September 27, 2011

Sip On This, Nissan Leaf!

If you thought a car that ran on electricity or water or air or whatever was cool, then evidently you've not seen a car that runs on coffee:

I guess it's also set a land speed record for this type of vehicle. In any case, it reminds me of the Simpsons where Homer hears about a car that runs on alcohol. He imagines filling up the tank, saying, "One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me..."

It sounds like it's time for Costa Rica to get into the car manufacturing business!

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September 23, 2011

7 Big Ones... If A "Big One" Is A "Thousand"

My 7,000th flickr picture. Angela was working in the flowerbed the other day
so I took a picture of this hand shovel.

I realized tonight that my flickr account now has 7,000 pictures, which is pretty ridiculous by most any standard. Then again, I can sort of justify it because I've got about 7 years of pictures, plus a pretty questionable infrastructure down here in Costa Rica (I try to have an online backup of everything in case of earthquake, landslide, fire, theft, hurricane, and/or cat vomit). 

In any case, I mainly keep the flickr account updated for me and my mom, since I think we're the two people who seem to be most interested in it. But if you'd like to see some pictures, you're welcome to go check them out. You may find the following sets or collections to be interesting:

My Current "365" Set (where I take a picture a day... this one is less complicated than looking for each month or its "Leftovers")

So, there is obviously a lot more, and you don't have to check out any pictures if you don't want to. But I just thought I'd mention it...

My 7,001st picture. If I had known I was nearing a round number, I would have uploaded this as #7,000.
Some cats are quite a bit more interesting than a hand shovel.

Thanks for reading, and have a good one!

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September 21, 2011

Using My Illusions

I took this picture in Las Vegas at the beginning of this year. It demonstrates the awesome
staying power of Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusion albums... and trampy wedding dresses.
Stephanie Seymour would be proud.

Mike recently pointed out that September 17th was the 20th anniversary of Guns N' Roses' albums Use Your Illusion I and II. Rather than wallowing in self-pity because I'm getting older, and rather than mourning and my lost childhood/ youth/ innocence/ hair, I decided to be positive and say what I like best about these memorable albums. But just as a disclaimer, I still prefer Appetite. As long as we're clear on that, I can talk about how great the Illusions are.

Use Your Illusion I

I guess I was introduced to these albums a bit late, since I bought them when I was in Germany as an exchange student in 1998. I know I'd heard some of the songs before, but I was pretty late getting on the album train, and most of the music I had until about 1993 was on cassettes that I recorded while listening to radio. We didn't have cable, and the internet didn't exist yet in any comprehensible form, either. We had to work hard for our entertainment in the early 90s.

In any case, I believe I bought these two albums at a Saturn store in Hannover, Germany in 1998, and listened to them over and over on my Discman. At first I preferred UYI II over I, but within a few years I'd switched and started to prefer I. It's hard to argue with; It's got "November Rain," the better version of "Don't Cry," and the lyrics "I ain't superstitious but I know when something's wrong" (from "Garden of Eden"). I also had a long period where I was into "Bad Apples," calling it the "quintessential distilled version of a GNR song" or some such nonsense. It is a good and underrated song, though. But the best point on the album is certainly on "November Rain."

At seven minutes and nine seconds into the song, Slash begins the first note of his second solo in this song. Based on that one note, around 10 years ago I came up with a theory based on the excellence of that note. The theory is called, simply, "The 7:09 Theory." I've also been known to shoot my mouth off and say that this is "the greatest moment ever in music" and that "everything before it led up to it, and everything after this note was just music going downhill." Sure, I'll stand by those statements.

Use Your Illusion II

As I said before, I've gone back and forth regarding which of these albums I like better, and I'm currently in a II phase. It's just got such a jam-packed opening ("Civil War," "14 Years," "Yesterdays," and even "Knockin' On Heaven's Door"), the likes of which is unlikely to be found on another album (except maybe U2's The Joshua Tree, but the three songs there sound too similar anyhow). Plus, it's also got the under-appreciated songs "Breakdown" and "Locomotive," as well as "Estranged," which, despite its weird, dolphin-infested video, is a great song. The only down note seems to be "My World," but since it's such a bizarre track, we can almost write it off as an Axl rant instead of an actual GNR song.

II doesn't have anything as memorable as 7:09 into "November Rain," but it does have one thing that I think is really great, weird, and hilarious. On the song "Pretty Tied Up," which is possibly about a dominatrix, the perils of rock n' roll decadence, and/or finding money in the street, there's a strange line near the end of the song. After Axl sings "It's days like this that push me over the brinks," a deeper voice comes on and says "Kool Ranch Dressing." That didn't make sense when I first heard it, so I looked to the lyrics sheet in the liner notes. On the lyrics, it said "Cool and stressing" but then literally underneath that, it said "(Pronounced: Kool Ranch Dressing)". I just remember reading that on a train from Hannover to Munich and being blown away, since neither the original line, nor the attempt to explain the "correct" pronunciation, made any sense whatsoever. Obviously, I was dealing with Advanced Rock Music. And it's been a great ride ever since.

So, that's it for now. If you liked or like those albums, feel free to go to the comments section to chime in. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back in 2031 for the 40th anniversary blog post!

And OK, sure, why not:

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September 19, 2011

Names, from Sitzman ABC

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about common names in the USA on Sitzman ABC, my language-learning blog. It was ostensibly for my English students, but I thought some Sitzblog readers may like it, too. Plus, some of the vocabulary--like ostensibly--may be a bit difficult for some of my lower-level students. In any case, feel free to check out the article on Sitzman ABC or here:

A few weeks ago I wrote two articles about naming customs in the USA and Costa Rica. I mentioned that I also wanted to talk a little bit about common names in both countries, but since the posts were already so long, I decided to do a shorter post later. This is that post.

Common Last Names in the USA

First of all, let's look at last names, since they're the same for both men and women, obviously. According to this list, which seems to be available in some form on more than one site, the two most popular names are Smith and Johnson. I had actually thought it was the other way around, but they're both very common. The top 5 is rounded off with Williams, Jones, and then Brown, which didn't really surprise me much. In fact, of the top 20 names the only ones that surprised me were Garcia (18) and Martinez (19), mainly just because they were the first Hispanic last names on the list, and I expected Hispanic names to be a bit higher. I'm sure that a lot of last name statistics also depend on geographical regions, though.

I also noticed that "Sitzman" was conspicuously absent from the Top 20... and the Top 100. So I searched for it, and apparently it's number 24,083... that's right, my last name is the 24,083rd most popular last name in the US! Believe it or not, but it's even less common than the last name "Pizza" (ranked 24,007th). But still: Pizza! I'd have a more common last name if my name were "Ryan Pizza." Ouch, that hurts.

Common First Names in the USA

Now, first names were the ones that surprised me a bit more. I discovered that the Social Security Administration (the agency in charge of retirement and pension payments in the US) keeps statistics related to baby names. I spent a while looking at different names, charts, and statistics on their website, and it was pretty interesting.

According to this table, the most common first names in 2010 were Jacob, Ethan, and Michael for boys and Isabella, Sophia, and Emma for girls. Hmm, not too bad, I guess, but then I saw that for boys Jayden is #4 and Aiden is #9. Are those even names? (Disclaimer: I'm a mean, grumpy man.) I suppose that it's cold comfort that it's not as strange as the list of top baby names in Great Britain (seriously, England: "Alfie"? What's going on over there?). 

Still, I guess the names don't seem so strange if you look at this chart, which displays the top 5 names for each year from 1911 to 2010. It also explains why I know a lot of Jennifers, Ashleys, Matthews, and Christophers. 

So how does "Ryan" fit into these numbers? Well, in 2010 it was number 23, just above "Samuel" and "Jackson" (and probably even further ahead of babies named "Samuel L. Jackson"). Sadly, it's still below Mason and Logan. Brian and Bryan don't seem to be on the top 25 list for 2010, but maybe they count them as two different names because of the two spellings?

On the SSA site you can also search for popular names from the year in which you were born, so I did that. I had always imagined that my name was pretty common and boring, since I know a lot of Ryans, Brians, and Bryans. I was right. In 1980, Brian was #12 and Ryan was #15. The #15 name for girls in 1980 was Christina, and that seems about right.

There is one part of the SSA baby names website that is very disturbing, though. It's the "Change in Popularity" section, which lists names that have gained in popularity recently. There are some really ridiculous names on this page, especially for the boys. Seriously, who in their right mind would name a beautiful baby boy Bentley, Knox, Jax, Zayden, or Ryder? 

Anyway, that's my names post. I hope there was something interesting for you. And if any of my friends who read this have children with those "strange" names, then of course I was just kidding! Your baby and his name are both wonderful and special!

Thanks for reading. If you want to join in on the discussion, say hi in the comments section. Take care, and have a great day!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

September 18, 2011

Didn't Prince Write A Song About This?

The other day I got scratched up pretty badly by Boner, our evil backup cat:

Unfortunately I only found out after the fact that I could have scientifically predicted this attack. Check this page titled "How to tell if you cat is plotting to kill you." It even has a little quiz that you can take to verify the results:

Is your cat plotting to kill you?

I came through this alive, but I was lucky. Don't let it happen to you!

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

September 16, 2011

The Wall

"We don't need no education"??
"We don't need no thought control"??
"No dark sarcasm in the classroom"??
"Teachers leave them kids alone!"??

It looks like I'm going to have to make some drastic changes to tomorrow's lesson plans.

Although I'll still probably promote the same meat eaten : pudding allowed ratio.

365: Picture a Day Project    365 Leftovers    All My Pictures    Sitzbook

September 15, 2011

Coffee, Again

Café Chorreado, Costa Rican Style.
(Yeah, the style with the filter that looks like a gym sock)
Recently I wrote a bit about coffee, including a link to a page I made about the coffee process, as well as a link to my various coffee pictures (see that post here). 

I know I write about, talk about, and drink a lot of coffee, but it's Costa Rica's Independence Day today, so some coffee celebration seemed in order. So, the other day I found this page about coffee on The Oatmeal, and I thought it was pretty cool. Have a look!

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September 11, 2011

Reflections - 11. September

Well, it seems like everyone's talking about today being the 10th anniversary of the attacks on September 11th. What can really be said that hasn't already been said? Possibly nothing. For that very reason, I wasn't even going to mention anything. I did think I could write one of those "Where were you?" type of blogs for today, but that seemed a bit self-indulgent, somehow. Then again, what is a blog if not a vehicle for self-indulgence, and for people to put their mundane thoughts into words? So, if you want to read or respond, have at it, but if not, that's also fine.

On September 11, 2001, I was studying in Regensburg, Germany. When the attacks started happening it was mid-afternoon, and I was hanging out in my friend Bobby's dorm room checking my email. I was chatting with my friend Brad, and he mentioned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I tried to find some information on some internet news sites, but it was quite hard due to the internet at the time. Bobby and I went to try the TV in his dorm's kitchen, but it was either a black-and-white TV or it had terrible reception, or both. I think eventually we went to a TV room in his dorm and watched TV news, but by then the attacks had happened. The news was in German, and it certainly wasn't saturating the airwaves, or at least it wasn't at that point.  

This is hard to explain, but I feel like I missed out on something by not being in the US on that day. From what I heard from friends, things changed quite noticeably right that day, but I never picked up on that vibe since I didn't return to live in the US until almost a year later. I guess I missed a sort of cultural touchstone, to put it mildly and insufficiently. 

I also think a lot about the World Trade Center towers themselves, since I had visited them with my mom a few months before. I guess you could say I'd always been a bit of a skyscraper nerd. When I was younger I had posters of skylines in my room, and I had always wanted to go to New York for some reason. I wanted to go to the tops of the biggest buildings in the world, but I was born in a city that apparently didn't even possess an escalator (I once even spent a lot of time thinking about this when I was younger; if anyone knows whether or not Fort Collins had an escalator circa 1994, I'd be happy if you could prove or disprove my notion). In any case, my mom and I went to New York in 2001 as a sort of combined Birthday-Mother's Day-Christmas present from me to her that year (I had started driving the Buff Bus and I evidently felt I was quite a big shot). As part of our trip we made it a point to go to both the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. We even ate at the Windows on the World restaurant. I guess I just wonder how many other people never got to have an experience like that.

There was one good thing about that day, although it was completely unrelated to what happened in the US. As I mentioned before, I was living and studying in Regensburg with a group from Colorado. We all lived in individual rooms in student housing, but we had the opportunity to meet a local family so that we could have more contact with Germans. On that same night, we were supposed to meet our "host families." Despite the distance between us and the tragedy, many of us were sad and somewhat in shock, of course. But since we couldn't really do anything about it and since it was already evening, we still decided to have a big meet-up. So that evening I met the Friedrichs, one of the nicest families I've had the pleasure of meeting in my life. I've still kept in contact with them over these last 10 years, and I've visited them a few times in Germany and Sweden, also (it turns out that with a Swedish mom and an Austrian dad, they weren't so German after all, but that's just fine with me). I hope that I can keep up that contact long into the future.

In any case, that was my self-indulgent September 11th blog post. As before, if you have any comments or want to say what you were up to that day, feel free to say hi.

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September 6, 2011

Pictures of the Day - August 2011

If you're interested in checking out last month's Pictures of the Day, have a look at this slideshow. You can click on any picture to go to a larger resolution on flickr, and if you want to see the description, just click on "info." Enjoy!

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September 5, 2011

Angela and I: Spanish or English?

I originally posted this article to my Sitzman ABC blog, but I thought some Sitzblog readers might be interested, too. If you are, check it out:

Language Use in Bilingual Couples and Families

My wife Angela and I. Or should I say, "Mi esposa Ángela y yo"?
Or even, "Meine Frau Angela und ich"?

As you may know, I'm from the USA, so my native language is English. I'm married to a Costa Rican named Angela, and her native language is obviously Spanish. One question that people ask us a lot is "What language do you speak at home?" The answer is that we alternate between the two languages, but sometimes people are surprised at how infrequently we switch languages: once a year.

That's right, every August 25th (the way we chose that date is a more complicated story) we change languages. So about two weeks ago, we ended an English year and started a Spanish year. There are some advantages and some disadvantages to this approach.

I've heard of some couples or families that switch between languages every month, week, or even every day, but I think that would be a bit too confusing. The way we do it, once you start a new language year, it's very unlikely that you'll forget which language you're supposed to speak. As a result, one person can really work on building up his or her fluency. You can also avoid falling into a "Spanglish" trap wherein you speak a mixture of two languages, which can be confusing for you or some onlookers (or in this case "onlisteners," I guess).

There are also some disadvantages. In the case of Angela and I, we usually prefer to not speak our native language. In other words, I prefer our Spanish years, and Angela prefers our English years since we both want to practice a language that's foreign to us. With this approach, one of us has to go for most of a year with little practice in the target language. We do still speak English with my friends and family and Spanish with Angela's. Also, while living in Costa Rica many daily interactions out of home are in Spanish, but we both speak mostly English at work, so at least there's always some practice of both languages.

One big question mark for the future is what we'll do if we have kids. As I noted in my articles about naming customs (USA here and Costa Rica here), we don't even know what last names our kids would have, and we're also unsure how to best raise a bilingual child. I've heard that it's best if each parent always speaks his or her native language with the children so the children don't mix up the two languages. But if we had a kid and it were a Spanish year, for example, it would maybe be weird for me to speak English with the kid and Spanish with Angela, all in the same conversation. I guess we'll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.

What about you? Are you in a bilingual or multilingual family or relationship? Do you know anyone who is? How do you handle it, or how would you handle it if you were? Wow, we have a great opportunity here to practice conditional tenses! 

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

We're still not sure if our kids will prefer Spanish or English, but at least we can
rest assured that they'll grow up with camouflage skirts and Iron Maiden music. 

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