19 February, 2009

Not all my Shots are Cheap...

In honor of the Anti-Crisis Business Networking Meeting in Bucharest today, here is a small reminder that other than wasting my days away diatribing on a blog, some of my other endeavors actually have some value:

(click for a larger version)

That's right, tremble in fear, mere mortals... I own a camera! HAHAHAHAHA!

In point of fact, with the evolution of convergence technology, specifically cell phones, it's getting harder to find people out there who don't own cameras. And don't pooh-pooh those camera phones, either. My Nokia N93 had a 3mp camera with Zeiss lens and a 3x optical (not digital) zoom. That gave it the honest equivalent of a 9mp camera. And my new LG Renoir is 8mp right out of the box. Considering some of my early floral shots from 2003 were done with a 3mp Sony Cybershot, it shows how far digital cameras have come, and ironically, how little of "good photography" is determined by megapixel count. In fact, unless someone out there comes up with some REALLY good software, and in which case he will have to be sequestered with Salman Rushdie to avoid the angry wrath of the world's leading photographers, cameras, no matter how good or expensive, remain in the category of tools. You either know how to use them or you don't. The world's most luxurious and well-made hammer, say, for example, the kind for which the Pentagon pays $2,000 each, is still useless in the hands of someone who can't hold a nail steady. A hydraulic automobile lift is worth nil if you don't know a generator from a geranium. And the new 21mp Canon EOS 5D Mk. II (and my birthday is coming, hint hint) is naught but a very glassy and metal-ly paperweight if you think "composition" is the report on amoebas your kid has due in Biology class on Monday. But I digress.

I take good photos. There's no getting around it. I'm not saying nobody's better. There are some awesome photographers even in my own small circle of friends. But if you like good photos and can't quite get the hang of doing it yourself, give me a ring up and let's talk. Some people have actually been known to pay me real money to take photos for them. If you would like to join this small but elite group of connoiseurs, I promise not to stand in your way.

18 February, 2009

It's a sign of something, but what?

A year or two ago, I traveled with a Romanian comrade back to the US. In touring major cities like New York and Washington, he commented on the sheer number of signs lining the streets. Directives for speed, parking, direction, litter, wipers, lights, turns, limits... his mind boggled. "Do you Americans need signs to tell you every little thing?" he asked. I couldn't argue. There are a few reasons why this is true; in America the law system is clogged to a standstill with stupidity (Google "frivolous lawsuits"), so the result is to attempt to pre-emptively spell everything out beforehand with signs to take the guesswork out of what should be done... and to minimize the lawsuits from idiots who drive their cars into the river because there wasn't a sign telling them NOT to. This couples well with the secondary but more historical reason for these signs: Americans just like being told what to do. We're too lazy to think for ourselves, or else we don't want to accept the responsibility of what might happen if what we think for ourselves turns out to be wrong. So we've empowered our government to think for us, and common sense is now attempted through legislation. But I digress.

The point is, with the million or so signs in each city block of any US metropolis, they are at least organized and displayed in a clear manner. Not so in Bucharest! While driving in Piata Victoriei, my attention was called to this amusing foul-up:

Leave it to these guys to screw up the display of not hundreds, not dozens, but just TWO signs. One is immediately in front of the other, the photo is not a trick of perspective. There is maybe half a meter between the signs. The one in front shows neighborhoods, the one in back shows highway directions. If you were not already familiar with the city, which sign do you think would be more important to you?

Ahh, forget it, I'll get an ulcer with this kind of stuff. Let's go read about those great street cleaning folks again.


It's probably a result of the recent elections, so don't expect it to last very long, but throughout the city, at all hours of day or night, you can see these intrepid souls in all weather. All they do is sweep the curbs and keep them clean - to the best of their abilities, of course... they're only human. I see them everywhere I go, and I go a lot in this town. Lately I've noticed they've become less cautious, or more defiant, or both, about working in the way of heavy traffic at rush hour, and you have to dodge a bit more than before. Still, they always appear to be working hard, never lounging around smoking or other leisure postures that one might expect from unionized labor. In a city that offers so little worthy of respect, this is one thing. Smile and wave if you catch their eye, and for any taxi drivers reading this, try not to hit them directly as you toss your complete McDonalds meal trash out your window...

17 February, 2009

Breakfast at the IHOP

In the US, a popular pastime is going out for breakfast at a franchise restaurant named International House of Pancakes. Since Americans are inherently fond of saving effort, this has been shortened, even by the restaurant itself, to the acronym IHOP. It is pronounced "eye-hop."

In Bucharest, it appears that breakfast at the IHOP is also popular, at least among the Gypsy population. Except in this case there's no acronym, breakfast literally means "IHOP over the locked gate to your trash can, slice open the bags therein, strew their contents all over the place digging for edibles, and feast on the opposite curb" (see my earliest blog entry).

So one morning I finally had my camera phone working at the right time: here's the breakfast nook all set up, complete with customer:

...and here's the chef, upper left, in mid-climb over the padlocked gate to the trash can, lower right. Within minutes the area around the can was piled with rotted, smelly loose trash and the girls were munching away on leftovers.

Before anyone gets on my case with an attempt at "but they have no choice," recall my earliest entry in this blog which points to sociological surveys that prove these people choose to live this way rather than joining society and working for a living. Therefore I feel neither guilt nor shame in including them among the stupid or criminal factions which provide my blog with endless entertaining material. Bon appetit!

16 February, 2009

Never a Sucker Gives an Even Break

The last few (sunny only of course) days I've driven to work, at the corner of Fundeni (Morarilor) and Pantelimon, there are a few boys working the stoplights handing out little printed ads to motorists. They appear to be gypsies (this is not racist, there is a physiognomy just as with any other culture and ethnicity) and they are having no luck handing out their ads. It's so cold out that nobody is rolling down their windows if you were handing out money, much less spam.

There is a woman on the corner watching them with concern, whom I deduce to be their trainer, supervisor, whatever, but who is clearly dismayed at the lack of results in this effort. Between red lights, the boys mope back to her and they argue animatedly. Gestures and body language suggest they are exchanging ideas of how to be more efficient, and simultaneously their opinions of each other's ideas.

A few thoughts cross my mind as I observe this over the course of several stoplights (Bucharest traffic, I might've mentioned it). First, I recalled that this type of marketing only seems to work when the distributors are shapely young women in revealing attire. Summer also plays an important factor, where windows are much more likely to be open. Combine the heat of the season with the allure of the approaching spammer and those little slips of paper get snapped up like euros... which are also admittedly little slips of paper so the metaphor is not as dramatic as it could be. But I digress. Expecting this formula to work as well with the small substitutions of subfreezing winter and grubby apathetic future vagrants was a loss before breakfast was even drunk.

Next, it occurs to me that while my personal opinions of gypsies may be considered racist, albeit overwhelmingly shared by the populace and, not insignificantly, supported by facts, data and even the most casual observation (see my earliest blog entry), I try to give everyone a chance. And the fact here is that there appears to be at least two gypsy boys actually trying to make an honest living, and exerting a real effort for a job that's got to pay a pittance at best. This deserves my respect.

So, a few days later when I'm driving the same way to work, I see the same boys working the same intersection. My respect actually raises a notch because now I can add "perseverance" to the list of unexpected qualities before my eyes. So, this time, as they work the line of cars which mostly refuse to open their windows (it is still subfreezing after all), I am now inclined to open mine and take one for the team.

Instantly a small booklet is pushed into my hand. It is a booklet about roofing materials. I'm wondering how someone fills a whole booket with a roofing ad when the pages of the booklet begin to slide apart from each other. They are in fact unattached to each other, and they are all identical in content. What I have been handed is a stack of single-page ads.

While I'm absorbing all this, I realize the boy has been talking to me through the window. I still don't know much Romanian, but being a daily motorist in this town there are a few phrases I've learned very well, and "bani, te rog, cinci lei, domnule" is one of them.

So, let's sum up. Not only is this little bastard falsifying his success rate at his job (now obviously measured by how many papers he gives away), but he's using it as a cover for the standard tactic of begging at stoplights. Now I'm sorry to say this, but in 5 years of daily driving in this town I can absolutely put stoplight beggars into 3 distinct categories: pensioners, disabled and gypsies. Since our young entrepreneur was obviously young and hearty, only one category fit him and it seems my lesson for the day was that a leopard does not change his spots.

W.C. Fields said "never give a sucker an even break." I wonder if one becomes the sucker by trying to give an even break?

15 February, 2009

Not exactly "Baby on Board..."

Okay, I admit it - as an American, you tend to preconceive a tad when you see something like this. But in reality, the German national anthem is a good song that got a bad rap thanks to the connotations added during WWII. http://ingeb.org/Lieder/deutschl.html

I would like to believe this is an expression, admittedly highly dramatic, of simple patriotism for one's homeland and not a four-wheeled recruiter for neo-Nazis. Still, this is taking a bit of a chance. Even a historically Ameriphilic Romanian would nowadays throw a brick as likely as a cheer if I drove around with a big Old Glory in my rear window splattered with a few lines of Scott Key? My personal pick to drive home the analogy would probably be,

"Then conquer we must,
When our cause it is just,
And this be our motto,
'In God is our trust!'"

In fact, Germany and the US might be said to have an interesting similarity in that they were both transformed into planetary pariahs by 8 years' arrogance and stupidity of one man. Ours just happened 60 years later. Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

But I digress. And the above photo is probably nothing to worry about. Bucharest already has one recruiter with a monopoly on bulky, brainless, skinheaded bullies: BGS Security.

14 February, 2009

Ahuh-huh... me fix it all by myself

I leave a client meeting this morning and the car doesn't start. Not the dead battery kind of not-start, nor the out of gas kind. All the lights, fan, horn work fine. So I go to throw the shifter (it's an automatic transmission) into Neutral to push it into a better parking spot while I figure out what to do. The shifter feels wrong, it doesn't click into the places it usually does. But I finally do get it to a spot where the engine will start, and by jiggling it a bit more it lets me creep home clear across town in 1st gear.

This kind of stuff terrifies me. Not because I don't know the first thing about fixing cars, actually the opposite. I know quite a lot, but the biggest thing I know these days is how little of it I can act upon because of my circumstances. I have an American car not in America. It took two weeks to replace a busted window and while most of that time was waiting for parts, a good chunk of it was the Euro-trained metal car mechanics crash-coursing themselves on how to tear into good old American plastic. I had to turn away with nausea when I saw the first stab into the door trim with a screwdriver and hammer, and the missing pressure-fit connectors that were broken off outnumber the ones that remain. For an apparently big-ticket catastrophe like my current non-shifting, I couldn't bear to think of the National Lampoon's Vacation-esque farce I'd endure to get it fixed, not to mention the delay and cost ("How much money you got?"). Therefore, I figured I had little to lose by taking a looksee myself and see what I could see before throwing myself on anyone's mercy.

I guessed from the characteristics of the problem that it lay somewhere with the linkage connecting the shift lever to the transmission. Thanks to the wonder that is the Intarnetz, particularly a car owner's forum populated with slightly disgruntled automotive workers, I have the complete factory shop manual for my car. This showed me that the "linkage" is actually a newfangled cable setup with a plastic clip that holds the tension where it belongs.

Aha, plastic. God bless America, where nobody has a problem putting a flimsy plastic piece where a sturdy metal one should be. One bottle jack later and I was sliding myself under the car, realizing in no small way the truth of my delusion as to how much weight I've actually lost of late. Here's what I saw:

Of course, it didn't occur to me to take photos with my phone until the work was all done, but the white clip that holds the cable in the black metal bracket had slipped out of there entirely. There were two barb things at the top and bottom of the clip, which click into the two holes in the metal bracket, visible immediately above and below the clip. They are designed not to let go again unless they break. And they not only weren't broken, they had no signs of abrasion or other use. All I can guess is that the clip was never fully pushed into place to begin with, thank you American workmanship. The clip slid into place easily enough now, and while it took some leverage with a large screwdriver handle, it slid all the way in until the barbs clicked soundly into place. That clip ain't going nowhere now and the car shifts exactly as it should (and did).

Anyway, I complain but the truth is that this was worlds better than the alternative - attempting to have an American car fixed in Romania. Even the thought just gives me a shiver. But the laws of entropy being what they are, I'll have to face that music someday and must prepare myself!

- k -

13 February, 2009

Bucharest License Tag of the Day

Or, for my US kinfolk, "license plate:"
I can't get enough of this stuff. This sure fooled me, guys, how about you? Does anyone even know from what country it's trying to be? The People's Republic of Crayola? As always, what I love most about this is that while I get pulled over by every bored cop who decides I blinked the wrong way, you just know Registration Rembrandt here is scooting around town untouched by the Long Arm.

In the interests of fairness, if someone out there knows me to be ignorant of the true purpose of this and/or what our automotive artist actually seeks to accomplish, please shout!

- K -

09 February, 2009

Still haven't washed the car...

...but I came closer today than ever before because I took the day off to do things in town so I had the time. But there's never a line of less than 4 cars waiting to get into any car wash in the city and at about 15 minutes per wash, the answer for me is a big fat "fcuk that!"

So I'll keep scraping adobe off the license tags enough to read them and wait for that big heavy cleansing rain to do my work for me. Either that or any physics whizzes reading this can tell me how feasible it is to run a garden hose out my bathroom window and down 5 stories and expect any pressure out the nozzle.