Monthly Archives: August 2012

Another American Backwards Thing

Just thought of another thing that this country gets consistently wrong in a weird contrarian illogical way: dates.

August 9, 2012Fine, no doubt about the meaning.
2012-08-099th of August 2012. Year-Month-Date. Fine by me. A bit techie - I put this on the end of filenames to make them sort alphabetically and by chronologically at the same time. Works especially well for meeting minutes.
8/9What's this? To my UK eye, this is the 8th of September, because in the UK we go up in order of size of time period. But in the US it means August 9th. OK, this could go either way.
8/9/2012This is the worst for me. By adding in the year at the end, the implication is that we're moving up in the size of time periods, Day to Month to Year. But no, in the US this is 9th August 2012. It really makes me have to stop and think.

OK, it’s just another cultural difference, which I have to get used to. But this one irks me more than some of the others – there’s no logic behind it that I can see (although when explained by an American, they’re adamant that it all makes sense). It’s like a traditional way of thinking causes a need for extra cognitive load and introduces the possibility of error.

WordPress, the software that this site runs on, has an option where you can schedule a post to be published at a later date and time. The options show up as follows:


As you can see, they have to make it clear and say “08-Aug” because they put the month field first.

This stuff was brought into sharp relief in the terrorist attacks in New York in 2001 and in London in 2005. New York’s attack was on 9-11; September 11th in local parlance. It was obviously terrible international news, but I know that in many countries, people had to think twice about the date, thinking of it as November 9th.

London was easier. 7th July 2005. 7/7. No getting confused there. Everything was very clear on that day.

California Wildlife Update

Up where I live in the Oakland hills, there’s lots of wildlife. We encountered quite a few species not seen in the UK.

Just this morning, as I was walking down the path in my yard to catch the Transbay bus, I noticed something strange on the ground. I looked closer, and saw that it was the head, antennae and front legs of a large insect, like a beetle. I was concerned that it might be a cockroach – I’ve not seen any in the wild in the Bay Area, but I did see some in San Diego. Notably, I saw one in the authentic Mexican hole-in-the-wall lunch counter that my colleagues took me to when I first arrived. Tip: tear open the corner of your carnitas burrito to let the grease drain out first.

This insect chunk was lying on its back, so to get a better look for identification I grabbed a twig and flipped it over. Two horrible things happened. One, a little swarm of ants crawled out – I’d interrupted their breakfast. Two, the insects legs waved a little. It was either still alive while the ants burrowed around in its brain, or (preferably) there was some residual nerve spasms going on. Either way, gross. In fact, I was so en-grossed that I nearly missed my bus.

While on the bus I did a bit of google image searching, and I’m pretty confident it was the remains of a large long-horned beetle. Not a cockroach, thank goodness, but something that lives in dead tree stumps, of which there are quite a few near my house.

So here’s the latest tally of wildlife I’ve seen around my place here in California:

SkunkWe had a close encounter with a skunk this year. Often seen as roadkill. Smelt as roadkill before that.
RaccoonI've seen raccoons trotting along up on the trail, usually in the evening. They'll get in your trash if you're not careful. They often end up as roadkill.
Jerusalem CricketThese big weird things are pretty common, especially when the dead leaves build up. I've seen them in the evening when I put the trash out. One was also inside - it went behind the bookcase and is probably still there. I'm not looking.
GopherThere are plenty of these around. You can often see their little burrows. Dogs can often be seen peering intently at a hole for ages.
False Black WidowWe had one of these in the house, and it was pretty scary until I got a close look and realised what it was.
Actual Black Widow SpiderYes, I've seen a couple of these, but not in the house. Just outside the house, nesting in the picnic table.
False TarantulaYep, I'm pretty certain what this was. "Very frequently encountered in the Oakland hills". This was right outside the front door in some leaves.
CoyoteThese are around. They're nasty too - sometimes you hear a group of them making a load of noise up in the hills, and the next day you'll see "Missing Cat" flyers on lampposts.
DeerThese run around the hills, surprise you in the dark, make eye contact, and get hit by cars. There are signs by the road warning about them, which people add red noses to.
GordonLatin name Canis lupus familiaris socutus. This creature terrorizes us every day. Help us.
LizardsVarious lizards. Very thin ones that look like worms, bigger ones that run into the undergrowth.

Nice to know that so much of natures great tapestry is right on our doormat. Or hiding under it.

American Backwards

I love living here, got my Green Card, not going anywhere, building a life etc etc please don’t shoot me. That said, here are some weird backwards things I’ve been noticing. Consider it an addendum to the Same but Different posts.

Political Red and Blue

In the UK, red is left-wing and blue is right-wing. Conservative stronghold counties are known as “True Blue”. Paranoid news reports about lefties and commies referred to “reds under the bed”. Billy Bragg was involved with the Red Wedge. In the US, political reporting shows conservative states as red and progressive states as blue. This confuses and perturbs me.

Measurement Units

SI units are used worldwide. The UK is a bit stubborn in many ways, with miles on the road and pints in the pub. There was a kerfuffle a while back when market traders resisted converting from pounds and ounces to grams, but I think that particular rebellion was crushed, as is only right.

Here in the US, it’s Fahrenheit (where zero is 32 and 100 is 212, of course), and engineers are trained in SI units (I assume) and then go to work on projects where they have to convert to feet and inches (with all the rounding errors that introduces). Plus weirdly they call feet and inches “English” units, despite the English mostly not using them. I guess calling them “Imperial” units (as is done in the UK) is a bit much for this young, fragile democracy.

Speaking to an intern here in the office who is an undergraduate studying Civil Engineering, I was told,

It’s a pain in my ass. Depending on the book you use, the professor you have, and sometimes the department you’re in, you might use SI units, American units like feet and inches, or even British units.”

He wasn’t able to define what a “British” unit was, but did mention the existence of “slugs“, which are an Imperial unit of mass used in hydrology.

Admittedly, this might be a perspective from within the rail industry. The UK was still using miles and chains when I was there, due to the ancient plans and drawings that were being referred to.

They call LEGO bricks “Legos” goddamnit

Not much else I can say about this.

Can’t think of any other examples right now that aren’t just cute “faggot”/”pavement”/”elevator” references. But there are some pretty fundamental differences lurking here, that can swallow an unsuspecting foreigner alive. Tread carefully, my fellow travellers.

More Recrafted Shoes

Here’s a follow up to this post about having my Allen Edmonds shoes recrafted. I’d sent one of the pairs of shoes I bought from eBay back to be recrafted, and I received them back a few days ago. I’m wearing them now, and they’re great – just as comfortable as they were before, but completely refurbished. I went for the full monty top-to-bottom refurbishment, with shoe trees, bags and polish included.

The shoes are the model ‘Bradley‘, and the color is called ‘Chili’. Cassie on the other hand doesn’t like them and calls them my “Cinnamon Camel Toes” – classy as ever. I got them off eBay for about $40 used, so even with the cost of a second recrafting sometime in the future, I’ve still got a good bargain. Count me happy.

I still need to take the black ones back to the store, though – so busy…



Look, we have to stop saying “girl crush” and “man hug.” We already have words for those things: they are called crushes, and hugs. This has bugged me for years and I am ready to make it a cause. Join me.

Absolutely. Also “manbag” or “manpurse”, “manscaping”. Also known as “bag” and “personal grooming” (or “shaving your balls”).

If you need to qualify that the bag you are carrying is a MAN bag and not a girly handbag for tampons, then you need to think about your prejudices.

Gordon’s Alive

My dog Gordon has a bit of an attitude. He’s a little skinny guy at 25lbs, and his physique is closer to his Italian Greyhound half than his Australian Shepherd half. Despite this, he likes to get in the face of bigger dogs than him. We’ve tried to wean him off this behavior, but he doesn’t make it easy. We keep trying.

When I got back from my work trip to Rome recently, I took BART from SFO to Rockridge, where Cassie picked me up. As she drove, she told me that Gordon had got into a fight on his daily walk – with a pit bull terrier. It had happened earlier in the week, but she hadn’t told me about it because she didn’t want to worry me. Everything was alright now, but it was pretty scary.

Basically Gordon had got in the face of another dog, and this dog had not backed down. Gordon had pushed it, and the other dog had got mad. Gordon ended up with a couple of puncture wounds and three staples in his belly. He had been on morphine for a couple of days, but by the time I saw him, he was up and about, and looking great.

The most scary thing about it was the collar. Gordon has this beautiful collar from Alpenschatz, which is studded with little metal medallions. When I was checking out his wounds, and giving him lots of love when I saw him again, I saw that one of the metal medallions had a tooth mark that went nearly the all the way through the metal and the leather. Check it out:

This was all a few weeks ago now, and Gordon is back to his punchy little self. The staples are out, his shaved patches are growing back, and he’s barking at clouds once again. Thank goodness for his collar, and his muzzle.

New Laptop Unboxing and Review

When I finally made my mind up and bought a laptop from System 76, I wanted to document the unboxing, because although it’s not much of a fancy gadget, these Ubuntu-powered laptops are pretty rare. I wanted to show the world what it looked like and my first impressions.

I’ve now received a replacement laptop from System 76, so to give you closure, and following on from my intitial review, I made part two of the unboxing, and combined them both into a complete video. Behold.

This was filmed using our Sony Handycam, which creates weird proprietary(?) MTS files. Luckily the Linux-based video editor OpenShot can import and edit them, so I used it to create the above video. It took some time to get used to the controls, and there were some issues with lag and sluggishness with big files, but I’ll describe that more later.

Build and Design

Well, I’m tapping away on the machine now, and overall the feel I get is of a laptop that is pretty light and straightforward. It’s quite light, and this comes from it being made of plastic. It’s definitely not as solid as Cassie’s Macbook (obviously). The finish is good, with a dark metallic brushed effect, which is attractive without being too flashy. No fingerprinty glossy surfaces (except for the screen bezel).

Input and Output Ports, Drives

You can see the laptop in this slideshow.

  • Left
    • 2x USB 3.0 ports
    • VGA
    • HDMI
    • Ethernet
    • SD card reader
  • Right
    • Kensington lock hole
    • DVD Multidrive
    • 1x USB 2.0
    • Headphones
    • Microphone
  • Back
    • Nothing
  • Front
    • Power and battery charging status lights

Boot speed and responsiveness

Button to login in 16 seconds, then another few seconds to get to the desktop. I’m very pleased with the boot speed. I switch it off between uses, because it’s not always convenient to plug it in, and suspend still drains the battery. A lot slower, admittedly, but if I don’t plug it in overnight, and also leave it suspended all day, it will shut down.

Keyboard and Touchpad

It’s not a chiclet keyboard, and it’s not backlit (something I didn’t realise was good until Cassie’s Macbook had it), but it’s a nice smooth keyboard, with a good layout. I’m no touch-typist, but i can hunt-and-peck my way around pretty fast.

The touchpad is still good – I’m not generally a fan of touchpads or touchpoints, so I tend to plug in a mouse when I can. The touchpad is built into the body of the laptop, with no seams on either side – this is a nice aesthetic touch. The touchpad already has a little bit of shine from my fingertips though. The two-finger scroll is a nice touch.

Screen and Speakers

The glossy screen hasn’t been too much of a problem so far. The resolution is low at  1366×768, but it’s normal for the price. Viewing angle from left to right is fine. Tilting the screen forward can wash out the colors and get the image all solarized pretty quickly – this has been a problem on the commuter coach to work, because I need to open the screen all the way to get good contrast.


  • Ubuntu 12.04 LTS 64 bit
  • 14.1″ 720p High Definition LED Backlit Display ( 1366 x 768 )
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • 3rd Generation Intel Core i5-3210M Processor ( 2.50GHz 3MB L3 Cache – 2 Cores plus Hyperthreading )
  • 8 GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz – 2 X 4GB
  • 256 GB Crucial M4 Series SATA III 6 Gb/s Solid State Disk Drive
  • Integrated 1.3MP webcam
  • 8X DVD±R/RW/4X +DL Super-Multi Drive
  • Intel Centrino 1030 – 802.11 b/g/n Wireless LAN + Bluetooth Combo Module
  • 13.31″ x 9.25″ x 0.94″~1.25″ (WxDxH)
  • 4.5 lbs. (2.04 kg.)

Heat and Noise

There’s a single fan that pushes warm air out the left side of the chassis. It starts when the laptop starts doing somethiung tough, like rendering video files or playing Alien Arena.

Battery Life

From charged to zero in about three hours. This is greatly affected by what the machine is doing. Games and heavy lifting reduce the time remaining. Simple writing and browsing increase it. Screen brightness has a big influence as well. I haven’t done any proper tests, but I’m overall happy with the battery performance.


You’ll notice I haven’t written much about the software. I’m still getting used to this aspect of it. It deserves a post of its own, I think. One thing I will say now is that Unity is actually usable on this machine – big difference. In fact it’s very nice to use.

I’m happy with this laptop so far. It’s very good for the price, but the price is pretty low, if you get my drift. It doesn’t compare to my old work Lenovo Thinkpad X200 in terms of build or performance – but that would have cost $2000 and ran Windows.