Monday, May 29, 2006
Friday, May 26, 2006
Now that summer's here, the community swimming pool is open. The sun is hot, the water is cold. Here's a few pictures (and a little movie):
Here's the Video clip.
This all goes to show that the H.O.A. spend our money on something more than leafleting and sending stroppy letters. It's a great facility. It makes us feel that we're constantly on holiday (vacation).
Thursday, May 25, 2006
We've recently realised that the first series of Green Wing is now available on BBC America. If you decide to watch it, also look out for Sue White, the Staff Liaison Officer, played by Michelle Gomez. Very funny.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
But what of the contestants?
Finalists this year were:
Armenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, FYR Macedonia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom
Those who didn't make it to the final were:
Albania, Andorra, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Netherlands, Monaco, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia
Note the complete absence of some countries -- Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Luxemburg. What happened to them? Perhaps they've fallen out with the whole Eurovision Song Contest phenomenon?
For the uninitiated: the way it works is that each country collects telephone votes, then gives points to the top ten countries in their poll -- 12 points, 10 points, 8 points, 7 points ... 1 point. The winner is the one with the most points by the end. Obviously, a country cannot give itself points.
We decided to enter into the spirit of the thing by rating each song. They were either Turkeys, So-So, or Good. The terms are relative to the fact that we are talking about the Eurovision Song Contest, so the category "Good" can be interpreted to mean "my ears didn't start to bleed"; "So-So" means "my blood didn't curdle" and "Turkey" means "I'd rather listen to Vogon poetry". Bear in mind, as well, that after a few songs, one's critical faculties are eroded so that even the worst songs start sounding not too bad, or quite good. Either way, all discernment goes.
The Goodacre favourites were Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Ukraine.
The runaway winner was Finland, with 292 points, followed by Russia with 248 points and Bosnia & Hertzegovina with 229. There were no "nil points" this year, with Malta managing to scrape a lone point towards the end. The UK, despite delivering what was obviously the best song and the best performance (perhaps a bit of bias here?), managed to scrape a measly 25 points, eight of which came from Ireland and one from Poland (I guess they've almost forgotten WW2 by now).
When I was a child, the contest tended to be a bit more balanced. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia and the USSR, however, the contest has been mainly dominated by Eastern Europe. The increase in the number of countries in Europe has also meant that heats have had to be introduced to reduce the number of countries in the final. The other interesting thing is that neighbouring countries tend to vote for each other. Every year, all the former Yugoslavia countries vote for each other; Ukraine always gives 12 points to Russia, but Russia doesn't always reciprocate; and Cyprus and Greece always give each other 12 points.
As Finland won, next year there are likely to be lots of outlandish costumes and heavy metal entries. Looking forward to it.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Ted and Dougal
Here's what Mark has to say:
Like the late great John Peel, I've always been a big fan of Eurovision. The Eurovision Song Contest is a wonderful old institution launched back in 1956, making this year's the 51st contest. It takes place before a massive European television audience on a Saturday night in May (though it used to be April) every year. Twenty-something countries each select a song from their own national heats and each country performs it on the night in front of the live audience. In recent years, as the number of countries in Europe has expanded, they have also introduced a semi-final heat to keep the number of countries in the final down to about 24 or so. The host each year is the country to have won it the previous year. The most famous winners ever are ABBA, who won it for Sweden with Waterloo in 1974. I didn't watch that one myself, though I did see ABBA live a full five years later, at Wembley Arena in November 1979 (when Gimme Gimme Gimme was in the charts). I think the first one I watched was in 1977, and I've watched it most years since, though there was a hiatus in my college years because (a) Eurovision was massively uncool in the 1980s and (b) staying in on a Saturday night was even more uncool.
that bad. It was when the Iraq war had just begun, to most of the rest of Europe's dismay. We in the UK, while acknowledging that the song was not very good, saw "nil points" as a bit of a protest to the Iraq war. It was a blow to our pride as we always used to laugh at countries that got "nil points". (Ed.)]
John Peel always used to say that he loved the scoring, and I must admit that that is my favourite bit, where each country reads out the result of its own voting in English and French, and the scoreboard is adjusted as the votes get totted up. The character of the Eurovision as a UK television experience is all about Terry Wogan's now legendary commentary. He's been doing it for years and Viola and I went through a phase of finding it annoying, but have now realized that he is what makes it.
So, this is our first Eurovision since moving to America, but are we going to be able to view it? To be honest, I'd completely forgotten about it until I was looking at the BBC1 website tonight to check for the times for Doctor Who (second part of an great story on the Cybermen) and I noticed the big spread for Eurovision. Naturally, I began wondering how we would be able to view it over here. It seems that there is not much hope for watching it live on air. Others in the US have apparently been asking themselves the same question, as a page of Google Answers testifies. According to one of those comments, those with DirecTV have the best chance of getting it live, by tuning in to one of the European channels available on that satellite system. But we have Time Warner Cable (as well as some holes in the roof left by the Dishman), which is no good. On occasions like this, we turn to the internet and the good news is that there is a solution available. Eurovision TV provide a Live Webcast of the final:
Eurovision: Live Webcast
Octoshape plug-in but it promises a high quality, 700kbps stream, which is a good deal better than the one I received for the cricket on Willow TV, which is perfectly adequate. So, it looks like we'll be plugging the laptop into the telly again and at 3pm Eastern Time, it'll be time to make the chilli popcorn and glue ourselves to the settee for three hours of Eurovision entertainment. And the UK entry from Daz Sampson, surely has a fine chance of success -- it's a very catchy tune, and it has a gimmick. Go Daz!
My Lovely Horse. Since then, YouTube has become flooded with Father Ted posts, so I decided to retrospectively add a couple of links.
Here's Ted and Dougal practicing:
Here's the dream version:
Thursday, May 18, 2006
While fathers and daughters from all over the neighbourhood lived it up with pizza, ice-cream and a pineapple on each table (just to give the school hall a Hawaiian ambiance), poor ol' mothers everywhere had to sit around at home and feel left out. Here's some photos:
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
The best bit is watching his face as the interviewer introduces him. Priceless! When she then turns to the on-the-street correspondent and asks him his opinion, he says something to the effect of, "Well, pretty much what we've heard just there ...." So, the reporter was happy to agree with a poor bloke who thought he'd come for a job interview, found himself on live TV, and was winging it for all he was worth.
What was the real Guy Kewney doing while all this was going on? He was sitting in the BBC Reception, watching the other Guy being interviewed.
The clip is all over the internet, but here's one of the links, taken from the real Guy Kewney's blog:
Interview with the fake Guy (clip)
And here's a bit more information (also good for a laugh). The first three links are to the real Guy Kewney's blog and they chart his reactions from disbelief, to anger, to having a laugh at the BBC's expense:
Really, what matters is that the BBC doesn't look stupid...
That BBC video: the cab driver who edits Newswireless and lectures on iPods...
That "Guy" - he really is a Guy, and not a cab driver, either!
On-Air BBC Mixup Brings New Meaning to "Instapundit"
Guy Kewney, News 24 And The 'Other Guy Kewney'
May 17, 2006Instead of just apologising and leaving it, BBC News 24 (not wanting to miss the bandwagon) decided that if everyone else is laughing at them, they may as well join in and embarrass themselves further. They decided to interview Guy Goma. The interview was intended to be a light-hearted jabbing at Guy Goma, with questions along the lines of "Why didn't you say that you weren't Guy Kewney?" (my paraphrase, not a direct quote), but came across as condescending. They obviously weren't listening to the man either, as they asked him the same questions more than once. This video clip is an interview with Guy Goma and a telephone interview with Guy Kewney. It is a very poor interview indeed. News 24 don't seem to realise that we're laughing at them, not with them.
Here's the clip:
Guy Goma interveiw on News 24
Sunday, May 14, 2006
Mark has is first Graduation Ceremony at Duke today, at which he's having to give a speech. He's written a US Graduation cf. UK Graduation post on his blog, which you might enjoy reading:
A Brit at Duke: Reflections of an Alien Professor
Thursday, May 11, 2006
This is old news. Although I've been aware of it, I haven't had time to blog on it. Have you seen Stephen Colbert's in-character speech at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner? What I'd like to know is this -- how did he get booked, and has the person who booked him been sacked?
Thanks to Grish, at The Weekly View, for providing the link to
The full Colbert speech.
I also enjoyed watching The Daily Show's take on Ray McGovern confronting Rumsfeld and how CNN handled it.
Grish has a few more related links, so take a look.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
An update from Mark:
In my previous post, How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement, I wrote:
And what a good decision that turned out to be because it has, indeed, all gone pear shaped. We waited in this afternoon for the installation of our new Dish system and not long after 2 pm, just before the UEFA Cup Final was about to kick off (Middlesborough V. Sevilla, which I was going to try to catch on FSC), our Dish guy arrived and began surveying the property for where to put the dish. He decided pretty quickly on a fairly prominent spot on our front lawn. I didn't think too much of it, but realized I'd better consult Viola. As it turned out, she was not at all keen, and I became convinced too that it was not a great place. The Dish guy said that it was the only possible place on the entire property, though, because the trees blocked the signal everywhere else. An hour or so later, with the dish in place, I had to admit that it did look more ugly than I'd imagined and, moreover, it seemed likely that we'd soon be receiving a letter from our Home Owners Association about the newly arrived monstrosity.
And there, you might think, the story ends. No Dish, no cricket.
I started writing this update to my original post for Viola's blog and I was beginning to comment on the compensations -- the things I still had to look forward to in this cricket-free summer. I had heard that it would be possible to get the forthcoming Ashes series on broadband via Direct TV. On returning to their site to check up the links so that I could include this in the blog post, I followed a link to Willow TV, the distributors of the previously mentioned Direct TV Tour coverage.
And what can I say but "Eureka!"?
What a result! I get to watch the cricket, and we don't have the eye-sore dish in our front garden. And one further comment -- the good news on the commentary front is that I am reliably informed that one can pick up Test Match Special for home tests on the net, in spite of the fact that one can't for the tours. So I look forward to tuning in to Aggers, Blowers and co. tomorrow.
May 12, 2006Good news. The Willow TV coverage was not at all bad. The broadband feed was about 340 kbps, though they promise the availability of a feed at 500 kbps. The quality was fine, about as good as, say, the better BBC News Player programmes (e.g. This Week, which we also watched tonight while doing chores), but nothing like as strong as a normal TV signal. I fed it through the TV without difficulty, but it was not a widescreen picture. I wonder if the Sky Sports feed is in widescreen in the UK? Channel 4 had such a glorious widescreen coverage last year. I also had it on on the laptop, of course, and later on the desktop. Watching cricket via broadband makes it much more portable.
The most entertaining thing about the Willow TV coverage, which is drawn direct from Dish TV, is that the feed is taken not direct from Sky but via India's ESPN Live channel. So the TV has the ESPN logo throughout and also the Dish TV logo. In other words, it is the basic Sky Sports coverage featuring Gower, Botham, Bumble et al, but at the end of the over, the advertisements are for Indian products and aimed at India. For once, I found myself almost as interested in the advertisements between overs as in the cricket itself.
As a big fan of Test Match Special, I was delighted to discover that it is in fact possible to catch the commentary on-line in glorious quality all day (and nice to see that they'd grabbed Boycott from Channel 4, and that Sky had grabbed Atherton. No showing for Mark Nicholas, though). I had the TMS commentary on alongside the Willow/Dish/ESPN/Sky pictures for some of the day, but it seems that the Willow feed is a good 10-15 seconds behind the live TMS commentary. In some ways, it's an advantage -- you hear Blowers announcing a glorious 4 hit by Trescothick and you can then scamper over to the PC to catch it before it happens. I wonder if there is the same time lag between Sky and BBC? Presumably, the time lag is increased on its journey from England to India to the USA to my PC!
Also quite peculiar was the feeling of a home test match happening at 6 in the morning our time. It made it feel like a tour match, but it was at Lords. Very disconcerting!
May 13, 2006Several fresh things to report on this story:
(1) The exciting Indian feed that I mentioned yesterday, which saw the signal originating with Sky Sports, going to India's ESPN Live, then to Dish TV and finally to Willow TV, was today past news. Today it was straight from Sky Sports to Dish TV to Willow TV, and gone were the Indian advertisements in between overs. In fact all there was between overs was a holding page, "Summer of Cricket 2006; Dish TV Pay Per View". The time lag on the feed seemed much shorter too, now about a ball away from the TMS commentary as opposed to two yesterday.
(2) Willow TV also now have the 500 kbps feed available, mentioned yesterday. And they have the most remarkable interactive scorecard. You can click on anything on the card and watch the video highlights, e.g. wickets, boundaries, etc. Technology at its best!
(3) I had not realized that there is also a little fun to be had at the site of Five's cricket coverage. As many will know, Five now have the rights in the UK to show one highlights package a day, featuring the old Channel 4 team of Mark Nicholas, Geoffrey Boycott and Simon Mann. Of course one cannot view the highlights on-line, but Five has put together a good site including a 2 minute broadband clip of Simon Mann introducing the day's play, well worth watching: Simon Hughes Video Analysis.
Monday, May 08, 2006
1) Here's a "news report" at Here's the Thing that you might find quite funny:
Joke for the Day
2) You may also like to take a look at The Anglo-File, Too's pictures of Brum -- Cannon Hill Park, where we've spent many a happy day; an old church in Northfield; and the canal system in town and a potted history of the Industrial Revolution. It makes me feel rather nostalgic.
3) Have you seen/heard Sham 69's World Cup song Hurry Up, England (a rewrite of Hurry Up, Harry)? The link here is to The Mail on Sunday, who have it as a windows media file. We saw them perform it on Newsnight (downloaded from the BBC). Excellent!
Posted by Viola at 8:00 pm
Here's another supplement to Mark's now famous series of posts:
In the first of my posts in the series How to cope without British TV and Radio (see also Part 2; Part 3 and Football Supplement), I included a paragraph about cricket:
Dish Network have the rights in America. Details are at Dish Pay Per View: Sport Listing and see also Dish Network Programming Pay Per View Cricket and Summer of Cricket schedule. It's more expensive than I had realized (above), but apparently $199.95 gets you all seven test matches (three v. Sri Lanka and four v. Pakistan) and a bunch of One Day Internationals too. (I am take it or leave it with the One Days, but heck, if it's in with the price, all the better). Of course to get to that point you first have to have a Dish, so we have made the switch from the more expensive Time Warner Cable to Dish, and our new system is to be installed on Wednesday. In theory, therefore, I should be able to get up early on Thursday morning (5.45 a.m. ET start) and watch live cricket from Lords. It's a mouth-watering prospect, but I tend to be pretty pessimistic, believe-it-when-I-see-it, with exciting things like this, so I have made the decision not to look forward to it yet.
Sky Sports. We used to have Telewest when we were in Birmingham, and it seems that they are charging £22 a month for Sky Sports (in addition to all the other charges), so at £100 for the summer, it's not a lot different from the $199.95 we will be paying. At this point, I have no idea what the Dish Network coverage will be like but I'd assume that they simply grab the Sky Sports coverage and take that over direct for all eight of us in the US who will be watching. What Fox Soccer Channel do with the football is to take over the Sky commentary but to repackage it with their own introductions and conclusions.
Speaking of the paucity of cricket fans on this side of the Atlantic, it is unremarkable to see how little there is on the web for American cricket lovers. The international cricket site, CricInfo, has a nice article on Cricket in America: An Historical Survey, from which this is an excerpt:
The article goes on to explain how the sport declined in the US at the turn of the century; it remained "stubbornly elitest" at a time when baseball was taking over the American scene. The article claims (and I have not checked the validity of these claims) that baseball "created its independent mythology, and obviated the sport that gave it birth. In a few decades, cricket in America had become only a memory."
USCricket.com, the United States of America Cricket Association and Cricket for America, all of which do a great job, but these are all focused on playing the game. I am delighted to see that interest here, but there is next to nothing for those of us who would love to be players but who are not, on account of being so rubbish. The last time I played cricket was for our Dept of Theology cricket team in Birmingham, captained by Professor David Parker, and I came back injured or exhausted after each match and haven't played since. What is lacking over here is anything for those of us for whom cricket is all about watching others do the hard work, while enjoying a beer in the sunshine. On the off-chance that there are others like me, stranded in the States and missing the sights and sounds of first class cricket, I've set up a Yahoo!Group for English Cricket Fans in America. You never know, there might just be others out there, and I'd be interested to hear how others have coped. For one thing, what about Test Match Special? In the winter, it was unavailable over the net here, and I am guessing that the same is going to be true this summer. Is there any way around it?
May 10, 2006An update to this post can be found at:
How to cope without British TV and Radio: Cricket Supplement Update
Friday, May 05, 2006
Do you remember, back in November, my blog on Snakes and Spiders? I hate the idea of sharing my back garden with snakes, but when we moved here, I decided that I would not over-react, but would educate myself and my family and take a few cues from what the natives do. Up until now, I have only seen a small snake that had been flattened by a car. The breaking news is that I have now seen my first live snake.
There is a local saying here -- "April-May, Stay Away." April and May are the months when the snakes (which are active for about 8 months of the year) are at their most active. It is their breeding season. It is the time of year when they are looking for somewhere to lay their eggs or have their babies and it is also the time of year when they are most likely to bite first and run (or should I say "slither"?) away later. Therefore, the rule is -- stay out of the woods in April and May. My neighbour had also told me that snakes have been known to nest in the crawl space under the house in past years.
I had also been told that naphthalene mothballs are very good for keeping snakes away. After a little research, I found out that naphthalene is the main ingredient in Snake-A-Way, the market-leading snake repellent. So, back in early April, I scattered a load of moth balls around the crawl space under our house to discourage snakes. (Because our house is built on a hill, the crawl space is big enough to stand up in and has a full size door leading into it. It also has a half-built extra room in it, which we thought we might finish-off and turn into a games room when we get around to it.) I also scattered one or two around the house, but they were just a few and have probably long since washed away. I didn't want to scatter them around the house too much because the chemical can be harmful to wildlife.
Our first realisation that there was a snake outside the window was when the cat (Memory) knocked over a table lamp. Upon investigating, we discovered that it was because she had been startled by a snake. As this was not only the first live snake that I've seen since being here, but the first wild live snake that I've seen other than in zoos, I grabbed my camera as quickly as I could and went totally snap-happy. I'm sure that future snakes will not get the same amount of attention, but this one got the full-blown paparazzi treatment.
As you can see, it's not a venomous snake, but even non-venomous snakes can bite (not to mention the fact that they totally creep me out), so I wasn't going to go outside to take my pictures. A quick google later and I found a web site for identifying snakes. It turns out that this one was a Black Rat Snake. They breed twice a year -- in April to June and in the Fall. They often climb trees and eat small rodents, birds and birds' eggs.
I have to say, though, that although seeing my first snake was quite exciting, I think that it calls for a few more moth balls to be scattered around the perimeter of the house. Alternatively, as it is not washed away by rain and a single treatment lasts for about three months I may invest in some Snake-A-Way.
Here's a few more shots:
(The criss-cross effect is due to many of the photos having been taken through windows with mesh on them. The last of the pictures is of another, slightly smaller snake that came along about half an hour later.)
Monday, May 01, 2006
May Morning was another fond memory. Many of the Oxford colleges will have had their balls the night before, so many of those gathered on Magdalen Bridge were those who had been up all night partying. I've never been to a ball, though. On more than one occasion, Mark and I had toyed with the idea of going to a ball, but always ended up deciding that the money could be better spent. I would have just been up all night chatting over a quiet drink with friends and drifting in and out of sleep.
Magdalen College School choir to sing madrigals from the top of the Magdalen College tower at about 6am. In those days, there wasn't all the nonsense of people jumping off the bridge like there is today. Back then, you'd get two or three people stripping down to the nude and jumping off the bridge and into the Cherwell and a cheer would go up from the crowd. Last year, over one hundred people jumped off the bridge, many of whom suffered broken or sprained limbs. I don't know what this year was like, but really students -- enough is enough.
In the UK, the first Monday in May is always a Bank Holiday. This year, the Bank Holiday and May Day have coincided. I wouldn't be surprised if this has caused a large increase to the number of attendees to the May Day celebrations in Oxford, perhaps leading to an increase to the brainless leaping off a bridge into shallow water.
Posted by Viola at 8:02 pm