Thursday, December 27, 2007


Mark at our hotel at Myrtle BeachI haven't blogged since April. Mark kept the ship afloat for a while, until he decided to start his own personal blog.

So, the question was, what should I do? Should I try and keep the blog going even though I no longer seem to be able to find the time and energy, or should I just quit while I'm ahead?

Realistically speaking, I don't think that I'm going to be able to write as regularly as I have done in the past. But, I'm not quite ready to throw in the towel. I think that I might try and keep it going, but perhaps on a more irregular footing.

Viola in the car en route to Myrtle BeachIf you would like to know whenever I write something, but can't be bothered returning here regularly to see if I've posted anything new, you can be notified of updates by subscribing to the feed.

"So, what have you been doing during your unsolicited absence?" you may well ask. Here's some highlights:

Disney World

About 9 years ago, back in November 1998 Mark had a conference in Disney World, Orlando. We decided to go as a family. Lauren was just over a year old and Emily had recently turned 4. Mark would go off to his conference and we would see him in the evenings. We decided then that we would like to take the girls again when they are old enough to remember it a bit more and when Mark can enjoy the holiday instead of having to work.

The drive to Disney World
Now, here we are living in America, only about 630 miles from Disney World. We would not have to pay about $3000 in air fare, just to get there. In addition, this year Mark had a milestone birthday. So, this Spring Break we all jumped in the car and drove down to Orlando, Florida. We had a great time at SeaWorld, MGM Studio, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom.

As an aside, I have to thank Mark's student's Dad who works at MGM Studio for getting us three days of Disney park hopper tickets.

Work Permit and SSN

My EAD came through at long last at the beginning of May, so I am now able to work (even though the SSA had to send my Social Security Number (SSN) application to Homeland Security, who didn't return it for about three months). I am self employed and working from home, but am contracted to TPF Software. At the moment I'm working on web-based stuff (mainly PHP) and some Delphi stuff as well.


We've taken a few trips over the past few months. These have mostly been covered by Mark, so you can read a bit more about them there if you like.

We went to:
Emily and Lauren at the hotel at Myrtle Beach

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mark's New Blog

I've decided to experiment with a personal blog for all the stuff that I can't write about on my professional blog. I have called it, rather unimaginatively, Mark Goodacre's Personal Blog. I look forward to see some of you there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Are you enjoying Doctor Who as much as these two?

Warning: major Doctor Who spoiler below!
Warning: contains some strong language.

Well, this third season of the new Doctor Who remains on an all-time high, and it was a special pleasure to be able to watch the most recent episode here in England, where we are taking a short break at the moment. I adore this little piece from Youtube, which shows that there are two fans who are enjoying the current series even more than we are. This is them at a particularly climactic moment in Episode 11, Utopia, featuring the wonderful Sir Derek Jacobi:

It seems that they uploaded this video (original here) from their own webcam, and then someone else added the split screen above, so that you can see which bits they are reacting to. My favourite line, "He's got the f***ing TARDIS!".

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Trip to Seattle

We are currently taking a couple of days of holiday in Seattle, WA. The occasion was a lecture I was giving for Logos Bible Software, and I have made a couple of posts over on the NT Gateway blog, Travel Diary: Bellingham, WA and Travel Diary: Bellingham to Seattle. The Seattle leg of our journey has been a lot of fun; it's a fabulous city, cosmopolitan with some reminders of Europe.

The first picture here was taken by Emily and is of the beginning of the underground tour of the city, where one spends 90 minutes walking through the original street level of the city, before it was raised by 8-35 feet following a fire in the late 19th century.

The second picture was taken by Viola and is at the Elephant and Castle, a British style pub. Emily had stuffed Yorkshire pudding, but was disappointed by the amount of mash and green beans and the relative lack of Yorkshire pudding. Vi and I both had bangers and mash and it was pretty good. Lauren had chicken curry. We are thinking of returning again to try some of their other dishes.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Swim across the Atlantic Ocean"

While using Google Maps recently, I accidentally typed the wrong country in the search box. I was looking for directions within the UK, but typed in my destination as "US". The instructions that came up guided me all the way from the UK to the USA, at one point instructing me to "Swim across the Atlantic Ocean, 3,462 miles, 29 days, 0 hours". Whoever programmed Google Maps clearly has a nice sense of humour. Try it with any UK to USA address, or USA to UK address and you'll get the same advice.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Doctor Who, Series 3

Doctor Who,
Viola, the kids and I are loving the new series of Doctor Who, now the third since its renewal and transformation in 2005 under head writer Russell T. Davies. We are already fans of Freema Agyeman as Martha, although Emily and Lauren insist on how much better Billie Piper was as Rose. Watching it out here on a Saturday night is one of those enjoyable treats that keeps us connected with home. The latest episode, Human Nature, was one of my favourites so far, and I couldn't resist blogging on one of the theological issues it raises over on the NT Gateway Weblog yesterday, Doctor Who, Human Nature and Kenosis. I was delighted to wake up this morning and see a comment on that post from the writer of the episode (who also penned the earlier novel on which it is based), Paul Cornell!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Eurovision 2007

Last year, Viola and I blogged on our first experiences of watching the Eurovision Song Contest in America (Eurovision and Eurovision: The Verdict). This year we were up for it again and tuned in on Saturday afternoon to watch the final from Helsinki. It is a very odd experience watching Eurovision here. First, no one in America has heard of it, so there is no one talking about it -- except, of course, online. Second, the only way to watch it is via the live streaming from It's an amazing quality feed of 700kb/s, and as on all such occasions, we simply plug a laptop into the telly, put the big speakers on and enjoy. (And this year, we didn't try to download Doctor Who at the same time, not least because this year there was no episode on Saturday night, so the quality of the streaming was far better.) But I really missed the proper BBC packaging of the event, and especially Terry Wogan's ironic commentary. With the direct feed, all you get are the basics; when the phone-numbers to ring appear all over the rest of Europe, the live streaming gives you just a blank, black box. And third, it is very odd watching a night time event on a Saturday afternoon. It feels lazy and decadent to be watching Saturday night entertainment with daylight outside. In the UK, it begins at 8pm, so for us it was 3pm. And there was just enough of a delay on the streaming, something like 30-40 seconds, for our niece Bronwen to be instant messaging Emily about what was about to happen, as when the UK finally got awarded some points.

As for the event itself, it was not a great year. The UK's entry, by Scooch, was a perfectly fine novelty song, nothing spectacular, but lively and suitable for the occasion, and a darn sight better than a lot of the other instantly forgettable songs:

My favourite part of the contest is always the scoring, though it has become rather sad and predictable in recent years, with neighbours all voting for one another regardless of the quality of the song. And it has been a feature of the last few years that the UK is scraping the bottom of the barrel. This year, we had 0 points for a heck of a long time, until finally Ireland obliged us with 7 points, and Malta with 12.

Serbia won with a rather intense ballad, but the big debate in the Goodacre family was over the gender of the singer. The girls and I thought it was a man, but Viola thought it was a woman, and it turned out that Vi was right. If we'd have been in the UK and able to watch on BBC1, we'd not have been in doubt given Tezzer's useful intro:

Elsewhere, the debate is apparently turning to whether or not Serbia's song was stolen, which sounds uncannily like the plot of the Eurovision episode of Father Ted.

As usual, The Guardian has been a source of insightful and often witty comment, especially in this piece in today's paper:

Please let's retire from Eurovision. It's just embarrassing now, isn't it? Let's stick Eurovision alongside cricket and good manners on the list of things we used to be good at, but now can't quite seem to manage . . .

Click here to watch the video. . . . The problem is, we've got no mates. The UK turning up at Eurovision is like the unpopular teenager at the disco: "So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry and you want to die," as Morrissey put it - although I can't forgive the organisers for raising our hopes that he was going to represent us at Eurovision. I think we should enter a proper pop star, but one who everyone already dislikes, like poor James Blunt.

Most of our points came from Malta, the only nation in Europe that still likes us. And we know that's only because we gave them the George Cross. And that was in 1942. They're still saying thank you for something we did 65 years ago. That's going beyond touching loyalty and starting to become a bit creepy, if you ask me . . .
If we're the greatest nation on earth, how come no one gives us any points at Eurovision? by Lucy Porter

If only we could somehow get America into Eurovision (well, Israel are in it, after all), then we might get some votes again, especially if we could find an act with Liverpool accents.

Monday, April 16, 2007

£1 = $2 ?!

As of tonight, £1 is worth $1.99. Tomorrow it could reach $2 for the first time in many years. The BBC has the latest:

Pound touches 14 year dollar high

The pound has hit a 14-year high of $1.9938 against the dollar, with many experts believing it will rise above $2 in the next few days.

Sterling has been rising against the dollar as the UK's economic performance contrasts with fears of a US slowdown.

The trend has been good news for British visitors to the US but has made life more difficult for exporters.

The pound was last equal to $2 in 1992, the year the UK was forced to leave the European Exchange Rate Mechanism.

Unfortunately, it's not great news for non-resident aliens like us, drawing a US salary and wanting to travel regularly to the UK.

Update (Tuesday, 13.47): UK pound goes through $2 barrier for the first time since 1992.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Mark's and My Birthdays

My Birthday

This year, my birthday was a fairly low key affair. Mark and I went out for lunch (Red Lobster). In the evening we all went out for ice cream (Marble Slab Creamery). I had cheesecake ice cream with cookie dough in a waffle cone (they make the waffle cones fresh on site). To circumvent a large proportion of the guilt that is normally associated with such indulgences so that we could all the more enjoy the treat, we gave the children a proper dinner, but Mark and I made the ice cream the dinner and ate nothing else that evening (although we did round the evening off nicely with some whiskey/sambuca).

Mark's Birthday

Birthday BalloonsMark's birthday was the big 40 and was a bit more eventful because the good ol' USCIS picked that day for our biometrics appointment in Charlotte.

For those who are not in the know -- once the USCIS have acknowledged receipt of one's greencard application, one has to travel to one's nearest USCIS office (which in our case is in Charlotte, which is about a three hour drive) to have fingerprints and photographs taken. Mark opens his presents on a grassy bankOur appointment time was 9am, so rather than having to leave home at 6am to get there in time, we drove down the night before. We arrived for our appointment on time, but had to wait a couple of hours to be seen. The actual fingerprinting and photographing took a total of about 10 minutes.

Click here to watch the videoAfter that, we sat on a grass bank so that Mark could open his presents. Then we went to the South Park Mall for some good old fashioned shop therapy before the three hour drive home. The video shows us having a little bit of fun in one of the department stores.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

H1B Quota Filled in Just Three Days!

The USCIS started accepting applications for H1B visas for the 2008 fiscal year on the 1st of April 2007. On the 3rd of April the USCIS announced that they had enough applications to reach the congressionally mandated cap of 65,000. They had received over 133,000 applications in the first three days. This means that on the first three days of accepting applications they had received more than double the number of applications than there are visas.

When I think about the likelihood of my being able to get an H1B, the term "snowflake's chance in hell" springs to mind.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The Doctor and Martha

The intensive Freema Agyeman charm offensive has paid off as far as I'm concerned. She's been everywhere -- from breakfast TV to Blue Peter. And now, after the first episode has aired, we happily welcome her with open arms as The Doctor's new assistant. Long live Russell T. Davies.

As far as Billie Piper is concerned -- we've downloaded Mansfield Park and will be watching it with Mark's parents when they come to visit in about a week (they were on holiday when it aired in the UK).

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Catherine Tate Meets...

...The Doctor

...Tony Blair

(I bet you wouldn't get Bush doing something like this.)

Comic Relief

Red Nose Day is an annual event in the UK that raises money for Comic Relief. You can read more about it here.

Five-Lined Skink

Five-Lined SkinkThis lizard is a Five-Lined Skink. It is fairly common in these parts. One can sometimes see one quickly scurrying across the driveway to the cover of the grass, but it's not very often that they stand still for long enough to be photographed. I particularly like their bright blue tails. I took this photo on Lauren's friend's driveway at the friend's birthday party. Shortly after this picture was taken it scuttled off to find somewhere to hide.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Cricket World Cup

Brian Lara
Brian Lara
Last year, both Viola and I blogged a good deal about the football (American: "soccer") World Cup 2006. That massive tournament, one of the biggest international sporting events, makes only a small dent on American consciousness. It is shown on mainstream channels like ESPN, and there are a million or so viewers, but it is very minor by way of comparison with American sporting events like the Super Bowl (an American Football event), which has a massive, multi-million audience. But while few Americans watch the football World Cup, at least one can say that many know about it. That is not the case with the Cricket World Cup which is currently under way in the West Indies. The U.S.A. is a completely cricket-free zone. I have yet to meet anyone in the US who is even aware that there is a cricket World Cup, let alone that it is happening now, that it is drawing big headlines in many other countries, and that it is happening nearby, in the Caribbean.

For those who are unfamiliar with the cricket World Cup, it has happened every four years since the first one in 1975. This year it is the first time that it is in the Caribbean. It always involves all the major cricket playing nations (currently England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and West Indies) and adds an additional eight nations, a couple of whom are almost major cricketing nations (Zimbabwe, Bangladesh), and the rest of whom are disparagingly called "minnows" (this year Canada, Kenya, Bermuda, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands). It lasts for a month and like the football World Cup, there are group stages to begin with, four groups with four in each (two major, two minor in each). The top two in each of these groups goes forward to the "Super Eights", and the top four from the Super Eights go forward to semi-finals and final. The assumption is that the eight major nations will make up the "Super Eights", but one of the exciting things that can happen is that one or more of the minor nations can make it through the group stages, displacing one or more of the major ones.

The other thing you need to know about the cricket World Cup is that it is "one day" or "limited overs" cricket. This is the popular, fast paced version of the game that dates back to the early 1970s. Each side gets 50 overs to make the highest total they can; the highest total wins the game. So a one day match is a hasty six or seven hour affair, unlike the first class game which lasts several days. It would be impossible logistically to have a first class cricket world cup because it would take too long for each nation to play all their matches. Since the 1980s, the one day form of the game has also departed from the first class game by using coloured costumes, a white ball and black sight screens, rather than cricket whites, the traditional red ball and a white sight screen. The colourful appearance and the fast pace adds to the popular appeal of the one-day game, and the excitement of seeing sixteen nations all in the same place makes the World Cup the most thrilling arena for watching one-day cricket.

Given the absence of interest in cricket in America, it is not surprising (though it's disappointing) that it is not on mainstream television at all and it is not reported in any Sports bulletins. I suppose the one place where the American might hear about the World Cup is on BBC World Service, which is broadcast all night, where we live at least, on WUNC, North Carolina's portal for NPR (National Public Radio), which is a kind of American version of Radio 4. When I went to bed at 1.30 last night, the World Cup was the sports headline on World Service, which was being broadcast on WUNC/NPR.

So, to ask the question we have asked here before, How do you cope without British TV and Radio?. If you have Dish Network, you can pay $199.95 to get full World Cup coverage. But we can't get Dish at our house (details of the palaver here) so the only options are via the internet. Willow TV provides internet streaming of a reasonable (not brilliant) quality for a hefty $199.95 a month; the other option is to spend time searching for P2P options from around the world.

What I tend to miss, though, is the Test Match Special commentary from the BBC. TMS is a British Institution and while I was thrilled to find that I could get hold of it over the internet in the summer, they block access to international users for any cricket outside of the UK, including the World Cup. But all is not lost. The TMS Podcast is back again for this World Cup, two-three times a week, and it's a treat. Second on the podcasting front is The Guardian's Cricket World Cup Show, an excellent podcast out every two or three days. The other British papers are lagging way behind on this one. Nothing at The Independent, nothing at The Telegraph, one paltry Cricket World Cup Podcast so far from The Times.

"Freddie" Flintoff
All in all, the internet provides one with lots of ways of keeping in touch with what is going on, and podcasting is a particular pleasure this time round. What of the action so far? England's chances of winning the World Cup are vanishingly small. We began about as dismally as everyone expected, losing the first of our group stage matches, against New Zealand. We won our second, on Sunday, against Canada, one of the so-called "minnows", but we didn't win convincingly. The match was overshadowed by Andrew Flintoff's antics off the field. The English love "Freddie" Flintoff, and will forgive him, especially after his contrite performance at a press conference today, but he was reported to have got drunk on Friday night / Saturday morning, not long before the Canada match, and was seen out on a pedalo at 4am, and he allegedly had to be rescued. He was stripped of the Vice-Captaincy, dropped from the side for Sunday's match, and five other England players were fined. Now England have a few days to get it together before the match against Kenya on Saturday, which we have to win to go through.

Even that, though, was overshadowed by the sad death of Bob Woolmer on Sunday morning. Woolmer was a former England cricketer who was the current coach of Pakistan, and he was found unconscious in his hotel room on Sunday morning; he did not regain consciousness. The news came through as we were watching the England v. Canada match over our Sunday lunch of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Woolmer's death has cast a shadow over the whole World Cup, and the cause of his death is not yet clear. It came the morning after one of the most remarkable cricketing results ever, on Saturday, when Ireland, another of the "minnows", beat Pakistan, one of the giants, and knocked them out of the World Cup. The fact that this remarkable result happened on St Patrick's Day made it an additional cause for celebration.

Other cricketing highlights include a remarkable performance by South Africa (major team) against the Netherlands ("minnows"), including six sixes in an over by Herschelle Gibbs, a fantastic achievement, already uploaded to YouTube. This was the first time this had ever happened in a World Cup.

And today, in between classes, I was pleased to be able to catch the last few overs of India's massive total of 413 against Bermuda, the first time any side has got over 400 in a World Cup game, and this after India were surprised by a defeat at the hands of Bangladesh on Saturday. Oh, and one other highlight, in what has been a fantastic first week, was the tied match between Ireland and Zimbabwe (a tie is very rare in cricket).

Who will win the World Cup? Certainly not England. I suppose you have to put your money on Australia. I fancy South Africa to reach the final. Dark horse bet: New Zealand.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

New Dr Who

The Doctor and Martha
The Doctor and Martha
The new series of Dr. Who is due to air on BBC1 on the 31st of March, so in the Goodacre household the countdown has begun. It'll be interesting to see if the new companion can fill the shoes of Billie Piper. The air time has not yet been confirmed, but is likely to be at about 7pm.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

How Nerdy are You?

I am nerdier than 51% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!I am nerdier than 11% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!I am nerdier than 3% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

Mark scored about 17. So, it seems that I'm the only nerd in the family. I really ought to get out a bit more.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Would you like fries with your order?

When I was a child, I remember when the first McDonald's restaurants or "Maccy Ds" (the vernacular) started to spring up in my home town. One would walk into a McDonalds to be greeted with a plastic grin. Upon asking for a big mac and coke, the person behind the counter would ask "Would you like fries with your order?". This was an attempted cultural crossover that failed.

These were the McDonalds Corporation's mistakes:

  1. We Brits (or is it just me?) tend to not trust people who smile too much. It comes across as a bit shifty.
  2. People didn't like being asked if they want fries. The attitude was (and is) "If I wanted fries I'd have asked for them."
  3. Many customers who wanted "fries" would ask for "a big mac and chips", only to have the person serving them behind the counter correct them to the usage of the word "fries". Although the policy came from on high and we all knew that the person serving us had to say "fries", many still found it annoying.
These days, all McDonald's staff no longer ask us if we want fries (or, sometimes, apple pie), they no longer feel it essential to grin or be polite and they no longer insist that chips are called "fries". And most Brits are all the happier for it.

Since living here, someone once asked me how Americans are perceived in the UK. Although the answer to this question is multi-faceted and so difficult to answer, here's a Catherine Tate sketch of an American themed restaurant in the UK (don't you just love YouTube?). It goes a little way to answering this question, but it more illustrates how differences in culture do not always translate. It also reminds me of a restaurant near where we live called Spinner's Grill, with the tagline "The home of the dancing wait staff." The restaurant is a music themed diner, with disco balls and coloured lights hanging from the ceiling. Now and then (I've only been there once when this has happened), the lights go down, the disco lights and music come on and all the waiters/waitresses do a bit of a song and dance before they start serving again.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Case of the Non-existent Blog Posts

In the words of Toyah Wilcox, "It's a mystery."

Where have all my blog posts for the end of February and the beginning of March gone? Some were beginning to wonder whether I had dropped off the face of the earth.

Can I use the age old "The cat ate my computer" excuse? I think not. Even though Memory is partial to a nice pile of papers that she can rustle up a bit, I don't think that even she could be blamed for the lack of blog posts.

The truth of the matter is that I've just been rather busy lately. What have I been doing? The answer is (and I'm sorry that you've waited with baited breath just for this) -- not much. Sometimes I can be a bit of a geek. When I get a new computer programme or decide to play around with a new programming language or whatever, I sometimes get a bit carried away. This, plus general living have rather drowned out blogging for the past couple of weeks.

All things considered, it's not as good an excuse as blaming the cat would have been.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Girl Scout Cookies

Girl Scout CookiesThis is another "it's not just in films" moment. It actually happens in real life. A girl scout friend of Emily's came to the door and sold us some "Girl Scout Cookies". But that's not all. When I'd seen this sort of thing on TV, I'd always just assumed that it's girl scouts selling biscuits (cookies), but that there's nothing special about the bickies themselves. As it turns out, girl scouts don't sell any old cookies. They sell Girl Scouts Cookies. Not only are they packaged especially for the Girl Scouts, but each biscuit has written on it "Girl Scouting is all about...", then the sentence is finished with a word like "Caring" or "Values" or "Leadership" etc...

As I eat them, I say to myself "Yep. I'm definitely in America."

Family Fun Night II

Emily, Lauren and friends at the Family Fun NightThe elementary school's annual Family Fun Night came round again. Last year both Emily and Lauren were at elementary school, but this year Emily started middle school. The four of us went and took a couple of Emily's friends with us. Lauren met some friends there.

Mark and I chatted, while the children went off to the various bouncy castles and stalls. Lauren and friend at the Family Fun NightThe highlights were a Tae Kwon Do demonstration and a man (I'm not sure what organization he was with) who'd brought several animals that the children could touch/pet, including a chimpanzee, a lemur and an alligator. The children would occasionally return to us for drinks, popcorn and pizza.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Taylor-Thomas Picnic

I haven't had much time to blog recently, so I thought I'd treat you to a Catherine Tate sketch. This sketch has caused the term "greedy-gobble-gannet" to enter my family's vocabulary whenever any of us -- well, whenever any of us is a greedy-gobble-gannet.

In for a penny, in for a pound. Here's one from before Fergus ingested the "infected dairy produce":

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Green Card Application Filed

The Greencard ApplicationLast week I took my Green Card application in to Duke International Office and walked back to my office with a spring in my step. This happy moment came after months of work on this application and a huge amount of time invested. The picture you see here is the application just before I took it in to the International Office. The amount of paperwork exceeded the size of my DPhil thesis. The days and weeks spent on this application were days and weeks sucked out of my research time, my family time, my sleep. I found the entire process unreasonably exhausting and sometimes depressing. So why did we go ahead with it?

At present, I am on an H1B visa. An H1B is employer-specific, i.e. your prospective employer sponsors you for this visa status so that you can work for them. An H1B holder can bring a family with him/her, all of whom will be H4 "dependants", a trailing spouse and children. Many who come to the USA to work remain in their H1B and H4 visa status until they return home. As an H1B or an H4, you are a "non-resident alien", which means that you are here for a temporary period only, and are not regarded as "resident", for immigration purposes at least. These visas give you three years from date of entry, and are renewable for a further three years, so you have six years in total. But you have the option of applying for "lawful permanent residence" (LPR, or more popularly "Green Card") at any point during that temporary stay, and this is what we have just filed. When granted, somewhere between six months and two years after filing, you become a "resident alien".

There are several advantages to filing for your Green Card. One of the most immediate is that it is possible for the H4 dependent, in this case Viola, to file at the same time for a temporary work permit. We have heard that the work permit is usually issued within two months of the Green Card application being filed, which means that Viola may be able to begin work in April. Apparently one has to take great care to make sure that the Green Card application is not what they call "frivolous" -- they only grant the work permit if they feel that you are taking the Green card application itself very seriously. A second advantage is that the Green card gives you much greater flexibility in the future. We are not bound to the USA for just that temporary period. A third advantage is that it will enable me to accept employment from others in the USA. At present, I can only receive payment from Duke, so when I give lectures elsewhere in the US, or read manuscripts, or write pieces for American publishers, or sit on PhD committees at other universities, I cannot accept payment. What I do at the moment in these circumstances is to ask the employer in question to donate my honorarium or fee to a charity of my choice, and so far they have always been happy to do that.

Those advantages made it pretty clear that we must go ahead and file for lawful permanent residency. The process, however, was so daunting that procrastination was often pretty tempting. I won't bore you with the details except to explain that there were two parts to the application, one our family's application and one the employer-sponsored part of the application. The latter was the most work. I am filing in category EB-1(B), which means that you have to demonstrate that you are what they call an "outstanding professor/researcher", and this involves the collection of piles and piles of paperwork of every kind imaginable. A couple of things made it bearable, though. Viola helped with a lot of the paperwork and so shared some of the frustration and anxiety. And Duke has an International Office that provided some fantastic support. One of the happiest of my several visits there was the first one where they took away at least half of the blank forms I was carrying and threw them into the recycling as forms I didn't need to worry about.

Oh, by the way, it also costs a fortune to do this. Including medical examinations, we have spent over $3,000 so far on filing. Here's hoping that it was all worth it.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

US Health Care

Further to my previous posts on the US health care system (Medical and Dental Insurance; Health Care Expenditure), here's a good article, entitled Caring for America's Health, that forms part of the 27th January 2007 edition of the BBC's From Our Own Correspondent. It articulates quite well what I see as the problems with US health care.

Here's some excerpts (square brackets are my comments):

Bo [an American friend of the authors who suffers with multiple sclerosis] is expensive and the insurers do not want him... and they make it obvious.

Every year Bo gets a letter asking him if he is still ill.

Someone has to fill in a form for him: "Yes, I am quadriplegic; no, no miracle appears to have happened."


The story of American healthcare is one of huge expenditure for little obvious benefit.

By head of population America spends twice the amount Britain does on health.

But life expectancy here is lower and infant mortality is higher, way higher in some ethnic groups.

Most of the money seems to go on overheads and on profits for the many private companies providing care, the hospital groups, the drug manufacturers, and above all the insurance companies which write letters to Bo inquiring about his MS and write incessantly to all their other customers as well...
Caring for America's Health by Justin Webb

CBB 2007: The Outcome

So, we've come to the end of the fifth Celebrity Big Brother in the UK. It started out looking to be rather boring, but then Leo Sayer lost the plot and things started to look up. This, along with the arguments between Jade Goody and Shilpa Shetty made it a lot more interesting. The final week, after Jade's eviction was as dull as dishwater, though. This was the first time that a non-Brit has won and the first time that a non-white has won (BB or CBB). In fact, of the final three, two were American and one was Indian.

Shilpa Shetty won and the protagonists were all punished and are having to serve their time in tabloid-media-purgatory. I dare say that the "international incident" mountain that was made of this molehill will soon subside. I'm not sure I'll bother with BB next year.

Here's my other CBB-5 posts:
Battle of the Tribute Bands
Celebrity Big Brother 2007

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Snow Day

The street in the snowThis morning we awoke to the first snow that this area has seen since we've been here. If you look closely at the pictures, you'll see that although the snow was enough to settle, it wasn't enough to cover the grass -- the green seeps through.

This light dusting of white that had disappeared by lunch time was enough for the county's public schools service to close all the public schools in the entire county for the day. The local news teams were also very excited and out in force -- analysing the highways and interstates and desperately hoping against hope that there would be something newsworthy to report.

The back garden in the snowI had a lovely day at home with the girls (Mark had to go to work). Unfortunately, though, they will have to make the missed school day up by going in on a non-school day. Unlike schools in England, the county allocates "make-up" days throughout the year. These are non-school days (holiday/vacation) which can become school days if for any reason school is cancelled. The county are yet to announce when the make-up day for today's "snow day" will be.

The Next Day

We woke up this morning to find that the entire county's schools have had the start of the day delayed by two hours, so the girls get to lounge about watching TV for most of the morning. I've never known such fuss over such little snow. Today is also pyjama day at Lauren's school.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Linville Caverns and Falls

Approaching the mountainsYesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, like last year, we celebrated it by heading up to the mountains. Last year, we went to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. This year we decided to take a look at the Linville Caverns (the only caverns in NC that are open to the public) and Linville Falls. En route we stopped at a Crackerbarrel for lunch. Mark had been introduced to this chain (imagine a rustic American version of Little Chef) a couple of months ago by a friend of his and insisted that I would love their raspberry lemonade, which I have to admit is delicious.

North Carolina
If you're not familiar with NC, you may be interested to know that the Appalachian Mountains run through west NC. This range boasts the Blue Ridge Mountains, which includes the Black Mountains and the Smoky Mountains. There's a lot to explore in this area, but a long weekend entails one day to get there, one day exploring and one day getting back. Unfortunately, there's only so much that one can do in one day's worth of exploring.

We stayed in a small town called Marion, which turned out to be quite a good central location (if we had the time) for visiting Linville (Caverns, Waterfall, Gorge), Mount Mitchell (the highest mountain in the Appalachians) and Grandfather Mountain (has a mile-high swing-bridge that I'd just love to cross). We only had one day though, so we opted to go to the Linville Caverns and Falls.

The caverns are small and not really a lot to write home about, but I enjoyed looking around them anyway. To get to the Falls, we parked in a gravel car park and took a very nice 1.5 mile woodland walk to get to three different lookout points and back. It was particularly nice because although the temperature was a very mild (for mid-January) 74oF 23oC, yet with a lack of insects. By the time we got to the third lookout point it was starting to get dark, but we managed to get back to the car before it was completely dark.

Linville Caverns

Linville CavernsLinville CavernsA hibernating bat in Linville CavernsMark and Emily in Linville Caverns

Linville Falls

The start of the woodland walkThe first lookout pointThe second lookout pointThe third lookout pointMark at the third lookout pointThe woodland walk back to the carClick here to watch the video

Battle of the Tribute Bands

This is so good, it's worth blogging. It's the CBB Battle of the Tribute Bands -- The Jackson Five vs. Steps. I think Jermaine Jackson is finally starting to relax and enjoy himself in the Big Brother house.

The Jackson Five Tribute Band(left to right): Cleo, Dirk, Jermaine, Shilpa, Danielle
The Steps Tribute Band(left to right): Ian, Jade, Jo, Jack

Leo Sayer Leaves CBB

Warning: Video links in this section contain strong language.

Here's a YouTube video of Leo Sayer's dramatic exit from the house because BB wouldn't give him any clean underwear (every year BB provides contestants with a tub, washboard and mangle and all laundry is washed by hand, which Leo refused to do). If you want to watch the buildup to this, just type "Leo Sayer Loses the Plot" into the YouTube search and watch the videos in order (there are about six of them). If you don't mind some strong language, you may also like the footage of Leo Sayer giving BB the thumbs up.

The poor chap didn't know what he was letting himself in for. In his interview with Davina McCall, it was clear that he hadn't researched the programme or what it entailed before signing the contract. Perhaps after this he'll be getting himself another agent.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Separated by a Common Language

When I first started this blog in November 2005, I published a post about the differences in the English language between the UK and the USA. If you like ruminating over the differences in our common language, you might enjoy the Separated by a Common Language blog, which Mark came across. It is written by an American linguist living in the UK.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Celebrity Big Brother 2007

When Big Brother first started in the UK in 2000, I was above it. There was no way that I would be watching that rubbish. But Mark had different ideas and used to watch it on his own while I did my own thing. However, snippets while walking through the room gradually became longer and before I knew it "Nasty Nick" was accused of cheating, it all kicked off and Endemol had me hooked. Over the following years we watched Big Brother mainly because Mark loved it so much and because I so enjoyed watching Dermot O'Leary.

However, the last couple of Big Brothers have rather dragged (13 weeks is far too long) and I'm not sure that I can bother with the 2007 series. Although Celebrity Big Brother is shorter, so more bearable, I wasn't going to bother about this January's Celebrity Big Brother either, but we thought that we might as well download the launch show, just to see which D-list celebrities are going to be in the house.

This year the line-up's not bad -- at least I'd heard of most of them. I'm sorry to say that I'm hooked yet again.

This year's housemates are:

Jermaine Jackson: Former Jackson Five member
Thus far, Jermaine seems quite quiet and likeable, but gets rather irritated every time someone asks him to moonwalk and answers to the effect of "That's my brother's thing, I'm not my brother". There's something quite bizarre about watching Jade Goody asking him whether he bleaches his teeth and watching him try and explain why on earth he called one of his children "Jermajesty". There's also been some good conversations between Jade and Jermaine wherein she asks questions like "So, is Michael bankrupt now, after the court case?" and "So are you black then? Because Michael's skin has changed [etc...]". I think that in the next few weeks Jermaine is likely to spill a bit more.

Danielle Lloyd: A WAG (Wives & Girlfirends)
I'd never heard of her before this, but apparently she's Teddy Sheringham's girlfriend. So far, she seems quite nice.

Dirk Benedict: Face, Starbuck
Need I say more? As Chantelle Houghton (or is she Chantelle Preston now?) says, "The man from the A-Team won't stop sweeping the floor."

Ken Russell: Film Director (notably Tommy)
A crotchety old man who seems to have rather lost the plot. He snores loudly all night so that nobody can get a decent night's sleep. Unfortunately, though, a late night argument with Jackiey Budden was the last straw and he "walked".

Jo O'Meara: Former S Club member
Seems quite nice.

Ian Watkins: "H" from Steps
He just reminds me of a pastiche that Armstrong and Miller did.

Leo Sayer: Singer of Yesteryear
He's had a bit of an argument with Jackiey Budden, but hasn't done much else yet.

Shilpa Shetty: Bollywood star
She seems quite nice but is rather missing her entourage. She too has had altercations with Jackiey Budden.

Donny Tourette: Member of Towers of London
How did he get through the psychological profiling? Thankfully, he put us out of our misery early on by climbing over the wall.

Carole Malone: A Journalist
She's famous for having slated Big Brother (including Jade Goody) and footballer's WAGs. I suppose that the Big Brother production team thought that it would be fun to put her in a house with a WAG and an ex-BB contestant.

Cleo Rocos: Former Kenny Everett girl

Jade Goody: Former BB contestant
She's always worth watching.

Jack Tweedy: Jade's Boyfriend

Jackiey Budden: Jade's Mum
She's had several arguments with several people so far and is doing Jade's head in.
Here's a link to last year's CBB post: Celebrity Big Brother 4

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Christmas & New Year

My Newest Great Nephew
My Newest Great Nephew
Carol Singing in the Park
Carol Singing in the Park
Emily and Lauren finished school on the 21st of December. We went straight to the airport and before we knew it were half way across the Atlantic. In direct contrast to the debacle of the summer, the journey was the simplest possible -- we arrived in London only an hour later than planned, picked up the hire car and made it to my Mum's house by lunch-time on the 22nd.

Christmas Day morning we sat around the tree and opened presents at my younger sister's house before setting off to Mark's parents' to get there in time for Christmas lunch. Then, after The Queen's speech, it was time for another round of present opening.

New Year's Day Football in the Park
New Year's Day
Footy in the Park
After a few days, it was a whistle-stop visit to Birmingham before returning to my Sister's house for the requisite New Year's party. In my experience, New Year parties consist of standing around waiting for the New Year all evening. Then, at just before midnight the telly goes on so that we can count in the New Year with the rest of the country and the champagne is drunk while we watch the fireworks in London. The TV is then switched off and, with the long wait over, the real party begins. This year was no exception, with even young Lauren managing to party through to about 3am (it's only one night a year, so we figure that it's OK to let the kids stay up). Lauren pointed out that even with such a late bedtime, it was still 2006 in NC (5 hours behind GMT).

Sometimes a particular holiday has a theme song (one which reminds you of the holiday whenever you hear it). I think that this holiday's theme song was America by Razorlight because we seemed to be hearing it wherever we went.

Here are some more pics:

Boxing Day
Boxing DayBoxing DayBoxing Day
Afternoon Tea on the 27th
Afternoon tea at Mark's parents'Afternoon tea at Mark's parents'Afternoon tea at Mark's parents'
At My Sister's House
At my sister's houseAt my sister's house
New Year's Party
New Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyNew Year's PartyClick here to watch the video

By the way, if you see yourself on any of these pictures and would rather that your face were not plastered all over my blog, just let me know and I'll remove you from the pictures.