Sunday, February 26, 2006

Return of the "Jedis"

Sibling Rivalry

As of next week, it will be 9 months since I started this blog. Based on the standard gestational period, I should be about ready to give birth.

I mention this as a curiosity: what is it that happened around May and June of last year that led to so many pregnancies??? Is it just me, or have others noticed this as well? It seems that just about everyone I know that could have become pregnant last year, did: and most of them did so about nine months ago (more or less). Seriously ... besides two sister-in-laws (Cleia and Tatiana) there are several friends and women that I know from work. Also, among the handful of bloggers that I read regularly, there is one whose wife just had a kid , and another whose wife is about to. This isn't a local phenomenon: these people are from Brazil, the US, and Canada.

Is the fact that I started blogging nine months ago a coincidence, or could whatever cosmic worldwide phenomenon that inspired me to blog be related to whatever inspired this spate of fecundity? It doesn't seem likely ... and yet ... I am intrigued. The only event that comes to mind as "inspirational" on an international scale from that period last year was the launch of "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith".

Anyway ... enough idle speculation ... back to my blog. Nine months of development ... although it's often been slow going, and there have been a few major lacunas in the progression. I never intended to be a "blogger", actually, getting into that whole "blog culture" thing. I saw it originally ... and still do, in a certain way ... as an exercise in self discipline, and as an incentive to write, and to practice writing, which is something I love doing.

Although I would like to write (post) more frequently, I try not to pressure myself too much on that count: life has enough obligations without my turning leisure into a source of stress. I look at the blog as a way to practice writing: keep me thinking in English, have a little feedback (mostly from patient family members!), and get into the spirit of writing. I hope that doesn't sound too pretentious. I hope occasionally that something I write is worthy of being read!

Besides writing, the other main purpose behind the blog was to keep in touch with family members. Indeed, the name of the domain "Gramlingville" arose when I first created the image gallery: the idea was to create a space in which everyone in my family could access and create their own "subgalleries" ... and have a place to post their own pictures. That idea wasn't exactly received with overwhelming enthusiasm; but, to be fair, I never really prepared the gallery adequately to that end, and never effectively advertised it to those who may have taken an interest had I stuffed it down their throat (you know who you are!).

So back to my point: I've been blogging for 9 months, but in the few posts I did make over the last two months, I spent more time making excuses for not posting than actually writing anything of substance. In that period, I strayed away from the world of blogs almost entirely: only occasionally did I read other people's blogs, and I basically stopped looking at my site statistics. The few times I did check stats, it corroborated what I imagined would happen-- little by little, the few "regular readers" that I did have, gradually disappeared. Not that there were many to begin with, but, other than the family members (who receive update notices), and the few who posted regularly, there were an anonymous few (maybe three or four) who regularly checked my blog for updates.

I don't know who these people were: but I do know that they were people who stumbled across my site due to the incredible world of search engines. My site is crawled several times a week by the Googlebot, Inktomi Slurp (yahoo), and MSNbot search bots. It is also scanned less regularly by several unknown crawlers and bots, and some lesser known search engines (AskJeeves, Gigabot).

Anyone who has their own site to run will know that one of the most entertaining aspects of analyzing server statistics is looking at search engine terms that were used to find your site. They range from funny, to interesting, to downright scary. To those of you who do not know this, be warned: if you use google or any other search engine to find a site, those responsible for the site you visit can see exactly what you searched for; they won't necessarily know who you are, but they can see where you are from, what your "IP" address is, and who your service provider is. A determined law enforcement agency can track you down!

This brings me (finally) to the point of this post. My site is by no means "popular" in the internet sense of popular: just about anything you can search for will bring up a number of hits with a higher rank than any of my pages. Usually the hits I do get come from strange combinations of search terms, or very determined searchers (the kind that keep hitting "next page" on google until they find what they want). As such, I was surprised to find that, starting sometime back in November, I was getting a considerable quantity of hits from ... most of them referring to this image (which is from my "Jedi Kids" post).

This image was from James' 10th birthday: I had edited the image with Photoshop, adding some lightsabres and effects.

Remember that, for me, a "considerable quantity" of hits means anything above 1 or 2. I've been getting anywhere from 5 to 10 hits per day from distinct IP addresses steadily over the last three months for this one particular image alone. By my standards, that's a lot!

And to what do I owe this (ahem) "popularity"? That's the curious (and possibly embarassing) thing-- as it happens, 99% of the searches that turn up this image used the following, simple, one-word search term: "jedis". If you go to and type "jedis", my "jedis" picture is the fifth-ranked image. (If you type "jedi kids" it is the first ranked image ... but this search term only appeared a couple of times).

Any of you who are reasonably "star wars" saavy will know what makes this ironic and slightly embarassing: that is, the word "jedis" doesn't exist-- the plural of jedi is "jedi". I suppose not everyone knows that, which is why I get so many hits on the word jedis. At the same time, I'm not sure exactly what possessed me to name this image "my-jedis-lg.jpg". I'm quite sure that I knew that the plural of jedi was not jedis, but for some reason, I typed "My Jedis" as name of the pic. I think that can only be because, had I typed "My Jedi" as name of a picture that shows 9 kids, it would have seemed strange... somehow ambiguous. This wasn't a conscious decision as far as I can recall: it just popped out naturally (sublimnally).

So ... here is an experiment: today I am posting two new pictures with the word "jedis" in the name. I want to see how long it will take for them to appear in the search engines, and to start receiving hits. Just out of curiosity. If anyone is interested, I can post instructions as to how to make your own "jedi / jedis" images with photoshop: it's pretty easy.

Here are a few other search terms that turn up highly ranked pictures from (each of these have appeared in searches more than once from ; consider it a scavenger hunt!):

"relaxing moments"

"alien life form"

"nobody told me"

"brazilian churrasco"

"winter in brazil"

"brazil sightseeing hike"

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Gathering moss ...

This is what a million-person + crowd on the beach in Rio looks like.

Last night, the Rolling Stones performed a free concert on Copacabana Beach... quite an event, drawing somewhere between 1.2 million and 2 million people, depending on whose count you believe. (this picture is not mine ... I blatantly ripped it off from a brazilian news site; see the link below for a slideshow that gives an idea of how incredible a crowd this size looks:)

The Stones' crowd in Rio

A free "Stones" concert, on the beach, in Rio de Janeiro ... shoulder to shoulder with millions of people ...

Depending on where you fall in the following demographic, your reaction to this idea will probably be one of the following:

Under 20: "Awesome! that sounds totally kickin' ! But ... it's the Rollin' what???"
20 - 30: "Cool! The Stones! Let's party!!!"
30 - 39: "The Stones! Oh man, I can't miss that! I wonder how I can get an invitation to the VIP seating area..."
over 40: "Two million people on a strip of sand? Yeah right! I'll watch the live telecast."
over 65: "The Rolling who ???"

In case you don't know how old I am, I'll just say this: I watched it on television (part of it, anyway, off and on between a Woody Allen DVD that Cristina and I had rented). Unless I could have got a helicopter to fly me straight into the VIP seating area, and then fly me back out, there wasn't a snowball's chance in hell of finding me anywhere near Copacabana last night! Something about being confined on a slender strip of shoreline, hemmed in by the sea on one side and a sea of humanity on the other, compressed into a seething mass of sandy, sweaty human flesh while trying to catch a glimpse of ants on a stage half a mile away is too high of a price for me just to hear Mick Jagger belting out "Sympathy for the Devil" in person.

Still, I have to admit ... I have mixed feelings about my own reaction to this. The "Rolling Stones" is classic rock; although I have never been a particularly big fan of Jagger & company, the idea of a Stones' concert does exert a certain allure for me. There may have been a time in my life that I would have been willing to face the crowds and inconvenience just to be "part of" the event. But at some point ... and I'm not sure exactly when this shift happened ... things changed: the fraction of me which is attracted by such an event was overtaken by the fraction which is specifically repelled. I face this reality and recognize it ... but not without a certain melancholic sense that I have lost something.

So I watched the live performance on TV, and from what I saw, I don't regret not going. Not that it wasn't a "good" show: it did have its moments. But most of the crowd was so far away from the stage that I don't think they really got into it until close to the end, when the band started playing some of the older classics. You have to admire the group's energy: to watch them, they show no signs that they are aware of how old they are! (Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are 62 years old ... Charlie Watts, who's been through a bout with cancer, is even older I think). And they do look old ... although Mick seems to be in really good shape. And few can deny that Mick Jagger is the archetype rockstar.

That these guys have the stamina and determination to endure a couple of hours on-stage night after night, in the characteristic Stones' style of wiggling and rocking, whereas I don't have the willpower to confront a couple of hours of traffic and crowds just to see them -- certainly is to their credit.

This concert was neither the first nor most significant test of my steadily shrinking disposition: living in a major city like Rio, big international acts are relatively commonplace. A couple of years ago, I wimped out and didn't go to the Rush in Rio concert. Anyone who really knows me should be amazed at this, since I had never willingly missed a Rush concert in my life, (at least, not since my first in college, the Grace under Pressure tour). The Rush in Rio concert was held at Maracana, the world's largest soccer stadium; the thought of facing the traffic and crowds back then turned me off, although many of my friends did go. Now I have to settle for the DVD (highly recommendable, btw!).

Another big concert that I missed was Roger Waters' Pink Floyd concert in Rio. The same story: the Sambodromo is a large stadium usually used for Carnaval and the samba parades. My memory of this open air stadium is that the acoustics are mediocre, the concrete benches are uncomfortable, and the distance from the stage is large. And you have to face traffic to get there. But I also rationalized that, in reality, Roger Waters isn't really Pink Floyd anymore. I'd already seen David Gilmore's "real" Pink Floyd (Momentary Lapse of Reason) concert at Arrowhead stadium in 1988/89 (?) and I didn't think that Roger Waters could match it. From what I heard about the show afterwards, I was wrong.

There were others I missed and later regretted: Yes, U2, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Santana ... all because, basically, I seem to have become too lazy to face any discomfort. Therein lies my concern: I would rather wait and see the DVD, and that mere fact is bothering me. What's happening to me? If this tendency continues, ten years from now I won't have the energy to go to the movie theater (that is, if they still exist, having been replaced by cheap giant HDTV Plasma and LCD screens).

In my defense, I will say that part of the problem may be that I have high standards. In most of the major concerts I have gone to, I generally manage to get excellent seats. I've seen Rush in Kansas City from within the first ten rows a couple of times. I've seen Jethro Tull three times here in Rio, and every single time I've been close enough to see the sweat dripping off of Ian Anderson's nose. (The first time, I was on the front row, against the stage, and I think some of his nose-sweat may have actually dripped on me). Jethro Tull always plays in smaller, more intimate venues: that's one show I've never passed up (in spite of his dripping sweat). The (few) larger venue shows I've gone to here in Brazil were generally disappointing.

Of course, the other big factor is related to the particular phase of my life that I am in: three kids, one of them a three-year old, is in itself a pretty good justification for having most of your life-force sapped out of you. It's not at all inconceivable that, in a few years, my energy will return and Cristina and I will start taking back those parts of our lives (and our life together) which have been relegated to temporary storage.

I just found out today that Carlos Santana will be playing in Rio on March 18; a chance to change direction? Should I make an effort to overcome the malaise that afflicts me? Or should I just accept it? Maybe staying away from these crowds and traffic jams is not "laziness" at all... maybe it's just a manifestation of the onset of "common sense": the wisdom that comes with age.

I just don't know ...