Sunday, March 25, 2007

In Search Of Excellence: BioMedenetix

BioMedenetix is on the cutting edge of the growing Biotech industry and promises to bring much-needed hope to a region gutted by the ongoing elimination of American Manufacturing jobs. Led by a man with a Hobbit-like mischievous grin and over 35 years of being allowed inside one of America's largest pharmaceutical companies by Security, it is definitely a company to watch.

Watching it is what we did on a recent visit to the campus. On arrival we noticed a shuttle bus. At first we thought: what a good corporate citizen BM is, providing transportation to employees in the area to cut down on fuel costs and pollution in the community. Then we noticed the bus never left the parking lot, which was approximately the size of the parking lot at an average American High School. Actually a small to mid size High School, or perhaps a church parking lot in a small town, a church for one of the smaller denominations, like Seventh Day Adventists maybe. If nothing else, it showed a commitment to employee's well being, assuming the employees get exercise in some other manner than by walking from their car to the front door.

We decided to try out this bit of corporate pampering for ourselves. While this is not on the level of the on-site masseuse of the dot-com era, nor Google's fabled chef who used to be THE CHEF FOR THE GRATEFUL DEAD, it is something anyway. We appreciated the heating on the brisk, 42 degree Midwestern day, and enjoyed 23 seconds of some inoffensive pop music played on the bus's sound system. Neither the bus driver nor the riders emitted any offensive odors, and in general it was nothing like the horrific experiences chronicled in Wesley Willis' lyrics, like these from 'Get On The City Bus':
The 11 Lincoln bus came to my stop
As I got off the bus, I told the male bus driver to shove a broomstick up his ass
He got so tired of my disharmonious bullshit
He threatened to clock a transfer puncher upside my head
As a matter of fact, the bus driver was very courteous and professional, if slightly dizzy.

Next time: Pre-chewed food: the next big thing in corporate food service?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Reykjavik Part 2 of N: Friendly Drunk Swedes, Unnaturally Blue Water, Imaginative Eyewear

After being dropped off at Hotel Odinsve we decided to take a nap. We got in the tiny elevator (my experienced world traveller wife had made a point of leaving the especially big suitcase at home, anticipating this) and then checked out the room for a bit (also small, but the entire wall facing the street was a window. We could see the ocean.) and fell asleep. For a bit.

The phone rang and my wife picked up. It was some joker from work. He had a question. Nothing was particularly wrong, but he had a question. Anyhow she refused to wake me up, but I woke up anyhow and called back to find that there was no problem to get bent out of shape about.

We left to explore the city. The obvious starting point was Hallgrimskirkja. Out front is a statue of Leifr Eiríksson, who discovered North America (Vinland) around 1000 A.D. (sorry Tony Soprano). Inside is a very impressive pipe organ, with 5275 pipes, some point outward like cannons which is quite odd looking.

After reading about rotten shark, pickled ram's testicles, and the aforementioned singed sheep's heads before for our trip, we decided to play it safe for our first meal in town and ate at a vegetarian place, the 'One Woman Restaurant'. We had some curry and daal there, and a couple of lattes. The one woman, like pretty much everyone we were to encounter in Reykjavik, spoke English well.

One thing we noticed immediately were the blocky glasses many people were wearing. The frames were thick and rectangular. Despite my quasi-Nordic appearance, my wire-frame glasses gave me away as an American. I had noticed a Dutch co-worker sporting similar frames on last summer's visit to Ireland, but just figured he wore them because he was a cool punk rock guy. People of all ages were rocking these. To hell with LASIK surgery.

Later, when we were back in the U.S. eating breakfast in New York, we noticed an older guy wearing glasses like we'd seen in Iceland. Within seconds, another guy at his table jokingly referred to him as 'that Icelandic Prick'.

Our first touristy excursion was a trip to the Blue Lagoon. It's a geothermal spa next to a geothermal power plant, and it's not far from the airport in Keflavik. The water is an unnatural neon blue.

Inside we encountered more of Iceland's technological wonders. We received bracelets which both locked a locker when swept by a sensor on the door, and also could be used to purchase Viking Beer or other drinks in the lounge area. I failed to operate the lock properly, and found the door hanging open when I returned (none of my belongings were missing).

Showering naked with strangers is required before entering the Blue Lagoon, but there are partitions along the wall, so it's not some prison scene in there. From the shower area, it's possible to get in the Blue Lagoon before going outside. But we walked out on the wooden deck and enjoyed a few seconds of snow and wind before getting in. It was snowing heavily, and employees in full winter gear hovered around along the edge of the water. We relaxed in the 105F water. Some people put white mud on their faces so they could look like a photo negative of Al Jolson in 'The Jazz Singer'. Mammy!

I accidentally swallowed some water. It tasted very salty, but that was about it. I was a bit concerned about ingesting unnaturally colored water, but nothing came of it. I did not become horribly ill, nor did I develop superpowers and become Glacier Man.

Eventually we headed back inside, ate more skyr and hung out while waiting for the bus. A couple guys wearing Red Sox gear with heavy Boston accents were in our group. My wife asked one was he from Boston and he asked 'how'd you know?' My wife told them she was from Boston, but left because she married me. "Jerk." said one of them. We later wondered if they were on the run from the law, hiding out in Iceland.

The bus eventually showed up, and we asked where were we going for part 2, the 'Northern Lights Excursion'. Our Chuck Norris looking bus driver laughed and explained that was the drive back. We didn't see any Northern Lights through our windows.

As we got back to Reykjavik I again noticed some prominent graffiti in a spot under a bridge. A 'Welcome to Reykjavik' sign would have looked good there, but this graffiti said 'Supernova Sucks'. I agree, but wouldn't go through the trouble of painting it on a wall. I thought it was strange, until I later found out one of the contestants on 'Rock Star: Supernova' was Magni Asgeirsson of Iceland. He lost the competition, or didn't, depending on how you look at it.

After returning it was time to get something to eat. We had no plans, and decided to continue the risk-averse streak as far as eating went and seek out a pizza place of some kind. We ended up at Rosso Pomodoro, an Italian place that's a chain, but a good one. I'm not sure if it has anything to do with Pomodoro Rosso in New York, immortalized in Seinfeld as a good place for breakups.

Before we even sat down a very large table of men in the 30-45 age range started singing. While they didn't have fantastic voices, they sounded really good, like they'd been practicing. They were all singing in the same key and at the same tempo. They were also drinking and apparently heavily, as a couple of them fell down (but they got up again).

We decided to sit at the table next to them not in spite of the fact that they were drunk and acting odd, but because of it, but soon we started getting an uncomfortable vibe as one kept looking at us when we talked and said a couple things to the guy sitting next to him. Then one of them put his glass of wine on the table and got in our space. The waitress asked him not to put his glass on our table, so he took it off for a second and then put it back. I wasn't sure what to make of it, but I just looked at him and said 'hey, how are you doing?'

He was pretty well drunk, but friendly enough. It turned out he and his compatriots were from Sweden ('the southern part'). We complimented them on their fine cars. They all were part of a 'Gentlemen's Club' called 'Round Table'. In the U.S., 'Gentlemen's Club' means a building with no windows with girls inside stripping to make college money, but in this case apparently it's a group of guys who take trips together and get drunk and sing and generally have a good time. About halfway through our dinner (I had some really good salmon), they got up, sang another song which I assume was in Swedish so nobody else in the restaurant knew what they were singing about either, and they were on their way.

We wandered Reykjavik and caught the beginning of the night's drunken revelry, but were tired and made our way back to the Hotel.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

This English Professor Hates Sam Harris

Mary Grabar has a Ph.D. in English. She wrote a screed on the townhall site about Sam Harris. Her comments on science have been dismissed by the esteemed Dr. Joan Bushwell (who has a Ph.D. in science!) as laughable. What I really loved in the article was this bit at the end:
"I have seen the customers who fondled your book and read the jacket with self-satisfied expressions...Your little tome at $16.95 graces their bookshelves along with those by Bill Moyers and the atheist authors you recommend. These progressives proudly display their reading material as they serve canapés and cocktails to similarly correct-minded, nipped and Botox-ed activists, who only really just want what is good for us. Your slim, easy-to-read pamphlet is just right for trips to the salon, masseuse, and transcendental meditation retreat. Your fans cluck over the ignorance and benightedness of those like me—their gold and diamonds shining in the ambient light of their converted warehouse condos. You amaze them with your profundity, your ability to string together clichés and tired arguments, and in 91 small widely spaced pages tear down the foundations of the civilization put in place by millennia of thinkers and the Church Fathers. For your book, they whipped out the credit cards from Louis Vitton bags."

Heh heh, no irony there with the strung together cliches. I think I'm gonna pop open a bottle of Veuve Cliquot now and have a chuckle at whatever's on CBN now, then maybe drive to Starbucks in my Volvo and buy a CD by my favorite lesbian songwriter while making a snide remark about Toby Keith to the barista. Yep.

Soon, more about Reykjavik.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Reykjavik Report Part 1of N

You can tell it's Reykjavik because of the Hallgrimskirkja back there.

We recently took a break from the corporate grind to do something completely different in a place which was completely different from our usual environment (except for everybody still speaking English), namely, Reykjavik and the surrounding region in Southwestern Iceland.

The stated goal was to see the Northern Lights, which I very much wanted to see. Given that the Northern Lights are not particularly predictable, we needed to go someplace that would still be a cool place to be if there were no Northern Lights, so we chose Iceland. Actually my wife chose Iceland. The whole thing was a surprise for me in honor of my turning 37 (time is running out, see the Northern Lights now. See the glaciers before they melt away).

We were there for 3 nights which was great, but we were sorry to leave. The past week I've been checking out various Iceland related websites (the Grapevine, Iceland's English Language newspaper, is a good one) when I need a 5 minute mental vacation from the tedium, the ongoing struggles between the fragile egos, and the ridiculous requests to do stupid demeaning shit.

As the Chinese proverb goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a miserable airline experience, but things started off smoothly enough travelling from Indianapolis to JFK airport. There some Australian asshole wearing a blingy New York Yankees cap and fancy jacket (maybe he was rich or famous, I don't know) cut in front of everyone in line at the British Airways desk only to be given the what-for by an elderly woman in line in front of us.

We had dinner at the airport and the $8 margaritas were good preparation for the priciness of food in general we were to encounter in Iceland (the conversion rate was 67 ISK to 1 USD, which doesn't tell you much. A better way to put it is to imagine a Starbucks ($3 coffee)/Football Stadium ($4.50 hot dog) food pricing scheme generalized to everything). We eventually got on the plane, where we waited at the gate for 2+ hours while the maintenance crew fixed something or another so we wouldn't crash into the North Atlantic and find out whether we'd freeze or drown first. The flight attendants handed out a paper in Icelandic, which we looked through and wondered at all the ways there is to make the 'th' sound.

Despite the assistance of alcohol and the Dalai Lama Maroon neck pillow purchased at the airport, as always I was unable to sleep on the plane. So I noticed around 3am somebody had decided it would be a good idea to have the Dustin Hoffman transvestite vehicle Tootsie as the in-flight movie. OK.

A couple hours later while walking up and down the aisle, I heard the captain give a very long announcement in Icelandic, and figured we must be near our destination, which the follow-up in English confirmed. Having worked some of the stiffness out of my legs, I was very excited despite my tiredness and the documentary on Kenny G that followed Tootsie on the Monitor Screens.

After waiting in a couple of lines, we got on the FlyBus and made our way from Keflavik (check out the cool 'sperm penetrating the egg' sculpture) to Reykjavik. In my extremely sleepy state I did my best to ignore the American photographer and the Icelandic businesswoman trying to impress each other so I could check out the landscape, which doesn't really look like Earth. There's lots of black, cracked volcanic rock in the foreground, covered with very short green lichens that take 70 years to grow, with beautiful mountains and the ocean in the distance. There are no animals anywhere (except the occasional bird), yet there's life everywhere. Little scrubby bits of non-sentient life, but still, life.

We ended up at the bus terminal where there's a Restaurant called 'Fljott og Gott' (Something and Goat). The logo is a happy cartoon chef holding a platter which has a sheep's head on it, and the (singed) head is sporting a baseball cap at a jaunty angle. He is like the Flavor Flav of decapitated sheep. Unfortunately I can't find this image on the web, just an uninteresting alternative with a hamburger instead of a goat's head. I would like a t-shirt with this logo, but it's probably not to be.

There were no goat's heads or rotten shark (Hakarl) to be found inside, though. Just assorted sandwiches, Viking Beer (with 2% alcohol content, now you too can drink like a Viking), and skyr, a thick Icelandic yogurt which is delicious! We picked up some skyr, water, and a free copy of the aforementioned 'Grapevine', with the cover 'The U.S. vs. Laxness', which in my ignorance, I thought had something to do with American can-do spirit and perkiness conquering laziness and ennui or something. Halldor Laxness was an Icelandic author who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955.

Our brusque driver dropped us off at the Hotel Odinsve (Odin's Dwelling) on Thorsgata (Thor's Street). Really.

We decided to start things off by sleeping for a couple of hours as we were running on fumes at this point.