SETTLES.ORG - "WAY OUT" Musings about life across the big pond by Burr and Natalie Settles. Wed, 27 Jun 2007 15:00:03 +0000 en Farewell, Cambridge. Fri, 18 May 2007 18:43:38 +0000 Burr Pubs Daily Life Glossary Tomorrow morning we leave England, and this adventure is coming to a close. It has been a great experience here (for a multitude of reasons), but I think we really are ready to go back now… after past adventures, we’ve found ourselves dreading the idea of returning to the Midwest and our daily Madison grinds, but this time we’re both excited to take next-steps with the new lessons we’ve learned about ourselves here, as well as looking forward to seeing so many of you again!! We’ve been away a long time. Positive cash flow again… we’re looking forward to that, too. ;)

Free Press Pub

Last night we said goodbye to our colleages in the Cambridge computing lab at the Free Press Pub. We usually get together there on Thursday evening for drinks and some socialization. Pictured above (L-R) are Advaith (Keith & I shared his office), Andreas and Niki (the Greeks), Ian, and… oh crap, I’ve forgotten his name, but he’s Austrian… and he’s a big fan of Steve Vai and Wir Sind Helden. (Natalie reminds me now that his name is Richard. I tend to recall the esoteric details before I can muster up names. Character flaw.) Also in attendance were Mark (my advisor), Anna (Mark’s some-time officemate, a Finn who has many expressions and mannerisms similar to Natalie), as well as Keith, Natalie, and myself.

Today began with a busy day of cleaning, more packing, dropping off of keys in various places, returning the bikes we’re borrowed to Ryan & Hillary (confusing to us now, since we have friends in Madison named Ryan & Hillary), donating groceries and other things we’re not taking along… and finally paying 5 months of back-rent (which is not our fault… a long story… we’ve tried many times, but British customer service being what it is, we might have skipped the country without them noticing).


Then we were… free!! Nothing really left to do but enjoy the first nice day we’ve had here in two weeks, so we decided to finally go “punting.” It’s like taking a gondola out on the river Cam… which is really more of a canal. Loads of fun. We were out at least an hour and managed not to fall in, although Natalie rammed a couple other boats, I lost the stick in the mud once, and Keith got himself pinned into a corner by some tourists having even more difficult than us. Good times! Tonight, our goal is to get dinner at “The Trailer of Life,” a fast-food caravan (see below) that sets up at night on the central Market.

Below is another long list of Britishisms that we’ve observed, though certainly still not complete. Some of them also come courtesy of Mark and his family, who’ve been here longer and have two kids who are simply word sponges! Enjoy:

advert - commercial (”ad”)
anti-clockwise - counter-clockwise
have a go - take a turn
bin - trash can
bloke - dude
bonnet - hood of car
boot - trunk of car
car park - parking lot
caravan - camping trailer
cling film - plastic wrap
close - dead-end street
coach - bus
cooker - stove
garden - yard
jacket potato - baked potato
jumper - sweater or sweatshirt
kit - uniform
lift - elevator
loo - toilet
lounge - living room
bits - pulp (”orange juice with bits”)
trousers - pants
pants - underpants
pavement - sidewalk
petrol - gasoline
plaster - adhesive bandage
pudding - dessert
to revise - to study
to ring - to phone
rubber - eraser
underground - subway
subway - pedestrian underpass
sweets/confections - candy
windscreen - windshield

Feeling Continental. Wed, 09 May 2007 11:50:04 +0000 Burr Travel Music Natalie and I got back a couple days ago after a nice long trip in the Benelux region (Netherlands & Belgium) last week. I can’t possibly catch up on the cool stuff we did or saw, so I’ll just give you some highlights:

APRIL 28: LEIDEN. We got up at 3AM to go by bike, train, and plane to Schiphol airport, then training again down to Leiden, where our friends Eric & Elisabeth from Madison currently live. Eric is doing his Ph.D. in English at UW and spent last year in Warwick England prior to a Fullbright which took him to the Netherlands as well. So we hadn’t seen them in nearly 2 years! That first day, we mostly wandered around the market, eating pickled herring which you dip in chopped onions and eat whole, as well as weird “eikoeken” (egg cakes) and other street food. We went to a grocery store with animatronic animals that sang and danced (freaky)… and I was so happy to see that beer is both (a) cheap and (b) good in Holland. Four bottles of not-crap ran us about €5 (US$7) there, instead of £6 (US$12). We also took naps, and saw the Marekerk, one of the first churches built for Protestant worship (architecturally a circle as opposed to a cross like most Catholic buildings).

Pickled Herring

APRIL 29: ROTTERDAM + NORTH SEA. The next day, Natalie and I went off to Rotterdam in Zuid-Holland (the south). I was expecting a much older city, but since it was virtually demolished during World War II, it has been rebuilt with some very odd and modern architecture. After wandering around a bit we found the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen which we were able to see for free thanks to the “Museumkarten” Eric & Elisabeth loaned us. Lots more abstract art, I think, than you see in most US art museums, and even other European museums for that matter. Even the public art in The Netherlands seems more abstract, but colorful and cool. I’ll let Natalie expand on her thoughts as to why this is so…

I’d hoped to get back to Leiden early enough to see the Asterix & Obelix exhibit at the Rijksmuseum in Leiden, but we’d have cut it pretty close so instead we stayed there and marveled and the odd mix of Architecture and public art around the city. Then we trained back, had pannekoeken for dinner (big yummy panckes with toppings like pizza), and took a bus out to the coast with Eric & Elisabeth to watch the sun set over the North Sea. It was a bit too cold to go swimming in, but we did wade our feet in a bit. It was gorgeous.

North Sea Sunset

APRIL 30: KONINGINNEDAG. This Queen’s Day celebration is a Dutch holiday involving techno music, boats on the canals, street sales of junk, and tons of revelers in tangerine. The four of us went in to Amsterdam for the day, and I have no clue how many people were flooding the streets. (A million?) It was decidedly smaller than the Love Parade I was at in Berlin 2000, but just as crazy and packed with people. After 8PM or so we caught the train back to Leiden, and proceeded to the University district where we caught the last couple hours of DJ Armin Van Büren’s party there. It was a lot more fun than the big stages in Amsterdam, because it was smaller and you could actually see the DJ. In Amsterdam, all you could see were jumbotron TVs, so you felt like a spectator instead of a participant. Anyway, I caught a video of Natalie and Eric (and crowd) jumping to the beats in Leiden:

MAY 1: AMSTERDAM. Natalie and I went back the next day to see the city modulo the mayhem. The main routes, particularly where the streetcars run (they weren’t running the day before) were very cleaned up, but further into the city you could still see a lot of trash down the alleys. Some of the areas with public street urinals (seriously) still reeked (seriously). We went to the Van Gogh Museum, which was amazing. I’ve always been a fan of Vincent Van Gogh anyway, but the particularly unique thing about this was that the collection comprised about a fifth of his painting and half of his drawings, spanning his entire career and every stage of his life, location, health, sanity, etc. It was saddening but inspiring, and the ability to contextualize everything was invaluable. I don’t think I’ve seen another artist’s work curated and hung in such a way. At least not as successfully. There was also an interesting exhibit in another wing on the work of German expatriate Max Beckmann during his exile in Amsterdam during World War II. We also toured the red light district (wow) and saw the thinnest buildings in Europe (only about arm’s length wide).

That evening we met up with my “online friends” Max and Rik for the first time. Max is a hotel caterer and Rik an artist, both of whom have participated in my FAWM project for the last couple of years and both have been big supporters of it. Their friends Murël and Joost we also along, and we all walked down to a bar called De Niewe Anita where we played music for a few hours in this relaxed acoustic setting. The bartenders actually leave the circular bar, and musicians sit behind it to play unamplified. Everyone is pretty quiet and listens attentively. We finally made it back to Leiden around 2AM, where poor Elisabeth had been staying up watching Batman cartoons on the internet to stay awake for us!!

De Niewe Anita (Wasser Umsonnst)

MAY 2: BRUSSELS + LEUVEN. The next morning we got up, re-stuffed our bags, and caught a train to Brussels (or Brüssel, or Bruxelles). It was very refreshing to be in a francophone place for me, and even more refreshing that, unlike a lot of Paris, they insist on speaking French with you so I got a lot of practice. It was a bit confusing at points, though, because of some dialectical differences. For example, when we checked in to the hostel she gave me the price, “septant-six” (”seventy-six”). However, Parisian French would say “soixant-seize” (”sixty-sixteen”… don’t ask why), so we had a mild bit of miscommunication as I’d never heard it the Belgian (and more logical) way before. The street slang appeared to be a weird mix of French and Dutch. We ate some Belgian waffles and a big old cone of “pommes frites” which are actually Belgian and not French at all.

Later in the evening we caught another train to Leuven in the Flemish part, where I was invited to play a set at an acoustic showcase. Singer-songwriter Milow organizes the showcase, and I helped him out with some gig in Madison when he went to visit a mutual friend last month so he returned the favor. The other musicians I played with that night were really cool, and when I played everyone (maybe 100+ people crammed in by the bar?) was completely quiet. It was very neat but intimidating as well… usually crowds that big aren’t that silent, and in fact they weren’t that silent for most of the night. I’m glad I did it.

Het Depot - Leuven, Belgium

MAY 3: BRUSSELS. We were a bit museumed-out by now, so we just took a low-key day wandering round the city. Which was good becuase the city is so awkwardly laid out we got lost a lot! ;) We found a small brewery Cantillon on the south side of town that offered cheap tours that included a tasting, so we gave it a go. They make a special kind of Belgian beer called Lambic that is still brewed using “spontaneous fermentation” with random airborne yeast instead of cultivated and injected strains. Until a couple hundred years ago, all beer was made this way apparently… and it can take 3 years for a batch to be ready. There was a sign in the storehouse that said “Le temps ne respecte pas ce qui se fait sans lui.” Roughly translated, “Time respects no one who works without him.” I like it.

We ran into an Indian tourist named Raoul during the tasting portion of the tour and ended up spending a fair bit of time with him and some native Brusseliers who were hosting him during his visit. We went to a “squatter bar” (pictured below) which was a location that fell out of use so someone just moved in and illegally started a bar there. Very informal, very cheap, very interesting vibe. Throughout the evening be basically went to a bar, had one or two beers, then got up and walked to another one… it was a cool way to do things: we got to try lots of different drinks and could easily gauge how drunk we were by walking (not to mention a little exercise as well). I hope to stay in touch with the folks we met in Belgium, both Brussels and Leuven. They were all really cool.

Squatter Bar in Brussels

MAY 4: LONDON. We walked around Brussels for a couple of hours in the morning before heading to the Eurostar terminal to catch our train to London. There we met our friends Eric and Jen from Minnesota who had been traveling for the last week elsewhere in the UK. We dumped our stuff at a hostel, ate a nice big dinner at a French café nearby, and then found our Cambridge roommate Keith at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, where we saw Othello. Eric noted that the actor playing Cassio is a famous British actor who was a regular on Black Adder. I’d never seen Othello before, but I was pretty sure it was a tragedy. However, the comic relief was so well delivered that halfway through I still wasn’t sure! Standing for four hours in the open-roof theatre (we had “groundling” tickets) proved to worsen my health a bit, though, as I’d picked up some sort of bug earlier that day and I’m even now still recovering, but it was worth it. I sort of have a sense of what theatre-going might have been like 400 years ago. ;)

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

MAY 5-8: CAMBRIDGE. Eric & Jen came back to Cambridge for a few days to stay with us. We had dinner one night at “The Eagle” which has been a pub since the 1660s (formerly “The Eagle & Child”) and the favored hangout of Watson & Crick who discussed their DNA research in there over 50 years ago.

That is what I’ll miss most about this place… the history. In Madison (indeed, most of the US) you’re lucky to find a building much older than 100 years. Here, the downtown grocery store is a few hundred years old. Newton walked these streets. C.S. Lewis. Even the guys from Pink Floyd if you want to be less academic about things. I’ve learned a lot about my lifestyle pace, my work habits, relationships, eating and spending, etc. while I’ve been here… but most of the things I’ve learned about myself I can take back with me and (hopefully) implement with success in my daily life stateside. The massive lush trees, however, the blackbirds (who really do sing in the dead of night), and the cobblestone streets laid before my country was even founded… I must leave them behind.

Miscellany. Fri, 27 Apr 2007 14:33:17 +0000 Burr Daily Life Food Tomorrow we get up at 3AM to bike to the station to catch the train to go to the airport to fly us to Amsterdam, where we hop on another train to Leiden where we will visit our friends Eric & Elisabeth and kick off a week of living out of backpacks through Benelux. Wow, that was a long sentence.

It’s sobering to realize that three weeks later we’re heading to the station to catch a train to another airport: the one that takes us trans-Atlantic back to the US. In under a month, we’re back in our Madison apartment (we just mailed our rent check this week, now that the subletters are gone). Our tenure here is about 85% done, which is bittersweet. We’ve missed our stateside friends, but it has been good to be away from the distractions there. My research (while going perpetually slower that I’d like) has seen a lot of progress since I arrived. I think I’ve started some good work habits.

It’s been good to see different perspectives on things: food, for example. It’s generally more expensive here, but a lot of it is free-range and organic (be default) and when you read the “ingredients” list you recognize everything. Sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Soft drinks have up to 10% juice (which is more than some “juice drinks” in the US)! However, packaging is excessive and recycling programs here suck. The other day, I finally found the one place on the west side of Cambridge we can recycle plastics (and carried 3 months’ worth of buildup there myself). So it’s good not to take for granted what we do better back home, as well.

It’s been great to engage in conversation about culture and politics with people from the UK, Germany, Norway, Greece, India… repeatedly. Beyond the sort you get for one night in backpacker hostels. Keith and I watched the Democratic US presidential debate over the internet last night. In fact, we played a drinking game (every time someone mentions a family member or says “when I’ve president,” mentions WMD or nukes, etc.). That aside, it was interesting to hear talks of foreign (and domestic) policy filtered with thoughts I’ve had in the past few months. I can only imagine how more interesting those views would be if we’d been in Asia or Africa.

It has also been good to live more simply… all we have are what fit in our backpacks plus the few things we bought here, which we’ll probably leave behind with the friends we’ve made. When Natalie and I spent three months in DC four years ago, we sold off and gave away a lot of stuff. We did that, too, a bit, before we came here. I feel we can do some more purging when we return. I’m looking forward to getting back, but I’m also going to miss our time here. Of course, it’s not over yet…

Craigelachie + ‘S Rioghal Mo Dhream. Tue, 24 Apr 2007 12:41:17 +0000 Burr Travel Music Natalie and I just got back from a few days up in Scotland. This mini-adventure was very meaningful to both of us, because as far as we can tell it’s the the only common ancestry we know we have. Natalie is over 3/4 Scandinavian, with a lot of her ancestors immigrating in the last 2-3 generations. I’m a big mutt of Europeans over the past 300 years (we think John Settle hit Jamestown VA in the early 1600s) with a sprinking of Native American. However, Natalie has a bit of Clan Grant from her mother’s side, and I have some MacGregor and MacKenzie from my father and mother, respectively. All highlanders. With pretty tartans. So it was fun to go up and learn more about this little ancestry we share…

Edinburgh Panorama

We arrived in Edinburgh Thursday afternoon and tossed our stuff at my friend’s flat. Holly and I went to college together, and she did a study abroad in Edinburgh in 1999. She returned here to get a Master’s degree 3 years or so ago and now works here! She and her German boyfriend were quite busy with work and their Scottish social lives, and we were out sightseeing a lot, so we didn’t have a lot of time to hang out. We did most of our catching up the day before we left. But the time we did have was quality, and Natalie and Holly got along famously. At any rate, that first evening they went out to a party and we wandered all over downtown to get oriented. The panoramic above is from the top of Calton Hill, which we inadvertently hiked while trying to get back to the city center. You may not see if very clearly here, but to the left (behind Natalie) is the “old town” with a lot of Gothic and Medieval architecture. To the right (behind me) is the “new town” with Georgian architecture. Plus there are a lot of modern buildings scattered in between and among them. That was one of the most fascinating things for me, was the wild span of architecture, how the city was built on multiple levels, and often times older structures are built right into the hills and mountains, using bits of natural rock for the walls.

Friday we slept in a bit and then wandered into town, where we walked up and down the royal mile (the “main street” of old town, going up a slope neatly carved by a now-defunct volcano and the glaciers of past ice ages, ending in the majestic castle). We ate some carrot & coriander soup (yum!) and visited one of the Scottish National Galleries of Art as well. They had a nice collection of Scottish painters, of whom Joseph Noel Paton was probably the one I was most impressed. That evening, we also went on a “Ghost Tour.” There are several of these, which go through the streets, cemeteries, and dungeons giving you a history of Edinburgh’s seedy past as well as recounting some of the supernatural things that allegedly haunt such places. The one we went on went through Greyfriars Kirkyard and took us into a mausoleum supposedly housing the MacKenzie Poltergeist. Although I got a bit queasy, I attribute it mostly to the mild 24-hour cold/flu bug I picked up around that time mixed with the chilly night air. Although in the 15 minutes or so we were in the mausoleum, I think the poltergeist untied my shoe. What’s more, he followed me around for the next couple days untying my shoes as well. ;) But it was creepy.

Glencoe Panorama

On Saturday we took a looooong day-tour of the Highlands. about 12 hours of driving and sightseeing in total. The panoramic above is from a stop in Glen Coe, the valley where in 1692 a group of Campbells notoriously violated the Highland Code. They accepted hospitality from the MacDonalds (who controlled the Glen at the time) and then by order of William of Orange slaughtering them in their sleep. The grudge is still strong, and to this day there’s a pub in that region that won’t allow Campbells inside, even though they finally started serving the English a few years ago.

Loch Ness

The highlight of the day tour was probably our stop at Loch Ness. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch a glimpse of the monster (other than the wire sculpture above). But I really love both mountains and large bodies of water, and it was very peaceful to sit and gaze out on a landscape that was, mostly I think, the same view that our ancestors had hundreds (thousands?) of years ago. And the thought that a small population of large prehistoric beasts still lives somewhere under the permablack is really appealing as well.

On Sunday we slept in and had breakfast (garlic eggs & onions) with Holly and Tom. Then we learned that we picked the right weekend to visit Scotland, because all the National Heritage sites were FREE admission that day, including the amazing Edinburgh Castle! So we showered, dressed, headed downtown, and up the royal mile. Usually admission is £11 per person, which would have been about $45 for both of us, so that saved us quite a bit (and there wasn’t even a queue to boot). We spent 3.5 hours wandering around this amazing place, which has been standing in some form or another for over 1,000 years. It’s definitely in my list of most amazing places I’ve been. Then we walked to the other side of town to hike up “Arthur’s Seat,” the tallest of the mountains that jut up throughout the city. Since Natalie wasn’t wearing hiking shoes and I had a gig to play at 8pm, we didn’t make it all the way to the top (so we say we hiked “Arthur’s Footstool”).

Live at Whistlebinkies

That night I played the longest gig I’ve played in nearly a year: two hours of music all by my lonesome. I think the crowd was really more of a classic-rock covers crowd, but they did seem appreciative of most of my original tunes. About 3-4 songs into my first set, though, I switched to using the “house” guitar since the battery in mine was fizzing out and is a pain in the neck to change. Playing with a foreign guitar wasn’t so bad, and I was lucky they had it… plus the promoter didn’t stiff me like the one in London! Holly came out to the show and asked during a set break if ever wrote any songs about a certain college girlfriend she was friends with. In fact, I had, so I played that one for her. There was also a group of girls studying abroad in London there, one of whom grew up in my hometown (I went to school with her older brother). And the final small-world twist of the evening: the guy playing right after me was another “yank” from Dayton OH.


Monday was our last day there, so we said goodbye to Holly and Tom in the morning and headed to the far west side of town to check out the modern art galleries. The photo above is Natalie on the “earth work” just outside the gallery. There was an amazing exhibit called “off the wall” that showcased a lot of really cool installations that utilized the ceiling and floor, but no wall space. The work of one artists, Martin Creed, we think we saw at the Venice Biennale representing Scotland in 2003. We couldn’t remember exactly, but his art seemed very familiar. All in all it was very cool.

A final fun fact we learned: The Grants (Natalie’s Scottish heritage) and the MacGregors (mine) fought together to secure their Highland castle from the Comyns. The title of this post comes from our Gallic clan mottos: “Craigelchie!” (”Stand Fast!”, of the Grants), and “‘S Rioghal Mo Dhream!” (”Royal is my Race”, from the MacGregors). And here we are, still taking on the world side-by-side.

Visitations. Wed, 18 Apr 2007 23:29:46 +0000 Burr Travel London Art Over the last week Natalie and I have gotten to visit with a few beloved friends & family over in this hemisphere. First, the day after Easter we took a day trip to London and met up with my cousin Kristen, who up until November was working in Surrey as a large animal veterinarian (now she’s heading a research project in Canada). Her beau is still here, though, so she comes back to visit and deemed us to be the most sane of her family, thus the first to actually be allowed to meet him. ;)


After a brief visit the Tate Modern, Natalie and I met them on the Tube and found our way toward the V&A Musem, stopping for some lunch en route. It was an unusually nice day. Then we wandered to Hyde Park, ate some ice cream, saw the Princess Di memorial, and walked around some more, took the ferry to the Tower of London, doubted that the tennis courts were original to the castle, took the ferry back, found a nice Italian joint for dinner, and ultimately had to part ways. It was good to visit with Kristen. Of my cousins, she’s probably the one I’m closest to, and I haven’t been able to see her since my grandfather was ill with cancer back in 2004. It was nice to meet John as well, he’s a cool bloke. We took the photo above on the Thames ferry with a shot of Tower Bridge (and some randoms) in the background.


A few days later, we flew up to Bergen Norway to visit our good buddy Asbjørn (”Ozzy”) for almost a week!! He just finished his Master of Arts at the Kunsthøgskolen i Bergen, and the MA group exhibition (titled “Artism”) opened on 14 April so we were there for it. Our Cambridge roommate Keith decided to book a last-minute flight with us as well, since he’s of Norwegian descent but knows little of Scandinavian culture beyond Lutefisk and Lefse. Natalie and Oz’s college friend Lexi, who lives with her Norsk husband north of Bergen, also took the ferry down for the occasion. Once we got to the MA exhibition, though, there was a bit of drama involved: part of his piece was a multimedia video installation for which the LED screen was messed up. So I spent some time in the afternoon wearing my electronics troubleshooter hat, and finally got it to work. I got shocked a couple times in the process, too. Europe uses 230V. Ouch!

Kunsthall Hjelp

Over the next couple of days we got to see quite a bit of Bergen, from castles to wharfs to trendy coffee shops and signs that say things like “Spill Her” and “Fartsløp.” We also took the very touristy tram up Mount Fløyen. You can see pretty much the whole port portion of the city from up there, and it’s gorgeous:

The Overlook

Then we walked all the way down (which took a while), noting the tufted-eared squirrels and pollarded tree formations en route. Geology in this part of Norway is quite different than the south, where I’d been before (Stavanger and Kristiansand). No fjords, but still plenty of granite rock formations and waterways. We rounded out the visit with a celebration of Susheaster!!


Explanation. When my friend Matt was living in Seattle (before he came to UW for grad school, where we met), he wasn’t able to celebrate Easter with family. So he went out for sushi with friends. The next year, I went with him for sushi in Madison just before (or just after?) Easter, and we dubbed it “susheaster.” A tradition was born. There have been Susheasters held in Seattle, Madison, Omaha, Washington DC, Minneapolis, and now: Norway!! Since Ozzy actually grew up in Japan, it was a natural choice. (Despite being tall, blond, blue-eyed, and hairy, Oz is fluent in Japanese.)

Music note: I picked up 3 new CDs in Norway: Kings of Convenience Riot on an Empty Street, Thomas Dybdahl Science, and Kaizers Orchestra Oompa til Du Dør (”Oompa ’til you die”). The first two artists I’ve been listening to for years, but the last one is a more recent indulgence. Very cool stuff.

Off to bed now…

Cambridge Coffee + London Gig. Fri, 06 Apr 2007 18:31:21 +0000 Burr Random Daily Life London Music I’m writing this post from the Starbuck’s inside the Borders downtown, just a spit from the Cambridge market square. I’m taking a break from work to update the old blog… but I’ll have to upload it later since there’s surprisingly no Internet connection here. I come here to work a lot, in fact. It’s easy to order a caramel macchiato, find one of these big cushy chairs (preferably one close to an electrical outlet), pop in my ear buds and listen to iTunes while I write or code.

The lack of Internet here is not as much of a problem as I thought it would be. The MacBook I got before the trip was a good investment: Mac OSX is a unix machine underneath, and it has a decent size hard drive, so most of the important code/data for my research fits and works on it. I can’t really run experiments here… I upload my software to the UW-Madison network and let the jobs run on several machines there at once. Over the past 2 nights I’ve run experiments that took about 90 total computation hours, which would have taken nearly 4 days to run on my laptop here (rendering it useless for other things in the meantime). However, when I’m developing and testing the code in preparation for my experiments, I don’t really need to be on the web. It’s annoying when I occasionally run into a syntax or compilation error and can’t look it up, but that’s surprisingly rare. (Besides, if I get in a real bind I can just find the computer section of Borders!). So I do lose a little time trying to guess while debugging, but I honestly think it’s less than the time I lose through distractions like email, chat, and web surfing. Useful lesson to learn.

Anyway… I’m downtown today to (1) get the rear tube of my bike replaced… the first 3 bike shops I went to were inexplicably closed, though I did finally find an overpriced one, and to (2) finally get my student rail card. It’s £20 (about US$40), but reduces train fares by 33%. Since we’re doing some travel this month, it’ll pay for itself in no time. Probably even before (and especially when) we go to Scotland in a few weeks.

Burr + The Articles, London

A week ago, I went to London to play my first real gig there. I was opening up for a funk/punk band called The Articles at a club called The Betsy Trotwood. Now, I don’t know what I did to muck up my karma so badly for the day, but I got an extremely late start, walked the 4 miles to the rail station by foot carrying my guitar (heavy wood case, not a gig-bag), finally making it to the venue around 2:30 to drop off my gear. This after I paid full fare since they wouldn’t give me a student rail pass (the photo machine was busted), and having to take the slower train to Liverpool Street (instead of King’s Cross). I’d hoped to get there by noon to check out more of the city. Since the concert promoter told me sound check was at 5:30 (obscenely early, I thought, for an 8:00 show), I thought only had three hours. In that time, I managed to get from St. Paul’s Cathedral down the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern (where I spent a scant hour), and crossed the Waterloo Bridge to Covent Garden. I was amazed that there were practically no street performers out. It was not a gorgeous day (few here are) but it certainly wasn’t brutal, and there were tons of tourists. There was one really bad James Bond impersonator, but that’s it. I half wished I had my guitar with me to busk. I made £25 in an hour on the streets in Cambridge about a month ago. I have a funny story about Colonel Sanders from that night, too…

So I wandered toward Piccadilly Circus (so I thought), but ended up completely lost in the theatre district (though I found where Lion King, Lord of the Rings the Musical (wha?), and The Blue Man Group all perform). I finally gave up hope of visiting Piccadilly or Trafalgar Square in time and tried to head back to the venue for sound check. I got there “late” around 6:00. The sound person was there but no one else, so I sound-checked (10 minutes) and then had two hours to kill. After an overpriced sandwich dinner and a few minutes hanging out in a park I headed back to the venue (it was too far away to visit any other cool places in a timely fashion), and members of The Articles were finally there and setting up. I had a pint and wrote in my sketchbook a bit while they sound checked, and then hung out downstairs with the singer and drummer. Josh the drummer, it turns out, is who I chatted with on myspace a couple weeks beforehand, and he is a fan of Jonah’s Onelinedrawing like myself. I asked if he’d be interested in sitting in on drums for a couple of my songs (since the kit was already set up and all), and he agreed.

About a half hour later we went upstairs where I met Tom and Timmy of PlushBaby, a “band” that had a couple of songs on the FAWM compilation I curated this past year. Since they missed the FAWM get-together a few days before, they came to this gig to say hello. Tom even made me a mix CD of great British indie bands who haven’t gotten much exposure across the pond yet. Another fawmer, Helen, also showed up. Come 8:15 I was on stage and playing… I did nine songs in all I think (typical 30 minute set for me), and it went very well. Some good hecklers, which I generally enjoy since it tells me people are listening and enjoying themselves. (At my Cambridge show earlier, people listened quietly and respectfully but wouldn’t talk back or act alive at all.) Anyway, Josh joined me on drums for “Never Tell You” and “Sugar in the Raw” at the end of the show. I figured those two were fairly simple drum lines to improvise with no surprise switch-ups… except the end of “Sugar,” which I forgot was a little tricky. Fortunately, Josh stopped at the end of my guitar solo (he thought it was the end of the song), allowing me to play the tricky melody/rhythms at the end alone, so it worked alright. The Articles were really good… they reminded me a little bit of Dismemberment Plan’s energetic live presence (I’m glad I got to see them live before they broke up).

At the end of the night, though, the promoter totally screwed everyone over. I got paid nothing and they got almost nothing. Now, I was half expecting to get screwed over, this being my first show in London, another country, booked by myself with no agent or manager or reputation to bank on, etc., but this band has been around for 3 years, headlined some respectable UK venues, and packed out the room. Granted it wasn’t a huge club, but it was pretty well full and on a weeknight no less. I re-read my contract when I got back home, and I was actually owed a little money, and they were owed way more I’m sure. What they did get couldn’t buy them all a round of drinks, let alone pay them what they were worth.

Anyway… Tom, Timmy, Helen, and I went back upstairs to the bar where they bought me a couple pints. I’d missed the train back to Cambridge anyway, and had about a half hour before I needed to split for the next one. Funny thing is, I went in to the “loo” at one point and a socially well-lubricated gentleman asked me from the urinal “what ever happened to that Burr Settles guy?”

“Uhm… that’s me,” I replied.

“No shit? The door guy said you didn’t show!!” His accent was… what? Scottish? Hard to tell. He was a little pissed (in both American and British senses).

“No, I showed, and in fact I played for just over a half hour.”

Apparently this bloke saw an ad for our show somewhere and came specifically to see me after hearing some of my songs on the Internet. But he showed up just after my set, and when he asked they told him I’d be on later and took his £5 anyway. Then they told him I was a no-show. (Helen tells me this is how a lot of promoters in London are… all about the money and not the music.) I was very flattered that he wanted to hear me so badly, I almost just gave him a CD. But since I got gypped too I offered him one for £5 first, and he took it. Then, after downing the pints my crew bought me, I decided I should also keep my pint glasses as payment for the night, so I did. (One of them is even Guinness!)

Around 11:07, Tom noted that I now had 21 minutes to run (carrying my guitar) 5 blocks to the tube station, ride 3 stops to Liverpool Street, and drunkenly find/board my train for Cambridge. So I was off. Luckily, I made eye contact with the platform conductor-type-guy just as I came up out of the underground, since my train was miraculously leaving from the platform just across the way. It was moving before I’d even found a seat, but I was on it. Whew! An hour and a half later I was walking the 4 miles back home, carrying my guitar. At 2:00 AM. Exhausted. Drunk. With eight blisters on my feet (three on the left, five on the right). But I did sell some CDs, got to meet a few friends/fans, and now I can say I played London.

A few days ago, I got some new hiking shoes (I wear USA size 10.5 is a UK 9, apparently). A week later, I’m down to only one blister.

London Fawming. Mon, 26 Mar 2007 17:31:58 +0000 Burr Pubs London Music Euro-fawmers meetup in London

I took the above photo yesterday in Regent’s Park, London. The folks here are part of an informal gathering of “fawmers” (participants in the FAWM.ORG challenge I help organize) that we set up here in the UK… plus a few friends who were along for the fun. Present here are, clockwise from front: my jacket, representing me (Cambridge, via Madison WI), Matt (Oxford), Bill (aka “Morti,” Canturbury), Ryan (Cambridge, via Fairbanks AK), Alex (I think…? a friend of Morti), Paul (”Hoopshank,” from near Gloucester I believe), Helen (London), Ian (friend of Andy), Andy (”Levitator,” London), Marie Tueje (London), and Tim Wille (Århus, Denmark, who flew in just for the occasion on the promise of much chocolate, tea, and Marmite to his wife). Nine people representing three nationalities who, for the most part, didn’t know each other at the beginning of the year and had never met before. We got several concerned glances from passers-by at this eclectic congregation with guitars.

We started trickling in around noon at the Green Note, an acoustic venue in Camden Town where we each shared 3 songs apiece at their open mic. We then wandered to this park for a chat, sharing FAWM war stories, etc., before piling into the tube southward to Waterloo to The Stage Door, where we dominated that open mic as well.

Now, I have met other fawmers before… meaning people I got to know online through the challenge but met “in person” later. And it’s always a fun and humbling experience. But it was a extra-surreal to be part of a mass-meetup like this. It was particularly neat to share music in person that you’ve just heard online… songs that you know were just written a month ago and you watched evolve through this cyber-scope. To take it up a notch, Tim got to see a song that he co-wrote mere weeks ago performed for him at a Pub in another country by someone he’d only just met (Paul, the other co-writer). How wild is that?!?! Andy also made an impromptu reference to “strangle disco” in one of his songs (an inside-joke “genre” that got way out of hand), to which eight of us laughed amid an audience of very confused (and concerned?) faces.

One of the open mic leaders asked me how often we get together to do this, and I had to explain that we met for the first time today. (Confusion again.) And even though most of use were only meeting for the first time, it was a still bit like a reunion of old friends: we had this insane accomplishment to share between us. I’m glad I was able to be here for it. I hope as this FAWM thing grows and grows, many more opportunities like this will happen, and many more people have similarly fabulous and surreal experiences.

Bath, Stonehenge, and Time Warps. Sun, 25 Mar 2007 00:36:51 +0000 Burr Travel Glossary Swindon Steam Train

Last weekend, on St. Patrick’s Day, we rode some trains out to Bath. I say trains (plural) because we not only had to go from Cambridge to London, but en route to Bath from London, we had to dismount our train in Swindon. Apparently a “lorry” (truck) was oversized and ran into a bridge ahead and they re-routed our train to it’s final Bristol destination another way, and we had to wait there while they verified (1) either the lines going over the bridge were stable/safe, or (2) find us alternate transportation. While we were waiting, though, there was some sort of antique steam train tour going on, and we got to see it blow (smoke) past. Very cool.

Once we made it to Bath, we checked out the Abbey and, of course, the Roman Baths of Aquae Sulis. Sorry we didn’t take any pictures, but we did get to listen to one of our favorite authors, Bill Bryson, narrate some of the audio guide listening posts. There was a startling view from the ground level of the “great bath” that looks up through to the Abbey. An you can see some 21st Century buildings as well… such a funny time-warp from ancient Roman to Gothic to modern. But the next day’s time warp was even more profound…


We got up early enough to meet our tour at 8:00 AM downtown before leaving for Stonehenge. The tour guide managed to lose his bus keys briefly, though, and for about 10 minutes half the group was searching up and down the street. I (Burr) was the one who actually found them, though… they slid behind the driver’s seat on top of a set of socket wrenches, so the keyring camouflaged them a bit.

Anyway, we got to spend about an hour at Stonehenge, which was probably enough. We couldn’t get any closer than 5 meters (about 15 feet), but apparently for those with deep pockets can arrange private viewings in early morning or late at night. I don’t know how deep said pockets would need to be… but those stones are so big you don’t need to be much closer. The larger stones traveled about 250 miles… the distance from Madison to Minneapolis… and weigh as much as seven elephants. The whole structure began construction about 5000 years ago and was actually used until 3500 years ago.

Avebury Panorama

We then went to Avebury, the site of another, older stone henge, and while not as famous and hardly the same scale of stone, it is a much larger site and just as impressive. It’s also a bit more intact. The panoramic picture above is stitched together from 5 photos Natalie and I took, and that’s just spanning about a third of the whole circle. The trench we’re standing above is many many meters deep… and they didn’t have backhoes back then. It was dug with antlers and shoulder bones from cattle, most likely. I imagine there were several generations of workers who constructed the site who never saw its completion.

For lunch, we went to Lacock, a small medieval village that is still pretty much just a small medieval village. It’s seriously only four streets arranged in a square. Being Mother’s Day (or “Mothering Sunday”) in the UK, all the pubs and restaurants were booked full, so we got a Cornish Pasty and quiche at the local bakery and ate them in the cemetery. There’s an old Abbey there, too, which is notable for being one of the few that Henry VIII didn’t destroy when he supplanted the Catholic Church in England. He determined that the Lacock Parrish wasn’t a threat and, being a man of economics, decided it was better to sell the site to someone who promised to remove its “religious significance” (destroy the chapel) than put out the expense to demolish it altogether. So it served as a mansion to the highest bidder.


Lacock is also notable for it’s appeal to filmmakers. If you remove the motorcars, a couple of electric light posts, and lay down some straw in the road it would seriously feel like a 1,000-year throwback. The photo above was shot at what we think was used for “Diagon Alley” in the Harry Potter films (we know it was somewhere in Lacock, and there are only 4 streets)! We also saw the house that was Harry’s parents’ home, and the cloisters of the Abbey were used as hallways and Professor Snape’s classrooms in the films. Apparently, though, the production staff made such a ruckus in the first two films that the locals would not allow them back for subsequent movies.

The final trip of the day was to Cotswold, which is another medieval village known in its prime for the wool industry. But the streams that powered the mills dried up and was largely abandoned, leaving it in a sort of time warp as well… today, it’s the home of a fancy Italian-owned hotel and the horse racing capital of England. Our stay there was briefly interrupted by a hailstorm, from which we took shelter in a square gazebo type thing sporting graffiti from as far back as the 16th Century (so we were told).

Once we got back to Bath, we had about 3 hours before the train left for London, so we spent some time inside the Bath Abbey. It was jam packed with tombs or funerary markers, more so than a lot of chapels and cathedrals I’ve been in. One thing Natalie and I noticed was the use of the character “f” instead of “s” at times. The system was a bit erratic, but we think we discovered it: if it’s an unvoiced (”S”) sound in the middle of a word, write “f,” if it’s at the beginning of a word or has a voiced (”Z”) sound, write “s.” Thus, we saw things like firft (”first”), sifter (”sister”), and praise. We also liked the frequent spelling of “dyed” and “here lyes.” ;)

More terms:
lorry - semi-truck
sport - sports
maths - math

Greek to Me. Wed, 21 Mar 2007 14:01:05 +0000 Burr Random Daily Life Language Two of the Ph.D. students in the group at the Cambridge Computing Lab I’ve gotten to know pretty well here are Greek. As in, from Greece… their names are Andreas and Nikiforos (or Niki). Now, since I’m letting my hair grow out long, it’s at this annoying intermediate stage where I must wear hats all the time to keep it out of my face (not long enough yet to pull back)… and since my hat options here are limited, I’ve been wearing my old fraternity hat that says ΔΥ (Delta Upsilon).

Today (moments ago, in fact), Niki asked me what this hat was all about. So I explained that it was a fraternity hat from my undergrad days, and he asked what it stood for, so I said, “Δικαια Υποθηκη,” pronounced “di.KAI.ah yoo.po.TAY.kuh” (the way we’d always said it in college). He looked positively perplexed. “I’m probably not pronouncing it with a proper Greek accent,” I sheepishly explained. He said, “So what is it supposed to mean?” and I translated, “Justice, Our Foundation.” Niki replied, “Oh…!” (The first “th” is voiced, as in “these,” the second unvoiced, as in “thing”).

He went on to explain that the way I pronounced it is probably closer to the ancient Greek accent. We also discussed the “th” sound and how it exists in modern Greek but probably didn’t in ancient times… and that there are very few languages that use it even today… English and Icelandic being two other major players. Anyway… funny how an old fraternity hat turned into a Greek language lesson. ;)

I really like being in the company of other computational linguists.

Daffodils. Fri, 16 Mar 2007 10:37:58 +0000 Natalie Daily Life Plants I’m going to hijack my own post for a minute to admit that I had reservations about doing a blog. I wish I could tell you about the quiet triumphs in my day–the professional discoveries, satisfying work, a concept mastered, new people with whom to collaborate. However, very little of that is appropriate for general broadcast. These quiet activities are the things that occupy most of my time, and make me launch out of bed in the morning. Drawing, reading, writing, listening, and talking are the regular activities of life as an artist, and here with so few distractions every effort yield two or three times the normal result. Yes, the time here has been and continues to be amazing and I can tell you more when we see each other in person. Alas, the limitations of any media alter the message.

Now back to your regularly scheduled encounter with daffodils…

Daffodil Field

This is the view behind our flat. Amazing. For several weeks now I’ve been cutting fresh flowers from this field of daffodils and narcissus to put on my studio table and in our kitchen. The flowers seem to last forever and they smell heavenly. The amazing thing about plants in general here is that they each take turns blooming. Even back in January, every week, at all times something was in bloom. The shrubs and flowers spend ages getting ready, but when their appointed time arrives they begin the show–slowly at first with hints of color, then more and more each day until the effect is stunning.

Kitchen Daffodils

In the midwest where I’ve lived most of my life Spring takes about a couple weeks in April when everything blooms in a flurry of color and smells, and one day you walk outside to see that all the petals have fallen to the ground and that’s it. Fall is much the same; Burr being from KY was not aware of this when he moved to WI for grad school. He actually missed his first Midwestern fall because a paper deadline kept him cooped up for the two weeks. The days were getting short, and he arrived at the school in the morning darkness and left in the evening darkness. The day after the deadline had passed he put on his jacket for a stroll and as he stepped outside in the sunlight he noticed all the naked trees and the copious amounts of leaves piled along the streets. He missed the fall of 2000.

Not so here. Things take their time and bloom in a slow crescendo, each species hitting their peak in turn. I think the Maluses (apple family) are on their way up right now. The should be hitting a high note soon, and they all smell amazing. over the past few weeks I’ve been taking pictures of the daffodil field behind the flat. Everyday I swear there are more. I finally broke down and decided to make the post and not wait for more flowers. Burr and I have this theory that if I keep taking pictures maybe there will be more flowers indefinitely. Mmmmmmm.

Studio Daffodils