Fire on the metro

You know, it's getting to the stage where I've got half a mind to rename this blog to "lowbrowcultureshocked".

Today, I was up at the Irish College to get a mass card for an aunt who died recently. To get home, I decided to get the Metro at the Colosseum. Now, I should probably explain that there are two metro lines in Rome. Metro A has been recently revamped and now all the trains and most of the stations are pretty. Metro B, on the other hand, is dingy and ugly. All the trains are covered in graffiti outside and covered in piss and various other bodily fluids inside.

Colosseum is Metro B.

I'm in the station waiting for the Metro to arrive. It's around lunchtime, so there's not a lot of tourists leaving yet - they're all inside the Colosseum, baking and sweating and wearing funny hats. The sign says there's a train in three minutes. I drift back off into the dreamworld I go to when I'm wandering around Rome listening to my iPod (travel tip: this is the only way I have found to not constantly lose my shit at the lack of an orderly queuing system in Italy). Gradually, I start to smell smoke. I'm looking around, a couple of other people are sniffing too. But there's no obvious fire, so no major panic yet. Then we get the buildup of wind that precedes a train coming down the line. Suddenly the train screams past as if it's being chased by the devil himself. It's totally dark except for the one carriage that is completely ablaze.

My mouth was still hanging open by the time the next train arrived. All the Italians shrugged as if this was entirely unremarkable and went back to wearing their giant sunglasses and looking like Hugo Boss models.

Mr T: The 'T' in I.T.

So there you have it. Mr. T pities the fool who doesn't use Hitachi data system virtualisation.

(?)

Failing Now.

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Our Macbook had been crashing frequently over the past week or so. It would hang randomly when doing minor things, like copying a new program into the Applications folder. Sometimes it would take the computer two or three minutes to get itself together. Other times, it wouldn't get itself together at all and a hard reboot was the only option.

Eventually, I took a look in Disk Utility. The hard drive was listed in red. It told me the disk was dying. I used smartmon to give me more information, and this is where I got the image at the top of this post - my "Reallocated Sector Count" was at 0, and my disk was "FAILING_NOW". I'll spare you the gory details of what this meant, but the shorthand version is "ABANDON SHIP! WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST!"

Necessity: the mother of invention

Fortunately, we had a spare laptop hard drive lying around, so that wasn't a major issue. We also had a spare 400GB desktop hard drive, with a USB adaptor. Unfortunately, we only had two power adaptors. Which meant I couldn't power the macbook, the hard drive to be backed up and the hard drive I was backing up to.

We'd bought a bunch of spare power adaptors in the airport before we came but in our excitement, walked off the plane without them - oops.

So for the past month, we've been carefully swapping power adaptors around as needed. The hairdryer, the iron, our phones, the PlayStation, the computers, the wireless router... it got a little silly, but we managed. When I'd google for a place to buy electrical equipment in rome, I'd found that the main place is called "GPL". And Linux has completely ruined that search term.

So when the hard drive began to die, I ran out and didn't stop using my broken Italian and eleborate hand gestures until I came back with a bunch of power adaptors and two-prong figure-eight plugs.

(PS, for anyone searching google for 'electrical equipment' or 'travel adaptors' in Rome, I found a GPL on the corner of Viale delle Milizie and Via Giordano Bruno.)

Backing it all up

I'd heard a lot about SuperDuper, an application for backing up your Mac. A lot of people have said how it saved their necks, so that was the first thing I tried.

Unfortunately, it's not so good for saving your neck when your hard drive is already on the way out. When it encounters a bad block on the disk (and your disk can't replace the bad block, as mine couldn't), SuperDuper will try a bunch of methods to access the data and then crap out. It throws its hands up in the air, shouts "I can't work with these amateurs" and goes back to its trailer.

Tar wasn't much better. In the end, I created a disk image on the 400GB hard drive and used plain ol' 'cp'. When it came across a bad block, it complained of an I/O error but kept on truckin'.

So now I've got a proper backup, we're working off the spare hard drive (with half the capacity, but it'll do), and I got an RMA from the hard drive manufacturer.

Hopefully things will be back to normal next week.

Sony launch an official PlayStation blog →

Or, as one little scamp puts it, "I've been waiting for a place for us PS3 owners to congregate and learn about the future of our consoles? You know, with only one bias."

Get a Monster by Mail! →

$20 gets you a custom-drawn piece of Zombie art. I know someone who needs to steal this business model.

What the world eats

ecuador.jpg I'm pretty sure this is old news, but Time Magazine is running excerpts of the book "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats" on its website.

My favourite is the Ayme family from Ecuador, pictured above. It makes me wonder: are pork pie hats mandatory in Ecuador? If so, I'm booking a flight today.

This is my pork pie hat. There are many like it, but this one is MINE. My pork pie hat is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My pork pie hat without me is useless. Without my pork pie hat, I am useless.

One thing that's concerning me is the lack of processed foods in that picture. Surely they'd have a Subway or a McDonalds or something? Maybe one of those sacks is just full of spice burgers, I dunno.

Quick confession: A few days ago, I actually Googled "KFC Rome Italy". I am weak.

Paris Hilton sent back to jail

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Maybe if the BBC was a bit more creative in their news reporting, I'd give more of a shit about current events. For example, on the Paris Hilton case:

news.bbc.co.uk says

She arrived in handcuffs and cried throughout the court session.

The judge said that she would have to serve her full 45-day sentence.

"It's not right!" she shouted in response, before calling out to her mother, who was at the court.

thesuperficial.com says

Some witnesses say they saw a rainbow above the courtroom. And others say they saw a giant man in the clouds with a white beard nodding his head approvingly. And me? Well I saw Judge Michael Sauer grow to be twelve feet tall, with muscles the size of tree trunks. And when he smiled, little cartoon hearts appeared above my head and there was a strange tingling sensation in my pants.

Therefore, thesuperficial.com > news.bbc.co.uk

QED.

Roman Bread Situation: Update

Roman sandwich bread

Since I last spoke about the Roman bread situation, there have been a couple of interesting developments. First, I have found a bread that is capable of holding a slice of ham, a slice of cheese and a slice of tomato without having everything spilling over the sides.

Hooray!

Roman sandwich bread

Except where's the fucking crust?! Did the bakery not get the note about the crust? I know that there's a lot of people out there who aren't fans of the crust on sandwiches and would probably welcome the pre-packed removal of the crust. To these people I say: sack up and realise that a sandwich without crust is only half a sandwich.

But there's another problem. You probably can't see it from either of my awful, awful pictures, but each of these small packs contains five slices of bread. Five.

This is kinda like the issue of burgers coming in packs of eight and burger buns coming in packs of six, except you can always eat a burger without a bun, and burger buns don't have to be used exclusively for burgers. Actually, it's not like the burger/buns situation at all. It would be more like burgers coming in packs of eight and burger buns coming in packs of three and a half.

Rather than work myself into an early grave giving out about the busted logic behind stuffing five slices of bread into a pack clearly made for sandwiches, I'm off to cry myself to sleep and dream of once again having a loaf of Brennan's bread.

YouTube - El Chupacabra →

Amazing! I don't care if this is a real Chupacabra, a crack addict taking a shit in the bushes, or even just a special effect - it's still going to keep me awake at night.

Don't cry, Paris Hilton →

(Update 20201111: Video was taken down from youtube and I can't even remember what it was)

Perspective

Four weeks ago: Working at a computer for twelve hours a day, I'd go home and watch some really shit movie until the early hours of the morning. I'd go to sleep full of junk food and self-loathing.

Today: After Italian class, I walked home in the sunshine, sat down beside the Pantheon and finished the Agatha Christie book I'd been reading (I'm 28 and never had time to read Agatha Christie before). Then I went home, ironed my girlfriend's suit pants and monogrammed handkerchief, and got myself ready for dinner with the Irish president.

I don't feel very different.

Harry Potter Theme Park →

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Girding my loins today is Universal Studios' announcement that they will be developing a "theme park within a theme park" based on the Harry Potter books and movies. Covering over 20 acres, 'The Wizarding World of Harry Potter' will be a themed 'land' (like "Frontierland" or "Tomorrowland") within Universal's Islands of Adventure in Orlando Florida. Universal say this area will contain contain 'state of the art attractions' and 'experimental shops'. Which sounds slightly ominous.

I'm a huge theme park nerd. As I said before, I don't enjoy the rides as much as just walking around this completely artificial, fantasy world, soaking up all the simulacra. Combine this with the amazing production design of the Harry Potter movies, and you've got me hooked.

Click here to see the announcement video.

Insults and advertising

This week, I started an Italian language course which has really been helping me settle in. My pidgin Italian is starting to develop some structure (for 'structure' read 'actual verbs instead of grunts where verbs should be') and I'm a lot more confident in dealing with people now that I have a better idea of what they're saying.

Something I'm discovering is just how much you can learn a lot about a country from its insults. For example, one of the worst insults you can throw at someone in Italian is Cornuto, which means "cuckold". You'll hear this a lot in football games, Arbitore Cornuto! ("The Referee is a Cuckold!"). The other major insults include "ugly" and "homosexual". There are loads of other, smaller ones, but these three - 'cuckold', 'ugly', 'homosexual' - are the ones that are likely to send an Italian into a rage and are usually saved for when someone has really pissed you off.

Maybe it's the armchair psychologist in me, but I think this says a lot about the insecurities of Italian people.

Similarly, you can also learn a lot about a country from its advertisements. From what I've seen here, most ads seem to revolve around crime. For the most part, the 'crimes' are innocent enough. Like the TV ad that has a woman driver pleading with male driver to let her take his parking spot. She shows him her broken shoes, puts on her best puppy-dog face and the guy lets her in. Once she's parked, she gets out of the car in - wouldn't you know it? - perfect shoes.

But they're not all so cute and cheerful. Adidas recently launched a shoe that has interchangeable gel pads in the soles. These come in all sorts of designs and aren't really taking off here. The print ad shows a guy hiding from the police while quickly swapping his gel pads for ones of a different design.

And of course, there's the other major source of advertising inspiration: sex. At worst, back home, these hover around the 'saucy' end of the scale. Here, they're positively explicit. Here's an example: Slide with me! It's for a water park in Rome, but it took me ages to realise there was a water park in the picture too. The caption says "Slide with me" although, to me, it will always say "Come to aquapiper and you'll get to have sex with me!"

(My favourite part of the ad is the "Bambini Gratis!" down the bottom, because the rest of the ad doesn't make it look like somewhere I'd want to bring a child.)

The hardest parts of living in Rome

Bread

For a nation that loves its carby, starchy foods, they really don't have a great handle on the whole 'bread' situation. They've got the giant loaves sorted out, which is fine when you want something big and crusty to dip into soup or for mopping up the tasty, tasty juices on your plate, but average day-to-day bread is a mess. These guys are the cornerstone of western civilization yet they haven't figured out that a loaf of batch is like manna from heaven? And normal sandwich bread isn't much better, far too small and far too sweet to be of any use to anyone. I'm feeling like Nigel Tufnell in Spinal Tap.

Bud Spencer

Back home, street-sellers have posters of things like Scarface, Trainspotting and Bob Marley. Which gives us a good glimpse into the mindset of youth culture in Dublin - fascinated by drugs and trashy drug-related movies. Here, they sell posters of uh... Bud Spencer movies. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the Bud Spencer/Terrence Hill movies and when I was younger, I loved The Sheriff and the Satellite Kid, so I'm not really complaining. Just confused.

Italian Music

What. The. Fuck? Granted, I haven't looked very hard, and I'm sure that over the next three years, I'll eventually find some Italian music that I love but right now I've had it up to my fuckin' harbls with crappy power-ballads. Less Zucchero, more Jovanotti thx.

Fascism

I've never lived somewhere that had people actually still promoting fascism as a viable political option. Before I came here, I never heard anyone proudly describe themselves as a fascist. All the other things - the bread, the music, the pictures of Bud Spencer's giant face grinning out at me from the side of the street - I can get used to these, with enough time. I hope I never, ever get used to hearing someone proudly describe themselves as a fascist.