Friday, May 27, 2005

Beware the White Van Man

Here in the UK we have a particular kind of human known as "White Van Man." He is more feared than any serial murderer, child molestor, or parking enforcer. His handiwork is visible everywhere - in the strewn hubcaps along East Road, the demolished side-mirrors of parked cars, and the dented Peugeots with telltale white paint marking the collision. White Van Man does not stop for pedestrians, cars, traffic signals, or other White Van Men. Speed limits are irrelevant to him because he cannot see, and certainly isn't smart enough to count. Unsurprisingly, White Van Man drives a white van. In the UK almost all vans are white, and even those that aren't will likely be driven by Tan Van Man, Blue Van Man, or Rusty Leyland/Rover Van Man. White Van Man and his bretheren are the spawn of Satan.

White Van Man may drive any size of van, but has a strong preference for larger, poorly-kept ones. He tends to shy away from the near ubiquitous microvans which appear to have been constructed by brutally slicing a Toyota Corolla in half and replacing the rear with a large metal box. Those vehicles can't do enough damage for his tastes.

Rob recently had reason to hire a van to transport some equipment up from Somerset. It was a huge van - and yes, it was white. We were driving out of Cambridge when Rob stopped and flashed his headlights (this the universal UK symbol for yeilding right-of-way to oncoming traffic that wants to make a right-hand turn.) The driver of the oncoming Renault didn't know what to make of it. He was obviously wary of this unusually polite and nonviolent behaviour coming from White Van Man, and he proceeded to fidget before flooring the car and darting round the corner. The look on his face was one of sheer terror. It was then that I realized we were the most feared thing on the road.

I bring all of this up now because Rob has now purchased a white van. The reason for this will be revealed in good time. For now, let's just say that lasers and robots are involved.

Enough with the photos, already!

Cambridgeshire (a flat place), Canola (a plant), Frome (a town), Stonehenge (an overgrown sundial), Street (a town - no, seriously), Somerset Levels (a flat place,) Glastonbury Tor (a not very flat place.) Mostly taken from the car (a white van.)

Beware of Tank.


C'mon, they'll just switch to using blunt objects...

While us Americans are still arguing about whether to allow sales of automatic assault rifles at 7-11, a group of British doctors has proposed banning long kitchen knives.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005



Yes! Finally! No more of this sleeping in B&Bs. Now I can find a real house. No more of this cash-only lifestyle. Now I can get a bank account. No more arguing with nasty underpaid immigration control officers when I fly into the country. Now I can go into the visa line at Heathrow and get waved through with a smile and a hearty "Welcome home... old chap."

For the first time since I've been here, I can finally relax.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My Chair is Better Than Your Chair

I knew this was a great chair, but according to the Herman Miller website my chair "fits well in a contemporary, light-scaled Ethospace system environment." Betcha didn't know that, eh? Does YOUR chair fit well in a contemporary light-scaled Ethospace system environment? No. It does not. I bet it doesn't even "follow the contours of the body, distribute pressure evenly, and provide aeration." My chair provides hella aeration. We got aeration in spades... of aeration. In case you aren't convinced that this chair has a "a clean, light-scaled design that reveals the chair's features and function," you should just consider the fact that the designers of my chair have a "genuine passion for seating, they know seating as a science and work to bring it to another level. " Another level. Do you hear that? Can you feel the evenly distributed pressure, because I can? It's right next to the aeration. While you ponder this, I'm going to sit back and let the "pliable, elastic TriFlex back support the entire spine and conform to size, posture, and movements." You can just go sit.

Herman Miller Band Box Set

Well, it's about time! After enduring two months of the worst office furniture known to man, I finally have my Herman Miller Mirra. Rob bought a whole load of these things from a dot-com fire sale on e-bay. They've been sitting in his garage for months, waiting for us to hire someone with a large enough car to transport them to the office. Thank you, Clive. This is a big improvement over my old chair, where the coefficient of static friction between me and the seat was far too low. Very little pressure was required to start the inexorable slide onto the floor. This is a vast improvement. There are at least six different levers and knobs which adjust various properties of its silky, efficient, Lexus-esque chairness. It also looks very weird and alien, much like its occupant.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Super Happy Fun Post!

This is a super happy fun post, with no complaining about anything whatsoever.



New Yuck.

I was in New England last week on business. I flew into Boston, where I had to explain (once again) that, no, I DO NOT own the airport, am not NAMED AFTER THE AIRPORT, and don't find any of this funny in the least, fat pig shuttle bus driver, idiot American Airlines check-in counter lady, and loser who picked up my luggage by mistake. I suppose it was better than the last time I flew into Logan (shut up!) when they gave me the full-on Boston treatment and lost my luggage.

I took the bus from Logan (shut UP!) out to the rental car ghetto, whereupon I had the singularly weird experience of receiving excellent, friendly customer service in the city of Boston. It was shocking. Customer service in this city usually consists of anger or surliness. I only understood when I found out that the guy was from Vermont.

My company is headquartered in Rhode Island, so I drove out of Boston on the fancy new Ted Williams tunnel and various parts of the Big Dig. Another Boston first – fifteen billion dollars to replace one mile of roadway. In California they're building a new bridge across San Francisco bay – three miles of high-tech steel alloy, in an earthquake zone, above one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, carrying the second-worst traffic tie-up in the country (number one is everything in between Tiujuana and Santa Barbara.) It won't cost one third what Boston has managed to squander on that idiotic project. And it won't leak. The only benefit of the Big Dig is that it makes getting out of Boston slightly easier.

The drive to Rhode Island was pleasant enough, as it gave me the lovely opportunity to see Boston the only place it belongs – in the rear-view mirror. Ah, Rhode Island – the only tolerable place in New England. Providence is a lovely town, and Newport isn't bad either. Good food, great live music scene, pretty neighborhoods, and not too expensive. Life is more relaxed. It's the northern California of the east coast. Rhode Islanders are friendly people. And they all hate Boston.

In case I haven't made this clear, I hate Boston. I hate it out of all porportion to its actual lameness as a city. I hate it with the kind of passion usually reserved for divorcees and ousted Bush administration terrorism advisers. I hate the weather. I hate the fact that it's two hundred miles from anything remotely interesting or beautiful (sorry, Maine.) I hate that you have to traverse Connecticut to get there. Without Boston, Massachusetts would just be a southern extension of New Hampshire, and thus much less offensive.

The worst thing about Boston is that it's chock full of people who spend all of their time being from Boston. A Bostonian is always making sure that everyone knows they're from Boston and that Boston is better than wherever they are now. I don't know why. It's not as if Boston is Paris or Hong Kong. And if it's really so great, what are you doing here in Pennsylvania or South Carolina or Atlanta or California, badgering me about what a great place you abandoned? The rest of a country has a name for these people: Massholes. Massachusetts is the only state who's residents are so reviled by the rest of the country that a special word had to be developed (at considerable cost, I might add.) California may have its detractors, but nobody wants to be without Yosemite, movies, raisins, and phrases like “Governor Schwarzenegger.”

Bostonians have this huge inferiority complex about New York City. Deep down, they really want to be New Yorkers, and they want Boston to be important like New York. If New Yorkers are aggressive, Bostonians will take this to the extreme – they'll be totally insane, evil bastards. If New York has bad traffic, Bostonians will figure out a way to make their minor rural settlement a nightmare of congestion. If New York is dirty, Bostonians will go around littering, just to make sure that Boston is dirtier and uglier than NYC. They will forever tell you how Boston is old, but they are missing a very important distinction. Where most east coast cities take pride in their history, Bostonians take pride in their city being run-down. They only dismantled the old Boston Garden when it became clear that the only thing holding it up was its belligerent (and very Bostonian) insistence on being a horrible eyesore.

Boston will never be New York. It is a minor, unimportant, regional business park. New York is the capital of the world. Boston could almost be Baltimore, if it tried really, really hard.

Apologies to Maryland.