Monthly Archives: April 2014

Can you count the Santas?

For this month’s end of the month guest post, Arun writes from the left coast about SantaCon in San Francisco.

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santacon0As the sun peeked through the serene landscapes of San Francisco, a city often known as the liberal capital of the United States, everything looked a bit extra Christmassy for a random December morning. One might wonder, what’s so different today in this city that often teases you with its weather but never disappoints you. You see splashes of red and green and white embellished with fake beards and jingling bells and mistletoes. Yes you are right, Santa is in town. Not one, not a hundred, but thousands. It is time for one of the most unique jamborees one could experience in this beautiful city – It is SantaCon!!
 
As much as San Francisco is known for its quirky festivals and marathons, this one really stands out and is very near and dear to San Franciscans. Despite all the festivities being centered around bar crawls and partying on the streets, there is definitely a more wholesome nature to SantaCon as it brings together ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages to celebrate one man’s contribution to the world’s happiness – good old Santa Claus! People also make toy donations on this day to celebrate the holiday spirit of sharing and giving.
 
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All Santa enthusiasts gather in the morning by the landmark Christmas tree at Union Square to show off their many different Santa, elf and reindeer costumes no matter what the weather is like. From heavy rain in 2012 to a beautiful sunny day in 2013, they flock in large numbers before they disperse to various parts of the city crawling from bar to bar. SantaCon is also a great exhibition of creativity in this tech savvy city with a lot of the costumes and props made from scratch over many days. To watch a bunch of guys and girls in their 20s wearing LED lit costumes with a sprinkle of naughty and a lot of nice dragging each other on a hand crafted sleigh from bar to bar exemplifies the energy of youth amongst San Franciscans. While at the same time, some people choose to be a tad more creative or not creative at all (the choice really depends on perspective). A sight not rare at all in San Francisco and maybe not for the faint hearted, you will also run into adventurous men and women who choose to bare almost all donning just a beard or a hat or a few beads letting the Santa spirit touch them in a more intimate fashion; probably their own way of letting Santa know that they’d like some new clothes as Christmas presents.
 
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Sometimes I wonder… it is events like SantaCon which could arguably be categorized simply as excuses to dress up and party, that really bring people from different walks of life, different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds together under the roof of one city to forget all their worries and concerns and celebrate the joy of Christmas. If only people decided to whole heartedly adopt this spirit every day of their lives instead of waiting for the holiday season or SantaCon, this world would have a lot more to be proud of. But despite some of the drunken revelry and debauchery, San Francisco makes a sincere attempt every year to spread this message through SantaCon and manages to hold up high standards of unity in diversity all year round which makes it one of the most loved cities in the world.

~Arun

29 Apr 2014

Found on Amazon…

These days it is common to look at product reviews and compare price value equations before we make any purchase decisions. Who even selects a place for lunch or dinner without consulting Yelp? However, read customer reviews for entertainment? Whoever heard of such a thing? But trust me, there are customer reviews that read like National Book Award winners… and they are on a site that most of us visit regularly, amazon.com, world’s largest online retailer!
 
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There is this product, a banana slicer, that is available for sale at amazon.com. A simple tool to slice bananas into even sized pieces. This banana slicer has 4832 customer reviews. Till today. That is important because the comments have been coming for seven years, and I’m sure that count will go up. So what is there to write about a simple banana slicer, you ask? Aah, here is a sample…
 
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Did you see? More than 50 thousand people found that review helpful! That is, including me! 🙂 And 458 of them wrote comments on the review. And the comments are pretty much in the same vein as the reviews.
 
Here is another interesting one…
 
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How did it happen that such a large number of customers were interested in writing reviews of this product when on an average, a product on the site gets less than 50 reviews? It is what I would call viral reviews. I mean, the comment tendency must have spread like a virus among the customers!
 
The first review of the product is dated May 19, 2007. A regular review; good product, as advertised. And it continued till March 2, 2011, with a few reviews appearing over the years. Then, the fun started with this one on Mar 3, 2011.

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And, it never stopped… gets better and better. The imagination, time and effort that goes into these are commendable.
 
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And this is the latest one…

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These are the five star reviews; there are single star reviews as well, which are equally hilarious.
 
Here is a link to the banana slicer reviews. Don’t forget to check out the comments on the reviews. Also, the 456 questions that have been answered.
 
There are some customers (writers) who specialise in reviews which are a lot more than reviews. Here are a few links you may like.
 
A collection of 41 reviews

Huge collection of 111 reviews

Small collection, but hilarious
 
P.S. I liked the reviews so much that I couldn’t help ordering one… no, actually two! 🙂
 
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~Ria

25 Apr 2014

Parodies: Better than Originals?!!

Early in life, I began watching, reading, and listening to parodies, spoofs or imitations that attempt to mock the original. It was also the same time I realized that I sort of enjoyed parodies more.

 
I don’t know if it is because of the inherent cynical humor and sarcasm or that I just liked humorous stuff better. I remember my uncle being a strong influence in this area. He is a huge fan of parody songs. While driving long distance in the car, he would play the parody songs in a loop and the whole family loved humming to the songs’ tunes. I wonder if this gave any newfound meaning to my child’s mind matching parodies to the actual creative products of the mind.
 
My interest in parodies sparked again when I recently watched The Hungover Games, a cross between The Hunger Games and The Hangover. The story is about how the main characters go about celebrating the bachelor party of their friend as in The Hangover. They do this by winning a fight as shown in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
 
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The film has spoof elements from other movies too. A real parody in its true sense! It is so hilarious that I was Rolling On the Floor Laughing the whole time. That’s when my mind floated back to the first spoof movie I ever watched: Scary Movie, a horror comedy film, in 2000. Since then, there have been five sequels parodying the successful horror movies of the year. I read that the latest sequel, Scary Movie 5, released in 2013, based on Mama, did not really make it big at the box office.
 
Spoofing music videos is another common activity these days. And it all starts with the popular ones. There are many takes on the Happy video from Pharrell Williams, shot in cities and countries around the world. Though some of these are not necessarily spoofs, there have also been many of those spoof videos. Also, how can I not mention the most popular spoof video of 2013, the one on Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball, featuring Nicolas Cage?!!
 
It was interesting to follow the news stream on the First Kiss youtube video that went viral and its parodies that came by soon after. The video shows 20 strangers kissing for the first time in front of the camera. Noted for its unconventional outlook on human relationships, the video was supposed to take on a greater meaning when it was found that it is actually launched as an ad campaign for a clothing store. Alas, this was disillusioning for the general public.
 

The parodies, as expected, were fun. The most popular parody of that video was a video from LA-based sketch comedy troupe, Pimm’s Girl. In television, the Colbert Report can be considered as the best parody talk show, where he assumes the persona of an ultra-conservative character and does it with a forever-straight face. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is another remarkable parody news program and many from the younger generation have declared that they get their news update from that program!

~Cux

22 Apr 2014

How much flowers is too much flowers?

My dear readers have to excuse me for writing about flowers too much; what can I do? Wherever one looks it is all flowers… the Macy’s flower show gets over, it is the orchid show at New York Botanical Garden. Then it is time for the cherry blossom festival at Washington DC, and at Branch Brook Park next door! Not to forget all the trees flowering all over the place… in the local park, on the sides of all the streets, and of course, outside my window… Aah… the abundance of spring…
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Soooo… about the cherry blossom festival. This year, I got the timing exactly right. The three day weekend I had planned there was precisely when the season peaked. And it is cherry trees bursting out in blooms everywhere you look. The difficult part is to decide when to stop taking pictures… 🙂

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The Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC is one of the nation’s greatest springtime festivals. From the modest beginnings when a group of school children re-enacted the initial planting in 1927, the festival has grown to programs lasting five weeks with more than 1.5 million people visiting Washington DC for the occasion.

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Despite the crowds, it is a fantastic experience to walk under the cherry trees in full bloom. Glimpses of blue sky through the pink and white petals… with the black branches making artistic outlines… and a breeze would send showers of petals down to the ground. This season of bliss lasts just about two weeks, and towards the end of that time, there will be carpets of pink and white all over the place.

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The cherry trees in Washington DC were a gift of friendship to the People of the United States from the People of Japan. The gift of two thousand cherry trees from the Japanese Embassy, to be planted along the Potomac river, arrived in 1910. However, it was discovered that the trees were infested with insects and had to be destroyed.

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A second gift of cherry trees, now increased to 3,020, arrived in 1912 and were planted around the Tidal Basin, a partially man-made reservoir between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel.

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Today, these cherry trees around the Tidal Basin put out the best show in town!

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More trees, received as gifts as well as grown from cuttings from the original trees, have been planted, around the Tidal Basin and along the Potomac River. The most common cherry blossoms are of the Yoshino variety, in white or pale pink, each flower having five petals. The Yoshino trees are the first ones to bloom in early spring.

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The Kwanzan trees bloom two weeks after the Yoshino trees kick off the show, and are of a darker pink colour and have multiple layers of petals.

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The original trees that were planted in Washington DC came from the banks of the Arakawa River in a suburb of Tokyo. In 1952, those cherry trees, along the Arakawa River, had fallen into decline and the National Park Service of the US sent saplings from the descendants of the original trees back to Tokyo to restore the original grove.

Washington Monument seen through the cherry blossoms

Washington Monument seen through the cherry blossoms

Interesting facts… In 1938, it was decided that a number of cherry trees had to be cut down to prepare for the construction of the Jefferson Memorial (BTW, my favourite memorial in all of DC!) and a bunch of women angry at the prospect of cutting down the trees chained themselves together in protest! And could be pacified only with a promise to plant more trees framing the memorial.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial framed by cherry blossoms

Thomas Jefferson Memorial framed by cherry blossoms

~Ria

18 Apr 2014

A Toast to Ontario’s Crowning Glory

It’s very common that many of my friends envy me my home close to the Canadian side of the famous Niagara Falls. After all, it is the most well-known of the waterfalls with the maximum number of visitors and also the largest in North America. It is indeed an amazing sight to look at the gigantic sheet of water thundering down and splashing on the rocks below, often creating multiple rainbows.

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Located on the US-Canadian border, on the Niagara River, there are three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls, namely the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. Among these three, it is the Horseshoe Falls that takes the spotlight with a width of 2,600 feet (790 m) and a height of 173 feet (53 m).
Niagara Falls came into being 10,000 years ago when the ice melted after the Wisconsin glaciation and the water from the Great Lakes made its way through the Niagara River to the Atlantic Ocean, forming Niagara Falls on the way. Gradual erosion over the years has given the Falls its current shape. Geologists predict that, at this rate of erosion, the Falls will be nonexistent in 50,000 years.

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American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

Compare the height of the people to get an idea of the size of the waterfall!

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Horseshoe Falls

The name, Niagara, comes from the name of the local people who used to reside in the area. Niagara Falls happens to be a hop, skip and jump away from my home city… one of the reasons for having seen the Falls in every season, may it be spring, summer, fall, or winter. And I must admit, it is the fall season I like the best when the trees are in brilliant colors, the gardens are well-tended, and the beautiful scenery extends beyond the magnanimous flow of water to the fall colors, the orangish-red foliage of the trees and the iridescent floral gardens.
In the winter ice storm of 2013, Niagara Falls looked picturesque as a huge ice sculpture. It was subfreezing temperatures most of the time though fun to hang out.

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The Maid of the Mist boat ride is a summer event that takes you to the base of the Falls where you are drenched by the mist from the Falls. A thrilling experience, worth a try.

Niagara Falls has been a venue for many publicity stunts. In 2012, Nik Wallenda, a tightrope artist, walked across Niagara Falls on a wire strung from the American side to the Canadian side. That was a major show for the public, broadcast live on national television as well as a great achievement for him.

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In earlier years, there have been people who have rolled over the Falls or jumped over. In 1901, Annie Edson Taylor survived the experience of rolling over the Falls in a barrel. Sam Patch was the first person to jump over the Falls. Some of these daredevil stunts were staged to garner money.

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Along the falls lies a commercial town filled with casinos, posh hotels and restaurants, observation towers, souvenir shops, amusement parks, game shops, neon billboards, and advertisements.

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Surrounding this area is the wine country and the provincial town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is this town that I always look forward to while visiting Niagara Falls. Not only do I get to taste different kinds of wine from the nearby vineries but also for its quiet splendour and relaxing environment.

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~Cux

15 Apr 2014