Saturday, March 26, 2011

Of Motorcycles and Fashion Mavens

Amazing photo by Eurospiders
Last weekend, the husband finally pulled the trigger on a motorbike purchase.  He had been talking about doing this and researching his purchase for quite some time now.  However, since the new toy was delivered on Saturday evening, he hasn't been able to go out and play because he didn't yet have a helmet.  He could only hang out in the garage admiring it and resisting the urge to lick it every now and then.

I was also pretty excited about the new purchase for two reasons.  Firstly, I've got this mild fetish about men in full face motorbike helmets.  Especially if the helmet has a tinted or mirrored visor so one can't see who is under there.  There is something so mysterious and sexy about it.  I confess a little crush on Top Gear's StigStar Wars' Storm Troopers do it for me too.*

* D - if you're reading - the attraction to any helmeted dude (yourself excepted) ends the moment the helmet is pulled off to reveal a sweaty hot mess. 

The primary reason I'm excited is because I was instructed to procure cycle-riding safety gear for myself.  This includes abrasion-resistant pants and jacket and of course, a helmet.  I broadened the mission mandate: Procure cute cycle-riding gear for myself.  Much research ensued.  Did you know that you can easily drop $500-$800 on a helmet, but that you can also buy a brand new street legal helmet that meets DOT safety standards for as low as $25 on ebay?  We asked the guy at the dealership why one should consider an expensive helmet if the safety is the same.  He came up with some malarkey about how a good helmet is like a fine samurai sword and then pointed out the pink accent graphics on a $500 black lid with shiny sparkly flecks in its clear coat.  I was all "ooooh, pretty, mama likey."  In the words of Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias, "Pink is mah signature coluh," so I was on a mission to find a pink helmet. But then I shook my head to break the trance and start thinking sensibly.

Because D has trained me well, both in matters of financial restraint and diligent research of potential acquisitions, I came up with a couple of good mid-price helmet models.  Comfort, venting and visor fogging control are important, and I resisted the urge to put graphics as my #1 decision criteria.

After reading reviews, I settled on a Scorpion EXO-400 in Paradise Blush or an Icon Airframe in Regal Lace which I went back to the dealership to try on for fit and comfort.  Then I found out that helmets are like car models: they change each year, and those graphic patterns were sooo 2009.  The Icon now came in a day-glo pink with some kind of serpent scale pattern, which, while providing a high-visibility safety edge, is just not me.  The Scorpion line had no pink graphics to be found at all in this year's model.  Sigh.

I chose the Scorpion in Lilly-Purple (pictured at right) from the dealership catalog.  When it arrived, I was all worried that I would be disappointed that I couldn't get pink, but I lurve it.  The white base is actually a pearl color, reminiscent of a luxe Audi paint I adore, and the purple accents are just lavender enough that I might get away with a pink jacket after all.

My head was measured at the very top of the range meant for a small, and the medium didn't fit tight enough.  I tried on my new helmet and asked the sales rep if the pressure making my brain feel all squeezy was normal.  He advised me to take it home and wear it around the house to start breaking it in and if I hadn't passed out after an hour, then the fit was perfect.

So last night, that's what I did.  Despite snorts of hilarity from the husband who insisted I look a right bobblehead, I surfed the net in my helmet.  I played Wii golf in my helmet.  I freaked my cat (who is terrified of strangers) right the heck out in my helmet.  And despite having downed two vodka redbulls over the course of the evening, when I watched a movie I even dozed off (as per usual) in my helmet.  So if anyone is looking for a Scorpion EXO-400 review, I can say with confidence that it is comfortable enough to sleep in

So, interweb peeps, I need a little help from you. I have to decide whether to follow my heart and get a pink jacket, or whether I should choose silver or blue in the name of fashion and better color coordination with the helmet.

The contenders are pictured, so please give me your opinion in the poll below (click through if you're in a reader). Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go convince the husband that he needs to break in his new lid so I can give in to the desire to rip his clothes off and whisper "No, baby, you can leave the helmet on."

So tell me in the comments, do helmets do it for you or am I just a weirdo? And if not, what does?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Movie Madness: Vote Early, Vote Often

EduClaytion regularly hosts a Friday Flick Faceoff where two films with a common thread are set up for a smackdown via vote by the masses.  Now, in honor of March Madness, an entire bracket of films has been set, each one backed by a blogger whose goal is to marshal the film to victory.  There can be only one.  Head on over to view the contenders and vote for your faves.

I'm sponsoring Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and its first match is The Lion King, backed by Jessica at Meet the Buttrams.  Read on to see why Harry should prevail.

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The Harry Potter series of films is blessed by phenomenal source material and I think they are all good, but when asked to choose my favorite (so far), it's not a hard decision at all.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix chronicles Harry's 5th year at Hogwarts.  The film is a tight, compelling, and fully-formed story that has the power to capture the hearts and minds of both children and adults in the audience.

The film opens with a Dementor attack on Harry and his distasteful cousin, and Harry is brought up in front of a jury by the Ministry of Magic for unlawful use of magic by a minor.  While in London, Harry meets members of the Order of the Phoenix and is surprised to find that his nemesis, Snape (imbued with divine ambiguity by the talented Alan Rickman), is one of the trusted few.  Though Harry is cleared of the charges at the hearing, we get a first glimpse into the tyranny that will be brought to Hogwarts by the grating Professor Umbridge, who in her ill-fitting pink suits, is about as delightful as nails on a chalkboard.  It quickly becomes clear that the Ministry's desire to deny of the return of Voldemort has been manifest in a campaign designed to smear Harry, which has reached all the way to Hogwarts and threatens his friendships at school - the only place Harry has ever been happy.

In response to the Ministry's edict that the Hogwarts students will not actually learn any defenses against the dark arts in the course of that name, Harry and his friends form a secret society they dub 'Dumbledore's Army' and begin to practice the spells that will arm them for a conflict against Voldemort and his Death Eaters.  This strengthens the bonds between Harry and his schoolmates and begins to relieve some of the isolation he felt as the school year opened.

When Harry receives a vision of an attack on his beloved godfather, Sirius Black, at the Ministry of Magic, his friends Ron, Hermoine, Ginny, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood join him in a journey to London to try to save Sirius.  It turns out to be only a ploy by Voldemort to lure Harry to the Hall of Mysteries. A battle ensues between the Order and the Death Eaters which results in the death of Sirius at the hands of his cousin, Bellatrix LeStrange, using the unforgivable Avada Cadavra curse.  Harry chases after her and Voldemort appears, taunting him to use the same unforgivable curse to kill her.  At this point, Albus "The Man" Dumbledore (insert we're-not-worthy bows here) arrives and engages in a truly epic duel with Voldemort.  During the duel Voldemort possesses Harry, who fights back from within and discovers that he has something Voldermort never will, the love of friends.

The themes running through the film, the bureaucracy and authoritarianism of the Ministry of Magic, the factionalism in the wizarding world, the erstwhile isolation of adolescence, the acceptance of the oddities of individuals such as Luna and Neville that can lead to tight bonds of friendship, and the power those bonds can provide to us against the difficulties of the real world, reflect that these films are growing up right along with their protagonist.  Drawing from the terrific source material of the novel, brought to life by a superb cast - both the maturing child actors and a phalanx of talented adults, backed by an inspired soundtrack and impressive special effects, particularly in the culminating duel scene, this installment of the Harry Potter series is, in my humble opinion, the most enjoyable so far.

* * *

So why should Order of the Phoenix advance past that Disney juggernaut, The Lion King?  Nobody does animation better than Disney and the The Lion King is a well-executed version of old school animation that brings the circle of life, well, to life.  But we're all adults here, right?  Wouldn't you rather watch the most kick-ass wizard of all time marshal the forces of fire and water to triumph over evil than have that insidious "Hakuna Matata" song stuck in your head?  Just sayin'.  Either way, click over to EduClaytion and vote for your favorite.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

For Japan

photo by StefanG81

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post after the Christchuch quake in New Zealand.  While New Zealand is closer to my heart, I couldn't let my thoughts for the victims of the Japan quake, tsunami, and a threatening nuclear disaster go unvoiced.  I'm so troubled that if I think too deeply on it, I feel the sting of tears threatening. 

I was working at home yesterday, which afforded the dubious luxury of unfettered access to video news coverage of the disaster.  The images haunted my sleep last night.  One of the most arresting pictures is this aerial video of the tsunami. The dichotomy of the pristine, regular pattern of the agricultural land being consumed by the monstrous churning maelstrom of mud and debris is nearly irreconcilable in my mind.  Another still photo in a slide show at shows the first wave bearing down on the coast:

In the foreground, cars are lined up at what appears to be a fuel station on a normal Friday afternoon and a few seconds after the frame was shot, they were surrounded by devastation. Can you even imagine what that must be like? I see these pictures and I have to force my brain to accept that they are not the product of some CGI special effect.

In my post about the New Zealand quake, I mentioned the theory that these sorts of things seem to happen in threes.  Perhaps Christchurch was simply the first blow in a new round.  Scientists have claimed that there isn't necessarily a direct link between earthquakes in far-flung regions of the globe.  Maybe, but if you look at a map of the Pacific Rim, the west coast of North America is the glaring exception to the recent pattern of large quakes. (There was a 6.8 magnitude quake in Chile on March 6, 2011 as well.)

I know that I live in an earthquake-prone area.  A seriously major quake hits the Pacific Northwest on average about every 500 years.  The last one was about 300 years ago, which either means we've got a couple of centuries of peace to go, or the clock is ticking and the alarm could blow at any minute.  It's a scary thought that has crossed my mind a few times as I head to my car, parked in the bowels of a 20-story building each day.

D is a handy dude to have around in a survival situation, as preparation for the worst case scenario is a kind of a hobby for him.  But this weekend, I've asked him to take some time to make sure I'm a bit more up to speed as well.  Statistically, I'm nearly as likely to be away from him in a disaster situation as I am to be with him.  I'm also following some of the advice at Lifehacker's guide to preparation for a disaster.  You never think it will really happen to you, until perhaps one day it does.

For the victims of the Japan disaster, my heart is truly hurting for you.  Many blessings, and may you find some peace in the chaos surrounding you now.

To assist: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation and support disaster relief efforts, or visit

Monday, March 7, 2011

My National Day of Unplugging

A friend gave me the heads up via facebook on Friday that this past weekend - specifically sundown March 4 to sundown March 5, was the second annual National Day of Unplugging, during which people are encouraged to back away from the PC and set down the smartphone.  This concept struck a chord with me.  This past Tuesday, I finished up a two-month annual stretch of intense pressure at work.  During this period, it feels like I could work every waking hour and still not get ahead.  Beyond days in the office glued to my PC, there are evening and weekend work sessions - thankfully from the comfort of my own home.  Combine that with catching up on the news, checking facebook and twitter feeds, blog reading, personal financial management, personal research projects and the (lately rare) composition of my own blog posts, and that's a lot of time spent online.  Finally, toss in prime time TV, and I'm probably spending something like 80% of my waking hours parked in front of a screen.

I've also noticed recently that all of this online activity seems to be rewiring my brain, leaving me with a critically short attention span.  If an application or page takes too long to load, no problem, just click somewhere else on the glowing screen and fall down some interweb rabbit hole.  My beloved blackberry provides me access to email and the web anytime, anywhere, and furthers the crack-like addiction to the satisfaction of clicking a button and receiving the payoff - more information, more entertainment, more of something different.  Pavlov would be delighted to see the ubiquitous manifestation of his research theories come to life as a nation of online junkies replicates itself through the power of social networking.

I knew I had a problem when I had to physically restrain myself from picking up my phone to check email at a stoplight - not because I was expecting a message or particularly wanted to receive any of the potential content therein, but simply because it was something else to do while waiting for the green light.  Really? I'm bereft without something to occupy my mind for all of 30 seconds?

So, at sundown on Friday, March 4, I accepted the challenge.  Could I unplug for 24 hours?

Here is a chronicle of my efforts to overcome the urge to plug into the matrix:

First, a fail... we were out running some errands when the sun went down Friday evening.  D stopped to peruse some vintage hi-fi equipment at a local shop.  I stayed in the car and took advantage of the time to call up our favorite pizza joint to order up the evening's dinner.  What?!  That's a perfectly legitimate reason for picking up the phone... actually making a call.  But what wasn't strictly necessary was then opening up the google reader app to catch up on some blog feeds while I waited for D to return.  I justified my actions with an assurance that my day of unpluggedness wouldn't really begin until I got back home that evening.

On the drive home, we encountered some truly impressive rain showers, and D mentioned he wanted to check the radar on wunderground when he got home to see what the storm front looked like.  "Ah ha," I thought, "I can do that right on my phone."  Really Keenie?  You need to look at a radar image on your smartphone to confirm that, yeah, that sure is some heavy rain... that you're driving through at this very moment?! (Relax - D was driving, so in any case I wasn't going to be DWO - driving while online.)

Arriving home, I picked up a pen and the New York Times crossword.  That's a nice analog activity to engage your brain, I thought.  However, I am firmly in the camp that likes to finish the crossword at all costs, even if it involves cheating by going to 'the Google' (as D and I affectionately refer to it ever since W's gaffe).  So after working through the puzzle for a bit, I got stuck.  My fingers were twitching and I cast sly glances at the laptop.  Surely it couldn't hurt to look up just one little crossword clue, right?  But, loyal readers, you will be glad to know I remained steadfast.

I woke on Saturday morning, and here is a brief list of the things I could NOT do because I was unplugging:*

* via notes take with actual pen and paper(!)
  • review the available services at a spa I'm visiting with a friend next weekend;
  • find out what I'd missed from my bleeps when I was too busy to stay caught up on blogs during the week;
  • figure out the consequences if I'd really lost my skipass, rather than simply misplacing it (fortunately, I used some of that unplugged time to - gasp! - get off my butt and actually locate it);
  • find out what the heck change at Warren Miller Productions resulted in nearly the entire film that I watched on Saturday morning, Playground, being backed by a thrash metal soundtrack like every other ski/snowboard adventure video, rather than the sublime musical choices that I remembered from the good old days;
  • look up Levi's Curve ID jeans, which I'd recently heard about on a daytime talk show and was reminded of by an ad in Vogue, which I was reading as an attempt to distract myself from the siren song of the interwebs;
  • and last, but certainly not least, work on my tax return (for which I use Turbo Tax - seriously, if you haven't tried it you totally should.  It very nearly makes tax returns painless - well, as painless as a tax return ever could be.)
Fortunately, that brought me to the part of the day where I actually accomplish things on the weekend, which provided a welcome distraction from my internet withdrawals.  I'm proud to say that I did manage to stay unplugged until the sun went down on Saturday evening.

So, did I have any great revelations from my own participation in the National Day of Unplugging?  Sadly, no.  But at least I proved to myself that, although it posed some mental difficulty, I could actually back away from the laptop for a while.

Signing off now before the monkey on my back strengthens his chokehold.