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Change of server

Circumstances have necessitated a move from my hosting provider to my home server.

If any of you have the misfortune to use Shieldhost as a provider, I suggest you move away quickly. I’ve been trying to contact their technical support team for some time now and get someone telling me that they’ve forwarded the message to another department and then nothing.

Multiple follow-ups later, there is no response.

Nothing from the sales department. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

So, I’m taking my $5.99 a month and doing something constructive with it.

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Cut loose and drifting

First the big news….

Today is my last day with Scalix. I take a week’s holiday and then start with Cloudmark, an anti-spam vendor based in San Francisco.

The US has different types of visa for different types of person. The most common, for getting to the US quickly, are the L1 and H1 visas.With Scalix, I got a L1 visa. It’s an intra-company transfer that requires me to have worked for the company in my home country for at least a year. However, it’s tied to the continued operation of the company which is why my future here was a lot less certain earlier this year.

Cloudmark paid for my application for a H1 visa. It’s not tied to a specific company but I do have to have a company to work for. It doesn’t grant permanent residency and lasts for up to 5 years. After that, I either have to go home or apply for the green card.

Because of the “flexibility” it offers, the number of H1 visas issued each year is capped. This year it was capped at around 65,000.

H1 visas do not come into force until October 1st of each year but applications are received 6 months prior to that. This means there’s a complete melee as companies get their applications in as soon as this window opens. Reports suggest that there were 133,000 individual applications for the H1 visa this year.

When the applications exceed the cap, a random draw is made. Luckily I was one of those picked.

It did mean, however, that I needed to wait out the time until October 1st. With the events that transpired earlier this year, it was touch and go whether we’d need to move back to the UK for a short period and come back again. This, in itself, has logistical problems: What do we do with the house here, where do we stay in the UK for a couple of months, can I work in the UK for Cloudmark, etc. etc.

As it turned out, Scalix was able to continue operating during the transition with Xandros so that I could stay here until my time came.

Now it’s here and I’m ready to face new challenges. I’m sorry to leave, it’s difficult to turn away from something that’s consumed your life for a large number of years ( since 1996 ).

In other news, the girls went back to school for another year. It’s all old hat to them now. We have a 2nd grader and a 4th grader.

4th grade is a lot harder than 3rd grade was. We butted heads a little with the new teacher because she insisted on sending pink slips home with Rachel for some reason or another. This is usually a warning and Rachel has to sit out playtime (recess). Rachel brought home a pink slip each night for the first 2 weeks. Some of these warnings are because we forgot to sign the pink slip from the previous night.

Sam spoke to the teacher and the school’s take on this is that the child is responsible for everything that they are supposed to get signed etc.  The teacher explained that this is the reason why we need to go to the “Back To School” night so that we can understand how this all works.

It was at this point that Sam explained that maybe the “Back To School” night happened *before* the kids go back to school and not 2 weeks after the fact like it is at the moment. It would mean that we wouldn’t be going through the issues we are.

It turns out that we are not the only parents who have the same concern so hopefully we can do something about the misconception that we’re all born with the knowledge of how every school works.

My cousin came to stay with us for a couple of weeks. We said goodbye to her last week after taking her to all the tourist traps we could remember. This time was the first time that I *didn’t* go on the cable cars or Alcatraz but it *was* the first time that I drove down Lombard Street ( the famous zig zag street ). It’s a one-way street and there are queues of cars waiting to go down there. Once you are embedded in the queue, there’s no escape but down and you have to hope that your brakes are good enough. It’s also the case that tourists want to take photos. My cousin leapt out of the car before we descended but failed to establish a meeting place after she finished her photo session. This meant that I had to circle the block and keep going down Lombard Street until we made eye contact and she could leap back into the car.

We did the usual Pier 39 but we ate at the Bubba Gump shrimp restaurant. If you go there, order the 2-pound bucket of shrimp in garlic butter. Drooolll !!!!

I was able to introduce her to Jagermeister shots. She’s definitely my drinking buddy 🙂

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Disney day 2

Sunrise saw us forsake the make-your-own waffles and head to the air-conditioned comfort ( and space ) of the local IHOP.

The Disneyland Resort ( as it’s know officially ) is made up of 2 theme parks separated by a central plaza. They build the Disney California Adventure Park some time in the late 1990s and is a “celebration” of California. This was more of a movie-themed park and allowed the Pixar characters to have their own section without tainting the Disney product.

This was a little more subdued then Disneyland itself. They have a boardwalk which contains a large Ferris wheel and incredibly fast roller coaster. Joanna likes Ferris wheels and Sam doesn’t so I played the role of “brave dad” for this one.

The wheel is, according to wikipedia, 48.8 metres in diameter and has 2 types of gondola. Those with a fixed axle and those which run on a small oval rail. The ones on the oval rail slide down as the wheel goes around. We chose the fixed axle.

Sam watched us from the ground as we started to move up into the air. Like I said, I’m not good with heights and it was about 20 feet up that I realised that I wasn’t comfortable being up with the gods. Joanna came to the same realisation so we held each other’s hand for comfort. Rachel didn’t have the same concern and she couldn’t make her mind up which seat she wanted to sit in so I had to, firmly and loudly, instruct her to pick one and sit down. I was concentrating on the horizon but Rachel wanted us to look down at the ground to see how high we were. Again, a firm and loud response was issued thanking her kindly for her offer but Daddy was fine looking into the distance.

We reached the zenith and began our slow descent and I relaxed. This allowed Joanna to release herself from the vice-like grip she’d been held in and wipe her sweaty palm.

As we got to the bottom of the ride again, I prepared myself to disembark from the gondola only to discover that the ride didn’t stop until we’d completed two revolutions. So, back up we went, eyes on the horizon, hands clamped together.

This time, it wasn’t as bad. The adrenaline levels were acceptable and we finished the ride in a state of semi-peace, much relieved to have reached terra firma unscathed.

We headed to the Pixar “It’s a Bug’s Land” section of the park where we got to play on Heimlich’s Chew Chew train and Flik’s Flyers.

We caught the Pixar Block Party Bash where we got to see a number of the characters and Rachel and Joanna were plucked from the audience to dance to the music.

When the party dispersed, we went into the Hollywood Pictures Backlot section. This was the highlight for me as we got to see the Muppet*Vision 3D show. The place was decked out like the Muppet Theatre and Waldorf and Statler were animatronics sitting in their box and heckling.

I still like the Muppets. You speak to kids today and they don’t know what a Muppet is but us grown-up kids remember. My favourite is Beaker and he was there as Muppet Labs showed off their 3D technology.

We had a quick go on the Monsters, Inc. ride and then retired to the hotel for swimming and food.

We returned in the evening again but this time we watched the Electrical Parade which is a series of floats covered in fairy lights. When that finished, we went straight back into Disneyland to see the fireworks again. For our evening rides we chose the Astro Orbiters, which is the Tomorrowland equivalent of the Dumbo ride, and the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.

The Orbiters are higher and faster than Dumbo and, this time, Rachel was the pilot with me. Because of speed and height issues, I had to explain to Rachel that we didn’t need to take the rocket any higher than it already was. The horizon is a wonderful place to be looking in situations like that.

The denoument was the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. To be honest, I don’t know why we didn’t go on them earlier. It was great. You get into a little car on a track taking you around an ultraviolet landscape and you have to shoot all the aliens with a laser gun connected to your car. Not only that but you have a lever that can spin the car around in case you missed shooting an alien behind you. I could have spent weeks in that one 🙁

And so ended our Disneyland visit.

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Matthew, Mark, Luke and Walt

Last weekend, I found religion.

It must have been a church because we, and a large number of others, gathered in one place to worship an icon and, raising our heads to the heavens, with one voice, prayed “Dear God ! Can this line get any longer ?”

Yes, we went to Disneyland 🙂 Sam and I went there on our honeymoon 13 years ago so it was nice to see if we even remembered what we did all that time ago.

I asked the girls what their favourite part of their Disneyland trip was and they couldn’t make their minds up between playing in the hotel pool or the toy they got in their McDonald’s MacHappy MacMeal on the journey home.

This was a last minute decision to go because the girls were going back to school the following week so we wanted them to have something to talk about when they met up with their friends again.

So, 6:30am on Saturday (I know ! I didn’t think there was such a time either) we piled into the car and drove the 400 miles down to Anaheim. Sam made the courageous decision to share some of the driving with me so she took the first 2 and a half hours to get us out of the Bay Area and on to I-5 and a great job she did of it too.
I-5 has to be one of the world’s most depressing roads. It doesn’t end. There are no discernible features aside from the service stations dotted every 30 miles or so.

The girls were fantastic considering the journey was so long. The “Are we there yet ?” silence was broken after 29 miles into the trip. We had to explain that it was going to take us a good few hours before we would get there so it was probably best not to keep repeating the question.

It took us about 8 hours to get down there but we probably had one and a half hours’ worth of breaks in between. Driving through the greater Los Angeles area was a crawl. There was a lot of construction work going on which added to the time unnecessarily.

We planned a 5-day holiday where the first day would be travelling and relaxing at the hotel, the following two days would be spent with the Disney Corporation and the fourth day would be a free-for-all where we’d see what we wanted to do. The fifth day was travelling home again.

Our hotel was on the same street as the entrance to the Disneyland Resort. Unfortunately, this meant we had to disappoint the girls as we drove straight past Disneyland to get to the hotel.

“See that magical, wonderful, fun-filled place over there girls ?”.

“Yes ! It’s Disneyland ! Yaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy !!!’

“Well, we’re not going there. We’re going to the hotel”.

We checked into the hotel and took our keycards to the door of our room only to find that the little green light would come on but the door wouldn’t open. I went back into reception ( within about 3 minutes of checking in ) and the first question I got from the receptionist was “Were you looking to check in ?”. It turned out that you’re supposed to *lift* the handle unlike every other door in the civilised world.

Our room was a “Kids Suite” which meant that the girls had their own room with a bunk bed, bathroom and, most important, TV. Sadly, the shower was weaker than a weak thing. I’ve noticed, over the years, that the strength of hotel showers has deteriorated.

Being on holiday, we had to eat out every night. The regular restaurants were still around: Outback Steak House, Red Robin etc. as is the de-facto kid’s menu: Corn Dog, Mac’N’Cheese, Burgers, Grilled Cheese Sandwich. I won’t go off on another rant about this but someone must be able to show some imagination and innovation and I don’t just mean branding the Grilled Cheese Sandwich as a Cheese Quesidilla. I’ve a good mind to write a letter to Jamie Oliver.

A good night’s sleep saw our first Disney day arrive. There was a melee in the breakfast area which had no air conditioning but the best part was a make-your-own-waffles grill so I had fun there.

According to the brochure, the hotel is only a couple of blocks from the entrance so I made the excutive decision that we were going to walk there. The sidewalks are big and other families were doing it. Four blocks later, we got to the entrance.

Our Disney indoctrination began with piped music playing throughout the entrance plaza. This music didn’t stop for the hours ( and hours ) that we stayed in the park.

We shuffled through the entrance gates to be greeted by a brass band and Alison Wonderland and The Mad Hatter dancing around. Alison seemed to be changing Disney characters because, every so often, she was Grumpy. She didn’t like the fact that people wanted to take pictures of her. “We’re doing a show !” she snapped. Someone needs to remind her that this is the Happiest Place On Earth ™.

For the rest of the day, we pushed our way through the crowds to work out which rides we wanted to go on. The weather was blazing sunshine with little breeze so we had all lathered up with sun screen and were wearing our hats but that didn’t stop us from getting very warm.

Highlights of the first day were the Dumbo aerial ride, which Joanna enjoyed because she was in control of the lever that lifted us up and dropped us down again. Rachel is at the age where she’s allowed ( and wants ) to sit in a Dumbo on her own. That meant I sat in with Joanna and Sam was in a Dumbo on the other side of the ride looking forlorn 🙂

I’m a coward when it comes to fast, high or loopy rides where you are, potentially, parted from the contents of your stomach in the name of entertainment. This means that Sam gets to go on other rides with Rachel. So it was with the small roller coaster in Mickey’s ToonTown. Joanna and I retreated to the safety of an ice cream and watched. I liked Fantasyland because all the rides were slow and peaceful.

That is, apart from “It’s a Small World”. For the uninitiated, it promises a whimsical boat journey around the world using the medium of song to highlight how each and every child is the same underneath and we’re not as different as you would believe. For those of you that have been on this ride, it’s an incessant, saccharine-filled, torturous, animatronic voyage into Hades with only a looped tune for company that will burn itself into your brain for months, if not years, to come.

Still, it was air-conditioned so that was nice.

We managed to get our photo taken with Mickey and that made Sam’s day just like it did years ago. Does this mean I’ll have to dress up like a 6ft mouse to get her to smile ?

The Disney parade was great and I managed to get some good pictures. Lots of characters, song and dance. Joanna was exceptionally pleased because Goofy shook her hand. Unfortunately, we were too engrossed with the show that we missed it completely and didn’t manage to record it anywhere.

Towards the end of the afternoon, we decided to head back to the hotel for a rest and to let the girls play in the pool. As I said previously, they enjoyed this part the best. Both of them were showing us how they could jump off the side and swim underwater as well as turn somersaults. This pleased me no end. I can now play with them in the pool without having to worry about which one of them is clinging to which arm.

After dinner, we went back to the park to see the fireworks. This happens every day at 9:30pm and is a great light show. Tinkerbell even flies over the top of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. The congregation stops dead in their tracks to watch this and, at the end, half of them work their way to their cars, the other half pushes in the opposite direction to get to the rides again.

Because the park doesn’t close until midnight, people get to queue all over again but this time there’s no sun beating down on them. So, we queued for 45 minutes to get on the Finding Nemo submarine ride and then went home to bed.

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O Canada

So, finally, the announcement hit the wires that we were acquired by Xandros, a Canadian company which specialises in an integrated Linux distribution. I’ll leave better people than me to talk about synergies and paradigms but it means the product that I’ve worked with since 1996 continues.

A side-benefit of this is that I get to go to Ottawa for a couple of weeks to train some of the engineers there.

So, I’m writing this from an Ottawa hotel room after having my first experience of US domestic air travel that didn’t leave the best taste in my mouth 🙁

There’s no direct flight from SFO to YOW ( Ottawa ) so I had to change at Detroit.

I was scheduled to fly on Saturday at 12:40pm which was a reasonable time to fly although I wouldn’t land in Ottawa until 10:49pm Eastern. I tried checking in online on Fridy and got a notification that they’d cancelled my flight and rescheduled me. Slight panic ensued as I realised that they’d brought forward my flight by 12 hours which meant that I would need to be at the airport by 10:40pm on Friday. I wasn’t packed 🙂 Not only that but I would have to make 2 stopovers to reach my final destination….I don’t think so !

So, I had to contact the airline to find out what they could do about it. The problem was, the flight was booked through Xandros’ travel agent and he couldn’t do anything other than tell me to contact the airline. I tried the airline’s 1-800 number and got through to a recorded message explaining how their call volume was busy and they couldn’t process my call at that time. Then they hung up.

Because I live so close to the airport, I drove down there and explained the situation to them at the ticketing desk only to be told that they couldn’t do anything about tickets from there and I would have to call their ticketing line. Pause for breath….

Luckily, they had some magic number they could dial and I was connected with a helpful customer service agent who rebooked me on another flight at 7am the next morning but I would be flying to Newark and from there to Ottawa.

The next morning, my taxi arrived at 5:30am and I got to the airport to find that the flight was delayed for 1 hour because the crew got in late and they have to have 8 hours beauty sleep by law. Well…maybe they shouldn’t have stayed out partying for so long :-S

The electronic check-in desk was telling me that they found an alternate route for me if I still caught the SFO to Newark flight, I could then get the Newark flight to Ottawa that would be taking off 3 HOURS BEFORE THE SFO FLIGHT LANDED !!!

Pause for breath….

The ( unsmiling ) woman behind the check-in desk looked at my times and said I would still be able to make the Newark to Ottawa flight because it would be 40 minutes between landing and next take off. So, I got my boarding pass and sat down to wait for the delayed flight to take off.

That flight was pretty uneventful. I dozed off, sandwiched between 2 complete strangers.

We arrived on time but it took 20 minutes longer to taxi and park at gate C90 and I needed to be at gate C130. So, I walked quickly and got to my gate, looked up at the flight display and saw that gate C130 was a flight to Miami.

I had to wait around for another 5 minutes before the drone behind the desk acknowledged that I was standing in her presence. She checked the flight and told me it was delayed for 2 hours.

3 and a half hours later, we finally took off in the smallest plane I’ve been in. Luckily, I was sitting on my own and my bag, which was too big to fit in the overhead lockers ( not because it’s bigger than the allowed standard but because the plane was small and the overhead lockers are not standard size ) got it’s own seat next to me.

The flight was over before I could blink; 1 hour wheels up to wheels down according to the pilot. I sailed through immigration, which was basically: why are you here, where are you staying, who are you working for, and picked up my bags.

I wasn’t able to pick up a rental car from the airport because they were sold out for that day and the hotel shuttles didn’t go to my hotel so I needed to get a taxi. Before I could do that, I needed to get cash from the ATM.

Two machines later, I had enought cash for a taxi. The first one was because I didn’t read that they wouldn’t accept Mastercard. The slogan is usually “For everything else there’s Mastercard”. The fine print reads “except when you need to get cash for a Canadian taxi and it’s late in the evening”.

CAN $ 40 later, I arrived at the hotel. Without a car I couldn’t go exploring for a candy store to get soda and nibbles so I stayed in the hotel bar and got drunk with 2 of the bartenders and their friends. Saturday was a Dave convention because everyone sitting at the bar that evening was called Dave. Yes, really !

As the bar was Irish, I had my regulation 3 Guinness minimum and I was introduced to Boots (?) which is a shot of Sambuca and Jack Daniels. This must be downed in one. I think I’ve found a competitor to Jagermeister.

Ottawa is on the East coast so they are 3 hours ahead of Pacific time. This meant I slept until 10am the next morning (helped along by the alcohol) except for the 2 minutes where I couldn’t find the alarm clock at 6:25am where the previous guest had set it and nobody turned it off. 6:25 is really 3:25am for me so I *really* appreciated that one. Staying asleep until 10am is a luxury. However, if I’m going to attend the office on time *and* have the complimentary continental breakfast from the hotel, I’ve had to set the alarm for 7am (which is really 4am) so I’m going to be a real barrel of laughs.

This week I will be mostly on my own in the evenings but next week more of m’colleagues will be joining me so it’ll be like old times when I used to come out to San Mateo.

I’m sure I can interest them in some Boots.

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Another year, another blog entry

Something came as a shock to me over the past couple of weeks…

…not everybody likes World of Warcraft !

I know ! It’s hard to get my head around but it turns out that (so-called) normal (or regular, as we Americans say) readers of this blog have not enjoyed hearing tales of derring-do with melted candles and Fleshrippers. So, I may add a postscript of how I’m doing so far (I’m in Dun Morogh trying to get past some level 25 Addled Lepers, seeing as you asked) and switch back to more mundane posts.

Christmas has been and gone. The BBC had an article on their news website at (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/6204511.stm) explaining that throughout England, it’s illegal to eat a mince pie on December 25th. So, for the past *cough* years, I have been a fugitive from the English law enforcement system. I’m sure there’s a sketch in the making right there.

[INT: Suburban home. Night. Christmas decorations hung everywhere. Festive music playing in the background.
People are standing in groups chatting to each other. All wearing smart casual attire. Some wearing party hats, some wearing reindeer antler headbands.
The host and hostess are moving between the groups offering drinks and mince pies. ]

Switch to

[EXT: Path leading to home. It’s been snowing. A number of footsteps can be heard crunching in the snow. We see the home from a first-person perspective]

Switch to

[INT: Same home. Repeat of scene]

Switch to

[EXT: Closer view of home. Sounds of party coming from inside]

Switch to

[INT: Party is in full swing. The host taps his glass to get everyone’s attention]

 HOST: Thanks everyone for coming to our little Christmas soiree. I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves.
  Remember there’s plenty of drinks and nibbles if anyone wants them. We’re going to be playing some party games later
  but, in the meantime, eat drink and be merry.

[The party buzz resumes. There is a knock at the door. The chatter dies down and the host looks nervously at his wife. He edges to the door.
He looks through the spy hole.]

Switch to

[EXT: Fish-eye first-person view of man dressed as Father Christmas. It’s obvious he’s a police officer, he’s wearing his flat cap underneath his Santa hat.
Behind is a group of large “elves”, again obviously officers dressed up]

Switch to

[INT: The host turns quickly from the door]

 HOST: It’s a raid !

[There is a lot of movement as the party guests start to panic. Some screams. The hostess runs to each group of guests and scoops the mince pies off their
plates into a plastic bag. Someone else is following her around with a tray of jam tarts and chocolate brownies]

[There is another loud knock on the door and a voice from outside]

 VOICE: Open up it’s the police !

 HOST: Just a moment ! [Looks towards his wife who nods to show that everything has been collected up]

[The host opens the door and it’s pushed open from outside and in enters large number of “elves” run in each holding truncheons with green tinsel
wrapped around them in a spiral pattern]

[The party scene has changed slightly. The guests are obviously nervous trying not to catch the eye of the “elves”]

[“Father Christmas” starts pacing around the room inspecting people’s plates and looking behind picture frames]

 HOST: Can I help you ?

 FATHER CHRISTMAS: Yes you can, sir. I have reason to believe that there’s been illegal activity on these premises.

 HOST: [Flicks his eyes towards his wife and then back to “Father Christmas”] I…I…I don’t know what you mean.

 FATHER CHRISTMAS: [Still pacing the room] We’ve had reports that you’ve been eating [turns to stare the host directly in the face ] mince pies !
  On Christmas Day !

[Guests gasp]

 HOST: [Faking horror] No ! We’d never do something like that ! This is a respectable neighbourhood !

 FATHER CHRISTMAS: [sniffing the air] Come on now, sir. You can’t fool me. I know what you suburban types are like. You pretend that you are
  all normal on the outside. A little wave to the neighbours as you get the shopping out of the car. Mowing the lawn on a Sunday morning.
  It’s all just a facade. Behind closed doors, you’re just depraved individuals who can’t get enough of that dried fruit and spices.

 HOST: No ! That’s not true !

[“Father Christmas” goes into the kitchen]

Switch to

[INT: Kitchen. Large enough to hold a few party guests. There is a selection of beers and wines on one work surface. On another is a spread of traditional
party fare. One plate is conspicuously empty]

[“Father Christmas” looks at the plate and picks up a crumb. He inspects it, crumbling it between his finger and thumb and then putting the powder on his
tongue]
[He smacks his lips]

 FATHER CHRISTMAS: Shortcrust pastry ! This gets better and better for you. Doesn’t it, sir ?

[An elf has been looking through the kitchen cupboards and calls to “Father Christmas”]

 ELF: Sarge ! You might want to take a look at this !

[“Father Christmas” turns around and looks into the cupboard that the elf has open. He pulls a jar from a shelf.]

Switch to

[INT: Kitchen. A view of the jar. There is a crooked hand-printed label pasted over the original label. It reads “Branston Pickle”]

[“Father Christmas” peels the label to reveal the original which reads “Mincemeat”]
[Kitchen party guests gasp] 

 FATHER CHRISTMAS: Well, well, well ! What’s this ?

 HOST:  I’ve never seen that before in my life ! It’s not mine ! [ He looks towards an elderly female party guest ] It’s her’s !
  She asked me to look after it for a while !

[ Female guest looks shocked and disgusted at the attempt to blame her ]

[“Father Christmas” opens the top and sniffs. He recognises the smell. He takes his little finger and dips it into the jar, tasting the contents.]

 FATHER CHRISTMAS: Robertsons, if I’m not mistaken ! Probably fetch…what ? £1.59 on the open market ? [Turns to elf] We’ve got a right little
   baker here, Wilkins, wouldn’t you say ?

 WILKINS: Yes, sarge !

 FATHER CHRISTMAS: Take ‘im away ! I know someone that’s going to be spending a long time at her Majesty’s pleasure !

[Wilkins cuffs the host and the host hangs his head in shame as he’s walked out of the house in front of all his guests]

 FATHER CHRISTMAS: [ to the other guests ] You people never learn ! You’re all perverts !

[“Father Christmas” walks out]
[Short pause]
[“Father Christmas” walks back in]

 FATHER CHRISTMAS: [ to the other guests ] Oh ! Merry Christmas !

[Fade to black]

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Well duh !

According to the BBC News article at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6158615.stm, family restaurants are failing to provide healthy choices for children’s meals.

Cast your mind back to a previous post of mine where I was ranting and raving over the choices that are available from most US family restaurants and then tell me why the article above comes as a complete surprise.

The funniest thing is that we have been to both Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Olive Garden who are supposed to be Italian restaurants, i.e. a style of cooking that uses a lot of pasta and cheese, and it still looks like they used the Kraft Mac’N’Cheese mix out of a packet.

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Thanksgiving’n’Things

This week I found myself doing a  “Bah ! Humbug !” to Thanksgiving. We received an invitation to dinner from one of our neighbours but we declined on the grounds that I have precious little time away from the office as it is and I wanted to spend the holiday relaxing at home. It’s also the case that I can only take one turkey dinner a year and that’s reserved for Christmas.

A four-day weekend is nothing to be sniffed at so we vegged out on Thursday. On Friday, I made sure I was up for the 5 am start of the holiday sales. This is as big as the post-Christmas sales in the UK and people go mad here. So, at 11:30, I got out of bed and headed towards Frys. What a mistake. The Bay Area was there as well.

I checked my previous posts and can’t see any reference to the fact that, earlier this year, we blew up the PS2 by plugging the audio cables into the step-up transformer ( I use “we” to refer to other members of the family that did it while I was in the office ). So, for at least 5 months, we’ve been without karaoke.

The release of the PS3 hasn’t done anything to reduce the price of PS2s but I gave in to temptation and bought a new one. $129 later, we are back to singing “I Love Rock’n’Roll” and “Take On Me” to Diamond standard.

This PS2 is about 1/4 the size of the original one and it makes you wonder where all the electronics have gone. I’m contacting my usual sources to find out about getting a modchip installed.

Today saw Joanna’s birthday arrive after at least 365 days since the last one. On Saturday, we took her to see The Nutcracker performed by the Peninsula Youth Ballet company. It was a very good show and since our only exposure to the story was through a Barbie video, it was great to see the proper interpretation. One nice touch was that after the show, they put on a tea party so that children could have photos taken with their favourite characters. At least, that was the intention. It cost us an extra $10 per ticket and the ticket said it started at 5:30pm. When we arrived at 5:10pm, it had already started and most of the food had been eaten. Joanna was still able to get photos with Clara and The Sugar Plum Fairy so the money wasn’t entirely wasted. However, we’re going to be writing a letter to the Sam Mateo Center for Performing Arts as I wanted my cake.

And finally, I forgot to mention that we had a clock fall of the wall while Sam’s mum and step-dad were still here. As a thank-you present for us looking after them, they bought us a replacement. This isn’t an ordinary clock…oh no ! This is a clock that sets itself using a long wave radio signal from Clock Central somewhere in the US. What more could you ask for ? You change the clock to some random time, press a button and, within five minutes, the hands move of their own accord to the correct time.

This is *much* better than a karaoke PS2.

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We’re the Pet Shop Boys

This Tuesday saw the highlight of my year as we went into San Francisco to see the Pet Shop Boys. If I’m honest, they could read names from the phone book to a techno beat and I’d be happy but they did put on a fantastic performance. San Francisco is a liberal place and everyone seemed to have brought along their partners. In fact, we were all gay that night 🙂

The couple behind us told us all about their life and how they met which included a stint in the Navy for some reason. The military has a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. They were fun to talk to. One of the guys had been to a book signing with the PSBs the day before so he was gushing about how great Neil Tennant was and how Chris Lowe may ( or may not ) be using a dermatologist. This took him off on a tangent about how he’d found small wrinkles under his eyes and how he’d gone to see his Los Angleles friend who also happened to be a dermatologist and was going to charge him $400 .

I think I blew their idea of a reserved English man because he congratulated for me “getting my groove going” during the first half. After the second half, he tapped the shoulder of the guy sitting next to us saying “Honey, I’ve been watching you from behind all night and I have to say, it’s fantastic !”.
I also managed to get myself on the radio (Energy 97.2 [ or 92.7 ]) for being the first in the queue for the show. That was more by mistake than anything else. The show started at 8pm, it takes 20 minutes to get into the city but I wasn’t sure how long it would take during rush hour and there were a lot of cars queuing to get over the Bay Bridge so I made sure that we left at about 4:30 with the intention of spending another 30 minutes looking for parking.

As it turned out, it took exactly 20 minutes door-to-door and we stood outside the theatre by 5pm. We spent another 45 minutes walking up and down the street looking for somewhere to eat ( during which time Sam touched the Pet Shop Bus but I was too scared in case I got beaten up by some burly security guard ). So, by 5:45, we were first to queue up outside the theatre and the doors didn’t open until 7pm. It was a warm night so it didn’t matter too much but I don’t think Sam was too impressed because her boots most definitely were *not* made for walking ( or standing ).

Anyhoo, we got asked by someone if we didn’t mind being on the radio. Sam chickened out but I performed like a trouper regaling the interviewer with the tale of how I appear on the PSBs “Somewhere” DVD in the documentary on how they put on the show at the Savoy in London in 1997. About 17:13 seconds into the documentary, you can see my face for 1/3 of a second and I play “Man in queue #6”. The interview lasted for all of 30 seconds and he went back inside and never called again.

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October stuff

We’ve been getting back into the swing of things now that the girls are back at school.

By “swing”, I mean the daily routine where we fall out of bed at 6:30 and proceed to shout at the girls to eat their breakfast, get washed, dressed, teeth cleaned, bags packed until 8:06 when there is another mad rush as someone has inevitably forgotten something and we have to turn everything over to find it.

Sam continues to volunteer although she’s not required as much because the new teachers have paid assistants. She is co-room Mom (ugh! I hate that spelling) for Joanna’s class which involves coordination of events like Halloween parties etc.

This is what she’s been doing this week. They have to get 60 bags full of Halloween stuff for the 1st graders. This year, the teachers have asked that the bags don’t contain anything too unhealthy. That’s perfectly reasonable. However, some of the other mums have complained that there’s no candy and kids can’t not have candy at Halloween.

Er…hello ? Your kids are going to be getting dressed up on October 31st and filling buckets with all the tooth-rotting candy they can possibly want. Do you want to perpetuate the American obesity problem ?

This year, I should be leaving work early so that I can go trick-or-treating with Sam and the girls. It should be an interesting experience. I guess I’m going to be the one who’s responsible for egging any house that doesn’t give my children sweets. Ah the joys of extortion by menace 🙂

Work continues to get busy. We have a major release due at the end of this year and we’ve also gone open source for some of our components so the market has changed. There are exciting times ahead. In the interim, I’ve managed to get a raise because of the amount of extra work I’m doing.

Next month, Sam’s mum and step-dad come over to visit us. Just before we flew back to the UK, Sam’s step-grandad passed away. Before he did, he gave Sam’s sister some money to make sure that Sam’s mum could get a good holiday after taking care of him for so long. So, a holiday to America was arranged and presented to Sam’s mum for her 60th birthday celebrations. Apart from being able to spend time with them, they’ve stated that Sam and I have to make use of them as baby-sitters. This ties in quite nicely because I bought tickets to see the Pet Shop Boys in San Francisco in November.

When I bought the tickets, they were $110 each ( a few rows from the front, centre stage ). Looking on e-bay, people are selling tickets for over double the price so, next time this happens, I’m going to buy the tickets make some money 🙂

Friday was crazy hair day at school so Sam and the girls all went to school with grape coloured hair. We’re still trying to wash it out.