Sunday, September 30, 2007

I'm in Chicago again!

I arrived a few hours ago in Chicago to teach at the Adobe MAX conference this week. My friends Mark and Jen and their two kids Jessica and Matthew picked me up at the airport and we had a really nice Greek meal at the Parthenon where one of their signature dishes is a hot appetizer called Saganaki, which is a mild kaseri cheese flamed in brandy. You can see it in the first photo.

After that, we drove to one of the beaches on Michigan Lake. It's a beautiful day here, 80 degrees, a nice strong breeze and it was a joy just to sit outside and enjoy the weather. I couldn't help noticing, though, that here in Chicago anything goes, as you can see in the second photo of the man who decided to take a swim but didn't have a bathing suit. No problem! Underwear kind of looks like a white bathing suit, right?

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Current Favorite Sayings

  1. Money will buy a fine dog, but only kindness will make him wag his tail.
  2. If you don't have a sense of humor, you probably don't have any sense at all.
  3. Seat belts are not as confining as wheelchairs.
  4. A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you're in deep water.
  5. Why is it that at class reunions you feel younger than everyone else looks?
  6. Scratch a dog and you'll find a permanent job.
  7. There are worse things than getting a call for a wrong number at 4 AM. It could be a right number.
  8. Be careful reading the fine print. There's no way you're going to like it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Which Presidential Candidate Agrees With You?

The following is an interesting exercise.... You answer a few questions then click the "find your candidate button" and the program selects the candidate whose positions on the issues is most like your own... You may be surprised at what you find... I was.... Click the link below....

Watch Out For Crooked Mechanics!

Two of my uncles are mechanics and I know a little bit about cars myself. Ashburn Service & Tire Center opened near us a couple of years ago. It looks like a Merchants Tire Center. It has five bays and a smooth-talking staff.

Last year, my friend Irene needed to have some work done on her car. She brought it in and they told her it would cost about $800. She told them to proceed. Later in the day, they called her to say that the cost would actually be about $1,800! She told them not to do the work and got the car back. She then had the work done at another garage. The bill? $800. She hasn't had a problem with it since.

Despite this suspicious event, last January I brought both my car and my son's to this place to get our state inspections done. They told me I would have to leave the cars. This raised my suspicions but I was in a bit of a bind, due to travel the next day and wanting to get it done without waiting in a long line. Well...when I went back to get my cars, they had failed both cars! On mine, they said my rear brakes were only 1/32" thick and that by law they had to be at least 2/32" thick. Now, I had had the brakes replaced less than a year before so I knew they were either lying or I had been given bad brakes before. They failed my son's car, saying that there was a hole in the muffler. Not that we could hear any noise associated with a muffler hole, mind you!

Of course, they wanted to "fix" our cars themselves but I would have none of it. Instead, I brought the cars to my tried-and-true mechanic, farther away, long line and all. I paid to have the cars reinspected. Because the suspicious mechanics had, by the rules, written the reasons for having failed the cars on the windshield rejection sticker, this mechanic had to check those things specifically, but also did a whole inspection.

The verdict? On my car, they found that my rear brakes were not 1/32" thick, not even 2/32" thick...they were 4/32" thick! That's twice what the law required! Needless to say, my car passed inspection.

On my son's car, they looked and looked and looked and looked and eventually they did find a tiny pin hole in his muffler. By law, they had to reject the muffler and I had them replace it.

The mechanic told me that in the case of my car, it was clearly fraud and I should alert the police. In the case of my son's car, they suspected that the first shop had put the hole in there themselves but said it would be very difficult to prove.

I did call the police and explained the situation. They agreed that it would be too hard to prove the muffler damage had been caused by the first mechanics - besides, I had already had that fixed - but that they would send an "undercover" police car to get it inspected there.

Well, it's been nine months and the shop is still there so I suppose that 1) the police didn't do an investigation, 2) they did the investigation and the shop didn't try to cheat them, or 3) they were given a "talking-to" and have been walking the straight-and-narrow since (unlikely), or 4) I was totally mistaken about them. The last option is unlikely because I do have the paperwork that shows that they determined the brakes were only 1/32" thick. That means they either lied or they were incompetent, but it's hard to believe that a mechanic could be that incompetent! Either way, you can bet your bottom dollar I'll never take my car back there again and will warn others to do the same, as I've done here. This is the problem with doing the client wrong - bad news travels twice around the world in the time that it takes good news to reach the front door. A bad reputation, once achieved, is very hard to overcome!

Watch Out When You Go Kayaking!

A whale gets its revenge!

Where There's a Will, There's a Way!

This is what I had to do at my sister's house in Italy to charge my camera battery! The battery is the black thing you see in the blue charger. That has a standard American plug, so the next thing in line, the slightly tannish thing adapts it to a standard European plug. Unfortunately, for some reason, that wouldn't go in the wall directly (it kept falling out) and so I had to plug it into the next one in line, which still had to then be plugged into yet another adapter. Weird, but it worked!

Monday, September 24, 2007

My Car Has Hit Six Digits...Ah, They Grow Up So Fast

There it is...100,000 miles on my car. But she doesn't look a day over 90,000!

Braggart or Hybrid Evangelist?

I saw this in a parking lot today. Check out the license plate.

Living in Peace Side by Side

This is the scene just outside my office building, a FedEx drop box and a UPS drop box. Mortal enemies they be, yet in peace do they sit side by side.

Pray tell, then, why can't we humans do the same? Why must we always be in disharmony?

Perhaps the secret is in the timing. The FedEx rep comes at 6:30 pm according to the box while the UPS rep comes at 7:00 pm. Sometimes to keep the peace, messengers must be kept separated.

A Lunch With Friends

My dear friend Sabine (left) had her sister Antje (right) visiting from Germany for two weeks. Yesterday was her last day here before going home and Sabine wanted me to meet her sister so we went to my favorite Indian restaurant near my home, Banjara (highly recommended). So there we were, an Italian-American and two Germans eating in an Indian restaurant in Virginia. We spoke English and German while people around us were speaking Hindi (I assume).

We had a ral nice time, lots of laughs, and we enjoyed watching Antje eating Indian food for the first time in her life! She's very nice and I join Sabine in hoping she'll return for another visit soon!

My son camped out in front of Best Buy at the moment to get Halo 3

My son started waiting last night with some of his buddies, a couple of tents, a vidcam and a few other items as you can see. They will wait a total of 36 hours to be the first to get their hands on Halo 3! The doors at this Best Buy won't open until tomorrow morning at 10 am and they've been there since last night. Yowsers! That's dedication!

Update: Once they found out that Best Buy wasn't selling until 10 am, they checked around and found that Dulles Town Center Mall was going to start selling at midnight. Off they went, laptop and vidcam in hand! Matteo got home around 1 am. Today? Sleep and Halo.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Murderers, Thieves and Jaywalkers...Beware!

Joe is on the job! I've been summoned to appear in court Oct. 15 to pass judgment on a ne'er-do-well. Who will appear before me? Will it be a vicious murderer? Will it be a pot-smoking, foul-mouthed poker-cheating TV addict? Ah, we'll know in about a month!

I've been called to jury dirty only once before...can you believe it? Furthermore, I never did serve because they settled out of court!

But maybe...just maybe...this time I will find a man or woman innocent or guilty! Of what? Only time will tell!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

I Can Drive in Malta Now!

I went to AAA (American Automobile Association) with two passport photos, my US driver's license and fifteen bucks. Ten minutes later, I had my International Drivers Permit!

Back in 1999, we spent a month driving around Italy. At the time, all I needed was my US driver's license. Nowadays, though, most countries require an International Driving Permit (IDP). In some cases, you can still rent a car without an IDP, but if you get stopped for a traffic violation, you will pay a lot higher fine without an IDP.

This was in the Travel Section of the Washington Post on Sept. 2, 2007:


Disaster Watch

Sunday, September 2, 2007; Page P01


Taking License With the Law

Steve Lertora of Fort Washington had no problem renting a car in Spain using just his Maryland driver's license . He drove 1,400 miles without trouble. But while trying to return his vehicle to Euro Car, he got confused by signs around a construction site and turned the wrong way onto a one-way street.

The traffic officer who pulled him over said that without an International Driving Permit, required for foreign drivers in Spain and many other countries, Lertora couldn't drive another inch. The car was towed to an impound lot . Lertora was left standing on the street.

He called Euro Car and was told he was on his own, then dragged his luggage for six blocks before finding a taxi. He'll find out the cost for towing and retrieving the car from the impound lot when his credit card charge arrives.

It's natural but not safe to assume that a car rental company would inform you of such a critical rule. Check rules at before leaving home. The site reveals licensing requirements and other important laws. For instance, the site warns that the fine in Spain for talking on a hand-held cellphone while driving is more than $400 .

International Driving Permits are issued at AAA locations and through the National Automobile Club ( . They are accepted in more than 150 countries when accompanied by your state-issued license, cost $15 and are good for one year. Those international driver's licenses sold on the Web? Forget about 'em.

Another Interesting Chinese Fortune Cookie

Now we're getting cute advertisements inside our fortune cookies!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Doggy Wakes Up Mommy

Our dog likes to wake us up with sweet kisses behind the ear. Mommy is obviously fast asleep in the first picture (she always smiles while sleeping - she dreams of me) and in the second photo our dog wakes her up.

What a nice way to wake up in the morning!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Olive Garden...Real Italian Food?

My wife and I do not eat at the Olive Garden, though sometimes I have been dragged along to a lunch with colleagues. When I do end up there, I only eat the salad because everything else I tried just doesn't cut it to my Italian taste buds! Sorry, Olive Garden lovers, but try going to Italy and eating real Italian food and you'll never be able to go into Olive Garden again (except for maybe the salad).

Take a look at this video on YouTube, taken originally from MadTV! It's funny, though I don't know too many Italians under the age of 60 that have racist views anymore. Focus on the Italian food comments...funny stuff!

Dulles Day and Plane Pull

This past Saturday, Sept. 8, was the annual Dulles Day & Plane Pull. In the past ten years that I've lived near the airport, I was always out of town or occupied and couldn't attend. This year I wasn't letting anything stop me. I love planes and wanted to see what the fuss was all about.

So it was fun to see all the little planes lined up and to watch the different teams pulling the FedEx plane (see the video). To see the plane engines and cockpits up close was kind of cool. We stayed about an hour and then we took off...on a shuttle bus back to our car! It was a pretty hot day so the air conditioning on the bus felt very good!

Click the photos to enlarge them!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our latest Italian Meetup!

Our latest Italian Ex-Pat meetup was held at Fiore di Luna restaurant in Great Falls, Virginia, not far from us. It is a great restaurant! I didn't even know it was there and I've driven past it a few times. Look at the yummy food below. Click each one to see it nice and big, but don't do this if you're hungry! Do it on a full stomach!

Nine of us showed up and we all had a great time I think. Lots of conversation! Thank you to Paolo Nascimbeni, who is originally from Rome, who came for the first time. Thank you too to Igor, who you see in the bottom photo, who came with his wife Gina. They are both from the Ukraine and Gina speaks Italian pretty well, having spent several summers in Italy as a child. We're happy that they have volunteered their lovely home for our next meetup!

Oops! I didn't get a photo of me or of Paolo! I promise we were both there, though!