Euro 2008 Wrap-up

Euro 2008 is over and despite every game being covered live on US TV, including several games on a major network; no one at work seems to have noticed apart from two others (One Brit and one guy of Portuguese extraction)

Portugal exited at the quarter final stage, but Spain are worthy winners. They played with positive football with a definite style. I would have supported anyone who was not Germany in the final, but it was a pleasure to cheer on Spain. Much was made of the fact that they had not won a major tournament since 1964, but that is only two years before the great English triumph. Now that Spain have so decisively thrown off the mantle of European underachievers, there can be no doubt who inherits that title. I feat it may be held by those who wear the three lions for a long while to come.

Published in: on 30 June, 2008 at 7:00  Leave a Comment  

Winchester Pictures

The Winchester House from the front. Apparently the front doors were never used while the owner lived.

A fountain in front of the house

A stained glass window

A view from the fourth floor showing the somewhat haphazard layout of the building.

Published in: on 29 June, 2008 at 17:51  Comments (1)  

Winchester Mystery House

I have always thought of the architectural folly as a quintessentially English concept. Today we visited an American folly, perhaps predictably it was on a far larger scale than those in the UK. The Winchester House was built over a period of forty years by the widow of the Winchester of rifle fame. Apparently based on advice from a psychic she continued to add to the house in San Jose from purchasing it in 1884 until her death in 1922.

There was no overall plan so the house is a veritable maze with windows that look out in walls, doors that open into space, a staircase that leads to a ceiling, and a chimney that stops short of the roof. Aside from such oddities, there are some innovative features including a zinc floored conservatory on the second floor that drains to the garden below to reduce waste water. Mrs Winchester was also a collector of fine Tiffany glass and there are some beautiful stained glass windows; including one through which no sunlight falls as it faces north into a wall.

For a superstitious woman it is surprising that she seems to have liked the number thirteen. The number thirteen recurs throughout the house, a room has thirteen windows, the panels on the ceiling are split into thirteen sections, a closet has thirteen coat hooks.

It was a fascinating and enjoyable trip, well worth the drive to San Jose. The gift shop was the usual collection of tat, though one sign did make us think of Ilegirl; “She who dies with the most shoes wins.”

Published in: on 28 June, 2008 at 19:00  Leave a Comment  

Six Word Memoir

Tagged by Amber

A transplanted and happy idiosyncratic geek

Published in: on 27 June, 2008 at 7:00  Comments (2)  

Enduring Legacy

In the US there is a tendency to name places after people. In California we have airports named after Bob Hope, John Wayne, and Charles Schulz. Assorted free way intersections and bridges get named after law enforcement officers, and plenty of parks bear the name of a local personality. Even so, I was surprised to learn that a group of San Francisco residents have enough signatures to put a measure on the November ballot to name part of that city in honour of the current president. California as a whole and San Francisco in particular is not known for being rabidly pro-Bush. One of the drawbacks to carrying out such an exercise in San Francisco is that the city is relatively small and well established; most of the obvious landmarks are already named. In fact it seems that there is only one place unnamed, how else could you explain that the public facility chosen to bear the name of the president is the George W Bush Sewage Plant.

Published in: on 26 June, 2008 at 7:00  Comments (4)  

A Few Words of Explanation

In answer to a couple of the questions that were posted in comments to my Ten Things You Did Not Know About Me.

I swam in industrial waste in the summer of 1997 while on holiday in Iceland. The salt-water in the blue lagoon is used to heat freshwater for central heating and electricity generation. Once used in this way, the water is used as a health spa. I know that the image of industrial waste is generally one of foul chemicals, but this is still the left-over by product of an industrial process.

My father was working on ghosting an auto-biography of Svetlana Iosifovna Alliluyeva, the daughter of Stalin, whilst she was living in Cambridge in the early 1980s and she came to stay for a couple of days.

Published in: on 25 June, 2008 at 7:00  Comments (1)  

Hills are Filled with Fire

The air here is hazy, as smoke from nearby fires pollutes the air. A series of dry lightning strikes over the weekend ignited over seven hundred fires across the state of California. Two are burning in the hills between us and Napa. My boss has had to evacuate his family form their home as the blaze reached within a mile of his home. We are under no threat from the fires. Fortunately, no one has died as a result of these assorted conflagrations

Published in: on 24 June, 2008 at 7:29  Leave a Comment  

Ten Things You Don’t Know About Me

Tagged by SanityFound, who uses a pretty lazy method to tag if truth be told.

1) My Grandfather won the Croix de Guerre with palm for an act of bravery in the First World War.
2) I met Stalin’s daughter
3) I was in the team that was series champions of a UK TV game show. I used the winnings to partially pay for the holiday that brought me to the US to meet my now wife.
4) I presented a radio show at University called “The Scream of the Butterfly”. On one of the shows that coincided with Jim Morrison’s 40th birthday, I played two hours in which every record was by the Doors, with one exception: a cover of Riders of the Storm
5) I have deliberately swam in industrial waste
6) I have been in two bands, although I have zero music talent.
7) I worked as a teacher in Portugal for two and a half years
8) I attended the same University as the president of South Africa, Billy Idol, and the last English person to win Wimbledon
9) I was twenty five before I passed my driving test
10) I founded and edited a school newspaper in Primary school, founded and edited a newspaper in middle school, and founded and edited a house magazine in high school.

Published in: on 23 June, 2008 at 7:00  Comments (4)  


My company’s offices are fairly new, built just four or five years ago. The building covers three storeys and about three hundred people work there. There are a couple of features that you would expect to see in a modern UK office that are missing.

The car park is large, with space at the front, rear, and sides for vehicles. There is no provision, however, for bicycles. There is not a single bicycle rack. No one cycles to work, but is that because there is no provision for bicycles? With petrol prices rising inexorably towards $5 people are beginning to re-examine their journey to work and there are certainly plenty of people who live close enough to the office for cycling to be an option.

The other missing facilities are showers. The office in which I worked in the UK had showers that allowed one to freshen up if you cycled to work or exercised at lunchtime. There are several colleagues who go hiking at lunchtime, which in the California heat does work up a sweat. The absence of showers means that it one should ideally schedule meetings with them before lunch.

I don’t cycle to work and doubt that even the provision of the aforementioned facilities would encourage me. Frankly, it is quicker for me to walk to the office and this also allows me to listen to podcasts on the way to and thro.

Published in: on 22 June, 2008 at 7:00  Comments (1)  

Teaching Creationism and Assaulting Your Pupils

In the UK I would like to think that no one would defend a teacher who used an electrostatic device to brand children in their class. The teacher would be sacked and no one would leap to their defense. In parts of the US it would seem that such cases are not quite so straightforward. In this news story there is a bizarre quote:

“With the exception of the cross-burning episode. … I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district,”

This seems akin to claiming that apart from stabbing his guests, Norman Bates ran a perfectly good motel.

The follow-up story describes how supporters of this teacher prayed for God to inspire the school board to reach the correct decision concerning this teacher. The board sacked the teacher. Their prayers were answered, but not in the way that they wanted.

Published in: on 21 June, 2008 at 8:17  Comments (1)