Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oxford and computer theft

About 16,000 students attend the three dozen colleges at Oxford, and you can see how they get around the narrow streets of this medieval town. It makes you wonder how many parking spaces Oxford has compared to a comparable sized US university. Cindy and I spent a day there soaking up the 800 years of educational tradition. So we can say we both went to Oxford but left before completing our degrees.

You may have gone canoeing on the Mohican River in Ohio, but this is punting on the Thames.

What did Oxford students do before Nokia came along? They might have written to Mum once in a while, seen the folks once a term. Now they instantly ring them up and whinge (rhymes with hinge, means complain) when they get a bad mark. Just like in the States.

Cindy is in the garden behind the home of Shakespeare's daughter in Stratford. Those are yew trees shaped in the background. Shakespeare made a lot of money as a part-owner of a theater and partner in an acting company and he used it to buy one of the biggest homes in Stratford, his hometown. He retired there and bought the house next door for his daughter. His house was torn down in the 18th century but the daughter's remains.

The publishing world of Elizabethan times was like today's music world -- pirates everywhere, no control of intellectual property. An actor or two with good memory would hook up with a printer, recreate an entire play, publish it and keep the money, and to heck with the author. Or they could steal a working script. There are lots of pirated editions of Shakespeare's plays, which makes finding the so-called "true" or "correct" version difficult. The Folio edition published in 1623 by a group of his friends is probably the best and most representative version of his plays and poetry. At least in most cases.

The Palace Hotel is typical of the rich architecture that a stroller can enjoy in Manchester.

A yob (young hoodlum) made a stroll through our office here in Manchester and nicked (swiped) three laptops loaded with information and articles and contact information that we needed for our newspaper startup. The security people showed us a video from one of the ubiquitous closed circuit security cameras that watch every move of Britain's citizens. We saw the guy. He obviously had an electronic key to the office.

The police and security people investigating this theft do not come up to the standards of Detective Chief Inspector Tennison or MI5 or even of Barney Miller. "It was an inside job," they pronounced with finality, since the crook had used an electronic key. They accused us of stealing our own laptops. There are about 10 of us in the office. The crook looked like none of us.

"How many of these electronic keys are there?" I asked the security chief. "I don't know. That's estate's (the landlord's) job." Brilliant. Then we find out from the landlord that there are 99 electronic keys for our office suite and they don't really know where they all are or who might have them. Not your Scotland Yard.

Initially we were worried that we had lost all the information, but we were able to reconstruct it. These kinds of thefts are about getting quick cash, not selling information.
My laptop wasn't taken. I never leave it on top of my desk overnight. It's tucked into a drawer under some files.

More lost computer data

The Labour government are slogging through what passes for a huge scandal here. A clerk in the office of treasury and revenue mailed two CDs containing the private information and banking details of 25 million people (almost half the UK population) to another office by regular post. The discs are lost somewhere. No one can find them. Not Scotland Yard, not Chief Inspector Tennison and not Barney Miller. The scandal has forced the Prime Minister and Chancellor to publicly apologize and the Chancellor may be forced to resign.

There are at least a dozen "why" questions that could be raised about this, and i won't bore you with the answers that have emerged. Suffice it to say that it is classic bureaucratic indifference, idiocy and incompetence.

Geezers and bunny boilers

America and England are two nations divided by a common language, George Bernard Shaw famously said. Living here offers daily reminders of the many differences. It ranges from the spelling of colour and criticise to pronouncing "contribute" and "distribute" with the accent on the first syllable.

Then there there is the word "scheme," which here in Britain means program or deal or procedure, with no negative connotation. A clever child is a smart one, not a tricky or devious one.

Here the word "geezer" just means a bloke, not necessarily an old bloke. But as one of my cultural interpreters in the office here explained, a geezer "can be a bit of a dodgy type, a wide boy. You wouldn't trust him with a tenner" (10 quid or pounds). Anything unreliable or shaky is dodgy.

I have read and heard women referring to other women as "bunny boilers" on several occasions. This is an emotionally unstable "other woman", as in Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction".

Anything big or huge is massive. He took a massive big risk. It was massively attended. It was absolutely massive.
And if it's good, it's brilliant. "Cheers" means, hello, goodbye, thank you, you're welcome, OK, all right then and almost anything else you can want it to mean.

If it's bad, it's rubbish. It's a rubbish football team. He's a rubbish manager. And if it's BS, it's bollocks. On the other hand, if it's the dog's bollocks, that's really, really good.

Here collective nouns are usually plural, not singular. The Parliament are considering....British Petroleum are investing....the England football team are preparing....

A company's revenues are referred to as "turnover".

Here Cindy and I are at Conwy castle (pronounced Conway) in north Wales. England is a very small place crammed with different accents, dialects, cultures and peoples. The country is smaller than Michigan and yet has a population of 60 million.

The North West, where I'm living, has a bewildering variety of speech. Supposedly Manchester alone has 10 or 12 distinct accent groups, and I believe it. I can hear a couple of different ones just in our little office. If you could imagine compressing all of the regional speech variations of the US into a space the size of Michigan and than multiply by 10, you might get something of the variety of speech in England.

The Welsh accent sounds to me very much like Irish. My office mates make fun of me in my attempts to imitate the local accents. It's hopeless and difficult to get right. Scottish Power representatives have been calling me about problems with my account, and after each call I try to imitate the accent for the benefit of my mates, and they die laughing. It's a hilarious failed effort, in their view. Gr-r-r-r-eat.

I made one weekend trip to London to see Phillip Ens, our daughter Bridget's partner, singing with the Royal Opera in Wagner's "Siegfried." The Covent Garden opera house is a palace. A ticket for the show, which was sold out weeks in advance, cost $500 for a seat at the back of the orchestra.

The changing of the horse guard was quite an impressive sight.

Bridget choreographs a piece for 32 dancers

I went to Stuttgart last weekend to see a dance choreographed by daughter Bridget, who is in the center with her arms around one of the Stuttgart Ballet school's dancers, who performed the piece. Called "Zeitspruenge," or Time Leap, it was a 32-dancer extravaganza performed in the ultra-modern Art Museum's galleries.

The dance was supposed to pay tribute to Willy Baumeister, an artist who turned to stage design for the ballet and theater companies after the Nazis burned his paintings and stripped him of his professorship. The piece, commissioned jointly by the museum and the ballet, also was a tribute to the ballet's 70th (I think) anniverary.

It was a difficult commission. She had to bring together a lot of disparate elements -- Baumeister's work, the ballet's history -- and program it for an unconventional dance space. It got rave reviews and fantastic audience reception.

Unfortunately I missed it. SwissAir's flight crew arrived late for my flight from Manchester, making me miss my connection in Zurich, so I arrived in Stuttgart four hours later than planned. Just in time for the cast party.

This is Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, the biggest sports brand in the world. They sell out all 75,000 tickets for every game. Many season ticket holders come from distant places -- Scandinavians for some reason are big fans. In my neighborhood, which is a 10-minute walk from the stadium, I have several times given directions to foreigners looking for the stadium on non-game days. It's a shrine where you go to have your picture taken.

I got a ticket for this match at face value from a season ticket holder whose mate failed to show. It was only £30 ($60). They played the hapless Middlesbrough side and beat them 4-1. Yesterday I went to Manchester City's ground (43,000 attendance) to see them beat Reading.

Greater Manchester has four Premier League teams, which is like St. Louis having four Major League baseball teams. United and City draw big crowds; Wigan and Bolton not so much, but yesterday Bolton beat the mighty Manchester United 1-nil at Bolton's ground.

The stadiums have relatively few food and drink concessions inside, not like the shopping malls that new American stadiums resemble. And absolutely no vendors in the seating area. The football ground is, after all, a sacred space.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Jim:

    I am David Calvert, your sister Mary's friend from NYC, and I have been looking through the site, really a treat. Thanks for sharing it around.

    And I just want to chime in on the rollicking football scene in Manchester, as a huge (or is it massive?) Man City fan. Why City, you ask? A friend from Shrewsbury turned me on to City about 15 years ago, but I probably was attracted to the underdog team playing opposite (and gamely challenging) the crosstown team, the omnipotent, rich, successful Man United. Admittedly, as a sports fan, I am a bit of a masochist. ALL my teams lose more than they win, but somehow I have made it through all these years and still love them all...City, Jets, Mets, Knicks, and Mexico)'s UNAM Pumas football team). Cause it is not all about winning, but earnest and spirited engagement, just like in life and relationships and how you live each day, no?

    Anyway, i did have the chance to see City play at home in Manchester, though not at the lovely new stadium Eastlands. I attended a match on a chilly day at dilapidated Maine Road, in 1999. Naturally they lost to Charlton that afternoon, but no matter, a brilliant time was had by all.

    Jim, I will write you separately about Mexico, where I lived 2002-7, and a country i have fallen in love with. Best of luck in Guadalajara!!