29 June 2005

Half Credit?

I printed this image of the Declaration of Independence to hang in my office while I'm at work this Monday. Do I lose patriotism points because I had to print it on A4 paper? Should I hunt around for an American piece of 8.5 X 11?

28 June 2005

Bolivar Habana

I stopped by Frederick Tranter, Specialist Tobacconist today. I hadn't even considered the fact that I was now living in a country unburdened by antiquated protectionist measures w.r.t. a certain Caribbean nation. So this afternoon I enjoyed a G&T and a Bolivar Habana #3, which was a fine smoke, let me tell you. Plus I got it in just under the gun, as I just heard the first rumble of this evening's threatening thunderstorms.

On a less frivolous note...

I've been following some of the stories (made publicly visible by Nicholas Kristof's NYT editorials) of honour rapes (women raped by the village elders as a punishment for certain "crimes") perpetrated in Pakistan (as well as other places). In a BBC story today appeared the following:

A village council allegedly ordered the rape because her younger brother was seen with a woman from a more influential tribe.

It's practically a self-parody. Is it actually possible that places like this still exist? The article goes on to say that the victim in this case is being prevented from travelling abroad by the Pakistani government because they're worried she might "undermine Pakistan's image". You think?!

I'm glad I'm not an Economist

Last week at Somerfield I saw a sale on 6-packs of Coke. The regular price is £2.19 and the advertised sale price is "3 for £3.50". I did the math in my head and decided someone had made a typo, since the sale implied that the 3rd 6-pack was not only free, but taking it actually refunded you 88p on the 2nd one.

Yesterday it was still there and since I drink a lot of Coke anyway, I loaded up with 3 rigs. Lo and behold the sign actually was correct. Somebody tell me, does this sale make any sense? I know they like to encourage volume with these schemes, but why not make it buy-2-get-one-free instead of making 3 of the item less expensive than 2 of same?

Plus, don't even get me started that one-way flights are twice as expensive as getting a ticket on the same exact airplane with a return at some random future date.

27 June 2005

High School Calculus

I haven't had to use calculus since probably Spring term of my Junior year at MIT. Today I needed to bust out some old school differentiation while studying Maximum Likelihood Estimators. I forgot how satisfying it can be to scribble down lines of calculus and algebra and actually end up with the answer you're looking for. It's too bad the maths in 8.059 weren't so easy...

23 June 2005


Oh man, the rampant stupidity of spammers has reached new heights. I received a spam encouraging me to donate to the world-renowned charity "Medicins" from its director, Mr. Sans Frontierers.

Best Regards,

Sans Frontieres
Paris-Base Charity

Meanwhile, in the Real People with Funny Names department, there's a guy in my college named "Nashville Toledo".

20 June 2005

Hot Dogs

At the grocery store today I asked Becki if they had hot dogs in England.

"Yeah, let me show you where they are," she said.

This is what she showed me.



That is a sweet forecast.

Astute Business Strategy

Today, the BBC reported that Heinz is buying the HP Sauce Company. The article had the following insight on how Heinz is staying ahead of the market:

The purchase from French group Danone is the latest
stage in Heinz's current strategy of focusing on ketchups, condiments
and sauces.

I hate Word. I hate OpenOffice.

First of all, I hate people (or crappy grad student organizations) who send out their announcements as MS Word attachments to email. Second of all I hate OpenOffice, which is so incompatible with all MS Office products as to be almost worthless. Behold the typical mess that OO makes of this already hideous Word document. Word is a useful tool...for creating documents! It (along with PowerPoint and Excel) is consistently abused and coerced to do things at which it fails miserably. It's also become an unfortunately acceptable final format to deliver to the public. This message was sent as a 738 kb attachment to hundreds of grad students. How is it that intelligent people are so unaware of the myriad better
ways to transmit this information? How about a link to a web page? How
about a PDF? Of course, there was nothing in the text of the email, despite the fact that all relevant information could've been duplicated with 250 bytes.

Don't even get me started on who decided that people would want to attend this event because they have a gay-pride/targeted-aspirin logo and curved lettering which was hip in 1997. Is design sense really this rare?

19 June 2005


It's been really hot this weekend. I've made the most of it by working in the yard. After David turfed I cleaned out the shed, and installed the bbq, the pond and our first 6 fish. So far they're all still alive. I've also put some pictures of the house up for your viewing pleasure. The first few are from a month ago when Dale visited and we had a big fire in the back yard. They give you some sense (although without any panoramic views, alas) of what the yard used to look like. After that are some shots of the inside of the house and the yard as it looks today.

16 June 2005

Matriculation et al.

MatriccloseupI've had a busy day today.

David is installing turf in our back yard (it's really starting to look awesome) and it needs to be heavily watered for the first week or so or else it just turns yellow. Since our landlord graciously agreed to buy the turf, we figure we'd better not spend his money and be left with nothing to show for it. I was tasked last night with getting a hose so that we could execute the requisite watering. I achieved this goal, but was frustrated by the extremely crappy Hozelock brand adapter to attach the hose to our kitchen faucet (there's no external tap). Hozelock makes some nifty fittings, including a whole set of quick disconnect style adapters.

Unfortunately, their design team must be a bunch of boobs, because the adapter has asymmetric openings, allowing the faucet in one end, but not out the other. The expectation is that your faucet isn't of the particular shape and size which would require it to poke through the adapter, but of course my faucet is of exactly that shape and size. I modified my Hozelock 2274 MultiTap connector like so. The annoying thing is that it would've worked exactly as well if they had molded the plastic in this fashion to begin with.Hose1Hose2

After "fixing" the hose, I raced off to work to go to a group meeting (which was delayed from 10:30 until 10:45, further crunching my available time to get to Brasenose by 12:10 for Matriculation). I snuck out of the meeting at 11:35, biked home, quickly changed into subfusc (doing a fairly good job on my first ever bowtie knot, if I do say so) and ran out to catch the bus into town.

MatricradcliffeI met up with the Brasenose Dean of Degrees and the one other student, Verena, who arrived this term and thus needed to matriculate at this odd time of year. We proceeded to the Convocation House (frequently used in films as an 18th century parliament room) where we, along with about 20 or 30 other students and the Deans of Degrees from their colleges sat and waited. The Provost carried in the big gold mace, followed by the Chancellor who formally accepted us into the University (in Latin) and then gave a short speech about how this marked a rite of passage and so forth. I really wish I could've got pictures inside, 'cause the room is really cool and everybody (especially the Chancellor) wears fancy duds. I did get a couple of photos back at Brasenose, though, including this one, which nicely shows the Radcliffe Camera in the background.

15 June 2005

Tee hee.

Does anyone else find the name Wily Mo Pena to be really funny? Also, the MLB player search is really dumb. They only allow you to search on the player's last name, which means if you're looking for, say, someone named Martinez, you get about 20 results. Would it be that difficult to enable searching on first and last name?

14 June 2005


I have the internets at home!

13 June 2005


Oxford life involves a lot of formal occasions. Just being a student requires white-tie attire (which along with the cap and gown constitutes sub fusc) for matriculation, examinations and graduation (as well as less savoury events like being summoned before the domestic bursar). Beyond these requirements are lots of formal social functions like college balls and dinners which are all either white tie or black tie affairs.

My own social calendar includes the following formal events in the near future:

  • Matriculation, 16 June, sub fusc. I have to go to the Convocation House and promise not to bring a naked flame into the Bodelian or herd my cattle in Christ Church meadow.

  • OUANZ Dinner, 22 June, black tie. My kiwi friend Shailen wanted a crew of us from work to go to the Oxford University Australia-New Zealand society dinner. Their mailing list is "antipodeans@ox.ac.uk".

  • Green College Ball, 16 July, black tie. I missed the BNC ball this year and Green (an all grad college) always has the last ball of the season. Another group-from-work type event, which should be quite fun.

  • Caryl's wedding, 31 July, black tie. Well, technically I'm sure a suit would be fine, but why not live it up?

So in light of all this I decided to buy a dinner jacket and trousers so that I'd be properly attired. This is also a good time to mention one of my favorite Oxon anecdotes to date. There's a store around the corner from my house called PRONUPTIA which I always parse as PRON UTOPIA. It makes me giggle every time. Even when I looked carefully I pronounced it in my head as prawn-up-tee-ah and I couldn't figure out what the hell it was supposed to mean. I didn't even know what they sold until Laurie asked and I looked in to see formal wear. I still didn't get the name. Then it dawned on me that it's PRO NUPTIA, as in "for the wedding". Heh.

Anyway, I did not go to PRONUTOPIA to buy my suit, because they're expensive and have a stupid name. I went to a place called Ballroom that has an extensive array of 2nd hand items on the first floor (by which I mean the second floor—the UK is 0 offset) I managed to get a matched set that fit me perfectly for only 70 quid. I'm quite pleased. Pictures of all the aforementioned events will be forthcoming when they happen.

12 June 2005

English 101

Miro and Ehren have had some companions in their travels lately, including at least a couple each of English and Scots (note to Ehren: I get confused about who's who in your narration, I think you need a dramatis personae for reference purposes). They both talked about how confusing it is to have such a menagerie of accents, a sentiment to which I can readily relate.

A centre of learning such as Oxford tends to attract people from lots of different places. In this particular case it seems to be a sampling of all the different locations in the world that at some point were subjugated by Her Majesty's armed forces.

Here are some of the flavours of English I've observed so far:

  1. Locals. In Oxford you're either "town or gown", i.e. a local thug or affiliated with the University. The streets are littered with local yobs who speak with a blue-collar commoner's accent and terminate every sentence with "innit". Exempli Gratia:

    • Yob 1: 'at's a righ' flash car, innit?

    • Yob 2: Eh, le's fook it up, innit!

  2. Proper English. This is especially typical of the undergrads, who all come from upper class stock. This is probably the easiest accent for an American to understand because they mostly enunciate all of the syllables you'd expect. It's not as common in the graduate community, because the departments tend to draw from a much more international pool.

  3. Irish. Obviously one of my favorites, although it comes in a wide variety. City dwellers from the South have a perfectly understandable brogue, but Northeners tend to be hard to understand and frequently threaten to kneecap you. The Irish also bring along a bit of their own slang layered on top of the UK stuff, so sometimes I have no idea what the hell they're talking about.

  4. Scots. A nice accent, but impossible to understand if at all heavy. Sometimes can be confused with either Northern English or Irish.

  5. Northeners. This is one of the trickier ones to understand for the most part. Lucky for me two of the people I've got to know here so far are both Northeners, so I'm beginning to figure it out. My mate Rob still sometimes says an entire sentence from which I can't decipher a single word.

  6. Canucks. Depending on where they're from you can sometimes barely distinguish them from Americans (until they say aboot). If they're from the North West or French Canada it's a whole different story of course,

  7. Aussies. Probably my all-time favorite. They've got such a ridiculous collection of phrases that it's a hoot to listen to 'em tell a story. It's relaxing just listening to them talk too. I still sometimes can't hear the difference from English until after a few minutes, but then usually it sounds so obvious that I can't believe I couldn't here it before.

  8. Kiwis. A newcomer would probably be hard pressed to distinguish a New Zealander from an Australian, but asking a Kiwi if he's from Australia is a deadly sin and must be avoided at all costs.

  9. Americans. I've got to the point where I'm downright shocked to hear an American accent now. I myself have picked up lots of English expressions, but almost no trace of the accent. In fact, I'm still not very good at faking an English accent (and the English are universally abysmal at doing an American impersonation—they seem convinced we're all from Texas, and they're not really even that close to getting the Southern drawl right.


In my days at MIT I was quite adept at punting. In fact, I punted so well that I had to take 8.03 twice. I punted Oxon-style for the first time yesterday and I think I've got the hang of that, too. It was pleasantly temperate yesterday and I had nothing much to do, so I joined Shailen, John B, and American Steve for a bit of punting at the Head of the River.

Much like MIT, any good day spent punting on the Isis involves drinking a bunch of beer. We featured some Stella, the rhythm and spirit of Jamaica, and some Pringles. John and Shailen took the first couple of turns doing the actual punting and I unwisely sat in a seat facing away from the place where you stand with the pole, so I gained absolutely no useful information about technique before I actually took my first turn. After crashing into other boaters and the shore several times I finally got the hang of how to push and then drag the pole in the water to steer. I also began to wonder what moron decided it was a good idea to steer a boat with a 15 foot pole instead of something sensible like a rudder.

The real beneficiary of my adventure is you, dear reader, as I'll be able to take you punting the next time you come to visit me in Oxford.

10 June 2005

Channel 5

Channel 5 (the fifth "terrestrial" channel on UK TV) is renowned for showing crappy television. In fact, they're renowned for showing crappy American television (the upcoming lineup includes Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Joey, and Two and a Half Men). They also show American sports in the middle of the night, twice a week (baseball in the summer, football in the fall).

Normally I couldn't care less, but this Monday at 1AM they're showing the Cubs-Sox live (!!)

07 June 2005

Miserable Sods

The weather is gorgeous here right now. It's sunny and warm. We spent our drawn-out lunch break basking in the sun in the courtyard.

Moments ago a centre-wide email was sent out announcing that water service has failed everywhere in the building and non-essential personnel are encouraged to take the rest of the afternoon off.

And I so far have convinced zero of my coworkers to go down to the garden at the White Hart for an afternoon pint. What is wrong with this country?!

Captain Planet

Oh man, Rodin really cracks me up. Go to the planet and check out his icon for two grim dudes. It's the bee's knees.

06 June 2005


  • Thanks to everyone who offered music suggestions. I'll let you know once I've listened to some stuff.

  • I wish I had followed more assiduously the tale of Motorhomicus Vicaribus. It's such a cool adventure and so well documented. Unfortunately now I feel daunted when I want to go back and read up on stuff I missed. Ehren: you should put together the posts and photos in a book when you're done.

  • There's a MMORPG called Second Life which is essentially just a virtual world where you can build a house, buy stuff and are encouraged to start your own business. There's a currency (the Linden dollar) with which you can buy stuff and which you earn if you build something or offer a service to somebody. Players in the game also receive a stipend each month from the game in order to fuel the economy.
    Anyway, it's not so much the game that I was interested in, but the fact that you can buy and sell Linden dollars with real money. This isn't such a new thing; people have been trading in virtual resources on eBay and the like for a long time. But now there's a site which offers a real time currency market for exchanges between L$ and USD. This means you could actually make (real) money as  a currency trader in this imaginary currency. There are real economic effects to consider; how much money is the central bank printing? do people save money or is it all in circulation? The world we live in...

02 June 2005


Happy birthday, Mom.

Bløgosphere, tunes!

I want to buy some new tunes. The suggestion box is open for the next 24 hrs.