This is an ongoing tale of Alan and Jo's exploits in Austin, TX. Alan hopes there will be plenty of tasty beer involved, while Jo hopes to find lots of interesting aircraft.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Things that are bigger in Texas

They say everything is bigger in Texas, don't they?

Well, here we have a Stick Insect. Nice little guy. For our UK viewers, the quarter I put next to him is about the same size as a 10p piece.

And we have some weeds. Though they look like small trees, we were actually able to just pull them up like a dandelion. They have that odd root structure which makes a 90 degree bend and runs just under the surface of the earth. They came up like giant tentacles! Most bizarre. That's my black glove in the middle there, for scale.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Here's a few things I have observed lately.

First up, here's a picture I have been wanting to take for a long time, ever since I first saw this. I was stopped in traffic on I-35 so grabbed the opportunity. They transport new trucks by piling them on top of each other and driving the bottom one. I looked as I went past afterwards, they're attached by wooden blocks, bolted on to the truck frame underneath. There's four trucks next to me here, and there's three more in a separate batch up ahead.

Meanwhile, due to a slight mix-up in Cabelas the other week, I walked out of there with a box of shotgun shells that was a little more perky than the ones we usually use. They'd wrongly marked the shells with a sale price - or put them in the wrong place - I don't really know, but they ended up having to give me a $140 box of shells for $59! Now, our usual shells have 1 and 1/8 oz of shot pellets inside and a certain amount of powder. These expensive chaps (on the left) had 1 and 1/4 oz and some kind of souped up powder in there, and look at the amount of brass they need to contain all this extra energy! The normal shell on the right is a lot lighter. And yes, you can really feel the difference when you let one of these off. Packs a lot of punch. We actually ended up trading most of the ones we had left with Neil for some normal rounds as we like our shoulders without gunstock-shaped holes in.

Lastly, how about these Creme Eggs! I saw some in the garage over Easter and grabbed a couple after making sure they were actually imported from Cadbury UK and not some nasty Hershey's knockoff. (Big difference, you know.) I looked at them and thought they had got smaller since I last saw them.

Then on Easter Sunday, it was Alex's birthday and Tamzin and Allan had invited us to his party, so we were over there for the afternoon. Cara was just back from the UK where she had been doing a supply run and amongst lots of other UK foods, had brought us back an Easter egg! Thanks, Cara! And it happened to be a Creme Egg one... which contained normal UK eggs.

They don't look a lot different here I know, but the UK egg on the left feels noticeably bigger and heavier in your hand than the import egg on the right. (The battery is a AA for size comparison, no, we don't eat those). I am a sad git and weighed them, the UK egg is 42g and the import is 36g. So obviously Cadburys are keeping back as much of the good chocolate as they can, or trying to save on shipping costs, or both.

So if you see green on the foil, it's an import, and I guess you can feel good about eating so much less chocolate, in fact it must be good for you ;-)

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Awesome: you can actually buy chill pills! Spotted in HEB.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Moon and Water

Here's the Moon on the morning of 12th December, just as it was setting.


It's frigging cold today. Been hovering around 32-34F (0-2C) all day, after the temperature totally plummeted during the night. It dropped 30F in three hours here; some places in Texas dropped 60 degrees.

Meanwhile, the water company has declared a critical drought for only the second time in 20 years or so. Normal rainfall for the Austin area is 32-34 inches a year. So far we have had only 14.91 inches and the aquifer is running dry. So no more sprinklers or car washing; they want each house to use no more than 100 gallons per person, per day. That's 3000-odd gallons a month. Alan and I use about 2200 gallons a month in total, so I guess we're OK.


Monday, November 24, 2008


American trains are big, huge things that mostly carry cargo. Being from a land in which the majority of trains have between one and three cars and which carry passengers, these American behemoths are a sight to behold. I have counted at least one with 103 segments (what do you call a cargo carriage anyway?). Some have four or five engines. If you're watching a train and wave at it, the drivers often wave back, or honk their very loud horns :-) Try that with British Rail...

I just got caught at a level crossing, so I whipped out my phone and snagged the train for y'all. This one is a tiddler, only two engines and 91 carriages.


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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Life on Mars

We watched the first episode of the American version of 'Life on Mars' last night. This is the TV show about cop who finds himself back in the year 1973 after being hit by a car. The original UK version of the show was on the BBC about two or three years ago; Alan and I watched it avidly before we left the UK. It was really great television, and we were interested to see how the US version would compare. I always wonder why they bother making US versions of perfectly good UK shows so this is a good chance to find out.

For anyone who hasn't seen the show, Here be spoilers!!

Well, the storyline of the episode was almost identical. Even some of the dialogue seemed very familiar. The locations, of course, are different - the UK one is set in Manchester and the US one is in New York. However, Sam wakes up in an industrial wasteland just as he did in the UK.

All the characters have exactly the same names and very similar looks, with the exception of Annie whose surname has changed. It was hard to watch without almost seeing the UK actors on the screen, they were that close. The cops all had the same styles and haircuts, albeit American-ised. As for the actors, the guy playing Sam (Jason O'Mara) doesn't have anything like the same charisma as John Simm. However Gene Hunt is played by Harvey Keitel which is cool.

A lot of the differences stemmed from cultural variations. Different people and places were referenced throughout the episode. Some different language constraints had to be worked around, for example when Sam first walks into his police station, in the UK he asks, "Where's my PC?" to which someone replies, "PC who?". The American Sam asks, "Where's my computer?" and get a reply about the film "2001, A Space Odyssey" instead.

The set dressing looked as elaborate as in the UK series. I was very young in the 1970s but grew up with 1970s British culture, so a lot of the set dressing in the UK series looks familiar. Objects and consumer product packaging, cars, clothing etc is all culturally relevant. I can only assume the US series looks the same to an American child of the 70s. The scene in which Sam goes outside from the record shop into the street and takes in 1973 in all its glory is beautifully realised in both versions. Sam gets a much bigger apartment in New York than in Manchester, though!

This being the first episode, the story deals a lot with setting up the premise for the whole series. The only major plot deviation so far is that Sam actually talks with the very young Colin Raimes at the end of the episode, whereas in the UK he only observes him from a distance.

Looking at the Wikipedia entries for the US and UK series, it implies the plot is going to deviate a little more through the series. It will be interesting to see what happens.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The almighty dollar

And you thought this was going to be a moan about the economic climate, didn't you?


It turns out the USA has had dollar coins kicking around for ages. They pop up every few years and fade away again as far as I can tell.

One recent attempt is the Susan B Anthony coin which was produced in 1979 and 1980, but they were not popular as they looked too much like a quarter. I have one of these coins. It's cool because it has a reference to the Moon landing on the obverse.

Then came the Sacagawea dollar which is golden in colour and features the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clarke on their journey across America. It was issued in 2000 and 2001; although no more have been released for use, they are still around. We have found one from each year.

However, it seems the US Mint wants to save money on replacing all the scrappy dollar bills that leave circulation each year, so it's trying again. This is a new dollar coin:

image courtesy United States Mint

As you can see it is gold in colour and it is a bit larger than a quarter. We encountered some for the first time in Dallas last month as change out of bus ticket machines, and they seem to be in general use in San Francisco.

The one place we have never seen them is here in Austin. So imagine our surprise when, while watching TV, we start to see adverts which show the coin and basically say 'Yes! This is real money, honest!"

So apparently, Austin is one of four cities that have been chosen to pilot a drive to get people to use the coins. You can read about it here or watch a news item here.

The kick this time is that the US Mint are doing a series of dollar coins featuring the US Presidents. They are issuing four designs per year. It's the same thing as they did with the very cool 50 State Quarters programme (which I am collecting) so they are hoping to repeat that popularity and get people collecting and using the shiny new dollars.

I'm just mentioning all this because we were so tickled to see everyone being told that it is a real coin! And I just like coins.

We have been through this once before of course, when the UK switched from paper pound notes to pound coins. There was a suitable amount of outcry at that time; it will be interesting to see if it is repeated here.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008


A quicky post, while I think about it.

I've noticed in the USA that when you get a bill for something, they love to tell you about all the little fees and extra charges that get tacked on for whatever reasons. In the UK, you just get a bill and it will probably have 'service charges' on which no doubt contains the same kind of stuff, they just don't tell you what it is.

Here, they spell it out.


Car registration. This is somewhat anagalous to road tax in the UK. You pay some money each year for a sticker for your windscreen/shield.
Aside from the cost of the sticker itself, fees include:
Reg fee-DPS
Reflectorization fee
County road bridge add-on fee
Automation fee (large county)
Mail in fee
Service fee

Cable TV/internet service:
County 911 surcharge
FCC Regulatory Fee - Cable
FCC Regulatory Fee - Voice
Federal Universal Service Fund
Public Utility Assessment
Regulatory Recovery Fee
State 911 Equalization Surcharge

Cellphone service:
Regulatory cost recovery charge
Federal Universal Service Charge
Texas Infrastructure Fund Reimbursement
Texas Universal Service
9-1-1 Service Fee
City Special Purpose District Tax

Most of these range in value from $0.02 to $2 so they're not individually expensive but they can add up! Aren't you glad to know where your money goes?