Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Not hungry

I’ve been back in the UK since Sunday, and I’m still very, very full of food from the US. Having not been across for a few years now, it’s easy to forget how “dialed up to 11” everything is there, including portion sizes. I could have easily (and on some days almost did) eaten to bursting on the meat alone, completely ignoring all sides, vegetables, and bread. The food, as I hoped and expected, was excellent, and I ate my way through an enormous amount of fish & seafood (Lafayette is Cajun country), steak, ribs, pancakes, pain perdu (French toast to us), coffee, beer, and margaritas. We ate at a chain place called Chilis on a couple of occasions, and boy were the ribs good there. It didn’t hurt that the beer and margaritas were 2 for 1 as well… Talking of beer, US brews have a very poor reputation over here (see Bud, Miller et al), but I’m pleased to report that there are now many fine locally-brewed beers on the go, often from “micro-breweries”.

On the work side of things, it was a conference, so I was hardly expecting great levels of excitement, and I didn’t get them. Lafayette seemed a nice enough, if a bit laid back and sleepy, place. The French influence on the place was evident, from the names, the food, and the unusual accent of the area. Getting around was tough: the US is not exactly known as a pedestrian paradise, and the taxi service was, let’s say, left wanting. We waited an hour for a taxi on the first day before giving up and walking; others reported 2 hours and above wait-times. I didn’t see a single taxi the entire time that I was there. Transport was easier after my colleagues hired a car to use over the weekend, meaning that we could expand our sphere of restaurants and even travel over longer distances. On a spare afternoon we took a trip to the Gulf coast to see the Tabasco factory. Did you know that it is an all-American traditional product? Me neither. The factory tour (and shop) was charming and excellent. I have now eaten jalapeño ice cream, which is much nicer than it sounds.

The travel itself all went OK, with the BA flight to America excellent, and the Delta flight back less so. One item of note was the security levels in the US: if you think things are heavy in Europe, then the US is a real treat. Bush has talked a lot about the War On Terror to ensure that the “turrrrists” don’t win, but guess what: they have. Whether it is all security theatre or is real, the level of security at airports indicates that there has been a significant impact on the freedom of citizens in recent years. Was it really necessary for security guys to unpack my (and everyone else’s) bags at check-in, randomly throwing it all back in, squashing it closed, and telling me not to touch my own bag as I tried to aid them in re-packing it in a non-chaotic way?

Finally on the US, maybe I was a bit hasty on the Clinton vs McCain prediction. The momentum out there seems to have really swung towards Obama, with the CNN coverage being all about him last week, and I got the real feeling that the time may be right for him now. He seems to have the “Blair effect”: pulling in voters who would normally not even think of voting for someone like him or his party. Interesting stuff.

So, as I said, I am back in the UK. Political tensions between Venezuela and the US (ExxonMobil in particular) stepped up last week, and it was thought best (on both sides of the Atlantic) if we went at a later date. I was happy to go, but that’s business politics for you. Looks like a week or two at home and then a jaunt to lovely Norway at the start of March.

Oh, and by the way, here are some photos from the trip on Flickr. Check out the amazing 3D cube room in the LITE technology facility in Lafayette. The computer that was displaying the graphics (and rendering them in real-time) was based on an array of around 200 HP computers with 4TB of RAM, and 500TB of storage on site. That’s impressive computing power.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Possibly my favourite TV moment

World-class stuff here on catchphrase.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Trying to end it all

It's 10:30 in the evening, and I'm loading the dishwasher before heading off to bed. The buzzer goes. Who could it be? I'm not expecting anybody, especially not at this time. Surely Niall can't be wanting me to cook him something?

"It's the police. We need in the building now".

I buzz them in, and open my door. Bounding up the stairs, they ask me where Steven lives. Being new here (and not one for interacting with the neighbours), I can't tell them and they continue up past me. The rest is snippets of noise.

"Do you know Steven?"

"He lives in that flat"

"Steven, Steven. It's the police. Are you in there?"

"Steve, Stevie? Let us in!"

Crunch. They must have forced their way in.

"Shit! Male hanging"

"Have you got a knife?"

(muffled banging noises)

"Stop stuggling mate. Calm down!"

"We need an ambulance NOW"

"Just lie down Stevie, the ambulance is on its way"

It all goes calm for a bit: there are snippets of lowered-voice conversation, the constant beep and fuzzy voices of police radios, and then (after a few minutes) the arrival of an ambulance. After another 10 minutes or so, Steven comes down the stairs on (presumably, as I'm hiding behind my door) a stretcher or wheelchair, sobbing the whole time. He's letting it all out.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry"

"Don't apologise Stevie, just stay calm"

"We'll take your cat to the animal shelter"

"OK, but he doesn't like girls".

This was my Thursday evening. I wasn't going to post it, but Niall said that it was an interesting story, so I decided to share.

I took a while to get to sleep that night. Why would he do it? What could cause you to get that low? Could I even consider doing that? How is he now? What if he had chosen a more messy method? What was his "last" message, and who was it sent to? And what if the police hadn't been so (presumably) responsive to a panicked call from a friend or relative? Would anybody have realised something was wrong?

Steven lives directly above me. I wouldn't have noticed if he had killed himself on Thursday night.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Hmm

So it's almost certain to be this guy:


Against this woman:



McCain is home free now, and for boring and complex reasons the Democrat race is not as tight as it seems. Shame, as McCain will surely beat Clinton easily. He's not necessarily going to do great things for the American image...

On a slightly-related note, here's a very prescient article written by Kurt Vonnegut in 1983. Scarily applicable now, no? The more I read by Vonnegut, the more I like him. Maybe I'll pick up something by him to read when I'm away.

On Monday i head off for a 3-week trip to the Americas, with 6 days in Lafayette, Louisiana followed by time in Venezuela, Colombia, and Trinidad. All the travel may be a little grueling (Bogota to Trinidad may have to be via Miami!), but hey, it's a trip to foreign climes that I don't have to pay for. I'm looking forward to having some nice barbecue and Cajun food in Lafayette.

Further ahead, I had a nice bonus for my own holiday this week. I intend to join Simon in some of his mullet hunting on the US west coast later on in the year, and had been hoping to do it on air miles from all this traveling. I thought I needed 100,000 miles: wrong. I "only" need 50,000 for a round-trip from Aberdeen to Los Angeles, and as I am already at 51,000 I am there. So any more miles can go towards something else. Sweet.

Finally, here's something awesome off YouTube: the Owl Song.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Cloverfield

(Don't worry, no spoilers here)

I saw Cloverfield this afternoon, and boy is this film going to divide people. I won't go into any detail, as it is best to see it with as little knowledge as possible, but I will say "wow". I loved this film, which is chock-full of energy, innovation, and excitement. There will be loads of other film-makers cursing themselves for not coming up with something similar: like the Blair Witch Project, this can only be done successfully once. The special effects were extraordinary, and (this sounds strange, considering the subject matter) all-in-all this was one of the most "realistic" films that I have ever seen in terms of storyline, character reaction, and character interaction. Lots of people will be put off by the shaky camera work and the central MacGuffin of the film: the audience reaction seemed slightly mixed to me. All I can say is that I was transfixed from start to finish; this is a brilliant and pioneering film.