Monthly Archives: November 2007

The law, the news and the American way

As someone who grew up in South East London and used to travel exclusively by bus and minicab let me tell you: I’ve seen some shit driving in my time. Sunday morning in Plumstead is a really good place to try and commit suicide – just leave the house and wait by a road.

Despite this experience, I have to say that I have never seen driving quite as shit as that perpetrated by the people of North Ea(s)t America. In fairness the quality of the road surfaces, the diabolical signage and the organisation is pretty shit to start off with, but nothing compares to the shitty shitness of the drivers.

Every simple journey we undertake is a collage of scary moments involving impatient, unthinking, morons who seem to assume that the reason you’re not moving fast enough is because you “like the slow.” They cut in and out of the lanes like they’re the only ones who see a way through. They flash and hoot (honk) as they drive two inches away from your tail to alert you to their urgent need to be where they are going – seemingly oblivious to the physics that are currently preventing them. Maybe they’re all Christian nutjobs who deny physics as witchcraft; quite possibly, thinking about it. Would explain a lot.

But watching the news gives us a deeper insight into this mindset than we really want to have. For example, this evening we were watching ACTION NEWS – the local ABC news programme, and the only one I have any time for in fact. Jim Gardener, or whatever the coiffured, avuncular, anchor was called, told a story about a terrible accident on the PA turnpike (a motorway) that had involved at least one fatality. He described it as

“A nightmare for commuters.”

Yeah that blood on the road really can attenuate the traction of your tires…

On a later 6abc broadcast the top billing was given to a bunch of hardened criminal BASTARDS who were turning over Coca-cola machines in the area using a key taken from an impression (probably obtained during some “flexible working contract” in the recent past). Can you imagine ? All of the money that rightly belongs to the philanthropists at Coca-cola getting taken by a couple of men using keys! Shoot to kill!
About three stories later was the story of a homeless person who had been set on fire by a couple of kids. But don’t worry; no money from coca-cola was endangered at any time during the burning process.

We watched Network tonight, and if you haven’t already then you really, really should.

The Cave of Kelpius

My first ever thanksgiving was truly lovely. It was pretty much as anticipated: loads of excellent food, loads of nice drink and lots of jocular family banter.
I even managed to get thrashed at chess a couple of times; there’ll be more about the chess thing later.
The only grey spot on the day was Humph; she’s still not a well bird, after after the excitement of the day, complete with all of the parrot scaring events, Michele and I were convinced she was about to cock her little legs up. So much so that we went to bed very teary. We weren’t sure if it was the events of the day, the amateurishly administered injection, or the infection, but she was very weak and sad by bedtime.

This morning we were delighted to see our plucky parrot was not only still alive, but looking really quite chipper. She ate and drank loads (which is apparently a good sign), came out of the cage (likewise) and then as the morning progressed we picked her up and stabbed her in the chest with a needle again. Poor little love. This time she didn’t scream too much, and call me a simpleton, but I’m convinced she now realises that getting towelled and stabbed by us is not going to result in anything serious. She bit away at the towel, but stopped screaming after the first few bursts. This was the last injection, but we now have to give a twice daily dose of yucky medicine…from a syringe. She’ll be ok.

After our disgracefully large intake of food and drink yesterday Michele and I decided to go for a wander through the beautiful tail-end of Autumn.

To make it more interesting, and because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, we decided to try and find the Cave of Kelpius. We walked three or four miles, through some dense, raw, and very beautiful woodland and across some very steep hillsides until we stumbled upon it! Just where Google earth said it was.

A lovely walk, followed by a lovely dinner of thanksgiving leftovers. Humph is still getting better.

Progress, thanksgiving and parrots

Our little parrot has been ill. All we knew was that since we collected her from the quarantine she’s appeared a little lacklustre and her left foot has seemed quite painful to her. Yesterday we took her to a vet who is widely touted as being one of the best avian vets around.
After discussion and a little handling, he deduced that she was probably not well.
I think Michele and I had been trying to deny to ourselves that she was less active than before but there’s now no doubt about it. Two days of antibiotics and suddenly we’re seeing our old bird again. The only downside is that we have to give her an injection tomorrow morning; we’re going to stick a needle in our tiny little bird! Eek!

Tomorrow is “thanksgiving”. Michele’s mum (mom) is currently engaged in making a massively complicated, fantastic-smelling, pile of stuffing (after spending all day making other complex foodstuffs that smell fantastic) and Ralph has engineered the table so that it is a third bigger than it should be with no loss of quality in stability or appearance. He is a magician.

I’m actually quite excited about it, even though I don’t know what it’s all about! Well, there will be 12 people all eating and making merry so it can’t be too bad.

Work news…for another time.

Busy birds

We have a bit of an ill birdy. The vet has put her on antibiotics and she’s not happy. Neither are we. She looks brighter already though.
Today has been so busy and quite stressful and tomorrow looks like being the same. To those that I owe an email, I apologise. Once we have reached the end of tomorrow’s list of shite I’ll get tapping.

Big Jobs in New York

Sometimes it’s best to employ a considerable level of discretion when blogging, but to be quite frank I can’t be arsed at the moment.

Our trip to New York was fun. Being the adventurous, carefree, tight-arsed pair we are, we eschewed the fast and efficient Amtrak service to New York in favour of the cheaper, slower, less glitzy, “New Jersey Transit” equivalent. In fairness, it’s a good service. But it’s a bit like a local bus route that goes from Lewisham way to central Birmingham, stopping at every stop on the way. We were even lucky enough to have our geek vibes tickled by getting on an experimental double decker train. Why don’t they have these everywhere ? My dad told me that they had a few in England at one time but they vanished. Pity, they worked well, packed loads of people in without discomfort, and I can categorically state that their khazis were somewhere between viable and pleasurable, even for bowel movements! Take note Network Rail.

After the 5 hour journey, our hotel felt like the Ritz. Ok, they didn’t have a dining room, or a bar, and the room was too hot, but it was very comfy and had all the mod cons. But then for $500 a night it fucking well should. Luckily the company I was interviewing with had agreed to foot the bill – a fact that, if we’d used our brains, may have altered the decision to plump for NJ Transit. We spent the night wandering around a nearby olde worlde touriste trappe and had our tea in a suitably cosy looking bistro. We also visited a bar with hundreds of bras suspended from the ceiling, accompanied by drunken scrawlings purporting to be from the former occupants.

Anyway the job interview was enjoyable if nothing else. I had to leave the hotel an hour beforehand and so ended up spending my pre-interview worry-time in a nearby cafe consuming strong coffee. This is, of course, an idea so bad that it warrants no further discussion. When the time came, I flew down to their glamorous looking Wall Street office and went in. Four hours later, after meeting some really nice people and generally being geeky I wandered out utterly exhausted. I’ve no idea how well it went, but it was a good experience and I enjoyed meeting the people there. I don’t hold out a lot of hope unfortunately because there are other candidates being interviewed, all of whom are supposedly excellent.

Thankfully I have other irons in the fire and some other interesting looking propositions so I’m not too worried. In fact a great, life affirming, thing has happened: I’ve met a recruiter who isn’t crap. In fact, she seems really excellent. She’s sorted me out with an interview next week – things are already moving slowly but the impending “Thanksgiving” appears to be grinding things to a near halt. This will be my first thanksgiving and I’m looking forward to it. It seems to be what Christmas is supposed to be about, but without the presents, the Wizzard, and the shops filled with tat. You basically meet up with your family and spend the day enjoying the food, the drink and each others company. Now that sounds good doesn’t it ? In the UK we get a raw deal because that concept is supposed to share the day with the consumerfest of Christmas and the two don’t mix well.

Michele’s mum (mom), Helen, has bravely offered to host the festivities here, which involves an 11-strong table. If it were me, I’d have had a heart attack by now, but she seems disturbingly relaxed.

Tonight has been superb so far. We went to a nearby Mexican restaurant called “Adobe” which is shockingly good. Not only do they serve food that tastes like the stuff we bought in Mexico, but they do a deal for two people that includes a bottle of wine and two main courses for $30. OK, admittedly the red wine isn’t very authentic – it’s easier to buy a gun in Mexico city than a bottle of red wine, but hey, this is tex-mex. And once the state stores are shut in PA guns are probably easier to come by. Now I’m sitting in the kitchen, listening to Sonny Terry and the sound of Ralph putting up a cupboard, while I sip red wine, tap away at this machine, and have my feet warmed by this heated kitchen floor. Nice things.

Credit to the nation

Michele’s brother and his wife had been covertly organising a party to celebrate our recent migration, and Saturday night was the night. There was so much food, so much to drink, and so many people that it couldn’t fail to be anything but excellent. I even made a friend or two! Really! Of course I paid the price by losing my camera, but that’s only fair I suppose. Additionally it means that I don’t have to show you the pictures of me dressed up as Uncle Sam and looking like an even bigger tit than usual. We even got presents. The bits of it that I remember were really good.

Meanwhile we’ve been failing to make any sort of perceptible progress in our nesting. This Thursday is my long-awaited job interview in New York and I’ve been applying for a bunch of other jobs but with little, or rather, no feedback as yet. Either things are moving really slowly or I’m unemployable.

The biggest bummer, next to my complete inability to be comprehensible to any natives without saying every sentence twice, is credit. My lack of a credit history here is equivalent to having the credit history of a bankrupt crack dealer. I followed the advice of everyone I asked and applied for a store card (charge card) so that I could start building a history. Of course I got turned down. They usually give them out to everyone including 20 year old criminals. I was so annoyed that I just dumped the suit we were about to buy on the counter and walked out, resulting in more work for the assistant whose fault it wasn’t that I got rejected. Sorry.

In honesty Michele went back today and bought it because it was really nice and a total bargain: 100% wool, light-weight, Ralph Lauren, black suit with a cotton shirt and tie for $200. It feels so nice on too. Jesus, what’s happening to me ? I hate suits. Age is so cruel.

Tip to those who are planning to move here: get a social security number on day one and then apply for a “secured credit card”. It’s a total con but apparently opens the wonderful door of debt that blocks the path to a mortgage and somewhere to live.

Applying for jobs and getting annoyed by things is taking so long that I’ve hardly been able to do any work for my UK employers which does, as you’d imagine, suck. But on the occasions I have been able to do some work, I’ve been enjoying the Comcast on-demand cable and watching many films. Here are some films that I’ve just watched and you have to see, otherwise your mum is gay:

The road to birdville

I’m sitting in the back seat of Walter, next to a cage containing our dear Parrot Humphrey.
We drove up to New York to pick her up from her custodians and now we’re heading back, under guidance from a borrowed Tom Tom.
Humph looks a little dishevelled, but essentially OK. And she’s already done some considerable damage to the Honey Treat we put in her cage so she’s clearly not too bad.

If you could judge a nation by the way people drive, our experiences today would have led us to believe that America is nearly entirely composed of Neanderthal fuckwits with erectile problems and zero common sense. No wonder Viagra sells so well over here.

Friendship and credit

We made the mistake of looking around a local show home that was for sale. It was a mistake because the house was absolutely perfect. As the result of being a new immigrant I have zero credit; at the moment I couldn’t get a loan for a packet of crisps, so a mortgage is out of the question. Pity because the house was not only lovely it was also a bargain.

So life goes on and I thought it prudent to make active efforts to go out and meet people, so as to avoid a friendless life of misery.

2600 was due last Friday but when the time came I couldn’t face it. Partly because it meant getting to 30th st station for 5pm and partly because the idea of socialising with a bunch of 14 year old boys with limited social skills didn’t really appeal. In the end I chickened out and decided to go to an alternative teccie event in Manayunk the following day: the Ph1ladelph1a Powerb00k Users Group.

It’s easy to look back in astonishment at decisions one has made in the past and think “what the fucking fuck were you fucking thinking you fucking stupid fucking twat” but you have to remember that this was just down the road, in a nice pub that brews their own beer, I love my macbook, and I thought that maybe Mac users weren’t as mental over here.
Let me tell you, the same gene that produces the classic blinkered British Mac fanatic is alive and well over here too. In fairness, there were a couple of good talks about the new OS – Leopard – and the guy who ran the seminar seemed utterly level headed and genuinely nice. But my god they were barking.

I arrived a tad early and was astonished to find that plenty of the mac people were there already and not one was a day under 65. I sat at a table that didn’t shoo me away and was then subjected to a, clearly well rehearsed, monologue about 3 spectacularly tedious and tiny bugs that one of the guys at the table was very proud to have discovered in Leopard. After a tortuously long period of time elapsed I caught the waitresses eye and ordered a drink. Thankfully Mike, my brother in law, arrived soon after and so I didn’t have to drink myself to death.

Much of the discussions revolved around people’s iPhones and for a normal person it was a real insight into the mind of mac fanatics. These people queued up with large wedges of cash which they eventually gave over to the guy in the shop in return for a small, crippled, piece of crap that doesn’t want you to use it. They then spend a long time working out how to “hack” it so that it will become marginally more useful (despite the lame specs) until Apple fix the bugs that caused the hack to be possible. Of course, Apple’s fix will always be pathetic and so the hacks can continue. All the time they are battling with this expensive and hateful little box they go around showing it off to people and telling everyone how cool Apple are. In fact, the harder that Steve Jobs shafts his fans up the Gary, the more they seem to love and evangelise him. Hmm. Anyway, Mike and I spent a pleasant time there sampling the local brews and toothsome food before heading back home.

Unperturbed by this experience, tonight I went along to the Philadelphia Linux Users Group (PLUG) which was a far more enjoyable experience, despite at times seeming like a load of out-takes from Dear John. There was even a mini keysigning session! We ended up in a local pizza place discussing the exigencies of setting up a Linux based business in Mali…ok…but look, it’s better than discussing the look of the new iMac. And I even got a lift to 30th street station, where I completely failed to find the bus stop home and ended up catching a cab.

Your Mayor’s a Nutter

There’s loads of stuff to blog about but I’ve not really been in the mood. Suffice to say that I’m delighted Michael Nutter is our new Mayor. There are three reasons for feeling happy about this:

  1. He seems like a top bloke.
  2. It pisses off all the local Republicans; especially as he won by >73%.
  3. Heheheh. Heheheh. His name’s “Nutter”. Heheheheheh. Heheheheheh. Nutter! Heheheheh.

Oh son, your mayor is a nutter.

You can’t get the staff these days

And I’ve now discovered why it’s so difficult to get good staff these days – HR departments (Personnel) are universally shit.

In my experience their entire raison d’êtra is to act as a barrier between candidates and jobs; consequently they are staffed by a combination of authoritarian harridans and vapid jobsworths. As the role of these departments is nebulous at best they are constantly striving to justify their existence by instituting new demands on applicants and existing staff so that they are not forgotten about.

Since I’m now “in the market” I’ve been dealing with a number of HR departments and a shocking new trend has emerged. Rather than send your carefully formatted CV (resume) you have to retype it into their awkwardly designed, utterly inadequate web forms and send your CV.

You then have to wait while some HR monkey scans your responses for the presence of keywords in your responses that match those in the job requirement. Of course, being totally unaware of what the words actually mean, they can’t recognise synonyms or related skills and so you don’t even get the hiring department looking at your resume.

Throughout the entire process the candidates are treated as though they are the fortunate recipients of a chance at the cup, rather than the people who could solve the problems of the department that needs them.

How much simpler would it be if the departments did their own hiring ?

But, far worse than HR departments are recruiting companies. Every member of staff in every recruitment company could be replaced by a very simple perl script. I find this particularly ironic because yesterday a recruiter was “testing my technical knowledge of perl” by asking me questions and hoping that my wording of the answers matched whatever was on his screen. Have you ever tried to explain a back-reference to someone who doesn’t know what a regular expression is ? He called them “reejixps” for Hicks’ sake. This job hunt is going to take a while…