Thursday 31 January 2008

Slice of life in Arkansas

I promised myself I'd take some photos today, so show you an average slice of life for me in Arkansas. Forthwith:

A rare shot of the mill, where I am working for Honoured Client. The stuff coming out of the top is steam, honest.

A Twinkie. I, and many of the other Kiwis on the team, remember eating these in NZ when we were children, so one of the guys bought a box of them. Be warned: they are exactly like they were when we were four years old, but now that's not scrummy any more.
There are still a few in the box if anyone wants one.

The Frozen Pizza aisle at WalMart, where I do 90% of my shopping. Yes, a whole aisle devoted to nothing but frozen pizza in all its icy cheesy glory.

And not ONE SINGLE FROZEN CURRY in the whole damn supermarket. I'll be a waif by the time I get home, a waif, I tell you!

My car is covered in a thin layer of ice

Some of you have seen this already, but here it is for posterity. There was an ice storm last Friday and my car became covered in icicles. Pretty, if you didn't have to be outside while it was happening. (I didn't even see the storm: our office has no windows).

The icicles were still there when I got home.

Sunday 27 January 2008


Exec summary if you don't want to scroll through all the waffle:

- it's surprisingly small

- it's extremely sanitised

- it's still quite fun and interesting, even for non-Elvis-fans like me

- The best bit is the house itself - the planes/cars/suits/etc can be safely left off your list of things to see, unless you're a plane/car/tacky-suit nut.

So Rod and I shelled out USD32 each and spent last Saturday at Graceland in Memphis. It's one of those things you've just got to do (once). Here's a tiny selection from the photos I took and some accompanying waffle. Please note all facts are taken from my sieve-like memory and not checked, so are probably a bit wrong.

First up, the actual "Graceland" mansion. It's across the road (the Elvis Presley Memorial Highway) from the rest of the tourist stuff, which is a nice touch.

Elvis didn't have it built: it was built in the 30s by some business guy, and named after his daughter. Elvis was only about 22 when he bought it.

The first thing that struck me was the size. I was expecting a huge mansion with imposing columns and so on. In reality, you can see larger houses with more impressive entrances on many suburban streets in Memphis. Even the rooms inside are normal-size, with normal-height ceilings and so on. Maybe this is more a statement on the expansion of "normal house" size over the decades though. I don't mean to say it's a small house: it's two storeys and has a basement too, and there are (smallish) columns outside and a (one-car-wide) sweeping driveway. It's quite a bit bigger than my apartment, anyway :0).

The grounds are smaller than they were in Elvis's time, but there are still a few fields with some horses and a gardeny area. I saw a squirrel; first one since I've been here. I imagine most of them are hibernating (it was below freezing the whole day). It would have been very peaceful here in the 70s, provided you kept the fans away.

Thus, into the house. We were bussed across from the tourist-stuff side, and issued audio guides with headphones, thus neatly cutting off conversation with our fellow tourists, and firmly instructed not to take flash photographs, necessitating a few minutes of technological confusion while everyone worked out how to turn their flashes off.

We only got to see the ground floor and the basement. The top floor, containing the bedrooms and bathrooms, has apparently been maintained in 1977-style, but it's off limits. We didn't get to see the loo Elvis died on, or even his bed.

The living room, a marvel of 1970s tack in cream and blue, with stained glass and so on. My Nana would love this room.

Then the room I was particularly interested in, the Jungle Room. Kind of a disappointment: I wanted decadence, I wanted louche style and extravagance, I got tiki-carved wooden furniture, green shag carpet and a big teddy bear. A jungle as imagined by a six year old. Quite a nifty waterfall though.

There was a bit more of the decadence I was hoping for in the basement display, including this beauty:

The bad-boy edge was taken off by its positioning between his and Priscilla's wedding attire and Lisa Marie's crib and toys.

There were at least a hundred white jumpsuits in cases around the place, illustrating the journey from simple, very skinny outfits early in his career through to glittering, widely belted, bejewelled suits in the later years.

Speaking of the later years: Elvis got really fat and sweaty in the late 70s, but you'd never know it from a tour of Graceland. This shot in a video tucked away in one of the back rooms was the only hint I could find that he had ever been less than lithe. Also, no mention of how he died. It's as if God took him up because he was just too good for this world.

And when that happened, those left behind created this gravesite, and left, and still leave, garlands and wreaths and posies and clippy koalas and little notes and big posters:

Elvis's planes

In keeping with the "they did things smaller in the 70s" theme, here's his plane. Every two-bit CEO over here probably has a bigger company Lear now, but at least the seatbelt buckles are plated in gold on this one :-). It probably looks cooler without the plastic condom-ing every surface. Here's a pic of me outside the plane, to prove I didn't just grab these photos off the web. And the other two shots are specifically for my Dad, who will probably look up the tail number immediately and may also be able to tell me what's up with the weird thing on the engine's rear end.

Elvis's cars

There were a couple of dozen of them, and I do have photos of them all, but only this one shows that deep down, he really did have style:

It was a day of glitter and gold records, and a lingering sense that we could never have such a big star again:

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Free Rice

Here's a fun way to blow your productivity for the day and still feel virtuous:

It's a vocabulary test with a difference: every time you get a word's meaning correct, it donates 20 grains of rice to poor Third World people and then ratchets the next word's difficulty up. I can get up to level 50 but can't stay there for long. How high can you go?

Monday 21 January 2008

Icy Day

Global warming, my bottom. It hasn't got above freezing at all today. But it has been very pretty, so here are some very pretty photos showing all the ice. (Luckily none of the ice was on the roads, because I've driven about 200 miles today).

First, here's ice forming on the edge of the lake at The Reserve On Dexter Lake, which is the apartment complex I stay at when I'm in Memphis. There's a fountain about four metres from this ice: it's amazing it formed at all. It was minus 6 degrees C when I took this, at about 10am.

Next, a fountain in a shopping mall in Memphis. Water was still trickling and it had formed intricate globular icicle all over the layers. I took this photo at midday and it had started to melt - a whole chunk fell off just after I snapped this shot. It was about 4 below 0 C at this point.

And this is what happens when you leave a water bottle in the car overnight. I took a few drinks from this water as I was driving along, and idly thought "oh, it's pretty cold". I didn't notice the solid block of ice until I stopped for coffee, after an hour of driving. You can just see the NeverLost GPS in the background. It was zero degrees C when I took this shot, mid afternoon.

As you can see from all three photos it's been a stunningly beautiful day. Doesn't look cold at all, does it. It lies, believe me, it lies.

Carbon Update
... coming soon. I've driven about 500 miles since the last update, though, and I've also found out the electricity for Pine Bluff is from 50% coal, 30% nucular (as they say it here) and 20% "other". Hmmm.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Gadgets you wouldn't need in NZ, part II

Inside/outside temperature gauge. I've been wanting one of these doofers for the longest time but they're kind of expensive in NZ. Not so here: eighteen bucks in Wal*Mart will get you such a gadget. So far it seems pretty accurate, when checking it against the web and the temperature thingy in the car (no radio in the apartment: I miss NatRad!).

Yes, that's 29 degrees Fahrenheit it's showing as the outside temperature. That's about -1 Celsius. This was first thing in the morning a couple of days ago - this morning it said 25 F and I nearly didn't get out of bed. It's supposed to be 18 F tomorrow morning and I'm not looking forward to it.

I'm beginning to wonder whether buying this gadget was a good idea after all :0)

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Scary site of the day...

This is where watching the community service ads on the local tv station gets me:

I'm in zone "AH". Which would be kind of funny if it didn't mean I had to plan an evacuation route just in case the massive chemical weapon arsenal just north of my place decides to explode.... eeeeeee!

Gadgets you wouldn't need in NZ, part I...

Even without buying an iPhone I have been having fun with gadgets here. This first one is the GPS navigation in the car.

I'd never used one of these before (I mean, in NZ, who needs it? There's always a handy mountain to triangulate on). It's incredibly easy to use - pick the address and it works out a route and tells me the intersections in a Generic American Female Voice, in enough time to get into the correct lane even when I'm still getting used to the car and the roads and there's a truck trying to drive up my tailpipe.

With roads that look like this....
it's kind of essential.

Mind you I wouldn't mind if it could find some other way of saying "when it is safe to do so, please make a legal U-turn".... and while the calm woman's voice is all very nice, I think George Clooney really starts needing to do voice recordings for these things....

But the name's not quite right. It should be "NeverCompletelyLostButSometimesOnTheWrongStreet". Maybe they figured that wouldn't fit on the label.
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Sunday 13 January 2008

Walkin' in Memphis...

(By the way, the reason for the long silence then the rush of posts is that my Pine Bluff apartment doesn't have internet yet (oh noes!) but I'm in Memphis this weekend).

Been out on the town in Memphis today/ tonight. This first photo is on Beale St during the day time - me and Rod, one of the programmers on the project, who I flew over with. We celebrated his 60th at work this week, somewhat against his will.

Rum Boogie's is one of the many blues bars along Beale. They've got hundreds of guitars, signed by musicians - here are just a small sample.

We went back there in the evening after samplin' some fiiiiine ribs at Rendezvous, to listen to the blues band do their thing.


There's ice on my goddamn car! The last two mornings, it has taken me ten minutes to scrape all the ice off the windows so that I could drive to work. Fortunately the lovely people at Hertz have foresight, and provided me with not one but TWO ice scraper doofers.

Something tells me it's only going to get colder...

The car itself is a great big Camry, which in NZ would seem enormous but here is quite little. I'm thinking of trading up to a 4x4. What do you think?
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I've been sampling the local delicacies. Just delicious. Yeah, right.
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Tuesday 8 January 2008


Speaking of coffee: bleaurgh. That's all I've got to say.

Everywheresville, TN

This is the view from the Honoured Client's office in Memphis. The building in the foreground is a bar, and the one behind that, obscured by trees, is the hotel I'm staying in. The ground is flat. The sky is grey. Oops, gray. There is a McDonald's over the road, near the Burger King and over the corner from the BP and the Hilton.

Today I walked across the road to work, did work (having meetings and writing documents and sending emails) and had breakfast and lunch and dinner. The only even remotely exciting thing I did was deliver my first rental car back to the airport, using the GPS navigation doofer for the first time (she has been named "Lucy" by Rod, one of my travel buddies) and pick up my second, slightly larger and slightly darker grey/gray, rental car. It's been that sort of day. You can have them anywhere. I could be anywhere.

I'm driving to Pine Bluff tomorrow. There may be more interesting photos, but I wouldn't count on it.

Carbon Update:

6 Jan:

Hotel night: 8.01 kg
Driving rental car 20km: 3.92 kg

7 Jan:

Hotel night: 8.01 kg
Driving rental car 20km: 3.92 kg
1 day in the office: don't know yet.
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Monday 7 January 2008

Something tells me we're not in Kansas any more, Toto

This was the first thing I noticed when we landed in Memphis. Interestingly there wasn't a similar sign on the men's loos, I mean washrooms, I mean conveniences. Maybe that's where the severe weather comes from?

The second interesting thing I saw was a policeman on a bike. Inside the terminal building. But he was armed, so I didn't photograph him. See, I'm learning caution.

The rest of the things I've seen in Memphis were un-photoworthy. You've seen one shopping mall, etc.

Carbon Usage Update:

3 Jan:
Home for one day: 1.58kg
Driving 60km: 11.76kg
Dinner out:0.01kg (executive decision: I won't count these any more)

4 Jan:
Home day: 1.58kg
Driving huge-ass Range Rover 25km:11.76kg (CarboNZero doesn't differentiate on car type)

5 Jan: This is the big one.

Home day: 1.58kg
Fly AKL-LAX-MEM, which is 13064.36km so that's 2730.45kg of CO2. Yow.
Drive 10km in rental car: 1.96kg

Manifesto, or, the three parts of this blog

I don't doubt that climate change is anthropogenic (and I'm fed up with arguing, and won't do so on this blog). The question remaining to me is: can we do anything to stop it? Which really means: can I do anything? Can I personally, all by myself, have any effect at all on climate change? Up until now I've thought I couldn't. And that's meant I haven't tried.

But then I read The Undercover Economist and realised: I can't even make a coffee by myself (I have no cow for milk, I haven't grown any coffee plants and in fact they don't grow in my country, I have no mine and smelter to make metal to build a coffee machine with, or clay or kiln to fire pottery for cups) and yet I cause coffee to be made every day. I can't do the smallest thing alone, but I can do my little bit in the great engine of the market that ends up with me drinking a nice latte.

As with coffee, so with CO2. I hope. My goal for 2008 is to work out how best I, as an ordinary consumer in a first world country (or countries... see coming posts) and a participant in the global economy, can be a force in the global ecology too.

For now, on the principle that it's better to do something than nothing, I'm going to start measuring my CO2 output so that I know how much I will need to offset, or minimise. Peter Drucker, in his seminal book on management, said "you manage what you measure". John Walker (no, not that one) in the Hacker's Diet, used that truth to lose 70 pounds, and I used that to lose 8kg a while ago. Can I make a Hacker's Diet for the planet?

My energy usage so far (to 2 Jan)

1 January:
Normal home usage (in Auckland): 1.58 kg CO2
2 loads washing and drying: don't know yet

2 January:
Normal home usage (in Auckland): 1.58 kg CO2
Car 45km: 8.82kg
Cardio machine 30 minutes: don't know yet

I'm going to work out how to turn all the remaining items into kg of CO2 some time soon. The stats here are from

Oh, and if you were expecting a travelogue with pretty photos: that'll come too, in time. I plan to blog three kinds of posts: this kind, where I try to save the planet; a travelogue of my time in the States; and a gadget junkie log of toys and the fun of the internet.

Thursday 3 January 2008

The last summer sun for a few months

My balcony is very empty now: my plants have been taken out to my parents' house for safekeeping while I'm away. Two days to go until I leave for the USA so I am outside as much as possible, soaking up the brilliantly summery weather.
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Wednesday 2 January 2008

First P0st!

For too long, I have been treating teh interwebs like television, read-only. Now I finally have things to say. Maybe.