Saturday, March 26, 2005

Pounds and pence (doesn't make sense)

Cockney rhyming slang is complete gibberish. It uses the same words as regular english, but words don't mean the same thing. Take a look at this page if you don't believe me. Here are some fine examples, English followed by Cockney:

Funny: Easter Bunny. Example: "You think you're so bloody Easter Bunny"

Pain: Shania Twain (also Saddam Hussein) Example: "He's a right Saddam Hussein"

Belch: Raquel Welch

Tube (London Underground): Rubic's Cube. Example: "Shall we go on the rubic's?"

I've met several people who speak this way. Usually on Mill Road in Cambridge. Usually they are very, very drunk (or "elephant's trunk" in cockney.)

Friday, March 25, 2005

More pictures.

I've uploaded some more pictures of Willingham here. Be sure to look at the second page.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Doing the Laundry and Other Strange Experiences

The last pair of clean socks died on wednesday, followed shortly by the last pair of clean underwear. There isn't a coin-op laundry to be found anywhere in Cambridge, so I'm making use of the facilities at the Rob and Toby International Hotel. A few items of note:

Laundry detergent comes in little single-load dissolving cellulose packets which you simply toss into the machine with the clothes. God help you if you handle one of the packets with wet hands, as I did.

All the washing machines I've seen have an extremely small capacity by US standards, but have an astonishing number of wheels, buttons and dials. You can specifically select "socks that were heavily soiled, then forgotten under the bed" and rest assured that the machine knows what it's doing. Unfortunately, the size of the machine only allows for three pairs of socks.

Everything here is small by US standards. There are half-loaves of bread. You can buy six eggs, four-packs of beer, or one third of a television. The streets are small, the houses are small, and the cars are small, and it's all enormously expensive. And cold. And dark. And expensive.


Cambridge is situated about 60 miles northeast-ish of London, in a region called "East Anglia." It reminds me a bit of the central valley in California, or the high plains. It is very flat. Much of Cambridgeshire used to be a swamp, until it was invaded by heavily-armed Dutch civil engineers in the 1600s.

Cambirdge has a population of about 100,000 but is surrounded by a number of satellite villages that mostly serve as bedroom communities for high-tech workers and other assorted people who can't be bothered to spend 3 hours looking for a parking spot in the city. Each village, and the city of Cambridge itself are in turn surrounded by geen belt areas where any sort of high-density development is banned. This, combined with a transport infrastructure that was outdated when Elizabeth I was queen, makes for awful traffic back-ups, accident-prone motorways, and a general sense that if they'd just convert that damned wheat field into a 6-lane superhighway, everything would be OK. Fortunately, wheat has been declared an endangered species and they can't do that.

Cambridge is known worldwide for one thing: pubs. (Here's another US/UK difference - What we in the US know as the second floor of a building is known to brits as the first floor. To them, what we call the first floor is known as "the pub.") There are over 127,000 pubs in Cambridge, the largest of which is known as the "University of Cambridge" and occupies most of the city centre. I haven't been to this pub yet, as it's supposedly very trendy and reserved for the children of upper-class twits.

There's some kind of school in town, but I wouldn't know anything about that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005


From reuters:
Europeans Grow More Intolerant of Immigrants-Study

Looks like I'm unwelcome.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Pictures are here. Some of them are washed out or taken at a weird angle because I still don't understand the light meter on this fancy new digital camera.

I'll post here whenever I update the gallery.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The coffee machine.

This post really has nothing to do with the UK. It's just a minor workplace rant.

My company is located in temporary offices in a large office block shared by a number of other startups. On the first floor is a public kitchen with a coffee machine. It's a really nice one - gives you an espresso in about 5 seconds. Until thursday, I had been making frequent use of this machine, as the only alternatives were tea and instant "coffee." But no more. We have been informed that the coffee machine is for MEETINGS ONLY. There was (and is) no sign on the machine to inform us of this fact, which is strange because the management of the office block has plastered nearly every object in the building with some kind of sign explaining its intended purpose, restrictions on its use, etc.

My boss, sensing what was about to happen to my productvity, contacted the management to inform them that:
a) No reasonable human could be expected to know that the coffee machine is for meetings only, and that for-meetings-only is not, in fact, an inherent characteristic of coffee machines.

b) We will happily pay a reasonable sum for limited daily use of the coffee machine.

The quote that came back was only marginally lower than my salary, and the boss decided that my idea (renting a meeting room for 1 hour a day - at £30/hour) was not a reasonable solution. On the other hand, he did promise that our permanent offices would have coffee making facilities suitable for an engineering organization.

The B&B&C(hrist)

I need to find a new place to live. It doesn't have to be permanent, but I need to get out of the B&B as soon as possible. It's not the cost (the place is expensive, though.) It's not even the issue of the dying motorcycle noises the plumbing makes in the middle of the night. No, the reason is much more basic:

The owner of this B&B is certifably insane.

I didn't notice the Christian paraphenelia when I arrived, and even when I did notice it, it didn't seem overwhelming or unusual. I even brushed off the first time his wife asked me if I was a Christian, since it was in the context of whether or not I wanted to use some church-based roommate service in my house-hunting. I have nothing against religious people, and the couple seemed nice enough.

Then I found a reprint of this article in the Cambridge city guide they had helpfully assembled for visitors. Yes, the owner of the B&B believes he is a prophet who predicted the 9/11 terrorist attacks, amongst other things. The end of the world is coming soon. He has published two books about this, and is aparently widely known in the religious crackpot community (now I understand why 2/3 of the guests in the log are from the American south and midwest.) And let's not forget his previous occupation - defrauding honest people in order to enrich himself. Now am I being cynical, or does his admission of guilt and conversion to Christ at exactly the point when the government was about to arrest him for massive tax fraud seem a little bit too convenient?

I'm being too harsh. These are really nice people who've done a lot of charity work through the church in places where the water makes your poop yellow. They've been very nice and have not once attempted to convert me to their insanity. But I still need a new place to live.

There is one other weird thing about this episode. Four hours before I found myself stuck in a B&B run by end times lunatics, I was relating to my co-workers that quite a lot of American Christian fundamentalists now believe that RFID tags are the mark of the beast, and we all had a good laugh over those silly Americans. So I guess the moral of the story is that God does exist, is British, and has an ironic sense of humor.

The membership thingy.

The no-comment-posting-for-non-blogspot-members thing that Dave and Nicky were moaning about is now fixed.

Be nice. My family reads this thing.

Friday, March 11, 2005

British words I cannot say.

During my time in the UK I have adopted a mantra, and that mantra is "I must adapt." I do not want to be the Ugly American, demanding that the entire Queen's Realm modify its behavior to suit my needs. It's not a bad mantra, but it does entail drinking warm beer, using confusing keyboard layouts, eating French Fr...chips with curry sauce, and generally immersing myself in British "culture" as much as possible. But there are some British words that i just cannot say. I've adapted to calling a yard a "garden." I call a parking lot a "car park." French fries are chips, and chips are crisps, but I am completely unable to call £30 "thirty quid." Nor can I refer to a large truck as a "lorry." And I don't think I'll ever adopt the hideous British pronunciation of "schedule." For some reason, these words just sound wrong when spoken with an American accent. More and more, I find myself speaking a bastardized hybrid of American and British English. At this point, I am totally incomprehensible to the brits, and visitng Americans are puzzled by my strange choice of words.

There is one exception, though. I have very quicly adapted to British profanity. I can "bloody hell" and "right bastard" with the best of them. A hearty "bollocks" to you all! Bloody peasants.

The Job.

I now work for a company called Numark. I also work for a company called Alesis. And Ion. And Wavefront, Akai, Akai Pro, and Akai Tech (That's us - we don't have a website yet.)

We make a wide variety of DJ and pro audio products, hence the wide variety of names. Here are some of the coolest:

The Numark CDX looks exactly like a turntable, and feels exactly like a turntable, but it's a CD player (Note the lack of a tone arm in the photos.) Unless you're a CD DJ, you're probably wondering why anyone would want such a thing. If you are a CD DJ, you probably either own two already, or want a set. :)

The Numark TTX is a turntable, but it has digital outputs, sound effects, adjustable pitch (platter rotation speed) control, and key match. Key match is a big thing for DJs because it allows you to match the key of a cued record to the key of the currently playing record. You could set it to any other key as well, but matching is the most likely use. This makes mixes sound much nicer, as you won't be playing two discordant records over top of each other.

The AkaiPro MPC4000 is a combination sampler/sequencer. Lots of names, lots of products, lots and lots of buttons! (I have no idea what this thing does.)

The Alesis ADAT is pretty much the standard for home studio recording. It can record up to 24 channels onto the hard drive.

The Alesis Fusion does everything Roland's $8000 synth keyboard does for about 1/4 the cost.

And that's pretty much what we do - make solid products that do more stuff and cost less money than the competition. Four years ago, Numark was a second-rate turntable company for hobbyist DJs, and now their gear gets incredble reviews. Four years ago Alesis was in bankruptcy court, and now they're scaring the crap out of Roland and Korg. Four years ago... well, I have no idea what Akai does anyway, which is kind of scary since I work for Akai Tech.

And no, I'm not allowed to talk about what we're building in Cambridge.


Well, the value of the dollar keeps falling and I find myself going to the ATM ("cash point" in British) very frequently, since that's the only way I can get money out of the states. I can't set up a bank account here without some kind of proof-of-address, and I won't have that for another few weeks. That is, assuming I can ever find a place to live.

It's weird to have to conduct every single transaction with cash. I can't remember the last time I lived like this, but it was probably when I was about 18 years old. You definitely feel that money leaving your hands. And what money it is! Every coin and every bill have a picture of the queen on the front. They've all got different pictures on the back. One is Charles Darwin. That's a big difference between the US and UK right there. In the US, they're still arguing about whether Darwin should be taught in school. In Cambridge, Darwin is a school - Darwin College, which is part of the University.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

What in the world is a "¬"?

I have a "¬" key on my keyboard. I have no idea what ¬ means, but it's there, right where ~ ought to be. £ is where # used to live, and the location of # appears to vary from keyboard to keyboard, but is always somewhere near Return. $ is more or less in the right location, but I cannot get used to # being its own key, no Shift required. @ and " have traded places. I use many of these characters in my passwords, where they are displayed as * which only adds to the confusion. And I'd like to know why the right-hand Alt key is labeled "Alt Gr" on all of my keyboards.

A few words about The Yuck

Dammit! I have a blog.
Why do I have it? Well, let's put it at this way - repeating the same thing over and over on the phone to the US at 20p/min has become very expensive, and a lof of that idle chatter can be consolidated into this simple, pretentious, useless form (which costs nothing, I might add.) So it's here.

The title of this blog is "Life in the Yuck." This is a reference to something that one of my co-workers says on a regular basis. As you may or may not know, URLs for UK commercial web sites end in "" My co-worker (Rob) says "dot co dot yuck." He's British, but he's been living in Holland for many years, so perhaps this is some weird Dutch thing. He only uses "yuck" in reference to web sites, but I thought it would be funny if everyone in the UK referred to the country as "the yuck," so that's the name of the blog.