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Archive for August, 2009

YouTube’d memories: Friends in Low Places

August 27th, 2009
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Ok, still no time – or fodder – for regular blogging, so how about going back to an old recurring feature…

I mentioned somewhere that I went through a period of being much into country music in my 20′s. That coincided with the peak of fame for Garth Brooks, and there were quite a few numbers of his that I liked. I do not care for country music nowadays, but songs such as this one still have some inexplicable attraction for me. It came up in my iPod shuffle the other day, and I found myself singing along. In the middle of New York City commuter crowd, no less…

 

There are not many Brooks’ clips available in YouTube. Please excuse German advertizing in this one.

Music

Debout les damnés de la terre

August 25th, 2009

I lately find myself party to occasions where my friends – who share the same background with me and, like me, deeply loath socialism in its most manifestations – lament the approach of the end of the world as we know it on account of current administration’s proposed policies.

From where I stand, socialism has long been here in the States.

At least, if you go by the ornamentation on a building near where I work.
 

Hammer and sickle, anybody?

 
Bonus points if you know where the title comes from.

New York City & Environs, Photography

Weekend notes, 08/24/09

August 24th, 2009

Our weekends have gotten back to what we consider “normal” for us very quickly upon repatriation. A dinner outing with parents. An idle get-together with friends by the pool. A mixed kids-and-adults party in celebration of some occasion. We have not had a single Saturday or Sunday in the last month where we were not occupied with one of such pleasantries.

I suppose I’ll be repeating myself if I point out that this was one of the key reasons for our return from faraway lands.

No long-distance travel (although 40 miles to North Jersey may be construed as a fair amount of travel) or sightseeing is involved, though. I’m wondering how soon I’ll start missing international travel.

There’s always Canada, a friend reminded me today.

Anyhow, we had a mishap with our dinner reservation on Saturday. We decided to go to a place that we knew well and loved, and Natasha called ahead to reserve a table. When we arrived in time for our meal, we realized that the restaurant has changed its name and type of cuisine (while obviously keeping the same phone number), and was no longer a place where we desired to have a meal at. Things do not stay the same, it turns out. From this point on, I guess, our first question when making a reservation should be “Are you still the same place that we knew 3 years ago?”

The latest pool get-together was enabled by my favorite Hacker-Pschorr Weisse. It always surprised me to no end that I could not find that particular brand of Bavarian beer anywhere in Europe (except Bavaria, of course), but can quite easily find it in most NJ liquor stores.

Natasha made another observation of the “they do it differently in Europe” kind.

Drive into a supermarket parking lot on an average busy day and there is a good chance that you’ll find abandoned shopping carts all over the place, often blocking the few available parking spots. People rarely worry about putting the carts into designated bays after they transfer their purchases into the car trunks. A new arrival would often have to get out of the car and clear up the space before being able to pull in. Not mentioning the possibility of returning to your car and finding a fresh ding courtesy of someone pushing away a no-longer-wanted cart with enviable velocity.

At a European supermarket, you most likely need to insert a coin, one pound sterling or one euro, into a slot in the cart handle to disengage it from a row of carts that are locked together. You get your coin back when you return the cart to that same holding area to lock it again. At first, I thought that it was a deterrent from rampant cart-jacking, but we later came to realize that the corollary effect was that of people making an effort to bring the carts where they belonged once they were no longer in use.

Never gonna work in America… First of all, American public will never accept such an infringement on its freedom to abandon carts wherever they please. Second, lots of people would work up a lather over a prospect of having access to a shopping cart dependent on carrying a specific denomination of coin in their pockets. Furthermore, there is no coin of high enough denomination in wide circulation in the US to make this scheme workable – would many people care to get their quarter back, anyway? And finally, there are a few minimum-wage positions of “cart gatherer” at any given large parking lot; probably, unionized, too.

What’s a few dings and scratches when you can reduce unemployment.

Chronicles, Re-pat's culture shock

Not sure about that one…

August 20th, 2009

Many of my online friends did this test and, for lack of any other entertainment herein, I finally decided I needed to start using fillers again…

… except I was not actually ready to do justice to a 120-item questionnaire, so the result turns out to be rather random. Human? Check. The rest? Really!?

And what’s up with constantly using “she” for “wizard”?

Not that I ever played D&D. I’m only slightly familiar with the universe. It could be more PC than I suspected.

I Am A: True Neutral Human Wizard (6th Level)

Ability Scores:

Strength-11

Dexterity-13

Constitution-12

Intelligence-17

Wisdom-16

Charisma-14

Alignment:
True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Class:
Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard’s strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?

Idle Amusements

TV commercials

August 19th, 2009

A quick observation that I cannot properly quantify: We’ve been struck over the last few days how much more commercial time there is on American TV as compared to the channels we watched in England. It feels as if every 6-7 minutes there is a 3-4 minute commercial break. Our recollections of the British TV somehow suggest considerably longer intervals of content between commercial breaks.

That’s as enlightening as I have the luxury of being today.

Re-pat's culture shock

Quick notes on costs

August 17th, 2009

For a casual cell-phone user, the cost of the service in Britain is a proven expense that is considerably lower than here in the US.

The difference is in the treatment of incoming minutes. In UK, they are free. On a pay-as-you-go scheme, one conceivably can have zero balance on their account, yet use their phone extensively, provided other people initiate calls to their mobile. In America, you would still be spending your minutes, regardless of who calls whom.

So, our expenditure on two pay-as-you-go phones rarely exceeded £30 a month. Fast-forward to today, pay-as-you-go makes little sense when you will be shedding minutes for receiving calls. So we got on a family plan with two lines, minimum number of included minutes (albeit with unlimited texting and unlimited in-network mobile-to-mobile use), and the monthly bill comes to $125 when all fees, surcharges and taxes are factored in. We’ll do our darnedest best to use up as many of the minutes as we can, but the difference in monthly expense is quite noticeable.

I’ve been told by friends that the situation could be in reverse for those whose whole life revolves around cell phones. Yet, OECD just listed the US as the most expensive for light/medium cell phone use among its members and in bottom five for heavy users. Britain is mid-table for non-heavy users, and very close to the top for heavy ones. (I’m almost surprised that my personal observations are so easily corroborated by the official stats…)

On the other end of the spectrum are the fuel costs. Full tank of gas seems to run us under $45 these days. In England, at the best of times, we were looking at roughly £60, at worse ones – £80. Do your own exchange rates calculations, if you will.

Re-pat's culture shock

New York imagery: Times Square

August 16th, 2009

I recognized in the last couple of weeks that I very much enjoy walking the streets of New York City. Even such tourist-infested locations as Times Square.
 

  

New York City & Environs, Photography

A jobless man and a homeless man walk into a pub…

August 12th, 2009

…you can continue with your own joke here.

I’ll provide an illustration.
 

 
I realize this might be a bit cryptic for a good portion of my audience, and for that, I beg forgiveness.

Family & Friends, Photography

Sleeping like a log

August 8th, 2009

A number of my friends heard me in recent months complain that I had started to have sleeping problems. Old age, I’d say. No matter which ungodly hour I choose to go to bed, it would take me at least an hour of tossing and turning to fall asleep. And if a certain little person were to wake me up in the middle of the night so that I could bring her a glass of water from the kitchen, I would then spend forever awake before falling asleep again.

These last few days, I am suddenly able to switch off literally the moment my head hits the pillow. Moreover, I normally cannot go to sleep until the lights are turned off, which precludes Natasha from reading in bed once I decided that I cannot read any more. Last night, she wanted to finish the last ten pages of her book after I put mine away. I remember half-heartedly grumbling that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep… and next thing, I woke up in the morning.

I have a number of theories for that unexpected – and welcome – phenomenon.

The intoxicating American air. (Yeah, right!)

The tranquility of our surroundings. (From a relatively noisy – even late at night – street in London to the quiet side road of the far-suburbia gated community where my parents live. There must be a grain of validity in that.)

The air conditioning. (Not that we ever truly needed it in London, but we had to sleep with our windows closed on account of the aforementioned noise, and the air did get stuffy after a while. Not so here in New Jersey.)

The reduced levels of stress now that the move is over. (Uhm… no! The move is not over until we are settled down in our own house, and there are still weeks to go before we do. My stress level is likely the highest it’s been in ages.)

The most likeliest reason of all is the two-hour-long commute to work and back. It surely drains the last of life from me, especially after several years of having a fairly painless 40-minute trek to work that I enjoyed in England. I must have not been tired enough because of that relatively short commute. Now I am. At least, it helps me fall asleep.

I suppose if I wanted to find a silver lining in spending 3.5-4 hours daily on getting to and from work, I wouldn’t find a better one.

I slept so well last night that I dreamt up a brilliant idea for re-angling my blog going forward. Alas, I slept so soundly that when I woke up I only remembered that I had a brilliant idea, not what that idea was…

Chronicles

Road works

August 7th, 2009

What is more expensive: Paying two guys minimum salary to stand at each end of the roadwork area and coordinate alternating two-way traffic over one open lane, or put two electric generators with portable traffic lights in each position instead?

I don’t know the answer, but the “people” solution definitely reduces unemployment.

This is one of the stray “hey, they do it differently in England” observations that pop into our heads with regularity nowadays. In England, where road construction is ubiquitous, you practically never see one-lane traffic management in the hands of people. Not all European countries uniformly do likewise, but we retained a general impression of those portable traffic lights being everywhere where half a road is closed.

Now in New Jersey, Natasha is approaching a stretch of the county road with some sort of digging going on, and here he is, the hard-working stop-sign holder, intently listening to his walkie-talkie for the roger to let the queue of cars through.

Gotta be the cheaper option.

Re-pat's culture shock

A little apology

August 4th, 2009

My regular readers will have to forgive me for being mostly incommunicado these past days. Those whose personal web pages I regularly read myself will have to doubly forgive me for being continuously absent for the longest time. And those who expected a phone call from me arranging for a meet in near future, further apologies for putting it off.

I’ve been awfully busy. Not that you wouldn’t have guessed.

Setting up what needed to be set up, buying what needed to be bought, arranging what needed to be arranged, staying ahead of issues, and what-not required an inordinate amount of time from us. Anyone who’s gone through a major relocation exercise will easily recognize what I am talking about without me having to go into gory details. But even if your biggest move was from one house to another across town, you probably can extrapolate our level of stress by recalling your own during that time and magnifying it five-fold on account of ours being trans-Atlantic…

And then, the house. First, we were buying one. And then we weren’t (don’t ask!!!). And then we had to look at other houses, fully aware that we are running out of time as far as getting a permanent address before the start of the school year…

In any case, I have not had the time or the willpower for a reasonable effort in blog-writing. Putting in simple fillers felt inadequate at present. And I did not have time to properly assess the much-needed re-branding of this site and the direction I want to take it in. Hence, mostly silence.

Please bear with me. I’ll try my best to sort everything out in the next couple of weeks, and hopefully I’ll be able to get back to a regular level of programming in the not too distant future.

Cheers!

Chronicles