Saturday, February 23, 2008

Circular Communities

I stumbled across this post about circular communities. There are aerial photos that give a great overview of each of the five communities. There isn't a lot of information, but it's an interesting way to design a community.

Stand By Your Ham

Recently, a number of British pig farmers got together to record a single to raise awareness of their fight for fairer pig prices. To hear the song and to read more about their fight, check the pigs are worth it website.

The Public Toilet Armoury

I just read on the BBC News website that the Government is expected to urge local councils to pay pubs and restaurants up to £600 per year to open their toilets to non-customers. Since public toilets are becoming rather scarce in Britain, the Department for Communities and Local Government hope that this idea will help. Richard Chisnell, director of the British Toilet Association, isn't sure. He says taht "the community restaurant scheme should only be 'one important tool in the public toilet armoury'. "

According to the British Toilet Association's website, "Britain's public toilets were once the envy of the world." Hmm...I never knew that.

Another thing I didn't know about the British Toilet Association:
Our mission is to represent the interests and aspirations of 'away from
home' toilet providers, suppliers and users of all types and to act as the
catalyst for change in the pursuit of standards of excellence in all areas of
public toilet provision and management.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cookie Monster on NPR

National Public Radio has a great video of an interview with Cookie Monster. It's about five minutes long and well worth it!


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Polls and Indentures

In the UK, a person can legally change his or her name by deed poll. I knew this, but wasn't sure why it was called that until I found the UK Deed Poll Website.

A Deed is a written legal agreement that has been signed and delivered (shown to all concerned parties). Poll is an old English word used to describe a legal document that had its edges cut (polled) so they were straight. This was done to visually distinguish between a deed signed by one person (a polled deed - hence the term Deed Poll) and a deed signed by more than one person (an indenture), which had an edge indented or serrated. Interestingly, indentures were originally written twice (side by side) on one piece of parchment, which was then torn down the middle and each half given to each party. The impossibility of matching the tear was a guard against forgery.

This explains the term indentured servant. Acccording to Wikipedia:

The agreement between the master and servant was traditionally written in two copies, one for each party to the agreement, on a single sheet of paper. The paper would then be cut into two pieces, so that the copies were separated. In order to prevent forgeries and alterations of the contract after it was signed, the cut would be
made in a very irregular manner, leaving "teeth" along the cut edge. The idea was that only those two pieces could be fit exactly together, thus showing that these were the two copies of the same contract. The teeth of the cut gave rise to the term "indenture"; while the term was applied to many multiple-party documents, it became particularly associated with voluntary servitude, which could arise from an "indenture of apprenticeship".

More about indentures.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


For the last several months, my only internet access has been at work. And, since I spend my working time working (but of course!), I haven't had a lot of time to post anything here. (And, more often than not, blogger is flitered, making posting nearly impossible.)

Today, however, I got a mobile broadband modem. Basically, it's a modified mobile phone that plugs straight into my laptop and lets me get online virtually anywhere (supposedly). (Okay, it's technically NOT a mobile phone - I can't make or receive calls but the service is through the 3G mobile phone service.)

Anyway, for £15 a month, I get three gigabytes of web access. So far, so good!

What is Travel?

Tonight I saw an article about travel writing. It's called "Travel Writing 101: What Exactly is Travel?" The actual article isn't super spectacular, but there was an interesting quote:

"Travel is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of
all that familiar comfort of home and friends."

--Cesare Pavese, an Italian writer of the early 1900s.
And isn't that really one of the reasons to travel?

Vegetarian Haggis

Finally, vegetarians can enjoy haggis! The Caledonian Kitchen, bless them, have finally managed to get the traditional taste of sheep liver, hearts and lungs in a non-sheep form!

And goodness...not only is it vegetarian, it's vegan.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Oh my...

Purely out of curiosity, I took this nerd test I found online. The results were shocking.

Evidently, I'm in the 91st percentile of nerdiness.

It said:

9% scored higher (more nerdy),
0% scored the same,
and 91% scored lower (less nerdy).

What does this mean?
Your nerdiness is:Supreme Nerd.
Apply for a professorship at MIT now!!!.
The scary part is, I can think of at lest ten things that would have upped my nerdiness.

Friday, August 17, 2007

New Posts

I've posted three new posts that were supposed to have posted in July during my trip. There's some problem with Flickr and the blog posting function so these never arrived here. Sorry.

Shocking! (It's a pun...honest.)

Shocking! (It's a pun...honest.)
Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

(This post was originally written on Friday, July 27, 2007)

What is it, you ask?

It's down inside the Vilnius Power Plant.

Yes, down inside the Vilnius Power Plant. Now, it hasn't actually been in service since 1998 but for many years it provided power and heat to much of Vilnius.

Today I went to the Lithuanian Energy Museum. It's inside the turbine hall of the old power plant and contains quite a few power-related objects, including the three original turbines, a model of a Soviet-era nuclear power plant, the plant control room, many small electrical circuit things, and a couple cars.

In the middle of the hall are two large openings, allowing access to the under-floor workings of the power plant. One opening has an inviting ladder. (Okay, it's not so much inviting as it is tempting.) I went back to the desk and, in a mixture of Russian, Lithuanian and English, I asked if I could go down. (Before you get too impressed with my language skills, the Russian was an approximation of "excuse me," the Lithuanian was "thank you" (at least I hope that's what I've been saying to people this week) and the English was "down, yes" all accompanied by pointing and nodding hopefully.)

The old man said I could go down so I headed back to the ladder. Just as I was climbing down, deep into the inner workings of this former power plant, the man appeared. Had I misunderstood? But no. He was bringing me a flashlight.

So I descended into the rusting hulk of machinery. As I wandered around in the not-totally-dark-but-not-really-light-enough-to-see-too-much, so many questions crossed my mind.

"What are all these pipes for?"

"Why are the labels in Russian rather than Lithuanian?"

"What happens if I fall through these floor panels"?

"What is the Lithuanian word for 'aesbestos'"?

But as you can see, I made it out alive and respiratorily sound.

More about the Lithuanian Energy Museum at

I feel like a Jetson!

I feel like a Jetson!
Originally uploaded by

(Originally written on Friday, July 27, 2007.)

Yesterday (I think that would make it Thursday...don't laugh...I put the wrong MONTH on four postcards today), I visited the Vilnius Television Tower. The tower is historically important to Lithuania. Fourteen unarmed civilians were killed and 700 were injured while trying to fend off the Soviet military during the events of January 13, 1991.

At its very top, there are lots of antennas and things like that. But 160 meters (that's 524.9 feet) up is an obervation deck complete with revolving restaurant! (Have you noticed yet the definite geekiness of my trip?)

For years I've wanted to eat in a revolving restaurant. I don't know just sounds cool

And it was. I'm not sure what it was like during Soviet times, but the observation deck and restaurant level is now decorated like something out of the Jetsons (although I don't remember any origami birds in the cartoon).

(If you don't remember the Jetsons, it was a cartoon set in "the future" where everyone flew in flying saucers had robot maids, and ate in flying-saucer-like restaurants...which is where the Vilnius Television Tower revolving restaurant comes in.)

Anyway, the tables and booths are arranged on a rotating platform along the outer wall of the observation deck. The platform rotates once every hour or so (wikipedia says 45 minutes, but for me it was about 60). I had a wonderful lunch of pepper steak and baked potatoes, all while watching the Vilnius-ian landscape below.

The photo shows the seat across from me and the wall curving away in the background. Apologies for the poor photo. For some reason, at this most interesting of sightseeing sites, you're not allowed to take pictures. I saw no less than four signs telling me this. I asked my waiter if I could take pictures out the window and he looked oddly at me and said he didn't know, all the while looking worriedly over his shoulder. (Contrast this no-photo rule with the post below.)

More about the Vilnius Television Tower at

Ismok Skaiciuoti!

Ismok Skaiciuoti!
Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

As a math teacher, I'm always on the lookout for new and exciting math-related objects. And if I can't find new and exciting, I'll settle for old and boring.

This one probably falls somewhere in between. It's not new but I don't think it's too terribly boring. Ismok Skaiciuoti is the name on the box. Inside I found ten wooden blocks. It's basically a set of math blocks rather than alphabet blocks. One block is a standard 1-6 die (with dots instead of numbers), three blocks are printed with various numbers and the other six blocks have numbers on five sides and a symbol (either plus, minus or equals) on the remaining side.

Ah...I can't wait to use these back at school in September! Just think of the possibilities!

(And what does Imok skaiciuoti mean? One google search tells me, "Ismok skaiciuoti iki 10 visomis kalbomis." I'd like to think it means "Math blocks are 10 times the fun!" or something like that...)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Useful Stuff

So I'm doing a bit of travelling and there are a few things I'm finding helpful (besides getting to the airport the correct day...but that's a story from February...).

The new top number one most helpful travel gadget is my PDA. For Christmas I received a Dell Axim X51v handheld computer. (Yes, geeky, I know.) Among it's features are wifi (for connecting to the internet) and bluetooth (for transferring photos from my phone). It's the right size to fit in my pocket (even in it's spiffy metal case) but I can send and receive email, surf the web, post to my blog (like I'm doing right now!), listen to National Public Radio (live from WBUR in Boston) and a plethora of other things.

I've also added a few handy programs. First, aprogram called GSPlayer which allows me to listen to streaming audio from the internet. I've also downloaded the Opera Browser (the built-in web browser isn't bad for basic web pages, but Opera lets me view more complex sites). CityTime is another handy program - it has a currency converter (with one-click currency rate updates), world time, unit conversions, and much more. (CityTime isn't free but it's worth the very small amount I paid for it.) For travelling, though, Metro is amazing simply ( Metro is a database of public transportation plans from all over the world - not maps but an "input start point" and "input destination" and it plans both the fastest route and the one with fewest connections. It's great when confronted with a spaghetti-like map of possibilities. It has hundreds of cities (including Vilnius). Plus, it's free. I also have a small, foldable keyboard that connects wirelessly to my PDA so I can type things like this without poking the tiny keyboard on the screen.

I also travel with a mini Leatherman tool. It's similar to a Swiss Army knife in that it has a number of handy tools that all fold into one small, easy to hold tool. The crucial different, though, is that the mini Leatherman tool folds out into proper, useful scissors - not the tiny clippy things the Swiss Army knife has. (Don't forget, though, it has to be packed into the checked baggage.)

Other useful things: a mobile phone (cell phone) - mine now takes pictures - I use it as a visual note-taking device. A travel clothesline (and a longish bit of rope). Fingernail clippers (after seraching all over Amsterdam and Copenhagen for a pair, I now have one I leave in my backpack. Duct tape. A bag of chargers and converters. A super cool multi-time-zone watch. Several books in English. Frequent flyer cards.

You get the idea.


Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

So, today I flew from Berlin (Tegel I've flown into or out of all three...I flew into and out of Schonefeld in February 2006) to Vilnius, Lithuania.

I haven't done much yet but I did visit the Cathedral and belfry (pictured) and the Gediminas' Tower (built in the 13th to 15th centuries and it overlooks the city). I also did a bit of walking around - I saw the Presidential Palace and quite a few people selling amber.

For lunch I had a rather interesting meal of cepelinai - described in Lonely Planet as "boiled potato dumplings stuffed with meat and covered with bacon, cream and butter sauce"...described by me as " are these two large...things...on my plate?" So for dinner I went to a lovely Indian restaurant and had chicken tikka. (Hey, I'm daring but not THAT daring.)


Originally uploaded by matthew_reames.

For part two of my summer holiday, I flew from Brussels to Berlin. I have been to Berlin before but I wanted to fly into Tempelhof Airport before it closes for good. Tempelhof is the world's oldest commercial airport and the base for the Berlin Airlift that supplied the citizens of West Berlin for nearly a year. At the height of the airlift, one plane landed every minute bringing needed food and supplies.

And let me tell you, in many ways it's a shame they're closing it. It's in the middle of the city (no terribly long train rides in to town), it's small (it's strange how the time wasted in an airport increases exponentially wth the size of the airport) and it is, quite simply, a very nice thing to behold. (I know, it's so airport-geeky.)

Okay, so I managed to pry myself away from the airport.


I did some touristy things - The Berlin Story museum (complete with guided tour of "an actual nuclear fallout shelter" on the bottom level of a parking garage), the DDR Experience (with "actual everyday East German artifacts"), and the Berliner Dom (with "climb to the top of the church and look out at the city").

I also (finally) saw the new Harry Potter movie (in English) at the Sony Center (that's where the picture was taken).

More about Tempelhof Airport:


Originally uploaded by

On Sunday I flew to Brussels for the first part of my holiday (um...that's vacation in the US). I've been to Brussels a couple times before but I had never been inside the Atomium.

"So what?" you ask?

Gee whiz! The Atomium is only the biggest, shiniest, coolest model of an iron molecule magnified 165 billion times! It's made of nine large sheres connected by long tubes (some have escalators running through). cool.

Oh, and I toured the City Hall and had some waffles! (But not at the same location...the waffles were later...after the tour.)

More about the Atomium:

Today's Quote

"The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, 'The children are now working as if I did not exist.'"
-Maria Montessori, educator (1870-1952)

( students often act as if I don't exist...)