Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gee, good thing no one's keeping track this month...

Slacker. Ah, well.

I just wanted to point out a couple of weird things about life here in England.

First: What's up with this? The first time I encountered it was back when I was starting the Tae Kwon Do thing with David (which we don't do anymore). A little girl in the class was spelling her name: "My name is spelled Luh Ih Luh Luh Yeh." Yep, her name was Lilly. I thought, how weird. But now our Lily is in what they call Year 2 of school, equivalent to 1st grade, and doing spelling tests, and I'll be darned if she doesn't spell things that same way: House - "Huh oh uh suh eh" Train - "Tuh ruh ah [rhymes with at] ih nuh" and so on. Now, maybe I'm not remembering my school days as clearly as I used to, but didn't the letters used to have names? And wasn't learning those names part of kindergarten and first grade? What gives?

Second: Ok, I know I'm not the only one, because I saw a few other similar comments when I was looking for a picture to borrow for this. There's a cartoon on TV here, don't know if they have it in the states, called "Peppa Pig." The drawing style is rather simplistic. Which makes the Pig family look a lot like, um... well, here:

... especially Daddy Pig, with his stubble. If you don't see what I'm talking about, well, good for you, I guess, but is it just me, or is someone having a little naughty chuckle?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ouch. Oh, and... ouch.

Back to work this week after 3 weeks of leave... which means back to working out. It's funny how quickly you fall back to the "workouts make me sore" level.

And today, since I'm getting ready to go off to the sandy place again for a while, I had to get a blood test... and four immunizations. I am a human pincusion.

Oh, and yes, I know I forgot to blog yesterday. Ah, well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

< >

(That title is pronounced "drawing a blank")

First day back at work after 3 weeks leave, and first day back to work here in England in 4 months, and first day back in this building, with this group of people, in over a year.

My mantra for the day was, "Don't ask me, I'm new here."

I'm tired. Can I have some more vacation, please?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Casting cost: 3 "awesome" mana

I just got to play a game of Magic: The Gathering on XBox Live with Wil Wheaton! What a blast! Wil was... great. It was very casual, and fun. They had 6 Magic-playing celebrities, including Wil, playing "just folks" who had signed up earlier. The others included Richard Garfield, the inventor of the game, and Darwin Kastle, who's apparently enough of a Magic god that they put his face on one of the cards (Avalanche Riders). [edit: apparently they also put his face on it because, well, he designed the card.] However, of all the pros who were there, Wil was the one I wanted most to play with--and not only because he's the only one I had a chance of beating! I really enjoyed playing with him, and chatting with him. We talked about the game he had just played, I fanboy-gushed a little (not too much, really!), and we talked about our families, which was nice, and one of the things that makes reading his blog such a pleasure. (Oh, and Wil, if you're reading this, my copy of "Happiest Days" was where I thought it was after all... and I'm number 54.)

I said this to Wil, but I don't know if he believed me: Just before he invited me to play, I had gotten an invite from Richard Garfield... which I was too stupid to remember how to accept. He pinged me twice, while I pushed buttons,trying to remember how to accept the invite. By the time I had figured it out, he had moved on. I was disappointed, because... Richard Garfield! But then, just 5 minutes later, I got the invite from Wil, and I have to say, I was actually glad I had flubbed Richard -- because if I had been playing him, I probably wouldn't have gotten to play Wil. Sorry, Richard.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rock me...

The other day, Susie and I were flipping through the on-demand movies we could get from our BT Vision box (it's kind of like a TiVo, only not quite), and we saw a title that just sort of leapt out at us: "Hamlet 2".

Our thoughts mirrored those of one of the characters in the movie: "Doesn't everyone like, die, at the end of the first one?"

Well, yes. But the movie isn't the sequel, it's about the sequel. Rather, it's about a failed actor turned failing drama teacher who, in a bid to save his school's drama program, writes "Hamlet 2." You see, he thinks that if Hamlet had just had a second chance, everyone could have survived. So, somehow, Hamlet gets a time machine...

I know, sounds like a winner, right? But wait, there's more: In his travels, he manages to pick up Jesus, and they go on their trek through time together...

Really, that's all we know about the play, but the movie, it turns out, is pretty darn funny. It stars Steve Coogan, a British comedian most famous in the U.K. for his character "Alan Partridge" who is, I believe, the inspiration for "Ali G."

It's definitely not for kids, but if you want a stupid funny movie, you could certainly do worse...

Friday, November 13, 2009

That wagon sure has a bumpy ride...

This is gonna be a short post. Mostly because I don't want to admit that, after all the work we did over the spring and summer to lose weight, the past 4 weeks has undone about half of it for me. Yes, I'm still down about 15 pounds, which is good, but I was down nearly 30.

I know why I/we fell off the wagon, and even though it wasn't a "good" reason, I can (sort of) forgive it. But Susie and I are officially back on the wagon as of today.

There are people at work I haven't seen in 5 months or more, and some of them are likely to say "Hey, you've lost a little weight." But I had been hoping to hear them say, "Wow, you lost a TON of weight!"... which I had.

I'm disappointed in myself. But, I'm getting back on the horse... or wagon... or bike... or whatever other metaphor you like.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


If you know me, you know I'm really not a motorhead. I'll probably never buy a "Car and Driver" magazine, but I'll read one at the barber shop. And yet I find myself enthralled by Top Gear, a BBC show dedicated to all things "car." It's not about how to build a carburetor, or turning your Mazda into a rally car. It's about the cars you wish you could drive. These three blokes (Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May), along with their "tame racing driver" The Stig, manage to get their hands on some amazing vehicles and play around with them on their own track. And I mean amazing... Such as:

A Bugatti Veyron
A Ferrari FXX
A Pagani Zonda
A Gumpert Apollo (huh?)

But that's not all they do. They drive rally cars, they drive minivans, they drive econoboxes. Not willingly, those last two, and always with an eye toward, "yeah, it'll cart your shopping home, but is it fun? Is it well made? Is it really any better than the others?" All of which in a very amusing, tongue-in-cheek, "can you believe we get paid for this" sort of way.

And then there are the challenges: 1) Leaving from Basel, Switzerland, three cars race to Blackpool, England - on one tank of fuel. 2) From a standing start, can a Bugatti Veyron drive one mile, turn around, and reach the starting point faster than a Eurofighter can take off, climb a mile, turn around, and return to that same starting point? 3) Can you make a convertible minivan?

I'm told it can be seen in the US on BBC America. If you have ever seen a Lamborghini Murcielago drive by the other way on the highway and thought, "Ooh, cool!" tune in. You'll thank me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The great dinner experiment, day 2

We decided to start off the "everyone eats what's for dinner" experiment yesterday with an easy one: grilled cheese sandwiches. There was an "and tomato soup" option available, but we knew going in that that was mostly just for Susie and me. So it was a success, as expected.

Today, a little more challenge: Kalua pork, rice, and corn. David likes all of those, but Lily... we knew she like the corn, and the rice, but the pork was going to be the difficulty. And of course, as soon as she walked in the door she said, "I recognize that smell, and I don't like it." If you've never had kalua pork, it's really simple. Take a cheap pork shoulder, put it in a crock pot with 1/4 cup of liquid smoke, couple tablespoons of salt, and let it go for a few hours. Make sure the lid seals really well (use some foil if you need to. Oh, this wasn't supposed to be a recipe thing... anyway...)

David, not feeling well, sort of picked at his dinner, but we expected that. Still, "no dinner, no snack" is the rule, so no snack for him. Not that he wanted one.

Lily put up surprisingly little resistance to having the pork on her plate. Normally she will push the plate away if something she doesn't like is on it, but today, she just sort of glared at the pork, and started with the corn. I told her she needed to at least try the pork. She picked up the tiniest shred of pork, and looked a question at me. "No," I said, "a TINY one" and grabbed the largest chunk, laughing. She giggled (what?!?) and grabbed a slightly larger piece. I nodded, she ate it. She didn't gag. She didn't even say, "I don't like it." She didn't say she DID like it; it was just clear that she felt she had lived up to her end of the bargain.

Now, I started this thing a while ago, when we were trying to get the kids to try new foods, where I would sing a little fanfare and wave my arms around like crazy in celebration whenever they tried something new. So a few minutes later, Lily looked at me and said, "Um, new food dance?" So I said, "Well, that piece didn't really qualify, try a bigger one. If you do, I'll do an extra special crazy dance."

She didn't even blink. Grabbed a forkful, ate it, looked at me.

So I got up, stood behind her, and danced and waved like an idiot. When I sat down, I told her if she finished all of it, I'd go even crazier. And she started eating. She got about halfway through when she remembered that she "didn't like it," and she stopped eating. But... I'm gonna call this one a victory. And next time, we'll put a little less of the kalua pork on her plate, and let her have the victory of finishing it.

Oh, but, as if to compensate, now she doesn't like rice. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This little piggie went to the doctor's office...

OK, not THIS one, but young David did. He woke up this morning with headache and fever. Coughing last night and a little this morning. Given his asthma history, they gave us an appointment today. Hooray!

At the appointment, Susie says they advised that yep, it's probably swine flu. Best to do, given his asthma, is treat him as though he's having a constant very mild asthma incident. That means regular use of the "rescue" inhaler every 4-6 hours, and a steriod inhaler for the duration of the flu. And, of course, fluids and rest and tylenol.

Fingers crossed...

Monday, November 9, 2009

"And WE helped!"

We've come to a momentous decision this evening. We've tried it before, but the path of least resistance has always won out in the past. But we need to do it again, and it's time.

From now on, everyone eats the same dinner.

No more "I don't like this, can I have a sandwich?" No more "We know you won't eat this, so we're having it, but you've got macaroni and cheese."

Dinner is dinner. No one ever starved because they refused to eat one meal. Because that's the rule: Dinner is dinner, eat it or eat nothing. You can last through until breakfast if you won't eat it. It was good enough for my family, it was good enough for Susie's family, and by gum, it's gonna be good enough for our kids.

We hope.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Today is Remembrance Sunday here in the UK.

"In Flanders Fields" is probably the most commonly cited poem on this day, so here's a link to the "In Flanders Fields" Museum in Belgium.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Happy Sagan Day

Today would have been Carl Sagan's 75th birthday. In his honor, I present this, the "Symphony of Science." Enjoy!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Remember, remember...

...the, um, day after the 5th of November? No, that doesn't scan.

But we celebrated Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night with some friends this evening. A HUGE bonfire was set up, but it had been raining all day long. Still, it got going pretty well, eventually. They only had to make one extra trip to the petrol station for more, um, accelerant.

Then there were the fireworks. Now, you hear these stories about the British "nanny state," and how they forbid damn near everything in the name of the all-encompassing "Health and Safety." But in this nation that forbids parents from playing with their own kids at the park, it's possible to buy huge loads of fireworks at the corner grocery. As an American, I find this ironic. I mean, every year we celebrate our independence from the "oppressive British government" by allowing our own government to tell us we can't pop a firecracker. And every year, the Brits celebrate the failure of a plot against that same government with days and days of fireworks.

I'm just sayin'...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A matter of perspective

My friend Will shared this cool size comparison widgety thing a while ago. I didn't really look at it until just now, and I thought it was cool enough to share here. Plus, it's a good way to fill up today's blog post. :) Slide the slider under the picture to zoom in.

Oh, and right next to the carbon atom, there should be a tiny dot marked "importance of blogging every day," right?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Well, here we are, day 4, and already I've blown it. I think this year I'm just not as invested in the NaBloPoMo thing. I enjoyed it in the past, but this year... I dunno. Maybe it's because I was gone so long, I'm just enjoying spending time with Susie and the kids, and writing isn't a priority.

Still, I'll carry on, do that whole "if you fall off the horse" thing. Not that THIS post is anything special, but I'll find something good to write about soon. Probably.

Monday, November 2, 2009

This is it

No, that's not a Michael Jackson reference. It means "I went away for the day, and forgot to post, and here is the obligatory post before midnight so I make the deadline."

Oh, and about the "Happy Easter" title? It was a reference to once-a-year things. For me, it's NaBloPoMo; for others, it's church on Easter.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy Easter! :)

Yep, it must be NaBloPoMo again. I'm going to try it again, but for some reason I don't know if it's gonna work this year. I'm two for two, but... we'll have to see, I guess. I'm also keen to try the NaNoWriMo this year, and I've even got one started, but since the month sort of crept up on me, I'm not really prepared to do however much I'm supposed to do, today. Again, we'll have to see.

For any other NaBloPoMo-ers, good luck!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bad blogger, no cookie.

But that's a GOOD thing (the "no cookie" part) because Susie and I just clicked the "purchase" button on our first month of Medifast-y goodness.

Thanks, Will.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Quick and sandy

Well, I'm here, in the sandy place. Things have changed here, as I heard, but not all for the better. Can't go into that, but suffice to say there is plenty of bovine excrement left to go around...

We do have wi-fi now, provided by someone who doesn't limit net access to "work related only," so we have THAT going for us. We also got a new food court... which is a mixed blessing. Used to be, most people came here and spent the time eating right and getting fit (because those were pretty much the only options). Well, now we have Popeye's Chicken, Charley's Cheesesteaks, and Asia Wok (which, if you choose the "make your own stirfry" option, isn't TOOO bad). So people will now be sitting in an air-conditioned mall food court, playing World of Warcraft and eating fried chicken. Good thing it's not really close to where I'm staying...

That's all I've got for now, but I guess I'll be posting now and again from here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

And away I go...

Yep, I'm headed out again. Remember when I posted the photos of "one day I was here in the sand, the next in the snow"? Well, reverse that. Today, I'm in the snow, and by midweek I"ll be in the sand.

I hear things down there have gotten a lot nicer; more opportunities for net connectivity, better supply/shopping facilities, and stuff like that. We'll see.

The cool thing for us is, we have this new cell phone service ("mobile phones," they call them here), and the phone that comes with is this one (link is full of phone geekiness, but there's a picture too). It has GPRS data, which I think will work down there (and we have the "unlimited" option, but there may be international roaming charges). It has a QWERTY keyboard. Best of all, It has wi-fi capability, which makes the next feature best of all: we have a VOIP number in addition to our regular mobile number. Like SKYPE. And the number is a UK number. Which means, wherever I am in the world, if I can connect to the net by wi-fi, I can make and receive calls as if I were still at home. Same price, same everything. So I'm off in wherever, I pick up my phone, dial my home number (no area codes or international dialing, no sir!) and Susie and I chat. How cool is THAT?

Monday, January 26, 2009

The "even more" return of customer service

One of the oddities of my job is, because we move around a lot, we tend to collect bank accounts. OK, not so much now, with internet banking and megabanks and all, but back in the day if you moved to a different state, you pretty much had to get a new bank account. One of the accounts I had was with a credit union. I opened it in 1985, and wherever I've moved, I've kept that account open. Mostly because I think there's a certain cachet to being able to be a member of this credit union. Wherever you are in the world, if you see someone with a credit or debit card from this credit union, you can give a little "hey" nod, and you'll know that they know, and they'll know that you know.

Nope, not gonna tell you what it is, but its name wouldn't mean anything to you anyway (unless, of course, it does, in which case, you already know).

Aaaaaanyway... This account is sort of our "fire and forget" account. I have a small bit of my pay sent there every month, and we never look at the account until we need some extra. Well, the other day, I had reason to try to log on to my home banking account trying to find the interest for Uncle Sam's annual extortion, and it had been so long I forgot my password, and locked myself out. So I call the member service office, and after answering many many questions to identify myself (including "what was your qualification for membership?") the rep reset my password, and said, "When you log in, you'll need to update your address, because we have a bad one on file." I gave her my address, and she said that was the one they had. I told her I had been here for 3 years, likely to be here several years more. She said, "OK, I'll take that flag off the account. Sorry about that." She hung up, I let the mandatory 10 minutes pass (why does everything take "10 minutes to update in the system"?) and I log in. Well, imagine my dismay when I see, every month for the last 6 months, a $10 "invalid address fee." $60... gone... for an invalid address that wasn't even invalid!

I picked up the phone, and called member services again. A different rep answers. "I'm looking at my online account, and I see all these invalid address fees. I just spoke to another rep and advised her that the address you have is correct; can I have my money back please?"

Type type type, I hear.

"That money's already been refunded to your account, sir."

"What?" Refresh the browser. "Oh, there it is... wait a sec. Already? You mean you didn't just do it?"

"No, sir. The rep you just spoke to did it."

"Oh. Wow. That's great! Thanks!"

Yep. Imagine. A bank (OK, credit union, but still..) refunding a fee without being asked. Who would have believed it?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The return of customer service??

Yesterday I went to set up the new TV that I had purchased, and discovered that it was broken. Well, not broken, but certainly defective. When you turn it on, it whistles... a high-pitched tone. It's not from the speakers, it's something... electronic. But it renders the TV unusable. What to do? Well, the box that the TV came in had a big label printed on it, with a phone number. "Tech Support," it said. It offered to help set up the TV if we couldn't, or to help us with problems. "Don't go back to the store, give us a call!" it said. So I called, but they were closed for the day.

This evening I called, and after one ring and a recorded "we record your call for training" message, got straight through to a human. I explained that I had purchased the TV two days ago, and when I turned it on it made a beep/whistle. She said, "Is it all channels and modes?" I said, "It's not the speakers, it's electronic, listen." And I held the phone to the TV.

"My, it shouldn't do that, should it?" she said. "Let me get your address and we'll have a replacement couriered over to you. Is Monday good for delivery?"


That's it? No "send it in and we'll fix it, maybe, and get it back to you someday"?? No "bring it back to the store and deal with them"?? No "try all these diagnostic tricks that won't work before we'll have a tech call you back"?? Just "Is Monday good?" And a total of less than 10 minutes on the phone?

And this was the MANUFACTURER. Wow.

I'd post a link to their page, but it's one of those "small" brands, that does house-brand stuff, I guess. Like Medion, or that sort. The brand of TV is Neon, but I saw web references that say the same model is also sold under the Cello brand, but the phone was answered with another name altogether. Don't care, actually. It was a good price to begin with, but with customer service like this... wow.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The first thing to go

Earlier this year, when I was off on a Greek Isle, our kids' TV broke. Not a great tragedy, as tragedies go, and we've been in no real hurry to replace it.

Today, Susie sent me a note, that she had seen a decent looking replacement for a very reasonable price at, of all places, the supermarket while she was out shopping. I poked around the net, didn't find anything to dissuade me, and decided to pick it up after work.

I go into the market, head for the meat section, because I have to pick up steaks for the special dinner we're having tonight. (What's the occasion? Read on...) I buy the steaks, and a little bottle of wine to make a reduction sauce, and head over to the TV section. A brief chat with the counter dude, and he sends a flunky off to the warehouse to get the TV.

This being the UK, there is a license for televisions. It funds the BBC. When you buy a TV, you have to fill out a form, and they report the sale so the government can verify that you have paid the license fee. So I'm filling out the form, and I get to the bottom, where it says, "Date of sale."

I blank. I look at my watch for the date, but it's not displayed. I look at the counter dude, and say, "Um, what's today's date?" He thinks a sec, and then, just before he answers, I remember.

It's January 6th.

My birthday. And the reason I went to the store in the first place was to get the steaks for my birthday dinner.


Friday, January 2, 2009

The Year in Review!

Courtesy of YouTube, by way of my sister, here's a quick recap of the stories we were all talking about this past year: