Tim Hatch

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Fire Update 05 Jul, 2007

They haven't let us back home yet, but the major progress of the fire appears to be on the west side now and some other neighborhoods are being let back in.

View from the Lutheran Church on Fairview

I can see these plumes from where I’m staying now, and they would be visible from my street as well. I think they’re around 34.487403, -119.903975 and have been quite dramatic at sunset the last couple of days.

Back in the U.S. 19 Jul, 2007

I’m now back in the U.S. and after a short detour once again on central time. I will not voluntarily arrive internationally to O’Hare again. That was the single worst airport experience I’ve had so far. I saw a neat feature of Chicago that I haven’t been able to locate on Google Maps – apparently there’s a quarry or something that ended up being surrounded by town so they just fenced off what is about a 20-story sheer cliff. It’s within five miles or so of O’Hare and looks like it holds water.

Lessons learned in Germany:

  • Do not assume that eggs will be hard-boiled. Chances are they will be soft-boiled and you will make a mess when you attempt to de-shell them the wrong way.
  • Shops will close earlier than you want them to.
  • They still have a Woolworth’s.
  • People will go into a castle and ask for “Two trivets, the shot glass that looks like a beer stein, and that T-Shirt that won’t fit me anyway” at the gift shop.
  • There are more than 5 ways to denote right-of-way but I do not know precisely how many. After seeing the street signs for long enough they finally started to make sense (and they’re just like the Lego/Playmobil ones that I never knew what they meant).
  • There is a town called Alf. I’ve been there.
  • Italian food that sounds like it’s just pasta and sauce may actually come with tiny octopus tentacles. A bonus!

Germany, July 15-16 16 Jul, 2007

We went on a big road trip along the Rhine/Mosel rivers to see the castles and other sights. I’m all castled out now, there were so many! Lots of driving around, some panoramas, and a good bit of sleep later we set out the next day on the way back to see Cologne and the cathedrial there which was neat, although a little graffify.

There was a little castle in the middle of the Rhine called Pfalzgrafenstein which we were able to take a ferry over to and tour. Yay spiral staircases. Gabi has a couple of panoramas from here.

Along the Mosel there were lots of vineyards with some sort of lift on them to transport grapes and they look perhaps big enough for people. I’d be a little wary though, with the track that small.

Germany, July 13-14 14 Jul, 2007

I’m posting this after the fact so I’ll be a bit brief so I can get through it all!

I’m amused by the signage in Germany. At one tunnel near the airport there are signs that are quite minimalist: “Light!” “Light?” when you come out.

We went to go see a couple of castles and the views of the little towns around which were cool. Apparently the castles are everywhere and in various states of destruction. Many more are on the docket.

Frankfurt has lots of banks, and only one skyscraper you can go up. Kinderpreis once again for having my ISIC card!

The reconstructed Paluskirche was kind of interesting but not really churchy. We went on the Apple Wine Express which was a cable car that serves snacks and oompa-loompa type music.

Then we rode the trains around a bit and went to Sachsenhausen in Frankfurt. Apparently a good place to bar crawl, but not a place to be if “rowdy” isn’t your thing.

Leaving Vilnius 12 Jul, 2007

A photo from today’s lunch: LarstiQ, Gustavo, and Robert.

Before I left Vilnius, I ran across a few things. First, I finally deciphered the hours on shops. After being trained with enough signs that had uniqueness on the weekends I figured out that the roman numerals for days start with Monday. Now it all makes sense.

Mailing a postcard was also a bit of fun. I discovered that post boxes are yellow there and you can buy stamps from any of the kiosks that exist about every two blocks on the main roads. However you can mail things only in the yellow boxes, which the locals could only tell me where one was (the central post office on Gedimino Ave). The first guy told me it was about 200m, so I walked it with my suitcases. 200m later, no post office. Asked some tourists, they said there was one somewhere they saw, but weren’t directly helpful. Asked a delivery man who explained that it was actually about another 600m, so I trudged along with my suitcases in tow to go mail a postcard. I have a panorama from near that area that I’ll eventually get done and edit this post with the link.

The last day’s lunch was going to be at a sushi place but they were full (!) and the group I was with decided to go to a pizza place instead. They had Hawaiian pizza with peaches and we had a bit of a time trying to decipher the bill in Lithuanian.

The airport was cute. There were about 16 ticket counters total, and two of them were taken up for an MD80-sized plane. I found out while waiting at the gate that one of the other conference-goers had been a little drunk after the free Google beer and got mugged on the way back to his hotel. They got his cellphone, too. That’s the one casualty I heard – even though my hotel was about a block away from something that looks like a prison, the area felt really safe on the main streets and it’s a place I’d go visit again (but with some sort of transportation, so I could go visit the Soviet theme park/pub outside the city I was told about).

Lightning Talk Photo 17 Jul, 2007

Duncan also took a good photo of me giving my lightning talk. Check it out, he's got a lot of neat ones of the general nerdity surrounding the Europython conference.

Reddit on PyBraces 12 Jul, 2007

It seems that my pybraces hack got added to reddit. Here’s what my traffic looked shortly thereafter:

Traffic graph

Europython Sprints 12 Jul, 2007

I attempted to sprint for a bit with the b-zed-r (they’ve got me saying it, and it actually rolls off the tongue better) folks, but it was cut short first by my sightseeing, then by the Lunch That Would Not End. I learned that it’s okay for Hawaiian pizza to come with peaches (!?) here. I’m trying to take a look at the internals of Bazaar and see if it will suffice for the way I want to be able to use a DVCS, so I’m developing a couple of plugins first. Didn’t get anywhere on that, but did learn how http pulls work (it’s quite neat). When you do a bzr pull http://example.com/path, it first does a post request for /path/.bzr/smartserver to see if it can talk to its own streaming server which saves a lot of time. Lacking that, it’ll check for read-only access to some other files under .bzr there which contain the branch information it could use to pull. So basically any request that has .bzr in it, you know is the client. Also I’m told (but haven’t verified) that it will walk up toward the root if it doesn’t find a .bzr at the url you’ve given. All this would make it easy to set up rewrite rules in a Trac server to actually let browser urls be something you could use in the client! Woohoo. Future post in the works.

The plugin I’m really interested in writing is a smart blame that can not reassign ownership of lines when they’re only modified for whitespace or other such minor things. That’s one thing I hate about all VCSes right now, it’s not possible to say “I’m just fixing the indention, this is minor” so whenever you do that you get ownership of the entire file! This will be interesting due to the dual-parentage that bzr revisions can have.

Sightseeing in Vilnius 12 Jul, 2007

I trekked around quite a bit in the morning when I could leave my suitcases at the hotel, which ended up being a bit longer distance than I thought. The plus side is that I have actual muscles now for walking, the downside being that they all hurt.

The tourist information center had some neat maps to buy so when I asked for one (after conversing with the clerk in English) she handed me the Japanese one. I politely declined, so she went ruffling through… Italian, Swedish, German… no English. I took the German one because I can at least read it decently and upon further inspection (on the plane ride back) it’s quite badly written.

I saw the cathedrial, which is at the eastern end of Gedimino Ave. Neat, but a little touristy. Then there’s the statue of a dude and a horse, I presume the same one that’s on the back of all their money. I haven’t had that explained to me yet, perhaps it’s on their website.

The castle was next, and of course I didn’t notice the lift on the way up, but made use of it on the way down (0.5 litas, or around $0.20, for students).

Photos are up but in a seemingly random order.

They have people out sweeping the streets and sidewalks with wisk brooms, I’ve seen several around now.

Europython, Day Three 11 Jul, 2007

Spent the evening at Sue’s Indian restaurant with some of the PyPy and Bazaar groups. Somehow the topic kept getting back to testing which Robert Collins was more than happy to disuss as long as people would egg him on. The PyPy test suite currently takes a week to run the full thing. I remember LarstiQ and Steven Alexander, and I think Michael also being there, but it’s kind of a blur due to lack of sleep. Note to self, don’t mention anything about graph theory around Robert unless you’ve got half an hour to debate it.

Canonical has hired some really smart people, and I think Bazaar might actually have a chance (being yet another DVCS). I’ll look more into it at the sprint tomorrow after I go sightseeing.

If you want water without carbonation, it seems you generally need to get Evian, which costs more than a Coke (1.25LTL vs 1LTL, for a .25 liter which is tiny).

Photos from today and yesterday are up.

PyBraces 11 Jul, 2007

Here's a pointer to the pybraces lightning talk which I'm about to give in a few minutes.

I'm aware of the unicode glyph issue on posts from earlier this month, and will be fixing it in a bit.

If you need to contact me for any other reason than I serve latin-1 as utf-8, email code@timhatch.com. Enjoy!

Europython, Day Two 10 Jul, 2007

I almost missed Chris’ talk on Genshi but managed to run and get there on time. Note to self, the Ratonda Centrum is a little far away from the Reval.

At the conference dinner, I finished half of something before thinking too much about what it was. At first I thought it was something made with eggs, but after a while I decided it must have been something I didn’t want to eat. Take a look for yourself and decide.

It’s light out till around 11pm so I went walking and took some more pictures. Across the river is kind of an upper-middle-class area with some neat houses.

Traffic signals 10 Jul, 2007

Today’s talks include Jono’s on Enso (not spelled with a z, he’d get offended) and a tex/python one which had about 40 people in a small, hot room who all knew tex and were kind of argumentative. I am too, when it comes to tex and using it in ways it’s not designed to be. One guy made a really good point when it comes to putting math in html: namely, use display math so it doesn’t mess things up, rather than trying to fix the way it’s inlined.

The traffic lights here have a couple of extra steps in their cycle, which I will attempt to document based on the way people actually use them:

You can go, and if you’re turning look for explicit yield signs or yellow diamonds.
Green flashing
Hurry it up!
The light’s about to change, so don’t start into the intersection
Stop. Don’t even turn right on red.
Red and yellow at the same time
Get in gear, let off the clutch, because you may as well start making your way into the intersection.

Nobody here runs the lights or even starts entering the intersection when it’s about to turn red, I’m guessing because of the other people who are already starting when their light turns red-yellow. I’ve only seen one police car the entire time here, so I wonder if they’re unmarked or if traffic control is simply handled by the volume of cars that would hit you if you broke the rules.

Woohoo finally unicode in Python on OSX 10 Jul, 2007

I finally located the right settings to use to make sys.stdout.encoding be something Unicode capable on OSX terminal. I had previously been using LANG=en_US.utf8 which works on Linux but the locales are called differently on OS-X. What you need to do, though pay special attention to the section on ^H (you have to use Ctrl-V to enter it even in the echo version).

New projects 09 Jul, 2007

I put a couple of new projects up while here at the conference (one because I needed something distributable in order to demo wiki blames in Trac).

  • PyAnnotate for doing blame/praise on text-based data
  • PyImagesize for getting image dimensions in a handful of formats relatively quickly
  • Cherrypick for picking apart a diff that contains multiple distinct sets of changes (very early version)

Enjoy, and let me know of any issues using them. code@timhatch.com. Watch the individual pages for further information on updates, especially to Cherrypick which needs a few changes right off the bat to be more useful.

Stop Sign 09 Jul, 2007

Okay, I finally found a stop sign... but it’s white and horizontal, and I believe aimed at pedestrians, not cars.

Europython, Evening of Day One 09 Jul, 2007

A church in Vilnius

Simon Willison’s talk on OpenID was pretty well done if you haven’t seen video of his previous talks (they all have pretty much the same content). Half the room had used OpenID and about three of them still do to this day. I didn’t even remember that AOL had done those for AIM accounts. I guess that makes me a user.

After Simon’s talk Guido announced that we’d all get free beer on Google’s tab tonight at a pub called Cili (natives were saying it chili) where they would have room for a hundred. Of course the Guido room (full of shields, axes, and other “D&D paraphanelia” according to one of the other attendees) filled up quickly, so Trac was relegated to one of the overflow tables. But on the plus side we got to sit with some very interesting people — a Vilnius resident, one guy (whose name escapes me) from Chicago, a dude from Ukraine and another from Serbia. All had (in some capacity) used Trac, even the guy whose boss makes him use Bugzilla.

The guy from Vilnius (I’m a bit awful with names, and forgot to carry a pen with me) helped us pick traditional foods, so I had the beet soup with some sort of water chestnuts (maybe just potato balls?). Very delicious.

I left a bit early and managed to find a Guido on the way back, somewhat errant and curious whether he was headed the correct way back (it’s a 30 minute walk back to the conference hotel). We chatted about various topics, including “Is Trac produced commercially?” to which the answer was a pretty resounding “no” given that we’d just discussed it earlier over dinner. “I’d use the churches as landmarks if only they didn’t all look the same” (his words) pretty much sum up the landmark situation here. There are at least three big ones I’ve seen (plus the one with the choir which I have yet to look for) and unless you can see down to the doors they all pretty much look the same.

I finally figured out that the street signs are on the buildings themselves, that saved me a bit of trouble getting around. I’ve been told that there’s a theme park somewhere outside of town where all the Soviet statues ended up, with a soviet-themed bar and everything.

I already mentioned this in the previous post, but today’s photos are up in the photos section.

Europython, Morning of Day One 09 Jul, 2007

A building in Vilnius The continental breakfast provided by the hotel was pretty good, with: fruit, yogurt of some sort, three different kinds of m sli, apple juice, orange juice, “fruit juice,” water with carbonation, water without carbonation, milk, and something whose translation was not intelligible (probably cream?). (take a breath.) Rye bread, cheese, something I’m pretending was cheese because I ate some but might have been liver, sausages and crepes.

I finally broke down and kept count of paces to estimate the distance from my hotel to the conference one. It’s about 250 paces down Gedimino, then another 1200 paces to the door of the reval over a neat pedestrian bridge. The bridge happens to have another Mambo Pizza under with an open-air eating area on top.

I’m still surprised (thought I should be used to it by now) all the open-air eating to be found both here and in Germany. Right now the temperatures have ranged from “comfortable” to “comfortable, if only it wasn’t windy” but nothing warranting carrying a jacket or umbrella.

Today’s talks started out a little shaky with the first speaker in the big ballroom being lost (misplaced?) right before his talk. Someone (I presume the room chair) announced that it should be considered free time till the next one, so we can write yet another Python web framework, grab some coffee, or check our email. He’s right, there are way too many frameworks right now.

Trac shirts are a bit hit. Several are going to be door prizes in a couple of days and I’ve been randomly giving them out when people ask what it takes to be in the “Trac club.” (jonas, cmlenz and I were all sporting them after lunch).

For somewhat different reasons than PyCon, the Internet is a bit intermittent. There are two wireless networks set up — one for the hotel and one just for Europython. But both apparently go through the same Internet connection (I looked up the ip block, it’s registered to the hotel and has no reverse-dns information). Latency ranges from 150ms up beyond 2500ms, and the main hotel one just likes to drop people randomly to the point that OpenVPN is unusuable and ssh is only with screen running on the other end. It makes me glad that the internet back at my hotel is 200ms latency all to myself.

Most of the talks I’ve been interested in so far were in room Zeta and one of the really outstanding ones was by David of MySQL. He introduced a concept I’d kind of unintentionally used but didn’t know there was a name for it — “horizontal splitting.” The core values were basically to “keep hot data separate,” namely stuff like username/passhash and maybe givenname in one table that you’ll be able to index as you please, then put all your big data (that you won’t really do lots of lookups based on) in another table and reference it by primary key. If he’s around tomorrow I’ll bug him about my pathalogical tree problem.

Today’s photos (if you haven’t noticed the links already) are up in the photos section.

The Power Situation 09 Jul, 2007

In my little efficiency room there was at first no light. None of the plugs worked either (fact: European style, with the ground nub). Even in the bathroom. About 10 minutes of pushing buttons later, I noticed a little orange light on next to the entrance door… with… oh! a card slot in the top. Insert room key, hey this is kind of neat. The electricity is only on when I’m in the room now, and there’s a handy place for me to remember my key with when I leave.

The great part is when I leave the electricity goes off. The bad part is when I leave the electricity goes off, which includes anything I had charging. Oh, and they do have high-speed internet (a half-T1 methinks) but it’s being transmitted via wi-fi from the front lobby and I’m in the back of the second floor so it doesn’t reach. And there aren’t any plugs near the second floor lobby, so I pretty much have to spend 1+ hour in my room charging, then I get 2 hours of Internet back by the lobbies.

The connection is also occasionally flaky, I’ve had rsync die on me twice and OpenVPN once during the 30 minutes I was playing with it.

I went back to my room and wanted to charge my phone (which still doesn’t work, just like in Germany… the T509 as-is doesn’t seem to be able to negotiate with European towers, even though I got 4 bars of signal back in Germany, 2 bars here) at the same time as using my laptop. So I switched the interchangeable end on my Mac’s charger back to U.S., plugged it into the power strip I brought and put on that an adapter so it’d fit the wall. Both devices I had on the strip can work with 240v so I figured it’d not be that big a deal.

Ha! Pop, fizzle. Lights go out. No it’s not just the keycard, I checked that.

Talk to the front desk. “You broke what?! Oh, electricity. We’ll fix it, go back to your room.” The power strip’s circuit breaker fried quite nicely under the higher voltage (note to self: this only works the other way, with European strips on U.S. voltage).

Dude comes up, tries his master keycard and we notice that with the door open we hear something at the other end of the hall going “click” whenever we toggle it. This is the circuit breaker panel, we find out, which has no lock on it whatsoever. His solution is to turn every breaker off and then back on again, nevermind that they’re clearly labeled by room number. Still no worky.

Flip everything off including the sub-main, back on. Yay. Hope my neighbors don’t know it’s me that ruined their tv movie.

And my laptop charger still works, yay! So I can do my laptop + one other device. (before coming, I verified that my camera charger, cell charger [used in place of a watch], laptop, and Netgear WRT54GC can all operate on 240V)

Dinner 08 Jul, 2007

I fought The Kiosk again and it suggested a restaurant nearby for me to eat – old fashioned English pub atmosphere, restaurant, bar, inside a gentlemen’s club. No thank you, I’ll go walking around, I thought.

I traveled about another 4km in search of dinner and got a few pictures. They have a McDonald’s with prices on the items I recognized about on par with at home ($2.50 for a Big Mac or Filet o Fish). It’s open till midnight on days I through VII, apparently days are numbered using roman numerals here. I fought with that a little on the first couple of restaurants here, because the days weren’t recognizable on the sign and there were a lot of loitering smokers so I didn’t want to stay there to decipher using my rudimentary Latin knowledge.

The language sounds like Russian being spoken with a French accent to me. There’s the familiar [zh] sound from Russian, and the word endings seem to follow what I remember of the common ones in Russian. But the vowels are all just a little bit different, and the script is most certainly not cyrillic. Anyway, I digress.

Yes indeed, after seeing a governmental building (oh this is worth digressing again)… The building apparently houses the census offices. They have a window decal to show how high-tech they are, and some girl in a photo turned-to-decal has how-to books on PHP4 and Photoshop 7 in front of her. Back to the story. The governmental building had their hours posted with the roman numerals color coded and I found out that Monday begins their week with I.

Anyway, finally settled on a place called Mondo Pizza because they were open 11-24h and it was already 22:15 so most places were closed (the bars [none of which feature techno!] and McDonald’s being my other choices, even the hotel restaurant was closed). One of the waitresses came up to me and asked something in Lithuanian. It was said with about the tonality of “How many?” so I (figuring with all the German-speakers at the hotel that they’d also be good at it here) answered in German, “N r eins.” She motioned me into the back room, which had a large group and some empty tables in it, then walked away. I sat down at one of the tables, looked for a menu, and finding none went back to go explain (in English, I figured, since German got me nowhere) that I was not with the group. I’m still trying to figure out if she spoke German and the conversation somehow made sense in her head, what she could have been asking.

But now I was in “ignore” mode since she thought I was with the group, and no amount of loitering or “ummm”ing could change that. I flagged down another waitress who had very good English and asked her for one of the pizzas (mmm shrimp, on a pizza) and a coke, to go. Sorry, another digression. I had one of those “do I drink the water” moments and ordered a coke, breaking my 8-or-so weeks of no caffeine. But the coke was wonderful, it was made with sugar instead of corn syrup. 3.49LTL for a quarter liter, with ingredients that I can’t really read. Paid with my 100LTL and she sighed and got change, needing to get another waitress to break it. Hmm, so maybe 100’s aren’t so spendable after all. It was about 20.70 for the meal and yes, she got a big tip for putting up with me.

Finding the Hotel 08 Jul, 2007

I decided to leave on foot, due to some half-thought-through reasons including getting to know what streets went where. I think actually the reason was I didn’t want another cab ride like the previous one. I knew the general compass direction I needed to go in, and had a set of cross streets from the hotel’s website. In the process of avoiding some construction that had the sidewalk turned into a puddle of gray mud, I got on a side street which never met back… and started getting really industrial. This area would be good for filming some scenes in a horror movie, lots of long shadows and cul de sacs. One this side street stopped featuring ramps at intersections, I got frustrated. Three dead-end parking lots later, I turned around and headed back, only to find a way out through an apartment driveway that turned into some government building that then met up with some other street (which incidentally has a restaurant with a yellow submarine).

At this point I’d been dragging two suitcases and another bag probably 2km and I decided it was time to ask someone. A guy smoking outside an Asian food place (ReTai or something like that) at first didn’t know the hotel, but after I mispronouced (I did the best I could!) the street name, he said “Oh, it’s that one over there.” It turns out that the street was one that the cab driver had pointed out earlier, and I was less than a block away from that.

The hotel is on Gedimino Ave. which used to be the old main drag. Now the Reval hotel on the river is moreso in the middle, according to the cab driver. Gedimino is under heavy construction as I think they’re trying to bring more tourists to the area. And in fact, if the cab driver had taken a different route I might think that the whole city is kind of classy. But there are a lot of bad areas just a block or two off the nice streets that are modern, with traffic lights and curb ramps.

I have an efficiency room in the Reval for 59EUR/night with a student discount. Prices in Europe are all apparently inclusive of tax, so I’m happy with the price, and it’s not too far away.

The hotel is full of German-speakers too, which I thought was kind of funny. The staff speaks pretty good German and English, I’ve heard both.

They say it’s a four-star hotel, but I am beginning to think that the star ratings mean something different over here.

Vilnius, Day One 08 Jul, 2007

A side note is that it always seems better to tell people the city where you’re going, rather than the town. For some reason the country names get translated into the local language, but city names (for the most part) don’t. München being the big counterexample.

Everyone I spoke to in Germany gave me a funny look about Lithuania, because it’s Leutva to them, but instantly understood Vilnius (even though it was the opposite for me).

First reaction: neato! I’m in Vilnius, and the stamps on my passport now number 3!

Second reaction: the airport is tiny.

Ok, so some facts, in the order in which I discovered them. The currency is Litas, which are worth about 3.5LTL per USD. So when the ATM decides to give you 100-LTL bills don’t freak out — they’re perfectly spendable. There are something like 4 ATMs in the lobby of the airport, which, I might note, has a working jetway unlike Frankfurt International (evil stare in the direction of the Frankfurt airport, you didn’t impress me after that last incident). The “city information” kiosk at the airport (and my hotel, but I found out that later) lets you switch languages before pressing the type icons (hotels, transportation, eating)… but that language selection commonly gets lost and switches back to Lithuanian when visiting a page or even going back. Part of it is a custom Windows app, part is webpages. Let’s review one such interaction I had with it (after cmlenz gave up, saying “it’s broken.”):

  • Choose “English.” Expected: icon captions change to English. Success.
  • Choose “Bus.” Expected: timetables. Got: a map. What?
  • Figure out that the bottom of the map has a little symbol of a bus. Not where you are now, of course, and not any place you know of being particularly bus-sy.
  • Choose this little bus icon. Expected: timetables. Got: a webpage in Lithuanian, looks like a brouchure-put-on-the-web.
  • Aha! Up in the corner there’s some gray text in a script font that might say “English” if your imagination. Choose it.
  • Now you have the brochure site in English, whoop-de-doo. Oh, there’s a link for timetables! Yeah.
  • Choose the link for timetables. Expected: timetables. This is seriously not funny anymore. Got: a scrolling page with timetables on it all right, but in Lithuanian.
  • Notice that there is a third link for English, in a new location just for this page. Choose it. Expected: timetables in English. Got: timetables in English… on a scrolling page, which you can’t scroll because the calibration is off on the monitor!
  • Just give up.

People drive on the right side of the road, with the signs looking much like those in Germany. With the absence of a “STOP” sign, I haven’t seen one yet after about 4 hours of walking about.

I rode with cmlenz in a taxi over to the Reval hotel, which totaled 53LTL for one of the wildest rides I’ve ever been on. It turns out that the airport seems to be out past the “bad side” of town, so you have to go past a lot of really ramshackle brick buildings to get here. Traffic lights are not too common on that side of town, so there were a lot of intersections where the right-of-way is just clearly marked. Our speed was either 80kph or 0, there wasn’t anything really in between. The guy was a little scary but pretty awesome at going faster than I thought possible on streets this slick (oh did I mention it’s dreary and lightly raining). Yellow Submarine formed the soundtrack to our ride.

Flying Lufthansa 08 Jul, 2007

I don’t know how I manage to pick these unpopular flights. I flew last month to Corpus Christi from DFW and my gate was (I think) B28 (the last one). B. The second half of the last gate in the terminal, which was, needless to say, a tiny plane. That flight got me started thinking about the costs behind running and airline, which for that flight (7 people, I paid $90+taxes for my ticket) could not have been cost-effective. But a 767 full of ~250 people having each paid $600 crossing the Atlantic probably would be.

I’m also electing myself in charge of rating these airports, through no prompting whatsoever. I just find that when you’re waiting for an hour or two at the terminal that you start developing an opinion whether you want to or not. Now that I’ve left from Frankfurt International, I appreciate the professionalism of the airport staff. They screen carry-on baggage well. Twice. The rivets in my jeans necessitated use of a hand-wand. Twice. And for some reason, that level of security doesn’t make me the least bit ticked off, because I feel that they’re doing a good job of it rather than the cursory glance that I get in the U.S. They were also very tolerating of my incomplete grasp of the German language. FRA has no power outlets that I can see, and no wifi (so it’s not terribly laptop friendly) but the chairs are comfortable enough, the personnel are friendly, and overall I give them an A+ on departures even with the lack of laptop facilities. Don’t ask for my rating on arrivals.A B- on departures, they didn’t tell me my carryon was too big until the gate, and we stayed on the tarmac for 25 minutes before leaving. I was able to speak with the steward(esses) in German which made me feel special compared to the random Polish guy on one side and a girl with British English (I think) on the right who both obviously ordered their drinks in English.

Speaking of orders, the sandwiches served on a one-hour flight put even the pay-for boxed meals on U.S. airlines to shame. We got our choice of turkey, ham, or cheese (what about vegans?) which each came with a twix bar. Or I should say one half of a twix bar. Fun size. Isn’t that like having half a hole? Shouldn’t it be called a unox or something?

Waiting in the airport terminal I heard “Da schauen!” shouted, but when I turned it was a two-year-old who wanted to see something her mother had, not security personnel.

Traffic Signs 08 Jul, 2007

One thing I learned today was that red cirles around things mean “forbidden” while caution stripes in an X mean “no it’s not.” It bothered me seeing a truck in a circle thinking trucks were OK given that the speed limits are also in red circles (“70” in a circle, for example). I finally made the connection that these are maximums, although there seems to be what I’d call an off-by-one error in the case of speeds. (70kph is allowed, but no higher – so why not allow trucks, but no higher?)

Blue round signs with a red X seem to prohibit parking in the direction of arrows in the blue quadrants (up being left?), which makes sense up until you see one with no arrows. Does that mean “reset”?

There are also a large number of roundabouts on the roads around Frankfurt. I’m used to seeing (primarily) clover-leaves and level crossings on our roads in the U.S. but here it seems to be a 3-sided roundabout on each side of the bigger highway.

I can’t remember where I saw the reference first, that roundabouts with less signage decrease accidents, but I’d believe it after dealing with some. In general Germany seems pedestrian-friendly and road-rageless, so yielding to people or cars is natural (especially at slower speeds).

A Day in Römer 08 Jul, 2007

The first thing you’ll notice about Europe if you’re a typography nerd like me is that everything will be labled in Helvetica derivatives. And I mean everything. Though the highway signs in Germany have a little curl to the tips of the letters (like in Lucida Sans) but even then, that’s pretty much a Helvetica dervitave.

The second thing you’ll notice is that fully half of all furniture (even the stuff people are throwing out on the curb) appears to be from IKEA. Even the grocery store shelves (metal) and displays (birch) look like they were purchased there. They had a neat 3-D bag of groceries as their street sign, but I forgot to take a picture of it.

Today we trekked to part of Frankfurt (not the center, the Römer area) and walked around a lot (probably 3-4km) in the pedestrian-friendly areas around there. They don’t allow cars so it can act as an open-air market, where you can buy crystal, stuffed animals, knick-nacs or normal flea market items. Oh and there was a higher-than-imagined number of vagrants. More observation is necessary to get an accurate count, but there were probably a dozen obvious ones during our trek, which is more than I’ve seen in longer treks around (crowded, like this) areas of Dallas, Fort Worth, or D.C.

I also saw several huge churches with intricately-carved steeples and about twelve Japanese tourists taking photos of themselves in front of each. Interestingly enough, there seems to be quite a bit of graffiti in both Frankfurt and Darmstadt (not so much in Mörfelden-Walldorf), and it all seems… I don’t know, tastefully-done. In the U.S. I’m used to seeing things simply tagged with spray-paint. (Denton seems to be overrun by “DK” at the moment… Donkey Kong?) Here it seems to be more messages (“Leben für Alles” I’ve seen a couple of times now, along with various anti-American sentiments).

Then there’s me walking through the middle of all this. I feel slightly less tacky than the other tourists because I have a guide who suggested this location, but I’m still a tourist on the inside, especially as long as I don’t have the guts to try to speak German. Three years learning it in school doesn’t prepare you for actually speaking it (though it does for listening, I’m able to understand a lot, as long as it’s not in the “I’m reading this off a card” accent the American Airlines stewardess had).

Update: Photos are up.

First day near Frankfurt 07 Jul, 2007

Arrived at Frankfurt International Airport after oh, around two hours of sleep overnight. Not a lot of fun. I’m also now pondering whether plane chairs are uncomfortable on purpose, or just due to lack of forethought. I made myself dizzy with one of those “eyeballs hurt”-style headaches reading Microserfs on the last leg so I was kind of miserable.

Arrived without incident, and has to ask three separate people what the procedure was for customs and whatnot. Found out that exit doors are labled with green signs that have a white square, while the “nothing to declare” line at customs is a white sign with a green square. Major cause of confusion. My passport now has something in it, yay!

Smoking is apparently allowed in designated areas at the airport here, which are right in the middle of areas that you have to walk through. I suppose that’s one thing that DFW has over Frankfurt. However the parking situation is way better here, with ramps, escalators, and mostly level ground between point A and point B. The scale of the parking garage at Frankfurt is immense, yet navigatable.

There were basically five places I could see from the air (we looped around Frankfurt proper to land the other way): Downtown Frankfurt, IKEA, some sort of cooling tower (I’m told it’s a coal power plant), and some residential buildings that make you wonder “where do they park the cars?!” It turns out that my hosts are near the carpark situation and it is a real problem.

Went to see BergBurg Frankenstein (that is, the castle, not the hill) and take some panoramas. It’s supposedly a tourist trap that all Castle-loving Americans have to go visit but seemed okay for a historical site with a restaurant.

Photos are up at my gallery. Tomorrow I fly off to Vilnius.

In Chicago 06 Jul, 2007

I’m in Chicago now. Well, O’Hare, which I consider to be Chicago. The ride over was relatively uneventful, though the announcer apparently thought he was hot stuff making jokes like “Any carry-ons left behind will be split evenly among the crew.” I really like people-watching, and I’m surprised at the unwritten code people have when you’re going to be sitting next to each other for two hours. Say nothing. Do not make conversation. I won’t say anything, if you promise to not hate me for the rest of the flight.

Some dude flew out of DFW with a big cowboy hat, I think forgetting that he’d have to wear it the entire flight. The woman next to me made a point of wringing her hands the entire time, apparently oblivious to the extra oxygen that I’m convinced they pump into the cabin to quell such anxiety. Eerily quiet is the only way I could describe it. I wonder if when I’ve gone on shorter flights there was a higher rate of families flying, where it’s more individuals on longer ones.

I’m originally from Kansas and honestly, seeing the houses here feels like childhood. They’re actually more than one story and in different colors. I saw two football fields, a few soccer fields, and several dozen baseball diamonds (in various states of chalk). I suppose baseball is a lot more popular up here.

I started thinking of some random items like whether the semi-weightless feeling you get when the plane angles down is linear, as in “would moon-norm beings think it was a steeper dive, more weightless?” I don’t even know whether my question makes sense, but still. Planes give me a lot of time to ponder.

Also moustaches: 5. Clean-shaven: n-6. Van Dyke: 1 (me). Interesting to note. I haven’t seen a single other person with a beard (goatee or not) here.

O’Hare feels like a mall that happens to have planes leaving off one side of it (at least in Terminal H). Although there are more power outlets here, with some designated “laptop areas” that have two duplex outlets per seat, quite nice. Wireless is, as expected, pay ($6.95) but provides some warning against joining rogue SSID’s, which I thought was funny. The design is a lot less straightforward than DFW here, with lots of angles that keep you from seeing exactly how big the terminals are (like a mall, unlike DFW).


I like the pretty planes at O’Hare. More interesting than American/Southwest like I’m used to at DFW. I think American is still in their "shiny" phase, never really outgrew it. Virgin Atlantic’s is snazzy while understated. I saw one plane from India Air that was downright huge.

I brought with Microserfs borrowed from Miku and this book is strangely familiar. Of course I played with Legos. Of course I want to be insulated from managerial politics.

Thank goodness I found someone who’s more of a hipster than I am. I was worried that there weren’t any in Chicago for a moment. All I brought with was my Mac but that along with a decent haircut seemed to make me stand out.

Saw one guy with a little beard. And about two dozen moustache-only. They’re still winning.

There’s a recording playing about how you can mail all your “Hazardous liquids and gels” using the US Postal Service. Uhum? If they’re too hazardous to fly with, we can mail them now? I find that somewhat amusing.

Leaving on a Jet Plane 06 Jul, 2007

I head off today on a couple of weeks vacation in Germany and Lithuania, for Europython. I hope to meet a couple of the other Trac programmers there as well as chill out some without deadlines!

After Lithuania I'm coming back by Frankfurt to visit some fellow WWP participants and see the sights. I'll be posting lots of pictures!

Sunset Near Chemistry 04 Jul, 2007

I went out during the editing session at the Daily last night and saw this near sunset down Mulberry St. I took an HDR but honestly this one is pretty cool too.