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Across the Pond: Day 5

Routine has set in. My mornings are fairly similar now, although I’ve discovered the client I’m working at has a cafeteria in their building. While I feel like I should be “making more” of my time here, I can’t exactly take the morning off.

Work has been going exceedingly well. We’ve finished what were thought to be the main portions well ahead of schedule. So… that’s good.

Also, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m definitely sick. The last few days have been a drag, but it’s not affecting me overly much. In fact, today I went out to lunch with some of my temporary co-workers again. The food was excellent (as it should have been, considering the price), although prices widely varied from what I’m used to back home.

I was boring again in the evening, mostly in part to being sick. Interestingly, the hotel has a spa which I finally checked out. By spa they mean a sauna and steam room, but it was still very nice. A hot tub would’ve been cool, though.

Oh! The news has been very interesting, lately. In addition to the world news of Wikileaks and Julian Assange that I’ve been following closely, there were riots today in London. Students are protesting a rise in their college fees. At one point, the riots turned violent and property was destroyed, as well as the Prince’s car getting attacked (side note: the police are now under investigation for why the let the freaking Prince Heir Apparent get caught in a student riot).

Interesting times.

Posted in Personal, Politics.

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Across the Pond: Day 3-4

The next couple days after arriving in London went fairly smooth. Aware now of the hotel’s very non-complimentary breakfast, I made use of an earlier shuttle and grabbed a quick bite to eat in one of the many underground shopping malls in the area. By a “quick bite” I was pretty much reduced to either a baguette or sandwich, but the choices weren’t bad.

Work went smoothly despite a web proxy blocking most of my internet activity. I also discovered a very interesting fact (in a purely scholarly fashion) about one of the differences between British and American cultures. My temporary co-workers here very much enjoyed having a beer (or two, or three) during lunch. Interestingly, no one (at lunch or in pubs) seemed to drink much of the “local” beer. Fosters, Guiness and Heineken seem to be very common.

The third night I claimed an evening of relaxing at the hotel, although most of it was spent online. The fourth night found me back in Leicester Square, although fairly uneventfully. For some reason I keep trying fish and chips, despite the fact that the sheer amount of grease leaves me queasy. I think I like the idea of it, although it never quite works out in practice.

On a side note, my shins really hurt. I guess it’s the amount of walking I’ve been doing, lugging around a computer bag, but this was not expected at all!

Posted in Personal.

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Across the Pond: Day 2, Happy, Cold, Tired and Tired

Yesterday, I arrived in London. Ready for my first day of work in the UK, I had called in the hotel’s concierge for a prompt 7am wake up call. Somewhere along the line, they decided I had no idea what I was talking about and I really should wake up at 4am. And boy did they follow through. This was no “automatic wake up call” from some computer script. No, sir. They called three times, determined I would be ready for the day ahead.

An hour or so later, I gave up my futile hope I might actually get some more sleep and decided to be productive. By productive, of course, I meant trying out video chat with people back home, for whom it wasn’t even bedtime yet.

Afterwards, determined to be ready for work on time, I stopped by the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Unsure of the normal procedure here, I assumed it was “complimentary” like back home and nothing challenged that perception. They did ask for my room number, for sure, but otherwise it was a normal, however very English, buffet style hotel breakfast of eggs, meat, breads, cereals and fruit.

I left for work feeling good. I’d been awake for quite a while, the hotel provided a shuttle (avoiding the aimless wandering of the day before) and I was well ahead of schedule. Honestly, work went quite well also. Everyone I met was competent (!!!), we outlined what needed to happen and the day ended productively.

Leaving work, however, I realized how amazingly tired I was. At this point I felt like it was at least four hours later than it actually was and by the time I got back to my hotel I was almost ready for bed. Freezing cold, by the way, because I’d decided to walk and save money. At least this time I made it in one go.

Hanging around the hotel, I decided to relax for a while and mess around on the internet. I checked into all the normal social media sites I couldn’t access while at work and finally realized, an hour or two later, that playing on the internet is not the same as sleep and I was not getting any less tired. Also, the hotel room, while not exactly “cold”, was not warm despite setting the thermostat to 24C/75F degrees.

The day before I had stumbled back into town, gotten food and stumbled home. That wasn’t going to fly tonight. After all, I was in London! This was not a time to “hang out” at the hotel. After some quick internet research, I was going to Leicester Square!

Not wanting to be any colder than I already was, I caught a cab to the tube station. When I got to Leicester Square… it was awesome! Bright lights, dozens of restaurants, theaters, musicals and more (much more) lit up the streets. I walked for a while, enjoying everything despite the cold when I decided to check out the Trocadero.

The Trocadero is an interesting thing. It’s like an arcade, casino and carnival thrown together in a labyrinthian architecture with a few bars and a bowling alley thrown in. It spans a city block or so, mostly underground and goes up and down at least five stories. The use of escalators and displaced stairways meant that however you got up to a level would not be the same way you got back down. Also, there was an entire area that looked like a parking garage dedicated to break dancing. It took me at least an hour to find my way back out to the street.

Having escaped The Labyrinth, I needed some food. I found a pub, distinguishable by the exact same architecture, paint and sign font that every other tourist pub in London uses. After debating hanging out in the bar first, I headed upstairs to the dining area and immediately ordered some bangers and mash. I was slightly disappointed that the menu didn’t call them bangers and mash, but what can you do?

My lust for adventure momentarily satiated and realizing that now I was falling-asleep-tired, I headed back to the hotel. The entire trip one-way took about a half hour on the tube and I caught a cab at the end. At last, sleep.

Oh, and that breakfast? 17 pounds. Yeah.

Posted in Personal.

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Across the Pond: Day 1, Cold and Confused

Usually, my work requires me to travel. Generally it’s some not so far away town in Southern California; sometimes it requires getting a hotel for the night; occasionally it’s in another state (Louisiana was fun). Most recently, it’s taken me a bit farther. As luck would have it, I’m writing this post in London!

I think England is fantastic. There is a ton to see, the people are great, the cameras everywhere are a little creepy, but the food is good and transportation, more or less, is easy. I’ve been here twice before, but never alone and never for work.

The flight over was long, but uneventful. I left early Saturday afternoon and arrived late Sunday morning, thanks both to the 9 hour flight and the 8 hour time change. I made the effort to sleep so I’d arrive refreshed, but only managed to pull off an hour or so. Also, I’m sure everyone already knows, but the airline food was terrible. There was literally no consistency change from the “chicken” they served or the “brownie” dessert. The taste was minimally different.

Arriving in London, they miraculously let me into the country despite my ‘Business’ answer to the ‘Reason for visiting’ question. From there I navigated from Heathrow to my hotel; the tube is wonderful and easy. Upon reaching the final tube stop before my hotel, I figured I’d save some money and walk to my hotel. At this point I should mention that I had flown in from California, where the temperature dropping below 50 degrees is a major concern. It was hovering somewhere below freezing in London.

I did manage to walk to my hotel. I also got hopelessly lost, turned a half mile walk into a four mile quest and arrived partially frozen.

At this point, my body thought it was around 4am. It was actually early afternoon. However, to fight off jet lag and sleep a normal night’s sleep, I decided to stay awake until at least 8pm or so. That didn’t actually happen. I think something happened sometime after I took a hot bath to warm up and maybe while I was “inspecting” the bed. Three hours or so later, I remembered I wasn’t going to sleep until the evening and I got back up, now slightly hungry.

Setting out from my hotel, I was smart and got a map from the concierge to guide me to the nearest shopping area (coincidentally also where the tube stop was located). Setting out from my hotel, I took a wrong turn and my short half mile walk again turned into a four mile quest, this time in the other direction. I’m normally not this bad with maps, I swear. Also, while I wouldn’t call it “snow” I do believe the fog started to freeze.

By the time I reached the safety of my hotel room to thaw, my first day in London had ended exhausted and with some delicious chicken tikka masala. I slept amazingly well, ready for work the next day.

I woke up at 4am.

Posted in Personal.

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PC vs Mac – The Numbers Game

Earlier today I found myself reading an article on ZDNet by Ed Bott about his experience switching from Windows to Mac (albeit for a short time).

I’m not sure how I ended up there – thanks to Google News’ Spotlight / customized news page, I guess. Anyways, he made a comment about how while his Mac was cool, if he wanted to buy the one he’d really want to use it would be astronomically more expensive than a competing Windows machine from, say, HP. Anyways, I’ve seen plenty of articles to the contrary on this point, but I wanted to do some original research.

So, I did some number crunching to see how they stacked up and the results were actually fairly surprising. While the HP was a cheaper system at first glance, I wasn’t able to meet all the specs the iMac had. When I did, the price changed… a lot.

I chose the HP Pavilion Elite 450t as the base model, since that seems to be one of the few (or only?) with the i7 processor. I put it against the 27″ iMac talked about in the article. I was able to successfully match the CPU (Intel i7 2.93 GHz), RAM (8 GB of 4x2GB DDR3, 1333 FSB) and HD (1 TB SATA 7200rpm). Sound, speakers, webcam, optical drive, networking and peripherals could all be more or less matched to equal the Mac (though not built-in and not including BluRay or FireWire).

However, there was no comparable video card on the HP. The Mac uses an ATI Radeon HD 5750 while the highest upgrade available on the HP is an ATI Radeon HD 5450. The price difference between the two is about $70-80.

The biggest gap, however, is the monitor. The iMac features a 27″ LED-Backlit LCD monitor with a resolution of 2560×1440. The best monitor available with the HP is only 1920×1080. On the open market, the best deal on a comparable monitor looks to run around $1000.

The final numbers on these two systems?
iMac : $2399
HP: $2578

There’s no argument that Apple doesn’t offer nearly the range of options as well, any of their competitors, but if you DO need/want all that hardware, it’s not as overpriced as people make it out to be. It’s actually a pretty good deal.

Posted in Mac, Windows.

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Crazy Little Thing Called Derby

I like doing things. I could make a list, but I’ve tried that before and it ends up growing quite large, random and incriminating.

Back in August, I mentioned a rapidly growing, very authentic and awesome sport called Roller Derby. My girlfriend had been practicing with them all summer and when I started, I was very excited. Despite not being able to actually play, since the sport consists mainly of women’s leagues, getting to skate six hours a week with a highly organized group of athletes seemed like a great opportunity and a lot of fun.

Three months later, it’s even better than I thought it would be. The girls aren’t just skilled (and they are, finishing their season 8-1), they’re dedicated and are some of the most capable people I’ve met. Regardless of their day jobs (no paid athletes here), they give it 110% at practice and come game time, there’s nothing that can stop them.

The amount of skill it takes to play derby consistently amazes me. I’m not saying that all athletes don’t work hard and push themselves to be great, but derby is one of the few sports I’ve seen that has a minimum skills requirement before you can even try out for the team, just so you don’t hurt yourself trying to play. All sports (well, mostly) take an incredible amount of endurance, but few people have ended up with broken bones because they didn’t practice their basketball skills enough before joining the rec league. And that’s what would happen if a group of untrained people decided to strap on some skates and play derby, assuming they could even skate in the right direction (it’s harder than it sounds!)

I’ve found something special. First, skating by itself is ridiculously more fun than it has any right to be. If you’re at all like me, it’s what you did maybe once a year before you were 12 and then not at all (which is a shame, because I’d be phenomenal by now if I’d started back then). But beyond the skating or any activity, it’s the people. The Betties (and refs!) are an amazing group of people, and I’ve learned that if you don’t like the people, you won’t like being there. I know I’m not always the easiest person to get along with. I’ve made it a point to often not care what others think about me on a personal level, which causes undue friction at times. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people and I hope that they kick my ass if I start becoming a pain. And I think they will.

So while I work on learning the rules letter perfect so I can referee, I show up to every practice I can and work on my skate skills. And although I don’t come close to measuring up with them (yet!), there’s no comparison to when I started just a few months ago. The ridiculous amount of wear on my gear shows the effort I give it and realizing how much more I can learn will always keep me coming back.

Posted in Personal, Roller Derby.

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Dieting Is Not A Product

Our society is a hypocrite. We hold up idols that spend enormous amounts of time and effort to look thin while we continue to shove cheeseburgers in our faces and rarely move from the couch. When we do try and lose weight, we inevitably take one of two paths: Stay lazy and barely eat enough to survive or start exercising and keep cramming food down our throats. We’ve gotten so good at finding excuses as to why we shouldn’t be fat that we don’t spend any time thinking of why we are.

The science behind body fat – and body fat is really what we’re talking about here, no one is crying over too much muscle mass – is very simple. There are 3500 calories in 1 lb of fat. Period. Metabolism makes people ‘burn’ calories at slower or faster rates, but 3500 calories is the absolute limit. Anyone that thinks you can gain 1 lb of fat from eating a Snickers bar because you have bad metabolism doesn’t understand the first law of thermodynamics.

Weight gain (and weight loss) works like a formula. Food you eat adds calories, exercise you do removes calories and your body removes calories by maintaining itself. If you are left with a positive number, you gain weight. A negative number, you lose weight. There are things that affect these numbers, such as different types of foods, different rates of metabolism and your current body mass, but the physics stay the same.

Knowing everything that affects your weight gives you a very strong tool to control it. Learn your Basal Metabolic Rate to determine how many calories your body needs. Learn how many calories you burn through normal activities. Once you add those numbers together, you now know exactly how many calories you burn every day.

Don’t try and diet your way to health. Don’t try and exercise your way there, either. Do both! Losing weight (and really, getting healthy) is a lifestyle change, not a quick fix. While it might sound easier to “just diet” or “just exercise”, you’re really making yourself do twice the work. Why jog for an hour or not eat lunch when you could have jogged for half an hour, still had a smaller lunch and gotten the same result?

Oh, and anyone selling you a pill to lose weight is lying to you.

Posted in Athletics, Personal.

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Plans are for the unprepared

New haircut today! Feels great to get all that extra shag  cut off. All that hair was a damn freeloader, I say. Serves it right!

Earlier today I had derby practice. No, not the kind with horses. This is roller derby, Women’s Flat Track Derby to be precise. Now, I know what you’re saying. “Tyler, you’re not a woman and what’s a flat track?” And, you know, you’re right. That’s why I’m a referee and not one of the players. Also, a flat track means they play on a level surface, whereas some roller derby leagues have a banked track (like in Nascar).

If you haven’t before, take a moment to find out what it is.

Some of you may (think) you remember roller derby from back in the 80s. That strange, costumed, WWF-style fake combat on roller skates, right? WRONG! Harken back to the early 20th century, when men were men and women beat the crap out of each other on a banked roller derby track. It’s all very real, nothing is staged and there are a few more safety rules today than back then.

Come support the Mission City Brawlin’ Betties in their bout against the Bakersfield Diamond Divas on October 2nd in Santa Barbara!

Posted in Personal, Roller Derby.

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Cooking is Science

I’ve been on a hit of a cooking spree lately. Which is great! I’ve been eating better, paying less (usually) and honestly having fun doing it. I also now recognize that the amazing cream sauce the italian place downtown uses on their chicken is just sour cream, chicken broth and paprika, which isn’t so great.

I tried my hand at making real chocolate fudge. The kind that involves boiling the chocolate and not using pre-sweetened powder. I also learned that there can be non-chocolate fudge, which either depresses or intrigues me. If the other kinds are good then it will be the latter. The fudge turned out… ok, I think. There’s this phase in making candy where you have to gauge the temperature of the candy by dropping some in cold water and seeing how firm it gets. This determines whether the candy ends up being soft like a fudge or hard like toffee or caramel. I’m still learning that part. Everyone else really like the fudge, but really… it’s chocolate and sugar. How can you ever not like it?

The one recipe that I made that I really liked was a chili. I mean, the fudge was good and all. And I made this chicken paprika the other night that was definitely a good dinner…. but this chili? I’m making this chili again. And soon. Well, as soon as my body can stand to eat chili again, at least. The original recipe for it is from, which is a great site and also helps because a bunch of other people told me it was a good chili.

I’m going to give you my instructions on this chili, which is almost identical but I changed one or two things and specified varieties where the original recipe was vague. And oh, before you make this make sure you have a BIG pot. Really!


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 red onions, chopped (use medium or large onions depending on how much you like them. They’ll blend in quick so don’t worry about too much)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 3/4 – 1 pound pound beef sirloin, cubed
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can peeled and diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle dark beer (Guiness works really well!)
  • 1 cup strong brewed coffee (I don’t drink coffee at home, so I bought a ‘Tall’ Italian Roast at Starbucks)
  • 2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
  • 1 (14 ounce) can beef broth
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans kidney beans
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pinto beans
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans
  • 4 fresh hot serrano peppers, seeded and chopped


  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook onions, garlic, ground beef and cubed sirloin in oil for 10 minutes, or until the meat is well browned and the onions are tender.
  2. Mix in the diced tomatoes with juice, dark beer, coffee, tomato paste and beef broth. Season with brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder, oregano, cayenne pepper, coriander and salt. Stir in 2 cans of the beans and hot chile peppers. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Stir in the 2 remaining cans of beans, and simmer for another 30 minutes.


  • Chili can simmer for a loooong time and keep getting better. The caveat here is that you will continually lose liquid and produce a thicker and thicker chili. You can do this on purpose if you want a thicker chili, too.
  • This chili really tastes its best the next day. Throw the lid on the pot and put it in the fridge overnight and when you heat it up the next day it will be at least 20% better.
  • I didn’t include it in this recipe because I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m considering lowering the chili powder dosage to 2 1/2-3 tbsp and raising the cayenne up or switching from serrano to jalapeno peppers. The spice level is great right now (to me), but I don’t care for amount of chili powder taste.

Posted in Personal.

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This website has them. You’ve seen them elsewhere. You know what they are, even if you can’t name them: Bad color schemes. They throw you off and you’re not sure why. Alternatively, you are sure why: they’re ugly.

When it comes to graphic design I feel like I’m mentally handicapped in some way. What other people seem to just understand and intuit, I’m not even sure what I’m looking at. I mean, I know when something looks good, but if I stare at different colors too long I start to think anything might look good if you just have the right frame of mind and… dammit, I’m going back to shades of gray.

Posted in Personal.

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