Sunday, December 10

A nation divided

And you thought red versus blue states was big. Earlier this evening, I happened to stumble upon the Great Debate.

I, personally, am a 'soda' person, though I seldom drink any. If you call it 'pop' would it not logically follow to call a 'cow' a 'moo' or a 'toilet' a 'flush'? However, as you can see, I'm from the little sliver of blue that runs along the East Coast of Wisconsin, surrounded in a sea of green. Regardless, the 97,700 pops and 90,700 sodas could easily take on the 40,500 cokes.

For no reason in particular, I took the numbers by state and applied it to the Electoral College. It would certainly be an interesting election. Here are the results: Pop 150, Coke 133, and Soda 255. Alaska, Utah, and Florida were the swing states, Wisconsin went Soda, by the way. To win in the Electoral College, you need a majority, 270, votes. In this case, no party won with a majority, Soda got the plurality, and so the top three candidates would move onto a vote by the House. I couldn't tell what would happen, but Pop and Soda would have to woo the Cokes to win.

There are other websites that map regional things. Who would have guessed that Madison is its own region that's much larger than Milwaukee in a 'city sphere of influence' survey? Or that Southerners' houses get a 'rolling', Texans get a 'wrapping', and New Englanders get a 'papering' instead of a 'tp'ing'? My favorite is the world famous "bubbler".

Sunday, December 3

Yeah...



You've probably seen them too.

Lies. All lies. Wisconsin is the diary state. Happy cows come from Wisconsin.

So they produce more milk than us, but they've also got seven times the population and three times the land area. I wouldn't have guessed that NY is number three.

How can happy cows come from California? They have to worry about fires, floods, mudslides, smog, hippies, and slipping into the ocean. A cow in an earthquake does not make a milk shake.

Besides, out on the left coast, California is the land of fruits and nuts.

Wednesday, November 29

Isn't it ironic?

Don't you think? The big picture on today's Badger Herald:

I actually didn't have to Photoshop this one, though I did anyway (just kidding. I saw how well the last one went over, but really, I did that quickly. (And, no duh it's all in the same type, I drew it myself.)) I actually mean to blog more, but it's just that I just got done with a Dynamics midterm and now have to write a geography paper, do tons of homework, and it's a publishing weekend). The ironic thing, I think, is that the Sierra Club gave a ton of identical paper postcards to the chancellor telling him to stop burning coal in our power plant, as if seeing the same message a thousand times makes it any less crazy. Indeed, chopping down trees helps mitigate global warming. If it were me (and don't think that we at the Mendota Beacon don't get piles of hate mail; we don't) it takes all of about 5 seconds to throw the pile away. For any activist group: a far more annoying and invasive scheme to pound your inconsequential message into the Chancellor's head (he's an engineer, by the way) would be to send lots of emails, mixing up the subject line, too. However, I don't condone doing that.

Monday, November 20

A weekend protest?

Here's a picture of the protest they had here in Madison over the weekend on the front of the Badger Herald. It's not really clear what they were protesting.


Sunday, November 19

Registration: Spring 2007

Earlier today, I registered for next semester's classes. It was so exciting: classes filling up and opening every time the timetable is refreshed, wrong class numbers (that you don't find out until the thing pops up for '18th Century Portuguese Literature independent study'), explosions, battles, and sword fights.

As you can imagine, registration isn't really that exciting, but playing the sound track to 'Gladiator' can make anything dramatic.

Finding classes for next semester really isn't that hard.

  1. Read the curriculum.
  2. Look at the timetable.
  3. Decipher.
  4. Repeat until you've got 12-18 credits.

Within a minute of my registration time I had the numbers I got from the timetable (53715, ±¾i, B6, XIV, I-94) plugged into the system. I then found out that two of my sections were full and two other classes conflicted. I used creative repositioning, the timetable, and the schedulizer to finally get all the classes I wanted. It was no small feat. As it turns out, I snuck into a class that was full by registering for its cross-listed counterpart. Ha ha suckers!

Here's what I'm taking:

  • Statistics 275: 99 Exciting Ways to Die
  • Classics 312: Conversational Pig Latin II
  • Art Hist 195: Periodicals in Ancient Egyptian Pop Culture
  • Naval Science 380: Swashbuckling I
  • Naval Science 345: Laughing while Jumping off Objects
  • Mech Engineering 224: Applied Slide Rule Lab
  • Botany 278: The Environmental Impact of Migratory Coconuts

In hindsight, I suppose the joke's on me, since on Thursday, I've got class from 7:45 am to 10 pm. Luckily, it's not straight lectures. Instead it's 2 lectures and 3 labs in two buildings, Engineering Hall and Chamberlain. But, my MWF is looking nice. I have 1,2,2 classes, respectively.

Thursday, November 16

Special Editorial

Many times the op/ed's in the student newspapers are unintentionally rather funny. I normally page through Badger Herald online because their articles allow comments. (The Daily Cardinal ought to get comments, too. That'd probably help their readership. ) The comments are usually a good reality check for whoever penned their craziness.

Today in the BH, there's a rather funny op/ed piece about how voting is bad. It was written by UW-Madison's favorite self described "Community Activist, Anti-Authoritarian Social Revolutionary and Anarchist philosopher." It saddens me to find out he's graduated. You may remember him from his frequent commenting on Letters in Bottles.

Even funnier than the actual article are the comments.

  • "who describes themselves as a "Social Revolutionary"? I'm sure Che didn't have that printed on business cards."
  • "Finally a moment when Democrats and Republicans can unite... and call this guy a moron."
  • "LET THIS BE A WARNING TO ALL UW GRADS WHO FAIL TO LEAVE MADISON."
  • "He's not a socialist, he's an anarchist... but still, he's a moron."
  • "How does a Community Activist, Anti-Authoritarian Social Revolutionary and Anarchist philosopher make a living these days? If the answer is free-market capitalism, I will figuratively crap myself."

Tuesday, November 14

Crazy college students!

Today, I picked up one of each daily student newspaper. I got a little chuckle out of their editorial board pieces about the challenge to the recent student referendum to remodel the student unions and raise student fees by about $100 per semester for 30 years.

First, from the slightly left from center, Badger Herald:

... we adamantly oppose the dramatic increase in student-segregated fees mandated by the initiative. We do not support the initiative itself on the grounds that it would put too heavy a burden on students ... the low voter turnout in the paper-ballot elections further fueled our distaste for the measure...

They took the stance that the only thing we have left to do is to beg the chancellor to not allow it to happen.

And now the, out past the left foul pole, Daily Cardinal:

... the UW-Madison Student Judiciary handed down what hopefully spells the end of challenges to the Student Union Initiative victory. The unanimous decision to throw out the case indicates that the Student Judiciary sees the situation as clearly as this editorial board ... [it] fell within constitutional limits. Even the language of the referendum made this clear: It asked students to “support the... plan proposal and the segregated fee increase to help fund it

As for the referendum, I really like how, according to the student president of the union said two weeks ago

So what are the next steps? There is a formal design committee that consists of nine students, two UW staff, two faculty and two alumni. In addition, there will be many subcommittees and open forums to gather input, ideas and feedback from anyone who wishes to be involved.

I don't know much, but it seems like it's a much better idea to decide what to build first and then figure out how much money to procure instead of getting more than $200 million and trying to decide what to toss in. There's that saying about the grocery store and being hungry, well, if you've got $200 million in your pocket, you'd better make a list and stick to it. Especially because it's student run, most of campus turns over every 4 years.

Imagine asking a little kid to redecorate his room and see how long he can settle on one thing. Also, you probably won't spend more than $200 for at most a little paint. Now imagine 40,000 college students, 2 buildings, and 1,000,000 times as much money. What if what they had planned only cost $50 million?

Just thinking about it, two years ago my high school got a $40 million referendum to double the size of the school and they got the works. $200 million for two unions seems like a little much. Ug, that and the whole propaganda campaign they waged! I'll post about that later. Besides only 7% of the students even voted! Total!

40,000 students x $96 x 2 semesters x 30 years = $230 million

For some more laughs, the DC ed. board also wrote about our very own senator potentially running for President in 2008 in "Rational Russ".

While popular here in the Badger state, Feingold would have been a long shot to get the Democratic nomination. He lacks the name recognitions and minority status of two of his likely opponents, namely U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill. ... Unfortunately, the rest of the country will never learn what Wisconsinites already know—Russ Feingold rocks!

I'm not one for clichés, but, like, gag me with a spoon.

Friday, November 10

Let It Snow!

Today after being dark all day, and low 60's yesterday, it has started to snow. As I type, I can hear the first snow plow of the season rumble by on Park Street.

Looking west, Camp Randall is on the horizon, (click for a larger picture for both)


Looking north up Park Street

Wednesday, November 8

On the recent elections

Seriously,

WTF?

Oh well, the sun still rose and cafeteria food is still gross.

The Republicans need to get back to basics: small government, low taxes, and high standards.

The news is just breaking that the dems have the Senate, too. On the bright side, it's pretty much right down the middle so neither party will be able to go overboard in either direction.

Here in Wisconsin, Doyle and Baldwin were reelected. There was a victory, J.B. won the A.G. race by the skin of his teeth. Also, the marriage amendment passed, overwhelmingly.

All around, the past few days haven't been to good for Republicans. Lucky for us, now there won't be a shortage of democratic fiascoes to write about in the newspaper. As Dennis York wrote, "Democrats will show us how a bad war is supposed to be run (see LBJ)."

Let's see how things are going in two years.

Wednesday, November 1

Sunday, October 29

Ha Ha

I found this in the news: Americans snub invitation to pay $500,000 for Clinton birthday party

When America's liberal elite were offered the chance to pay up to $500,000 each (about £260,000) to attend Bill Clinton's 60th birthday extravaganza tonight - with the added promise of a private Rolling Stones concert - a packed house was expected...


No one was coming so they priced it to go go go! Prices dropped down to $1,710 for just the concert. The weird thing, though, would be that his birthday is in August and last night was the end of October. I'm not taking pleasure in seeing someone's bad luck, rather it's more of a reality check. And as one comment on the article said, "How refreshing to read that some wealthy Americans do not have more money than sense after all."

Halloween in Madison, Part IV

It's good to hear that things are puttering out on State Street without a major incident. Here to the southwest, people are still being noisy out in the street but it is quieter that earlier. People in groups of 4 to more than a dozen are heading to the south and west down Park and Dayton. Once again, people are mostly on the west side of Park, in a small constant stream, maybe averaging about 1 person to less than about 10 feet. I also see trash by the sidewalks.

I just saw a food trailer heading south. Overall, there have been lots of police cars and taxis driving around this evening.

Click here to see a time line of how it went down.

Halloween in Madison, Part III

In this last hour, the road traffic has definitely died down. However, people are still moving north on Park towards State Street. Lots of noise on the street now. Lots of shouting and yelling along with occasional honk. People are walking up the west side of the street in groups from about 4 to 12. As I look now, there's a long line of people from the SE corner of Park and Dayton all the way back down the west side to Park to the rail bridge. Some people actually crossing Park and heading west on Dayton away from the downtown.

Saturday, October 28

Not Quiet on the Western Front

In this last hour, things have changed a little bit. Traffic on Park Street is slightly higher than normal in both directions, starting to quiet down but there's a lot of hooting and shouting coming from the west. Groups of people up to about a dozen are heading north and east at Dayton and Park and Dayton and Johnson. Some people are randomly running east across the street. No one's on the bike path. Looking out my window, there's a slow but increasing trickle of people heading north up the west side of Park from the neighborhoods. Occasionally there's honking and cheering.

By the way, the AP story about Madison is on the top of the right column on Drudge.

I Am a Rock

Today is Saturday. Here in Madison, it's the Saturday before Halloween, which means people from across the country come to throw a big party on State Street. A really really big party. So big, it's on the front pages of Fox and CNN (granted it's the AP so it's the same story, verbatim). So big that for the last four years, it's climaxed on a Sunday morning at 2 am with pepper spray by the po po.

They city, by the way, is going to fence in a public street and charge admission in an attempt to keep the crowd small and under control.

I'm perched in the penthouse on top of the new Smith Hall on Park Avenue, I mean street. I'm two blocks west, 4 blocks south, and six floors up from the western terminus of the festivities. Yesterday, there was higher than normal traffic and very loud people were walking towards State Street until after midnight and things were still by about 1 am.

Wisconsin beat Illinois today after being down at half. I'm reluctant to let this out to the world, since this is a blog, yet no one ever really reads it, except for a few people (thanks for reading, if you're one of them) that I've overcome being born and spending the first 3 years of my life in Illinois. Man, that's an ugly state. Having grown up 5 miles north of the border, from first hand experience I can say that you can tell when you've crossed over. Chicago isn't too bad, but the rest of the state can't decide what it wants to be.

Anyway, after a home football game, for about an hour, starting about 15 minutes after the game ends, Park Street gets more backed up than the Des Plaines River, 'water on pavement' indeed!, and gobs of people cross it heading east. So that happened like normal, but larger than normal groups of people have been heading north all day. There's also a hockey game one block east of here, too.

Today hasn't been too exciting. I have a single room so, I've, how to say, been alone all day long. It made me think of the Simon and Garfunkel song. I've been rather idle all day. I kind of knew it would happen when I signed up for a single room last year.

Though, it's not completely bad. From Friday afternoon to Saturday night is really the only time of the week when I don't have to do anything so there's plenty of time for reflection. Who am I kidding? By associating with the GOP I've destined myself to a life of solitary money counting in my study. I've never really had to much of what people call "social skills". In fact, in school, I was always better friends with the teachers than with anyone my own age. I attribute that to the fact that neither I nor the teachers were never much into "power rangers". Ugg, how I hated that show. It's still around, in fact.

I don't think I'm such a weirdo. In Walden, Henry David Thoreau writes


Society is commonly too cheap. We meet at very short intervals, not having had time to acquire any new value for each other. We meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are. We have had to agree on a certain set of rules, called etiquette and politeness, to make this frequent meeting tolerable and that we need not come to open war. We meet at the post-office, and at the sociable, and about the fireside every night; we live thick and are in each other's way, and stumble over one another, and I think that we thus lose some respect for one another...The value of a man is not in his skin, that we should touch him.

I had to look up the entire quote instead of paraphrasing. I like Henry and philosophy. He also wrote, among other things, about how life is too fast and complicated, and about how we're too materialistic. One of the more interesting things would be how he published Walden in 1854.

How many times have you met someone you knew and this ensued: Hi. How's it going? Fine, and you? Good. ... ... So did you hear about ___ ? Yeah, isn't it crazy? ... ... Well, I'm going to be late. See you later. Bye. I hate when that happens.

Without a cell phone I live a simple life. I'm all of about 10 people here at the UW without one. For people my age, what seems to be the main point of a phone? Scheduling musty cheese exchanges. Henry stresses quality over quantity.

Another quote I like is by Ben Franklin who said "Be civil to all; sociable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none."

I started writing this post after arriving back from dinner at the cafeteria. There's a lot of musty cheese in there. People have the most empty conversations. I can tell, because I eat alone so I hear other people. Probably the most empty one was one girl to another: "Oh my God, how do you get your hair like that?" The other then went on to explain how.

Since it's Halloween, for the last few days people have been 'dressing up'. In other words, the freshmen are even more annoying than usual. Some people actually try, the best one I've seen was a black guy with a wig in a suit and those funky sideburns dressed up as Jules from 'Pulp Fiction'. It was pretty good. Tonight, I was in line behind half a dozen goth punk emo pirates. Putting on black clothing and pirate bandannas doesn't count as anything. Then when I sat down, some guy a few tables away had a porn-star handlebar mustache.

Then I came back and wrote this. I don't know what to do. I refuse to study on a Saturday. I've done all I feel like doing for the paper this weekend. I've found a new hobby in making filler pictures for the Beacon. I also get to work on my Adobe skills. I've got a good handle on Photoshop and InDesign, so now I'm working on Illustrator. I've developed a new title style, but it's a secret, for the paper. Hopefully, the next time we change looks, they'll consider it. I'm now working on choosing a new font scheme. Futura for the headlines would go along well with the title, I think, if you want a hint. I like it because both look sharp, modern, new, and strong. I haven't really decided on the body text, it ought to remain serif, though. I've found that I really enjoy doing design and layout. That with Adobe are valuable skills for an engineer.

Another ambulance just went south on Park. People are probably getting plastered all around the city tonight.

I expect the Halloween to be a flop this year. I can't imagine people paying to go on a street. People just want to get pepper sprayed by the cops. The young liberals just need to practice their solidarity against reason. This is getting long; I ought to wrap it up. SNL comes on at 10:35, but it's really crappy this year. And I'm not procrastinating so I can't think up any fake news now.

Wednesday, October 25

Glorious Day for DFPPPMPF

Capital City-Today at 12:33:18 pm, the DFPPPMPF passed glorious milestone. Thanks to excellent guidance of great ruler and DFPPPMPF chairman for infinity, Mike, the "Dial F for Fay" weblog received two thousand visitor.

A capitalist computer from ISP 216.79.193.#, or the notorious 'Guildford County Schools' in Greensboro, North Carolina, of BellSouth.net loaded this world wide website. After do searching of 'mcdonalds versus subway statics', the imperialist engine of search Google sent.

This glorious achievement only further proves success of the Dial F People's movement against Wisconsin's tyrannous methods of manifestation.

In a national celebration, day of holiday was declared. Handle of national record player was cranked 9 and 5/8 times anti-clockwise allowing assembled Capital City residents to hear the first three songs of superb state band Beat-L's newest record, Comrade Paprika's Joyful Hearts Co-op Association.

Speeches were given. Cork popped loudly.

In honor of great achievement of organized workers of Dial F People's Progressive Party Movement Progress Front (DFPPPMPF), our brothers and sisters of the happy factory products making were gave 5 minutes of lunch. However, lunch was not provided and noble workers donated labour back to the peoples in honour of Great Leader.

Other news, DFPPPMPF reminds people that strife does not go unrewarded. State parliament decreed additional pound of mud and small rocks to each family from recent excess due to great progress in shovel technology which greatly expanded mud and small rock reserves.

Monday, October 23

Gubernatorial Grudge

This photo of the last governors debate was on the front of one of our student newspapers today.


After watching the evolution of the campaigns as they've gone downhill mudslinging over the past several months, I'm rather surprised to see that they allow them to get within 100 yards of each other. On the left, is our darling Doyle and on the right is potential Governor Green. Don't they look cute? What the heck is up with Doyle? That look on his face is indescribable. Is it just me or does he look like the Grinch?


Governor Steals Christmas
December 26, 2006

Madison, WI (AP)-Yesterday, children all across the Badger state woke up to find barren living rooms. Parents were instantly put on the spot as to why promised presents were no where to be found. Though the victims were all children, the dastardly deed has been mitigated by the fact that the alleged acts appear to have been perpetrated proportionately across all demographics.

Rumors currently circulate across the state as to where the gifts have gone. A crucial clue is this home security camera evidence in the image to the right. Additionally, more than a few people have noticed an influx of new items on Ebay for sale with "free gift wrap" being sold by user "bigjim".

As time passes, it seems more and more likely that the governor has some explaining to do. A likely motivation is the need to find large amounts of money with which to pay Wisconsin's huge debts up through fiscal year 2006 created by the lack of foresight by the governor...


And as you can see, Christmas 2006 wasn't pretty. Or how about this, while I'm making up fake news:

Groundswell of Support in Touchy Pay-to-Play Issue Thrusts Governor Confidently Ahead in Debate
October 23, 2006

Madison, WI-



How's that for a Photoshop quickie? I think the story writes itself. Happy Voting!

Wednesday, October 18

Quit Stalin and Show Us Your Marx

An interesting study is on CNN today. It indicates that when it comes to math

happiness is overrated, says study author Tom Loveless.

(that's the direct quote, I swear)

In a nut shell, the United States is producing tons of students that feel good about math but can't actually do it.

Hopefully this is the start of showing that making kids happy instead of actually teaching them things in school is the wrong way to go about educating. Of course, it is good in moderation, in fact the best teachers find the right dose. But public education in general needs to take its focus off not damaging fragile little people's self image and actually teach stuff. It's come to the point where some teachers grade papers in purple instead of red, hoping not to hurt feelings.

In the 15 years since I embarked down the long and winding road known as public education, I've seen math go down the tubes. For instance, in 3rd grade we had to do multiplication tests every week and there was one clear winner. (Some little kids sports, like soccer, don't even keep score anymore.) By the time my siblings were in school, the schools had phased in new flashy color textbooks full of what I like to call "communist math". In reality, it was "Chicago something-or-other math". But kids were nearly able to get away with saying 2 + 2 = 5. As long as they feel good about themselves!

Instead of teaching kids the foundations of math to build upon in the future, they showed kids how to use calculators instead and confused the crap out of them by randomly "introducing" advanced concepts, like variables, in grade school. In a normal college, granted they've made it to one, calculators aren't allowed in math! How will they integrate when they can't multiply? How are they going to go to the store and guestimate how much they'll spend or do everyday estimations as adults?

In high school, I learned the most in the classes that graded the hardest. For example, in an English class where the teacher wasn't afraid to give low grades, the possibility of getting low grades and the potential to get a good one motivated me to read the books, try harder, and seek out strategies to make myself a better writer or else I had to convince myself that the big red 'F' stood for 'Fay'.

Tuesday, October 10

the Beacon: Shining Brightly (like North Korea)

Hi everyone, I'd like to post more often but I'm in the middle of midterms right now.

Be sure to check out this week's Mendota Beacon, (in PDF)! I'm pretty proud of it. I wrote the editorial for this issue. I'm also working on making filler pictures so keep your eyes peeled for those. Let me know what you think about it.

In the meantime, this is absolutely hilarious:


By the way, when I do get posting again, I'm going to try to be funny about it. I've already thought up some things.

Wednesday, September 27

Survey Says:

Facebook compiles statistics from what people list on their profiles. Fun fact #1: 116 UW-M people have birthdays tomorrow. #2: 11% of UW males are "conservative", 1% is "very conservative".

A little while back they added a section involving the upcoming elections. I was randomly clicking around on facebook and I found a place that shows how the elections are going. They only included the Governor, U.S. Representatives, and Senators. It'd be interesting to see Lt. Governor or Attorney General, but facebook didn't include those races.

Here's the breakdown of college students in Wisconsin:

Governor:
Doyle (D): 51.59%
Green (R): 44.98%
Eisman (G): 3.43%

Senate:
Kohl (D): 85.11%
Vogeler (G): 8.14% !?!
Lorge (R): 4.54%
Gumz (R): 1.84%
Other: 0.37%

House:
District 1 (Southeast WI)
Ryan (R): 88.69%
Thomas (D): 9.48%

District 2 (Madison area)
Baldwin (D): 87.7%
Magnum (R): 12.3% (up 1% from a few days ago)

Tidbits:
-in Sensenbrenner's race, he has 58.59% vs 37.67% for the Dem
-Hillary has 82.9% in her race
-down in Texas, Kinky has 71%, followed by the GOP with 16.8%
-WI has 8 House seats, according to this survey, they're split evenly between R & D
-IL Gov, Blagojevich (inc D) has 48.7%, Topinka (R) 37.7%

Analysis:

I could refresh the other one enough to get the political breakdown of campus and then adjust the percentages to reflect the real world, but it's late and I just did 3 hours of differential equations homework. (I will do it eventually)

Overall, campuses lean liberal so if Green is only 6.5% behind, even with all the trash the dems are putting out about him on college campuses, it's looking good for him overall. Conversely, it doesn't look good for Dave Magnum, no matter how you slice it. Finally, I'm pretty surprised that the Republican is coming in 3rd in the Senate race after the green candidate. What's going on there?

Tuesday, September 26

The Beacon Is Out!

Get your hands on today's Mendota Beacon at newspaper baskets all across the university! We've got good stories! If you can't swing by sometime, it's here in PDF form here.

I thought of a pretty good title for the article about Facebook, "Transaction Talks Titillate Teens" but we went with "Facebook for Sale? Talk of Deal Concerns Users". But what I'm really proud of is the editorial section this week. I'm also happy that we've got a new business section. The future has a lot of potential for that section. I've also been working on some pictures to stick in empty spots so I'm happy to see them in the paper, as well.

Like I said, read it in paper, or in PDF. Be sure to leave comments and write letters to the editor.

Saturday, September 23

Deal? No! Probability

So I'm flipping through the channels right now and I've come across 'Deal or No Deal'. Basically, there are 26 briefcases and each one has a certain amount of money in it ranging from $0.01 to $3 million. The contestant picks one in the beginning and then eliminates the others. If he's lucky then he's eliminating the small values. Periodically the 'banker' calls and offers to give the contestant a certain amount of money to buy him out of the game. There's no knowledge involved, rather just guessing and probability.

That brings me up to the present. I'm watching the show for about the 3rd time and I think I know how to beat the system. Don't rely on the audience or Howie. If you're sitting in the audience at 'Who wants to be a millionaire?', would you type in the right answer when they poll the audience? Also, Howie is constantly telling the contestant how huge an offer the banker is giving him.

Right now, there's a rather annoying family from NY, I think. I can tell because they almost seem like caricatures like the characters from that annoying SNL skit with Jimmy Falon and Rachel Dratch.

From Stats 221, I know the simple math that I think would allow you to beat the system. It's called 'expected value'. Since each value occurs once and just once, the probability simplifies. In a nutshell, when the game starts, add all the values together, $3,418,416.01 (in a 1 million dollar game) and divide by the number of values, 26. Randomly playing, one should then expect to get $131,477.54. As you eliminate amounts, add the remaining and divide by the number of values and that's what you should expect.

As I'm watching, the banker just offered him $675 K. He had $1, $400K, $750K, $1M, and $3M left. He took the offer. The expected value was $1,030,000.20. The show made money, nearly $400K. By the way, they went through the remaining cases and he had, in fact, picked the $3 million case.

If I played, I'd probably be the first to whip out a calculator and do some math to decide. It'd be a matter of playing until the expected value started to decline (meaning I started to eliminate larger amounts faster than the smaller amounts), or the banker made an offer close to the expected value. But even then, nothing is for certain since when he accepted the offer, though he was expecting more than a million, it was as likely that he'd end up with $1 as $3 million.

Gimme my drugs!

I recently read that

A day after Walmart announced it will lower its prescription drugs cost, Target— the second largest retail store says it will also offer discounted prescription drugs.

Both stores say they will sell generic prescription drugs for as low as four dollars in Tampa, Florida. And by 2007 Walmart plans to offer the discounted drugs nationwide.


At first this seems like a good idea. Who wouldn't be for cheap prescription drugs? When you think about what will happen when all the people needing drugs go to one of those two places, all the other pharmacies, mainly local types, will lose business while Walmart and Target will get more. The smaller ones won't be able to keep up and they don't have the economics of scale. And the fact that Target came out right away to match them makes it seem more like a 'price war' type thing.

Regardless whether they're doing it for the good of people or for their business accounts, it will be interesting to see how it plays out in Madison, a rather unfriendly city to Walmart. Last year, in fact, there was some kind of musical in town that portrayed Walmart in a negative light.

We've got Targets, Walmarts, and Walgreens here. I can't wait to see what ensues. People make issues about how high drug prices are, but are they willing to shop at their nemesis at the expense of their local businesses?

Wednesday, September 20

I'm that guy who bothered you on your commute home yesterday

Yesterday, us crazies went out and held signs on the pedestrian bridge between the Humanities Building and Vilas Hall (which, in case you don't know, is our local axis of ugly). We had strategically placed ourselves over one of the busiest stretches of road in the Greater Madison Metropolitan area, University Avenue. We caught all the workers heading for home to the south and west of the isthmus from 4:30 to 6 pm.

Since the weather has decided, as of late, not to cooperate, I got all bundled up, though I still wore shorts. All in all I was pretty surprised that many people showed up. I would say that we had more than 20 people there. We spanned all the way across University Avenue, which I think, is no small feat. It's a one way street with three lanes of traffic, two lane sized bike lanes, and a bus lane.

I held a J.B. Van Hollen sign at first, but there were lots of JB signs, so I picked up a Mark Green sign.

Holding a sign, and even waving it, is a rather passive activity so I observed the drivers. You'd be surprised how many people talk on cell phones--I would say about half. They'd be sitting there holding up their phones and every so often, it'd look like they were waving. Rather they'd just be shifting the phone to their other hand. I saw one lady who was flipping the page of a magazine held up against the steering wheel. When people weren't on cell phones, they were free to do other things with their hands.

In all, the people who did something, I'd say half of it was positive and half negative. About a quarter of people gave a thumbs down or they'd wag their finger. Another quarter would give us College Republicans the one finger salute. Some would even be so daring as to roll down the window and wave it out the car at us and the really cool people would try to shout at us.

On the other hand, there were fingers as well. Just kidding. Some people actually seemed to support us. Another quarter of the people who did something waved at us. And the final quarter honked. There was one thing that made up for all the fingers, a guy gave the thumbs up through his open moon-roof while he was parked in traffic below us.

It was rather fun, in a strange way, to agitate people. I don't mind the thumbs down, but giving the finger is disrespectful. If it were the other way around, I don't think that I would do anything because I'd probably be trying to escape back to reality after being in town all day long.

On a side note, most of the cars had just one person in them. It seems rather wasteful. There's talk of Madison bringing back street cars. I'd be up for that. There really aren't that many of them here in the US, but every city in Germany has them.

Anywho, I somehow ended up on the front page of the Daily Cardinal, which is ironic, being an editor over at the Beacon. The D.C. is a pretty liberal student newspaper.





















How'd they know that's what I'm dreaming of? I'm pretty sure this'll be a dream come true in a few weeks. By the way, if you can, drive home on University Avenue a week from next Tuesday. You'll be able to flip me and my friend off!

Friday, September 15

a Primary Party

Last Tuesday evening I was able to do something that I've never seen before: a Primary Party. Right after the College Republican meeting, Right off the Shore gave me a lift to JB's victory party. It was less than half an hour to his town, somewhere north of Madison. Since you may not be too familiar with current politics in Wisconsin, last Tuesday was the primary. For the Attorney General's spot there were two democrats and two Republicans. JB Van Hollen was running against Paul Bucher for the Republican spot.

Upon immediately entering, one could feel the emotion and excitement in the room.

As you can see, it was in a banquet type room. It was mostly older people, then there were a few college students. I felt a little out of place because the other college students had done lots of work for his campaign. Having voted for him earlier in the day and handing out literature for him at Camp Randall before the home football game last weekend helped to mitigate that for the most part.

I got there at about nine and as time passed, more people came and the room started to become crowded. People mingled and talked while watching returns on the big screen. There were at least 5 different tv stations with tv cameras set up in the back along with people with radio equipment. More results were coming in and JB, who at first was getting 70% was drifting down; he ended up with about 60%.


Eventually word was spread that JB would be making an appearence at 10:02. TV reporters were interviewing people and running around setting up. Out the window, all that could be seen were tv broadcast trucks. It was like someone just got killed or was on trial. The Attorney General race was the biggest thing because there already was just one Republican and one democrat running for governor.


They gave us young people JB signs and told us to stand up on the stage and cheer when he came out. His mom, I think, spoke a little and then he came out.

This picture is from one of the Madison newspapers. I was nestled in the back on the other side holding a sign and I'm not in the picture at all. He came out and announced victory. Keeping an eye on the big screen behind me, I could see that whatever channel's news was on was carring him live, though it was a few seconds behind. He spoke for about 10 minutes and then he made the rounds to the various media outlets present.

It was pretty cool. Later I was standing and talking to Jenna and Jordan when JB came and walked by. He stopped, looked at me, and kept on going and spoke to Jenna and Jordan. That was a little akward. Perhaps if I do more, he'll know my name?

Reguardless, it was a good day. I had been hoping for JB since he came and spoke to us last year at a College Republicans meeting. (Bucher had come and spoken to us too; I enjoy hearing the candidates.) I'm hoping for the best for him in November.

In other news, Falk won the democratic primary for AG beating Peg 'the Keg'. They're both jokes, but Falk doesn't really have a record, being the Dane Co. executive, whereas Peg's the current AG. Turns out, Peg whooped Falk in Dane County, but Falk did well in the rest of the state. Another thing is today is the first day that the headlines on the papers with pictures around here aren't about how Falk won.

Wednesday, September 13

Hello, Again

Hi. It's been a while. A month and a day as a matter of fact.

It's not that I've been avoiding you, I just needed a vacation from the blog. Here's my first stab at writing again. I like blogging; I think I need an outlet to write because I've noticed the recent pattern in my emails: they've been getting exponentially longer. With a blog it's like imparting one's wisdom onto the world, instead of just one person. It's rather like scratching something into a piece of clay which gets covered by the desert, eventually to be dug up in modern times. Mostly, because writing was invented to keep track of business, the clay slabs are just about who owes whom how many sheep. Of course, they're all dead so they don't really matter, anyway. As long as the server is on the internet for hundreds of years from now, I feel like my scratchings, with more value than ancient transactions (I hope), are around. I hope to leave humanity with a positive net result, at least slightly greater, than when I started. That is my goal.

Anywho, enough of the philosophy, if you read this because I told you to (or you stalk me) you've probably been wondering what I've been up to this past month. After the Chicago post, I sold my soul to the local county fair for about 8 days straight. (It wasn't the Dane Co one, if you're guessing) It was my "repatriation" at a little slice of Americana after being in Europe for two months. You see, I was the sole garbage guy. They had about 90 big 55L plastic drums around the fair. I had to put a bag in each one and then tape it to hold the bag on. Then as the bag started to get full, I had to change it before it began to "overflow". I used " "s back there because, though you wouldn't expect it, used to describe or as a verb, overflow has as many different interpretations to different people as the word "interesting" does.

Luckily, I didn't have to carry these bags. The fair gave me a gator and a full sized trailer to use. I was worried out of my mind the whole time I was driving through crowds with it because whereas the gator is about as wide as two chairs, the trailer was an additional 2 feet on either side. And it was metal sticking out so I didn't want to take someone's leg off or run over a foot. By the way, it was fun driving around at 11 pm when the music ended and the beer garden closed causing people who had been drinking to start to wander out around the fair in the general direction of the parking lot. Even normal people seem to suffer from "deer in headlights syndrome".

Besides the constant fear of causing a lawsuit, I had another thing on my mind. Two other things to be specific: there is no shortage of ugly people in the world (at least in my county) and if this were in Europe, there wouldn't be a single garbage can or toilet for miles. Indeed, the garbage cans, just like water fountains are few and far between. There is one known water fountain in all of Continental Europe and it's diagonally across the street from Notre Dame in Paris. For the World Cup games on the giant screen in the town square in Toulouse, the entire plaza would be packed but there wouldn't be a single toilet, but there were some garbage cans. England has water fountains and no garbage cans.

There was something that started to get to me. Although I'm grateful that when I'd come through, the parents (usually pretty ugly) would pull their little ugly children out of the way, it kind of hurt my feelings that they'd say while yanking them "Get out of the way or he'll run you over!" Which is rather strange when you consider that I was driving it as slowly as possible to avoid such a thing. As a matter of fact I was going about half as fast as people were walking so pretty much if someone got run over, they put their own foot under it. Obviously, I will never run anyone over although I did pop a carny tire (with the trailer) and hit two signs along with countless garbage cans.

Enough rambling about rubbish. Doing that job was quite humbling and I certainly will never look at a garbage can the same way again. When you do something you impact the lives of at least another person, so, try to be considerate. If you toss a piece of trash at a can and it misses, go pick it up. If the garbage guy is bent over a can trying to tape the bag down, don't throw garbage within inches of his face into the can he hasn't finished servicing yet; besides there's another one about 5 feet behind you. If a garbage can is nearing capacity or overflowing, don't pile your trash on top, put it in the empty one 10 feet away. You know, obvious things like that help someone else. That and people who work crappy jobs can hear you. And see you when you look at them like that. No, just because I'm doing the garbage doesn't mean I'm a carny.

So, like I said there's a lot of ugly people at the fair. Those are the fair go-ers. The carnies are a little strange. For some reason, they would pee into bottles and then set those next to the garbage cans. On the spectrum, I would say the carnies are the weirdest, the patrons are rather strange and the food vendors are pretty close to normal. They seemed to be my allies. Some of the more generous ones even gave me free food and drinks.

After working at the fair for the entire time it was open, it reminded me of another thing: why I don't eat at fairs. Save the roast beef and bbq and grill places, everything else is just fried something, which smells good on french fries, but terrible on the scale of a county fair. I would say the place I hated to be was the best smelling spot in the entire fair which was in the street between a bbq sauce stand and the gyros place. Like I said, pretty much everything at the fair is fried. Some are more craftful, by making funnel cakes, and others just don't try at all. I spotted one "Nanna's Fried Dough" which sold, among other things, deep fried twinkies. Yuck!

All in all, it was very interesting to study and observe people and the fair and see the animals. I thought it was rather ironic that just the previous week I happened to read "Animal Farm". Written by George Orwell, using the metaphor of a farm and farm animals it was a parable that sharply criticized Stalin and the USSR. The pigs were the evil animals. In person, the little ones are pretty cute and the big ones just laze around and grunt. One time I was driving past the animal barns and I heard a terrible sound. It sounded like a baby screaming with some animal noise mixed in. Perhaps a pig had just found out where bacon originates? Or it learned what was going to happen to it in the next week?

Some of the animals get sold and then butchered. Only the horses, rabbits, and dairy cows are spared. I can't remember what pigs and sheep went for, but the top steer went for $7.50 a pound and it weighed about 1400 lbs. Chickens and roosters went for less than $100 except for the top ones. Fairs seem like the ultimate American activity because they celebrate the things that make us who we are as a country, the free market (animal auctions), agriculture (what we're built on), commerce (the vendors and people with booths), and the outdoors (rugged individualism). If I had to plan things for a group of foriegners to do and see in America, I would try to take them to a fair, I think.

After 8 days of working at a 5 day long fair, I was finally free! Working at the fair gave me time to think about things. After going to Europe, all August long I was flirting with Libertarianism. I like their whole free market stance, but I'm not so sure about the whole 'make drugs completely legal' and 'open the borders' spiel. But I do feel different, perhaps, grown mentally with expanded horizons. I guess, in short, I'm not as conservative as when I left, but I haven't moved any closer to being a democrat.

Then I had a week and a few days and college would start again. I'm living in the dorms again, but I'm in the brand new dorm, Smith. As a matter of fact, I live in the penthouse on the top corner. But there's a post in the works about that.

Classes are going well, but I'm already very busy. I'm also happy that the Beacon has started up again. I was looking forward to shining the light on what's right all summer.

Now here is the reward for reading down this far. I got photoshop again because we make the paper with Adobe software and goofing around I've made two pretend record covers:

(they're supposed to be funny, so laugh)



Tuesday, September 12

I'll be back...soon

In the meantime, checkout this year's first Mendota Beacon! Now, if you're not in the greater Madison metropolitan area, you can read it in PDF version! And vote, if you're in Wisconsin; it's a primary! Hope you like the new look.

Thursday, August 10

Chicago and King Tut

Last Monday, my sister and I did a little traveling to downtown Chicago to see the King Tut exhibit and the Sears Tower. We did things a little differently, rather than drive to the downtown, we took the train. From my house, which is just 5 miles north of Illinois, we drove about 20 minutes and picked up Metra, Chicago's regional rail, at the end of one of its lines in Fox Lake. It wasn't bad; just a 90 minute ride gets you downtown. Altogether, driving to the train and the train takes about the same amount of time as driving. It was $9 for both of us one way. I would say that European trains are better primarily because Metra's seats are more like benches. Other than that it's the same thing: people get on, people get off, conductors come around, and annoying people talk loud.

Once in the city, about 5 minutes away from Union Station, the safety message came on the speakers about how to use the emergency windows and whatnot. We then pulled in to the station. It was packed with business people going to work. You get off the train and the crowd moves up around the corner, up the escalator, and out to the street. We were then two blocks west of the Sears Tower. We were planning to do that later in the day so after taking a picture, we kept on walking.

The Sears Tower
After getting on the train at 6:38, it was now about 8:15 and the sidewalks were packed with people in suits. Since it was still nice out, we decided to just walk to the Field Museum. Chicago was never prettier. Nice big buildings, square streets and intersections, and so on. The museum was about a mile east toward the lake and a mile south.

A sign at a random construction site
We made it in about 45 minutes and walked in right as it opened. Here you see the museum's guard dinosaur skeleton.
The first available time for the King Tut exhibit was in the afternoon so we took it since that's what we had come for. Full price is $25 and you can leave and come back with your tickets. We went through some of the exhibits in the museum. I thought it was quite ironic that the museum had a big Senegal exhibit. Toulouse has a big music festival every summer and this year it was Senegal. The exhibit and the promotional materials for the festival had nearly the same artwork, especially the style. I could even understand the French! So we went through some stuff and then left. Chicago does have a free trolley system that runs different routes to different tourist sites. We found the location at the Field Museum and picked it up and rode it back to the train station to go to the Sears Tower. It took us another 45 minutes to get there.

Once there it was about $12 per person. You go through security then they show you a short movie, made by the History Channel, about the tower and then you board the elevator. It's a large elevator and it goes up to floor 103 (or it might have been 104) in about a minute. The Sears Tower is 1450 feet tall and it's now the 3rd tallest in the world. It's much taller than the Eiffel Tower, but the Sears Tower has windows, so it doesn't feel as high. There wasn't much of a line at all when we went and it took us about an hour to do it.

Looking SE, from where we just came, the museums are in the center along the lake
looking NE, the John Hancock Center is the black tower on the left and the Aon Center is the tall white building on the right

Looking NW, you can see O'Hare on the horizon to the left
Is that a smog cloud?
A good place for reflection
The John Hancock center, again
We then managed to find an open spot on the trolley after having a quick lunch. Although it's free, it's quite slow and it gets really crowded so don't count on it for transportation except for right away in the morning.

We then went to King Tut exhibit. After getting through the line, which wasn't that bad, we went up the stairs, where they try to sell you an over priced audio tour. I don't like audio tours, I'd rather read. You then enter the exhibit where they show you a quick movie. Then you go through the rooms. They have stuff, and about half of it is his uncle's brother's sister's mother's cousin's family's stuff. It's hard to tell, even for museum people. You try to read their hieroglyphs. I'm just kidding, although I would say a lot of it was his relative's.

All in all it was neat. I got to see the kind of stuff that they have on Egypt shows, not the little fragments of random things that a lot of museums have. But I was disappointed in that they did not have any famous stuff or big stuff. I wasn't expecting the actually mummy, but they didn't have any of his golden masks either. Probably the coolist thing there was a large model of a boat from his tomb. Other than the fact that the stuff came out of his tomb, it was pretty unremarkable and could have been out of any Egyptian tomb. I will say that it was the B-tour and I don't think I'd pay $25, or even the $22.50 (we had coupons), to see it, knowing what I know now. Perhaps Egypt needs some money so they put some stuff on tour just like Bill Murray needing money is why they keep on making those terrible Garfield movies. By the way, I read everything and looked at everything and it took me an hour and a half to get through it.

After that, we were pretty much done. We contemplated taking a taxi back to the station, but we wanted to stop by a store and get a slushy. Therefore, we walked back through the big park downtown.

it's Buckingham Fountain, from across Lake Shore Drive
It's Old Abe, nearly looking the same as on Bascom Hill
We made it back to the station after slushies and went with the crowd into the train. When you're in the downtown, every seat is filled. Unfortunately for us, three of the most annoying little kid teachers in northern Illinois sat behind us all the way back. No wonder kids are so stupid, those three are teaching them. People on the other end of the car were looking at them. Something I learned in Europe is train manners. One of the most important rules is 'silence is golden', so don't talk whether it be a train or a subway. Anyway, we left at 4:40 and got home by 6:20 which would beat having to drive all the way.

Saturday, August 5

On the Topic of France

France is a complicated place. Unbathed people sit around, perhaps in a café, wearing berets and white and black striped shirts while sipping wine, eating cheese, and smoking or painting while incessant accordion music drifts in through the window from which the Eiffel Tower and all the little white flags can be seen. Oh, and don't be out after dark: that's when the mimes come out.

Obviously, not really. I learned a lot about France and Europe this summer. (And I'm not saying that this was what I thought France was like before I went.) First of all, all in all, the French are not all that different from us. Mainly, they dress better, smoke more, don't pick up after their unleashed dogs, number their floors differently, pee on the street (which really isn't that bad of an idea), take two hour lunches, and the easiest way to say it would be that they put an emphasis on different things.

Although it seems like they're a few decades behind us in that very few people have driers and air conditioning, I think they're really just being smarter. To combat the heat, pretty much every window in France has big shutters or shutters that roll down like the door a store in a mall would have. The shutters are on the outside of the windows and they keep them closed tight during the day, especially when the window is in direct sun light. Then at night when the air is cooler, they can be opened. Doing that manages to keep the interior cool without using any energy.

Another thing different about France is the way they eat. For breakfast, they nibble on a croissant with jam, butter, honey, or chocolate. For lunch they have their big meal with their family and for dinner they eat something small. They put a huge importance on having a pleasant and relaxing lunch; people go home, kids return home from school and in Toulouse, the fourth largest city in France, even the banks close for an hour in the afternoon. It would seem that a quick lunch would be at least an hour. Normally when we ate at real restaurants on trips, lunch was at least 2 hours sometimes 2 and a half. I was told by some of the French students that the length increases as the fanciness does; really fancy meals regularly take more than 3 hours.

At least for me, at first it seemed to vex me that we'd spend that much time to ingest food, but it's not so bad with good company and when you know it's coming. We all mastered the art of silverware; at least as much as we'll ever need in the U.S. Start on the outside and work in and the waiter indicates whether you should hang on to your silverware for the next course or not when he removes your plate. Also, when you first sit down, by looking at the silverware, you can tell how much is coming so you know to pace yourself. Being full works differently when it's spread out over time. French meals are pretty structured in contrast to American meals where everything is sitting out and it's 'dig in' style.

I actually like having the big meal in the middle and I think I'll experiment with that this fall. Taking long meals fits into the French way of life. It seems to me that they put emphasis on enjoying and savoring it a lot more than we do. Whereas we swear and give salutes when the traffic doesn't move fast enough to our jobs, the French close down for lunch.

Things are quite casual. Especially in the southern part of France. When something goes wrong, I think they just go with the flow. When we first arrived, they didn't seem to realize that students in two college classes and professors would need a printer. Don't worry, be happy. And eventually, we had access to one in the lab. The professors, on the other hand, went to Auchan and actually bought a printer for their office. Another thing, is that things, well, just kind of get done. And although, something may be scheduled for a specific time, that's really just a general timeframe kind of thing, the bus will leave…eventually. And, a full bus just pulled up with two different groups of college students to your facility. Although they're late, you really haven’t even thought about what to show them. Don't worry, it'll get done.

They have a 35 hour work week. I, to be honest with you, quite frankly (and I don't mean to insult anyone) but I don't know how they manage to be the world's fifth largest economy after the US, Japan, German, and the UK. Some other people and I weren't able to figure out how their economy worked. Obviously, they have some places like Airbus that hire lots of people and there were some industrial parks, but other than that we didn't really see big businesses, especially outside of Paris. It seems to me that their economy runs in little cycles, for example: people work in little shops, then they go home and need to go to other little shops to buy stuff, they, needing to get somewhere, then keep the bus driver employed who also needs to go to a little shop to buy stuff. Also there are little, side cycles like one Dave and I observed in Madrid: there are people standing on the corners giving out little fliers or ads to people (on their way to the little shops) who try to discard them immediately, filling garbage cans or littering the ground, so the city then needs to hire people to pick up the litter and empty the garbage cans. They then turn around and go shopping at the little shops.

Now, I'm probably wrong, but it seems that their entire economy runs on little shops. By the way, every other little shop is usually playing music by either the Red Hot Chilly Peppers, Ricky Martin, or Shakiera. The 'little shop system' seems to not be the perfect system. Whereas our employment is in the 5%'s, in France, it's up over 10%, I saw a statistic saying that for young people it was nearly a quarter! They have high unemployment and pay very high taxes. That seems to be the trend in Europe (where they've got socialist tendencies, but that's a different story).

Something I noticed and it may be the missing part of their economy is that there was not a single mime. Call me crazy, but I suspect that Jacques Chicaq may have had them all rounded up and secretly terminated. The closest I came to seeing a mime in two months and eight countries was while waiting in line to climb Notre Dame, in Paris. Across the street there was a guy, he had the mime shirt on but wasn't dressed up like one or had mime makeup but he was miming. A lady walked past him and she stole his heart. She must have been good because she totally didn't even act like she just had. It then broke so she played cool and kept on walking. Then he fixed it and put it back in and sewed it up. Alas! He was speaking so it didn't count. Anyway, perhaps instead of eliminating all of the mimes, Jacques put them to work in a secret slave labor type place and that's what keeps their economy puttering along.

One thing for which you must prepare yourself is the language. I, already with a pretty good knowledge of Spanish, some basic German, and mastery of English, knowed that I wasn't going to squeeze in anymore language. The first time I interacted with a French speaker was at McDonalds across the street from the train station in Montpellier, I think it was. (We had been on a train all day so we wanted something easy and fast) I told the lady "Big Mac, frit, ice tea" and she uttered a string of vowels and crazy sounds at me. John had to complete the transaction for me to my embarrassment. You know, something else I learned, besides the fact that I don't really speak Spanish too well, is that I freak out when someone speaks to me in a different language, or English after being in a different language for two months. Although I think I learned a basic amount of French, enough to travel, I would have liked to speak more. The most difficult and embarrassing feeling, at least for me, is trying to communicate to someone when our language capabilities are mutually exclusive.

The French really like their French, which makes it a little difficult for a non-speaker. I say 'go French!' (allez le France), because they think their language and culture is the best so that's the only one they need to do. Outside of large businesses and other places with educated people, they don't speak English, or Spanish (I tried and it worked once) which is completely different than some places, like Germany for example. In Germany, an overwhelming majority seem to speak English, even more so in the cities than in the country. It was strange because in Germany, the ads in stores' windows would be a phrase in German with a random English word. Even in company and store names, there'd be a random English word, but I mean it would fit in with the rest of the message. It's pretty strange to see one's own language used as marketing like that. Even signs for the most part in Germany were first in German and then in English, which is different, coming from the US where if anything it's in English and then some Spanish.

All in all, especially in the cities, going to a restaurant isn't too hard because most places have a menu in English, indicated by the little Union Jack. All the museums and attractions have maps and brochures in a multitude of languages. The Palacio Real, Royal Palace, in Madrid gives tours in Spanish or English, for example. As a matter of fact, in Madrid, their second language is English, so it's strange to see the signs inverted from the US. As I said before, Germany speaks English well; also Austria has English second and Italian third. Switzerland is a little different because, as you may know, the Swiss speak German, French, and Italian in different parts of their country so English comes fourth. We were in the German part and they spoke English, too. In fact, to not favor one group over the other two, their official language is Latin as so if you've ever wondered why their abbreviation is 'CH' it's because their official name is 'Confoederatio Helvetica'. France speaks pretty much only French, although in Nice they did English and Italian. In Spain, in the area we entered, they had Basque in addition to Spanish and French. Monaco speaks its own language in addition to French, English, and Italian. In the casino, the tables were operating in French, but people were speaking English. In London, they speak a little of everything, but it's all English everywhere else in England.

With the exception of Switzerland and the UK, they all used the Euro. It seemed strange at first to be holding colorful money with generic European pictures, a little like monopoly, but it grows on you. I miss the 1 and 2 euro coins but I don't miss the 2 cent coins. I can do the paper money, but the coins got weird. They have 8 different coins: .01, .02, .05, .10, .20, .50, 1, and 2. We just have the penny, nickel, dime, and quarter in regular use. As I said, I liked the 1 and 2 coins because you could just keep a couple in your pocket and not have to worry when you head out. Also you don't have to pull out your wallet just to get a 1. I don't get why they had so many, though. Whereas we have the couple of cups in the cash register, they have an entire plastic holding board to hold all the different kinds of coins, and it would stink when they'd run out of big coins so you got a pocket full of .20's and .05's. Why the .20? They could kill two birds with one stone by using a quarter, and then they wouldn't need the .50. Oh well, it must keep the mint people employed so they can go spent their .20's in the little shops.

Another thing that's a little strange about continental Europe is their whole bathroom scheme. See, you must pay to use the bathroom and there's a person there watching to make sure. Ranging from a little donation plate to .50 at train stations, with your coins you must make their platter jingle to take a tinkle. In most places, you had to pay the cover charge to get in, but once there it was a bathroom buffet. In some places, you had to pay the attendant to gain access to the toilet paper. Businesses are stingy about the use of their 'toilet' or 'WC', not 'bathroom' or 'restroom' (don't call it that or the Brits will laugh at you). One of the weird things about returning home was noticing how much water was there waiting for you in the bowl. In Europe, there's just a little and with some toilets you get your choice of a big flush or a little flush, which actually makes a lot of sense to save water. But the cost savings of the water seem to be watered down, if you will, by having to hire an attendant. Although, I guess people on their way to the little stores need to stop and go to the bathroom, which employs a person who needs to eventually to the little stores himself. Regardless of the money, it still sounds like a crappy job to me.

Something else I noticed was that they like to fly the EU flag in France. In Germany, Austria, and Spain they only had one or two in the main cities, but all over the place in France, there'd be an EU flag keeping the French flag company, even flying at the same height. Perhaps the French see the EU as a good thing because they and Germany dominate it whereas in other countries they're not so gung-ho about it. England for example, although a member, stays on the fringes and hasn't given up its Pound Sterling to the Euro yet. (England should stick with us and the rest of the English countries. That's what Churchill said in speeches after WWII, but that's another post) And I'm all for Switzerland holding out completely. One country called 'Europe' would be a little creepy. I'm not quite sure how the French see it, but my instincts would tell me to fly the French flag higher than any other while in France, similar to how the Stars and Stripes rides higher than the states' flags.

Also, they do, in fact, have and use deodorant in France. Although in commercials, they have to show people how to use it. They really don't smell at all. I only encountered one or two smelly people. When going to Europe one thing you'll have to get used to is the smell of smoke. It was rather hard for me, coming from Madison, where it's illegal to smoke inside, and probably everywhere else by now. Right away when we landed in Frankfurt the thing I noticed after them sprecking ze Deutsch was the smell of smoke, in the airport. The other thing is peeing on the streets. What else can they do when they're forced to pay to use the toilet? Well, most of the time, it isn't out in the middle of the streets, usually in a corner and after dark. Also it's quite easy to do because all the buildings in France are next to each other so there are many concave corners, whereas it'd be hard to do in America because all of the buildings have spaces between them. It seemed like France rules applied in Madrid, but whatever you do don't do it in England, they have the same law system as we do.

One final thing—it's getting late—is that there are a lot more trains and train riding in Europe, not to bring back bad memories from the EPD class this summer where I did research on France's high speed train the TGV. I foresee a backup newspaper article from it, perhaps. The TGV goes up to 200 mph on commercial service. It was rather interesting to see people treat trains as a real mode of transportation. I, myself, like them better than flying because one can get up and walk around and they are much more casual, one just walks in off the street and sits down and within five minutes is heading toward the next city. Also, it was different to see people sad and hugging loved ones as they got on the train to leave. I was thinking, "it's just a train" but they use it to get places. The parties involved would then watch each other through the window and wave as the train pulls away. If you go to Europe and plan on getting around, get a rail pass. I calculated it before we left and we did more than $1200 worth of travel for about $450. MAJOR HINT: In France they don't check rail passes or tickets at least 80% of the time. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.

Well, that's my preliminary observations about France. I'll probably think of more stuff to write about and I don't have a shortage of photos so there's more stuff to come around the mountain when it does. In the meantime, thanks for reading my writing this summer, and if you have any questions about traveling or Europe or both leave a comment or let me know.

Friday, July 28

A Jolly Good Time in England

It's really is like they say "there's no place like home". I've been at home for the past couple of days. Sorry I haven't posted earlier, but it's hard to do the computer when to get the internet you have to borrow the neighbor's wireless by holding up the laptop by the ceiling with one hand. As you know, I was in England for the final part of my trip.

To get to Paris, we had another 5 hour ride on the TGV. The part of the car in which we rode had four groups of four seats facing each other. There were 7 of us sitting in the two groups closer to the centre of the car. We were just hanging out and talking about leaving France and stuff, then this old French lady who was sitting facing me on the opposite side of the aisle next to the door got up and walked over to us. She asked us in French if any of us spoke French; we just looked at her. I can't tell what she said after that, but I could tell that it was something bad because she said it very angrily. She then turned around and sat back down. Jack referred to her as the b-word and the 8th person sitting with us, a Frenchman, laughed.

Normally, I try to be considerate and blend in where I am, but I don't think we cared because in another couple of hours, we'd be out of France for a while. Besides, whenever the sliding glass door, which happened to be next to her, opened, she got angry and flustered. Anywho, we nonchalently pulled into Paris, just another view of the Eiffel Tower. We had about 60 minutes to get to the opposite side of the city to the train station from which the Eurostar departs because our train was late. We hauled buns like a bakery truck down into the Metro and then nearly 20 stops later, up out again. To guarantee your seat, even with a ticket, you must get to the Eurostar at least a half an hour ahead of time because you go through British customs there at the train station. I think we made it with about 10 minutes left. Our final European train ride was uneventful. After leaving the station, the Paris very rapidly melted away into countryside within about 10 minutes. It was funny to hear the French conductor say "Chunnel Tunnel" on the speakers with a French accent. Before we went through, he'd announce in French and then English, after emerging, he spoke in English first.

It was glorious to be in England, once again. Looking out the windows, the cars were on the wrong side of the road, the landscape was green, and all of the signs were completely and instantly understandable. We arrived at the train station, not le gare, and did a little converting. I had it planned out and didn't have any euros to change, but with the student cards, the currency exchange places waive the flat cost of the exchange. I withdrew some money from the machine and got to fill my wallet with my favorite currency, the pound.

I had quite a different expierence, this time, with the pound. Before, I thought it had the coolest currency symbol, but now, I know, they really mean "pound of gold" because when you go, everything costs a ton of money, not in pounds, but in dollars. For instance, the admission to St. Paul's Cathedral was £8 for students, with the current exchange rate, that's more than $14! But it was worth it.

So, we went to the hostel and dropped off our luggage, measured in pounds, not kg. I certainly had enough of it. Then we ventured out to eat some sterotypical English food, fish and chips. After consulting the London book I had, which was infinity times better than Frommers (may you burn), we determined a fine chippery and set off. Ironically, we retraced our tube ride back to the train station, did a little walking and arrived. Fish and chips is awesome. For about £6 you get a big plate of fries and a big piece of delicious fried fish. We all were stuffed. Leave it to the Brits to figure out how to eat. We then wandered at night from Big Ben up past 10 Downing Street through Trafalgar Square up to Piccadilly Circus.

The next day, we set out to see the sights.

Big Ben, it's not as big as you imagine it
on the next block away from the river Thames (pronounced like the letter 'M' with a 'T' sound on the front and an 'S' on the end) is Westminster Abbey, started in 1066. It's neater than Notre Dame because in it is buried everyone who's anyone in British history. (Look out for the long lines and steep prices)
After a walk through the park, we arrived at Buckingham Palace, where the weather decided to start raining on us.
We scurried into the tube and rode it east to the centre of the city and stopped by St. Paul's Cathedral. Look out for the prices! I think it is pretty much the only building resembling an American capitol building in Europe. We climbed up the 500+ stairs to the top of the dome to look at the city. Here, down the hill and across Milenium Bridge, is the Globe Theatre to the left and the Tate Modern behind and to the right
St. Paul's from the front. Tuppence! Tuppence!
Walking towards the river, the dome of St. Paul's
We then went to the Tate Modern. It's an modern art museum. The nice thing about England is although the things cost an arm and 2 legs and an ear, all of the main museums are free. We walked in and viewed the art. Saddly (and I was hoping to give it the benefit of the doubt), it confirmed my theory that all modern "art" is crap. That's right, good art starts after the Renaissance, and ends with Picasso, Dali, Lichtenstein, and Worhol. Future people, if Blogger is still around, don't think we're all crazy because our art is. Art seems to be a reflection of the times and all modern art seems to be about out doing everyone else, hence giant chunks of metal scattered about the floor, a single neon light, a giant spinning mirror in a dark room, and canvases painted one solid color, like gray or pink. I've seen it all with my own eyes. You know, thinking about it; perhaps it does represent us, everyone trying to out do everyone else.

Anyway, after getting our minds blown by modernity, we decided to do something random and head east to Greenwich. It wouldn't be too remarkable except that's the point from which all of east and west are defined. After riding the subway, we went on the DLR, which was a little sketchy since we weren't sure if we had to buy tickets. We then found the park in Greenwich (pronounced GREN-itch) and walked up the hill to the Royal Observatory. Unfortunately, we arrived 5 minutes before it closed so we couldn't get in. But we found a spot where the prime meridian was marked on the ground and took the classic 'I'm standing in the east and west' pictures.
From the hill, looking northwest, downtown London is a couple of miles away
After that, we found another London food to eat, Sausage and Mash. It was really good, too. Two bratwurst served on mashed potatoes and brown gravey.

The next day, Sunday, we headed out to beat the crowds to the Tower of London. It's a midieval fortress started in the 11th century.
The White Tower, the central thing. Someone pointed out that the Tower of London isn't very tall, but then I made the point that the Eiffel Tower only has 3 floors, too.
Right behind (or is it in front of?) the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge. We walked across it
We then headed back to Trafalgar Square to go to the National Gallery, Britain's primier art gallery. We saw some good art, but unfortunately, the Van Gogh room was closed.
Piccadilly Circus by day
Later, we stopped by the British Museum and checked out the Rosetta Stone, which was used to decipher the ancient Egyptian's hierglyphics
Perhaps this is familiar?We went there.
I felt a little dorky. Oh, well it's the Beatles. The consant stream of tourists must be annoying for people that have to drive that road everyday.

On Monday, we hired a car and went on a Magical Mystery Tour (the trip of a lifetime). We ended up naming the car Winston. It was Ford Focus, with the steering wheel on the wrong side. We also gave ourselves English names. I was Nigel, we also had a Pembroke, a Judith, and one Reginald Q. Withersby.

After swinging by Windsor Castle, we went to Stonehenge.
Then we popped into the Roman Baths at Bath
Then, for no particular reason, we stopped by the ocean. Wales is on the horizon to the right. The tide was coming in and this river was flowing backwards.
then we swung by Oxford
The classic 'the steering wheel's on the wrong side!' picture. Reginald did all the driving because it was a stick shift, also one must be 21 in Europe to rent a car (25 in the US). I was the navigator. We did about 300 miles of driving total and made 3 right turns. Gas was about one pound per liter so it was the equivalent of about $6.50 per gallon, whereas in France, it was more like $4 per gallon.
On Tuesday, we flew back. It's about an hour from our stop to Heathrow on the Underground. It was about 23 stops, methinks. We made it out and got in line for Air India. A lady came around and pulled out the Chicago bound people. We then got to stand in the special 10 person Chicago line for an hour. Going over the list, my passport needed to be taken and run through some checks or something, which was a little unnerving. Eventually we made it; it helped that the plane had arrived late, it originated in India, stopped in England, and continued to the U.S. The flight back was way better than the flight over. I spoke a little to the guy next to me, he was coming to the U.S. for the first time to go to grad school in Missouri. I wished him luck. And finally, it's nice to be a citizen because at O'Hare, although all the counters were open, the foreigners' lines were huge, whereas there was a short line that moved quickly for citizens.

As my trip is over and I'm back to my normal, boring life, I see a few more posts on my travels in Europe. I then plan to take a break before starting again in September. From there I plan on bloging local UW and Madison events and news.