Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tanzania Preview, Part 2

As mentioned in the Part 1 post, the nights of June 3 and June 4 will be spent at Migunga Forest camp outside the village of Mto wa Mbu. Mto wa Mbu literally translates as "River of Mosquitos". The local chamber of commerce might want to consider a name change. After a morning game drive in Lake Manyara National Park on the morning of June 5, we depart Migunga Forest Camp for our second destination, Ngorongoro Crater. The world's largest intact volcanic caldera, Ngorongoro Crater is a highlight of our itinerary that we visit on two separate occasions. Our lodging for the first two night visit to this location will be Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, located on the eastern rim of the caldera with a virtually private road for accessing the caldera floor. It definitely appears to be a step up from Migunga Forest Camp, with full suites, restaurant, solarium, and pool. The nights of June 5 and 6 will be spent at Ngorongoro Sopa, with a full day game drive on the crater floor on June 6.

On the caldera floor we may encounter some of Africa's densest populations of large mammals, including the endangered black rhinoceros. Somewhere between 10 and 20 black rhinos inhabit Ngorongoro, and this likely represents are best chance to encounter one.

The crater is home to roughly 25,000 large mammals, including 7000 wildebeast, 4000 zebra, 4000 African buffalo, 3000 Grant's and Thomson's gazelles, and lesser numbers of eland, mountain reedbuck, elephants, lions, and hippos. The larger Ngorongoro Conservation Area is also home to Olduvai Gorge, one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world.

Olduvai Gorge

Vitelline Masked Weaver

Hildebrandt's Starling

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Expensive Weekend

I'm feeling very poor this evening. On Friday I purchased a ticket to Tanzania, which, at $2400, is by a factor of 4 the most expensive plane ticket I've ever purchased. But even though the trip is not until next June, I didn't feel I could wait and hope prices came down. For one thing, options for getting to Kilamanjaro airport in Tanzania are limited. The only U.S. carrier that flies there is Northwest/KLM, with only one flight a day from Amsterdam. Since I know the dates of travel, I pretty much have no option but to be on the June 2nd flight from Amsterdam. By waiting to purchase the ticket, I run the risk of prices rising, or worse, seats selling out.

Then to top off the weekend, I had to go car shopping today, which resulted in a new 2009 Mazda 3s hatchback in the driveway. My old Nissan, which I've owned for over 10 years, was still running fine, but at 181,000 miles was reaching the point where things were starting to fail. The air conditioning went out a month ago, it needed tires to pass inspection, I broke a wheel stud while rotating tires, it was about ready for brakes, etc. Since the registration was expiring at the end of August, I decided it was time for a new car. It sucks to have a car payment for the first time in six years, but I guess I really can't complain too much. I'm almost 42 years old and this is only the third car I've had to buy! If this one lasts as long as the last one, I'll be in the market for another new one somewhere around 2020.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Tanzania Preview, Part 1

I purchased an airline ticket today for my vacation next year - a 17 day safari through Tanzania arranged by my undergraduate mentor, Dr. Vin Lawrence. To ease the pain of shelling out that much money (the airfare had gone up almost $600 since I last checked a month and a half ago!), I thought I'd write about the trip to get me excited again. So, this is the first of a series of posts previewing the various spots we will be visiting on Safari. I leave Washington Dulles aboard Northwest Airlines at 5:35 pm on June 1, arriving in Amsterdam at 7:20 am on June 2. After meeting up with the rest of the group, we depart Amsterdam aboard KLM airlines at 10:30 am, arriving in Kilamanjaro, Tanzania at 7:55 pm. A total of sixteen and a half hours flying time, with a 3 hour layover. Upon arrival we transfer to the Klub Afriko Hotel (actually a series of 7 bungalows) outside the town of Arusha. On our first full day, we travel to Lake Manyara National Park for two nights at the "rustic" Migunga Forest Camp. Lake Manyara lies at the base of the Rift Valley Escarpment in Northern Tanzania. Smallish in size, Lake Manyara NP covers only 127 square miles, about two-thirds of which are the lake itself. The rest of the park is comprised of ground water forest, acacia woodlands, open grassland, and lake shore habitats. The name Manyara comes from the Maasai word for the plant Euphorbia tirucalli, which is used by the Maasai to construct living fences for livestock enclosures. Lake Manyara NP is best known for its baboon troops, and as one of only two places in the world with a population of "tree climbing lions". The lions of Manyara are well know for their ability to climb and slumber in the acacia trees around the lake.

Tree Climbing Lions in Lake Manyara NP.

The park is also home to hippos, elephants, buffalo, impala, warthogs, and giraffes, and over 380 species of birds have been recorded within the park.

Hippos in Lake Manyara

Woodland Kingfisher, Lake Manyara

Southern Ground Hornbill, Lake Manyara NP

Giraffes, Lake Manyara NP

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Golden Girls

Getty Images

Last night the women's beach volleyball team of Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh claimed their second consecutive Olympic gold medal. They dominated their opponents and never lost a set throughout the tournament. I'm sure my salute to Misty in this space a couple of weeks ago provided the final bit of inspiration they needed to capture the gold. I mean, this blog has had forty hits, I'm sure one of those must have been Misty or Kerri, right? Anyway, congratulations Misty and Kerri for once again standing up and showing the rest of the world that, without a doubt, our tall hot chicks are better than their tall hot chicks.

Getty Images

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Saturday Evening

Went to a concert Saturday night at Nissan Pavilion, an outdoor venue located off I-66 about 20 miles west of D.C. I primarily went to see Counting Crows, but the show was a co-headline show with Maroon 5 and Counting Crows, with Sarah Bareilles opening. Sarah Bareilles was pleasant enough - strong voice, and piano-driven pop in the vein of Ben Folds, though since she's female and plays piano, she gets compared a lot to Fiona Apple. She's more melodic than Fiona though. Not to say that Fiona is not melodic, just that her melodies can get rather...complex.

Sarah Bareilles and Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz at Nissan Pavilion

If you had asked me to name a Maroon 5 song prior to the show, I would not have been able to. I was sure I had heard songs of theirs, but I never paid attention to them. Probably still won't pay attention to them, but I did recognize about four of the songs they played. Maroon 5 is the type of band that teenage girls graduate to when they've outgrown Miley Cyrus and the boy-band du jour. And there were many screaming females in the audience, singing along to every song. Some thoughts on M5:
1) They are most listenable when they're adopting a kind of 70's funk groove, such as on the songs "Harder to Breathe" and "Wake-up Call"
2) Lead singer Adam Levine looked disturblingly like actor Seth Green onstage
3) On some songs (e.g. Sunday Morning), I thought I was listening to 90's British singer Jamiroquai

Maroon 5 at Nissan Pavilion, 8/16/08

Counting Crows took the stage and opened with "Rain King", but halfway through the song singer Adam Duritz wandered into the middle of "Mr. Jones", prompting the lady sitting next to me to wonder just how stoned he was. We finally concluded the excursion was planned, as he eventually made his way back to "Rain King" and finished the song. The first few songs suffered from sound problems that made it difficult to hear the vocals, which was not helped by the fact that Duritz's vocal range falls squarely into the sonic range of the guitars. Those issues seemed to be worked out, though, and he was in fine vocal form the rest of the night. He also showed no signs of the ankle injury he suffered on stage a few weeks ago, which caused the band to play semi-acoustic versions of their set at several recent shows. The crows were joined onstage at one point by Sarah Bareilles and a bunch of kids for the song "Hangin' Around". I didn't keep track of a set list, but since this is a co-headline tour, sets were a bit shorter than you expect with a single headline act.

Counting Crows Singer Adam Duritz, Nissan Pavilion, 8/16/08

Counting Crows performing "Long December", Nissan Pavilion, 8/16/08

Friday, August 15, 2008

Music at Your Computer

I work out of a home office, so there is no one for me to bother by playing music while I work. Commercial radio is not an option, as it's too corporate, too repetitive, and I only like about 1 out of 5 songs that get played on any individual station. Listening to music on your computer you really have two options - you can download songs, or you can stream music. With downloading you have the songs to transfer to mp3 players or cd, while with streaming you don't. Of course downloading (at least legal downloading) usually costs money. I do download songs, but when I'm sitting at my computer I usually listen to streaming music. There are two basic approaches to streaming: sites like where you choose music to add to your library, and then play that library (or you can listen to other users libraries); and sites such as where there are thousands of preset stations arranged by music, artist, or theme, each with their own library. The diversity of music on Live365 is astounding. Feel like listening to some neo-soul? Live365 has 42 stations of it. Japanese pop? A full 24 stations of it on Live365. Miss those old 1970's commercials for Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute? Check out the station called Mostly PanFlute. There is even a station playing the best porn soundtracks of the 1970's. Boom chicka wow-wow. Live365 gives you a "player" that allows you to browse stations, and also save your favorites using a standard radio "preset" button interface. My presets include "Buffy and Angel Radio MP3", which includes over 600 songs and pieces of music used in the Buffy the Vampire slayer and Angel TV series, and Zappa Radio, which is all Frank Zappa, all the time. If you can't find something you like on Live365, you're not trying very hard.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Must See TV!

Coming August 26 a television event you will not want to miss. Call off work, keep the kids home from school. Fire up the TIVO, and buy a second TIVO just in case the first one breaks! The well-respected Biography channel presents the biography of....(extreme musical flourish)....Buffy the Vampire Slayer! I'm not kidding. Showing at 10 am and 4 pm. If you don't have the Biography Channel, call your cable company now! From the website:
Writer Joss Whedon's story of a high-school cheerleader who battles the undead suffers a lackluster debut as a movie, but resurfaces as a hit TV series. Includes interviews with Whedon and star Sarah Michelle Gellar, who came to the show as a 17-year-old soap-opera actress.

The cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at a March 2008 reunion.

A Peaceful Day at the Beach

So when a friend first showed me this pic, I said "BS. That's photoshopped." Apparently I was wrong. This is the approach to the airport in St. Maarten. Absolutely crazy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Separated at Birth

Photo from

Wow - this explains so much! I knew I was never attracted to Sarah Jessica Parker, but I might have watched Sex and the City if I knew it starred Iggy!

How to Tell If You Are Mom's Favorite.....

More Music....

And now more music from artists outside the mainstream who (according to me) deserve wider recognition. Sarah Bettens is an indie rocker/singer/songwriter from Belgium, who together with her brother Gert formed the 1990's band K's Choice. Commercial success largely eluded the group over the course of four albums released between 1993 and 2000, though they did make one memorable appearance in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer performing their song "Virgin State of Mind". K's choice disbanded after their 4th album, with the Bettens siblings moving on to pursue solo careers. Sarah has released three solo albums, the most recent, "Shine", in 2007. With her characteristic smoky, husky voice, Sarah has spent much of the last few years performing small acoustic shows.

Below you can check out K's Choice in the video for "Mr. Freeze" off their 1995 album Paradise In Me, and Sarah doing an acoustic version of "The Soldier Song" off her 2007 release Shine. Learn more at

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Have You Been "Rickrolled" Today?

So what the hell is "rickrolling"? Well, according to Wikipedia it is a bait and switch where the reader clicks on a link that they think is relevant to the topic at hand, but instead leads to the video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up". I'd never heard of the term before this evening, but find the concept kind of funny. I think we've just found it's next logical extension.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Socially Redeeming Post

Ok, since my last post had no socially redeeming value other than publicizing beach volleyball players' butts, I thought I'd quickly follow that up with a post that DOES promote some good in the world. One of my favorite charitable organizations needs help. THIS DOES NOT INVOLVE GIVING MONEY! is an organization that allows individuals to make small-business loans directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Through their website you can browse proposals and choose the exact person you want your money to go to. And Kiva allows you to follow the progress of the individual in paying back the loan to Kiva. Once the loan is paid back, you can direct the same money to another loan. It is really a neat system. You can find out more at

Anyway, to the issue at hand - Kiva is trying to win an award of $1.5 million from the American Express Members Project, which awards money to deserving organizations as selected by American Express Cardmembers. But you do not have to be a cardmember to participate here! Just go to:
If you have an online account with AMEX, just login, if not you can login through the guest login button. You should be on the KIVA Loans That Change Lives page, if not you can get there by typing Kiva in the keyword search box. Once on the Kiva page, just hit the "Nominate This Project" button. At the end of September AMEX will award 2.5 million dollars to the top 5 projects, with the #1 project getting 1.5 million of the money.

Saluting the Olympics

Once every four years, the best athletes the world has to offer come together for three weeks of harmony and cutthroat competition. As a patriotic American sports fan, I feel it is my duty to pay tribute to the the hard working men and women currently representing our country in Beijing. The problem is that there are over 500 athletes representing the U.S., so I can't possibly thank them all individually here in the limited space of this blog. Perhaps I can have one person to serve as a surrogate for all U.S. athletes. But who to choose? Should I select a well-known professional athlete such as basketball team member Kobe Bryant? Or an unkown such as badminton (seriously?!) player Mesinee Mangkalakiri (who apparently is so unkown that the official U.S. Olympic Team website doesn't even have a picture of her). Obviously with so many choices, the fairest thing to do is employ a totally random selection process to select an athlete to carry my thanks to the rest of the team.

And so, without further ado, the totally randomly selected athlete is.....beach vollyball player Misty May-Treanor! I salute you Misty for representing our country against the best beach volleyball players those damn foreigners can come up with. I salute you for the intensive training you endure, and your dedication to a vocation where you must wear swimsuits every day. As part of my support, I promise to follow your progress in Beijing very closely. I will salute you by watching every match, perhaps even TIVOing them so I can salute you over and over again. I may even salute your partner, Kerri Walsh, once or twice.

So thank you Misty May-Treanor. You make me proud to be an American.

Misty May-Treanor - American Patriot

Friday, August 8, 2008

Music of the Day

Two sad songs I want to bring to your attention today. One is an incredibly beautiful ballad, the other a pretty darn good rock song that only gets depressing if you pay attention to the lyrics.

First the ballad: "Almost Lover" by A Fine Frenzy. With a name like A Fine Frenzy, you'd think you might be listening to an indie rock quartet, maybe even an Emo band. But no, A Fine Frenzy is actually 22 year old Alison Sudol. Her debut album One Cell in the Sea has been out for just over a year, but I had never come across her until last week. Piano-driven melodic melancholia is an apt description for some of her songs, including "Almost Lover". But even the majority of the sad songs I find to be strangely uplifting at the same time. Melancholy lyrics set to an upbeat piano melody. Listening to songs on the album such as "Think of You", "Ashes and Wine", and "Almost Lover", you can't help but think that there is someone out there who has done this girl some serious wrong in her life. One commenter on "Almost Lover" had the following to say:

"One day I will find the man who inspired her to write this song.
Shake his hand for introducing such a fine piece of musical art into this world.
And then kick the living shit out of him for breaking her heart."

Yep, I think I agree with that. Here is Alison performing "Almost Lover" on VH1 .

The second song is "Cowboys" by Counting Crows, which for my money is the best song Counting Crows have released in years. When I first heard the song, I assumed it was expressing the frustrations of a man whose life had not turned out the way he planned "This is a list of things I should have been but I'm not; This is a list of things I should have seen but I'm not seeing". On repeated listenings I realized that it is definitely darker than that - it is a man on the verge of acting out on the perceived wrongs he has suffered; who feels insignificant and beaten down, and unnoticed by everyone- especially the woman he is obsessed with.

"The look in your eyes
As his fingertips slid down your neck and made you shiver
I'm just turning away from where I should have been
Because I am not anything, oh, anything, oh"

"You look at me, so please won't you look at me?
'Cause I'm not seeing you look at me
Oh, I will make you look at me
Or I am not anything, oh, anything, no, no, no, no"

Still a rocking song though!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Illusions of Age

Every year I go back to my undergrad alma-mater, Washington & Jefferson College, and participate in a children's play written and directed by my friend Dan Shaw. The play is presented by the college as part of their annual summer Children's Festival. I've known Dan for over 20 years, going back to my college theater days when I spent many, many hours working with him building sets, stage-managing shows, and just hanging out. So being part of his summer Children's Show kind of gives me a chance to revisit my college theater days, and I come away from the show feeling rejuvenated, energized, and recognizing how much I miss doing theater. The bulk of the cast is generally comprised of recent college grads - though I view them as peers, they have tended to view me as the outsider. And not just any outsider - I am a single guy in his 40's. Ack. It's a strange thing - it doesn't seem that long ago to me that I was in the place they are now, recent graduates, looking for jobs, planning for the future. But I guess when you are in your mid-20's, being 40 seems like a lifetime away. I think that maybe some of that outsider status has gone away this year - I've now had multiple shows with the current cast group, and have had other opportunities to interact with them on a social basis, and I am pleased with this because they are a great group of folks, and my list of friends within driving distance of Washington D.C. is not large. But I was reminded this evening that my outsider status will never totally go away. 40 year olds just aren't allowed to join in on certain jokes of 20 year olds. I've never had to segregate friends by age before. It has me depressed.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Kim Evey is funny!

Ok, since I pushed "The Guild" in the last post, I'd be remiss if I did not give a shout-out to the The Guild's producer, Kim Evey, who has two other web series that I find hilarious. Kim writes, produces, and stars in "Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show" and "2 Hot Girls in the Shower", which, well lets face it, is probably the best show name of all time. I admit that the comedy in these shows may not appeal to everyone. Comments on the "Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine" Hulu page run the gamut from:

"I am dumber for having watched this steaming pile for even five minutes. Please tell me no one actually got paid to create this dung heap"

"This is genius. ... I feel so sorry for people who won't "get it" due to inferior comedy genes within their bodies ("get'r dun")"
Judge for yourself.
Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show

2 Hot Girls in the Shower

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Joss and Felicia - 2 of My Favorite Things

So I have a secret that is not much of a secret to my good friends. I'm a Joss Whedon fanboy. I can quote entire episodes of Buffy. I can wax poetic about favorite villians, debate character relationships, and expound upon the (pop)cultural significance of the show with the best of them. But it is not just Buffy - I've seen every episode of Firefly at least five times. This surprises me because I never saw a single episode of Buffy during the 7 seasons that it actually aired on TV. But a birthday gift of the first (and only) season of Firefly got me on the Whedon Express, and over the next 10 months I watched all 14 episodes of Firefly, 144 epsiodes of Buffy, and the first 22 episodes of Angel. I TIVO Buffy reruns even though I have all 7 seasons on DVD. Some might say I am a candidate for a 12-step program, but I know I don't have a problem. I just recognize the (evil) genius that is Joss Whedon. So like the rest of the whedonverse, I eagerly downloaded the 3-part web musial "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog" when it debuted last month on i-tunes and at Some Whedon fans I know were disappointed in the dark turn and the abrupt change in tone taken by the 3rd part ("97% lame" according to my friend Rex), but I enjoyed the entire production, and I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of Neil Patrick Harris in the title role. I'd never payed much attention to Doogie Howser prior to this. By all measures the release of "Dr. Horrible" on the net was an unqualified success. One of the interesting consequences is that the show has made an internet geek pin-up of the lovely Felicia Day, who played Dr. Horrible's dream-girl Penny. Though Felicia has worked steadily in Hollywood over the last few years (including a recurring role in Buffy Season 7), the web is her real forte, and I'm hoping that her success in Dr. Horrible will draw more attention to her original web series "The Guild", a series about a group of online gamers and their attempts to interact with each other in the real world. Felicia writes and stars, and it is well worth your time to check it out. Season 1 is 10 episodes, and has also just been released on DVD. Go to to see Season 1 and buy the DVD. Season 2 starts shooting later this month or next month.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Starting off

I have no idea at this point exactly what direction this blog is going to take. There almost certainly will be discussions of my hobbies - birding, racing, and theatre. There will definitely be discussion of my TV and movie watching habits. There may be discussion of politics, with guest bloggers invited to provide counter-balance to my lefty views. There probably won't be discussion of my job, as anything posted here represents my personal views and opinions, and not those of my employer or clients.