BBQ time!

With summer quickly departing Great Britain, it’s time to organize a good BBQ while there’s still time.

I’m thinking the last Sunday of August, which is a bank holiday weekend – that means most people in the UK have the following Monday off, so it’s usually a late night for anyone who wants to go out for a drink or two.

It’s usually about this time of the year that I realize I haven’t BBQ’d much during the year so far, and there’s lots of ‘summer dishes’ I didn’t get to experiment with, so hopefully there’ll be plenty of Pimm’s & lemonade and cider to go around.

Achievement Unlocked: Obtain Android Phone

Got the Samsung Galaxy S (aka the Captivate) this weekend 🙂

Carphone Warehouse at the White Rose mall in Leeds had them (and the Desire) in stock and I couldn’t resist. Apparently they’re one of the biggest CPW locations in the area so they get priority on limited stock items like the Desire at the moment.

I got a pretty good monthly rate, too. Basically I’m going to be paying a few quid extra per month than I was before, for the privilege of one of the hottest devices available, and after a year I can drop my contract down to a cheaper rate, and in 23 months I can upgrade again. No money up front, £30 a month, 500 minutes (which I won’t hit), unlimited texts (actually limited to 500) and 500mb data transfer/internet (the Orange version of ‘unlimited’).

Right now I have the Geek Squad insurance cover, which is quick and pretty comprehensive, but because of the cost of the phone that’s £12 a month rather than the £5 or so I was paying for my older phone. I have a couple of weeks to cancel that, so I have to decide what I’m going to do with it. I found a website that will cover me for £5.99 per month, and 12 months of cover for the price of 9, and it looks very comparable to the Geek Squad  but I need to compare them side-by-side. I think the cheaper insurance wins out though.

I’ve started playing around with the various apps already but will wait a while before rooting it, mainly I want to be sure I can restore it to its default setting if it all goes wrong.

So far I’m running a bunch of free apps and have tried a few free games.

Right now I’m running the stock music player app and it seems pretty good so far. I’ll have to see how it handles album art. For podcasts I’m using Google Listen, but I need to be on a wifi connection to get downloads or my data limit will quickly be demolished. I’ve been using Gmail and Calendar for years, so I love how the system just integrates all that into the various Google apps.

I think the first  paid app I’ll try is Tasker, which is £4 and can do things like automatically send a text to someone when I get home, change the volume settings when I get to a certain location, change the GPS/locator functions of different apps, etc.

As for the phone itself, this particular one does look a lot like the iPhone, with a single ‘hard’ button and the volume switch where they’re at, but beyond that and the Apps screens the difference grows. Multiple configurable home screens can hold constant mail, weather, traffic or Twitter updates, Google search (by voice!) is right on the main screen, it’s very configurable and I haven’t even thought about rooting it yet.

There are some good things that it borrows from the iPhone, like the way it does speech bubbles with text messages, etc., but that’s not a bad thing at all.

So, moving up from my Nokia 5800 I’m looking forward to tightly integrated things like email, calendar, Twitpic and other services, all without paying much more than I was before.

And…no more iTunes 🙂

Goal: fillet steak and lobster

Woohoo! This morning I was under 91kg for the first time in AGES.  90.9 to be exact, but who’s counting, right?

All this is thanks mostly to the low-carb diet I’ve been following since the end of May, but I do have to give a bit of credit to the ‘crazy’ Xtreme Fat Loss Diet I did throughout most of May – that got me on the start to dieting right and working out.

So anyway, what’s with the steak and lobster?

Well at the suggestion of one of the users on a low-carb forum thread I participate in, I’m going to have a congratulatory dinner once I hit my goal weight. When I first heard this a couple of weeks ago I was thinking Oh yeah I’ll have a nice fat steak when I hit 200 pounds (about 90kg). But I was pretty close to hitting 200 back then, and at this rate I’ll be under 200 this time next week (awesome).

So when I do hit 200, I’ll celebrate somehow (but not with a whole cheesecake or buying a TV) – then I’ll save the BIG celebration for when I hit my goal weight, which is 185 pounds (84kg). It seems like a long way away, but as long as I keep doing what I’m doing I’ll be alright.

I think celebrating with a super-tasty, home-cooked meal of a big 21-day aged ribeye steak covered with Montreal steak seasoning and a couple of butter-drenched Maine lobster tails is pretty close to the best thing ever. It’s healthy, I won’t be wolfing down pies and sweets, and I won’t be spending a ton of money on a new video game or TV or something like that.

So, yay me and let’s keep it up 😀

I’ve got my UK settlement visa

Welp, there we go – after just two months, I’ve received my settlement visa confirmation from the UK Home Office, plus my passport with a horrible picture and ‘Valid Until: Indefinite’ visa!

Woo-hoo!

What this means, basically, is that I can live and work anywhere in the UK, and come and go as I please, without restriction. I can even leave for up to 2 years at a time and re-enter the country, as long as I can show that I am returning for settlement reasons (for instance, if I were a Peace Corps volunteer or something in Vietnam, left for a year or so and came back).

What this DOES NOT mean is I have citizenship. A lot of people unfamiliar with the whole process of how UK immigration works (basically, anyone who isn’t an expatriate in the UK) think that I am a citizen now, but I’m not. I just have ‘settlement’, which is sort of halfway to being a citizen. The first step to get here was to be approved for a work permit, which is now called ‘Tier 1’ I think (the UK changes its laws on immigration, etc., every 2-4 years, depending on how you got into the country) but there are other ways, such as long residence (10+ years), marriage, Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) and other methods.

In my case, I had to wait 4 or 5 years on a valid Work Permit, then apply for this (I got in just before the UK Home Office raised the fees AGAIN and changed their rules).

After a year of having this settlement visa, I can pay another exorbitant fee and apply for citizenship, where I’ll have to get letters of reference and other similar things.

…So after I explain this to my friends and acquaintances, the next question is if I’ll apply for citizenship.

The short answer to this is ‘yes’, and why not? It’ll definitely make travel easier, since I’ll be able to go into the EU citizen line when returning to the UK or EU, and I can also use the US citizen line when going back to the US. Plus I’ll have extra rights, I’ll be able to vote (a surprising number of people don’t care about this, but it is important – just think of Bush/Blair/Brown) and there are other considerations. So it’s time to get saving! Again…

Meditation class tonight

I went to an evening meditation class organized by the local Buddhist center, it was very mellow, instructive and quite nice.

I guess this is kind of long but maybe it will help some folks to google ‘(local area) meditation class’ like I did:
There were just 3 other people plus a helper from the Buddhist center and an actual monk (in robes, etc.). After initial greetings from the helper everyone sat down and the lady went through some of the courses and things the center is doing soon, then the monk came in. A young woman, probably 30 or younger, which was a little surprising since ‘every Buddhist monk is Tibetan, of course’. She said hello and we went almost right into a nice breathing meditation which I want to write down because it was very useful. Basically we sat in our chairs (which were kind of uncomfortable, I’d rather sit on the ground) and she talked us through focusing on the room, then seeing ourselves in the room, then seeing ourselves floating and relaxing all the muscles from the top of your head to your toes. Then breathing out our bad thoughts and worries as black smoke, which dissipates to nothing. Then breathing in white light, then maybe doing both (light/smoke) at the same time instead of concentrating on just one or the other.

After this there was a talk from the monk. I was still getting used to the idea of the whole thing so I didn’t absorb it all and just checked out her shaved head, hand-knit robes, etc., but she used a book called The New Meditation Handbook, written by a Tibetan monk who’d moved to the UK some 30+ years ago, and read some passages from it to us between just talking about the feeling and purpose of meditation.

There wasn’t any evangelical ‘join Buddha’ talk but there were many references, but it certainly wasn’t a sermon in any way (I was raised Roman Catholic). There were some concepts such as meditation can cure or fix anything, and stuff like that (I may be remembering it wrong, forgive me). There were points I was thinking ‘if this person were older I’d feel more confident in this advice’ but basically I felt that was skepticism and tried to ignore it.

After the talk we had a focused meditation, I forget what she called it but it was about feeling love for everyone: we were told to concentrate on the breath coming into our nostrils and the breath going out, and then concentrated on someone who’d given us love and affection. After we concentrated on them we also concentrated on someone else and then tried to spread that love to everyone. I guess this is a ‘basic’ meditation but I got the idea. It was nice.

Afterwards we had tea & coffee and shared what we were trying to get out of meditation. One woman was trying it for the very first time and has an autistic teen son. Another woman is a stressed IT pro who’s tried all sorts of things from Daoism (sp?) to who knows what. The last guy had been to several classes previously and works as a home carer for autistic and sick people and was the most ‘experienced’ of us there, other than the monk. We all agreed that CDs and books are good but a ‘formal’ meditation with an actual person was great, and this one in particular. I think the main reason was because you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get with a meditation CD, whereas I was pretty sure with a Buddhist monk leading the way I wasn’t going to get some strange crap thrown at me.

Anyway, I quite liked it, will be going again next week.

If you’re feeling stressed or want to focus on something or anything like that, I’d recommend giving meditation a try!

Yes We Did! Obama is my President

Sorry to borrow the soon-to-be-overused line, but dammit, Obama WON!

And not just by a squeaker, not a safe margin, not even a landslide (which is what I thought it might be), but by a damn tail-tucking ROUT!

I was hearing more and more stuff as the days crept closer to the 4th that McCain was getting worse and worse polling numbers, his negative attacks were getting worse and worse and the pundits and news teams were giving him a smaller and smaller chance of winning.

Yesterday I decided I’d stay up as late as I could to watch the returns coming in, so I booked the morning off from work and got some Magner’s Irish cider ready and made a few sandwiches to occupy myself while I watch CNN international, the BBC and NBC coverage on British channel ITV. I also had the laptop open with about half a dozen websites open plus a couple of forums where people were keeping up-to-the-minute with the incoming results. By about 3 or 4 AM it was becoming clear but some states were really close, then Pennsylvania, Ohio were called for Obama and when the polls closed on the west coast all the channels didn’t even hesitate and just called Obama for the win.

And how sweet it was. To see 8 years of W going out the door, with long-time Washington power players getting the hell OUT, that can only be a good thing. Hopefully they’ve learned that negative campaigning doesn’t work and by mobilizing people who’ve been suppressed for decades you can make history.

I’m so proud to have been a part of it.

I’m proud to call myself American again.

I’m even proud to call myself Texan again, since San Antonio was one of the urban areas that went for Obama – even if McCain won the rest of the state.

It’s too bad the crowd at the McCain HQ didn’t have a tenth of the class of the Obama crowd – when McCain mentioned Obama, the crowd booed; when Obama mentioned McCain there were no boos and even a bit of applause. At least McCain sounded like the McCain of old and not the bitter old man he’d turned into earlier this year.

Anyway – I’m glad. I’m proud. I’m happy. I’m eager! And I’m anticipatory. I hope he maintains this momentum during his ‘first 100 days’ when the press watches to see who he gathers around him, who he picks for his cabinet, etc., and carries the momentum for the next four years.

Now to get W out of the White House, tar and feather the bastard and get the Obamas in!