30 April 2005

Half Conceals, Half Discloses

I've been listening to NPR on the web this morning while I putter around the house. Most of the time the time difference is a pain in the ass with respect to WBUR's programming (in the morning here I get the middle-of-the-night BBC programming on NPR, which is the last thing I need here). Today however was nice in that I got to listen to Only a Game, the weekly sports program which airs at 7AM on Saturday in Boston.

The last piece on today's program started with a news bit about a Canadian woman who was scheduled to sing the US and Canadian national anthems before an exhibition hockey game in Quebec last week. She started The Star Spangled Banner, forgot the words halfway through, apologized and started again, forgot the words again, left the ice to get a lyric sheet, then fell on her ass when she hurried back onto the ice. Evidently she gave up at this point and the game was played without either anthem.

The piece carried on with excerpts from other instances of people forgetting the words in mid-anthem at sporting events, concluding with one where a 13 year old girl was singing the anthem before an NBA game. She lost her way amidst FSK's obscenely complex syntax and faltered, then tried to continue but couldn't remember the words. Then the Trailblazers' head coach, Mo Cheeks (I'm not joking), walked over and started singing along where she left off in a horrendously off-key voice. As it turned out, he didn't quite have the words right either, so the 20,000 basketball fans all started singing (something which happens all to infrequently at sporting events these days). The little girl found her place again and finished with a flourish.

It was a classy thing to do by Mo (who recently got fired because the 'Blazers suck), and combined with the fact that I'm living here among the heathens, hearing it left me a little teary-eyed.

29 April 2005

Free Dan Katz!

For those of you who don't read thedan's bløg, a brief synopsis of his latest adventure, which is totally material for a short story or play:

Bill Clinton is speaking at Brown and admission is free if you were willing to stand in line for a few hours to claim your ticket (one per student I think). Dan waited in line earlier this week and claimed his ticket. He eventually decided he'd rather sell it than actually go to the talk to he posted to some Brown graduate mail list offering it for $100.

A flame war erupted, feces was flung, etc etc. But now there's evidently a piece on the whole episode in the Providence Journal. The whole thing smacks of being written by a journeyman (obviously it's not breaking national news) with a thesaurus by his side. My favorite bit, however, is:

By yesterday, 500 inboxes sagged with 42 e-mails, all prompted by the sale of a single ticket for the 42nd president.

42 emails?! I bet mailservers all over campus were exploding for days under that mammoth workload. I get 42 emails about mortgage rates every hour, for crying out loud. Just reinforces my belief that Brown students are all wankers (except for thedan).

27 April 2005

Round 2

Around 5:30 yesterday afternoon I glanced out the window across the hall to look for a break between showers to bike home in. I could see the sun and clear sky and decided to go for it right away. Of course, once I went outside I felt a couple of rain drops and looked up. A horizontal line directly over the Wellcome Centre demarcated the boundary between blue sky and a massive wall of rainclouds. Grrrreat.

Despite getting completely soaked until I rode far enough to get out from under the rain, the way home was much easier, because it's largely downhill (which also goes some way towards explaining why the way to work is so hard!). By the time I got home, I just wanted to dry off and was in no mood to either do my laundry or go to the grocery store. I eventually did the latter, but need to get around to the laundry tonight.

The ride to work this morning was a bit easier than yesterday. It's really amazing how quickly the heart/lungs/muscles adapt to being required to do more work than they're used to. The route from John's house to work goes along the ring road bike path (the highway running around the city) for a few miles, then cuts into the woods along a horse pasture and up a fairly steep hill towards Headington. The hill tops out at the end of Osler Rd (where my permanent house is) and from there it's maybe a  mile or so through Headington to the office.

Yesterday I stopped once along the ring road (as it begins to go uphill) and again at the top of the hill after the woods. Today I was able to make it all the way to the end of the woods-hill without stopping, opting to walk up the second part of the hill (which is on a little road called Stoke Place). A little bit of positive thinking went a long way on the ring road, since this time I knew where the turnoff for the path was and I could push myself to get there.

The downside of all this is that my ass is incredibly sore from the saddle on John's bike. Any advice on the matter is appreciated from the cycling-enthusiast peanut gallery (Scottoway).

26 April 2005

The Interwang Rox My Sox

Think about the difference between my trip to the UK and the same one taken by an imaginary me 5 or 10 years ago. Last night I talked to LBJ, my parents and Amrys all for free. Right now I can listen to Dennis and Callahan at my desk in work. Every morning I can read the Globe sports page to see how the Sox are doing. Right now I can make these insipid observations in the knowledge that you'll be reading them later the same day.

This truly is a Computer World.

PSA: bloglines

For those of you who haven't found it yet, bloglines is the bomb-diggity. You basically create an account, add a bunch of RSS feeds (which can even include your favorite web page), and then it will tell you when new posts are available to read, thus obviating the need to check everybody in your bløgroll every day. There are, of course, lots of other nice RSS aggregators out there, too...

Out. of. shape.

While internally debating about whether to borrow John's bike while he's away in order to avoid taking the evil bus to work, I never considered whether I could actually make the trip or not. I considered the discomfort of biking in the rain, the potential difficulty of remembering to stay on the correct side of the road, and the fact that I don't have a helmet yet, but I just took for granted that I'd cruise along between Cutteslowe and Headington.

Anyway, 5 miles later, I'm exhausted (I know, Scott, you're disappointed in me). But it's a lot faster than taking the bus, even for a lard-ass like me. Plus I save £3/day (and hopefully lose some pounds from my gut; hardy har har).

25 April 2005


Tonight I introduced myself to the BBC while doing my laundry. I watched a truly amazing documentary produced in 1992 on the history of the Soviet "plan". The best parts were in the second half, when interviews filmed in the late 80's were interspersed with footage from the 60's and 70's. They would show this guy explaining how his department was in charge of setting the prices of 25 million consumer items in the USSR and he would show these piles and piles of manuals they distributed all over the country fixing the prices. Then he'd pick up a big pack of 5.25" disks and excitedly explain how all this information could now be fit in one his workers' desks on these floppies. Then they'd cut to a Moscovite cab driver bitching about how he had to jack up his cab at the end of the month and rewind the odometer if he went beyond his allocated mileage.

This piece was edited in a really amazing combination of sarcastic British humor mixed with sadness over the ridiculousness of it all. They began a segment with these three Soviet computer scientists sitting in a hideously faux-wood panelled room with just three chairs talking about how they tried to predict pantyhose consumption based on consumer surveys and reports from "observers" scattered around the country. At one point, one of them teetered off camera to fetch a ream of computer printout paper to show all the data they had. Then, while he explained their "rational" system, the film cut over to shots of women putting on their make-up and buying dresses in shops. The segment ended with one of the scientists saying, "Soviet women learned that if a shop was fully stocked in an item, it was a sure sign it was out of fashion."

The entire thing was, of course, narrated by a proper Englishman, which was one of the reasons it managed to strike such a touching balance between humor and sadness. A very nicely done piece, which closed with an old Putzen favorite: the Soviet national anthem cutting back and forth between the line of be-medalled old men who were singing and shots of Gorbachev and the democracy protesters.

They <i>pretend</i> not to like Americans, but...

Today's email to the Wellcome social list:

"[Social] Anyone recorded the OC?"


"Do you know what a c-ring is?"

In the eighth, David Ortiz hit the "C" ring catwalk with another massive homer, his seventh,  and third of the series.

—Nick Cafardo, Boston Globe

The More Things Change...

I went to my first formal hall yesterday (meaning I had to wear my graduate commoner's gown). It was pretty awesome (although the food was crappy) but I was to embarrassed to take pictures while it was going on. At some point I'll have to bite the bullet, though, because it's so cool. Afterwards there was a meeting of the Hulme Common Room, which is the Brasenose graduate student society.

Evidently last term they had some massive scandal where some wanker got pissed off at the council and found some bit in the HCR Constitution saying that everything they'd done that term had been un-Constitutional. In the aftermath, the newly (though unconstitutionally) elected President (a graduate of the US Naval Academy and the only guy with a gaudier ring than me) spent an hour and a half dancing around trying to do everything properly. It reminded me exactly of the pissier moments of EC government, but these people are all in their late 20's!! I guess we never really grow up.

Then they turned to some issue of abuse of the informal hcr-chat and more formal bnc-hcr email lists. Evidently people had been cc'ing their flames to the deans of the college. I bet they couldn't hold a candle to ec-discuss, though.

23 April 2005


Oxford_logoI've seen this logo in several places and at first couldn't figure out what a bull walking across some mountains had to do with anything. Then I realized that the wavy lines were supposed to be water and the obvious deriviation of the name of the city: a place where the river is low enough to cross your pack animals, or an ox ford.

Coming from New England, where everything is just named after a place in England (i.e. the town names rarely have anything to do with the towns themselves), I guess I never considered that those old English names probably had a reason behind them at some point.

Numlock'd out

I am stupid. I returned to my powerbook this afternoon to find the keyboard locked in numberpad mode (i.e. some of the letters are mapped to numbers and the rest of the letters disabled to mimic having a numberpad like the one on the far right of a full keyboard).

"Great," I thought, "I accidentally hit some key combo to do this and I can't figure out how to undo it." After mashing the control keys for a while and vainly searching for a setting in the keyboard preferences I actually cut and paste using the mouse the search term "aPPle keyBoarD NUMBer Pad" and tried to find help but to no avail. Eventually I gave up and decided to log out and log back in to reset it.

Except that when I tried to enter my password to log in I was still in numberpad mode. At this point I started cursing at my computer for about 5 minutes. Then I noticed the faint green light on under the "num lock" button.

So yeah, I'm stupid.

22 April 2005


In case you haven't noticed, this bløg is becoming a repository for my observations on the quirks of English people. My latest in this series is about the volume of various common drinks. From my experience so far, the prices on these products are relatively the same here as in America:

Volume in USAVolume in UK
Can of Coke12 oz (355 ml)330 ml
Bottle of Coke20 oz (591 ml)500 ml
Pint of beer16 oz19.2 oz

I'm not going to argue with their priorities, but it's actually a bit of a pain to expect that one last sip of coke in your can and realize you're at the bottom. But at least they use sugar instead of corn syrup here, which is cool. Plus, you get the occasional imported can from the EU with the nutrition facts in Dutch.

Pigeon Post

Oxford calls its intra-university mail system "Pigeon Post", and every college has a room where each student has his "pigeon hole". I get the sense its kind of a thing here, as I saw some Brasenose undergrads heading in the Porter's Lodge (where the pigeon holes are) yesterday saying, "Pidgie, pidgie!" (the Spring term is just beginning, so presumably their excitement had something to do with not having checked their mail in a long while).

At any rate, I can receive mail at college, so if anyone is dying to send me a letter, address it to:

Jeffrey Barrett
Brasenose College,
United Kingdom

So far all I've received in my pigeon hole is my first battels (college bill), my University ID and some spam from the college chapel.

All this brings to mind an incongruity (one of many!) I've noticed in the last few days. The government mail service here is called Royal Mail, but everyone uses the word post to refer to it ("The check's in the post" or "I'll post you this letter"). In the United States, it's the opposite: the service is the US Postal Service, but everyone talks about getting their mail, or mailing a letter.

20 April 2005


Sweet, Google finally released Google Maps UK. Good timing.


Well, I made it safely to the UK. Things moved swiftly from touchdown at LHR onwards: barely any line at passport control, picked up my bags right away from the conveyor belt, hopped right on The Airline bus service to Oxford, grabbed a taxi at the bus station and arrived at John's place at about 7:45 AM GMT, a full hour earlier than I expected.

John made coffee, bacon and eggs, which rejuvenated my flagging biological clock. I unpacked a few things, set up my laptop with the house wireless and took a shower. The bus to the Wellcome Centre from Cutteslowe is a pain in the ass because it goes into the city centre and then out again instead of around the edge of Oxford (John's house and the Wellcome are roughly radially equidistant from the centre of Oxford, at about 11 o'clock and 2 o'clock, respectively).

My day so far here has been pretty good: all the people are nice, my computer was set up and waiting for me and I got a chance to talk to Lon about potential projects for about half an hour. In a little while I'm going down to meet the HR people to get my access card, set up a deposit for my paycheck etc.

In fact, the only downside so far is this crazy UK keyboard that I'm typing on...actually, now that I think of it, since my laptop has a US keyboard I'm going to go nuts, since I can't even just get completely accustomed to the niceties of this layout. The differences aren't huge: some punctuation moved around and diffferently shaped shift and return keys, which occasionally results in a string of backslashes or tildes.

18 April 2005

Life, Documented.

I'm taking a break from my packing for a few minutes. The most recent task has been taking piles of "important papers" (receipts, tax documents, health insurance stuff, etc) and sorting out what I can toss in the trash, what needs to be shredded, and putting the rest of it in my box o' files.

It's funny to see the random things from my life which were documented in some particular way. I hadn't sifted through the receipts pile in years, evidently, because it had all kinds of things from when I was in college:

  • A receipt from Filene's for a fedora

  • An envelope labelled "TANK" containing the receipts for everything I used for my fishtank (including one bit from PetCo giving me a "fish credit")

  • A futon receipt paid for by me, which changes the story Amrys has been giving me for the past few years

Anyway, back to the sorting and packing. Maybe I'll write about this weekend's parties later. In brief: they all rocked.

13 April 2005

Rage. Late night.

In case anybody reading this is in the Boston area and I forgot to email you (I can never remember anybody when I'm writing mass-emails):

This Saturday, starting at 9PM on the 2nd floor of the Hong Kong in Harvard Square: Going Away Party.

It'll be fun. You'll get wet.

Idaho Sux

Evidently the Idaho House of Representatives really loves that goddamned Napoleon Dynamite movie.

12 April 2005

googlemaps and craigslist

Check out this hotness, via chak.org.


Caltech hacked MIT's prefrosh weekend like whoa. And so far I've seen lots of MIT reaction along the lines of, "Oh that was totally lame." Plus, the CalTech hack site mentions that some goons from MIT tried to DOS their webserver. In my opinion, these were some pretty sweet hacks, especially since they were done at the expense of the reigning hack-masters. I was a little riled up by being one upped by those So-Cal bumpkins, but come on, give credit where it's due!

07 April 2005

Entry Clearance

I went to NYC on Monday night to hang out with Lopez and go to my visa appointment at the British Consulate on Tuesday morning. We had a decent jam in little Korea at a Korean BBQ (slightly less sweet and more expensive than the place we went to last July 4th, alas). After dinner Lopez got a txt from Terpsma asking if we wanted to hang out at the Gaf.

When we arrived at the pub, we discovered that Lopez is a doofus and the txt was actually from Kim Tarr (aka hotfoot's sister). We decided to hang out anyway, since Terp and Kim are roughly a wash. After a few pints and a lengthy and philosophical discussion with Lopez, I crashed on his couch until the next AM.

The actual visa appointment was way less difficult than I expected. As usual, I had prepared anal-retentively for any kind of official business, and so I was processed in about 5 minutes. I always forget that I'm always the easiest kind of case for these bureaucrats (have my documentation, arrive on time, speak english); especially compared to the guy with the crumpled piece of paper on which is scrawled, "Good morning. I do not speak English. May I have a translator?"

The bus ride back was uneventful (I got to watch The Terminal which totally sucked). And now I have sorted out all the details of my departure, so there's nothing left to do but wait...