Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Jesu Redemptor omnium,
Quem lucis ante originem
Parem paternæ gloriæ
Pater supremus edidit.

Tu lumen, et splendor Patris,
Tu spes perennis omnium,
Intende quas fundunt preces
Tui per orbem servuli.

Memento, rerum Conditor,
Nostri quod olim corporis,
Sacrata ab alvo Virginis
Nascendo, formam sumpseris.

Testatur hoc præsens dies,
Currens per anni circulum,
Quod solus e sinu Patris
Mundi salus adveneris.

Hunc astra, tellus, æquora,
Hunc omne quod cœlo subest,
Salutis Auctorem novæ
Novo salutat cantico.

Et nos, beata quos sacri
Rigavit unda sanguinis;
Natalis ob diem tui
Hymni tributum solvimus.

Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui natus es de Virgine,
Cum Patre, et almo Spiritu,
In sempiterna sæcula.
Amen.
Posted by jon at 12:00 AM in Personal 
 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Smoking Jacket Power

One of the staples of life in Oxford was the profusion of black-tie events, of which there are literally dozens every year, making owning one's own dinner jacket, studded shirt, and formal trousers a social necessity. A luxurious alternative to the dinner jacket (known Stateside as the tuxedo) is the smoking jacket—indeed, a tailored velvet smoking jacket is perhaps the most luxurious article of clothing a man can own. I recently debuted my own at a black tie dinner at Blenheim palace (the residence of the Duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Winston Churchill), a commensurately opulent location, where it was well received. (My favourite compliment was, "Craven, you look like you own this place!")

Here then is what the smoking jacket looks like. Mine is the more traditional double-breasted version, with frog closures—if one is going to go for a smoking jacket, there is no reason not to go whole hog. As this is a new acquisition, the sleeves wear over-long, but should settle to a proper length as the crease builds in the arms.

Unfortunately, this photo truly does not do the garment justice. Indeed, no photo can capture what wearing one of these feels like. If I had to try, however, I would submit that the following is a crude approximation. (Click to enlarge, or click here to see the original opus, for those who do not recognise the allusion. Or those who merely desire the appropriate musical accompaniment!).

Posted by jon at 12:01 AM in Personal 
 

Friday, 6 February 2009

Erudite Ferrets

I am quite taken with the latest internet meme, the erudite ferrets, of which a few examples can be seen here and here. For those not in the know, this is a counter-meme to the LOLcatz phenomenon, which you can read about here.

Searching around, though, I didn't find a lot of material out there yet, so I decided to try my hand at it myself. All the ferret photos I used below were found on flickr under a creative commons license permitting derivative works. These photos are therefore under the same license; I link to the original picture for those looking to trace the source or for full details.


Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amagill/300788893/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/schlongfield/112614443/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/59953422@N00/1421808777/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/elzey/2975883749/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/schlongfield/112611286/
Posted by jon at 7:25 AM in Personal 
 

Sunday, 12 November 2006

A good time was had by all

This is actually last weekend's news, but with the busyness and added fatigue of getting back into the swing of things after a vacation I'm getting a little behind.

So we got back from Rome late on Thursday night, and Friday woke up, checked our RSVPs, and discovered that we were having seven people over for lunch the next day! (It's rare to get so many people willing to drive down to Valenciennes, so we were surprised at the turn-out.) So that gave us one day to hurry and set everything up and stock up on everything we'd need—we've never had so many people over at once. We had raclette, which has the advantage of being easy to prepare and really good. We also used our wedding silver for the first time.

So the guests arrived at 12:30, and left at 11:30, which we take to be a sign that everyone enjoyed themselves :-) We played Jungle Speed, which as usual was a big success as a party game—it's simple to understand and yet still requires reflection, and reflexes. If you have a password you can have a look at a video clip of us playing here.

This weekend we visited another couple on Saturday and did some shopping in Lille, today Emilie worked on her project in iDVD (her new favourite thing), and I played a whole lot of Castlevania DS, where everyone will be thrilled to know I've made it to the final boss, but I need to go back and find the black panther and hippogryph souls before I'll have any chance of beating him :-)

Posted by jon at 6:46 PM in Personal 
 

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

A nice weekend

This weekend we stayed in Valenciennes, and I chalked up a few quality hours of Nintendo time with the DS. I'm still nowhere near Emilie's total hours played but it was good to play some of the games I got for my birthday, mostly Castlevania and Metroid pinball. Fun stuff. I also got some coding in too, finally getting a logging module going on my blog so I can track the massive traffic it's generating (joke). It's a bit crude at the moment but it's better than nothing (and yes, I know I could just run JBoss through Apache and get it for free but I wanted to do it my own way).

Nausicaa

On Sunday we played some Lost cities together (a board/card game that Emilie really likes). We were going to play Pai Gow too but never got around to it. We did take Valenciennes' new tramway out to the movie theatre and saw Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind, which is having a run through the theatres here with a new French dubbing. Emilie is a big Hayao Miyazaki fan, and this was his first film. I thought it was incredible in the script, creativity, and thought-provoking departments but the animation quality is not as good as more recent films (obviously). We saw Cars in the same theatre and there was no comparison in picture or sound. Still, this was the better movie.

Posted by jon at 7:32 PM in Personal 
 

Friday, 5 October 2007

American football is unwatchable

For someone who's been in Europe for the past three years it is, anyway. I was all enthused about being able to watch an NFL game when I was back in the States last weekend, and so I tuned in to the Jets-Bills game on Sunday... and saw a truck commercial. Then another. Then another. Then there was a play. Then a truck commercial. Then another play. Then a truck commercial.

It didn't help that I tuned in right before the two minute warning and before the end of the half there was a turnover and a timeout, but still: Back in the day I know there were not this many commercials, and definitely not for a regular season game. I know this because I actually stopped watching the NBA like seven years ago because I was so disgusted by how many commercials they had (the whole "last minute of a playoff game takes 45 minutes" thing—which is especially disgusting in basketball since giving the players so much rest time changes the physical nature of the sport).

Tom explained that this was because sports were one of the few things people still watched live, so they put in as many commercials as possible. But man, talk about killing the goose that lays the golden eggs! Why can't they just charge ten times as much for 1/10th the commercials?! For the second half we ended up queuing up on the DVR to be able to make the game watchable. As Tom manipulated the many controls required to make the game play at something resembling the rate it would've gone on at in pre-commercial timeout days, I thought of how I was using Madden NFL '07 on the Wii to get my American football fix while in France, and realised that watching the real thing took almost as much interaction as the video game.

I may always prefer baseball and American football to soccer and rugby, but in being able to watch the entire game with no commercials except at halftime, Europe definitely has the advantage.

Posted by jon at 8:06 AM in Personal 
 

Sunday, 8 October 2006

Arnaud's Wedding and Igor

I didn't post a weekend update last week because I had a cold and so we didn't go out anywhere, and I didn't figure "I blew my nose a lot" was newsworthy enough to merit an article!

This weekend, however, we got out a lot. Friday night we joined Pascale and Geoffrey at Mamie Huguette's for dinner, where we celebrated her birthday. We stayed over at Wavrin and on Saturday morning drove Pascale to the airport where she left to join Dominique in Morocco for a week. Then we headed further north to a wedding near St. Omer (tous nos vœux de bonheur Arnaud et Emilie!). It was a great wedding. That evening we went out to dinner with Delphine and Florent, two friends who live in Normandy and so we don't get to see very often. It was great to see them again.

We slept in Wavrin again, and then headed home this morning with the dog Igor in tow, we agreed to watch him while Dominique and Pascale are on vacation. So far he's been well-behaved :-)

Posted by jon at 4:39 PM in Personal 
 

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Babylon 5 and a new couch

This weekend I put together a hide-a-bed in our office, which is nice to have because our iMac makes a pretty good second TV for watching DVDs and such, and so having a couch in the room is a lot better than sitting in the office chair.

Babylon 5 orbiting Epsilon III

As for what I've been watching, it's the sci-fi series Babylon 5, which a co-worker loaned me. I had heard lots of praise for this series and its incredible five-year pre-planned story arc (making it basically a 110-hour long movie), and so when I got the chance to borrow the whole series I jumped at it. The first two seasons were alright, but I was already thinking it wasn't that special. But now I'm in season three and watching more episodes every chance I get, so I guess it does ramp up pretty well.

Oh, and another source of entertainment: now when I put my hands on Emilie's belly I can feel the baby moving around sometimes! So that's pretty crazy. (Hopefully we'll know the sex in mid-December.)

Posted by jon at 6:53 PM in Personal 
 

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Baby's First Easter, and Further MLB.tv Impressions

We had a nice relaxing Easter holiday (Easter Monday is a public holiday in France), visiting Emilie's family, getting the garden in shape, and having a nice Sunday roast, which will be the subject of an upcoming cooking article. On daycare on Friday they had an Easter egg hunt; in France this is done by hiding chocolate eggs in the yard (they are dropped there by the bells as they return from Rome—no Easter bunny here!). James did a good job crawling through the grass and finding eggs—which he promptly crushed and shoved into his mouth, wrapper and all, before the daycare ladies could stop him! Emilie also put baby chocolate powder in his bottle on Easter morning, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

I spent the evenings enjoying mlb.tv, which is really a great service to have for an expat like me. Besides being able to watch the Red Sox on NESN, and the Cubs on WGN (both of which have a lot of nostalgic value for me), I'm also getting the opportunity to discover some announcers and teams that I would not otherwise know about.

In particular, I've watched a couple of Dodgers games, and in the process discovered the amazing broadcasting legend Vin Scully, whom I would not have known about otherwise. Until I looked up his name to write this, I didn't know anything about his amazing history with the Dodgers—I was just impressed at the way he calls a ballgame, dropping in lots of interesting statistics and keeping things interesting despite being all alone in the booth. Every game is like a master class on baseball, and I really enjoy listening to him.

I could tell from his voice that he must have been a long-time veteran announcer, but I would never have guessed that he's been the voice of the Dodgers since they played in Brooklyn! It's no wonder that he knows so much baseball, given that he called the play-by-play for the likes of Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax. And yet even at an advanced age he's able to call the games as well as anybody in the business, and to be able to tie in so many statistical and historical tidbits while doing it. I am in awe.

So although the Cubs are still my team in the NL, I think I'm going to be watching a lot of Dodgers games this year as well, just to get a chance to hear such a legendary broadcaster while I still can. Plus, having lived in the Midwest and on the East Coast before, following a West Coast team will give me the chance to get to know a lot of teams and stadiums that I don't know as well as those in the eastern two-thirds of the country.

Posted by jon at 7:05 AM in Personal 
 

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Back from NYC

I had a great long weekend in New York visiting mom. I made the most of the chance to play on her PS3 (costing over $900 in Europe, there's no chance of me getting one of my own any time soon), and although the high definition graphics and Blu-Ray were beautiful, it's still clear that it doesn't yet have games that live up to the standard set by the PS2 games we had on hand (viz. Final Fantasy XII and God of War II). We also saw Monty Python's Spamalot, which I loved, and even the Simpsons movie, which was a great bonus as I didn't think would still be showing in theatres. (I hadn't seen it in France since it was only available dubbed, and comedy loses a lot that way, especially when they change/omit jokes they think people wouldn't get!)

Add to all that some delicious meals (and some great restaurants, but mom's own cooking was the best) and great weather, and it was a wonderful trip (if short, but I couldn't leave Emilie all alone in France for too long).

Posted by jon at 9:16 PM in Personal 
 

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Back from Paris

Assumption falling on a Tuesday this year gave us a 4-day weekend, and I took Friday off as well to have 4 days to spend with mom and Emilie in Paris, plus today to recover!

We had a good visit, on Friday seeing the Musée d'Orsay--which, ironically, Emilie and I hadn't been to since our class trip there (together) back in high school! We also took a tour up the Seine on a bâteau mouche. Oh, and before I got there on Wednesday and Thursday the ladies visited Montmartre and Sacré Cœur, the Tuileries, the Orangerie, parc Monceau, and the Cluny mediæval museum.

Saturday we saw the Jacquemart-André museum which was really nice (I hadn't been there before), shopping at the Galerie Lafayette, la Madeleine, and on up to the top of the Arc de triomphe. Sunday we went to Versailles, and on Monday we went up the Eiffel tower. Pictures of it all can be seen by clicking on the picture.

Mom in Paris
Posted by jon at 1:43 PM in Personal 
 

Sunday, 31 December 2006

Back home, back online

We got back from our trip to New York yesterday evening; time and interest permitting I'll do a write-up of that trip soon. In an illustration of Murphy's law, practically no sooner did we leave the appartment for the train station last week than our Wi-Fi connexion went down (which rarely occurs, but requires me to physically unplug and replug the wifi antenna to fix—thank you very much ndiswrapper!), so my apologies to anyone who tried to visit this site last week, or who tried to send me an e-mail between the 23rd and 26th.

Our trip home was fairly uneventful, except that (for the first time in my life, the second for Emilie) we got bumped up to first class for the first (Boston-Reykjavík) leg of our flight, so that was pretty cool. Our layover in Iceland would have been pretty boring, except when I tried to use a cash machine to get some krónur as a souvenir—and my card got stuck in the machine, with our flight to Paris due to take off in half an hour!

Anyway, I got it unstuck by pushing it further in with another card, but then the Keflavík flugstöð (airport) is such a stopover that the ATMs there distribute UK pounds, US dollars, Euro, and Danish kroner only—no icelandic currency! (Which didn't even make any sense since the Duty-free shops only listed prices in krónur.) So although I was confounded in my attempt to take home a piece of Iceland, a crisis was narrowly avoided.

Gleðig Jól!

Posted by jon at 10:31 AM in Personal 
 

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Best of iTunes U: Introduction to Ancient Greek History

The explosion of content available on iTunes U has probably been the single biggest improvement to my quality of life in the last year. Whereas before podcasts were the main thing I listened to, I am now able to enjoy lectures from preeminent professors at Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, MIT, Stanford, and countless other great institutions of higher learning. This is fantastic, not only because it would not have been possible for all but a few to hear these great lectures before, but also because the subjects available are, in their variety and interest, just more informative to listen to than what one can find in the average podcast. I really love it.

iTunes U, however, really has a number of different kinds of content on it, ranging from simple promotional videos (not that informative, unless you are a prospective student), to one-off lectures, to interviews with faculty, and—my favourite by far—sometimes the lectures of an entire course are online. Finding the quality stuff is not always easy, though, so from time to time I want to highlight stuff that I found particularly good by writing about it here.

Donald Kagan's Introduction to Ancient Greek History deserves to be mentioned first of all. It is accessible, even to those who have not studied classics or ancient history. It is complete, with all twenty-four lectures online, giving you the full experience of sitting in on the course. It is coming from a top professor—Kagan is a Sterling professor at Yale and the world's preeminent living expert on the Peloponnesian war. And it is relevant—throughout Kagan is very good at explaining why Ancient Greek history matters to us today, and why we should care so much about the events he is describing.

That is high praise, and it is ironic to find myself writing it, since I nearly turned Kagan off ten minutes into the first lecture.

This is because that first lecture ventures into a political interpretation of history, and Kagan's own politics, and the interpretation of Greek history that he was propounding to support them, rubbed me the wrong way. Fortunately, this is only really present in the introduction to the course (and even then, perhaps I was hyper-sensitive to it), and frankly, by the end of the course it is abundantly clear that his views in no way impede his presentation of his actual subject matter.

It is an excellent presentation of ancient Greek history, an excellent experience to be able to follow the entire course of one of Yale's most famous humanities professors, and I think it would be easy to follow even for someone fairly new to the subject matter. A great place to start for anyone interested in learning more about Ancient Greece.

Posted by jon at 7:26 PM in Personal 
 

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Best of iTunes U: Linear Algebra

Math is fun. It is inherently interesting, and the beauty and symmetry of mathematics reveal far more about our universe than something so purely abstract should ever be able to do. I enjoy learning more about mathematics.

And yet, when you lose the train of thought, mathematics immediately become incomprehensible, frustrating, and hard. I firmly believe that it is because most of us are not truly able to learn mathematics at our own pace that so many of us are turned off it. Once you get lost, in math, it becomes a very unpleasant place to be. Our eyes glaze over before a maze of incomprehensible squiggles, and what should be a simple, elegant proof becomes meaningless gobbledygook instead.

Two things result from this. One is, that following mathematics lectures on iTunes U is in many ways a godsend: you can stop and rewind the lecturer as many times as you want to, and it is simple and easy to go back and listen to any lecture that you haven't totally grasped again. You can have things explained to you at your own pace, and so make progress that you might not have been able to in a traditional school setting.

It also follows, though, that recommending a lecture is a very hard thing to do, since according to the reader's level of ability, the choices range from the the dull and oversimplified to the maddeningly advanced and incomprehensible. But one man's remedial refresher is another man's cutting edge, depending on where our mathematics education stopped, or how much we have forgotten since school.

Matrix operations were one of the areas of high school mathematics that I most enjoyed, back in the day. I remember being fascinated by the interesting properties of matrices and the surprising ways they interacted, and the simple patterns of operations one used in manipulating them. I have not touched them since high school, however, so I did not remember much of anything about them except what they looked like.

Linear algebra may be a topic in high school math (Algebra II, if I remember my high school curriculum correctly), but it is a topic that goes deep enough to merit a semester long course at MIT. There is some cachet to being able to follow a mathematics lecture at MIT, which makes following this course even more fun. What MIT really deserves recognition for, though, is what an incredible contribution they make, through iTunes U and OpenCourseWare, to desseminating knowledge and making so much of their world-class programme availible for free on the internet, to anyone in the world. This will not be the last time I recommend a course from MIT in "Best of iTunes U".

Linear Algebra is taught by Gilbert Strang, a former Rhodes scholar (Oxford represent!) and world-renowned mathematician. His lecturing style is well-suited to watching his recorded lectures: he is clear, his worked examples are not beset by implied steps or other obscuring factors, and he is able to keep us interested both in the material at hand, and in its larger implications.

The only criticism I have to this lecture series is that the video is optimised for the iPhone screen. Which is well and good, since I watch it on my phone and would not like to have unnecessarily large files on it. On the other hand, the video quality is too low to view on an iPad (the chalkboard becomes illegible), which is unfortunate since it would be nice to be able to have the option to view the lectures on a larger screen too. Still, it is amazing and fantastic to be able to view lectures from MIT from a renowned professor and teacher, absolutely free, and I am so thankful to have the opportunity. And it is enjoyable to flex those math muscles once again, after all these years.

Posted by jon at 7:01 AM in Personal 
 

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Bob & Lauren visit Lille

We were both surprised and pleased that we got to have my cousin Bob and his wife Lauren as our first houseguests in our new home. They're visiting Europe on their way to a wedding and were nice enough to include a trip to Lille on their itinerary so they could visit us. We both had to work during the day but they were able to stave off jet lag and explore Lille a bit (and look at French cars), and then we went out to dinner in the evening and had a good visit.

On Tuesday I got to see them for lunch (we went to Buffalo Grill for an authentic American experience) and see them off to the train station. They'll be on to Italy and then back through Paris before they head home. Bon voyage!

Posted by jon at 9:54 PM in Personal 
 
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Non enim id agimus ut exerceatur vox, sed ut exerceat.