Monday, April 28, 2008

Squirrel Power

LA squirrels are pretty fierce. I guess they have to be to survive coyotes. One day, I was washing the dishes and noticed a squirrel was staring at me. Right through the window frame, about a foot away from me, on a large tree branch. The squirrel was checking me out — we stared at each other, eyeball to eyeball, and it said to me, narrowing its eyes and tightening its mouth, "I can take you on." And it could.

I told the Grumpy Dachshund and he thought I was just being funny. And then the other day, a squirrel took him on. You wouldn't believe how vicious this thing was. GD actually had to threaten it with a stick. I told him I wasn't exaggerating. And I also told him, "Look. Any time an animal says I can take you on, just reply, 'You certainly can.'"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Amazon Mechanical Turk

I'm afraid I have to make a digression here. Have you heard of Amazon Mechanical Turk? It's sort of difficult to explain unless you've been to Amazon's page and tried doing what's know as a HIT. Basically, the site is filled with tasks which, supposedly, computers can't do. These tasks are called HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks). And these tasks are assigned to humans. And these tasks are supposed to be things like, "Look at this picture. Describe the picture. What's in the picture?" If you successfully complete the HIT, you get paid, say, a whole cent! So basically, a HIT is something that's even too demeaning for a computer to do.

Well, I got very fascinated by this and spent hours and hours browsing the HITs. Some of it is unreal. Like: this Thursday watch TV from 8pm to 11pm and transcribe all the commercials. Pay? Fifty cents!

I was surprised by how many HITs there were for copywriting. Hardly in the spirit of the original idea. And they want to pay you less than a dollar for something a freelance copywriter would probably charge twenty dollars or so for. There were also people who wanted you to submit comments to their blogs. I have a blog. I'm desperate for comments. Would I pay someone a cent to write up a comment? Tempting.

One HIT was for a recipe that used six ingredients or less. I did that one and earned fifty cents! That's pretty good money in the world of Turk and I was pumped. Overall, for about an hour of work, I made $1.26!

So all was good in the world of AMT -- until I started getting screwed. Like UQSoft + Guessnow wanted you to submit time-sensitive quiz questions. Like who will win the Pennsylvania primary. So I did two HITs. And guess what? I never heard back from them. And these questions were Time Sensitive. Got the hint, UQSoft?

You can also earn qualifications. Take tests so you can qualify for $5 jobs. So I tried to take one from some requester (that's the people asking for HITs) who wanted transcribing done. The test wouldn't download. I was further disqualified from taking their test as that counted as abandonment.

Another problem I encountered was a HIT that was so badly worded, I ended up submitted my HITs to the wrong website (they wanted it done on their website but failed to say so specifically). I was denied payment. I complained. They didn't care.

So I did what you do. I complained to Amazon. Twice. Never heard back from them. And then I looked up the Wiki article on AMT. Turns out that's just the way it is in the Glorious World of AMT. I was surprised. Because the US is so responsive to problems or complaints (can't say that about the UK who once told me there was just no way the jewel box on the CD could have shattered in transit -- well, if you stack fifty pounds of books on top, it can!). So what's the deal, Amazon? Why can't we, the suckers who perform HITs, rate the requesters? You let buyers rate the sellers on Come on, give us some power -- we're only making a couple of cents a HIT. Don't you want to know about bogus HITs? What exactly is AMT all about? A way for Nigerians to make candy money? No wonder Nigerians prefer to send scam emails. (Apologies to Nigerians -- I mean no insult to you, just to AMT.) This is when the cry of UNION has to ring out.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Tunnel of Love

I'm talking about the McDonald's at Sunset and Crescent, near Laurel Canyon. It's located at a particularly torturous strip mall. To get to the McDonald's drive-thru, you have to enter a dark, narrow tunnel and drive through a maze. My husband, the Grumpy Dachshund, had christened it "The Tunnel of Love" and was always saying, "We should try out the Tunnel of Love."

Well, this morning, we finally did it. Our incentive? A flyer with tons of coupons. We went for breakfast because it's about the only thing at McDonald's we can eat without blanching. I'm still a great fan of the hash browns. (I also loved the cherry pies -- are they still around on President's Day?) With the coupons, we got

1 Cinnamon Melt
1 Egg McMuffin
1 Sausage Egg McMuffin
1 Hash Brown
1 Medium Premium Roast Coffee

all for $5.70! That's a lot of food for TV Kitty & Grumpy Dachshund -- we're still digesting.

Here's how I rate the experience.

Tunnel of Love: very claustrophobic.

Service: friendly but faulty -- gave us the wrong change but chased us down to get us the right change; cash register didn't work so we had to wait five minutes and then reorder everything.


Cinnamon Melt had the prerequisite sweetness and goo but the bread was awfully dry (it was more like a Monkey Bread, really)

Egg McMuffin and Sausage Egg McMuffin were as good as always

Hash Brown was fabulously brown and crispy

Premium Roast Coffee was too bitter and flaccid -- I don't think Starbuck's has anything to really worry about. It was strong, though. Still have a buzz. Probably why I'm bloggin'.

Total experience? We're Luvin' It.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Thai New Year Songkran Festival

Yesterday was L.A.'s Thai New Year Songkran Festival. It was pretty darn hot, so weather wise, the festival was pretty authentic (Songkran falls during Thailand's hottest time).

For the festival, a good chunk of Thai Town's Hollywood Boulevard was cut off. I got to eat some nice BBQ from Siam BBQ, participate in the curry contest, buy a parasol, and watch some festive performances. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the Singha beer garden. And I could have used a nice, cool glass of fresh Singha. To tell you the truth, the intense, record-breaking heat, lack of shade, long lines, and the huge turnout, made it difficult to enjoy anything. And I wish the curry competition had been a bit better organized. You had to pay for a ballot, but part of the enticement was that you could try all the curries you wanted. Only some of the booths were giving out free samples and others were charging you. Very annoying since it seemed as if all the samples were going to be free. And I thought the curries would be all Thai but there were at least two Indian curry booths.

The Indian curries were fun. One booth had curries that tasted very Asian, as in Japanese and Korean. Interestingly, curry was introduced to Japan by the Brits, which explains the peculiar, sweet taste (and the Japanese introduced that brand of curry to Korea). The other Indian booth I tried tasted very British -- like a typical local curry house in most British towns. Not too surprised to find out that the owners of the booth had a restaurant in Santa Monica, the ground zero of Brit expats, I've noticed. I'd go to the restaurant because, having lived in England so long, I too get a craving for the taste of a local curry house.

I later found out that the Songkran festival is also known in Thailand as the water festival since people go around shooting at each other with water guns. Boy, do I wish I'd had a water gun. The closest I got was a kid dropping his water bottle and splashing my leg. That was so nice...


I got to try the subway system (the festival was right at one of the stops). Mixed feelings. Like why can't you buy a round trip ticket? If you're only going to take two trips, it doesn't make sense to buy a day ticket. So you end up buying a ticket at each leg since there isn't a validation machine (I mean, come on, that's just basic). Still, nicely air-conditioned and clean.

I finally got to buy a cloth parasol! I'd been meaning to do it for awhile. I paid a bit more than I wanted and the bamboo mechanism looks like it's going to break at any moment but I can't tell you how glad I was to have it at the festival. If I spray some UV spray on it, it'll be perfect for LA summers!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ninja Delivery Service

In L.A., packages are delivered in a cloud of mystery. No one knocks on the door. No one asks for a signature. The package is simply and quietly dropped on your doorstep. Unless it's DHL, and then the package is thrown on your neighbor's yard like it was a newspaper. The amazing thing is you never hear the delivery guy (or gal). All you know is that you open the front door and there's a package. That's why I've come to call it the Ninja Delivery Service. Once, I actually caught the UPS guy dropping the package off and I said to my husband, "That's bad luck. Now he's going to have to kill himself."

Of course if it's the US Postal Service, they don't even bother to deliver it at all. They just drop off a card saying they tried to deliver it and now you'll have to go get it yourself. That's if it's signature required. Otherwise, they just pop it on top of the mailbox for anyone to pick up. What world are they delivering in? Mayberry?

Is this a nationwide thing or just L.A.? I have to admit, I don't like it. What happens if they misdeliver a package and it's really for our next-door neighbor? We have to haul the thing to our neighbor. Much rather have UPS do it because our neighbor buys big, heavy things. And I just don't like my packages just sitting there. My packages don't like it either.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Fauna

Whenever I move to a different climate, the first thing I begin to notice are the bugs. There are a lot of weird looking bugs in L.A. Most of them fly. And have too many legs. And I've never seen so many aphids. My coat brushed a rubber plant -- a colony of aphids immediately moved house.

A nice surprise was to find that L.A. has hummingbirds. Nigel is our resident hummingbird (photo above). He's not much to look at, but boy, is he fast. He has his favorite tree and his favorite leaf, and while we eat our lunch out on the porch, he eats his. At the moment, there's some territory war going on, so poor Nigel is keeping a vigilant watch. The second he spots a possible trespasser, he whoops a war cry and chases after the perp. It's better than watching Starsky and Hutch.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Feelin' Groovy

What I like about L.A.: there's such an easy friendliness here. You go to a trendy pizzeria and the hostess raves about your dress. The only compliments you'll get in NYC is from the gay guy at Saks. And then it's with a tinge of jealousy and a flavor of "I'm not complimenting you -- just your raincoat". NYC is more like Paris -- if a girl likes what you're wearing she'll maybe give you a sidewards glance or even deign to talk to you. Like the hostess at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon who let us in on a conspiracy against an annoying guest. Of course in London no one notices what anyone else is wearing -- unless they're an expat. Too much gloom and rain and booze -- everyone has a perpetual hangover. And a holiday brochure. Fleeing Ol' Blighty is a national obsession. Eleven years stuck in the UK and you too will catch the cultural fantasy of immigrating to Australia. Maybe that's what it is -- the sun. It must do something to you in L.A. Life isn't so threatening when the sun is shining and there's this dry ambient heat like a dream of lost paradise versus the gritty, disease-ridden sauna of NYC or Seoul.

You do get occasional unpleasantness. Like when Intelligentsia first opened in Silver Lake. But then you find out the Hipster staff had been recently imported from Seattle. Probably all got sunstroke the first day. Takes time to get used to so much sun.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


In L.A. rain is a natural disaster.

You need a visa to go to Koreatown.

At night, when the atmosphere is just right, the streets look surreally clear, the neon eye-piercing, the traffic lights crystal -- it's like you took some serious drugs and you can't quite trust your eyes.