Back in the UK & Visiting Cam on Sunday

Just to let everyone know, I’ve made it to London! Rosie and I moved into our new flat today — we’ve already discovered our “local” is The Royal Oak!

We’ll be visiting Cambridge on Sunday (4th Dec) so we would love to see everyone who is in the area for brunch in the Bun Shop from 12:30ish. We’ll probably be there for most of the afternoon, so feel free to drop in, or give me a call. Unfortunately we’re busy in the evening, but I’m really looking forward to catching up with as many people as possible!

Washington D.C. (Part 2)

[Continued from Part 1. Rosie has put up some photos.]

On Sunday morning we had pre-booked tickets for the Washington Monument, an iconic pillar of the D.C. landscape. The distance one can see from the top is quite spectacular, although in a way it is more impressive from outside than in. Apparently if you take the stairs down, there are some very beautiful commemorative stones, one from each state of the union, but we were unsure as to whether these would be sufficiently interesting to justify the 45 minutes it apparently takes to walk down given that we were on a fairly tight schedule.

After this we continued our walk down the Mall from where we had left off on Saturday. The various war memorials are very grand, but also extremely busy with none of the respectful hush that found at the British and Commonwealth memorials I have visited. I found the “families-having-a-lovely-day-out” atmosphere really detracted from the power of these monuments—but we were probably unlucky as others have said that when it’s quiet, the Vietnam Memorial is incredible. Of them all, I thought the Korean War Memorial to be the best as it has more of an artistic quality than the others, and featured some shady spots suitable for contemplation and quiet thought.

After this, we visited the Lincoln Memorial. A quick stop in the small exhibition in its base really put the events of his presidency into context for us, and described some of the many significant events that have occurred at this spot. I thought the atmosphere inside the memorial much more appropriate than elsewhere on the Mall, and the two speeches displayed inside are possibly some of the greatest political oration I have ever read.

Sadly, time was running out on us and we decided that rather than walking around further monuments in the very uncomfortable temperature, we should take in at least some part of the many branches of the Smithsonian museum. The Museum of Americana was chosen as the one most applicable to our being tourists in this foreign country, and I spent a very interesting hour and a half looking at the history of American sandwich boxes, seeing the first ever fully-automatic restaurant, and (more seriously) learning about the epic 1950’s legal battle to end racial segregation in schools. (Some of you may find it amusing if I note all of this was on the ground floor. Why do museums have to be so chock-full of fascinating stuff?)

With so many monuments, museums, and famous sights, Washington D.C. is certainly a fascinating place to visit, and Rosie and I saw only a tiny fraction of what is on offer—I’d definitely like to go back sometime!

When In Rome…

I can’t believe that by this time next week I will be on a plane flying across the Atlantic and back to dear ol’ Blighty! 🙁

A couple of things it was felt should be done before we left:

  1. Have a “keg party” with the big red plastic cups they always have when they show “frat’ parties on TV!! Status: Failed. Sadly it seems that there are no longer any places to buy kegs of beer in Manhattan as the one just 3 avenues over from us closed down two weeks ago! So we just bought more beer than we could fit in a fridge and used the bath to keep them cold. (Aside: automatic ice-makers are awesome!) We did manage to find the big red plastic cups though.
  2. Go ice-skating in the Rockefeller centre. Status: Success!!. Awesome fun, and with some expert skaters in our group to get those of us who lack of a sense of balance started, I even managed to go for several whole laps at a time without touching the side! Rich and Phil took photos.

“Switching”

A couple of my colleagues have been thinking about buying a new laptop. I was keen to extol the virtues of my ibook, but discovered they needed little persuasion on this front—a single trip to the Apple store and they were hooked. The only problem they have now is ibook or powerbook!

This reminded me that I should post a quick update on my “switching” experience. Most interestingly, using Windows at work has given me a new insight into just how awful the Windows desktop experience is, something I had always assumed that Windows did fairly well given its popularity. In reality the interface is horribly and confusingly inconsistent, and seems to pay scant attention to the theory of Human-Computer Interaction.

Anyway, I digress! I upgraded to Tiger and a Mighty Mouse a month or so ago, so I’ll post about them in more detail sometime. But in the mean time three applications that I’ve come across recently:

  • Adium is a very swish open-source IM client that supports pretty much every protocol under the sun.
  • Camino is a Mac-native web browser using the Mozilla rendering engine. For day-to-day browsing, Apple’s bundled Safari is much slicker, but there are a few sites out there which tell Safari users to go away and use Firefox or IE instead. There is, by all accounts, a perfectly good version of Firefox (& Thunderbird) for OS X, but until recently I had heard that as a cross-platform app, the performance was a little sluggish. Reportedly this will be much better in 1.5, but currently between Safari and Camino, all my web browsing needs are taken care of.
  • Desktop Manager. Sadly my previous virtual desktops program, virtue does not work under 10.4, and so I’ve had to switch to the program that inspired virtue to be written instead.

Narnia, and Hugh Laurie as an American

Very quickly:

  • I saw an advert for the new film of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” on TV last night. No idea whether it will be a good adaptation or not, but the visuals were compellingly gorgeous.
  • I watched an Episode of “House” which stars Hugh Laurie as a maverick but brilliant Doctor. Good drama, and witty caustic one-liners reminded me of the West Wing, and Laurie was as excellent as ever—with a flawless American accent—but a few too many gruesome close-ups of surgery will probably put me off tuning-in too often.

Crusade (The “Babylon 5” spin-off)

Despite being a huge fan of the brilliant TV series Babylon 5 I had, for a variety of reasons, missed seeing the short-lived spin-off, “Crusade”. Fortunately I was recently able to borrow the DVDs from a friend and so far have watched the first three episodes.

Except they’re not the first three episodes. The Lurker’s Guide lists two different episodes as 2&3, and while episoide 2 (as aired) gives you the uneasy feeling that you’ve missed something, the third episode is so totally completely, totally and utterly out of place, it seems unsurprising that the programme failed to win any ratings. The Lurker’s Guide seems to suggest that the programme was not cancelled specifically due to poor ratings but due to disagreements between the station execs and the Executive Producer, but the whole story—new work by creator of cult-hit has episodes shown out-of-order and subsequent cancellation—is eerily familiar to the story of Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” which was the subject of a recent film review on this blog.

Anyway, this would explain why I haven’t particularly enjoyed what I have watched so far, which is a shame as the storylines have been novel, the universe in which it is set rich and diverse, and there is potential for some good characterisation. Unfortunately there are also some pretty big things wrong with it: the opening credits are so cheesy I have to fast forward through them, the music is badly inappropriate and in places just bad (it sounds too modern—didn’t they realise that all the best sci-fi has classical music for a reason?) and some of the CGI looks just too cartoon-y to be plausible (but I find this is a flaw with many recent productions, Star Wars III was a big offender in this regard too; Battlestar Galactica’s grittier “look” is more realistic looking which makes it much easier to believe).

At least with the Lurker’s Guide to hand, watching the chapters of the story unfold in the correct order will hopefully allow me to look past the flaws and enjoy things a lot better.

End of an Era

Sadly my @cam.ac.uk email account was cancelled on Friday — I had be warned that this would happen at some point, but annoyingly the Computing Service failed to give me any specific warning and so I only found out when I couldn’t login last night. 🙁

I haven’t actually used this address to send email for several years so hopefully no one will inconvenienced by this, but if anyone does find that it is the only contact address you have for me, my Computer Lab account will always forward to my current address — insert a “cl.” (c-l-dot) between the @ and the “cam”.

Halloween in New York: What a crazy night!

I had thought Jesus GradSoc did Halloween pretty well — and then one All Hallow’s Eve I was in New York…

For a start there was a three hour parade from Greenwich Village/SoHo to 22nd St, although we actually failed to see any of this as by the time everyone had got their costumes sorted we were really late leaving and they had closed the streets. 🙁 OTOH, the atmosphere on Seventh Ave was just amazing: practically everybody was dressed-up, often in the most incredible, or incredibly imaginative costumes. Ed has some photos, although I don’t think they can really capture the true craziness of what was going on!

Greenwich Village was even busier than I’ve seen it on a Friday/Saturday night — in the streets and in the bars, it seemed like most of New York was out to party tonight! When we headed home at 1:30, the place was still jammed; clearly this is the night to party in New York!