Saturday, March 19, 2005

This web really is world-wide

If you've never thought about it before, let me suggest to you that the internet is, on the whole, a cool thing. Below, I will lay out a few reasons why this is true.

1) As I type, I am listening to the NCAA tournament, specifically Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech. The internet is still such a difficult thing to patrol that I'm almost 100% sure that that the station I am listening to does not have permission to broadcast the tourney over the net. Its one of those "listen live" channels. Now, there are several places where one must pay to listen to the tournament on the internet, but good old WBAL in Baltimore does it pro bono. It was in 2001 that I discovered that there is almost always a station airing for free what others wanted money for. Just last week, I listened to Alabama play on a station in Huntsville's, sight (The Ump), while Alabama's official site wanted me to pay, as did

2) Google. Google is the reason that I knew about good old WBAL, and The Ump, and just about every interesting thing I've read on the internet over the past three years.

3) The fact that we are over here right now would almost certainly have been impossible without the internet. First, google helped me find the University of Birmingham and the fact that it offers the External Programme. The internet allowed me to research, apply, and register. In addition, I was able to get approval for my research, communicate at length with my supervisor before committing, and even buy the tickets to get here. Before we arrived, I had a general idea of what rent would be, where we'd need to live, and what the average weather was like. Sure, all of these things could have been done without the net, but the sheer work involved in half of them without the internet would have certainly been enough to quash the thing.

4) Communication. Yahoo IM has allowed our families to keep up with the drastic changes Helen has undergone over the past three months, and allowed her to hear and see her grandparents... all for free. That beats the $1 a minute one would have had to have paid to call here just ten years ago. Come to think of it, the internet has allowed people to price search in such a powerful way that plane tickets are the best example of its power. Tickets to Europe from the U.S. were well over $1000, even over $1500, until the past 10 years or so. I got a roundtrip ticket in January to London for $282 total. Now that is a deal, and yes, I found it on the internet.

5) Back to google. The image search function allows one to find a picture of absolutely anything he could imagine. Just for a test, I'll search for "fat gorilla" and see what happens... 39 results... this is my favorite. Now, I'll try "scott mcelroy". Ouch!! Maybe I accidentally did "fat gorilla" again.

6) Email.

I could think or more, but why don't you read this article on The Advantages of the Internet, written in 1996. Only 9 years old, but already seems quaint. Once again, just found it with google.

I will blog about our truly enjoyable day in the city centre today and all the fun we had last night with our guests later. And Texas Tech just took the lead.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Missing the Madness

I have this sneaky suspicion that BK is only blogging about the NCAA tournament because he knows that I am being deprived of it. I can, however, blame my weak picks in our little tourney showdown on the fact that I haven't been able to keep up with basketball... to many important things. Here's a link to my picks.

Second, also following BK's lead, I've decided to insert pictures of my baby in my blogs... always helps with the "Aw!" effect. I do wish I could afford the expensive BK camera, though!

Other random thoughts:

I saw a fox in Selly Oak the other day, on the campus of Birmingham Christian College. I think he was flaunting the fact that he can no longer be legally hunted over here. Though he probably is in much greater danger darting among the vehicles.

Spring is in the air here. Today it got up to 62 degrees or so, lots of sun. In fact, here's a pic from my (piece of junk) webcam as I type.

If you look hard enough you will notice (1) Helen in left corner of the couch playing with the dangling ornaments on her favorite coat and providing a distinct play-by-play, (2) the sun shining into the window revealing a beautiful day, (3) Mary coming in from the clothes-line. Our normal clothes dryer has been the radiator, but the past two days have afforded some of nature's dryness.

Tonight we're having more company... students of mine. 5 Koreans and an Irishman. Sounds like the beginning to a bad joke, huh? The 5 Koreans are a student or mine named Cha, his wife and their 3 kids. The Irishman, Rodney, is also a student. He hails from Belfast in Northern Ireland, ie UK, not the nation of Ireland or whatever the technical term is for it.

And why are Chinese phone books so frustrating? So many Wong numbers.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I almost missed St. Patty's day

Now, there are many reasons why one could pass the entire day of March 17th and not realize that it was St. Patrick's Day.
1. In England, the holiday is about as important as the 4th of July. Because England is not a Catholic nation, nor has its history with the Irish been rosy, there has been almost no hint of it on TV, in stores, in green clothing, etc.. Notable exceptions are in those areas with strong Irish immigrant communities (inner-city Birmingham being one).

2. Having grown up in smalltown Alabama, there were about as many Catholics as there were Jews around, so St. Patrick's Day had almost no significance. Sure, you see the occasional shamrocks, leprechauns, and many folks feel obliged to wear something green, but it doesn't count as a holiday in any sense of the word in Moulton. This also brings me to another sore subject, that of Scots-Irish heritage (which many Southerners claim). Many of these Alabamians descended from Scots-Irish assume that their ancestors were the ones who instituted St. Patty's Day oh so many years ago. I certainly did growing up. Most are ignorant of the fact, as I was, that any Irish heritage they could lay claim was Northern Irish, aka Ulster Scots, aka Scots brought to Northern Ireland thanks to the British, aka the ones that are staunchly anti-Catholic, anti-St. Patrick, and anti-IRA. Even more disappointing is the fact that my Scottish ancestors were almost certainly "lowland Scots" who (a) didn't speak Gaelic, but a dialect close to English (Scots), (b) didn't wear kilts and tartans and all that jazz. Sure, those things have come to be associated with Scotland, but they belong to the Scottish Highlanders. But, what the hay, we Americans have never let a little thing like history keep us from having a little fun. Kind of brings into question the whole "Highland Games" thing, too. I'm tired of looking for any more links on the Scots-Irish immigration to America, so here is a sub-par one.

There are, of course, plenty of Irish Americans around, particularly around Boston but also in just about every corner of America. Many of them keep close tabs with the Emerald Isle. The ties between Boston and Ireland are still so strong, in fact, that the cheapest and most frequent service to Ireland from the U.S. is Aer Lingus airlines from Boston to Dublin (or Shannon). These people are the ones who really get into St. Patty's Day.

It is worth noting, however, that for the most part St. Patrick's Day is a religious holiday in Ireland (with SPD being a day to break the fast of Lent), whereas in America it is more of a celebration and an excuse to publicly parade everything ever associated with Ireland. My favorite Irish American who loves to poke fun at his ancestry (and everything else for that matter) is Conan O'Brien. It's almost too good to be true -- his name is Irish, he is Catholic, he is from Boston, he is red-headed. I was reminded today of a thing he did on his show, Late Night With Conan O'Brien, a couple of years ago when he went to Ireland to see the land of his ancestors. He found a small castle on a tiny peninsula in Ireland called "O'Brien Castle". As he stood in front of the castle, wind howling at at least 50 mph in the bitter cold, barely able to stand up, he said, "This is O'Brien Castle... I can't imagine why my ancestors left this place." And this morning, as the winds got up to an ungodly ferocity (as they often do here) I was asking myself the same question. The other incredibly funny thing that Conan did that episode was to go into an Irish elementary school classroom and teach the kids interesting facts like "the most famous Irish American is... Shaquille O'Neal."

But, in all fairness, by the afternoon today was the most spring-like of any thus far. Sunny, a little on the cold side, but good enough to allow Mary, Helen, and me (and every dog around here that needed to relieve itself) to enjoy a walk in the Warley Woods near our house.

Mary's parents arrive in 4 days. We can't wait!

Monday, March 14, 2005

I knew I wasn't dreaming it...

Today I got into a long discussion about, amongst other things, the English tendency to pronounce an "r" to the end of words that dont' have them -- "ideaR", "AmericaR", and the tendency to not pronounce r's at the end of words - ladder = ladduh, mother = mothah, etc. Because, I know at least one of my English friends will be reading this, I'll take it easy on him!!

But the best thing about it all was the fact that neither of my buddies acknowledged this (as I deemed it) obvious trait of the English. They granted that the "r" at the the end of words was supposed to be soft or silent, but said that they'd never noticed the addition of an "r" at the end of a word. I must have heard the football team "Aston Villa" pronounced "Aston Villar" at least 100 times since being here, but they claimed to never have heard it!! Well, thank God for google. After a little searching, I came across what is termed the "intrusive 'r'". The description is:
This phenomenon is known as intrusive r, and because there is no "r" in the spelling of these words. It is often frowned on by school teachers and others as being "incorrect". The use of intrusive r is so automatic that speakers are usually unaware of it. Generally, if a speaker with a south-eastern accent fails to use the intrusive [r], especially after words like idea or Canberra then it is likely that he/she learnt English as a second language.

And there is also a technical term for the silent or soft "r" - nonrhotic:

A rhotic speaker is one who pronounces as a consonant postvocalic
"r", i.e. the "r" after a vowel in words like "world" /wV"rld/. A
nonrhotic speaker either does not pronounce the "r" at all /wV"ld/
or pronounces it as a schwa /wV"@ld/. British Received
Pronunciation (RP) and many other dialects of English are nonrhotic.

Many nonrhotic speakers (including RP speakers, but excluding
most nonrhotic speakers in the southern U.S.) use a "linking r":
they don't pronounce "r" in "for" by itself /fO:/, but they do
pronounce the first "r" in "for ever" /fO: 'rEv@/. Linking "r"
differs from French liaison in that the former happens in any
phonetically appropriate context, whereas the latter also needs
the right syntactic context.
There are 2 interesting things to note here:
1. The intrusive "r" is usually seen as a sign of a Southern redneck in the U.S. - "I'm going WaRshington D.C. next week." "My mom is from ChicaRgo". Reminds me of home. That's why I was surprised to find it so prevalent here. Note: the intrusive "r" also creeps in around non-Southern areas, too.

2. About the nonrhotic speakers in the southern U.S. - Many people wrongly assume that the Southern accent is non-rhotic... "Miss Scahlett". This accent tends to pervade coastal Virginia, South Carolina, much of Georgia, most of South Alabama, and is present in (wannabe?) aristocratic North Alabamians. It's what I call the "Old South" accent. The one exception I can think of is the word "cuss", a nonrhotic form of "curse". However, we have an old recording of Mary's Middle Tennessee native maternal grandfather preaching (he died before she was born) and on the tape he pronounces the name "Cornelius" (Acts 10) as a charming "Coh-nelius".

One more thing: "Mind the gap" means be careful around the space between the platform and the train. "Pop a cap" means...

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Guide to the Media

Stole this from Oxblog:

1. The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.

3. The New York Times is read by people who think they should run the country and who are very good at crossword puzzles.

4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don't really understand The New York Times. They do, however, like the statistics shown in pie charts.

5. The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn't mind running the country -- if they could find the time -- and if they didn't have to leave Southern California to do it.

6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country and did a far superior job of it, thank you.

7. The New York Daily News is read by people who aren't too sure who's running the country and don't really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.

8. The New York Post is read by people who don't care who's running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.

9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country but need the baseball scores.

10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren't sure there is a country ... or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for.

11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.

They call it that Good Ol' Mountain Dew

As I blogged earlier, on Thursday night we had 4 folks over. One couple consisted of Louise (my student) and her boyfriend Tristan. The other couple was Matt and his fiancee Becky. Much like the last time we had company, we had a great time. However, there was no one present with Jon and Matt's musical ability.

Louise is the only female student in my classes (but she's used to it by now). She works with a children's ministry at a Anglican church in Solihull. Tristan works for a marketing company (not telemarketing), and gets a new company car every and free gas! That's the equivalent of a $20,000 a year raise! He was the major talker of the bunch. He grew up on the family farm in Ireland until he was 10, then moved to England with his family. About 5 years ago his grandparents were getting too old to keep the farm up so they had to sell it-- a travesty considering that it had been in the family for 300 years!!! Tristan was also the reason that we decided to order pizza (he's a very picky eater), but that made it easier on Mary.

Matt has one of the best dry wits I've ever known. He'll be quiet for quite a while, then pipe up with some comment that leaves me rolling. They all admitted that they liked America, and Tristan and Matt gave their reasons. Tristan loves the weather and the cars... plans to honeymoon in the U.S.... fly into NYC, rent a Mustang convertable and drive it to Florida. But Matt's appreciation for the U.S. hit home... Mountain Dew! He said that they had it here until 9 years ago when Pepsi apparently gave up on its potential in the UK. This was a tough blow to Matt and he has yet to recover. However, I assured him that I'd bring some MD back with me.
He said that he and Bex would like to tour the U.S. sometime, but it will probably be in a Winnebago. I'm doing my best to convince every friend I make over here that, if he/she ever comes to the U.S., he/she must visit us in Tennessee. I'm really hoping that they take us up on the offer.

A random thought: Every time I ride the train I see a sign that says "Mind the gap." This demonstrates a major difference in British and American English. They use the word "mind" in its classical-verb-form - "watch out for" or "be careful". That usage is no longer around in the U.S. (at least not the South). Our one holdover is "Mind your manners". The only other verbal usage is, I think, "obey"... "Mind your mother".