Monthly Archives: April 2008

Photos of gusset plates

Last summer when there was the Minneapolis bridge collapse, I was thoroughly annoyed because I knew I had some really good photos of the bridge intact from underneath, with a focus on the steel, and I simply could not find them.  Today I randomly stumbled across them, so here we go.  From underneath, taken on the side where St. Anthony main is (and where I used to live just a few blocks from here!) and dated 24 March, 2003.

Examples of gusset plates, which have been blamed for the collapse, are clearly shown in all three images.  I’m struck by how narrow the beams look for their length compared to something like a sturdy rail bridge, and how thin the gusset plates are at all such that I’m still having a hard time accepting that as the answer to “why the bridge fell down”… but at least I know now I was not crazy, I really did have these photos somewhere.  And I want to see the finite element analysis that demonstrates the gusset plates as the culprit.


I admit, my mood has been better.  Since it’s spring, I’m back to having disgusting flies dive-bombing around my apartment.  I have tried every trick I can come up with but the only one that works is this nasty spray fly killer for which you are supposed to close all the doors and windows after you spray it.   So you have two choices, leave the flat, or stay and breath in the nasty stuff that is probably giving you nerve damage because THE BLOODY ENGLISH DON’T PUT SCREENS ON WINDOWS.  You then get the privilege of picking up fly carcasses all afternoon.

It’s days like this when I want to throw my hands up in disgust and go home.  When I’m tired and I can’t remember why this seemed like such a great idea.  When I would give anything for the familiarity of my apartment in Virginia with windows with screens AND an outdoor balcony facing the mountains.  Even though I hated my job and my life then.  But then it hits me, I’m trapped like a rat.  The unraveling process of escaping from here would be horrendous.  Not to mention the fact that I would have to find a new job and it would have to be a good one that paid relocation and even then it would probably take another year and who knows where I would end up and if it would be any better.  If there would be fewer little annoyances buzzing around in my head the way the flies were buzzing around my living room until 10 minutes ago.  Believe me, I want to be cheerful and hard-working and accomplished and fun but it’s really hard to do that when you hear “bzzzzzzzzzzzz” all around you, day in, day out.


I was reading blog posts in my accumulator earlier this week and one of them had a picture of a birthday cake with two candles as it had been two years since the blog started. It hadn’t occurred to me to check up to that point, but it comes to pass that this blog started a year ago this week. Thanks to everyone who has read, commented, and supported this little hobby.

A contrast in weather

This morning, back in Minnesota:

(photo out my parents’ front door, courtesy of my father)

This afternoon, here in England:

For once, England looks clearly superior.


Why does the UK press always refer to H. Clinton as “Mrs Clinton” ?  Do they have no concept of the marriage neutral Ms. ?  I don’t see many referrals to the young Princes as Master Will and Master Harry.  Marriage status should not be singly applied to a female candidate and not a male one.


I’m afraid I quite inadvertently caused an accident on my walk home from work tonight.  You see, I had reached the point in the road where there is a zebra crossing, a sort of cross-walk where the cars are supposed to slow to a stop and give pedestrians right of way.  Now I never have faith that they will stop on time, so I’m pretty careful to step gingerly into the thing and watch the cars carefully to see if they had any intention of slowing.  The frequency with which they speed through at times is something else.  Now let me also preface this by saying that I’m mystified by bike laws.  The bikes are supposed to ride on the road down the middle or on the side?  I mean, they can’t go as fast as the cars so why ride down the middle?  They are supposed to follow the rules of the cars even though they sometimes also careen along the sidewalks?  Tonight as I reached the zebra crossing, there was a blue car coming and a bicycle riding in the centre of the lane behind the car.  When I stepped into the zebra stripes, the car did the “right” thing and slowed to a halt.  I don’t know where the bicyclist was looking but he somehow did not notice this and crashed into the back of the car.  I then stood there aghast in the zebra crossing unsure of what to do.  I mean, I wasn’t really involved in the crash, just an onlooker whose foot in the stripey section of the road just happened to cause the accident.  The driver got out of the car to check on the cyclist, lying in the road, and the cyclist said “I didn’t think you were going to stop.”  Um.  Okay, the bicyclist who’s trying to do what some say is the “right” thing by riding in the road as though he was a car, and oh yeah who has very little momentum compared with the car (p = mv and m_car >> m_bike), assumed the car was going to careen through the thing.  Actually what’s scary is that the bike would have crashed into me if the car had not been there to stop it.  Thank goodness for small blessings.  But after all you hear of people getting knocked off bikes by careless drivers who don’t see them, it’s slightly amusing to have a bike crashed into a stopped car.  Everyone was okay and I walked home slightly mortified but otherwise convinced that I do not want to ride a bike around here.  The whole pedestrian-bike-car-bus mess is just too complicated.

Conversations between Americans in the UK

Conversations between American expats in the UK demonstrate the highs and lows of expat existence.  Two of these were particularly memorable to me–a participant in each–from the last 24 hours.

Conversation 1.

Setting: Starbucks

Participants: me, the new American cash register guy

CRG: What can I get started for you?

Me: Venti iced latte, please.

CRG: Would you like that for here or to go?

Me: To go.

CRG: That will be two pounds sixty five.

Me: Hey wait a minute, they don’t say “to go” here, they say “take away”!

CRG: (laughs) I know, I’ve been working here three and a half weeks and I keep messing it up.  I have been getting the funniest looks from people who eventually figure out “oh you mean eat-in or take-away”.

Me: (laughing) Hey I don’t mind!  I love hearing “for here or to go” – it just caught me off guard!

CRG: I’ll work on it!

Conversation 2.

Setting: telephone call

Participants: me,  American work colleague (who started here the same day as me)

AWC: … don’t you think we should follow up on that, with a phone call?

Me: Email maybe.  But hey, it hasn’t even been a month.  This is England.

AWC: I’m tired of England


Was walking home from work tonight who did I see in front of me, heading towards me?

One of Britain’s most beloved actors. Chariots of Fire, anyone?

Oh yes, he was every bit as attractive as the photos (if not more so) and was ever-so-casually strolling down the street with his jacket over one shoulder.  I stared.  I admit it.   I may have even drooled.  And looked back after he walked past to check out his bum 😉

I actually know him best from the totally outrageous Manchild, which I used to watch on BBC America when I still lived in the US.  Oh the irony… I haven’t watched the BBC even once in 18 months in England!


This is for the people back in the American midwest. For those all a-flutter with “Expelled” (regardless of the factual inaccuracies portrayed in the context of tenure) let’s review the methods of science and hypotheses. The origin of life on this planet is not a falsifiable hypothesis. You cannot prove God created life. Nor can you prove it wasn’t created. You cannot prove life formed spontaneously from a primordial soup. Nor can you prove it didn’t. You can, however, “create” (ha ha) life from a primordial soup by trying to reproduce the conditions under which life was formed. You then produce evidence–not proof–that life could have begun that way.  We deal a lot in likelihood in science, it’s easy to disprove, hard if not impossible to prove.  Unless you witness a supreme being starting a new Universe, you do not have the same option to try and reproduce conditions for creation or ID. Intelligent design and other similar thoughts are assertions, not hypotheses, because they cannot be disproven. However, most scientists (yours truly included) believe that if (and that’s a big IF) life can be made from non-life in the lab, that lends strong support to the idea that life could have begun that way. Not DID begin that way, but could. It’s not proof and it does not fall within a strict definition of a scientific hypothesis, but it’s actually as good as it gets for much of the fields like paleontology where also you have to surmise based on evidence. (And this is where the Physicists tend to take a dim view of biological sciences, unwarranted in my opinion but it’s out there.  It’s the level of uncertainty in the likelihood of the remaining circumstance that causes trouble.)

There is a difference here. This is not belief vs belief. This does carry a distinction, although subtle, and not quite the religion vs science absolutes that liberal people like to portray (nor the religion vs religion-like science that the happy-clappies like to claim). Therefore the people asserting ID are philosophers (note you cannot prove something is too complicated to have been made by natural processes) and there are some other people using scientific techniques in a “what if” exploratory sort of manner to see if they can shed some light on the problem. I’m guessing that in this and many lifetimes, it will be as elusive as the Higgs boson and for good reasons. Hmmm maybe the biologists and physicists aren’t that different after all…

The UK and the iPod tax

In one of those “it never would have occurred to me” moments, I have just heard that it is illegal in the UK to “rip” a copy of a CD you own onto your own iPod (a practice which is legal in the US).  This information comes courtesy of the discussion taking place right now over the music industry’s desire to levy an “iPod tax” to make up for this.  I particularly liked the comment posted by EastFinchleyite which started

By the same logic, if I buy a CD and then play it in my living room, and there are other people present, I (or they?) should pay a levy for listening to copyrighted music that they haven’t bought.

I agree completely.  As noted, it never would have occurred to me that it mattered which device you used to play music that you had paid for.  Some days I really do think that living in Europe borders on the ridiculous and that going home to the US seems like a really good idea.