26 May 2005

Football Part Deux

I'm struggling to find an analogy to explain how a typical Brit might feel about watching an English team in the European Cup final. To be honest I don't really understand it that well myself. I guess it must be something like watching the Olympic team, but a bigger deal. For a real Liverpool fan, like my coworker Rob, however, it's much more like watching your team in the World Series or Superbowl. It's a bit difficult from my perspective to understand the concept of winning or losing in your own league (the English Premiership) and then seperately playing in an equally important tournament (the European Cup). Rob said winning in your league shows better consistency as a team, but winning the European Cup is a bigger deal because the competition is stiffer. Anyway, on to the game

AC Milan scored a goal off a free kick 51 seconds into the match last night, which I gather is something like giving up 6 runs in the first inning of a baseball game. The University Club bar was completely packed well before kickoff, but interestingly it was a more evenly divided crowd than you might expect, given the international composition of the Oxford graduate community. Midway through the first half the ref missed a call against Milan in their own territory which led to a breakaway goal and Rob screaming "You've got to f**king book him for that! Book him!" It felt just like watching a Pats game at Jamie's house. Yet another Milan goal left us at 3-0 at halftime and the attitude was very much the same as it was in Boston before game 4 of the ALCS; people were joking about putting money up for Liverpool. Rob was talking about "going for it, play some football. I'd rather lose 6-nil than just give up," much as Bostonians were talking about "preventing the sweep" and "not letting them celebrate in Fenway."

Starting about ten minutes into the second half were 6 minutes of pretty amazing football. Liverpool scored three unanswered goals (continuing my Sox analogy, no team had ever recovered from a 3 point deficit in Euro Cup history) and everybody was suddenly jumping up and down and high-fiving and hugging each other. Javier, this small 40-ish Spanish guy from the office was yelling his head off and pounding me on the back.

The game stayed knotted 3-3 for the remainder of regulation and through 30 minutes of extra time. This meant that the match would be decided by penalty kicks, which is about the most nerve-wracking invention of any sport I've seen; far worse than sudden-death OT in the NFL. A striker lines up completely alone and just fires a shot at the goalkeeper while the other players stand along the sidelines watching. Evidently the current style for Dudek, the Liverpool goalie, to avoid giving away which direction he'll dive in is for him to jump up and down and wave his arms like a freak.

Milan had first shot (each team gets 5) and Javier said, "First one's over the bar." Dudek started dancing and the Milan striker fired high and wide; the crowd erupted. Liverpool lined up for their first shot and one of Rob's mates said, "Never trust a Brazilian keeper, they're rubbish." Bang, he dove the wrong way and Liverpool was up 1-0 with everyone in the bar screaming like crazy. Dudek saved the next shot and Liverpool made another. 2-0 now which meant Liverpool only needed one more to save themselves from losing in this round.

Milan scored and then their keeper saved a shot, leaving it 2-1 Liverpool after 3 shots apiece. Dudek made another save on the next shot meaning that Liverpool needed to hit either of their final two to clinch the greatest comeback in Euro Cup history. Let me pause briefly to say that as somebody who had never watched 125 minutes of consecutive soccer in his life I was hanging on the edge of my seat along with everybody else. Liverpool shot and scored, and the bar went crazy. Strangers hugging each other, high fives all around and it felt just like Boston in October. The papers have been saying it's the greatest comeback in Euro Cup history, and that people will be talking about it in 30 years. I've been lucky lately in that respect...

A couple other observations made while watching the game:

  • It must be an international constant that any time an officiating decision goes the wrong way all the fans for the offended team start screaming about conspiracies. Must suck to be a ref (or umpire).

  • The uniforms for British football teams consist of a tiny patch with the team's symbol and then a massive sponsor's logo. Liverpool has "Carlsberg" emlazoned massively across their shrits. This means that the sponsors not only get their branding at the events, but that people all over the UK wear team gear that is basically an advertisement for Vodafone or Carlsberg or whatever.

  • I found it easy to curse out the Milan striker with two goals because his name is Hernan Crespo and I find that "Crespo sucks" really rolls of my tongue.

25 May 2005


Liverpool squares off against AC Milan in the 2005 European Cup final tonight at 19:45 GMT in Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul. It's also going to be my introduction to soccer, aka terrorist football. A group of people from work is going to the University Club (a sports/social function building for grad-students and staff) to watch the game.

I think ESPN is carrying the game in the USA, so if you've got nothing better to do on your coffee break (EDT) or lunch break (PDT) find a pub and check it out. Estimated worldwide audience size is 1 billion(!)

23 May 2005


WaitingEvery year in Trinity term there are University-wide competitions in all kinds of different sports called "Cuppers". All the colleges are encouraged to enter teams in all the events for which they have interested members. One of my co-workers and fellow BNC grad student, Denise, is involved in the UK Champion Oxford Dancesport team. She and a couple of other Brasenose girls who are on the beginners' team wanted to organize a college entry for the Dancesport Cuppers event.

I was roped into this adventure when Denise suggested at Pub Quiz on Tuesday that I could learn a few steps to partner with one of the girls. They could find some random dude to partner with them, but then they wouldn't score any points for Brasenose. I said I might be convinced, but wasn't particularly excited about the affair.

I made it through nearly all of Wednesday without hearing it mentioned so I thought I was off the hook. Then Denise called me Wednesday night to ask if I'd actually do it. I came this close to begging off, but for some reason some advice from Claire about moving to a new place flashed through my mind: "Never turn down an opportunity to meet people."

"Yeah, I'll do it."

"Terrific! First practice tomorrow morning at 10."

SpinThe competition was Sunday, so I had three days to prepare. I met up with the crew on Thursday morning during the OUDC practice. Mairi and Vicky were the two girls who had been dancing with each other on the OUDC beginners' team. Cuppers couples (say that 5 times fast) are only allowed to have at most one member of the team, so they couldn't enter the competition together (although there were loads of female-female pairs involved; evidently competitive partner dance is a good place to meet women, guys). The good thing was that for each dance, one of them knew the man's part. A BNC undergrad named Ewan had been recruited to be the second fall guy, so we started off with Vicky teaching me the man's part of the cha-cha and Mairi teaching him the man's part of jive.

I met to practice again on Friday night and Saturday morning, eventually trading partners with Ewan so we could actually do the dances as a pair. By the end of Saturday I mostly had the steps down and Denise and Mairi were offering more technical advice and descriptions of the proper (i.e. arrogant) latin dance style. I figured this wasn't bad for a few days practice, so I spent a little time at home on Saturday cha-cha'ing in front of the mirror and being mocked by my housemates.

Our team consisted of me and Mairi for the cha, Ewan and Vicky for jive, Denise and her partner named Mark for ballroom and another couple I hadn't met yet who were doing quickstep. These four events comprised the contest, with the best cumulative scoring college taking home the trophy. I arrived at St. Antony's College hall (the location for the event) at
3PM on Sunday to take advantage of a final hour's practice before the
deal started at 4. Immediately upon showing up I found out that Ewan had punted at the last minute to go to a rowing practice, and the quickstep couple had cancelled too. This was a bit of a bummer since I had actually shown up for the thing, despite being petrified. We now had only half of a team and thus no real chance of winning (not that we ever had much chance).

We were all decked out in Brasenose black and gold and I got in my final hour of practice. The contest works in a series of rounds with a smaller and smaller number of couples promoted to the next round each time. Mairi and I managed to make it to the second round, which I thought was OK given that I'd only been dancing for 3 days. Denise and her partner (our only other entry) did rather better, taking the 1st place crown for the ballroom event!

After the competition ended the OUDC team did a demo, which was pretty neat, but I was a bit tired of watching dancing by this point, having been there for four hours. I wisely decided to exit before the "social dancing". This probably marks the end of my career as a competitive dancer, but at least now I know how to cha-cha.

18 May 2005


I had a very productive DIY day yesterday. I cycled to Cowley to go to the B&Q, which is what they call Home Depot here. On a related note, I find it to be a bit odd that they apparently independently both chose white-on-gaudy-orange for their decor. This may, however, make the changeover easy if B&Q accepts Home Depot's rumored acquisition bid.

In any event, I made a few necessary purchases (e.g. duct tape, which they call "gaffer's tape" and sell at an obscenely high price) and generally spent some time wandering around and thinking about which of my tools from home I wanted to prioritize bringing over here. Back at the house, I hung up some pictures and my US flag to make my room a little more homey. I then proceeded to rewire the cord for my Airport power supply to take a hideous UK plug (purchased at B&Q). I had to do the wire-stripping with my Leatherman (which I hate doing). This caused me to priortize my wire strippers on the aforementioned list, but in the meantime I managed to do the stripping without accidentally cutting the leads on the first try, which is pretty good for me. I expected to have to look up the correspondence of black/red wires to blue/brown, but it turned out the cable from my Airport had blue/brown wires for some reason, so that eliminated one possible screw-up step.

I'll post pictures of the house and my room once we get networked at home, which should be tomorrow (cross your fingers).

16 May 2005

You know your thread needs a new heading when...

...the "Subject" line reads: [Fwd: Re: [Fwd: [Fwd: Re: Fw: 500K SNP list]]]

11 May 2005

New Route

I've moved into my new house on Osler Rd. This means that I don't have my 5mi ride to and from work any more. My daily commute ride is a much easier mile or so, but I'm still getting my heavy cycling workout, never fear. The ride from Headington (where I live & work) to the city centre (where BNC is) is about 3 miles but is a very steep hill. This means I can literally almost make it from Headington to town without pedaling and that I am huffing and puffing and sweating my way along in first gear on the way back. I'm going to take my GPS the next time I go to get an exact measure of distance and elevation change. Plus I'll look sweet wearing the receiver on my helmet.

08 May 2005

<i>Mulholland Drive</i>

I watched Mulholland Drive tonight and was left thinking, "That can't possiby be the end of the movie. Where the fuck is the denouement?" I immediately queried the web to find out what had just happened in the preveious 2.5 hours and I discovered a plot synopsis along with some questions and answers on salon.com. Appropiately, the first question they address is: "What the fuck is going on in this movie?"

I admit that I hazily got the idea that Diane and Betty are the same person, and early on I picked up the nods to the acting style of film noir (Betty's exaggerated persona, the kludgy lines) but I was definitely still lost. In the final "wacko" third of the film I was still trying to piece together a continuous time-line (which is obviously impossible). Anyway, I feel a bit like a hack, since I had to read a recap of the movie to get it, but I didn't have time to watch it a 2nd time to figure it out for myself.

05 May 2005


Here I am, 3000 freaking miles away and one of the respectable English daily papers, the Guardian, is reporting on Amal's time travellers' convention. It's a simple idea, really: if you publicize a time-traveller gathering event scheduled for tomorrow (or Saturday in this case) well enough, and the evidence lasts far enough into the future that people living in some distant time when time travel is possible, you may just get a future time traveller to show up. When I first heard about it, I smiled and remembered all the stupid shit we did in college.

Now this has evidently become a worldwide news story. There are acid-free paper slips being hidden in rarely used tomes, radio waves being broadcast into space and print media coverage from newspapers all over. Congrats to Amal, I hope you get lots of future-attendees. I'll nip into the Bodelian (2nd largest library in Britain) and leave a note about it in some 11th century manuscripts.

04 May 2005

Today's Baseball Lesson from a Statistics Grad Student

It's odd to think that despite all the hullabaloo made over Moneyball and sabermetrics that baseball writers (and managers evidently) still just don't get it. Globe reporter Chris Snow had the following to say about Big Papi being rested for last night's game against the Tigers:

David Ortiz, who'd started all 25 games, was rested against Maroth, who owns Ortiz (1 for 10 lifetime).

David Ortiz has a .278 lifetime average. This means that if you pulled 10 random at-bats from his career, there's a 19% chance that he'd have either 0 or 1 hits. This means that the fact that he's 1 for 10 against Maroth is statistically completely meaningless. Of course, since Mirabelli (filling in for Ortiz as DH) hit a grand slam, it looks like Francona's a genius.

Bah, somebody buy these guys a copy of the binomial distribution.

02 May 2005

Foggy London Town

Actually, it was warm and sunny in the Southern UK today. jrandall arrived in Oxford at about 10AM this morning, having driven straight from Heathrow. We walked around the Oxford city center and I showed him Brasenose and some of the other stuff that I actually know anything about. A little past noon, we decided to drive to London and check out that scene (neither of us had ever actually been to London city proper before).

We drove to his hotel and dropped off the car. We hopped on the tube and went to the tower bridge and the Tower of London. Let me tell you, the "tower" of London is a disappointment from outside. It was built so long ago that they had much lower standards for towers. It's really a squat castle, that couldn't tempt us to pay to go inside. We grabbed lunch and then called an English friend of Josh's back in the USA (ahh, the irony of the information age; calling Cambridge, MA from London to find some tourist advice). We crossed the Thames and walked along the other side in hopes of finding Westminster Abbey and some other stuff.

While walking we saw signs for the restored Globe Theatre, so we decided to check that out. It was pretty cool to walk around inside the theatre, which is quite a convincing replica of the original (which burned down in 1613, was rebuilt, and the pulled down for good by the roundheads in 1644). Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera along, so no pictures of the trip. After the Globe we took the tube to Westminster and saw the abbey and Big Ben. It was after closing time by then, so we didn't get to go inside.

I went back to Josh's hotel to look up the locations and times for the bus to Oxford and it turned out one of the stops was right outside his hotel. I headed over and took the bus back to Oxford. As it turns out I may have missed the best part of the day according to Josh, when he and the other FT blokes had dinner at a fancy Indian restaurant in London.

01 May 2005

Photo Parade Continues

Formal_hallI look like a boob in this picture, but I wanted to share a photo of formal hall and my student's gown. Behind me is high table and that dark blotch to the right of my head is the actual brass lion's nose door knocker that gave my college its odd name. Tonight we had roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, which isn't a pudding at all, but rather a crispy pastry bit that they serve with meat. Evidently if you want pudding here you need to ask for "blancmange". And, of course, don't pronounce the "c".

Anyway, dinner was alright and the HCR (grad student body) had port & chocolates afterwards. Turns out Brasenose bottles its own halfway decent port, which is fairly sweet (in both the literal and figurative senses).

May Day

May Day is associated with a number of long-standing traditions in Oxford. Things usually start with all night parties on April 30th, but I opted to go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up at 5AM (after all, I'm not an undergrad). The festivities for May Day itself get started shortly after dawn when everyone in town gathers at one of the bridges over the Cherwell. More details after the link, and photos in the new gallery.

Everyone gathered at dawn at Magdalen (pronounced 'maudlin' by the Brits) College and the nearby Magdalen bridge. At 6AM, the Magdalen tower bells tolled and then a choir at the top of the tower sang madrigals to the assembled thousands to welcome Spring to Oxford. For the full effect, check out the movie; note that the sound isn't altered at all: once the choir started singing the rowdy crowd got completely quiet. For a brief moment I thought they were taking advantage of some weird acoustic effect, but it quickly became clear that there were speakers at audience level.

After a few songs and a blessing by one of the chaplains (also broadcast by the speaker system) people begin to dispers back to other parts of town. The action is just getting started, though, as lots of groups of performers start up their acts in all the squares in town. Most popular are Morris dancers, who prance around with bells tied to their ankles and waving handkerchiefs. Again, a movie is necessary to really understand.

All different troupes perform, including one group accompanied by a guy dressed (convincingly) as a bush. Evidently throughout the morning, he stops somewhere and blends in with the surrounding flora for a while, leaving an empty beer bottle behind once he moves on. When I saw him he was moving a bit quicker, since he was accompanied by his fellow dancers. Lots of good photos of all the action are in the gallery, many of which feature the exterior of Brasenose in the background.

At about 7 I headed to the Brasenose graduate annexe for bacon and eggs. Oh, and some undrinkable instant coffee. Yay. All-in-all a very Oxford morning, certainly worth getting up at that ungodly hour.

Life Update

Sloop_john_bHere's John B's house, where I've been living for the past couple of weeks. A lot of English houses are in this style of two separate homes being in the same building (there's a mirror reflection to the left, outside of the shot). It's nice inside; plenty of room, wireless interwang and lots of other goodies. It's been a good temporary home, although I'm eager to move into my permanent place in Headington.

BikeHere's me outside John's rear sunporch sporting my stylish helmet and showing off my new Dawes Mojave. I purchased it from a really good bike shop, Walton Street Cycles, which is run by well-informed cycling enthusiasts. I've heard they're the place to go to get your bike serviced, even if you've bought a cheaper model from one of the Cowley Road shops.

Work has been busy; I was lucky to get something to work on right away when I arrived, so I didn't have any wasted time just idling. I've been trying to get to Brasenose as often as possible 'cause the grad student lifestyle here is phat.