Top 5 culture differences

Channeling my inner John Cusack I have tried to assemble a  top 5 list for differences between what I call American culture and British culture.  I know there are more than 5, and these may not really be the top 5, but they came to mind.  Chelsea was kind enough to contribute hers too, so that’s where I’ll start.

Chelsea’s top 5:

1.  Tea.  I don’t know whether other drinks exist before about 8pm.  After 8pm, beer takes over.  Until it’s time for a nightcap, which is tea again.
2.  Many things are much more formal and titles (Professor, Dr. Mr, Miss) are very important.  And, everyone is so much more polite to each other when they interact.
3.  The cars are much smaller.  As are the roads.  On a side note, about the only US-made cars I saw were Fords, which I found to be an odd choice.  I wouldn’t recommend somebody buy a Ford unless it was a truck or a mustang…
4.  Everything is so much older.  People at Cambridge University talk about the “new” buildings, which are older than both MSU and Cornell’s entire campus.
5.  Breakfast actually IS the most important meal of the day in England.  You have to see some of the “fry ups” they have!

Nick’s top 5:

1.  How polite the people are.  Maybe we only hit the good parts of England, or at least the touristy ones where people get paid to be nice to you, but I noticed that most people are very polite and friendly.  Especially in a city as big and significant as London, people were not nearly as abrasive as say New York City.

2. Its much easier to carry around 10 pounds of coins in your pocket.  I blame this on the pound.  Those damn little coins worth 1 and 2 pounds are easy to collect and hard to remember they are worth as much as the much lighter notes.

3.  They like warm ale.  Not room temperature warm, but cellar warm.  I had been warned of this before I went, and wasn’t too affected by it.  I actually think the flavors of ale comes out once its warmed up a little bit.  They even have taps labeled “Extra Cold” or as I like to call it “American Cold”.

4.  Tipping is much different.  I’ve been told that because the hourly wages for waitstaff is not nearly as painfully low as it is here in the states that a 10-12% tip is plenty.  I was also informed that you don’t tip the bartender after being served.  After all, it is his job.  And I’m not sure if you have to tip taxi drivers or not.  Can anyone help me?  This whole tipping bit was much nicer than the guy driving the port authority-JFK bus who basically demanded a tip in order to fetch my bag.

5.  Soccer (football) really is king.  I used to feel like I realized this before, but no way.  I was told intricate stories by taxi drivers about their favorite teams (it helps that I asked who is their team, and why should I root for them).  I picked up a newspaper on the tube (subway) and of the 25 pages or so of news coverage/advertisements 13 of them were related to soccer. crazy.

What do you think?  Any Brits care to contribute?


New travel experiences

Now that I am no longer in the lab 12+ hours a day frantically trying to make up data for the conference I’m leaving for tomorrow morning, I can finally update the website.  I’d like to begin the tale of our journey over to England with a few observations.  Both Chelsea and I had many new experiences, (not out of the ordinary traveling to a new country) but I had a few minutes to document those experiences mostly related to travel.  And here they are.

1.  You can have your luggage securely wrapped in cellophane.

I’m not sure I understand this concept in the light of new security measures.  People pay this dude some obscene amount of money (~20 per bag) to spin your luggage around and wrap it in plastic.  This is BEFORE you check in, and definitely before you go through security.  There is even a little sign that says “we will automatically re-wrap after security”.  I guess I don’t understand why you would pay this guy money to wrap up your bags, only to have them slashed open by security, to be wrapped up again.  Can you just have them wrapped once?

2.  The Airbus A380 is massive.

I remember when the first Airbus A380 made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic.  I never understood why that was such a big deal, until I saw the size of that plane.  It dwarfs other planes.  The only plane that is bigger in my mind is the C-5 Galaxy used by the military to transport just about everything.  I managed to take a picture of one with a semi-truck in the field of vision for context.  This so called “superjumbo” can fit 800+ passengers depending on seating arrangements.  Wow.

3.  On-demand entertainment on long flights make the flight go much much faster.

Here is a picture of the individual in-flight entertainment system we had.  I’m sure its a lack of experience on international flights for myself, but I was thoroughly impressed with the concept.  The handset pops out for easy navigation (or video game controls) and you can select from music, movies, TV shows, news, maps tracking the flight, etc.  I managed to watch 4 movies during our flights that I otherwise might not have had the chance to see (Chelsea might not like them).  We could also enjoy beer or wine during the flight and with our meal free of charge.  Much nicer than the domestic flights I’ve taken recently.

As I said before, we got to see and experience a suite of new things, some of which will come in the posts in the next few days.

Back in the good old US of A

Chelsea and I just got back from a whirlwind trip across the pond to London and Cambridge, England.  You know, Fish, Chips cup-o-tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary freakin Poppins, London.  (golden star if you can name that movie).  Our search for postdoctoral positions has taken us over to Cambridge for interviews.  Due to pricing of airline tickets we departed a few days early, but that gave us extra time to rebound from the jetlag.  We had a great 4 days, and I’ll get into it in a series of posts in the next few days.  For now, time to catch up on lab work and sleep.

Mavis Beacon teaches typing

If you recognized the title of this post chances are that you have taken typing lessons at one time in your life.  In my everlong quest for bargain technology deals (right there with you Dealin Dave) I stumbled on the Mavis Beacon teaching software for only $8.  Don’t worry, I didn’t feel compelled to make the purchase, but seeing the name sparked my memory.  It also got me to thinking: how did everyone learn to type?  My parents learned on typewriters but still use what I call the “hunt and peck” method, of only using a few fingers and looking at the keys.  I have received both formal instruction (part of a business class in high school) and informal instruction (Mavis Beacon) growing up.  As a result I use nine fingers to type, and very seldom have to look at the keys.  I even found an online typing test to see how fast I can type, and here are my results:

Not too bad.  How do you think you would do?  Click here to try for yourself.

Unfortunately those tests are inherently flawed.  They are measuring how quickly and accurately you can read the words on the screen and duplicate them with your fingers.  This skill may be useful to some professions but I’m guessing not to many.  Chelsea is a good example of this, as we have different typing styles.  I’m guessing that she would not score as high as I did on that test, but I know for a fact if we are sitting side by side typing out e-mails or a Word document from whatever is in our minds she types just as fast as I do.  So how did everyone learn to type?  Typewriter, Mavis Beacon, AIM instant messanger?

A wireless solution

For the past month or so Chelsea has been complaining that her built in wireless antenna has been on the fritz, working sporadically and most noticebly not working when she needed it.  I always thought she was exaggerating the problem, and being a little dramatic in hope that I would help fix it.  After some searching of online forums I found that many people had the same problem she did in the same iBook G4 style laptop.  Most of them just recommended checking the contacts of the network card to make sure all electical signals can be transmitted appropriately.  So we popped it open:

If you look carefully you can see the network card.  Actually that is a lie.  On some of the earlier models of this computer, where you see the grated metal (labeled A) above is where you would see the network card, and it would be really easy to plug back in.  Lucky for us she bought the upgraded model with an integrated wireless / bluetooth card, which was conveniently located below the letter B. This means in order to fix it we had to basically crack open the case and check the contacts, or replace the card.  Since neither of us wanted to deal with that we were between a rock and a hard place.

Chelsea borrowed my computer for a couple days, (which I think she did to emphasize how frustrating it is to have a non-reliable internet signal when you need to mine genome databases) and of course I had about enough of the problem myself.  More research into the online communities found the problem is a general design flaw, it pretty much comes down to the computer getting hot when the battery charges or during heavy use of the processor and melting the glue holding the card in place.  The only solution I could think of is one of those USB wireless adapters.  They seem cheap enough and would definitely be preferred over buying a new computer at this point.

More research.  Only this time I found out that most of the USB wireless b/g/n adapters are PC only, and their manufacturers don’t like to create drivers for Apple’s OSX.  There is one company that makes an adapter and supports both Mac and Linux, but it was a little too pricey for my taste.  Luckily, I stumbled onto a website detailing the chipsets for each of the adapters from big name companies (Belkin, Linksys, etc) and there was my solution.

The Linksys WUSB54GC uses the same chipset at the company I referred to just a minute ago (Ralink), I just need to change the driver to recognize the re-branded adapter.

Here is how it went (for anyone who wants to use this for a failing Airport or old mac without a wireless card):

Download the driver from Ralink here.

Install as usual.  Open Terminal.

change directory to /System/Library/Extensions/RT2500USBWirelessDriver.kext/Contents/

enter: sudo pico Info.plist

scroll down with the arrow key to the first second key (should look just like the one below) and change the values to these:


Depending on when the device was made you may have to change the name to LINKSYS instead.  Look it up in the system profiler to be sure.

Then save the file by pushing ctrl+O or F3. The file name should be Info.plist by default, so just hit enter. Now exit by pushing ctrl+x.

next, type: /usr/sbin/kextcache -k /System/Library/Extensions

then type: sudo kextload /System/Library/Extensions/RT2500USBWirelessDriver.kext

If you don’t get an error you will see “Loaded Successfully.” If you don’t see a wireless utility appear, unplug the device and plug it back in.

That is it.  Of course I should mention there is no way I would have been able to figure any of this out on my own, I credit the forums over at macrumors for this one.

Chelsea’s new wireless adapter works beautifully (actually faster than my Airport) and was a cheap ($24) solution to a big problem.  Up next – trying to figure out the power management system on my Powerbook, and why it randomly shuts down only to have the date and time to be reset to December 31, 1969.  Seriously.

so when are you graduating?

I’m pretty sure that many graduate students are familiar with the comic strip called “Pile Higher and Deeper” or PhD comics.  If you are a graduate student and you haven’t yet had the pleasure, I encourage you to check them out.  Many of the jokes throughout the comic hit a little too close to home for some grad students.

As Chelsea and I prepare to finish up our PhD studies, we have been trying to plan our next moves and this is often a topic of conversation, which then leads to the inevitable question: “when are you defending”.  I find that my answer is still in the vague category of “sometime in the fall”.  Because of this, I found this particular Phd comic funny:


The long arm of the law

Although I’ve now lived in New York for 5 years, I have only had an official New York State license for just over a year.  Part of switching government identification means that I got to switch the plates on my car from Michigan to NY too.  What I learned then was that the State of NY has different regulations for what can be considered a safe driver.  Two requirements in order to drive are the bi-annual registration and the annual inspection.  Of course each of these cost money.

I didn’t realize until this past Wednesday how serious NYS took their inspections.  I’m not entirely sure what they inspect for, wipers, brakes, tires, are on the list though.  At least the people down at the DMV are clever enough to color code the inspection certificates so anyone not up to date will look out of place.  This is how I was targeted by Cornell Police and pulled over.  I’m pretty sure its a fix-it-ticket, but as I was sitting there waiting for the officer to fill out the proper paperwork it got me to thinking:

1.  People that drive by a car pulled over are compelled to stare at the driver and scene.  I’m not immune to this.  It makes you feel horrible when you are sitting there knowing you have been pulled over on a technicality, and it sparks your curiosity as you drive by trying to figure out why some poor schmuck is waiting on Johnny to finish whatever it is he’s doing.

2.  Has everyone experienced both sides of this coin?  This led me to create a new poll.

[poll id=”5″]

I would especially like it if anyone wanted to share their most interesting stories about being pulled over.  I know some of you have clean driving records, and others have been close to having your license suspended.  As for me?  10.