Friday, February 28, 2014

Things I've Liked on the Internet Lately

Anonymous FSO does a great AMAA on Reddit. I had thought it might be fun to do one of these, but I'm glad someone with more insight and experience than my lowly second-tour self stepped up first. Kudos!
Speaking of FSOs, here's a great article on American Citizen Services
Have a hard time knowing when to contact your friends in other time zones? XKCD can help.
From the Art Meets Science Files, here's a portrait of Stephen Fry made from his own bacteria.
Also, what musicians can tell us about dyslexia
The psychology of fonts
Facebook of the Dead: a thoughtful essay on how we handle death online and why it matters.
Why do we do things now we know will hurt us later? Because we think of our future selves as strangers.
What qualified as a frightening dystopic future in 1908? A (detailed and hilarious) bar full of women.
So excited for the next season of Game of Thrones! Here's the trailer and a featurette for Season 4 to get you in the mood.

FAO Schwartz employees class up the joint with a little Bach. Who says kids don't like culture?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

On the Road Again

This week I had the chance to mix things up a little with a 3-day consular outreach trip to counties Kerry and Cork. While the day-to-day demands of consular work keep me in the office most of the time, we took advantage of a mid-term break in the Irish schools to take our show on the road.

While most adults can renew their passports by mail, by law all minors must appear in person with their parents before a consular officer. For our clients this normally means piling the whole family in the car or on the train, traveling several hours to Dublin, and possibly paying to stay overnight if there's not enough time to get there and back in a day. Not the most convenient thing in the world. So, at least once a year, we head out to one of the more distant parts of the island to take applications, do notary services, and answer questions for our American citizens. The consular officer comes to them for a change. It was a whirlwind trip, and I think a very successful one. We got a lot of work done and everyone was very pleased to see us. I only wish we had the time and the staff to do these more often.

In addition to being my first consular road trip, it was my first time driving on the left side of the road. I was more than a little nervous about this, but it turned out not to be as big a deal as I was afraid it would be. When there are other cars around you can use them to figure out where you're supposed to be, and when there aren't any other cars around it doesn't much matter. The hardest part for me was sitting on the right side of the car; all of my instincts on where mirrors and shifters are were completely wrong, and I kept drifting left in the lane because I'm so used to being on the other side. Driving a giant boat of a sedan did not help, especially on Kerry's narrow winding roads. But in 12 hours of drive time I only clipped a mirror once, so I'm willing to call that a win.

Now that I know I can drive in Ireland without unduly endangering myself and others, I'm thinking of taking more road trips for fun. The downside of all this productivity was not really getting to see anything but paperwork, hotel rooms, and vague blurs of passing scenery through the windshield: a shame, because there's so much more worth seeing.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Pesce out of Agua

We're taking a little break from my usual inane descriptions of life in Dublin, because I'm on vacation. In South America! Looks like I picked a perfect time to go, because the news out of Ireland is all flooding and gale force winds, while I've been sipping cocktails on the beach under perfect cloudless skies. My life is so hard. There will be pictures later for those of you who have interest in such things.

It occurred to me today that this is the first time in ages I've been on vacation someplace where the official language is something besides either French or English, or functional enough to make it seem that way. (That's right Iceland, I mean you.) It's been interesting. I speak no Portuguese aside from the obligatory obrigada. While it's hard to spend your youth in Texas without picking up any Spanish at all, I've never taken a class in it. I speak waitress Spanish, which essentially consists of nouns related to food and serving (la carne, los cubiertos), a small range of verbs in first person singular present tense (necesito, quiero, tengo), and an assortment of words not appropriate for polite company. I can also count to ten.

So I'm currently making my way through Brazil and Argentina with my pathetic grasp of Spanish, not infrequently mixed up with the smattering of Italian I learned a few years ago for grad school, and failing that, either French spoken Spanishly or words that sound like they belong to one Romance language or another but that I probably just made up on the spot. It's ugly, but it's mostly getting the job done.  Thank god for that. Communication is good. Even just crossing the Brazil/Argentina border and switching into Spanish has been such a relief - even if my speaking still sucks at least the comprehension is better. And when it all falls apart there's usually someone around who speaks English, the Most Useful Language in the World.

I have nebulous plans for a number of Eastern European trips to tackle while I'm living in the neighborhood, though after this experience I don't know how I'll manage in a linguistic environment where I don't even have two words to rub together. I guess there's always pointing and hand gestures, and probably English too.