Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Fête

To celebrate the end of the term the student village I live in decided to throw a traditional British fête (think festival, pronounced fate). Aside from the traditional barbecue food and bad pop songs there were a lot of carnival type games:
  • Splat the Rat: A taped up sock is slid down a long black drainpipe. When it pops out the end you have to hit it with a bat. The skill was in timing when the "rat" would come out.
  • Coconut Shy: coconuts were placed in cups that were attached to sticks. hit the coconut out of the cup and you can keep it.
  • Hoop-la: Ring toss over posts.
  • Croquet Challenge: croquet hoops were set up with different point values when hit them through.
  • Beat the buzz: metal hoop is passed around a bended wire. The skill is getting the hoop from one side to the other without touching the wire, completing the electrical circuit and causing a buzz.
  • Jaques Tumble Tower: Think giant game of jenga that is about 4 feet tall.
  • Sponge toss: They had painted the queen in a bikini with a hole where the head should be. People took turns putting their head through the hole while people threw wet sponges.
  • Hook a duck: rubber ducks with numbers on the bottom in a wading/kiddie pool with a hook in their back. You have a fishing pole with a hook on the end. Hook the right numbered duck and win a prize. It didn't take that long before people were jumping or throwing others in the pool.
  • Rocket launch: It is supposed to be cow-splat where you bet money where the cow will relieve themselves in a field, but no cow. Instead me launched a 2-liter bottle filled with air and water and everyone stood where they thought it would land.
  • Coin-drop: silver coins put in the bottom of a large drum of water. drop copper coins into water. If your coin touches the silver coin you get to keep it. The skill is that it is random chance with how much the coin flips when it hits the water.
I guess that was all the traditional games but there was also a bouncy castle, Frisbee, a football to kick around, and giant games of checkers and chess. We were missing Moris dancers which apparently are supposed to "dress up silly, ring their bells in the air, then drink all the booze". (It amazes me how much of British culture is getting drunk while dressed odd.) It was perfect weather, sunny and 30 degrees (that is about 85°F). I think I have adjusted to the weather since it felt warm and I was more than happy to sit in the poll with ducks and plastic balls floating around me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How to put on a conference

One of the reasons that I couldn't stay longer in the U.S. was that my research group was hosting a conference. Since I've never helped put together a conference before it was quite the eye opener for all the extra things that go on.
There is all the obvious things that need to be taken care of,but the things that caught my attention were the things my supervisor did to make this little conference seem bigger than it was. To keep other people from walking through the area large signs with the conference name were placed to partially block doorways. People could still get through but it made it obvious not to. He worried about flag placement to draw as much attention as possible and had us move flags as the venue changed. We also had a question rehearsal so we would already know all the most likely questions we would receive from people arriving. But my favorite was when he asked us to herd people to move toward the front of the conference room to make it look more full. He also wanted us all in the conference room when the person (lower level royalty) that was the major funding for the research was talking to make it look like maximum bodies were present. Other little things that are easy to overlook was pairing poster presentations with lunch so people were more likely to stick around.
The building that was used for the conference was the Royal Geographic Society building. It felt weird being in there since they had artifacts from Capt James Cook, Roger Kipling, and the first guy to climb Mt. Everest, Edmund Hillary. There were maps on all the walls that were hundreds of years old. Some famous ones like the world map showing California as an island from the 1600's and the 1300's Chinese map proving that Columbus did not discover America. I felt like it very much had the romanticized British explorer vibe to it. I defiantly felt like I was in the league of extraordinary gentlemen.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Money

When back in the U.S. I realised how much I had adjusted to British money. Since American money is all the same color and size I found myself checking and double checking every time I paid for something.
Here the money are different colours sizes and usually different textures (and I really like they put Darwin on the £10 note). The problem is that there is no one pound note. So when I break a five I get a lot of change back. This has led to me being in a constant fight to keep my amount of change down. In the U.S. I just kept a change dish but if I did that here all my money would be converted to change in a week. Most people here just carry a change purse but I think that just delays the problem.
British coins do make since when you know the system. The values go up as the color changes from bronze to silver to gold. Within each category larger size means higher value and octagons are worth more than circles.
Now that I am back I small amount of American money still and it is a weird sensation to look at it as worthless since I can't use it here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Skydiving

While taking with family over a BBQ my sister J. said that the one thing she was most scared of was skydiving and it was on her bucket list of things to do. Well, that is all it took for me. Pretty soon we were piling into a car after finding the closest place on our phones and we were on out way there.
The first five times you jump it has to be tandem. The person assigned to me was short guy named Alex. I found it funny that here I was in the middle of Utah and the guy assigned to me was British from Milton keys, so he enjoyed me catching him up on some of the British stuff.
We had to jump in two shifts because someone had to watch my sister's baby. So I went first with J. and her husband watching their baby. The rest of the plane was filled with guys that were celebrating that this was one of the people's 9000th group. (Yes, the Internet meme of "over 9000" came to mind.) Since we were in Utah we were jumping from 13000 feet. The 10 people in the group jumped out first and the plane rose fast enough to feel like I was being pressed down. Things seemed to speed up then and I don't remember to much of that because we had already scooted to the edge.
Everyone else up to this point was feeling very nervous for the whole drive to the airport (Even my sister's husband who had jumped before). I was feeling as an outsider for the group since it did not seem like a big deal to me since I knew it was safe. It was a weird sensation wanting to feel nervous. Of course that was all taken care of when I looked over the edge of the plane. The fear hit me when I looked down. Then, without waiting, we jumped.
Basically for the first five seconds my body froze in sensory overload mode. It wasn't fear, joy, or any other emotion I've ever had before. My brain truly didn't know how to process the information it was receiving, and it was receiving it to fast to respond to anything. After five seconds the wind pressure balances with how fast you are falling and stops you from falling any faster (terminal velocity) and you get the same floating sensation as an astronaut. At this point I felt like I was swimming through the wind and the feeling of pure happiness hit me. From that high up you can see quite far and the beauty of the scenery was breathtaking. After falling for what seems like forever to liven it up a bit the instructor started rocking us back and forth to do some tricks.
I've always heard there is whiplash when the ripcord is pulled. In reality it felt very smooth, more like braking in a car. He asked me to stand on his feet and he loosened the straps a little to make it more comfortable. As we glided down I got the lesson on how to steer the parachute and how to land. I had fun pulling the left cord and making lazy swooping circles down to the landing zone. Since there was no wind, we just kicked up our legs and had a butt landing in the gravel. Total time in the air, 14 minute flight, 35 seconds falling and 10 minutes parachuting.
I watched my sister's baby while waiting for them to go through the whole experience. They paid to have a video taken that I opted out of ($90 on top of the $185 for jumping because the camera person has to jump too) The only downside to the entire event was that it took forever for my ears to pop. I felt it was totally worth it and would be willing to do it again.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Visiting Home?

I came back to the U.S for a couple of weeks to visit family and go to my nephews wedding. I have to admit I felt the twilight zone feeling in my own country; where I'm used to everything but little things catch me off guard.
It was weird hearing "Federal" in front of all the laws as it was announced on the flight and in the airport. Every time I heard it, it was for something ridiculous and the announcer sounded like they were trying to be apologetic but was using the law to hide behind. I had not been back since the change to the extra pointless security song and dance. I am thoroughly angry that I was told to use the back scatter X-ray without being told what it was. Yes, I feel violated.
I was surprised that I was not surprised by the lots of people talking with American accents. I guess for the same reasons of hanging out with so many different nationalities making it so I did not pick up a British accent, easier for me to adjust to everyone speaking with an American accent. My family was surprised that I didn't have an accent but I feel that I had picked up the sing-song cadence that faded my first day back in the U.S. The deadpan sarcasm has stayed though. It was weird catching myself referring to London as home when talking to family.
The biggest difference I noticed for the 3 state road trip was the blatant consumerism billboards. The billboards seemed to fall into one of the two groups. "You're not happy, buy this to be happy" or "You're sick, do this procedure and you'll be happy". I couldn't help looking at all the billboards I guess because of my loss of desensitization away from them.
I brought digestives, Jaffa cakes, and Soreen squidgy bread with me. I bought stuff for s'mores, shampoo, protein snack bars, isopropyl alcohol, some new shoes, and a good frying pan for the things I could not find back in the U.K. (I think part of it is just not having access to a car.)
I have adjusted to prices in pounds in my head so the prices in dollars seemed high to me and I kept forgetting tax for figuring cost in my head while waiting in line so I never had enough cash in my hand.
The way I dressed was defiantly foreign, especially for Utah, not to mention not adjusted for the heat. Everything felt so far apart with so many parking lots. I felt like my brain was stretching the whole time there.
I didn't have a problem driving after adjusting to left hand traffic. Since all my experience with left hand traffic over the last 8 months has been as a pedestrian there was no spill over to when I was behind the wheel. (except for a one time urge to go left around a round-about.)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Laundry

When I was looking into the housing situation here I noticed the washing machine was always in the kitchen. It makes sense when the norm is to not even have enough room for a living room much less a laundry room. When I got here I found out the combo washer and dryers do not work the same way as in the U.S. (forced air to dry). Instead the water is just heated to boiling surrounding the tank and the water vapour leaves through the plumbing vent instead of a special dryer vent. This of course does not work all to well so everyone buys a dryer. But the term dryer here means a self standing wire contraption that is set up indoors (because it rains every day) and can be easily collapsed. The thing is since the weather is so damp clothes are pretty much drying all the time. Mix this with the smell of laundry soap always lingering even with the extra rinse and suddenly the brand of soap to buy becomes important since your room and everything in it is going to smell like that.