penguin-colony

Are you planning a road trip this year?

If so, there is a good chance you will find yourself stuck in a not-so festive traffic jam. Here’s a mind-hack to help you keep the gas-break-honk blues at bay: imagine the sea of cars is a huddle of penguins.

According to a study published in the New Journal of Physics, emperor penguins use stop-and-go movements similar to dense highway traffic to protect themselves from the harsh Antarctic winter.

Researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute filmed penguin huddles from above, and studied the time-lapse footage looking for patterns. Every minute or so a single penguin waddled about 2 cm causing all the surrounding penguins to waddle 2 cm in response. These small movements sent waves of corresponding waddles through the entire huddle. This pattern is similar to that of cars making their way through dense traffic.

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This book is a non-fiction, travelogue about acclaimed travel writer Paul Theroux retracing the steps of his first successful travelogue “The Great Railway Bazaar”. While that book was light, eccentric, and filled with joie de vivre, this book is an entirely different animal. He views the places he visits with a kind of venom, and cynicism that comes with 40 years of travel experience. While he has often caught flak for the sardonic, self-deprecating tone of is later works, I actually prefer these. His prose boils and bubbles with sarcasm throughout, and he is the most entertaining when he’s petulantly complaining about something. The book lags when he visits places like India, which he seems more cynically bemused by, and Turkey, a place he doesn’t seem to cast his usual jaundiced eye on. But these are minor quibbles. As a whole, this book is highly entertaining, and I was enthralled by the state of modern Europe and Asia told through the uniquely cantankerous eyes of Paul Theroux.
Grade: A-
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This film is what I wanted the film Under the Tuscan Sun to be…a true experience of the culture, people and general “soul” of the place. The region of Provence in France is a beautiful region…similar to Italy’s Tuscany in the way people rave of its beauty and its scents and its postcard images. This series is based on the book of the same title by Peter Mayle, a former ad man in London who, along with his wife, decide to retires early in a farmhouse in Provence’s Luberon region. Mayle’s book became a sensation (mostly because it is about someone who actually does something that most people just dream of) just like Frances Mayes’ book about “escaping” to Italy…Under the Tuscan Sun. Unfortunately, the film version of Mayes’ book was changed into more of an exploration of romance instead of a study of Tuscany and its people. This TV version of Mayle’s book, on the other hand, is exactly what the book is…and more! When I say more, I do not mean to criticize Mayle’s beautiful book in any way. I just mean that SEEING Provence in its full glory surpasses the written word some. And what sights you see here! A Year in Provence is filled with the “air” of Provence…the images, the language, the smells, the culture, etc. This is a FUN time…there is something for everybody: scenery, humor, culture, beauty. How can you miss!

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First of all, I’m not a rough and outdoorsy type. I love (LOVE) to travel but the thought of heading to a place where the food consist of things I couldn’t even look at or the thought of being without modern (and sadly, essential) conveniences (like a coffee maker, laundry machine, etc.) or having to sleep outside among the dirt and animals and bugs (THE HORROR!) is just unthinkable to me. But, of course, my idea of travel is not the only one out there. Movie star Ewan McGregor and his pal Charley Boorman come up with a plan to drive motorcycles from London to New York eastbound, meaning the long way around. And, at over 20,000 miles, long is an understatement. In a trip that they estimated would take them three and a half months, they started several months before the departure getting financial backing for their worldwide quest. They accepted an offer to do an ongoing documentary for British TV, they organized a crew of producers and camera people who would be accompanying them (only one cameraperson rode with Ewan and Charley…the other crew members drove different routes in SUVs), they scouted out the best roads, they talked with officials of each of the countries, they exercised to get in shape, and on and on and on. The DVD set (two DVDs at approx. five hours) is the resulting documentary they produced and is simply fascinating to watch. There is a good hour of pre-trek information, but most of the documentary is spent with Ewan and Charley on the road….in Britain, France, Germany, Croatia, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, and finally North America. Each country they go to and each minute they ride gets more and more captivating. It is a story of adventure, survival and most of all, friendship.

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The second installment of the McGregor/Boorman world trek via motorcycles was even more exciting than the first (Long Way Round). This time, most of the episodes were devoted to the trip…rather than all of the preliminary work. Sure, the first few episodes cover some of the pre-trip stuff, but it felt like it moved along faster this time. And, once they got on the road, it was pure enjoyment. Though parts of Europe and then the entire length of Africa, Charley and Ewan ride gravel roads, sand highways, and rocky passages, all while we follow along. Not the most action-packed fun you can have, but for travel buffs who can never get the wanderlust out of their systems, this is a great way to do some good armchair traveling.

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Bruges, Belgium is not a city that has gotten a lot of attention over the years. To be honest, I hardly had ever heard of Bruges before this movie. Now, after seeing this film, not only have I heard of it, but I want to go there. BADLY! The PLOT of the movie is not what made me crave to travel to Bruges. Actually, the plot would be a hindrance. (I’m sure Bruges is not too happy having the image that people rampantly are getting shot throughout their town — that’s not really what a city wants on their tourism brochures.) In the beginning of the film, it’s like a travelogue…the city becomes one of the characters in the film. We go along with the two hit men as they spend the first part of the film sightseeing in Bruges. We wish we were there with them…tasting the beer and smelling the chocolates and sailing on the canals. Then, as the movie takes its turn toward the bloody and violent, we begin to forget about the chocolate and canals and the beer. We focus, rather, on how sorry we feel for all of these flawed, troubled and doomed characters. Sure, they are all bad men. But, in strange ways, all are likeable. Really! Hit men with hearts of gold…I know – mighty corny. But, it’s true. So, what have we learned here? Bruges is a beautiful, picturesque city. And not all hit men are bad people. Two excellent life lessons that I know will help me plenty in years to come. I’ll send you a postcard from Bruges and let you know if I’ve put my life lessons to use yet.
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