Friday, March 29, 2019

Adventures at the Seattle Aquarium

Recently Miss V's been under a bit of stress. As previously mentioned, there are many projects she wants to complete before she heads off to her summer job. For the last several days she hasn't left the house, because she's been buckling down on a specific time-sensitive project, and it's been taking its toll on her physically and mentally. Yesterday she decided she needed a chance to stop, breathe and maybe decompress a little.

Seattle Aquarium facade
So we went here. (King County Library System patrons: you can go too, for FREE! Get wise to the joy of museum passes and start visiting sundry Seattle-Tacoma area museums -- including the Seattle Aquarium -- without breaking the bank. You can thank me later.)

Tidepool fish
The first thing you see (after the big Wall of Fish in the lobby) is the tidepool area.

Green anemones
Beautiful green anemones (or as Nemo put it, "an anemonemone") wave serenely in the artificial surf.

Pink anemones in the touchable tidepool
This area is the touchable tidepool, where visitors are allowed to reach out and touch someone. The invertebrates, specifically, like anemones, sea cucumbers, urchins and sea stars. (Don't poke the fish. They don't like it.)

Humans enjoying the touchable tidepool
(For that matter, don't poke the humans. Some of them may like it, but you should always ask first. That's just polite.)

The big Lucite donut full of jellyfish
Having poked our fill of tidepool creatures, we wandered through the big donut fulla jellyfish (does this make it a jelly donut? hmm.) and into the next area, which turned out to contain...

Giant octopus hanging out
...a Pacific giant octopus. (He was hard to photograph.) These guys are at least as smart as -- possibly smarter than -- dogs, and there are stories of them temporarily escaping their tanks in order to eat crabs and other delicacies from other tanks nearby.

Tank full of reef fish
We proceeded to the big tank full of reef fish: blue tangs, wrasses, unicornfish (really, that's what they're called) and one big pufferfish cruising along looking genial. V spent a lot of time in front of this tank, enjoying all the various creatures.

Fish feeding on a rock
As you may have noticed already, I don't take the best pictures of creatures in tanks -- I tend not to keep track of shadows and reflections, and my camera doesn't capture the quick movements of fish very well -- but I got a few acceptable shots here and there.

Some corals and fish
While V remained mesmerized by the big tank, I took a few photos of corals and the fish that love them.

Big pink coral
This one resembled nothing so much as a big pink head of cauliflower.

Tank with clownfish
(insert additional obligatory Finding Nemo reference here)

Cuttlefish image courtesy of Seattle Aquarium
Dwarf cuttlefish image courtesy Seattle Aquarium press photo library
We spent a lot of time watching the dwarf cuttlefish tank, for two reasons: 1) it's entertaining to watch them change color, which they do very quickly, and 2) we happened to be there around feeding time, and watching them zap out long feeding tentacles to catch little shrimp in the water (very similar to watching a frog catch flies with its tongue) was worth the visit all by itself.

Although we spent a lot of time watching the cuttles, I completely forgot to photograph one, so HOORAY FOR STOCK PHOTOS! Thanks to the Seattle Aquarium for making so many images available to the public.

Longnose butterflyfish
This lovely creature is a longnose butterflyfish, or as it's called in Hawaiian, a lauwiliwilinukunukuoi’oi. Don't ask me to say it three times fast.

Jellyfish in a tank
More jellies! I do like to watch them merrily glooping their way through the water. Always think of the Lewis Carroll word "galumphing" when I see them doing their thing.

Ceiling full of fish fry
Fish fry on the ceiling! No, not fried fish, that's down the street at Ivar's. These are little fishies hatched here at the aquarium, who will some day grow up to be big salmon.

The underwater dome
My favorite room in the Seattle Aquarium: the dome, where the people are on display under glass and the fish get to come stare at them. It only seems fair.

Well, let's move on to the mammals.

Basking harbor seals
It was a nice warm spring day, so all three of the harbor seals were out of the water and basking in the sun. Some of them twitched and rolled a bit in their sleep, as though they were dreaming.

Sea lions on the rock
We happened to come around feeding time, so we watched the sea lions being fed buckets of various small silver fish, which they caught expertly.

River otters playing underwater
Finally, it's really difficult to get pictures of these guys since they move so fast and they're always on the go, but here's the best photo I took of the river otters playing underwater. They were super cute.

We went to a few other places along the waterfront and finished up our outing at Pike Place Market near closing time.

Seattle waterfront with Great Wheel
No, we didn't go on the Great Wheel today. V is no longer a huge fan of Ferris wheels. Ever since she and Jenny had that Sun Wheel incident at Disneyland...

Seattle skyscrapers from the Pike Place Market
Thanks, Seattle, it's been fun. We'll be back soon to goof off some more.

And thanks to you for reading all the way to the end of this photo essay. Here, have a fish!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Funko HQ

Miss V is home for a couple of months before she starts her summer job. So, of course, there are a few things that need to be done in the short time she's here.

One of those things was to visit Funko headquarters in Everett. So on Tuesday, that's what we did.

It was a beautiful day in early spring and... hey, is that Grape Ape? I haven't seen that big lug since Saturday mornings in the '70s!

Let's take a look inside this place.

If you've never been, be aware that Funko HQ is essentially a glorified gift shop for all things Funko, including some items you may never have heard of before. For me, that included Wetmore Forest, a product line named after the street where Funko HQ lives. Lots of little enchanted animalesque critters in this area...

...including Mr. Wetmore Wizard here. (His real name is Magnus, for the purists among you.)

There's also a Japan-themed area, which includes Sailor Moon here (and Super Saiyan Goku on the other side of the torii gate, but I didn't take his picture).

What else can you find in Japan?

Pfft. Like you have to ask. AIIIEEEEE GOJIRA! And, you know, MERCHANDISE!

They do a pretty good job of Funko-ing up Tokyo in here.

Oh no, watch out Gojira! All those Huckleberry Hounds on the bullet train are about to meet their maker! I can't look.

There are quite a few other themed areas, including Star Wars, Marvel, Disney...

... and of course, DC. (Sorry about the slightly blurry Batman. He's a hero on the go. Hard to get a nice sharp fotie.)

We got to see the Joker...

... and Killer Croc in lockdown.

Because JUSTICE.

Quick, Robin, to the Batmobile! *farrago of trumpets*

There may or may not exist a picture of Miss V riding shotgun with Batman. Just saying.

The aforementioned Disney section with JUST MY FAVORITE DISNEY CHARACTER EVER. (Brown-haired bookworm in her own little world? Um, yep, I'll take a half dozen.)

OK, fine, they also had Tiana.

And Elsa. Big deal.

And then there was the area where I spent the majority of my time.

This shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone who's ever talked to me about books for half a second.

I'm not a fan of the hypercephalic squared-off head look, so much of Funko's merchandise doesn't thrill me, but I was highly tempted to pick up a T-shirt of Hermione sitting on a stack of books. Again, brown-haired bookworms are My People.

This area was full of nifty details. There are, of course, the obvious characters like Hagrid and the trio above, but if you look you might see Dobby hanging out in a window.

 Some of those windows contain creepiness, like this display from Borgin & Burkes.

I also spied Dumbledore hanging out on an upper floor.

And the Noseless One himself skulking around Knockturn Alley.

Everybody say bye to Pete the Dementor. "Bye, Pete the Dementor!"

Thus ends our small adventure at Funko HQ. Miss V picked up some DC-themed goodies and I took a raft of pictures, and we subsequently departed in search of lunch.

If you want to go: admission is free (it is basically a big gift shop), but parking in the Diamond garage across the street costs $5 for 2 hours as of this writing. Start with the minimal time (and money) investment for parking unless you're really, REALLY into Funko stuff.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Not the best news to report today.

I posted this to Facebook earlier, but it's been wonky all day, so.

Mom called me this morning. I guess a while ago she hurt her right foot, and although her podiatrist (who is excellent) cleaned things up and was monitoring her closely, two of her toes have gone necrotic all the way to the bone. They will be amputating the second and third toes of her right foot on Friday morning.

It's not just that amputation is a scary word. Mom's podiatrist feels that her balance and ability to walk should not be significantly affected by this surgery. It's that this very thing happened to my aunt Kathie as her health began to decline significantly.

If you pray, won't you pray for my mom? Her name is Karin Buck. (I know I ask for this a lot. It means so much to me when people are willing to keep loved ones in their prayers.) If you'll also pray for the surgeons who will be working on her, that they'll operate to the best of their ability so they can successfully excise all the necrotic tissue, I'd appreciate that as well.

ETA (15 March 2019): Mom reports that she is home again, minus two toes. They think it went pretty well, but she's being referred to a vascular specialist for the underlying circulation issues that caused this to happen. Thanks to all who prayed for Mom and for her surgeons today.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Going aggro

Don't chop off his head to make yourself look tall
Don't tear a strip off to make yourself feel wonderful
Who wants to compare, as if this was a competition
Leave that to teachers at school; must preserve their tradition
--Howard Jones, "Specialty"
So, I'm an ambler and always have been (Little Ms Two Speeds, remember?). Although I can hustle it up when absolutely necessary, I've found that even at my usual relaxed speed, I eventually get where I need to be. And at this point in life I see no compelling reason to become a power-walker.

Every now and then, though, I've noticed that my andante tempo provokes weirdly competitive urges in other people. This happened today at Costco. I'd finished with checkout and was walking at what I thought was a reasonable pace toward the exit, when suddenly a middle-aged woman with violently orange curls and a very full cart flew past me on the right. She was moving as close to full-out running as decorum would allow, and she had her eyes on the prize -- which in this case was the Costco employee inspecting carts as people left the premises.

I didn't think much about it in the moment; I just figured Little Orphan Annie was in a big hurry to beat rush hour traffic. Interestingly, though, as soon as her cart was inspected, she slowed to more of a cocky, victorious saunter as she headed for the parking lot. And in that moment I realized: she was going that fast only because she decided she had to beat me to the exit. I was sort of gobsmacked that I'd just lost a competition I hadn't even known I'd been part of, one she had literally made up out of thin air.

My friend at Costco is far from alone. I see this ha-ha-I-beat-you behavior all the time, everywhere from yard sales to four-way stops. And I'm still not sure why. Why do people do this? Does it really make them feel better or stronger to create a nonexistent competition against others on the fly, just so they can "win?" Does it bash at some inner demon of insecurity? Are their lives not sufficiently difficult, to the point that they need to gin up arbitrary challenges? Or is it just another case of way too much caffeine? Seriously, what is it? Because if you have insights into this mindset, I'd love to hear about them.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The power of cuteness

Certain powerful traits have been highly esteemed by people of every culture over multiple generations: strength, stoicism, wisdom, compassion, generosity, intelligence and beauty, to name a few. But there's another trait that almost everyone of every generation has grossly undervalued: cuteness. Nobody ever takes cute seriously. Just as with a fuzzy kitten or a plush teddy bear, an adorably cute person usually activates primal human instincts to protect and coo and cuddle. And why not? Almost by definition, cute means harmless, right?

Not so fast.

In the years leading up to World War II, Imperial Japan was still a culture strongly influenced by the samurai aesthetic of the previous century. The Japanese military of the 1930s and '40s was known for being fierce, bloodthirsty and ruthless. (If you're in the mood to be horrified, read up on the Japanese invasion of Manchuria or its "annexation" of the Korean Empire.) During the war, Japanese pilots were known for their suicide attacks; even when deprived of their weapons, they would take as many of their enemies as possible with them into death by ramming their planes into enemy ships. The people of Japan were no less resolute; even Japanese citizens living away from their homeland on the island of Saipan were so convinced the advancing American soldiers would humiliate, rape and kill them that they jumped to their deaths in droves, rather than chance being taken alive by the enemy. Allied strategists believed that if the war were taken directly to Japan, Allied soldiers would have to fight not just from town to town, but from street to street to subdue the Japanese people.

And then the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Emperor of Japan surrendered, and everything changed. The postwar occupation of Japan provided no room for the old samurai spirit to flourish; indeed, under their new constitution, the Japanese people were not even allowed to defend themselves, ceding that task to American soldiers. Japan's method of surviving this identity crisis was to embrace kawaii, the culture of cuteness, and to raise it to an art form. Some of the very first trade goods created after the war, stamped "Made in Occupied Japan," were porcelain wares -- cute little tea sets for ladies to take their tea. These were followed by cute little consumer electronics, cute little anime and manga characters, cute little origami sets, cute little Sanrio mascots on dozens of cute branded products, cute little bento boxes and kitchen gadgets, cute little gas-sipping cars, cute little video games featuring cute little Italian plumber characters, cute little computers with cute little chips inside them, cute little maki-zushi, cute little fashion aesthetics, cute little craft projects, cute little sake containers -- you name it, really. And consumers all over the world swooned over the cuteness coming out of Japan, bought it all and begged for more. The power of cuteness made Japan into the economic juggernaut it is today. As musician John Forster once wryly observed about modern Japan, "Pain in neck to rule the world / Much more fun to own it."

The power of cuteness is practically weaponized by social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and others. Those of you who remember the early '90s might recall that savvy computer geeks and groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation were sounding the alarm about personally identifiable information, and how collecting PII would be the next gold rush. In a world where targeted marketing was becoming increasingly big business, collections of information about consumers would be the new currency -- and most hackers of the time were already bristling at the government and declaring, "From my cold, dead hands!" Nobody would ever force them to give their information, their privacy, their lives away.

But it's interesting -- when given the option to share pictures of their fluffy cats, stream videos of their adorable offspring, show off their fancy lunches or play super-cute games of Farmville and Candy Crush online, people willingly volunteered to numerous private companies the valuable information they swore they would never divulge to government entities -- and they did it for free. It worked because social media sites cultivated a friendly, casual, and above all CUTE atmosphere that lulled people into a false sense of security and never set off the alarm bells in their heads -- at least, not until it was too late.

Literal weaponized cuteness: a plush toy fashioned into an IED.
I could bring up several other instances to bolster my case, but let's just sum it up: in every instance, the power of cuteness stems from the fact that it's widely underestimated. Don't make that mistake. Just because something is fuzzy and adorable doesn't mean it's harmless. Even Hello Kitty has claws.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Close-captioned for the friendship impaired

So I've come up with what seems like a good analogy about why it's so much easier to make friends when you're young, seen through the lens of storytelling media.

Film projector

When you're a kid, meeting a new person your own age is like walking into a theater during the first few minutes of a big-budget action or adventure movie. Even if you've missed the first couple of minutes, you can usually suss out what's going on quickly -- and even if the story is very different from your own experience, you can usually find a handful of plot points with which you can identify.

Conversely, when you're an adult, meeting another adult is sometimes like walking in at the halfway point of an avant-garde foreign-language film with no subtitles, and half the time there aren't even any other audience members to help you figure out everything that's happened up to this point. Not only do you have no one to whom you can ask illuminating questions, it's difficult to figure out what questions you should even be asking. And when you don't even have a shared language for communication, it's impossible to find those key plot points that build audience empathy and interest.

With that said, occasionally as an adult you'll come across someone who takes the time to turn on the subtitles for you, who makes an effort to explain what's come before -- who really wants you to understand what you're experiencing. And it makes a whole world of difference. Scenes that were once confusing and obscure suddenly become illuminated when you understand why they exist, what their purpose is. Stylistic choices make sense when you realize what came before and how that colors what you're seeing now. And when someone turns to you and unexpectedly gives you a genuine smile, not only does it build tons of empathy, you might just feel like a kid with a new friend.

While making friends as an adult still isn't effortless by a long stretch, I'm so grateful for the people in my life who have taken the time to meet me halfway. In return, I'm making a stronger effort to explain my own life to others. It's still possible (sometimes discouragingly so) to screw things up, but it's also possible to hit the mark beautifully.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Nice shootin', Tex!

So a while back I went on an errand to the food playground known informally in this household as Asian Vegetable Disneyland, and found myself a great piece of ginger.

Seriously, what does this remind you of?

Well, I knew what it reminded me of.

"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good ginger at your side, kid."

Yeah! *fwoot* Let's see a Stormtrooper pull THAT off. Fellas can't hit the broad side of a barn.