Golden Gate Bridge

Yesterday was another shitty day weather wise. I amused myself by visiting the De Young museum and the Legion of Honor museum (both of which are very much worth a visit) using just one ticket from my city pass. After that the weather seemed to clear up and I headed for the Golden Gate bridge.

Me and GG BridgeGolden Gate

Storm of the decade

The weather is more than a little disappointing. The San Francisco Chronicle was labeling yesterday’s storm as the storm of the decade. In case you are wondering, jet lags are funny and I’ve been reading the hotel paper since 5.30 am when it was delivered. The only news in the world seems to be Britney + Ohio primaries, at least according to this waste of dead trees. CNN seems to concur, alternating their non stop coverage between the two non issues.

Of course that kind of qualifications in a US news paper always need to be taken with a grain of salt but it sure was no fun walking in San Francisco yesterday morning. To see what the (predicted) 30 feet (10 meter) waves look like, I took the N-line to the Ocean Beach end point and stared at the ferocious mix of horizontal flying sand + rain and the predictably rather wild but not so high waves breaking for about 30 seconds before deciding that getting soaked like this was probably not a good idea. The rest of the day I did the Moma (great!) and in the afternoon I took the cable car to Fisherman’s Wharf when the weather had cleared up somewhat. Today I’m planning to do the de young museum and then, weather permitting, walk onto the golden gate bridge. My city pass ticket for the De Young also gives me access to the legion of honor museum so I will likely go there as well. Tomorrow I’ll use my bay cruise ticket and use a few more of the museum tickets.

Despite the nasty weather, I’m really enjoying San Francisco. Hopefully, I’ll get some sun light and warmth in Las Vegas next week.

San Francisco

I flew to San Francisco yesterday to do some sight seeing, visit my colleagues in NRC Palo Alto, and attend CCNC in Las Vegas next week. The flight was pretty long. I took the 6:15 flight to Amsterdam from Helsinki (i.e. I got up 3:30 am) and was supposed to leave to SF at 11:10. Unfortunately some idiot left some drugs (cocaine??) on the plane which resulted in a 1.5 hour delay to search the plane for more. The flight itself was pretty uneventful. The plane was a Boeing 777-200 which I liked a whole lot better than the 747’s I’ve flown so far on trans atlantic flights. The food was pretty decent (considering quality of usual in flight meals). Additionally, the in flight entertainment system was much better than what I’ve seen before. I saw several nice movies during the flight: Rush Hour 3, Mr Bean’s Holiday, Star Dust and Wallace & Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit. The system had a pretty decent selection of a few dozen movies with quite a few recent ones. Plenty to see on the way back.

Additionally, I met an old friend from Groningen where I lived a few years ago on the plane (six seats behind me!). She is living in San Franciso now with her husband and I’m having dinner at their place tonight. Small world.

My jet lag was nicely compensated by not sleeping for 26 hours. So I had no problems falling asleep at 21:00 and waking up well rested at 7:30. The hotel is pretty cool. It’s the Pickwick, 1 block from Powel Street station on Market Street. This morning I was planning to take the cable train from there (somebody gave me a ticket before I left). Unfortunately they had some mechanical trouble so I had to walk. I walked all the way to Fisherman’s Wharf and got some great views of San Francisco on the way. It seems to me the cable tram is for sissies anyway.

The only disappointment seems to be the weather. This morning it was pretty cloudy and around noon it started raining. On my way back I visited the Apple store to drool at over the cool stuff they have there. I played a bit with the ipod touch and was pretty impressed with it. Particularly the browser is very cool and I was very impressed with how it scrolls and zooms in and out of pages.

If it had a bit more flash memory I would probably buy one. 60+ GB would be about right for me (right now max is 16). My current ipod photo has 60 GB and that seems to be plenty for me.

Right now I’m relaxing a bit in my hotel room, sipping a coke and enjoying the free (!) wifi. Of course I am taking lots of pictures (despite the weather). I’ve gimped up one, the rest will follow when I’m back home and can use photoshop (the Gimp is comparatively useless/unusable):

Alcatrez

I might post a few more over the next few days.

traveling

I’m traveling the next few weeks (France, San Francisco, Las Vegas). I’ll probably update a few times from abroad.

Cheers & happy new year!

Travel from A to B

I’m going to pollute quite a bit of this planet since I will be traveling quite a lot next few months. The past few days I’ve been trying to book tickets and dealing with incompetent travel agencies and air lines. They really need to sort this booking tickets thing out.

The deal is perfectly simple: I’m in Helsinki and I want to go to St Quentin La Poterie, France (Le Gard district) to visit my parents in the south of France. The nearest airfields are Nimes, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice and Paris (more or less in that order; there are more airfields BTW and technically Barcelona is closer than Paris). I will have to rent a car regardless of where I fly. How hard can this be?

In short, there is no airline website capable of figuring this one out. I happen to know that my options are blue1, Finnair, SAS, KLM, and Air france. Blue1 and SAS are partners; so are KLM and Air France. Well that may be true on paper but their back end systems are not integrated, at all. Air France managed to provide me with the “best” offer, so I filled in my details (including credit card details) and then was redirected to a stupid pop up, in Finnish. WTF! So fuck you very much. No Air France this year for me. So I go to klm.com and they can offer me the same flight for 600 euro extra. WTF! No way. Fuck you very much as well! So I end up on good old Blue1.com, the overpriced but still cheaper variety of SAS with a direct flight from Helsinki to Nice. At 430 euro, this does not come cheaply but that is what you get for booking late in November. I spent about an hour figuring out what the alternatives were before finally selecting this one and I still have the feeling I’m being ripped off.

Originally I had planned to do something much more complicated. I asked the travel agency at work to book me a flight via France, San Francisco and Las Vegas spanning three weeks. The best proposal they could come up with was 4000+ euro. In my view this explains 100% why travel agencies are going out of business world wide. This is not what I wanted to hear. I ended up booking the flight to France myself and returning to Helsinki for a flight along this path Hki-Amsterdam-SF-Vegas-SF-Amsterdam-Hki combined with the hki-marseille-hki path that is quite a bit of flights that are somehow half the best the travel agency could offer me. Beats me. Arguably there’s some redundant air miles in this trip. Apparently it is impossible to make a sensible itinerary that has me travel to France before christmas, after christmas from there to San Francisco to Vegas and finally to Helsinki. I’m flexible on pretty much all the dates and I’m sure it can be done in less than 8 separate flights. My estimate is that I will be wasting enormous amounts of fuel on behalf of travel agency incompetence.

Anyway, enough bitching. I’m going to France, San Francisco, Las Vegas in the next few weeks. I’m very much looking forward to all of this! After that I’m also planning to go to Granada in late January for the Sensei project kick off.

On vacation

I´m currently on vacation. I´m writing this from a crappy keyboard in a Pans outlet on avenida diagonal in Barcelona. Due to keyboard, I´ll keep it short.

Welcome to the USA!

I spent yesterday traveling to Baltimore, USA. Quite a lot of stress and uncertainty is involved these days due to the USA overreacting to terrorist threats. Most of the measures are not really effective but they certainly are time consuming.

The first part of my journey was a regular european flight from Helsinki to Frankfurt. Everthing was pretty much normal. Me, my hand luggage and suitcase were checked for dangerous/illegal objects and substances (e.g. a bottle of water 🙂 ), I proceeded to the gate, got on the plane and flew to Frankfurt.

In Frankfurt I had to move from one terminal to another to get to gate B22. For this purpose there is a nicely designed tunnel that is several hundred meters long. Once in the B terminal there were a lot of people and they were all queueing for something this was around gate B4. So I walked along the queue towards my gate when I started te realize that these people were queueing for a security checkpoint. A security checkpoint that I had to pass. With the plane already boarding I started to get a little nervous. By my estimation there were about 1500 people waiting to get to their gate. And they were all in a hurry.

Like the rest of the people I tried my luck with the indifferent security people. In short, they don’t care if you miss your plane. They said it politely but the message was basically to try your luck at the other end of the queue (several hundred meters away) and go F*** yourself. So I squeezed in about 30 meters back and ignored the angry looks from the people behind me (you have to be pragmatic). Slowly the queue moved forward, about a meter per minute.

At last the security people started to do something smart: removing the people from the queue who had time to spare and moving the people forward that like me were supposed to be on the plane already (and still had a good chance of getting on it). The desperate faces of people who were pulled out and told to come back later was heartbreaking. Some had been queuing for 2 hours or more. About 30 minutes later I was searched (no rubber gloves type treatment, don’t worry). The search was pretty quick since there was a lot of pressure on the security guards to hurry up. They glanced in my bag in a way that convinced me that I could have easily hidden stuff in there provided it would not look too suspicious on the scanner.

Anyway, I made it to the plane just in time, that is about 30 minutes after it was supposed to leave and about an hour before it actually left.  The trip was uneventful except for the fact that Lufthansa sees no problems in handing out metallic cuttlery. Yep, that’s right after having been stripsearched for nailcutters, pocketknives and other mettalic objects they gave me a knife and fork that would definately have set off all alarms if I would have had them in my pocket at the security checkpoint. The knife was definately usable as a weapon (though not of mass destruction). Weird.

Arrival in the US (Washington Dulles airport) was a lot smoother. They have these weird shuttles that move between the terminals there. Apparently having dozens of custom made shuttle vehicles that can elevate the cabin to the right height (3 or 4 meters) to move in and out of the terminal is cheaper that just digging a 400 meter tunnel or letting people use an escalator + normal buses. Weird, who’se paying for that?

Security checks were aimed at preventing illegal entry of the country this time. I only had to wait for about 45 minutes this time (last time in the US it was 2 hours). After that I collected my luggage and left the terminal.
Welcome to the USA!

My hotel is quite nice. I’m on the 21st floor and have an excellent view over Baltimore including skyline, harbor and city behind the skyline. I’ll post some panorama pics when I’m back in Finland.

Italian roads

OK, I’m back again. I spent the last three weeks driving around in France and Italy with a rental car. The first week was nice and relaxing. I stayed at my parents’ new summer home in Saint Quentin la Poterie, about 50 km from Avignon in the Gard departement in the south of France. Nice place to visit my parents and there’s a pool too! During the mornings I visited such nice places as Arles, Avignon and Nimes and I spent the afternoons swimming, reading and drinking beer.
The two weeks after that I drove off to see more of the Provence east of the Rohne (i.e. Aix en Provence; Marseille, Toulon and Cannes). Then I drove into Italy where I spent a few days in Cremona (near Milan) where I also visited Parma. Then I moved south to Pistoia (close to Florence) and visited Florence, Pisa and Lucca. Then I moved back north Asti and visited Turin. Yesterday I drove back to Aix en Provence and stopped for coffee and a piss at the casino in Monte Carlo. I flew back to Helsinki today.
Up until entering Italy, driving had been straightforward. France is a civilized country with slightly better roads than Spain and Portugal where I’ve spent my previous holidays. Italy is more challenging. A few factors contribute to the fact that driving in Italy is considerably more dangerous than in the rest of southern europe:

  • The roads are bad. There’s holes, missing markings, etc. Evidently, the EU has not financed road maintenance in Italy to the extent that it has in Portugal and Spain where the highways and main roads are generally excellent.
  • The roads are narrow and winding. At least on the coastal road along the Italian riviera and the many country roads I drove on.
  • The roads are weird. The must be some psychotic people in charge at the Italian trafic ministry. First of all the signing is verbose, misleading and sometimes incorrect. Secondly, there are large amount of weird crossings, roundabouts, exits etc. Roads just split into two without much warning. You will likely end up on the wrong one the first time.
  • Italian drivers transform into suicidal & homicidal maniacs when put behind the wheel of a car.

So here’s some of my observed unofficial trafic rules in Italy:

  1. Your driving speed is the maximum allowed speed on the given road type + 30 + X. Where X is essentially constrained by your manlyness.
  2. An exception to the above rule is when turns, road maintenance etc leads to signs stating reduced maximum speeds. Ignore such signs under all circumstances. 60 really means 140+ on a two lane 110 km/h road.
  3. Use the brake to adjust speed. When not braking apply full throttle.
  4. Always drive on the left most lane (if more than two).
  5. When driving on the left most lane keep your left indicator light blinking so trafic in front of you know they must move to the right to make room for you.
  6. When they don’t do that promptly flash your lights, honk and wave your fist at the sissy in the other car.
  7. If they still don’t move over, rapidly move to approximately 20cm from the bumper of the guy in front of you whilst adjusting your speed with the break at the last possible moment. Stay there until the guy moves over.
  8. On two lane roads drive with one wheel in the lane with oncoming trafic and move right at the last possible moment if the other guy does not move right first.
  9. Ignore the uninterrupted line on two lane roads, you must overtake any trafic in front of you. Especially in case of queues resulting from slow trafic you must move to the front of the queue by overtaking the cars in the queueu one at the time and squezing back in when on coming trafic forces you to do so.
  10. Ignore stop signs. If the trafic has room enough to stop in time: go ahead and move onto the road.
  11. If you drive a truck, it is ok to overtake trucks in front of you. There is no need to check mirrors or use indicator light as you are likely much bigger than the traffic coming from behind.

Sadly the above is not a joke. Italians really drive this way. Adjusting to this style of driving is quite easy but requires some discipline. Doing the same as they is definately dangerous but so is sticking to the official rules. Adjusting speed upwards in combination with keeping distance and not occupying the left lane too long seems to be a good strategy. Pay attention when overtaking trucks because they may move left for no reason whatsoever.

Anyway, Italy is a great country otherwise. Great food and nice cities. I have about 400 photos to edit which will be due in a couple of weeks probably.

Whoohoo vacation!

After working pretty much non stop since December, I now have three whole weeks of vacation. Tomorrow I’ll fly to Marseille (fr) and drive to my parents new summer home in Saint Quentin La Poterie (about 50km from Avignon). After spending about a week there I’ll drive into Italy to do my usual style of vacation: drive insane amounts of distances and see lots of stuff. Anyway, I should be back online in a couple of weeks.

Now I’m really online

After the inevitable slight obstacle, I now have my home pc connected. The nokia laptop is totally locked down and hence not much fun (I have admin rights but I’d rather not piss off the sysadmins at Nokia).

Getting internet here is really simple. In NL this is a tedious process involving lots of waiting, making several phone calls to some idiot at a call center and then (fingers crossed) it should work. Here it goes as follows:

  1. go to the welho shop (or try your luck on the phone)
  2. sign contract, pick up motorola wireless router
  3. go home
  4. connect the thing to the cable connection
  5. configure your wireless adapter to use the connection
  6. done!

Of course that’s the theory. In this nice old apartment block I can choose from two connections: a nice little official looking cable connection and a cable coming in at the frontdoor and ending somewhere in my living room. The latter works, the first one doesn’t have any signal. That took a while to figure out. The connection on the wall is dead as a doornail. The loose cable does internet (and lovely finish television), doh!

Also RTFM before enabling WEP encryption. I actually managed to lock myself out of my modem. But that’s what reset buttons are for :-).