Author Archives: nicloutim

The land of convenience

Unless you live in New York city, you need a car to do most things in America.

Even to get money out…



I’m back…

Hi Folks,

Sorry about the three month hiatus. A few things happened…

  • The two weeks after my last blog post saw me traveling to Texas, Rhode Island, & Massachusetts for work, with short turnarounds in Connecticut between each trip.
  • Then the winter recess started and I was away from campus for 6 weeks in Boston, New York and Colorado.
  • I came back to a new semester, with double the classes and double the work hours I had last semester.  So time spent on blogging is study or work not getting done. 😦
  • I have been here for 6 months now, so I guess things are starting to seem “normal”. Which is a little bit of a worry…

Nevertheless, I will try to put a few more things up as my year here continues. Thanks for your patience.

Graduate Admissions

Winter wisdom… OR… Stuff I didn’t know about the snow

What to expect

The day after a snowstorm is almost always one of stunning blue skies and sunshine.


The quiet of the snowfall is quickly disturbed by the scraping, dumping, reversing, and engines of the snowploughs and snow blowers (think chainsaw-level decibels).

Snow removal


Snow days (ie: campus closed) are indeed every bit as glorious as I imagined them to be.

Unless you are stuck at an airport trying to fly home. Then it sucks big time.

A university-wide announcement that classes are cancelled tomorrow is code for every undergraduate to throw a house party and get drunk.

Text messages

Every day that is cancelled or shortened due to winter weather, public schools have to make up. This means either Saturday morning classes, or staying in school for extra days (or weeks) in May.  Who’s laughing now?

Health and Safety

Fire hydrants all have a long pole attached so that the facilities workers can locate them and dig them out.



It is not advisable to stand underneath the eaves of buildings. Falling snow, sheets of ice, and pointy icicles are all waiting to drop on you.


Parking lots are the most lethally slippery places on earth.

It is common for people to suffer heart attacks when shoveling snow.


 Due to cold air passing beneath them, bridges, raised freeway exits and pedestrian overpasses accumulate more ice and therefore are more dangerous than roads and footpaths at ground level.


 Some tips for driving long-distance in winter I didn’t know include:

  • A brightly colored cloth tied to the antenna or a piece of cloth placed at the top of a rolled up window signals distress
  • You should make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud or else you are susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Parking lot (lack-of-honor) code.

Once you dig your car out of the snow in the campus parking lot, you move your car at own peril.  Incoming drivers will take your spot and then you will have to dig out another one in order to park your car when you get home.

Car park steal


Really cold weather and cool (or stupid) experiments

A polar vortex is one of those rare weather events you should be willing to miss in your lifetime. Trust me on this.

Polar Vortex

When a polar vortex strikes, putting boiling water in a pan and throwing it into the air can create instant snow.   Or to create your own snow gun put boiling water in a super soaker.  (If you click on any links in this post, click on these).

Be warned – this is likely to lead to a trip to the emergency room 

New England’s Superiority

If you can’t distinguish between sleet and freezing rain you reveal yourself as an outsider in New England.

Diagram of sleet and rain

New England mocks the rest of the country for the ways they cope, or rather don’t cope, with minimal amounts of snow or ice. “The city has run out of salt? Ha! What sort of circus are they running down there?”

This map will show you how many inches of snow need to fall in order to cancel classes.

School cancelling snowfall limits

Fun Stuff

Here is a Go Pro video of students sledding on Horsebarn Hill on the side of the university campus mid February.

And here is a photo gallery of gorgeous snowflakes underneath the microscope.

The Most Sacred of Consumer Holy-days: Black Friday

As this was my first Thanksgiving I naively imagined the day after the big meal would be all about sleeping in, and eating leftover turkey sandwiches and /or pumpkin pie while watching made-for-TV holiday movies on CBS.

Silly me.

In fact, the day after Thanksgiving is a distinct consumer holy-day unto itself.  ‘Black Friday’ marks the beginning of the ‘Holiday Shopping Season’ and is supposedly the point at which the budgets of the major retailers will lift from the ‘red’ into the ‘black’ with all the profits.  My “research” tells me that originally the moniker came from the Philadelphia Police Department in the 1950s and 60s which had to patrol the huge crowds and traffic coming to and from shopping malls alongside football traffic. They hoped the negative connotations of the phrase ‘Black Friday’ might discourage too many people from joining in.

No such luck.

In Store Crowds

Trolleys lined up

In fact the whole event is so popular that retailers have given up on the midnight or 5am openings, and instead they are now opening a little earlier.

Macys opening times

But there is hope. Not everyone is blinded by consumer culture. If you object to shopping on a day meant for family and community gatherings, then you can take this pledge.

The silver lining pledge

A beginners’ guide to Black Friday shopping

From what I observed, participation in Black Friday shopping rests on two essential underlying principles.

Firstly,  ensure one is in the mood to jolt oneself out of any sense of peace and goodwill towards others.  Secondly, one must erase all memories of the blessings for which one had expressed gratitude over the Thanksgiving meal just hours before.

Then proceed as follows:

1. Thursday shoppers: Finish Thanksgiving dinner early, or skip it altogether.


Friday shoppers: Set alarm clock for 3am.

2. Pack loved one/s in the car and sit in shopping mall traffic queues.

3. Hunt down a parking spot.

4. Line up outside the doors for hours in below freezing temperatures.

5. Jostle with fellow shoppers and fiercely defend place from ‘line cutters’.

6. Elbow one another out of the way in order to get the 50-inch plasma TV for $299 or Xbox thingamy.


  Discover that the item desperately wanted is all sold out so search for something else you don’t need, then buy it to make the all the bother worthwhile.

7. Line up for hours to pay for your sale goods. Work your way backwards through steps 6 to 1.

Optional step: In some cases you may choose to push, shove, snatch and grab at people and things in order to secure the consumer goods you desire.

George Foreman Grill-Mania 

Unfortunately in 2013 many people chose to exercise the last optional step. You can view some of the ugly scenes as collated by the Huffington Post here.  Be warned it is not pretty.

Postscript: There are a couple of positives I can see out of this phenomenon.

  • ‘Shop local Saturday’ to support small businesses.
  • ‘Cyber Monday’ for online sales. Shop from the comfort of your home instead.
  • You can actually do all your Christmas shopping in the sales, rather than in Australia where the sales start on Boxing Day.

Thanksgiving is coming…

Thanksgiving Snoopy

So far Thanksgiving on campus means…

  • No lectures this week.
  • My residence hall is empty and (blissfully) quiet.
  • Carpark is vacant.
  • Everything is pumpkin flavoured – coffee, ice-cream, cakes, and of course pies.

Very soon, you will find out about the tradition of ‘Black Friday’ which follows hot on the heels of Thanksgiving day. Stay tuned…



Helpful Americans: Bob’s Lesson of the Week

One of the quirks of being an international student is that each Monday I receive a ‘lesson of the week’ email. They come from Bob*, the Director of the International Student Center, and tell me how to live in America. You may be familiar with some of Bob’s earlier wisdom from the ‘Advice for international students’ post, or the ‘They do things differently here’ page. My parents told me from their years of living in USA, that Americans are the most helpful and hospitable nationality of people they have ever met.  I have to agree. And Bob is a charming example of this.

In this post I share with you the titles of Bob’s ‘lessons’ and the salient point/s from each.

 The Yard, Tag and Garage Sales

  • People sell used stuff. You can pick up a bargain, or make some money.

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

  •  Everyone takes holidays in December. Prices go up. Book ahead.

Have you been selected for Jury Duty?

  • International students cannot serve on a jury. This violation of your student visa could bar you from future US citizenship.

The Ice Missile Law

  • You are legally obliged to remove snow from your car before driving it. This is dangerous.

What does RSVP mean?

  • It is common courtesy to respond to an invitation that requests an “RSVP”.  Failure to do so reflects poorly on you and may cause undue stress and problems for the host /hostess who cannot adequately plan for the event.


  • Traditionally it is time to celebrate the end of a bountiful harvest season. Typically, one should buy, distribute and eat candy.

Grocery Saving Tips

  • Coupons are an invitation to save money. Buy a folder and file your coupon clippings by categories to save time at the checkout.


(this had two sub-categories – daylight savings, and punctuality)

  • Turn your clocks back on Saturday 2nd November. Also known as ‘Fall back’.
  • Americans place particular value on promptness and punctuality.
  • Direct from the horses’s mouth: ‘Time is a very important commodity in our culture.  Think of “time” as money, where we try to “save” and “spend”.’

Now, where would I be without Bob’s lessons? I’m glad you asked.

Firstly, after receiving a $120 fine for driving to class with a snow-filled car bonnet, and having not ‘fallen back,’ I would be an hour early to my lectures, wearing something I bought new at a store instead of second hand at a yard sale. I would have missed the chance to eat lots of candy at the end of October, and I would have upset my friends by not bothering to RSVP to their Halloween party. I may have served on a jury and convicted a felon only to have the decision overturned on a technicality (Australian student clause), and later had my green card application rejected. Finally, I would be stuck on campus over the Thanksgiving break because I hadn’t thought to book a plane ticket.

Actually, that last one is true.

*Bob’s name has not been changed.