Category Archives: computers

The toaster that put me over the edge

I have a new toaster. This is a good thing, as the old one was showing signs of age. It was also American, and had to be plugged in to my transformer. So did my stick blender and my hand mixer. All of them are gone now. Along with the new toaster I got this excellent multi-tasker which replaces the stick blender and mixer but also gives me the capabilities of a food processor, a tool that I’ve never owned before. So now there are only a few things left that run on American power, my beloved Kitchenaid stand mixer being one of them, but as that’s only used occasionally I’ve put the transformer away in the closet.


I knew there would come a time when I had acquired many British things and that if I stuck around here long enough, I would start to have this happen. My British possessions would start taking over from my American ones. I saw it happening first in my wardrobe, then in my linen closet, next in my gadgets and electronica, and now amongst my kitchen appliances. Yes I still own things that came over with me when I jumped across the pond, but they are now easily outnumbered by the things I’ve acquired here.


The prospect of the permanent residency application and my lingering feelings of doubt over my long-term future still weigh heavily on my mind. I am lucky to have a good job here and know that in some ways I am extremely lucky compared with my American counterparts, as the job is slightly different in the two countries and I like the British version. Well, mostly. I still don’t know what to do with the next 30 years of my life, but now I know that if I were to move back I would be a lot like I was when I first moved here but in reverse: lots of things with British plugs and a transformer back to 110 V. And do you know what? The British things I have are much nicer than the American things they’ve replaced. My new hand blender/multitasker replaced a couple of bottom-of-the-line Target post-divorce acquisitions. And it matches my new toaster with its gorgeous retro creamy finish. And interestingly enough it’s the first time I’ve ever owned a pop-up toaster: I have converted after a lifetime of toaster-ovens. Because they don’t seem to exist here, at least not at the stores at which I shop. So my new toaster becomes the symbol of my new and very different self after 4.5 years (!) of living overseas. Who saw that coming?

A bit of London randomness, I admit

NFAH is coming at you tonight from very central London, in a neighborhood in which I have never spent any time but which is conveniently located for the combination of what I had to do today (meeting in SW7) and what I get to do tomorrow (visit Mike, from Postcards from Across the Pond, and his better-ha ha!-half Shonagh in their town south of London). So I’m camped right by the train station that will take me to Horsham in the morning, and experiencing a bit of London tourist fatigue. Riding the tube in the heat is rough. Riding the tube in the heat with a huge group of Greek and/or Italian (take your pick) immature teenagers is brutal.

It has been one wicked week. That’s my first bit of randomness. I had dinners for work two of the first three nights that I was back in the UK, and by Thursday morning when my alarm went off, I thought I was not going to make it. I had meetings and a workshop and all sorts of other things to do, and it was bloody hard. This morning, miraculously, I woke up before my alarm and feeling fine. Exactly as predicted: a 5 hour time difference and five days to get back to normal. Interesting.

I took this ad photo in the tube station this afternoon:

OK, I’ve ranted before about the British tendency to drop words, but this is ridiculous. “Every little helps” huh????? “Every little bit helps” would make sense. “Every little help” might make sense. But this does NOT make sense.

London in the summer, scene of ten thousand fashion crimes. Did you know tube tops were back? I can assure you it’s not pretty.

My day got totally messed up when I realized on the train into central London-town that I did not have my cell phone charger cable and I had already drained my battery by 1/3 answering work emails (thinking I was being all efficient and things). Thus I had to take a trip to the Apple Store off Oxford Street, after my meetings were done, in order to get one. I had never been in the flagship London store, and my goodness I will not go back. What a mess. Note to Apple: I am pleased you are having such success but the release dates for the iPad and iPhone 4 were a wee bit too close together for my comfort level when trying to buy a stupid phone charger cable. And note to self: stop forgetting to pack the darned things, this is the THIRD time since you’ve lived in the UK that you have had to go scrounging for a new cable, this time in London, once in Germany and once in the US. Ridiculous! I now have so many of the things that there should be one available to leave in every single piece of luggage and/or computer bag-type things that I have. Grrrr.

The guy in front of me in line at said Apple store bought three iPads. THREE.

Beware, my fellow bloggers, we apparently develop computer skills when we do this, assuming that we do more than just write the posts using the graphical interface and a standard blog template with no customizing. Have I mentioned that I am now the webmaster for a work-related organization, based on my (minimal) knowledge of using WordPress as a CMS? It was when I started talking about “search engine optimization” at the meeting today that I realized that it was all downhill from here.

Thank goodness my hotel has a ceiling fan, and a powerful one at that. But, of course, no air conditioning. Great weekend to be at a hotel in London, when it’s actually pretending to be summer. And oh the displacement activity when I should be at home packing for my big move.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Dear So-and-So, Frantic Friday Edition

Dear World of Work,

You do realize that if you set all of the deadlines for the same week, even if everything does miraculously get done it will not get done well or with the care it normally would have been given, right? And oh yes you can take your Friday close-of-business deadlines and put them somewhere that the sun doesn’t shine, I am not going to bust my gut to give you something that will sit on your desk in an empty office over the weekend. You’ll have it all by Monday morning. And yes I am writing dear so-and-so letters instead of finishing another incremental paper shuffle and I’m aware that I’m doing it.

Never one for arbitrary-ness, especially in paperwork, NFAH

Dear Subconscious,

May I express my displeasure at your having invented a new recurring anxiety dream this week? I already had the whole ‘airport going to miss my plane’ thing and the whole ‘flying-heights-falling’ thing but now the ‘show up to give a lecture/performance/recital unprepared’ thing too? I really did not need this (although interesting how clearly it reflects the current state of things…)

Needs less dreams, more sleep, NFAH

Dear British Schools,

As usual, I find there to be something deeply interesting about the way you react to things–in this case, banning Valentine’s cards to avoid students having hard feelings. As several bloggers in America have noted recently (this from CalifLorna being but an example) the American reaction is to encourage the students to give something to everyone in the class, not to ban the holiday altogether. I think I prefer the inclusive latter solution, although it wouldn’t make for as exciting a headline.

Hearts and cards and chocolates for all, NFAH

Dear Microsoft,

You won this round, I had to break down and buy Office for my laptop after a series of misadventures with Open Office, involving the dropping of greek letters and the refusal to properly pdf anything that had the characters “fi” next to each other in a Times New Roman font. The nice manager in the Apple store disappointedly knew nothing about how to use equations in iWork Pages and playing around made it look like a no-go at least in terms of a short learning curve.

Someday I’ll be able to quit you, but unfortunately so far that day has not arrived, NFAH

Dear Grandma,

It was so good to talk to you this week and to be able to wish you a Happy 93rd birthday! And I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not confessing that I very nearly forgot, and was saved by someone at work making an offhand comment about elderly parents which then got me saying I have a ninety–whoa Grandmother whose birthday is today eek better remember to call her! And no matter how much you try to tell me that you’re not the adventurous type and don’t know how I can live abroad, I will continue to refuse to believe you on the grounds of that whole fantastic 1939 World’s Fair adventure plus that whole bus to the west coast adventure–your 20s were pretty adventurous even by modern standards.

All my love from England, NFAH

Dear Bloggy Friends,

If I’m quiet for a few days, both here and on your blogs, understand it’s because my sister will be here and real people trump people in the computer.

I’ll be back, NFAH

Social Media and the Expat Life

I had a visitor over the summer, right before I left for America, with whom I had a lovely walk in the sunshine and a nice dinner before he succumbed to jetlag and went to bed early, leaving me to pack for my trip. We had an interesting discussion about expat life and the role of social media. I should preface this by saying that he’s an expat several times over, living now in a third country (and continent) from the one in which he was born and another in which he has lived. When it comes to social media and friends “in the computer” I’m a fan, he was not. I rely on my facebook and twitter peeps and bloggy friends to provide me with some structure. Although, as he noted, if the people are all in the computer, are they real people? Do you end up feeling MORE lonely instead of LESS since you don’t have the human connection that comes with “real” people in your life?

It was an interesting question, and one that I have pondered on more than one occasion since that discussion. Do I think of myself as lonely? I obviously have plenty of time to myself, and spend a great deal of that time sitting in front of the computer communicating with strangers. But I’m ready with my rebuttal now, a few months after the fact. Because the people stuck in my computer have, on more than one occasion, transmogrified into real people. In the last six months or so, I have met up with Kat from 3bedroombungalow, Mike from Postcards from Across the Pond (and Pond Parleys) and, most recently, Michelloui from Mid-Atlantic English. All American expats, all living here in the UK, all blogging about our collective experiences. And people who I can now consider friends “in real life” because they have crawled out of the computer and into the restaurants in my neighborhood. Pretty cool, that. So I will keep justifying my hours spent on social media, and thank my lucky stars for the fantastic friends I’ve met through this computer screen.

You spend too much time online when…

you wake up in the morning and you are looking for an email message that came in overnight but you’re unable to find it, because you dreamed you got it. It never existed. But you’re not 100% sure.

Oh the indignity

The scene: I’m in my office on a Saturday afternoon, getting on towards evening. I’m wearing Saturday clothes: faded blue jeans with a hole in one knee, that really needed a belt to stay in place, a gray t-shirt with a green LLBean fleece with a toothpaste stain on it. Hey, I’m living in borrowed accommodations, I didn’t have my full wardrobe at my disposal and truly didn’t plan on seeing anyone.

6 pm: I’m walking down the hallway towards my office, coming back from the lab. I run into a colleague. I address him, trying to be friendly.

Me: “hey, what are you doing here on a Saturday night?”

Him: “what are you doing here? (pauses) More importantly, what are you planning on doing the rest of the evening? I don’t suppose you have a 45 minute general interest seminar you could give for a group of 100 high school science teachers?”

Me: stunned silence. “Um, I can look, I’m really working hard tonight, trying to finish my book before the end of the year.”

Him: “I’m really desperate, the keynote speaker for tonight is really sick and we have no one to fill, you can come to the nice dinner afterwards…”

Me: “Um, okay, let me see what I have on my computer. Can you come by in ten minutes?”

Him: “How about 5? We’re really desperate here.”

Me: “Um, okay, let me see.”

6:10 pm. In my office, checking my computer. Colleague comes in.

Him: “Anything?”

Me: “yes, actually, I have something that might work, but I really was trying to get some work done tonight.”

Him: “Please, we need this so badly.”

Me: “Oh what the heck, I can try. I’m not sure about dinner though, I really should get some more work done.”

Him: “No problem, you can duck out after the talk. Oh, and do you have a laptop you can project from? We were expecting the speaker to bring one.”

Me: (relieved) “Yes, I have this (Asus Eee pc in my desk drawer) and can pdf the file to project”

Him: “Brilliant, let’s head there and get set up”

Me: “I’m really not dressed appropriately”

Him: “Oh, it’s casual, don’t worry.”

7:00 pm. I am introduced to a room full of science teachers who are expecting someone else, and a very different topic. I’m nervous as heck, not remembering the precise order of the slides since I didn’t have time to look through them. I do the best I can. Some of the assembled audience are in suits and ties (or dresses) and I’m still in my torn blue jeans and stained shirt.

7:55 pm. The talk is over, lots of questions have been asked, and I’ve probably gotten the strongest applause I’ve ever had from a talk (I’m feeling totally chuffed). I’m packing away the tiny and trusty machine. I’m swarmed with further comments and questions.

Him: “You’re coming to dinner, right? You can answer more questions then.”

Me: “Um, I guess.” (there is no real choice)

9:55 pm. The three course dinner is done, I’ve sat through it in my torn jeans and my toothpaste-stained fleece. I tell my host I really must be going.

Moral of the story 1: It does get worse than giving a seminar at MIT in your pajamas

Moral of the story 2: I was justified in buying a second Asus Eee pc (one for the office and one for home) because if I had not had this one in my office tonight, it would have been a disaster. (See me try to excuse my penchant for gadgetry…)

Moral of the story 3: If you’re called at the last moment (and make sure the audience knows it!) you are not actually persecuted for being dressed totally inappropriately at a work event.

Epilogue 1: The speaker who I was replacing was a very good friend of mine, and I knew he was ill as he had cancelled a meeting we had on Friday. So to him, get better soon!

Epilogue 2: Tomorrow is going to be damned busy trying to finish the things I was doing in my office at 6 pm when this whole adventure started!

A UK computing mystery unravelled

I have long joked that I have no “normal” English friends, that the English friends that I have are all not actually English or are otherwise somehow sympathetic to my plight having been expats themselves, or married to foreigners, etc. I had dinner and a few drinks at the pub recently with one of my semi-English friends, and he managed to clear up a little mystery that had long bugged me. As an engineer, I continue to be sort of surprised that there is not much UK-based engineering expertise compared with the US. In the states, for example, we have Apple, Intel, Microsoft, AMD, Seagate, Motorola, etc. etc. etc. In computing the UK has … ???? If I’m missing something, please do let me know, but I can’t actually think of any. However, my friend did tell me about the BBC Micro, the computer that swept this country in the early eighties, when I was at home in the states with my Commodore 64 or at school with an Apple II. There’s a nice history/overview here (“From education to obscurity”) but which begs the question of why the thing ended up in obscurity, why there was no Apple-like revival of Acorn. The BBC is kinder, giving the machine’s creators credit for essentially all of modern mobile telephony, although if it was really that much of a clear impact, wouldn’t the guy have gotten a KBE instead of a CBE?

So we now have the UK computer market partially unravelled, and we have some, but not all, of the answers concerning the lack of engineering companies here, especially in the high-tech commodities market. It’s not that there was never anything here in the UK in this area, it just didn’t survive into the modern era. Is it because the BBC was involved, and thus there was not a free market for the machine independent of governmental intervention? Is it because there was no competition? Because the attempt at export to the US market was, like so many of the attempts with Brit-pop, a total bust? Was it due to the claimed “high” prices?
What else could be the case? Inquiring minds want to know.