Recently there have been discussions at work about various benefit packages. It all boils down to the very complicated equation: which is better: X weeks holiday, Y salary, Z health benefits etc vs. X’, Y’, Z’. Who knows? Perhaps people who have a clue what a 402c is (probably nothing – I made it up) or what the difference is between an HMO and a PMT. Damn, I made that mistake again – by “holiday” mean “vacation”. Fact is that in Europe, if an employer offered 3 weeks vacation you would laugh in their face. If they offered a health package with $300 employee contribution per month you would laugh in their face (it’s free (except dental which is very expensive and mostly paid by employees, and optical which is generally less costly but still paid by employees)). Although I don’t understand the system here, I understand that generally benefits are less. But hey, we get paid more and can save the money (in my entire time working in the UK I managed to save pretty much nothing).

Which brings me to the other thing: the death penalty. What, comma, is America still in the Middle Ages? The death penalty makes me very very angry. I believe there is only one country in the world which executes more people per year than the US, and that is China.

Well, it has been a while again. The looong weekend was just too relaxing. Fortunately I have some important work to do right away, so I can get my adrenochrome levels back where they belong.

I came across the following picture on Yahoo! the other day. I love monkeys although I couldn’t eat a whole one.

Driving back from a meeting today in Palo Alto I managed to take a wrong turn and end up in the nether regions of Los Altos Hills. The roads twist and turn in 3 dimensions. The street signs are small, placed at confusing angles, unlit and the house numbers are in the tens of thousands, not very helpful unless you can be bothered to get out the map. I settled on a strategy of going downhill, which worked by and large. It’s a pretty good strategy unless you are in Colorado. I rather enjoyed pootling around this mysterious country, until I started to worry about running out of petrol. Heading down some particularly unpromising lane, I turned around, drove back to the last big crossroads and stopped in somebody’s driveway and hoped they wouldn’t shoot me before I have figured out where I was going. It turns out I had been going in the right direction after all. I have a wonderful picture captured from a map of the area which I can’t post until I have set up my FTP server.

Which reminds me, I set up a wireless network over the weekend. There, I did do something.

Gobble gobble.

Today is Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving! I spent mine with the Hash, which was very nice. I found a really great recipe for Greek Stuffed Aubergine which I prepared for our pot luck Thanksgiving meal. I didn’t bother with the bechemel sauce by the way – I think it’s better without (and quicker to make for lazy people like me).

A dear friend of mine saw my blog and noticed that the advert selected by Blogger, in its infinite wisdom, is one for leaf blowers. Just coz I said I hate them. I am following his suggestion by saying how much I hate psychotropic vibrators, green rifles and yellow cake (that’s uranium ore). Let’s see what the ad server (and the CIA) make of that one!

I have been negligent.

It’s very cold these days. There’s just enough time in the morning between turning on the heating when I get my sorry arse out of bed and leaving the apartment for the air to warm up to a point I can actually move my fingers (important for using the indicator when driving – something few people round here bother to do (perhaps they have very cold apartments – or maybe SUVs don’t have indicators)).

This evening there is a smell of steak and kidney pie floating around outside my apartment. And an unexpected mass of mushrooms have appeared, just in time for Thanksgiving. They would make a wonderful stew, unless they are poisonous in which case they would make a terrible stew.

I went to my first Hash last Thursday. It was very refreshing to get together with a bunch of random people, united in their persuit of drinking and r*nning, and always interesting to see the underside of the neighbourhoods you r*n through. This time we ran along a single track railway which used to be used for transporting apricots – there used to be a lot of apricot orchards here before the tech boom. And through a neighbourhood which smelt of horses, past horses breathing noisily and unseen in a field, up a hill with the cars little lanterns snaking up the highway some distance away. This Thursday the Hash is having a Thanksgiving pot luck, which I will probably go to. The Hash’s turkey trot might just save my bacon this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is, for many people in America, their favourite feast. It is not religious, and compared to Christmas not commercial. It doesn’t have the baggage of that weirdo Santa Claus. And from my point of view it has pumpkin pie, which is delicious.

There was an interesting segment on NPR last night about President Bush’s trip to Britain. Many people in Britain vocally object to this visit and are protesting in various ways, for example singing (badly), taking too many pictures of him with their mobile phones, or becoming the Queen’s servants.

Anyway, the (British [-sounding]) newsreader commented on the fact that the Brits aren’t consistent: 60% of people think America is a force for good in the world, while roughly the same number consider Bush to be a danger to world peace. This could be down to polling errors or the speed at which public opinion moves (between the two polls), but an alternative explanation is that the British people are able to distinguish between America and its leader. I am heartened by this news, especially coming as it did on such a momentous day, being both the first day of Bush’s visit, and Mickey Mouse’s 75th birthday.

I mainly came to America for work (which I enjoy immensely). A minor reason was to see America at first hand from the inside. I already had some understanding, having plenty of American friends over the years, but I am interested in getting a better appreciation. It is clear that America is a land of great wealth, natural beauty, and cultural diversity. It is hard to synthesise this into an overall understanding of America. Actually, I do not think it is possible. Now, looking back at the UK, I wonder, “what is Britain”? I find I can’t answer that question either.

The leaf blowers are out in force again at my apartment complex. WHY DO THEY HAVE TO BE SO LOUD? I h a t e &nbspthem. I hate them 8000 times as much as I hate those stupid security sticky plasticky guard things which they put on new CDs and DVDs here – it’s a major 15 minute demolition project opening one a new CD, and by the time you have, the box is scratched and broken. I strongly dislike those. 8000 times is a lot.

From a distance of 10 feet, a leaf blower is 18 times louder than normal conversation. 75 times louder than a mouse’s squeak. A mouse which had a squeak as loud as a leaf-blower would be 15 feet tall.

I’m starting to understand the leaf blower situation a bit better though. They are at their most annoying during the summer, when the guy who looks after the grounds can be observed of a morning trying to blow 15 leaves into a pile. This takes about 2 hours of frantic and noisy blowing, as compared to picking up the leaves, which would take 3 minutes, or using a broom, which would also take 3 minutes.

At this time of year, however, there are lots of leaves on the ground, and it’s wet, so I can see that the leaf blower might be a more necessary tool. Blowing the leaves into neat piles seems to be much easier now. I think wet leaves blow together better. There’s a lesson for us all. Still,


I realised yesterday that I don’t laugh nearly enough. I realised this yesterday while listening to a tape of Billy Connolly in the car on the way to the Stanford Shopping Center. Driving down the wonderful I-280 and listening to this – so fantastic I nearly wet myself and/or crashed the car.

I have finally decided to enter the 21st century with a Blog, which will provide a place for collecting strange thingies.

First up, is the intriguing whistling language from the Canary Islands called Silbo Gomero.

Here is an article on Yahoo News about it, and here is an audio clip. Amazing.

A friend of mine recently lent me a book called “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris. It is a collection of anecdotes from his life, some funny, some not so funny. In one chapter he describes a period of his life spent as a speed-fueled performance artist. So when I saw this photograph of a performance artist performing in a bath of baked beans, I naturally thought of the book.

The mental wanderings of Julian Richardson