Jan 05

Metamorphosis: From Alien to Citizen

British, Personal with tags: 13 Comments »

I am American. Today was the day that it happened, and it has been an interesting experience. I have been resident in the US for over 16 years now, and the time here will soon eclipse the time that I spent growing up in England. At first I hung tightly to my British-ness. It is hard not to when you are an ex-pat. In many ways I felt *more* British being away from the motherland. You become the token, and get all of the questions and weird looks at your funny accent.

Over time I dropped the mate for dude, and even switched from colour to color. Who am I kidding. My wife and children are American. My parents and brother have become American. I find myself in a bit of a weird place, being in between. I don’t fully feel “at home” here, but no longer feel at home when I find myself back in blighty. It isn’t the place that I grew up, and I wasn’t there to roll with the changes.

I have had a green card for a long time, and should have gotten my citizenship awhile back, if not just to be able to vote against the likes of George Bush. But, something held me back.

Then I looked at my young children and knew it was time, so I applied and went through the crazy experience of naturalization. First time around I randomly got a “DENIED” letter which ended up being because something didn’t come in the mail to me, so I had to start from scratch (and pay again! Thanks fellow citizens!).

You are required to learn some simple civics as part of the process. The kind of questions that on the face of it you will nail without any study. Fortunately, my father-in-law has given me quite the civics lesson over time, and it is primarily due to he that I have been proud to take this step.

You see, I often poo-poo’d America. This baby country that has more conservative areas than I would personally like. I don’t like the role as World Police. I think that recent wars have been criminal. But with all that being said, look at how fantastic it is that I can criticize her. This blog isn’t censored. In fact, it is now my responsibility to take care of her.

Take this (from the oath that I just offered):

“I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Domestic, not just foreign. This country is young and has a lot of growing up to do, but at the same time, it offers me a chance to become younger again too.

My full oath is below:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

It is really quite fantastic that you are executing an oath to the Constitutional ideals and not a President, or Monarch. On that note, I looked up what a Dion in a parallel universe, who moved to the UK from the US, would be saying today upon joining the United Kingdom as a citizen:

“I (name) swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.”

That’s right. You are swearing your allegiance to Queenie still!

One thing I did like though was the note:

“You can make an affirmation if you prefer not to swear by God.”

I appreciate that, and wish that I didn’t have to use that term so much in my ceremony today. It undermines my oath since if I don’t believe in Him, am I really able to take the oath?


The ceremony itself beat my expectations. It was held at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland (they made me pledge allegiance to the Oakland Raiders too! :), and the chap running the show was funny! He welcomed people in 8 languages…. very impressive indeed. He was incredibly respectful of all countries, and there wasn’t even a hint of “you have joined the most amazing country! you were so smart to leave any other!” and instead the already mentioned respect for countries all over the world. There were over 1300 people present, from 106 countries, some of which I had never heard of, and others that do not exist anymore. Barack Obama said a few words (recorded of course), and I was thankful that I waited for his welcome rather than a predecessor.

I now look forward to adding to the melting pot, and hope to be a bridge between the yanks and the chaps.

Here’s to my fellows from both countries that I adore.

Apr 09

What if you, and people like you, volunteered for the police?

British, Open Source with tags: , 1 Comment »

When thinking about Open Web evangelism my thoughts led me to some advertisements that I saw on the Tube when I was recently in London. They had content like this:


You can now potentially volunteer for the metropolitan police. At first this seemed a little strange, but it quickly made a ton of sense to me.

I remember how I felt about the police as a kid. The bobby-on-the-beat police. The cops were part of the community and were seen as truly helping out in many ways.

Now fast forward to moving to America. Here I fear the police. If I see a police car pull someone over I get goosebumps and raised hair on my arms.

London is a huge cosmopolitan city, and with that growth it has also seen an increase in crime. If you walk past New Scotland Yard you see a chap with a machine gun. Far from the local bobby. The problem is that you lose your grip on the community around you. If you don’t know what is going on and the vibe you have less information. You probably have less informants too.

So, how could the Met go about getting a closer connection to the people again? How about inviting them into the fold. Open the curtain so those people offer a valuable service and see how the force works. On the flip side, when you interact with a cop now, it could actually be your kids teacher! If the system works out you feel differently towards the copper crew again and the community gets more close knit.

I am obviously not close enough to the scene in London, and wonder how well this program will do / has done (anyone know more?), but in general, I love it. Putting people first.

Oct 27

One-Legged Pants and One Big Slipper

British, Personal 3 Comments »

I just saw the ridiculous one legged pants:

One Legged Pants

This reminded me of The Big Slipper that Billy Connolly talked about in An Audience with Billy Connolly:

Have you seen the Big Slipper? I think these adverts are for people, who… that are in a section of the community, who don’t go anyplace. Who watch the telly all the time. You know, well, I suppose your trenchcoat, you can watch telly in your trenchcoat, if you like. It’s one big slipper, and you put your two feet in it, and you watch television. In your slipper. And each in the family can have a slipper each. I was always gonna buy two. I was gonna buy a pair, and leave them in the fireplace. When I’m going out at night, in case a burglar comes in. “my god, who lives here!” You can cheer the world up, by doing things like that.

Then Karl Pilkington showed his true intelect with talk on the same subject on the Ricky Gervais podcast:

Aug 24

London Olympics 2012. Poor buggers.

British, Comic, Personal with tags: , , 6 Comments »

London Olympics 2012

As the Olympics comes to a close, I remember seeing the frolics of the opening ceremony, and thinking about how the London contingent must have felt as they are reminded “oh yeah, we are following China.”

To think that London will be mainly hosting in the beauty that is Stratford and the like. I hope the workers are getting paid overtime to make it happen!

China was a coming out. An East meets West. London needs a mission too. If you can look past the infrastructure issues, and how the M25 and Tube will explode, there is a lot going for it. Having the tennis happen at Wimbledon, and some footy at Old Trafford and Wembly, and using other great sites. That could be impressive.

Also, we are lucky that shows such as X-Factor, Pop Idol, and “Brits have some got talent somewhere” will be able to find the two kids to make a different. The cute one to lip sync, and the other one who can actually sing.

London 2012

Can’t wait to be there for London 2012. It has got to be better than the logo!

Athens was returning to the roots, to the country that invented the Olympic Games. China was the most populous country in the world.

London is the capital city of the country that has invented modern sport, that has invented the rules of the sports, and the values of fair play.

It is a cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic and multi-religious city and that’s something they can build on.

May 29

I am on Dilbert!

British, Comic, Tech with tags: , , 1 Comment »


I wondered why Scott Adams was following me around, and my coworkers were pointing things out!

Feb 25

Emotional Hedging

British, Personal, Sport with tags: , 4 Comments »

Arsenal Fans

While in a pub in London I was listening to someone talk about an emotional hedge. This happens fairly often I believe. The fellow was a die hard Arsenal supporter. Your gut would be, if you were a betting kind of chap, to bet big on the team that you love.

However, he did the opposite and bet on the OTHER team beating his beloved. The amont of the bet was defined by “winning X amount would make me feel OK about losing the match”. So, if Arsenal win, he is happy as his team one (and who cares about money!). If Arsenal lose, bugger. But, at least he wins a few bob.

I started to think about this emotional hedging and how you can go Agile, and “turn it to 10″. What about hedging your marriage? “I bet $X that I will get divorced” To calculate the amount you need to add up how much you will lose if you are divorced (special note in California!) and add to that the amount of money that would allow you to have a midlife crisis and give you a chance getting another woman with a fancy red car ;)

I think about paying for Sam’s college. Maybe a hedge here could work? You can go down the list and hedge against it all!

NOTE: Getting someone to take your hedge when you are involved is a lot harder!

Jan 21

Flaming British Sheep Shagger (The Drink)

British, Personal with tags: , , 4 Comments »

I turned 21 when I was in Minneapolis. It was a little strange “being able to drink” since I had already been able to drink for years in England. I still think that the age for drinking and driving should be flipped in the US, mainly as I saw kids going nuts in college as it was “so naughty”.

The morning after my birthday celebrations I woke up groggy, laying without clothes on the floor of my bedroom. The last thing I remembered was getting a drink at Kierans.

That drink was a special concoction, recorded by an old friend Brian O’Neilly:

Flaming Sheep Shagger



Layer in order (Bailey’s at the bottom of the glass) in a shot glass.

Now, I swear that the Irish bar tender heard I was a brit, and put in some “green leprechaun” nonsense. Whatever it was, I apparently went nuts. I started to babble on singing about Rainbow which confused everyone as Minnesotans only know of Rainbow the grocery store. I also started talking about Braveheart, and god knows what else. I am happy to have lost those memories I am sure.

If anyone offers you this drink, be warned!

Jan 09

BBC: Let me give you money.

British, TV / Movie, Tech with tags: , , 10 Comments »

BBC iPlayer

I listen to BBC radio all day. It skews me, as I end up knowing about the traffic issues in Guildford but have no idea that 101 is mucked up.

I love that I am able to keep up with radio via the internet, but my blood boils whenever I login to hear:

We are sorry but we are unable to broadcast this as you don’t live in England mate and we don’t have the rights

Or, something like that.

If I was naughty, I could try to get a friend to open up an ssh connection over the pond and try to tunnel through to trick the system, but I would rather be good. I with that I could pay, and see if enough people would feel the same, and then the BBC could get the rights for online broadcasting. Please.

I would also love to pay for BBC TV shows. Let us do micropayments and subscriptions so you can choose exacly what content you want (instead of hundreds of crap cable channels). This will also have the great effect of putting evolution into the system, and we would see survival of the fittest. Only content that people want will be shown.

Erm, wait, but that scares me too. What if the populous wants crap? Oh no.

Nov 23

Finding more Almaers

British, Personal with tags: , , 3 Comments »

My family name “Almaer” is a rare one. We have never found any others in England, and the same goes for the US. The family tree goes back in many directions, to countries all over Europe, and one line is aristocracy in England.

Then, out of the blue, I got a Skype message from “Jean Almaer”. Hmm, it could be bogus. I added Jean to Skype, and it took forever until he was online at the same time as I. I sent him a message and then it began. We knew that the name came from Belgium, and Jean Almaer lives in Flanders! I have gotten my Dad in touch, and we are working down the line to see if/where we connect. Pierre, Jean’s brother, is a linguist and knows about the history of our name:

“Almaer” is definitely a Dutch/Flemish name in this spelling. “ae” is the old spelling for long “a” (now replaced by “aa”). The German equivalent would be Almar. The etymology : “al” stands for adel/adal/German Edel, or Old English Aethel,Ethel, as in Alfred, Albert, Aethelred, and means “noble”, and mar (or “maer” in its Flemish/Dutch form) is an old Germanic word meaning “famous”. I was told by the same professor that “Almaer” used to be a (very rare) first name in Flanders. Note that the German family name “Almer” is of a different origin and stems from the Alm river in Bavaria. The Flemish name Olmer has the same etimology as “Almaer”. There are a few Olmers in Belgium, but no Almaers (except our family, of course)

My favourite part of an email was this sentence which was saying how exciting it is to work this all out:

To tell the truth, the “da Vinci code” story is almost as funny as a phone directory of West Mongolia, compared to this.

Classic :) I am excited to see more Almaers out in the world!

Nov 22

Brekkie aint no Breakfast

British, Personal 2 Comments »

I woke up on Thanksgiving Day to some crusty warm popovers. Yummie. I appreciated them (and my wife!) a lot more this morning, as I just got back from London. Now, people like to poke fun of British cuisine, but for the most part I am quite happy there. For this trip I got too:

  • Eat at three Indian restaurants (all good, but the fancy place wasn’t as good as the old fashioned curry house)
  • Eat at La Porchetta, my favourite pizza place in the world
  • Eat at a Nandos restaurant, which is a chain, but has spicy Peri-Peri which I enjoy

Lot’s of good stuff there, and I hope Ben appreciated the food compared with some of our other trips to Europe, which had him in horror mode.

My favourite meal of the day is breakfast. I have been spoiled by the american version too. Waffles, pancakes, french toast, crepes, decent bacon, eggs, hash browns, etc etc. The breakfast at our hotel (a nice one) was an awful euro-buffet. You are expected to double down on dodgy meat. In the end, I always end up going for the cereal and yoghurt.

To be fair, it is a touch better than Germany where the same meat comes out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

What else did I notice about my lovely home town this time around?

ITV Play. Really?

There is a TV show on ITV called Play (used to be a network but was caught cheating) which is so poor that it amazes me that it exists. I had to have Ben watch it too. The show has a random idiot thrown in front of a camera and babbles on trying to get someone to phone in (or text or play online) to answer a really silly wordplay puzzle. The answers always seem obvious, but then you see that there are actually 399999999 words that could fit in, or the answer they are looking for it insanely bizarre. Sometimes the same puzzle is on screen for an entire hour and the host resorts to true silliness to pass the time. Why does anyone watch this crap? If you win you also normally win a whopping 10p.

Mangos are juicy

A big deal was made about six months back when real Indian mangos were allowed back in the states after a long embargo. Finally, the juicy mango didn’t have to get smuggled in. In London, which also doubles as little india, we found out that mangos are very juicy. As Ben and I were walking down Upper Street in Islington, we got belted on our backs. We turned around to see 10 youngsters whipping fruit at us. We thought they would laugh and move on, but they kept going! Ben ended up returning fire, and then we luckily reached our destination so they couldn’t keep wailing on us. Lovely.

London is a good place to bring a jacket

Ben showed up in London without a jacket. He will tell you that “there is a story” but really. No jacket in London. It also didn’t help that it rained all but 2 hours of our entire trip. At least our arms could get a work out as they held up umbrellas. Man the weather was bad. I heard that it got really nice on Wednesday (after we left). Getting back to sunny and 65 degrees has been a real pleasure :)

I took Ben out of London to see more of England itself. A mate lives out in the boonies (Coggeshall, Essex) so we head there to do a traditional pub meal, and a little walk. Watching Ben freeze was a lot of fun. Looking at the prices of houses was also fun. “600 thousand pounds for this dump in a little village?”. Ben had a truly big grin though when my mates wife told him that the national health service was crap and that everyone is lazy and soaks money from the government. “Your little socialist bubble has been destroyed”, Ben said. I really hope that he watches Sicko (even taking it with a pinch of salt).

Expedia messed up names

I was sharing a taxi to the airport with Brendan Eich. He was staying in another hotel (which he chose as he wanted to be closer to the conference, but it turned out that it was further away :)) so I got the cab and went over there in the morning to pick him up. When I got there he wasn’t waiting in the lobby so I went in and asked the front desk to call his room. “I am sorry sir, no Brendan Eich here”. Hmm, maybe he has checked out? “I am sorry sir, no-one called Brendan Eich has stayed with us”. I started to sweat. Was he at another hotel? I tried to think if there was another hotel with a similar name. Nope. I cranked open the laptop and got his number up. I called it. No answer. Bugger. At some point I would have to choose to hit the airport! Then the good news, he called back: “Sorry, I am a bit late. I am in the lobby checking out”. I walked back over and sure enough he was doing just that. It turned out that the hotel had him down under his mothers name. I guess being CTO of Mozilla is a celebrity-like situation so he has to check in under fake names ;)

A beautiful city

I did really enjoy taking advantage of being right in the busy. Walking past the Abbey, parliament, the Thames, the eye, down to Holborn, over to SoHo, through Hyde/St James park, past Buckingham palace, and back home, was real fun. A great city. As long as you realize that the tube will be broken half the time.