British And Irish Foods

I was delighted to discover, in a random Jewel Osco in the middle of nowhere in Illinois, a supermarket section entitled “British and Irish foods”. For a nation whose national dish is curry and whose culinary achievements are usually mocked, I was curious to see what on earth was in there.

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Here are the results:

  • Tea
  • Digestives
  • Lucozade
  • Heinz beans
  • Sarson’s vinegar

I was also tickled to note the price of said beans.

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Although the pound may be weak right now, I think I’ll wait until I’m back in Blighty before I indulge with beans on toast.

Student Politics at Northwestern

There’s no solution to politics, which is one reason I’m not into it. (Though I do like Rage Against The Machine.)

This stand, found a few weeks ago on the pavement outside the Kellogg building, caught my eye.

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… yep, that poster on the side there says “I LOVE CAPITALISM”. (And yes, I’m aware of the irony of an MBA thinking this is notable.) It turned out to be a promo for a speaking event by someone called David Horowitz.

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Sure, we do have student politics in the UK … it just looks different.

Chicago Blues

Two facts about Chicago:

  • The people are very friendly
  • There is an excellent blues / jazz scene

The combination of these two facts led me to be on stage last night at Kingston Mines, courtesy of Charlie Love and The Silky Smooth Band.

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Charlie (the gentleman in the middle) kindly lent me his guitar, a vintage Les Paul, and allowed me to solo for his introductory track. (It’s a vintage guitar now, but it was new when he bought it.) Although I didn’t embarrass myself on stage, Charlie clearly stamped his authority as soon as he reclaimed his rightful place.

All in all, a most memorable evening!

File Compare

On a walk along Noyes here in Evanston, I spotted this outside what looked like a halls of residence for the undergraduate school. Since we don’t have proms in the UK (but we’ve heard a lot about them), this piqued my interest.

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Two more quick notes on the culture diff.

  • Light switches. In the UK, we push or flip down to turn them on. In the States, they flip up to turn on.
  • They call all biscuits “cookies”. Even the shortbread biscuit – clearly a biscuit – is called a cookie here. I feel that the Americans need to appreciate biscuits as we do.

Business Leadership Club – Utah 2008

As I start my travels to start the Utah Business Leadership Trek, I peer out through the porthole of my vehicle. Denver. Planes with propellors. Grand Junction. I cling to my phone. EDGE signal unavailable. Utah. Fewer bars. Crazy bus drivers. Last Facebook status update. Dirt tracks. Red sand.

No signal.

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This is a bad sign

Mission Statement

I’m not a typical participant for this type of trip. I’m at my most comfortable in a Starbucks with my laptop, good WiFi and a chai tea latte. The reason I came clearly isn’t to hike. I came to figure out a few things about myself in my desire to become a better leader. So goodbye to the comfort zone for one week, and I will discover how I perform.

What I don’t realise is how far outside my comfort zone I am.

Exit Plan

The first night, we camp next to the truck. Sleep is tough, as it’s well below freezing, we are sleeping on a rock, and we have tarps rather than tents. Exit plan: sneak into the truck while everyone is asleep and get the hell out.

The idea of the week is that after we are all orientated and can function safely in the desert, we are all allocated team roles, and we are the ones who figure out where we are going that day, how we can get enough water to keep going, and where we might camp that night. Over the course of our interactions, we learn some leadership theories, and also more about ourselves through constructive peer feedback. It sounds great to me – this is why I came. Now if we could do this in a nice little coffee shop somewhere, that would be even better. Exit plan: steal water and walk back to civilisation.

We are issued with food, water, climbing gear and five wet wipes. We move away from the truck.

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This is the cleanest we will be for the next seven days

We walk down into the canyon. Lunch. The echo invites us to sing “In The Air Tonight”. We hike on. An exit point. By the time we get to the top, I am ready to curl up into the foetal position – however, the sun is dropping fast and we need to find a camp. The decision comes down to me – I vote we move on a little further, and blind luck rewards us with an area we can camp in.

As darkness creeps over us, we reflect upon the day’s activities. Today was an important day – later I will realise that I was able to make some fairly reasonable decisions while under stress and outside my comfort zone. For the moment, I just want a shower and a decent hotel room. Perhaps an hour or so playing on Xbox. Exit plan: fake an injury and get taken back to the truck. Gain control of the vehicle get the hell out.

I’m through it, Harry

The next day, everything changes. We head through canyons and make it past a lot of strange obstacles – huge boulders, ungainly packs and bird poo. The team works well together to get us going in the right direction, and over any obstacle we encounter. There are no more exit plans – the only way out is through. We are Ninjas. Our kung-fu is strong.

After that day, I knew nothing could stop us. Hundred foot rappels, steep ascents over exposed rock faces. I was right.

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I like to think that we all found out a little more about ourselves during the week. We can work with total strangers. We can be comfortable being uncomfortable. We can make decisions quickly when needed. We can always contribute something, even when we know nothing. We can communicate well with anyone, even though we have strengths and weaknesses. We are not too proud to get feedback. We will act on it and become better human beings.

Leave no trace, take nothing but bruises

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Cut off from the world of technology, I felt a little like Samson without his locks. The canyon has turned into my Delilah, and I can’t help but feel that I’m a little bit in love with this place.

More Handshake Protocols

Two more handshakes to draw to your attention.

Fists: The first is very simple – offer a fist, with the back of your hand pointing upwards. Usually you’ll get the same side as reciprocation, i.e. if you offer a left fist, you’ll see their right fist. These then touch knuckle to knuckle. Nice and simple.

Claws: The second is a complication of an earlier entry. After completing the brother style handshake described in the earlier post, switch directly into the following. Orientate the hand vertically – if you’re using your right hand, palm facing left. Relax the thumb, and curl the fingers so the fingernails are pointing back towards you. Your fingers should now be making a claw shape, and your handshake partner will be doing the same. To complete the handshake, briefly connect the two claws, pull back towards yourself to create some pressure, and release.

There Is No Poop On The Pavement

As above. I live in the only block of flats in Evanston that allows dogs, so I would expect dog poop density to vary like this:

P = K * ([(r+1)^2] - [(Dr+1)^2])

P is poop density (unit volume per unit area)
K is a constant (a factor of the number of dogs in the building and their food intake volume)
r is the distance from my block of flats
D is the "shitting on your own doorstep" constant

However, K is a very low number. I have seen the occasional dog owner with canine in tow, but I have not seen one without the regulation scooper. Sadly, both K and D are significantly higher in the UK.

More: Kellogg has a wonderful invention called the “Honour Code”, which is a long winded way of saying, to quote Bill S. Preston Esq., “Be excellent to each other”. This was printed on the front of my midterm before we started, and during the course of the exam the Prof actually left the room several times. No furtive glances. No whispers of discussion. It’s a small thing I know, but it’s so nice to be in an environment where trust is not taken advantage of.

The only issue is a consistent misspelling of the word “honour”.

MBA value in the US and Europe

I’ve often wondered why there is such a difference between how MBAs are viewed in Europe and the US. It may be obvious, but here’s my take – it’s cultural, and the reason why lies in cheap ads.

Here’s a sign I caught while waiting in line at a currency exchange:

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Do you see that? The chap who started this little business put his name on the bottom. Keith Berkson is darn proud of being on that sign. More: if you’ve ever ridden a bus in the states, you’ll probably have noticed an LCD screen at the front pumping out cheap ads, and they’re full of these big chested characters wearing suits and big collars pointing at the screen to emphasise how much THIS product could save YOU.

That simply doesn’t happen in the UK. Our entrepreneurs, successful as they are, are almost embarrassed to be in that position. Our cheap ads consist of a cheesy voiceover, and a video of someone hammering their thumb before the Dremel Multitool comes out and saves the day.

Academically, the MBA is basically a big set of instructions in how to run a business properly. In a culture that values business so highly, it’s no surprise the MBA is also held in high regard here.

Home from Home

With the luxury of a little spare time, I hopped onto the L and headed into Chicago yesterday. My objective – find winter clothing before the cold snap hits and I freeze to death. Of course, I got completely distracted and ended up wandering around a shopping centre instead.

I was fascinated to discover which shops are common between the US and UK. My feet took me into a Macy’s, which seems to be an equivalent of Debenhams. After a little consternation on having to wade through seven floors of women’s clothing to get to the men’s department, I was perked up on finding this little gem.

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It is indeed an iPod vending machine. I’d read about this on Engadget somewhere, and I could hardly believe it at the time. I suppose the disappointing size of what you get when you actually BUY an iPod lends itself well to a vending machine – but I’d feel a lot happier about buying a $1 chocolate bar than a $300 piece of consumer electronics.

On the way out I was further amused by Macy’s employment of Windows in an embedded device:

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I’m always surprised when I see Windows in this environment. I feel that Linux / Unix has a number of advantages on embedded that make it a persuasive choice of base OS. Though, if that embedded shop has plenty of Windows development skills, I can see how it would happen.

On the way out of the centre, this raised a titter:

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Some brands are strongly associated with the UK, like “Rimmel London” – it’s prevalent in the advertising and the product takes on some of the emotional attributes of the city. However, Clarks is not one of them. For my new American friends – Clarks is a maker of generally boring but dependable shoes, and we just call it “Clarks”.

This may tickle any gamers out there, which I spotted on the way out. Perhaps this is a bus for campers?

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Finally – I’m no expert, but I do like the occasional clips of interesting architecture in the city. This is a car park next to the Water Tower.

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