Tuesday, September 11, 2007

And finally....Otford!

I got up at 7 to make the 9:18 train for Jean, my half-great-Aunt, to pick me up at 9:55. At Victoria Station they told me the trains were cancelled for the day (oh no not this again…) and directed me to Blackfriers. I gave in to the cell phone for the first time to leave Jean a message that I would be in at 10:18 instead, as I was now coming from Blackfriers. When I got there they told me platform one, but none of the trains agreed that they were going to Otford. In the end one of the engineers gave me instructions on where to get off and change to a bus (again tickets are good for any way you can make a trip to your final destination, regardless of number of trains busses whatevers). He was nice enough to say over the intercom that passengers to Otford should change in Swanley when I needed to get off. The bus from Swanley was actually another train which wasn’t leaving until 10:37. I called Jean again, this time I got her and she said she’d meet me at the station again. I couldn’t find her and wandered off to the wrong side and around the street. In the end I came around the back and as soon as she turned around I knew it was her: she has Grammie’s same smile! I felt very bad for being late, but it was no worry. We went back to her cute little tudor house to have tea, drop off the bags and pick up her mom. We drove down to the seaside, Ferring, to have lunch. She insisted I had Sunday roast, which I was incredibly happy to accept, as my muesli had warn off after all my hours of travel and I was famished. And I love roast, stuffing, potatoes and gravy more than anything I think! We walked along the coast for a bit, and although she said it wouldn’t be beautiful on the way there, it was gorgeous. The day was perfect, sunny and clear. It was just wonderful really. I really wish you could have been there Grammie, as she reminded me so much of you, not just in her face but sometimes her movements would look like yours. Don’t know how that happens – given your separation not only of half your genes but of your upbringing – but it did. Amazing! After lunch we went down to her son Ben’s house to meet the new baby. He has two little girls, 3 & 5, who ran around dancing and wonderful. I haven’t been around babies or kids in what seems like years, but the baby stopped crying when I held it and the girls and I just smiled at each other. I didn’t want to push them to talk, they tended not to listen and were pretty wrapped up in their adventures.

I really like Ben and his wife Cherry. They are very religious (Ben is one year away from being a vicker) but they were so open and frank. They let the girls run around naked, but didn’t let them watch tv while we were there. I’m defiantly comfortable in that kind of atmosphere….
We headed home and I fell asleep to the BBC news, but woke up when we dropped off Jean’s mom and Jean showed me a bit of Otford, which was so quaint. There was a church built around the 11th century and darling cottages surrounded by pasturland. We returned home for lasagna, summer pudding & cream and to watch a typical English short movie about a dinner party. It was the perfect ending to my trip. No, the perfect ending was when I made it through customs in Charlotte and when I responded I had gotten all my baggage, the officer said welcome home. Aaaahhhh home. Everytime I leave this country I like it even more on my return. The variety, the openness, the strive for success. It is a nice place.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

alive and well - can't find wireless

so no cool posts - need the computer for the pix. missing you all dearly. home soon! xoxo. tiff.

London: The Big City

I arrived in London around 2:30 in the afternoon Friday. The train was crowded, I sat on the floor by the door (which rattled and made me jump every time another train passed) reading a wonderful book I got when I left Glasgow. I bought it before I left, but realized I didn’t have enough cash with me for the rest of the evening so returned it and bought it again when I went back into town the next day. It’s called An Intimate History of Humanity or something and its about people and their emotions and interactions throughout the ages. It’s absoultly wonderful and I had a strange affinity for it from the moment I saw it (I bought it twice I wanted it so much!). I found out why once I started reading, as the auther thinks like I do, many of the things he writes are things I’ve either directly contemplated or the summary of hundreds of years answers to questions I’ve posed to myself. Its very exciting as I haven’t been very interested in reading like I was as a kid since…well…I was a kid. I was much too busy with all kinds of crap the last 10 years or so, and when I picked up a book by choice I only finished it maybe one time out of ten. Anyways, back to London, I found my way to my hostel without any problem, although carrying my luggage across the 3 different underground changes was a real pain. I dropped off my things and walked down to the Portobello Market. It is in a beautiful area and filled with antiques, fresh food and a bit of the usual sunglasses-bags-scarves crap. I would find out later from a little birdy that Ann had a shopping spree there when Grammie and her visited earlier in the year.

I bought some old records and an amazing 1790’s map which I at first refused to buy when I found out was 5pounds. The guy was totally offended and told me it was over 200 years old under his breath. I was caught off-guard, I had thought it was a copy, and after much though eventually bought it. It was very unique looking.

I will mention another thing I have forgotten all this time: THIS PLACE IS FREAKING EXPENSIVE. Ugh it’s terrible. Everything is priced about the same as at home, but our money is worth half as much. It is impossible to get a decent meal for less than ten bucks and a sale seemed to mean absolutely nothing. I usually don’t buy much when I travel til maybe the very end, but I am nearing the end here and I still have no desire to buy anything (sorry guys…don’t have much to bring back) as everything cool is ridiculously overpriced (to my poor American eyes hehe). It’s really added a lot of anxiety to the trip, and its crazy to think I would have spent at least twice as much if I hadn’t been fed and housed by the conference and Rhiannon and her family. To give you a clue, I still spent the entire $500 bursary, $100 I got out at the airport, $60 from Rhiannon’s mom to pay for shipping Rhi’s books from La Jolla and a few credit card charges in the two weeks I was here. And almost all of it just on food and train/bus tickets.

I talked to a slightly creepy West African guy while I had sausages and mash (veggie sausages, I haven’t been too into meat lately) and in my haste to leave, forgot my bag of purchases until I had wandered around for about 15 minutes, parusing vintage dresses and boots (Hannah, you would have gone NUTS). It was still there when I got back, amazingly, and I headed back to the hostel. I dropped off my things and grabbed a book, then walked down the street just a bit to Hyde Park and laid in the grass reading til dark.

The book, my mood before leaving home of general craziness, the intensity of the conference, staying with so many different people and traveling has made me very introspective and quiet, I was unsure of what to do with myself for the evening. I had been planning a trip to the brewery of my latest favorite beer, but upon inspection of the map I discovered it was really far out of town, and the show Iris recommended was the next night. I was at a loss for what to do with myself so I put on a jazzy outfit – blue and yellow paisley suspenders included – and packed all the things for an introspective night out (book, paper & pen, bottle of gratefruit juice) and asked the front desk for something to do. It was a good plan, because with my funny outfit they had a sense for what I wanted to do, rather than if I had been wearing my usually plain clothes they probably would have sent me some place usually plain. The bar they recommended wasn’t the best match for my mood, but I got a glass of my favorite scotch and sat outside looking in at the rugby match between France and Argentina. People came out periodically and chatted and eventually I retired to warmer quarters and read my book. In a loud bar playing techno. Yes. It was funny, but I really didn’t know anywhere else to go (I asked for a coffee shop or something but no ideas). I got bored and left to try out a dim sum restaurant (too loud and restauranty), coffee shop (too awkward and filled with men) and a fish and chips shop (too expensive and stark) to finally return to the coffee shop. I ordered a pot of tea and jacket potatoe with cheese (aka baked). Ate a bit of potato and found a hair so even though it was very good, I gave it back. I wasn’t very hungry and it was around 11 anyways so too late for eating much. It was actually very relieving to find that hair because the silly thing cost like ten bucks.

I made it home by 2 or so: I had an evening. Strange, but an evening. I still felt that need to be creative, so I wrote for a long time (some of the fruits you all may be seeing in the mail…depending on who is reading this…although not the really good parts of course. Hard to write anything substantial on a postcard). I wanted to get a bit of sleep so I didn’t set my alarm. As I thought I couldn’t get up in time for breakfast but the seven other people in my room woke me up before I missed too much of the day. I had showered the night before, so I just got dressed and headed out to find the Tate Modern (the museum of art part of the name is implied I guess…oh so modern). I finally decided to give into the weather I had found rather than the weather I had anticipated and wore a tank top and skirt. I packed tights in case I got cold and planned to buy a cardigan because they seem to be all the rage with the hipsters here (the boy ones that is) and I wanted one. The hostel was so hot all the time, poor circulation and lots of people, so I was happy to be less dressed, layered and umbrellaed than normal. When I stepped out I was optimistic that the clouds would burn off…you say this isn’t California oh do you? Yeah I had forgotten I guess. I had gotten rather crappy directions, but figured it wouldn’t be that hard to find, as nothing in London had been so far (nothing like Glasgow…ohhh Glasgow how you got me lost!). To my surprise the subway station I had planned to get off at was closed so I had to get off one earlier at Victoria. This turned out alright, as I stumbled upon Buckingham Palace, Wesminster Abby and London Eye, all things I hadn’t even thought about existing in the world I was in. These big famous names and cold wind had my pace quickened and I wandered more than a few miles. I stopped at another museum and asked for more directions, stopped in a hotel and put on my tights behind a staircase (no human eyes could see me, but who knows about digital ones, oh well.), stopped at a cart to get a flake (ice cream cone, it was second to last on my list of must-have British food, leaving only fish and chips.) and hurried on as directed by the girl in the museum. I walked by everything I had already before, through St. James’s park (that’s how they spell it, and say it strangly enough.) and across Victoria station again. At this point I was getting really tired, not just of walking but of being hungry and cold. I still hadn’t found a suitable place for breakfast (other than the soft serve of course). Finally, in the distance I saw a red neon fish and chips sign. Sadly it wasn’t a sit down place (which was almost all I wanted) but my desire for f&c and a change of pace won. It was the most reasonable price I had found in the city ($10) so I was at least pleased with that. I found a little park and sat down to eat and drink my ginger ale.

Some police men mumbled that they wanted to do the same thing and sat at the next bench and had lunch. One threw a little crumb and an entire flock of pidgeons came down from the heavens. Well actually there had been a few crippled ones meandering around before. Much to my surprise, those with missing feet stayed earth-bound, never flying. Cruel world it is. The copper encouraged me to throw some of my excess fries to the little crippled birdies, as I had Mary Poppin’s feed the birds endlessly looping in my head at the ‘young ones are hungry, the nests are so bare’ part and I couldn’t help it. The only thing I had read on the enterence sign (oddly enough) was fine print about not feeding the pidgeons, but if the man himself is doing it….I left my tray with spare fries right on the bench. I didn’t look back to see them devour it.

I had asked the police how to get to the museum too and although they gave me a few different answers, I had a feeling I was going the right way. I recognized a street name I had seen on the map as a leg of the road I was looking for (raods tend to change names along their length) and between bus maps, small signs and my previously thought to be excellent sense of direction (I was called a homing pidgeon just last week) I found it finally. Finally finally. I had the feeling that it was close to closing time and worried if I would make it to the show at 6 in time, but I went to the bathroom and asked the information desk for a map anyways. I had to ask the hour three times I honestly didn’t believe the girl until she showed me a map on the screen and I glanced down at the clock in the corner (scares me where my trust lies sometimes). It was only 2pm. I thought it was 5. I couldn’t believe how much ground I had traveled in such a short amount of time. I added and readded. I had left the hostel at 11am. I have recovered, but I truly thought the world had stopped while I was lost. There was just no way I had walked that much, been that lost, seen that many things in that little time span.

I hurridly paced the museum looking for a nice piece of art located in front of a nice chair for me to rest in. I found the new modern art, the new new modern art and then finally, near collapse (I am so dramatic I know) I found a short talk gathering in seats around the painting of the month. It wasn’t particularly interesting until I heard the story and although the room itself was intriguing I returned to a reading corner I had seen in passing. I slept for a while, again no idea how long (I have no watch and regrettably no map what a good traveler I am…) and forced myself to get up and check out what I have just realized is the kind of paintings I like: those from the 1500’s to 1950’s. Massive, realistic and often religious portaits. I still was kind of running through and left before I had seen it all. Luckily the shop had postcards of my favorites, so I can examine them further from the comfort of my bed. I debated long and hard about going to what I thought might be a market and buying a cardigan or going home to get my winter jacket. I was feeling a bit deflated at my performance throughout the day and I decided to do the easy thing and grab my jacket. I had gotten directions to the concert (of Rhi’s dad’s girlfriend’ friend, a sound interaction artist, something I did a few projects in, so right up my alley) so I headed out after putting on jeans under my skirt and a jacket over my tank top (which of course made me too hot). At the station change I noticed a people change too. The area was in South East London, which made me think it might not be the best area, but that was just speculation. When I got to my final destination I realized it was a good hunch. And I realized I didn’t have directions. Just a street name and this was defiantly not the area where the show would be. I really just panicked. It was strange. Partially I think because I was tired and had been lost all day (week, month, year, etc) and partially due to the utterly unfamiliar culture. It was little Africa. Of all the continents I am the most distant from the African people although I listen to a huge variety of their music, more than any other than our own. Using my bus map & internal compass technique I went to the right, towards Peckham. All I knew is that it was Peckham City, Hill Street. Well every street was something hill. I figured I’d walk around until dusk and then split. I rationally knew that I could hop on a bus at nearly any minute, but I would panick again when there wasn’t a stop in sight. Sometimes I would just hop on the bus I walked up next to (my subway pass works for busses too) and hop off again at the next stop. I did this until it just got too dusky and too, well, scary. I continued to look for Hill Street, but forgot when I just sat and watched the people. It was really my favorite place I’ve been so far although I was afraid to walk in it. I took the bus tour I guess, although it made me really sad to be so fearful. I saw beauty parlors with adjacent barber shops, both just full of kids and parents and grandparents and teens and babies. There was so much energy and so much connectedness. There were African flags everywhere and everyone seemed to so clearly belong. I guess that’s why I felt so weird, but not that there wasn’t any young white girls around. There just weren’t any young white girls alone. I think now that it was a good idea to do the bus tour, but it was really depressing. I realized my task for my time in LA, to get comfortable in the city, any part that held what I needed. I think it can be okay in teams, but I guess that is one part of the world you can’t explore so much when alone.

I rode the bus all the way up to Paddington Station. Past all of the sights I had seen that day and into the posh part of town. I got off in Little Lebonon (which is what just before Paddington is like). God I don’t know why I did, it was just as uncomfortable, but well lit and with lots of people walking around like they didn’t belong. I had decided a few days earlier that I wanted to try Lebonese food and that I wanted to wear an outfit that breezed around my whole body in one big piece of fabric like the women from there did. Seeing the women in full veil was my favorite, and I wanted on almost despereatly. Still do. I ate at a restaurant with a veiled lady sitting out front on a date. I imagined eating and talking and dating under complete shrowd while I ate and drank the best mint tea I could have ever dreamed of (they put fresh leaves in with the tea – try it I think its one of my greatest discoveries on this trip). I again couldn’t finish my meal, I guess my stomach has finally become the size its supposed to be and my eyes haven’t adjusted yet. I headed home to finally sleep. I was just exhausted and had big plans for the morning.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Royal Leamington Spa

We left Leicester by bus to stay with Rhiannon’s dad in Royal Leamington (lemmingtun) Spa. It used to be just Leamington Spa but the waters of the local spring were said to have amazing health benefits and when the queen came to test them out sometime last century she agreed and decreed the village to be royal. Rhi’s dad, David, met us by bike and we walked through Jephson Park back to his house, stopping to eat mulberries and see the elephant wash on the way of course. We had a refreshing drink in the garden and Rhi & I passed out on the sofas when David left us alone for a moment to answer a phone call. He had quite a hard time waking us up, trying all sorts of tactics from the typical hey wake up, to banging pots and pans around in the kitchen. In the end a snack and a stern commanding to wake got us up and we went to the bigger garden to pick berries, which we only agreed to if we got to eat our findings with chocolate ice cream. All the houses I’ve been to (I hesitate to say a more general all, but I’m guessing its pretty close) have gardens in the back, David also had a plot in the communal garden a mile or so away. We picked black & raspberries, yellow and blue plums and apples then returned home to make dinner. It was a gorgeous meal – roast chicken with potatoes and greens and carrots. Both Rhi’s parents are very healthy, meals tended to be very much like ours at home ma & pa. The next morning we were woken with a biscuit and tea, and after many hours of piddling around the house (which was nice after the go go go pace I’ve been maintaining since I left home) we went to the most famous local spot. We debated between Shakespeare’s birthplace, a castle ruins and the castle ‘theme-park’, finally deciding on the last spot given its must-see reputation. I was thinking castle yeah yeah, but we got there and this was a CASTLE.

Like I mean hardcore, built in the 11th century and lived in by Lords and Ladies until the middle of the 1900’s kind of castle. It was totally maintained, almost to the point of irritation, little things like blocking out little window holes and using artificial lighting instead. We wandered around for hours, watched a catapult show and an archery exhibition. Took pictures with some of the era costumes and in general wore ourselves out. It was difficult to grasp the scope of the history of the place (as with the country in general) because things have been around for so long, and any given room can only be decorated for one of any number of eras. They mixed it up a bit and we got a good sense of what it was like across the ages. It is absolutely amazing being in such an old building, of the type only dreamed of in the US, with such a different kind of age. In Nevada City a building looks ancient when its from the Gold Rush 150 years ago, here there are things from almost a thousand years on up till now all mixed together. It’s a totally different scope to think about. This was one of the big reoccurring themes throughout my journeys; I’d imagine it would be prevalent in any trip in Europe, the Middle East or parts of Asia, those areas where a somewhat consistent form of society has persisted through nearly all of our known history not only in culture but in visible landscapes and architecture.

We came home for an Asian-inspired dinner and then I started to plan my journey to London the next morning. David’s girlfriend, Iris, makes art with willows and straw and was consumed with a commission from Shredded Wheat which would be shown in a week in Leicester Square, London. Her mother Rhoda was finishing her master’s thesis in painting and was preparing for her final show, so there was an air of excitement and the anxiety of nearing completion around. Much like at Jocelyn’s house where she was in the last stages of finishing her PhD thesis. Exciting times. Rhoda only spoke a bit of English (she’s German) so we had a nice multicultural and academic artistic crowd, my time at UCSD made me very happy and comfortable with.We had great talks of food, art, society and all the rest, and Iris told me about a friend of hers who was having a show in London which was of great interest to me – I plan to go to it as well as the modern art museum and a market, all which they recommended. Thank goodness as I had no plans, tour book or slightest notion of what to do with myself!


all the normal-timed buses were booked, and rhi had a train ticket (costs about double the bus) so i ended up catching the early morning (8:30 is pretty early) to leicester (pronounced lester), england, where rhi's mum jocelyn lives. i had a two hour stop in birmingham (birminim) where i walked up to 'the bull ring' which is actually a shopping mall hidden behind this bizarre facade.

i pretty much slept the entire trip, but i did manage to catch a few cows and some bright green pastures in the countryside. jocelyn picked me up and we drank earl grey and chatted about her phd (p haych d) about telling stories which are difficult to tell (she has been interviewing prisoners of war and works with child abuse victems). it was most interesting, both ma & grandma would really like her. (sidenote: she is a yoga instructer looking for a yoga school to visit after she finishes her thesis this fall, ma any suggestions in nc?) i computed while she picked up rhi and we had a delicious home cooked dinner before heading off to bed early.

the next morning we went to stamford, a georgian sandstone village known for its architectural consistancy and cream tea. we found the town also showcased very small doors, a nice little moat and a whole bunch of antique shops.

now cream tea is a bit misleading a name, as they don't even offer cream or milk for the tea, but you have clotted cream (which is an absolutly magical concotion somewhere inbetween butter and whipped cream) with fresh strawberry (strahburry) jam on warm scones.

we went all out and had a complete afternoon tea with a cake and sandwhich with their crusts cut off along with the tea and scones. it was reeeally expensive, so we split one, which was still more than enough. we walked around town and enjoyed the beautiful english day.

i haven't mentioned the weather much, but it has been just gorgeous. when they say it rains and is nasty all the time they were wrong, it's only sprinkled a wee bit twice since i've been here (knock on wood) and has been mostly sunny the whole time. i guess it's been a horrible summer - just rain and cold - and i seem to have brought the nice weather here with me and left the hot there with you.

we came home by 7 for me to make a conference call with my boss in LA, a potentional service provider in chicago and his techie in kentucky. we had a quick dinner and were off to a local pub to meet rhiannon's friends. a bunch of them are in a band who is having a mutual breakup, with one last show on saturday, but i plan to be in london then so will miss it. they were all really cool, and even humored me and had a 2am curry feast (as leicester has the best curry in the country, due to its vast numbers of 'asian' - aka indians - and since it is england's national dish, i though i must try it).

Sunday, September 2, 2007


pronounced ed-in-bur-oh, it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in europe. (side note: many mainland europeans don't consider the uk europe, so i've been calling it pre-europe.) rhiannon's mum (you'll notice i'm picking up the lingo, trying to learn the accent) sent me a scotland lonely planet so when rhi & i decided to go to edinburgh spur of the moment on sunday afternoon we had a guide to tell us all the sweet places to check out.

turned out we didn't need it at all - actually did more detriment than good, but more on that later. we hopped off the bus and to our surprise the streets were all closed for a festival (we had been told all of the festivals had ended the night before, so you can imagine we were thrilled to hear they had not) and fireworks show at 9.

we found a sign for a free whisky (no e in scottish whisky) and champagne tasting, something perfect for each rhi and i, but when we went into the shop they said the tasting was actually on saturday. he hadn't been able to find the sign to bring it back in the night before. he obliged our request for a reward, and gave us each a taste anyways.

we happened upon the castle with no trouble at all, it was right in the middle of the city (although you can't tell from the picture, i'm standing on the main street with nothing in front of me but this massive, 11th century - there have been updates - castle), and decided upon a route of travel: first to the cheapest restaurant in the book, a chinese place, then the grave digger's pub, then back to the square for the fireworks and finally to a writer's & actor's pub before our midnight bus back to glasgow.
(ello? mum? whehre ahr yuh? mum, i cahnn heah yuh! mum!?)
the first stop was about 20 minutes away from the center of town. we found this telephone booth along the way (not much of a find, they are everywhere) but we didn't find the restaurant. since both of us were familiar with lonely planet we know the story: restaurant published and still not enough business to remain open for all those lonely travelers to visit. we tried out a few restaurants, even sat down and got rice crackers and water at one, before we landed in a thai place, the wild elephant. the pre-theatre meal sounded like a bargain but ended up being a little skimpy. no worries, we headed off to the grave digger's pub.

an hour later, 10 degrees cooler and a lot of wind blown around our cold little ears we found the graveyard. we didn't realize we would need a big hearty meal to account for all the exercise and suddenly winterish weather.

the pub was nothing special, and it had taken so long to get there we just had a drink with all of the old men who were there (just old men. old men who were really surprised to see us. lonely planet got us again) and headed out for a bus back to catch the fireworks.

we ran to the bus as it pulled up alongside us and asked the driver if he was going to princes st (one s) the main road where the castle and fireworks were. he said no. so we asked which bus goes there. he said none of em. hmm. after a pause he adds, princes st is closed for the fireworks. oh yeah yeah we mean which goes close? this was followed by a bunch of scottish garble which neither of us could decipher even after 2 huhs each. we finally decided he said i don't care which stop you get off at, you're going to miss the fireworks anyways. nice. anyways we got off where everyone else got off at and ended up with a great view (which seemed even better after we moved around a bit).

(i couldn't decide which one i liked better.)

i found a few conference friends in the crowd - i mean people i hung out with every day and i mean a crowd of 500,000 people. crazy luck! we were so cold and tired we skipped the writer & actor pub and walked back with all the people to our bus stop, at which point it began to rain. the first bus was filled so we went to the pub next to the stop and waited for the next one.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

the end of the conference

yesterday was the last day of my european summer school in information retrival, and as with most endings, it was bittersweet. i had so much fun, met so many interesting people and learned so much, but i was very tired and ready to have some time to myself. we had lectures for 8 hours everyday (from california time 1am-10am) and social events every night (not that i'm complaining) so it was very energy consuming. there were lectures about all kinds of interesting things, like that 87% of americans can be uniquely identified by their gender, birthday and zip code. with this they can be matched to 'anonymized' government (health, voting, etc) records, and with a little tricky computing, self-declared online information, regardless of identity. so that means your fake profiles (those with pseudonyms, vague location data, etc) can be matched with your real ones along with your shopping habits, medical history and political preferences. the way to combat this? act normally. the more average your activities on the internet the more difficult it is to pick you out from the crowd. ie when you write reviews for movies review the popular ones, have babies on the most common day, live in a city; having specific or abnormal tastes/stats gives identifiable trends to be picked up. ha! that's a lot to think about...

so now i've lost my train...what have i been doing? hanging out with my new forgein friends (who have now all left) and sleeping. but i'm thinking you want to know about what i waaasss doing. a typical day: i get up at 8:10 to get to class late at about 9:15 (by friday i was on time though!). it's about a 10 minute walk from my flat to the lecture hall. lectures were either 1.5 or 2 hours, always with a coffee/tea break between them. lunch continued to be those strange sandwiches throughout the entire week. oh my god i never want another small, triangle, mayonnaise filled sandwich ever again (not that i wanted one in the first place). a few late additions to the menu included tiny shrimp and dill in mayonnaise, chicken in mayonnaise, egg in mayonnaise and salmon in mayonnaise. there would be big long lines around the tables of sandwiches and many, many unmarked trays to choose from. i would always get decision anxiety and end up just grabbing whatever was near me and missing the good ones (ok, better ones). but it literally took 6 or 7 to get filled up. i'm really wishing i had taken pictures of them. all the meals had orange or apple juice and flat or sparkling water, no soda. at the bars they measure out all the liquor in little tiny shot glasses and it is illegal to pour it directly into a glass or to sell more than 2 shots at a time to any person. the beer on the other hand, flows just as in the states. the tap water is pretty good too.

i'm not enjoying telling about an average schedule, it varied too much once the lectures were over. we had a soccer game one night (i cheered), a banquet another night (complete with a paper airplane war) and typically went to a pub after any event. it was really interesting because the first day i was awake in the morning lectures (1am - 4am in ca) and tired in the afternoon. makes sense, i'm a bit of a night owl. the second day i was tired in both sessions and the third day i was tired in the morning (9am - noon here) so i could tell i was getting used to the time finally; tired in the morning like a normal person. regardless i was always awake around social hour, given the activity combined with the time, it was either early afternoon or early evening, both easy to be awake in.

rhiannon came home at 5am on thursday, so i had to kind of grapple with the issue of her wanting me to hang out with her friends and me wanting to hang out with my nerdy conference friends. the first night i just ditched her, the second i tried to mix the two groups, which went surprisingly badly. not like there was any lasting damage to any parties, but mixing 30ish computer scientists (cs) with 21 year old british college girls somehow didn't work as i predicted. the girls wanted to go home and the cs people wanted to go out (the bars closed at midnight). the girls were offended by our complaints about the early closings and comparisons with our home countries. it really convinced me that the uk is pretty much just like home. i mean that i always think places are just like home but here even more so. people are so defensive. and there's a lot of money, which i think makes people somewhat less interesting or motivated or exciting or something.

many of the lectures have been about making distinctions between things: classifiying and comparing documents, web pages, images, music (which was why i was there!). humans are very good at this, but very bad at explaining it. we can take two things and tell you which is which, which belongs in which group or not. computers can be trained to do this fairly easily, but when they make mistakes they are very, very obvious. human mistakes on the contrary, can always be justified in hindsight. (haha, i mean in the context of classification...perhaps in any context? that is debatable. i will amend my earlier statement with nearly always justified.) if i am given a beatles song and asked to supply its genre, i give rock n roll. sure. say we have two systems which we ask the same to. one gives a response of classic american pop and the other reggae. now i tell you the human gave the first answer and a computer the second. we say the first answer is a 'less bad' mistake than the second because its close to the right answer since the beatles are classic and they are pop and famous in the us. reggae on the other hand has nothing to do with the beatles. the problem is there is an endless number of justifiable mistakes which we can't come up with before the fact, but we know how to explain it when we see it. ahh the ultimate computer. so what does this have to do with anything? i'm not sure but it was in my head during the culture clash last night.

how is it some people can into all different kinds of situations, environments and social atmospheres? how is that some people are very bad or very good at it? what's the difference (similarity, haha) between seeing differences and seeing similarities? when you contrast rather than compare, i mean that you look for things which are different rather than similar, and you find them, you feel separate and alone. if you pay attention to the similarities you can fit in and feel comfortable. differences are more critical to us than similarities - not more important but more likely to cause problems (or misclassifications to go back to my original topic). it might not be especially beneficial to the human, but i'm starting to think this is what the computer needs to classify and make those human-like mistakes. if my beatles question had been given to a computer system which made decisions based on differences, without any information of similarities to use at all, it sure couldn't have come up with reggae. unfortunately, training these systems is somewhat of a black box - you can't decide how the computer makes its decisions unless you literally give it an answer for every available option - but you can decide what kind of data it uses to make its decisions.

hmmm exciting blog post? sorry, i haven't been doing much exciting, but there's a piece of my mind either way.

(post script: that was the wrong video, but it took so long to upload i'm a. not going to delete it and b. not going to upload another. see, i'm alive!)