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.