First tank(s)

I’ve been pondering getting into fishkeeping for a while and, last month, I finally plumped for a Fluval Edge 6 gallon (23 litre) tank.

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A little on the pricy side but that enclosure at the top contains lights and filter so it’s pretty much ready to go.  I do have to get a heater though as I’m looking at freshwater tropical.

Unfortunately, the courier was a bit cack-handed and this is what greeted me when I opened the box

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The lid was completely smashed 🙁 (it’s part of the tank and bonded to the top with silicone).  Thankfully the supplier has been great and is shipping me a replacement.  They also said to bin this one and keep the accessories.  Result.

However, that gave me an idea.  Seeing as I’m keeping the stand, filter, lights and so forth, why not see if I could remove the broken pieces of the lid and end up with a rimless tank.  For free.

One pair of gloves (after a predictable minor mishap), fishing line (to saw at the silicone and which I’ll need later to tie down some moss and plants) and my trusty Leatherman and job’s a good’un.

Sort of.  Turns out there’s a tiny crack in one bottom corner.

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It looks OK in that its not come away from the silicone but it’s now undergoing a week long leak test.

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Fingers crossed.  Also crossed for my replacement arriving intact

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Technological reminiscence

I just posted this on Reddit, in some obscure little backwater, but I would like to share it with you lot.  Bear in mind that I’m 39 (this is relevant) and we’re talking about finding Win95 discs :

 

[–]greyjackal 1 point  ago (1|0)

’95 for me. I left school in 92 and a friend’s dad gave me the (numerous) 3.5 discs for Win95 in 94 (he had some equivalent of MSDN). I was ecstatic.

That Start Menu really was a whole new thing at the time. As was moving away from the Apple paradigm of Explorer (although it’s obviously still there). And I appreciate the irony now that I know about Finder (I didn’t then)

But for us PC kids, Win95 was the definition of “the shit” (note the “the” :p). Although we still had the demons of Config.sys, Autoexec.bat and Himem.sys and quite astonishing intolerance for drivers, and their incompatibility (DirectX was still an idea), we got on with it.

And it kick-started a generation of kids who knew how to program their folks’ VCR into fiddling, and testing, and poking, and meddling. Even before that, the bedroom revolution using Amigas, ST’s, even CD32s (someone else must have bought one), and even prior, C64s, C=20s, Speccies, had started to make waves, but it was the advent of the cost-effective PC, in my opinion, that blew things out of the water.

Here we are today. The internet is critical to most businesses, if only because of email, at the very least. Entertainment via gaming is now commonplace (yeah, it really is – PC gaming might not be, but no one turns their nose up at someone who has a console any more).
Technology has absolutely revolutionised movies and TV shows. We are now the cast of Star Trek – we watch films on a sliver of technology that we can hold, and even synch it to the huge screen in the living room so we can wander from place to place without missing a moment.

Yeah…it’s a great time to be alive. And I cannot wait to see what the next 30 years bring.

Edit – oh yeah, and I have  a job thanks to all of that.  And quite a good one, at that.

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How it should have gone down

How it should have been

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Gis us a go on the bike, mate, this is murder

Gis us a go on the bike, mate, this is murder.

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“Bazinga!”

"Bazinga!" by Flying Badger
“Bazinga!”, a photo by Flying Badger on Flickr.
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David Wong is a sensationalist

No, that isn’t an ad hominem, it’s my sincere belief.

It’s based on the content of the article here : http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-ways-you-dont-realize-movies-are-controlling-your-brain/

Let’s break the article down.

First of all, the headline. It’s right up there with the National Enquirer or, for those of us with a UK heritage, the Daily Mail (I would say Express, but he never mentions Princess Di).

“You don’t realize” – yeah, because he’s somehow privy to knowledge you’re not; “Movies are controlling your brain”- right you are, sir. I’m being brainwashed every time I go to the cinema. I went in a peacenik hippy, came out and went straight to my local gun store. Won’t somebody think of the children?

As it happens, there is a grain of truth there, but “movies trigger emotional responses” isn’t exactly headline material, is it, David? It’s not like every form of art, ever, since the history of ever, has been trying to achieve exactly that. Not that that is art’s raison d’etre or anything. No, movies are somehow “special”. More on which, later.

So, there’s the hook to draw people in to reading the rest .

Now we get to the meat of it. One by one, here are the five “facts” presented in the article :

“#5. No, You Can’t Separate Fact from Fiction”

David contests that there are historical inaccuracies in ‘Braveheart’. No shit, Sherlock. There are in ‘Ben Hur’ too. And ‘I, Claudius’, ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ and ‘Schindler’s List’. At what point did you think you were watching a National Geographic documentary? There are these two concepts known as romanticism and artistic licence. Present in all forms of artistic depiction since…well, since ever. Again. Unless you believe that the twelve apostles really did conveniently, and bizarrely, sit down on only one side of a long table for Mr Da Vinci to paint, of course.

As far as the “Jaws Effect”, I agree with that one to a degree – but again, that’s borne out of an emotional response, ie fear. Plus a lack of education, of course. However, and it’s a big however, it is NOT primarily responsible for the decimation of the world population of Great Whites. You can put than one squarely at the door of China.

Also, you can cause an O2 tank to explode by shooting it. As much as I love Mythbusters, Adam and Jamie aren’t the last word in science 😉 (There are a multitude of videos on YouTube demonstrating it, for example, and if you watch the last scene of Jaws, there’s no “traditional” Hollywood fireball).

I’ll pass on the list of examples (Top Gun, Karate Kid etc) because your point there is spot on. However, your corroborating point is not. Which leads us to…

#4. Stories Were Invented to Control You

This is the crux of it, as far as I am concerned. There are some distinctly disingenuous, at best, and downright misleading, at worst, statements in this section.

Hero mythology is about aspiration and self-improvement. It is not about telling someone “how to behave”. It’s to inspire and give someone a reason to choose that path for themselves. There was none of this “do this or else your forefather would have died in vain” nonsense – guilt tripping is very much a modern concept. People fought and died for their family and friends because they loved them. They had a much more personal reason to keep fighting too – if they gave up, they died. No Geneva Convention.

Now, while Campbell has written some excellent material on mythology, that is definitely not why stories were invented. They did, in fact, start as the “years-long recounting of the history of the tribe, which nobody has probably written down anyway” (sic) precisely because no one wrote things down. Mainly because they couldn’t..

Finally, I really hope you were using the word “literally” in that last sentence ironically.

#3 The Writer of a Story Always Has an Agenda

Yes, yes they do.

As mentioned earlier, that’s the entire point of art. It’s to provoke a response of some kind which is naturally going to be inline with the author’s own feelings.

What do these hugely popular hero characters have in common?

HeMan
Batman
Tintin
James Bond
Asterix

Nothing. So, about as valid as your cherry picked list, then.

And now we get to the most contrary part of the article :

“This is what everyone misses when debating this stuff — one side says, “Hollywood is trying to brainwash you!” and the other side says, “Michael Bay isn’t smart enough to brainwash an armadillo!” and they’re both missing the point”

So why the sensationalist title?

“Whether or not the agenda was intentional is utterly irrelevant”

So why the sensationalist title?

“I can’t emphasize this enough — there is no conspiracy.”

So why…oh you get the point.

#2. You Were Raised — and Educated — by Pop Culture

Everyone, ever, has been raised by popular culture. That popular culture might have been lions ripping apart Christians, but the effect was the same – instilling certain “facts”.

Christians are ‘bad’, if you’re a Roman.
That tribe over the river aren’t to be trusted, if you’re one of those villagers you mentioned earlier.
The French can be always be routed, if you’re in Shakespeare’s audience

All taught by virtue of their respective popular cultures.

As for the various scenarios you list, however, that might be a uniquely American viewpoint. I’m British but can tell you that I learnt about :

  • How to behave on dates from my peers (with some embarrassment in one notable case – the sods)
  • Armani was a fashion label in various magazines
  • Smoking was cool because some of the girls at my school did it

So, while you’re correct in that I was influenced, it wasn’t exclusively by movies. But of course, that’s inevitable – everyone is influenced to one degree or another by various things. Peers, family, movies & tv, books, you name it. That’s the point of learning and growing up. To lay it all at the door of one channel is ludicrous.

Finally…

#1. Everything in Your Brain Is a Story

You start off so well. I was nodding my head in agreement until this gem :

“we cared about World War II because it was a story: it had villains (Hitler and the rest), it had heroes (the Allies), it had a distinct beginning, middle and end”

Not that a marauding army was rampaging across Europe and slaughtering our neighbours and families, then? My mistake.

One final thought. The very last paragraph is spot on, in my opinion.

“So, yes, for the fucking love of God, movies matter. TV shows matter. Novels matter. They shape the lens through which you see the world. The very fact that you don’t think they matter, that even right now you’re still resisting the idea, is what makes all of this so dangerous to you — you watch movies so you can turn off your brain and let your guard down. But while your guard is down, you’re letting them jack directly into that part of your brain that creates your mythology. If you think about it, it’s an awesome responsibility on the part of the storyteller. And you’re comfortable handing that responsibility over to Michael Bay.
It’s just something to keep in mind, that’s all.”

I’m just slightly confused why movies were the only medium responsible until now. I can only assume the worst, stick to my original title and accuse you of some incredibly disappointing editorializing.

 

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Transport in Boston if you don’t own a car – the T

Boston is excellent for public transport. An unlimited T pass is $70 for the month – a bit like a London travelcard, you can jump on and off with no costs.  However, one thing that tripped me up is that the passes run on calendar months. So, no matter when you buy it, it won’t be valid until the first of the next month, then run to the end of the same month.

So, as an alternative, you can either add stored value to the card (CharlieCard) which will deduct for every journey at $2, or buy stored value tickets (CharlieTicket) which behave the same way. Those will cost $2.50 per trip.

The Card can be waved at / touched on the card readers in stations and trains, much like an Oyster card or Lothian Bus pass. The tickets have to be fed into a slot, like a regular train ticket, and those mechanisms can be dodgy.  So get a CharlieCard (free from station staff) and load it up online or at the vending machines in the stations.

The T, by the way, is a tram system – yes Edinburgh, you read that right – that pretends to be a subway from time to time and is run by the Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority (MBTA).   Other forms of public transport are available, obviously – plenty of buses and cabs if need be too.

Although Boston is relatively small by US standards, you do still need a car occasionally.  If you’re not planning on buying one, I can heartily recommend ZipCar (that link’s got a promo code in it, btw, that gives me and the signup person $25 credit each).  Edinburgh folk might be familiar with City Car Club. It’s a similar idea, albeit bigger and cheaper.  It’s also quite useful for holidays if you’re going to a city and don’t actually need a car every day of the week.

There are hundreds of locations around the city, in parking garages, on gas station forecourts, even just designated bays in the street and each one is a ZipCar’s home.  For the princely sum of $55 a year, you can then rent anything from a Mazda 3 through a Honda Civic and Audi A4 up to big saloons and vans. The cost? $10 an hour for the Mazda, $14 for the Audi and $12 for a Ford E150 van (brother of the F150 pickup). Insurance included.

And gas. Believe it or not, there’s a gas card in them.

The only thing that isn’t included is tolls, although there is an EZpass in the windscreen that allows you to zip through the automatic lanes. Toll charges are applied to your account at the end of the hire.

I’ve used them 3 times now: to meet a friend from Connecticut for lunch; go off to a mall for an aircon unit; and to move house (hence knowing about the E150).  One of the smartest bits is you’ll get a text an hour before it’s due to be returned which will tell you if anyone has booked it after you.  If not, you have the option to extend it via SMS.  Dashed clever.

So, between the MBTA transport system and cars-on-demand, I’m pretty much covered.

Which is nice.

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A Brit in the US – 6 months has gone by in a flash

I’ve no idea where the time has gone. Half a year already (and I left Edinburgh 4 months before that, too, thinking the visa was “almost done”…)

Long enough for me to get up off my backside and write a little about the experience thus far and what, if anything, I have learnt, frankly. And if it can provide any insight or assistance for future British expats, then so much the better. Although, to be honest, the excellent British Expats site has pretty much got it all covered.

So what follows is really a summary of the nuances I’ve encountered up until now and I’ll add to it as time goes on. It’s the little things, as Mr Vega said, the little differences.

Given that I’m British, it seems appropriate to start with the weather here in Massachusetts. Those of us from Edinburgh are familiar with the idea of four seasons in one day and it holds true for New England, as well. In fact, they have a colloquialism too : if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.

That’s where the similarity ends, however. There are proper seasons here; something I think us Brits have long consigned to the history books. Winter can be nasty – it’s not unusual for Boston to find itself under a foot or three of snow (I was lucky enough to arrive in one of the mildest Winters for some time, though).

Summer can be similarly appropriately named, too – this past month has seen temperatures consistently in the 85 – 95 / 30 – 35 range. The humidity can be high too though – it’s 88% today. Although that’s not the norm, it is often over 50%. A/C in your apartment is an absolute must, even if it’s just a battered window unit. You’ll get used to sleeping through the noise of that quicker than through being uncomfortable.

Despite the relative predictability of the seasons…always check the forecast before you leave in the morning. You’re very likely to need an umbrella at some point, even if for only 5 minutes.

 

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July 4th

4thJuly_Boston-14thJuly_Boston-24thJuly_Boston-34thJuly_Boston-44thJuly_Boston-54thJuly_Boston-6
4thJuly_Boston-74thJuly_Boston-84thJuly_Boston-94thJuly_Boston-104thJuly_Boston-114thJuly_Boston-12
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July 4th, a set on Flickr.

It got wet…

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Parents are awesome. Occasionally embarrassing, but generally awesome

I might be rapidly approaching 40, which means my dad is knocking on the door of 70 , but his grasp of technology (employing me to operate the VCR in the 80s notwithstanding) is somewhat impressive.

He can text, he can use Facebook, he can email. 68 isn’t what it once was. Ok, sometimes he gets the context wrong (commenting on something I wrote a week ago on today’s post, for example), but the concept is there. The point is that, son’s delusions of father’s immortality aside, our parents are not the Luddites we assume.

We (ie my generation), pride ourselves on our adaptability- most of us have careers banking on it – but how many of us have parents that know how to use this tech? I’d wager that it’s most of us. My old man is still active, he’s running a company, he’s flitting between Melbourne, Victoria and Reading, Berkshire with nary a beat (apart from that debilitating “power socket removal” feeling we all get when jet-lagged).

Similarly, my mother heads off to antique shows every week, loading up her car with the stuff she’s bought over the years, and goes off to sell -successfully, most of the time, thanks to the research she’s carried out on ebay and the like over the previous weeks.

We are not the first tech-savvy generation, much as we would like to be – our parents have seen LPs change into CDs (or videodiscs into LaserDiscs in the case of my mother who worked with the first company to manage that particular feat – and it wasn’t Philips or Pioneer), then into iPods. They’ve seen VCRs turn into CD burners and then into on-demand services. They have embraced emails and SMS and, certainly in my case, have appreciated the nature of them.

What on earth is waiting for us in the next 30 years? I can only hope that we adapt as well as our folks did.

Mum, Dad – nice one 🙂

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