Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement Update II

Mark writes:

See previous posts in this series, How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement and How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement Update.

The Ashes Urn
The Ashes
As all British readers will know, the Ashes is here again. "The Ashes" is the name given for any test series involving England and Australia, where "test series" means a series of Test Matches. A "test match" is a five day international cricket match. There was great excitement last time around, when England beat Australia in England in the summer 2005, the first time we had done so since 1987. And the series was thought by many to be one of the best test series ever. Now England are in Australia and Australia are all set to win the Ashes back. With one test down, Australia are already one-nil up. The second test begins on Friday and England are going to have to raise their game if they're to stand a chance.

Watching overseas tests in America presents some serious challenges, greater even than the home tests during the summer, although this time we have not had our lawn dug up or holes put in our roof. To watch this series on TV, you have to have the satellite service DirecTV. There is no other way of doing it. You can't pick it up on Dish Network, nor can you get it on your cable package, even for subscription. So if you don't have DirecTV, your only option is to go for the Broadband coverage on your PC via Willow TV. This costs $99.95 for the whole series. I've been reticent to make the purchase this time, especially as the fourth test and most of the fifth test will be on when we are in the UK for Christmas. Also, the direct streaming is pretty good but it is not brilliant, and for cricket you really do need a good picture. I may still succumb at a later point, especially if England start playing a bit better, but for the time being I am managing without.

So without any TV coverage, how does one cope? One of the most disappointing things is that there is no BBC Test Match Special coverage available to international users. It is only available to UK users. This is a real nuisance. To be honest, I miss TMS so much that I have looked around to find alternative, unofficial means of picking up the Radio 4 LW stream, or the FiveLive SportsExtra stream. Happily, there are ways of doing this if one is prepared to spend a bit of time messing about on the net. Unhappily, the Radio 4 LW stream is not always accessible. When that happens, I can usually get the ABC Australian commentary, which is not at all bad, and features Jonathan Agnew, who is good enough to say the score Aussie style (1 for, 2 for etc.).

One great new innovation this season, though, is the Test Match Special Podcast. This is 17 minutes or so of Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott chatting about the day's play. If you are into downloading podcasts, this is a great new thing, and I hope it will appear again next season for the home tests.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Electrics and Electronics

The Sitting Room Setup
The Sitting Room
When one moves overseas, one faces the potentially expensive problem of what to do with one's electrical and electronic possessions. The problem is threefold:

  1. The mains voltage supply in the UK is 230V and in the US it is 120V
  2. The UK current alternates at a frequency of 50Hz, whereas the US frequency is 60Hz
  3. The UK's video colour system is PAL, whereas the US uses NTSC
We were advised by some to sell/give away all our electrical/electronic items and buy new ones in the US. We partly decided to do this, but were reluctant to lose all our electrical possessions. There were some that were fairly new, some that were presents that we did not want to part with and some that we particularly liked. In addition, getting rid of everything and buying everything new was a potentially expensive option.

If you're thinking of moving to the US from the UK, or vice versa, you are bound to be faced with a similar dilemma, so, just in case it helps, here's how we approached the problem:
  1. We took an inventory of all our electrical/electronic devices along with their voltage/wattage.

    For the most part we ignored the frequencies because frequency converters are very expensive and we didn't think that the difference in frequency would adversely affect most of our devices because we were going from 50Hz to 60Hz. If you're moving from the US to the UK, however, you might need to consider this as this may affect some of your decisions.

    Some devices, such as many computers (but not all), are built to accept dual voltages, so only needed plug adapters to work in the US. When using adapters, it is worth bearing in mind that some appliances need to be earthed and one would need an earthed adapter for these.

  2. We decided which devices we really wanted to take. These included the TEAC HiFi system and Emily and Lauren's micro systems that were birthday presents and were quite new.

  3. We decided which devices to give away (such as the washing machine, tumble drier, big TV and vacuum cleaner). We kept one TV and a multi-regional VCR because we have a lot of PAL videos that we wanted to be able to watch in the US, including the "Born in the UK" series of videos that the Everyday Eavesdropper regularly sends us. We also have a PAL PSOne that the children wanted to keep.

  4. Of the items that we decided to keep, we thought generally about which devices are likely to occupy which rooms (e.g. the food processor would obviously go in the kitchen).
The Kitchen's Transformer
The Kitchen
(the transformer is hidden
in a cupboard)
We also kept any extension strips (with rows of UK plug points) to take with us. This was because the plan was to buy a step transformer for each room in which we put UK devices, then plug all the devices for that room into a single transformer via the extension strips. We also had to buy a video converter for the VCR because it turned out that although the VCR was multi-regional in that it could play both UK and US videos, it could only output to a PAL TV. We also found that our TEAC DVD player was not multi-regional and could not be made so using a handset hack, so we would have to spend a fair amount of money to send it off and get it professionally altered. Our solution was to keep the TEAC DVD player boxed and buy a cheap one from Walmart. We then used a handset hack (one types a specific sequence into the remote control to set the region-encoding of the DVD player) to make it play both Region 1 and Region 2 DVDs. (NOTE: To get a handset hack, just google your DVD player's model reference and the words "handset hack".)

We also made sure that the TV we bought had a plug-point for a PC so that we could download or stream UK TV programmes through a laptop computer to the TV. This is much more enjoyable than having to gather around a small computer screen.

We used the wattages that we'd gathered in our inventory to work out the wattage needed for each of the transformers.

As a result, we now have transformers of varying wattages in the kitchen, dining room, sitting room, study and our three bedrooms as well as a number of plug adapters for those appliances that can work on the US voltage. We went for straight-forward transformers rather than the more expensive voltage regulators just to keep costs down, but you might choose to stabilize your voltage with a regulator.

The pictures show a couple of examples.

Here's a few useful links:
Electricity Around the World
Voltage Guide
World Import FAQs
Frequency: 50Hz vs. 60Hz
DVD Compatibility FAQ

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Butterfly Flutters By

LaurenI'd like to introduce you to Lauren's new blog, The Butterfly Flutters By.

My philosophy is that the best way to learn is to do. What better way for her to learn about IT than to give it a try? She is already very good (for her age = 9) with MS PowerPoint and Word, IM and email. I introduced her to the basics of HTML and Dreamweaver and she seemed to be doing quite well. Emily started to teach herself HTML at a similar age too. So, when Lauren asked if she could write a blog, I agreed, as long as I have full administrative control.

The blog is administrated by me and I will be checking every post for appropriateness before publication. I will also control any settings and the template. Nevertheless, the content of the blog will be Lauren's (subject to my checks).

You may want to pop in now and again to read her take on life.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Fall Find America

Mark writes:

As Viola has mentioned before, one of my favourite bands is The Fall, a band you can't begin to explain or introduce to newcomers except to say that they are unique, bizarre, unpredictable and have been going for almost thirty years. I was sorry to miss them in the USA recently since North Carolina was not on their itinerary. Few in the UK have heard of the Fall, though almost everyone will be familiar with some aspect of their strange repertoire from some means or other, whether because they saw The Silence of the Lambs, which used the song Hip Priest as part of its soundtrack, or whether they are familiar with the Vauxhall Corsa advertisement that has been in cinemas and television for several years. That advert uses the Fall song Touch Sensitive.

Vauxhall Corsa: Touch Sensitive

Even fewer people in the US have heard of The Fall, but now they are heard daily on the TV because Mitsubishi have gone the same way as Vauxhall and have used a Fall track to advertise one of their cars. The track is a relatively recent one, Blindness, from their most recent album (2005), Fall Heads Roll, the first CD I bought when arriving in the US last year. The track is also, sadly, one of those recorded for the last ever of the many Fall Peel Sessions.

Mitsubishi Outlander: Blindness

Heralding the Return of the Everyday Eavesdropper

I'm pleased to announce the return of the Everyday Eavesdropper from a hiatus of nine months. He promises that there are a number of eavesdropping stories that have been gestating over this time. Looking forward to them.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Preying on a Mantis

A Carolina Mantis
A Carolina Mantis
Mark and I watched the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, then noticed that we hadn't seen the cats for a while, which is unusual because they usually follow us around the house. Then Mark remembered that just before BSG he'd seen them looking very interested in something, but he hadn't stopped to see what it was that they were interested in.

Click here to watch the videoIt was therefore not for another hour or more that we investigated the matter. What we found, was a female (I think, because it had quite short wings and a rather large abdomen) Carolina Mantis (the state insect of South Carolina). I recognised it immediately as a type of praying mantis that had managed to enter our house (probably while the back door was open). I had never seen one in real-life before (except in entomology departments of zoos), so I wasted no time in grabbing my camera. Unfortunately, the creature had already been chased and terrorised by the cats for about an hour, so it was much the worse for wear.

A Carolina Mantis
A Cat Toy
(A bit the worse for wear)
It's final fate was a fitting end. Hungry female praying mantids have been known to bite the heads off and cannibalise the males during mating. While we were watching our next Friday night programme (Lead Balloon), Memory ran into the sitting room with an abdomen in her mouth. She put it down and tried to get it to move, but was quite disappointed to find that if something loses its head (and, in fact, the rest of the front half of its body) it likely to stop moving and becomes considerably less fun to play with. This is the stage at which Mark unceremoniously put the remainder of the mantis in the bin.

The lesson (if any) to be learnt from this incident is this:

If you're an insect and you want to keep your head -- keep out of the Goodacre house.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What Katydid

A katydid on a leaf
A Katydid
Click here to watch the video

What Katydid:
She flew into our house when Mark opened the back door the other evening.
What Katydid Next:
She was tortured and eventually eaten by two bored house cats.
Watch the video only if you love the macabre.

Halloween II

I'm a bit late with this post, but nevertheless, here goes:

A house with Halloween decorationsLast year at Halloween we had only recently moved to NC. We decided to go native, so I took Emily and Lauren trick-or-treating, while Mark stayed at home and handed out sweets. This year, Emily decided that she was too old to go around people's homes asking for sweets, so she decided to stay at home and hand out sweets with Mark.

A house with Halloween decorationsI'm not sure that she would have felt too old if she had been out though. It seemed to be the older children and teenagers who had the most mercenary attitudes towards trick-or-treating. They hunted in packs, preferring to demand sweets with friends, unsupervised by adults. Each carried a huge white sack and they would push past any hapless toddler who got between them and their booty. They started early and kept trick-or-treating after the little ones had been taken home to bed.

A house with Halloween decorationsWhile out with Lauren, I also met many a parent who seemed to be one step away from elevating trick-or-treating to a profession. Lauren gave up when her plastic pumpkin-shaped bucket was about half full mainly because she was fed up of having to carry it. The pro-parents carried carrier bags into which they would periodically empty the contents of their children's containers, keeping them lightweight for their children. The pros also made sure that their children wore sensible shoes. Some with very small children also thought to pull little trolleys behind them in which the little ones could sit and be pulled from house to house, so that they only needed to use their little feet to walk up each driveway in their cute little costumes and ask for sweets.

The night was full of goodwill. People wished each other "Happy Halloween" (although I have to admit to finding this a bit bizarre). Those houses with sweets to hand out, at their simplest, would put lighted pumpkins on their doorstep and leave the porch light on. Homes that were dark were bypassed by trick-or-treaters. Some homes went the extra mile and decorated their homes with witches on the lawns, ghosts on the trees, ghoulish lights, pumpkins, cobwebs and even dry ice. Scarecrows made out of old clothes were also common.

A house with Halloween decorationsOften, those who stayed at home handing out sweets also dressed up and some even got into character. One that particularly springs to mind was a house where Darth Vader guarded the steps. Far from being scared, though, the kids seemed to love it. One lady had carefully raked all the leaves on her lawn into a maze. Children who went to her house were given sweets, then encouraged to find their way through the maze.

The next day (and sometimes even that night itself) the Halloween decorations were taken down, although "Fall" decorations sometimes remained. We have now entered the lull before Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

UK Celebrates a Foiled Terrorist Plot

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot
I see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

A Bonfire
A Bonfire
Normally, every year we celebrate Guy Fawkes with friends, a barbecue and fireworks. This year we are celebrating it with absolutely zilch. Despite having recently had Halloween, it doesn't really make up for missing Guy Fawkes. I have to admit that Mark and I are feeling a bit bereft and homesick. We've had to watch the latest episode of Robin Hood to try and cheer ourselves up.

Carrying on the Dame Julie Theme . . .

... and with the countdown to Christmas having started, who remembers the old Tribe of Toffs tribute?

(NOTE: The music file is .asf, so you may need to download the Voxware RT29 MetaSound (75) codec to be able to listen to it. If you need to, just download the codec and extract it to a temporary folder. Install the codec by right-clicking on the file voxacm.inf and selecting "Install".)

Click here to hear the songChristmas Eve I was feeling sick
Nothing on but the sound of music
But suddenly I could not choose
Between Linda Lusardi and Julie Andrews

Christmas Day bored out of my brain
But there's Julie singing in the mountains
Brown paper packages tied up with string
You are one of my favourite things

Oh yes, oh yes
I'm afraid it's true
Julie Andrews,
We love you

There she is singing Edelweiss
Julie Andrews is extremely nice
See her singing in the Alpine sun
With a guitar and she is dressed like a nun

Oh yes, oh yes
I'm afraid it's true
Julie Andrews,
We love you

She's Mary Poppins with Dick Van Dyke
Flying about or riding a bike
Christmas Day without you would be something quite atrocious

Oh yes, oh yes
I'm afraid it's true
Julie Andrews,
We love you
Festive Frolics From Four Fellows, A Tribe of Toffs

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Julie Andrews, the Original Americanized Emily

Julie Andrews
Julie Andrews
Mark writes:

One of my daily pleasures is listening to the Daily Mayo podcast from BBC Radio FiveLive. I download it each day onto my MP3 player and then play it through the car stereo on the way to work, alongside other BBC podcast favourites like the Today programme, 606: The Football Phone-in, Start the Week and In Our Time. This week's highlight on was, without question, Monday's Daily Mayo featuring an interview with Dame Julie Andrews, whose starring role in The Americanization of Emily (1964) gives Viola's blog its name. Here is the FiveLive blurb:

Dame Julie Andrews has reinvented herself as a writer, co-authoring 15 books with her daughter. Here she talks to Simon Mayo about her latest publication, "A Great American Mousical".
The interview focused mainly on this new book, "A Great American Mousical". Apparently she has written lots of children's books in "The Julie Andrews Collection" and she authors with her daughter. She also talked briefly, of course, about Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music but the parts of the interview that I enjoyed most were those where she reflected on living life as a British citizen in America.

Although she only occasionally returns to the UK for public engagements, she said that she often comes back secretly to see family and friends. When Simon Mayo pointed out how well she had kept her British accent, she added that she had adapted to certain Americanisms for convenience, and one can hear them now in her voice, e.g. I picked up one or two "t"s as "d"s which are very common in the US. I was delighted to hear that she still drinks a lot of tea, and has PG Tips and Marks and Sparks stuff sent over specially. We do something similar, though our British tea of choice is Yorkshire Tea. She brings marmite and marmalade back with her too, also like us, and she said that her husband Blake Edwards could not understand what she saw in the marmite, a common American reaction in our experience too. She said that she loved and missed England, and especially the Spring, but that she found Americans very friendly -- and they love the British. One of the nicest elements in the interview was her explaining that although she lived in America, she did not see it as turning her back on Britain. On the contrary, she saw herself as a representative of Britain.

You should be able to download and listen to the interview again for a several more days.