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Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Arrival of Winter

Winter finally arrived this morning. We woke up to around 5 inches of snow. Last year the first snow came on the 1st December, so we're a few days behind. Of course, those of you in the UK are used it already, experiencing yet another impressive winter already. There were certainly never very impressive winters in the UK in the years before I left. I'm a bit jealous. I arrived here a few years ago in winter and we had 110 inches of snow. It was great. I hadn't seen much snow in years, and it felt great to finally experience a proper winter. The year after we had 70 inches and -37C temperatures. Last year, we did have some snow, but it seemed quite mild. Of course, that may have been a relative experience.

Since I passed my US driving test, I will have to have my first experience of driving on snow soon. I hope those new tyres are up to it.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Changing tyres

Yesterday, my wife and I went to the local branch of a shop that sells a whole variety of products for avid outdoors & mechanical types. It sells winter wear, hunting gear, lawnmowers, lots of John Deere branded clothing, John Deere branded toys, etc. etc. It also will sell you tyres, and if, like us, you're incapable of fitting them yourselves they will do it for you. As academics with very little mechanical car knowledge, we felt quite out of place. Admittedly, I purchased some new winter gloves for the winter that started today. But I was quite unique in not dressing in jeans and a Packers branded winter coat. Anyway, we felt quite foolish not knowing much about our car.

`Ok, so what make of car and year is it?'. - We actually knew that one.
'Is it 4 -or 6 cylinder?'. 'Umm...'
'What type of tyres do you need?'. 'Hold on, we have that written down, let me show you'
'What's the license plate number?' 'Ahhh.....'

At least we knew the colour.

After viewing the rest of the merchandise we waited in the waiting room whilst our car was being serviced. There was a TV in there showing daytime soaps. The plots of these soaps seemed to involve many people not knowing the identity of their baby's father, or their own mother, or having DNA tests faked. There was also some courtroom drama. It was all very badly acted, but provided entertainment for the hour we waited.

In the two and a half years we've owned the car it's needed a headlight and indicator replaced, a cracked windscreen repaired, a new battery and exhaust pipe, the front brakes replacing and two front tyres. I hope it doesn't need anything else soon, because I could do with not having to try and remember what year my car was made in.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Jingle all the way

Last Sunday, one of the commercials was advertising a sale. I have no idea what it was selling, but it was advertising it in conjunction with Veterans Day (Remembrance Sunday, but only for veterans, as opposed to Memorial Day, which is for anyone). Now, I'm not sure how you make Veterans Day into a holiday that requires a sale, but that's beside the point.

The commercial advertised its sale by changing the words of a Christmas carol. This was on November 7th. I'm not ready to listen to Christmas jingles outside of Advent, even if it's technically advertising something else. I realise that people like to get their shopping in order, and sorted in time for Christmas, and that's why certain DIY chains erect a Toy Section at the end of October, but, to me, there is something wrong with Christmas tunes with 48 days to go before the day itself. I like my Christmas time to last between the 20th December and 3rd January.

Actually, in the US, it tends not to be as bad as the UK for excessive decoration before time. We do, at least, have Thanksgiving to provide a buffer against excessive Christmasing by retailers.

That being said, I do need to get some presents bought. After all, there's only 46 days to go.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sweet on you

I failed to blog about this last week, but Saturday 16th October was a very special day. It was sweetness day. That's right. Sweetness day. As if that wasn't enough, it was also Boss Day.

Two major celebrations for the price of one.

The two celebrations are coincidental. If they weren't we could call it sucking up to you boss day. ... Actually, that is boss day all by itself.

As far as I can tell there is no point for either of these celebrations. According to Wikipedia (yes I know) Sweetness day was started by the confectionery industry. The evidence for Boss Day is less numerous by it is clear that retailers like selling Boss Day gifts and cards.

It's bad enough that traditional festivals such as Christmas are besieged by commercialism without inventing new ones solely for the purpose of selling more stuff. In theory, Sweetness Day is meant to be a day where you give confectionery (not health care) to the poor. However, it's promoted like Valentines Day, but we already have one of those.

I can't imagine giving my boss a present. That would just look suspicious, unless it came from the whole group of employees.

I better go now. You see, Return Day is coming up on November 4th and I've got lots to prepare.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Coming into the light

I can't imagine what life must have been like for the 32 Chilean miners and 1 Bolivian miner trapped 623m beneath the surface of the earth for 69 days. I've been watching coverage of their rescue today. The whole thing is pretty remarkable really. The fact that they're all still alive is amazing. When do you normally hear about mining disasters that have a 100% survival rate? When I think of mining disasters around the world, including here in the US, you would have to bank on some fatalities.

But for 17 days they survived on a small cup of milk and a mouthful of tuna per day (so BBC news told me) before being discovered. The foreman, Luis Urzua, deserves a lot of credit for their survival. He seemed to keep the miners in order and keep up morale. He was the captain of the ship, if you like.

The most astonishing thing for me was the video footage. I'm used to 24 hour news and I'm used to live broadcasts, but to have live footage of the miners whilst still stuck in the mine is incredible. I can comprehend seeing people rescued on the news, but it's a bit surreal to see them still in their tomb waiting for rescue.

Of course, it's not over for the miners. They will have various things to deal with, possibly lung and skin infections and post-traumatic stress disorder. Let's hope that stage is not too much of an ordeal.

One final note: My wife made a comment that she read on a blog that the response by the Chileans was refreshingly un-American. I can only assume that means that it was less hysterical.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Hail to the Chief and other autumn matters

On Tuesday, President Obama came to give a speech to a rally in the city, ostensibly about education. What it actually is, is a boost to the Democrat Party during election season.

That's right, it's autumn and as sure as the leaves will turn red, yellow and brown, then there will be an election. In even years anyway. The House of Representatives is elected every two years, though that does not get much coverage. A third of the Senate is changed every two years. We have one here and that's getting some coverage time. There's also a gubernatorial election here this year. Not to mention various state and local elections.

Unfortunately, election season seems to last many months. It's also accompanied by incredibly irritating adverts on TV. There' are adverts by the candidates themselves, advocating their policies. Then there are adverts by the candidates saying something adverse about the other candidate (because there are never more than two candidates - not ones that count, anyway). Then there are rebuttal adverts responding to said adverts. Finally, there are adverts by "independent" groups who come out against certain candidates and normally have quite strong things to say.

The difficult thing is trying to work out what is true and what's not true. If one advert says that so and so didn't follow up on election promises, is it because they failed or were blocked by the actions of the opposing party. Either way, I'm looking forward to 2011. There should be no elections next year, giving me a much more pleasant TV viewing experience, apart from the 2012 election speculation of course.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The trouble with trains

I have been in England for a couple of weeks now, on a visit, which is why I've not been blogging.

I've just taken a train back up north for a visit. I used to love train journeys, and when I go to Europe, I still do. But in the UK it's very hard work. The cost is quite a lot. I paid £87 for a return journey. I spent 40 minutes waiting in Birmingham and another 30 in Peterborough.

I also miss the older trains which had windows you could open.  On the Voyagers the windows are sealed tight and the stagnant air is pumped around the carriage. The storage space for the luggage is no where near adequate. My case was buried under a giant pile of luggage, and was only able to retrieve it because a lot of people got off at the previous stop.

The highlight of the journey was when one passenger wanted to light up a cigarette out of the aforementioned pull down windows, but could not do so on the modern train. Instead of foregoing he proceeded to smoke in the vestibule and the air became quickly fogged with the aroma of nicotine.

Whatever my quarrels with the UK train service they're infinitely better than those in the Midwest. At least the UK has one.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

The heat is on

We had a heat advisory today. The temperature got up to 33C, which is far too hot for somewhere that isn't a desert. I don't do well in the heat, and unfortunately it's not been less than 25C all summer. This is of course standard weather here for this time of year but it doesn't mean to say that I like it.

On top of the heat it's also very humid. Walking outside for 5 minutes is enough to make one's clothes stick to the body. I can't wait to get back to the UK, where I'm told (in Edinburgh at least) it's 16C - bliss.

One problem with the heat is that my wife does not want to have the oven on so our dinners have been limited to very quick microwaveable or very long slow cooked dinners. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I don't like being constrained so much by the heat. I guess I just resent it.

The heat also has caused me to have many low sleep nights. I'm looking forward to autumn when the temperatures will be nice and pleasant and I can think more like a human.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

On days like these...

It was not a good day yesterday, by all accounts, for many reasons, but I won't go into detail about them all. For me, the most frustrating part of the day was a letter which started

`Thank you for contacting us about the charge(s) to your account in the amount if $(x). We have completed our investigation and determined that, as of today, the transaction has not been charged to your account. As a result we have closed your claim.'

Unfortunately, the investigation couldn't have been very thorough because I could see the charge on my account via online banking. The problem was that the extra charge was bundled in with the correct charge and they didn't notice.

It wasn't too much problem to sort out, but it was incredibly frustrating.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Conference fun

I was at a conference this week in St. Louis, (photos up tomorrow if I remember). It was my first trip to Missouri, which is the sixth state that I've visited (not including Michigan, where I spent time at Detroit Airport).

The drive was six hours, which is nothing in modern America. St. Louis as a city is like a lot of American cities. Dead near the centre. Old factories lie abandoned. Instead of re-utilising these buildings, new ones are built on the edges.

We stayed in the conference hotel, in the city centre, next to the baseball stadium. The hotels were standard. Every hotel seems the same these days. Same bathroom, same beds. Same white towels. Absolutely not the place you want to spend any sort of time, and so possibly perfect for a conference.

One thing that did get me was the alarm clock. Why are they all set to get off at midnight? I mean, set and turned on. This has happened to me 3 times and I still fail to check. It went off again on the first light. My is roomate and I turned off the alarm, and the following night it was turned on again. Only this time we checked. I can only assume that the staff do it deliberately.

Needless to say, conference hotels don't provide breakfast, except at exorbitant cost and so one has to spend lots of money at local eateries, who then proceed to charge you for someone else's dinner. I've got a claim in about that, but I won't hear anything for 90 days.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

The end of the World (Cup)

The world cup ends today. I've had the very surprising privilege to be able to watch a significant portion of the event. I was surprised to find that some of the matches were shown live on ABC and more surprised that I could watch the rest of them online at ESPN.

I guess the world's most watched sporting event makes an impact, even here. I say this because Americans tend to be much more interested in American invented sports such as American football, baseball and basketball.

The USA football team was ranked 14th in the world coming into the tournament so we should have expected them to have a good chance. However, there was much rejoicing when they beat lowly Algeria in extra time to get to the second round. I understand that I don't have a leg to stand on, given England's abject performance in this cup, but it seemed to me that given the ranking of the USA team then a last 16 place would be the minimum that they should expect. In fact, the should be disappointed that they didn't make the semis given the route that the had. Yet, the progress to the second round was treated with much surprise and joy, but I'm sure they would expect much more from teams and athletes in other sports.

Football is still seen as the younger sibling, the minor sport, the game that foreigner's play. This is despite the fact that there are a lot of schoolkids playing organised football.

The attitude towards football in America can be summed up nicely in this blog. Basically, the author decides on how what he really dislikes about the world cup and how they should be improved. He dislikes draws and points out that there have only been two draws in the last 10 years in the NFL (neglecting to mention that the rules are designed to have a winner in that sport - because seemingly American's can't start sporting fixtures where no one comes out a winner). He dislikes the yellow cards saying that he finds it funny as if the piece of card has some power and says that if a ref tried that in the NBA he would get beaten up by the players. The implication that of course American sports are tougher. Well, here's some news. The yellow card does have power because if you get two of them you get sent off and that hurts your team.

He's not the only one. The sports anchors on ESPN have been banging on about video technology in the sport. Whilst I agree on goal line technology, I don't want to see the flow of the game interrupted by coach's challenges. Alexi Lalas, former US defender, was asked 'Isn't it time that soccer had this technology' and his response was 'along the lines of I know it offends our American sensibilities, but no, soccer is an objective sport and that's the way it should stay'.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Up, up and away

This isn't the first time I've blogged. Though the new templates and other things will take some time getting used to. Expect some changes as I become more accustomed to the dark ways of template design.

I've had 3 blogs before. My first was an internet diary. The second was a true blog. I deleted both because they were either too personal or too boring. I've also got a Sim City 4 blog relating my fun building up a region in that game.

This new blog will a bit different to my previous attempts. Firstly, I'm taking out as much personal stuff as possible. I want to be as light hearted as possible, though I know that's not always in my nature.

I want to take a look at my experiences of being an Englishman in the Mid-west and all the fun that en-tales. I will not be posting daily, unless I think of something that has to be posted. Either way, I hope you enjoy it.