Friday, 13 July 2007

Three reasons why I'm not rich

I realised something vital earlier today, and it's blown my mind. You see, I'd always thought I'd never be rich because I wasn't clever enough - no degree in bio-whatsit so I could sell my ideas for genetically engineering tomatoes with human genes (just a random example, you understand). I would always see these fabulous ideas and think "I wish I'd thought of that" because deep down, these great ideas are frequently so simple.

Now, I realise, I was wrong. I'm not rich because I'm not stupid enough. Take the ad I saw today on The Onion - basically, you buy three boxes.
These special gift boxes, printed with fake product graphics and descriptions, hold your actual gifts inside. The victim/recipient will congratulate you (eventually) for providing them an utterly perplexing and wonderfully humbling moment.

Your GotchaBox box set includes one each of the following: (1) USB Toaster, (1) Make-Your-Own Umbrella Kit, (1) Salt Of The Month Club

That's right, empty boxes. Clever idea, you send a gift to someone in a box with high-quality graphics, displaying a USB toaster. Hilarious. Cost to you, the lucky shopper? Just $17.99 for three boxes. Now if my arithmetic is good enough, that's $6 a box. Simple and brilliant. And I could never have thought of that.

The third reason I'll never be rich? I don't want to be. Funny old world.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

But it's a dry heat...

Well, I came to Northern California to live, in March 2005. Straight to Davis from chilly Nottingham, I fell in love with the lovely sunny 60°F days (that's 15°C). Compare that with 50°C/10°C maxima, following frosty March mornings, that I was used to. I was in Paradise...

Summers were another matter, however. As soon as the temperature started to climb much above 75
°F (23°C) I started to sweat a little. "Hot out", I'd say. The locals would just smile and nod and pat me on the head. "Oh, You think it's hot now...wait 'till it gets HOT." That was in April. By June I was certain that it couldn't get hotter, temperatures starting to get into the mid-80s (30-ish) and I repeated my little "...hot out..." speech. Only to get the same response.

I would sweat my way to the Food Co-op and sweat back again, laden with goodies, to an amused but not entirely sympathetic wife. "Oh, it can hit 100", she'd remind me. And I'd groan. You see, the all-time UK temperature was (still is, I think) just 101
° (a sweltering 38.5°C), and if it even approached 90°F there would be "Phew, What A Scorcher!" headlines in the papers.

Finally, however, my day came - a red letter day for me, when a Davis resident finally agreed that it was hot. It was 90-odd that day, but I was satisfied for a moment. "At least it's a dry heat...", he said, and I gritted my teeth. As I reluctantly turn on the air conditioning, I groan (and not always just inwardly) at the certainty of an inflated electricity bill and the knowledge that my cooler home interior means a hotter exterior.

Of course, I'm something of a veteran now, and I barely flinch until it hits ninety. But I still worry. You see,
Davis' typical weather is pretty bad in the summer - we managed to escape the worst excesses last year by running off to Canada the week it climbed to 110, but that won't always be the case. Each year more people drive away or jet off to avoid the gnarliest of the heat, but that must soon start to change.

What happens if climate change means that it gets hotter? Maybe not just hotter, but drier too. California grows a good deal of America's food, and farmers rely on (would you believe) water - without irrigation, there would be no agriculture. Without the runoff from the surrounding mountains, water levels in the Central Valley would fall, and sooner or later we'd have to look elsewhere for our water.

Rather like the residents of Southern California, we'd have to pump water hundreds, thousands of miles to irrigate our fields, water our lawns and golf courses, wash our cars.

Yep, that would be a dry heat.

Monday, 2 July 2007

The British Are Coming!

I've been in the USA (specifically, California) for a little over two years now, and I feel that I'm becoming a veteran of Independence Day and other American holidays. I understand the difference between Veteran's Day and Memorial Day, and I understand that you celebrate President's Day and Columbus Day (although he didn't discover America, just the West Indies). I don't quite get how, despite your evidently strong religious beliefs, you don't have a holiday on Good Friday, and I still miss the UK's Boxing Day holiday.

I'm still struggling to remember the seasons of these holidays, although one is pretty plain, even to the dumbest of Brits. I refer of course, to Independence Day, (or the Fourth of July as it is also known) - a day set aside to celebrate your liberation from the dreadful yoke of British royalty and taxation. There was some fuss made about some tea in Boston, and some dreadful fellows tipped the precious cargo into the briny, and ever since then you have rubbed salt into the wound by not making tea in an approved manner (although I have to admit that mostly, you make better coffee than the British).

Now I'm not going to go on about that topic (suffice to say that I refuse to ask for "hot tea") but I will allow give you a quick reminder of the email forward that many of you will doubtless have received some time ago. Allegedly from John Cleese, regarding the revocation of American Independence, he proposed that...

...in the light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves...to aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

  1. You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminium."...
  2. There is no such thing as "US English." We will let Microsoft know on your behalf....
  3. You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn't that hard...
  4. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as the good guys...
  5. You should relearn your original national anthem, "God Save The Queen"...
  6. You should stop playing American "football." There is only one kind of football. What you refer to as American "football" is not a very good game...
  7. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry guns. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous in public than a vegetable peeler...


It does go on a little, but is worth a read if you've a decent sense of humour. The full text is given at Snopes, along with an equally satirical response.

Okay, time to come clean. I've learned a lot about America, "Americanisms" and the evident superior attitude of the average Brit, who disdains some American ways because of some basic ignorance of history. Most of these are linguistic things, like color for colour, and the "girly pints of beer", and I may well address some of these in this blog, over time. This isn't to say that I don't occasionally wind up my Merkin friends, neighbours and colleagues, and even my delightful American wife. After all, you beat us in that war thing a couple of hundred years ago, we have to get our own back somehow.

Finally, I will allow myself myself a soup├žon of pleasure by relaying an anecdote from about a year ago, during a discussion of what I was doing for the Fourth. I was asked "...do you have the Fourth of July in England"? As God is my witness, I didn't know how to respond.