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Raising kids: sometimes doing it wrong is right

Christmas this year had many of the usual suspects under the tree.  Soccer ball, LEGO Ninjago, some dominoes (my son wanted them), an Arsenal lunchbox & calendar & playing cards & jersey, and for the big ticket item this year a Scalextrix set that we’ve only played with a couple of times since Christmas (the kids are still a bit young and dad doesn’t want the cars to keep breaking, despite their immense joy whenever they crash together).

Let it dry before you paint it.
Let it dry before you paint it.

One other addition, unrequested, under the tree was an AirFix Spitfire.  My oldest is now six and I can remember that when I was six I got some models too (I had the Apollo-Soyuez Space Capsule model for my sixth birthday, and no I don’t remember it–I just saw the photograph in an album). My kids hadn’t a clue what an Airfix was. When I opened it they were both a bit bummed that it wasn’t already completed and ready to play with.  “You mean we have to build it?”  Clearly their iPad-affected attention span was going to have some difficulty with this one.

But for me, this was a chance at redemption.  I’ve built dozens of model planes in my day, and never, not once, has the thing I made look anything even remotely like the picture on the box. I simply didn’t have the patience skills to make it look anything like an official plane.  But now with my kids–that would change.  We’d take the time, do it right. I even took out my ‘third hand’ tool from my electronics shop to hold the planes and let the glue dry without my fingerprints working their way into the plastic (as it did so many times before). I bought the officially color-schemed paint, more or less, and special brushes.  I even bought some paint thinner (interesting side note–it came in an empty beer bottle–it’s a Hong Kong thing).

The instructions had about 35 pieces or so and 35 steps.  By step 5 I knew this just wasn’t going to work.

Not exactly RAF Specification Paint
Not exactly RAF Specification Paint

The youngest was already bored and the oldest was doing his best to feign interest.  We got the little pilot into his seat and let it dry while we started working on the fuselage, but by the time we got to the wings the youngest was on the floor playing with his LEGOs and the oldest was berating me with “what’s it do?  what’s it do?” to which my answer of “nothing” didn’t quite satisfy him.

I eventually got the planes done and let the glue dry for a few hours before uncracking the paint.  This is where the kids were a bit more excited.  I guess the fact that they could see the results of what they were doing, i.e. colors on the plane, meant they were far more interested in doing it.  They started with the green and began slopping it on the models (slopping is the only proper word).  I was a bit annoyed as I realized that these planes would soon look like my airplanes when I was six years old.

But then I figured it out–they’re supposed to look that way. It’s supposed to look like a six year old did it. They are supposed to have fun in the process of building it and, if they even care, feel a bit annoyed that it doesn’t look like the box when done. That’s how they learn, that’s how they strive to get better.

So I quickly gave up on trying to match the specific ‘blotches’ of camouflage on the wings.  Son #2 decided that the entire plane should be brown and son #1 was just doing ‘the outside bits’ in green.  When finished, it looked like a mess, but the boys were both extremely happy with them.  Son #2 even decided to add a bit of Glitter Glue to his “so it would be easier to see in the sky”.  The planes now hang over their beds, awaiting the other members of the squadron that will come later in life.

Sometimes letting them do something ‘wrong’ is the best way to get it ‘right’ I guess.

So the RAF used Glitter Glue. Maybe.
So the RAF used Glitter Glue. Maybe.


Thunderbirds are (no) go today.


Gerry Anderson, creator of the Thunderbirds, StingRay, Space 1999 and a bunch of other shows, passed away today.

These British shows were slightly ahead of my time, but I caught them on endless re-runs on WGN Chicago as they aired every morning between the hours of 5:30-7:00. Why was I watching TV at those hours?  What else do you think paperboys do when wrapping and rubber-banding newspapers?

The show will probably be remembered as much for the theme song as any specific episode.  I suspect I’ll be humming this most of the day.

Rest in Peace Gerry Anderson, and F-A-B.

How to rank medals by country in the London Olympics.

As we near yet another Olympics, the old debate about how to rank Olympic Medals is likely to come up once again. I’ve written about it in 2008 and 2010, so probably best to do an update as we kick off the London Olympics in 2012.

Under the Olympic Charter, there is no “official” list of medals by countries.  It is forbidden:

The IOC and the OCOG shall not draw up any global ranking per country. A roll of honour bearing the names of medal winners and those awarded diplomas in each event shall be established by the OCOG and the names of the medal winners shall be featured prominently and be on permanent display in the main stadium.

Since the games in Australia however, the press office started to issue “advisories” showing how nations were doing, and in these advisories the rankings were by the number of Gold medals first, followed by Silver, then by Bronze the so-called ‘Gold First’ standard.  The United States media, and their counterparts in Canada, have consistently ranked medals in a different manner, the so called ‘Total Medals’ standard.  In 2008, this led to a ‘split’ where the world’s media declared China the “Winner” of the 2008 games as they had the most Golds, but the US media also felt the US did the best as they had the most “total medals”.  However, in 2010, Canada had the most Golds, followed by Germany, then the United States, which also had the most medals.  This confused many in the European press as the official Olympic tally from the Vancouver Press office was listing in the ‘Total Medals’ format which showed Canada not have the best record.

At the close of the 2008 Olympics, IOC President Jacque Rogge said that the IOC had no position on which table is better.

“China has won the most gold medals and the United States of America won the most total,” International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said during a news conference Sunday. “I believe each country will highlight what suits it best. One country will say, ‘Gold medals.’ The other country will say, ‘The total tally counts.’ We take no position on that.”

So as we move into the London Olympics, I found it interesting to see the official ‘medal table’ on their website goes both ways.  Those who want the Gold first standard can click the sort button by Golds, but those who prefer the Total medals count can sort by the totals.

We won’t likely see a determination as to what is better / worse in this Olympiad, but more and more voices are starting to complain the emphasis on “Gold” is neglecting the development of some athletes and sports in countries with limited resources to put forward for their Olympic team.  Whether we see a further discussion about this after the Olympics remains to be seen.  Maybe I’ll do another post when we get to 2014.


London’s new Routemaster bus runs out of gas

For those who don’t follow me on Google+, I’ve talked recently about the new buses that are to be introduced in London based on the iconic Routemaster designs.  These new buses, built in Northern Ireland, will be placed into service over the new few months years and will bring a hint of the old style with a liberal dash of the new design.  Personally I think it’s a beautiful looking bus.

The first bus was “introduced” to London the other day with Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, gallivanting all over town with it.  Then they decided to take it back to the HQ and it ran out of gas.

I’m not mocking the new bus or the rollout, but bringing this up as an example of even the best laid plans sometimes fall apart. So many in the tech industry see a new product get launched and then go absolutely bat crazy bonkers when something doesn’t work immediately, on day one, the way it should work after three years of beta-testing.  I’ve had to deal with this as well when creating some new product or site and having little bugs pop up unexpectedly that we didn’t have the time, money or staff to debug properly.

That’s kind of why whenever I see a major site like Google or Yahoo or CNN go “down” I take a screen capture of the page.  Even they have problems now and then such that my own foibles don’t seem quite as bad.

Anyway, can’t wait to get to London and try out this new bus.

The Scoops are Coming…I mean the Jankels.

Not Yet in London

London and much of the UK is in a mess right now but help is on the way in the form of a really ugly but functional armored vehicle.

The Jankel is based on a Ford pickup truck but heavily modified to suit a variety of purposes. They also just look downright mean. They aren’t as functional as “The Scoops” from Soylent Green however, but I suspect they’ll be a number of these types of vehicles throughout London tonight.  They were deployed in an area near Croydon last night and there is talk this evening of ‘baton rounds’ being used should circumstances warrant.

You can read more about the Jankel at their website or from other forums.


Iceland volcanic ash map

Did you know the UK has a Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, on constant duty to protect the skies from the threat of volcanic ash?

Well, they do.  And those guys are working pretty long hours today to keep up with a volcanic eruption in Iceland which is causing havoc with European flights.  Here is a good map to give you an idea of what is in store for Europe this weekend.

The French VAAC also issued an advisory, and we’ll see how far this plume goes over the next few days. 

Interesting warning:  Volcanic ash (by itself) is not poisonous, but inhaling it may cause problems for people whose respiratory system is already compromised by disorders such asasthma or emphysema. The abrasive texture can cause irritation and scratching of the surface of the eyes. People who wear contact lenses should wear glasses during an ashfall, to prevent eye damage.

The Greatest Raid of All Time–St. Nazaire in 1942

No, I haven’t heard of it either.  I was flipping around Youtube watching some Top Gear clips when I happened to see a Jeremy Clarkson video of a documentary called “The Greatest Raid”.  I started watching, and boy was I glad I did.

The Greatest Raid was essentially a suicide mission of British Commandos on the docks at St. Nazaire along the Atlantic coast of France in 1942.  Designed to knock out a drydock facility for the German battleship Tirpitz the raid played an important role in ensuring the Atlantic convoys continued to feed England in the dark days following the Battle of Britain.  Loaded aboard an old US destroyer and tiny patrol boats, the Commandos made their way up an estuary to the heavily defended docks.

It’s all up on Youtube, and it’s a pretty amazing story worth 45 minutes of your life.

The Queen goes Swan Upping–what the heck is Swan Upping?

So I signed up to receive Twitter alerts from the Queen and noticed that one of the things they’ll be doing shortly is going ‘Swan Upping‘ this week.  Great, wtf is swan upping?


Apparently about 800 years ago the Monarchy declared ownership of all untagged Mute Swans on the Thames.  Every year these Swan counters go up and down the river claim what is rightfully the property of her Majesty.  Of course they no longer take them for dinner or funny hats, it’s more of a census that is used for environmental purposes.

This year the Queen will be joining the count, along with several school children.   This is actually the first time she’s watched the census.  Guess she was too busy.

Anyway, for those in England here is where you can see the count.

Monday, 20 July 2009
Eton Bridge to Cookham

Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Cookham to Marlow Lock

Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Marlow Bridge to Sonning Bridge

Thursday, 23 July 2009
Sonning-on-Thames to Moulsford

Friday, 24 July 2009
Moulsford to Abingdon Bridge

Is everyone in Sweden a sex-crazed homicidal maniac? My thoughts on Wallander

The Swedish Version
The British Remake

You might get that idea in the media.  This month I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which in Swedish was called Men who Hate Women Menn Som Hater Kvinner.  It was about some murders of women…well I won’t spoil the plot other than to say sex and murder had a pretty big role. 

Last night I watched the first episode of Wallander on Masterpiece Mystery.  Wallander cop stories have been a staple of reading in Europe for the last decade, and a Swedish tv version has been around for nearly as long.  The BBC took a shot at making some films and the result was pretty good, though it also dealt with the same weird sex / violent murder that seems to be particularly Swedish this month.


Wallander was pretty good.  I suspect I’ll watch the next few episodes and maybe read a book or two (heck, without cable I don’t have much of a choice besides PBS).  I don’t think I’ll be visiting Ikea anytime soon.  Too much weird Swede stuff this month.

Digging up the World War I dead

The British military has commenced a recovery operation of British and Australian soldiers who fell in northern France but were never given a proper burial.  The remains will be recovered, sorted and a proper individual military funeral will be given for all the fallen.

Magdalen Bridge 2009 – Oxford

One of the neat things about the web, especially online video, is that you can see ‘neat’ things from around the world that will never get covered by a broadcast network.  For example, today is May Day around the word and in Oxford this means the traditional singing od The Hymnus Eucharisticus from the Great Tower at Magdalen College on High Street. Of course something like this, which has been going on for quite some time, is never covered on TV, but on Youtube you can catch the whole thing. Police were all over the Magdalen bridge to stop jumpers (another tradition) but apparently two made it over (many were hurt last year during the celebrations so a heavy police line was set up this year).



p.s. here are the lyrics to The Hymnus Eucharisticus in case you were curious.

The Hymnus Eucharisticus
Composed in the 17th century by a Fellow of Magdalen

Te Deum Patrem colimus,
Te Laudibus prosequimus,
qui corpus cibo reficis,
coelesti mentem gratia.

Te adoramus, O Jesu,
Te, Fili unigenite,
Te, qui non dedignatus es
subire clautra Virginis.

Actus in crucem, factus est
irato Deo victima
per te, Salvator unice
vitae spes nobis rediit.

Tibi, aeterne Spiritus
cuius afflatu peperit
infantem Deum Maria,
aeternum benedicimus.

Triune Deus, hominum
salutis auctor optime,
immensum hoc mysterium
orante lingua canimus.

Catholics back on the throne of England?

The Queen and the PM are in talks about just that sort of idea.

Turning in his grave.

Turning in his grave.

The London Times is reporting that discussions have begun on abolishing the Act of Settlement which bars Catholics from the Royal Family. There is also an effort to remove the primogeniture which find male heirs favored for the throne as well. Unfortunately, there are some legal scholars that believe it would take an act of parliament in every commonwealth country before it could take effect.

It doesn’t help me. There were no eligible or good looking heirs available when I was of marrying age. But if Prince William would hurry up and tie the knot, deliver a good looking daughter, than maybe one of my sons could marry into the royal line and their offspring become the first Catholic King or Queen in many centuries. Bet I’d get better season tickets to Arsenal if my kids were in the royal box.