Here in the US, cable TV is far more prevalent than back in the UK; where Murdoch owned SKY is the only premium option available in most of the country. Aside from not having to line the pocket of that deplorable individual, there are several advantages to cable. The picture does not deteriorate when it rains heavily, you get good quality Internet connection over the cable, and finally we have the joys of On-Demand.

On-Demand does exactly what the name implies. You turn on the TV, select a program from the On-Demand menu and it starts immediately. You can pause, rewind, fast forward the show, as though it was on tape or DVD. There are two types of On-Demand show, pay movies and free content. The free content is extensive, including several hundred movies, selected shows from the various networks, and all of the content from any premium channel to which you subscribe.

We have an HBO subscription, so in addition to their movie line-up, we can watch Bill Maher at will. My friend Retire also put me onto the delightfully quirky Flight of the Conchords, a mix of sitcom and music. The availability of BBC America has allowed me to catch up with the Top Gear shows that have aired since I left the UK, including Captain Slow taking the Bugatti Veyron all the way to its 254mph top speed and their drive through the Southern US. I can also use the service to watch episodes of Season Two of Torchwood which started to air on Saturday.

Published in: on 29 January, 2008 at 7:46  Leave a Comment  

Something to Beef About

I had a new US dinning experience today. At my wife’s suggestion we split a meal. This is simply not done in the UK. With the portion size here, however, it is a very good idea. We ordered prime rib, which is the US name for thickly sliced roast beef. This alleged single portion was a main meal for two people. It came with a starter salad, which I nobly gave to my wife. OK, I am not a great fan of salads, particularly on a cold and wet winter night, so that adverb might be stretching the truth a bit.

Published in: on 27 January, 2008 at 21:18  Comments (3)  

Expire Softly

I do not think that I am the only person who as a teenager wrote pretentious verse. The songs I wrote and in same cases recorded had titles that told you they were written by a teenager with a thesaurus and more ego than talent: “Aphotic Hypogea of Her Psyche” – need I say more.

I did not write a song entitled “Quantum of Solace”, but the title would not have been out of place in my collection. It belongs on a album with a title like “Isotropic Voices”, it is not the title of an action movie. Action movies are called “You Only Live Twice”, or “The Man With the Golden Gun”. No one would call a Bond movie “Quantum of Solace”…. would they

Published in: on 24 January, 2008 at 11:05  Comments (5)  

The Cost of Motoring

In the UK the word garage applies to both a building in which you store your car and a business that services and repairs cars. Here in the US the latter is called a dealership.

My father has a law of garages in the US dealership sense of the word.

“There are three kinds of garage owner: those are dishonest, those who are incompetent, and those who are both dishonest and incompetent.”

In common with all such statements, including this one, it is a generalization. However, it would seem to apply just as accurately here in the US as it did in the UK. I have just had a terrible experience with the local Chrysler dealer who charged us over $350 to diagnose two faults.

Half of this charge was to tell us what we already knew, that the cable for the iPod did not work. I had asked them to check that the cable had not come loose from the radio; they did not do that, all they did was to plug an iPod in and verify my statement that it did not work. The second part was for telling us that we needed new tie rods to stop a worrying sound that the steering was making.

I had dropped the car off on the way to work and they had taken me a couple of miles down the Freeway to the office. They forgot to call me to arrange a pickup and when I rang them they told me that their driver had gone for the night. Fortunately, a friend drove me down the road to pickup the car.

The combination of the overpriced iPod test, their negligence over my clearly stated lift requirements, and then their rudeness on the phone when my wife complained about the charges led us to cancel our order for them to fix the tie-rods. It is fortunate that we did so. I took the car to the Chrysler dealer in Vacaville, who had already ordered the parts, but checked the car first. They identified the actual fault and fixed it; naturally it was a pricier fix than the original work, but turning the steering wheel at low speeds no longer makes an odd sound.

The Vacaville dealer seems to know what they are doing, have staff who actually call you back, and they don’t charge for their coffee while you are waiting.

There is one difference between the UK and US; tax is only levied on the parts and not on the labor.

Published in: on 18 January, 2008 at 18:44  Leave a Comment  

Back to the Slopes

I had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend skiing in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is the first time that I have skied in five years and the first time in eight years that I have skied for more than a day. It is strange that I remember the effects of skiing to be somewhat less than they feel now; it is almost as though I am nearly a decade older than when I last skied.

Skiing is a but like riding a bike, you do not seem to forget how to do it. I had a couple of small falls on the first day, both on the last run when I was tired and none at all on the second day.

The most obvious difference between being a skier here and back in the UK is the ease of getting to the slopes. We went for a weekend, but it is possible to go up for just the day, as there are several resorts that are within a three hour drive.

American resorts use chair lifts on all but beginner slopes; which after assorted accidents on T-bars in Europe is most welcome. I did notice that a lot of people were wearing helmets on the slopes. Since it is ten years since I last skied in Europe, I am not sure if that is a difference between the two continents or just a change over time.

There were five of us going up for the weekend, so we rented an SUV with four-wheel drive. Up in the mountains, unsurprisingly, there is a far higher percentage of SUVs than I am used to seeing; almost as many as you would see collecting kids from a school in Chelsea.

Published in: on 15 January, 2008 at 21:17  Comments (1)  

Bad Weather

The West Coast of the US has been hit by a set of storms that started on Thursday night and are scheduled to continue through the weekend. I do not usually think of heavy rainfall as a positive thing, but it is falling as snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Before next weekend there may be as much as ten-feet of new snow; ideal as I am planning to go skiing that weekend.

Published in: on 5 January, 2008 at 16:17  Comments (2)  

New Year

I saw the New Year arrive for the first time in the US. We watched the countdown to New Year on a recorded telecast that had been made hours previously. It was from Time Square in New York, which is three time zones ahead of the West Coast. The midnight hour was marked by an illuminated ball dropping down a pole; the chimes of Big Ben it was not. The program was presented by a legend of American TV, Dick Clark, who looked as though he had been embalmed a decade or so back and dug up for the occasion. Some degree of familiarity was restored by the playing of Auld Lang Syne.

Published in: on 5 January, 2008 at 16:14  Comments (1)