ($1.2 trillion) by the population of the world (6.6 billion), you get $182. Assuming Santa Monica College is making a profit on the foreign student fees (which they are), then instead of the Iraq war we could have taught every human being on the planet to surf! Off the wall, Bro!

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Santa Monica

Posted 29 April, 2008 by graham in Santa Monica, usa

Santa Monica, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

We’ve moved to the beach, to Ocean Park, in Santa Monica.

As you may know, Santa Monica is the historic home of bodybuilding, skateboarding and Baywatch.
On the corner of our street is Euphoria Vegan Raw-volution, a massage studio and a yoga center. The local cafe has more tea than India, and advertises Ecstatic Ritual classes. Our landlord is an actor (a real one who actually acts). Neighbors cycle and walk (and skateboard and surf).
I love it.

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The future patter of little feet

Posted 26 April, 2008 by graham in junior

The future patter of little feet, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

We’re having a baby! Janette is four months along, and we found out today it’s a boy. On this ultrasound you can see the aforementioned little feet.
The mother reports the baby is big and wiggly. The doctor says he has all the parts a baby needs.
Now we just have to decide whether the birth should be in a hospital or a birthing center, a bed or in water, Lamaz or Bradley method, with a doctor or a midwife, assisted by a doola or a hypnotist, or like, totally hopped up on the best drugs private medical insurance can buy. At all life’s stages, the consumer is king.

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Exercising my Second Amendment right

Posted 12 February, 2008 by graham in usa

One of the great pleasures of travel is the perspective it provides.
In France children get sent home from school for wearing religious symbols, such as an Islamic headscarf. Religion is dangerous.
In England, only special units of the police are allowed firearms. Guns are dangerous.
Here in America it is illegal to import unpasteurized soft cheese. Cheese with flavor is dangerous. Guns, however are not. Oh no.

To celebrate Jeff’s birthday, we went to the San Gabriel Valley’s biggest indoor firing range, and got us some firearms. The vetting procedure is stringent – you need to bring a friend (the no-suicide rule), and you need to be over 12.
Once through that process, the fun begins. You select your gun, your target, and get shooting.

Our friends picked a Glock 9mm, a light. modern handgun popular with law enforcement. Jeff picked the Ruger Redhawk .44 Magnum, the largest and most powerful gun he could legally rent, which can only be described as a six shooter version of the gun Rambo pulls off the side of a helicopter in Rambo 2. I selected a Colt .45 with a rifle conversion kit and laser scope, featured on the left.
We also selected the most human shaped targets they had (and I can’t really justify that part). On the range you hang your target from a hook, use the powered winch to send it down to the other end, and blast away.

The laser scope and rifle kit made our gun very accurate, and almost took the fun out of it. We swapped with friends, and I got to fire the .44 Magnum. WOW! Despite the warnings, nothing could of prepared me for the noise, the recoil, and the flame that briefly seems to engulf the weapon when you fire. I can see why Dirty Harry liked it.

Afterwords we went to dinner, and chatted happily about what, in the United Kingdom, would of gotten us at least five years in jail. Vive le difference!

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Postcard from Homer, Alaska

Posted 22 January, 2008 by janette in Alaska

Graham and I first came to Homer in July 2005, when my best friend from kindergarten, Nancy, decided to move to Alaska. We drove with her all the way from California to Homer, a 3,600 mile road trip.

Homer is a town of two seasons. Life in summer revolves around the fishing industry and the “spit”, a thin, sandy peninsula that juts out of the southern end of town 4.5 miles into Kachemak Bay (pictured above). Brawls break out regularly at the Salty Dawg Saloon (left), and the locals try to make as much money from fishing and from the influx of tourists as they can, to see them through the slow winter. Tourists flock to see the migrating orcas and humpback whales, as well as to catch giant halibut and the plentiful salmon. While we were here, we joined the “spit rats”, people who camp out on the windy beach all summer and work the fishing or tourist trades. The sun rarely dips below the horizon, and the town’s population more than doubles.

I’ve finally been able to come back to see what Homer is like in the winter. I expected to spend half my time bracing myself against the elements, looking for ways to endure the long, frozen nights, and encountering only awkward, backwoods-types when we ventured into town. I think of northern winter days as short, grey, and drizzly, mostly because of the time we spent in London. For that reason, I had ruled out living anywhere further north, because I reckoned it would only get more miserable!

When my 8 year old travelling companion and I boarded the plane for Anchorage in Seattle, I noticed that people kept bumping into me, as if they were unused to sharing small spaces with other people. Eyes were shifty and flannel shirts were padded. “Oh no,” I thought, “here we go back in time.”

Our final leg, from Anchorage to Homer, was on a 10 seater plane. There was a snow storm, and the plane was delayed until we could get more than a mile visibility. We eventually disembarked into horizontally blowing snow. The plane had 3 very glum looking “Old Believers“, a Russian Orthodox sect. (I found out later they had just suffered a tragedy in their community.) The rest of the people joked and chatted away as if they’d known each other for years. But you could tell by their questions that they’d only just met. And we were as welcome as anyone to join in the fun.

This general camaraderie has lasted for 10 days now. I’m still not entirely used to strangers coming right and making friends with me for no apparent reason, but it’s certainly growing on me. Even the ones who believe they’re wanted by the CIA have their charm. I’ve also hung out with some great characters up here:

Nancy, my aformentioned best friend, who, despite her affinity for chaos, always seems to make a great life for herself. She has the most spectacular view, in a beautiful house that she rents for hardly anything.

Lilli, her daughter, whom I haven’t hung out with since she was a toddler, and thinks she’d quite like to live out her life in Homer, except for when she goes to Harvard. She has a friend named Charity, whom I liked from the beginning, when I overheard her retelling a funny scene from Spinal Tap. Lilli and her other friend, Anita, can’t get enough of the latest Hannah Montana CD.

Friday, an Iron Chef winner, who always matches his bandannas to his t-shirt, and makes amazing fortresses on the beach. He has taught his very clever dog, Karma, complex tricks, like fetching Lilli’s boots out of a pile of other shoes, or waiting until he snaps his fingers (not to be confused with his decoy clapping, yelling, or begging) to eat the dog biscuit that he’s balanced on her nose. Karma’s also great for hitching a lift on a sled.

Jamie, who chops all the wood to heat her little red cabin, and does awesome fire poi.

Laurie, who lives in the tiniest, cutest cabin and hauls all her own water. Her halibut tacos are delicious. She’s dating the butcher, Chad, who is teaching his 10 year old son, Blade (get it? the butcher’s son’s name is Blade?), how to pair food and wine. Blade told me about the importance of leaving a bit of steak in your mouth when you sip your wine, so the meat proteins can have their effect on the wine.

Michael, the musician and DJ with the a great long beard and considers himself on the run from the government. I met him when we were out to see a local band called Salem. (They put on a great show.)

I thought I might get bored during these long evenings, so I brought lots of books and my beloved computer. But it was pretty much nonstop action until Lilli and I got sick. We’ve been out to see the eagle lady feeding the eagles. We’ve been to the very cool cafe/bakery far too many times. We’ve been extreme tubing. We’ve had a bonfire when it was 0F outside. We’ve been to the snow-surrounded hot tub at the very end of the spit. We’ve had our pick of live music, with there being at least 3 choices every weekend night. We’ve reluctantly missed the karaoke. (I’ve lost my voice to this cold.) We’ve been sledding down the long hill beside the house. We’ve been cross-country skiing. We’ve been to the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival. And we’ve generally cooked up a storm.

And then there’s all the weather-related excitement, like spending 20 minutes yesterday trying to coax a 2-wheel drive Hyundai up a slushy steep driveway, and seeing how long I can stand 4F temperatures to get that shot of the sunrise.

So here I am at the end of day 10, sitting by the library fire, already knowing how much I’ll miss this place. It’s 28F outside, which no longer seems cold – I don’t even bother with a hat and gloves anymore. I have a sledding party and halibut tacos to look forward to this evening, before a long ride back to California. At least now I know that northern living can actually rock, as long as you avoid the grey, drizzly areas!

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Merry Christmas from Pasadena

Posted 31 December, 2007 by graham in usa

Santa’s jazz band, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

We’ve just spent Christmas in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles. The area we are staying is amazing – each street co-ordinates so each house on that street has the same parkway decorations. Ours are Xmas trees and presents (photo on Flickr). The local association co-ordinating it hands out awards for best overall decorations, best parkway decorations, and best religious decorations.
Christianity sits uneasily with political correctness here – officially everyone celebrates the ‘Holidays’, which includes the Jewish Hanukkah, the invented Kwanzaa, and why not the more ancient Dies Natalis Solis Invicti – but many Christians resent the atheistic-izing of what they perceive as their holiday.

Luckily, the shops don’t take sides, selling inflatable nativity scenes alongside this marvel, Santa’s Jazz Band. Each character stands about human height, the whole inflatable plays jazz music, and each festive musician lights up when his instrument is playing. Happy Holidays!

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Wine tasting in Sideways country

Posted 28 December, 2007 by graham in usa

Tre Anelli, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

With our friends Jim and Valerie we went wine tasting in early December around Los Olivos, North of Los Angeles. This is the area the film Sideways is in / about.
The wine is mostly Rhone varietals, which happens to be some of my favorite grapes.
The photo is of a very friendly bartender / wine consultant at the last wine tasting room we visited, before dinner. The wine here was much better than what I have tasted in Napa.

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Fremont street

Posted 17 December, 2007 by graham in usa

Fremont street 3, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

At the bottom of this picture is Fremont Street, Las Vegas, a pedestrianized street in downtown Vegas, where all the action used to be before the strip took over – now it’s less classy and more fun than the strip, with better odds.
Up there catching your eye is the biggest big screen on the planet, the central part of the Fremont Street Experience. Only in Vegas.

We spent one night in Vegas with fantastic friends we met on our trip in Africa – it’s great to be shown around by locals. Janette won loads of coins from a slot machine.

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A Grand Canyon and a bigger tear

Posted 16 December, 2007 by graham in usa

The Grand Canyon, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

The last stop on our South West leg was the Grand Canyon. It’s very, very Grand (in the French sense). When I first set eyes on it it took my breath away.
We hiked the 12 miles (~20 Km) round trip on the Bright Angel Trail (that took my breath away too, especially on the way back up!) to Plateau Point, near the Colorado River which carved the canyon. We passed Bighorn Sheep on the way down and Mule Deer on the way back up.
Grand Canyon National Park was sadly the last of our camping, so we made a big fire to burn all our wood, and had us a personal party involving posh s’mores and good beer.

The morning of the 2nd November 2007, 141 days, or 4 months and 19 days, after we set off from London for Uganda on the 14th of June, we packed our camping gear for the last time of our trip and drove down Route 66 to Las Vegas, feeling very lucky indeed.

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Big boy and Fat boy

Posted 13 December, 2007 by graham in usa

Big boy and Fat boy, originally uploaded by GrahamKing.

In New Mexico, between the artists’ towns of Santa Fe and Taos, we visited Los Alamos, home of the atom bomb.
The Manhattan Project was based here, where the first atom bomb was developed between 1941–1946. In the picture are replicas of Big Boy and Fat Boy, the bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, representing the successful outcome of the Manhattan Project.
Today the Los Alamos National Laboratory still controls most the the town and hills around it. There is a security checkpoint on the highway coming into town, and pretty much everyone in town works for the laboratory. This results in Los Alamos being the best educated community in New Mexico, and some great museums.
Aside from the Bradbury Science Museum, pictured, there is a museum about life during the Manhattan Project. The army forcefully acquired the land from a private school for teenage boys. Because a staff list would of shown a suspicious concentration of atomic scientists the staff were given new driving licenses with only numbers in them. This must of confused the local police, who were not told about the project.
Displays in the Bradbury museum wrestle between the bad of atomic weapons and the good of ending World War II (although the war ended in Europe in May 1945, three months before the bombs were dropped), but never convince themselves – the guilt they feel really comes through.
The laboratory is making great efforts to clean up the waste generated during the project and afterwards, and casually dumped before the dangers were well known. They also do lots of non-atomic science, and have some fantastic exhibits about radiation.

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