Saturday, September 30, 2000


I got up last Saturday morning with my eye on the London Eye. I wandered down to the edge of the Thames half an hour before it was due to open and spotted the queue for tickets. I fortified myself with breakfast from a street vendor -- a bagel with salmon & cream cheese and a Coke that appeared to be from Slovakia. (What's going on there?) Then I got in the queue and 45 minutes later, I emerged with a ticket for noon. It was 10:00, and I was to queue again for "boarding" at 11:30. Hmm, not enough time to do sightseeing, so I wandered around, bought souveniers and wrote postcards.

At 11:30, I queued up again. This was a relatively disorganised queue. I got in it at the end (of course), but then the London Eyesters invented a new end, started queueing people there, and moved us behind it. At one point, the queue crossed a public path in such a way that it really wasn't clear who was queued and who was walking through. After 45 minutes of queueing, we found ourselves on the Eye.

The London Eye is the world's largest Ferris Wheel. It's huge. The previous record-holder was 85 meters high. This is 135 meters high. Wow. You can get some nice views of London that way. I suppose you could orient yourself in London via one of those double-decker bus tours -- but that's too slow, and you don't get a great sense of relative position. You could do so via boat, but then you don't see inland (including the big waste-o'-pounds Millenium Dome).

Oh, but the views! Quite spectacular. I hope my pictures turned out well. The glass was a bit reflective, and one of my disposable cameras had a flash (not to mention the reflection from the sunglight). I could see all the sights of London, and I bought a pamplet that had all of them labelled. I now have a much better sense of where the major landmarks are in relation to one another and the Thames, and where I've been in London.

After the 30 minute ride, I stepped off the Eye (while still moving -- American insurance companies would never go for that one). The whole experience was crowded, and it was very touristy...but I heartily recommend it to anyone who goes to London. Just get your tickets ahead of time. With that, it was time for lunch and the Tate Modern...

Friday, September 29, 2000


"Based on how Rulon and Karelin wrestled today, I have to think that Rulon has a serious chance (sorry I keep changing my opinion on that). Rulon is unquestionably in better condition than anybody out there. If the match goes into over-time, I think Rulon might pull off an upset. Of course I am a Karelin fan and I would be really sad to see him lose, but he should retire before he meets Rulon."

My pal Scott Contini knows his wrestling. He made the above comment before the "Miracle on the Mat".

The Antipodes

After I had checked in to my London hotel, shaved and showered, it was time to find dinner. I looked in a restaurant guide from the hotel to find something interesting and appropriately located. I settled on Livebait -- "Fresh Fish with a Difference." After I sat down, they placed a bowl of prawns on the table to stare at me. Fortified by that, Bushmills and a selection of their excellent bread, I placed my order. They had a Friday fish 'n' chips special, but that didn't seem to have enough of a...difference (even fancy fish 'n' chips). So I ordered the pre-theatre "set price" menu. (I was going to the theatre, after all.) The first course was sardines with sweet potato and rouille on mixed leaves. The main course was grilled marlin on crushed new potatoes with tapenade and pesto. Excellent, excellent. I followed that up with the mango creme brulee and then sped my way on to the theater.

I left Livebait and walked down to the Globe. When I first got tickets for The Antipodes at "Shakespeare's Globe," I assumed that I really just wasn't familiar enough with the Bard's work to have heard of this particular play. (Hey, "Hamlet" sold out.) Eventually, I discovered that it was, in fact, not written by Shakespeare. Well, a play written by Ben Jonson would be OK, too right? No, wait, this was written by Richard Brome, Jonson's manservant. Hmm. Well, I had ordered the ticket already. Apparently I wasn't the only one to suffer the confusion. As I was waiting to collect my ticket, I heard someone behind me say, "I just assumed that I had never heard of it," followed by, "Darn it."

After collecting my ticket, I head...where else?...for the gift shop. I noticed with some amusement that the T-shirt declaring me as a "groundling" cost twice as much as the ticket to be a groundling. The groundlings stand right in front of the stage. In Shakespeare's time, admission was 1 penny and the groundlings had a reputation for rude and uncouth behavior. I quickly took my place at the edge of the stage and rested my elbows on it.

Looking around, the first thing I noticed was how many young women there were around me. Wow. Why didn't somebody clue me in to this when I was 16? The show began with some announcements (e.g., no photography). We were told that there was a celebrity among us. (Presumably he got to sit down.) Richard Fauldes, England's first gold medalist of the 2000 Olympics was in attendance. This was deemed appropriate, since in the context of this play, "the antipodes" were the lands on the opposite end of the globe.

The Antipodes is a comedy about a country lord who comes to London seeking a cure for his daughter-in-law's madness. It turns out the whole family is pretty much bonkers, with the lord's son lost in dreams of faraway places, and the lord himself gripped by jealousy over his young wife's supposed infidelity. The cure involves the doctor and the lord being visited putting on a play (also called "The Antipodes"). They fool the son into thinking he's been transported to the anti-London, where everything's backwards (Bizarro London?). Since it's a comedy, everything works out in the end, and it is pretty funny in the process.

After the show, the artistic director came out to thank us for attending the last show of "The Antipodes." The actors threw white roses out to the audience. (I caught one, which died a quick death in my hotel room.) He thanked everybody involved, and talked about how great it was to have the house filled for such an obscure play. (I wonder if he realized how many people bought their tickets and said, "Well it's Shakespeare, right?"

I then walked out and admired the views of the London skyline (in particular, St. Paul's Cathedral) across the Thames. A man next to me turned to his companion and said, "It looks just like something you'd see in Washington DC." Glad I made the trip. I walked along the Thames and into the city to the Internet cafe at Charing Cross.

Thursday, September 28, 2000

You say it's your birthday...

I don't know what I'm doing for my birthday next year. But if anyone shows up with this on their head, I'm running like hell.

Tuesday, September 26, 2000


"America is the first society in the world that has tried to organise itself on the assumption that human beings do not need to sleep. There are 24-hour news channels, 24-hour wedding chapels, and, of course, 24-hour lap-dancing emporiums."
--The Economist, 9 Sep 2000, p. 34

"We believe the Spice Girls are split on the euro."
-ibid, p. 68

"Ignoring enemies is the best way to fight."
--Jenny Holzer, Truisms (at the Tate Modern)

"First of all, there's no way to make anyone listen to anything. The sooner you embrace that, the less frustrating your life will be."
--Carolyn Hax

Monday, September 25, 2000

Jerky Boys

"To the consternation of Sampson and his team, the Slim Jim loyalists turn out to be a pretty stoical crew. "They didn't seem too bothered by it," Sampson says. "Maybe one or two would ask, 'What's mechanically separated chicken?' 'What do you think it is,' the moderator was instructed to reply. People tended to draw pictures of a chicken carcass flying at a jet engine," Sampson says wearily."

Dungeon fave Ruth Shalit has an article at Salon on the marketing of beef jerky. Funny stuff.

Viewer Mail

Martin writes,

"The second time I went to Fado, I was with my Irish friend Nolene who hadn't been there before. I recommended a particular salad but said I hadn't enjoyed the black pudding served with it, and she said she never eats that because she doesn't like the idea of eating blood. A moment later she realized the blood part was news to me and laughed for about an hour."

Friday, September 22, 2000

You Can't Go Back to Belgium

Greetings from London, land of 24-hour internet cafes...

So Wednesday night I decided to head for the Belgian Monk, Cheltenham's Belgian restaurant. Ever since my trip in May to Belgium, I had been hankering to try Belgian food again (especially the fries). So I sat down, ordered Grimbergen Triple -- 9% alcohol by volume. Then I ordered mussels and fries. When they arrived, well, the fries were comparable to Wendy's fries. The mussels were OK, but nothing special. Sigh.

I decided to give Belgium one more chance, so for dessert I ordered waffles a la mode. They were as good as I remembered them, but frankly after 3 Grimbergen Triples, I probably would have raved about a Frosty.

One thing I noticed in the restaurant is that those darn scooters are everywhere now.

The next evening it was off with a colleague for Indian food. I ended up with the Prawns Madras, some Kulcha Nan, and a Kingfisher. The Prawns Madras may have been too spicy, as I regretted them a bit this morning.

Temperature Rising

My colleague was going to leave at 6 AM to drive to Heathrow. He was my ride, but I found out that for 11 pounds I could take the coach to London. Not the bus, the coach. Buses are local; coaches are cross-country. Got that? Anyway, given that, I could sleep late, have breakfast at the Lypiatt House, and then arrive at London Victoria instead of Heathrow...all in all, it seemed worth it. So I took the 12:30 coach.

Everything seemed to go well until we were departing the stop at Heathrow. A minute or so later, the coach driver announced, "As soon as we left, my temperature started to rise, so we have to head back." So the coach had mechanical difficulties. Or the coach driver did; the phrasing was somewhat ambiguous. Eventually it was clarified that the coach, in fact, had the trouble. After a delay of 30-45 minutes, things were put better, and we were on our way again.

After arriving in London Victoria, I took the Tube to Lambeth North, which I had determined was the closest station to my hotel (another thing the morning in Cheltenham allowed me to do was to buy a map). It's across the street from the Imperial War Museum, which I have visited before, did not plan to visit again, but will probably be tempted into visiting tomorrow.

I would have just gotten a guest house or something when I got here, but I wanted to be able to give emergency contact information in advance. So I looked for a hotel that met my criteria: reservable online, in Southwark and a reasonable price (which turned out to be near $100). And after all that trouble, when I went to check in, my reservation wasn't there. Oops. They got me a room anyway, but it made me wonder what all the trouble I went through was for. Then I realized that the fact I had gotten a room by reserving last week meant that a room was probably going to be there for me, even if my reservation wasn't.

One interesting feature of the room is that I need to put my room key in a slot in order to get electricity in the room. I guess it conserves energy, and I guess I don't mind, but...weird. Then it was off to dinner and the Globe, but I'll write about that another time, as it's late & time to take a taxi back to Southwark.

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

Department of Corections

OK, looking at the menu this morning, it was "black pudding", not "blood pudding." That make the confusion more understandable. On the other hand, I try to avoid foods that share their names with D&D monsters.

Yesterday was a nice day of work; it's fun to realize that there are people over here working on similar things to what I'm working on, and it's good to interact with them. Afterwards, it was off to the Belmont Restaurant for dinner. I was somewhat concerned to discover that Her Majesty's Government was picking up the check -- would this constitute "recourse to public funds"? Could I be deported for this? Evenutally, I decided that it constituted "recourse to public foods" and I was OK on that account.

Today was more meetings. I did get to see an old Cray. If you look carefully at the picture I linked to (sorry, I couldn't find a better one), you'll see that it doubles as a couch. It was pretty neat seeing the one in the Air & Space museum last year (the one pictured). It was really neat this morning taking a break, drinking a Dr. Pepper and reading the paper while sitting on one. Let's see...I also picked up some "digestive biscuits" (cookies) for a friend of mine...not much else to report. I'm over here to work (until I get to London), and while that's cool, I don't have much time left over for tourism right now.

Tuesday, September 19, 2000

"What's in the Blood Pudding?"

Greetings from the land of cold rooms and warm beer, where I have once again somehow managed to sneak away and garner Internet access.

Was it worth it to fly over here just so I wouldn't have to watch the Redskins game?

After checking into the Lypiatt House yesterday, I wandered around, got my bearings and headed into a pub. Ah, England. I ordered fish and chips (avoiding the "American-style hot dog"...authenticity in pubs is sometimes hard to come by these days) and a nice, warm beer. Ah, that was nice. A couple of months ago, I ordered a Bass ale at the Santa Fe Cafe in College Park and was served it ice cold. There and then I vowed to come over here and drink English beer at the proper temperature. (OK, so it's not much of a vow.)

I went back to my room with the intentions of freshening up. Sadly, after watching a few minutes of the Pakistan-UK field hockey match on the BBC, I was overcome with a deep need for sleep. Now, I know that the recommended means of overcoming jetlag is to stay up until the next night, but I was proud of myself for keeping it down to a 2-hour nap. Of course, having terrible nightmares will do that to you, too.

So I headed out again. I made it to the Cheltenham museum half an hour before it closed. That was about 10 minutes too much. They had a lot of artwork I wasn't interested in, and some fairly random exhibits of pottery. The one really cool room was devoted to Edward Wilson, an artist and zoologist from Cheltenham who went with Scott on his Antarctic Expeditions, and died with him after reaching the South Pole. They had some of his watercolors of penguins, and a bunch of his gear. It was pretty neat.

Last night I went out to dinner with a colleague and his wife. For some reason, the age distribution of people at my work is a bit skewed towards the baby boomer era. I mean, I like those people, but well...see my previous thoughts on age and socialization. Anyway, I got to go out with the one co-worker (slightly) younger than me, which was cool. We went to a nice Greek restaurant and had a good time.

This morning was a fine breakfast in the English tradition. I restrained myself from sampling everything offered to me, and restricted myself to the orange juice, toast, and scrambled eggs with salmon. Mmm. Aforementioned colleague's wife ordered the blood pudding, since she had never had it before. After getting it and not liking the looks of it, she wondered aloud what was in it. "Uh, blood," responded the vegetarian at the table. Ah, England.

Monday, September 18, 2000

Fuel Shortage

My colleague showed up, and it was off to Europcar to pick up our rental. The lady behind the counter asked him if he could drive a manual because they were low on automatics. He said, "No, I'd kill someone." She said the recent fuel shortage had caused them to be short on automatics, and she'd be happy to give him a larger manual for the same price as an automatic. He said, "No, I'd kill someone." She said they didn't have any automatics yet, but we should go over to the main rental counter.

We waited to take a bus to the main rental counter. We waited quite a while; Europcar certainly isn't causing the fuel shortage by running too many buses. We made it over there, where he was asked -- surprise, surprise -- whether he couldn't drive a manual. At this point, I was almost expecting them to offer free driving lessons to get him to take a manual. The guy behind the counter went into a long discourse about how the fuel shortage was causing them to be short of automatics. Frankly, I wasn't too convinced...the connection seemed a bit tenuous. It was almost as suspicious as if he had blamed lingering effects from the Y2K bug. He said that they hadn't been able to communicate to everyone to stop taking reservations in the past week because of the fuel shortage, which left them with no automatics. My colleague pointed out that the reservation had been made over a month ago, at which point the guy wandered off.

He came back a few minutes later with the paperwork automatic. How did that happen? Are the rules that they can try to make it sound like you should go away, but they can't actually tell you to go away? If you see through it, you win the prize? Anyway, it's not only an automatic, it's a really cool car. Not one of those wimpy European cars, either -- this felt british A Rover Seventy-Five. Quite elegant, and quite the car for tooling down the M4 (and other roads) to Cheltenham. The only trouble we had with the left side of the road was when we got here, pulled into a driveway and almost hit some people who were on the wrong side of it (we recognized them from back home).

Checked into the Lypiatt House and wandered around town. More about that later (I don't know when), though, as the cybercafe is closing.

Hey, I'm in London. Cool

I just got off the plane in Heathrow and am waiting for my colleague to arrive on a flight an hour later so that we can hop in the rental car and head to Cheltenham. I doubt I'll have Internet access for most of the trip, but right outside customs there was this place renting access, so I thought, what the heck.

So what's changed in the 5+ years since I've been over here? Well, I have no idea; I just got here. The one thing I will note is that the stamp on my passport used to say "Leave to Enter for Six Months Employment Prohibited." That's now expanded to "Leave to Enter for Six Months: Employment and Recourse to Public Funds Prohibited." Glad they covered that loophole.

The thing I love about the British is how self-centered their world view is (unlike we cosmopolitan Americans, of course). To them, the British Open is just "the Open". And when they stamp your passport, it just says "Heathrow" -- of course the country is the UK!

I like getting my passport stamped; it makes me feel like a world traveler (which, I guess, technically I am). I'm always vaguely annoyed that the Canadians fail to do so. Looking back, I now have 2 Heathrow stamps, 2 Manchester stamps, 1 Gatwick and 1 Leeds/Bradford. As for those other countries, I have both an entry and departure one from Cyprus, one from Belgium, one from Finland, and oh, yeah, one from the USA. For what it's worth, all the other countries carefully stamp my arrival in the arrival section, and the British just stamp the arrival stamp wherever they feel like it -- arrival section, departure section, the middle of the page. Hmm.

Thursday, September 14, 2000

Stick a Fork in Him

"Yes, in principle, Bush could win. The stock market could crash. Gore could be caught shagging an intern. Bush could electrify the country with the greatest performance in the history of presidential debates. But barring such a grossly unlikely event, there is no reason to think Bush will recover. "

Slate has an article entitled "Why Bush Is Toast". It's a pretty good explanation of why Al Gore is going to win this November's election. It makes a point I've been making for a couple of months now -- namely that peace and prosperity determine the outcome of elections, and that favors Gore. It also makes some points that I hadn't thought of -- some I find more plausible than others.

It does omit another reason I don't think Bush will win. He's a jerk. He comes across as a twit. I don't know what the percentage is of guys who join fraternities in college -- maybe 20%? Bush is the perfect frat house president -- which means he'll have a good chance of rubbing the other 80% the wrong way. I remember seeing a poll during the primaries that showed that the more people got to know Dubya, the less they liked him. No wonder he wanted to avoid the debates...

Wednesday, September 06, 2000

I hope he wasn't in the car

"The story also erroneously said that Amir Abbas Hoveyda was in the paint-splattered car. Hoveyda...was executed in 1979."

--A Washington Post correction

Monday, September 04, 2000

Dead or Alive

I've been somewhat of a Winston Churchill fan ever since high school. My friend Ben was writing a term paper about the Winter War for AP Modern European History. He left a copy of The Gathering Storm over at my house. I started reading it and was fascinated by Churchill's description of the events leading up to World War II. I read the other volumes of his history, his biography, and other things that I could pick up related to him.

People associate Churchill most with his role as the leader of England through most of WWII. But he played a part in many other important events of the 20th century -- he was in charge of the British Navy for part of WWI, and he was involved in Irish independence, the formation of Israel -- he even coined the term "Iron Curtain".

But one of the most interesting episodes in Churchill's life took place in the twilight of the 19th Century. Back then, British military officers got a winter vacation -- so they could go fox-hunting or whatever. Churchill, an ambitious young man from a famous but not wealthy family, had other plans. He headed off for the Boer War as a correspondent. He didn't stay an observer for long. When the train he was on was ambushed by Boers, he took the lead in defending the train. Despite his efforts, which allowed many on the train to escape, he was captured and held prisoner Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive is his granddaughter's re-telling of these events, in addition to his escape and his eventual flight to freedom.

I read this book on my way back from California. It's certainly an interesting tale. If it had happened to anyone else, I think it would make a great movie. And here it is, with Churchill, an larger-than-life figure for so many other reasons. But some of the things that would make this a great movie make it a less-than-ideal book. It's a nice, simple story. So what does Celia Sandys fill up 215 pages with? Much of it with the story of her researching this book. I'm sure it was interesting for her to meet with the descendants of the people who helped Churchill escape, but the digressions take much out of what should be a fast-paced read. So it was fun for a Churchill fan to skim through, but others should probably just read the relevant section of a good Churchill biography.

Football Season

Well, the NFL season is off to an auspicious start. Yesterday I watched my beloved Redskins hold on for 20-17 win over the Panthers.

This is the first year I've ordered the NFL Direct Ticket. We had a pretty nice setup. The big TV was on the Redskins game (but of course), the medium size TV was on the Lions game (for Steve) and the small TV on the Ravens game ('cause that and the 'Skins game were all we could get on the antenna). We pulled up the sofa and chairs real close and enjoyed football nirvana.

It's strange. I'm in a good mood today, and part of the reason is that the Redskins won. (Yee hah! 16-0! Undefeated!) Another reason, of course is that Michigan won on Saturday (No. 3...national championship, here we come!) Sometimes I feel like giving your allegiance to a sports team is this bizarre exercise is losing control. (Despite what I may want to believe, my rooting doesn't control the fate of the team.) Why should I cede the ability to decide if I'm happy to a bunch of guys wearing funny uniforms?

But a lot of things in life that determine our happiness are way out of our ability to control. And maybe fan-dom is a pure way of expressing that. You give your heart to someone who literally doesn't know you exist, sit back, and hope for the best. Ah, football. Can't wait 'til next week.

Saturday, September 02, 2000

Great Books

On my recent trip to California, I read The New Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major. I think the title is somewhat misleading -- it sounds as if the goal of the book is to get you to plow through these classics, from #1 (The Epic of Gilgamesh) to #133 (Things Fall Apart). While I suppose you could use the book this way, I see this book put to better use as a list of suggestions for books you might consider reading. As in, "Hey, The Federalist Papers -- that would be pretty interesting."

And the commentary itself is the most valuable. I had the good fortune to read a number of these books in three semesters of "Great Books" at the University of Michigan. I had wonderful professors who guided me through the works. This book, with a handful of pages devoted to each work, is no substitute for that. Still, the suggestion can be very helpful for someone approaching, say, Nietzsche:

"Suggestion: Use the edition called The Portable Nietzsche, if available. The translations are intelligent, the notes and other apparatus helpful. You might read the whole of Zarathustra, uneven as that strange work is; the selections from Beyond Good and Evil; Toward a Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, and perhaps The Antichrist."

I don't know how many of these books I'll read -- they said the list is aimed at those "who have not met more than ten percent" of the authors (I'm in the twenties, I think). But I probably will want this book on my bookshelf for when I feel like picking up a classic and am looking for some guidance. Now where can I get a copy of Gilgamesh?