28 July 2010

Yay, America!

Annoyingly, and unlike any other country I know of, the IRS requires me to file a US tax return every year declaring my foreign income. I'm currently below the (reasonably generous) exclusion threshold which means I don't have to pay any US tax on said income. I will probably eventually cross that line, however, meaning I'll have to go through the tedious process of calculating my US tax burden and then claiming deductions from that based on my UK taxes. For once it's convenient that British taxes are heavy!

That future irritation has briefly faded from my mind however, because I received a check today, out of the blue, from the US Treasury, for $248.62. Apparently I'm entitled to the stimulus tax credit (Making Work Pay) even though I paid $0 in US taxes last year. In honor of the goal of the stimulus, I hereby promise to spend it on something frivolous in the good old US of A.

20 June 2010

Impersonal responsibility

The furore over BP CEO Tony Hayward's decision to watch a yacht race this weekend highlights the desire to pile the blame on somebody who should be in control when, in fact, the events are out of anybody's control. Don't get me wrong, if it turns out (as seems increasingly likely) that the blowout on Deepwater Horizon (or "Deep Horizon" as one of the inquisitors from Congress kept calling it) was due to BP's negligence then Hayward should be horsewhipped with a horsewhip. In the meantime he should be directing his company's sizable resources toward stopping the leak and cleaning the spill, but that doesn't mean he should be personally sucking oil out of the gulf with a straw, or forced to watch the live spill-o-cam 24 hours a day. Similarly, President Obama himself can't don a wetsuit and become a human 'junk shot' into the pipe, but the public acts as if his personal willpower is all that's required to plug the leak.

Finally, I think the members of Congress grilling Hayward should STFU until they've divested themselves of all campaign oil dollars, and the general public should follow suit until they are willing to pay 9 bucks a gallon for gas.

19 June 2010


E-A-S-Y was how the tabloids greeted the news months ago of England's World Cup opponents. One thing that has become clear while watching this WC is that the English have an incredibly self centered view of the football world. The team's struggles so far are only a reflection of some internal collapse and have nothing to do with the opponents they've faced. Events in other games are only discussed with respect to how they affect England. There's an overriding attitude of entitlement against opponents viewed as not being in the same league (despite empirical results). It's funny to see this attitude so prominently displayed here when it is so often ascribed to Americans in other arenas. A few choice illustrative quotes:

Wayne Rooney, English striker
Before playing Algeria: "Against Algeria we can not be at our best and win the game."

When asked what he knew about his opponents: "Not much. Belhadj from Portsmouth, but I don't really know much more about them. I'm sure the manager will point out their strengths and weaknesses to us."

When booed off the field after a 0-0 draw: "Nice to see your home fans booing you. That’s loyal supporters."

Roy Hodgson, Fulham manager and commentator
When asked what effect the Slovenia-USA draw would have on England: "I don't think it matters, to be honest, since England are clearly the best team in the group."

Chris Waddle, former England winger
When asked whether a problem exists in the English locker room: "In qualifying we beat Croatia [ranked 10th in the world] twice and Ukraine [23rd] once. They are both far better than the USA [14th] and Algeria[30th], so there must be something wrong."

18 June 2010

Getting prepped

My office today before the kickoff of USA-Slovenia.

St. John's Ball

Daniel managed to secure me a ticket to my first Cambridge may ball (all confusingly held in June), at St. John's college. It was a great time, with fireworks (above) and lots of other entertainments, bands, food and drink. I think Daniel has a photo of me in my tux, which I'll try to find and post.

17 June 2010

Ole, ole, ole, ole!

What a win by Mexico tonight. I went to watch Les Bleus chez Plagnol tonight, so it wasn't a jubilant atmosphere. The first goal was beautiful, especially because you have to understand the offside rule to fully appreciate it. The timing by Hernandez to break the offside trap was perfect, and he didn't panic when faced with a one-on-one against the French keeper, Lloris. Now I'm super nervous about the USA-Slovenia game tomorrow, working out all possible group standings depending on results. Bottom line is the USA needs a W.

10 June 2010

On Abbreviations and Gambling

I'm trying to maximize interest in the World Cup by placing bets on it in various ways, including:
  1. Taking the USA to beat England on Saturday at an actual bookie (I stupidly placed this bet too early, and got 9/2 odds. All the goobers here betting on England have run them up to 13/2.)
  2. A sweepstake at work where teams are randomly assigned to people. I got Switzerland and Greece, so there's a fiver down the tube.
  3. A fantasy league (still negotiating the amount).
  4. A group stage bracket prediction pool
  5. Hopefully some random side bets on various games being watched chez Carl on his giant TV.
In all the correspondence on these topics I've been told to abbreviate it as the CdM (Coupe de Monde) because apparently WC doesn't show enough respect for the game.

A new hobby

The Sanger Cricket Club plays in an intramural Cambridge league with other teams from University departments and similar entities. The level of skill is highly variable from former top-tier University and county players to complete amateurs.

I quickly adopted cricket as my preferred local 'watching' sport when I moved to the UK, and last year I lurked on the cricket email list and watched one of the matches, but never actually held a bat or ball in anger. This year, however, I decided to enlist a bunch of friends as encouragement to actively participate, and have thus been attending practices for the last couple of months along with four other Human Genetics newbies (one of us is actually a ringer, but the others have either never played (me) or last played as kids).

I'm still pretty terrible, but I've been really enjoying competing in a sport for the first time since youth soccer, approximately 20 years ago. All five of the HumGen boys were selected for our second match last week, so a bunch of other people in our department turned out to watch, since the home pitch is on the Sanger grounds (founding director and Nobel laureate Sir John Sulston insisted that the institute should have a pitch on site). In order to give the spectators a show, but to the detriment of our team's chances, Carl and I (pictured above) opened the batting.

I was super nervous as I stood in to face the first bowler, but after a couple of prods which rolled straight to the fielder at short mid-wicket I managed to slap a shot forward of square leg to the boundary (which scores four runs). Because it's a limited over game and since Carl and I weren't exactly racking up runs after the first couple of overs, I started slashing at pretty much everything and edged it to the keeper during my second over.

We managed to set a pretty decent total (149) after our 20 overs, so we took the field and put the game in the hands of our string of decent bowlers including two (Tejas and James) from the HumGen crowd. I spent most of our fielding innings in the doldrums of deep square leg and deep point, but did make a couple of decent plays at long stop. Carl made the catch of the game playing in cover, and our boys generally took wickets at a good pace. The opponents had only racked up about 100 runs with three overs to go, so our captain handed me the ball to bowl an over. My first two balls were nervously wide, but I settled in and managed to get through it while only yielding a few runs (bear in mind I was facing the very tail end of their batting order).

Anyway, it was awesome, and last night should've been my second appearance, but was rained out. More updates soon!

06 June 2010


Last week someone tweeted a link to this article about giving up multitasking. I have been thinking a lot lately about how to maintain focus (or 'flow') better at work, and how to lower my overall stress level, too. This piece is not only about both obviously distracting multitasking (reading emails while on the phone) but less obvious cases like thinking about work while talking to your kids. It didn't reveal much that I didn't already know, but the author nicely summarized his experience in giving up multitasking with six observations which all resonated with me (see the article for full exposition):
  1. He was better able to enjoy the good things in life.
  2. He made more progress on challenging projects.
  3. He was less stressed.
  4. He lost patience for activities which were a waste of his time.
  5. He gained patience for worthwhile activities.
  6. He lost no productivity by eliminating multitasking.
Reading it made me realize how much of the day I spend with random thoughts and distractions buzzing around in my head (again in addition to more obvious things like frequently checking email on my phone). There's a whole change of attitude possible here: take each moment and just do whatever you're doing in that moment. Today I stopped to listen to a thunderstorm, and was tempted to check mail while I was standing there, but I consciously resisted and kept with just one simple thing: listening. It may sound fruity, but it's a lot less stressful.

24 April 2010

Patriot's Day

April 19th is the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, celebrated as "Patriot's Day" in Massachusetts by giving people a day off to watch the Boston marathon. While I haven't had the chance to do that recently, it nearly coincides with April 20th, the anniversary of my arrival in the UK.

This April 20th was my fifth anniversary in the UK, so I celebrated by barbecuing on my 5th floor deck and flying the stars and stripes.

Happy Patriot's Day, and happy anniversary to me.

22 January 2010

Teabaggers, Socialists and Health Care

Scott Brown's Senate victory in my home state (or Commonwealth, to be more precise) has left me feeling more disconnected from the United States than ever before. For nearly 5(!) years I've been hearing people make derogatory comments about Americans being loud, fat, obnoxious, etc. My standard reply has always been to point out that the United States is a huge place with 300 million people, and making generalizations is silly.

Specifically, I come from the urbane, sophisticated, cosmopolitan part of the country, and I'm more at home in the UK than I would be in, say, rural Mississippi. But now the same teabag unrest that has been burbling in those "other" parts of the USA has helped propel a no-name Republican into the seat held by Ted Kennedy for 46 years. After a few days of despondence I've come to see Brown's victory as the result of a perfect storm of three main factors: (1) the tendency for voters to blame the continuing bad economy on the incumbent party, (2) the Republican choice of an engaging everyman vs. the Democrats' effete product of the Boston political machine who couldn't connect with a phone jack, and (3) the strange nature of special elections.

Finally, where does this leave the Democrats' struggling attempt to reform the American health care system? I won't bore you with me thoughts, but point you to an excellent op-ed by Paul Krugman which summarizes them perfectly.

08 January 2010

More on airline security

Bruce Schneier is generally awesome, but this piece neatly summarizes my feelings on an appropriate response to the crotch bomber.