Inching Along

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I saw this story on Yahoo and thought it was worth a post with the NCAA final four coming up this weekend. Diana Inch, a librarian from Salem, Oregon was the only one out of 3 million entrants to correctly pick the Final Four teams in this years tournament.

Hard to believe considering VCU had to win one of the play in games to even make it into the tournament. If you read the article there was a method to her madness.

She used the Cats & Dogs mascot approach to fill out her brackets, along with her favorite numbers 7 & 11 (I bet she is a craps player) and she favored some states over others based on the people she has met in her lifetime. You can see her bracket at the bottom of the article which includes some of the other upsets she picked.

This reminded me so much of our neighborhood football pool years ago when our sister Cathy would pick the NFL football games based on what city she would rather go shopping in and she would win more often then not.

So keep this in mind next year when you fill out your brackets and enjoy the games this weekend – by the way Diana picked Connecticut to win it all !

Eurotrip 2011: The Journey to Palermo

Traveling is never as easy as you think it will be. While planning my trip on my laptop at home, I imagined that my journey from Athens to Palermo, Sicily, would consist of a night on a ferry and two moderately long train rides. I expected it to take about a day. Instead, it took more than two days – the longest duration of travel I’ve endured in my life.

The day before leaving Athens, I learned that no train goes directly from there to Patras, due to cuts made by the bankrupt Greek government. To travel between the two cities by train requires a few transfers. Despite this, I decided to take a train rather than a bus, thanks to bad memories from a Greyhound trip I took a few years ago. I activated my Eurail pass and got a ticket. At the time of my train’s departure, however, two trains arrived on opposite sides of the platform, and not knowing which one I was supposed to take (my ticket didn’t specify), I went back into the station and reserved a bus ticket for a few hours later (thanks to my Eurail pass, all the tickets were free). I was worried that I would miss the ferry, but the actually-very-comfortable bus ride took only three hours, getting me to Patras with time to spare.

The ferry arrived in Bari at 11 AM, two and a half hours later than it was supposed to. After finding the train station there, I learned that Bari is not a well-connected city in the Italian train network. The earliest I could get to Palermo was 10:40 AM the next morning, after taking an intercity train to Bonaventi, a regional train all the way up to Naples, and, finally, another intercity train to Palermo. I had a reservation at a hostel in Palermo for that night, so this news frustrated me. Instead of sleeping on a mattress, I had to spend my night sitting down in a tiny compartment with four other guys. We all agreed to lay our feet on the seats across from us, and the guy across from me, who looked like Kurt Vonnegut, put his pillow on my foot.

The journey wasn’t all disappointment and frustration, though. While traveling from Bonaventi to Naples, a group of Italian girls practiced their English with me. Before getting off the train, they gave me a memento to remember them by: a bracelet with images of Mary and Jesus. They asked for a memento from me, so I gave them the book I had just finished. Later, they friended me on facebook.

On the train to Palermo I was in the same car as a fellow American backpacker and recent college graduate named Bryanna. Her trip thus far was remarkably similar to mine: she started in Istanbul, went to Athens, spent time on a Greek island (Corfu), and was heading to Palermo. She decided to upgrade to a sleeper car, but we pledged to be friends in Palermo.

My trip also included the “pleasure” of a two and a half hour layover in Naples. As soon as I walked out of the train station there, I could tell that the city had major problems. There were mountains of garbage everywhere (according to Bryanna, there’s some sort of dispute over who should clean it up), and the buildings – which are actually beautiful, architecturally – were smeared with graffiti. The traffic around the Piazza Garibaldi was ferocious, even by Italian standards. Someone needs to clean up that city.

Bryanna decided to stay at the same hostel as me because she didn’t have a reservation anywhere. After arriving in Palermo, we spent four hours finding the place, which was on the outskirts of the city. We misunderstood the woman at the information desk outside the station; when she said the hostel was an hour-long bus ride away, we thought she said it was an hour-long walk away, so we tried to walk there, thinking it would be a nice introduction to the city. A few sweaty hours later, we realized our mistake. After making many inquiries and committing many more errors, we found the right bus. We arrived at the hostel in the early afternoon.

Yet, we got there during siesta time, so we couldn’t get through the gate. While we were waiting, a big group of Italian high schoolers arrived. When the gates opened, they ditched us in line at the check-in desk, in true Italian fashion (I will outline the good qualities of the Italians in a later post).

I learned some lessons from this travel experience. First: leave plenty of flexibility in your travel schedule to allow yourself to make mistakes. I thought I had left myself flexibility, but it was not nearly enough. Second: stay a long time in each place you visit – I suggest a week – rather than moving around a lot, to avoid the stress of traveling altogether. You get a deeper experience in each city that way, anyways.

Eurotrip 2011:  Santorini and Athens

Eurotrip 2011:  Athens

Eurotrip 2011:  Istanbul

Eyelid Woman And Unnecessary Surgeries Gone Bad

From New Jersey comes the unhappy story of a woman whose plastic surgery left her unable to fully close her eyes.  She went in to fix “bumps on her eyelids” left by an earlier cosmetic procedure and was left with her current condition.   So, she’s suing the surgeon.  It turns out that she has had multiple procedures in the past — indeed, one of her allegations is that the surgeon, having learned of her many prior cosmetic activities, should have concluded that she was a poor candidate for the surgery and cautioned her accordingly.

The woman’s story highlights some of the issues about elective surgeries in America.  Why do we have so many men and women who are willingly going under the knife for augmentation of various facial and body parts?  Why wasn’t Eyelid Woman satisfied with her face as it originally was?  Why did she find the bumps on her eyelids so disturbing that she felt compelled to pay thousands of dollars to deal with them?  Vanity has always been a part of the human condition, but there apparently is some dark current in American society that has kicked simple vanity into overdrive to the point where some people are engaged in a relentless effort to achieve and maintain what they believe to be an ideal, youthful appearance.

The risks of a bad result from cosmetic surgery are significant.  You may end up with a grotesque result, like Eyelid Woman or “celebrities” whose faces look like Roman death masks.  But you also may suffer even more severe consequences.  Anyone who receives anesthesia for a surgical procedure runs a risk that was not exist otherwise.  If your surgery requires hospitalization, you may fall prey to the various forms of bacteria that are often found in hospitals.  And if you experience one of those bad results, you may need health care for a real condition like a heart attack or a raging staph infection — not just a fleeting concern about whether a few eyelid bumps from your last cosmetic treatment are detracting from your otherwise flawless appearance.