26 November, 2010

It's The Final Countdown

For the Fall 2010 students it is the final countdown of weeks left in London.  You are counting down your weekend trips, the tourist sites you STILL haven't been to and let's not forget the number of plays/sporting fixture/gigs still remaining to be seen.  For the Spring 2011 students it is the final countdown of days left in Ithaca before your semester in London, of days left on the 28 day holding period (if you are applying for a visa), of figuring out exactly how many credits you need to take here in London and which classes you will be taking (actually, I bet you all have a pretty good handle on that one already).

For Bill, Sarah, Heather and me we have a lot going on during this season, too.  This is the high season for competitions.  Bill has just named the winner of the dinner quiz (the one where you win a homemade dinner at his house!  I was one of the lucky winners of this one in the Fall of 2002.  That's probably why Bill knew that I would be good hiring quality in 2009).  Coming up is the Travel Writing competition, for which the prize is £50.  There is the Photography Competition, voted on by the students.  And of course the new term-long Scavenger Hunt.  The prizes for these competitions will be given out at the End of Term Event.  Fall '10 students, find info about these competitions on the board in the front entry.  But the competitions don't end there for us.  The Spring '11 students are getting weekly emails from Bill with quizzes to win a bit of cash upon arrival in January. 

Here are some reminders of the glory that comes with winning:
Dena was the first to ask a man in a kilt to dance with her at the ceilidh! That was worth £5. I don't think he wanted the dance to end.

Carrie was a bit of a quiz master in Stratford and Oxford.

Heather taking £5 off of Bill.

Back in August Theresa collects her summer winnings for answering one of the quizzes in the pre-arrival emails.  I bet £10 made her jet lag a little less bitter.

 -Claire (no help from Elsie)

12 November, 2010

F10 Scavenger Hunt #7: Tech support

You're abroad and to stay in contact with your friends and family at home, of course you use a computer!  Also, exams are on the horizon, which means essays for many classes.  You and your computer are finding yourselves inseparable.  So consider the unthinkable happening.  It's not pretty, but in accordance with the laws of thermodynamics, entropy is a fact of the world.  Nothing lasts forever.  Computers stop working, need fixing, take on minds of their own.  There is never a good time for it to happen, but we all know that it is an inevitability.

Often the phrase 'cut the cord' has to do with people perceived as being overly attached to one another.  And it's a similar principle, though referring to a different type of cord, when it comes to people and their computers.  They are such helpful things that it's hard to remember the days when we wrote letters- not emails, looked up businesses in the phone book- not on Google, saw our friends- not stalked them on Facebook.  My job might be a whole different position if I were not in such frequent contact with the United States.  So when we find our selves in situations of forced cord cutting, i.e. when your computer dies, it's a rough adjustment.  How did work happen before everyone had their own desk top and laptop computers?  Realistically, it's been a long time since the concept of a programmable device created by humans to simplify work first crept into society.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary the first recorded use of the word 'computer' was in 1646.

This week's installment of the scavenger hunt involves finding pre-computer age objects.  I would like you to find some pre-Norman remains.  They arrived in Britain in 1066, and supplanted the Anglo-Saxons, who, themselves, probably supplanted some Celtic peoples.  But have a look around London and you will find their traces.  Church foundations, place names,.... they are actually all around us.  Queen Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch and the last British monarch not to rule Scotland, died in 1603.  As I have decided that the computer age began with the first recorded use of the word in 1646, I would also like you to find something that is either Tudor or Elizabethan.  None of those 20th century buildings that have been made up to look like something out of the 16th century either.  Elsie expects the real deal.

Staple Inn is a rebuilt copy of what it looked like in the 16th century

11 November, 2010

Dual Citizenship

My right to work at the ICLC is based on the fact that I am a dual citizen.  I am both American and German.  Don't worry, despite some rumors, it is completely kosher and loads of people are dual citizens. The Germans are aware that I'm also American and the Americans are aware that I'm also German.  Being a German citizen makes me a member of the European Union and eligible to work in all EU countries.  Being a natural born American citizen makes me eligible to be the president of the United States.  So both passports come with perks.  Today I would like to announce the "dual citizenship" of the ICLC's blog.  Begun using Blogger, we are moving over to the IC blog format and continuously experimenting with it.  The original blog will still be there, but it is now a dual citizen of Ithaca College and Blogger.
Decoration in my office

On a side note, the ICLC will have at least 3 dual citizens coming to study in London this spring.  I have seen a number of cases of students coming over here to study, falling in love with Europe and chasing up their roots to find out if they can become dual citizens.  Even if it isn't possible to to get a hold of that second passport, digging into family history and ancestry can be really interesting.  A few years back I researched where my great grandfather on my father's side had been born in Northern Ireland.  When my brother came to visit me in Dublin, we took a bus north of the border and found the site of the family farm that his birth certificate said he had been born in.  It is now a tile shop, with very generous proprietors who gave us a large ceramic tile with a picture of a French boulangerie to commemorate our trip.
Wall decoration outside Sarah's office
There is a show that the BBC makes called Who Do You Think You Are? and I have decided that I would like to become a celebrity so that one day they will do an episode based on me.  The premise is that they take a well known figure (usually a tv celebrity) and help them track down their roots.  Often the celebrity has some sort of question about a relative that they are interested in answering.  Sometimes they trace families back to the person's grandparents, sometimes they are able to follow them backward centuries.  I have seen a few episodes where the people were even traced back hundreds of years to royalty.  My grandfather, on my mother's side, was convinced that we were illegitimate Hapsburgs.  I'm ok with this allegation because being illegitimate probably means that there isn't much of a history of in-breeding in the line I descend from.  I know that the point of the show is to get people interested in making their own discoveries about their past, but my mother and I had a look at some old papers that my grandparents brought over from Germany, and they are written in a beautiful Gothic German script that is nearly impossible to read.  The language barrier was a bit rough, too, even though my mother and I have both studied some German.  The German language seems to go through overhauls once in a while, so it was a little like trying to read your family history as if Jane Austen had written it.  No, I think I would like the BBC to help me with my research.
The Union flag with the Scottish Royal Standard sneaking in on the side
We have a worldly staff, with all members culturally associating with more than one country.  Bill was born in Canada but has spent more than half his life in the UK.  Sarah is Welsh but grew up in Holland.  Heather is American and is married to a Yorkshireman.  Choosing to remain a bit of a mystery, it seems that Elsie, who is mostly manifested in our blog, is a dual citizen of Ithaca College and Blogger.  Congratulations Elsie!

-Claire (Elsie would have helped, but she is on holiday celebrating her new citizenship)

05 November, 2010

Remember, Remember the 5th of November?

November is a month of remembrances in the UK. The most significant occurs on November 11th, the day when World War One ended, and the day when we remember and give thanks for the sacrifices of the dead, disabled, missing and survivors of all wars. And so we should remember and give quiet thanks to the thousands slaughtered in the grim trench warfare of the western front and in all subsequent wars. Retrospectively, of course, it seems like WWI – unlike WW2 - was a wholly unnecessary war. The pain of separation, wasted lives and broken bodies is greater as a result.

Another November day, the 25th this year, is a huge day for Americans, a day of family gatherings, celebration and thankfulness. November25th is Thanksgiving, not much of a day to remember for the British. They stayed put while radical Protestants took ship on a hazardous 3,000 mile journey across unpredictable waters to get religious freedom. Had they stayed and fought for religious freedom, who knows whether there would still be a monarchy and established church here! Had they stayed they would have learned to play cricket, always an advantage in life.

The strangest of the ‘remembrances’ occurs TODAY, the 5th, Guy Fawkes Day. Like Thanksgiving it is meant to recall the ‘freedoms’ of the English. These freedoms began in the 12th century when the monarchs summoned lords and commoners to a consultative process called ‘Parliament’. In 1605, 400 years after the birth of Parliament, Guy Fawkes and his associates tried to blow up the Palace of Westminster during the State opening. The plot was rumbled in the nick of time, the king, his chief ministers, the bishops, gentlemen from the shires and the royal family were all saved to rule or misrule in perpetuity. Hence Nov 5th recalls English liberties, a reasonable enough event to celebrate.

But, there are two puzzles about our celebrations today. First, should we be celebrating in the way we do? Fireworks are OK, but they do paradoxically suggest that the attempt was successful. What is critical about November 5th is that there was no explosion! Second, the bonfires are even more problematic as participants in the riotous celebrations are meant to hurl ‘guys’ onto the fire and watch them burn. The throwing of human effigies or ‘GUYS’ on to huge bonfires in our city parks recalls the religious zealotry of the wars of religion when Catholics burnt Protestants and vice versa. But Fawkes and his co-conspirators were not burnt: their crime was high treason and punishment for this most serious of crimes was being dragged on a hurdle head down through the streets of London, from the Tower to Westminster in Fawkes’ case, there to have his genitals cut off and displayed in front of him and then to be hung drawn and quartered. Ouch! The same happened to William Wallace three hundred years previous.

I’m not so sure that we should be ‘remembering’ the 5th of November and man’s brutal inhumanity to man.


04 November, 2010

A Letter to the NFL

The NFL road show, featuring the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos, with Jerry Rice and John Elway in tow, plus scores of hangers on and media technicians, arrived in London last week. Almost 85,000 people attended the match at the brand new Wembley Stadium.  This 4th in the NFL’s annual series of ‘international’ matches was a close game, dull in the first half, more exciting in the second, when 37 of the 40 points were scored and two critical refereeing decisions shaped the outcome. The 49ers came out on top, a bit fortuitously, but any win is good when a team has a 1-5 record. The game turned on penalties that negated two explosive Bronco touchdowns. The Broncos’ place kicker also missed a conversion which would have brought his team to within a converted touchdown of the ‘Niners’.  “Wait a minute,” I jokingly commented to Gen at the time, “a skewed conversion reminds me of the ‘spot betting’ scandal in the recent Test series between England and Pakistan.” Had the Broncos place kicker found a betting shop in central London? What are the odds on a missed convert, one that is not even blocked, not even close? Shades of “the 5th ball of my 4th over will be a ‘no ball’”. To say nothing of the officials who were decisive in turning a game Denver should have won into the 49ers’ second win of the season**.
All dressed up for the game!
Over here we believe that American football developed out of Rugby which in turn developed out of football/soccer. Both parent games are played on a wider and longer pitch, for longer periods [80 minutes and 90 minutes], with fewer substitutions and no time outs. When substitutions are made in football’s Champions League the distance the player has run is shown on the screen: for example, in last night’s Tottenham Hotspur v Inter Milan game, the Spurs winger Aaron Lennon was substituted in the 80th minute having run over 10km. [He also made tackles and was tackled.] Spurs have a minimum of 38 games each year and are allowed just three subs per game. To play football at this level the players need to be very fit. No doubt the same is true in US football, but the game doesn’t show it. No US player would run 10km in a game.

The main novelty the Americans introduced was the forward pass. Much of the equipment and the sophisticated strategy came later.  The biggest difference between US football and its grandfather, Association Football or soccer, and its father, Rugby, lies in the amount of time the players actually PLAY the game.  I am not challenging the supreme fitness of the players, nor the sophistication of the strategy which calls for numerous substitutions and time-outs. But for the soccer or rugby public it does seem strange that US football has too many occasions when fit, professional athletes stand in half huddles on the pitch doing nothing but drinking water and chatting amiably to each other.  US football is far slower and, arguably, less physically strenuous than other versions of the game.
Non-committal QPR hat, Bill

Check this data compiled during the first half of the Wembley match.

ACTUAL CLOCK TIME FOR 1st half: start 5:00pm; finish 6:12pm = 72 minutes
ACTUAL GAME TIME: Two 15 minute quarters = 30 minutes
ACTUAL PLAYING TIME: [from snap to end of play]
Possession 1: DENVER 37 seconds [5 plays]
Possession 2: SF 31 seconds [4 plays]
Possession 3: Denver 50 seconds [8 plays]
Possession 4: SF 70 seconds [13 plays]
Possession 5: Denver 49 seconds [6 plays]
Possession 6: SF 37 seconds [6 plays]
Possession 7: Denver 41 seconds [7 plays]
Possession 8: SF 41 seconds [6 plays]
Possession 9: Denver 83 seconds [12 plays]
Possession 10: SF 1 second [1 play]
TOTAL PLAYING TIME:   440 seconds = 7 minutes 20 seconds for 68 plays OR roughly 24% of the ‘game time’ and a mere 10% of the ‘real time’ of 72 minutes. Each play lasts on average about 6.5 seconds.

I ask these questions of the NFL.
1. Do fans attend games to watch superb athletes at the peak of their performance OR to be otherwise entertained by the razzmatazz, the cheerleaders, the Mexican waving, the tailgate parties, etc.
2. Can football players & fans cope with bursts of play that last longer than 10 seconds?
3. Do the cheerleaders, also fit, choreographed and with facial make-up [like the running backs and receivers] perform more strenuously and for a longer period of time in a game than the players?
4. Who is more highly paid? The [arguably] underperforming fit athletic footballers or the equally fit cheerleaders?
5. Are some fans more active than players in a match? Do they burn more calories watching a game & cheering for their team than the majority of kitted players?

** DISCLAIMER: The author does not believe that the BRONCO place keeper and the referees placed bets on the outcome of the match.

Thanks for this one, Carter!