Saturday, October 11, 2008

Life on Mars

We watched the first episode of the American version of 'Life on Mars' last night. This is the TV show about cop who finds himself back in the year 1973 after being hit by a car. The original UK version of the show was on the BBC about two or three years ago; Alan and I watched it avidly before we left the UK. It was really great television, and we were interested to see how the US version would compare. I always wonder why they bother making US versions of perfectly good UK shows so this is a good chance to find out.

For anyone who hasn't seen the show, Here be spoilers!!

Well, the storyline of the episode was almost identical. Even some of the dialogue seemed very familiar. The locations, of course, are different - the UK one is set in Manchester and the US one is in New York. However, Sam wakes up in an industrial wasteland just as he did in the UK.

All the characters have exactly the same names and very similar looks, with the exception of Annie whose surname has changed. It was hard to watch without almost seeing the UK actors on the screen, they were that close. The cops all had the same styles and haircuts, albeit American-ised. As for the actors, the guy playing Sam (Jason O'Mara) doesn't have anything like the same charisma as John Simm. However Gene Hunt is played by Harvey Keitel which is cool.

A lot of the differences stemmed from cultural variations. Different people and places were referenced throughout the episode. Some different language constraints had to be worked around, for example when Sam first walks into his police station, in the UK he asks, "Where's my PC?" to which someone replies, "PC who?". The American Sam asks, "Where's my computer?" and get a reply about the film "2001, A Space Odyssey" instead.

The set dressing looked as elaborate as in the UK series. I was very young in the 1970s but grew up with 1970s British culture, so a lot of the set dressing in the UK series looks familiar. Objects and consumer product packaging, cars, clothing etc is all culturally relevant. I can only assume the US series looks the same to an American child of the 70s. The scene in which Sam goes outside from the record shop into the street and takes in 1973 in all its glory is beautifully realised in both versions. Sam gets a much bigger apartment in New York than in Manchester, though!

This being the first episode, the story deals a lot with setting up the premise for the whole series. The only major plot deviation so far is that Sam actually talks with the very young Colin Raimes at the end of the episode, whereas in the UK he only observes him from a distance.

Looking at the Wikipedia entries for the US and UK series, it implies the plot is going to deviate a little more through the series. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The almighty dollar

And you thought this was going to be a moan about the economic climate, didn't you?


It turns out the USA has had dollar coins kicking around for ages. They pop up every few years and fade away again as far as I can tell.

One recent attempt is the Susan B Anthony coin which was produced in 1979 and 1980, but they were not popular as they looked too much like a quarter. I have one of these coins. It's cool because it has a reference to the Moon landing on the obverse.

Then came the Sacagawea dollar which is golden in colour and features the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clarke on their journey across America. It was issued in 2000 and 2001; although no more have been released for use, they are still around. We have found one from each year.

However, it seems the US Mint wants to save money on replacing all the scrappy dollar bills that leave circulation each year, so it's trying again. This is a new dollar coin:

image courtesy United States Mint

As you can see it is gold in colour and it is a bit larger than a quarter. We encountered some for the first time in Dallas last month as change out of bus ticket machines, and they seem to be in general use in San Francisco.

The one place we have never seen them is here in Austin. So imagine our surprise when, while watching TV, we start to see adverts which show the coin and basically say 'Yes! This is real money, honest!"

So apparently, Austin is one of four cities that have been chosen to pilot a drive to get people to use the coins. You can read about it here or watch a news item here.

The kick this time is that the US Mint are doing a series of dollar coins featuring the US Presidents. They are issuing four designs per year. It's the same thing as they did with the very cool 50 State Quarters programme (which I am collecting) so they are hoping to repeat that popularity and get people collecting and using the shiny new dollars.

I'm just mentioning all this because we were so tickled to see everyone being told that it is a real coin! And I just like coins.

We have been through this once before of course, when the UK switched from paper pound notes to pound coins. There was a suitable amount of outcry at that time; it will be interesting to see if it is repeated here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


A quicky post, while I think about it.

I've noticed in the USA that when you get a bill for something, they love to tell you about all the little fees and extra charges that get tacked on for whatever reasons. In the UK, you just get a bill and it will probably have 'service charges' on which no doubt contains the same kind of stuff, they just don't tell you what it is.

Here, they spell it out.


Car registration. This is somewhat anagalous to road tax in the UK. You pay some money each year for a sticker for your windscreen/shield.
Aside from the cost of the sticker itself, fees include:
Reg fee-DPS
Reflectorization fee
County road bridge add-on fee
Automation fee (large county)
Mail in fee
Service fee

Cable TV/internet service:
County 911 surcharge
FCC Regulatory Fee - Cable
FCC Regulatory Fee - Voice
Federal Universal Service Fund
Public Utility Assessment
Regulatory Recovery Fee
State 911 Equalization Surcharge

Cellphone service:
Regulatory cost recovery charge
Federal Universal Service Charge
Texas Infrastructure Fund Reimbursement
Texas Universal Service
9-1-1 Service Fee
City Special Purpose District Tax

Most of these range in value from $0.02 to $2 so they're not individually expensive but they can add up! Aren't you glad to know where your money goes?